Joined: 09 December 2006
After using the copy machine down the hall to duplicate some important letters, Kripa headed distractedly back to her desk, sorting the papers as she walked. Turning a corner, she collided with Angad who had been making his way to a meeting.
"Miss Sharma," Angad said, slightly exasperated, "pichhle teen din mein aap mujhse paanch baar takra chuki hain. Dhyaan kahaan rehta hai aapka?"
Kripa lowered her eyes guiltily as she adjusted her dupatta. "I'm sorry sir. Main papers sambhaal rahi thi, aur… Dobaara aisa nahin hoga." She glanced up with innocent eyes.
Itni bholi ladki se to naraaz rehna bhi namumkin hai, Angad thought to himself. "Achcha theek hai. Aap zara un teen naye clients ki files nikaal kar meri table par rakh dijiye. I'll be back in an hour."
Kripa returned to her cubicle. After pulling three folders from the filing cabinet and placing them on Angad's desk, she began to type up a memo. By the time Angad returned from his meeting, it was five o'clock, the hour when Kripa's work day usually ended.
"Sir, agar aap ko mujhse koyi aur kaam na ho to main ghar jaa sakti hoon?" she asked as he passed her desk.
"Sure," he replied. "Cabinet ki chaabiyan mere paas chhod jaaiye. Shaayad mujhe kisi file ki zaroorat pad jaaye."
"Aap aaj bahut der tak office mein rahenge?"
Angad nodded. "Kaafi kaam hai. Aath ya nau to baj hi jaayenge."
"Lekin kal to aap ki sagaai hai. Aap ko us ke liye tayyari nahin karni?" Kripa asked with concern.
Abruptly, Angad's expression transformed and he appeared troubled. "Tayyaari ho jaayegi," he replied. "See you on Monday, Miss Sharma." He quickly walked to his office as if attempting to avoid any further conversation.
Back in his office, Angad rested his elbows on his desk and put his head in his hands. Mishty tum se pyaar karti hai Angad, he told himself, aur tum uske saath bahut khush rahoge. Then why didn't it feel right? After a few moments of thought, Angad came to the conclusion that he was probably just fearful of the changes and commitment. After a few months of married life, he'd get over it. Yes, that had to be it.
Pushing aside his trepidation, Angad turned to the three files on his table. It was a good thing he had requested Kripa's keys, as she had messed up yet again. She had left him the 'Mehta' file instead of the 'Mehra' file. Well, she got two out of three right, Angad thought as he walked to the file cabinet. Kal se to behtar hi hai.
The streets of Andheri were packed with cars, autos and motorbikes. Mukti swerved through the traffic on her brand new scooter, eager to reach home. The signal ahead of her turned red and she slowed to a stop. The blaring horns and shrill shouts were exacerbating her already throbbing headache.
The last few days had been a blur. Mukti couldn't remember ever being so stressed or overworked, even as an IIT Delhi student. The work environment in her department at Infosys was extremely competitive and fast-paced. Everyone was aiming to outdo everyone else and prove themselves the most intelligent and resourceful. Although she was enjoying the thrill of competition, Mukti knew it would take a while before she could adjust to the exhausting effects.
When she reached home, Mukti immediately collapsed onto her bed. Resting her head on one arm, she used the other to pull open her purse and take out her cell phone. There was a missed call and message from her father. She dialed the voicemail code and held the phone to her ear.
"Hi Mukti beta. Lagta hai tum abhi kaam se waapis nahin aayin. Koyi khaas baat nahin hai. Bas khairiyat poochne ke liye phone kiya tha. Aaj raat ko meri ek surgery scheduled hai to main dus baje tak ghar lautoonga. Agar waqt mile to us ke baad call kar lena. Take care of yourself. Bye."
Mukti smiled to herself as she ended the call. She was grateful that her father, Dr. Nitin Deshmukh, despite being a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, always found time to ensure her well-being. With his continued presence in her life, the absence of her mother had never disturbed her much.
Her eyes fell on the calendar above her desk which unceremoniously reminded her that she had scheduled a gym workout for that evening. Despite her body urging her otherwise, Mukti was able to convince herself to overcome her sluggishness. Groaning as she rose from the bed, she packed her gym clothes and left her apartment.
At the gym, she was pleased to find Prem using one of the elliptical trainers. The past two days she had come there to work out in the mornings, and he had been there both times. They had shared light conversation, and Mukti felt herself slowly warming up to him. Prem Basu was a newly appointed associate at M.V. Kini & Co., one of Mumbai's most reputable law firms. He was an only child from a high middle-class Calcutta based family, but had completed his college education in Mumbai. His time spent away from his parents had caused him to become more and more eager to make friends in order to prevent himself from becoming homesick.
