Reason lost the battle, and all I could do was surrender and accept I was in love.
"Yes Aayu, Samarpan…that's the title your mumma was keen upon from the first word of the first chapter."
"But what does it mean, papa?"
"It means surrender…surrender out of love and devotion. It comes from the innermost heart of the seeker. When we know love matters more than anything, and we know that nothing else really matters, we move into the state of surrender."
"Mumma said this book is about your story…yours and mumma's."
"May not be exactly, but it touches upon it, Payal…though I haven't read it. That's the only hint she gave me. She wouldn't let me read a single page before it came out."
"She is so stubborn, isn't she papa?"Aayu chuckled. "How many times have we seen her win an argument with you hands down. You always give in to her….She certainly has a way with words."
"Yes, she has….And to think there was a time when she hardly ever spoke….to anyone, though all that changed when our fates finally merged and stayed interwined," Yash smiled a faraway smile.
"What do you mean papa?...Mumma…..quiet?" Payal, all of sixteen, was surprised. Aayu, six years her junior, nodded his head amusedly, agreeing with his sister. Try as he might, he couldn't imagine his mother as a silent lamb. He recalled the dressing down she gave that bully in the school bus last month for pushing his weight around and making the primary students do his bidding…Nah, his mother could be a tigress if required, especially where her cubs were concerned.
"Yes Payal….silent to the point of muteness. A better part of her life she communicated only with the flowers, the trees, the birds, the stars, and, of course, her diary. Words…the written ones…became her companion almost as soon as she learnt to form sentences."
"Gosh papa! Mumma, taciturn and reserved…that's so hard to relate to (shaking her head and then contemplating for awhile). She is such a cheerful, happy person now. Why was she like that papa? She may not have naanima with her, but she had nanaji, so why would she be so silent? I can't imagine a day without talking with you or Aayu or mumma wherever you are….especially mumma. I so love to hear her voice when she speaks…and she speaks so well. I love to hear you and mumma talk. There's a look…it's difficult to explain…a certain special look you both have for each other. There…it is there in your eyes now as I speak of her."
Yash threw back his head and laughed as he placed an arm around Payal's shoulder, "That's love, sweetheart….something you too will experience when the right person comes along." Yash looked proudly at his beautiful daughter. She may not have Aarti's looks, but she was turning out to be a clone of her mother in every other way…the same softness, the same caring nature, the same penchant to set right every wrong in sight, and the same gift of believing in the goodness of life and of the living.
"Yeah…certainly not like how that Sagar looks at you. Like this…." Aayu made a wide-eyed zombie face and grinned.
"Aayu!!! He certainly does not look at me like that!!!"
"Does too….If he was not such a puppy, I'd have given a demo of my karate prowess for even having an eye at my Di."
"Oh yeah….Who said you are my bodyguard, kiddo?"
"Don't call me that, Di. I am a big boy. ….Papa said brothers are supposed to protect their sisters. Right papa? He also taught me the karate move to save you if any boy comes near you."
"Papa…you didn't?" Payal was flabbergasted…as Yash managed to look a little sheepish.
"I also told you to keep the lesson a secret, young man." He gave Aayu a stern look and then winked at him before turning his head toward Payal, "Don't look at me like that, princess. I am just a concerned father of a very pretty daughter."
Aayu stood up to bounce another pebble at the still waters of the lake and then sauntered over to the lake edge to shoot the tadpoles with his new camera…the one Prateek chachu had gifted, given his latest obsession for photography. At this point he was sure he would grow up to become a wildlife photographer.
They were here, in Nainital, for their annual vacation. Father, daughter, and son were lolling about their favorite place, on the small meadow. A part of the house could be seen from here…where Aarti was preparing something special with naanimasi's help for Yash, as it was his birthday. That's the reason the trio were shooed away from the house.
"Papa, what you mentioned earlier…about mumma's silence…is it something that happened in her childhood?"
"Hmm! Why don't you ask her? I am sure she will tell her best friend." Payal smiled as she rested her head on her father's shoulder, watching Aayu hop on stones in the water.
"Papa, one more question…"
"When did you first meet mumma?"
"On the day she was born."
If you surrender completely to the moments as they pass,
you live more richly those moments.
you live more richly those moments.
"Really papa?" Payal was wonderstruck, as her father nodded. "But that's awesome papa? How did that happen?"
"Well….Your naanima and daadi were college friends. Your nanaji had shifted to Bhopal owing to job transfer when maaji, your naani, was carrying mumma. Your nanaji and dadu too became good friends because of their wives. All four used to spend a lot of time together. I was five then. That day we had gone to Bhimbetka for a picnic….Aarti's birth was still a few days away, and since maaji wanted to see the caves badly, her husband bowed to her wishes. Your nanaji loved his wife a lot and could never refuse her anything."
"Just like you can't refuse mumma anything…right papa?"
"Yes Payal…I can't. Whatever I offer will always fall short of what she has actually given me." His eyes glistened as he looked yonder.
"Papa?" Payal kept a hand on his arm, concerned.
"I am fine, princess," he patted her hand and smiled assuringly at her.
"What happened that day?"
"While walking the caves, maaji developed pains. They rushed her to the nearest hospital. Your mumma came into this world after an operation, but maaji died due to complications. I was with daadima when the nurse brought mumma out in the room, wrapped in a sheet. Ma told me to wait in the room with the nurse as she rushed out with dadu to be with your nanaji who had gone into a shock," Yash looked gravely at Payal, who was listening attentively to each word, and decided not to divulge more. It was Aarti's decision to make as to how much to tell Payal. Both of them had noticed Payal's growing fascination to learn more and more about their past lives. She was also keenly observant of his and Aarti's interactions. She was at an impressionable age…an age when the romance factor affects deeply; for her, her parents' love affair had no parallel. He didn't want to dent her fairy tale notions. When he had expressed his concern over Payal's naive yet rigid ideas about love and romance, given what she sees of her parents, Aarti had told him to leave it to her to deal with their daughter.
