Story so far: Abhishek, a software engineer from IIIT is trying to kill a friday evening alone, when he chances upon Neha, a past acquaintance. He finds that Neha is in distress, and as they talk, Abhishek finds out that Neha is undergoing a break-up. During the course of their meeting, Neha breaks down.
Neha jerked herself free from him, and stood up, facing him. The light from the street washed her and got reflected from her tears, and in the backdrop of the ink-black Hussain Sagar, she looked ignited. “What can you understand, huh, Abhishek? What can you understand?” She was shouting at the top her voice now. “Can you understand the feeling of being used for six years? No, you cannot! You’re not a girl. How can you understand this feeling, this feeling, of being raped?!!“
Neha burst into a fresh bout of tears, and started walking towards the edge of the sixteen feet high embankment. Abhishek sat on the bench, paralyzed. Neha’s last sentence was still hanging in the air around him, and he felt himself getting crushed under its weight.”
Abhishek sat on the bench facing the shimmering Hussain Sagar, his mind numb. He was a sensitive guy and never had had much proximity to any girl. He had no idea about the amount of grief women can hold in their hearts, and when Neha’s floodgates opened, he couldn’t help being overawed with her emotions. Neha’s words had entered his head and had refused to come out, any which way. “He raped me Abhishek, He RAPED me!!” her voice rang out in his head. Immobilized, he stared and stared at the Hussain Sagar.
Somebody screamed, “Maidaam, hey, maidaam!”
Abhishek snapped out from his shell with a start at the sharp call addressed in alarm to a woman. And the first thing he noticed was that Neha was nowhere about. Somebody again screamed, “Arey, KAHAAN TU BHI DHYAAN HAI MAIDAAM!!!”. He followed the voice to see a young Hyderabadi teen calling out from at a distance of 4-5 feet to a female figure draped in a black dress standing almost at the edge of the shore of the lake, which ended abruptly in a sixteen foot fall into the crocodile-infested Hussain Sagar. The woman was totally oblivious to where she was standing, that a boy was screaming at the top of his voice just at her back, that if she lost balance, that would be the end. She seemed to be lost, staring into space. And to his horror, Abhishek realized that the woman was Neha.
“Fuck this boy, why doesn’t he just grab her arm!” were Abhishek’s first thoughts as he scrambled to his feet. Running like a bolt of lightening, he pushed the bewildered boy aside and roughly reached for Neha’s wrist and pulled her towards himself. Neha was jolted as Abhishek couldn’t control the fit of rage that he just felt at her. “What the fuck, Neha! Have you gone crazy? What do you think you were trying to do?” Neha’s wrist was clutched in his fist, and her face was inches away from his. Her black, round mascaraed eyes stared at him, terrified. Her 24-year old face bore the expressions of a 2-year old child who has just come to realize that he’s in unfamiliar arms.
As Abhishek looked at those eyes rounded with terror, the fit of rage passed out as soon as it had come. The guilty realization came that he was hurting Neha the way he was holding her, and the way he was talking to her. Coming to his senses, he noticed several pairs of Hyderabadi eyes upon them in their secluded corner of the lakeside. And then it dawned upon him why the boy had just kept on shouting from at a distance at Neha. He was a Hyderabadi boy in his mid teens, and going near a woman in an evening dress, leave alone pulling her by the arm would be anathema to these conservative people. Slowly, Abhishek loosened the grip on the delicate wrist. Neha was feeling weak. Abhishek took her arm and guided her to a nearby bench. The Hyderabadi boy kept looking at them incredulously, and then turned his back and left.
Abhishek gently helped Neha down, and then himself crashed on the bench beside her, exhausted. It isn’t everyday that you listen to the naked rona-dhona of a dumped girl, and then pull her away to safety just as she’s getting suicidal. The thinking part of Abhishek’s brain, which had helped him code his way to glory, told him to abandon this baggage there itself, and look for more interesting ways to while away an otherwise promising friday evening. But the students of IIIT Hyderabad, Abhishek’s alma mater, are as much taught in their syllabus to ‘feel’ as they’re taught to ‘think’. Not that every student learns whatever he is taught, but Abhishek was a sensitive guy, always eager to help. And it just wasn’t acceptable to his conscience to leave Neha in this condition.
So they started to talk. She, rather. And very soon Abhishek wished that he hadn’t met Neha, or talked to her in the first place.
For women hold grief into their hearts and hide it and not let it out so easily. As a result, it accumulates. And when it does come out, it becomes difficult for the woman to handle. And for any person who wishes to console another, getting inside the skin of the other is essential. He has to put himself in the other person’s shoes, feel exactly what she is feeling, and then think on his own as to what he should say which would soothe her. Needless to say, the listener’s job is no mean business. It can be very exacting. It takes sensitive hearts to think and feel like the other, and often the flow of emotions can be a bit too much to handle for those selfsame sensitive hearts.
