Thursday, 8 August 2013

Sparsh----Chapters 11-14

Chapter 11

I don’t like hiding.
I want to be genuine, spontaneous, and me.
But you’ve got to help me.
You’ve got to hold out your hand
Even if that’s the last thing I want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes
The blank stare of the breathing dead,
The loneliness that I so dread.
Each time you understand because you really care
My heart begins to grow wings….
Very small wings,
Very feeble wings,
But wings.

Aarti's eyes glistened with tears as she turned toward the exit. Suddenly she felt someone hold her hand from behind. She looked down to find Palak smiling at her, who then proceeded to give her a tight hug. Mishti automatically knelt down and put her arms around the child.
“Aunty, aunty, you have come to our house. Did papa get you? Where is Ansh? You didn’t bring him?...Come…come…I’ll show you my room.”
Palak started pulling Mishti toward her room. Maya was livid at seeing the scene unfold before her eyes.
“Oh my God…have mercy on us…the woman seems to have put black magic on everyone in the family. Why are you still here? Leave.”
“Badi daadi…why are you scolding aunty? She is very nice. I love her. Nanu and Nani also love her. Aunty’s son Ansh is my best friend, and I…..”
Mishti interjected Palak’s upset rant by turning her to face her, and cupping her cheek within her palms spoke softly, “Palak beta, badi dadi is not scolding me. She has given me a job to do, so I was going. OK?...Good girl. Will you do something for me?”
“Yes Aunty.” Palak nodded instantly, giving badi dadi suspicious looks.
“Please get me a glass of water? I am so thirsty.”
“You will be here?”
Miahti nodded sadly. After Palak had happily pranced of, having to do something for her would-be mumma…Mishti turned to the senior ladies and folding her hands spoke politely. “I am very sorry if I hurt your sentiments. I promise you I will not involve myself with the arrangements; Neema can take over completely. But please let the company handle the wedding.”
Gayatri was in a fix. She knew her husband and sons will never agree to ammaji’s reasoning but was helpless in front of her domineering mother-in-law. Gayatri was a follower by nature, so never ever contradicted what ammaji believed by way of customs and rituals. So she did what was expected from her at that moment. She asked Mishti and Neema to leave.
“Please leave now. We shall let you know about our decision later.”
“What’s there to decide, Gayatri? Didn’t you hear what I said?”
“Yes ammaji…but Yash’s father has to be told and he….”
Mishti and Neema collected the things and walked out, just as Palak came in, walking slowly balancing a tray with a glass of water. She looked here and there.
“Dadi…where did Aunty go?”
“She left beta….she had some work.”
Palak kept the tray on a nearby table and backed off, tears forming in her eyes.
“She wouldn’t leave without drinking the water. She left because badi dadi scolded her.”
So saying she ran up crying, only to bump into Yash who was coming down. She jumped into his lap, burying her face into his shoulders and weeping softly.
“Why are you crying, princess?”
“I don’t like badi dadi…(saying in between the sobs)..I don’t…I don’t. She scolded her (sob)…and she left (sob)…Now we can’t go to buy the ring…(sniffle)…and we cannot props her.”
Yash walked down with her in his lap, pacifying her softly, and gently put her down, noticing the absence of Mishti and Neema at the same time. He saw Prateek walking toward them.
“Bhaiya, I have something to request you. Pari’s cousin Madhu is in town. Remember you met her during our engagement?” Yash vaguely remembered a clingy girl who seemed to be wherever he was during those few days. Prateek further said, “Pari and I are taking her family out for dinner tonight to the Avons. Pari’s parents are engaged elsewhere so can’t join us. Please come bhaiya; Pari wants to meet you too.”
“I’ll let you know later Chote, after I sort something out. Do me a favor. You are going to Pari’s…right? Please take Palak with you. I have to talk to dadi. Palak, go with chachu. I promise everything will be fine….OK? And no crying…Smile now. That’s my girl….Go!”
After Palak left, assured now that papa will take care of everything, Yash turned to his mother.
“Is there a problem, ma? Why did Aartiji and Miss Parekh leave?”
“Actually, Yash beta…ammaji wanted…that is, she was saying…” Gayatri looked helplessly at her mother-in-law.
“Yash…I asked those women to leave. There is no way they are coming near these marriages.”
Yash controlled his temper and crossed his arms, looking at his dadi for the first time since he had walked in.
“May I know why?
“One of them is a widow, and I won’t have a widow bode ill for you and Prateek with her dark presence in your marriages ….”
“Dadi, I’ll say this just once. If all of you want to see me married, then you will have to get used to seeing Aartiji around me all the time….because only she will oversee this marriage and no one else. Ma, is that clear?”
Gayatri nodded mutely, as Yash walked out, leaving dadi fuming.

Mishti and Neema stepped out of the auto in front of the VM offices. Before going in, Neema stopped Mishti.
“Are you OK, Mrs D? You were quiet the whole way. Please don’t let that old hag upset you.”
“I am fine Neema…and don’t be so disrespectful toward her. She is an elder after all. She can’t help being a prisoner of her beliefs.”
“Yeah…right. OK, Mrs D. Thy boss is always right” Neema smiled cheekily, trying to bring that sweet smile back into her idol’s face. “You know Boss…you are too good for your own good.”
Suddenly they were aware of a commotion happening inside the offices. They looked at each other and hurried toward the main door. Bunty Sharma, the son of the owner of Shubham Decorators, was having an argument right in the Reception area with Dharmesh and Akhil, the overall manager of Décor and Catering department. Shubham Decorators was under VM’s contract as their main suppliers. Bunty was a rowdy, brash, and foul-mouthed young man who was handling his father’s business by proxy as his father was taken ill a few weeks back. This was the third altercation with him in as many weeks. Earlier two occasions were tackled by the VM men, but this time it seemed Bunty was hell bent on creating problems.
“What’s the matter Mr Sharma? What are you so angry about?”
“Oho!…Madam Dubeyji…there you are….looking all prim and proper.” The snicker turned to a shout, “You are all cheats…and you are the biggest cheat of all.”
Mishti was taken aback by this verbal assault. She never liked the look of the man. He was as uncouth as his father was soft spoken and cultured. There was a reason Sharmaji had never let his son near his business…now she knew why.
“Excuse me!! Mr Sharma, you cannot stand here and make such accusations.”
“Well, can’t I? And who will stop me? You? You are the one who is responsible for not giving me the complete payment of last month’s events.”
Mishti looked at Dharmesh, who answered stoically, throwing a disgusted look at Bunty.
“The payments were done as per the contract Ma’am…but he is demanding for more, asking for compensations on various unreasonable issues.”
“Mr Sharma, please step into my office and we’ll talk there.”
“Why in your office? Why not here? Oho…now I know…I know you working women. If you think you can seduce me in private with your beauty and make me go easy on the bill, then (coming closer near her ear and whispering with a leer) you think right. Where do you…..”
Before he could say another word, he was taken by the collar and thrown across the opposite wall by Yash who had walked into the ugly scenario. Everyone was stunned….but not more than Bunty himself. Before he could collect himself and get up, Yash was towering over him, whispering menacingly.
“If you don’t apologize to the lady now and then get out of here, I’ll personally see to it that you rot in jail for years.”
“Wh…who…do you think you are? How dare you l…lay your ha…hands on me?”
“Yash Scindia….that’s my name, and the lady still awaits your apology.”
Bunty knew exactly who Scindias were and what their status was in the city. He knew better than to lock horns with one of them, so he got up and brushed himself, muttering sorry under his breath. Yash took a step toward him, when he found his hand being held in a soft grip from behind and then he was being pulled away. Mishti dragged him to her office unmindful of the grinning faces of her staff who had thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle and unmindful of the fact that Yash had just gained a few fans for making the man who had dared insult their nice boss bite the dust.

