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Someday My Prince Will Come

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Someday, will my prince come?

Chapter 1

As he looked at his sister and her husband as they bickered over something to do with the house Maan was planning to buy in Amritsar, Tej couldn’t help but marvel at the way in which his sister’s whims were being indulged. It was clear that Maan was only putting up a fight for forms sake and that he had every intention of letting Geet have her way.

Frowning, somehow feeling uncomfortable, he turned and caught sight of his wife; she was standing in the corner of the aangan, an unreadable smile teasing her lips. He stopped, about to call her name and tell her to get on with her work when he saw her hand lift to the corner of her eye- she slowly wiped away a tear and then straightened; after a moment she walked towards the kitchen.

He almost called out to her again—what was it with the silly woman, what on earth was there to cry about? Maan had been shown the error of his ways and he had apologised. It was only right that Geet return to her sasural now, but only now, after Maan had made all his apologies. After all, Geet’s happiness was important—his sister couldn’t be expected to live with a man who didn’t have any consideration for her.

He thought back to what Maan had said to him after their wrestling bout at the akhada.

Maan had been breathing hard from the exertion, nursing a bruise to his chest and there had been blood on dripping from a cut above his eye

“Paaji, aap Geet ke bade bhai hain, aapko haq hai apni behen ki khushi ke baare mein sochne ka. Magar main uss ka pati hoon. Agar main aisi baaton ko maanta to mein kehsakta ke hamara saath janam janam ka hoga. Usski khushi jitni mere liye zaroori hai, woh kissi ke liye nahin hai.”

He’d stopped and wiped a drop of blood from the edge of his lip before he’d spoken again

“Maine hamesha Geet se itna zyada pyar kiya ke main usske pyar mein pagal hogaya. Uss ki wajha se main Dev se itna naraaz tha, magar ghusse mein main bhool gaya ke uss ka dil kitna naram hai; ke wo ek aurat hai jissne apna sab kuch mere hawale kardiya. Main bhool gaya ke pyar jab hota hai to uss ke saath izzat bhi zaroori hoti hai; main bhool gaya ke uss ka haq hai ke main uss se izzat se baat karoon, ke uss ke saath auron se alag pesh aaoon”

He’d stopped and they’d started to talk about other things, but those words had been in Tej’s mind since then. He’d come home that evening, Maan by his side and watched as Geet ran towards Maan, scolding him whilst she began soothing his hurts. At the time, he’d been a little outraged that his sister didn’t think about how she was behaving in front of all her elders (after all, it wasn’t the proper thing to show your care for your husband in such a way, such things should be personal and private).

Tej had made his way to his room that evening, shaking his head at the way Geet was behaving. As he’d entered, he’d called as he always did “Pammi, tauliya de”

As he’d watched his wife silently retrieve the required towel and hand it to him, he couldn’t help but contrast the affectionate scolding he’d just witnessed with the downcast gaze or awkwardness that he always encountered when he looked at his wife.

Something made him say her name, then he stopped. She froze as he spoke, but didn’t turn back to look at him.

“Aap ko kuch chahiye hai ji?” she asked, her voice subdued.

“nahin bas main...........” he stopped again, surprised at his own hesitancy. He wasn’t a soft man, he’d never needed coddling, never been used to it. Beeji had never been the kind of mother to offer gentleness in his childhood, striving to make up for the lack of a father in the family. He’d always thought that was the way things were, always thought that the way he lived was the only right way.

Not sure quite what he wanted, what he was trying to say he said “pareshan hone ki zaroorat nahin hai”

“Nahin ji, main pareshaan hone wali kaun hoon, main kyun pareshaan hongi” she’d said as she started to walk out of the door “main aap ke liye chai laati hoon”

Surprised by the gentle bite in her tone he’d uttered a muted “Oye Pammi” but by the time he’d reached the door, she had whisked herself out of sight.

Tej had stood in the doorway for a moment, aware of unfamiliar sensations deep inside him

He’d stood under the cold shower that day, trying to think of the last time Pammi had shown any affection towards him. He hadn’t been able to remember if they’d ever had any moments between them similar to those between Maan and Geet, where a simple meeting of their eyes was enough to raise a blush on Pammi’s cheeks. In fact, he couldn’t remember ever speaking to her with anything more than occasional brusque kindness.

Remembering that day, Tej’s thoughts turned again to what could possibly have made Pammi cry. It wasn’t like she was a crying type of woman- he’d only ever seen her tears once, on their wedding night. It was probably the only time in his life where he’d tried to be gentle—something about the abject terror on her face when he’d approached her had made him try to be temper his approach, made him try to treat her differently from all the other women he’d been with.

He’d been as quick as he could, as gentle as he knew how, but when he’d rolled off her he’d seen the tears dripping down the sides of her cheeks as her face turned away from him. The sight had made him pause, a vague feeling of guilt entering his heart. He’d never had any complaints from the other women he’d slept with, but those were different kinds of women—he hadn’t treated his wife the way he treated them.

Following an impulse, he’d stretched his arm out to wipe her tears, then stopped as she flinched away from his touch. He’d realised that his attentions would only cause her more discomfort so had turned away from her and feigned sleep. He’d heard her get up from the bed and watched from the corner of her eye as she tidied away her bridal finery and went to the bathroom to wash. There had been an emptiness inside him, a strange sense that something was missing. He just hadn’t known what. When she’d finally returned to the bed, he’d been aware of the way she lay as far away from him as possible—if she’d been any further away she would have fallen off the bed. He’d drifted into an uneasy sleep, wishing somehow that things were different.

It was as if that night had set the tone of their relationship, and somehow the way his mother treated Pammi had influenced the way he treated her too. They were two people who shared a room and a house; she cooked and cleaned and he paid the bills for anything she wanted. His mother bought her jewellery (though she never asked Pammi’s choice) and Pammi had all the respect that Beeji’s bahu could expect. She talked and behaved like the silly woman he treated her as, though occasionally he’d catch a look in her eyes which gave him pause. Beeji seemed to have no time for her, treating her more as an unpaid servant than as a beloved daughter-in-law. Things seemed to have settled into a pattern that they had both accepted.

But there was no softness between them; he slept with her when he wanted and knew that she tolerated his attentions because it was her duty. He never talked to her or asked her advice, things that he knew his friends did with their wives- whenever he needed anything, he knew he only had to ask and Beeji would be there with sensible words.

He walked from the aangan and climbed the stairs—once on the roof, he stood in the heat of the sun and wondered what was wrong with him. His life was fine, it was good. He had respect, he had a place in society. Sooner or later he would have children. What more did he need?

Looking down, he saw his wife in the courtyard outside the house; she was laughing at Lacchi’s antics—Lacchi as always was nagging Yashpal about something. He stood and stared at the woman before him—he’d never seen her laugh. The thought shocked him; he wracked his brain for just one occasion in the last 5 years when he had heard his wife laugh out loud in his presence, but came up blank. He’d never seen her as much at ease as she was at that moment, and somehow there was a pang of guilt deep inside him at that fact.

Tej stepped forward, trying to get a better look at the expression on his wife’s face, but the movement caught her eye and she looked up. Their eyes met and her expressions changed in an instant, too quickly for him to be able to read her face. The laughter died instantly, leaving behind a brittle smile; her body language changed. Pammi looked down and drew her pallu further over her head; before he could call down to her, she had hurried back into the house, leaving Lacchi and Yashpal behind.

He stepped back, then leaned against the wall—the sun’s rays beat down on his head as he tried to make sense of the alien thoughts in his mind. Why, after 5 years of being satisfied with his life and his relationship with his wife, was he suddenly feeling unsettled? Nothing had changed. Was it simply that the contrast between the way he treated his wife and the way he expected his sister to be treated was so huge as to be cruel?

Was it the fact that he had seen the way Maan had proven his love for his wife, without changing his innate personality- was it the fact that his younger brother-in-law had managed to show him that having some gentleness in your life didn’t mean suddenly becoming weak or unmanly? Or was it simply the fact that seeing the joy that Geet’s love brought to Maan’s life had shown him what was missing from his own—that such love stories were not simply to be found in the pages of a book or on the cinema screen.

Tej shook himself—these thoughts were getting him nowhere. He had work to do.

Chapter 2

Over the next few days, Geet talked and laughed and generally behaved the way she used to years ago; she became again the smiling girl he remembered from his youth. The very urbane, civilised Maan Singh Khurana, who looked every bit the city-businessman now that he had removed his pagdi, smiled indulgently over her actions and allowed her to think she was having her way all the time.

Tej watched them closely, driven to try and understand this relationship where both partners were willing to change and adapt to the other. Would he have done what Maan did, if Pammi left him—after all, his words were often hurtful, his behaviour towards his wife falling far short of that he demanded from his brother-in-law? Would he be willing to go and face his own saale, to explain why his wife was so unhappy as to leave her sasural? He didn’t think so—till now he had never seen anything wrong with his actions.

But he kept thinking back to the moment he had seen his wife wipe away hidden tears. He realised how little he actually knew about the woman who was meant to be his ardhangini; he’d never bothered to find out. He didn’t even know why Beeji had picked Pammi for him all those years ago; certainly nothing in her behaviour towards her bahu made him think that she had any particular preference for her.

He ate with his family that evening as normal, for once aware of the number of times Pammi was ignored or belittled; he hardly spoke a word through the entire meal. He knew that most of the time, he would have joined Beeji in telling Pammi to be quiet, or that she didn’t know what she was talking about- that fact made him extremely uncomfortable. That evening, long after all the other members of the family had gone to bed, he sat on the roof of his home and thought about his life. After more than an hour of aimless woolgathering, he returned to the room he shared with his wife, expecting to find her asleep. Instead, she sat in a chair by the window, wide-awake and waiting for him.

The sound of the door opening caused her to jump to her feet; she started to say something then fell silent as she picked up on his uneasy state. He could almost see her withdraw into herself, and felt another stab of guilt—he knew why she was reacting the way she was. In the past, whenever he was in a bad mood, or troubled by something, Pammi had provided the perfect target on whom to vent his anger. He’d never raised a hand to her, but she had often taken the brunt of another’s misdeeds.

Internally chiding himself, for what was the point of going over his past actions, he tried to make himself look less intimidating.

“Kuch hua hai kya, jo tu jaag rahi hai?” he felt like kicking himself as the words left his mouth—he was so used to speaking to her that way that the words had almost picked themselves.

He watched her draw a breath in, as if stealing herself for his reaction, then she spoke in the perpetually positive tone that she always used. He wondered briefly how hard she had to work to constantly keep that happiness in her voice, then listened to what she was saying

“Woh ji, main kehrahi thi ki aaj mummyji ka phone aaya tha, woh kehrahi theen ki Barjayi ji ki godh bharai ki rasam hai do din baad; woh kehrahi theen ke agar main aajati wahan to accha hota”

He could tell that she was prepared for him to say no—there had been many occasions over the past years when he’d refused to let her go to her maika, often simply because he didn’t see the need for her to go. After all, Beeji didn’t run off to her maika all the time and none of his aunts ever seemed to visit—so why on earth did Pammi’s family seem to feel the need to see her so often.

He’d never thought he would feel guilty about that (he’d never thought about his actions with regards to his wife at all if he were honest) but today, he could still see Geet’s pleasure at being home with her family, could see how she was revelling in spending time with them all even though Maan was with her.

“Theek hai, main kal chod doonga, phir jab sab rasmein poori hojayengi, to aajana”

Walking into the bathroom, he watched through the open door as she stood there, stunned. It didn’t seem right that she was so un-used to any kindness from him. He stood in front of the mirror and looked at himself; he looked the same but somehow he wasn’t the same person who had spent the last five years married to the woman standing in the other room.

He grimaced at the thoughts running through his mind, and struggled to suppress an unreasonable anger at Geet and her husband. Why on earth had they come here, with their obvious love and affection, why had they come to highlight the contrast between what he expected for his sister and what he was giving his own wife?

He finished washing up then walked back into the bedroom. His wife was lying there, obviously expecting him to sleep with her. It had been a while, almost a month since he’d been with her, and she obviously expected him to slake his needs before she went off for even longer.

He couldn’t do it. He just couldn’t. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to- he had always wanted her, physically, even back when Beeji had shown her to him as the girl she wanted him to marry. He’d found her softness somehow alluring, specially compared to his own hard lines. That physical need was what made him keep coming back to her, why he couldn’t just take a mistress and leave Pammi in peace—there was something about her that fulfilled him in a way that no one else could. He’d tried a few times to satisfy himself with someone else, but he never found the same peace with others that he did with her, and so he always ended up back in their bed.

