Sorry for the delay.. Yesterday was very hectic. So I had no chance to post the next one.. So here goes.. Chapter 30.
"Red roses.." "No chrysanthemums.." "Red Roses. .They are romantic." "Yup, but I used roses for the proposal. Lets go with Chrysanthemums.." "No. Roses. And the proposal.. It is exactly the reason I want roses. It reminds me of that day.." Jigar watched as Deepika turned dreamy.
"But Deeps, roses and roses.. Ok lets take the middle ground. Lets choose both. Mix and Match.. What say?"
"Fantastic idea Mr. Modi. You are becoming an expert negotiator day by day.. Hmm.. Good going.." Deepika linked her hands through Jigar's as they gave orders for the flowers for the engagement and marriage.
"And then Sam Bhai, the chef..." Gopi clarified and continued talking," He makes funny designs in a minute.. And Sweety ben and me, we laughed so much at the design on the cake.." Ahem listened on as his wife chatted about the things she did that day when he was at meetings. They were both walking on the beach hand in hand.
It had become a routine in a matter of a couple of days.. It was more than a week into the trip, they were both still finding it a pleasure taking that simple walk. Ahem felt relaxed hearing Gopi talk about small everyday things. He had been always tuned to look at the big picture. He had used that rule in his personal life too. But now as he heard her talk, he found that enjoyment could be found in small things too. Just like Gopi enjoyed. She found something to be happy about in all situations.
She had easily found ways to occupy herself when he was working. She did not complain when he had to postpone their visit to historical sites and mueseums because he had work. Although he had made up for it by taking her there again and the visit was one of the best he had, he still was awestruck by her easy acceptance that to him work was as important.
Ahem was often surprised by her camaderie to the people she met from all walks of life. In a week Gopi had made friends with the gardener, his wife and the other workers in the resort. She knew their names and would greet them with a smile when she met them. He saw the others respect and love her for it. She had even managed to impress the chef. He was now her 'friend'. Ahem was both proud and amazed.
"And we came back.." Gopi completed her detailed report and looked at Ahem. "Hmm. An interesting day it seems. Well I had no such luck. Still the same meetings and I am still looking for that one thing that would make our proposal unique. Well hopefully I get some fresh ideas tomorrow at the fair." He quickly added when he saw Gopi furrow her brows in worry."Ji. I am sure you will do the best. You always do. Ahemji, please don't worry. Tomorrow will be good." As usual her words brought the sense of pride he knew he did not deserve. Her faith in his abilities was unshakable. But hearing her vocalize that faith in words always did something to his heart.
Both of them grew silent as they supported each other and continued walking. The waves crashed around them relentlessly but their hearts were at peace beating as one.
"Deepu ben.. Its Monday already.. Just 5 more days and Gopi ben and Jiju will be back.. Yaayy..." Deepika smiled at the little girl's enthusiasm..
"You missed them so much Panna?" She asked smiling and Panna nodded, her head bobbing up and down. "Sooo Much.. But you were there and Jigar Jiju and Daadi and..." "Stop..stop.. I get what you mean" Deepika pulled her to her and hugged her. "I miss them too Panna. Now go on and get ready. I will get your bag ready." Deepika watched as Panna danced to the washroom to get ready. She smiled and went to get the school bag ready for her.
Just five days.. Deepika thought and smiled. She could not wait..
Night 8:30 PM... Day before the party...
"Ahemji, no cheating. Close your eyes." Ahem grinned and nodded. Gopi had blindfolded him that evening as he came back from work to the villa. He had made his presentation and now had a lot of time in his hands. There were still 4 days to go for them to get back.
"Now open your eyes." Gopi said and Ahem slowly removed the blindfold off his eyes. He saw his favorite dishes lined up in front of him. His smile grew wider.
Ahem reached out to tear a piece of Paneer thepla and chewed on it.. "So you managed to convince the chef to make.." He stopped mid sentence. The thepla tasted just like..
"Gopi, you did not make this, did you?" Ahem asked confused. He saw his wife grin happily. "Ji, you like it?" Ahem nodded yes but still looked puzzled. "How come it tastes just like you make?" "I told Sam bhai the recipe, especially for today." Ahem again smiled.
