Joined: 27 December 2010
Joined: 01 January 2009
The big debate continued in the Deshmukh house for the next few days, and the traces of gloom that had descended on the household after the news of Manav's illness got overpowered by it. There was constant discussion on whether it was right to file a defamation suit against Manjusha or not. While Savita said it was foolish and snorted at the idea, Damodar was firm that it was the right thing to do.
"This is the only way to get our names cleared from this mess and make Manjusha pay!" He said boldly. "We cannot live under these false charges and have people speaking about us, our reputation..
"To hell with reputation.", said Savita angrily. "Don't take any trouble with the Lokhandes now.. they are dangerous people."
"You didn't think of it when you went and shouted at Manjusha, did you?" smirked Damodar Baba.
Aai slapped her hands together dramatically. "Forgive me for it!" she said loudly. "I acted impulsively then, but why are you extending the matter now?"
"So should we tolerate all the nonsense that the Lokhande family metes out? We have to answer back in some way, and I mean the PROPER way- not by barging in people's houses and shouting at them- taking the legal route is the right thing to do! Manjusha did it, we must answer her back in the same coin."
"We took the legal route the last time also when Ajit burned our garage.. do you remember what happened then?" asked Aai angrily.
"So should we stop trying?"
Aai rolled her eyes. "These lines look nice when spoken in a play, but in real life let's be practical.. please.. let's not take any risks and avoid trouble with the Lokhandes.."
".. and throw Archana out.." finished Baba. Aai glared angrily. "And who will pay for the bills of the court case? You?"
That was the beginning of the next argument.
The children witnessed the whole debate with bored faces. They had been asked not to speak since they were 'kids'. And it was good in a way. At least they didn't have to take sides. These days they stayed in their own shells. When they felt worried or nervous, they talked to Manav or Atya. It made them feel better.
Manav and Archana too tried to stay away from the great debate. Manav focussed on his work in the garage, and in his own garage. He had plenty of troubles and didn't want more. His Baba had anyway told him to leave the matter about this case to him, and now he was doing just that.
Archana too had focussed on her time management- trying to manage the chores of the house, office, school, studying etc. If Baba did the court case against Manjusha Vahini, she would go and say the truth- as simple as that. Atya managed the two quarrelling adults all day long.
Savita Aai had softened ever since she had come to know about Manav's illness. She did not fight with Archana openly, and she did not create any other ruckus in the house. An honest, open conversation had not occurred as yet between Manav and her, but things were better between them, at least in comparison to earlier. She tried to speak to him through others- by talking loudly in front of him. Every day she prayed to God for three things- 1.) Manav to get cured. 2.) Sachin to come back home. 3.) Archana to get lost.
Manav too had understood that she was worried about him, and responded in the same way. He answered her if she asked questions and was less critical of her now. Normalcy though, was still far away.
It was another typical morning. Everyone was getting ready to go to work or school, and Archana was hurrying to get everything ready for them. They were surprised by the doorbell ringing at that early hour.
"Vinod.." muttered Damodar Baba, confused. He looked round at the other family members.
Vinod did a silent Namaste. Savita Aai gave him an angry look. He ignored it. "I wanted to talk to Archana.." he said slowly. "Come inside Vinod." Said Baba.
Archana who had come out of the kitchen stood perplexed in the dining room, not knowing what to do- whether to call him inside or go outside. She was aware of Savita Aai giving her a look which asked her to tell her brother to get lost.
Thankfully for her Atya bailed her out. "I think both of you brother sister would like to have a private moment, right? Umm.. Archana, go.."
Archana gave a grateful look to Atya as she walked along outside along with Vinod so that they could talk on the terrace. Atya glanced at the others. "What are you waiting for? Get dressed for school!" Everyone immediately got back to what they were doing. Manav, who had just come out of the bathroom, wiping his hair dry, meanwhile entered the living room. "What happened?" he asked casually. "Who came so early in the morning?"
Once they were on the terrace, Vinod finally started speaking. "Archana, what do you want to prove by all this?"
"By what?", she asked, looking down.
"Don't pretend. I came to know through Vaishali about the court case against Manjusha.."
Archana tried to look away. "I'm not making the court case.", she said. "Baba is."
"But you are giving testimony.."
"Yes, they asked me to say whatever the truth was, in court. So that's what I will be doing."
Vinod looked around in despair. "Let's not talk in circles, Archana you know very well that if you had refused to testify then they couldn't have gone ahead with the court case, why are you doing it.."
"Dada how can I refuse? And is it fair to refuse?" asked Archana. "They are not asking me to frame Vahini wrongly or anything like that. They are just asking me to say the truth, just like Vahini did when she made the complaint against Savita Aai, like I did when I said I would not lie to protect Savita Aai when she was indeed guilty. That time no one had any problem.. everyone was in fact justifying her and me.. so this time..? And come to think of it- they got punished inspite of being innocent cos of Vahini's complaint, got defamed.":
"Yes.. but.." Vinod tried to think of what to say. "Archana, you know very well that if you say that Manav and Baba did not harass you, then Manjusha might be sued on grounds of defamation. I know you are upset that Manav and his Baba got thrown into jail even though they didn't do anything, I know that you and everyone else wants to punish Manjusha for this.. but come on, this is police protocol, they suffered due to Manav's Aai's deeds, not bcos of Manjusha.."
