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The Big Shift (rewritten prologue+chap I pg 3) (Page 3)

Pooj@ IF-Dazzler
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Posted: 21 March 2010 at 1:10pm | IP Logged

The Big Shift

 

Prologue

 

Long shafts of the afternoon sun illuminated the vast room. The French windows were thrown open to entice an elusive breeze. A stale wind blew in, fluttering the light curtains, providing little respite from the midday heat.  

 

Mitali looked away, staring hard at the pastel patterned curtains as they swayed with the wind, dancing on its whim. Powerless entities doing the bidding of the strong current had little choice in the matter. The small decorative motifs on the curtains contrasted with dark woody theme of the room. The curtains provided a simple womanly touch to the male influenced room of mahogany dashes and teak furnishings. They had been selected by her mother. Two renovations, three refurbishing and ten years later, they were still there, the same pattern, the same pastel hue.

 

There was an abominable lull in the atmosphere. The echoes of the earlier bitter words still reverberated in the air…The heavy breathing of the girl seemed amplified in large cavernous room, the only sound breaking the congealed silence, except for the dry rustle of papers on the mahogany desk, as the man turned them.

 

There was a minute of silence, as he allowed Mitali to digest his decision. He looked up at her. His steel gray eyes were determined to have things his own way, for once, to mete out a seemingly harsh treatment.

 

"Dad. It's Paris or nothing." She put her hands on the edge of the desk and leaned forward, trying to reason with him. Fully aware that it was a futile attempt, she tried nevertheless. Some firm, egoistic part of her did not believe in giving up. The sound echoed in the confines of the room, and he was unable to detect the slight waver in her voice.

 

"Your words Mitali, are far from the conventional definition of respectful… Of all the things I have taught you, I should have remembered to have educated you in behaviour. Yesterday night, your behaviour was shameful and bordered on downright obscene. You are not going to Paris."

 

"But why? Everyone does it."

 

Amicability had not worked, nor had fury…she now resorted to imploring him.

 

"You know the reason perfectly. I do not appreciate my daughter drinking and throwing up on the hall rug. I have made my decision. You are not going to Paris."

 

She turned her gaze towards her feet, away from her father's perceptive gaze. Digging in the thick soft beige carpet, she debated her chances. She tugged at the carpet, holding the thick material between the toes, pondering.

 

As a desperate measure she pulled out her last card.

 

"Mom would have allowed me to go."

 

"Don't drag her into this."

 

The man's voice became strained, and Mitali knew she had touched a soft spot.

 

He took a deep guttural breath. Then he said with a deliberate calm, "It's time you became aware of yourself and your responsibilities, and your duty to the people around you."

 

Seething with fury and eager to retaliate, she scoffed at his words. "Oh really? And what is your plan?"

 

He exhaled. He removed his spectacles and rubbed his eyes before putting them back on.

 

"It's decided. You are going as a volunteer in the medical camp at Jasaar….."

 

"What? I am not!" she managed to stammer.

 

"Yes, my daughter, you are." He replied gravely.

 

She knew exactly what Jasaar was…..

 

Being familiar with Devashri, she knew what Jasaar stood for…It represented the Indian rural area, absence of electricity, no cell phone coverage and no other means of communication.

 

In other words, one week isolation from India, in the depths of Bharat…

 

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Pooj@ IF-Dazzler
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Posted: 21 March 2010 at 1:11pm | IP Logged

Chapter One

 

The Journey

 

Day 1

 

A cloud of dust hung low over the horizon, and the rickety jeep spewed black smoke as it bounced over the potholed roads. The sun shone in from the windows, heating up the confines of the vehicle. The space had become a sweltering furnace in the mere span of an hour. The gray tar burnt under the wrath of the sun.

 

"Honestly, isn't there an AC?" she asked for the fourth time.

 

This time no one bothered to reply.

 

Only the driver shook his head resignedly at the complaints of the girl.

 

"No. There is no AC."

