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Kavita was ecstatic to see her. Even more so when Radhika reached onto her bag and handed her a bottle of her mother’s home made chutney which she had brought for her from Delhi. The day flew by as they packed in a bollywood movie which Kavita andRadhika giggled throughout much to the amusement of Mohan because the popcorn turned out to be more fun than the corny movie itself. Then they roamed the hugemall where Kavita picked up stuff she needed for her new place. Radhika and Kavita also bought clothes which they both said they needed and Mohan commented indulgently, ‘women always needed.’
The end of the evening their arms laden with shopping bags, they sat down at a food court where Mohan got them all some snacks and coffee.
“So now that the school is reopening soon, we’re thinking of having a house warming party.” Said Kavita. “By then everybody will be back in town,” she explained between bites of a flaky Danish pastry. “I’ll let you know as soon as we set a date.”
“Sure. Tell me what I can do to help.” said Radhika.
“Nothing at all. We are keeping it simple. A small pooja in the morning which the parents will attend and a party in the evening, which they are not interested in attending. Of course you are family so you are invited to both.” She smiled.
“But relax Radhika,” spoke the ever sensitive Mohan, “Don’t worry about turning up that early in the morning. We will see you in the evening. That’s when as Kavita puts it, ‘the fun’ will be.” He grinned.
She had got back late evening to find that Madhav’s Mercedes was not in. Another date with Diya no doubt.But what had any of it to do with her? She had had a great day and so what if his car still hadn’t come in till midnight when she had finally retired to bed? The anti climax however came the next morning. She had spent all night tossing and turning, listening for the slow purr of the Mercedes to drive in; it had never come. Okay, so like he had said, what did she know about the wonders of sleeping late or maybe not sleeping at all? She really had done the wisest thing by staying away the whole day. She wondered about his scruples or the lack of them. May be now she would learn, she asked herself. Because so far the pattern had been predictable; falling for his charm every time and worse, never learning from things. How else would she explain the restless night she had had? Waiting and listening for his car. Served her right when it never came.
The week passed in a blur of activity. Kavita’s house warming was coming closer as the date had finally been set for the coming Saturday. And she was spending almost every day with her helping her for the preparations of the house warming. She hadn’t seen Madhav since that Sunday, which meant that he was out of town again. She met Mrs. Dewan every day because she made it a point to spend some time with Aditya engaging him with some different activity every day. He seemed to be opening up and gaining confidence more each day. But Madhav’s name was never brought up. Not by Mrs. Dewan and of course not by her.
On Friday Kavita came by to pick her up so that they could buy a few last minute items she had seen earlier at the mall close to the Dewans’ place. After a couple of hours of hectic shopping when everything seemed to have been covered, they decided to sit down for a bite. They chose a corner in the feisty, noisy food court and as they waited for the buzzer to announce their order of spicy chicken curry and butter naan, Kavita casually dropped her mentioned it, causing Radhika to nearly choke over her chilled lemonade.
“I have invited Madhav Dewan for tomorrow evening’sparty…..” and while that froze Radhika instantly, she carried on unperturbed, “and he has graciously agreed to come.”
Now Radhika nearly did choke, “What?”
“I said’, she began, “I have invited Madhav Dewanfor……”
“I heard and he has ‘graciously agreed to come’. That’s what you said, I heard you!” and then she asked, “When? Are you serious Kavita?”
“Of course I’m serious. Why wouldn’t I be?Yesterday” she said in answer to Radhika’s question.
“Because it makes no sense! How does he figure on your guest list?” she almost wailed.
“It’s a couples only party.” She stated.
“Of course it isn’t!” Radhika said. “You said no such thing earlier.”
“Well now I am.” Said the irrepressible Kavita.
Radhika shook her head, “ok so only couples are invited. And,”……she spoke slowly, cautiously….. “If I have understood this correctly you presume that Madhav Dewan and I are the couple here right?”
Kavita smiled and nodded, “You got it.”
“Do you even know what you are doing?” Radhika wanted to explode! “I thought you said I was family. But now I see there are rules for me too…..!”
“Oh no sweetie, you can’t pull that one on me” she sounded almost bored. “You know you are family.”
“Then I’m coming alone or not at all.” She said.
“Fine if that’s what you want to do. I thought you said you were family…” she reminded her, “and that youwanted to be there but…” she shrugged, “since it is a couples only thing and you’d prefer to do it alone, you’re sure to stick out like a sore thumb. But that’s fine by me….” Radhika was gritting her teeth now but Kavita was calmly continuing, “Just make sure you tell Madhav Dewan that you’ve chickened out.”
