Saturday, 26 July 2014

Whispers of Spring.....Chapter 29

Chapter 29

Part A

The opening ceremony of the Palampur Spring Festival turned out to be a stupendous success. The invitees went back home singing paeans about the hospitality, the arrangements, and the novelty of the thought that brought together the community within a circle of festive bonding and cultural amalgamation, even if for a short period. The vibrant colors, the sounds, the smiles, the smells, the music, the chatter, the picturesque landscaping all came together to create a symphony of melodious choral resonance, as if the fair Earth herself spread her arms and rejoiced in the gloriousness of the spirit of love, celebrating the rapture of life. The mayor, Mrs Sneha Gujral, a litterateur by profession, who did the honors of declaring the festival open, summed up the essence of the festival by quoting a couplet by Shelley…

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

The entire conglomeration of guests, dignitaries, and the vast sea of crowd that had gathered on that golden sunny morning broke into loud cheers when Mrs Gujral announced impromptu the engagement of Raj and Naina. Everyone knew Raj and were proud of the soldier prince who came back to them, but it was Naina whose name the crowd chanted, making it clear how deeply she had touched almost everyone’s lives and hearts in the small hill town in her own unassuming giving way.

In the end, they both had to get up and wave to the crowd, and when pressed upon to say a few words, Naina joined her hands and spoke, “Thank you from the bottom of my very being. There are no words to express what this town has given me. They say that no matter how long the winter, the spring is sure to follow. But as far as I am concerned, I left the winter behind the day I stepped on this land holding my beeji’s hand. Thereon, I have only basked in warmth of this town…all because of you all and your unconditioned acceptance. Yet, I confess, I was insecure of this happiness until some weeks back; that’s when Colonel Rajveer Rathore came into my life and I truly started listening to the whispers of spring and believing in its beauty.” She looked at Raj then, and reached down to hold his hand with a smile, “This special man gave me the greatest gift of all…Gift of belief. He made me believe in myself and got me reacquainted with the Naina I thought had got lost somewhere in the vagaries of life. Thank you, Raj.” He looked at her with misty eyes and nodded. Naina looked back at the audience, “Today, when we step onto another phase of our life, we both along with our children need your blessings. This is a new beginning for all of us in many ways. The Palampur Spring Festival is the beginning of many spring festivals to follow. This festival is all about believing…believing that behind the dark clouds of winter lies the rainbow of colors waiting to burst through. This festival is all about celebration of those colors. So, please come forward and celebrate life.”

As everyone rushed to congratulate them, Raj’s eyes sought Naina over the multiple heads. She sensed his eyes and turned to him with a beaming smile….her eyes sparkled and her dimples winked. Raj’s heart tightened in his chest; he loved her so much. She was perfect. She truly owned him, body and soul. Now he only waited for the day when she would become his wife.

Raj and Naina got married two days after the festival ended in beeji’s home, during the auspicious twilight muhurat…a time of the day that was so valued and special to Naina. All the rituals were conducted on beeji’s beautiful lawns among the flowers she had so lovingly grown. As beeji looked at her beautiful daughter—wearing an exquisite, deep red Rajasthani-style lehenga-choli embroidered with gold thread, pearls, and precious stoneswalking towards the flower-decked mandap with her children, she realized that today she was going to give away the most precious, the most exotic, and the most fragrant flower of them all. However, she was at peace. In the past seven years, she had lived an entire lifetime of motherhood. Flicking away an escaped tear, she took a deep breath. This was no time to be sad; this was time to be happy for the daughter who touched her womb as close as her own born would have done. Tomorrow she will go back to being lonely in this big house. But today was all about celebration. Today was all about love, laughter, and happiness.

Adi looked the epitome of a proud, regal prince in his ensemble of golden and maroon sherwani suit with matching turban. A small-sized sword, with a jeweled hilt, which was sheathed within a diamond-encrusted, gold embroidered scabbard hung at his side at the end of a shimmering cross belt….a gift from his Badima. He held his mother’s hand gently, in a gallant manner, just as his papa had taught him; and on the other side, Tanu walked gripping her mother’s hand tightly, smiling softly, and holding up her lehenga with the other hand, just as her mumma had guided her to do. The color and tone of the little princesses’ lehenga-choli matched that of her brother’s.

As if on cue, they both looked toward their father, who stood nearly twenty meters away outside the mandap, flanked by his nanisa and beeji, hands clasped behind his back hiding the deliciously nervous tremor. Kundan stood just behind him along with Harsh and Nandini, Ranima’s son’s children, who had flown down for the all-important day of their Raj bhaiya even though they were in the middle of their final exams. His parents stood a little away, more as an audience than as participants. The rest of the guests included Raj’s close friends, Naina’s school staff, and the Asha complex crowd who had stayed behind for the wedding.

Naina’s breath hitched as she glanced up and saw Raj. He looked dashing and breathtakingly handsome in his ceremonial army uniform, with his princely sword strapped to his side. His expression held pride and love as he watched his family walk to him. His heart thrummed against his chest at the sight of Naina’s ravishing beauty. The heat in his gaze enveloped her in a warm caress of belonging….Of homecoming. Seeing the blatant desire in his eyes for her, a shadow swept across her countenance before she quickly masked it and smiled at him. But the little flicker of fear didn’t escape Raj. He queried her with his eyes. She shook her head marginally and assured him.

Raj stepped forward and held out his hand. Adi stretched his arm and placed his mother’s hand on his. Raj cupped Adi’s face and said, “Thank you, son. Thank you for trusting me with your ma’s hand. I promise I shall always love, honor, and cherish her.” Adi smiled a grown-up smile and walked gingerly upto Tanu, taking her away to stand beside his uncles and aunt.

