Prof. M L Sidde, Makkhan or Makkhanlal to his friends, though he did have a scarcity of such entities around him as those we honour with that epithet, was Professor and Head of Sociology in Ratnagarbha University. This was a relatively recent assignment for Prof Sidde. He had joined Ratnagarbha only a few years ago. Before that he had worked in various reputed universities in the Western part of the country. For professor Sidde was a well-sought-after man. If you haven’t heard of him, dear reader, your ignorance should cause you shame and sorrow. His life’s work, acknowledging the so-called non-working homemaker had created such waves in the socio-political milieu of the land that the government had once contemplated a bill stipulating that 20% of all working partners’ incomes should go into the non-working homemakers’ account. Needless to say this had not make Prof. Sidde an apple of his colleagues’ eyes, never mind that the Bill never saw the light of the day, especially of those male colleagues who were married to homemakers without a steady income. And this was one of the reasons why Prof. Sidde had worked in more universities in his thirty years’ teaching career than another professor of his age. Now, at 50, he seemed to have reasons to believe that his peripatetic life has come to an end. Ratnagarbha was not in the heart of the City, in fact it was two hour’s drive away, but the work was comfortable. Many of his seniors, such as, the Dean of the Arts Faculty, the Dean of Students Affairs, the Controller of Examinations and the Vice-Chancellor himself were unmarried. Two of his three junior faculty were women. The third young man was unmarried but was slated to get married to one of the lady Assistant Professors. As such, nobody looked the slightest bit disgruntled to have Prof. Sidde as their colleague.
However, when he had first got the job-offer, Sidde was not very sure of coming to Ratnagarbha for quite a different reason. True, he had few friends, but he was one of those who held his few friends dear. At least once a month he would invite all four of them — with their wives — for dinner. Similarly, his friends too would invite the group frequently. Sidde wasn’t sure what would happen to all these friendship once he moved away to Ratnagarbha.
His friends had reassured him. They had said that this was a great opportunity for a man in his stage of life. It was well-known that Ratnagarbha was the baby of the prime minister herself. Though Prof. Sidde didn’t see eye to eye with the her on many issues, he could not deny that he owed a lot of his success to her picking up his concept and politicize it. Prof. Sidde, ever the philosopher, had pointed out that his research had helped the prime minister’s political career far more than her politicizing Sidde’s theories had helped Sidde himself.
“Be that as it may”, Prajna had pointed out, “Mack Sidde, you are famous because of her and that you cannot deny.”
None of his friends usually denied Prajna anything. They didn’t have the guts to. Sidde too, had conceded the point.
His friends had also explicated that Ratnagarbha being so close to the city they could visit him often, just as he could drop in whenever he wished to. Before he could, and very justly, complain that the last time he had taken up an assignment outside the city, his friends had never come to visit him in the nearly four years he rotted away in an insect-infested forested University campus, Dilip had said that Udyan University was a day’s drive away and not only did his friends not travel that far to see him, even he had hardly dropped in to see his friends in the City.
However, Prof. Sidde had to admit that his current tenure at Ratnagarbha had turned out to be quite pleasant. Work was light, colleagues and subordinates respectful, and most importantly, the library was well stocked and there was enough time to study. Coupled with the continuation of monthly visits by his friends, he too, could make frequent enough trips to the City and all in all, it made him feel that his life was now complete.
Nalini, the professor’s wife had turned around from being a hard-working, understanding, homemaker to a… a… nagging, irritable… Prof. Sidde could not find a better, or even more polite word to describe her… than a… hag! He had tried to find out what it was that was causing her so much grief, but needless to say that he had failed so far. Nalini had remained inscrutable. To carefully worded questions she had said that she had no complaint. She was happy to be where she was — beside her husband, working away at home while he climb the heights of glorious success at the University.
