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He was feeling suffocated. He could barely breathe. Beads of sweat joined to form rivulets along the channels between his cheeks and nostrils to drip down and awaken him. He woke up with a start and realized that the fan was off- must have been a major electrical problem for even the generator not functioning. The mosquito net had fallen on his face to make matters worse. He grabbed a handful of net and forced it off him, only to get further tangled within its folds. After some angry expletives, he managed to free himself from its coils and got off the bed. He walked onto the balcony that skirted most of the mansion and felt the cool air of the night soothe him.
He was missing Vishaka. He certainly had it bad for her. But, what could he do? He knew that to even have such thoughts about his sister-in-law was sinful. It was a dead end. He would be eternally grateful to her for making him wake up from his long hazy existence. His father had backed off from him these past few days as he was cooking up his next plans. Father and son had nothing more to share. The rift that had begun years ago had become beyond bridgeable. They met as strangers across the dinner table, even that, sometimes.
Ratan kaka was kind enough to have set up all his painting stuff in his room. Arjun had finally found his liberation. He painted all day, like a man possessed. He knew that it was only the painting that kept him from going mad and thinking about Vishaka. Had it been just a week since they had left or had it been longer? He was not sure. Time had ceased to exist.
He went hunting for some candles. He reached the dining room and rummaged through the buffet table drawers and found a cache of spiral, red tapers. He hunted near them in the dark room, illuminated dimly by the weak, watery monsoon moon and found a small matchbox.
He took the silver, branched candlestick from the table and returned to his room. He set up the candles near his canvas and started to paint. It was yet another take of Vishaka singing. He was trying to capture her essence on canvas and was finding it hard. How did one paint music? He tried different brush strokes to see if he could get at least an idea of sound vibrations moving across the canvas and lost the battle.
He had started a study of Vishaka when he had promised Deepika about looking out for Vishaka while she supplied him with his art supplies. The first 3 canvases had ended up being different aspects of Vishaka- one with her practicing with her tanpura, another, her smiling over the table and the third one an abstract piece when he had tried to connect the intensity of passion she had for her art form as he did for her and his art. The reds swirled with the yellows and purples as he had explored his moods through colors. The next few weeks had seen him attempt various techniques and improve his skill with both brush and palette knife. He had also discovered his love for oils and how the medium helped him cover up his mistakes.
Tonight's piece that he "saw" before he painted was in the shadows. It was going to be done in dark shades- just like his love for Vishaka would be buried forever in his heart, never to be shared with another soul- not a drop of light to even suggest what could be found in the dark. It was indeed ironic or was it propitious that the light was off and he was doing it in candlelight? Dare he suggest the light of a candle in his painting- maybe the glow of it radiating from outside the canvas to be pulled into the conversation on canvas? That was a new thought worth exploring. Maybe that would help him explore his own wild heart.
Susheel had had a very interesting conversation with his spy in Delhi. Evidently something was cooking at the Prohit House there. Vishaka and Dev had gone out a few days back and had returned after a few hours only to leave immediately to Vrindavan. People at the office were wondering about this sudden interest in Vrindavan but had no answers.
A new rumor had begun to circulate regarding a pregnant lady in residence there and also the visit of Dev's friend from the US who was also his partner in his firm. Susheel did not know what to make of all this. He was itching to go there to see for himself. He hated the fact and resented it further that it was because of his station in life that he was cash strapped and could not simply fly into Delhi and reach Vrindavan within hours. Yet another reason to hate Dev and the position he held.
Time to change all that. May justice prevail. The rightful one will be Raj Prohit.
Vishaka awoke with a start. She had had a dream with Arjun in it. She wondered about him. It had been over a week since her return to Delhi. He would be shocked to hear about her annulment with Dev. Or would he?
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While Vishaka and Ritu became closer as sisters, trading stories from their childhood, Deepika tried valiantly to keep her distance only to succumb to Ritu's natural warmth and become another sister. Dev was pleased with the progress made within the family but knew it would be soon time to pay the piper. He looked on indulgently at the voluble trio and turned back into the study to finish up some work.
Susheel arrived at Vrindavan after a dusty two-day train journey followed by a bumpier road journey from Delhi to Vrindavan. He did wonder if the entire Raj Prohiti was even worth all this trouble. But he persevered. He arrived at the home of his spy, a lowly clerk, who worked in the accounts department of the Widows' Home.
