Nita woke up in the morning to a lot of activity going on in the flat opposite their’s. The flat was shut for many months so Nita was a bit curious to see who were moving in. Her eyes met another pair; both smiled at each other. The friendly lady Kusum, greeted her and told her that they had come from Bangalore for a month. Their only daughter Ila was engaged to get married to a boy who lived in Mumbai and they preferred the wedding to be there as well. A bit hesitantly Kusum told Nita that she might be needing some help now and then to which Nita readily reassured her.
Kusum had come there with her husband and daughter Ila. Ila was a sweet, cheerful girl. She was engaged to Rahul, a highly qualified mathematician, who was working at Mumbai I.I.T. It was an alliance through a matrimonial site and Ila seemed to be quite happy about it. Kusum and Nita had become friends too. Sometimes kusum would drop in to borrow a rolling pin to make chappatis or the idli maker to make idlis or to ask for the number of the local general store. They would have small chats in their spare time. Nita got to know that Rahul, the would be groom, was very passionate about Maths and he had been looking for a girl with Maths background, for his life partner. Ila was a post graduate in Mathematics and that is why the match had been made.
The preparations in Kusum household carried on and the month passed by in a wink. Kusum had told Nita that they didn’t have too many relatives so outstation relatives were not expected. She had invited Nita and her family as their local guests. The wedding date arrived. Nita with her family was there to attend the wedding. The groom’s side too had a small number of guests. The marriage was solemnised and Ila went away with Rahul to her new home.
The next day, as per the custom, Ila with Rahul came to meet her parents. They had a meal together and went back. During that short while, Kusum cast some enquiring glances at Ila, wanting to know about her first twenty four hours after wedding. Ila was pretty non-committal in her response. Kusum mentioned this to Nita, during one of their chats but both agreed that it was too short a time for Ila to speak anything, specially when Rahul was also there.
After a week of the wedding, Kusum with her husband left for their hometown. Kusum thanked Nita profusely for all the help that she had extended during the past 5–6 weeks. With promises to keep in touch, the new friends separated.
After about a month, Nita got a call from Ila asking her if she could come over to spend a day with her, for she was feeling homesick. Nita readily asked her to come over. Ila came and Nita had prepared goodies for her just like mothers do for their daughters. Nita tried to strike some light conversation with her, asking about Rahul, his parents etc? Did she feel settled at her new home? They were the usual string of motherly questions. Ila with a small laugh said,
“Aunty, guess what we did on our first night?”
Nita was quite taken aback by this direct and embarrassing question. She muttered,
“First night? Well, you tell me what you did, Ila.”There was a faint blush on Nita’s face.
Ila started with her narration.
“Well Rahul entered the room, came to me and handed me some papers.There was a glint of mystery in his eyes. I asked him what were they? To which he gushed that they were Maths papers!I couldn’t believe my ears when he said that since both of us loved Maths, he had got Maths papers for me. He went on to say that he had specially chosen the papers with some very tricky problems and he was sure I would love to crack them. Completely at a loss as to how to react, I looked at those sum staring at me, as if challenging me. They were high Mathematics tricksters and I was in no mood for them. Making an excuse of being too sleepy, I wriggled my way out for then and pretended to fall asleep; not before noticing the disappointment writ large on Rahul’s face.
Laughing out aloud, Ila paused. Not knowing how to react, Nita too joined her in the laughter. In some time both retired to bed. Next morning after breakfast, promising to make such visits when ever she felt like, Ila took leave. Ila’s laughter kept ringing in Nita’s ears for a long while; was there something else in that laughter? Nita could not quite make it.
A month past by, Nita was busy with her house guests, who had come to attend her silver anniverasry.. One day when she returned from a movie with her sisters and her sisters-in-law, her help told her that Ila had called. Nita thought she would call Ila as soon as her house guests would leave. Then Ila slipped completely out of her mind.
