Monday, 12 August 2013

Samarpan----Chapters 9-12

Chapter 9

A wise unselfishness is not a surrender of yourself to the wishes of anyone,
 but only to the best discoverable course of action.

You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from my shadow world of panic,
if you choose to……Please choose to.
Do not pass me by….please stay.
It will not be easy for you, yet I pray.
A long belief of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The closer you step toward me….the blinder I may strike back.
I comabt the very thing I want as my defender,
I combat against surrender.
I have read that love is stronger than strong walls….and in this lies my hope.
And if I know myself…I will combat against even that hope.

That was the last poem in the journal. Yash’s fingers quivered a little as he closed the journal. He had flicked through pages of poems, essays, anecdotes, short stories, and thoughts, his mind compelling him to read each as he browsed, till he had reached the end. He had read the poem twice…and each time a wave of intense emotion had passed through him. It was clearly a cry of help, and somehow the words had pierced his soul. The pain he felt on reading it was personal…very personal. But how is that even possible? Yash stood clutching the journal as he tried to analyze the feeling. Is this the connection Aman mentioned?
“Do you like it?”
Yash spun around to find Arpita standing near the door. A half smile played on her lips, but her eyes were sharp as she observed the changed demeanor in the man who was so obviously going through the motions of a cursory visit just moments ago. Now he looked involved…and interested.
“Is this yours?”
“Hmm!! Yeah…It’s no big deal actually…just stuff I scribble when the mood gets me. You didn’t answer me? Did you like what you saw?”
Yash looked at her speculatively. Was that query about the journal or did she hint at something else? He couldn’t make out. So he played safe.
“You write well. I have never met a writer before. However, whatever I read fleetingly here, this is brilliant work. I am impressed.”
“Thanks! You can take it.”
“What? Are you sure? You will give away something like this just like that!!” Yash was stunned.
“Of course! Obviously you liked the stuff. You have come to our house for the first time. Take it as a gift. If I want to fill another notebook, I can always pick up a pen anytime,” she laughed in an offhand manner.
Yash was thoroughly puzzled. In the end he put her offer down to her good manners and generous nature. There was no other way he could justify her actions. Also, the contents in the journal had aroused his interest. He thanked her politely, “I appreciate your gesture Miss Mehra. Thank you…..Look, I’ll take it for now, and after I have finished reading, I shall return it back. I would hate to sadden you by taking away such amazing creations.”
“There is only one thing that saddens me now,” she smiled congenially, and as Yash raised a brow, she added, “That you keep calling me Miss Mehra. It sounds so formal. Please call me Arpita.”
Much later, as Yash got up to leave, Mr and Mrs Mehra looked questioningly at him after humbly folding their hands. Their daughter was always beyond their comprehension. As such when this proposal came from the Scindias, they could only request her to think about it. Initially, she had refused outright and had declined to even contemplate an offer of an arranged marriage. But the very next morning she had surprised them by showing keenness for the alliance. Now, they only hoped that she had not done anything to offend Yash Scindia when she was showing him around. They were much relieved when Yash folded his hands and spoke politely, “Thank you very much for your kind hospitality, Sir. I’ll take your leave now. Dadima or babuji will get in touch with you.” He glanced at Arpita who tagged behind with a sweet smile, waving a Goodbye, to which he simply nodded.
Yash spent half the night going through the writings, sometimes reading a piece twice, even thrice, and each time finding something new. He marveled at the depth in Arpita’s words. For some reason he was finding it difficult to associate the expressions with her. It was as if the amiable, very social, perky girl he met earlier in the evening and the girl who wrote these masterpieces were two different persons. He brushed off the thought as soon as it occurred, “Gosh Yash, everyone is not a Tanya or a Deepa.”
Next day he woke up to the sound of his cell phone ringing. It was his father, “Yash, dadima’s angiogram has been scheduled for this afternoon. You know how cranky and irritable she gets at the thought of being in a hospital? Only you can handle her, beta. Your ma is already very nervous. Can you get back today?”
“I’ll be there to take her to the hospital, babuji.”
He had a breakfast meeting with some officials, following which he left for Bhopal. The car had just left the hotel driveway when he remembered the interview he was supposed to take for the post of the art teacher; he checked the name of the recommended candidate from his appointment schedule: Miss A. Dubey. He immediately called up Prof. Sharma and apologized for the change of plans. He asked whether by any chance the candidate had arrived. At which the professor gave the phone to Miss Dubey.
Yash sensed edginess at the other end followed by a pregnant pause before he heard a soft voice wish him haltingly, “Go..od, Sir!” He immediately caught on the nervous tone and went about assuring her, when suddenly he felt she wanted to say something. After that what happened was something he could never explain, even though he replayed that conversation many a times in his head later. There was something in the tone of the girl’s voice that had prompted him to go out of his way to guide her. He felt this strange sense of responsibility toward her. What was odd was that he had been able to listen to her silent responses. After the conversation ended, he looked out of the window. His first thought was, “How is it that each visit of Hoshangabad had memories of his helping hapless girls?” After awhile he had taken out the journal and continued his reading from the previous night. For some reason, he felt closer to the person who wrote the journal now.

