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ONE NIGHT BEFORE
(Imagine Manav and Archana in place of Sushant and Mukti. Kuch nai, dream sequence hai )
Silence doesn't always mean all is peaceful. Sometimes its just the calm before the storm.
The celebrations of the day having ended, Archana put away her sari thoughtfully.
"Such a nice function!" said Sulochana happily. "Everything went so smoothly. I was so scared that the boys side would not like the arrangements and bicker, but thank god, nothing like that happened and everything went well." She looked at Archana who was quiet.
"Satish and his parents were complimenting us so much." She continued happily. "He is really a nice boy, always helpful and so polite. At the last moment he made all the arrangements for the sakharpuda and even his parents were all praise for the 3 of you- you, Varsha and Vaishali.. very nice people they are."
She looked at Archana, who was still quiet.
"What shall we make for breakfast tomorrow?" Sulochana wondered aloud. "I think kande- poha would be best, though I will have to check if we have onions enough for that.. I hope all the rest of the family come home soon, don't know what frolic is still going on there with Tarun's friends."
Archana was still quiet.
"Arey say something na!" Sulochana said to Archana, shaking her a little by her shoulder.
"I don't want to divorce Manav."
The words had the effect of lightening on Sulochana Aai. She stood rooted for a minute and then slowly shook Archana, more firmly this time.
"What.." she muttered. "What are you saying.."
"I don't want this divorce.. I.."
"Paagal ho gayi hai!!" said Aai with a hint of anger in her voice.
"I'm not mad." Said Archana in a small voice. "I thought it over. I don't want to end my marriage."
Sulochana sat down in shock next to Archana, who was looking down.
"What has happened to you suddenly Archu?" she said in a trembling voice. "What has happened to you that you want to go back to that womanizer and cheat? Why.. what.."
"Nothing has happened to me." Said Archana. "I have been feeling all this since the last few days. But I felt too weak and unsure of making a decision. Finally I confronted myself and accepted that breaking this marriage is not the right decision for me."
"Not right?" echoed Sulochana, her voice rising now. "Not right? What do you mean by its NOT the right decision for you? Arey, that guy cheated you and wished to use you, harmed the family, told so many lies and you still want to go back to him..!?!"
"Lets not start it again Aai." Said Archana in a small voice, her cheeks pink. "I told you last time also, he has made mistakes, he has used the wrong ways to get me in his life, but his love in itself is not wrong, he truly thinks about me and.."
"Arey what true love!!" rebuked her Aai. "That womanizer.."
"He refused to marry Shravani." Said Archana quietly.
Sulochana Aai stopped dead in her tracks. "He what..?"
"He refused to marry Shravani inspite of all the pressure on him by his family members."
"So what did you expect, a womanizer like him would never want to be in a committed relationship like marriage. There's nothing surprising here."
Archana was irked. "You always see things from one side only." She complained. "Shravani knew everything about him and has been tolerating and loving him since so much time now, if he was a cheap person like you said, he would have got married to Shravani to keep his family happy, while he indulged outside the house. But he didn't do it!!"
"HE STILL LOVES ME!" cried out Archana suddenly. "Inspite of all the humiliation he has had to go through because of me, he still loves me and wants me to do well in life. He always cares for me and for those who matter to me, like my family members. Even his family's hatred for me could not make HIM hate me."
"Archana you are getting stupidly emotional. He.. he is not good for you!"
"He is the best thing that could have happened to me." Said Archana, getting all nostalgic. "He has made me a much better person than I was before marriage- he tried to make me financially independent, more confident, tried to educate me, helped me in every little thing, has always thought of my betterment- he even tried to give me time to get comfortable to his touch. If he was a womanizer and a ruthless person then today I would have been sitting in this house with a baby bump and no education or job, totally depressed and broken down. It is because of him that I am stable today in every way. He thought of myself more than he thought of his own happiness, I feel."
Sulochana wrung her hands in desperation. "Archana.." she said, "he will leave you after he gets bored of you, he cheated Shravani, remember? Despite everything that she did for him, he did not agree to marry her.."
"This shows his honesty." Said Archana, and a glow lit up in her heart. "He loves me and so he refused to marry Shravani. He didn't cheat her or give unnecessary expectations just to keep his family happy. He knows it now that they aren't compatible for each other. I told you earlier also na once Aai, Manav is an emotional person who always needed someone to love him and emotionally support him. Maybe Shravani could not do that, so he left her, he turned to brothels, but they couldn't fulfill him emotionally, he was never happy unless he met me. His love for me is true.. I know it.. he tried to do everything- fair or foul- to save this marriage.. he is a changed man now.. I know he will not betray me.."
