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3 BOLTS OF LIGHTENING
The night was silent and eerie. Only the occasionally barking of dogs and the pitter patter of rain drops falling from the tree could be heard. The light from the street lamp got reflected on her tired face.
Archana sighed as she sat up straight for a while. Her back was aching now after sitting in this same position since morning, on the steps of the chawl. The rain had made it all the more damp, as water continued to trickle down on the steps owing to the bad condition of the roof. Thank goodness it had stopped raining now, she thought. At least she wasn't that wet as before.
She put her head on her bag which was kept on her lap, and closed her eyes. She had been sitting here since morning without eating anything, and now she felt very weak, thanks to the fever of the day before. She wanted to sleep, but her aching hand did not let her. When she had entered the chawl this morning, Savita Aai, who had been standing at the tap line, had stopped her. She had touched her feet, tried to be as respectful and apologetic as possible, had cajoled her, pleaded her, begged her, but Aai had not relented. She had gone hoarse shouting at Archana in front of all the neighbours- calling her unmentionable adjectives and quite plainly telling her to leave. But Archana hadn't left, requesting Savita Aai to just let her meet Manav once. In the end, an exasperated Savita Aai had given her a hard shove, and she had fallen quite badly, her arm under her. None of the neighbours had come to her help for fear of Savita Aai.
Back to the present, she wiped her tears as she remembered the humiliating morning, when Aai had not allowed her to even enter the chawl. She caressed her elbow, it pained when she moved it. She needed to take a good look at it to know whether it was a sprain, a fracture or something else. But where? And how? Savita Aai hadn't opened the door since morning!
Her thoughts went to Manav. Where was he? He hadn't come to her rescue when she was being slaughtered by Aai. She hadn't even seen him as yet. Maybe he was working late, she thought. But even then, how come he had not come to know that she was back? News in these circles travelled fast, she knew that well by now. Much as she hated to admit after all the bravado she had shown in the morning in front of her family members about handling Savita Aai, the truth was that she really needed Manav right now. She didn't think she was in a position to handle Savita Aai alone, and only he could manage her.
She looked above at the Deshmukh house on the first floor. It was dark, probably everyone had gone to sleep. The sky was rumbling a little. She shuddered to think that it would rain again. She had already developed a cold and her legs felt cramped. She didn't want to get wet again.
She looked at the locket she had been holding in her hands. It was the one that Manav had given to her, the one which he had said helped him make difficult decisions and stick to them. She clenched it tightly in her fist now, as if trying to derive strength from it.
"Where are you Manav?" she muttered helplessly to herself. "Please come back soon before I pass out on these steps.."
It was the end of a tired day for Manav. He walked back, his umbrella in one hand. This particular umbrella had been given to him by Archana once, and she had asked him to keep it with him at all times. Till date, he was following it, he thought.
He jumped over the puddles on the road to avoid dirtying his clothes. Aai would shout at him if he dirtied his clothes excessively. As it was, she had become very short tempered and was always cross with him these days. He didn't want to get into trouble by instigating her.
His head had started pulsating again. He knew by now that in a few minutes, it would develop into a full blown head ache and then he would have difficulty in falling asleep. He groaned. He wanted to have a good night sleep. He was tired of working so hard in Girishji's garage the whole day and then his own garage at night. His garage, which he had leased out to be used as a godown to make some money till the new machinery was brought and the place repaired, had a leaking roof. He had climbed on top of it and repaired it himself instead of getting labourers over. It had saved him some money and he was glad of it. These days, owing to the impending expenses, he was saving every bit of money that he could, else he could not get sleep at night worrying about money. As it was, he had been stressed ever since he had come to know about his tumour and the need for what the doctor called a 'craniotomy'.
As he thought about his circumstances, he was reminded vaguely of a story that his teacher had told him when he was small- something called the wishing tree. He sighed. "How I wish there was a wishing tree for real!" he muttered to himself. "I have so much to wish for at the moment, but alas!"
It wasn't just that. He had weird dreams nowadays. Sometimes he saw doctors planning to cut open his head with a chain saw and take the tumour out, without giving him an anaesthesia, since they had to do cost cutting in his surgery. Sometimes he saw the bank officials screaming for money from outside the OT. Many times he saw his late mother in his dreams. Often he would see her crying, wishing that she hadn't left him so early, in deep pain at the state of her only son. Sometimes he would see her sitting close to him, caressing his head, warding off the people who were demanding money from him. One day she told him that she had talked to Ganpati Bappa for him, and he would take care of Manav now.
Manav smiled. He missed his mother a lot these days.
He turned at the end of the street and walked upto the chawl. It was quite dark. The dogs whom he gave chapattis everyday were now following him. "I'm coming, I'm coming!" he said, smiling at them. He lifted his head up and was struck by the scene ahead.
Could it be true?- he thought, as he watched the lonely figure sitting on the steps. No it couldn't! Of course, he was having hallucinations! Or maybe it was another of those weird dreams he saw every night. He rubbed his eyes, took a step forward, and was rewarded as the full moon chose to come out of the clouds at that moment, spreading its magical silver light in its full glory, showing Manav the spectacle that he had secretly daydreamt, but have never thought would come true in front of him.
"Archana!?!" said Manav. He took some steps ahead towards her, walking as if in a daze.
She had seen him coming too, and stood up as he came closer. She studied him closely. He looked tired, but the shock on his face on seeing her there was clear. She tried to smile at him, "How are you Manav?" she asked in a small voice.
He ignored her question. "What are you doing here at this time of night.. and.. and.. what is all this?" he asked, indicating her bag and suitcase, when suddenly it became clear to him- Archana had come home.
HOME!?! Home as in.. HIS home? Or rather, THEIR home?
Archana didn't know what to say. Manav too looked at a loss for words. "You, here?" he asked finally.
"I was waiting for you to come. I wanted to speak to you."
"Why are you sitting here? You should have gone and waited for me above." he said.
She bit her lip. "Aai didn't let me.." she said, after a little hesitation.
He understood. Aai must have shouted at her, he thought. "Come in." he said, picking up her suitcase. "It might rain any moment now. We can talk inside. That would be much better than making another tamasha here at this time of night." He said.
She looked at him gratefully. "But Aai?"
"I will handle her." He said grimly. "Come in." She tried to pick up her other bag, forgetting that she had hurt her hand, and gave a small yelp.
