“Mamma ice cream!!” seven year old Pinky yelled as she saw the gelato store in the mall and tried to run towards it. But Mansi held her hand firmly.
“Not now, Pinky.” she said, dragging her inside the shoe store. “First we have to get your school shoes.”
“But I want it now!!” she started jumping up and down. The kid had been a handful from the day she was born.
“Pinky, please don’t make a scene!” Mansi said as the dozen or so customers in the store started looking at them.
“Yes ma’am, how can I help you?” a salesman walked up.
“We are here for these shoes for the Vidya Niketan uniform.” she handed him the note from Pinky’s school.
“Ice cream!” the brat pouted, but at least stopped jumping up and down.
“Yes ma’am, this way.” he said.
Mansi took her sulking daughter towards the girl’s section. The salesman measured Pinky’s feet and then went to the store room in the back.
“Mamma, look at that!!”
Pinky had strolled over to the wall which displayed a lot of pretty designer shoes for little girls. Her mother walked behind her and admired the selection. They were all really pretty. The European sounding brand names suggested they were pricey.
“I want that one!” she reached over and picked up a purple sandal from eye level. Purple had always been her favorite.
“Pinky! Don’t go around snatching shoes off the wall.”
“But mamma…” she started whining again.
“Really pretty aren’t they?” from nowhere, a sales girl materialized and started talking to Pinky. “Would you like to try them on?”
“YES!!” she shouted.
“We really don’t need to…” Mansi started protesting, while looking at the wall to see if there was a price display. But the salesgirl was already walking towards the bench with Pinky in tow.
Mansi followed them, annoyed, as the salesgirl sat her daughter down and slipped her tiny feet into the shoes. Pinky stood up and ran to the mirror.
“We are here only for her school shoes.” Mansi said to the salesgirl.
“Here you go.” the salesman returned with that very box.
“Pinky, come here and try on your school shoes.”
But the little one was standing in front of a full length mirror, admiring the designer shoes.
“PINKY!!” her mother raised her voice.
Pinky reluctantly sulked back. The salesman sat her down, took the purple shoes off and slid on her school shoes. Pinky, enamored with the designer shoes, held them in her hands.
“I want these!” she defiantly said.
“We’ll see.” Mansi didn’t have a problem buying her the shoes if they were in her budget range.
Meanwhile the salesgirl had wandered a few meters away, and was talking on the cellphone. While the salesman helped Pinky tie the laces of her school shoes, Mansi walked towards her.
“How much…” she started asking but the salesgirl gestured her to wait.
“Yes, sir. Yes, sir. No problem, sir. The pumps and heels are still…”
She kept talking on the phone for a while. Mansi mimed the sign of money, pointed to the purple shoes and signaled, how much? She nodded and held up five fingers. Okay, five hundred. Not too bad.
Pinky was walking around in her school shoes while still holding on to the purple pair.
“Are they the right fit?”
Pinky nodded, and raising her beloved pair, said,
“I want these too.”
Mansi told the salesman to pack both pairs and walked to the counter with Pinky to pay. As they reached there, someone suddenly called out from behind,
“Mansi? Is that you?”
She turned around to see a vaguely familiar face that she couldn’t quite place. It belonged to a woman in her 50s, with big designer sunglasses, and dressed in a stylish pantsuit.
“It is you, isn’t it?” she came closer and smiled.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” she asked with mock disappointment.
“I am sorry. You look familiar but…”
“It’s Reena Bajaj! From Happy Colony in Meerut!”
“Oh, right! How are you, aunty?” Mansi finally remembered. Reena was an army wife who had lived in her neighborhood for a couple of years. Their houses weren’t very close, nor were their families. But she now remembered,
“I am great. Fancy running into you in here of all places. How long has it been? Almost 12 years.”
“I think so.” Mansi said, grabbing Pinky’s hand as she was trying to reach for the box of shoes.
“I remember you were a pretty 16 year old then. And now look at you, a fully grown woman. And a mom no less!”
She then bent down to look at Pinky.
“And what’s your name?”
“Pinky.” the little girl distractedly answered.
“Ma’am. Your shoes.” the lady behind the counter said, pushing a big bag with the two boxes.
“Thanks. How much is it?”
“It is five thousand six hundred and thirty rupees, including VAT.”
“WHAT??” Mansi almost shouted and looked at the receipt. “I thought the purple shoes are five hundred.”
“No ma’am, they are five thousand rupees. Esther Michaela.” the lady said, flashing a condescending smile.
“I don’t have that much cash on me.” Mansi truthfully said.
“We accept cards.”
“I…left my card at home.” she said, not wanting to lose face by admitting that she didn’t have a credit card at all. “I’ll just take the school shoes for now. And come back for the other ones later.”
“NOOOOOOOOOOO!! I WANT MY SHOES!!” Pinky, who had been listening to the exchange intently, started throwing a tantrum.
“Pinky, please behave yourself.” Mansi grabbed her by the shoulder and shook her.
“WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” she flopped down on the floor and started bawling. “I WANT MY SHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOES!! I HATE YOUUUUUUUUU!!”
Now everyone in the store was staring.
“It’s okay. I’ll pay for them.” Reena aunty said, handing her card to the clerk.
“What? No way, aunty. I can’t let you do that!” Mansi protested. Yes, they had been neighbors just for a little while over a decade ago. But even back then, they weren’t friends or anything. Barely acquaintances.
“Nonsense, what are old friends for?” she put her hand on the young mother’s shoulder and pressed it.
The clerk, not wanting to let go of the commission, quickly swiped the card. Pinky, who realized that her tantrum had worked, quietly got up from the floor and hugged Reena aunty’s leg.
“What do you say?” Mansi asked.
“Thank you.” the little brat said.
Ten minutes later, the three of them were sitting in the mall food court. Pinky had not forgotten about her ice cream. And Mansi felt obligated to buy Reena aunty coffee after the nice gesture she had made.
“Mamma, can I play in there?” the brat finished her ice cream and asked, pointing towards a ball pit nearby.
“Okay, but stay in my sight. You have been a very bad girl today.” Mansi scolded her, but it was like water off a duck’s back.
As soon as Pinky was out of an earshot, she turned to Reena aunty.
“Aunty, that was a really nice gesture, but you didn’t need to do that.”
“Nonsense.” she waved away the protests, taking a sip from her cup.
“Pinky is a little brat who thinks tantrums can get her anything she fancies. On Monday when she’s at school, I’ll return the shoes and give you the money back.”
“Mansi, you really don’t need to do that. Consider them a gift. The little girl really has her heart set on them.”
“She has the memory of a goldfish. In a week, she’ll forget about the shoes and start demanding something else.” Mansi sighed. “I hate taking her to malls. She just wants me to buy her everything she sees. And really, we can’t afford it.”
“Hmmm.” she said. “What do you do, Mansi?”
“I’m a housewife.”
“And your husband?”
“Amar is a history professor.”
“Not too much money in teaching, huh?” she sympathetically said.
“It’s okay. Not too bad. But we certainly can’t afford to buy our little girl five thousand rupee shoes that she’ll outgrow in six months.”
“But seriously aunty, give me your phone number and your address and I will come return the money on Monday.”
“Out of the question.” she smiled and shook her head. “About returning the money I mean. Trust me, I can afford such indulgences. But we should exchange numbers and meet though. I’d love to catch up in more detail.”
She picked up her phone and asked me for her number. She then gave a missed call and Mansi saved her number.
“How is Bajaj uncle?”
“He passed away five years ago. Lung cancer.”
“Oh my god! I am so sorry!”
“It’s alright. I’ve gotten used to it by now.”
“And how is…” Mansi tried to remember her son’s name. He was a couple of years older than her and in college when they lived in Meerut.
“Nilesh? He’s doing okay.” she said.
“Is he in Mumbai too?”
“No.” she said in a tone that suggested she did not want to discuss him.
“Do you live nearby?”
“Yes, Malad West. You?”
“Borivali east. Close to the station.”
That’s when her phone rang. She looked at the display, frowned a little, and said,
“Excuse me a moment.” and walked away.
Mansi sat there looking at her daughter roll around in the ballpit with a few other kids. She was a handful but she was the center of her existence. She wished she could buy her everything she wanted. But money really was tight.
“Mansi, I am so sorry, but I have to get going. A bit of an emergency at work.” Reena aunty returned and picked up her purse and her shopping bags.
“Oh, no problem. Where do you work?”
“I am the assistant manager at a hotel nearby. A couple of the staff members didn’t show up, so now I have to go fill in for them.” she said. “But we should meet Monday for sure.”
“But don’t you dare return that little girl’s shoes. If you give me as much as a single paisa, I will never talk to you again.”
“Come on, aunty, that’s not fair!” Mansi tried to protest, but Reena was already on her way out.
Mansi finally managed to drag Pinky out of the ball pit and take her home. She agreed to leave on the condition that she could wear her new purple shoes. Mansi reasoned with her that they would get dirty in the local train on the way back, but she wouldn’t budge.
When they walked up the three flights of stairs to their one bedroom apartment, the door was open, and the familiar cacophony of male voices could be heard.
“But Amar, even if Hitler had not been distracted by Yugoslavia, it was a matter of time before the Soviets would have prevailed. Maybe an extra year.”
“You don’t know what you are talking about.” Amar shook his fist in the air. “If the bitz krieg had…oh there you are Mansi.”
“Papa, papa, look, new shoes!!” Pinky jumped in his lap.
“Very pretty, my little princess!” he said.
“Namaste, bhabhiji.” Amar’s friends said.
“Namaste.” Mansi said and went to the bathroom to freshen up.
When she got out, Amar was standing there.
“How about some chai?” he said.
“And some of your famous onion pakoras.”
“Amar, onions are…”
“Yes, I know, they are very expensive. But you can’t put a price on the pleasure of friends.” he said and went back to his intellectual conference.
For the next couple of hours, Mansi slaved in the hot kitchen, frying pakoras for her husband and his friends. She hoped against hope that the session would end soon. But they kept rehashing world war 2 history all evening, and she eventually had to make dinner for everyone. Which used up all the vegetables in the house that she had hoped to make last til next week.
By the time everyone dispersed, it was midnight. Pinky was asleep on the bed next to Mansi. Amar came in, and laid down in bed, sighing heavily.
“Dinner was spectacular as always.” he said.
Mansi didn’t say anything.
“I know you are upset about the onions.” Amar finally said.
“Shouldn’t I be?” Mansi turned around. “It’s not easy for me to budget our needs when you keep bringing friends home without notice.”
“You should consider it a compliment, Mansi. They love your cooking so much that they always insist on coming here.”
“I don’t mind the cooking, Amar. You know that. But I don’t have Draupadi’s magic plate here. I was hoping to make those onions last at least a couple of weeks for us. And now…”
“I’ll get onions tomorrow.” Amar flatly said.
“Yes, and that’ll be another couple of hundred rupees we didn’t budget for.”
“Then don’t use onions for the next couple of weeks.” he said, annoyed.
“Why are you getting annoyed at me?” Mansi flared up.
“Mmmmmm…” Pinky stirred on her bed.
Husband and wife stayed absolutely quiet until she went back to sleep.
“I need to withdraw two thousand rupees tomorrow for Pinky’s textbooks and stationery.”
“Textbooks…stationery…uniforms…picnics…it’s like they are running a for profit business.” Amar grumbled.
“You’re the one who wanted to put her in that fancy school.”
“Education is something I will not compromise on.” he said. “Designer shoes on the other hand…”
“She threw an almighty tantrum right in the middle of the store!”
“How much did they cost?”
“Not too much.”
“Five hundred.” Mansi lied, not wanting to tell him about Reena aunty. She knew her husband was really big on self-respect, self-reliance, and pride.
“You could have just refused to buy them.”
Mansi felt really annoyed at this comment. Amar knew how much effort it took to manage Pinky’s demands. And handle her tantrums. He himself never really scolded her or said no to anything. He played the good cop. Mansi was supposed to be the bad cop.
She felt like throwing a tantrum of my own. But she just seethed silently in anger, half-expecting Amar to apologize. But soon, his patent snores filled the room.
“It’s not even like I am asking for anything extravagant for myself. It’s not like I expect him to buy me diamond necklaces or take me on a European vacation. But is it too much to expect him to show some recognition of our situation?”
“Not at all.” Reena aunty sympathetically nodded.
“I know he himself is a very simple man. And he is a very nice person. Nice to a fault. Part of the reason our financial situation is tight is that he keeps donating a chunk of his salary to this charity that helps slum children go to school. I appreciate his generosity. But isn’t it prudent to take care of your own family before going to help others? Hasn’t he heard that charity begins at home?”
“Some dessert ma’am?” a waiter appeared out of nowhere.
“No, thank you. I am already stuffed.” Mansi said.
“The chocolate lava cake here is divine. Try some.” Reena aunty said.
“Really, I couldn’t.”
“Get her one.” she said to the waiter who smiled, nodded and walked away.
“Aunty, this is too much. I am really really full.” Mansi protested. And she really was full. The rich food at the restaurant was not something she was used to.
“Just have a couple of bites. You won’t regret it.”
Mansi was overcome by a sense of gratitude for the nice lady. She had called up Monday morning asking if Mansi could meet her at her hotel. It was a very fancy four star hotel in Malad, the likes of which the young middle class housewife had never stepped into. She then took her to lunch at a posh restaurant next door, insisting that it would be her treat.
She was being so nice that Mansi couldn’t help but unload all her troubles and complaints on her. Mansi didn’t really have any close friends. She spent some time now and then with Amar’s friends’ wives and Pinky’s friends’ mothers, but there was no one she was close enough to for her to open up like this. Her last close friend had been in college in Meerut and she had lost touch with her after getting married and moving to Bombay.
So Reena aunty was like a throwback to her younger more carefree days. And she had been so nice and generous. Mansi felt an instant bond forming. Reena aunty had listened patiently throughout lunch to all the whines about her middle class life.
“Mansi, let me ask you something.” she said, folding her palms under her chin. “Why don’t you just get a job?”
“Hehe. Who’ll give me a job?”
“I have no skills, no real qualifications. Just a meaningless B.A. from a college no one has heard of even in Meerut. That too with mediocre grades.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself.”
“I am just being honest, aunty. I have seen how it works nowadays. Everyone has an MBA or an MS or some sort of an advanced degree. Even these career-oriented women. But my parents never really thought of me having a career.” Mansi sounded a little resentful.
“Lots of people have jobs even without an MBA.” Reena said.
“Besides, even if I did get a job, who will take care of the house and Pinky? We can just barely afford a maid for washing clothes. I have to wash the dishes, cook, clean the house, take care of Pinky’s homework…”
“I could give you a job.”
“That’s very nice of you. But like I just said, with all my household duties…”
“It won’t take up too much time.” Reena aunty said.
“You mean in your hotel?”
“Sort of.” she mysteriously answered.
That’s when the waiter came with thedelectable chocolate lava cake. Mansi stared at it wide-eyed, like Pinky would have. Dinners in posh restaurants like these were way beyond their means. They usually ate at mid-level udipi type restaurants, that too on special occasions. The most fancy dessert there was a scoop of chocolate ice cream with a cherry on top that Pinky always demanded.
“Dig in.” Reena aunty said, handing her a gleaming spoon.
“Mmmmmmmm.” Mansi moaned in delight as the rich gooey chocolate filling danced around in her mouth. Although she had really felt full, this heavenly dessert whetted her appetite again.
Ten minutes later, Mansi had finished the whole thing. Reena aunty paid the bill and they started walking back to her hotel.
“Thank you so much for lunch, aunty.” Mansi said, as Reena led her into her office.
“You’re welcome, sweetie.” she said. “No offense, but it looked like you really needed that.”
“What do you mean?”
“Some indulgence…something nice…something out of the ordinary. Your life needs some more sunshine.”
“What my life needs is some more money.” Mansi bitterly said.
“So would you be interested in a job?” she asked.
“In the hotel? Like a receptionist?”
“Sure, you could be a receptionist if you want.” Reena aunty said. “But those shifts are a minimum of 8 hours.”
“Oh, that doesn’t seem like something I could do.”
“Hmmm.” Reena said, playing with her phone. “I will think of something. Do you want some tea?”
“No thanks, aunty, I am so full with that dessert.” Mansi said.
“It is amazing, right?” Reena smiled. “I have it at least once a week.”
“I wish I could afford to. I saw the price on the menu. It was…let’s say it cost a lot more than the ice cream we have at our usual restaurant.” Mansi said. “Thank you again for the treat. And the shoes. You are being so kind. I wish I could repay you back in some way.”
“Nonsense!” Reena shrugged. “You are an old friend. Friends shouldn’t really bother about repaying stuff.”
There was a lull in the conversation. Then Reena started talking again.
“Although we are old friends, I don’t know much about what happened since we lost touch.”
Mansi kept finding these “old friends” references odd. Yes, they lived in the same neighborhood over a decade ago. But they barely knew each other. Even so, the old lady was being so nice that it was hard not to think of her as a friend.
“Well, not much happened.” she shrugged.
“Is yours an arranged marriage?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Why of course? I knew many people having love marriages in Meerut.”
“I know. So did I. But you didn’t know my parents.” Mansi said.
“Hmmmm…so did you get to spend any time with your husband before you married him?”
“Oh yes. We went for a movie once…” Mansi said.
“But my mother was with me.”
“It was nice.” Mansi smiled.
Reena realized that Mansi’s upbringing had been even more sheltered and protected than she had imagined. She knew those type of families. Doing their best to stamp out a woman’s individuality as soon as she is born. And then trade her away in a marriage like cattle.
“How many years have you been married?”
“Almost eight years.”
“And how old is Pinky?”
“So Amar didn’t waste much time, huh?” Reena winked.
“Aunty!” Mansi blushed.
“Pinky seems like a very intelligent girl.” Reena said.
“She is. We have put her in this really good international school. Amar wanted it. In fact…that is another reason our finances are tight. The school is quite pricey.”
“I can imagine.”
“Anyway, speaking of Pinky, I should get going.” Mansi got up. “She will be home soon.”
“Oh okay. It was really great spending time with you.” Reena also got up. “You should drop by whenever you are free.”
“I would love to.”
“I can have one of our hotel cars drop you home if you like.”
“No aunty, don’t worry. I will take the local. The traffic will be too much anyway.”
The two women walked out of the office and towards the hotel lobby. As Reena escorted her young acquaintance through a crowd of guests waiting to check in, she noticed something. A few of the men discreetly checked out Mansi. Nothing blatant or disrespectful, but something Reena caught. It didn’t seem like innocent young Mansi had noticed though.
“Okay aunty, thank you so much again.” Mansi held her hands in gratitude.
“Stop thanking me, Mansi. Oh and wait!” Reena took out her phone. “Sunil, come here.”
She called out to a bellboy hanging around. She handed him the phone.
“Take a few pictures of me and my old friend here.”
“Oh.” Mansi smiled.
“Just to remember the occasion. Who knows when you will drop by again?”
“Oh come on, aunty. I will come again soon.”
Mansi said and the two posed for a picture, smiling. Sunil snapped a good one and was about to hand the phone back.
“Take a few more. My phone’s camera can be very unreliable.” Reena said.
And Sunil took half a dozen more pictures. Reena took the phone back from him. Mansi said goodbye once again and walked out of the hotel.
Reena went back to her office and looked at the pictures. Mansi had a nice smile, she noted. And she was not bad looking at all. Not exactly a drop-dead gorgeous hottie that would set the ramp on fire. But pretty enough to turn a few heads as she had just done in the lobby without realizing. Even in a conservatively wrapped sari, it was clear that she had a nice slim body. And a pleasant symmetric face with big eyes and a sharp nose, with a light-wheatish complexion.
Reena looked at the pictures for a little while more as she thought about everything Mansi had said about her money problems. She then opened her contacts list, found the name she was looking for. She chose the 3 best pictures she thought Sunil had taken. And forwarded them to that contact with a message.
‘What do you think?’
Mansi walked to Malad station and took the local to Borivali. Throughout her journey, she kept thinking of the time she had spent with Reena aunty. It all had seemed so nice and posh and plush. From the fancy hotel lobby to aunty’s tastefully furnished office to the restaurant they had eaten at. She was amazed at how crisp and clean the clothes of the waiters had been. And the waiters actually spoke English! The only waiters she was used to wore stained tattered clothes and looked like they hadn’t taken a bath in weeks.
