Many-Splendoured Love/Just One Minute

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Just One Minute

Once again Saamant looked around. and mused on the large crowd that had gathered. “Where there are Desi people, there is bound to be noise. But al least the dance is all right.” On the stage three young girls were doing a fast dance on some Bollywood film song. “ Oof, What a lot of energy these girls have”, he thought, and absentmindedly put the bottle in his mouth. It was long empty.

For the first time the Indian Association of his County had organized a festival on a very grand scale, to celebrate the Independence Day of India. Earlier in the day there was a Parade through some roads in nearby town or two, and for the whole day a fair had been arranged in the vast parking lot of a shopping centre. On one side lots of food was being sold. On the other side, in a big tent, an exhibition on India was displayed.

From the stage that was built in the middle of the plot, several organizers gave speeches, with much enthusiasm, but the crowd did not seem interested in listening to them. Even during various dances, people’s constant conversations and shouts created more noise. In between one young man came on the stage and played some music on Sitar, but perhaps not a single person even looked at him.

Saamant never liked to go to such public Indian programmes. “Why be amidst crowds and such noise?”, he would feel. His friend Kanti would force him along. Even on this day, saying, “Oh com’on Yaar, lets see what great thing the Indian Association is putting up”, Kanti had dragged him along.

“And where is my good friend Kantilal now?”, Saamant was getting irritated standing alone, and wondering if to keep standing there or go look for Kanti. He got fed up with having to hold on to the empty beer bottle wrapped in the brown paper bag. To throw it away, he went towards the food section. There he saw Kanti, standing close to two white girls, laughing heartily on some thing they had said.

Without paying any attention to Saamant’s irritation, Kanti hurriedly said, “This is Samy, my best friend.” Both the girls chirped together, “Hi Samy. Bye Keny. See you later.”

“After all this is over, they are going to come with us. I will introduce you properly at that time”, Kanti said, and taking Saamant along, went towards the stage. There was a large water-bottle in his hand. He said, “ You were unnecessarily nervous about drinking in public. So many others also have brought drinks, just like us. Oh, you finished the beer, right? So now have this Gin and Tonic.”

Saamant felt that he was never able to say no to this Kantilal. Kanti stuck the bottle in his raised hand, even as he tried to say, “I don’t want it.” That too with the cap open. Saamant took it to his mouth and took a sip. “This man has not forgotten to keep it in the ice-box either”, and Saamant took another sip. He felt the coolness of the drink going down inside his throat. He felt like sitting down in some cool shade.

That very moment Kanti hit Saamant with his elbow so hard that some liquid from the bottle fell on Saamant’s hand. Taking the bottle away Kanti almost screamed, “Look, Look at the stage. See who is dancing. Is that Mindy, or what?”

Without a word Saamant stared at the stage. “She does look like Manda”, he muttered.

Closing the bottle-cap, downing the last sip, Kanti said, “Yes, yes, It is Mandy. Your wife, my ‘sister-in-law’. At least from one time, right? Quite a woman. She left the husband, but did not let go of dancing.”

Saamant had not heard any of it. He was standing there stunned. His eyes were not moving from the young woman doing Kathak dance. “ It surely is Manda. How beautiful she looks”, he mused.


Manda went back into the tent after finishing the dance. On one side a few chairs had been placed for the artists to sit. Michael hugged her right away, congratulating her. “ There were so many claps. You heard them, right? You really are teriffic, you know”, he said. Manda had held on to his hand, and had thanked him with a lot of feelings in her eyes.

She was nervous even after the dance ended. She was thinking, “After how long I danced in public. If Michael did not stand by me, I would never have got ready for such a programme.” Manda’s eyes filled with tears.

Two-three associates came to talk to her, so Michael went to get a cup of coffee for her. Manda was sitting with her back to the Exhibition area. She could not see who came and who left. In the noise of music and conversation she could not even hear that someone was calling her. Those associates drew her attention to that.

When Manda turned around she saw two men standing there, looking at her. There was a long table separating them with where she sat. She could not recognise either of them right away. But one of the men said, laughing menacingly, “How are you, Bhabhi? My sister-in-law from before. Did not recognize us yet? I am Keny. And you forgot even this Samy?” He nudged Saamant, “ Arre, say something at least.”


