MARCH 2018. There is pandemonium at Black T’ai.
I’m sitting by the Thames, watching the ducks paddling in the water. While I’m revelling in this moment of much-needed solitude, Mahesh calls to tell me that a woman claiming to be Randy’s wife has written a barrage of emails, tweets and reviews on the restaurant’s Facebook page. While I am waiting for Mahesh to send me the screenshots, Randy calls.
‘Where are you?’ He is very curt. I have almost forgotten the times when there used to be affection in his voice for me.
‘Watching the ducks,’ I say coolly.
‘Trust you to always be aloof when the world is falling apart. Did you contact my ex-wife in America?’
I pretend I don’t know what’s been happening. ‘I don’t even have her details! And I would never want to open your old wounds. I have not made any attempts to get in touch with her, ever.’
Randy hangs up abruptly. But it’s true—I did not feel the need to have anyone vouch for him all those years ago; since his seemingly decent family had supported him when he returned, I had assumed he was the wronged one in the divorce. These days, I have given up calling his mother. The last time we spoke, I was crying, looking for an explanation.
‘He’s taken all my money . . . where will I go . . . what will I do? How will I raise my son? I can’t leave Rohan here. I need to stay.’
She listened to me, quietly. She had neither words of comfort nor protest. I had pleaded with her to come to London, to be her son’s moral compass and show him direction. She never did. And although this was just weeks ago, I already feel as though I have come so far since then.
Now I see Mahesh’s screenshots. I read the comment slowly. It is addressed to the reviewer of the restaurant under a seemingly fake email ID.
I came across your review of this restaurant, and I am wondering if you would know how I can get an exposé done on the ‘owner’ Randeep (Randy) Singh Taneja. I have been searching for him for some time now. It seems, with this new venture, he is back on display. I am a doctor in New York, I was married to Randy in my early 20s, our daughter is now almost sixteen years old. He is no entrepreneur—he has done nothing but abuse people and steal from everyone he has encountered or done business with. His pattern is to create new personalities, get married, sometimes have kids, steal and loot in all possible ways and then disappear. Rest assured, I have every documentation possible and I am on a quest to send him to jail. He is dangerous, and truly a psychopath in every sense of the term. If you could let me know how to proceed with getting in touch with the right people, I would be grateful.
She has tweeted and messaged on other sites as well, pleading for help to implicate him. I throw the last bits of bread at the ducks and head home. I know there will be trouble when Randy returns at night. In fact, I was planning to make similar accusations on reaching the safety of Delhi, but it seems fate has decreed to speak first. The priest was right—Randy had obviously taken money from Dr Punia and then discarded her just like he was planning to discard me. And it seems he does have other children. I have to stay quiet since it is still a few days till Rohan’s term ends. Tonight, I will have to fall upon my acting skills.
When Randy comes home, he looks as though he has suddenly aged. I suppose that is what happens when the past catches up. Does he have a conscience after all, I wonder. But his words chill me. ‘You have contacted her and told her to shame me like this. There will be consequences, Gitanjali.’
‘Let’s go out for a meal and relax. I know this is stressful for you,’ I beg, playing the placating wife.
When he shows me Dr Punia’s Facebook profile, I try to memorize how to look her up. ‘I spoke to my uncle and he told me to take care of my family and ignore the narcissist that this woman is.’
‘Narcissist’, I murmur. Recently, I had had reason to look up this term. What I had read had knocked me off my feet but had also helped me come to a decision. Without this knowledge, I would have never let go . . . I would have kept falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of his lies . . . I would have ended up with depression and then possibly died.
His rants get louder and I press the record button on my phone because I need evidence. I cower in fear but hear myself saying, ‘ . . . but what have you done to your Austrian boss, Franz? You have stolen his money and his company!’
He stops short; this was the last thing he was expecting. Then he rushes at me and shoves me down on the bed, shouting, ‘Never question my financial integrity! I will pay Franz back even if it takes me fifty years!’
It is clear to me that he cannot face his own life, that he needs this mask of honour. Despite my best efforts not to speak, I hear myself say quietly, ‘A thief is a thief, Randy. And, we will all be dead in fifty years.’
He looks at me belligerently. ‘You are not supportive at all. I need to go smoke.’
I watch him stride out of the house. I spend the night trembling under the blankets, which has nothing to do with the weather. I cannot sleep for fear of what he might do to me.
The next morning, he emerges from the room wearing a beret, looking fresh and jaunty. Since the similarity strikes me as uncanny, I say under my breath, ‘Charles Sobhraj’, remembering the infamous international conman. When he leaves, oblivious to the havoc he wreaks every day, I put on a jacket and run outside to register a complaint at the nearest police station, slipping and sliding in the snow. I want to have some records in case he does get out of hand. The police see my face and realize they are looking at a distraught woman.
‘When you register a complaint, we will go to the house to investigate,’ they inform me.
