Creation and Criticism

ISSN: 2455-9687  

(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal

Devoted to English Language and Literature)

Issue 02 : July 2016

A Story of Divya Mathur


Founder of Vatayan: Poetry on South Bank and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Divya Mathur is an award winning and widely published author of five story and seven poetry collections and a novel. She has also edited three highly acclaimed story collections of Indian Women Writers Abroad. Honoured by the Arts Council of England for her outstanding contribution and innovation in the field of Arts, she is committed to promote the cultural aspirations of the Indian community at the level of thought and has been sharing experiences with his readers since 1985. The ex-Programme Director of The Nehru Centre, London, England, for over 20 years, she is listed in the volumes of Inspirational Women and Asian Who's Who. She can be contacted at divyamathur1974@gmail.com.

 


My Better Half


 

Despite having been married to Goldie for two years, India was still not sure whether he was serious about their relationship. Goldie's secretary, Rachel, warned her several times that he was an incorrigible flirt, and that at present he was romancing the new auditor, Leena Lyre. India generally laughed her friends off, thinking that they were just jealous of her handsome and charming husband. Most of them had problems with their own relationships; they were constantly bickering and breaking up with their partners. Anyway, what was India supposed to do? Follow Goldie everywhere?

 

‘Why won’t you accept, India, that he is an awful flirt?’ Rachel often asked, and in her heart of hearts India knew that she was not entirely wrong. Goldie flirted with every woman who came his way, especially women with big breasts, and Leena did have a buxom chest. But then, if she did call a spade a spade, India stood to lose so much. Maybe he just couldn’t help being charming to girls; he meant no harm.

 

‘India, isn’t it a bit much that he comes back to you every evening, insists on your accompanying him everywhere and then flirts with the next girl?’ Fortunately or unfortunately, Rachel was one of India’s oldest friends, and was a self-appointed well-wisher who considered it her solemn duty to inform India about Goldie’s whereabouts.

 

'India dear, I saw them together in Westfield hand-in-hand, do you believe me now?' Rachel's eyes popped out of their sockets while she whispered in India's ear. India knew that ‘hand-in-hand’ was Rachel’s own imagination, but her heart still ached; what was Goldie doing with Leena in Westfield? Was their married life truly over and done with? It was obviously doomed. What would she do if Goldie left her for Leena? Even though he irritated her constantly, she still loved him. India wanted to interrogate him about Leena but for all she knew, Rachel may be making her paranoid. She had heard on the grapevine that Rachel herself used to have feelings for Goldie.

 

‘Meet my better half,’ Goldie introduced India to his new collegue, Henry Cox, who extended his hand towards India and then kissed her on the cheek. She felt like a fool at that moment, especially when she saw his other colleagues exchanging smiles at Goldie’s introduction. All India could do was to cringe – she winced every single time he uses this term but did not have the courage to object. India often wondered whether the rumours about Goldie’s affairs were true. How could a husband, who introduced his wife as ‘my better half’, not be serious about his marriage? Or had she been stupid to give Goldie benefit of the doubt for over a year now?

 

Until their first anniversary, everything had been fine. When friends and colleagues drew her attention to Goldie’s rudeness and flirtatious behavior, India laughed them off: she was in head over heels in love with him. So what if girls followed him everywhere, he was hers alone. So what if he didn’t say ‘thank you’, ‘sorry’, and ‘excuse me’, Indians don’t believe in formalities. So what if ate his soup with a slurp; he appreciated her cooking. So what if he had never been serious about anything, he’s an easy-going guy. She tried hard to discover clues or traces on Goldie’s person, but there was nothing; there was an innocence on his face which made her feel guilty that she had listened to her friends, especially Rachel, who was a real gossip.

 

Things began to turn sour after their first visit to Baroda, Goldie’s hometown, where everyone was talking about his philandering. India held certain prejudices and clichés that most Westerners had from reading Kipling and Tintin, and watching Slumdog Millionaire, but once she had fallen in love with an Indian man, everything about India and Indians seemed rosy. But the moment she arrived in India, and in Baroda specifically, she felt that not only did she have nothing in common with the city and its people, but that Goldie too was a far cry from what he had seemed at first sight. 

 

Goldie’s mother, Santosh, had called her son her golden boy, ‘Goldie’, in his childhood, and he liked everyone to call him Goldie in the UK too. Goldie’s parents came for his wedding and stayed with them for over a month. Santosh suddenly began calling Goldie by his proper name, Gopal.

