Joined: 01 January 2009
Manav didn't know when he fell asleep again. He had just settled down on bed after filling buckets and taking his medicines, in an effort to calm his head a little, and the next thing he knew was someone pulling his sheet. "Mine." He murmured, pulling his sheet towards himself. "Aai there is no school today, let me sleep," he murmured, pouting.
He heard something like a soft giggle, and felt his sheet being wrapped tenderly around him again. He opened his eyes, and turned to see Archana, with her hair tied up in a sort of bun and the pallu of her sari tucked at her waist, folding her sheets.
He got up, rubbing his eyes. "How did I fall asleep?" he murmured. Archana turned to look at him and flashed a smile. "There is no school today na, that is why maybe you fell asleep again."
"Very funny." said Manav, making a face. Archana continued speaking while carrying on with her work. "I think all the stress and then the work is getting a little too much for you. Plus you don't get sleep at the right time cos you keep on thinking, and then you feel sleepy at unearthly hours. Two days earlier also, you couldn't wake up.."
"Nothing like that," Manav said. "I think it's just the headache, it hurts when I get up.."
Archana gave him a troubled look. "Manav, I think you should not work so much now, why do you do all this bucket filling and all, someone else can do it.. is it not bad enough that you are still working in this condition?"
"Why, what is wrong in working in the garage in this condition?" asked Manav defiantly.
"Well, you are sick and your eyesight is getting weaker.."
"I'm not crippled." said Manav, annoyed. "Why should I depend on others when I'm quite clearly able to do my work on my own? The tumour hasn't affected my day to day activities in anyway as such.. even the doctor hasn't advised me bedrest.."
"I understand.. but still I don't like to see you work so much in this condition, it must be straining you, your eyes specially... you should relax a bit and take rest, your head will also.."
"Archana, please don't treat me like an invalid now." said Manav. "Please let me feel normal and not like a patient. Many people do all their work on their own before they get admitted to the hospital for treatment.."
"I agree, but.."
"Please Archana, I feel better when I work normally. It makes me feel that my illness is not winning against me.. if I feel it is too much, I will myself stop it.."
She nodded silently. She knew it was natural of her to feel worried and restless for Manav, but she had to understand the patient's perspective too, she thought. Maybe it was good in a way- working normally gave him the confidence that there was nothing to worry so much, and that he would get well soon- something that he needed to keep thinking so as to feel positive. As long as it was comfortable for him, maybe it was okay for him to carry on. She continued with her work- picking up clothes, wiping the table and so on. He, on the other hand, reached out for his watch and saw that it was close to 10. "Aren't you going to office today?" he asked. Then he remembered how his Aai had threatened Archana not to go to the NGO again. He felt uneasy. "Did Aai say something?" he asked in a small voice. "If she said something, you need not pay attention.. don't be scared of her.."
She stopped working and turned around to look at him.
"Don't worry yourself for nothing Manav." She said, giving him a small smile. "I took a holiday for today."
She frowned. "As if you do not know. Tomorrow is Ganesh Chaturthi. And we have nothing prepared at all. So much work is there."
"Yes, but.." Manav felt uncomfortable. "You shouldn't have taken a leave for that.. the family members, I mean.. we all.. would have managed."
She sighed. "I don't think the others are really thinking about that now." He understood she was referring to Aai-who was still in a rage. "And anyways, I too am family. I know we won't have a celebration, but still, we cannot ignore the pooja, can we."
He nodded. She continued cleaning a vase. "I had saved some leaves earlier. I thought I should use them now."
She stopped speaking again, then came closer and sat facing him on the bed. "By the way, I forgot to ask you, how do you celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi in this house?"
"Huh?" said Manav in surprise. Then he realised Archana wouldn't be knowing anything much since this was her first pooja in the Deshmukh house. "Well, we contribute for the Chawl Ganpati, which will be kept in that pandal." He pointed towards the red pandal (tent) which could be seen from the window. "The Ganpati remains for all 10 days. And a lot of events take place every evening till visarjan, along with the daily aarti which is done two times, as per tradition. Competitions are held for children, a function is held for them to perform, one day we have games for adults too and so on, most probably on a Sunday, one day we will have a play, then Mahaprasad on last day and so on."
"Hmm.. pretty much the same way it is held in our society." Said Archana. "And do you people get a Ganpati idol at home?" The Karanjkars brought home Ganpati Bappa every year, like many other Maharashtrian families who keep the idol and do the pooja, for 1 and a half, 3, 5 or 7 days.
Manav shook his head.
"I don't know really." He said. "It has been the tradition since a lot of years. We haven't brought a ganpati home. Maybe cos it is custom that if you bring it once, you must bring it every year henceforth. We regard the chawl ganpati as our own. Many people here do the same."
"Hmm.. okay." She said, getting up again. She went back to her cleaning. "Can I take the sheet for washing now, or do you want to sleep some more?"
"No I should get up now," he said. "I am already late for garage."
"You are late for something else too." She remarked.
He stared at her, wondering what he had forgotten. Then suddenly he slapped his forehead. "I forgot!" he exclaimed.
"Yes," said Archana. "You had an appointment with the doctor today at 8.30. If you had told me earlier, I would have reminded you. I found out about it later when I was cleaning the drawer." She held a prescription paper in her hand.
Manav was still cursing himself. "I don't know how I forgot.."
"Oh it's okay, next time just make sure that you tell me about it too, so that at least one of us will remember. Or even better, write it here." She said, indicating a calendar hanging on the wall. "Yes, this will be better." She said. She walked to the calendar and wrote on it with a pen. "I called the hospital. Your next appointment is day after tomorrow in the afternoon at 1 o clock. I have written it here." She pointed out. "And I will also write my planning and accounts here, so that you can come to know.."
Manav felt a little weird as Archana went on and on about her planning about how they would be doing things in the future. How long is this all going to last- was the thought in his mind. The way he saw it- things were very bad, and he didn't know if there was any future in the relationship. Not only was he unable to believe that Archana could stick on till the end, he didn't even have much hope that his family members would accept her or let her live in peace in the house.
The doorbell rang, interrupting his thoughts. Archana too, seemed to be alarmed. "I'll see who it is." He said. "I was getting up anyway." Archana flashed him a thankful smile.
He trotted to the living room and opened the door. It was Vaishali, and she smiled at him.
"Good morning Jeeju."
"Hi Vaishali, come in."
She entered the house and made general enquiries to which Manav replied politely. "How come you are here today and that too so early?" he asked her.
She stifled uncomfortably. "I.. um.. actually I wanted to meet Tai.."
"She is in the bedroom," he replied, but before she could go in, Savita Aai entered the living room from her bedroom and gave Vaishali a nasty look.
"Any Karanjkar or their relative is unwelcome in this house." She said loudly.