Mishti pulled Yash into the office and banged the door shut. Obviously she was furious and badly shaken. He waited near the door as she paced toward the window and then turned, went back, and then turned again, running her fingers through her hair, chewing her lip. Then she came near him, put her hands on her hips, and looked up at him with angry eyes.” Yash smiled inwardly at the gestureWhat’s it with my girls and hands on the hips…first Arpita, then Princess, and now my adorable Mishti.”
Taking a deep breath she spoke, pronouncing each word distinctly. “What.Was.That. Mr Scindia?”
“What? What did I do? The man dared to be offensive to you. I saw it and couldn’t stand it so did what I had to do.” He shrugged.
“So what are you now? My official bodyguard?” She was visibly agitated now. “How could you make such a scene in the office? Do you think that is the first time someone has made a pass at me or been insulting? No, Yashji, I have my share of it…on daily basis…and I know how to handle such hooligans and take care of myself. I have learnt it the hard way. A man like that took my life away from me once. Do you think I’ll ever let myself be vulnerable again? There are better ways to handle such matters other than violence.”
Yash stepped forward and held her by her shaking shoulders, trying to calm her down. “Shshh…it’s OK. I am very sorry if I upset you, but I am not sorry for what I did to that lowlife. In fact I controlled myself because of you otherwise I’d have…(closing his eyes) never mind. You don’t have to worry about him. I’ll take care of…”
“There you go again,” Mishti sighed. She lifted her hands and put them on his, lingering on them for a few seconds, and then removed his hands from her shoulders and turned toward her desk. It was amazing how just by the mere touch of his hands, she had felt calm. She was totally composed when she turned back to look at him.
“You have to do nothing, Yashji…I’ll speak to his father. In fact I am not even sure what you are doing here. VM is not handling your marriage anymore.”
“But it is. That’s what I came to tell you. You don’t have to worry about what my grandmother says or believes. Important thing is what we believe and what we want. And both Palak and I want you. ”
“You said Palak by mistake.”
“Oh…did I? Anyway I apologize for my dadi’s behavior.”
“But I didn’t take any offence. She is your dadi…obviously she will want to believe and do what is best for you. And marriages are very sensitive matters for elders in the family. You are lucky to have such a nice family where everyone is so concerned for you. What I am should not come in the way. So if we are still in, then Neema will take over.”
“No…nothing changes. You will be in-charge as before. I don’t want anyone other than you taking care of our marriage.”
Yash looked at her pointedly as he said that and noted the cloud that passed over her face, as she sat down to take a call in her landline.
I’ll be damned if I let you suffer for something that you are not and don’t deserve to be Mishti. You don’t grudge anyone…you are too nice. But I will make sure my family accepts you…Oh my God!! (Yash sat straight)…That’s it, isn’t it? You are scared my family will not accept a widow…Well then I’ll have to remove that misconception, as soon as I make you admit the truth.
Yash shifted in his chair; a sudden glint had come into his eyes, and Mishti who happened to look at him while on phone raised an eyebrow in question. He shook his head, mouthing “nothing.” He took out his cell and texted someone. As he waited for Mishti to finish her call, he realized what she must endure in this false life that she was leading…dealing with women like his dadi and men like that rascal he met earlier. He marveled at her resilience and calm courage. He hated himself for not being there for her for every moment of humiliation she faced at the hands of people who never went beyond her front. Not any more…not if he could help it. Mishti needs to open up and that too soon.
Mishti put the phone down and looked across at him. She had been watching him while talking. There was something going on in his mind….she was sure.
“So Aartiji, are you coming with me to buy the ring?”
“Yashji, I told you, I won’t involve myself…I won’t hurt the elders’ sentiments with my presence.”
“And what if I say dadi has agreed…I didn’t finish what I was saying earlier. My father had a talk with her. He gave me a call while I was coming here. So we are all good here…OK? So shall we…”
Just then his mobile buzzed. He smiled apologetically at Mishti and pressed the button. Mishti nodded and picked up a file, which she dropped immediately as she heard a female voice shriek loudly in his phone.
“YASH…I don’t believe this. You remembered me!! I have been dying to meet you; it has been so long since I saw you….We are meeting tonight, right?”
Mishti’s hand fisted her dupatta and she kept her eyes averted when she heard him respond to the girl huskily.
“Of course we are, sweetheart. I am so looking forward to this.”


Chapter 12

I don't think you will
ever fully understand
how you've touched my life
and made me who I am.

I don't think you will
ever fully comprehend
how you've opened my heart
to love and the wonders it can do.

You've allowed me to experience
something very hard to find
unconditional love that exists
in my body, soul, and mind

“Of course we are, sweetheart. I am so looking forward to this.” He sneaked a glance at Mishti and saw her bite into her lower lip (he really has to stop her from doing that) and then sliding down on her knees, ostensibly for the dropped file.
“You are? Wow….great. Prateek was not sure you would come. There was something I wanted from you.”
“Earlier I wasn’t…but now I am very sure….(In a huskier tone). You want something from me? Hmmm! Anything for you my dear; we are practically related.…In fact I might have a surprise for you. See you…..Hmmm…bye (and after pressing the off button)…bye darling…tonight then!!”
He looked across the desk at the empty chair and smiled. “So how long do you plan to hide under there?”
Her head shot up and she got up abruptly. Aha…her nose was all red.
“Hide? Whatever do you mean? I was just picking up this file.”
“Oh, really!! Well then Aartiji…you seem to be very busy…I better get going….” He got up.
“But that ring….I…”
“Oh, the ring! Don’t worry about that. I know what I want and I would like it to be a surprise for her, so I guess I should do this by myself.”
“No, it’s OK. I can help…I….”
“That’s so nice of you Aartiji….offering your assistance in spite of what you believe. Well…if you really want to help…then….(suddenly reaching across he took her right hand in his, noticing her eyes go all wide)….May I?”
He looked deep into her eyes, making it impossible for her to look away, and before she could realize he had slipped out the ring from her ring finger. It was the one Di had given her when she was buying one for her own engagement.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll take this as a sample. I rather like the look of it.”
“But the size will be different, Yashji.”
“Oho…don’t worry. I know her size. After all I have held her hand many times. I’ll return this by tomorrow. Good day, Aartiji!!” He was gone before she could breathe another word out. He had one more stop to make in VM before he finally left.
Aarti sat down slowly…looking down at her hand. In no time it was wet with the tears that were flowing freely now. He really hadn’t recognized, had he? Her touch…which he used to identify so distinctly from all others. In the morning she had pacified herself by thinking that he was too concerned about the thorn prick…but now? “What’s wrong with you, Mishti? Isn’t this what you wanted? Then why is it hurting so much… realize that he didn’t remember what he had said back then…that one thing he would never forget will be your sparsh”. His words from past echoed in her heart as if he had just spoken them…..“These hands have saved me, given me a new life, taken care of me….They talk to my heart. To answer your question, your sparsh….I would know this touch as long as I live!!" He forgot her touch…and it hurt…it hurt very much. And it hurt to see him do things for someone else….speak of someone else…feel for someone else. And she could do nothing about it….

