Purshottam and Vaidehi were pursuing their computer engineering, in the same college.
Vaidehi was two years junior and the most vied girl in college – intelligent, independent, karate champ, beautiful eyes and a smile that would lighten up the world. Apart from Purshottam’s intelligence and good looks Vaidehi was more attracted by his progressive thinking and unconventional approach towards life.
After college, Purshottam got a job in the IT department of a bank and Vaidehi took a job in a software firm. After some cajoling, his orthodox parents agreed and Purshottam and Vaidehi got married. It was onerous to get Purshottam’s parents to agree, especially his father though convincing Vaidehi’s widowed mother was cinch. Vaidehi’s mother was a professor and had supported and encouraged their matrimony. For people who knew them, their nuptial was made in heaven. They both complemented and brought the best out in each other. They were destined to live happily ever after. They got a new house close to his parent’s place. Soon good fortune knocked, and Purshottam was offered a job in a top bank in South Africa. With experience of almost 4 years in the industry, he was confident of doing well. Leaving Vaidehi behind was never an option, they agreed to Vaidehi coming along, leaving her current job and finding a new one in South Africa.
A few weeks later Purshottam and Vaidehi moved to Durban, South Africa. The strong Indian community in Durban was helpful in settling the couple. Purshottam and Vaidehi were having a delightful time in the new country. Weekends were spent on beaches, bungee jumping, mountaineering, cycling, camping, trekking and other fun activities. South Africa, the country of adventure was truly amazing for the young couple. Purshottam was getting accustomed to the new culture in office and Vaidehi was still looking for a job.
One day Purshottam was getting ready, to leave for office and his phone rang. It was unlike his father to call at this hour. With a little dread he received the call and said a meek “Hello?”
After a brief silence, his father said “Hello Purshottam” there was a hesitation in his voice. “Your mother has had a stroke and she is in the ICU” he continued. “Her right side of the body is paralyzed” and his father broke down now sobbing loudly. His father hung up unable to speak further.
Purshottam felt weak in his knees and sat down on the bed. Vaidehi came in and saw Purshottam sitting in an exasperated state. Purshottam told her about the call. Immediately Vaidehi got up and started packing “You must leave for India, immediately” she said gathering paraphernalia.
“You too come along darling” suggested Purshottam. “No I think you must go alone dear. We have not saved enough for both of us to travel back so soon and also I have a few job interviews lined up.” She continued to move around and gather things. Purshottam called his office to inform of his absence and made a few other calls to arrange for his travel.
Though Vaidehi was putting up a brave front, she was worried of staying alone in the new city. Hiding her anxiety behind a nervous smile she asked “How many days will you be gone?” Purshottam gauged the nervousness and pulled her into a hug “Hopefully I should be back in a week, sweets” He gently kissed her on the forehead and left. Purshottam had asked his friend Raja and the neighbors to look out for Vaidehi.
Twelve hours later, Purshottam was in the hospital, with his dad. Providing courage through his presence. Vaidehi had finished dinner and was just preparing to sleep. She locked all the doors and windows– front and back and double checked them ; checked all the CCTV cameras and the alarms. Though she was very anxious, she was showing courage, she curled up in bed watching TV and fell asleep.