Raj and Naina took their elder’s blessings before going inside the mandap. As beeji blessed them, Raj took hold of her hand, “Beeji, before I wed your daughter, I want something from you. Will you give me?”
“Anything, Raj. Whatever this old woman has belongs to both of you. What do you want?”
“Your promise. No buts….No ifs.”
Beeji frowned and then smiled, “You have it. Now, say what you want.”
“Beeji, Naina and I want you to come and live with us in the Rawin Mahal.”
“Bu…” She stopped as Raj kept a finger on her mouth.
“You promised.”
“That’s not fair Raj,” her voice quivered with emotion. “How can I stay in my daughter’s marital home? And, what about this house?”
“Beeji, look back to those years when you were an integral part of the mahal. It was you who made that palace into a home. We just want you to return back to your home and continue being part of our family. I need you. Naina needs you. Our children need you. Please beeji.”
Beeji stared at Raj, then at Naina’s glistening, hopeful eyes, and finally nodded, “OK. If you both want this so much.”
Naina was so relieved. She stepped up and hugged her, “Thanks beeji. You gave me the happiest gift of this day by saying Yes.”
“But Naina…this house?”
Raj spoke up, “It’s for you to decide beeji. Personally, I found Naina’s suggestion quite appealing.”
Beeji looked at Naina, who said, “Beeji, we can turn our house into a Holiday Home for the Asha complex inmates. They can come here in batches and enjoy mini-vacations. Your gardens and lawns will be maintained in the manner you want. You will be in-charge of all the decisions regarding the house.”
Beeji didn’t have to give it a second thought. She immediately gave her consent.

After that things were a hazy blur for Naina. She couldn’t hold back a few tears from rolling down when beeji did her kanyadaan. Not a moment passed when she didn’t wish her parents and Milli to be there. Through all the rituals, she only felt Raj’s warm hand holding hers and not letting go. He gave her the strength to go on whenever the past images of a similar ceremony tried to juxtapose in her present. The shadows were out there, lurking, trying to break into the strong cordon of Raj’s love and the promise of a beautiful future. And when in the middle of the pheras, she felt overwhelmed with an unknown fear that left her tremulous, Raj paused, turned around, and hugged her tightly…all the time whispering in her ears, till she stopped trembling and mumbled against his neck, “Thanks love. I needed this. I’ll be fine now. We can carry on.”
He shifted to look into her eyes and whispered, “Trust me?”
“With all of me,” she whispered back.
“I love you.”
“I love you more. Now, are you marrying me or not?”
“Blasting cannons won’t drag me away Mrs Rathore.”
“Not there yet Colonel.” Her lips lifted.
“For me it was the day I laid eyes on you.”
Suddenly they were aware of a collective throat clearing and then the sound of muted laughter around them. Kundan came up and whispered, “Err…bhaiya and bhabhi. Just wanted to know…Are you planning to begin your honeymoon here only?”
“Kundan! Don’t be a smartass.”
“Sorry bhaiya. Just making sure. I am in charge of the kids, you see…need to get them away before…you…umm…you know what I mean?”
Beeji walked up and shooed Kundan away and turned to her daughter, “Naina, are you OK child?”
“I am now beeji. Sorry about this.”
“It’s alright beta. We understand.” She ran a hand over Naina’s head, “Each and every person out there loves you and respects you for who you are. Don’t you ever forget that. Okay?”
Naina nodded with a teary smile. Beeji stepped back, “Now, go…Finish the beginning of your forever. Your knight here has a few surprises planned for you.”

Raj sure had a few surprises packed for Naina. After the wedding ceremony and the small get-together-cum-reception that followed, Raj was going to whisk Naina away for a pre-planned wedding night in the cabin of the mountain estate he had bought for her. Raj’s family, cousins, and Ranisa were to go back to Rawin Mahal for the night. Ranisa was personally taking care of the grihapravesh ceremony of her granddaughter-in-law, which was scheduled for the next day. Beeji would stay behind with Adi, Tanu, and Nancy. Raj and Naina were going to first go back to beeji’s house the next morning, and then proceed to Rawin Mahal after a formal bidaai ceremony.

Naina had no clue about anything. She had asked beeji and Kundan about the wedding-after plans when Raj refused to let her in, but they had also clammed up, having been sworn to secrecy by Raj. He wanted everything to be a surprise for her. There was going to be a wedding reception next day on the mahal lawns, to be attended by each and everyone who touched Raj and Naina’s lives along with all the acquaintances of Ranisa and beeji. A large retinue of guests were due to arrive from Devisar before the grihapravesh ceremony, bearing gifts for the new bride and her family. Raj’s father had graciously given in to all of Raj’s wishes, but he was not ready to compromise on some of the important rituals, which he as the bridegroom’s father was entitled to perform. The day after the reception, Raj was going to take Naina and the kids to Nainital, a three-day trip planned essentially for Naina, so that she could reconnect with her past and weave it into her present…so that she could be one with the animated memories of her childhood and adolescence…so that she felt closer to her parents and Mili in the land of her birth. From there, the four of them were going to fly to Europe for a month-long vacation. Raj wanted to take Naina to all the castles that she wanted to see ever since her childhood.

Part B

“This is a beautiful surprise Raj? I never would have imagined you would bring me here tonight.”

Raj switched off the car and turned to his wife. He ran his knuckles down her face, lowered his head to capture her lips, and then proceeded to kiss her senseless. Shivering with the onslaught of sensations, her arms crawled up to circle his neck, her fingers digging in his hair. Her lips yielded against the pressure of his, permitting his tongue to slide into her mouth, exploring her, devouring her, ravishing her. She kissed him back, her body coming alive even as a whimper of pleasure escaped her throat that almost shut down Raj’s mind, wanting him to make love to her there and then. But then reason sneaked in. Unwillingly, and with an obviously painful reluctance, he drew back.