"And anyone related to Tarun is always welcome in this house." Said Manav in an equally loud voice. He gave Vaishali, who looked scared, a small comforting smile. "Go inside and meet Archana." She smiled back and walked inside the bedroom. Manav's smile vanished as he looked at his Aai who was shooting daggers at him with her eyes. He ignored her as she walked away, and turned to his Baba who was sitting on the swing.
"When did you come?"
"Last night." Damodar Baba replied. "And I came to know everything."
"Savita, Vedant, Vandita and Archana.."
"Hmm.. Savita Aai must have told HER version, Vedant Vandu and Archana do not know some part of the whole story themselves.. do you want me to..?"
Damodar shook his head. "Why is it that I'm never there for my children when they need me? You, poor you, had to suffer for no fault of yours- because of the jailing and all, and then you got this shock about your Aai's behavior.. how embarassed you must have been in front of that NGO worker, whatever her name was." Manav came and sat near him. "Leave it now Baba." he said quietly. "Did you fight with Aai after that?"
Damodar mumbled something angrily under his breath. "Fight would be an understatement. I'm damn furious with her, can't believe she could have cheated you, Sachin, Shravani and Archana- and all that only to get rid of Archana and bring Shravani! And on top of that her behavior towards Archana- I'm utterly disgusted!"
Manav didn't say anything. Damodar continued. "She might have thought that she would make you look bad in Archu's eyes and that would be the end of your marriage- she forgot Bappa is watching from above! Archana returned to the house inspite of all the venom, wanting to accept you back inspite of all she told her. Ha! Such a slap on Savita's face. Let me see how she breaks your marriage now!"
Manav felt restless. "Baba, you know very well Archu.."
"She will stay here Manav.." said Damodar firmly. "I know that you feel things have gone too bad, Archana told me everything, but still, she will stay here. Bappa has given you a golden chance to settle things in your marriage and get back lost happiness, do not lose it. Archana is willing from her end, you just need to support her."
"Baba.. do you have any idea how difficult everything is going to be.. okay everything else will settle down but what about the complaint.."
"It was not her fault.."
"That you and I understand.. what about everyone else.. won't they be upset thinking about Aai and what she had to undergo.. I even feel awkward in talking to Vedant and Vandita about it, Archana might not have made the complaint but it was made by a Karanjkar only.. will everyone else accept that it was a valid complaint at the end of the day..?"
"Then we will convince them," said Damodar. "Manav, we cannot bend before these difficult times, I know how much that girl means to you- for her sake you even agreed to go against your family and not marry Shravani- No, I will not let you give up on the love of your life cos of people like Manjusha and Savita.."
"I don't want 'love', I'm tired of this 'love'.. I want some peace for a change!" said Manav in irritation. Damodar looked at him in surprise. "What the hell has happened to you?"
"What has happened to me? What has happened to YOU!?! Why can't you think about me sometimes!" remarked Manav. Then he remembered that his Baba didn't know about the additional stress of his surgery."Baba, she doesn't even love me! She still doesn't trust me! Tomorrow she might leave me again! Why are you taking her side?"
"Bcos I know that she is essential to your happiness. She is your dream and I.."
"You keep following dreams, I live in reality!" Manav retorted.
Damodar Baba became silent. Manav calmed down too. "Sorry." he said a few minutes later.
Baba looked at him. "Manav, it's not that I don't live in reality- I encourage you to follow your dreams and not keep bending due to circumstances cos the rest of the people don't do it at all. If I also don't do it, you will stop thinking about yourself. That is why I have to be the one to remind you, I don't want to misguide you beta, I just want you to be happy.. and I know that once Archana goes away, it's not like you will go and get married to another girl. I know you will pine for her and still be unhappy." said Baba remorsefully.
Manav could not meet his father's eyes. Unhappily he got up to get ready for the garage.
Vaishali rested her chin under her pretty face. "So this is the matter," she said.
Archana took a sip of her tea. "Yes. Vaishali, I am pretty much sure that Manav is innocent. He hasn't done anything."
"Hmm.. so did you say all this to him?"
"Not now." She said. "I want to tell him only when I convince myself 100% that yes, Manav is really not guilty of cheating me."
"what is holding you back?"
"VARSHA!" said Archana exasperatedly. "I do not understand her role in the story at all. Manav says she is in Delhi, and he lost the proof when he was trying to help her, okay I will accept that bcos I know Manav doesn't lie, but then why hasn't Varsha called even once to tell US the truth at least? Doesn't she need help? How can she manage alone over there? Much as I feel Manav cannot lie, I find all this unreasonable, especially since I know Varsha is not a careless or stupid girl. It's not like I don't trust Manav- I would blindly say he cannot cheat me, Ajit, Manjusha Vahini, Rasika Kaku, they must have manipulated things, but then I also know that Varsha wouldn't have gone off leaving us in worry, or hiding facts when my marriage is at stake. It's NOT like I DOUBT Manav's story, it's just that I trust Varsha too and I cannot UNDERSTAND the story at all."
"I know." Said Vaishali. "In fact, I've had the same issue. Don't take me wrong, you know very well that till date I've always trusted Manav Jiju and supported him, but being Varsha Tai's sister and knowing her so well, I've always felt this story was a bit out of place. The only reason I accepted it was bcos Manav Jiju said it, same as you. Otherwise I myself have many doubts over the whole story. And if it is true, then there must be more to the story which we do not know."
"I hope Varsha is safe." Murmured Archana nervously. "If she isn't calling home and all, then it may mean.." she could not complete her sentence.
"Tai, Varsha Tai can take care of herself. Tell me what do you want to do about this right now? I feel that Manav Jiju can help us understand the missing links, he can help us know more about Varsha Tai if we ask him. It will also remove all misunderstandings.."
Archana shook her head sadly. "Now is not the time to investigate all this Vaishu." She said. "The time for questioning and looking into the different sides of the story has gone now. In those days, when Manav was running behind me asking me to listen to him, I did not listen. Now I have no right to go and harass him on all this again, just to clear MY confusions, when there are bigger problems in the house. I mean, there are financial problems in the house, the family has broken up, Manav has broken relations with his Aai, the marriage almost came till divorce, there is an impending surgery- amidst all this, who the hell would want to look into proofs, evidence and all that happened that night? I really don't want to pester Manav about it NOW, especially when I did not listen to him earlier when he had tried to explain things. Things have worsened now, the police complaint has brought things to a point wherefrom everything seems irreversible. If I pester him now, he might just flare up in rage, saying something like- If you don't think I'm innocent then get out! He is always persuading me to go back anyways. And this time I won't even blame him for flaring up bcos frankly he has gone through enough."