The next day Vaidehi woke up early, the night lamps were still on and so was the TV, though on mute. She sheepishly shook her head, smiled at her own fears and started to get ready for her interview. She was back before lunch time and went to the near-by mall to get some provisions and kill time. She came back in the evening and realized the back door to her home was a little ajar. Panic stricken she ran towards the door. There was no one around and nothing was amiss. Everything seemed as she had left it. She cautiously entered the house and was relieved to find everything in order. She quickly locked the door behind her and went to the bedroom. And her heart sank. There were two masked men in the bedroom rummaging through her cupboards. She froze with fear and her throat went dry. She dropped her bags and ran for the strong-room. The men saw her and chased her. As she was about to enter the room one man jumped at her legs, Vaidehi tripped and fell face down to the ground. She felt a warm liquid trickling down her face and knew she was bleeding. She started to scream and throwing her hands and things at the intruders. The men caught her by the shoulders and tied her to a chair. They put some cloth in her mouth and sealed it with duct tape. Vaidehi was feeling claustrophobic and feared she would pass out. She got hold of her senses and started taking deep breaths. The two men were now standing around her. They had not found much of valuables in the house – very little cash, no jewelry and not many electronic gadgets. They spoke in a language that Vaidehi did not understand and they began to nod in affirmation. Vaidehi felt relieved, probably they had decided to leave, having found nothing of value. But the men were not leaving without something. One of the fellows came near and tied her legs together, next she felt a thud on her head and with a heavy head Vaidehi passed out. They picked her up and put her in the waiting car outside. Vaidehi was kidnapped.
At 2.00 am Purshottam got a call. It was his friend Raja, telling him of the incident. Purshottam did not know how to react. It was as if somebody had pulled the rug from under his feet. Two calamities in two days however, he had to prove he was indomitable and he wouldn’t let misfortune win.
When he reached Durban, his friends, colleagues and community acquaintances had come to receive him. They headed straight to the police headquarters. The local community had already involved the local media and social media in the search operation. The police chief met Purshottam and convinced him of all the efforts the department was taking to find Vaidehi. He asked Purshottam to be aware to a ransom call.
Purshottam could not go to his house. It was sealed for the forensic team to do their investigation. He stayed with Raja. Purshottam was completely clueless as to how to get back the love of his life. He just kept sharing Vaidehi’s picture on the social media and hoping someone would call with her whereabouts. Time was crawling for Purshottam and every passing minute was adding to his agony. His mind veered to darker thoughts and that made him restless. He feared he will never see Vaidehi again. He kept cursing himself for leaving Vaidehi behind.
The third day, after Vaidehi was kidnapped the local police called Purshottam. They had found Vaidehi, lying in a bruised, battered, bleeding and semi- conscious state near the highway on the outskirts of the woods. And they had taken her to hospital. Purshottam’s happiness knew no bounds. All his prayers had been answered. He had not shed a tear till then, but was now crying inconsolably. He felt choked and let go of all the restrain. He had found Vaidehi and was now not losing her for anything in the world.
Purshottam found Vaidehi in the trauma care in the hospital. Her face was bruised and bleeding from places. She was sleeping. Purshottam was just happy to see her again. With her he had the world with him. With time Vaidehi was feeling better. In the next two days she was recuperating well and was allowed to go home. The police came and took her statements on the incident. She explained, that when she regained consciousness she knew she was tied up and in the boot of a moving vehicle. She again passed out and later found herself in a dingy cottage in the jungle. After spending some very fearful hours and battering by the thugs, the next night she escaped in the dark. She kept walking in the jungle till she could see the highway. She then waited in the bushes for some passing car to take her to safety. And thus she was free from the kidnappers. Her karate skills and survival training were vital in salvaging herself. She was a local hero now.
Though the locals celebrated her safe return she lived in constant fear. To take care of the trauma they decided to move in closer to their loved ones. Next week they decided to come back to India, immediately Purshottam spoke to his employers and given the circumstances they allowed him 6 months window to rejoin, if he wanted.
Purshottam’s mother was now out of the ICU but still hospitalized. Purshottam and Vaidehi were slowly settling down back in their own city. Friends, class mates, colleagues, neighbors were very comforting and welcoming of the couple. In just two weeks life was becoming normal again. His mother too was now home. But Purshottam’s family seemed a little tensed and distant, especially his father.
On that weekend Purshottam met his father, he sensed what could be wrong, though he wanted to hear it from his father.
“You don’t seem to be very happy, that we have come back from South Africa” Purshottam started with an irritation in his voice.
“No its fine” his father answered curtly.
