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Shades of Grey – Shruti

Shruti – 1: Marooned

10 August 2008

I felt heavy in my head as I lay face down. The sound of the ocean was resounding. It took me sometime to realize that I was lying on a beach with the sea pushing and pulling me with its waves. I would feel the push towards the shore and then the passing wave would try to pull me back in the ocean. My face was full of sand. I realized I was fully clothed, right down to my shoes. My whole body hurt. My fingers were puffed with the effect of staying in the water for too long. My lips were sore. The saltiness of the sea was hurting my elbow. I realized I had a cut on my elbow.

Where was I? I opened my eyes. The sun hurt my eyes. It seemed like morning. Occasionally I heard a seagull’s sound. What had happened? I wasn’t sure. It was hard to remember with the heavy pain in the head. I crawled up the shore, slowly getting up as I pulled myself out of the water. What was this place? I scanned my eyes across. I saw the beach and up ahead was thick vegetation, a jungle perhaps. I laboriously turned around to face the ocean. The white waves were lazily hitting the shore. It must be low tide I thought. I put my hand to shade my eyes from the sun’s glare. I could only see water everywhere. The sound of water and the wind was screaming in my ears. What the hell had happened? I still couldn’t recall.

I walked up on the shore away from the water, dazed. Okay, where is everybody? Is this some sort of a joke? I tried to shout for help but my voice was so feeble, I could barely hear it myself. I stumbled and tripped as I walked on. I reached the trees and in the shade. The wind was strong and the trees swayed. I heard an occasional shrill bird sound breaking through the sound of waves and the wind. Was it a parrot or some other bird? I tried shouting again. This time I was loud enough to hear myself over the natural sounds. Surely there must be people here somewhere, I thought. I shouted again, and again, and again. There was no response. The silence was deafening. I walked back to the shore and again scanned around. I could see the beach extending as far as my eyes could see. Is this an island, I wondered? I could see a hill, not too high, covered with green vegetation. Closer to the beach there seemed like coconut trees. The whiteness of the sand was more prominent as the sun rose. The reflection of the sand hurt my eyes. The sea was crystal clear.

It dawned on me that I was seemingly alone. I wasn’t sure if I was on an island but I prepared myself to explore the land on which I was standing. I still couldn’t remember what had happened and how I survived in the sea. I did not know how to swim and still I had seemingly floated ashore. It was a strange feeling being completely alone. The place was beautiful, picturesque white sands and blue waters. But it wasn’t a holiday that I was on. I had to find out what happened to me. I had to get out of here, to where? Anywhere with people I guess. Ah, my head still hurt.

 

Shruti – 2: Tragedy

28 September 2008

 

Shruti woke up breathing heavily. There was a thin layer of sweat on her forehead. She was in her bed. Sameer was sleeping soundly besides her. It was the same dream she had been consistently having every now and then. It always feels so very real, she thought. The clock showed thirty minutes past four. Shruti got out of the bed and went to the kitchen to make some tea. It was still dark outside as Shruti sat on a chair in her balcony. Sunrise was still an hour away but birds had begun chirping on the tree that rose majestically to her balcony. She sipped her tea wondering why she always got the same dream when Sameer arrived from his tour.

Sameer and Shruti would complete five years of their marriage this year. Shuti had fallen in love with Sameer in college but it was a few years after college that their relationship blossomed. After two years of courtship and overcoming some resistance from the families, Sameer and Shruti were married in a traditional ceremony.

A year later Shruti gave birth to a little girl. Sameer had been absolutely thrilled as he stayed with Shruti in the delivery room throughout the delivery. The girl was a healthy child when she was born. They named her Samridhi. The first year went like a dream. Sameer and Shruti were caring parents and tried to provide the best of things for Samridhi. Shruti quit her job and to be a full time mother.

Samridhi had a grand first birthday. Sameer and Shruti threw a huge party for more than 200 people. And unlike most children, Samridhi didn’t cry at her first birthday. It seemed as though she was enjoying all the attention. Even as balloons burst around her, Samridhi giggled heartily, enjoying the popping sound. As the party progressed late into the night, Samridhi slept gently on Shruti’s shoulder. Sameer kissed her on the cheek and then gently kissed Shruti on the lips. He took Samridhi from Shruti’s shoulder and put her to sleep in a custom build cot next to their bed. It had been a tiring and long day and Sameer and Shruti were very tired when everyone left. They slept almost immediately as they hit the bed.

