III~ Our Beginning
In our end is our beginning;
In our time, infinity…
In our doubt there is believing;
In our life, eternity
In our time, infinity…
In our doubt there is believing;
In our life, eternity
“When are they reaching?”
“They should be here by evening.”
(A long silence)
“Are you nervous?”
“Yes…very…What if they don’t approve of me?”
“They will love you.”
“And you told them about my being a widow…and about Ansh…right?”
“Yes…you know I did. What is it? What’s really bothering you?”
(Silence again….he waited)
“What if I am not good enough for you? What if this ends before it even begins? My past… what happened….(sigh) I don’t want to hurt you….I can’t hurt you….”
“And you won’t. You can never do that…do you hear me? (Cupping her face with his palms, he made her face him) Look at me…see yourself in my eyes, and believe what I say: Every new beginning comes from the previous beginning’s end…and ours never had an ending…and it never will. We were fated to be reunited…this is how it should have been. Let go of the past, it’s gone…remember today, for it is the beginning of always…our always…This is our beginning… till eternity.”
At that moment the first faint light of the dawn crept out and bathed the sky in its dim haze. They had come home to find Dadiya waiting up for them. Aarti touched her feet and looked up to find the old lady’s eyes brimming with tears. Clasping Aarti’s hands in her old, wrinkly ones, she looked at her a long time and then up at Yash, “I am so glad you found her beta. Be with her always. She is precious.” And then to Aarti, “Have faith in him…hold on to him even when you are pushing him away. Promise me you will do that!!” “Dadiya, why would she…?” She ignored him, “Promise me, Aarti.” “I promise, Dadiya.” Satisfied the dear old lady had left them to retire for the night. Yash had then called home to give the news and apprise them of his plan to marry two days later in the temple. He could sense his father having difficulty controlling his emotions over phone, but he promised he will be there along with the family by next evening. They had then had their dinner and sat out on the swing in the lawn, facing each other, hand in hand, and slowly and gradually in bits and pieces filling in the other with their lives.
He told her why he was adopted even though he was way past the usual age. He bore an uncanny resemblance to the only son of Suraj Pratap Scindia…older of two brothers and his father…who had died in an accident. His mother had gone into a deep depression, and the doctors had given up, one of them passing a casual remark that had they a second son, she would have stood a chance. His father had brought his mother to visit Dadiya, hoping a change would help. “They had spotted me having ice-cream with you…Do you remember that corner shop outside the orphanage gates where you pestered me to take you every time I made you cry? (She nodded, smiling tremulously…some memories are etched…never to be forgotten.) Ma reacted animatedly on seeing me…chanting Krish, her son’s name, over and over, thinking he had come back. Throughout the night she kept making Baoji promise her that he’ll get her son back.” His father made inquiries, eventually locating him. Being influential, he could hurry up the adoption procedures. His mother lived for two more years…happy and at peace till the end now that her son was with her. Yash had never left her side in those years.
Lastly, he told her about Arpita; she was his father’s friend’s daughter and had wanted to marry him. His father had insisted he be practical and lead a normal life, even though he was fully aware that Yash could never give all of himself to any other. (Unknown to Yash, he had always felt a little guilty of separating Yash from the little girl who resided in his son’s heart, but at that time circumstances and the orphanage rules did not allow him to bring home another child.) “I tried, Aarti…but it was not meant to be. I failed her.” Aarti looked up from the spot in the lawn she had concentrated upon while listening to him to find him staring at her…waiting.
“No, you didn’t…Palak is proof that you were true to her.”
(He felt a lump in his throat…he hadn’t expected anything else.)
“Ummm….there’s nothing much to tell, Yash. You know about the orphanage fire and our shifting to the hospital. I was eight when my parents adopted me. We were a big joint family. I had a brother…he was five, then. My mother couldn’t have any more children…and they wanted a girl…a sister for their son. They came to the hospital where we were staying on the lookout for a baby girl ….They saw me there, and my mother insisted she wanted me only. My father looked after me well…got me admitted to a good school in the new town that we shifted to…and subsequently always ensured I get the best in life. My mother…she...she loved me a lot. (A short pause and then he felt her stiffen) You know, Yash…I…she would not take a step without me…..always beli…believed in me. She doted on me.”
She felt him squeeze her hand then…she couldn’t look up at him…not yet…because if she did, he’d know. He’d know that what she was saying was only the half-truth…that her mother treated her like a maid in charge of her son and slave to her personal whims…and that the rest of the family couldn’t care whether she lived or died. Only her father…bless his soul…genuinely cared for her, but being a silent, timid person could never express his affection. The only time she saw him angry was when he had saved her from that monster…her mother’s cousin…when she was sixteen. He had hugged her later and had cried with her...apologizing over and over. Her mother had accused her of trying to seduce her brother...and never spoke with her again…a standoff that remained till she died.
“Aarti, we can do this later.”
