"main toh iske baare mein bhool hi gayi...apne khayaalon mein itni uljhi hui thi ki is par dhyaan hi nahi gaya",She laughed as she took the veil off her face.Kesar was amazed.It was as if he was seeing her for the very first time.For a second he just forgot to breathe.She literally took his breath away!!!This had never happened before.No girl had such an effect on him ever.She looked ravishingly beautiful in her bridal attire but that was not what had captured his interest.He stood there stunned because he had never seen her smile before.Who was this beautiful woman with a bewitching smile?This could not be Gulaal.The Gulaal he knew always looked grim.She never showed any kind of emotion except for annoyance which was always directed at him.Right now as she stood there laughing trying to take off the pins that held her veil he could say with absolute certainity that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on...
"Kesar...Kesar...kya hua?tum...tum theek toh ho?",Gulaal's question made him realize that he had been standing there with his mouth open for quite some time now.He took a deep long breath and replied,"nahi... kuch nahi...woh ...woh maine tumhe pehli baar hanste hue dekha na toh main chaunk gaya...".Gulaal who had been looking at him with concern relaxed and a hesitant smile passed her lips.He looked at her sheepishly as he went on,"sach hi toh keh raha hoon...hum dono ek doosre ko chaar saal se jaante hain lekin in char saalon mein maine tumhe kabhi hanste hue nahi dekha...tum toh hamesha mujhe aise ghoorti thi jaise ki..."
Gulaal cut him off as she asked,"jaise ki kya?...tum mujhse darte the kya Kesar?...".He quickly refuted defending himself,"nahi...bilkul nahi...main kisi se nahi darta...woh darr nahi tha...main tumhari respect karta tha..."
He saw Gulaal look at him skeptically with her arms folded which made him retract his statement,"acha theek hai ...haan I was a little scared...ab isme meri galti kya hai...tum hi mere jaan ke peeche padi thi..."
He then looked at her with a smirk as he continued,"agar tum mujhse pehli baar is tarah muskura kar milti toh kya patha shaayad mujhe tumse pyaar ho jaata..."
What??????? what did he just blurt out?Why couldn't he think before he spoke.He did not want her to feel awkward.He looked at Gulaal nervously.He saw her smile fade and that made him uncomfortable.
"Gulaal ...main bas mazaak kar raha tha.tum please meri baat ko seriously math lo...",he said trying to keep the nervousness out of his voice.
"haan patha hai mujhe...itna toh main tumhare baare mein jaanti hoon",She replied calmly smiling softly Which comforted yet surprised him.
Gulaal too was equally startled by her calm response.The comment had indeed caught her off guard but then she took a look at hin and realized from his restless demenaour that he was regretting what he said.She wanted to laugh out because by now she hasd learnt that he could be quite impulsive.He did not think twice before he spoke and he definitely did not mean anything by those comments.He was just being himself.Maybe that's why she was starting to feel comfortable with him.Usually it took her a long time to let people get close to her.She never did have any close friends except for Talli.She always had a problem trusting people but with Kesar she did seem to be facing that problem.It was true that she did not know him very well but whatever little she had seen of him in the past 4 years made her believe that he was a genuine person and given the fact that he was trying hard to make things easy for her right now she should do the same.Above all right now she was too exhausted and she would not be handle it if things got weird between them.
She felt so tired.The day had taken a toll on her both physically and emotionally.She felt a yawn coming on.She tried to stifle it but it did not escape Kesar's attention."main bhi kitna bada gadha hoon.Tum itni thak gayi ho aur upar se tab se meri bakwaas bhi sun rahi ho...tum jaake change kyun nahi kar leti?"She readily agreed because she did want to get rid of the heavy jewellery which was starting to pinch her skin.
Now that one potentially awkward moment was sorted out Kesar needed to take care of the next and this was the most crucial one.He looked around the room.There was no couch...nothing.So where would he sleep?As he moved towards the bed he was perplexed.Why would anyone want to decorate the bed with flowers?He quickly cleared the bed of all the flowers and he did what he wanted to do from the moment he had entered the room.He went to the window and threw them away.He thought he heard someone say,"yeh kya...yeh phool kahaan se baras rahe hain?"He smiled as he threw last of the decorations over.He then took a deep breath and thought,"haan ab theek hai".He just hoped that nothing else would happen to upset the very delicate bond which had just started to develop between them.
At that moment Gulaal stepped out of the washroom.She had changed into a night gown.Her hair was tied back in her usual style and she had washed her face of all the makeup.This was the Gulaal he was familiar with...the one he had known for the last four years.Seeing her like this put him at ease.He did not feel nervous anymore but he did notice that she was looking around trying to avoid his gaze.
