Joined: 01 January 2009
TWO MEETINGS AND A REUNION
"Just a minute!" called out Archana. She switched off the gas and quickly wiped the gas counter, then hurried to pack paranthas in the two open tiffin boxes in front of her. She closed the tiffin boxes quickly and almost ran outside to where Vedant and Vandita were almost ready to go. "Here!" she thrust them into their hands. "Run now!"
"Thanks.." mouthed Vedant and both of them literally ran out of the house to catch their bus. Archana stood quietly to take a breath for a moment, then was reminded of something. Promptly she darted into the kitchen and returned with breakfast and tea for Aai and Baba. She chatted for a few minutes with Baba, listened to Aai's orders for the day, and then ran back to the kitchen to dry the clothes in the washing machine. Now she just had to get ready quickly, eat her breakfast and then..
"Manav!" she flicked her fingers in front of his eyes. He got out from his daydreaming with a shudder and looked down on his plate, somewhat embarrassed.
"You seem lost." She said, sitting down on the dining table next to him. "Is anything the matter?"
He shook his head, a small smile on his face. He looked cute early in the morning with his hair scattered in that way, she thought, and had the all familiar urge to run her hand through his hair and straighten it.
"Busy morning?" he asked her.
"Nothing new." She exhaled deeply.
"Do you want me to make a cup of tea for you while you get ready?"
She seemed alarmed by the idea. "Oh no Manav, there is no need of that." She lowered her voice. "Aai will kill me if she comes to know I am making you work." She giggled.
He laughed. "Fine, how about in the afternoon then, at your office?"
She raised an eyebrow. "At my office?"
"Yes," he said. "I have to go to the bank in the afternoon. Before that I'll come to your office in the lunch hour and we can have lunch together."
He waited for a reply from her, studying the hesitation on her face. Finally he spoke, "It's okay if you have other plans.."
She gave a guilty smile. She had chalked out this afternoon to go enquire about Sachin at the BPO nearby, something that she did not want to tell Manav at the moment. She wanted to meet Sachin before Manav got admitted in the hospital in two days.
"I have some work," she lied. "An appointment of sorts.. can't postpone it.."
"It's okay, not a problem," he smiled at her, trying not to let the disappointment appear on his face. "Some other time." He said, and got up to go to the bathroom, unable to understand why he felt so restless since morning. Archana watched him go, feeling gloomy on having missed out this 'date' with her husband.
Archana looked at the dilapated structure in front of which she was standing. It looked like an old building with one or two room houses. The entire neighbourhood comprised of similar looking houses and chawls. Clouds hung in the afternoon sky making the air unbearably humid. Sweat trickled from her forehead as she gazed at the name of the building, praying fervently to the rain gods to bless them all.
She looked again at the piece of paper on which was written Sachin's address. She had got his address after enquiring at the Call Centre nearby- the receptionist had looked into her records and confirmed that a certain Sachin Deshmukh did work in their company, currently in the evening shift extending till late at night. Archana had got the address through the receptionist and now she was standing in front of the building, trying to gather courage to talk to him. She didn't really know what she would say, but she had to meet him. She just had to.
She knocked on the door, hoping fervently for Sachin to be at home. She couldn't control her happiness when the latch clicked and a yawning, sleepy guy stood in front of her.
*Yawn* "Who is it?" he asked.
She sat on the single chair in the room, taking in the surroundings around her. The room was an average sized one with very little furniture, two beds, a laptop lying on one, shirts on the other. In one corner was a small makeshift kitchen.
"Water!" Sachin's voice broke her chain of thoughts. He was standing in front of her holding a glass. She smiled and accepted it gratefully. As she drank it, he sat down next to her, pleased and inquisitive at the same time. He had not expected anyone from his house to visit him, after all, baring one, they didn't know his whereabouts, and his separation from them had been less than civil. He still felt embarrassed wondering what Archana must be thinking about him.
There was silence in the room as Archana kept down her glass, pondering on what to say next. Thankfully Sachin spoke first. "Have you had lunch?"
"No.. I mean yes." She corrected herself. However Sachin had heard it. He got up, went to the makeshift kitchen and served something in a plate.
"Sachin don't get anything for me!" Archana called out. Sachin looked back at her and smiled. "Don't worry, its edible!" he called out cheerily.
He returned back with some potato curry and chapattis in a plate while Archana glared at him in fascination. "Sorry, I just know how to cook basic stuff- egg bhurji, maggi, you know."
She gaped at him. "Is that enough? You used to be a voracious eater.."
"Arey I don't usually eat at home.. I am at home only to sleep, most of the time I'm outside home only, and then there is my office canteen.." he stopped speaking, lowered his eyes, debating on what to say. Finally he spoke.
"Who gave you this address? Aai?"
Archana looked at him in astonishment. "Aai knows you live here?"
She couldn't believe what she saw next- Sachin murmuring away with a disgruntled expression in his face. Everything about Sachin's behaviour had astonished her till now- be it his pleasant attitude towards Manav and her, the fact that he was working, the fact that he was without that girl.. but this..???
That reminded her. That girl was not here. What had happened? Archana felt too embarrassed to ask.
Sachin spoke again. "I know you have a thousand questions about me and you have come here to ask them. But seriously, you should not have come here. I'm embarrassed as it is about the conditions of this place.."
Archana hurried to speak. "Sachin there is nothing to feel embarrassed, I'm your family. We all are, and it's bad enough to know that you have been living here alone."