"Oh my God!! Naanima died while giving birth? That's so tragic papa. Nanaji must have been shattered. Thank God he had mumma," Yash looked away from her, not wanting her to see his face. She thought for awhile and then asked the obvious question, "Did you see her then?"
He nodded, "Yes…the nurse was called out for an emergency as soon as she had placed Aarti in the crib. For a while we were alone. It's strange…I was so small yet that moment is imprinted in my mind. I heard this gurgling sound. I slowly approached the crib, and there she was, staring right at me. She had somehow freed her right hand. I reached out to put it back inside the sheet, and she grabbed my finger. All I remember is that I stood there like that till ma came back. Aarti had fallen asleep holding my finger."
"Then…," Payal prodded.
"Then…nothing. I went home."
"She was taken away the next day to her dadaji's house in Hoshangabad, where the rest of the family lived."
"Not now princess. We have to get back to the house. Our exile is over….mumma must be waiting."
"More like you are waiting to get back to her," She murmured cheekily, glancing affectionately at her father as she got up. Yash only grinned back as he steadied her, brushing away a couple of grass strands from her hair, shouting to Aayu to get back from the inlet he had disappeared into.
Aayu came out holding a polythene bag by its neck. Inside one could see a couple of tadpoles swimming around in the collected water.
"Eww….Aayu! Don't tell me you are planning to dissect them."
"No Di…I have an awesome plan. I am going to toss them into badi-naani's aquarium and then study how the fishes react to them in a closed area. I'll shoot their interactions…and then send the pics to National Geographic. Cool, na!!!...Papa!!" His eyes shining with excitement, he turned to Yash, asking very seriously, "Do you think they will mate with the fishes?"…making his father spit out the water he was drinking and his sister to roll her eyes as she extracted the ringing cell phone from her jeans pocket. Yash walked ahead after shaking his head to Aayu, talking into his own phone, telling Aarti they were on their way back. Payal saw the name flashing and passed the phone to her brother.
"It's yours….Didn't you give Karan the landline number?"
"No. Di, do me a favor please…..tell him I am not around."
"I am not going to lie for you, Aayu…and neither should you. Papa will be very angry if he learns about this."
"But I don't want to talk to Karan, Di"
"Why not?" They turned to see their father looking at them quizzically, "The last I knew you were best friends."
"We were…I mean we are, papa…but Rohan says…," Aayu paused looking confusedly at his father.
"Go on…what does Rohan say?" Yash asked crossing his arms across his chest.
"He says Karan wants to be my friend only because I have…I mean we are…," and as Yash raised a brow, he spluttered meekly, "…rich."
Yash dropped his hands in shock….years flashed by as the past closed in. He closed his eyes in consternation for a second and then took a deep breath before walking toward his son, whose eyes bore to the ground as he made circles with his right toe.
Yash held Aayu by the shoulders and said, "Aayu, look at me!" And when he wouldn't, he held his face between his hands and turned it up to him, "Aayu, the very fact that you found it difficult to tell me the reason and the very fact that you can't look me in the eyes should be enough for you to realize that what you have been made to believe is wrong. You know your friend, son…why are you letting someone else judge your friendship? What Karan is to you is felt here (poking a finger into his son's chest)….Ask yourself what you believe, and your heart will give you the answer….Hmm!!"
Payal rescued the polythene bag as Aayu flung his arms around his father and wept, "I am sorry papa….That was very mean of me. I will never listen to that Rohan again. He keeps causing trouble anyways."
"It's OK, son…as long as you know that in friendship or any other relationship the main ingredient is trust. If you cannot trust, you cannot find love, joy, and peace. Got it?" He rubbed his son's back as Aayu nodded, his head buried into his father's chest.
Payal wiped away a tear as the three of them turned toward home, with Yash wondering aloud what their mother had planned for the evening. "She hasn't yet given me my gift, you know."
As Payal opened the gate they heard familiar voices coming from the lawn. She and Aayu looked at each other and then ran.
"Chachu!!!…Chachi!!!" They shouted as they flung themselves in their uncle/aunt's arms. Prateek and Pari laughed as they gathered the kids to them. They loved Payal and Aayu as their own. They had had their son Ansh after eight years of marriage...But the presence of Yash bhaiya and Aarti bhabhi's kids had never made them feel the lack. They were away in Europe visiting Pari's family for the past couple of months and had returned just four days back.
"Happy Birthday, bhaiya!!" They wished Yash who embraced them one by one and looked mighty pleased and happy to have them in front of him.
"What are you two doing here?"
"Bhabhi's orders bhaiya. How could we refuse?" Prateek grinned. "She wanted to surprise you."
"Chachu, where's Ansh?"
"We had to leave him with daadi, Payal. The weather change affected him…he's running a fever. That’s why we'll have to go back tomorrow itself."
Just then naanimaasi came out with a tray of juice glasses and snacks. She was Aarti's grandmother's twin sister……petite, pretty, plump, and very fair. Having not being blessed with any children of her own, she had always considered Aarti' mother Shobha her own child. Both the sisters had lived together after they were widowed and led a simple life in Nainital. They simply doted on Shobha. This house was a monument of love for naanimaasi. Her late husband had built it for her and had willed it to her before passing away.
Aarti's grandmother had taken her daughter's sudden death badly and had passed away a few months after Shobha's death. Naanimaasi, as Aarti called her, had then withdrawn into herself and had become a recluse of sorts, with only a couple of friends with whom she communicated on a personal level…a scenario that lasted tillAarti came into her life…much later.
