THE TURNING POINT
Every evening at precisely 6 PM Shalini Joshi would leave her office, sit in her car, drive out of the parking lot, turn left on Tilak Road, and drive towards her house in Deccan Gymkhana.
Today she turned right and drove in the opposite direction. Now that was surprising. For Shalini Joshi was a stickler for routine. And that was the reason for her success. At thirty-five, Shalini Joshi was a thoroughly successful woman. She was the branch manager with independent charge of a prestigious branch of a leading bank, her promotion was due any moment and there was no stopping her from reaching the top. Her husband, Sudhir, was a doctor with an excellent practice. Everything had worked as per plan. Today Shalini had everything she wanted – a palatial flat in a posh locality, a farm-house in the outskirts of Pune, two lovely children (a boy and a girl), an ideal husband, a doting mother-in-law and all the status and prosperity she could ever hope for. Even her Sundays were planned – a family outing to their farm-house followed by an evening at the club rubbing shoulders with the crème de la crème of society. And the annual vacation – a sojourn at a hill station or a beach resort. Her life was a marvelous success – from the outside.
Shalini parked her car on East Street and walked quickly to the apartment block, looking around furtively like someone with a guilty conscience. She re-checked the address and rang the doorbell. Ajay opened the door. Shalini felt a tremor of trepidation. She wondered if she was doing the right thing.
“I normally don’t see anyone at my residence,” Ajay said beckoning her to sit down. He closed the door, turned towards her, looked directly into her eyes, and said, “But I can always make an exception in your case.”
“I want this visit kept absolutely confidential,” Shalini said, beads of perspiration showing on her forehead. “And whatever we discuss. Please don’t tell anyone.”
“Of course,” Ajay said. “I’ll make some coffee. Then we can talk.”
Shalini followed him into the kitchen, observing with admiration its neatness and organization. This was the home of a self-sufficient man. He hardly needed a wife.
After they had settled down on the sofa, coffee cups in hand, Ajay said, “What is the matter Shalini? Just get it off your chest.”
“I want to divorce my husband,” Shalini said. She was surprised that her words had no effect on Ajay. His manner remained relaxed and nonchalant.
He smiled. “I guessed so.”
“How? I’ve not told anyone. Not even my husband.”
“That’s what people come to me for. It’s my job.” Ajay paused. “Tell me, Shalini. What’s the exact problem? Is Sudhir having an affair or something?”
“Don’t be silly,” shouted Shalini getting visibly angry. “How can you say such an ridiculous thing ?”
“Calm down,” Ajay said. “Then what’s the reason? There have to be some grounds.”
“I can’t stand it any longer. Living a life of pretence, fake and hypocrisy. Just to maintain a facade of conjugal conviviality. I feel suffocated. I just want to break free !” Shalini wiped the tears from her eyes. She looked small, weak and vulnerable ; her composure shattered.
Ajay was ashamed to find that, inwardly, he was glad to hear of her misfortune. Did he really love her that much?
Ajay checked his train of thoughts and said, “Shalini, listen to me carefully. I’m a lawyer. Yes, I do take up divorce cases. But I’m the last resort. You need to see a marriage counselor first. I know a lady. Someone you can talk to, who can empathise with you.”
“I want to talk to you first.”
“Okay,” Ajay said. Tell me everything.”
She talked. He listened. Ajay was easy to talk to and soon Shalini began experiencing a sense of release and a strange feeling of elation. In these moods there was so much to say - the words simply came tumbling out.
When she had finished, Ajay said, “Your problem is that you don’t have any problems !”
“If you’re not going to take me seriously, I’m going. I came for your advice. And help. Not for sarcastic comments.”
“It’s high time you go,” Ajay said gesturing towards the wall clock. “It’s almost 8 o’clock. Your husband may be wondering what you are up to.”
“He comes home after ten. His consulting hours are till 9.30 and then he visits his patients in hospital.” Shalini paused. “I’ll ring up my mother-in-law and tell her to put the children to sleep. She may be worried. I’m always home by 6.30.”
Shalini made the phone call. She told her mother-in-law that she was held up in an important meeting and would be home in half an hour.
At that very moment, when Shalini was making the phone call, Dr. Sudhir Joshi was cruising down East Street after attending an emergency call at the other end of town. His clinic was near Deccan Gymkhana and it was a long drive. Dr. Joshi normally never left his clinic during consulting hours but then this had been a genuine emergency, an important patient and, not to forget, a fat fee. It had been worth it. But there would be a lot of patients waiting for him at the clinic. He would have to work late tonight. Shalini wouldn’t mind. She never did. Suddenly he saw a familiar yellow car. A rare colour – bright yellow. Just like Shalini’s. It couldn’t be? Not here, at this time.
He stopped his car behind the yellow car and looked at the number plate. Yes it was. It was Shalini’s car. Dr. Sudhir Joshi was wondering what his wife’s car was doing parked below an apartment block on East Street at 8 o’clock at night when Shalini came hurriedly out of the gate, got into her car and drove away. It was at this moment that Dr. Joshi decided to pay a bit more attention to his wife.
Copyright 2006 Vikram Karve