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Madhubala was still a Kundra, only her middle name changed from Karan to Rishabh. They had an extremely somber court marriage in Delhi. Rishabh's friend Varun and his wife Preeti were present as witnesses. Madhu was wearing a royal blue colured south cotton saree, with an inch wide golden-green border. Only touch of red was on her forehead, the sindoor smeared by Rishabh. After the formalities were over, they had a quick lunch and went to the service apartment in Gurgaon, rented by Rishabh for the time needed for Madhu's visa approval.
"I like this apartment Rishabh, wow, such soothing pastel coloured walls and what a nice view of the Aravallis," exclaimed Preeti. Madhu was standing at the balcony, looking at the vast expanse of space laid out in front. She had never seen so much luxury in her life before, not even when Karan had bought the small studio apartment in Dwarka, which they had to sell off later for his treatment. "Madhu, can I have a word with you?" asked Preeti. Madhu had hardly exchanged any words with her since morning. "Yes Preeti, tell me," and tried to bring a smile on her face. Preeti took her to one of the bedrooms and made her sit on the bed. "I should have met you before this wedding. Anyway, better late than never. I just wanted to tell you that I know what an upheaval this wedding must have been for you. But my only request to you is that, give yourself another chance Madhu. Rishabh loves you, he cares for you. Give him one chance with this marriage." Madhu tried to pretend an agreement, but failed miserably.
After a month, they flew to London. The cab took them through the streets of the bustling city, lined by the spectacular shops and majestic buildings. Madhu looked through the window and tried to identify the city as described by Karan longtime back, during their courtship. Rishabh looked at her wonder-filled eyes and smiled at yet another facet of her simplicity.
Rishabh's 2-bedroom apartment was very neat and cosy. Rishabh showed her bedroom. It had a walk-in closet. Madhu's belongings could hardly fill up a couple of shelves in it. She kept a photo frame with a picture of Karan and Aadi on her bedside stand. "This is your key Madhu. You can go anywhere you feel like. Just keep me posted, so that I can find you if you are lost," said Rishabh. Madhu nodded in agreement.
Rishabh took her for a sightseeing tour around the city. They also had day trips to Windsor and Stonehenge. Madhu would read in the internet before going, so she had nothing to ask Rishabh after reaching those tourist spots. The only tangible conversation they would have was during dinner time, when Rishabh would relish the food cooked by Madhu and discuss about her day.
Rishabh was back from his office early that day. Madhu was taking a nap when he knocked at her door. "Madhu, there is an award function by the London Chamber of Commerce tonight. I will receive an award there. Will you go with me?" asked Rishabh very anxiously. "I have never been to such highbrowed places before. I do not know how to talk or.." "Madhu don't worry. We will just go and after receiving the award we will come back. We can have dinner at home."
Madhu stood in front of the closet. She did not have any expensive dresses, never had the need to have one. Suddenly she noticed the beige coloured net saree that Preeti had gifted her on their wedding. She accessorized that with the simple pearl pendant and ear stud she had, one gifted to her by Karan on their 5th marriage anniversary. Madhu did not know what to do with her hair. She made a loose bun and the curls swirled out of it on her shoulder. When she met Rishabh in the living area, his appreciative gaze made her all the more conscious.
It was a grand function. All the dignitaries from the most successful business empires had assembled for the occasion. Rishabh was indeed a much esteemed personality, as Madhu could perceive from the people's response. After Rishabh received the award he was thronged by numerous well wishers. Madhu was waiting at a corner when a beautiful woman donning an extremely expensive evening gown approached her. "Hi, I am Dipali Bhatia, and you must be Rishabh's wife," smiled Dipali and extended her hand. "Madhubala Kundra," replied Madhu and touched her hand. "I wanted to meet you, and see, god granted my wish." Madhu looked at her without any clue. Dipali continued, "I wanted to see the girl who captured Rishabh's heart and left so many of his admirers disheartened, including me," said Dipali and laughed out loudly, "but I know it is not only your beauty which has caught his attention; because there is no dearth of beauty and glamour in London. It must be something deep inside, which we Londoners are lacking. I wish you all happiness Madhu, you are one lucky girl who got Rishabh as a life partner."
