Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Equations – A Love Story

From my Creative Writing Archives:

Here is a story from my short fiction anthology COCKTAIL which comprises 27 short stories about relationships. 

EQUATIONS is one of my earliest pieces of short fiction. I am posting it again for you to read, updated and abridged.

I wrote this story around 25 years ago, way back in the 1990s. 


This story was highly appreciated then – and I am sure you will like it now too...

EQUATIONS 
By
VIKRAM KARVE

 
          The doorbell rings.

          I open the door.

          Oh my God – it’s Dilip... Suddenly, out of the blue. After so many years.

          I feel a tremor of trepidation. 

          Ten years ago  I would have been delighted to see Dilip at my door. But today  I wish he hadn’t come.

          Dilip is the only secret I have kept from my husband.
 
          “What do you want...?” I ask rudely.
 
          “A glass of water to start with,” Dilip says, with his patent smile.

           He walks in casually and sits on the sofa.
 
          I hurriedly close the front door, go inside the kitchen, take out a bottle of cold water form the fridge and as I pour the water into a glass I realize that my hands are shaking. Desperately trying to steady myself I walk slowly into the drawing room and keep the glass on the table.
 
          “What’s wrong with you Nalini...?” Dilip asks, looking me directly in the eye.
 
          “You shouldn’t have come here,” I shout, instantly regretting my rudeness. But it is true; I really wish he hadn’t come.
 
          “I am sorry,” Dilip says. “I didn’t know you hate me so much.”
 
            Dilip gets up from the sofa and stands facing me. I can see that he is flaming mad. But his fury is visible only in his eyes. His manner is relaxed and nonchalant. He walks to the table, picks up the glass, drinks the water and keeps the glass back on the table. “Thanks,” he says, and begins to head towards the front door.
 
            He opens the door, pauses for a moment, and turning to me he says: “Nalini. You should have told your husband about us. Trust is the keel upon which a marriage is built. There is no place for secrets between husband and wife. Someday he will come to know. You can take my word for it.”
 
            With those words, Dilip walks out and shuts the door. For a moment I am nonplussed; then comprehension dawns on me pretty fast. A strange tocsin sounds in my brain: ‘Blackmail’... Dilip is going to Blackmail me, take his revenge, and get even...   
 
          I open the door, rush out and intercept Dilip before he can get into the lift. I catch hold of his wrist and literally pull him inside the house. I shut the door and plead, “Please wait, Dilip. Don’t go. I’ll be back in a moment.” Then I go to the bathroom and wash my face, trying to regain my composure.
 
          When I return to the drawing room, Dilip smiles at me and says, “Nalini, how could you even imagine that I would blackmail you...?”
 
          I remain silent, feeling ashamed of myself.

          Dilip had genuinely loved me... probably he even loves me today. I had loved him too, but as far as marriage is concerned one has to be rational.

          At that point of time Dilip, who was my classmate in college, was still searching for a job. He was not from a very well-to-do family and, frankly, I did not consider him marriage material. Like most middle-class girls I was seeking a husband with prospects of status and wealth, hoping for an opportunity to marry up the social scale.

          And yes, what a success my marriage has been.

         Today I have everything I want – two lovely children (a boy and a girl), a loving and doting husband, Sanjay, a luxurious house in a posh locality, and all the happiness and prosperity I could ever hope for.

         And now, Dilip has suddenly appeared from nowhere.

         I have to be very careful – one wrong move and everything I have built so meticulously will collapse like a pack of cards.

         I look at Dilip and smile. I wonder what he does for a living.
 
          “I joined the Merchant Navy,” he says, as if reading my mind with the power of clairvoyance. “I’m the Captain of a ship now... I’ve just been promoted a Master.”
 
           I am impressed. Dilip has certainly done well. A Master Mariner – Captain of a huge ship.
 
    I try to imagine what life would have been like had I married him. The wife of a Merchant Navy Officer - Sailing around the world, on the high seas, to exotic destinations, so adventurous, so exciting... I wonder who he has married. Lucky girl...
 
          “I am not yet married,” Dilip says, as if he is reading my mind. Clairvoyance again...this is too much...
 
            “You still haven’t got married...? Why...? Why didn't you get married...?” I ask, trying not to sound too curious.
 
          “Well, I couldn’t find a wife, that’s all... You know I am not much of a ladies’ man and now I am thirty two. There is hardly anyone I knew still left.” He pauses for a moment. “And now I am all alone in this world. Besides, I have spent my last few years at sea. How do you expect me to find a wife...?”
 
          “Nothing is simpler,” I say. “You are still quite young and most eligible. Just put an ad in the newspapers. Or better still try one of these matrimonial sites on the internet.”
 
           “That’s exactly what I have done,” Dilip says.
 
