SHACKLES OF FATE
The very next day Snigdha and Sameer came across each other at the NGO office, but Snigdha didn’t deign to talk to him. Sameer stayed calm in front of the others though his eyes followed her around like a hawk. Soon, Snigdha went out to the roadside tea stall to order tea for everyone and Sameer followed her. She tried to dodge him, but he grabbed her arm firmly and stopped her from getting away. Snigdha tried to pry his fingers off her with a scowl. Sameer caught her other arm, making her turn towards him completely. Snigdha said with disgust, “What the hell, Sameer! Don’t make a scene on the road.”
Sameer said, “You’ve been avoiding me since yesterday. I told everyone inside that we have to go and meet some new financers. We are leaving right now so that we can talk.” He started pulling her towards the car parking area, with her struggling to get free.
Snigdha continued raging, “You can’t force me like this. We have nothing to talk about. You are crossing your limits. Who gave you the right to take decisions on my behalf? I won’t go anywhere with you. Just because my parents think the world of you, it doesn’t mean I would do the same. LEAVE my hand!”
Snigdha gave an almighty tug, startling Sameer and bringing him to a halt. Snigdha stood fuming, and Sameer said placatingly, “Look, I’m sorry about yesterday. But we do need to talk and sort things out. Let me take you home and we can discuss things on the way. I don’t want to hurt you again, but for that I need to understand your feelings for me. Please, it’s only a request.”
Snigdha said adamantly, “No, I won’t go with you. If you really want to talk, let’s do it here.”
Sameer nodded and started moving towards a nearby CCD outlet and Snigdha followed him. They went inside, took seats farthest from the counter, and Sameer ordered some sandwiches. He began slowly and cautiously, “Mini, you do realise that I love you, don’t you?”
Snigdha said flatly, staring at the road through the glass wall beside them, “I really couldn’t care any less. Love is plain old crap. I just know you are interfering in my life and I want you to back off and leave me alone.”
Sameer looked crestfallen and scared. He stared dumbfounded at the blazing anger etched clearly on her face. There was no nervousness, but determination and bitterness in her. Sameer was lost for words.
Both of them sat silently for a while, each lost in his or her own thoughts. The waiter came with their food and kept it on the table. Snigdha picked up a sandwich, quickly finished it, and got up to leave. But Sameer sat immobile. He looked up at her when she got up, but didn’t say anything. He saw her pay the bill at the counter and kept looking at her till she left the shop.
Snigdha hailed an auto from the road and headed home. She was feeling oddly light and buoyant about having cleared things with Sameer. She had once decided to belong to Abir, and because she couldn’t have him, it didn’t mean she would have to settle for anyone else. The promise she had made to Romita was not something she took seriously. It was superficial.
When Snigdha went home, she was surprised by the sight of Mrinal and Rimsha sitting with her parents. Mrinal smiled widely on seeing her and exclaimed happily, “There you are! Our darling girl. Come and sit with us.”
She looked enquiringly at everyone and sat beside her mother. She asked, “When did you come, uncle?”
Rimsha leant towards her and said, “We came here to talk to you. There’s something we want to ask you.”
Snigdha looked at her curiously. “What, aunty?”
Rimsha smiled and asked slowly, “Mini, will you marry my son?”
Snigdha was thunderstruck. She sat motionless, staring at Rimsha. Her heart started beating wildly inside her chest. Her hands turned cold at the mere thought of this prospect. Marry? Sameer? Was it a nightmare?
Slowly she turned towards her father, who said hesitantly, “We said yes. Now the decision is entirely yours. We won’t force you. Say what you want to.”
She nodded slowly. Of course, her parents would say yes. She felt like weeping. She wanted Abir to materialise right then and hug her, so that she could hide her face in his chest. But how could she say no on their faces? That would be rude. She decided to call Sameer up and tell him that she wasn’t going to marry him. Then he could talk to his parents. She said in a dead voice, “I need time to think. Please excuse me.”