"Oh, that is why my wife went missing in the afternoon huh? What was the need to do all this? You should have enjoyed yourself and instead you decide to work her too." He said sighing.
"Ahemji, I just wanted to say thank you." Gopi said and walked over to serve Ahem. He let her serve him and then pulled her onto his lap. "Thank me. For what?" "For getting me all that from the fair and for helping Mukesh and his mother out."
Ahem just joined his forehead to hers and nodded. "No need. It was my pleasure." He said as he fed Gopi a bite.
Evening 7:30 PM... Day of the party
"Mr. Modi, we had such a great time doing business with you. Your lastest proposal to use the supplies and home grown vegetbles from local farmers living closer to the resort was brilliant. I think that is going to make the biggest difference." Ahem smiled at the praise poured on him by his clients as Mr. Sharma looked on. The old man had a smile on his face.
"It was a pleasure everyone. I look forward to expand our association in the future. Thank you." Ahem wished the group and nodded at them before turning around to search for Gopi in the crowd.
He spotted her talking to someone and walked to join her. "Ahem beta, can I borrow you for a minute?" Ahem saw Mr. Sharma ask him and smiled back. He moved along with him as both walked towards the balcony.
"Ahem, I have been in this business for the longest time. More than I ever imagined I would be. During this time, I have done business with lots of people around the country. Different companies, different people.. It is all a blur now sometimes." Ahem politely listened as the old man talked a little more about his past. He saw Gopi smile through the corner of his eyes.
"All these years only a few men have managed to impress me. One of those men is your Kaka, Chirag. I consider him more a friend than a business partner." Ahem nodded proudly. "Yes Sir. He is my mentor and I will surely pass on this comment to him." Mr. Sharma laughed.
"No Ahem. I was not trying to praise your Kaka. He knows what I think about him. What I wanted to say was, your Kaka impressed me because he was not just a good businessman but also a good man in general and a good family man in particular. He always was a well-rounded person and that made him successful. He is still a shrewd businessman but he was careful not to hurt people. He had empathy for others. And I think that came about because of the family values he had and the respect he held for others." Ahem continued listening wondering where this was going.
"Ahem, I have seen you off and on for a few years now. About the time, I think just before your marriage, your Kaka told me that he saw himself in you and that you would be his successor to the Modi industries one day. That day I told him that he was mistaken. I had been watching you and I found something missing in you. Something vital" Ahem looked up surprised. He had always known that he would one day be the head of Modi industries but to know that his Kaka considered him worthy already was a revelation. But it troubled him to know that there was something missing. But Mr. Sharma's next words comforted him.
"Beta, I consider myself wrong now. I made a mistake in judging you. The more I have seen you, especially during this project, the more I think that Chirag is right. You are indeed like him. More than that business skill of yours which I certainly find excellent, you have grown into a man to be proud of, a well rounded human being. To think that you were able to find a solution to our food supply problem without hurting the local farmers and your proposals to involve them in the advertising of the resorts.. Ahem you are really praise worthy. And above all that, personally, I think what I find most commendable of is how you treat your wife. You respect her and your love for her is evident. I see her glow everytime she looks at you. It is indeed very beautiful that you are both so tuned to each other." Ahem felt his eyes cloud as he listened to Mr. Sharma talk. He knew he was becoming emotional.
"Thank you Sir. I could not ask for more. But.. The truth is, all this praise should go to Gopi. She is the one who made this possible. I changed because I wanted to be worthy of her" Ahem told him truthfully. Mr. Sharma smiled again.
"No doubt beta. Your wife is a very differnt from the others I have met. I am sure she had a lot to do in regards to your success.You know, your Kaka also always told me that Hetal Bhabhi was the reason for his success. And he is right. I would like to add that you have both proved to be worthy of the success too. Bless you Ahem Beta. Take care of that child.Your wife is a a very unique person. Take very good care of her. Keep her happy" Ahem again nodded, this time in complete agreement. Mr. Sharma gave him a small hug and then told him to go to Gopi. "Not that she will say anything, but she will be wondering where you have disappeared to.." Ahem laughed and made his way towards Gopi.
She was dressed in a dark green designer sari with sequins and bead work on her pallu. She looked beautiful. Ahem had been unable to take his eyes off her when she cam out dressed. He thanked Deepika for convincing his wife to wear the pallu differently today. It suited the sari well and all he wanted was to closet her to himself.
