Friday 15 September 2017

Short Story 2017 Shortlist Keya Kulkarni


I was filing my long rose-red nails, when I heard the door slam below. I sighed, knowing it would be my husband, the notorious Indraneil Shekhar, back from one of his shindigs. How I used to long for his company a few years ago, and how I dreaded it now! Well, a few years ago is quite a period of time, I consoled myself. After all, hadn’t Aisha divorced her good-for-nothing husband within a month of their glitzy wedding! I heard him come upstairs and go to his room, without bothering to look in on me. Love is surely a fickle lady.

As the only child of Vishal Singh, the steel magnate, my childhood and adolescence was carefree. I was known to be a wayward girl, and my wild ways were the talk of the town. Naturally, my parents had been overjoyed when I had announced my plans to renounce partying and settling down. Their joy was short-lived, however. The man I had brought home as a suitor, Indraneil, was decidedly not ‘a suitable boy’. My parents tried to convince me to change my mind. I could marry any well-off boy, and live like a queen, they said. Why did I wish to spend the rest of my life with this wastrel sculptor?
In the end, I got my way, as always. My father, being a shrewd businessman, made us sign a pre-nuptial agreement. It denied Indraneil the right to a single penny of my fortune if he filed for divorce, or if he gave me any reason to file for divorce, specifically harassment or adultery. My father seemed to think he had ensured my happiness.

Far from it, the pre-nuptial was now standing in between me and my happiness. Neither did Indraneil himself agree to file for divorce, nor did he give me a valid reason to do so. I decided to try one last time. I went to his room. He was sitting on his bed, bleary-eyed.

“Hello Mallika.” He looked up at me.
“I shall come straight to the point.”
“As you always do.” He sneered.
“I want a divorce.”
“Go file for it. Have I stopped you?”

“You know very well I am not going to do it. I shall not part with a single rupee of my wealth.”
“Your wealth? It’s your father’s. You haven’t done a day’s work in your life.”
“Have you? All you do is sit around in your studio playing with plaster.”
“You knew it when you married me.”
“Well now I’m tired of it. I’m tired of you.”
“Then divorce me, love.” He lit up a cigarette.

“Neil, please.” I pleaded. “You and I are sick of each other. Is it not appropriate that we go our separate ways?”
“It is. And we will. Only after I get my share. I believe it’s quite fair, given what I’ve put up with for all these years.”
“Ok, Neil. I may have hit you on one or two occasions, I’m sorry. You were a gentleman and never retaliated.”
“Gentleman? Oh please! I know you hit me on purpose to provoke me. I was too smart to take your bait.”
“How about we make a deal? I can give you ten lakhs.”
“It’s half your share, or nothing. You can choose to part with two crores, or put up with me for the rest of your life.”
I felt like screaming, “I don’t have two crores to give you!” But restrained myself. Indraneil was devious enough of tattling to my father.

I turned on my heel and walked out. I sat on my four-poster and rubbed my forehead, thinking of the rising pile of debts I had, unknown to anyone else. I had fallen into the vicious circle of gambling, and borrowed heavily to pay for my losses.

I had thought of going to my parents, but they had cut me off after they found my twin babies alone in the house one day. They took the babies home with them, and never spoke a word to me. I had conceived them by IVF and surrogacy, not wanting to lose my toned figure. They were fascinating at first, almost my replicas, and I never left them alone. Then, like Indraneil, they became monotonous, and looking after them constantly was a tedious task. With nothing else to interest me, I had turned to a casino. What was at first an innocuous means of amusement morphed into an all-consuming monster.

The money I had left was barely enough to survive for a month. I had discreetly stopped the maids, the shopping and the spa sessions, but the goons who I owed weren’t willing to wait. My plan A was to get a divorce from Indraneil, and seek sympathy from my parents. Surely, their hearts would melt when they saw their only daughter abandoned by her husband.
Evidently, Plan A had failed. I had to move to Plan B.

