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My OS contribution! Hope you all like it I find writing romance extremely difficult, but thought I'd give this a shot anyway. And thank you, Prati, for PM-ing me to let me know about this sagai OS thing!
Disclaimer: I always forget to say when I write stuff - my Hindi isn't very good. So there will be mistakes. To bhool chuk ko please maaf kijiye
Relax, Anandi told herself as she sat in front of her mirror fidgeting with her hands. She wasn't sure why she was so nervous - after all, it was only a ceremony to officially cement her and Shiv's union-to-be. It wasn't like she hadn't already reconciled herself mentally to the idea of the two of them as a couple - if anything, she'd practically begged him to marry her in her desperation to fulfil her mother's last wish. Her in-laws-to-be were lovely people, and while she knew she'd dearly miss the Singhs, the Shekhars were fun-loving, and she imagined that she'd enjoy being a member of their family. But despite the fact that she had no practical complaints about the upcoming marriage, something about the whole situation had been eating at her from the moment the wedding preparations had begun.
At first she had put her unease down to simply not being ready to enter a new marriage. Jagya's taunts and abuse had chipped away at her confidence over the five years she had tolerated them, and the wound of his final betrayal was still raw enough to sting - a lot. She knew that Shiv and Jagya were like chalk and cheese as far as their personalities were concerned, and that the likelihood of Shiv wilfully mistreating anyone was virtually negligible... but the prospect of opening herself up to being mistreated and insulted all over again still felt decidedly daunting, to say the least. Her mother's death was also still fresh in her mind, adding to her pain. Overall, it was not the best time for her to be tying the knot, and she and her family were well aware of that.
But this particular feeling of unease was somehow unrelated to any of that. It was more of a sense that by going ahead with the wedding, she was somehow innately WRONGING a certain collector sahab.
She normally prided herself on being able to understand different people's mentalities... to get to the crux of what drove them. Like that day when the villagers had refused to give up their land because Heth Singh had told them they were being exploited. She had been able to convince those men otherwise because she'd innately understood what drove them emotionally and what their needs were. But in this situation, she was unable to understand just why Shiv had agreed to marry her. And the more she thought about it, the more selfish she felt for the way she'd pleaded with him by the river that day until he'd finally relented. She knew the marriage would bring peace to her mother's soul. But what of Shiv? He'd been nothing but supportive and kind to her, and she was rewarding him by dragging him into a marriage with a girl who didn't and couldn't love him. He was staking his life, his hopes, his dreams, all for her sake. Why? Surely he would prefer someone with less baggage, someone more modern, someone able to love him both emotionally and physically. She was wrong for him on all those counts, and yet he was doing her this huge favour. Why? It didn't make any sense to her at all.
A sudden rap at the door jolted her out of her thoughts. Must be Tai ji or Dadisa come to see if I'm ready, she thought, getting up from where she had been seated in front of her dressing table. However, she was in for a surprise when she opened the door.
"Aap... yahan... is waqt?" she asked, instantly averting her eyes from the dashing sherwani-clad man in front of her.
"Ji, woh... aapse milne ka dil kar raha tha," Shiv replied awkwardly. "I know ke traditionally dulha dulhan ko aise functions me alag rakhe jaate hai... par aapse kuch baat karni thi... is liye. I hope ke aap ko mera is tarah se aana bura nahin laga...?"
Reluctantly, she raised her eyes to meet his. "Nahin," she said. "Mujhe bura nahin laga... bas thodi chonk gayi thi. Mujhe laga ke Dadisa ya Tai ji hogi..."
"Natural reaction hai. I'm sorry ke main is tarah se achanak aa gaya hoon," said Shiv. "If you don't mind... main darvaza bandh kar doon?" Anandi hesitated, but then nodded, looking away once again. She heard the sound of the door shutting. For the next few seconds, the awkward silence of unexpressed thoughts hung in the air.
"Aap... aap bohot acchhi lag rahi hai," Shiv said suddenly, his eyes taking in the pretty green and gold sari she was wearing.
She nodded her thanks with a slight smile. "Aap bhi is sherwani me... kaafi acchhe lag rahe ho," she replied politely, unable to keep a slight tremor out of her voice. As he smiled back and thanked her, she inwardly told herself off. Kya hai, Anandi? she thought. Why are you so nervous around this man? You've worked with him for months now, you've eaten several meals together, you've teased him and shouted at him... and now you're talking to him like you've only just met, or like he's made of glass and will break if you talk to him normally. Pull yourself together!
"Aap... kuch baat karne aaye the?" she asked abruptly. He looked taken aback at her sudden change of tone. Oh no, that came out sounding too cold, she thought.
"Ji, main bas... aapki mann ki baat jaanna chahta tha," Shiv said hesitantly. "Main jaanta hoon ke picchle kuch hafton me aap ne kaafi dukh chhedi hai... pehle talak, phir aapki maa ka dehant. Main kuch dinon se aapse in sab ke baare me baat karna chahta tha... par shaadi ke preparations ke beech me koi mauka hi nahin mila..."
"Aap chinta mat kijiye," Anandi replied quietly. "Main thik hoon. Jo kuch bhi hua, woh sab kuch maine sweekar kar liya hai. Main yeh shaadi karne ke liye tayaar hoon. Par..." she trailed off, unable to articulate what she wanted to say.
"Par?" Shiv prompted, looking concerned.
Anandi pursed her lips, not wanting to continue, but knowing she had to.
