Shruti and Amrita sat in silence at latter’s balcony that faced a line of silver oak trees. The night was drenched in the silvery moon rays. The gentle breeze carried the fragrance of season’s first roses that were in full bloom, while the dwarfed hibiscus plant stood like an admonished child at one corner of the balcony. The ice had almost melted in their whiskey glasses diluting the gold tinged drink; the tranquillity of the hour was enhanced by the raspy voice of Qurat-ul-ain Balouch crooning about an anguished heart.
The friends were on their third drink. “Do you feel the buzz yet,” asked Shruti. Amrita, who seemed to be lost in the song, said, “No.” Shruti smiled and said, “good” and after a pause added, “my Urdu improved listening to the songs you suggested. Thanks to Google.”
“Oh, I love Coke Studio, Pakistan; those guys make amazing music and by the way, you should thank me for improving your Urdu. Remember all the questions you asked?” Amrita replied, rolling her eyes.
What started as a carpool arrangement to office grew into friendship. The two women have known each other for close to a decade now. Life and professional commitments took them into different directions but they stayed in touch, witnessed each other’s highs and lows.
“It feels good to be back at your house, it’s warm…comforting,” said Shruti with a distant look.
“Are you sure it’s not the whiskey?” teased Amrita.
It was Shruti’s first visit to India after getting married to Satish Srinivasan, a known radiologist in the US. Let down by their first marriages, both Shruti and Satish wanted to give life a second chance and found each other. Initially Shruti was wobbly, unsure if it was a good idea to walk on the treacherous path again. A cheating ex-husband had left her shattered, filled her with self-doubt. When she decided to marry Gary Mathews a decade ago, her Iyengar family was rattled. Neither emotional blackmails nor angry outbursts from her parents failed to change her mind. Though grew up in a strict patriarchal environment, Shruti retained her free-spiritedness. The relationship with her father, Madhav Narayan, was caught between the crossfires of orthodox beliefs and rebellion. The father-daughter duo played this duel throughout Shruti’s growing up days; sometimes she won and sometimes her father. By the time, she was an adult, her father was only meant to meet her financial needs and she longed to break the final shackle too. She did it by finding herself a job in Bangalore and eventually deciding to marry Gary, the love of her life with whom she was eager to bring up a child with a happy childhood.
The day she walked down the aisle with Gary, her parents alienated her. Just when she thought she found happiness in her husband and a beautiful daughter, her rebellion against her parents fell flat. She was no longer Gary’s love interest; he started cheating on her with his ex. Burdened by humiliation and betrayal Shruti endured Gary’s philandering ways until one day she mustered enough courage to call it quits. Gary and his parents were caught off guard; they never thought she could take the bold step. Unable to bear the insult that his wife had decided to walk out on him, he blurted, “What can I expect from a person who didn’t hesitate to leave her parents for getting married. It’s nothing new for you to walk out of a relation!” If that wasn’t enough to make Shruti realize the blunder she made in choosing a wrong person, his parents drove the final nail in the coffin. They felt betrayed. “How could you do this to us? Have we not taken care of you and your daughter well? Fine, Gary has found another woman but we treated you like our daughter. Gave a roof over your head and took care of your daughter when you went to work,” Shruti’s mom-in-law asked.
“I’ll always be grateful for what you did for my daughter and me but tell me, would you’ve given the same advice if it was your daughter Becky?” asked Shruti.
That was the last conversation the two women had.
It took a year for Shruti to steer her life back to normalcy. Things improved between parents and her. The age had mellowed Madhav Narayan. Even the middle-aged Shruti had matured enough to understand life from a different perspective.
Still in search of her happily ever after and also as a social experiment, Shruti created a profile on a matrimonial website. She wanted to find out what kind of men would respond to a divorcee who was at the threshold of 40. And yeah, she was contacted by all kinds of men. Nevertheless, Satish was different. Born and brought up in the US, a doctor by profession and a rock music junkie disguised by his calm demeanour made him even more endearing. Father of two girls, he was back to being single four years back. When he contacted her online, Shruti was hesitant at the beginning. Her life had finally hit the calmer sea after a choppy ride. Tired of meeting weirdos, Satish refused to give up on her easily. He was instantly attracted to her honesty and maturity. Within no time, the two started exchanging long emails on regular basis unravelling themselves. They took their time to know each other and Shruti didn’t realize when the charming doctor swept her off her feet. Love was in the air. Satish spent a fortnight with Shruti’s parents in India so that they could know him, their future son-in-law. Shruti travelled to the US to spend time with him and met his parents. There was a bounce in Shruti’s feet again. Their marriage was solemnised after few months with elders’ blessings this time. Shruti and her daughter, Joanna moved to the US to build their world again.
