This is a collaboration with the supremely talented Swayam. I hope you like it. And please do go check his blog out, his short stories especially ‘The Twisted Ankles’ has me hooked.
HE, SHE AND WHO?
Episode 1 –
“I’m not ready for a kid as of yet, Kabir.” She’d form her own defense mechanism- a boundary of pink pillows, separating her from his territory on the bed. But something looks so different tonight. The twinkling stars and the moody sky seem to be having their own romance when they decide to break open the margin of LOC they had drawn. His bony fingers move daintily across her delicate soft curves. She has her bare back towards him and his hands moved in perfect symmetric circles covering every inch of her tattooed skin, making her shudder. It’s been weeks since they have had an intimate moment, that’s the inevitable outcome when you have been married for 5 years. The flirtatious romance and the passionate love making fizzles out. Even they with their prized titles of being the college sweethearts of AIIMS were not immune to the shortcomings of the infamous married life. At that point in time, getting hitched definitely seemed like the secure option. The aging-yet-ever-gorgeous Monalisa winks at their movements from the glass confines nailed on the lemon-yellow wall. Oh boy! Reminisces Kaira as she feels her husband’s hand fondling her breasts under her sheer white silk night dress. He loves caressing her erect nipples and playing with them which sends jolts of euphoria through her pale white body. He glides closer to her warm body and slides the strap over her shoulder which is covered in carbon black ink. He pushes the strands of her green streaked purple hair and softly kisses the nape of her quivering neck. Her body shoots spark of electric waves and she feels the wetness between her thighs. He starts gently biting and sucking her raw skin. She reaches down and in one swift motion pulls his pants down. Her right arm proudly takes the hungry fellow in it to wake him up while her left arm snakes around Kabir’s neck and pulls him in for a passionate kiss and their tongues battle for dominance, each wanting to explore every nook and corner. Kabir’s hand reaches toward the wooden drawer and he pulls out a foil wrapped condom. As Kaira hears the foil tearing, a huge wave of guiltiness washes over her. And she places her hand on his shoulders as an attempt to stop him and retreats back to her side of the bed. The pink-pillow-boundary has divided the territory again. Bemused Kabir, unable to grasp his wife’s sudden change in demeanor, tries talking to her. But she doesn’t budge and he comes to the conclusion that she must be menstruating. Monalisa from the frame shrugs with disappointment. Not once had she gotten to watch a scene between the married couple.
Next morning, Kabir wakes up to the sun lighting up his room. The Delhi weather seemed to have its own mood. His hand reach for his wife’s to embrace her. Mystifyingly his hand cuts through the thin air and land on the sheets with a thud. He opens his eyes to find that his wife isn’t there. She is probably getting ready for work, he thinks to himself and decides to read the comments on his YouTube video he posted a day ago. A smile tugs at the corners of his mouth as he reads the comments. They like the video, ‘I should do more of these’ he thinks. And as he is about to close his phone to get outta bed, his eyes travel to a comment which has HATE written all over it. He usually doesn’t pay heed to this kind of comments, but this one hits him hard. “U are a male chauvinist who lives on the money of his wife, u should die, I hate u.” In addition, the comment did have a stream of expletives. *You deserve that*, he hears a male voice say, quite distinctively and he looks around searching for the source and unable to find any, realizes that he hasn’t had his coffee yet and that’s probably why his brain is playing tricks with him. He pushes himself to get out of his bed and heads to the kitchen, crafted with black teak shelves, bursting with unwashed vessels. ‘Your life is just like mine.’ The dented utensils mock him through the remnants of burnt dal. He could hear his stomach grumble in agreement. He decides on making some quick toast and scrambled eggs for his mother-in-law and hot black coffee for himself. As he opens the refrigerator door to take the eggs out, he spots a pink neon sticky note attached with the help of a fridge magnet. It reads “Kabir, I have to leave for a business trip to Hong Kong. Sorry for last night and we will talk, when I come back.