Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Recluse

People call Sheila a recluse. Others disapproved of her lonely-lifestyle shaking their heads and clicking their tongues against the roof of their mouth whenever they passed the rambling house showing and sharing their sympathy with each other.

Sheila lived inside the huge old house with its generous gardens, shaded varandahs and high ceilings, seldom leaving its cool spacious comfort to mingle with the crowds outside the confines of the imposing black wrought iron gates. 

The gates themselves were gigantic with ancient corroding motifs and flanked on each side by giant gargoyle topped columns. There were a couple of ancient cars covered in bulky grey canvas in the yellow porch on the right side of the house. 

There was a small entrance next to the cars for the servants and the postman. This was the door that was mostly used. Not much was visible from outside as all the windows of the house had beautiful stained glass windows that hid its treasures from prying eyes and dyed the sunlight that poured into the floors into shocking colors and lazy motifs. 

The rooms were dark and colorful, full of ancient treasures and hordes of books.Sometimes there were parties in the garden. The mothers decked out in fabulous sarees would giggle softly at tasteful jokes and fan themselves with handmade Chinese fans sipping gin and tonic at these soirĂ©es. 

Their pouting mouths red and arresting would be set off by their perfectly coiffed hair gleaming in fairy lights. She was sitting on a squishy, single-seater sofa that was part of a pair upholstered in a profusion of spring flowers that are back in fashion once more as vintage. There was a carved walnut coffee table in-between the two chairs on which was sitting a single cup of fine china with conservative blue motif of a blossoming cherry tree. 

It was filled to two-thirds with steaming brown tea – neither too dark nor too light, just the correct taste and aroma. There was also an ancient telephone instrument fixed on the wall next to the table that suddenly jangled shaking Sheila out of her reverie.The watchman was a little less hostile today but, not friendly. He looked at him suspiciously and then at the wall clock in the small guard room and back at him pointedly. Shree refused to comment and instead looking at his own wristwatch stood his ground tapping his feet impatiently on the asphalt driveway. The watchman gave up after two minutes and using the intercom announced his presence in the house.

“Thank you Shree. Let us catch up some time over cricket.”

“No, you are not. You just have one hour and then you are gone too. So, what is it that you want? Do you want a divorce Shreekant?”

“I remember Shrikant, about the boy who wanted to be a successful author. He used my vulnerability to make me rebel against my father. I married the boy Shrikant, against my family’s wishes but, he abandoned me and ran away in search of personal glory. He was the same boy who killed my father and mother and made sharks of the other family members, rocked the foundations of this house and made a recluse of me. Oh yes Shreekant, I remember the boy – the man – too well.” 

“…I have seen a few. I think they are good.”

“Yes, 14 years is a long time.”

“…anyway, so we took him in. He was frail and had speech issues. He could not speak for a long time, needed therapy. The servant who had brought him here left soon after so, grandma named him after you.”

Finally, she had thought hard and decided that she did not want to leave the house and had told him so. But, he had made unsavory accusations even then and walked off in a blaze of anger, leaving her sobbing at the door. He had now shown up at the same door wanting her to do his bidding once more. 

Clearly he had not learnt anything about her then and he knew precious little about her now.Then, she came to know about the latest starlet and the movie he was planning as a biopic. She knew the content. She had read the script, just like she had all the others before it. She also knew how he had portrayed her in the story as a cold, unfeeling bitch. She knew then that he had never cared for her. It was there in black and white in-front of her eyes. Reading the script had set her free. She had soared after that. First by saying no to financing the film and then, using the clout of her production house to scare off all the other producers. The final coup was to get the lone independent producer on their side by offering him partnership in a three-film deal.

The house had six bedrooms including the master bedroom and one huge library that also doubled up as an office. There was a drawing room big enough to entertain the governor and a smaller breakfast room next to the cavernous kitchen that was large enough to seat eight. There were other rooms, balconies, cubbyholes and storerooms tucked into corners and crevices of the house. 

It was a big house. When Sheila was a young girl it was full of people. There were cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, other relatives and lots of servants. The servant overflowed the servants’ quarters and used to sleep out in the backyard during summers and huddled into warm quilts in the warm corridors at the back of the house in the winters.