“Wait a minute! Have you told him the same thing?” Radhika was horrified with embarrassment.
“Of course I have.” Said Kavita matter of factly.
“What did you say?” this was a nightmare. Of course it was.
“That we are inviting a few close friends…..please feel free to bring your partner along…..”
Radhika was now staring at Kavita with horrified mortification.
“You didn’t.” She was still in denial. “You’re lying of course.”
But Kavita was on a roll. “He said he didn’t have anybody.” Kavita looked at her. “He understood ofcourse that he could not bring his mother along….I hadsaid friends?”
Radhika failed to see any humour in this even as Kavita continued, “So I sensibly suggested that if that was the case, you and him could come together since you didn’t have anybody either.”
“Gosh! No!” Radhika could feel her cheeks burning now.
“He said it would be his pleasure. My God I do love how he is such a gentleman!” Kavita chirped.
“Oh really?” she had gathered herself now. Sanity was slowly returning. She had her pride of course. “Do you really think I am going to come down from my rooms, find him waiting for me and then I’ll hop right into his car and we’ll drive off?”
“No. He said he would tie up with you.” Kavita continued in that ignorant tone.
“What are you trying to do Kavita?” she asked desperately. “You know nothing! You have no idea. He is conceited and arrogant, thinks no end of himself and …..and….he is seeing someone!”
“I don’t think so because remember I invited him to get anybody he wanted with him and he said there wasn’t anybody?” Kavita reasoned.
“That only meant there was nobody he wanted to bring along.”
“What’s the difference?”
“You cornered him and embarrassed us both!” She glared at her friend.
“I didn’t. It was his idea.”She said unbelievably.
“What was his idea?” Radhika was ready to clench her teeth now.
“He told me it made a lot of sense to bring you along since you were going to be coming from the same place?” her friend looked at her pointedly.
“How does he know if I am getting anybody with me or not?”
“Ask him.” Kavita invited glancing at Radhika’s phone on the table.
Radhika followed her glance feeling like she was growing crazy. And then her heart stopped. The screen of her phone was flashing. Madhav Dewan was calling.
Her eyes flew to Kavita’s. “You set this up!”
“I didn’t. I swear. Believe me. But he did say he would tie up with you?” she reminded. She nodded encouragingly….”Go ahead. Pick it up and ask him.”
With a shaking hand Radhika picked up the phone. She swallowed and took a deep breath, “Hello?”
“Hello Radhika. How are you?” oh my god. He needed to do something about his voice. It had a mad effect on her. Every time. Even if he was to discuss the weather with her.
“I’m….I’m fine.” Why did she have to stutter?
“You seem to be outside somewhere…” he observed. Probably the din in the food court.
“Yes we are at the mall. The food court.” She clarified.
“I see. Your friend Kavita had called to invite me for her house warming party which is tomorrow…..”
“Yes….it’s tomorrow….” She said inanely.
“I would like it very much if we could go together…?”he asked.
Oh my. That voice. Low and gravelly. Thank god she was sitting. She was sure her knees were trembling.
“Um….yes…. thank you.”
“The pleasure will be mine.” She heard the smile in his voice. “We should leave by seven?”
“Yes…” that was a third yes in a row….that’s all she being able to manage.
“I will be waiting downstairs. In the meantime enjoy your day. Take care.”
And he had hung up.
“You didn’t ask?”
“What?” Radhika looked up to see Kavita looking at her with eyes filled with mischief.
She was ready much before seven. And all the while she had tried to still her beating heart. This was a situation she could not get out of but at least she could make sure it was the last time she was going to set herself up with him. She was going to tell him upfrontthat she was no play thing. He had his Diya. And she Radhika Kapoor was nobody’s substitute toy. And she was going to make sure he understood that. She had already experienced his blow hot blow cold attitude. And it was not going to happen again. She was incharge of her life her.
He saw her coming down the stairs in a burnt orange churidaar suit and each one of his senses stirred to pulsating life. She assailed his senses. Every time he saw her. There was no other way to describe it. But he was also fast learning the necessity of schooling his reaction into a cool looking, unaffected façade. It had to be that way. Sort of a protective as well as reflex self defense mechanism. But each time he tried to push her or himself away the urge to get closer to her was more powerful than before. Moth to a flame syndrome, he thought ruefully. But he was the older, mature one here. And no matter how she set his heart racing, he was going to take control of things now. He would be polite, cordial and attentive this evening. A through gentleman. She would understand that things were going to be easy from now on. They would be friends. He would make sure of that.
