Perceptions Unplugged

Books, short stories & few thoughts
Short Stories

Helpline for love

‘Do you really want to buy these clothes , Meera ?’ Nikhil asked his wife hesitatingly, who gathered a pile of clothes in the shopping cart.

‘Why?Won’t they look good on me ?’ Meera looked surprised at such a question. She pushed her cart towards the billing counter.

‘Yeah , I am sure they will. But…,’ Nikhil sound unsure.

‘But they will cost you a couple of dollars, right?’ she didn’t allow her husband to complete his sentence.

‘What ? How can you talk to me like this Meera?’

‘Don’t I know you well enough Nikhil ?You have always been a money minded person. Can you deny it ?’

‘I can’t believe it. If that was the case, then why should I suggest you this place for shopping?’

‘That’s because you had to show off how much you actually care for me,’ Meera revealed.

‘Wow ! I must say Meera that you are getting nastier each passing day,’ Nikhil couldn’t restrain himself anymore.

‘Same to you, darling,’ Meera reverted him in a sarcastic tone.

It was Saturday, a relaxed weekend morning in Singapore.People out in the streets looked cheerful and at the top of the world.There could be another reason for this lively surrounding. Valentine’s Day was just three days away. Young couples have started to gear up and paint the town (and their hearts) red.Every shopping mall ,food court , restaurant and shop in Singapore were announcing various discounts and attractive purchase offers to help couples celebrate the auspicious day of love .

However, all these hunky dory business of ‘love and happiness’ could not imprint a single scratch on one young couple’s heart. They were rather busy in doing a more important job of ‘creating nuisance out of nothing’ inside a small shop near the Bugis street. Nikhil and Meera , a young, mature , bright and talented couple in their thirties had almost made the art of ‘picking up a fight at the drop of a hat’ their second nature.

‘Mam, Sir , sorry to interrupt you. But should I prepare the bill for the selected clothes?’ the lady, standing behind the billing counter, asked them with a customary smile on her face and brought them back to reality.

‘No, thank you so much for your time. But I don’t need them anymore. You can keep these clothes back,’ Meera answered in her highest level of politeness she could display in that situation.

‘Okay. No problem,’ the lady replied with a straight face this time.

‘Now what was that ? Why didn’t you buy those clothes?’ Nikhil asked Meera furiously after coming out of the shop.

‘I will not burn a hole in your pocket in future. Moreover , you were not much happy with the idea of me buying them. So why does it bother you now?’ she replied.

Nikhil gave a stern look to his wife and said ,’Do you know what is your problem, Meera? You have got an overthinking mind. It creates a lot of unnecessary problem for both of us.’

‘Oh really? And you are the flawless creation of the Almighty, right? she took no time to reply.

‘You can decide on that in your free time , which you have got in ample amount, I suppose. But for your information, I had not objected you to buy clothes. It was only the first shop that we have visited after entering the market.You picked up some clothes which didn’t look that great, in my opinion. I was just trying to suggest you to check few more shops before you make your mind to buy them. You didn’t even let me to finish. Yes , it’s true that I think twice before spending a penny. Still I am not a miser,’ Nikhil told in one breath.

Meera wasn’t prepared for this straightforward remark from Nikhil. She paused for a moment and replied , ‘It seems like you understand about clothes more than me.And of course, I know you think twice before spending a penny. Why shouldn’t you ? After all , I come in the list of expenses for you since we have started living in Singapore. ‘

‘Well , I have never thought in that manner. But I can’t help it if you prefer to see this whole episode in this light. Let’s go and have some lunch somewhere. I am feeling hungry,’ Nikhil spoke in a disheartened voice.

They waited ,with upset faces, for the traffic signal to turn green so that they could cross the road in the crowded Bugis street. Ironically , their relationship too was counting on the moment when a new dawn would show up and things would get sorted out for these two people.

Nikhil and Meera Agarwal , originally from Delhi, got married three years ago in a lavish wedding ceremony.Theirs was an arranged marriage. Both of them were working in reputed MNCs and well settled in their professional lives. Everything was going fine initially. But when two strangers start living a life under one roof, then a lot of adjustment , tuning and understanding(or misunderstanding) come into the picture. At that time, holding some patience , practical sense and trust within themselves , become more important rather than just getting overwhelmed.

As a matter of fact, every newly wedded couple go through this phase of ‘reality check’ once they come out of the ‘honeymoon blues’. Nikhil and Meera’s life meant no exception. All the elements that could give rise to a confusion , misinterpretation and a subsequent unpleasant arguments , gradually occupied their marriage. However , this was not something unique in a marriage. What went wrong was that at the end of every fight, they forgot to hug and clear the air with each other. They carried the brunt of every face-off and searched for opportunity to repay it with equal sincerity.As a result, the bitter ‘interest’ incurred from the first dispute found home in the second one and so on.

