“Nandiniiiii…” He dragged the last part of her name in an irked chide. Next moment, he turned to her and asked in a very stern, terse, serious voice, struggling with himself and almost upset with her.
“Is it so difficult to mind your own business?”
Hurt – was a small word! His words pinched deep, like a stab!
She was so shocked and taken aback that tears droplets welled up to lie on her eyelids. No one had talked to her like this, ever before.
It was mean…rude… absolutely uncalled for!
Immediately after wording his thoughts, Manik realised that he had been rude. But the gravity of his words sank in when he saw her horrified face. She was so flabbergasted that disappointment trickled on her face. Her expressions were blank, her face drained of all colours, her mouth opened slightly to take a deep breath to ease her racing heart beats and her pretty eyes glistened, thanks to the moisture in them.
Remorseful and angry at himself, he pressed his lips and stared at her face with guilt dripping from his eyes. How he wished, he had some control on his fury. The last thing he had wanted for her attractive face was, to lose it’s smile. And he had done exactly that! He had served as a medium for her tears…
He frowned slightly and raising both his hands between them, towards her but not touching her, he lowered himself and completely turned to lean forwards, before her face and at the level of her eyes. In a guilty tone, he asked, “Err… you are not going to cry…are you?”
She gave him the dirtiest look she could manage and whispered, “Shut up!”
“Look Nandini…” He whispered too, as they were in the aircraft and didn’t want to attract undue attention.
“I said – just shut up!” She was so angry that she trembled when she spoke. “How dare you??”
He tried to justify himself, “Listen, I can explain…” But she didn’t let him speak. She was always a wizard at words and he had none. She was the one to continue and not him. “Manik, no one has ever talked to me like that! No One!! I’m still unable to believe it that someone could be ‘this’ rude to me…someone actually snapped at me…”
“I’m sorry!” He spoke sincerely. Very seriously. Very genuinely. “I’m really sorry.”
She went on, “Manik Malhotra, I’m not your wife to take all the nonsense lying down…”
“Hmm?” He raised his brows.
She frowned, correcting herself, “I mean… I’m not ‘that’ kind of wife who will accept mean behaviour and rude anger bouts without complaining. I respect myself, a lot. I am a postgraduate doctor brought up with lot of love and care… I’m well qualified to earn a living and I’m not dependent on a man in any way… if you are short of temper, if you can’t control your emotions, take it out on people who care, because I don’t… I’ll be happy to go back to my papa’s house. I was always my papa’s princess and no one could dare misbehave with me… I’ll take the next flight home after reaching Lucknow. I don’t need to tolerate rude behaviour… We did this marriage to avoid our parents from pressurizing us into another unwanted relationship … and I think the work is done… they won’t trouble us for next 2-3 years, now… let’s put up a big fight and tell them that we are not compatible! They were the ones so eager to get us married to each other. They should know how to deal with the repercussions.”
He was staring at her dumbfounded. After she finished, she turned away, trying to fight the angry tears, and not the pitiable ones, that had formed in her eyes. He picked up a bottle of water and stretched it in her direction, “Water!”
“Thanks!” She murmured, with a soft whisper and took the bottle from his hand.
He asked, “Are you done? Can I speak now?”
She wet her dry lips with her tongue and sipped water. The aeroplane was running on the runway now and was taking a flight to a new destination, new journey with abundant hopes and prayers.
He cleared his throat, and spoke in a patient voice, “Nandini, I’m sorry… I really am! But you need to listen to me…”
She turned to him and stared back in his eyes, pointedly, and whispered in a bitter tone, “I know what you will say – ‘That Nandini, I told you before that I am a workaholic… that I said already that I am emotionally unavailable… that I talk less… that I asked you to give me space… independence… we were not suppose to interfere in each other’s life and actually mind our own business…blah…blah…blah… isn’t it??”
He huffed and went back to relax in his original position on his seat, “Awesome!! Perks of marrying someone who talks so much. She can speak from both sides!! I will never have to struggle for words, ever again in life… you can talk from my side too and fight with yourself!!”
She was not amused. She was more angry, “Is it a joke to you??”
