Posted: 21 June 2008 at 1:49am | IP Logged
Maithili's return home
The second she stepped outside the airport, she felt a hot breeze rush towards her face. Until this moment, she hadn't quite realized how much she missed home. Until she had held her father in a tight embrace, feeling as safe as only he could make her feel, Maithili had forgotten how much she needed that comfort, even as a grown adult. "I missed you so much, Papa," she said into his ear. She knew he was too choked to say anything.
His daughter meant the world to Kamal Aggarwal. After all, she was all he had. His wife Pallavi Aggarwal died years ago. They initially had a difficult marriage due to Pallavi's stubbornness, but after Pallavi changed her ways, their love blossomed until they had Maithili. When Maithili was 6 months old, Pallavi died in a car accident. Kamal cherished his daughter and gave her all his time and energy. Though he wanted to give her all the comforts she deserved, he didn't want to spend all of his time on making money. There wasn't a day when Maithili didn't wish she didn't have a mother or at least a sister, but she never told him that. She always hid from her father the desperate loneliness she felt as a child, despite having a few friends and her father's undivided love. She grew up reading books and living in an imaginary world. It was only after her past two relationships failed before they could become anything that Maithili realized how difficult it had become for her to trust someone. She was always wary, always guarded, and made sure nobody could enter her inner world. She needed to let go sometimes, she understood that, but it wasn't so easy to actually do it.
Maithili and Kamal were being driven home, and father and daughter were sitting in the back seat together. "Why are you being so quiet beta," Kamal asked, interrupted Maithili's quiet thoughts. "I'm just tired," Maithili replied, but quickly sat up and started filling him in on her plans. She had been in touch with some of her contacts about human rights work in Mumbai. Everyone had referred her to Shruti Mehra, saying that her organization was the finest in Mumbai. Maithili was due to meet Mrs. Mehra for an interview the following week. As she filled Kamal in on all of this, Kamal remarked, "you are still the same! When are you going to take some time off to spend with your poor old father, hm? You see how fat I am becoming from all the lack of exercise." Even as he said that to tease her, he thought to himself that he was proud of her for the hard-working, honest, and conscientious woman she had become. Maithili smiled at her jovial father's usual self-deprecating jokes, jabbing him playfully in his tummy and hugging him once again. "It's good to be home, papa. And I'll never leave you again," she said.
* * *
In the past week, Maithili had met up with a couple of her childhood friends. She couldn't figure out if they changed or if she did, but she couldn't stand them anymore. She found them petty, annoying, and full of inane worries about their routines and daily lives. She started to feel claustrophobic. Maybe it was a bad idea to leave everything she had to come to Mumbai where she didn't even have a job yet. What was she going to do? This week she had spent her mornings on unsuccessful morning jogs with her dad who always convinced her to stop jogging after about 10 minutes and to walk along with him instead. Not that she minded the walk. But after a couple of days, he was back to his work and she was starting to feel bored. Thank god that she had the interview at Sahitya Advocacy Group (SAG) tomorrow.
In the afternoon, it started to rain heavily. Maithili was laying in her bed, looking at her room which was pretty much just the way she had left it. She got up clumsily to pick up her tea and ended up spilling it on the floor. She sighed with annoyance and went to get a washcloth. She started wiping the floor where she'd spilled the tea when she noticed the box of her old diaries under her bed. She pulled out the dusty box, which immediately got her sneezing. She impatiently opened the box, eager to find her thoughts from at least 5 years ago, in which time she felt like so much had happened to radically change who she was. She recognized the green journal at the top of the box, it was the last journal she used before she left India. She opened it up to find the first entry dated February 19, 2003. She quickly glanced through the bound notebook, which was now slowly starting to fall apart after remaining in a dusty box for 5 years.
Aditya Mehra. Aditya Mehra filled up more space on these pages than he needed to. Why did she spend so much energy writing angrily about this guy? It amused her now, to see the vitriolic tone in which she had "diagnosed" his problems. She had been unrelenting in her criticisms of him. Suddenly, the words 'Aditya Mehra' transformed into the image of him in front of her eyes. The image came to her slowly, hazily. She remembered his hair the most, the way it was slightly overgrown and falling in front of his forehead. His eyes were always so confident, probably over-confident, and he carried himself with a high degree of smugness wherever he went. How many times she had met those very eyes, in anger, contempt, and the kind of hatred that is utterly juvenile. What was it about those eyes that she still remembered their intensity now, years later? There was something distinctly invasive about those eyes. When he looked at her, she felt as if he was stealing away parts of her. Can perception work like that, she had wondered. The sound of thunder outside refocused Maithili's thoughts. She shook her head and smiled slightly to herself, mildly reprimanding herself for getting carried away in nostalgia. She thought to herself that she sure as hell won't be running into Aditya Mehra anymore, for who knew where he was in the world after all this time, and she put the journal back into the box and pushed it right under the bed.
* * *
Maithili looked at herself in the mirror, focusing her attention on her crisp, dark grey suit. She needed some sort of colour, she told herself, and quickly grabbed a turquoise blue silk scarf and heavy beaded necklace before heading out of her room.
