“I love you Anjali. I had always liked you ever since school. I always wanted to tell you but never got a chance. Now that you are here, my feelings for you have spread their wings again. It has taken me weeks of mental preparation to speak to you about my feelings. Please accept me the way I am. I am sure you must have come across many handsome and rich men in your life but I bet no one can love you as much as me. I will love you unconditionally throughout my life and I want to grow old with you.” Ramit stopped at the sound of claps.
“Bravo!!!” said Rhea clapping excitedly . “It was perfect. This will help me in my rehearsals. Thanks yaar Ramit. You are such a sweetheart,” Rhea said switching off the recorder.
“Have you changed the script?” Ramit enquired.
“Oh yeah, a little bit, the previous one wasn’t strong enough I felt.” Rhea tried avoiding his enquiry.
“But Rhea, we have only a week remaining before the play. Is it wise to make changes now?” Ramit sounded worried.
“Come on yaar Ramit, We are good to go,” Rhea said dismissing the conversation. “Can’t you postpone your Kolkata visit. We are already short of time for the play and...”
“No, I can’t, now can we proceed?” She said hastily. Ramit looked at Rhea and thought how normal she looked after a series of unfortunate incidents that happened to her barely months ago. He wanted to ask her a thousand things but something stopped him. He kept staring at her when suddenly he was jolted by a ‘WHAT?’ expression from Rhea. He slowly shook his head in denial.
‘Ok, chalo, bye then, see you on Tuesday.’ Ramit casually hugged Rhea and left.
Rhea, Ramit and Rishi were best of buddies for 10 years ago. While Rishi and Ramit were childhood buddies, Rhea came into the picture only in college. They were fondly called ‘R3’ by their friends. While Rishi chose to become an architect, Rhea and Ramit were interested in acting so they joined NSD after college. While Rishi was comprehensively into acting, Rhea took up script writing and also acted once in a while in plays.
Five years after they left college, Rishi had surprised everyone by suddenly proposing Rhea one day by climbing on to the stage while she was rehearsing for a play. A little taken aback, Rhea had accepted the ring amidst tears of joy and applause. Contrary to everyone’s expectations, Rhea married Rishi and not Ramit.
Rishi and Rhea led a fairy tale life for two years until one day when Rishi returned from office with a grim face. Rhea opened the door and hugged her husband in elation. “Congratulations daddy!” She said shyly. “Hmmm, you too.” Rishi said with a dry smile.
Rhea looked at him and his disappointed face and asked, “Too much of work at office? Are you not happy? Rishi..... Let’s celebrate, I have such a good news for you. Come on freshen up, we will go out for dinner.”
“No... No, ah... not today, actually I am too tired.” Rishi sounded uninterested.
Rhea tried containing her irritation and remained quiet. That day for the first time after marriage, she had felt left out and lonely. Her achievements were celebrated with great grandeur by her family members until she got married against their wishes. She practically had nobody to share her happiness with. Her in-laws had died in a car accident when Rishi was in his first year of college. Rhea felt it was too early to reveal it to her friends. She wept that night inconsolably with no one by her side. She was a tad stronger the next morning.
Rishi and Rhea were not talking ever since the good news. There was tension in the air for quite some days until one day when Rhea made-up her mind to confront her husband on the issue. “Rishi, can we talk about it?” Rhea said firmly keeping the coffee cup on the center table.
“About what?” Rishi pretended to be oblivious.
“Don’t you know?” She was furious. “What is it that’s troubling you? Don’t you want this child? Tell me, if you don’t. Talk to me about it yaar Rishi. Speak up, don’t be mum. Why are you behaving so strange? We are living like two strangers in one house and that too at a point when we should be the happiest. We are going to be parents.” She stopped only to breathe.
“Calm down. It’s not good for you now.” Rishi showed his concerned.
“Yeah, right! Huh! It is not good for my health now. My husband is bl**dy not talking to me for some vague reason and I don’t have the right to question him too.” Rhea lost it completely.
“Sit down,” he said preparing himself for the confrontation.
“Right after you called that day to give me the good news, Ramit called me too to congratulate.” Rishi began weighing his words carefully.
“So??” Rhea looked at him perplexed.
“He said he accompanied you to the hospital,” Rishi continued.
“Yeah, even Natasha came. Because I suddenly started vomiting on the sets, so they took me to a nearby hospital. But how is that related?” Rhea tried fathoming.
“Ah....I don’t know how to start.....ummm...Okay let’s do it....going by the due date you told me, my calculations come to 9 months and a week after we had the last relation established . Do you remember, the same night I left for a conference in Bangalore?” Rishi spoke softly.
Rhea kept staring at her husband in disbelief while he continued. “I also remember that one week after I left, you had a sleepover party at our place to celebrate the success of your last play.”
