Shikha topped the college in the final exams, and cleared the UGC examination too, with enough scores to fetch her UGC research fellowship. After her break up with Siddharth, she decided to take her life into her own hands. Enough of allowing the family to mess around with her, she thought bitterly. She thought of Siddharth often, but not without resentment. He hadn’t even given her a chance to talk. He had dropped her like hot potato, which hurt her deeply. Did she matter only that much to him? The path of true love did never run smooth, they say. Guess it was’nt true love. He didn’t care enough to brave the family differences and resistance. He took the easy way out. What a fool she had been to fall in love with such a calculating man who could fall in and out of love when he found it expedient!
Shikha heard from him only once after that shattering day in the college canteen. He sent her an email – a cold business like mail which sounded like a demi official letter. He felt it was foolish to think that a marriage in which the parents of the girl and the boy refused to accept each other and see each other as equals would be a success. There would be too many complications. His parents were also dead against this alliance after Shikha’s family humiliated their father. After all Shikha’s and his relationship was not so deep that it could be terminated. He was sure Shikha would come out of it unscathed, just as he too would, given time. One had to be sensible. Life had enough problems without complicating it further. After all a marriage was for life and it made sense not to build it on shaky foundations.
Love, she thought bitterly. She was a fool to think that Siddharth loved her. In weighing its worth against the advantages and disadvantages of relationship between families, Love was the loser. For Siddharth, love was certainly not blind. It wore lens which afforded detailed vision of future. ‘ Guess this is what is meant by falling in love intelligently.’, thought Shikha ruefully.
She decided to put him out of her mind though it was not easy. She debated throwing off his handkerchief, and the books he had given her, but then decided against it. I have to learn to face my loss, my disillusionment. But, from her ipod, she deleted Annie’s Song which Siddharth used to sing so soulfully. It brought tears to her eyes and filled her with a terrible longing for him who finally proved to have feet of clay.
She replied to his email in a line: Thank you. You make your position very clear.
She wondered why she had been a fool enough to believe that love can overcome all obstacles arising from external factors. She had begun to move on but was a changed person. Not that she was not focused before, but after the Siddharth fiasco, she seemed to have developed a horse vision which did not escape the notice of her friends. Only her friend Lavanya who was in IIT knew what had happened between Siddharth and her. She told her one day that if Siddharth did not have the mettle to face the ordeals of love, it was better he was out of her life, and there was no point in wasting her time brooding over such a calculating person who loved with his brain. Shikha nodded in agreement. Falling out of love is not so easy, she thought as she listened to Lavanya.
Michael wanted her to do research. Her fellowship made it possible for her to walk into any research institution in India. Shikha had actually started doing her home work on the economic research centers till her father expressed his desire that she go in for research.
“NO, papa. I’ve decided to take up a job”, she said. She was surprised to hear herself say that. A job had not crossed her mind. Guess I feel the need to make a statement now and here that I’ve been completely weaned, she thought.
“You are making a mistake, Shikha”, said Michael. “The fellowship - - “
“My mind is made up, papa”, cut in Shikha quietly. “Mistake or no mistake, a job it is going to be. And about mistakes”, she couldn’t help adding, “I’d rather learn from mistakes than from antiquated wisdom”.
She regretted what she said when she saw her father’s expression, but immediately her heart hardened when she thought of the nasty and high- handed manner in which he had dealt with the matters of her heart.
Though her decision to work was prompted by that desire to defy her parents, she soon found that she was excited about working. It gave her a sense of power – a feeling that she was in control. Of her life. She remembered what her cousin Meera had told her when they met during Christmas before last. She applied for jobs, and got selected where ever she applied and, within a month of the publication of results, she decided to take up a job as an economist in a Calcutta based bank. The appointment was due only after three months during which she went to her old college as a guest lecturer, a job she enjoyed so much that she was tempted to look for a teaching post. She hadn’t yet signed the contract with the bank.
And then one day – it was the Independence Day- her father told her. She couldn’t believe her ears. She couldn’t believe that a parent could be so ignorant of and insensitive and impervious to an offspring’s feelings.
“The boy is the only son of Varkey Kottayil. You know he is the biggest industrialist in our community”.
