Friday, 9 August 2013

Sparsh----Chapters 15-18

Chapter 15

When I see you, my heart turns to you,
Yours to mine, in bliss divine,
for I am you, and you are me
one together throughout all time.
The angel wings wrap around me
comforting me, reassuring me
the time for our complete union will soon be.

My heart reaches out to you
longing to heal the separation
to be in total union
yet I know painfully so, I must await divine communion.
One day our hearts will beat as one
And then
All that we are will be forever more.

“Mishti,” he whispered, perplexed at what she had just said. He didn’t know what to say as his heart broke seeing her so distraught. She stared out in the space, lost in her thoughts….memories rushing back as she stood exposed in front of the man she loved with all her life. He saw her lift her palms and bury her face in them. Suddenly she trembled. Yash took a hesitant step forward and stood close behind her, lifting his hands on her shoulders. Before he could say anything, he heard her call out softly.
“Yes, Mishti.”
“Would you…would you just hold me please.”
Yash wrapped his arms around her as she turned with a sudden movement and buried her face in his chest, clutching his shirt. He held her to him as her whole body wracked with years of unshed tears….tears that had never found a way out as responsibilities buried them deep under….tears that broke surface in his warm closeness…tears that burst the dam and released pent-up grief, stress, and tension. He let her cry for as long as she needed to unburden herself, tightening his hold…shedding his own silent tears, his heart bleeding dry, as the realization of what she must have gone through began to sink in. Thus they stood….in a timeless zone beneath the starry sky. When her sobs died down and she fell silent, he tilted her face gently and cupping her cheeks wiped her tears with the tips of his thumbs with utmost tenderness, as she looked at him sadly.
“She died in my place Yashji.”
“Shshhh!” He put his index finger on her lips, and leading her to the bed, sat her down. Getting up he went inside the lift and opened a sliding cabinet, from where he took out a glass and a bottle of water. He poured the water into the glass and made her drink it. He then sat beside her and reached out for her hands. She let him hold them. She knew instinctively that he needed to do that, just as she had needed him to hold her moments before. She stared as he closed his eyes and felt her hands all over and then entwining their right hands he brought them to his heart. She felt her eyes moisten again at the peace that registered in his face after he had done that. He opened his eyes and looked at her with such love that her heart ached. Lifting his free hand, he stroked the stray strand of hair from her forehead.
“This is what I wanted to see that day…this angelic face…when they took off my bandages. I drove that Doctor crazy. Hmm…what was his name?” He frowned trying to recall.
“Dr Sahay….”
“Yes, Dr. Sahay. I wouldn’t let him take the bandages off….shouting that I needed to wait…that you’d come.” He smiled. “I am sure you would have scolded my head off if you had seen me then. I was being a complete…”
“Brat? Yes, I can imagine….Poor Dr Sahay.” A hint of a smile began to form and then it was gone as the events of that day came flooding back…she looked at him apologetically. “Yashji, I am sorry…I was…”
He clamped his palm on her mouth.
“No, Mishti…you are never to apologize for not coming that day. I know you had your reasons.” There was a long silence as he looked down at their hands as he remembered the day. “When you didn’t come, I got so worried for you. And then babuji’s call came; I was shattered. Still I didn’t believe…my heart refused to accept what he told me. I called Prateek and made him run around. It’s only when he too confirmed that I did what you wished me to do, I came back home.”
“Yashji…,” her grip tightened as she felt the pain he must have borne and tried to convey her contrition, “Believe me, I had no choice…otherwise I’d have died before letting you go through that.”
She looked at him. He had suffered so much because of her. She knew he must be agonizing over the missing pages of their life. She had to fill him in and she had to do it now. Mishti took a deep breath, completely out of depth, trying to figure out how to begin, when he stopped her.
“You don’t have to do this now, Mishti. We can go down and join the others. We’ll talk when you are ready. There’s no hurry.”
She was already shaking her head. “No, I owe you an explanation. You deserve to know what happened that day and then later. I have already wronged you enough with my silence.”
Just then Yash’s phone rang. It was Prateek. “I am sorry to disturb you, bhaiya. The kids refuse to go to bed without Aartiji, even though they are half asleep on their feet. By the way everyone has had dinner and is ready to turn in.”
“Oh!!…Chote, one minute.” He turned to Mishti. “Ansh and Palak want to…”
“Please…can we have them here? I promised them a story.”
He nodded and asked Prateek to bring them up. In the meantime, Mishti spoke with babuji and apologized for the absence, but he seemed completely fine with it and in fact sounded relieved that she was with Yash.
“I am so happy that you have cleared up the past issues with Yash…You have, haven’t you beta?”
“Babuji…he knew who I was. I didn’t have to tell him.”
“Good….now I can talk with his parents about your marriage.”
“No, babuji…no….please don’t. Please babuji….You won’t even think about this till I talk with you. Promise me.”

