Link for Thread 2 of SFL
KTLK The Season for Love
It was amazing how life could change in the space of just two short weeks, Ashutosh reflected, on his way over to the court house. You can make plans and have contingencies for all types of scenarios, but life always finds a way to throw a curve that you cannot avoid, no matter how much you plan and improvise. Then he thought back to two weeks ago, when he had been living a normal life, which consisted of his work as Dean and head of the Neurosurgery department of Kortnis General hospital, and home, where he lived with his adoptive father, Dr. Alok Nath Mathur, who was also a prominent neurosurgeon of his time, and his sister Saroj Rani, whom he called Dadi Bua.
Ashutosh recalled, how just two weeks ago he had been busy and excited, preparing for his move to London, where he had been offered a short term position at the prestigious Cambridge University Hospital, where he had been offered a 6year teaching tenure in the neurosurgery department. He had been totally clueless as to how drastically his life was about to change, when he received the call from his father asking him to rush to City Center Holy Hospital, to see Col. Verma, who had been rushed there in a very critical condition, due to a massive MI. Ashutosh knew that CV had been his father's business partner and also one of his closest friends for over twenty years. And, even though there was a huge age gap between the two, his father being the elder, they got along amazingly well. Ashutosh knew that his father had an immense amount of respect along with love, for his younger friend. Although he knew CV, he did not know him very well.
When he got there, Ashutosh was directed to the second floor which housed the ICU, where CV had been admitted. As soon as he walked off the elevators, he spotted his father and DB, who had her arms around a young girl, who Ashutosh knew to be CV's daughter. Baba looked up at his approach, and his face flooded with relief.
-Ashu, beta thank god you are here.
-Baba, I rushed over as soon as I got your message. What can I do to help? I know the Cardiologist here, Dr. Sanyal, let me call him, and see what he can do...
Baba cut him off with a wave of his hand
-Ashu, beta, you need to listen to me. There's nothing that can be done, the attack was just too massive. He has already had two before this and was told by his doctors that a third attack could prove to be fatal. Beta, I know that you don't know him very well, but for my sake will you please listen to what he has to say, he doesn't have very much time left.
-But, Baba, what can I do? He barely knows me, and I hardly know him. What could he possibly have to say to me? Shouldn't he be talking to his daughter now instead?
-Ashutosh beta, you'll find out everything in a little while, but before we go in there, I need your promise that whatever he asks of you, you will not refuse him. Beta, knowing that his time on earth was limited, he has spent the last few months putting all of his affairs in order, and now that only thing left is his daughter, his most precious and valuable possession. He wants to make sure that she is safe, and with people who love her and care about her. Her mother died when she was very little, so after he is gone, she will be all alone on this world. She has no one else, and she is the only thing he is worried about right now. Beta, CV is not only my partner in business, but also one of my best friends, and I love his daughter as if she were my own. So, when we go in, I want you to listen with an open mind, and accept his request. Please beta do this for me. As your father I can order you, and I know that you will obey me, but I don't want to do it that way. I want you to understand, and then accept. So do I have your word?
-Baba, I have no idea what you are saying, or what it is that you are wanting me to do. But yes, I will do anything I can to help relieve your friend of worries during his last moments. You are my father, and I will respect your wishes. Now let's go in Baba, before it is too late.
The sight that met him inside, was an all too familiar one for Ashutosh. He looked at CV, and could barely recognize the man he had known. He was hooked up to the cardiac monitors, and had IV's attached to his arms. Ashutosh looked at the monitors, and as a doctor he could already see a difference, a slow down in each heart beat. CV did not have much time left. Ashutosh hurried over and sat down next to him , and took hold of his hand.
-Uncle, it's me Ashutosh. You wanted to see me? I am right here. Please tell me what I can do for you.
CV slowly opened his eyes, and turned his head to look at Ashutosh. Ashutosh could see that his breathing had become labored, and his color was very pale. And, even though he did not know him very well, his heart squeezed at the sight of this once vigorous man so full of life, struggling with every breath to try and convey his last wish. CV looked over his shoulder, and gestured. Ashutosh looked back to see who CV was nodding at and saw that his daughter had also come inside. Dadi Bua had her arm around her shoulder and was slowly bringing her forward. The girl, looked to be about 15-16 years old. Funny Ashutosh thought, he remembered her as being older. Immediately dismissing these frivolous thoughts, he noticed that she had come up and sat down on the other side of her father's bed. Ashutosh had to admire her, for one so young, she was putting up a terribly brave front in front of her father. There were no tears in her eyes, and she was trying her best to smile for him. She took his other hand in his and bent to kiss his forehead.