- Kaira”. Surprised Kabir texts Kaira to call him when she lands. Their marriage did have visible cracks but this was so out of character for Kaira to leave without even consulting him. Something major must have come up, or else she wouldn’t leave so close to her mother’s birthday, ponders Kabir. Looking at his to-do list for today, Kabir sees he has to go the supermarket and get groceries and the medicines his mother in law takes are also down to the last few tablets. He puts a reminder on his phone and carries on making breakfast. As he sits on the bean bag in the balcony sipping his coffee, his thoughts travel to last night’s incident and how his wife’s aura changed with the blink of an eye. And how she seemed to be spending a lot of time with her boss, working on this new project that would guarantee her a promotion if it’s successful. Kabir didn’t want to come off as jealous but she was his wife, this project had made her non-existent on weekdays. And on the days she was home, she was on her phone doing meetings or on her laptop replying to work emails. They will have to have a ‘talk’ soon. And Kabir, honest to Christ, had no idea what it would be this time. The last time they had a ‘talk’, it was a couple of months after college graduation and they had met in Earth café as Kaira had pre-planned. It was Kaira’s parents and they wanted her to get settled with a good, well-earning of the same caste guy. And at the end of their 2 hours long discussion with tears and words of no meaning exchanged from both sides, Kabir had proposed to Kaira and they had decided to tell their families about them. She was so focussed on her career that Kabir decided that he should stay at home and take work from there and in this way they could balance things out. To pack the tiffin for his wife when she’d leave home in a crisp grey hoody, to chop, cry, stir, cry and fry the onions when your wife would be neck-deep in her presentation with foreign colleagues, to check whether or not the carpets need any wash daily when she’d be sipping on the black coffee you make for her, after her long harrowing day. Not something any second guy out there accepts, isn’t it? And everything seemed like a happy-go-lucky ride for a while before she started finding tiny things about him that once were cute, irksome. “Why can’t you just stop wearing that damned apron in front of my friends, Kabir?”, Kaira had hurled a plate of hot Samosas (fitters) at Kabir, scaring her friends who till then had gone aww over how adorable a husband like Kabir was. And then the rollercoaster went crashing down. That hate comment earlier in the morning had been on his mind all this while. He was constantly thinking about the line “lives on your wife’s money” and it had started to affect him. He was scared because marrying that early and giving up on his dreams didn’t seem like the right option anymore. “Kabir, Kabir, Kabir are you there? Kabir?” He hears his mother in law calling him and goes to the living room wondering what has happened. He enters the living the room, to find his mother in law watching Naagin. Indian women and their love for over-exaggerated television dramas, I tell you. “You called me?”, he questioned. “Yes! I have been calling you for the past hour. Did you nap and where in the world is Kaira?”, she retorts, wrinkles on her face creasing, clearly frustrated with their lack of responsibility. Kabir unable to figure out why he didn’t hear her an hour ago and how did he land up in his bedroom from his balcony, replies “Kaira left for Hong Kong this morning due to work. I have no idea when she is returning hopefully, before your birthday.” “Oh! You kids don’t have to do anything for my birthday, nobody celebrates growing old. Have you made lunch, yet?”, she replies clearly indicating that there would be no further talks about her birthday. “I just have to heat the rice up and I will set the table while that happens”, he says on his way to the kitchen, knowing that his mother in law has to take her medicines at a fixed time.
As evening wears, his phone started ringing and Kaira’s name flashed on the phone screen as he was returning from the supermarket. Kabir fidgets with answer option and says “Hello?” Kaira replies, “Hi! Kabir, I am sorry for leaving without informing you earlier, the project I was working on had some issues that needed to be fixed at the earliest and the Hong Kong team wasn’t able to find the bug. So, Arjun and I flew here as soon as we could.” Kabir, slightly annoyed at the mention of Arjun’s name, questions “When will you be back? You know it’s your mother’s birthday in 3 days, right?” “Yeah! I do. I am just caught up in work here. Hey, listen I got to go, Arjun is here with the dinner, I will talk to you later, okay?”, she replies. “Yea o-” and she cuts the call as he was about to say okay. Confused, he starts his car again.