Ansh and Palak ran toward them as soon as the lift door opened. While Ansh stopped short with his mouth wide open, eyes wide, staring at the starry canvas, Palak went straight to Mishti and plonked herself on her lap with a huge smile. She was very much familiar with the room. It was her new mumma who attracted her more. Prateek left after a wave and a smile.
“Wow!….Mumma, are we in a rocket? So many stars…so close.”
It was Yash who went and knelt beside Ansh after gesturing to Mishti, who wrapped her arms around Palak as she heard her recount between giggles how Chachu messed up the Chinese whisper game.
“No Ansh…this is a tower. This room is on top of the tower. Come here…see, it has glass as walls and roof so that the stars can be seen clearly at night.”
“Who made it? Who stays here?” Ansh was totally awestruck.
“Hmm.... A prince built it for his princess, who dreamt of a room like this.” He looked across and met Mishti’s eyes. “She never stayed here because she never came here before today.”
“Why not?”
“I don’t know son…She hasn’t told me.”
“Will she let us stay here?”
“Of course, she will. She is very nice. Ask mumma…she knows the princess.”
“She does? Mumma!” he ran to her, “tell us the story of the princess of this glass room…please…please…”
Palak too was now intrigued. She didn’t know there was a story attached to the room. Mishti looked at Yash who was gazing back at her with an inscrutable expression. He came across to help her as Mishti tucked the kids in the bed, both turning toward her…all ears, awaiting their story. Yash sat on the other side. Reaching out he took Mishti’s hand where it lay over the kids’ heads and squeezed it encouragingly. She nodded and began.
“Many many years ago there was a little girl who lived in a big house with many other children. Although she did not have mumma/papa, she had a fairy godmother who helped her whenever she was in trouble and needed help. Even then she felt lonely at times. She loved the stars and would often sit at the window and stare at them, even talk to them. They were her friends. One day the little girl was punished for something she didn’t do. When the night came, she sat crying staring at the stars. Suddenly the fairy godmother appeared. She wiped the little girl’s tears, and you know what she told her?”
The kids shook their head and asked in unison, “What?”
“She said, ‘Don’t cry little one. These sad days will soon be over. One day a prince will come riding on a horse and make you his princess. He will carry you to his palace and build a room on a tall tower…amongst the stars that you so love. Then you won’t have to look up at them…they will be all around you.’ ”
“Ooh…did the prince come Aunty?”
“Yes, he did. When she grew up, she went to live with her godmother. That’s when he came….”
“On a horse?”
“Well…yes Ansh, on a horse.”
“Black or white?”
Yash leaned forward and whispered….as both of them turned their head toward him. “It was white and big and the prince and princess rode on it for many days and visited many places. They came to know each other and fell in love deeply while on that white horse.”
“Really? How do you know, papa?”
“I know…because the prince told me.”
“Oho….What happened then, papa? Did they marry and live happily ever after?”
“No, sweetie…,” and before the questions came, he added, “the princess had to leave, and the prince lost her.”
“Mumma, where did the princess go?”
Mishti looked up at Yash. He had suddenly stiffened and was looking at her with concern. Her eyes misted….Even now he was worried that this will upset her. She smiled at him and then looked down at the kids who were waiting.
“There was a very evil man who also wanted to marry the princess. When the princess refused to marry him, he threatened to hurt her godmother and the prince. So the princess decided she will marry him to save the two people she loved most in her life.” She felt her hand taken and gripped tightly; she didn’t look at him. “But her godmother came to know about the evil man’s plans and told the princess to go to the prince. The evil man became very angry when he learnt that the princess was going to marry another person. He sent some bad men to hurt the princess so that she would not be able to marry her prince. Once again her godmother rescued her, and the bad men thought she was the princess, so they hurt her badly. The princess cried and cried for her godmother who was gone forever. She felt very lonely and then got very scared that the evil man will now hurt her prince, so she left him and went away so that the prince remained safe.”
She looked at him then...his eyes reflected deep sorrow as understanding dawned on him.
“What happened to the evil man, mumma?”
“He was caught by the soldiers and put into the dungeons.”
“Very good! The evil men always lose in the end, right mumma? You told me so many times.”
Mishti nodded and then Palak’s soft, sleepy murmur came. “But the evil man cannot hurt them now, so why did’nt the princess go back to the prince? He was waiting for her, right Aunty?”
Mishti was lost for words. She didn’t know what to say when she heard Yash whisper.
“OK…you two, go to sleep now…We’ll continue the story tomorrow. Goodnight!!”

By the time he kissed them and smoothened the sheets, they were already asleep. He got down from the bed and walked over to Mishti’s side and extended his hand. She took it and rose. He pulled her into a warm embrace. She laid her head on his heart and calmed down listening to his heartbeats. Once he was sure she was fine, he asked her to wait. He took out a rug, a sheet, and four cushions from a drawer under the bed and spread them next to the dome wall. Then he went to the lift and towed in a trolley that Prateek had left. It had their dinner on it. Mishti tried to help, but he wouldn’t allow it. “It’s your birthday, Princess Mishti. Let your prince serve you tonight.”
“Yashji…please understand, we can’t…”
He put a finger on her lips and shook his head just the slightest. She didn’t have the heart to deny them this moment…so she sat down. He filled their plates and sat down beside her. They shared a companionable meal, chatting about this and that. Once done, he put the trolley away and came and sat down. He was ruffling the cushions to make her more comfortable when she spoke.
“I thought you were married.”
His hand stilled as he jerked his head up to look at her. That took him completely by surprise.
“What? What in the world gave you that idea?”
She looked sheepish and stared outside, avoiding his eyes. He cupped her chin lightly with his thumb and forefinger and turned her toward him.
“Mishti…look at me…Tell me why you tortured yourself with the thought, and when was this.”
She told him all…haltingly at first and then with greater steadiness. She told him how Di and jiju were killed as Di was mistaken for her and then how the police took advantage of their same names and planted the wrong information and then they were asked to leave as part of a bigger strategy to ensnare Prashant. “I was told not to contact you and let out I was alive till Prashant was arrested, as he would have then come after me again and babuji, Ansh, and your lives would have been danger.” She told him about how she called him soon after Prashant’s arrest and misinterpreted his relationship with Arpita, which made her decide to let him continue to believe she was dead. “I thought it was for the best, Yashji. You had moved on and were going to be a father.” Yash closed his eyes and lamented destiny’s twist…so many years lost…so many years of unnecessary hardships for his Mishti….all for a misunderstanding. She had suffered and battled so much in her young life.
“But Mishti, when you came here, why did you still keep yourself away? Why didn’t you call me?”
“I didn’t know about Arpitaji. Oh, Yashji…I am so sorry that you lost her. You must have been devastated. I wish I was there with you then.”
“Just as I couldn’t be there with you when you needed me the most. Strange are the ways of destiny. How can I forgive myself for believing you dead?”
“No…please don’t torture yourself. It’s not your fault. They did a good job with the evidences. You were led to believe them.”
They looked at each other, victims of circumstances, yet their souls had found their way back to each other….He then told her briefly about Arpita and how she was instrumental in bringing him out of the dark abyss he had gone under after coming back to Bhopal. He again repeated his earlier question, “Why did you stay away, Mishti?...You knew I had my suspicion from the day you called and didn’t speak.”
“I was still under the impression that you were married. It’s only when your parents came to the office to discuss about your marriage that I learnt the truth.”
“OK…(a pause…and he looked at her…She evaded his eyes knowing what was coming)…So you came to know I was not married….even then you hid? Why?”
Silence….as Mishti looked out.
“Mishti! Is it what my grandmother said when you came home?”
She shook her head.
Again a long silence, as he waited patiently.
“Yashji…I am tired. I want to sleep.”
Yash stared at her averted face. Why are you holding back, Mishti? What’s stopping you from letting me in completely? He was missing something, he was sure…something she said….
“Fine…don’t answer. May I ask you one last question?”
She looked at him mutely and nodded, as he took her hands in his.
“Will you marry me?”
Somehow he knew what her answer would be.