“Out…all of you leave!! I have to talk to my grandson.”
Yash sighed as he stepped aside while the three nurses scampered out hurriedly. He could have sworn he heard one of them mutter Dragon lady under her breath. He shook his head amusedly as he entered the hospital room and went near his dadima, who sat straight up on the bed with an indignant look.
“Now, now, dadima. Don’t scare them away like that. They are only doing their job. They have to prepare you for the angio in time, otherwise the doctor will scold them.”
“Yash, I am old…not paraplegic. Someone has to teach them the difference. I am capable of changing my clothes.”
“Right Ma’am…I’ll tell them that. I can’t blame them though…They may have never seen such a beautiful, independent young lady of seventy. You could give anyone a complex,” Yash grinned affectionately.
Dadima chuckled with a wink, “Did I really scare them?”
Yash threw back his head and laughed, nodding, “You sure did Dragon lady. You are famous already.” He bent over to kiss her forehead, “What am I going to do with you? Now, what was it that you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Tell me about Arpita. Did you like her?”
“Not now dadima. I promise I’ll talk about it later. Let’s get over this procedure first.”
“No way, Yash. I am not budging from here till I get this settled. Once I am in those butchers’ hands, they’ll cut me all over and gleefully find ten other things wrong inside my body. You are more important at the moment. I am not going to risk delaying this anymore.”
“Dadima please….”
“Yash, all I am asking is whether that girl affected you in any way….” She paused, and when he didn’t answer, “Well!! Did she?”
Yash was in a spot. He knew his dadima. She was not the one for empty threats….she always acted on them. He also knew that he couldn’t fool her with this. She knew him too well. He tried to get over his uneasiness before replying, “Dadima, she is a nice girl. You were right about her parents. They are very nice people.”
“Yash, don’t tell me what I already know. I asked, did she stir your heart somewhere? C’mon child, what are you keeping from me?”
“Nothing…it’s just that…Oho, I didn’t tell you, I read her journal of compositions…poem, stories, thoughts. She writes beautifully. There’s magic in her words…sucks you right in. It’s as if those words are her family, her friends, her companions of sorrow and joy. She…what?” The last said as he found his dadima smiling.
“You liked her. You connected. I knew it.”
“Err dadima…I said…I connected with her creativity…her I don’t know…oh well! Stop giving me those looks. It’s tough enough for me to understand these feelings that crop up when I read her compositions without you getting ideas on a totally different direction.”
Dadima took his hands in her wrinkly ones, “Yash, I was looking at you when you were speaking about her just now….” She shut him up as he tried to protest, “No, don’t say anything. Let me finish. There’s definitely something between you two…maybe it’s the journal now, but that’s a start. All relationships begin from somewhere. It was God’s wish that he made you read her work and fall in love with that first. But Yash, it’s her…all of her, who wrote those lines. How can you separate the two?”
Yash realized that for the first time he couldn’t make dadima understand what was really going on in him…because he himself didn’t. She did seem to be sure of this so he tried to follow her logic.
“I guess what you say makes sense, dadima.” He resigned himself to what was evidently going to follow. Dadima smiled tearfully and hugged him, “Thank you, beta! Thank you for giving this old lady so much happiness. Now I am not scared of whatever they are going to find out inside me. I just got my reason to live some more.” She asked him to send his father in as she wanted to pass some instructions regarding the progress of the marriage talks.
Yash stepped out of the room, unsure of what this was leading to….whether he did right. It was true that Arpita’s written words had moved him in a manner beyond anything…much beyond what he felt for Tanya, but should that be the yardstick to measure a togetherness of a lifetime? Why is the mind questioning the heart? He didn’t realize where his feet were taking him, till he found himself standing in front of Lord Ganesh’s idol kept in a corner of the corridor. He folded his hands, closed his eyes, and prayed, “I don’t know what your plans are for me. Please give me enough strength to bring peace to the one who wrote that journal. She is unhappy and I want to be there for her, make her smile…forever.”

Everything happened very fast after that. The doctors found a couple of blocks in dadima’s arteries and advised angioplasty to be done within a month. Dadima insisted the marriage should take place before she went under the knife. And so, Yash and Arpita got married three weeks from the day they met. They met only once before the marriage when the Mehras came to Bhopal for a formal engagement ceremony, which was kept a private affair. When they were left alone for awhile, they strolled out in the lawn. Yash had asked Arpita if she was fine with the marriage. She had nodded smilingly. He had then quipped, “This is all happening so quickly, almost like Ajay and Ashima’s marriage, isn’t it? I hope I am able to keep you happy as Ajay finally found the way to keep his wife happy.” He had looked up to find her staring at him with a blank look, “Who are Ajay and Ashima?” He looked perplexed, “The couple in four of your short stories.” It was time for Arpita to look puzzled before she straightened up and passed him a winning smile, “Oh…them!! You took me by surprise there. For a moment I wondered who you were talking about. Err…shall we go inside? I have to give ma her predinner medicine.”
Now, as he stood at the threshold with his bride, he saw ma help dadima to her feet and put the aarti thaal in her hand. Dadima had taken only a couple of steps, when it happened….Yash felt rather than saw Arpita sink down to her knees as he instinctively caught her, breaking the fall. She was unconscious by the time he steadied himself. Someone shrieked, and then there was pandemonium as all the ladies started gathering around Yash. Yash looked around for Prateek and then shouted at him to get the car as he spotted him. Babuji hollered at everyone to fall back and asked his wife to stay with his mother, as he rushed toward his sons.
At the hospital, the Scindia men waited in the corridor as the doctor checked on Arpita. After awhile Prateek went out to get coffee for his father and brother. Babuji walked upto a tense Yash, who was looking out of the window, “Don’t worry, Yash. I am sure it is the fatigue that did her in. These ceremonies can be really tough. A little bit of rest will do her good.” He turned as the doctor came out. Dr. Seema Parmar was known to them, having attended to their mother in the past. She asked them to step into her office. Once inside she closed the door and gestured for them to have a seat.
The doctor then looked at the younger Scindia, “Yash, you are going to be a father. Your wife is pregnant.”
Yash was stunned, “There must be some mistake doctor. Are you sure?”
She nodded, “We ran a pregnancy test, Yash. Your wife is conscious and is very happy that you two are going to be parents and that you got the good news on your wedding day.”
Yash started to stand up in denial of such a possibility when he felt babuji’s hand on his. He sat down again.
“I have a request, Seema.” Babuji’s voice was steady when he spoke, “Please do not let anyone know about this now. We’ll tell everyone at an opportune time.”
“Of course, bhaisaab….that goes without saying. I’ll work around the dates and let you know.”
They thanked the doctor and went out. Outside Yash excused himself from his father and returned back to the doctor’s chamber, “Doctor, how much...I mean how many…I mean…”
“Six weeks, Yash. She is six weeks pregnant.” Years of experience kicked in as she grasped the situation, notwithstanding the fact that she knew Yash well. “You are not the father, are you Yash?”
He shook his head. She walked up to him and placed a hand on his shoulder, “You have to get other issues cleared with your wife. Like I said I’ll work around the dates. And Yash (as he turned near the door) whatever you decide, don’t forget a little child’s life is at stake here. In any case, her internal condition is such that abortion is risky. ”
Yash went out to where his father stood near the waiting chairs. Prateek stood a little far apart, two coffee cups in his hand, looking uncertain as he sensed babuji’s changed mood. He looked relieved on seeing Yash.
“Bhaiya, coff….”
“Prateek, go and wait in the car. We’ll be there shortly….And don’t call ma yet.”
Yash turned to his father, “Babuji….”
Suraj Pratap was furious. A vein throbbed in his temple as he turned slowly to Yash, “They tricked us. How dare they?”
“What? Did you think for one minute that I’ll suspect you? I know you too well Yash….You could never take advantage of a girl. I am going to send her right back to her parents.”
“Babuji, please…She is my wife now. Before we take a step, I have to listen to her side of the story too. Maybe someone took advantage of her and left her. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions.”
In the end, Yash convinced his father to keep the pregnancy from everyone for the time being…especially from dadima…and stick to the story of “fatigue.” Yash wanted to talk to Arpita before drawing any conclusions. It took another half hour to get the discharge. Arpita kept to herself in the car, not even glancing at Yash. At home Yash carried her straight up to his room, as his father gave the explanations to the family. He told Arpita to change and rest and that he’ll be back in a while.
A soon as Yash was sure that everyone was satisfied with the situation, he glanced at his father and nodded once before going up to his room. As he was about to enter, he heard Arpita speaking on phone, “No Rahul…this doesn’t change or complicate anything. This only means a delay of few months. After that we carry on as planned…Of course, darling…trust me!” She looked up to see Yash staring at her and said to the person on the other end, “I’ll talk to you later. Yash is here.”
Arpita got down from the bed and smiled brightly at Yash, “Congratulations, Yash!! It seems you are going to be a father.”


