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With morning came shame, guilt and remorse. Last night’s euphoria had evaporated in a puff. She was thankful for the mountain of the Sunday chores that she had to do. No doubt that curiously after ages she had slept the sleep of the dead. But morning brought with it a reality check. As soon as she had opened her eyes, although it was almost ten, the events of last night had run through her mind like a film. She couldn’t even put the blame at his door any longer. If he was playing hot and cold, what was she doing? What must he think of her? Gullible and stupid. It was still not too late. She would just have to get down and start her house hunting with a new desperation now. She needed to move out of his space.
After her huge mug of refreshing green tea, she got down to doing the trillion things that needed to be doing. And she couldn’t thank God enough for that. Reprieve. That’s what she needed for now. Reprieve from insuppressible thoughts of Madhav Dewan. Reprieve from her growing irresistibility to him despite all her vows to herself. Reprieve from him. But there was no escaping it. Her thoughts followed her whatever she did. Her face burned when she thought of how easily she had fallen for his charm yet again. It had taken nothing more than a word here, a touch there and all her lectures to self had flown right into the sky. It was the road to sure disaster. She knew that. And in the harsh bright light of day it was clearer than the finest crystal. She would have no one but herself to blame if she couldn’t stop herself right now, if she couldn’t control her feelings for him right now. For him she was just a distraction, something that had caught his fancy. She was an aberration; temporary and passing. Nothing more. So it was better to be safe than sorry. That was all there was to it. And it was all up toher. Solely up to her.
Therefore it was just as well that she had calls to make, her cupboards to tidy, and more sleep to catch up on. And wasn’t it fortunate that the Dewans were supposed to be out today, visiting Madhav’s Bua, who too lived in Mumbai? And wasn’t it even more fortunate that school was reopening tomorrow? She would be busy all day, with no time to think of Madhav. And he would be as busy as he always was. Preferably travelling out of town and staying there for days on end!
She had not given it a thought but the ever gracious Mrs. Dewan had; on Monday morning when she came down, all dressed and ready to leave for school, she was surprised to see that Mrs. Dewan was waiting for her with a neatly dressed Aditya, also ready for school.
“I thought we could leave together.” She said with her sweet smile.
“That’s so very kind of you, but I could have managed.” She said, feeling a little overwhelmed by the other woman’s thoughtfulness.
“I know you could have. But it would have made no sense, haina? The car is going to drop and pick up Aditya every day as it is, so why not you?” Mrs. Dewan suggested reasonably.
“Yes of course and I appreciate it but if you remember I had also suggested Aditya take the school bus after the holidays. It will be another step towards confidencebuilding.” She reminded her.
“I know you did dear, but Madhav felt we should wait it out another month or so. You know too much too soon?”
This was when she decided to say no more on the subject and gracefully accepted the older woman’s kindness. She didn’t want to butt into family decisions.
Krishan dropped them off and her heart strings tugged when Aditya, after kissing his Grandmother goodbye, sub consciously reached for Radhika’s hand as they entered the school. She clutched his hand tightly in her own and swallowing the sudden lump in her throat she said cheerfully, “Come on! Fun time!”
As the day wore on she was delighted to see Adityaconfident, friendly and forthcoming. He was still a quiet child but no more timid and reclusive. And if she had feared that he would seek her out for support, she was glad to see that he didn’t. He was as much at ease in the class as any other child. She felt her heart swell with pride. And this, of course had nothing what so ever to do with Madhav Dewan.
The following days passed in a blur. She was glad she didn’t see Madhav. By the time she heard his car coming in late evenings most days, she was already in her room, done for the day. Which is why when her phone rang on Friday afternoon, it took the wind out of her sails. It was Madhav. She dumped the comfortable sweatpants she was about to change into after getting back from school on to the bed and stared at the screen of her phone.
“Hello?” she said picking up the phone.
“Hi.” His voice floated into her and stirred all her senses as usual. She sank down gratefully on the bed. “How have you been? Very busy Ma tells me”. He said in that teasing voice.
“Yes….umm not really.” Why did she always manage to sound so confused??
“Good. Because I have called to ask you to have dinner with me tonight. Please?”
Oh Lord what was this?
“Why?” she asked.
There was a pause for a second as though he hadn’t expected such a response and then there was a smile in his voice when he spoke again, “Because I would like to very much. I would like to spend time with you.”
What was he doing? Twisting everything up in knots!
