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The days following that passed in a spectacular blur. Life was like it had never been. She had never before experienced such sheer happiness. Sometimes Radhika was sure she was walking on air. Every weekend Madhav took her out somewhere. Clubbing, dining, movies (because she insisted) and even family outings with Aditya and his mother. She had to pinch herself to be reminded that this was indeed no dream. During the week when he was not out travelling somewhere, he insisted she have dinner with the three of them. This she had tried to resist but Mrs. Dewan had pitched in too and she had been outnumbered.
She was falling in love. Deeper and deeper with each passing day. She did not stop to explore what Madhav might be feeling except that he seemed very happy and relaxed too. He laughed a lot and so did Aditya now. She felt a curious sense of victory watching him. Nor did she let herself think even one day into the future. Itwould bring speculation and that would surely cloud her happiness. So she took each day as it came. Sometimes he surprised her with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, sometimes he got her a box of her favourite chocolates. As for his expert kisses, she was fast becoming addicted to them.
Over the long weekend of Independence Day she flew to Delhi to meet her family. They were all missing her and she wanted to see them too. Aditya and Madhav came to drop her off at the airport. And her heart skipped a beat when Madhav dropped a kiss on her forehead and said, “Take care.”
She looked up into his beautiful eyes. “You too.”
The three days she was in Delhi, Madhav remained in her thoughts all day and all night. While she enjoyed every minute of being with her family, Madhav was there too. In her thought all the time, every moment. And her mother guessed it too. Especially when she told her mother that she was seeing Madhav.
“I saw it coming long before you did. And I can see what’s coming in the future too.” Her mother advised her. “Come back home before you get hurt. He is way out of your league. There is no future with someone who will always hold a torch for his dead wife and who already has a son. Don’t be blind.”
But she just looked at her dear mother and confessed with her heart in her eyes, “I’m in love with him Ma. He has not taken any advantage of me.”
“He has already stolen your heart. In my book the damage has already been done.” Her mother said.
“Please trust this Ma, for a while at least. Please?” she requested.
“I don’t know” her mother said honestly. “But I trust you.”
This time Madhav was not there to pick her up at the airport. She had not spoken to him since the night before. But before she could think of getting a cab, she saw Krishan. Mrs. Dewan had been as thoughtful as ever.
She couldn’t wait to see Madhav. But as soon as she reached home she could make out something was amiss. There was something somber in the air. Unlike last time there was no one to greet her. She hadn’t expected it of course but something wasn’t right. So she did the next best thing. She went straight up to her rooms and unpacked. After freshening up she decided to go and say hello downstairs as well as to thank Mrs. Dewan for sending Krishan to pick her up.
And she was dying to see Madhav. She looked at her watch. It was just after seven. Madhav wouldn’t be inyet but he’d be here anytime.
She entered the house and was immediately taken aback to see a very sad and downcast looking Mrs. Dewan. “What is the matter?” she asked
Aditya was nowhere in sight.
“How is everyone at home dear?” the ever gracious lady asked as she met her with a warm hug and then gestured to a chair and told the servant to get some refreshments.
“Everyone is fine and please ask him not to get anything. I have just had tea. But first please tell me what is wrong.” She asked again.
“It is Rhea’s and Madhav’s father’s barsi today.” She said taking the wind out of her sails.
“Oh…” that was something Radhika had not anticipated and it left her speechless for a second before she gathered herself and reached for Mrs. Dewan’s hand, “I’m so sorry.”Mrs. Dewan nodded.
And then without any further prodding she spoke, “Sunil lived his life. I miss him. It’s been two years but I have reconciled with reality. I know I need to be strong for what’s left of my family but when I look atlittle Aditya somehow I just feel so defeated and helpless. He is too young not to know a mother’s love. He does not deserve this. My son needs to be happy again too.”
“I understand Mrs. Dewan…” her heart went out to the older woman but then there was nothing she could say. But she understood, she really did understand.