"ARCHANA COME OUT OF YOUR DREAMWORLD!!!" shouted Sulochana Aai. "What has happened to you? You have lost touch with reality.. you have become blind!! Tell me the truth, did Manav shed tears in front of you? Did he tell you his sorry story? Is he trying to gain sympathy??"
"He didn't say anything." Said Archana quietly. "His unsaid words said everything about how badly he wants me in his life."
"Why are you thinking about him so much?" said Sulochana, irked. "He has hurt all of us, and made us cry, he hurt Ajit and Manjusha and.."
"He won't do it anymore, I'm sure." Said Archana. "He has changed so much for me, I know he will not do anything bad again if I tell him not to. He has nothing against them, in fact he loves all of you like his own family.. do you know the engagement wouldn't have possible without him, it was he who sorted out problems between me and Tarun at the last moment."
Sulochana was shocked. "You are not going into that house and that is final!" she said. "He is not worth you. Why the hell do you want to go back to that poor man who is in no way our equal even- not in terms of society, not in terms of education, not in terms of prestige and.."
"Because he has everything that one would look for in a prospective husband!" cried out Archana. "I know, you always thought since the beginning that he is not marriage material- but he has all the qualities to make one feel proud of him. When we look for a guy for marriage, what do we ascertain- whether he is secure financially, whether he has a good name, family background and so on, right? Unfortunately the things that are MOST important in a relationship- understanding, respect, sensitivity, a mature outlook- these are things we have no means and ways to know except for relying on the words of relatives and other people. I didn't get anything from my marriage Aai in the conventional sense, but this separation of 4 months brought out the true qualities of my husband before we could be committed to each other in true sense. He has everything I would want in my husband. I don't want to divorce him now. He has taken a step forward by refusing Shravani for marriage, now I must refuse for divorce!"
"ARE YOU INSANE!!??!!" said Sulochana Aai, holding her hands to her head, almost on the verge of getting hysterical. "You are mad if you think he has changed for you or that he is god- he is no god, and understand one thing very properly Archana- MEN NEVER CHANGE! Once you go back to his house, he will against start frequenting brothels and take you for granted. You are being as weak and foolish as Shravani!"
"Don't compare me with Shravani." Said Archana, miffed. "She was running after a married man who had told her quite clearly that he wasn't interested in her. But in my case, Manav is my husband and fully committed. There is nothing wrong and foolish in my going back to him. As it is I have wasted a lot of time and.."
"Its surprising how he hasn't come even once to apologize, so much for the claims of 'he has changed'." Sneered Sulochana with disgust.
"We never gave him a chance to apologize even." Said Archana. "We always threw him out of the house. We never gave him credit for the good things he did. He has helped us so many times. Ubt we took it for granted. Apology will come once we take the first step. And apology is not always in words. Sometimes it is in the form of actions. Look how much Manav cares for all of us. Look how he is trying not to be a nuisance to us in anyway. He didn't even hold it against us that we didn't invite him in his best friend's engagement. Do you know he doesn't have much financial security at the moment, yet he said he would give me alimony so that I don't have to depend on people like Manjusha Vahini. What holds more value- few words of apology or all these?"
"You are making unnecessary justification for anything and everything. You don't want to accept the truth."
"And you don't want to accept my opinion." The words shot out of Archana's mouth before she could control herself.
"NOW SHUT UP AND LISTEN TO ME!!" said Sulochana angrily, indicating her finger . Archana got scared and kept quiet.
"Okay, for a minute, I accept all your arguments and your opinion. But listen to two words of advice from your experienced mother."
"When a girl gets married, she does not get married to the boy only." Said Sulochana Aai. "She gets married to his family. And when you speak of Manav, he has the most dysfunctional family I've ever seen- a ruthless mother who uses her children to get money for her through dowry, a good for nothing alcoholic father, useless brother who does not respect his own brother and gets into shady deals. You know Manav's condition better than me- much as I hate him for ruining my daughter's life, I have to sympathise with him for one thing- his family treats him like a DOG! All the time they keep on fleecing more and more out of him, and he doesn't seem to get affected at all. In fact, he LETS them do it. And so the same happened with you when you went there- dowry, mistreatment, useless rituals, and then later--?? Abuses! Physical violence! Do you remember how Manav's mother called you characterless in front of everyone? Do you remember how she did not let you go for work in Manavs chawl and you had to ultimately request your colleagues for a change in field area? Do you remember all that or should I remind you about how badly you were crying when Savita Aai threw you out of the chawl? If Vinod had not caught you, you would have got seriously injured."
Archana had no answer to Sulochana's words. She hung her head.
