Sunday, 6 October 2013

Whispers of Spring.....Chapter 6



Chapter 6




“You are hurt. Let me help you Raj.”

“Didn’t you hear what I said? Keep away from me. I don’t want your damned pity.”

He reached down and lifted his trouser leg. There was a sound of a loud gasp, which Naina belatedly realized came from her. It was a prosthetic, an artificial limb from below the knee. Raj’s hand stilled and he looked up at her with such open contempt that she took a step back, “That disgusts you...huh! I should have known. The sight of a cripple always brings that reaction….from a woman especially. You cannot stand to look at such disfigurement. Don’t worry; I won’t mind… I am used to such reactions. Go…sit in the car! I’ll be along as soon as I fix this.”

Without a word, Naina turned and walked toward the car. She heard him let out a bark of derisive laugh…a sound that chilled her to the bone. Raj finished relocking his leg. His hands shook in his task, an anomaly as he couldn’t decide whether his reactions were due to his anger or this cold sense of disappointment that washed through him as he saw her turn her back. He was halfway up with his back to the boulder when he found her standing in front of him. That was the last straw. He turned her and pinned her to the boulder, with firm grip on her upper arms, his gaze dark and dangerous. She didn’t struggle this time and stared right back at him, her beautiful eyes probing, searching, and holding a depth of serenity that unsettled him to the core. For the first time since the blast, he felt really bare and vulnerable and felt a wild, desperate urge to look away and let go. No one had ever looked at him…into him… like that, as if she knew…she understood.

He was close enough to breathe in her scent…floral, soft, warm. It filled his being and consumed his senses. Something stirred within him and Raj felt an emotion akin to panic, and in desperation to break the connect that seemed to devour him, he let his anger take over, “I told you to sit in the car. But you have this uncanny habit of not listening. You were clearly disgusted and ran away, not wanting to see the ugly deformity. Why did you come back? Curious? To check out how broken I am? Why Naina? Did your sense of philanthropy get tickled?” He bent closer…his face close to hers…his body taut with coiled tension, “Say it Naina. Speak the words. Say how you want to stay away from this cripple because the sight repels you and you see how worthless I am...Say that you came back because you wanted me to know how much you sympathize and feel sorry. Say it Naina.”

She looked at him, and he saw his soul staring back for a fleeting moment. He sucked in a breath and his mouth went dry. She closed her eyes for the briefest of seconds and shook herself gently. The next moment Raj felt a palm against his chest, giving him a gentle push and his hands released her. She spoke softly, her voice firm and controlled, “Are you done?”

He stared, as she tilted her head and raised a brow, “No? There’s some more in that vitriolic arsenal? Well then…sadly, it will have to wait for another day. We have appointments to keep…so get back on the tracks Colonel. Pronto. Oh, by the way, I went back for this and came back for this, since you won’t take my help.” Saying so she brought his walking stick in front of him and lifting his hand planted it in his grip. She then turned and walked back to the car, her back straight, her stride firm, “I will wait for you in the car. Don’t be long.”

Raj was gobsmacked as well as euphoric as pure relief surged through him. She had done it again…reacted unexpectedly yet just the right way. She didn’t pity him, and as he saw the driver’s seat empty, he realized she showed her confidence in him by expecting him to continue driving. He had been too busy concentrating on the darkness created by the others in the past…too busy nursing his wounded pride at the unexpected disclosure of his handicap to her. He should have known better. The truth was always there, right in front of him…in her kind eyes…in her actions that only emanated honesty and understanding. How could he suspect her motives? Damn!! He had blundered…Big Time. He owed her an apology. Mere words would seem hollow now, yet he had to try.

Raj hurried to the car, opened the door, got in, and belted up. Only then he looked at her. She was staring out of the window. He had no way of knowing what she was thinking. He touched her arm lightly and said, “Naina, I…” He stopped as she picked up the earphones lying on her lap and inserted them firmly in her ears and switched on the FM in the phone….not once looking at him. And he knew she was angry….very angry. No theatrics. No melodrama. Just simple withdrawal….which left Raj reeling with a bout of unwelcome solitude.
*************************************

Raj finished his meeting with Mr Adhikary in record time and after promising him that he will visit the tea gardens the next weekend, he drove to the two Homes, Aasha Dham and Aasha Deep, for aged and for children, respectively. Earlier he had dropped Naina near the steps; she had sprinted up without a backward look.