 

Mitali looked out through the dirty stained glass window of the jeep… She undid the laces of her sneakers, and throwing them away, she stretched her legs, resting them on the opposite seat. The blue checkered cloth covering the seat was clean…. Most of the floor was occupied by several large boxes. This left the two passengers sitting at the back, to either fold their legs or keep them on the opposite seat. Her long legs refused to fit in the cramped space. She put them on the head rest, without pausing for reconsideration, as she drifted off in her own world.

 

A light scuffle roused her from her reverie. The girl sitting on the opposite seat seemed uncomfortable with Mitali's feet.

 

"Sorry…" Mitali muttered and retraced them. Having nothing better to do, she turned her gaze outside once again.

 

The brown dry monotony of the surroundings was occasionally relieved by a spurt of green…..The day was dry and no generous black cloud was to be seen in the azure sky…The gust of the wind brought solely due to the speed seemed welcome. She could see wind blowing the leaves of trees occasionally, apart from that; the entire landscape was still, like the painted canvas of some artist. The sparse green vegetation made Mitali wonder if he had added the strokes of green as an afterthought. Or may be he had painted the rest of the scene brown, so that one may appreciate the scanty greenery, before it came in its full glory to cover all the hills and valleys.

 

She looked at the road they had covered. It stretched like a long grey snake behind the vehicle… The sun worked its magic with the air, and she could see the trees, and the clear sky reflected on the tar. The mirage reappeared, changing places as her perspective changed, and even though it was an illusion, a sly trick pulled by the nature to baffle the unsuspecting travelers, it stayed on as a constant in the journey. They went on, up various hills, and down steep slopes, potholed patches…it tailed them.  

 

Discomfort, anger and the mirage were the constants in her journey till now.

 

The jeep passed over a pothole, and everyone jumped about a foot in the air….Mitali swore under her breath violently.

 

In the past sixteen years of her pampered life, she had never even set foot in a 15 foot radius of such an ancient rickety vehicle…The jeep seemed to have jumped from the 1970s to the present decade, and even though, being a marvel of that era, and a useless scrap of today's, it had outlived an entire generation of automobiles. And it was a wonder it still worked, all with its smoky procession and rusty tarnished glory.

 

Her idea of a vacation involved mornings strolling by the Seine, enjoying the cool wind blowing over the water. The afternoons spent in the company of friends in cafes over coffees, French cuisine and meaningless chatter. And evenings of meandering in the cobbled alleys, shopping of clothes, useless trinkets and in the exploration of the City of Love. Late night partying. Paris. Ten days of heaven. Ten days of pure bliss, ten days of living life to the fullest.

 

But now, she was being forcibly sent to an obscure village in the interiors of Maharashtra to volunteer in a medical camp, work for thousands of nameless, faceless strangers…All due to the insistence of her father…Ten days of torture…Ten days of pure misery, ten days of her youthful life down the drain.

 

His mere memory blazed up the resentment in her. It was hard not having a parent and hating the one who was still there.

 

She could see her face reflected in the window opposite to her. The silhouette of her sharp features merged with the passing landscape…The fair complexion was replaced by the fleeting greens and browns on the canvas of the dirty glass. The prominent lines defining her finer features were the only thing that prevented the whole image from appearing as one, from blurring her up. Her nose was flared - a sure sign she was upset. She looked at her disheveled appearance. Stray tendrils of her ebony hair had escaped from the catch and they stood up behind her head due to the wind, like the aura of some mythical figurine, as in the ancient carved temples. She looked like one of those pirouetting heavenly dancers too. Big, almond shaped eyes of the purest brown colour, the only feature inherited from her mother. Her long stately nose, the firm jaw line and fierce determination coupled with a volatile temperament was from her father.

 

She gave an incontent sigh, as the events of the past few days replayed over and over in her mind. Deep down somewhere, she knew that he was right, but it did not mean that she was ready to accept her mistake with grace. It merely meant that she was willing to go on this 'excursion', as she reminded herself, with the minimal amount of complain possible. Even though her punishment had been largely due to her own actions, still, it was easing blaming him for the sunsets in Paris that she would now miss.

