She had lain awake all night, quite unable to digest the shock. Was this really happening to her, Ruhi Sharma, for whom receiv- ing love notes from potential suitors had become as routine and sundry as brushing teeth? Could a man really reject her? It was hard to absorb.
The following morning, Shaan found her sitting in the same position he had left her in the night before. Feeling sorry, he made an offer, “You can opt out right now. I expect you would want to do so. Don’t worry. I will take care of everything.”
Turning to him, with an unusually serene expression in her tired eyes, she said, “No, that is not an option. I can’t be the cause of distress to my parents. I’m willing to carry on with this charade, that is, if it’s all right with you.”
Shaan wasn’t just disappointed, he was taken aback. This was highly unexpected. It was meant to be only a small complication, but now all his plans would turn awry.
He had clearly informed his father about his ongoing affair, but Shiv Ahuja, being who he was, had dismissed it. “Ohh! So you are playing around with a white woman? Well, that happens, my son, and it doesn’t matter.”
“But it matters to me, Dad. I love her!” “And does she love you?” “I think so. Yes, I’m pretty sure about it,” he’d replied, albeit a little doubtfully.
“Then is she willing to marry you and be my bahu?”
Looking down embarrassed, he said, “She can’t, she’s already married. It’s…it’s complicated.”
“So that is the case.” Shiv beamed. “And here I was straining my brains wondering why our son hadn’t hooked up with a girl yet.”
It goes without saying that the youngest Ahuja was by no means lacking in looks. He was unusually handsome, of good build, and above average height who liked to maintain an athletic physique with regular exercise. But despite being inundated with innumerable suitable matches, each willing to part with unbelievable amounts in dowry, he had steadfastly declined. In fact, he had even refused to pay a visit to his hometown until now. His hand finally being forced by the news of his dadaji’s terminal ill- ness, whose final wish was to see his youngest grandson married and settled in life.
But what Shaan lacked in moral makeup, he made up for by his integrity. “I don’t want to live under false pretenses. I do not want to be instrumental in ruining an innocent life!”
“Then are you willing to let Papaji go to his deathbed with his final wish unfulfilled? Do you want the shadow of his regret to cloud the rest of our family’s future?”
Shaan wasn’t too pleased, but his father was leaving him with no real options.
“Just get married to this nice girl, bid farewell to your Dadaji, then you can do whatever you wish. Get a divorce or, if you are a real man, carry on at both ends, neither party need know!” Shiv had winked conspiratorially while giving him a sound thump on his back.
His son wasn’t surprised. For a long time, he had suspected that his father ran more than one household, and his long-suffering mother probably knew about it but was too tired to fight. He went through with the farce, and no one raised a finger.
Fortunately for Shaan, it appeared that his grandfather had been holding on to his last breath for this particular event before he gave up and was declared free from this world.
Therefore, undoubtedly the extent of his alarm was immeasurable when Ruhi refused his offer of an amicable separation. He was flummoxed!
Why did he have to carry on living a pained existence with this girl till she made up her mind to set him free? She was being unreasonable.
“But, but I can’t—”
“Carry out the duties of a normal husband?” she asked without hesitation.
Shaan looked surprised. “Yes.”
“I don’t expect you to, especially after what you told me last night. But can we maybe give us a chance?” There was a clear and desperate note of plea in her voice.
Not exactly enjoying the exchange, he retorted, “No, that’s impossible. I was forced into this.” It came out sounding brutal, but he couldn’t take it back.
“But I wasn’t. What about me? Where is my fault in all this?” Why was he being made to feel guilty?
“Well, that was the reason for my offer. We can end this now, and you will be free to start a new life again.” He looked eagerly at her; this was the opportune time to get his way.
She laughed. “That’s easy for you to say. You are a man! But in this society, a woman rejected after marriage is like a pariah. All the men who at one time used to flock around me would not even consider looking at me again.” Smiling wryly, she continued, “Besides, what about my parents, their dreams? What about all that my father had to go through to get the best possible match for his only daughter?”
Shaan closed his eyes…He hadn’t realized, but things were much more complicated than he had imagined.
Then she said in a much calmer tone, “I request you to think it over because this doesn’t affect just the two of us, it does a lot of others—those whom I love and care for above and beyond myself. Perhaps if we give it a month or two we could develop differences? I could tell my father that I can’t stay with you, that we don’t get along, and he’d understand. It won’t be as harsh, and you would be free to do as you please.” Looking at her, he wondered. Did she really mean what she said?
“It’s just a request.”