After the sunset, she went up to the terrace.
Shaheen wanted to be alone.
Sometimes staring at the night sky with only the shimmering stars for company and whispering tales of your distressed heart can be therapeutic and Shaheen wanted to calm down her taut nerves.
Because of her physical state, she was going through a huge upheaval of emotional storm and hormones were not in her control too. She slowly sat down on a mat and brought her knees together and hugged herself and for the first time in the day she let out an animalistic screamed, she wept and whimpered.
She looked up gathering the broken strings of her distraught heart and looked up at the sky. The moon was up. She saw in her mind’s eyes how Nihal must be helping Avantika to break her fast, as she had seen those scenes in movies umpteen number of times. She closed her eyes and asked herself, “How much does a WOMAN have to sacrifice to be loved by the person she loves with her soul and heart?
Does SHE need to prove her commitment every time by being a bystander and sharing her man without a protest? Does SHE need to leave her own home and parents and not allowed to go back ever again to at least see their faces?
Does SHE need to endure the society’s dissent behavior only because she has committed a crime of LOVING A MARRIED MAN? How much does a WOMAN HAVE TO LEAVE?”
The moon smiled back at her with empathy and she decided she will not follow this regime of tolerance ever in life for her unborn child. She has chosen this life. She would never leave Nihal, she loves him too much to even conjure that thought. But it’s her responsibility to give the life she was carrying inside her a regular respectful identity and upbringing.
Shaheen lovingly touched her stomach and whispered to her child, “Sweetheart this world is a nasty place but Mom promises you today that she will make it a much better place for you to thrive.”
Next day the newspapers and magazines had published pictures and stories of the most happening and lavish Karwachauth party in Mumbai, The Oberoi’s party at The Oberoi Mansion at Bandra.
Avantika Oberoi’s dolled up face and some 30 lakhs worth dress made headlines in almost all page three’s of all leading dailies. Shaheen saw every picture but couldn’t find a picture of Nihal and Avantika together, which somewhat soothed her injuries.
Nihal had come back home that night around 3 am in the morning and found her awake. She didn’t ask him anything, he was visibly torn between his own emotions and sense of duty and responsibilities towards Cape Group and respect towards his father.
He knew he can no longer afford to inflict this kind of torture on Shaheen, which is only unfair and he too was tired of oscillating between his own haven that he had created with Shaheen and that showbiz world where people like Avantika Oberoi resides. He took a decision right at that moment but that had to wait till the next morning until he met Oberoi Senior at the office.
Nihal told his dad without mincing any single syllable that from now on He will not be catering to any requests or orders of putting up a show like yesterday where he has to condone the unbearable things like parties thrown by Avantika, tolerating her and her wild friends, to be picturized in those scenes, he will simply not.
All his intellectual assets are reserved for Cape Group only and so are his other resources, but he will not compromise his own sense of right and wrong and his commitment towards Shaheen, who to him, was his WIFE in every possible way and sense even if they are not married on papers or following some unnecessary rituals, but their souls were entwined with each other, which was MARRIAGE enough to him.
Every cloud has a silver lining, Shaheen thought to herself, switching off the TV. The show of Avantika Oberoi’s funeral was over and Mumbai after mourning in the morning till late afternoon was gearing up to enjoy the nightlife. All the white dresses will now embrace vibrant colors for partying; their own shows must go on.
Shaheen thought of the day she informed Nihal about her pregnancy and has never seen him more happier ever in life, he hugged her tight and did not know how to thank her, “You are giving me the most precious gift of my life Shaheen, I can’t believe I am going to be a father, just imagine someone is coming of our own flesh and blood.”
He was grinning ear to ear like a happy child who has just been given a lollypop after being deprived for years. The echo of Nihal’s happy voice still resonated in Shaheen’s ears and she came out of her initial insecurities.
One day she received a call from Nihal’s mother, Mrs.Niharika Oberoi. “Congratulations beta, Nihal told me this morning and I wish I could take care of you now because you deserve all the love in the world at this stage of your life.” Said an extremely cultured and affectionate voice after the initial introductions were over.
“You call me whenever you need me or any advice; although I am sure Nihal is taking you to the best of doctors in Mumbai. I am so happy for both of you and I thank you for bringing so much happiness to my son’s life and now to my life too, being a grandma is something I had wished for years.” Niharika Oberoi said jubilantly.
“I will send you homemade food from time to time, eat them, it’s good for the baby and I have given some dry fruits to Nihal for you, eat them every day.” she concluded.
This was how the door of communication opened between Shaheen and Nihal’s mother, which still exists today. Not for a day, Mrs.Niharika Oberoi treated Shaheen in any other way than how a mother in law should treat her daughter in law in the most respectful way, they shared a relationship of mutual respect and admiration.
Shaheen thought how she felt accepted by someone very important in Nihal’s life and it made a huge positive impact on their relationship. Shaheen couldn’t reach out to her own mother but Nihal’s mother filled that gap.