So far so good. Her breathing was under control after the first mad flutter of her heart on seeing him. He wore a black silk shirt and black trousers. He looked tall, fit, and devilishly handsome. They didn’t talk much on the way. Just about the sultry Mumbai weather and he politely mentioned his appreciation once again for her efforts on his son. She thanked him equally politely.
She was relieved when they reached because inhaling his tangy cologne in such a small, enclosed space was beginning to play havoc with her nerves. They were welcomed with sincere warmth and a naughty twinkle in Kavitas eyes which was only for Radhika. The party was already underway. There was music and dancing, the bar at the corner of the living room was busy, thelighting was soft and everyone generally seemed to be having a good time. Radhika felt strangely conscious making an entry with Madhav. Because the minute he entered it was obvious he was older than most of the other men and the most suave too. As he handed Kavita a small present wrapped in gold paper and a beautiful bouquet of wild orchids, Radhika felt a ridiculous rush of pride. God he was charming! He congratulated Kavita and said something Radhika couldn’t catch but it made Kavita blush! She handed over her present too as Mohan too came over and introduce himself. He immediately took charge of making Madhav feel comfortable. He introduced him to his friends and led him to the bar. Radhika was swept in too, meeting other friends and catching up. She discreetly looked around the little crowd once in awhile and spotted him, usually in deep conversation with some young man or other. You could tell they were impressed by his persona. She knew because she was too, right? She determinedly turned her back to him and decided to enjoy the party. After some time though she looked up again but failed to spot him anywhere. Where was he? May he was using the men’s room. But ten minutes later she still hadn’t seen him. Where was he? Her eyes swept the room again…..maybe he was on the balcony outside? She could see a few people there from where she was standing. She picked her way through the crowd, trying to hold her Mojito high so it wouldn’t spill. Finally she was at the balcony. She looked towards her left; he wasn’t there. She turned to look at her right and there he was standing back against the rail, watching her with a small smile. He was holding a glass of what seemed like scotch o the rocks in one hand. The other was in his pocket.
“Hi.” She said a little breathlessly.
“Hi” he smiled.
“Are you doing ok?” What else could she say now that he had literally caught her looking for him?
“Now I am.” He said.
It took a moment for the ‘now’ to sink in. He was flirting with her. He was irresistible.
“I meant I hope you are doing okay….I ‘m sorry I got a little caught up with friends.” Why was she sounding breathless?
“I’m doing just fine. Dhruv here has been telling me all about his hospitality business”. He said gesturing to the young man standing next to him whom she had only now noticed.
“Hi” he said already a little distracted by the phone in his hand. “I have to take this call. Excuse me.” He nodded with a smile and answered the phone, moving away at the same time.
“I don’t think I told you how beautiful you looktonight.” She heard Madhav speak. She jerked her head around to look at him and immediately got ensnared by his eyes. The world around them seemed to fade away. She had this faint feeling of clichéd sentences but this was actually what was happening to her. She actually felt she could lose herself in the depths of his eyes. She was spellbound for the first time in her life. And utterly speechless.
She felt his hand close gently around her and pull her closer. It actually helped to break the spell. She used her newly returned senses to resist the pull but he murmured, “Let him pass.” It took a moment for her torealize that a waiter was holding a tray and needed way to get through the narrow space. Making the most of her momentary distraction, Madhav pulled her closer still. She was almost plastered into him. She could feel the grip on her glass loosening. As if he knew it too, Madhav took it from her and placed it aside. When she tried to tug free a second time, he again tightened his grip and said, “Stay.”
And she did. She didn’t know why. She didn’t wonder why. She just did. He pulled even closer and tucked her into his side in the crook of his arm. Then he handed her her glass and raised a toast, “To the amazingly gorgeous Miss Radhika Kapoor.”
For the rest of the evening she didn’t stand a chance. He never let her leave his side more than ten minutes. She introduced him to her friends and he talked to them and charmed them all. Kavita kept giving her naughty grins. He danced with her too, holding her close against him, oh yes she never stood a chance. It was an enchanted evening. But as it drew to a close and they said their goodbyes, sanity returned once more. Before they got into the intimate confines of the car she would tell him she decided, exactly what she felt. She was not going to be used. She was not a fill-in. They went down the elevator in silence; she made sure she stood a little away from him. Once outside on the street, she knew now was the time to tell him. His car was parked a little further up. She would tell him that this outing was a one off. Not to be repeated and not to be confused with anything other than a harmless evening out with friends. Before she could think any further, she realized he had stopped. They had reached his car. But he did not unlock the car. Instead he turned to her and asked, “Look I need to know. Who was ‘we’ at the mall today?”