Tucking away a lock of hair that had come loose, he whispered huskily, “I have been aching to do that the whole day. Every time I looked at you, I wanted everyone to disappear for a while so that I could have you in my arms and kiss you.”
“You got me now darling. I am all yours. So, what next?”
“Now, I get to carry my wife over the threshold of her cabin in her mountain.”
“Sounds like a good plan. What are you waiting for?”

Raj got out of the car and walked to the other side. He opened Naina’s door, bent down, slipped a hand beneath her knees, and picked her up. Naina’s arms went around his neck. He couldn’t help kissing her again, her lips soft and pliant beneath his, “So sweet. Sweeter than honey. I am addicted to your lips, Mrs Rathore.”
She loved to hear him call her that, “You taste good too, Colonel Rathore.”
“Let’s begin our forever.”

They turned to look at the cabin. A row of small fire torches lined the narrow path to it. The cabin itself was awash with the silvery glow of moonlight. They stepped inside to a soft romantic ambiance…created by the warm glow from the fire blazing in the fireplace. A thick rug with cushions scattered randomly on it was spread in front of the fireplace. The only item of furniture in the room was a corner table with a bottle of champagne, chocolates, fruits, and tidbits spread on it. Raj slowly put Naina down, his eyes not once leaving her face, which was sparkling with wonder and rapture.

Naina drank in the simplicity and sensuousness of the décor. At the far end, an open door led to the bedroom. She could make out the outlines of a large bed in the faint, silvery glow of the moonlight coming through the windows. Raj felt her stiffen and coiling inward in his arms. His response to her abrupt shift in mood was instantaneous. He rubbed her arms and the turned her to cradle her face in his hands, “Naina, nothing will happen that you are not ready for. We have a whole lifetime ahead of us sweetheart. We’ll take it as it comes. Okay?” She nodded. He took her hand, “Come, let me show you around. Then, you can change and relax.”

It was a dainty little log cabin. Just the right size for a small family…two bedrooms with attached washrooms, a kitchenette, a store, a shed behind to stock firewood. Naina loved it. Raj told her that Kundan and Nancy had got it done up for tonight. She turned in his arms and narrowed her eyes, scrunching her nose, “Do you think there’s something going on between Kundan and Nancy?”
“They fight a lot…disagreeing on almost everything.” Raj had put Kundan and Nancy in charge of the management of all the wedding-related functions.
“We did too. In the beginning. Gosh, you were such a grouch.”
“And you were such an adorable firecracker…Still are.” And because he couldn’t help himself, he plundered her mouth with his, sucking and nibbling and running his tongue through every crevasse and curve. Finally, he let her up for air. When she looked up at him with luminous eyes glowing with desire, her mouth plump and swollen with his kisses, her beauty shook him to the core. He could spend hours kissing her and still not get enough.

They were standing at the entrance of the bedroom. Raj gave her a nudge toward the closet, “Go. Get freshened up. I’ll see you in a few minutes. We’ll talk. I have a surprise for you.” He kissed her on the forehead and stepped outside, closing the door.

Naina stared at the door for innumerable seconds. She knew exactly what Raj was thinking. If left to him, he would wait an eternity for her…and that would be so utterly unfair to him. She needed to be brave one more time…this time for Raj, for both of them, for their love. Decision made, Naina opened the closet and gasped. One side held nightwear of various designs and colors….lacy negligees, nighties, pajamas, a couple of pristine, floral cotton long nighties…and some of the most exquisite undergarments she had laid eyes on. She fingered through the satiny feel of the clothes. On the hangers hung six sarees, to choose from for the bidaai the next day, as well as a couple of churidaar suits. Naina shook her head. These were too many clothes for just one night. What was Nancy thinking? Maybe she was just following orders. Maybe…no, not maybe, definitely…She was definitely following the instructions from the man on the other side of this door. Raj had to be behind this. It was as if it had become his life’s mission to spoil her. God, she loved him.

Raj poked at the fireplace, put in a couple of logs, and looked over his shoulder at the closed bedroom door for the twentieth time. What was taking her so long? He had taken a shower and changed into a pair of shorts and t-shirt in the guest room. He poked again and wondered which churidaar-suit she would be wearing. He hoped it would be the deep blue one. That color really suited her. He knew she would not put on a nightwear, recalling how she had all but frozen at the wedding and then at the sight of the bedroom. He needed to take this as slow as possible. Time was what she needed…and he understood that. Somehow, he had to learn to practice self-control…to control his body, which heated up and seemed to have a mind of its own at the mere hint of her floral scent. He looked at the door again and then throwing the poker on the hearth strode toward the bedroom. She was definitely in some kind of trouble.
Raj knocked at the door softly, “Naina! Are you okay sweetheart?”
“Do you need anything?”

He was about to knock again when the door opened. The sight of her almost knocked him off his feet. Blood rushed to his groin and his head reeled.

In a sheer pink negligee, which ended above her knees, Naina looked bewitching. He could make out the outline of a pair of lacy underwear through the transparent fabric that accentuated the shape of her curves.
How could one woman be all that? Only his Naina. He realized his mouth had gaped open as he ogled shamelessly. He closed his mouth and looked at her. Naina blinked and bit her lower lip, fixing her gaze on the V of his t-shirt. Red dots accentuated the spreading blush on her cheeks.

Slowly, he brought his hand to her chin, tilted her face back so that she was looking straight at him. Seeing his eyes go dark with desire, a bout of shyness hit Naina and all bravado left her. She closed her eyes in consternation. She felt Raj’s warm breath on her face as he leaned, “Look at me Naina.”
She couldn’t ignore the sensual command in his deep voice and opened her eyes. As their gazes locked, Raj asked, “You sure sweetheart?”
She nodded once, slowly…and then emphatically.
Raj spoke gently, “Naina, don’t think we have to do anything that you feel you have to do because of me…that you don’t yet want.”
Naina was already shaking her head, “I want to Raj. I want you.” She touched his face, her limpid eyes coaxing him to enter her soul, “I want you so much. It’s just that…it…I..”
Raj bent and picked her up tenderly, loving the feel of her soft curves against his hard muscles, and sat her on the edge of the bed. He knelt in front of her and took her hands in his, “You can say anything to me sweetheart. Tell me, what’s going on inside you?”