Even the food itself was so unbelievably delicious. She had seen that the menu had a lot of French, Italian, and Spanish dishes. But with no idea about what those things were, she had ordered from the Indian part of the menu. Her usual order, dal fry and jeera rice. Aunty then asked if she was vegetarian. Mansi said no, she wasn’t. So aunty also ordered some fancy sounding chicken dish and a fish started. Everything, right down to the simple jeera rice, had tasted heavenly. Even the plain rice in that restaurant was so much tastier than what she was used to – super long grains like in Basmati advertisements, and lovely flavors. And then of course, there was the dessert, which Mansi decided was the best dessert she had ever had.
As she walked through the narrow lanes of Borivali East towards her building, Mansi started thinking less and less about that amazing time with Reena aunty, and more about the chores she had to do at home, and what she would cook for dinner. And then she remembered that she had to buy more onions. She walked towards her vegetable seller, mentally thinking about how to negotiate him down by 10-15 rupees.
That night, after dinner and cleaning the kitchen, she went to the bedroom. Pinky was asleep and Amar was reading a thick book about the Ottoman empire.
“Hmmm.” he responded.
“I am thinking about getting a job.”
Amar shut the book and looked at her.
“A job? You?” he said, surprised.
“Why not?” Mansi asked, a little hurt by his condescending tone.
“Why not indeed?” Amar shrugged and opened the book again. “What kind of a job?”
“I am not sure yet. But Pinky is now grown-up enough to not need my constant attention. She is at school most of the day. In the free time I have, I can earn something extra to support our finances.”
“So it’s about money?”
“Is it all about they money? Isn’t the world already materialistic and consumerist enough that I should hear this from my own wife?” Amar asked.
Mansi stared at him in shock. From the day she was matched with Amar for marriage, she knew that she was going to spend her time with an idealistic and academic man. And for eight years, she had heard his monologues and speeches and rants about society and materialism and everything. But to bring it into this?
“Come outside.” she quietly said.
“Come out to the living room and close the door behind you. I don’t want to wake Pinky up.”
Amar sighed and got up, following his wife as she angrily stormed out. As she had instructed, he closed the door.
“Yes, my dear wife.” Amar said in his typical condescending professorial way.
“What do you want from me?” Mansi said, her nostrils flaring.
“What do you mean?”
“I understand your principles and ideals and all that. But you don’t run the house. I do. You have no idea how difficult it is to stretch the budget, especially when I include all those parties you throw for your friends.”
“Mansi, hospitality is our…”
“Yes, yes, I have heard that before.” she said with a sneer. “All I said was, I would like to get a job. And yes, Mister Professor, it IS all about the money for me. If I can make a few thousand rupees more to buy my daughter whatever she wants, I don’t care if it is about the money.”
“Fine. Fine.” is all Amar said. “Get a job. When have I ever stopped you from getting a job?”
“Then what was that materialistic and consumerist taunt about????”
“It wasn’t a taunt. I was just expressing my opinion.”
“So I can get a job?”
“Again, Mansi, when have I ever stopped you from doing anything?”
The young wife stared at her husband. He wasn’t entirely wrong. He was a bit weird in his ways, and his habits and way of living did put a lot of stress on her. But he had never been a domineering demanding husband. Especially when it came to the question of getting a job, it was a brand new topic. She had never thought of it before. Her parents had raised and trained her to be a housewife, just like her mother and grandmother and aunts and all other women in her family had been. After marriage, she just assumed that position by default. It’s not like she had some great qualifications anyway.
So Amar was right. He had never stopped her from doing anything. She just had never talked about getting a job before.
“You have not.” she quietly said.
“If you want to get a job, get a job. If you want it to be for money, that’s fine. My humble suggestion to you is…get a job that is satisfying for you. Aim for real satisfaction.”
“Satisfaction.” Mansi repeated.
“Yes. Aim for a job where the money is just a welcome bonus for doing something that truly satisfies you.” Amar said, using a line he often used to lecture students about their career choices.
“Truly satisfies me.” Mansi nodded and walked back to the bedroom. Amar smiled and followed her.
The very next day, Mansi thought about calling Reena aunty about the job opportunity. But then she felt it might come across as opportunistic and desperate. The way she thought about it, that nice woman, who barely knew her in Meerut, had bought her daughter shoes worth almost six thousand rupees. Then she had taken out for a fancy lunch, that based on what she read on the menu, easily cos another two thousand rupees at least. Now if she called her right away about a job, it would seem like she was some opportunistic woman. So Mansi decided to wait until Reena aunty herself called her again.
Reena on her part was thinking in a similar way. But in an equal and opposite way like Newton’s third law. She saw a lot of potential in Mansi. Potential for something that would be mutually profitable for them. It had been at the back of her mind when she paid for the shoes. And had solidified when she spoke to her during that lunch. But she did not want to come across as too pushy and eager. She knew that middle class women from small towns could be very touchy like that. So she too held off, waiting for Mansi to call her.
This continued for another two weeks. Both ladies thought that the appropriate thing to do would be to wait for the other to call. Finally, it was Mansi whose resolve broke. It was a combination of yet another impromptu dinner party thrown by Amar for his intellectual buddies and a tantrum thrown by Pinky demanding new clothes.
“Hello, aunty. It is me, Mansi.” she finally made the call one Monday morning when she was home alone and had finished her chores.
“Oh hi, Mansi, how are you doing? How are Amar and Pinky?” Reena was delighted that the call she had been eagerly waiting for finally arrived.
“They are good. How are you doing?”
“I am great.” Reena said and paused as she wondered about how to proceed.
Mansi was also thinking about what to say. She did not want to instantly talk about the job. That would seem impolite.
“So aunty, I am free today. If you are free too, we could meet too.” Mansi said, and then not wanting to seem like she was trying to mooch off another meal, added, “You can come over to my place and I will cook for you.”
“Oh, that sounds lovely, Mansi. But today, I am busy.” Reena said. “Oh wait, someone has just come into my office for something. Can I call you back in a few minutes?”
There was no one in Reena’s office. She reached for her phone and sent a text message.
‘When can you be in Bombay asap? It’s about that thing we discussed.’
She got a reply very soon.
‘Wednesday. I will get in by 10.’
‘Ok. Confirmed. Keep your afternoon open.’
Reena dialed Mansi’s number.
“Hi Mansi, sorry about that.”
“It’s okay, aunty. I understand.”
“Thanks. So what was I saying…oh yes, sorry, I am busy today. But are you free day after tomorrow, Wednesday, for lunch?”
“Wednesday, let me see.” Mansi had no idea why she said let me see. She was free pretty much everyday. But she didn’t want to sound too eager.
“Problem?” Reena asked.
“No no, no problem. Wednesday lunch sounds great. Let me tell you my address…” Mansi spoke up.
“Actually Mansi, if you don’t mind, can you come here to the hotel again? I have a couple of hours free for lunch. But then I have some appointments right after. So traveling to and from Borivali will be…”
“I understand, aunty. I will come there.” Mansi said eagerly.
“Great. Just go to the reception and tell them my name like last time.”
“Thank you, aunty.”
“Stop thanking me, Mansi. I will see you in two days.”
Mansi hung up, feeling a little glad that their meeting would again be in that fancy hotel. Maybe she would take her to another nice restaurant again. Reena hung up, feeling glad that it had worked out so easily. And started making plans for Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Mansi was standing in a small line in front of the reception. In front of her was a white couple, very stylishly dressed. Behind her were two young men dressed in suits. Mansi felt glad that she decided to dress nicely.
The last time she was here, Mansi had felt very out of place in her simple almost wrinkled sari that she wore at home. Everyone around her had been so fashionably dressed. And then the hotel itself was so posh with its big chandeliers, scent of perfume wafting through the air conditioning, expensive elegant sculptures everywhere, etc. So Wednesday late morning, as she started getting ready, she decided to dress well. She wore her most expensive green-gold sari that was normally reserved only for weddings and other such functions. She didn’t really own much make-up but put on some lipstick. And instead of just tying her long hair into a bun, she combed it throughly and left it open. She also took with her the relatively fanciest purse she owned, and put on a couple of gold bangles.
This small makeover did make her look even more alluring than usual. Because this time, even she noticed the glances she was getting from men around her. Nothing blatant or impolite, but still, it was clear that she was making heads turn.
“I love your sari!” the white woman in front of her suddenly turned and said.
“Thank you.” Mansi blushed.
“Where can I get something like that?”
“I..I don’t know. I bought it…in my hometown. Meerut.” Mansi was feeling uncomfortable talking to her in English. It’s not like Mansi’s English was bad. She just wasn’t very used to speaking it beyond helping with Pinky’s homework. Besides, the white woman’s tall frame and foreign accent intimidated her a little.
“Well, it’s beautiful. Excuse me.” the lady said as it was their turn at reception and walked away.
Mansi stood at the front of the line, waiting to be called.
“You are from Meerut?” a voice behind her said in Hindi. She turned around.
It was one of the two suit-clad young men standing behind her. They seemed like hotshot executives or MBA types.
“Yes.” she answered.
“I am also from Meerut! Well, Ghaziabad technically, but that makes us neighbors.” he smiled.
Mansi just nodded and looked straight ahead. She wasn’t used to strangers, especially men, just casually striking up a conversation with her,
“Are you also staying in this hotel?” he continued. His friend, to whom it was obvious he was trying to chat her up, suppressed a smile.
“No.” Mansi simply said.
“We are. About to check in. We are both investment bankers. Visiting from London.” he said, hoping, like many investment bankers do, that it would impress her.
“I see.” she wasn’t sure why this man was continuing to talk to her.
“We are here to close a multi-milion dollar deal. What brings you here?”
“Just visiting someone.” she said curtly, wishing he would take a hint.
“Someone in this hotel?”
“Oh. Ohhhhh! I understand.” he said and giggled a little, as did his friend.
Mansi was too sheltered and innocent to realize the conclusion they had drawn. A good looking young woman dressed so nicely, not very comfortable in English, without any luggage, visiting someone in the hotel. They drew the only conclusion they could.
“Do you have a card or something?” he giggled and asked.
“Card? What card?” Mansi was confused. The two men giggled some more.
“Yes, ma’am?” a clerk at the reception called out. And Mansi rushed towards the desk. She was getting a bad vibe from those guys.
“I am here to meet Reena Bajaj.”
“Oh, Reena ma’am? Yes, you must be Mansi ma’am.” he said.
“Just one second.” he reached out under the desk. “Here’s a key card.”
“Key card? I am just visiting her.”
“Yes, she is expecting you in her residence.”
“She lives here?” Mansi’s eyes went wide.
“Yes, she has a suite on the VIP floor. The 35th floor. And that floor is only accessible by card. So here it is. Suite 3502.”
All this was very new and impressive to Mansi. She knew Reena aunty worked in the hotel at a senior post but she had no idea she even lived there. And that too an exclusive VIP floor? 35th floor? Mansi had never gone that high in any building. Very impressive. She stepped into a shiny lift and entered the card in a slot meant for the 35th floor.
Mansi could not believe how fast the lift reached all the way up to the 35th floor. The lifts she was used to, took that much time to reach 4 floors. She stepped out into a floor that was even more fancy than the lobby. She felt a little intimidated. But Rena aunty was expecting her. She went to Suite 3502 and knocked.
The door was opened by an unknown person. A tall old man in a suit, with half-bald white hair and a big belly.
“Oh I am sorry.” Mansi said and looked at the number outside the door.
“You must be Mansi.” the man flashed her a friendly smile. “Don’t worry, you’re not in the wrong place.”
“Come on in. Mansi!” she heard Reena aunty’s voice from behind the old man. He stepped away and opened the door wide. He saw Reena aunty putting some glasses on a coffee table.
“Oh, I didn’t…” Mansi was a little taken aback. She had not expected anyone else to be there. But she still walked in, feeling out of place again.
“Sorry if this gentle giant scared you.” Reena aunty smiled. “Let me introduce you two. This is an old family friend of mine, Mr. Navin Dutt. And as I told you, Duttsahab, this is my old neighbor from Meerut Mansi.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mansiji.” he politely folded his hands.
“He lives in Delhi. Called me a little while ago saying he was in Bombay for a business trip, so how about lunch? I assumed you wouldn’t mind if he joined us.”
“Not at all.” Mansi politely said, although she was a little disappointed. With someone else there, she would not be able to be very open in her conversations. And would not feel comfortable bringing up the topic of a job.
The three of them headed towards the plush couches in the living area.
“Some beer, Mansiji?” Dutt asked pointing at the glasses on the table.
“No, thanks. I don’t drink.”
“Some orange juice then?” Reena aunty asked.
“Let me go get it.”
Reena went into another room as Mansi sat on the couch. She could not believe how deep her petite body sank in. Dutt sat on a single seat perpendicular to her and smiled. There was an awkward silence.
“So Mansiji, how long have you lived in Bombay?” he broke the silence.
“Eight years. And please don’t call me ji, Duttsahab. You are my elder.” Mansi respectfully said, remembering her manners.
“Are you calling me an old fogey?” Dutt feigned feeling hurt.
“No no, I didn’t mean it like that.” Mansi immediately explained.
“Haha, relax. I am just joking. Okay, I will call you just Mansi.”
“Hehe.” she smiled.
Although she had initially been disappointed to see him there, as time went by, she got used to his presence. Dutt was a very charming old man, great at conversations.
“Eight years…do you like it here?” he asked.
“It is what it is.” she shrugged.
“I can never get used to Bombay, although I have been coming here for decades. The humidity, the crowds, the smells…it’s all so overwhelming.”
“Yes, that it is.”
“Very different from Meerut, huh?”
That’s when Reena came out with a class of juice for Mansi.
“Don’t tell me you are chewing her ear off already, Duttsahab.” she said jovially. “Mansi, this man can talk the paint off the walls.”
She laughed, as did Dutt. Mansi politely joined in as she took the juice.
“So…I have my two dear old friends here. I wish we could go out for lunch. But I have a ticking clock. So I just ordered some room service for us. Hope that is okay.”
“Of course.” Mansi said. She was looking forward to whatever yummy pricey food aunty would order now.
“By the way, Duttsahab is a business tycoon in Delhi. He owns factories, theaters, retail stores, and what else I am sure even he can’t remember.”
“Don’t embarrass me, Reena.” Dutt smiled with false modesty. “It’s just god’s grace. Nothing more. What business is your husband into, Mansi?”
“He isn’t in business. He is a college professor. History.”
“Oh history? It was my favorite subject in school. If I hadn’t gotten into business, I too would have ended up in the world of history. I need to meet professor sahab sometime and pick his brains. What is his specialty?”
“World war 2.”
“Oh, I love that topic. Blitz Krieg. Battle of the Bulge. Vichy France. The siege of…”
Mansi winced a little bit, which Reena noticed.
“Yes yes Duttsahab. you are very learned. Stop it.” she jumped in.
“What happened? Did I say something wrong?”
“She is married to a history professor. I am sure she gets to hear all this non stop. Don’t bore her more.”
Again the two laughed. And Mansi joined in.
“Is it true, Mansi? Do you find history boring?” Dutt asked looking into the demure housewife’s eyes.
“Not boring as such.” Mansi said shrugging. “But you know, when you keep hearing about it all the time…”
“I understand. We shall drop the subject at once. What are your interests? What are your…passions?” Dutt said that last word with a little bit of passion in it himself.
Reena said to herself, take it easy, old man. Don’t overdo it.
“My interests?” Mansi was taken aback.
“Yes, what do you love? What excites you?”
He looked at her as did Reena. Mansi couldn’t think of anything to say. No one had asked her this before. She herself hadn’t really thought about it ever. The only life she knew was of a housewife and a mother.
“That’s not what I am talking about. Everyone is passionate about their kids. I have three of them myself. Two daughters and a son. With kids of their own. What i am asking you is, outside of your family and your commitments and responsibilities, what excites you?”
Mansi had no answer.
“Will you stop grilling her, Duttsahab?” Reena reached over and slapped him on his arm. “That’s the problem with you tycoons. Every interaction is an interview.”
“It’s okay.” Mansi smiled. “I just haven’t thought about it.”
“Ok, here’s an old test. Let’s say someone gave you unlimited amounts of money. After buying a great house, setting aside money for kids etc etc. What would you spend it on?”
“Don’t say travel. Everyone likes to travel.”
That’s when there was a knock on the door.
“The food is here.” Reena said and got up to open it. “Let’s move to the dining table.”
A waiter came in with a trolley of food.as Mansi and Dutt walked to the ornate glass table by the edge of the suite. As he started uncovering and putting the bowls on the table, Mansi realized that it was Chinese food. She liked Chinese food. The kind they had from street carts once in a while at Pinky’s insistence. But this looked very different.
“Please, have a seat.” Reena said. “I hope you like Chinese food, Mansi. This is real Chinese food from our hotel’s highly rated restaurant. The chef is from Shanghai.”
Mansi nodded absent-mindedly like she was thinking of something else. The waiter put big plates out and started serving them noodles, a couple of different chicken dishes, and some appetizers.
“Paintings.” Mansi suddenly said.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” the waiter asked.
“Dutt sahab.” she turned to him. “If I had an unlimited amount of money, I would buy paintings. Maybe even buy a museum. Buy a lot of art supplies and spend the whole day painting.”
“Ah, that’s the kind of answer I was looking for.” he gently touched the back of her chair. “So you are an artist?”
“No. I wouldn’t say that.” she blushed. “I just like to draw and paint. Your favorite subject in school was history. Mine was arts and crafts. I always won a lot of prizes in school contests.”
For the first time since that chocolate lava cake, Reena saw a spark of life on Mansi’s face. And although initially she had thought Dutt was being too aggressive, she was impressed at how quickly he had put Mansi at ease.
“So why didn’t you pursue it as a career?”
“Pursue art? Forget art, pursue a career?” Mansi smiled sadly. “I don’t come from that kind of a family.”
“I understand.” Dutt sagely nodded. “My own father was very rigid. Anyway, who are your favorite artists? Impresionists? Dadaists? Cubists?”
Mansi felt uncomfortable. He was trying to impress her but she didn’t really know any of these words.
“I…I never really learned about art. I don’t know the terms and all that. I just know that when I see a painting I like, I like it. A few years ago my husband and I went to an exhibition of Hussain saab. Those were nice.”
Dutt gauged her level of knowledge and course-corrected.
“After all, that is what art truly is. Something that speaks to your heart. That’s why you can’t spell heart without art.”
Reena felt like laughing at that corny line, but Mansi seemed to like it.
Dutt nodded and started eating. So did Reena. The waiter had left by then. Mansi looked around the plate. There was no fork or spoon. Just a pair of fancy looking wooden chopsticks. She looked at her two companions. Both were eating with the chopsticks very expertly. The street Chinese food always came with cutlery. She had seen people use chopsticks on food shows on TV but never really had to use them.
“Aunty…” she awkwardly said.
“Yes, dear?” Reena pretended like she didn’t know what was going to be the request. It had been Dutt idea, with the assumption that a small town middle class woman would not know how to use chopsticks.
“Is there any cutlery? I can’t…” she pointed to the chopsticks.
“Oh god. Those idiot waiters. I told them to bring cutlery as well. Everything has to be told a dozen times.” Reena got up and went to the phone.
Mansi again felt out of place as she saw Dutt effortlessly eating even rice with the chopsticks. He looked at her and smiled.
“It is very easy, Mansi.” he said. “Here, do what I tell you.”
Mansi picked up the chopsticks.
“Now, put one like this sliding from the base of your thumb to the middle of your ring finger. Yes. Like that. Now hold the other one like a pen between the tip of your thumb and index fingers. Yes. Now click them together. Yes. Very good. Now try to lift something.”
Mansi followed the instructions exactly. But the sticks slid out of her grip. She tried again.
“Here, let me help you.” Dutt said.
And before Mansi could say anything, was swiftly standing behind her, leaning down. he put his big hairy right hand on hers. She felt his breath against her ears as he said.
“Now…one stick like that. Another like that. Relax, it’s very easy. You are an artist. This is easier than painting a circle.”
Mansi felt an odd sensation as the old stranger’s big rough fingers pressed gently on her smooth small ones. She wasn’t exactly used to male touch from anyone other than her husband. And even with her husband, actual touching happened very infrequently. But she ignored the strange feeling and focused on the chopsticks.
“Yes, now…try to pick up that dumpling. Yes…perfect. See how easily it comes up? Easier than with a spoon. Now slowly…slowly…open your mouth.”
