Dedicated to the memory of Jeet ‘Dada’ Ghosh, who was one of the many who helped me out in my prep for this story. Thanks, Jeet.
Quick thank-yous all around to those who filled out a survey for me, one that was vital to the development of the story. I’m truly grateful to all you chaps for that crucial bit of help.
1: The Night
“Oye, Madhav! Why are you putting that bloody balloon? It’s his nineteenth birthday, not ninth. Take it off!”
“I thought it’d look nice.”
“My face looks nice, Madhav. Take it off and put it up there, why don’t you?”
“Relax, Siddharth! Jesus!”
The flat was bustling with more than ten people, all doing something or the other. In the centre of the drawing room stood Siddharth Pratap, the Chief of Operations. He had been shouting out instructions all day. The door burst open and in walked two people.
“Let’s get this party started!” yelled one of them.
“Just because this is a bungalow doesn’t mean it doesn’t have neighbours, you pothead!”
“C’mon, guys. I said that you were not to bring your shit here.”
“Relax, Siddharth. We’ll roll and light it on the roof!”
“Please clean up once you’re done, though you’re hardly likely to be in a state to do so.”
“He just lectured me. Seems like you two are next.”
“Shut up and keep working, Madhav! Where’s the food?”
“Call Rhea. She’s handling food, with Ananya.”
“You were waiting to say that, weren’t you, you rascal!” Siddharth laughed.
Four hours later, the bungalow was empty. Except for four people. Siddharth, the birthday boy Arjun, Rhea and Ananya.
“Good party, Arjun?” asked Ananya.
“Yeah. Thanks a lot.”
“Please don’t get all emotional. I’m way too tired,” sighed Siddharth.
“Drained yourself of those while yelling yourself hoarse, I bet.”
“Arjun, check what happened to the match!”
“Not cricket, guys. It’s been such a nice day,” said Rhea.
“We aren’t watching it, Sinha. Relax,” said Siddharth, his eyes closed.
“How many times have I told you to call me by my name and not my surname?”
“I’ve lost count. Plus, Sinha makes you sound like you’re one of the guys.”
“Then how come y’all don’t call me Kashyap?” asked Ananya.
Siddharth and Arjun just shrugged their shoulders
“Oye, Siddharth. Guptill scored 237. New Zealand won.”
“He scored what?” Siddharth sounded amazed.
“Wow. Must catch the highlights tomorrow.”
“I’m off, yaar,” Rhea stood up.
“Why? It’s just eight. Plus, we’ve got to clear this mess up!” barked Siddharth.
“Can we do it tomorrow? I’m too tired.”
“Now I’m actually curious to know what transpired between you and the Pizza Hut guy. You took more than ten minutes to settle the bill!”
Rhea kicked Siddharth hard.
“Ouch! That hurt. You should not be allowed to wear those heels!”
“Just think of what awaits you the next time you crack a joke like that, Siddharth Pratap. And drop me home, will you?”
“After kicking me that hard, you expect me to drop you home?”
“Fine. Ananya, what about you?”
“There’s no one at home. Dad is coming back tomorrow night. Mind if I stay over, Siddharth?”
“What are you going to do, Arjun? You can’t sleep in this dump!”
“True. Can’t sleep on the chhat either. Hmmm. What to do? I think I’ll skip over to the Den. That’s clean.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure if I were you.”
“I locked it before leaving home this morning.”
“Cool. Plus, the Den has pretty much everything. Chalein?”
“Come on! See you tomorrow, Arjun. Happy Birthday once again!”
“We’ll meet up tomorrow, birthday boy. You’re taking me for the movie!”
“Yes, Rhea. I have the tickets. But you’d better come and help clean up first!”
“I’m going to Mamu’s tomorrow. Parson milenge, bhai.”
Siddharth and Ananya dropped Rhea off at her place a kilometre down from Arjun’s home and then drove off towards Young Wood. Mussoorie had a haunting look to it at night, with its old-fashioned street lamps and roads. Siddharth slowed down as he carefully manoeuvred the car through the small gate and up the driveway of the bungalow where he stayed with his mother.
“Your mom’s not home?”
“Nope. She’s out for a week.”
Lightning lit up the dark sky as Siddharth unlocked the front door. Soon, they were sitting in his room, watching a movie. The fireplace crackled warmly and rain started to pour down. Siddharth switched on the electric blanket. After a little while, the electricity failed and the electric blanket went off.
“What do we do now? I’m feeling cold,” said Ananya.
“Hold on a minute,” Siddharth pulled a torch out of his bedside drawer and jumped up.
He laid a mattress in front of the fireplace, covered it with a sheet and placed pillows on it.
“We sit here!”
“Don’t you have a blanket or a quilt?”
“Blanket. Quilt may fall into the fire and then we’d get roasted, literally.”
They lay down, huddling together for warmth. The weather outside worsened. Somewhere, a dog barked as a tree fell after getting struck by lightning. Ananya drew herself closer to Siddharth as thunder rumbled loudly.
“Relax, it’s just thunder,” his voice was barely more than a whisper.
“Does that make it any less scary?”
He smiled and ran his hand through her hair. She moved closer to him. For a moment that seemed to last longer than a minute, they looked into each other’s eyes, the heat between them palpable despite the weather outside.
2: The Day After
The birds outside were chirping. Siddharth got up and pulled the curtains open. It was drizzling outside. The sky had turned a dark grey. He glanced at his wristwatch. It was eight o’clock. The weather was nippy. He put on a t-shirt.
“Let’s make coffee,” he said to himself.
He crossed over to the bedroom door. As he opened the door, he saw Ananya move. He quickly walked over to the mattress. She had fallen asleep again. Smiling, he pulled the blanket over her bare shoulders. He went off to make coffee. Ten minutes later, she crept up behind him.
“The prettiest girl in the world.”
“Shouldn’t that be your mom?”
“No, my mom’s the prettiest lady in the world.”
“What are you doing?”