Pari and Payal rushed to take the tray from her. She turned to Prateek requesting him to help out with the preparation of the bonfire. The kids and Pari too jumped up to help. Yash approached the dear old lady. He loved her to bits…and called her his girlfriend…making her dimple deeper each time he did that. To her, Yash was the angel sent by God for her and Aarti.
"Naanimaasi, where's Aarti?"
"She is in the kitchen, Yash….doing some last-minute things. You know her…everything has to be perfect for you." She dimpled as Yash hugged her and whispered, "Hold them away for a few minutes, please….(aloud) You all carry on. I'll be right back."
Aarti was writing the birthday message on the big chocolate cake with an icing cone and had just started with "Y" of "Yash" when she sensed him behind her. She smiled and continued with the "a" as she felt him close in and then his left arm encircled her waist, tucking her to him….the other hand covered the hand holding the cone, his chest pressed to her back as he rested his chin on her shoulder. Together they finished the last two letters.
"Mmm! You smell deliciously of chocolate and vanilla. I guess I have my birthday cake in my arms. Only one thing is missing." As she grinned anticipating his move, he reached across and scooped a fingertipful of icing and lightly rubbed her cheeks and lips with it. He then turned her toward him, "Aha…it's complete now. I only have to light it up." With that he proceeded to lick her cheeks, going on to capture her lips in a long, drugging kiss, feeding from the sweetness of her mouth rather than the icing. He lifted his head to look at her flushed face and eyes, "There…the flames are all burning bright now…and the icing on my cake was so mouthwatering that I could again…."
As he dipped his head, Aarti pushed him away lightly, laughing, "That has to be the cheesiest pick-up line, Yash….even for a birthday boy."
"Oh yeah! I'll show you tonight how cheesy I can be Mrs Scindia."
"Thanks for the tip off, Mr Scindia."
"I warn you, Aarti…no hanky-panky…I want my just desserts before midnight…before my birthday gets over officially."
"Shsssh, Yash! Not so loud…the kids are around, and Prateek/Pari too. Anyone can walk in any moment."
"They won't….my girlfriend has them busy. She will keep them away for awhile."
"That doesn't mean you romance in public….now go and get ready. It's almost dark."
"It's not fair, Aarti….at least on my birthday I should get to romance my wife anywhere I like."
Aarti chuckled, "You are worse than Aayu at times with your tantrums."
"Yeah right….even his tadpoles get to mate out of their habitat…but I don't." He pouted as he pulled her closer.
"What?...What's the imp up to now?" Aarti was suddenly wary. The last time they were here, all their towels had gone missing one day….only to be found near the lake on which sat a bunch of kittens freshly bathed with Payal's shampoo and purring protestingly as Aayu dried them one by one.
"You can ask him yourself…here he comes now," as they heard the running patter of feet and Aayu barged into the kitchen unceremoniously, the polybag in his hands.
"That's cue for me to leave…till tonight then," saying Yash winked at his wife, ruffling his son's hair as he walked out.
They had fun around the fire, singing songs, playing games, and Prateek telling them about their trip. The cake was brought out and cut amid loud chanting and hugs all over. Yash got little gifts from everyone….a smart jacket from Pari and Prateek, a sweater from naanimaasi, a charcoal portrait of his side profile by Payal, and a small picture album from Aayu with his pictures taken at moments he wasn't aware of. Yash was overwhelmed by the love of his family. Now only one was left…He looked at Aarti, who was having some kind of eye conversation with Pari.
"Mumma, where's papa's gift?" Payal was curious. The oversight was very unlike her, who usually started planning for their birthdays weeks in advance.
"What? Oh…the gift…I…." She shrugged, as Yash gave her a dubious look. "Err…I didn't get time so I just…."
"Bhabhi! I told you it's fine...It's in fact very nice….so what you if got it last winters. I mean it's the thought that matters. I even wrapped it up for you." Pari tried to console a crestfallen Aarti.
"Aarti, don't feel bad love…I am sure I'll like it, whatever it is. Where is it Pari?" Yash hated seeing Aarti's fallen face.
"In the room…on your bed."
Yash rushed up, in a hurry to get the gift, appreciate it, and put Aarti out of her misery. Silly Aarti…as if something like this will matter to him. However, what affected her mattered to him. The kids too ran after him…None of them noticed Pari, naanimaasi, and Aarti give each other a high five, as Prateek looked on quizzically.
It was a small, neatly wrapped-up packet. Yash tore it open. There was a red-and-black check Golf cap inside.
"A cap? Mumma got you a cap?" Even Aayu was flummoxed, as Yash stared at the thing. "She knows you hate wearing caps."
"Papa, there's something sticking out from it." Payal felt a familiar tingle. She had remembered her twelfth birthday…Mumma had set the kids on a treasure hunt by planting notes. She almost grabbed the cap from her father and turned it. Sure enough there was a note:
Put your thinking cap on Yashwardhan Scindia…I dare you to match this brilliant idea!
Warm that brain, light that flame…if you want your gift, get to the end of the game.
Warm that brain, light that flame…if you want your gift, get to the end of the game.
"What is it Di?"
"A treasure hunt, Aayu... Papa, mumma's making you hunt for your gift," Payal giggled.
They heard a clearing of throat and turned to find Aarti leaning against the door, arms crossed, eyebrows rising up in amusement, a slight smile tugging at her lips, and eyes glinting with mischief…a la Aayu.
"Children…you better help your father. He seems rather lost."
"Come on, Aayu…I think I know. Where are your board games?" saying Payal yanked her brother off to their room.
