“This is for my father,” Major Vijay Singh said as he held his medal up for his people to see. The Major saw his wife’s face change as he said the words and was determined not to look anywhere at her direction. She was looking particularly radiant in her lavender shaded saree and he was in his uniform. The Major had been unable to look away from her since she had gotten ready, but right now at the ceremony, he was trying not to look at her. He knew exactly what she was thinking right now and he did not need to know her anger. It spoilt the effect.
The multitude of people in and around him congratulated him as they clinked his glass and said all the boring things that people normally said in such occasion. Though in the Major’s case, whatever was said was absolutely no exaggeration.
The Major with his platoon had singlehandedly managed to avert what would have been a disaster. Last week, the Major and his troops were at the border. Following a hunch, they had followed some harmless looking shepherd from the area, only to recover an entire cache of weapons on the shepherds. The shepherds themselves had been unaware of what they had been carrying. The Major was prudent enough to believe it and he was able to win over the confidence and friendship of the shepherds and were able to trace the weapons to its source.
A short gun fight, and a bomb threat later which nearly escalated to the killing of a jawan under the Major’s command, the Major was able to find not only weapons, even money and other precious things which were being used by the people to bribe the people to carry the weapons across.
That was one of the ways, the weapons were being brought into the region to arm the terrorists – the weapons were brought in through unsuspecting hands. Though, they were still a long way from winning the war in the area, it seemed like a good start. Hence the celebration.
“Your father would have been proud,” That was the Major’s immediate leader – Lieutenant Colonel Saran Maradan, as the Major nodded struggling not to let anything show on his face. “Especially as you have got the medal on your tenth wedding anniversary,” The man continued.
Vijay’s wife – Rupali, heard the dialogue and disengaged her conversation with the wife of another Major from another platoon and immediately came near her husband. It was a matter of necessity.
“Was your father your motivation behind joining the military?” the Lieutenant General asked.
“Yes,” Rupali interfered giving the Lieutenant General a dazzling smile, hoping the man would not notice the expression on her husband’s face. “Everything that my husband has done, right from the time he joined the army is because of my late father-in-law.”
“And with such a wife, you are destined to go to greater places,” The Lieutenant General continued looking at Vijay and Rupali. “He must have known that you would have made Vijay a perfect wife,” The man continued.
Rupali sensed her husband about to open his cocky mouth and clutched his hands tightly signaling him to keep his mouth shut. Vijay looked at Rupali and looked slightly annoyed but managed to keep his mouth shut. He had been a husband long enough to know that look from Rupali and nodded sagely at the Lieutenant General and walked away from that. Rupali still clutched her husband’s hands as she could feel it trembling as he looked at her and nodded gratefully.
Rupali saw that her husband looked at her with genuine love and respect in those eyes and she smiled without meaning to. That respect and love was something that she had earned. And she had earned it the hard way.
Theirs was not a normal love story made up in fairy tales. In fact, it was everything not found in the fairy tales. Right from the time that her rich parents had forced her to look at another rich man, who had joined the army, Rupali had hated the man. Rupali loved someone else and she definitely did not want to spend her life as the wife to a soldier. And their first meeting was also not something which she cared to remember. The military man looked ill at ease and Rupali realized that the man wanted the marriage no more than she did. Talking freely had been impossible. And Rupali had even tried running away from home….Rupali still remembered waiting the whole day for the man who had claimed to love her to come to the railway station as they had both planned to elope on the train. But the man had never come….And as she trudged back home, she had to bear the taunts and anger of her parents as they forcefully pushed her into another relationship. One that neither wanted.
That was the worst part of being married to Vijay, Rupali reflected. Vijay’s work made sure that he was at home very rarely and Vijay’s father….Rupali sighed not to think of the man, Vijay’s father – Lieutenant General Pratap Singh was a difficult man to live with. More than a difficult man. There were some days when Rupali wondered what sort of a man Vijay must have become to have grown up under such a strict disciplinarian who rarely laughed and made everything into a chore.
And Vijay coming back home from his work, made it worse. Rupali could not understand it, but Vijay and her father never spoke to each other. About anything. There was no small chitchat, nothing to talk. The house was silent despite the people inside. Silent as a tomb. She tried to get either of them to talk and found nothing but a frigid silence between the men. Both were courteous, but it was all a front. That much Rupali could see.
Three months later, Vijay did one thing for which Rupali was grateful. He applied for a separate quarters and got transferred to another town and for the first time took his wife with him. After three years of being married to a man, Rupali spent some time alone with the man who had married her.
After coming alone, her husband was still a silent man and he was still a stranger to her. There were times when Rupali sensed the man come and try and tell her something, but something always held him back. And their conversation never progressed any further than the first sentence.
Rupali considered October 4th 2005, as a red letter day in her life. She did not know what made her do it. But she did. Vijay had to get back to his work the next day and was making last minute preparations for his journey and she had walked into his room. They still had separate rooms until then.
“Yes?” He asked her looking confused.
