Last month, my stories, “It wasn’t Rape” and “Parents or Spouse – I made my Choice”, received overwhelming reviews. Thrilled, I was working on my next issue when I received an email from Pankaj Rai, a connection on my LinkedIn, asking me to take him through the process to share his story with me. Currently, he is working with a pharmaceutical company as a Director, Analytics Data Strategy in Hyderabad. I prefer one-one meeting with the people, who want to share their experiences, which they feel is worth sharing with the public. This approach helps me in analysing the validation of the experience by reading their expressions, emotions and body language. I called him on the number provided in the email to know more about him and the experience that he wanted to share and why he thought that his experience was worth enough to be written as a story. Towards the end of the discussion, I asked him if, by any chance, he was planning to travel to Pune. He replied, “I will be in Pune during the weekend of Independence Day to meet my cousin and his family.” “That’s perfectly alright. Let me know where will you put up and we can meet accordingly”, I said. “I will be in Kharadi, Near IT Park,” he responded. “In that case, let’s meet in Radisson, on Sunday, 14th August at 11 AM. You can share your experience over brunch”, I proposed. Pankaj answered, “That’s perfectly alright. Let’s meet. Thanks for your time”.
Pankaj, a native of Chandigarh, is a graduate from IIT-Roorkee, passed out in 1999. He followed it with MBA from the National University of Singapore in 2001. He got married in 2007 to his colleague at that point in time and now they have an 8 years old son. Before moving to Hyderabad in 2014, he was working with another leading pharmaceutical company in Ahmedabad for FOUR years.
On 14th August, when I reached Radisson, Pankaj was waiting for me in the lobby. Wearing blue jeans with black t-shirt, high-power glasses, this fair complexion, 5’10” tall guy with average built was looking very studious and was totally justifying his stressful job. Interestingly, his head had all hair intact, thick and shining black, giving an impression as if he had just walked out from a saloon. After our handshake, we looked for an empty table and made ourselves comfortable on dark-brown colour armchairs. After sharing about our jobs, workplace challenges, family details, etc. he was getting anxious to share his experience, which according to him, was haunting him and giving him nightmares. So, I asked him to proceed with his story.
“It was my 37th birthday on 21st October 2014; my story starts from this day. We were in Ahmedabad. Facebook, WhatsApp and other social and mobile apps have made it easy for people to remember birthdays. While most of my well-wishers sent their wishes on FB, LinkedIn and WhatsApp, few closed ones took the pain of dialling my number and wishing. My wife had invited all my friends residing in Ahmedabad and few of my colleagues for a dinner party at home. There was one more reason behind throwing this party, I had accepted an offer from my current organization and was getting ready to join them on 03rd November 2014.
As I was responding to birthday wishes on my Facebook and LinkedIn, I received a birthday message from Shamita Mukherjee on FB, ’Happy Birthday Pankaj Sir. On this special day, I am wishing you wealth and success, for today and every day’. It struck my mind immediately. Shamita and I had worked in same organization for THREE years in Gurgaon. It was our first job. She was my junior by two years. Once I moved out of Gurgaon, she tried to reach out to me on few occasions through LinkedIn, Orkut, etc. but I could hardly respond to her. When I checked Facebook details, I realized that we were connected since February 2010, but she never answered or commented on any of my status updates or photos, etc. She never sent any message on my birthday or on any festival in last four years. Getting a birthday message from her actually surprised me. I immediately replied to her message and initiated a conversation with her. A short conversation on FB, made me aware that she was married since 2006 and staying in Hyderabad with her husband, a Software Architect, working with a leading IT organization, and have two daughters, 5 years and 3 years old. On her FB, she had not posted any profile photo. In fact, her photo album on FB comprised only of images of nature and animals.
Shamita was a 5’6” tall, fair complexion, slim and beautiful lady. She would always carry a smile on her face and twinkle in her eyes. Her body type would suggest that she was fitness freak. In our organization, she was popular for her varied hairstyles and the collection of her Churidar Suits and Sarees. She was also active in extracurricular activities in our organization meant for employee engagement. Though we were not on the same team, we had to communicate often due to interdependence of our departments. My other colleagues made an observation that she was having a crush on me or as we say in local language, she was giving me hints and clues of her interest in me, so that I take initiative. I too noticed changes in her behaviour and body language whenever I would be around. On few occasions, she also brought homemade lunch for me, which I never accepted. She would often send jokes on my mobile. Though, her feelings were clear and behaviour was demonstrative enough to be observed by any, I never responded to her.
