I was 32 years of age when all this began. I was married at the age of 26 and so far I could safely say that I was a happily married woman. My name is Seema Shah. Mine was a sort of marriage that dreams were made up of. Everyone I knew said Suhail and I  were an ideal couple, that we had great chemistry and understanding. And we did, we understood each other very well and were completely in sync with each other’s emotions. I worked very hard to ensure that we had a good marriage. My parents had separated when my younger sister and I were all of 9 and 5 years of age. That had left me scarred. I loved my father and the thought of having to live with only one parent was traumatic for me as a young child. Unfortunately my sister, Neha, also followed in their path and divorced her husband after a mere 2 years of staying together. It was both these instances that made me work twice as harder to ensure we stuck together. We had enjoyed an extended three year honeymoon period before our little angel came along. That made our bond stronger than before and we felt complete with her around. I enjoyed being a mother, caring for this little bundle. Our friend circle post the little’s one arrival was made up of like-minded parents; my time now was all dedicated to organizing play-dates and lunches with this group of mothers.

A little after Naina, our little one’s arrival, Suhail, was promoted to the position of Vice President, Corporate Banking at the  MNC he had worked with for over 7 years. He was on the fast track in office and was gunning for the top position. His work often took his away on long travels. While there was no doubt that Suhail was a great father and husband, to be those things he had to actually physically be present with us, which offlate was just not happening. Suhail was an extremely ambitious person by nature; it wasn’t the money so much but the thrill of getting to senior positions that gave him his professional high. We ended up communicating more via  Facetime and Whatsapp rather than  talking to each other. Before Naina, this never seemed to bother me, but now because she missed Suhail, it affected me. The Facetime sessions with Naina usually ended with her feeling even more depressed because she would be able to see Suhail but not be able to touch her father.  She missed him terribly and explaining to a three year old that her father was away on work was always such a difficult thing to do. “But Kunal’s father doesn’t go away anywhere, why does papa have to gooooooooo,” she wailed when I was trying to reason with her one morning as I was struggling to get her dressed for school. “Naina, Kunal’s papa does different kind of work. So he doesn’t have to go away. But your papa has to travel a few days in a month. Please don’t delay further, we are already late for school,” I said to her. Kunal was Naina’s ‘best friend’ in school, and because the kids had gotten so close, his parents – Karan and Kanchana became close friends of ours. She didn’t see the logic in what I said but quietly got dressed and ate her breakfast in silence.

During my drive to school I kept thinking of how much Suhail’s travels was affecting Naina. She was visibly upset about it and wanted to spend time with him whenever she got the chance. Kanchana and Karan Mehta were a fun loving couple. They loved entertaining and had a large house and heart. Together the three of them, Kanchana, Karan, and Kunal – the ‘K’ brigade, as Suhail often referred to them were a riot. I pulled over outside school and unbuckled Naina and reached behind for her school bag. “Mama, can we go to Kunal’s house after school please?” she asked me with those puppy eyes which I couldn’t ever say no to. “I can ask them if they would be alright with that, now go on your didi is waiting to take you into class,” I said as I helped her get down from the car. Since we had become friends, we went on many family lunches and dinners together. The kids were happy with each other, and we found good company in this couple. Offlate it was almost always without Suhail since he had started travelling so much.

Just as I was reversing I saw Karan get out of his car and walk towards the gate to drop Kunal off. We waved to each other and smiled. Karan was a treat to look at, always impeccably turned out, and smelt like a million bucks. Kanchana was a pretty woman too. Karan was the eye-candy for all the mothers who came to drop their kids off in the morning. Given that we were friends, many mothers would cozy up to me to find out more about him. ‘What’s his wife like? What does he do? He is such a good father,’ another one gushed. “Kanchana is a lovely lady and a great mother,” I would say to the gushing women. They really did complement each other. Though it was Kanchana who was a friend first, I felt more connected to Karan. We got the same jokes, had a similar taste in music, and loved being sarcastic and getting away with it. Even though I knew what I was about to think of was not right, I did. I wished that Suhail had the time to come drop Naina once in a while; I wished that he would have the time to sit and watch her recite her nursery rhymes. Most of all this for us would happen on  Facetime and the charm was just never the same.