She got up and trudged up to her room. She slumped onto her bean bag heavily and dialled Sameer’s number. He didn’t receive her call. But she was desperate to be let off the hook, and clearing up the matter with Sameer immediately was her only option. So, she texted him saying that she had to talk to him urgently.
But Sameer didn’t call back. Snigdha called him several times, but he didn’t pick up his phone. Thinking that Sameer might be too angry and upset to talk to her, she decided to give him some time to cool down.
She thought of the college fest in which both Abir and she had participated.
Both of them were dancing for the fest. Snigdha was doing hip hop, while Abir was doing salsa with a girl called Sharon. Sharon was a year younger than them. Dhruv, who was in charge of organising all the western performances, had been the one to pair Abir with Sharon. Sharon had looked delighted on getting Abir as her partner. But Abir had looked at Snigdha on hearing that Sharon would be his partner and given her a sad smile. Snigdha had felt her stomach clenching with disappointment.
The rehearsals had begun from the next day. Their professors were letting them bunk a few classes till the fest ended. She had been practicing for half-an-hour when Sharon came in and settled down on a chair beside the music system. Some of Sharon’s classmates were sitting there, trying to organise the playlist for the performances. Sharon said something to her friends in a whisper and all of them started giggling. This drew Snigdha’s attention. She had been feeling antagonistic towards Sharon ever since Sharon had been chosen as Abir’s partner. She felt very curious to know what they were all giggling about.
She went closer to the music system in the pretext of rewinding the song on which she was dancing. She could hear everything that the girls were saying to each other.
The girl in pigtails said, “Ooh! Sharon, I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have Abir Sen running his hands over your back. Lucky bitch! How did you keep standing? I would have fainted.”
Sharon laughed and then added, “Well, I’m getting to feel him up close as well. He is perfect! His shoulders…”
Snigdha couldn’t take in another word. She put the remote down with a bang, making the sniggering girls look up at her, startled. She shot them a nasty glare and stormed out of the room.
Anger as she had never felt before was coursing through her. She headed straight for the room where she knew Abir was rehearsing. When she entered the room, he was standing near the window with his back to the door, fiddling with his iPod. He didn’t notice Snigdha entering the room.
Snigdha wanted to rage and storm at Abir for getting close to another girl. But before she could approach him, she saw him pull out his phone and call someone. Abir said on the phone, “Sharon, I’m waiting for you. We shouldn’t waste time like this.”
Snigdha felt dizzy. She ran out of the room before Abir could see her. She tore up the staircase and went inside one of the empty classrooms on the topmost floor of the college. She sat on a bench with a thud, hid her face in her palms, and started crying. She stayed there for a long time. She heard her phone ringing several times, but didn’t receive a single call. Every time she imagined Abir getting intimate with Sharon, she burst into fresh tears.
After a long time, she heard footsteps down the corridor. The footsteps were getting nearer and she quickly put her head on the desk, pretending to be asleep. She felt someone come and stand beside her.
Abir put his hand on her shoulder and shook her gently. She recognised his touch without having to open her eyes. She turned her face around and kept her eyes closed.
Abir sat beside her and said softly, “Snigdha, what’s wrong? Nobody could find you.”
She didn’t respond. Abir pulled her bag towards him and took out her phone from the outer pocket. He checked the call list. “Why didn’t you pick up your phone when I called?”
Snigdha said, her voice muffled by her arms around her face, “It’s none of your concern. It’s my phone and I won’t pick it up if I don’t want to.”
Abir grabbed her shoulders, forcing her to sit up. He got worried when he saw her blotched face. He asked in an urgent voice, “Why were you crying? What happened? Tell me.”
Snigdha looked at Abir’s concerned face and again felt tears welling up inside her. Her voice shook when she said, “I heard them talking about you like that and you were…” She couldn’t continue and started crying again.
Abir was aghast. He asked anxiously, “I what? What did I do?”
Snigdha managed to mumble, “You called her and asked her to come back.”
Abir was confused. “Who is this her and them? Who are you talking about?”
