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Recap: (Part 74)
1.) Manav remembers his childhood with Savita Aai- her tough love, and how both of them had managed all difficulties together owing to his father's inability and alcoholism, and had bonded in the process. He compares the past with the present (Savita Aai backstabbing him in all possible ways- separating him from his wife, brother and friend for money) and wonders if she is the same person who had been such a good and protective mother to him in the past.
2.) Savita Aai tries to coax Manav to forget everything but is unapologetic about all that she did; in return Manav says that things can never be the same between them again, and he will just fulfill his responsibilities towards her, nothing more than that, since she does not seem to love him anyway. Savita Aai is shocked.
3.) Savita Aai also remembers the past and thinks about how she is justified in thinking about progressing financially rather than just thinking about love or relationships.
4.) Damodar Baba tells Manav that he should not leave Archana, come what may. Manav is not satisfied by his advice since he thinks it is too idealistic than realistic. He talks to Tarun to vent out his frustrations, only to find out that Tarun shares similar views as Damodar Baba.
5.) Manohar Baba extends the olive branch to Manav and apologises for the police complaint, and says that maybe ArMan living separately from the Deshmukh family would be the best option for everyone right now. Manav is shocked, but he is even more stumped when Tarun also agrees with Manohar Baba's suggestion, calling it the best way out.
6.) Vaishali visits Archana, Archana tells her that she strongly feels Manav never cheated her but is confused bcos of Varsha's involvement in the affair. Vaishali promises Archana that she will help her get to the bottom of the matter.
7.) ArMan discuss the separation issue, and Archana says that she does not want to separate cos she does not want Manav to go through more emotional, physical and financial stress at this juncture (Manav is to undergo a major surgery soon). Manav is astounded at Archana's reasoning and at the fact that for the first time someone gave him priority in a tricky situation.
8.) ArMan have a light moment and both of them prepare and do the shopping for Ganesh Chaturthi.
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The preparations were done. The last minute checking had been done. The decorations were in place. And the excitement had now spread to every house.
After all, it was no joke. Ganpati Bappa had come home!!!
Still in the kitchen, preparing the last batch of modaks, Archana wondered about the next day- her first Ganesh Chaturthi in her husband's house (and officially her 5th day in the house ever since she had come back). She hoped fervently for everything to go well, she didn't want unnecessary fights on a festive occasion.
She was lost in her thoughts when she suddenly became aware of Savita Aai entering the kitchen. Giving her a snide look, Aai walked to the little temple in the corner of the kitchen, and started with her pooja. Archana looked at her watch. It was time for her to do the pooja too, so that she could break her Hartalika fast later at night. Like all married Maharashtrian women, she too had worn green clothes, green bangles and fasted the whole day. After all, the festival of Hartalika- devoted to Goddess Parvati, who did severe penance for Lord Shiva, whom she loved, and finally won him over- is an important one for all married women who pray for marital bliss on this day. Keeping in mind that her own married life was far from bliss at the moment, and her husband and love had lost faith in her, it was important for her to seek some help from the Gods as well- thought Archana wistfully.
She went and freshened up while Savita continued with the pooja. As she finished, Archana stopped her, with the intention of saying something to her that she had not said the whole day, since she did not want Aai to create another ruckus after their encounter in the morning (when Aai had ended up clawing her). But somehow she really needed to speak now.
Savita looked up but did not say anything.
"I wanted to talk to you.."
"I don't." said Savita flatly.
"Aai actually.." Archana tried to be firm. "I want my mangalsutra.."
Savita narrowed her eyes. "What mangalsutra..?"
"You had snatched it from me when I came to the chawl to meet Manav on the day of the court hearing." Archana reminded, knowing very well that Savita did not need any reminder. "I want it now. It has been lying with you all these days and.."
"Enough enough.." said Savita irritatedly. "I don't have it."
"But you took it.."
"Yes, I took it but now I don't have it." Said Savita flatly. "I SOLD it."
Archana was shocked. "You sold it!" she exclaimed. "How could you sell my mangalsutra?"
"Why not?" said Savita giving her a dry look. "Was I supposed to wait till eternity for the day my darling daughter in law comes back in my house, so that I would give it to her? We needed money, so I sold it.."
"You could have sold the necklace my Aai gave you earlier as dowry.." persisted Archana, on the verge of tears. "Why did you sell my mangalsutra?"
"How do you know I've not sold your necklace?" asked Savita sharply. "Have you been stalking me, or did you open the locker?" (part 71)
Archana gulped. She didn't know what to say now. She stood mum.
"Shameless girl!" shouted Savita angrily. "First plonks herself in this house and then is stalking me to see what I have in my locker! Listen, you are not going to get anything. Get lost!"
"But my Mangalsutra!" protested Archana. "It's a holy thing, not meant to be played around with! Give it to me now.I have kept the fast for YOUR son only."
"Go to your NGO and ask them to retrieve it for you!" said Savita meanly and laughed to herself. "You girl, have caused me enough trouble. I should get something at least for having endured you till date, shouldn't I?"
And she walked away.
Fury crept to Archana's mind. She knew Aai was doing all this to take out her spite on her. Who the hell cares about her anyway- she thought angrily. God is watching from above and understands my condition- she thought to herself. If she could stay without a mangalsutra for the whole day, she could do the pooja without one too, and get a new one made for herself later. What difference did it make- she thought bitterly in frustration, but the thought only ended up making her feel more sad. It did make a difference, she thought. She could see Aai smirking at her from the door, and she tried to ignore it.
Savita Aai went away later, and Archana sat down to do the pooja, when she noticed that Savita Aai had used up all the special green leaves (Bel Patta) that are meant to be offered. She sighed and got up to gather some more leaves from the back of the chawl, where she had collected them earlier in the day. She walked down and could see last minute preparations being done for the next day, Ganesh Chaturthi. Manav himself was helping out with the pandal work.