She kicked herself mentally for saying 'alone'. She noticed Sachin looked gloomy.
"What went wrong?" she asked softly.
He looked away, apparently not wanting to speak on the issue. "Sachin, please tell me, maybe I can help?"
"I don't need your help." He said gloomily. "And I don't want to trouble anyone now."
"If you expect me to go away from here coolly as if I never saw this place, and never knew that you lived here alone and work in a call centre, then you are wrong." Said Archana. "In fact I'll just be more worried cos I won't be knowing anything about what had happened to result in this sudden change of fortune. Your Dada and I will just be worrying about you all the while.."
He looked up suddenly. "Please don't tell him.." he almost begged.
"Fine." She said, noticing he looked very troubled. "But first tell me what happened. I know many of the things anyway, and I have a few guesses in my mind, so you better tell me everything yourself."
He nodded. And then he spoke. He told her everything starting from when he had left his home to marry Sweety, the 18 year old rich and pretty girl who had won him over in just two meetings. Whatever little he knew of her was enough for choosing her as a life partner, he had felt. She was beautiful, rich and someone who seemed to live life to the fullest- just like him. That had been enough for him to decide to be with her- a decision everyone in his family had protested, save for Aai. He still remembered all that he had said to Manav when his elder brother had tried to explain that the girl was too young for marriage and they were both being very impulsive.
"Your own marriage is in the divorce court! With what face are you advising me about love and marriage?" he had told Manav.
Eventually when Manav had talked to Sweety's father to be strict with the children and Sweety's father had put in a clause of age and education before she could be married, Sachin had seen red. He had accused Manav of being a typical stepbrother, being jealous of him and ruining his chances of getting rich and making it big in life.
Sachin stopped speaking, clearly overwhelmed by emotions and guilt.
"Go on." Archana prodded him softly.
He had soon left home, and no amount of talks and pleadings had been able to get him back. Even Manav had given up when Sachin had said he would return like a dutiful son only if Manav too played a 'dutiful son' and agreed to marry Shravani.
Archana raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
"I am sorry." Said Sachin morosely. "I know you hate her, I don't know what happened to me.. I didn't like you at that time, I felt that it was bcos of you that Manav Dada was ignoring the needs of his own family, spending so much time and money on the divorce case, your family problems and so on.. I'm sorry.. Aai convinced me it was for his best.."
Aai again!- thought Archana angrily. However she controlled her anger. "So.. why didn't you marry Sweety after that?"
He would have, except that Sweety's father had taken Manav's suggestion seriously. He had put in a clause in his will that his 18 year old daughter would get nothing from him if she got married without even completing her studies. Sweety had rebelled, even left home, but her father had not budged. Finally Sweety had arranged money for Sachin's business ventures through a close friend's father- who did not have much confidence in Sachin's business proposal, just like other investors who had earlier rejected Sachin, but had gone along since he could not say no to Sweety.
The result had been disasterous. The project had bombed even before it could take off in full swing. Somehow the money had been recovered by pulling back everything from the project quickly, but Sachin had been left with a not so good reputation of a businessman, in front of his girlfriend in particular.
"I thought you were perfect!" she would constantly tell him. "You were supposed to make it big! You were so confident about all this, heck you were so cool about it! How did this fail! How could you embarrass us all in this way?"
It had not been useful. Sweety was a sweet girl but she was an air-head, he'd realised after being with her for a few days, with only her insecurities to feed her. She troubled him for marriage time and again, and he had to remind her that he had no job and she too was not educated enough to work, that he would not be able to take care of even her basic luxury expenses if her Dad cancelled her credit card. He understood that this girl was insecure cos of the way her sister had been cheated by a guy and yearned for a commitment from him, was loyal to him too, but wasn't mature enough to understand the responsibilities that came with a relationship. Nor did she seem eager to learn. He was the one who had to take care of her, in every way.
He tried again. This time, he invested some of the money he had on shares. It was a risk, but he had heard that betting on shares was a good way of making money fast. He had always had the gambler streak anyway. Betting on cards and shares was nothing different- he had thought.
His winning gambler streak didn't help him. The shares sank.
And that was when Sweety snapped. In her own words, she realised that she was 'with a LOSER', not the hero she had thought him to be then- the one who gave a confident vibe, was sure of what he wanted to do, never wanted to compromise. He had understood then, that both he and Sweety had been the same type- both of them had been expecting perfection from each other.
"I used to tell Manav Dada that I don't think much into marriage and stuff, compatibility etc.- they will come with time." Sachin told Archana. "I used to tell him that I just want someone seeing whom everyone else would feel jealous. And then I realised, maybe Sweety had the same expectation too. We only wanted the good things in each other, we were not ready for the negative baggage that came along with it. Maybe we weren't really ready for a relationship in the true sense."
And so they had broken up. It had not been a bitter breakup, thankfully, though Sweety had seemed rather sad about the whole thing. He had apologised to Sweety's father for ignoring his sane advice and giving him trouble, and the good man had offered to set him up with a job, but Sachin had not wanted any more of such embarrassment and wished him and his daughter good luck, wishing he himself would grow up now.
"Why didn't you come back home?" Archana asked.
"I didn't want to go back to that place where I was being manipulated and used.." said Sachin gravely, "by my own mother, to break my elder brother's marriage so that he could marry someone richer."
