Updated: Jun 8
On a warm summer’s morning, the students gathered with their parents in the auditorium for their long-awaited graduation ceremony.
Each student paraded onto the stage to receive their degree and smile for a photograph. The parents sitting in the audience, allowed this proud moment to seep in. Some of them were eagerly awaiting the announcement of the ‘Student of the Year.’
‘I bet I’m going to get the award,’ Monika whispered boastfully to Amit.
‘Dream on, baby! Have you seen my mark sheet? And I’m sure you’ve already seen the number of extracurricular activities I have participated in? I’m an all-rounder. You’re just like the rest of them. Another tiny fish in the big ocean trying to survive!’
‘Will you both stop and for once try to behave yourselves. You two have been at this crazy neck-in-neck competition throughout the past two years. For once, can't you just stop being rivals and just try to be cordial?’ Their mutual friend, Smriti exclaimed to Monika and Amit.
Monika rolled her eyes and nervously sat stiffly on her chair until the moment had finally arrived when the vice-chancellor came on stage to announce the Student of the Year. She held back her tears when Amit’s name was announced on stage. Unlike the rest of the crowd, she half-heartedly applauded Amit,
‘Don’t let it get it to you,’ Smriti whispered in Monika’s ear as she held her hand and squeezed it tightly.
‘This is not the end. I’m going to show him that I will get a higher paying job in one of the best companies… And abroad!’ Monika replied.
As time passed, the students started their careers and got on with their lives. Amit and Monika parted ways and did not stay in touch.
But, the two rivals, Monika and Amit, bumped into each other two years later at Smriti’s ring ceremony. Monika stood tall, flaunting her figure in her beautiful pink lehenga. She held a glass of red wine in one hand as her eyes scanned the hall for familiar faces. Just then Monika saw Amit walk in, looking tall, broad and handsome. Their eyes met, and Monika smiled as she was happy to see Amit after such a long time. They walked up to each other and embraced.
‘You’re looking so beautiful,’ Amit admired Monika.
‘I think that’s the nicest thing you have ever said to me since we started post-graduation,’ Monika chuckled.
‘Well, we were pretty crazy back then,’ Amit laughed.
‘Crazy? Is that what you want to call our constant competition?’
‘Well, things did get pretty ugly. I remember I couldn’t sleep a wink the night before graduation. I was just dying for that award,’ Amit said. ‘I don't know what I would have done if you had won it. And it could have been easily you.’
‘Oh, yeah! I’m sure that helped you get a job, right?’ Monika quipped.
‘Hey! I’m working in one of the best companies in India and….’
‘And I’m going to Boston after six months, and I’m sure my salary will be double what yours already is,’ Monika bragged.
‘Guys! Guys! Will you two stop already? It’s my freakin engagement night, and you two are at it again,’ Smriti said. ‘Can’t you both please, for the love of God… STOP! You’re making a scene.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Monika said softly as she took a sip of her red wine.
‘Yeah, sorry, Smriti. We’re here to celebrate, not to continue our old rivalry,’ Amit said, trying to sound caring and mature.
Six months later, Amit heard the news of Monika tying the knot with Vivek, an NRI living in the U.S.
‘So that’s how she’s managed to go to Boston,’ Amit laughed to himself. ‘She’s surely taken the easy way out.’
In due course, Monika moved to Boston to settle down in Vivek’s apartment with her newly wedded husband. Monika missed home tremendously and was determined to start work to get her mind off things as soon as possible.
‘You still have time before you start work, right?’ Vivek asked his wife with his eyes glued to his phone.
‘My job begins next Monday,’ she replied, sipping her morning coffee.
‘Well, maybe till then you can get yourself some new clothes. And probably give the house a woman’s touch. My colleagues come over every weekend, and I want you to look like the wife of an NRI, not like the wife of a regular Indian boy.’
‘What does that mean?’ Monika asked.
‘I mean, buy yourself some nice dresses. Forget the Indian outfits. You’re here in Boston now,’ he insisted. ‘You’re in America now. Forget that obvious Indian sense of dressing.’
Monika was quiet while she silently finished her coffee.
‘Anyways, I’m off to work. And don’t hold dinner for me. I have a meeting in the evening that might go on for a while,’ Vivek added as he picked up his brown briefcase and walked out the front door.
Monika watched him leave and felt a lump in her throat. ‘Oh, God! This is going to be harder than I thought.’
During that week, Monika made time to go shopping. She bought new clothes for her office and new dresses as Vivek had suggested. She even went to the salon and got a new haircut. Monika roamed around the city, visiting museums, eating lunch at cafes and enjoying her free time.
Over the weekend, Vivek did invite a group of friends for dinner. Monika had been on her feet since early morning getting the dinner and house organized.