“Really Palak….mumma went to your house? Did you show her the aquarium in your room?”
“No Ansh…I wanted to. But she left because Badi dadi scolded her, but don’t worry, papa scolded back Badi dadi. I told you papa takes care of everything.”
“Yes, mumma does the same. I like papa….Palak, did he get the ring?”
“No Ansh, but I think he has gone to the market to do that.”
“Great…and the cake?”
“It is ready. Shanti Aunty and I decorated it with gems.”
“Shsshhh…I think mumma is home. I’ll talk to you later. You tell papa about the picnic we planned with nana, nani, and dadu…OK?...Bye.”
Ansh kept the phone to find mumma walking into the room. He ran to her as she knelt down, and gave her a hug.
“Hey handsome….How was your day? Can I give my big boy a kiss?”
“No kissiy-wissy, mumma. How many times should I tell you that boys don’t do that….” Then, as his mother pouted falsely, he looked here and there and then whispered, “OK, one little one.”
Mishti grinned and getting hold of him covered him with kisses all over his face.
“Mumma…you cheated…ha…ha…ha….,”rubbing his cheeks and then covering them with his palms as he laughed and ran out of the room with Mishti after him, running into babuji and then running around his wheel chair.
“Hold on both of you! One of you will fall down now.”
“Dadu…tell mumma…boys don’t do girly things like kissing. Jacky Chan doesn’t do it…right Dadu?”
“Right…I’ll explain her…now of you go and play in the lawn. Mumma needs her cup of tea.”
As Ansh ran out to play, Mishti went and sat down next to babuji’s chair and put her head on his lap. He kept his hand on her head.
“What is it beta? Had a tough day?”
“Hmm…(a long silence as babuji waited)…It hurts babuji….but I’ll be fine. As long as I have you and Anshu, my life is complete.” She looked up with a smile, “I’ll go and get us some tea. I have got your favorite kachoris to go with the tea.”
Satyendra Dubey heard the loneliness behind her brave words and sat thinking. He wondered whether it was time for him to do something, as he took the cup from her.
“Babuji, I’ll have to go out for an hour or so at around 8/8:15. Neema is supposed to pick me up.”
“Is it about a client?”
“No, no babuji, it’s another of Neema’s suitors…and she…”
“She wants your opinion…just like the earlier two times. I hope she doesn’t repeat her act of last time. Drunk!!!....” He chuckled as he remembered. “That girl is original, if anything. What’s her plan tonight? Play the drunk again? Or maybe a squint-eyed stammerer?”
Mishti smiled. Neema was incorrigible. Ever since they had come to Bhopal, Neema’s family were putting pressure on her to get married; twice they had sent her out with a prospective suitor to get to know him. Each time she had insisted Mishti should accompany because she didn’t trust her family to choose a “normal” guy, as she termed their version of a decent man. To be fair to her, the men indeed had turned out to be more weird than expected.
She had just finished dressing up in a simple aqua-colored embroidered saree (as per Neema’s directive), when her phone rang. It was Neema.
“I am so sorry, Mrs D. I am running late. If you could manage on your own, I’ll reach directly and catch you on the doorsteps of Avons…I promise.”
“It’s OK, Neema, I’ll take a cab.”

