Rhea’s eyes were transfixed onto the television screen. Her heart was pulsating faster, small beads of sweat trickling down her temples as she gasped for her breath. She held onto the sides of her La-Z-Boy leather rocker recliner tight, as she pressed her thighs closer, harder.
“So Ms. Jafar, do you like players?”
“Excuse me!” said the befuddled contestant before composing herself. “No! I don’t like players!”
“You don’t like guys who play?” reiterated the celebrity judge as he flashed her a mischievous smile.
“I like guys who play the right way in the right areas. Not players in the wrong areas.”, clarified the pretty contestant poker-faced and peering straight into the eyes of the judge.
The smile disappeared from the judge’s face and was traded for an icy-cold stare that could pierce through the woman contestant’s soul and tear it brutally apart.
“Are you trying to say that I’m implying the wrong areas, Miss. Jafar?”
“Your smile implied it!”
“No, it didn’t! I am responsible only for what I say. Not for what you understand.”
“So what you understand is your wrong.”
“And what I say is my right. Do you understand?” He glared at her with a boiling intensity as his trademark disarming smile returning, flashing wide across his face.
“Yes, that’s true! But, in our conversation…,” said the pretty contestant calmly much to the chagrin of the judge who cut her short.
“You are trying to say something which I have not said.”, said the judge miffed at the woman’s audacity.
“You could have clarified calmly!”, the contestant said matter-of-factly.
“I was trying to clarify for the last ten minutes, but you refuse to listen and understand me.”
Rhea watched the onscreen proceedings with a sense of Déjà vu.
The past. Rhea thought that she was way past it by now. It’s been fifteen years now since she revisited that chapter in her history.
“Ma! You don’t need to get worried. I’m just going to Bangalore and not out of the country.”
Not that her protective parents would send her out of the country for any reason. Not even as plausible as higher education and career. As long as she was unmarried, this was the most freedom that she could ask for.
Neither did Rhea intend to break their trust in her as well. She remembered her goals and why she was pursuing higher education.
Was it to routinely pass through life or make something out of it?
She definitely wanted to make the most out of life.
And so she set out to the world on her own, from her home in Chennai to college in Bangalore. Not far by distance, but it was the first time that she lived apart from her family. Rhea had stars in her eyes as her future lay await.
With freedom comes responsibilities, she told herself as she curled her fingers into a ball and entered the lofty gates of the institute with a spring in her step.
As much as Rhea was excited about living on her own and tasting independence for the first time at seventeen, she encountered severe home-sickness in the first few months. Her goals set her right back on track, and pretty soon, she was making waves everywhere in college.
From topping the class to rocking it at extra-curricular events, Rhea was blossoming into a fine young woman in every aspect. Intelligent, confident, courageous, kind-hearted, and zesty. She was an olive-skinned, leggy, and lithe young woman who was utterly clueless of her beauteous charm. There was still that child-like innocence trapped in her womanly body.
Until, she crossed paths with Aditya, a media professional from Orient & McKinley, Mumbai, who had come to her campus to participate in a corporate quiz event. It was not just “love at first sight” for Rhea, but also her first love. Rhea never felt anything like this before.
She had butterflies in her stomach, and her heart was throbbing faster and faster as he walked towards her. Rhea found it impossible to look away even though she didn’t want him to know how she felt.
“So, you’re from Mount Carmel, eh?”
“I was quite impressed by the way you hosted today’s event. Great job!”, said Aditya flashing his million-dollar smile at her.
Whoever sang “Falling in love is so hard on the knees” was bang-on right. Wasn’t that Aerosmith? Anyway, if Rhea had her way, she would have fallen hard on the ground with a killer smile like that. Oh, how she wished that Mother Earth would swallow her inside, never to bring her up again!
She managed to mutter a coy, “Thank You!”, avoiding his direct glance.
Look at him, Rhea! You’re better than this. Whatever happened to the bold and confident girl all of a sudden?
She couldn’t understand why she was behaving so strange and unrecognizable even to herself.
“Would you mind if I could have your phone number and email address?”
Rhea’s hands turned cold and clammy. “Sure! 9885025678 and firstname.lastname@example.org.”
“Awesome! We’ll stay in touch, okay! By the way, did you have dinner?”
Rhea knew what exactly he was thinking.Aditya escorted Rhea as they went out for dinner and got to know each other better. Rhea couldn’t fight her feelings of attraction for Aditya. Secretly, she was thrilled that he was reciprocating the interest in her as well. Soon enough, it was time for Aditya to bid farewell.
The Mumbai lad took her heart along with him and corresponded with her as promised. The phone calls and emails became frequent and a regular feature.