“Making coffee. Want some?”
As he turned around to hand her a mug, he was taken aback.
“That’s my shirt you’re wearing?”
“Of all that happened last night, the shirt surprises you?”
“Do you want to talk about it? Last night, I mean?”
“I’m not too keen. At least not right now.”
“Give me a minute. I’ll put on more presentable clothes. I’ve got to drop you home!”
She picked up the previous day’s newspaper. As she opened it, an envelope fell out. It said SIDDHARTH PRATAP-MATHUR, FRANGIPANI VILLA, YOUNG WOOD, MUSSOORIE, UTTARAKHAND. Siddharth reappeared, wearing jeans and a Hulk sweatshirt.
“What happened?” the bewildered look on her face surprised him.
“Another one,” she handed him the envelope.
“That useless douchebag! The son of a bitch thinks that sending me a couple of thousand bucks a month changes what he did. Bloody prick! You know what to do with that, Ananya.”
She went into the kitchen and burnt the envelope. When she returned to the drawing room, she saw Siddharth writing something.
“A letter for him. He should stop sending his shitty money. I don’t need it!”
“Siddharth, don’t. Please.”
“You don’t understand, Ananya. He is shameless. He needs to be taught a lesson.”
“Siddharth, I beg of you. He’s not worth it,” she put her arms around his neck.
Siddharth sighed as he set the pen down.
“Come on. I’ll drop you off.”
He pulled his Bullet out of the garage.
“We’ll take the beaten path, okay?”
Behind Young Wood was a forest, often used as an alternate route to get to Foy Wood and Condon Street. The Bullet sped down the uneven path, often jumping up. A few minutes later, they pulled up at the back gate of the Kashyap residence.
“Tomorrow evening, dinner at the Savoy?”
“Sure. What time?”
“I’ll pick you up at 7.”
“Okay. See you.”
Later that evening, Siddharth went into town for a get-together at his uncle’s place. After he had chatted with everyone for a while, he asked his uncle to come out onto the balcony.
“What’s up, kiddo?”
“Mamu, I got another one yesterday.”
“How much was it?”
“I don’t know. I burnt it without opening it.”
“You should’ve kept the money.”
“I don’t want his filthy money, Mamu.”
“Look, I understand you don’t like the guy. I get it. I hate him too. And don’t mind me saying this but aren’t you even a little curious about him? Don’t you ever feel like meeting him?”
“No. He turned up on my birthday last year. Bad enough. And he always addresses the letter to Siddharth Pratap-Mathur. What makes him think that I’ll use his name? He lost the right to give me his name the day he walked out on Ma.”
“Forget about him. He’s worthless. If another letter comes, send it back to him. With all the disregard you can muster.”
“Let’s go back in. Dinner?”
“One hundred percent!”
An hour later, Siddharth was on his way back home. As he rode up the driveway, he saw two people leaning against a car. Their eyes followed him as he parked the Bullet.
“What’s up, you two?”
“Can we go inside?”
3: The Explanation
“Why are the two of you here at half-past nine in the night?” asked Siddharth.
“We need to talk. That’s why.”
They sank into armchairs in the drawing room. Both Rhea and Arjun were staring at Siddharth.
“Okay. Spit it out.”
“I spoke to Ananya today, Siddharth.”
“She told me about last night.”
“And you told Arjun?”
“Don’t sound so incredulous, Siddharth. In fact, I was surprised you didn’t tell me yourself.”
“There are some things that should stay between two people, Arjun.”
“First of all, did you use a contraceptive?”
“Did you know that they are effective only ninety-eight times out of hundred?”
“No, Arjun. I did not know that.”
“Then you also do not know that she may get pregnant?”
“What are you getting at? Seedhi baat kar.”
“Okay. How could you be so irresponsible? You, of all people!”
“Arjun, it’s not something I marked on my calendar. It just happened.”
“It just happened? What the hell does that even mean?”
“Rhea, are you with him on this?”
“I’m neither here nor there. Look, Arjun, they’re adults. It was consensual. They had sex. Big deal. But Siddharth, did you think this over?”
“Of course not. It happened in the heat of the moment!”
“Convenient excuse, Siddharth. Heat of the moment!”
“Stop trying to be my dad, Arjun!”
“You seem to need one! Big time!”
Siddharth flung a glass at Arjun. He dodged and it smashed into the wall.
“Don’t you dare say something like that again, Arjun,” Siddharth was trembling with rage.
“Arjun, go out for a minute. Please,” said Rhea.
After he left, she went and sat on the arm of Siddharth’s chair.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“You heard what he said, Rhea. You heard it loud and clear.”
“The best of us have a slip of tongue. You’ve got to keep a lid on your temper, Siddharth.”
“Not when it comes to mentioning the fact that I don’t have a dad. Arjun has known me longest, we went to pre-school together but he just happens to bring up this dad thing every now and then.”
“I’ll speak to him. But please, you’ve got to control that temper.”
“Now go and call him back in.”
Siddharth grumpily opened the front door and saw Arjun pacing up and down the garden.
“Arjun!” Siddharth called out. “I shouldn’t have chucked that glass. I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry too, man. It was absolutely incorrect of me to talk to you like that.”
“Siddharth, what now?” asked Rhea once all three were back in their places.
“I don’t know. I don’t feel that either Ananya’s dad or Ma or anyone else needs to know. So, I say we just drop this thing here.”
4: The Discussion
“Good evening, sir!”
“Siddharth! Come in, son.”
Siddharth followed Mr Kashyap into the drawing room.
“Ananya will be down in a minute. Girls take an awful amount of time to get ready. I remember when I used to take Ananya’s mom for dinner. She’d always be at least half an hour late. And I’d usually not be in the best of moods by the time she was ready to leave. But then, my irritation would vanish when I saw her. Can’t believe she’s been gone four years.”
Siddharth didn’t quite know how to respond to that so he just examined his shoes.
“Ready to leave, Siddharth?”