Seriously, he spoke, “No, it isn’t. It IS serious. All that you spoke is a fact. So?? Where is the confusion? I really want to know that. You’ve been unfair to me… very unfair! When we discussed our issues and incapabilities, we made it very clear why we are actually incapable of a normal relationship…”
She nodded, as if to explain to him, “Look, I remember that… I remember each and every thing… each and every word we spoke… each and every vow we took… but this wasn’t an emotional or even romantic talk… I was genuinely concerned…”
“I don’t need that!” He shrugged, “Let me handle my issues, myself… it’s all I ask…”
“I give that to you! Okay, I was interfering … I agree… maybe, because we were good to each other since last night… so I crossed the boundary, I know… but you could have spoken it in a nice, calm way… where did good manners go? You were harsh and very rude…and that is my main problem!”
He made a strong point at that, “But didn’t I tell you before that I don’t know how to talk to girls. Or to anyone… for that matter! I’m really really bad at conversations…’this’ is how I talk to Cabir and Dhruv, my only friends in Bangalore… this is how I talk to my staff… I ask them to shut up when they are disturbing me… I ask them to f*ck off if they are speaking more than I can tolerate… I ask them to mind their own business, if they try to interfere… Nandini… I AM like that..!!” He stressed on the last part.
The doctor and the relationship-expert in her woke up, “But that is not right, Manik. No one ever told you before that this is rude and harsh?”
“No! No one ever tells me anything. They are just used to me being like that, I guess. In fact…I think, my ex- didn’t like this way of talking and she might have felt bad at times… but she never said that…”
Nandini couldn’t understand that, “Wait… Both of you were in a relationship, right? How could she not tell you what she didn’t like about you and what she did?”
He moved his lips in a clueless lopsided click, thinking about past, “All I remember in those 2 years was how she was always upset with me… she wouldn’t talk to me for days… I would try to move the earth to please her… call her numerous times in the day, to apologise… ask her to meet me… plead her to talk to me… plan evenings and dates… ask friends for advice to pacify her… buy flowers, gifts, chocolates… surprise her… she would be happy for a few days and then boom… again something would piss her off… the cycle was on repeat mode… so frustrating, that one fine day… I stopped doing all that, eventually…as that was not me… I was so drained in that relationship that even the word ‘relationship’ began to scare me…!”
She was listening to him, keenly. His face had a series of changing emotions when he spoke, but the most prominent of all was deep seated pain… pain, that arose not because of a break up… in fact, it was a pain of failure… it was pain of a shattered self esteem!
He had invested so much in a relationship that he had stopped believing in his emotions.
“She never told you why she was angry with you?” Nandini asked slowly, carefully, prepared for another ‘mind-your-own-business’ kind of reply.
He nodded, “You need to talk like two mature adults to discuss an issue or tell someone what’s going on…right or wrong… but she preferred to stay angry for days at stretch. She wouldn’t talk to me, give silent treatment and continue to sulk, making me feel guilty all the time. Finally, when she was satisfied and pacified, happy with my efforts, she would tell me what had angered her or what she didn’t like but it would be pointless by then… it didn’t matter at that time. I wouldn’t be in a right frame of mind to listen…So, I would become defensive and fight back… those were issues I never understood…”
He smirked, “You will know… slowly and gradually…all related to work, habits, personal choices and likes… stuff that was ‘me’…so, I guess, in the nutshell, I was never good for her. I was never enough. Then one fine day, she decided to call it quits, saying that I was emotionally unavailable and we were not compatible!”
“I won’t comment on someone else, as I don’t know the issues… and I haven’t heard ‘her’ version of the story… but since you were both fighting so much… practically about everything… and the way you explain it, I would have been the happiest if such a toxic relationship was over. You don’t need useless noise in your life. You need concrete relationships.”
“Honestly… I didn’t even feel bad when she left… I guess, I’d had enough… but that was an experience I wouldn’t want to live again.”
“So, you mean to say that you wouldn’t be able to deal with it if I ever decided to give you a cold shoulder…”
He sighed, “Exactly!! Thanks for not doing it. I know that is wrong but I have become like that. I am lost when someone is angry and stops talking…”
“You prefer fights??” She smiled.