"What about you Mr Scindia? If you want your just desserts, you better hurry up…otherwise…ahem…you'll miss it. Oh well…I better go. I have to set up the dinner." She turned with a smile and was immediately held by her wrist and jerked back, as her back went and crashed into Yash's chest. He brought his mouth near her ear and whispered seductively, "The game is on Mrs Scindia, but beware, now I won't be satisfied only with just desserts. I shall collect my winnings through the night." And then turning her he gave her a hard, hungry kiss before striding off, shouting, "Kids, come to the kitchen." Aarti was left standing with blissful anticipation…She pressed her hands against her heart. It was amazing how even after so many years of marriage he could still make her heart beat this fast and make her feel all wobbly and expectant as she was on their first night. Aarti knew she will never be able to gauge the depth of her love for him till she died. She had not known the sun till he had brought her out from the dark prison she was in….and now he was the reason her sun rose each morning.
The ability to surrender begins and ends with you.
“Kids, come to the kitchen.”
He was still in the corridor when the duo came running, with Aarti shouting after them, “Slow down both of you….This house hasn’t been tornado-proof in years.”
Payal slowed down, “Mumma how much time do we have?”
Yash paused in his stride. He hadn’t thought of that.
“Four clues…Forty minutes….The dinner will be laid at 10 sharp. If you can’t find it till then, then no gift and…,” she walked past them on her way out, deliberately brushing against Yash, looking back to finish tongue in cheek, “certainly no dessert.” Yash tightened his jaw at the hidden challenge, but didn’t say anything except for giving her a smoldering look, which made her scamper outside. Aayu was right….she did always have the final word.
Aayu was devastated…“No dessert!!!…Papa, Di…hurry up. Find the next clue already.” Payal gave him an odd look, causing him to be defensive, “Actually Di…Did you know mumma has made her special Chocolate Mousse? She even put a lot of chocolate chips on it for us.” He suddenly wanted to see the pudding as they entered the kitchen and ran toward the fridge.
Payal turned to Yash who was rummaging the drawers, “Papa, what are you looking for? Why are we here?”
“Look for a matchbox, Payal. Badinaani must have one around here.”
“Matchbox? Oh yes…match this brilliant idea…Warm that brain, light that flame….Papa, you are a genius!!!”
After five minutes, they still hadn’t found one. Seeing papa and Di busy, Aayu had finally taken courage to scoop out a spoonful of the pudding, having planned to fill the gap with more of the choco chips so that no one realizes, and was about to put it in his mouth when Payal turned to him, “Aayu, have you seen a match box around here?”
He immediately ducked behind the fridge door and answered, “Not here Di…but I saw one in the mandir.” He hurriedly put the spoon in his mouth and turned to find them gone.
“What does it say Payal?” They had found the second clue inside the match box placed at the feet of Lord Krishna.
I sit silently facing you…..Your eyes gazing at me with tender care
Exactly in that spot is the next clue…..Waiting for you to lay it bare
Exactly in that spot is the next clue…..Waiting for you to lay it bare
“The dining chair?”
“No Payal…too obvious.”
“Where does she usually sit? The stairs…the lawn…the swing…under the oak tree,” Payal started counting off, as she walked out in the backyard. Yash followed slowly. What was he missing? He saw Payal check the swing and then walk toward the tree, as Aayu ran past him to help her. Something Payal had said clicked. He reversed the conversation in his mind. The stairs…the lawn…the swing…. Just like that he knew, as he put his hand behind and took out his wallet and flipped it open. He had this picture of hers for years now….He had clicked it the day after he met her in that shop for the first time…Well, not exactly the first time. But then he didn’t know who she was and had only spoken with her for a few minutes. Actually he had spoken, and she had just communicated with those expressive eyes of hers. Yash walked toward the front window of the sitting room and saw her sitting exactly on that spot, knees drawn up with arms around them, listening to Prateek who was explaining something. To this day he didn’t know what had made him take out his phone and click her as she had silently watched him approach her. She hadn’t reacted to his act…Later she had told him that she didn’t know phones had cameras, never having had one till then. As if on cue, she turned her head, and on seeing him flashed a dazzling smile, making his insides constrict into familiar knots.
Yash slid a finger beneath the picture and pulled out the neatly folded note, at the same moment that the kids came in.
“Papa, it’s not there. We even looked under the ston…you found it? Wow!! Where was it papa?”
“In my wallet, Payal, and it says…”
You walked into my life spreading radiance…..Captivating and enchanting my mind
In the walking maze lies the next evidence…...Should not be very hard to find
In the walking maze lies the next evidence…...Should not be very hard to find
“Walked into…hmmm…Yes…I know. The gate….Papa, you walked in through the gate and then you never let mumma out of your life after that…right?”
The kids ran out as Yash turned to look at the picture again, his thumb caressing it. Whenever he picked up his wallet to go somewhere, he beheld the eyes in the picture for a brief minute, a ritual he never failed to keep wherever he was. Aarti had even pulled his leg at times, teasing him about loving his girlfriend of the picture more than his wife. The fact was that the pull of those large, hauntingly sad eyes had never left him….the hypnotic, heartrending pull that had drawn him to her from the very first moment. He had sworn once that he would never let that look back into those eyes…and by God’s grace he had been able to so far maintain that. “This picture is a reminder my love…It never makes me forget the promise I made to myself,” he whispered.
“Are you alright Yash?” He felt naanimaasi’s hand on his shoulder. He nodded, taking the hand and then shifting in order to hold her by the shoulders as he turned the picture for her to see. She touched it and leaned her head against his chest.
“Those eyes, Yash…those eyes.”
