Joined: 01 January 2009
Joined: 25 March 2012
The following 2 member(s) liked the above post:
Joined: 01 January 2009
The following 2 member(s) liked the above post:
Joined: 25 March 2012
The following 1 member(s) liked the above post:
Joined: 01 January 2009
It was another typical night at the Deshmukh household. Or so Archana had thought.
Little did she know that she was in for a surprise. Like every evening, she had expected Vedant to be studying or watching TV, Vandita to be completing her homework or talking to her friends, Baba to be out with his friends and Aai to be gossiping with the neighbours. Manav was expected to come only at dinner time, after all, he worked till as long as he could in the garage.
Today it was a different scenario which greeted her when she returned home from school. She entered the house to see that Manav, Vedant and Vandita were engrossed in a game of carom. Savita Aai was watching TV in the corner, and Baba.. well he was nowhere to be found- so yes, one thing was constant.
"Oh hi!" said Manav, not looking up from his striker. He hit it and then took a bite of his samosa. "Aren't you going to come in?" he asked.
"Huh? Oh yes.." she entered inside, realising she looked silly gawking at the doorway like that. How come Manav had returned early today? And samosas- at this hour? Wasn't it supposed to be time for dinner? She looked questioningly at Manav but he said nothing. "Vahini, is there some chutney or stuff that we could have with the samosas? We finished the one Manav Dada brought."
"Vedant, she has just come.. go yourself and get whatever you want from the kitchen, come on, don't be so lazy, go now!" hushed Manav. Vedant grunted and got up. "Don't eat the rasgullas now, we'll eat them after dinner," called Vandita and went after him.
"How are you back so early today, and.. playing carom?" hissed Archana.
"So? I used to play earlier too." Said Manav, taking another aim.
"But why are you back so early? To play carrom? And why did you bring samosas?"
"To eat. I brought rasgullas as well."
"But.. what is all this Manav?"
He gave her a lopsided smile. Archana stood waiting for an answer.
"Come in at least. I'll tell things over dinner, Baba will be there too at that time." He promised. Still confused, Archana walked inside the house.
At dinner time, Manav dropped the bomb.
"I am not going to the garage from tomorrow." He said matter of factly.
Everyone stopped eating.
"Why, what happened?" he said casually, as if it was no big deal. "What happened to all of you?"
He looked at the faces of his family members. Archana looked thoughtful, Baba was staring with wide eyes, Savita Aai was shaking her head, Vedant had a 'I-guessed- so' look on his face, and Vandita- well she was on the verge of tears. Vedant broke the silence.
"So did you quit by will, or did they throw you out?"
"I quit myself." Manav explained. "It was getting difficult, I made errors at work- cut the wrong wires, could not handle nuts and bolts, could not handle paperwork, hurt myself once or twice. My eyesight is getting weaker - the doctor said about 'papilloedema' setting in. I thought it would be better to quit before I ended up damaging some customer's vehicle or my own health. So I talked to the Supervisor and asked him to relieve me, took my salary for the month and left the job."
Everyone sat silently, trying to digest that they had no fulltime working member now. "Anyways, since you've quit by choice, so, yeah, congrats I guess." Said Vedant awkwardly. Manav smiled. He guessed that most of the members had understood now that he had bought sweets and snacks in the evening to lighten up the ambience before he broke the big news.
"Yes, it was about time you quit." Echoed Archana. "You need rest now, you should have quit earlier actually. Anyways, you have your surgery in a few days."
"We're all going to be poor now." Said Vandita, biting her lip.
"Of course not!" said Archana, alarmed. "I'm sure your Dada has thought of something, no?" she looked hopefully at Manav. "In any case, I'm still there." She tried to sound cheerful, but Vandita did not look relieved- she knew that Archana earned hardly one third of what Manav earned. Everyone seemed down in the dumps. "Come on people, food is getting cold," said Manav, munching his food as if nothing had happened. Everyone turned to eat again, however no one felt like eating anything anymore.
"Are you worried?"
Archana and Manav were in their bedroom and preparing to go to sleep. Manav looked thoughtful and was quiet.
"Not really." He said. "Right now I just feel empty inside, sort of directionless."
"It was a good decision though. I'm happy."
He let out a sigh. "There are financial matters to be handled."
She came and sat next to him on the bed with her diary. "Household expenses were less this month," she showed him the accounts. "And we can use the money saved from my salary in all these months as well, so we shouldn't be having any problem as of now."
"It's not about the house." Manav confessed. "I talked to the hospital. They said there's no point in getting admitted early and waiting for the operation to be done. They will contact us 3-4 days before they have a date at their operation theatre, and then I'm supposed to be admitted- and that date is not too far. In the meantime, all the tests have to be completed and arrangements made. After that there's the surgery and the nursing charges."
