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The party, held at Mumbai’s newest rooftop lounge, was already underway when she reached. Devesh greeted her with a bear hug and lamented about Ajay being late, “Has he ever reached anywhere on time?” he rolled his eyes. “Come on I’ll introduce you around. In particular to someone older than the average crowd here.” He winked naughtily before adding. “And a very good looking chap too.” He grinned at her. It was her turn to roll her eyes. She was done with good looking. Devesh took her elbow and made his way through the swinging young crowd. He stopped a waiter passing by and handed her a tall cool cocktail.
“Thank you.” She said.
“Here”, he said and she turned to look where he was gesturing. And the glass nearly slipped from her hands. “Radhika meet my boss, Mr. Madhav Dewan.” Devesh was saying. Her world tilted on its axis as she looked up to find Madhav, her nemesis, looking down at her with eyes that were Arctic cold. She almost recoiled at that! What reason did he have to be so annoyed about? She was the injured party here, not him. But anyway, what was new? She gave him back an equally cold look.
“Sir, this is Radhika Kapoor a very good friend. She’s from Delhi too. In fact.....” he was cut short by a couple who greeted him with a loud whoop! “Hey Dev congratulations!” in the round of bear hugs and black slapping that followed and a hasty apology that Devesh directed towards them, he was soon swallowed up by another few friends.
She was left standing beside Madhav Dewan. She couldn’t get over the shock of seeing him here out of all the places in the world. Why did he have to be hereout of all the people in all the world?
“What are you doing here?” he asked her in a voice frostier than ice.
“Excuse me?” had she really heard him right?
“I said....” he began.
“I heard. I could ask you the same thing.” She hissed as she felt her anger rise. It wasn’t even a minute with him and he was back to being his usual obnoxious self!
“Didn’t you hear?” he asked sarcastically before biting out, “I am here because I’m his boss.”
“Well you’re not my boss!” she threw at him. Her eyes were spitting fire now. “I don’t have to answer to you.”
With that she whirled around and walked off, leaving her barely sipped cocktail on a tray one of the waiters was carrying. She was fuming inside. The gall of the man! How could she have never seen his arrogance? How dare he? What did he mean by asking her what she was doing here? What was that? Did he mean he could be at a posh party in a posh place like this but she couldn’t? Did he think he was the only person she knew in Mumbai? She couldn’t breathe she was so furious. She needed to get out of here. Probably go to the ladies room and run water over her wrists to cool down her nerves.
She had just made her way to the edge of the crowdwhen she saw her brother Ajay entering the party. He saw her at the same time and grinned. She flew to hug him tight. Her throat clogged with emotion and tears but she swallowed them. It was so good to see him! He was taller by a few inches so when she finally drew back she had to reach up to touch his jaw. “Beard? No! What’s this for?”
“Hi to u too, big sis.” He said pointedly.
“No but tell me why?” she insisted.
He smirked in that oh so Ajay way. “It’s in!” he rolled his eyes.
She was so happy to see him, she just grinned.
“Ok fine. Now tell me how are Mom and Dad?” she asked.
“All good. Missing you. Told me to get you back with me.” He said purposely ruffling her feathers.
And they both laughed.
By then Devesh had already seen Ajay and was coming over, “Hey aaj tak tu kabhi time pe aaya hai?” and with more friends joining in there was more teasing and bawdy jokes. Seeing Ajay get busy with his friends, she left him to it.
Except as soon as she did that, having momentarily forgotten Madhav, he came rushing back to her mind again. Resisting the impulse to check where he was or what he was doing she made her way to the ladies room. She’d block him from her mind. She had to. He didn’t deserve to be in her thoughts. She was going to come back and enjoy the party. He could go to hell with his stupid questions.
She really was back with a bang. So much for thinking he had broken her heart and that she was devastated.Look at her now! The way she had all but plastered herself to that young chap and then touched his cheek intimately. She was disgusting and he, Madhav Dewanhad been had. Taken in completely by her class act of innocence and ignorance. That shyness and those well timed blushes. What he had just witnessed was no blushing act. It was loud, blatant, for all-the-world-to-see type of hug. And in that ruby coloured outfit, she looked like a jewel in the crowd. Stunning and exotic.He knew because like him he had seen all those young types eyeing her. Well she was welcome to them. For himself, well he preferred polite, sweet women, not spit fires with poison tipped tongues. He downed the last of his Vodka. He was out of here. He had done his duty calling, put in his mandatory appearance and he could no longer stand to be here another minute.
