SHE A Serial By Varalotti Rengasamy Episode 8 “Shalini, I have a strong inkling that we will make a great couple. I am not asking your hand in marriage. Why not we live together for a while and see if it will work out?” Jaggis proposal came out of the blue. It shocked Shalini so much so that she let her coffee cup fall down and spread on her saree. Jaggi was apologetic. He picked up the cup. “I am absolutely sorry, Shalini. Talking directly is the only way known to me. Think it over and let me know. Feel free to say no. But please remember that neither Yes nor No will not and should not affect our friendship.” Shalini had not recovered from the shock still. She mumbled a barely audible ok and left the scene. Shalini was continuously thinking of Jaggi’s proposal. Not that having a physical relationship with the handsome and youthful Jaggi had not crossed her mind at all. She knew only too well that she was no saint. And that she would not be able to sustain the crusty, celibate life of a single woman for long. Eventually like every other woman she wanted to meet her “soul mate” , fall blindly in love with him, marry him and live happily everafter. She was not a prude. Even during her teens she used to pass comments on handsome boys, a habit which continued even after marriage. That quality had irritated Rishi, no end. Since he did not have the habit of ogling, Shalini casting glances at handsome young men fanned his jealousy. But Captain Ramnath was a different ball game. He would spare no woman, who came his way. He would glance, stare, ogle and if possible try to say hello to her, with his usual line, “Forgive me, beti, are you not Col.Krishnan’s daughter?” When Shalini buttonholed him on this quality, his reply was an old joke. “I may not be permitted to eat the food. But nothing prevents me from having a look at the menu card. And have a feel of it.” He woud say with a wink. Shalini’s was soundly grounded in her values both traditional and modern - another legacy from her father. Unlike the preachy moralists, Shiva did not suffer hard to hold on to the moral high ground. It was not fear that drove him to be moral and upright; it was all a matter of personal taste for him. This rare approach to morality helped Shiva to have an impeccable character and more than that filled his mind with compassion when he sat on judgment on moral offences at his office. Shalini, was therefore, righteously shocked by this idea of “living in sin” and that too with a younger man. Not that Jaggi’s intentions were dishonourable. In Jaggi’s ‘indecent proposal’ she only found an an earnest desire for a permanent relationship. It was at the same time a cautious approach of a person who was ‘once bitten’ by the institution of marriage. Still she could not decide one way or other. She left it at that until the circumstances forced her to jump on to one side of the wall. Three months had passed since Jaggi had advanced the bold proposal. And she had been a chaste divorcee for six months. She was surprised to see an expensive wedding invitation in her mailbox. It was Rishi’s. He was marrying his second cousin. Shalini had met that girl once or twice. She was much younger to her, a village belle endowed with sharp feautures and ample proportions. What she lacked was education. She had not even finished her schooling. And of course, when you see her, ‘class’ was one word which would never cross your mind except by negative implication. Shalini pulled out the ostentatious card from the cover. One thing hit her like a flash of lightning. Captain loved simplest of proverbs. At times he would say something as docile as “Character is an important thing” and would even be proud of having invented a proverb. ‘Captainisms’ as Shalini had branded them were simple to the point of being a truism and served only to irritate the really educated. Rishi’s wedding invitation contained a ‘captainism’ which was designed to hurt Shalini. ‘At times education can be a reason for one’s downfall.’ Shalini did not miss the stab. Later in the evening Shalini got a call on her mobile. Captain Ramnath, her ex father-in-law. . “Am I talking to Miss Shalini Shiva?” “Yes.” “This is Captain Ramnath. Got Rishi’s wedding card? Please DO NOT come. You see, Miss Shalini, within a year after the divorce, I have found another girl, a better girl for my son. “But I challenge you, you wont and you cant find another man for you in ten years. For a girl drunk by her own intellect, this should have a sobering effect.” “Objection, Captain. Objection. I have already found my man and am living with him. And you know, Captain, I have got a better deal. I did not have to search for an uneducated second cousin to prove my worth. And that silly saying on the card is proof enough of your inferiority complex.” Shalini disconnected. She was surprised at herself. How did she decide to accept Jaggi’s invitation just like that? And how could she speak with such a sting? No, Captain tried to insult me and I had to sting back, just to guard my self-esteem.