Michael’s face was expressionless. His voice too was devoid of intonation. But he looked her in the eye, which was a rare thing after their argument over Siddharth. It appeared as though he had been steeling himself for this moment.
Shikha said nothing. She was too shocked and angry to speak.
“The boy – his name is Philip- did his schooling in Yercaud, graduated from Warwickshire University and did his MBA from Kellogs. It’s only two month since he came down to take over his father’s business. He is the only child, the sole heir to the entire wealth of Varkey.”
Shikha continued to look at her father incredulously, saying nothing.
“Shikha, think about it and tell me by tomorrow.”
“There’s nothing to think”, said Shikha with finality. “I’m not interested”, and she turned to go.
“Wait a minute Shikha”, persisted Michael, “You are not interested in this case, or is it that you don’t want to get married now? What is it?”
She was amazed that her father thought it was a simple matter to switch off her feelings for a person and switch it on for another.
“Marriage is the last thing on my mind at the moment”.
She said nothing more, and quietly left the room.
Her mother spoke to her several times, tried emotional black mailing but Shikha was unrelenting. She would listen to her quietly, and then put a lid on the conversation with a firm “No”.
Her parents did not know how to handle her.
“Why don’t you go to Kochin this weekend?” asked Rani, at the dining table. “It’s a long time since you saw your grandparents.” Rani, apparently was hoping that velliammachi would talk her into agreeing to the proposal.
Shikha glared at her.
“Shikha, are you going to nurse that grudge for ever? Appachan is old, you know?”
“So he wants to do as much damage as he can before he is taken up to his heavenly abode?”
“Shikha”, shouted a shocked Rani.
”Yes, mama?” answered Shikha in a deadly quiet voice.
“Leave it, Rani”, said a nervous Michael.
“Don’t you want to see your heroine velliammachy?” Said Rani in a half sneer.
Shikha was not sure about velliammachy’s role in ‘handling’ Siddharth’s grandfather, and she didn’t want to know. She was afraid that if she discovered that Velliammachy too was a party to the shameful act, she would lose faith in mankind. So she didn’t ask. But velliammachy was a different person when she spoke to Shikha over the phone after that episode. She seemed to be probing and would become philosophical at times and would offer unsolicited advice – most unlike her, Shikha thought.
“No. I don’t want to see anyone”.
“How long can you live like an island?” Rani was in one of her rare moods that perplexed even Michael. It’s her genes that are resurfacing in Shikha, Michael thought.
“I don’t know”, said Shikha nonchalantly.
“You know, Shikha, papa and I were saying that you should go to a counselor?”
Shikhas head jerked up from her plate to look angrily at her parents.
“I will go”, she snapped,” if both of you go too. If the entire Kuttiparambil clan go. Then the shrink can say what is wrong with whom”.
“That’s enough Shikha”, said Michael. “People are listening”. He meant Maria cheduthy who was unusually quiet in the kitchen.
Switching over to English, Shikha spat out in a controlled voice. “Do you care for anything else other that appearances, papa? Have you ever been honest with yourself? Doesn’t anything else matter to you other than your image, your family prestige, your standing in the society and all that bullshit? Are you capable of feeling like an individual independent of the Kuttiparambil address? You just exist, papa. It’d be worthwhile finding out what it feels like to live, be alive and breathing and kicking, and not just exist as per some fossilised norms made by some weird forefathers”.
Michael looked stricken. Not angry, Shikha thought. That look is strange. He got up and walked away from the dining table without finishing his breakfast – something Shikha has never seen him do before.
That was the last meal they had together. Ever.
That evening he left for Brazil on an official visit. Before leaving for the airport, he called Shikha and told her that she should not just brush aside the proposal in order to teach him a lesson. He asked her to think about it while he was away. When he got back, he would accept her decision whatever it was. “But remember, this is an excellent case. The Kottayils have the same background as us. Whatever you might think, it is definitely more advantageous to marry a person with the same cultural and social background. We have only your welfare in mind Shikha, whatever else you might think. If you still feel strongly against it, we’ll respect your decision, like I said. But I honestly believe this is the best thing that can happen to you”.
Shikha said nothing. She did not want to counter what he said. He was leaving on a long journey and she didn’t want to upset him. She looked at him with a small smile.
A week later, as he was returning home, his flight crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. There were no survivors.