Word Count-2461 words-feel the obsession baby!
'Mere Shloki..mere sweetipie...apna khyaal rakhna!' Kadambari cooed. Shlok shared a simultaneous 'spare me the horror' look with his father as she enveloped him in a suffocating hug.
'Maa!' he whined, 'Please...no public displays of affection!'
'Haa Kadambari, sirf movie dekhne hi to jaa raha hai...' said Dadaji, looking up from the newspaper he was reading.
'Actually Dadaji,' he piped up, 'Mujhe hai na, bilkul bhi movie dekhne-'
'Shut up,' Virat hissed into his younger brother's ear, while giving Dadaji his best oh, these kids smile. 'Dadaji..Shlok just wants to say that ermm, he wants to study Bollywood cinema in detail as soon as possible..so let's go,' putting emphasis on the go. Shlok sulked as his elder cousin led him out, or rather dragged him out of the Vadhera mansion.
Virat loved movies, only less than music. And though he had abandoned all dreams of being a rockstar, he was still addicted to catching the latest flick when it arrived in the nearby cinema hall. Since he knew he would have to listen to some poisonous taunts if he risked going for his Friday treat, he had resorted to using his poor cousin as bait, saying how the school had a project on modern Indian cinema. Ordinarily, Dadaji would never have accepted such a poor excuse, but he was anyway distracted with the Jaiswal case. Virat made a mental note to send a 'thank-you' bouquet to Jaiswal once he was safely put in jail.
He whistled as he went to pull out his car from the parking lot. His Viren bhaiyya being uninterested in updating his ancient Honda, Virat had shamelessly used up his brother's money in buying himself the latest BMW. Virat sometimes wondered how he behaved like such a spoilt brat and got away with it.
He sped his car onto the driveway, admiring how smoothly the engine worked. Virat sometimes thought he could have been a nice mechanic, had not he been born in such a privileged family. The disadvantage of being rich was that your career choices were limited to the size of the pay packet they gave you. He switched on the radio, grinning as Shlok shut his ears in irritation. 'Sorry bro,' he said, as Shlok forced himself to crawl into the car, 'but they don't play Beethoven on the radio anymore.'
'Pata hai,' said Shlok, making a face, 'Dadaji has informed me of the vices plaguing today's culture-'
Virat increased the volume, so that his brother's thesis on modern evils was drowned out by the raunchy beats of Ooh La La Ooh Laa Laa. He started singing under his breath as his car picked up speed, and Shlok gradually shut up as Shreya Ghoshal crooned Haa main jawaan ho gayi..., muttering something about 'perverted society'. Virat snickered. He knew perfectly well enough how holier-than-thou Shlok would be once he turned sixteen.
They finally reached the cinema hall, which was, co-incidentally enough, located in the same mall he and Maanvi had visited a few weeks before his bhaiyya's wedding. He winked at the security guard, who, being well-versed with the younger Vadhera's tipping habits, immediately rushed out to park the car for him. As they passed through the security check, Virat couldn't help but fondly think of the Bandariya, and how she had refused to let him see what was there in that big bag of hers. He wished she was here, so that he could irritate her again.
Virat walked into the mall, and seeing that the glass elevators were full, decided to use the escalator. He pulled along Shlok, who was greedily eyeing a collection of encyclopedias in the mall's bookstore. As he came nearer to the escalator, his heart suddenly skipped a beat. No way. A girl with straight hair, wearing a demure green and pink salwar kameez that he had once seen Maanvi wearing, was standing by the escalator, wondering whether to step on it or not.
Shlok seemed to have got the intuition too, for he immediately called out, 'Maanvi didi?' The girl spun around, and Virat suddenly felt breathless. Gosh, it was her!
'Tum?' she said, looking like she'd just recovered from a heart attack. Think of the devil, and she appears, Virat thought, mentally laughing at the irony. He smiled at Maanvi and said innocently,' Shouldn't we be asking you that?'
'I-I-I'd just come here for some work,' she spluttered. He smirked. 'Yeah right, you came here for some work, without visiting your Jeevika di first.'
Her face paled, but she immediately regained control of herself, felt her tongue curl into the whiplash it always formed when she saw Virat Vadhera. 'I was going to visit her,' she said defensively, 'but then I thought I should buy some gifts, so that Swamini Chachi doesn't say anything.'