"How much will it cost?"
"About one to one and a half lakh rupees, I guess. I still have to take the detailed estimate though." Manav said. Archana reflected on the large sum.
"I have jewellery.." she started speaking.
"Stop. Don't speak further." Manav commanded. Archana fell silent. She had known that he would react in this way only.
"Talk to Tarun." Urged Archana.
"I will." Manav accepted. "I had promised to call him up when I need the money. But I want to borrow the money only for medical expenses, not household needs. We can manage the house on our own after that even if I'm not working, can we not?"
"You won't be able to work after that?" asked Archana, her heart sinking. Manav shook his head. "There will be a rest period and anyway, I will not be allowed to get back to full time strenuous labour so soon. The doctor asked me to make other arrangements in advance."
He sat thinking about it, and Archana knew that even though he was trying to show himself as very cool and casual and trying to give the impression that the situation was totally under control, inwardly he was perturbed.
"Manav, what happened?" She tugged his hand. He looked at her. "Nothing, I guess I'm just tired."
"Let me massage your head." she said immediately. "It will make you feel relaxed and you'll have a good night's sleep. I'll do it the way Aai used to do it to me at home." Then suddenly she stopped speaking, remembering that he always shrugged away her offer earlier, and then meekly added, "Only if you want me to, that is."
Manav smiled softly at her hesitation. This was not the first time she had offered to massage his head. She was always trying to make things comfortable for him in any small or big way. Time he appreciated it too, especially when both of them were trying to set things right in their relationship.
To her surprise, he nodded. Archana's face brightened up. She immediately got up and fetched the bottle of hair oil from the dressing table. She made Manav sit on the floor below the bed, while she took oil in the scoop of her palm and started applying it on his scalp, rubbing it in. Manav closed his eyes and tried to relax.
"I hope Sachin comes back." Blurted out Archana suddenly. Manav opened his eyes. "Where did that come from?" he asked.
"I don't know. I just want him to come back."
"So that he can help us with money?" Manav smirked.
"No, not that way. It just struck to me that, it would be so nice if something really good happens in this house, for a change."
Manav did not say anything. He closed his eyes again.
"Did I anger you?" she asked meekly.
"No." He said. "And why are you so scared of me today?"
"Not scared," she replied, "I just don't want to annoy or irk you.." Anymore, she thought, but did not say. "You are pensive as it is."
He smiled. "You don't annoy me, I like hearing to your random talks."
"Really?" asked Archana, taken aback. "Wow, I've made progress. From repeatedly being asked to go away from this house to this.. this.."
"Confession?" Manav piped in.
"Yes, no not confession exactly, I don't know." She admitted. Manav laughed. "You will always be a confused pendulum."
She frowned. "So from an emotional pendulum, I've been promoted to a confused pendulum eh?" Manav looked up at her and grinned. "Yes, you've made progress!"
She hit him on the head playfully and Manav laughed. She was pleased at how he seemed to be in a better mood today, inspite of the problems in their hand. It looked like the bridging of gap between them had started showing its effect- he was more comfortable with her today.
She suddenly noticed someone standing by the door. It was Savita Aai, looking at both of them. Archana straightened up and muttered, "Manav, Aai."
Manav turned and looked at Savita questioningly. "Do you want something Aai?" Archana asked her.
Savita kept looking at Manav for sometime and did not say anything. Then she turned to Archana. "You have not shown me the accounts for this week." She told her coldly.
"I will show in the morning." Archana promised.
"In the morning? You will be busy in the morning. Why not show me now?" Savita insisted.
"Aai.." Archana thought of what to speak. Truth was that she did not want to ruin the special husband-wife moment by poring over her account diary with Savita Aai. "Aai I won't be that busy.. nowadays, thanks to everyone helping me, my revised schedule and the new washing machine, I am able to manage things well."
Aai was about to reply when Manav spoke in between. "Aai, this can be done in the morning, can it not? Archana also must be tired now."
"Here take the account diary." Manav passed it to her. Savita took it quietly. She stood there for some more time, upon which Manav asked hesitatingly, "You wanted to say something else too?"
"Shut the door of your bedroom, both of you are not children here!" replied back Savita in an icy voice and went away, leaving both of them very embarrassed. None of them said anything for a while. Finally Manav got up to close the door. When he came back, Archana looked thoughtful. "What happened to you now?"
"I think we hurt her." She replied.
He looked surprised. "She behaves in this way only nowadays, nothing new in it."
"I don't know.." she persisted. "It was a woman to woman thing. I think we hurt her. I'll go and explain the accounts to her." With this Archana got up from bed, leaving Manav alone in the darkness.
"Why do you even show her the accounts? Aren't you the one who is supposed to be running the house singlehandedly? Didn't she say she had nothing to do with the house or the responsibilities now?"