She was silent for a while, gathering her thoughts, and then spoke softly, “Raj, I am not edgy because I don’t want to make love with you. I know you will not do anything to hurt me…even stop if I ask you to. I am just scared that…” She paused and bit her lower lip.
“Scared of what Naina?”
“Scared that I am so broken that I shall push you away and then…” She looked at him fearfully, “What if I don’t ever satisfy you?”

Raj put a finger on her lips, “Shshh! Firstly, you are not broken. You never were. Those sick bastards were the broken lowlives. You just did your best to stay afloat and survive, and stay whole. Secondly, this is not about me. It’s about us. We’ll find a way…together. Okay?”
She nodded and then smiled, knocking the wind out of her husband. Raj kissed her fingers and asked, “Are you really, really sure about us making love tonight?”
“Yes Raj. I want to cross this bridge with you…tonight. I want this night of loving with you and all the nights that follow till the end of our lives.”
“Oh sweetheart! I love you so much. I am dying to make love to you . We’ll go real slow. Okay? No pressure. I’ll stop the moment I feel you switching off. In fact you take the lead and….” He stopped as she looked at him with a frown. Raj mentally slapped his head. He needed to remember that Naina was as innocent as any virgin on her wedding night in spite of what happened to her. “What I mean is you tell me what pleases you. You tell me what to do next. You…”
She shook her head, “No Raj. I won’t know. You must understand that. I mean, even if I have, I have never…I mean…” She broke off sadly, “I sound like a moron. I am sorry.”
“Don’t. I understand.” At that moment he wanted to pull the Dhariwal men out of the hell, kill them again, and send them back to where they belonged…in the Hell.
Naina tried again, “Raj, I love you. I trust you. You are my strength. That’s why the very idea of failing you kills me. I feel helpless. It’s like being in a black hole with no idea how to break out. You have to guide me…although I do agree to the Go Slow point.”

Raj couldn’t stand her self-recrimination any longer. He parted her legs and slipped closer to her. He caressed her face reverentially, brushing his thumb over her lips. She blinked as the hot, sweet puff of his breath fanned her face before his lips touched hers and moved to whisper, “I promise after tonight you will only remember good times and the past will be erased. I’ll make you feel things that you never would have imagined possible.” With that promise, he parted her mouth, kissing her deeply, their tongues dancing and mating so beautifully that Naina felt all chill leave her. Her entire body heated up with that one kiss….a kiss that was different from any other they had shared thus far. Hunger like nothing began to consume her and a groan escaped as she tightened her grip around his shoulders. The more he kissed her and touched her, the faster the darkness of her soul fled, filling it instead with bright, shiny sparklers, until she felt herself quiver with rapture and wanting more.

Raj shivered with ecstasy as her breasts pressed against his chest. “So beautiful, so sweet, “he murmured against her satin-soft skin as he ran his mouth down her neck, ending with an open-mouthed kiss. Her back arched and an amorous tremor ran through her as he raked across her cleavage with the edges of his teeth and then licked away the sting with a hot sweep of his tongue. His hands roamed her body sensually, freely, slowly, lightly, yet with an intensity that was as profound as the growing connection of their bodies. He took off his t-shirt in one sweep and lifted Naina’s hand to keep on his heart.

Still kissing her, he arose, pulling her with him, and then stumbled. “Damn,” he cursed softly against her neck.
“Raj, what happened?”
“Nothing love. You made me forget something for the first time.”
“That I am a one-legged man. Just turn your back for a few minutes Naina and switch off that lamp. I’ll take this out in a jiffy.”
“Please sweetheart. I don’t want you to see this tonight of all nights.”

In response, Naina shoved him on the bed and knelt before him, “Get one thing into your handsome head my darling. To me, you are the most attractive man in this whole world…and nothing, absolutely nothing, will lessen my belief.” She looked down and ran a hand down from his thigh to the end of the prosthetic toe, “After your beautiful heart, this is my most favorite part of your body.”
“Is that so? Well then, after tonight, I intend to make it your third most favorite part.”
“What do you mean?” She frowned and then blushed to the roots as she understood which part he was referring to, “You are incorrigible. Now stop leering at my breasts and tell me what to do.”

Raj chuckled and then told her how to remove the prosthetic. After it was done, Naina bent and kissed the stub. In a swift move, Raj pulled her up such that she sat straddling him. He kissed her, sucked on her, teased her, and devoured her till she squirmed and moaned, “Raj, please.”
“Tell me sweetheart. What do you want? Tell me.”
“All that you are doing…that, and I don’t know…and more. Oh, Raj!”

Raj took off her negligee and flipped her on the bed. He covered her body with his own, kissing her neck, nuzzling her collarbone, constantly whispering how beautiful his Naina was, how sweet, how special. His hand stroked her waist, caressed her stomach, and moved down to her thighs, even as his lips ventured down to kiss her breasts over her lacy bra. Her scent drugged him.

“Stop. For God’s sake! Please stop.” Suddenly Naina pushed against his chest.

