Sudheer stepped into the noisy economy section of the bar. He walked steadily towards a fixed spot at the end of the hall, past the clusters of tables and chairs that were arranged neatly in the multiples of two. The bar hall was vast and was adorned with designer mirrors on its walls. The dim lights vaguely brightened the table tops. The ash trays sent out formations of smoke coming out of the dying cigarettes, whereas the people sitting around the tables looked greyed out as if they were not the spotlight. Sudheer hurried to reach his regular table. On finding his space vacant, he quickly grabbed it and signalled the bartender for a drink. Placed at the left most corner of the hall, Sudheer’s table could fit two individuals. He sat facing the wall so that no one could see him there. He was still getting settled for the evening when his cell-phone beeped. It showed the caller name to be ‘Sangeeta’. Sudheer disconnected the call but his own reflection on the cell phone screen made him wait for a while. It showed something of a neatly groomed person whose presence in a place like this was never meant to be. The dark circles around his tired eyes narrated silent tales of his sleepless nights. His clean shaved face resembled that of a professional who aims big. All the worries and problems in his life could not cover the youthful shine on his cheeks. Thirty or maybe thirty one years- that was all he had studied life so far. He suddenly stopped gazing at himself and slipped his mobile back into his pocket and sank into the chair to join the fraternity of greyed entities.
The bartender appeared with a large peg of whiskey and greeted his regular customer.
“He isn’t in? your friend sir…” The bartender questioned shyly while preparing the drink.
“Who?” Sudheer questioned back. His tone was a little annoyed.
“Peanuts or finger-chips for snacks sir?” The bartender needed to give up his previous question.
“Peanuts, please. Less salt and chilly” Sudheer confirmed the order and the bartender vanished into the darkness.
Sudheer took the first sip as if it was a tradition to not to finish the drink in one go. In the next sip, he emptied it and signalled for the next one. After completing this one too at a record speed he signalled again and shut his eyes relaxingly. His breath slowed down, the wrinkles on his forehead blurred and they finally disappeared. As the medicine started to work, peace returned back to his mind.
“Sir, your drink.” The bartender’s voice brought him back to this world.
When Sudheer’s eyes opened, a smile of happiness flashed on his face. His eyes widened out of surprise. He saw his booze friend sitting right in front of him.
“Get a peg for my friend too” He ordered and leaned forward, excitedly.
The booze friend of Sudheer’s was his personal little secret that he told no one about. They both were different from each other, lived lives of their own, Sudheer couldn’t even remember his name. Every evening, they saw each other at the very same spot and at the same table. Sudheer shared his happiness and regrets with him and he listened patiently without being a judge of anything in Sudheer’s life. The booze friend often replied in nods and spoke occasionally. Most of the time, he was keen on finishing his drink, but Sudheer was sure that having a free drink was not his only motive.
“I have news for you my friend!” Sudheer said merrily and continued.
“I got promoted! Wait, that is not all of it… I will be relocating to the U.S” He wound up with so much happiness that it showed up in the expression of his booze friend too. They both lifted their glass and delivered a “cheers” in celebration. But the smile on Sudheer’s face did not last for long.
He looked at his booze friend and sadly spoke,
“I am going to miss them, my friend…”
Sudheer’s feelings reciprocated in his friend’s face. He calmly closed his eyes and softly said,
“Let go, my friend. I know why you are leaving.”
Suddenly Sudheer became aggressive in his tone.
“Bloody, is there no way that I can be with them, and live happily? Bloody, I am talking about my Wife and my two year old Son!! What the hell?”
Sudheer yelled at the bartender and signalled him for more pegs. The booze friend figured it out beforehand that now Sudheer would narrate his tale once more. He had been doing this every day since their month long friendship. May be that was what Sudheer wanted. He wanted some one who could listen to him.
The booze friend knew exactly how it would take off.
“It’s been seven years…” he said mentally and Sudheer started just like that.
“My wife, her name is Sangeeta”, Sudheer reiterated as if his friend knew nothing about him.
