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Joined: 15 July 2010
Chapter 5: A Day in the Life Of'
All was silent in the library, where they had retreated to grapple with this situation. The near-silent tears of the young girl sitting on the couch shattered the dead quiet. Maan, Vicky and Savitri Devi watched the young girl weep, helpless in the face of her grief.
Maan clenched his hands in anger, wanting to hit Dev right now. They needed to quickly deal with the situation before it exploded in their faces. Seeing Naintara's grief, Maan was glad that this was the one place that he hadn't allowed the girls to decorate, claiming it as his own sanctuary. It was the only place that held no sign of the wedding revelries. He sighed. The only thing bridal about this room was the bride herself.
"How could he do this to my sister?" Arjun demanded, from his position on the couch, next to his sister. A supportive arm was wrapped around Naintara's shaking shoulders. "That bas***d broke Naintara's heart."
"Believe me," Maan said through gritted teeth, "I don't even know how this happened. It was unexpected to us all."
Naintara mumbled something.
"What did you say?" Arjun asked, turning to stare at his sister.
"It was that girl," Naintara spat out, glaring through her tears. "She was always hanging around us. I knew she loved Dev. She took him away from me."
"What girl?" Maan demanded, his thoughts racing back to what Dev had said to him in the weeks leading up to his wedding. Had there been some hint that he had missed?
"Meera. She loved Dev. I can tell you with all certainty that he is with her right now. Dev would never have the courage to do this all on his own," she said, allowing the cynicism to escape from behind her grief-stricken faade for a moment. Hiding her face in her hands, she began to cry once more, this time loudly sobbing.
"Dadi Ma," Maan cried out, racing to his swaying grandmother. He quickly helped her into a chair, not wanting her to injure herself. He stared at the new lines on her face, frowning at the affect Dev's defection had had on his grandmother.
This woman had stepped in and raised Maan, Vicky and Annie after their own father had screwed up their lives and died, taking their mother along with him. The young children, orphaned so suddenly, had found refuge in their loving grandmother's arms. She loved Dev and Kamya, even though these two were her son and his mistress's children. His grandmother, the woman he respected and revered above all else, didn't deserve the pain that Dev's actions would bring her. The shock of the aborted wedding was now affecting her health and Maan felt helpless to see her deterioration.
Vicky raced over with a glass of water, and Maan helped her drink the liquid. "Dadi Ma," Maan said entreatingly, "I will take care of this. Don't take it so much to heart."
"Maan beta, did Dev ever say anything to you?" his grandmother got out, gazing into her beloved grandson's eyes. "Was there any way we could have prevented this?"
"Dev never said anything to me," Maan said forthrightly. "At least, nothing concrete." He glanced at Vicky questioningly.
"I swear to you, Maan bhai," Vicky said earnestly, "I didn't know about any of this. I thought he was happy. I mean, he loved Naintara! He was always following her around campus like a lovesick puppy. I don't know what changed." He shook his head in confusion. "He was the one that wanted to marry her in the first place."
Maan got up and strode over to Naintara and gently grasped her by the shoulders. Helping her to stand, he stared into her eyes. "Believe me, Naintara. This will not affect you in any way. I promise you. This ' all of this will not harm the Rathod name. If anything, Dev's actions have blackened the Khurana name." He gently squeezed Naintara's hands. "I will take care of it all. You don't have to worry about anything."
"How can I not worry?" Naintara cried out, clutching at Maan's hands, refusing to let him go. "How can I pretend like nothing happened, not when '" her voice trailed off.
"What are you trying to say, Naintara?" Arjun growled, getting up and turning this sister to face him. He stared into her eyes, his lips tightening at what he saw there.
Maan pulled back, a coldness seeping through him as he half-guessed the words that were to fall from Naintara's lips.
"Main pregnant hoon," she whispered to her brother. "I'm pregnant," she repeated, turning to gaze imploringly at Maan.
Vicky cursed softly at that revelation.
"I'm pregnant with Dev's child," she said.
Maan felt the world receding for a moment, tilting on its axis. It was only as Vicky's hand grasped his arm in support, did he realize that he had stumbled. He, Maan Singh Khurana had stumbled at a woman's words.
