In his marriage of five years, this was a first. Raj was going back home at 3 p.m. taking a half day leave from the office. He had decided to confide everything to Priya, his wife.
Why had he been ignoring her? Not paying attention to her and not even making love? All these questions were making him restless although he knew the reason---- Sonia, his secretary.
He had been in an extra-marital affair with her for three years.
Sitting at the bar counter, in an office party he had seen this pretty girl for the first time - tall, big-eyed with black straight hair, coming in. Eyes brimming with happiness she came inside and shook hands with the host; then a while later he met her… They might have danced a little together, he couldn‘t remember. He was too drunk that day to remember anything but her. After a couple of random meetings mainly spent working together, he realized she was everything that he had wanted in his partner- looks, smartness, ability to hold a conversation and an appetite for sports. Naturally, he fell for her. He did not know whether he was in love with her but she was all that he wanted since a long time. She came in and changed him completely.
Nonetheless, Rahul, his colleague and best friend, had reminded him of its repercussions time and again.
Rahul had tried hard to persuade Raj to give up on Sonia and return back to Priya. In fact, he tried convincing him that she would forgive him wholeheartedly and take him back if he does that. But that further repelled him from her. His tender, magnanimous, loving wife completely put him off and he was 10 not able to give this a reason.
He remembered a conversation he had with Rahul a while back. Rahul had become quite serious and had tried to explain to him, “Listen, whatever you are doing is not right. Why don‘t you just confess to Priya and get a divorce?”
Raj shook his head and massaged his temples, his voice was brimming with emotion as he tried to explain his juxtaposition, â”You won‘t understand Rahul. Mine was an arranged marriage. If I leave Priya, my parents would never forgive me. She was their choice. Besides, she is loyal and forgiving. She is happy with me. Why to spoil that?”
Rahul sighed and asked, “Don‘t you ever feel guilty?”
“I do but, I am not the only one in the world doing it. Can‘t I have a little bit of happiness? Nobody has to know. You are the only one who knows and anyway I am going to end it soon”, Raj exclaimed.
“Well, I have been hearing this statement forever. If only you could change this thing about you, you would be perfect.”
“I like imperfections.”
Rahul had always been a good friend. But, since some time, he had given up trying to persuade Raj to stop living this double life. Maybe, he understood it would be of no use.
Also, when Raj had said , “I am going to end it soon”â, he was consciously aware of the meaninglessness of his statement; He was saying it just to stop his friend from speaking further on the issue.
Arranged marriage! He was bound to Priya in this marriage because of his parents. As he repeatedly explained to Rahul, it was the boundations of an arranged marriage and the fear of losing the love and support of his parents that kept him 11 hooked to Priya. If it wasn‘t for his parents, maybe their marriage wouldn‘t have lasted even a year. He did like Priya initially. He believed she was a wonderful woman, but the day he met her, he knew, it would never be love for him, ever. He knew she was too docile for him, too sweet, too homely. He had always wanted someone who was wild, crazy and fun. He wanted to fill the space in his life, the void of the monotony in which he lived. Someone who could break his schedule, who could challenge him, who would be ready to experience new things with him. Priya wasn‘t that woman. On the contrary, she was an absolute opposite. Priya instead tried to fill her entire life around her husband; he always completed her in her eyes. She was modest, loyal, mellow and dutiful. She wasn‘t an explorer or a dreamer, nor was she an adventurous person. But she was other good things. She was sincere and truthful. She cared with all her heart. She most devotedly gave herself in the marriage. She respected his parents. She was simple, compassionate and forgiving. She easily and quickly accepted the inexpressive, unemotional nature of Raj (which was not completely true. He just could not bring himself to be romantic and caring towards her as he simply did not love her). She was uncomplaining, genuine and friendly. She most easily became friends with people and could win anyone‘s heart, so everyone in his family, with an exception to him, loved her).She was the kind of woman who would provide warmth, comfort and ease to her partner, always.
Priya remained Priya all through the marriage. Though she surely gave her best to her husband, the poor woman never really understood him, she belonged to him but he refused to possess her. Sonia on the other hand did not remain just âSoniaâ, there was a new thing to discover about her with passing time and the experiments did not stop there .They continued in the car, hotel rooms and Sonia‘s apartment. ***
It was not like that Sonia did not confront him with the question âwhere are we headingâ or felt jealous. Like, the other day when he was at an office party with Priya, it was solely because it was specially mentioned in the invites that all must attend with their spouses and Priya was the ‘official‘ woman in his life.