Archana looked up at Manav over the tea. "Yes, but she is elder, and she maintains that she is still in-charge of the house, so I felt I should.. otherwise you remember na how she got angry bcos we bought the washing machine without telling her."
Manav rested on the body of the vibrating washing machine. "It's all her politics. She said she's leaving all responsibilities cos no one cares for her anyway, then she dumped all of them on you, and used them to trouble you to no extent. But when she felt it you are now getting more importance, she started reinforcing her position as head of the house. I won't be surprised if she takes over the kitchen again one day."
Archana continued with her work. "So what is wrong? It is her house, and her kitchen."
"It's not that. Of course it is her house and her kitchen, and she can do whatever she wants. It's just that I feel that whatever she does these days is motivated not by the needs of the house, her responsibility or all of us, rather her actions are motivated by her ego and her need to be centre in her house."
"All adults have some kind of ego I guess." Archana said. "At that age, people want to feel important, or loved, maybe. It is difficult to deal with it. I really think sometimes that she gets upset that no one talks to her much in the house now- except Vandita maybe. Even Vedant talks less ever since she treated him like a culprit cos he helped me when I fell."
"I don't think he does it purposely, maybe he just doesn't feel like talking now, you know how she always turns the conversation to the unpleasant issues of the house, or maybe he's just busy." Said Manav. He looked around uncomfortably and then said, "Sometimes I do feel like going up to Aai and asking her to tell me what is really in her heart, then I feel maybe she doesn't value me enough to share. Till now she has not offered an olive branch and has no repentance of all that she did wrong towards you and me."
Archana looked at Manav. He was staring at the floor, thinking hard, his jaw clenched tight. Even though Manav talked very less about Aai, yet when he did, it became pretty obvious that he actually thought a lot about her, though he didn't really share it with anyone.
Manav noticed her gazing at him and straightened up. "Now I know what it is to be jobless- you start analysing even womanly politics!" he tried to make it sound like a laugh. Archana gave a small smile. He came near the counter. "'Is there any work for me?"
"No Manav, go and rest."
"Oh I am not ill Archana. I quit the garage job, but it's not like I have gone blind. I can still do something or the other." Said Manav, looking around. "After breakfast I am anyway going to my own garage- maybe call over the guys who had ordered for the spare parts."
Archana shook her head. "There is no work in the kitchen. Why are you so eager to work anyways? Go watch TV, enjoy the first day of your holiday."
"After working everyday for 15 years, a sudden holiday, and that too a forced holiday and moreover an 'out of job' holiday doesn't make one rejoice." Said Manav grimly. "I just hope I don't end up like Baba."
Archana felt bad for Manav. He had quit but was obviously not happy, and pensive in fact. Manav saw her expressions and walked out saying, "I'll go and ask Baba to read me the newspaper aloud. Reverse role playing today."
She had expected him to be having some rest for a change, but found him engrossed in writing at the breakfast table, talking on the phone. "Manav don't strain your eyes!" she said, annoyed.
He indicated her to be quiet. "Customer" he signalled. Archana handed Vandita the plates and asked her to set up the table for breakfast while she brought the food. Vedant came and sat with them, took the pen from Manav's hand and started writing whatever Manav dictated. After a while Manav put the phone down.
"Chalo now I have work to do for today." He said happily. "What is it?" asked Archana curiously.
"I have to supply spare parts to a friend of mine- word leaked to him that I'm in spare parts these days cos I provided some to the chawl dwellers. It's quite an order this time. He knows I have been in the automobile territory for long and he trusts my judgement on the matter. I guess, after years of having worked as a mechanic, I do have a reputation after all."
"That too Girishji's favourite mechanic- mechanic no.1" said Vedant. Manav grinned. "Dada, but seriously, I guess people are turning to you bcos they know that you are simple and honest and won't cheat them with bad goods- you have credibility attached to you."
"Maybe," agreed Manav. "Bholu mechanic no. 1- who sells goods cheap for fun!" announced Vandita and everyone laughed.
"So are you going to sell spare parts now for a living?" asked Vandita after some time, as she set down the plates. Archana nudged her to be silent.
"Nothing like that, they were stored away in my garage and Dharmesh seemed to be having problem regarding them, so I was helping him get rid of it" Manav scratched his head.
"Sounds like a good alternative business." Vedant suggested.
Manav shook his head. "Not really. Such a business works if you have enough contacts to sell the goods, just selling it to one or two clients won't suffice, and then again if I have to get down to business, then it would be a completely different ball game.. I have neither the finance nor someone to invest now, and I can't take any more risks at this juncture. Besides it doesn't really make a lot of profit, Dharmesh gives me just a 10% cut. Right now I'm just doing it bcos I have nothing to do. I just can't seem to sit at one place, it's as if I need to keep doing something."
