Novoneel Chakraborty is the bestselling author of ten romantic thriller novels. His novel Forget Me Not, Stranger debuted as the No. 1 bestseller across India. Known for his twists, dark plots and strong female protagonists, Novoneel is referred to as the Sidney Sheldon of India by his readers. His latest book, Cheaters, tells nine short stories of infidelity in today’s times when societal norms are still the same-archaic.
Here’s an excerpt from this gripping read.
Alarm four: 4 p.m.
It struck me last morning when Atulit and I had prolonged toe-curling, stomach-churning and emotionally draining sex. I had an arranged marriage. I didn’t know my husband well enough before getting into bed with him. There was an undeniable restraint in me, which he negated with a subtle force from his side. I think it was necessary else I wouldn’t have been able to do anything at all. Was I comfortable? That’s a different story. Although unknowingly, but it happened differently with Atulit. We chatted and at times talked over the phone. By the time I met him, I felt that I knew him. This knowledge produced a certain comfort during our sexual tryst the previous morning. We always judge people on the basis of their sexual preferences and practices in spite of knowing that emotions are all that matters. I didn’t fly to Gurugram for sex. If it was only about sex, I could have done it in Kolkata itself and nobody would’ve ever known. This vacation was intended for other purposes: to believe that I can still be desired by someone other than my husband, that there is more to life than my family, that I’m not a victim of nuptial attachments, that I can live a different life without upsetting the equilibrium associated with my roles as a wife, mother, daughter-in-law. I managed to help Mini complete her homework via a video call. I updated my husband last night about my fake friend’s health status, asked him about everyone at home. Even though I lied, I didn’t compromise my duties. And I feel good about it. Honestly, I had my doubts about Atulit. Had he come across as predatory, I would have left immediately. But thankfully he wasn’t anything like that. We had dinner at this lovely Burmese restaurant called Burma Burma in Cyber Hub. He is quite chatty, which I like. I know he is trying to impress me. I’ve also distinguished a hint of awe in the way he looks at me; he is chivalrous and gives utmost importance to my comfort. I feel so damn alive. Sometimes I think that a little attention and care are we all need. But I know for sure that if our dalliance stretches beyond a week, Atulit’s adoration will start fading. And he too might turn into my husband. How I wish we can forever remain elusive to our domestic partners. But then I also know that that’s the essence of a domestic relationship: the mundane and the monotonous. We are all emotional explorers deep inside. Some are easy to pacify and some aren’t. For the last twelve years I had been itching for an exploration and I’m happy that I’m having it now.
We went for a movie and then had lunch at his favourite restaurant in Connaught Place. He wanted to take selfies but when I told him that pictures make me uncomfortable, he didn’t insist. He wanted to shop for me as well but I was strict. I couldn’t allow him to do that. Maybe he doesn’t know that I flew to New Delhi not for him, but for myself. I won’t blame him if he interprets my visit as something that I’m doing for us. By the time this ends he will hate me forever. I know it. And still I am okay. For once I’m being selfish. If that’s the price I have to pay for being myself, for once, I guess I’m okay with it. We came back to Gurugram. Atulit wanted to take me to an amusement park. But I reminded him that I’ll have to be at his flat. The alarm beeps. It’s time to go on a video call with Mini. I need to finish her homework. I can sense Atulit’s irritation, but he says, ‘After that whatever I say. Okay?’ I smile and nod. I’ll be back to this reality in a few hours, I tell myself.
For over forty hours, we haven’t left the apartment. I’ve been the centre of his attention. It feels so good to mean something to someone, even if it is just for a day or a week. I feel like a word which kept wondering about its existence till it read its meaning in the dictionary. Atulit, for now, is my dictionary, where I read about different meanings of myself. It’s funny how different people help you realize different meanings of yourself. My husband, at the beginning of our marriage, had a completely different meaning, or idea, of me. He was always trying to be mischievous with me. I enjoyed it too. But I don’t know when it simply ebbed away. Nowadays, we go without sex for months without even telling each other, ‘Listen, we should do it. It has been long.’
Relationships are like a bag full of gifts. The moment we get it we are excited to open it. But after we find out what the gifts are, the excitement fades. My husband and I are past the initial, exciting stage. But with Atulit, I’ve only just started. In between our love making, I look at him and smile to myself. He once asked me to leave my family and be with him. He is so naïve. He really thinks it is that easy to leave everything. He actually thinks I’m with him because I’m done with my family. No! This isn’t a runaway scenario. Nor is it an escapist module. This is just a vacation. And vacations are meant to be temporary. They are meant to rejuvenate you. Perhaps prepare you well so you can take on the monotony of life again. But I don’t tell Atulit anything. I keep nodding whenever he talks about our future. I only make sure I am not misleading him with false hope and fake promises.