Mishti paid the cab fare and walked toward the porch of the restaurant looking all over for Neema. She was nowhere to be seen. As she stood there under the dim lights of the porch, contemplating whether to call Neema, she felt his presence. She turned and then turned again….there was no one. She closed her eyes and silently admonished herself for being a fool. Just then the restaurant manager stepped out and asked her to accompany him to her table, conveying that her companion had called up to say that there will be a delay. She went inside just as Yash stepped away from behind the hedge, staring at her retreating back. On seeing her, he had momentarily forgotten to breathe….She looked so breathtakingly beautiful in that saree.
Mishti was taken to a corner table. She had just taken out her cell to call Neema when she heard a familiar voice. She looked toward the direction and saw Pari Khanna along with Prateek Scindia. They were with an older couple and a young girl, who was standing to a side holding a phone to her ear. She wore a short red skirt and a sleeveless black top and was very very pretty. Mishti looked down at her phone, searching Neema’s number, when she heard that screech again…“YASH!!”…and her phone slipped from her hand as she looked up to see Yash Scindia, looking devastatingly handsome in black, walk toward the girl in red skirt with a winning smile. The girl literally threw herself at him and caught him in a tight hug. As if in a slow motion she saw him…her Yashji…lift his arms and return the embrace, one hand on her back and the other just below her waist. Mishti felt her heart constrict in pain as tears stung her eyes….she blinked furiously in an effort to will them away. The tortuous sight caused more than a ripple to her carefully cultivated calm exterior as her face reflected deep agony. She saw her whole world come crashing down. She tried to look away but couldn’t….she wanted to rush across and pull him away from her but could not. Through painful haze she saw the girl tiptoe up and plant a kiss on his cheek and then proceeding very possessively to rub the lipstick mark with her thumb, as others laughed and welcomed him. He greeted everyone but kept his arm around the girl’s waist. Just then Pari happened to look in her direction and waved her hand in acknowledgment. Fighting to regain control, she managed a tight smile. To her horror Yash had noticed the exchange and now turned to look at her direction. Before she could walk away, he had snaked his way through the tables to her.
“Aartiji….what a pleasant surprise? Are you here alone?”
“No…I…no (shaking her head)…I have to go…I…excuse me, please.”
“Of course…but since you are here, could you spare a few minutes? I would like you to meet my…I mean I would like you to meet Madhu and her family. Prateek is also here.”
Before she could protest further, he had caught her by the arm and guided her to his table. Somewhere during that short walk of few steps, with his hand holding her, Mishti found her bearings and semblance of a composure. At the table, she smiled her greetings at Prateek and Pari….and then Yash introduced her to the newcomers.
“This is Mr and Mrs Trehan, Pari’s uncle and aunty…and Madhu, their daughter.” Then, he turned to the others. “Meet Aartiji….she is taking care of our wedding.”
Madhu gave her a look over and affably commented, “Really…you are the wedding planner? You don’t look like one. You are too…too….”
“Plain? Yes…I know…sometimes being plain has its disadvantages (glancing at Yash)….You are very beautiful Miss Madhu. Congratulations!! You have my best wishes.”
Mishti extended her hand with a smile, which Madhu shook enthusiastically.“Oh, thank you so much! I really do need all the wishes…right Yash? (With a wink)….I wish you well too…Pari is all praises for you. You are doing a great job with the wedding.”
“Thank you…and if you all don’t mind, I have to go. Enjoy your evening…Goodnight!!”
With that she walked away, her head held high…not a break in her poise. Yash was never more proud of his Mishti. She was courage personified, and his heart swelled to see her hold her own….especially when he had just broken her heart to pieces. He had hated himself the moment he had looked into her wounded eyes. But he had to do this…give it a final try. He suddenly realized Madhu was tugging at his arm and saying something.
“What…what did you say?”
“Yash, I said, thank you for fixing up my internship in such a short notice. This one is very important for my career. I couldn’t have got it without your recommendation.”
“You don’t have to thank me, Madhu. Like I said earlier, you are Pari’s sister and as such family now…Excuse me everyone, I have an urgent call to make.”
Yash rushed out looking for her. For a moment he thought she had left, as he ran his fingers through his hair in agitation. Then he saw her. She was slowly walking down the path of the restaurant. He hurried forward and held his hand in front of her, barring her path. She tried to skirt around his hand, but he wouldn’t let her.
“Stop Aartiji.”
“Let me go Yashji….I am in a hurry.”
“I’ll take you home.”
“…from being my bodyguard, Mr Yash Scindia is also offering to be my chauffer. Sorry…but no thank you. I have told you earlier also, I can fend for myself. Just because I am Mishti’s sister doesn’t mean you be obligated to me.” The raw pain in her eyes hit the very core of his being….Speak up Mishti…say it…say what’s holding you back. Why are you hurting yourself like this?
“It’s not that…I…” He found it difficult to look into her eyes.
“Then what’s it, eh? What else makes you come rushing after me when your fiancé is waiting for you inside?” She closed her eyes in consternation. “I am sorry…that was uncalled for. Please don’t mind me and go inside. I’ll get a cab.”
“Aartiji please listen….”
He stopped as Mishti’s phone rang.
“Mishti beta…don’t panic when I say this….Ansh is fine. He has…”
She stumbled and would have fallen if Yash hadn’t caught her. She didn’t even realize that she had latched onto him, clutching his shirt front.
“What happened to Ansh, babuji? What…”
“He slipped on some water and banged onto the side table. The flower vase on it broke and cut his arm.”
“Cut his arm….!!” She whispered, repeating babuji’s words in mild panic.
“Don’t worry beta…. we have contained the bleeding…I have called the doctor.”
“Babuji, I am on my way….Ask Supriya to keep the arm up and the wound pressed with a towel and keep him distracted.” Her nursing experience automatically kicked in.
She suddenly realized she was standing next to his car and he was asking her to sit. When she looked at him numbly, he gently turned her and made her sit. Closing the door, he ran to the other side and started the car.
“Babuji has already called.”
“What happened?”
She answered him mechanically, looking straight ahead. He reached out for her hand and squeezed it in reassurance.
“He’ll be fine, Mishti….just fine.”
She nodded. Neither did he realize the faux pax nor did she notice. As soon as the car stopped, Mishti opened the car door and ran inside. The doctor had just finished tying the bandage. Ansh looked more excited, and least in pain.
“Mumma…see, such a big bandage! I was brave….right dadu? I only cried a little…not much.”
Mishti sat next to him and took him in his arms…relieved to see he was fine. “You are mumma’s fearless prince. I am so proud of you.”
“Uncle…you are here. See…my bandage…see…. I’ll show it to Palak also.”
Mishti got up to talk to the doctor and her father, as Yash sat down with Ansh, who promptly caught his hand.
“So young man, you were practicing your karate on that flower vase…hmmm.”
“Hee…heee….no, I just slipped and then bam….”
Babuji came in and joined them, saying Mishti was preparing some soup for Ansh. Yash made Ansh more comfortable with the pillows and kept on talking with him. Soon the medicinal effect made him sleepy. Mishti came in and asked Supriya to take babuji to his room for his night medication and asked him to go to sleep.
“Are you sure, beta? I can stay for some more time.”
“No babuji… need to go and rest. The doctor says the cut is not deep, that’s why no stitches were required. He’ll heal fast.”
Babuji wished them goodnight and left. Mishti looked at Yash for the first time since babuji’s phone call. He was looking at her strangely.
“Thank you, Yashji…. I…I am so sorry for my behavior earlier. I don't know what came over me. I have no idea what I’d have done if you hadn’t….”
Mishti broke off, looking away, chewing her lip.
“There’s nothing to apologize for. I should be the one saying sorry…I hurt you.” He gazed at her soulfully, as she looked back confusedly. “I should go now. If you need anything, please call me.”
He tried to get up, but was pulled back by Ansh, whose hand was still gripping his. His sleepy murmur shocked Mishti as she stared at her son.
“Papa, don’t go!!”


Chapter 13

I want you to know how important you are to me
how you can be a honest-to-God creator
of the person that is me...if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
You alone can remove my mask
You alone can relieve me from my shadow world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
if you choose to.