 Chapter 10

Sometimes surrender means giving up trying to understand
 and becoming comfortable with not knowing.

Yash was perplexed and slightly shaken at her brazen attitude but kept his cool. This was no time to lose control. His babuji’s hard-earned eminence and his family’s reputation were at stake. A sense of deja vu was setting in, bringing in clarity and acceptance. Whatever he had heard her speak on phone, along with her last remark, gave him some idea about her. He stepped in, turned, and closed the door. Then he turned back, leaned against the door, and crossed his arms across his chest, staring at Arpita with a cold expression. She stood calmly with a half smile playing on her lips, watching his reactions.
The next moment she was taken aback by his remark, as he completely disregarded her sarcastic quip and simply stated icily, “So, it was the money.”
Arpita’s eyes widened in surprise, as she struggled to stay in control and finish what she had begun two weeks back. His matter-of-fact statement had clearly unsettled her. She stared at him, trying to read his expressions. Not a muscle moved on Yash’s face as he gestured toward the sofa, “Why don’t we sit down and discuss this?”
No wedding night could have been stranger for a bride and groom as they sat measuring each other like sparring partners and not life partners as they were supposed to be. Yash spoke first, “Now tell me why you thought that after marrying me you will be able to extract money out of me?”
“Why do you think I want money from you? I might want a father for this child.” Arpita shot back.
“Oh…c’mon Arpita…it’s written all over your face. You fooled me with your friendly and perfect behavior…I admit that. I was so keen to make my dadima happy that I slipped up in judging you. However, I have had past experiences with gold diggers…so give me some credit. Also, going by who you were on phone with awhile back, it is clear that the man whose child you carry hasn’t abandoned you.” There was no way he was going to disclose to her that the journal had actually did him in. That was the only part that came as a huge disappointment…that the writings were not what they came across to him as. He clamped on his feelings and waited for her to speak.
She was looking down at her hands. When she looked up, the steel was back in her eyes, “His name is Rahul. He was and is the only man I love. We both wanted to move out of the small town and make it big abroad…in Canada to be precise. Rahul’s uncle runs a business there and wants Rahul as his partner. But for that we needed money…lots of it. Rahul belongs to a lower middle-class family. You have seen my parents. They have just bare minimum. They tried to give me a comfortable life but it was never enough. They could never understand my needs. Only I know how I got through college.”
“How would marrying me solve your problem? I can send you back to Hoshangabad tonight and divorce you tomorrow.”
“I will demand alimony.”
Yash smiled, “You may not get it…because you concealed crucial facts about yourself. I will fight it.”
It was turn for Arpita to smile, “You forget why I congratulated you when you came in. I will project this child as yours in front of the society.”
“What? You will use your unborn child?” Yash was stunned.
“Oho! Don’t be such a righteous prude, Yash. I didn’t plan this kid. Now that I have it…and I can’t have an abortion because it may put my life at risk…I might as well ensure I have enough to bring him or her up. (Sigh) See I am looking after this kid’s interests as well. In return if I get what I want, where’s the harm?”
“Arpita, a simple DNA test can prove that this child is not mine.”
“Of course, it would. But would you want to? Think about the scandal? I believe your father is very proud of his status and standing in society. He is revered in Bhopal. He has earned this name through a lifelong of hard work…right? One wrong move by you and your family’s name and reputation will be blown to smithereens. The media and the society will relish the scoop. Most importantly, think of your dadima. Do you think her heart will take such a shock?”
“Don’t you dare drag my grandmother into your muck?” Her deviousness appalled him. It was evident that she had thought this through.
“I don’t wish to….not till you give me a reason to.”
Yash forced himself to control his temper and remain calm, “So what is your plan?”
Arpita breathed a sigh of relief, now that the first battle was won, “I will stay here till this baby is born. Then we’ll get a divorce and I shall leave with the money. I won’t bother you after that.”
“Not so fast Arpita. I will agree to this charade only under two conditions.”
“Go ahead…I am all ears.”
“Till you are here you will abide by this family’s norms and not step out of the line, which means you won’t meet Rahul till you leave. I won’t risk fingers pointing at my family for any misconduct of yours. Secondly, since I am going to be the father of this child, he or she will remain with me. You will forfeit all your rights on the child after you leave. I will take legal counsel regarding the issue and you will sign wherever you are asked to. I will not have you come back at any point and claim the child as yours.
“No problem. I agree. This child is only an unwanted complication for me at this stage.”
“Fine…so that’s agreed. We have to share this room for the rest of the family’s sake and for your pregnancy to be validated later. You take the bed, I’ll take the divan. Remember, apart from me only babuji knows about this matter.”
Without further ado, Yash got up and walked toward the door, as Arpita watched him with narrowed eyes. She had come prepared with a fighting defence, but Yash had turned the tables on her by being completely unruffled…almost condescending. And the fact that he didn’t show as much as a slight interest in her piqued her somewhat, her ego taking a beating. At the door, Yash paused and turned, “I’ll get that journal I took from you from the study. You may have it back.”
“Keep it! It’s not mine anyway.”
Yash felt an enormous load being lifted off him as he heard the first right thing coming from her mouth. Taking care to appear nonchalant, and not very eager, he asked casually, “Then whose is it? I’ll send it across to her.”
“Don’t bother. She is a nobody. I don’t even remember her name. She had dropped that notebook in college. I would have given it back to her, but I never saw her again.”
Yash was about to probe further but thought better of it and let it be. Later he would make some inquiries in the college, but no one seemed to know a girl who was a writer. She really was a nonentity!!
Yash filled in his father with all the unpleasant details, who agreed that the family should not be let in on this for now. Dadima’s surgery and her postoperative care were of primary concerns at the moment. The surgery went off well. Yash insisted dadima stay with them till the doctors deem her fit to go back to the village. Gayatri tried her best to make Arpita comfortable in the new environs and get her involved by entrusting her with household responsibility, but she found her bahu to be a little aloof and disinterested, although she was always respectful. When Gayatri approached Yash with the issue, he requested his mother to take it easy and to give Arpita a little time.
A month after the wedding, dadima was brought home from the hospital, and the same day Yash disclosed Arpita’s pregnancy to the family. The “good news” became the incentive for dadima’s speedy recovery. Her childlike enthusiasm at being upgraded to the status of a great grandmother brought a lump to Yash’s throat. He looked at his father who nodded at him in understanding. Yash never spoke with Arpita in the privacy of their bedroom, although he maintained a veneer of a good relationship outside of it. As Arpita’s pregnancy progressed, his inherent goodness kicked in and he took personal care of her physical health, ensuring she got the right diet and accompanying her for her check-ups. Arpita, on her part, stuck to her end of the deal and maintained a cordial relationship with all. She never met Rahul, but spoke with him once a day after requesting Yash for the perk, who acquiesced.
Arpita gave birth to a baby girl in January, seven and a half months after their marriage. Dr Parmar kept the mother and the daughter in hospital for additional few days, following the norm for premature babies to maintain the charade. Dadima, Gayatri, and Prateek were ecstatic at this new addition to their family. The moment the nurse kept the baby in Yash’s arms, she stared right back at him. And just like that he fell in love with her. Eyes glistening, he cuddled her close and promised the baby that she will always be his little girl come what may. Finally, he had someone he could call only his own. While still in hospital, with great relief Arpita signed all the papers for divorce and the ones that gave Yash the sole rights of a parent. She never went back to the Scindia Mansion. The day she was discharged, she walked away with Rahul, the cheque secure in her grasp, without once looking back at the daughter she gave birth to just a few days back.
It was left to Yash’s father to explain to his mother, wife, and younger son as to why Arpita went away, as Yash stood nearby, his daughter blissfully sleeping in his arms. Suraj Pratap looked at his mother, “Ma, Arpita was unhappy here…had been so for some months now. She couldn’t adapt herself to our family and didn’t connect with Yash at all. Moreover, she had received a good job offer abroad the day before the marriage, which she was very keen to take up. Your operation and then her pregnancy stopped her from taking the offer. She did tell Yash about it. It’s when she realized she couldn’t fit into our family that she approached Yash again. Her employers had waited for her all this while. Yash spoke with me and we decided to let her leave. Keeping someone trapped in a forced marriage could only bring unhappiness all around. I hope the decision we took is fine with you all.”
Needless to say all three were stunned, even though each in their own way had sensed a distance between Yash and Arpita as also that the latter had never shown any inclination whatsoever to blend into the family. As if on cue, all three looked at the little bundle in Yash’s arms. Yash walked over and placed the little one in his dadima’s lap, “Dadima, this is your great granddaughter. You are her badi dadi. This baby is…”
“Dadima??” A wave of emotions passed over Yash as he heard his dadi whisper the name.