This, Prof. Sidde had to admit. From the beginning of their marriage Nalini had always been the epitome of the submissive, quiet, demure and always-happy-to-please wife-at-home. She was never the go-getter. At various conferences and symposia — the only other social activity Prof. Sidde attended regularly barring the dinners with his four friends — people would often come and tell her that she must be very proud to be the wife of a man like Sidde. She had never spoken a word to the contrary. She had only smiled, bowed her head and moved away politely. That young girl — the journalist with the newspapers whose name Sidde has forgotten, had asked her if she felt blessed to be the wife of a man who had, from the beginning of their marriage deposited half his salary into his wife’s personal account. She had inclined her head, as if pondering the question. The silence had dragged on. Then, just when Prof. Sidde was going to interject, she had said that she felt blessed and grateful for everything in her life.
Not quite the answer that the professor would himself have preferred. In case the girl had misunderstood, he had leaned forward and explained that Nalini had meant that she was grateful to God. He did not think that she needed to be grateful to him for any reason. He had taken a step against patriarchy by dividing is salary equally. To expect gratefulness would be feeding patriarchy itself.
“And then how do you decide on the expenses?” the girl had asked, her eyes bright with eagerness.
It was supposed to have been an interview with Nalini, but this time professor Sidde did not want to suffer another long silence. He had replied quickly.
“All the joint expenditure for the family is borne equally by both of us. Every bill, every fee and every day-to-day purchases are shared equally.”
The girl had frowned. “Isn’t that unnecessarily cumbersome?” she had asked. “I mean, isn’t that why the government has suggested 20% — so that the husband can manage family expenses?”
“True,” Prof. Sidde had agreed gracefully, then explained that his system was older than the one thought of by the government. “Yet, you have to admit that a ballpark estimate of 20% may not be correct while my system is flawless.”
“Would you agree, Ma’am,” the girl has turned towards Nalini again. “Is it flawless, or merely more cumbersome?”
And then Nalini had spoken. She had admitted that she had no idea of matters fiscal. She had expressed that she had little knowledge of how much money she had in her account. That she did not operate her bank account, did not invest her own money and in fact, she did not do anything that might indicate that she was taking any kind of benefit from the system her husband had used for years for her financial comfort.
As the journalist had left he heard her say to the photographer, “Poor woman… how much money might she be sitting on, you think?”
All her life Nalini had been quite satisfied being the silent homemaker. What happened today? Prof. Sidde felt bewildered. He did not have any close confidant in the university, so he decided to contact his friends. Thanks to modern technology, a single WhatsApp message reached all four of them.
“I am feeling confused and bewildered with Nalini’s mood state. She is irritable most of the time, she is unhappy with most things at home and I can’t tell you what a nag she has become. I have no idea what is going on. I am looking at you for help.”
That his friends were helpful, he could not deny. Before the day was out, all four of them sent him replies and four different explanations.
Prahlad wrote: “Could she be menopausal? Gopi is going through a similar phase. She flies off the handle every now and then. We went to the gynec who suggested hormone replacement therapy, but we have decided against it and are trying to grin and bear it. Try consulting a gynecologist.”
Rishabh was of the opinion that he should go to a Psychologist. Apparently Prajna was helped immensely by young lady from his erstwhile University.
Dilip was facetious, as usual. His point of view was that Sidde should be thankful that he had had so many years of marital peace. “Think of my life with Rupa, my friend, and you’ll understand what I mean.”
Atul wrote: “Are you sure that this is not related to your move to that godforsaken back-of-beyond corner of the world? After all, here she could go out when she wanted to, meet our friends at will and in general be more active. There, she has nothing to do except cook and keep house for a husband who is working all time. I am sure you do not spend time with her even after you come back home.”
To give the devil its due, Sidde was very busy for the last few weeks in correcting and editing the paper that had come back from the International Sociological Review and before that he was busy writing the paper. But this has been the pattern his entire life! Nalini had never been uncomfortable with carelessness, disregard and neglect from her husband.
Still, Atul’s suggestion was doable and relatively easy without having to involve a third party service provider. So he called Nalini from work and told her that she should stay ready for an evening out. If Nalini was surprised to hear about an unscheduled evening ‘do’, she showed no sign of it excepting for saying that dinner was already cooked.
