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The moment he saw her he felt polar axed. In that moment he was glad that he was already sitting down. She looked stunningly gorgeous. In the light chiffon saree, high heels and her silky hair swept away from her face to fall lustrously down her back, she looked tall, svelte and totally mesmerizing. As she along with a couple of other teachers quite literally herded the small group of children on to their positions on the stage, he dragged his eyes away from her to sweep along the children till he spotted his son kitted out as a cow. His heart swelled with pride as he pointed him out to his mother too.
“Oh my God! Doesn’t he look so cute? Don’t they all look so cute?” his mother gushed emotionally. “I couldn’t believe it when you told me we were going to be seeing him on stage. Which one is his teacher? I must remember to thank her personally afterwards.”
“That one” he said. “In the peach saree.”
“Oh!” His mother seemed somewhat stunned herself.“What’s her name?” she asked.
She nodded and then thankfully before she could comment any further, the music began and the show started much to Madhav’s relief.
Mrs. Dewan was feeling buoyant. Hmm, she thought Radhika Kapoor was pretty. So attractive and so pretty.
Finally the curtains came down on the function to the sound of thunderous clapping from the delighted parents. The children were shepherded back to their respective class rooms to change out of their costumes. And then it was back into the auditorium which was now active with parents milling around, talking to teachers, collecting their children and taking leave. As Radhika entered the buzzing auditorium, across the sea of people her eyes immediately spotted Madhav Dewan. He stood out in the crowd with his impressive height and that magnetic something called charisma. Dressed in a sharp charcoal grey suit and an open necked ice pink shirt he looked very suave, very elegant. He really was impossibly attractive. He stood listening to an elegant lady whom she was sure was his mother as she spoke to their coordinator, Mrs. Seth. Just then he looked up and for the first time in all her twenty two years she experienced that famous cliché of eyes meeting across a crowded room. The experience was electric leaving her stunned and breathless. She pulled her gaze away only to see Mrs. Seth gesturing for her to come over. Her heart sank. This was crazy how was this stranger doing this to her? Making her heart race every time she saw him? She would have to pull herself together. And remember that he was a widower who was no doubt, still holding a torch for his recently dead wife she told herself as she made her way towards them. Once there Mrs. Seth introduced all of them to each other.
Mrs. Dewan quietly noted the Miss Radhika Kapoor.
“Needless to say Radhika, your children were fantastic.” Mrs. Seth said, turning to her with a warm smile.
“Thank you Mrs. Seth.” She replied with an answeringsmile.
“Yes no doubt”, agreed Mrs. Dewan. “All the children were wonderful. I feel especially compelled to thank you for getting Aditya on stage. We truly appreciate it. He looked remarkably confident.” She looked at Radhika with eyes so much like her son’s except that they were filled with warmth. Whereas Madhav Dewan’s eyes were cool and enigmatic; impossible to read. “I especially requested Mrs. Seth here”, she continued, “who is also a very dear friend, to introduce me to you because I personally wanted to thank you.”
“The pleasure is all mine Mrs. Dewan”, beginning to feel a little embarrassed now. And horribly aware of her son watching her with hooded eyes. All he had murmured was a ‘Hello’ at the introduction. “Adityatoo enjoyed the experience very much.” She continuedwith a smile and more importantly a steady voice.
“Nevertheless I do feel truly indebted. I can’t thank you enough. It’s been a very rough time for him” she said and then, “Please join us for dinner tomorrow night.”
That knocked the breath out of Radhika’s lungs. It was all she could do not to gasp out loud.
“Oh no! Thank you so much for your gracious invitation but really Mrs. Dewan it is a pleasure being with the children. And it was all really Aditya’s own effort that really paid off.” She said politely. No way was she going to have even a glass of water with this man watching her, let alone a dinner!
“Please, it would really make us feel very happy.” Mrs. Dewan was insisting.
Picking up on the ‘us’, her son finally took the broad hint and broke his silence, murmuring, “please accept Miss Kapoor. It will be a pleasure. Unless you have other plans of course?”
Was it her imagination or had that last bit really sounded a little…..disparaging? Where did he think he got off with that attitude?
She answered reflexively and despite herself, a little defensively, “No, it’s not that”, she said turning towards Mrs. Dewan, “but there’s really no need. I….” as she floundered Mrs. Seth too chipped in, totally boxing her in, “Go ahead Radhika. They are insisting” She looked at her smiling benignly oblivious to her Radhika’s acute discomfort.