As the twinklings stars and their sisters take over the angry sky, Kabir is busy editing his new video for his channel and making a thumbnail for his video on PicMonkey. Youtubing has been his escape. Something that could fetch him a bunch of fangirls and fanboys thrusting a notepad out for his autograph, every time he was found shopping in the open streets of Delhi. He sees that his SD card has very little space left. And thus he opens his email to store it in his drive which has 15GB of free space to be used. As his folders are getting transferred, he is going through his emails, and he spots one from ColorsTV. He wears his blue-rimmed glasses to re-read the subject. ‘COLORS TV’ He hadn’t read it wrong, to his surprise. He clicks on the mail wondering what it would be about. The email reads –
Mr. Kabir Arora,
We are excited to inform you that we have shortlisted you among 250 other self-made celebrities to be a part of our prestigious reality TV show Bigg Boss. Our team has watched your progress very closely on your YouTube Channel- Kabir Korner and we are honored to invite you to be an inmate in this season of Bigg Boss. We look forward to hearing from and would expect an answer in 72 hours of this email being sent. If we don’t receive any reply within the time period, we would have to cancel this invitation.
You can give us a call or email us at *******firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any queries/questions regarding the format or anything. And we love if you are ready to discuss the options.
We hope you make the right choice, Mr. Arora
Flabbergasted and perplexed, Kabir didn’t know what to do. This was a bolt from the blue. He needed a while to think this through and only 2 days to reply. His default instinct was negative. Who would go to Bigg Boss house he questioned himself? How can he leave his mother in law in her illness? But the comment from today was still running through his mind. And he had no idea what to do. ‘What if this is an opportunity knocking? Is this a sign? Should I accept this? What if this is my opportunity to do something? maybe I should try something new/wild from his routine-set life. What if this would help strengthen my resolve and this can be a good learning experience. It might help me figure things out, I do feel a little lost right now. And Bigg boss can be the way to. What if this is my opportunity to do something? But I can’t be that inconsiderate about my mother in law? Can I be? But she did want to go live with Aamira, my sister in law for a long time. It’s only 3 months, right? And who knows if I will make it that long, I might get evicted too. What if this is my opportunity to do something?’ He ponders over this. This definitely was a lot to take in. And thinking so much was giving him a headache.
He decided to discuss this with his mother in law. “Mom! I kind of…. Umm… got invited to become umm an inmate in umm Bigg Boss house for this season.” She shoots up from where she was sitting and loudly exclaims, “You mean that show in which people fight like they’ve got in there just to squabble?” “Yeah, mom. The same Bigg Boss show” “Oh my god! Kabir, I do not need this plate of dinner anymore” “I know, I might decline the invitation”, says Kabir thinking how could he even for a second think of leaving his mother in law. “Are out of your mind? Are you crazy? What is wrong with you? How can you decline? You get to be on TV!! And I can show-off to all my kitty party friends. You’re going and don’t worry about me I will go live with Aamira I am missing her a lot these days”,she says with a final and authoritative tone. Kabir was taken by surprise. Frankly, he does want to try this out. So he decides then and there that he is going to accept this invitation. But he does have to consult Kaira and let her know of his decision. But it would be late there and he doesn’t know if she would be awake. So he takes his phone out and calls her. She doesn’t pick up. He settles for a text-“Important!! Come on skype in 5.” He hugs his mother in law good night and refills the glass of water beside her bed on the wooden side table and switches the lights off.
In his room, he logs into his skype account and calls Kaira. She takes a really long time to reply. And as her face appears on his screen, he sees that she was wearing a robe and her hair was a mess but ignoring this, he is about to tell her about his decision. But she beats him to it “What is it, Kabir? At this time, this better be important. Couldn’t it wait another day?” She starts in a hushed angry tone. Her hostility takes him by surprise and he instead questions: “When are you coming back?” “Tomorrow, late in the afternoon. Is this why you called me? Seriously, Kabir?” She replies curtly. “Alright I will tell you tomorrow, goodnight!”, replies Kabir solemnly, she cuts the call without even saying goodbye. She has been acting weird recently, wonders Kabir to himself. He decides to confirm his invitation and emails them a quick reply saying yes and sleeps off.