-Baba, app bilkul phikr mat kariye. Doctor uncle keh rahein hain ki aap bilkul theek ho jayenge. Bus aapko sirf aaram karne ki zaroorat hai aur Kuch nahin.
CV smiled affectionately at her, then he turned to Ashu,
-Ashutosh meri beti kitni pagli hain na, aur kitni masoom bhi.
Then he looked back at his daughter
- Haan beta, bas ek kaam reh gaya hai jo mujhe pura karna hai, phir toh bas aaram hi aaram hai, aur kya.
Saying that, CV once again turned to look at Ashutosh, then he picked up his daughters hand and with tremendous effort, brought it over to where Ashutosh was holding his other one, and placed his daughters hand in Ashutosh's. Then he smiled at the both of them and looked over to Dr. Mathur, who nodded in approval. Tears started trickling down CV's eyes.
-Ashutosh beta, I am handing the most precious thing in my life over to you. Please take care of her, and keep her safe. Beta, she is very young, not only in years, but also in the ways of the world. I am leaving her in your care. Promise me beta, that you will take care of her always.
CV looked at Ashutosh with so much hope, that he did not have the heart to refuse his request.
-I promise, Uncle, I will always take care of her, and protect her and make sure she is happy. Please rest assured that she will never be alone, I will always be there for her, in every way possible, whenever wherever she will need me. I promise.
With those words, a peace settled over CV's face, and his eyes shone with happiness and relief. Then he turned back to look at his daughter,
-Guddi, beta, maine kaha tha na, kuch phikr karne ki baat nahin hai. Tere doctor uncle ke hote hue tu kabhi bhi akeli nahin ho sakti. Beta hamesha apna khayal rakhna, aur jo maine tujhe sikhaya hai usse hamesha yaad rakhana. Beta kabhi rona nahin, tera Baba tujhe chod ke kahin nahin jayega, woh hamesha tere paas hi rahega. Bas apni aankhein band karke mujhe yaad karna, aur dekhna, main tujhe wahin tere paas khada hua miloonga. Aur phir tere paas ab Ashutosh bhi toh hoga, aur Dadi Bua aur tere Mathur uncle. Yeh sab tujhe itna pyar denge ke tujhe meri kami kabhi bhi nahin mehsoos hogi. He reached up to bless his daughter, and pulled her down to hold her close to his heart for the last time, and barely a few seconds later the monitors flatlined. There was total silence in the room, except for the continual beep of the monitors and the weeping sound of CV's daughter, as she clung to her father for the last time, and sobbed her heart out.
Out of all the deaths he had seen since he had become a doctor, this one was the one that would remain stamped in his mind for the rest of his life. Maybe it was because, with his passing, CV had changed Ashutosh's life forever. And he found out how, exactly 5 days after CV's passing, when Baba explained to him the full meaning of the promise that he had given to a dying man.
Ashutosh could not believe his ears, his father and CV wanted him to marry Nidhi, that was her name. He tried everything he could think of to dissuade his father, and to tell him what a bad idea this was. He tried to explain the disservice that they were doing to a young 18 year old girl, by tying her down to a man twice her age. But, Baba had refused to listen to reason, saying over and over that he had promised CV, and that it was his duty to fulfill that promise. Ashutosh had asked his father how things could possibly work, since he was due to leave for London in less than two weeks. He was told that, his going away would not not change anything. It had already been agreed that Nidhi would be staying behind with Dr. Mathur, and his sister, and would complete her studies.
The only reason that he was going through with this whole ridiculous idea, was because he had misunderstood. And when Baba had realized this, he had sat down and explained to Ashu, that the marriage was to be in name only, and it was for Nidhi's benefit. The norms of society were such that if she lived with his family, then a lot of uncomfortable questions would be raised, that she would not be able to deal with. This way, she would get the protection of his name and also the right to stay at his house with his family. So, by marrying her he would be protecting her from everything and everybody, who would otherwise have no second thoughts about taking advantage of an otherwise young and naive girl. Also Baba had assured him that when the time came, she would be free to choose the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.