But tonight, he just couldn’t do it, couldn’t use her body whilst she lay there just waiting for him to be done. Was that the kind of man he was, one who thought only of himself—the thought disgusted him. He imagined how he would react if Maan was so thoughtless with Geet, or if Nandini’s husband behaved the same way; why was he so inconsiderate of his own wife whilst expecting others to treat their wives like queens.

He walked to his side of the bed and lay down, facing away from her; he could feel her surprise, then feel the tension drain out of her as she realised that she was going to be able to sleep in peace. Anger filled him at the thought that his touch was so repellent to her, followed by shame as he realised that it was his own fault. He’d never attempted to bring her any pleasure, the memory of her tears always prompting him to trouble her as little as possible. Was it any wonder that she saw his attentions as nothing more than a burdensome duty? The infrequency with which he slept with her was probably one of the reasons she hadn’t fallen pregnant yet; he thanked God that Beeji wasn’t the type to be cruel on the basis of a lack of fertility—her barbs were always reserved for lack of intelligence or silliness, and those were bad enough.

As he lay there, he was aware of her slow drift into slumber; even in sleep she stayed as far away from him as possible, clinging to her side of the bed like a limpet. A strange feeling filled him—he was half asleep before he could identify it as loneliness.


Chapter 3

Tej woke the next day at his normal hour; as always his wife had woken before him – the room was empty. He washed and dressed; as he stood in front of the mirror, he looked down and saw the things Pammi had left scattered on the table. Something twisted inside him at the sight of her toiletries, then he laughed, wondering if he had gone insane to be looking at things he knew nothing about.

As he turned to make his way out of the room, he saw the packed case by the cupboard. Pammi must have woken extra early to pack before she went down to take care of her daily responsibilities. Realising that he was going to be alone for goodness only knew how long made him wish he had refused to let her go, then he squashed the selfish thought down as he made his way down to the breakfast table.

During the meal, he was quiet; most of the conversation washed over him without leaving an impact. It was only when he heard Pammi say “Theek hai Beeji, main mummyji ko phone kardeti hoon. Koi aisi zaroori cheez thodi hai, main phir chalijaoongi” in a bright, overly cheerful voice that he emerged from his isolation

“Kya kaha, Pammi”

“Kuch nahin ji, bas Beeji ne kaha ke mujhe kya zaroorat hai jaane ki jab hamare ghar mehmaan aaye hain, to maine kaha ke main Mummyji ko phone karke kehdeti hoon”

“Nahin tu chali ja, tujhe maike gaye hue bahut din hogaye hain” he said, then paused as the table fell completely silent.

“Teji puttar, yeh kya kehrahe ho. Hamare ghar mehmaan hain, yeh phir kabhi chali jayegi”

“Nahin Beeji, Pammi ko jaane do. Hum sab Maan aur Geet ke liye hain na. Aur thode se din ke liye hi to jaa rahi hai.”

Shock rippled through his family, especially his wife, as he disagreed with Beeji. He never disagreed with her in front of anyone else, ever. If he ever had anything to say to her, he always did it in private so that as far as anyone knew, he never disagreed with her at all.

Tej felt his mother’s eyes on him, then she took a breath and said “jaise tu kehta hai puttar, theek hai.” And that was that.

He bent to his plate, aware of his wife looking at him. She didn’t say anything, perhaps not wanting to provoke Beeji, but he was aware of her shock—it was the first time in five years that he’d ever taken her side rather than Beeji’s, the first time he’d ever taken her side in anything in fact.

Conversation flowed again, with Maan and Geet again bickering about where their house should be, and how many rooms it should have. Tej kept his head down until he heard his mother chime in with some advice, then he looked up and looked straight at his wife. Their eyes met and held, probably for the first time ever; after a few seconds she looked away and busied herself with clearing his plate away.

Looking at Maan, Tej said “Main aata hoon, phir hum tumhare liye plot dekhne chalte hain”

As Maan nodded his assent, Tej continued “Chal Pammi, tujhe chod deta hoon, main gadi nikalwata hoon”

Pammi froze, darting a glance at Beeji “Ji, aap............”

“Haan, ab ja, tayyar hoja, yeh sab kaam Lacchi karlegi”

Pammi stood, her eyes darting between Tej and Beeji until Beeji spoke “Haan, ja Pammi. Jo Tej kehraha hai, tu aisa hi kar”

Tej watched as Pammi hurried to their room then turned back to see his mother’s eyes on him. He felt oddly uncomfortable, as if she was seeing something different in him and said “Bas Beeji, main aata hoon” before turning away.

Making his way to the bedroom, he watched as Pammi hurriedly tidied away a few things. She hadn’t noticed his arrival; he walked up behind her and was forced to take a step back as she turned and bumped into him. She fell back too, her hand going to her pallu to pull it back into place on her head.

“Tayyar ho to chalein” he said. She gave him a tiny smile and stepped forward to take her bag; she froze as he put his hand over hers and said “main laata hoon, ja Beeji se aashirwaad lele”

He could feel her confusion at his behaviour; he was acting so out of character that he could hardly understand his actions, so it was no wonder that she was confused—he was confused himself. She hurried ahead and bent at Beeji’s feet as he followed at a slower pace; a short while later they were seated together in the back of the Ambassador being driven to Pammi’s maika.

There was absolute silence in the car, even Yashpal having picked up on Teji’s strange mood. He sat with his arm resting on the rolled down window edge, looking out at the passing scenery. Pammi glanced over at him occasionally, as if trying to decipher the meaning of his actions, but eventually she too started to gaze out of the window.

Two hours later, they arrived at her maika. Someone had obviously been looking out for their arrival for as soon as the car stopped, the main door opened and Pammi’s mother and heavily pregnant sister-in-law Lajjo both stepped out.

As soon as Yashpal opened the door for her, Pammi ran towards them and threw her arms around her mother, holding on so tight that Tej wasn’t sure how the older woman could take a breath in. Tej stood to one side as she turned and repeated the action with her Bhabi, though her embrace was gentler for obvious reasons. He watched as she jumped back with a laugh, putting a hand on the swell of the woman’s belly- he wasn’t sure exactly what had caused the reaction but was struck with the realisation that she was happy.

He finally stepped forward to greet his mother-on-law, bending to take her blessing before saying “Satsriakal” to his sister-in-law.

“Teji puttar, agar humein pata hota ke aap Pammi ko leke aayenge to uss ke bhai zaroor aap se milne ke liye hote. Pammi batati rehti hai ki aap kitne masroof rehte hain. Humein to bas yahi khushi hai ke aap itne masroof hote hue bhi Pammi ka itna khayal rakhte hain”

Not sure exactly what the older woman meant, Tej gave a guarded smile as Lajjo broke in “Haanji, woh Pammi poori waqt batati rehti hai ke aap usski khushi ke bare mein kitna sochte hain aur Beeji usspe kitna bharosa karti hain”

Tej struggled to keep the smile on his face as he felt Pammi’s pleading gaze on him- it was obvious that Pammi had never complained once to her family about the way she was treated, instead creating the illusion that she was a much-loved wife and much appreciated bahu. He knew that she was terrified that he would say something that would destroy the illusion; what was worse was that he knew that she was right to worry. Only a short while ago, he would have probably laughed derisively or scoffed at the idea that Beeji might listen to Pammi; today all he felt was anger directed at himself, because the fact was that her words were a lie—she wasn’t really wanted or needed in her own home.

He looked at her, noting the brittleness of her expression, the raised colour on her cheeks. Her family probably thought she was embarrassed by their revelations; only he could tell that actually she was embarrassed to have been caught in a lie.

“Koi gal nahin, Maa-ji. Jab mein Pammi ko lene aaoonga to mill loonga“

He felt she start at the news that he was going to come and collect her; it seemed it was a trip for firsts as he had never taken her to her maika either.

Smiling briefly, he continued “main chalto hoon Maa-ji, thoda ghar pe kaam hai” She was horrified that he was leaving without eating anything, but he politely but firmly continued to refuse- within 5 minutes, he’d begun the journey home. He sat in the front passenger seat; as the car pulled away, he could see his wife in the rear view mirror. She was standing alone, watching the car drive away- she looked small and forlorn as her mother put her arm around her and drew her into the house.


Chapter 4

Pammi gave a sigh of relief as Tej drove away; it was so tiring to constantly pretend to be happy and accepting, to not scream and shout and cry and demand that she be treated like his wife, not just an annoyance. She would never do it, simply because she knew that there was no point.

As she followed her mother to her room, then asked for an hour just to wash and freshen up, she remembered how she’d tried in the early days of her marriage to try to get to know her husband better, to get him to open up to her. Every overture she had made had been met with blank silence, almost as if he didn’t understand what she was offering or what she wanted. After a few weeks of being told “iss ke bare mein tumhein pareshaan hone ki zaroorat nahin hai” she had understood that a wife wasn’t what Tej wanted or expected. All he wanted was for life to go on as it always had, with one additional person sharing his room, occasional use of her body and occasionally someone on whom to vent his anger.

She still remembered the first time she had seen Tej—she had been 16 years old and he had been beating up some village boys, no doubt for some infraction or another. He had been 21 then, and already a force to be reckoned with in Amritsar. She’d stood watching the altercation till she was pulled away by her mother, but she hadn’t been able to forget the fire in his eyes or the inherent strength he’s displayed.

Three years later, when her mother had announced that she wasn’t going to be allowed to go to the local college to continue her studies, she’d cried her eyes out, especially when her mother had announced that she was going to be married within the next few months. She’d been distraught, having been amongst the better students in her class—she had dreamed of going to college though she had known how unlikely it was. The news that Beeji had wanted her for a bahu, and that she was to be married to the fiery young man she’d seen that day in the market had filled her with a strange restlessness, a feeling she hadn’t been able to understand, but she’d accepted her fate and submitted to all the preparations her parents had deemed appropriate.

The death of her father 2 months before the wedding had thrown her family into turmoil; her mother had been prostrate with grief, her brothers struggling to cope with handling the family’s business concerns without a firm guiding hand. She remembered watching, hidden from sight in an upstairs alcove, when Tej and Beeji had come to the house to announce that the wedding would go ahead as planned and that they would take over responsibility for all the arrangements. At that moment, she’d seen Tej as a savior, imbuing him with all the attributes a girl dreams of in her raajkumar.

The two months between her father’s death and her wedding had been a time of grief mixed with joy. It wasn’t until her mother finally pulled herself together and sat down with Pammi to explain some of the realities of married life that a tinge of fear began to enter her mind. That was two weeks before the wedding. Over the following two weeks, the fear began to turn into dread as she remembered the size and strength of the man she was marrying; some indiscreet remarks made by one of her sisters-in-law added to her fears. Her mental state on her wedding day was no less than abject terror; she still remembered looking at Tej as he’d entered the bedroom and feeling as if she was facing an executioner.

She didn’t remember much about that night; just pain and the fact that it was all over quite quickly. She did remember feeling as if her dreams had been shattered, as if her prince had turned out to be an imposter.

Her feelings hadn’t really changed over the past 5 years- she was almost 25 now though she felt middle-aged. She still felt like an interloper, who had no place in the world. She filled her aimless life with mindless prattle, trying to suppress the fear that someday her husband would realise how little he needed her and send her back to her maika. Whilst in some ways her life would be a lot easier if that happened, she knew how short lived the relief would be- she would forever be an unwanted blight on her maika if she were returned home.

Sometimes she wished that she would fall pregnant, but it hadn’t happened yet. Surely if she had a child of her own, someone on whom she could lavish all the love she had stored up in her heart, all the love she longed to give to someone—surely then her life would have some purpose. But it seemed it wasn’t yet to be; Tej seemed to want her less and less, coming to her hardly once a month. She didn’t know how to ask him whether he even wanted children- they’d never had a conversation about anything serious. He seemed to consider her incapable of anything other than meaningless prattle and she’d never been sure how to disabuse him of that notion.

There were times when she wanted to weep, wanted to scream and rage and hit him for having crushed her innocent dreams, for not seeing that there was a person inside who could have been a partner to him rather than simply a burden. Sometimes she wanted to do what Geet had done and just leave, just walk out and go wherever life would take her. She’d even planned once or twice how she would do it- had taken to squirreling away some of the money that was the only thing that was lavished on her in her sasural. But whilst that hoarded money continued to increase, she knew that she would never do it; somewhere inside her she still had the unacknowledged hope that the imposter would truly turn out to be a prince.

A knock on the door pulled Pammi from her thoughts; she quickly wiped her face of the tears that had spilled unconsciously from her eyes and opened the door. Raano, the younger of her two sisters-in-law stood there.

“Pammi tu tayyar hai to chal, chai pe sab tera intezaar karrahe hain”

As she made her way down the stairs, Pammi gave herself an internal shake; she would enjoy the few days of freedom she had here before she had to return to her normal existence.


