Bonded For Life
Bonded For Life16 mins 258 16 mins 258
24th December 1965. Mala completely dressed up as a bride, stared at her reflection in the mirror blankly. Her younger sisters and cousins chatted in the same room, oblivious to what was going on in her mind. Mala wondered how her life had taken a complete turn since the last week. What she had once thought would be the happiest day of her life was about to turn into her worst nightmare for life. Six months back, she was engaged to Vineet, the man she was madly in love with. Their families were family friends for the last three generations. Since the last year and a half, Mala received poems and personalized gifts secretly from Vineet delivered by their trusted house help, Ganesh. The gifts would change from flowers to chocolates to earrings. More than the gifts, it was the poems that he wrote for her that made her feel one in a million. At times, she replied to the letters and sent them back with the house help. She couldn’t risk posting them for the fear of being caught.
As time passed, Mala waited eagerly for those letters. She couldn’t live without them. She loved being his muse as he fondly called her in his letters. The more she read his poems, the more she fell in love with his words and the way he compared her to the virtues of nature. When Vineet’s parents approached hers seeking her hand in marriage, she was ecstatic. Her family was elated too. Everything was perfect. Mala pondered over what went wrong. Who cursed her fate? Why did Vineet betray her and elope with another girl? What was her fault? When Vineet’s parents heard the news, they broke all ties with him. The last week had been the most torturous as there were constant fights between both families. Mala kept herself restricted to her room and cried all day and night, nursing her broken heart. All she wanted was to be left alone in her misery but the elders had other ideas.
The elders from both families decided that she would be married off to Vineet’s younger brother, Vikram who was exactly her age; precisely six months older than her. When her parents told her about the mutual decision, she protested and revolted. Rather than understanding her pain, her parents emotionally blackmailed her and reminded her of her younger siblings. In fact, they thought she should consider herself lucky that Vikram was ready to accept her and take responsibility for Vineet’s blunder. Mala thought about escaping and suicide as the only two options left for her but surrendered to her fate eventually for her younger sisters. Who would marry them if she were to run away from her home?
The marriage proceedings went by in a blur for Mala. She barely remembered being present for the occasion. It was only after Vikram tied the mangalsutra in her neck did she realize the horror she would now have to live with. The man who she once thought would be her brother-in-law was now officially her husband. The man she loved was now her brother-in-law.
Vikram smiled at Mala as he entered his room and took in her appearance. He sat on the bed, ensuring he kept his distance. Mala didn’t bother to look at him while his eyes scanned her face admiring her beauty while trying to search for emotions.
‘ I know how difficult it must have been for you to deal with everything that happened. I can understand if you don’t want to have anything to do with me. I know you must have been forced to say yes to this arrangement………………………………………..’ Vikram kept talking while Mala was in her own world. ‘I’ve brought this for you as a sign of our new relationship.’ He opened a ring box and placed it in front of her. In it was a shiny gold ring. She looked at him in astonishment.
‘Are you trying to bribe me with this ring of yours? What do you expect me to do? Switch my feelings from one brother to the other???’
‘No, Mala. I just wanted to………’
‘You’re as disgusting as your brother. You’re all disgusting. My parents. Your parents. I’m just a commodity for all of you meant to be traded. No one really cares about what I feel or what I want.’
‘I care for you, Mala.’ Vikram placed his hand on hers. She pushed it back immediately.
‘Don’t touch me. I hate you, Vikram Chaudhary. I thought you were my friend. I pleaded and begged. But my parents refused to understand me. I expected you to understand and refuse this forced marriage for my sake. But even you chose to betray me. I don’t know what your intentions are but I’ll never be yours.’ She threw the ring box in the air, frustrated.
Mala cried all night, clinging her pillow to her heart. Vikram lay on the other side of the bed, letting her be alone with her emotions.
Three months passed. That was the only real conversation Vikram and Mala had during this duration. Mala chose loneliness as her solace while Vikram respected her space. He worked at a printing press during the daytime and she kept herself busy doing household chores with his mother. At night, they slept on two corners of one bed like complete strangers.
As time passed, Vikram started putting more efforts to improve his relationship with Mala. He tried to communicate with her. In fact, he searched for excuses to talk to her where she wouldn’t be able to resist. He failed multiple times but he didn’t let Mala’s harsh words dampen his spirit. He cared for all her needs and desires. Since she loved to paint and had stopped painting since they got married, he purchased all types of paint supplies for her. She rejected them the first and second instant. When Vikram wasn’t around, she finally grabbed a pencil and painted her heart out one day. Though she didn’t talk to him or thank him, he was happy that she was doing something she loved. It was a positive sign.
At a family gathering, Mala was asked to cook chicken curry for 40 guests. Since she had never cooked for a large number of people, her curry turned out to be quite a failure. She hadn’t ever been a good cook. When Vikram saw her weeping on the kitchen floor, he reached out to her and helped her in preparing the curry once again with perfection. He promised her that he wouldn’t tell a soul about it, not even his parents. His happiness knew no bounds when Mala thanked him. For the first time ever, he saw her smile at him after they got married. Moreover, it was the first time they did something together as a couple.