The yelp made Manav jump. "What happened?" he asked. "Are you okay?"
"Yes." She lied. "Let's go."
A very sleepy Savita woke up to answer the doorbell at the Deshmukh house.
"Dinner is in the kitchen." She said sleepily. "Why do you come so late everyday.."
Suddenly she opened her eyes wide. Not again! Her sleep vanished at once.
"What are you doing here?" she asked Archana angrily, raising her voice. "Didn't I tell you to go home and not pester us?"
Archana felt nervous. Instinctively, she edged behind Manav.
"Shh' Aai, the kids will wake up." Reminded Manav, entering inside and putting the luggage down.
It didn't have any effect on Savita. "Why is this girl in my house Manav? I don't want to see her face even!" she said angrily. Archana tried to say something but Savita Aai silenced her. "CHUP! I'm talking to my son, not to you!"
Manav tried to keep his calm. "Aai, do you know it was raining outside? How could you let Archana sit there, that too at this time of night?" he asked.
Savita looked at him with clear irritation. "I didn't tell her to sit outside. I told her very clearly- go home! We aren't taking you in! If despite that she chose to sit outside and make herself ill, how is it my fault? How can I just let someone gate crash at my house? Of course I have to drive them away, and I did exactly that! Rather than questioning me, you should scold your foolish wife who was sitting outside like a beggar!" said Savita angrily. She looked at Archana who was looking very upset. "And you- don't you have any shame or self-respect? I told you so many times to go, but you are still sticking to us like a leech! And now you have filled my son's ears with nonsense- making yourself a victim and me the criminal for no reason!"
Archana's eyes filled with tears as she heard this.
"Aai, that will be enough!" said Manav grimly. "Leave the matter to me, I will settle this. Please!"
"Please leave this matter to me, Aai! I'll handle this! Please don't fight! Let me atleast hear the whole story. I promise I'll take care of it. The kids are sleeping, let them sleep. Where is Baba?"
"Must be celebrating in some gutter with his drinks!" snorted Savita. "And I know what you are going to do." Said Savita bitterly. "You will let her stay in this house- knowing very well that I don't want this." She wrung her face to cry.
"Aai.. please listen to me.. I will not go against the wishes of the family.. really.. this house is not just mine, its OURS."
"Then tell her to GET OUT!" said Savita angrily. "If you really care for the people in the house, you must listen to us!"
"Aai yes, I will do what you say, but at least let me LISTEN to what she wants to say! I promise I won't take any reckless decision. Please, please go now!"
Giving an angry look to Archana, Savita walked away. "Dinner is on the kitchen counter!" she said in a loud voice as she walked away. "Warm it and eat it!"
Manav shook his head as she went out. For a few minutes, he held his hands to his head. "Are you alright Manav?" said Archana in a small voice.
"Uh.. hmm.." he said, nodding. He lifted his head to see that Archana was shivering slightly. "Are you feeling cold?" he asked with concern.
Archana nodded. "I got wet in the evening. I'm still moist.. and the fan.."
"Oh, then.. go and change first.. " said Manav, a little uncomfortably, looking at his bedroom, where he and Vedant slept these days. Aai and Vandita slept in the other bedroom. She would have to change in the washroom. "And.. did you eat anything?" he asked. She shook her head.
"Oh well, go and change first, then we'll talk."
She nodded and walked towards the bedroom. As he watched her go, a swarm of thoughts raced through his mind. Why had she come back? What was the reason for this sudden change in decision? Hadn't she been okay with the divorce till yesterday morning? He suddenly remembered the way she'd cried in front of the judge. OMG, had the misunderstanding got cleared- he wondered. Somewhere inside, his heart told him that she had come back cos she had realized he was innocent- there was no other explanation. His heart was beating faster now, and threatened to jump out of his chest. He controlled himself from dreaming, but then thought, who knows, Varsha had really called home and explained things, or maybe she had come back home? A small hopeful smile crossed his face, he couldn't wait for Archana to come back and answer all the questions which were haunting his brain like ghosts.
But what about his Aai- what would he say to her if she protested? How to convince her to accept Archana?
Oh whatever, as of now, the girl must have some food inside her, he thought, and entered the kitchen.
She entered the bedroom which had been hers once upon a time, dragging her luggage with her. The room was still the same as it had been when she had come into the house as a new bride- the same big bed, the same cupboard and the same ironing cum dressing table cum newspaper rack. But still it seemed different. Though it was dark, the signs of her long standing absence were clearly visible. The room didn't have the womanly touch any more. It seemed like a bachelor's pad. The dressing table now had a load of books on it. Shirts were hanging on the hooks on the wall. She almost tripped over a slipper. She heard some snoring and was scared at first, but on close inspection, noticed that it was Vedant, not Aai. Heaving a sigh of relief, she headed to the bathroom to change.
She came back sometime later, sniffing from her cold, and switched off the fan. Almost at the same moment, she heard the whistle of the pressure cooker. Good Lord, was Manav cooking something at this hour? She hurried into the kitchen to find Manav opening the cooker. "What are you doing?" she said, horrified and uncomfortable to see him cook when she was there.
"Just made some khichdi quickly." Said Manav, as Archana took out two plates. "Aai had kept food for only one person, and that is me.. so.."
"You could have asked me to cook.." She said, as he served the khichdi in plates for the two of them, with a dollop of ghee on the top, along with the rest of the warmed up meal that his Aai had kept.
"Oh its okay." He said, leading her to the living room and sitting down on the diwan to eat. "You must be tired and hungry."
He gave a small smile, which made her feel strangely better. The encounter reminded her of her first night in the house after marriage, when Manav had not let her work. She started eating. "Do you come home late every night nowadays?"
"Yes." He said. "There is a lot of work in the garage." She opened her mouth to ask more questions but he stopped her. "Eat first, talk later."
She nodded. Both ate quietly, taking occasional peeks at each other. It had been MONTHS since they had eaten together, so it was no wonder that this simple dinner seemed like the best and most satisfying meal in years. Once or twice Manav caught Archana smiling at him with tears in her eyes. He asked her what was wrong, and she simply shook her head and continued to eat. It would need time to sink in that she was back at HER home, she thought to herself. She looked out of the window. There was thunder and rumbling, and it was raining cats and dogs now. She shuddered to think of what would have happened if Manav had not come to her rescue. Now she was at home, cosy and warm, eating hot khichdi with lots of ghee, and with Manav in front of her. There were a lot of things she wanted to say to him, and couldn't wait.