Sameer had an important meeting the next day and rushed to office in the morning. Shruti started her ritual of giving Samridhi a bath in the morning. The maid completed the work and left as Shruti prepared the bath tub. She made sure that the water was just right, not too hot and not too cold. As she put a few drops of water on Samridhi’s arms, Samridhi giggled in delight and put her hand in the bath tub. Shruti lifted her and sat her in the bathtub. Samridhi enjoyed the floating feeling as she sat and started playing with the water. Suddenly the door bell rang. Shruti wondered who it could be. She looked at Samridhi who was playing with the water. “I’ll just be back baby” Shruti said as she kissed Samridhi on her forehead.

“Kaun hai?” Shruti asked as she looked through the peephole on the door

“Madam courier” the voice outside said.

Shruti saw a boy of about twenty in some sort of a uniform. She opened the door and he gave her envelop and asked her to sign some papers. As she took the pen from him, he grabbed her hand and pushed her inside the house. Two other men followed him as they pushed their way inside the house and closed the door behind them. One of the men placed a hand on her mouth and pushed a knife on her throat.

“Awaaz nahin” he said in a soft but threatening voice as the other two hurried inside ransacking the house. Shruti was terrified. The hand on her mouth was hard and rough, and she was having difficulty breathing. He pinned her against the wall as she struggled to get a sound out. The knife pressed deeper into her throat and she felt blood dripping down on to her blouse. She pleaded with her eyes unable to say anything, mumbling against the pressed hand. Suddenly the man hit her on the head with the back of his knife. She felt a strange numbness as she felt more blood trickling down her forehead. He hit her again twice before she lost consciousness and dropped on the floor.

When Shruti regained consciousness she saw that the house had been ransacked. She touched her forehead and felt the warm blood. She was too stunned at what had happened. Suddenly she remembered Samridhi. She crawled and hauled herself up against the wall and half ran towards the bathroom, stumbling on her way on the fallen chair. She stormed into the bathroom and dropped on her knees and burst into tears. Samridhi was floating in the bathtub face down. Shruti pulled her out of the water and lay her on the floor. She shook Samridhi violently as she tried to revive her. She breathed into Samridhi’s mouth pumping her small chest, crying all the time. Samridhi lay still, no sound, no movement as Shruti shouted hysterically. Shruti did not know when her neighbours came inside. The lady who she would say hello to everyday was holding her tightly trying to console her. Another man was trying to feel Samridhi’s pulse. He shouted to someone outside to call the police and ambulance. It took some time for Shruti to realize that the lady holding her was asking her husband’s phone number.

Sameer arrived just after the police. There was chaos everywhere in the house and police was asking everyone to go outside. Shruti was still crying and fell on to Sameer as he arrived.

“Where’s Samridhi?” he shouted above Shruti’s crying. She pointed to the bathroom. Sameer rushed inside to see Samridhi’s body covered in a white cloth that police had placed.

“Why aren’t you taking her to the hospital?” he shouted at the constable standing in the bathroom. He got up and grabbed the constable’s collar, “Why aren’t you trying to save her?” he shouted as he tried to wrestle with the constable. Two other policemen grabbed him and dragged him outside the bathroom. The inspector tried to console him and calm him down.

The post mortem report said that Samridhi died of water in her lungs. Shruti had to get stitches on her skull. The police were never able to trace the three men. They declared robbery as the motive and Samridhi’s death an unfortunate incident. The neighbours tried to console Shruti and Sameer, saying it was God’s wish and worst could have happened, cursing the police for their inefficiency. Sameer never said anything to Shruti but she felt a distance between them. She tried to get him to talk, let his anger out but Sameer didn’t say much. He busied himself in work and started staying away from home. He left early and returned late from work. He went on long tours leaving Shruti alone for days and weeks at a stretch. Shruti started working and adjusted to her loneliness in the empty house. And when Sameer would return from his tours, she would get the strange dream about being completely along, marooned on an island, not sure how she had got there. And she always seemed to have this dream only when Sameer was back.

 

Shruti – 3: The Party

20 February 2009

 

Shruti was jolted out of her thoughts by Sameer’s voice. She hadn’t noticed when he had come out in the balcony. He placed his hand on her shoulder gently and wished her good morning. She smiled at him and went inside to make tea for him.

