Shoba stared at her reflection on the full length mirror. A commonplace, unremarkable woman looked back at her. She had a rather blunt nose, slightly prominent forehead, deeply set eyes, square chin and dark brown skin. Shoba sighed and wondered what if she was a bit taller, her nose was a little sharper and her skin was a shade fairer. Perhaps, she would have looked better, and her parents would have liked her. She wished she had the attractive features of her mother. She felt that her brother was lucky, as he looked a lot her father.
“Wishful thinking is of no use in the present predicament...” Shoba shook her head and turned away from the mirror.
Shobana Sekar was a woman of medium height and average looks. She was in her mid thirties and slightly on the heavier side. She had a doctorate in biotechnology and worked as a research associate in a premier institution. By all means, she had a successful career, but was not so successful in her personal life.
Mr Sekar, Shoba’s father was a high ranking official in the government, while her mother, Sharmila, a beautiful lady, was active in various social causes through the popular elite club in the city. Both her parents were particularly vulnerable to the opinion of the high society!
Shoba practically grew up with her widowed granny in her earlier years and was sent to a boarding school after her granny passed away. She visited her parents during vacations and her relationship with them was somewhat peculiar. She couldn’t explain why, but she always felt uncomfortable in their company and reckoned they felt the same way too. They willingly paid for her education, and fulfilled all her physical and financial needs, but maintained a safe emotional distance. Her younger brother, Shyam, stayed with her parents and the threesome made a happy family. Initially, she was desperate to belong to the family, which always treated her as an outsider.
As a little girl, she had asked her granny, “Why should I stay here Grandma? Why can’t I stay with Dad and Mommy?”
Granny hugged her and said, “You were a premature baby... So Mommy left little Shoba with me...”
Shoba didn’t comprehend the answer, but felt the pain and pangs of separation for years, and slowly accepted the reality for what it was.
Nevertheless, unconsciously she kept searching for a loving home that she once enjoyed with her granny. And this emotion made her jump into the first relationship she came across, albeit late in her life. Praveen, a structural engineer representing a multinational conglomerate, happened to co-ordinate with her during the construction of a new research facility. She was still not sure how it transpired; nonetheless, she felt grateful when he proposed to her and accepted the proposal without a second thought. She felt it was probably her best chance to settle down, considering that she just celebrated her thirty second birthday.
“A great mistake...” rued Shoba; but surprisingly, her parents instantly approved of Praveen. Shoba suspected that they felt greatly relieved.
Unfortunately, the relationship did not turn out to be the one she longed for. Praveen was distant and uncaring, and her hopes for a happy home shattered too soon. As time went by, arguments turned to quarrels and she started spending more time at work. When abuse and violence became the expressions of Praveen’s angry outbursts, she decided to walk out.
For the first time her parents were vocal about their disapproval. Sharmila told in no uncertain terms that Shoba had to live with Praveen and separation was not the right decision.
“You had practically lived in the boarding all these years... You just don’t know how to adjust in a family...” shouted Sharmila.
“I didn’t want to stay in the boarding school...for that matter, nor in the college hostel... you people didn’t want me to stay at home...” retorted Shoba. Sharmila seething with anger, walked out of the room in a huff.
Sekar looked at Shoba with sympathy. She couldn’t remember ever having a tête-à-tête with him. So she was surprised when he started talking.
“Look Shoba... I understand your feelings and disappointments... But, not all marriages are fulfilling or even successful... “He sighed. “ Why don’t you give it a fair try, just for once...”
Shoba was pleased that her father showed concern, and went back to Praveen with the determination to make her marriage work, only to find the situation had deteriorated from bad to worse.
After six months of enduring abuse and violence, she decided that divorce was the only option left. At least now she was wiser to the fact that Praveen married her on the rebound and was immensely unhappy with the choice he had made. She needed her space to recuperate and hence, came to stay with her parents as a temporary arrangement. She had applied for the allotment of residential quarters at work, which might take a month or two to go through. In the interim, her mother hardly spoke to her, and if she did, it always culminated in a bitter fight. Presently Shoba was sulking in her room after one such fight. It was getting dark outside and Sekar opened the door. His large frame was blocking the doorway.
“Can I have a word with you, Shoba?”
“Sure Dad...” Shoba replied.
Sekar switched on the light and sat on the chair. He looked pensive for a while.
“Look Shoba... I am nobody to pass judgement on your decision... I am sure you have tried your best to make this marriage work... You have taken more than a year to take this decision... So, I am not going to question you or advice you... But, your mother feels that you should stay with Praveen... I understand why...” He sighed, remained thoughtful for a while, and then continued.
“The arguments and fights you and your mother have, disturb the harmony of this home... our life is no longer the same... even a meal has strained undercurrents... you see... this atmosphere is not good for Shyam... His exams are round the corner... Hmm....I suggest that you move into a women’s hostel or the guest house for the time being, till you get your flat allotment... Feel free to ask for any financial assistance from me... I am only too happy to help... You understand... Don’t you” He looked at her sadly.
The message was loud and clear. She had overstayed her welcome.
