Chapter 1

The balance sheet of my life= mess

Our life is a balance sheet

Sorrows are the liabilities

They make us feel low but

also, help us enjoy the essence of living

 i.e., the assets called ‘joys.’

I looked around the dazzling kaleidoscope of the strobe lights, the highlight of the evening even as my batchmates called me up the stage to shake a leg. We had gathered for the reunion of the St. Lawrence batch of 2015.

The 2015 musketeers… that’s what everyone called our batch. It was nostalgic to see everyone after so many years, particularly after things were looking up after the pandemic. God knew I needed this break desperately after the forgettable lousy couple of years that had passed, and I wasn’t mentioning the pandemic. But, of course, it was way before that… my personal lockdown.

Dance and I were the perennial nemeses.… I danced with my two left ones!! But still, Rasik Mathur stood gyrating in his trademark glazed leather pants. I watched the women around drool over that toned piece of muscle. Seven years did nothing to dampen his aura.

Rasik was the nectar we the girl bees swarmed over back in college! But he didn’t care. Breaking hearts was his favorite pastime. That rectangular face and the tanned rough skin accentuated by the beautiful night orbs that turned blue when he was in the mood… no, I won’t visit that. I was his last victim, and he had left me vulnerable…

I hailed from a two-tier city and was from a strict upbringing. My father was strictly against coming to Mumbai for studies from the secured Indore. More like he wanted me under his thumb, and I was a born rebel. I wanted to pursue a career in finance, and what better than the proverbial economic capital of the country?

So I had practically run away from home at 18 with my mother’s blessings and a disgruntled father’s ultimatum to return after my graduation to the guy he had planned to tie me down to!

In the first year here, I decided to stay back. I was finally living on my own, albeit in the hostel, but that little corner gave me a strange sense of independence I had craved for all my life. So I, Vandana Choksey, finally had an autonomous existence…

I led my life to the fullest, scoring well in exams in the next three years. I made some great friends, and the icing on the cake was getting a bank job that would give me the chance to complete my MBA in finance.

It was in the third year that Rasik had approached me. He was weak in Accounts and needed my help. I was overwhelmed by the fact that the richest and the most handsome dude in college had shown interest in me… I was a simpleton, and he was… well, the stud.

We met in the library frequently.

“Vandy…” He often called me that, and hearing the modification of my name in that sweet deep voice gave me goosebumps every single time. “… So what do you think of this balance sheet?”. He once asked during my coaching sessions in the library about a month after we had first begun to talk.

“Um… not bad. But I think the receivables are a bit on the higher side, and that makes no sense given the vision of the company…” I explained.

“…Ah… you are brilliant, Vandy. My father would have been proud to have you as a daughter.” He said in passing as he scrolled over the balance sheet once again.

I blushed. I thrived in praises heaped on me, mainly coming in from unexpected quarters. Rasik, it seemed from the way he stared at me, the way his eyes followed me as I moved into the library to find the books, that I was the only float for his drowning self!

We were soon a couple, not that we held hands and strolled in the campus or even watched a movie together. Nothing… we only met in the library, and then he was off after our lesson. My friends had warned me against the Casanova of the college, but my blinders were tightly fitted. So I refused to see the red flags.

My best buddy Anshuman was against my ‘relationship’.

“Vandu, you shouldn’t see that jerk. He is up to no good.” Anshuman once said when we were eating together in the cafeteria. It was three months into my meetings with Rasik.

“Ansh, relax, alright? I know you mean well…” Anshuman was one of the select few who knew about my tryst back home. “…Rasik needs my help. That’s all.”

“Are you sure, Vandu? Because you haven’t been yourself ever since that asshole barged into your life. Your marks last term haven’t been the best, and you know you should do well to get that campus placement. HMBD ltd is the multinational coming over to scout new employees… don’t you know that? This is your chance.”

“Ansh… please. I know what I am doing.” I was irritated because the guy had hit a nerve. My marks were good but not the best according to my regular standards. He reminded me that it was vital that I aced across every subject so that my campus recruitment would be inevitable.

But how could I explain that to my traitorous heart? I was half in love with Rasik, his voice, his dimples as he smiled, the deep cleft in his chin that was enhanced with a day-old stubble… My insides turned into mush whenever his hand accidentally brushed mine or whenever I found him staring at me and looking away whenever I caught him. Was this love?

I got my answer a month before my final exams, the last day before we had study leave. Rasik invited me to a nearby café. I was over the moon. So finally, was he going to confess his feelings?

I wore my best salwar-kameez and found him waiting for me. But he didn’t smile… What was wrong?

We had an American cappuccino each, and he held my hand across the table, but instead of feeling the warmth, I felt the chill.

“Uh… Vandana…” What happened to Vandy? Why was he so formal I wondered as he continued. “… look… I want to thank you for helping me out with my studies. You are a wonderful person, but I think you have the wrong idea about everything.”

“What are you talking about, Rasik?” I released my hand, trying to salvage my pride or whatever was left of it.

“I heard some rumors about us being a couple, and the other day when Radha asked you, you didn’t deny either… so I thought…”

“…What? What did you think? That I was interested in a guy like you?” I tried not to cry and act strong.

“Oh, thank God then, Vandy, I am so relieved. So fine then… I will get going. Good luck with the exams.”

Saying he left the café leaving behind a half-consumed concoction that had gone cold just like my heart. I had just faced an unrequited love… It was my fault. I had expected too much or read more than was needed into our camaraderie.

The music changed into blaring, and I was jerked back to the present. It was seven years, and the hurt was still fleetingly there. I hugged myself as I saw Rasik feel up a woman close by, which put me off. How did I not realize this seven years ago? Now that I think of it, that very heartbreaking event in a way led to the catastrophe that followed me two years after I was out of college.

“Vandu…” I heard Anshuman call out to me as he balanced our drinks, maneuvering through curious classmates who were calling out to him. He was a popular guy, sweet and reliable. It was him who helped me get my life on track. I was living to tell the tale because of him…

I looked down at my wrist. The faint marks of the torture remained despite two surgeries. Nevertheless, it was a potent reminder of my life two years ago…

A wretched life that began towards the end of 2017 and ended in 2019… I shivered in the cold a little more than usual and felt the embers of my panic attack being stroked.

I felt that raspy voice whisper into my ear, the pricky beard roughing its way along my cheek, and I began to palpitate. I felt those calloused palms rubbing their way along my arms, and a chill ran down my spine.

My legs almost gave away, but Anshuman reached me right then, holding me close to his warmth and taking me away from the crowd. We exited the club room and walked outside… I was on autopilot, and Ansh didn’t utter a word. He knew everything I was going through… We walked to the open terrace, and as I took in the evening breeze, my palpitations began to subside.

Would I ever be able to get over the nightmare? I still saw him in my dreams, his green eyes, a rarity in our country that had me spellbound firmly into their grips and later terrorized the daylights out of me….

That was Anand… Anand Pal, the man who almost killed me, the man who haunted my dreams even today… the man who almost left me splintered for life.

It was the Christmas party of 2017 in our office, and that’s when it announced its arrival…

It all began with an innocent friend request….


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