He looked up. Ananya was wearing a midnight-blue dress and had opened her hair out.
“Amazing! You look just like Mom!” Mr Kashyap laughed.
“There seems to be a slight problem though.”
“What?” asked Ananya.
“I’ve brought the Bullet. You’ll fall ill if you wear that and we ride to the Savoy.”
“No need to worry, Siddharth,” Mr Kashyap threw a key at him. “Catch! She’s up and running fine now!”
“Sir, your ’71 Corvette Stingray Convertible?”
“That’s right! Have fun, you two.”
The speeding Corvette surprised many an onlooker as it headed towards the Mall. At the Savoy, they took their time to choose what to eat. After the waiter had brought their order to the table, Siddharth took a deep breath.
“Ananya, time to address the elephant in the room. What do you say?”
“Were we drunk?”
“I don’t think so.”
“So we can’t really brush it off as a drunken mistake?”
“Nope. Look, we don’t need to discuss it…”
“We do. I don’t think it’s a huge thing!”
He quickly corrected himself when he noticed her raised eyebrows.
“I didn’t intend to make it sound like it sounds. It is a big thing, but just for the two of us…”
“You should look at yourself, Siddharth. You’re nervous as hell.”
“That I am. Aren’t you?”
“Not really. I mean, we’re both adults and it was consensual. It’s not against the law…”
“Of the country. The laws of society, phew. Let’s not get started on those.”
“I don’t think either of us have any intention of going around announcing this thing over a loudspeaker. Best if we kept it to ourselves.”
“I wish what you said backed up what you did, Ananya.”
“What do you mean?”
“You told Rhea.”
“Siddharth, we girls tell each other stuff. We share.”
“Don’t go all Rachel on me, Ananya.”
“As if you don’t tell Arjun anything!”
“I don’t. Not intimate, personal things.”
“Alright. Won’t happen again!”
“Listen, I’m not against it. I’m just saying that some things ought to stay with just two people. And also, Rhea told Arjun.”
“Yup. They confronted me last night.”
“What did they say?”
“Rhea was okay but Arjun just exploded, telling me that I’m irresponsible and stuff like that.”
“I told him that he wasn’t my dad. He told me that I needed one.”
“He didn’t?” Ananya’s eyes widened in shock. “Not Arjun.”
“Well, I chucked a glass at him. It didn’t hit him.”
“How angry were you?”
“Fuming, to say the least.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s right. The closest person I have to a father is Mamu. And he’s more like a friend. I’d say your dad, or Rhea’s, or Arjun’s, sort of treat me like a son but they aren’t my dad. I don’t have one.”
“You could have one.”
“No. I don’t think I want one. Maybe I need one but I don’t want one. Least of all that slimeball. I don’t mind Ma marrying someone. I’d willingly accept that person as my stepfather but not that useless character. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of having a kid.”
Silence reigned supreme for a minute or two before Ananya spoke again.
“Can we go and eat someplace else?”
They ate hot dogs from a roadside cart, chatting about other things.
5: The Doubt
“Siddharth, when can you get here?”
“Sinha, I can’t hear you. I’m driving. Arjun, talk to her.”
“Rhea, Arjun here.”
“Has Siddharth been to Ananya’s today?”
“Nope. He just got back this morning. What happened?”
“Come to Leafy Walk. Now. The three of us need to have a chat.”
“Okay. We’re on our way,” he kept the phone in the glove compartment. “Siddharth, Leafy Walk. Immediately.”
“I haven’t seen the restaurant in a fortnight. Let’s just make a quick stop there and then go to Leafy Walk.”
“Rhea sounded tense. Gaadi ghuma.”
Within ten minutes, they’d parked the car outside Leafy Walk and made their way inside. Rhea waved over from a bench.
“Hi, Sinha. How’re you?”
“Why did you call us here in such a hurry?”
“It’s about Ananya. I’ll tell you as we walk.”
“What happened to her?”
“She’s been unwell since you left,” answered Arjun.
“Why didn’t you tell me earlier?!”
“Khaak you were going to do sitting in Doon!”
“What happened to her?”
“She’s been feeling nauseous and dizzy.”
“Did she go to a doctor?”
“Siddharth, how long has it been since Arjun’s birthday?”
“Which means it’s been five weeks since that night too?”
“Yeah. Where are you going with this, Rhea?”
“Do you know what nausea and dizziness are symptoms of?”
“Siddharth, Rhea and I think she may be expecting.”
“What? The two of you have finally lost it!”
“Explain the nausea and the dizziness then!”
“She’s just unwell. The two of you are making Mount Everest out of what is not even a bloody molehill!”
“Listen to me…”
“I’ve heard enough for now. I’m off. Bye!”
He ran off towards the exit. His mind was racing.
“Rhea’s crazy. She’s not got a single idea of what she’s saying. And why is Arjun being a yes-man? Bloody bhakt” he wondered as he reversed.
Back home, he switched on the computer and looked up symptoms of pregnancy. His throat went dry as he read the symptoms stated by Rhea. Those were the first symptoms. And they typically appeared four to five weeks after ‘the night’. He swallowed slowly. His heart rate had gone up. He picked up the cordless phone and dialled.
“Hello? Good evening, sir. Siddharth here. I wanted to speak to Ananya.”
“Hey, Siddharth. How was Dehra Dun?”
“It was warm, sir.”
“Every place is warm these days. Here, speak to Ananya.”
“How bad is the dizziness and the nausea?”
“Bearable. Who told you?”
“Rhea and Arjun. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought I’d be fine by the time you got back.”
“Ananya, did Rhea act weird while I was gone?”
“She dropped off a test kit yesterday. Out of the blue. I’m glad Dad didn’t see it. Did she feed you the same stuff?”
“Yeah. Ananya, do you mind terribly if I ask you to take the test?”
“You don’t actually believe Rhea, do you?”
“I just want you to be okay. Ma will be off by around 11. Can you come then?”
“And get the kit with you please.”
6: The Test
“Hi. Come on in!”