She gripped the phone tighter. Obviously she was going to say no. What was there to think about?
“I would like that, thank you.”
Always so polite. He just loved that about her.
She closed her eyes in utter despair. What had she said? Wasn’t she supposed to be saying no? Fool. Fool. Fool!
“Where would you like to go?” he was asking.
“Nowhere particular.” Her thoughts were already in a turmoil. “You pick.”
He smiled at that. “Ok, so there’s this new place opened recently. They serve a selection of the best of world cuisine. Will that be okay with you?”
How sweet of him to ask. How was she supposed to resist this?
Or maybe she shouldn’t? The Devil’s voice whispered from somewhere.
“Yes.” She heard herself saying.
“I will be waiting for you at eight. Till then take care.”
Ten minutes later she was still trying to figure out the futility of all the lectures she was always giving herself. She was setting herself up for sure heartbreak. And there was nothing she could do about it. She no longer knew herself. But the truth was that she wanted to be with him too. She had never known anyone like him. He was so sure of himself. Sophisticated and strong. Charismatic and gorgeously sexy. And he wanted to be with her.
Enchanting was such a poetic word. But that was what came to his mind repeatedly throughout the evening. She was enchanting, her laughter was enchanting. Her smile was enchanting. How she spoke was enchanting. Her natural grace was enchanting. The entire evening was enchanting. He was spell bound. Totally entranced by her.
Madhav took her to one of the city’s newest, swishiest places. It was amazing. It entrance was unmarked with a discreet. The ambience was very classy. The décor was ware house uber chic. They were escorted to a corner table with soft lighting and the deferential waiter suggested the house special. ‘Bitter gourdsalad’. When she let out a surprised giggle Madhavgrinned back. “This is going to be a date to remember. I take you out for the first time and treat you to ‘karela’.” He said. Then as if a smiling Madhav wasn’t enough of an assault on her senses, he promised her gallantly that he would take the risk with her. So they ordered it. And it turned out to be worth the risk because the ‘karela’ salad was truly amazing, unlike anything she had ever had. Over a dish of Japanese rice and noodles, they talked about everything. From their families to world politics. Their interests and hobbies to their dreams and bucket lists. Everything except once again his wife Rhea.
She blocked the thought as soon as it came, she didn’t want to ruin such a perfect evening. He was here now. With her because he had wanted to be with her. It was only one evening and she was determined to enjoy it.She didn’t know where it would go from here but there was here and now.
Over a delicious dessert of something exotic made of mangoes, Madhav said, “I am thoroughly enjoyed this evening.”
“I am too.” She could not not admit it.
“I would like to do this more often….” He said looking at her.
She looked at him and smiled into his eyes. It was all the answer he needed. But the next minute her eyes clouded and she lowered her lashes.
“What is it?” he asked.
She pulled herself together and looked up at him. She wanted to do this more often too. But inside she was scared. He was way out of her league in terms of maturity and sophistication. And it was clear they wanted different things out of life. Maybe she should just tell him her doubts upfront. Now was the time. She might as well tell him honestly what was going on in her head. May be he would understand. And stop it right here right now. She had tried and it wasn’t working. She had lost herself somewhere along the way.
“I would too.” Oh hell. It was futile. Because she so badly wanted it too. She really did. She wanted to be with him. It lifted her heart. Being with him made her deliriously happy. She forgot everything around him. And wasn’t being happy what it was all about? Wasn’thappiness the one thing everyone was always chasing? She had it here. For how long who knew? She was falling in love with him. She knew that. If she wasn’t already fathoms deep in it. Because nothing else explained how she felt around him. Each one of her senses came alive. She would take it one day at a time. No pressures on herself or him. Yes she wanted marriage ultimately. She wasn’t the type to sail through life. She was practical and cautious. But with Madhavshe also knew that she had never felt this way. No one had ever made her feel this way. It wasn’t the same for him she knew and whatever it was it wouldn’t last for him either; she knew that too. Soon or later he would get bored. Or if not he would know at least how to rein his feelings in. He had something to compare this with. And she knew if it came to that, his heart would never be hers. But she had no such safety net. He was her first love. It was like dancing around fire, she knew she would get burned eventually. But the fact that she knew it and still wanted it, said it all for her. She would enjoy it while it lasted and deal with the heartbreak when it came. And it would come. As surely as day follows night it would come.