As she plucked the leaves, her mind went over the story behind doing the fast and the pooja. Goddess Parvati had done penance to please Lord Shiva. And here, she was doing one to please Manav! Except that her penance was to deal with the baggage called Savita Aai, since Manav wasn't keen to separate from the house. She reflected on her conversation with Manav while returning from the market a little while ago, when she had said that she would handle Aai by herself. She remembered how worried he had been thinking that she would keep compromising just to live with him. "You can't handle Aai alone." -He had said. There was an ounce of truth in his words, she couldn't deny that. Aai was a person whom no one could handle alone. So far, Aai had been comparatively less harsh and abusive ever since Manav had found out everything about her. Archana too, had tried to face Aai on her own, confronting her clearly and logically and protesting against Aai's words or decisions, rather than totally depending on Manav to handle the situation. She was quite satisfied with the way she had been handling Aai ever since she had come into the house- tactically at first, then slowly doing what she felt right even if Aai told otherwise, then moving on to trying to reason out with Aai instead of opposing her behind her back, and finally- protesting when she said something bad about her parents- like she had done today morning.
But it had not had any major impact on Aai, she thought. The frank truth was that Aai was still troubling her, and would still continue to do so unless she took a strong stand against the way Aai behaved with her. If she did not, Aai would just get emboldened. And that would be good for no one- not for her, not for Manav, not for her parents, who were so worried for her, and not even for Aai- who was under vigilance after the complaint. She remembered what she had promised to herself when she had come back- that she had not come back to suffer or be unhappy. She couldn't let Aai dictate her life all the time.
It was with these thoughts in mind that Archana walked back home. She kept the leaves in the kitchen, and went to Aai's room. She went to the steel almirah in her room, and hoping that her confidence would not crumble down midway, she opened the almirah. She had earlier seen Aai keeping all the jewellery in the locker- her mangalsutra must be there too, in case Aai had not sold it.. She tried to open the locker, but it seemed to be locked, and there was no key hanging anywhere. The smart woman that Savita Aai was, it seemed she kept the keys with her at all times for fear of thieves in the chawl.
"What are you doing here?"
Archana jumped up in fright as she heard the voice behind her. Thankfully, it was just Damodar Baba, glaring at her with eyebrows raised.
She relaxed. "You scared me.. Baba, can you help me out a little?"
"Yeah sure, but what do you want? I don't think Savita's sarees are that good.."
"No Baba, I want keys to this locker. Aai refused to give them to me, and my stuff is inside.."
"Oho!" exclaimed Baba. "Don't tell me Savita snatched your jewellery again."
Archana felt embarrassed. "I had to give it to her when I came back, she was threatening me that she wouldn't let me stay in the house otherwise. I had no options.."
"It's okay, I understand."
"So you will talk to Aai?"
Baba laughed heartily. "I'm not going to waste my time arguing with that mad woman. I have a better way," he said. He looked around to see if anyone was watching and took out a pair of keys from the pocket of his kurta.
Archana's eyes widened. "This?"
"Yes. I made a special pair just for myself. You see, Savita never used to give me any money, and I don't like going to Manav for asking for money for alcohol. So I got my own keys made up so that I could take money from the locker." He said and giggled.
Archana's face fell. This was one of the classic examples when a vice becomes a boon in distress. She didn't what to say about it, except that she really felt like sympathizing with Savita Aai at that moment.
Baba continued enthusiastically. "When you left home, then I had sent Atya to return back your jewellery, remember? That time also I noticed it this way only- I opened the locker for some money for a play I was enacting in, and noticed that Savita had all your jewellery." His face conveyed his disgust. He shrugged and then handed Archana the keys. "Now you keep them."
Archana accepted them. "Baba, please keep in mind that I will also not be giving you money for alcohol." She said. "If Aai, Manav etc are strict with you, it is for a reason."
Baba looked horrified. "Give them back to me then!" he said and tried to take them but Archana removed her fist away. Baba laughed. "Alright alright, you also have a turn at being strict. But as of now, keep the keys." He said and walked away.
Archana watched him go away, and then carefully opened the locker. She could see her jewellery sets inside. She put her hand further inside the locker, and there it was- her mangalsutra. Its black beads shone- warding off evil, the little gold connecting beads shone reflecting all the glory and purity of the sacred institution called marriage. Archana didn't know why she had tears in her eyes, as she hugged her mangalsutra to herself, but she did know that she felt as if she had got a lot of strength back. Just like she had realised what this marriage meant to her, she had also seen what these little beads meant to her- the mark of a married woman. She put the holy necklace around her neck, and looked in the mirror of the almirah. There it was, shining with its peaceful glory, where it always deserved to be. If someone had seen her then, they might have called it a very melodramatic soapy scene, but for someone who had gone through so much for marriage, it was an emotional moment. Looking at it, somehow, Archana couldn't stop tears from flowing out of her eyes.
She wiped them a few moments later, and instead focused on thinking about whether or not to take away her jewellery sets. After a lot of thought, she decided to let them stay. They would be safe there. Aai loved gold, there was no way she could sell the sets. And anyway, she had the locker keys now. Aai would surely shout when she noticed that she had taken out her mangalsutra from the locker on her own, but she would manage the situation somehow at that time, she thought. There was no running away. She had to face Aai now. Someday or the other it had to happen, especially cos she might be needing her jewellery too in the future in case of financial problem.
She turned away and made her way to the kitchen again. She finally sat down in front of the little mandir and completed her pooja by offering the leaves and worshipping Shiva and Parvati, asking them for blessings so that everything would go well in her marital life.
She was just finishing it all, when Manav entered the kitchen. He stopped for a minute to observe what she was doing.
"All this..??" he asked.
"It's Hartalika today." She answered back.
He knew about it. He had seen Savita Aai observe the fast all these years. What he was astounded about was that he hadn't noticed that Archana hadn't eaten anything since morning, that she had been wearing green, that she had collected the leaves, that she had asked him to taste the modak instead of eating herself, that she had done the pooja earlier in the day as well. So stressed out and involved was he in thinking over everything again and again, that he had not noticed anything. He really needed to stop thinking so much and instead get back to a normal life again, at least make an attempt in that direction- he thought.
He couldn't help feeling a little guilty towards Archana. He looked at her as she continued with what she was doing, and noticed her whole attire- she looked like a perfect married woman, with sindoor, bangles and wait, mangalsutra? He hadn't seen her wearing it for quite a few days now.
He analysed it all again- dressed up just like a married woman should, keeping a fast for him, praying for their married life- everything. He had never thought in his wildest dreams that such a day would come, especially after the way the base of the marriage had been threatened time and again. Somewhere, it still made him feel nice to see her as HIS WIFE. At the same time, it made him feel strange to see her doing the pooja since he knew that with Archana's reasons of coming back into the house plus the whole situation in the house, exactly how much, or rather how little chance their marriage had of succeeding.