“We met each other during our college. She was my best friend. So much that I used to discuss my crushes with her and she used to help me out in deciding the right choice. Shortly after completing college, we both realised that in fact, we were more than just good friends. We had started loving each other.” Taking a sip from his glass, Sudheer continued his story.
“We won good jobs and wanted to get settled in life. It all happened so fast…we asked our parents, they agreed and finally we got married. This was the happy ending of a Bachelorette. BUT as they say, the reality lies beyond the ‘The End’ banner of a romantic movie. It invariably happened in the same way.
You see, friend, I never cared what Sangeeta’s family background was. I didn’t care who all were in her family, what they expected from me and furthermore, what I must expect from them; because, to me, Sangeeta was my new found world. She was my unfailing partner for the rest of the life…
Ah! All that I knew about being in a marital relationship was about to be proved wrong”
As Sudheer crept into the flashback, his expression became grave. The glasses continued getting filled up and emptied at regular intervals and the reciting went on.
“My equation of a happy marriage is simple: A happy wife, a contented kid and a worry free home. That’s all…
Oh! No, no no….that’s where I failed to read and understand the T&C of a married relationship.
The first rays of realization fell on me when my wife and my mother had ‘ego’ issues for reasons best known to them. After a little digging, I found the root cause for the frustrations. To summarize it, I quote ‘A mother-in-law cannot withstand her daughter-in-law speaking to her mother for a long time.’ The confusingly endless T.V serials taught me that it is a common phenomenon with the dames. My friends and co-workers advised me that it’s ’best’ to leave it untouched. I thought, time will settle it. And I am still waiting…”
Sudheer slammed his wrist heavily on the table. Another sip of whiskey, kind of, brought the temper down. The booze friend visibly looked bored but the situation was out of control. He knew the next story too and it went thus;
“The second bouncer was such that I could not even duck. My father-in-law, a retired man, had extinguished all his savings in his daughter’s marriage. One sunny day, my wife calls me at office to inform that my father-in-law has had a heart attack and my services are needed urgently. Sangeeta’s corporate insurance had her parents name in it. The policy limit for the year was fully utilised, I had to toss out a percentage of my savings that had held aside for purchasing a house. My mother gave me a sour look for doing all this. But my wife was happy and I was hopeful.
Alas! We lost him! My father-in-law was dead after an exhaustive and expensive treatment.”
Sudheer was now five pegs down. He was barely able to open his eyes and count upwards. Yet, he ordered one more.
“Sir, it will be the final one for the day” the bartender said courteously.
“Ok, make it two then. One for me and one for my friend…” Sudheer said in a shaky voice and waited for the drinks to arrive. As shortly as the drink arrived, the story started out again.
“Later on the lamentable death of my father-in-law, the equation of my life turned tipsy-turvy. I don’t recollect when my little dream of a two-bedroom house transformed to become a ground plus one. Guessed it, yet? Hahahaa… my mother-in-law will now stay with us. That is when I realised that there are some Combi-packs too. My Brother-in-law is thirty years old and is still too young to earn a job for himself. My sister-in-law has just completed her college. And the situation is also perfect. I am buying a house. What if I have to take a hefty home loan for it? What if everybody says that I am making the worst mistake of my life? Unfortunately I had no other option. After all, I love my wife!…And after all, the arrangement is merely for a time until my brother-in-law secures a job…”
The drink was now being forced in by Sudheer. He didn’t want to go home, He was just avoiding encounters with Sangeeta… he was painfully trying to separate himself from his own family. The booze friend was equally doused as Sudheer yet he continued on till the final stage of the story.