Neha poured out her story. The fun she and Rajat had had; but she quickly came down to the bitter part. How she’d made sacrifices for him, how she’d told lies to her parents about extra classes to spend time with him, and then in college, how she’d saved money to call him and to go meet him whenever possible. She’d given in to his whims and fancies, she’d given up on her social life as he had disliked her talking to other guys, and so on. With each passing incidence, Abhishek felt increasingly sad. Two people in a relationship were like intertwined creepers, he reflected. You could not separate the two without much bleeding. And no amount of balm can instantly soothe a bleeding heart. It has to take its own time.
So they sat and she talked and he listened and listened. A good-looking, made-up girl in attractive clothes, bubbling with smiles and laughter enchants the senses. And a howling girl, sniffing on your handkerchief, mascara from her eyes running down her puffed up cheeks is almost as repulsive. Abhishek had been listening to her, with a patient ‘yes’ and ‘no’ occasionally, braving it all, bearing it all. Because he knew that he could not let another human, who had trusted in him, down. It had been way past his dinner time, way past his smoking time. And then the stories started to repeat…
It was late night now. Neha had stopped sobbing. Also, Abhishek had started talking. He told her that she had to pick herself up, however difficult it might seem to her. That she had to do it, as nobody else could do anything in this regard. and then he finally suggested that it was late and that they should both be heading home. At this suggestion, Neha asked him to come closer and when he did, she hugged him tightly, and started weeping. It felt nice to be hugged by a girl. But as the convulsions started coming again, and the tears started flowing, and he felt the back of his shirt moisten, he wished that she would just let go. It wasn’t such a great experience being hugged by a weeping girl after an emotionally draining evening.
Finally she let go. Abhishek sat quiet, looking at his feet, as he heard the buckle of Neha’s purse snap open. She took out an anti-puff cream and applied it to her puffed cheeks. Then looking into her tiny, folding mirror, she wiped off her mascara and reapplied her lipstick. After a whole evening of howling and sobbing, she seemed much at ease now. Abhishek was famished, sleepy, emotionally drained and his shirt was ruined from the mascara stains all over it. Still, he thought drowsily, the evening hadn’t been a waste. He was happy to be able to help someone. Besides, he’d earned a friend that evening, he thought.
He saw Neha walk confidently towards the road and hail down a taxi. With half closed eyes, he saw her get inside it. Suddenly, he realized he had forgotten something.
“Hey, Neha!”, he called out and ran towards the taxi. The taxi had started but it stopped as he approached it.
Neha looked out from the window. As he stood face to face with her, he sensed that the Neha of ten minutes ago had been replaced by a much more confident and self-composed Neha.
“Oh, I forgot to thank you Abhishek”, she said, “thanks for being so patient with me”.
Abhishek smiled in relief, and then put his hands on the window of the taxi. “Aren’t you forgetting something”, he smiled, looking inside. “We forgot to exchange contact numbers”.
At this, Neha looked into his eyes, and for some reason the thought struck Abhishek that everything wasn’t as he was perceiving it.
“You know Abhishek” Neha looked straight into his eyes, “I’m getting engaged next week. And the marriage will take place the day after.”
The words made Abhishek snap out of his drowsiness. If she’s getting engaged, what’s she doing around here, clinging to me like this, he thought. Also…
His thoughts were interrupted by Neha as she continued, “surprised, haan? well, his name’s Rajesh, and he lives in Germany. I won’t be coming back to India for a long time now, and I thought it best to dump away the bag of unpleasant memories of India in India itself.”
Abhishek stood straight from his bent position, his mind racing but still not knowing what to make of what he had just heard. It just didn’t make any sense. Neha smiled at his demeanor, and then continued,
“You were a patient listener, Abhishek. Thank you for making things easier for me. And as for the contact number, well, I don’t give away my number that easily to strangers. After all, we only met this evening after eight years.”
The taxi rode away, melting into the night. Abhishek fought the urge to fall to his knees in the middle of the road. Somehow he dragged his feet to the side of his road and leaned against the railing. He was beginning to realize that Neha had used him. To get rid of her emotional burden, to let it all out before beginning a new life. She had wanted a patient, understanding ear and a strong shoulder to lean on and feel secure, and he had been foolish enough to provide whatever she had wanted. She had taken advantage of his emotions. It was a new experience, something he had never heard or read about. He had been emotionally used.
He lit a cigarette and started walking back towards the Prasad’s complex, where his bike had beed parked. Neha’s words once again rang inside his head. “He raped me, Abhishek, he RAPED me.” For a moment, Abhishek wondered if he could say the same thing about himself. But as he crossed the deserted, flood-lit IMAX chourasta, leaving the glittering Hussain Sagar behind him, the fact slowly began to sink in. That this evening, it was he whose emotions had been played with. This evening, it was he who had been raped.