"What is wrong is wrong Dada, don't try and justify it.", said Archana in a firm voice. "Why didn't Vahini think of this protocol at that time? Why didn't she even try and approach the situation in a better way than straightaway sending the police at the Deshmukhs house? She didn't talk to Manav or anyone else, hell, she didn't even talk to ME about it. I was very much interested in the marriage Dada.. how could she make a police complaint and expect that everything would still be fine after that?. Dada Manav was ILL, you know that. Obviously all are angry. Vahini made a hasty complaint, you can't blame others if they want to sue her now. I will do whatever I'm told to do and say the truth, the judge will decide whether she was wrong at the legal level or not. And let me tell you this- at the practical and moral level she will be wrong for me. Always. Please don't justify her Dada, not in front of me at least. And don't expect anyone else to 'understand' your arguments."
Vinod looked sheepish. "Look Archana, I admit, Manjusha is not totally right, but she didn't make the complaint with wrong intentions, she really wanted to save you from Savita Aai. Yes she was hasty and wrong, but please don't sue her for this small mistake."
"Her 'small' mistake has cost me heavily.", said Archana sadly. "You don't know how much I'm having to face. I still console myself saying it is punishment for my mistake- if I had told Manav about Savita Aai's behavior earlier, none of this would have happened. I feel bad when I see Manav and his Baba being accused for nothing. I never defend Savita Aai bcos I KNOW she is wrong Dada, even though she is part of Deshmukh clan, so I expect just a little unbiased behavior from you as well, with regards to Manjusha Vahini."
Vinod softened a little. "Archana, listen to me.", he said. "I know you have suffered, the Deshmukhs too. Manjusha should not have involved the police. There were other ways to settle the issue, the matter was not irreversible- we could have discussed it and settled it without making a public spectacle. But now that it has happened, why should we repeat the mistake by involving law again? You want things to become alright between the Deshmukh and the Karanjkars, right? You need our support right now, hai na, especially considering Manav's state? So there is no point in stretching the matter. Archana, let us sort the affair mutually. I will get Manjusha, she will apologise to Manav and his Baba and everyone else.."
"And that will settle everything? Dada do you expect things to become hunky dory from here? You haven't forgiven the Deshmukhs till date for anything, Aai too hasn't, but you expect the Deshmukhs to forgive and forget? Do you think they will forget the gossip of the people, the humiliation, all that they had to go through in jail, everything? And do you think people will forget it too? Do you think everything will be reversed?" asked Archana. "I don't. All these days you or Vahini did nothing to help the situation, now when they have issued a court case for defamation, then you want them to forgive and forget? Worse, you are talking to ME about it? Talk to Manav and Dada about it if you have any hopes, but let me tell you that I don't expect them to forgive, and somewhere I can understand it too.", she said. After all, if she was on the right trail, and Ajit was indeed responsible for wrecking life of the Deshmukhs in more ways than one, then Manav and Baba would never forgive Manjusha, considering it to be another of the Lokhandes devious plans. She herself wouldn't be able to forget or forgive, not even for the sake of her brother.
"Archana you are not helping me here.", said Vinod in desperation. "If you just refuse to say the truth in court then.."
"I can't do it Dada.", she said. "It wouldn't be right. The court will obviously call me, and I can't lie there. And please don't forget, lying will make things difficult for me everywhere. Even the people in my NGO know the truth now. My friend Pony knows the truth, and I know for a fact that she is more sympathetic to Manav than to Vahini."
Vinod looked away in exasperation. "Why are the Deshmukhs hell bent on troubling us?" he muttered. Archana tried to explain to him. "Dada I know you are upset, but please try and see things from Manav's POV also.. he has been defamed for no reason bcos of Manjusha Vahini's reckless complaint.. he had to go through prison also.. try and see his POV.."
"Like you.", glared Vinod. "You can see only his POV these days, not others. Your in-laws are insisting on cold-blooded revenge by suing Manjusha in court and you are supporting them. This is the truth."
"Cold blooded revenge? Oh come on Dada! You know very well that Vahini will neither be jailed not suffer embarassment of the kind my people had to go through." Archana scoffed. "If they had to take cold blooded revenge, they would have thrown me out of the house or troubled me to settle scores with the Karanjkar household. But they haven't done it. Manav actually tried to understand my situation and stood by me, even when I said that I wouldn't testify wrongly for Aai. My people are just taking legal action- they feel they have been accused wrongly, they are making a case of defamation. They are moving to court cos they feel a fair judgement can be obtained there only. I don't know whether they will win or not, all I know is that their situation is understandable, and they are completely within their rights to do so. If you think Manjusha Vahini is not wrong, then you have nothing to fear. The court will save her irrespective of what I say."
