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Image by Luuk Loeffen

 Mystique of the Maze

A maze mirrors the machinations of the human mind. The much-married Nina and Avinash find themselves caught in an an emotional maze. Will they find a way out or will Mohit forever change the contours of their relationship? Chitra Singh weaves a tale that reflects the complex working of the human mind.

Mazes have held a peculiar fascination for humans and folk lore is rife with examples of man’s obsession with them. Mahabharat has the lore of Abhimanyu learning the secret of the ’chakravuyh’ while still in his mother’s womb. Or how Theseus killed the minotaur in the formidable labyrinth created by Daedalus for king Minos of Crete.  Theseus did it at the behest of Ariadne, Minos’s daughter, who had fallen in love with him. She helped him escape from the maze with a string of thread. All kinds of mazes have been designed through the ages particularly from the Roman times to the Renaissance in Europe. A brilliant example of one exists in the ‘Imam bara’ of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India, constructed by the Nawabs of Awadh, in the post Mughal era. Mazes were most probably constructed to confound the enemy and were strategic escape routes. Though mazes are an architectural feat, I feel they are a reflection of man’s complicated and complex nature and mirror the machinations of his mind, and mimicking life in general.

Nina was luxuriating in a shower bath. She lovingly let the water cascade down her lissom body and was filled with anticipation for what was to culminate after months of doubt and soul searching. The sharp needles of water perked up her velvety skin and tingled down her body. She preened before the hazy mirror and her white body, drenched and supple gleamed in the reflection. She looked at herself critically and had to admit that her long legged, slim waisted body was sculpted to perfection. Her wide brown eyes in a dominant forehead only added to her charm. No one could say she was the mother of two children. Yet Nina was not happy. She was beginning to have serious doubts about the manner in which her life was panning out. Her marriage to Avinash, appeared to have reached a plateau. He seemed so indifferent most of the time. They got into arguments frequently for apparently senseless reasons and were downright short with each other. To make matters worse she was bored to distraction with nothing to do.  Both children, son Ayush and daughter Tarini were away to school and most of her college mates were working. So engrossed had she been in rearing her family that she hadn’t bothered to keep in touch with them. Even the high rise in which they had their condo was not very neighbour friendly; everyone appeared to be on a trip of their own. The self-doubt had been brewing for some time now.  

She had been like a cauldron of milk threatening to boil over any moment when she had run into Mohit at the alumni meet. He had suddenly zeroed in on her and appeared to have all the time in the world for her and went out of his way to entertain her. She was struck by his striking good looks and stunning personality and was pleased no end that he seemed to be enjoying her company. The air was almost electric between them, and Nina realised that she hadn’t felt like that in a long time. By strange coincidence that meeting culminated in a few more innocuous meetings. Time seemed to fly whenever she was with him, and she felt ethereal and attractive.  

This morning Avinash had ridiculed her again because she had overslept and hadn’t bothered about his breakfast. Very offhandedly he had declared that he had no time for the children’s parent teacher meet the following day and grabbing his briefcase, had stomped out of the house. “I hate him, I hate him, ‘’ Nina thought vehemently. ‘’ Why did I ever get married, ‘’ she voiced petulantly, ‘’who does he think he is?” she almost spat out.

Right from childhood, Nina had always had her way, and she was not going to cow down now. Ten precious years of her life she had devoted to Avinash, and what had she received in return? No, she had had enough. There was no denying that Nina was wilful. She had learnt to be wilful from early childhood because she was the apple of her father’s eye. Papa loved to spoil her.  ‘’My angel! my darling beauty!’’ he would chant, as he tossed her up in the air, and tickled her till tears came to her eyes. Oh! how she had loved his adulation. Father was a successful businessman and thought money could fix any problem and that approach had subconsciously rubbed off on Nina.  Mother didn’t really matter. She only played second fiddle to dad, so Nina never really bothered much about her. In any case she was an avid socialite, and indulged Nina in everything, so as not to be disturbed in her social whirl. Thus, Nina was used to having her way and didn’t like to be crossed.

She was beginning to feel that marrying Avinash was a mistake. She should never have agreed to her parent’s wishes. For them, marrying her to Avinash was like some coup d’état. Avinash hailed from a reputable family and was well educated. Needless to say, he had a highly paid job in a prestigious company and was quite a catch. At that time Nina had just concluded her studies in a professional institute and hadn’t quite made up her mind about her future. Mom was no help at all, she came from the old school of thought that believed that men were the bread winners. They didn’t give her a chance to venture out on her own, to experiment with job seeking. She didn’t have a clue as to what a career entailed and was not capable of doing anything independently. She knew she was intelligent, had completed a professional course, but what good was that if she never put it to use. The seeds of grave self-doubt started to grow in her mind and gnaw at the very core of her being. No, she should have revolted long ago. She was disgruntled and had started brooding. She started feeling that Avinash was no longer talking to her but was talking down to her. Quite often she felt that he thought her slow. She hated his condescending attitude which had her hackles up in a jiffy. That’s when she retaliated by becoming aggressive and attacked him verbally on any trivial issue. Of late this had been happening too frequently. She realised that Avinash was withdrawing into his shell. Did it mean he no longer loved her? This morning’s argument had been a case in point.   