She was luminous. Dressed in sleek black pants and a cream top with threads of gold running through it and slinky black high heels she was looked very chic. Her honey brown eyes were lined with kohl and her hair was tied away from her face in a sort of Grecian twist on both sides and they fell to her waist in a lustrous fall of silk. With her perfectly sculpted face and flawless skin, she was unaffected and gorgeous. He couldn’t look away from her. But it wasn’t just how she looked. It was her inner beauty that shone through her. He didn’t know how to describe it but she just drew him to her. Made him feel things he had never felt before. He felt a sense of joy and calm whenever he was with her. So different from how he had felt with Rhea. There was no comparison. Absolutely none. Rhea didn’t come close to how beautiful Radhika was. Inside out.He loved everything about her. The mischievous glint in her eyes and her naught grin, her shy smile and fiery spirit. Her little fights and arguments with him too. She was balm and firecracker all at once. She was polite and witty. Kind and thoughtful. Every one thing Rhea had not been. She made him want to be with her all the time. He had no idea where any of this was going to lead. He did not want to think that far. He had a vague idea of what she wanted though; he knew because he had been there. He was older had been through life a bit and knew what unpretentious, good girls like her wanted out of life. Love and marriage. For them both were interlinked. Marriage he had tried. He didn’t want to go near it again. It was constrictive and oppressive. Demanding and draining. He also knew this did not apply to every marriage; his own parents had been so happily married. But having been there he knew it wasn’t for him. Radhika on the other hand was naïve and young. He didn’t want to shatter her illusions but at the same time something selfish in him didn’t want to let go of her just yet. As for love? That was for poets.
“But…..?” he might as well be the mature one here and give her a chance to run. If she wanted to. Because he wasn’t the one who was going to walk away from this, her, just yet. He had just begun to enjoy himself once more after God alone knew how long. And she was the reason for it. Na, he wasn’t about to let her go.
“But…” she took a deep breath and plunged right in. “But I don’t think this is right.” She was relieved that she had managed to say it.
Her voice was soft but he heard her clearly. He had never admired her more than at this moment. He was floored yet again by her honesty, herself respect, herstrength. Because he knew the mad power of this attraction between them. And having the strength to deny herself was amazing. He was finding it difficult!
He reached for her hand on the table between them and lifting it, placed a kiss on her palm. “Why?” he asked her.
He felt her shiver and when she tried to tug her hand free he only tightened his hold and entwining his fingers with hers, he laid their hands on the table. “Tell me.”
She cleared her throat but didn’t try to free her hand again. She looked at him with clear eyes. “We are very different. I am sure we want very different things in life.” She took a deep breath and came right out with it. Maybe he would run. “I want love, marriage. And I am very sure these are not the things you are looking for……?”
Her refreshing honesty even though he had half been expecting it, took him by surprise. He held her eyes. “Go on.”
“And we are different in the sense that I can’t be sophisticated enough to handle an affair……so see?” she shrugged looking away, trying to hide her embarrassment. But she couldn’t hide the blush that swept up her face.
Oh God. Despite what she said she really was a babe in the woods. He had never met any woman this upfront and honest. Almost all the women he met were masters at being coy and giving off and on signals with the intent of playing hard to get. It was tiresome and annoying. Whereas this? This was something else altogether.
“Radhika.” He said her name gently. She turned to look at him again and even in the dim lighting he could make out her fiery blush. She was just too endearing. “Don’t give what this is any labels. I agree that we are different.” He said tactfully making it understood that love and marriage were indeed not on his list. “But what this is also something different. We want to be with each other. We like spending time with each other. We make each other happy. It’s the same for you, right?”
She nodded. Her bones were turning to liquid with the vague patterns he was making on the back of her hand with his thumb.
“Good.” He smiled at her honesty. “Then let’s just leave it at that. Explore what this is. Enjoy meeting each other. We’ll take each day as it comes. Let’s see where this goes. And let me add”, He smiled into her eyes, “It won’t go anywhere you don’t want it to. I have utmost respect for you.”
That at least was true. He looked at her inquiringly and she simply nodded as her blush deepened and a smile lit up her face.
He felt like the big bad wolf. But he promised himself he would never kill her innocence or her guileless trust in him.
“Coffee?” he asked as the waiter cleared away their dessert.
“No thank you.”
He signaled for the cheque, signed it and walked out of the restaurant to their car, all without letting go of her hand. As for her, was this what it meant, to be walking on cloud nine?