Vinod smirked. "'MY PEOPLE'- eh? I understand. You have forgotten all about us, about how we would pay for the compensation ordered by the court- in the end, I will have to pay for it, Punni will suffer but NO- you don't want to think of it. And Manjusha's Aai is standing for elections, it might affect her adversely.."
"Dada, just like you think of your in-laws, I think of my in-laws too. Manav and Baba are not making this court case to seek revenge or money, but rather to be exonerated fairly by the law- against a complaint which accused them of things they didn't do. Please try and understand what it means for them.. about the money aspect I will talk to Manav.. or we will try and settle it amongst ourselves.."
"No you try and understand! I'm tired of everything now!" boomed out Vinod. "Ever since you got married, I have only faced problems cos of you and your in laws. And the worst thing is that you have totally become a Deshmukh and are no longer a Karanjkar by heart. You just don't think about our problems now, you only care about Manav. I'm tired of your stupid marriage and your in laws. Manjusha said it right, all the time they prove to be a bigger burden and keep fleecing money. Even you joined them by asking for money for Manav's treatment.."
Archana's eyes shot up at him questioningly and then soon filled with angry tears, and Vinod immediately realised he had gone too far. Then she looked away, not wanting him to notice her moist eyes. "Neither did I suggest the court case, nor am I going to judge it. I am just ready to answer whatever questions the court asks. If they decide Manjusha Vahini is wrong, they can sue her, if not, fair enough. If the court asks for compensation and you have trouble regarding it, then take my jewellery, sell it and give the compensation." ,she said in a small voice. "This way I will be able to keep both the households happy, I guess. Anyway, I have faith on Manav, unlike Manjusha Vahini who made Manav pay for Savita Aai's mistakes, Manav will never make Punni pay for her Aai's mistakes. How.. what.. this I don't know. But I trust both Manav and his Baba. And yes, I won't burden you anymore financially. And no need to help us with regards to Manav's treatment now. We will manage ourselves."
She pretended to look at her watch. "I must go now, there is a lot of work to be done, and you have to go to work too.." she said quietly. She walked off from there, her head bent low, not giving him a second look. She didn't realise when she bumped into someone. Her gaze shot up, taking in the sight of the Kolhapuri chappals, the faded jeans, the striped shirt, the amulet.. and then.."
She didn't know what to say, and she didn't want him to know what had happened. She didn't know how much he had heard and since how long he had been there. She struggled for something to say, the words that eventually came out of her mouth were- "You're ready?! Come, breakfast is also ready, I shall serve it to you.."
And she almost ran from there, downstairs to their house.
Manav looked at Vinod who walked off by his side. But Manav did not pay heed to him. His mind was on Archana.
He walked back into the house and straightaway walked into the kitchen. "Archana..?" he asked.
"Hmm..?" she asked without turning.
"Umm.." he struggled with words. "Are you alright?"
"Do you want to talk?"
"Later Manav," she said, trying to make her voice sound normal. "I'm too busy right now, if I skip office again today then you will scold me and the office folks will also throw me out."
She tried to end her sentence with something that sounded like a forced giggle. "Fine.", said Manav, realising that it was best to leave her alone at the moment." He turned to go, heard a stifled sob again, turned momentarily, thinking about what to say at this juncture, and then walked back into the living room. The rest of the family members were there, getting on with their morning tasks, and though none of them asked questions, they did look at him inquisitively, as if waiting for an answer. They had understood by now that Archana and Vinod had had an argument. Manav however, did not bother to explain. He sat down for his breakfast, but could not put her out of his thoughts.
It hadn't taken him long to understand that she had been crying in the kitchen. He had heard only the last part of her conversation with Vinod, but he had heard their voices while climbing the stairs. He had understood that they had had a heated discussion about the court case, and towards the end it had drifted in a different direction.
Ultimately, things were going just as he had expected. With the Deshmukh and karanjkar family on warring terms, it had been obvious that one day Archana would have to choose, and when she would do that, it would not be taken well. All along he had known that it would happen one day, he had even told Archana about it. But at that time she had boldly told him that she would handle everything just to be with him. Well, what happened? She was hurting.
He felt frustrated. "I wish people would just listen to me sometimes, then they wouldn't get hurt.", he thought to himself.
"What happened to you Manav?" intervened Atya. "You look so tensed."
"Nothing." He lied.
"Then eat!" .. "Umm.. yeah."
Now why was he getting frustrated? He didn't know. Or maybe he did. It was the frustration arising from his inability to do anything for her- bring about any kind of reconciliation between brother and sister. It wasn't in his power- Vinod wouldn't listen to him, he didn't have the sort of relationship to talk to Vinod, and anyway, the decision to file the court case was his father's. He would do whatever he wanted, even if Savita, Manav or hundred other people opposed him. As usual he would follow his heart against the practical viewpoint of everyone.