The last time he was here, only Aasha Deep, the orphanage, was there. Aasha Dham came up about four years back. He walked up the steps to the common entrance, and stood enchanted as the manager, Mr Baldev Kalra, came forward to greet him along with two of his staff members. Even though he greeted them with a smile, Raj’s eyes were on the lady in pink and white who had a guitar in her hands as she rested against a table and sang to the children surrounding her even as the old members hummed with her. They sat around under a huge shamiana on the lawn that lay between two buildings. She was coaxing the children to sing along. They were afar so no one noticed him.
“She sings too.” He mumbled to himself.
“Oh yes Sir. Our Naina Ma’am is a nightingale when it comes to singing. She introduced music in the daily routine here. You will be surprised to know that some of our senior members too learn singing from the teachers. Most of them never got a chance throughout their lives to indulge in a hobby, and now they can do what they missed in their youth. Naina Ma’am finds out about their hidden interests after talking to them and then ensures they get to do what they wish. We have classes running for yoga, painting, dancing, sculpting, wood carving, cooking, baking, and a few more.” Mr Kalra proudly informed Raj.

Raj looked at the new building, “I didn’t know that the two Homes are face to face. There used to be a football ground there.”

“Yes Sir. The playground has been shifted to the back of Aasha Deep. When Ranima wanted to build an old age home and asked everyone their suggestions whether to build it in Palampur, Chahal, or Chamba, all the places where the Trust had spare land, it was Naina Ma’am who suggested the home to be built right next to the orphanage. In her words, “If we have old people next to the children, they will both give each other company and be of help too. Values can be imparted to the children as they should be. They can be a family.” As per her suggestion, we have each child adopt a parent from members of Aasha Dham. So each child here has one to three parents, depending on the ratio. This is really a home for each person here.”

“Amazing,” Raj said. “They are creating their own present and their own future.”

“And being happy too. Naina Ma’am is like a bright ray of sunshine in their lives. We all look forward to her visits.” Raj looked sharply at the slim young man who was looking adoringly at Naina with large puppy eyes. Something hot flashed through him…a sliver of jealousy that left him baffled. He shuffled and stood between Mr “Puppy” Kalra and Naina and asked him few abrupt questions in order to distract him. Mr Kalra answered him with all sincerity and then guided Raj forward just as a loud applause broke through and the children broke away, making a dash toward the corner where the food was laid along with Naina’s cakes. Naina looked up and saw Raj. She said something and everyone turned to him, and then walked toward him smiling. After introductions and greetings, everyone sat under the shamiana to have lunch and chat. It was all very informal and very relaxed. He was treated with lot of warmth and cheer. Raj's eyes looked for Naina. He saw her sitting in the far corner holding a polio-ridden child in her lap and feeding him while narrating an anecdote to the giggling little faces in front. The child kept pulling her hair and turning her face to him, trying to get her exclusive attention. She suddenly dipped her face and rubbed him on the tummy with her nose, and he doubled up with unrestrained laughter. She wagged her finger and pointed to his tummy and said something, which brought upon another round of giggles. Raj rubbed at the sudden tightness in his chest. He couldn’t help noticing how everyone smiled and laughed when Naina was close by. There was a general happiness in the air…pure and genuine…nothing concocted…just like her. She was like an angel.

They bid adieu amid promises of coming soon. It was almost 4 pm. Raj got the car on the road and turned to her, “Thank you Naina.”
She stared at him in puzzlement, “For what?”
“For a magical experience. You have done wonders with this place. There is so much hope, love, and kinship there.”

“I have done nothing Raj. Thank Ranima if you wish to. She has never said no to anything this place needs. All I have to do is ask. A child needs someone older to guide them. An old person needs someone who makes them feel wanted and dependable. Above all, a human being fears loneliness. People coming to orphanages and old age homes are generally those who are shunned by their own and suddenly find themselves alone. Here the children and the old people come together and fill each other’s voids and in doing so become as whole a person as they were once. To put it simply, Aasha complex houses families.”