Feeling truly cornered she turned to Mrs. Dewan in the process managing to avoid looking at her son, “Thank you” she murmured even as she had the strange feeling that by uttering these words she had taken an irreversible turn. “I would be delighted….”
“Perfect!” Mrs. Dewan exclaimed delightedly, “That’s settled then. I will have you picked up and dropped back if you could just tell Madhav your address.”
Her stomach swooped at that and then knowing that this time she couldn’t avoid looking at him, she turned towards Madhav and somehow managed to tell him her address in a bright confident voice totally belying the strange fluttery way she was feeling inside. Was this what you meant by the term, ‘butterfly sensations’?
What had she walked into?
Madness. That’s what. She told herself this for the rest of the journey back home right until Kavita boomed, “I knew it. It just had to happen.”
“What had to happen?”
“I knew it. You and Madhav Dewan were meant to get together”
“Hey wait! Have I missed something here? Have I suddenly turned into Rip Van Winkle?” she asked. “Kavita! It is just a dinner for God’s sake! His motherhas invited me for a thank you dinner. Although god knows…….”
“Exactly!” exclaimed the all–too–clever–for-her-own-good Kavita, “see? Now you have said it yourself. It’s just a dinner. A simple invitation by his mother. A thank you dinner. So what are you getting so worked up for?” She paused and looked at Radhika closely and asked innocently with a naughty glint in her eyes,“What were you thinking?”
Radhika looked at Kavita feeling ambushed. And then seeing her expression Kavita burst out laughing. And her laughter being so contagious Radhika was laughing too.
But eventually she stopped laughing and chewing her lip, she said to Kavita, “This is crazy.” She looked at Kavita, “May be I should just cancel.”
“Whatever for? And anyway cancel and say what?”
“Anything……..” she said.
“Anything like what? Headache? Fever?”
“No, not that.”
“No? How about nerves? Cowardice? Or even better-memory loss?”
Radhika glared at her and then sagged her shoulders.
“Hey it’s okay.” Said Kavita supportively. “I do understand Radhika. You are scared of how you react to him. It’s alright. He reacts to you too.”
Radhika’s eyes flew to Kavita’s, “don’t put ideas in my head Kavita….”
“He does” she said in a matter of fact way, “You forget I was there too today. And I saw how he looked at you. So many times he sought you out with his eyes. Of course he was extremely discreet but I was watching” she grinned.
She wasn’t altogether surprised when the driver drove the car into the drive way of a beautiful bungalow. Since it was late evening; almost going eight, the lights were on- giving the house an even more inviting look. After much deliberation and a lot of help from Kavita, she had finally decided on wearing cream pants teamed with a superbly cut cream georgette kurti with a scattering of dull gold motifs and an antique border. On her feet she wore strappy dull gold heels.
As the car drew to a halt outside the enormous wooden door adorned with a self embossing of Lord Ganesha, she took a deep breath and gathering her tiny evening bag and the box of chocolates which she had got for Aditya, she stepped out of the car. Her stomach was by now a nervous flutter. By the end of the journey - right from her house to his, she had worked herself up to a heightened state of nervousness. And that was just it. She had never been prone to nervousness. Hadn’t she been the head girl in school? They should see her now!
Just then the door opened and there stood Mrs. Dewanherself. And what a relief that was! Although why she had even thought it would be Madhav Dewan coming out to greet her, she had no clue.
After greeting her very warmly, Mrs. Dewan led her into a luxurious step down living room. It was done up in rich creams, muted turquoise and dashes of silver. The effect was stunning. Very classy and ultra chic.Thankfully Madhav hadn’t made an appearance yet. A maid came into the room escorting a shy Aditya. She saw his eyes immediately light up on seeing her but he said nothing. Well there had been some joyous response at least, which was good.
“Hello Aditya!” she greeted him enthusiastically hoping some of it would rub off on him.
And it was a start when he extricated his hand from the maid and walked towards her, “Good evening Miss Kapoor” he smiled shyly and allowed his hand to be shaken by Radhika. Then she hunched down at eye level and offered him the box of chocolates she had got for him.
“Here. I have got you this now that you are back to being Aditya Dewan. Although you were quite cute as a cow!”
As she had hoped he giggled at that but didn’t take the box, looking instead at his grandmother who smiled in encouragement, “Go ahead Aditya, it’s alright. Take it and say thank you to Miss Kapoor.”
He took it and said shyly, “Thank you Miss Kapoor.”
