Saturday, 10 August 2013

Sparsh----Chapters 19-21 and Epilogue

Chapter 19

You and I are connected
in a way that goes beyond romance,
beyond friendship,
beyond life's expanse.
It has defied time, distance,
and changes in ourselves
and in our lives.
It has defied every explanation.
Except one:
Pure and simply, our soul connection.

"What did ma and dadi say to you?"
He felt her stiffen. They had been sitting in the same position for a while now, in comfortable silence, her head resting on his shoulder and his arms around her. There was so much catching up to do, but they were not in a hurry. There was a lifetime ahead of them.
She sat up and slid sideways, but couldn't go farther as his arm around her waist wouldn't let her.
"Oho, nothing much! They just wanted to meet the girl who saved their son. Ma was very sweet, thanking me and all. It was embarrassing actually…..(then changing subject) C'mon Yashji, let's go. Both the kids must be raising hell by now."
She looked at him with a smile, but the look on his face told her that he was serious.
"Yashji! Don't worry. I am fine. They only said what any mother and grandmother would say under the circumstances. You know me…..they don't. We have to give them time to know me…understand me. I told you earlier also that my past is a bit nonstandard…not something to sing paeans about…and for elders such things matter in a marriage. They are only thinking about yours and Palak's welfare. We just have to convince them that you are not making a mistake…that's all. OK?"
Yash nodded slowly. He knew very well that there was much more…that his dadi would have spewed much venom, but he also knew that that was all he would get out of her. Mishti would never speak ill of anyone. As he looked at her smiling face, coaxing him to hurry up, he marveled at her optimism. If his experience of her was anything to go by, she would never give up on winning his family. That's when he promised himself that he will never leave her side, never leave her to face his family's ire alone even if she brushes him away, as she did now….just as she refused to leave him in that car wreck even when he kept telling her to go away.
Yash got up and pulled her with him.
"Come with me."
"Where are we going?"
"To get the kids."
Yash refused to say more. He stopped at Guptas' to pick up Palak, who was getting ready for bed. She came running downstairs in her pajamas. Deepa wanted her to change, but Yash said it wasn't required. At Aarti's place, they found babuji and Ansh watching the final few minutes of a Jacky Chan movie. On seeing them Ansh sprang up, and after that there was pandemonium as the kids got excited about this late-hour outing. Yash ushered them to the car, as Aarti had a brief talk with her father. She left a smiling babuji and came out to find the kids looking at her and giggling conspirationally and Yash trying to shush them.
"What's going on?"
"Nothing." All three chorused, as she sat down, knowing fully well something was cooking. Yash took them to a suburban cafe cum ice-cream parlor and ordered ice-creams for the kids. Knowing Mishti would be hungry, as they hadn't had dinner, he ordered sandwiches and coffee for both of them. The kids went back into their giggling and whispering mode once the ice-creams finished, and then asking Yash, "Papa, now?" When Yash nodded, they jumped up and pulled Mishti out in the garden near the fountain. Yash had a word with the manager and came out as Mishti turned to them with hands on hips.
"All right…you three…What's going on?"
"Papa…do it," jumping in excitement on the bench on which Yash stood them. Mishti was about to give them an ultimatum, when she saw Yash going down on one knee in front of her.
"Yashji, what are you doing?"
"Mumma, papa is doing props," Palak was all wide eyed now.
"Say yes mumma," Ansh reached for Palak's hand.
"Uffo Ansh…let papa ask her first."
"Shshh both of you…otherwise I'll mess this up," Yash extended his hands in the most dramatic manner and held Mishti's hands lightly, as she looked wondrously down at the man she was going to spend the rest of her life with.
"Mishti, will you honor me by marrying me (and at Palak's soft prompting) and being Palak's mumma and letting me be Ansh's papa?"
Silence…as all three looked at Mishti expectantly, who glanced one by one at the trio and then spoke with a twinkle in her eyes.
"Well! Let me think….marry you, hun!...Hmm, before I say anything I have a few conditions."
Yash looked at her mischievous expression and smiled. "What conditions, Mishti?"
"Well, my first condition is that you will take all of us for dinner and ice-creams every Saturday and for a picnic once a month…Whatsay kids?"
"Yes…papa, yes. Say promise."
"You will help the kids with their homework."
"You will tell us at least one joke in a day."
"Now Mishti…that's not fair."
"Hee…heee…mumma, papa doesn't know any jokes. Chachu does."
Mishti raised one brow and looked at Yash, who gave a "wait till I get you" look and nodded.
"Fine….I'll try."
"And you will tuck in and kiss the kids goodnight every night."
"I solemnly promise I shall kiss all of you (looking pointedly at her) goodnight…and I also promise I shall spend every night with you and when I wake up I'll…."
"Stop! What are you saying? I didn't ask all that (Mishti indicated the kids with her look)…."
"Well, I thought I might as well promise that when I wake up, I'll go and help the kids get ready for school….Why? What did you think Mishti? Did you think I'd do something else? (giving her an innocent look...his heart flipping at seeing the blush creep on her beautiful face)…..Any other condition?"
A reddened Mishti shook her head, "No, that's all for now."
"So did I pass? Will you be my wife?"
"Yes Yashji….I will marry you."
"Thank you Mishti…..and now if you allow me, may I…?"
With that he fished out the most exquisitely set diamond ring from his pocket and showed her, and as she nodded he placed it in her finger….looking at her all the while as she smiled through her tears. The kids jumped and clapped as Yash planted a kiss on her hand and stood up. Holding her firmly by the waist he passed the other arm around the kids and engulfed all of them in a group hug. His universe in his arms Yash looked up for a brief moment to thank the Almighty for bringing this day upon them.
Next day Yash waited for his father to join him at the breakfast table. It seemed ma wanted to say something to him but was hesitating, glancing frequently toward her room for her husband to emerge. She went in the kitchen as Prateek came and took his seat, wishing Yash a good morning and grinning.
"What's gotten into you Chote? Pari called you early morning or what? You have that look on you."
"Bhaiya! What if I ask the same of you? (winking) Bhabhi seems to have worked wonders on you already. You haven't scolded me in four days….Now that has to be a record." He chuckled as Yash smiled lopsidedly. They both looked up as their father walked toward them, with ma hurrying from the kitchen.
"Good morning Bauji!"
"Good morning!! Yash, last evening Commissioner Roy called…the one you had mentioned. Commissioner Bindra here had spoken with him. He corroborated all that you mentioned about the Prashant case…as also how he had helped the Dubeys to leave the place for their safety as well as yours. You were right about Aarti." As Yash started to say something, SP held out his hand, "Wait! I haven't finished. Mr Joshi dropped in yesterday. He took back the marriage proposal. It seems his daughter wants to pursue further studies…MBA, I think. So they have decided to let her finish her studies first. We can't wait that long. Since you have made your choice on the matter, and Arnav and Deepa too are of the same opinion, your ma and I have decided that we shall go by your decision and accept Aarti as our bahu. Palak's need for a mother can no longer be delayed. She is our primary concern. I have to tell you that I made some calls and whosoever I spoke to had only good and respectable things to say of Aarti Dubey. She seems to be a person with strong morals and self-respect. I appreciate that. We'll go today and meet Mr Dubey and ask for Aarti's hand...I…"
They all looked in surprise at Prateek, whose mouth had formed a big "O" as he realized he had spoken aloud.
"Oops! I am sorry bauji." Embarrassed he proceeded to concentrate deeply in buttering his toast. Yash looked at his mother. She was beaming, and her eyes glistened.
"Yash, please call Mr Dubey and tell him your ma and I will be at their house at five in the evening. I had an important meeting in Sehore* after lunch. I told them you will attend in my place, as your ma wants to go to the bank locker and also do some shopping. We can't go empty handed to your future sasural. Apart from Mr Dubey and his grandson, does anyone else live with Aarti?"
"No babuji…they are a family of three." Yash felt much relieved at his parents' decision, yet there was something that jarred. He couldn't quite get a hold of it. Yash shook his head…maybe he was being overly sensitive.
After having a short discussion about the Sehore meeting, they left for their respective offices. Yash called Mishti but Neema picked up the phone, saying they were in site and Mishti was having an emergency meeting with the clients and that they would be in office by lunch time. Yash then called up babuji and told him about his parents' impending visit and also that he may be a few minutes late, but he'll be there. Before proceeding to Sehore Yash went to meet Mishti.
He found her standing near the window with her back to him and talking on phone to babuji. He went and hugged her from behind. She was startled but soon relaxed, throwing her head back at his shoulder.
"Don't worry, babuji. I'll be home before four….Yes….yes…I'll get them. And the barfi too…Yes, babuji…kaju katli…I got it. Now you go and have your lunch, otherwise the medication will get delayed. Please give the phone to Supriya." Yash waited as she instructed Supriya. "…and make sure he takes a nap. Don't let him get hyper. Bye."
She switched off and turned to bury her face in his neck. They stood savoring each other for awhile, and then he heard her soft murmur.
"I'm scared."
"Don't be. Bauji seems quite keen now, especially after what he heard about you. Come to think of it…you and he have a lot in common. I promise one day you will be the daughter he always craved for."
"Knowing her, I am sure she is already making plans how to deck you up and show you off to her friend circle." He smiled. He knew it was coming when after a short pause she mumbled,
"She has gone back to the village, Mishti. She was unhappy with this decision so she left today morning itself. But hey…,” he lifted her face by holding her chin, “remember what you told me last night? We'll make everyone understand….slowly but surely. I am with you every step of the way…OK? Don't forget that."
She nodded. There was a knock at the door, as Neema walked in with a food hamper. Yash had ordered lunch for them. They insisted Neema join them. After a quick bite Yash got up as Neema discretely left.
"I have to go, otherwise I won't be able to get back in time. And don't bother about the sweets and the snacks. I'll call up Ravi. He'll have them delivered in the next hour. You just relax….Don't look so worried, Mishti." He held her face in his palms and bent down to kiss the worry lines on her forehead. As he hugged her to himself, he felt the tension emanating from her body. He hated to leave her in this condition. "You trust me, don't you?"
"More than myself."
"Then let that trust touch the belief in your heart…and everything will be fine…we'll be fine. I love you."
"I love you…Come back soon."