Chapter 5

Over the next 3 days, Pammi could feel the weight lifting from her shoulders. It was if removing the pallu from her head allowed her to return to the carefree days of her girlhood, when all she had to worry about were her household chores and whether she had the right clothes for the functions that were coming up. Being away from Beeji’s watchful eye, she laughed out loud, chased her nieces and nephews round the house, let her hair hang loose and generally acted like a teenager again.

Tej, on the other hand, generally acted like a bear with a sore tooth. Pammi had spent so little time in her maika over the past five years that he hadn’t realised how used to her presence he was. He found her chatter irritating when she was around but now that the house wasn’t filled with her constant babbling, he realised how much he hated silence.

All the thoughts that had been circling in his mind continued to haunt him, his guilt taunting him in the absolute quiet of his room. During the days, he was continually reminded of what he didn’t have by the sight of Maan and Geet’s happiness; whatever had been between them when Geet had arrived alone had been completely cleared away and they were sickeningly happy. He was glad for his sister, having finally been told how her Daarji had treated her; when he’d heard that news he’d wanted to go to the jail and personally deal with Brij Haanda, but Maan had firmly told him that the issue had been dealt with. Whilst he wasn’t the type of man to let another deal with his vendettas, something about Maan’s eyes had told him that his interference wasn’t needed in this case.

Still, seeing Geet basking in her husband’s love made him realise how insubstantial his relationship with his wife was; on his fourth night alone, he lay in bed, his mind filled with so many random thoughts that he felt like there was a shouting match going on inside his head. He thought of Maan and Geet, then of his wife; he knew she would never dream of laughing with him, or teasing him- she would never dare to disagree with him or make her opinions known. She would also never look at him with love, or blush as he looked at her, nor could he imagine her happily accepting his touch.

Was that what he wanted for the rest of his life; a life in which there was no softness, no pleasure. Would he eventually turn into a man like Geet’s Daarji, who couldn’t tolerate anyone crossing his will, who was willing to allow murder to be committed so that his family honour wasn’t maligned. What would his life be like when Beeji died- by then he would have hardened more, become even more inflexible, even more closed off, even more isolated. Would his children be able to approach him, or would they long for a gentle word from him the way he had sometimes longed for Beeji to pamper and mother him?

Why had Beeji even picked Pammi for him- he’d never even acknowledged to himself that he’d noticed her around town. Suddenly it became of extreme importance that he know- filled with restless energy, he got to his feet and walked out of the room, knocking on the door of Beeji’s bedroom with a heavy hand. It was only when she finally opened the door, wiping the sleep from her eyes, that he realised that it was the middle of the night. Feeling sheepish, not a feeling he could ever remember experiencing before, he said “Beeji kuch baat karni thi, main aajaaoon?”

It was a testament to her experience of the world that Beeji didn’t blink. She hadn’t been unaware of her son’s turmoil, though she had been a silent observer. Without a word, she stepped back, wordlessly inviting him to come in. Tej walked into her room but then seemed unable to find the words he needed. She sat in her rocking chair and waited for him to find what he needed to say.

Finally, standing with his back to her, he spoke. His discomfort was clearly audible but she didn’t say anything. “Beeji, aapko lagta hai hum sahi karte hain?”

When she stayed silent, he spoke again “Beeji, main kuch pooch raha hoon. Kya aapko lagta hai hum sahi karte hain”

When she raised her eyes to meet his, he continued “Pammi bhi to kissi ki behen hai, Beeji, kissi ki beti hai. Ussne to nahin kahatha na mujhse ke main uss se shaadi karoon. Uss ne to nahin kaha tha aap se ke woh aapki bahu banna chahti hai. Magar usske bhai agar mujh se aake poochein ke unki behen khush hai ya nahin to main kya jawab doonga.”

Aware that he wasn’t making any sense, he stopped and pushed a frustrated hand through his hair “Beeji, jab humein yeh laga ke Maan ne Geet ko rulaya tha, to main Maan ki haddiyaan todne ko tayyar tha. Kya Pammi ke bhaiyyon ko meri haddiyaan todne ka haq nahin hai? Aap usse kyun layeen iss ghar mein, aapne kyun chuna tha mere liye.

Uss bechari se to aap ne pichle paanch saal mein ek dafa bhi seedhe moonh baat nahin ki, to yeh baat to hai nahin ke woh aap ko kuch zyaada pasand thi. Aap ne mere jaise insaan ke liye aisi ladki kyun chuni jissko aap thoda bhi pasand nahin karteen? Aap to sab ke liye insaaf deti hain na, aapne apni bahu ke liye thoda sa bhi insaaf nahin kiya”

After a moment, she said “Baat poori hogayi, ya abhi kuch aur kehna hai?”

When he remained silent, she continued “Main usse iss liye tumhare liye chuna tha kyunki woh mujhse itni alag thi. Jo narmi main tumhein kabhi nahin desaki, main socha ke woh tumhari zindagi mein laa sakegi. Teji puttar, jab se tere babaji chalegaye mujhe donon ma aur baap banke rehna pada; main tumhein kabhi woh maamta nahin desaki jo koi aur ma shayad de sake. Mujh mein shayad woh hai hi nahin.

Magar woh Pammi mein hai. Maine usse dekha aur socha ke woh ghar mein aayegi to hamare ghar mein kuch pyar mohabbat shayad aajaye. Nandini ke liye bhi, maine socha ke usse yeh bhi dikhna chahiye ke aurat ko har waqt sakht nahin hona padhta hai.”

Tej burst out “Beeji, jab yeh baat thi, to ab aap phir unhi cheezon ki wajha se kyun uss se chidti hain. Kabhi to yeh lagta hai ke aap uss se bilkul nafrat karti hain”

She spoke slowly “Teji puttar, jab maine dekha ke tu uss ke saath khush nahin hai, to mujhe laga ke maine ghalti kardi. Uss bechari pe apni ghalti ka ghussa nikalti hoon; meri ghalti ki wajha se na tu khush, na woh aur na main.

Jiss din se woh aayi hai, mujhe pata chal gaya ke tu ne sirf meri khushi ke liye uss se shaadi ki, mujhe laga ke shayad tu kahin aur shaadi karna chahta tha. Woh ek aisa doodh ka ghoont bangayi jo na nigalne ki thi na ugalne ki.

Jitna maine dekha ke woh tujhe khush nahin rakhpaarahi hai, utna zyada main usse doshi maan ne lagi. Aur uss ki harkatein merese itni farq hain ke unhein bardaasht karna hi mushkil lagta hai.

Magar jab se Geet aayi, tabse maine apne ghar ko dekha, dekha ke main uss bechari ke saath kaise pesh aati hoon. Aur mujhe theek nahin laga, par kya karoon. Ab itni aadat hogayi hai, ke pata nahin kaise badloon. Pata nahin iss nainsaafi ke liye kya prashchit kar sakti hoon”

He turned towards her, pacing across her room like a caged tiger. “Aapko pata hai, maine kabhi shayad uss se seedhe moonh baat bhi nahin ki hai. Aur Geet ke pati ko main...............”

He stopped, unable to voice the unfairness with which he had behaved. His mind was filled with the realisation that he’d spent 5 years punishing Pammi for something that he hadn’t even realised he blamed her for.

“Beeji, main kissi aur se shaadi nahin karna chahta tha. Shayad main uss waqt kissi se bhi shaadi nahin karna chahta tha. Maine uss baat ka ehsaas Paami ko zaroor diya; woh bechari to koshish karti rahi meri biwi banne ki, magar maine kabhi usske saath biwi jaisa sulook kiya hi nahin. Maine hamesha uss ko ek bojh ki tarha samjha”

He stopped again, his chest heaving as he sucked in a deep breath then exhaled.

Finally, having come to a decision, he turned and faced his mother. Beeji had always been his support, taking his side whether he was right or whether he was wrong. He needed her to see how wrong they had been in their treatment of Pammi.

“Beeji, mujhe ab ehsaas hua hai ke Pammi meri patni hai. Shayad aaj mujhe, paanch saal ke baad, iss baat ka ehsaas hua hai ke maine uss ke saath kitna anniyaye kiya hai.”

He turned back to his mother and said “Beeji, humein badalna hoga. Mujhe badalna hoga. Warna aage jaake main bilkul aisa aadmi banjaoonga jaise Geet ka woh doosra bhai, jo usse maarne ko tayyar tha. Main aisa nahin banna chahta Beeji. Main nahin chahta ke duniya mere oopar ungliya uthaye ke main apni behen ke liye kya chahta hoon aur main apni biwi ke saath kaisa bartao karta hoon.”

He stood in front of her till she raised her head, holding her gaze until she nodded slowly.

“Puttar, main koshish karoongi. Magar itne saalon ki aadat ko badalna mushkil hoga, mere liye bhi aur tumhare liye bhi”

He nodded and then walked out of the room, quietly making his way through the house back to his own bedroom. He stripped his top off then lay down in just his jeans trying to sleep, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop looking at the empty space in the bed next to him. He was almost scared of what would happen when Pammi came back—he didn’t have any illusions about himself; he knew that it would be a struggle to change such ingrained habits and it wasn’t as if he was a man who had any softness inside him. Still, he was a man who did what he put his mind to- he would do whatever was needed to achieve his goal.


Chapter 6

It had been four days since Tej had escorted Pammi to her maika, four days in which Pammi’s life had changed drastically though she didn’t know it yet. She’d spent the four days relaxing in the bosom of her family; laughing, joking, enjoying being carefree. There may have been moments when she felt a pang of sadness that she was there alone. If she hated opening her eyes to see the other side of bed empty in the morning, she tried not to think about it. If she occasionally thought she heard her name spoken with characteristic brusqueness, she ignored it. All in all, she did her best to convince herself that she was totally happy.

It was the on the fourth night that she lay alone in her childhood bedroom that she had to acknowledge the truth. It didn’t matter how little Tej thought of her, she still couldn’t help but feel a helpless pull towards him. She finally acknowledged that small part of her that still believed in a prince who had Tej’s face. Turning her face into her pillow, she tried to muffle the sobs of despair that poured out of her at the realisation that she would always be in thrall to her husband, a woman helpless to fight the hope that someday he would look at her with love.

Was this love that she felt, this twisted bitter emotion threaded through with sadness and hatred and shattered dreams. Maybe it was; after all no-one had ever said that love had to be returned or that love was wise. Maybe she had loved him from the first moment that she’d seen him, imprinting on him at the age of sixteen. Maybe she would love him till the day she died, no matter how badly he treated her. She cried until she had no more tears left in her eyes; as the last tear rolled down her cheek she wondered what the future would hold. Perhaps this love would die eventually, allowing her to stand up for herself. Perhaps it would turn to hatred, and the hatred would give her strength. She laughed bitterly; after all if the past five years hadn’t managed to kill her love, it wasn’t likely that anything would.

The thought crossed her mind that though she loved him, she didn’t like him very much- she’d borne the brunt of his bitter tongue and vicious temper too many times to have any illusions about him. She grimaced, knowing that her husband was probably not going to take kindly to any change in the status quo; she was almost afraid of the way he would react if she stood up to him. She didn’t think he would ever beat her, but he had the ability to cut her to shreds with his words. Still, she had to start somewhere; she couldn’t spend the rest of her life living the half-dead existence that had been her truth for the last 5 years.

This time away from Tej gave her the strength to come to a decision - she may have been trapped in a marriage where she would never be able to express the love she felt, nor ever have hope that she might be on the receiving end of the love that she craved, but she promised herself that from that day, she would try and show him the woman she was inside, not the nervous fool she turned into whenever she was in his presence. After all, seeing the way Geet had dealt with Maan made her realise that loving her husband was no reason to let him walk all over her. Maybe he might even notice the difference, appreciate her a bit more. Maybe things would be different.
Chapter 7

The next morning, as Tej came downstairs, his face showing signs of his sleepless night, he heard his mother talking on the phone

“Nahin Behenji, aap bularahi hain to main zaroor aane ki koshish karoongi; agar main nahin aasaki to main Teji ko bhej doongi. Aap fikr na karo ji, aap ki khushi mein hum zaroor shaamil honge”

After a few more pleasantries, she said goodbye then turned to look at her son. Without a word, he took out his phone; within a few moments he had spoken with his foreman and made arrangements for someone else to take over the farm inspections he had planned for the day. As he finished the call, his eyes met his mother’s again- she gave a slow nod, then said “Tejji puttar, tu jab ghar aaye na, to apne saath Pammi ko bhi ghar laana; usski kami mehsoos ho rahi hai.”

