Joined: 09 October 2008
Hi everyone! I'm Ranjana, and this is my first FF. Hope you all like it
Background and Chapter 1 - Pg 1
Chap 2 - Pg 1
Chap 3 - Pg 2
Chap 4 - Pg 2
Chap 5 - Pg 3
Chap 6 - Pg 5
Chap 7 - Pg 5
Chap 8 - Pg 6
Chap 9 - Pg 6
Chap 10- Pg 7
Chap 11 - Pg 8
Chap 12 - Pg 8
Chap 13 - Pg 9
Chap 14 - Pg 10
Chap 15 - Pg 12
Chap 16 - Pg 12
Chap 17 - Pg 13
Chap 18 - Pg 14
Chap 19 - Pg 14
Chap 20 - Pg 17
Chap 21 - Pg 19
Chap 22 - Pg 20
Chap 23 - Pg 22
Chap 24 - Pg 23
Chap 25 - Pg 24
Chap 26- Pg 26
Chap 27 - Pg 28
Chap 28 - Pg 31
Chap 29 - Pg 33
Chap 30 - Pg 38
Chap 31 - Pg 43
Chap 32 - Pg 46
Chap 33 - Pg 48
Chap 34 - Pg 54
Chap 35 - Pg 61
Chap 36 - Pg 69
Chap 37 - Pg 74
Joined: 09 October 2008
Nandini, an 18 year old girl, lives with her widowed mother Sarojini, 9 year old brother Prakash and her paternal grandfather Bhoothnath in a small little town I will call Shamli. The family isn't very wealthy, but they have enough to meet their needs and little desires, which are simple and uncomplicated. Her mother is a kindergarten teacher, her brother goes to school and her grandfather is priest at a small temple, which has been owned and presided over by Nandini's family for generations.
Nandini is a very sweet, affectionate, friendly and soft hearted college-going girl. She has many other good qualities, and a couple of 'not so good' qualities too, as we all do. You will know all of them as the story proceeds. Nandini is very beautiful, though she doesn't think so herself, and doesn't attach any importance to it. She has countless friends of all age groups in the little town and in her college. In their defense, I must say it is very difficult not to befriend and like her, as some people are about to discover.
So Nandini is living a very happy, peaceful and simple life with her family and friends.
But this calm is all set to come to an end, and all that is ordinary will turn extraordinary.
Some one is coming to Shamli...
Some one with a past full of secrets and dark shadows...
Some one is arriving...to set in motion a story that was written in the stars long ago...
...and Nandini's life is about to change forever.
Joined: 09 October 2008
November 22 - There was a pooja in Nandini's house today which was very well attended. The last of the guests left just a couple of hours ago and the house is peaceful once again. Nandini, her brother, mother and grandfather have together cleared up all the items of worship, and everyone is very tired after a long and hectic day. Just as they were about to enjoy their hard earned rest, the electricity went. But it is winter, and Shamli has a very cool and pleasant climate all around the year, so heat is not an issue. Right now her grandfather and brother are trying to amuse themselves in the absence of TV, her mother is preparing tea, and Nandini is standing at the window in the drawing room, admiring the beautiful night.
The darkness was only lit by the light of the full moon, and Nandini smiled looking out of the window. It was a beautiful night and there was a very sweet, untraceable fragrance in the air. The electricity had given out as usual, and apart from a few affluent households that could afford generators, the little town was lit only by candles and lamps…
She loved this town and this house. Nandini's grandfather's house wasn't in the heart of the town and here the little houses nearby were submerged in darkness with only a lamp shining here and there like little stars. It was only late evening, but like all other small towns, Shamli's day had come to an end, all had retired to their homes for the night and the streets were empty.
Still dressed in the dark red ghagra choli she had worn for the pooja, she turned away from the window and saw the very round outline of her grandfather walking around the house with a bell in one hand and an incense stick in the other and muttering something under his breath. She was quite sure she knew what he was doing, brandishing the incense stick like a sword and making intricate patterns in the air, and she smiled. Her adorable grandfather was decidedly ghost hunting with all the seriousness of a veteran. But she knew he would love to be asked the complexities of the 'procedure'.