He stood there watching her. "What are you staring at?" asked Archana with a smile.
He came out of his thoughts. "Umm.. nothing. Just thinking.. you think this works?"
"Fasting, and all.."
She smiled back at him again. "Well, I have been doing this fast for many years cos unmarried women also do this fast to pray for a good husband. It worked, didn't it?"
He looked away, trying to hide a smile and a blush. Archana noticed it and tried not to giggle.
"Why are you going all heavy on complimenting me?" he asked. "Earlier this evening it was about my smile, and now this.."
She laughed. "There's no reason." She said. "It just came out 'involuntarily'. You can also compliment me in return if you want."
He wanted to say something at that moment, but somehow he didn't get the words. He fumbled for a while and then murmured- "I better go."
And he walked out of the kitchen, going over everything in his mind again.
In the living room, Vedant and Vandita were sitting and watching TV. Manav looked at them for a minute, then went and sat next to them. "What's on?"
"Nothing." Grumbled Vedant. "There is nothing worth watching on TV these days. Everything is so boring."
"Hmm.." Manav noticed Vandita was looking around. "What happened to you?"
"Are you looking around to make sure Archana is not listening to our convo?" Manav asked with one brow raised. Vandita felt embarassed.
Manav took in a deep breath. "Vandita, this is not the way to behave.."
"I don't like her." Vandita said quietly. "Ever since she has come back, everyone is fighting in the house, and you had to go to jail too.."
"I don't like her.."
Manav sighed. "Listen Vandu, do you know the whole story?"
"Most of it."
"Well when you do not know the whole story, it really isn't fair to jump to conclusions."
"Fine, tell me the whole story.."
Manav thought of how to explain everything from the beginning. "Vandu, it's like, Aai and all of us had to go to jail cos Aai herself had been wrong.. her antics gave others a chance to complain.."
"But if Vahini is really a part of the family, she wouldn't have complained and got Aai hit by the policewoman." said Vandita bitterly.
"She didn't Vandu, it was her Vahini.. Archana is on OUR side.. she wanted to solve the whole matter without taking the legal route, her evil Vahini involved the law cos she knew Aai would get punished.."
"Whatever, they are her people only after all.." grunted Vandita unhappily. "And it's not just that, ever since she has come back, all of us have broken apart. We never sit together or have a family moment again.."
"That is not bcos of her," said Vedant suddenly. "As far as I can remember, we haven't had a family moment ever since Sachin Dada left.. cos since then Aai has always been blaming Manav Dada and fighting with him.."
Manav was surprised at this interruption. "Ah well, yes.. that is true.."
"Dada, will you leave us and go away with her?" asked Vandita worriedly. "Please don't go away.. we'll not say anything bad to her, we will do as you say, but please don't go away.."
"Who told you about going away?" asked Manav.
Vandita was silent. Manav gave her a hard glare. "Vandu, have you been eavesdropping..?"
She bit her lip. Manav did not feel angry, but rather emotional as he understood how insecure his siblings were. He put one arm around her lovingly. "I'm not going anywhere." He said firmly. "I will make sure both of you do not compromise in this mess."
"Dada, are you angry with Aai?" asked Vandita in a small voice. "Are you angry with us also?"
"No, I'm not angry with you, why would I be angry with you, but yes, with Aai it's a different matter.."
"You aren't on talking terms with Aai now, isn't it." Piped in Vedant. Manav felt embarassed.
"Listen both of you," he finally got up and sat in front of them. "I do not know how much you know about everything and how much you will be able to understand- even I'm having a difficult time trying to manage my sensibilities and my emotions- but just see it this way- if I, Baba, Tarun Dada, everyone thinks Aai is wrong, then you can trust our judgement can't you?"
Vedant nodded. "The way I see everything, it's like your best friend being punished at school." He said. "You feel bad that he got punished and you feel like cursing the teacher and also the one who complained, but then again, no point in going around blaming only other people and defending your friend.. I mean I do feel bad for Aai and I hate that Manjusha, but it's not like I'll go around defending Aai vigorously and saying others were wrong and she wasn't.."
"Exactly." Agreed Manav. "But Dada, why is it that you fight with Aai so much these days.. don't even talk to her.. don't even eat the food she makes.. if it were my best friend, I would still have talked to her.."
"Listen Vandu, things are complicated between Aai and me, Aai has been cheating me," Manav said. "I know," said Vandita. "But parents forgive so many mistakes of their children all through, why can't you forgive one?" she asked innocently.
Manav had no answer to this simple question. He turned his face away. "I could have tried to forget it all if Aai had shown remorse, but she doesn't regret doing anything.. so how can I.." he trailed off. "It's not even a question of forgiving actually, I just don't feel for Aai the way I felt before. Our equation has changed." He really felt uncomfortable in talking to all this with his school going siblings. It reminded him of his own days, when he too had been forced by circumstances to mature earlier than his age. Would his siblings have to go through it too? He looked at Vedant who was nonchalantly watching TV. "You can also speak." Manav spoke up.
Vedant lowered the volume of TV. "What to say? The situation is in front of us, and it's not a pretty one. You have been saying since a long time that you don't want us to interfere in this situation or take sides, and that is what I've been doing, cos anyway it is difficult to take sides in this situation. When we try and help in any whichever way, we are told off by Aai. Vandita got told off by her pretty badly once when she tried to tell you about Shravani. Aai said we are not big enough to discuss or get involved in such things. Surprisingly, Aai doesn't think we are small NOW, when she discusses all these matters with us, about how you've changed and Archana Vahini is bad and all."
Manav was shocked. "Aai has been telling you all this?"
"She told us to try and talk to you so that our home could be same as earlier." Said Vandita. Manav grumbled angrily. "This is not fair. I try to keep you out of this mess by asking you not to take sides or get involved in all this. But Aai doesn't. These one sided opinions are poisoning your mind. This is really not fair."
"Dada, can we not get back together as we were earlier?" pleaded Vandita. "The house seems a different place these days.."
"I'm sorry Vandu, but Aai has gone too far in cheating me this time, dear. You will have to understand me here." Vandita nodded sadly. "If Vahini goes away, things between you and Aai will be better.." she murmured.