When Mala’s brother had to face losses in business, Vikram was the first one to reach out to him and offer monetary help. This had happened two months after they got married. Mala came to know about it months later when she visited her parents. On different occasions, she noticed that he respected and cared for her parents and siblings as his own. The devil in her suggested that he was doing everything just to come closer to her. The angel in her reminded her that he had always been caring and affectionate towards others. She had somehow forgotten about it.
As Mala started feeling guilty about her actions, her behaviour towards Vikram changed. She was polite to him and didn’t throw tantrums every second like she always did. She spoke to him whenever it was necessary. Though it wasn’t like the old times, Vikram was hopeful that Mala would accept him as her husband someday.
But fate had other plans. The return of Vineet and his wife Girija back to their home shattered all of Vikram’s dreams. He had to start afresh with Mala all over again. His parents decided to accept their son and daughter-in-law and forgive them. Even though he didn’t agree with their decision, he couldn’t go against it and he had to accept it eventually. Mala was expected to do the same. That night, she argued with him for two hours. All the hate and silence she carried within herself for months erupted like a volcano towards him. She became a madwoman totally out of control. She cried. She cursed herself. She wished herself to be dead. It was only after he hugged her that she became quiet. She cried all night in his arms.
Vikram felt that the outpour of Mala’s emotions would make her calm. But the opposite happened. She was now colder than she was before. She avoided Vineet and Girija completely. Though that was expected from her, she avoided every other person in the house including the servants. She started keeping to herself once again which worried Vikram. Mala drowned herself in her emotions all day and night. When she saw Girija and Vineet together for the first time, she realized what could have made him change his mind. Girija was stunning and belonged to an affluent family. She was well-educated and well-read.
Girija was a government school teacher earning a decent salary while she was the one who had always struggled with the grades. Mala had barely managed to pass her matriculation exam. Her parents never had any high hopes for her. She was just a simple homely girl. Vineet had to go for the better option. Whenever she saw the both of them laughing and smiling together, she was reminded of what could have been hers and what she couldn’t now have. She felt miserable. She wanted to run away from this hell back to her parents’ house. The past reminded her that her parents would just command her to adjust. So she decided to stay back.
Since Mala stayed away from Vineet and Girija, she found comfort in talking to Vikram. By now, she had realized that he was the only one in the house who actually cared for her. On one such night, Mala just couldn’t bear the sight of Vineet and Girija feeding each other fruits in close proximity with each other. She just couldn’t understand why they had to do it right in front of the family. She felt jealous but she knew she was wrong. She felt like an idiot for crying over a man who didn’t care the slightest bit about her. Mala’s eyes kept watering as she lay in bed, consumed with her thoughts. She quickly wiped her eyes the moment she saw Vikram entering their room. He closed the door and lay in bed beside her, maintaining his distance.
‘Are you okay, Mala?’
Mala started crying again. ‘No. I am not.’ He shifted a little closer to her and wiped her tears.
‘Don’t cry for him. He doesn’t deserve your tears. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, you can go to your parents’ house for a few days.’
‘It’s of no use. I’ll have to learn to live with it eventually.’ Vikram stared at Mala, trying to gauge her emotions as if he was looking at her for the first time. ‘Do you know why Vineet betrayed me, Vikram?’
He let out a sigh. ‘ I never asked him. All I know is that he never really loved you. He agreed to marry you for your beauty. If he had feelings for you, he wouldn’t have married Girija.’ Mala nodded her head in approval as she turned to look at him.
‘You’re a good man, Vikram. You deserve to be with someone who treats you right. I’m not good enough for you.’
‘I can make my own decisions, Mala. I know what I want. And I want you. I want us, no matter how long it takes.’
Mala cursed herself for not being in love with her husband despite knowing that he had always been good to her. A small chat with Vikram that night somehow made her feel better and guilty at the same time. He had the patience to listen to her vent her heart out. From that night onwards, she spoke to him every night before both of them dozed off to sleep. What started off as a conversation between two broken hearts slowly turned into a conversation between two friends as days progressed into months. They discussed everything ranging from books, songs, movies, politics and sports.
Mala started painting on a regular basis whenever she felt inspired. She started smiling and laughing. She learnt to accept reality. With time, she realized that Vineet wasn’t even half of what she had idolized in her mind. Even though she knew him since childhood, she had no idea that he was selfish and a narcissist, with no regard towards other’s feelings. He had always been the family’s perfect pampered child and he behaved like one. His relationship with Girija wasn’t as perfect as she had imagined it to be. While she was verbally abusive, Vineet was physically abusive. Just like they didn’t shy away from showing their affection for each other, they never shied away from showing their disregard for each other in front of the family. They failed to respect each other during tough times.