He squared his shoulders. He was Maan Singh Khurana. Never had a Khurana shirked his duty. He wasn't like Dev. He wouldn't let down his name or his blood.
"Maan beta," came Dadi Ma's voice. Maan went and knelt down beside her chair. She stared into his eyes sadly and then nodded, finding the answer she had expected to see there. Maan got up, staring at the weeping girl one more. She was crying into her brother's shoulder, hiding her face and her shame from the rest of the world.
He took a deep breath and raised a foot to step forward. He was jerked back by a desperate hand on his arm.
"Maan bhai, no," Vicky protested. "Don't do this. You don't have to. I'm here."
Maan shook his head resolutely. "It's my duty. I'm the oldest."
"But bhai," Vicky began as Maan stepped away, making his way to Naintara. "What about Sameera?". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
'What about Sameera?'
Maan jerked up, his heart beating furiously. Staring at the clock, he saw that it was about time to get up. Settling back against the headboard, he reached over and picked up the glass of water on the nightstand next to his bed. Swiftly swallowing, he then forced his locked muscles to relax one by one.
That same old memory. It was something that he could suppress during his waking hours, but it made itself known while he was asleep and vulnerable, insidiously stealing into his dreams and transforming them into nightmares. He frowned lightly, reaching over to place the empty glass on the nightstand.
Resting against the headboard once more, he allowed his thoughts to wander. They focused on that fateful night once more. He'd believed that young girl, not knowing the bitterness and ambition she hid behind her grief. He'd stepped forward, without a second thought, knowing his duty. Only, Naintara had never been pregnant.
It took some time and Naintara's own drunken confession to make him
realize that she'd only wanted the Khurana name. Even if Dev had gotten
away, she'd had two other brothers to choose from. She'd succeeded in
her goals. But when she found that she couldn't twist Maan around her
finger the way she could Dev, Naintara had turned around and tried to
hurt him in the one way she knew she could get to him. By besmirching
the Khurana name. The entire family had been a witness to her spiral
into degradation. Her scandalous behavior had caused Dadi's heart
attack. The only good thing about that marriage had been that he had
saved Vicky from being in his position. Well, that and . . .
When Naintara found out that she was really pregnant, she'd changed. Not for Dev or Maan or the Khurana name. She had changed for her baby. No more late nights. No more alcohol or designer drugs. No more causing scandals and appearing in the gossip columns of major newspapers. She'd stayed home, taken care of herself, and prepared for her baby. It was a side of Naintara he'd never expected to see, and the root of that change had been her baby. Someone that would have been a part of her, and someone she seemed to cherish.
Maan's ruminations were disturbed by the soft chan-chan-chan of payals. There was only one person that wore such adornments in this house. Geet was here. In the privacy of his thoughts, he allowed himself the right to call her Geet. A small reluctant smile played on his lips.
"Rahul, wake up! It's 7:30 A.M., and you said that you wanted to get up early today. Remember?" She spoke playfully, and he heard the trill of her laughter. It made him want to get up and join in the fun. He forced himself to stay seated, staring at the wall that his room shared with Rahul's. 'What is wrong with you?' he berated himself silently. 'Haven't you already learned your lesson?'
"You wanted to eat breakfast with your daddy," he heard Geet's voice call out encouragingly to his son. He knew that Rahul had a hard time getting up in the mornings, and Geet had a hard task before here. But, breakfast. He glanced at the clock and quickly got up. He had a morning business meeting, and no time to waste on one disruptive girl.
At the breakfast table, Maan finally set down his newspaper and focused on the food. He had gotten to the table late, and had immediately picked up the newspaper in order to avoid looking at the woman who captivated him far too often for his own comfort. Sighing at the mountain of food in front of him, he began to eat. His grandmother had made his favorites this morning with her own hands, and he didn't want to disappoint her with a flagging appetite.
Seeing movement out of the corner of his eye, he turned to gaze at the two sitting across the table from him. Geet's movements had caught his eye, as she wrapped her dupatta around herself securely. His eyebrows rose at that. The girl was already covered from head to toe, and yet she made sure to wrap that dupatta around herself, as well. For a moment, he allowed himself to wonder what she would look like in a dress, but quickly shook his head impatiently. Food. He needed to focus on the food.
"Maan beta, when will you be coming home today?" Dadi Ma asked. "And the rest of the week?"