Kabir stands on his balcony overlooking the city which never slept. He has been waiting for Kaira. He had received an email and phone call regarding his contract. And he was required to fly to Mumbai in a day’s time to sign his contract in person and talk about the legalities. They had booked his flight tickets and paid for his hotel reservation, that Kabir thought was considerate of them. They had given him a short synopsis of this year’s format and Kabir was really excited to be a part of it. He sees a white cab enter their apartment building. And Kaira steps out carrying her purse. But she is not the only one in the car. Arjun steps out and helps Kaira with her luggage, which would have been really sweet and considerate of Arjun if he didn’t live in the opposite direction and was now not hugging Kaira so tightly. Kabir feels another pang of jealousy pierce through his heart but doesn’t want his insecurities to spoil Kaira’s mood as he is about to give her the news. He goes down the stairs and waits for her. The doorbell rings and Kabir opened the door to find Kaira looking drop dead gorgeous. The women who stole his heart 8 years back and for a second he just stares at her. Kaira snaps her fingers in front of him and he quickly regains his composure. He takes her luggage from her and goes inside to get her a glass of water while she freshens up.
As they sit to eat Kaira asks, “How is my mom? Is she taking her medicines on time?” The cheese sandwich sits coldly untouched on their plates. They would munch on each other’s part of sandwich deriving extra taste from the neighbouring parts each other had just bitten, but things change after marriage, don’t they? Kabir replies “Yes she is. There is something I need to tell you.” Kaira’s attention shifts from her phone screen to Kabir and looks at him with questioning eyes. “Do you believe it? I got invited to be a part of a reality TV show” says, Kabir. Kaira, a little surprised with this news questions him, “Which reality TV show and that’s good, right?” Kabir nervously replies, “Yeah, it’s Bigg Boss.” Bewilderment shades over Kaira’s face as she shoots, expecting a ‘Yes’ from her spouse, whose walk and talk, she believed, she owned a remote-control on. “You’re kidding, right? You declined the offer, right?” To him, she sounds as calm as she just asked him to cancel the Barbeque pizza she had ordered for. ‘Are you even the Kaira, the chirpy angel I fell in love with, back in the buzzing corridors of AIIMS?’ Kabir’s mind protests to scream his questions out, instead, he chooses to say, trying to leave no hint of a typical-arrogant-husband-
“Oh! I am sorry, I didn’t know you made all the decisions here.” He says furiously.
“Stop it, Kabir.” She shouts at him. “You know I am trying hard to manage ends need and Maa’s medical expenses have also increased and now you want to run away for how long 4 months? 3 months?” Kabir holds her at arm’s length and says “I know you’re working so hard for us. But I want to try something. I have always made decisions keeping you and our families in mind. Let me make one for myself. I don’t know if this would be a good decision but this would be my decision and I really want to know how it feels like. I am contemplating my choices and maybe this is a sign. I won’t go if you don’t want to but I want you to at least consider it. I don’t want to be stuck here like this, Kaira. Just consider this.” Kaira clearly having had a little too much to drink, looks away. “You have already made the decision Kabir. You don’t need my permission.” With this, she finishes her glass of wine and storms into the room. Kabir speechlessly sits on the couch his head between his hands. His mother in law sits beside him. She must have woken up by the ruckus they were making. She holds Kabir’s hand and says “Beta (son), listen to what your heart says. Go. And don’t worry about Kaira. You do know how she is. She will eventually come around. Make your decision”. Kabir hugs his mother in law tightly and murmurs,“Thank you, Maa”.
The next evening Kabir is on his way to Mumbai with blessings from his mother in law and an unsettled feeling towards the future and what it had in store for him. He had woken up to find Kaira missing again and his mother in law packing to leave for Aamira’s house. Aamira had come early in the morning and was over the top excited at the news of her brother in law being on TV. Kabir gives his mother in law the gift he had made for her and they come to the airport to drop him. There are tears in his mother in law’s eyes as he bends down to touch her feet. He sits on the seat allotted and sends a little prayer to the angels above asking them to take care of his mother in law’s health and his wife, who still hadn’t called him. He lets his thoughts wander as he closes his eyes and prepares for the 2 hours journey from Delhi to Mumbai. This might be the start of something new or the end of something inevitable. He was required to reach the shoot location tomorrow morning at sharp 9 am to sign the contract and decide upon the financial matters. If everything was agreed upon they would shoot the promo of Kabir that day, so they can edit it in time to start putting promos on the small screens. Looking out of the plane window at twilight, he falls into a deep dreamless slumber.