 

The sun was at the top of the sky and its ruthless rays heated up the jeep. A brief breeze of cool wind seemed fictitious and in the absence of the range of a cell phone, the only thing she could do was to wait for the one absolutely tiresome week to end…She plugged in her earphones and scrolled the list of songs on her ipod, to avoid conversation.

 

A fly came too close to her ear and she swatted it away, hoping to swat away her own problems with the same ease. The fly buzzed down to the front side of the vehicle, and Mitali's thoughts turned towards her co passengers. Apart from herself, four passengers were in the jeep, all sitting silently, all consumed by their own thoughts, feelings and emotions, preventing conversation.

 

Her eyes turned to the woman sitting in the middle seat….Devashri Joshi was a well known social worker, who had struggled against the vice grip of liquor in the state….She  was neither beautiful nor attractive. Her best description was passably good looking. Clad in a simple nondescript sari, she seemed to be just another housewife, but there was something about her eyes, which set her apart from the rest. Her dark smoldering eyes were eloquent, speaking of the hardships of the rural community and their everyday battles….Her skin was tanned – years of hardships and long company of the natural elements and weighty decisions had weathered her early. Her weather beaten face was prematurely lined. She did not speak a lot. Her words were few, but the people around her soaked them up faster than the dry parched soil soaked up the first rain….

 

Even though Mitali respected the woman, and her raw power, she viewed her as a dangerous adversary. Devashri was a close friend of her father, and Mitali knew, her every movement was going to be reported back. She felt like a mistaken juvenile delinquent banished from his home, abandoned by his family, cast away by his friends…like the protagonist of some epic novel. But unlike the untainted character of such a heroic figure, she also knew that her character had some dirt on it…and that this trip to the village was supposed to act like the Ganges for her. To cleanse her soul. She managed to suppress a laugh at her overactive imagination… 

 

As Mitali's eyes turned to the woman sitting beside Devashri, her lips curled up in a lazy smile…

 

Jeevana Mukharjee was one big phony, and everyone knew it….Her endless efforts to project herself as a hardworking, dedicated social worker in the NGO went unnoticed and disregarded…..But being wife of a rich business tycoon, seeing hopping in and out of NGOs was more beneficial to her than to be seen flitting in and out through malls and pubs…So Jeevana Mukharjee had stuck to the NGO 'Sahayaa'. She was an interesting specimen of the female gender, noted Mitali. As the woman slumbered, Mitali could observe her shamelessly. Her expensive designer sari, the small dainty handbag, those heels in the face of her supposed social work, and the work which lay in front of them, spoke of an unauthentic person, or a merely stupid one. Mitali could not decide which the case was.

 

She took a long sip from her bottle.

 

Even though she was a stranger to these parts, Mitali had enough sense to pick out jeans, some tops and comfortable sneakers. Rather, she had someone, who had helped her with her wardrobe. Mitali chuckled as she remembered the scene in her bedroom.

 

Livid with anger and disappointed, she had flung a suitcase on her bed, and started piling every garment she could find haphazardly. Every pair of jeans she ever owned, all types of t-shirts and formal shirt, anything, everything went into the pile. Prakriti threw each one out. The fruitless actions continued till Mitali finally gave up, and sat down, dejected. The entire floor was now covered with every kind of apparel imaginable.

 

"Do you think your parents will take me in?" she asked Prakriti looking up at the ceiling. It was painted with a lazy yellow.

 

"No. Because I will turn you out, Mitali."

 

"So much for friendship. Should I run away?" she asked, throwing herself wearily on the beanbag.

 

"No." Prakriti said simply. Then she added cautiously, "You know it was your fault. You did behave irresponsibly."

 

Mitali pulled a pillow on her head. "I know that, okay? Don't rub it in. I know I drank, I know I came home drunk, and I know I puked on the hall rug, that too in front of my father."

 

"I should have stopped you forcibly Mitali. It is one thing hanging out with friends and another getting drunk with them, especially if you are underage."