The children played in the gardens watched over by chatting ayahs and nannies while indulgent mothers played cards under the shades of huge garden umbrellas, sitting in deep wicker chairs sipping cold sharbat in the summers and hot tea in the winters.Sitting in her vast bedroom-cum-boudoir, Sheila could look at the garden at the back of the house just by turning her head to look out of the open window. 

But, these days it was a practical but well maintained vegetable patch.


"Yes, you have reached her"

"Please tell me what it is now as I do not entertain visitors"

"No, I am not free any day. I am very busy."

"No, I do not know who that is and don't care. Please don't waste my time or yours. Thank you!"

The phone rang once more almost as soon as she had replaced the ancient receiver breathing hurriedly, shaken by the rude intrusion into her privacy. She picked it up after giving herself a few seconds to get her breathing to normal.

"Please do not waste your time. I am very busy"

"Oh! I'm sorry. I thought you were..."

"Oh, I see. You are the person he was speaking about. Look, I do not meet anyone. I'm sure you know that if were able to find my unlisted number, I'm sure you know why it is unlisted."

"No, I'm afraid, that would not be possible. I do not allow people to wander around my home."

"No thank you. I do not watch films or TV so, I'm not sure if I know what you are talking about."

"About my husband... I see..."

The pause was long and Sheila took her time to look around her bedroom at the piles of books on her left. The groaning floor-to-ceiling book case was overflowing and piles of books were scattered at its base. They looked like the belonged to the room - a part of the milieu.

"He is in town is it?"

"I see... Just leave your number with me and my secretary would get in touch with you."

The tea lay forgotten on the carved table untouched and cold. Sheila left the sofa and moved on to the shaded verandah adjoining the bedroom. 

Her unseeing eyes were looking at the vegetable patches but were actually seeing at a lavish wedding reception - her wedding reception.

Was it only 15 years? The day of her wedding reception, the day that started the disintegration of her family that led to the desertion of the house by everyone except her. 

A strangled sob fought for an outlet somewhere in her throat and her eyes sheened over.

Fifteen years are a long time to forgive and forget even the most heinous of crimes and she thought she had moved on. But, lodged somewhere in her brain or was it her heart was a piercing sadness that was suddenly making its presence felt. 

It was on her, the moment of reckoning.The phone summoned impatiently once more and Sheila made her way back to the instrument languorously. 

The ancient instrument was demanding her attention after such a long time.


"…Oh…! It's you..."

"I'm good"

"I don't think that would be possible any more since both of them are dead. No, Manu uncle and everyone else are gone. So, that would not be necessary."

"What do you want Shrikant? I'm sure you did not get those people who called earlier to dig out this number to simply greet my family after all these years. If you ever wanted to do that you always knew where we live."

"No, I am not busy but, I do not think meeting would be possible. I do not go out much anyway."

"No, I do not think I would appreciate your coming here either. Just tell my secretary what you want. I shared his number with the person who had called me earlier."

"I hope that would be all."                                                        


Two days later there was a commotion at the yellow porch near the covered cars. A 14-year-old boy, who lived in the servants’ quarter and helped the gardener while attending school during the day, came running up to Sheila to tell her that a fight had broken out at the entrance.

“They are fighting madamji… There is a man who said he is your husband and the watchman punched him on the face. Then, Shanti aunty, the cook, came out and seeing the man started crying. She sent me up to call you.”

All commotion came to a halt as soon as Sheila emerged at the entrance near the yellow porch. The 39 years had been very kind to her and though wearing a simple white salwaar-kameez with a ochre dupatta, she still looked not a year older than 25. 

Not much older than how she looked when they’d got married. 

Shrikant or Shree, turned around to face the door when the watchman suddenly stopped glaring at him to look at something behind him and then dropped his eyes to the floor in deference. 

There she stood framed on the ancient doorway looking just like she had all those years back. Except that on that fateful day she was wearing a red saree, had heena on her palms and arms up to her elbows that jangled with gold and glass bangles. There was a streak of vermilion cutting across the parting in the middle of her head then. That day there were tears in her eyes, today they looked – indifferent.

The servants had gathered around a venerable distance from her, standing together facing Shree as if he was the enemy and they, at war. 

Except for the old cook, there was no one he recognized from 15 years back.

“I think I told you not to come here without an appointment Shrikant.”

“I said I wanted to meet you since I was in town. It is not unusual after all for a husband to see his wife…”

“After 15 years?” She finished the sentence for him and it achieved the desired effect. 

There was a collective hiss from the gathering around her.