"Ouch!" said Manav, breaking her chain of thoughts, shrugging his hands. "Eat slowly," she said. "Its very hot." Inwardly she debated on feeding him with her own two hands, doing foo foo at every morsel.
Manav smiled a little and continued to eat. They had almost finished when they saw Vedant standing in the doorway in his pajamas and T-shirt, his hair tousled, looking very bedraggled.
"Arey Vedant.. how come you are awake?" said Manav, a tad uncomfortable suddenly.
"I woke up to use the bathroom, and saw the lights in the living room." He said, trying not to look at Archana. He cleared his throat. "I guess you want me to sleep on the diwan today?"
Manav looked puzzled, but then realized that he was talking of vacating the bedroom for Archana and him and sleeping on the diwan (like old days). "Umm yes Vedant, I wanted that." He admitted a little sheepishly.
Vedant shrugged. "Fine." He went back inside and brought out his pillow and sheets. Manav got up to keep the plates in the kitchen. Archana was about to follow him, but then stayed behind with Vedant, who was putting the sheet on the diwan. She offered to help him, but he waved her off politely, made his bed himself, switched off the light and lay down. He didn't talk about her return or show any reaction at all, except for enquiring where she would be sleeping. Archana felt bad.
There Manav was signaling her. "We can talk inside," he said. She nodded and walked inside, butterflies in her stomach. She wondered whether she had been as nervous as she was today, EVER in her life.
She entered the room which was only dimly lit. Manav was standing with his back to her. Quietly she closed the door and turned to him.
Manav turned. "Now tell me what is all this?"
"What is what?"
"Umm.. this..?" he said, pointing to her luggage.
Archana gulped. Now was the moment.
"Manav, I.. I don't want to divorce you."
She looked up as she watched out for his reaction.
His heart lit up. Golden words, he thought. These were the words which he had wanted to hear since a long long time. He pinched himself on his arm to make sure he was not dreaming now. He saw her looking at his arm and smiling, and he gave a small smile in return.
"Manav I want to give up one more chance to our relationship." Archana continued confidently. "I vote that we forget everything that happened in the past and start things from a clean slate, again."
Manav was confused. "Forget everything?"
Archana looked at the ground. "Whatever happened between us in the last few months was sad and unfortunate. It had shaken my foundation and my faith in marriages. But finally I have managed to bring myself out from under the debris Manav and think about the future. Now I.. I.. I want to put the past, YOUR past behind me and look ahead positively.. will you help me in this?"
She looked at him hopefully, and felt a little scared to see the look of confusion and hurt on Manav's face. He stayed silent for a while, then took in a deep breath.
"This means you still don't believe me." He said, trying to hide the pain in his voice. "You still think Ajit's story is true."
Archana felt uncomfortable. "Manav, I said na, let's put the matter behind us now.." she said.
"This means you still don't believe me or respect me." He continued, his voice a little louder now. "You still think I'm a scoundrel and a cheapo who frequents brothels and cheated you."
He looked agitated and hurt now. Archana wrung her hands helplessly. "No.. no.. its actually.. umm.."
"If you have no faith in me and still don't believe my words, then your return accounts to nothing." He said gravely. "Marriages are based on love, trust and respect. The first component was never there from your side. And now that the other two are not there too.. on what basis do you think this marriage will work? When you still think I'm so bad, why have you come back to me? You were going ahead with divorce for these same reasons, right? Why did you back out suddenly?"
He looked at Archana with irritated eyes. She was looking down.
She looked up with tear filled eyes. "Manav, why didn't you tell me?"
He was taken aback. "Tell you what?"
"About your impending surgery."
That was the first mini bolt of lightning that fell on Manav that night. He softened a little. "Who told you?"
"That does not matter. What matters is that you didn't tell me. Manav did you really think I wouldn't have been concerned or affected if I had come to know? Do you really think I'm so heartless, that I would be insensitive to the grief of my own husband? Do you really assume I don't think about you?"
Manav was perplexed. "Its not like that." He stuttered. "Its just that, I.. I.. didn't tell anyone, not just you.."
"You told Tarun." She said in an accusatory manner, wiping her tears. "And I know very well why you didn't tell everyone else as well. Manav, I feel like the worst wife right now, who wasn't there with her husband when he needed her."
The words rang a bell in Manav's ears. He stood motionless for a minute. "Aah!" he said, nodding his head. "So you have come back because I'm sick."
Archana stopped crying, looking at him squarely for a minute. "No no Manav.. its not what you are thinking.. I will explain.."
"Well, I think I figured it out, so there's actually no need to explain." He said quietly. "You have come to know I'm sick, and therefore have come back to take care of me, feeling that its your duty as a wife. Hai na?" He shrugged and muttered a few words to himself. "And here I was thinking that you have come back cos you have realized I was never wrong, cos the misunderstanding got cleared up, and I can afford to dream of a future ahead. I didn't know it would be so shortlived."
"Manav.. its not like that.."
Manav silenced her. "Tell me one thing- you were ready to divorce me till yesterday morning, right?"
"And suddenly your feelings changed bcos you came to know of my surgery. So what else do you want me to call it except charity?"
"They didn't change Manav.." but suddenly she stopped speaking. Charity?
"I know you are a very kind hearted person Archana and always wish well for others, want them to do well. It is bcos of these qualities that I respect you, and even recommended you in an NGO." Manav said grimly. "But I didn't know that you would become such a good social worker that one day you would apply your morals on your disgusting husband too, the one who you think ruined your life, and try to help him also. You really deserve an applause."
"Manav its not like that!" Archana cried out, but Manav had turned away. "Thank you for thinking about me Archana, I really appreciate that you were worried about me, I will treasure it as a good memory of what you tried to do for me, but I really do not think that a relationship can last on such reasons of pity. I am not used to taking charity in this way- I've never done it, not even when I was 16 and had debts to be paid."
"Manav," said Archana, shocked. "If I do something for you, its not charity, its responsibility- my duty."
