Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Sparsh----Chapters 4-6

Chapter 4

My life changed forever ,
Just because you loved me
For a moment in time.
And because I choose
To love you
For the rest of mine.

"What's her name?"
They were having dinner, and Prateek was engrossed in a text communication with his fiance. Babuji and ma had retired for the night.
"Will you let go of the phone for a few minutes, Chote? I am asking you something. The name…of the wedding planner."
"Vinny Mehra, bhaiya….you already know that."
"No, no…not her. The other one…the one who was supposed to call."
"Oh, her…..It's Mrs D."
"That's not a name. Doesn't she have a proper name?"
"Hmmm, good question, bhaiya…."
Yash clinched his teeth, "I am waiting, Chote!!"
"Huh….Oh…you want to know her complete name. I…err…don't know. Her secretary introduced her thus, and well, since we met for such a short while, I didn't bother. I just gave her our numbers and asked her to call on any one phone and take my name. But if you want I'll call Pari and…."
"No, no…it's OK. Do you have her number? I'll pass it onto Ravi and he can then coordinate the Farm house visit with her. Goodnight, Chote!"   

Yash peeked into Palak's room and found her fast asleep clutching her teddy. He sat down beside her for awhile, looking at her cherubic face and trying to seek the peace that was gone with that call. He abruptly got up and went to his room. After changing into his night clothes, he sat with the phone, contemplating whether he should. The number Chote gave was the same from where that call had come. What if he was wrong? What if the emotions of the day were playing tricks with his senses? Why is he hoping for the impossible? But he only had to close his eyes and remember that audible gasp and that sucking in of breath over the phone…Those were her sounds….sounds that he had always associated with her whenever the nurse opened his bandages for dressing. Try as she might she could never be strong at that precise moment…Those sounds were etched in his memories.

He made up his mind and pressed the button on the number flashing at him...
A man….an elderly man….This was a mistake!
"Good evening, Sir! This is Yash Scindia here. May I speak with..err..Mrs D?"
"She can't come on the phone, Mr Scindia…Actually she is putting my grandson to sleep. Is this urgent? Then I'll go call her."
"No, no….it's OK. Please let her know that Ravi, my senior manager, will call her regarding the Farm house visit. Goodnight, Sir!"

This was indeed a mistake….Mrs D was an olderlady. Yet….why? He had never made such a gross blunder in the last six years….then why today? And the gentleman's voice? He was sure he had heard it before!!
"Mishti…What's happening to me? I seem to sense you everywhere today...Help me love."

He kept the phone down and looked at her. Tears streamed down her face.
"You were right, beta….he called. Both of you have such a strong connection, then why are you torturing yourself like this, Mishti?"
"Aarti…babuji. Mishti is dead, remember? We agreed that long back. This is Aarti standing before you…Aarti Y. Dubey, your bahu…Ansh's mother. This is my identity now."
"I am sorry beta……hearing his voice brought back all those memories."
"I know….but this is the time to be strong. I need your help with this, babuji….I can't do this alone. Yashji should never know I am alive. He moved on in life and is settled now. I cannot upset his family life. The day we shifted to Bhopal three months back, because of Vinny Ma'am's insistence that I take charge of the Bhopal branch, I knew our paths might cross….that's why it is imperative that the illusion that Di survived and Mishti died stays alive. Sometimes I feel God ordained us to have same names. It was not a divine accident that I believed when I was growing up but God's own will… that I ultimately fulfill the responsibilities Di had to leave and go….(smiling through wet lashes). Come babuji, I'll give you the medicines and help you to bed.…we have an early appointment with the physiotherapist and then I have to call Mr Ravi."

A year and a half back babuji had suffered a stroke and was paralyzed waist below. He was getting better but the recovery was very slow. He still couldn't walk on his own.
Back in her room, Mishti did what she did every night: listen to his voice….
"Your face is what I want to see when I open my eyes….so don't go missing on me. And don't make me wait, Mishti."
Memories of that fateful day came rushing back as she whispered the apology that had become part of her daily prayers…"Please forgive me, Yashji…for not keeping my promise."