He made his way out. She still hadn’t come back from, he presumed the ladies room. What was taking her so long? She had been gone fifteen minute. That was a long time. Ignoring the voice of sanity that it was none of his business - it was hers and that bearded yuppie’s, he found himself walking towards the restrooms. And there she was, coming this way. She had run a comb through her already silky straight hair and touched up her gloss. That somehow got to him and he had no idea why or what he was doing, but the next thing he knew,he had grabbed her wrist and pulled her with him into a shadowed alcove.
“You really are a piece of work aren’t you?” he bit out furiously.
“What are you doing? Let go! And I don’t understand your riddles! I never did!” she struggled to free her wrist but he only tightened his hold and tugged her closer to him instead.
“You don’t understand my riddles?” he bit out. “Youare a riddle. You tied me up in knots with your prize winning act of fake innocence and look at you now!”
“Look at what now? And I said let go of my wrist.”She threw back angrily, trying once again in vain to twist her hand free.
“Or what?” he was beyond caring, beyond sanity, beyond reason. With one more tug he brought her flush against him and imprisoned her to him with his other arm around her.
“I’ll scream the place down.” She threatened.
“Go ahead, who is going to hear you? That noisy crowd back there? You’re out of your depth with these boys. Have you seen how they are drinking?” He asked.
Was he real? What was wrong with him? “Can you hear yourself?” she asked him furiously. “What do you know about them? Nothing. But I can tell you what youare. A presumptuous, pompous male chauvinist with a holier than thou attitude!”
But he didn’t seem to have heard a word as he continued, “Who was Yuppie back there?” he gritted. She had no idea what he was talking about. He had gone mad. Lost his senses but then he was still speaking, “I never knew you had a thing for bearded guys or for ones that are not only younger to me as you had flung in my face that day, but evidently younger toyou too.”
He saw her eyes widen in shock and distaste as his words sank in and then before he knew what was about to happen she raised her free hand and slapped him on his cheek. It happened so fast he too responded on impulse. He captured both her wrists in one hand and brought them to his chest. With his other hand he cupped the back of her head and jerked it up. The next instant he brought his mouth down to hers in a hard kiss. But as soon as his mouth touched hers he was inflamed. He angled her head and the punishing kiss flared into a passion he couldn’t disguise. He kissed her long and deep with a hunger that shook him.
This was ridiculous. She hated him. He had accused her and humiliated her. So then why was she kissing him back like someone who had found water in the desert? She had no idea how her arms had made their way around his neck. Her hands sank into the hair at his nape and she clung to him as if she never wanted to let him go.
Madhav felt something hot and wet on his face. Tears.Oh God tears. She was crying. She was no longer struggling either. In fact she was kissing back with the same passion he was feeling but tears? He was about to draw back when she suddenly pushed him away, stumbling back a little at the same time. Yes tears were rolling down her cheeks. He was in shock. What had he done? He had never behaved like this before. Never.And he couldn’t stand men who did. Men who used force on women, men who made them cry.
She was flaying him now. Angry and broken, “I hate you. You are a monster. I wonder what I ever saw in you. And you have the filthy mind of a sewer! Don’t you ever touch me or come near me again!”
Finally Madhav came out of his shock. She was right. He had behaved no better than a filthy animal. How many times was he going to apologize to her? Each time he saw her? Each time for something new and degrading he did? But this was not the person he was!
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” he entreated, filled with guilt and remorse but she had already whirled around and was walking away from him as far as her high heels could take her. This time he knew better than to follow to her. Somehow he would only end up doing more damage than he had already done.
He was disgusted with himself. Sickened and appalled by his behavior. There was no excuse for being such a brute. He should just leave. It no longer mattered what Radhika was doing or with whom. It inflamed him no doubt, tore him apart but what mattered right now was his own behaviour. He needed to do some serious thinking.
Back in the restrooms, Radhika washed her face and took deep calming breaths as she tried to get over what had just happened. She retouched her make up all over again and ran water on her wrists to cool her heated nerves. He had behaved like a cave man and she had been no less. Clinging to him like he was her salvation.But he had looked so sexy and gorgeous even with that icy cold look in his eyes. And then he had touched her. Kissed her. And she was lost. Completely. Oh how she hated him! She took more calming breaths and thenwhen she felt she had regained her composure andlooked normal again, she made her way back to the party relieved to find Madhav was no longer waiting along the way. She was determined to shove him from her mind and to enjoy the party. Especially when she noticed immediately that he was no longer presentthere. He must have left. Thank God for small mercies. She never wanted to see him again. Her brother was here and also so many of their friends from Delhi. She would not allow Madhav Dewan to spoil her happinesswhenever it took his fancy.