Yash looked at Mishti; she had gone pale. He willed her to look at him…and she did. For the first time he saw fear in her eyes. And then she was gone. He looked back at Ansh as he said again, "Papa?"
"Shshh…I am right here, son…you sleep. I am not going anywhere."
"Promise you won't leave me?"
"Never. I will always be with you. I promise."
Yash waited till he was sure Ansh was asleep and then went looking for Mishti. She was sitting on the steps of the front verandah, staring at the darkness in front. He wanted to take her in his arms and protect her from all the unnecessary fears that were engulfing her. Instead, he sat beside her and waited.
"I didn't realize…I didn't know."
"It's OK….You shouldn't blame yourself."
"No, it's not OK.” She turned toward him….her cheeks were wet. “What kind of a mother am I? I don't even know what's going on with my son.” She paused and then she covered her face with her palms and whispered, more to herself. “I have tried my best to make him happy…to give him whatever he desired…obviously I have failed. I have failed him and I have failed them.” She looked up at the sky despondently.
"No, you haven't. You have been an ideal parent…which is evident from the happy glow that surrounds Ansh. One look at him is enough to know that he is a very cherished little boy.” They sat in companionable silence for some time and then he turned toward her. “Look, for whatever it is worth, I think he has started thinking about it recently…maybe because of Palak?"
"Palak?” He had her attention now. “What do you mean?"
"Well…they have become good friends….and she does talk about me a lot,” he smiled, “Just as Ansh speaks about his mumma. That's why what you heard today from Ansh…I did a couple of days back from her."
"You mean she…"
"…wants a mumma.” He finished for her, nodding with a smile. “In fact she has already decided who her mumma is and is planning to propose to her."
A slow smile began to form on Mishti's face at the innocent wish of the little girl….which soon vanished as reality set in…and she got up abruptly, taking Yash by surprise.
"You better leave Yashji. I have held you up long enough. I am so sorry. I forgot there is…there are…people waiting for you."
"Are you sure? I mean I can be around for a little while more…I have already called them and asked them to go ahead with the dinner."
"Yes, I am sure. Ansh will be fine, now that he has slept. He won't get up. Thank you for everything, Yashji….I….I want you to know that I am very proud of Mishti for having had you in her life…even if for a short while. You are a good man. Wherever she is, I am sure she is very happy for you and wishes you well for your future. Goodnight!!"
She held out her hand, sincerity writ large on her face. He took it and held it for a while, neither wanting to let go. Mishti broke away first and then with a sad smile went inside. Yash walked slowly back to the car. He was about to get in when he heard someone calling him, "Scindiaji, please wait." He looked up to see the nurse hurrying up to him.
"I am so sorry to stop you like this Sir, but I needed a favor."
"What is it? Is babuji all right?"
"Yes…yes…he is fine. It's just that his early-morning medication is finished. I was to go in the evening and get it, but Ansh baba's accident made me forget all about it. Now it's too late and the local shops are closed. The nearest All-night pharmacy is far from here."
"It's OK. Give me the prescription and I'll get it."
"Oh…thank you so much, Sir. Here it is."
Yash came back with the medicine just as the local temple announced midnight by ringing the temple bell. He gave the medicine to Supriya and told her he wanted an urgent word with Aartiji. She told him that Ma'am was in Ansh baba's room. He thanked her and said he will see himself out after meeting Aartiji. He entered Ansh's room to find Mishti sitting on the floor next to Ansh's bed holding his hand, head on her arm; she was fast asleep. Slowly disengaging her hand from Ansh's he picked her up, and walking over to the other side of the bed lay her down, tucking them both with the duvet. His fingers trembled with extreme tenderness as he removed a straying strand of hair from her cheek. He stood looking at her for a long moment and then proceeded to take out a single red rose from inside his jacket pocket and placed it on the bedside table. Bending down he placed a soft kiss on her forehead. She smiled in her sleep as he whispered, "Happy Birthday, Mishti!!"

"Thank you, Neema…for everything. I couldn't have done this without you. Only you could have made her come to the restaurant."
"Anything for Mrs D, I mean Aarti Ma'am. God knows she deserves all the happiness in the world. Mr Scindia please see to it that she doesn't get hurt…because if she is, you will have to deal with at least one cantankerous female."
Yash laughed, "Warning taken! Anyway your first task today is to get her to come to the office so that we can sneak out babuji and Ansh. She may not want to, given Ansh's injury. You will have to persuade real hard. Don't forget to get her there in time today."
"Leave it to me. We'll be there….All the best. Bye, Mr Scindia."
Yash switched off the phone and turned to find Prateek looking at him quizzically.
"There you are Chote…I was about to come to you. You and Pari have to come to the farm house in the evening. Palak wanted a picnic, so I thought why not an evening out in Scindia Villa….have bonfire, barbecue, and all that. Baba, maaji, and Aartiji, her son Ansh, and her babuji will be there. You know that Ma, bauji, and dadi are going to Ujjain today for some puja. So, they won't be there."
There was a long silence, and Yash looked up from texting a client to see his younger brother staring at him.
"What's going on bhaiya?"
"What do you mean Chote? Nothing is going on."
"Alright….let me ask you straight. Ever since you have come to know about Mrs D, Mrs Aarti Dubey, you haven't been yourself. You have announced your marriage, without letting us in on who you are going to marry, and then I find you have been taking a lot of interest in this lady. A few minutes back I overheard Palak talking to her friend Ansh about "mumma." I am sorry for intruding like this bhaiya, but I am the only one who knows about…(he broke off)…Bhaiya, is she who I think she is?"
Yash had heard the entire monologue of his brother by looking out of the window. He now turned and nodded.
"You guessed right, Chote…Mrs Aarti Dubey is my Mishti. And I am going to marry her."
Prateek broke into a big smile and hugged his brother. "I am so happy for you, bhaiya…but how…I mean….how did this miracle happen?"
"It's a long story Chote…." Throwing his arm around Prateek's shoulder, Yash walked him out in the balcony, telling him about his meeting Mishti, followed by his suspicions turning to certainty. Both of them didn't notice their grandmother who had come to see Yash regarding his marriage slip away unnoticed.