"Missed me?" Gopi turned around and smiled. Ahem was standing just behind her and her had his hands on her shoulder.
"Sweety ben, this is my husband." She turned to Ahem and introduced Sweety as Mr.Sharma's niece. "Hello, I am Ahem." He said. The girl smiled and shook his hand. "I am glad to meet you. I 've been wanting to meet you for sometime now. Gopi has been telling me so much about you Mr. Modi."
Ahem just smiled and nodded. "Ahemji, Sweety ben is getting married in 2 days and she has invited us." Gopi offered him more information.
"Ahh.. Now I remember.." Ahem thought. Sweety was Mr. Sharma's cousin and she was marrying her sweetheart in a couple of days. He remembered Gopi telling him about meeting her a few days back and now he understood the comfort the women had with each other. So this was that Sweety.
"Congratulations. We will be there." Ahem replied to Sweety and saw her smile. "Thanks Mr. Modi. Gopi has become a great friend although we met only a few days back. I really appreciate it." Ahem nodded and turned around with Gopi after wishing Sweety and her beau again as he came to join her.
"Sweety ben said they are only having a small ceremony in the mandir near the resort. She wants it to be low key." Gopi explained to Ahem as they walked towards the tables. "Hmm.. We will go for sure.." Ahem sat down next to her and both watched as couples danced.
"Gopi" Gopi looked up to see Ahem extending his hand out. "Can we dance?" Ahem saw her nervousness at his question. "No No Ahemji. I do not know how to dance. I am ok here.." Ahem looked at her panic and decided to calm her down.
"Gopi, trust me. This is not that big of a deal. But we can skip it if you do not want to dance." Gopi saw Ahem's disappointment. She slowly put her hand in his and nodded. "Ahemji,we can dance." She said timidly.
Ahem felt bad for taking the guilt route out but he really wanted to feel Gopi on him and for at least the next few hours, dancing was the only option. Plus he wanted to show the world how graceful his wife was. He had no doubt about it. His Gopi would be graceful and beautiful.
"It's not that difficult, is it?" Gopi looked up from Ahem's chest where she had rested her head and smiled shyly nodding no. It was indeed not difficult. Ahem had taken her to the dance floor but to a corner and not in the limelight. She was grateful he did that as she was too nervous. Then he had proceeded to place one hand on his shoulder while he pulled her closer to him by her waist. It had been new and Gopi had been shy at first. But as they swayed slowly to the music, she lost herself to Ahem's gaze. Involuntarily she had hooked her hands together behind Ahem's neck and was resting her head on his chest. Ahem was hugging her close to him too.
The music was slow and sensual and both were lost in the intimate setting. "I 've got the deal." Ahem said softly in Gopi's ears. Gopi leaned back immediately and looked at him grin at her. "Ahemji, why did you not tell me before?" "Because it was not as important as dancing with my wife." He saw Gopi blush.
"I got the deal because of you Gopi. Only because of you. Thank you. Not just for the deal but also for being the person you are. For being with me." Gopi was surprised by the emotions she could detect behind his words. She did not understand what prompted these words from Ahem, but she felt proud that day. She had become the person he considered vital for his success.
Ahem saw numerous emotions fleet across his wife's face. He knew she understood him. But he also knew that he would never be able to articulate to her about how he had felt when Mr. Sharma talked to him. He kissed her on her forehead. He thought back and he knew that every word he told Mr. Sharma was the truth. Even he current project would not have been a success if Gopi had not wanted to go to the fair.
Two days before the party...
"This place is crowded." "Ahemji, it is a fair. It is bound to be crowded.", came back the reply followed by laughter. Ahem looked at Gopi standing beside him looking at the various shops and the small rides in the big ground.
They were both at the local fair. It was touted as one of the 'events' and Ahem had hoped that this break would help him clear his brain to come up with a solution for resort's food demand problem. The resort needed fresh produce and they were finding it difficult to get a constant supply. Due to transportation difficulties, the current supply wsa taking a delay time making it more difficult. He had decided to take the day off with Gopi.
The fair was unlike anything he had seen. It was on the big grounds and there where temporary shops everywhere selling things from small pins to houshold appliances. There were also some small rides. People were running around and the place looked busy.
