If the truth be told
"So you have decided to move on ……….. well seven years is a long
time to wait for someone." The words, spoken casually, cause a minor
explosion in the hall. Ma drops the silver salver she is holding and the jewel
box rolls down. An omen? Everyone is stunned that the memories of the
past, which I have tried so hard to forget, have been raked up so mercilessly.
"It is the law of the land," I say stiffly, "Section 108 of the Indian Evidence
Act 1896 says that a man shall be presumed dead if nothing is heard of him
for seven years." "I know," acknowledges Justice Rajat Desai satirically, and I
realize that somehow he holds me responsible for the fact that Amit had
walked out of our house one day after our marriage, simply because his ex-
girl friend had committed suicide on our wedding day.
"So the mourning period is over," Suhana starts
where Justice Desai had left but she hisses out the words, a cobra just out of
hibernation. If she had her way I would spend my entire life in the twilight
zone between hope and despair. I think of the visits to the city hospital, the
morgue and the police station, looking for Amit, and recall the advertisements
in the newspapers and the announcement over the radio and television. A
grown up man could simply not vanish into thin air. Amit seemed to have
done just that.
I know that Suhana wants me to live my life in
suspended animation, wants me to cling to hope all my life, to run with
flying feet every time the door bell rings, hoping that there would be news of
Amit. I cannot tell her that hope within me had died long ago, and had given
way to fear. Every time I see a police officer I am afraid that he is the
harbinger of bad news. Every time I read about an unidentified body I dread
that it is Amit’s. "Was he a victim of an accident? Had he become amnesic? Or
had he renounced the world and sought refuge amongst the sages in the
Himalayas? Was he a saffron robed mendicant in Badrinath or had he ended
as an unclaimed body on a medical student’s dissection table? Seven years is
not only a long time to wait for someone, it is also a long time to mourn the
loss of a beloved one. The time has come to pick the pieces and move on.
"There is evil in the air," asserts my friend Rubina,
sniffing around like a bloodhound. She is a tarot card reader and is sensitive
to the atmosphere. I shiver. Misfortune has been pursuing me for seven
years. I could do with a dose of good luck.
Rajesh’s appearance on the scene soothes my
nerves. He looks adoringly at me, a spaniel in disguise. He has trailed me for
years. He cannot believe he is getting me after all. I wonder at Fate which
had created a strange quartet. Rajesh wanted me, I wanted Amit, Amit
wanted Ayesha. And Ayesha – that delusional, crazy, hallucinating girl who
could not distinguish between reality and make believe, who eyed everyone
with suspicion. Who knew what she wanted? I slip my hand into Rajesh’s.
The engagement is merely a formality. We are already a couple.
The ceremony begins. Rajesh puts a solitaire diamond ring on my finger. As I
begin to slip a ring on his finger a voice booms out, "Couldn’t you even wait
for seven years to be over?" I spin around immediately. I can never forget the
voice, it could melt my bones, as could his touch. I begin to sway and
Rajesh lifts me and carries me to the sofa.
When I gain consciousness I see Rajesh hovering
over me. His face looks pinched. He too recognizes the voice. But how could
he not? Rajesh, Amit and I have grown up together as friends.. Ayesha was
an outsider. It was understood by everyone, I reminisce, that Amit and I
would get married some day. But everything changed, after Ayesha came
I get up with a jerk. Who is the owner of the
voice? I find that all eyes are riveted upon a man in white kurta pyjama with
a long flowing beard and shoulder length hair. Nothing much is visible about
his face except his eyes. But his eyes are different. Not Amit. Certainly not
Amit. He is an impostor, a mimic, someone who has learnt to imitate Amit’s
voice. "An imposter," my voice rings out confidently, "there was a similar case
during British times………" I am a practitioner of law but I begin to falter as
the name escapes me.
"The Bhaval Sanyasi case. The case of Ramendra
Narayan Roy, the second brother among the Kumars of the Bhaval Estate
who died on 7th May 1907 and was cremated in Darjeeling. But a hailstorm
interrupted his cremation and later the body disappeared. In 1921 he
reappeared in Dhaka where his wife called him an imposter, but the case
which right went up to the Privy Council was won by him." All eyes are on
the man in the white kurta pyjamas who has displayed his extensive
knowledge of law. He is not a Swami despite his clothes. But is he Amit?
"No need for forensics as in the case of Bhaval
Sanyasi, or DNA testing," he shrugs, " give me half an hour time and I can
prove my identity." "No" says Dad, "You are not going anywhere." He does
not want to face a repeat of what happened seven years ago, and is afraid
the man in white may do a Houdini. I know what Dad has in mind when he
hands over the man to my sister Ananya, who runs a beauty parlour .