Her father had asked her on phone, “ You are not making a very fast decision, right, Manda? Are you sure this Saamant is good?”

Tall, slim, light moustache, a fetching smile - yes, Manda had liked this Saamant. She was visiting America again, to attend a cousin’s wedding, and giivng in to her wish, Manda had also performed a dance at the Reception. “I will only do a classical Kathak dance, not a filmy one”, she had firmly insisted. Saamant had come up to chat with her. He had complimented her profusely, and had discussed the importance of music in one’s life. From thisencounter, phone calls had started, and then meetings.

Her Mom had assured her father. “No, no, surely he is a nice boy. I met him several times. He is good-looking, educated. He is a doctor, do you know?”

Perhaps that was the biggest mistake, but whose mistake was it? Saamant had said that he worked in a hospital. Nobody asked him anything further, and just believed that - that which suited them. Both Manda and Saamant had Green Cards, so it was certain that he had not got hold of Manda for any Visa reason.

Mom stayed back a little longer, and the marriage had taken place. It was decided that, after a few months both Manda and Saamant will go to India together, will meet Papa there, and at that time, a nice big function will be arranged.

It turned out that things changed right away. From the start, in every matter, Manda had to adjust and let go also. Saamant had very ordinary tastes. The way he talked, dressed; his fuss about food. If he did not like taste of something, he will get agry on Manda right away. “Have you learnt anything other than dancing?”, he had muttered once. Manda had become sad, and even then she had quietly accepted all that.

Then she got an invitation to present a dance in the big celebratory function for Diwali. At that time Saamant told her very plainly, “You do not have to be a dance-girl like Umrao.jaan, in front of hundreds of people, you understand?”

Mnada tried to argue, and in seething anger, Saamant raised his hand. He would have surely hit her, if just then the door bell had not chimed. Manda did not move. Slashing air with his hand, he went to open the door. Saying,“ Arre, where have you two got lost? Forgot the neighbours altogether?” , a pleasant-looking elderly woman dashed in. “We were out of town, so missed the wedding. But at least now introduce your bride to us.”

“Oh yes, yes, do come in”, reluctantly Saamant said. “Look, Manda, this is Shyamu.bhai, and this is Manju.bhabhi. They live right behind us.”

“I may be your ‘bhabhi’, but for her I am the elder sister, ok?”, and Manju.bahen gave a warm hug to Manda.

After having a cup of tea together, when they left, Saamant said, “These Indians. Who else would force themselves like this without calling first?” But Manda liked their friendliness a lot. Soon a habit of chatting with Manju.bahen every morning was formed. Of course, after Saamant left for work.

Manju.bahen quickly got the sense of things from small signs. One day she told Manda assuringly, “ Any time you need something, or need to talk to us, just come over. Do not wait to ask us by calling first, ok?”

Kanti visited frequently - at times by himself, at times he would bring some Amrican girl with him. At that time Saamant would perk up a lot. The three of them would start drinking. Kanti would come close to Manda and say, “Bhabhi, if you are with us it is very nice. And give us company some times at least.” Prodded by him, Lizy or Daisy or Melissa, or whoever, would also say, “Have one, Mandy. You will like it, you will see.”

Discomfort and embarrassment would overwhelm Manda, but still, in her heart she had hopes that slowly everything would get sorted out. And really, when Saamant’s elder sister and brother-in-law came to spend ten-twelve days with them, time went very well, All the four of them sat together and laughed a lot, Saamant hardly drank during those days. From the sister-in-law Manda learnt to cook in the style of their household. To celebrate the completion of two months of marriage, Saamant took everyone out for dinner, and surprised Manda by saying, “We will celebrate four months of our marriage in Poona with your parents.”

“Write to them and tell them to start making arrangement for the Reception”, he added.

A few days after all this, Manda got an invitation to give a talk about the Art and Dance styles of India at a nearby school, through an acquaintance of Manju.bahen. It was only for about two hours in the afternoon. Manda believed that Saamant was changing nicely, and he would not take any objection to this. Besides, she was not performing a dance; perhaps demonstrating a little with a few hand gestures. Mostly it was to talk to the students.

