“And the first prize goes to Rita Malik”.
Rita adjusts her well starched and neatly ironed blue cotton saree and stands up to go to the stage.
Suddenly she feels an arm pushing her shoulder down firmly.
She tries with all her might to stand up again. But then when she looks up to see whose hand it was, her face turns an ashen grey.
She feels her knees weaken. Suddenly all the energy had drained from her body.
The face was of her husband Rajesh.
Rita suddenly felt an urge to pass urine.
Her eyes open with a start, as she feels a wetness below her.
She was on her bed and sweating profusely.
It was just a dream realized Rita.
But had she actually passed urine?
She touched the sheet beneath her, and concluded the wetness was because of all the sweat.
It would be a year tomorrow, since she had separated from Rajesh, yet the nightmares never ended.
She checked the clock. It was already 6 in the morning.
She quickly gets up and moves to the kitchen to get breakfast ready.
She then proceeds to wake up her 5 year old son Rahul and 8 year old daughter Sneha.
How peaceful they both looked in their sleep. Sneha had a tiny smile on her innocent face. Her black curls were spread over the pillow and she looked nothing less than an angel.
Meanwhile naughtiness was written all over Rahul’s cute little face even in his sleep.
What all they had to witness in these few years of their life on this planet, Rita thought to herself.
The past 9 years came like flashes before her eyes.
The first year, when Rita entered Rajesh’s house as a newlywed demure bride with eyes full of dreams, totally clueless of what lay ahead of her.
Initially Rajesh was smitten by Rita’s good looks and intelligence.
She was not only smart and bright, but also took good care of his parents.
Whenever any relatives or friends visited their house, the fact that Rita was a PhD in Chemistry was always harped upon by his parents. The intense jealousy that would rush through him then was something he had never experienced before.
Being an only child born after 14 years of marriage, much was made of Rajesh. His gender and complexion too won him brownie points. All his wishes were fulfilled whether they could be afforded or not.
Unintentionally his parents were raising a misogynist. He was never made to do a spot of work at home. Even when he had grown up, his parents would never burden him with any extra responsibilities. Whether it was an electricity bill to pay or the gas cylinder to be replaced, Rajesh’s parents did it all by themselves.
Once he had gotten placed as a manger in a MNC, his parents began looking for a girl for Rajesh.
Rajesh had taken a fancy for Rita at a friend’s wedding. Her sharp features, milky white skin tone and tinkling laughter had grabbed his attention.
Getting married to Rita was just another one of Rajesh’s whims that his parents had succumbed to.
But once he got married, he realized that marrying an intelligent woman was one of the dumbest things he could have done.
He soon insisted that they move to a place of their own.
Once alone, Rajesh didn’t leave any stone unturned to put down Rita. At the slightest provocation he would call her an idiot or a bimbo. Trivial mistakes like the bathroom floor being wet or tea not being served on time would invite his wrath.
Can’t you do anything right he would keep screaming at her.
Anything she cooked was always criticized.
Soon enough Rita too felt that she couldn’t do anything right.
Her confidence had plummeted. She used to love dressing up and her fashion sense was always impeccable. But again Rajesh had the ability to make her feel like a slut, even when she had draped a saree.
Such a deep back, he would snigger, “Kisko dikhana hai?”
While they hit a rough patch financially, Rita suggested that she could restart her job as a lecturer and support Rajesh. But this was met by a vehement no.
“It’s been 4 years since you have even worked. You think people are sitting around waiting for you. They will never give a job to someone who has just been sitting on her ass for so many years, said Rajesh.
Rita’s eyes stung with tears.
The problem with Rita was she actually believed everything that Rajesh said.
Unknowingly she was turning into a classic victim of gas lighting.
The last straw was when she had gone for one of her school reunions.
She had overheard a conversation that had broken her heart.
“Hey what about our school topper Rita Malik. Any idea about what she is up to nowadays”? One of her classmates commented.
“I heard she is married with 2 kids, simply sitting at home. What was the point of topping for all those years”, another classmate responded.
(A collective snigger erupted.)
Rita didn’t bother staying any longer, but just turned on her heels and walked off.
With time, Rajesh not only mentally and emotionally abused her, but he began getting physical with her.
Soon the punches and bruises on her face were getting tougher to cover up.
Rita had already made five attempts to leave Rajesh.
But each time he would promise to become better and convince her to come back home.
And then one night, Rajesh had raised his hand not only on her, but also on Sneha and Rahul.
“These can’t be my children”, he had screamed out aloud like a raging maniac.
Once he had passed out in a drunken stupor, Rita had quietly packed her bags and left.
The shrill doorbell broke Rita’s reverie
She quickly wiped her tears away and a determined look came on her face.
After a few days when Rita saw the invite for the next school reunion on her Facebook account, she dropped in a message for the entire school alumni to read.
This is for all those who are wondering where the topper Rita Malik has disappeared.
Rita has two kids, one boy and one girl. She is currently fulfilling responsibilities that she deems the most important. And that is parenting.
While her daughter is a topper just like her, she is also teaching her son to respect a woman’s worth and not end up ruining the life of another Rita Malik.
Gaslighting- is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception, identity and self-worth.
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