If Meera criticised and shouted at Nikhil for the insignificant problems which she should rather have discussed with him like a mature human being, such as:

*Why can’t you ask me before you invite your friends for dinner in weekend?Don’t I deserve some rest ?

*Why do you expect me to be a traditional wife and always dolled up in front of the in-laws? I have my own identity.

*How can you blame me for not giving proper respect to your parents? I never see you caring even a bit to be a good son-in-law.

*What stops you every time from not asking me before you book tickets for your own planned holiday?

*Why do I need to remind you again and again to give a call to my mother at least once in a week?

*Can you please for once let me pick up something of my own choice without checking the price tag ?It’s just a bottle of shampoo, ,not a precious diamond.

*Did you ever try to read my mind and think what I feel like being in a new house, new surrounding and amongst new people?

Then Nikhil too, on the other hand, didn’t display any better signs of intelligence in saying things up front(with a smirking face), like:

*How long do your uncle and aunt plan to stay at our place? I just want to know as my parents are planning to come soon.

* When will you learn to prepare a good cup of tea?

*Why are you holding hands of your mother in the shopping mall ?

*Why is your attitude so disgusting ?

*What makes you complain about your job daily?You don’t want to work in reality.

*Why should I spend extra money on gift wraps?My family members don’t need a gift wrap for Diwali sweets.You can wrap them for your side.

*You keep me happy. I will also make you happy (God only knew ,what that meant)

Love and affection also existed sometimes within their four walls. But misjudgement , taunt and bickering had an upper hand in Nikhil and Meera’s lives. Many such situations brought them to a turn where they were unable to spend few good moments without hurting each other at the end.They represented themsleves as a happy couple in social gatherings , but inside their hearts , they had started to think their marriage a big mistake. Bonding was something which they were absolutely unaware of in their three years of togetherness. They were living in each other’s lives simply out of a habit.

In the middle of all these chaos, Nikhil got a job offer in Singapore through one of his’s friend’s reference and grabbed the opportunity. That left Meera with no other choice but to leave her job and shift her base with Nikhil to a new country a year ago. Sometimes, a relationship recovers from it’s bad times with the change of surroundings and lifestyle.

Nothing changed for Meera and Nikhil though. To make the matter more worse, Meera couldn’t find any new job after coming to Singapore due to the country’s stringent job policy for foreigners , especially for the dependent spouses. That made her feel inferior to her husband and more frustrated.

‘Here is the menu card, Sir,’ the waiter left after placing two menu cards on the table.

‘What do you want to eat?’ Nikhil asked Meera. They were sitting in Shahi Maharani , a nice and comfortable North Indian restaurant situated inside Raffles City Shopping Centre.

‘Order whatever you think is the best,’ Meera answered with a gloomy face.She seemed busy with her ,just out of charge ,mobile phone at that moment.

‘Oh come on, Meera. Enough of this nonsense. Can I have my lunch at least peacefully ?’

‘Did I say anything disturbing? You make things sound like your world revolves around my will. You never admit your faults. It’s always me who is blamed for everything.’

‘You know what ? It’s useless to talk to you. I am really hungry and placing the order for myself. You take your own sweet time to order,’ Nikhil started flipping the menu card angrily when the waiter came back.

‘Can I take your order, Sir?’ he asked Nikhil.

‘Sure. One plate onion pakoda as the starter. Then bring one plate of peas pillau, kadai paneer and channa masala in the main course,’ Nikhil ordered an elaborate menu for himself.

‘Okay. Do you want to order anything else,Sir?’ the waiter again asked with a smile. In reply, Nikhil looked towards Meera and found her indifferent expression.

‘No , that’s it. Please make it fast,’ Nikhil requested the waiter.

‘It will take maximum 15- 20 minutes, Sir,’ the waiter conveyed and left after reconfirming Nikhil’s order one more time.

‘So, you don’t want to eat anything,right?’ Nikhil asked Meera in a cold voice.

‘I would have ordered food otherwise. What is your problem? Please enjoy your lunch,’Meera replied.

‘You are lucky Meera that I am still tolerating your bad and illogical behaviour. Any other husband, in my place, would have left you long back.’

‘Who has stopped you from leaving me? And what do you think of yourself? Are you under the impression that my life is going to become a hell after you leave me?’ Meera looked hurt but didn’t want to be defeated.

‘I don’t know about you. But my life has definitely become a living hell. You never seem to be happy no matter whatever I do for you,’ Nikhil continued to hurt her.