Dadima looked up as tears ran down her wrinkly cheeks. She lifted her free hand and cradled Yash’s cheek, as he held her wrist, “I name her Payal, Yash. She will fill your empty existence with her tingling, sweet presence…She will be the music that will bring melody back into your life.” As Yash’s eyes spilled over, she wiped the tears away, “I am so sorry, Yash. If I had not insisted on this marriage, you wouldn’t have…”
“No, dadima…don’t blame yourself.” Yash stopped her. “If I had not married, I wouldn’t have had the fortune to become a father to this beautiful child. And now…,” he paused and glanced around at his family, “…now, I want your support to bring her up. Payal and I…we both…need you.” Payal…he repeated inwardly…he already loved the name as much as he loved his little princess. The rest of the family closed in, nodding at Yash, tearfully.
“Papa…come…come…let’s open the presents,” Yash struggled to keep the phone conversation going with the client as his three-year-old daughter pulled him with all her little might. Her third birthday had just got over, and barring a couple of relatives, all the guests and children had left.
Yash finished the call, bent, and picked up Payal, twirling her round and round as she squealed in delight. He placed her on his shoulders and hopped up the stairs, two at a time, as Payal clutched his hair and shouted at her chachu, who was coming down, to turn around and join them. They were only half way through the presents when Payal flopped against Yash’s chest, her eyes drooping, too tired to stay awake. At Yash’s signal, Prateek collected the rest of the presents, clearing the bed, as Yash took of Payal’s shoes and changed her into her pajamas. After tucking her and kissing her goodnight, both tip-toed out, instructing the maid outside to keep an eye on her.
They joined the family for dinner. Gayatri’s cousin Geeta, who had come in late, took a seat at the table. The conversation naturally revolved around Payal and her chirpy antics. That’s when Geeta maasi touched the forbidden topic, addressing Yash, “Yash, why don’t you marry again? I have many girls in mind, who will all be too willing to marry you. Payal too needs a mother.”
There was a hush around the table. The last time anyone had broached the topic was two years back, when Yash had blown his fuse after being repeatedly pestered for a remarriage. Gayatri, wanting to see Yash settled down and Payal to have a mother, had brought in three proposals in a month.
Dadima had then taken Yash aside, and had asked him, “What is really bothering you Yash? I have never seen you so angry before. Just because you had a bad first marriage doesn’t mean you cannot seek happiness again. Your mother only wants the best for you.”
Yash had looked at his grandmother with tortured eyes, “Dadima, I can never trust a girl again. No…please don’t ask why. I don’t say there aren’t any good girls out there. It’s just that I have a very poor record with them. I only attract the bad ones.”
“Yash!! What nonsense?” She paused and stared at him hard, “Do you have someone in mind?”
Yash smiled, “No dadima…that’d be very contradictory, don’t you think?” He had closed his eyes and had blurted out inadvertently, “The only one I could have in mind is lost out there in the world somewhere. I only see her in her written words.” He had looked down at the dear old lady and had whispered, “I wish I could find her.”
She had whispered back, “You will find her…when the time is right. She is waiting for you.”
No one had ever talked of marriage after that. And now as everyone tried to catch Geeta’s eye, Yash excused himself and got up from the table. He went up to his room, changed and slipped into his bed. As he switched on the bedside light and took the journal in his hands for his regular night read, his phone rang.
“I will never forgive you for this, Aman.”
“I am sorry Yash. I didn’t want to worry you. You have Payal to think of. I couldn’t have you rushing to me for every session of chemotherapy and radiation.”
“You should have told me Aman….I would have taken you to the best doctors…abroad if needed. I…”
“It wouldn’t have been of any use, pal. The cancer was diagnosed at the terminal stage. I have only a few days left now…I had to see you. I wanted you to do something for me.”
“Anything Aman…whatever you say.”
Yash and Aman had kept in touch over the years, although the visits had lessened because of increasing responsibilities on both sides. They would exchange notes at least thrice a week. Aman had married Deepa, the girl from New York. Yash was abroad for work-related trip when Aman’s marriage was fixed. He could only reach back on the day of the marriage…and by that time it was too late. Even then he had tried to persuade Aman to back off by relating the US incident, but he could very well have been talking to a mirror as far as righteousness was concerned. Aman had decided to go ahead with the wedding, keeping in mind his parents’ reputation. Although he never spoke about his married life, Yash could sense his friend’s unhappiness every time they spoke or met. Their plans for one more trip to Nainital, for old times’ sake, had never materialized.
“Yash, I had some of the happiest moments of my life up there on the mountains with you. The last few months I have relived those times whenever the pain was unbearable. After I am gone, I want you to go up there for me and spread my ashes over the peak we both loved so much. Will you do that my friend?”
Yash clasped Aman’s hands in his and promised. Aman smiled in peace, which was gone the next moment as Deepa barged in with some papers in her hand.
“Yash, will you leave us alone please? I want a minute with my husband.” Deepa stood next to the bed, impatience writ large on her face.
Yash nodded and was about to get up when Aman tightened his hold of Yash’s hand. Yash looked at Aman and instantly knew his friend wanted him to stay. Yash shook his head, addressing Deepa, “I’d rather stay Deepa. Whatever you have to say will have to be in front of me.”
Deepa was clearly annoyed. She turned to Aman, “I need you to sign these papers. Hurry up, Aman…the bank will close in an hour.”
Aman looked at the papers and shook his head, ‘No way…I am not giving these to you. These savings are for ma-bauji. “
“Don’t be difficult Aman. We spoke about this earlier too. After you, I am the one who will look after them, so you have to turns these over to me.”
“I don’t believe this,” Yash was stunned at Deepa’s callousness and insensitivity, “Your husband is dying, Deepa…and you are negotiating money with him? What kind of woman are you?”
“Stay out of this, Yash. This is between me and my husband.” Deepa was unfazed.
“You are not getting a penny more Deepa. Please leave now. I want some time with my friend,” Aman dismissed her with a firmness she couldn’t argue against. She passed an angry look at Yash and stormed out.
“Yash, will you ensure that my parents…,” Aman couldn’t speak more but his imploring eyes pled beseechingly.
“Don’t worry Aman. Consider it done. Uncle and aunty will be well looked after, I promise you.”
Aman died the next day of Yash’s visit. It was as if he was hanging on for Yash. Yash helped Aman’s parents with the last rites and stayed on till the thirteenth-day ceremony. During the interim period he sorted out Aman’s finances and ensured his parents got their due. He spoke with a lawyer he knew and hired him to take care of uncle/aunty’s legalities on a permanent basis. Deepa walked out on her in-laws in a huff when she found that Yash had managed to get all she was hankering after transferred in the name of the old couple.
Yash went home for a couple of days and settled things there before beginning his journey to the mountains. He sat with Payal and made her understand why papa had to be away for some more time. When she heard it was for Aman uncle, she nodded wisely and told him to go and come back fast with the mountain fairy.
“Mountain fairy? Who told you about this?” Yash smiled at his daughter’s demand.
“Uffo, papa…you don’t know anything. Badi dadi says mountain fairy has magical powers. Whatever we ask, she gives.”
“And what does my princess want from her?” Yash lifted her in his arms.
“That’s a secret, papa….I’ll tell you when you bring her…OK?”
“Hmm!! OK.”
Yash planned for a fifteen-day trek…the duration of their visits earlier. He wanted to recreate the trek exactly as it used to be, including the gear they carried, the spots where they camped, the food that they prepared….even their mutually agreed eccentricity of not shaving for the entire trip. He spread Aman’s ashes in all their favorite spots. He spent the fortnight reliving old times, remembering their conversations, their talks, their life together. On his last night, Yash remembered what Aman had said the last time they were here...something about a providential decree…and “You never know you might meet that special someone here only.” He looked up at the dark sky, whispering, “I lost her Aman…before I had even found her.”
It was late afternoon next day when he reached his car. He had planned to go straight back to the hotel, take a hot water bath, and eat something. It had been raining since early morning, as such he hadn’t been able to set up a fire. So, he had just packed and started walking in the rain itself when he realized it wasn’t letting up. His found his problems augmented when he saw the rear wheels were stuck in knee-deep mud. There was no one in sight. It took him an hour plus to get the car freed from the mud. By then his clothes were torn in many places and he was covered in mud. He dusted himself as best as he could and got into the car. As he crossed the Tibetan market, the car stalled and then stopped. Yash was thoroughly frustrated by now…not to mention famished; he started walking in the lookout for some help. After ten minutes of walking, he looked toward his right and saw a sign flashing: “Brownies.” He thought of snatching a bite before proceeding. Maybe the shop people will be able to direct him to a garage.
He entered the shop and walked toward the snack counter, ignoring the look of disgust the girl behind the counter had on her face at seeing his filthy appearance. He requested her for a hamburger. As he went for his wallet, he found it gone. He searched all over himself, hoping he had kept it elsewhere absentmindedly. As he thought over where it could be, he realized he must have dropped it while extricating the car from the slush. He looked up at the girl and started to apologize, “Ah…I am sorry I seem to…”
That’s when he heard the softest voice…a familiar voice…, “It's OK. You can have the burger. Consider it on the house.”
He turned to look at her….and stood rooted. Her eyes mesmerized him…as he was pulled right into their soulful depths.