"main soch raha tha kyun na hum dono ek doosre ke baare mein thoda jaan lein...kal tumhe mere saath mere baba aur meri choti behen se bhi milna hoga toh agar woh tumhare baare mein mujhse sawaal karenge toh jawaab hone chahiye na mere paas...kya kehti ho Gulaal?"He really did want to know more about her.Of course he knew most of the basic things because Talli used to talk about her all the time but he felt this would make things a lot less weird and at the same time give them a chance to get to know each other.
Gulaal understood what he was trying to do.He must have noticed her hesitation.She was thankful for his quick thinking.She smiled as she walked towards him,"hmmm toh poocho kya jaanana chathe ho mere baare mein?"Kesar who had been standing till now moved to sit on the bed and asked in a serious tone,"mera pehla sawaal yeh hai ki kya tum thak nahi gayi?tab se tum aise hi khadi ho...baith kyun nahi jaati...baitho please tumhe dekhkar mujhe thakaan ho rahi hai...".She nodded her head as she sat down.She then decided to ask him something that had been bothering her,"Kesar...agar tum bura na maano toh main tumse kuch poochna chaahthi hoon..."
She saw Kesar nod and so she continued,"kya...kya tumhari zindagi mein koi aur ladki hai?kya tum kisi se pyaar karte ho?...".She needed to know this.She did not want him to suffer for the rest of his life pining for another girl just because of one impulsive decision.
The sudden question caught him off guard but he recovered in an instant.He could never let her know about his feelings for Talli.He laughed out as he said,"pyaar aur main...yeh pyaar wyaar ki baatein sab filmon mein hi achi lagti hain...asal zindagi mein nahi...pyaar mein log paagalon jaisi harkatein kartein hain...kya tumhe lagta hai ki mujh jaise ladke ko kabhi kisi se pyaar ho sakta hai????"
Gulaal did not say anything at first but then she replied in a soft but very determined tone,"haan...".
Her sincere reply put a stop to his laughter.No one had ever said that to him.They had all believed in the facade he managed to present,that of a tough guy who wasn't into mushy,emotional stuff but then how did she see through that?He stared at her as he thought,"Did she know?Did she guess that I am in love with her sister...no she couldn't...How could she?He had always been so good at hiding it.No one knew...".He sighed softly and replied,"Gulaal...main tumse jhoot nahi bolna chahtha...haan main ek ladki se bahut pyaar karta tha par kabhi batha nahi paaya aur jab tak bathane ki himmat jutaayi toh bahut der ho chuki thi...uski shaadi kisi aur ke saath ho gayi..."
He did not want to lie to her but he did speak the truth in a way...he just twisted it a little.
Before she could get a chance to ask him anything else regarding this matter he asked,"tum bolo...kya tum pyaar mein vishwaas karti ho?kya tumhari zindagi mein kabhi pyaar ne dastak di hai?..."
He saw the colour drain from her face which made him regret his question,"dekho agar tum bathana nahi chahthi toh theek hai...main toh bas aise hi..."She replied before he could finish his sentence,"nahi Kesar...aisi koi baat nahi hai...haan jab main choti thi tab pyaar mein vishwaas karti thi ...lekin ab nahi...tum shaayad sahi the Kesar...pyaar jaisi cheez hothi hi nahi hai..."She stopped at that moment realizing that she had been blabbering about her most private thoughts to someone whom she did not know very well.What was happening?She had never told anyone about this.She hadn't shared the pain even with Talli because she knew it would make her sad.The hurt and the betrayal she had experienced since childhood had always been buried deep inside her and today the words just came out.The bitterness crept out.She hadnt been able to stop herself from confiding in Kesar.There was something about him that was enticing her innermost feelings, the sincerity and concern that reflected in his eyes were drawing her to reveal her deep hurt and bitterness; something she had hidden away all these years, she had to get a grip, he was a stranger.Even though fate had brought them together she hardly knew him.He was still an outsider, the thought stiffened her a bit
Kesar noticed the moment she tried to put up a wall.He knew that she had unintentionally spoken about something that was obviously very personal to her.He mentally cursed the person who broke her heart.What an idiot?Then he wondered who it was that she was speaking about?He wanted to know...he was curious.Talli had never mentioned anything about her di suffering from a heartbreak...so who was it?He was on the verge of asking her about it when he realized how unfair he was being to her.Here he was hiding facts about his own life and he expected her to share all her secrets with him.It was too soon.Maybe someday she would trust him enough to confide in him and then a thought came into his mind,"lekin kya main tab usse apne dil ki baat batha paaunga...kya main usse keh paaunga ki uski choti behen hi woh ladki hai jisse main pyarr karta hoon..."