Chapter 16

I've learned the full meaning
of sharing and caring
and having my dreams all come true;
I've learned the full meaning
of being in love
by being and loving with you

Somehow he knew what her answer would be. As he waited for her to speak, he remembered the days before the tragedy. He had sensed her withdrawal then. He knew she was keeping something from him…and that’s why she didn’t commit to be present on the bandage opening day…the day she lost her family. Yes…his Mishti will never commit till she was certain her loved ones were safe. Even then, she had fiercely guarded her family…so much so that she was ready to leave him and marry that lowlife. She never told him about Prashant because she knew what his reaction would be….and she didn’t want to jeopardize his life. Her final wish too was that he should go back to his family. Family was always important to her. Life had come full circle for them. They were at similar cross-roads and yet again his Mishti was alienating him…but why? Who is she protecting? As far as Yash knew, she had nothing to fear or be apprehensive about…yet she was holding back. What was he not seeing?
“Yashji….do you ever wonder why things don’t always turn out the way you wish them to?’ She was still staring out. “God knows you and me are prime examples of situations taken out of our hands.”
“Love and contentment don’t always go together, do they Yashji?”
He grabbed her arms and pulled her to him. With trembling hands he held her face and made her look at him. Her gaze was steady and unwavering. He couldn’t even begin to fathom the intensity of what he was feeling at that moment. Love and fear, spiraling together, sharpened his urgency. At that moment he knew that he had never ever felt strongly for any other person as he did for her in that instant…and never ever would. Whatever she is battling with now, this time she won’t be alone….
“Mishti, I asked you a question? Answer me love.”
“Do you want me to be at peace with myself, Yashji?”
“You know I do.”
She lifted her hand then and touched his cheek. With her fingertips she explored his face, as if she wanted to commit to memory each line, each contour, each wrinkle…..her heart in her eyes, she snaked her fingers through his hair at the nape as she proceeded to pull his face down for a long kiss. He kissed her back as if his life depended on it…knowing she was withdrawing. Pulling apart, she held his hands and looked up at his eyes that reflected his confusion.
“I love you, Yashji. You taught me how to live in darkness and yet be happy…for the people who love you, who depend on you. You are with me every moment of the day….I don’t have to be married to you to feel that.”
“Mishti…what’s bothering you darling? If you don’t tell me, how can I set it right?”
“Will you do something for me?” She looked away, sadness crossing her features. “I don't know if I am strong enough to see you do it, so I need your help……but if you could, would you?”
Yash would have liked to know exactly what was going on in her mind before he committed but the pain in her voice silenced all other emotions inside him and he nodded. “Yes, I would. I promise. What do you want me to do?”
Mishti felt her heart being torn away from her at what she was going to ask of him, but if God had planned for them to be united forever, then she would want to be able to look at him in the eyes till her last breath and not feel guilty that she had not tried. Her throat tightened as she spoke. “Before you knew I was alive, your parents had wished you to marry someone. They have met her and they think…”
“Mishti…stop!!! Don’t even think I am going to…”
“You promised, Yashji… promised.”
“What the hell, Mishti! Don’t do this….you are being completely unreasonable and totally mistaken if you think I’ll go and marry some random girl and be happy ever after…All I have to do is tell ma/bauji that I want to marry you and they will agree.”
“No…I mean yes they will bow down to your demand but they won’t be happy. They chose her. They would never choose me. You can’t deny that.”
“That’s because they think you are a widow. I am going to clear their doubts today itself.”
“Should that even be a reason, Yashji? If I am not a widow, then I am an imposter who has been living a lie. How much will you justify? The deeper you get, the more you will hurt them. They have their own convictions, and we have to respect them. I don’t exactly come with a fairytale background. Don’t you want me to have their blessings from the heart?”
Yash was thoroughly frustrated. It was evident that she had thought this through and nothing he said would budge her.
“Mishti…you are talking rubbish. This topic is closed for discussion. Tomorrow I’ll speak with babuji, and we’ll get married in two days…before you come up with any other harebrained ideas.”
He got up abruptly, furious with her for even thinking such a thought, and was about to move away when she caught his hand. He sighed and closed his eyes in resignation and then looked down at her sad, pleading face. Giving up, he knelt in front of her….and engaged her eyes in a complaining gaze.
“Don’t look at me like that, Yashji.” She said as she lowered her eyelids not able to see the disappointment in his.
“How do you wish me to then, Mishti?” There was a touch of sarcasm mingled with anger in his tone.
“At least listen to what I have to say, Yashji….please. It’s my birthday….don’t I deserve a promise to be kept on this day?”
“Mishti…that’s blackmail.”
She suddenly grinned…and he was a goner. He shook his head and sat down with a deep sigh, deciding it was better he let her have her say.
“Yes, I know. Look, Yashji…all I want is for you to be understand your parents’ feelings. Just as we want the best for Palak and Ansh, they too want the best for you. Yesterday, we went through hell on seeing Ansh in pain…and he wasn’t even complaining (the last said with a faint smile). Just imagine what your parents have gone through for six long years, seeing you in pain and being unhappy. It’s not that they went and forced you to marry anyone…which they could have if they wanted to. But they respected your feelings and gave you space to live yours and Palak’s life as you wished to. It’s only when they felt it was the right time and when they found the right person that they approached you. They also have certain dreams of their own regarding how their bahu should be. They are very sure of this girl, Yashji. They wanted you to meet her. Is that too much to ask? In fact till you meet her, we shouldn’t be seeing each other. It won’t be right to.”
“Hmm…so you want me to meet her.” He almost smiled when he saw her nod like Palak. “And what if I found her attractive (he saw a shadow pass across her face before she regained control)….what if I enjoyed her company so much that I end up asking her out, making my parents happy. What’ll you do then, love? Give me up? Hand me over?…Like a tragic, self-sacrificing heroine of some melodramatic Hindi movie? Have you forgotten last night at the restaurant? (she glanced at him guiltily)...Hmm…what? Cat got your tongue now, my stubborn Mishti?” Now that he knew that she was only skirting the issue for her peace of mind…and not denouncing their life…he knew what he had to do. The twinkle was back in his eyes. Mishti squirmed in discomfort.
“Th…that’s for you to decide…not me. All I know is that you cannot ignore ma/bauji’s desires for my sake.”
“And I won’t. That’s a promise. I’ll do what you wish me to do and uphold ma/bauji’s wishes as well…but after that everyone will have to accept my decision…whatever it may be. OK? Another thing, that promise doesn’t include not seeing you altogether. That’s for me to decide. Understood?”
Mishti nodded wordlessly….suddenly unsure and scared. She felt him embrace her from the back as he pulled her down on the rug and laid her head on his chest, imprisoning her firmly in his arms. It didn’t even occur to her to pull away. For the first time in years Mishti fell asleep immediately, safely cocooned, hand on his heart, head nestled in the crook of his neck. Dropping a kiss on her hair, he whispered.
“The world will borrow you tomorrow for awhile…but tonight is ours. Goodnight, my love!! Sleep well.”