She let her imagination run riot. Was it fair that she had settled for marriage at her parent’s instigation, and let all her aspirations take a back seat?  Why had she not taken a stand against her parents? Oh what a fool and utterly immature she had been. She was a non-achiever, she castrated herself. She had nothing to show for these last ten years.

The apartment which she had taken such joy in furnishing, suddenly started looking lack lustre. ’’To hell with it ‘’ she thought. What difference did it make whether the walls were cream or grey when she was not happy within the four walls.  She remembered what fun it had been earlier when Avinash and she had done everything together; had poured over catalogues, had window shopped for hours. They loved to plan where to hang a particular painting, or whether to buy a certain artefact. They had designed the layout of the children’s room together and made sure it was lively, colourful, and comfortable. Nina felt she had a flair for these things and Avinash was an enthusiastic supporter. At what point had all this changed?

It had been slowly festering. She saw Avinash getting more and more engrossed in his work, trying to climb the corporate ladder as fast as possible. Whenever she tried to interest him in some project of her own, she could clearly make out his mind was elsewhere, or he sort of looked through her. Often, he was downright short with her. She had started feeling humiliated and often thought it best to keep quiet. Their silences had started growing. Nina suddenly started feeling unwanted. She had lost contact with most of her college friends who appeared to have moved on. Most of her time was spent in dealing with the children, because both her parents, and Avinash’s lived in their hometowns, while they were in Bangalore, where Avinash’s company had posted him. So, she had to cope with her problems on her own. Last year Ayush had fallen very ill with a breathing problem and had to be rushed to hospital. Nina had felt terrified and hopelessly anxious. It was only when Avinash had reached the hospital and held her hand that she had felt a sense of relief. It was a terrible two days, but as soon as Ayush was out of hospital and on the way to recovery, they had slipped back into their old pattern.

Today she was at the crossroads of her life. She couldn’t take anymore, she rationalised. She made up her mind to let Avinash bear the brunt of her anguish. What she contemplated quickened her breathing and filled her with excitement. She wondered why she had delayed it so long. She should have followed her instincts long ago. Why had she stuck to the straight and narrow when she knew she could have anything her heart desired? She had picked up the phone and dialled Mohit.

Avinash was a dreamer. In his scheme of things, he viewed the world with rose tinted glasses, and shut his eyes to the ugly realities of life. He was a perfectionist and wanted everything to fit neatly into its slot. It all started long ago. As a child he dreaded to hear his parents arguing. Avinash hated it. If it was night, Avinash would cover his ears with his pillow to block out the sound of angry voices. He was happiest when calm prevailed in the household. He adored his little sister, who hero worshipped him, and all Avinash wanted was to protect her from the big bad world. Their growing up years were full of happy memories, and this was how Avinash wanted his life to be. When he first saw Nina, he liked her instantly, and readily fell in with his parents’ plan of his marriage to her. Nina was all that any man could want; she was pretty, had a good education and came from a good family. Their wedding and exotic honeymoon were a whirlwind and he fell more deeply in love with Nina as each year passed. He would gladly do anything for her. He loved the way she started to carve out a home for him. His career advanced in leaps and bounds. Impeccable qualifications were a prerequisite for employment in the company and Avinash more than fit the bill. In fact, he was one of their star employees. Combined with his intelligence and hard work he had a meteoric rise in the company, and at a young age he had carved out an enviable position in the company hierarchy.  When the children came his cup was full. Avinash felt satisfied with the way life had treated him.

But for some time now one thing had caught his attention. Of late Nina appeared withdrawn, as if something was troubling her. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but they seemed to be arguing a lot on apparently trivial issues. This morning at breakfast, it started again. She was belligerent about attending the parent-teacher meeting at the children’s school. Last week they had argued over inviting a colleague home for dinner. Last month she didn’t want to accompany him for the company dinner, which was an annual event, and when she did eventually go, she sat in a huff all evening. The list was endless, and each episode left him completely drained. What was happening to them? There were other overt signs as well. The apartment in which she had taken so much pride appeared unkempt. Wilted flowers stood in the vases for days sometimes. She made excuses about putting the children to sleep or telling them a bedtime story. She no longer bothered about ensuring that his food preferences were considered in the daily menu. Things appeared to be sliding, and he determined to put it right. At lunch time when he had a little time on his hands, her petulant face kept coming to his mind and he realised he couldn’t bear her rancour. He decided he would leave office a little early today; the ongoing project be damned. He would pick up a bouquet of her favourite ‘Rajnigandhas’ and surprise her with an apology. Yes, that would be best he thought, and having decided that, ploughed on with his work.