"No they won't." said Manav stoutly. "There's nothing like that. So stop thinking that all this is bcos of Archana.. it isn't. It's bcos of Aai's own behavior. Bcos of her your Sachin Dada has gone from this house." He took a deep breath. He had no wish to start the whole lecture again. "Listen, unlike Aai I will never ask you to blindly support me. But I do expect you to understand what I'm going through, even if you do not agree with my behavior. One good thing about your Sachin Dada was that he said he would always be with me, even if he doesn't agree with my decisions or my choices in life. I think we have to all learn to be the same."
Vandita hugged his arm. "I know Dada, I'm always with you! Just that I don't want Vahini in this house. I hope she leaves."
"This is all Aai's influence. I know she must have drilled all this into your head. I don't understand why you even listen to Aai." Said Vedant dryly. Vandita frowned.
"Vedant.." said Manav in a warning tone. He didn't like someone speaking in this manner about an elder.
"No Dada, sorry to say but I mean it.. as per convenience we suddenly become kids for her, as per convenience we suddenly become adults for her. You have stuck to one stand, and you do not involve us in these decisions. But she does, and that too in a selective manner. When we take your side, she scolds us saying we are not big enough to get involved in all this, and when we don't take any sides, she talks to us about it saying that we must do something about it since we are not kids any longer but adults of the house. So who are we.. adults or kids? And are we to get involved or not? Gosh, all this really tires me out these days.."
Manav closed his eyes. Why are you doing this Aai, he thought silently to himself- into how many more fractions do you want to break this house?
"That is why I chose to ignore her these days." Said Vedant flatly. "I remain unaffected by all the happenings of the house and simply concentrate on my own studies. I remember once you told me that the best way we can help you in all this is by concentrating on our studies, so that we can go to good govt. colleges and save you money later."
Manav smiled at Vedant. "Frankly speaking, you are the one who's helping me most these days by thinking like this." He ruffled his hair. "Don't spoil my hair brother," squirmed Vedant, setting it right again. "I talked to one of my teachers at school, and he told me that if I want to do well in school and get to medical college next year, then I need to maintain focus. These are the two most crucial years of my life."
Manav nodded in agreement. "Full points to you. I completely agree with your teacher. These problems are never- ending, but both of you should only try and concentrate on your studies. The problems will come and go, but if these 2 years fly away, you will repent a lot later. These 2 years are going to make or break your future."
Vedant smiled a little and continued. "I keep telling this to Vandu also, that you don't get involved in all this, but she doesn't listen. All the time she's consoling Aai and trying to make her feel better. I know Aai has suffered due to that Manjusha's scheming, but it's not like Aai is all innocent in this mess, so even though I feel really bad for her and really mad at Manjusha, there's no point in campaigning so aggressively for Aai and cursing other people and most of all Archana Vahini. And anyways, no matter, how much we speak, our opinion is not going to be taken seriously."
"Aai is our mother! It isn't fair to treat her like this! She's also very sad, I'm telling you she was crying last night and she doesn't eat well these days." Manav felt bad. Vandita pursed her lips. "I don't like Archana Vahini." She said.
"Why do you waste your time and energy thinking about her?" said Vedant, back to watching TV. "Concentrate on your own studies."
"No need to act oversmart. Dada is there to advise." She snapped.
"I'm not acting oversmart, I'm acting on Dada's advice only." Said Vedant. Manav was irked. "Stop fighting both of you!" both became silent immediately.
Archana passed by at the moment. "Manav is something wrong?" she asked in a small voice.
"Huh?" he looked back at her. "Nothing." He said. Archana looked at Vedant and Vandita. "The chawl pooja will be there tomorrow at 8 o clock. Make sure you get ready by then. And if there are any clothes to be ironed, you can give them to me early tomorrow morning."
Vandita did not reply, while Vedant politely said, "Yes, we shall do that." Archana smiled and went back to her room.
Morning arrived, and the chawl was in a state of frenzy with speakers blaring out songs and bhajans of Ganpati, the Ganpati stotra, and even announcements regarding the pooja. People were seen rushing in and out of their houses, all dressed up, getting ready for the pooja.
Archana too was in a hurry as she got breakfast ready, as well as prepared the materials to make lunch. She quickly set plates for the kids and looked about for Baba. He was nowhere to be seen. She hoped that he and Aai had not fought again last night.
She noticed Manav coming out of the bathroom, towelling his head and she walked to him. "Your kurta-pyajama are on the bed with your wallet. Anything else?"
"Umm.. no.. why haven't you got ready?'
"I will.. in a few minutes.."
Vandita approached them. "Dada.."
"What is it?"
She looked at Archana for a moment, then spoke to Manav. "Aai has told no one should be involved in the chawl function today. People will gossip and ask questions about the complaint."
Manav groaned. Aai again!
"Baba has not said anything of that sort. Rather he wanted everyone to take part." He told Vandita. "And you and Vedant don't need to get involved in all this anyway. We are a part of the chawl, we have contributed for the festival, we are supposed to help, and celebrate. Go ahead and get ready. We will sort this out later."
Celebrated in the month of Bhadrapada, Ganesh Chaturthi is one of the most important festivals all over India and especially in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. On this day, Lord Shiva declared Lord Ganesh to be superior amongst all gods, and the one to be worshipped first. Ganesha is widely worshipped as the god of wisdom, prosperity and good fortune and traditionally invoked at the beginning of any new venture or at the start of travel. Ganesh Chaturthi comprises of a ten day celebration in most states, starting at the shukla chaturthi, and ending at the Anant Chaturdashi, after which the visarjan is done. All homes worship Ganesh during this period and pray for wisdom and good fortune. Some invoke their own idols which are worshipped for 1 and , 3, 5 or 7 days. During this time, large idols are kept in big pandals, and public worship takes place along with great fanfare, celebrations and activities for fun. In fact, so profound is the impact and participation in this festival, that it is nowadays also used for a ground for awareness or social work, like blood donation.
There at the chawl, the Pooja at the grand Pandal had just began. The grand idol of Ganpati Bappa over 3 feet tall, on his position at the stage, exhibited a majestic air, dressed in finery and thronged by devotees who hurried to put prasad, sweets and flowers in place. The priest, dressed in a white dhoti and a shawl, invoked life into the idol of Lord Ganesh by chanting mantras, a ritual called Pranapratistha. The Shhodhashopchara followed, in which tribute is given to the Lord in 16 ways. 21 modaks, 21 blades of grass (durva) coconut, jaggery and red flowers are offered and turmeric and sandalwood is applied.