"No, its not." Said Manav quietly. "If my WIFE, my BROTHER, my MOTHER had done something like that it would have been responsibility, but YOU have never accepted yourself as my wife, till today. You were already perked up to give me divorce till yesterday- ready to become a stranger. We were already separated, with only the legal bond remaining. If I was declared to be ill at the last moment, you aren't obligated to return to me. You have no responsibilities towards me. A duty is worth fulfilling only when truly heartfelt. And anyway Archana, you hated me and were disgusted with me, and thus your feeling for me is not any different than the humanitarian sympathy that you have for everyone- a beggar, a pet or a child- just interpreted differently by you since I am unfortunately still your husband. Though I always highly appreciated you, and still do, but.. I didn't expect you to base a decision of a lifetime on such emotional thinking."
"Manav, its not so.. yes, I haven't really behaved like a wife to you, but I've always considered you my husband and.. I regret everything that you had to go through everything alone cos of my aloofness and our separation, I just want to set things right now.."
"Archana, why are you feeling guilty? I didn't suffer because of YOU, nor is it your business to set things right! Its not your fault that I fell ill during the interim period of divorce! Stop being an emotional and ethical fool! Relationships don't work on such misguided sense of responsibility. Right now you have come back to fulfill your duty and correct your 'wrongs', six months later when I recover and your emotional upheaval calms down, you will start feeling trapped here. And I don't want you to go back then, cos if it happens I won't be able to pick myself again. I've recovered with great effort. Please spare me and yourself all the grief Archana. Go back home."
"Manav, will you listen to me!!!" said Archana, in tears now. She went up and caught his hand. "I came back cos I LOVE YOU!!!"
That was the first bolt of lightening for the evening.
At first Archana thought that he hadn't heard, cos he showed no reaction. But then slowly she could see him turning, his eyes open with shock. "Come again?" he said, sure that he had heard something wrong.
She wiped her tears. "Yes, Manav," she said. "Its not just about you being sick, but its also about me. I was always confused regarding my feelings for you. After you signed for divorce and gradually it sunk in that we would be separated forever, I naturally started feeling that I had to stop it. But when I came to know about your illness.. I..I.. it triggered me off in a way, I could not just stay away from you.. I.."
Manav was still staring.
She felt embarrassed. "Manav, I really want to put everything behind us now.. I have seen your goodness and your commitment and they encourage me to trust you..please.."
He was silent for some more time. She waited with bated breath for him to speak.
"Tell me one thing- yes or no answer." He said after a while. "Do you trust all that I told you about Ajit or not..???"
Archana gulped. "I.. I.."
"Yes or no."
"I don't know.."
"YES OR NO?"
"No." she said finally.
He let out a disappointed sigh. "Manav, I know inspite of all that, that you are a good person." She said hurriedly, trying to cover up. "I know you have changed. I know you won't cheat me. I know you love me."
"Changed? And me?" said Manav with a smirk. "Why should I change Archana? When I have not done anything wrong why should I change?!?"
There we go again- thought Archana. He just doesn't want to admit it!
"And I'm actually shocked to hear such big words from your mouth." Said Manav. "In the last 4 months, you hardly were interested in pursuing this relationship, rather it was I who was always after you, trying to talk and diminish the distance between us. Hardly two weeks ago, I asked you whether you had even a little concern and feelings for me. At that time you were sooo disgusted that you refused it and insulted me in front of everyone. And now, in two weeks, you have suddenly fallen in love! Wow!"
"What is weird in this?" she said defiantly.
"Nothing, just that it sounds unbelievable, that in two weeks you fell in love with someone whom you absolutely detested for months earlier for some very strong reasons. Forget love, two weeks ago you hated the sight of my face so much, that inspite of all my begging, you weren't even willing to give me a chance to prove my innocence!" Said Manav, a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
"I can explain.."
"Even I can explain why you started feeling for me greatly post my signing the divorce papers." he piped in. "in these 13 days, I have gone through so many problems that you started feeling sorry for your poor husband- you tried to get involved each time when I had problems. Right?"
Archana stared in shock. "No..! Its just that.. I was angry with you earlier, but in these past few days I thought it over and realized you aren't so bad after all, and I was punishing you far too much when you'd already proved you are truly committed to me.. I missed you, I felt bad each time something happened to you, it is difficult to see a loved one in pain, I controlled my feelings but finally, they got the better of me!
"LOVE?" said Manav incredulously. "PAIN? What pain? My pain is making you feel bad and guilty right now, so you feel its love! Well, I have to really credit you for such 'LOVE' Archana, that is so sensitive to my present physical pain, but has coolly ignored all my PAIN in the last 4 months- emotional pain, HEARTACHE- here." He pointed to his heart. "WHERE WAS YOUR LOVE ALL THESE DAYS WHEN I KEPT ASKING YOU TO COME BACK, WHEN I TOLD YOU REPEATEDLY THAT I NEEDED YOU?? WHERE WAS YOUR LOVE WHEN EMBARASSING QUESTIONS WERE BEING ASKED TO ME IN COURT? WHERE WAS YOUR LOVE WHEN I WAS BEING HUMILIATED IN PUBLIC? DOES ONLY PHYSICAL PAIN INVOKE YOUR LOVE, REST OF IT DOES NOT?"
Archana had no answer. She stood quietly with her head low.
"13 days ago, you didn't even want to give me a fair chance, and now you say you love me..." repeated Manav.
Manav continued. "It just proves that everything I did for you in the last 4 months, my feelings, commitment, my honest attempts, the type of person I come across, my pleas to you- all have no value, right? They were unsuccessful in drawing you to me. You hated me at the end of it and wanted to divorce me. But 13 days of misery succeeded in tugging your heart strings and pulling you back. Oh I understand now, this is 'LOVE'- in which a sick, troubled, poor Manav has more value than a healthy, happy Manav. A Manav who sits and cries gets his wife back, but a Manav who fights the world for his wife gets NOTHING."
Archana did not know how to explain. "Manav.. I.. I.. I have always loved you.. valued you for what you are...not just now but always.. all the time.. how do I explain.. i was just too weak.."
But Manav was shaking his head. "You disappoint me everytime Archana." He said sadly. "I always wanted you to come back, but not for such reasons. Its not your fault though. Maybe my actions never touched you enough. But everyone gets affected by a sorry story. Precisely that is why my lawyer asked me to make a suicide attempt to prevent you from taking divorce. He knew that like most other women, you would also come back. He was not wrong. But I told him, a marriage on such foundations never lasts long. Since we have neither trust, love or understanding, so I really wonder how long things are going to be hunky dory, unless one of us, or both of us, resort to compromising.. but under present circumstances.."