“Why are your eyes red?”
“Was up all night.”
“And you were smoking too. Siddharth! You’ll have to stop it if the test is positive,” smiled Ananya as she led the way up to his room.
He gulped as he followed her, completely shaken by what she had said. Ten minutes later, she came out of the bathroom. She looked a little flustered but made her way to him slowly.
“Okay,” his voice had gone hoarse. “Great.”
“Siddharth, is everything fine?”
“Yeah. It’s nothing. What do you want to do?”
“I’m still thinking about it. I mean, it is a big thing. And either way, I’ll have to tell Dad and you’ll have to tell Aunty.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Okay. We’ll discuss it in a couple of days.”
“What’s up, man?”
“Can you come home?”
“Just come home.”
Half an hour later, the doorbell rang. Siddharth dragged himself and opened the door.
“You sounded funny over the phone, dude.”
They sat in the drawing room, Arjun looking at Siddharth, who was scrutinising the ceiling fan.
“Am I just supposed to sit here and find out why you called me here by using Legilimency?”
“Ananya took the test.”
“Your face tells me you’re upset. It was negative?”
“Nope. It was positive.”
“Wow. That’s great news.”
“Is it not?”
“I don’t really know.”
“Siddharth, you’ll be a dad in nine months!”
“Stop scaring me, Arjun!”
“What’s the matter with you?”
“This entire thing. Ananya expecting. That’s the matter with me!”
“Shouldn’t you be happy?”
“No. No. No. Happy is the last thing I am just now. Try scared or frightened for better results. A father at the age of twenty. I’m not ready for something like that!”
“Wait. You used a condom, right? Then how is she pregnant?”
“Don’t you remember the fun fact you enlightened me with? It’s effective only ninety-eight times out of hundred.”
Siddharth got up and started pacing up and down the room.
“You’re kidding me.”
“No, I’m not. I’m not old enough to be a father, she isn’t old enough to be a mom. Abortion is the only way out of this.”
“Surely you’re going to ask her!”
“No. I know what’s best.”
“Siddharth, stop talking like that! The child belongs to both of you. The decision has to be taken by both of you.”
“Arjun, don’t tell me what to do. I’m not off my rocker. I know exactly what I’m saying.”
“Then you know it’s a load of crap!”
With that, Arjun got up and stormed out of the house, leaving Siddharth alone with his thoughts.
7: The Past
Twenty Years Ago
“Tara, I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Can’t it wait? I’ve got something important to tell you.”
“I went to see the doctor two days ago.”
“I was feeling nauseous.”
“And he conducted a couple of tests.”
“We’re having a baby!”
Dhruv Mathur struggled to say anything for a few seconds. He was tongue-tied. Then, he got up and hugged his wife.
The couple ate dinner while watching a film. He kept glancing at the clock. They cleared up and went to sleep. The next morning, Tara found the bed empty. Her husband usually went to Delhi once a week for work. She went to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea. As she was passing the dining table, she saw an envelope with her name on it. She opened it.
I have left for Delhi. I have taken all my things. You’ll find the house deed in the cupboard. I’ve transferred the house to you. There is something I wanted to tell you since we met. I was with someone when my parents told me that I had to get married. I told them about the girl but they weren’t willing to listen. We never told your parents. I have been going to Delhi to meet her on the pretext of meetings every week since we returned from our honeymoon. I will not be coming back. Ever. Want the child to bear both our names. I wish I could have told this to you face-to-face but I don’t think I have the courage to do that.
Tara didn’t break down. She calmly picked up the cordless phone and dialled a number. It was picked up in two rings.
“This is Siddharth Pratap.”
“Siddharth, it’s Tara.”
“Hi. How come you’re calling so early in the morning?”
“Can you come over? Right now?”
“Dhruv has left. He’s gone.”
Tara heard the sound of her brother’s motorbike in ten minutes and ran to open the door. She hugged him as soon as he appeared. He held her hand and helped her to the drawing room.
She handed him the letter. He went red as he read it.
“When did he leave?”
“I think he left this morning.”
“Alright. Pass me the phone.”
“What are you doing?”
“Just give it to me, Tara!”
He punched in a number and waited for the recipient to pick up.
“Hi, Rajesh! Siddharth Pratap here.”
“Can you do me a favour?”
“Find out if a Dhruv Mathur boarded a train to Delhi today. And give me the phone number.”
“Yeah. Hold on for a minute.”
Siddharth heard the ruffling of pages before his friend came back on line.
“Siddharth, there was a booking for a Dhruv Mathur this morning. For Delhi.”
“Is there a phone number?”
“Yeah. Take it down.”
Siddharth held the phone away and called out to his sister.
“Tara, pen and paper.”
She mutely passed it to him.
He jotted it down and put the phone down after thanking his friend.
“Tara, get dressed. I’m calling Chauhan Uncle.”
“You think that douchebag is going to return? Sorry to burst your bubble, Tara, but he’s gone,” he sounded impatient.
He regretted his tone a moment later and it took him a while to console his little sister.
“Just get ready. Please.”
Half an hour later, they rode into town and made their way to the office of their family lawyer.
“Hi, Siddharth. Hello, Tara. What happened?”
“This,” Siddharth threw the note on the table.
Chauhan, an ageing man, put his spectacles on and read the note.
“This is disgusting. What is it that you wish to do?”
“I think a divorce is possible.”
“Siddharth, I was speaking to Tara.”
She looked at the lawyer with red eyes and spoke with a shaking voice.
“File for divorce.”
“Very well. You’ll have to speak to Dhruv though. If he doesn’t agree, we’ll take the matter to court.”
“I don’t want to speak to him, Uncle.”
“If you want, I can speak to him.”
“No. I’ll do it,” Siddharth Pratap’s voice was firm and his eyes indicated that he wasn’t willing to discuss the matter further. “Thanks, Uncle. Please get the papers ready. I’ll do my bit. Come, Tara.”