“It can go into the fridge,” said Sidde and Nalini didn’t argue any further.
The evening out, with just the two of them, was constrained and artificial. Sidde wished he didn’t have to do it, but he was nothing if not perseverant and so kept on gamefully, asking Nalini about her day at first and when a surprised Nalini could say nothing beyond: “I cooked, then I cleaned…”, he took it upon himself to carry the evening on his shoulders. He told Nalini about his latest research, the new crop of students — some of whom were extremely promising, the foibles of his eccentric research scholar… In short he was the life and soul of their couple-party.
Next morning at work, in fact while taking a class, Sidde suddenly realized that Nalini had hardly spoken during the entire period. Sidde felt confused. Did he chat with his wife, or had he been lecturing her?
That evening Sidde did not dive into his study between tea and dinner and after dinner. He took the day’s newspapers and parked himself on a sofa in the drawing room where his wife was watching TV. Long experience has taught him that talking to Nalini during this series-watching period was futile. Yet he thought silent companionship would also mean something.
If anybody had asked him, he would have gladly admitted that those evening hours were probably the most excruciatingly painful for him. He never did understand what people found in serials which were so far removed from any kind of actual social issues.
The evening passed, somehow. They ate dinner together in silence. Prof. Sidde was wondering what was going wrong with his wife — what his wife was thinking, dear reader, we shall never know.
Anybody who knew him, knew that Prof. Sidde was nothing if not thorough and persistent. Once he had decided on a course of action, he would not give up on it only because it caused him some minor inconvenience. He battled on. Every evening he had something planned for his wife. Some days he would take her for a walk, on some other, they would watch a movie. Prof. Sidde even went so far as to break his normal routine and take Nalini to Atul’s house in the City for an unscheduled visit.
So it was not surprising that after a week and a half Nalini caught on.
“Why are you giving up all your evening work to be with me?” she asked suddenly in that forthright manner of hers that was so well known to him by now.
Sidde was as candid. “Well, it did seem to me that you don’t seem to be very happy — in fact, you appear quite depressed to me.”
“Depressed!” Nalini seemed surprised to hear this. “What made you think that I was depressed?”
Sidde’s candour faltered. He did not think that it was either diplomatic, or fair to call all out Nalini’s irritability in a blatant manner. He hemmed and hawed, spluttered a little, and managed to change the subject.
Nalini herself brought it up again a few days later. She had been thinking of what he had said. She still did not think that she was depressed, but she did feel less than satisfied with her life right then. Even her household work was becoming too much for her and she was looking for a way out. Choosing to neglect work was a relief, but it was making her feel even more unhappy.
Sidde decided that it was time, before she started complaining like Atul had about his absence from home, to offer a solution.
“Why not get a cook?” he asked.
Nalini’s next question took him aback again. “Do you think my cooking is not as good as it used to be?”
Prof. Sidde protested vehemently that this was not what he had meant at all. Still, there was no doubt that Nalini spent a long time every day preparing food for just the two of them because she loved doing it — and every moment of that time was doubtlessly well spent, but, argued Sidde, having help in the kitchen would certainly reduce the stress on Nalini.
Nalini shook her head doubtfully.
“Most of these so-called cooks hardly know anything about cooking,” she complained. “Rashmi has got this new cook from Prajna and did you notice that the other day at their house she had cooked ash gourd with white cumin and not black? Most of these women have no idea what spices go with which dish.”
Sidde couldn’t even remember the ash gourd at Atul’s. “That’s even better,” he said expansively. “You will be able to teach her the tricks of the trade. We can in fact ask Prajna for someone who is not an expert.”
Nalini didn’t seem too keen, but agreed to discuss the issue with Prajna the next time they met over dinner — which was going to be three days hence.