“Days and months passed, but not a single day was passing softly. My mother-in-law intervened in our day to day affairs. My mother’s frustration for this showed on me, I shouted at Sangeeta. She started getting angry and frustrated with my behaviour. My brother-in-law joined a gym and made a well toned body, Sister-in-law was always busy over the mobile. Her so called secret love affair was no more a secret. Sangeeta quit her job and was worried about her sis’s marriage. Sangeeta and I spoke rarely, though we fought every day. Amidst all this mess, I was waiting for something good to happen in my life. At last God sent someone to take my side and bring a few smiles on my face. We were blessed with a boy”
At once, Sudheer’s face glowed like a full moon. His eyes gleamed bright and a grin crept along his lips. He blanked out all his troubles for the minute.
“My sweet heart…My heartbeat…My sun shine, Sunny, when I first took him into my arms, he at once stopped crying and smiled at me. Right there, he had become my best friend. I promised him at that moment that I will give him a best life…My sweet heart, sun shine…He changed my life. I got a reason to live. He is lucky to me, you know. After his arrival, I got good promotions at work. Matters at home too started to revert to normal. My sweet heart…sun shine”
Sudheer kept repeating and murmuring until suddenly he thought of something else. The moment of peace was lost again. He grinded his teeth and spoke vengefully.
“But,… they are so self-centric, especially mother-in-laws, all of them… given a chance, I will kill them all.
One day when I came back from work, a sense of something negative, hit me hard. That day I was not welcomed home. No one had ever smiled at me. Sangeeta did not get me a glass of water, she did not even ask me how my day at work was, Sunny cried pointlessly, my mother was sitting on the chair like a heavy pumpkin, my mother-in-law was not present in my hall, which was un-natural, my brother-in-law gave me challenging looks by breaking his knuckles. Mustering courage, I spoke to Sangeeta.
It was clear that the ladies in the house had found a new reason to fight. ‘Sunny’
My mother wanted to play with Sunny at the same time when my mother-in-law wanted to take him for a stroll…and Sangeeta spoke in her mom’s support. Do I need to say anything more?
After that day, nothing was normal. The inmates in my home, literally competed to grab Sunny. They didn’t even let me spend some time with him. Suicidal thoughts came to my mind but they negated themselves telling me ‘think, what will happen to Sangeeta and Sunny after your?’ That was the first time I had come here. I found solace in the amber colour of this medicine. It helped me understand that it is entirely my fault that I am not THE son-in-law who demands for dowry. I cannot be the one who torments his wife and does not care for her kin. I am the son-in-law who delivers a son’s responsibility and yet is taken for granted.
Relocating to the U.S with my family was also not the option. I cannot abandon my wife’s family and still keep my mother with me… how can I separate Sangeeta from her mom but still continue to obey my mother. Is it not a part of thinking that both moms must be doing to keep their children happy? Can’t they ever leave us alone?
In such desperate moments, I met you!
Do you remember that day, I decided to leave all my worries here and fly away to the U.S, alone? Today is the day when it all ends. Tomorrow evening, I will be hitting the skies, I will be across the seven seas, living all alone. I will be like an A.T.M machine that just delivers money when demanded. That is all…that is all….”
Sudheer emptied his glass. The bar was almost closed for the day. The bartender and the guy at the counter were anxiously waiting for their regular customer to finish. It was time the bartender acted.
“Sir, it is closing time…” He said in a low tone.
“I know, I know…I am going. Going forever.” Sudheer was so drunk that the bartender helped him walk till the counter. He even forgot to see off his booze friend. He didn’t even look at him for the last time.
While paying at the counter, Sudheer blabbered,
“Guys, your bar was like a refuge to me…thanks! I am leaving to the U.S tomorrow. Leaving forever, leaving everything behind…Bye bye…and thanks”
Paying a handsome tip to his regular bartender, Sudheer walked away.
“Poor guy, ” the bartender spoke to the cashier.
“Poor guy? What do you mean?” the cashier questioned out of general curiosity.
“Looks like he is in some grave problems…all these days, after a few pegs, he used to start talking to his own reflection in the mirror on the wall. He questioned and answered himself; he smiled and cried in front of it. He treated him as his best friend and poured his heart out. He used to even order a peg for his own reflection!
Poor guy…God help him!”