 

‘Now, I declare my son truly grown up,’ Santosh declared, grudgingly, but kept treating him like a boy. ‘What would my Gopal like to eat for breakfast today?’ Before he had even replied she would start frying potato bhajias for everyone.

 

‘India beta, you must learn to cook his favourite foods. He does not like pizza and  pasta. You can win your husband’s heart with food, you know.’ 

 

‘What about India’s likes and dislikes?’ His father dared to mention.

 

‘She has been eating pizzas and roasts all her life, you know. Let her try real food now. Indian food is the best, you know. I am told that our chicken tikka masala has been declared the British dish of the year.’

 

Before Santosh left London, she saw to it that India had learnt to cook all sorts of curries, chapatis, paranthas, savories and sweets. India could not be disrespecful to her so-called doting mother-in-law and say no, and she seemed to be cooking day-in and day-out. India ate sandwiches and chips at office to stay sane.

 

Twice during the stay of her in-laws in London India had been delayed at the office, and Santosh was quick to check on her.

 

‘India beta, marriage is no guarantee that a boy will not stray. Our Gopal is a Krishan Kanhaiya, you know,’ Santosh warned her. India enquired about ‘Krishan Kanhaiya’, and Santosh explained.

 

'Gopal is another name for Lord Krishna, who was a Don Juan, you know. According to our Indian mythology, Krishna made love to hundreds of girls, including the beautiful lass Radha, you know. Krishna and Radha were eternal lovers, who are still worshipped all over India.'

 

India knows that to be true as far as Goldie is concerned. He is quite a charmer. If someone asked her mum, she would perhaps say the same about India, who has had no dearth of boyfriends announcing their lasting love for her, but she only fell for Goldie, who once was mad about her. She rues the day they got married.

 

‘Girls used to line up for our Gopal since his school days, you know?’ Santosh laughed. She seemed rather proud of Goldie’s many relationships in Baroda. She also told India that before Goldie came to London, he had a serious affair with a local girl from his school days. Incidentally, she was called Radha.

 

‘You know, India beta, Gopal and Radha were very close. Her parents approved, you know, so they were together day and night. We all thought, actually everyone in Baroda took it for granted that they were made for each other, you know,’ Santosh would begin their love story whenever she found India at hand.   

 

‘We couldn’t believe when Gopal told us about you. First we thought that it was just a fling but when he told us that he was planning to get married, we had to inform Radha’s parents, you know. They were devastated and we felt bad.

 

“How could Gopal do this to our Radha?” Radha's mother moaned constantly. The whole town was buzzing; how could Goldie abandon Radha after a life-long friendship? The fables of Krishna and Radha were the hot topic in the neighbourhood.

 

“Lord Krishna also abandoned Radha when he left his hometown and went to live in Mathura,” Radha's grandmother philosophized, claiming that history was repeating itself. Her parents forbade Radha to go out in daylight, you know. Such a shame for the family!  Who is going to marry her now?’

 

‘Why, why wouldn’t anyone marry her?’ India was horrified.

 

‘In India, girls are not allowed to roam around with boys before they are married, you know. Everyone blamed Radha’s parents for allowing her to go out with Gopal unashamedly. You know what the womenfolk in Baroda thought?’ 

 

‘No, I don’t want to know what they thought,’ thought India, but Santosh carried on regardless.

 

‘That you had put a charm on our Gopal. Is it true that Angrez girls are charmed by our Indian boys?’ She asked a bewildered India.

 

Before India could reply, she asked again. ‘You prefer our dark boys to your fair ones?’  

 

‘But Goldie is quite fair,’ India resisted.

 

‘Not as fair as your boys,’ Santosh ignored her. India wondered whether Goldie’s complexion was ever a factor when she fell in love.

 

Although Santosh seemed to have warmed to India quickly, she worried constantly about poor Radha.

 

‘It’s not just Gujarat, no one in the whole of our country will dare marry her now, you know.’

 

‘With such a splotch on her character, she is destined to remain single,’ her husband was quick to add.

 

‘What bad karma she must have to suffer so much,’ Santosh pensively looked to the skies. The weird thing was that Goldie, who was sometimes present during these conversations, kept quiet as though it didn’t concern him.