Everyone laughed at him. "Please go to school in my place Dada!" Vandita joked. Manav gave a sly smile.
"Well then I'll advertise about it to my friends." Said Vedant. Manav looked thoughtful.
Archana was late for school the following evening. She had to pick up some things at the nearby market, meet a sick friend and finish some other small tasks. She walked in quick steps as she exited the large supermarket- shopping here was relatively easier than shopping at the local markets, she had realised this. It was quicker and there were always good deals going on. Plus, she managed to save on time too as it was on her way to school.
She had almost walked out of the large complex when she felt she was being followed. The shadow of a guy had been trailing her ever since she had come out. There was a distance between them, but she could easily identify that it was her whom he was following.
Ajit again!- she thought with anger, remembering her encounter with him two days back, when he had followed her till home. What was that creep upto now! She was walking along a desolate part of the supermarket, making her way through a shortcut from the basement. Her eyes never left the shadow of that guy. She took out her new cell phone and quickly called Manav.
"Hello Manav? I'm at Reliance Mall near my office, Ajit is following me here." She said, trying her best not to sound scared.
Manav was enraged. "I'm coming there. You stay safe, try and take help from the other people in the mall if you can and stay with the crowd only. Don't be alone." He cut the phone quickly.
She continued walking in quick steps. The mysterious man still seemed to be following her. Once or twice she even heard him call out to her, "Hey wait up!" or "Just a minute!" but she did not stop. The voice sounded slightly different but then again it could be one of Ajit's men, if not him. There was no time to wait for Manav now. She would have deal with the situation herself. She remembered Savita Aai's words of learning to defend oneself. She had been right- Archana thought. I can't depend on others all the time, I have to do something now."
She quickly turned the corner and instead of continuing ahead, she hid there, put her bags down and took hold of her purse by its strap. She could see the shadow approaching her there. As soon as he came to the turn, she flung her purse which hit him on the back of his head. He was taken aback and stumbled head first. Archana ran up and caught his arms and held them behind his back, making him bend while he yeowled with pain.
"Help! Help!" she shouted. "Security! Security!! SECURITYYY!!!!!!!"
There the guy started shouting as well. "Hey leave me, whatever do you think you are doing!"
"What the hell are you doing?"
"I will complain to Manav Dada!!!"
She stood numb. She leaned in forward to see the face of the person following her. It was not Ajit.
"SACHIN?!" Archana was aghast to see him there, with his hands to his back. "What are you doing here?"
He gave her a weak smile. "Can I have my hands back first?"
She left his arms at once. Guiltily she waited for him to get up. He rubbed his wrists. "Nice nails you've got."
Archana wished the earth would open up and swallow her at that moment. It had to be one of the most embarrassing situations of her life. "I hope I didn't hurt you," she said meekly.
"No I'm alright." He said. "Alive at least. Thank god your purse didn't hit me so hard. Actually you left one of your bags on the counter. So I just wanted to return it."
"You should have called me by name."
"I don't know, it feels weird to shout in the malls, then again I was not sure whether I was supposed to call you Vahini.." he looked at her mangalsutra and sindoor. "I guess I AM supposed to call you that.." he said.
She tried to suppress a shy smile. "The divorce never took place." She said. "I returned home. I mean, OUR home."
"Nice to know that. I'm very happy for you and Manav Dada." He smiled at her, and she was taken aback. Wait- hadn't he wanted Manav to settle down with Shravani? Hadn't he DEMANDED and said that he would return home only if Manav agreed to marry Shravani? Hadn't Sachin been against her owing to the brainwashing done by Savita Aai? Hadn't he always felt and said that Manav had prioritised her more than the rest of them, and eventually ruined the Deshmukh family future?
"Umm.. thankyou.." she said uncomfortably. "Sachin I'm sorry for whatever happened today, actually I've had a bad encounter recently so.. really sorry for everything."
"Arey it's okay, don't make me feel awkward now. It's good, at least I came to know of your defence tactics." Sachin laughed, rubbing his wrists at the place where she could see her nail marks now. Archana stood staring at him wonderstruck. How was Sachin so cool with her? "You.. here?"
"Just shopping for a few items." Said Sachin, holding up his bag. Through the faint outline, Archana could see a carton of milk. Why was Sachin himself shopping for such things? He had left home to marry a rich girl, right? Didn't he have servants? Or had both him and the girl rebelled at the same time against their parents and left home to be together, and now she was making him work?
Sachin seemed to have understood her doubts. He quickly turned away. "Walk out from there, you'll get a taxi quickly from that point at the road. I'm sorry I can't drop you till home, I'll get late for work."
That seemed to be the ultimate attack. WORK?! Sachin and work?! And at this hour?