He spent the next few hours sorting out the rest of the work he had planned for the next three days, then returned to his room and packed a small case. By two o’clock, he ready to leave; he made his way to the sitting area to take his leave. His mother was there but so were the rest of his family, meaning that there was no chance for any private conversation; by the time he’d taken his leave from everyone he was in the car and on his way to his sasural.

The two hour drive had never passed so quickly; before he knew it he was standing outside Pammi’s home. For once in his life Tejinder Singh was feeling hesitant. Whilst he knew that he would be welcomed like a king by his in-laws, he wondered whether his wife would be pleased to see him. He expected her to act as if she were thrilled; she had always kept up the facade that they were a happy couple in public, even on the single occasion years ago when he had publically belittled her.

That occasion still lingered in his memory—it was probably the only time he’d considered her as a person with feelings to be hurt, when the sight of her hurt-filled eyes had managed to pierce even his hard shell. It was the reason he tried not to chastise her in public, though he failed to control himself more often than he liked.

Still he wondered what he would see in her eyes today—he wondered if he would even be able to read them, having spent years deliberately avoiding them

As he stood vacillating outside the house, he heard shrieks of laughter coming towards him and the sound of running footsteps. Before he knew it, a small wet child ran past him, laughing out loud. A few moments later, he heard the sound of adult footsteps come closer and as he turned to see what was going on, he felt a body slam into him. He instinctively widened his stance to avoid falling, fighting to keep his balance; a moment later he became aware that his arms were full of a warm wet woman who was struggling to stay upright. His arms went round her and he managed to keep them standing; a second later he became aware that his body had chosen that moment to declare its interest and was about to embarrass him.

He looked down, about to make his apologies to the Pammi’s unknown relative; the words died on his lips as he recognised his wife. In all the years of their marriage, he’d never held her so close, not even in the darkness of the night. He’d never seen her so unguarded, her hair uncovered and flowing down her back, the laughter dying on her lips as she recognised him.

The thought crossed his mind that she looked beautiful, so different from the chattering woman he lived with. In his mind’s eye, he could see the girl he had noticed against his will so many years ago; the woman in his arms resembled her far more than the woman who he saw every day. She started to step away from him, but his arms were firm around her and she couldn’t pull away. He continued to stare down at her, not quite sure what to say; before he could get this thoughts in order he heard his mother-in-law’s voice coming towards them.

“Ji, aap” was all she managed before she blushed and renewed her efforts to get away. By the time her mother finally reached their side, he’d allowed her to pull away and watched as she gathered her hair into some semblance of order. She was just about to put it up into an untidy knot when he spoke


The single word stopped her movements and she raised surprised eyes to his; before she could say anything further, her mother started excitedly welcoming Teji, drawing him into the house as she spoke.

“Pammi, tu ja, apne aap ko zara sambhaal lo; Teji puttar, yahan aake to yeh bilkul bacchi ban jaati hai, bacchon ka dil behlane mein lagi rehti hai”

Tej watched as Pammi nodded quietly, noting that all the laughter seemed to have drained out of her as soon as she recognised him. His eyes kept going to her retreating figure; after a few moments of politely listening to what his saas was saying, he said “Maa-ji, main nahake aata hoon. Main thoda bheeg gaya jab Pammi se mila.”

He made his way to Pammi’s room, guided by one of the several small children who were running around. Standing outside the room, he took a deep breath and walked in.

Pammi was standing in front of the mirror, about to sweep her long hair up into her usual choti. She’d changed out of the wet suit that she’d been wearing into one more like the ones he was used to seeing her in; there was jewellery laid out on the table just waiting for her to put it on. He’d never seen her like this, just getting ready to face the world. The thought crossed his mind that she was putting on a mask behind which she could hide herself; he shrugged it away like the idiocy that it was.

“Maine kaha na, baalon ko rehnde, yahan maike mein thodi poori waqt sar dhakna hai.” he said as he walked towards her. He stood behind her, watching as she brought her hands down; their eyes met briefly before she turned and walked away.

“Ji aap kaise aaye, Beeji theek to hain na. Maine socha tha woh aajayengi to accha hoga, yahan sab unko bahut pooch rahe the”

She went to lift his case onto the bed, then froze as he moved her out of the way; after a moment, she continued in her usual bright voice “Yahan to sab itni tayyari mein lage hue the ke Mummyji ne bataya hi nahin ke aap aane wale hain. Itne log aa jaa rahe hain, kal bahut maza aayega”

Tej stepped back, fighting to keep himself from snapping at her as he normally would. He’d forgotten how much her chatter grated on his nerves. But he’d promised himself that he would try not to react the way he normally did, so he stayed quiet as he stepped back to allow her to get to his case.

“Kapde nikaalde, main zara naha ke aata hoon” was all he said as he stepped into the bathroom

Standing in the shower, cold water sluicing over his body, he reminded himself that he couldn’t expect it to be easy to change the ingrained habits of five years, nor could he suddenly expect his wife to understand his change of heart. He wasn’t the kind of man who could openly apologise for his actions, he couldn’t tell her that he’d realised he had been mistreating her for years. He’d just have to show her, dheere dheere that things were going to be different, and hope that she understood. After all, he wasn’t even sure that she saw anything wrong in his behaviour; he had no idea what she had expected from their marriage. Maybe he’d made a mountain out of a molehill, and there was nothing about their relationship that troubled her.

Still, he wasn’t changing his behaviour for her. He wanted to change for himself, so that he could look himself in the eye and believe that he wasn’t a hypocrite. He’d have to work hard to control himself, but he could do it— he’d just have to learn to stop reacting to the habits that annoyed him and focus on the things about her that he could like.

In the bedroom, Pammi stood with her eyes closed. What was it about his brooding presence that made her want to fill the air with useless chatter; was she so worried about facing how hollow their relationship was? She took a breath, using the moments alone to settle her nerves, reminding herself of the decisions she’d taken the night before.

Turning to his case, she took out a set of clothes; she laid everything on the bed whist pondering the fact that he’d brought enough clothes for a 3 day stay. She was surprised that he’d remembered to pack a dressy kurta, no doubt planning to wear it to the function the next day. She hadn’t dreamed that he would attend, let alone that he would think about appearances enough to bother bringing semi-formal clothes.

She smoothed her hand over the embroidered silk, remembering how handsome he looked in their wedding photos (though the effect was slightly ruined by his brooding expression). She hadn’t been in a fit state to pay any attention to his looks on the day of their wedding; indeed she hardly remembered anything other than a feeling of panic and fear. It was only through the photos that she knew that she’d gone through all the traditional rasams, that they’d walked into the family home side by side, that she’d actually been the one whose hand prints were still visible on the wall.

Shaking herself out her reminiscences, she straightened; before she could turn back to the mirror to finish fixing her hair, she heard his voice call from the bathroom “Pammi, tauliya de”

She picked up a large towel from her cupboard (the one he had brought with him was hardly big enough to dry his face) and walked over to the bathroom door.

Knocking quietly, she said “Ji, tauliya”, then hesitantly opened the door as he said “Haan, to dede na, ya main bahar aake loon”

Perhaps it was the lingering memory of how handsome she had thought him, or perhaps it was the fact that her maika was not full of a thousand memories of the way he seemed only to tolerate her presence, but for some reason she was exceptionally aware of the strength inherent in the wet forearm he extended to her, his sun-darkened skin golden under the drops of water. Over the years, she caught glimpses of his torso, but she’d never seen him fully unclothed- now was hardly the time to be caught ogling so she handed over the towel quietly and walked away.

She busied herself with her hair; as she heard the bathroom door open, she slipped out of the bedroom saying “Ji mein bas abhi aayi”.

As Tej emerged from the bathroom with the towel wrapped around his lean hips, all he saw was a glimpse of Pammi’s dupatta as she hurried out. Thankful for a moment alone, he walked towards the bed and began dressing. He was just about to pull on his kurta when he heard his wife walk in.

Pammi walked in carrying a small tray with tea and some samosas. She looked up and stopped in her tracks as she saw the kurta sliding over his muscled chest. A moment passed before she could find her voice, then she remembered herself and said “Aap ke liye chai le aayi ji; aap pee lo to phir neeche aap ka sab intezaar karrahe hain”

Turning, she started to walk out of the door when his voice stopped her.

“tu theek hai?”

She stopped with her back still turned to him, unable to believe her ears

“Ji, main.........”

He wasn’t sure how to start to try and bridge the gap between them, but he had to take a first step.

“Yahan sab tera accha khayal rakhrahe hain”

Inwardly he winced at the inanity of his questions—of course they were going to take care of their daughter, probably much better care than she received at home.

She finally turned to face him, the surprise clearly evident on her face.

“Haan Ji, bahut pyaar se sab mile, itne dinon ke baad aayi hoon na”

They stood, the space between them filled with years of silence, of feelings hurt or ignored, of disrespect, of misunderstanding and irritation. He struggled to think of the words that would break through the awkwardness between them, finally settling on “to phir tu aati rehna, jab ji chaahe aajaya karna”

He winced at the inanity of the comment- he was the one who had always stopped her from coming; was it any wonder that she was looking at him with poorly concealed shock.

Pammi could hardly believe her ears. Her husband had managed to get through more than 5 minutes without telling her to be quiet, and rather than wanting her to leave him alone he actually seemed to want her to stay. She wasn’t sure what was going on, but past experience suggested a cautious response.

Suppressing the urge to fall back on her usual volubility, she said “Jaise aap kahein Ji. Neeche sab intezaar karrahe honge”.

Before he could stop her, she quietly left the room. He stood for a moment, contemplating the start he had made, then sighed as he realised how far there was to go.

After finishing the tea she had left (and acknowledging to himself that the tea she made for him always tasted much better than any other tea he drank) he made his way downstairs. Within moments, he was swept into the middle of his sasural with all his saale wanting to talk to him. The evening passed in a flash and before he knew it, he was standing outside Pammi’s room. Wondering why he was hesitating, he opened the door then breathed a sigh of relief as he realised she was already asleep. It looked like she had been doing her best to stay awake till he returned; she was sitting in a chair, a magazine lying open in her lap.

He looked at her, aware of the fact that he didn’t remember ever seeing her like this. She always woke before him and always stayed awake till he returned. He wondered briefly what she had thought on those few nights when he had tried to find another woman to satisfy him. Had she realised where he was on those nights? He couldn’t remember whether he had made any excuses, though probably that early in their marriage, he wouldn’t have deigned to explain himself. It was only recently that he had started to tell her where he was going, realising that she might need him if Beeji fell ill.

Shaking himself out of those memories, wondering how many more things he would find to regret, he looked down at her relaxed face. Her neck was at an awkward angle and he realised that he couldn’t leave her sleeping in a chair the whole night. He put his hand out to shake her awake but stopped as he remembered a night when Geet had fallen asleep whilst sitting with the family downstairs; rather than wake his slumbering wife, Maan had carried her all the way up to their bedroom. Tej looked over at the distance between the chair and the bed and smiled ruefully. If his saala could manage a whole flight of stairs, he could surely manage such a small distance.

He bent and awkwardly started to life her out of the chair, not quite sure where to put his hands. Once she was in his arms he was suddenly aware of how small she was compared to him. As he approached the bed, she snuggled closed to him for one brief moment, her soft cheek rubbing over the hard surface of his chest as she tried to get comfortable. He froze, not wanting her to wake and find out what he was doing. A moment later she settled, seemingly totally at ease as he held her close.

He shifted, then lay her down; as she snuggled into the pillow, he drew her dupatta away and pulled the blanket up to cover her. Within a short time, he had taken his place on the opposite side of the bed; he lay there, facing towards her for once, watching her as she slept. She was beautiful, he thought. Perhaps her beauty wasn’t the conventional sort, but it was his sort; it was time to finally admit that. It was hours before he could fall asleep.


Chapter 8

The next morning, Tej woke unusually early. He’d slept poorly, in contrast to his wife. Even now, she was sleeping peacefully, but as he watched her eyes began to open. Hurriedly, he closed his own eyes, not wanting to be caught watching her- he wasn’t in the mood to listen to her chatter this early in the day.

He watched through half-open eyes as she rose and folded her sheet; she stood for a moment looking down at him before she made her way into the bathroom. Emerging a few moments later, she made her way over to the wardrobe and stood with the door open. He watched as she selected some clothes; it was clear from her expression that she wasn’t happy with her choice, but she placed them on the bed and then turned to retrieve something else—some jewellery. She left everything ready, then removed her salwar qameez, before walking towards the bathroom.

