Milan and Tulika were thrown in together on a project that the business and technology division of their company were doing together. The project was large in comparison to the other projects the company had undertaken before and it was crucial to put it through. Milan was given the responsibility of putting together a team and he had taken Tulika in the team on the recommendation of Niket. Niket was his counterpart in the technology division. Tulika was considerably younger and reported to a subordinate of Niket. But Niket spoke very highly of her.
How their relationship developed had nothing very extra-ordinary in it. She had a large social circle. An excellent cook, she enjoyed throwing parties for her friends and Milan got included in the circle pretty soon.
It didn’t take long before Milan was totally smitten by her and Tulika had started putting him on a pedestal. She loved the feeling of security and support his presence gave her. He was a nice person didn’t matter which way she looked at him. He was doing very well in his career, was equally appreciated by the senior management as well as his subordinates. He was something of a charmer in social settings. Could carry on a conversation with almost anyone. People loved him and she loved him more than anybody else did.
At work too, Milan did not have to regret having Tulika in the team ever. In fact, he was very happy about it. From day one, she proved to be the asset he had imagined her to be. It was very common in corporate life to come across people who were just doing their jobs and would like to take minimal responsibility. Then there was another set, which was rarer. The people in this set had a mind of their own. Once convinced that something needed to be done, they would do it any which way. But convincing them was not easy. Such people were an asset, but sometimes, when things just needed to get done, they were not a pleasure to manage and convince. Tulika had that unique characteristic of taking responsibility for doing things without asking too many questions. She was a relief for any manager she reported to. Milan had guessed this when he first met her and also from how Niket had described her. From his years in corporate life, he recognized what an asset such a subordinate could be. And so she was.
Months passed on. The project was over. They had moved on to different projects. But the few evenings they could steal and over the weekends, they were all for each other. Tulika had started developing new interests under Milan’s influence. In Western classical music and in long drives. Even in appreciating modern paintings. She was eager to pick up these new things, and Milan felt good about having such undivided attention from her.
“I haven’t thrown a party in a while Milan. My friends have been complaining.” Tulika said one evening.
“Really? I never realized that. It feels like a party every evening with you sweetheart.”
“Come on now. Stop joking. Let’s plan something for this Friday night.”
Milan cuddled up to her and cupped her face in his hands, “Do we really have to do that? This would mean loss of one evening together.”
The way he said it, it stirred something within her. Tulika could not help feeling as if she was floating in the sky. It was so romantic to forgo everything else, to forget everybody else, and just be for each other.
Softly she said, “You really like being with me so much?”
He held her in his arms, “I could lie like this forever; without bothering with anything else in the world.”
“Didi, what has been going on? You haven’t picked up my phone for last two days. Are you okay?”
Aditi was Tulika’s younger sister. She was a fourth year student of Psychiatry at a reputed institute in Bangalore. The two sisters were very close, almost to the exclusion of other family members. Even with her busy social life in Mumbai, there was nothing Tulika looked forward to more than her daily evening chats with Aditi over phone. But that was before her evenings got completely occupied with Milan.
“Yes, yes – I am perfectly fine. I am so sorry about it. I actually have a lot to tell you about.”
“Indeed! I have a lot to shout at you about. How can you be so irresponsible? You should at least have returned the calls, if you could not pick them. Or send a message, an e-mail, something at all?”
“Adi! I know you are very upset, but when I tell you this, you would no longer be upset.”
“Whaaat is it?”
“Let’s see. I have been seeing someone.”
“Well – no. I am in love. I am deeply in love.”
“Aha! I see. So, that’s what has been keeping you busy throughout your evenings. But yes – you were right. I am no longer upset. I am very happy for you. Who is the lucky man?”
“I know it sounds so cheesy, but I would think I am the lucky woman.”
“All right, all right, madame. Now, will you tell me something more about it?”
“We are in the same office. He is a director in the Business Division. We met for a project the two divisions were doing together.”
“Sigh! I can imagine what would have happened to that project then.”