It was at that time that Manav's phone rang. He took it out from his pocket.. wait a minute.. wasn't that Vinod's number flashing on his screen? He picked up the call.
"Manav, is Archana there?"
"Yes, wait a minute," he handed Archana the phone. "Talk to your Dada."
She looked at the phone hesitatingly. He was surprised. "What? Talk to him!"
"I know what he will say." She said shortly. "He will scold me and demand that I come back."
Manav's eyes widened in horror. "You.."
"I left my home Manav." She said shortly. "I simply walked out when they didn't support my decision to accept you back."
That was the second bolt of lightning that fell on Manav that day.
"You went against your parents?" he said, horrified. "You.. you.."
He couldn't speak. He just looked at her. She indicated the phone. "Talk to Dada." She said.
"Huh.. yeah!" he said, and went out of the room. Archana sat on the bed.
Outside, Manav talked to Vinod on the cell in low hushed tones.
"What is this going on?" he asked Vinod. "First Archana says she doesn't want to divorce and now she is telling she went against her parents and came here?"
"She didn't just go against Aai Baba." Said Vinod bitterly. "It was a full blown drama and an argument as well between her and Manjusha- with lots of sarcasm and unpleasant tones being used. She has created lots of tamasha in these two days."
"I can see another one brewing up here." Said Manav, shaking his head. "My Aai is angry at the idea of her coming back. And even I'm not too pleased at the moment cos of her reasons."
"Don't pretend." Said Vinod angrily. "I know you have instigated her to rebel in some manner! She is chicken hearted and an emotional fool and you took advantage of that! I will see you Manav!"
"Vinod, have you called me to abuse me." Said Manav, raising his voice a little. He then remembered that Vedant was sleeping nearby and tried to calm down. "If you have called me to vent your anger, then please do that tomorrow, I'm in the midst of important conversation at the moment."
"I called to talk to my sister and convince her to come back. My Aai is worried sick for her!"
Manav softened. "What happened to Aai?"
"How does it matter to you? Listen Manav, I'm warning you, send Archu over or else.."
"What will you do ha?" asked Manav. "I have not abducted your sister. She plonked herself on this house. Stop speaking to me in this tone!"
He could hear some commotion in the background, and then an indignant 'give me the phone'. Next moment, Manohar Baba was on the line. "Hello Manav?"
"How are you beta?"
Manohar Baba's soft and affectionate voice felt good to him. "I'm fine Baba.. I mean not fine.. but.. I mean.. yeah.. I'm okay."
"Manav, I know you have your own set of problems at the moment, but we really need you to help us."
Manav was alarmed. "What can I do Baba?"
"Manav, you must have talked to Archana by now. What do you think about it?"
Manav's voice turned grave. "Archana has a big heart and it was thoughtful of her to want to help me, look out for me, she said that she.. she genuinely feels for me and wants to come back.. but.." he could not complete. "Anyway, I really don't know how long her resolve to save this marriage will last, frankly speaking, taking into account the reasons on which she has based her decision- guilt, sympathy, misguided responsibility and some infactuation. Plus there is tension between both the families, and she has come home against your will, sparks are bound to fly any moment now. Even my Aai is angry."
"I agree Manav." Said Manohar Baba. "See beta, I have full sympathy with you, but relationships cannot be made or broken for such reasons or circumstances. I suppose you agree to that."
"Archu's Aai is in a very bad state right now." said Manohar Baba. "She has already got one anxiety attack. She is very worried for her, beta please convince Archana to come back home- you are the only one who can do it right now. She isn't listening to anyone else.
Manav looked at the door of his room. "I will call you in a few minutes Baba." He said thoughtfully, and cut the phone.
He went back to the room. Archana was sitting on bed, with a framed photo in her hands- the one which contained her and Manav along with all the family members- taken on their wedding day. He went and sat near her.
"Your Aai is very worried." He said. "She got an anxiety attack."
Archana's face fell. She lowered her gaze dejectedly.
Both of them sat quietly for some minutes. Finally Manav spoke up. "Archana you need to go home."
She looked at him with unhappy eyes. "I'm at home." She said.
"You know what I mean to say." He said, not facing her. "Your parents are dead worried."
"Even I'm worried for you. And the reason for my worry is more credible. My parents are getting worried needlessly, they know very well that I will be safe with you.."
"No." he said. "Just like you, your parents also don't trust me. Their worry is very much understandable. Its you who is not understandable and nor is your point of view."
"Manav.." she said in a tired voice. "Give me a chance to explain again."
"Fine." He said. "Explain."
"Manav, I have always thought about you, and no one else can take your place." She said softly. "I know it is difficult for you to believe this, cos I have never shown it that way, but it is true. I just realized it late myself. When I understood what it would mean to get separated from you, I started having second thoughts, and then came to know you had not told me about your illness. That made me realize how much harm has been done to our relationship. That is why I have come back, add to it the fact that I feel it is my responsibility to be with you at the moment, just like you have always stood by me. I have always felt that you are my responsibility- simply because I'm bonded to you and no one else- its not a sudden new feeling or anything! I was always like that, bud didn't have the strength to accept it."
Manav nodded with a grim face. "Okay, for a moment I accept what you are saying. But that doesn't change the fact that you don't believe my story against Ajit." Said Manav. "6 months later, after I recover, if he shows you yet some more fake disgusting pictures of mine, you will again believe him, get disgusted and leave me. All your declarations of love will mean nothing then."
"No Manav, its not like that.. I know you are good.. your past does not matter to me now." said Archana. Manav held his head in his hands. "What past.. what bakwaas." He murmured.
"You don't get my point Archana." Said Manav, looking up at her. "You have come back to a marriage you detested because of a sudden emotional outburst, guilt and some mistaken sense of responsibility. Both will fade after a while. There is nothing to HOLD you in matrimony- no love, no trust, no children- nothing! There is no telling how long this marriage will last."
"Its not like that. I have thought it over."
"Add to it the fact that our families are on warring terms. Your mother will get sick if she keeps worrying in this manner and my Aai will set a storm in the house." He said. "It is best for you to go back and the matter to end peacefully over here. I know you are worried for me, but you need not be. I have my whole family with me.."