So, he thought, as he looked out of the car window, that's where he was headed right now, to marry a girl whom he hardly knew and who was half his age, to honor the promise that he had made to her dying father. How ironic, he thought, out of all possible scenarios this was the last one he would have ever thought of in regards to his marriage. Although he had not planned to get married, ever, and had reached the ripe old age of 36 without getting caught in that trap, Ashutosh had never planned for this situation. He had been successful in dodging the bullet so far, until today... You know what they say, about the best laid plans of mice and men. It seemed that almost in the blink of an eye, all his carefully laid plans were about to bite the dust. And, right after they got home, he would be flying to london, where he would be for the next six years.
After signing on the register, Ashu, looked at the girl seated next to him, then reached across to hand her the pen, and very hesitantly with trembling fingers she took it from him, and, without even looking up she signed her name underneath his. The magistrate took the register and completed the formalities, and then in a loud booming voice, said,"Congratulation to you both Dr. And Mrs. Ashutosh Mathur, it is my great privilege and honor to pronounce that from this day forward you are Husband and Wife."
After the magistrate's announcement Dadi Bua came forward and extended the tray with the mangalsutra and the sindoor towards Ashutosh, and nodded towards the girl. Ashutosh looked at her determined face, and, sighed with resignation, there was no use arguing with his Dadi Bhua, not unless he wanted to create a huge spectacle here, in public. He knew that she would have no qualms in doing so, because they already had an argument about this right before they had started from home. According to her the marriage was not complete unless these two rituals were also a part of the ceremony. So, he took a tiny amount of the sindoor between the thumb and ring finger of his right hand and put it on the girl's forehead, just where the hairline started. Then he picked up the mangalsutra and put it around her neck, and, to his surprise, right afterwards, she went and touched DB's and Baba's feet.
On the way home, Ashutosh looked at the girl who was now his "wife". She was huddled close to Dadi Bua, who once again had her arm her shoulders, for comfort. She certainly is a quiet little thing, he thought, and rather ordinary looking. On a closer look, she looked more like a little mouse, all nervous and trembly. Well, he supposed for a girl to have lost both parents, and at such a young age, and be married off to a man she hardly knew and who was twice her age, just days after her father passed away, was very traumatic. And even more traumatic was the fact that she was all alone in the world. Looking at all the facts, this was probably the most reasonable solution, he thought in retrospect.
But, there was one more thing, a formality if you will, that he needed to fulfill, before he left. He had already had a discussion with Baba regarding this a couple of days ago, and Baba had agreed that as her husband, it was only right that Ashu be the one to talk to her. So, when they got to the house, Ashutosh looked at Nidhi and said,
-Nidhi, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to have a few moments of your time before I leave tonight. There are some important matters that we need to discuss.
-Yes, Dr. Ashutosh. I'll be available whenever you are ready.
-Alright then, we will talk right after dinner, in my study?
In her room Nidhi picked the framed picture of her father that she had kept on her bedside next to another one taken of the two of them just a few weeks ago, and looked at the beloved face and tears rolled down her cheeks, as she traced her fingers over his face and closed her eyes. She could almost imagine him standing near her and and feel him putting his hand on her head.
-Baba, where are you? I miss you so much, I am all alone without you.
Why did you leave me Baba? Apne ek baar bhi mere liye nahin socha, ke main kya karungi aapke bina? Apne toh promise kiya tha mujhe ke aap Ma ki tarha mujhe kabhi akela nahin chodenge. Aap ne apna promise toda hai Baba. Ab aapki beti iss duniya mein bilkul akeli reh gayi hai. Ab main kya karungi Baba, mujhe guide kariye, aur aashirwad dijiye Baba, aur himmat bhi, ke main zindagi ka samna karna seekh sakun, aur aapne mere liye jo sapna dekha tha usse poora kar sakun. Mujhe pataa hai Babake aap ab Ma ke saath hain. App dono mere saath bhi hamesha rehna. I love you Baba.