“No…no. It’s OK. I am fine. (She had to do this…walk the lonely path of ashes…if she wished to see him happy…that is all that mattered now) My mother passed away when I was in my second year of graduation…and I lost Baba just after I graduated. My family received a good marriage proposal for me and decided to get me married. He…he…my husband…I mean Prashant…he wanted very much to marry me at the earliest. I…I…didn’t get to know him much. He died the day after our marriage.”
She couldn’t help stealing a glance at him then…and immediately averted her eyes again…his eyes reflected her pain….(No, he would never know…I couldn’t let him go through that…that hell). She felt a tug, and the very next instant she was in his arms. He held her close to his heart and swung lightly…resting his chin on her head. He knew instinctively that she was holding back…that something was very wrong. He won’t rush her…but he won’t let her live with it either. Not now…. They spoke a little and then sat in silence watching the dawn break through. After awhile he stood up and taking her in his arms walked to the Guest room and put her gently on the bed, “Sleep, my sweet Aarti.” “Yash?” “Shhshh…I am here…right beside you…I am not going anywhere.” He pulled a chair and sat beside her, holding her hand. And so, for the first time in years, Aarti let herself sleep in peace.
“Wow!!....Mumma…papa’s house is so big. Hmmm…so that’s why Palak gets lost all the time!!”
“Yes…you do. Chachu told me…he told me about the day you locked yourself in the store room of your house. And of the day when you had guests in your house and you…”
“It’s your home too now, Chote Nawab!”
“Why do you call me that, Chachu?”
“Because you are our little prince…just like our little princess here. Princess, won’t you show your brother the room that both of you are going to be sharing from now?”
“OK, Chachu…(shyly extending her hand) Come Ansh…I’ll show you my toys and my books and my computer….oh, our computer. Papa says from now I will have to share everything…Do you like…..(They sprinted away….Aarti watched them go, mindful of the familiar fear creeping back in….She tried to concentrate on Prateek’s ramblings.)”
“Bhabhi!! I hope you are comfortable…and the room is to your liking…and the decorations as well. I did my best… I didn’t plan the rains though…they are godsend…so romantic…aha…Psst…Bhabhi, I have to tell you this. Although my bhaiya is the best…but he is quite a lost soul, you know…and now with you around…ahem… he’ll be more so. So…the point is if you need anything, just holler for me…OK? And don’t worry about the kids…we are going to watch cartoons and then I’ll put them to sleep. In any case, you won’t have time…Bhaiya won’t…”
“Ooops…Sorry, bhaiya. Didn’t see you. What? Why are you giving me that look? Oh… Right…OK, I am leaving….I am gone….I mean really gone…as of yesterday. Bhabhi, lock the door…I…OK…OK…I am walking…see, I am…(muttering) Aap to aise na the, you are throwing your own chote out…oh, this is a sad day for me…(sniff, sniff).”
“Nautanki!!!”…(Grinning Yash turned to his bride and turned pale….she was staring at the flower-decked bed with pure terror.)
They had married in the temple in the morning in a simple ceremony, with Dadiyama, Baoji, Pankaj Chacha, Vidhi Chachi, their son Prateek, and their children bearing witness to their union. Yash’s family had embraced her into their little circle without any preamble when they had arrived the previous evening. She was their Yash’s love and his happiness…and that is all that mattered to them. Getting to know one another is a continuous process, and they didn’t want to scare her with expectations. Aarti fell in love with her future family even as the first introductions were on. She smiled, touched the feet of the elders, shook hands with Prateek, and blushed at his teasings. She smiled at Yash over their shoulders, eyes glistening, mouthing a silent “Thank you.” They were also quite taken in by little Ansh, with Prateek naming him “Chote Nawab” because of the all-important bearing that he carried with regard to his mother and Palak.
They had all flown down to Bhopal soon after the marriage. The children had taken the center stage during the flight, engulfing everyone in the excitement and bonhomie of the occasion. In all the hullabaloo of the postmarriage rush back home to Bhopal, no one noticed that Aarti had gone unnaturally quiet. Yash had sensed the shift in her mood; after they were airborne, he took her hand and entwined his fingers in hers, “What is it, Aarti? Are you nervous? Don’t be….Nothing has changed. I am still your Jas, you know. You can tell me.”… “No, no, Yash…I am fine…really. Maybe a little tired.” She smiled shakily, gently extricating her fingers away to reach for a magazine, her hand trembling a little. Yash’s heart sank with an unknown fear…Her each word, each pause, each shudder, each sigh from the earlier night’s talk was imprinted in his mind. And now her growing detachment ever since the ceremony only deepened the apprehension he had felt that night. She was scared…that much was apparent to him now. But why? And why of him? A flash of lightening followed by thunder brought him to present.
“Aarti? What is wrong? What is it, love?”
(He reached for her….She yanked her hands away violently…taking several steps back.)
“Don’t touch me…stay away. Don’t…please don’t…please….”
(Her eyes wild with fear were looking past him…way past…in her past…her entire body quaking in multiple shivers.)
It was pouring outside. Suddenly there was a loud thunderclap…and her body jerked as she sank down near the sofa, pulling her knees up and rocking to and fro…He looked on helplessly. What? Why?