They were both silent for awhile, as the car entered the marketplace. The need to apologize hung heavy on Raj. He turned toward her, but Naina had her hand up, “Raj, please stop the car here. I need to go to that toy shop. Just a few minutes...OK?”

When Naina came out of the shop twenty minutes later, she had two packages in her hand. She saw Raj standing a little away from the car, talking to a man whose back was to her. Just then her phone rang. It was beeji. When Raj saw her, he ended the talk and came forward to help her. The man started to walk away across the road, but then turned and called out to Raj, “Which day will be convenient to you next week Colonel Rathore?”

“Tuesday morning. Ten sharp.” Raj noticed the man was staring hard at Naina and didn’t like it. He turned to Naina who was on phone with beeji, “Naina, get in.” She nodded and glided in as he opened the door for her. She hadn’t noticed the man as she was still busy on the phone. He had just started the car when the man rushed to his window and bent his head, almost thrusting it inside, “Mrs Dhariwal? You are Mrs Manmeet Dhariwal, isn’t it?”

Raj turned toward Naina, and found her bending near the door, trying to extricate the phone that had fallen there. He pushed the man’s hand away from the window, “What’s wrong with you? Get away from the car. And for your information you are mistaken. She is not who you think she is.”

The man straightened up, “Oho! I am sorry Colonel sahab. I meet so many people in my profession that sometimes there’s a mistake.”

“It’s OK. And about that interview…we need to postpone it. Call me tomorrow, and I’ll let you know when.”

After pulling out of the market, he glanced at Naina, but could only see her side profile partly hidden by her hair, “Sorry about that Naina. That was an unnecessary nuisance.”

Quite a few seconds passed before he heard her, “Who was he?”
“A journalist from Inside Look magazine. He is doing a feature on army officers, past and present, who are or were part of erstwhile royal families. He saw me standing and recognized me from the photograph he was provided. Anyways, he won’t bother you. I am sorry he came upon you like that.”

She looked at him fleetingly with a thin smile before looking away, “It’s OK Colonel. You don’t have to apologize for a stranger.”

“Can I apologize for myself Naina?” Raj gripped the steering wheel. Something was not right. He could have sworn there was fear behind the veiled smile.

She looked at him with surprise, “What for?”

They had left the town behind and were on the highway. He stopped the car and turning to her took her hands in his. They were cold as ice. He rolled his thumbs in circles on her palms, trying to warm them and said, “Naina, I am very sorry for doubting you earlier today. I shouldn’t have said those things to you. It was a mistake. You are a wonderful person…kind, good-hearted, strong, and forgiving. There is no excuse to my obnoxious behavior. Forgive me please.”

Naina was stunned. True, she was angry with him earlier for even thinking that she could be so mean to him…to anyone. But as the day progressed, she had analyzed his behavior and understood a little bit from where he was coming. Still his sincere and from-the-heart apology was totally unexpected. Their gazes locked and for few moments Naina was only aware of the warm current passing from his palm to hers. She extricated her hands and twisted them in her lap, asking him something that was on her mind since the previous night, “Why are you so sensitive about your condition? Do you think that makes you less a person than you are?”

Raj looked at his palms and shook his head, “No, but people around you don’t let you forget that you are a cripple once they know….either they stay away or they pity you.”
“So you hide behind that excuse!”
“What?” He was shocked.
“The prosthetic limb. You hide behind it.”
“No. Of course not. That’s an absurd notion.” His tone was cold. “You don’t know me Naina.”
“Maybe not. Yet, sometimes it takes a stranger to see the obvious.”
“What do you mean?”
“Friends, family, and acquaintances sometimes take you for granted. They try to mold their behavior according to you. In doing so sometimes their natural conduct gets clouded…and you are so sensitive that your heightened senses are ever ready to pounce on those deviant actions. So, you strike back…It’s just a defence mechanism Raj. Don’t mind the people who know you. Don’t forget they are also adapting to a changed you. They see you in a manner they adapt themselves to.”

“And you? What do you see Naina?” he asked softly.

She turned and looked in his eyes, “I see a brave and gentle soldier who would risk his life for a child he didn’t know but about whom he knows everything. I see a man who is proud of being a soldier more than a prince. I see a loving father who would go out of his way to protect his daughter, even if he has to go about it in a rather…ahem…unorthodox manner. And…” Raj felt a warmth seep through him at her words. She was like a breath of fresh mountain air infusing life back into him as he felt himself come alive every second that he spent in her company.