She accepted the invitation. The lecture-demonstration went very well. The students and teachers clapped a lot, invited her to come again, and also gave her a big bunch of lovely flowers in appreciation.

As soon as he came home, seeing the nicely arranged flowers, Saamant asked, “Where did they come from?” Before Manda had a chance to explain in response, he shouted loudly, “I had forbid you, still you went. Haven’t I told you that you are not to dance any more?”

He grabbed Manda’s arms and shook her violently. Then he started twisting her arms strongly, as if he wanted to break them. He let go of her only when Manda started screaming from pain. But still, he stopped only when he threw the flowers on the floor and crushed them with his feet.

Next day or so, when Manju.bahen saw Manda’s swollen arms she was able to make a guess as to what must have happened. At that time she did not say anything to Manda, but that night, with Shyamu.bhai she discussed certain things.

After this, amidst all sorts of conversations, Manju.bahen started talking about women who run away to save themselves from husbands’ violence, or mentioning organizations that help women who may be victims of domestic abuse etc. One time she had said, casually-sounding, “Why should any woman live in constant suffering and fear?”

Manda was shaken up inside. It was as if Manju.bahen had asked the question in her own mind.

On another day, Manju.bahen talked about an episode with an American woman, whose husband had taken her passport away, and had kept her locked up etc. There were many details about this in the newspaper. Then she had asked Manda point-blank, “Your jewelry and passport are in the safe deposit vault, right? Where do you keep its key?”

Then, in a very serious tone, she had advised Manda to take one key from that drawer. “No, I believe that you should take both the keys, and put them in your handbag carefully. If and when there is need, all you will have to take along is the handbag. That will take just one minute, you understand what I am saying, right, Manda? Just one minute.”

All throughout, Kanti kept coming. Off and on Saamant came home late. “If I can get overtime, why not take it?”, he would say. Even then Kanti would come by, and would sit around - feeling at home. He would ask Manda to make tea, would turn the TV on, start singing suddenly, go on talking about this and that etc. Manda did not like this at all, but still, she did not have courage to complain to Saamant about Kanti.

One evening Saamant specially invited Kanti for dinner. Kanti had brought Melissa along. The three of them first drank a beer each, and then kept drinking wine. Manda remained in the kitchen cooking. Kanti called her out twice, “Bhabhi, O Bhabhi, won’t you sit with us? Take a drink with us? Indulge me a little today, on my birthday, at least.”

“Just forget her, yaar”, Saamant said with irritation. “She will not learn. Forget her. At least we three are enjoying.”

Whatever they talked about, and when they decided this - Manda did not know, but a little after dinner, saying “I will drop Melissa home and be back” Saamant left. This was the first time that Manda started feeling afraid of being alone with Kanti somehow. She went away to the kitchn. But Kanti took hold of her hand and brought her out.

“Now you must sit close to me”, he laughed. “Saamant had promised me that he will give me whatever gift I asked for on this birthday. And he really did. He is a real friend to me.” Manda felt like a bird put out for sale. He continued slurringly, “And tonight I am not going to call you ‘Bhabhi’. ‘Mandy’ sounds so sweet.”

He did not let go of Manda’s hand. It was just not possible to get up and run, or to call Manju.bahen. Manda’s brain, staying alert, started thinking of some way to save herself. This behaviour - from both Saamant as well as Kanti - was beyond limits. In her mind, Manda went on repeating, “ Why should any woman live in suffering, and fear, and for how long?”

Kanti had started drinking from an open bottle of Scotch. He was highly intoxicated now. When he started staggerring towards the bedroom, dragging Manda along. she got an idea. Following that idea, now she herself led Kanti to the bedroom, and sat him down on the bed. “Listen, why don’t you sit and relax. I will just bring two glasses and some ice.”

Manda’s eyes were on her handbag. “If I can get that I can escape, “ she was thinking. Just one minute was needed to save herself.

“I am bringing two glasses, you will see.”

“ Oh Mandy, Mandy, come back quick quick.” Kanti was lying on bed and his eyes were closed in stupor and satisfaction.

“Yes, yes, I will be right back. Just one minute.”