“You’re welcome” she smiled at him and leaned forward to kiss his cheek. As she drew back she caught sight of a pair of handmade brown leather loafers. Her eyes travelled up to take in well cut navy blue trousers, masculine hands deep in their pockets, a solid steel watch at one wrist and the sleeves rolled up of a self striped off white shirt that emphasized his broad shoulders. A little further up and her eyes were caught by the velvety brown of his. Her stomach plummeted and she felt breathless because there was no escaping it; he was so utterly male and impossibly gorgeous. And he was looking right at her.
She stood up as gracefully as she could given her world had just been eclipsed by a few hundred degrees. She straightened her back and took a step forward to take his now proffered hand.
“Good evening Miss Kapoor.” He said in that gravel and ice voice that seemed to reach right into her. The hand that engulfed hers was male and strong with a firm grip and instantly a current went up her arm that electrified her. It was the same reaction as that first day. What was this? Her eyes flew to his and she saw a flare of intensity in their dark depths before it was camouflaged by his usual blank expression. She withdrew her hand and drawing on all her skills as a teacher, she managed to give her polite ‘teacher’ smile, “Good evening Mr. Dewan.” Now if she could just get by the rest of the evening with the same élan, she would be so proud of herself!
Dinner as expected was a splendid affair. Adityahad been sent off to bed after being allowed to spend some time with her. Reluctantly the boy had bade good night to everyone and then to her dismay, his grandmother had turned to her with an apologetic smile and announced that she would be back in a few minutes after tucking Aditya into bed.
Left all alone with Madhav in the room she almost wanted to run after the older woman. She resisted the urge to fidget because oh God, this man had some presence! She could almost feel him although he was standing at the bar a few feet away from her.
“May I offer you something to drink? What would you like?” his sand paper and gravel voice was all it took for the colour to creep back up into her face. She was thankful for the soft lighting in the room as she turned towards him and smiled politely. It was on the tip of her tongue to say ‘no thank you’ or worse, ‘soda water’ but just in time she pulled herself back. If he hadn’t already picked up on her nervousness yet, he would definitely pick up on her gaucheness now! She steadied her heartbeat because somehow he was managing to play havoc with it by doing nothing more than looking at her - that too with nothing more serious other than a mild inquiry in his eyes. Totally impersonal, absolutely untouched, completely impervious to the uncontrollable madness that was afflicting her every time she was within ten feet of him. Realizing that he was waiting for her to answer she replied, “A Breezer if you have one.”
Let him make what he wanted of that!
So much for the hesitation……a Breezer! He resisted the urge to laugh out loud. She was a surprise package alright, he thought with amusement. She looked as hot as a siren although she was fully clothed from head to toe. For all her slender curves and statuesque height, her long silky hair and sharp features, her pert nose and soft mouth, it was her beautiful kohl lined brown eyes that were hard to figure. One moment they were soft and dreamy, the next moment they were fiery and sharp.
But at this moment they were skittish and nervous. Shewas skittish and nervous. Since the minute he had seen her tonight she had been trying to avoid looking at him directly. And although she thought she was doing a good job of concealing her jumpiness around him, he knew better. He lips almost twitched with amusement.
He had entered the room to find her looking absolutely stunning in a classy cream and gold kurti and slim pants. Her hair had swung down her back in lustrouswaves and when she had briefly turned her kohl lined eyes to him he had felt like he had been punched in the gut. Since then he had been having a hard time trying to control the long dormant feelings of physical attraction. Strong physical attraction. The likes of which he had not experienced in a long time. May be never. But it was not an ideal situation. She was Aditya’s teacher and as such there was a certain moral code he would rather adhere to. Moreover his entirefocus right now was on his son.
Which, when really thought about, all seemed like a load of rubbish.
Because between this heady mix of her sweet, infectious charm which was making him want to smile and a strong desire to touch her, Miss Radhika Kapoor was rapidly succeeding in tying him, Madhav Dewan, the epitome of self control and a quiet steely strength, into tight knots.
He turned to face her.
“I have cranberry and lemon. Which one would you like?” he asked politely.
Her eyes flew to his. Was it really amusement that was threading his voice or was it only her imagination? No, there was nothing to give anything away in his hooded eyes. Of course it was her imagination. Any way what was there to feel amused about?
“I’ll have lemon.” She replied.
He opened a bottle and walked over to give it to her.
Not for the first time she appreciated how magnificently tall he was. She was careful not to let her fingers brush his when she accepted the Breezer from him. But brush they did and the effect was electrifying. She felt it shoot right up to her heart. For a loaded second their eyes met. Her heart beat escalated to a crazy speed before she gathered some good sense to pull her eyes away from his and murmur a ‘thanks’.