Upon noticing her, Prem smiled and waved. Mukti returned the wave and chose an adjacent machine.
"Kya baat hai Mukti?" he asked her as she started her elliptical trainer. "Main yahaan subah aata hoon tab bhi tum yahin hoti ho, aur ab shyam ko aaya hoon tab bhi aa gayin. Lagta hai mujh mein tumhen kuch zyaada hi dilchaspi hai."
"Don't flatter yourself," she replied with a smile. "Mere yahaan aane ka ek fixed schedule hai."
"Hmm…To phir shaayad mujhe hi tumhaari yaad kheench laati hai."
"Prem…" Mukti began in a cautionary tone, "yeh sab chhodo. Koyi kaam ki baat karo."
Prem sighed. "Theek hai. Yeh bataao, tumne Angad Khanna ka naam suna hai?"
"Haan, kisi ameer industrialist ka beta hai. Kyoon?"
"Kyoon ke kal shaam ko uski birthday party hai, jahaan uski engagement bhi hone waali hai. Uske father humaari company ke puraane client hain, to mere boss ko invitation mila hai. Aur unhone mujhe chuna hai apne saath aane ke liye. Mujhe ek guest ko laane ki permission mili hai to main chaahta hoon ke tum mere saath chalo."
"Main?" she questioned, taken aback.
"Main to wahaan kisi ko jaanta nahin. Akele jaaoonga to bore ho jaaoonga. Tum chalogi to koyi baat karne ko to hoga."
"Lekin tumhaare aur bhi to dost hain." Mukti wasn't very fond of parties.
"Tum se baat karne mein zyaada maza aata hai. Nayi nayi dosti hai na." Stopping his machine, Prem wiped his face with a towel. "Chalo na Mukti. Agar mazaa na bhi aaye, to free ki biryani to khaane ko milegi."
Mukti laughed. "Theek hai. Party kis waqt hai?"
"Saat baje. Main saade chhe baje tumhaare ghar pahunch jaaoonga."
"Sounds good." Mukti gave Prem her address, and he left to return home.
The next evening, Mukti was putting on a pair of pink and silver earrings to match with her new pale pink evening gown when the doorbell rang. She opened the door to find Prem looking dashing in a suit.
"Der se aaye ho, but I must say, you clean up pretty well," Mukti commented.
"Yaar tumhen tareef karna bhi nahin aata," he replied. "Yeh suno. Miss Mukti Deshmukh, aap ki khoobsurati ka aaj koyi jawaab nahin. Aisa lagta hai ke chand ka saara noor aap mein sama gaya hai. I will be ever so grateful if you would be my date for tonight."
"Ab chalo bhi." Mukti felt her face turning hot as she playfully pushed him out the door. "Hum late ho jaayenge."
Half an hour later, they entered the well-lit and tastefully decorated function hall. After Prem had introduced her to his boss, they both headed to the appetizer table. As they stood there, sampling some of the delicacies, Prem pointed out to her the soon-to-be-engaged couple, Angad Khanna and Mishty Mittal.
Angad stood in the center of the hall sipping champagne with his friends. Standing next to him, Mishty glowed with happiness as she kept glancing up at him. As Angad turned to accept congratulations from a friend who had just joined them, Mukti finally had a clear view of him.
She had to admit that he was a very handsome man. Dressed in a black tuxedo, his tall figure appeared dignified and confident. His restrained smile and intense, dark eyes gave him a mysterious look. He wore an expensive Rolex watch and a golden chain and pendant around his neck.
The pendant caught Mukti's attention as it seemed very familiar. She took a few steps forward until its design came into focus. It was a unique symbol. Within a large circle was embedded a triangle, within that was a star, and within that a circular bright blue colored gem.
Mukti clutched the identical pendant around her neck in shock. How could this be possible?
"Aap ne aaj tak mujh se yeh baat chhupaayi ke main aap ki beti nahin hoon?" Mukti yelled into the phone. "Meri zindagi ki saari buniyaad ek jhoot par hai. How could you do this to me, Papa?"
Dr Deshmukh's voice trembled on the other line. "Mukti…tum…please samajhne ki koshish karo. Mujhe tumhaari hifaazat ke liye tum se yeh sachchayi chhupaani padi."
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