She was sailing through waves of emotions in anticipation of meeting him that day….at peace but anxious, eager but shy, somewhat queasy, a lot nervous, flutteringly impatient, and oh so happy. She had turned her cupboard upside down in trying to select the right dress for the momentous occasion….In the end she had selected a lemon yellow churidaar suit and kept her long hair open…she knew he would like that. He always felt her hair when she was close to him, holding them lightly between his long fingers…and the feeling was something beyond anything she had ever known. She looked at herself in the mirror and shivered in delight as she imagined his eyes full of love fall on her at last. She had left by the back gate and had almost reached the hospital when the phone rang. Parking her scooty by the side, she saw it was babuji's call.

After that things were a blur. Babuji was incoherent and crying, when Commisioner Roy had come on the line.
"Mishti…this is Commissioner Roy here…..listen to what I say carefully."
She instinctively knew something bad had occurred.
"Uncle? Oh my God…Di…jiju…what's wrong? Tell me please."
"Mishti, there's a police jeep right behind you. Get on it. I have instructed the constable to get you here immediately…Do not, I repeat, do not call anyone or take any calls after this. You will know everything when you come here…. No Mishti, no questions now."

She had no memories of the ride. They had taken her to a hospital, which was brimming with police, and rushed into a room from the back door. Babuji, Chandan uncle, Auntyji were already there. Ansh was with Auntyji. Roy had then broken the news to her. She had gone into a shock and become numb. It was only when she heard Ansh cry that she had reacted; jumping up and almost snatching Ansh from Auntyji's lap she clutched him to her. He had immediately become quiet and gone off to sleep in her arms. Roy told her that they were suspecting Prashant's hired hitmen behind the gruesome double murder. Aarti was still alive when they brought her in. She had made the call to babuji from the car after the shooting. She kept saying it was Prashant and that Mishti should be saved from him…till she breathed her last. Since the hospital and the media that had arrived knew that the dead woman's name was Aarti Sharma Dubey, Roy cooked up the ruse and switched identities on paper and leaked out that the daughter of Satyendra Dubey, Mishti,  had died. They had nothing against Prashant because he was at the Shiv mandir when the incident happened. He had ensured that people saw him there, waiting for his bride. He had the perfect alibi for the moment. The police's only hope were the hitmen. But till they were apprehended, Mishti's life and anyone associated with her was in danger. Prashant thought Mishti was dead; he was not to get even a hint of the switchover. So the same night after the cremation, Roy had sent babuji, Mishti, and Ansh to Indore by road with a police escort, saying, "I'll pass the information that because of the tragedy Aman's wife was too distraught and had to be taken away to recuperate….and that it's unclear where they went." Mishti had wanted to call Yash, but Roy stopped her, "You will put his life too in jeopardy if you do that. If he knows you are alive, he might try to help you…and that itself will be dangerous. I promise we'll let you know as soon as we nab the culprits….and then you can get your life back. Your father here will call him and let him know." She had then told babuji what to say to Yashji…to tell him to return to his family at the earliest. She would not be at peace till she knew for sure that Yashji was back safe with his family.

In Indore, they had put up at Aman's buaji's house, who lived by herself. Vinni Mehra was buaji's friend's daughter. She offered Mishti a job when she came to know that she was a widow and a fine arts student. She herself trained Mishti and found her to be a diligent and fast learner. About six months later they got the call they so waited for…that the culprits were nabbed and jailed. Mishti had ran up to her room. Her hand shook when she took out her phone….her heart beating crazily. The call went unattended the first time. She dialed again, and this time it was answered.
"Hello!!" A lady's voice!
"Hello!! I…May I speak with Yashj…I mean Mr Yash Scindia?"
"He is in the washroom. May I know who…." There was a sound and the lady's loud "Ouch" was heard…but what stunned her next was his voice.
"Arpita, can't you be careful? You need to watch where you are going….I don't want you or the baby coming to any harm…OK? Is someone on the phone?"
"Right, papa (giggle)…Oh! This is your call…."
But all he heard was a dial tone.
Mishti sat down slowly…staring at the phone. He had moved on. He was married and was going to become a father. She smiled through the cascading tears…"He'll be a great father."