Not just for the Safe Deposit Box, but the keys to the flat as well as the bedroom door were in her handbag. “Now let Saamant come back whenever he wants, and let the two of them do whatever they want,” Manda mused with disgust.

She locked the bedroom door from outside, slipped on her sandals, opened the main door, went out, locked that door also, and holding the handbag close to her heart, she ran to Manju.bahen’s house.

That one minute changed Manda’s whole life. Shyamu.bhai and Manju.bahen took care of her in every possible way. They took her to Manju.bahen’s brother’s house right away, so that Samant can never find her. A women’s NGO helped her about getting a divorce.

Her parents tried hard to pursuade her to come back home to India, but Manda wanted to stand on her own feet first. Without wasting any time, she joined college to study American Literature and Arts for a Masters’ degree. It was on the campus that she met Michael. Slowly their friendship brought them very close.

In two and a half years, through Michael’s care, Manda healed and bloomed like before. He wanted to marry her, and had proposed to her. When Manda’s parents visited her, they had met Michael, liked him, and were happy about their marriage.

After a simple wedding, they were to leave for Michael’s home, and settle amidst beautiful hills. Before going away that far, they wanted to meet Manju.bahen and Shaymu.bhai once more. During that time, again there was a big public programme planned by the Indian Association. Shyamu.bhai had coaxed Manda to present a dance there. He said, “My dear, before you go far away from us, let us have a chance to see your talent one more time.”


Manda was shaking. She held on to her head with both hands. She felt like it was spinning. Where was she? Back in that apartment? How long does it take to recall everything from those three and a half months that were very difficult to pass? Days? Hours?

Manda could hear someone’s voice, “ How are you, Bhabhi? Can’t you recognize me? I am Keny. Say something at least. You don’t remember this Samy either?” He nudged Saamant, and said, “Hey Samy, Why aren’t you saying anything?”

Manda kept her eyes closed tightly, kept both hands pressed on her ears tightly. At that moment if Michael had not come there, and held her, she would have fainted and fallen down. He put the cup of coffee on the table, and sat her down in a chair. He sat in front of her, and said very gently, “Manda, open your eyes, my dear. Look, I am right here. Now there is no reason for you to be afraid.”

Tears were flowing down Manda’s cheeks. By then Manju.bahen was also there. She recognized Kanti and Saamant. She turned to Michael and gestered towards them.

Immediately Michael got up, and dashed towards the two men standing on the other side of the table. He saw that one of them had started walking towards the opening of the tent. That was Kanti. He had pulled at Saamant’s sleeve, and said, “Lets go, lets go right now.” Saamant could not move at all. His lips were moving silently. No sound was coming out of them. Michael went close to him and asked, “Who are you?”

Samant cleared his throat, “ Manda is my --- Manda was --- with Manda ---- want to talk to Manda ----.”

Not saying anything, Michael kept staring at him with steady, sharp eyes, and then he stretched his arm towards the tent entrance. The command in that gesture was explicit. With head hung low, without a word, Saamant walked out.

Manju.bahen had brought her some water. Taking sips of water had helped Manda calm down a little.

Michael directed Manda and Manju.bahen out, towards the back where their car was parked. He took them to the hotel, and after a short time, returned to the programme compound again. Finding Shyamu.bhai he told him to go to the car and wait for him. Then he looked around through the crowd, to locate Saamant.

In a few moments he was able to spot Saamant, as he followed another man and two American girls out. Michael quickly caught up with him, stopped him in his track, and handed an envelope.

“Manda has sent a letter for me,” Saamant thought. But when he opened the envelope the faint smile of hope vanished from his face. Michael said without any feeling, “ There are two Travellers Checks for fifty dollars each, in the name of the super-market. This will pay for her food-expense during that time.

“There is no name on the third fifty dollars check. You will be able to cash it for yourself. I objected to this, but she insisted on giving that out of pity for you. If you have any brains, you will use that money for necessary medicine and vitamins. It is up to you.”

Saamant’s eyes followed Michael walking away with firm steps. At a distance, Kanti was holding both those girls by their waists, and was calling Saamant impatiently, “Hey Samy, come on, hurry up. Lets all of us go now.”

Saamant shook his head without turning towards them, and for the very first time, to his real friend Kanti he said no - firmly.