“So many people,” Dheeraj muttered, sheepishly looking around the empty, dim hallway. He knew this whole wedding was planned in the blink of an eye. No one was sure, least of all the bride, his sister, Aruna. Baba was wearing that famous frown between his brows, which was how he would remember his father forever.
That deep line of a frown had taken permanent residence on his father’s forehead, taking short pauses in between. Ma was constantly going into a tailspin of nervous chatter and laughter, covering her anxieties with sound.
Why had Arunadidi agreed so quickly and what did they actually know of this guy? He thought.
They had studied together in college once and now he seemed to have conveniently reappeared in her life. Why had she said yes to his marriage proposal in such haste? Why not wait some more to get to know him a little better?
What she needed right now was some introspection, and also financial independence. But does anyone ask me? No Sir… my opinion is unsolicited in grown-up issues. Well, I’m not a child. . .not anymore, am I? But then, am I old enough to go against Baba’s wishes yet? Dheeraj thought, his face contorting with a grimace of distaste at his predicament.
Getting into another argument with Baba at this time did not make much sense. Moreover, what did he know, he was just a boy in a household overrun by women.
Making a face he moved towards the kitchen.
I shouldn’t complain, rather I should be happy that Arunadidi has finally found a man with whom she wants to spend the rest of her life, he thought.
Barefoot, he padded into the kitchen, the tiled stone on the floor cooling his thin feet. The ratty T-shirt, an inheritance from his father that fluttered on his reed-like frame felt strangely comforting as he engaged in a battle of wills with its first owner.
He looked every bit the troubled young man that he was, with his closely cropped hair, his thin, long nose unable to bear the weight of his spectacles, edginess echoing on his gaunt face.
He heard the grandfather clock chime, a beautiful relic from the time of his great-grandfather. It was 11 o’clock.
Already 11? He thought. Good Lord, so much study to be completed, and Suresh uncle snoring like a freight train did not help. I hope all this drama gets packed up soon or I am going to flunk my exams, and then what will I do?
Dheeraj felt the slick fingers of panic climbing up his spine.
‘Take over the shop,’ he could hear his father’s rough voice, a frown marring his brow. He heard this voice more often these days and could see the disapproving eyes following his every move, as if waiting for him to falter.
‘The shop’ sounded like his death knell. The whole idea of sitting in the cramped space for hours, making small talk, bartering oneself to sell a few sarees made him sick.
No, I can’t do it, whatever Baba says. I have to get through this entrance exam, the only beacon to the future I have envisioned, he said to himself.
I hope this marriage gets wrapped up soon, he thought of the number of chapters earmarked to be mugged up as he opened the fridge to take out the bottle of water.
He decided against rooting for a glass. Who needed a glass anyway when Ma was not around to smack him on the back of his head? He raised the bottle to tip the contents in his mouth.
What was that sound? He cocked his head, noticing the light streaming out of Aruna’s room.
She should be asleep.
At once, he marched up to her room, the bottle still clutched in his hand. He was about to call out to Aruna but something stopped him. A ripple of foreboding brushed his skin as he gaped at his once chirpy, happy sister, doubled over, as if in pain. His thoughts scattered, he stared at her, baffled, with a gasp of surprise.
“Didi,” Dheeraj exclaimed, rushing forward protectively, as his frown deepened, mirroring the one he had been lamenting about on his father’s forehead.
“Dheeraj,” Aruna cried, her breath hitching softly.
Dheeraj felt his sister’s voice wrap around his heart, squeezing it hard as if to reboot it and send it thumping again.
He felt it falter at the evident torment his elder sister was undergoing, even now, at the hands of a man he had almost idealized. She was bent forward as if the wind had been knocked out of her. She was clutching the blue swirls of the window with one hand while smothering her pitiful cries with the other that she held tightly over her mouth. It seemed as if she feared any sound escaping her lips might wake up the whole world. Dheeraj was equally scared that it just might.
Not knowing what else to do, he tried to reassure her in the only way he knew. Imitating what he had seen his mother do countless times, he rubbed her back, whispering inanities; of things taking their own course, of destiny and rightness. He didn’t know how long he talked, but he just wanted his sister to stop looking like her world was shattering.
Aruna, a young divorcee, marries Bhuvan, an averagely successful young man who had a crush on Aruna, back in college. Both make promises of ever after with preconceived expectations. Hers, freedom from a judgemental society and validation of herself and his, unconditional love and partnership and the coming true of his dreams of marrying the ‘One’.
They are equally shattered to learn that despite their best intentions life does sometimes play the villain.
Aruna’s learned conditioning, developed as a result of the oppressive years spent with her abusive and often violent first husband Rafi constantly coming in the way of their married normalcy. Bhuvan valiantly trying to ignore the signs of her distress rather than confront them.
Their good intentions are tried at every step.
When it looks like the wheel of happiness is turning in their favour, situations arise to again plunge them headlong into turbulent waters continuing to test their determination to hold on to the dream of a better tomorrow. Aruna’s distrust, Bhuvan’s silences and Rafi’s resurrection in their life leads to create a downward spiral that shakes Aruna to the core. As she stands on the precipice of a second failed marriage she recalls her hopes and expectations and how she herself has become the hurdle in the path leading to the life of her dreams.
Will this serves as a trigger for Aruna to take the control back, the control she had willingly surrendered the first time? Or is she going to be held back by her own apprehensions choosing to stay the victim?
Harshali Singh is a New Delhi-based Member at the Consumer Forum, an avid reader and a passionate Painter.
An academician with a decade of experience of working with pre-primary age group in different capacities ranging from Operations Head to the Curriculum and academic head. She, as a teacher trainer conducts workshops to enhance proficiency in advanced teaching methodologies.
She is a trained Occupational Therapist from the Institute of The Physically Handicapped and also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Education and a L.L.B degree. While handling these demanding jobs she managed to take out time for her passion- oil painting and has also held an exhibition of her exclusive, vibrant paintings at the India Habitat Centre in 2014.
When not busy with these various roles, she is usually found with her books and her family, which include two teenage children and a very patient Other Half, relaxing.
A Window to Her Dreams is her first novel, available at bookstores across the country as well as on Amazon.