 "Palak….Palak….come here sweetheart. Finish your milk. There….that's like my good girl. Now go and get your bag….Nana/nani are waiting for you."
"Yay….I am going to Magic World….you know, papa…Anch will also come with us. His mumma is going somewhere…and his dadu is sick…and…you don't know, Anch? I told you, papa…he is my new best friend. He lives next to nanu's house…and is in my school…and he shouted at that nasty Shivam when he tried to snatch my tiffin…and he has a nice mumma. Papa, you are going to get me a mumma, na….I know…I heard…Let's go…I am getting late…."
"Whoa!! Stop right there, young lady. What was all that about? The mumma part…?"
"I heard dadaji tell nanu that they have found a mumma for me…and that she will come when Pari chachi comes….Papa (suddenly serious) will she be as nice as Anch's mumma?"

Yash was very upset. Of late, Babuji and ma had become very insistent regarding his marriage. They wanted him to get married on the same day as Prateek….With Prateek's marriage only about six weeks away, it seems they still hadn't given up on looking for a girl for him. They just refused to listen to his wishes on the matter. According to them, he may not need a wife, but Palak needed a mother. And that was that.
"Pranam baba…pranam maaji!! I hope she doesn't trouble you. Palak….be a good girl, OK? Bye….Come home soon."
She pranced off with her grandparents after giving him a tight hug and kiss. He turned to his father who kept a photograph on the table in front of him.
"Take a look….You have a week to give me your answer. After a week we are going to see the girl."
"Babuji…please listen to me."
"No, Yash…we have had enough arguments on the matter. Your ma and I know what we are doing. If you have anyone in your mind, let me know…otherwise we are going to go ahead with this alliance. This matter is not subject to debate anymore."

With that babuji walked away. Yash was thoroughly frustrated…How in the world can he make them understand? He did what he always did under such circumstances….closing his eyes, he whispered, "Mishti, help me…." Just then his phone rang. It was Ravi. His wife was in labor…a couple of weeks early, and he was on his way to the hospital. Yash could sense the agitation.
"It's OK, Ravi….You tend to your wife, and don't forget to give me the good news when he or she arrives. All the best! What?...Oh…Don't worry about her. I am going to the Farm house any way…I'll give her a ride."

Yash walked up to the Reception of the VM offices.
"Excuse me… I am Yash Scindia. I am here to take Mrs D to Scindia Villa."
"Good morning, Sir! Please wait in the lounge, I'll call…oh, there she is."
Yash turned to look at the direction…and stood rooted to the spot. This was no senior lady….This was a vision in yellow….a very beautiful young woman…long hair…large, soulful eyes…but why is she looking at him like that? As if she knows who he is...As if she is scared….As if she will turn away any moment and walk away from him. And why did that bother him so? In a matter of seconds, a gamut of emotions ran through him.

He walked toward her…extending his hand…..


Chapter 5

This journey was started long ago
Before this time and place,
The journey of completeness
As two hearts and souls embrace.
Forever is what I want with you
For the search is at an end,
Our hearts have found each other
As lovers, as soul-mates, as friends.