Sameer was reading the newspaper as Shruti handed Sameer the cup of tea. He didn’t look up and continued reading. She watched him as he sipped his tea. Sameer’s indifference did not seem to match their passionate love making the previous night. There was very little trace of intimacy in the morning, very different from the affection he had shown last night. Sameer had always been good in bed and she always felt complete being with him. Yet she longed for some intimacy outside their bedroom. It is not that Sameer wasn’t a good husband. He always took care of all the small things that husbands are supposed to take care of. He was a gentleman and a caring person. So why did Shruti feel the distance between them?

“We need to go to Jagdeep’s party tonight” Sameer said softly without looking up from his paper.

“Oh no, I just don’t like these parties you take me to. Specially Jagdeep’s party. You know his father, he is such a creep always trying to come close to me.” Shruti groaned.

“Just touch his feet and move away. You know how important their family is to us. They are financing our new project, so please don’t make a scene.”

‘I never make a scene’, Shruti thought and decided not to say anything. Jagdeep was Sameer’s childhood friend and from a very rich family. Jagdeep’s father was 70 years old but very active socializer. He showed great affection towards Shruti, not missing any opportunity to touch her. Shruti hated it but didn’t want to jeopardize their new project. She knew she could handle him but just hoped that Sameer would show some empathy and understand what a creep the old man was.

“Wear that yellow sari of yours, the one with sleeveless blouse” Sameer said.

Shruti gave him the look.

“You look good in it, that’s all” Sameer said.

She knew she looked good in that sari. Sameer had told her umpteen times, as had her colleagues at work.

——-

Sameer was already at home when Shruti returned from work. As she started to get ready, she noticed him wearing his most expensive suit.

“Who all are going to be there?” she asked

“Mr. Sinha has invited some officials from the ministry. These guys are the ones who will clear our projects.”

‘Mr. Sinha, the creep’ she thought. Jagdeep’s father Mr. Sinha always seemed to have the right contacts. Must be something to do with his 30 years in the government service.

—–

As Sameer and Shruti stepped into the party, Jagdeep came forward to meet them. He gave Sameer a bear hug, an indication of old friendships and they laughed loudly at something that Shruti didn’t quite catch. Jagdeep welcomed her with a gentle handshake, maintaining his distance as they walked in. Mr. Sinha was standing with his old cronies when they walked up to him. She bent down slightly to touch his feet. Mr. Sinha immediately took her arm and hugged her, preventing the ritual.

“Arre beta, yeah sab ki zaroorat nahin hain. Ab to tum gale mila karo.” he said not letting go of her. “Come let me know introduce you to my friends.”

He introduced Sameer as his second son and Shruti as his bahu.

‘Heck, why doesn’t he hug his second son damnit’, Shruti thought as she wriggled out of Mr. Sinha’s grip. She greeted the others in the group with a nameste and excused herself saying she had to help Ritu, Jagdeep’s wife.

Mr. Sinha’s disappointment almost showed on his face but he knew he couldn’t prevent her from going. Shruti felt his eyes trailing her watching her walk by. She quickly turned into the crowd trying to find Ritu.

Ritu was a boisterous, happy go lucky person. Shruti found her surrounded by a gaggle of ladies in designer saris, laden with jewellery looking like advertisements for jewellery shops. Ritu had a glass in one hand and a cigarette dangled lightly from her fingers. She hugged Shruti.

“Girl, how do you maintain such a figure? You could look at any man and he would follow you anywhere darling.” Ritu said as Shruti blushed. Shruti always thought of herself as just another middle-class girl and felt uncomfortable with Ritu’s frankness. Even after years of going to parties like these with Sameer, she still felt out of place.

Ritu waved at the waiter for a drink. She handed a Bloody Mary to Shruti.

“Zyada strong to nahin hai na?” Shruti said as she took the glass.

“Arre itna nahin sochte, abhi to pehla hi drink hai” Ritu said as she diverted her attention to a new set of ladies that had just arrived.

Shruti moved away from the crowd, sipping her drink, trying to find a quiet corner. Just then Ritu called her back and introduced her to Rachna and Sanjay. Rachna was plump and looked even more like a jewellery shop, giving Ritu competition in being boisterous and loud. The group moved away leaving Shruti and Sanjay in their awkward togetherness.

 


Shruti – 4: Strangers

21 February 2009

 

“So looks like you enjoyed the party after all.” Sameer said as he turned his car on to the main road.

“It wasn’t bad.”

“You had too much to drink. You should control yourself.” Sameer said, a little sternly.

“Of course not, I just hal a little.” Shruti smiled at him.

“You are slurring. Just be careful when you drink. You know you can’t hold it.”