Kishan Lal liked his unobtrusive life that flowed in anonymity. His unassuming, simpleton image helped him enormously while helping himself to some funds now and then. His wife was happy with the little "perks" he brought home and he did not feel that he was a crook as he did not deny the widows their fair share while helping himself line his pocket. It just meant a watery soup with fewer vegetables while he accounted for thicker soups with more vegetables. Praise be to Radhe Krishna that the price of vegetables had shot up even in Vrindavan, as for the price of lentils, they had skyrocketed that if he did show that 60 Kgs were bought and only 50 used, his wife was happy with the 10 that went home with him- and none the wiser for the missing 10 Kgs.
He was surprised to see Susheel at his doorstep. His wife looked at him enquiringly and he did not know what to tell her. He welcomed his unexpected guest and gave him the creaky wooden chair from his grandfather's days while he himself took the reed stool.
Susheel looked at Kishan Lal while lightly inclining his head towards the latter's wife. Kishan said, "Can you please get some refreshments for our guest? You will have some tea right, Susheel ji?"
Susheel nodded and waited while Kishan's wife left the room. "So, tell me, what is going on at the Prohit's?"
"Sir, all I do know is that a girl called Nirmala who used to be a resident at our Widow's Home was engaged to tutor this lady from America in Hindi. It has been over a month now. Since her arrival, except for Dev babu and his grandma no one has visited her. Oh yes, and now there is this white man who came last week. I do not know the gardeners or their families, nor the cook. I could not find out more."
"Well, Kishan Lal, what you have told me is more than I knew. Thank you. Here is a small reward for now." Susheel reluctantly parted with a much-crumpled Rs. 500 note.
Kishan happily accepted it before his wife entered with the teacups. She silently handed them their cups and retreated back into her corner.
Susheel requested to be shown their bathroom for a quick wash and change. He emerged spotless and bid adieu and proceeded to Prohit Bhavan.
"Dev babu, Susheel ji is here," proclaimed the servant before he left to open the front doors to Susheel. Dev got up from his desk and quickly exited the study to meet Susheel Chacha in the hallway. He turned to another servant dusting the furniture to abandon her work and quickly call his grand mother to the living room while issuing commands to ensure that Nirmala and Ritu kept to their room for the rest of the day.
"Dev, you look very well indeed," called out the oily voice of Susheel.
"I am surprised, chachaji. You here, in Vrindavan?"
"It surprises me even more to find you here in the peak of summer. I was hoping to enjoy the fruit trees and get a vacation in our ancestral home."
"Like you said, chachaji, the mangoes, they are irresistible this time of year, aren't they?"
"I hear we have guests, my dear nephew?"
"You heard right. Please do sit down and be comfortable. We have a lot of time to meet all the guests and the rest of the family."
"Family? You mean to say, everybody is here?"
"Yes indeed, Dadima, Mother, Vishaka even Deepika, are here. As is my friend from the US."
"Who is she, this friend of yours?"
Dev looked up startled at his probing uncle and realized that he had a spy. He smiled at him and replied, "Rather, who are THEY, chachaji! Matt and Ritz have been my friend for many years now, since the time I went to study in America."
Dadi entered the room in a flurry and exclaimed, "Susheel, I did not know you were planning to come to Vrindavan. Had I but known, I would have sent the car to the station."
"Bhabhi ji, Namaste. The lure of the mangoes brought me here."
"Very good. I shall send for the cook to cut you some right away. Suno, Ramlal, please ask the cook to cut some mangoes for Susheel ji."
"Please, Bhabhi, there is no need. We can have them after dinner."
"No, no. How is Arjun? Is he here too?"
"Bhabhi, please, it pains me to speak about my son. He is well, I suppose. I have not seen him for a few days now. He is painting like a girl. Ugh. You just spoilt the mangoes for me."
"Come on, Susheel. Arjun is a nice boy. It is time for him to settle down and have a career. If painting it is, so be it."
While the aimless bantering continued in the living room, Ritu was trying to understand why Dev did not want her to come down. She told Nirmala to get her some herbal iced tea and settled into her settee in her cavernous room.
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