Yash woke up to the most beautiful sight in the world…his Mishti! She slept holding his hand against her cheek. Sometime during the night she had moved away but had not let him go. He smiled and gently fingered away the stray lock of hair from her cheek, whispering softly, “Good morning love!!” Then, very slowly he disengaged his hand, causing her to frown in sleep, and got up. The glasses was solar shaded and had auto adjustment so lighting was not a problem. He took a peek at the kids who were still lost to the world. He took the lift down to the first-floor level where he had a suite and freshened up. Just below the glass room there was another set of rooms, which had washrooms as well and were accessible by a short flight of stairs. He had barely finished making a call when there was a knock and Prateek and Neema came in. They naturally assumed that Yash had spent the night in his room. Neema wanted to meet Mishti as they had an appointment to keep with the minister’s wife, which was actually planned for that morning. Yash pressed a buzzer that rang a soft bell in the glass room, indicating that the lift was coming up. Yash and Prateek took the stairs and went down to coordinate the going-back arrangements after sending Neema up, who stepped into the room to find Mishti standing by the bed and giving a Good morning hug to the two kids who were half hanging onto her. The trio jumped in surprise and fell on the bed with a laugh as they heard a loud shriek, only to look up and find Neema whisper out the longest “Oh My God!”
Yash met the elders and excused himself saying he had to leave early for a meeting. By the time Mishti had joined others after getting the kids ready, Yash had left. She felt hurt that he hadn’t even bothered to stay back to wish her a Good morning but soon admonished herself, “Why should you be upset when you are the one who asked him to stay away…?” Still she couldn’t help missing him. She went about her day listlessly after dropping babuji and Ansh home. Throughout the day she waited for some kind of communication from him…..a visit, a call…anything….even if to scold her for being stubbornly stupid for asking him to do the impossible. But he remained non-communicado. Many a times she picked up the phone to call, but then let it be. Finally, she asked Neema to give him a call regarding a minor matter of the wedding decor…hovering around to listen…hoping Neema would pass her the phone. But she didn’t, and all Mishti heard was a lot of hmms and OKs and rights. When she asked Neema about the conversation, she just said that Mr Scindia was fine with any decision they took. She was at the end of her tether by the time she reached home…all wound up with emotional stress. Supriya opened the door and before she could say anything, Mishti brushed past her to go to Ansh….she needed to hold her son to calm herself. She stopped short in front of his room as noises of shouts came across. She pushed the door open to find Yash on the bed and the kids on him…all three were giggling, shouting, and creating a complete ruckus. Yash whispered something to them and they looked back and saw her. Mishti automatically hugged and kissed them as they leapt across to her with shouts of “Mumma, you are home.” Just then they heard babuji call out to them and they ran out.
Yash was standing by the side of the bed looking at her, trying to decipher her mood….when she lifted her eyes to stare at him…not saying anything. Her eyes burnt with suppressed emotions. His heart flipped…She was angry…more like incensed. He crossed his arms and ran a leisurely look at her, his eyes twinkling with amusement. Mishti's eyes widened in outrage. She didn’t want to say anything that would give him the impression that she had missed him, especially since he hadn’t bothered to even…..oh well, if he wants to stick by the rules, so can she…so there. Her “What are you doing here?” was supposed to be as cold as a glacier…instead it came out thick with emotion. In response, Yash only passed an offhand “Oh, I came to meet babuji and Ansh…surely that was not part of the agreement” and walked out lazily past her, calling out to Palak that it was time to leave as dadaji/dadima would be back soon. She remained standing in the same position, her fingers fisting her dupatta by her sides in consternation. Suddenly she was grabbed from behind and turned around, as Yash held her in a steely grip…and then bringing his mouth close to hers, he whispered, “Did anyone ever tell you that you look breathtakingly beautiful when you are angry?” He was gone before she could react.
Mishti freshened up and came down to have tea with babuji. She knew he was waiting to have a word with her.
“Babuji, I hope you were fine after yesterday.”
“Don’t worry about me so much, beta. I had a wonderful time. Yash was very thoughtful to have arranged this and included me as well. He is such a nice boy….reminds me so much of Aman.”
Mishti felt a lump in her throat as she gazed at the far-away look in her father’s eyes. He kept a hand on her head and looked at her with affection.
“Mishti…why are you still hurting yourself? I can see how much he loves you. He will make you so happy if only you let him. What’s stopping you beta?”
“Babuji….life is never about two people who are in love and want to spend the rest of their lives together. If it were so, di and jiju would have been alive today. But they thought about me first. Di, and you, and jiju never made me feel want of a family. I learnt the value of family from you. How can I then disregard what Yashji’s family wants? Like every parents they have dreams for their son. They too look for certain characteristics in their would-be elder bahu…and they have found someone befitting those traits. How can I take this right from them by making Yashji rebel against their wishes? It won’t be correct…right babuji?”
“Oh, Mishti, why won’t you for once look at your happiness too beta? Look…I will go to Yash’s parents tomorrow and talk to them…tell them you were never married, if they have anything against that matter…and then request them to have you as their bahu.”
“No, babuji, no. I know what they feel about me. No…don’t ask…I can’t tell you. But if you know your Mishti well, you will respect my decision. Let time decide my fate. If God wants me to be Yashji’s wife and have a wholesome life with you, Palak/Ansh, and his parents, then it will happen…all in good time.” She got up after wiping away the run-away tears. “Let me go and check on Ansh. He has been awfully quiet for awhile.”
Babuji watched her go with a heavy heart. He could not go against her wishes…but someone else could do what he wanted. He wheeled himself to his room and picked up his phone.

