Shikha found herself thinking about Siddharth often. And she missed her father desperately. But when mama came or she spoke to her over the phone, she revealed nothing about her intense loneliness or the uneasy feeling she had about Philip. Soon after their marriage, Philip and Shikha did spend a lot of time together, but it was not spent talking to each other. They went out for movies. Only English movies because he couldn’t relate to Malayalam. They did a lot of eating out, and went to horserace which Shikha did not enjoy one bit. She did it to only to oblige him.
Eventually, he started coming home late. The late became very late and Shikha stopped waiting up for him. In the morning, he got up late and on many days, he had breakfast sent up to the suite. But Shikha always had breakfast with her in-laws. She found that she was more comfortable with them than with her husband.
“When did he come in last night?’ daddy would ask on the days Philip did not join them for breakfast.
One day, daddy told her she should go out with him in the evenings, and not send him alone. He’s not a baby, is he, Shikha thought, annoyed.
“He goes to the club to play bridge. I don’t like clubs”. She said.
“You should learn to like what he likes, Shikha”, daddy said. There was no admonition in his voice, so Shikha spoke to him gently. “I wouldn’t know what to do there till midnight”.
There was a growing fear gnawing at Shikha that she had taken a wrong, unfamiliar route and did not know what awaited her around the corner. The man she married was a stranger to her. She did not know what went on in his mind. She did not know what he did during daytime when he was away, though she tried several times to talk to him about the business that was entrusted to him by his father. He always avoided giving her an answer. He hardly ever spoke to her. With a sinking feeling, she realized that he was avoiding her. Initially she thought she’ll talk to him about it, but she refrained when she realized, to her own distress, that she was more comfortable with him away.
The only time he was assertive was when he insisted on her buying a diamond set for the reception that was to be hosted for them by one of his father’s friends.
“The page three crowd will be there. Get yourself a designer outfit and see to the accessories. Make sure it’s diamonds.”
“I have beautiful jewellery. When am I going to use them if not for such occasions?”
“Listen, diamonds are classy”.
Shikha remembered the displeasure he had shown when she told him before their marriage that for the wedding she was wearing a rich Kerala kasavu sari with traditional jewellery’
“What is it?” he had asked looking dubious.
“Adil and pathakkam with uncut ruby and a century old Kasi mala”
“For goodness sake, why don’t you wear something more elegant? Wear a gown and diamonds”
Shikha was furious. “It’s all decided. The sari has been ordered. The jewelry was bought from the royal house when they sold some family heirloom some fifty years back. No diamond can match them in class”, Shikha had said crossly.
Shikha decided not to argue this time, and allowed herself to be dolled up to suit the Kottayil family status. The saloon people came home to fit the lehenga and make up her face. Looking at the mirror after dressing up, she felt like someone else. A stranger whom she did not recognize looked back at her from the mirror. The first and the last time I do this to myself, she thought determinedly. But Philip seemed to be terribly pleased with her turnout and she hated him for it.
The guests looked as though they were straight out of a Hindi film. She went around greeting them, saying polite meaningless words as Philip introduced her to them. At the end of an hour or so, her face started aching around the lips. Smiling like a zany, she thought angrily.
“No more of these parties for me”, she told Philip later while undressing.
“I though you were enjoying it! You were a huge success, you know?” Philip said smiling.
“I hated it. Please spare me these in future.”
“We’ll cross the bridge when we come to it. Anyway, what did you think you were doing when you decided to get married into a business family?” Philip said curtly.
“I don’t know, but certainly not this”, she said rather sourly.
“What is this ‘This’, may I ask? And what’s wrong with this “This”? He flared.
Shikha said nothing. How do I explain to this man who had nothing in common with me, she thought miserably. Can’t he see that I’m not a party freak? Expertly made up face and sprayed or jelled hairdo, sequined halter necks or spheghetti sleeves sparkling and blinking in the brilliant party lights – No. That’s just not my cup of tea. If I’m obligated to go for these boring parties, I’ll go - but my way. And most certainly that’s not donning that plastic look, she thought resolutely.
Nothing in common with her husband! It was a scary thought. How long can she go on like this, living with a total stranger who avoids her and with whom she cannot not even carry on a casual conversation for long.
Without quite realizing it, Shikha began to withdraw more and more into herself. At home she was a polite and dutiful wife and daughter-in law. She helped mummy during parties with the Wedgwood crockery and silver cutlery. That seemed the only work she and her mother-in-law ever had to do in that house which employed a train of servants. Shikha often thought of how she enjoyed cooking along with her mama, and the dishes they tried out. She would look back at the happy days around the small round dining table in her Chennai house and was often overcome by an unbearable sense of longing and nostalgia. Immediately, in the wake of these memories would rush in a feeling of guilt at the way she had hurt her father. She could never think of the last dinner they had together without sobbing. Papa, forgive me, she would say.
And then one day, Philip asked her to close a few FDs worth twenty lakhs in all. Being the only daughter, she was the heiress to Michael’s huge wealth. At the time of her marriage, she was given a deposit of one crore with the unspoken understanding of the inheritance which would be hers someday. Within a month of marriage, Shikha had noticed that Philip never gave her any money or gifts. All her needs were taken care of. The bills were paid by his father. The petty cash she needed came from the rental income from the apartments that papa had bought for her.
The request for the money surprised her.
“Twenty Lakhs? What is it for? ‘
“Have to pay for the diamonds”. She knew he was lying. She had overheard some conversation between her in-laws regarding the payment for the diamonds.She said nothing but withdrew the amount and gave him. As he’d asked her, she told nobody, but kept wondering why the scion of the business house should ask his wife to give him money from her dowry.