WALLFLOWER

THE WALLFLOWER

 

By

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

 

[PART – 1]

 

 

 

 

            “I don’t want to marry Manisha,” I told my mother.

 

            My mother looked as if she had been pole-axed. Suddenly there was a metamorphosis in her expression – a distant look across my shoulder followed by a smile of forced geniality.

 

            “Manisha is coming!” my mother whispered.

 

            I turned around quickly and saw Manisha entering the wicket-gate and walking towards us.

 

            She wished my mother and smiled at me. “I want to come and see you off at the airport.”

 

            “Why bother? I’ll go on my own,” I said. “The flights are quite unpredictable. They never leave on time. And how will you come back all the way?”

 

            “You two talk here in the garden,” my mother said. “I’ll go inside and pack your things.”

 

            “I am sorry about last night,” Manisha said, with genuine regret in her voice.

 

            “It’s okay.” I looked at Manisha. Plump and full-faced, with small brown eyes and dusky complexion, hair drawn back into a conventional knot – there was only one adjective to describe Manisha – ‘prosaic’; yes, she looked prosaic – so commonplace, unexciting and pedestrian.

 

            “I’ll go inside and help your mother,” Manisha said, and went inside.

 

            ‘Last night’ was the fiasco at the disco. Manisha and I – An unmitigated disaster!

 

            “Let’s dance,” I had asked Manisha.

 

            “No,” Manisha was firm.

 

            “Come on. I’ll teach you,” I pleaded. “Everyone is on the floor.”

 

            But Manisha did not budge. So we just sat there watching. Everybody was thoroughly enjoying themselves. Many of my friends and colleagues were on the floor, with their wives, fiancées and girlfriends. Among them Sanjiv and Swati.

 

            “Who is this wallflower you’ve brought with you?” taunted Sanjiv, during a break in the music.

 

            “My fiancée, Manisha,” I answered, trying to keep cool.

 

            “Your fiancée? How come you’ve hooked on to such a Vern?” Swati mocked. “Come on Vijay,” she said derisively, coming close and looking directly into my eyes. “You are an Executive now, not a clerk. Don’t live in your past. Find someone better. She doesn’t belong here.”

 

            If someone had stuck a knife into my heart it would have been easier to endure than these words. It always rankled; the fact that I had come up the hard way, promoted from the ranks.

 

            “This is too much” I said angrily to Sanjiv.

 

            “Cool down, Vijay,” Sanjiv said putting his hand on my shoulder. “You know Swati doesn’t mean it.”

 

            But I knew that Swati had meant every word she uttered.

 

            “Let’s go,” I told Manisha. “I’ve had enough.”

 

            When we were driving home, Manisha asked innocently, “What’s a Vern?

  

            “Vernacular!” I answered. And at that moment there was a burst of firecrackers and rockets lit up the sky to usher in the New Year.

 

            That night I could not sleep. I thought of my future, trying to see both halves of my future life, my career and my marriage, side by side. I realized that my career was more important to me than anything else. I had to succeed at any cost. And a key ingredient in the recipe for success was a ‘socially valuable’ wife. It mattered. It was the truth. Whether you like it or not. Swati was right. Manisha just didn’t belong to that aspect and class of society of which I was now a part. I had crossed the class barrier; but Manisha had remained where she was. And she would remain there, unwilling and unable to change.

 

            In marriage one has to be rational. Manisha would be an encumbrance, maybe even an embarrassment. It was a mistake – my getting engaged to her. She was the girl next door, we had grown up together and everyone assumed we would be married one day. And our parents got us engaged. At that point of time I didn’t think much of it. It was only now, that my eyes had opened; I realized the enormity of the situation. I was an upwardly mobile executive now, not a mere clerk, and the equations had changed. What I needed was someone like Swati. Smart, chic and savvy. Convent educated, well-groomed and accustomed to the prevalent lifestyle, a perfect hostess, an asset to my career. And most importantly she was from a well connected family. I tired to imagine what life would have been like had I married Swati.

 

            Sanjiv was so lucky. He was already going places. After all Swati was the daughter of the senior VP.

 

            Suddenly I returned to the present. I could bear my mother calling me. I went inside. Manisha was helping her pack my bags, unaware of what was going on in my mind. I felt a sense of deep guilt, but then it was question of my life.