She watched with some relief as he turned to pour himself a shot of vodka with ice. Then he turned to lift his glass and looked directly at her, “Cheers.”
What was happening to her? The man had only to look at her and she was a goner. It was so not done. She’d never get through the evening at this rate. The only alternative to melting at the knees at that satin smooth voice and saturnine eyes was to make a show of coolly looking around the room as she took a tiny sip of her Breezer. Thank God for the cool refreshing drink. It would not only help to bring down her temperature but also to ease her jumpy nerves. She really wished his mother would return soon because this man had an attitude that was so male and it was getting very hard to pretend immunity to such a man.
The absent roaming of her eyes was suddenly arrested by a silver framed photograph standing on a high side table. It was eye catching for sure because the picture was of a woman who was extremely beautiful. She instantly knew it had to be his wife. Not wanting to linger on the photograph so obviously, she made to look away when he spoke from directly behind her. It was a wonder she didn’t jump.
“My wife. Rhea.” He said quietly.
“Yes.” She said inadequately. What a stunner the woman had been. She felt compelled to look at the photo again. No way would he ever find any woman even remotely attractive after her! There would never even be a competition.
She could not even hope to catch his eye. Not that she was trying to, she reassured herself. But there it was - crystal clear; all the attraction here was completely one sided. And that was all it was ever going to be. No matter what Kavita thought or saw or felt. She hadn’t seen what Radhika was seeing right now. Definitely a woman you could never forget. She was not a typical Indian beauty. With her delicate features, high cheek bones and a brilliant smile, she was drop dead - modelgorgeous.
That really should have brought her floating down from cloud nine except there was no letting up of Madhav Dewan’s magnetic charm. All through dinner she was horribly aware of him; her senses drawn to him like a moth to a flame. It was some relief that Mrs.Dewan provided some distraction to her heightened nerves by keeping the conversation going. Because really there it was once again, the feeling that she could feel his eyes on her.
Then just when Radhika had begun to relax a little, Mrs. Dewan turned to her, “Do tell us about yourselfRadhika. Is it okay if I can drop the ‘Miss Kapoor’?” she smiled.
“Yes of course!”
Tell her about herself? Where should she begin she wondered as she swallowed the most heavenly chicken biryani she had had in a long time. ‘I feel terribly attracted to your son? Never mind if he has just recently been widowed? And the woman he lost was the world’s most beautiful woman? I can’t help how I feel around him. No one has ever made me feel like this before. Even now I am feeling totally overwhelmed by his nearness. It doesn’t matter that the nearness is at least at a distance of two feet?’
“You are not from Mumbai are you?” Mrs. Dewanwas asking.
“Uh no.” said Radhika, gathering her senses. “I am from Delhi actually.”
“So how come the move to Mumbai?” this time it was Madhav who spoke. She turned to look at him and immediately her eyes were caught by his. As she tried not to drown in their depths she tried to identify what she saw in them. Was it interest? No of course it couldn’t be that. It had to be a trick of the light and she needed to get a grip on herself. And even if it was interest it was of the polite kind. Host towards guest type. She looked away first and took a much needed sip of water to cool her heated senses before answering.
“I was working at a play school in Delhi for some time and when my friend Kavita told me there was a chance vacancy here I grabbed it. It seemed like a great opportunity to be a little independent.”
“Independent?” he asked taking a sip of the Vodka he had carried along to the dinner table.
Why was she feeling like his eyes were looking deepinto her?
“Yes.” She said. “My parents are so protective of me. Especially my father. And my brother – although he is younger to me.” She grimaced.
“So it was more of a revolt against the establishment?” this time he definitely sounded amused.
She had to laugh at that, “You could say that. But once I told them it’s what I wished to do they were very supportive. Not very convinced but very supportive.My mother keeps their worries at bay for me.” She said fondly.
“You sound like a very close family.” Mrs. Dewan smiled.
“Oh yes we are.” she nodded.
“And that’s probably where you get your sensitivityfrom.” Mrs. Dewan said warmly. “The wonders you have done with Aditya are truly remarkable. He already seems somewhat more confident than before. Isn’t that right Madhav?”
“Yes.” He agreed.
“In fact now that he’s been doing so well I am almost worried now…….” She frowned as she let the sentence drift away.
“Worried?” Radhika asked feeling puzzled. “Why is that Mrs. Dewan?”