Chapter 17

I love you, not only for what you are,
But for what I am when I am with you,
Not only for what you have made of yourself,
But for what you are making of me.
I love you for the part of me that you bring out;
I love you for putting your hand into my heaped-up heart
And passing over all the foolish, weak things that you can't help dimly seeing there,
And for drawing out into the light all the beautiful belongings
That no one else had looked quite far enough to find..

Mr Gupta was about to get down to work with some files when the phone rang. He listened to what Dubeyji had to say with growing pleasure.
"Oh yes, Dubeyji. You just spoke what Deepa and I had in our minds for awhile. Even if Yash had not known Aarti from before, we were going to put this proposal to Suraj bhaisaab soon. There cannot be a better mother for our Palak than Aarti. I am sure Arpita too would want Aarti to fill the gap in her daughter's and best friend's life. I shall go tomorrow morning only and hopefully soon we'll be marrying off our daughter together."
"Thank you Guptaji. A big load is off me. Please explain them everything. I don't want them to have any misconception regarding my daughter. I would have gone myself but Mishti…I mean Aarti…stopped me."
"You don't worry at all. Aarti is our daughter also. We see our Arpita in her. You relax Dubeyji, and wait for the good news. (Happily sighing)…You don't know how happy you have made me, my friend. Anything else you wanted to say?"
"Yes Guptaji, one more thing. A couple of weeks back you offered me a job to oversee the working of the Old Age Home under your NGO. If it is still available, I'd like to take it up? The physiotherapy is working fine on me and I hope to walk very soon…so I…"
"That's splendid….I was so hoping you would agree. After Mr Mathur passed away, I needed someone with experience to take over the decision making and running of the place."
"Thank you, Guptaji….Are you sure about this? I mean my mobility may…"
"Don't you worry about that….you'll be having two managers under you who will do all the running around. You just keep an eye on things. So, that's settled….Congratulations!! Now let me go and give the double good news to Deepa. Goodnight, Dubeyji!"
"Goodnight Guptaji….and thank you for everything." Babuji kept the phone down and looked up at his son and bahu's picture. "I hope you both are at peace now….our Mishti will finally get the happiness that she deserves." Wondering how he should break the news about the job to Mishti, he deferred it for the next day.
Upstairs Mishti looked at Ansh's sleeping face as she ran her hand through his hair. Her heart tugged at seeing his innocent face deep in slumber. He looked so much like jiju these days. She had taken him for dressing in the evening. His hand was healing well, although the imp conspired with the doctor to let the bandage be for a few more days so that he could show it to his classmates when his school reopened in a week. She smiled and bent down to give him a kiss. In her room she freshened up, changed, and wound up her hair in a bun before switching off the lights and then took her place on the window sill. The faint light from the street lamp illuminated her face as she looked up at the waning moon, reminiscing about the previous day. So much had happened in such a short time. A smile played on her lips as she remembered being in Yash's arms, followed by what she had asked of him, which caused her to frown and chew on her lip, as she pondered on what he would do. She gave a start when her phone beeped a message.
"Don't do that."
She jerked her head up to look out and then back at the phone when another one came through.
"I meant don't bite your lip."
Mishti got down and tried to peep out of the window but only met with darkness.
"And let your hair down…I don't like them tied."
Mishti automatically did as he wished and texted him back.
"Where are you?"
"Right before your eyes my love, but you can't see me."
"Why don't you come in the light where I can see you? I don't like the feeling that you are there somewhere but not visible."
"Now you know how I felt, Mishti…how I still feel. Good night darling!! Sleep well."
Mishti saw his car lights being switched on and see him drive away….away from her, as she stared into the darkness he left behind.