“I can’t help it, you know how Ritu is. She overdoes everything. And then there was this new lady in the group who was giving Ritu such competition being loud and all. I don’t even remember her name now.” Shruti said. Sameer was quiet as their car cruised over empty roads. Shruti wondered why she did not mention Sanjay, a name she remembered very clearly. Not that she had a long conversation with him. Just a brief talk when he introduced himself as an architect and that that lady’s husband, ‘what was her name?’, Shruti thought. It was the most innocent conversation. She felt a little guilty being attracted to a man other than her husband. ‘Oh it’s just a silly crush, it will go away’ she thought.

They reached home past midnight, navigating the closed gates of their residential colony. In their bedroom she stood in front of the mirror de-jewelling herself. She didn’t like wearing too much jewellery. Sameer came and stood behind her and slowly removed the safety pin that tied her sari pallu to her blouse. He let the pallu fall and admired her in the mirror. His hands were caressing her bare shoulders as he gently nibbled at her neck. His touch on her felt nice and she closed her eyes to enjoy the moment of intimacy. Sameer’s hands slowly went in front and started opening the hooks of her blouse, caressing her breasts slowly. Shruti turned around and held him close and placed her lips on his. They kissed passionately. Sameer’s hands were exploring her body when she whispered in his ears “Sameer, I want to have a baby.”

Sameer hands stopped and his grip on her loosened. He straightened up looking at her.

“Sameer I promise I will be more careful now. I won’t open the door and won’t leave her alone, not even for one second.” Shruti pleaded, her voice quivering as she remembered what had happened three years ago. Sameer held her face in his palm, not saying anything.

“It’s been three years Sameer. How long can you go on like this, blaming me for what happened?” a tear rolled down her eye unable to move him.

“I am past 30 Sameer, how long will we wait? You know there can be complications after 35.” Shruti said as she clung to him.

“We’ll have one before you are 35.” Sameer said as he parted himself from her. She knew that meant he didn’t want to continue to the conversation.

That night they slept together like strangers, maintaining a safe distance.

 

Shruti – 5: Friendship

12 March 2010

 

As Sanjay pulled his car on to the Ring Road his cell phone beeped twice indicating the arrival of a new message. As his car sped on the open road, he read the message:

“Thank you so much for the lovely evening and dinner. I will never forget this day. You are really a nice person.”

A smile broke on Sanjay’s lips. He had taken Shruti out for dinner to a fancy Mughlai restaurant. It was a perfect evening. Shruti wore a red top and a long flowing white skirt. The dim lights of the restaurant bounced on her fair skin, giving her a glow around her. Her perfume still lingered in the car. Sanjay read the message again.

“You are really a nice person.”

He remembered looking at her soft smooth hands as she played with her rings. How he wanted to hold her hands in his.

He remembered being mesmerized by her lips as she giggled at one of his anecdotes. How he wanted to let his lips linger over them.

He remembered her beautiful feet peeping from beneath her long skirt. How he wanted to caress them gently and tickle her sole.

Sanjay pressed the down key to read the remaining message.

“I am so lucky to have you as my friend. Luv Shruti”

Sanjay moved his thumb over the small screen on his cell phone trying to feel the words on the screen.

“I am so lucky to have you as my friend. Luv Shruti”

He read the remaining message again. He brushed aside the thoughts of her soft hands and full lips. He rolled down the car windows to let her perfume blow away in the wind. He couldn’t betray her trust. He couldn’t let her down.

 


Shruti – 6: Missing Her

15 April 2010

 

It had been over three months since Sanjay had seen Shruti. Initial flurry of emails had died and phone calls had become less frequent. Over the three months, Shruti had kept him posted about her. Slowly both got busy with their respective lives.

The radio played a song that they both liked. Sanjay’s lips curled in a smile as he remembered listening to that song with Shruti. He pulled out the phone from his pocket and dialled Shruti’s number. Shruti was thrilled to hear his voice. She was so glad he called as there was so much to tell. Shruti had met Jai at a party and they had hit it off. Sanjay could feel the excitement in her voice. He felt happy for her. He knew Shruti did not need his approval but he joined her in her excitement. She just couldn’t stop gushing over her new relationship. She felt she was acting like a teenager.

He looked out of the window at the setting sun as he put the phone down. He knew there was no commitment between them and he had no business to feel jealous. He was happy for her and yet there was sadness in his heart. He knew this would happen sooner or later. But he felt sad because all he wanted to tell her was that he missed her. And yet he didn’t…

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