Chapter 11

He who knows nothing is closer to the truth
than he who has surrendered to fears of mind.

Before he had turned around, he was somewhat offended at being taken for a charity case and meant to clear the misconception regarding his financial status. Yet, the moment his gaze fell on her he was captivated. He couldn’t take his eyes off her face. He felt rather than saw her take a step back, but her eyes held his in a silent assurance of their own. At the moment they were full of compassion and kindness, yet he found himself clearly reading a haunted sadness in them. To him they hid an unknown sorrow…pieces of a broken soul…pangs of a tormented heart. In haze he heard the other girl come and break the moment by drawing her away from him. He heard her offer to pay for the burger. He could have stopped her then, but something held him back. And when she turned toward him again to assure him about the burger, he realized she would leave if he didn’t stop her…and for reasons unbeknownst to him, he couldn’t let that happen. Suddenly words read a million times before in the journal reverberated in his mind: Do not pass me by….please stay. It will not be easy for you, yet I pray….For the first time the words in the journal had connected with a face…just like that. But why now? That too with an unknown girl? That too on first sight? There was no time to rationalize; he just knew that he couldn’t let her go. So, he said the first thing that came to his mind, “Do people eat alone in your house?”
He saw her expression change to surprise and then to confusion as she deterred. He realized he was being irrational as he insisted she give him company. Excuses came naturally as he made up a plea regarding the day being his birthday, which actually was still a couple of months away. With great relief he saw her relent. Yash had no idea what was driving him to act in this manner. Time of contemplation would come later, but for now he needed her with him. One thing was clear: it was not only the girl but also her voice that intrigued him. It was as if he had heard that soft voice before. There was a sense of familiarity the moment he had heard her.
As he gestured toward the far corner table, she agreed haltingly, wishing him, “OK. I’ll sit for awhile. Please have a seat. Err….Happy Birthday, Sir!!”
“Excuse me?”
“Yash Scindia….that’s my name.”
“Oh…OK!” The name held no meaning to her, he noted, as they sat down.
She was clearly uncomfortable as she tried to look away but kept glancing back at him…her body tense, her hands locked in her lap, and the haunted look coming to the fore. For some reason, she was folding up. She was not as calm as she was moments earlier when she thought she was helping a stranger from afar. He sensed her retreat and found himself not liking it, so tried to make small talk.
“Your name is Aarti?” He saw a confused look come into her eyes, as she nodded, “Your friend called you by that name, so I asked. (Silence)…It’s a nice name.”
He waited as he took a bite of the burger….Nothing…not a word. If he was expecting her to suddenly turn into a chatterbox, she was certainly not forthcoming, so he continued nonchalantly, “You are a very nice person, Ma’am. Not many would come forward to help a hungry, penniless stranger.” He tried to catch her eye, but in vain.
So, he tried again, “Thank you so much. Believe me I don’t normally go walking into shops looking for food. I really thought I had some money on me, but as it turned out, I didn’t.” He smiled amiably, hoping against hope it’ll be reciprocated. He continued when she still didn’t respond, “I promise I shall return whatever I owe you as soon as I get my paycheck. My employer hasn’t paid me in a while. He keeps promising he would but then doesn’t.” He had her attention now, as her eyes rested on his, reflecting his pain in them.
Aarti’s heart went out to the stranger, as she said softly, “You don’t have to pay me. I understand.”
He was astounded…Is it even possible that a girl could have so much empathy in her? That too for a complete stranger? Is she always like this or is it that his physical appearance brought out the pity in her? Something told me it was the former.
He picked up the burger with both hands and bit into it as he saw her wandering eyes stop at the snack counter. Something struck her, as she looked back at him and smiled nervously, which made his heart constrict with an unknown feeling, “Please excuse me. I’ll be back in a moment.”
As she arose, he stopped her, “Promise?”
When she looked at him quizzically, he repeated, “Promise you’ll come back?” She nodded, and he saw her walk toward the girl in the counter. He really shouldn’t be doing this…making her pay for his food. But the situation was beyond his control at the moment. He would find a way to pay her back later. He saw her now, talking gently. There was a fragile softness in her entire bearing. She had on a pale yellow churidar suit, long silken hair, face devoid of any make up, except for eyes lined with kohl and lips glistening with light pink lip gloss…so simple yet so deep. The way her expressions danced across her face told him that there was no guile, no ulterior motives, and certainly no duplicity there.
In the next moment Yash shook himself…wasn’t he himself being deceitful by hiding his identity? Making her believe what he was not? His conscience pricked him as he saw her turn and look at him before taking a step toward him. He wanted to be honest with her…but he couldn’t do it, as devious faces of past came rushing in his memories and his guard went up. Dammit!! What’s going on? Why is this girl evoking unexplored feelings in him? How can he be sure he won’t be taken for a ride again? What if his instincts about her are wrong? No, he couldn’t let himself go down that lane again…not so soon, not so instantaneously….not until he knew more about her…not until he was sure that her enchanting beauty and obvious goodness were not just smoke and mirrors, as well as that this instant attraction he felt was not a result of lonely days spent on the mountains.
Aarti glided back into the seat, unmindful of the battle raging in the man opposite. He continued to stare at her, as she kept her eyes fixed on a point on the table.
They were both shaken out of their reveries by Maansi who kept two sandwiches and a bottle of lemonade in front of Yash. “Here you are…Don’t look at me like that, Sir. Aarti here felt you needed some more food in you. You should thank your stars that you met her.”
She then bent near Aarti’s ears and whispered, “Guess who just pulled over in the parking lot, Aarti.”
Aarti glanced outside and jumped up, apologizing nervously, “I…I am sorry.… go. I…Goodbye Sir!” She took a couple of steps and then turned, “Please finish eating before you leave.”
Before Yash could get a word out, she was gone…disappearing through a side door in the left. He jerked his head toward the entrance as a handsome young man walked in. The man looked rich, considering the fancy car he drove in and the clothes and accessories he had on, and behaved rich, as Yash soon witnessed. He heard Maansi use the most offensive word under her breath, as she proceeded to attend to the man with her best salesgirl smile.
“Good evening, Mr Singhania! What a surprise? What can I get you?”
“Where is Aarti? I thought I saw her…Is she in her office? I want to see her….(and at Maansi’s raised brow) I mean I need to see her to place some orders.” Sameer Singhania’s eyes were clearly searching for Aarti.