It was a good decision, because it turned out to be the wildest night. The party didn’t break up until almostfour in the morning. And whenever Radhika told them it was time for her to go home, they wouldn’t let her. And after a while she had stopped insisting. Because when she thought of it, she couldn’t face going home right now. She didn’t want to be within hundred miles of Madhav Dewan.
Ajay was supposed to go back by the nine o’clock flight the morning. He said he would drop her home first. And he really did want to see where she stayed in Mumbai. Mom had asked him to have a look and tell her about it, he added just to irk her. By the time they reached home - one of Ajay’s friends had given him his car and driver - it was after five. She knew everyone would be sleeping just yet, so there was no chance ofrunning into Madhav, thank God. Ajay inspected her place, “Hmm, not bad. In fact very good. Just let me use your bathroom to freshen up and change and then I’m off.” He said, opening his duffel bag and extracting a pair of jeans and a shirt.
“Should I make you some tea?” she asked his retreating back.
“No I won’t have anything. I just want to get onto that plane and sleep!”
He was back in five minutes and then it was good bye already.
By the time he left a few minutes later after an emotional goodbye on her part, she was more exhausted than ever. She too changed into a comfortable pair of shorts and a vest. She was going to sleep for the rest of the day!
Jealousy hit Madhav with the force of a thousand snakes. He was blind with it. And no matter how much he had tried to talk sense and sanity into himself, it all came to nothing because here it was; she hadn’t come home all night. He had stayed up waiting to hear the sound of her coming home. It didn’t all night. And then finally it had. At five in the morning. He was restless with anger but of course it was none of his business he told himself. But sleep still eluded him. And then he heard a male voice. He couldn’t make out what was being said but he did know that the voice was coming from her the bottom of her stairs and it sure as hell wasn’t the guard!
And that proved to be the proverbial straw. A fresh wave of jealousy coursed through him, ripping him apart with an intensity that threatened to consume him. He was out of his room and striding towards her rooms before he could reason with himself. He found no one at the foot of the stairs leading up to her rooms but he did hear a car driving away on the other side of the gates. He bounded up the stairs and pushed open the door.
Hearing the front door being thrown open, Radhika came out of her room where she was drawing the curtains close to block out the daylight. She came to an abrupt halt. Madhav stood there wearing only a pair of grey track bottoms, a white vest and a dark, furious look on his face. Before her mind could process what he was doing there, he attacked her in a scathing voice that shocked her, “I don’t care what you do outside of this place. But I will not allow any male visitors here. Especially at night. You will have to maintain a code of decency here.” Even while he was speaking he knew he was sounding like an unreasonable jerk of at least three centuries ago. He was talking nonsense and he knew it but he was blind with jealousy, beyond caring.
He saw the exact moment her face paled.
She felt the clolour drain from her face as she heard him. But he wasn’t done yet. He eyes raked her body from top to bottom contemptuously, taking in her yellow shorts and grey gym vest before he turned and left. Leaving her standing there feeling stunned and humiliated. Once more.
Hot tears sprang to her eyes. This was it. No more. She couldn’t take anymore. How dare he get away with saying what he had? She ran after him and caught up with him on only the second step down. Tears were streaming down her face but she was too upset to notice, “Just who do you think you are? You’re not my keeper!”
She dashed away the tears as finally they fell. She could no longer contain them.
Her tears. They were killing him. He was an ogre no doubt. But then what was she? Who had she come in with? But then again why not look at himself first? Despite everything he couldn’t bear to watch her cry. He was surely going mad.
“You are despicable” she choked out.
He knew he was. And not only despicable, but desperate too, “Who was he?” he asked though clenched teeth.
For a moment his question threw her and then it dawned on her.
“My God!” she couldn’t believe it. “He is someone who is worth ten of you.” She threw at him. Let him think what he wanted. Had he asked her properly, she would have told him. But he was horrid. First at the party and now here.
With that she whirled around heading back to her rooms as the tears began to flow in earnest now.
Once inside she threw a small bag onto the bed and began to stuff it with some clothes and toiletries. “I’m not going to stay here a moment longer.” She muttered to herself, all the while dashing away the continuously flowing tears off her face. She had had enough. Who did he think he was? She dialled for a cab and in the meantime, washed her face and changed into jeans and a top.
