Lawyer Ganesh was angry. There were a quite a few reasons for his anger....
The cleaning woman had not turned up for the day; Mulla’s Hindu Law was steeped in dust; the errand boy had served him tepid tea which looked and tasted like dish water! Ganesh was intent on completing a brief, but no matter how much he shook and rattled his pen, it neither budged nor wrote. Goodness! A series of catastrophes that led him to seriously consider plunging into matrimony; it seemed like a haven – mere child’s play compared to his present stress levels.
“Mohan ! Mohan, you little devil! Where the heck are you?” Ganesh screamed at the top of his voice.
The door opened.
“You silly fool, what is this? Is this your idea of tea? God forbid that your grandpa – God! I am so sorry!” He froze in mid-curse.
The person who entered was not Mohan at all. It was a young wisp of a girl.
“I’m dreadfully sorry! I was hollering at my servant! Please be seated! Ah! Please don’t sit. Let me dust the seat for you.”
“You have a novel way of welcoming people,” she remarked. Barely twenty-two, she had cut her hair brutally short and coloured it brown. With every step of hers, her hair moved too. She was wearing some bling made of beads around her neck. The circular pendant resembled an antique coin. Her face had the vestige of a child, but she wasn’t smiling. She looked anxious. Her cheeks looked flushed, but certainly not because of make-up! She appeared as though she had been rudely thrust into the folds of a tropical climate from a colder region and the sudden change in temperature had left its red marks on her cheeks. She wouldn’t smile; not at all. So there were no hints about the shape and form of her teeth. She had thin lips. She reminded one of a fragile glass piece that would crumble at someone’s touch. Her arms did not match her height and looked uncommonly thin. Her sari was simple and could not be accused of any dressiness. She wasn’t all that thin, but it would help if she gained a few pounds. She had big, all-consuming eyes. They were now gazing at Ganesh.
“I’m Miss Monika Sharma.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Sharma! I’m Ganesh.”
The ease with which she shook hands suggested that she must have a distinct western influence. At the same time, the handshake was limp. So he presumed that she was upset or scared.
She took a seat and he too sat down.
“Five days ago, my father died,” she said.
“Oh! Is it that Mr Sharma? I’m so sorry. I did read in the paper that he had been murdered and that his missing servant could be a suspect...”
“Has the servant been found?”
“I’m sure they will find him,” said Ganesh.
“I haven’t come to discuss the servant.”
“I need your help.”
“Ask away, and I shall help. But I charge by the hour.”
“Sorry for the interruption. Who sent you to me?”
“Isn’t he in America?”
“I’m from there too. I’m studying in America. On being informed of my dad’s death I landed in India yesterday.”
“Is that so? Now I understand.”
“The reason for your handshake...”
“It is bad etiquette in India, huh?’”
“Not at all...tell me.”
“Would you happen to know the actual details of my father’s murder?”
“I just skimmed through the paper and don’t believe newspaper accounts. So you can fill me in.”
“The night of the 18th, my dad took his man-servant Govind along in his car to Hissar. He has a factory there. I’m told he was carrying fourteen thousand rupees. My dad never reached Hissar. On the 20th evening, his body was discovered lying near a bush in a park past Upper Ridge Road. No trace of the money, and Govind is missing too.”
“Please continue,” Ganesh gently encouraged.
“I received the cable way too late. I did not have ready cash. I finally garnered the money, and then had to beg and plead with Air India for a ticket. By the time I landed here, four days had elapsed. My dad had been hurriedly cremated and I didn’t even get to see his face. My only living memory of him is the image I carry in my mind when I left two years ago.”
The girl was under deliberation and tried to control the onslaught of tears that threatened to spill. Her eyes mirrored her discomfiture. She tried to wipe her eyes surreptitiously with the edge of her sari. She must have forgotten her handkerchief.
“I can feel your grief. Words cannot assuage the loss, I’m sure. It may take days, months, even years....Shall I get you some tea?” asked Ganesh.
“No thank you.”
“Something cold, then?’”
“No thanks, Mr. Dinesh.”
“My mother died when I was way too young. Since my seventh year, I have been housed in convent hostels. While my dad was busy chasing money I was crying to myself, seeking comfort by hugging a pillow, thinking of my mother and pining for her in tiny hostel rooms. All the other girls would receive snacks and short eats from home regularly. They would get fond letters. All I would get is money mailed by my dad’s secretary. Very rarely would dad’s car arrive. When he did visit, it would only be for a minute. He would flood me with presents – chocolates, frocks – and rush back to the nearest airport without even waving good-bye. I have never stayed at home. In fact I don’t even remember having one. Much later, he built a house, a wonderful one at that. He took me there for a visit and said: “This is our house; our dog; our servants; our car. This is Anita.” That’s how he introduced her to me.”
“Yes, Anita – the last milestone in my dad’s endless path of success. She’s just six years older than me. My dad’s trophy wife! You must see her to believe her. She’s ravishing, to say the least. How did she come to be his wife? I do not know. Why did she come? Why did she agree to marry my dad? It’s a mystery. I have no answer. As effortlessly as he would step into his garden, pluck a favourite flower and pin it on his coat lapel, he acquired his trophy wife too. The only house that I got in my entire life had become Anita’s. Her beauty and smartness reflected and echoed in every nook and cranny of that house. Do we need to make soup today? Ask Anita. Should the dog take a bath? Ask Anita. All of them became Anita’s slaves. She had my dad on a very short leash in her bedroom. At his age he lusted after her so much!”
“You articulate things well.”
“Look Ganesh. You needn’t patronize me. I’m seeking friendship desperately. I bet I’m much younger than you. So I need, not your respect, but friendship.”
“Right. Let’s start on equal terms and on first-name basis. Let’s be friends.”
Excerpted with permission from Anita: A Trophy Wife, Sujatha, translated by Meera Ravishankar, Westland.