He loved that smile. It brought back his smile after he shed that heavy burden before her. He smiled back, “I prefer fights!! Yes…any given day…!!! I can deal with an angry person, and clear it out… but I hate it when someone ignores me, or gives an indirect hint, assuming that I will understand… No, I can’t understand what is going inside your mind… you need to tell me what hurt you, without being sissy about it…”
She grinned, “You will never find me doing that. I am straight forward and upfront. I am NOT a crybaby, sulking in a pool of self pity, whining – ‘hey, he did that to me‘…come’on…give me a break… I ask for what I deserve, including respect and if I don’t get it, I leave that place…”
He was relieved and that relief appeared on his face in form of a wide, attractive smile, “That’s how a mature person should be… that’s how I like it… and that is how we boys behave… I mean, I punch and kick Cabir and Dhruv, literally ask them to shut up and get lost if I don’t like what they are doing… but I never sulk, never stop talking to them… same is the case with them…”
She nodded, trying to understand and observed his face for sometime. Without saying anything.
He shrugged, “What?”
“Is that why, you can’t handle girls crying before you?”
Once again, he made a helpless pout out of his lips and hesitatingly he nodded to accept it, “Yes. I’ve pacified her so many times… so much…but every few days, when she was hurt, she would resort to crying… and crying all the time… I didn’t know what to say… I began to hate it when girls cry… I mean, it seems they do it to attract attention. When nothing goes in your favour, cry and make the guy do it… girls use it to emotionally blackmail men… and they use it as a weapon… no guy does that…”
“And now…every girl gets labelled!!” She was miffed, “You are so opinionated!”
“Can’t help it! This is what I have seen…this is what I believe in…”
“I understand everything that you are trying to say… that you need space and all that… that you don’t like interference… you don’t want me to silently sulk in the corner or even cry …which I won’t…for sure!!! But I need ‘you’ to understand that my anger was not due to this. I am angry at the way you spoke to me… You may say that you ARE like that and you speak like that to your friends and staff but you need to know that I am neither your friend, nor your staff…and I am very clear on that… I DO NOT appreciate or accept shit… You need to respect your boundaries too… You are NEVER, EVER, EVER allowed to raise your hand on me…”
“Oh please… do you think I’m one of those lowlives who go on hitting women?? Rest assured I am not a violent person, not physically…”
“And I WILL NOT accept either verbal abuse or mannerless reprimands… you can’t talk to me like that…Period!”
He sighed, and nodded as if accepting it and understanding what she said, “Done! So, a new rule is added henceforth… you will never cry or sulk or go silent…you will tell me what is the exact problem… I will try to solve the issue…and I will never be rude to you!”
Her genuine smile found a way back to her lips, “Perfect!! I like that… So whenever you want to tell me to buzz off… say in a cute, sweet, sugar coated, extra honey layered voice… I know it is difficult for you, but just try… and say – ‘Nandu, will you please mind going back to taking care of your own business?? Kindly do not interfere’… and I will understand…”
He laughed at the way she said that in a cute, baby voice, “Yeah… I’ll try to learn that sweet language… and whenever you are angry, you are allowed to throw things at me, shout, yell, break crockery at home and let it out… I prefer a grumbling wife to a silent wife…”
“Rest assured… the last thing I can be is ‘silent’… I mean, you asking me not to be silent…means you asking me to talk… how funny is that!” She giggled at her own joke.
He heaved a deep sigh of relief when a gorgeous smile returned on those lips and twinkle returned to those eyes… He never knew a girl could be so easy to please…
She found him observing her. She raised her brows and shrugged. He nodded to refuse it as anything significant and smiled again.
She sighed, “Let’s not make it a toxic relationship… the day any of us feels suffocated… we are free to walk out of it, instead of blaming, complaining, trying hard to adjust and making life difficult for the other person…Wasn’t that the very basis of this marriage?”
“Hmm!” He nodded to agree, “Yeah, one more thing…”
“I’ll tell you about my issues, If I want to share. Don’t try to help me, even if you are genuinely concerned.”