Prajna frowned and thought for a while, and then shook her head. “I would not recommend a young and inexperienced girl for you,” she said. “They are difficult to manage, they act up after a few days in places like Ratnagarbha — nothing for them to do, you see? No excitement, movie hall… shopping mall…”
“What would a domestic help be doing in a shopping mall?” asked Prof. Sidde, astounded.
“Oh, you’d be surprised, Mack,” Prajna replied. “They don’t go shopping. They have no business with Marks & Spencer, mind you, but around all shopping malls these tea shops spring up which provide excellent gossip venues for household help. They compare notes, find out who’s offering a better salary, who gives better perks — all so that they can put the screws on their employers at the right time.”
“I don’t want a domestic help,” said Nalini hurriedly.
“No, but listen, Nals,” said Prajna. “I do think I have the perfect person for you. He’s not young anymore, has an excellent background and is really needy…”
Nalini looked cornered and stared, wild eyed, at them. “He! Is it a man? I don’t want a man…” she sputtered to a halt.
“Oh, don’t worry, just listen to his back-story and you’ll understand that you have nothing to worry about. He’s been with my agency for more than ten… almost twelve years now… He’s from an untouchable background — a Rawaiya.”
“What’s a Rawaiya?” asked Dilip.
“You wouldn’t know, Mack might,” said Prajna, but Sidde shook his head too, not having had the name before.
“It’s an extremely small community,” explained Prajna. “From what I have heard from Tuhiram — that’s his name… in fact, he is the only Rawaiya I have met in my life — they probably number some seven or eight hundred heads in all, certainly no more than 1000… from the plateau area… the South Western part of it. They subsist from collecting waste mustard seeds after the crop has been sifted and cleaned. That’s all their source of income.”
There was an uncomfortable silence around the table as the group contemplated the ruins of a well cooked repast. Then it was Dilip again.
“Admittedly that entire region is rich in mustard cultivation, but honestly, how much leftover half-rotten mustard seeds can there be for an entire community to survive?”
“Certainly not enough,” said Prahlad. “That is why it is important for us to also recognize the kind of stellar work by people like Makkhan.”
“Which is what?” asked Sidde dryly. “I earn a six figure salary, drive my own car and I eat as well as all of you, too.”
“Sociologists are constantly pointing out social injustice and making us aware how privileged we are and how we should be thankful,” said Gopi.
“More like jobs of social activists then sociologists,” admitted Sidde. “As for myself, to put it in Tolstoy’s words: I sit on a man’s back choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all means possible… except by getting off his back.”
“Well,” continued Prajna, picking up the thread again. “Tuhiram was hell-bent on getting the likes of us off his back. So he began to take steps that put him at loggerheads with the village upper castes almost from the beginning. He got severely thrashed — not just once, but several times, for wanting to study, and then again, for secretly attending classes, crouched outside the window of the classroom with his homemade scrapbook which he had made himself by collecting paper from garbage and a pencil which he had fashioned by sharpening a piece of charcoal. This last infringement was considered so horrible that he was actually beaten insensible and left for the dead. That was when he had gone away to the nearby town where he had started working in the local eatery as general help in the beginning. However he had soon found his calling in life. He realized that he loved cooking and soon became quite an accomplished cook for establishments such as that had employed him. His luck ran out when the occasional arrival of the postman with money order to his parents was noticed. A couple of the village-upper-castes came hunting and found him. A few words whispered in the right ears and plans were afoot to burn him along with the shanty he worked and lived in. Fortunately he got the wind of it and managed to escape by the skin of his teeth by climbing out of the back window and hiding in a ditch that drained out the refuge of all the eateries in the market place as he watched the shop and all the neighbouring ones burn down. Then he travelled here and ended up with me. He worked with me for a while — not as a cook, but as an office-help-cum-night-guard. I gave him some education, made him attend cookery classes and he is now quite proficient. I tried to find him jobs in restaurants, but as you know, intolerance being what it is in our country now, most reputed restaurants do not want a cook from the untouchable class. They all pretend that they are themselves very progressive, but if their clientele came to know that the establishment employed person from a backward community, they would stop coming. I found him jobs with individuals and I must say that his luck is also against him. Initially he was cooked for a Spanish gentleman, but the fellow was apparently into some kind of shady business and got deported after a couple of years. He worked next for an elderly lady till she died. Right now he has no job and is ready to start anytime. In all the years that I have worked with him, I have never had a complaint against him. His work is good, he is eager and ready to learn, and he is honest to a fault. In all Nals, I think he would be the perfect answer to your problem.”
