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challenge 18


By Neel Anil Panicker

I am Pooja. Pooja Sethi in an earlier avatar, and Pooja Matrani in an avatar before that. This is my story. The story of my life. The story of the different Poojas that I was and the slow but steady metamorphosis into the Pooja that I am today.

I began life some forty years back as Pooja Matrani. I was the second of three children. My father was a government servant employed with the Ministry of Urban Development Affairs.

We lived here, in the heart of Delhi, at RK Puram, in a comfy three room government accommodation. My parents, both Sindhis had migrated from undivided Punjab at the time of Partition.  My mother was a Matriculate, which in her time, was a big thing, considering that education was something that was a prized commodity, something which was considered of value only for the men folk, a means to a living.

Women were simply cattle to be bought and sold in the marriage market, their only worthwhile role being to beget and rear children besides cooking as per the gastronomic tastes of all others.

My father too subscribed to this antediluvian philosophy. In fact, he scored one better. On most weekends, his favourite form of recreation would be staying put in his bedroom, drinking and eating to his heart’s glory. He would have company though: his wife, our mother.

There she would be, closeted inside for hours together, only occasionally coming out, scurrying to and fro from the kitchen to the bedroom, her face, bruised and battered, her walk, getting limper as night descended, the heart wrenching screams breaking through the four walls and bombarding our infantile senses until we fell asleep, dullened by the maniacal sensory violence that was inflicted.

It was only much later that I got a taste of what mother must have gone through.

I was eighteen when one day, just back from college, mother collapsed in front of my eyes.

Two hours later, she died at the hospital.

She was too young to die and I was still too young to have learned to live without her.

My brothers, both a year elder and younger to me, took things in their stride, and life soon returned back to normalcy for all except me.

Being the only woman of the house, I did what was expected of me. I took over the kitchen, the laundry, the cleaning and general upkeep of the house besides ensuring that my studies were on an even keel.

A month into this and my father started abusing me. It started with simple things__ a pat on my behind while turning away from him, a well timed brush against my breasts while passing by to full blown feet massage sessions that invariably led to he placing his arms around me.

Appalled, repulsed and shocked by this wanton display of degenerative behaviour by my own father, I soon began to think of escaping from the hell hole my life had turned into.

Succour came in the form of Ronnie, a boy roughly my age, who I had noticed would stand outside the colony gates every time I passed by, be it while on my way back and forth from college, or when stepping out to buy milk and groceries, all tasks which I had to do and which my brothers or father found it below their dignity to undertake.

I found myself returning his smiles and soon enough we started talking.

Thereafter, we met a couple of times outside college and once when he noticed my swollen eyes and inquired of it, I couldn’t stop myself and blurted out the truth.

I told him that my life had turned into a living hell and that I needed to escape.

He understood my plight and offered to marry.

I grabbed at his offer. There wasn’t much to think anyways. Ronnie was a pleasant young man, a graduate, worked at a garment store, was an orphan (said his parents had died when he was a child).

A week after I ran away with him, taking with me only a small bag that contained besides a week’s dresses, an old black and white photograph of my mother, the only physical connection that was left of her.

The following day we got married in a Arya Samaj Temple; a couple of his close friends being the only attendees.

We moved into a rented accommodation, a small two room upper floor barsati not very far from where I stayed.

My new life had begun. I had moved on from Pooja Matrani to Pooja Sethi.


Ronnie Sethi was his name, my husband’s, the man I fell in love with and married, the man I thought was my saviour and one who would help me come out of the living hell my life had turned into.

He was easy on the eye; broad shoulders rested over a moon shaped face topped with a shock of fashionably cut curly hairs. Plus, the ocean blue eyes, an ever present  delightfully naughty glint in them accentuated with a matching smile was enough to make any girl go week in the knees.

The overall effect for me was magnified ten times over for I looked at him as my Prince Charming who had galloped and rescued his damsel in distress.

Initially, things were great, for the first year at least.

Plain happy to have left behind a hateful existence besides being young and in love, I was brimming with energy and high hopes for a lovely future with the man I loved.