“I was thinking the same naanimaasi….so many years have passed but I can never forget that look. And to think I hurt…”
“No beta…I have told you many times…it was not your fault. You yourself were a misguided soul. You both were destined to come together and save each other….Anyways, on this happy occasion why are we remembering the unhappy days…hmmm? Now tell me how many more clues are left before you get your surprise?”
“Oho…we are almost there my darling (touching her dimples). Did you think your one and only boyfriend will let go of his birthday gift? How can I lose when I have your love?” The old lady blushed to the roots, as Yash gave her a squeeze, laughing.
“Papa, we couldn’t find anything?” The kids came in with low faces.
“Try the shoe rack.”
“Shoe rack? But…(she brightened up as light dawned on her)….of course…the walking maze,” Payal looked at Yash who winked and nodded. She gave him a quick hug and hurried after her brother who already had the shoe cabinet open and had thrown down a couple of shoes. Naanimaasi giggled as she walked out to give the others the progress report.
“Uffo Aayu, not the shoes…mumma would never keep it there. Look into that blue shoe box. It wasn’t there in the morning.”
And so they found the final clue.
The dreams that I dream all involve you…..Each day begins and ends with you
How you finish the puzzle that gives my heart a lift…..Is where you will find the all-important gift
How you finish the puzzle that gives my heart a lift…..Is where you will find the all-important gift
“Aww papa…that’s so sweet.”
“Hurry up and solve it Di, otherwise we’ll miss our sweets. We have only ten minutes left.” Aayu’s heart was stuck at the mousse in the fridge. Having tasted it, there was no way he was letting it go. Although he was sure mumma would not deprive him, but what if she stuck by the rules and didn’t take it out today?.....No, no, no…he couldn’t take that risk. Why are they just standing doing nothing? And why does papa have that weird smile on his face?
“Papa…Di…do something. Think…think. Where do we look?”
“OK…this one is simple. I’ll let you two handle it. I am going to my room Just remembered something I have to do urgently.”
“You are joking…right papa?”
“No Aayu…use those brain cells and you will know….,” saying Yash walked away. He wanted to see what Aarti had got for him, in private. Somewhere in the past half hour he had realized that it was something very dear to her as well. She could be very secretive when she wanted…still…That part of her was inherent in her trait. It might be many years more before she completely let him in. The fear of losing him because of what was drilled into her about her own self had still not gone away. It surfaced now and then.
Leaving the kids wondering about word puzzles that connected dreams and days, Yash went to the bedroom and walked straight to their bed. He smiled as he recalled the clue…The dreams that I dream all involve you…..Each day begins and ends with you. Words were her friends for as long as she knew what they signified. He scanned the bed and noticed the bulge between two pillows toward the bedstead. He flicked aside the bedspread….There it was. On a small heart made of rose petals lay his gift wrapped up in red satin cloth and tied with a gold cord.
His fingers trembled a little as he opened the knot of the cord. He had guessed what it was by the shape of it, even though he was made to understand that it was still a couple of months away. He let the cloth slip from his hands, as he stared at the book…his Aarti’s first book, “Samarpan.” It had taken him almost a decade to convince her to write one, given her talent with the written communication…and, most importantly, because he wanted her to succeed and hold her own. Tears welled up, threatening to fall down as he stroked the cover, before the cover itself registered. He swayed a little as he gazed at the picture of a painting on the cover….A crowd of people, painted only as dark shapes, walking on a road and facing the other way. Among the dark heads could be seen the face of one man who dares to go against the direction others had taken and face the onlooker. His is the only face in color, which is brightened by the virgin sun rays that fall on him. He is smiling encouragingly and holding out his hand, the index finger slightly away from the other three, as a woman’s hand reaches out to touch the index finger; the sun is just rising in the far horizon.
He opened the book to the Dedications page, and that’s when the tears rolled down, as he read it:
To my husband Yash
I am because you are.
He knew she was there…had been there from the moment he had bent down to pick up the book. She walked up to him and put her arms around him from behind as he clutched the book to him.
“Happy Birthday, darling.” She whispered softly pressing her lips on the back of his neck. “Shhssh!! Don’t cry…please. You made this happen, Yash. You believed in me all the time I didn’t.”
Yash turned slowly and gathered her in his arms. There was no need for words. They held each other for awhile…just savoring the precious moment of success. He then sat down on the bed, pulling her into his lap and kissed her slowly, absorbing her very essence into his cells. With great reluctance he pulled away and stared at the woman without whom he couldn’t imagine his life, as she lovingly wiped away the tears from his face. They smiled at each other and then looked at the book.
“Congratulations Aarti…you did it.”
“No Yash…we did it…together. This was impossible without you.”
There was silence for awhile….both serenely content in each other’s arms. She knew he had waited for this day much more than she had and wanted a few quiet moments for the knowledge to sink in. Ever since she had started writing the book, he was on a mission…making calls, meeting people, settling for the best publishing house, arranging for her to meet the content editor, who passed the book for publication after reading the first chapter itself; in short doing everything personally so that there was no compromise where matters related to the book were concerned.
He was running his fingers over the book…reverentially. She placed a hand on his cheek and turned his face to her, “Yash…what is it love?”
“This painting…when…where…” He looked at her in wonder.
“You remember, at our Anniversary party last year you spoke with Mr Swami for the first time regarding the publishing details of this book?”
Yash nodded, “Yes.”
“Mr Swami had asked whether I had any other hidden talents, and I overheard you telling him that you wished I picked up my brushes again. (She paused to plant a kiss on his forehead) There was something in your voice that stayed with me. And then suddenly it was clear to me. I had unnecessarily kept a part of me locked away. I realized I wanted to paint again…this time for the right reasons. So I did; Pari helped me set up a small studio in the attic side room…You knew about the book, but the painting is your surprise. It’s hung up in our room at home. Prateek got it mounted after he came back. He and Pari got the book with them.”