Then she hugged the picture to her and sobbed her heart out. Gradually the crying stopped, and once she had calmed down, Nidhi got up and went to wash her face and to change out of the clothes that she had gotten married in. When she looked into the mirror, her gaze fell on the bit of sindoor at the hair line, and then on the mangalsutra, it was beautiful! Then, suddenly it hit her! She was married! When Dr. Ashutosh had put it around her neck, she had not even noticed it, and she doubted that he had paid much attention to it either, or to her. To him they were just something that he had to do, because he had been forced to by Dadi Bua. To her they meant everything, they were a symbol, that she belonged to someone, and even though he didn't think so, he belonged to her.
She had known Dr. Ashutosh practically all her life. She had seen him when he had sometimes accompanied his father, when he came to visit with her Baba, only he had never noticed her. And when he did acknowledge her presence, he had treated her as a pesky little kid. During her preteen and then early teen years she had been very intimidated by him, he had always appeared to be so serious and somber, a complete opposite of his father. It had always been a great source of confusion for her, as to how a father and son could be so different from one another. And, it was only later that she came to know that he was Mathur Uncle's adopted son. As she began growing up she also started to admire him, and began looking at him as her role model. She was so in awe of him, and all that he had accomplished, at so young an age, that she wanted to be just like him, which is why she had picked the medical field as her chosen path in life. Baba had been only too pleased by this decision of hers, and had encouraged her in every way. And pretty soon her dream had also become his. Baba had started calling her vocation "their" dream. And just a few days before he had passed away, he had made her promise that she would fulfill their dream, and become a doctor. Over time, she did not say when exactly, her admiration and respect for Dr. Ashutosh blossomed into love. She knew that if she had told anybody they would have laughed and passed it off as a teenage crush or infatuation, but not her father. He had not only guessed, but towards the end, had also approved. Oh, he had had his doubts about it in the beginning, but when she had seriously discussed and explained her feelings, he had come to realize that she really did love Ashutosh. And, after a while, when he had gotten used to the idea, even began to see the positive aspects to this. And before leaving this world he had made sure that he had granted his precious child her life's greatest desire.
Her father had also been her best friend. She had been able to go to him with all of her problems and dilemmas, and he had always listened patiently and helped her sort them out. Who was she going to talk to now? she wondered. Who would listen to her problems, who would answer all of her questions? she thought sadly.
Even her husband, the man she loved, was leaving tonight. He was going away for 6 years. She knew that after today, he would not even give her a second thought, but she would miss him every second of everyday, and thank god for bringing him into her life, and pray for him. Nidhi closed her eyes and thought of Ashutosh, and saw him with her minds eye. She had glanced at him right as he was putting the mangalsutra around her neck, and had captured and frozen that moment of time and had given it a special place in her memories. And that was the picture she would carry with her, in her mind and heart, till he returned. To her he was the most handsome man in the world. He seemed larger than life, towering over her with that six foot something height of his. And his voice, his beautiful deep voice sent shivers up her spine, whenever he spoke. She loved his sometimes crooked smile , and absolutely adored the way he would raise that one eyebrow of his , and the cleft in his chin, and his...oh lets face it, she thought, there wasn't a single part of him that she didn't love. She was going to miss him terribly, she thought as she clutched her mangalsutra close to her heart.
After dinner, Ashutosh led her to his study and asked her to have a seat. He looked at the girl/child/woman seated in front of him. He didn't know what to make of her, all he knew was that she was eighteen and today she had, although in name only, become his wife, and for better or worse he was responsible for her. Other than that he had no other knowledge about her. By the looks of her, she was a serious little thing, and other than that one time at the hospital, he didn't remember her even talking. He could tell that she was nervous, just by looking at her. She was sitting stiffly, with her head down and her fingers kept fiddling with the piece of paper that was in her hands.
-Nidhi, why are you so nervous? Its safe to look at me, I can assure you that I am not that scary, ok a little bit scary maybe, but not much. And I've been told that my bark is worse than my bite. So, if I promise not to bite or bark, will you stop looking so scared and look at me.
She looked up then, and gave him a tentative smile. She is just a scared, lost little child, he thought, his heart going out to her. He remembered what it felt like, so he knew exactly what she must be going through.