"Par... aap kyun tayaar hai?" she finally asked. "Us din jab maine aapka haath maanga tha, mujhe sirf apna dard aur apni maa ki kasam nazar aa rahi thi. Magar uske baad jab maine socha, toh apni swarth par sharam aayi. Maine yeh nahin socha ke aapke bhi kuch armaan honge apne shaadi ke liye... ke aapki bhi chah hogi ek aisi ladki se shaadi karne ki jo shehri ho... naye zamaane ki ho... jise aap... pyaar karte ho... jo aapko bhi wahin pyaar de sakti hai. Aapka upkaar hai mujhpe ke aap meri maa ki aakhri icchha ka paalan karke mujhe apna rahe ho... par aapke is balidaan ke baare me sochti hoon toh mujhe vaaqai me bohot bura lagta hai." She looked straight into his eyes then, as though trying to search for the answers to her questions in his face.
"Anandi, agar main yeh shaadi nahin karna chahta tha, to mere paas mana karne ke liye bohot mauke the," he said. "Maine aapse us waqt riverside par bhi kaha hai ke aapka life partner banna mere liye bohot saubhagya ki baat hogi. Main yeh rishta judne se pehle intezaar karna chahta tha, par sirf is liye ke aapke zakham abhi bhi taaze hai, aur mujhe laga ke aise samay par ek poora naya parivaar - itne saare naye rishte - ko apnana kaafi overwhelming ho sakta hai... aap jaise strong aur bahadur ladki ke liye bhi. Par mere yeh sochne ka matlab yeh bilkul bhi nahin hai ke main is shaadi ke khilaaf hoon... kabhi nahin."
Anandi looked up at him, confusion in her eyes. "Lekin... kya aapke liye pyaar maaine nahin rakhta?" she asked quietly. "Main aapke parivaar ko khush rakhne ki poori koshish kar sakti hoon. Khaana bana sakti hoon... ghar ko sambhal sakti hoon... ek bahu hone ke saare dharam poori tarah se nibha sakti hoon. Lekin ek patni hone ke dharam main poori tarah se nahin nibha paaungi... shayad kabhi nahin. Maine aapse us waqt kaha bhi tha ki main shaadi sirf apni maa ke liye kar rahi hoon. Iske bawajood bhi aap raazi hai. Mujhe bura lag raha hai ke aap mujhpar itna bada upkaar kar raha hai aur main vaapasi me aapko kuch nahin de sakti."
"Aap kyun baar baar us upkaar ki zikhar karti rehti hai jo exist hi nahin karta?" Shiv asked. "Kya aap mujhe apna dost nahin samajhti ho?" She was surprised at the hurt in his eyes and the level of emotion in his voice.
"Samajhti hoon," she replied. Her heart was beating faster. Why am I getting so agitated seeing him upset? she wondered. "Aap please galat mat samajhiye," she continued. "Par dosti ek taraf hai. Ek dost ka saath dena aur uski madad karna acchhi baat hai. Magar is tarah kisi dost ke liye apni zindagi ke saath khelna bohot badi baat hai. Yeh shaadi hum dono ke zindagi badal denge. Mujhe apna faisla aur apni maa ki antim icchha par pachtawa nahin hai... aur main nahin chahti hoon ke aage jaakar aapko is faisle me mera saath dene par pachtawa ho."
Shiv closed his eyes and sighed. Anandi watched him nervously; she had never seen him this way before. When he reopened his eyes, there was a tiredness in them which she felt an unexpected twinge of pain to see.
"I'm sorry," he said. "Mujhe aapse oonchi awaaz me nahin bolna chahiye tha."
She looked surprised. "Nahin, mujhe - "
He held up a hand. "Please hear me out," he said quietly. "Main aapke feelings aur aapki haalaat ko samajh sakta hoon. Bas yeh dekhkar bura laga ki jis ladki ne apni zindagi sab ki parwah karne me guzri hai, woh doosron ke parwah ko ehsaan samajhti hai."
Anandi was silent. He was right. She couldn't deny it.
"Yakeen maaniye... main yeh shaadi apni khushi se kar raha hoon. Isse karke main aap par koi ehsaan nahin kar raha hoon... na hi main koi samaj seva karke punya kamaane ki koshish kar raha hoon. Bal ki main apne aapko khush kismat samajhta hoon ki main aapka saath paane jaa raha hoon... kyunki aap me woh saare qualities hai jo mujhe ek life partner me chahiye. Aur rahi baat pyaar ki... toh aapko jitna waqt ki zaroorat hai, main aapko utna dene ke liye tayaar hoon. Chaahe woh poori zindagi kyun na ho."
Anandi stared. "Par main aap par boj - "
" - kabhi nahin banegi," Shiv finished. "Aapke saath har bitaya hua khatta meetha pal mere liye anmol hai, aur rahega."
Anandi's eyes widened. Nobody had ever said something like that to her. Her eyes met his, and she found herself unable to tear her gaze away... she was struck by the sincerity with which he looked at her, the understanding and respect reflected in his eyes...
"Shiv!!" a voice called from near the top of the stairs, jolting both of them out of their reverie.
"Mujhe chalna chahiye," Shiv said hurriedly. "Chhoti Maa mujhe bula rahi hai."
Anandi nodded, and Shiv turned to leave the room.
"Ek minute," Anandi said, just as he reached the door. He turned, looking at her quizzically.
"Thank you," she said. "Mujhe samajhne ke liye... aur meri itni parwah karne ke liye."
He smiled, and she found herself smiling back... a wider, freer smile than she'd smiled in recent weeks.
"Neeche milte hai," he said softly, before slipping out of the room.
Fifteen minutes later, Gehna and Dadisa popped their heads through the door to bring Anandi down for the engagement ceremony. As she and Shiv slipped rings on each other's fingers, surrounded by the proud faces of their families, Anandi felt lighter and happier than she'd felt in a long time. She was going to start her life over with a man who said he cared for her, who was willing to wait, willing to go the extra mile to be with her and to see her happy. For the first time in years, she felt like it was worth daring to hope, to trust... and perhaps - in time - to love.
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