There was no denying that Mohit was a lady’s man. From an early age he realised that the opposite sex found him attractive. Girls went out of their way to attract his attention and he started revelling in it. By the time he reached college he knew he could have his pick of the flock, and he made it a point to choose the prettiest ones. It was not for nothing that Mohit had his way with women. He was outstandingly good looking. A six feet stature, with a body to match, and an amazingly handsome face singled him out in any crowd. His mother had doted on him as a child and loved showing him off. All this indulgence ended in him becoming a narcissist. As if that was not enough, the family boasted of old money. So, Mohit had all the right things working for him, a well-lined purse, flashy cars, an eclectic wardrobe, et al. For appearances sake, he also worked in the family concern. He had completed a course in management from a reputed college of the country. When he was in the final year, Nina, a freshman in the same college, had caught his eye, but he was involved with Surbhi then, and had not paid much attention. Surbhi and he ended up getting married but soon the novelty wore off. She was terribly self - opinionated and there was such a clash of personalities that Mohit   soon wearied of her. He was bored out of his mind in the relationship, and mentally he was on the prowl.

A last-minute decision to attend an alumni get together proved fruitful because he bumped into Nina there. Like old wine she had matured and was looking breathtakingly beautiful, and Mohit couldn’t take his eyes off her. This was what he needed in his life right now. She had come alone, and Mohit had the field to himself and knew exactly how to go about it. The evening had been magical, and he had every intention of taking it further. He bumped into her innocuously in a popular Mall, a few days later, and then there were a few impromptu lunches at gourmet eateries. Very soon he recognised that all was not well in Nina’s paradise and systematically inundated Nina’s reserve. He pandered to her ego and projected himself to be thoughtful and caring and gradually he could make out the change in her demeanour when she was with him. They started enjoying each other’s company. And lately when he suggested something he realised her resistance was a token one and she readily fell in with his plans. Mohit realised he was beginning to develop feelings for her. He found himself thinking of her all the time and it was an alien feeling for him altogether. When she accepted an expensive gift from him on Valentine’s Day, he knew it was mission accomplished and she was ready for the plucking. He decided to corner her now. Very subtly he introduced the idea of them meeting in a more leisurely manner and instead of rebuffing him he found her listening intently. Mohit sighed with satisfaction and knew the moment of fruition was only a matter of time.

That day in the morning when Nina’s phone came, she sounded agitated and almost on the verge of tears. ‘’Calm down, calm down’’, he implored her, and after hearing her out, suggested they meet up, at a discreet hotel, where the owner was well known to him. He was pleasantly surprised when with very little persuasion she agreed. He rubbed his hands with satisfaction and decided to make the afternoon an unforgettable one.

As she drove along the road making her way to the prearranged rendezvous with Mohit, Nina realised she had driven into a traffic jam. The traffic had been unusually heavy and resignedly she joined the queue. Her blood raced through her veins heatedly and she could hear her heart beating with a heightened tempo. She was as skittish as a year-old colt before its first derby and her nerves were as   taut as violin strings. The line showed no signs of moving and she forced herself to calm down. The years of her marriage moved in a kaleidoscope before her eyes and came to a stop on her romantic honeymoon in London. What a glorious ten days they had been. Avinash and she had decided on the destination together, because she always wanted to see the Greenwich Meantime, that imaginary line from where each day got its perspective. They were completely absorbed in each other and had spent days exploring the sights of London and romantic evenings over candlelight dinners or taking in a play on Leicester square.

“For heaven’s sake," she chided herself, what am I doing? Why had her thoughts turned to Avinash, when she was on her way to meet Mohit. But try as she might, her thoughts kept returning to Avinash. The afternoon they had spent in Hampton Court sprang to her mind. They had ventured into the hedge maze designed in the vast grounds and meandered deep into its labyrinth. Soon they realised they were hopelessly lost with all its alleys coming to dead ends. They had experienced a moment of panic till a vigilant park attendant set them right. ‘’Take only right turns and you will find the way out’’ he admonished. With a sigh of relief, they had finally emerged and laughed at their ineptitude, but the experience had stayed with her.

The sharp honking at the back shook her out of her reverie and she realised the line was moving. With a shock she realised that the day had suddenly become overcast and that dark storm clouds had gathered. When had that happened? It would soon start raining but it was nothing compared to the turmoil in her heart. Something about the afternoon troubled her. Was this really what she wanted? she questioned herself severely. With a jolt it dawned on her that she was taking all the wrong turns in the maze of life and would only get inextricably entangled. She pressed the pause button on the computer of her mind and felt the mist lifting. With a suddenness things became crystal clear, and she knew what she had to do. Spotting a gap in the verge she deftly steered the car right in a U-turn and joined the other carriageway.

Enormous raindrops were falling on her windscreen, but they didn’t seem to matter. Her mind was clear, and her heart felt as light as thistledown. She found her hands were moving on their own accord and she was heading home.

Mystique of the Maze: Welcome

Chitra Singh has a wide repertoire of writing. She writes stories and creative non-fiction pieces with equal panache. Chitra has a Master’s degree in English Literature and a Post Graduate degree in Mass Communication. She has free lanced with many English Dailies and magazines, writing mostly human interest features, travelogues, and stories about forest life which she greatly loved. Her forte is writing Middles. She has  varied interests like gardening, cooking, fine embroidery and dabbling in the share market. One of her favourite pastimes is regaling her grandchildren with tales of yore.

Mystique of the Maze: Text
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