By 5 pm the Dubey household bore a neat, cozy look….no different from any other day, yet a tad more special. Babuji couldn't be stopped. He wheeled himself all over the house, taking care of each corner….dusting here, adjusting there….till Mishti literally commanded him to stay in one place and relax. He dressed in his best Kurta pajama…the one Mishti gifted on the previous Diwali. Ansh looked smart in his jeans and a check shirt. He promised he would not dirty himself and be at his best behavior for dadaji and dadima. Mishti was pondering as to what to wear as she finally entered her room. There, on the bed, lay a huge packet. She opened it to find a magenta-colored saree with narrow gold border and intricate embroidery in the aanchal along with a matching blouse. It was simple yet exquisite. As she unfolded the saree a note fell out.
Can't wait to see my beautiful Mishti wrapped in this.
Don't be nervous…I'll be with you in no time.
Remember….I love you, no matter what.
Mishti smiled and whispered, "Thank you, Yashji." She dressed hurriedly and went down. Yash's parents arrived on time bearing gifts and sweets. Babuji greeted them heartily. Ansh went and touched their feet. They were much impressed with him and his precise answers to the queries put to him. Mishti too touched their feet and they blessed her with smiles. Gayatri got up to hug her and told her she looked very pretty. Once the formalities were over, Suraj Pratap broached the topic of marriage. Mishti asked Ansh to go to his room as she went and stood beside babuji. Gayatri asked her to come and sit beside her.
"Mr Dubey, you must know why we are here. We would like Aarti to join our familyfold as our elder bahu, Palak's mother, and Yash's wife. Please accept our proposal by giving her hand in our son's hand."
"I'll be much honored, Mr Scindia," babuji said with folded hands. "She is all yours."
With the formality of acceptance of the proposal over, there was another round of congratulations and sweets sharing and Mishti touched everyone's feet once again. At her husband’s eye signal, Gayatri took out a pair of gold kangans and put them on Aarti, saying, "These are Scindia family's traditional kangans….and are passed on to the elder bahu. Welcome to the family, beta! Aarti…emm…(looking apologetic). I hope you didn't mind my saying all those things to you."
As babuji looked on perplexed, Mishti said, "No maaji, I didn't mind at all."
"If I had known, you were unmarried and only taking care of your sister's family, I would have been careful with my words. I have already told you what we feel about the kind of girl we want as our bahu. You are perfect for our Palak and Yash."
As Mishti smiled confusedly, Yash’s father looked at babuji. "That's settled then. We would like the marriage on the same day as Prateek's as we had originally planned. I hope that's fine by you."
"Oh Yes, Mr Scindia. I have been ready to see my Mishti settle down for long now. My daughter's happiness is primary to me."
Suraj Pratap smiled and nodded amiably and then ventured to ask conversationally, "So what do you do Mr Dubey? I mean…job, that is."
"Nothing at the moment Mr Scindia…but I am going to very soon. I have taken up a job, which will keep me busy when Aarti and Ansh leave me."
Aarti jerked her head up and looked at babuji with stunned eyes. She was about to say something when babuji signaled her not to with the slightest shake of his head. Mr Scindia congratulated babuji.
"That's wonderful news. As for Ansh….of course he is most welcome to visit us as often as possible. Palak will like the company and our bahu here too will want to see him now and then."
This was a shocking assumption for babuji also as he looked at Mishti's white face. She was devastated.
"If you don't mind Mr Scindia….Aarti is Ansh's mother. She…"
"You mean she is like Ansh's mother. Of course she is…after all she has brought him up. However, he is your grandson, your son's son. His place is with you and not his maasi. We understand that. As I said, he can visit us often. I hope you agree to that." Suraj Pratap said meaningfully.
"Yes, I do…I agree." Babuji had to agree…for Mishti's sake…as he signaled her yet again not to say anything at that moment.
Mishti sat stunned as she saw her worst nightmare come true.
[*Bhopal to Sehore = Approx. 40 kms]