“Anytime, beta. And Siddharth, use the phone. No going to Delhi and beating the guy up.”
“I’ll try my best, Uncle.”
As Siddharth kick-started his bike, his sister spoke.
“Where are we going now?”
“To meet Mum and Dad. You’ve got to tell them.”
“I can’t believe he did this.”
“I know, kiddo. Neither can I.”
“Divorce?!” Vijay Pratap sounded amazed. “He pulls one thing and you jump to divorce?!”
“Dad, he didn’t do something small. This is big. What am I supposed to do? I’m expecting a baby. Fine. But I’m not backing off.”
“And you’re with her?” Vijay asked his son.
“Of course. I’m actually surprised at your behaviour.”
“But beta, divorce? Surely this can be sorted out. Why don’t you speak to him once?” suggested their mother.
“Mum, did you not read that bloody letter?”
“Don’t talk to your mother like that, Siddharth!”
“Why? Just listen to yourselves speak, will you. You’re behaving as if it’s Tara’s fault!”
“She should’ve known that he was up to something,” their uncle intervened. “Maybe he wasn’t happy with her? Doesn’t that make it Tara’s fault?”
Siddharth lost his temper. He grabbed his uncle by the collar and dragged him to the door.
“Dare you talk to or about her that way again, Chacha. You may be my father’s brother but I won’t tolerate this nonsense inside my house. Get out.”
“Siddharth!” his father shouted from behind.
“I don’t want to hear anything against Tara. Chacha can speak the way he wants to outside, but not here,” and with that, he shoved his uncle out of the front door and slammed it in his face.
“What’s wrong with you, Siddharth?” both parents yelled the same thing almost in unison.
“I could ask the two of you the same thing! You should be more supportive of her. And did you conveniently miss the part where Mathur said that he had a girlfriend?”
“Has,” his sister quietly corrected him.
“Pardon me. Has a girlfriend. And has been cheating on your daughter since they got back from their honeymoon.”
“Each marriage has its up-and-downs…” Mrs Pratap started to speak.
“Please! That’s nonsense. This is not one of those ‘up-and-downs’. Anyway, I should’ve known you people would’ve reacted this way. You forced her to get married so this shouldn’t be unexpected.”
“She was 23 already!” snapped Mr Pratap.
“Big deal,” said Tara. “You didn’t even let me finish my studies.”
“People were starting to talk!”
“What? Does the happiness of society gain precedence over that of your daughter’s? Does Sharma-ji’s opinion really matter that much? And don’t bother to tell us about the Mathurs being family friends!”
“We just want you to speak to him first. He may’ve made a mistake,” said Mrs Pratap.
“Sure. And he hasn’t realised it in the eighteen months he was cheating on his wife!”
“Why don’t we call the Mathurs for dinner tonight? Talk this over with them?” suggested Mr Pratap.
“No need,” replied his son, grabbing the landline and dialling a number. “Hi, this is Siddharth Pratap. I want to speak to Anuj Chauhan please.”
“Hold for a moment.”
“Hi, Siddharth. What happened?”
“Uncle, how far have you managed to progress with the papers?”
“Arre, it takes time. You left my office half-an-hour back. They’ll be ready in a couple of days.”
“Siddharth, give me the phone!” his father charged at him from behind.
“Okay, Uncle. Thanks. Bye,” Siddharth quickly kept the phone down.
“Do you realise that there will be no one to support you if you get divorced?”
“Where exactly do you get your ideas from, Dad? She can stay here.”
“What about the things in ‘their’ house?”
“That idiot can keep them,” said Tara. “I don’t give a damn about that stuff.”
“And you’ll live off your brother your entire life, is it?”
“Of course not! She’s going to complete her post-grad. And then she can do what she wants.”
“Who are you to make all these decisions?”
“Someone’s got to make them.”
“You know what?” Tara stood up. “I don’t care. You don’t want to back me. Fine. You’re scared of what people will say. Fine. You think the Mathurs will no longer be your friends if I go ahead with this. That’s just too bad. I’m divorcing Dhruv. Whether you like it or not.”
“Hi. Am I speaking to Dhruv Mathur?”
“Yes. May I know who this is?”
“Siddharth. I’m sending you a bunch of papers. Sign them and send them back.”
Before Dhruv Mathur could reply, the line was cut. A week later, the postman handed him a heavy envelope. He opened it quickly and read all the papers inside. He quickly picked up the phone and dialled his brother-in-law’s number.
“This is Siddharth Pratap.”
“Siddharth, Dhruv here. I just got the papers by post.”
“What are you calling me for? Sign them and be done with it!”
Dhruv started to stutter. “I m-ma-may be coming back to Mussoorie.”
“Good for you. Sign the papers.”
“No. Aa-aa-I meant c-c-coming back to T-Tara.”
“I’ve got something to read out to you: ‘Dear Tara, blah-blah-blah-blah. I will not be coming back. Ever. Blah-blah-blah. Dhruv’. Sound familiar?”
“The note was written in a hurry, Siddharth. I didn’t quite know what the situation would be like.”
“I couldn’t care less what your situation is, Dhruv. Sign the papers. Or I will drag your ass to court. I don’t think your parents, given their celebrity-like status, will be too happy. And don’t think of asking them to send goons. Just sign the bloody papers.”
“You have to try and understand. Put yourself in my shoes…”
“I’m not like you. I would never be in ‘your’ shoes. You see, I’m not as big a coward as you are.”
“Okay. I’ll s-sign the papers. Just one question.”
“Why have you sent the house deed to me?”
“Tara doesn’t want anything to do with you, Dhruv. She transferred it back to you. Anything else?”
“Yes. How is she?”
“And what has she thought of using both our names for the child?”
“I didn’t ask her but I don’t think it sounds okay. Too long a name. Plus, the child will be scarred by your name.”
“There’s no need to be nasty, Siddharth.”
“Oh yeah? Tell me why I shouldn’t be nasty after what you did to my sister, you imbecile? Do you have an answer to that? Do you?” Siddharth Pratap roared out the last two words.