In our subsequent communication after my birthday, I learned that though she belongs to Bengali ethnicity, her father, now retired from Armed Forces, was posted in Hyderabad when she was working in Gurgaon had decided to get her settled in Hyderabad. She has an elder brother and a sister. I briefed her about my wife and kid and told her about my relocation to Hyderabad. We also exchanged our contact numbers.
In Hyderabad, my organization had made my initial stay arrangements in Green Park Hotel for 30 days. Meanwhile, I had to find a house to move in my family after the completion of my son’s academic year in school. Till then we settled with my visit to Ahmedabad at least once in every two weeks.
Though in last 10-15 days, Shamita remained in touch through WhatsApp, I was trying to find out the reason behind her reconnecting with me after so many years. I did ask her but never got any satisfactory answer. On 15th November, at around 11 AM, Shamita came to meet me at Green Park Hotel. She was wearing her trademark red and white colour Churidar suit but that sparkle in her eyes were missing. She had gained some weight; I guess that was primarily due to age and the birth of two kids. It looked like as though age was catching up with her fast, but then she was just 35 years old.
She said that after I left my job in Gurgaon; she continued in the organization for 6 – 7 months and then joined an organization in Hyderabad. By then, her brother had moved to Singapore, never to return. Her sister got married to a Vice President – Credit with a leading bank. Currently, they are staying in Mumbai. After she relocated to Hyderabad, her parents began to find a match for her. They found one through matrimony portal. She wasn’t interested in getting married but couldn’t oppose her father. She got married in 2007, to a guy who was 10 years older than her and was working with a leading IT organization. However, that marriage turned vicious from first night itself. He started abusing her from day one. Slapping her every now and then for no reason became his recreation. .He made her quit her job. She wasn’t allowed to talk to her friends or family. She wasn’t allowed to keep a mobile phone. Calls on landline number were re-directed to his mobile number. While going to office, he would lock the house from outside. Soon after marriage, the physical abuse took the form of sexual assault. He would get drunk often and use unnatural ways to have sex with her. He would have sex with her whenever he wanted and as he wanted.
She tried to communicate her trauma with her sister and parents but they expressed their helplessness and asked her to adjust. They told her to shower him with love and care and soon she would notice a change in his behaviour. However, nothing of that sort ever happened. Unfortunately, her both parents died in a road accident in 2010. When she couldn’t conceive after one and a half years of marriage, he made her sleep with one of his friends and shot their video so that she couldn’t tell anyone. She continued to suffer, until early this year, when she managed to run away from the house with her daughters, in February 2014. All this while, she could confide in with her best friend since college days and currently staying in same society where Shamita was staying with her husband. Her friend was able to help Shamita in whatever little way she could, within her limits.
I asked her, “Shamita, why aren’t you filing a police complaint. I am sure they will be able to help you”. She responded, “Pankaj, do you think, it is the first time that I am escaping from the house. Last time, when I did, he managed to convince the police that I was mentally unstable. Police asked me to return with him. After that, he tied me to the bed, assaulted me and didn’t give anything to eat for more than 10 days”. “So, how will you manage this time? I think you must leave this city and go somewhere else. Maybe you can join back our previous organization. They were happy with your work, I am sure they will rehire you”, I tried to console her. By this time, I was in a terrified state. I had no idea how someone could be so cruel. I was getting Goosebumps. “Yes, Pankaj, this time I will not return to his hell. I will try to go beyond his reach”, she said confidently. By the time we finished, it was 5 PM. “I must go now; I need to see my daughters, who are staying with one of my friend. I am so sorry to spoil your Saturday. I don’t know why I shared all this with you but I felt like sharing it with you”, She continued. “Maybe you are still in love with me. Are you?” I asked. She smiled and looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes (probably the only time she had smiled in the entire conversation) and said, “Maybe”.
I got busy with my new assignment, the new organization, and search of my house. The following weekend, I went to Ahmedabad. I told my wife about the conversation I had with Shamita. She was feeling sad for Shamita and asked me, if people like her husband, actually exists? I replied, “There are various kinds of people. We don’t know what goes on in the four walls of houses. We must not judge people by their external appearance”.
Finally, I found a THREE bedroom, a fully-furnished house in Begumpet and moved into it. That week, Shamita asked me to visit her in her paying guest accommodation on 13th December, and from there we were to go to visit her daughters staying with her friend in Trimulgherry area. I agreed to her proposal. She would visit her kids every weekend. She had recently joined an organization at a meagre salary of 18k INR. When I reached the address given by her, I found her standing near society gate. She apologized and said, “We cannot go to my room as the girl who I am sharing my room with, has some unexpected guests.” “That’s not a problem, get into the car, let’s go to meet your daughters,” I replied. We might have reached Paradise area when Shamita got a call from her friend to inform her that she was taking the girls to her in-law’s place as her father-in-law had suddenly taken ill. “Now, what should we do,” I asked her. “If you are comfortable, we can go to my house, but then you will be required to cook,” I continued. She nodded in affirmation. On the way, we bought vegetables and fish, which she said she wanted to cook. After reaching home, I showed her the house. While she was getting accustomed to the house, I prepared coffee for both of us. Having previously spent a day with her, listening to her painful experiences, this time, I didn’t want to make her cry or feel sad about what had happened. So, I started discussing the time when we were working together. I pulled a chair from the dining table to sit near her, while she was marinating fish; I began to chop tomatoes, onions, garlic, etc. as we continued to talk.