They came, they greeted everyone, Raj introduced her as his wife to everyone present, and they danced and remained together in the party all the while. But right after that, Raj handed over the car keys to her and asked her to drive back home.
He said he was crashing at a colleagues‘ place that night.The truth was, he was crashing at Sonia‘s.
Priya was his reality and Sonia his escape.
Sonia lived in the moment. In her heart she knew that there was no future with Raj but she also could not stop herself from falling for him. He was completely different with her, he would crack jokes, cook for her and the best part-he could not take his hands off her. It was a passionate relationship.
What‘s strange is the fact that Raj didn‘t even feel much guilt or regret about what he was doing. Like he told Rahul he was just trying to enjoy his share of happiness. What he was doing was not such a big deal, because he was not the only one doing it.
Sometimes when he did feel slight pity for his lawfully wedded wife, he would take her out for dinner or buy her a random gift or just a bunch of roses.
He knew it was easy to please her; her ways to happiness weren‘t as complicated as his.
It was difficult to identify what Raj was doing as an evil.
There was no absolute answer to ‘Why‘? Though maybe Raj wasn‘t all wrong; certainly he was not right either. What did he do wrong? He just made a choice he wanted, in opposition to the one that was imposed on him.
For Raj, his marriage was over long back. For Priya, her marriage was everything…
But, today while making out with Sonia in the office bathroom, he saw himself in the mirror and a strange lightning struck. He felt bitter about himself. He didn‘t see himself but probably a monstrous image of him, a man who was playing with his innocent wife. He saw a cheat. He saw a man who was too much of a coward, to be honest. He saw someone he hadn‘t known before. He saw what Rahul had been trying to make him see, he saw Raj who was married to Priya but making out with Sonia while Priya waited for him back home.
Priya was beautiful. She was homely, gentle and loving. Like a dutiful wife and homemaker, she did everything to keep her husband happy. But it was her gentleness that Raj didn't want. He craved for impulsive, boisterous and passionate. Everything Priya wasn't and Sonia was.
Priya made the most delicious food, but he didn't like it; whereas, his colleagues and friends would come home time to time for its sake. Like the last weekend, Rahul and others were there for dinner and he couldn't stop praising the Kheer she had made. In fact, everyone else present there loved it. Raj didn't even feel like tasting it. The fact that it was so good, that Priya had made it,was enough for him to not even want to taste it.
Priya had often tried to bridge the gap. Like, on a Friday 14 evening when Raj came home, he should have been pleasantly surprised to find Priya glowing in the bright red saree, her beautiful ornaments and the vermilion that colored her hair parting. Any man would have fallen prey to that serenity, but Raj didn‘t. He kissed her on the forehead and said âam very tiredâ, and went to sleep. Being the kind of woman Priya was, in the morning Raj was served with his favourite breakfast and tea for a fresh new day.
Brim with remorse, he decided to confess the truth to Priya and ask for her forgiveness. With this thought, he sat in his car and drove back home. But this journey wasn‘t easy. All he could think of, and about, was Sonia. His Sonia. It was perhaps involuntary, but the only thing that occupied his mind, that kept him indulged on this drive back home, were all the fond memories he had of the woman he loved, who wasn‘t his wife.
Every day, every moment he met her, his heart melted, it melted drop by drop forming a new mould of attraction, attachment, and respect. This new heart was brimmed with her, her thoughts. Her very name has now become the reason that made him smile. He could visualize her eyes, her lips and her nose with his closed eyes. He could smell her hair even when she was not around, he could hear her voice without her speaking and he could see her deep inside himself. She meant the world to him.
And today, today when he met her in that café, when she sipped his coffee, only to taste it and say, “hardly any difference”, he loved that. He loved that rustic side to her personality which refused to comprehend the sophisticated styles. How she refused to accept any difference between a Cappuccino and a Café Latte‘. And his explaining would never make a difference.
The sultriness with which she, for the first time, got drunk with him. And right before that when she held his right palm between her palms and sandwiching it tightly, looked into his eyes and murmured, “See, I trust you.”