After this accolade, coupled with the information that Prajna was now in charge of sending his parents money from his earnings — which she did in an extremely devious manner which involved her pharma-company-representative cousin in the far south of the country, it would have taken a team of wild horses to keep Prof Sidde from employing Tuhiram. He could not, he said, pass up this opportunity to help a man who had so much ambition and willingness to grow.
So it was done! And with near-immediate gratifying results. Professor Sidde noticed a distinct change in Nalini within weeks of Tuhiram taking up his position at his residence. Her quiet, but cheerful demeanor returned, the house began to look well decorated again, and as a bonus, the variety of food and dishes at the table during mealtimes distinctly increased. As weeks rolled into months and months into years, the professor lost track when Tuhiram changed from kitchen-assistant to sous chef and then to assistant-chef-cum-kitchen-gardener and then to the major-domo of his entire household. When the Siddes discovered that he was adept as a driver too, it was an additional cause for happiness. He could drive Nalini to the city while the professor was at work. In fact, Sidde did not remember when he had felt more thankful and happy because even the only routine household work that he used to do — shopping, could now be safely and confidently handed over to Tuhiram and he could concentrate completely in his work. Gradually, inexorably, Sidde sank into the depths of his academic endeavours again and his wife sank into the oblivion of his neglect. Sidde was not even aware when these changes happened.
Consequently it was a fall-from-the-sky moment for Sidde when he returned from work late one evening and found the house deserted and dark. He had come back wondering what there was for dinner. He was feeling quite peckish because he had forgotten to eat lunch. By the time his hunger pangs had alerted him, there was nothing left in the staff cafeteria. His research scholar had offered to share a samosa with him but Sidde had declined.
Nalini must have gone out for the day. She must have gone to the city and had been held back — may be she was on her way back right then. The the fact that the door to the garage from the house was bolted made him think again. He opened it and peeped in. The car was still there. If Nalini had not gone to the City, where was she? Never mind, thought Sidde as he walked into the dining room to look for dinner. The answer to that question lay just a phone call away.
Then he noticed the white envelope on the dining table under Nalini’s phone with his name written on it in Nalini’s hand.
His friends could offer no comment. Prajna looked most confused and bewildered. She kept repeating that in all her life, she would never have considered Tuhiram capable of such an act. Sidde had not complained specifically about Tuhiram, but he felt that Prajna was probably trying to make him look more like the victim rather than the perpetrator of a serious misdemeanor, even if not a crime. Atul, ever the lawyer, asked Sidde if he had secured Nalini’s bank account and all the other savings and investments that he used to do for her. Sidde had not thought about that. So he drove all the way back and then had the following conversation with Atul:
“Every investment — the share certificates in her name, every fixed deposit certificate and all the other savings certificates are gone. Only mine are left. All those with her name on them are missing.”
“In that case,” said Atul, “check with the bank tomorrow, you will find that her savings account is also empty.”
And so it was.
The divorce suit was almost predictable, but what took Sidde completely by surprise was the amount demanded in alimony.
“This, from a woman with whom I have shared fifty percent of my income throughout our marriage!” Thundered an indignant Prof. Sidde as he waved the divorce papers in front of Atul’s face in his office.
“Can you believe the injustice of it?”