Chapter 20

Because of you
my world is now whole,
Because of you
love lives in my soul.
Because of you
I have laughter in my eyes,
Because of you
I am no longer afraid of Hows and Whys

The first thing that Yash did after pulling away from the hospital was call up Mishti. He had managed to wrap up the meeting in time, but as they were coming out of the office, the client, Mr Bhargav had collapsed against him. Since his car was standing right in front at the porch, he had rushed the older man to the hospital with the help of a couple of the staff there. The gentleman had suffered a heart attack. By the time Yash settled things there and came out, it was nightfall. The first ring to Mishti's cell went unattended. The second one was answered by an out-of-breath Ansh.
"Ansh…this is papa. Why are you panting? Have you been playing outside in dark?"
"No papa. I was coming down when I heard the phone ring. Mumma left it on the TV table. Then it stopped and then rang again…so I ran."
"Where's mumma, beta? Please give her the phone."
"She is talking with dadu in his room."
"And dadaji and dadima?"
"They left some time back. Papa…(a pause as Ansh pondered on what to say)."
"What is it Ansh? Is everything OK?"
"Papa, after dadaji and dadima left, mumma was very sad. She came and hugged me tight and cried. I asked if she was hurt, but she said no…only that she loved me a lot and that everything will be just fine when you come. Then she told me to stay in the room as she would be talking something important with dadu."
"Ansh….it's OK. Don't worry. You know how girls are. They cry even when they are happy. She is just very happy that we all will be one family now."
"Oho! And I thought she was sad and hurt….Papa, when are you coming?"
"I am on my way, son. You go back to your room and play. I'll be home in no time."
"OK papa…Bye!"
Yash switched off the blue tooth and increased the car speed. His jaw was set hard, the sinuous muscles in his face contracting in tension. His lips compressed and a vein pulsed visibly in his neck as he contemplated what would have gone wrong. He banged his palms against the steering wheel in frustration, "Dammit! I should never have left her alone to face this? I should have known bauji would say something, put some conditions…but what?" He knew his father had given his word regarding the marriage so he won't back off from that. He reflected back on the Breakfast table conversation. Something had troubled him then too, and then he realized what…the phrase bauji had used, namely "Mr Dubey and his grandson." Yash's eyes narrowed. He had an inkling now. He knew his father and his orthodox thinking. Thank God, he had already set in motion the procedure even before Mishti had come around.