"I agree." Said Vaishali. "But then again, if this matter is left here, then this wall will always be between the two of you. Tai, Manav Jiju needs you more than ever now. This relationship has to be strengthened, cos I suppose Manav Jiju will be depending on you for a long time now. Clearing all misunderstandings shall help both of you."
"I know that." Said Archana, "I actually want to find out the truth, find out Varsha. It's not just a question of Manav's innocence now but also Varsha's life. Who knows how she is in Delhi. We have absolutely no contact with her. She calls so infrequently and it seems she has told lots of lies. I know one thing for sure- the misunderstandings about Manav have led to problems one after another. If the misunderstandings had not happened, then Aai Baba would have had good relations with Manav. They would have told him about Savita Aai, the police complaint would not have taken place. Somewhere I feel everything begins and end with these misunderstandings, which could have been solved earlier, but took a dirty turn after the police complaint, complicating everything. Manav is the eldest son in law, he so deserves to be respected by his inlaws and get his rightful status in the family which he has been denied till today.. if these misunderstandings don't clear, somehow relations will never get back on track. I realise it is important to get to the bottom of the matter, however, I really don't want to bug Manav for it anymore."
"Hmm.." thought Vaishali. "Well, we can bug Tarun for it!" she said suddenly. Archana gave her a weird look. "Next time when he calls from New York, then if he is in a good mood, I will ask him to tell me the whole story from the beginning, saying that we want to get to the bottom of the matter. Tarun had told in the past that he has done everything to contact Varsha Tai, but failed. They don't have her address so they can't send her letters or telegrams, they don't have her phone number so they can't call. Manav Jiju lost his cell so she doesn't call him, and she doesn't send letters for god knows what reason. They cannot advertise in the papers cos they cannot involve police- Tarun said that Varsha Tai is out of jail illegally, she hasn't got a proper bail. But I believe that is not enough- there must be more ways to find her out, I mean, come on! We are in the 21st century, it shouldn't be difficult to hunt down someone."
"Vaishali, do you have a plan to contact Varsha?" asked Archana hopefully. Vaishali racked her brains. "Maybe I could send her an email or something?" she suggested. "Tarun & Manav Jiju didn't think about that maybe, or might not be having her mail id or something, or they felt it was a stupid idea, so they might not have done it, but maybe I can do it? It sounds frivillous, I mean yeah, if she is really in trouble out there in Delhi cos of a narcotic scam, then she might not be visiting an internet cafe to check her mails or keep in touch with friends on a social networking site like Facebook, but still, worth a try."
"Do anything you can Vaishali.." said Archana hopefully. "We really have to get to Varsha now. I will, in the meanwhile, try and see what I can come to know here. I still maintain Manav would have been the best person to guide us, but at the moment, I really don't want to talk to all this in front of him. Right now, when he has completely lost faith in his marriage and wants us to separate anyway, then I don't know how he would react to such enquiries when he has bigger issues at hand."
"Don't worry Tai, I'll do something. In any case, I need to make up for my mistake- if I had told Jiju about Savita Kaku earlier, many problems could have been prevented. You just take care of Manav Jiju and the other problems now, I'll find out all I can about Varsha Tai." Said Vaishali. Archana hugged her sister affectionately.
"I don't know what to do now."
Manav was sitting on the stool in the telephone booth, talking to Tarun in New York on the other end. He had filled him on everything that had taken place in the last few days.
"My goodness Manav," sighed Tarun. "You have weird luck. Seriously! And the most amazing in-laws."
"They are your in-laws too." Manav reminded.
"I know, tragedy of my life." Said Tarun. "After marriage, I'm toh going make sure that I stay at an arm's distance from those people. They are always making things difficult for you. I'll make it clear to Vaishali that I don't like that witch in her house. About the rest, I don't know how to react. Archana comes back to you, the police comes and arrests you and family, Archana sets you free, she is ready to go against her family for you, your family doesn't want her now, and you have broken relations with your Aai cos she cheated you. In the midst of all this, you are dealing with a financial crunch and you have a surgery to undergo. Phew!"
"Chalo, at least I know now that you have followed everything in sequence."
Tarun was silent for a little while. "I don't know whom to be angry on, I mean it happened due to those Karanjkars only after all, but Archana is not responsible, rather she helped you and wants to continue helping you. I ought to feel sorry for your Aai, but after knowing her reality, I don't feel sorry also. Rather I'm angry and disappointed with her. Was the jailing very bad?"
Manav shrugged. "We were there for about 3-4 hours till afternoon, it was bad for Aai- Archana saved us from the police."
"I just hate Manjusha... I wish I had been there.. shit!" said Tarun remorsefully.
"Leave it now." Said Manav. "Problem is, now I don't know what to do. Archana leaving the house was still okay, but this police complaint has spoiled everything. No one will accept her back, and certainly not Aai. She is not guilty in this whole mess, she is actually a victim, and yet she is willing to help us out, so I feel it would be wrong to ask her to get out cos of Manjusha's deeds and especially when Aai is in the wrong. Even Baba is firm on the stand that Archana should be in the house. But then again, there is no way Archana can stay in that house."
"Hmm.. but didn't you say you are angry and upset with your Aai? Then you should obviously support Archana!"
"Tarun, I am angry and upset with Aai and I sympathise with Archana deeply. She has my full support against Aai's unpleasant behavior, but that does not mean I should side with Archana for that reason or let her live at home. She came back to this marriage to 'accept' me back even though she thinks I'm guilty. She says in 13 days she fell in love with me. How long do you think this firmness and this marriage will last even if I do support her?"
"I don't know- Archana is a little emotionally volatile." Tarun admitted. "Okay, I get your point. You don't know whom to support and you don't really have firm support from anyone either. Basically you are screwed."
"Yes, bottomline is I AM SCREWED!!!" said Manav a little too loudly. The people surrounding him at the ISD booth stared at him. He lowered his voice, his eyes on the meter indicating the bill. "And Baba is saying that he won't let Archana go from the house. And I think I shall be screwed some more if I talk longer, the bill is increasing." He muttered.
"Should I call you back?" asked Tarun at once.
"Yes please, I want to vent some more!" said Manav immediately. "But please call me on my cell now, and call me a few minutes later. Let me check first whether there are any customers in the garage- else I'll be screwed a fourth time."
"Okay," said Tarun. "In the meanwhile, I shall think about what shall be the best solution for you."
He cut the phone, paid the bill to the ISD booth owner and walked to the garage. He was surprised to see Archana's Baba waiting outside the garage.
"You? Here?" he asked, suddenly very uncomfortable.
Manohar Baba seemed uncomfortable too. "Yes Manav, umm.. I know I am the last person you would have expected to see here, but actually I wanted to talk to you about some important matters.."
"I know what you have come to talk about.." Manav started.
