The Secret

“23-year-old girl jumps before Delhi Metro. Commits suicide.”

The small headline in the corner of an inner page of a local newspaper did not attract much attention. Brief details of the incident were mentioned in a small paragraph below the headline.
“A 23-year-old girl, a call-centre employee, allegedly committed suicide early yesterday morning by jumping before a running train at the city’s busiest Metro station. Her grief-stricken father, a widower, who works as an accountant in an MNC, claimed to be totally ignorant as to why his daughter had taken such a drastic step. An FIR has been registered.”

Manohar Lal sat frozen, his expression displayed shock, horror, and anguish. He had been like this ever since the police had informed him about his daughter Reema’s death. Neigbours, relatives, friends, and office colleagues who came to commiserate with him, found him inconsolable. He had lost his wife twelve years back in a car accident; and now his only child, his daughter, was also gone.

On one hand he blamed himself for Reema’s death. If only he had spent more time with her; paid closer attention to her. If only he had not listened to that idiot Raunak Singh and agreed to his proposition.

But he also felt it was for the good of everyone that Reema had died when she did. If the secret had come out, what would have been his position? His entire reputation would have been torn to shreds.
Reema was the apple of Manohar Lal’s eye, his only remaining link with his beloved wife. The possibility that Reema could be ill-treated by a second wife, had stopped Manohar Lal from remarrying, despite constant persuasion of relatives and friends.

Manohar Lal had fulfilled Reema’s every demand, in the process spoiling her. She had developed
a taste for fancy dresses and the latest gadgets. If she wanted something and her father did not have the money for it, she would throw a tantrum and go into a sulk.

A few days after her 17th birthday, Manohar Lal caught her smoking in the bathroom. He gave his daughter a severe scolding, asking her what her mother would have thought, had she been alive. Reema burst into tears, begged his forgiveness and promised that she would never do anything that would bring shame to her father.

Reema thereafter, curbed her extra vagance somewhat and reduced her demands on her father’s purse.

The years passed. Reema finished her school and entered college. At her graduation ceremony, a proud Manohar Lal, noticing what a pretty young lady she had grown into, decided that it was high time he got her married. But when he broached the subject with her a few days later, she vehemently turned the idea down.

“Oh Daddy!” she said in an exasperated tone,“I have just finished college. I don’t want to spend the rest of my days cooking meals in a kitchen, and looking after children. I want to take up a job, meet people, see the world and enjoy a few years of independent life. I assure you that I will quickly find a job and start earning for myself.”

Ten days later Reema triumphantly announced that she had found a well-paying job in a call centre. There was only one small problem though, in that she would be working in the night shift as all the call centre’s clients were based in the US.
Almost a year after Reema had taken up her job, Manohar Lal was sitting in his office, going through the newspaper. There was a knock on the door and Raunak Singh, who worked in the marketing department of his company, walked in. Manohar Lal had met Raunak several times at the office get-togethers, but did not really know him well. He had heard vague rumours about Raunak being a flirt and a womanizer, who had had several affairs, but did not pay much attention to them, putting them down to office gossip.
Manohar Lal indicated a chair and Raunak sat down. They exchanged a few pleasantries. Over the next few weeks, Raunak visited Manohar Lal every working day during the lunch hour. Without consciously wanting to do so, Manohar Lal became quite friendly with him, discussing politics, rising prices, cricket, and almost every other subject under the sun. Manohar Lal found Raunak to be well-informed, articulate, and logical in his arguments. He started looking forward to their interactions.

Then one day, suddenly and without warning, everything changed.

“Haven’t you ever wondered why I am still a bachelor?” Raunak asked, almost as soon as he settled down on the chair in front of Manohar Lal.

“It did strike me as somewhat odd” replied Manohar Lal. “But I felt that it was none of my business,
so I never asked” he added.

“I will tell you why” Raunak explained, “It is because I do not believe in the theory of ‘one man - one woman’. How boring it would be to sleep with the same girl night after night. There are plenty of pretty, young call girls in the city, I can always get one to entertain me at home, whenever the need arises.”

“But why are you telling me all this?” Manohar Lal asked.

“Because I feel pity for you, my dear friend!” replied Raunak, “Because, according to me, you have been suppressing your natural urges all these years, when you could have indulged in them easily.”

“But I do not believe in one-night stands,” Manohar Lal protested.

“These are not one-night stands.” Raunak clarified. “These are commercial transactions between two consenting adults. Just listen to me,” he said firmly. “There is this girl Ruby, whose services I have been using on and off, for the last two months. She is young, attractive and very good in bed. I just want you to meet her. I am certain that she will completely charm you and then you will realize what you
have been missing all
these years” he added.

Despite Manohar Lal’s insistence that he had no interest at all, Raunak would not take ‘no’ for an answer. So finally, reluctantly, he agreed. What Manohar Lal did not know, was that Ruby had offered Raunak a good discount if he got her
new clients.

Later that evening, as the duo awaited Ruby’s arrival in Raunak’s drawing room, Manohar Lal began feeling nervous and unsure of himself. He had never met a call-girl in his life and had absolutely no idea as to how to interact with her. He was about to ask Raunak for advice, when the doorbell rang.

“She has come!” Raunak remarked, as he moved to answer the door. “I will send her in and leave you two alone for a few minutes, so that you can get to know each other.”

Two minutes later, the drawing room door opened and a familiar sounding voice said, “Good evening! I am Ruby.”

A horrified Manohar Lal saw Reema standing before him.

Both father and daughter stood frozen in shock for a long moment. Neither could speak a word. Then Reema turned abruptly on her heels and left the room. Manohar Lal collapsed on to the sofa. He felt faint. So his darling daughter, who was all that he cared for in this world, did not work as a call-centre employee, but as a call-girl. What would happen if any of his relatives or friends found this out? How would he outlive the shame? His thoughts churned on and on.

Suddenly Raunak entered the room. “So how are you two getting along?” He started, but abruptly stopped. “Where is Ruby?” he asked in surprise, then seeing the expression on Manohar Lal’s face, added, “What is the matter with you?”

“I am not at all well,” Manohar Lal somehow managed to say. “Please, for God’s sake, just drive me home. Please, I beg you.”

“Okay! Okay! I’ll do that,” Raunak assured him. “But where is Ruby? I sent her in. Didn’t she meet you?”

“Just for a minute,” Manohar Lal’s voice shook. “Then she said that she had just remembered something urgent and left.”
Reema drove back to the hotel room from where she operated, in a somewhat dazed state. Reaching her room, she paced up and down, thinking furiously. Even in her wildest dreams she had never imagined that in her assumed identity of Ruby, some day she would come face to face with her own father. She had absolutely no idea as to what the consequences were likely to be, or what she was going to do now. However, one thing was quite clear. Now that her ugly secret had been revealed, there was absolutely no question of her ever going back home to face her father. Her future was now totally uncertain.

She decided that there was only one option left open for her, and that she was going to take it.

Getting into her car, she drove down to the city’s busiest Metro station.

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