 

"I know that I am underage."

 

"I was not only talking about physically underage. I was actually referring to mental immaturity."

 

Mitali rolled her eyes under the cover of the pillow.

 

"Did I tell you that you were also singing?"

 

She removed the pillow unbelievingly. "I was?"

 

"Yes. Ba ba black sheep. Have you any wool?"

 

"No..please stop!"

 

"Yes sir yes sir three bags full…." Prakriti started laughing, unable to hold it back any longer. "Yesterday, I found it stupid. Today I find it funny."

 

Mitali pulled the pillow once again and moaned. "No wonder he is sending me away."

 

"He is not, sending you away…Think of it as...he is educating you."

 

"That is just a nice way of saying that he is sending me away." Mitali retorted.

 

Prakriti did not reply, but started separating her clothes.

 

Prakriti was her only friend who had not accompanied their group to Paris. She came from a simple, well off family, unlike the other loaded ones, like Mitali, who could afford a trip to Paris whenever they felt like it.

 

Also, she was the only friend whom, according to Mitali's father, had a sane head on her shoulders. Prakriti was practical, genuine and determined to make her own way in the world. She was the unofficial black sheep of their friends' circle, and she was fully aware of it. She prided herself on being branded one.

 

"I wouldn't be with these plastic barbies if you were not my friend." She had once told Mitali. From that moment on, they had been inseparable.

 

"What you need is this…" Prakriti said, filling a large trekking sack with the most comfortable jeans and t-shirts. Mitali gave up arguing, and lay on the beanbag drained out of energy.

 

"It was my fault I guess….I should not have touched alcohol, especially downing so much for the first time…When friends goad you on, it is simply irresistible…" she thought to herself.

 

A slight movement distracted her from her contemplation. She returned back from the recesses of her mind to the present.

 

The third person was the young girl sitting opposite to her…The one who had mutely objected to Mitali's soles grazing her hair. The one who had been sitting mutely for the past hour. Mitali removed her earphones; the beats had started spinning her head.

 

Even though she was pretending otherwise, Mitali was fully aware that the girl had been staring at her for the past ten minutes…

 

Exasperated, she turned her head fully towards the girl…..Blushing, the girl looked away.

 

"Sujala, can you please pass me the water bottle?"

 

The girl hastily passed a water bottle to Devashri, adoration flowing from her eyes. Mitali stifled a laugh; sure that in her mind, the girl had put up Devashri on a pedestal…probably even did aarti and offered prayers every morning… 'Jai Maa Devashri!' she whispered, before bursting into a fit of giggles. She stuffed her knuckeles into her mouth in an attempt to stop giggling.

 

Mitali was now observing her, amused at the thrill of the girl due to small exchange.

 

Sujala was clad in a slightly old salwaar kameez, her hair tied in a small braid and a bindi on her forehead. The overall effect was surprisingly pleasing. Sujala was beautiful in a different, distinctive Indian way. She was glancing through a file, sneaking peeks over the edge.

 

Sujala noticed Mitai looking at her, and she smiled shyly….

 

Weary, Mitali started the conversation with a forced smile. "Hi, I am Mitali….."

 

"Sujala." She replied in a low musical voice.

 

"Well….How old are you?" Mitali enquired, casting around for a topic, she could converse on with the girl. They lived in different worlds, and both were unfamiliar with the events in each other's. She did not want to be rude to the girl. After all, it was not her fault that Miltali had been packed off to some obscure village.

 

"17……and you?"

 

"Sixteen running….What do you do? Are you a student?"

 

"Yes…I took a nursing course after my 10th boards…..I still have one more year to go…"

 

"Cool….." Mitali replied drumming her fingers on the seat.