Archana gasped. Sachin knew this? But how? He hadn't been at home all these days..
"Shravani told me." He said solemnly. "Shravani went away to Bangalore when Manav Dada refused to get married to her. Aai had deserted her cos she had anyway got what she wanted- your and Dada's divorce, she thought she would marry Dada off to someone else now. Shravani was left in the muck. She tried to alert Dada in those days, but Dada had too much faith on Aai and refused to believe that she had actually been brainwashed and Aai was the master mind behind her behaviour, mine too actually. However she did come to me before going back to Bangalore and tried to warn me not to break relations with my Manav Dada and you cos of Aai- she told me everything."
"And you believed it?"
"Not at first, but gradually I realised that what she was saying had an iota of truth. When Aai scolded me for breaking up with a rich girl like Sweety, when I was in that period of loneliness, reflecting on all of Manav Dada's behaviour- him trying to protect me from getting immaturely into a relationship, him trying to guide me saying that if people were not investing in my project, maybe there was really something wrong in it, something I should look into; him trying to convince me to take up a job till the business could open up- he had my best interests at heart, and now that I look back, they were all sane advices, practical and realistic- but I was on my own trip then- felt he was trying to oppress me, crush my passions, was jealous cos I was getting chances he had not got- I just got instigated when Aai painted his intentions as evil.. and.. stepbrotherly.. and.."
Sachin buried his face in his hands. "Aai used me." He declared. "She separated me from him and used me to force him to do as she wanted. The thing that we were stepbrothers had never even been uttered in that house. Aai brought it on and instigated me in such a way that I felt he really was my enemy.. I hurt Manav Dada a lot.. Those words still ring in my ears, I have never been able to forgive myself for all that I had told Manav Dada. I insulted my own elder brother who had put his own life and future at the stake to raise all of us and given us proper education. He has always been protective of us, and even then, he was being just that- a protective brother, no, a protective father- but I got too carried away to understand that, and hurt him.."
Archana did not say anything for a long time. She sat there uncomfortably, thinking of all of Aai's actions which had led to this. The massacre was still there for her to see, contrary to what everyone thought, they had yet not got over it.
Sachin continued speaking. "I didn't have the face to meet Manav Dada, my younger siblings, return like a loser after making all those big declarations of returning home rich and 'showing all of them'. I didn't want to meet Aai who had cheated me. I thought of staying alone, I needed space at that time to sort myself out. But it wasn't easy, I needed money- this time there was no Manav Dada, no Aai and no rich girlfriends. So I did what everyone does- work. Getting work was difficult though- so finally I had to settle down for a post at a call centre, something I got after a lot of toil. The pay is not much and even the work is not of my level of education, but it's okay. I'm looking for a better job. There are opportunities out there in networking."
"You should have come home." Said Archana. "But that is okay. Come home now."
"Home?" said Sachin, taken aback. "I'm not coming anywhere."
"Sachin, enough. Now let me speak." Said Archana, taking authority. She drew in a deep breath before she spoke next. "You have made mistakes, I know, but then everyone has. I have too, and everyone in the house has accepted me in spite of them and given me a second chance. You need to come back home too."
"Are you kidding?!" cried Sachin, standing up in agitation. "Do you know all the hurtful things that I've said to Manav Dada?! Do you know how rude I've been to Baba?!"
"Sachin, they are your family, no one is going to hold a gun to your head cos of the mistakes you've made. In fact they will just be happy to see you back and safe! Trust them to forgive you!"
"It's not so simple!" said Sachin, pacing anxiously. "I can't come back. Do you know how hurt Manav Dada will be when he comes to know that the brother whom he raised and educated to the level of a B. Tech with so much of enthusiasm, is now working in a CALL CENTRE- where even high school dropouts are working at better posts than me? He had to give up everything and work in a garage, he was proud of me cos he managed to send me to college where he could never go himself.. and what have I done with that education..? Nothing! He will be so disappointed! No, I will not go back till I find a job worth my credentials."
"Sachin relax!" said Archana in alarm. "Manav will understand your condition, and then you said you are looking for another job!"
"I can't come back." Said Sachin obstinately. "I'm too scared, and then, Aai will be there too. I don't want to face her. We had a big face off in our last meeting too."
Archana sighed. "Sachin please come back.. Manav needs you.."
"I used to think that.." he said. "But you are there for him.. my presence there will not change anything.."
"Not for us, but it would mean a lot to Manav.."
She then spoke of Manav's illness, as Sachin listened, horrified. It seemed unreal to him, the thought of his brother weak and helpless, since he had only seen the strong side of him always.
"He will get well, won't he?" asked Sachin worriedly.
"He will be admitted to the hospital in two days for a major surgery. All his tests have been done. We are coping very well with the situation, but somewhere, everyone is worried. I understand your reasons and your hesitation in wanting to come back, but, if you come back at this point, it will be like a big source of hope to everyone!" said Archana, and a smile crept on her face. "I can just imagine how pleased everyone will be, as a family they'll just feel so much more stronger."
Sachin sat down.. unable to decide and comprehend anymore. Finally he spoke.
"How is anyone going to feel stronger with me coming back?" asked Sachin. "I left as a strong willed man, declaring that they would see my success story when I come back, and now when I come back as the loser who lost everything and has come back bcos he has no other option.. how am I going to be a picture of hope to anyone?"