"Ahemji, can we go there?" Ahem turned to see Gopi point to a corner. There was a line of shops there and he wondered what his wife would want from one of those. Then it struck him. Bangles. She wanted bangles. Ahem nodded and walked with her towards the shop.
Gopi reached the small bangles shop and gazed at it with wonder. She had always loved bangles. They gave her a sense of happiness. Her mama had once told her that her mother also loved the sound of bangles and Gopi had always felt close to her mother when she heard the sound of bangles clinking together.
Ahem silently watched as his wife lovingly touched the bangles on display. He signaled the shopkeeper to get a set of red ones. Ahem saw the smile widen on Gopi as the shop keeper explained to her about the various sets he had. Gopi chose simple ones but those that were sold as sets of a dozen.
"You really love bangles." Ahem said with wonder. "Hmm. They always remind me of my mother." Her simple explanation pinched his heart a little. He understood that she missed her parents. His mother was there but still the void would remain. "Get me a dozen of all the colors." Ahem took out his purse as the surprised shopkeeper nodded happily. "No Bhai, I will only take this green and this red ones." Gopi said urgently and turned to Ahem. "Ahemji, I have a lot more at home. I just wanted to get some more." "Hold it Gopi. I want you to have as many as you want. Forget the ones at home. I am getting these for you." He nodded at the shop keeper who happily started packing. "Behenji, get it. Your husband is lovingly gifting you." Ahem knew the man had hit the target perfectly. Gopi would never say no now.
After half an hour, Ahem and Gopi sat in a bench under a large tree holding a number of parcels in their hand. There were bangles, earrings and necklaces. "Ahemji, you realize that we can open our own shop now.." Gopi teased as she eyed everything he had bought for her. She heard him grunt in reply. She understood that he was trying to pamper her and felt happy. "I do love all of them however." Gopi picked up the small porcelain doll and held it to her cheek lovingly. It was one that had a small girl, a sheppherdess with her sheep. Ahem had told her it looked like her. Just then something hit her and she dropped the doll.
"What the.. " Ahem immediately got up to see a boy of 15 coming towards them apologetically. "Sorry Bhaiya, that was my brother's. He accidently threw the ball in your direction." the boy turned and admonished his younger brother who was standing close behind him.
Gopi just smiled and handed the ball to the child and picked up the parcel to place it in their bag. Ahem though initially irritated, calmed down when he saw how scared the young child looked. He just nodded at the children. The younger brother boldened by Gopi's action extended his hand to the bunch of corn corbs Gopi was holding. They had bought some baked corn cobs that GOpi said she loved and Ahem argued were not good for health from roadside shops. But in the end he had given up and bought her some.
Gopi immediately offered the corn to the child but he just nodded no. "No didi.. He is just trying to tell you that we grow the same thing at home. See I have raw corn for sale." The older boy showed them a bag with corns and an assortment of other vegetables.
"So you are here to sell them?" It was Ahem's first contribution to the scene. The boy nodded his head. "Yes Bhaiya. It is a school holiday today. My mother grows these in our garden and she usually sells them to hotels around the house. But somedays I help her. She does need a break, doesn't she?" "What is your name young man?" The lad proudly told him that he was Mukesh.
"So Mukesh, you go to school?" It was Gopi's turn with questions. "Yes didi.. Everyday. I come first in my class. I will become a big businessman one day and make sure that my mother does not have to work at all.", came back the reply. "What about your father?" Ahem's question was met with a small silence. "He is no more." the silent reply pushed them both into an uneasy silence. The boy as though understanding the mood started to make his exit. He held on to his younger brother's hands and turned around.
"Wait.. "Ahem's words surprised Gopi. Mukesh turned back. "Do you know how much your garden produces a week?" Ahem was surprised as Mukesh replied back with numbers and stats. He mentioned other such home growers who tried selling their wares to wholesalers. Then he went on to explain how his mother had innovatively grouped other housewives and had co-ordinated the activity. He also told them about the problem of finding the right wholesalers and hotel owners who would take their produce. "Bhaiya, Maa tells me that we are usually not given the right amount of money. That is why she has to sell them on the road at times.", he concluded.Ahem became silent.
"Don't worry Mukesh. Kanhaji never fails to help people who deserve it. I am sure he will show your mother a way." Gopi soothed the lad.