“But the book was to be out after two months…right?”
“Yes, but I requested Mr Swami if it could be preponed, as I wanted this to come out on your birthday. He very graciously agreed…This is the first copy, Yash. He wanted us back home today for the official release, but babuji spoke with him and scheduled it for this weekend. I am dying to know how you find it.”
“I can tell that now only sweetheart…I am going to love it, though I admit I am a little bit curious as to how you have tackled our part.”
“It’s not an autobiography, Yash….Only you will know where I have included us.”
There was a sudden knocking at the door, followed by Aayu’s voice, “Papa..open up..I know…I know.”
And then Payal’s subdued voice came through, “Hush…Aayu…wait, will you? Mumma is in there with papa.”
“But Di…the gift…Papa…papa!!!”
“Hold your horses, champ…I am coming!!”
Aarti jumped up in a bid to rush to the door but not before Yash held her by the waist, turning her, “I hope you haven’t forgotten that I won the game…”
“So Mrs Scindia, I want you back in this room at 11:15 sharp…otherwise…”
“Otherwise what Mr Scindia…hmm?”
“I’ll put you over my shoulders and carry you.”
“In front of everyone?”
“Yes. So don’t you dare me….”
She burst out laughing, “You are incorrigible…If you have forgotten Mr Scindia, we have a teenage daughter and an overly inquisitive son. (Shaking her head amusedly as she walked toward the door)…At times you behave like the newly married Yash.”
“And why shouldn’t I…when my blushing bride is as lovely as ever.”
“You better open the damned door before he breaks it and hurts himself.”
The moment Aarti opened the door, Aayu rushed past her and jumped on the bed, going for the pillows, before Yash halted the hurricane hunter.
“Stop Aayu!!! I have found it.”
“You have? Where is it? We won, didn’t we? (and as Yash nodded) Mumma, we won….I solved the last one, papa…we dream on a bed, right? So it had to be the bed.” He looked proudly at his parents who patted him with a laugh.
Payal noticed the book and picked it up. She saw the cover…Samarpan…Aarti Scindia…She gave a squeal of delight and hugged her mother tightly, as Aayu joined in after his father told him about the book. Yash too stepped forward and engulfed his family in a bear hug.
They were all rolling in laughter as Pari narrated Prateek’s frantic antics and facial expressions as he tried to explain a thoroughly amused German policeman in broken French that they needed a conveyance as they had lost their way and had missed their tour bus…and his reactions when after five minutes of the agitation-filled performance, the policeman answered in perfect English as to what they should do. Aayu came out with the bowl containing the remnants of the mousse as he sat down between Yash’s legs who sat on a piece of log. They had finished dinner a few minutes back and now sat around the fire. Aarti sat on the other side of Yash and Aayu with Payal resting her head on her lap, her fingers combing through her daughter’s wavy, lush hair. As she saw Yash throw his head back in laughter and Aayu joining him, Aarti smiled. Aayu had taken after his father in every which way…..He was taller than boys of his age, slim and wiry, and had the same soul-stirring eyes as Yash, the same jawline, and the same lopsided smile. At ten he was already facing girl attention. Just a few days back Aarti had found the sweetest letter in his diary by his classmate Kavya….Obviously, the lost case had no clue how it got there and was as furious as he could get when Aarti queried him, till she made him sit down and explained how he should conduct himself in such cases.
Yash noticed Aarti’s reflecting look and questioned with the slightest lift of his head. Aarti shook her head lightly, once, and smiled. She looked down to find Payal giving her a knowing look.
“Nothing ma…It’s just that you and papa are so special to one another. The way you two look at each other is goosebumpish. You know, most of my friends have lamented some time or the other about how their parents fought and argued and how ugly it became. They don’t believe me when I tell them that I have never seen you guys fight…ever.” Payal sat up holding Aarti’s hands.
“That’s not true Payal…we have our share of arguments.”
“Yeah right…and two minutes later you are having a competition as to who can apologize the most. (Sighing) You are so much into each other mumma, even after so many years…it’s amazing and it’s beautiful.”
Aarti lifted a hand and caressed her daughter’s cheek, “One day you too will have someone of your own to love…someone who will love you more than he loved anyone….someone who will become so much a part of you that you won’t know where you ended and he began.”
“No mumma…I don’t think so.” Payal said with a finality, shaking her head and smiling, “Yours and papa’s love affair cannot be replicated. I think the kind of complete and surrendered love papa has for you is one of a kind. No man can ever love me as completely and as reverently as papa loves you. Ma, you are.…”
“DON’T!! DON’T you ever say that or even think that…do you hear me Payal? Do you?” Aarti had caught Payal by the shoulders and was quivering as tears rolled down her eyes.
When you surrender your head to your heart, you allow your heart to give you a wider, higher intelligence perspective.
"Mumma??? What's wrong mumma? I am sorry. I won't say such a thing if it hurts you…I promise. Papa, tell mumma I won't…" Payal was in tears seeing her mother so agitated. Yash had rushed across to their side in a jiffy and had embraced them both, as Payal clung to her mother who had just as suddenly quietened down. Aayu had got up to follow but badinaani had caught his wrist and held him back and held her hand up for Pari and Prateek, halting them as well.
"Payal, it's OK. Mumma only worries for you sweetheart. After all you are her little angel….Right Aarti?" He felt Aarti nod once as she lifted her head and mouthed, "I am fine. "She looked at him before turning to hold Payal's frightened face within her palms, as she whispered, "I am sorry I scared you, Payal. I am so sorry." Yash shifted as Aarti wrapped her arms around Payal. "I love you so much…I just can't bear you thinking such negative thoughts. It scares me to see my daughter not giving herself a chance. Don't idolize us so much beta that you start shutting doors when it's time to open them…..Hmm! Papa is my husband. He loves me…yes…but he also loves you and Aayu as well as everyone in the family. He hasn't shut his heart to all the love that surrounds him…then why should you? Why are you judging an emotion that hasn't yet entered your life? By doing that you are only being unfair to yourself…and to that special person who is out there somewhere."