 

There was silence for a minute, but Sujala turned out to be an ardent conversationalist, and even though Mitali would never admit it aloud or even to herself, it was interesting and intriguing to talk to her. As the air between them began to thaw, shy Sujala changed into a talkative animated one. Mitali could scarcely recognize that it was the same girl who had sat mute for the past hour. Her constant talking made up for the lost time. Mitali punctuated her animated chatter at the right times with the right exclamations. This allowed her to wilt away in self misery, and not seem rude at the same time. She had not uttered anything beside 'Oh!', 'Ah!' and other such mono-syllabic exclamations save 'Really?' which was the longest word she had spoken in the past half an hour.

 

Born in Jasara, the village where they were currently heading, Sujala was the third daughter of four children. Her eldest sister passed away in an accident, which had devastated the whole family. "It nearly broke the heart of my parents."- according to Sujala. The other sister was now married with a child, a small boy of three, who invented new and innovative mischief every week, much to the ire of the neighborhood, earning him the name of 'Kanha'. "He is just like Krishna. Small, round, and loves butter! He pulls my braids every single time." Sujala reminisced delightedly. She had a smaller brother, but she mercifully did not talk about him much, sparing Sujala the details of his antics in primary school or his new found hobbies.

 

 Devashri had taken her under her wing, and she had led her life in Pune, studying hard through high school for scholarships, eager to stand on her feet to support the family. With the erratic rains and the rising prices, life was a bit difficult in this part of the world.

 

"But it's going to be okay, now that I got the Madhumita Desai Scholarship for my nursing course. From your father's company." She said happily.

 

"What? My father's company offers a scholarship?" Mitali asked incredulously.

Privately, she thought that Sujala must have misunderstood. An IT firm and an educational scholarship, that too for a nursing course seemed a little improbable. But the name… 'Madhumita Desai' was definitely her mother's name.

 

Sujala stared back at her, wondering at Mitali's ignorance towards her father's business and charity matters. Devashri managed to prevent a smile from appearing on her face… Atul Desai's idea was working perfectly.

 

Sujala opened her mouth to counter Mitali, but then decided against it. She blushed suddenly, conscious of her excessive talking, sure that she had made a fool of herself in front of the girl.

 

Mitali noticed the rapid colour change on Sujala's face, and smiled at her wanly.

 

"Does it offer a scholarship? I never knew!" Jeevana had woken up from her slumber.

 

Sujala threw Mitali an amused glance. Mitali got the drift.

 

"Me too! It's really great." Mitali said in a falsetto. She was already at her breaking point due to the torrid atmosphere. That coupled with Sujala's chatter had given rise to a mind numbing headache. She longed to get out of the jeep, away from the people. She longed to slip under the covers of her own bed, putting away the past few days behind her.

 

Jeevna picked up the end of her designer sari and started fanning herself with it. "It's so hot. Why don't we put up an AC in here? Actually we should buy a new car, you know, Devashri. These long journeys in these cramped spaces…really disturbing for my chi."

 

"I understand completely Jeevana." Devashri said, barely paying attention to the woman, who launched into a tirade of her recent ailments and misfortunes.

 

"Hm-hm."  Was all that Devashri said.

 

"This old car completely rattles up my bones, you know..." Jeevana prattled on, unaware that no one had any interest in the affairs of her bones, or the misery exuded on them due to the dangerous potholes and rickety vehicles, which seemed to have been lifted straight out of the scrap market.

 

The only reply again was "Hm-hm." But Jeevana was neither in the need of a reply nor expecting one. Maybe she just liked the sound of her own voice.

 

"This old jeep completely rattles up my bones, I can almost feel them moving from their places...." she repeated.

 

"Oh my god, aunty, you know, that may be a sign of osteoporosis." Came a voice from the front. That was the first time the singular male passenger for the exception of the driver, in the whole female company, had made his presence known.

 

Jeevana's eyes went round, almost as big as dinner plates, as she took in the new information. "Really Piyush? I must check with the doctor…Oh my god, if I have osteoporosis, who will look after all this?" the woman talked on.

 

Piyush winked at Sujala, who smiled back at him.

 

Mitali whispered a full sentence after a full hour, "Who is that?" Her voice was low and raspy.

 

"Piyush. He too is a volunteer." Sujala replied, not bothering to lower her voice. Jeevana's energetic rant was enough background music to cover up their conversation.

