SHE A Serial By Varalotti Rengasamy Episode 12 A sense of loneliness and emptiness filled Shalini as she saw Latha and Natasha going off for security check in the airport. Though her heart could only rejoice and pray for them, she felt a bit left out and longed for some companionship. Jaggi and even Rishi pervaded her mind. To rein in her thoughts, she leafed through a glossy magazine when a catchy ad in the personal ads section captured her undivided attention . “Wanted female companion of any age for a handsome man of 50 healthy, well-placed and without commitments. Respond to….” Well, Shalini was not going to respond to that weird advertisement. But she had something weirder in her mind. Yes, she was going to advertise for relationship. It was not exactly the wisest decision taken by her.She was not sure if her father would have been proud or even tolerant of her, if she had ever done this while he were round. But she wanted to try every thing while the going was still good. Two weeks later the magazine carried an even more rivetting ad. “Thirty year old woman wants a male companion. Initially for a live-in relationship, eventually for something permanent and committed. Respond to….. Shalini’s mail box was flooded with responses from all over the country. Spammed was more the word. For the sake of curiousity, to satisfy the auditor in her, she counted them patiently – 2238 in all. My God! Do that many men read a woman’s magazine? And are there so many men desperate for female company? But very predictably, 95% of the applications were worthless. They were from gigolos, self-styled studs and males who had nothing but sex in their leering minds - day or night, rain or shine. She shortlisted twenty applications for a more detailed scrutiny. As she was sorting the mails she found one gaudy envelope which definitely was not in response to the ad. It was in cream and red with tassles and glitter, surely an invitation. She thought it might was from somebody known to her father. Or from a former colleague. And then she looked at the from address. She was puzzled. It was from her ex father-in-law, the Captain. But what could be the occasion? Rishi’s marriage to his second cousin from the village had been more than three years ago. Had Rishi divorced that woman? There was a glee in her heart, a tad wicked, which persisted till she pried open the invitation and read it. Her face fell. And then she frowned seeing a ‘Captainism’ aimed at her. Shalini had not forgotten the Captainism printed on Rishi’s wedding invitation. ‘At times education can be a reason for one’s downfall.’ At that time it was like a pin-prick, which vested her with the courage to accept Jaggi’s live-in proposal. But this time the Captainism printed on the card caused a dull ache in her heart. While the earlier one activated her, this one paralysed her. She was angry earlier; but now sad, terribly sad. And she missed her father, her mother and even missed Jaggi. She read the Captainism for the hundredth time. “A woman who is not a mother is not a full woman.” It was simple to the point of a truism and sadly only served to revealed the brusque Captain’s lack of proper non-military education and his poor command over the language. But still it hurt. Especially so because of the subject matter of that invitation. The invitation was for the naming ceremony of Rishi’s second child, a baby girl. The invitation carried a photo of the baby- cute with dark curls and limpid black eyes. She could gather from that invitation that Rishi had managed to beget two children within a span of three years and that the first one was a boy, the second a girl. Shalini now had a feeling that the world was racing past her in full speed letting her stagnate at the same place. She wryly felt that even if she had to stay in the same place, she would have to get her act together and move faster. She took a second longing look at the baby and tossed the invitation away and trying to focus on the job at hand – a job that was at once pleasant and unenviable, to choose her future live-in partner from among the twenty most eligible aspirants.