Payal wiped her eyes before snuggling closer to her mother's heart, "It makes sense when you put it that way, mumma. I never thought it from that angle. I do have a one-track mind where you two are concerned. No wonder you got disturbed. I am sorry…I must have freaked you out."
"Knock-knock!! May I enter the hug zone." Aayu couldn't be held back anymore. He ducked his head under the arms and surfaced in the middle. "What Di? You are such a girl…crying because mumma scolded you a little. Look at me…I am getting scolded all the time, but do I get scared? Nah…. Do I cry? Nah…."
"What are you trying to say Aayu? That my scoldings don't scare you?" Aarti paused as she felt ripples of laughter float through Yash, "Now…what are you laughing at?" Before she could finish, the trio burst into amused laughter, as the other three elders grinned from across the fire.
"Mumma…do you even know that you being angry is the cutest moment for the family?" Payal sat up. "This monkey here sometimes rattles you just so you turn on him with your big-big eyes and say things like "You better put that earthworm back in the lawn or else I shall serve you dinner at its home and you can have it with him."
"Di remember that day when mumma got angry on Ram Dulare bhaiya?…Tell badinaani…." Aayu joined in. He adored his mother when she got angry…. She had no clue how to scold effectively and would always melt down the moment he made his eyes all doleful. The only time she would get really angry is when someone even thinks of harming him and Di.
"Oh yes…it was hilarious badinaani…even dadaji laughed. Mumma went from scolding and chiding RD bhaiya to happily fixing his marriage date in two minutes flat."
"Really?...Actually I can very well imagine that…What happened?"
"You see that day mumma had gone out to the market after instructing RD bhaiya to give dadaji his midmorning medicine with his tea. As usual bhaiya forgot…When mumma came and found out the lapse, she….Wait, I and Aayu will show you. Aayu you be RD bhaiya, and I'll be mumma….ready?"
Aarti's mouth fell open as she watched her children enact the scene and speaking verbatim what had transpired that day.
"Ram Dulare ji, how could you forget the medicine?"
"I am sorry, bhabhima…it slipped my mind?
"What? Even after I made you repeat after me three times?"
"Yes…are you angry bhabhima?"
"Of course I am. What kind of question is that? Can't you see how angry I am? What were you doing that you forgot?"
"I was talking to Vimla."
"Vimla? I thought her name was Kamla."
"No...no, bhabhima. Now you are forgetting."
"Am I? Oh…sorry. Is she OK?"
"No…she is not (sniffle-sniffle). She was crying. She says if I don't marry her in a month, she will never talk to me. I told her you are going on vacation, but she wouldn't listen."
"Oho!...Wait! Babuji, is it OK if we fix their marriage date before we leave. In fact let's get them engaged and then when we come back from Nainital, we can have the marriage. There…are you happy now?"
Aarti was dumbstruck as her kids regaled the audience with her so-called anger. Yash sat next to her, not only laughing but also elbowing her, tickling her in the sly, riling her with deliberate pleasure, till she turned to him and narrowed her eyes, giving him the look he knew so well…the "don't get me mad otherwise you know what will happen" look. He just lifted his index finger and flicked the tip of her nose. She got up abruptly, gesturing Pari to come with her. By the time both had cleaned up and switched off the kitchen lights, the kids and naanimaasi had already gone to bed They met Yash and Prateek in the corridor as they stepped inside after putting out the bonfire. Yash cleared his throat noisily and walked ahead after wishing Pari and Prateek goodnight.
Prateek took Aarti's hands in his, "Bhabhi, is everything alright? Is Payal OK? What happened earlier?"
"Everything is fine, Prateek. Pari will tell you all about it. I want to thank both of you for going out of the way to make this day a success….even leaving Ansh when he isn't well."
"No bhabhi…don't say thanks and stuff like that. It sounds too formal. Ansh is fine and having a ball being pampered by Dada-dadi, without Pari's hawk eye on him."
"Yes bhabhi…we wouldn't have missed Yash bhaiya's birthday for anything….and more than that his happiness on seeing the book. I am so proud of you. Congratulations once again!" Pari hugged Aarti, with Prateek joining in. "Goodnight bhabhi! We shall leave after breakfast tomorrow."
Aarti went to check on the kids before going to her room. As she bent down to kiss Payal, she heard her whisper, "Mumma, may I ask you something personal?"
"What's it Angel?" She whispered back.
"Did nanaji love you as much as papa loves us?"
Aarti was glad for the darkness as she felt the familiar coldness engulf her and she swayed.
"Yes Payal…he did. Now go to sleep."
"Mumma, you didn't say, I love you."
"I love you my savior Angel…you have no idea how much."
Payal drifted away as Aarti walked out in a daze…as floodgates of memories opened with one innocent question.
Tears were threatening to fall down when Aarti stopped them, rubbing her eyes furiously with her palms. No, not tonight….It's Yash's big night. She cannot take away his moment of jubilation by dwelling into the past. That time is gone and has been replaced by the promise of a blissful future…a future whose present she is now living. All she has to do is not let the scattered remains of the memories of yore affect her present….if not for herself, then for Yash…the man who had gathered the broken pieces of her life and had remolded them with love and caring….the man who nurtured her identity, and because of whom her character transformed, ripening and blossoming with self-confidence, strength of conviction, awareness, and love. Slowly but surely he had done the impossible….erased the emptiness in which she sought comfort, filling her life with joy and laughter. Now he was her shield against all ills, overly sensitive to her feelings, and completely tuned to her moods. He knew her too well. She couldn't let him see her like this. Aarti took a deep breath and entered the room with a smile.