For half an hour I sit amidst a babble of sounds, my
eyes closed, and pray. I do not know what I am praying for. The return of
Amit who had left me, his wife of one day because his girlfriend of two years
had committed suicide on the day of his wedding? Or the exposure of an
imposter so that I can begin to live once again, this time with Rajesh who has
stood by me for seven years?
Half an hour later he returns, his hair cut and
shampooed, his face clean shaven displaying his baby soft skin, his eyes
unfathomable. Amit. Unmistakably Amit. Unwittingly my pulse quickens. My
breath is ragged. Amit always had this effect on me. I am a somnambulist
who has suddenly been cured of sleepwalking, I am the accident victim who
has woken up miraculously after being in coma for seven years.
"Young man," questions Dad, unable to disguise his fondness for Amit
despite everything, "Why did you disappear?" "Because Ayesha committed
suicide," Amit’s words, spoken baldly, are a slap on my face. "You left Nandini
for the delusional Ayesha? Who accused her classmates of rape and then
withdrew the accusation when asked to undergo a medical examination?
Who then became pregnant as though by Immaculate Conception? A girl of
doubtful morals who could not distinguish between the truth and lies?"
asks Dad incredulously. Amit’s eyes lock in to mine. I see the half censorious
look in them. I have betrayed a dead girl’s confidence. "Well now that she is
dead," I begin lamely. Amit may not have wanted Ayesha’s memories to be
tarnished but I cannot forgive her for choosing to die on my wedding day,
and ensuring that Amit belonged to her in death if not in life.
"What if she had been speaking the truth?" Amit
asks. This time the silence is broken by a babble of voices. In our town,
everything is everybody’s business and my fairytale marriage and nightmarish
end has been the subject of endless speculation. "What if during that
weekend when we went to celebrate the end of our law examinations at
Simla something did happen?" asks Amit, "What if she was raped and had no
recollection of it?" "Impossible," shrugs Dad, the best criminal lawyer in town,
"It’s absolutely impossible." "It’s possible," retorts Ritesh, my brother, a
medical student, who thrives on trivia, "if it is Date rape. The drug Rohypnol
is commonly used for this purpose. It makes a person lose her bearing and
consciousness and she has no memory of what happened later." "Ayesha
was in a state of shock the next day but later when she was asked to
undergo a medical examination to confirm the rape," says Amit, "she refused
she anticipated what would follow." "But today the law has been amended, a
rape victim no longer faces a harrowing interrogation," begins Justice Rajat
Desai, and then stops. "Exactly," exclaims Amit, "but not seven years ago."
Ayesha as a law student knew what was in store for her in the courtroom.
And she did not want to be mauled by lawyers and face a trial by the media.
But the trauma of the rape and the suspicion began killing her, she started
looking at her classmates and wondering who it was. The discovery that she
was pregnant, and the abortion that followed must have been traumatic,
especially as she had to handle it alone. It was enough to throw someone off
the edge. And Ayesha was always sensitive." "It was only a year later when
Nandini and I were getting married that she acknowledged her feelings for
me and sent me letter. I got it after she died. She must have waited for me
the entire day and when I failed to arrive she must have assumed that I had
Amit then takes out a piece of paper from his wallet, unfolds it
carefully and says, "She wrote this letter to me before she died. Everyone
knows that I loved Ayesha, I was crazy about her and I had proposed to her.
But Ayesha could never make up her mind. She needed time. She was a small
town girl and love marriage was almost unthinkable in her family. But I still
hoped that she would say yes some day. But after Simla she changed.
Something went wrong, radically wrong. No one knew for sure, we could
only guess. It is only when Nandini and I decided to get married that Ayesha
realized that she loved me after all. She asked me to see her at 5 p.m., the
day before our wedding or else she would take her own life. I got the letter a
day after our marriage, when I went to attend court."
I recollect the day so vividly. I had spent our wedding night consoling
Amit, who sat dry eyed as though cast in stone. He had left for office the
next day in order to retain his sanity and had never returned. Now I knew it
was because of the letter.
"She said in her letter that she knew she had been raped though she
had no memory of it. She had tried to forget it like a bad dream, because
she had no recollection of the rape at all, but the trauma of knowing that it
had happened had brought her to the brink of a mental breakdown," said
Amit, "She might have overcome the trauma over a period of time. But
realizing a month later that she was pregnant shattered her completely."
"But this letter is only a photocopy," asserts Dad, handling the paper gingerly,
as if its very touch could contaminate him. "I assume she sent the original
letter to my home, knowing that I had leave for my wedding, but it was
never found," shrugs Amit. "I saw Ayesha in our house the day before Amit’s
wedding," says Suhana slowly. But the fact would surprise no one. We have
always followed an open door policy in our neighbourhood and been in and
out of each other’s house every day. Even I had gone to Amit’s house the day
before our wedding.