Archana continued. "I know you are ashamed and want some time and space to sort out everything, but right now we do not have that luxury.. Sachin, it's not about individual achievements anymore here, nor are we going to be evaluated based on them, its all about the achievements of we as a family now- have we been upto the morals and values instilled in our parents, to stay with our own in bad times.."
Sachin did not say anything for a long time.
"Please come back Sachin, come back to your family, they need you just like you need them. This is the time to forget all the cracks."
Sachin looked up at her.
"I can't come back." He said firmly. "Not now at least. But I'll be with you all along, look, how much money do you need right now..?"
Suddenly he stopped. Archana's face had become taut. She looked angry.
"No.. I didn't mean it in that way.." he murmured.
"Do you think I have come here cos I need money?" she said angrily. "You think I came to seek HELP from you?"
"DON'T come back!" she said angrily. "We don't want you back, cos you can think of nothing except yourself! Its always me, me and me, for you. Nothing about others!"
"Why, you are being exceedingly rude and judgemental Vahini!" said Sachin, equally angry now. "You have no right to judge my feelings.."
"At present, I see no feelings for anyone from your part." Scoffed Archana. "I just see a son running away whenever his family needs him, running away from any responsibility coming his way. Big mistake I made by coming here. I didn't want you to know of everything late and then regret that you were not there when your brother needed you, but now I think I shouldn't have come."
"Oh, chalo, you admit you came only bcos of Dada, right? Otherwise you wouldn't have even cared! Nobody cares!" shouted Sachin.
Archana glared at him in anger. "You're impossible! You can just point out mistakes of others and your own problems- you think you are facing the biggest disasters in the world! Your problems have stemmed from your own mistakes and are NOT lifebreaking! For a minute, consider what your family is going through! You always want luxury- luxury of working when and where you want to work even if your brother is toiling alone for the house, luxury of living life in your own way even if there are greater needs, luxury of fulfilling responsibilities only when you are in the mood to, luxury of coming back when you want to.. life is not always about luxuries Sachin! It's also about hardships- about doing things that ought to be done rather than what we want to do!"
"Spare me the lecture!" said Sachin in irritation. Archana picked up her purse and walked out of the house.
Sachin angrily went and closed the door. He went and removed the shirts from his bed, then lay down, angry thoughts flooding his mind. An hour or two later, he relaxed and thought over everything peacefully.
It was his fault- he thought. He hadn't worded it out as he had actually wanted to convey, and it had ended up hurting his Vahini, making her think that he thought of them all as petty and money minded. It was just the sort of thing his Aai would have said, he thought rather guiltily, and no doubt Archana would have been fed up of listening to such taunts from his mother.
But there was no way he could go back! Not so soon! He didn't want to run away from responsibilities, he too was concerned for his brother, he also missed his family, but somewhere he didn't want to go back now. It was always possible to help from a distance, and then right now, a LOSER like him would only end up crippling them all, and worse he didn't want to go back and accept that yes, he had failed. It would be too embarrassing.
Then again, he told himself, Manav Dada probably knew he was working, and that somewhere things were not hunky dory for him. Probably everyone knew now that he had failed- if they didn't know, Archana Vahini would tell them anyway. Sachin's turbulent thoughts seemed to get no solution. Finally, he closed his eyes in despair.
Archana angrily moved the spoon in the cooking vessel, stirring the contents round and round. Thank god there was no school today. She wasn't in the mood to study.
She had gone to Sachin with so much of hope! She had always thought that if he came back, then somewhere things would turn better. The whole family would be united. But he had disappointed her terribly.
Okay, she had gone overboard in shouting at him, she thought. Maybe she shouldn't have called him irresponsible and stuff- truth was bitter but that was not the moment to have that discussion. She should have talked it out with him calmly, but she couldn't help it. She had just got fired up when he spoke about money, just like his Aai. Sigh! She had ruined all chances of Sachin coming back. Maybe she should have told Baba and asked him to talk to Sachin instead of going herself. Now Sachin was angry with her and wouldn't come back, whereas earlier he had been so sweet to her- even made food for her.
A cool breeze came in from the open window, providing relief to her. She breathed in peacefully, looking out from the window at the rain. It was 5 o clock and Manav had still not returned from the bank.
Well, I hope he kept his umbrella, she thought.
He had not kept his umbrella.
He stood at the door of the bank, looking at the rain. It was raining cats and dogs today, and he couldn't help feeling angry at himself. How could he forget! Archana would surely give him a earful when he returned home soaked to the bone.
His eyes strayed to the bus stop a good distance away from the bank. Oh what the hell, he thought- I will have to run till there now. The only problem was that he had papers from the bank in his file folder. There was no other choice though. He prepared to make the run.
A car swerved at the gate of the bank and stopped. A window opened from it and a voice called out- Manav! Manav! Here!!!"
Now who was that? He walked down the steps, peered into the car to see who was driving it, and turned suddenly uncomfortable.
He looked here and there, not knowing what to say to Satish. Satish on the other hand seemed completely unfazed. "Get in the car, I'll drop you home."
"Umm.. no.. I'll go by myself." He said. But Satish didn't seem to have heard. He opened the door of the car for him. Manav felt awkward- people around were now staring.
"Come on Manav, sit, I'll drop you, I had one or two things to ask you anyway." Said Satish, cool as a cucumber.
That surprised Manav. Quietly he got into the front seat next to Satish and closed the door. Satish started driving. Manav closed the window and Satish, noticing that Manav was slightly wet, turned off the AC.