The atmosphere in the chawl was sober and serious now, with the only sound being the Vedic hymns being recited by the priest, resounding due to the speakers. After some time, the pooja was done, and it was time for the grand Aarti of the day. All the people gathered in the empty space in front of the pandal, the Deshmukh family members among them. The ladies leading the Aarti forward, and the little children assigned to ring the bells took position.
Sukhkarta Dukhharta Varta Vighnachi ll
(Oh Lord who provides Joy, takes away Sadness and removes all "vighnas" (obstacles) in life)
Nurvi Purvi Prem Krupa Jayachi ll
(Who spreads love everywhere as his blessing)
Sarvangi Sundar Uti Shendurachi ll
(Who has lovely "shendur utna"(yellow-orange fragrance paste) all over his body)
Kanti Jhalke Mal Mukataphalaanchi..ll
(Who has a necklace of "Mukataphal"(pearls in Sanskrit) around his neck)
Jaidev Jaidev Jai Mangal Murti ll
(Hail the god, Hail the god, Hail the auspicious idol)
Darshan Maatre Man: Kaamna Phurti ll
(All our wishes are fulfilled just by "darshan" (looking at the idol)
One by one, members of each family of the chawl came ahead and took their turns to do the aarti. Manav was standing in a corner with Vedant and Vandita. His Baba wasn't there yet. And Aai wouldn't come. She was in no mood to mingle with the other people so soon after the humiliating harassment complaint. He would have to do the aarti on behalf of his family, he thought.
He came ahead as his turn came up, indicating that he would do the aarti on behalf of the Deshmukh family. The person before him handed him the large brass diya with its seven wicks glowing away beautifully. He held it firmly for a moment to make sure he had it properly in place.
A hand crept up softly to touch his hand, the same one in which he was holding the diya. He was slightly taken aback as he turned to have a look.
It was Archana, but she seemed so different, he couldn't believe it. Today she was dressed up in a violet silk sari, her hair tied back and left half open. She appeared absolutely radiant and perfect with small ear-rings, her sindoor and mangalsutra, not the harassed soul that one would have expected her to look.
"Manav.. let's start.." she whispered. He looked ahead in front, moving the diya in a circle again and again, Archana's hand moving along with him.
(Ignore the Karanjkars in the background)
In front of them, Ganpati Bappa sat contentedly, witnessing the sight. Behind them, the chawl folks whispered.
"I thought things were wrong between them?"
"Weren't they going through a rough patch? Wasn't Manav beating his wife, or something like that? What was that harassment complaint about?"
"Well, it doesn't seem like anything is wrong. They seem pretty normal."
"I have seen them together many times.. god knows what is happening.. if she was so unhappy in that house that she even made a police complaint about it, then why is she still living there?"
"Arey leave her, how did Manav accept her back?"
"I would have never tolerated for sure if my wife had made a police complaint against me.. how come things have settled down between them so soon.."
"Hey wait.. where is Savita Vahini?"
"Something is fishy.. the matter is not what it appears.. the complaint could be false as they have been saying.. maybe that is why.."
"But we did see Savita Vahini troubling her.. didn't we?"
"Yes, but Manav?"
"Aahh.. yes I get your point.."
Unmindful of the fact that they had sent the whole chawl in gossiping frenzy, the two devotees carried out the aarti, praying to the Lord from the bottom of their hearts.
"What now?" asked Archana after they were done with the pooja.
He had been thinking about the same. "Since it's an off for me and all the other mechanics, I think I shall go to the garage- MY garage." He clarified. "I better clean it up today, a few people talked to me about the goods.." he hesitated. "You know that I rent the garage as a warehouse these days, don't you?"
She nodded. "I too will be going out for some time later in the day, around 12, maybe."
He raised a brow. "Home?"
She hesitated. "Under present circumstances I don't think it would be right for me to go home. I was talking about the NGO office, we have the pooja there too."
"Oh yeah.. well okay," he said. "The ukdachi modak came out well.."
She gave a small smile. "Really?"
"No, I'm lying." She frowned a little. "Of course I mean it. You made them well.."
"I had to.. there was a lot of pressure.."
"What pressure? It's not like I would have been angry if you hadn't made them well.."
"Not you, but the rest of the chawl people will be tasting na! In the 15 days I was here, they had never eaten anything made by me or known anything about me.. so.."
He laughed. "You want to impress them?"
She tried not to smile. "No, not that way.. but yeah, I didn't want anyone to say that her parents haven't taught her anything.. and yes, people do judge by such little things, so.."
He tried to hide a giggle. "Alright, all the best then.. and yeah, I might work late, and I might not come home for lunch, okay?"
She opened her mouth to protest but he had already walked off.
Left alone in the chawl compound, Archana picked up the plate of modaks kept in front of the Lord, the ones she had made religiously the day before. She approached the different groups of people- the Aunties, the little kids etc. and offered them the prasad. While most of the people accepted it quietly, some of them gave each other a look of confusion. She made small talk with the Aunties at the chawl, inquiring after their health and family, and answered their small questions while effectively dodging the more embarassing ones. She went to Vandita and Vedant, offered prasad, and made small talk with them as well, asking them about where they would be the rest of the day, and if she should make lunch for them.
"I'm going out with my friends." Vedant told her. "We always go and see the various pandals on the first day. I will eat outside."
"Fine. What about you Vandita?" Archana asked. "Huh?" said Vandita suddenly, alarmed at the question being addressed to her. She fumbled for words. "I think I shall go to my friends' house, they bring the Ganpati home every year. I will come home by afternoon."
"Alright." Archana said. "But call on Manav's phone if you need someone to pick you up, or if there is any change in your plans.. else everyone will get worried here. And the roads will be very crowded today, so just take care." Vedant piped in- "I'll accompany her till her friend's house, don't worry. Thanks for asking." Archana passed him a small smile, and Vandita heaved a sigh of relief as soon as she was gone.
The chawl Aunties digested everything. "What in the world is happening in the Deshmukh house? How is it that after everything that happened, things are still so peaceful there?" they wondered. "And where has our tigress Savita disappeared? Has she become a cat after that police complaint?"