Maan turned to look at her. "Do you have anything planned, Dadi Ma?" he asked politely.
"Not particularly," Dadi Ma quickly said. "I just wanted to know your schedule for this week. Forget that," she said suddenly, glancing at Rahul and Geet before turning back to look at Maan inquisitively. "Will you be at your office during lunchtime tomorrow?" she asked him with a smile.
Maan's attention was caught by the sound of giggles from across the table. The two were too far away, at the other end of the table, for him to hear what they were talking about, but he wanted to know what Rahul found so funny.
He'd missed this closeness with Rahul. Where had their easy relationship gone? He missed his son coming to sleep in his bed at night. He missed Rahul coming to wake him up in the morning, jumping on Maan's bed until he awakened to play with him for a few precious minutes before Maan had to go off to work. That was the reason why Rahul's room was next to his. That was the reason why there were connecting doors between their rooms, but Rahul had stopped coming to his room months ago.
When had everything changed? And who would have thought that he would miss it so much? He sat back, cradling his cup of black coffee in his hands. Taking a sip, he thought back to the moment that Naintara had burst into the library to tell him that she was pregnant. It was ironic that she had chosen the exact same location for that kind of confession. But this time, when Naintara had confessed, he hadn't cared. Naintara's behavior had soured him on everything that had to do with her. He'd wanted nothing to do with her or her baby.
But Naintara had died giving birth to her child. When the nurse at the hospital had put Naintara's child into his arms, he'd felt his heart lurch. It had moved him to see a child so helpless and vulnerable entrusted into his care. 'This baby has no one else; he only has you,' he'd thought to himself. When the baby had grasped his finger with all of his might, he'd grabbed a hold of Maan's heart. And from that moment, for all intents and purposes, he was Rahul's father. And no one knew differently, besides Dadi Ma and Vicky.
Watching Rahul giggle once more, he smiled lightly, being careful to hide that smile behind his coffee cup. He'd named that child. He'd loved him. Taken care of him and stayed up nights with him when he'd sickened. The first thing he'd done, after Rahul's birth, was to move his nursery next door to his room so that this child would always feel close to him.
He sighed softly, his heart aching for a moment. It could only ever ache for his grandmother or Rahul now. That loving relationship between Rahul and him had disappeared. Something had happened, and no matter how hard he tried to talk to Rahul about it, he couldn't find out what the problem was. Whenever he tried, Rahul would hide or cry or run away. There came a time when Dadi told him to back off, and Maan just found it easier to put off that all important discussion until next time.
He slammed down his cup. Why had it taken him so long to figure out that something was wrong, he silently berated himself. Rahul had deserved more attention than that.
"Maan beta," Dadi Ma said softly. "I asked you a question."
Maan stared at her blankly, and then found his gaze moving back to the two laughing across the table from him.
"Will you be at your office during lunchtime tomorrow?" Dadi repeated patiently.
"Yes, Dadi Ma. Why?" he asked.
"I might send over a surprise for you," she said with a conspiratorial smile.
"What kind of . . . ?" he began, but was interrupted by the ringing of his phone. It was Adi. "I'm sorry, Dadi Ma, I'll see you tonight. I've been waiting for this call," he said in quick explanation before making his way to the door.
Getting to the doorway, he struggled with himself for a moment before turning back to glance at the trio still sitting at the table. Geet and Rahul were giggling once more, and Dadi Ma sat there, smiling benevolently over the two.
He'd made the right decision that day. Despite the unwanted attraction he had felt for this woman when they'd touched fingers over an unwanted glass of milk, he'd know instinctively that she was exactly what his son needed after the debacle of that last nanny. Seeing the smile on his son's face, he knew that his instincts had been spot on.
Maan's fingers worked furiously over the keyboard, as he stared intently at the computer screen in front of him. It was 6:00 P.M., and while the office day had ended, there was still a ton of work to be done before the next day. Mentally running over the meetings he had for the next day, he opened up a new word document and composed a memo for Adi, ensuring that he would remember what he wanted to tell the man when he called.