Reena was watching as she was on the phone pretending to ask for cutlery. Again, she was impressed by Dutt’s charm and skills. Here was a demure chaste middle class housewife being touched from so close by a man over twice her age. And yet there was nothing in the situation that would make her protest or take offense. It was all set up very naturally.
Mansi’s hand, guided by Dutt’s slowly put the dumpling in her mouth. Dutt looked at the nervous pretty face right next to his. And felt a surge of thrill and arousal.
“Mmmmmm…” Mansi said happily as she bit into a delicious prawns dumpling. Better than anything you got on the streets.
Looking at her effusive happy expression, Dutt had the strongest desire to make some kind of a move. Maybe try to kiss her. But he restrained himself. Reena had been right. With this one, things had to progress slowly. He could risk upsetting the balance.
So he took his hand off hers and slid back into his seat. Mansi felt a little relieved by that. Although she very naively did not doubt his intentions as anything but helpful, she was getting uncomfortable by the prolonged proximity to another man.
“You’re right. This is very easy once you get the hang of it.” she said with childlike glee as she rolled up a bunch of noodles and slurped them. And giggled.
Reena came back to see Mansi enjoying her food. Cutlery wasn’t mentioned at all.
The lunch proceeded smoothly with a lot of conversations between the three of them. Reena talked frequently about Dutt’s businesses and his contacts and his influence, which was always followed by Dutt acting very modest and self-effacing. He instead was more intent on talking to Mansi. And he was so charming and easy-going about it that the young housewife found herself not feeling as out of place as she was earlier. Dutt talked to her a lot about art, the different styles of painting, and so on. Mansi listened like a young student.
Dutt also peppered his art lecture with a few questions about Mansi’s own life, her upbringing, her likes and dislikes. The more she talked, the more Dutt was able to get a complete picture of her personality and her psyche. She was a very simple, traditional, and conventional middle class housewife, but she was also hiding a deep sense of dissatisfaction with her life. Was that dissatisfaction merely financial and situational? Or was there something physical in it too? He would have to figure out how to gauge that without scaring her off. He began making a mental list of other small tricks and tactics he could use going forward.
When they finally got done with lunch, Reena pointed her to the bathroom to wash up. After stepping in and closing the door, Mansi again looked around her wide-eyed. The bathroom looked fancier than her living room. Not a spot of dirt or mold anywhere. A huge wall-length mirror. And the counter full of small artisanal soaps and different kinds of lotions and shampoos. Once again, Mansi felt like a child, just touching and examining all those things as if they were wondrous toys. Even the faucets were so ornate.
When she came out, Reena and Mansi were back on the couch having beer. She joined them.
“So did you enjoy lunch, Mansi?” Reena asked.
“Yes, it was delicious.” Mansi smiled. “And I got to learn something new. Using chopsticks.”
“Happy to be of help.” Dutt said.
They all talked casually for a few more minutes. And then Dutt suddenly said,
“Oh, I just remembered.” And he took out a small envelope from his inner pocket. “At a meeting with the Food Mart chain folks today, I got these complimentary gift cards. They don’t have a branch in Delhi. Why don’t you two take them?”
“No no, that’s okay.” Mansi politely declined.
“How much are they for?” Reena reached over and opened the envelope.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t say. It’s just like a debit card with their logo. To be used only in their store. Maybe a couple of hundred rupees.”
“Why not? Thank you.” Reena took one and held out the other for Mansi.
“No, aunty, it’s okay. You keep both.”
“Don’t be silly, Mansi.” Reena pushed one into her hand. “Duttsahab got them for free anyway. Why let them go to waste? I know they have a big store in Borivali too.”
Mansi nodded and put them in her purse. A couple of hundred rupees might help stretch her budget a little.
“Thank you, Duttsahab.” she said politely.
“Don’t mention it. Anyway ladies, I need to leave for a visit to one of my factories in Dahisar.” Dutt got up.
“Oh okay.” Reena said. “I have an appointment soon too.”
Mansi nodded, hoping that with Dutt gone, she might get a few minutes alone with aunty to talk about job opportunities. But then Reena said,
“Duttsahab…you said Dahisar. Why don’t you drop Mansi off at Borivali on the way?”
“Sure, happy to.” Dutt nodded.
“Oh no, I don’t want to delay you. I’ll just take the train.” Mansi was overwhelmed by all these favors he was doing her.
“What delay? It’s my factory. I can reach there any time I want. And Borivali is just on the way.”
Mansi demurred some more but there really was no way to refuse the offer. She couldn’t explicitly say that she had hoped to talk to Reena aunty alone. And honestly, she was a little relieved. It was a heavy lunch and she was feeling a little lazy. It would be nice to get a ride all the way instead of struggling through the local.
So she said her goodbyes to Reena aunty who hugged her and kissed her on both cheeks before letting her go. She accompanied Dutt down the lift in silence and to the hotel lobby.
“Driver, bring the car to the front.” he called and said.
A few minutes later, Mansi was sitting on a plush car seat, again feeling a mix of awe and wonderment. It was a big Mercedes limousine. Expensive leather interior, A/C on at full blast, with a smart looking driver in a crisp uniform. She was getting a first hand exposure to the lifestyle of the rich and famous.
“Thank you again, Duttsahab.” she said as he got in from the other side.
“Please stop thanking me all the time, Mansi.” he smiled. “So where exactly do you stay? Tell him the address.”
Mansi told the driver her address in Borivali east and the driver nodded. She sat back and was tempted to thank Dutt again, but he was on the phone.
“Yes Pradeep…no no…can’t do it for 12 million. Had to be fifteen. Yes, we can do something about the warranty…”
He seemed busy with his business. So she sat back. The car started moving. She looked out of the window and marveled at how different the streets of Mumbai looked from the inside of a plush limousine.
She stared at the buildings and cars whizzing past as she wondered, is this how people with money live? How would it feel? Do they get bored of it? She started thinking about a parallel universe where she hadn’t been born to middle class conservative parents in a small town but to someone like Dutt. He seemed like such a nice and knowledgeable man. Very kind and gentle. Surely he didn’t yell at his kids, force fit them into his ideas.
She noticed that Dutt had finished his phone calls.
“Can I offer you some water or a soft drink, Mansi?” he asked. “Your lips look a little dry.”
“Oh no, there is no need to stop.” Mansi said, without realizing that this meant he had been looking at her lips.
“We don’t have to stop.” Dutt smiled. “Push that blue button by your side.”
Mansi was intrigued and pushed it. Immediately, a small refrigerated box slid out of the panel next to her. It had water, cola, and a couple of juices.
“Wow!!” she said, her eyes wide. A mini fridge in a car? She reached out and took a bottle of water.
“Press it again.” he said, and then the fridge disappeared into the wall as if it was never there.
Taking a sip of water, Mansi licked her dry lips. Dutt watched her do that and felt a stirring in his loins. But he restrained himself.
“Duttsahab…what do your kids do?” she asked.
“My kids…oh they are a great bunch. The eldest, my first daughter, is a Vice President in my business. She is the one who runs most of our operations these days. And once I retire soon, she will take over completely. To be honest, she is going to take our business to great heights. She is married to a lawyer and they have two sons.”
Mansi was a little surprised that despite having a son, it was a daughter that he was grooming as his successor.
“The second is my son. About your age. He is a sculptor. Not hit the big leagues yet, but I see a lot of promise. And my youngest is doing a masters course at Stanford University in the US. She is going to be a great writer.” he proudly said.
Mansi smiled and nodded. If she had been born to him, maybe she could have become an artist too.
That’s when Dutt’s phone rang again.
“Excuse me. Duty calls again.” he said and answered.
As the old man talked business on the phone, Mansi turned back to look outside the window. They were now on the western express highway. She thought about her own daughter, and how intelligent she was. What was in her future? Even with all his flaws and idiosyncrasies, the good thing about Amar was that he was not an old-fashioned guy when it came to that part. It was his idea to put her in an expensive high quality school. She was sure that with him together, they would be able to help her live up to her full potential. But that needed so much money these days.
“See that blue building over there with the glass facade?”
Mansi was so lost in her thoughts that she did not realize when Dutt finished his phone call and slid over right next to her. His face was right in front of hers and his finger was pointing out the window. His hips were touching hers.
“Hmmm?” she absent-mindedly said, looking where he pointed.
“I own two floors in that building, and that is like my Mumbai branch office.”
“I see.” she said.
“So you see, we are neighbors of sorts. You live in Borivali East. I have my offices in Borivali East.” he said, still right next to her, a little too close.
“I guess so.” she said, and squirmed a little, uncomfortably.
Dutt noticed her reaction and was a little disappointed. He had hoped for some sort of a signal that she was also attracted to him. But it wasn’t there, He immediately slid back and she looked more relaxed.
Soon the driver turned off from the highway and went into the roads of the suburb. There was a short period of silence as Mansi sipped a bit more of the water. She didn’t think that Duttsahab meant anything untoward by sliding that close to her. Maybe that was the norm among high society people. And he was such a nice charming man. When his face was right next to her, she had found herself thinking that it was a very handsome face. And that in his younger days, before he got a paunch, he must have been quite a good looking guy. He reminded her a bit of Rishi Kapoor.
“We are almost there, ma’am.” the driver said from the front.
“Oh, yes, thanks.” Mansi said as she recognized the familiar narrow roads of her neighborhood. Part of her felt a little sad that the ride was ending. It meant that her small adventure with high class society was ending.
“Mansi…” Dutt said holding his phone. “Why don’t you give me your number? Like I told you, my son is a sculptor. Through him, I hear of a lot of exhibitions and events related to art in Mumbai. Next time there is one, I can call you. And then you can visit it with your husband and daughter.”
The mention of her family was very purposeful. He had gauged her well enough to know that if he just asked her for her number saying the two of them should meet, she might refuse. But putting that request in the context of her main passions – art and her family – would make it easier.
“Oh sure…it is…”
Mansi gave him her cellphone number. He then gave her a missed call and saved his.
And then thanking him once again for the ride, the chopsticks lesson, and the gift card, she stepped out of the car.
As the fancy limo drove away, she realized that she was now back in the tepid confines of her regular middle class life.
Two days later, Mansi took Pinky to the mall near their house that had a branch of Food Mart. They walked the two kilometers there to save money on rickshaws. It was nearing the end of the month and finances were low. So whatever couple of hundred rupees were on that gift card Dutt gave her would be helpful.
“Mamma look!!” Pinky said as a toy helicopter flew over their head.
The little girl struggled free of her grip and ran after the helicopter. It landed right in front of a makeshift stall in a corner. It was laden with many different types of toy helicopter and a few young sales people with remote controllers in their hands were flying them around, enticing kids. There was a small crowd of kids and parents around the stall.
“Hello there.” a young woman walked up to Pinky. “Do you want to fly it?”
“Pinky, let’s go.” Mansi said, annoyed. This is why she hated going to the mall. There were temptations for her demanding daughter around every corner.
“Mamma please…just a few minutes.”
“It’s a lot of fun, ma’am. I love it even as an adult. You should try it too.” the sales girl made her practiced pitch.
Mansi knew there was no point even putting up a fight. She had been through such situations so many times. And it unfolded exactly as she knew it would. Pinky flew the helicopter around for a few minutes. Fell in love with it. And who wouldn’t? Mansi herself was very impressed by how cool and fun it was. She would have loved to buy it for her precious daughter if she could.
But she had also read the board they had on the side with the prices. The cheapest model was 1000 rupees. She had just a little over 1500 left for the rest of the month after accounting for what she owed the kirana store. Even with that gift certificate of a couple of hundred rupees, she simply could not afford it.
And what followed was also very much expected. After the trial demo, the salesgirl started talking about the prices. Pinky started yelling and crying about how she absolutely wanted it. A lot of parents around them, with more money, were buying them. Pinky threw a tantrum. Mansi said no, felt embarrassed. A scene was created. And finally she managed to drag her sobbing and sulking daughter away.
“Stay with me!!” Mansi sternly told Pinky as she took a big cart and walked into Food Mart.
She had heard about this place. Some neighbors had told her that although it was very big and posh and nice, its prices were same as or even lower than their neighborhood kirana store if you bought big quantities. But the problem was, unlike the kirana store, these people did not give credit. With the kirana guy, she could keep buying things, one or two at a time as she needed them, and then pay off the bill when Amar’s salary came. With the Food Mart, even with the competitive prices, payment had to be instant. She had read that most people who shopped there were upper middle class people who came with their cars, bought stuff in bulk for the month, and that was it.
As Mansi walked through the store and filled the cart with the essentials like flour, dal, milk, etc, she realized that the prices were indeed competitive. Maybe it was worth it to always come here and shop. It might take some planning with the finances but why not?
“You never buy me anything nice.” Pinky sulked, still by her side.
“Don’t be a brat. I bought you those shoes.”
“I don’t like those shoes anymore.”
Big surprise, thought Mansi. Is there a more fickle mind of the earth than her daughter’s, she wondered.
“Papa is nice. You are not nice.” Pinky said.
This made Mansi’s temper flare. Amar barely spent any time with their daughter, and was always the nice guy. She was the one bringing her up, taking care of everything, and she was not nice? She knew that this was just the sulking comment of a 7 year old. But it still pissed her off. She didn’t say anything of course. But anyone watching the mother and daughter would have seen that both were wearing identical surly expressions.
Mansi had initially planned to just buy a few things of immediate need. If she bought too much, it would be too heavy to carry back on foot for two kilometers. But the more she saw the products and their prices, she realized that she could afford to buy enough for a couple of weeks. And the savings compared to the kirana guy would be enough to take a rickshaw home with the heavy bags. So she started buying the bigger packs for better savings, even buying a few things not on her list.
“That’s 1226, ma’am.” the guy at the counter said after scanning the last of her items while another guy put them in bags and in the cart.
As the register machine had kept racking up the prices, Mansi had gotten happier and happier. This was was least 10% cheaper than if she had bought all this at the kirana store.
“Okay. Here.” she reached into her purse. “I have a gift card. Whatever is left, I will pay by cash.”
“Sure, ma’am.” the clerk took the card and swiped it as Mansi took cash out.
He looked at the screen for a few seconds. Then there was a whirring noise and a receipt was printed out.
“There you go, ma’am. Thank you for shopping at Food Mart.” he held the card up to return it to her.
“Wait…don’t I have to give you money?” she said, holding up the cash in her hand.
“No, ma’am. The gift card covered it all. It was worth 5,000 rupees. So here, it still has 3774 rupees on it.”
Mansi took the card back and put it in her purse. Then with Pinky by her side, she started pushing the cart with all the bags. This had to be a mistake. Duttsahab had said just a couple of hundred rupees. Surely the Food Mart machine made a mistake. But who was she to complain? She quickly rushed out of the store holding Pinky’s hand, fearing that any moment they might call her back.
She kept walking and looking back, wondering if someone was following them. But no one was. She stopped. That’s when one of the toy helicopters flew past her again. Pinky looked at it sadly.
“So…I am not nice?” she asked her, staring at the helicopter.
“No.” the girl sulked. Mansi smiled.
“See, what you don’t realize about the Battle of the Bulge is, if only the American generals at that time had shown a little more initiative, and been more smart, then I tell you…” Amar was waxing eloquent on another of his favorite subject walking into the building compound when he was interrupted.
“Look at that!!” one of the three friends with him exclaimed.
Amar looked up. There was a small toy helicopter flying in front of him.
“Hands up, Papa!!” his daughter’s voice said from some distance. He saw her standing with a crowd of the building kids. Smiling, he raised his hands. The helicopter flew away.
Along with the kids there were a few adults in that crowd watching his daughter maneuver the helicopter. Among them was Mansi. She saw him and smiled.
“What’s all this?” he quietly asked her.
“Her newest toy.” Mansi said happily and then looked at his friends. “You should all try it out. It is fun even for adults.”
“Sure looks like it.” one of them said staring at the helicopter.
They all stood around watching the helicopter fly all around. Finally Amar said,
“We will be upstairs. Can you make us some…”
“Yes sure.” Mansi nodded and then said. “Pinky, just five more minutes. Time for homework.”
“Okay, mamma.” her daughter, for a change, did not argue with her. Just focused on her newest toy.
A while later, Pinky was in the bedroom, doing her homework. Amar and his friends had set up their intellectual conference as always. Mansi could hear that the topic for the night was the Battle of the Bulge. Same old facts, same old arguments that she had heard a dozen times. She was in the kitchen cooking.
Amar walked in alone with the empty tray. She put hot pakoras on the plate in it.
“Mansi…that helicopter…how much did it cost?” he asked after a few seconds.
“Nothing.” she said.
“Nothing?” he said skeptically.
Mansi opened her mouth to tell him the whole story. About Reena aunty and the job offer and the kind old man Mr. Dutt and the gift certificate and everything. But it didn’t seem like the right time. It would take too long. And knowing his weird sense of honor and pride, he might insist on returning it all. And it would make Pinky cry bloody murder. So she decided on a white lie.
“We were at the mall. They were displaying these toys and holding a lottery to give one away every hour. I just put Pinky’s name in the lottery. And we won.”
“Oh…ok.” Amar believed it.
“Doesn’t she look happy? And see how obediently she is doing her homework.”
“Yes, of course. But it is materialistic behavior, Mansi.” Amar’s sanctimonious professorial tone came out.
“Why don’t you try explaining your thoughts on materialism to Pinky?” she sarcastically said.
“I will. Some day.” Amar said and walked away.
Again, Mansi felt annoyed at her husband. He liked to talk the talk on materialism and idealism and everything. But she was the one who had to live it out. And deal with a very demanding little girl. But Mansi decided not to feel surly about it. It was a rare happy day. She could still remember how Pinky’s expression had turned from a scowl to one of delight when she finally told her that she’d buy her the helicopter. It had to be the cheapest model, of course. But even then, the little girl had been over the moon. And she had felt even happier when, after stepping out of the mall, Mansi had decided to take an A/C taxi home instead of a rickshaw. With the savings from the gift card, she could afford it.
As usual, Amar’s history session continued past just snacks and tea and it rolled over into dinner. Pinky finished her homework, and tired from running around after the helicopter, fell asleep on the bed. Amar’s friends finally left after dinner and the two of them headed to the bedroom.
Exhausted, Mansi laid down on the bed next to Pinky just the way she was, in a comfortable simple sari.
“Can you take Pinky to the couch?” Amar asked as he headed to the bathroom. “And why don’t you change into a gown instead?”
“Oh…okay.” Mansi said and got off the bed.
She knew what that meant. She gently carried her daughter to the couch. Pinky was a heavy sleeper, so did not wake up at all. Mansi put her on the couch and covered her with a thin sheet. Living in a small one bedroom apartment, that’s the only way the married couple could get some privacy. Wait until the daughter falls asleep and then put her in the living room. She then went back to the bedroom and took a gown out of the closet. It was a simple modest full body sleeping gown. She changed into it and got into bed waiting for Amar. But she was so tired that she fell asleep almost right away.
The room was dark when Mansi felt herself being pushed a little. She opened her eyes.
“Are you awake?” Amar whispered.
“Hmmm.” she responded.
“Too tired for it?” he considerately asked.
“No, I am ready.” she said. It had been a while since the last time.
In a flash, Amar got on top of her, sliding off his pyjama and underwear. His hands went to her ankle and started pushing the gown up. It was easier than pushing up her sari. Mansi hated those gowns. But she knew that whenever Amar suggested that she sleep in a gown, it was a signal that he wanted sex that night. It happened about once a fortnight.
Amar pushed the gown all the way up to her chest. He reached behind her and fumbled with her bra hooks. Even after eight years, it always took him a while to unhook her bra. Then he played with her boobs with one hand as his other hand slipped her panties down. There was some perfunctory kissing for a few seconds. Mansi could feel her husband’s erect dick against her thighs.
It had been eight years so there were no surprises left as such. Mansi could predict Amar’s moves and their sequence. After the few seconds of kissing, he took her right nipple in his teeth and gently bit it. Then his left hand moved to her right knee and pulled it, opening her thighs. He lowered his hips and the tip of his cock rubbed against the opening of her pussy. She reached down with her left hand and aligned it. And then he penetrated her.
And the bed started shaking and creaking. Mansi felt pleasant sensations emanating from her loins as her husband fucked her. She always liked this. She always wished he did it more often. But she was brought up in too demure and conservative a way to ever make the first move. So she always had to wait until he felt horny. And this was the night. Their thighs made a soft slapping sound as Amar banged his wife fast. She put one hand under his kurta and played with his chest hair. As the sex continued, she felt herself getting more relaxed and also more pleasured.