One afternoon, while cleaning her cabinet drawer, Nita came across the wedding card of Ila and Rahul. Then she remembered about the phone call. She did not have Ila’s number so she called her mother, Kusum. After the pleasant greetings, Nita enquired about Ila. Kusum without mincing words told Nita that Ila had left Rahul for good and had returned home. Nita had not expected this. She fell silent for a moment. Kusum continued and narrated in details what had happened.
The first night shocker that Ila had told Nita seemed just the beginning. Ila got to know that Rahul had not taken any leave post wedding and had plans to go to work everyday. Before leaving for work the very next day after their wedding, Rahul reminded his new bride to finish off the Maths paper that he had given her the previous night. Ila could not believe her ears. Rahul’s mother, present in the room could comprehend the bewilderment on Ila’s face. She knew her son very well so she suggested to her son affectionately that he should take his bride somewhere out in the evening.
“ Rahul, why don’t the two of you go out in the evening today for dinner? Come home soon and Ila will be ready.”
Now there was bewilderment on Rahul’s face just before leaving home. Ila was happy. The thought of going out with her husband, filled her with excitement and she started thinking about what would she wear. The whole day flew past in waiting and she never even remembered to cast a look at the Maths paper lying on the desk, waiting to be solved. The evening brought Rahul back home to a beautifully dressed Ila and immediately both left.
Rahul took her around for a walk around the I.I.T. campus showing her his work area, labs and classes. Ila took interest in looking around but was a bit taken aback when Rahul took her to the canteen there for dinner! Their first dinner out and in a college canteen? She felt overdressed for the place. Still it was a time together so Ila felt good about it. Most of their conversation revolved around Maths though. Ila was finding it a bit too much. Suddenly Rahul asked her if she had been able to solve the Maths paper. Ila casually replied that she had not found any time for that. Rahul was astounded. His mood changed and a visibly disappointed Rahul brought his confused bride back home.
Thus it continued between the two of them. Rahul had nothing to talk but Maths. At times Ila acceeded to his wish and Rahul with all his eagerness, would sit with her, marveling at tricky Maths sums. He seemed to be interested in Ila only if she enjoyed doing Maths puzzles, discuss problems or was interested in any thing to do with Maths. Ila had no friends there. As luck would have it, Ila’s father was sent on a six month posting to a remote place in Africa. Her mother too had accompanied him, so Ila could not even go to her parents for that period. She didn’t share all this with them as she did not want to disturb them from such a distance. Hence the agony continued.
Ila’s parents returned from Africa via Mumbai. They were very eager to meet their daughter after so long. So to give her a surprise, they just came over to her place, unannounced. Rahul’s mother opened the door and was shocked to find them. She ushered them in. Ila’s parents were a bit unsettled seeing the shock on her face. When they wanted to meet Ila, Rahul’s mother took them to Ila’s room. They saw their daughter there; sitting on the bed, with papers strewn all around her. A bit confused, Ila’s mother called out to her. There was no response. Ila seemed too engrossed in writing something. Then Ila’s father called out to her. Still there wasn’t any response. Now a bit scared, her parents went up to her and held her hand. Ila looked up. A disheveled face, with a pair of lost eyes with terrible dark circles, looked at them. A faint recognition seemed lurking behind and she patted the bed asking them to sit.
“Appa, can you help me solve this sum please? I just can’t get the answer right” came a feeble, shaken voice.
“Ila, my child, what has happened to you?What sums are you talking about?” cried her mother.
“Amma, I have to finish this paper before Rahul comes in the evening. If I don’t , he will not be happy. He will not talk to me then. Try Amma, you too try please, get me this answer,” muttered out a half crying, disturbed Ila.
“My child!My child! what has happened to you? Why do you speak like this?”wailed Ila’s father.
They both turned to look at Rahul’s mother, who stood there with a blank , lost face.
Ila’s parents, immediately packed some of her clothes and literally dragged Ila out with them and took her to Bangalore with them. They sought medical help and Ila was under treatment since then. A shocked Nita could not even console the sobbing Kusum.
A chill ran down Nita’s spine after Kusum stopped. She remembered the call that Ila had made to her and she had missed.
Could she have saved Ila then from an obviously obsessed man?