Mishti had come inside after seeing off bauji and ma in the car to find babuji had gone to his room to change and do his evening exercises. Supriya gave her his message that he will talk to her later. Mishti knew babuji was avoiding her. More than his job declaration what had shocked her was his passive stance toward bauji's suggestion. Why didn't he put his foot down? Why didn't he refute bauji's misconception? How could he agree to hers and Ansh's separation? Thinking about that, her heart sank, as she looked up toward Ansh's room. She felt this sudden urge to hold her son.
A little while later she knocked at babuji's door.
"Babuji…we need to talk."
"Later Mishti…I am busy."
"I am sorry babuji, whatever it is will have to hold….this is more important; I am coming in."
She went in to find babuji staring at Aman and Aarti's picture on the wall. She went and knelt down beside him.
"Babuji! Look at me babuji, please. What happened outside?"
"What? You mean the job…I was meaning to tell you, but then this wonderful news happened and it slipped from my mind." He looked down at her as he kept his hand on hers, which lay on the wheelchair handle, and patted them. "Mishti…it's a decent job…without any stress." He told her about the nature of the job. "Guptaji had offered me some time back and I gave it much thought before accepting."
"But babuji…what was the hurry? We had decided that you will first concentrate on getting back on feet. If you start working again, your physiotherapy schedule and meal/medication routine will be upset."
"No Mishti…it won't. I told you I have looked at all angles and have found the state of affairs perfect. Also, Guptaji is going out of his way to make the living arrangements comfortable."
"Living arrangements?" Mishti felt her whole world changing right in front of her eyes. An overwhelming feeling of helplessness crept in as she stared at her father unbelievingly.
"They have a residential unit next to the Home. We shall have all the facilities…medical, staff, house help, everything."
"We?" She paled as she grabbed his hand, asking him shakingly, "Babuji, what's going on? You can't take bauji's suggestion seriously. You and Ansh are not going anywhere. I won't lose you. We are all going to be together. Yashji will make sure we don't separate. He will talk with his father and everything will be fine…I know that. He will also not allow you to work in your condition. Please babuji…we shall both look after you."
"Mishti, you have to understand. I need to be independent. I can't rely on you all my life. And you know very well I am physically fit otherwise.” His eyes softened. “You will be married now beta. You will have a family to take care of. (Smiling affectionately) Your priorities will have to change now….otherwise people will say that your babuji interfered in your married life. Will you like that? (she shook her head) No…right? Then…you will have to let us go. We won't be far off, I promise. You can visit us everyday."
"Babuji…please…not Ansh." She pleaded with a whisper.
Babuji looked back up at the picture again, fisting his fingers tightly, as his face set determinedly and he said in a final tone, "You are my daughter Mishti. It is my duty to see that you marry and settle down and be able to fulfill all your duties as Yash's wife. If Aman and Aarti were alive, they would have helped me in upholding this responsibility. Ansh is Aman's son…one who will take my bloodline forward. Mr Scindia is right in that. They believe he is a Dubey, as such his place is with me. If I forcefully send Ansh with you, Ansh will be confused with his identity all his life. I can't let that happen. Aman will never forgive me. At the same time yours and Ansh's relationship will never change and you will always be his mother."
"But babuji…"
"I have decided, Mishti. I have nothing more to say on this. Go now…I need to do my exercises. Please send Supriya."
Mishti got up slowly and walked out on dead feet. She couldn't believe that babuji…her babuji…had alienated her from him and Ansh….just like that. Babuji's reaction shattered her. If she had gone back, she would have seen tears streaming down her father's face as he whispered, "I am sorry Mishti….You don't know but I promised Aarti before she died that I shall ensure you find your happiness with Yash. I won't have you sacrifice your life anymore for me and Ansh."

Yash rang the bell impatiently. The room upstairs was in darkness, so she must be downstairs. Supriya opened the door, and he looked questioningly at her.
"Ma'am is upstairs, Sir."
"Ansh is with babuji in his room. They just finished their dinner and babuji is telling him a story."
"OK, thanks. Supriya, do me a favor please. Don't tell them yet that I am here. I'll first go and look up Mishti."
Supriya nodded, "Sir! (as he looked her way)...I know it's not my place but…."
"What's it Supriya?"
"When she came out of babuji's room, she seemed in a shock. She was crying but wasn't aware of her tears. She just walked past me and went upstairs. I…I didn't like seeing her like this, Sir. Normally she is always smiling and cheerful. And today is supposed to be a big day for her."
Yash nodded gravely and ran up the stairs. She wasn't in her room. He found her in Ansh's room, still wearing the saree he had sent, sitting down on the rug next to the bed and leafing through an album. He went and quietly sat down beside her. She didn't move even as her fingers continued to trail through a baby Ansh and then went and stilled on a picture where she is holding Ansh's hand and laughing as he tries to take a step.
"He didn't hold my fingers to learn to walk." She spoke so softly that he had to put his arm around her and lean in to hear, "I learnt to stand and walk by holding his. He was a beautiful baby. In his smiles I found di and jiju once again. He motivated me, pushed me, urged me forward when all I wanted was to look back and try to find you and di and jiju. And when I stumbled, babuji was there to support me." She looked at him then, "Is it wrong of me to give them more importance…over you even? (he just shook his head slightly and let her continue as she searched his eyes)…Di and jiju lost their lives because of me. I cannot insult their sacrifice….you understand that, don't you Yashji?"
He nodded and then reached across to very gently close the album, taking it from her hands and keeping it aside, as she continued to look at him. Only then did he look up, gently cupped her cheek with his palm, and gazed back into those deep pools of pain. As she saw the understanding and love brimming in his eyes, she surrendered…the tears in her eyes spilling over as she clutched him to her. He held her, one hand at the back of her head, protectively…for as long as it was required. His warmth and steadiness calmed her fraying nerves and he felt her body relax. It was only when he was sure that she was composed enough did he speak.
"Mishti, I don't know what happened here, but I promise you no one…and I mean no one…will separate you from Ansh and babuji."
"No one?"
"Yes Mishti…no one. Just trust me on this."
"Not even babuji himself?"
"What do you mean?"
That's when she sat up and told him what babuji had said. She told him about the job and his decision to keep Ansh with him, at the same time insisting she got married. Yash marveled at the selflessness of this girl…not once did she blame his father for even starting this turbulent thought process.
"Mishti, obviously there has been a grave misunderstanding here. I am partly to blame. Had I been present I would have made my father understand about Ansh. Since I wasn't, babuji must have felt that I too wanted the same as my father. Don't worry my love…I'll sort this out tomorrow morning. I would have done this now but it's late, and I don't want the elders troubled at this hour. But you have to promise me something?" He pulled her back into his arms.
"You have to promise me that you will not worry about anything anymore. I don't like to see my Mishti sad. This beautiful face is meant to smile and laugh and spread cheers."
She nodded, her tension ebbing by the passing minute now that he was here. Yet babuji's words haunted her. "Yashji, what babuji said about Ansh, will he really….?"
"No Mishti, Ansh will be fine. He will grow up to be a wonderful person and he will feel belonged always…we won't have it otherwise. I promise I will put babuji's fears to rest."
"But Yashji, why would babuji want to work? Please tell him not to. We will look after him."
"No Mishti, this is where you are wrong. You are thinking like a loving daughter who blindly loves him and wants to give him all the comforts…That's fine. But he is a self-respecting man, my love. He had a job before this stroke…right? (she nodded)…..He has been diligently working toward getting back on his feet ever since so that he can become self-reliant once more. Now that you are getting married he wants to be independent in a way that you don't worry about him. Baba has offered him a way out, and it is perfect. This way his pride is not compromised and he is also well looked after. Besides, we shall always be close by." He didn't tell her that he had suggested baba regarding offering babuji a separate residence in the Home complex itself, so that there are people to look after him. Yash already had people working on it to get it turned into a beautiful home.
"I want a kiss too."
They both jerked their heads up to find a sleepy Ansh standing rubbing his eyes. His parents smiled and opened their arms as he slid in on Yash's lap. He was asleep in no time. Yash got up and tucked him in. They both slipped out quietly. Outside Yash picked her up and walking to her room put her on her bed, as he sat looking at her. She smiled.
"Yashji, I need to change. I can't sleep in a saree."
"Tonight you will….I want to go back with this beautiful vision in my mind. In any case, I am only fulfilling my condition of marriage."
"(Grinning) That was supposed to be after the marriage when I am your wife."
"You always were my wife Mishti….Aarti Yash Dubey…remember? Now before I lose my mind and make passionate love to you right now, as your beauty is driving me crazy, you better go to sleep." He chuckled as she gasped aloud and shut her eyes tightly.
Like Ansh, she too fell asleep in no time, holding his hand. He bent and kissed her lightly before switching off the light and walking out with a final glance at her.