 

India was actually glad when her in-laws left for Baroda. She began to set her house right despite the constant scrutiny of Goldie, who preferred everything as his mother had kept it. He constantly criticised India, especially her cooking. But old habits die hard, and India kept going back to the arrangements she had grown up with.  

 

When Goldie and India visited Baroda after their marriage, he proposed to take India to meet Radha and her family. Radha was still unmarried, and her mother and grandmother had been telling their neighbours that she had taken a vow of celibacy. Obviously, a lot was at stake as far as Radha and her family were concerned, but Goldie was determined to take India to meet them.

 

‘Gopal beta, why do you want to meet them? Her parents are still very annoyed with you.’ Santosh was equally baffled. 

 

‘Why not, Mummy? If we don’t go to meet them, they will certainly mind. Radha and I were childhood friends. Radha has phoned me several times to say that we must visit her.’ 

 

From what India had heard, this sounded strange, After what Goldie had done to her and her family, why should she be interested in seeing him again?  At least Goldie was frank about his affair, but if she has vowed to remain single, why does she keep calling him? India was perplexed.

 

Santosh insisted that India dressed up nicely in an expensive Indian dress and matching jewellery so that everyone would realise why Goldie had chosen India over Radha. India felt uncomfortable, but as it had been in London, here too she was supposed to follow instructions; no one bothered to ask her opinion.

 

‘Meet my better half,’ Goldie chuckled as he introduced India to his ex-girlfriend. India felt as though he was poking fun at their relationship, but she was eagerly looking forward to meeting Radha. As someone smart and educated, who had just arrived from the West, she thought that she would have the upper hand as far as Radha was concerned. But Radha’s laser-like gaze pierced through her body. Radha was not the shy girl India had imagined. The girls weighed each other up at close quarters. India found her quite unabashed for an Indian girl.

 

Radha knew everything about Goldie and India. Had he been telling Radha everything about his married life? Was something still going on between them? India felt very insecure. Radha chatted with Goldie as though nothing had happened. They spoke about their college days and friends for hours on end, ignoring India completely. They really must have been very close – or was she just showing off to rile India?

 

In fact, no one in the household spoke to India at all, and she didn’t understand a word of the conversation. She picked up a magazine and sat on a swing outside in the courtyard until she was summoned for tea, which was an elaborate affair. India had only seen such variety of snacks at Neasden Temple in London, when they had celebrated Lord Krishna’s birthday. Santosh had insisted that if they couldn’t do the puja at home, they must go to the temple.

 

‘Why are they celebrating Krishna, the philanderer?’ India asked sarcastically. Goldie almost stopped her there and then. He told her to address ‘Krishna’ as Krishnji.

 

‘Firstly, you should always address our Gods with the suffix “ji”.’ India suddenly remembered that while praying to her God, Santosh used to address Jesus as ‘Jesus ji’. 

 

‘He was more than just a divine lover. Krishnji was a hero, a Supreme Being. On the battlefield, when Arjun preferred to renounce his kingdom rather than fight his kith and kin, Krishnji advised him that fighting was his dharma.’

 

‘I know, everything is fair in love and war.’

 

‘No, not exactly, he laid out a discourse which is compiled as the Bhagavad Gita, if you care to read it.’ Talking about Krishnji, India found Goldie serious for once, and wondered why.

 

As is customary with Indians, the women attended to each and every whim of their men. In spite of Goldie’s telling them that India did not take sugar, Radha served her tea with sugar, and India felt like vomiting. Did Radha do it on purpose?

 

When they returned home, India was quite sick. Santosh was sure that Radha’s grandmother had put something in India’s snacks. Taking some salt in her palm, Santosh moved it around India’s face and then threw it in the sink. ‘Nothing can hurt you now.’

 

‘Why don’t you have a baby quickly, India beti? That will keep Gopal busy.’ In spite of all her crazy quips, India liked Santosh.

 

'Is that a good idea, Mum? I will be changing nappies while Goldie chats up some other girls,' India laughed.

 

‘I was telling his father the other day that Gopal’s wife will have to be on her toes day in and day out.’ Santosh seemed to be right. Her life in London revolved around Goldie, who sweet-talked her into doing almost everything while he was useless around the house. He couldn’t hoover, he couldn’t put the washing out, he couldn’t cook, he slurped his tea and soup and made noises while eating, and above all, he was miserly. It was becoming more and more embarassing for India; why had she fallen for him?