Chan-chan-chan. His fingers froze over the keyboard. Chan-chan-chan. He closed his eyes in frustration when his heart reacted to the noise of those damned payals. What was she still doing here? Geet's was scheduled to work from Rahul's waking to 5:30 P.M. He had gotten used to timing it so that he didn't have to see her beyond the breakfast table. Besides, the times that he was home during the day, Geet invariably ended up landing in his arms due to one bout of clumsiness or another. He hated how those moments made him feel so bothered for some time afterward.
There was the sound of that feminine, throaty laughter that always got under his skin. He sighed softly, leaning back. Not like he was going to get any more work done until she left.
"Rahul, be careful," he heard Geet say sharply. Standing up, he moved to his bedroom window, and realized the two were on the verandah below. He could see their feet sticking out from under the awning. What were they doing here? It was raining, gently, but still. That couldn't be good for Rahul.
"Now that the cast is no longer around your arm, what do you want to do?" he heard Geet ask.
"Didi, let's play in the rain," Rahul said, reaching out an inquisitive hand to the raindrops falling over the awning and down in a waterfall in front of the two. It was the arm that had only recently been freed from the cast.
Maan winced. Today had been the day Rahul's cast was going to come off. He should have been there, he thought to himself, striking the windowsill. The old Rahul would have demanded he go.
"You wanted to eat breakfast with your daddy." He remembered Geet's voice saying the words. Was that why Rahul had wanted to eat breakfast with him, hoping that he would remember? Hoping that he would want to go? Was he attributing too much to a 5-year-old boy? Was he over thinking all of this? But no, it didn't matter what Rahul wanted. He was the father, and he should have been there when his son's cast came off.
"Rahul, no, you'll catch a cold," Geet said firmly, pulling his hand back in. "Isn't it enough that I'm allowing you to get your feet wet?" she demanded. Maan smiled at the sharp worry in her voice.
"Then, what's wrong with having my hands out in the rain?" Rahul asked plaintively.
"Rahul," Geet said warningly and Rahul subsided immediately, pouting at the quick refusal. "Well, I guess a hand wouldn't hurt," Geet said. Maan could practically hear the smile in her voice. "Hey! No sprinkling your didi," Geet protested, laughing softly. "You remind me so much of my cousins," she finally said in a low voice, after there had been a long silence.
Maan unconsciously moved forward, stumbling when he hit the wall. He shook his head at his own clumsiness, but then turned back to eavesdropping.
"Rajji and Titu," she continued reminiscing. "We used to love playing in the rain. Although we really didn't get to do it often," she said wistfully.
"Didi, you're a grownup," Rahul said in surprise. "Even you didn't get to play in the rain when you wanted? Why?"
"Because Rajji and I were girls," she replied softly. "And Titu ' well, Titu had some problems. He couldn't get his leg wet."
"Why not?" Rahul demanded.
"He had a condition. He also got sick too easily."
"Oh," Rahul said and then paused. "Where are they right now, Didi?"
"Far away," Geet said. "So far away that I don't think that I can ever see them again." There was a moment of silence.
"Didi?" Rahul asked hesitantly.
"Hmm?" Geet said softly.
"You're crying, Didi."
"Oh," Geet murmured in surprise. "I just miss them. Just like I'm sure you miss your mom."
Maan frowned at those words. His lips tightened and he straightened, ready to go downstairs and stop this course of conversation.
"Oh, I don't miss my mom," Rahul replied matter-of-factly. "I never knew her. Daddy said she went to heaven, but that she is always watching over me."
"Oh," came Geet's subdued reply.
"But I do miss Uncle Vicky," Rahul said plaintively. "And Annie Auntie." Maan closed his eyes at that revelation. How could he explain their absence to a young child when he didn't understand himself? Turning to stare down at the little hand getting wet in the rain, he willed it to move on and forget about this subject.
"Rahul, promise me something," Geet said suddenly in a serious tone.
"What?" Rahul asked in a suspicious tone.
"What's with that tone, mister?" Geet demanded.
There was a sudden burst of giggles. "Stop tickling me, Geet Didi!"
"When have I done anything that would make you doubt me?" Geet protested.
"My nanny used to make me promise stuff that I didn't like," Rahul confessed.
"Like what?" Geet demanded.
"She used to tell me to hide and made me promise not to come out unless she found me. She never found me. Not like you do."
"Or she'd tell me to hide from daddy."