“And you had Natasha, Priya, Puja, Ananya and.....” Rishi paused to look at Rhea and then continued, “and Ramit that night at the party. Four girls and one boy. And it was an overnight stay for all of them. Right? So going by the..............”
“STOP!!!!” Rhea stood up from the sofa, “Just stop before I .................” her voice trailed off.
“This is disgusting Rishi. I never expected ....I can’t believe what you just said. I am hoping it is all a nightmare and not reality..” Rhea spoke with tears flowing incessantly from her eyes.
“I left my home for.....and Mr Rishi, it was you who proposed me only to accuse me of this.. I can’t take this. My my....my heart is broken and how....” she said falling to her knees.
Rishi dashed to pick her up only to be stopped by a strong hand gesture by Rhea which meant – ‘Dont you even dare.’
“Rhea, people have always spoken about you two ever since college days. He left engineering for a career that you went for. Also, he only acts in the plays written by you or the plays where you act. You need to understand my predicament too,” Rishi tried justifying his stand.
Rhea walked out of the room throwing her hands in disgust. Their conversation had come to an end now.
Rhea started looking after herself with no help from her husband. She started going for regular check-ups. Her pregnancy was not too pleasant with a perpetual feeling of hatred for the child’s father on her mind. She made futile efforts to engage her mind differently, every time to land up in the same dark thoughts. She distanced herself from Ramit too. The doctors warned her of the complications arising due to her depression and negative thoughts. She consulted a psychiatrist too to seek help.
Rishi had stopped caring about his wife at such a crucial time of their lives. Both of them kept to themselves most of the time. While Rishi changed his shift to night, Rhea spent most of her daytime in the nearby garden. The cooking was limited to a cup of coffee or tea. Both of them ate out most of the time.
One night, Rhea got up to acute pain in her stomach. She waited whole night for the morning to arrive. She requested Natasha to accompany her to the doctor. And as expected, the bad times were far from over. Rhea lost her baby and the reason cited was her depression, odd eating timings and the callous attitude towards her pregnancy.
Rhea was shattered. Natasha told Rishi in spite of warnings from Rhea to no to inform. Rishi arrived at the hospital to take them but Rhea refused to get into the car and took a rickshaw instead. While Natasha got down midway, Rhea reached home followed by Rishi.
“I want a divorce,” Rhea uttered with a firm face as soon as Rishi stepped in.
“What?” Rishi looked taken aback.
“I want a separation. I can’t ..I don’t want to live with you,” Rhea said with a straight face.
“We will talk later about......”
“There’s is no later. It’s over, finished and done with. I want a divorce from you Mr Rishi Acharya,” Rhea said looking straight in her husband’s eyes interrupting him in the middle.
“Why not?” Rishi began. “Why not Ms Rhea? When your dirty intentions were exposed, you chose to abort the child and now you try to blame me for all this. This is the biggest benefit of being a woman in our society. Shed a couple of crocodile tears and get all the sympathy.”
He continued, “I know where this is going. After taking a divorce from me, you will marry your boyfriend. Good plan, I must say. But there is still something which is unclear. Why did you drop his child then haan?” Rishi was unstoppable.
“You must have had calculated too of what you will do with the alimony, right? It’s not so easy darling. It’s not so easy,” he said with a smirk.
“Are you done? I don’t want anything from you. You cannot give me anything. You are a coward, poor man. With this, you have proved today that you were my biggest mistake. Someone who could not trust his wife, someone who is not sure of his own child, is talking of giving alimony? Huh! I will get back to you with the papers and by the way I am not leaving the house since I am also paying for the loan,” Rhea said in one breath before leaving the room.
They continued to live in the same house like two unknown people. The news of their separation also spread like forest fire. They are questioned in their respective workplaces about the same. It did not take much time for the reason of their separation to spread too. Gradually, the news reached Ramit. He had already felt the cold vibes by Rhea recently. He understood the entire matter. Somewhere deep down, he saw this as an opportunity. It was not a hidden fact that Ramit was truly head over heels on Rhea from the college days. In fact, he had confided in Rishi too about his fondness for Rhea which the latter had dismissed knowing his flirtatious nature. Ever since Rishi proposed Rhea, Ramit had felt cheated by his school friend and held a grudge somewhere at the back of his mind against him. As much as the fact remained that his presence had wreaked havoc in the married lives of his friends, he was unapologetic about it.
Rhea started seeing a lawyer to get a divorce from Rishi as they continued to stay in the same house for namesake. Rishi spent most of his time at a friend’s place only to drop in to pick things of his use. He stuck to his stand on not divorcing Rhea for reasons best known to him.
Months after Rhea avoided Ramit, one day he finally approached her in the canteen. Rhea sat there with her friends. Her friends left the table on seeing Ramit approaching them. While Rhea also tried leaving, she was blocked by Ramit. “Ramit please, let me go!” she said turning her face away.