“Sharon and her friends. That girl is gloating about the fact that she is getting to touch you. And, you were chatting with her on the phone.”
Abir rolled his eyes once, let out a sigh, and pulled Snigdha in his arms. He continued stroking her hair and calming her down. Her breathing seemed to ease a bit. “That damned choreographer has set the steps. Trust me, I have no interest in her. I don’t care what she says at my back and you too shouldn’t,” Abir said.
But Snigdha kept her head on his chest and continued sniffling. Abir said after some time, “Let me see if I can swap dance partners for the fest.”
Snigdha said morosely, “There’s no time left for that.”
Abir wiped the tears still shining on her cheeks, kissed her forehead, and said confidently, “I’ll decide who I dance with, not that bloody Dhruv.”
Snigdha gave a small smile and got up, pulling Abir with her. “I’m fine, Abir. You don’t have to go into so much trouble right before the show. Some stupid girl is not taking you away from me. I should remember that.”
She felt her doubts and jealousy wash away as she went down holding Abir’s hand. They were together. That was the truth. That night she felt her heart swell as she remembered being in Abir’s arms.
The next day when Snigdha was about to start her rehearsal, Abir came in and announced in a delighted voice, “I talked to Dhruv. I’ll be doing a duet with you. Someone else will be dancing with Sharon. Ashish maybe. But we are together!”
Snigdha was ecstatic at the news. She couldn’t control her excitement and threw her arms around Abir, making him wobble. He too put his arms around her to steady himself. They looked at each other and grinned. Just then Sharon came in with another girl and saw them wrapped around each other. She made a noise of disgust and stomped out of the room, incensed.
Abir and Snigdha went on to give a spectacular performance that year at the college fest.
Suddenly Snigdha realised that in all these years, Abir must have got someone else in his life. The way her parents were trying to marry her off, maybe his parents too were trying to do the same.
She spent another sleepless night crying.
The next morning when she got out of the bathroom, she heard her message alert ringing. It was a text from Sameer which said: I didn’t know my parents were thinking about our marriage. They told me last night. I’m trying to dissuade them. You won’t have any trouble on my account.
The message made her feel a bit better. At least, Sameer was trying to handle his parents. Now she would have to talk to her parents about it. She was very frightened about their reaction.
Jatin was the first to bring up the topic at the breakfast table that morning. He got straight to the point. “Mini, what did you decide?”
Snigdha hesitated a bit and finally said without looking up from her plate, “I won’t marry Sameer.”
Srestha asked, “But why? Don’t you like him? You two are friends.”
Snigdha replied, “He is a nice person but he’s just a friend.”
Jatin said, “You think he’s a good person. You like spending time with him. We know the family too well. Sameer has a bright career. He is the perfect guy for you. There won’t be any arguments on this topic. You can take some time, but ultimately you will have to marry him.”
There was a note of finality in Jatin’s voice that made Snigdha absolutely sure that her future was sealed. Nothing and nobody could make her father deviate from his decision. Her head started spinning. Her stomach started clenching painfully, her insides felt completely hollow. She couldn’t speak even though she wanted to protest.
Jatin continued, “We have promised Mrinal that you will marry Sameer. We are going to their place to finalise the date for the engagement ceremony today. You and Sameer can decide when you want to get married.”
Snigdha started to protest, “Please, listen…“ but Jatin held up his hand. “No arguing on this, Mini. We know what’s good for you.”
Snigdha couldn’t take it anymore. She ran back to her room and barricaded herself inside. She called up Sameer and when he picked his phone up, she pleaded, “Please, Sameer, talk to my parents. They are hell bent on getting us married. I can’t do this.” Then she broke down completely—that was the first time she let somebody else, except Abir, witness her tears. Her life was spinning wildly out of control. Everything was going topsy turvy.
Sameer said in a frustrated voice, “I promise to do all I can. I’m trying to convince my parents. I’ll talk to your parents, too. But please stop crying. I’ll get you out of this mess.”