Thank you for being patient with me. I've finished most of the projects I had set out for, in this break. I will post about them soon. For now, I won't come between you and the update :D I hope you all are safe, healthy, and coping well. Love you all... a lot... ........................................................... She grasped his shirt at his shoulders when she was near him, terrifi...
This is a strong themed story and may not go down well with a lot of people. I can only assure you that not even a word is over-exaggeration. In fact, I have downplayed the issues, keeping in mind the sensitivity of the topic chosen.
The laws, procedures, experiences are not my imagination or fictional… I have done thorough research on this subject. They are all facts.
Lastly, if you don’t like it, stop reading it instead of bashing me. There are many other stories that might interest you on this blog :))
Thank you for all the love…
“A woman’s strength lies in her determination. She can be as strong as she wants to be. And it comes to fore every time the need arises. She gives her best but never gives up!”
Manasvi closed the book she had been reading and kept thinking about it for a long time. Holding it tucked to her heart, she closed her eyes too. She realised that her eyes were moist.
She was in the living room of her one-bedroom apartment and usually sat on the window-sill in the evenings after work. The cool, marbled finishing of the window-sill lined by cushions in cream and maroon colour provided a perfect setting to spend an evening gazing out of the window into the vast open sky. This was her favourite place to sit for long hours and observe the setting sun going down behind the tall buildings crowding the Mumbai skyline.
Till a few years back, the setting sun had scared her, intimidated her and reminded her of her traumatic past as it symbolized the pain of her distressing life. But not anymore. She had created a niche for herself and was striving to make her life secure. So secure that her present insulated her from the scars of her past and never shadowed her dreams and aspirations.
She was happy in Mumbai. Yet she could never avoid drifting back to memories of her past. She tried not to relive the events. She assured herself that it affected her no more. But it was all a lie. Scars like those don’t heal fast.
She may have decided to let go but her past haunted her as strongly as her fear of messing up a promising future.
After her post-graduation in Journalism & Mass Communications, she had joined the evening section of MediaPro, a famous media group with several magazines and newspapers to their credit. But within 6 months she was shown the door because she had refused to report a case in favour of an influential rape accused. Her colleagues had been unnecessarily focusing on the victim’s character and conduct with boys in her college. It was totally irrelevant according to Manasvi.
Manipulation of a sensitive case was not something she had expected from responsible people in her profession. It was absolutely unacceptable to her and she had voiced her opinion fiercely. She slammed her colleagues for showing the victim in poor light but had no idea about the company owner’s personal interest in the news owing to his obligations to the powerful people who were behind this modification.
Even if she had known about this, her opinion wouldn’t have changed. Only that she wouldn’t have gone to her boss expecting a fair treatment. Fair treatment was becoming a luxury in her profession. She was rudely asked to leave the job.
Even before this episode, she had had a taste of the harsh life of journalists and media personnel beyond the rosy picture imagined during graduation days. After her graduation was over, she had worked as an intern for around eighteen months with a smaller news agency and had a tough time dealing with colleagues who twisted, mutilated, hid and manipulated news for their benefit much before it reached the public. Political inclinations were catered to quite shamelessly and extortions based on controversial news were a norm. She couldn’t deal with it and planned to give it a break until she decided how exactly she wanted to shape her future.
She went ahead for post-graduation in Journalism, and later she joined the much coveted company MediaPro, nearly six months back. But nothing changed. This company was simply a larger version of the smaller ones. Only the scale and the stakes had increased. Not ready to negotiate on her principles, she had to make choices and she realized quite early that it was going to be a tough road ahead for a woman like her.
These bitter experiences didn’t change Manasvi’s strong belief in the power and goodness of the profession that she had chosen. She wanted to get into visual media and live news reporting but it wasn’t an easy feat. To find a job in Mumbai and that too in mass media was like finding a needle in the heap of sand. Yet she wasn’t deterred. There were numerous faces in visual media and news-reporting that inspired her. Unbiased discussions on news-hour excited her and she loved political segments. She knew that there existed a lot of honest people who didn’t care about influences and political pressures while reporting and exposing the truth. It was her strong desire to be one of them.
With a deep inclination to work for United Nations some day, precisely UN Women, she kept her hopes high and pursued her search for a good job with a dogged determination. One thing that she promised herself was that she will now work ‘only’ with reputed people who had carved a positive name in the industry.
The sun had set by now and the darkness slowly entered the living room. Manasvi stood up and switched on the lights. The room was immediately bathed in glow from low-energy lamps in several colours, which she had used to decorate the room and to keep her spirits high. The different lamps arranged in a twisted row resembled the numerous stars in the sky and gave the room a much-needed serenity. She had been admiring her own decision to buy these lamps to adorn one corner of the room when her phone rang.