Whenever boxes of homemade pure ghee laddoos or bottles of tangy pickles reached her, she happily gorged on them.
Nihal was overprotective about her.
One day she had to tell him to stop being overbearing because this is not the first time in history a woman is carrying a baby and would be giving birth eventually. Nihal smiled sheepishly like a guilty child “It is the first time for me, that’s why, okay if you don’t want, I will check myself,” his face dropped.
Laughing out loud Shaheen put her head on his shoulders and wrapped her arms around his head, just then the baby kicked, she was stupendously surprised, she waited for the second kick, and it kicked again.
“Nihal” she shouted with joy and tears in her eyes, “what happened Shaheen? Not feeling good? What, tell me” Nihal’s pitch was equally high, “the baby just kicked Nihal, it just kicked twice,” she said glowing, “No don’t tell me, Shaheen are you sure? Okay let me check”, saying this Nihal put his hand on her growing belly and as if by understanding the father’s anxious eagerness the baby kicked hard, “Oouch” shrieked Shaheen, “Wow, Wow, it really did kick, my child just kicked” Nihal whooped in joy.
Shaheen’s pregnancy and Niharika Oberoi’s positive influence brought them even more closer, Shaheen had almost forgotten about the nasty world out there and how some people love vulgarity.
In her advanced stage one Sunday morning, when they both were sitting with the morning papers sipping tea, Shaheen came across an interview of Avantika to the newspaper, where she was asked to give her reaction on Shaheen’s pregnancy and she was quoted saying, “God is up there watching what that woman has done to me. What does she think; she will not be punished for her crime? Once she gives birth and turns into a fat lactating cow, Nihal will again search for greener pastures. Then she will gauge the pain she has given me.”
Nihal read that too, “Typical Avantika, I don’t know how Dad loves her and back her up always.” He said disgusted.
Phones started ringing asking for Shaheen’s reaction on Avantika’s comment, Nihal was about to instruct to put all the phones of the home off the hook, but Shaheen very steadily said, “No Nihal, let me put an end to this, otherwise she will not stop shedding crocodile’s tears garnering public sympathy. And moreover, it’s about our CHILD, not US.”
The reporter who had interviewed Avantika called up Nihal’s Kolaba residence asking for Shaheen, the maid who had picked up the phone brought the handset to Shaheen and told her who was on the other line. Shaheen took the phone calmly and spoke in a voice oozing confidence, “You are Shobhna, am I right? Hello, I am Shaheen Afroz. So may I know what have I done to be honored by a phone call by none other than the famous page three columnist Ms.Shobhna Manchanda?” she asked gleefully,knowing fully well about how she has won the first round.
“Ms.Afroz you must have read about the interview Mrs.Avantika Oberoi gave yesterday about your pregnancy. She is absolutely shattered and broken by this turn of the events, so I want your reaction on this.” Shobhna too was a seasoned player in this game and knew how to bring out quotable quotes when two women are at loggerheads over a man. But she had underestimated Shaheen’s willpower and honesty always has a power of its own.
“ I completely sympathize with Mrs.Avantika Oberoi, I know what she must be going through,after all she couldn’t conceive all these years, God knows why, because Nihal has no problems in becoming a father, I think by now you all must have known that” she said in a voice laced with sarcasm and dry humor.
“See Shobhna I am pregnant and going to be a mother soon, I don’t want to wish ill for anyone, especially not for Avantika, she has my full vote of sympathy. It was so sweet of her to be concerned about me that Nihal will leave me once I give birth, but tell her Nihal is religiously practicing to be a hands-on dad and has strictly told me that after coming home every evening he will not share the baby or nappy duties with anyone else, not even me!!!!
What a wonderful father he will be, won’t he Shobhna? What do you think? And I tell you it’s a wonderful feeling being pregnant and being pampered silly by your Man, who, by the way, is indicating at the watch because it’s my daily yoga time. I will have to hang up, Nihal is very very particular about all these, I don’t want to get a bout of his scolding at this stage. Come home one day Shobhna, let’s catch up over tea or whatever you like. Chalo bye.”
Shaheen disconnected with a satisfied Cheshire cat grin and saw Nihal was watching her with his mouth half open.
Shaheen came back to the present when her mobile vibrated and it was Nihal calling. Wrestling between mixed emotions she took the call, “Jaan” Nihal’s voice brought a sort of relief to her disturbed mind, “I am coming back home to you and Roshni tonight, for never to leave again” rain fell torrentially on a parched land deprived of the waterfall for ages, it seemed.
“I will wait; I will wait for you Nihal. Come home safely.”
Shaheen did not know whether she should celebrate Nihal’s homecoming after 2 months like untimely Diwali or Eid, then decided to keep this as normal as possible.
She went to Roshni’s room and gave her the news, Roshni jumped up and down in joy and Shaheen rejoiced in the memory the day Roshni was born.