But Prof. Sidde was yet to see what truly was injustice in his dictionary. Atul did warn him that Judge Niloufer was extremely strict and almost a misandrist who did not ever give a pro-husband ruling in any of her cases. In fact, by the end of the whole thing, Prof Sidde was sure that he would be haunted by that pair of baleful eyes that managed to look lifeless and threatening at the same time. Prof Sidde also had a feeling that she was secretly enjoying his discomfiture especially because of who he was — the famous man who had devoted the best part of his life to improving the lot of the average women in his country, now having to face the same music as hundreds of husbands before him had done in her court. He could still have understood the hostility if it had come from a male judge, but coming from a woman, it left him completely befuddled.
“It is surprising that the defendant needs to be reminded,” Judge Niloufer had said in her summing up, “that the 50% salary he proudly claims to have shared with his wife all his marital life was an amount that was due to her during that period. No additional Brownie points can be awarded to him for sharing his salary equally, because he withdrew money from that account, too, in the name of sharing all household expenses equally by both of them. An alimony does not only provide compensation to the wife for the period of an extremely unsatisfactory marriage. It also provides for her future. I am also disappointed that a person of Prof. Sidde’s stature had taken recourse to such heinous means as suggesting that his wife had absconded with a male servant with whom she had an affair of the heart. The concerned person, as has been pointed out by the plaintiff, was always and still remains a domestic help and nothing more. It was Prof Sidde’s wish to employ him to help his wife manage the household and today he is still helping her in setting up her own restaurant business. The marriage of so many years was characterized by sheer neglect, lack of interest and nonexistent empathy on the part of Prof Sidde. His entire existence revolves around his work and research — his protestations notwithstanding. Having been married to a woman for all of 42 years, Prof Sidde had failed to answer 5 simple questions about Nalini Sidde’s interest areas: namely, her favourite food, favourite music, her favourite author, genre of film and what she likes to do in her free time. Such blatant lack of interest in another person who has devoted her entire life to your success and comfort, Professor, to my mind, should receive the maximum possible punishment.”
A torrent of similar comments continued for some more time before the Hon’ble Judge had announced the amount he was supposed to pay as alimony. Prof Sidde had felt his blood drain from his head. Never for a moment had he thought that it would come to this.
“Prajna, do something for Makkhan, would you?” asked Rishabh one day during their friends’ get-together.
Prajna had taken some time to normalise in front of Sidde since the incident and her husband’s question made her look awkwardly at him.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“He needs a household help. Someone to cook, clean, take care of the house and take care of Makkhan himself, dammit — look at his state!”
“What’s wrong with his state?” asked Dilip. “He’s free of encumbrances, seems to be eating well… Look, he’s put on weight!” He patted Sidde’s midriff to prove his point.
The discussion got lost in a cacophony of arguments, but the majority decided that Sidde was evidently not eating healthy. Though he had put on some weight since Nalini’s departure it was of the wrong kind and at the wrong places.
“So,” shrugged Atul, “please find a domestic help for Makkhan now.”
The silence, led by Prajna was awkward. Finally she said, “I am not to certain that Mack would like me to interfere with his affairs anymore.”
Sidde hastened to reassure her. “My dear woman,” he said. “Please disabuse yourself of the notion that you were in any way responsible for what happened last time. I for one certainly do not think so.”
All the other members of the group agreed loudly.
Prajna still hesitated, but eventually admitted that she had been thinking over the past couple of months that Tuhiram might have been the ideal person for Sidde at this juncture rather than at the time when he had actually been employed.
“I would have loved to give you somebody like him,” said Prajna. “But your ex got away with the goods. There is however somebody… but I don’t know if you would be willing to employ her.”
“Um… Would it be safe for Makkhan to employ a woman, you think?” asked Gopi. “After all he is a single man and given the times we are living in, now…”
Prajna said that she only had women in her books as of now. “Most of them are too young to work for Mack, I admit. I would not recommend them. However, there’s this middle-aged woman from a good family — well educated, fell on hard times after she was widowed three months after marriage. In-laws threw her out, blaming her for the death of the husband… cursed woman — they called her. Her parents looked after her till they died —she had refused to get married a second time. After the passing of her parents the only brother showed his true colours. So, she has to work for a living.