"Don't lie to me." She said. "I know you haven't told anyone in your house." She said.
"But I will tell them soon." He said. "Its not like I'm hiding it from them. Archana, listen to me, it is late now, go back to your parents in the morning. I will drop you off myself. No need giving everyone, you and me, unnecessary grief. I will manage things. Please go back. It is in the best interest of everyone."
He was silent for a minute, looking at the photo in her lap. He kept looking at it for a long time, as if hypnotized by it, and was startled when a drop of water fell on it. He looked up to see large tears flowing through Archana's cheeks. She was now openly sobbing.
"Archana," he said, utterly horrified. "Why are you crying now?"
She didn't answer, but continued crying. He held her hands softly. "Archana, there there... stop crying now.. please don't cry..."
"Please don't ask me to go." She said, . "Please. If not for YOUR sake, then at least for MY OWN sake, let me stay here with you. At least I will be in peace since I will be close to you and you will be in front of my eyes."
That was the third bolt of lightning for the day.
He didn't know what to say. He fidgeted for a while as she continued weeping silently, then absent mindedly he kept a hand on her shoulder to console her. "Listen," he said uncomfortably, as his hand shook due to her shoulder, as she sobbed. "Listen.. please don't cry, you have had a tiring day, go to sleep here today."
"And tomorrow?" she asked through tear filled eyes.
"Uh.. well.." he mumbled. Instead of answering her question, he put his second hand softly on her shoulder too, and made her lie down on bed gently. "Go to sleep." he said, and went to close the window so the light from the streets wouldn't come in. He then started walking out.
"Where are you going?" she asked, rising a little from bed.
"Yeah, I'm coming." He replied back. He went outside and dialed Vinod.
"Did you talk to Archana?" asked Manohar Baba as soon as he picked up the phone. "Yes, I did," replied Manav. "But she isn't agreeing. She started weeping and I couldn't figure out how to make her understand or send her back. I mean, I can't throw her out of the house! And she isn't willing to go by herself!"
Manohar Baba muttered silently. "All was going so well in the last couple of days and now.. what is going to happen.." he said.
Manav felt bad. "I guess I've made things difficult for all of you.."
"No Manav, please don't apologize, this time its Archana who has made things difficult, not you." Said Manohar Baba. As fair as ever, thought Manav.
"How is Aai?"
"Sleeping." Said Baba. "The doctor gave her sleeping pills."
Manav thought over it. "Baba, you don't worry. Archana will come back home in 4-5 days."
"How can you say that?"
"Baba, Archana loves her mother very much," said Manav. "She can never say no to her mother and always does what her Aai says," he remembered all the old times when Archana had discouraged his advances or not talked to him cos of her Aai. Even when she had shown some positive sign for a moment in the heat of flaring emotions, like at Mahabaleshwar (where she had hugged him), she had stepped back from it later, and gone back to her old, guarded state. Due to this, he had developed high hopes many times and repented later. "You know how Archana is so emotional, just like she came to me running cos I'm sick and she felt it was her duty to be with me, she will go running to her Aai at twice the speed when she comes to know her Aai is sick. I will be totally forgotten then. Her guilt and sympathy for me, coupled with her responsibility talks, are NOTHING in comparison to her genuine LOVE and CONCERN for her mother. Don't worry, she will come back home."
"What are you saying..?"
"Trust me Baba, I know Archana well by now. She is like an emotional pendulum. She swings from one high point to another. There have been moments in the past also when she sometimes expressed a little faith and affection for me, but then contradicted herself again when faced with the reality. She went back to square one each time. That is why her little emotional outbursts have little credibility in my eyes now. Don't worry, right now she is feeling bad and guilty. As her burden lessens, she will think practically about her future, me, about her mother and come back to all of you."
"In the meanwhile, I will tell her to have a grip on her emotions and not take foolish emotional decisions cos of misguided responsibility or in the name of love or sympathy, whatever she wishes to call it. If she doesn't trust me, then irrespective of how honest her intentions and feelings are, it doesn't amount to anything. I can't live with someone who thinks the worst of me. She needs to go back."
Manohar Baba nodded. "I hope what you are saying comes true. Take care." He said and disconnected the call.
Manav stood in the darkness for a few minutes, thinking things over. Finally he went into the kitchen, rolled out a mat and spread it on the floor next to the diwan. He took one of the cushions on the diwan and lay down to sleep, unaware that Archana had been standing near the door all this while. She peeped into the living room, saw Manav sleeping there and trailed back, feeling very let down.
Okay, this part became so long that IF refused to accept it. So I had to break it up. Continued in the next post.
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BREAKING THE ICE
(continued from above)
It was almost 6 o clock when Manav woke up the next morning. He looked into his cell and was startled at the time. How did my alarm not ring, he wondered, scratching his head.
It was then that his attention went to the kitchen. The light was on. He got up and tiptoed in. The sight he saw held him rooted to the spot.
Dressed in a simple yellow and red sari, she was working by herself. She seemed to have taken a bath, her wet hair was carefully parted on one side of her neck, showing her fair back. A lovely smell hung about her, and the tinkle tinkle of her glass bangles could be heard. She was humming a tune by herself, looking out of the window every now and then as the morning light appeared slowly. The diya in the little temple had been lit and flowers had been offered. Everything seemed fresh and perfect.
Oh, how much I've missed all this- thought Manav desperately, feeling weak in the knees, as he inhaled the sweet scent, remembering the old days when he used to stand at the door early in the morning, secretly admiring her in the same way as he was doing now.
She turned suddenly, and saw him standing at the the door. She smiled at him. "You woke up?" she said. "Good. I will make tea for both of us." She said.
"Huh?" he said, out of his daydreams. "I haven't brushed.." he said stupidly, feeling very dirty in front of her.
She gave him a strange look. "Then go and brush!"
