Tuesday, September 16, 2008


She cut the cactus tonight. This one stem that had stood in the earthen pot for the past 20 years had been the first plant she had bought for her new house after her marriage. She had tended it lovingly but as nature decreed, it sprouted nothing but thorns. So she nipped it and now she felt lonely.


Life had not been fair with Meghana. Everyone realized this and said so. At a very young age, she was attacked by a long-lasting high fever. The fever eventually subsided but left behind a residue that would rule her life.

“Mr. Kapoor, it seems that your daughter has epilepsy,” the doctor diagnosed when some time after the fever, Meghana’s parents found her stiff on her bed letting out inhuman shrieks, white foam trickling down her mouth.

The fits continued. At times there were two in a night and, as a result, Meghana woke up exhausted in the morning. Her studies suffered and so did her confidence. She became talkative to make up for the lack of it, talking about anything just to fit in the crowd. The more she did this, the more people avoided her.

“As soon as I picked the book, it slipped from my hands and fell with a crash on the floor. I again picked it up, it again slipped,” she would go on laughing as she narrated her story. Her animated eyes failed to notice people rolling their eyes and slyly slinking away from the group.

Third among the five children of her parents, she decided not to marry when she joined a nursing course after completing her studies. As years passed, she got a job in a government hospital and started earning enough to support herself.

All her elder siblings got married. Her parents urged her.

“Meghu, it will be difficult to live alone. We will not be around forever. Your brothers and sisters will get busy with their families and then you will feel lonely.”

“No papa, I will be fine.”

This was her reply for a long time.

That is, until her younger sister got engaged. After that, an unwanted feeling of regret crept in.

“Why did I decide not to marry? Could I have found a loving husband too?” she wondered, casually at first, desperately later. “Is it too late now?” she would think, not wanting to admit to her parents that she wanted to get married. Not wanting to accept defeat.


Her silent suffering ended the day her aunt, Archana, visited.

“Namaste, Aunty.” Meghana wished and then retreated to the safety of her room. Meeting relatives was not as pleasant as it used to be. They would show unnecessary sympathy, which made Meghana feel worse.

She was about to shut the door when the voices outside forced her to listen closely.

“Didi, I have a nice boy in mind for our Meghu,” her aunt was saying. “He is 10 years older than her but has a nice job.”

“Archi, this girl is really stubborn. She refuses to marry,” her mother’s response alarmed Meghana. Her heartbeat grew louder and she could feel her heart exploding with the strain.

“Just talk to her once, didi. Who knows? She may like this guy,” said her aunt.

“God bless her,” thought Meghana with a smile.

“Meghu, would you come here for a minute, dear?” her mother called.

Startled, Meghana stumbled out of her room.

“Yes, mom?” she asked.

“Beta, Archi aunty is worried about you. She thinks that you will not be happy if you stay alone all your life. Now, don’t get angry when you hear this, but she has a guy in mind for you. Will you at least meet him once? For our sake?”

“Well mom, if you insist so much, I will meet him once,” she answered timidly, her heart ready to burst with joy.

“Oh! Thank you, beta. You have lifted a weight from our hearts,” cried her mother happily.
Meghana skipped like a child all the way back to her room. She shut the door and leaned against it. A sigh escaped her and she sat down on the floor.

“What a relief!” she thought. “Miracles happen after all.”


“But what if he does not like me? What about epilepsy?” these thoughts struck her ecstasy like a stone strikes a mirror, shattering her dreams. Suddenly all of this seemed impossible. Why would anyone marry her? She questioned herself but could not find any answer.

The fateful day arrived. She was to meet the guy, Raj, in a restaurant near her hospital. Archi Aunty had told his family about the Epilepsy but they were kind about it.

“What if such a thing happens to our daughter-in-law after marriage? Will we desert her? And, moreover, we really appreciate your honesty about it. What would we have done if you had hidden this?” replied Raj’s mother.

In the morning, Meghana packed her baby pink georgette suit in a bag and headed towards the hospital. She was a nervous wreck throughout the day. Afraid of rejection, scared of a seal on her fate.

When it was time, she made it to the rest room and changed into the suit. She applied a light pink lipstick and brushed her bushy hair before tying it into a ponytail.

“I can’t look better than this,” she thought to herself when she saw herself in the mirror.

She reached the restaurant before time and occupied a table in the corner. She ordered a coffee for herself and started looking out of the window.

The coffee arrived. She drank it quickly, nervous and shaky. She ordered another and drank it quickly too. Her lipstick was patched by now and stray strands of hair escaped her ponytail.

Sweating profusely, she waited and waited.

Nearly an hour and six coffees later, she decided that the boy was not coming after all and started to leave.

“Meghana?” she heard a strong male voice call out from behind.

“Y-Yes?” she stammered, turning around to face the man who had addressed her.

“You are Meghana. Right?” a tall, handsome man asked.