“Who are these people? Are they my parents? Is this my family? Ditching me like this during the most difficult time of my life...”Her eyes welled with angry tears.
Sekar sighed heavily and got up to leave. Tears trickled down Shoba’s cheeks.
Her father turned at the door and said “Shoba, I only wish I had your courage thirty years ago...” With these parting words he left the room.
Six months had elapsed since Shoba had moved into her official accommodation. She had been busy with her research work, and published couple of papers in reputed journals. Time had taught her to manage life with minimal pain, and as a result, she had fallen into a routine with research work occupying most of her waking hours. Her legal separation with Praveen would be getting over shortly and as per her lawyer’s opinion, the divorce would be granted without any hitch. She neither sought alimony nor maintenance, but only wanted the nightmare to end.
“I should not have married in the first place... Thankfully Granny is no more... She would have been heartbroken...” thought Shoba. She heard that Praveen was seeing a young, beautiful woman. Some of her colleagues had spotted them. She did not feel bitter anymore.
Presently Shoba was getting ready for work, when her telephone rang.
“Hello, Shoba here...”
“Madam, we are calling from Brown & Nath, Legal consultants...” This was a prominent legal firm in the city. “What are they calling me for? Has Praveen changed his lawyer?” wondered Shoba.
“Is this something to do with my divorce case?”
“No, Madam. It about your legacy... Mr Narendranath wishes to meet you. Would it be convenient for you to come down to our office at 2 PM tomorrow?” the caller asked politely.
“Surely there is some mistake... I think you are talking to the wrong person...”
“You are Dr Shobana Sekar, daughter of Sharmila... Right?” asked the caller.
“Yes, of course...”
“Then, I am talking to the right person... Could you please confirm the appointment Madam?”
“Well, I will meet you at the appointed time...” Shoba signed off.
Brown & Nath, Legal consultants, was located in the upmarket area of the city, on the main arterial road. It had a plush, cool interior. A large photograph of Barrister Dwarkanath, one of the founders, adorned the wall of the reception. Mr Narendranath, an eminent lawyer in his own right, was the grandson of Barrister Dwarkanath. An efficient looking secretary interrupted Shoba’s musings and ushered her into Mr Narendranath’s office.
Mr Narendranath was a portly man of sixty or thereabouts, with a genial countenance. His receding hairline and the gently curving lips gave him a respectable look. The lawyer smiled at her, gestured her to sit down and watched her with an idle curiosity for a short while.
An assistant handed a folder to the lawyer, who started going through the contents. After a few minutes, he put the papers down and started talking with a thoughtful expression.
“Ms Shobana, let me explain. I had a friend by name Manish, who had lived in Australia for more than three decades. He had recently expired and we are the executors of his will...”
Shoba was listening intently and the lawyer continued.
“Manish had bequeathed a legacy to you... Amounting to 50,000 USD...”
Shoba was thoroughly bewildered now and asked “Who was this gentleman and why should he leave anything to me?”
The lawyer sighed and said in a kind, gentle voice, “Because he was your father...”
Shoba laughed aloud. “Sir, this is definitely a case of mistaken identity...My father’s name is Sekar and he is very much alive... You should be searching for this Manish’s daughter instead of wasting my time...”
The lawyer's gaze rested on her with great pity. He sighed once again and continued, “Ms Shobana, Manish and your mother Sharmila were together at college ... They were in love and wanted to marry, but your grandparents wouldn’t hear of it and arranged her marriage with Mr Sekar... I am very sorry to say this, but Sharmila was pregnant at the time of her marriage...”
The lawyer stopped and offered her a glass of water. Shoba accepted it quietly and simply watched the drama unfold.
“Manish left for Australia shortly after Sharmila’s wedding; eventually he married a musicologist and had two children... However, he always carried the burden of this guilt... He did not have the courage to take the responsibility for his child... Nor could he remain indifferent... I can tell you that he suffered all those years... This legacy was the only thing he could do for you, his firstborn daughter...”
Shoba shook her head and protested. “Surely there must be some mistake...My mother never told me... Nobody ever told me...”
“How could they? People prefer to pretend than face the truth, as it is easy... I can understand your doubts... Here is the proof...”
The lawyer stretched the folder towards her. Inside the folder, there were letters written by her mother to Manish, the last one stating that she was pregnant. There was a wedding invitation announcing her mother’s marriage to Sekar. There was a will stating in legal jargon that Shobana, daughter of Sharmila would receive a legacy of $50,000, while other legatees, Mrs Manish and her two sons, would be inheriting all other assets. And then there was a photograph of a middle aged man – with a rather blunt nose, slightly prominent forehead, deeply set eyes, square chin and dark brown skin. She stared at the image in total disbelief.
Slowly, the pieces started falling in their place – story of premature birth, parental indifference, her mother’s anger, Mr Sekar’s statement – all made sense. Shoba sat in a dazed stupor. Years of longing and agony rose to the surface, fighting to burst out. A pressure built up in her head, an agonizing pain sliced through her forehead, a gushing noise roared in her ears, finally, something exploded inside her – and then there was total darkness. Shoba slid from the chair and fell down on the floor unconscious.
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