"What are you doing grandpa?" she asked as she walked towards him, trying very hard not to smile.
Grandpa stopped in his tracks and answered very pompously and with a very grave look, "I am ensuring the protection of this house tonight."
"But why grandpa, what's so special about tonight?" she asked, amused and still trying not to smile at the thought of the superstitious tale she was about to hear now.
'You had to ask, didn't you,' her little brother Prakash, who had been playing with his own shadow on the wall, asked gloomily 'Now he'll tell us how all the demons from the underworld are coming up through the drains tonight to destroy the earth.'
Nandini silenced her little brother with a look.
"Be quite boy," her grandpa said, very offended. "I have been a temple priest for 45 years now. We have been priests for generations…I know all there is to know about the other world…You are just 9 years old…what do you know about spirits, and ghosts and demons."
"I know they don't exist," Prakash retorted.
"Hmph!! All this modern knowledge has spoilt your head. What I say is true…this is no ordinary night," her grandfather declared, "This is a very special night, a night that only comes once in many decades, a night when demi gods come down to earth and play their mischief on ordinary mortals. Many things will happen this night, destinies will be met, and so many lives will change forever… Yes…there is some strange magic in the air tonight…" his voice faltered into silence and he seemed to have lost himself in his dire predictions.
Nandini and Prakash, who had years of experience with their grandfather's rock solid belief in sometimes cute, sometimes bizarre, but always funny superstitions, heard this speech in silence. Then Prakash burst out laughing and the smile Nandini had been fighting for so long finally won.
"You scorn my knowledge, do you???…children these days…no respect for their elders. Just you two wait and watch…tomorrow we will hear of all the strange things that happened tonight," her grandpa said indignantly and went off to sulk in a corner.
Nandini's mother came into the room from the kitchen, holding a plate of sweets and four steaming cups of tea. She had been on her feet throughout the day for the pooja and her gentle face looked totally worn out. As usual, with just one look she immediately understood what had happened. "Come on now, you two," she murmured, "You know how happy it makes him when we believe in him. And his stories are always so harmless, can't you just go along with them…" she looked pleadingly at her children. But Nandini, who was already feeling guilty for having smiled, had picked up a sweet from the plate in her mom's hand and was by now walking towards her grandfather, who was sitting like a little child with his arms crossed on his favourite chair.
She knelt down in front of him. "Did my darling grandpa feel hurt," Nandini asked, pulling his plump and wrinkled cheeks. 'Here, this will make you feel better,' she smiled cheekily, holding up a laddoo enticingly in front of his face.
He grabbed at it and his frown decreased a little. Nandini saw that more effort was needed to repair the damage…
"Grandpa, so what must I do to protect myself from the evil forces tonight…I'm sure a great priest like you must have a solution," she said, with as much sincerity as she could manage.
The slight smile became a full blown one and grandpa beamed as he proudly said, "Of course I do, here take this thread and tie it around your wrist. And you'll be protected."
He pulled out a red thread from the stack that he always had ready with him, all of which were supposedly full of sacred power to repel demons, and tied it around her wrist with great ceremony.
"There, now if any evil tries coming near you, it will be blown to bits." he proclaimed proudly. Immediately, another wrist was presented to him by Prakash, who had smartly waited for his sister to find the best way make peace with his grandfather before following suit. Nandini laughed affectionately and got up to her feet, as her delighted grandfather pulled out another 'sacred' thread for her brother.
She heard her mother call out to her and found her standing at the door, looking worried. "I think I haven't taken the lamp out of the temple and placed it in the tree's alcove," her mom said, referring to her daily practice. "Could you go and do it? Take Prakash with you, I don't want you going out in the dark alone."
"Come on ma," she laughed, "the temple is just a few feet from our door. I don't need any security to come with me."
"Are you sure?" her mother asked anxiously.
"Of course I am," she said reassuringly.
"All right then. But I'll be waiting here till you come back," her mother said.