"Thanks." Manav murmured uncomfortably.
"No problem." Said Satish, giving him a smile. He continued talking to him. "So how is everything going on?"
Everything? Now what did Satish mean by everything, thought Manav.
"I mean your bank loan." Satish clarified. "You had some problems with it when your garage closed down.. I'm sorry I could not help you with that.."
"No it's alright." Said Manav awkwardly. "You were doing your job, and I anyways never expected you to bend the rules of the bank for me.. I have to pay the loan I had taken for buying the garage, even if the garage does not earn anything now. And I have to pay additional sum for the damage done to the garage when it burnt down cos it is still 'bank's property' not mine."
"True." Said Satish. "How are you coping with it?"
"Alright. I got the bank instalment amount reduced- will have to pay them for a longer period and the interest will be more, however, things have been settled as of now."
"Hmm.." said Satish and Manav fell silent. "Arey stop here.. the bus stop.."
"Oh I drove past it or what?" asked Satish, turning to look. "Now there isn't a U turn here.. forget it.. I'll drop you home."
"Home?" asked Manav. He couldn't imagine sitting in the car with Satish for 5 more minutes! Somehow he had never been comfortable with Satish, even though Satish had always been considerably polite to him. Maybe it was because he considered Satish to be a mirror image of what he could have been if he had got better chances in life. Maybe it was because Satish had been the Karanjkar's definition of a perfect guy for their daughter. Maybe it was because he had an inferiority complex, maybe.. maybe it was because he knew that even during their divorce phase, Archana's parents had wanted Satish for their daughter, and Satish too had wanted to marry her..
"Manav?" Satish's voice snapped him out of his thoughts.
"Uh?" asked Manav. "Satish ji, please stop the car at the next signal. I will go from there by myself."
"Arey but.. chalo okay.. as you wish." Said Satish. He continued talking, asking Manav questions about his health. Manav was taken aback, then figured out that maybe the Karanjkars had told him everything when Archana had refused to marry Satish and returned to him instead. Maybe that was why Satish was being so good to him.
Somewhere, the thought made him feel guilty. Satish was a good man. He had genuinely wanted to set right a wrong he had made by breaking his marriage to Archana when Ajit had framed her as a prostitute. He had even said he would convince his parents to accept Archana inspite of her divorcee status. He wasn't a chauvinist like other men, and the fact that he had been given hope by others and had to go in a full circle, convince his people and later be refused for marriage due to the twists and turns in Archana and Manav's life and the sudden change in their decisions seemed unfair. Manav still remembered how Satish had talked to him at the time of Vaishali- Tarun's engagement before the court hearing- asking him to stay away from Archana after divorce, so that she could move on in life with him and forget him fully. He had truly expected to get married to Archana, and the Karanjkars had fuelled his expectations by saying yes to him without consulting Archana first. Even Manav had given him hope by promising that the divorce would surely take place and he would never meet Archana again. And then..
"Hmm???" asked Satish looking at Manav for a split second. Manav looked very thoughtful.
"I'm sorry." Manav said in a firm voice. Satish was confused. "Why?"
"I didn't fulfil my promise to you." Said Manav. "I had told you that after the divorce I would get away from Archana's life forever, that I would never exploit the emotionally vulnerable side of her.. but somewhere I ended up doing just that, I told I would never come face to face with her, that she would never even think about her relationship with me and would be free to start a new life with you. But it didn't happen that way.. I fell sick and then.. well, you know.."
He looked at Satish. Satish had a knowing smile on his face. Manav continued.
"I'm sorry.. I mean.. somewhere I messed up your marriage.. not deliberately though.. but somewhere it ended up that way only. It's the second time actually. The first time you were supposed to get married to Archana, unlike other guys, you were willing to accept her in spite of the fact that she was neither educated, nor working or rich. Then that whole brothel fiasco happened, and I ended up getting married to her. And the second time, you were willing to accept her inspite of her divorcee status, even convinced your parents for it, but fate put me up in such a spot where no wife would want to leave her husband alone.. I ruined up your marriages both time.."
Satish had by now stopped his car under a tree on the corner of the road. He looked at Manav with a smile.
"Don't feel guilty for nothing Manav.." he said easily. "It was fate. She was MEANT to be with you. I'm sure if you hadn't been ill or if the brothel fiasco had not happened , then also I and Archana could never have been together. Something or the other would have brought both of you together."
"Yes, but my fate results in disappointment for you, I mean, you were mentally prepared for the marriage- you even talked to me about it, your parents too, to her parents also and then, the marriage broke bcos Archana made a U turn on the divorce decision cos of my health. You must have felt cheated."
"Not really." Satish said, shaking his head. "Somewhere I always knew it was going to happen. Somewhere I knew Archana would not divorce you, that is why I had that little talk with you on the day of Vaishali and Tarun's engagement- I knew Archana was emotionally vulnerable and hadn't forgotten you. In fact, I had a similar talk even with Sulochana Kaku once." (Refer to previous parts)
Manav smiled. "You give me too much credit."
"No, seriously." Said Satish. "I've always felt Archana was too attached to you to break away so easily, I mean- she persuaded me to excuse your instalments temporarily when your garage burned down- that too just a few days after you were accused of by framing her a prostitute! That must speak of something!"
Manav looked at Satish in shock. Satish gaped at the expression on his face. "You didn't know?"
Manav looked down. Quietly he shook his head.