"She lied."
"No bahisaab….there's a difference between lying and having to live a lie."
Suraj Pratap Scindia turned toward his long-time friend and held him in a firm gaze.
"A lie is a lie whichever way you look at it Arnav. If she wanted to, she could have told Yash everything long back. Why now? Why when we found someone for him to marry? She knew all the time who we were and not once she spoke."
"She must have had her reasons bhaisaab. Aarti is a very thoughtful person."
The Guptas had gone over to the Scindias after breakfast and made the marriage proposal. Guptaji had told them about the Dubeys…about the tragic circumstances under which Aarti had to assume a changed identity. He told them how Aarti had saved Yash's life and taken care of him…that Yash had fallen in love with her and would have married her if had not believed her dead. It was Gayatri who spoke at that.
"Why did she keep quiet for six years? Why did she not let Yash know she was alive?"
"She thought he was married to Arpita."
"Hmm….yes, she did sound surprised when we mentioned his marriage the other day in her office. Why did she keep quiet after that then?"
"Hey bhagwan!!" Maya, Yash’s dadi, couldn't keep quiet anymore. "What's wrong with all of you? It's crystal clear that she started plotting her moves after she heard he was free. I knew it…I knew she was out to trap our son. She would have trapped him six years back but god was with us then."
"Maaji….please. I know Aarti very well. She is a very simple person….nothing like what you are insinuating."
"She has fooled you Arnav. First she says she is a widow and then when we say we don't want a widow marrying our son, she says she is not. Why should we believe her?” She turned to her son. “Suraj, I think you all are missing a very important point. If Yash was blind after the accident, then he has never seen her before…right? What if she is really Dubeyji's widowed bahu? I am sure the sasur-bahu duo have misled Yash so that they can kill two birds with one stone: to get the widow remarried and also to get connected with a wealthy family.They must have found the perfect opportunity when they heard Yash is unmarried. Yash didn't know how Aarti looked like and so they took advantage of him; he could be so easily mistaken."
"I don't have to know how she looks to know who she is."
Everyone turned to the direction of Yash's cold voice. It was apparent he had heard the last part of the conversation and was livid…albeit in control, given there were all elders around him.
"Yash beta, you are making a mistake. She….."
"You heard what I said dadi, and I repeat I don't have to know how she looks like…with my eyes."
"But Yash beta, your dadi has a point…I think you…"
"Ma, I don't expect you all to understand this. I know her voice…I know her touch…I know her soul. I cannot forget the touch of the hands that pulled me out of a burning wreck and gave me a new life…the hands that healed me. She returned your son to you, ma. How can you think wrong of her? She is who baba says she is."
"Well there's one way to find out for sure," saying Yash's father picked up his phone and dialed a number. He spoke for awhile, as others waited.
"That was the Commissioner of Bhopal Police. He is an old acquaintance. He says they remember that case, as last month the main culprit Prashant had appealed for clemency to high court. The decision is pending. He says all records say that Mr Satyendra Dubey's both children, a son and an adopted daughter, were killed in that attack. What do you have to say to this Yash?"
'Nothing bauji.” Yash had surprisingly calmed down. “Nothing you say is news to me. By the way, if you want to know the real truth, you may try to contact Mr Roy, who was the commissioner that time, and take my name. As for me, it doesn't matter either way."
"It doesn't matter? How can you say that Yash? I trusted you to choose a girl who would be appropriate bahu for our family….not someone who has such a questionable background. We selected a nice girl, Maansi, for you because she comes from a well-known family and has the right upbringing. You didn't even meet her. If you had, you'd have realized the difference."
"So, you think if I meet her, I'll change my mind?"
"Yes, I do. Then you will realize that what you feel for this girl…this family…is only obligation…and not love as you call it. You are my son, and I have always taught you not to hold debts. She saved your life and nursed you…fine. If you wish, we shall help them finan…."
"Stop, bauji…please.” Yash's voice now deathly calm…the sound of condensed anger. “Please don't insult the goodness of people. Honesty and kindness cannot be bought. Alright, if you want I should meet Maansi, I will. But you will have to accept that I'll be considerate to what Maansi wants and not what her parents want. If she too feels she wants this alliance, I promise I'll consider it."
His final words brought a smile to Gayatri's and Maya's faces, because they knew Yash never made false promises. Yash passed an assuring glance at his baba before leaving. While driving to his office, he went over what had just happened. He was shocked to learn of his family's narrow and presumptuous views. For the first time he understood completely where Mishti was coming from…"I am sorry love. I should have realized that your fears were not unfounded. You knew about my parents what I didn't. But how?"
It was late afternoon and he had just finished a series of meetings and was walking toward his cabin when his phone rang.
"Mr Scindia, we'll be there at seven. Please be there on time, otherwise Ma'am will strangle me this time."
"We'll be there, Neema. Thank you so much for doing this."
"I repeat what I said earlier, Mr Scindia. Her happiness is very important to me. Please don't let her get hurt anymore than she already is."
Something in her voice made Yash ask, "Is Mishti alright?"
"Yes…and No. I mean apparently she is, because she never lets anyone know otherwise, but I know she is upset…especially after your grandmother's and mother's visit."
"What? They met her? When?"
"An hour back. Actually, I found it strange that they came in again when they had already met her yesterday. Oh well, till evening then. Have a good day Mr Scindia!"
Yash wished her back absentmindedly, as he closed his eyes tight. Everything fell into place. They had got to her. This is what Mishti was holding back…or was there more?

Mishti and Neema met up with the client at the Bhopal Turf Club, the site of his daughter's wedding. After discussing the decor outside, they went and sat at the club restaurant to discuss catering with the Restaurant manager. The manager sent word he'll be with them in a few minutes so they ordered some beverages. Neema offered to show the client the kitchens. She gestured Mishti to keep sitting and relax. Mishti looked around the neat surroundings. Only two more tables were occupied. There was a family sitting at the far end, and a young couple just across. Her eyes rested on the stunningly attractive girl…She was smiling and talking animatedly with the man opposite her. She looked happy. Mishti started to look away but her gaze was directed back when the girl got up, presumably to go to the washroom. The man shifted a little and Mishti dropped the cutlery she was playing around with a clang. Before people could lift their heads, she sprung the Menu card up right in front of her face…"Oh no…not again. Wait till I get hold of Neema. Can't she ever find a place where he is not there?God if he finds out, what'll he think?" Keeping the card in front of her, she tried to sneak out from the other end when his hand came into view, took the card, and kept it down. She took a deep breath and looked up at his glinting eyes and amused smirk with a tight smile of her own.
"Mr Scindia! Fancy meeting you here."
"Yes, fancy that Miss Dubey. The world sure is a small place. You keep turning up wherever I am, right Mishti?" He was thoroughly enjoying the passing colors on her face and changing emotions in her eyes. At the moment her cheeks were a deep shade of red and her eyes that reflected extreme embarrassment a few seconds ago now flashed with a tinge of anger.
"What do you mean? You think I am following you? I…I have better things to do than thinking about you all the time. I am here with a client…and I am waiting right here for him and Neema to get back."
"Did I say anything? Please go ahead and wait. I won't disturb you anymore….(and then seeing hurt replace anger in her eyes)….Mishti (his voice suddenly softened) I…."
"Your friend is here Yashji."
Yash turned around as the girl joined them. He introduced them.
"Aartiji this is Maansi…and Maansi this is…."
"Let me guess…Mishti…right?" She extended her hand with a welcoming smile.
"Yash, if you don't mind, may I talk to Mishti alone?"
"Sure…I'll be outside making some calls."
Mishti could only stare at consternation at what was happening as she looked up at Yash who winked at her and left. She turned to Maansi slowly, confusion writ large on her face, as Maansi tossed a question at her.
"What in the name of God are you doing, Mishti?"