“Rhea, come to Mumbai! Do your summer internship at O&M! I’ll be your project manager.”
It was an offer that Rhea couldn’t resist. She’d be a fool to refuse a golden opportunity that landed right onto her lap. Her dream company and dream man at one shot!
She slept like a baby that night, cuddling her pillow tight, and drooling blissfully.
Mumbai was a step-up from Bangalore.
Rhea’s proud parents had come to drop her at Mumbai even though she insisted that she could travel on her own. Aditya had rented an apartment for her already, which she lied to her parents was the company’s guest-house.
The two lovers longed to see each other and finally met after months at the O&M plush office. Aditya had firmly established himself as a hotshot recruit in the country’s leading advertising firm. Rhea had to match up to his caliber as she was his protégé.
“You look even more beautiful than when I saw you first.”
Rhea felt the blood rush up to her cheeks. Nobody made her feel this way. She didn’t know if this was love or something else. But whatever it was, it felt irresistibly magical.
Before she knew it, Aditya’s soft, thick lips were on top of hers. To their surprise, especially Rhea’s, she reciprocated with an ardent passion that she never knew existed in her. She lunged at him repeatedly in a desperate effort to never let the kiss end. When she finally let Aditya pull away from her warm embrace, they both cried in unison “Wow” and laughed rapturously.
In between serious work, Aditya sexted her. At first, she felt a tinge of embarrassment mixed with curious pleasure. He wanted to take it to the next level.
But, Rhea was going through an inner turmoil. While she basked in his attention, she also felt guilty for keeping her parents in the dark about her relationship. She loved Aditya, but she loved her parents more. And she knew that they would be livid if they discovered about Aditya. More so, at her for breaking their trust.
“Adi, when are you planning to talk to our parents about us?”, Rhea asked one day.
“When the right time comes!” Aditya placed his hand on top of hers and gave it a tight squeeze. “Don’t think so much, meri Jaan! Learn to let loose and have some fun while you’re young!”
Rhea smiled even as she felt another pang of guilt rise within her body. Aditya sealed her lips with a flaming kiss, reading her thoughts instantly. She shut her eyes and the world out after that.
He started undressing her slowly as he fidgeted with her shirt buttons. Rhea was intoxicated in his perfervid overtures. She was in heat and wasn’t thinking straight. Before she knew it, Aditya had stripped her down to her bare minimum and gently nudged her onto the bed.
“How can a guy resist making love to such a beautiful girl in front of him?” he whispered in her ears, before swiping it with a round, wet lick.
Rhea came to her senses and got up from the bed.
“No, Aditya! Not now….not today!”
“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” Aditya jumped up and hugged her gently.
“I don’t feel like it. Please!”
“It’s your parents. Can you stop feeling guilty for being in love?”
“It’s not just that, Aditya!”
“What is it, then? You don’t love me?”
“I do! But things are moving way too fast between us.”
Aditya snickered, “Unbelievable! Come on baby! This is the natural course of courtship. Don’t you feel the way I do for you? I could see it in your eyes the first time we met or kissed.”
“I do, Aditya! But I want to take it slo….”
Before Rhea could finish her sentence, Aditya was on top of her, disrobing the little piece of fabric left on her body. He pinned her onto the bed and started kissing her like he was making war.
“Stop it, Aditya! You’re hurting me”, cried Rhea as Aditya pulled her hair in a frenzy. He slithered down, tearing her legs apart. “Ouch!”
“It’s not my fault. You’re so fucking beautiful, my baby!”
This was when Rhea quickly swung into action and pushed him hard onto the ground as he was just about ready to enter her. She bundled up her clothes and ran out of the bedroom.
“You bloody whore! Give me your pussy!” screamed Aditya in rage.
Rhea’s hands were shivering as she slipped into her panties and fastened her bra. She hurried as she wore her shirt and jeans and rushed out of the house as fast as she could.
“Come back, you cunt! Where are you off to? You can bloody well go and sleep on the roads tonight and after that.”
Rhea checked into a motel and spent the night in bed crying all night long while cursing herself for utter foolishness.
She had to report to the office the next day. Aditya called her to his cabin as soon as she walked in.
“Rhea! What the devil has gotten into you? What have I not done for you, you little bitch?” he grasped her arms so tight that she let out a cry.
“Aditya, I want to end our relationship.”
“What? Are you serious?”
Aditya laughed out loud as he nervously unbuttoned his tie and the upper buttons of his shirt.
“Listen, Rhea! Whatever happened between us was consensual, okay?”
“No! It wasn’t so last night, Aditya!” Rhea looked him in the eye.
“Rhea, you vile woman, you asked for it. You allowed me to come to your place, into your bedroom.”