Only God knew whether it was the right decision or not. But the decision had certainly started showing it's impact. Archana was already crushed and upset with Vinod's words, and Vinod with Archana's decision. Somewhere, Manav couldn't really blame Vinod for being so angry- Manjusha was his wife after all, and Archana was a loved sister whom he had always supported. Vinod must be feeling cheated right now, he thought. In any case, the guy was troubled just like Manav could be at times. Plus there was Manjusha! Manav was sure Manjusha had played victim again, just like her brother had done countless times earlier, and Vinod had fallen prey to it.
Presently his thoughts returned to Archana. He exhaled deeply. Poor, poor girl. For someone who loved her family members deeply and had been so devoted to them- the whole incident must have come across as a big setback. No doubt she was so upset. Now if only she realised what she was doing by staying in this marriage, and how much she would lose by still sticking to it- that this marriage was no longer a dreamy fairytale, but rather a bed of nails, and that it would be easier for her to walk out if she intended to stay happy in life.
But it wasn't going to happen.
He ate slowly, his frustration gradually waning away, but he couldn't help feeling sad as he remembered Archana crying in the kitchen. At this time, she literally had no one with her, he thought. Her parents were not there, her siblings were not there. There was no one to take her side openly in that house, though he definitely had some hope from Vaishali. And there was no one in this house to support her- with whom she could talk openly, he felt. On one hand, her brother accused her of betraying the Karanjkars in a bid to impress the Deshmukhs, on the other hand, Savita Aai demanded that she be thrown out cos she was a Karanjkar and thus involved in the complaint.
No matter how much she did for anyone, maybe it would never be enough- he thought.
Somehow old memories came back to him- memories of the day when he too had been accused of betraying his family members, when he too had felt extremely lonely. That day, he had felt uncomfortable in sharing his deepest emotions and disappointments even with Tarun. He felt he could understand what Archana would be going through now. Words were unsuccessful in healing such wounds, he knew that.
But it still made him restless. Was there nothing he could do for her?
He finished his breakfast, then walked in the kitchen where Archana was working with her back to him, kneading dough. He was thinking about what to say, when his cell phone rang. Archana turned behind in surprise. He cut the call and looked at her. "What happened," she asked.
He thought for a minute and then spoke- "Archana, I know, the last time you told me that you wouldn't give testimony against Manjusha, I had been very angry with you. But today I'm myself telling you- if you are uncomfortable, if it makes you unhappy, then don't give testimony."
"I can't lie in court if the judge calls me." She replied.
"Yes, but tell Baba that you are not comfortable.. he might listen to you and drop the case." persisted Manav
"We talked it over.." she said. "Or did we not?"
"We did.. you promised to support me this time round.. but I can see you are unhappy about having to chose.."
"It's not like that.." she replied, her head low. "I knew that Dada would be angry if I went against him and Vahini.. what I was not prepared for was his extreme bitterness.. and.."
She didn't complete her sentence. He waited for her to say something, but she didn't. She kept looking down, evading his eyes. Hesitatingly, he kept one hand on her head.
In return, she leaned forward and rested her head on his shoulder. He was taken aback but said nothing.
"How could Dada think of me in this manner?" she said in a small, tear-filled voice. "How could he think I want to harm him or don't think about him or Punni? Cannot he see that I'm not going through an easy phase myself? His wife made a complaint that harmed us all, he justified her citing laws, and when I exercise the same laws to get my husband back his respect, to do what is right, then he finds faults in me? Neither is Vahini being thrown in jail like you nor will she be humiliated like you. But yet he is so angry? Says that I'm taking sides? That I don't think about him? What is wrong with him? Now when everything has gone wrong he is saying we should solve the matter mutually, where was this reasoning earlier? Has that witch left anything for such a closure? Yet he is blaming me. I even told that we would look into the monetary compensation but he isn't satisfied. In fact he chose to point out how I was fleecing him by asking him for money for your sake and.."
Manav thought it better to let her cry. He rested his hand on her head and caressed her hair softly as she continued to speak amidst her sobs.
"I am not so upset that he did not support me. I knew he would be angry bcos of the court case, but I'm upset at what all he said apart from that- that he is tired of all of us. Even the money that I had asked from him earlier, he looked upto it as fleecing. That money was your own money- money that you had given during my Aai's treatment. Yet he chose to ignore it and show it as some kind of charity they are doing for us. No thankyou for the timely help you provided him then. He can see that goodness in Manjusha's evil deeds but not your goodness. And anyway, even if it had not been your money- is it so wrong if a sister asks her brother for financial help? Have they got rid of me by getting me married? Do you and I mean nothing to them?"