“I have sent Aditya to his friend’s place to play for a while.” She squeezed Radhika’s hand and smiled. “Thanks to you, he is going out now on his own. I sent him with Jayanti.” She said referring to one of the domestic staff.
“Please don’t mention it.” Radhika said.
“As for Madhav he hasn’t been himself either since last evening….today is a hard day….” Her voice seemed to trail away.
Radhika’s heart squeezed at that. Of course he missed his wife! If she had managed to block it from her mindit didn’t mean that he had! Rhea was a part of him. She was irreplaceable to him. It was a painful thought to admit but it was true. May be this was the reality check she had needed; what her mother had just warned her about…..
Just then the door to the living room opened and Madhav came in. her heart leapt. But it became evident once again that he was much more sophisticated than her, because whereas she couldn’t hide her pleasure at seeing him, even though she tried, he felt no such emotions. His eyes on seeing her became hooded. His expression was impassive, impossible to read. Except that it told her all she needed to know.
To him she was an insignificant stranger once again.
But nevertheless although she was still a little disoriented by all what had just happened right now, still trying to process everything she had heard and everything that was still happening, she stepped forward and with an uncertain smile, she offered him hr hand and said, “Hello Madhav.” It was surreal to be greeting him like that but then she couldn’t think of anything else. Especially when he was no help at all.
He took her handed and nodded briefly, “Hello Radhika, I hope you are well.” He had turned into a complete stranger.
There was no answering smile, not even in his eyes. It hurt but then she told herself his hurt was so much more than hers right now. It really didn’t matter. Shewasn’t that petty and moreover in a strange kind of way she understood him. He had tried for a while to find happiness with her. And for a while he had been happy too, she knew that. But that had been it. His heart it was evident would always belong to his wife.
“Yes, thank you.” She said.
He thought she saw him smile faintly just then but it was gone before she could be sure.
“Uh…I was just leaving.” She said, beginning to feel uncomfortable and feeling that somehow she was intruding on something private here. “I’ve had a long day myself. Lots to do. Unpacking and things.Moreover there’s school tomorrow.” She smiled a little uneasily and walked towards the door.
“Please have your dinner with us, Radhika, you’ve just come in.” His mother stalled her.
“That’s so kind of you but I’m not really hungry. I think I will just have some soup. I have a couple of those packets lying around.” She smiled briefly. “Good night.” She couldn’t help and it she gave the older woman an affectionate hug, “Take care.” She added in the general direction of where Madhav was standing before making good her escape.
The hurt was enormous inside her. The only outlet seemed to be tears but she wouldn’t let them come. She was stronger than that. And she had known all alongthis would happen, hadn’t she? That she was chasing a futile dream? That it would be good only as long as it lasted before it crashed? Except that she hadn’t anticipated it would be so sudden or so fast. She went to bed determined not to cry and she succeeded too but when she woke in the morning, her pillow was wet with tears.
She had been right all along. He was an ogre. And a thoroughly selfish one at that. He had led her along, convinced against her better sense to go along with him. And he had crashed her headlong into heartbreakwith no safety net. He had seen how her luminous eyes had clouded at his cold response to her polite greeting. As soon as he had entered the room he had known his mother had told her today was his father’s and Rhea’s barsi. It was a different matter that he had been lucky enough to have the extra five seconds to rein his reaction on seeing her again. Even though she had been seated with her back to him, his reaction on seeing her had been instantaneous. Quite stupidly his heart had lifted like a teenager’s for that one second before sanity had returned. What had he been doing all along? All of yesterday he had been assailed by guilt. She was an innocent. Lovely and unspoiled. She deserved someonefar better than him. Rhea’s barsi was a reality check. He had forgotten all about his responsibilities. He had been showing Aditya a glimpse of what the boy could never have. Because Radhika deserved a new life with a nice young man who embarked upon their life’s journey on an exciting new note. She deserved marriage to a man who was not cynical and jaded like him. Someone sincere, not someone selfish and manipulative like him. He had seen the stars in her eyes every time she saw him. He knew she was falling in love with him, al little more every day. And whathad he done about it? Encouraged it. He had still led her along, walking roughshod over her good sense. She had told him right at the beginning that she was not cut out for a fling but he had over rode her and convinced her to come along for the ride. She was enormously hurt right now. He had seen her beautiful face, as expressive as ever, going pale.