Looking at Shruti’s empty glass, Amrita said, “Why don’t you fill up your glass?”
“I was waiting for you.” Amrita waved her hand and said sheepishly, “Don’t wait for me. Let Mr. Glenfiddich work on you.”
Shruti filled her glass and decided against adding any ice. Toying with her wedding band she said, “From Shruti Narayan to Mathews to Srinivasan.”
Amrita raising a toast for her replied, “That’s one hell of a journey and you seem to have covered a lot of ground!” Shruti acknowledged with a nod and raised her glass.
“Tell me about your Las Vegas wedding and honeymoon cruise to Mexico.”
Shruti still looking at her wedding band said, “It was okay.”
Since evening Amrita noticed that, Shruti was lost in her world of thoughts. She waited for Shruti to open up. She sensed that Shruti was resisting as if waiting for her to take the lead.
“What’s bothering you? What happened to that excited bride I spoke to a few months back?”
“I don’t know, Amrita. I feel like history is repeating itself!”
Both went silent.
In the background, Farida Khanum, in her mesmerizing voice, was pleading her beloved not to leave. Her agony seemed to have filled the vacuum, suddenly created by the night.
“Why do you say that?” asked Amrita, breaking the silence.
“I read his text messages he sent to his ex-wife. It’s not that he is drawn to her but longs to be with his daughters. So he is testing the waters with his ex if there’s a chance of getting back with her.”
“What! Is he serious?” Amrita didn’t bother to hide her shock and anger anymore. She went on with her rant, “He is thinking of reuniting after divorcing her four years back! What was he doing all this while? Does it all look like a child’s play to him? Does he realize that you have uprooted yourself and, Joan’s life and moved with bag and baggage just because he assured you of a lifetime commitment?”
Shruti was silent, sipping her drink as her eyes brimmed with tears.
“Did you talk to him?”
“What do you think?” replied Shruti curtly. “In fact I asked him to get the girls with us if that’s possible.”
Shruti raised her shoulders and hands in dismissal. “I wonder if I did the mistake of getting married again,” her voice quivered. “Apparently after seeing my equation with Joan, he started missing his daughters!”
Shruti started laughing, almost uncontrollably.
“What’s so funny?” Asked an irritated Amrita.
“I’m laughing at the irony of my life. It’s not the other woman who is a threat to my marriage but two young girls!” She went on dramatically, “My bridal henna hands haven’t gone dry yet and I’m already fighting to save my marriage.”
Amrita couldn’t stay angry anymore watching her friend’s histrionics.
“Listen, I am not going to tell anything clichéd but let me remind you of a situation you were in, a few years back. Remember the time when you were in Miami for your higher studies and your cousin lost all your money in business. With no money to pay for your rent and food let alone your tuition fee, you survived on pittance for weeks. You didn’t give up then when you were left helpless and penniless on a foreign land with no backup. According to me, that moment was when your life hit a rock bottom and the only way out was to move up. You did that and how!”
Looking at Shruti, Amrita continued, “Often I wondered how you keep on going, not giving up. If you can deal with a mess like that, what you have now is nothing. Give your marriage some time; you’ll know what to do.”
Shruti resting her head on Amrita’s shoulder, slurred, “Mr. Glen is working just fine…you know what’s good about light-headedness?”
“It makes big problems small,” Shruti replied, her eyes closed and head still rested on Amrita’s shoulders. “…..I have to deal with this situation, don’t I?” She asked.
“Yes…..you have no option,” replied Amrita.
Shruti started humming along with Farida Khanum, though fallen far off tune. In contrast to her name, her singing skills were worse than that of an amateur.
“Have I ever told you that you should stop singing even in the privacy of your home? You may end up spoiling the mood.”
“Yeah many times,” said Shruti smilingly and started singing loudly.
The friends broke into hysterical laugh drowning the voice of one of the revered singers.