The first thing that Mishti saw when she opened her eyes was the rose. She picked it up and found a note attached to it: This rose is for Mishti from her Yashji on her birthday. (PS…Aartiji, please convey her my love and best wishes!!!)…..Tears glistened her eyes as Mishti kissed the rose and held it to her bosom. Suddenly she realized where she was. "How did I get here? Last I remember was sitting next to Anshu." She got down and tiptoed out. Supriya was taking tea for babuji when she stopped her.
"Supriya, did Yashji come back again last night?"
Supriya nodded and told her about the night's events. Mishti freshened up and came down to have tea with babuji. Ansh was still sleeping. Babuji was in a mood to chat….and Mishti realized after awhile he had indeed forgotten her birthday. It upset her a little, but soon she got busy with Ansh, who had woken up and was a bundle of energy. Mishti had to be very firm with him to take it easy and be careful, but he was all set to show his bandage to everyone and relate the story…first of all to Palak with whom he had a long chat after shooing his mother out of the room. It surprised her that even Ansh forgot to wish her. If only she had overheard the giggling, hush-hush conversation of her son and Palak, she would have known there was something brewing.
Mishti was making breakfast when Neema called. "Sorry….sorry…sorry. I am so sorry for standing you up last night. There was this family crisis leading to huge scenes. By the time it got over, it was late. How is Ansh, Aarti Ma'am?"
"He is fine Neema, and you don't have to be so apologetic. I'd have called you later. I won't come to office today….Ansh needs me."
"But you have to…Vinny Ma'am called. We have a meeting with the minister's wife who visited us the other day…the one whose daughter's marriage has been fixed for next weekend at a short notice. We have no time. I am working on the plan, but only you can handle the impossible woman. Please don't throw me at the mercy of the she-devil…she will eat me alive…please…please…please…."
"Save the theatrics, Neema.” Mishti couldn't help smiling at her typically exaggerated, over-the-top behavior. “Fine I'll be there for the meeting. Hold the fort till then."
"Sure…and Ma'am…"
"Happy birthday!! Have the greatest day ever. My psychic powers say that today you will find what you lost long back…"
"Really? And what might that be?" Mishti played along with her…grinning openly now.
"You!!!! See you later, Ma'am. Bye."
That was strange even for Neema, Mishti thought, as she put the phone down, which rang again immediately. It was Yash.
"Good morning Aartiji!! How is Ansh? Did he sleep well?"
"Good morning Yashji! He is up and about and back to his old self…actually being a bit of a show-off. Right from the milkman to the neighbors to babuji's therapist…everyone has had to stand and listen to him prattle about his great injury. He is very proud of that bandage."
She heard him chuckle…a long-forgotten sound…a sound that always used to follow after her naive reactions to his teasings. She felt a warmth pass through her.
"I can imagine. We men like to flaunt our wounds and scars…..probably to get attention…especially the female ones.” A short pause as she wondered what happened. “You know, Mishti was different…she would kill my ego by being completely unimpressed about my bandaged self; my wounds hurt her more than me. In fact, she was so sure of my feelings for her that even the touch of other nurses never bothered her."
He had to sit down as he heard her break into laughter….his heart danced once again listening to the musical lilt after a lifetime.
"But it bothered you (he could feel her grin)…that's why you would make such a fuss about letting those giggly nurses…as you called them…near you…and then I…” She stopped suddenly, realizing what she was doing.
"How do you know about…never mind….Mishti must've told you. Aartiji, did you get the rose I kept for her?
"Yes….thank you. I didn't think you would remember her birthday."
"One only remembers what one forgets, Aartiji…everything about Mishti is etched in my heart. What I don't remember is her telling me that you and she shared this day. “Happy birthday!!"
"Thank you Yashji…I'll have to go now. Bye."

Anusha hurried toward her as soon as Mishti stepped into the Reception area. "Good afternoon Ma'am!! Mrs Scindia and an elderly lady have been waiting for you in the Visitor's lounge for the past fifteen minutes. They seemed in a hurry but refused to let me call you, saying they will wait when they heard you were on your way."
"Thank you, Anusha. I'll take it from here. Please see to it that we are not disturbed."
Mishti had a sense of foreboding as she opened the door of the room. Yashji's mother and grandmother turned toward her with grim faces. She greeted them politely.
"Namaste Ma'am!! What can I do for you?"
Dadi refused to go into any preamble and came right to the point…looking at Mishti with a hostility that shook her. "Is he marrying you?"
Mishti's eyes grew wide as she stared at her with incredulity. "Excuse me, Ma'am!! I am afraid I don't know what you are saying."
"Don't act innocent with me. Are you the one Yash wants to marry? Chi…chi…don't you have any shame? Snaring a perfectly decent man with your beauty? How can you even think of remarriage when your husband is waiting for you to join him in heaven? How can you insult the sanctity of your husband's sindoor and mangalsutra? "
The barrage of insinuations wouldn't have stopped if Gayatri had not kept a hand on her mother-in-law's arm.
"Maaji, please…at least let her say something.” She turned to Mishti. “Mrs Dubey, maaji says she heard Yash talking about marrying you. Is it true?"
"Of course not, Ma'am…I am afraid you are under a misconception. There's surely some misunderstanding. In fact I met your would-be bahu just yesterday."
"You did?" Gayatri sounded relieved.
"Yes, Yashji introduced us. She is very beautiful…and Yashji seems to be very….emm…fond of her. I am sorry you had to take trouble to come here because of a false notion."
"You heard her, maaji. We'll come from Ujjain and ask Yash to bring the girl home."
Mrs Maya Scindia walked out of the room in a huff…still a tad suspicious. "What did she hear then? Is there another girl with the same name?"
"Thank you, Mrs Dubey. I am sorry to have troubled you.” Then she took a step toward Mishti, looking a little embarrassed. “Please don't mind maaji, beta…she is of old school of thought. Actually, even I got worried a little when she told me this. Don't misunderstand me. Personally, I have nothing against widows. It's just that we don't want Yash to marry anyone with a past baggage…someone who has her own responsibilities to shoulder. How can she then take care of Palak and Yash with a single-minded dedication? I hope this girl…the one Yash plans to marry…is single."
"She is, Ma'am," Mishti said quietly as she saw Mrs Gayatri Scindia out of the main door.
Mishti had no time to dwell on the matter as Hurricane Neema swept her off with plans and themes and decors. The meeting was scheduled for 6 pm. They had just finished their discussions when the reception called to say that their vehicle was here. Neema had mentioned that the meeting was at the site, as Her Highness wanted a feel of the venue. Throughout the drive, Mishti was quiet as Neema chatted on. She reflected on the past few days…and then of her behavior of late. Yesterday, she had realized how vulnerable she was to him. Everything about him affected her and was weakening her. Mishti closed her eyes and resolved to avoid him as much as possible…stay away from him…not think about him!! "Dear God, help me. Give me strength." She opened her eyes to see the car entering a familiar driveway and drive right up to the front porch. She sat up straight.
"What's this Neema? What are we doing here?"
"Oops! Did I forget to mention that the meeting is here as Scindia Villa is the wedding venue? I am so sorry…It completely escaped my mind. Let me go and lay out these plans."
So saying Neema leapt out and rushed up the stairs before Mishti could say anything. By the time she got out Neema was nowhere in sight. Neema's strange behavior was rattling her now. She had no option but to follow her. As soon as she had opened the door, a shower of red rose petals fell on her…..and then she saw babuji, Ansh, Palak and all others shouting in unison, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!" Mishti was completely overwhelmed as one by one everyone wished her. Her eyes automatically sought him…but he was nowhere to be seen. Then the kids dragged her to a center table where a cute little chocolate cake was kept.
"Mumma, Palak made this cake for you….herself." Ansh declared proudly.
"Really, Palak! Thank you so much.…Come here." Mishti hugged the little girl to her, as her heart swelled at the loving gesture. She held her at an arm's length and smiled.
"This is the most beautiful gift ever, Palak. What can I give you as return gift?"
Palak's answer was prompt as she smiled innocently.
"Please be my mumma, Aunty."


Chapter 14

Two lost souls,
searching for answers
Riding the winds,
desperate to change.

As they glide through the air,
they see each other,
recognizing each other's pain.

For a lingering moment,
they touch slowly.
Taking the time to feel again.