Suddenly Ahem stood up. "Mukesh, take me to your mother. I would like to talk to her." Gopi and the 2 lads looked at him surprised. An expression of fear passed Mukesh's face. "Bhaiya, I did not say anything wrong." Ahem placed a hand on the lad's shoulder and told him softly.
"Don't worry, I am not angry. I just think I have some ideas for your mother. Now can we go meet her."
Gopi stood outside playing with the younger brother. Ahem had been gone for half an hour and she knew he had thought of something good. His face was excited although he had tried to hide it.
She suddenly heard him. Ahem came out smiling followed by Mukesh and his mother. They were smiling also. "Bhai saab, thank you so much." The woman was saying. Ahem stopped her. "Please don't. You actually solved my problem. I cannot promise you yet on the rates but I am sure it will not cause you any loss. My wife told me that all I needed was to keep my mind open and come to the fair. I guess she was correct." Ahem looked at Gopi and turned back to smile at the mother and son who looked back happily.
"Mukesh, You are doing really well. Just concentrate and study hard. You will not fail to succeed in life. Here take my card and if you ever need anything give me a call."Ahem and Gopi took their leave and proceeded back to the resort with all their bags.
"Ahemji, you are glad." Ahem nodded at Gopi's statement. As they turned around the corner, he suddenly picked her up and swung her round and round. "Gopi, I have done it.. This is the solution I was looking for.. Thank you..Thank you" Gopi laughed as the bags fell to the ground. "Ahemji.." She giggled as he put her back on the ground. "Hmm.. Lets now go back and I have calls to make and a proposal to put together." Gopi watched as she saw her husband walk back with a spring in his step back to the resort.
Back to dancing :)
It had not taken him long after that to put together his team to make the necessary inquiries. He had covered the plan with them and by the next evening had come up with the proposal. It had been a success.
Ahem came out of his thoughts as the music ended. Gopi was still leaning on him and slowly she looked up. Ahem smiled at her.
The music changed to something fast and Ahem led Gopi off the floor takin her hand in his. They walked to the balcony and both looked out.
"Ahemji, so are we going home then?" Gopi asked. Ahem looked down surprised. That thought had never crossed his mind. He had actually thought that he now had four days of carefree enjoyment without work with Gopi. "I don't think so Gopi. We also have Sweety's marriage to attend." He added as an excuse. He saw Gopi smile happily and was relieved. For a minute he had been worried she wanted to leave early.
"Gopi, careful now, look ahead. No, don't bend the bars. Just look straight. No, you have to peddle." Ahem instructed as he walked beside the cycle holding on to the seat as Gopi tried to learn ride the bicycle. Ahem had to smile at the look of concentration on her face. She wore her salwar and her shawl lay abandoned on the chair. Ahem had banned it from the class. Gopi was trying to follow his instructions but then it was day one and only 2 hours into the class.
"Alright. Lets stop for a bit and start after breakfast." Ahem brought the cycle to a halt and helped Gopi down the bicycle. Both walked to the patio and sat down. The class had commenced in the open track in front of their villa.
"You can go with them Gopi. It is only for half a day and Mr.Sharma's niece is coming too. Why did you deny it? If you are worrying about me, then remember, today is my final presentation." Ahem asked and looked down at Gopi nodding no. "No Ahemji. I will only slow them down" She said mysteriously. Ahem thought about the invitation. Mr.Sharma's niece was here and she and her friends had planned for a picnic. He knew Gopi had become friends with the girl and he was surprised she said no to going with them.
"Did something happen? Did someone tell you something?" Ahem was worried that someone had hurt Gopi. When she heard about the trip to the nearby riverfront, she had been wistful but still had said no.
He saw her shake her head no. Ahem turned to see her and held her hand. "Gopi,I know there is something. Are you frightened to go out alone without me?" he asked. When Gopi looked up he could see a hint of sadness in her eyes.
"No Ahemji. I.. They are planning to go to the groove near the river in cycles. So.. I.. Don't want to go." Ahem looked at Gopi puzzled. "It is ok Gopi. I can arrange to get you a cycle. You don't have to worry." He brought his phone out to fix the problem when he felt Gopi stop him. "No Ahemji. It is not that. I.Er. I.. Don't know how to ride a bicycle."