-Nidhi, you know I will be leaving in a little while, and will be gone for a long time. But before leaving I wanted to talk , and also to explain certain things to you.
-Yes. Out of necessity we had to get married, you understand why, dont you?
At her nod, he continued
-This arrangement is a precautionary measure, a deterrent, to guard and protect you against those who would seek to take advantage of your age and inexperience. After all, as you are aware I am sure, that your inheritance is quite a substantial one, although, according to your father's will you will not come into it until you are 25 years old. So, with your best interests in mind, both our fathers thought that I would be the best person to act as your guardian until that time. The reason that I am saying all of this is so I can make you understand and assure you that this will in no way be a binding factor in your life, or for your future. My guardianship is for your protection, and our marriage will be in name only. In all ways other than one, you are free to do what you choose, and live your life the way you want to. I would like it if you would consider this to be your home too, now. And I know that Baba and Dadi Bua already think of you as the daughter that they always wanted. And, even though physically I will not be present, I would like you to feel free to contact me for anything you need. I promise I will always try and make myself available to you. I am leaving my contact numbers and email and my address in london with Baba, should you ever feel the need to get in touch with me. Also, I wanted to let you know that I have set up accounts for you at the local bank and also applied for credit cards in your name, you should be getting them soon. All expenses within limits have already been okayed. Although you will have to get my permission for anything substantial. So, financially you are pretty much independent even now. Other than that is there anything else you need, anything else I can do for you?
-No, thank you Dr. Ashutosh. You have thought of everything. I appreciate your kindness, and all the trouble that you have gone through for my benefit.
-Is there anything that you need to talk to me about. What I mean to say is, do you have any questions or concerns, that I need to or should know about?
- Go ahead, please don't hesitate.
-Well Sir, I wanted to talk to you about my studies. The new College year will be starting in a couple of months, and I'd like to continue with my education, if thats ok with you.
-Nidhi, I just told you, you are free to do whatever you want. Of course you can continue your education. In fact I approve whole heartedly.
So, do you have a particular field you are interested in, or are you still in the deciding phase?
-Sir, I want to be a doctor. That was my father's dream for me also.
And my scores were good enough that I should be able to get into a good medical program. I have already filled out all the applications, the only thing left is your signature on the forms, since you are now my legal guardian.
-Of course, why didn't you say so in the first place, here give me the forms, I'll take a look at them, on the way to the airport, and make sure everything is in order. They will also need a check for the enrollment and application fees, right?
At her hesitant nod, he went on,
-Ok, no problem. I will give the completed forms, and a check to cover all the fees to Baba, and he will send them forward. I am glad to see that you have set a goal for yourself, Nidhi. Looks like soon we will have three doctors in the family.
-Thank you so much Dr. Ashutosh. And, I wish you a safe journey sir.
Assuming that they were done taking care of business, she made to get up, but got startled when she heard him say her name,
- And Nidhi ..
-I would really appreciate it if you would stop calling me Sir, every two seconds. It is rather annoying.
He said in a droll voice, looking at her in exasperation.
She looked at him for a few seconds, then smiled. A big bright smile full of life and laughter, mixed with a hint of mischief. He had to do a double take. Had he thought of her as ordinary? Apparently he had not looked at her properly. She was stunning, and her smile was beautiful, it lit up the whole room with its brightness. Ashutosh had to force himself to stop staring at her, but one thing was clear. His wife was not the ordinary mouse he had thought her to be. By all indications she was a beautiful little catterpillar, well on her way to being a Gorgeous Butterfly. He was startled out of his thoughts when she spoke.
-Ok. I won't call you sir. But then how would I address you. You are a lot older than me, and are my senior in all respects.
He came crashing down to earth at these words. What had he been thinking, he was appalled at himself. She was just a baby, he should be shot for even thinking like that. Of course, she was right! He was her senior , he was 18 years older than her, how else would she address him. Right now though, all he could think of was, Escape.
-We'll figure that out as we go along. But for right now, I just want to say, take care. Now, I think that I should be leaving, or else I'll miss my flight.
And with a quick goodbye, and a pat on shoulder telling her to be good, he left.