"I am sorry, Vinny Ma'am....but I can't personally look after this project. I have assigned Neema to it. Of course, I'll chalk out the theme after seeing the venue and then keep an eye on things later."
"But why, Aarti? This project is very important for the company's image and progress. This is one of the most influential families of Bhopal....We need to put up our best in the Scindia wedding....and I trust only you to handle such a huge responsibility. You know how much I depend on you."
"I know, ma'am....It's just that the venue is pretty far from here. And with Ansh's vacations about to start and Babuji's physio sessions to be arranged, I am in a bit of a tight squeeze...I haven't even been able to get hold of a 24-hour nurse for babuji...could only manage a part-timer. I mean they need me around here Ma'am, so....."
"I understand, Aarti....Look, Ansh can always accompany you here...and as for uncle, I'll arrange a good nurse...I know a person here who runs a service-providing agency. But I want you on this assignment, OK? Aha...there you are Neema....."
"Good morning, Miss M...good to have you here."
"Good morning, my dear. I'm here only for a couple of days....I'll be leaving on Monday. Aarti, you and Neema will be away for most of the day...I wanted to check out on the Annual contracts of a few vendors. Could someone fill me in?"
"Right....I'll send Dharmesh with the files."

Aarti stepped out of the office and turned toward the reception and felt a sea of emotions sweep her away. He was here. She saw him walk toward the reception, speak to Anusha, and then turn toward her....vaguely she heard Vinny Ma'am's voice calling her...but nothing registered. She wanted to step back...hide herself...but a part of her held back, drinking in the sight of him, feeling the thrill at having him look at her. In dream she saw him walk toward her with his hand extended in inscrutable expression on his face. Slowly, as if in a haze, she started to lift her right hand, when the door opened and Vinny stepped out.....

"Aarti, I called...before you go please....Oh...Mr Scindia...Hello!! Nice to meet you (taking the extended hand)...I am Vinny Mehra. Did you want to discuss something? Please step in....."
"Hello, Miss Mehra!! No, I have not come for any meeting. I am here to pick up Mrs D (looking at Mishti). I am in a bit of a hurry so...."
"Of course...Oh, how remiss of me! This is Mrs Dubey....Aarti Dubey...and Aarti this is Mr Yash Scindia."

Aarti nodded in acknowledgment, smiling shakily...suddenly fidgety, shifting her eyes, and looking at the office door...the only escape. She saw Neema about to step out and suddenly made a dash for the door...Lifting a finger in a "one-moment" gesture toward the duo...she pulled Neema back with her....leaving Vinny flustered and Yash slightly bemused at the nervous flight.
Vinny was totally taken aback by Aarti's uncharacteristic behavior...but years of practice in dealing with people and situations kicked in, and she turned to Yash with a smile. Yash was still staring at the closed door.
"Err...umm...she must have remembered something that she has to take care of before she leaves. Come...I'll walk with you to the car park. Aarti and Neema will join you in a moment. Actually Aarti….”
"I knew an Aarti Dubey once...."
"You did? What a coincidence!! Here in Bhopal?"
"No, in Hoshangabad...." Vinny turned toward him and saw a faraway look in his eyes.
"Oh, well....our Aarti is from Indore. Even though she was widowed at a young age, she faced life bravely and now single-handedly takes care of her old father-in-law and little son...She is a wonderful person and very efficient. I am sure you won't have any worries. I have asked her to personally take over Mr Prateek's marriage. She was a little hesitant first but...."
"She was? Why?
"Oh...personal reasons...but it's OK. All that's taken care of....She is all yours now. they are. It was nice meeting you, Mr Scindia. Have a great day!"
"Goodbye Miss Mehra."

Yash turned to look at Aarti, who was looking everywhere but at him. When he opened the front door of the car for her, she took a detour and went and sat at the back. Neema stepped into the front seat, giving him a nervous smile. If Yash found all this a little weird, he didn't show. Before turning the ignition key, he looked back, "Are you comfortable?" She nodded and looked out of the window. He glanced at Neema, who gave him a wide-eyed, innocent look. He decided to wait out this strangeness and see where it was leading to.