 

"Is he mad? Egging her on like that? It was okay till she was just complaining…now it has evolved into a full blown drama and histrionics!" she muttered to herself crossly. Sujala's long winded talks were interesting, but they clashed with her inner resentment and the anger for being bundled up and sent to some strange part in the country..to some village, whose name could not be even found on the map. She had tried that…finding Jaasar on GMaps…zip..nada..nothing..no results had shown up…She had tried again through another search engine. Again there was nothing. "Great, now my father is plotting to throw me out of the map of the Earth" she had thought angrily.

 

Partly from the non-stop tirade and partly from the pot holed road, Mitali's headache worsened. She massaged her temples. Sujala was now quiet.

 

"Sujala did you talk with the Medical Representative of Heathline yesterday?" Devashri interrupted Jeevana.

 

Piyush started chatting with the driver, who too was bored from the long drive.

 

"I did. She said that they would be here on Thursday. I also talked with Gandhi General Hospital and Sanjeevani. They too confirmed their presence."

 

She too out a file from her side bag.

 

"That gives us six physicians, total."

 

Devashri nodded and noted the number in her handbook.

 

"Oh, I almost forgot. Do you remember that Heathline sent a notification to their medical supplies dealers? They said they would be interested in offering us a concession. The word came in yesterday evening."

 

Devashri wrote the necessary phone numbers in her pocketbook. "Thank you. I will have to confirm with them again. We need to make arrangements; you know…Okay, let's get back to the doctors."

 

"Okay, six physicians, five ophthalmologists and-"

 

The debate and the calculations continued, but Mitali was no longer interested. She had used up her quota of interest-in-unnecessary-matters for today. The mathematics digressed for a while into the number of doctors, amount of rice and finger millet and the market prices compared to the prices that were offered in the area. Then it deviated back to the original subject, and after some time to accommodation of the doctors and the medical representatives.

 

That topic too ran dry after some time, and only silence reigned like before. But instead of the four different orbs like before, Mitali thought, that their own worlds of thoughts   were now connected with something. Linked by something common to all of them.

 

Call it the silvery strand of a team working together towards a goal or just compromise of being with each other, there was something, some little thing that bound them together.

 

"Or it may be all the two feet high bounces we suffered together in here…" Mitali thought as they were again cast into the air for a foot or so.

 

The air was as stale as the conversation, which sprung in short breaks. Mitali gave a massive yawn as she fought the weariness and the strain of the journey, which was now consuming her consciousness. Determined not to nod off, she kept staring at the fleeting landscape outside. After half an hour of a lull in the conversation, the vehicle chugged and slowed down to a halt.

 

Sujala looked out of the window, a joyful smile illuminating her face.

 

"Oh good. We are here. That's our house." she said proudly.

 

Mitali examined the object of Sujala's delight and pride, trying to keep out her initial prejudice and criticism…A difficult feat for her opinionated personality.

 

The house was a moderate one, unpainted and untiled, giving a general appearance of dishevelment. Stray hens were pecking in the courtyard and loud moos could be heard from the back. The courtyard was lined with thorned babul trees, to keep the stray grazing cattle out. Small plants lined the edges of the courtyard. A wall was plastered with cow dung cakes and the dark mud floor too seemed to have been coated with it. Steps lead to the outer verandah, which had a large wooden swing. A wooden door opened into the house.

 

A woman stood near the vrindavan of holy basil, looking at the approaching jeep with undisguised eagerness….

 

As the jeep finally stopped, Sujala bounded out, to greet the woman…

 

"Aai!" she gave a cry of delight as the mother and daughter hugged. Others alighted a moment later. Mitali stepped out, carrying the giant sack on her back and started stretching her legs. Small children from the village gathered around them, interested in the new comers.