 

While they were in Baroda, Radha seemed to be free to join them anywhere, everywhere and at any hour. India's holiday was completely ruined. She wanted to enjoy Gujarat’s art and architecture but her attention was constantly drawn towards Goldie and Radha, who talked and laughed, showing little interest in their surroundings or her. India wanted to be left alone so she could make her own way around Gujarat, but Goldie would not hear of it. They had to tag along wherever India wanted to go.

 

Back in London, Goldie constantly asked India to accompany him to meet his colleagues and friends, especially Leena. India was so busy at work that she was always late getting to the pub, where they met more often than not. He wanted her to be friends with Leena, but India did not want to start a new friendship which she couldn’t keep. Leena kept calling, asking her to go to a picnic or a film, which made India really uncomfortable. When India politely refused, Goldie was annoyed.

 

‘Honey, why can’t you be nice to my friends?’

 

‘Darling, I don’t have time for my own friends and colleagues, how can you expect me to befriend your friends and colleagues too?’ India blurted out what she had had in her mind for a long time. She was fed up with his constant pleas for her to accompany him to useless parties.

 

‘You are so anti-social.’

 

‘Sorry, I just have too much going on at the moment.’

 

‘Mind you, I work in the same company so I know how busy you are.’ 

 

‘We may be working in the same company but our jobs are entirely different.’ India knew she should not have mentioned that. She had recently been promoted, while Goldie had been ignored. 

 

‘How can I forget that?’ Goldie scowled. As far as he was concerned, she had been promoted because she was a pretty white woman and the bosses were racist. ‘How can they let an Indian be their boss?’ The truth was that she had passed all her actuarial exams and he hadn’t. She was a full-fledged actuary now while he still had to clear three more modules.

 

India had been trying to find a job in a different company so that she wouldn’t have to listen to the gossip about Goldie. He was charming to everyone, and they just saw her as Goldie’s wife. But she had come to realise that behind his initial charm, there was no substance. She was the one who had taken pity on him when he had first arrived. She had taught him the ways of the financial world – which shirt goes with which suit, matching ties and cufflinks. He used to buy his suits from Moss Bros like all Indians do, but he was working for Lloyds of London now and he had to follow their rules. What the CEO wore, his juniors couldn't, what auditors wore, actuaries couldn’t, and what actuaries wore, trainees couldn’t. She took him to TM Lewin to buy shirts and Roderick Charles to buy suits. Now, if someone asks, he pretends to know everything; for him, India was like his countless other friends, who just liked looking pretty.

 

On the first anniversary of their wedding, India bought him a Citizen watch, while Goldie gave her a blanket which he had bought from the Sunday market in Wembley. Even then, India was over the moon, and  kept telling everyone how considerate he was - only last week she had mentioned that she liked to have a soft blanket over her knees while watching TV in the lounge.

 

Not once did Goldie thank her for her expensive gift, nor did he mention it to any of his friends or colleagues. India kept all this in her heart. She considered it to be her own fault that he did not know how she felt, but these things were too mean to be said out loud. If she started expressing her feelings, they would end up bickering like most couples do, and India did not want that. So the distance between them grew by the minute.

 

They were so happy before they got married. But on moving in with India, Goldie entered a new world, which his Indian friends called the 'gora ghetto'. They generally made fun of his gori wife and their lifestyle. India came to know the local Indian community from close quarters. Both Goldie and India were not impressed with what they found; they both had preconceived ideas about how their relationship would work. The shine of their marriage soon rubbed off, because they were no longer comfortable in each other's company. Goldie felt awkward at India's parents' house, and India, although she liked his family, was puzzled by his Indian friends, who mostly did not mean what they said. With a lot of understanding and effort, she tried to get along with her in-laws, but Goldie never ever bothered to try to be on cordial terms with her family; India started to make excuses and finally stopped visiting them at all.

 

Things between them went from bad to worse when Rachel told India that Goldie kept chatting with a girl back in India. He had even asked Rachel to help that girl settle in the UK. India’s heart sank. Goldie had never mentioned this to her. Bringing someone to the UK is not all that easy, India thought; let him find out for himself.

 

At dinner, India mentioned this to him in passing.