Raj’s head jerked up to find her staring out of the window, her lips clamped against each other, cheeks wet. He immediately turned over on his side and pulled her into his arms. Shivering, she clung to him as he pressed kisses on her head and rubbed her back. “Tell me. Talk to me sweetheart.”
“It’s not you.” She sobbed. “I swear it’s not you.”
“I know darling. I know.”
“I was so afraid of this happening. I knew something had gone permanently wrong with me. Everything was fine and then suddenly I felt suffocated…as if something in me couldn’t separate what happened then and what’s happening now.”
“Naina, one big factor separating the past from now is Me. Right?”
“Of course. I know it’s you. But why didn’t my dim-witted body recognize that?”
Raj gave her a light shake, “Don’t try to insult this beautiful body. I won’t allow it. It’s my most favorite part in the whole world.” She looked at him and gave him a weak grin. She lifted a hand to run down his face, “Sorry Raj.”
“Don’t. Ever. Say. Sorry. For. This. Understood?”
She nodded.
He rocked her against him and said reflectively, “Naina, it’s not your body. Trust me. Our chemistry is sizzling. Your body wants me all right. It’s on fire when I touch you. It’s the same with me. All the responses are natural. Your body responded to me just fine till….” He stopped as understanding dawned. He stared at her, “You were fine till I put you on your back on the bed and got on top of you.”
He shifted her and pulled her to lie on him. She pushed her face into the crook of his neck. He tightened his hold, “The moment I came on top of you, your brain reconnected with the past and went into a defensive mode. And you did what you always wished you could have done all those years ago if you were not drugged…You pushed me.”
“But Raj, I knew it was you. Then why?” She mumbled against his neck.
“Like I said, your defense mechanism went automatically into attacking mode. At that moment, you didn’t see me. You didn’t know me.”
Naina swallowed and whispered, “I really am broken. Aren’t I?”
He gently pulled her back up and looked at her lovingly, “No, you are not. This is the first time you have let a man this close to you after your traumatic experience. That recollection just caused a reflex action. That’s all.” He bent forward to give her a hard kiss, “Naina, I think I know how to get around this.”
She turned away her face, dejected.
He cupped face and turned it back to him, “Be with me my love. Let’s give this a try. Worst that can happen is you will push me again. Then we can think of something else. Okay?”
After a beat, she whispered, “Okay.”
“Right. This time, you stay on top of me and keep your eyes on me…all the time.” He shifted up to a sitting position. With a single tug, he pulled her into a hot kiss. Then, without warning he aligned their bodies and pushed his hardness into her groin. She gasped at the unexpected contact and felt a thrill pass through her, at the same time igniting an unfamiliar ache that only eased when she pressed down her hips. Raj let go and let her take over as, without her realizing, her hips rocked on him and rubbed against him on their own in an age-old action of mating.
And then, suddenly, everything took a turn for the opposite. Now she was the one kissing him, licking him, sucking his chin, his nipples…and back to his lips, biting him, feasting on him. All her frustrated love finally found an outlet.
Raj’s heart soared. His frightened Naina had become a warrior again. She had conquered the last fear that was.
He buried his face into her neck, “Love me Naina. Touch me. Yes, like that. Make love to me.”

“You okay, sweetheart?”
“Mmm! I am in heaven. Don’t disturb me.”
He chuckled and dropped a kiss on her head.
“What just happened?” Sated and feeling thoroughly loved, Naina lay in the cradle of her husband’s arms, running her fingers all over him, feeling an insane urge to touch him all the time.
“Love happened. It made you take that final leap of faith and trust your instincts…it made you listen to your heart first. Rest was easy.” He tilted her face and kissed her softly, “Today, you liberated yourself. Nothing shackles you now, my warrior queen.”
“Not to the past. No. However, I am very much bound to you. You are mine now.”
“As you are mine. By the way…” He turned on his side and flicked her nose, “…I rather liked this bossy side of yours. It’s sexy.”
“I am not bossy.”
“You don’t know what “bossy” is.”
“You think?”
“I’ll show you.”
Her dimples flashed, her eyes twinkled, and a low growl escaped her throat as she pushed Raj on his back, with him laughing loud."God save me! I have created a monster."
It was a long time before the fog of their lovemaking cleared.
He held her.
She held him.
They were well on the way of the happiness that they deserved.
Because they believed.
If one just had faith, fairy tales do come true. In her story, Naina’s prince did come to her to take her to his castle for their happily ever after. She knew that she had found the man who not only saved her from her worst but also loved her at her worst. Now that she had him, she was going to spend the rest of her life loving him and their family.
Naina was finally home.
Grihapravesh = homecoming
Bidaai= send-off
Epilogue follows…………….

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Whispers of Spring.....Chapter 28

Chapter 28

Raj escorted panditji to the car. After thanking him for his time, he had a word with Altaf mian who was to drive panditji back home. He reentered the drawing room where a buzz of discussion was on. His eyes sought Naina and found her feeding Tanu her dinner at the bar placed at far corner. Tanu sat on a high bar stool and was reciting all the poems she knew in her sing-song voice in between mouthfuls, while Adi sat swinging around on the other stool, prompting her. Naina raised a brow at Raj and gestured toward the animated debate going on in the middle between Ranima and Choti ranisa. Raj winked at her and nodded.

He strode toward them decisively as Ranima straightened and looked at him, “There you are, Raj. It’s your call. We seem to have hit a deadlock. I would like to go with panditji’s advice and have the sagai ceremony two weeks from now, coinciding with the closure of the festival. We can have the wedding here in Palampur on 21st November, which is the next auspicious date after the sagai date. But your parents want to have the wedding in Devisar.”
Raj’s father looked at him, “Raj, I would like you to get married in your ancestral home, with all the fanfare that befits the crown prince.”

Raj pulled a chair and sat down between his father and grandmother. He glanced at Naina, his look needing her to join him. She passed the almost-finished plate to Adi, asking him to feed the last bit to his sister. The maid moved closer to the kids, as she went and stood next to Raj.