Satish was quiet for a few minutes. "You know, a few minutes ago I said sorry for not being able to help you with your loan, and you said I was not obliged to bend the rules for you anyway since you are nobody to me- that was actually not for you. It was for Archana- she had requested me twice to help you with your bank loan- once just after the brothel fiasco when your garage burnt down. The second time was a few days after both of you signed the divorce papers, when she realised you were in serious financial trouble."
Manav said nothing.
"It always bothered me then too, that why does this woman care?" shrugged Satish. "I mean, here was this man who had cheated her, whom she hated, whom even her family hated, whom she was divorcing, and yet here she was- begging me to put him out of his financial troubles, asking me if money could be shifted to his name, etc etc. I somewhere knew then that if she had not been able to stop worrying for him in those days when she hated him, then how would she ever be away from him? When I saw her talking with you in Vaishali Tarun's engagement, discussing about both of them, about your problems, about Shravani- I somewhere felt the same again. And hence that talk with you that day, asking you not to interfere in Archana's life again cos I felt she was emotionally vulnerable and unable to keep with the decision that she had taken- the decision to separate from you."
"When Archana left her home and returned to you, she had called me up and apologised for the confusion saying she could never marry me. And suddenly, it didn't seem a shock at all, that girl cared for you since the beginning- I mean, the very beginning- when this whole story even started- when she first came to me long ago for your sake, asking for a loan for you- the person with whom I'd seen her at the brothel. At that time too she hadn't thought about what I would think of her, that it would reaffirm my faith in what I'd seen at the brothel- she simply thought of you. I believe she had been yours all the way since then itself- only thing is maybe she herself didn't realise it then. But I did. I have always believed that the true test of love is in the worst moments of the relationship, and heck, that girl has ALWAYS been with you- even when she literally hated you. What chance did I actually have in face of such a commitment. None! She was your destiny since the beginning- I was no hero in this story at all, you were the hero! And I was just a supporting character, meant to bring both of you together I guess." He pondered at his own words. "Or rather, an extended cameo appearance." He laughed.
Manav did not laugh. He sat silently looking at the ground. His eyes fell on Satish's shoes and his own chappals. He had always compared Satish with himself every time.
For the first time today, he did not do it.
"I got over the whole thing pretty easily. Anyways I was never really in lovvve with Archana, though I liked her as a person. Maybe the whole feeling of 'she's someone else's' that was always there at the back of my mind prevented me from thinking of her in that way. I did eventually think of marrying her to correct the wrong I'd done and cos I truly respect her as a person- I think she's extremely loyal and caring with great strength of mind- but I guess it would have been wiser of me to follow my earlier intuition. That girl would have got married to no one, except for you. She loves you."
"I know." Said Manav softly. He looked up at Satish and smiled. "Satishji, you are a very good man. And an excellent judge of character."
Satish seemed surprised at the compliment. "Wait let me show you something." He opened the glove compartment of his car and took out a wedding card. He showed it to Manav. "My wedding got fixed. My parents chose the girl. I thought you would like to know."
Manav smiled. "Congratulations."
"I'm sorry I can't invite Archana or you to the wedding though.." said Satish sheepishly. Manav understood. Satish still thought of him as the womaniser who had cheated Archana and him and broken their marriage. He wasn't aware of the reality at all, and even though he had softened towards Manav, his parents would certainly be angry.
"That's okay." Said Manav with a smile. "I promise you Satishji, the day the truth about Ajit and my innocence comes out, I will come to you first. Maybe that day will be the beginning of a new friendship." He said hopefully.
Satish didn't look so certain of that, Manav thought, but as always he was polite enough to give him a smile. "Take care of Archana." He said. "She has a heart as soft as butter. I might not agree with her decision of returning to you after what you did, but I can understand it cos of the circumstances. And I hope that if she has placed her trust on you, then she has done it for good reasons unknown to me. Maybe there is more to you than I know of. Good luck Manav."
Manav nodded and got down from the car.
In the rain, Manav walked alone towards home, random thoughts flying in and out of his mind.
He remembered the day Atya and Archana had been discussing about the Vat Savitri fast she had kept for him, but never told him about it. He remembered the sweater she had made on his b'day and told that Vaishali had made it. He remembered how she had hugged him in Mahabaleshwar, but later said that it was only bcos she had become emotional, and nothing else. He remembered all that Satish had told him in the car.
He remembered the days when Archana had been worried about his financial problems, and he had pushed her aside, claiming that there was no need for all of this when she was divorcing him anyway. He remembered her asking him about Sachin leaving home.
He remembered Archana coming back to him and saying she loved him, and him asking her how she had fallen in love suddenly in 13 days, and if it was not sympathy for his illness and his poverty.
And he remembered Satish's words.
Why had she never told him all this- he asked himself. In the period when they were separated, she had been keeping fasts for him, praying for him, making b'day gifts for him, thinking of him, trying to help him with his financial troubles, and yet, had never accepted any of this in front of him. In front of him, she had been cold, unforgiving, accusing and had dragged him to court.
Today he finally understood what Archana had tried to explain to him when she had returned to him, and when he had asked her how she had suddenly fallen in love with him in 13 days after being so cold hearted throughout, whether it was even really love for him or sympathy at his pathetic state. Today he understood what Archana had tried to tell him- all along she had never realised the intensity of her feelings for him, just like he never had in the 2 years before he admitted he loved her. Today he understood that even though she had cared for him all along, her concern had been veiled by her anger, by the way she was 'expected to behave' by most people, by her family. The heart of a woman though was as deep as the ocean, you could never gauge all the feelings and emotions that she hid in it while trying to show a completely different image of herself in front of others for various reasons.