He shook his head and looked to the woman sitting in front of him.She had a forlorn look on her face and he did not like it at all."acha tumhein patha hai mere ghar mein mere ilaava mere baba aur meri choti behen Rewa hain...Rewa kehne ko toh meri choti behen hai lekin baatein toh aisi karti hai jaise meri daadi amma ho...aur mere baba...woh bahut ache hain...mere baba kam aur dost zyaada hain...kabhi kabhi toh meri shararatoin mein mera saath bhi dethe hain...".He started to talk about his family and was pleased when he saw the sadness fade away from her eyes.She looked interested and so he continued,"Baba ne hame kabhi bhi Ma ki kami mehsus hi nahi hone di,hamare liye toh unhone kabhi dusri shaadi ke baare mein socha tak nahi,meri Ma ki jagah lena waise bhi aasan nahi hota kissi ke liye,Baba kehte hai woh hamesha unki har baat bina kahe hi samajh jaaya karti thi...unke liye Ma se dur reh pana bahut hi muskil tha,business ke silsile mein bhi agar kahin jaana hota tha toh woh mushkil se ja paate the,bahut chota tha mein jab woh'.." He stopped mid-sentence unable to continue.He felt a big lump in his throat and unable to stop tears,he turned his face away from Gulaal.He had not intended to do that.He had no idea when he started to talk about his mother.He never did that...never talked about her because it was too painful.He blinked away the tears lest Gulaal saw them.
Gulaal understood what Kesar was feeling.She could feel his pain.She instinctively reached out to him and placed her hand on his ,squeezing it slightly.Kesar looked back at her and she smiled softly to let him know that it is ok.She did not have to say anything to him because she knew he understood.He smiled back and within a few minutes he was back to his talkitive self.
As the night wore on Gulaal opened up hesitantly talking about her life as a teacher,her children from the school and her bond with Talli carefully avoiding the more painful topics of her neglected childhood.They never realized when they gave into the tiredness and fell asleep.
When Gulaal woke up this morning she was embarrassed to find herself sleeping against Kesar's chest holding onto his arm.When did that happen?The last thing she remembered was sitting beside him listening to him talk about his childhood pranks.She could not deny that she had felt safe and secure in his embrace-as if nothing bad could ever touch her.It gave her a warm,happy feeling She looked at his sleeping face.She could not help but recollect his sad face, forlorn look, his teary eyes, his hunched shoulders when he spoke about his Ma.She knew now that the wistfulness she had seen in his eyes was not imaginary.He pined for his Mother just like she did.The mask that he bravely put on slipped the moment his Ma was mentioned.There was vulnerability about him that was always masked by his brattish faade but she could see through it now which surprised her a little.So much had changed in the course of one night.Yesterday he was a stranger but today he was a kindred spirit.He looked so innocent and child-like.Smiling softly,she almost reached out to ruffle his hair lovingly but stopped herself as she realized what she was about to do.It would be so embarrassing if he caught her staring at him.She blushed as she slowly untangled herself from under his arm.She got up and left the room slowly retreating her steps still looking at his face that had a small grin plastered on it'..
"Kesar...Kesar...",he heard a soft voice call out his name.This was not the usual screaming of his sister Rewa.He could get used to being woken up this way.He smiled but did not open his eyes.He then felt a gentle nudge on his shoulder,"Kesar...utho...bahut der ho gayi hai Kesar humein tumhare ghar ke liye bhi toh nikalna hai na..."That got his attention and suddenly he remembered the events of the previous day.It was Gulaal,his wife's voice trying to get him up.He opened his eyes and for a few seconds everything looked hazy.He blinked a few times and got up stifling a yawn.Then he heard clinking of bangles as a hand came in front of his face holding a cup.He looked at the contents of the cup with a grimace.
"main chai nahi doodh...",he started to say as he looked up gradually to the hand holding it and then to her face.She was wearing a saree...a beautiful deep red saree.She looked different from yesterday.He tried to figure out what was different about her when a wet tendril of her wavy hair got stuck on to her cheek and then he got it.She had left her hair open.He had always seen her with her hair tied up in a pony tail or a bun.He smiled dreamily as he whispered softly,"tum khule baalon mein bahut achi lagti ho..."
"kya...kuch kaha tum ne?",Gulaal's voice broke his dream like state.He realized what he just muttered.She was looking at him in a peculiar way.He quickly took the cup from her and replied,"main bas Thank you keh raha tha chai ke liye..."He took a sip and turned to look back at her.He was relieved to see that she was smiling."tumhe uthana kitna mushkil hai Kesar.main aadhe ghante se tumhe bulaa rahi hoon lekin tum toh..."