“Can we have this conversation in private Sheelu?”

“I’m sorry that won’t be possible and Shrikant, my name is Sheila.”

“OK then, I’m ready to have this conversation here. Is that is fine with you Sheila?”

“No, I do not want any conversation either with you or your people. Just leave me alone.”

“I know how you feel Sheel… Sheila, but, I just want to speak with you and clear the air between us. I want to bring these 15 years to a closure. I was a coward to run away and it took me 15 years to gather the courage to blacken your doorsteps. Can’t you give me just one hour?”
“I gave you 15 years Shrikant…”

The hiss was audible once more. This time there was menace to it.

“Then it was your family and now it is your servants, we never had a chance did we?”

“Please go away. I have nothing to discuss and I’m tired after 15 years. I do not talk much these days anyway.”

Sensing a chink in Sheila’s armor Shrikant pushed through recklessly. 

“One hour is all I seek. Please.”

Sheila turned around in the doorway and said, “three days later at 10 a.m. Be here on time you have between 10 and 11.” 

She walked away from the door and most of her retinue followed her in.

Shrikant heaved a sigh of relief and then giving a baleful look at the still glowering watchman made his way out of the imposing wrought iron gates with strong and purposeful strides.

Upon reaching the gate he turned around once to look up at the balcony that ran across the width of the house. A sudden movement at the corner on the left ensured that Sheila had watched him walk away – just like all those years ago.

Slowly he turned around and squeezed his well-built form out of the slightly-opened entrance guarded by heavy chains that did not allow them to open at will. Somehow, to Shree, the door symbolized life inside the mansion – it would be difficult but, he had his toe inside the doorway.   


Three days later, Shree presented himself at the guarded gates of Sheila’s house with fifteen minutes to spare from the appointed time. He knew that protocol may eat up his precious one hour so, he had come before time.

Shree walked in after the watchman waved him towards the yellow porch ignoring the front entrance that was used by the family once. He shrugged, thinking that since there was only Sheila, who never went anywhere according to her own confession; therefore, probably the front door was not used any more. Something tickled at the back of his neck. It was his sixth sense. He knew that Sheila was looking at him from one of the painted windows. He looked up but, as he knew well enough the windows gave nothing away.

A young boy in his early teens was waiting for him. He took Shree inside the house, often sneaking shy, sidelong glances at him. It always helped to make friends, was Shree’s motto. So, he pulled out his right hand from the pocket of his scruffy jeans and put it on the boy’s head affectionately. It immediately got him a gawky smile.

“Do you go to school?”

“Yes sir. Madam sends us all to school. Today is Sunday.” 

He finished lamely as if seized by fear of having spilled some beans that he was not supposed to.

“Yes, I know she is generous. You know, her father had paid for my higher education and let me stay here when I was young.”

This information was enough to bond them for life. The boy grinning from ear to ear decided he could now say whatever he wanted to without being intimidated.

“She is very sad. I will marry her and make her happy as soon as I finish my education and get a job.” 

He meant business, this little one. Reminding Shree of another boy many years ago who had kept his promise but, had to break it too soon.

“Yes, you must. She deserves to be happy.”

The boy beamed at the bigger man and sliding nearer took his hands in his own.“What’s your name?”

“Shree”A small hand tugged at him hard, pulling Shrikant up the stairs. He stumbled and then steadied himself helped by the reassuring hand as a worried young face looked at him through thickly lashed eyes.The rest of the journey to the library on the first floor was made in silence as both boy and man completed their journey, hands wrapped around each other. 

At the entrance to the library, the boy still clutching the man’s hand, tapped softly to announce their presence and then entered the dark room, lighted by overhead halogen bulbs – just like the old days.Sheila, seated on a table with books thrown around randomly on it, looked up slowly from the tea service and blanched seeing the two at the doorway holding hands. 

Shrikant, who had a thousand queries on his lips turned to the boy next to him who was staring at both the adults one-by-one in consternation. He patted the child’s head affectionately with his left hand and smiled into his eyes adding a reassuring wink. The boy immediately smiled back a guileless, innocent smile that filled up his face and danced as an impish twinkle in his eyes.

“Yessir!” and the boy ran out of the room not sparing a backward glance at Sheila who sat staring at the exchange as if turned to stone.

“Are you all right Sheelu? You do look pale. Do you want me to call Shree back and send for a doctor?”