She picked up the phone from the center table and looked at the screen for a moment. An unknown number once again.
Though it wasn’t their anniversary she was expecting his call for the past 6 months. He had talked about divorce and she knew that he will call her once the papers were ready. The only thing that confused her was that why the numbers were always different and strange. She knew that he worked in New York. His mom had told her. Then why there were no USA codes when she received his calls. She thought for a moment about this and then shrugged to push it out of her mind. She had a lot of things in her life to think about than worrying about why Anshuman used strange numbers to call her.
She answered the call.
“Kaisi hain aap?” The same formal, awkward greeting to ask about her wellbeing followed.
“I’m good. Aap?”
“I’m fine… Err… Did you join any media group after your PG?” He asked.
She smiled at the question and leaned by the window as she observed the well-lit buildings outside. For a moment, she wanted to tell him how a lot of those groups were fraudulent and how she was yet to meet nice people and she was hopeful that she will work with genuine people someday. She wanted to tell him that she was jobless since one week and was trying her best to find a decent job for herself where she could work without any compromises. But she couldn’t. She knew that he was just being formal with her as he didn’t know what to say and how. And it was just a general question to strike a conversation. He wasn’t obviously interested in knowing about her job and the dull, boring routine of hers and the issues she faced in her everyday struggle for existence. He had much better things to think of.
‘Much better things’ reminded her of the girlfriend he had mentioned on their last talk. He was about to propose marriage to her. Or maybe he already had done that, by now.
“Manasvi! Are you there ?” He softly inquired.
She nodded to mentally smack herself about her absent-mindedness and the habit of sliding comfortably into the realms of her thoughts even when talking to people. She warned herself to not do it again and shrugged to confirm to herself very firmly that it didn’t affect her at all if Anshuman had a girlfriend. Or if he wanted to marry someone he loved and wanted to spend his life with her. Manasvi was happy for him. She had always wished the best for him. In all circumstances. And his happiness was very important to her.
She quickly replied, “I’m sorry. I’m listening. Yeah, I joined a news agency but am in a process of job change.” She tried to keep it short, not letting any scope for him to probe further into the details.
“Manasvi, I’d spoken about something when I called the last time.”
“I remember that and I know that this call is about the divorce documents.”
“How did you guess that?”
“It’s not 20th January yet and you’ve called me…..so I thought…!”
A long awkward pause followed from his side after this and she whacked herself on her head for speaking more than necessary. He was not obliged to call her but still, he called on their anniversary and that was only for the sake of courtesy. There was no sense in making him feel guilty about it. It was absolutely unnecessary to speak like this and she regretted it after doing so. Immediately she rectified her mistake by apologizing.
“I’m sorry….I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I don’t know what to answer.” He replied honestly.
“Please don’t bother. It was silly of me. I’m really very sorry. So? Are the papers made?” She tried to make it as easy as possible and was successful to some extent. He began talking again.
“No. I didn’t get time. I was very busy. I just called to say that I am coming to India next month.”
“Is it for Preksha’s engagement ?” She almost knew the answer to her question this time. His younger sister was getting engaged next month. Her mother-in-law Madhu Shekhawat had invited her for the function though Manasvi had decided that she won’t go. She had gone to her in-laws’ home only a couple of times in the past seven years. They always invited her to celebrate festivals like Diwali and Holi with them and expected her at almost all functions in the family. She went for some and made excuses at other times. They never forced her.
Madhu understood her well. She gave space and time to Manasvi to sort out her life and always stood by her like a silent pillar of support. Manasvi was assured that she could turn around any day and extend a hand for support and the entire Shekhawat family will always be there for her.
But for Manasvi, it was a battle that she had to fight alone. They had already done a lot for her and she felt awkward stepping closer to them than she already was. She couldn’t take any more favours from them. She always maintained the distance from Shekhawats that Anshuman maintained from her.
Anshuman confirmed that he was coming to India for Preksha’s engagement. He was aware that she was invited too. Neither he asked her to come, nor did she tell him that she was not going. It wasn’t needed from either end. He just told her that as he had been busy so he couldn’t do anything about the divorce-related documents and it was a difficult process to be initiated from out of India. It was better that he reached Delhi next month and filed an application personally for the same. He will be sending her the papers after the process was completed and verified by the lawyers. She listened patiently to the whole information which he finished speaking in less than a minute and then she replied after that.
“Alright. Send me the documents. I’ll mail you my address in Mumbai.” She suggested hesitatingly. They didn’t even have each others’ email id. They had never sent emails to each other before this.
“Okay… I’ll message you my e-mail id.” He replied casually before telling her to take care, like always…. and before disconnecting the call.
It was a strange irony that they were talking more and exchanging information about each other just before being legally separated.
They had never exchanged anything while they stayed married.