He stared at her as she spoke.Why was he finding it so difficult to take his eyes off her? and that strand of hair...it was still stuck at the same place on her cheek and it was bothering him.He wanted to get close to her and push it behind her ear.He wondered if her skin was as soft as it looked...if her lips...
"Kesar...",once again Gulaal's voice brought him back to reality.He blinked and for a second he felt dazed.Why was he thinking about how soft her skin would be? and why was he staring at her lips?He needed to get away from her as soon as possible maybe then he could think clearly."woh...main...shaayad mujhe tayyar ho jaana chaahiye warna der ho jaayegi",he spoke hurriedly and was just about to leave the room when he bumped into someone.It was Talli who had a mischevious grin on her face.
Oh God!!He had forgotten all about her.Not once since he got up this morning had he thought of her which was a good thing considering he had no right to do that anymore but it shocked him.This was all too much for him to handle-this sudden attraction towards Gulaal,forgetting the very existence of Talli...maybe this was an alternate reality because only that would explain this wierdness!!He needed to escape before his feelings gave away and he rushed out of the room before Talli could get a word in.
Breakfast was a tense affair.Kesar did not have any appetite at all.The morning's events were already confusing him and on top of it he was now worried about facing his father.The family was still not very comfortable about the situation.Gulaal's father remained silent throughout and her mother was just making things more awkward by being a little too sweet.He turned to look at Gulaal who was talking in hushed tones to Talli and at that very moment she turned towards him as if sensing his gaze on her and she smiled.He turned away from her pretending to eat .He was thankful when it was time to leave.
The journey was long and they both remained silent.Somehow last night's comfort seemed to have disappeared.He wondered if she felt the same and took a peek at her from the corner of his eye.She was facing away from him looking towards the window but he did not fail to notice that she was trembling a little.She was crying,he realized.After last night he should have understood that there was only one person she truly cared about in this world and that was Talli.She was leaving her sister behind for the first time in her life.He should have noticed it sooner but he had been too busy trying to avoid looking at her.He quickly took out his hand-kerchief and handed it to her saying,"Gulaal...yeh lo..."She wiped away her tears in a hurry and replied,"nahi...iski koi zaroorat nahi...woh meri aankhon mein kachra chala gaya tha ab theek ho gaya hai...".She tried to smile as she looked at him.He did not say anything instead just gestured her to take the kerchief.She took it and wiped the fresh layer of tears which were threatening to spill over.
Gulaal was embarrassed.She had never cried like this before.She knew it would hurt but she did not expect to cry like a baby.Kesar did not say anything else and so she stayed quiet.She could feel that something had changed between them.She could not place her finger on it but it was bothering her.She got the feeling that he was trying to avoid her.At the Breakfast table he had deliberately turned away from her.She had to say it did hurt a little.She did not know what had changed.Everything had been ok last night.
She looked out of the window and soon she felt her eyes close as she fell into a comfortable sleep.A sudden lurch woke her up and she found herself resting her head on Kesar's shoulder.To her horror she found that she had drooled on his shirt.She was about to apologize for the mess when she saw him looking tense.He was biting his nails and he was constantly tapping his feet.He was nervous .It struck Gulaal that he had not yet told his father about the marriage and he was worried about his initial reaction.He was scared of hurting his father.Suddenly she felt light hearted.So this was the reason for his stange behaviour.He was just nervous.At that moment she wanted to pinch his cheeks because he looked adorable.She smiled and she kept her hand over his knee which immediately got his attention.
Kesar had been lost in his own world trying to think of ways of facing his father when he felt a hand on his knee.If it had been any other girl it would seem like the girl was blatantly coming on to him but Gulaal was just trying to comfort him.There was no hidden motive.It was just an innocent gesture to make him comfortable.The tapping stopped instantly and he felt a calmness wash over him.He was amazed that even without saying a word she understood his confusion.A tiny voice spoke up,"Talli never could understand when I felt nervous or confused...".His face fell for a moment but then he squashed the thought and smiled at Gulaal.
Finally they reached home.It was quite late.The sun was about to set.He got her luggage out and walked towards the main door.The door was wide open."arre kahan hain sab..koi dikhayi kyun nahi de raha?"Just as he was about to enter along with Gulaal he heard his father's bellowing voice,"wahin ruk jaao Kesar...agar ek kadam bhi aage badhaya toh theek nahi hoga..."Kesar was stunned.