“Why are you here Shrikant?”

“I told you that I wanted to meet you. I am your husband after all. Is it so difficult for you to understand Sheelu?”

“Stop calling me that.”

“But, that is what everyone used to call you here.”

“Everyone is gone Shreekant.”“But, I am here…”

There was a long pause when each looked at the other refusing to be the first to look away.

“Don’t you want to offer some tea Sheelu? I have come home after a decade and a half - tired and thirsty. Think of me as the orphan boy who had nowhere to sleep and no books to study from, the one you shared your books with and helped with his English and Math. The boy, who slept in the servants’ quarters and studied in this library in the evenings, Think of me as the boy who could not wait to grow up because he wanted to marry you. The boy, who shared his dreams and nightmares with you. He was the first to kiss you in the gardens here before going away to college. Do you remember nothing Sheelu?”

“Sheelu, I’m sorry. Of all the stupid mistakes in my life, the worst was to let go of you but, your father…, he would not allow me to follow my heart. He was so adamant. He wanted me to join him in his legal practice as a clerk and to give up my dreams. He forbade me to leave the house and go to Bombay to pursue my dreams. He kept on reminding me of how he had helped me off the streets and how I had in return played a nasty game by making you fall in love with me and marrying you. It was so not true. I loved you, love you…”

“…and you Sheelu? You too refused to come with me after my script got chosen to be made into a big budget film. You too wanted me to be a clerk at your father’s practice?”

“I struggled for years to make my mark. In the beginning it was difficult. I was running between studios, trying to catch up with people who could help. This went on for the first two years – till the film for which my script was chosen hit the theatres and was declared a hit – then it became much easier to get work. But, by then there was so much work that I did not have time. There was a time when I had several movies on the floor and I was exhausted. But, I embraced work because it gave me immunity from you. That image of you, standing at the front door dressed in a red saree with tears streaking down your beautiful cheeks never really left me. I wanted to rush back and steal you away, but I wanted to be rich and famous, and respectable like your father. So, I struggled and worked for years together.”

Shrikant raked his hands in his hair and looked up from the wood paneled floor he was addressing, to look at Sheila who was looking at her hands on her lap. There were signs of struggle on her face. 

Emboldened by her silence and what looked like sympathy on her downcast face, Shrikant continued,“I don’t know if you have seen any of my movies but, I did well. I have been not only writing but also directing films for some time now. I won some awards and got critical acclaim. I’m sure you’d like the films. If you allow me, then, I’ll arrange for a special screening here, one day.”


It was torn from Sheila like a missile that hit Shreekant like a shrapnel – wounding his ego.This was like manna straight from heaven.

“You have Sheelu? But, you said you do not go out.”

“DVD player”

“Oh, I see. Thank you. I always wanted to know what you’d think of them. It means a lot to me to know that you like them. Thank you.”


“Don’t call me that…”

“OK, Sheila. I wanted to meet your father and show him that I could take care of you but, I took too long…”

“He died. 14 years…”

“Yes, he fell ill soon after you left, had a massive coronary attack and was paralyzed on the left side. He died in his bed after almost a year and ma followed soon.”

“I’m sorry. You must hate me.”

“No, I did not, not then. I waited for you to come back. But, then days became months and then, years… Now, I don’t care. I’m OK here. Safe.”

“Then, why Shree?”

The quiet following the question was like a raging elephant in the library. Its presence was a palpable force that could run rampant and demolish the fragile peace in the book-flanked room. Sheila sighed and with determination glittering in her eyes and squared her shoulders to tackle the rogue beast.

“Shree came to this house exactly two year after you had left. A lot had happened by then, daddy was dead and so was ma. Most of the relatives had left and others had to be evicted by Raman uncle, daddy’s partner at the law firm and there was only me and grandma in the house.”

She took a break and started preparing the tea in a bid to hide her badly shaking hands. The cups and saucers rattled as she poured the now-tepid tea out of the intricately-designed pot and added milk to it. 

As she moved to add sugar cubes, Shrikant put out his hands saying, “Don’t take sugar in my tea anymore.”

“No? But, you used to take three teaspoons.”“I was young then, now, I need to exercise to keep trim and healthy.”

The tell-tale blush was not lost on Shreekant who smiled indulgently at Sheila who had quickly looked away from him. She had always been wonderful for his ego, even all those years ago when both of them were shy and awkward.

