Since the beginning of 2016, I have had over 40 story hearing sessions; most of them through one to one meeting, and rest over phone or Skype. At least, 50% of those stories are not convincing enough, and hence I won’t be sharing them. So far, I have written and shared EIGHT stories and for remaining the work is in progress. I would like to believe that few people have read all my BLOG posts, at least Tara (not the real name) has, that’s what she told me in her email where she shared her story.
It all began with an email that Tara Asthana had sent to me a few weeks ago. She wants to share her story with the world and at the same time wants to stay anonymous. She believes that her life will turn into a roller coaster ride if ever her loved ones get to know about this experience of her. Her email triggered few questions which resulted in an exchange of few emails between us. She was comfortable communicating through emails. Though she trusted me with her story, as a mediator who will take her story to the final destination, I wanted to meet her or talk to her over the phone. As she is living in Pune, I convinced her to meet me just once. A few days ago, we met at Barista Lavazza, on M.G. Road, Pune. I got clarified on few points with her about her story before I decide to write and share it. And even though I met her, she is still anonymous, I don’t know her real name, don’t know which part of Pune she belongs to, don’t even have her contact number and throughout our conversation, she kept wearing her sunglasses.
Tara is a 38 years old, 5’9” tall, average built, a dusky lady with shoulder length curly hairs and with a long pointed nose. She is married for last 11 years and has two sons – nine and six years of age; though her personality contradicts her motherhood status. Her husband is working as a CFO with one of the leading Auto Component manufacturing organizations in Pune. Tara is an MBA from Christ College, Bangalore. She has worked with few Financial Services organizations before taking a break to raise her kids. A social media enthusiast, FOUR years ago Tara began her second inning as an Image Coach and Personal Branding Consultant. In her role, she helps Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs in creating their online brand. She develops personalized strategy for her clients, manages a consistent personal brand throughout multiple social platforms and ensures that the entire image sends consistent messages socially and professionally.
She said, “When I re-entered into the corporate world in 2011 a lot had changed. The job market wasn’t the same as it used to be in early till mid-years of last decade. I approached some of my friends, acquaintances and seniors to get references and recommendations for work. Initially, I kept my clientele limited to Pune and Mumbai. I used to take 3-4 training sessions in a month, and that was just sufficient for me. Soon I began to accept assignments from Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad. One day I got a LinkedIn message from Deepak Talwar, Vice President – Marketing based in Bengaluru and working with a leading telecom organization. In his message, he had introduced himself and mentioned how he knew me. He had emphasized on few of our conversations on Yahoo Groups and other forums in 2002-2003. He had asked for my contact details. I remember Deepak as one of my seniors in the corporate world, who is very straight forward, even to the extent of being rude, demanding task master, excellent strategist and subject matter expert. There was a time when he used to share his knowledge and guide youngster, however, for last few years; he was reticent and not very visible on social media. Hesitatingly, I shared my email ID with him. A sequence of emails channelled between us. We shared about our work, experiences, families, hobbies, etc. He would share about his challenging assignments, such as demanding clients, customers, employees, etc. There was a time when we used to exchange 2-3 emails in a day. To keep up with the communication flow, I shared my mobile and WhatsApp number with him. He referred me to his friend circle and other known ones. I conducted 4-5 image management and personal branding training sessions in his organization, which received rave reviews. Soon I began to get a lot of work from Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Mumbai. I started traveling for 15 days in a month. I was jubilant with my progress.
In one of our conversations, Deepak asked me to help him with the re-creation of his personal brand and re-positioning him in his peer group. Though he was magnificent in what he was doing and he had very innovative and unique ideas about performance management, team management, productivity enhancement, market penetration, etc., his good work was staying within the four corners of his organization and industry. He wanted to break free and reach out to people across industries and geographies. I agreed to help Deepak. That would have been the minimum I could do in return for his favour. I was very thankful to have come across Deepak at that point in time of my life. He turned out to be a perfect mentor and of course, a superb, sincere and honest friend. There are very few people of this breed. After few months of communication and 2-3 meetings with him at his Bengaluru office, Deepak had become a bit flirtatious and would often compliment about my dressing sense, choice of colours, mannerism, fitness, makeup, hair, knowledge and the way I manage my work, etc. I never took his compliments very seriously. I understand that it’s a part of our work culture. Once he told me, “Tara, had I met you 12-13 years ago, I would have married you. You are so contagious and irresistible”. To which I said, “Maybe in next birth, you can find me early” and shred it off.