Yash's back tingled with a long-ago sensation as he drove on. What was going on? The lady at the back intrigued him...there was no doubt...but why? She hadn't spoken at all. Well...some people are quiet by nature...she may be a person of few words...but why did her silence upset him so? Why did he want to hear the sound of her voice? Once he caught her looking at him in the rear-view mirror with a pain that made his heart constrict....after which she concentrated on the view outside....though at least twice he saw her flicking the corner of her eye as if to brush away a tear. Something was troubling her... but what? All his attempts at small talks were met with silence....with Neema doing all the talking...rambling actually....something about sore's orders.

Neema was in a spot...How in the world is she going to put up with this pretence? Why did Mrs D ask her to do such a bizarre thing? She recalled how Aarti had dragged her back. Inside the room, she had turned and whispered, "Neema, I need your help...and no questions now...OK? When we get back from the visit, I'll explain. Listen carefully....I cannot speak in front of Mr Scindia...No, no...shshh...I cannot explain now...there's no time. You'll have to manage his queries. And if he asks....just tell him...ummm...just tell him I have a sore throat or something and that the doctor has asked me not to strain my vocal chords." All her buts and whys were brushed aside by Aarti. Seeing her extreme agitation, Neema had silently nodded her compliance. In all of the five years of acquaintance with Aarti, not once had Neema seen her this frantic. She was always so calm and serene. And then there were those countless instances when she was more like an elder sister than a much so that she had ensured Neema accompany her on this transfer to Bhopal....knowing fully well her family lived here. She loved her Mrs D...How could she not help her?

Yash was struggling with emotions of his own. Why were all those dormant feelings coming alive a road, where the one beside him was a stranger....and the one behind was not. Hold on! Where did that come from? Yash suddenly realized the feeling that had hit him when he had first looked at Mrs Aarti Dubey...and that was of if he had known her from before. But why? As far as he recalled, he had never met her. He glanced at the rear-view mirror. Her long hair kept flying across her face. He saw her take out a clasp and pull the hair back in it. He wanted to ask her not to do it. As if on cue, her eyes lifted and stared back at him in the mirror....and then just as quickly she averted them, but not before he felt a thrill pass through him. In frustration, he brushed his hair back with trembling fingers, "What's happening to me, Mishti? What's going on love?"

After Mishti, only one person's silence had affected him after she too was gone...and that person was Arpita. Her nonstop chattering and effervescence had stopped him from falling into the dark abyss that had threatened to engulf him after Mishti left. She refused to give up on him....when others in the family had. She would sit up with him for hours and just talk...hoping for a response from the blank stare. How he missed her...she would have had answers to the turmoil that was gnawing him now. She understood him so well...after all.....

Arpita was his best friend...right from their childhood days. Their families too were very close. He even called her parents baba and maaji. The duo shared all secrets. Somehow she understood Yash more than anyone else, and vice whenever one was in trouble, the other would be called to set things right. The parents had taken it for granted that they would marry when the time comes...they seemed so made for each other. When he had the accident, Arpita was involved in nursing her father back to normalcy after he had undergone a bypass surgery. Yash didn't want to upset her further, so never informed her. He had spoken to Mishti at length about Arpita....Mishti would be enthralled at listening about Arpita's antics. He remembered the deafening silence that had followed after he had jocularly told her what their families wanted from him and Arpita. He had then taken her hands and told her what she evoked in him, no one else could...ever...not even Arpita. He had so wanted to touch her lips then...and feel the smile he knew would have beamed across....
Slowly but surely, through Arpita's persistence, he had begun to come out of the depths of depression he had gone under. She taught him to sense Mishti's love and to allow it to make him strong..."Yashu, if you keep her love living and breathing in will find her in you. Don't belittle her love by weakening yourself. Feel her love...Let her love guide you." He was surprised when first he had tried that....closing his eyes and asking Mishti's help. Within few moments, he knew what to do...everything was so clear. He marveled at the wisdom in Arpita....he was so proud that underneath all that frivolity, his friend was such a judicious person. So it came as a shock to learn that Arpita had tried to commit suicide. He had rushed to the hospital.
"Why Arpita?"
"He ditched me, Yashu....Gaurav bowed to his parents' wishes and married Meera. They were friends like we are....remember, I told you?"
He nodded tearfully.
"But that doesn't give you the excuse to do this....You are strong, Arpita....Your strength is the reason I am living and breathing again, even after Mishti, then why????"
"I am having a baby, Yashu....."
He stared at her.
"Does he know?"
"No...I didn't tell him. I mean I had gone there to tell him about this little life...when I heard he was back from Jammu. That's when he told me about his marriage. I don't know, Yashu....something snapped. I...I was so scared..for ma and baba..and mostly for my baby. My little one will never have a papa, Yashu....(sobbing) my baby will never know a papa..."
"Yes, she will...."
She stopped crying and looked at him....
"I will be her papa."
She frowned and then narrowed her eyes in the way she did when she tried to understand his intent.
"I won't marry you, Yashu....I won't do to Mishti what Gaurav did to me...and I won't let you also."
"You think I will marry a madcap like you? You moron (suddenly very angry at her)...Do you realize what you were going to do? How dare you too try to leave me?"
"I am won't happen again. I promise."
She let him sulk for awhile. Then, she reached out for his hand.
"I meant it Arpita...I'll be this little one's papa...till you get over that lowlife...that coward...and decide to move on with someone nice.....By the way the guy will have to go past me this time...Only if I approve will he get to come near my favorite girls."
"How do you know it will be a girl?"
"I just know."