"Come, sit here." Said Sulochana. She made Archana sit on the bed. She was looking very downcast now. Sulochana too had calmed down.
"Reality is different from your fairytale world Archana." She said. "In the real world, we have to consider a thousand other things than plain romance. You need to be alive and in a productive state first. Other things come later. No point in romancing with a husband who loves you if you know that you are not going to get any mental peace in the house. And the way I've seen Savita Aai behaving with you, I doubt you can ever have a happy time in that house. She uses her own children Archana ' look how she pressurized Manav to marry Shravani. Earlier she troubled you for dowry, later when she came to know she could not extract more, she took out her spite on you by branding you as a bad influence in society, thus ensuring that you could not move with your head held high anywhere. She is supporting her son Sachin in his foolishness just cos he has found a rich girl for himself. The rest of the family members may be good, but are really useless if you think about it. They do not help Manav in anyway, pressurize him with unearthly demands, from finances to 'get Sachin back' to 'divorce Archana' to fights. It's not just you who is abused Archana, in a way even Manav is- his blind support to his family encourages them- whether he realizes it or not is another question. And he continues to tolerate the behavior of his Aai who clearly doesn't seem to care for him. What future do you have in that house and in that family, especially when Manav himself does not seem to mind their behavior?"
Archana stayed mum.
"That is why I am against this relationship. Even though I do not agree with your opinion about Manav, yet, even if I try to consider your opinion, I still don't feel it is right for you to go back. This 'good boy' is a good son, and this good son will never leave his family. I know that even after all our compromises, there is no safe future for you. What have you done to compromise so much in life. No, not any more Archana. I'd rather keep you with me all my life than let you go back to that hell."
Archana was subdued and very quiet. Tears welled up in her eyes.
"Go to sleep now." said Sulochana. "Tomorrow is the last day of this whole thing. Everything ends tomorrow and hopefully it will bring a new beginning for you, and for Manav as well- I have not forgiven him, but since you want to think that he has changed, well then okay, may he do well in his life. Anyway, I never wish ill for anyone. God is watching from above and he knows best. All I want is for YOU to be happy and not suffer anymore. You have honestly suffered enough. You deserve some peace in your life now, and so do all of us. Your siding with Manav almost brought this house to get divided, as Manjusha had started pressing Vinod to live separately. I hope all that doesn't happen now. If Manav has changed, then may he live well and be happy, but SEPARATELY. I don't want him to be associated with you in any way."
She caressed Archana's cheek. "You go and take rest Aai." Said Archana. "The rest of the family members will be back soon. You have been on the run the whole day. Go and take some rest."
Sulochana nodded. Archana watched her go with a sad look on her face.
What is the most trying moment for a person?
- When you can see your doom in the writing, and you are powerless to do anything about it, other than wait for your sentence to be declared. It is this perpetual wait that is a test for any human being.
That night, try as he might, Manav did not get sleep. Again and again, he opened his eyes, as he remembered his father's words of how he was doing the wrong thing by letting his marriage slip away.
He had always known that the onus to save the marriage lay on him. Archana was but a simple girl who had agreed for arranged marriage based on what was told and advised to her. And so when someone else in her family gave her wrong information, it was valid for her to doubt him. She had tried to trust him, he knew that well, but somehow things had not worked out. Even he had limits as a human being. Maybe some relationships were not meant to be, he thought sadly.
He thought about the night before his divorce hearing that had changed everything. If he had not gone for Varsha, who knew things would have been different. But then, Varsha's life would have been destroyed. Today he was not in contact with her, but she used to call her family infrequently, was what Vaishali had said. How did she not know about Archana's divorce, he wondered. Why did she not contact him to sort these things out? Undoubtedly he hoped that she would get out of the mess she was currently in, but somewhere he felt Varsha could have at least called Archana once and tried to explain the situation. He had counted on her, and she had disappointed him.
His thoughts returned to divorce. Oh yeah! Better get it done with now. His marriage wasn't going anywhere anyway, and he had taken in enough insults and heartbreak for a lifetime now. He had to focus on the far more crucial issues at hand now- after all, love was but a part of life, not the heart of life. He knew he wouldn't be able to forget her ever, but somehow feelings were not what everyone else was thinking about right now.
His mind clouded with doubts as he remembered all that he was embroiled in at the moment. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, determined to go to sleep.
Archana tossed and turned in bed all night. She just could not get sleep. She sweated nervously as she thought of the next morning and the ultimate seal to forfeit her marriage- THEIR marriage.