I don’t want that. ‘Keep my number on your records so I can call you if he gets violent. I need to have a roof over my head till I am ready to file a report against him. I need to wait for my family to come here . . .’
I show them some photographs that I have collected as evidence of his deceit. I am aware that emotional abuse, intimidation and manipulation by a spouse are considered offences. The police give me the numbers of agencies that handle such matters. For now, I decide I can only turn to myself for help.
I find myself completely isolated, alone in a foreign country, lying next to a man I no longer recognize. I have a knife in my bedside drawer, and I hope it saves me if it comes to that
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Randy comes home at 4 am and goes to sleep beside me. He has not done this in a couple of months, and the sudden physical proximity makes me uncomfortable. I lie still till I hear him snoring. Then, with trepidation, I turn around and watch him sleep. I feel my head clawing away at my heart—don’t look, it tells me, this is not real. But the human heart is slow to see reason. It is hard to accept that in this relationship all the emotions of love and affection of the last decade have only been mine. I have spent the last seven months trying to reaffirm our love despite my partner’s shortcomings, only to realize that he really does not care for the well-being of this relationship. I thought I was doing what people normally do—meet a man, fall in love, build a life together, have children, plan our old age. Twelve years later, I find myself completely isolated, alone in a foreign country, lying next to a man I no longer recognize. I have a knife in my bedside drawer, and I hope it saves me if it comes to that. A part of me wants to shake him awake and tell him, ‘Let’s reason this out. Let’s talk and recollect the times we’ve had, the laughs we’ve shared, the places we’ve seen together . . . so much binds us . . . the birth of our son, the eccentricities of our families, long conversations, an old friendship.’ But I also know that when he wakes up, he won’t be the man I once thought him to be. I am safer while he sleeps.
I lie low, counting the days to the moment I can go pick my son up from school. Randy has offered to escort us, since there will be plenty of luggage. In the car he plays my favourite song Iktara from the movie, Wake Up Sid. The lyrics hit home—Ruth hai yeh do pal ki ya rahegi sadaa (Are our circumstances momentary or everlasting?). His intentions are clear as day; he wants to jolt me into some sort of drama, which can then spiral into more verbal abuse and blame-shifting. I refuse to fall into that trap. But then he plays I wanna grow old with you from the movie, Up. The first time I had heard this song, his head was in my lap. He intuitively knows that something is happening in my head, that my silence hides something deeper. With the next song, the memory of him crying while watching Message in a Bottle comes rushing back. Was it all a pretence? How can anyone want to waste their life and emotions on meaningless actions? I look out of the window, choking back the tears.
Our car drives up, for the last time, to the palatial schoolhouse. Randy waits in the car outside, saying he has work calls to make. I know now what these calls are; this is how he has been able to be involved with several women all these years, pretending to be busy on the phone.
There are many parents bustling about the big school hall. There’s a fireplace to keep us warm. I look at the parents, and the genuine care and concern they show for their children make me want to cry. I cannot believe I had first married a man who showed no interest in our son, my firstborn, and then married a man who had walked out on his daughter from a previous marriage, and now his son, my second child, is facing a similar abandonment. But, I pretend to say cheery goodbyes, wishing the parents around me happy holidays. At least, Rohan seems delighted to be going home.
‘Where’s Papa?’ he asks.
‘In the car. Said goodbye to all your friends?’
He nods. I choke back my tears, knowing this is the last time he will see them. Memories are fickle and will fade. It is the warmth of sentiments, the joys and sorrows you face in life which never leave you; they form the essence of who you choose to become.
Randy leaves for Dubai the next day. I gather, by eavesdropping on his phone conversations with an accountant, that there is trouble brewing in the company— the suppliers and his staff are agitating for payments. He has obviously siphoned off money from the company and is going to Dubai to take one last loan from a bank that he certainly does not intend to pay back. I think ruefully of the times he had expressed disdain for financial fraudsters, and anyone else running from the law. I had never dreamt that all of that was a lie.
Well, I also did not think that one day he would take a wrecking ball to my life, shatter my very being and then set fire to the debris, oblivious to the consequences of his actions.
I take Rohan for his last walk around the Harrods village property. He marvels at all the fancy cars and I think to myself that these are exactly the kind of people Randy would like to dupe. We buy chips and take photos by the bridge on which I had spent many lonely moments praying to the universe for this ordeal to be over.
And now, it is. The taxi is waiting, we are all set to head to the airport. I look around at the unboxed memories—Rohan’s toys and my books—still lying around the house. I agonize over the pattern of my life—caring, collecting, losing—that my children also have to fall into. I close the front door for the last time. It is yet another chapter of my life that I have shut out.
After we land in Delhi, I stop taking Randy’s calls.
(This is an edited excerpt from Beguiled: A Real-Life Story of How a Woman Got Conned in Love by Ruchika Soi)
About The Author
Ruchika Soi is an art and travel writer and an art curator
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