When they drove home, it was late but she didn’t want the evening to end. So when he brought the car to a halt and they stepped out she turned to him to say, “Thank you. I’ve enjoyed every moment of this evening.”
He smiled, watching her, “I did too.”
She felt inexplicably shy and then blurted, “Um…U wanted to see my sketches.” And then realizing how inviting that might have sounded she quickly sought to salvage her embarrassment. Because no matter what she still felt so out of her depth with him. So she said, “I mean obviously its late now. I only meant…”
“No, it isn’t late at all. I’d love to see them now.” He said still watching her. She thought she detected amusement in his eyes.
This was so embarrassing. She had boxed herself into a corner and couldn’t get out now. “Yes, I mean….”
“I promise not to jump on you.” He cut in. This time she was sure she saw amusement in his eyes. It wasn’t funny!
“In that case let’s go!” she said, her usual spunk back with a bang. He followed her with a grin.
He didn’t have the greatest eye for art, but he did know that what he saw in her sketch book was good. She had a flair for landscape sketching. It surprised him that she used charcoal to sketch. While he flipped through her book, she offered him coffee. He declined and instead asked her why she never pursued art.
“I’m not that good.” She laughed. “You should see the talent out there!”
“But you should hone yours too.”
“Yes I plan to take up some kind of course for this, to refine my hand a bit.”
After he had finished seeing it, she got up put it aside. She came back to find him lounging back against the sofa watching her. What now?
“So what are your hobbies?” she asked inanely in an effort to fill in the silence. And to cover the effect his presence was having on her nerves. While still figuring out if she should sit down next to him or remain standing. There was only that one sofa and another chair which was in the far corner. So she took the middle path and went about straightening a cushion here and a coaster there.
His mouth quirked. He could see how skittish she was. It was endearing and a part of him wanted to assure her that this was a novel experience for him too. He had never been around someone so naïve. He’d play along and see what happened.
“Oh…..” Was that it? What kind of reading? Novels?Fiction? Non fiction? There had to be something more. You couldn’t just say reading and leave it there?
“Um… what kind of reading?” What an inane conversation this was turning out to be but he was making her nervous and that in turn was making her babble.
“Reading people. For example I can tell you are afraid right now.”
She stilled and her eyes locked with his.
“Radhika, come here. You have nothing to be afraid of.” He held out his hand to her. It got to him again; the trust she had in him, when she did as he asked.
She placed her hand in his and moved towards him and the worst cliché in the world took place when she stubbed her foot with table and fell headlong onto his lap. She wanted to die of mortification and immediately made to scramble up but he tightened the arms he had reflexively put around her when she had fallen. He said in an amused voice, “I had promised I wouldn’t jump on you but there was never an agreement about what would happen if you jumped on me.” He said, his voice loaded with amusement.
She jerked her head up to look at him, her face still burning with mortification. But when she looked up she realized her face was not even an inch away from his. Awareness swept through her in a tidal wave. Her breath caught and she couldn’t look away from the mesmerizing hold of his eyes. The laughter had left his eyes leaving them deep and languorous.
Madhav could no more resist her than stop breathing. She felt so feminine in his arms. Delicate and irresistible. And he was no saint. Just one kiss he promised himself. Slowly he lowered his head. He imagined he was giving her time to escape if she wanted too. But she seemed as transfixed as he felt. His mouth met hers and desire exploded inside him. He gathered her close to him and kissed her with an ardour he couldn’t control. He shifted her slightly till she fitted into his body like she was made for it. He deepened the kiss as his hunger increased. His hands slid under her slinky top and roamed every inch of her back. Her skin was satiny smooth and he almost groaned out loud when she arched her back moulding herself even closer to him. This was madness. He couldn’t get enough of her. Her taste, her perfume, the feel of her; they were all taking him to the edge of sanity. He made to take off her top when some shred of sanity returned. What was he doing? Not her, not now. This was Radhika. The one girl who trusted him implicitly. No questions asked. She was unspoiled and ignorant. If he took this any further by tomorrow she would be head over heels in love with him. He lifted his head and gently extricated her arms from around his neck where they had made their way as she had clung to him. He straightened her top and set her down on the sofa. Then he got up and looked at her. She was looking up at him with glazed eyes, her skin still flushed. Then he bent down and dropped a kiss on her sweet lips, “Good night sweetheart. Sleep well.” In the next moment he was gone.
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Purva Mehta Books
by Purva Mehta
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