'Kay,' he shrugged, 'so you're going?'
'Yeah,' she said shiftily. He could feel his smile growing wider and wider. The girl needs to know how to lie well. Well, don't worry, meri bandariya. Virat Vadhera's here to save the day.
'Theek hai...,' he said, 'anyway we have come to see The Dirty Picture.'
'Whaa-aattt?' Shlok yelped, immediately letting go of Virat's hand, something which Dadaji had expertly forbid him to do. 'The Dirty Picture?? No way! That's adult! Dadaji would never forgive me!'
'Oh c'mon,' Virat said, rolling his eyes. 'Dadaji will never know.'
'No bhaiyya,' said Shlok, looking like he'd just seen The Exorcist for the first time, 'I simply cannot watch such a vulgar film with you. It's only for those who are aged 18 and above, and I will not defy the Censor Board's rules and regulations.'
'But I have two tickets,' said Virat exasperatedly, perfectly aware of the fact that Maanvi was still uncomfortably standing there and witnessing the argument between them, wondering whether to intervene, or make a run for it. 'I've paid seven hundred bucks for them Shlok. Think about it. Luxury Lounge! Extra comfortable seats and the popcorn will be specially served to us!'
'No, no, no,' said Shlok firmly. 'I will not see this film.'
'Maanvi,' said Virat suddenly, just as she was about to hurry away through the exit, 'why don't you come and watch the film with me, instead of this idiot?'
'Kya?' she asked, looking even more petrified than Shlok, who was acting like he'd seen Vidya Balan's item number already.
'I know I know...you have the mind of a 5 year old child,' he said coolly, and chuckling to himself as the barb immediately caused her eyes to flare up. 'But biologically you are over 18 right?'
'Jee nahi,' she said firmly.
'You're actually 5 years old??' asked Virat in mock astonishment.
'No,' she said disgustedly, 'I am 21 years old for your information, old enough to drink. But at the same time, I'm not going to be a part of your silly adventure.'
'Fine,' he sighed, 'I mean, what difference would it make to you if Dadaji shouted at me for wasting those seven hundred rupees...'
She rolled her eyes, though she knew he had a point. It would be a shame to let the money go to waste. And besides, the Chep was dangerous. If he went back, he would tell her Jeevika di that she had come to the mall, and she did not want to explain why she had done so. Maybe she could buy his silence by watching the movie along with him.
'Fine,' she said, finally giving up, 'but you will not tell anyone I had come here. Same goes for you, Shlok.'
'Pakka Promise,' said Virat gleefully, crossing his fingers behind his back. Her eyes immediately wandered there. 'Hey,' she said warningly, 'no cheating.' His expression soured.
'What about me?' said a panicked Shlok. 'Don't tell me you're going to leave me alone?'
'You can go hang out in the bookstore,' Virat suggested.
'For three hours?' said Shlok, his eyeballs almost popping out of their sockets.
'You sneak to to the library everyday when you're supposed to be going for football practice...you don't feel scared about being alone then,' said Virat dangerously. Shlok gulped. 'Shloki my baby...Dadaji may not know how to kick a goal, but I do, and it's one-nil for you if you don't want your mother to kill you.'
Shlok scowled. 'Now that's a good boy. You have the brand new cellphone your Dadaji gifted you right? Call me if anything happens. And don't worry, everyone in Chandigarh knows better than to mess with a Vadhera.'
Maanvi felt her stomach churning as Shlok stomped off to the bookstore and Virat cheekily held out his hand to her. She grasped it, trying not to feel weird as she felt the warm, assuring touch of his giant hands on her relatively cold, small palm. Something told her that even if he was not a lawyer, Virat had the DNA of several political strategists in every nerve of his peanut-sized brain.
Maanvi sat back in the seats, enjoying how soft and plump the cushions were, better than the stiff furniture of the Vadhera house. Even Virat seemed to think so, as he sank down into the seats like he and the Luxury Lounge were long-lost lovers. She tried not to feel awkward about the fact that they looked like a couple on a date, perched as they were in the last row of the theatre, and focused on the screen, blotting out the whooping college kids and entwined young couples in front of her from her line of sight.
