And finally, after a loooooooong time, a new chapter!! Sorry for the delay, folks!
The wind whipped through Prithvi's hair as he drove along the winding mountain road. 'Parmar Lodge'. He didn't know anything about the place, but it still seemed to him that the very name reeked of old money and high-society. He sighed, shaking his head. Heaven knew what these Gujrals were going to be like. Snooty and condescending to boot, most probably, like the wealthy
tourists who came to the adventure camp where he worked. Still, now that they weren't so wealthy, maybe they'd be subdued. He jerked to a halt, realising that he'd reached the address his father had given him. Turning the engine off, he leaped off the jeep and opened the gate, strolling in casually.
The entire area was overgrown with weeds, with no visible path whatsover. As he carefully made his way through the scramble, Prithvi suddenly felt a sense of deep calm descend over him. The place was lovely, in all its wild state and he could just imagine how beautiful it must've been when it had been in use. A quarter-mile walk later, the main house came into view. Old,
gigantic and ruined just about summed it up. There was no way he or anyone else could get the house ready in just a week - it was simply too huge. He walked closer, taking in the damage. The walls were still strong, but the roof had collapsed and there were no doors or windows. "This can't be done" he muttered, turning as he heard the sound of an engine being cut off.
Ten minutes later, Sameer came into view, helmet dangling off his arm. "This isn't a house - it's a bloody mansion! A ruined one at that - they want to live in this bhoot bungalow?" he asked, clearly unimpressed. Prithvi shrugged, with a wry smile. "Bhaisaab, yahaan kuch nahin hone waala.. We should just go. We'll find lodgings for them somewhere else..." Sameer said, pausing as he took in Prithvi's expression. "Kahaan dekh rahe ho aap?" he demanded, looking in the same direction.
There was a cottage there, the kind that would've probably belonged to the caretaker in the past. "Oh no no... don't tell me you want to fix that up!" Bhaiyya!!!!" Sameer groaned, exasperated, as Prithvi shot him a look and walked there.
This house was in much better condition. Prithvi and Sameer went in cautiously, taking stock. "This should work", Prithvi said, running his hand over the stone wall. He made his way through the house, followed by Sameer. "We'll come back tomorrow with a crew and sort this out", he said, after he'd seen the entire place. "God help us!" Sameer muttered, as he followed his brother out.
"Mamma, di kab tak gussa rahengi?" Roshni asked in a quavering voice, as Damini yet again walked away from them. Ela sighed and closed her eyes. Since the day the truth had come out, Damini had cut herself off from the family. She'd quietly joined her mother as they liquidated most of their holdings, leaving one small architecture firm that had been making small, yet consistent profits. The house too was sold and so were most of their other 'effects'. All they owned now was in the four suitcases that were gathered in the living room, as they prepared to leave their house for the final time.
As Damini came back into the room and began to help Balraj in getting the luggage out, Ela and Avni shared a pained look. This silent girl was almost unrecognisable from the Damini Gujral they knew and loved. Gone was the spitfire who didn't hesitate to give a piece of her mind to anyone who crossed her path; in her place stood a silent young woman with a serious expression and a lonely demeanour. She hadn't spoke to any of them properly since that fateful day, preferring to keep to herself. She'd lost her identity, the business she'd help build and her precious stables - and now they were losing her, or so it seemed...
The journey to Manali was a quiet one. Damini was stubbornly silent, as usual, and her stormy expression had managed to quell even the normally irrepressible Roshni. Balraj had been most uncomfortable with the tension in the little family he'd come to think of as his own, but there was little he could do - except pray that things would be back to normal soon. For now, he'd have to be content with helping Ela deal with the sudden turmoil in her life... He sighed. "How I wish there was someone Damini would open up to..." he thought, glancing at her. "If she would just share her troubles and feelings, things might still be repaired..."
"And we are finally DONE!!" Sameer exclaimed, amidst the loud cheers of the motley crew they'd assembled. Prithvi offered a brief smile before turning to survey the place. It was unrecognisable from last week - the roof had been strengthened, the walls plastered and painted, and even the furniture was in. Spread out over one floor, with only a tiny attic upstairs, the cottage was no doubt much smaller that what the Gujrals would have been used to, but it large enough by normal people standards.
"They'll be more than comfortable here", he mused to himself as Sameer came up and clapped an arm around his shoulder. "So bhaiyya... Which room would you choose if you had to stay here?" he asked, with a grin. Prithvi shook his head, shrugging off his arm. "Did you check the electric fireplace?" he asked. "It's going to start getting very cold soon..." Sameer grimaced. "Ufff.. har waqt kaam kaam kaam. Kya samajh rakha hai mujhe?" he mock-grumbled, as he walked away. He suddenly paused. "Waise bhaiyya, I know you'd have taken that attic... Isn't that why you decorated it in your favourite blue?" he smiled. Prithvi was unable to resist an anwering smile. Yes, he really liked that tiny room with a skylight. He'd argued with the crew to convert into a bedroom. He could just imagine himself there, breathing in the cool crisp air, feasting his eyes on the gorgeous night sky. "Get a grip Prithvi. You don't belong here..." he told himself sternly. "No use getting attached to the place" With one last look at the house he'd help make, Prithvi turned and walked away.