 

 "Namaste Sumitrabai!" Devashri said, folding her hands in a namaste. The woman greeted her back. She retraced her steps to the jeep, and taking her light, khadi bag from the jeep she sat in the porch of the house tiredly. A small boy of around fourteen came with glasses of water. It was, presumably Saransh, the youngest brother in the family. Sujala ruffled his hair, and relieved him of the tray, and started offering the water to the weary guests.

 

The boy sat beside Piyush and they immediately fell into conversation, which made no sense at all to Mitali.

 

Piyush too got up after a moment, and accompanied by the boy, walked into the house with an air of familiarity. He had obviously been here before. He disappeared in the house through the large wooden doors.

 

Mitali sat on the steps, the large sack thrown to one side, examining the village, which was visible over the fence. It was an overgrown settlement. The road went into the village, where it was connected by different lanes, and then disappeared round a bend up the hill at the end. The houses too were like Sujala's, small, of stone or bricks. The only notable house was the one, which stood at the foot of the hill. It had to be the only two storey house in the entire village. It was painted in a peach and cream.

 

Mitali got up, and started walking around in the courtyard, to put life back into her numb limbs, the credit of the cramped space in the jeep.

 

She paused for a moment beside the vrindavan. It was painted with the naturally occurring red, and then streaked with white. There were short Sanskrit lines written on the red colour. She studied them carefully. Each of them meant the same thing.... 'Let this god be happy.' The name of the deity changed every time.

 

The basil, itself was full of life, having the typical vivid blue-green hue. She touched the leaves tenderly.

 

"Tea?"

 

Startled by the sudden sound, she whirled around. Sujala was standing a few feet away, holding a tray containing a sole steel glass.

 

"Isn't there any coffee?"

 

"No… Would you prefer milk?"" Sujala replied slowly.

 

"No. Thanks anyway…But I don't drink tea…"

 

 "No problem." Sujala said, turning away.

 

"But there is no harm in trying is there?" Mitali added hastily.

 

She reached out for the cup, eager for the hot beverage. There is nothing like good tea at the end of the day, to ease away the weariness of a long journey, especially if coffee is unavailable.

 

"You will develop a taste for it." Quipped a voice. Piyush was standing a few feet away holding a cup. He raised his cup, as a toast and then stood watching her. She made a face at his sardonic smile. He was infuriating for some reason.

 

"He gets a nice porcelain cup. I am stuck with this huge steel glass." She complained, just for the sake of it. Her resentment boiled up again; as she prowled in the courtyard, angry at every single thing…She kicked little stones, trying to vent out her anger on the inanimate objects.

 

"If you want to yell, there is a trail at the back of the house. Follow it till you reach a glen. Shout to your heart's content. Nobody will be able to hear you." Piyush said, pointing his finger in the direction of the path, the same sarcastic smile on his face.

 

"Do you think this is some kind of joke?" Mitali asked grumpily, her anger rising by every second. "Because it is not amusing. I do not appreciate being bundled here, spending the day listening to things that I have absolutely no interest in, and then being made fun of. Do you get it?"

 

 She had been trying to rein her temper from the start of the day, but the comment nearly drove her over the edge, with its cynicism accompanied by the mocking smiles.

 

He shrugged and turned.

 

"If you are going to, dump the tea in the vrindavan only. It will at least nourish the plant." He added without a backward glance, casually strolling towards the porch.

 

As Piyush went away, she inspected the contents of the glass. The black murky liquid was nothing like she had expected. She smelt it gingerly…it had some different elements from the normal tea. No milk, for instance. There was a hint of lemon grass. Cautiously, she lifted the glass and took a small sip…and spat it out instantly.

 

The tea was made with jaggery… The sweetness was a different one…the taste was unusual, unlike the taste of sugar which had integrated into her diet, from the time she could remember. The warmth of the seemingly familiar beverage no longer seemed comforting.

 

Seeing that no one was paying any attention to her, she decided to follow Piyush's advice and tipped the entire contents of the glass into the vrindavan, including the dark dregs at the bottom.

 

"Where am I stuck!" she lifted her eyes heavenward, as if asking for help.

 

She took a deep breath. There were going to be long seven days ahead.

 

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