“And???” His voice was laced with thrill as he saw the familiar twinkle dance back into her eyes.

“Well, well, well….Greedy, aren’t we Colonel? Methinks that’s enough compliments for today. I don’t want you getting back on you high, snooty horse again so soon. So turn the key and drive.”
“Drat!!” He thumped the steering wheel with an exaggerated gesture, “And here I thought that you were so impressed that you will raise a toast in my honor tonight at dinner, with the kids and beeji clapping for effects.”

“Dream on soldier…dream on. So not happening.” They looked at each other and broke into laughter, as Raj reached for the ignition.

They kept a lively banter going on the drive back. They were getting comfortable with the friendly sparring and enjoyed the verbal duels. Naina told him some more about the Homes and also about beeji’s gardening obsession. He told her about his life in army and that he put in his papers and requested a premature retirement because he didn’t want to get stuck with desk jobs, since his active soldiering days were over. He told her that his grandmother was coming this week and that he had some plans for all the institutions and businesses they were running. He told Naina that he would need her help with most of those. He didn’t talk about his family or his marriage and she didn’t probe.

Just before turning into the road to her home, he said, “You know Naina, all my life I have tried to do the right thing…the right thing that others chose for me. It took the blast and the aftermath for me to realize that we have to decide what we want our life to be about...and go after it.”

“I understand. I have known that feeling for awhile now Raj.” 

He parked the car in front of the house and looked at her, “Naina…all that you said to me when I apologized, how did you know what went in my life?”

“Been there…done that.” She looked at him with shiny eyes and laid a hand on his arm briefly, “Thank you for today Raj.”

Before he could respond, the children ran out of the house and she stepped out of the car, kneeling down to grab them in a hug.

Raj stared at her back. Someone had hurt her…really hurt her in the past. The very thought made him shake with anger. There was no doubt the fear he sometimes saw in her eyes...just as today in that market. Her cheerful demeanor was just a coat of armor protecting her from her past. She still feared….
“I’ll be damned if I let her continue like this.” Raj whispered to himself before getting out of the car.
********************************

To be continued……………

37 comments:

  1. Fantastic update Indu. Raj has been hurt and accustomed to people's ridicule that he automatically adopts the same reaction to Naina when she sees's his prostetic leg. He is proven wrong though and actually apologises for judging her when he realises that she really is different. Loved every bit of the update especially after Raj's apology when they got into a comfortable conversation with each other. Also liked that he is being protective of her and wondering what incident in her past affected her so much. Fab job and looking forward to what is in store next.

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    1. Thanks Saf. Your observations are spot on. Raj's natural protective instincts have been stirred. He senses something is wrong, and given the respect and admiration and friendly feelings he has developed for Naina, he has decided to be proactive about her situation. Let's see how this plays.

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  2. thats a splendid update. i totally admire your way of weaving beautiful bond b/n them and their comfort level is increasing in good pace. as always their characteristics make me smile and i try earnestly to adopt all those good thoughts. - scorpiodreams

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    1. Thanks pal. Well, everyone deserves as many second chances as life provides. So far Raj and Naina have proven each other's biases wrong...and from that has developed a friendship. It's up to them to recognize and understand where this leads them.

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  3. Feeling down at this moment, searching for some reliever..
    Am glad I came here, thank you so much for this wonderful update!
    Ur story just made me relax even for a while, love U for that...

    Am happy how things are going between Naina and Raj, the comfort level were slowly increasing..

    I liked it when they're angry and being stubborn, it makes them even closer to each other..
    Loved how Raj discovered by his own the good side and other things about Naina, how she was loved by many..
    Loved it when Naina make Raj erased the perceptions to people upon seeing his condition.

    So Naina was Mrs. ManMeet Dhariwal (i guess)?
    Am intrigued with the other side of her..

    Loved the car scene and their conversations..
    Haha, dinner with the kids and beeji, "Dream on Raj", lol!
    Guess might still happen..

    Seems both avoid talking about their respective partners, bad past..
    The reason both didn't insist to ask..

    Looking forward for the next, let's see how Raj will wipe away the fears that Naina was carrying..