Everyone waited as Raj laced his fingers through Naina’s and spoke, “I understand your sentiments and respect them. Babasa, I mean no offense when I say that you had your fanfare wedding the first time around. I wasn’t interested in such grandeur then nor am I interested in it now. As far as the crown prince matter is concerned, it’s no use dangling the royalty carrot in front of me. You are much aware of my thoughts on this.” He paused, and Naina squeezed his fingers gently. He looked at Ranima, “Nanisa, Naina and I don’t want a grand wedding. Today, everyone is here. It’s Naina’s wish that I put the ring on her finger in the presence of our family. I would like to do that now. Consider this our engagement. We’ll have the wedding two weeks from now here in Palampur in the presence of our close family and friends. I don’t want to wait a moment more than that to begin our new life with our children. Of course, after the wedding we’ll visit Devisar and take everyone’s blessings there.”

The next half hour was a medley of chaos. Furniture was rearranged. All the staff were asked to leave whatever they were doing and come to the drawing room. The kids shrieked with joy when they realized what was happening, running around wanting to help, and then rushing to the recreation room to fetch Kundan who was engrossed in watching cricket on the giant screen.

In the hullabaloo Ranima pulled Naina to her room. She opened an old chest kept at the corner of the room and took out a square package wrapped in yellow muslin. Inside it was the most exquisitely embroidered saree Naina had ever seen. Ranima cupped Naina’s face and leaned in to kiss her on the forehead, “You are going to be my daughter now…my Raj’s bride. You have no idea how happy you have made me. This is a special occasion. I have been waiting to give you this saree. This was the last gift from my husband. He died two days later. I never got to wear it. Wherever he is, he will be so happy to see you in it.”
“But Ranima, are you sure you…”
“Nanisa. Call me nanisa, Naina. Of course, I am sure. I want you to have it. I know you will take good care of it.”
Naina’s eyes misted over as she hugged the old lady and whispered, “I will always cherish it, nanisa…thank you. I am so honored.”

The rest of the evening turned out to be as special as it was meant to be. Raj waited for Naina at the end of the stairwell as she descended holding Adi’s and Tanu’s hands. He was mesmerized at seeing her in the alluring henna green, dark blue, and gold saree. Kundan came up and nudged him, saying in a low tone, “Close your mouth, bhaiya; you’ll catch a fly.” And then loudly, “Bhabhi, you look gorgeous. Now, how am I going to get a girl good enough to stand next to your sublime beauty?” He grinned.

Naina stopped on the last step and smiled. “Thanks Kundan. I am sure when you find the right girl, everyone else will fade away.”

Kundan gathered the kids and walked toward the center, giving Raj and Naina a moment to themselves. Raj offered his arm to Naina and then bent to speak in her ear, “You simply take my breath away. How am I going to last the next hour without kissing you, and tasting that delectable pulse throbbing at the base of your lovely neck?” His voice was low and sinfully seductive, radiating a heat that caused her to flush. It made her want to melt right there on the carpeted floor.

Naina swayed and then regained her composure. She glanced at the waiting family a little away, who all looked a little confused at their immobility. She smiled at them brightly and ran a hand over her saree, adjusting her pleats, conveying them her nervous need to take a breather. Then, tucking her hand around Raj’s arm, she turned to him slightly so that no one else could see her face. She proceeded to flutter her eyelashes and smiling enticingly before whispering in a husky tone, “Oh Raj! I want that too…so much. Let’s go up. I want your hands and lips on me, all of me…right now.”

Raj stumbled and having gulped a little too quickly started coughing. Naina thumped him on the back lightly and said with overly done sweetness, “What happened Raj? Kundan, could you get a glass of water please?....Hurry…..Thanks…Here Raj, take a sip. You’ll be OK. Poor you. I am sure someone is remembering you.”

Raj stared at her twinkling eyes, dancing with mischief, and muttered for her ears only, “You little minx! I’ll get you for this.”
“Sure Raj. I am all yours.”

Raj couldn’t believe she pulled a stunt like that in front of everyone. But then that was his Naina…always expect the unexpected. Life was sure going to be exciting with her…never a dull moment. He chuckled and shook his head, before straightening. Sliding his arm around her waist, he spread his fingers on her stomach, pulling her to him tightly. Two can play the game. Disregarding her feeble sound of protest, he walked to the center with her glued to his side. The others pretended to overlook the obvious interplay of attraction going on between the two.

Amid loud applause, laughter, and cheers, they exchanged rings. Everything was so sudden and impromptu that Naina had no time to buy a ring for Raj. When the time came, beeji slipped a ring into Naina’s palm. “Beeji, when did you…?”
“It’s your baba’s engagement ring, Naina. I went home and got it.”
“But beeji…”
“No buts, Naina. Raj is like a son to me. Consider this a blessing from your baba and me.”

Naina hugged her….this sweet, generous lady with a heart of gold, who came from nowhere and became her everything, who saved her, loved her, and sheltered her. To Naina, if there was God, it first resided within this beautiful woman and then anywhere else. “I love you, beeji.”

After the ceremony, Kundan insisted on grouping everyone together for family pictures. Naina looked around, seeking Padmavati. Through the evening she had noticed the older woman to be edgy and tense. Naina smiled to herself, knowing what was causing her step-mother-in-law’s nervousness. Her searching eyes found her near the French windows speaking rapidly and furiously on her cell phone.
Naina walked up to her and heard the fag end of her ranting, “I am telling you he has been released. He sent me a text and wants to meet me…No, no….you go there and…”
“Everything OK, Choti Ranisa?”
Padmavati stiffened and then spun around with a false smile, “All fine, Naina. Just minor palace problems. These people…they have to call me for petty issues.”
“Oh! I am sure you will solve any problem that comes your way. Beeji says that when one is looking at the mirror, one is looking at the solution, but one forgets that one is also looking at the problem.” Naina looked at her pointedly.
“What? Umm…yes…I guess so. Your beeji is a wise lady.”
“She sure is. I just came to call you to join us for the family photographs.”
“Of course. You go ahead. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Naina turned and found Raj’s eyes on her, his gaze querying. She nodded.