Inexplicably, Manasvi felt a strange pang of depression. She kept her phone back on the table and sat on the maroon velvet rug on the floor with her knees folded and her arms wrapped around them. The desire to have dinner vanished. She was feeling lonely after a long time. The lamps imparted various shades of light inside the room in sync with the pleasing sound of the wind chimes. On usual days, she would take out a book and read in this space. But today, her mind was with Anshuman.
Anshuman had a lovely voice. A mere replay of the whole conversation in her mind, on repeat mode, gave her peace. The way he told her to take care, each and every time he called her, and the way he assured her that he and his family will always support her, be with her whenever she needed them were proof of the gentleman in him. Not that she had any doubts about the genuineness and sensitivity he possessed as a human being. No. She had none!!
She had seen those traits in him long back… the day when she had seen him for the first and the only time in her life!!
Seven years ago, he had married her just after a simple suggestion from his parents. He neither questioned them nor did he try to talk to her or judge her. He had been studying medicine in some reputed medical school in Scotland and was just 21-years of age. He had come to India on a vacation and had no idea then, that he will be returning back to Scotland with a changed marital status and a confused state of mind.
If it was a seven-year ordeal for Anshuman, then for Manasvi, it had been painful for the last 15 years. Those days were etched in Manasvi’s memory. It still appeared like a nightmare.
For an Afghan girl to reach India wasn’t short of a miracle, at that time.
Her father, Ashok Rathore, had lived in Afghanistan for all his life. He had a jewellery store in Kabul and he loved the country which gave him recognition and opportunity to do business there. Ashok loved his only daughter, Manasvi, a lot and treated her like a princess. He had named her ‘Manasvi’ because he would relate her voice to the tinkling of the jewellery in his store in Kabul and how it pleased everyone’s heart.
They had lot of friends in Kabul belonging to all religions. Life was good till she was around eight years old. But then everything gradually changed…
The situation in Afghanistan changed in the late nineties and a lot of fundamentalists groups who did not agree with each other created havoc in Kabul. There were massacres of civilians with casualties from citizens belonging to all religions, from all walks of life, all professions, irrespective of class and gender. It didn’t seem like a religious movement. It was a politically motivated war for power.
She remembered that her mother had stopped going out of their house and her father was asked to wear a yellow band on his arm to mark his religious identity. Almost all the Civilians were beaten and threatened. Those were tough days when all their laughter and fun time was replaced with hushed whispers of fear and worry. It continued for around 4 years before Ashok decided to leave Afghanistan like thousands of others had. But he wasn’t destined to leave the place.
The day her father died, she didn’t see her mother crying in grief. For a twelve-year-old, she could only recall her panic-stricken mother praying for safety of her daughter and herself. The situation grew tense and Hindus were not allowed to cremate their loved ones. A riot broke out as a lot of people had died and their relatives fought for their right to perform the last rites of the departed souls. Stones were pelted at them as they carried the procession for the funeral. There was bloodshed all around her. She was scared and suffocated due to smoke and fumes. She could still remember the smell of burnt vehicles and soot in her nostrils.
Their Muslim friends in Afghanistan helped them and her mother carried all her jewellery in a small bag and with some relatives and neighbours, they left for Pakistan in early hours of the day, where their relatives lived.
Memories of those days still made her shudder. Manasvi hugged herself to ward off the terror deep-seated inside her. She lay down on the rug on the floor of the apartment. It was hard not to re-live the nightmare for the thousandth time. She lived it every day, every night of her life… all through these years…
She had no idea how they reached Pakistan in the dark of the night but was relieved to reach there as her mother belonged to Sindh province of Pakistan and some of her relatives lived there. Manasvi completed her schooling in Karachi and her life was comparatively peaceful for the next six years.
When she was eighteen-years-old, she and her mother were cornered in a routine screening by the Government of Pakistan, under a process of registering the Afghan refugees, and then they initiated the process of their repatriation back to their country.
Situation was much better in Afghanistan now but Manasvi’s mother didn’t want to go back. She had become weak and was suffering from tuberculosis. She was petrified with all sorts of news, like reports of young girls being kidnapped. Government of Pakistan didn’t take any risk and allowed no Afghan refugee to live there anymore and asked them to go back to the country shown on their passport. Manasvi was in her eighteenth year, at that time. Her mother consulted her family and decided to move to India, wrongly assuming that it was better there.
A week later, they were in India with an Afghan passport and visa procured on grounds of travel to religious places and to meet relatives. RajSingh Shekhawat, Anshuman’s father, was in the Indian army and he knew them well. He was a friend of Ashok Rathore, Manasvi’s father, and their grandparents had once lived in the same house in Old Delhi before Ashok’s father shifted to Afghanistan for business.