She looked at Amar’s face on top of her. He was staring at her with a blank expression, occasionally kissing her. She closed her eyes. Suddenly an image flashed in her mind. The image of Duttsahab’s face as it was right next to her in the car. Panicked, she opened her eyes.
“What…happened?” Amar asked her.
“Nothing.” she whispered and kept her eyes open, focusing on her husband’s inert face. She was disturbed by why that old man’s face had suddenly flashed in front of her eyes. She did her best to not think about it, and kept looking at Amar, kissing him whenever he kissed her.
After a couple of minutes, Amar started humping her harder.
“Still on the pill?” he hoarsely whispered, on schedule.
“Yes.” she said.
Whenever he asked this, she knew what was coming. And soon he was cumming, inside her. It had been another enjoyable sex session. Amar stayed on top of his wife for a few seconds. Then he got up. As always, he wrapped a towel around his waist and went to the bathroom first to clean his sticky cock. When he came back, Mansi lowered her gown and did the same. When she came back from the bathroom, Amar was fully dressed, and in bed snoring.
She put her panties back on, and went to the living room. She carried her sleeping daughter back to the bed. And then fell asleep next to her.
Mansi got back to her regular life after her short introduction to high class living with Reena aunty and Duttsahab. She considered calling aunty to meet up again and talk about the job. But then she decided to give it a few days. She worried that if she contacted her again so soon, it might seem like she was again trying to mooch off a free expensive meal. Besides, thanks to that gift card, she was okay with finances for a while. There was enough money left on it to buy groceries and other supplies for almost two months if she stretched it. Which meant that the money from Amar’s salary could be used for other purposes.
The next few weeks were great for Pinky. Whenever she went out with her mother and made a random demand, most of the times, it was fulfilled. Be it ice cream or pastries or even small toys being sold here or there. She just had to ask and she would receive, as long as it was within reason.
“Pinky is getting more and more toys these days.” Amar noted one morning as he saw his daughter playing with a few doll.
“It makes her happy.” Mansi shrugged.
“But…can we afford all this?”
“Do you want me to give you a full accounting of all the money?” Mansi said in a miffed voice.
“Of course not. Why are you getting upset?”
“I have been running the household for eight years now. I know better than you what we can and cannot afford.”
“It’s not just about being able to afford it.” Amar changed the topic. “I have said before that I don’t want to instill materialistic values in our child.”
Mansi seethed in silence as she did her work. It was so easy for him to be so high and mighty from his ivory tower while leaving her to face the practical implications of his supposed values.
“So…how is your job search going?” Amar asked. She noted a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
“I haven’t gotten around to it yet.” she said. She considered telling him about Reena aunty but then decided to wait until the job was confirmed.
“Hmmm.” he said and smiled. She could sense that to him it was a big joke. He did not think his homely barely qualified wife could ever get a job.
This made her even more resolved to call Reena aunty soon. She knew that Amar didn’t take the idea seriously. But it was important to her. Making some money wouldn’t just make her household life easier, it would be useful for Pinky’s future too. She had been thinking about it since Dutt spoke about his kids. To give Pinky a bright future, they would need a decent amount of money. A few years ago they had started a dedicated savings account for her college fund. But given how tight money was, it did not have more than a couple of thousand. If she got even a moderately paying job, they could save at least a couple of lakhs until Pinky grew up.
As it happened, Reena was the one who called her the next morning.
“Mansi, you have become a stranger. Too busy for your old friend?” she mock scolded.
“No aunty, I just didn’t want to disturb you.”
“You can never disturb me, sweetheart. Listen, are you free today?”
“Yes.” Mansi eagerly said.
“I have a surprise for you.”
“A surprise? What surprise?”
“If I tell you that, it won’t be a surprise now, will it? Be ready in an hour. I will pick you up from that main road near your house. The corner with the ATM. And dress nicely.”
Mansi hung up and wondered if she had ever given aunty her address. How did she know about the main road and the ATM? She guessed she must have and just forgotten about it. Mansi picked out another of her nice saris and got ready. She wondered what the surprise was.
And hour later she was waiting in the heat where Reena had told her to when a gleaming limousine pulled up to her. She wondered if it was Duttsahab again, but it was different from the one she had been in last time.
The chauffer, smartly dressed, got out and stylishly opened the back door.
“Mansi! Hi!!” Reena aunty squealed from inside and waved.
Mansi saw her and got into the air conditioned limousine. And right next to her, she found Dutt, again dressed in a stylish suit.
“How are you, Mansi?”
“Namaste, Duttsahab. Namaste, aunty.” Mansi said as her shapely butt sank into the soft seat of the car. She was a little confused to see the old man here again. But she did not mind much. She had taken quite a liking to him. She tried not to think about how his face had flashed in front of her eyes during sex, and blushed a little.
“Mansi, you seem confused. Let me explain your surprise. Or rather, let Duttsahab explain.” Reena said, holding a champagne flute in her hand and sipping from it. There was a champagne bottle in an ice bucket on a shelf next to her.
“It’s nothing, really.” Dutt said, also with champagne in his hand. “I told you my son is a sculptor. When I told him I was coming to Bombay again, he told me about this exhibition at a great art gallery in Bandra. And I remembered your interest in art. So I thought you might enjoy coming to it with Reena and me.”
“Oh, thank you. That was very thoughtful of you.” Mansi beamed. A high end art exhibition in posh Bandra did sound like something she would enjoy.
“Don’t mention it.” Dutt smiled and shook his head.
“Some champagne, Mansi?” Reena asked reached for the bottle.
“No thank you. I don’t drink.” she shook her head.
“You don’t drink alcohol. This is champagne.” Reena laughed. “I mean sure, it is also alcohol But it is very mild.”
“But still…” Mansi protested.
“But still nothing. Just have a little. besides, they usually serve champagne at such exhibitions too. If you refuse it there, it will look rude.”
“Oh, is it?”
“Yes. Just have a little bit. I insist.” Reena poured half a measure into a stylish looking flute and held it towards Mansi.
The young middle class housewife, again feeling a little intimidate and out of place, took it. She didn’t want to be rude to Reena aunty, who had been so nice to her. And she had heard that champagne is indeed a mild alcohol, mainly used to sip at celebratory or fancy occasions. She took a sip of the cold fizzy drink and grimaced a little.
“How do you like it?” Reena asked.
“It’s…different. Tastes a bit like…sprite.” Mansi said. It was a bit more carbinated than she expected. And the taste was a little bitter. She didn’t enjoy it much, but did not want to seem like a bumpkin.
Reena and Dutt started laughing at the comparison. Until then, Dut had been checking email on his phone, listening to everything.
“Sprite. That’s a good way to describe it.” Dutt said.
“Have a few more sips and you will get used to it.” Reena said.
As the car zoomed south on the western express highway towards Bandra, Mansi took a few more sips of the foreign drink. Having brought up in a conservative small town household, she had never even thought about tasting alcohol. It had been hammered into her that it was a vile drink that makes people act really crazy. She had seen many drunks on the streets of Meerut and knew it had to be true. And drinking for a woman was almost unthinkable.
But she was in the company of high society people now. So to fit in, what’s the harm in having a few sips, she thought. Mansi knew so little about the effects of alcohol, that she expected that she would suddenly started feeling unbalanced and confused like a drunkard. So she was surprised that even after a few sips, there was no major effect on her, except just a pleasant sensation in her mind.
“Some more?” Duttsahab politely asked.
“Thank you.” Mansi held out the flute.
By the time they reached the sea-facing gallery on Carter Road, Mansi had kept pace with her two companions, finishing three flutes of champagne. As the driver dropped them off and she got out of the car, Mansi felt a mild but funny sensation in her head. She wasn’t imbalance, nor was she slurring. But there was something different. She did not know the term, but the first time drinker was what you might call “buzzed”.
Mansi walked into the posh gallery feeling just mildly light-headed, even though her two companions were perfectly sober. Obviously, this being the first taste of alcohol in her life, she had a much lower tolerance. But Reena had been careful not to give her too much.
“May I accompany you inside, dear lady?” Dutt held out his elbow in a ceremonious way.
Mansi smiled and put her arm through his. As the two of them walked into the big fancy art gallery followed by Reena, a few photographers milling around ran over and started snapping a few pictures. Mansi was surprised by all the attention. She assumed it was because Dutt was a big shot industrialist. But in reality, the photographers had been drawn to her. Dressed in another of her very few fancy saris, and with her hair combed straight and let loose, she looked quite attractive. Although none of the photographers obviously recognized her, they all thought a picture of a pretty lady with a stylish but paunchy old man would make a great page 3 photo.
“So glad you could make it, Mr. Dutt.” a distinguished looking older gentleman who was the owner of the gallery said.
“Happy to be here.” Dutt smiled. “These are my friends, Mrs. Mansi and Mrs. Reena.”
Mansi was just staring at the picture closest to her. It was a big 12 ft x 9 ft abstract painting hung on a spotless white wall. And the price tag said Rs 26,00,000. She almost fainted that she was so close to a picture that cost more than her husband would earn in two decades. But once she looked past the price, she found herself strangely enamored by the painting. It was a lot of strange blobs and strokes and uneven shapes. But she could see why it commanded such a high price. There was something magnetically fascinating about it.
“Mansi!” Reena nudged her with an elbow. Everyone was waiting for her to greet the owner back.
“Oh hello, how do you do?” she politely said.
“Mansi here is an aspiring artist herself.” Dutt said, and she blushed.
“That is fantastic. We are always looking to discover new talent.” the owner smiled and fished out a card. “Feel free to send me a sample any time.”
“Sample…thank you.” Mansi just dumbly stared at the card and said. She had done some drawings on chart paper many years ago. It had been considered nice by the untrained population of her small social circle in Meerut. And here was the owner of a super fancy gallery giving her his card.
The owner smiled knowingly and then snapped his fingers. A waitress appeared carrying a tray of champagne. Mansi looked at her. And yet again, wondered how the wait staff in the high society world is always so impeccably dressed. Dutt and Reena picked up a glass each. Mansi was now starting to feel the mild but real effects of the champagne she had in the car. She didn’t want to over indulge. But she remembered what Reena aunty said in the car about not being rude, so she picked up a glass. She told herself she would just hold it, not really have any.
But fifteen minutes later, she felt an empty glass being taken from her hand and replaced with a full one. Dutt had been talking about all the gorgeous paintings in that brightly lit gallery accompanying the two ladies through the exhibition. As was his forte, he was talking nineteen to the dozen sounding very knowledgeable about everything, but any real expert of art would have realized that his expertise didn’t go very deep and was actually very cliched and stilted. But to Mansi, who had never been formally educated in the ways of art and just had an amateur passion in it, everything sounded very profound.
The next hour or so passed with Mansi walking through the exhibition with her companions, being lectured on art. Throughout that hour, Dutt had occasionally touched Mansi on her shoulder or brushed her arm, while guiding her from one place to another. She noticed it and maybe because of the alcohol in her system, felt a small thrill at the unfamiliar touch. But did her best to put it all out of her mind. He is just a nice old man, she told herself. Stop being silly. Little did she know that all the subtle touches and brushes were very carefully planned and calibrated by Dutt.
About halfway through the exhibition just as they walked up to a new painting, Dutt stopped, and looked across the hall.
“Oh…would you ladies mind it terribly if I left you alone for a little while?” he said. “I see an old business associate that I need to discuss a new deal with.”
“Sure.” Reena said. Until now she had been a silent spectator much like Mansi.
“Sure.” Mansi said.
“It won’t take more than 15-20 minutes. You ladies keep looking and I will join you soon.” Dutt said, and gently stroked both their arms before walking away.
Reena and Mansi watched him walk away and then looked at the painting.
“So what do you think this is?” Mansi said, trying to remember everything Dutt had said about shape and form and strokes and subtext.
Reena stared carefully at the painting.
“A big question mark on a fried egg?” Reena said. Both of them started giggling. “Sorry Mansi, but I am not really artistically inclined like you or Dutsahab. To me, most of these paintings look lie something a kindergarten child would make.”
“I…like them.” Mansi said. And Reena realized that she was getting more and more under Dutt’s spell, although she probably didn’t realize it herself. So this was the right time.
“Mansi…remember we spoke about a job for you?”
“Oh yes. In fact…I was going to bring it up myself.” Mansi said. And then, more than a little buzzed by the champagne, started talking with a slight slur. “Amar has a great job as a professor and his salary is not bad. But it falls short, you know. Some extra money always helps. For helicopters and ice cream. So why not a job? He thinks I won’t…or I can’t…but he is also right. I never got any great education. Very basic. Like B.A. basic. And it was like…you know…it didn’t matter if I could draw a perfect circle with just a brush…but more about whether I can roll a perfect roti. You know what I mean?”
Reena had trouble following that rambling sentence in entirety, especially the part about helicopters and ice cream but she got the general gist. She nodded sympathetically.
“Yeah…so…with Pinky…I don’t care about her rotis. I mean…I do care about the rotis she eats. I mean…I don’t care about the rotis she makes. In fact she shouldn’t even make rotis. She should go to best colleges. And become like…Barkha Dutt or even Edmund Hillary. Why can’t she be like Edmund Hillary?”
“You mean climb Everest??” Reena asked, a little confused.
“Noooo…become the first woman president of America.” Mansi said.
“Oh of course.” Reena realized what she meant but didn’t say anything. gently, she took the half empty glass of champagne from Mansi’s hand. She did not want the first time drinker to get so drunk that she would just fall asleep.
“So yes…I want to get a job. To save money for Pinky’s college. We started a bank account for her college fees but I haven’t been able to add anything much to it. If I start working and start adding money to it, she can go anywhere. Go to IIT…IIM…maybe even Stambford.”
“Yes, Stanford.” Mansi said. And then stared at the painting. “I think I also see the fried eggs.”
“Come with me, Mansi. Let’s sit for a while.”
Reena led the young housewife to a leather bench by the side. She had hoped the champagne would relax Mansi, but it had maybe been a little too much. She signaled a waitress over and picked up a glass of orange juice and handed it to Mansi who started drinking it.
Mansi was too inexperienced with drinking to realize that she was slightly drunk. She did realize that something was off. But she trusted Reena so implicitly that she still thought champagne is too mild to really be alcohol. They sat quietly for a couple of minutes as Mansi sipped the juice. Then a waiter came by with some finger food and Reena gave some to Mansi and had some herself.
“Mansi, I do have a job for you.” she said.
“You do?” the orange juice and the food mad Mansi feel a little more normal.
“I do. In fact today is something like a job interview plus audition.”
“Do you like Duttsahab?”
“He is very nice.” Mansi said and then found the question weird. “Wait, what do you mean?”
“Nothing like that, don’t be silly.” Reena giggled and slapped the young housewife on her shoulder. “I mean do you think he is a nice respectable person?”
“Of course.” Mansi said.
“Well, the job is with him.”
“With him?” Mansi was confused.
“Yes. He comes to Bombay often. Mostly it is social events and visits like these. Sometimes a business lunch. He is a widower. Alone with kids all grown up. And you have seen what a social butterfly he is. He likes company. So you will be like his…local guide plus personal assistant of sorts.”
“What?” she was still confused.
“It is perfect, Mansi. Think about it. You have family commitments and household chores, so it’s not like you can do a 9 to 5 job. Duttsahab’s social responsibilities will mainly be in the daytime when your husband and daughter are away. And no more than a few days a month.”
“I am still not sure what the job exactly is.” Mansi said.
“Whatever we did today. Just like that. Accompany him at such events and keep him company. A big reason he likes company is also to avoid random bankers and industrial sales reps and account managers and other business folks from bothering him for orders or jobs or other favors. If he is in the company of a graceful young woman, no one bothers him. So you just spend a few hours in the afternoon with him, maybe 3-4 times a month. And you will be paid well.”
“How well?” Mansi said, remembering that it was all about the money.
“I didn’t ask the exact amount.” Reena shrugged. “But you have seen how he is. Nice and generous. Trust me, it will be good. You trust me, don’t you?”
“Of course I trust you.” Mansi said.
“I know this seems very unusual. But believe me, it is a very common job. Not just in Bombay but also Bangalore, Delhi, even in foreign countries. Just giving innocent company to business people. I myself have facilitated many such arrangements.” Reena gently rubbed Mansi
Mansi was silent and thinking about it. She liked Dutt’s company a lot. And she had recently enjoyed her brief glimpses of the high society. If she got a chance to do this a few times a month and also got paid for it, what was the harm? Even if she got a couple of thousand rupees for it, it would be worth it.
“What do you think?” Reena asked softly.
“Just 3-4 times a month?”
“Yes, just that.”
“Will you be with us too?” Mansi asked.
“No, sweetie, I have my own job. You understand.”
“Can I do like…a trial thing?”
“Of course. Next time he needs company, I will arrange it with you. And you can go out for a few hours. And then make the decision.”
“Okay.” Mansi shrugged.
“Great!” Reena was delighted. Stage 1 was complete.
Mansi was surprised when Reena aunty hugged her on that bench. She hugged back, thankful that this woman who was barely an acquaintance many years ago was being so nice and going out of the way to help her.
“I will go tell Duttsahab the good news. He will be very happy. He is very fond of you.” Reena said and got up. “Oh, I almost forgot. He said that if you said yes, I should give you this for today.”
She held out a sealed envelope. Mansi stared at it for a few seconds before taking it.
“Yes, he was dreading going to this exhibition alone. So many hangers-on trying to mooch something off him. That’s why he walked in with you on his arm. This way, he can stay busy and fend off those vultures. And only talk to the ones he wants, like he is doing now. Plus he remembered you like art, so two birds with one stone.” Reena said. “It’s sealed, so I don’t know how much is in it. But knowing him, it will be good.”
Mansi sat there with the envelope in her hand as Reena walked off to the other end of the gallery where Dutt was talking seriously to another old man about some business deal. The young housewife was still feeling a little buzzed. Her head was hurting a little. She quickly put the envelope in her purse and sat there, looking at the paintings around her. She saw Reena and Dutt talking a little. And then she put a hand into the purse. She didn’t want to openly check out what was in it. But she was curious. So carefully, using her index finger, she opened the seal of the envelope. Then quickly she looked inside. She saw pink notes. With her fingers, she separated them to count. There were five. So five thousand rupees! For just a few hours of attending an art exhibition?
Mansi felt a combination of jubilation and doubt. On the one hand, she was very happy about getting this extra cash. She could just add it to the bank account meant for Pinky’s college. On the other hand, it felt weird that she was getting so much money for something so minor. And it was the same amount as that gift card. Was that also meant to be a payment? And for such generous payment, what would she be expected to do? Would he expect her to…
No no, don’t be silly, Mansi scolded herself. He is such a gentleman. And an old man. Almost like a father. And plus this was set up by Reena aunty who was so nice. Mansi scolded herself for even thinking any unsavory thoughts. In the meantime, Reena was walking back towards her so she quickly closed the envelope and took her hands out of the purse.
“Okay, I talked to him. He is thrilled. And he is perfectly happy with meeting you next time as a trial run. If after that you don’t want to continue this arrangement, that is up to you.” she said.
“Thank you so much.” Mansi said gratefully.
“One more thing. You found the idea of this arrangement a little…weird and transactional when you first heard it, right?”
“Well, so does Duttsahab, although he looks forward to it. So…in your interactions, please don’t make a reference to the fact that you are like his employee. Just be like a friend. When he calls you next time to meet him, think of it like meeting a friend, like you are meeting me. Or else it feels a little sleazy. Does that make sense?”
“Oh okay, I guess that makes sense.
“Great. Okay, I should get going.” Reena said picking up her purse.
“Yes. I have so many things lined up back at the hotel. Plus you should get used to spend time with him alone. That is your job from now on.”
“True.” Mansi nodded.
She looked up and saw Dutt walking back towards them.
“Duttsahab, thank you for this great experience.” Reena aunty said gently hugging him and kissing him on a cheek. “But work calls so I have to get going.”
“I understand.” Dutt smiled.
“Will you drop Mansi off please?”
“Of course.” he eagerly nodded. “Shall we continue with the rest of the exhibition, Mansi?”
Reena left after hugging Mansi goodbye and whispering congrats. And then she walked with Dutt towards the next section. A waitress stopped by with a glass of champagne. But Mansi was still feeling a little light headed so she politely declined. Dutt thought about insisting that she have more, but remembered Reena’s advice about taking it slow. And the two of them walked from painting to painting with Dutt talking nineteen to the dozen.