‘My gang is coming over by seven,’ Vivek said as he made himself comfortable on the couch and put his feet up on the centre table.
‘Umm, Ok,’ Monika called out from the kitchen as she was busy marinating the chicken.’
‘Hey Mon, can you make me some popcorn?’ Vivek asked. ‘My favourite show is on TV.’
Monika rolled her eyes, sighing and trying to control her temper. ‘He just won’t lift a finger!’
By half-past seven, the apartment was filled with socializing couples.
Monika wore a new beautiful floral dress that she had recently bought. She admired herself in the mirror, feeling somewhat sensuous.
Monika lovingly welcomed her husband’s friends and made them comfortable in the drawing-room. All she wanted was to be a good hostess and make sure she lived up to her husband’s expectations.
Vivek opened a bottle of wine while Monika set the table with the delicious starters she had prepared at home.
Vivek made himself comfortable on the couch while Monika was busy serving the guests.
‘Monika, what are you doing?’ Vivek said. ‘Why don’t you sit down and join us?’
‘I will, in just a minute,’ Monika said, heading back to the kitchen to get some dip. She came back to the drawing-room and began to serve the guests some starters.
‘Monika, can you come with me to the bedroom for a second,’ Vivek said, giving her a stoney look.
Worried, Monika stepped inside the bedroom. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘You need to stop bending and serving food in front of my friends. You’re going to make me a laughing stock at work.’
‘I didn’t realize Vivek,’ Monika murmured as she pulled her dress up from the front. ‘But Melissa’s and Jessica’s cleavage is showing.’
‘I don’t want you to be flaunting your cleavage in front of them. Do you understand,’ Vivek said sternly, gripping her arm tightly. ‘They are American women. They know how to carry themselves.’
‘Vivek, you’re hurting my arm,’ Monika cried.
‘Now, don’t be a typical Indian woman and start crying,’ Vivek said, releasing her arm sharply and heading out of the room.
Monika rubbed her arm, trying to ease the pain. It was imprinted with his fingerprints. Monika tried hard to keep her emotions in check and headed to the kitchen. She purposely stained her dress and served the guests some dip.
‘Oh, clumsy me! I’ve managed to drop some gravy over my dress. Please excuse me. I’ll be back in a jiffy,’ Monika announced.
Monika quickly changed into a pink lucknowi suit and headed back. She was on her toes for the rest of the evening, trying her best to serve her guests and not make eye contact with Vivek.
Later that night, after clearing up the house, Monika sat her tired, worn-out self down on the bed. Vivek, ignoring his wife, was glued to his phone.
‘I don’t like what you did to me earlier this evening,’ Monika said, breaking the silence.
Vivek sighed. ‘Monika, you are so highly educated. And even then, you can’t follow simple instructions?’
‘My arm is still hurting. Why did you have to hold me so tightly?’ Monika frowned. ‘Don’t ever raise your hand to me again.’
‘I thought I told you not to wear Indian clothes when my friends come over,’ Vivek started to shout.
‘Just leave the freakin clothes for a minute,’ Monika shouted back. ‘How dare you hurt me, Vivek!’
‘DON’T YELL BACK! IF YOU CAN’T OBEY ME, THEN GO BACK HOME. I DON’T WANT YOU TO LIVE HERE WITH ME!’ Vivek yelled.
Monika couldn’t control her tears any longer and began to sob.
‘Of course! The only thing you’re good at doing is crying. Monika, get yourself together. Ever since you have moved to Boston, all you have done is cry and carry on. Ok…. I know you’re homesick. But that doesn’t mean you can disrespect me,’ Vivek shouted. ‘I’m sleeping on the couch tonight. I think we both need some space.’
Monika cried herself to sleep that night. She was lonely and hurt. She had never expected her husband to do such a horrid thing. ‘At least he didn’t hit me,’ she thought, trying to console herself. ‘I won’t tell Mom and Dad either. They would just simply worry. Maybe it is just a one-off incident. I really hope things will be better tomorrow.’
As time passed, Monika got used to her new job. She submerged herself in work and spent long hours at the office. Her boss was very impressed with Monika’s way of working and knew she would soon be an asset to the company. Vivek, too, kept himself busy with work. Both husband and wife hardly shared a sentence or two at the end of each day. As in every weekend, Vivek would have large get-togethers with his friends either at home or at other friends’ places.
One Saturday evening, Vivek and Monika were supposed to go to Jessica’s house for dinner. Monika was running late with one hundred and one things to do before a big presentation at work the following week. It had been more than a year since the two had tied the knot.
‘I’m waiting for you in the car,’ Vivek said after blowing his hair dry. ‘Try not to keep me waiting.’
Monika nodded and quickly got ready. She rushed down the stairs and out of the house even though she wished she could grab a bite to eat before leaving.