By then, Vice-Presidents, General Managers, and CEO’s of few mid-sized organizations also began to approach me for Personal Branding and Image Management Consultancy assignments. It was overwhelming. I had to be very selective in choosing my clientele. I was very grateful to be able to contribute to my family income.
Gradually, our friendship extended to our families. During few of my business trips to Bangalore in 2012-13, I met Deepak’s wife, Sandhya and his two children – 8 years old daughter and three years old son, at his house in Jayanagar, 9th Block. Sandhya was 5’4” tall, very traditional in looks and manners, mostly in Salwar-Kameez, slightly overweighed for her height and personality. A thick layer of Vermillion and a big bindi on the forehead was her trademark. Probably, she too needed few grooming and personality development sessions. In 2012, when we planned a road trip from Bangalore to Ooty, Deepak, and his family also came along. It was great fun. Our children enjoyed a lot. Abhishek, my husband, and Deepak bonded well together. A year later in 2013, when Deepak and family planned a holiday to Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani, they visited us in Pune. In fact, they stayed with us for TWO days. They brought a lot of gifts for us. Abhishek found it difficult to accept such expensive gifts but then we too gave equally expensive return gifts. I had never thought that mere an acquaintance would become such a wonderful friend.
Just like my other clients, Deepak had begun to flourish professionally. We created a very exhaustive Digital Marketing and Branding plan for him. The project encompassed several activities such as creating couple of Blogs for him, increasing followers on his Twitter handle, participating in Twitter chats, re-creating his LinkedIn account and targeted addition of connections (instead of adding everyone), actively participating in relevant national and international online forums, getting published on relevant business magazines and e-magazines and getting invites from several colleges across India for guest lectures as well as for multiple pertinent seminars, debates, and panel discussions. Not only it had increased his visibility, but it had also opened a new avenue for earnings through consulting and speaking assignments. Deepak had begun to make right noises in the corporate world. Everything just appeared like magic, as if the universe was conspiring to make me successful in everything that I was doing. I was very grateful to my clients and friends like Deepak for trusting in my abilities.
In early 2014, when Deepak came to Pune for moderating a panel discussion in one of the events organized by a leading business forum, one evening I met him at the hotel for a cup of coffee. He was very amazed by the way things were moving in his life. It was chaotic in the lobby, so we went to his room to discuss his idea of writing a book. It wasn’t the first time that I had gone to his hotel room for discussion. Whenever we had anything confidential to discuss, such as plans for his branding, image management, etc., we would often occupy the hotel room. Relationships are built on trust and honesty and then we shared a bond of friendship. He discussed few ideas about the subject for his book writing, and we zeroed on one theme. Throughout our discussion, he kept appreciating me for helping him out in becoming what he always wanted to. I was reciprocating his appreciation by being grateful to him for referring and recommending me to his organization and helping me get so much of work. When he came to the hotel lobby to drop me off, he said, “Tomorrow, I want to go to Shirdi to express my gratitude and thankfulness to God. I have never been there before. It would be great if you and Abhishek also come along. As it is, tomorrow is Saturday”. “Let me check with Abhishek about his plan. We too want to go to Shirdi. I will get back to you in few hours”, I replied. On my way home, I called Abhishek and shared about Deepak and his proposal of accompanying him to Shirdi temple. Abhishek was in Mumbai, and he would reach Pune after midnight. He said, “Hhhhmm, it’s an excellent idea. Remember, we were discussing it last week, but for tomorrow I have other priority. Hhhhmm, do one thing, Tara, you accompany Deepak and take kids along”. “Are you sure? Won’t it look very odd”, I replied. “Tara, if none of us go, will look weird. He is your good friend and has helped you so much in last 3-4 years, and I think you must go with him”, he countered. “Okay, as you say,” I told. Then I called Deepak and said, “Sir Ji, tomorrow, I will drive you to Shirdi.” “That’s so sweet of you, Tara. Thank you”, he replied.