“I was thinking that now that Aditya has just started to tentatively come out of his shell, the school has closedfor the summer vacations. I fear it’s too long a gap before they reopen and Aditya will retreat back in to it. He was doing so well,” she looked at Radhika with anxiety and worry filled in her eyes.
Radhika’s heart went out to her. “Don’t worry Mrs. Dewan. He will be alright.” Although she seriously doubted it and even to her own ears she sounded unconvinced. Because Mrs. Dewan’s fears were not unfounded. It was true. Because knowing how disturbing the little boy‘s recent history was it would be a major setback to his development if he was to be totally cut off again.
“Yes. Of course” Mrs. Dewan murmured dejectedly.
“He will be alright Mamma.”
“Oh I can come and see him once in a while.”
Madhav and Radhika both spoke together. He had spoken in a quiet reassuring voice and Radhika had spoken in a kind helpful voice.
But where had that come from? What was she doing? Was she out of her mind? She had to be crazy! What was Madhav Dewan going to think? That she was finding excuses to come to his home? This was awful! Just awful. She wanted to crawl under the table and just disappear.
And sure enough there it was; his next words confirmed it. She wanted to die of embarrassment.Even as Mrs. Dewan exclaimed, “Oh that would belovely!”
“Now that the school is closed won’t you be heading back to Delhi?” he asked looking directly at her.
“Uh…..” as she hesitated she could feel the heat creeping up her cheeks. To cap it all she was no good at lying. “Not yet.” She managed to murmur inaudiblyexcept that Mrs. Dewan was quick to pick it up.
“Really?” Mrs. Dewan asked feeling a sudden flutter of excitement but she hid it immediately masking her voice with polite interest. “Why is that my dear?”
Okay, might as well spill it out….
She lifted her chin, “I am house hunting actually. My landlord needs the place for his nephew who is moving in with them. My friends Kavita and Mohan who were sharing with me are moving out to a place of their own which they have just bought. So that leaves me. So until I find a place to move into I am here. I do hope it’s soon”
“I see. Don’t worry my dear; I am sure you will find somewhere soon.” Mrs. Dewan said sympathetically. But inside she was all excited now. Her expression though gave nothing away. A plan was already forming in her head. In fact it was a perfect plan. She just needed the right moment. For now it was important to let the topic drop so as to avoid any suspicion from Radhika. Even more so from her son.
“But in the meantime it works very well for Aditya!” she said humorously. “He will be delighted to see youin the holidays!” she added sincerely.
“Mamma don’t impose.” Madhav’s voice cut in. Quiet, firm and authoritative.
“Oh I was only…..”
“Have you considered Miss Radhika might have plans of her own? It is holiday time you know. And she is new to Mumbai. There might be so much she wants to do. Moreover everybody else’s world does not start and end with Aditya.” He drawled. “And don’t forget she is going to be busy looking for a new place. That’s not an easy job.”
Mrs. Dewan’s voice was contrite when she spoke, “Please forgive me Radhika for being so selfish. I never meant to be.”
Radhika immediately felt sorry for her and sought to make her feel at ease.
“Please no, Mrs. Dewan,” she said gently. “It will be a pleasure to visit Aditya because I too feel that his progress has been spectacular and should not be hindered.”
“I don’t know…………If you are sure…….” Mrs. Dewan said a little uncertainly and glanced at her son.
“Mamma…..” he began.
“I’m sure!” Radhika cut in before he could say anything further. “I will see to it that Aditya continuesthe progress he has made so far.” She smiled reassuringly at Mrs.Dewan.
“If you are sure then…….”
“Please feel free to carry on with your plans Miss Kapoor.” Madhav’s quiet voice came in. “You don’t have to tie yourself down. Aditya will do just fine. My mother is just getting a little emotional. She tends to get carried away….” He drawled looking at his mother.
Feeling torn now, Radhika looked from mother to son and then took the middle path.
“I guess I will give it some thought and let you knowMrs. Dewan….”
“Of course my dear and don’t worry about the house hunting, Madhav will help you with it.” With that Mrs. Dewan was back in the conversation. No longer sounding unsure and uncertain but quite the contrary.In fact she looked guilelessly at her son as she carried on. “He knows people.”
And with that before he knew it Madhav had neatly been boxed into a corner by his overzealous mother!
“Mamma has a habit of exaggerating things a bit,” he said wryly, “But I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thank you.” Radhika said weakly feeling a bit like she had been swept up by a tiny storm.
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Purva Mehta Books
by Purva Mehta
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