Mishti was carrying the morning tea to the sitting room, as babuji sat reading the newspaper, when the doorbell rang. Supriya opened the door and Yash walked in with Guptaji and another man. After the greetings, they all sat down. Supriya went in to make more tea. Yash introduced the other man as Varun Bansal, a lawyer. Babuji looked at Mishti, as she shrugged shaking her head. Yash went and knelt next to babuji.
"Babuji, I am very sorry I couldn't come back on time yesterday."
"It's OK Yash. Mishti told me what happened in Sehore."
"I was going to ask this yesterday in the presence of my parents. Well, I'll let them know after I get your permission."
"Permission for what Yash?"
Yash folded his hands, "Babuji, I want your permission and blessings to formally adopt Ansh. I took the liberty of taking Ansh's details from his school, and Mr Bansal here has already started the procedure through baba's NGO, which has dealt with many adoptions before. Since baba knows people in right places, the matter can be hurried, and by the time we get married, Ansh will legally be Ansh Yash Scindia. All that is required now is your nod and a few signatures. Please babuji…..please give me Ansh. I give my word that he will always be known as my son…my firstborn."
Babuji's eyes misted as he looked up at a teary Mishty. He clasped Yash's hands in his and nodded, "He is yours beta…yours and Mishti's. Please say it again…Ansh's name…say it again."
"Ansh Yash Scindia."


Chapter 21

With every breath I take
I draw you inside of me
Deep into my soul
Around every part of my body
With your touch I awaken
The sparsh that was, is, and shall forever be
My Destiny…my living memory
You give me the reason to be
You are the one who completes me

"Ansh Yash Scindia."
"Thank you Yash. You have no idea how happy you have made me. Aman and Aarti will finally rest in peace. May all parents be blessed with a son like you."
"I am your son too, babuji. From now on you don't have to worry about anything. You just have to call me and I shall be there."
Babuji nodded proudly, keeping a hand on his head. Guptaji, who was silently watching the emotional interaction, addressed his friend.
"I can vouch for what Yash is saying, Dubeyji. After Arpita passed away, this boy didn't let me and Deepa feel lonely at all. He always considered us his family and it has remained thus. You and I are very fortunate. We lost our children but God gave them back to us in the form of Yash and Aarti and with such beautiful grandchildren too. Our family is once again complete."
Babuji smiled in agreement, "Indeed we are…but Mr Scindia….I mean, will he…"
"Don't you worry about him, Dubeyji. I shall talk with him. I know him well. He is rigid but not unreasonable. You just relax and start preparing for Aarti's marriage. Deepa and I will join you in the planning. We'll marry our daughter with grandeur."
Mishti went and folded her hands in front of Guptaji, "Uncle, thank you for doing so much for us and for helping babuji. This daughter will forever remain indebted to you."
"You call yourself my daughter and then talk of debt…no, no…not done beta. And who says I don't have any selfish motives behind this. My gain is twofold; I gain a daughter and I gain a friend who will help me run these organizations. I was tired of doing everything alone."
After the goodbyes with babuji, Mishti walked them till the gate. She turned to Yash, as baba and Mr Bansal walked ahead deep in discussion.
"Yashji…thank you. You made everything alright."
"Not so fast Miss Dubey. Reserve the thanks for this evening."
"Evening? Why?"
"Because we are celebrating tonight…just you and I. Be ready at seven. I'll pick you up, and then I shall take my thanks…with interest." He said looking at her lips, as she colored and bit her lip. He reached out and freed the lip with his forefinger and caressed it as if to soothe the hurt as Mishti caught her breath and stepped back. Yash smiled, fully aware of his affect on her, and then walked away after tossing a "see you in the evening" at her with a wink.