He trotted off into his bedroom to go to the bathroom. The bed had been made neatly, and the pillow covers and sheet had been changed. The shirts hanging on the hooks were nowhere to be seen. He opened the cupboard- some were hanging neatly on hangers, and some had been placed in the basket for washing. Archana's sarees and clothes had been accommodated exactly like before, and the cupboard looked neat and tidy. Vedant's books which had been made into a rough pile on the dressing table cum ironing table, were now neatly arranged on the small side table with his pens and stuff. The dressing table had now been cleared. He went and opened one drawer. It contained Archana's bangles, sindoor, and a box containing ear rings and similar stuff. The other drawer contained his things and his medicines. The shoes and slippers lying about were nowhere to be seen. He looked on top of the cupboard- Archana's suitcase and bag were kept there. Indirectly she had made it clear- she intended to stay now, not go away, that she wasn't a guest. He remembered how he had told Manohar Baba that she would definitely be back in 4-5 days, and gulped.
He looked around the room again. It looked as if she had never been away. When had she got the time to do all this?- he wondered, as he entered the bathroom thoughtfully.
He came back a little while later. The aroma of freshly made tea hit his nostrils. Just like old days!- he thought.
Oh Lord! This is not right!- he panicked to himself. If he got used to all this, he would have trouble getting over all of it again.
"I've made the tea." She said to him suddenly, turning with two cups in her hands. He was stunned. How did she come to know he was there. Uncomfortably he accepted the tea from her. "Why are you working so early.."
"As if you don't know me." She said, smiling. "I always get up this early and start my day."
He nodded slowly. He sipped his tea thoughtfully and ended up burning his tongue. "Ouch!" he yelled.
Archana was scared. "Are you alright?" she asked. He nodded sheepishly. "You seem to be lost every since you woke up.."
"Yes.. I.." he hesitated a little. "You.. unpacked all your things.."
"Yes." Said Archana calmly. "So?"
"Nothing." he said. "Umm.. did you shut off my alarm in the morning?"
She giggled. "Yes," she said. "It was ringing so loudly, Vedant was tossing and turning in bed with his pillow over his ear. You on the other hand, were too tired to wake up.. so I shut it."
"You should have let it ring." He said. "I would have got up by myself a few minutes later- I get more tired these days so keep lolling in bed sometimes. Waking up early is a routine of mine- I have to fill buckets.."
"Oh that's not a problem." She said easily. "I did it already," she said. He was stunned. He looked into the corner. The filled buckets were kept there.
"You get ready after drinking tea," she said, sipping her tea, talking as if everything was normal, and nothing had ever been wrong between them. "I will get breakfast ready by then.."
"Why did you do that?" he asked, annoyed. "Why are you doing all this, ha?"
"Why did I do what? And what am I doing now?"
"Why did you do this?" he asked, pointing at the bucket. "and why did you clean up the whole room and make tea, and.. and.. why are you now talking of.."
"Manav, I've always done such things. What's wrong?"
"You know very well.."
"No I don't know."
Manav struggled within himself. He closed his eyes tightly, then he opened them and looked out of the window.
"You are making things difficult for me," he said finally. "I don't want to get used to all this.. this short lived affection. It shall haunt me after you go away."
Archana sighed. Not again.
"Manav," she said softly. "I won't go away. Why do you think in that way.."
"You know very well." He said.
"Oh yeah," she said, laughing to herself. "I'm an emotional pendulum after all.."
He looked at her, shocked. But she was staring back at him with the same intensity.
"So you heard.. umm.. uh.. Sorry," he murmured. "I didn't mean it thatway."
"No I understand what you meant to say to Baba." She said sadly. "You can't trust my words, actions or my emotions because I've often gone back to square one by ignoring you after that. I understand. My affections and concerns for you have appeared very short lived. I guess I did a very good job of concealing them from the world and my own family. And so now you don't trust my feelings or actions. Not even when I've left my people for it."
She laughed again, a sarcastic laugh this time, trying to mask her sadness. Manav did not know what to make of it.
"See Archana," he said finally, putting his cup down. "I really don't mean to be harsh to you. Nor am I dismissive. But, from whatever little I've seen of you, you do seem to have a guilty conscience. And you are impulsive and highly emotional. Many a times, when we feel sorry for someone's state, or feel responsible for their misery, we develop mixed feelings of sympathy and guilt, which make us feel drawn towards them. But it is important to not confuse yourself in this aspect or base your decisions only on them- these are temporary feelings, which fade with time. See Archana, it is not easy to fulfill a relationship, cos you have to accept everything- the good, the bad and the ugly- that comes along with it. You need to handle everything with strength, THAT keeps you going till the end. But in you, I somehow don't see it. Its not like I don't trust you or I'm dismissive- its just that I have observed you enough to know your tendencies by now. You are very likely to break down Archana, either due to family pressure, or your own disgust of me, or when the guilt fades, or when you come over your emotional outburst and start thinking with an open mind. Each of this has, in the past, made you contradict your decisions and distanced you from me. Are you getting what I'm trying to say."
"Yes, I understand." She said. "I am weak, I am not trustworthy, I am an emotional fool. Anything else?"
Manav held his head in his hands. "I didn't mean it that way."
"You know Manav, I always thought that you are different from others." She said, looking sadly at the ground. "You let me voice my opinion, you don't crush me like the others who think I have no sense to make my own decisions, you give me a chance. Once you told me that you would respect me more if I make my own decisions based on what I think is right, rather than simply doing what others demand of me. But now you're behaving exactly like my parents- who absolutely don't want to even listen or understand, and think that I'm a little child. Fine. I know my past actions do not make you rely on me. I have turned my back on you again and again. But now I have come back na! At least give me one chance? Even I gave you a chance Manav!"
She looked at him. He was looking at her with an open mouth. Was it Archana who had said all that?
He came out of his thoughts. "Fine." He said, admitting defeat. "Do what you want. I shall not judge you beforehand. The house is all yours. Stay as long as you want."
"And?" She looked at him hopefully.
He knew what she wanted him to say. He struggled for some time, but then said, "And I.. hope everything you are saying is true and you really mean it.. and we can.. um.. be together.. as far as I am concerned.. yeah.. I will be cooperating with you..."
She smiled softly. Oh dear, groaned Manav, now why did she have to smile- he thought. She looked angelic when she smiled. It sent a flutter wave through his heart.
"Listen, Aai is going to be angry with you," he said, looking away from her. "She will shout at you, so you better get ready for office soon and not be here to face her. I want only one thing from you- try to keep out of the house for most of the day.. um.. since you heard my words at night, you must be knowing that your Aai is not well.. go and meet her.. and return straight after dinner when I come back from garage too."