Manav sighed. "Oh come on Archana, you know perfectly well that Vinod is not like that. I'm sure Vinod was just angry and in his anger he spewed out Manjusha's venom. He himself must be regretting all this at home, he too must have realised that he took the matter too far in the disagreement about the court case. Don't take his words to heart, all this time has he ever shown that he is doing any sort of charity on you or me? No na? You told me he was ready to break FD's to return money to me, right? Same with your Aai. Then why are you thinking so poorly of him now? He was angry but at least you should be rational. He was just speaking Manjusha's words, understand that."
"True.", said Archana, wiping her tears. "That witch has done it." Manav raised an eyebrow at the statement- he had never heard Archana speaking in this manner about anyone ever before. Archana continued. "I'm sure she must be rejoicing now at having finally broken our happy little family. She was never in favour of giving any financial help to you earlier and now she is separating me from my brother also! First she throws you in jail, gets you beaten, does not even apologize and now this! She has never wanted me to be happy, never. I've helped her all along but she refused to help me when I needed it most."
"I don't need any help from her anyway," he said. "I have Tarun with me. Archana, please don't ask anyone of them for money again- even if it is my own money. I have thousands of people to whom I would go and ask for help before I choose to borrow from your parents. I know it sounds bad to you but.."
"I understand." She said in a tear filled voice. Then it was as if her anger returned. "I will never speak to her again.", said Archana in a firm, tear filled voice. "That woman is hell bent on ruining everything for me. First the complaint, and now trying to force me to take the case back by distancing me from my brother. I know she never wanted to help you financially even when she came to know about your garage loans, and later about your illness as well. She herself had said it at that time. And now my Dada.. I hate her, I really do.", she said. Manav shook his head. It was as if all the pent up grievances towards Manjusha, all the sadness over Manjusha's constant taunts, everything that she had silently gulped down all these years had come out today like a volcano spitting fire.
"All this you should have told your Dada." He told her frankly. "You always cry to me about Manjusha but never tell her, or even to your Dada."
She nodded. "Next time I will tell that witch everything on her face." She said in a determined voice. Manav had a sudden vision of both Manjusha and Archana shouting their lungs out at each other and pulling each other's hair. He shook his head to throw out the weird ideas.
She stayed that way for sometime more, saying nothing, as if silently drawing support from him. He too did not say anything and continued to caress her silently.
"Manav Dada.. oops!"
Manav and Archana separated instantly. Manav looked back to see that it was Vedant, who seemed to have turned on seeing them and was now standing at the door with his back towards both of them.
They stood standing like kids who had been caught stealing candy. "What is it?" asked Manav.
"Umm.. nothing.. I wanted some money, but it's okay I will take it from Baba.." he left from there.
Manav looked embarassed. Archana was about to wipe her tears with her hand but Manav stopped her, her hands were covered with flour. She giggled inspite of her tears and rubbed her tears from the back of her hand.
"You go now.", she said. "I'm alright."
"Go to office and don't think too much." He advised. She nodded.
Manav went out, sat on the diwan next to Vedant and had a quick brush through the newspaper headlines, squirming his eyes, trying to read, but only ending up reminded of the fact that his eyesight was getting worse. Finally he gave up. "I'm going to the garage." He announced to no one in particular.
"Dada!" Vedant spoke up. Manav turned to look at him. "What is it?"
Hesitating a little, Vedant brushed Manav's shirt from the front, then made him turn and dusted it from the back as well. "Flour." He said shortly.
Manav turned red. "Umm.. thanks.", he muttered, and fled.
Archana adjusted the strap of her handbag as she walked out of night school. Algebra was difficult- she thought, especially when you studied it with a muddled mind- that kept drifting and again to unpleasant incidents that had occurred earlier in the day. She sighed as she remembered it all. She had almost come out of the compound when she saw a sight she had not expected to see.
Near the gate, she saw the watchman of the night school sitting with Manav, chatting with him. She did a double take- was it really him? What was he doing here? Every night he insisted on working as long as he could, doing as much overtime as he could.. he had not come to escort her for many days now since school ended early and there was a bus service anyway.. what was he doing here now?
She walked towards him, slowly now, in a daze, until she reached him. He did not notice her as he sat on the stool listening to the watchman, sipping a glass of tea, just like the old days when he had escorted her earlier.
"Thanks to the new schedule of night school now I get to go home early." The old watchman was saying. "It is nice to spend some time with the family now."
"You should retire now." Manav was telling him.
"That is what my sons say too." He agreed. "Let's see, maybe next year.. oh, there she is!"
Both the men stood up as she came nearer, smiling at her. "Manav.. you.. here?"
"Yes.. umm.. hi?"
She looked uncertainly at him, and then at the watchman who was giving her his best smile. She remembered that not long ago, she had told him of her divorce. He must have been surprised to see Manav here. "Should we..?"
"Five minutes please.. I haven't yet finished the tea, the boy just brought it.."
She nodded quietly and the watchman spoke up. "Arey you also sit, I'll get tea for you also!"
"No please.. I don't want tea.." she protested.