She got up finally and sat on the bed. The house seemed dark and scary to her. She looked around uncomfortably and headed to the kitchen. She drank a glass of cold water and sprinkled some on her face too. Then she sat down in a corner of the kitchen, trying to think.
Her feelings for Manav were undeterred and true- she knew that well by now. 13 whole days of living under the threat of separation had made her understand what place Manav held in her heart and her life. She was connected to him in every way. If he was unhappy, she could not be at peace too. When he smiled, the glow lit up her heart. Even though the marriage was on the verge of ending, the 'marriage like bond' had only strengthened with time. She knew now that even if they were separated, she would still think of him and maybe never be able to forget him. He too had made it clear that he wasn't interested in anyone else and only had her picture in his heart.
Then what was the use of pining from far? Shouldn't they be together and happy?
She let out a sigh of disappointment as she thought again about everything her Aai had said- yes, she couldn't live in that house with Savita Aai. She would never let them have a normal married life- like a ghost she would haunt them all the time. Her parents too would never accept Manav, and they would never be at peace if she went in the same house as a terror like Savita Aai. Manjusha Vahini in particular would throw a fit if the family accepted someone who had thrown her brother Ajit in jail for charges of arson. Either way, things were bound to go bad.
She closed her eyes, not knowing what to do. For some time she sat alone, trying to relax herself. She wished she had someone to talk to. She wished she had Varsha with her- at such a time, she really needed someone who could give her an UNBIASED opinion on what she ought to do- not like her Aai who was always Anti-Manav and not like Vaishali who was a thorough romantic and considered Manav to be some sort of a demi-God.
She wondered for a few minutes, and then sneaked into Vinod's room to steal his phone.
The cell phone rang again and again, throwing light on Pony's plump face. Deep in sleep, Pony did not wake up. She rolled over and kept sleeping.
The vibrations of the phone however, could not be ignored for long. Grunting, Pony tried to slam down the phone with her pillow, but eventually surrendered.
"Umm.. *yawn* Helllooo?" said Pony sleepily.
"Hello Pony its Archana here!"
"No I don't want Chana, I have had my dinner.."
"Pony!! Pony!! Wake up!! This is Archana!!" she whispered furiously, wishing she could shout. From a hidden corner of the kitchen where she was talking on Vinod's cell phone, she glanced towards the entry to see if someone was coming.
"Archana? *Yawn* I'll talk to you in the morning yaar.."
"No Pony please!" pleaded Archana vehemently. "Please don't put the phone down, please, I really need your help right now, please!"
This was enough to trigger Pony's drowsing little hypothalamus and bring it back a little to life. "Archana, what happened?" she asked cautiously. "Are you okay?"
"No I'm not okay." Said Archana. "I need your advice."
"Advice?" said Pony incredulously. "At this hour?" she looked at the clock. It was almost 3.
"Yes, I need it now."
"Umm.. I think I can give you better advice in the morning. My mind is woozy right now,"
"I might not get a chance to talk with you at length in the morning Pony. By 8 o clock I will have to leave for my court hearing."
Pony raised an eyebrow. "So is it about your divorce case?"
Archana felt embarrassed. "Yes, I really need help."
"I think you should talk to someone else Archana, I don't know the whole story and might end up giving you wrong advice," said Pony warily.
"No Pony, at the moment you are the only one who can give me correct advice. Don't worry about details, I'll tell you the whole story."
Whole story??'thought Pony. Oh well, maybe it was turning out to be one of those crazy things that we do for our friends sometimes. It was a guarantee that there would be no sleep for her that night.
"You owe me a treat for this Archu," she murmured as she got up to fill some water for brewing coffee.
The coffee grew cold. Pony didn't know when she got completely enraptured in all that Archana told her, as she sat cross legged in bed with her coffee mug in front of her.
"So this is the matter." Finished Archana. "And now I don't know what to do."
Pony drew in a deep breath. "Archana, this is truly complicated."
"I know." She said. "But I really feel he is a good man. Going back will be worth it."
"My views are actually similar to your mother's- men never change."
"But he is essentially a good man Pony- there is no question of changing here. Do good men not make mistakes at times? Even he made some. But this does not mean we should only look at their mistakes and not give any credit to the goodness within them." Pointed out Archana. "Manav may have had a bad past and done some unforgivable mistakes, but he is definitely not the villain everyone makes him to be. Otherwise why would he still care about me so much and think about me when he knows very well there is nothing left. His love is selfless!"
"Archana, are you sure you want to be with him? Are you sure his past will not create differences between you later?" said Pony doubtfully. "Bcos if you back out later after giving him hopes, it might get more difficult for him and you as well. Are you sure Archu?"