Maan fell back at that revelation. His mind began to work furiously, and he began to make sense of the change in Rahul. This had all started when she had come to work for him! This had all started when she became Rahul's nanny. He sighed deeply, trying to control the maelstrom of emotions inside of him.
"And then, she told me something and made me promise that I would never tell it to daddy." Rahul's voice broke on the last words.
"What was it?" Geet asked softly.
Maan leaned forward, wanting to know the answer, as well. Would he finally find out what had changed his son from the loving young boy he used to know?
Rrriinnnggg. Rrriinnnggg. Rrriinnnggg. Rrriinnnggg. Maan cursed softly, turning to glare at the offensive intrusion. Turning it off without checking, he came back to stand next to the window. But it was already too late. Something, maybe the ringing of his cellphone, had scared the two off. They were gone. He clenched his hands, wondering what Rahul had been about to say.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"Rahul isn't my flesh and blood," he ground out, angry with himself for this defense.
Geet whirled around to stare at him, shocked to the core by his words.
"He's the product of one of the many affairs my wife had before she left us, Miss Handa." The words resounded in the air between them, as the two gazed at each other in shock. Maan was the one to look away first.
Geet stared at him, shocked at the words. "How could you just . . .?" she asked, trailing off in confusion. "I'm almost a stranger, Mr. Maan Singh Khurana," Geet said tightly, "How could you tell me your son's biggest secret like that? Is it some kind of joke to you?" she demanded angrily, striding over to slam a hand down on his desk.
Maan fell back into his chair, shocked by the words that had left his mouth. He ran a hand over his face, wondering how he had let the words slip out. His frustration with the way the day had been going, seeing Adi goof off and then . . . the pictures on his desk. They were no excuse. When had he gotten so sensitive? What had he been thinking? How could he have revealed such a thing to this woman? How could he betray his son like that?
'What is wrong with me?' he silently wondered to himself, his eyes meeting the eyes of the woman standing in front of him, Those eyes demanded answers.
"You will not tell anyone what I told you today," Maan barked at her, making her jump at the loudness of his tone. "Forget it." He glared at her, before turning his gaze away. His eyes were caught once more by the photos on his desk. Reaching over, he brusquely put them face down on the desk. Picking up the phone, he ordered the temp to come inside.
"Take these and throw them away," he said, pointing at the offensive pictures. Geet's eyes widened when she realized he was throwing away his family pictures. She sat down; her mind worked furiously, as she wondered what she should do next.
Maan glared at her balefully. The only reason the truth had come out was because it was her. A part of him had begun to trust her. "Leave, Miss Handa," he barked at her, not wanting to face that unpalatable truth.
She gazed back at him impassively, her head tilted to the side. "Let me see your wallet," she demanded suddenly, throwing him off.
"What?" he asked in confusion.
"No," he replied, turning his attention to the files in front of him. There was silence from the other side of the desk. Finally, looking up, he met her gaze.
"Your son is heartbroken," she said softly. His lips tightened. "I know that he's not your blood, but he's still your son. He loves you! Let me see your wallet. Please."
It was the please that did it. His hand, as if it had a life of its own, went into his pocket and pulled out the wallet, quietly handing it to her.
Geet opened it hesitantly and began to look through it. She didn't have to look far. Smiling triumphantly, she turned the open wallet to face him. There was a picture of Dadi Ma and Rahul staring back at him. "You do love him!"
"I never said I didn't," he lied.
"You did! You just . . ." She took a deep breath. "That's not important right now. You love him. I just needed to verify that." She took a deep breath. "Last night Rahul said something to me that I think you should know. I'm sure you don't know. I mean if you did, why would you just let this situation go on like this," she said, beginning to ramble. "I mean, I'm sure you're just being a bad father right now. I'm sure you're not one of those evil fathers that we see on TV."
"Miss Handa!" Maan growled at her. Geet stopped, staring at him wide-eyed. "Take a deep breath," he ordered. Geet took a deep breath. "Now, get to the point."
"Right," she muttered. "Did you know that your last nanny, that . . . woman," she spat out, "told your son that he was not your son? Did you know that Rahul has known all of this time and has agonized over the fact that you weren't his father? He's deathly afraid that he's going to lose you, too, Maan Singh Khurana," she finished softly.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"I'm going to kill Sameera."
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