It was clear that this was her regular routine; he was entranced by the sight of her as she entered the bathroom and felt a pang of regret that he’d never seen this ritual of hers before. He scoffed as he realised that before that day, if he’d seen her this way, he was more likely to have scolded her for disturbing his sleep or for not behaving decently; the thought that there was nothing indecent about being undressed in front of her own husband would not have occurred to him.

A short while later, she emerged wrapped in a towel; her hair lay wet and glistening down her back. She dressed quickly and quietly; there was no wonder that he had never woken before, she hardly made a sound as she finished getting ready for the day. Once clothed, she turned to the mirror and sat for a moment, then bent and lifted the set she had selected as if it were the heaviest of weights. Once it was in place, she brought her hands to her hair; for some reason he didn’t want to see her tie her hair in the tight choti she normally wore.

He rolled over and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, aware that she had stopped moving. Obviously surprised to see him waking so early, she turned; expecting her to start chattering away, he was surprised when she didn’t say anything but just watched silently as he walked towards her. Standing behind her, he said “baalon ko baandne ki zaroorat nahin hai, jaise yahan reh rahi ho waise hi raho.”

Without waiting for her response, he walked into the bathroom; by the time he emerged, she was gone.

It was the day of the Godh-bharai ceremony; guests were due to start arriving in the early evening, so the family was running around trying to make sure everything was done in time. As soon as he made his way downstairs, Tej was guided towards the breakfast table and a substantial breakfast pressed upon him. When he discovered that his sasural-waale expected him to sit and take his rest whilst they scurried around doing all the last minute jobs, he soon made it clear that he wasn’t the kind of person who could happily do that. Within a few minutes, he was involved in the thick of the preparations. He barely caught a glimpse of his wife after that, although she had served him breakfast; the day passed in a flash and before he knew it, it was time to dress.

Returning to the room, he found that his wife had already laid out his clothes; he bathed and dressed then came downstairs again, all the while wondering where she was. He found that the guests had already begun to arrive; he was soon caught up in greeting and seating them. It wasn’t until the rasam was about to start that he saw her, escorting her Bhabi .

She looked young and happy; he noted the length of her hair flowing down her back and was struck again by how different she appeared, here away from her sasural. After she’d seated her bhabi, she turned to sit close by and she saw him; her smile wavered for a second, but stayed on her face. She looked away and answered the lady sitting next to her.

The godh-bharai was a feminine ritual, one he’d never seen before- for a man like him it was a glimpse into an unknown world. Throughout his life, Beeji had never seemed to attend such functions, being too busy managing the business or handling the farms. She’d always ensured that Nandini could attend with some family member or another, but the fact that she’d never attended herself had always made such functions appear frivolous and unnecessary to him.

But today he realised that this setting was the natural one for Pammi, that his wife was a social person, who thrived amongst people, who like talking and laughing and listening to other people. When he compared her demeanour here to her overly chatty and anxious behaviour at home, the contrast was stark.

Recalling his thoughts about having to make allowances for her irritating habits, he realised that the truth was that he was going to have to try to forget what he thought he knew about woman he was married to, because it seemed everything he thought he knew was incorrect in some way.

After all the formalities were completed and the guests were all taking full advantage of the generous hospitality, he made his way to Pammi’s side, noting how she tensed when she felt him approach. When the elderly lady she was talking to finally walked away, he said “Sab theek hogaya na”

When she nodded, he said “to chal, mujhe khaana dede, bhook lagrahi hai”

Startled, she looked up at him- he’d never sought her out before or needed her help in serving himself. He was more likely to shrug her attempts at help aside. He looked down at her, wondering what she saw on his face; without a word, she nodded and led the way to the dining area.

As soon as she’d served him some food, her chachi arrived and dragged her away, leaving him to eat his meal alone. After a while, he made his way back to the main house; as he approached the sitting room, he heard his saas’s voice

“Pata nahin Pammi ki godh-bharai ki rasam main kab dekhoongi; pata nahin woh ladki kya karrahi hai. Main itna uss se kehti hoon, woh jaye kissi doctor ke paas, kuch apna ilaaj karwaye. Main kya karoongi agar kissi din Tej ya Beeji use yahan mere paas chod denge. Pata nahin uss ladki ne kya socha hai apne zindagi ke baare mein, shaadi ko itne saal hogaye aur abhi ek bhi baccha nahin hua. Pata nahin Beeji kya sochti hongi”

As Raano joined in with her mother-in-laws laments, Tej stood there listening uncomfortably. He’d been thankful that Beeji hadn’t commented on their lack of a child, he hadn’t realised that Pammi was having to face questions and accusations from her own family. He wondered how soon after the wedding the queries had started, and how Pammi handled them- she could hardly tell her mother that the reason that she hadn’t had a child was because her husband hardly slept with her.

How many more problems had he created for her, without even thinking or caring about what she was experiencing? He wished he could return to his oblivious state- this realisation of his many mistakes was causing him far too much discomfort.

Realising that this was one thing that he could do for her, he walked into the room, smiling slightly as he watched the guilty way in which the two women sat back and pretended they hadn’t been talking about the state of his marriage.

“Maa-ji main ne aap ki baat sun li. Mujhe sirf yeh kehna tha aap se ke chahe kuch bhi ho, aisa kabhi nahin hoga ke main iss baat ka dosh Pammi ko doonga. Ye baat sirf mere aur uss ke beech ki hai. Uss mein na aap ko bolne ki zaroorat hai na Beeji ko, na kissi aur ko. Aap ko Pammi se koi baat karni ki zaroorat nahin hai. Aap phir meherbaani karke iss baat ke baare mein Pammi se koi baat na karna”

He stood to walk out of the room; as he turned he saw Pammi standing in the doorway behind him looking shocked. Before he could say a word, she’d turned and walked away. Aware that his saas was still sitting looking at him, he couldn’t rush as he made his way out of the room; by the time he was outside, Pammi had vanished.

That evening, his saale insisted that he join them in their celebrations; there was no way he could refuse without offending them so he spent an interminable length of time watching them get more and more drunk. He never touched the stuff himself, having seen what it had turned his uncle into so for him the evening was a nightmare. He eventually fell asleep in a chair in the hall, only to be woken at 6am by the entry of the servants. Leaving his saale sleeping on the sofas where they lay, he made his way to his room, hoping to speak to his wife.

However, when he walked in, he found the room entry, the bed still made. She’d obviously not spent the night in that room. Realising that there was nothing he could do other than bathe and dress, he retrieved some clothes and entered the bathroom.

When he returned, he found his wife tidying away his clothes. She’d obviously already readied herself for the day, though that still didn’t answer the question of where she had spent the night. Realising that it hardly mattered, after all she was surrounded by any number of women who could have invited her to stay and talk whilst waiting for their respective husbands, he said “Zyaada der se nikalna accha nahin hai; ek do ghante mein chalenge”

She nodded; he wondered where her usual chatter had gone, though he had to be honest and say he didn’t miss it. “Main tayyar hoon jab bhi aap chaahein”

Her subdued response made him wonder if things would ever get any easier, or whether five years of tolerating his disdain had raised her defences so high that he would never be able to breach them.


Chapter 9

They left her maika in the early afternoon; when they arrived home, Tej walked round to open the car-door for Pammi, giving her the latest in a series of shocks. As they entered the house together, Beeji’s voice greeted them

“Tum dono aagaye, accha hai. Main pareshaan horahi thi ke Maan aur Geet ke jaane se pehle nahin aaoge.”

As Pammi bent to take her blessings, Beeji said “Jeeundi rahe puttar. Tere ghar waale sab theek hain, sab rasmein acchi tarha se hogayeen?”

Pammi nodded “Wahan sab aap ko pooch rahe the Beeji, sab keh rahe the ke aap aajaate to accha hota”

“Nahin puttar, Teji tera saath tha, wohi accha tha. Ab tu ja, thoda araam karle, shaam ko Geet aur Maan ki flight aaj raat mein hai, to unko chodne jaana hoga”

“Beeji, main rasoi mein jaati hoon, khaana ko dekhti hoon”

“Nahin puttar, tu fikar na kar, Lacchi hai na, aur maine do aur ladkiyon ko rakhliya hai Lacchi ki madad karne. Tu ja, araam kar”

Pammi wondered whether Beeji had been possessed or whether this was actually Beeji’s twin sister who had taken her place- never in the five years she had lived in this house had Beeji spoken to her with such kindness. She smiled hesitantly, and received another shock when Beeji half-smiled back.

Looking around, she saw that her husband had walked away taking their cases with him. She made her way to their room, then decided to take Beeji’s advice and rest for a while; before she knew it, she was fast asleep.

She woke to find Tej standing next to the bed, calling her name.

“Pammi, uthja, khaana kha le aake”

She sat up with a jerk, wondering why he was the one waking her, not Lacchi. She opened her mouth to start talking to cover her uncertainty, then took a deep breath and stopped, remembering her decision to try and behave with a bit more dignity.

“Ji main bas abhi aayi”

He turned to leave; just before he walked out of the door, he said “Kya tumhein baalon ki choti banana zaroori hai?”

It took her a few moments to gather her scattered thoughts; he’d never once in five years commented on her appearance and now he was asking about her hair.

“Ji, Beeji ne............”

“Agar na chaho, to choti na banana, Beeji se main baat karloonga”

Having delivered his parting shock, he walked out, leaving his bewildered wife behind him. A short time later, Pammi came downstairs and found the family gathered. The evening passed quickly and soon the time had come to take Maan and Geet to the airport. She hadn’t expected to accompany them, but before she could walk back into the house, Beeji said “Pammi tu ja na Teji ke saath, mere liye bahut der hogayi hai.”

At the airport, just before walking through the gate, Geet drew Pammi to one side and said “Bhabi, agar aap ko kabhi kissi cheez ki zaroorat ho, to main hoon, Maan hain. Aap kabhi bhi, kissi bhi wajha se mujhe phone karlein, main aap ke saath hoon”

Tear sprang to Pammi’s eyes, but she shook her head in denial and said “Nahin Geet, tu ye kya kehrahi hai. Tumhare Veerji hain na mere liye, Beeji hain. Tu fikr mat kar”

Geet put her hand on Pammi’s arm and pressed, saying “Bhabi, maine bas aap ko batana chaha, hum log hain aap ke liye”

She turned back to Maan’s side and a short time later they were gone, leaving Tej and Pammi alone.

As they returned home, Pammi couldn’t help but dread the return to normalcy which lay in front of her. These few days had seemed so different, giving her a glimpse into a different life; from tomorrow, everything would be the same again and she dreaded a return to that suffocation. Her last thought before she slept was that no matter what, she was going to try and remember what she had promised herself.


Chapter 10

But things didn’t revert back to the ways they had been before. In the weeks after her bhabi’s godh-bharai, Pammi’s life had changed for the better, though there was still a great deal of scope for improvement.

To Pammi’s surprise, the changes in Tej’s and Beeji’s attitudes towards her seemed to be permanent, though she couldn’t fathom what had triggered them. She spent some time with Beeji, getting to know the older woman better; they were both surprised to find that they actually had a few things in common. Pammi began to come out of her shell, with Beeji increasingly asking her views about decisions she was making and occasionally taking her advice. (If anyone had asked Beeji, she would have said that she could see something of herself in Pammi, a hint of the woman she had been in her youth before widowhood and age hardened her).

Tej seemed softer somehow. It wasn’t all sweetness and light by any stretch of the imagination, Tej’s temper was too vicious for that. But he seemed to be making an effort to control his tongue, to not blame her for other people’s mistakes and most specially not to react with irritation if she started babbling. He was as busy as ever, the business and farm taking up his time and efforts, but he was spending more time at home, sitting with the family and watching their interactions.

And yet, he wouldn’t spend time alone with her. He woke before she did and returned to their room long after she fell asleep. She had tried repeatedly to stay awake until Tej came upstairs but never managed it; on several occasions she woke in their bed alone despite her last memory of the preceding night being one of sitting in the chair in their room waiting for him to return.

She would catch him occasionally looking at her as if he’d never seen her before, his eyes searching her face as if looking for the answers to questions he couldn’t ask. She couldn’t understand why he was avoiding her; she’d made every effort to do less of the things which annoyed him, aided in her endeavours by her growing confidence and the support she received from Beeji. Indeed, he was more than willing to spend time with her as long as other people were around, though he hardly spoke to her directly. In some ways it was a good thing, it gave her time to realise that this Tej was a man she could like, that there could be something between them other than his disdain and her helpless love.

She found she did like him, or at least that part of him that she was starting to know, but she couldn’t understand what was going through his mind, what he wanted from her, why he was behaving the way he was. She wasn’t brave enough to question him directly. On her part, the love she had for him grew stronger, the bitterness and hatred that had been threaded through it beginning slowly to recede. Her infatuation strengthened and matured as she finally understood that princes sometimes were cruel oblivious fools, but still princes- it appeared that her prince was finally starting to show his true colours.