"Share it from this glass only." , said Manav, handing her the glass. "This is a lot of tea."
She looked at him wondering. The watchman, feeling like a Kabab Mein Haddi in the romance, took the opportunity to shoo away some children who were trying to cross the boundary wall.
"What are you doing here?" she asked as soon as the watchman went.
"Forget that, tell me what have you told the watchman about me?" demanded Manav, passing her the glass.
"Nothing.", lied Archana, taking a sip.
"Then why was he talking about husband-wife relationship, divorces and stuff?"
Archana was embarassed. "Yes, I did talk to him one day." She confessed. "Actually I was lonely and ended up venting to him." She handed the glass back to him.
Manav looked shocked. "My god, do you go around venting to random people?"
She was flustered. "And do you go around chit chatting and drinking tea with random people?"
"He's my friend!", protested Manav. "I used to sit and chat with him when I waited for you outside school every evening earlier."
Archana spoke up. "That brings me to topic, why are you here in the first place?"
"Umm.. I wanted to make sure that you are not bunking school.", said Manav seriously, taking a sip from the glass and handing it to her again.
"Oh come on Manav! Of course I'm not bunking school!", she said indignantly. "You can trust me this much at least." She took a sip again.
"Yeah sure. The way you get tired these days and run around to finish chores in the house, I would seriously doubt it. We should keep a maid."
"Maids charge a lot." She said flatly.
"So? You're earning, aren't you?"
"That will go into the savings for the garage repairs.", she said firmly. "Don't change the topic, why did you come here today? Is everything alright?"
"Yes, everything is alright.. I just came.. like this only.. can I not come?"
Archana was surprised. "No there is nothing like that.. but.. you get so tired these days.. you shouldn't come daily and.."
"What did you read in school today?" he asked opening her bag and taking out a notebook. Archana was zapped at his manner- changing topic every few minutes. He flipped the pages, then opened the last page and raised his eyebrow when he saw floral designs drawn on it, along with Archana written in various styles and handwritings.
"What is this?", he asked her. She did not answer. He looked up to see that she was staring at him with a worried look on her face.
"Manav, what happened?" she asked in a scared voice. "Please tell me the truth.. is it something bad?"
"Arey no, nothing bad has happened.."
"Did Dada come again?" she asked in a horrified voice. "Oh god, did he say something bad to you? Or anyone else for that matter?"
Manav was shocked. "No Archana, nothing bad has happened.. believe me.."
"Then why did you come here today?" she persisted. "You never came here all these days.. tell me Manav, what are you trying to sugarcoat? Are you here to prepare me for something?"
Manav was at his wits end now. "Archana, listen to me, nothing happened.. I just came.. uh.. like this only.. to see if you were alright.. I couldn't wait any more.."
"Why, what happened to me?" she asked, confused.
"This morning.." he muttered.
She understood. And suddenly all the sadness that had clouded her heart the whole day was swept away by a wave of love for Manav's genuine little act.
She smiled her beatific smile at him. "Aww.. that is so sweet of you Manav."
He looked away uncomfortably. It was one of those days when he couldn't understand what he did and why he did it. There were days when he told himself repeatedly not to get involved too much, but then too, he couldn't help it. He just couldn't help it. Today, he had spent all afternoon thinking about her, the court case, and the dilemma and guilt she was undergoing. And he had felt more uncomfortable that it was all due to him, and he could do nothing for her. He just hadn't been able to resist coming to meet her and know for herself how her state of mind was. He hadn't been able to call her since she did not have a cell phone any more .. but towards the end of the day, he hadn't been able to control himself, especially cos he had known that upon her return, she would again get busy with household chores and stuff.
"But you really didn't have to do all this. I was feeling better after I cried on your shoulder in the morning."
Well, so be it then, he thought, though he hated to see her cry. "I know," he said. "It is better to remove all the hurt in one go than sit with pent up feelings the whole day." Then in a small voice he added, "So, are you okay now?"
She nodded. "No point in crying about it now, it was all bound to happen.. regarding the rest of what Dada said, things NOT related to the court case, I can't forget it but.. leave it now.."
She looked sad again, and Manav mentally kicked himself for having brought up the topic again. He gulped down the remaining tea in one big sip. "Let's go. Bye Kaka, thanks for the tea!"
"Bye Kaka!" Archana repeated. The watchman gave a broad secretive smile and gave her a thumbs up, as if to say all the best. She looked away, embarassed, and followed Manav, giving herself a reminder that she would tell the watchman that all was fine in her marriage now.
"So uh..do you want to go to a movie?", Manav asked suddenly.
"You were talking about a movie the other day.."
"No.." she said. "Your health and my lack of time does not permit it.. and anyway I'm saving every bit of money I can.. no point in spending money over a movie which we cannot enjoy."
"Arey come on, it's okay, no problem." but she did not respond. "Manav please, let's just go home."