After lunch, she came close to me, looked into my eyes and asked, “Will you do me a favour”? I replied, “If it is in my hands, I certainly will.” “Will you help me in raising my daughters? Our world is not kind to girls. Currently, they are staying with my friend, but I don’t know how long I will be able to keep them there? Maybe you can keep them with you. Maybe you can sponsor them. It’s not about me. I can take care of myself, but I am worried about them”, she continued. “Shamita, I certainly can help you, but I also need to check with my wife. My wife is keen to adopt a daughter. Let me speak to her. You don’t need to worry about your daughters. Together we will take care of them and give them good education”. She hugged me tight with tears rolling down from her eyes. I could empathize with her. I could understand the fear of a mother towards her daughters.
While I was getting ready to drop her back at her paying-guest accommodation, she asked me if she could stay with me over the weekend. Thinking that may be the change of atmosphere will make her feel better, I told her, “If you are comfortable, then why not.” Later in the evening, she asked me, “Why you never acknowledged my love for you? Had you accepted my love, I would not have gone through what I did”? She came closer and hugged me. Before I could say something, she put her lips on mine. I didn’t even realise when we crossed our physical limit and began love-making. As I saw her without clothes, I could see bruises all over the body. There were marks of burns and cuts. She was often beaten by belts and shoes. I wasn’t certain if I made a right choice by letting her stay back.
After that we began to meet on weekdays as well, sometimes she would come to my office and from there we would go to my house, but often she would wait for me in Café Coffee Day closer to my house. Staying together overnight became usual. Every time we met, we indulged into the physical expression of love. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I was also feeling guilty for not acknowledging her love for me when I could. Probably, she would have lived a different life. Probably, she was destined to go through everything that she did. I still don’t know when did I make a mistake? Was it at the time when I didn’t acknowledge her love OR was it then when I was physically involved with her? It continued till mid-February 2015. In the meantime, when I visited Ahmedabad, I discussed with my wife about the journey of Shamita and her proposal of adopting her daughters. Initially, she was hesitant but then agreed to adopt one daughter. Shamita was euphoric to know this. Twice or thrice I saw Shamita, talking to her sister and brother. While her brother was coarse towards Shamita, her sister showed sibling compassion. Talking to her sister, Shamita would often start crying. She also gave me the number of her sister and brother, if I needed to contact her family, in the case of any emergency.
On 13th February, when I called Shamita to ask her about her Valentine’s Day plans, I got a message that her number was “out of reach.” I continued calling her throughout the evening and night but always got “out of reach” message. Worried and tensed, next day I reached the flat where she was staying as a paying guest. I was told that there was no one with this name. By now, my worry and anxiety turned into anger and frustration. I was upset that she lied to me. I continued to call on her mobile number and got the same “out of reach” message. I drove to her friend’s house, where she said she had kept her kids. Her friend opened the door. I saw two children playing there. I asked her friend, “Where is Shamita”? She asked a counter question, “Who are you”? “I am Pankaj. I got your address from Shamita. She told me that her daughters are staying with you. Last month, I was supposed to come to your place with her, but you had called her and told that you all were visiting your in-law’s house”, I explained to her. She listened to me and said, “Pankaj, I am Purvi. I don’t know what you are talking about. How could you meet Shamita, a person who had died one year ago”? “Died, Who? Are you out of your mind”, I questioned. “Pankaj, Shamita died on 15th February 2014. She committed suicide. She jumped from the 10th floor of that building (she pointed her finger)”, she said. “I don’t like pranks. I met her last weekend. We went for shopping. We watched a movie and had candlelight dinner. If this is a joke, this is in awful taste. I am going to report it to the police”, I told her angrily and left the place.