Mansi had seen so many high price tags that by now, she stopped even thinking about them. She had truly immersed herself into the exhibition and was really enjoying the whole experience. Most of the drawings were very abstract. And then suddenly they came across one that looked like something out of a comic book. Mansi was surprised and stared at it. It did not seem like art. And yet the price on it said Rs 75,000.
“Oh what a lovely reproduction of a classic.” Dutt said. “Do you recognize the original that this is based on, Mansi?
“I don’t think so.” Mansi said nervously. Until now, he had just been speaking and she had been listening. Now suddenly he was asking her questions. She felt very conscious about her ignorance.
“It’s a reproduction of Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein. Describe to me what you see please.”
“A girl drowning, crying, and saying” she moved closer to read the comic book style speech bubble, “I don’t care. I’d rather sink than call Brad for help.”
“And what is the painting trying to convey?”
“Despair…frustration…” Mansi guessed.
“And do you see the thinly veiled erotic references?”
“Really?” she stared at the image. She couldn’t see any erotic references. She felt a little strange to even hear the word erotic in the context of a comic book
“I…have no idea.” Mansi shrugged.
“All that white stuff…we assume it is water she is drowning in. But doesn’t it look a little like…semen?” Dutt quietly said.
Mansi blushed profusely. She came from an unorthodox family. And never discussed words like semen even with her husband. She saw what Dutt meant though.
“The subtext I see is, she is drowning in semen…which symbolizes that she is being very promiscuous. And maybe she is in trouble because of it. Hence the tears which also look like semen. Or maybe someone came on her face. The mention of the name Brad suggests that he is maybe her boyfriend or husband. But she is angry with him or dissatisfied with him for some reason. So she doesn’t care. She would rather drown in this ocean of semen, continue her promiscuous life, than reach out to her man for help.”
Dutt stopped talking and was a little impressed with himself. He had thought of the whole thing at the last minute. But it seemed like a great way to casually introduce the subject of sex in their interaction. He saw she was still blushing like the simple shy housewife she was. But he stared at her pointedly as if waiting for her response.
“I guess so.” Mansi finally gave in to his stare. And then quickly walked to the next painting.
At that moment, Mansi was so uncomfortable with the topic that she couldn’t look at the painting anymore. But days and weeks later, as things progressed, she would often think back to that painting and identify with it and the interpretation Dutt came up with.
As they covered the rest of the exhibition, Dutt noticed that the innocent chaste housewife had gone into a bit of a shell. So he didn’t really push her too much. In describing the other paintings, he did not make any more erotic references. And when she kept refusing champagne, he did not insist. An hour or so passed and Mansi seemed to be returning to normal. But she soon looked at her watch and said she needed to get home for her daughter. Dutt nodded and called his driver.
“So Mansi…” Dutt said about halfway to her house. “Tomorrow, I was thinking of doing some shopping for my family. For my granddaughters and so on. As you can imagine, I am just completely clueless about these things being a man.”
“Amar is the same.” Mansi smiled. “Once I sent him to buy some clothes for Pinky and he came back with such outsized things.”
“Haha, indeed. So I was wondering, would you mind helping me out? Just come along and pick things out.” he casually said.
“Oh…” Mansi thought about his question. Was this the trial run for her “job” that she had talked with Reena aunty about? But she had said she will arrange it. Here he was asking for it himself.
“I understand if you’re busy and don’t want to spend more time with a boring old man.” Dutt knew that self-deprecation was a great tool.
“No no, please, Duttsahab, nothing like that. I will be happy to help.” Mansi said. It was just shopping, she thought to herself. One of her favorite activities. Seemed like an ideal setting to spend time with him alone and get paid for it.
“Great. I will SMS you the time I will pick you up. You have my number, right?”
“Yes, I do.”
When she got out of the fancy limo in front of her building, there were a few kids playing around who stopped and stared at the car. Such expensive vehicles didn’t frequent their colony much. There were also a few neighbors out in the balcony. Mansi smiled at them and headed home. Pinky would be back from school soon, and she needed to start cooking. She changed out of her fancy sari into a regular household one and got to work.
As Mansi cooked and did her chores, she thought about the events of the day. She had gotten a job and that too very easily. And it fit right in her schedule. She had been paid five thousand rupees. Maybe it was a little high because it was the first payment. But even if she got, say, half of that on average. Reena aunty had said he would need her services 3-4 times a month. So about eight thousand rupees on average. If she put it all into the account for Pinky’s college, it would be roughly a lakh rupees a year. In another ten years, if she did such jobs, about ten lakhs. Plus interest. It would be a decent bird’s nest for her daughter’s education.
Then she thought about how to tell this to Amar. Would he find that arrangement weird? What if he expressly rejected it? He could be so strange when it came to matters of money and ideals. Mansi decided to think about that later. Tomorrow will be a trial run anyway, she told herself. If things didn’t work out, she didn’t want to talk about it too early. So she postponed that decision to the next day.
But as it turned out, it wasn’t in her control. In the evening, she was having dinner with Amar in the living room. Pinky was busy watching cartoons on TV as she ate, which was her habit. Amar was quieter then usual. Finally he said,
“So Mansi, how was your day?”
She was surprised. He never asked her this question.
“It was okay.” she said.
“Did you go anywhere?” he pointedly asked.
She knew the man for 8 years. She knew he wasn’t one to ask such questions casually. She also knew her big mouthed neighbors, many of whom had seen her get out of the fancy limo dressed like she was returning from a wedding or a big function.
“Yes, I did go out for a while.” she said, thinking in parallel about what to say next.
“Where?” Amar paused to swallow the food in his mouth and asked.
“Bandra.” she said, taking a big bite of the food.
Mansi held up her finger and nodded as if to say, just let me swallow this and I’ll tell you. Meanwhile her brain was working at a rapid pace to come up with the right responses.
“It was like a job interview of sorts. Nothing is final. I still have to go tomorrow. But if everything works out, I will have a job that doesn’t require too much work and pays reasonably okay.”
“Oh! That’s nice.” Amar said in a neutral tone. “What kind of a job?”
Mansi opened her mouth to tell him the whole story. But then something in her brain said, be careful. The whole thing sounds ridiculous and shady. Some rich old man is going to pay your just for your company? She knew Reena aunty and Dutt sahab were good decent people. But Amar didn’t know them. He would be very suspicious. So she starte talking and found herself weaving a story with partial truths and a lot of untruths.
“A few days ago when I was out with Pinky, I ran into an old family friend from Meerut. Reena aunty. Reena Bajaj. She works at a four star hotel as an assistant manager. We spent some time catching up. And I just mentioned to her that I was thinking of getting a job. So she called me yesterday saying she could use me in the hotel.”
“Use you how?”
Mansi couldn’t believe how quickly she came up with a convincing story.
“Well, you know me. It’s not like I have qualifications or any professional skills. And I have so much work at home with Pinky with her studies etc. So she came up with an idea. You know how these hotels host special events and conferences once in a while. She said I could help her out with that. They always hire temps or students for such work.”
“Just…helping out with the event.” having never been to such an event herself, she didn’t know what exactly it entailed. She had just seen the signs for the events in Reena aunty’s hotel and seen crowds of people with name tags around their necks. Which is how she thought of the idea.
“You mean like…registration desk, displays, maybe helping with catering, etc?” Amar said, having been to a few academic conferences.
“Hmmm.” he said.
“It will only be a few days a month. And the extra money I get can either be used for household expenses or we can put it in Pinky’s college account.”
“Hmmmm.” Amar said. “And how come you got out of a fancy limousine today?”
Ah, there came the confirmation that one of the gabbing neighbors had mentioned it to Amar. And she knew exactly how it must have happened too. Not in a suggestive or conspiratorial way, but in a joking way. Like, oh, that was quite a fancy limo Mansi was in today afternoon. We didn’t know you were so rich, professor sahab.
“Yes, it was one of the hotel limos. It was going in this direction anyway to pick up a guest so Reena aunty asked him to drop me off.”
“I see. Why didn’t you tell me?” he said.
“Like I said, it isn’t final. I have to go again tomorrow. I was waiting until it was confirmed. As it is, you seem very…never mind.” Mansi bit her tongue.
“I seem what?”
“You seem to find the whole idea of me finding a job so amusing.” she said a little bitterly.
“I never said that.” Amar got defensive. “I just meant that we need not be so materialistic. But if a job makes you happy and gives you satisfaction, go for it.”
And the topic ended there.
The next morning, Mansi kept checking her phone every few minutes to see if there was a message from Dutt Sahab. Now that she had made up a half-true story about the job, she might as well go through with it. She felt a little guilty for lying to Amar. And she also felt a little surprised and insulted that he never asked how much her salary would be. Maybe he assumed that given the low level simple job she described, it would be paltry. Well, she could surprise him a few years later. he never checked bank accounts anyway. So he had no idea what the balance of Pinky’s college account was. Years later, once she had saved up lakhs, he would thank her, she told herself.
She went to the closest ATM and deposited the money into that account. Then she started cooking a simple meal for herself.
It was a little past noon and she was having a quick lunch when Mansi’s phone buzzed. Eagerly, she checked it.
– Hello Mansi. This is Navin Dutt. Sorry I was unable to text earlier. Was busy with meetings and calls. I will be there at your building in ten minutes. Come down whenever you can. No hurry.
Just ten minutes? Mansi immediately put her plate away and went to the bedroom to get ready. He had said no hurry, but she did not want to keep him waiting. After all, it was almost like a job interview, this trial trip with him. What would he feel if she was late?
Little did she know that the experienced businessman negotiator, an expert at mind games, had done this on purpose. He had not been busy or anything. He wanted to see that if he gave her such short notice, how quickly she would comply. He wanted to test just how much of a hold he had over her.
– Will be down soon
She texted back and changed into a nicer sari. It wasn’t quite as fancy as the other two she had worn. But was decent enough for a trip to the high end shopping stores he was sure to take her to. She tied her hair into a neat bun and wore a couple of her nicest bangles. From her window, she saw a big limo pulling up in front of her building. Quickly she applied some powder and a light lip stick and ran down.
“Sorry for keeping you waiting.” Mansi breathlessly said as she got into the limo.
Dutt threw a quick glance at her heaving chest, beads of sweat on her neck, and looked up at her flushed face. He realized she had come almost running. He took it as a good sign that she did not want to keep him waiting. Oh, if only she would not make him wait for other things too, he thought.
“Relax, Mansi. There’s no hurry, I said.” and he gently rubbed her shoulder. It was a quick rub. Mansi had by now grown accustomed to the fact that the old man occasionally did such things. But it was just for a short while so she told herself it was all very innocent and paternal.
“So…where should we go?” Mansi said, wiping the sweat off her brow. It was a particularly humid day, even by Bombay standards.
“You are the local. You tell me where I will find great clothes and toys for children.” Dutt said.
Her first instinct was to take him to the places she bought Pinky’s clothes from. But then she remembered that this was a super rich tycoon. All those places might be too low end for him. So she told the driver the location of an upscale mall in Goregaon which had a few American and European outlets.
“Please excuse me.” Dutt said, putting his bluetooth on his ear. “As always, work beckons.”
“No problem, Duttsahab.” Mansi said.
The car soon sped down the western express highway as Dutt talked business and Mansi stared out the tinted windows. Once again, she noted how different Bombay looked from the insides of a plush limo as opposed to from the insides of an auto rickshaw or local train like she was used to. That’s when her phone rang. It was Reena aunty.
“Hello aunty.” she answered in a low voice to not disturb the busy Duttsahab.
“So Mansi, you were so eager that you made this arrangement without me?” Reena said in mock disappointment.
“What? No…I thought…”
“Relax, sweetie, I am just kidding.” Reena laughed. “Is Duttsahab free?”
“No, he is on the phone.”
“Okay, no problem. I spoke with him earlier about this. So you are accompanying him shopping for his grandkids, right?”
“For the compensation for today, I had this idea. If you like something for Pinky, you can buy it and he will just pay for it. If not, I will give you the cash when we next meet. Or you can just sms me the details of that bank account you have set up for the college funds. I will communicate it to him and he will transfer the cash directly.”
“Oh ok.” Mansi said. She told herself that clothes from where Dutt shopped would be too expensive for Pinky. Better to just sms the account details.
“Good luck.” and Reena hung up.
They reached the mall and went up to the fancy outlets for kids’ clothes. Mansi had seen these outlets from outside when they occasionally went to watch a movie at the multiplex in that mall. But she had never had the courage to actually walk in. Now that she was inside, she noted to herself that she didn’t feel as out of place as she used to. Maybe the time spent with her two older friends in recent days had made her more uncomfortable in such settings.
Dutt also noted that Mansi was a lot more comfortable and self-assured. He took out his phone and showed her several pictures of his grandkids so she had an idea of what would fit and suit them. She made a mental note of it all.
“How many clothes do you want to buy for them?” she asked.
“As many as you find to be great.” Dutt said with the casualness of a multi millionaire.
Mansi nodded and browsed through the shelves and the rows, trying to find something perfect. She saw the prices, which were really high, but on the tags, she also noticed that many of these clothes were made in Italy or France. All this while, a salesman was hovering politely a few feet away. Finally Mansi found a sweatshirt that would be perfect for one of his granddaughters.
“This one is really good.” she said, taking it off the shelf and holding it up.
“Looks very pretty.” Dutt nodded.
The salesman hovered closer.
“Would you like that one, sir?” he asked Dutt, because it was obvious who was in charge.
“It’s not bad. But the price seems a little too much. Give us a more realistic price.” Mansi really liked the dress, but she was so used to haggling as a daily routine, that she almost instinctively said this.
“Excuse me, ma’am?” the salesman was taken aback.
“The price says…3500 rupees. How about…1500?” Mansi said in her best haggling voice.
“Ma’am…Sir…” the salesman was so confused.
“Would you excuse us for a moment?” Dutt smoothly said.
The salesman nodded and walked away. Dutt then walked up to Mansi and said softly but firmly,
“Mansi, what are you doing? This is not some bargain stall from Linking Road. These people don’t bargain. The prices are fixed.”
Mansi blushed and felt very embarrassed. She was so used to bargaining for clothes than she did not know this would be out of place.
“I…I am sorry.” she stuttered.
“It’s okay. I understand.” Dutt said, and put an arm around her shoulder to gently press it in solidarity.
Mansi had to fight off a shiver. So far his touches, after he taught her to use the chopsticks, had been occasional and fleeting. This was something a lot closer. A lot more expansive. He had almost engulfed her petite body in her casual embrace. She even felt one of her breasts gently press against his side. What bothered her was that the act hadn’t bothered her. It made her feel almost…excited.
Dutt gauged her reaction instantly, and held her like that for a few more seconds. Then he felt Mansi stiffened as the natural reaction of her body gave way to cultural discomfort. He let go at once.
“You can put this one aside.” he raised his finger and said to the salesman.
The salesman was lost in thought, trying to figure out these two people. He wasn’t sure exactly what they were. Didn’t seem like father-daughter. Didn’t seem like a couple either. The old man was clearly a rich polished guy and the young woman was a middle class type. She seemed too decent and homely to be a call girl. And she did not seem like a working professional, so was not his employee either. So what were they exactly? That’s when Dutt called him over.
“Yes sir.” he said and took the sweatshirt aside.
Although Mansi felt embarrassed at being gently scolded for bargaining and a little disconcerted at what she had felt when Dutt gently put his arm around her, she tried to shake it off and concentrate on the job at hand. Dutt knew that he had taken another slow but steady step so he stood back. And decided to make some calls while Mansi shopped.
At the end of an hour, Mansi had chosen almost a dozen different clothes for his grandkids.
“Is that everything?” the salesman asked.
Dutt looked at Mansi and said,
“Why don’t you get something for Pinky as well? My gift to her.” there was a slightly suggestive tone in his voice.
Actually, Mansi had seen a couple of really gorgeous frocks that would look great on Pinky. But the price was so high that they would use up her compensation for the day, assuming it was again five thousand rupees. And in fact leave her a little bit in debt to him.
But then on an impulse, Mansi decided, why not? She knew how much Pinky loved such new clothes. Mansi had already saved five thousand on household spending because of the gift card. She had deposited the other five thousand in the college account. So, she told herself, a little indulgence for this month is okay. Especially for Pinky’s happiness. Being in that high end expensive school, her classmates always wore clothes that were more elegant and expensive at school events and get together. This would make her fit in.
So Mansi went and picked up the two frocks. Dutt smiled and asked the salesman to pack those separately. He paid for the entire thing and called his driver to come pick up the bags and take them to the car.
The old man and the young housewife then went to a toy showroom and then to a fancy Belgian chocolate shop. Mansi gave her opinions on what to buy, and finally their shopping for the day was done.
They were walking back towards the lift to go down when Dutt suddenly stopped outside a women’s clothing store. Mansi stopped too. He was looking at a mannequin dressed in a black formal dress.
“Mansi…let me ask you something.”
“I have a corporate lunch event to attend next Thursday in Worli. Would you…like to accompany me?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
Mansi looked at him. She knew the meaning of what he was asking. Was she happy with this trial run and would she be interested in continuing this arrangement? She thought for a few seconds. She continued to find him very nice and charming and polite. The money was good. The hours were great. And it was for Pinky’s happiness and future. It was a no-brainer really.
“I’d be happy to.” she nodded.
“Great. Well…it’s an event organized on the roof deck of a tall building. I don’t know those idiots want to organize an outdoor event in this heat, but that’s how it is. If you wear a sari, you might feel a little too hot and sweaty. Do you have something like this?” he pointed to the dress.
Mansi looked at it. It was very modest and formal. High neckline, and a hem that ended well below the knees. Nothing revealing. But Mansi hadn’t worn western clothes in years.
“I don’t.” she said.
“Then we should buy something like this for you.”
“Oh no, please!” she protested. She would feel so uncomfortable in a western dress in public.
“No, Duttsahab, really, a sari is fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am sure.”
Dutt shrugged and started walking with her. He had hoped to get her into the store and have her try on a few western clothes she might look even more gorgeous in. But he knew that it wasn’t a great idea to push her. Not yet.
Any discomfort or second thoughts Mansi was having about continuing the arrangement with the charming old man vanished when she saw her daughter’s eyes light up on seeing the new dresses. Pinky hugged her mother, said “I love you” multiple times, and tried on both dresses, admiring herself in the mirror. Amar wasn’t home, or he might have asked how much the dresses cost. She could have given him an number and he might not have known the difference, although to a discerning eye, it was clear that they were expensive. Still, just to be on the safe side, after she put the dresses away, she told in a playful conspiratorial way,
“Don’t tell papa about these dresses, ok? Keep it our little secret and maybe I will buy you some more.”
“Ok mamma, promise.” the little girl smiled. To her young brain, all that mattered was that she was getting new shiny things.
That evening, as was often the case, Amar arrived with a bunch of his friends for yet another one of their intellectual sessions. As Mansi toiled in the kitchen making them snacks, she kept thinking about her time with her two high society friends. When she was with them, she was the one being waited on by others, being offered delicious food and strange new drinks. But in this part of the life, she was like a servant for Amar and his buddies. She longed for another high society experience. But it wouldn’t be for another week as Duttsahab had said.
She was lost in thought frying pakoras when Amar came in to put away empty cups.
“So Mansi.” he said and stopped.
“You didn’t tell me what happened with your final job interview.” he sounded a little judgmental. The tone set Mansi off.
“When was I supposed to tell you? You walked in with all your buddies without telling me first.” she said angrily. And a little loudly.
“Shhh. Don’t get upset. I just wanted to know what happened. Did you get the job?” Amar was taken aback. His wife did sometimes react testily, but he hadn’t expected it now.
“Yes, I got the job.”
“Okay, good. Congratulations.”
Wanting to be supportive, he put an arm around her shoulder and squeezed it gently. Mansi was a little surprised. Firstly because Amar didn’t really make such physical gestures too often. And secondly, it immediately made her think of earlier in the day when Dutt had done something similar. And she found herself comparing the two. How much taller and more manly the old man was, as opposed to her slim short husband.
That night, Amar again suggested that she sleep in a gown. The same routine was repeated. Mansi took a sleeping Pinky out to the living room. And soon, Amar got on top of her. This time, Mansi had even more trouble keeping Dutt’s image from her mind. At almost touch and every gesture, her brain kept throwing up the charming old man’s face. She kept remembering how his touch had felt. She kept feeling excited at these unexpected mental intrusions.