Arpita died due to septicemia twenty days after she gave birth to Palak...but not before handing over her baby to her papa.....

Yash got out of the car, just as Mishti opened the back door. He stepped forward to hold the door for her. In a hurry to step away from him a few strands of her hair brushed across his face, and he got a whiff of her hair, which jolted his senses to the core....He knew that fragrance. This heightened awareness of her was getting to him now. He banged the door shut in annoyance and turned around to find her staring at him. Again that look...It felt as if she knew what was going on in him....and she looked worried. Worried? But why? He took a step forward when a voice called out him. He saw the portly, amiable figure of Mr Mishra walking up to them.

"Good morning, Sir....Welcome!! Everything is in order. The conference room is set up....the delegates arrive in a couple of hours."
Yash greeted back and told him to look after the ladies and to give them whatever they needed. With a nod toward them he started to walk away. He heard him greet them and Neema responding.
"Good morning, ladies!....I am Trilok Mishra."
"Good morning, Mr Mishra! I am Neema Parekh and this is Mrs D....I mean Aarti Y. Dubey.

Aarti Y. Dubey...Even though she was widowed at a young age, she faced life bravely and now single-handedly takes care of her old father-in-law and little son... Aarti Y. Dubey .....

He halted and slowly turned around.....


Chapter 6

Your touch is with me always,
It’s burnt into my skin,
As soft and warm as sun rays
When a summer day sets in.

Your soft voice never silent,
It’s forever in my ears,
Serenading every moment
And calming all my fears.

Your arms always enfold me,
The strength of angels wings,
They support and protect me wholly
With the safety a true love brings.

“Good morning, Mr Mishra! I am Neema Parekh and this is Mrs D....I mean Mrs Aarti Y. Dubey.”

Aarti Y. Dubey....
“Even though she was widowed at a young age, she faced life bravely and now single-handedly takes care of her old father-in-law and little son...
Aarti Y. Dubey .....
“Yashji, I was adopted by my sister’s father-in-law less than a year back…so I am Aarti Sharma Dubey now. We are a small family…papa, Aartidi, Aman bhaiya, and my little Prince Anshu…he is just four months old.”  

The particulars of present and past crisscrossed in his mind almost at the same time. What was he looking for? A connection? Why? Just because she has the same name? Carried the same fragrance? Her sounds over phone echoed those that are imprinted in his memories? Yet he was missing something, but what? Either that or he was losing it. He halted and slowly turned around. He needed to look at her...just once…before he took the bend in the pathway….just as Mr Mishra in a bid to make the ladies feel at ease jumped at the opening Neema had provided.
“What a coincidence, Madam? Even my middle name starts with Y, initial of my father’s name…And the double coincidence is my father’s name was the same as our boss…so I am Trilok Yashwardhan Mishra.