 

‘Yes, Radha is very unhappy in Baroda. I want to help her settle down here.’ Where does he find time for all this? She doesn’t even have time to call her parents for weeks at a time, and he is arranging to bring people over from India and help them settle down in this country. No wonder he has a reputation for not being fully committed to his job.

 

'You never said anything about it.’  India wanted to know more.

 

'What is there to tell?' Goldie shot back.

 

'This is not something you forget to mention. It’s not like you inviting friends for dinner without mentioning it to me,' India sounded like the bickering wife she had never meant to become.

 

'Good, you’ve reminded me, Dicky and his new wife Sara are coming for dinner this Saturday,' Goldie took the conversation in a different direction.  

 

'What? How could you forget that Papa has invited us to the theatre this Saturday?’

 

‘Sweetheart, we can always visit them next weekend.’ Goldie looked annoyed; who was going to cook for his guests?

 

‘But next weekend your boss and his sister are coming. That’s why I told Papa to book the theatre tickets for this Saturday. We haven’t seen them in months.’

 

‘For God’s sake, you’ve lived with them your whole life ...’ Goldie started to lose his temper. He thought she would back down, but India felt it would be too rude not to go even if he didn’t come along. 

 

‘Darling, I’m sorry. Pa booked these tickets far in advance. If you like, you can take your friends out for dinner.’ India knew that Goldie could not cook if his life depended on it.

 

India was aware that her Papa knew about his daughter’s predicament. She had been so close to him throughout her younger years. How she wished that her husband could share a pint of beer occasionally with her father! Goldie hadn’t said anything, but she knew that he felt intimidated by her father.

 

‘I have invited them for dinner at home, not at a restaurant.’

 

‘Sorry darling, I wish I could stay and cook for them, but ...’ India was surprised at herself for standing tall.

 

‘Then why don’t you go and enjoy your time with your parents, I can manage,’  Goldie emphasised the words – ‘your parents.’

 

‘You too,’ This was the first time in the last two years that India had accompanied her parents out in the evening, on her own. They would have to sell Goldie’s ticket.

 

‘Doesn’t Goldie like our company?’ India’s mother had asked, several times.

 

‘Mum, don’t bother. Goldie has such a lot of friends that ...’ India was so exasparated that she could not even complete her sentence.

 

Not even a month had passed when, to India’s great surprise, Radha suddenly arrived in London. She had got a place at City University for an MBA as a private student. Had Goldie forgotten to mention this to ‘his better half’?

 

Goldie insisted that India went with him to meet Radha, whose aunt Susheela and uncle Jayesh had a palacial house in Harrow. Goldie looked quite impressed by them, with their house in a posh area and the glittering objects all over their lounge, but to India the whole arrangement was a bit cheesy. There were marble tiles all over the house and tube lights in every room.

 

They were just leaving, when suddenly Susheela whispered in Goldie's ear, asking whether he would help them find a suitable boy for Radha.

 

‘I thought she had come here to study,’ India said, as Goldie seemed to be lost for words.

 

‘Her parents want us to get her settled quickly,’ Jayesh blurted out.

 

‘What's the hurry? She can get married after completing her studies.' Goldie went into the lounge where Radha was sitting, and asked her directly: 'Isn’t that what you want, Radha?’

 

For a change, Radha looked a little lost – maybe she was jetlegged, but she kept quiet. Goldie and India made their excuses and left immediately.

 

'These side table lamps do not give off enough light to read at night,' Goldie said before going to bed. India was horrified when Goldie suggested that they too should consider putting tube lights in their lounge and bedrooms.

 

'You will have to sleep in the spare room if you want a tube light in your bedroom.’ India was quick to stop him there and then. Enough is enough, she thought. When they were in Baroda, Goldie's relatives gave them bright glass and metal objects as wedding gifts. India tried to leave most of them behind, saying that they couldn’t take such heavy objects on the flight. Goldie insisted on carrying some of them to London. He was quite annoyed when India kept them in their spare bedroom.

 

'If you don't like them, we can gift them to friends on special occasions.' 

 

'Honey, you can give them to your friends.' Goldie got the impression that these were not the kinds of gifts that were popular in England.

 

Whether they were about her marriage or her studies, India was fed up with the constant phone calls between Goldie and Radha. They chatted at odd hours. India had no idea what went on between them. India could hear Radha's agitated mumble while Goldie tried to reason with her. Not once did he apologise to India for getting up and walking over to the balcony or lounge while breakfasts went limp and dinners grew cold.