“What?” she turned to look at him and realized that they were standing in the shadow of a huge tree at the side of the road. His eyes were holding hers as he waited for her to answer. She could feel a strange tension in him.
“I said…” he began to repeat what he had just asked her but she cut him short.
“I know. But why do you want to know?” she asked feeling genuinely puzzled.
“I just need to….” And then, “Don’t you think it’sobvious why?”
No it wasn’t but now was the time to say what she wanted to. He had given her the perfect opening.
“No its not.” She told him. “And I am not going to answer it. I didn’t ask where you have been with whom and you have no right to ask me either.” She said boldly.
“Really? After this whole evening?” he asked.
“What about this evening?” she questioned. “You spend a few hours flirting with me and you think you have some kind of a claim on me? What about yourDiya? Or had you forgotten her? Or yes, maybe she is too hi-fi to bring along for this kind of party?”
“Who?” he asked.
“Diya. Or have you forgotten who she is?” she asked caustically.
“Diya? Diya?” he repeated. “How can you even think of her that way? Are you crazy? And whatever gave you such a mad idea?”
“It’s not an idea!” she protested. “And this time youcan cut the innocence with me, it won’t wash. I’m not exactly a babe in the woods. I was there remember when she flew to meet you and draped herself all over you like cling film?”
“Oh my god. Are you serious? She is my sister in law.Rhea’s sister. Twelve years younger to me. How can you even think such a crazy thought?”
“I saw her and I saw you. I saw how you met her too.”
“You need to get your head examined!” He said. “I have never thought of her as anything other than a kid sis. Have you understood that? And you can stop hiding behind this pathetic excuse to avoid telling me who you were with all evening!”
“Exactly. So now do you get it? We are even now. You stay out of my life and I stay out of yours. I ask no questions and you don’t ask me any either!” she fumed.
“Except you are so wrong.” Suddenly he reached for her and pulled her tight against him. “What sort of woman are you? Flirting with me all evening when you have just spent the entire day with someone else?”
“Let go.” She said.
“No. Not until I have answers. Who was he?” He asked.
“You have a mind like a gutter!” she threw at him.
“No less than yours sweetheart.” He said.
“Let go of me I said” and to her horror her voice cracked. All of a sudden it was too much. He was too much. Why couldn’t he let her be? She had been doing so well till now. Strongly putting up a resistance to his potent charm and now suddenly she felt overwhelmed. She didn’t know why but she was just so fed up.
“I can’t. Not unless you tell me.” He sounded bewildered as though he too no longer knew what he was doing.
And it was true. Madhav had never felt like this. Powerless and a slave to his emotions. Jealousy……Was this jealousy? Because whatever it was it was an emotion he had never felt before. It had been eating him up all day. He had brushed the nagging thoughts aside but just when he thought he had it all under control they had resurfaced with a vengeance.
And he couldn’t let go. It was something he didn’t understand. He pulled her even tighter into him if that was possible, he lowered his head to capture her stunned lips with his. He couldn’t help it. Something had taken hold of his senses, she had bewitched him. For a second he felt her stiffen in shock but then almost immediately he felt an answering change in her. He felt her melt in his arms and he entangled his hand in her silky hair and angled her head to deepen the kiss. She was ambrosia. He kissed her with an increasing ardour. He couldn’t get enough of her. He kissed his way down her smooth throat, loving the feel of her soft skin. And then he kissed her lips again. He felt intoxicated by her. But finally he lifted his head and holding her head in his hands raised her face to his, “tell me.” He said hoarsely. “Tell me sweetheart who were you with?”
“Kavita.” She answered in a small voice.
He let out a rueful laugh. “You are going to be the death of me.” He said resting his forehead against hers. He leaned back against the bark of the tree and tookher with him. Kissing her slowly deeply languidly this time, he kissed his way across her satiny cheek and just below her ear. She shivered. With great will power heraised his head again and straightened. He looked down at her beautiful face in the shadowed light and marveled at her luminous eyes. He had to take a deep breath to gather himself before reaching for her handand saying, “Let’s go.” He needed to put a stop on this physical need right now before he lost all control.
Once inside the car he held her hand again and through the drive home didn’t let go of it. He cut the engine and leaning across the gear box to drop a final kiss on her lips he let go of her hand said, “Run along upstairs before I lose my head again. Good night sweetheart.”
‘Good night” she only just managed to murmur and finally pulling free of the hypnotic spell of his eyes shefled to her room.
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Purva Mehta Books
by Purva Mehta
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