Mr Mishra’s face went all red with pride, as he regally announced his full name. Neema laughed.
“Then you must make it a triple coincidence Mr Mishra because Mrs  D’s….Ouch…”
Neema jumped as she felt the pinch…at the small of her back….jerking to look at Mrs D who shook her head and whose eyes signaled both an apology and a warning. Mr Mishra who had started walking toward the gate to the lawns stopped.
“What happened, Miss Parekh?”
“N...nothing. (rubbing her back) A…umm…a mosquito...yes…a mosquito bit me.”
“Oh...Are you OK? There are mosquitoes at this time of the year…especially here…because of the open lands all around. Please come. I’ll show you the lawns and the garden first…and then I’ll take you inside.”

Neema followed him. Mishti looked toward the pathway to the main building, which was hidden from where she was standing, to find Yash standing at the bend, looking at her quizzically. “Dear God…did he see all that? What’s wrong with you, Mishti? If you continue to overreact like this…he will know soon enough. Be calm. Be normal. Take a deep breath. Now smile…and wave.” 

Yash had indeed witnessed the entire exchange. Something was bothering the enigmatic Mrs Aarti Dubey. She was hiding something. Even though he was a distance away, he was sure that she had pulled that stunt to warn Miss Parekh of something…Something Miss Parekh was about to say…about coincidences. As he contemplated the reason, he saw her look at him…a myriad of conflicting emotions flitting across her face…and then she gave him such a dazzling smile that his heart skipped a beat and he took an involuntary step back, and then just as suddenly, with a wave of her right hand, she sprinted after the duo. Still dazed, he took the bend to the main entrance.

Mishti stopped at the gate to call babuji to tell him she had arrived and then to Vinny with the same message and also to inform her regarding an important matter. Mishti entered the lawns and soon realized she had entered from the front end. The Scindia Villa was at the other end of the huge expanse of the lawn…twin lawns actually. From this distance she could make out a pond with a quaint bridge over it joining the two lawns. There were flowers blooming all around. The entire complex was built amid many acres of farmlands, and the Vindhya mountains at the end of the horizon acted as a magnificent backdrop. As she walked forward, she was awestruck at the beauty of the architecture of the villa, which was set amid a rustic setting and trees surrounding it. She felt herself being enveloped in a familiar old-world charm. The building itself gave the look of an ancient palace and was built with natural-look stone and rock blends and wood…There were creepers covering a few walls. Huge stone columns marked the front porch. As she stood, a sense of deja vu set in, and her eyes automatically looked for it…and soon found it. It was partially hidden behind a grove of trees, but she could clearly make out the glass room on top. She staggered back and sat on the stone bench by the side of the lawn. He did it….he really did it!! For her…..

“Do you like fairy tales, Mishti?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“Just tell me.”
“You do…don’t you?”
(A deep sigh followed a sort pause)
“Well…like every orphan, I too have dreamt of a prince riding toward me, picking me up, and carrying me of to his palace…but those were dreams, Yashji. I am very much aware of my reality…and I am happy in it.”
“Dreams can be turned into reality, Mishti…one just has to have faith. OK…you just told me that you dreamt that the prince took you to a palace. What type of palace?”
(Again silence)
“Mishti (very softly)….here, give me your hands, and now close your eyes and tell me what do you see?”
(She closed her eyes and clearly saw it)…. “A palace…not very big…made of stones and rocks and wood with creepers covering its sides…huge stone columns…..and green meadows and flowers and trees surrounding it…and…..”
(He tightened his hold)… “And what Mishti? ”
“A small tower at the back, with a glass room at the top, from where I can see the stars at night as well as the sunrise and the sunset far away in the horizon. ” (“With you, my Yashji”…but she hadn’t said that aloud.)