 

            “What’s wrong with you?” my mother asked after Manisha had left.

 

            “Why were so rude to Manisha, so distant? She loves you so much!”

 

            “I don’t love her,” I said.

 

            “What?” my mother asked surprised, “Is there some else?”

 

            “No,” I said.

 

            “I don’t understand you.”

 

            “Manisha is not compatible anymore. She just doesn’t fit in.”

 

            I could see that my mother was angry. Outwardly she remained calm and nonchalant; her fury was visible only in her eyes.

 

             “Who do you think you are?” she said icily, trying to control herself. “You know Manisha from childhood, isn’t it? For the last two years you have been engaged and moving around together. And suddenly you say Manisha is not compatible?” My mother paused for a moment, and then taking my hand asked me softly, “What happened last night?”

 

            I told her. Then we argued for over two hours and till the end I stuck to my guns. Finally my mother said, “This is going to be difficult. And relations between our families are going to be permanently strained. Think about Manisha. It will be so difficult for her to get married after the stigma of a broken engagement. Forget about last night. It’s just a small incident. Think about it again. Manisha is the ideal wife, so suitable for you.”

 

            But I had made up my mind, so I told my mother, “If you want I’ll go and talk to her father right now and break off the engagement.”

 

            “No,” my mother snapped. “Let your father come home. He will decide what to do.”

 

            The doorbell rang. I opened the door. Standing outside along with my father were Manisha and her parents.

 

            “I have fixed up your wedding with Manisha Patwardhan on the 30th of May of this year,” my father thundered peremptorily in his usual impetuous style.

 

            “Congratulations,” echoed Manisha’s parents, Mr. and Mr. Patwardhan.

 

            I was dumbstruck. Manisha was smiling coyly. My mother was signaling to me with her eyes not to say anything. She was probably happy at the fait accompli. I felt trapped. I excused myself and went up to my room. I locked the door. Someone knocked.

 

            “Give me five minutes,” I said. “I’ll get ready and come down.”

 

            “Come soon,” said Manisha from the other side of the door.

 

            I took out my notepad and wrote a letter to Manisha:

 

 

            Dear Manisha,

 

                                    Forgive me, but I have discovered that I can’t marry you and I think that it is best for us to say goodbye.

 

                       

                                                                                                Yours sincerely,

                                                                                                Vijay

 

 

            I knew the words sounded insincere, but that was all I could write for my mind had bone blank and I wanted to get it over with as fast as possible; just one sentence to terminate our long relationship. I knew I was being cruel but I just couldn’t help it.

 

            I sealed the letter in a postal envelope, wrote Manisha’s name and address on it and put it in my bag. I looked at my watch. It was time to leave.

 

            Everyone came to the airport to see me off. Sanjiv and Swati had come too. They were located at Pune and I was off on a promotion to
Delhi .

 

            “I’m really very sorry about last night,” Swati apologized to us. She took Manisha’s hand and said tenderly, “Manisha, please forgive me. You are truly an ideal couple – both made for each other.”

           

            As I walked towards the boarding area Manisha’s father Mr. Patwardhan shouted to me jovially, “Hey, Vijay. Don’t forget to come on 30th May. I have already booked a hall. If you don’t turn up I’ll lose my deposit!”

 

            I waved everyone goodbye, went to the waiting hall, sat on a chair, opened my bag and took out the letter I had written to Manisha. I wish I had torn up the letter there and then but some strange force stopped me. I put the envelope in my pocket and remembered my mother’s parting words, “Don’t make everyone unhappy. Manisha is good girl. She’ll adjust. I’ll talk to her.”

 

            During the flight I thought about it. I tried my utmost, but I just could not visualize Manisha as my wife in my new life any more. Till now I had done everything to make everybody happy. But what about me? It was my life after all. Time would heal wounds, abate the injury and dissipate the anger; but if I got trapped for life with Manisha, it would be an unmitigated sheer disaster.

 

            I collected my baggage and walked towards the exit of

Delhi
Airport . Suddenly I spotted a red post box. I felt the envelope in my pocket. I knew I had to make the crucial decision right now. Yes, it was now or never.

 

 

 

To be continued…

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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