“Don’t be silly, the project went very well. All the team members received extra bonus that quarter. But yeah – that’s when it started.”
“Shall I know the name, or do you prefer not to take the name?”
“Nice. Tell him, I am dying to meet him. And hey, I have to rush for a class right now. But please, don’t forsake me like that. At least return the calls sometime at your convenience.”
“Yes – I will. I am really sorry.”
“All right didi. Congratulations. I am really, really happy for you. And take care.”
“Take care Adi. Bye bye!”
“Who was it Tulika?”
“Adi! She was complaining too. Look what you have done to me. My friends are complaining about no parties. Even my flat-mate has been unhappy. I am almost never there and she hates staying alone.”
“Flat-mate is easier to handle. Why don’t you permanently move in with me and she can take in another flat-mate.”
“Permanently move in?”
“Yes – this house is big enough for accommodating a joint family of four generations. I am only talking about you and me.”
“But… you know. Don’t you? I mean its okay that we are there together most of the time. But I can’t be living here technically, until we are married.”
“Umm – I am sure your flat-mate will be willing to co-operate a bit. Your address technically could still be the same. But you don’t have to stay there.”
“Hmm… let me think about it.”
“Don’t waste too much time thinking about it. I like it much better when you think about me.” Milan grinned.
The arrangement suggested by Milan was soon in place. Few more months went by. Aditi, though younger, was quite mature. She had accepted that her sister is going to have less time for her now and was happy with whenever Tulika did manage to call or talk. She was in her final year now and was soon to start her internship. She got a chance to do it in Mumbai and took that up. She wanted to go outside of Bangalore for a while.
Tulika was not going to office for last couple of days. Her previous project had just finished and there was a gap before the next one started. She had a chat with Aditi in the afternoon and they decided that Aditi will have dinner with them. She was busy preparing for the dinner when Milan walked in.
“Hey Sweetie, let’s go to a movie today.”
“Sorry Milan. Not today. Aditi is coming over.”
“Come on. I am sure you can manage that. Tell her to come over some other time.”
“What are you talking Milan? She has been so eager to come here. It has been two months since she came to Mumbai, but I have never had her come to our house. Only today did I manage to invite her and now you can’t expect me to call her and ask not to come because I have to go to a movie!”
Irritation is Milan’s voice was obvious, “Right! She is your sister. She means so much to you. Her plans mean so much to you. What about me? Of course, you don’t care.”
“Come on Milan. We are always together, aren’t we? Just one evening darling. We can go to the movie tomorrow, any other day.”
“You take pleasure in spoiling my mood. Shouldn’t you at least have told me that you were planning something for the evening? And here I was. Trying to get those tickets at any cost, so that I could give you a surprise.” He took out the tickets and threw them towards Tulika, “Of course, it’s not a fault of yours. I must be mad for loving you and caring for you so much.”
And Milan walked out of the house.
Till a moment back, Tulika was thinking that Milan was being unreasonable. But there was something in those last words he said and the way he walked out that made Tulika feel guilty. She should indeed have told him. He cares for her so much; loves her so much. This is the minimum she could do for him. Keep him informed of her plans.
There was something wrong in the way she was thinking about the situation, but she could not quite figure out what. She concluded that it was her fault.
Aditi noticed Milan’s absence and the look on Tulika’s face when she came over for dinner.
“What’s up didi? Is everything okay?”
“Oh yes Adi! I guess I am just a little tired. Look I have cooked some of your favourite dishes.”
“I can see that didi, but are you sure everything is all right. Has all the cooking exhausted you so much?”
“It has been long since I did elaborate cooking you see. So, I just got a bit tired.”
“Oh, you shouldn’t have exhausted yourself so much. Simple food would have been good enough for me. But now that you have taken all the pains, I am going to gorge on it, be sure of that. I hope you didn’t plan to survive through many meals on this one cooking.”
“Eat well Adi! I can imagine you haven’t eaten a proper meal of your liking in months now.”
“That’s so true. By the way, where is Milan ji?”