          “Really...? Any response...?” I feel a sense of relief. Why...? I do not know.
 
          “That’s why I have come to Pune. To see a girl,” Dilip says as he lights a cigarette.
 
          I make a mental note to clean the ash-tray as soon as he leaves. Sanjay does not smoke. And he does not like visitors who do. It’s an antique ash-tray – more for ceremonial purposes than for use.
 
          “It was sheer luck,” Dilip says, “Getting your address, I mean. I met Shalini at Delhi airport last evening. She told me you had shifted to Pune.”
 
  He takes out an envelope from his shirt-pocket and puts it on the table. and says: “The girl stays right here near your house in the Deccan Gymkhana area. There’s a photo and her letter inside. Take a look. Maybe you know her.”
 
          I look impatiently at the wall-clock. It was almost 11 o’clock. And my daughter will return from nursery school at 12 noon. I don’t want anyone to see Dilip here.

         “Listen Dilip,” I snap irritably, “Please go away. And don’t come back. I don’t want to get involved in your affairs.”
 
          “Relax, Nalini. I just want your opinion,” Dilip says. He takes a deep drag of smoke and stubs his cigarette in the ash-tray.
 
          Then he takes out a photo from the envelope and holds it in front of my eyes. The moment I see the face in the photo I feel stunned, as if I have been pole-axed. It is Lata - my best friend.
 
          My mind goes into a tizzy. ‘Dilip and Lata’. My ex-lover and my best friend. A lethal combination. Too dangerous. Too close for my comfort. I don’t want Dilip anywhere near my life. If Sanjay ever comes to know about us – everything would be shattered. I have to stop this madness.
 
          I take the photo from Dilip’s hand and make pretence of looking at it. I desperately rack my brain. What should I do, say to Dilip... how should I word it...? Finally, I say: “Dilip, don’t misunderstand me. If I were you, I would be careful. Drying a divorcee’s tears is one of the most dangerous pastimes known to man.”
 
          “Pastime...? What nonsense...” Dilip erupts, “I going to marry her...”
 
         “Don’t Dilip. Don’t marry Lata. You’ll regret it all your life. What do you know of her past...?”
 
          “She’s written everything. Bared her life.” He takes out a letter from the envelope. “At least she’s not hiding things like you. She’s just an innocent divorcee.”
 
          “Innocent Divorcee...? Well, she’s a divorcee for sure, but about the ‘innocent’ part of it…well, let’s not delve too much...” I say sarcastically, “You are naive, Dilip, a simpleton. Just forget about her and go back.
 
          Dilip looks startled, but I can detect a trace of disappointment in his expression. I look again at Lata’s photo. She looks her ravishing best. I am sure Dilip has fallen for her – just looking at her photo. I can feel the venom rising in my throat as I say to Dilip: “She’ll mess up your life. Mesmerize you, use you and then discard you. That’s what she always does.”
 
          I pause to let the words sink in. Then I look intently at him and say in my most convincing voice: “Trust me, Dilip. I want you to be happy. Don’t get desperate. You’ll get many good proposals. I’ll help you out.”
 
          I hate myself for my mendacity, for speaking these lies, for the harm I am doing to my best friend. Poor Lata. She is such a good friend. I know the divorce was no fault of hers. And Dilip is ideal for her. And she for him. But then I have to look after my own interests first.
 
           Dilip grins. Then he smiles like a Cheshire cat. He has seen through my lies. He says, “I am not such a fool, Nalini. I’ve understood everything. And I still love you. I’ll do anything for you.”

           Dilip folds the letter and puts it in his pocket. “Give me her photo,” he says, and he gently takes the photo from my hands and says: “I’ll return it to her tomorrow.”
 
          “Tomorrow...?” I ask in panic.
 
            Dilip takes out the letter from his pocket, unfolds it and reads from the latter: “Let’s meet at 10 o’clock in the morning at Vaishali. On the 25th of May. That’s tomorrow morning. We – Lata and Me – we are scheduled to meet tomorrow morning.

            He looks at me intently and says: “Come on, Nalini. I can’t ditch her just like that. Why are you worried...? I’ll take care.”
 
          “Please finish off everything and go back today. Please... Please Dilip... go back today...for my sake...!” I plead with him.
 
            “Okay,” Dilip says softly. “But decency demands that at least I meet her and apologize. I don’t want to hurt her feelings.” He takes out the letter and starts reading, “1st Prabhat Lane , House No...” 
 
          “There’s no need to meet her. You ring her up from here and cancel the appointment...” I say  pointing to the telephone, “Or – better still – you say that you couldn’t make it to Pune. Give some excuse. You say that you are speaking from Delhi . Use your cell phone if you like. I’ve got her number.”
 