“You can tell me, Sir. She is not here. She went home hours ago.” Maansi lied smoothly, making Yash wonder why. This man obviously had a thing for Aarti. Is she involved with this…this fat cat with an obviously shining silver spoon? Yash clinched his teeth involuntarily and stood up.
“Alright. You can do something for me. Give this to her,” Sameer took a smallish square jewelry box from his jacket pocket. “Tell her this is a gift from me to her for the fantastic job she did with my sister’s kid’s birthday party. I’ll call her later….And yes, please speak with my mom regarding the catering of her kitty party.” He tossed the box and walked out.
Maansi grabbed the box and opened it. Yash had closed in on her by then, with the sandwiches in his hand. He saw it was an expensive bracelet. Maansi’s eyes had gone large as she pursed her lips and let out a low whistle. She looked up as Yash cleared his throat, “Ma’am, may I have a paper bag. I’ll carry these with me for laters.” As Maansi passed him a bag, he added, “Thank you so much for your kindness. Please convey my gratitude to the kind lady as well.”
Maansi nodded with a smile and turned to attend to a large family that had entered. Yash walked out with a final look at the closed door. Outside he stood behind a hedge and looked inside the shop, waiting. His actions were becoming weirder even to him. A few minutes later the family walked out after making their purchases. He saw Maansi pick up the phone and dial. As he waited, he saw the back door open and Aarti step back into the shop and immediately looking at the table they had sat. He saw her gesture toward it and ask something. Maansi stepped forward and responded, at the same time giving her the jewelry box. He saw Aarti take it and listen to whatever Maansi was saying, which was obviously about that Singhania fellow. “Give it back, Aarti. Throw it. Prove me wrong.” Yash found himself muttering under his breath. He staggered back a step as he saw her look at the box in her hand and then keep it her handbag.
Aarti stepped into the house and heard voices from the living room. Naanimaasi sounded angry, and the other voice was of that bad man Prashant. Aarti stood outside the door and wondered whether she should go in, when she heard naanimaasi ask Prashant to leave.
“Just go Prashant…OUT. I don’t want to hear any more of your nonsense. My granddaughter is out of limits for you. If you still harass her or come barging in like this again, I swear I’ll report you to the authorities. There must be a law for the likes of you.”
“C’mon bhabhi! Be practical….I only want the best for you. I have found out that your financial condition is not so sound any more. It’s getting more and more difficult for you to maintain this house and the vast area around it. On top of that you have to get Aarti married off. Where will you get the money for all this?” Prashant had hit the raw nerve, and he knew it. He thought if he persisted he could break the woman’s willpower.
“That’s my know-how, Prashant. You don’t need to bother. Now, get out.” Her small frame was shaking with fury.
Prashant went on nonchalantly, regardless of naanimaasi’s rude dismissal of him, “Think about it bhabhi. You are not going to get a millionaire prince for that girl. If I marry her, you won’t have to spend a rupee. Moreover, she gets to stay with you here…in this house. I have enough to run this house.”
“I may be getting on the years Prashant, but I am not a fool. You want this house so that you can sell it off. You know that the only way you can get a hold on this house is only if you marry my Aarti…which will never happen…ever. Do you get that? Now if you are not out in five seconds, I shall call the police.”
“OK…I am going. But think about what I said.”
Aarti slipped into the kitchen as Prashant came out muttering, “Stubborn old hag! Let me also see who will marry that girl. I will ensure no body touches her after I am through with her reputation…Gah!!”
Aarti stepped out only when she was sure the man was gone. She went and locked the door, and then walked inside the living room. Naanimaasi was standing with a picture of her husband in her hand. Aarti tip-toed to naanimaasi’s back and laid her chin on her shoulder; naanimaasi lifted her hand and patted her head.
Aarti whispered, “He was so handsome. He loved you very much, didn’t he?”
“Yes he did…so very much. There was none like my Raj.” Naanimaasi kept the picture back on the mantelpiece, turned, and held Aarti’s hands in hers. They both sat down on the sofa, as the old lady continued, “We didn’t have any children, but he never made me feel that our life lacked anything. He was so full of life and laughter all the time. He was my friend, lover, guide as well as my kid. When he was alive we lived every moment of our life…That’s why even though I miss him a lot, I have no regrets. You know before the illness took him away from me, he prepared me for the life without him. He taught me how to find my happiness without him, how I should live when he won’t be there. He is no more, yet is very much alive in every little thing here. We made this house together. I see him in that corner, putting the ladder and trying to catch a firefly stuck in the spider’s web, just because I asked him to….I hear him singing loudly with Chris, both drunk, sitting on the stairs….I feel his touch in the rain. He would always pull me out when it rained. This house has his memories, Aarti. He lives in those memories.”
Aarti was spellbound. She reached across and hugged her grandmother, “We won’t let this house go, naanimaasi. I will not let anyone take this house away from you, I promise.”
Next morning, Aarti came down with her files and sat down for breakfast. As her grandmother served her her favorite poha, she said, “Naanimaasi, that Sameer Singhania came to the shop yesterday. He left this for me.” Aarti kept the box on the table.
“Another one? Hmm! This is getting out of hand. This time I won’t send it back through someone. I guess it’s about time I pay his parents a visit. Don’t worry, child…I’ll make sure he doesn’t bother you anymore.”
“Thanks naanimaasi….what’ll I do without you.”
She finished her breakfast and got up, “I have an appointment with the C.A. after lunch. I’ll go to the shop after that. Till then I have some last-minute work. I’ll be in the lawn.”
Aarti took a sheet and spread it on her favorite place in the lawn and sat down with her files. Sometime later she lifted her head and looked around at the flowers. She loved this place. She lifted her knees to her chin and her arms went around them as she stared at her home. A home…her home. Three and a half years back she didn’t know what a home was, till naanimaasi gave her one. She had given her more than a home…she had given her not only a new life but also a meaning to her life. If she had not come that day and rescued her, who knows what would have happened? Inadvertently, her hand went and touched her cheek and then the scar on her chest over her kurta…as she was sucked back once again to the memories of the years that were still gaping wounds inside her…wounds she had learnt to hide from naanimaasi. She turned her head at the sound of the gate. Someone had come in…a man. She tried to come out of the mist of her memories as she saw the man stop and give her a long look before he began to walk toward her, his eyes on her as he took out something from his pocket and held it in front of him….A phone.