He often wondered how colourful can a person be? The day he met her, she was one person, today, she is a thousand and tomorrow she will be thousand and one. Each day she showed him something new, about her, about life, about love, about character, about people. Every moment she came up with something new, and he never got bored. And if he did, she pulled him to her and put his head on her lap and say, “Go to sleep.” And when he woke up, she would sometimes be ready with a chocolate cake, sometimes with a movie, sometimes a candle light dinner, but something different to entertain him, oh she was so amazing, he thought. He also thought of one similarity in the two women- how both cooked so well, but he loved to wake up to the aroma of food only at Sonia‘s place.
He loved how sometimes in the middle of the night she would just wake up, make coffee, wake him up and say "let's have a conversation". And the next thing he knew would already be morning.
He loved the way they watched Cricket. And loved to be amazed suddenly by looking at her sitting beside him on the sofa getting excited when an Indian player would hit a six and get the realization, wow he is with her; this amazing woman who once played in the state team.
He loved her for all the unconventional choices she made. And he loved her impulsive planning. For instance, just a day ago she declared, “We are going to Bombay"; and why? “To watch the match, of course.” She had already booked tickets. The adventurous side of her always made him skip a beat.
He also recalled how two months ago she sent him a text message post-midnight sometimes, “Andaman?”â And he wanted to know – Why?
"Snorkeling, scuba diving, water skiing and a lot of sex", snap came the reply.
The next thing they did was take a leave and take off.
Still thinking about Sonia, he entered the driveway of his society. As he reached in front of his building and put the brakes, his trance was broken. Looking at his building he went into introspection, how could he leave all that behind? And why should he? Why does he have to? The colors of Sonia versus the paleness of Priya, why did he even have to choose? But the decision was made and he knew, “it‘s the right thing to do.”
With all these thoughts and still thinking about Sonia parallely, he entered the driveway of his building. As he stepped out of the car suddenly something caught his attention. The family dog was sitting in the porch. It meant that Priya was having her afternoon nap. His parents lived in another city. So Priya would put the dog to watch and sleep. Raj thought not to be seen by the dog as it would come jumping on him and might awake her. He decided to park the car outside and tip-toe his way from the backside.
He moved ahead, with a strange sense of determination in his heart and mind. They were working together for a change. His head was pounding as motley of thoughts just kept messing up his composure.
As he reached for the door knob, he was surrounded by multiple, mixed, strange feelings. He unlocked the door using his key instead. Strangely before this, he had never used it.
Already full of thoughts, he tiptoed his way inside the house. Something caught his attention and he froze. It was this photograph in the hallway that was placed on the coffee table beside the sofa of this ‘married‘ couple on their honeymoon. Standing side by side, her left arm below his shoulder and hair scattered by the wind, looking towards her husband and smiling shyly as he looked into her eyes,. It seemed like he 17 was falling for her in that moment. That grin on his face contrasting her shy eyes. To his horror, the picture was a lie.
The door of ‘his bedroom‘ was ajar, though everything visible. Wordless in that moment: under the sheet, he saw them.
He stood there for quite a while and finally absorbed what he saw and took a step back.
There she was; his perfectly loyal wife sleeping like a child in the arms of his best friend – Rahul.
In his own house where today he entered from the backside, he felt like an outsider. Today Priya was not the other woman in his life. Today he was the other man in hers. In his own house, today he did not belong. He was someone else. The man inside his bedroom, with his wife, in his house, was not his best friend. He was her man. Raj wasn‘t.
Raj felt devastated, nauseated and cheated. Devastated at what life had made him and what he had made Priya and what Rahul had made of their friendship. Nauseated because that was his best friend and his wife sleeping in his bed in his house. And ‘cheated’ ….. WHY? He didn‘t know.
Was there really any difference today between Him and Priya and Priya and Sonia and Sonia and Rahul and Rahul and him? But why Rahul? His best friend? And why Priya? What did he think of her and what she did? But isn‘t he responsible for it himself?
But now he had no choice. Or probably he did. Probably he was granted the best choice. The choice he wanted to make in the first place. But did he have enough power to embrace it? He didn‘t know.
Slowly walking back towards the door he had used to enter the house, Raj left. He used the stairs this time. With each step he took, he gained one ounce of composure. He got back his strength and sense. He knew he had to come to terms with it.
As he walked back to his car, he thought how when it comes to infidelity, all logics go for a toss. He opened the door of the car, sat and took a deep breath. He smiled ….
- Chetan Soni