One Hour Past Midnight………..

They were sitting on the wooden floor of the loft office of the under-construction stables. The burned-out shell was long cleaned out off the piles of ashes and debris. A brand new wooden frame was up. The ground floor had a long corridor with stalls for horses on both sides. On the opposite end of the main entrance was the storage area along with living quarters of the stable hands. The office, built over the main entrance, had a spiral stairwell next to the first stall. Currently, only the skeletal framing was complete, without fittings of windows or doors or fixing of interiors.

At this precise moment Naina’s world was a little off-balanced and askew. Raj’s lips were on a journey of their own. He was holding her tight on his lap and kissing her hungrily…a kiss of possessiveness…a kiss of fire and flame and at the same time seductively sweet. His mouth was warm, soft, and faintly tasted of champagne…lingering effect of a toast between the brothers after everyone had retired for the night. Naina loved this feeling of being in love…this feeling of complete surrender…this feeling that simply a kiss was the most sensual trip to paradise. Just then an owl hooted loudly from a close-by tree. Naina jumped slightly, coming back to reality. Her fingers stopped their wandering through Raj’s hair. She brought a hand on his chest and tried to gently push him away. He groaned in protest and nuzzled her ear lobe.
“What are we doing?”
“Mmm! I am making love to my fiancée. Now, where was I?”
She pushed him properly and got up, walking to the glass-less window, a dull moonlight streaming in through the leaves of the tree outside. “Raj, we are here to see to the end of the attacks on you...and not get sidetracked. Gosh, we are behaving like teenagers.”
“You have bewitched me sweetheart. I just can’t seem to resist touching you and kissing you.” He arose and stood behind her, hugging her from behind, dropping a kiss on her head, “Relax Naina! There’s still time.”
“What time is it?”
“Spring time.”
“What? RAJ!
“Be serious.”
“I am. It’s middle of the night and you smell of fresh flowers. You smell of Spring. You…”
Naina turned and clamped a hand on his mouth, a smile playing on her lips, “You are incorrigible Colonel. What will I do with you?”
“Simple. Love me.”
“I do. Now, the time. Where’s the mobi…”
“Shssh!” Raj brought his mouth close to her ear, “Someone is coming.”
“Where? I can't see anyone.” Naina squinted her eyes and tried to seek human form through the shadows below.
Raj turned her chin slightly, “Two o’ clock. Behind that hedge. Now.”
Naina inhaled sharply, “I can see. A man.” She grasped Raj’s arm and whispered, “It worked, Raj. It worked. My sending him a text through that goon’s mobile did the trick.”
“Yes, my genius warrior, it worked.”
“We can only hope your stepmother too bites the bait.”
“She has, sweetheart. Look.” Someone had stepped out of the back gate of the mahal.

The man reached the stable door first. Raj and Naina saw him enter the stable, light a candle he took out from his pocket, and keep it on the window sill of the second stall facing the mahal.

“Sheesh! It’s a scene straight out of a 1950s’ suspense movie.” Naina rolled her eyes and whispered.
“So, who gave them this godforsaken time and the weird instructions regarding the candle?” Raj teased.
“Thank your stars that I didn’t play the song “Gumnam hai koi…Badnam hai koi.
“You should have. The setting would have been complete then.” Raj chuckled soundlessly.

Before Naina could say anything, Choti Ranisa stepped inside the stable. She saw the man and stopped short, “You? What are you doing here?”

“Err, Namaste Choti Ranisa. I am supposed to meet someone here. But what are you doing here?”

Raj and Naina saw realization dawning on Padmavati. Her expressions turned from confusion to lividity. She strode toward the man wagging her finger, “Jaswant Singh, you fool. Your man played us. I will not spare you this mistake. You picked up this man. You told me that he is a small fry but loyal to you, and knows how to deal with tight situations. You said he didn’t know who I was. All lies. Not only did he get out of jail, he found out my identity and asked me to meet him here. Now if I don’t give in to his demands, he is sure to go to the authorities…or worst, to my husband. Damn! What a mess?”

“My apologies, Choti Ranisa. I just don’t know how they released him. Just yesterday I visited him in the jail, and he said he is likely to get few years for attempted murder. I promised him that once you leave Palampur, I’ll break him out of the prison.”
“Obviously, he had other connections.”
“Please give me another chance Choti Ranisa. I won’t fail you this time. You will get to take your stepson’s dead body to Devisar when you leave. It’s a promise.”

Naina swore under her breath and started for the stairs. Raj pulled her back, “Just a moment more, Naina. She hasn’t yet said anything incriminating.”

They looked down. Padmavati was pacing up and down. She stopped in front of Jaswant, “Listen carefully to what I say. We don’t have much time. Your man should be here any moment now. Whatever he asks of me, I’ll agree to all his demands. You have to finish him as soon as you leave these premises. I’ll take care of Raj. Are you carrying your gun?”
“Give it to me. Raj goes for morning walks outside the mahal. Tomorrow morning, I’ll follow him and shoot him as soon as he takes the turn to the hill. Nobody is around at that time.”
“But Choti Ranisa, the police will come and search the premises. You should not have the gun with you.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll dump it in the Armory. There are so many guns there that by the time they go through all of them, I’ll be long gone.”