She made a face, “After having this big dose of your ‘I don’t need help….stay away’ … who on earth will be even concerned about you? Not me!!”
He rolled his eyes, “That’s good… because all girls have that incurable syndrome – ‘I will repair this broken man’ syndrome…’fill his life with happiness and sunshine’ syndrome… thanks …but no thanks!!”
“Hawww!!” Her mouth opened in surprise. “How mean! I’m so offended…”
“Murthy… err…now that you said that you don’t want to change your surname, I’m okay with that… and it is justified too, as we don’t know how long we will tolerate each other… so Murthy, as I said before, I’m happy with my life, my career, my goals and ambitions… I may hope to seek love, not sure though…. but only after few years… I’m not broken, I’m slightly damaged and time will heal me… please do not attempt to become a ray of sunshine in my life…”
“You are so direct, right? …Good! You are as upfront as me!! By the way, come down from that cloud of ‘I, Me, Myself’… because no one is interested in your life… Do you think that I have such low self esteem that I will keep coming back to you, even if it is just ‘to help you’ especially after being scolded so badly. Nopes! Thanks a lot!! And all the best… Go and solve your issues on your own. I will never ask.”
“Thank you!” He bowed his neck in gratitude and smiled. “And my God, my mouth is hurting after this long talk… I never talk this much… you actually make people talk…”
“How derogatory was that! You keep offending me… I just wish I get a good fellowship or maybe even a residency seat this year… I will finish SR -ship if I don’t get fellowship and I will move to a place so peaceful and so happy that I don’t have to see someone’s burnt charcoal of a face, every day!”
He laughed at that, hysterically, “Burnt charcoal?!! Nice… I like that label… and you are what?… cookie cake?”
She rolled her eyes, “I really don’t know what you mean by that. But since I like cream n’ cookie cake, I will accept that name…you, obviously hate that cake, right?”
He laughed again, “How do you know?”
“Everything delicious, everything heavenly… you have to hate it… so I guessed that!!”
“And talking of cookie cake, now I am so hungry…” She frowned and made a helpless face.
He loved it the way she stood up for herself…always… at all times… she never drowned in self pity … or demanded attention by melodrama… she was good enough for herself… straightforward, genuine and had high self esteem… she knew how to get what she wanted and demanded exactly that…
He was looking at her in awe. She saw him observing her and she ran her hand on her face, touching both the cheeks, “Is there something on my face?” She asked in exactly the same way as she had done in the morning.
He sheepishly nodded in refusal.
“Then stop staring! I know, that I am awesome. Thank you!” She opened her handbag and fetched a huge bar of dark chocolate. She took a bite and offered him chocolate by extending the bar in his direction, “Hmm?”
He nodded, “I don’t eat chocolates.”
She frowned, moving the piece inside her mouth, relishing every bit of it, “Now I can safely say that you are more deranged than I am!”
“Coz I don’t eat chocolates?”
“Of course! You don’t like cookie cake, you don’t like pizza for dinner, you don’t eat chocolates…. That is enough to label a person – deranged, damaged and broken…”
“We are all broken to some extent, I believe… some can deal with it and some don’t. They need help. I don’t!! I can gather the shattered pieces of my life and move on, till they are healed bit by bit, piece by piece, on their own…any attempt to hasten the process, may form ugly scars… let it take it’s own time…” He said.
She raised her hand in appreciation. “Was that philosophy??!! Amazing! I’m impressed. When Manik Malhotra decides to talk, it’s deep! Sorry, I was not going to help you or repair you coz like you said, we are all broken. So I’m deranged on my own side, broken but yet not shattered. Let’s stay away from each other to allow healing in a undisturbed way… is that what you were saying?”
He smirked, “Yeahhh… That’s right. Let’s stay away from each other and try not to cross paths with each other.”
She shrugged, with a smug aura, “Great!! I have no time either. I will be busier than you. Hope you don’t come to me, asking for appointment to talk to you or to help you… coz I would be really pressed for time!”
He was back to teasing her again.
“Aww! Trust me, no one would be happier than me if you tell me that you are too busy to talk!”