The Scindia family had just finished breakfast when Yash and Guptaji walked in. Gayatri instructed the servant for another round of tea and coffee after Guptaji refused breakfast. Yash walked up to his father.
"Bauji, if you have some time, I want to have a word with you. Please…It is important."
"What is it Yash? Everything OK?" He sat down as Gayatri and Guptaji too took their seats in the living room, Yash came straight to the point.
"Not really. Bauji, baba and I are coming after meeting Mishti's father."
"I see! Is there a problem? He seemed fine last evening."
"He was bauji…because you didn't give him much chance to be otherwise."
"Be specific Yash. What are you talking about?" Suraj Pratap Scindia was slightly taken aback with the curtness of his normally soft-spoken son.
"What about the boy?"
"Bauji, Ansh is Mishti's son. He has to come with her when we get married. I am going to adopt him."
"No Yash. Ansh is Aarti's brother's son and she is his aunt. I accept that she brought him up and is like a mother to him and he may be calling her ma…but that does not make her his mother.
"Why not bauji? She may not have given him birth, but she is his mother every which way. And I already look upon him as my son."
"Ansh is Mr Dubey's grandson…the last of his bloodline…one who will take the Dubey name forward. We cannot take that right away from Mr Dubey, especially since his only son is now dead. In any case Aarti is his adopted daughter."
"I am surprised at your contradictory thinking Suraj. I did not expect this double standard from you." There was anger in his tone as Guptaji spoke. Suraj jerked his head in surprise toward his mild-mannered long-time friend.
"Listen to what you are saying Suraj…just listen to it. If you really harbor these outdated ideas, then what the hell is…pardon my language bhabhi…what is Palak doing here? Shouldn't she be where her biological father and grandfather are? Shouldn't I take her away from Yash and give her to that rascal who caused my daughter so much distress, just because he sired her? I can do it Suraj. Don't forget she is my granddaughter. I have blood relation with her…as per your thinking."
Yash looked at baba in complete shock. The parallelism had not even occurred to him. He tried to say something, but baba held up his hand without even looking at him…his gaze holding his friend's in a battle mode.
"Arnav…you are talking nonsense."
"Am I?"
"Yes, you are. Palak is our Arpita's daughter. Yash has adopted her and she is ours. You yourself gave her to us as per Arpita's last wish." Suraj Pratap Scindia had gone pale. The very thought of losing his beloved granddaughter had shaken him.
"And I can so easily take her back. She is not an orphan…someone who has no blood relations."
"You wouldn't do that, Arnav. This is Palak's family. She will soon have a mother…the only missing link in her life."
"Exactly, my friend…similarly Ansh's missing link will be filled in by Yash. Think about it Suraj. Just as we are thinking of Palak's wholesome upbringing, Dubeyji is doing the same for Ansh. It doesn't matter to him whether Ansh is a Dubey or a Scindia. All he wants is for Ansh to have a mother and a father both….to have parents who can give him lots of love and security."
"Don't get me wrong, Arnav. I have nothing against the child. But what if later Dubeyji decides that he misses his grandson and goes back on his stand…then?
"He won't Suraj. You don't have to fear that he will later want Ansh back. I said that about Palak just to make a point. Ansh already loves Yash and calls him his papa. Palak deemed Aarti her mother long before I even considered it. These kids made their choices before we did, Suraj. They had already formed their family in their little minds before Yash even got through to Aarti. You have to see Yash, Aarti, Palak, and Ansh together to believe what I say. It's only a few days, but they cannot do without each other. Dubeyji understands the depth of their bonding, so why can't we?"
Suraj Pratap could no longer defy his friend's logic. All he wanted was Palak's and Yash's happiness, and if both of them wanted Ansh too to be part of this family, then…he looked at his wife who nodded her assent.
"Fine Yash…if that's what you want. I sincerely hope you know what you are doing and that your belief holds true. I think your mother wants to ask something."
Gayatri looked at Yash and voiced her only doubt, "Yash, are you sure Aarti is capable of handling two children at the same time? What I mean to say is I hope Palak won't be neglected since Aarti will have her own…."
"Ma, please be assured on that account. Mishti will never differentiate between the two children. When you get to know her better, you will understand what I am saying. For now, you just have to trust me and my word."
Gayatri nodded smilingly, "So, does Ansh have a separate room? Or do they share the same room?"
Yash immediately got up and embraced his parents one by one and said chokingly, "Thank you so much. Your acceptance of Ansh means so much to Mishti and me."
Gayatri couldn't hold back her tears at seeing her elder son this happy after so many years. Suraj Pratap too was caught into the emotions, as he tried in vain to be characteristically brusque, "OK…OK!! Go and get the preparations under way. I want the whole Bhopal to sit up and take notice. After all Suraj Pratap Scindia's sons are getting married. Come Arnav…you have fought with me enough, now lend me your hand in preparation of these marriages."
"Sorry Suraj, I can't."
"Why not"
"Because my friend, I am from the girl's side," Guptaji grinned.
"You can't be serious."
"I am."…
Yash left them to argue as he came out of the house flicking away the few runaway tears.
Mishti couldn't decide what to wear. She was standing in front of her wardrobe, chewing on her lip when the phone beeped a message. She glanced down on the bed where the phone was. It was Yash.
"What are you doing?"
"Where were you all day?"
"I asked first."
"Where were you?"
"I am warning you, Mishti…you are in big trouble if you don't tell me."
"Where. Were. You?"
"Fine…I was attending meetings."
"Yashji...Did anyone ever tell you that you look adorable when you are angry? Bye…See you…."
Yash shook his head, laughing silently at her cheekiness, as he held the phone and looked at her picture in it. God, life is going to be so unpredictable with her…unpredictable and beautiful. The phone beeped.
"Oh…by the way…I was looking for something to wear for my first official date."

In the end Mishti chose a black net saree. After much contemplation she opted for black onyx earrings set in sterling silver and a matching bracelet to go with it. She hoped she looked good enough. She realized that for the first time in her life it mattered to her how she looked. She took one last look at the mirror when the phone rang. It was Neema, telling her about the next day's site visit along with some tips for the evening. She came out of the room talking and stood with her back to the landing. After finishing the call, she turned around to find three faces with similar expressions…eyes wide, lips forming different sizes of O's….Her family.
"Wow…mumma…you look sexy."
"Ansh!!!! Where did you learn that word?"Mishti was shocked. Palak giggled and Yash smirked.
"Yashji! Why don't you say something to him?"
"What? What should I say? He is right….you do look sexy."
"That does it…I am going to change."
"No, you are not." He held her wrist as she turned back. Closing in, he whispered in her ear from the back, "You look beautiful. Just one thing is missing. One second…Wait here!"
He turned to the kids, "OK you two, go and sit in the car. Palak, my phone is in the car. Call nanu and tell him you both will be there in ten minutes." As they ran down, Yash turned to Mishti. From his jacket pocket he took out a jewelery box and took out a single-stranded diamond necklace. He turned her around and with one hand gathered her hair and tenderly placed them in front over her shoulder. He then placed the necklace around her neck and clasped it. The necklace felt cold against her skin but his fingers were warm. Mishti fisted her fingers by her side as his caressing touches sent shivers down her spine. As she felt his lips on her neck, she closed her eyes in bliss. She felt him draw a quick breath as he rested his forehead on the back of her shoulder and whispered, "God, you drive me insane Mishti." He trailed his fingers down her arms and pried her fists open; entwining her fingers into his he crossed his arms around her in a tight embrace. He hugged her for a few seconds and then whispered, "Let's go Mishti before I lose my control totally."