Naina could not hold back any longer. She stepped down the stairs, disregarding a soft “Naina wait” from Raj, and strode toward Padmavati, shaking with anger as she stood before her would-be mother-in-law, “My God! I have seen a few evil faces in my lifetime, but you take the honors of being the most diabolical woman I have ever met. How can you be so cold-blooded as to plan the murder of your son?”
 “My husband’s son. Get your facts right. I have only one son. Kundan.” After the initial shock wore over, Padmavati was quick to recover. She pointed the gun at Naina and said, “Raj is nothing but a lame thorn in my Kundan’s way. Just because he was born before my son, Ranaji has willed him the major share of his inheritance. Kundan gets a pittance in comparison.”
Raj stepped forward. When Jaswant tried to stop him, all it took was one punch at the right place from Raj for him to drop to the ground with a thud…out cold. Padmavati swung the gun between Naina and Raj, “Don’t move Raj. I am serious.”
“I know Choti Ranisa. You did your best to get me killed. What confuses me is that why would you go to such extreme lengths. Did you even stop to think once that I left Devisar because I did not want to stay there? Nor did I want any share in the property? I gave away my share to the charity before I came. Remember?”

“Bah! All hogwash. If that were the case, why did Ranaji change his will? You must have repented your decision and influenced your father. Sorry Raj. Nothing you say will convince me of otherwise. Kundan will get his fair share only after you die.” She looked at Naina, “You got yourself involved unnecessarily. Good news is since you two are not yet married, your son is out of the equation, otherewise….Anyways, you know everything. So I’ll have to kill you too.”

“Then, following the logic, you should kill me too.” Kundan stunned all by stepping through the door. “Right mother? After all I too heard everything.”

Padmavati staggered back a couple of steps, completely in shock. “How did you get here? You were supposed to be in bed.”

“For that I should thank Sachin Tendulkar. I had just finished watching late-night viewing of some of his greatest innings and was coming to my room when I saw you slither out. I followed you. Simple. So, you didn’t answer. I am getting killed too, right?” His speech was may have been laced with humor but the eyes staring at his mother reflected deep contempt.

Raj said, “Stay out of this Kundan. Don’t involve yourself. This is too personal for you.”
Kundan looked at his brother, his eyes glistening, “I am already involved bhaiya. Even though by default. If I had not heard and seen with my own eyes, I never would have believed that my own mother…,” he choked and broke off, too overwhelmed with disappointment and disgust.

Padmavati understood that with Kundan in the know-how of her sordid scheme, her game was up, so she tried to salvage the situation, “Kundan, my darling son, no one is getting killed here. I just…I just thought I’ll scare these two a little so that Raj signs over his shares to you and you get what you rightfully deserve. After all you are going to carry forward your ancestors’ legacy in Devisar, not Raj.”
“Really? Wow, ma. Listen to yourself. I must say, when you plan…you plan. But then you missed out on one major point.”
“What’s that?”
“Whether I would want to be a pawn in your grand scheme of things.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that regardless of whether bhaiya returns to Devisar or not, it’s a “No thank you; I am outta here” from my side. Simply put, I have decided that I won’t return to Devisar. I have wasted enough years of my life. I wish I had bhaiya to guide me in my growing years. Anyways, better late than never. I am going to stay here with bhaiya and bhabhi and try to become something in life…maybe join army even.” He stepped forward and took the gun from his mother and gave to Raj. He faced them with folded hands, “I apologize on my mother’s behalf. I had no idea she was causing such devilry and trying to bodily harm you. If you wish to, we can hand her over to the police.”

Raj sighed and pressed his temple with his thumb and index finger, “Let’s not be impetuous Kundan. Her arrest will cause lot of pain to a lot of people…people we love and respect. We don’t want that. Plus the family’s name will be dragged in mud. We have to forget this incident and move on.”
“But Raj,” Naina touched his arm, “if we keep quiet, where’s the guarantee that Choti Ranisa wouldn’t again try to harm you?”
“She won’t Naina. This night’s events have been duly recorded by that camera I had installed when all of us were in the mahal celebrating our engagement. Altaf mian got it done.” The other three looked up where Raj was pointing, to find a CCTV camera turned on them. Raj stared at his stepmother for a beat, shook his head, and turned toward the door, “Kundan, tie up this man with those ropes. I’ll make some calls. He belongs behind bars.”
Kundan nodded,I am onto it. By the way bhaiya, what about the third angle of this triad? The third man? He should be turning up around this time.”
Raj smiled, “There's no third man. Naina sent the texts to their phones from the jailed goon's phone.
Padmavati's eyes widened, “You mean that man is still in jail?
It was Naina who answered, “Yes. It's just his phone that was paroled for a few hours. And before you ask, the police station staff were on this and they were instructed to tell anyone who called up that your goon had been released."
“You conned me?" Padmavati's eyes flashed fire.
Kundan paused in his task of tying a knot on the fallen goon's wrists and looked up, "Seriously ma! You have some nerve asking that of bhabhi." 
Padmavati immediately melted and tried once more. She grabbed Kundan’s arm, “Please listen to me Kundan. I…”

He jerked off his hand from her grip and stood up, “Save it mother. You have a lot to answer for. Throughout my life you kept me away from bhaiya and, later, Tanu, and tried to fill my mind with filth against them. Consider it poetic justice. You tried to take away bhaiya from us, but God took your own son away from you. I won’t have anything to do with you anymore. Go inside. And try to behave during the opening ceremony tomorrow, otherwise I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

A defeated Padmavati turned toward the mahal. Near the gate, Naina halted her, “I want to have a word with you Choti Ranisa.” She crossed her arms and said gravely, “You sent men to attack Raj, and you just now threatened me with my son’s life. Raj is a good man, and he has his reasons to keep this under wraps, and I respect them. However, I have none. Please remember that. If you so much as point a finger at my family, I’ll discredit you so badly that even exile won’t be an option for you.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Absolutely not. I am stating a future fact that you would do very well to avoid for your own good.”

Naina dropped her arms and strode inside without looking back. Padmavati’s mouth felt dry as she stared at the retreating figure, realizing what it felt like to bite the dust…literally.

Sagai = engagement ceremony
To be continued……..

Note: I once again apologize for this delay. 
Friends, I need your vote on another point: Chapter 29 or Epilogue OR Chapter 29 and Epilogue?