“He had some work – so he had to go out. He was really sorry for having to do that and promised he’d try to make it back before you leave.”
“It’s okay didi. While I would have loved to meet him, I am glad to have found some time with you alone.”
Aditi then went on to talk about her internship experiences, the hospital, the patients, her colleagues as she used to do earlier. Tulika also tried to speak a bit, but realized that there wasn’t a whole lot she could talk about to Aditi. She wondered about the change. Then attributed it to the fact that she had a different life now.
While they were on desserts, Milan entered with a huge packet in his hand.
Tulika was worried, as he called out, “Aditi. So nice to see you here. I am sorry I could not come in earlier.”
Tulika heaved a sigh of relief.
Milan continued, “As a compensation, here is a gift for you.”
“A gift for me?”, Aditi was startled, “No, you didn’t have to do it. Didi’s food was enough of a temptation for me to come here and I am glad you did make it before I left. I would have felt bad if I left without meeting you.”
“I know, you didi’s cooking is charming. Unfortunately that’s not the way I can contribute to welcoming you here. So, I did what I could. Got you a gift that Tulika tells me you’d probably like.”
When Aditi opened the gift, she found a huge Teddy Bear inside. She was delighted.
“Oh – this is so sweet of you. I am going to love having this. But how am I to carry this huge piece on the train while going back. May be I will pick it up some other time.”
“Oh! Don’t worry about the train. We’ll drop you by car. Right Tulika?”
Tulika was uncomfortable all this while, but was putting up a brave smile.
“Of course Milan.”
“No Milan ji, you don’t have to drive so far just to drop me. I will manage.”
“It’s okay Aditi. I’d also like to go on a drive now. The roads will be quiet and the weather is fantastic.”
After they had dropped Aditi, Tulika turned towards Milan sitting on the front seat of car.
“I am really sorry Milan. This would not happen again. And thanks so much for being so sweet with Adi.”
“Why? You thought I am such a nasty person so as to make a scene in front of your sister.”
“Oh no! Of course not. But tell me you have forgiven me. Please!”
Milan stopped the car, stroked her hair and said, “You know what. Does not matter what you do, I cannot keep myself from loving you.” Then he held her and kissed her deeply.
Tulika next met Aditi, when Aditi dropped unannounced to her office. She was looking very excited. They sat in the canteen.
“You know what didi, I got a letter of appreciation from the senior most doctor in the hospital. For handling a rather complicated case smoothly. I am feeling so happy. I may even get a permanent position in the hospital here. I would really love to work for a while before going for my PG.”
“That’s really good to hear Adi. I am so happy.” She touched Aditi’s hands while saying this.
And it was then that Aditi noticed a bruise on her arms, “What is this didi? How did you get hurt?”
“Oh this!” Tulika hesitated, “I just fell down on stairs. It’s nothing major.”
“Fell down?” Aditi repeated and looked at the bruise suspiciously. But didn’t say anything further.
When Tulika returned to her seat in the office, she thought about the incidents of last two days. The day before, Milan had returned rather late. His latest project was very demanding and required coordination with the team in the US. So, he had weird working hours. Tulika herself was very tired and had fallen fast asleep. He woke her up when he entered the room.
“Hey, you are back. Must be very tired.”
He didn’t seem to hear her at all. Snuggled up besides her and started fondling her.
“Not now darling. I am very tired. Please.”
He didn’t seem to hear anything at all. And she also smelled alcohol. He was drunk. It wasn’t so difficult for him to carry off a bit a social drinking, but today he seemed to have lost control.
“Milan. Milan – you are totally drunk. Go to sleep at once please. Even I am very tired.”
And he suddenly got violent. Slapped her and pushed her down in the bed. In the process the ring he was wearing made a bruise on her arms. She was too shocked to see him like this to react.
She could not sleep the whole night despite being tired. In the morning she called up at the office to inform that she wouldn’t be coming in for the day. She went around the house doing small little things. Made herself a cup of coffee. Nursed her bruise and sat on the arm-chair in the bedroom for a long time.