Vineet was loud. He was flamboyant. He was good at convincing people. Vikram was shy. He wasn’t expressive. But he was real. He was genuine. He cared for those he loved. Sometimes, Mala wondered if the poems in his letters were even written by Vineet or if he had just merely copied them from somewhere. His views and opinions about life were totally contradicting what was written in each of the poems. The poems had feelings. They had pain. They smelled of innocence, selflessness and purity of mind. Mala still had a dozen questions she wanted to ask Vineet. She failed to gather the courage to ask him even though she was now on talking terms with him and Girija. She had forgiven both of them. Asking him wouldn’t feel right. She had moved on. Thanks to him, she was now married to the better brother.
Mala loved spending time with Vikram. She loved the way his eyes would light up with excitement when he spoke about literature and other things he was passionate about. She loved it when he looked at her secretly as if she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Speaking to him was easy. Ever since they got married, she had always been rude to him. But he was always patient and he never lost his temper. He gave her everything without expecting anything in return. While she gave him a hundred reasons to stay away from her, the more persistent he was to make her change her mind. When Vikram had to visit outstation for his work, Mala missed him dearly. She never thought a week without him would feel like a year.
Mala slept on his side of the bed when he wasn’t around. That way, she felt his presence even though she missed his presence. During that week, she came across a diary which fell from Vikram’s closet while she was keeping his clothes. To her surprise and shock, they were filled with poems written by him. As she read page after page, the topic of the poems changed from love, rejection, heartbreak to second chances. In the diary, she also found the poems in the letters she received from Vineet. Why didn’t she realize sooner that they were actually from Vikram? There was no name mentioned in those letters. Ganesh always told her they were from Bhaiya. He never told her which one. The gifts were from him. Everything had always been from him.
When Vikram returned and they were alone in their room, Mala hugged him much to his surprise. She could tell that he wasn’t expecting it.
‘I missed you, Vikram.’ His face beamed with pride.
‘I missed you too. I wanted to buy something for you but I didn’t get the time. I was occupied with work. The next time I go, I promise I won’t come empty-handed.’
‘I don’t need gifts. All I need is you, Vikram.’ Vikram smiled as he looked into her eyes.
‘Am I dreaming?’
‘No. But we need to talk. I read your diary, Vikram. You wrote me those letters, didn’t you? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?’
He placed his palm on her cheek. ‘I didn’t really give a thought that you would assume Vineet would write the letters for you. I could have written my name. But I was scared that you wouldn’t feel the same way. I realized the grave mistake I committed when I saw you the day you got engaged to Vineet. You looked so cheerful and so beautiful that day. You were madly in love with him. You have no idea what I went through when my parents sent his proposal to you. I just couldn’t bear the thought of it. And when he left the house to marry Girija, I felt as if God was giving me a second chance to be with you. When my parents asked me if I would marry you, I agreed immediately. It wasn’t because I felt responsible for my brother’s actions. I said yes because I love you. I dreamed of marrying you. I knew I was selfish. But I was ready to take my chance with you. Your parents would have forced you to marry someone else without giving you a chance to grieve. I felt it was better to have you in my life and receive your hate rather than risking you getting married to someone right in front of my eyes.’
‘I am sorry. I hated you all these months for no fault of yours. I never really gave you a chance to tell me that you wrote those letters. I’ve been such a fool. But you’re an even bigger one for not writing your name on them.’ Mala slapped Vikram’s cheek with force, surprising him again. He was stunned. ‘I hate you, Vikram Chaudhary. I’ve loved you for the last two years and I practically had no idea about it.’
Vikram smiled, annoying her further. ‘What are you smiling for?’
‘Did you just say you loved me?’
‘Yes. I had a huge crush on Vineet but never any serious feelings for him. It was only after I received your letters that I started falling for him. No. Actually, I fell in love with the man who wrote those beautiful poems for me. The man who was bold enough to write his heart out to me. I assumed it was him but it was actually you.’
‘I made the situation complicated for both of us, didn’t I?’
‘Yes. You did. But I didn’t make it any easier for you either. I didn’t make it easier for us to find each other. The love that I always wanted, the love of my life was right in front of my eyes and I was too blind to notice it. I’m sorry, Vikram. ’ Mala kissed Vikram’s cheek, the one she had just slapped. ‘Did this hurt?’ She kissed him again.
‘No. But I was hurt the day you and Vineet were engaged. And it’s more of my fault than it will ever be yours. Will you do me a favour and accept my ring now, Mala? I’ve always loved you. I love you for your simplicity, your honesty, your beauty, your anger, the love that you offer to my family and yours. I love everything about you. I love you just the way you are.’
‘I love you too.’ Mala wore Vikram’s ring, the one she had rejected on their wedding night. Both spent the entire night reading and discussing the poems in his diary. They spent their life like friends who knew each other inside out and then like lovers madly in love. Two years later, they became parents to twin boys. Vikram continued writing poems for Mala and his children. Mala continued painting. Whenever she felt inspired by her husband, she painted her heart out. Time made her realize that they were not just bonded for life by an agreement. They had always been bonded by love, respect and admiration for each other. It was only after hating him so much did she realize how much she actually loved him. Vikram’s love for her successfully overpowered all the hate she gave to him.