"Papa!!! You're finally here", Sameer yelled. Without waiting for the jeep to stop, he leaped out and ran to the porch where Balraj was seated. Prithvi followed, equally excited but at a slightly more sedate pace. "Safar toh theek tha na papa?", he asked, ever the responsible one. Balraj looked fondly at his grown-up sons and smiled. "Haan everything was fine... I'm just so happy to be home after all these years. Ab main relax karoonga", he said, winking at them as Suman came out to join them. "Haan, aur tumhari maa ke saath romance bhi karoonga", he said tounge-in-cheek, laughing as she choked over her coffee.
Prithvi and Sameer joined in the laughter. "Varun kahan hai maa?" Sameer asked, tilting his chair and peering into the house. "Varun apne doston ke saath bahar gaya hai. Do din baad aayega. Ab toh uski padhai bhi complete ho gayi hai na... He wanted to take a break before starting to look for a job," Suman said. "Job! Chote ko naukri karni hai?" Awwwww..." Sameer said, smirking. "Chup kar! Not everyone is like you", Prithvi scolded. Balraj mock-frowned at Sameer. "Tu toh useless hai, apne bhai ko bhi useless banayega kya?" he asked. "Kya papa aap bhi! Main kaam karta hoon na. Hill Top Resorts ke saare guests ko main hi toh laata hoon", Sameer pouted. Everyone laughed at that. "Haan pata hai... Wahaan ka manager kaafi tareef kar raha
tha tumhari. Usne rooms par discount bhi de diya", Balraj said with a smile. "Oh, toh Gujrals wahaan tehre hain?" Prithvi asked, as Sameer perked up at the mention of the Gujrals. "Haan... They'll be there for a couple of days. Uske baad apne ghar jayenge. Acha yaad dilaya, tum log unhe kal Manali dikhana..." Balraj said, making Prithvi groan. "Kya papa... Why do we need to babysit them? Mujhe kal kaam pe jaana hai. Let Sameer show them the sights," he said, looking at Sameer. Sameer made a face, but said nothing. "So it's set then. Kal Sameer unhe Manali ghumayega.. aur phir hum sab ghar pe dinner karenge", Suman smiled.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny. The Gujral women, peering out of the windows of their cosy rooms, were struck by the beauty of the place. "Wow!! This is where we are going to live?", Rosh squealed. Ela smiled at her indulgently. "We won't be in the town, Rosh. Hum log yahaan se kuch door rahenge... And from what I remember the Parmar Lodge has some scenic views of its own", she said, chuckling at the excitement on her daughters' faces. Even Damini was listening, interested, although she was trying to feign indifference.
Damini turned to the window again, gazing at the view outside, idly wondering about her future when a jeep drew up to the hotel. She didn't know why, but her eye was drawn to the occupants of the jeep, possibly brothers, from the way they were interacting (read arguing :p). A young man, about her age, leaped out of the jeep, saying something that made the man behind the wheel deliver a resounding 'thwack' to the back of his head. Rubbing his head, the guy seemed to make a smart comment again. From her window, Damini could make out the evl smirk on his face, and knew from her experience as an older sister that he was trying his best to rile up the other man. She looked at the man, interested despite herself. His face was obscured beneath a hat (really, who wore those in these times!), but as he got off the jeep to chase after the guy, she found herself admiring him. He was tall and muscled and there was something about him, something that she couldn't take her eyes off. She stood smiling watching the two men run in circles around the jeep till the man in the hat glanced at his watch. Shaking his head, he got back into the jeep and pulled out of the driveway. The younger man stuck his tongue out in an incredibly juvenile gesture that was rewarded by a bag thrown in his face. Chuckling at the little drama, Damini turned away from the window, feeling happier than she had in a long time...
Dee shuts down her notebook with a slightly satisfied smile. Damini, who has been peering over Dee's shoulder and reading the chapter, looks at her with irritation.
Dee: What? I wrote a new chapter! *smiles*
Damini glares at her. Dee recoils.
Damini: New chapter? Yeah right! This is a terrible update. Where is the hot romance you promised everyone?
Dee: Errr... well, I haven't gotten to the hot romance point yet. You and Prithvi haven't met na...
Damini: *makes a face* Excuses... excuses.
Just then, Prithvi enters the room and Damini's is attention is finally diverted from the hapless Dee.
Prithvi (to Dee): Done writing? *surprised*
Before Dee can reply, Damini jumps in...
Damini: Of course she is... Anyone can write crap like that.
Dee: *annoyed now* It is NOT crap!! I can't have you two smooching in nooks and crannies without some semblance of plot. The romance has to be justified na...
Prithvi: *smirking* I thought you said we both epitomized romance? Why do we need justifications of any sort? *puts his arm around Damini*
Dee looks from Prithvi to Damini and back. A lightbulb goes off and she slaps her forehead as PriDa smile knowingly.
Dee: Shoot! I messed up!