Milan woke up at around 11. As he went to wash up, she got a cup of coffee for him, put it on the side-table and went back to the arm-chair, pretending to read a book.
When he came out, he was quite sober and looked more like his usual self. He came straight up to her. Sat down on the floor beside the arm chair, put his face on her lap and looked up in her eyes.
Then he noticed the bruise, softly touched and then kissed it then looked at her again.
“I am so sorry for what happened at night baby.”
Tulika didn’t reply. She put the book down.
“I know, I have been so nasty, but I was drunk and you looked so beautiful while sleeping that I just could not resist.”
Tulika was still silent.
“You know I love you; don’t you. I promise it won’t happen again. Now, can’t I see that smile on your face again? Please baby. I am feeling so bad about it. Please forgive me.”
She could hold herself back no longer. She loved him and it was clear that he loved her dearly too. It was of course a one-off incident. She came down from the arm-chair, sat beside him, hugged him and then started crying softly. They sat like that for a long while.
Then he got up.
“You shouldn’t go to the office today, unless it is absolutely necessary.”
“I have already called up to tell them so.”
“Good. I need to go for just couple of hours to attend a meeting, that can’t be postponed. But I will be back before lunch time. Don’t bother about cooking. Take rest. I will get some of your favourite Chinese food packed and then we will have lunch together. Okay?”
He came back half an hour later, with food and a huge bunch of red roses.
“This is for my princess”, he said offering her the roses.
“You didn’t go to the office.”
“Of course not! This isn’t the day to go to the office.”
She melted at his looks.
She decided to wear full sleeve clothes for couple of days until the bruise heals. Nobody should be poking their noses in to her and Milan’s affairs. They loved each other and that was the only thing that mattered in the world.
Next time she met Aditi, she was wearing a dress with an unusually high neckline, not quite suitable for the weather. But Aditi still noticed the bruise on her neck.
“What is it now didi? What’s happening to you?”
“Ah! Nothing Adi, just a minor accident.”
“Minor accident? And how?”
“It nothing Adi, don’t you have something else to talk about?”
“Milan ji has hit you.” Aditi’s voice was cold and clear.
“You heard it.”
“All right! But don’t make it sound like a crime has been committed. He was just a little upset at me. And he repented so much afterwards.”
“Just a little upset? To have hit you like that? And how often do these minor accidents happen?” Aditi opened couple of top button of Tulika’s dress to reveal the bruise.
Tulika almost shouted at her, “Adi!”
“What? I have seen hundreds of such cases didi. Don’t you realize you are in an abusive relationship?”
“Adi! Don’t you try to turn everyone into one of your psycho patients. What is this non-sense about abusive relationship? He is not a road side, poor drunkard who needs to beat his wife to get money for buying alcohol. He is a respectable, educated and successful man and he loves me.”
“Didi! It isn’t that. Try to understand…”
“Enough Aditi! Let’s leave it at that.” Tulika rose to leave.
Hearing Tulika call her ‘Aditi’ instead of the usual ‘Adi’, Aditi felt tears rise in her eyes. She decided to give in for a while.
“I am sorry didi. May be I was being too cynical. But trust me; I did not intend to hurt you. I want to see you happy.”
Tulika also calmed down.
“I know Adi. But really. You don’t have to worry about it. When you are in love, you’d know how relationships go. There are ups and downs. But that’s no reason to walk out of them. We have talked it over Adi. And that’s what I had come to tell you today. We are going to get married. We’ll have a baby – a family and it’d be all right.”
“Get married? Have a baby?” Aditi repeated incredulously.
“Don’t look so stupefied babes. As if I have said something out of the world. Isn’t that where the relationships are supposed to go?”
“Healthy relationships are supposed to go…” Aditi felt like correcting her. Instead, she merely smiled.
It was a Sunday. After attending to an emergency the previous night, Aditi was still asleep at 11, when the door bell rung. She opened the door to find Tulika there, six- months pregnant by then, looking totally disoriented.
“Didi!” Aditi cried in shock.