Archana recovered quickly. "It's not a problem. Manav should be coming in a few minutes anyway. I'll try calling him to tell there is no need.." suddenly she stopped. Manav would be pleased to meet Sachin. "I'll call him to meet us here." She suggested.
"Uh no, I'll go now, I'll get late for work." Said Sachin and started walking out.
"Manav can drop you on his bike." Archana hurried after him. "You won't be late."
"No, I'll go by myself, my office is nearby only." Said Sachin, walking out of the mall.
"Manav misses you Sachin." Archana called out. "Everyone misses you."
He stopped for a minute, as if debating with himself. "Give them my regards." He said quietly, and then he was gone. Archana felt disappointed.
"What else did he say?" asked Manav, stirring his cup of coffee.
"Nothing." Said Archana. "He just went away after that."
"No contact address, nothing?" Archana shook her head. "He seemed to be in a hurry, he walked away as soon as I started talking about all of you."
"Did he ask anything about all of us?"
He hadn't, but Archana didn't want to say that to Manav. "Yes, he asked about you, and said that he misses all of you very much." She lied.
Manav smiled softly. "Why do you lie when you don't know how to lie?" he asked. Archana looked down, feeling very embarrassed. "Maybe he just does't want to return home, or maybe he simply doesn't care about us."
"Maybe he felt awkward?" she suggested. Manav shook his head. "How much awkward does he feel that he can't even ask about his own family members? I don't get this guy! He has no sense of responsibility- that I know, at least he can show some concern for us!"
Archana didn't know what to say, so she sat in silence. Manav spoke again, "Archana I advise you not to keep any hopes from Sachin. You will get hurt later." He looked at his watch. "It's time for your school." He said, finishing his coffee in one gulp. "Come I'll walk you to your school."
"No Manav, I'll go by myself,"
"Come na, as it is I have nothing much to do right now." Said Manav. Together both of them got up and walked out of the small cafe where they had been drinking coffee. On the way they bumped into Pony, Archana's colleague, who was also coming to meet the same sick friend.
"Why who's here?!" she cried out as she saw them. "Both of you together today?! From where did the sun rise?And Archana I thought you had to go to school?"
Manav was amazed at her loud welcome. "I was just dropping her to her school." He said meekly.
"Oh I know, I know!" said Pony with a careless wave of her hand. "Lovers are liars! They will bunk school and college and go sit on Marine Drive, or rather.." she looked at the board of the cafe they had come out of. "or in Coco Cafe shop. School children do it, so I expect much more from both of you. But why do you guys have to lie? Ever heard of that song- Khullam khulla pyaar karenge hum dono?"
Archana hoped Manav wouldn't get irritated by her friend's banter. "Pony!" she gave her an angry look.
"Don't shoot daggers at me. Say something to your husband for being so boring and bringing you to this coffee shop! Arey is this any place to romance! Even giving a kiss would be so difficult unless you are the bold types who don't care about the public around. I mean, I know he.. (pointing to Manav).. is not that type, but I don't know how you behave when you are romantic. Then again, aren't there little children in the cafe, it's a family place, is it not?"
"Manav let's leave!" Archana was now annoyed with her friend and hoping that Manav would not be thinking badly about her crazy friends. She didn't know Manav had already had an encounter earlier with her 'besharam' gang of friends. She pulled Manav by the arm. Pony laughed out more loudly than ever.
"Yeah yeah go! I will not be a kabab mein haddi. Go, both of you go and have fun! But Archana don't bunk school. And when are you guys going to give me a treat? Both of you trouble me and ask me to help in your love story- break the ice, talk to the other person, call me up one night before divorce, then when things settle down for both of you, you forget about me!" Pony made a sad face. Archana tugged at Manav's arm harder. "Manav let's leave!"
"Ouch Archana your nails!" Manav moaned. Archana left his arm immediately. Behind her she could hear Pony roaring with laughter.
She came home later that night after school and was surprised to see paints, kerosene and canvas near the door.
"What are we getting painted?" she asked Manav, who was paying a man. "I don't think any of the doors or windows need painting.."
"Nothing like that," he said, turning to look at her. "This is to put up a board outside the garage."
"Board for what?"
Archana looked at Manav in surprise. "You are getting into the spare parts business?"
"Not really." Said Manav. "I'm just trying to finish the goods that Dharmesh Ji has stored in my garage. He's in a spot of trouble and somewhere I feel responsible cos I ordered the spare parts first and then cancelled the order later when Girishji demoted me to a plain mechanic again. Poor guy suffered due to my and Shravani's problems. Plus Dharmesh Ji said he would give me a 10% cut on whatever I manage to sell, so yeah, when I'm doing it, why not do it by putting my full efforts in it?"
"Hmm.." said Archana looking at the paints and the boards. "So you will be calling the painters tomorrow, I guess?"