Chapter 12

Surrender is the path to freedom through our unique authenticity,
where we experience the flow of life not through the narrow lens of the mind,
but through the vast refuge of the heart.

For the life of her, Aarti couldn't understand why he was coming toward her. If he had come to meet naanimaasi, he should have gone straight on to the main door. As far as she remembered, she had never seen this man…he had on a faded black shirt and worn-out jeans, was clean shaven with just the hint of a stubble, and had swept-back hair. It didn't even occur to her that for the first time in her life she had actually noticed a man's appearance.
Aarti scrambled to her feet as the man came and stood in front of her and smiled, "You didn't recognize me, did you?"
And, that's when she knew. The same penetrating gaze, the same deep voice, as Aarti looked wide-eyed at his face, "Mr Scindia??" He looked so different, all neat and bathed and fresh; most significantly, the beard was gone.
"So you do remember me?" He sounded pleased. "And you remember my name too."
Aarti fidgeted under his direct, amused look and mumbled, "I recognized your voice and your..." She was going to say eyes but stopped herself in time…..(a pause…as he waited) "You look different from last evening."
Yash smiled at her bowed head. Having seen her again, all the doubts plaguing him since the previous evening just disappeared, and he was glad he had extended his stay. He just needed some time with her to completely erase any lingering doubt, which meant he had to continue playing the charade of a poor, downtrodden man for some more time.