Tulika pushed her aside and almost threw herself on the sofa in the hall. Aditi did not ask anything further. It was clear that Milan had been violent again.
It was a small one bedroom flat that Aditi shared with a fellow intern. They had their beds in the same room. There wasn’t enough space to accommodate Tulika. But Aditi’s roommate offered to sleep on the sofa in the hall while Tulika stayed with them. Aditi had thought she would herself take up the sofa, but her room-mate insisted that Tulika would benefit from Aditi’s presence around her. Aditi, of course, wanted it that way.
On Monday evening, while she was at home, Aditi got a call from Milan on her mobile. When she picked it up, Milan was obviously worried, “Aditi, is Tulika there? She has left even her mobile here and I can’t contact her.”
“Yes.” She said plainly, handed over the phone to Tulika and went into the bedroom, leaving Tulika to talk to Milan alone in the hall.
After around fifteen minutes Tulika walked into the room and said, “I am going home Adi.”
Aditi was not surprised, but she tried to reason it out with her, “Didi, it’s about your safety. And now, there is also the baby.”
“Adi. He loves me. He cannot live without me.”
“Can you or can you not live without him didi?”, Aditi emphasized ‘You’.
Tulika thought for a moment, “I love him Adi.”
Aditi looked resigned, but tried something else “I will come with you.”
“No, you must not Adi. I mean, not now. He would feel embarrassed.”
“What about you didi?” Aditi felt like shouting, but kept quiet.
“And it cannot all be his fault Adi. He is as good with others as he ever was. I, of course, have to try a bit harder for the sake of my love and our relationship and now the baby.”
The baby was now a month old. Aditi was the youngest child at home. This was the first time she had known a baby so close to her. And wasn’t it a darling baby girl? Aditi felt almost a maternal affection for her. She could not help buying gifts for her whenever she saw something suitable.
It was a Sunday and she had to take a taxi instead of the train to Tulika’s place to accommodate all the huge soft toys she had bought for the baby. When she went up to their flat she found the door ajar. She dumped all the gifts in the hall and went ahead. She heard Tulika crying as she went in and rushed to their bedroom.
What she saw there shocked her to silence for a moment. But she recovered and shouted with all her strength, “Milan Ji!”
Milan, who was busy hitting Tulika like a mad man, startled and walked out of the room immediately. The look in his eyes was terrifying for Aditi. Tulika had clutched the baby so as to save her from the blows.
Aditi ran up to her and took the baby from her. The baby was crying badly. She put her in the cradle and tried to soothe her for a while.
Tulika was sitting motionless all the while on the floor. She did not hear Aditi telling her that the baby was probably hungry. Aditi had to shake her, “Didi!”
Tulika looked up with no expressions in her eyes.
“Didi! Tina is hungry.”
Tulika took her daughter, fed her and then handed her back to Aditi. Aditi put Tina in the cradle and she was asleep in a while.
Tulika followed Aditi blindly as she directed her towards packing her clothes, other belongings, important papers and certificates and all the necessary stuff for Tina. She had already called up to get a taxi.
When they were going out of the house, Milan was looking at them with a strange sadness on his face. He tried to say something to Tulika, but Aditi gave him a tough look that silenced him.
Aditi dragged out all the packets she had brought for Tina, along with everything that Tulika had packed. They took the lift downstairs. Tina was sleeping in Tulika’s arms all this while.
Aditi’s roommate was away for a week. This was a good thing, because with the baby around, it would have been even more difficult to adjust.
Tulika did not oppose Aditi’s idea very strongly any longer. Probably the threat to the life of her daughter had forced her to think about her situation. But she still did not seem to digest the idea that she had to leave Milan behind in her life.
“He loves me Adi. And I love him too. Something has gone wrong in our relationship. But love can cure everything. Can’t it?”
“Didi! I know it sounds so unromantic, but no. Love can not cure abusive behavior. It is not about you or your relationship. It is about him!”
“Don’t make him a villain, Adi.”
“It’s not about making anyone a villain. But it’s just like an illness. He has to realize that there is something wrong with him and take treatment.”