Four weeks after Geet and Maan had returned to Delhi, Pammi’s life had settled into a pattern. Her days were spent with Beeji or visiting friends whilst her nights may as well have been spent alone. Some nights she would wake in the middle of the night to find him sleeping with her in their bed; she was more relieved than she wanted to admit at the realisation that he hadn’t found someone else’s bed to sleep in.

Those weeks had been some of the most uncomfortable Tej had ever spent. Whilst the realisation that he had been a cruel hypocrite for the first 5 years of his married life had been a shock, nothing could compare to the realisation that he was actually extremely drawn to the woman he was married to.

Watching Pammi emerge from her shell had been a strange time for him; his initial thought had been that he would be able to learn to tolerate her and perhaps build some form of relationship on a foundation of mutual acceptance. But watching Pammi blossom over the past few weeks had shown him that he was as attracted to her mind as he increasingly was to her body.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t still see her flaws; she had as many as he did. She was too talkative, though she didn’t babble as much as before, she wasn’t logical, she was stubborn and occasionally prone to whining. But she was soft and gentle and kind, an almost exact opposite of his own character. She could, if allowed, find the kindest form of justice for the people who came to Beeji for help, showing that whilst justice was blind, it wasn’t inflexible. She cared for the family, making sure Lucky’s meals complied with whichever strange new diet he was following, and that Nandini had someone to talk to about whatever she wanted.

The truth was that she complemented his hardness in more ways than one, and he found it harder and harder to stay away from her.

But he didn’t want her to feel the way she had over the past five years, when she had allowed him access to her body only because it was her duty to pander to his desires. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted, but he knew that he couldn’t just return to her bed and use her again; that would make him a monster in his own eyes.

And so Tejinder Singh found himself in a strange situation where he wanted to woo his wife (though he wasn’t able to acknowledge that fact even to himself) but was too unsure to know where to start, never having wooed anyone in his life.

Neither Tej or Pammi could think of a way to break out of the state of limbo they were living in; Pammi was too hesitant and Tej too guilty. It was unclear how long the situation would have lasted, but things finally came to a head one afternoon, five weeks after Maan and Geet’s departure.

Pammi had been in the kitchen all morning, making large quantities of samosas for a group of Beeji’s contemporaries who were coming to the house for a prayer meeting. By the time she had finished all the preparations, she felt as if the smell of oil and food would never leave her nostrils; realising that the only way to improve matters was to bathe and wash her hair, she returned to her room for her second shower of the day.

Tej had left the house early that morning, telling Beeji that he had business that would keep him away all day. It was only by chance that his business was brought to an abrupt end by his partners car suffering a mechanical meltdown; by the time they found a mechanic who could fix the car and got on their way again, he was hot, sweaty and downright irritable. He’d made his excuses as quickly as possible and returned home, intent on taking a cool shower and changing into clothes that didn’t smell of sweat.

He walked into the bedroom and stripped off the kurta he was wearing; dressed only in his jeans he stalked over to the wardrobe and pulled the doors open, intent on finding something cool to wear. He almost called out, was just about to ask Pammi to come and find his clothes for him when he realised that facing her like this, with his control verging on non-existent, was probably not the best idea. Pulling out a towel and then selecting something at random from the shelf, he threw them on the bed, then ran his fingers through his hair in an attempt to calm himself down.

There was a click behind him as the door to the bathroom opened; he turned slowly to see his wife entering the bedroom, her head half bent as she rubbed her hair with a towel. She was halfway into the room before she looked up and saw him, letting out a startled squeak as she did. They both stood frozen for a moment, before he became aware of the way her eyes were roaming over his naked torso- for a moment he wondered at her fascination before he realised that she had never seen him this way before.

It wasn’t until he saw a single drop of water make its way down the side of her neck that the tableau broke, but watching the path it took released something inside him. He began to stalk forward slowly as she nervously said “Ji aap, iss waqt. Main bas abhi.......”

By the time she’d said those few words, he had reached the place where she was standing; as he continued moving forward, she was forced to step back. He didn’t stop until her back was to the wall, then kept moving until his body was only a hairsbreadth away from hers.

Pammi sucked a breath in as Tej ran a questing finger down the side of her neck; she held that breath as he leaned forward and just rubbed his face against the smooth skin of her cheel. He didn’t say a word, but the heat from his body soaked through the slightly damp qameez that she was wearing, wakening sensations that she had never felt before. Unsure what he wanted her to do, she stood stock still, not moving or responding; after all, throughout their marriage he had never once shown any desire for her to participate when he slept with her.

Tej could feel her confusion, the way she was hardly breathing and knew that he should stop and move away, but he was almost compelled to see how soft she felt. The feel of her body in his arms as he lifted her from the chair to the bed had become something he craved, a brief moment of almost innocent pleasure, but he never allowed himself to linger, to touch her cheek or to smooth his fingers over her hair; in his mind, that would have been too similar to the way he had used her without her participation over the last five years. But now she was here, temptingly cool and most definitely awake; how could he stop himself from leaning forward to nuzzle just below her ear, to learn exactly how silky her skin was, feel the texture of her wet hair as he stroked his fingers through it.

They stood there for a moment as Tej drank in the sensations he had been craving whilst Pammi stood stunned at the feelings which were coursing through her. It wasn’t until she raised a hand to his shoulder and gripped tightly that he froze, the pinch of her nails breaking through the red haze in his mind.

He fell back, unable to meet her eyes, not wanting to see the way she was willing to submit to him just because she had to. Turning away, he grabbed the things he had left on the bed and walked into the bathroom.

Pammi stayed as she was for a few minutes, trying to think through what had just happened. Eventually she came to the conclusion that he must have been overcome by physical need, after all it had been over two months since he had slept with her and she didn’t think that he had sought release elsewhere as he had previously. (She tried not to think about the women he had slept with whilst married to her; though she had been grateful at the time that their existence had meant that she had to bear his attentions less, she had still been overcome with anger that he had thought so little of her that he had gone elsewhere; after all, it wasn’t as if she had ever refused him, submitting to him whenever he wanted).

Still, that didn’t explain the strange way he had behaved; he’d never touched her with any tenderness before, never seeming to think about her at all (though he had always been careful not to hurt her or bother her for longer than necessary, getting on with things as quickly as he could). Shaking her head as she wondered what had come over him, she jumped as he walked out of the bedroom, embarrassed to be found still standing as he had left her.

He glanced over at her, then looked away quickly then walked out of the room, leaving her with all her questions unanswered.

A few hours later, after Beeji’s friends had left, the family sat around, Lucky making his usual idiotic comments and Nandini laughing hysterically at him. After a few moments, Tej said “Main bas thodi der mein nikalta hoon Beeji; do teen din baad aaoonga. Thoda kaam hai, woh karke lautoonga.”

Pammi looked up, surprised; he hadn’t mentioned any business trips over the past few days. Without giving her a chance to speak, he went to their room and retrieved the bag he’d packed whilst she’d been busy. She didn’t get a chance to say anything before he made his way out of the door; just as he left he turned and look at her. Their eyes met and held but before she could try and understand what she could see there, he broke the look and walked away.


Chapter 11

He was gone for 3 days; she tried not to think about where he was or what he was doing, but inevitably in the dark of the night, her mind raced with questions. In those 3 days Tej thought and thought again about how close he had come to leaning in and just taking what he wanted; there had been a few moments when he had been in the grip of desire so strong that he had almost lost control. He’d run away (though he didn’t use those words even in his own mind) from that situation because he didn’t think he could have forgiven himself if he had taken her again without her wanting him to; he couldn’t bear to become again a man who thought only of his own needs.

It may have been that he would have thought more about her pleasure this time; thought more about how to make her want him too—but his control was so precarious that he had verged on just pushing her against the wall and doing as he wished.

How had this happened to him? He could accept that he’d always wanted her, but when had that want become an overwhelming need for her. And how on earth could he ever hope that the woman whose body he had used for five years would ever freely desire him. He wasn’t even sure whether she was physically attracted to him; she’d submitted to him whenever he’d wanted her but he’d never even considered her wishes before; now he wondered what he would do if all she could ever give him was compliance rather than involvement.

Rather than put his control to the test, he’d put some distance between them, hoping that the time away from her would allow him to come up with a plan to win her over. What he hadn’t expected was that he would miss her like the devil, want to be near her even if he couldn’t satisfy his cravings. On the morning of the fourth day away from her, he came to a decision; he would go back and talk to her, explain what had happened, how he felt about his behaviour throughout their marriage. They couldn’t move forward until she knew how he wanted things to change; it was unreasonable to expect her understand how he had already changed without having it explained to her.

He packed his things and started the journey home; he would call her once he had a better idea what time he was going to reach home.

On the morning of the fourth day, her cellphone rang; Pammi didn’t recognise the number, but answered anyway, wondering whether whether Tej was calling her.

It was her brother, his voice filled with tears “Pammi, tu aaja, Lajjo ki tabiyat bahut kharab hai. Woh hospital mein hai, doctors bacche ko bachaane ki koshish karrahe hain”

After calming him down as much as she could and gathering a few more details, Pammi made her way to Beeji and explained what was happening at her maika.

Beeji said “Pammi puttar, tu ja, chali ja; aise waqton mein apne hi to kaam aate hain. Tu fikr na kar, yahan ka sab main sambhaal loongi”

Pammi hesistated “Beeji, jab woh........”

“Tu fikr na kar, puttar, Teji ko main bata doongi, tu ja”

Her mind was in too much turmoil to spend too much time worrying about her absent husband; she rushed back to her room and hurriedly started packing some clothes. As she was packing she found the suit she had worn to the godh-bharai ceremony; she picked it up and just held it, remembering how happy everyone had been that day, how even Tej had joined in with the celebrations.

The realisation that the woman had been the centre of all the happiness that day was now fighting for her life filled her with sadness and when she thought of the tiny baby fighting for its very existence, she couldn’t stop the tears from falling; for a few moments she sobbed as if her heart was breaking. It wasn’t until she felt a hand on her shoulder that she realised that she wasn’t alone.

Trying to stop her tears, she looked up and saw Tej standing next to her; she hadn’t even heard him come in. She tried to draw back, but he stepped forward and drew her into his arms. After resisting for a moment, she broke and clung to him, her tears soaking through his kurta. His arms stayed wrapped tight around her and for the first time in her life, she wept in her husband’s arms.

Tej felt helpless, which was not a sensation he had ever felt before; he wanted to fight the world, fix everything so that she didn’t cry. The woman who had never shed a tear before him was weeping as if her heart was breaking and he hated it, hated that he couldn’t force someone to make things better, couldn’t change the situation the way he normally did. For a man who was normally in complete control of every situation he was in, it was a humbling experience to learn that he couldn’t make things better for the one person he finally wanted to protect from hurt.

All he could do was hold her, so he did; held her until her sobs had lessened, until it seemed her tears had run dry. As she tried to free herself, his arms constricted for a moment around her as if to keep sheltered within them before he let finally her go.


She moved away, wiping her face; before she could say anything, he said “chal, main tujhe chod deta hoon”. As she nodded, he closed the case she’d packed, then lifted it and herded her out of the door. Guiding her to the passenger seat, he took the wheel and began the drive to the hospital where her sister-in-law was a patient.


Along the way, there was silence in the car—he thought to himself that silent car journeys were turning into something of a feature in their relationship. When they arrived, they were met by what seemed like every possible family member; her mother threw her arms around Pammi and began crying hysterically and Raano was no better. Tej shook hands with his saale and offered any assistance that he could, but after a little while it became clear that he wasn’t really needed or wanted there. He looked to see where Pammi was but found her in the middle of a group of crying women; even he wasn’t brave enough to face them all, so he caught her eye and gestured that he was leaving. She nodded and turned back to her mother; as he walked away he was aware that she had probably forgotten him in an instant.


The next week passed in a haze of sleep deprivation and worry for Pammi; she seemed to be the only one capable of thinking about making sure that everyone was fed, clothed, washed and watered. In her heart of hearts, Pammi was aware that her mother was a bit of a drama-queen, who was milking the situation for every ounce of melodrama; it was true however that the situation was grave. The baby had been born prematurely and was now in an incubator, but he was doing well compared to his mother who was in Intensive Care fighting for her life, having lost a huge amount of blood during the delivery. The doctors were cautiously optimistic, but it was likely that Lajjo would take many weeks to recover; they weren’t willing to commit themselves fully to her chances of making a full recovery until she was well enough to be on a normal ward.


Pammi took over running the family home, making sure there was some semblance of normalcy for the children, who had been left to their own devices whilst their parents spent their time keeping vigil at the hospital.