“Could you please just ask Tara to reconsider her decision to give the child only her name? I’m signing the papers right? That’s the least she can do for me. After all, I am the father of the child.”
“You make me sick, Dhruv,” Tara said.
“Oh, I didn’t know the phone had loudspeaker facility. Hi.”
“Listen to me. The child will take my maiden name. And just by the way, you’re not doing me any favours by signing the papers.”
“But I am the father!”
“How? Tell me. How are you the child’s father? Just because the sperm happened to be yours. Well, do you really that makes you the father? The father of the child wouldn’t have been like you. He would’ve stood by me. He would’ve been there for me. I was there for you, if you remember. Your business was floundering. The media was throwing corruption allegations against you. I stood by you. What did you do? The moment you found out that your wife, that was me, was expecting a child, you ditched me and ran off to your girlfriend. So how much of a husband or a father are you? Sign the papers and be done with it! I’m not asking you for any property or money. Nothing! So it’s me who’s helping you out. Again!”
It took the Pratap parents six months of nagging (from their son) to accept their daughter’s decision.
Tara Pratap finished her MBA from the IGNOU while expecting her child. The court granted her a divorce from Dhruv Mathur after the mandatory six-month period.
Thirty-eight weeks later, Tara gave birth to a boy who she named Siddharth.
8: The Run
“Rhea, have you spoken to Siddharth?”
“Arjun, it’s five in the morning!”
“I know but I’ve been trying since last night.”
“We had an argument.”
“Not again. You two fight more than those saas-bahu duos in Indian soap operas.”
“This isn’t a time for jokes, Rhea!”
“What exactly happened?”
Arjun narrated his conversation with Siddharth to her. She heard him out without interrupting.
“I cannot believe he said that.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Does Ananya know?”
“I don’t know. I’ve not tried calling her.”
“Fine. We’ll go see her later. Can you be there by 9?”
Siddharth was loading everything into his car. He had withdrawn all his money from the bank. His mother was asleep. He turned the ignition on and drove off. He drove out of town as fast as he could. As he hit the highway, he glanced at his phone. The lock screen said ‘Arjun Singh-7 Missed Calls’. He pulled over to the side and dialled. Arjun picked up in half a ring.
“Where are you? Why aren’t you picking up my calls?”
“I’m leaving. I’m not coming back.”
“You’re a coward. You’re running away from the situation. You slimeball. I can’t believe I thought of you as a decent guy.”
“Arjun, you’d have done the same if you were in my situation.”
“No. I wouldn’t have.”
His friend’s lack of support didn’t surprise Siddharth one bit. He put the phone aside and drove off.
“I got in touch with him.”
“Did you call him here?”
“Rhea, he made a run for it.”
“You’re kidding me! Siddharth?”
“Yeah. I don’t know what we’re going to say to Ananya.”
“Wait. I want to speak to him once.”
The phone rang for quite some time before it was picked up.
“Siddharth, you’re running away? You’re leaving her in a lurch?”
“I didn’t want to. But things have changed, Rhea. I wish it wasn’t this way.”
“Well, at least you proved that you’ve got Mathur blood in you!”
The line had already been cut. Rhea sat down on the front porch, her face in her hands. Arjun noticed someone moving about near the front door.
“Rhea, Mr Kashyap,” he whispered.
She quickly wiped her tears and stood up. Mr Kashyap opened the door and smiled.
“Come to see Ananya? She’s upstairs. Just help her out. I’m sure you know what the situation is. And please tell her that I’ve left for Ms Pratap’s place.”
Arjun and Rhea exchanged frightened looks but their ability to speak seemed to have deserted them. They watched Mr Kashyap walk down the steps of the porch and out of the lawn.
“Arjun, stop him!”
“No. Siddharth deserves this,” Arjun’s tone was something nobody was used to: cold and ruthless. His eyes mirrored his tone.
They went up to Ananya’s bedroom and knocked on the door.
They pushed the door open. She was sitting on her bed, the quilt right up to her waist. She looked slightly pale. Her eyes were red. She smiled weakly.
“Hey,” Rhea gave her a hug and pulled up a chair.
“Hi, Ananya,” Arjun grasped her hand firmly.
His expression brought home her worst fears and she burst into tears. Arjun grimaced as she clutched his hand tightly.
“When did you find out?”
“Three hours back. You?”
“He sent me a message.”
“What did it say?”
I don’t wish to leave you in a lurch like this. But I am not ready to take on the responsibility of being a father. I wish it didn’t have to be this way. But you’ve stuck to your guns about wanting to have the child. And I’ve stuck to mine about the abortion. It is not easy for me to reach such a decision but I think both of us will be better off this way. I’m leaving Mussoorie. I don’t think I’ll return. Please accept my apologies.
“This is the limit!” Arjun hurled a mug at the window. It shattered. “Sorry about that.”
“I don’t think a broken mug is my biggest problem right now.”
“Our biggest problem, not just yours.”
“Neither of you are backing him?”
“Of course not. The lines are drawn.”
“I really don’t know what to say, Mr Kashyap. I’m so sorry. I didn’t even know that something had happened. Siddharth did tell me that Ananya spent a night here but nothing apart from that.”
“It’s not your fault. He’s obviously scared. And youngsters take spur-of-the-moment decisions. I just want Ananya to be okay, you know.”
“Did you try calling him?”
“Every five minutes for the last two hours. He’s not picking up. I was thinking that maybe I should contact the police.”
“I don’t think it’s wise, Ms Pratap. The police don’t know how to their job. And the backlash. I cannot have Ananya go through nonsense again. I don’t care what people say about me. But that child is my world. Isn’t there anyone you could contact?”
“There is Siddharth, my brother.”
9: The Chase and the Talk
Siddharth Pratap was driving back from a friend’s farmhouse ahead of Dehra Dun. He heard his phone ringing. He usually didn’t take calls while driving but when he saw his sister’s name flash on the screen, he immediately pulled over to the side.