“Oh! Yes. He was brought here by one of the servants from his village. He said the boy had no one and since my father was known to help orphans…”

“It’s OK Sheel…Sheila, I know he was the most generous person I have met – also the most stubborn…”

There were tears in her eyes and Shrikant wanted to wipe them off, but, he was also unsure if she’d like that. So, he offered her his soft handkerchief instead.She looked at it for a while before accepting it without looking at him.

“Your grandmother was a sweetheart. You know, she wanted me to run away with you when you father would not allow you to come with me.”“I know, she had asked me to run away.”

“Why didn’t you Sheelu? I would have taken care of you. You know that.”

“I did not. You were so angry and bitter all the time.”

“I was, wasn’t I? I hated my life here, in this house and I hated working as a clerk in your father’s practice.”

“What do you want Shrikant? Really, why are you here after all these years? I’m sure you know that there is no one but, me here. I would appreciate some truth from you now.”

“…and I just told you. I wanted to make amends.”

“Whatever, I think, you should leave now. Your hour is over.”

“Sheel… Sheila. I came here because I want to say sorry to you and I want to make amends.”

“Apology accepted and you are hereby exonerated. Now, leave.”

“Please. Look at me. Please Sheelu…”

“Stop. Right. There.”

“Look, I know you are angry with me but, I would really like to make amends. Sheila, I want you back. No, sorry, I want me back in your life. Please give me a chance.”

“No, Shrikant. I do not want you in my life or want me to be in yours. I’m not interested. And, Shrikant this house is not open to your crew for shooting either.”

“What are you saying Sheela. Where did that come from?”

“Shrikant, two can play the same game. You had me checked and I did the same on you. I know all about your movie and also about the producer who has backed out of your latest project. I learnt my lessons 14 years back Shrikant. Once daddy passed away all my ‘uncles and aunties’ tried just what you are trying now. They all thought they could play with my emotions and make me part with daddy’s wealth. I learnt fast and Raman uncle helped me a lot – still does.”

“Sheila, this is crazy, I know that the producer has backed off but, that only meant that I had some time to come looking for you. I told you I was busy all these years. Please do not be swayed by half-baked theories. And, who told you that I want to shoot in this house? What a bunch of rubbish.”

“Well, you know a little bit of money can buy a lot of information. Your assistant in Mumbai, let us on your ideas. Yes, you have made a name for yourself but, your last ventured did not do too well beyond the festival circuits and you need money to put into the new one, that now does not have a producer.”

“I think, you have been led astray by someone. I have no interest in making a period piece. I never have. So, why would I need to shoot in this mausoleum?”

“The girl you shortlisted to play one of the leads, let out your secret once she was promised a three-film deal by a very well-known production house. She said that you wanted to make a movie on your own life and that is why needed to shoot here. Shrikant, after a couple of drinks, she called you a megalomaniac who was forever on a ego trip.”

“Oh, and she also let us in that you were going to make her meet me, your ex-wife so she could pick up my high-brow mannerisms and haughty personality traits. Pity she had never met me personally because, she said that a self-centered person like you deserved a cold broad like me…”

“…I think she was right. You deserve cold contempt. You thought that just because I never go out of this house, I’d never know what goes outside these gates and therefore, you’ll come and fool me right back, like all those years ago.”

“I see, so, you have added cynicism to your repertoire Sheila. Please do not forget that I am still your husband and I have my rights. I am going to file for Restitution of Conjugal Rights and I’ll see to it that your dear Raman uncle can do nothing to usurp my privileges as a husband.”

“Does that scare you Sheila? Or had you forgotten that there are laws in the land? You look pale. Does the idea of sharing your chaste bed with me scare you dear wife?”

Sheila blanched visibly and turned away to look at the narrow window between two massive bookshelves as Shrikant continued rambling and threatening.

“I’m back Sheila and I’m not going anywhere. So, you may as well get used to the idea. I refuse to take no for an answer this time. You are my wife and your place is beside me and not inside this museum…”

Sheila willed her ears to stop listening and stared hard at the delicate wristwatch around her wrist. She was not used to company nor was she used any more to having people to tell her what to do. 

She wanted Shrikant out of the house before her headache became excruciating. But, with fortitude worthy of a saint or a martyr she allowed Shrikant to vent his venom, ensuring that she neither blanched nor winced at his accusations or threat.She was once more that alabaster statue that had greeted Shrikant when he had come three days back and today when he had entered the library.