Rupali studied the suitcase as she saw the sober white shirt on the top and sighed shaking her head. She had bought him another shirt. But she honestly did not know how he would react to it.
“My name is Rupali Sharma. I have studied M. Com and was a fairly good student throughout my life.” Vijay’s frown deepened as Rupali continued hastily. “The reason I am telling you this is that I do not even know that much about you and I am more than certain that you do not know anything about me either.” Vijay’s face suddenly went inscrutable as Rupali finished what she had to say. “I am your wife and today is our wedding day so I felt we can celebrate today by starting to talk to each other. We can get to get to know each other slightly better on our fourth wedding day.”
Rupali never knew what she had said that day. Probably it was the time, or her tone or her desperation. Whatever the reason, that was the day, she really married the man.
Vijay was slow to talk even then. But he opened up. He told her about himself as she was trying to imagine the young boy who had grown up and married her. That was the day Vijay told her exactly what had happened to him as a child. Rupali knew that Vijay could not have had a happy childhood. But listening to the story from Vijay himself appalled her. Rupali slowly realized over the course of the day and the night that all Vijay had had in his childhood was a huge house and lots of money. He literally had nothing else - no friends, no proper parents…no one to encourage him to follow his desires…nothing.
And Rupali was brave enough to tell the man about herself. He was a patient listener. She thought he would be enraged with her college affairs and had been hesitant to tell him about that. But after hearing her, he was not judgmental of her. In fact he seemed to dismiss the entire incident as something not even worth considering.
That was when Rupali fell in love with Vijay. Here, was a man who had had a dark past. A really dark past and still he was with her and he was willing to overcome it and try to give her what he could give her. But he just did not know how. He had never been loved in his life and just did not know how to express it to others, either. Rupali finally figured that she felt something for him, something more than what she normally felt for others – which went far more than a simple liking.
And their love story had really started when she hesitatingly handed over a lavender coloured shirt which she had brought for him.
She honestly did not know what to expect as he saw the shirt for the first time.
“How did you know this is my favourite colour?” He asked her amazed.
Rupali blinked. Seriously with so many white, cream and boring coloured shirts that the man had...lavendar? And Rupali laughed. She laughed until there were tears in her eyes. Because she was happy. Genuinely happy.
“I didn’t.” She said after she had subsided as he was looking at her with a peculiar expression on his face. She laughed again as she saw his confused face. “It is my favourite colour, which is why I bought it.” She told him.
This time the two laughed again.
That was how it started, Rupali thought as she clutched his hands today.
“You did not need to drag your father into this, Major!” Rupali told the man sighing as he looked at her with a grateful and amused look. “He had nothing to do with this,” Rupali said. “You did this by yourself.”
“This is for him,” Major Vijay said clutching his wife’s hands and the medal in another. During the first three years of his marriage, there were times when Major Vijay had been really worried about his wife. He just did not know what to do when he left a woman who had trusted him, all alone in the huge house, which was supposed to be his home. Every time he came home, he was half worried out of his head that his wife would have left him because of some stupid thing which his father did. Mercifully, his father had never been able to chase her away. And he had not been as vicious with her as he had been with Vijay. She had never even complained about his father. But looking at her face one day, Vijay had decided that enough was enough. His father had bullied him his entire life. It had to end with that. The least he could do for a woman who was willing to wait for him was to give her an atmosphere without fear. Whether she would live with him or not, Vijay did not know and that was something that Vijay could not control either.
Vijay still remembered that night when he had told his decision to his father. His father had cursed him as always and threatened to cut him from the family inheritance, as always. But Vijay did not care and he realized that he really did not care about the money. Ever. He could have done this a long time back and saved himself and his wife a few years of misery. Vijay still remembered that the last thing his father had done was to curse him that his wife was going to leave him, go away and never come back....
And that was when Vijay had transferred to another place and he had never looked back.
“Serves the old man right. He must be turning in his grave. He told me I could never join the army and never do anything worthwhile. And he had said that to me all my life.” Rupali tightly clutched his hands as they were trembling again. “And after my marriage, he even had the audacity to tell me that the entire marriage was just a sham. A business transaction meant for joining the properties of the two families. He told me that when my wife looked at me, she was just going to leave me and never come back,” the Major said, a little anger burning in his eyes.
“Major, we are done talking.” The sentence was neither spoken in anger, nor did Rupali raise her voice. It was spoken by a woman who knew exactly what her husband had gone through and was still willing to accept him.
The Major looked at his wife and suddenly felt his anger dissolve and his face had an impossible smile, a smile which he could not stop, a smile which he had every time he thought of his home. The Major barely remembered the place he had grown up. It seemed immaterial to him. Right now as had been for the past six years, his wife was his home. He would always come back to her and find himself.
“My late departed father, obviously never counted on beautiful, stubborn girls with a never-say-die spirit who could make everything alright with their smiles,” Major Vijay said as Rupali smiled. Her smile said it all for her.