    Continue soon dear, just love hanging around here..
    It made my day! ♥

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    1. Hey Barbie....That was awesome. Thanks my sweet friend. And I am glad I am able to provide a few moments of relaxation in the taxing routine of life.

      Raj and Naina have definitely reached a point where they are comfortable with each other. Raj realized that he was wrong in pushing Naina away because, unlike others, she treats him like a capable and normal person. Point of the matter is when it comes to Naina, will she let Raj in on her situation? Or will she push him away when he wants to get to know about her?

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  4. Indu, mind blowing piece! Am always amazed at how you play with words so well. You define your characters so,so well that one becomes connected to them after some updates.

    Raj himself discovered how wrong he was regarding Naina,and he took the initiative to apologize! Both are becoming closer but they sort of have this limit to not go into each others past relationship.

    Loving each part Indu! Thanks for the PMs. :-):-)

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    1. Thanks Abie. Aww pal...those were the nicest words. :)

      Their friendship is still new. They have still not analyzed as to why they react to each other so powerfully.

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  5. AWESOME AWESOME! wonderful update.. all on raj and naina.. and them realizing and learning things about each other.. enjoy their seriousness with each other and their fun bantering as well..
    the old age home and orphange.. lovely concept.. and deep thinking behind that on naina's part..

    the market scene - cant wait to read/learn more about that guy and why he thought naina was that person.. i have a feeling there is a connection and not a mistsake.. hope you reveal that soon..

    take care.. thanks for the PM..
    hope to read another update soon..

    Ruchi (princess4120)

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    1. Thanks Ruchi. Sure am glad that the progress has your approval. :)

      As you say, this is the learning-about-each-other phase. Most importantly, after a long time, they have someone with whom they have a comfort level that makes them happy..

      Take care...

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  6. Wonderful update Di :-):-)

    I loved the way that Naina didn't answer Raj when he was throwing those baseless accusations at her and the reply she gave was well done...She once again left him speechless, she showed him that she wasn't like the others :D

    Raj finally was able to apologize to Naina for jumping to conclusion and they got very comfortable getting to know each other better, I got a feeling that the reporter knows Naina from when she was with the person that hurt her and Raj will get to know about it when the man comes to interview him.

    The way they have Raj and Naina have this wonderful effect on each other is a beautiful sight, they are growing attracted to each other, I just loved how jealous Raj was and the way Naina complemented him <3

    Can't wait for more Pal...U keep rocking *HUGS*

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    1. Hey Zet....Bear hugs back to you. :)

      Thank you. Can never get enough of your lovely reviews.

      Naina could have reacted in so many different ways when Raj accused her, but since she herself has gone through similar feelings, she understood the symptoms. She was angry but she was not going to feed his self-flagellation. Her instinctive reactions turned out to be right, as Raj immediately understood his folly of judging her as per others' behavior. He had to acknowledge to himself that she was different. And once he was past his own remorse, he became attuned to her fears.

      They are attracted to each other, but do not recognize the pull as yet and are happy being comfortable in the budding friendship.

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    2. Aww thanks very much Love! :-) xo

      You're welcome....u make it easy for to write those reviews cause your work is awesome <3

      Exactly she chose a subtle way to get through to Raj by not enabling him in his self pity that Naina is a spitfire ;-) I just love her she gets to Raj and makes him realize that it isn't good to generalize ppl....Now that hi knows about her fears I can't wait to see what he does.

      hehe true they are not recognizing what's going on between them and are comfortable in the friend zone but I can't wait for them to be conscious about their feelings as they spend more time together [;)]

      Patiently awaiting the next installment :D

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  7. Just like Naina, doing the unexpected. No wonder raj was stunned, especially after his blasting her.
    I love ur idea of Asha dhaam and Asha deep together. Wow! Why can't they implement this in real life?
    Just like Naina to just let go of her anger just like that. So Raj is jealous! I hope he is there to support in her bad times.

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    1. Thanks Bharathi.

      Raj hasn't come across anyone like Naina...period. This girl has an indomitable spirit, which, along with her caring and nonjudgmental nature, makes her a very alluring and beautiful person. No one can be left untouched by her pure effervescence.

      The idea about a complex like Aasha has been with me for some time. It may not be practical from commercial point of view, but if every orphan has someone old to call as a parent and vice versa, when circumstances have left them to live in an institution, then one can feel belonged.