Nandini opened the doors of the temple, stepped in and closed the doors to keep out any strong gust of wind. Her anklets and bangles were abnormally loud in the absolute stillness of the night. She walked to the little lit lamp kept at the foot of the locked door of the inner sanctum, picked it up carefully, sheltering the flame with one hand to protect it from the gentle wind blowing around the place.
She walked back to the door, opened it with her free hand and stepped out into the velvety darkness outside with the holy lamp…and immediately stopped, startled….
A boy was standing a few feet away from the last step, with his palms joined as if in prayer, staring at her. And he looked as shocked as she felt.
They simply stood looking at each other for a few moments, and for that period of time there only seemed to be a young boy and girl and a little lamp that was the only source of light. Then the boy lowered his hands to his sides and seemed to have moved forward a bit and Nandini felt inexplicably that he wanted to say something…when a sudden breeze came, and brought some awareness..
They simultaneously realized that they both were staring at a stranger, and in that same instant, her eyes fell on a small traveling bag near his feet. He followed her eyes to the bag, and he gave a slight start like he had only just remembered something. He picked it up, not looking at her, keeping his eyes fixed on the last step. He lifted the bag on to his shoulder, and then his eyes returned to her face, which was glowing in the light of the little lamp. He took a step backwards, and another, still keeping his eyes on her, then abruptly turned and started to walk away. Just for an instant, she felt that she must ask to him to stop…but thankfully the impulse passed…and sanity returned. He was only a stranger passing by in the dark.
Nandini got down the steps and started to walk slowly towards the tree, still absentmindedly guarding the flame of the lamp, determined not to look in the direction in which the boy had walked away. She placed the lamp carefully in the natural alcove in the tree, locked the outer doors of the temple securely, and started to walk towards the house. But just before she stepped over the threshold, she gave into the urge and looked around, and in that same instant, at a great distance away, the boy turned too. She could only see the white of his face in the dark but she knew it reflected the same shock of seeing their action mirrored by the other. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a bus screeched to a halt in front of him, hiding him from her view, and when it moved on, he was gone too.
Feeling a strange need for some protection, with her eyes still on the spot where the boy had disappeared, she touched her wrist to feel grandpa's thread…only to discover that it was no longer there…
The minute she stepped into the house, her grandfather came scurrying to enquire if she had survived the trip without being attacked by demons. She hid her thread-less hand behind her back and assured him she was fine, but her mother was not so easy to convince. When her grandfather had left Nandini made to follow, but her mother held her back.
"What wrong?" her mother asked.
"Nothing…I'm fine, why do you ask?" Nandini said, trying to sound surprised.
"Something is different about you, did something happen when you were outside?" her mother asked, searching her face for clues.
"Nothing's wrong ma, I'm fine," she lied, "Just really tired and hungry. What's for dinner?"
Nandini knew her mother wasn't convinced, but thankfully she didn't interrogate further. That was something she was always thankful for - her mother would ask a few questions, but if she sensed Nandini didn't really want to share, she would immediately retreat, and would wait for her daughter to come to her…
Nandini was very quiet for the rest of the night, and lay awake in her bed for a long time. She felt as though she weren't completely there, like she had lost some part of herself. Almost as if a tiny bit of herself had been left behind on those temple steps, looking into the night where the stranger had disappeared.
Joined: 14 August 2007
Joined: 15 August 2006
Joined: 09 October 2008
Joined: 09 October 2008
Joined: 09 October 2008
Nandini rushed through the house, locating and picking up Prakash's books. She wasn't the only one – her mother and grandfather too were excavating different parts of the house for the books. Prakash meanwhile was praying that they fail in this mission. He didn't want to go to school, and all other excuses – fever, stomachache, and mysterious pains - had failed. So he had planted his books in different corners of the house. This was his last chance at a day off and he would not give in without a fight.
But all his efforts went to waste as his mother, sister and grandfather emerged victoriously from different corners of the old and huge house with his books in hand. While his grandfather was busy attributing his success in finding the books to the new talisman that he had created, and her mother was packing both their lunches, Nandini was giving him an I-know-you-did-this-to-avoid-school-but-it-didn't-work kind of amused smile.