“So? It doesn’t give you the right to molest me.”
“Hah! Tell that to the world, Rhea! Better still, tell that to your parents. They’d be very proud of their darling little daughter.”
Rhea’s face fell. She knew that no one would believe her, and she didn’t have the gumption to break her parent’s confidence in her.
“Read my lips, Rhea! There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. You asked for it. Do you understand that clearly, you bitch? Now move your pretty arse and get the fuck out of my room.”
Aditya seemed calm and composed to the others in the office. Only Rhea knew that he was seething in anger.
She went back to her cubicle to find a termination letter for her unsatisfactory performance lying at the desk.
The joke was on her, and it didn’t stop there. Later, she got to know that Aditya already had a steady girlfriend. Rhea never felt more cheated and foolish than she did that day.
Zehra Jafar was the strongest contender in the Miss. India 2017 contest. Until Aditya Tambekar, the CEO of Phoenix Music India came in as one of the judges in the finale. Aditya was married to Shilpa, an ex-Chief Minister’s daughter, and represented the elitist echelons in the country. And, here was Zehra Jafar, a nobody who refused to get intimidated by his status and, worse still, resist his covert flirty overtures, and make him look like a fool on national television.
Rhea watched the finale and Aditya’s reaction on TV as Zehra answered the final question. Aditya had his lower face covered with his palms while he glared intently at Zehra.
Even though Zehra’s answer was the best of the lot, and won the hearts of everyone among the judges and audience, she didn’t win the title. Aditya had pulled his strings and shattered the dreams of yet another worthy woman.
Rhea looked on helplessly as she wanted to jump into the screen and punch Aditya hard where it hurt him the most.
“Rhea, is everything okay with you?”
Gautam, her husband, said startling her as he entered the house earlier than expected that night.
Rhea rushed into his arms and hugged him tight before crying out loud.
“What’s the matter, darling?”
Rhea spilled the beans about her hidden past as Gautam gently hugged her and rubbed her shoulders to ease her pain.
“Why didn’t you tell me this before, Rhea?”
“Gautam, I thought it was a closed chapter. And even though my first instinct was to expose Aditya back then, I was petrified. I was scared that no one would believe me. Including my parents. Including you.”
“If you didn’t think anyone would believe you, then, why are you telling me now?”
“Gautam, I saw that Aditya was one of the main judges for the finale of Miss: India. And he’s been playing the same mind games with one of the contestants. He’s such a smooth operator, I tell you. Messing up with young women’s heads and hearts, and screwing up their future if they didn’t give in to him. I cannot remain a silent spectator anymore, Gautam. At the same time, I am so scared and so scarred to come out with my story.”
Gautam pulled her closer to him and hugged her tight.
“Stop feeling guilty for your choices, Rhea! So you fell in love with a dick! It’s okay to admit it. But look at you now, and far you’ve come on your own. You made a wise choice when it came to selecting your life-partner. You were right even then, Rhea, for standing up to a bully and telling him, “No.” Also, when he tried to rush you into something when you weren’t ready. Even when he threatened you with dire consequences, you stood up to him. And I couldn’t be more proud of you. It was never your fault, Rhea. Ever. It was always his. Also, it’s okay to be wrong sometimes, you know. You don’t have to beat yourself up for that.”
Rhea melted in his arms for the longest time. She had no idea how parched her soul was. Gautam’s words rained on her, quenching every inch of her. She rubbed her red nose on his shoulders and gently lay there, soaking in, and holding onto him.
“It’s not enough speaking out to me, you know Rhea.”, Gautam said, stroking her hair lightly.
Her heart missed a beat. Rhea knew what exactly he was thinking.
“I want to. But are you sure?”
“What about Divya and Ayush?”
“What about them, Rhea? It is such an important lesson for our children. Boy, girl, man, or woman – “No means No”! It could be a “Yes” yesterday but a “No” today. And that’s perfectly valid. Our children need to understand what consent means Rhea. I get what you are saying. What about the repercussions in school? With parents like us, I’m sure they can stand up for themselves.”
Rhea knew the stakes were high, given that the victims were always the ones who came under scrutiny, and subjected to suspicion and shame. Her job could be at risk too, but her eyes glistened with determination.
“Aditya, I’m coming for you. We ended last at the anti-climax. But, here I come fifteen years later with the climax of our story. It’s payback time, boy! Time to eat your karma!”
By: PTI | Mumbai | Date: January 11, 2018 6:31:04 PM
#MeToo movement: Media & Entertainment Tycoon Aditya Tambekar accused of sexual misconduct by Rhea Krishnan, Reader – JMU