“Siddharth, Siddharth has made a run for it.”
“He left home this morning. I don’t know where he intends to go!”
“Why would he do that? Did you tick him off or something?”
“No. But can you do one thing for me? Please just drive towards Mussoorie and see if you can spot his car.”
“I’ll find him.”
Siddharth drove slowly, scanning the roads for his nephew’s car. As he was passing Clement Town, he caught sight of it going in the opposite direction. He turned and sped up. The nephew drove faster and managed to get out of town. The uncle knew the hill roads better, almost like the back of his hand. He kept honking but the nephew wouldn’t stop. The two cars were headed for a blind turn. The nephew slowed down but only a bit. The uncle slowed down considerably, bracing himself for what was coming. The nephew’s car missed another by inches but he lost control and drove straight into a tree. The airbag opened on impact and he was merely dazed. The car had taken a beating though. As he came around, Siddharth saw his uncle in the side-view mirror and realised that there was no way out. The car door opened and his uncle pulled him out.
“Take your stuff out. Whatever’s left of it. The car papers. Everything. Put it all in mine.”
The first few minutes of the drive back were quiet. The nephew was waiting for his uncle to speak the first words.
“Are you going to say anything, you clown?!”
“What’s there to say, Mamu?”
“You tell me.”
Siddharth made eye contact with his uncle for the first time since he had been pulled out of the wreck. The older man looked curious. Not angry. Simply curious.
“I’m stopping at a dhaba outside the city. That’s when you speak.”
They stopped at a rundown shack from which some marvellous smells were emerging. They sat on a charpoy outside and placed their order. A pile of Aloo Paranthas, dripping with ghee and accompanied by raita, arrived. The uncle pulled out a cigarette packet and lit one.
“I’m not offering you one. So don’t even think of asking. Eat.”
The boy tucked in. His uncle spoke after extinguishing his cigarette.
“So, OJ of India. Speak.”
“I didn’t murder anyone,” his nephew smiled before narrating the sequence of events till the previous day.
His uncle asked him a few questions here and there but heard him out.
“Okay, son. What made you run?”
“Fear. Mainly that. The fact that my future would be influenced by the birth of this child. There would be things that I wouldn’t be able to do. Plus, I don’t think I was ready to shoulder this responsibility.”
“Were you looking out only for yourself?”
“Yes. I didn’t think about Ananya. Call me what you want for that but the situation was such. I wanted to impose my wishes on her. About the baby, not generally.”
“Fantastic. Seems that you’ve got a bit of Nanaji in you as well.”
“Plus, the way people would look at me. Already they disassociate themselves from me. I was a little scared about that.”
“Did you, at any point of time, think of Mathur?”
“Yes. I intended to meet him in Delhi.”
“I thought he’d be able to advise me.”
The older Siddharth burst out laughing.
“Good joke, kid. That clown’s been married thrice since he divorced your mother. He’ll give you advice. Sure!”
“Maybe he’s indecisive?”
“Or maybe he’s still the same pansy he was twenty years ago!”
“Mamu, now what?”
“We’re going back.”
“Well, I’d hate to hit you, Siddharth. But I won’t think twice about tying you up if you try to act smart.”
The boy finished the last Parantha.
“I’m a little worried though.”
“Why is that?”
“How is everyone going to react? Ma? Mr Kashyap? Rhea, Arjun? Ananya?”
“I know Tara. She’ll probably thrash you up but she’ll forgive you. Kashyap may not be as generous, since it’s his daughter you planned on ditching. But he’s a good guy, Amar Kashyap. Rhea and Arjun. I don’t know. And Ananya? I’m clueless.”
“I hope she forgives me.”
“Depends on how genuine your apology is, Siddharth. Tell me something though. What is it that she sees in you? And vice-versa?”
“I don’t know. I like her a lot. I think she likes me as much, perhaps more. But I can’t accurately say what it is that makes it work between us.”
His uncle laughed.
“Things were not so complicated when we were younger. I think you’d have fit well in that era too.”
“It took you seven years to woo Mami,” his nephew rolled his eyes.
“Agreed. But that was because neither of our parents were willing. I don’t know about hers but mine sure were funny.”
“Do you still harbour a grudge against them?”
“No. But they weren’t good to Tara about getting married. Hurried her into it. They chose the guy. Just because he was a family friend’s kid. Neither Tara nor I knew a thing about Dhruv. He came home for dinner often but we never really got along with him. He was a total stranger to Tara. Not as much to me since we were in the same college. But we have that practice in India, don’t we: ‘Don’t take a toffee from a stranger but get married to one.’ That statement is as true as it is clichéd.”
They entered Mussoorie a while later. Siddharth had fallen asleep. The rain was pouring down. The other Siddharth called his sister.
“Did you find him?”
“I’m looking. Where’s Kashyap?”
“At home. With me. Please call me as soon as you find him.”
Siddharth woke up when the car suddenly stopped.
“We’ve reached home?”
“No, you nutcase. Go in.”
His uncle nodded to the bungalow across the road.
“And take this. She may like the gesture. But please wash your face,” his uncle held a bouquet of roses in his hands.
Siddharth upended a bottle of cold water over his face.
“And feel free to dirty my car as well!”
“Sorry. Do you have a towel?”
“Don’t you have a handkerchief?”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
He wiped his face and took the bouquet from his uncle’s hands.
“Good luck, kiddo.”