"No Manav you do not know. Please let me speak." Manav fell silent. Baba continued. "See Manav, I understand that you are very upset with everything that happened in prison and the self righteous way we reacted to it. I see and realise that we took our differences too far. Our daughter had been hurt bcos of you and your Aai, so at that sudden moment, all sympathy for you vanished in spite of the fact that you were not the culprit. You might not understand it now, when you have kids one day you will understand my position."
KIDS!! At the rate things are going, I will have kids when I grow old or maybe not even that, thought Manav. He did not say anything however, and listened silently to what Manohar Baba was saying.
"But I do realise that you have been very fair about the whole situation and supported Archana and understood her condition. I am thankful to your for that, it gave me strength to believe that maybe Archana's decision to come back to you was not really wrong.."
Manav's eyeballs nearly popped out as Manohar Baba said this. He couldn't understand where things were going now.
"Initially I wanted Archana to come back, but if she has made her decision now and is sticking to it, then I guess it is better if I and the rest of the family help her rather than create problems for her by opposing her. And that is why I'm here Manav.. to extend the olive branch to you for the sake of my daughter." Manohar folded his hands in front of Manav, who was alarmed. "I know you had to suffer in prison for no fault of yours, but please don't punish Archana for this.. I can see her heart is in this marriage."
Manav was stunned for a moment. "Baba please don't do this.." he said, holding Manohar's hands. "Come, please come with me.."
He led Manohar away to a quiet corner of the garage and called for two chairs. At that moment Tarun called, Manav picked up the phone and quietly said. "I'm slightly busy, I'll talk to you later." He disconnected the phone.
For a few minutes both sat quietly. Finally Manav spoke. "Baba, if you had come to me BEFORE the police complaint, then I would have agreed. But NOW the situation is plain bad. You know I already was not in favour of Archana returning home, and that reason stands."
"Manav I know that, I also wanted Archana to return, but maybe, if she really wants to save this marriage.."
"Okay chalo I will accept that argument also.." said Manav hurriedly. "But you tell me how will my family and Archana live under one roof? No one will accept her. And I think by now you know very well how my Aai is. She will not spare Archana, rather she will make things nasty for her. I will of course take care of her, but how far is it possible.."
Manohar Baba felt disappointed. "That is why I'm saying that BEFORE the police complaint if you had come then everything would have worked out well. In fact my resentment againt all of you is for this reason only, that you never give me a chance to sort things and then they lead to disasters. At least if you had come to tell me about my Aai, then I would have handled the situation. I know what she did was wrong and illegal, but considering that your daughter intends to live with the family, making a police complaint and taking things so far wasn't sensible! Now how will I convince my kids.. I mean younger brother and sister- do you think they will forget so easily what Aai went through or understand the legalities of woman harassment and all? OR Sachin for that matter? Not to forget the rest of the Deshmukh clan who will jeer at Archana and give her a tough time? Mind you, I DO NOT want to punish her for ANYTHING, but I'm having trouble in making a decision cos I don't know whom to choose. I cannot dump her in that house or force my siblings to love her. And I know that with my Aai around, Archana is certainly not going to have a pleasant time in that house."
Manohar Baba thought about it deeply as Manav pondered here and there restlessly. "There is a solution to this Manav."
Manav looked up in surprise.
"A very simple solution." Repeated Manohar Baba. "It shall keep everyone happy."
Manohar Baba looked up at Manav with some hesitation. "If you and Archana start living separately from the rest of the family.."
"WHAT!?!" exclaimed Manav. People around him started staring at him again. He was certainly behaving a bit weird today- they thought.
"Yes," continued Manohar Baba. "I think this solution satisfies everyone. Your siblings can maintain relations with you, and if they accept Archana, then with her too. Archana and your Aai will be away from each other, your Aai will be satisfied, Archana will be safe and relaxed, and there will be peace in the house. You and Archana can start life together from a new page- it will give the space both of you need to work on your own marriage for a change rather than focus on family strife. Your family will also be kept away from the jailing memories, at least till their wounds heal and their anger on Archana cools down, and they start understanding the situation better.."
"I'm not telling you to desert your family." Manohar Baba added hurriedly. "But sometimes distance in relationships is better. It helps keep peace and prevents things from worsening. Maybe a little time and space will help all of you sort out your matters."
Manav raised an eyebrow. Manohar Baba hesitated again. "Have things between you and your Aai been alright ever since you came to know about her actions with regards to Archana?"
"Could we not talk about it please Baba?" Manav requested. He had no wish to talk about himself and Aai in front of outsiders now. Baba fell silent. "I just felt that if things are bad between both of you as well, then maybe living separately would be the best option. We ourselves can never be at peace until Archana lives with your Aai- sorry Manav but that is true. And then think of yourself- you have a surgery up ahead, difficult times ahead- you will need Archana by your side."
I don't need Archana- Manav wanted to say. I want my FAMILY which INCLUDES Archana. But that seemed like an impossible dream.
Both of them sat quietly for a few minutes. Finally Baba got up. "I shall leave now, but I hope you will consider what I said."
"I don't have money to set up a separate house." Said Manav bluntly. He had no wish to be a hero.
"Well, we can help you in that, if you want," said Baba simply. "Please discuss things over with your family members and Archana and make your decision. And please Manav, I know you think about your family and love them, but please think of Archana too this time. She may have come back a bit late, but she is keen to work on her marriage and I can see that. Please don't be blind to her suffering, although I know.. Archana's return has really wreaked havoc on you."
Manav did not say anything. "And once again I apologise to you.."
"Please don't apologise to me for the complaint Baba." Said Manav quietly, looking very embarassed. "Bcos you and I both know that the string of apologies should start from my family, from my Aai- which I know we will never get. Your apology only makes me feel more guilty about everything Archana had to go through and which I could not prevent."
Manohar Baba nodded silently. He turned and walked away. Manav slunk back into his seat, thinking hard. The phone rang again. It was Tarun.
"Don't just say Hmm.. tell me what have you thought?"
Tarun cleared his throat. "I was actually thinking on similar lines as Manohar Baba." He said. "I think you should think about living separately."
Manav was shocked. "Do you really think I should do that..?"
"Yes. It would avoid all problems and keep peace in the house at least for sometime.."
"I thought you would ask me to leave Archana.."
"Come on Manav that girl loves you, and you know you love her too.."
Manav was stunned. "How has the 'all practical' guy suddenly become so romantic? Didn't you hate her sometime back.."
"I didn't hate her, I was angry with her cos she was divorcing you. But now she is back and she's even giving testimony against Manjusha- god how I hate that woman! I'm rooting for Archana to kick butt! Haha, I guess my hatred for Manjusha is more than my anger against Archana."