On the eighth day, she was alone in the house; everyone else was either at the hospital or at work. She was standing in the kitchen packing a tiffin to send to the hospital when she heard someone walk in; assuming it was the cook, she said “Yeh sab to main ne kardiya, ab aap shaam ke khaane ki tayyari karna”

“Kya poora waqt rasoi mein kaat diya?” she heard; she whirled round to see her husband standing there, glowering at her the way he used to. She was so tired that all her hard won confidence melted away in the face of his glare; she reverted to her old way of responding to him without even realising it.

“Ji, main, wo bas.............”

For 8 days, Tej had missed his wife, missed her presence round the house, missed being able to watch her and hear her and occasionally being able to touch her. He’d understood her need to be here with her family, but finding her here, looking so exhausted had put a match to his ready anger.

“tujhe main yahan iss liye to nahin chod ke gaya tha ke tu na soye na khaaye; ek hafte mein bilkul apna kya huliya bana liya tu ne? Tujh mein thodi si bhi aqal hai bhi ya nahin, Pammi”

Fully aware that he was handling the situation badly, Tej knew he should stop himself before he said anything more hurtful, but he was incensed to see her look so drawn and tired. Realising that a large part of his anger was because he’d often seen her look that way in their own home, but never paid attention before, he deflected his anger onto the only person available—Pammi herself. It was bad enough to know that he had treated her badly, it was worse to know that even those in her own family treated her the same.

“Thodi si bhi aqal hoti to aisi haalat nahin hoti, ab bas bahut hogaya, ghar chal”

She said “Main woh bas” but before she could say anything more he said as he so often had in the past “Chup kar Pammi” and grabbed her arm to pull her towards him.

It was as if those three words opened the floodgates; the anger and resentment that she had thought so well suppressed boiled to the surface, her self-control weakened by exhaustion and worry. She pulled her arm out of his grip and said in a voice filled with anger

“Aap yahan kyun aaye ho Ji? Mujhe yahan jo karne ki zaroorat hai, woh main karrahi hoon. Jaise main samajhrahi hoon, wohi karrahi hoon. Aap ke ghar mein jab apni yahi haalat banati hoon, tab to aap kuch nahin kehte ho Ji, yahan karrahi hoon to itna bura kyun lagraha hai?”

She turned back to the counter top but he grabbed hold of her arm again and swung her towards him “Pammi ghar chal, bas bahut ho chuka”

She wrenched her arm outo of his hold and said “Kyun chaloon Ji, wahan itna hi thak ti hoon, itna hi kaam karti hoon, magar yahan to kam az kam yeh lagta hai ke apnon ke liye karrahi hoon. Kuch hafte mein aapko kya lagta hai main paanch saal ki baatein bhool gayi hoon? Aap ke ghar mein to lagta tha ke ek machine ki tarha ji rahi hoon. Aap ne wahan to kabhi meri fikr nahin ki, yahan fikr kyun ho rahi hai Ji? Ab yeh to hai nahin ke aap ko meri zaroorat hai- main jo bhi kaam karti hoon, woh karne ke liye aur bahut hain”

Incensed by her defiance, his anger exploded “Pammi, tu meri voti hai, jab mein kehraha hoon ghar chal to ghar chal”

“Voti ka kaam karne ke liye bhi aur aurtein milteen hain Ji, uss ke liye aap ko meri kya zaroorat?”

She stormed out of the kitchen, unable to bear his presence anymore, leaving him standing stunned behind her. His anger died as he realised that she had known about his infidelity, known that he had slept with other women. He began to feel the pounding guilt in his head as the realisation hit that a few weeks of kindness could not expunge five years of mistreatment from her mind.

He realised that he couldn’t leave things as they were, so he made his way to her bedroom; quietly opening the door, he entered to find her weeping on the bed, tears of rage and exhaustion combining with sobs of despair. There was a twisting in his gut as he realised that he’d seem Pammi cry more in the last 8 days than he had in the last five years, what was worse was that he wasn’t sure whether that was because he had been oblivious to her tears in the past.

“Pammi” he said as he stood looking down at her sobbing body. He wished he was the kind of husband who could take her in his arms and comfort her, but being the cause made it hard to be the solution as well.

“Pammi, mujhe sach mein teri fikr horahi thi, magar is baat pe tumhein yaqeen na hona bhi sahi hai. Maine kabhi pehle teri fikr nahin ki hai to ab kyun karoonga”

He looked down at her helplessly as her sobs continued, wishing there was a way for him to comfort her; he knew that there wasn’t so he said “Pammi, dekh tu ro mat; main chala jaata hoon”

He left the room, standing for a moment outside the foor he had just closed, before he made his way downstairs. Making his way to the hospital, he found his in-laws and got a quick update, trying to gauge how much longer Pammi would feel that she needed to stay.

The news wasn’t great- mother and baby were likely to be in hospital for at least another fortnight. After offering his help and making all the right gestures, Tej sat in his car as he drove back to his sasuraal alone. Making his way to Pammi’s room, he walked in quietly and found that she had fallen into an uneasy sleep.

Tej sat in the chair near her bed, watching her sleep as he had once before. He wasn’t used to feeling this way, unsure and hesitant, not clear on what to do. He was a man who always did what he thought best and damn the consequences, but today he was fighting between what he wanted, what was right and what Pammi might want; he wasn’t sure which decision would be the right one.

A little while later, Pammi’s eyes slowly opened; she started to sit up, then stopped when she saw him. Before she could say a word, he spoke “Jaa, moonh dhole, phir baat karte hain”

She opened her mouth as if to say something then closed it again; realising that she would be far better able to handle the discussion to come if she were more awake, she made her way to the bathroom and washed her face, then took a few minutes to clear her mind.

When she emerged, he was standing with his back to her in his characteristic stance; legs planted, arms crossed across his chest. He turned to look at her as she entered, then looked away, trying to find the right thing to say.

In the end, what could he do but speak the truth.

“Pammi, pichle paanch saal mein mujhe ek baar bhi khayaal nahin aaya ki tumhari koi ehmiyat hai, koi wujood hai. Maine ek baar bhi tumhaare baare mein sochna zaroori nahin samjha. Aur sach to yeh hai ke agar Geet ghar nahin aati, main ab bhi nahin sochta. Tumhari wohi haalat hoti jo pehle thi, aur shayaad zindagi bhar hum aise hi rehte.

Magar Geet jab aayi, jab main usske pati ko bura bhala kehraha tha, to sirf usski wajha se maine apne aap ko dekha. Main to uss se kahin zyaada bura pati hoon, to mujhe kya haq banta hai ke main uss se kuch kehta.

Pammi, mujhe pata hai ke paanch saal tak maine tumhaare saath bahut bura sulook ki. Main sirf koshish kar sakta hoon ke main badal jaoon, aage aisa na karoon. Main tumse maafi bhi nahin maangraha hoon, kyunki guzre hue kal ke liye maafi maangna bekaar hai. Jab se Maan aur Geet gaye hain, main koshish karraha hoon ke main apne aap ko badloon, ke tumhare saath behtar pesh aaoon. Beeji se bhi maine baat ki hai.”

He wanted to tell her how much he had realised in the past weeks; that she was beautiful, that she was perfect for him, that his life would be incomplete without her. He wanted to tell her that he wanted her, that he was glad that she was his, that he was even getting to the point where her chattering was becoming a necessary part of his day. But he thought that now wasn’t the right time- he was finding it hard enough to believe how much he had changed in such a short time, he didn’t think she would be impressed by his change-of-heart.

He turned and walked over to where she was standing “Pammi, mujhe inn hafton mein ye ehsaas hua hai ke tu meri voti hai, mujhe teri fikr hai, teri aadat hai. Main waada karta hoon ke jaise main pehle tha, waise phir kabhi nahin honga.

Dekh Pammi, pichle paanch saalon ko main hata nahin sakta, na tu bhula sakegi. Magar aage to jaana hai na, aage ek doosre ke saath hi zindagi bitaani hai. Agar main badalne ki koshish karta rahoon, kya tu puraani baton ko bhoolne ki koshish karsakti hai?”

When she stayed quiet, he sighed and stepped back.

“Pammi, agar main guzre hue dinon ko mita sakta, to mita deta magar woh nahin hosakta. Sirf yeh kehsakta hoon ke hum log phir se zindagi shuru karein, ek saath rehna seekhein”

When she still didn’t say anything, he stood for a moment looking at her, then said “Pammi mein jaata hoon. Tu thoda araam karle, yahan abhi koi nahin hai, sab abhi hospital mein hi hain. Main phir aaoonga”

He left without a backwards glance, leaving a stunned woman standing behind him.

She stood quietly for a while trying to get her mind around what had happened, what her husband had said. She’d realised that he had changed, only a fool wouldn’t have noticed but she hadn’t realised exactly how much he had changed. But after some thought she realised that it was only to be expected; that was the kind of man he was. Once he realised that there was something that needed to change, he would work to change it wholeheartedly.

And thats what he had started to do, change his attitude to her and encourage his mother to change towards her as well.

The question was, could she forgive him? She’d thought she was past it all, happy with whatever improvement there was in her lot. But she’d surprised herself with her anger today, which was only a fraction of what she’d felt inside; she hadn’t realised that she had so much suppressed rage. But rage was destructive, anger corrosive. Over the past five years, Tej’s anger had destroyed their chances of becoming a true couple; did she now want her anger to destroy any chances of happiness they might have in the future.

Her mind whirling, filled with hundreds of conflicting thoughts, Pammi lay down and closed her eyes. Perhaps sleep would help her make a decision.

Chapter 12

Pammi’s sleep was not undisturbed, however. She dreamt; for once her dreams were not of flying, freedom, being alone. Her dreams that day were of Tej, the way he had looked on their wedding day. He was glowering at her the way he always did, no hint of softness or tenderness on his face. In her dream, he came close to her the way he had days ago, close enough to be able to rub his cheek against hers. In her dream, she looked into his eyes and saw something, some hint of affection, something that could perhaps turn into love. Just as her hands went out to hold him close, she was woken by the sound of a loud knock on her door- her brother stood there “Pammi tu ne kuch khaana nahin tayyar kiya, hum sab bhook se marrahe hain aur tu yaha so rahi hai”

Burying the resentment she felt at the way he had spoken to her, she said “Veerji, main abhi kuch karti hoon, khaana tayyar hojayega”

She rushed down to the kitchen, her mind filled with the glimpses of her dream she still remembered. As she quickly threw together some sabzi and parathe, she came to a decision. She admitted to herself it was the only one she could make- she would go back and try to make something of her life. (Deep down inside, she knew that there had never been any other decision she could have made; her self-respect was not powerful enough to defeat her love). All she could do would be to ensure that she stood up for herself as she had never done in the past. Before Geet had come, she’d never realised that there was another way to live; she’d never even imagined that wives could ever be treated with respect, that bahus weren’t only to be belittled. But seeing the way Maan treated Geet had opened her eyes as much as it seemed to have opened Tej’s

Geet had shown her what it was to love and still be strong; she’d never stopped loving Maan but had walked away from him rather than let him walk all over her. Well, she couldn’t walk away from Tej; where Geet had had no family to consider, no obligations binding her to Maan apart from love, Pammi was bound to Tej by the demands of family and society as well as love. Perhaps other women wouldn’t be able to understand that- but it was her truth, the one she had to live with. She couldn’t walk away.

Perhaps now, with Tej also willing to change, to bend, to acknowledge that he needed to treat her as a wife not just a dogsbody- perhaps they would be able to build a marriage rather than just be two people who happened to sleep in the same room.

“Arre Pammi, kya hamein bhook se maaregi? Khaana tayyar hua ya nahin”

At her brothers shout, she grimaced saying “Laayi Veerji, sab tayyar hai”. Perhaps the time had come to return home.

Pammi spent the next day at the hospital, spending time with her sister-in-law, who was due to leave ITU that day, as well as visiting the neonatal unit; the time she spend holding the baby and feeding him was perhaps the most peace she’d experienced in a long time. It made her wish and wonder; it made her think of the way Tej had defended her in front of her mother—looking back she realised that he had started changing as far back as that.

She smiled helplessly, aware that somehow everything ended up somehow making her think of Tej.


God, now she was even imagining his voice. She tried to concentrate on the baby in her arms, his little hands wrapped in bandages holding the drips in place as he made an effort to suck some milk from the bottle she was holding.

“Pammi” she heard again, then jumped as she felt a hand on her shoulder. Turning slightly in the chair, she saw her husband standing next to her, looking down at the child she held. She’d never seen him look so tender, hadn’t even realised that he had it in him to look so gentle. He crouched down next to her and put out a finger to touch the baby’s hand; he jumped when the baby held on tight.

