Saturday, September 8, 2012

SS - Ancora

Payal was worried. In fact, she was very worried. She bit on her lower lip and then her upper lip. Akash leant over and rested his hands on the fingers drumming on the table top.

‘Payal,’ he said, ‘Stop. Stop worrying.’

‘How can I not worry, Akash?’ she asked, her big eyes clearly reflecting her distress.

‘I’ll make sure nothing happens. Okay?’

‘I don’t know, Akash. I just feel something bad will happen.’

‘Nothing bad will happen, Payal. Just relax.’

Just then their two-year-old Partha toddled into the room followed by his nanny. ‘Mamma. Mamma,’ he said.

Payal picked him up and cradled him. Akash also got up. ‘I have to leave, Payal. I’m getting late for work.’

She nodded her head. ‘Okay.’

‘We’ll talk tonight,’ he said, kissing wife and baby, before picking up his bag and heading out the door.

*********

Arnav sat down in the comfortable seat in the business section. Four years later, he still felt a little strange whenever he had to come to the airport. There was no avoiding it, this time, though. He had to go to London. The only way the client would deal with AR Group was if he was present. He settled himself into the seat, buckling in, waiting for the flight to take off. The pretty flight attendant leaned over him and asked him if he wanted a drink. He shook his head, leaning back tiredly. He’d fallen asleep by the time the flight took off. About an hour later, he woke up. High above the clouds, the sun was still shining, glinting off the gold band around the third finger of his right hand.

He looked at it, twisting it on his finger. He’d never taken it off. She’d put it there, and to all intents and purposes, there it was staying. His mind strayed to this morning’s scene at home.

He’d come down for breakfast and both Dadi and Nani were at the table. Di had not come down.

His relationship with his Di had become an estranged one. Somehow, she still blamed him for all that happened. For the first time, he hadn’t cared. He just didn’t care any more. He was tired, more than tired, exhausted, emotionally exhausted.

‘Chotey,’ Naniji was as gentle as ever. ‘Come and sit,’ she said gently. She served him breakfast and as he began to eat, he realized his Dadi was staring at him. He looked up.

‘Chotey,’ she said. ‘I think its time you thought about marriage again. You need to have a wife and children.’

‘Dadi, I told you before. I am not getting married.’

‘You should forget what happened, Chotey,’ she went on relentlessly, completely ignoring Nani’s head shake at her. He ignored his Dadi. ‘That girl was not the right girl for you. She was weak, just like your mother-’

‘ENOUGH!’ He shouted. He breathed in deeply to calm himself down. ‘Enough, Dadi. I don’t want to discuss this anymore.’ With a disgusted look at his grandmother, he got up and walked away.

Behind him, he heard Nani say, ‘Really, Subhadra. Do you have to do this when he is eating?’

He didn’t wait to hear the response. He just walked away.

And now here he was. There was a lump in his throat as her face came unbidden into this mind. He pushed it away, got up and pulled down his laptop from the overhead bin. He tried to focus on the upcoming trip, but his mind kept straying.

In the aftermath of all that had happened, he had walked away from her. He had to. His anger had blinded him to her innocence in all of it. What difference had it made whose daughter she was? He loved her. She loved him. That was unquestionable. But by the time he’d cooled down, it was too late. He’d gone to her place the next day, but she hadn’t been at home, and Buaji had not allowed him inside. She’d made it very clear that he was not welcome any more. He couldn’t blame them. From the distance of time, he realized that they had every right to keep him away from Khushi. All he’d ever given her were tears and heartbreak and pain.

His jaws clenched as he remembered that last day. He’d gone to the house and it had been locked. Happyji told him they’d left.

He’d tried looking for her in Lucknow, but to no avail. He couldn’t bring himself to ask Payal or Akash about her. He’d wanted to, very badly, but he just couldn’t do it. Besides, Payal had given him the cold shoulder from that day on.

He also hadn’t noticed the strain in Akash and Payal’s relationship until one day Akash came to him.

‘Bhai,’ he said, ‘I’ve never questioned you and your decisions. But now, it’s affecting my life. Payal doesn’t want to live here any more, in a house where her sister was so humiliated. She wants to move away.’