"You are happy Archana came back? She didn't come back bcos she trusts me, but bcos she wants to 'forgive me'. I doubt even Aai's revelation has changed her feelings much- she didn't say anything at all and Ajit's story was very strong anyway even before Aai told those lies to her."
"Manav, you are feeling bad bcos you are innocent, bcos you know that you don't deserve forgiveness or acceptance but an apology for being blamed unnecessarily. But she doesn't know that na. She made her decision on the basis of the scene she can see in front of her- in which you appear guilty. And she feels that she still wants to be with you by giving you a second chance. You know, you are feeling bad now bcos you weren't guilty and so you are criticising Archana, but if you had really been guilty of all those wrong doings you would have loved Archana for this same decision. Everyone would have been praising her for being such a forgiving person. So it's not like she is totally wrong, or her viewpoint is wrong is it?"
"Why are you sympathising with Archana all of a sudden?"
"Hey come on, I am not so hard-hearted as you think me to be." Said Tarun indignantly. "I might have shouted at her or ridiculed her cos of her actions, but then again I feel sorry for her too about what all she had to go through. And it does take a big heart to accept someone who has made mistakes, hasn't it. Archana must really love you if she came back trying to forget everything."
"Oh come on Tarun, love in 13 days? Don't be silly! She was okay with divorcing me. It was only my problems which made her feel sorry for me, especially the surgery I have to undergo."
"Yeah.. but still, whatever.. and don't forget that if she didn't trust you all this while- then that is also bcos of your family only- bcos of your Aai!"
Manav now really didn't know what to say. He covered his face with one hand, trying to think.
"Are you there..?"
"Yes." Replied Manav. "Trying to think."
"It is weird that today I'm speaking in favour of Archana and you are not, earlier you used to appreciate her feelings behind every little thing.. this time.."
"This time it's different. I don't even know whether she loves me even or she's just being emotional. Anyway, nowadays I hardly care about 'love'. All I want in life is some peace and a solution to get over with all this. I'm tired of everything."
"And this peace you will get if you live with Archana- in the Deshmukh house, you will keep fighting with your Aai. For your own sanity you need to move out of that house. At least with Archana, your relationship is not soo bad, unlike with your Aai, with whom you apparently don't see eye to eye now. Why be in front of her and get reminded of everything again and again? You should just be away from her sight. And since you need someone to take care of you as you can't live alone away from home, especially in this state- be with Archana. So simple."
"You know Tarun, I somewhere feel that if I tell Savita Aai about my illness, she will forget everything that went wrong and start cooperating with me." Said Manav. "She's not so cruel, and she's definitely not my enemy as such. Even Sachin will come running to me if I tell him everything. This much I trust my people. Anyday I would say my family can take care of me very very well. Its just that I somewhere feel my and Aai's relationship can never be the same again, and I don't want to use my illness to bridge these relationships, relationships should be maintained bcos you WANT to keep them, not cos an illness forces you to come together and.."
"That is why I'm saying go to Archana.. you need her right now yaar, especially cos you will find it difficult to live with your Aai now.. the matter has gone too far with her.. your Baba or the kids won't be able to take care of you alone, live separately with Baba and Archana- that will be best!"
"I'd rather take care of myself on my own." Manav said quietly. "Relations should not be kept because of 'needs'. If I wanted someone just to take care of me I would have got admitted to the hospital already. Fact is, I don't want a nurse. I want a wife. The hospital requirements and my illness will get over in about 3 months, what after that? I want family members to assure me, protect me. But THIS I don't have. You know how Archna is.. what if she goes away after all this.. if that rascal Ajit shows some other proofs or something like that.. she doesn't trust me and doesn't love me so the probability is always there.. that is why I don't want this marriage, however good Archana's intentions are and however caring she is.."
"Hmm.. I know, and that is why I understand your hesitancy in separating with your own family and living with Archana even if it is the logical decision, I too don't want you to be heartbroken again.. but Manav can you really afford to fight a divorce case right now? If Archana says no for divorce the matter will go to court again. How many more troubles do you want on your head. Better try and see how this 'second chance' goes with Archana, at least for now. She anyway wants to help you, let her help. Use this space to see how your and Savita Kaku's equation proceeds."
"I don't know. If problems sort out between Archana and you, then continue together, I guess, else go separate ways." Said Tarun finally. "God my head is spinning now after thinking so much, I shall call you later."
With this Tarun disconnected the phone, leaving Manav to ponder by himself, all over again.
(continued in next post)
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"What is this?" he asked, surveying it all.
"Making modaks for prasad tomorrow." said Archana referring to the famous dish which looks like a dumpling or a momo stuffed with a mixture of jaggery, sugar, coconut, dry fruits etc. and then fried or steamed.
"That I can see, but aren't ingredients more than required? The packing material looks more, and even the kneaded dough.. how many modaks will you make?"
Manav raised an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Actually I went to that pandal you told me about and asked if I could contribute in any way for the pooja tomorrow.. they told me what I could do and I volunteered to make modaks for the prasad, since I had to make some for our house pooja anyway.. I did the right thing na?" she asked a little hesitantly.
"Yeah sure, nothing wrong in it," he replied, sitting down next to her. She handed him one modak. "Taste and tell if it is alright."
He ate it quietly. "It's delicious but I think you should stuff it a bit more." Archana nodded. "Do you need any help? 101 is a little too much.."
"No I guess I will finish it by myself. I will make some karanji as well."
"Hmm.. Archana will you not be making Ukadiche modak?" he asked, referring to the special variety which is steamed instead of being fried.
Archana raised her eyebrow. "Why?"
"No, like this only I was asking.. Aai usually makes it every year.. she knows I like it." He trailed off.
She understood. "I'm not very confident in that variety, I thought I would make the one which I know well since I have to make a large number, but I will make some ukadiche modak separately for you.."
"Arey no.. I was saying like this only.."
"It's okay na.. I will make some.. not such a big problem.. just be a little tolerant since this will be the first time I will be making it without my Aai by my side.." She smiled at him.
He gave a small smile back, picking up another modak, but she hit him on the hand. "No more now, this has to be offered to God first." She said sternly. "Why are you early today?"
"Um.. nothing.. just felt restless. Thought I would also go and help in the pooja celebrations for tomorrow to divert my mind." He said. "I'll go and freshen up. Did Aai say anything to you regarding all this?"
"No, she's been in her room for most of the day."
He walked out and she continued making modaks. He went straight to the bathroom and threw water on his face vigorously, hoping it would help him calm down a little. He came out towelling his head and face and sat down on the bed, trying to think.
Someone tapped him on the shoulder. Manav opened his eyes.
Archana was looking at him uncertainly. "I have been calling you for quite sometime now." She said. "Where are you?"
He shook his head a little. "Yeah, I might seem a little disoriented to you now.. just tired I guess."