Mission accomplished, Nandini speedily started getting ready herself for college. She rushed around her room, stuffing her books into her slightly worn bag, while her mother followed her with a plate in hand, feeding her breakfast. Then finally she was ready, and her mother had gotten a very dejected looking Prakash ready too, and the two of them said their goodbyes and set off on Nandini's old cycle.
Prakash's and her mother's school was not very far from their home. But Nandini's college was at quite a distance away. The school was at the end of the little street on which they were traveling. This street led to the main road, and a little way down this main road, she would enter a side road. Then came a long stretch, which was isolated but beautiful, with lush greenery on both sides. And at the end of this stretch was the huge, lush green campus of Nandini's college – Ramchandra College of Science and Arts. This college was a matter of pride for Shamli. It was a very old and reputed institute and attracted students from all corners of the country, who stayed at the hostel in the campus.
"You hid those books yourself, didn't you?" Nandini asked her brother, who was sitting on the metal stand behind her seat, once they were on the little street that led to the main road. Prakash suddenly became engrossed in studying his water bottle and didn't say anything; Nandini chuckled.
She was already getting late for college but their progress was slow. It was just around 8 and many of the neighbours were outside in their little courtyards, watering the plants or hanging clothes or were on their way to work. They all exchanged greetings with Nandini, who unfailingly asked them a word or two about their well being.
She dropped Prakash off at his school and, before he could object to being treated like a baby, she pulled his cheek playfully, and then cycled away, giggling at his angry and insulted expression as he yelled 'Di!'.
She cycled furiously to reach her college on time and made it with just 5 minutes to spare. She parked her cycle, rushed to her class and dropped down in between her two best friends, Nishkala and Vrinda, exhausted. Nandini picked up her water bottle and drained half of it. Her friends waited for her to catch her breath, then pounced.
'Why didn't you come yesterday? You knew it was a very important lecture na...' Nishi scolded.
But luckily at that minute their professor came in, and all conversation came to an end.
An hour later, the lecture was over and their next class was on another floor. The class was emptying slowly. Knowing that her friends would have thought of lots more things to say to 'discipline' her in the past hour, Nandini tried to look as though she were very busy in rearranging her books in her bag. But when she met with absolute silence, she looked up and saw the two of them standing in front of her, arms crossed, waiting for an explanation.
"I know it was important, but four of my tuition children have a very important exam today, so I had to coach them all day yesterday," she said pleadingly.
"You can't play around with your own education for those kids," Vrinda said sternly, while Nishi nodded vigorously in agreement.
"Yes I can …because I have the sweetest and most helpful friends in the whole universe, who won't think twice before sharing their notes with me," Nandini said enthusiastically, before adding "don't I?" and looking at them beseechingly.
She knew they had melted from their softening expressions, and smiled impishly and placed one arm each around their necks and hugged them close.
They sighed jointly, then grinned and hugged her back. It was very difficult to be stern with Nandini for more than a couple of minutes.
"You can stop strangling us now,' Vrinda said dryly, 'We'll give you the notes. But no more holidays for those brats," she added strictly, wagging her finger at Nandini, while Nishi dug out the notes from the bag and gave it to her.
"Of course, no problem," Nandini pledged.
"Nishi, check her fingers," Vrinda said suddenly, "I'm sure they are crossed."
But Nandini had clenched her fists and was holding them behind her back, and her friends tried to pry them out, all three of them giggling. And laughing and joking they made their way into the corridor, all seriousness forgotten.
Nishi and Vrinda were telling Nandini all that had happened the previous day when she had been absent. They would not admit it even to themselves, leave alone Nandini, but their irritation at her taking leave did not have much to do with the important lecture; they had simply found the day horribly dull without her. The three girls were walking along the corridor, oblivious to a pair of eyes fixed on Nandini's beautiful face and smile.
Suvek walked confidently through the hoards of students, apparently not noticing the admiring, worshipful glances and sighs of girls coming his way. He walked past all of them and didn't stop till he was right in front of the three girls.
"Hi Nandini," he said, flashing his trademark grin with dimples that girls swooned over. He turned to her friends and gave them a cursory smile before focusing on Nandini again. "I was looking for you yesterday; you were absent, were you. Our club has decided to accept first year students as members from this year on, and I wanted to ask you if you would like to join us."