"Why call anyone?" he asked. "I will do it myself."
"YOURSELF?" Archana cried out. "Why do you have to do it yourself? You stress yourself in this way and then your head aches at night. Your eyes.."
"I'm alright." Said Manav indignantly. "I can do it, such an easy work it is. It's not like I'm blind or something. I don't want to waste money unnecessarily for such little things."
"Why not ask the children to do it then?" asked Archana. "They might even enjoy painting.."
"No no, they do enough work as it is." Said Manav.
"Manav they are free after dinner." Archana explained.
"Why do you always want them to do our work?" asked Manav in an annoyed voice. "Archana, I really think you are very hard on my siblings!"
Archana looked at him in shock, which slowly made way for quiet anger. "Fine, do what you want. From now on you decide these things. I will not interfere. All 4 of you can be the way you want- Sachin running from responsibility, you obsessed with responsibility and work, and the children kept miles away from it. Fine. But let me remind you that you told me to take help from them when I couldn't handle work to the extent that it had started affecting my health- and I did. I understand that we can take care of others only if we take care of ourselves first. If only you could understand this too."
With that, she stomped into the bedroom. Manav would never change, she thought. He would keep on behaving 'superhuman' so as not to 'trouble' his beloved family members.
Manav rubbed the back of his neck. I went a little far today- he thought to himself- it's not like she's an enemy of Vedant and Vandita. She just has a different way of handling teenage kids.
Laughter emanated outside the Deshmukh house that night, as Vedant and Vandita sat on a old rug on the corridor outside their house and painted the board.
"See, Vedu is all grown up now!" said Vandita, attempting to draw his beard. Vedant backed away. "Urgh! Don't do all this okay, I'll empty the paint box on your hair! And let me warn you, the colour doesn't go easily."
"How is it going?" asked Manav, removing his slippers. He squatted next to them, inhaling the smell of the kerosene and paint.
"Yellow and blue- my choice. How's it Dada?"
"Nice!" he said, surveying the board. Straight lines, clear boundaries- every little area had been swept properly. The board looked bright and could be easily seen even from a distance. He admitted to himself that he couldn't have done such good work. On the board was written, in big, bold letters: 'Cheap and good quality automobile spare parts for bulk sale. Contact now'. Below it was Manav's mobile number and the contact address of his garage. He bent down to touch it a little.
Vedant yelled. "Don't touch it, the paint is wet right now, wait for it to dry!"
"Okay okay!" said Manav. A call from behind made them all turn. "Come for dinner now! I've made rice pudding for both of you."
"Oh wow!" echoed Vedant and Vandita. "Both of them only? What about me?" asked Manav, his face made up in an adorable pout.
"Oh!" Archana appeared in front of them. "For you I have the dirty vessels which are supposed to be cleaned. Then there is the kitchen counter which has to be mopped after dinner. Last but not the least, take down the clothes from the clothes line and fold and press them properly."
Everyone stared at her open mouthedly.
"What?" she asked, looking genuinely confused. "I thought you wanted more and more work and no rest? I thought you didn't want to trouble anyone, or ask anyone to help in little tasks which strain you? I thought you wanted more responsibility and all of us to have an easy time? So I thought.."
Vedant and Vandita were now trying hard to control their giggles. Manav kept a straight face. "Go inside and wash your hands." He told them. They didn't budge. The match was getting interesting.
"Go na!" he gave Vedant a little shove and a glare. Both Vedant and Vandita gave each other knowing smiles and got up.
"So you are still angry with me." Manav asked after they had gone.
"Me? No, not at all! How can I be angry with you?" Archana asked, idly stirring the paint with the brush.
"Alright, I got your message. I will try.."
"You will not try." She said angrily. "What was the point of leaving your garage job if all you wanted to do was to do more and more work at home? You should rest now. Do you know all of us are trying to learn about first aid, Vedant is teaching us, so that God forbid anything happens, we can manage an emergency and get you to a hospital, but you do not take care of yourself even. And then later you complain of headaches at night. Go on, raise your BP!"
Manav opened his mouth to say something but she continued.
"And they are your family members for god's sake! They know everything! Still you hesitate in asking them for help! Pah! Now in times of need, are we supposed to go ask the outsiders?"
She looked away from him, pouting. None of them said anything for a while. Finally Manav spoke. "I know.. it was my mistake, and I know I was wrong about what I said regarding you being hard on Vedant and Vandita- you actually handle them well- Vedant in particular seems to be gelling well with you."
He pulled her lightly by the arm. "Won't you talk to me?"
"Go away!" she flicked her arm carelessly to drive him away. In the process she ended up flicking the paint brush in the air. Giant drops of blue paint splattered all over Manav's shirt and his hair.