"Yes Pony," said Archana softly. "He has all the qualities that I would like to have in the father of my children- he is responsible, hard working, compassionate, with good values, a do-gooder, one who always wishes for his family's happiness and thinks about them. He has always given me respect in body and mind, he never forced himself on me and he has always been very gentle to me- I'm sure he will be a very good husband. He makes me feel secure like no one else. I don't think I can ever be this happy with anyone else."
Pony seemed uncomfortable. "See, you know him better than me or anyone else, so obviously we must go by what you say. If you think he is good and giving him a chance is fine, then okay- do that. Withdraw your divorce."
Archana was silent for a while. "And what do I do about my family, and his too?"
Pony sighed. "Archana, you really cannot make the whole world happy at one go. If you want to keep yourself and Manav happy, you might end up making some people disappointed, but there's not really much that you can do about it. You have told them what you wanted, now if they don't listen or if they chose to ignore what you want, you will have to break free and go against them. You can make others happy only if you are happy yourself- remember that."
"Why can't I have the best of both worlds.." muttered Archana.
"Cos such things happen only in fairytales. Real life is not so simple. Your parents are bound to feel angry, hurt and scared at your decision. And I can't really blame them for it. Manav is clearly NOT whom anyone would want as a son in law. They might accept both of you later though, if you are adamant. Same goes for Manav's family."
"I'm not feeling good about going against their wishes in this manner. My people might start hating me."
"I know, we all feel bad in revolting against our family. But if you and Manav really feel for each other and are committed to each other, then its better you get back together- else both of you will be pining sadly tomorrow and ruin your lives thinking about each other after divorce. Don't know about Manav, but I'm sure you will go down with depression or something. He may not be the best choice, but if you feel he is perfect for you, then go to him. We get true love only once in life. You need to follow your heart and break free." There was no reply on the other side. "Don't worry Archana, I will support you, and some other friends too, I hope, and Manav must be having some friends of his own.."
"I guess you are right." Said Archana, with a crack in her voice. "I tried my best to convince my parents but it boiled down to nothing. I will have to make a choice and take one side, however much it hurts everyone. I hope that when they see me nicely settled and happy with Manav, they will realize that everything happened for the best only. But there is doubt in that.."
Pony caught it. "What doubt?"
Archana stayed silent for some time. "Tell na!" Pony prodded her.
And then it was that the second part of the story came out- the dirty abusive part, which had Pony gaping in shock.
"Oh my poor dear, Archu my baby, that woman harassed you so much?" cried Pony. "I hope she pays for this!"
"Pony, Aai doesn't want me to go back to that house for the same reason." Said Archana sadly. "She doesn't trust Savita Aai at all. In the sakharpuda function also Savita Aai threatened me not to come back ever again and warned me not to talk to anyone from the Deshmukh family. She hates me very badly."
"Even I would advise you not to go back to that vile abusive lady." Said Pony firmly. "That woman sounds mad. She might burn you or something.. okay maybe that is a little too much.. but for sure she will harass you and you are too good and innocent to bite back."
"But then what about Manav.."
"Archana, no man is worth taking all this abuse for.."
"He is not guilty in all this," said Archana. "I think he doesn't even know how Aai has behaved with me. I don't want to lose him cos of his Aai.. why should he pay cos of his Aai's mistakes, in fact why should both of us pay cos of her and live our lives pining for each other."
Pony took in a deep breath. "Archana, I'm sorry, but I don't support your decision here at all. I'm all for progressive thinking and following what your heart yearns for, but foolhardy thinking and taking risks is a strict no no from my side. If you do not cooperate with me here, I shall have to tell your parents everything or contact the NGO and police to take some action against Manav's Aai."
"No please don't do that." Cried Archana feebly. "You tell me what to do now. I really need to find a middle route in all this mess. Please Pony!"
Pony sighed, rubbing her hand on her temples. Oh dear, this story was very complicated.
"There is only one way, but it's a little difficult."
"Yes?" cried out Archana. "Tell me, I am ready to try anything right now."
"Archana, if you somehow convince Manav to SEPARATE from his family and live with you, then things will be okay to a large extent."
Archana was shocked. SEPARATION? Oh no!
"Yes, this is the only way." Said Pony firmly, after a little more thought. "Living with Manav separately will keep you safe from Savita Aai, and this will satisfy your parents also- their biggest grouse was Manav's mother, right? Living separately will help you and Manav bond, and put all bad memories away like a bad dream."
Archana was not sure. "Pony, Manav dotes on his family." She said. "When he asked for my hand in marriage, at that time itself he had said that he has responsibilities and he will never walk out of them. In fact.. I.. I myself would not like him to dump his family for my sake.."