“My word!” exclaimed Rupa. “Do all your contacts have such compelling back-stories? I had thought of writing an article on Tuhiram, but let that chance slip. This time I would not let this opportunity go by.”
“And what would she do for Makkhan?” asked Atul.
“Be his housekeeper,” said Prajna. “She’s worked as housekeeper, cook, governess, tutor… you name it. So if you are interested in interviewing her, Mack, you will have to come to my office day after tomorrow.”
And so it was that after a week Prof Sidde called Prajna from his office and reported the result of the first day of employment of Bina, his new housekeeper-cum-cook.
“Quite a feisty woman,” he reported. “She had cooked ash gourd with white cumin and when I pointed that out to her, she actually asked me to Google ash gourd recipes with white cumin! I have never known a housekeeper do anything like this before!”
An astounded Prajna asked, “And since when have you become such an expert on the kind of cumin in the cooking of ash gourd?”
“That is exactly my point!” exclaimed Sidde. “I remember the primary reason why Nalini had not wanted a cook was because she was worried that the cook would use white cumin to cook ash gourd! And I must say that not only did the food taste very nice yesterday, I actually did Google and found there are ash gourd recipes that use white cumin seeds!”
A year later, at the formal dinner celebrating Prof. Sidde’s marriage to Bina Neruli, Prajna recounted the story much to the amusement of all present.
“Imagine my surprise!” said she. “Our Mack… our very own Mack… judging Bins on the basis of her use of spices — specifically, the relative merits of using black or white cumin seeds in the cooking of ash gourd!”
While everybody was laughing, Bina leaned over and whispered, “If you wish, I can cook ash gourd with black cumin seeds also.”
“No need,” whispered back the professor, as he held her hand under the table. “What you cook is quite fine for me.”
“And what are the love birds going about here in public? Can’t you even wait for your guests to depart before you begin necking?” asked Gopi.
“Just suggesting a possible topic for her MPhil dissertation when she begins work next semester,” said Prof. Sidde. “However, I apologize and shall give my hundred percent attention to you all.”
On the way home, Prajna took the wheel as Rishabh had had one too many. As they wound down the drive to the campus gates, Prajna stole a quick look at her husband. “What?” she asked.
“What, what?” asked Rishabh in return.
“You are looking at me quizzically,” said Prajna. “Do you want to say something?”
“Well, yes, I do,” said Rishabh, thoughtfully. “Did you plan it all?”
“Plan what?” asked Prajna, surprised.
“All this — Nalini’s leaving and then getting Makkhan hooked up with Bina…?”
“I certainly didn’t wish Nalini to elope with Tuhiram, if you mean if that was my plan too…” said Prajna indignantly. “But I did see that she was desperately unhappy and had hoped that she would find something else to do if she had a household help… I am happy for her though, that she has moved on with her life. I do hope she finds happiness — with, or without Tuhiram.”
“There, M’lud, I plead guilty. I couldn’t bear to see the girl wasting her life as governess or tutor — or worse, a cook or housemaid. She has an MA in Philosophy, for heaven’s sake and unlike most girls who have suffered her fate, has always been interested in going on… only she never got the opportunity. I felt that all said and done, despite the apparent neglect that Nalini had faced with Mack, he is just the right sort for Bins — academic, researcher and they seemed to have similar interests… and so, I recommended her to him and here we are…”
“And here we are…” mused Rishabh. “Well done. You deserve a kiss…”
As Prajna pursed her lips and rubbernecked her face towards her husband, Rishabh wailed: “Watch it, not on the highway. Wait till we get home…”
As he left the house Atul stepped up close to his friend. “Also please give 100% attention to your wife. You may not be able to afford another large alimony settlement,” he said.
“Never fear,” replied Prof. Sidde. “I am not letting go of this woman so easily. Plus, I am not going to put half my income into her account. This time she will get only 20% till she begins to earn. I will keep 30% in a separate account in the unlikely event of another alimony.”