"Oops.. hehe.. sorry!" said Archana sheepishly. But it was too late. One look at his shirt, a second look at her, and the third moment, she saw Manav dipping four fingers in the open paint box and lunging towards her.
"Nooo Manav!!" she tried to shield herself from him, but to no avail. Obviously stronger than her, Manav caught both her hands. She pushed her face the other side, but he held her face with his blue fingers- big blue streaks now visible on her fair cheek.
"MANAV!!" she tried to wriggle out. But she could only hear him laughing and feel him grabbing her more tightly so that she couldn't wriggle even, and the next moment when she opened her eyes, she was staring straight into those lovely brown eyes which had always captivated her. For the first time she realized that Manav had one hand round her waist as he laughed at her. She couldn't move, she couldn't look anywhere, it was as if this was the only world for her.
"Do you forgive me now?" he teased her.
It took a few moments for him to become conscious of her warm breath on his neck, and the tips of her fingers pressing on his chest- fingers which had initially been trying to push him away. His wide smile shrunk slowly as he focussed on the closeness, the much too familiar feelings swarming back in full drove again, preventing him from thinking or acting. He simply stood with one hand on her cheek and the other on her waist, holding her two hands behind her.
He came out of it after a while though, uncomfortably looked around to see if anybody had been watching, and left her arms. He straightened up and looked away while she adjusted her sari slightly. None of them knew what to say.
After what seemed like a century, Archana murmured. "Dinner.."
He only nodded in reply, not facing her, pretending to look at the freshly painted board. Archana turned and went away, leaving him alone, looking at the darkness outside their chawl.
He came back sometime later, when he heard Baba giving the final call for dinner. He walked in, and the children pointed at him and laughed at his messy shirt and hair. Shyly, he went into his bedroom to change, where Archana was wiping her face dry with a towel. She walked past him and he stared at her.
She raised her eyebrows as if asking "What?"
"Paint." He said.
"Where?", she turned to look at the mirror again. "I just washed my face."
"At the side and back of your neck." He said. She craned her neck to look sideways. "Give me the towel." He said, extending his hand. She looked at him with surprise, but handed him the towel quietly. Carefully, he pushed her open hair to one side, his fingers brushing against the nape of her neck as he did so. He felt her shudder momentarily, the muscles of her back flinched slightly and her neck arched back, which made him stop for a moment and look at her in the mirror instead- she seemed to be looking down now. But after that, he steadied himself and proceeded to confidently shift all her hair on one side of her neck. Her milky white bare back felt so smooth!- he forgot what he was supposed to do next and continued caressing it. Then, as if coming back to earth, he quickly lifted her mangalsutra a little, wiped off the paint behind it and the nearby areas with the wet portions of the towel, and handed it back to her.
She turned and took the towel from him, not making eye contact. "Come for dinner." She said and then she was gone. Maybe she didn't really know what to say and hence was repeating the same dialogue again and again. As soon as she exited the room, he let out a sigh that he had held for long and sat down on the bed, his hands covering his face.
"She will kill me one day." he told himself.
It was late at night when Archana got up for a drink of water. To her surprise, she saw Savita Aai sitting in the living room, changing channels on TV.
"Aai.." Archana muttered, staring in disbelief. "Don't you have to sleep?" she asked.
"This is my house," said Savita rudely. "I will sleep whenever I wish. You do not have to tell me."
Archana did not say anything after that. She went to the dining table, filled water in a glass and started drinking it.
"You have done well Archana," she heard Savita Aai say, and turned to her. Aai was still flipping channels. "You came back just a few days back, and yet have managed to work your magic on Manav. We were almost at the same level when we both started- Manav was angry with both of us, but you have zoomed ahead."
Archana thought it would be best not to say anything.
"But don't think you can displace me." Savita Aai continued. "In many ways, my relationship with Manav is deeper than yours. He may not be in my control anymore like he was earlier, but he is still closer to me than you think."
"I'm not competing with anyone." Archana said calmly. "And I think you shouldn't compete too."
Savita Aai gave her an angry look. "Don't tell me what to do."
Archana turned back to leave, then stopped and looked at Aai again. "Aai we are thinking of taking money from Tarun for the medical expenses. "
"Why? Can't your parents and brother spend for your husband? They didn't give dowry, they can do this much at least."
"I guess Manav would be more comfortable borrowing from Tarun than my family," said Archana sadly. "My mother is returning the 50,000 rupees that she owed Manav though.. anyways, I told you about Tarun cos I felt you would want to know how we intend to manage the financial affairs of the house in the future. We will run the house using the savings and the salary from my job."
"And that will be sufficient?"
Archana pondered. "I guess so.."