"Good morning, papa," she said cheerily as she said sat down at the dining table. "Good morning beta, you look great," Kamal said as he smiled reassuringly at her. "Ready for your interview?" he asked.
"Absolutely," said Maithili with confidence. In her own thoughts, Maithili wondered about the challenges of working in a completely different context than she had before. Laws were different in India, and though she did her initial training here, she would have to do a lot of research to catch up. But she was sure she could handle it, given all of the experience she had.
"Are you sure you don't want me to drop you off?" Kamal asked, interrupting her worries.
"I'm sure. I'll drive myself, I know where their office is," she said, reassuringly adding that that she hasn't been gone for that long, and she can still drive herself around in Mumbai.
As Maithili waited at the reception, she noted that Mrs. Mehra was indeed a very busy woman. Through her research, Maithili had found out that Shruti Mehra had a long history of doing advocacy work. Not only was she an experienced lawyer, she had also written extensively about the challenges of human rights work in India. For all her fame, very little was known to Maithili about her personal life. Her father had told her that Shruti Mehra was the daughter-in-law of Suyesh and Parvati Mehra, who used to do business with the Aggarwals back in the day. She knew that she had been married to a Sameer Mehra who met an early death. But did she have any children? Did they work with her? Maithili had no idea. Before she could wander off in her thoughts, Mrs. Mehra's secretary invited her in for the interview.
Shruti noticed through the glass doors to her office that Maithili had a confidence and grace that reminded her of something, but she couldn't place her finger on it. Maithili greeted her cordially before Shruti started a casual interview with her. She quickly learned that Maithili had sophisticated training, a sharp intelligence, as well as valuable experience. They clicked well, and Shruti immediately offered her the job without any second thoughts. Maithili was to begin training the next day as one of the lawyers in the company. Shruti informed her that her duties would also include research and outreach work so she can come up to speed on what was going on locally in Mumbai.
Pleased with the interview, Maithili walked outside to her car. She remembered that she had parked far away from the building. There was no guest parking available there this morning, and she had been asked by the watchman to park in the next street. "Great," she thought to herself sarcastically as she walked in full business attire in hot weather, wearing heels. As she walked, a small breeze rushed up against her. Though the breeze was actually warm, when it rushed to Maithili's face, she anticipated it with a smile, high on thoughts about her exciting new job with one of the best lawyers in the country. In that moment, Maithili was as much a grown woman as she was a child. She was dressed like a professional lawyer, which she was, and yet, here she was, extending her chin slightly into the breeze with her face tilted slightly backward, her eyes closed, and with a grin on her face. The breeze didn't stop at her face, of course, and rustled through her long, flowing hair. If looks could be read, Maithili's face showed an immediate and inspired confidence mixed with naivet. She was a visual contradiction to anyone who looked at her at that moment. In a busy Mumbai street, not many people would stop to look at that.
But there was one man who noticed. Who looked at her from a hundred feet away, transfixed by what he saw. He could recognize that face anywhere. It was a face that had led him to many an emotion, though the most common emotions he had expressed visibly were annoyance and anger. He could be anything towards her, anything but dispassionate. He couldn't ignore her. He never could then, and even today, after 5 years, he was jolted by her sudden reappearance. She looked so different, as if she had changed, and yet, so familiar. Suddenly his cell phone rang rudely and he instinctively grabbed it to shut it off. His eyes darted about, trying to follow her, but he had lost her by then. She had disappeared. Maithili Aggarwal had inexplicably disappeared yet again. What if they had come face to face? What would it have been like? He wondered if she had changed from the stubborn young woman she used to be. But then, to be fair, he was not a basket of roses himself back then, either. He used to go out of his way to irritate her sometimes, just to see anger flash across her face and to hear her articulate insults. He loved to get a reaction out of her, and he had found it so sexy that a girl could stand up to him that much when all the other girls in college were busy swooning over him. Even then, he could've admitted to himself that he was attracted to her, but to do so would not befit Aditya Mehra. "Sometimes, I can really tell what an arrogant jerk I can be," he thought to himself, smiling.
His mobile rang again.
"Adi? I asked you to bring those papers over an hour ago, and you're still not here. If you wanted me to sign them so urgently, you could've asked me at home last night, beta."
"Sorry, Mamma. I'm right outside your office, actually. I just got… distracted for a moment."
Shruti teased him, "Distracted? Really? Ever since you became the so-serious Mr. Aditya Mehra, M.D. of Prism Industries, you have almost forgotten how to get distracted, I thought. Anyway, listen, I just finished some interviews and this is the best time for you to come in and get those papers signed."
"Okay, be there in a moment. And anyway, as usual the guest parking is full, so I've had to park across the street. Although I'm glad I parked here today… I guess," Adi stuttered, having lost his balance slightly. He shut his phone and safely returned it to his pocket as he headed across the street.
Edited by --arti-- - 22 June 2008 at 10:58pm