All this had not gone unnoticed by Savita, who had come out for her darshan. Her mind was already heated up on noticing that Archana had her mangalsutra, something she hadn't noticed earlier cos she usually avoided coming face to face with her these days and mostly stayed in her room. It hadn't taken long for her to understand that Archana HAD opened her locker without her permission. And now she was hobnobbing with the people in the chawl. She looked angrily at Archana who was in front of the idol of Ganesh, giving the modaks to the priest. This girl will see the worst of me today- thought Savita, walking angrily in front of the idol. She pulled Archana by the arm.
"Ouch!" cried Archana.
"What is this nonsense?" said Savita. "How dare you steal my jewellery!"
Archana tried to calm herself as she looked around. "Aai people are watching.." She started.
"Let them watch! Let them also see the thief in my house!" shouted Savita. The restless hum from the crowd lowered the impact a little, but a few people still turned around to watch.
"Aai, please.. not here.." Archana tried to make her see sense, trying to free herself from her hold and calming herself at the same time.
"Why not here.." shot back Savita. "Scared of what happened last time? Scared of an action replay?" Savita twisted her hand some more, so that Archana groaned. "I guess you have forgotten else you wouldn't have done what you did today!" she said in a malicious voice.
Of course she remembered it, Archana thought, looking into Savita's fiery eyes directly for a moment, as everything replayed in front of her. That was not anything that could be forgotten- the way Aai had thrown her out last time, the way she had been called names, the way Aai had snatched her mangalsutra, humiliated her- she remembered everything.
And she remembered the aftermath as well- her parents worried for her till this day, the police complaint, Manav being punished in jail for no fault, the embarassment- she remembered everything. It had been these same fiery eyes everytime, into whom she had looked, horrified at the cold way they looked down on her each time Savita had hurt her. Each time she had looked for just a little womanly understanding but had never got any. This woman was simply made of stone- Archana thought, her usually soft brown eyes hardening and turning steely as she looked into Savita's angry ones. Forget Archana, she didn't care for her own children, for her own blood. She wasn't scared of God, and she had no respect for any kind of relationship. Disgust brimmed up in Archana's mind as each of Savita Aai's deeds played out in front of her again. It was as if all that had accumulated in her heart all these days started coming up on the surface. For a moment, she could not see the person of whom she had always been a little scared, she could only see a vile abusive lady who had wreaked havoc on everyone and had no repentance of everything. Savita meanwhile continued shouting.
"How dare you open my locker! How dare you steal from it.. don't you have any shame? This is your upbringing?"
"Did you have any shame when you broke my suitcase and fleeced all my gold on my first day in this house?" Shot Archana before she could control herself.
For a moment Savita was stunned. Was it really the cow Archana who had spoken? "Why you.."
She was not prepared for what happened next. Archana, obviously stronger than her, held her by the other arm and literally pulled her out to the back of the chawl, where Savita found herself following her, dumbstruck by the turn of events.
Once in privacy, Archana faced Savita again, her face taut and very firm. "You shameless girl.. is this what your parents have taught you.. is this the way you behave with elders.."
"Thank God that my parents have taught me to be respectful to elders, cos I think this is what prevented me from answering back to you in public." Said Archana stoutly. "And thank God that you are Manav's mother- and your actions affect him, cos for his sake I would not like an action replay of whatever happened last time. Unlike you, I don't go about creating nuisance and washing dirty linen in public."
"Someone has become a Jhansi ki Rani all of a sudden!" taunted Savita. "Aye you don't mess with me, and this.." she clawed at Archana's mangalsutra.
Archana held Savita's hand. "Aai," she said in a warning tone, almost gritting her teeth. " Don't push me over the edge, I'm telling you, don't push me anymore."
With this she left Savita's hand and stormed off into the house, not waiting to take another look at her neighbours, who had now started staring at her. Savita stared open mouthedly at her. Till date Archana had never spoken in this manner. What had got into this girl suddenly, she wondered. Whatever it was, she would deal with her soon, thought Savita Aai angrily.
And this time she was not going to give Archana any chances.
"Put that over there." Manav instructed to a worker. "And that box over there."
He was at his garage, which he rented out as a warehouse or godown these days to make some money till he could collect enough funds himself to start the garage again. Thanks to the holiday for Ganesh Chaturthi, he had some time to look into the rent and other affairs today. A dealer had called him some time back, and now he was supervising the storage of the goods.
He looked around himself. The garage still seemed a scary place, he thought- the black soot on the walls withstanding. Thankfully he had removed all the burnt up junk by himself, and the garage was clean enough to be used. Market being close by, he easily got customers in the form of wholesale dealers- and some easy cash. But it wasn't what he wanted- he sighed to himself as he remembered the name plate at the office of his garage, when it had opened the first time, before it got burned the same night. He remembered how angry he had been with God that night asking him why it had to happen with him. From there onwards, things had only spiralled downwards.
Was there any end to these problems- he wondered. Would he ever be able to get his own garage and some prosperity in life, or was he doomed to die as a mechanic?
"Is anyone here?" a voice broke his chain of thoughts. Manav turned around to look. A short, plump man wearing round spectacles had entered the garage and was peeking about anxiously.
"Over here!" called out Manav. The short man came over to Manav. He appeared slightly tensed, Manav noticed.
"Hello!" he said politely. "I wanted to meet Mr. Manav Deshmukh."
"That's me, but you.." Said Manav, a little astounded. Very rarely it happened that people referred to him as 'Mr. Manav Deshmukh'. Usually he was used to hearing Manav or simply 'mechanic' (in the garage).
The man flashed a smile and extended his hand towards Manav. "My name is Dharmesh Jaipurwala, from Kewan spare parts, remember me?"
"Dharmesh Jaipurwala..??" Manav tried to remember as he rubbed his hand on his shirt and shook hands with Dharmesh. "I'm sorry but I don't think we've met, have we?"
"Oh yes we have!" exclaimed Dharmesh. "You had come to my office to buy automobile spare parts for your garage!"
"WHAT!" said Manav, flabbergasted. "What are you saying, I.. I never came to buy spare parts.. and.."
"You did!" Dharmesh persisted. "I remember very well- it was a big order. We had met in my office in Thane, and I had offered you cold drink and samosas!"
"Well, I don't remember any cold drink and samosas!" said Manav indignantly. He was beginning to think that this Dharmesh fellow was a bit mad. "My garage got burnt long back. I never gave order for any spare parts."