‘Come in, come in,’ Jessica said, welcoming Vivek and Monika into her home. ‘Monika, you look so beautiful tonight,’ she added, wrapping her arms around her.
Vivek smiled and asked, ‘Where is Eric?’
‘Oh, Eric should be on his way home. I sent him to pick up a few things from the store. The purchasing and grocery shopping has always been my husband’s responsibility,’ Jessica said, walking them through the hall leading to the drawing-room.
‘I love the way you’ve done up your house,’ Monika said, sitting on the couch.
Just then, the doorbell rang. ‘Oh, that must be Eric. I’ll be back in a sec,’ Jessica said, heading out.
‘Are more people going to be coming, or is it just us?’ Monika whispered to Vivek.
‘Another couple should be here soon. You’ve never met them… Rachel and Robert. Rachel is my colleague,’ Vivek replied. ‘And I hardly know Robert, but I think he works in advertising just like you.’
‘Oh! Wonderful,’ Monika smiled.
Monika felt she mingled pretty well with Vivek’s friends as the evening went by. For the first time in a long while, she enjoyed her evening and found someone with whom she could share her thoughts. Robert and Monika spent most of their evening talking about work, food, museums, travel, and a whole lot more.
Towards the end of the get-together, Vivek was too drunk to drive home.
‘Why don’t we take a cab home,’ Monika suggested. ‘I’m not carrying my driver’s license; otherwise, I would have driven home.’
‘Why don’t I drive you guys home instead,’ Robert suggested.
‘Oh, how kind of you,’ Monika smiled.
On the ride home, Robert drove with Rachel seated next to him. Monika and Vivek were in the backseat. The friendly chatter went on amongst the three leaving Vivek silently looking out the window.
‘Everything alright, Vivek?’ Rachel asked, looking over her shoulder. ‘You don’t seem yourself. You’re awfully quiet.’
‘I’m ok. I’m just tired,’ Vivek replied.
‘Maybe you should have eaten some dinner rather than just guzzling down the booze. Jessica prepared such a lovely meal,’ Monika said.
‘Stop trying to be my mother, Monika,’ Vivek snapped.
Upon reaching home, Vivek managed to take off his shoes and stumbled to the bedroom. Monika silently followed behind once she had locked the front door.
‘So…did you enjoy yourself? Vivek asked as he took off his clothes.
Monika sighed. ‘Well, it made a change to go to someone else’s house rather than me always playing the hostess.’
‘How’s Robert? I noticed you spent most of the evening with him,’ he added sarcastically.
‘Oh! Robert seemed to be such a fun-loving guy. I had no idea I would find someone from advertising amongst your group of friends. You finance guys can get so boring,’ Monika replied, trying to reach the back zip of her dress.
‘Wait, I'll undo the zip,’ Vivek said as he stepped towards her. Monika turned her back to him, and drew her hair over her shoulder.
Suddenly, Vivek shouted, ‘I don't appreciate you being so friendly with other men. I don’t want my wife to give out the wrong message.’ He grabbed her around the neck and pulled tight.
‘OUCH!’ Monika cried. ‘Vivek, STOP. PLEASE STOP!’
‘Don’t portray yourself to be characterless. You are a married woman. Married to me. And you will do as I say,’ Vivek yelled.
‘You’re hurting me Vivek. Please let me go,’ she begged.
Vivek undid Monika’s zip and vigorously swirled her around. He held her by the shoulder with his strong hands; gripping them tightly and glared into her face, ‘This is your last warning.’
As time passed, Monika began to dread being in the same room with her husband. She felt he was too overpowering in so many ways. His way of expressing his feelings and thoughts were so harsh and unbearable. Monika buried herself in the outside world, trying to run away from her own sorrow and misery, her sense of hopelessness and the depressing environment of their home, but worse the now expected endless beatings and insults. But she determinedly stayed on and continued in her pointless relationship.
Monika tried hard to avoid unnecessary conflicts with Vivek, which tragically became a frequent affair. The weekend dinner parties, the official work events, and get-togethers became a part of Monika’s dark and frightening life. Vivek seemed to be a completely different person to the outside world. He portrayed himself to be a kind and loving husband, a supportive and helpful partner… strong yet soft-spoken. Monika was trapped. Her mind kept running, running away from her fruitless relationship and a dysfunctional marriage for a long three years.
One day, Monika left home earlier than usual. Vivek was travelling for work and was not supposed to return until the coming weekend. Monika decided to treat herself to a peaceful cup of morning coffee at the nearby cafe before she headed to work. She found a quiet corner by the window in the cafe and as she waited she scrolled through her Instagram stories.