“Yes. I am Meghana. Y-you are Raj?” she asked, ashamed at the apparent awe in her voice.

“Yes, I am Raj. Sorry, I am late. Was stuck in heavy traffic,” he explained.

“It is absolutely no problem. I work nearby so it was not an issue for me. I took a rickshaw and came here an hour ago. I drank coffee as I waited for you. A lot of coffee. Will you like to have coffee too?” she asked, eager to be liked.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I will,” he replied, smiling.

Meghana’s heart took a big leap at that smile. She managed to get on the chair without further incident and stared at the Handsome God facing her.

“Waiter,” she called out, louder than she had planned, “please get us two coffees.”

All heads in the restaurant turned around to look at her and the waiter nodded from far away.

Raj seemed unperturbed by her nervousness.

“So, you are a nurse?” he asked.

“Yes, I am. I work in the Government hospital in the next block. I love being a nurse. Serving others gives me a lot of satisfaction. Nursing is such a noble profession. I decided that I will be a nurse when…”

“Ok, so who all are there in your family?” Raj asked, interrupting her.

“My mom and My dad. Apart from them, I have one elder brother, Anish. One elder sister, Vishakha. One younger sister, Mohini. She has recently got engaged. And one younger brother, Vishal. Anish bhaiyya is married. My sister-in-law’s…”

“How long have you been working?” Raj interrupted again, sounding a bit irritated.

“Your coffee, ma’m,” the waiter prevented Meghana from speaking this time.

After this, they had their coffee quietly. Raj got up abruptly when she was still gulping down the last sip.

“Ok Meghana, I have to go now. It was nice meeting you,” he said.

“Ok bye,” she said, spluttering out her coffee. “It was really nice meeting you too.”

Raj left. Meghana paid for the coffee and walked out.

By the time she reached the bus stop, she realized that it had not gone well.


She reached home and, for a change, did not feel like talking to anyone. She went straight to her room and locked herself in.

“Meghu,” her mother called as she knocked her door. “How did it go? Did you like the boy?”
Half-heartedly she opened the door and let her mom in.

‘What is the matter beta? Didn’t you like the boy?” her mom asked kindly.

“I liked him, mom. But I don’t think that he liked me,” she said with tears in her eyes.

“Don’t be silly, darling. His mom called me fifteen minutes ago. He likes you a lot and is ready to marry you.”

“What?” exclaimed Meghana. ‘I can’t believe this.”

“Should I say yes to them?” her mother asked, clearly enjoying herself now.

“Oh yes mom. Call them up right away and say yes.” Meghana replied.

And the preparations began.

Meghana got married to Raj. The ceremony was simple, as requested by Raj’s parents.

“The bride looks really happy,” the guests observed.


After living with Raj’s parents for some time, they shifted out to a government accommodation provided by Meghana’s hospital. Meghana bought a small cactus along with some flowering plants for her new home. She loved cacti and tended to hers’ with a lot of care. Eventually, the other plants died. But the cactus grew gradually into one long stem with sharp thorns.

Raj turned out to be abusive and got annoyed very easily. Meghana’s lack of confidence and talkative nature added fuel to the fire. She soon discovered that she had chosen the wrong person to spend her life with.

One night, while making love to her, Raj started strangling her. She choked and tried to squirm out of his grip. It was useless. He was too strong. He let go suddenly and she got up with a jerk rocked by a fit of cough. Tears filled her eyes as she struggled to get her breath back. Once the cough subsided, she turned to look at Raj who was sleeping soundly already.

After that, she was scared of him. He often got angry at small things, like when she left the curry uncovered in the fridge, and thrashed her. Often using objects like his leather belt.

“Meghana, why is your cheek swollen?” her colleagues would ask.

She suddenly felt that she had a lot of friends who were ready to listen to her sad narratives about Raj. What she did not realize was that these people derived a sadistic pleasure while uttering “Oh you poor dear girl.”

Some times she decided that she had had enough and left for her parents’ place.

Her parents, though concerned, thought that it was a sin to break a marriage and one has to compromise to keep it going. They called Raj home.

The whole family sat together to sort out the issues between Meghana and Raj. After these discussions, Raj always promised to control his anger and convinced her parents that he would not hurt Meghana anymore.

He could be really loving too, at times. Like when she had a fit. He would clasp her hands tight till she came out of it and then would hold her close till she went back to sleep. But at other times, it seemed that he was possessed by a demon. Every second of these terrifying moments, Meghana would pray to God to end her suffering.

Then, one day after being slapped in front of her neighbors by Raj, she mixed a lot of rat poison with milk and consumed it. It did not help her though. It was too weak to kill a human being. However, she did land up in the hospital. Raj sat by her side all through her stay in the hospital, stroking her hair gently and feeding her fresh fruit juice at regular intervals.

“Such a devoted husband!” one of Meghana’s “friends” commented. “So what if he loses control at times! What matters is that he obviously loves her.”