"You know nothing!" scoffed Savita Aai. "Somehow this house is ploughing along, and you think you will be able to run the house on so little money? Your salary is nothing! If Shravani had come into the house, we would never have to face such a situation! Plus her father would have helped! Manav wouldn't have been in the tension he is now! And then people call me greedy and stuff! Truth stands- realities of life cannot be conquered by love alone! You have the luxury to choose at every step only if you have money first!"
Archana tried to avoid the blatant comparison with Shravani though she was inwardly fuming. "Well, Shravani is NOT here, and she is not Manav's wife- a fact that needs to be accepted, whether or not you like it." She said firmly. "Right now I'm here, so I'll manage things on my own- with or without anyone's help."
Savita snorted. "Foolish emotional dialogues as always- but which never result in anything useful- just like you!" She said and stood up. "Come with me!!"
Archana turned to go, but Savita hollered louder. "Arey oh Maharani! I said na come with me! Don't act oversmart now!"
Afraid that Savita Aai would wake up the whole house, Archana quietly followed Savita, bracing herself up for another confrontation. Savita Aai led her to the kitchen and took out a small steel box from the top most shelf, hidden behind the row of large steel cylindrical containers . There was a small lock on it, which Aai opened using a key tied to a string around her neck.
She opened the box and to Archana's surprise, took out two bundle of notes and showed it to her. Archana gaped with amazement.
"This is how a house is supposed to be run." Said Savita, shaking the wad of notes at her. "Even though I don't earn like you, yet there must be about 30,000-40,000 rupees here. I saved them bcos I have [1.] a benevolent son who loans money to his friends and in laws who by the way, never bother to return the money back;  a drunkard husband who steals money from my own locker; and  a lazy spendthrift son. With such a family, I knew we could fall into trouble anyday. And I was right, was I not? Manav spent all his savings on that stupid divorce case and in helping your parents, his Baba is still 'all talk, no work' and Sachin is gone now. I saved the money in those days for my daughter's wedding, and for buying jewellery for myself. I love gold, and wanted to buy something for myself this Diwali so that for a change I could show off in the chawl as well, and not wear artificial jewellery. And not to forget, I saved for any kind of an emergency. Even Manav does not know of this money. Yes, plotting behind the back of my children is not new to me." Savita Aai laughed loudly at herself.
Archana looked at Savita dumbfounded. Slowly, she gulped, and finally found her voice. "How did you save so much.."
Savita started laughing. "How?" she asked. "By stealing money from Manav's pockets. By taking away from Manav's Baba whatever little he earned through theatre. By blackmailing Sachin when he needed to hide things from his Dada and competing with him to steal from Manav's pocket. By taking away from Vandita the 1000 rupees Manav gave her for Rakhi. By keeping with me whatever I could save from the monthly expenses.This way I have saved this money. Such a horrible woman I am, right? Go tell everyone, I won't mind."
Archana looked at Savita and then at the money in her hands, feeling a little scared. Savita was behaving very weird, she thought, and wondered whether she should call Manav.
Savita put the wad of notes back in the box and locked it again. She kept the box at its original position.
"You can ask me for money if anything is needed for Manav." Said Aai in a tout voice. "Mind you- only Manav. Don't ask me for money for your parents- I know that your brother has left that house and they are all alone now. If a single rupee of this house goes to the Karanjkars, I swear I'll throw you out."
With this Savita turned and started walking out. Archana looked at her in amazement, and then at the box on top of the shelf. It was impossible to understand Savita Aai, she thought. This woman was really a complicated, grey character. She had loads of experience and understood human psyche, she was practical and she often used the wrong ways to get her goal, a goal which was quite often than not, wrong, but somewhat understandable due to her situations in life- sometimes it could even be an innocent desire like buying gold jewellery for herself which she had never got in her life. It had been the same when she had demanded dowry, cheated Manav regarding Shravani and herself, and it had been the same regarding this money saving encounter- she did all the wrong things but maybe there was more to her character that met the eye? Maybe her early encounters with poverty had affected her and led her to think in this manner, where she controlled her family members, lied to them and even manipulated them, but still cared for them, just like she had saved the money by lying to others but was willing to spend it all on Manav. So was Aai good or bad? Archana didn't know. She just hoped that with time, she would be able to understand this one woman with whom she had a bond like she had with no one else.
"Aai.." Archana called out.
"What is it now?"
"I met Sachin today."
Savita turned at once. "When, where?"
"Today, while shopping in the evening." She said. "He works or lives in that area, I think. Maybe you could go and talk to him?"
She saw Savita Aai brooding, and then finally Aai said. "He will come back when he wants to."
And with this reply, she walked off, leaving Archana stunned.
That was part 82 folks! (OMG I am almost nearing 100!) Waiting for your comments and feedback as always. Special thanks to toothbrush13 for the lovely banner she made for this FF sometime back. Miss you TB! :(
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