Soon the waitress came by and served Monika a grilled chicken sandwich and a hot cup of black coffee. As she ate her sandwich, her eyes scanned the cafe. It was filled with people who all seemed to be in a hurry to get to work on time. Monika’s eyes stopped when she spotted a tall man standing in line waiting for his turn to give his order. He seemed familiar, too familiar, one might say. As he looked to the left when their eyes met. Monika's heart skipped a beat when she realized it was Amit, her college friend, and rival.
Amit walked straight towards Monika with a broad smile and a glint of joy in his eyes. They embraced and exchanged phone numbers. Amit had moved to Boston two years before. He was still a bachelor, working in one of the best companies in America.
Over time, the two began to meet more frequently, enjoying each other’s company. They developed a strong bond of friendship that neither of them had ever expected, considering their past experiences of rivalry. Monika opened up about her miserable marriage, and Amit poured his heart out on the pressures and urgency from his parents for him to get married.
‘I just had to get away from home,’ Amit explained. ‘They were after my life to get married. My mother went crazy showing me pictures of potential brides every morning.’
‘You’re better off single,’ Monika rolled her eyes. ‘I definitely married the wrong man. He’s like this crazy overly possessive man trying to live like an American but still following orthodox Indian values.’
‘That sounds hard,’ Amit said.
‘Hard? It’s one of my biggest mistakes - getting married to Vivek. If only I had known earlier, but all I can do is stay put. I have even asked him for a divorce. But he bluntly refuses, and in return, I just get another beating. Sometimes I feel I should pack my bags and just run away. But I’m sure he will hunt me down and drag me back home.’
‘How will he hunt you down?
‘Oh, you have no idea how ruthless Vivek can be,’ Monika moaned.
‘I have become so fond of you and I worry for your safety. I feel like I’m falling for you,’ Amit said honestly. ‘Would you be willing to meet me tomorrow night at the Ritz Carlton?’
‘I’m not sure. Vivek is home tomorrow, and it’s a Friday night. He has this weird thing of getting together with his friends and having a good time,’ Monika explained.
‘Well, I’m going to be there tomorrow… waiting for you. See if you can think of any reason to get out of the house. I know how smart you are, and you will think of something,’ Amit said.
The following night, Monika dressed herself in a beautiful red dress. As she was doing her makeup, Vivek stepped inside the room.
‘Wow!’ He said. ‘You’re looking stunning! You better not be flirting with other guys.’
Monika admired herself in the mirror and ignored Vivek’s stupidity.
Just then, the doorbell rang. ‘Can you get that for me, please,’ Monika said as she applied her mascara.
‘Sure,’ Vivek replied, heading towards the front door, ‘It must be your friend; what was her name again?
‘Rebecca,’ Monika called out.
Vivek welcomed Rebecca inside their home and offered her a glass of wine.
‘No, but thank you for asking. Is Monika ready? We should really be on our way,’ Rebecca said politely.
‘Yup! I’m all set to go,’ Monika smiled, stepping out of her bedroom.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll drop her off in the morning,’ Rebecca smiled at Vivek.
‘Oh, it’s nothing really. You girls have a fun night. Anyways I’m going to be heading out to the bar for a beer.’
‘I guess I’m finally learning to live the American way,’ Monika smiled wryly.
About an hour later, she arrived at the Ritz Carlton. She took the key to the room from the reception and quietly let herself in. She found Amit standing by the window overlooking the city, lost in deep thought. She walked up to him and placed her hand on his shoulder.
‘I made it….What’s the plan?’ She asked eagerly.
Amit gently took her in his arms and kissed her passionately.
‘The plan is to make the most of tonight,’ he smiled, caressing her cheek.
Monika felt tender love for the first time ever and, without a second thought, gave in.
A while later, the twosome were lying under the covers in silence.
‘What are we going to do about Vivek?’ Monika asked carefully.
‘I have a plan,’ Amit said softly.
Monika looked at him with worried eyes.
‘But you would have to play along,’ he said, lifting her chin up, looking deep into her eyes.
‘I love you, Monika. I’m ready to do anything to save you from your husband and make you my own. But you need to trust me. You need to start making recordings of all the beatings and arguments. We can hand it over to the police, and then you will be free.’
‘I can make the recordings, Amit. But I don’t have the guts to go to the police. Vivek is a very well-connected man here in America. He can easily have his way and pull himself out of any mess,’ Monika explained.
Amit sighed and began to think. ‘Is he planning on going on any trip sometime soon?’
‘Yes, he has a business trip planned to Columbia at the end of this month.’
‘Perfect,’ Amit smiled to himself.
‘What do you have in mind?’ Monika asked.
‘I just need to make a few phone calls and make some arrangements,’ Amit said, picking up his phone and going through his contact list.
He dialed a number and waited for the person on the other end to pick up.
‘I need to arrange for some cocaine,’ Amit said over the phone. ‘At least eight ounces or probably more.’
TO BE CONTINUED…