They stayed in touch through letters and exchanged wishes on festivals. Rathores had some of their relatives in Hyderabad too. Manasvi’s ailing mother managed to get this visa to travel to India and decided not to go back.
Madhu Shekhawat had welcomed them warmly though they didn’t have any resources to help them stay in India beyond their visa period. Immigrants from Afghanistan and Pakistan never got valid Residential permits or Long term visas to stay in India as easily as compared to citizens from other countries, mainly because of security issues and also due to mutual non-interference policies by the three Governments. Very clearly, it was considered the internal matter of each country and the other didn’t interfere.
So even if visas were sought by immigrants to stay for long term in India, they were never given unless the reason was genuine. With their blue color UN refugee card, Manasvi and her mother struggled to get permission to stay in India.
Raj and Madhu took Manasvi under their wings and tried hard to help her. They went from one Government office to another to get permission that allowed Rathores to live with them, but all in vain.
Rules in India were as strict as they were in any other country. The only option left was to go back.
Her mother was losing hope as she was very ill and was scared to leave Manasvi alone. She couldn’t send her back to the place where she had no friends or relatives. With their passport and identity, they would be sent back to Afghanistan by both the other countries. Their house was in Afghanistan but there was no business left and no one to call her own there.
Manasvi had no one in Afghanistan to go back to. She didn’t even know if that place was safe or not. Not much help came from any official and all the answers were dissatisfactory and depressing.
They were simply asked to go back.
“Where will they go, if not here? They are basically Indians.” RajSingh had argued but no one had answers.
Manasvi and her mother had been direct descendants of ‘People of Indian Origin’ and they hoped to get help based on this ground. But the fact that she was an Afghan national and had done her schooling in Pakistan made matters worse and no one was willing to help them for the fear of getting into something that endangered their own safety.
It was then that an officer had suggested that one legal way to get a valid permit to stay in India for a long time was by getting her married to an Indian boy and after seven years of continuous stay in India, she can apply for citizenship or extension of permit.
Raj and Madhu were absolutely against it. Manasvi was just eighteen-years-old and to marry her off to an unknown person just in the hope of getting a stay permit was as dangerous as sending her back to another country. It was hard for them to trust anyone.
At that time, Anshuman had been home for a vacation and the idea first came to Madhu that her son was an ideal choice if they had to go by this route to save the girl. But they were not sure if Anshuman would agree for this. He was just over 21 and was studying medicine in Scotland.
The silent spectator to the struggle since day one, Manasvi was baffled at the idea of her getting married to Anshuman. She refused flatly at this suggestion.
She had come to India to comfort her dying mother but she didn’t know that it was going to be so tough to stay here. If she had known that it was that difficult, she would have never come. She would have fought for her rights in the country that was responsible for the same. Her mother’s health had worsened in past few days and now, she didn’t want someone to pity her for her condition and give her a social asylum.
Manasvi declared that she preferred to go back and fight for her rights in Afghanistan but hated the thought of becoming a burden for someone with a forced marriage at such a young age.
Busy with his old school friends and his sports group, enjoying his vacation, Anshuman was unaware of the gravity of the situation. He was usually out of his home. But soon, he noticed the seriousness behind the discussions in their drawing-room. He had just a faint idea of what was happening in his house for around two weeks. He could guess that there were some people in his home from a foreign country and that they had some visa issues.
When he asked his mother about it, she narrated to him the entire story and also that Manasvi was adamant about going back to Afghanistan to stay alone and fight for herself but didn’t want to trouble them. She wasn’t willing to be imposed over someone’s life.
Anshuman listened to everything patiently and asked his mother to tell Manasvi that he was willing to marry her without feeling any burden of it, only if she agreed for it. They were too young to get married so it will be only for the purpose of documents. He will marry her and go back to complete his studies and she was free to live her life as she wanted to, but in India and not in Afghanistan.
It was that simple. The way he had stepped ahead and took everything under his control at the young age of twenty-one had left Manasvi speechless.
They were married in a small civil ceremony after a month’s notice given in the court. His vacation had ended too and he left the next day after their marriage. She hadn’t seen him since then.
The certificate of marriage with Anshuman had been a lifesaver for her in India. It made her eligible for almost all the privileges a citizen had in her country – from things as small as getting a phone connection to as big as getting admitted to reputed institutes for higher education.
She had decided that she will set him free from this unwanted, forced bond after she completes her studies and once the required period of stay in India necessary to apply for citizenship was over. Precisely – seven years!
All these seven years, the small paper declaring their marriage to the world had stood by her as a strong pillar of support. Every time, she used it, she was reminded of the magnanimous favour done to her.
She was aware that she could never pay him back but was sure that she could go to any length to see that Anshuman was happy in his life, whatever it took from her.
She could even give her life for him if he ever needed that.