It suddenly hit him….her words, her anxiety, her shrinking away from him after the marriage ceremony, her terror-stricken reaction to the flowers on the bed…all made sense now…
“What if I am not good enough for you? What if this ends before it even begins? My past…what happened….(sigh) I don’t want to hurt you….I can’t hurt you….”
“He…he…my husband…I mean Prashant…he wanted very much to marry me at the earliest. I…I…didn’t get to know him much.”
As realization surged through him, he staggered...looking at her in horror…as he perceived the reality of what she had suffered.
“He did this to her…he hurt my poor darling…the ba***rd…If he wasn’t already dead, I’d have killed him…How dare he do this to my Aarti? Dear God, she must have called for me….and I wasn’t…Why God…WHY?” Tears streaming down his face, waves of anger washed over him, against the monster…against himself, followed by abject remorse…before he made himself calm down…His subconscious realized before his mind directed that hating the scumbag would have consumed him, burnt him like a piece of soft charcoal, leaving only flakes of ash…and what good would that be to her. She needed him now…she needed him to get her out of that prison of guilt and trauma. She needed to feel safe again.
“Aarti…I won’t come near you, I promise…our promise. Listen to me…What happened was not your fault…do you hear me? It was not. He hurt you and God punished him for that. That changes nothing where we are concerned. Trust me, darling. Nothing will change what you are to me…nothing will change what I feel for you…nothing will change that you are my life, always were, always will be….”
“Always?”…(Faint…so faint that he almost missed it…)
“Always and forever….I love you Aarti. You are mine, and I am yours…and that is the only truth that was and is and shall always be. Our destiny is one.”
She lifted her head then, eyes red but focused, and looked at him…He didn’t move from where he was, sitting with his back to the opposite sofa chair. …After what seemed an eternity, she stirred, got up, and started taking slow, tentative steps toward him. He waited with baited breath, not once taking his eyes off her. Just as suddenly she halted…and in the very next instant had flown into his arms, clutching him, her face sliding easily into its natural resting place as the warmth of his arms surrounded her…sobbing and talking alternately as all the suppressed emotions burst out: Her mother’s selfishness in adopting her…the guilt that she was responsible for making that man try to touch her when she was sixteen and her mother’s insensitivity thereafter…her marriage…her confusion…and, finally, the punishment...how she saw only the rains and heard the thunder outside as he punished her…how dark it was…and how she constantly called out his name in her heart. He let her talk…to release all the pent-up hurt…only tightening his hold and crying silently at what she went through. Slowly her sobs receded into soft hiccups…and finally he felt the familiar steady breathing. Why her? Why not me? He would never get that answer…but he knew that he would spend the rest of his life keeping her safe. He couldn’t keep his promise the first time…but God had given him a second chance. He will fill her life with all the love he can give and much more…he will give her so much love that even her deepest unseen wounds will be healed…his love will strengthen her.
Two Months Later…..
(In a private villa in Goa)
“She did it on purpose...she feigned it.”
“What? Are you serious? Why would she feign her own drowning?”
“Are you blind? Can’t you see she has been following you ever since we got here? She wanted you to touch her…and see…she succeeded. You carried her wet body all the way back from the beach.”
“I think you are overreacting. She was nice, and she thanked you also…right?….Hey, wait a minute…Are you jealous? You are…aren’t you?”
“No, I am not. Go then go…go to her…I’ll take the kids and go too….you’ll never fin…?”
“I’ll always find you, my sweet love…you should know that by now (he said with a twinkle in his eyes….She looked more beautiful…if that could be possible… when she was in this mood. He wanted to….but he couldn’t…not till she was ready).”
They were in the Gazebo in the back yard….and it looked like it was about to rain.
“Come…let’s get you in. There’s a storm coming…and you know how scared you are of ….”
“I am not anymore. (More softly) I haven’t been for sometime.”
He stiffened, his whole body taut, eyes staring ahead…not wanting to look at her…almost scared to see what he was waiting for so long!!
“Also, I don’t want to be lost anymore. I want you to find me…I need you to find me…Find me please, my love. Take me to our beginning.”
He turned and gathered her in his arms tightly, hugging her to himself, savoring her feel without any inhibitions, at last …and then upturning her face by holding her chin, he looked deeply into her eyes. She hooked her arms around his neck, tiptoed up, and placed her lips on his. As the kiss deepened, they knew they were finally home…where they belonged!!!
You were a dream...
A dream that filled my thoughts
and my loneliest nights.
You were the dream I held on to,
the dream my heart longed to one day have.
You were the dream that made me smile...
an escape from my reality,
a fantasy I longed to one day come true.
My dream, my escape, my fantasy,
came true the day when I again saw you.
My dream that used to be
is now my reality.
Together we have been through the heartaches...
the pain of walking away or being left behind.
Every new road we had to take
because of the choices we had to make,
only paved the road
that brought us closer to one another.
Tied with a single string
Bound by our promise…on the path of our destiny
For our new beginning