"Nobody is asking him to dump his family or forego responsibilities." Said Pony flatly. "Responsibilities can be fulfilled from a distance also. See, I'm not suggesting that you break relations with the Deshmukh family. But you just need to live away from them to avoid Manav's Aai. It is best for all. This will also help you in convincing your parents to accept Manav back- if he agrees to separate from his family for your sake, then your parents will realize that he is truly committed."
"But this might end up hampering Manav's relations with his own family." Pointed out Archana. "They will obviously be disappointed by him and mad at me. Vandu-Vedant Sachin don't like me as it is. They will start hating me fulltime if I separate them from their Dada."
"Not necessary." Said Pony. "Depends on how everything is handled. As I said Archana, no need to cut relations from that house. Just stay out of Savita Aai's way. She may not be a total villain or want to harm you intentionally, but she is too rough- she seems to get aggressive when angry and lashes out in her fury. Not good for you. Keeping a distance will keep her cool. As long as Manav does not break away and maintain relations with the family she will be okay I suppose. Separation will be better for both you and Savita Aai and will maintain peace in the family."
Archana did not know what to say. Pony continued. "Archana, everything CAN be done peacefully and in a loving manner. In fact, considering the fact that Manav's family lives in a small chawl house, I feel his siblings too will have to start living separately after their marriages due to lack of place in the chawl house. Such things are common nowadays- there is nothing to frown about in this. Manav has always been a dutiful son right? I'm sure he can approach the topic in front of his people in a diplomatic manner. I also think he can maintain relations on both sides if he tries. So many people live in nuclear families these days and they are all happy. Archana, just cos you do not live with your parents does not mean that you love them less, sometimes situations are such that living separately becomes inevitable. Trust me, Manav CAN handle this matter if he wants to. In fact he should."
"For that Manav should agree first." Said Archana. "I don't think he will ever agree to separating from his family. He loves them too much."
"Then let him live with them only and forget about you."
Archana winced. "Pony.."
"No Archana, I'm serious. It's a question of providing basic safety to the wife. If he cannot do that due to any reason, you are totally justified in walking out on him. Let him shed tears alone. Abuse in any form is intolerable Archana- and its not always physical, its mental as well. No man is worth getting married to if he cannot control his monster Mom. He needs to prove that he is willing to take your responsibility. If he refuses, then we shall come to know how much water your relationship holds, and whether it is sensible of you to leave your comfortable life and loving family for him."
Archana reflected on what Pony had said. It was true, she felt. If she was going against her parents and willing to forgive and forget the past, then surely he could also take a few efforts from his side for setting things right, couldn't he? And she wasn't asking him to break relations or anything- only to live separately. She herself loved the Deshmukh family very much and didn't want to lose them. 'Good fences make good neighbours'- she thought. Maybe living at a distance from the Karanjkars would actually make everything better and more peaceful for everyone, she thought.
"Well.. so.. what do you recommend me to do?"
"Okay, tomorrow is your divorce hearing right? So when you meet Manav tomorrow, sit with him and have a good proper talk. Tell him what you feel about him, listen to what he has to stay, and then tell him that you want to save your marriage- that you want to forget all that happened and start things from a clean slate. If he gives a positive response, then tell him that for you to come back to him, he will have to separate from his family and give the reasons in detail- explain everything about his Aai's behavior the way you explained me."
"I hope he doesn't get mad at me.." said Archana nervously.
"If he does, then you know what you are supposed to do- walk straight inside the court room and say yes to the judge." Said Pony flatly. "If he cannot understand your fears and does not try to provide you basic security and peace of mind, then it means he has very little regards for your happiness or well being. It is better to dump this 'good-son-who-worships-his-monster-Mom' then. And if he agrees, then all is well. Everything will be rosy for the two of you."
"Hmm.. but what am I supposed to do after that.. I mean.. what if my parents don't let me go back to him?"
"Archana, you are MARRIED to him, not only in front of the holy fire, but also in the eyes of law. He is your LEGAL husband. No one can separate the two of you. If your parents put restrictions and don't let you return to him, then all Manav needs to do is to show some proof of marriage to a legal instution or the court. The court will itself ensure that you get back together and no one holds you apart against your wills."
"Are you sure this will work?"
"Of course it will," said Pony coolly, "And if it doesn't- then also don't worry- I will help you ELOPE with Manav."
Archana was horrified. "Nooo!!! I don't want to run away from home!"
Pony chuckled, quite enjoying herself by now. "Oh now I wish the elopement really happens," she said, giggling to herself. "Straight from the streets of Mumbai to the solace of Mahabaleshwar- stay there for a week or so, enjoy a short honeymoon, then come back and enjoy a few slaps from your parents!" said Pony and started laughing.