This was a blow that he wasn’t expecting. The ripples were far wider spread than any that he had thought. They had affected his brother’s life. He nodded his head, stunned at the realization that his brother wanted to keep his wife happy at any cost. At least some good should come out of this whole disaster! he thought.

He arranged for Akash to move to London to start managing the growing London office. This way, at least he wouldn’t lose his brother and his wife as well. Three months later, Akash, Payal and Mamiji left for London. That was the last time he’d seen them. Akash had done well for AR Group and he deserved to have a successful and more importantly, a happy life. This was the first time he would see them after four years! He talked to them of course, and seen little Partha over Skype. Something to look forward to, he thought with a grim smile.

They were all waiting for him at the airport. They hugged each other, even Payal gave him a brief hug. He was happy with that. Mamiji was in tears and didn’t hide it. It felt good to have someone so happy to see you.

Their home was beautiful, and he was glad to get out of his travel clothes, shower and change into some casual wear in the comfortable guest room. He took out the gifts that Nani and Dadi had sent for them and headed downstairs to the family room. A small fire was burning in the fireplace releasing the sweet smell of pine into the air. The Raizadas had gathered there watching little Partha play with his toys at their feet.

He handed out the gifts to all of them, and settled into a comfortable couch.

‘Do you want something to drink, bhai?’ Akash surprised him. He raised his eyebrows and looked at Mami. ‘It’s okay. Maatey knows that things are different here,’ he raised his glass of Scotch to Arnav.

‘A glass of red wine then, please,’ he said.

Akash poured him a glass, and handed it over. He swirled the glass and lifted it to his nose, breathing out to let his warm breath release the aroma of the wine. He breathed in the bouquet and just at that moment, a vision of Khushi at Purple Orchid flashed into this head. Their date. She’d gotten high on kala-khatta! A unbidden smile came on his face and three people who dearly loved him, smiled at him. He lifted the glass to his lips and took a sip.

Something shivered through him. A faint, familiar feeling. No. It was not possible. She couldn’t be here, he thought, something like panic racing through his veins. She was back in India. But his heart was racing.

****

Khushi finished packing the boxes with the food making sure that there was little Partha’s favorite Karela ka sabji. He loved the same things as his uncle did. Her heart fluttered a little bit at that thought. As much as she had wanted to forget about him, she hadn’t been able to.

It was Akash who had arranged for her to come to London. They had both seen how shell-shocked she had been. She had turned inside herself and for the first time, had not bothered to hide the huge hurt that life had dealt her. Being here with them had allowed her slowly to get back to some semblance of normalcy. She’s gotten a job and now lived in her own tiny apartment. Being around her sister and jijaji had helped her a lot.

Lavanya had also helped her. The two had bonded over the same man, but Lanvanya could see how much more Khushi had been hurt and she’d been tempted to call Arnav a few times and give him a piece of her mind, except. Khushi had begged her not to call him. Lavanya was now a true friend to Khushi.

Checking her appearance in the mirror, she put up her left hand to tuck in her hair behind her ear. The glittering diamonds on her third finger hit her eyes. She’d never taken it off. Always warding off questions with a nonchalant, noncommittal answer. It was the one of the few things that she had kept. She couldn’t take it off. Like the mangalsutra that she still wore every night, but right now lay in a little box on her dresser. And the pearls. They were in their box in her safe.

Driving to her sister’s house, she had felt a little uncomfortable, like something was going to happen. Both her jiji and jijai had been very strange lately. Something was wrong.

She parked the car on their driveway and walked up the path. With her hand on the door knob, she paused. Why was there this familiar feeling - like a warm breath of air? S
he knew it couldn’t be. Jiji would have told her. Arnavji was on the other side of the door. She knew it. Her heart knew it. But it couldn’t be, he was back in India. 

She put her finger on the doorbell and pushed.

****

The doorbell rang.

Payal got up to answer the door.

His ears tuned in. Payal was speaking in hushed tones. Akash was staring at his glass. Mami was busy with Partha - extremely busy. He looked around at them, and time slowed down. He got up and moved to the door.

Payal was just shutting it.