Chapter 18

A love like no other
my heart feels the call to you
the memory of separation rises
deeply carved in my heart
for I am you, and you are me
one together throughout all time

The tears of our parting
touch my soul through this lifetime
as it is upon us once more
seeking the union

I seek this solace
Wide eyed in innocence and total love
for you are the one
no other can take this place

"What in the name of God are you doing, Mishti?"
"Err…I am not sure what you mean? Pardon me…I don't seem to remember. Have we met before?"
"No, we haven't, but I know you….and you know of me."
As Maansi sat down in front of her with a smile, Mishti looked totally nonplussed. She shook her head in bewilderment and looked questioningly at the pretty girl.
"Know of you?"
"Mishti, I am the girl you wanted your Yash to meet," Maansi looked at Mishti who suddenly looked very uncomfortable.
"Oho? Is that all you have to say? You must be the dumbest girl in the whole of Bhopal, Mishti."
"Excuse me?" Mishti was completely taken aback at this unexpected attack.
"Do you want me to fall in love with your man?"
"NO!…I mean, no, I wouldn't know…you should know that better."
"So you don't want me to fall in love with him? Hmmm…..But what if he starts liking me much more than he already does?" Maansi was testing waters, yet she was surprised to see not a line form on the lovely girl's face due to the faint threat.
"Maansi, you are confusing me. Why should it matter what I want? I don't even know you. Even Yashji met you for the first time today. Why do you think he'll be interested in you that way in such a short time?" Mishti responded calmly.
"Don't underestimate me, my girl. I've had men ask for my number ten minutes after I've met them…and I just spent close to two hours with your Yashji."
"Well…what is fated will happen. Who am I to question?"
"Yash was right. You are a hard nut to crack. (grinning warmly) At the moment I could easily shake you till your teeth rattle, but for once I am going to go against my nature and be very patient…and that too because I like you. I can see why you too are so perfect for each other. He is so full of understanding and admiration for you even when you are selling yourself short. Most of the guys lose it here and move on to the next catch. Tolerance and fortitude seem to have gone ancient on the male species these days, and you have played the worst-possible card in the game of love…tsk…tsk…(shaking her head) What? Why are you looking at me as if hundreds of warts have suddenly sprouted on my face?” Maansi was laughing heartily now.
In spite of herself Mishti smiled. She liked this open-hearted girl, although her words made little sense to her. She held up both her hands in a stop sign.
"Stop….stop, Maansi!! Please tell me clearly what you have in mind. I am all at sea as to what you really want to convey."
Maansi nodded and suddenly looked serious.
"Mishti, do you have any idea what a huge catch Yash Scindia is in Bhopal? He can have any girl he wants. God knows, families have been pursuing him for the past few years for their daughters, including mine. My parents were ecstatic when Suraj uncle showed interest in me as their prospective bahu. When Yash called me yesterday morning (at seeing Mishti's eyes widen)…yes, the very morning after your brilliant wish…he told me clearly why he wanted to meet me. He wanted to get this done with immediately. But I was out of town. I reached home today to find Yash having a talk with my parents. He convinced them why I wouldn't be happy with him. They even allowed me to accompany him here when he requested them that he wanted to talk with me. I was in any case intrigued as to who would have captivated the heart of Bhopal's most eligible bachelor.” She said that with a wink and rested back. “He loves you very much, Mishti. You are a moron to feed him to the sharks. You should thank the Gods that it was me and not one of those moonstruck girls who would have him any which way. Those girls can't be trusted."
"Maybe not, but my trust never wavered. You are mistaken, Maansi. I trust Yashji. I always have. I could never doubt him…and I would never let him go." Mishti looked at her meaningfully and with so much pride in her eyes that it shook Maansi. It was time for Maansi's eyes to widen as she saw the beautiful face break into the most alluring smile she had ever seen on a girl. That's when she understood her folly. She couldn't believe such a love could exist as she looked in disbelief at what Mishti had done.
'Oh my God! You knew…didn't you? You knew that he won't ever….then why? Why Mishti? Why ask him to do such a thing?"
"So that you don't get hurt…so that your parents can come out of this situation with their self-respect intact and knowing that their daughter's feelings were not compromised, and, most importantly, so that Yashji's family realize that your family backed off after Yashji met you. I didn't want him to later feel guilty that because of him your parents faced the humiliation of their daughter facing rejection. He owed you this explanation.” She chewed her lip as she took a breather. “Look Maansi, I know Yashji. He would hate it if he realized he had hurt someone, and he would have if he had said no without meeting you and your parents. His own family would have been upset with him for neglecting their wishes and would always wonder what could have been….especially since they chose you with lot of hope and aspirations. Under the circumstances it was best that Yashji met you and your family in person and convey personally as to why he can't go ahead with this alliance, which he wouldn't have if I had not asked him to. Now his family cannot hold this against him. I trusted him to handle this situation…and he did."
"Wow!! You two are something…you know that. You understand each other so well. Now I understand what he meant when he said, 'My Mishti's ways are slightly unorthodox so one does get upset initially at her decisions, but when one sits and analyses why she did what she did, one only feels a self-directed anger at not understanding such a simple thing.' I feel foolish and at the same time blessed to have come across such a beautiful relationship.” Smiling sheepishly she got up. “I need some time to digest this. My best wishes are with both of you. Don't forget to call me for your wedding."
Maansi gave a warm hug to Mishti and left. By the time Yash said his goodbyes to Maansi outside and came in, Mishti was gone. The manager said she left from the back gate soon after the other lady had gone, along with her companions who were out in the back lawns…and no she didn't leave any message. Somewhat mystified at Mishti's behavior he opened his car door, just as his phone beeped a message.
"Will you marry me?"

Yash stumbled into his seat as he read the message. He stared at it a long time and then smiled as he texted.
"Where are you?"
"I asked first…so I deserve an answer first."
"Stubborn…aren't you?"
"I am waiting!!!"
"You will have your answer when I see you."
"Now who is being stubborn?"
"Tell me where you are."
"Where I saw myself in your eyes for the first time."
"I am on my way."