 

India was almost at her wit's end one evening when she returned home to find Radha sitting in their front garden waiting for Goldie to return, as he had obviously been delayed in the office. India served her tea, but Radha didn't say much to her. As soon as Goldie returned, she didn't stop talking. She was fed up with her aunt and uncle who forbade her from wearing western clothes, going out in the evenings and returning home late.

 

'Radha, can't you keep a low profile? Once you are on your own two feet, you can live independently.' Goldie tried to calm her down.

 

'Then what, Goldie, do you think they would leave me alone then?'

 

What did Radha mean by that? What hold does she have over Goldie? Why is he so tolerant of her rants? Why won't he confide in his wife? Whenever India asked, he would shrug her off by saying, 'These Indian girls!' or 'Don't worry your pretty head, I can handle this.'

 

India felt so left out that she rang Rachel, asking her to meet her in a nearby pub, even though she knew that Rachel would only reiterate her warnings; if only India had listened to them.

 

‘You’re dealing with catastrophes for the company India, why can’t you deal with this one?’ The moment Rachel arrived at the pub she launched an attack.

 

‘What catastrophe?’ India feigned ignorance as she wanted to avoid the subject.

 

‘Oh India, you can’t deal with a problem unless you recognise it, but you choose to constantly ignore it,’ Rachel got up in a huff; she had been a good friend.

 

‘Rachel, dealing with a hurricane Katrina in America is not the same as dealing with Radha or Leena.’

 

‘Why not, it’s the same! You raise the premiums or find ways to avoid paying for the consequences, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?’ Suddenly, India’s brain seemed to have a hurricane of its own. She had been so stupid. Rachel was right, she should deal with it head on. Something would happen, if not now, then later.

 

‘Thanks, Rachel, you’re right, I should have listened to you in the first place ... but you know, I was up to my ears with my studies and work.’

 

‘Now you’ve finished your exams, deal with him. He definitely doesn’t deserve you.’ That was exactly what India’s mum had said earlier that week.

 

‘Whatever happens now, I will take life easier.’

 

‘That’s exactly your problem, India, taking life too easy. Take it by its horn I’d say, start this evening,’ Rachel said.

 

India went home to talk to Goldie about what his intentions with Radha were, but all was quiet. She found Radha sleeping on the sofa and Goldie in their bed, fast asleep. She lay awake for a long time. The next morning, when they left for the office, Radha was still asleep.

 

‘Let her sleep, her uncle and aunty are making her life hell. They keep bringing her one boy after the other and she does not want to get married,’ Goldie whispered in India’s ear.

 

‘Has she come to stay?’India wanted to ask but Goldie went out.

 

There was a Christmas do at the Dorchester that evening. Everyone took their change of clothes to the office. India dressed up in a red number and looked so gorgeous that Goldie felt insecure; staff from rival insurance companies were paying extra atttention to India, who was ignoring Goldie completely. She had decided to enjoy the party and not worry about Goldie or Radha, so she started drinking G&Ts to shake off all her worries. They made a small group, slightly apart from where Goldie, Radha, Dick, Sara and Leena were sitting.

 

'Look at Goldie, he can't take his eyes off you,' Rachel happily whispered in India's ear.

 

'Do I look bothered, Rachel?' India asked.

 

'That's my girl, this is how you can keep him on his toes.'

 

'I don't want to keep him on his toes or keep myself on my toes.'

 

'What? Rada has moved into your house and you aren’t bothered?' Rachel was shocked.

 

'Exactly, Goldie is what he is. With him, it will always be a Radha or a Leena. He will never be happy with me alone and I can't go on looking over my shoulder all my life so I have decided to let him be.'

 

'Are you mad, India? At least take what is owed to you.'

 

'It doesn’t matter, life is more than a house or money in the bank, Rachel,' India was a little tipsy already. Rachel sat her down next to their handsome boss, Peter Hays, who bent over to kiss India. Goldie could not take it any more. He bolted towards her.

'What's the matter, darling?’

 

'Nothing sweetheart, I’m fine. You stay with 'made for each other,' India laughed.

 

'What are you talking about?'

 

'You know what she’s talking about,' Rachel butted in. 'You’ve made her so unhappy, Goldie. It is Christmas, you know.’ 