Mishti stood on the deck of the boat as she gazed at the lights of the city far away. They were in the middle of the lake. They had driven to this hotel by the lake from where they took a smaller boat to come to this bigger one. Yash was in the lower deck giving final instructions to the boatman regarding their return. Mishti looked around. There were a couple of lounge chairs, a table, and a long, curving couch along the length of the railing. The other corner of the deck had a small glass cabin….inside which she could see a small round dinner table set for two. All around there was dim lighting. Yet what caused a lump in her throat were the innumerable red roses all over the boat. She reached across the nearest one, touching it softly.
"Someone once told me that red roses express the deepest desires and feelings of heart."
She turned around to see him standing with his hands in his pockets looking at her with such a passion that she had to tear her eyes away….Somehow she knew that she would never be able to keep herself from drowning in those limpid brown eyes. They owned her in this life. Taking a hold of herself, she turned sideways, gesticulating with her hand at the ambiance.
"This is beautiful, Yashji."
"You like it?"
"Hmm….very much. So this was your all-day meetings. You were busy doing this up."
He stepped forward, "Only the best for my Mishti. After all this is our first date."
Yash had stood for a while on the final step to the deck and had watched her. She looked ethereal. How could any woman look so sensuous yet so alluringly innocent at the same time! He had heard that beauty of a woman must be seen in her eyes because that's the doorway to her heart. He could so easily laugh at that. His Mishty had shown him her heart even before he saw himself in her eyes. He had felt her beauty as deeply then…when he had no vision…as he cherished beholding her now…when he could see her. Her eyes were her soul. He knew even a lifetime would be short for him to stop gazing at her. He wanted to make up for all the seconds of the years that he was denied her presence as also the intervals between those seconds. He saw her now….her eyes on him…beckoning him, pulling him, loving him. “God Mishti, Why do you love me so much?"
He came closer and cupped her face and bent forward to kiss her glistening eyes, "Happy?"
She nodded as she slipped her arms around him, "Very happy. Yashji?"
"Why do you love me so much?"
He smiled at her echoing his thoughts, but didn't answer. Asking her to wait a little, he went and put on soft music. Coming back he pulled her close and tucked her close into his frame, dropping a kiss into her hair. "Care for a dance, Miss Dubey?"
"Like this Mr Scindia? I can't even move." She mumbled near his ear.
He chuckled, "Let's see you do it."
"Uhh! Is that a challenge I hear in that deep voice?" She smiled.
"If you say so, Miss Dubey."
"And if I win…?"
"Your wish will be my command.”
"Right…remember that," saying she flicked off her sandals behind and climbed on his toes. "Let's dance Mr Scindia."
"That's cheating Mishti!! (grinning into her laughing face) You are incorrigible."
They danced for a while in complete bliss. After that Yash walked her to the railing where he turned around and asked her, "So what's your wish?"
"Forget it Yashji…you won't be able to fulfill it." Mishti turned to looking at the water with a naughty smile.
He took her hands and said earnestly, "Just say it, Mishti…I promise I'll do it."
"OK! But remember you asked for it.”Turning to him, she tried hard to hold her smile. “Here it is….From now on till we get married you cannot kiss me."
"What? What kind of wish is that?" He couldn't believe she had said that. He held her by the shoulders and saw she was serious, as she refused to look at him. He backed off, pacing up and down, muttering "This is not done, Mishti…just not done. Finally we cross all hurdles, and now when I can and all I want is to hold you close to me all the time, you come out with this….this…this brainwave. What are you thinking, dammit? And why are you laughing?"
Mishti was holding her stomach and doubling up, and as always he stood enthralled at hearing the rippling melody and her childlike mirth…"Yashji!...Uffo!...You are so cutely adorable. You should have seen yourself…it's as if a child's favorite toy has been taken from him."
In a trance he saw her walk toward him. She snaked her arms around his neck, running her fingers through his hair, as his arms went around her automatically. Looking into his eyes, she whispered, "I said you cannot kiss me…I never said I cannot kiss you." His eyes widened as she proceeded to put her lips on his and kiss him, teasing, nibbling, till with a groan he gathered her tight and deepened the kiss. She let him kiss her fervently, opening her mouth for him to explore deeper, as she herself drowned in his passion.
Much later they sat on the lounge deck chair, Mishti's back on his chest and his arms around her
"Yashji…you never answered my question. Why do you love me so much?"
"There's no answer to that, my love. All I know is that my soul lives in you. I was a dead man walking for six years, Mishti. Knowing you were not there yet keeping you with me, waiting for the moment in eternity when I would meet you again. And then I saw you…my heart pulled me to you but my mind questioned. That car journey to the farm house was the hardest of my life. There were so many emotions running through me. I hated myself for getting attracted to someone else…I thought I was betraying you."
"When did you know?"
"I think almost as soon as I met you. That silent phone call had alerted my senses to you. Like I said, my mind battled with my heart. I was sure beyond doubt when I heard your voice over the phone while talking to Palak."
"I am sorry, Yashji…I put you through hell. I hate myself for doing so."
"No Mishti…it was not your fault. You didn't know I was unmarried. This separation was preordained. But we'll make up for it. We were always and we shall always be for this life and beyond each other's strength and hope.
They sat in companionable silence for awhile, looking at the night waters of the lake.
"Mishti, tell me what happened after you reached Indore?"
"We stayed in buaji's house……."
They caught up with the missing years, talking through the night, taking a break for dinner and then continuing….holding each other…just being content to be together….together forever and never apart.
One month later…