Yash jumped out of the car and ran inside the empty VM offices. There she was…exactly where he had beheld her for the first time….in the short passage in front of her office. Before she could take two steps toward him he had crossed the distance and pulled her into his arms, holding her as closely as he could to himself and burying his face into her hair. He felt her slim arms wrap themselves around him as tightly as she could, both savoring each other's closeness unabashedly, without any restraint. Yash knew that somehow he had managed to break that barrier that was holding back Mishti. She had put her deepest fear in his hand, trusting him to handle it with care….and her abandoned response was his award. After awhile Yash pulled back a little, his one hand firmly held her by her waist and with the other he gently tucked her hair behind her ears and then caressed her cheek with his thumb, all the while staring at her lovingly as she gazed back with her heart in her eyes. And when she involuntarily stuck out the tip of her tongue to touch her lips, he couldn't control himself. Holding her lightly from the back of her neck, he brought his mouth close to hers but encountered her forefinger. He frowned at the hindrance.
"What is it Mishti?"
"First my answer…and then we'll think about this," mischief dancing in her eyes, she tried to pull away. He pulled her right back, tightening his hold such that she gasped.
"Oh yeah! I still await the answer to the same question, sweetheart…which you clearly avoided the other night."
"Well…that was then Mr Scindia. A lady holds the right to take her own sweet time and then decide whether she wants to respond or not."
"Well then Miss Dubey, you shall have your answer once I have had my kiss."
"Dream on Mr Scindia…."
"Hmm…Is that a challenge I hear in that sweet voice?"
The intervening empty years ceased to exist as Yash received the same response to the rejoinder as he had once. She broke into ripples of laughter as he looked at her in awe, loosening his hold. Taking advantage, Mishti broke free and ran inside the office. He started after her but was held back when his phone rang.
"Yash…when are you coming home?"
"I'll be late babuji. I have a dinner engagement."
"Right then…I'll see you at breakfast. I have something important to discuss."
"Sure babuji…Goodnight!!"
"Goodnight Yash!"

Yash pocketed the phone and entered a dimly lit office. He heard soft sniffles and saw Mishti sitting at the corner of the couch, face buried in her palms, and her shoulders shaking lightly as she seemed to weep. He rushed and knelt in front of her, holding her wrists, trying to pull her palms away, but she wouldn't let him.
"Mishti, what happened? Why are you crying? Did Maansi say something?” She nodded at that. “Dear God I shouldn't have…."
"She said (sniffle)…she said (sob)…she….."
"Yes darling…what did she say?"
"(Sob) She said I made a m..mistake by feeding you to the sh..a..arks and that now you will find…s…someone better and will never m…marry me."
"She is talking nonsense. Of course I'll marry you."
"You will? Oh Yashji, thank you for giving me my answer," saying she took of her palms…winking at him, and almost doubling up with laughter. Yash narrowed his eyes. He was stunned at her impish audacity.
"Mishti!! You cheated."
"No…I didn't. I won fair and square. You lost, and don't look at me with those big, big eyes (rounding her eyes, making a face, and grinning). They don't scare me.  Everything is fair in love and war my love." She tried to get up, still chuckling, when he pushed her down and pinned her on the sofa. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the look in his eyes…dark and unfathomable pools of an emotion that stirred her in a way never before. Mesmerized, she placed her hands against his chest and felt the steady beat of his heart through the thin shirt…as her own hammered inside her with the unexpectedness of his move. Mirth forgotten, words stuck in her throat as she felt herself getting lost in the depth of those eyes. He leaned forward, whispering huskily, "Think again Miss Dubey…who won and who lost."
His expression was intensely passionate, startling her innocence. For a moment, Mishti confusedly thought he was angry…maybe she had gone too far in teasing him, but before she could ponder over her thought, he yanked her to him and covered her mouth with his in a hungry kiss. His mouth was so warm, the caress of his lips softer than she could have imagined, as she responded without hesitation. She sensed a change in his mood as his kisses increased in intensity. He held her to him tightly, afraid he would lose her again if he slackened….as years of agony burst forth in a maddening catharsis. He rained kisses all over face, saying her name over and over, and then pulled her dupatta down with a jerk and bent down to kiss her neck, losing control by the second. Mishti didn't know what was happening….She only knew he was in pain, maybe angry even, for some reason, as she bore the pain he gave her. It was only when he pulled her kurta aside and nipped her on the shoulder that she couldn't hold back a soft cry. That jolted Yash out of the zone he had gone into…He pushed her away as if he had been burnt and stood up, turning his back to her…He closed his eyes tight, running agitated fingers through his hair, mouthing curses…"Dammit… Dammit ...#^&@!&…Goddammit!!" Through the haze of angry guilt, he heard her shaking voice.
"D..did I do something wrong Yashji? Why are you angry with me? Did I hurt you?"
He turned swiftly and saw her looking at him with deep consternation. He knelt beside her again avoiding her eyes, adjusting her kurta and dupatta, as tears brimmed over. She looked at him in dismay.
"Yashji, I am sorr…."
"Shssh!" He shook his head and pulled her down on his lap, as she wrapped her arms around his neck. He knew he had scared her inexperienced self. "Mishti, I love you...I can't even begin to tell you how much. I could never hurt you. You know that, don't you? (And as she nodded)...I am sorry my sweet, forgiving love. What I did wasn't right (as she started shaking her head to deny)…No, listen…I am not angry with you. I am angry with myself…for many things. I cannot lose you ever again my love. It scares the hell out of me when I realize that I almost did a second time. What I did just now was not proper. I don't know what came over me. I scared you and I am very sorry."
"But why are you angry with yourself? You didn't do anything wrong….you can never do anything wrong."
"But I did Mishti. I believed you were dead. I should have listened to my heart and gone back and tried to find out, but I didn't. I can never forgive myself…ever."
"Then I'll make you forgive and forget. I will give you so much love that these six years will cease to make us sad….and we shall remember them as blessings (as he looked at her)…two blessings actually, Palak and Ansh." She smiled and bent forward to kiss him lightly. Two souls united in pain….having to fight the past demons…yet instinctively easing out the other's anguish.

To be continued…..

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