Karan was a venture capitalist, who also led a busy life but he had clearly prioritized what he wanted out of life. For him his family was of prime importance and more than money or position, it was about spending time with Kanchana and watching Kunal grow up that mattered most to it. He never made any qualms about it and was proud of the choices he had made.. Family dinners at the Mehta household was sacrosanct, it was that time of the day where they all shared how their day went by, they religiously discussed how Kunal’s day at school was. It was something that I always wanted to do but given Suhail’s hectic office life this was never a possibility. I secretly wished that Suhail would one day realize this and decide to go slow and spend time with us

Suhail was to get back from Mauritius the next afternoon and both Naina and I were eagerly looking forward to it. He had been gone a long 10 days this time. While Naina was a very well behaved child, easy to manage, it was always nice to have Suhail around to help out. The weekend was already looking good; with a comedy night planned with Karan and Kachana and a brunch with a few of Suhail’s cousins on Sunday. Suhail’s mother was also coming down the weekend and had assured us of looking after Naina so we could get some time to ourselves. My mother-in-law was perhaps one of the sweetest lady’s ever, she was not only non-intrusive and non-nagging, she was surprisingly very empathetic  towards me. “I know how hard it is to raise a child by yourself, Seema,” she often said to me. She had almost single-handedly brought up Suhail and Sahana, her two kids, and had no help from my father-in-law, who was then the Director of Parry’s India.

Suhail arrived on Friday in the morning and went straight to his office, when I called to check if he had landed he was just entering a meeting and promised to call me back. The next I heard from him was at 11:00 p.m. when he walked in looking completely haggard and worn out. All the anger I had felt towards him for not calling me just melted away on seeing his tired face, and I went to hug him. “Sorry Seema, it was a crazy crazy day. I know I said I would call back but one thing led to another and I just lost track, baby,” he said. Nothing mattered to me, I was in his arms at last and I was savoring the moment. I looked up at him and smiled. “Welcome home, Mr. Shah. You were missed.”

The first thing that Naina did when she woke up was come straight to Suhail and sit beside him. She just watched him sleep and was smiling to herself when I walked out of the washroom. “Papa home,” she said smiling from ear to ear. I sat down beside her and stroked her hair. “Yes, my pumpkin, papa home. Let’s not wake him up, he is tired. We’ll come back after some time,” I said to her as I tried to get her off the bed. She nodded and walked with me hand in hand. Naina and me returned after breakfast, almost an hour and half later and Suhail was still fast asleep. Naina crept up beside him and snuggled close and lay down. Suhail stirred and opened his eyes, still sleepy and groggy. The minute he saw Naina he smiled and swooped her into his arms and started showering her with kisses. The two of them spent the rest of the morning in bed, playing, fighting with the pillows, and getting tickled. Naina was elated to have her father back.

My morning was packed with getting the house cleaned, lunch made, and ensuring that everything for the evening was ready. Karan and Kanchana were picking us up for the evening comedy show and I had to ensure that I got everything for Naina ready before that. At about 4.00 in the evening Suhail was feeling unwell and was bordering on cancelling our evening out. He didn’t want to spoil my evening and so insisted that I go with Karan and Kanchana. He infact called Karan, excused himself and requested them to pick me up as planned. Karan was more than willing to do that. I had picked out a new outfit for the evening and since I was anyway going, decided to wear it and get ready well for my well deserved evening out. Once I was through getting ready, I looked at myself in the mirror and what I saw I liked. Yes, motherhood had left me about 6kgs overweight, my hips were certainly larger now but I liked this new me.

I was comfortable with both Karan and Kanchana given the amount of time I had started spending with them without Suhail. They never let me feel like I was there alone; their home was a fun place to go to. Karan called at 8:00 pm to say they would be at my place in five odd minutes. So I kissed Naina goodnight and hugged Suhail before I stepped out of the house. They would be fine; my mother-in-law was also home to pamper the son and granddaughter. I needed this evening out, it would have been nicer  if Suhail was feeling upto it  but I didn’t intend to spend the evening feeling guilty.