The marriage was a resounding success…the talk of the town for years to come…just as Suraj Pratap Scindia wanted. Neema had refused to let Mishti do any running around for the arrangements. She and Maansi, who had come over one day to the VM offices to meet Mishti, and had hit it off with the former, took the entire show in their hands. The final two weeks had Vinny flying down and camping in Bhopal, taking Mishti for shopping and making sure she buys all that was required for the bride befitting a Scindia. The kids' dresses were personally overseen by Mishti. She refused to let anyone touch her children's clothes. Mishti was happy to see dadi and the family from the village come and take part in the festivities. She had requested Gayatri to help her out in pacifying dadi. Both of them had gone and stayed in the village house for three days. It was only a matter of time before dadi realized that her perceptions about Mishti were nothing but preconceived bias.
Babuji and Guptaji together did the kanyaadan for Mishti. Palak and Ansh refused to budge from their parents' sides during the entire ceremony, even though they were falling asleep on their feet due to exhaustion. When Neema went to take them for dinner, Ansh declined saying, "Neema Aunty, can't you see we are all getting married…Papa, mumma, Palak, and I? We are one family…right Palak?" And Palak nodded vigorously with grave face.
Prateek and Pari stayed back in the Scindia Mansion for their wedding night, but Yash took Mishti to her room on the tower after all the post-wedding rituals were over. The kids stayed back with Deepa and Gayatri.
Yash picked up his bride in his arms and stepped into the lift.
"Mishti, close your eyes." She did so, her heart hammering against her breast. He put her down when the door opened. Holding her hand he walked her into the room. He stepped aside a little, and the very next moment she was showered with red rose petals as she opened her eyes in wonder. She spun around on her toes as she looked wondrously at the now-familiar night sky, but the room took her breath away. Every inch of the flooring was covered in a carpet of rose petals with faint lights twinkling through them. Yash came and hugged her from behind as she encircled her arms around his.
"Welcome to your paradise, Mrs Scindia."
"Our paradise, Mr Scindia."
He extended his right hand; she kept hers on his.


You are the keeper of my dreams
The one I am going to spend my life with
The one with whom I will always stand
Even when nothing is what it seems

Stand beside through thick and thin
Through all that life will throw our way
Knowing that the touch of our love
Will guide us, each and every day

"You are awfully quiet….what are you thinking?"
"Something I had not remembered in a long time. Back then I had believed it, but later, I just…it got lost…..(shaking her head as she gazed at the stars) I should have kept my faith."
"What was it, darling?” He allowed her to shift as she adjusted herself in his arms.
"That people who are meant to be together always find their way back to each other. There are detours in life, but they never really get lost. Yashji, Someone once told me something…and Di told me to remember it and not ever to give up."
"About us?"
Silence…as he waited, holding her hand against his heart.
"Yashji, the day I met you for the first time...I mean on the day of the accident…I had gone to the dargah. I used to visit it very often, but that day something strange happened."
"What happened?” She paused, chewing her lip. He automatically freed it, as she continued, "I was praying, and then I felt this touch on my head. A baba had just blessed me. He was a well-known baba, who was visiting for only a day, as I came to know later. He said that God had preordained and that I shall meet my humsafar* on the road that day. When I was coming back, my scooty broke down exactly at the spot where you had your accident moments later. Yashji…”, she looked up and found him staring at her, “that was a divine accident. I know that now. We were meant to meet there, on that road. I never did ask you….Where were you going that day?"
"To the same dargah.” He whispered in wonder.
Mishti nodded, as if she expected him to say that. “Destiny…you are my destiny. That's what Di had said. And I forgot. Oh God! I should have kept my faith.” She repeated as warm tears fell down his chest.
"No, Mishti, no….shshh….You just now said that we were fated to meet. Similarly we were fated to face this separation."
"No, Yashji (shaking her head)….that was not fate…that was my punishment. Knowing where you were and yet not being able to see you…knowing I had hurt you by remaining dead for you…you have no idea how punishing it was. Something must have been lacking in my love that I faced this."
"Your love never lacked, Mishti….not now, not six years back. Even though we never confessed then, you and I both knew what we were to each other. Our love for each other was as beautiful and strong then as it is now, and so real that it is almost impossible to express what we feel. Whatever you did, you did it for me. I didn't know you were alive, but I always knew how blessed I was to have been loved by you. Your love was my strength. So don't ever think that you lacked faith. Tell you what, before we go on our honeymoon, the four of us will go and visit the dargah. “In response she turned and hugged him close. After a long moment, Yash asked, “Something is still bothering you."
"Yashji…I…(sitting up)…You might think this silly of me. I am a little scared. I have never had a family like yours. Being your wife is a privilege that comes with responsibilities that I am fully aware of. When I went to the village, I saw how dadi and ma, both elder bahus of Scindia clan, are respected. Bauji, ma, dadi have a lot of expectations from me. What if I fail them….what if I make you ashamed…what if…."
"You won't. I am going to be there with you, Mishti, all the way.” He sat up behind her and held her, “I don't promise you that there won't be problems…that you won't be hurt…or that they might not be a little unreasonable, but darling that's where adjustment comes in. In any case, no one can be upset with my Mishti for long. You are just too sweet (kissing her neck and feeling her relax against him)….Look sweetheart (turning her toward him)….you are the center of our existence, mine, Ansh's, and Palak's. Our world revolves around you. Our happiness is all that ma and bauji want. When they see us happy, they'll know who makes us happy. I am going to tell you what I told them….which is that you will understand them more when you know them. They follow rules…yes. But, given the right reasons, they bend the same rules for people they love and respect. Arpita could make them dance on her little finger. They accepted her pregnancy without a question. So….don't worry your pretty head about anything…you will do just fine."
"You understand me so well. You know my thoughts even before I think."
"I love you Mishti…it's that simple. Our love has survived darkness and death. I won't let anything tear us apart ever again. Your happiness means everything to me. Each and every day I shall find new ways to love you…."
"Like tonight?” Smiling, she impishly fluttered her lashes, lightly running a finger along his perfect face and tracing the sharp jaw line and then continuing down to his smooth throat, knowing fully well the effect she was having on him.
Catching his breath, Yash pushed her down, capturing her lips in a hungry kiss, “Yes…like tonight. And like now, you little minx…."
And the night crawled by some more…the stars witnessing their union.
"Mishti.” Much later he mumbled against her neck, his arms across her, as she played with his hair.
"Did I hurt you?"
"You could never hurt me, Yashji."
"I must have. Having you in my arms like this…it's a miracle Mishti, something I could not even dare to dream of earlier. I did go a little crazy. Are you sure I…"
"Shshhh!” She kept a finger on his lips. “How can you hurt me? Your touch has made me a woman tonight, my love. I actually felt my soul merge with yours and become one. Your sparsh has completed me….I am where I belong…I am home."
*******************The End*************************

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