Slowly the winds stop blowing them
in different directions.
Their bodies collide with gentle perfectio

Everyone in the room was shocked to silence...only Palak and Ansh were smiling hopefully….suppressed excitement writ large on their angelic faces. Mishti's heart sank as she recalled Yashji's words: "She wants a mumma…she has already decided who her mumma is and is planning to propose to her." Did he know then? Why didn't he tell her? She closed her eyes and looked down for a moment….and knew he was around her here…somewhere. She looked up and around and saw everyone looking at her expectantly, and not correcting Palak, as should have been the case. Now that was strange!! But the two cherubs standing before her demanded her attention more…and more than that their eyes demanded an answer. It was clear to her that Anshu too was in on this. Mishti looked at both of them with an affectionate smile.
"Hmmm! So this is my Big birthday surprise…a proposal from the beautiful little princess of this magnificent castle to be her Queen mother."
"Hee…hee…hee…Yes.…” Palak grinned back, nodding her head vigorously. “Papa has bought a ring for you and he will also props to you."
"Mumma," Ansh came and whispered aloud in her ear, "Say yes…please."
Mishti wound one hand around Ansh's waist and with the other pulled Palak closer to her and whispered softly, conspirationally.
"Hush Ansh…not so loud.” She turned to Palak, “Princess, I would love to say Yes now only, but there's a teeny-weeny problem."
"What problem, Aunty?" She whispered back.
Mishti looked at others with pleading eyes and they moved away, realizing the awkwardness of her situation. Still kneeling, she stood both of them in front of her. Then she took Palak's small hands in hers and continued whispering, with Ansh leaning in so as not to miss anything.
"Well…you see…I have a confession to make. When God gave me Ansh, I learnt how to be mumma to only a prince (looking at Ansh, who smiled)…I didn't know a princess will one day ask me to be her mumma, so I never learnt how to be mumma to one (sounding very sad)…And now if I say Yes and become your mumma, God will punish me."
"Oh no, Aunty? So, what should we do now?"
"Hmm...let me think,” She tapped her temple, furrowing her brows in concentration as the kids waited eagerly, “I got it!...I'll first learn to be mumma of a princess for one month…and after one month you will have your mumma."
"Really? Promise?"
"I promise, beta…your mumma will be with you after a month, and your papa too can give the ring then only. But in return you two have to promise me something….(as they waited) you have to promise that you will not say anything about this to anyone. This will be our little secret. Everyday I'll tell you what I learnt. So, whatsay? Promise?"
As Mishti extended her hand, the duo looked at each other, smiled, and then kept their hands in Mishti's who then covered their hands with the other hand and winked at them. They both kept their free hand on their mouth and giggled. Mishti then got up with a smile, Palak and Ansh holding her hand on her either side.
"Ahem…Don't I get to cut this beautiful cake. I am dying to taste it."