He did not argue with her. She was clearly not in the mood. They walked along silently for some distance more. Then suddenly Archana said, "Manav, will you come to the market with me?"
Manav was surprised, but agreed. They took an auto and went to one of the big markets of Dadar. There Archana pointed towards a shop. Manav couldn't help feeling a bit embarassed- he had come straight from the garage and was not dressed appropriately. But at that moment he didn't say anything. He had read that some women liked to shop when they were depressed- splurging money on themselves made them feel good. He followed Archana to the shop, and was taken aback when she asked for men's shirts.
"For whom?" he questioned. "For you."
"Me? But I don't.. hello bhaiya.. no we don't want shirts.."
"Uff Manav.. you have just escorted me here.. I will buy whatever I want!" said Archana obstinately.
"But why?" asked Manav.
She smiled softly. "Present."
"But it's not my birthday today." he protested.
"I know." She said. "But I had wanted to give you a present for a long time.. you got me my job, remember? I always thought I would give you a present from my first salary after I got married, just like I gave my family members gifts from my first salary before marriage. Unfortunately we weren't together then. But we are together now." She smiled.
"But why today?"
"Taking advantage of your behavior today, I know you might not come with me again," She replied, and he couldn't help feeling guilty for the distance he was keeping from her. "Plus, I got my salary today, so I'm rich right now."
"Nice." He said. "But don't spend anything on me.. no need to waste money.."
"Oh come on Manav," she frowned. "Why do you say in such a manner?"
"Archana, a few minutes back you were planning to save money right, then now this?"
"Arey Manav, that is why I decided to buy a shirt! Cos I wanted to gift you something that would be useful to you right now! You need more shirts! You always dirty your shirts so badly in the garage, plus there is a sale in this shop.."
"I don't want it.. I have sufficient shirts.."
The excitement from her face vanished. Manav sighed. "Okay okay, buy whatever you want." So long as it made her happy for a bit, he thought. And anyway, it was true- He needed new shirts. He normally came alone or with Tarun or Sachin when he wanted to shop for clothes, but it was okay, today he would shop with a woman, his wife.
Archana brightened up again on hearing his approval. She then set to business. She told the salesman her budget, then pointed out all the good shirts that she could set her eyes upon, and the salesman brought them for her one by one. Then she asked Manav which ones he liked and held them against his frame to see which colours suited him. Then she asked for more patterns in the same shade. A little later, Manav started feeling sorry for himself as well as the poor salesman who was running to bring different types of shirts in response to Archana's varied queries. Oh well, maybe Archana was having fun dolling him up.
He looked around himself, Archana giving instructions to the salesman, asking him if he liked this or that, asking him to try the shirt once, and so on. After a long time, someone was actually pampering him today, he thought. And even though he was't really in the mood to shop or have fun, he couldn't deny that he was liking the feeling of being pampered for a change.
What was to happen of him, he thought to himself- uncertain of the future, trying not to keep expectations, and yet lapping up everything that he was getting, knowing very well that any day things could overturn and he would again be left high and dry if Archana walked out. Constantly, there was this battle between his mind and his heart that left him uneasy. And of course, there were moments in between, like this one, when he only wanted to live in the present rather than ruin it by thinking of the past, the future and what chances his marriage or happiness had.
Archana switched off the cell phone and went to clear the dishes after dinner. "One more call from home!" exclaimed Savita. "No wonder how many problems they create for us, this girl will never break ties with that house."
"Why should I?" said Archana quietly. "They are my family."
"Huh!" said Savita angrily. "I don't know what problems the Lokhandes will create for us after the court case."
"They won't create problems for us." She replied. "Rasika Kaku has elections in a few weeks. I guess they would resort to other methods to force us to back out of the case."
Savita Aai raised an eyebrow.
"Deepening the wedge between my brother and me, and separation from the house." She said, sighing. "My brother and Vahini separated from my parents today, cos Vahini was angry with all of us, and angry with my parents for not intervening."
She looked at Aai again. "I hope the news makes you feel better. I doubt the Lokhandes will get down to drastic level to get what they want. This time they are attacking via me. Rest all of you are safe."
With this, she tossed her cell on the diwan and went to the kitchen. Manav who had been listening from the corner, looked grave.
Manav sat with the papers in front of him. They were the papers meant for the court case to be made against Manjusha. Abru Nuksani.
He twirled the pen round and round in his hand. "So Manav, what have you thought?" asked Baba.
Manav drew in a deep breath. "I don't know."
"Why? I thought you always wanted Manjusha to be punished.."
"Baba, the court case will make people question why Aai has not got an apology or only both of us have been exonerated.."
Baba exhaled deeply. "Manav, I don't want you to suffer bcos of mistakes made by me and Savita. Everyone saw Savita fighting and yelling- the court can do nothing to nullify it. Clearing your name is the most important thing to me right now- And Manav, this case is the only way we can seek to punish Manjusha for what she did to us, to you.."