At the same time, Dutt and Reena were sitting at a hotel bar, discussing Mansi.
“The more time I spend with her, the more I see what you initially meant. She is dissatisfied but also repressed and fragile. And she seems very submissive by nature.”
“That she is.” Reena said. “I know women like this. All their lives, they have been told by men what to do – fathers, brothers, husbands. They have never developed the instinct to assert themselves. If you play it right, the whole game is very easy.”
“So…I am meeting her next week. What should be my next step?”
“Hmmm…don’t make the ultimate move yet. But push her out of her comfort zone. And try being more dominant.”
“More dominant.” Dutt nodded.
“Try pushing her into a situation where she is uncomfortable but has to comply to make you happy. And see how she reacts. If she protests vehemently, then don’t push her more. But if you sense compliance, even reluctant, you are on track.”
“Hmmm.” Dutt nodded again.
“Another mojito, ma’am?” the waiter asked Mansi as he took her empty glass away.
“Thanks.” she took the full glass, standing next to a cocktail table in the shade.
It really was a hot and humid day, and as Dutt had said, these people had organized the event on the roof deck. What were they thinking? This was Mumbai, not Simla. Mansi reached for her handkerchief from the purse and wiped her brow again as she sipped the cocktail. She liked the sweet-sour and mint-filled taste. And the rum used by the caterers was a very smooth one, so she did not feel the alcoholic flavor as much as she had with the champagne.
Dutt glanced at her from across the deck where he was talking to some bankers. He smiled as he saw her sip her third cocktail for the day. He was pleasantly surprised at his easily this innocent woman, who once hadn’t even tasted alcohol, was enjoying cocktails in the middle of the day. He excused himself from the conversation and walked over to her.
“Humid, right?” he asked.
“I told you, Mansi, that a sari is not the appropriate attire for a scorching outdoor event like this.”
“But that’s all I wear.” she shrugged, sounding a little buzzed.
“Look at those women.” Dutt pointed to a couple of fresh MBA hires networking. “Don’t they look comfortable?”
A couple of them were wearing elegant sun dresses and another one was in a formal skirt and blouse.
“Yes, but…I have never…I mean. I would feel so weird.”
“You should not be ashamed of your body.” Dutt said.
“I am not ashamed of my body.” Mansi argued back.
“Then what’s the problem? You should wear more western clothes. I am sure your husband would love that.”
“When my wife was alive, and we were younger, I often bought her skirts and shorts and nice western blouses and all.” Dutt whispered naughtily. “It used to spice up things in the bedroom.”
Mansi blushed a deep shade of red at the reference. Then she thought about what Amar would think if he showed up one day and found her in a short sun dress. Would it really make him more excited in bed? Or would he disapprove?
“Besides, you have such an amazing figure.” Dutt pressed on. “Even in the sari, it is obvious. You’re like a model or an actress. Or a sculpture.”
He gently placed his hand on hers. Even in that hot weather, Mansi got tiny goosebumps at that touch. She was feeling a little flattered and also uncomfortable at the compliments about her figure. She was on her third drink on a mostly empty stomach. And over the previous week, she often found herself thinking about his touch, despite scolding herself about it.
“Please Duttsahab.” she pulled her hand away after a few seconds. “You are embarrassing me.”
“What is there to be embarrassed about? What did I say that was so wrong?” he said in a slightly hurt voice. “I am sure you must have heard such things from your husband all the time.”
“Not…really.” she said.
“You mean he doesn’t shower you with compliments day in and day out?” Dutt said with exaggerated surprise.
“He is a different kind of man.” Mansi laconically said. But she did find herself wondering why her husband never said such nice things.
“For what it’s worth, Mansi.” Dutt decided to take a small risk and gently stroked her left cheek with the back of his right fingers. “I think you are the most gorgeous woman here.”
That made Mansi blush so much that she found herself rooted to her spot. Yet another gentle touch, yet another compliment.
“Thank you.” she softly said after a few seconds.
“Anyway, I have to talk to a few more people.” Dutt straightened and took a step back. “I see they are putting the food out. Why don’t you serve us both a couple of plates and I will meet you at the dining tables over there?”
Before Mansi had fully come to terms with what had just happened, he had walked away. She saw that the spiffily dressed catering staff was indeed putting out a buffet of food in gleaming silver trays. She finished the mojito in three big sips and headed towards the buffet to serve food for her boss. Is that what he was, she asked herself, her boss? Or was there something more?
Dutt could sense that although Mansi was a little unnerved by his tender gestures, she wasn’t explicitly rejecting him. By now, he had a good sense of what kind of a woman she was. A typical docile housewife with nothing exciting in her life. And based on what she said about her husband, it was obvious he was a geek completely immersed in academia, with little interest in treating his wife like a woman. Dutt was confident that with a little patience and by making the right moves, he would succeed in bedding this tender flower. But Reena was right. He needed to now push the envelope a little.
During lunch, they were joined by a couple of business executives whole talked shop with Dutt. Both were polite and courteous towards Mansi who seemed a little lost in thoughts. She was partly feeling drunk and partly confused about Dutt’s gestures.
When they left the meeting and went to the car, not a word was spoken. But she noticed Dutt was standing a little closer to her than he usually would. And she noted that she didn’t find it unwelcome. In fact there was a kind of exciting reassurance to his proximity.
“Let’s go shopping.” Dutt said as he got into the car.
“Maybe some other day. I need to get home.” Mansi said.
“Nonsense. I know your daughter doesn’t get home for a few hours.” he said.
“Yes, but I need to do other household chores.”
“You can do those later. Now, we are going shopping.” he said firmly.
Mansi looked at him. This was a new side of the usually kind old man. She considered protesting a bit more. But then she decided, why not? She liked shopping. And nothing she had to do was very urgent.
“Okay.” she meekly said.
Shortly, they were in a big clothing chain store in Worli. As soon as they walked in, Dutt got a call. He excused himself and answered it, taking care of a business. The call lasted almost fifteen minutes, so Mansi wandered away from him. It was a big store with three different floors. When the call got done, it took Dutt a little time to locate his young companion.
She was on the third floor, looking at children’s clothes, which she loved doing. Just as he saw her, he was standing next to the women’s western clothes section. he looked at a few of the dresses and mannequins.
“May I help you, sir?” a smart young saleswoman walked up to him.
“Yes, I need some nice dresses and skirts for…her.” he pointed at Mansi who was busy looking at girls’ frocks.
“Absolutely, sir. Do you know her size?”
“No, you can just go measure her.”
Dutt turned around and started looking at the clothes on display, trying to decide what would look good on Mansi. A little while later, she was next to him, with the saleswoman next to her with a measuring tape in hand.
“Duttsahab.” she said in a soft voice.
“Did you tell this lady that you want to buy clothes for me?”
“Yes.” he said. “We were talking about it earlier. I think if you have to accompany me to such events, it would be good for you to have some western clothes.”
“I am fine with saris.” she diffidently said.
“You might be fine with saris. But I am not.” he raised his voice a little and she was taken aback.
“Don’t I get a say in it?” she asked.
“Tchh, don’t create unnecessary drama, Mansi. You saw how those women were dressed. It won’t kill you to own a couple of western clothes.” he almost scolded.
“Fine.” she said, sulking a little. She wasn’t too used to arguing with authoritative men.
The saleswoman pulled out the tape and measured Mansi’s waist, bust, and hips. She had overheard the entire conversation. She assumed that this young woman was the rich old man’s mistress. And he seemed to be calling the shots. So once the measurements were done, she didn’t ask the lady as she usually would, but turned to the old man.
“And what dresses would you like ma’am to try, sir?”
Dutt looked around at the clothes. He would have loved nothing more to have Mansi try on something sexy like a tube top or a mini skirt. But he didn’t want to push her too much too soon.
“Let’s try that pinstripe skirt suit.”
“Very good, sir. Please come with me, ma’am.”
Mansi walked obediently with the saleswoman who picked up the garments in her size and showed her the trial room. The store’s manager, who had a keen eye for customers, recognized a millionaire when he saw one.
“How do you do, sir? Would you like something to drink while you wait? Tea, coffee, cold drink, beer?”
“Beer would be nice.” Dutt said. And soon he was holding a big mug of imported German beer.
Dutt sipped the beer and felt like he had waited an eternity for the young housewife to return. After all, she had to take off her sari, petticoat, blouse, and try this unfamiliar clothing on. When she walked out of the trial room uncomfortably, the old man almost felt a twitch in his pants.
It’s not like the dress was too revealing or anything. It was a very formal and elegant skirt suit, with the skirt ending slightly below the knees. She was wearing a formal blouse, fully buttoned up, and a jacket. But the fabric hugged Mansi’s curves so well, that this was the first time Dutt got a look at how perfectly shaped her body was.
“Gorgeous, isn’t it, sir?” the saleswoman asked in her best salesy voice. She was looking forward to a fat commission from this old guy.
“Beautiful!” Dutt agreed.
But Mansi felt very uncomfortable at the way the old man, beer in hand, was staring at her. She was squirming around a little, and said,
“I don’t like it much. It seems very…”
“Turn around.” Dutt simply said taking a big gulp.
And was delighted when she obeyed. The fabric accentuated her perfectly shaped buttocks even better than he had imagined. They always looked good in a sari, but thinking of them in such well fit contours was delightful.
“Hmm…not bad.” Dutt said, doing his best to hide the excitement in his voice. Reena had told him to push Mansi out of her comfort zone. This was perfect.
Mansi was having a bizarre almost out of body experience as she saw herself in a nearby mirror. She could not believe how good she looked. But she also looked like a stranger. It was like watching someone else standing there in that skirt suit, turning around to show a man over twice her age her ass in the tight skirt.
“Should I pack it up, sir?” the saleswoman suggestively asked.
“Not yet. I’d like her to try on a few more colors and patterns.”
“This is okay.” Mansi tried to protest, but Dutt just waved his hand dismissively.
Why am I unable to say no to what this man is saying, Mansi asked herself in the trial room as she stripped off the pinstripe and tried a beige suit. I could and I should just put my foot down and say, no, I don’t want to wear western clothes. He is like an employer, not her master or husband. But despite this mental soliloquy, she changed into the other suit and walked out.
For the next half hour, Dutt chugged beer and Mansi modeled different skirt suits for him. The more clothes she tried, the more comfortable she felt. And the more beer Dutt had, the bolder he felt.
“You don’t shave your legs.” he noted when she was on the fourth dress. Her perfectly shaped calves looked pretty, but they did have a thin covering of hair, which did not look good with the formal western clothing.
“Why would I?” Mansi asked, a little offended.
“From now on, if you want to wear these clothes, you will need to shave your legs.”
Mansi dumbly nodded, and again wondered why she was letting herself be pushed around like this. The saleswoman was noting all this. It was clear to her that the young woman was some kind of a mistress. So when Mansi went to the trial room again, she walked up to Dutt discreetly.
“Excuse me, sir. I was wondering what you think of that dress?” she pointed towards a mannequin.
Dutt saw what she was pointing at. He had noticed it before. It was a tight red mini dress which ended halfway to the knee, was low cut, and had spaghetti straps.
“It might be a little too short for her tastes.” he said.
“What about your tastes, sir?” she flirtatiously asked, hoping to maximize her commission.
“I don’t think she will even try it on.”
“She doesn’t have to. I know her size well by now.” the girl said. “You can gift it to her as a surprise some other time.”
Dutt imagines the curvaceous young housewife in that dress and felt a twitch in his loins. He finished another beer and nodded.
“Alright, we’ll get one.”
Mansi sat in the car looking out the window, wondering why today had unfolded so differently from previous days. Duttsahab, usually so nice and polite, was ordering her around. It was technically true that she was his employee. And he paid her well. But still, it seemed like he was crossing some lines. What amazed Mansi was that she wasn’t able to summon the will to say no to him. It’s like he had a hold over her that went just beyond the money.
Next to her in the car was the bag of clothes. It had two formal skirt suits that Dutt had bought for her. The price had been so exorbitant, that she thought it would end up eating into her “salary” for a few more days. Dutt had a different bag by his legs, the one with the mini dress. Mansi hadn’t asked what was in it and he hadn’t told her.
He had downed a few beers in the store. In the limo, he opened another bottle and was sipping it as the car sped towards Borivali. They had been riding in silence since leaving the store. Suddenly, Mansi felt the bags next to her being moved. And Dutt’s leg was touching hers. Before she knew it, the big bulky man’s arm was on her shoulder. Again, despite herself, she felt a small thrill run up her body.
“What’s wrong, Mansi?” Dutt asked in a slightly slurring voice, his face right next to hers. She could smell the beer on his breath.
“Nothing.” she said, squirming a little, hoping that he would take his hand away.
“Are you upset?”
“Could you…could you please move a little?” she uncomfortably said.
And he moved literally, just a little. He still had his arm around her.
“Don’t you like me, Mansi?” he asked in a slightly sulky voice.
“I think you have had too much to drink.” she said, finally raising her hand to move his hand away from her shoulder. He moved it so he wasn’t touching her but his arm was still on the backrest behind her.
“I like you, Mansi. I like you a lot.” he said.
“I like you too, Duttsahab.” she felt compelled to say lest she seem rude and cold. And then added. “But as a friend.”
“Yes, we are friends.” he gently patted her shoulder and then moved away. “If you like, we could be something more. But only if you like.”
“What do you mean by something more?” she nervously asked.
Dutt looked at her petrified face and thought carefully about what to say. He didn’t want to proceed too fast and scare her away. At the same time, he did want to keep testing her comfort zone. So he started speaking, picking his words carefully.
“See, Mansi, I think you are a wonderful person. Very talented and smart with a lot of potential. But being born where you were and the life you have, the potential hasn’t been tapped fully. But I can help. Haven’t you find our time so far interesting and fun?”
He waited earnestly for an answer. Mansi also picked her words carefully.
“Duttsahab, I cannot deny that getting to know you and spend time with you has been a welcome privilege. I respect you a lot. And you have been showing me a world that I did not even know existed. I can never thank you enough for that. And your…gifts have also been very helpful. Thank you so much.”
“Don’t mention it.” he shrugged.
“Maybe I am a little too orthodox and haven’t seen as much of the world as you have. So maybe my thinking is very limited and my life experience is limited. In my world, a man your age and a married woman my age who are not related can only have a very…superficial relationship. Like a father figure or a family friend. Maybe employer-employee. Even us being friends is something unusual. So when you say you would like something more…I don’t know what you exactly mean.”
“Well, what I mean is…companionship…some emotional connection…maybe like a mentor…something beyond just the superficial. Where we both enrich each others lives. I am an old man, near retirement. I don’t have too much going on in life. And you have made quite an impression on me. Spending time with you adds joy to my life. I would like to do more of that in a meaningful and mutually beneficial way.”
“And would you expect…” Mansi said and paused.
“Would I expect what?”
“You know.” she blushed a little.
“If you are thinking what I think you are thinking…” Dutt paused and thought about how honest to be. “Okay, think of it this way. I know that you come from a world where the default setting is monogamy. You are married, you have kids, and that is it. As you can imagine, my world is a bit more…relaxed in such regards. So…would I like to have what you are probably thinking about? Why not. But I wouldn’t “expect” it in the sense that it’s a must-do or a dealbreaker. But if it happened, it would make me happy.”
Mansi had to think a little to parse through what he was saying. maybe it was time to be explicit.
“You are saying that…you would like a physical component to our relationship. But if I don’t, you will be okay with it?”
“Precisely. And even the physical component, you don’t have to think I want something really major. It could be something as simple as holding hands.” and he moved his hand and gently grabbed her.
Mansi almost shivered at that touch. Again, her body was sending her messages that her brain and her morality were refusing to entertain. She just stared at his hand covering hers, with its expensive rings and hairy knuckles. She tried to remember what Amar’s hands looked like. She could not. Not in detail anyway. Her husband’s relationship with her wasn’t as passionate as it could be. But still, that did not mean she could…
Slowly she pulled her hand away. Dutt withdrew his hand but noted that she had let it be like that for almost a full minute while she was lost in thoughts.
“Anyway, just think about.” he said, smiling. “Like I said, it’s all up to you.”
Mansi nodded and stared out of the window, weighing her options. Dutt wondered if he had gone too far. But when the car dropped her off, she took the bag of clothes. He took that as a good sign. The bait had been cast. Now it was just about being careful and patient, like a skilled fisherman.
Later that evening, Mansi and Amar were sitting in the living room watching TV and having chai. Pinky was in the bedroom doing homework.
“So how is the job going?” Amar asked.
“It’s not bad.” Mansi said.
“What have you been doing there?”
Mansi had to think a little to remember the exact lie she had told him. She then did her best to remember what she had seen the help staff do at the corporate luncheon and pass it off as her own work.
“It was a corporate lunch. Lots of bigshots. It was on the outdoor patio. I was at the welcome desk, collecting people’s jackets. And also helping with the guest lists. Handing out nametags. And then I coordinated the food.”
“No, I didn’t cook. Just making sure there were enough plates, etc.” she remembered a catering lady doing just that.
“Did you have a good time?”
“It was okay.”
That’s when Pinky suddenly came running out of the bedroom.
“MAMMA! MAMMA! I love you!! You got me more dresses?”
Mansi was aghast to see that the little girl was carrying the shopping bag from earlier in the day. She had hidden it under the bed. How did the little girl find it? Amar was looking at his daughter surprised.
“No, Pinky.” she firmly said taking the bag from her hand. “Those are Mamma’s clothes.”
“Show me! Show me!” she jumped up and down.
With Amar staring intently, she took one of the skirt suits out. The pin stripe one. Pinky picked up the skirt and held it up.
“It is so pretty, mamma.”
Amar was still staring, so Mansi felt the need to give him an explanation.
“I got these from Reena aunty.” she said, spinning more lies. “Sometimes the events have a western dress code. So she thought it would be good to have these. They were in the hotel clothing stock. They are just like the skirt suits businesswomen wear. Nothing much.”
“I see.” Amar said. “Try it on.”
“Yay!! Mamma, fashion show! Fashion show!”
“What’s there to try on? I already tried them on earlier.” Mansi squirmed. “Besides, I have to start dinner.”
She got up, but Amar grabbed her hand. Instinctively she looked at it. And found herself comparing it to Dutt’s hand. Amar’s fingers were thinner and shorter. His skin was a little fairer. And he didn’t have much hair on his knuckles.
“Just try it on.” Amar smiled. “I’d like to see how you look.”
Mansi was sick of changing in and out of clothes after that prolonged trial experience at the store. But she didn’t have a choice. She went to the bedroom, took off her sari, blouse, petticoat, and wore the top, skirt, and jacket. And then feeling very conscious, she walked out to the living room.
“Wow, mamma! You look so pretty! Like Priyanka Chopra!” Pinky happily shouted.
“It looks good.” Amar smiled and nodded.
Mansi just stood there for a few seconds.
“Do a catwalk, mamma, catwalk!”
“Shush! Don’t be silly.” she scolded her daughter. “Go do your homework.”
“But mamma…just one catwalk no please!!” she whined.
“Go do your homework!” Mansi raised her voice.
Amar had been staring at his wife like he was seeing a completely new woman. He looked at her perfectly shaped calves and saw how well the skirt hugged her curves. She did look like some kind of a high class model or actress.
“You can do homework later.” Amar suddenly spoke up. “Right now, go down and play with your friends.”
Mansi was surprised. One of the strict rules in the house was that Pinky should not go play before finishing her homework. No exceptions. Even the usually lax Amar didn’t budge on it. And here he was giving her a free pass.
“Really?” Pinky asked wide-eyed. This never happened.
“Love you papa!!” Pinky said and ran out of their apartment.
“Why did you do that?” Mansi asked.
Amar just got up and bolted the front door. Then he walked over to Mansi. With his hands, he undid the bun her hair was tied up in. The long thick tresses flowed around her shoulder.
“What are you doing?” Mansi whispered. “I have to start dinner.”
“Shhhh!” he put a finger on her lips.
Mansi was amazed as his fingers started unbuttoning her blouse. That’s when she noticed that her husband’s pyjama was tenting with an erection. In the middle of the evening! His hands slipped inside her top and played with her breasts over the bra. Amar had never been this spontaneous after their honeymoon. Sex was always had at night, in the bedroom. And here he had sent their daughter out to play so they could have sex? Mansi felt thrilled at the gesture. She started putting her arms around his neck.