He straightened himself up as Archana sat next to him.
"Something is wrong." She said. "What is it?"
"Nothing will come out of staying all bottled up. Please share with me.."
"It's nothing Archana.."
She still sat near him, looking at him, waiting for him to stay something. Finally Manav gave in. He told her about Manohar Baba's visit and all that he had said. He spoke for a long time, filling on every detail and later about his talks with Tarun. He told everything about how people felt separating from the family was the best option as of now.
"It keeps you safe from Aai, it avoids fights of any kind, it will help things settle down slowly- is what everyone is saying to me, especially cos things are bad between me and Aai also." He concluded, and looked at her. "If I remember right you told me that you also wanted to talk to me of separation earlier, owing to Aai's behavior earlier, right?"
"So I guess you are also on Baba and Tarun's side.." he said. 'I'm not sure." Said Archana. "That was during our divorce hearing. The situation is different now."
He wondered what she meant. They sat silently for some time, then finally he spoke. "So what do you think ought to be done?"
"Um.. before I say that.. I want to know what you want."
"Fine." Said Manav. "I agree with Tarun and Baba that it is a sensible option to keep peace. Your presence instigates Aai more. She is sober now for a bit bcos she is still scared after the complaint, but she can get nasty. She did get nasty yesterday also.. and considering the kids are upset and angry about the complaint, it would be better for us to stay away and retain the relationship, whatever is left of it, rather than let more hatred build in.. then later they will slowly start understanding everything hopefully.. even I and Aai have problems between us now.. and.. I guess this solution somehow keeps everyone happy.. or satisfied at least- I know the kids won't be happy to see me separating but I can always maintain contact with them I guess, and.."
"I'm not asking what is the best option for everyone or what is right." Archana repeated. "I'm asking what YOU really want."
"Huh?" Manav was a little confused. "How does it matter about what I want?"
"So you agree that this is not what you want."
"I want the solution that is best for all of you- emotionally, practically and.."
"What about yourself?"
Manav fell silent. He looked down and did not say anything for some time.
Archana observed him. "So you do not want to separate.."
He could not look up. "It is not an easy job to arrange for another accomodation. That too at this time. I'm saving money desperately for the hospital expenses and the garage repairs, and now this.. even for a one room house we will have to pay a deposit.. not to mention the furniture and other basic stuff.. then again we have to go around searching for a suitable house.. either I will have to use up the money I have already saved or will have to take money from others- Tarun maybe.. but how much can I possibly take from him.. and I don't want to take money from your people for a house- it will be Vinod and Manjusha paying eventually.. I'd rather sleep on the road.."
Archana listened to everything quietly. "If it was only about financial expenses, I would have volunteered to sell off my jewellery." She said. "But I know it's not just about financial expenses.."
He looked up hesitantly for a minute. She stared at him in the eye, as if daring him to speak. Finally he looked down again. It was no point pretending in front of her, he thought. She knew what was in his heart.
"I don't want to leave this house." He confessed. "It maybe the right decision for everyone- you, Aai, kids- it somehow takes care of everyone's sentiments as well as safety, but somehow.. I don't know.. I feel I will be losing Vedant and Vandita.. Aai has already forced Sachin to think that I don't care about all of them, this is what Sachin kept shouting while leaving the house.. now the kids will see it coming true when they see me leaving the house.. I can even accept that one day they might understand facts about the jailing issue and not hate you, but I don't know if they will understand the circumstances which are forcing us to take such a stand of separation, even if I try to explain to them, years later they will grieve that at that difficult moment, I ultimately chose a 15 day marriage over them, their security. And somewhere I will also feel that they are right. Plus, I really don't want to leave them alone with Aai- Baba now. Somehow I don't trust Aai at all now. I know it is difficult for me to be with Aai, just looking at her reminds me of everything that happened and how she backstabbed me, but still.. I want to be with my family, cos I know they won't be able to manage without me all of a sudden. They look upon me as the pillar of the house. As it is, Sachin is not there. If he was there, it would have helped, but now how will the twins manage everything alone.."
"And you already have your surgery coming up, like any other person, you would want to have your family with you for emotional and moral support." Said Archana. Manav did not say anything.
"And you do not want more stress of looking for another house, figuring out finances to get a new house, shifting, convincing Vedant Vandita, explaining things to them, reasoning with Aai- Baba and so on, especially when you have enough problems to occupy you right now." Archana sighed. "Okay, so I'm ready with my views now. I don't think we should separate."
He looked up at her with astonishment.
"What happened?" she asked. "Why are you looking at me in that manner.."
"How can you base your decision just on the basis of what I want? What about the rest of the people.. how can you think just about how it affects me.."
"Bcos right now YOU ARE PRIORITY." She said simply. "Everytime you keep thinking of what is good for everyone in the house and make 100 compromises for the same. But not this time. It may be the sensible option, but I can see you will be worst affected in this scenario from every aspect. I can see how stressed you already are and I have no intention to burden you any more. It seems almost inhuman to me."
"That is okay.. I will handle it.."
"Your 'I will handle it' answer does not gel in every situation." said Archana boldly. Manav looked up in surprise. Archana gave a small understanding smile. "Manav, you CANNOT handle it. You are a mere mortal like everyone else, not a superman. Why are you running away from the very obvious fact that in all this YOU will be worst affected- ethically, emotionally and logically- caught between family and wife and being made to choose one, that too at a time when it should actually be the other way round- family and wife should be supporting and helping you. You have always given priority to others and made so many adjustments for them, it's time others made a few adjustments for you to help the situation. I know no one loves me in this house, heck, I know no one WANTS me in this house. But only for you I am still here. And only for your sake I hope others help in keeping peace in the house. I don't ask everyone to come and hug me or fuss over me or love me, but at least we can all live cordially in the same house ignoring each other, if required, till at least this dark spell gets over, till at least you get better? Am I expecting too much here?"
"No." said Manav quietly. "But I don't know if others will cooperate. For all we know, there will be fights everyday. And I don't know how long I can take it now and then Aai.."
He had such a tired expression on his face that it wrung Archana's heart. "Look Archana," he continued. "You are a very nice person. I might have disagreed with you many times, I did not like it when you came back to the house also, but I have always maintained that you are a very selfless person. I call you softhearted, emotional etc. but you also know that I admire these qualities in you. You are a picture of positivity and innocence even in these difficult times. And innocence has to be protected." He looked away for a minute. "Archana, I don't want to leave this house, but then again, if Aai does something to you in her anger.." Archana put her hand on Manav's lips. "No let me speak. I don't trust Aai now. I don't want you to suffer bcos of her- mentally too. That is why I feel it would be best if you just go back to your home. It is the best thing for everyone, there is no point in making so many compromises when the marriage is anyways so unstable. Archana, you do not know it, but I have been seeing you from 3 years and always felt bad that God made you unhappy and never rewarded you for your goodness, rather your goodness made you suffer. I would not be able to bear it if you suffer while trying to help me. Trust me, there shall be nothing worse or more painful to me than to see MY Archana suffering cos of ME. Please don't put me through this, I beg of you."