          “No,” he says firmly. “It’s a delicate matter. I must see her personally.” He gets up and walks towards the door and says to me: “Don’t worry, Nalini. I’ll handle it. And you shall never see me again. I promise. I’ll leave forDelhi tonight.”
 
            As soon as he leaves  I decide to follow him discreetly. Just to make sure.

            An ominous scary feeling of anxiety envelopes and overwhelms me. I am going crazy with fear. And suspicion. The stakes are too high. I can trust no one. Not even Dilip.
 
          I heave a sigh of relief as I see Dilip turn into 1st Prabhat Lane. He takes out Lata’s letter and seems to be confirming her address.

          Then he starts crossing the street and walks towards the entrance of Lata’s ground floor house. Suddenly Dilip stops in his tracks. He looks shocked and startled. I follow his gaze.
 
            Oh my God... I can’t believe what I see...
 
          My husband Sanjay is standing in the open door of Lata’s house. Sanjay hastily closes the door and starts walking away towards the other end of the street. Sanjay is looking around furtively  like someone with a guilty conscience.

          I cannot begin to describe the emotion I feel 
 but my next few moments are just vivid flashes in a void.

         The next thing I remember is that I am sitting with Dilip in Café Good Luck with a cup of strong refreshing tea in front of me. The hot tea is rejuvenating.
 
          “You must go home now...” Dilip says, “It’s almost 12 Noon. Your daughter will soon be home.”
 
          “She’ll stay at my neighbor’s place...” I say, “Give me your cell phone.”
 
            I ring up my neighbour and tell her to look after my daughter till I come home. Then, on a sudden impulse  I dial my husband Sanjay’s number.
 
          “I have told you not to disturb me in office...” my husband snaps. “I am extremely busy since morning in an important meeting.” Then contrite, he adds: “Anything the matter...?”
 
          “Nothing – I just called up to say Hello...” I say  and I disconnect.
 
          “He’s lying...” I tell Dilip, “He told me that he was in his office all morning.”
 
          Deep down, I feel terribly betrayed. How could my husband Sanjay do this to me...? And my best friend Lata...? I have been such a good friend to her  I have helped her so much. I wonder how long they have been cheating me. How long has this affair beween my husband Sanjay and my best friend Lata been going on. Right under my nose. I have been faithful to Sanjay. And how I dearly loved him too.
 
          “Isn’t it terrible...?” Dilip asks.
 
          “What...?”
 
          “To love and not be loved in return...”
 
          “Don’t say such things, Dilip. I beg of you. As it is I am feeling so demoralized.”
 
          “Demoralized, demoralized...” he repeats. “I like your choice of words.”  Then he gestures towards me and says: “There is no point living a lie. When a relationship gets demoralized by distrust  it is better severed and terminated, than patched up.”
 
          I gaze at him, stupefied. How could he say such hurting things...?
 
          “When one is furtive and guilt-ridden, nothing is pleasurable,” Dilip continues, “And how long can you pretend...? And go on keeping secrets from each other...? Just to sustain the facade of conjugal conviviality for the outside world. For others’ sake.”
 
          I am close to tears now. Why is Dilip hurting me like this when I am most vulnerable...? Has he any motive...? Comprehension slowly dawns on me. But no... Not Dilip... I know him so well.
 
          “But that’s all rhetoric,” he says, “Easier said than done!” He pauses, smiles and says: “You know what you should do, Nalini...? Just go back to your house and continue your life as if nothing has happened.”
 
          And that is exactly what I do. I bid Dilip good-bye and I go straight home. I look at the dirty ash-tray and think of Dilip. Instinctively my hand moves to pick up the ash-tray and clean it  but I do not clean the ash-try – I just leave Dilip’s cigarette butt there.
 
          My husband Sanjay comes home late in the evening back from office as usual. He looks at me and asks me: “Why did you ring me up in the office...?” 
 
          “Oh, it was nothing important...” I reply, “I had gone shopping with Lata to Main Street and Camp in the morning. We spent the entire morning in the new Mall, shopping to our hearts’ content, and we were so famished that we decided to go to the club for lunch. Lata told me to ring you up and ask you if you wanted to have lunch with us at the club, that’s all. But then you were busy all morning in an important business meeting, weren’t you...?”
 
          For an instant Sanjay looks startled  momentarily frozen  but he recovers quickly.

          Then 
– he sits on the sofa.

          He notices the dirty ash-tray 
– he looks at the cigarette stub. He quickly picks up the ash-tray – and  without a word – he empties the ash-tray into the dustbin.
 
Sanjay never asks me who the visitor was.

         He never will.

         He dare not.

         The equations in our marriage have now changed forever. 

VIKRAM KARVE
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Disclaimer:
This story is a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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