Ahem looked at her astounded.
As he started on his tea, his phone rang. "Jai shree Krishan.." "Congratulations" came a chorus in reply. Ahem smiled and put his phone on speaker. "Ahem, Dheeraj called. He said he was mighty pleased with the proposal. Well done." Ahem smiled widely as his Kaka praised him. Gopi looked at him with happiness. Everyone congratulated and he heard his Kaka tell him to spend the rest of the trip in the resort and not return back hurriedly. Although Ahem felt grateful he felt guilty of not being there. Jigar's engagement was only a week and a half away.
"kaka, are you sure? We can come back tomorrow." He offered only to be vetoed by Jigar and Deepika. "So what are your plans Bhai, Bhabhi?" He heard Jigar ask and before he could say anything Gopi enthusiatically told him about learning to ride the bicycle.
"That finishes off the details. Now I can close this laptop and not worry about it for the next four days." Ahem lay down near Gopi and pulled her to him. She came freely and snuggled closer to him. They were back from the party and Ahem had promised Gopi that he would make sure everything was settled that night.
"A care free holiday for the next four days." He had promised. He had surprised himself by that. Work was like air for him but this time around he really wanted to spend some time without any disturbances with Gopi.
"Ahemji, Do you drive a bike?" Ahem nodded his head and said yes. "Why Gopi? Do you need a ride?" He asked playfully. He did not hear her say anything and waited. "How did you learn to ride one?" Ahem moved himself to look at his wife. He was puzzled by her questioning. "In school when I was in the final year. It was easy. I already knew how to ride a cycle and riding the bike was the next step.. Why Gopi?" He asked and saw her thinking again. Her next question again threw him off the tangent. "Is it difficult to ride a bicycle?" "Not really. It just takes a few falls" Ahem told her smiling. "But it is worth it." Ahem saw the wistful look again on her face.
"How does it feel? When you cycle that is.." "Wonderful. The air on your face when you are cycling and the feeling that you can go so fast.." Ahem explained and saw her looke at his face searchingly. It looked like Gopi was trying to live the moment through him.
Ahem had a pretty good idea why. She would never have had a chance before now.
"Do you want to learn?" He asked softly and saw a glimmer of hope and unspoken happiness in her eyes. BUt Gopi did not answer him. He knew she wanted to but was stopping herself. "I will teach you. I can ask sweety's secretary to lend hercycle for a couple of days. And it is pretty easy you know." Ahem told her and waited for her to say yes.
Gopi just moved close to him and buried her face in his chest. He took it to mean yes.
"Thank you Ahemji." He heard after a whole ten minutes. "I never got a chance but always wanted to. It will be fun, right?" He heard the catch in her voice and kissed her forehead.
"Yes. It is real fun and in another 4 days you will know how much. Go to sleep sweetheart. Our classes start tomorrow." He said and hugged her to him once more.
"Ahemji is teaching me to ride a bicycle!!" Gopi's excited proclamation was first met with silence. Then...
The response was as he expected. A shocked silence followed by Jigar's "Way to go Bhabhi" and Deepika's excited chatter. Then both their voices calmed down and he heard his mother on the line. "Ahem what is this? Did I hear right? You are teaching Gopi to ride a bicycle?" Ahem sighed and imagined his mother's look. She did not sound happy. "No Mom.. It is just that.." Before he finished he heard his wife jut in.. "Maaji, It was my mistake. I asked Ahemji to teach me. It is not his fault. We will stop" She finished timidly.
Ahem just shook his head at her and started to reason with his mother. "Is it true? Did Gopi ask you?" He heard his mother question him. "Yes Mom. She never got a chance when she was young and she saw others riding it. So.." "If she really wants it, then ok." Ahem looked at his phone surprised.
"And you Gopi vahu, be careful and learn well. Ahem, don't let her be hurt. And be patient." Ahem nodded surprised and realized his mother could not see him. "Jee Mom." He answered. As they finished the call, Ahem looked up to see Gopi looking at him happily. "Well, we got their blessing. So what are you waiting for? Come on.." He pulled her up and walked towards the cycle.
"Gopi will you marry me?" Gopi first laughed at Ahem's question but stopped when she saw how serious he was. "Ahemji?"
Awaiting you comments and feedback.. Have a great weekend.