He looked very desperate and she was very moved especially when he said 'MY Archana'. Manav's love for her shone even when he tried to hide it. He kept saying he didn't want this marriage and so on, but she could see the love was still there- the embers were still glowing orange and smouldering, even if subdued. She held his hand. "Manav, trust me, I shall not be suffering. I know you are there for me, and will take care of myself, even against Aai. When I came to this house, I came with the intention of restoring happiness, not to create more suffering for myself, yourself or anyone else. I came back cos I wanted to stay happy- with you. And just the fact that I'm with you gives me more peace than I ever had in those days when I was dreading the divorce. I came by my own will, you did not call me back, rather you wanted me to go back when you came to know of Aai mistreating me. Yet, if I decide to stay with you and in this marriage, then it is MY responsibility to take care of myself, you shouldn't have to make compromises for me. In fact, I think this same thing applies to everyone- if they do not want to help in improving the situation, then they shouldn't ask you to compromise to improve the situation."
"See Manav, it is very easy to say that things are irrepairable, and get away in the hope of restoring peace- but honestly it will not lead to anything. This is mere shortsightedness. Today it is a matter of convenience, but tomorrow it shall haunt us, if relations get destroyed. And I'm not speaking just about me and you. I'm speaking about everyone. I do not appreciate that both of us should get separated from each other, and similarily I do not appreciate that both of us should get separated from your family. Here I agree with what you said that you personally feel it may not be the right decision. These difficult times have to be fought, we cannot keep running from them- short cuts maybe convenient but are not always right. You were always a fighter, what happened to you?
"Out of steam, I guess." Said Manav sadly. Archana held his hands. "When one person falls weak in a relationship, the other one must be strong- else no relationship can survive. I understand you are gone through enough, that is why I'm telling you- for a change trust me that I will be your better half and help you out. I won't disappoint you."
He did not say anything. "Manav, I think we are hurrying way ahead and trying to find solutions. Let's see how the scenario shapes up ahead, and take steps accordingly. We have yet to see how Vedant Vandita will be reacting to all this if we try and explain everything to them.. again Sachin might side with us if he gets to know the truth.."
"I don't know.. a police complaint is a big thing.. and even though you didn't make it but it did come from your house.. Aai is their mother.. come on."
"But your Baba did support me, remember? Depends on the way we talk to everyone about it, I think we should wait before taking any decision, else we might end up walking into another pothole. Please do think about it." She said. Manav nodded. They sat silently for a while, then Manav straightened up. "You go and finish your kitchen work." He said. "It's better to divert the mind from all this."
She protested, but he forced her to go. She got up and went into the kitchen. Manav watched her as she walked away. Her words still reverberated in his mind- YOU ARE PRIORITY. He felt weird as he thought about it again and again. How many years had it been since HE had been made the priority in a difficult situation and people had compromised for him for a change? He couldn't remember. All these years, others had been priority. From something like shopping for new clothes in festivals, to a decision as big as this- all his decisions were made after ethical, emotional and logical weighing, on what would be right for his family, wife and other people, about what they wanted. He never gave priority to himself or to his limitations, the stress he had to undergo, his feelings- anger, disappointment and so on, for fair or foul reasons. If he ever did that, someone or the other used to give him a guilt trip and he would start feeling bad all over again. It had occurred umpteen times in the past. The result was that he was- as Fanny Ma'am used to tell him- last on his own priority list. He had stopped listening to what he wanted.
Today for the first time, someone had made him feel that he also DID MATTER- that he mattered enough for others to make some adjustments for a change. He didn't know why but it made him feel different. It felt.. nice.
He sighed and gazed out of the bedroom window. He could see people decorating the pandal for the Ganpati celebrations the next day. Little children were running about with coloured paper and flower strings, and the elders were telling them how and where to fix it. Someone was doing the last minute lighting work, someone else was checking out the speaker connections. The chawl was pulsating with the blaring noise of the speakers now, while people grumbled.
A small smile crept to his lips. He always liked the Ganpati celebrations and took part in them avidly every year. This was one time of the year he always looked forward to. A social festival, it made everyone come out of the shell and pray to the Lord together. The chawl became a spectacle of devotion and fun at the same time.
This year too, he would be there, he knew it, but didn't know to what extent. He was so busy with managing his problems that such light hearted festive moments seemed out of his reach, even when they were so near to him. Ever since the police complaint had taken place, he had not talked much to their neighbours in the chawl, in the fear of facing embarassing questions. He felt awkward each time he noticed someone whispering about him. Ah well- he thought, at least Archana was trying to maintain relations in the chawl. Aai and the others had reduced interaction with the chawl dwellers ever since the police complaint.
She strode in at that moment. "Manav, can we go to the main market?"
"Now? I thought you had work.."
"That I can finish at night, but if we go to the market later, it will get very crowded and we won't even get fresh stuff at night.."
Her reasoning seemed correct. "Come, we'll go on the bike then. I'll get the keys and start taking it out. Come down quickly." He walked out into the dining room.
Archana stopped for a moment before the mirror instead of following Manav out straightaway. She opened her hair and set it right again, and corrected her sari. She looked at Manav's reflection in the mirror- he was hunting for his slippers. Her heart felt light as she saw him. She had purposefully suggested the trip to the market right now. He was feeling depressed due to problems at home and work, and a few moments of escape would do good to him, she thought. He really needed something to get diverted from thinking about everything again and again and get back to normalcy, and she saw the Ganpati puja as a good opportunity for doing just that. After all, wasn't there just a hint of enthusiasm each time he told her about the celebration in the chawl, or how they celebrated in the house, or talked about the modaks and so on?
The market was unduly crowded that evening, when Archana and Manav reached on the bike. People were running from shop to shop, finishing last minute purchases for the big festival the next day. Agitated shopkeepers kept shouting at the top of their voices to make themselves heard amidst the mass of humanity surrounding them. Little children hurried along with their parents, holding their fingers.
"Careful." Said Manav, as a bike nearly hit Archana. "Let's go to that shop, I know the shopkeeper, he will get our work done quickly."
He led her to a large shop bustling with customers, the attendants and helpers going crazy at the noise and the crowd. On the chair sat a fat man with a Nehru topi.
"Namaste Kaka!" said Manav. The shopkeeper's eyes lit up. "Kasha ahe Manav? (How are you?) I was just wondering why your family did not come for shopping! Savita Tai comes every year.. where is she now, I can't see her.."