"Okay." She said. She was worried and wanted to meet her Aai anyway and by staying out of the house she would be safe from Savita Aai as well. "Or how about me coming to your garage after school, and we can then walk back together for dinner?"
"Okay." He mumbled. "Now that your timings have reduced and bus facility is there, it shall be easier for you to come back too."
Ahhaaa!!- thought Archana. He knew it beforehand, even though he hadn't been to her night school all these days. He must have been amongst those who had requested the school authorities for the changes. She sipped her tea thoughtfully, and then saw Vedant enter.
Archana smiled. "Tea?" she asked. He shook his head.
"Dada, I wanted to ask, for how long.." Vedant stopped mid-way. "I mean, should I remove my books, clothes and other things from your bedroom?
Manav and Archana didn't know what to say. Manav thought that Archana wouldn't be staying long, so was it worth it to shift all of Vedant's things to the other room for such a short while?
Archana, on the other hand, knew she would be staying forever now and needed that bedroom for herself and Manav, but felt awkward in asking Vedant to move out and get back to the old arrangement now that she was back, especially when everyone was angry with her for leaving the house or coming back as per her whims and fancies.
Both of them kept silent, and ultimately looked at each other. "That means a yes, I guess." Said Vedant finally, and walked away.
"Don't mind him." Said Manav. "I'll explain the kids." He said. He got and walked out to see Savita emerging angrily from their bedroom.
"She is still here?!?" she remarked angrily. "So now you have started making fake promises to me!"
"Aai, listen to me," said poor Manav. "I will handle this."
"Oh I can see how you are handling this!" snorted Savita. "Aai, shhh.."
"What Shhh..? This is my house, I will shout if I feel like!" said Savita loudly. Vandita came out of the other bedroom rubbing her eyes. "What's happening here?" she asked. "Come with me." said Vedant, ushering her in a corner.
"Aai, listen to me," said Manav in a small voice. "Archana will go back in 3-4 days, maybe even sooner. Trust me, she will."
"3-4 days?" shrieked Aai. "I cannot tolerate her for 3 hours!"
"She will stay outside the house all day Aai, she has school and office," said Manav, suddenly feeling better. "You won't have to face her, in any case she will be only in one bedroom of the house. Okay?"
"Please Aai.. trust me, everyone wants Archana to go back home, even her parents. If we force her, nothing will happen. Let her go back herself when she feels like it." he said, hoping that this would calm her down and avoid any fights, at least at the moment.
Savita calmed down. "Okay," she said. "But tell her that this house runs by MY rules. Tell her not to act smart with me. She is a guest, ask her to stay like one."
Manav nodded. He then went inside to get ready. Savita went into the kitchen. Archana was standing nervously in a corner. She straightened up when she saw Savita.
"Who told you that you could use this kitchen?" she said angrily. Archana lowered her head. "Oh yes, if you live here, you will have to use the kitchen, the bathroom, the fans etc. Well all this, doesn't come free! My son slogs all year round to get money for all this. And if you want to stay here, you need to pay!"
Archana looked up at her, very scared. "Come with me!" said Savita.
Archana followed Savita. Savita stood in front of the cupboard in Archana's bedroom. "You know what I want," she said coolly. "You have plonked yourself in this house cos of your own whim and upset my apple cart each time you came in this house. Because of you, my Manav refused to marry my GOLDEN girl Shravani, well if you want to live here peacefully, you shall have to go according to ME! You shall have to make up for the loss of my GOLDEN girl!"
Archana stood there for a few minutes, thinking. She knew Savita Aai was hinting at jewellery. She would have given it to her meekly, just like she had in the past, but this time, things were different. There was a severe need for money right now. Money could be needed any moment. She needed to have the jewels with her, in case some emergency cropped up, especially where Manav was concerned.
"What are you thinking?" demanded Savita. "Nothing," stammered Archana. There was no use in making a foe out of the person with whom she was supposed to live. Right now, when even Manav was an adversary, making more enemies was useless, she thought. Most important thing was to survive in the house as of now. She could always get them back later. She took out her jewellery sets from the cupboard and handed them to Savita Aai, whose eyes gleamed with happiness.
"Aahaaa!!! Finally they are back with me! Muah muah!" said Savita Aai happily. "You are smart Archana, you know better than to mess with me, hai na beta!" she mocked and walked away happily.
Archana sighed. Quietly, she followed Savita and peeped behind the curtain at Savita's bedroom door. She saw her opening each case and kissing the gold sets, thanking God again and again. Savita Aai tried them on herself and looked in the mirror. "Vajayanti Mala!" she said aloud, giving herself a flying kiss. "Mujhe Sona hai pyaara pyaara, yeh sabse hai nyaara nyaara!" she sang, putting the sets back in the cases.
Archana waited for a while, to see what she actually wanted to see. She saw Savita putting the cases in a locker in the large steel almirah in her room. She closed the locker with a big key, and then used the key to lock the almirah as well. She then tucked it in her waist.
Archana moved away from the curtain. She remembered the mangalsutra Savita Aai had snatched when she had thrown her from the chawl the last time. Now she knew where her jewellery was kept, as well as where the keys were kept. It didn't need a genius to figure out that her mangalsutra must be there too, that is, if Savita Aai hadn't sold it or exchanged it for some more gold.
She looked around herself. Just getting the permission to stay and obtaining her bedroom back was little success. She had to make up with everyone, save herself from Savita Aai, convince Manav of her feelings by actions rather than words and most importantly, win him back as a woman. She had stayed away for a good 4 months after walking out of the house, and had suddenly come back-but now the Deshmukh family didn't really think very highly of her. Manav too was unable to understand her at the moment. But it wasn't really his fault. All these months, she had tried to keep a safe distance from him and seem disinterested. He had fallen for it, and it would take some time for him to see and realize that she was genuine in her feelings for him. She needed to win over his inhibitions and reservations with love and befriend the family again, while at the same time, keeping herself safe and not being cheated or blackmailed by Savita Aai.
Right now, what she needed was to think of a way of getting not only her things, but also her place in the house back, rightfully.
But before that, she needed to visit her Aai.
Hello everyone and happy friendship day! I hope you enjoyed the part.. sorry for boring you at a few places cos the dialogues might have seemed a little repetitive. Waiting for the comments and feedback on this part.
Thanks to toothbrush13 (TB) for the lovely banners!
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