Next morning, we left for Shirdi. I carried along my youngest son. I was driving my black Honda City. I switched on my collection of favorite songs. Soon we began to talk on random topics. Our chat show started from our choice of music and then we went on to talk about our favorite journeys, Hindi movies, Hollywood, college life, sports we play, aspirations, etc. and then he asked me, “Are you happy with your married life”? “Certainly, I have a caring husband, who has given me freedom to pursue my career and dreams. I have loving and adorable kids (I remember, I gave a flying kiss to my son who was playing in the rear seat). They are my life. My in-laws are simply fantastic. It is the life I always wished for”, I replied to his question. Then, he began to share about his love interest in his college and how he couldn’t get married to her. He shared about his marriage story and how much he doesn’t love his wife, Sandhya. He feels ashamed of being with her. Their bedroom life sucks as Sandhya is not creative and supportive enough. He had told her to reduce her weight, had enrolled her into Gym and for yoga classes, but she was taking everything for granted. He almost gave me all the details of everything going on in his unsatisfied personal life. Sometimes, when he was getting too descriptive about his bedroom life, I had to cut him short, or I abruptly changed the topic. I don’t know how some people feel comfortable sharing their intimate moments with others. If there are issues, then they must consult a sexologist. By the time we returned to Pune, I was feeling exhausted. We had to stand in queue for TWO hours; I did 3/4th of the driving and on top of that such a serious talk with Deepak. I was feeling the need of a massage. I dropped Deepak to his hotel and reached home. Though he was insisting for dinner, I refused. I shared my entire experience of Shirdi with Abhishek. We gossiped a bit about Deepak and Sandhya and then let it goes, stating that, “It’s their life. Why should we worry”?
By the end of 2014, my assignment with Deepak was drawing to a close. Now, he just needed to reach me in a case of a very peculiar situation or if something got complicated in existing setup. To take care of regular updates of his blogging, publication of articles, and monthly e-mailers, we scheduled a two hours meeting, once in a month. As a friend, we always remained in regular touch through WhatsApp and phone calls. After all, he was the best friend, who helped me in crisis. In the month of October in 2014, once again he came to Pune, to be a guest lecturer in a couple of management colleges and to solicit few consulting assignments with few start-up organizations. He had to stay in Pune for THREE days. I couldn’t meet him on the 1st day as I was in Ahmedabad, but next day I met him for breakfast in Hotel Marriott on Senapati Bapat Road. After breakfast, we went to his hotel room as he wanted to show me the final draft of his book and to give me a “surprise.” Though I couldn’t understand the technical stuff in his book, however, the presentation was impressive with many graphs, infographics, and data. Then he sat in front of me and gave me a small box. “What is this,” I asked. “It’s a small gesture of gratitude from me for everything that you are doing for me,” he replied. “Can I open this,” I requested. “Certainly, it is yours,” he said. When I opened the box, I was awestruck to see what was inside. It was an iPhone. “I am sorry Deepak, but I cannot take this. It is way too expensive”, I said and returned it to him. He held my hand and said, “I love you, Tara.” “I think I need to leave,” I said. I was about to get up when he pushed me on the bed and placed his lips on mine. For a moment, I didn’t know what to do and how to respond. I tried to push him aside, but he was too strong for me. By that time he had unbuttoned and unzipped my jeans. “What the hell are you doing? Move aside and let me go”, I screamed. He was in no mood to listen. I hit him in the middle of his legs and scratched his neck with my fingernails, but he remained unfazed. In fact, he became more aggressive. He bit my lips and pressed my breast hard. The very next moment I found myself half-naked. He had taken off my jeans and lingerie. I started crying and begged him to let me go. I don’t know if he had become deaf at that moment. I tried one more time and hit him in his stomach. He loosened a bit, and I was about to escape when he grabbed me by my hairs and dragged me down on the bed. By the time I returned to my conscious, I was raped. With whatever energy I was left with, I grabbed my clothes and rushed to the washroom. With my torn soul and tarnished image, I walked out of the hotel. As I walked down the hotel lobby, I felt few stray eyes scanning me, but at that time I just wanted to walk out of that place. I pulled my car into an isolated area towards Aundh and cried for an hour.