Archana smiled. It was so nice to look forward to see a ray of sunshine amidst the dark clouds. She hoped everything would get settled between her and Manav tomorrow when she met him and talked to him. She looked at her watch. It was 4.30 am.
Only 3 and a half hours for the reunion- she thought excitedly.
Only 3 and a half hours for the ultimate separation- thought Manav sadly.
He shut off his alarm clock which was ringing, showing 4.30 am. The air in his room felt stifling and uncomfortable. It had begun to rain outside and rain drops were coming in through the window. He got up to close it. This sudden rain felt weird. As he struggled with trying to close the window, he saw an old man sitting in a corner of the chawl. He seemed to be trying to escape the rain. Manav wore his slippers and went to him.
"Baba," he called out softly, prodding him with a finger. The old man turned his face to look at him.
"Why are you sleeping here? You will fall ill in this rain."
The old man straightened up a bit. "Beta, I'm on a pilgrimage to Shirdi." He said. "I had halted in this area to take some rest, but it began to rain. I could not find any other shelter, so I sat here itself."
Manav was touched. "Wait."
He went inside his house and came back a little while later with an umbrella. "Come," he said. The old man got up and followed him as he led him slowly outside.
Together both of them walked to the Manav's garage. He opened the lock, lifted the shutters and admitted the old man inside. The garage was warm and dry. It was also much safer than sleeping on the street.
"You can sleep here." Said Manav, spreading a bedsheet for him. "You will be safe here. He turned to have a look at the man. The old man was eyeing the garage with satisfaction as if he owned the garage.
Manav felt weird. "Have you eaten anything?" he asked. The old man shook his head.
"I will get you something to eat. If you have to travel to Shirdi, then you have a long way to go right now."
He came out of the garage and went home. He rummaged in the kitchen to see what he could find. There was a chapatti and some sabzi. That would be insufficient, he thought. He added a few fruits to it, put it all in one tiffin box and went into the bedroom. He looked about for a shawl or a blanket, but could not find anything, since all the warm clothes had been put away in a trunk by his Aai- locked safely with naphthalene balls put in them. Finally he came across his sweater- it was the one which Archana had made for him. He clenched it tightly, not wanting to give it away, but then remembered the shivering body of the old man, sighed and walked away with the sweater in his hands.
He went back to the garage. There, the old man had assembled his few belongings and lit a lamp. Shadows danced about in the garage. It was for the first time that Manav had a good proper look at the old man. He was dressed like a pilgrim, with shaggy slippers and a torn bag with a few belongings in it. He seemed far from rich.
"Here's some food for you." Said Manav. "You will have to travel a lot tomorrow."
The old man accepted it gladly and started eating it. Manav watched him eat. He had soft grey eyes, with a strange glint in them.
"This is a nice garage." Said the old man. "But why is it so empty?"
"It got burnt." Said Manav sadly. "A fire broke in about 3 months back and it got burnt. I'm trying to mend the place and put the garage together again."
The old man kept looking around while eating. "You will need lot of money to put it together again, right?"
Manav nodded. "Here take this," he said offering the sweater. "You were feeling cold na.. don't wear it, its not that cold, just wrap it around your shoulders- will keep you warm and stop your shivering. You should change your wet clothes before that, I think."
The man accepted it gratefully. "Very pretty sweater. Very nice food too. I must thank your wife."
"She's not here." Said Manav.
The old man raised an eyebrow. He stared at the sweater again and again. "I hope she will not get angry if she comes to know later that you have given me your things.. this sweater looks new.."
Manav laughed. "She's not here, so how can she get angry. In all probability, she won't even come to know about this, ever. And even if she comes to know, she won't be angry."
The old man's eye's glinted. "Really?"
"Yes." Said Manav slowly. "She is a most caring and compassionate person. She has love for everyone in her heart, no matter how needy or poor they are. Her heart bleeds for everyone."
"She seems to be a very nice person." The old man said. "You are very lucky."
His words made Manav feel sad. "Not as lucky as you think. You rest here, I will go back home." He said. He walked out of the garage and back.
He went back home and continued his daily chores- filling buckets of water, making his bed, getting ready and so on. As he did so, he remembered Archana a lot- he remembered the first time she had made tea for him, the times when he had stared at her at night as she slept next to him, their night walks, her waiting for him in the balcony as he came home after work in the evening- the way his eyes used to look for her and his heart felt joyous on seeing her face, and the way she used to impatiently wait for him, and suddenly lighten up as her glance fell on him'he remembered everything.