He craned his neck to look out for her. Manav felt embarassed.
Archana spoke up. "Kaka, when I'm there this year, why should Aai run about so much, haan?" she said with a warm smile. A wide smile was what she got in response. "Give me your list, I will get one of the boys to get everything quickly."
"You wait outside," said Archana to Manav. He shook his head. He knew many dirty men used this crowd and such occasions to their advantage.
A while later, they came out of the shop, and as Archana bargained for flowers, Manav stared at the road. Many people were dragging the idol of Ganesha on a cart, accompanied by bursting of crackers, music and throwing gulaal (coloured powder) in the air. He folded his hands in reverence, then craned his neck to have a good look at the crowd. He always liked to see people dancing- everyone let loose their inhibitions and danced on such a day while welcoming the Lord.
"I'm done." Said Archana. She saw him looking out at the road with an amused expression. "What happened?"
"Nothing." He smiled. "I always like to watch people dancing while welcoming the idol of Ganesha home. It's very entertaining- and the energy and music pumps up your enthusiasm. Some of it is funny too, like that one."
He pulled her by the elbow to the side to show two young boys dancing like snakes, with their hands raised above their heads like hoods. Archana tried to stifle a giggle.
"That one is funnier." She pointed out a man who was apparently doing only one step again and again- an act of throwing a rope above his head. Both giggled again.
"All the same it is nice to watch them." Said Manav taking the shopping bag from her hand. "They dance cos they enjoy it and to welcome the Lord. They don't think how it looks- I think this is very pure type of dance too- they dance from their soul.." he looked back at the 'naagin' dance of the two guys. "Even when they are dancing like snakes."
Archana giggled again and was pleased when he smiled widely too. They walked to the parking lot together, and Archana couldn't help looking at Manav again and again. She noticed that Manav looked so much more relaxed now, when he was outside home, amidst these strangers celebrating a festival. How she wished that the Deshmukh home could also one day become a place that would genuinely give a bit of pleasure and peace to Manav, rather than being a ring for fights and tension.
"What happened?" he asked.
She shook her head. "It always feels so nice to see you smiling." She said candidly. "You have a very nice smile Manav, it makes others feel light.."
"Aww.. comeon.." said Manav, shying away at the praise.
"No I mean it!" she persisted. "Your smile makes one feel better with life.. it makes one feel that things will get alright, with the events happening lately, I felt as if you had forgotten to smile.."
Manav fell serious again. Archana lifted his cheeks from both sides, much to his amusement. "You should keep smiling, Manav!" She told him. "You look nice that way. And there are many people who are happy when YOU are happy. Try and be happy for them."
He didn't know how to react to her last two sentences, so he grinned it off. "You are saying in the same serious tone that my doctor says- You should take your medicines, Manav!"
She smiled at herself as they looked at the road while walking to the parking lot. "I just need some time." He told her. "I need some time to settle down. Things have been too stormy for the last few days, I seem a bit harried to you, I know, but don't worry, I will be okay by myself. I've faced it before. I didn't break down at that time, I don't think I will break down now. As I find solutions to these problems, I will start becoming my usual self. You said it right- we all need to give ourselves and each other, some time and space to sort ourselves out."
"And I'm with you all the time.. please don't forget that." She piped in. "Manav, I have been thinking.."
He looked at her in surprise. "About what?"
"I was thinking of visiting Lal Bagh Cha Raja. (Lal Bagh's king) this year. You know how it is believed.."
"Hmm.. I know.." replied Manav quietly. Laal Bagh was one of the most important places in Mumbai during Ganpati Puja. Every year, the pandal in that area set up one of the biggest and grandest idols of Ganesh, and millions of devotees stood in long lines for darshan. The poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich visited the place every year.
"I will go and pray for everything to be alright again." She said simply. "We are trying our best, so God will definitely support us, I feel, if we reach out honestly to him."
"Don't go there alone," he said, starting the bike, "I will come along with you, I go there every year anyway."
"And it will be good too." Archana continued. "We are trying to start a new chapter anyway, make a fresh effort- and it is said that whenever you start some new job, you should always take Ganpati Bappa's blessings. The job always goes well. I'm sure things will settle well from here." Archana thought silently for a little while. "I think we should focus only on the garage, our financial issues and your illness right now. Pondering and worrying about family members and making decisions beforehand won't help. Let's see how the situation unfolds. I shall have to handle Aai by myself now."
"You won't be able to handle Aai alone." Manav remarked. He knew his Aai well by now.
"I will, trust me!" she said earnestly. Manav simply shook his head. She knew that everyone- her Baba, Manav, her Aai- all felt that she was weak and could not handle Savita Aai. But inwardly she had prepared herself mentally to tackle Aai on her own ever since she had come back, knowing Manav could not be with her 24 hours a day. Somewhere, she knew that tolerating Aai's behavior would be abetting her. And that would not only be bad for her, but would make her loved ones- Manav, Baba, Aai, more unhappy and worried.
As they drove home, they saw many other Ganpati idols. Each chawl and each area had tried to outdo each other during Ganesha Chaturthi by trying to make larger, more innovative and unique idols. One idol that they saw showed Ganpati Bappa sitting on the ICC Cricket World Cup, dedicated to India's World Cup Victory. Another seemed to have taken inspiration from Anna Hazaare's latest campaign. Finally, they reached their home. Here too, they encountered the dancing chawl inhabitants, the gulaal being thrown in the air, the loud music, the fireworks.. and Bappa! His large idol towered over them, making them feel small and insignificant. As they alighted and Manav pulled the bike amongst the crowd, Manav saw Vandita looking longingly at her friends dancing with the rest of the people. Through his eyes, he signalled her to join them. She hesitated for a bit, then looked back to see if Aai would say anything. He gestured her not to worry about Aai and join her friends. He himself saw the men of the chawl struggling to put the idol at its place in the pandal. "I'll go help them." He told Archana, who nodded and took the shopping bag from him.
Both Manav and Archana took a minute to stare at the scene before them- the hustle and bustle, the joy, the devotion, the constant chants of Ganpati Bappa Mourya, the spirit of celebration, the beauty and liveliness of our festivals, which have the power to pull every person out of his doom and invoke life again, festivals which make us bond with the community, our own people, and remind us that at the end of the day we are all one big family- Vasudev Kutumbakam. Not to forget the magnanimous and overwhelming presence of the Lord, now in their midst, which made one feel strangely comforted and hopeful- the same type of peace that a little child gets on being reunited with his mother.
It was a time to rejoice. It was a time to hope. It was a time to welcome, since Vighnaharta (solver of problems) Ganpati Bappa was here again!
Waiting for your comments and feedback guys. I will PM later, I've got to run now, posted this part with a lot of difficulty. Happy Diwali to everyone!
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