Fifteen minutes later she was seated in the cab heading for Kavita’s place. She would call Mrs. Dewan later and tell her she had to leave in a hurry and would send someone over later to collect the rest of her stuff. If she asked why she was moving out all of a sudden she would say she didn’t want to miss out on the new place she was getting. A little lie couldn’t hurt anyone. In the meantime she would stay at Kavita’s for a couple of days while she decided what to do.
It was barely eight, quiet early for a Sunday morning when she rang the bell. Kavita opened the door, “Hey! What happened?” she asked as soon she saw her red nose, puffed eyes and a bag at her feet.
Five minutes later over a cup of hot tea and a toast that Kavita insisted she have, she told both of them what had happened, without giving a word to word detailed account of all that Madhav had said. That would have been just too humiliating to reveal. But they were bothvery loving and very sympathetic, with Mohan saying, “It was wise of you to come here. Now you catch up on your sleep and relax. When you wake up you can call up Mrs. Dewan and explain the needful. Until then stop worrying. Decisions are better made with a relaxed and calm mind.”
Contrary to her belief that she would never be able to sleep with so much turmoil going on in her head, she slept the minute her head touched the pillow. She woke up hours later feeling calmer, though no less hurt. But she fought back the fresh tears that threatened to spring to her eyes. Would she ever be able to get over so much humiliation?
She picked up the phone and called Mrs. Dewan. Best to get this done and over with.
“Hello my dear!” the other lady greeted her warmly. “I heard you left sooner than you came in!” there was a smile in her voice. Obviously her obnoxious son hadn’t said a word. Anger came in with a gushing flood. She welcomed it. At least it kept the stupid tears at bay.
“Yes. After Ajay left, I saw last evening’s missed call from the owners of the place I’m moving into.” Even as she winced at the lies she was having to tell she carried on, “I called back and they told me I could move in right away. The other girl I am going to be sharing with has already arrived.” That at least wasn’t a lie. Because the girl was supposed to be moving in over the weekend. “So I just thought I’d make the most of the day and brought some stuff with me”
“Oh.” The sun left Mrs. Dewan’s voice. She sounded completely deflated now. “That was sudden.”
“Uh....Yes.” the lies were getting uncomfortable now. “So I will send someone to collect the rest of my stuff one of these days.”
“You don’t have to worry my dear.” Mrs. Dewan said.“I wish you would listen to me and stay on. We likehaving you here so much.”
‘Check with your son’ she wanted to say at this point. But obviously she didn’t as the other woman carried on, “I thought you were happy here too.”
“I was but it was just a temporary arrangement.” She said gently. “Especially when you wouldn’t accept any rent from me.”
“Of course I wouldn’t!” Said Mrs. Dewan as thoughthe very idea was preposterous. “You were Aditya’s teacher to begin with and then you became almost family. Besides those rooms were anyway lyingunoccupied. Reconsider my dear, come back.”
There was so much genuine sweetness in her voice, it brought tears to her eyes but she swallowed them down and wondered again how such a beautiful lady could have such a horrible son!
“That is so sweet of you but you know I can’t. Besides I will be seeing Aditya everyday and I will come and see you too. I do have to come and thank you, you know?” and she would. She owed this gracious lady that much. She would make it on a day when she was sure Madhav was not around. She didn’t want to see him in a million years.
“I would love for you to come but not to say thank you. And you don’t worry about shifting your things. As soon as you want them I will have them sent over. Just tell me the address.” And then a thought seemed to occur to her, “is it even safe? I will have Madhav come and have a look.”
“No! Uh… I mean of course it’s safe. Mohan and Kavita helped me find it. In fact it’s the building right next to theirs” thank God she wasn’t lying about this too.
“Oh. That’s alright then I guess”, said the older woman.
“Yes thank you so much.” Said Radhika. And it was time she put the phone down. “I’ll have to hang up now. Please give my love to Aditya. And thank you once again for everything.”
After she hung up she sat for two minutes reflecting at how blessed she really was. Mrs. Dewan, Mohan and Kavita. The world didn’t stop and end with Madhav.
Over dinner his mother dropped her little bombshell. It shouldn’t have surprised him but it did.
“Radhika has moved out.” She said with no preamble. He guessed that was because she wanted it to have the desired effect. It did.
For the smallest moment he stilled at the news but then calmly carried on eating. His mother was waiting for his reaction he knew; he could feel her watching him. What could he say? What did she want him to say?That it was disastrous news?
“When?” he asked.