“You won’t understand?” his father was now irritated
“You may at least try”
“Since your marriage to that girl, misfortune is beckoning our lives” snapped his father
“No. That’s not true. Please don’t say that” Purshottam defended earnestly
“First you had to go to faraway land, then your mother’s paralysis and now she getting kidnapped and spending two days in captivity with strangers…” he was interrupted by Purshottam “Oh! Please stop it. Please. How is all this, her fault?”
“And it does not matter to me what happened to her in those two days. It was not her fault. And it does not bother me. I love Vaidehi despite and in spite of that. Oh God! How could you even think like that“
“But people are talking”
“What people, which people? I don’t care what the people say. I love Vaidehi and that’s all I know. My life is complete because of her. My existence has meaning because I have Vaidehi. My sun shines because there is a smile on Vaidehi’s face.”
“All this is bookish son. Nothing like that exists. At least get some tests done…”
“What test? To check if she is raped? Which world do you live in? I’ve not even asked her about those days. How can I make her recall her ordeal and make her live through those heinous days again? And importantly I want that to remain in our past and not in any way ruin our future. I’ve married her and promised to be by her side through everything. Just thinking of something like this makes me feel sick and as if I am betraying my wife. And agni-pariksha is your mythology and love is my reality” Purshottam got up from there and left furiously.
He just wanted to go to Vaidehi and give her a hug. To let her know how much he loved her and protect her from everything. How Vaidehi meant the world to him. And how much he meant it when he often told Vaidehi ‘I love you to infinity and back.’
He rushed home and Sunayna, his mother-in-law was there. He was in no mood for any pleasantries, though he just said a cordial hello and entered the house, he noticed a cheeky smile on her face. Vaidehi was standing by the window and basking in the mellow rays of the setting sun. She looked a picture of epitome of beauty to Purshottam. She saw Purshottam and came and hugged him and whispered “We are pregnant.”
Suddenly Purshottam’s joy knew no bounds. He instinctively lifted Vaidehi and started kissing her. That was exactly the news he needed to raise his spirits. And he knew that this would indeed heal Vaidehi. He decided to never mention the conversation with his father to Vaidehi.
Days passed and the love and laughter returned to their lives. The sunshine was back. Purshottam took a job with a startup providing e-solutions in finance services. Long evening walks, weekends by the beach and steady health was how her pregnancy progressed. The baby bump was big and very visible in the eight month of her pregnancy. She looked regal with the bump, the glow, and the slow walk she had now adopted. Though Vaidehi did get up sometimes in the middle of night, very frightened and shivering but the nightmares were getting rarer. With less than a month to go for the delivery Purshottam and Vaidehi were very excited.
Purshottam’s parents too seemed to have buried the past. The news of Vaidehi’s pregnancy and Purshottam’s utter disdain towards his father’s thoughts, never let them bring up the topic again. The past events did keep crossing Purshottam’s mind, but was amazed to see Vaidehi reconciling and being so happy. His happiness too belonged there.
Finally one afternoon, Purshottam got a message from Vaidehi’s mother – the water bag has broken and they are going to the hospital. The message he had been waiting for so eagerly had come. The message for which he kept checking his mobile every few minutes had come. The message that would bind them together forever had come.
Purshottam was in the hospital in the next 45 minutes. Vaidehi was in the labor room. He went in and came out terrified. In the coming hour, he saw Vaidehi in this excruciating pain. She was drenched in sweat and her hair completely wet. Her eyes had swelled and she looked wreck. But everyone around was just as calm and seemed like going about their daily chore. 2 hours later, the nurse walked out with a bundle, wrapped in a white cloth and handed it over to Purshottam and announced cheerfully “It’s a boy”
Purshottam was stunned to see the baby. It had complete black African features. Broad forehead, big face, predominant cheekbones, full and big lips, black curly hair and dark skinned.
Purshottam was devastated.
End of Part – 1.
The second and the concluding part of the story will be published on this site on 05.05.2017