“I will, just talk to me for ten minutes, I have something for you,” Ramit pleaded.
“No, please don’t create a scene; I don’t want anything from anyone. I have had enough from people....let me go,” she pushed him away.
As she dashed towards the green room, Ramit ran from behind and flashed his mobile in front of her. He showed a picture of Rishi with a girl in front his office casually holding each other’s hand.
Rhea stood dumbfounded not knowing how to react. “Why are you showing it to me? And that is none of your business.” Rhea tried pretending that she was unaffected but her face gave way to the truth, which was otherwise. She was burning from inside to see that man smiling with some other girl.
“This is the girl who is the reason behind your separation and not me Rhea!” Rishi said with a firm face.
Rhea looked at him a little perplexed trying to gather what he meant. She agreed to talk to him.
Ramit started explaining as the coffee arrived at their table. “She is Anjali. She was with us in school. She was an introvert and mostly kept to herself. She recently got transferred to Delhi and her office is in the same building as Rishi’s. I met her one day in a mall when she told me about it,” Ramit said sheepishly trying to interpret Rhea’s reaction.
“Rhea, I clicked these pictures only to make my stand clear. My name is embroiled in your issue unnecessarily. So I wanted to come out clean from all this. Going by the way they interacted in public, it looked more than a casual friendship. And at the time of.........”
“Wait! Are you trying to provoke me?” Rhea asked suspiciously interrupting him.
“I have no business doing that. I am just showing you the actual reason behind your separation,” Ramit said a little annoyed at being accused of provocation and got up to leave.
“Can you give me these pictures?” Rhea asked.
Ramit nodded in affirmation.
After that incident, Rhea and Ramit gradually became friends again. They began acting in plays again. Rhea also interpreted Ramit’s fondness for her easily. She chose to remain neutral to get more information about Rishi and Anjali from him. She started keeping an eye on the two with his help. She could also feel something brewing between her husband and his school friend. And one day when she received divorce papers from Rishi, it was clear that there was some plan in her husband’s mind.
Rhea opened the door to see Ramit standing. He had dropped in to record the lines of a play they were doing together as Rhea was leaving for Kolkata that night.
“Can’t you postpone your Kolkata visit. We are already short of time for the play and.............”
“No, I can’t, now can we proceed?” she said hastily cutting Ramit in the middle.
Soon after Ramit left, Rishi arrived.
And as he was leaving the house after picking some necessary stuff, Rhea stopped him, “Rishi, can we talk for a minute?”
“I am listening,” he said turning towards her.
“What made you agree for the divorce now?” Rhea questioned.
“Well, this is exactly what you wanted? Then what is bothering you now. Let’s just finish it on a pleasant note,” Rishi reverted.
Rhea smirked and took out the photographs from her bag. “Pleasant note? Hmm!! I got to know that you are in a relationship with someone.”
“That’s none of your business,” Rishi was furious to see his pictures in her hands.
“Well yes, it is. I am still you wife......unfortunately!” she said with a pause.
“Are you spying on me? Come on! Get a life. Have better things to do,” Rishi suggested.
Rhea instinctively started laughing on hearing that. “Why not? Thank you for the suggestion.”
Rishi left the house red-faced. Rhea felt very light and nice. She didn’t have such a hearty laugh recently. Her face was beaming with confidence and her eyes sparkled in the moonlight. She opened her clenched fist. A flight ticket lay there in her hand. She started laughing again all by herself. She kept laughing until her stomach started hurting. Her laugh resonated in the empty house which soon trailed off as soft sobs. She covered her face and began to cry. First slowly and gradually it rose. She felt wounded, cheated, secluded and lonely. She had come to the city with different dreams. She felt cheated by two men and her own fate. While one man was responsible for her divorce, miscarriage and infidelity, the other saw it as an opportunity to make his own way. Rhea came into her bedroom and picked up the recorder. She pressed the play button thoughtfully and a familiar voice began –‘I love you Anjali. I had always liked you ever since school .I always wanted to tell you but never got a chance. Now that you are here, my feelings for you have spread their wings again. It has taken me weeks of mental preparation to speak to you about my feelings. Please accept me the way I am. I am sure you must have come across many handsome and rich men in your life but I bet no one can love you as much as me. I will love you unconditionally throughout my life and I want to grow old with you.’ She took out the divorce papers and meticulously signed on them.
Rhea then neatly put the recorder and the papers inside a big envelope. She kept the envelope then in Rishi’s cupboard. The top of the envelope said- ‘Begin a new search.’
The taxi honked and she was out with her bags. She looked behind at the house one last time. Her eyes were wet but remorseless. She bid bye to the house and started her new journey.