But he held her arms and pulled her towards the couch. She got on the couch with her knees. He turned her around so she was facing the wall. She put her elbows on the backrest of the couch.
“You look gorgeous!” Amar groaned.
And then she felt his hand slowly rolling the tight skirt up. She reached for the zip to take it off but Amar said,
“No, keep it on.”
Soon he had rolled the skirt all the way up around her waist. And he looked at the round curvy buttocks of his wife. And again, felt like he was seeing a new woman. They always had sex in the dark so he had almost forgotten what his wife’s ass looked in bright light. Here she was, dressed in fancy western clothes. Her top open, her skirt rolled up. He slid her panties down to her knees. And opened the knot of his pyjama.
“Hehe, what’s the matter with you tod…AAAAAHHHH!!”
Mansi cried out partly in pleasure and partly in pain as her husband shoved his dick inside her in one swift motion. She wasn’t completely wet yet and it hurt a little. And maybe it was her imagination, but she felt Amar today was more rock hard than ever.
“Slowly…” she whispered.
But Amar didn’t even hear it. He was too lost in the fog of passion and was pounding his wife’s cunt hard. He reached around and grabbed her boobs over her bra. Then leaning forward, he bucked her even faster.
“Amar…go slow…” Mansi said, feeling a little annoyed. What had gotten into him?
“Hmmm.” he said and slowed down, but only a little.
The pace of the fucking was making Mansi’s forehead bump against the wall. The living room was filled with the sound of their thighs slapping against one another. This continued for another minute. Mansi’s vagina was now more lubricated, so the discomfort started going away. That’s when.
“Ungggg!!” Amar grunted, and she felt his semen shoot inside her. He did not ask her this time if she was still on the pill, although she was. He was too horny and caught up in this new experience to think or care.
Amar stayed hunched over his wife’s body for a few seconds after his dick slipped out. The cum was running down her thighs. He stepped off the couch and went to the bathroom. After a few moments, Mansi got off the couch and carefully unzipped the skirt and took it off, making sure it didn’t get any cum stains on it. It was a little wrinkled because of how it had been hurriedly rolled up.
She pulled up her panties and saw a spot of cum on the couch. It made her smile. They had never ever done it in the living room. The spontaneous sex had been enjoyable, although she wished it had lasted longer.
“Clean up and change.” Amar said with a smile. Then sat in front of the TV and resumed watching it. He gently patted his wife’s semi-naked ass in appreciation as she walked to the bathroom.
Almost a month later, Mansi was sitting with Reena in a high end Chinese restaurant in Bandra, deftly picking up dumplings with chopsticks and appearing very comfortable in the high end surroundings. Reena had been getting constant updates from Dutt on the progress he was making. She admired the slow pace with which he had moved. But she could also sense that he was getting a bit impatient and wanted to seal the deal. So Reena called up Mansi and made a lunch date. To hear from her first hand how things were going and to get a better sense of the situation.
“Life can be so much better with some extra money.” Mansi said. “I know it sounds like an obvious thing to say. But the extra income has really made my life so much better. And Pinky’s. She loves getting new toys and dresses and fancy desserts. Even Amar has started enjoying the materialistic side of things.”
“That’s nice.” Reena smiled.
“The other day, on a whim, I said let’s go to a nice restaurant. I assured him that with my extra income, we can afford it. He was reluctant at first, but enjoyed the meal thoroughly. And Pinky was delighted to be able to choose whatever dessert she wanted.”
“Have you told Amar the truth about your job yet?” Reena asked. “He must have started wondering how you are making 25-30 thousand for what is supposed to be basic work like you told him.”
Mansi frowned a little.
“Honestly, I still haven’t been able to tell him the truth. About the job or even how much money I am making. He has always been a bit of a ignoramus on matters of money and budget. And besides, most of the money stays in that college account that he never checks.”
“Hmmm…just most of the money?”
Mansi winced a little.
“I know that when I initially decided to do this, it was for Pinky’s college fund. And that is still the main goal. But occasionally, I can’t help but indulge myself a little, so I take cash out from it. I do feel guilty.”
“Don’t feel guilty, Mansi.” Reena said. “There is nothing wrong with wanting good things from life. Besides, you are making enough money. And you can make even more if you want. I am sure Duttsahab won’t mind spending even more days in Bombay. He is quite smitten with you.”
Mansi blushed, and that pleased Reena. Her reaction had been almost like a young girl being told that someone had a crush on her. Not offended or indignant.
“Please aunty, don’t even joke about it.” she said. “He is old enough to be my father.”
“Yes, but the heart doesn’t care about such things. Whenever I talk to him about you, I can sense the longing in his voice.” she laughed and then added. “But seriously, Mansi, how are things going with you and him? Everything okay?”
“It’s mostly nice. He is a very polite and generous man. Spending time with him doesn’t seem like work. Most of the time, it is just parties and events. Sometimes though…” she paused.
“I don’t know if I should say this. You are his old friend after all.” Mansi sounded evasive.
“Nonsense, I am your friend first. Tell me.”
“Sometimes he gets a bit…aggressive after a few drinks.”
“Suddenly he will start ordering me around. Touch me on the hand or shoulder a little longer than normal. In the car, sometimes he will just stare at me, and give me compliments.”
“So he acts a little flirtatious. So what? That’s how people behave in high society.”
“I guess. I am just not used to it.” Mansi shrugged. “Mostly, I know it is because of the alcohol. Drink can make men do strange things.”
“Can you tell me one thing honestly?”
“Do you…like it?”
“His flirtatious behavior or aggressive behavior or his touch. Honestly, do you feel just uncomfortable or is there a part of you that actually likes it? Be honest, woman to woman.”
The question caught Mansi off-guard. In her own introspection, she had been struggling with this issue. That often when he touched her or showered her with compliments, the only thing stopping her from responding was the fact that she was married. It was her sense of morality and propriety. But if he had come into her life eight years ago, who knows what would have happened.
“You see aunty… I never had a boyfriend. My parents were too strict, and you know how Meerut is. I read all these romantic novels and watched all these movies. And heard stories of some friends who had affairs and lovers. But for me, the only thing was arranged marriage. Amar and I barely knew each other. So this flirtatious behavior from Duttsahab…”
“It is filling in some sort of a void?”
“Maybe. And I just find myself not minding it as much as I could or should.” Mansi shrugged. “Does that make me a bad person?”
“Not at all.” Reena smiled. “It just makes you human. Besides, you are stuck in an unhappy marriage and…”
“Excuse me!” Mansi interrupted her. “I wouldn’t say stuck in an unhappy marriage.”
“Oh come on, Mansi!” Reena raised her voice. “Who are you kidding? From that day we met in the mall, you have been complaining about your husband.”
“Yes, but which marriage is perfect?” Mansi argued. “I am happy with Amar. And with Pinky. Yes, there are some small issues, but you’re making it sound like I am a hostage.”
“You ARE a hostage. But not a hostage held by Amar. You are a hostage to your own archaic value system and lack of self-belief.”
“I disagree.” Mansi pouted.
There was a tense moment. Reena tried to smooth it over by laughing a little.
“I didn’t mean to offend you. But think about it, Mansi. In Duttsahab, there is a man who obviously likes you a lot. Cares for you. And you seem to at least find him not undesirable. And he is rich and generous. In just a couple of months, he has turned your life around. If you were to…explore things further…who knows? Think about the future. Think about Pinky’s future.”
“What exactly are you saying? That I should leave my husband and take up with Duttsahab?”
“No, of course not. I am saying…just keep an open mind. There are ways in which you can have your cake and eat it too.”
“So…become his mistress?” Mansi almost shouted.
“Not exactly mistress. That’s such a cheap 19th century word.” Reena dismissively said. “Have you heard of the term friends with benefits?”
“Look it up online when you go home.” Reena said. “It’s not that different from what you already have with him. You both enjoy each other’s company. You are both benefiting from this arrangement. And it’s just a few days a month. You yourself said it has made your family life a lot happier. If you explore things further, you will benefit even more, trust me. And I am not just saying financially.”
“Do you know what you’re suggesting?” Mansi said horrified.
“If you think from the medieval middle class Meerut values mindset, what I am suggesting is evil and sinful and horrible. But you know there is a bigger world out there. You have tasted that world. You have started fitting into that world. Think from that enlightened perspective and you will see that what I am suggesting is the best of both worlds.” Reena paused to finish the last of her food. “Anyway, I have said what I had to say. What follows is up to you.”
Mansi thought about all these things on her way back home. She was in an Uber. Before meeting Reena, she almost exclusively traveled by locals. But she had gotten so used to the air conditioned car rides with Dutt, that she had started using cab services regularly.
She herself did not realize how access to easy money was changing her. When others made a lot of money, it was through their careers or business. They spent most of their free time working to make that money and got very little time to spend it. Here. she was making 25-30 thousand rupees for just a few days work, that too for a few hours. And had the rest of the days free, even with her household chores. She found herself shopping a lot more, indulging a lot more, and not just for Pinky. For herself too.
In addition, Dutt made sure that every other day they spent together involved shopping as well. he wanted to get her almost addicted to materialistic life.In addition to the skirt suits, he had bought her a sari, some earrings, a bracelet, and many toys for Pinky. And when she checked the bank account, she realized that everything he bought her were genuine gifts, not compensation. Because even after buying her expensive gifts,there was still anywhere from 5 to 8 thousand rupees added to the account every time she spent a few hours with him. His hold over her was strengthening. He got the first sign of it the first time she wore the skirt suit at an event. He noticed that as instructed, she had shaved her legs. Shaving body hair was an alien concept to the demure middle class housewife. She had to go online and check how exactly women shave their legs. It seemed so odd and weird. But Duttsahab had told her to do it, so she felt compelled to comply.
Then there was the fact that she really was enjoying his flirtatious behavior a lot more than she cared to admit to Reena aunty or even to herself. When in the car, he started sitting closer and closer to her, and she did not stop him. Once while returning from an event in South Bombay, he had a few too many drinks, and dozed off on her shoulder. She did not know that he was pretending to be asleep, just to test her comfort zone. The entire way from King’s Circle to Borivali, his head was resting on her shoulder, and she could feel his warm breath on her skin. Later that day when she scolded herself for allowing that to happen, she rationalized it by saying that she herself had downed a couple of drinks, so it was an honest mistake.
His touching also became more prolonged and bold than she found comfortable describing to Reena aunty. Once at an art exhibition, when she was wearing a sari, he had casually slipped his arm around her and placed his hand on the naked skin above her waist. She had almost jumped out of her skin, but didn’t push his hand away. For about ten minutes, they walked like that, with a lot of the visitors around noting to themselves that the old millionaire seemed to have a young hot girlfriend.
Almost everyday, Mansi felt tempted to just talk to Amar about all this. Tell him the true nature of her “job”, tell him about the flirtatious generous benefactor behind the uptick in their lifestyle. But she couldn’t. She couldn’t talk to anyone. She had no real friends to speak of. She couldn’t discuss such things with her parents or relatives. And the only one she could talk to, Reena aunty, had in fact suggested she forge ahead. What was that term she used? Friends with benefits? Mansi fished out her phone and googled the term. And read the description wide-eyed.
The next Sunday, Mansi was cleaning up the kitchen after lunch, when Pinky walked in with her phone that she had left in the living room.
“Mamma, it’s ringing.”
Pinky handed it over and then ran back to the living room where she was watching TV with her father. Mansi recognized the number. She answered after making sure Amar was still in the living room.
“Mansi, it’s me. The car is on the way. Be ready in ten minutes.” Dutt casually said.
“What? I can’t come today. It’s a Sunday! My daughter is home.”
“So what? Your husband will be home too, right? He can take care of her.”
She was a little pissed at how casually he was dictating what she should do with her family life.
“Listen Duttsahab, this is not acceptable. I have a family, a life of my own. I am happy to meet you tomorrow. But I can’t just drop everything and…”
“Don’t argue with me, Mansi.” Dutt sternly said. “Besides, I am leaving for Europe tomorrow. Will be gone for a couple of months. So today is the only day I have.”
“Then we will meet after you come back. I really can’t come today.”
“Either you meet me today as I have instructed. Or then we are through. I will never call you again, and you never call me again.”
“Fine.” she angrily said and hung up.
Mansi was a little breathless with tension and anger. Who did he think he was, ordering her to just come to him like she was his property? He had been acting a bit more demanding recently but this was the absolute limit. He wanted to cut off all contacts over this? Fine. She was getting by with life okay before she met him. She would get by fine after too. Thinking these thoughts, she angrily scrubbed the kitchen counter clean.
Then she walked out to the living room and saw Pinky watching TV while playing with the new Italian dolls Dutt had bought for her. She saw the look of pure joy on her daughter’s face.
“Amar.” she said.
“Hmmm?” he replied, still looking at the TV.
“I need to go help out at the hotel. It’s an emergency. A couple of people who were supposed to help out got food poisoning.”
“But today is a Sunday.” Amar sourly said. “Pinky is home.”
“I know. It will just be a few hours. You can look after her.”
“Me…look after her?” Amar sounded almost shocked.
“She is your daughter too, you know?” Mansi sarcastically replied.
“Okay, okay. If you have to go, then go.” Amar was taken aback at her feisty response.
Mansi went to the bedroom to get ready.
Dutt sat waiting in the car, checking his watch every few minutes. He was afraid he had pushed her too far out of her comfort zone. And that threat to never call her again if she didn’t come…seemed like a good idea at first but maybe it was a mistake. Ten minutes turned to fifteen and then to twenty. Maybe she wasn’t coming. He almost told the driver to start driving when there she came, around the corner. Dutt smiled with self-assurance. She was wearing a dark red sari, and carrying an imported purse he had bought for her. She seemed to be scowling. But the important thing was, she was here.
“Hi.” he said when she opened the door.
She just pouted and got in, shutting the door a little too hard.
“You’re unbelievable.” she said in a surly voice, folding her hands across her chest.
He just shrugged. She saw that he had a champagne bottle open. He poured some in a flute and held it out for her.
“I don’t want it.”
“Have some. You know you like it. And it’ll calm you down.”
“I said I don’t want it.”
“Mansi!” he said harshly. “Stop acting like a petulant child and spoiling the mood. I told you to have it, so have it.”
Reluctantly, she took the champagne and sipped some. Over the last few weeks, she had developed a taste for alcohol. She still had enough self-control to not get too drunk like at the art gallery. But most of the events they attended had alcohol being served. Whenever she got back home, she was usually a little buzzed. Amar once even smelled alcohol on her breath and asked her about it. She said it was just a celebratory toast. After that, she started brushing her teeth and using mouthwash before he got home.
They rode in silence for a while. The champagne did calm her down a little. But she was still not completely at peace.
“Why am I doing this?” she said out loud.
“What?” Dutt looked at her.
“Why am I here? Why did I just lie to my husband, leave my daughter at home, and come here?”
“You know why.” he smiled.
“It’s not all about money.” she said, more to herself than to Dutt.
“I didn’t mean it was about the money.”
“Then what did you mean?”
“What do you think I meant?”
“Duttsahab, please! Stop playing games with me.” Mansi said, reaching for the bottle to refill her glass.
Dutt said nothing, started looking out of the window and sipped champagne.
“Where are we going anyway that is so important? Another corporate event? Another exhibition?”
“Neither of those.” he said.
“We are just going to my suite in Reena’s hotel. Like I told you, I won’t be in the country for a couple of months. So I just wanted to spend some quality time with you. You know by now that I love spending time with you.”
Mansi was a little taken aback by this revelation. Until now, all the time they had spent together had been in public. And now he was just simply taking her to his hotel suite? To what end?
“What are we going to do in the hotel suite?”
“We can do whatever we want.” Dutt cryptically said.
“Will Reena aunty be there?”
“Not unless you want her to be.”
Mansi clammed up and thought some more. Finally she said,
“What if I ask you to just drop me home right now?”
“I will drop you home right now…”
“You know but what?”
“We will never meet again?”
He just shrugged.
“So I don’t really have a choice.” Mansi said.
“Everyone always has a choice, Mansi.”
The car sped through the relatively empty Sunday streets and was soon in Malad. At the hotel, a valet opened the door of the limo and the two of them stepped out. Every step Mansi took through the foyer and into the lobby made her seem like she was wearing shoes made of lead. Dutt walked alongside her, feeling nervous and excited himself. After Reena reported her conversation back to him, he decided that the time was ripe. Clearly, Mansi had at least some feelings for him. The ultimate test would be an ultimatum. It was a big gamble, but it had paid off.
He still wasn’t sure how far he should go though. Over the last few weeks, he had slowly but surely increased moments of tender physical intimacy between them. And now, without making up any ruse, he had told this young housewife that he was taking her to his hotel room in the middle of the day. Even she wasn’t innocent enough to not realize the implication of that. And yet here she was. A little upset, a little scared, but still, willingly walking with him.
They walked into a suite that was even more plush and fancy than Reena’s. But unlike that time, Mansi barely noticed the expensive decorations and fittings. Her mind was preoccupied with a struggle. She was still replaying his line about everyone always having a choice in her mind.
“So what next?” she asked.
“Have a seat.”
She walked to the single seater love seat in the living area and sat down in it.
“More champagne?” he asked.
“Just a little. I get a headache if I have too much.” she said.
“Only cheap regular champagnes they serve at those events cause headaches. Not this one. This is really special. I have been saving it for a special occasion.”
He went to the bar area and took a bottle from a ice bucket where it had been left by the hotel staff at his orders. Mansi looked at the bottle. It didn’t look too special or different from the other champagne bottles she had seen.
“It is one of the most elite champagnes in the world. Moet and Chandon Dom Perignon. Costs about 40,000 rupees in India.”
“Oh, I see.” she knew him long enough to know that money was no object to him.
“Look at the year.”
She read the label.
“1988.” the champagne had been bottled in the same year that she had been born. She wondered if it was just a coincidence. But knowing him it had to be a deliberate decision.
Dutt unwrapped the foil and then using his thumb, deftly pressed the cork upwards. It flew up and landed on the floor. Fizz came out of the bottle. he quickly poured it in two flutes, handing one to Mansi.
“What shall we drink to?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
“To special creations from 1988.” he expansively said. That confirmed for Mansi the deliberateness of the selection. She took a sip, trying to calculate how much the sip cost, if the whole bottle was 40,000.
“It’s really good.” Mansi said.
“Of course it is. It is from 1988. Just like you.”
Mansi smiled. Although she was still torn about even being there, the attention starved side of her found the gesture very grandiose and romantic. They sipped in silence for a few minutes. Then Dutt reached for a remote and the stereo in the room started playing some western classical music. He was going all out in this seduction attempt.
“Would you rather have the TV on instead?” Dutt asked.
“No, the music is fine.” Mansi said, the expensive alcohol starting to have a slow effect on her. What am I doing, her brain cried out again. Why am I just calmly going along with this?
A few more minutes passed, with the music creating a romantic atmosphere. The room was already dimly lit. The champagne was flowing through their bloodstream. Mansi’s heart was beating a thousand miles a minute. She was in the single love seat. He was at the close end of a couch perpendicular to her seat. Their knees were almost touching.
“What am I to you, Duttsahab?” she asked, the alcohol making her a bit bolder than usual.
“What do you mean?”
“The question is simple.”
“You are someone very special that I want to make a part of my life.”
“And of course, you want to make love to me?” Both she and Dutt were taken aback by the directness of that question.
“I do want to. Very much. Do you want to?” he turned the question back on her.
“I don’t know. A large part of me finds the very idea too horrific to even contemplate. I have a husband, a reasonably happy life, a daughter I care about a lot.”
“And yet you are here. So then the question is, what am I to you?” Dutt asked.
“I wish I knew.” she shrugged and looked down.
Dutt leaned over until his face was very close to her. She thought he was about to try and kiss her. And she was trying to decided if she should back away.
“Give me your hands.” he said instead, surprising her.
She put the champagne flute down and held out her hands. Dutt wrapped his own hands around hers and stared at her soft palms.
“They say you can read a person’s entire life story in the lines of their hands. Do you know what I read in yours?” he softly asked.
“What?” she whispered.
“I read a life that is crying out for more. More happiness, more enlightenment, more pleasure, more love.”
She thought about what he said. And before she could respond, he had slid down from the couch and grabbed her left foot.
“What are you doing? Please don’t touch my feet.” she was horrified. The conservative upbringing she had been through had hammered in this strange principle in her – that an older person touching a younger person’s feet is not good. It should be the other way round.