‘What have you done for me Nikhil that I should feel happy? In your opinion, buying few things from the supermarket and doing some shopping with her are the only duties of a husband. How can you condemn me for not being appreciative when you even don’t know the meaning of it? When did you acknowledge anything that I had done for you till date?’Meera once again forgot that both of them were sitting in a public place and they had the chances of being overheard.

‘As if you care ,’ Nikhil said with his famous smirking face.

‘That’s what you think Nikhil. Did you ever try to care for my feelings ? Whenever I wish to invite my parents at our place, I find some creases on your forehead. You always tend to find faults in anything I cook for you. I wasn’t getting any other job in Singapore. Instead of helping me out, you just made fun of me saying that my wish of relaxing at home at husband’s expense was fulfilled finally. What kind of a person are you?’

‘I was just joking. Now, why am I even expecting you to understand a plain humour?’that’s all Nikhil could manage to reply.

‘Yes, sure. Your sense of humour is definitely some hard nut to crack . You feel that you are doing me a great favour by still allowing me to stay in your life. If I had known you before marriage , then I would have never permitted you to enter my life in the first place,’ this couple had undeniably never heard the word ‘peacemaking’ .

Nikhil appeared unmoved even after such an accusation from Meera’s end. Just served hot onion pakodas on the table could also be the reason of his nonchalance.When he was about to place an onion pakoda in his mouth , his mobile phone rang. The call was from an unknown number.

Nikhil : Hello

He heard an an authoritative male voice responding him on the other side of the phone.

Voice : Hi, can I speak to Meera Agarwal , please?

Nikhil : May I know whom am I talking to?

Voice : This is Wilson Fernandez calling from the office of Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

Nikhil : Hello Mr. Wilson. I am Meera Agarwal’s husband Nikhil Agarwal. Can you please tell me what is the matter ?

Wilson : I need to talk to your wife at first. Her phone number was not reachable.That’s why I dialled your number.

Nikhil : She is admitted in hospital at present. So her number is not reachable. You can convey me whatever you want to tell her.

On the other side of the table, hale & hearty Meera Agarwal looked hungry and surprised at the conversation between her husband and the unknown caller .

Wilson : Oh ,I see .Well Mr. Nikhil , when did your wife last travelled from India to Singapore?

Nikhil : Almost one month back. She took a flight from Kolkata to Singapore.

Meera was clueless how her recent travel from Kolkata to Singapore could be a topic of discussion with a stranger. Yes , she went to Kolkata alone one month back to attend her best friend’s wedding. Nikhil , as usual , had no leaves to afford a vacation that time. Still, what was the matter?

Wilson : Correct. While filling the Immigration form in the Kolkata airport during her return , she had put wrong date of birth in the form. This is a grave offence as per the immigration laws in Singapore.

Nikhil : What are you trying to mean? Sorry, I am not able to understand, Mr. Wilson.

Wilson : Tell me the date of birth of your wife.

Nikhil : It’s 16th November, 1987.

Wilson : Right. The date of birth format is DD/MM/YYYY. She was supposed to write her date of birth as 16/11/1987. But she had filled up the fields in this way – 11/16/1987. It’s a mismatch as per the details mentioned in her Passport.Is it clear to you now?

Nikhil : Oh. Look Mr. Wilson , she didn’t write this intentionally. She had no tendency to put any wrong information in the immigration form. It’s a minor mistake. I hope you can understand. Moreover, she was travelling alone. I was not with her. So, she might have made this mistake out of sheer nervousness.

Wilson : Rules are rules , Mr. Nikhil . Intentional or unintentional , but this is a violation of rules to give any wrong information in the immigration form. The Indian High Commission has taken this matter seriously and have approached ICA Singapore.

Nikhil : So , what do you suggest us to do now?

Wilson : Is your wife living on Dependent Visa in Singapore?

Nikhil : Yes , she is. I work here and have an employment Visa. Both of us are Indian passport holders.

Wilson : Well. I am afraid your wife is going to be penalised for this security breach.

Nikhil : What is the penalty?

Wilson : She is going to be deported from Singapore within next four hours.

Nikhil : What ?

Wilson : Yes. There is no other way.

Nikhil : I want to come down to your office now and sort out the problem. I mean it’s a pure case of unintentional mistake. How can you penalise my wife in such a manner ?

While all this was happening , Meera dragged her chair by Nikhil’s side and held her husband’s shaking right hand (she had no other choice as Nikhil was holding the phone in his left had and was looking very disturbed). Meera had never seen him getting so nervous in her three years of marriage.She tried to calm him down still being in the dark about the problem. All that she could make out from the conversation was that there was some serious issue with her immigration form.