“He called up this morning Adi. He was really repenting his behavior. He said he was missing Tina so much. And he was ready to get treatment if only I went back.”
“Listen to me seriously didi…” Aditi started to tell her something, but stopped. Then said, “Forget it. We can discuss this later. Right now, you have gone through a lot. And you need some help. I am going to take an appointment with my senior at the hospital for you. You must talk to her about your experiences.”
“Why do I have to go to somebody else Adi? I mean, you are there.”
“Yes. I am there. But I will remain a kid sister to you, doesn’t matter what happens. And that is not a help. Remember that even the best surgeons do not operate on their near and dear ones. It’s something similar. We are going to her tomorrow.”
After she came out of the psychiatrist’s chamber, Tulika called Aditi.
“How are you feeling didi?”
“I am fine. Your shift would keep you here for a while, right?”
“Yes didi. But if you need me, I can come right away.”
“Oh no. No Adi. I am perfectly fine really. I will head for home now. Let’s talk when you come back.”
Aditi was a bit concerned though, “Okay didi. But let me come to you. We’ll walk to the taxi stand together.”
When Aditi walked with Tulika to the taxi stand, she observed with relief that Tulika was indeed very calm.
“Adi, I need to look for a house dear.” Tulika was standing on the kitchen door, while Aditi was making coffee for the two of them in the evening.
Aditi looked towards her and felt elated. She saw that willingness in her sister that urged her to move on in life. She wasn’t talking about going back ‘home’.
“Certainly didi. In fact I have flat in mind. It belongs to the cousin of one of my colleagues. He just mentioned it to me yesterday. That cousin of his had bought and furnished this flat, but suddenly decided to move to the US as a good opportunity came to her husband. So, they are looking to rent it out. And it’s close to your office too. I guess you would be going back to work in another 20 days or so.”
“That’s great Adi. Let see it sometime soon. When is your room-mate coming back?”
“This Sunday didi. But we can check it out tomorrow itself. I have an afternoon shift. We’ll go in the morning. I’ll fix it up with my colleague. He’d accompany us. And he said it’s fully furnished; so you would not have to bother with furnishing it immediately.”
They came back to the hall with their coffee.
“Didi – if you don’t mind…”
“Tell me Adi. What’s it?”
“Didi I would like to stay with you for a while when you move to your new flat.”
“Oh Adi! That’d be great for me Adi. But you know, you don’t have to do it. The hospital would be so far for you.”
“Never mind didi. And anyway, I get to eat the wonderful food you cook. You know how terrible a cook me and my room-mate are. And of course, yours would be a more comfortable house than mine. So you see. I have all the selfish reasons to stay with you.” Aditi grinned.
Tulika was overwhelmed.
“I don’t know what I would have done without you Adi. I mean you are so much younger to me. When did you grow up so much?”
“Come on didi. I now have a daughter you see. I no longer belong to the youngest generation!” She smiled picking Tina up from the cradle, where she was sleeping peacefully.
Tulika, Aditi and Tina had been living in the new flat Tulika rented for couple of months now. She bought a car for herself. She had resumed going to the office. Avoiding Milan at the office was not a problem, as they were in different divisions. She was never financially dependent on Milan and hence nothing changed in her standard of living.
One Saturday afternoon, they were planning to go for some shopping. Tulika was getting ready, when her mobile phone rang. The phone was lying in the hall. Aditi saw it first. It was Milan. She took the phone to Tulika in her bedroom and started going back to the hall, when Tulika stopped her by holding her hand.
“Hi Milan… No, Milan. This is not something you can do for me. Get the treatment if you feel the need, but you really have to do it for yourself. .. I know it sounds so unromantic, but love is not a cure for your problem. You have to get treatment for yourself… No, I make no such promise. I am not waiting for you. You shouldn’t wait for me either… Get well Milan. I am moving on in my life.”
Aditi looked at Tulika, amazed at first and extremely happy afterwards. She hugged her, “Didi, I am sure everything is all right now!”