"Burnt?" said Dharmesh. "But.. I went to your garage just a few minutes back, you did give an order.. I have the list with me.. look here."
He took out a notebook and showed Manav a list of equipments and spare parts, with the date and the name of the garage on top. Manav slapped his forehead. "THIS!?!" he exclaimed. "This was not meant for MY garage, I had ordered it for Girishji's garage."
"Yes, yes whatever." Said Dharmesh happily, relieved that at least Manav remembered it. "Why are you showing this to me now, I had made this order long back.."
"Yes, and you never came to take it.." said Dharmesh.
"That was bcos the order was cancelled a few days after it was placed." Said Manav. "In those days when I placed the order, I was the Supervisor of Girishji's garage. Girishji had made me Supervisor temporarily, later he removed me from that post (Refer to previous parts: After Manav refused to marry Shravani) and appointed another Supervisor, an acquaintance of his. The new Supervisor did not want to buy spare parts of this brand, so he decided to cancel the previous order that I had placed. I believe he talked to someone in your office regarding that.."
Dharmesh's face turned pale. "Mr. Manav.."
"Please call me only Manav."
"Oh yes, only Manav.. I mean Manav.. there has been some miscommunication- I did not know the order was to be cancelled. I am only a dealer of these spare parts, not a manufacturer. I ordered the parts from the company- Kewan spare parts in bulk as told by you. And now, when I asked about the delivery and payment, the new Supervisor refused point blank, saying they never placed the order."
"And he's right." Said Manav. "There was no official paperwork done, I hadn't signed anything, I had given no advance. Later, the new Supervisor refused a lot before time. If your staff had some miscommunication between them, we are not responsible for it."
"But.. but.." said Dharmesh pensively. He took out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead. "Mr. Manav, I have already ordered the spare parts now.. what will I do with such a bulk?"
"Well, I can't help you here Mr. Jaipurwala." Said Manav. "The Supervisor and Girishji are the only ones who have authority regarding this. You should speak to the Supervisor or to Girishji and convince them to buy the spare parts. I do know they are of good quality, in fact, even better than the reputed brand we have been buying since the last few years. And they're also cheaper. That's why I had ordered them in the first place."
"Yes!" said Dharmesh, brightening up a little. "Kewan spare parts is comparatively a new company, it will take sometime to take over the existing brands, but it is definitely more sturdy. Why don't you convince your people and.."
"Me?" said Manav, a little staggered. "Mr. Jaipurwala, I have no authority any longer. I am a mere mechanic working in that garage.. they will not listen to me.."
"But.. please try convincing the Supervisor.." Dharmesh pleaded.
"I had tried. I had told him not to cancel the order that I had placed earlier and pointed out the pros in the spare parts of your company, but he refused. He thinks the existing brands are better, even if a little more expensive. Nowadays customers prefer reputed brands for their vehicles. The profit we get from them is also good."
Dharmesh looked really pensive now. "Are you okay Mr. Jaipurwala?" asked Manav a little cautiously.
"No." said poor Dharmesh. "I have ordered so much spare parts as required by a big garage like Girishji's.. and now.. how am I going to sell all this.. what am I going to do with all this.."
Manav thought for a while. "Store it for a while and sell it slowly. You have a shop after all, and its spare parts we are talking about, not mangoes which will get destroyed if not eaten in a few days."
"You don't understand. My income is the profit I make by selling the goods. I have brought so much, invested so much money, and now it won't fetch me anything in return for the next few days- rather I will have to pay more for the storage etc of these goods. Mr. Manav.. I mean Manav.. please talk to your Supervisor again, or to Girishji.."
"Girishji is not here.. he has gone to Bangalore with his daughter.. and frankly speaking he is not on very good terms with me. If you want him to help you, talk to him yourself. Or talk to the Supervisor. He is a very nice man. If you tell him your problem, he may consider and gladly accept the goods."
"I tried, but he isn't listening to me. Manav, please talk to him again.."
"No Mr. Jaipurwala.. I can't argue over this any more, and on what basis shall I argue? I have no authority or people to favour me.. and I'm just a mechanic who has observed the good points in your spare parts going by my experience of working in the garage since so many years.. but the Supervisor is a Mechanical Engineer. He must be knowing all this better than me, I really am in no position to debate with him, he can shut me up in two minutes."
"But.." Dharmesh looked very worried. "I really can't help you here.. please try and understand.. and I really can't afford to get into trouble with the management at this time- I'm myself going through a rough patch, I need this job.. please understand my situation.." Manav trailed off.
Dharmesh nodded dejectedly. "I was so happy that I'd got a big order.. I even went ahead and took the loan I had wanted to take for so long, cos I anticipated a good profit in coming days.. and now this.."
Manav felt bad for him. "Can't you just return the goods to the company?"
Dharmesh shook his head. "I might try, but it is going to lower my credibility.."
"I'm sorry Mr. Jaipurwala, trust me, if I had my own garage right now, I would have bought all your goods and used them in my own garage.. but fate had written something else for me.. I think you should try and talk to Girishji. Take his number from the garage."
Dharmesh nodded, still looking very down. He looked around himself. "Is this your garage.. what happened to it?"
"It got burnt." Manav replied. "I rent it out as a godown these days to make some money so that I can pay the bank loans and save some money to repair it and start it again one day." Only God knew when that would happen, he thought to himself.
And then suddenly he had a thought. "Mr. Jaipurwala, I can't help you in buying the goods, but I can help you in another way." He said. He pointed to the small room at the back of the garage, which used to be his office at one time. "There is still some space there. If you want, I can store your goods there for as long as you want, at a discounted rate. In the meanwhile, try and talk to Girishji. If he gets convinced, we can shift all of it to his garage."
"Hmm.. but how is this going to help me..?"
"Well, you yourself spoke about what you would do with all this bulk of goods and how you would store them.. so.."
"Oh okay.. you mean I can save on the storage.. well.. that is very thoughful of you.. I must admit, I wouldn't have done it if I were in your place.." said Dharmesh. Manav smiled at the guy's honesty while Dharmesh scrutinised the place from top to bottom. "Well, I could really save some money storing them here.. as it is, rates are less here than in Thane.."
"Good." Manav smiled. "Get your goods, I'll make some space for them."
"The truck's just outside." Dharmesh retorted. "Let's start moving them in."