 

'Darling, let's go,' Goldie held India in his arms and brought her outside to the lounge. He sat her down on the sofa. Since India did not drink much, he ordered coffee.

 

'Radha and I are not made for each other. How have you got this into your pretty head?' Goldie took her in his arms and sat down beside her.

 

‘I don’t know what is going on but I want out.’ India knew that he would try to change her mind, and she didn’t want that.

 

'Darling, what do you mean? I accept that I am a male chauvinist pig who is too engrossed in sorting out a friend ...’ He whispered something in her ear. 

 

‘What?’ This was too much for India, especially after a few drinks.

 

'Radha is a lesbian and we have known it since our school days. In India, it is still taboo, you know. That's why her parents agreed to send her here, but her aunt and uncle are proving to be impossible, that’s all.’

 

‘So you haven’t been having an affair with her since your school days?’

 

‘No, I was just trying to save her some embarrassment!’

 

‘But your mum said ...’

 

‘I promised Radha that I wouldn’t tell a soul. I’m sorry, I should have told you.’

 

‘So I really am your better half.’

 

‘You really are.’ India laid her pounding head on Goldie's shoulder. She so wanted to throw her anxieties away but found Radha and Rachel standing behind them.

 

‘What did you just say, Goldie?’ Radha pulled Goldie’s head to face her. She was trembling with anger.

 

‘Nothing, I just want to sort everything out nicely. You go back to your friends India, I will be in very soon.’ Goldie suddenly looked very vulnerable. 

 

‘He said that you were a lesbian, Radha,’ Rachel stood with her hands on her hips. Radha and India both looked at Goldie suspiciously.

 

'You know what, you are all madwomen, I am fed up with your accusations.'  Goldie was holding his head in his hands, trying to find a way out of this mess.

 

‘How dare you! My parents paid for your higher education thinking that you would be back to marry me.’

 

'Shut up Radha, you don't know what you are saying,' Goldie's nostrils flared up in rage but Radha stood her ground.

 

‘Why did you keep quiet for so long, Radha?’ India needed to ask.

 

‘Why do you think? This bastard told us that he was saving someone’s reputation.’

 

‘Whose reputation?’ India’s heart began to sink.

 

‘Yours, who else?’

 

‘What happened to my reputation?’

 

‘He told us that you were tortured and raped by a thug ... do you want me to give you the gory details?’ It dawned upon India only then why the women in Radha’s family looked down upon her in disgust. For an unmarried girl in a town like Baroda to be pregnant was a huge scandal; girls had no choice, they were either murdered or left to commit suicide. India felt disgusted; she turned her face away from Goldie to steady herself. An anger surged within her body and began to her wreck her brain.

 

'Darling, don't listen to her, she is mad, that's why I had to run away from Baroda to make a new life for myself.’  Goldie again tried to hold India, but Rachel pushed him back angrily.

 

'Leave her alone! Actually leave both of them alone, Goldie, your game is up, you’d better go and hide your face somewhere dark.' Rachel held a shaking India in her arms.

 

'India, darling, she just wants to ruin our marriage, listen to me before it is too late!'  Goldie fell on his knees in front of India. He was still trying to salvage his marriage. 

 

'You have not only ruined my life, you have also ruined my parents' reputation. I wish to God that you suffer a hundred times for each of your bad deeds.’ Radha was in a frenzy as she cursed him.

 

'How can someone lie so much?' India was still in shock.

 

'You have survived the worst, both of you. Now is the time to enjoy. Let us go in and forget about this loser.’ Rachel held both of them in her arms and led them into the noisy, crowded hall.

 

India glanced around and saw Goldie in the corner looking baffled. She walked up to him, and for a passing moment, he thought she may have forgiven him – it was Christmas, after all. He half rose to receive her in his arms with a ‘sorry’ on his lips.

 

‘You are my better half, I meant it honey.’

 

‘I never ever believed you when you kept introducing me as your better half. I am certainly better than you and don’t deserve to be battered by the likes of you. You will find your belongings in the front garden tomorrow morning. Goodbye.’ Without waiting for a response, India quickly walked towards a beaming Rachel, the saviour of the two wronged women. 

 

For a moment, Radha and Rachel had wondered whether India had gone back to Goldie. It was exactly 12 o’clock. They happily kissed each other and began singing ‘Merry Christmas!’ with the crowd.