He never wanted to marry. Yes she made him very happy. But it wasn’t love. He knew that. She was young and impressionable. He was suave and sophisticated. Thank God enough good sense had prevailed and he had not exploited her feelings completely and done something even more unforgivable like seducing her. May be there was pardon up there for him after all. He hung his head down and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he downed his scotch in one gulp and switched off the bedside light. Darkness was good.
Mrs. Dewan gave her son another day before she took him to task. After Aditya had been dropped off to school, she addressed him at the dining table. They had finished breakfast and were lingering over coffee.
“Madhav.” She said.
He looked up from his phone. “Yes Ma.”
“Don’t you think you owe it to her?” she came straight to the point without beating around the bush.
Madhav’s expression immediately became shuttered. He put down his phone on the table and asked blandly, “Owe what to whom?” of course he was no fool. But his mother’s forthright question had caught him completely off guard. He stalled for time. This was crazy because he was losing his mind. He didn’t know where he was going anymore. Everything around him was a blur. Mentally he was in a strange cold confusedunhappy place. Nothing made sense anymore. So what was he going to say to his mother? Right now he didn’t have a clue. But having mastered the art of looking outwardly calm, he managed to look at her impassively, with only a mild interest in his eyes.
But he was dealing with his mother here. There were no screens no veils. Nothing to hide behind.
“You know what and you know to whom. So don’t put this act in front of me. It’s not nice to be flippant and frivolous about something that is important.” She admonished him like only she could.
He gave in. Let the pretence fall. Even he was sick of this mad consistent whirring going on inside his head.
“Ok. I apologise. It’s not good to be flippant andfrivolous. But I disagree here; it’s not important.” He said.
His mother looked shocked. “Did you really say that?”
“Yes I did. And I meant it. You know I don’t say what I don’t mean.” He stood his ground.
“Well then let me tell you. It should be important. You cannot play with a woman’s feelings like that. And that too by the way is distastefully frivolous! And you owe Radhika that apology. How can you be so cold about this?” His mother demanded.
“About what for God’s sake?” He was losing his sanity already and now his cool too. He just wanted to be left alone. He turned to his mother and said frostily, “We were seeing each other and we aren’t anymore. What’s so cold about that? It happens all the time to a billion people all over the world. What so different here?”
“Don’t.” Suddenly his mother’s shoulders drooped as she entreated her son, “Please don’t pretend to trivialize this. It was good. I saw it. You were happy. She was happy. What went wrong?” she asked.
He reined in his uproarious feelings. His mother didn’t deserve to be spoken to like this, when he was being such a bear. He said as normally as he could, “Nothing went wrong Ma. Can we not talk about it? Please?”
His mother looked at him and then nodded.
“Ok” she said “I won’t but what you are doing is wrong. This has nothing to do with Rhea…..”
“Ma” he cut in warningly.
“Well it doesn’t.” She insisted. “And if you disagree with me and it is about Rhea then you shouldn’t have led Radhika along. You have played with her feelings. It’s a horrible thing to do.”
“Ma….” He began but she cut him short. She was on aroll now. “And if it isn’t about Rhea – and you and I both know it isn’t, then tell me what went wrong?”
“Please Ma” He said again. “….can we just leave it?”
There was silence after that and then she spoke. Determinedly.
“Ok.” She nodded. “Don’t discuss it with me if you don’t want to. But you better do so with Radhika. She has a right to know that she has been unceremoniously dumped in the most ungentlemanly way. And you will apologize to her. It’s the least you can do. Because even though good sense seems to have deserted you, make sure your manners haven’t. Because I did not bring up an ungallant son.” With that she got up with her usual grace and left the table.
Leaving him more perturbed and guiltier than ever before.
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Purva Mehta Books
by Purva Mehta
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