“I got a call from your mom today. She invited us over to Bareilly, there’s a family wedding that we need to attend”, Sameer said as he took Shruti’s handbag from her and put in on the sofa. Shruti had returned from office and looked tired while Sameer had reached home earlier in the evening. Shruti didn’t react to what he said and went straight to the bathroom to freshen up, leaving Sameer a little confused.
“I thought you would be excited” he said to her as she came out of the bathroom, towel in hand, wiping her wet face.
“I have a lot of work at office Sameer, I can’t take leave”, Shruti said curtly and went into the bedroom.
Sameer was a little taken aback. Shruti was quite close to her mother and in the last six months that they had been married Sameer had not seen her lose any opportunity to see her. Her mother had even come and stayed with them on multiple occasions.
Shruti’s father had passed away when she was a child and she was naturally close and protective about her mother. Shruti had spent her childhood in Bareilly with her mother and her younger brother. Her mother and most of her maternal side family lived in Bareilly. Shruti had moved to Delhi with her mother and her younger brother after she completed her 11th standard, leaving the support of their extended family. Their family had advised them against moving to the big city. How will a single woman raise her children in the big city? Two women living alone would seem like easy prey for men, they had warned, with her brother considered too young to be a man. It was Shruti who insisted and convinced her mother that it would be best for her and her brother’s education and future.
Living in the big city had been a struggle and Shruti’s mother worked hard to make ends meet. Shruti supported her in household activities and later taking up tuitions teaching little children for extra income. Shruti got admission in Delhi University after her 12th and started her BA in English Literature. It was in college that she met Sameer. Sameer was much older than Shruti, working on this PhD when Shruti joined college. Sameer was tall, well-built and stood out of the crowd because of the beard and long hair he sported at that time. Shruti fell for his calm and composed demeanour as he seemed to have a steadying effect on her life that had been a struggle since their days in Bareilly. She felt safe with him with Sameer being extra protective about her. In her third year of college, Sameer proposed asked her mother for her hand in marriage.
There was resistance from both families about the match. Age difference, different family backgrounds, Shruti’s widowed mother, and horoscopes, the list of reasons seemed endless, but none of them seemed logical to Sameer and Shruti. Eventually they got married in full traditional ceremonies. After marriage, Sameer asked Shruti’s mother and her brother to stay with them but that was not acceptable to her mother. And thus, they moved back to Bareilly, to the comfort of her extended family.
Sameer followed Shruti to the bedroom confused. “Did your mom call you?” he asked.
“Yes, she did”, came the curt response from Shruti.
“And….”, Sameer prodded on.
“I don’t want to go to Bareilly Sameer”
Shruti picked up a glass of water. Her hands shook as she took a sip from the glass. Sameer was befuddled about Shruti’s behaviour. He came and stood close to her and took the glass from her shaking hand. Something seemed to have upset her and he wasn’t sure what it was.
“But why?” Sameer asked gently, “You haven’t been to Bareilly since you moved to Delhi. This would be a good opportunity to go back and meet everyone. All your cousins will be there, and your aunts and uncles”, Sameer tried to reason.
Shruti seemed to convulse at this. “Get away from me” she shouted as she pushed Sameer back violently and went and sat in the corner of the bed. Bundling her arms around her legs, she buried her face in her body and started to cry. Sameer wasn’t sure what had triggered this reaction in Shruti. He had not seen her react like this ever before. Sameer put his arms gently around her to calm her down. “Tell me what happened” he whispered as he hugged her and held her close to him.
“I can’t go back there Sameer. I can’t face Jagan mama*”, Shruti said between her sobs.
Sameer continued to hold her in his arms. “What happened with Jagan mama?” he asked gently.
Shruti broke down and between her sobs she told him how Jagan mama had physically abused her repeatedly in her childhood. She didn’t have the courage to tell anyone, not even her mother because their family had supported them in times of trouble. She had finally found a way out by moving to Delhi. She couldn’t bear the thought of facing him at any cost.
Sameer held her in his arms until she calmed down. “Do you trust me?” he whispered to her. Shruti looked up to him, teary eyed and confused at what Sameer was asking. If there was someone she trusted completely it was Sameer. She blinked still unsure why Sameer was asking this. “We leave tomorrow early morning for Bareilly”, he said with gentle firmness, still holding her in his arms reassuringly.
“No” Shruti protested weakly but she felt a certain determination in Sameer’s voice.
“Don’t worry, we won’t stay long, just need to complete some formalities” he said, “Nothing will happen to you, I promise.”
Shruti spent the night tossing and turning in bed, not sure why Sameer was insisting on going but she knew she would be safe with him around.
They reached Bareilly in the afternoon. The house was still being decorated for the marriage, the hustle-bustle of the workers all around. A young boy ran inside to announce their arrival and Shruti’s mother and other relatives came out to receive them. Hugs and loud voices greeted them, welcoming them and at the same time complaining why they hadn’t visited Bareilly in all these years.
Tea was served along with sweet and savoury snacks as things settled down. Sameer went to Shruti’s mother and inquired about Jagan mama. Shruti’s mother shouted at a young girl around to call Jagan mama. Shruti heard her mother’s call for Jagan mama and her eyes widened in fear, looking for Sameer amongst the crowd of people. Sameer looked at her and gestured her to calm down.
Jagan mama arrived boisterously, loudly asking about Shruti and Sameer. As he stood near the door, Sameer stepped ahead. He walked across the hall full of people up to Jagan mama and without any warning flung his hand back and landed a loud slap on his face. The sound of the slap stunned everyone, and the room went quiet. It took a minute or so, but it seemed like eternity for Shruti’s mother to realize what had happened. She rushed forward and yanked Sameer by his arm.
“Have you gone mad”, she shouted at him.
“No mummy ji, I haven’t gone mad. If I had gone mad, mama would be standing here alive” Sameer said calmly. “This man will not come into this house ever again if you don’t want me to go mad” he said sternly to Shruti’s mother. He then moved close to Jagan mama and whispered threateningly in his ear “You know why I am saying this right?”
Stunned Jagan mama nodded and quietly left the house leaving everyone shocked. Shruti started to cry in the corner while her mother sat stunned. The cousins and other relatives dissipated carrying details of what happened and even things that didn’t happen to share with others in the family and friends. Shruti finally told her mother what Jagan mama had done to her in her childhood and they both cried their hearts out.
That day the bond between Shruti and Sameer was cemented with dependency that would be hard to break.
* Mama = Uncle (mother’s brother)