Our story starts in the bylanes of Delhi where a man was walking in a an extremely hurried manner. It was clear from the way he walked he had to reach somewhere very fast. He suddenly turned a right and it seemed as though he had reached his destination. He turned right inside a society and started climbing up the stairs. He stood in front of a dirty door with its paint peeling off. That door badly needed painting. He rang the bell and almost immediately the door was opened by a young girl of twenty-one. She was pretty with big doe shaped eyes, perfect lips and high cheek bones. Her dark hair perfectly complimented her fair complexion. Her face was stained with traces of flour. It was clear she had been working in the kitchen when the door bell rang.
Man: Can't you open the door immediately? You lazy thing! And why is dinner not ready yet? Go prepare it.
This kind of outburst was nothing new to her. That man was her maternal uncle and he had this habit of constantly shouting at her for no reason. She had grown immune to his shouting. She quietly held out her hand for the bag that he was carrying and took his bag and placed it at its usual place. She then went back to the kitchen and continued to make rotis. Just then she heard someone call her from behind.
Girl: Hey you! Get me some water.
That was her cousin Sayali or otherwise known as chutki. That was how she generally spoke with her.
Chutki: Hey Vibha madam! Are you stone deaf? Get me some water.
Vibha: Chutki can you get it yourself please? I am making rotis and my hands are dirty.
Most unfortunately her mami heard this.
Mami: Oh madam! Can't wash your hands and then give her some water? Why do you always make my daughter work?
Vibha stood up and filled a glass of water for chutki. She gave her the glass and went back to her rotis. She had rolled out a roti and had been waiting for the pan to get hot enough, now the pan was too hot and so she lowered the flame and placed the roti on the pan. While placing the roti, her hand touched the hot pan and she let out a barely audible gasp which her mami heard.
Mami: Yes! Shout more loudly. Let the whole floor come to know how cruel we are towards you. Create a scene now. Wait I will call everyone here itself and then you can shriek some more.
Vibha was nursing her fingers which had touched the pan and in that she forgot all about the roti which was placed on the pan. She smelt the roti burning and immediately she tried to rescue the roti. That gave her mami even more reason to shout at her.
Mami: Oh great! Now madam has burnt the roti. Now do one thing burn this whole house, only then will you be satisfied. I don't know why we even tolerate you in our house.
Vibha had not uttered a single word in her defence. She quietly went back to making the rotis while Chutki went back to watch her serial. Mama and Mami had retired to their bedroom for some important discussion.
Mama: Priya, we will have to leave from here immediately. The college year will start soon, and I have managed to secure admission for our Chutki in one of the finest colleges in Mumbai.
Mami: That is fine, but what about Vibha? Do we have to let her study further?
Mama: We have been over this Priya. Vikrant is insistent that Vibha at least be a graduate.
Vikrant Mehra was Vibha's fianc. Theirs was an arranged marriage. He was an extremely supportive and caring kind of a guy who had insisted that Vibha at least complete her graduation before they were married. Vibha was grateful to him for this condition as she wanted to study further but was sure her maternal uncle and aunt would never let her do that. They were not ready to even pay the fees for her graduation but she had won a scholarship and had managed to study. Now, she had a fair idea that her uncle was trying to get a job in Mumbai and there were 100% chances that they would have to leave Delhi and also her college. So she had already enquired in her college for the colleges in Mumbai that supported the scholarship that she had won. It so turned out that the college where her uncle had managed to get a seat for Sayali, supported the scholarship and she would be able to attend the college.
Mami: Who is going to pay the fees?
Mama: Don't worry, I have made arrangements for her to complete her graduation directly from the Mumbai University. Vikrant just wants her to have a dgree. It doesn't matter from where she completes it.
Mami: I have one more question. Even they stay in Mumbai. Why are we going back? What if they recognise us?
Mama: Come on, Mumbai is a huge city. It's not like we will go and land up at the door step. And anyways no one is even aware of what happened eighteen years ago. Why should we fear?
Mami: But even then...
Mama: Stop worrying. Nothing will happen. No one knows what we did all those years ago. Relax. Let's go and tell Chutki.
They both went to the living room to find Vibha setting up the dinner table and Chutki lounging on the sofa, watching her favourite soap. She looked up eagerly when her parents came inside the room, while Vibha continued to work.
Mama: We have an announcement to make. We will be shifting to Mumbai in a couple of weeks. I got the job that I was looking for. So start your packing immediately. Chutki I have managed to get an admission for you in one of the top colleges in Mumbai.
Mami: Yes, so you will have to work hard and impress everyone in that college. I have heard very rich kids study in that college. If you play your cards right you will be able to make really rich friends. And yes, madam, you will be completing your degree directly from the university. Got it?
Vibha: No. I will go to the same college as Chutki.
Mami: And who will pay the fees? Your father? Did he leave a huge pile of money for you to splurge on nonsense things? I don't have money for these stupid demands of yours.
Vibha: No need. I have spoken with my college principal, and he has already spoken with that college's principal. They support the same scholarship that I had won. Even the trustees have agreed to accept my application. I got a letter from them yesterday. So that part has been taken care of. You don't have to worry about my fees.
Mami: Did you hear that? See how she is insulting us. It's not good to be so proud of one's achievements. Especially in front of us, we, who have raised you so lovingly, paid for your expense, spared you no comfort...
Vibha glanced at her dress; she was wearing the same old dress which she had been using for the past six years. It had multiple stains on it and the original colour had faded long ago and the most prominent colour on it was a dull faded grey now. She did not possess any jewellery nor did she have any cosmetics. She would get one new dress each Diwali and that would be that. Her wardrobe consisted of very limited number of clothes, most of which were Chutki's cast offs. Whatever fancy dresses she owned were gifted to her either by Vikrant or by his parents for the engagement. She had kept them carefully knowing fully well that she will have to recycle those for her wedding functions. She was not complaining but the statement that we have spared you no comfort' was a bit rich coming from the woman who bought the cheapest dress that she could get even when it was just once in a year. Vibha was not an ungrateful girl; she was grateful to them for taking her in, raising her, but she knew that there was lot of difference between the way she and Chutki were treated. Her Mami was still ranting. Her last sentence caught her attention.
Mami: ... you are so arrogant. You will not get any food for the next two days.
Even this kind of punishment was not uncommon. She quietly turned and went to the kitchen, where she usually slept. Although she slept in the kitchen, she could not sneak in a bite or two of food as she thought it immoral to steal in one's own home. Any hopes that anyone else from the household would sneak in food for her were long lost.
That day she couldn't sleep because she was feeling very hungry. She kept tossing and turning on her mattress which was laid down on the kitchen floor. Suddenly she felt her phone vibrate. It was her fianc Vikrat calling.
Vikrant: Hi! How are you?
Vibha: I am fine. Why are you calling me so late at night? Is everything okay?
Vikrant: Yes. I was just missing you. So I wanted to hear your voice. But why are you still awake?
Vikrant: No, tell what's the matter? Are you hungry? Did she not give you food?
Vikrant: No, answer me truthfully.
Vibha: Yes. She thought I was being rude to her and so I am not supposed to have anything to eat for the next two days.
Vikrant: I am taking you out for lunch tomorrow and then will come down for dinner the next day. That way you will at least get one meal per day.
Vibha: Thanks Vikrant.
Vikrant: Any time Vibs. Love you darling.
Vibha: Love you Vik. Bye Good night.
After this she slept peacefully knowing that she would be getting some food at least.
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