“Hey pretty pretty, you are looking so nice,” beamed Kanchana as she opened the door for me to get in. “Thanks darling, I am so looking forward to this evening,” I said to her. “Hi Seema. You look like a million bucks,” Karan said to me as he looked at me through the rear-view mirror. Was there something different about how he looked at me or was it just me imagining it. I wasn’t sure, but I did feel good when he looked at me the way he did. I was already blushing and was thanking my stars it was dark. “Thanks you both. You have made my evening already,” I said.

Kanchana and I  were exchanging notes on how the kids were and she asked about Suhail as well. I told her how tired he has been thanks to all the crazy traveling he was doing. The drive to the auditorium was roughly 20minutes and after about 10 minutes we all settled into a familiar silence. Karan switched on the radio and tuned into one of the old hindi music channels. “jhuki jhuuki si nazar, dil mein…..” was playing and I caught Karan looking at me again in the rear-view mirror. We smiled and I looked down almost mimicking the lyrics of the song. He started humming the song, and what a good voice he had. Kanchana was lost in her own world; she was in the midst of trying to solve a crisis situation for another friend of hers and was constantly on whatsapp texting her friend. If there was some undercurrent between Karan and me, she didn’t notice a thing. Again, maybe it was my imagination and Karan perhaps just happened to look at the rear-view mirror the exact same time I was.

We reached 5 minutes before the show could begin and went in and took our seats; Karan was seated in the middle, between both the ladies. The minute the lights went off I oddly enough felt like I was a teenager on a first date, the minute my  arm brushed against Karan’s  I felt that strange butterfly fluttering sensation in my belly. I must be imagining this, I said to myself. But a little later I felt it again; I wanted our arms to touch and wanted to experience that feeling again. I couldn’t even remember the last time I felt this with Suhail. I didn’t hear a word of what Vir Das was saying, I heard people laughing, but I was lost. I sneaked a look at Karan and saw him laughing. He obviously wasn’t feeling what I was. I suddenly felt dumb and felt like I was cheating. I pulled my hand away and tried to concentrate on what was being said.

A little while later  Karan leaning in close to my ear and whispering, “Are you alright? You seem so lost, Seema.” Again, I felt a shiver run down my spine and I loved that feeling. I didn’t want him to move away. I looked straight at him and smiled. “All good, just wish Suhail was here,” I said to him. But I knew that wasn’t really true. I wasn’t missing Suhail, infact until then I hadn’t even thought of him. Should I be feeling guilty about it, I thought to myself. He leaned in again, “let’s see if he is upto meeting up for coffee or dessert later. It’s been so long since the four of us met anyway. Let me text him,” he said.

I don’t remember much of the show; infact neither did Kanchana who spent all her time on her phone. As the crowd started applauding loudly I realized the show was over and stood up to move out. “He says he will meet us at Café Gartino for coffee, so smile, lady,” Karan said to me. “Thanks, Karan,” I replied. “Kanchana, madam, what are you upto with that phone of yours,” I finally asked her as we were getting into the car. It was almost as though she was waiting to be asked. “Oh, don’t ask! This friend of mine is going through a bad patch in her  marriage. She has it all you know, and yet she is complaining about how her husband has no time for her and how he is busy with work all the time,” she didn’t want to stop talking but I had stopped listening when she spoke about how her friend wanted time from her husband. “I have been telling her that she should just enjoy everything she has. They can always spend time later, I don’t understand this need for spending time together.” She went on. How would Kanchana understand it, her husband was always there for her and ensured that they spent time, went on holidays, had dinner together. One never appreciates what one has, truly. I thought to myself. I didn’t want to get into an argument with her so just nodded and agreed with whatever she was saying. “You know Seema, I also gave her your example. I told her how much Suhail travels and how happy you are with your life. You never crib about this ‘time not being spent’,” she went on. She had no idea how I felt, did she?