As everyone gathered around the table, Yash slipped away from behind the pillar of the far corner from where he had witnessed the entire interaction. She had done it again….managed to stay away, and at the same time ensuring Palak stays smiling. Yash knew he could not delay this any longer. She would never let up. He had one call to make before he let himself be visible. Something made him stop and glance toward the group…Mishti was looking at him. He just had time to register deep hurt and complain in those eyes….and then she turned away, laughing at something Pari said. Mishti blew the candles and cut the cake and then passed the piece around for everyone to take a bite. She was about to keep the remnant of the piece down on the plate when her wrist was held from behind and she was twirled around.
"My share, I believe." Yash looked into her eyes as he brought her hand to his mouth slowly and ate the piece holding her wrist. Her eyes widened at his brazenness and she reddened inadvertently. She fought for control as Gupta uncle spoke, "Where were you, Yash? You told me you would be here before us."
"I am sorry, baba…I got held up. Prateek, did you check on the rooms?"
"I did bhaiya…everything is perfect."
At Yash's nod Prateek guided everyone out, except Mishti who was stuck as Palak held her hand. Palak's happiness had doubled at the prospect of this night out.
"Are we going to stay here, papa?"
"Yes my love (getting down on one knee)…we'll have a grand picnic around a bonfire and have lots of fun and then spend the night here. This is celebration time. After all this is Aartiji's birthday as also that the Princess of this castle has stepped into it…,” he looked up at Mishti who had her back to him and whispered, “…finally!!" He heard the familiar sharp intake of breath as she clenched her fingers into a fist.
"C'mon Princess…Ansh…let's go and…"
"Mr Scindia…."
Yash looked at her. She kept her eyes averted as she spoke with a tremor, "I cannot stay here….I mean I am very grateful to you for going to all the trouble to get this party arranged, but it was not required.” She looked at him now, trying to get the message across. “My decision will not change. I mean I cannot be here, because I am needed elsewhere."
"No, no Aunty…you have to stay. Please…please. I can then sleep with you…and you can tell us a story…right Ansh?"
"Yes mumma…please stay. We have holidays also."
"Yes…but what about dadu, Ansh…you know he…"
"Supriya is here, Aartiji. Babuji's room has been arranged to his comfort. Now, will you stay…please?"
With no excuses left, Mishti had to agree. The kids danced around them, chattering, as they walked out toward the place where a big bonfire burnt. The next couple of hours were an ordeal for Mishti, as she tried her best to stay cheerful for the sake of the kids and everyone else and to avoid Yash totally by staying away from him. Now she sat across him with the fire in between. She was not unmindful of his frequent glances…but willed herself not to look his way. She smiled at seeing Pari and Neema having a blast at Prateek's expense. Those three had struck a chord of their own. Her eyes moistened as she saw babuji laugh and regale everyone with stories of a life left behind. He looked genuinely happy…yet she could not ignore the deep sorrow he hid in him and never let her see, lest she gets upset. Because of her…because of that vile man's obsession for her…babuji had lost everything he had…his son and bahu, his house, his town, his life. Because of her, a happy family went out of existence. Suddenly she felt stifled and a sense of deep loneliness engulfed her. Yash was watching the play of emotions on her expressive face as the shadows from the flames danced across it. It killed him to see the sadness reflected in her eyes. He saw her get up quietly and leave. He gestured Prateek to take care of the kids, as he got up to follow her. He had an idea where she would have gone.
He knew he would find her there. She was sitting on the stone bench in front of the tower, looking up at the glass room…her room. There was a lost look in her face, which was as mesmerizing as it was heartbreaking.
"So you are running away from me again."
She turned her head toward him. Somehow she was not surprised that he was there…as if his presence was just an extension of her thoughts.
"I don't know what you are saying. I am not doing any such thing. I came away because I…..I…I have an urgent call to make. Excuse me…"
He knew that she was just about ready to pass this over again. And he knew he couldn't take it anymore. Yash grabbed her hand as she tried to walk past him and pulled her toward the tower. She tried to break free. No…no…no…She couldn't go up there…just couldn't…she knew she would be lost if she went there. He held tight, and on reaching the tower pressed her against the wall, snatching the phone from her trembling fingers. He then caught her hand…entwining her fingers in his…and held it against his heart…just like he used to do all those years ago. She looked wildly for an escape…but there was no escaping him…not this time.
"Look at me, Mishti."
"Yashji…I am not…"
He put the index finger of the other hand on her lips.
"Don't," he quietly said, and then turned abruptly and pulled her into the lift of the tower and pushed the button without once leaving her hand. Mishti was speechless, part of it due to his closeness to her and the other part due to the sudden seriousness of his demeanor.
The lift door opened into paradise…there was no other word to describe the ambiance she stepped into. Starry skies surrounded her as the moonbeams danced around the room from the glass dome that extended till the floor. Wherever she looked, she saw twinkling space. Hands clasped to her bosom, she twirled around on her toes, enthralled at the sight of a long-forgotten dream coming alive. Her feet felt as if she was floating on air. She looked down to see rose petals scattered all over, as concealed lights lit the floor dimly. A round bed at the center was the only piece of furniture. She stood silent looking out…..Why…Oh God, Why? Why did he have to love her so? She hated herself for what she had to do now. She took a deep breath and turned to find him standing with his back to the lift door, legs crossed, hands in pocket, staring at her with so much love that she found her breath caught in her throat. Time stood still as they gazed at each other beneath the stars. In dream she saw him straighten himself and take a step toward her.
"Mishti." His whisper was a cry that reached the core of her heart as she closed her eyes…and then opened them with a determination, speaking haltingly, "I am not Mishti, Yashji!….Oh, by the way this is a beautiful room. You really are an architectural genius. Who would have thought of building something like this?"
"Mishti!!" he repeated and took another step forward, without breaking the eyelock.
"Yashji, I am not Mishti!!" She tried again.
"Yes, you are. Mishti, how long are you going to do this?" He reached her, his eyes looking into hers. Mishti took a step back from him, but immediately Yash took a step forward, his hands grabbing her shoulders to keep her still. "How long, Mishti, before we can finally talk about it?"
Mishti nervously swallowed, shaking her head and doing her best to avoid his eyes. She knew she would drown if she did. She needed to stay afloat…for Ansh…for babuji. Her heart began racing and she felt herself being pulled toward him. Her entire being was betraying her. In a last-ditch effort, she decided to play dumb.
"What are you talking about, Yashji? Why are you being like this?" She looked away…out in the space… her eyes trying to find a solution in the maze of the twinkling stars.
"Why are you being like this?" His grip on her shoulders tightened. He wanted so desperately to shake her out of her obstinacy and he would have too if he thought it would make any difference. But his Mishti was too stubborn. If she has a reason, she will fight him till the end….
"Look at me, Mishti….Answer me, for God's sake!!" he ordered. Mishti wanted to ignore it, but something about his voice made her realize that refusing to do what he said wasn't a choice any more. So she looked up, and her breath caught in her throat. Yash's eyes shone, and he looked as if he was in extreme pain. She felt an yearning to reach up and smoothen out the wrinkles that had etched themselves on his forehead. His gaze narrowed in on her and he stared with such intensity that she felt hypnotized.
"Wh…what do you mean? I am just being myself…..How can I make you believe that I am not Mishti? I told you that we had a lot of similarities because…."
"Yes…yes…I remember all that you told me….” His frustration knew no bounds at her tenacity. “You say your voice resembles…no, is exactly as…Mishti's….OK…agreed!!! Then tell me how is it then that each nuance, each lilt, each rhythm, each intake of breath that is registered in my soul and is in your speech is my Mishti's…How is it that your fragrances are same and also that like her you too are in a habit of chewing your lip?” Mishti stared at him dumbfounded, as he let out his frustration, “You know how I take my coffee without ever meeting me before. What was that… a wild guess? Apart from names you even share your birthdays…You keep the roses I gave her and even took one from the bouquet I got the other day. Should I go on?…And even if I agree to your explanation of coincidental similarities to all of that, can you explain this Mrs Aarti Dubey, Why are you called Aarti Yash Dubey and not Aarti Aman Dubey? Can you?...(Stunned silence as Mishti stared at his face, which was drawn with pain)…..I'll tell you why? You removed yourself from me…far-far away, but you couldn't remove me away from you. Isn't it so, Mishti? Isn't it? Answer me…dammit!!!
"Please……please don't, Yashji….I can't take it any more…" Mishti had gone white and her lips refused to form the lies again.
She stuttered, her focus waning, the fight gone from her on the face of the tortuous onslaught and the pain she saw he was going through. A single tear escaping his eyes broke the final barrier in her. She closed her eyes in resignation and swayed toward him….and suddenly all she could think of was how safe she felt, how much she had missed him, how much she needed him, how her eyes always looked for him, how close he was, how his lips were mere inches away from her. Suddenly, his eyes dropped from looking into her eyes and down to her lips, as if he heard her thoughts.
"Mishti," he whispered and he leaned in. His lips lightly touched hers, but the slightest pressure along with the surprise of his move was enough to make her gasp. Her eyes flew open…and for once she didn't hold back and let herself drown into his gaze. Yash felt exhilarated at the sudden feel of liberation. The hands on her shoulders slowly dropped down and found themselves on her back, pushing her closer to him. Her body molded into his perfectly as he pressed her mouth open, kissing her deeply and then pulling apart to look at her wondrously and then covering her face with kisses till he found her lips again. Their souls had just made contact on another level and rejoiced at this union…erasing the years of loneliness and longing with that one touch.
She should have pushed him away, but she couldn't think. For that one moment, she gave herself to him…where she always belonged. All thoughts and fears flew out of her mind and all that registered was his sparsh and that was enough. Her whole being felt alive. Her eyes fluttered until they finally closed, and her hands slowly made their way around his neck, giving him and receiving the soul-stirring touch that had evaded them for six long years. Yash finally had his heaven in his arms and he was drowning deep into her essence. He gathered her to him tighter. Their cheeks were wet with each other's tears that could not stay back against the intensity of their love. It wasn't until he whispered against her mouth, Dear God Mishti, I love you so much; I won't ever let you go away from me again…that Mishti realized what she was doing. Reluctantly, her hands moved to his shoulders and she did her best to push him away.
"No," she muttered as his lips broke away from hers. "We can't do this."
"Why?" Yash asked, his arms still around her despite her hands trying to keep him at a distance. "Give me a good reason why."
"Because," Mishti said, trying to catch her breath. She tried to clear her mind and think coherently. "It wouldn't end well."
"How do you know that?" Yash cried, finally letting her go and stepping back from her, brushing his fingers through his hair in acute agitation. "How could you possibly know that when we have barely even found each other again? What's bothering you Mishti? Why have you pulled away from me? Tell me my love….tell me everything and we will sort this out together. Let me in, darling….please."
Mishti felt tears prickling her eyes and flowing down. She looked away from him as her fingers unconsciously touched her lips.
"It's not about you and me any more….it never was. I won't insult her sacrifice."

To be continued…..

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