Memories! Oh sweet memories!
The rest of the family woke up a little later. No one spoke to him or to each other- everyone appeared to be busy in their own chores. Breakfast was done in silence. Finally Damodar spoke up.
"I'll come to the court with you Manav."
"No need." Said Manav frankly.
"But I want to be there for you at this difficult moment."
"It will be more difficult for me if you or anyone else come along. Please let me handle this alone- I'm more comfortable that way." Manav said quietly. Damodar shrugged and mumbled a little , but did not protest. Savita feigned indifference, and the kids as usual, kept quiet.
Archana could hardly concentrate on her breakfast. She kept looking at her mother again and again, but did not say anything.
"Archana, eat quickly, we will get late." Said Sulochana.
"Aai, there is no need for you to come along with me." Said Archana. "I will go by myself."
"Arey how is there no need?" asked Sulochana, surprised. "How could you think I would leave you alone at such a difficult time? No, I will come with you, God knows what the divorce proceedings will be like.. Vinod why don't you come with us too..??"
Before Vinod could speak, Manju piped in. "He has work. He is saving his leaves so that we can take Punni out for a vacation." She said squarely. Vinod glared at her in anger.
"Aai, Siddhant will be there na! He will handle everything- I have full faith in his capabilities. You don't worry."
Sulochana relaxed. "I hope so. Come on Archu, eat quickly, what are you playing with the food for?"
Archana managed a smile and gulped down her food without interest. Her mind worked furiously- how could she have a lone moment with Manav now, with her mother's hawk like eyes over them?
Breakfast done, Manav gathered his files and had a look through them to see that everything was in place. He then called Vinod and confirmed that Archana was in time for court. Finally he went to the kitchen temple and prayed to God for guidance. His gaze fell on the Ganpati in the plate filled with water. Reminding himself not to expect last minute miracles, he walked out of the house. As he walked out, he called the new Garage supervisor to remind him that he would be coming late to work. The supervisor, a sensitive fellow, told him he could take a holiday if he wanted to. "You don't have to rush back to work right after your divorce." He said, warily.
Manav laughed sarcastically. "I don't have the luxury of spending time to cry for myself. I can't afford it. You don't worry Sir, I will come by afternoon. The divorce proceedings will be done by then." He disconnected the phone and looked up. The old man was staring at him like a ghost.
"You're up early!" said Manav, a trifle scared by him appearing suddenly. "I thought you would have liked to rest some more."
"I must continue my journey now." said the old man. "I have taken enough rest. Here are the keys of your garage. Thank you very much for everything. Do you want me to make some special prayers or offerings for you at Shirdi?"
Manav smiled. "God knows very well what I want. He doesn't seem to be in the mood to give it to me. So what difference does it make if I pray from here or from Shirdi?"
The old man laughed. "Your current misfortunes seem to have left a bitter taste in your mouth."
Manav shrugged. "Nothing like that. Its just that I have accepted his will and my fate."
"God's will," said the old man philosophically, "is difficult to figure out. It is not in the hands of mere mortals to devise the plans or intentions of the Almighty."
"Well, then I guess I'm just going with the flow as of now." Manav replied back.
The old man nodded. "Is it your divorce today?"
Manav felt embarrassed. The old man sighed. "What has the world come to!" he said, shaking his head.
Manav tried to change the topic. "When you go to Shirdi, ask the Lord to enable me to come and visit him soon."
The old man nodded with a mysterious look in his eyes. "I will ask him to enable you to come in full health, prosperity and along with your WHOLE family, which includes your wife."
Manav tried to smile. "Looks difficult at the moment."
"Nothing is difficult. God has a plan for everyone." Said the old man. "And once the curtains are raised, everything else shall fall in place."
Manav was puzzled. What was this- a prophecy? A blessing? The old man was seeming more and more weird every minute. "I will take your leave now." he said, and walked away. For a few minutes he pondered over what the old man had said. Finally he decided to ask him the meaning himself. He turned back.
There was no one.
So that's part 68 people. I posted this part today itself cos I was really really upset when I read the written update and needed to divert my mind. I don't know what will happen in the serial, but I promise you today that in this story, all the evil people will get their punishments and no babies will be killed. Not even babies, no adults will be killed. I don't know why I'm saying this. I guess I'm just too upset after reading today's update.
I hope its not very preachy. Waiting for your comments and feedback. Next part will be another Mahaepisode where Manav and Archana will meet in court and the climax will occur. People who want to change their answers about 'how the divorce will stop' after reading this part can send in their PM's and compare how much they could predict the climax which shall take place in the next two parts.
So until then, be ready with your popcorn, or whatever.
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