I reached the Café Coffee Day closer to my house and asked the manager if he had seen the lady, who used to come with me, in last 4-5 days. He gave me a confused look and asked, “Which Lady”? “We used to sit there, that corner table. Last week we came every day, remember”, I questioned him. “No Sir, you never came with any lady. You were always alone, though you always ordered for two coffees”. By this time, I was totally confused. I didn’t know what was happening with me. I was shivering with fear. I reached out to one of my friends, who was working at senior level in the telecom organization in credit and fraud departments, and shared the number of Shamita. I asked him if he could help me locate Shamita. He said that he needed 2-3 days of time. I didn’t know what to do? I was too scared to get into my house. I called Shamita’s sister. After 4-5 attempts, she answered my call. “Hello Didi, I am Pankaj, just want to know if Shamita has come to Mumbai?”, I asked. “How do you know Shamita,” she countered me. “Didi, I met her couple of months ago. We were in touch till last weekend, but now her number is not reachable. Before that we worked together for 3-4 years, around ten years ago”, I explained. “I don’t know what you are talking. Maybe you are drunk”, she said and disconnected the call. I tried calling her number of times, but she didn’t answer my calls. In an attempt to explain the situation, I sent numerous messages to her, but she didn’t reply. Later in the evening, she called back and said, “Pankaj, I don’t know what you are trying to say. You couldn’t have met or spoken to Shamita. It is impossible. She died ONE year ago. And the number that you gave was an old number of Shamita”, she tried explaining to me. When I told it to my wife, knowing about my affair with Shamita, she got furious and upset. The entire weekend I stayed in a hotel.
Over following week, I discovered that the number she used to call me from, was a dead number. It was last active in July 2006, probably until after a couple of months of Shamita’s marriage. The SIM card was destroyed. No new SIM card had been issued to that number. No one knows the whereabouts of Shamita’s husband. I met Purvi and apologized to her for my behaviour. She gave me recount of Shamita. “Shamita was one among my best friends in college. Even after completion of our graduation, we stayed in touch. I always liked to interact with her. She was livewire of our group, full of energy, positivity, motivation and champion of dumb charades. She wanted to do something useful with her life. After her marriage, I lost connection with her. In 2008, I was surprised to see her in our society; she was going somewhere with her husband. I shouted her name from the balcony. However, that time she was looking dull, probably, she was sick. Next day when I went to meet her, her flat was locked from outside. I went 4-5 times but saw her flat locked. One day when I was returning from her flat, I saw her standing near the window. We began to talk in sign language. Then I learned everything about her trauma. I shared it with my husband, but he discouraged me from interfering in her life. Once I went to her flat on a weekend. Her husband didn’t allow me to meet her. When I countered, he abused me. In 2010, I helped her in escaping, but her husband managed to get her back from the police station. Later he came to our place and picked up a fight with my husband and me.
On 15th February, last year, she sent her daughters to my home and told me to take care of them. She was planning to escape. One hour later, I heard a loud noise of something falling in society corridor. When I reached out, I saw her lying in the pool of blood. In her suicide note, she mentioned that she was fed-up of her life and hence decided to end it. Her husband got arrested but was released after 4-5 days. He knew that his daughters were staying with me, but he never came to take them. My husband is upset with me for keeping them. We are going to give them to the orphanage. We have already spoken to some of them”.
My wife, I am not sure if she had forgiven me or not, but she was certainly concerned about my health and well-being. I took one week leave from office, went to Ahmedabad and consulted a Psychiatrist. My therapist told me that this story was created by me. It was my illusion. He said that a thought of Shamita, on my birthday, let me create this story. According to him, on the day when I was responding to birthday wishes of people, her name might have appeared in my list of friends, which triggered my memories about her and one after another, the subconscious of my mind created story frames.
If I had not met Shamita and it had all been created by my subconscious mind, then how I got her mobile number? How I reached Purvi? How I reached her sister? How did I get to know about her daughters, her husband and his behaviour towards her? Everything that she had told me about her life was real.
After the incident, I moved to another house in Banjara Hills. We have adopted both daughters of Shamita. I am still confused about what has happened to me. A thought of those FOUR months gives me Goosebumps”.
As Pankaj completed sharing his experience, for a moment, I doubted if I was sitting with a real person. It was very scary. By my clock, it was 3 PM. We were finished with our brunch as well as a couple of rounds of coffee. I asked few questions to Pankaj, which he answered to my satisfaction, such as, why Shamita’s husband didn’t go to pick his daughters or why Purvi didn’t help Shamita to move out of that situation? As I believe in occult science, I understand what Pankaj is trying to say. Or maybe it was his illusion. We came out of the hotel and parted ways with a promise of staying in touch.
Few questions remained unanswered, how Pankaj reached kids of Shamita? Pankaj met Shamita in Gurgaon, how he found the address of her Hyderabad residence? How did he know that Shamita’s husband used to lock her from outside? There are so many things in our world that cannot be explained logically or medically. What do you think? To believe or not to believe, is your choice.