Indraneil and I had insured ourselves in a fit of newly married frenzy. He was my nominee and vice versa. At the time, we could afford high premiums. If he died, I would be richer by a few crores, enough to pay off my debts. Unfortunately, he was as fit as a fiddle. Death had to be given a little helping hand.

“You realise there’s no other option, don’t you? I have to do this.” I said anxiously to Tanya.
“There has to be some other way out Malli.” She frowned. Tanya was my closest friend. We had been classmates in school, and she had stuck by my side through thick and thin. She was the only person who would help me, and I needed help if I had to carry out my plan successfully.
We were at a common friend’s party at a hi-end pub. I had managed to break away from the crowd, and pull Tanya aside on a pretext.

“Tanya, I’ve thought of everything else. He has to go.”
“Why don’t you let me talk to him? Maybe I can drill some sense into his head.”
“You?” I was surprised. “You two have always hated each other. You think he will listen to you?”
“Why not give it a shot? If it doesn’t work then you can bump him off.”
“No, there’s no time to be lost. It has to be done tonight. He’s at home alone today, and that happens very rarely nowadays. I am not going to miss this opportunity.”
“Malli, think about it. The guilt will haunt you for the rest of your life.”
“I can live with it.” I said shortly. “I shall be the one to go and do the actual act. All you have to do is say I was with you. Now, are you going to help me or not?”
“What if I say no?”
“Then I shall find someone else to be my alibi. Uday, over there, for instance. All play no work. I’m sure he could do with a spot of cash.”
“I’ll do it.” Tanya looked white and strained.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Although I could buy an alibi, she was the one person I trusted not to lose her nerve in front of the police.
“Thanks Tanya. I owe you big time.”
“Stay safe ok. And come back here as soon as you’re done…” She broke off.
“I’ll be back before anyone realises I’m gone. Don’t worry.”
As I walked away, I looked back at her. She was fiddling with her phone nervously. Was she informing the police? Or my parents? I almost stopped right then but she looked up and gave me a fleeting thumbs up. Somehow, that gave me the courage to slip out through the back door.

I opened the door with my spare key. Indraneil would be in his studio at this time. My guess turned out to be right. He was immersed in his work, busy giving shape to a model of a tree. I started to silently tread towards the door when his phone vibrated. I stopped in my tracks. I was now hidden behind the curtain so he couldn’t see me.
I observed him carefully as he walked towards the door. Time was running out but I suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and began counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight….”

He was bent over his phone. His back was turned towards me. I came out from behind the curtain.
“Seven, six, five…”
I was almost within reach now. I put my hand inside my jacket and felt the handle of the slender but razor-sharp knife.
“Four, three, two...”

All of a sudden, before I could remove it, he turned.
“What are you doing here, Malli?”
I froze, and the enormity of the situation suddenly dawned on me. I was struck with the realisation that I had been saved from a great evil. The knife inside my jacket felt cold. I had no answer to give him. I just stared at his face. Had he realised what I was about to do?
“I shall file for divorce tomorrow. Is that ok?”
I simply nodded, unable to speak. He turned to continue his work, as if nothing had happened.

Ten months later, I was sitting on the sofa in my parent’s living room, playing with the twins. They had grown up now, and were quite a handful.
My parents had paid off the debts. I had felt like a huge burden was lifted off my chest. I hadn’t visited a single casino or pub since that terrible day.
Now all I did was look after my babies. My father had suggested I join the family business as a partner, but I had preferred to apply as a secretary.
“Mamma” one of the twins screeched, as a toy got tangled in his hair. I smiled, and disentangled it. The other one made a ball out of the newspaper and threw it at me.
“It’s today’s newspaper, baby. Don’t ruin it. Your grandmother still has to read it.” I smoothened its creases.

My eyes fell upon a notice published in the announcements section:
“This is to announce the marriage of Tanya Aiyer and Indraneil Shekhar, dated 24th August 2015.”
So Tragedy had been prevented by a mortal’s hand, and not Providence!
I called a florist and sent the couple flowers.

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