Ronnie had bagged a job at a bag manufacturing company and would leave at sharp ten in the morning and be back by seven.

I would wake up with the sun, wash the overnight dishes, prepare breakfast and pack his lunch and  see him off with a kiss.

The whole day would be spent managing household chores, the evenings waiting in anticipation for his return and sharing beautiful moments together.

I was more of a listener and since Ronnie loved talking, I would sit across from him and listen with riveting attention as he spoke passionately about his job, the work, the world around him.

Things went smoothly for the first year but began to go wrong after that.

At first it were just small things. His hours turned a wee erratic; he would leave an hour or so early, come back a couple of hours later than usual in the evenings.

When I would question him about it he would simply give some lame excuse about added pressure at the office and throw words like workload and targets et al, all things I wasn’t too well aware of.

But then slowly I saw that he was clamming up, wouldn’t reply to me, the earlier long, detailed talks full of unbridled excitement gave way to short, staccato bursts, all questions being answered in unemotional, monosyllables.

In the ensuing months things further worsened as he started coming home pitch drunk, delayed handing over money to buy essential grocery items, and began to become irritable when I started questioning him aboiut his changed behaviours.

Things hit a low point when during one such questioning, Ronnie, his eyes, a bloody red and burning with uncontrollable rage, lunged at me and hit me, a hard, painful whack on my face.

I fell down on the floor and immediately blanked out.

When I regained consciousness, I pulled myself up and examined myself in the mirror. My eyes were a bloody mass, black and swollen. Besides, I had lost a tooth.

That evening Ronnie didn’t come home and even the day after.

Anxious and worried, I walked to his factory, the entire three kilometres on foot. At the factory gates I was met by a couple of his colleagues and it was then that I learnt the truth.

Ronnie, my husband, the one for whom I had left my family and the man who I thought was my saviour was nothing but a swine, a lowly scoundrel who was now living in with another woman, a woman ten years elder to him, a woman who worked at the same factory as he.

I found the ground below me had parted and I was slipping into bottomless dark dungeon.

I felt deeply hurt and betrayed. Soon it gave way to anger that finally manifested in sheer hatred towards Ronnie.

That evening I reached home, packed my clothes, and stepped out, never ever to return.

I was walking away from Ronnie, walking away from marriage, walking away from hell, one more time, in just an year.

I was back on my own, again. Only this time I had no home to go to, no one to hope for.

I had burnt all my bridges. There was no going back in life. The only way was ahead.

The future, however uncertain it seemed, beckoned me.

I stepped forward. I had no option. I was back to being Pooja.


…Twelve years later

“And the award for the ‘Most Outstanding Business Manager of The Year’ goes to Pooja.”

The massive 700-seater plush triple deck auditorium of Coaching Time erupted in thunderous applause.

All eyes zeroed in on the first row, where seated amidst the CEO, Director, and senior management was a spectacled woman attired in a subtle off white business suit that further accentuated her charming personality.

Acknowledging the many handshakes, claps and wildly ecstatic shouts of approval that came her way she elegantly made her way to the stage__confidently, assuredly, happily.

She had buried her past and now there was no looking back. This was her rebirth, her reincarnation, her new life.

A new Pooja had taken centre stage, a Pooja who was strong, financially, emotionally, and mentally.

This was a Pooja who had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat; who now looked at life in the eye, unblinkingly;   whose second name was OPTIMISM.

Pooja, the Optimist was what they called her.

©neelanilpanicker2017 #fiction #shortstory #reena’sexplorationchallengeweekend#18  #1661words

3 thoughts on “neelwrites/nolookingback/fiction/reena’sexplorationchallengeweek#18/shortstory/28/12/2017

  1. Dependence often awakens the beast in a negative partner, the assumption being that ‘she has nowhere to go’. The only thing that helps people survive is a streak of boldness and independent decision-making.

    This is one of your best stories- well narrated and ‘Coaching Time’ appears to be the title of your short story collection. 🙂


    1. Absolutely true. I am indebted to you for challenging me week after week with such thought provoking prompts.
      The entire credit goes to you. Thanks a lot, Reena.

      Liked by 1 person

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