Virat however, sensed her discomfort, and he seemed to be taking a peculiar short of enjoyment in it. Maanvi could feel her body temperature drop periodically, as even though the air-conditioner was at moderate temperature, Virat Vadhera's hands were not. They kept on sneaking over, sometimes to caress her fingers, or sometimes to run his own behind her shoulders and onto her neck. At first it made her feel ticklish, but as she had a momentary sensation of his hands closing in on the small of her back, she felt a sharp coldness spread through her body, his touch both sizzling and stinging her. It was as if he was trying to take away all the false cheerfulness away and exposing her true, weak self to his eyes.
At the same time, she knew she had to be firm. She knew that he was trying to make her feel uncomfortable, so that she would let go of her charade and berate him, and then all it would take was a slip of the tongue for him to know the truth. She couldn't tell him, and yet he knew, he just wanted to listen to it from her mouth. As Emraan Haashmi cupped Vidya Balan's cheek, Maanvi became aware of Virat staring at her lips, as if waiting for them to open and let out the secret she was hiding. She stared at the movie miserably, her vision blurred with tears. Why was he the only one who knew about her condition, when he did not even care about her as much as so many others did?
That fateful day, a week after her Jeevika di had been married, she had come to Chandigarh to visit the Vadheras, just because the separation had been unbearable. She had collapsed in her bedroom, and Virat had found her lying on the floor, struggling to get up, but unable to muster the strength to stand on her legs. He had taken her to the doctor,whose clinic happened to be located in the complex attached to the mall, and she had refused to reveal the test reports to him, insisting that everything had been fine. He had called her for days afterwards, and his surprising concern had freaked her out. When she had stopped responding, he had finally given up.
And now he knew. He didn't just suspect, but he knew.
The movie ended,and the audience trickled out, whooping at the screen and chattering excitedly among themselves. Only Maanvi and Virat remained silent.
'Shloki, mere laal, kaisa laga movie?' asked Kadambari excitedly. It was seven forty-five in the evening, and they had finally returned back home. All throughout the journey his Virat bhaiyya and Maanvi had been kind of down, so thankfully he hadn't got to listen to Honeymoon ki Raat or any other atrocity in the name of music.
'Maa, we didn't see any movie,' Shlok mumbled. Or at least I didn't, he thought.
'Then what did you'll do with the seven hundred rupees I gave you?' asked Dadaji suspiciously.
'Actually Dadaji, the movie was housefull,' said Virat, 'so we went and bought books for Shlok instead. Kyun Shloki?' he asked, winking at him. Shlok colored. If Dadaji ever found out about his secret collection of comics, he was dead. Oh god, since when did Virat bhaiyya know so many of his weaknesses?
Dadaji resumed discussing the Jaiswal case file with Viren, and Shlok heaved a sigh of relief. Thank God Dadaji had not asked to see the books! Shlok decided to immediately solve twenty sums of advanced algebra as punishment for the lies he had told that day.
'Maanvi, I'm so glad you visited again,' said Jeevika, tightly hugging her sister. Maanvi hugged her, inhaling her sister's scent of rose perfume and feeling her heart lighten up for the first time in months. Nothing could cheer her up the way her sister's embrace did. 'This time, stay for more than just two days okay?' She looked hopefully at Swamini Bua, who grudgingly nodded her head in assent.
'Go upstairs and wash your face fast, we have dinner at eight!' Maanvi trudged up the stairs, feeling like her feet were moving without any real impulse from her mind, which was occupied with the worry that Virat knew what she was hiding, and he wouldn't let her rest in peace till he had got to the bottom of it.
She sighed as she opened the door to the guest bedroom, and then found herself jerked back into the corridor. Maanvi felt her heart perform a high jump into her mouth as she found herself looking into Virat's eyes, her back pressed against the wall, his hands tightly gripping her arm.
'It's okay if you don't want to tell me,' he said roughly, 'but that doesn't mean you can't.'
He let go of her as abruptly as he'd seized her, and walked away, and she stared at him, stunned, feeling like she'd just been transported to some kind of distant, eerie place. As the clock hand crept steadily forward, the lines between dream and reality vanished, and she decided that she'd better wash her hands and face fast, or else Dadaji's rules wouldn't spare her.
After all, there was forever to think about Virat Vadhera.
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