"You go home; I will just go and bring the yogurt from Tesco. I can't have biriyani without mint raita," said Rishabh and dropped her at their apartment. Madhu went upstairs and as she took out the keys to open the door she petrified. Radha was waiting outside the door. Madhu hurriedly opened the door and let her in. "Rishabh will be here in a minute," said Madhu and turned towards her room. "Wait, I did not come here to see my son. I came to see your new avatar." Madhu wanted to run away from there right away, because she knew what would follow this moment would keep on gnawing her for many days to come. "So, you showed your true colours Madhubala! My elder son could not satiate your thirst. You had to claw my Rishu as well!" Madhu's face was red with anguish, and her throat parched. "You know why I do not have any sympathy for you for your son's loss? Because you have given me the same pain. You shameless woman, bewitching my son.." "Mom!!" shouted Rishabh as he entered the flat. Both the women looked at him, calling for his support. "Rishu, you have hurt me beta. You knew I hated this woman. I lost my son because of her fault," cried out Radha. "No Mom, you lost Bhai because of your stubbornness. If you had approved their relationship, we all had been living happily together." Radha saw that no words could change her son's mind now, as the damage had already been done. Yet she could do something to Madhu that would satisfy her wrath. "I curse you, Madhu, you will never be happy in your life. You will shed 100 times more tears than me.." "Mom, please don't say that. I remember you saying those words to Bhai seven years back. He is gone, gone forever. Are you happy that your curses came true?" asked Rishabh. Radha's face blanched. She immediately left.
Madhu could not stop shivering. Her body had stopped responding to her mind. Rishabh did not know how to reach out and comfort her. "I am sorry Madhu. Please do not keep those words in your mind.." "I want a baby," interrupted Madhu. "Madhu?" Rishabh could not believe what he heard. "I want to be a mother again Rishabh. I can't take this life anymore. It is suffocating me to death," cried out Madhu.
That night Rishabh stayed in Madhu's room. He lay close to her on the bed. Madhu was stiff, waiting for him to take over. Rishabh hugged her and pulled her closer. There was a stark awkwardness in their proximity. Rishabh pulled back sensing her discomfort. "I am sorry Madhu, I don't know how to take this forward.." "Please don't think that I am a s**t. I do not enjoy bedding every man I meet." "What are you saying Madhu!! I can never think of you like that. Never!! You are my wife. I know you will never be able to love me but I love you, more than anything," said Rishabh and kissed her cheeks and forehead.
After a month both of them visited the doctor. The test result was positive. Rishabh was very happy, happier than when he had stood first in the university, happier than when he had success in the biggest merger of his business, happier than when Madhu had agreed to marry him. He looked at Madhu and saw a gleam in her eyes. That night Rishabh came to her room and gave her the medicines and prescriptions, and after explaining her he said, "I will be in my room, give me a call if you need anything." He felt a tug in his hand and as he looked at her, Madhu said, "Stay here, please."
The next eight months were worth remembering. Everyday Rishabh could see his unborn child in Madhu's eyes. They had become comfortable in each other's closeness. They nurtured each other both physically and psychologically for the benefit of the new life that was growing within. At the end of it, Madhu gave birth to a baby girl. Rishabh named her Avani.
Madhu was tired from feeding the
baby all day. She needed some sleep. But Avani was wide awake; not paying any
heed to her mom's coaxing words or lullaby. "You take rest Madhu, I will play
with her and put her to sleep," suggested Rishabh. "But you are also tired, you
have to go office in the morning," whined Madhu. "Don't worry, you sleep. I
want to have some private moments with my little princess," said Rishabh and
took Avani outside in the living area. After sometime when he came back to the
bedroom, Madhu was in deep sleep. He sat beside her on the bed with Avani on his
lap. "You know my princess, your mother feels guilty that she cannot love me as
much as I love her. But she does not know that she has given me so much more
than just love. It does not always take those three words to express love,
sweety, your mom has given herself and you to me, and that makes my whole world
complete." Avani smiled at her father's words, as if she agreed to his opinion.
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