Wilson : I am afraid there is no use of coming down to the ICA office at this point. It is a legal matter now. Your Employment Pass looks fine, that means you can continue your stay in Singapore. But your wife needs to leave the country right now.

Nikhil : How is that possible? I want my wife to stay with me. I am sure there must be some other means of resolving the problem.

Wilson : Let me have a talk with the Indian High Commission on the other line. Meanwhile, don’t cut the call as it is being recorded for official purpose.I will put the call on hold while I contact the office of Indian High Commission.

Nikhil  : Sure. I will be waiting in the line.

Nikhil put his mobile phone on mute. He looked shattered.

‘Will you please tell me what’s going on?’ Meera couldn’t take this suspense.

The waiter had served the main course but Nikhil didn’t feel hungry anymore. He gulped down a glass of water.

‘What did you write in the date of birth column in the immigration form at the Kolkata airport last month? Do you remember anything?’he asked Meera.

‘I can’t remember. Why?What happened?’she replied.

‘A guy named Wilson Fernandez has called from the ICA office. He is telling that you have put wrong date of birth in the immigration form. This is a grave security breach.Both Indian High Commission and Singapore government authorities have taken the matter seriously. They want you to deport from Singapore within next four hours as punishment,’ Nikhil revealed.

‘What?’ that was all Meera could manage to say. She looked equally shocked and helpless like Nikhil .

‘Anyway , I have requested him to give some solution to this problem. He is talking to the Indian High Commission and will revert in some time,’ Nikhil tried to show some assurance to Meera and held the phone back to his ear.

In his mind, Nikhil was imagining himself without Meera , alone in his Singapore apartment. This very thought itself made him shiver.

Meera was trying to recall her date of birth she had written in the immigration form. After failing to remember, she blamed herself for being so callous while filling up such an important document. Had she filled up the form cautiously, Nikhil didn’t need to face this trouble on her behalf. She came back to reality when she heard Nikhil talking on the phone again.

Nikhil : Yes, Mr. Wilson. Any luck?

Wilson : I just talked to the Indian High Commission authority and tried to explain them that this was a plain mistake from your wife’s end.

Nikhil : Yes, Mr. Wilson. Any luck?

Wilson : I just talked to the Indian High Commission authority and tried to explain them that this was an mistake from your wife’s end.

Nikhil : So, what are they saying now?

Wilson : Look ,they have somehow agreed to not deport your wife from Singapore.But she will need to face legal proceedings soon.

Nikhil :  That’s a great relief. What do we need to do for the legal proceedings?

Wilson : You need to go back to India and report to Indian High Commission’s office in Delhi by tomorrow. They will explain you the rest.

Nikhil :  Tomorrow ? Mr. Wilson , I work in an office here. I can’t move back to India simply by tomorrow.Moreover , I even don’t know how much time the legal proceedings will take to get over. Please suggest me something.

Wilson : Well, then you have only one option left. That is to face legal proceedings in Singapore court.

Nikhil : Okay. I can at least manage things from Singapore.Where should I go ?

Wilson : I am telling you a lawyer’s name and his number along with the case number that the Indian High Commission has registered against your wife. Please contact the lawyer and he will tell you what needs to be done next.

Nikhil : Sure. Just give me a minute.

He signalled one waiter to come up to their table. Once the waiter came , Nikhil requested for a pen and a piece of paper.

Nikhil : Ahh yes , tell me the names and numbers.

Wilson : You need to contact Mr. David Cooper. He is a lawyer and his number is +65 6301 6100. The case number registered in India is IPC/2017/5809332. He will need this case number as a reference to proceed in Singapore court.

Nikhil : Fine. I will talk to him right now.

Wilson : One more thing.You need to bear the charges of the entire court proceedings.

Nikhil :  Yeah , I will.

Wilson : First you need to pay the Singapore lawyer when you meet him today. He can’t proceed with your case unless you pay him his charges today itself.

Nikhil :  How much is the lawyer charge?

Wilson : It is SGD 970. This fee is very important. Once your case is resolved , then you will be refunded the amount later.

For the first time in the entire conversation ,Nikhil felt something fishy about the phone call.

Nikhil : Sorry, Mr. Wilson. I am not carrying this much cash along with me right now.

Wilson : Oh, that’s not a problem. Mr. David won’t mind a wireless money transaction either. I can give his account number.

Nikhil :  I am not having this much money in my bank account.

Wilson : You can also use your credit card for the transaction. Else arrange the money and I will tell Mr. David to come to your house to collect it by today evening .