Tears rolled down as she was swept back in time….to when he was still hers…and yet, now this…she didn’t know what to make of it. Neema’s voice penetrated the haze of memories from far away…She looked toward the bridge and saw her hailing her. Hastily she wiped her tears with the palms of her hand and got up. She had a job to do…and she will do it. Then she will leave.

Yash entered the first-floor conference room overlooking the lawns and as usual walked up to the windows to look out at the flowers…flowers that she so loved and desired around her. And as always the same thought…“Mishti…if only you could see this…your palace….”  That’s when he noticed her in the lawn, Aarti Dubey, looking up at the building. He stood transfixed as he saw her slowly take in the view from one end to the other…and then something happened. She stood still and then her eyes looked over the roof…as if seeking something. He saw her stagger back…and automatically his hand reached out and touched the window….
He turned around.
“What is it?”
“Your phone, Sir…it is ringing.”
He realized he hadn’t even heard the phone ring. It was Ravi.
“I am a father, Sir…It’s a girl…She is beautiful….Oh, I am so happy.”
“Congratulations, Ravi!!! I hope your wife is doing well. Listen…you take a few days off and take care of your family. I’ll brief Mr Mishra. OK?...Bye then. Take care. I’ll come around tomorrow to the hospital.”

He looked down to see she had joined her secretary and was talking animatedly with her, gesturing toward the lawns….Wait a minute! Talking? When a few minutes back, she couldn’t? What was going on? He did not have time to dwell on it as his staff arrived to discuss the day’s presentation. Yash was an architect and the owner of a Construction company. He also helped his father and Prateek in his family’s other businesses. However, designing houses and landscapes was his passion.

The delegates left after the meeting and lunch. After seeing them off, Yash strolled into the lawn. His feet automatically took him to the spot where Aarti had stood. What had she seen? Try as he might he could not shake off that strange yet familiar feeling….Why was he thinking about this woman so much? “Why Mishti? After you I have never felt the need to look at another woman, then why am I thinking of this woman so much? Because she has your name? So many women may be named Aarti….even your sister was named Aarti, wasn’t she? She was also Aarti Dubey….right? Are you trying to tell me something, Mishti?” He rubbed his eyes, suddenly very tired. He looked up to find Mr Mishra hurrying up to him.
“Your car is ready, Sir.”
“Mr Mishra…those ladies…I hope they were well looked after.”
“Yes Sir, I myself took them around the grounds. Miss Parekh saw the inside of the villa especially where the halls and the kitchen are.” 
“Only Miss Parekh? What about Mrs Dubey?”
“She didn’t go inside the villa, Sir…though she wanted to see the tower. She seemed quite intrigued by it…and stood there for a long time. Of course, I had to refuse her….you have categorically asked for that portion of the villa to be out of bounds for visitors…so….”
“Ummm…I see!…I hope they had lunch before going.”
“No sir…Mrs Dubey wanted to leave early. She had to pick up her son from someone’s house. So I asked Madan to drop them. Your other car is here.”
“Thank you, Mr Mishra….you did a wonderful job with the conference arrangements.”
“My pleasure, Sir….Good day!!”
Yash was half way home, when his phone rang.
“Papa!! We had so much of fun.”
“I am glad to hear that, princess. How many rides did you get on to?”
“All…papa…all….Nanu took me and Ansh to all.”
“Uffo papa…my best friend, remember? His name is Ansh…not Anch…Nani taught me. He is here now…his mumma is coming to take him home. His mumma is very sweet…I told you na, papa. Oh there she is….Hello Aunty!!!”
“Hello Palak!! How was your day, beta? Had fun? Oh, you are on phone….finish your call first, OK? Namaste uncleji! Namaste auntyji! I hope Ansh behaved.”
“Papa….papa….??? I think the phone got cut Aunty.”

The phone had slipped from his fingers, as Yash sat stunned…


To be continued......

No comments:

Post a Comment