“…I waited for you. Damn it woman! I waited all these years to reconcile with ‘Your Highness’ and what do I get? You are heartless, not fit to be a woman. I wasted my life on you…”

With a sinking heart, Sheila felt all those allegations and insults penetrate into her being once again. He had called her heartless and not fit to be a woman even then. He had wanted her to run away with him and help him out as his ‘partner’ in Bombay indicating that the jewellery she had got at the wedding would see them through for a long time. She had been scared by his ideas and sad that he was being so reckless and uncaring about her wishes.Being a recluse had worked in her favor and he knew nothing about her as compared to his life that was fodder for yellow journalism, now called paparazzi. 

They did not even need three days to find out everything – they knew everything already. She was expecting him to come looking for her for a while. She could have wrapped up much faster but, the production house needed some time to get to the girl with a contract.She had believed him all those years ago and closed herself off from the world. She had misjudged him so much, probably because she was hardly allowed outside the house. It was her prison as well as her hideaway. But, now was different. She had known his every move for a long time. After all, she had been helping him for years now. 

She only staggered after he started the string of sleazy affairs with starlets and strugglers.It had taken him all of seven years and a few hits to go berserk. She had thought it was only a passing phase and turned a blind eye till the casting couch scandal hit the inner circles and big producers started shirking him. 

By then, her company too was a large production house and they continued funding his movies despite the bad personal press he was getting constantly.Shrikant had walked in her parlor just as she had hoped and now, she was waiting for the right moment to show him to the door.

“…you cannot close me out Sheila. I am not going to be fobbed off like I was all those years back…”

Sheila’s right palm moved to her forehead to message her temples. She had loved him so much at one point. What happens to love once a person moves on and walks out of the other’s life? Perhaps it dies too but, she had not let it die. She had continued stoking the fire for years.

Helping him, allowing him to live his dreams. When she had told Raman uncle about her decision to enter film-making, he had been appalled but, supportive, like always. He had assured that the company was being run by the ablest of hands and did not act as a front to message Shrikant’s ego. He, like her father, had never liked Shrikant much. They had both realized that Shrikant was using her naivety to reel her into a marriage of convenience to feed his ambition.

Sheila had made money in the movie business – lots of money. It had made her life very comfortable and had helped her maintain the huge house. Also, running a successful business had its own high. She had deliberately stayed out of the picture, maintaining a low profile and appearing only at the most crucial meetings – but, the decisions that had paid off were all her own. 

She had built an empire out of her daddy’s hard-earned legacy – the money that everyone wanted to steal from her after he died. She knew that wherever he was, he would be proud of her.She looked covertly at the watch once more.

“…this is not the end of this discussion. You will hear from my lawyer soon. You cannot shrug me off like a day-old shirt…”

He needed to be put in his place and fast. Once that is done, she too could become more active and visible in her company. Her employees needed to see her and she was raring to go. Fifteen years as a recluse was enough. It was now time for her to spread her wings. The library door rattled and opened with a swoosh, cutting Shrikant off mid-sentence.

Raman uncle walked in with two more people.“Are you all right child?”

“Yes uncle, I’m fine. Please sit down. I’ll ring for a fresh pot of tea.”

“What’s going on here Sheila? What are they doing here?” Shrikant was having difficulty peeling his eyes from one of the two men who’d entered with Raman. He was a dapper figure in a grey pinstripe suit. The man looked at Shrikant without moving a muscle on his impassive face and moved towards the table to greet Sheila instead.

“Good morning ma’am. Here are the files you needed.”

“Thank you Mr Bose. Please sit down. I’m sure you know Shrikant very well.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Of course he knows me. His company had financed most of my movies and made a killing off them. But, how do you know him Sheila?”

“Sit down please Shrikant. There are a lot of things we would like to tell you. I suggest you take a seat before and make yourself comfortable.”

It was Raman uncle with his steel-edged court-room voice and mannerism. “And yes, before we proceed, here’s the divorce decree. We got the marriage annulled two years after you deserted Sheila and therefore, you have no rights on her or her holdings anymore.”

Sheila rejoiced at the look on Shrikant’s face after 15 long years of waiting and tasted freedom on her parched tongue. Her smile was serene, crushing Shrikant for good – her victory was complete. 

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