“You wouldn’t miss the time we spent together if I was to be travelling crazy schedules?” Karan asked, almost looking hurt by everything that Kanchana had said. She answered even before he could complete what he had said. “Honesty, no. I would maybe value the time we spent together more K,” she drawled as she held Karan’s hand which was resting on the gear. He let her hand rest on his for a second but moved it away soon. She didn’t seem to notice it at all, and continued telling me about her friend and how she was being silly and demanding. I was happy to reach Café Gartino, I didn’t want to hear anything more about Kanchana’s friend. It seemed like it was my life she was talking about.

I saw Suhail’s car parked outside and was glad that he decided to come. As we walked into the Café, I saw Suhail sitting in a corner, immersed in his kindle. He looked tired but so handsome. He had a slight stubble and had worn his favorite worn out t-shirt and a pair of tattered jeans. He was a ruggedly handsome man. The second I saw him everything I was feeling the entire evening just vanished. I was happy to see him and reminded myself that I was a happily married woman. I loved him. “Hi baby, it’s nice to see you here,” I said as I sat down beside him. He looked at me and smiled. Karan and Suhail gave each other  a hug before settling down.. The evening was fun with easy conversations flowing, enough of desserts on the table, and a lot of laughter. This is what I missed. Suhail was always the life of the group, no matter how tired he would be, he would ensure everyone had a good laugh.

We got home late after our coffee date with Karan and Kanchana, but the evening had rejuvenated me. I know was looking forward to the Sunday brunch even more, Suhail was back in elements and there could be nothing better. Despite a late night we found ourselves being woken up by Naina at 6:30 a.m. We both woke up rubbing our eyes and looking at each other groggily. “Good morning, pumpkin,” I said to her. “Tell us what you did with dadi last evening?” I continued. “Dadi told me a story of a princess, mama. And then dadi and me made kheer.” I could see that she too had spent a lovely evening. “Today we’ll meet Deep chachu and Priya chachi,” I said to Naina. Deep and Priya were Suhail’s cousins and Naina’s favourite relative couple. Deep indulged her enough and more and she loved all the attention he showered on her. “Yes, dadi told me yesterday. Are they coming home?” she asked. “We are going to meet them in some time, so come on let’s get your milk ready and then have a bath and get ready,” I said. I looked at Suhail who was still half asleep, so I nudged him to get some more sleep while I took Naina out. “Thank you,” he mouthed as he fell back into the bed.

Brunch was a family affair with about 15 of Suhail’s cousins who not only were loud but also an absolute laugh riot. The four of us, mother-in-law, Naina, Suhail, and me reached the venue on time and were pleasantly surprised to see that most of them had arrived. We exchanged hi hello’s and settled down. Naina had found her chachu and chachi and we were forgotten instantly. Suhail’s family was such an easy lot of people to get along with. It never felt like I was married into this family, they treated me like I was one of them. I enjoyed each one of their company. I was in deep conversation with Priya when I thought I saw Kanchana walk in. When I looked up I didn’t see her and thought I had seen someone like her. A little later someone tapped  on my back and there she was, Kanchana. “I thought I saw you walk in, but when I looked up you were gone,” I said, as I stood up to give her a hug. Karan was speaking to Suhail.

“Such a co-incidence to find you both here,” said Kanchana. “Infact I wanted to go to Hyatt for their brunch but Karan was in a mood to come here today,” she continued. “He infact almost insisted we come only here, which he rarely does, so I gave in,” she said with a wink. I remember  Suhail had mentioned this plan last night. Could Karan have insisted for a reason? Karan then walked towards me and said hello. “You look lovely, as always, Seema,” he said. I found myself turning pink again. I was thankful no one heard his compliment, I wasn’t sure why but there was something about how he said it. “Last evening was fun, glad you decided to come and enjoy yourself,” he went on. I was now starting to get uncomfortable, partly also because in my head this was a conversation that was likely to take a weird turn. I was normally right about these things and while one part of me wanted to hear what he was saying, another part knew this conversation would lead nowhere. “How come you guys are here?” I asked in a hushed tone. Karan looked taken aback at my tone and said he had been wanting to bring Kanchana here for long. “Enjoy your lunch,” I said and cut the conversation short. He walked away from me then, but both of us spent all afternoon stealing glances at each other. Our eyes met a few times and I would always quickly look away.

The rest of the brunch was a blur,… (Continues here )