"But who could have raped Ayesha?" Ritesh is stuck to the problem we have
all tried to ignore. It is the result of his devouring crime fiction for breakfast,
lunch and dinner. Or perhaps he had a crush on Ayesha as well. "Figure it
out for yourself," suggests Amit, as if it is a conundrum he has given Ritesh to
solve. "The man who escorted her to her hotel room," Ritesh thinks aloud,
slowly working out the sequence of events, "provided he was the one who
spiked her drink." I glower at him. "It was Rajesh who escorted Ayesha," I
say coldly, "and he came back within five minutes of taking her to her room."
I knew, because Amit and I were waiting for him. I remember it all so well,
Ayesha asking for tomato juice while we all drank Bloody Mary, and then her
feeling giddy, nauseous and drunk. Amit’s offering to take Ayesha to her room
but my dragging him to the dance floor, forcing Rajesh to escort her back.
"Yes," admits Ritesh, "but he could have left the room taking the key with
him. Especially if it was a card key, in which case the door can be shut simply
by pulling it hard. He could have always returned to her room later. If he
was the one who had spiked her drink he knew she would be unconscious for
hours." Rajesh begins to flush and I start wondering. Is that how it had
happened? Have I been sleeping with a rapist for the past two years?
The spotlight has shifted from Rajesh and me to Ayesha and Amit. Amit has
painted Ayesha in a new light. She is no longer seen as a crazy, delusional girl
crying wolf and accusing her classmates of rape. She is the victim of a date
rape, a small town girl who preferred to suffer in silence rather than seek
justice because she was afraid that the lawyers would maul her in the
courtroom once again.
But maybe it is time to forget Ayesha and to begin where we had left off.
Amit has come back from the land of the dead and this time I do not have to
share him with anyone. Rajesh looks at me with spaniel eyes but I glower at
him in return. I do not know if he is a spaniel or a rabid, mad dog who had
The party ends with celebration for the return of the prodigal. We come
back to my room late at night. My sister Ananya has littered rose petals onto
the bed sheets. It makes for a beautiful bridal bed. My heart beats faster at
thought of Amit and me together at last. Shall I tell him about Rajesh and
me? Or shall I remain silent? Surely Amit did not expect me to remain a
celibate all my life? I flush. Perhaps he had done precisely that. "You must
take a bath," I tell Amit. I begin to run a bath in the bathtub.. I also pull out
my bathrobe and hand it over to him. Amit goes into the bathroom and I
hear a loud splash as he enters the bathtub. My nerves begin to tingle in
But something else is gnawing at me. It is the half censorious look Amit had
given me in the hall. Have I said something about which I was not supposed
to know? I quickly tiptoe towards my vanity case and withdraw a piece of
paper from a white envelope, the letter Ayesha had written and delivered to
Amit’s house and I had purloined from Amit’s desk seven years ago, thinking
that she was only `crying wolf,’ and fearing that if I gave the letter to Amit
our marriage would be off.
Yes. She has written in the letter that she had kept the knowledge of her
pregnancy and her subsequent abortion a secret, as she did not want anyone
to malign her character. But after her death it has somehow become public
knowledge. I should not have told Dad about the pregnancy. And every one
else as well. I should not have smeared her reputation. I feel trapped.
Suddenly a hand comes from behind me. Amit asks, but there is no
tenderness in his voice, "The original I presume?" The letter flutters and falls
from my hand. He picks it up, reads it and says, "It is always nice to have
one’s suspicions confirmed." I look at him in surprise. Suspicions? Since when
has he suspected? Since the time he got Ayesha’s letter seven years ago? Has
he actually been in the Himalayas or was it wishful thinking on our part? Has
he been practicing law in some small district all this time, while ferreting
around for the truth? Has he a confidante? His sister Suhana perhaps? Is that
why he was able to return just in time to stall my engagement? What does he
intend to do now? His next words confirm what I suspect. "I hope you know
the punishment for abetment to suicide. Under Section 306 of the IPC…."
"Not abetment to suicide," I say hurried, "but suppression of evidence." I bite
my lips as I say it. "You can’t prove anything," I argue, but I think of Amit’s
implacable eyes. And the letter, smeared with my fingerprints, when I had
read the letter again and again. What madness had made me retain it? Why
had I not torn it years before? "Maybe not," he says, "but I shall make a
damn good try." I think of my fledgling career and what this will do to it. And
I think of Amit who has returned to lock me into a loveless marriage for
years. I wonder which of them is the greater punishment.