"Thanks for asking me, Suvek, but I'm really sorry. I won't be able to participate in the club's activities or meetings…too much college work, and I have some commitments at home too," Nandini answered with a regretful smile. She was inwardly puzzled at the gesture - the club only admitted students who were academically excellent and also very popular. And she didn't believe she was either of these.
"Oh....that's ok then," he said cheerfully. But as he stood to a side and let them pass, his shoulders had hunched down with disappointment. And he didn't take his eyes off the girl in the simple dark blue chudidaar, with waist-long silky and glossy black hair that seemed to be swaying with a life of its own, until she walked into a class and vanished from his view.
Her friends waited till he was out of earshot, and then rounded on her. "Did you actually do that?" Vrinda asked incredulously, and then turned to Nishkala. "Please Nishi, tell me this foolish girl didn't actually turn down the invitation given by the smartest and cutest boy in this universe to join the most exclusive club in the college."
"I'm afraid she did, Vrinda," Nishi said looking at Nandini as though she were crazy, "what's wrong with you girl."
"What did I do wrong?" Nandini asked bewildered. "You know I wasn't lying. I really wouldn't be able to do justice if I joined that club…we have so much course work and I take tuitions once I go home, and I have to help ma too with other responsibilities. And it's not just that…they have meetings so many times a week, that I wont be able to spend time with my best friends too…" she added appealingly.
"Don't worry about us…we both will stand outside the club doors during your meetings. So that way all three of us will still be together. Plleaaasee join the club," Vrinda pleaded.
"And Suvek is the most handsome, intelligent and popular boy in college…you will actually be able to be in the same room as him!!" Nishi wailed, "If he had invited ME, I would have disowned my family and both of you too just so I could become a member." Then, catching the raised eyebrows of both her friends, she grinned sheepishly and said, "Just kidding, of course."
They entered their next class and the three friends sat down in the second-last row, as was their regular practice in lectures. Vrinda and Nishi resumed their lamentations.
"He'll probably never come to talk to us again," Nishi said miserably
It's not just the commitments I have," Nandini confessed uncomfortably, "I know it's a nice club, but the activities that they take up….are just not very…meaningful."
"You're just 18 years old, you have time to do meaningful things later," Vrinda said, exasperated.
"What I cant understand is why on earth did he invite me of all people," Nandini said, frowning, "I am not a class-topper in studies and I'm definitely not popular."
"Not popular??" Nishi repeated, aghast. "Everyone from the cleaner of the toilets to the professors is your friend. And I got the feeling that Suvek likes you…" she added thoughtfully.
"Yes…right" Nandini said wryly, finding even the idea ridiculous. "He likes me…..because all good looking girls in this college have disappeared into thin air."
"It's no use Nishi. She won't believe us; she'll find out herself someday," Vrinda said with a wise look. "He looked so handsome today, didn't he...sigh!"
There was a one hour break between the lectures and the three of them were sitting in the canteen, sipping hot tea.
"I just don't understand how you tolerate those spoilt brats in your tuition every day," Vrinda was saying.
"They aren't unruly…they are misunderstood." Nandini said patiently for what felt like the hundredth time, "It's not their fault their parents don't deny them anything. If you treat them with the right amount of firmness and affection, they are really sweet."
Nishi rolled their eyes and Vrinda looked at her solemnly, "There is no hope for you kiddo."
"Excuse me," a timid voice said, and all three turned to look at a small, frightened looking young girl, who didn't look older than 14.
"Yes," Vrinda asked.
"Could you tell me where the principal's office is?" the girl asked nervously.
"Sure," Nandini smiled, "it's on the second floor, third room to the right."
"Thank you," the girl smiled shyly in return and left.
Vrinda and Nishi started talking about something that had happened that morning, but Nandini was looking at the jittery and unsure way in which the little girl was navigating her way through the canteen crowd.
She stood up, told her friends she would be right back and set off after the girl. Vrinda and Nishi didn't ask her where she was going; they knew exactly why she had left, and only exchanged resigned looks.