And it had taken time, and a lot of courage for her to break apart from what was considered 'ideal' for her at that point, and do what she really wanted to do- return to him.
He sat near a lamp post, reflecting on his old conversations with Tarun, when he had always felt that he was lonely in his responsibilities, his problems, his world. Somewhere, people had let him down, when he had needed support, he had only Tarun with him. But his wife had been with him even when he had not realised it. Be it the misunderstandings, the divorce, his Aai's behaviour, her parents absolute hatred of him- nothing had managed to wipe out his position in her heart. She was the one person who had loved him in hatred, in health and in sickness, in riches (no riches actually) and in poverty, in peace and during challenges- it was a different matter though that this concern and love had been hidden behind many veils. It had been an unspoken kind of love they had shared, always. She had never really been able to hate him despite of what Ajit, Shravani or his Aai had done. Her concern, her love for him had overcome the hate, always, and that, inspite of the fact that their relationship was barely 8 months old.
Nazdeekiyan ya ho duriyan, bas pyar hi, rahega darmiyan..
And that was only one aspect of the story. The other aspect was how much she had fought and changed herself for him- gone against her family, her near and dear ones, faced the wrath of his Aai, made herself into a bolder and more confident person simply to be with him, to support him.
What more could she have done? What more could anyone in her shoes have done?
"So how long will it take for the power to come back?" Archana spoke into the phone, pushing her hair behind her ears, and proceeded to light a candle with her free hand. "No, the electricity of the whole chawl has gone.. I have no idea if there were sparks on the overhead cables.. hello.. no, arey how am I supposed to know.. I was working.. hey!"
She angrily looked at the phone. These people had no manners, she thought- they cut the phone even when the other person was still talking. Why was she dealing with such stubborn people today- people who didn't want to listen to her! Take that Sachin Deshmukh for example- stuck up guy, stubborn just like his brother, and his Aai, and.. come to think about it- the whole Deshmukh family had a stubborn streak, the only difference was they concealed it in different ways, like Manav with his caring nature and Baba with his wisdom. That reminded her, where was Manav now? The bank must have closed down a long time ago.. couldn't he even call her to tell about his whereabouts? There was a storm coming, he must be knowing she would be worried..
She was frowning with the phone in her hands when she heard the door open slightly. A gush of air flew in with wilting leaves and lots of rain water. At the door Manav stood soaked to the bone and water dripping from his clothes and hair.
"There you are!!" she said in an annoyed voice, but then her attention got diverted to the candles getting blown out because of the wind. "Close the door! Come in and close the door first!!" she cried out.
Manav looked confused. Hesitantly he stepped in and closed the door. Archana walked up to him and looked at the marks of his muddy chappals on the floor.
"The floor is dirty now!" she whined. "You should have removed them before coming in!"
"You asked me to come in and close the door first.." he spoke slowly.
She pursed her lips, then seemed startled by his hair. "Look how wet you are!" She disappeared inside, while he removed his shoes and started walking in. He sat on the dining room chair, lost in his thoughts, while she put a towel on his head and started wiping his hair.
"You should have thought of that before getting wet." She said, trying to appear strict but secretly grinning to herself and wiping his head ferociously till she was sure that not a single drop of water was left in his hair. She left the towel round his shoulders and faced him.
"Why didn't you take your umbrella?"
He gave her a small, tired smile. "I forgot."
"Forgot?" she said in an annoyed voice.
She could not stay angry when he made an adorable face like that, she knew it was her weakness. So she went inside, asking him aloud to freshen up and get ready to eat- tonight it was just the two of them- the children were watching a movie at a friend's house and Aai too was passing time at a friend's house. Thanks to no power, everybody was bored.
He watched her as she worked away in the kitchen, serving dinner for both of them on plates. He watched her as she pushed her hair behind her ears, took a candle in her hands and went to light the other candles that had been blown away by the wind- looking beautiful as the light of the candle fell on her face. He listened to her as she chattered away about how the day had been, though nothing really registered in his mind. His mind rested on the cheeriness of her voice and the way she went about with every work, what would life be without her. Her love had provided the warmth without which he knew he could have never survived the period till now. As much as he agreed she had dragged him to the divorce court, he also knew he had a lot to thank her for- for silently encouraging him to fight before divorce, for the difference she had made in the financial, family and health aspects of his life ever since she had come back, in making him feel she was there with him throughout, in making him feel.. loved. In returning back to him even when HE had failed in giving her proof of his innocence- for accepting him, in every way, just for what he was, and giving her whole hearted love to him.
But then again, he knew what life would be without her- dark and dreary just like the room he was in. He had seen that life.
"Manav, you have hardly eaten!" said Archana coming close to the table again where Manav was sitting. The candles had now been lit again and the flames danced merrily thanks to the wind. Archana frowned as she saw his plate. "And you haven't even changed your wet clothes till now."
Manav was simply looking around. Archana stood close to him.
"Manav, are you alright?" she asked him, concerned now. He had not spoken much ever since he had returned. She wondered whether Sachin had complained to him about her, and the thought made her gulp in nervousness.
In response, he looked at her hopefully.