She realised that he’d probably never seen a baby this young before, nor been close to any baby at all. After all, it didn’t really fit with Tejinder Singh’s image to be seen holding babies- he wasn’t a politician after all.

With the baby between them, without looking at her, he said “Pammi, tu ghar aayegi na”. When she didn’t immediately respond, he looked up; the look in his eyes made her feel beautiful.

What could she do but nod in agreement?


Chapter 13

Over the next two weeks, Pammi continued to manage her maika, looking after her family as well as making visits to the hospital to see the baby. Tej visited her a few times, accompanying her to the hospital on a number of occasions and seeming happy to sit and watch her as she held the child. Neither of them said anything but she couldn’t help but dream of someday sitting somewhere with her own child in her lap. The accord between them was so fresh and new that she didn’t dare raise the subject, but just occasionally she caught him looking at her with an almost hungry look in his eyes. That look woke a need in her that was so new, so unexpected that she wasn’t sure whether she had imagined it; certainly she was not comfortable enough with him to do more than blush and turn away.

At the end of that fortnight, both mother and child returned home; two days later Pammi told her mother that she needed to go too. Though there were the expected tears and declarations that they wouldn’t be able to manage without her, Pammi held firm; as she walked out of the room, she heard her mother on the phone to Beeji saying “Haan Beeji, maine socha ab Pammi ko waapis bhej doon, aap logon ne uss ko yahan itne dinon tak chodke itna ehsaan kiya hai”

Shaking her head (her mother would never change) Pammi made her way to her room. She began packing, wondering which of her brothers she could ask to take her home. Tej had visited the day before and said that he might not be able to visit for a few days as the farm needed his attention, so she knew tha Yashpal probably wouldn’t be available to come and collect her.

Her packing done, Pammi made her way to her Lajjo’s room and spent some time there holding the baby, giving Lajjo a chance to rest. This was the one thing about her time here that she would miss, the warm weight of a baby in her arms, the chance to just hold him and not have to worry about the rest of the world.

When she heard male voices downstairs, she realised her brothers were home—she handed the baby back to his mother and made her way downstairs to talk to them; the sooner she could get home, the better it would be.

When she reached the main hall, she received a shock- her husband was standing there, talking to her brothers, having obviously just arrived as well. A little stunned by how happy she was to see him, she walked to the group of men, saying “Ji, aap yahan. Sab theek to hai, aap ko to farm pe kaam tha”

He looked up, a hint of a smile in his eyes

“Maa-ji ka phone aaya tha ke tujhe ghar aana hai, to main lene aagaya. Laga kahin Paaji kahin zyada masroof to nahin ho tujhe ghar laane ke liye”

Their eyes met and held for a moment before she looked away; before the silence could grow awkward, her brother said “Paaji, aap khaana kha ke nikalna”

Tej looked away from his wife’s face, wishing that he could see what she was thinking “nahin Paaji, humein chalna chahiye, ghar pahunchte pahunchte bahut der hojayegi. Pammi, agar tayyar hai to chal, chalte hain”

“Theek hai ji, main saamaan le aaoon.”

The look Tej gave her brothers had them both shifting uncomfortably; before she could move, her younger brother said “chal Pammi, main chalta hoon, samaan main le aata hoon, tu bas dekhle ke kuch reh to nahin gaya”

Within a short time, her case was packed in the diggi of the Ambassador and she was seated next to Tej in the back seat. Tej was almost amused by the way she was sneaking glances at him, looking hurriedly away whenever their eyes met.

When they arrived home, Tej directed Yashpal to take her case upstairs, but before she could enter the house, he stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.

Before she could turn to face him, he moved in close to her, the heat from his body searing through to her back. Well aware that they were standing where anyone could see them, he bent slightly forward to speak into her ear “Pammi, iss se pehle bhi hum saath saath tere maike se laute hain. Magar iss baar thoda farq lagraha hai na? Iss dafa ek nayi shuruaat karne ki koshish karte hain”

As she nodded slightly, he moved his head very slightly to let his lips graze the curve of her ear; before she could do more than unconsciously tilt her head to give him better access to her neck, Beeji was there, calling to her to come in to the house and give her an update of what had happened at home. Tej fell back, leaving her free to walk into the house; as she looked back she saw him standing there with an inscrutable look on his face.

After she’d bathed and dressed, she made her way to find that her husband had been called away because of urgent business; the work he’d left unfinished to go and collect her did actually need to be completed, so he’d gone back to the farm. Feeling slightly deflated, as if she’d been left waiting for the other shoe to drop, she sat to talk to the family; if they wondered why she was so distracted, or why it seemed that she wasn’t paying any real attention to what they were saying, they all put it down to feeling homesick for her maika and didn’t think to question her further- they would have been surprised to hear that her gharwaale had never been further from her mind.


Chapter 14

Tej had never been less interested in his business; he’d never driven his workers as hard as he did at this time. All he wanted to was to go home and be with his wife; he finally understood why men missed home, why they talked about their wives wistfully, why some married men seemed to do nothing other than talk about their home-lives. He longed to be with Pammi—as that thought crossed his mind, he wondered what had happened to him. Had someone cast a spell on him? How else could he explain the rapidity with which he had gone from regarding her with disdain to needing her like he needed oxygen. He laughed at the absurdity of his thoughts, then got back to work—the sooner it was done, the sooner he could return to her side.

A few days passed; Tej phoned and spoke to Beeji most evenings, keeping her updated with what was going on. He didn’t speak to Pammi and she was glad; she hadn’t reached a point where she could talk comfortably; after all they didn’t yet have much to talk about. But she longed to ask him what he meant when he said he wanted to make a new start of their life together, what he might want from her, what his hopes for the future were. For that she needed to know when he would be back, but that was one question Beeji didn’t ask.

One evening at the dinner table, Beeji said “Pammi puttar, tu ne apne liye koi kapde banwaliye kya”

Confused Pammi looked over at Beeji and asked “Kapde Beeji, mujhe naye kapde kyun chahiye honge, mere paas kaafi kapde hain”

“Are buddhu, teen din baad Karwa Chaut hai- tujhe yaad nahin? Naye kapde gehne donon laana hain. Agar tu ne abhi nahin chune hain, to phir kal chalna mera saath, kuch chunn lena; teri sargi ke liye bhi ek do cheezein laana hain”

Pammi nodded, unable to think of anything to say. She still remembered the every Karwa Chauth she’d spent in this house, from the awkwardness of the first year to the pain of each successive year. Beeji’s gift at her first Karwa Chauth had been almost humiliatingly small, the sari she had given hardly worthy of her bahu. Tej’s utter disinterest over the years had never been so apparent as on the day of Karwa Chauth; he barely took the time to give her a sip of water, had never bothered to even give her one bite of food. She’d always been grateful that she was the only one who kept the fast in their house; if she would have had to compare her treatment to that of other women, she would probably have been even more depressed.

Considering the memories associated with the festival over the past years, it was hardly surprising that Pammi was not looking forward to the day with unalloyed pleasure. Still, she reminded herself that she was trying to put the past behind her so there was no point in dwelling on old hurts.

“Beeji, Lajjo ki pareshaani mein yaad hi nahin raha. Aap keh rahi hain to kal chaloongi aao ke saath. Magar pata nahin yeh aapayenge waqt pe ya nahin”

“Puttar, tu soch mat, Teji zaroor aayega”

The next morning, the three women of the household (plus Lacchi) made their way to a central shopping centre. Whilst Beeji had initially professed her intention to only accompany the younger women, she was soon persuaded to buy a few suits. Nandini bought some more modern outfits, but Pammi couldn’t find anything that she liked.

It was just as she was willing to give in and buy a suit that Beeji had picked that she was shown an outfit that looked extremely familiar to her. It was only after a few moments that she realised how similar it was to the suit which she had worn for her wedding, though it was a lot more sophisticated. For some reason she felt compelled to buy it; luckily the tailor was more than willing to guarantee that Tejinder Singh’s wife would have her suit in time for Karwa Chauth.

Once that was done, they made their way to the family jewellers. Pammi hung back, expecitng to have to accept what she was given as always, but Beeji was definitely her son’s mother; having recognised her past mistakes, she wasn’t one to hesitate to correct them

“Puttar, aaja, tu chun, tujhe kya chahiye. Itne saalon ke baad apni pasand ki ek cheez to honi chahiye tumhaare paas”

There was a strange fulfilment in finally being treated like a bahu rather than a burden; the feeling of contentment stayed with her the whole way home.


Chapter 15

Karwa Chauth arrived but her husband did not. Pammi woke that morning, donned all her new finery and took Beeji’s blessings; the sargi Beeji gave her contained all the things normally given to a newly wed bride. When she looked at Beeji with an unspoken question in her eyes, her saas said “Puttar, jo maine uss waqt nahin kiya woh main aaj karrahi hoon. Mujhe yeh nahin pata ke tere aur Tej ke beech kya chalraha hai, magar ab se main tujhe koi shikayat ka mauqa nahin doongi. Maine tujhe pehchaan ne mein ghalti ki hai Pammi, magar ab nahin.

Chal Puttar, ab tu naashta karle, bhooke pet aaj ka vrat rakhna bahut mushkil hai”

Throughout the whole day, Pammi waited and waited, hoping that Tej would walk through the door but the day passed without his arrival.

As darkness fell, Pammi began to wonder when her life began resembling a movie; if the pattern so far held true, Tej would walk in just as she was doing the pooja. Just as that thought crossed her mind, Tej entered the house, making Pammi laugh with the absurdity of her thoughts.

She hung back as Beeji and Nandini greeted him, then blushed as he walked towards her. The look in his eyes created a shock of sensation deep inside her; as their eyes met it was as if they were completely alone. After a moment, as her cheeks turned pink with a fiery blush, she looked down; she felt his eyes roaming over her taking in every detail of how she looked and what she was wearing. When she dared to raise her eyes to his again, she found a tenderness in the depths of his gaze that had never been there before.

Without a word, he gestured towards the stairs, as she turned and started walking with him, he called back “Beeji, hum abhi aate hain”. She could feel the amusement in the group left behind, but their opinions on what was going on were the least of her concern.

As she walked into the bedroom just ahead of her husband, she was struck by a sudden fear that this was all her imagination; that in a moment she would wake and find herself back in the life she used to lead. She knew that it was irrational, but everything had changed so quickly that it hardly seemed possible that it was real; after a moment she realised she would rather die than wake if this weren’t real.

In her sudden terror, she bit down hard on her lower lip, hard enough to draw blood, then gasped as the pain shot through her.

Tej stopped and turned her to look at him; he was about to say something when his eyes fell on the drop of blood just appearing on her lip. He stepped towards her and raised a thumb to her lip, gently wiping away the blood.

“Pammi, kya maine tuhje kaafi dukh nahin pahunchaya jo tu apne aap ko chot pahuncha rahi hai”

She looked into his eyes and saw concern and a hint of anger; realising that she wasn’t dreaming, she closed her eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. As his thumb continued its gentle caress along the edges of her lips, she looked up at him again, then said “Jab aane wala kal accha ho, to beete hue kal ko yaad karne se kya faida”

Tej stilled as her words dropped into the silence; then a moment later, he said “Aane wale kal mein sirf accha hoga Pammi. Yeh mera waada hai”

He brought both hands up to cup her face and repeated “Mera waada hai”

As their eyes held, he leaned forward slowly till his lips touched hers; a tentative first kiss full of hopes and wishes and dreams. They broke apart for a moment, but as he leaned in to take her lips again, Beeji’s voice intruded “Pammi puttar, tu aaja, chaand nazar aagaya”

Though he wanted nothing more than to ignore his mother’s voice, he realised that Pammi had eaten nothing all day; stepping back, he said “Pammi tu chal, main bas aaya.” As she nodded and slipped out of the room, he brought his unruly body under control then went to wash and change.

A short time later, he made his way to the aangan where Pammi was waiting for him. Seeing her standing there, beautiful in a quasi-bridal outfit, birthed a bitter-sweet feeling in his chest, but he shook it off; if he continued to dwell on the past, he would poison his hopes for a new future.

The traditional Karwa Chauth pooja took only a short time to complete, but those moments felt sacred; as he broke her fast and fed her with his hands, the actions meant more her than even the moment when he had first tied the mangalsutra around her neck.

When she finally bent to touch his feet, for the first time he stopped her; it had taken a long time and he’d needed his eyes opened by someone else, but Tej finally understood that his wife’s place was not at his feet but instead in his arms and his heart. He drew her close and wrapped his arms around her and as she relaxed into his embrace, she realised how full of hope life could be.