‘Payal,’ he said. She spun around, a horrified look on her face. ‘Who was it?’

‘Nobody, Arnavji.’

For a moment, he stood still and then rushed to the door, flinging it open and running outside. She was just getting unlocking her car.

‘KHUSHI!’ he yelled.

She stopped. She turned around.

He was running towards her, she heard him say her name again, ‘KHUSHI!’. It grew dark around her as she started to sway.

He reached out his hand and caught her arm, holding her, not letting her fall. He put the her arm around his neck, and the other under her feet, lifting her up easily like he had done so many times before.

Payal rushed up to him. ‘Arnavji, is she okay?’

He looked down into that beloved face and nodded. ‘She’s fainted,’ he said, carrying her into the house, Payal running alongside to keep up with his long strides.

Mami and Akash rushed over to them as they entered. He carried her to one of the large sofas and gently laid her on it. As he moved to stand up, he felt the familiar tug on his collar. Her hands clung tightly to the neckline of his tee. He put his hand on hers to release it, gently putting her hand down. He sat on the sofa next to her and started to rub her hand when he felt something on her fingers. Her ring! She still wore it, on the same finger that he had put it on. He held the hand gently, gazing at the ring, unaware of the tear that slipped out of his eyes onto her fingers. He felt a hand on his shoulder. Payal.

‘Arnavji,’ she said gently, holding out a glass of water to him. He took the water and sprinkled some on her face.

Her eyes fluttered open. Big beautiful gray-green eyes. ‘Arnavji?’ she said.

He nodded, smiling through his tears. She struggled to sit up and he held the glass to her lips. She drank a little of the water then pushed the glass away. He set the glass down on the table, not letting go of her other hand. She tugged on it, and he just tightened his fingers. Her eyes flew to his face.

Let me go.

Never again.

Why now?

Because too much time has passed.

You don’t love me.

You don’t believe that.

Doesn’t matter what I believe.

I’m sorry. I missed you.

I don’t believe that.

She launched herself into his arms, almost at the same time as he started to pull her into them.

She sobbed into his shoulders, he buried his face in her hair, whispering, ‘I’m sorry, so sorry,’ over and over again, before he pulled back and finally kissed her.

A discreet knock on the door finally brought them back to earth. Dusk had darkened the room, with only the fireplace giving off a warm glow.

Akash, Mami and Payal entered the room, all smiles. They switched on the lights and looked at the two of them. He with his arm around her, smiling down at her, she with her head on his shoulders, fingers entwined in his, smiling up at him.

Payal clutched Akash’s arm in excitement. He looked down at her, and hugged her, too.

‘So, Arnav Bitwa,’ said Mamiji, ‘Are you finally going to bheds Phati Sari? Tells, tells!’

He kissed his Khushi’s forehead and said, ‘Yes, Mamiji. I am.’ He slipped down from he sofa, onto his knee, holding both her hands in his.

‘Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada, will you marry me again?’

She nodded.

Mamiji rolled her eyes, made a ‘hmpf’ sound, and then smiled broadly.

Payal wasn’t worried any more.

10 comments:

  1. no words Madhu....simply no words.....just plain brilliant....so emotional & heart touching....

    Payal

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  2. I loved it,,, kahin to mile finally,,,
    Great pc of writing,,,, njoied it

    -jhalak

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  3. Simply sublime .. madhu .. brilliantly poignant .. brilliantly touching tale of love .. each & every emotion jumps out at the reader .. loved it to bits ..

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  4. awww...so sweet..amazing!!
    it touched my heart...beautiful description madhu!!
    loved it!

    aditi07

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  5. Brilliant.
    It soothed my soul.
    Thank you so much :)

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  6. very nice... I had a big smile through out the SS..

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  7. I'm smiling and crying all at the same time... I don't know what to say... u have successfully rendered a loquacious person like me, speechless...

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  8. Really nice. You described his anguish over leaving her so well, Dhaddhi was still around, no wonder Anjali never got over Shyam, to forgive Kushi...not that Khushi was ever at fault. The old had still as bitter as always...

    I loved that they both still wore their rings, and finally meeting each other no words of anger.

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