“This morning. She only called me in the evening. Busy moving in and getting the feel of the new place and all that.” His mother replied.
What was the need of moving out? It was only a stupid thing that he had said to her. It had been awful no doubt but it was hardly reason enough to make her take such a step, so suddenly. Just went to illustrate the whole point. She was young and impetuous, not to mention impulsive.
Whatever. His jaw clenched. As always she had found a way to sit on his conscious.
“Of course I insisted she didn’t have to move but you know her mind was already made up.” His mother was saying.
“Where has she moved?” he asked despite himself.
“In a building right next to her friend Kavita’s.” his mother informed him.
With an outward calm he was far from feeling inside, he continued to swallow the rest of the meal that had suddenly lost its appeal.
“I wonder how she’ll like it there?” her mother asked suddenly.
He had had enough. He put down his cutlery and scraped his chair back, “How would I know?” his tone was sharper than he had intended. He calmed himself down and spoke in a relatively calmer voice, “But you can quit worrying. Like you said she has her friends close by” with that he got up and left the room. He could feel his mother’s eyes boring into his back all the way out.
This was crazy! She had managed to have the last laugh as usual. He had the most restless night, dreaming of a gorgeous girl in pale yellow shorts, grey vest, long shapely legs, bare feet, satiny hair streaming down her back and looking at him with accusing eyes filled with hatred and tears as she said, “He is someone who is worth ten of you!” but he knew it was no dream. It was the worst kind of torture. It was reality as he had witnessed this morning. She’d been as lovely as the morning sun, hurt and angry by all that he was flinging at her but still as radiant and beautiful as ever.
As soon as the sun rose he got out of bed, realizing the futility of trying to sleep. It was better if he went for a jog. It would freshen up his senses a bit.
As he left the house he stopped at the gates and found himself asking the guard, “Kal subah duty pe kaun tha?”
“Main tha Saheb.” Said the guard.
“Madam kitne baje gayi thi?” He found himself prodding, nodding in the general direction of the annexe.
“Saat baje ke karib, Saheb.” The guard informed him.
“Krishan le kar gaya tha?”
“Nahi Saheb, taxi aayi thi.”
“Theek hai” he nodded and moved on.
“Ro rahi thi.” Came the guard’s voice from behind him just as he started to move.
He stopped at that and turned to give him an ominous glare.
The guard’s face turned red.
Damn! What did the guard care if she had been crying? And why tell him? Had everybody around him gone crazy?
Suddenly he knew no amount of jogging was going to improve his mood.
Her decision was made. She was done with Mumbai. She was going to head home. Back to Delhi. Some would call it running away but she saw it was a smart decision. Staying on would be putting herself open to more hurt. And the wounds already there would never heal. There would always be a chance of running into Madhav at school. Then there was Aditya. Seeing him every day and answering the inevitable questions his innocent little mind would ask. It would drain her emotionally because it was simple really. For her it had been love and for him it had been nothing more than alittle distraction for a little while.
She wasn’t waiting a single day. She had already booked a flight to Delhi for tomorrow morning. Kavita and Mohan were pillars of support. Kavita had promised to hand in her resignation letter. Mohan had assured her he would take care of sending over all her belongings. She knew she would forever be indebted to them. She also extracted a promise from them to visit her in Delhi in the Christmas break.
To soften the shock of suddenly landing up at home, she called ahead to let her parents know that she was coming home for good because she was too homesick and moreover she couldn’t find a decent place on rent. Her father would be the triumphant one but her mother she knew would not be fooled. Well she would tell her all once she was back. But even then, they were so happy to have her back. Her brother and father did have that ’I told you so’ expression on their face but they were just too delighted to have her back anyway. Her mother didn’t comment until late night after everybody else had gone to bed.
“What happened? Is everything okay?” She asked gently.
“Of course Ma.” She reached out and hugged her. “You warned me about men like Madhav and you were right.” She said drawing back. “Nothing happened.” She assured her quickly, “Only what I told you. We went out a few times. I fell in love with him Ma. He can be so charming. But for him those were just a few evenings out. His heart is still with his wife. I thought it better to come back home and start afresh and…..”
“Shhh, you don’t have to explain further.” Her mother said. “We all love you. It was wise of you to come back. Now put it behind you. Eat well. Sleep well. Meet up with all your friends and let’s go shopping tomorrow!”
There are no words to describe your mother, are there?They are made of the strongest steel and the softest cotton and infinite love in between. And they never said, ‘I told you so.’
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Purva Mehta Books
by Purva Mehta
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