Abhishek wasn’t in town. He was in Dubai for two weeks on an official trip. I didn’t know what to do and with whom to share it. Should I go to the police? Should I call Abhishek and tell him? How will he react? Should I call my sister or my best friend? I was in a dilemma. That evening, Deepak sent me a message, “I am sorry. I didn’t want to do this to you. I don’t know what had happened to me. I apologize”. His apology meant nothing to me. I just wanted to kill myself or kill that son of a B*t**. I talked to my mother and shared everything that had happened to me, she cried with me but insisted me to stay quiet and not exchange anything with Abhishek. “We are too old and too weak to stand with you and help you rebuild your life,” she said. Abhishek came after a week, and I was preparing to share it with him. It was Sunday morning, and we were having tea, when I randomly picked a newspaper from the table and read out to Abhishek, “A woman was raped by her colleague. She filed a police complaint. Her husband divorced her and took custody of their children”. “How rude is that instead of supporting her and standing with her. He divorced her. What is happening to our society”, I asked. Abhishek looked at me and said, “Hhhhmm, usually in a corporate world, such relationships exist for mutual gain. Probably, when she didn’t get what he had agreed to, she decided to file a rape case. You will see, this case will be settled out of court, but then our media won’t report that part. “But then why to divorce her and keep her away from her kids. That’s coarse. Something unforeseen happened to her, and instead of supporting her, her husband is penalizing her. What if it wasn’t a consensual sex but was a rape? By the time, this lady will come out of it; she would have lost everything, her reputation, image, family, kids, etc. That’s unfair”, I countered. “Tara, there is nothing unreasonable in it. We live in society, and we follow norms of society. Even Lord Ram left his wife when someone taunted on the character of his wife, Sita. Being a reincarnation of a God and knowing everything, he couldn’t do anything against society. In situations like the one you discussed, it is not only the woman who is suffering, but that entire family might be going through hell. Our society is coarse; probably colleagues of that guy were taunting him for the character of his wife. We don’t know what kind of trauma her kids were going through in school or neighbourhood. Standing against society needs a lot of courage”, Abhishek justified. I decided to ask a direct question, “Suppose, if something like this happens to me and I choose to punish that person. What will you do”? “I am also a part of this society. I have earned a reputation and respect with a lot of hard work and sacrifice. I cannot let it go, just like that”, he reaffirmed his stand. That conversation with Abhishek, my husband, was suggestive enough to keep my mouth shut for the rest of my life and suffers silently. Yes, it was my mistake that I got raped. My self-respect was trounced by a friend, my soul was hurt, my trust was murdered, but I didn’t want to lose my kids. They are my life. I am already going through a hell; I just don’t want to increase my sufferings. It will be very easy for people to judge me but I am too weak to lose everything. Maybe I am scared of starting all over again.”
Having heard of her experience, I saw tears rolling down Tara’s eyes.
At the end of this story, let me leave you with few questions to ponder upon.
- Do you think Tara was too weak to take a stand and fight for her self-esteem?
- Do you think Tara should have filed a case and fought for justice and in the process, if she had to divorce her husband and let go of her children, she shouldn’t have hesitated?
- Do you think our society follow double standards? There is a difference between what most of us talk about and what they do at the time of need.
Had I been in place of Abhishek, I would have fought for the self-esteem of my wife. We are the ones who form societies. It is not the other way round. People have short memories, five years down the line it won’t matter what people said and how they treated you. However, you will regret missing the time when you could have taken a stand and be with your loved ones, but you decided otherwise.
I will be keenly waiting for your comments, suggestions, and stories.
Sanjeev Himachali, Pune
Sanjeev is seasoned Human Resources professional with a wealth of experience spanning across Manufacturing, Information Technology and Financial Services Industries. He is an Integral part of the Global HR Leadership Team which works on HR strategy development and deployment plan for all organizational level HR programs. Sanjeev has a well-rounded exposure to Business Operations and Delivery along with focused Human Resources assignments to understand people and people strategy. It Enables being a true Business Partner in deciding
People Processes and making informed decisions by leveraging market intelligence. He is a strategic planner with experience in Organization Restructuring, Change Management, Organization Development and Talent Management. Sanjeev is a qualified Career and Performance Coach.
Specialties: Change Management, Organization Development, Performance Coaching, Career Coaching, HR Operations, Talent Acquisition, Talent Management, Green-fieldLegal CGreenfield Operations, Start-up, Learning, and Development, and Compensation and Benefits.