10: The Showdown
Confidence deserted him as soon as his uncle drove off. He took a few deep breaths and walked in. The front door was slightly ajar. He tip-toed his way up to the bedroom and placed his hand on the knob. He took a few more deep breaths and turned it. He quietly entered the room. Rhea was sitting in an easy chair, not even noticing him. Arjun saw him out of the corner of his eye but didn’t move from his position next to the window. Ananya had her back to him. Siddharth couldn’t tell whether she was awake or asleep. He moved towards the bed but saw a hand go up. Arjun silently told him not to move. He walked over to Rhea and whispered something in her ear. She nodded and gave him a half-smile. She got up, passed Siddharth without looking at him and went over to Ananya. She shook her and drew the quilt aside. Ananya turned to face him. She pulled her up and out of bed. Siddharth gave her a nervous smile as she walked towards him and held out the bouquet. She silently took it and passed it to Rhea. Siddharth wasn’t ready for what came next-a stinging slap across the face. The very next moment, she hugged him tightly, sobbing into his jacket. She pulled herself away after a few minutes and started punching him.
“You complete oaf! You idiot! You absolute deserter! You retard! Do you know how badly off I’ve been? Do you know anything, you moron?! Do you have any idea how much you’ve hurt me? How upset I’ve been? You vanished just when I needed you the most!”
“I’m so sorry, Ananya-”
“A sorry doesn’t change what you did, Siddharth.”
“Just hear me out once. One fair hearing. I know what I did. All the things that you called me, I’m all of those. And a lot more. I was only thinking about myself. It was extremely selfish of me. I’m really, really sorry. I knew what I was doing but I wanted to save my own hide. I’ve hurt you a lot, Ananya but I truly am sorry.”
“In the most testing of times, you just ran off, Siddharth. What am I to make of that?”
“Ananya, I am at fault but I’m sorry. I don’t know why I didn’t think of you but it just happened to be that way.”
“Siddharth, you don’t understand. What if you run again?”
“I won’t. I made a mistake. A major error of judgement. But I wasn’t thinking straight. I was scared, Ananya. Really scared of all that had happened.”
“And I wasn’t? Was I not scared, Siddharth?”
“But you’re you, Ananya. And I’m me. I just happened to think that I could chicken out. But I’m back now. You know what I truly want. I want you to be happy, generally and with me. I understand that you probably don’t even want to want to listen to what I have to say but I’ve said all I had to. It’s your call, Ananya.”
She closed her eyes for a moment before speaking again.
“And the baby?”
“Your call. I’m with you on any decision you take.”
“Siddharth! Finally you seem to be doing something sensible.” She flung her arms around his neck. “I’m so glad you’re back.”
“As am I.”
She let go of him, and he of her, after what seemed like a week. Siddharth approached Rhea cautiously.
“I’m really sorry, Sinha.”
“You should be. You pissed everyone off. Good to have you back, you clot!”
“Tu kuch nahi bolega?” Siddharth addressed Arjun, who was still standing by the window.
“Do any of my words have any effect on you, Siddharth?”
Arjun held his hand up and shook his head.
“Arjun!” Rhea said indignantly.
“Just because everyone accepts his apology doesn’t mean I have to too!”
He stormed out of the room and out the front door. Siddharth followed him into the pouring rain.
“Come on, Arjun. I apologised.”
“Do you know what I was feeling all those calls of mine you didn’t pick up? Did you see Rhea in the morning? Ananya? Do you know what you’ve done?”
“It’s over. I came back.”
“The murderer admitting to his sins doesn’t make him any less guilty, Siddharth.”
“Listen to me, Arjun.”
His friend of a decade and a half showed him the finger and stormed off.
11: The New Arrival
Forty Weeks Later
“Will she be fine, doc?”
“Let me do my work. Stand back.”
“How painful must it be?”
“Out! Out of my operation theatre! Now!”
Two of the interns escorted the father-to-be out of the OT. He smiled sheepishly at the three elders in front of him.
“I was being too much of a nuisance.”
“Doctors are a little wild about stuff. And rightly so. Better get yourself a glass of water, son. It’ll be coming out any minute.”
Rhea was standing by the water cooler.
“Kicked you out, huh?”
“Chill. Drink water,” she handed him a cup.
“So, are you excited?”
“Frightened would be more appropriate a word, I think.”
She laughed and clapped him on the shoulder.
“I’m going to have a chat with Aunty. Coming?”
“In a minute. You go.”
He walked out to the parking lot. The window of opportunity was perfect. An ice-cream would do him a lot of good. As he unlocked the car, someone called out.
“Running away again, are we?”
“Not unless Madhav’s ice-cream place is a hiding spot.”
They didn’t exchange a single word for a couple of minutes. The agreement was mutual. It didn’t need to be spoken of.
“They kicked you out?”
“You’re truly a nuisance.”
They joined the others outside the OT. Ten minutes later, the nurse came out, holding a tiny little human in a bundle of cloths. Siddharth moved forward excitedly and looked at the child. She had his nose and eyes. Besides that, she looked just like Ananya. She smiled at her father.
“She’s smiling. See!” he told the others, unable to control his excitement.
“Careful, Siddharth,” warned his mother.
Ten minutes later, Siddharth was allowed to meet Ananya. He walked very slowly, holding the little girl in the way his mother had told him to.
“How are you feeling?”
“See,” Siddharth placed the child in her arms.
She smiled wearily and held her for a while. The doctor walked in a little later. Siddharth wringed his hand continuously and thanked him profusely, much to the amusement of the poor old man.
“How are you feeling, Ananya?”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
“I wanted to know if you’ve picked a name for the child. If you have, we can get the birth certificate made at the earliest.”
Siddharth conferred with Ananya and wrote the name down on a piece of paper. Ten days later, Ananya was discharged and they had a small get-together at the Pratap residence.
“You didn’t tell us her name!” said Arjun impatiently as the two of them entered the drawing room, Ananya holding the baby.
“All in good time. Everyone, meet Rhea Kashyap-Pratap,” announced Siddharth happily.
Varun Bhakay Writing 2016
I have tried experimenting with the kind of stuff I write with A Daddy’s Dilemma. I’m not too good with emotional or sentimental things so I’d be grateful if you could pen your thoughts in the Comments section. If you enjoyed the story, please do share it on Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. Also, if you are big on reading, do check this out: Operation Blazing Snow by Varun Bhakay. Also, please do check out my Facebook page and my Medium handle. Cheers!