Unwillingly, she got better. The doctors decreed that she was fit to go home.

“Home?” she wondered. “Is it really my home?”

“Yes, it is,” her heart replied. It was allotted to her, not Raj.


Once home and back to normal routine, she started thinking of ways out of her misery.

“Should I ask Dad and Mom?” she wondered as she washed her favorite cactus.

The doorbell jerked her out of her thoughts and a particularly sharp thorn pierced her skin causing little droplets of blood to form on the straight gash.

She hurried to open the door, familiar with Raj’s intolerance of any delay.

Raj stood there staring at her menacingly. She shuddered. He grabbed her throat and shouted in her ears.

“Bitch, what took you so long to open the door?” he demanded, tightening his grip.

“Let go, please, Raj,” she gasped.

“What for?” he smiled like an animal.

She tried to loosen his grip with her hands. He saw the blood on her finger and immediately softened.

“Meghu, what happened to your finger? How did you hurt it?” he asked, letting go of her throat and grabbing her hand.

She deliberately did not name the cactus. She knew that in his rage, Raj would destroy it.

“Nothing, Raj, I just scraped it against the wall while I was coming to open the door for you.”
He pulled her into the bathroom, made her wash her hand, and applied an antiseptic. This kind gesture, however, did not touch Meghana’s heart as she could still feel the pressure of Raj’s fingers on her throat.

Sure enough, in the morning, the wound caused by the cactus was barely visible, but the marks on her throat had turned blue and garish.

She made up her mind. That day, on her way to the hospital, she stopped briefly at the local police station.
In the evening, when Raj was home, police came and evicted him out of the house. They warned him that if he was ever sighted near the place again, he would be arrested.

Saddened, but relieved, Meghana called her parents.

“Mom, Police have evicted Raj. I am not staying with him anymore.”

“What? How did this happen?” asked her anxious dad.

“I lodged a complaint with them. He tried to strangle me again yesterday. It is just my luck that I am alive today.”

“Why didn’t you ask us first? Why did you take such a rash decision? Now he will never come back to you,” dad sounded angry now.

“I don’t care, dad. I have had enough.”

“Who will you stay with? Did you give this a thought once? Your Brothers and sisters have their family to take care of. They will not like to take on more responsibility. Your decision will spoil everyone’s life.”

“No, it won’t. I will stay here, in my house. I called just to know whether you and mom can move in with me. I will understand if you refuse. Just let me know of your decision,” she said before she hung up.

Whole night she had nightmares of Raj returning to kill her. She tossed and turned and woke up with a start several times.

Early in the morning, the doorbell rang. Scared, she looked through the key hole and then opened the door in glee.

“Mom! Dad! You decided to come? I am so glad.” She cried with joy.

“Yes beta, we were up the entire night talking about you. We can never understand what you have been through and know that you must have had good reasons when you took the decision. We did not want you to feel alone,” her mom smiled through her tears.


So, a new life began for Meghana. Things were fine for a while and she thought that after all she, too, could be happy. She missed Raj, at times, but then remembered what she had been through and convinced herself that this was a much better situation to be in.

The frequency of her fits increased. Her father progressively became deaf with age and her mom grew weak. Then, one day, her mom died.

After this, her brothers and sisters made it a point to visit her and dad every weekend or else invite them over to their place to prevent them from feeling lonely.

“Meghu, move in with us.” Anish, her older brother, asked.

“No, bhaiyya, I am now used to living in my own house. My shifting in with you will cause you and bhabhi problems.”

“Your bhabhi keeps on asking me to convince you to move in with you.”

“Bhaiyya, you don’t realize what you are asking for. It may seem easy enough, but if I really do move in, you will come across problems that you have never dreamt of facing. Please try to understand. I love you and Bhabhi but prefer to stay in my own house,” she replied confidently.

“OK, as you wish.” Anish gave up. “But, if you ever change your mind, our doors are open for you.”

“I know,” she smiled.

She missed her mom. Her dad was almost deaf by now. She had to scream at the top of her voice to converse with him. Not able to relate to anyone around, he became irritable.

Meghana’s loneliness spread like water, extinguishing all hopes she had of a better life.


Then one day, she cut the cactus. It had not born anything but thorns throughout its life.

“Why did you cut it?” her father inquired mournfully. “It had been there from the time you shifted into this house.”

She chose not to answer. It would be too much of an effort. She threw the cactus into the waste bin and went off to sleep.

At 4 A.M., Meghana woke up. She felt thirsty and dizzy. She dragged herself to the refrigerator and poured some water into her parched throat. Her father, who slept very light, saw her and asked, “Why are you up at this hour? Is everything alright?”

She nodded and went back to bed.

She never woke up.

The doctor says that it was a heart attack. Relatives speculate that it was a severe fit. I think that she just let go.

If someone had looked at the cactus lying alone in the waste bin, they would have surely noticed some leaves sprouting from its stem.


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