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  8. Awesome update Indu,,,love it
    Raj n Naina are learning more n more things about each other
    Loved the concept of Old age home n Orphange
    Loved Jealous Raj ,,market scene was nice
    Raj was finally able to apolozise her as he realised that he was wrong regarding Naina
    Car scene... lovely
    Thanx for the lovely update n pm dear

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  9. wow loved it..awesome di..waiting for the next sunday

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  10. I admire the way in which you are gradually causing the drum's emotion of one electrical signal to become entangled with the other so that the vibrations eventually match each other in such features as the strength of fluctuations! Awe-inspiring, hair-raising, heart-stirring, magnificent, jaw-dropping, piece of literature based on the blossoming relationship between Raj and Naina!
    Surish

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    1. Aww Surish...Your words are akin to a beautiful bouquet. They make me feel so special. Thank you so much. :)

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  11. Marvellous as usual! I could feel each and every emotion Raj and Naina went through as I read. Thanks for your PM, Looking forward for the next part!

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    1. Thanks Reshma.

      Your words made me feel good. Thanks again. :)

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  12. I enjoyed it so much just loving this story, Raj and Naina growing friendship although they both are taking baby steps they are developing an understanding of each other. Now eagerly waiting to find out about their past and how this will help in developing their future.

    sb1410 [sharlene]

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    1. Thanks a bunch Sharlene.

      Raj and Naina's friendship is a natural progression of how they are exclusively reacting to each other. Let's see how it goes ahead.

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  13. Di, absolutely love your work. Wonderful! Please keep delivering such gems! :)

    inlieu

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    1. Thanks love. It's your appreciation that is more precious than the so-called gems. I get a happy feeling when I find you loving to read what I loved to write.

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  14. Indu - Inspiring and heart touching update - it takes several bad experience to be in the dark but it takes a single beautiful experience to be warm up to light ..........the updates continue to give a good feeling.

    Looking forward to the growing relationship between Raj and Naina..



    ..................................Chitra/chitsri65

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    1. Thanks Chitra.

      Oh what a beautiful thought! And so apt. Indeed Naina is helping to Raj to see the light within him...the light that had got shrouded by dark experiences.

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  15. Awesome update di
    Loved it
    Thanks for pm :)

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  16. di this is a splendid job by u its so amazing the way u r choosing to weave the story as a reader i so much love it as it straightly toches the heart and i find myself reacting to each and every moment u had written here...........this update left me speechless di firstly kudos to u for this story and introducing us to amazing characters of naina and raj
    i m really amazed by the characterization of naina...........always my heart wnt out for her as i felt she is feared of something big which is hiding from everyone hope raj will become her saviour in this journey of life..........

    hmm............raj was not at all wrong he is very much right with his insecurities........hope naina will help him to get out from his insecurities and instincts in the way she did now making him realize that he is no way less than normal.............

    simply amazing di
    rosey

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    1. Thanks Rosey.

      I am so happy that I am able to get across to you the characterizations, even though their pasts are getting revealed slowly. Your understanding encourages me. Thanks.

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  17. oh di you are truly magical
    First of all wow what a thought as Naina ”asha Complex” yes agree the value a child can nourish is only from elderly enlightment.
    Coming to update the journey has been really pleasantly surprising for both
    where raj get to know 2 more facets of lady in pink n her she is just being herself n admire the man who was n is soldier by heart n love the way they both read between the lines n said n understand beyond words
    naina thanking him for something which he may not know but still he got too see the hidden fears of past demons in her eyes and as a brave soldier still he wants her to be secure n be strong from inside.
    Really it’s a smooth ride reading to it n all i find it as overwhelming n relaxing experience.
    Regards.. Riya

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    1. Thanks Ria. The Asha complex has been a thought with me for some time. I am glad I could incorporate it here. Naina is strong but as you will realize in the next chapters that her strength is really her shield covering a vulnerability that's the result of a ugly past.

      Lots of hugs.

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  18. this is so interesting- at first i thought she was forced but now i'm thinking domestic abuse
    love how you build up your characters
    -rutu

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  19. Thanks pal. By the time we come to know about Naina's traumatic past, we become aware of its horrific existence.

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