Manav lowered his eyes. Scenes of the jailing flashed in front of his eyes. He tried to push those memories out. "Baba," he said. "I understand that.. and you know very well how much I hate the Lokhande trio.. but somehow I don't want to punish the innocent ones, just like I was punished inspite of being innocent.. I don't want Vinod or Punni or even Archana to suffer cos of this court case on Manjusha and the compensation.. I don't think much of the Karanjkars these days, but on some level I sort of associate myself with Vinod- the eldest son who is struggling to maintain a balance in relationships, his family, marriage and money."
Baba smiled. "Manav I understand that.. but will we give Manjusha a leeway simply cos she is Vinod's wife? If this goes on, she will continue wreaking havoc on us! And one more thing, this mutual settlement/apology, what Vinod was talking about- this is gibberish. It accomplishes nothing. The insult was done publicly, the accusation was made publicly. An abru nuksani is what will help us gain back our reputation to some extent. Manjusha made a careless complaint, one that cost us heavily, let her pay for it now."
Manav nodded. "I understand that. But Baba, let me tell you one thing- you want a picture of a happy family life for Archana and me, right? This is what you had said, hai na? Well, let me remind you of one thing- this court case will just ensure that the Deshmukh Karanjkar war will continue. It doesn't matter much to me cos I'm annoyed and burnt out of all of them anyway, but are you ready for it?"
Baba smiled and removed his specs. "That will anyways always continue till the day the Karanjkars try and see our side of the story, like we are doing, by putting the complaint behind and not punishing Archana for it, knowing that she suffered too. Unfortunately, they still continue to blame you for Savita's doings. And Manav, if it had been a genuine mistake by Manjusha like Vinod is painting it to be, and she had made the complaint cos of genuine concern for Archana, then it would have been different. Both of us know how much Manjusha is 'concerned' about Archana. What angers me is that she made use of the whole situation- Savita's behavior of Archana, Archana's silence, the laws against harassment- and put us all in jail to ruin this marriage, to take cold blooded revenge. I want her to be sued for that. And the fact that this affects the innocent ones in the Karajkar family, doesn't soften me. After all, Manjusha or anyone else never thought that in punishing Savita, they are pushing the innocent ones in the family ALSO in prison, did they."
No they had not, thought Manav. No one had sympathised with him that day, he remembered it very well, and his heart ached when he thought of it. Why should he think so much about others when no one else thought even a little about him. And Vinod was big enough to manage his affairs himself. If he was so scared of paying compensation, he could go and ask those stupid Lokhandes for money any day. Vinod wasn't even getting affected as much as Manav had, heck, he had been thrown in prison!
"Manav, right now just do what you really want to do. For a minute don't think of others and how they will manage it. Just think about yourself and what is right. And always remember, you keep on trying to make peace with the vultures, it will never work out. These vultures will rip off every piece of flesh."
"And what if the Lokhandes retaliate?" he asked in a grave voice.
Baba grinned. "Let's see. We cannot live in fear of them."
Clearly his Baba was taking a chance. Manav sighed. Unlike his Baba, he was not one who usually took risks. But his Baba's words and the recollection of those horrible 3-4 hours had fuelled him up. They had reminded him of his resolve to make Manjusha pay for what she had done, and today it seemed to surpass other considerations. That woman was never going to change. It was time to answer her back in the same way. But he had to be very careful.
He shook his head, opened his pen and signed the papers with a flourish. His Baba happily took the papers in his hands. "I will file them tomorrow."
"You don't worry about it.", said his Baba. "I have made arrangements." Manav wondered about how his Baba had arranged for the lawyer's fees, but said nothing. He simply nodded, hoping that this decision was in the best interest of all of them. He was walking out of the room when he saw Archana standing behind the door. He wondered what to say to her, but she smiled weakly. "Don't feel guilty for nothing Manav. And don't doubt your decisions, cos I trust your decisions to be right, more than I trust my own."
He was taken aback as she turned and walked out slowly. He noticed Savita Aai standing there. She came closer to him. "I thought at least you would understand what I was trying to say. We always thought in the same way- the practical, safe way Manav. You were not like your father, who kept chasing impossible dreams all his life. But today, just cos you are angry with me, will you oppose anything that I say?"
Manav sighed. "I can explain.", he said.
"I don't think you can. But then again, maybe these were high hopes- since Archana has come in this house, you have stopped agreeing with me." She said, turned and walked back to her room, disappointment writ large on her face. He sighed. Just when things had started getting better, he thought with disappointment.
He did not know that his signatures had given a lot of encouragement to one person- his father. For the first time, his son had entrusted so much his faith in his decision, even if others found it silly and impractical, like always- thought Damodar, with tears of happiness in his eyes. He looked upwards with a silent prayer in his heart-
"You've made me lose all my life God, and I never complained. But just this once God, just this once- please make me a hero for my children. Just this once."
Finally updated both the parts! Happy reading, and don't forget leave your comments and feedback behind! :)
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