Nandini came up behind the girl just outside the canteen and tapped her on the shoulder.
The girl turned around startled, then puzzled. "I'll show you the way," Nandini said.
"Thank you so much," the girl said gratefully, her relief evident.
"I'm Nandini," she said extending her hand.
"My name is Rajeshwari," the girl said, returning the handshake.
"Are you a new student?"
"Oh no, I'm just here for....for…something..." the girl's voice faltered, and her face reddened.
Nandini didn't pursue the topic, feeling that the girl was feeling uneasy with the subject, and started to point out the various classes and departments on the way to the second floor to make her feel comfortable.
Each time they had to pass a gathering of students, Rajeshwari seemed to become nervous, and Nandini sensed that the girl was terrified of crowds. Every second person in the corridor either gave Nandini a cheery greeting or asked her to join them for some time. Nandini answered them all good humoredly, and continued to walk.
'Everyone here knows you, and likes you too,' Rajeshwari said in an almost awed tone....like it was so unusual a thing to be known and liked.
'You are only feeling that because all my friends just happened to be here in this corridor at the same time," Nandini chuckled, "I'm not as known or liked as you think." But she was looking at the timid little creature walking beside her with increasing compassion.
They were just about to climb the stairs, when a whole crowd of students came stampeding down from a just released class. White-faced, Rajeshwari immediately backed away and stood behind Nandini and grabbed her hand tightly in fear. Nandini didn't react but simply returned the grasp and held on to the frightened girl's cold hand till they reached the principal's office.
Once they were outside the door, Nandini turned to her, and said kindly, "This is the office. I'll leave you now….but I'll be in the campus for 2 more hours...if you need help with anything else..."
"Thank you," Rajeshwari said again with touching sincerity, and Nandini impulsively patted her head affectionately, and then walked away to rejoin her friends in the canteen.
When she returned to the canteen, she walked over to the counter to order a fruit juice for herself before walking to the table where her friends were sitting.
Just then, Suvek walked in with a whole group of his friends and admirers. He halted for a minute and looked around the place, searching for someone. Then his eyes fell on Nandini who returning from the canteen counter to her table with a fruit juice in hand.
"Hi Nandini!" he called out.
Nandini looked around, returned the greeting and continued to walk back to her table.
"Did you notice…," Vrinda asked excitedly when she had set down her glass on the table. "You are the only one he wished."
"So?" Nandini asked, confused.
"Don't you see?? That's proof that he likes you," Nishi declared.
Nandini only shook her head in exasperation at the foolishness of her friends and pulled out the notes given by Nishi, thinking it would be better use of her time to go through it.
"Sigh! Isn't it really sad that even though the way he smiled at me today morning was so forced," Vrinda said mournfully, "it was still the most romantic thing that has ever happened to me so far…"
"Treasure the memories of that artificial smile." Nishi replied, just as dejected, "After that rebuff by this dimwit I don't think he's even going to give us fake smiles anymore….sigh!"
Nandini had been going through the notes but a few words from their conversation floated into her consciousness. Her eyes remained on the page, but her mind wandered away, back in time. 'The most romantic thing that ever happened to me'....and she thought of a fragrant, moonlit night two months ago, a little lamp and a boy. A boy with brilliant black eyes, which had seemed to drill into her own, almost transfixing her to the spot...
She had never spoken about that night to anyone, not even to her best friends, who had been part of her life since nursery and were privy to almost every little thing that had happened in her life since. For reasons she didn't understand herself, her heart had illogically attached some kind of sanctity to what happened that night, and to share it seemed like blasphemy.
Sometimes, in one of her imaginative moods, she even wondered if the boy had really been there, if grandpa's stories of demi gods who came down to earth were true. In the combined light of the moon and the lamp, he had looked striking enough to be one. But even in her grandpa's over-active imagination, demi gods were not likely to be innovative or modern enough to come to the earth dressed in a black shirt and jeans…she stifled a laugh at the thought.
"No. The boy had simply been a traveller," she told herself with finality, "A traveller who was not going to come by again."
For some reason, the thought was unbearable….
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