Nikhil : Well, Mr. Wilson. Give me some time to arrange the money. Call me back after one hour.

Wilson : Sure. I will call you back.

Nikhil checked the phone number. It showed +65 6301 6100 , just one digit mismatch from the phone number of the so called ‘Mr. David Cooper’. He felt highly suspicious.

‘What did he say, Nikhil?’ Meera asked impatiently.

‘He said that he will call me back after one hour. But I doubt if the phone call was genuine or not,’ Nikhil replied.

‘What do you mean?’

‘He is desperate for the lawyer’s fee. I am sure it was a scam call.’

‘How is that possible? He told you my name , date of birth , about my last trip to India and also knew that I am holding a Dependent Pass,’Meera was confused.

‘No. Now when I am thinking about the whole communication, then he mentioned about India and your name in the beginning of the phone call. He received those details somehow previously.But it was me who provided him the rest of your information. Wilson went on asking me your details in the name of verification and I fed him the relevant details. He openly played with those information and I couldn’t even realise it. What a fool am I !’ Nikhil was minutely replaying the conversation in his head.

‘So, what do we do now?’ Meera asked.

‘I am very sure that there is no problem with your immigration form. We will go to the ICA office right now and verify this. Let me settle the restaurant bill,’he replied.

‘I think it’s a wise idea. But first have your food,’ she reminded Nikhil the purpose of coming to Shahi Maharani.

‘Food can wait dear. But I can’t afford to delay one more moment to confirm that my wife is not into any problem,’ he told these words and held an amazed Meera’s hand.

They went to the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) office to verify the authenticity of the phone call.

‘No,Sir. Government authorities will never demand money. Actually there is this scam going on in Singapore where unknown callers, claiming to be from ICA office, are cheating people by asking money in various means,’ the lady in the ICA office clarified with an assuring tone.

‘Thank you so much Ma’am for the information. Can you do us one more favour, please? Kindly take my wife’s Dependent Pass and check if everything is fine with it or not, ’ Nikhil asked the lady.

‘Sure. Give me the pass. I will check it right now.’

‘Here, it is,’he took the Dependent Pass from Meera and handed it to the ICA officer.

The lady took the pass from Nikhil and checked for the relevant records in her desktop.

‘Sir, there is no problem at all with the Dependent Pass. It is clean,’ she informed.

‘Great ! Thanks again officer,’ Nikhil replied. He looked relieved and smiled towards Meera.

‘I suggest you to report the matter to the police,’ the lady told Nikhil.

‘Yes , we will report it. Have a good day Ma’am’  he ensured.

The day was suddenly looking bright and pleasant to Nikhil and Meera. They looked towards each other and heaved a sigh of relief. Although , none of them were admitting this truth, but that one hour of the scam call had actually scared the hell out of them.

Nikhil realised that it was impossible for him to live without Meera .Unconsciously, she had become the most valuable part of his life. No matter how many fights they had, he thanked God and felt grateful for still having Meera by his side.The scam call looked like a blessing in disguise to Nikhil. It acted as a helpline for him and Meera.

Meera, on the other hand , was thinking how dreadful her life could have been without Nikhil if she had to leave Singapore. It was true that she didn’t feel happy being with Nikhil sometimes. Every argument between them provoked her mind to leave him and start her life afresh and alone. But today, when the fraudulent call gave rise to circumstances of leaving Nikhil , she felt her entire self as frozen. Her heart almost stopped pumping. She appreciated the way Nikhil guarded her during the call and didn’t give her the phone to talk to that fraud guy for a single moment.

Both of them decided, in their minds, to give their relationship one chance.Amidst all the misunderstanding, disrespect and fights, love and affection finally received the well-deserved victory. However, they still had to learn the art of expressing love. After all the heated arguments for three years, showering the ‘just discovered’ fondness seemed like a difficult task at that point though.

‘I am feeling very hungry.What about you?’ Meera tried to break the ice by divulging her stomach’s condition.

‘So am I. There is a very good restaurant on the other side of the road. Let’s go there and have some good food and wine,’ Nikhil replied.

‘Why not?’ smiled Meera and held Nikhil’s hand tightly.

The signal turned green for pedestrians and they were crossing the road hand in hand. The scam call had re-established the torn connection in their marriage.

Valentine’s Day was undoubtedly going to be a memorable affair for this couple.

(Nikhil and Meera’s story is purely imaginatve. Whereas the scam call is a fact. Off late , people in Singapore were falling victims to fraudulent calls where unknown callers claimed to be from the office of Immigration & Checkpoints Authority. They cheated innocent people by various tricks and took money from them. Police Department looked into the matter seriously and warned everyone to not fall prey to such scams.)

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