Yash was on the bed, reading the book. On seeing her, he took off his reading glasses and placed a bookmark before putting it on the bedside table. As he turned to talk to her, she quickly walked toward the closet and took out her nighty. Stepping behind the wooden partition she took off her saree and placed it on the side shelf. As she bent to unhook her blouse, she saw the ugly, large marble-sized scar tissue just at the beginning of her cleavage, as also the little scars surrounding it. She touched it and shut her eyes tightly, as sounds of chair falling and wall clock crashing down because of books being thrown across the wall came back to her in torrents and a soft hiss escaped her lips as if it had happened moments back…and not years. The very next moment she felt Yash's arms circle her from behind as he dropped a kiss on the her back of her neck. She felt him open the knots of the blouse doris with his teeth. Before he could turn her and see her, she swirled around and pulled his face down in a soul-searing kiss, pressing her body to his as her arms tightened their hold on him. Yash kissed her back with equal fervor, giving her what she wanted, in a passionate bid to ease the ache that was racking through her being. They were both breathing hard as she pulled away. She refused to let him see her face as she kissed his chin and rested her head against the crook of his neck.
He caressed her back as she clutched his kurta, "Aarti!!"
"I love you. You trust me, don't you?"
He felt her nod. Pushing her back a little, he held her cheek and tilted her face, trying to read her beautiful face as she smiled at him through glistening eyes. His own shone a little as he bent to kiss the scar gently. Bringing his hands up, he unhooked her blouse and took it off, keeping it on the saree. The petticoat followed suit. Aarti held his eyes as he reached across for the nighty and put it on her. Once he had buttoned it, he picked her up and walked across to the bed. Placing her tenderly on his side of the bed, he slipped in beside her gathering her closely to him. Aarti nuzzled her head into his shoulder as she wrapped her arm across his chest.
"How do you do it Yash?"
"Do what darling?"
"Know me so well. I just can't hide myself from you."
"Why do you even try then? I have told you so many times…I shall never let you suffer alone. As many years as it takes, I am going to be with you…we'll ride this off together."
There was a tranquil silence as she calmed down listening to his heartbeats.
"What did Payal say?"
"How do you kno…oh, never mind!"
"You were fine when I left you with Prateek and Pari. So, it had to be Payal when you went to give them the goodnight kiss. We both know Aayu is off to dreamland even before his head hits the pillow."
Aarti knew she could not hold back anymore. That was one pact they had made on their suhaag raat….that they will never hide anything from one another, howsoever grave the issue is. Both knew that even after more than twelve years of marriage, Aarti still felt hesitant and found it difficult to open up at times, especially if she felt he would be upset. But in the end he always figured it out.
"She asked me if…if…baba loved me as much as you love her and Aayu….and I said Yes."
Yash nodded…It was the book, he realized. The book along with Payal's innocent comments had somehow triggered the memories. Maybe it was for the good. Maybe this will make her look at her past fearlessly. Maybe this'll finally help cleanse her off the horror of what she had borne.
"Yash…I am very scared for Payal. She deserves to know about…about herself. We'll have to tell her soon. She will be devastated if she gets to know from someplace else. I won't let my angel go through what I…."
"She won't Aarti…I promise. There's no way she can know from anywhere else. We decided we'll let her know after her seventeenth birthday and we will. (A long pause as both reminisced)….Aarti, thank you for today. The book made it a day I'll remember till my last breath. There'll be many more books, but this will always remain very special….I am so proud of you my love."
"But you didn't get your just desserts," she murmured sleepily.
"Yeah…that I didn't," he laughed as he cuddled her to him tighter. "Don't worry…I'll live to see another day…with double the anticipation."
She chuckled softly before closing her tired eyes and falling asleep in moments.
Yash felt her even breathing as sleep refused to come to him. Very gently he disengaged her arms and legs, covering her with the duvet, as he sat up. He tried to get down but felt a tug. He smiled…he should have known. Whenever she was disturbed, she twirled her finger around his kurta or shirt before shutting her eyes to sleep. It was a long-drawn habit…from those early days when a part of her was still convinced that he too will leave her one day. He did what he always did if he needed to get up….he took off his kurta and placed it next to her. Getting up, he grabbed the shirt he had worn in the evening and tiptoed out.
Yash walked silently to the key basket kept next to front door and picked a key. He turned and climbed the stairs up to the store room. The door creaked a little, as he opened it. He reminded himself to oil the hinges before leaving. In fact he already had a To Do list ready to give to Madan and his wife Bela, the couple who stayed in the side quarters and looked after naanimasi and the house. At the moment they were visiting their families and would be back a day before they left.
Yash switched on the light and approached the trunk kept in the far corner. He unlocked it and opened the lid. There they were….her diaries…her life story over the years of her growing up. Every year he resolved to finish reading all…and would fail to…cause some of the content would so disturb him that he would just lock them back and rush out…like a coward. It would be days before he would be himself again…thinking all the while that he couldn't even read what she endured. This time too he had planned to go through them but had pended till now. He had seen that forlorn look in Aarti's eyes as she had entered the room with a smile….smiling for him just so he didn't get disturbed on his birthday. She never ceased to amaze him with her selfless actions.
He picked up a diary at random. The cover said: Aarti Dubey, Age 10 years. Naanimaasi had diligently chronicled them over the years. He opened a page and read:
I was bad again. I am a very bad girl. I hurt baba again. He hates me…I deserve to be hated…..
To be continued..............