"Outside?" wondered Manav. Hmm.. seemed like this Jaipurwala guy had come with full preparations to plonk his goods and not take them back. "Come!"
Manav turned at the small voice. Through the dim light of the bulb in the garage, he made out the slim figure of Archana walking inside the garage, stumbling over something on the ground.
"Careful." He cautioned her. "What happened?"
"Nothing.. I was returning from the NGO and I thought we could walk back home together.."
"This late?" remarked Manav. "I thought the Pooja took place a few hours earlier.."
"Yes, then I took my Ma'am to Fanny Ma'am's orphanage." Archana explained.
Manav's interest piqued. "I thought you had forgotten.."
Archana gave a weak smile. "No Manav, I would never forget about it, you see this is one duty that you yourself endowed upon me, you had trust that I could handle this job that you are giving me. I have to prove myself on my counts, but amongst all of them, this comes first."
(Note: Fanny Ma'am= Manav's old teacher, runs orphanage which is currently under trouble due to lease, Manav had asked Archana to look into it--- previous parts)
Manav nodded. "How did it go?"
"Fanny Ma'am's condition is much better now in London, but she won't be returning in all probability. At least not before the matter of the lease is sorted out. Since it's a holiday today, my senior had some time, so I took her around, asking her what she could do to
"That would be great!" said Manav happily. "Thanks for looking into the matter Archana!!"
"Please don't thank me Manav." Said Archana uncomfortably. "I don't like it when you thank me."
Manav nodded and continued with his work. "It will take a few minutes.."
"It's okay, I will wait." She said.
"You go, it might take some time."
"No it's okay." She said, sitting on a box. Manav wrapped up his work quickly. It was time for the evening aarti.
"Is there something wrong Archana?" asked Manav, as they walked back home together. "Why such hesitation in going home?
She thought for a moment, then decided to tell him. Now that they were together, it was best for them to be open with each other regarding everything. It was only THEN that they could help each other with their problems and gain a better understanding as man and wife. She started speaking, and slowly told him about everything that had happened between her and Aai in the morning.
"I just thought that.. that if you come along with me, we can avoid getting things dirty." She said. "Else Aai might create another ruckus in the chawl."
"Hmm.. you are right." He said. "That was good thinking on your part." He then stopped to ponder a little, then said, "Tell me again, what all did you say to Aai?"
Her face went red. She hoped he wasn't angry with her. Deep down she knew he still cared for his Aai and loved her, and wouldn't like anyone to speak to her in such a stark tone. But there was no use thinking about it anyway now, she thought and told him how she had opened the locker last night with Baba's help, how Aai had got angry with her over it and shouted at her in the chawl, how she had pulled Aai out and asked her firmly not to speak nonsense about her or her parents or make a scene in front of everyone. When she had finished, she was surprised to see a small smile on Manav's face.
"Are you angry with me?" she asked nervously.
"Do people smile when they are angry?" he asked.
She relaxed. Manav continued. "I'm just wondering where were you all these days. Where was Archana all these days- the Archana whom I'd admired bcos she had asked her to be fiance to leave cos he was troubling her parents. I'd admired you then for speaking up inspite of the fact that you were the same as you are now- a little less confident and open, and a little more subdued and kind of in-the-shell, but yes, pretty much the same in some ways. I honestly could never understand why you cowed down infront of my Aai, I have seen you giving you people a piece of your mind when required, speaking up when required- yes, you were shy and quiet and the quintessential 'good girl', but never a doormat. I have seen you not talking to me, shooing me away in those days when you thought I was a bad person. I still remember you blasted me in front of your neighbours once when you were mad at me for cheating you. I could not understand why you could never answer back to my Aai or confront her."
Archana lowered her head. "I don't know Manav," she said honestly. "That is something difficult to figure out- maybe it wasn't just one thing, but a combination of factors- the fact that she is your Aai, that she has enormous influence on you, that she is much much elder to me, the abusive tone she used, the physical force, her words, her threats- everything was difficult for me I guess, and it always happened so suddenly." She looked up at him. "Subconsciously, I think it all added up somewhere, I.. I just got scared of her.. I think I tend to speak up when I get mad with anger or emotions.. but regarding Aai, more than angry, I usually got very scared of her.."
She looked very subdued and her eyes had that old fear in them, and Manav understood that she must be remembering those terrible moments. He kept one hand on her shoulder to relax her and smiled encouragingly.
" I understand.." he said softly. "Most of the chawl women too get tongue tied in front of Aai. Once she starts shouting it's difficult to stop her or reason with her. Aai can get very crude when she wants to."
"I think I have just been more.. umm.. mentally prepared.. ever since I came back.." said Archana, thoughtfully. "I came back late.. I know I took my own sweet time to come back to you.. but that was solely bcos it took time for me to mentally prepare myself to the fact that your Aai is an undismissable part of your life. I knew this would happen and I would have to take a strong action against it one day. I knew from the start that I have to be very firm if I have to live with you and Aai in the same house.. I had thought I would handle things by being tactical and avoiding confrontations, but today when she called me a thief and shameless and what not and went on about my mangalsutra, coupled with the incidents of the previous few days and those past moments when she had hurled accusations on my character-- flinging even the police complaint scenario and all that has happened with YOU on my face- it just made me mad. I don't know what happened to me, though I do admit that I have become more vocal and defensive these days," she said, remembering how she had lashed out at Manjusha previously and even argued with her Aai regarding Manav. Circumstances had forced her to take a stand then. "I am not the same as I was earlier, I have changed a little in the past few days, I think." She said reflectively.
"And you have changed for the better too. Archana, take my advice, never regret what you did today, don't even feel guilty thinking she is elder to you, don't get me wrong, but elders get respect when they behave like elders." He said. "Henceforth, you need to be the same- strong enough to defend yourself and take a stand for yourself whenever required-w henever anyone tries to put you down in ANY way. You shouldn't wait till the moment when you can't tolerate it anymore and lose it all, and then react. It might be too late by then. There is seriously no need to tolerate any nonsense. Be firm about it. I am there to support you always."
She smiled at him, relaxed by his last line. "Now that you have said that you are there, I'm not scared of anything." She intertwined Manav's hand tightly into hers, while he looked up at her, surprised. "Let's go home now," she said, and started walking, as Manav trudged along, staring at their intertwined hands.
Subpart 2 coming up soon!
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