Yash remembered how disappointed he was the previous evening after seeing her take that casanova's gift. He had found out about him as soon as he had checked into his hotel. Sameer Singhania….He was a typically spoilt rich playboy and a womanizer to the core. As he stood at the balcony of his hotel room, looking out at the night and pondering over the events of the evening, try as he might he couldn't visualize the quiet, kind, generous girl in the company of such a man. Something told him she was as genuine as she came across to him…..that wealth was inconsequential to someone so transparent as Aarti…that there must be a perfect explanation to why she had kept the jewelry. But then his thinking was proven wrong earlier also….How could he forget how perfect Arpita had seemed? She had even fooled dadima. And then there was Deepa? First him, and then Aman: they both had been taken in initially by her disguised intentions. Ever since he had met Aarti, his heart was giving him all the positive signals, but they still hadn't clouded his rationality. The reason was putting up a stiff fight against these hitherto unknown, overwhelming feelings that had deluged him. Up there in the mountains, he had a lot of time to contemplate and reflect about his life's priorities…Payal, family, and business, in that order. Not once had he thought he needed someone for himself. Well!! He was not so sure now. A chance encounter with a gentle, beautiful shop girl had changed all that…made him acutely aware of his lonely self.
Yash faced a dilemma for the first time: He found himself being pulled in two opposite directions at the same time. After Arpita, he had vowed never ever to get involved in the matters of heart. In Bhopal, he faced almost a proposal a day from some woman or the other…some subtle and some overly inviting. But no one had even come close to knocking at the closed doors. He was happy spending time with Payal and his family. Out of nowhere this girl had entered his life like a gentle breeze and had wreaked havoc on his senses. And, now, he was consumed with her thoughts, while all that he needed to do was be practical, pack up, and leave tomorrow as per his original plans and forget he had ever met her. After all what reason could he have to stay back? To test someone just to prove to himself that what he envisions is no illusion…not a figment of his imagination…not unreal? Set himself up for another disillusionment? Another heartbreak? Yet, he wanted to do just that. He wanted to stop running. He wanted her to hold him back. He wanted her to prove him wrong. He only had to close his eyes to see her….her stubborn generosity, her exquisite beauty, her nervousness, and the vacant, forlorn look that hid some great trauma. He put his head down and sighed, running his fingers through his hair in agitation. He admitted he wanted to find out more about her…know her…understand her…He wanted to see her smile, laugh, and be happy. He wanted to see those eyes dance with life, with joy, with mischief. If only he had a valid reason to stay put and make sure what he felt was not a chimera in his mind, but was as real as the air that he breathed in. If only….And the battle raged on….
Yash thumped his hands in frustration on the wooden balustrade, just as the phone rang. He turned around and stomped into the room, picked up the phone without looking at the number and barked into it, "HELLO!!"
Silence….."WHO IS THIS?" Again silence…He brought the phone in front of him and saw the number: It was from home. Dammit!! He closed his eyes in consternation and held the phone back to his ears again, saying softly this time, "Payal?"
"You shouted at me…I am angry….very very angry."
"No, darling! Please…I am so sorry. I didn't shout at you."
"You did…you did," Payal was almost in tears.
"No, princess…papa was angry at himself….very very angry."
A pause…and then, "Why papa? Were you naughty?"
"I don't know, princess…It's just that I want to do something and I don't know if that is right."
"But papa, how will you know that it is not right if you don't do it? You know what dadima says when I don't want to eat something and say I won't like it? She says, "Gudiya, how will you know whether you like it or not if you don't taste it?" "
Yash was stunned as he stared at a painting of ocean waves on the wall. Did his daughter just make the decision for him? Payal's innocent comparison had shown him the way. He knew what he had to do. There was now a clarity that he was struggling to achieve just moments ago. He suddenly realized Payal was saying something.
"Did you find her? Did you?" All anger forgotten, she was all excited now.
"Find who, princess?"
"Uffo, papa! The mountain fairy….How many times do I have to repeat?"
He could just visualize her….slapping her forehead and making a face…a gesture of exasperation copied to the last detail from her dadaji. Yash smiled….he had missed her so.
"Yes sweetheart, I found her…but there is a problem. You see…she is from the mountains, so she stays here only. I will have to convince her to come with me to Bhopal."
"Can I come there and with you?"
"Hmm! I think we can do that. Let me see. What do you want to ask from her anyway?"
"That's a secret……Papa, can I come tomorrow? I miss you."
"I miss you too, princess. OK let me plan this….Is Chachu there? Give him the phone."
"Yes papa…Wait, I am going to him. Good night! I love you."
"I love you too."
Prateek came on line. After the usual notes exchange, he said, "Bhaiya…I wanted to talk to you regarding that land we were bidding for in Nainital for the hotel we spoke about."
"What about it Chote? Is there a problem?" Yash wanted to build this hotel in Aman's name and have a complete Adventure Sports package going with it, including trekking. Prateek had some contacts in Nainital, so was able to go after the project almost as soon as they had decided, which was a week after Aman's demise.
"Not really…but there may be. A local bidder has moved court against the outstation bidders, giving some sentimental reasons. I am stuck here with that new Spa opening in Scindia Shereton. I can go to Nainital only on Thursday. That's still five days away. Bhaiya, I know Payal and you have been separated for long.…Would you…"
"Don't worry. I'll stay back and handle it till you come. Get Payal with you when you come. Both of us need a vacation together."
"Right bhaiya…You solved a huge problem for me. Thank you."
"Actually Chote…you solved a huge problem for me….No, never mind….I'll tell you later. Goodnight! Tell princess, I'll talk to her tomorrow morning."
To say she was surprised was an understatement. The man who had such an unkempt appearance just last evening looked all rejuvenated to face life this morning. Along with his appearance something else too seemed changed, Aarti noted…There was something different in the way he was looking at her now. Last evening she remembered feeling a little awkward under the scrutiny his eyes had put her through. Now they reflected a congenial friendliness.
She looked up at him, "Last evening you left without finishing your sandwiches. Maansi told me. I hope everything is fine."
"Everything is perfect, Ma'am…just perfect. You seem to have brought good luck to me."
"How is that?" At the moment she wasn't so nervous, he noticed. Maybe the familiar surroundings of her home were the reason. He wondered who all were there in her family.
"My old employee paid me my dues today…and I have a new job. I shall be working on a land." He beamed. "I found out where you live from Brownies….and here I am. I told you I shall pay you back."
He was about to extract his wallet when Aarti stopped him, "…please. You don't have to pay me."
"But I must. Yesterday I couldn't pay, but today I have money, which…"
"Which you need to save for now…." She completed for him. "Please Mr Scindia….it's OK."
She saw he looked a little crestfallen. Did she just hurt his self-respect? Aarti berated herself immediately.
"Mr Scindia if I ask you to do something instead of the payment, will you do it?"
"Yes, of course. I don't have to begin my job for another two days. I can take up any work till then." Yash was careful not to sound too eager.
"We have a swing in the back lawns. It's come apart from the hinges on one side. If you could…"
"I will see to it immediately, Ma'am."
Yash followed Aarti. He looked around as he walked. This was a beautiful house….cozy, bright, with lot of character. He glanced at the girl walking beside him. When he had come in through the gates, she was lost elsewhere and had a distant, melancholic look on her face. Dressed in white, with her dupatta flying behind her, she looked so pure and angelic. Before he realized he had taken out his phone and clicked her just as she turned to look his way. However, the moment he had approached her, she had hurriedly got up, and when she looked at him, she had managed to conceal her thoughts. It had immediately struck Yash that this must be a long-drawn habit.
Aarti left him to work on the swing after giving him the tool box from the garden shed, saying she had some work to complete. She was about to sit down on the lawn when she heard a shout, "Hey, Aarti."
She looked up to see Sameer Singhania stride up to her with a big grin. Before Aarti could turn and take two steps toward the house, he stood in front of her, "C'mon baby…quit avoiding me. Did you get my gift? I called but you didn't answer the phone, so here I am."
"Please let me go, Sir." Aarti tried to side step away from him.
"Why do you keep running away from me, sweetheart? I have been such a help to you…telling everyone about Brownies and bringing in the customers. In return all I ask is your company. Here, I have something for you." Saying he dug out another jewelry case from his pocket.
Aarti shook her head and tried to walk away, but he grabbed her hand, "So, you are trying hard to get, eh! Girls die to be with Sameer Singhania, and here you…"
"LEAVE HER ALONE." Aarti and Sameer both looked up in surprise…he toward the garden shed, and she toward the house, as the owners of the two voices who spoke those words strode toward them angrily.


To be continued............

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