“Relax, Mansi. Don’t be so traditional. Just like your hands, your feet are god’s creation. And they also tell a story.”
Dutt slowly raised the foot in his hand and lowered his face to stare at them.
“Such beautiful feet. Elegant toes, with the toe rings. I have never told you this, Mansi, but one of the things I find the most beautiful about you are your toes.”
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING???”
Mansi cried out in shock as Dutt opened his mouth and sucked on her left toe.
“Just relax, Mansi.” he said and then kissed the top of her foot. With one hand, he started massaging her calf gently.
Mansi’s brain was a vortex of chaos. Touching feet itself was weird. he was now licking and kissing them. What made her feel especially confused was that she liked what he was doing. After the initial shock of the big burly old man crouching at her feet and taking them in her mouth wore off, she actually found herself finding it a pleasant experience. Dutt had a foot fetish for many years, so he was adept at how to play with women’s toes.
“Duttsahab…” she sighed. But then the tenseness of her body subsided.
He slowly rolled her sari and petticoat up to her knees, admiring her smooth shins. Mansi instantly contrasted this with the hurried artless way in which Amar would hitch her sari up. With half open eyes, she noticed Dutt reach for his champagne flute. And then she had an odd experience as he held her foot up tilted, put his open mouth at the toes, and poured the champagne down her shins. The cold liquid tickled her, and also made her feel a little aroused. She watched, as if a spectator outside her own body, as the champagne was poured down her leg and into Dutt’s mouth.
He pushed the coffee table away and got on his knees in front of her. And then holding both her legs up by placing his palms under her calves, he started kissing and sucking her toes again. Mansi felt small waves of pleasure run up her body, emanating from her toes of all places. She was still too taken aback by his unusual approach to make sense of it. he hadn’t kissed her or groped her breasts or fondled her butt. Here he was, giving her incredible pleasure by just manipulating her toes.
As Dutt noticed the last bit of trepidation and discomfort melt away from Mansi’s body language, he knew that she was his.
The last bit of tensions left Mansi’s body and she laid back in the seat, relaxed, as Dutt expertly played with her feet and calves. The old man, despite waiting so long to finally get to this point, was very patient. He had decades of experience with such things. After all, he had been seducing women longer than Mansi had been alive. He stroke and gently scratched her shins, occasionally fingering the top part of her calves right behind the knee, which he knew as an erogenous zone for many women. And he was glad to see it have an effect on the young housewife. Her eyes were still half open, staring at his half bald head over her legs, and her breathing was getting deeper.
He kept licking, sucking, kissing, and biting her toes one by one as his hands slowly traveled upwards. His curled fingers gently caressed their way past her knees and stroked in inside of her right thigh. Mansi shivered at this touch, and it took her a while to note that it was moving gradually upwards. And it was only then that the end destination of his fingers struck her.
“No…wait! Not there!” she protested, starting to sit up as his fingers were almost at the top of her inner thighs.
But then she stopped mid-rise, and her torso crashed back on the seat again. And her hips bucked slightly. Dutt’s fingers had reached her crotch. And the experienced old man, sensing some resistance from her, quickly moved his thumb to find her clit over her panties. And pressed it firmly with his thumb.
The sensation this created in her body was unknown to Mansi. Amar had never bothered to find her clit and stimulate it. She herself had led such a sheltered and orthodox life that she had never explored her own body much. From magazines and TV shows, she vaguely knew the concept of clitoral masturbation. But nothing in her life had ever led her to experience it.
“What are you…what how…what…wh…mmm” Mansi tried to form a sentence but her mind was too caught up in the new pleasant sensation. She just sat back again and enjoyed what was happening.
As Dutt played with her clit over her panties, he smiled at a realization. A short time ago, he had used this very thumb to uncork an exquisite item from 1988. And that same thumb was doing it again.
He put her ankles on his knees and started swirling the tip of his thumb over her clitoris faster and faster, as he turned his face to one side and other to kiss her calves. Mansi’s hands, which until then had hung limply by her sides, reached up and tightly grabbed the two armrests of the seat. Dutt noticed her tightly her nails were digging into the fabric. He looked up at her beautiful face. Her eyes were now fully closed. Her lower lip was being bitten down by her upper teeth. Her nostrils were flaring. And her hips were making a slight up and down motion, in rhythm with Dutt’s finger movements.
“HUUUU…let go!” Mansi suddenly said as she felt the unfamiliar overwhelming sensation of an approaching orgasm.
“Relax.” he calmly said.
“No…please…this is…strange!” she begged and tried to push his hand away.
“Just enjoy it.” Dutt said and held her down by her hips.
He increased the swirling pace of his thumb ever so slightly and pushed a bit upwards. And that did it.
“HNNNNN…HNNNN…HNNNN” Mansi started moaning loudly as she experienced the first ever orgasm of her life.
Her hips bucked wildly up and down, almost flying off the seat. If Dutt hadn’t been holding her down with his other hand, she would have. Her body twisted sideways, first to the left and then the right. It was shivering, and then with a loud yell, she screeched her way through the top of the orgasmic wave as Dutt’s thumb never lost the spot.
Once the crescendo had passed, Dutt was experienced enough to know he should take his hand away. He did and sat up straight on the floor. Mansi was still shuddering and moaning, curled up on the seat. She still couldn’t think straight. What had just happened? And what was this unfamiliar tornado of thrills still coursing through her senses, although it was ebbing?
And then she thought to herself – whatever just happened…was that considered cheating on her husband? Reminded of her husband, she felt sad and guilty.
By now, Dutt could read the expressions on her face well. He decided to give her a little space. Leaving her splayed sideways on that loveseat, he got up and sat on the couch. He refilled both their champagne flutes and sat sipping quietly. In a couple of minutes, Mansi slowly sat up. Her sari and petticoat rolled down from over her knees. She kept staring at the floor, unable to make eye contact with the man who had just given her the greatest pleasure of her life without removing a single piece of clothing.
Dutt held up her champagne. She took it and started sipping slowly, sitting in the loveseat with a blank expression and shoulders slightly slumped. She wondered if all this had happened because she had been drinking. What was she doing? Should she just leave? She suddenly stood up.
“I have to go home.” she said.
Dutt frowned. He considered being assertive and making her stay. But he also understood the turmoil she must be going through. He had already crossed the biggest hurdle. He knew she had enjoyed what she did. He also guessed, correctly, she she had never experienced an orgasm before. He had a hold over her now. he could afford to relax the line a little, like a skilled fisherman.
“Ok.” he nodded. “Should I call the driver?”
“No, I’ll just take a taxi.” she said, still not making eye contact.
Mansi picked up her purse, and taking uncertain steps, walked towards the door. Dutt stayed seated where he was, and watched the beautiful young housewife leave. A part of him wondered if she was guilt stricken enough to just cut off all contacts from now on. But from experience, he knew that the more likely outcome was that she would come back for more.
Mansi was in somewhat of a daze as she took the lift down to the lobby. Her mind was a hot cauldron of conflicting emotions – guilt, shame, pleasure, anticipation, doubt and many more. In the lobby, she fished out her phone from her purse. Then opened the Uber app.
“No need.” a voice next to her said. “I’ll drop you.”
She looked up. It was Reena aunty, smiling at her. Reena didn’t know the exact details of what had happened. But she was aware that Dutt had planned to make his move. She assumed that he had gone all the way. So she had told her staff to notify her whenever Mansi came down again.
“It’s…okay.” Mansi sullenly said.
“I insist. Come.”
A while later, Mansi was in the passenger seat staring out of the window as Reena drove, talking almost non-stop.
“I know you must be feeling guilty. Conflicted. Used. But think of it this way, Mansi. You have been used your entire life. Tell me…did you enjoy it?”
Mansi didn’t make eye contact, but started sobbing a little. Reena had asked her the question that was troubling her the most. She had indeed enjoyed it. Those moments Dutt gave her goosebumps by just playing with her toes and calves, she gave in to it completely. When he touched her in the most private of places, she didn’t think about being a married woman and him being essentially a stranger over twice her age. She didn’t think about her husband or her daughter, or what was right or wrong. She just gave in. Gave in to her deeper baser desires.
“Mansi…remember that time we had lunch. And I ordered that dessert for you. How much you loved it. You told me that you almost always ate at home. But you took pleasure in that occasional eating outside. Doesn’t mean you don’t like homecooked food. Think of this as something similar. You always sleep with your husband. Today was like…the occasional eating out experience. Doesn’t mean you love your husband any less. And you make even more money to improve your lives.”
That little speech somehow made Mansi feel even worse.
“Please stop the car.” she said, wiping her tears.
“What? Don’t be silly. I’ll drop you home.”
“No, please stop the car. I don’t want to go home yet.”
“Okay, we can go shopping.”
“No. I want to be alone. Stop the car NOW!!” she yelled.
Reena stopped the car. Mansi got out without saying goodbye. She was still in a bit of a daze, still lost in a storm of emotions. She had no idea where exactly she was, although it seemed like Kandivali. She started walking in the general direction of her house, trying to sort out her thoughts and feelings.
“Oh you’re finally back.” Amar said sarcastically as soon as Mansi walked in the door. He was playing chess with Pinky.
She had spent almost three hours just walking around aimlessly until she regained some semblance of self-control. She still hadn’t fully sorted out the situation in her head. But she at least had enough composure to face her family.
“Mamma, I’m hungry!” the little one whined.
“You didn’t give her anything to eat?” Mansi asked, surprised.
“I gave her some biscuits.” Amar shrugged.
“You could have made her a sandwich or ordered delivery or something.”
“But you said it would only be a few hours, so I assumed you would come home and make dinner.”
Mansi felt a slight surge of anger. This is the man she was feeling guilty about betraying? Someone so self-centered and insensitive that he couldn’t even arrange their dinner while she was away?
“Mammaaaaa!” Pinky whined again.
“Yes beta, I will make you something right away.”
Mansi went to the kitchen and quickly fixed up a sandwich for her daughter, while she started dinner for her and her husband. Throwing herself into cooking seemed like the best way to clear the cobwebs. She decided to not think about the Duttsahab situation anymore. As it is, he was leaving for Europe the next day. So she had two months to figure out what to do next.
She did however also realize that this meant two months without any extra income. Maybe she really could do the job that she had been pretending to do. Help out Reena aunty with special events. If she asked, Reena aunty wouldn’t say no. Although Mansi realized that she had been very brusque with Reena aunty a few hours ago. She might have felt offended.
Pinky had her sandwich and then the three of them had dinner, while watching TV. After a while, Pinky started feeling sleepy and went to the bedroom. Mansi was thankful that at least Amar hadn’t invited his friends over that night. She really wasn’t in the mood to put up with that extra duty. She just stared at the TV without registering anything that was happening.
“Should we sleep?”
After turning off the TV, Amar said, and then added.
“Why don’t you sleep in a gown tonight? And take Pinky…”
“Not tonight.” Mansi instantly said.
“Not tonight.” she simply repeated.
“Oh…is it…that time…?” he uncomfortably said. Even after 8 years of marriage, the learned professor felt awkward talking to his own wife about her periods.
“No.” Mansi said, getting up. “I just don’t feel like it.”
Just like Mansi had experienced something entirely alien and new earlier in the day, Amar also had a novel experience. His wife had actually brushed off his instructions to get ready for sex? Who did she think she was?
Mansi went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and then laid down in bed next to Pinky. Her mind was still in turmoil. But the long three hour walk and the experiences earlier in the day had made her body a little tired. So she fell asleep soon.
Mansi was having a dream, replaying the events of earlier in the day, over and over. Then the dream changed a little. There was a hand at her ankles. And her sari was being pulled up. Maybe her toes would be sucked next. But instead her sari kept being pulled up. That’s when Mansi realized it wasn’t a dream. It was her husband, at her feet, his pyjama and underwear already off.
“Amar!!” she whispered and looked to her right in panic.
“Relax.” he whispered. “I took her outside.”
“Please Amar…I told you…” she said, trying to gently stop him.
“Just a quick one, Mansi.” Amar said, by now rolling the sari and petticoat to around her hips.
“But Amar…” she didn’t know how exactly to stop him. Part of the reason for her reluctance was that, having never experienced anything like what Dutt had done, she wondered if there might be telltale signs of it. That was the level of her sexual ignorance.
She felt his hands grab her panties by the waist and pull them off. She froze, wondering if, even in the darkness, Amar saw something that gave him an inkling of what she had done. Of course, he didn’t.
He quickly got on top of her and penetrated her. She braced for pain, but was surprised to note that her vagina was already well lubricated. She didn’t realize it was because of the dreams she had been having.
The bed creaked as Amar fucked his wife’s warm wet cunt in rapid strokes. She closed her eyes and yet again, Dutt’s face swam in front of her eyes. This time, she didn’t try to resist it. She took the pounding from her husband as she mentally replayed how his thumb had given her so much pleasure.
“What are you doing?” Amar whispered.
“With your hand…”
Mansi had no idea when her right hand had slid down between their bodies and was trying to find her clit, even as Amar banged her rapidly.
“Oh…just an itch.” she quickly said and pulled her hand away.
And then lay there letting her husband finish what he wanted. Once he came inside her, she couldn’t help note to herself that she did not feel even a hundredth of the pleasure with him that she had from just Dutt’s thumb and fingers. She wondered what Dutt was capable of if he could do whatever Amar did.
The next 56 days were full of emotional ups and downs for Mansi, and also taught her a lot about herself. Here are the notable events.
Mansi was having a bucket bath after Amar and Pinky had left for work and school respectively. After soaping and washing the rest of her body, she started cleaning her private parts. And as she soaped herself down there, she suddenly remembered what Dutt had done. Using her fingers, she tried to locate the right spot. After a few attempts she did. And then, sitting naked on the bath stool, she tried to remember what exactly Dutt had done and tried to replicate it. The motions, the swirls, the pressure, the pace. And soon she was pleasuring herself. Sitting there with a soaped up crotch, masturbating for the first time in her life. She thrashed about on the bathroom floor as the orgasm hit. Then, feeling a combination of satisfaction and guilt, proceeded with the bath.
“What is this picnic Pinky was blabbering about?” Amar asked one evening after getting home.
“You know, their school picnic. To Esselworld.” Mansi shrugged.
“But we didn’t send her last year because it was so expensive.” Amar said skeptically.
“With my work, we can afford it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Do you want me to give you accounting details?” she testily said.
“No, no, if you think it’s okay, then it’s okay.”
In reality, it had been a significant hit to her cash reserves. After that day in his suite, Dutt had transferred the largest amount until then – 10,000 rupees. But most of it had gone towards this picnic. It wasn’t just the Esselworld ticket cost. Pinky went to an expensive school that spared no expense, because the rich parents would pay any amount. The picnic included transportation in premium mini-buses, catering and snacks from five star hotels, clowns and balloon artists and magicians to accompany the kids throughout, and of course, extra compensation for the teachers and staff accompanying them.
The previous year, it had been impossible. But this year, with some money at her disposal, Mansi didn’t have the heart to refuse Pinky the opportunity.
“Oh hi, Mansi! Long time!” Reena answered her phone.
“Namaste aunty. I just want to say sorry for my behavior that day.” Mansi sincerely said. “You were being nice, and I was so rude.”
“Don’t worry about it, sweetie. You were in an emotional state. I understand.”
“Thank you. And sorry again. I was wondering…is Duttsahab coming back soon?”
“You know more about his schedule than I do. I think he is in Europe.”
“Hmm…well…do you have any other job I could do to help you out at the hotel?”
“You mean someone else you could…accompany?” Reena smiled.
“No no, not that!!” Mansi said instantly. “I mean…like what I have been telling Amar…helping you out with events and parties etc.”
Reena paused. She actually could use Mansi’s help for such things. But Dutt’s instructions had been explicit. And he had paid Reena over and above her usual commission to keep it that way.
“Sorry, Mansi. With all the hotel regulations and union rules and so on, I can only hire you if you work full time, at least 8 hour shifts daily. And the pay won’t be that high.” she said.
“Oh, I understand.” Mansi sadly said.
“Money problems? I can lend you some cash if you want.”
“Oh no, nothing like that.” Mansi said. “We’re doing okay.”
Mansi had been masturbating during her bath daily, sometimes even twice or thrice. Initially, she assumed that just like with men, once she had an orgasm, she could not have another for a while. But she had started reading up a bit online and discovered that women didn’t suffer from that restriction. As she searched more online, she found more information.
That was the first day she had a desire to do it in the middle of the day when she was home alone. She made sure the door was locked, the windows and curtains were closed, and then stripped naked and lay down on the bed. Then, replaying the time with Dutt, she played with herself for a couple of hours, having more orgasms than she could count.
“How is your job going?” Amar asked one evening.
“It’s fine.” she simply said.
“Our financial situation is okay?”
“Very much. Why?”
“Well…for years I have had my eye on this early edition of Churchill’s memoirs. And you know…if we can afford it…I mean it’s my birthday in a few days so I was thinking…just a thought.”
“Oh…how much does it cost?”
“Let me show you online.”
The next day, Mansi made another big withdrawal from Pinky’s college account.
“Mansi, you don’t go out during the daytime as much as you have been recently.” nosy old Deshmukh aunty from next door said one day when she was returning from grocery shopping.
“Amar was saying that you had gotten some part time job. Which is why you wearing foreign clothes some days. And riding in those fancy foreign cars.”
It was so annoying to live in a society where everyone thought they could just interrogate you about your life. And she knew how everyone liked to gossip. Soon word would get around to Amar that she didn’t seem to have that job anymore.
“Oh, the last few weeks have been a little slow. But it’s still there.”
Mansi dressed up in a skirt suit and called an expensive Uber. She made sure Deshmukh aunty was watching as she got into the car. She then just went to a nearby mall and fent a few hours there window shopping. She would do this every few days to keep up appearances.
Amar’s birthday. Mansi officially gifted her husband the early edition Churchill memoirs. She still could not believe a stack of musty old books could cost this much. But Amar had assured her it was a great bargain. And also that it was like an investment, because their value would just keep going up. Then the family went to a nice Chinese restaurant. That also cost a pretty penny, but not that the family had gotten used to these indulgences, it was difficult to say no.
Later that night, after sex, Amar noticed that his wife took longer than usual to come out of the bathroom. What he didn’t know was that his wife, unsatisfied with the sex they had, was masturbating in the bathroom. By now, she had gotten really good at playing with her clit.
“What is this?” Mansi asked as Pinky handed her an envelope.
“Invitation to Ira’s birthday party.”
She looked at the card. At the bottom, it said as always, “NO GIFTS PLEASE!” Mansi scoffed, knowing how meaningless that line was. the first couple of times she had taken Pinky to parties like that, there were tables full of gifts. And she felt embarrassed about coming empty handed. The next few times, she sent Pinky with a decent gift within their budget. But once or twice at parent-teacher meetings, she had overheard taunts about cheap gifts. That she new were directed at her.
“Let’s get you changed and go to the mall.” Mansi said to her daughter.
Later as she paid for the designer plush toy, Mansi wondered if all the gifts she had gotten in her childhood cost as much combined as this one did.
She sent an sms to Dutt.
– r u back yet?
There was no answer.
Mansi stood in her bedroom that afternoon, wearing just her bra and blouse, nothing else. She had the landline receiver in one hand. And was reading a webpage on the cellphone in her other hand. She still could not believe this would work.
She laid down on the bed. Set her phone to maximum vibrate. And remembering the instructions, placed it at her clit and then folding up her legs, clasped them around it. Then she dialed her cellphone number from her landline.
“Ohhhh…hmmmm!!” she closed her eyes and squirmed as the phone started vibrating.
This was even better than using her fingers, she realized.
“But I want those shoesssss!!” Pinky was throwing a tantrum outside a shop in Borivali west where they had gone to visit a relative. She had just seen pretty rincess shoes in the glass display as they were walking by and made a demand. By now, Pinky was used to getting every demand of hers met.
“Pinky, please don’t make a scene!” Mansi said, embarrassed as people on the stret stared at them.
“But why not?!!” she started wiping her own tears.
“Trust me, beta, I don’t have the money for it.” she said, remembering how the college account was almost down to what it used to be.
“I hate you.” the little one sulked.
Mansi was in the middle of using her phone as a vibrator, when it buzzed a little more than it should have. It was an SMS.
– Hello Mansi. Just got your message. Just returned from Europe. Will be in Mumbai tomorrow.
Mansi read the message, smiled, and then put the phone between her legs again. And dialed its number once more.