"Archana," he asked her in a small voice. "You.. you will not go away now right? Leaving me alone? Here? You have come forever right, you won't go away, hai na, the way you did last time?"
Archana couldn't understand what had happened to Manav. She put her hand lightly on his cheek. "Manav.. what.."
But he didn't wait to reply to her. As he was sitting, he simply put both his arms around her waist and hugged her tight, his face coming till waist level, hidden in her pallu and the folds of her sari.
Archana was alarmed, and her confusion increased when she realised that Manav's whole body was trembling now. Manav was crying?! But.. but Manav had never cried in front of her till date! Not when he had lost the garage, not when she had turned him away from her house, not when she had decided to divorce him, not even when he had found the truth about Aai. Till date he had never cried in front of her, and today..
What she did not know was that they were tears of a man who had been to hell and back, from a point when he had absolutely no one to support him, to this point tonight when he realised he had her for support always- when he had finally been able to let go of his inhibitions and put his faith on her that she would be by his side, she would never leave him now, and he would not have to go back to the life without her that he had so dreaded- that for a change now, for the first time in life actually, he could keep expectations from someone he loved and considered his own, without feeling scared that they would break again and he would be left miserable.
She could feel his sari becoming wet by his tears, or rather it was his wet clothes that were making her wet thanks to the tight hug, however, at that moment, that was not her prime concern. She just hoped Manav would take away whatever pain had built up in his heart in one go. Till then she would just support him. Slowly, her arms snaked round his head at her waist, and she hugged him tight, bending her head so that she was almost at the level of his head.
"Shh.. Manav.. I am there na.. what happened?"
Manav lay on the bed, his head placed on Archana's lap. His face looked satisfied and after many days, he felt light headed and truly relaxed. It was difficult to say whether it was the effect of the crying, the lap or Archana's fingers in his hair.
"So what else did Satishji say?"
He turned to look at her with a lazy smile. "Nothing. He was apologising that he could not invite us for the wedding."
Archana laughed. "Trust him to go all soft on you after knowing everything."
"He does not know many things though." Said Manav thoughfully.
"They will come to light one day." said Archana, pushing hair away from his forehead. "Things take time but eventually everything works out in the best way possible. God has a plan for everyone."
Manav smiled. She always had something nice and positive to say to him, and even if he found her idea far-fetched, it felt nice to see her so confident and positive. He snuggled cosily again in her lap, pulling his sheet around himself, sniffing a little.
"There, you have a cold now." He heard Archana say. It was followed by a loud sneeze. He grinned.
"So do you." He said, laughing at her rubbing her nose.
"All thanks to you, I guess." She complained, remembering the wet hug that had transpired between them sometime ago.
"You regret it?" he asked, hiding his face in her lap.
She smiled, realising what he wanted to ask. "No." She said almost in a whisper, softly caressing his hair.
She somehow knew he was smiling in her lap, even though she could not see his face. "Go to sleep now." She said. "I get it you are tired- get up and shift to a more comfortable position."
"Uh hmm.." he said.
"But before that.." she picked a glass of warm turmeric milk kept on the bed side table. "You have to finish this."
He opened one eye to see what she was holding, then made a face. He hid his face again in her lap.
"I don't like milk. You know that." He said.
"And I won't take no for an answer. You know that."
"Drink it yourself, you got wet too."
"My lap is paining.."
He got up with a start. "Arey you should have told na," he said, and she immediately handed him the glass. He looked at her with a frown, while she beamed victoriously.
"You will finish half." He told her. As he prepared to gulp it, he asked her, "Archana, can you take a half day leave tomorrow?"
"I can.. are we going somewhere?"
"Yes.." Manav hesitated on speaking ahead. "I made a mannat at Haji Ali.. so we have to go there now.. and anyways after that I will be getting hospitalised so.."
A smile crept on Archana's face, she looked away. "I will talk to my seniors for a leave."
"And we have to go to Shirdi when everything sorts out well.." said Manav thoughtfully, remembering his encounter with the mysterious old man one night before the divorce hearing.
"Umm.. that trip will have to wait, I guess.."
"And of course we have to go to Bappa's mandir.."
Archana seemed surprised. "Manav, in how many places have you prayed for me."
Manav smiled. "You have no idea." He said, looking her in the eye. He drew the glass to his lips, glancing at her while she pretended to look away. The milk brought him back to earth, he hurriedly finished it in two gulps and Archana laughed at his expression. "You are such a child Manav..!" she exclaimed.
He blushed and looked around to see where to keep the glass. As she took the glass from him, he put his head in her lap again. She looked at him in surprise, and he hesitantly whispered, "I hope it's okay if I sleep this way for sometime.. even though I have calmed down now.."
She didn't need to say anything. Her smile said it all- her pleasure at the fact that he had been informal with her and actually seeked the reassurance and pampering that he wanted. He snuggled in her lap, as if trying to convince his subconscious mind, each part of his being rather, that she was here for good now, and not a dream anymore. She broke out of her thoughts as she remembered the glass in her hands. As she drank milk from it, she could not help remembering their first night after marriage- the same room, the same glass of milk, the same enthusiastic Manav, brimming with so much happiness and love that even she could feel it..
..and a new beginning, again.
That's chapter 84 folks. I think it took a lot of time for ArMan to unite, but hey it's sooner than the serial, don't you think?
Leave behind your comments on this part, I'll be waiting to read them. Enjoy your sunday!
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