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He had never entirely understood it. In fact he had always scoffed at all those cheesy phrases about the sun going out of your life and your days turning into a dull grey. But incredible as it seemed these were exactly the kind of words and phrases that came to hismind these days. Everything around him was quiet. The only buzz he felt was at work. At home it was calm and quiet. A strange kind of calm and a troubled kind of quiet because there was no inner peace.
The only distraction was a now much more confident and inter active Aditya. This was another miracle he attributed to Radhika. And there were so many others. From taking out quality time that he now wanted towith his family to abstract stuff like looking for different constellations on clear nights. She had left his life at once richer and shorn of all colour. It was impossible not to think of her. But it was just as well. She had different expectations out of life, like that young man she had taken a sudden fancy to. He on the other hand had responsibilities he couldn’t shrug off. Even so it didn’t seem like two weeks since she had left. He was amazed his mother had not mentioned her even once. That meant she was doing fine after all. Good. He thought, as he thanked his mother now for the cup of tea she handed him.
He set aside the newspaper and looked at his son frolicking with the garden hose on this fine Sunday morning.
“A miracle, isn’t it? Just look at him.” His mother was saying as she too sipped her tea.
“Yes” he said briefly. He didn’t want to go there. Because the ‘miracle’ would inevitably lead to talking about Radhika. But his mother had other plans. She was becoming really good at dropping her little bombshells. Because she was ready with another one.
“I don’t think I told you but Radhika has moved back to Delhi, did I?” She asked innocently knowing fully well she hadn’t.
When he didn’t say anything she tacked on, “Soon after she left here. I think it had something to do with her brother visiting her that time.”
That got his attention. She had known it would. How much ever he may try to hide it behind an impassive mask and an indifferent attitude, she was his mother and she knew him.
“Her brother visited?” He asked with a slight frown. When?
“You didn’t know?” she asked feigning surprise when she knew exactly that he didn’t know. “She had been waiting for him. She had been feeling a little homesick you know…?” She said in a sympathetic voice.
His jaw clenched. No, he didn’t know.
“He even dropped her home that morning.” She tried to prod his memory; as if he could ever forget! “The day she left.”
“Her brother?” And then somehow it all fitted in. “You mean Ajay? That was Ajay? Her brother?”
Now his mother looked him square in the eye before confirming. “Her brother. Ajay.” She confirmed.
“And you really are too much.” Suddenly she seemed to have lost her benign tone, “I have waited for two weeks for you to come around, but you are more pig headed than even I imagined. You’re living like a lifeless robot for the last two weeks and I have seen enough. This is the maximum reaction you have had for anything I have said in all these days!”
“Where are you going with this Ma?” He asked.
“How could you have let such a good thing slip awayfrom you?” she answered with a question of her own.
This time he didn’t pretend he didn’t know what she was talking about. But suddenly he had had too much too. “There was going to be nothing good about it after the initial floss had gone! Don’t you see how different we were?”
“On the contrary.” His mother countered immediately.“I saw you both very happy. I saw your laughter.” Her expression changed and her eyes softened as she implored him. “I saw she loved you.” She added on a gentler note.
“That’s just it Ma.” He said, no more able to bottle it all up inside. “She doesn’t know anything. What has she seen of life? She is too naïve. Don’t you get my point? One relationship that didn’t go the way she wanted it to and what does she do? She picks tail and runs. Don’t you see?”
“No I don’t see at all actually.” said his mother in a blunt voice. “But what I do see is you with all your complicated theories blocking out life. Complicating what is so simple.”
“Come on Ma.” said Madhav. “Get real. What can I offer her? Have you seen how full of life she is? What would she have with me? I’ll tell you what - a readymade family and head on responsibility from the day she gets married to me. That’s what. And she would want marriage. Do you think a girl like her would want anything less than marriage? I can’t give her a fresh start in life. There are a trillion things a new couple would do together. I have already been there.” He looked at her squarely. “Now do you see?”
“No I don’t.” His mother was still adamant. “And what if she doesn’t either?” his mother challenged.
“She won’t see it now.” He agreed. “But she would later. And I would hate to watch all that radiance turn into bitterness.”
With that he got up and left, leaving his tea cold and untouched.
Her brother. She’d had the last laugh yet again. Why hadn’t she simply told him that? Instead she had let him behave in the worst manner possible, accusing her of the vilest things. No wonder she had left. Hating him no doubt. He couldn’t forget how the colour had drained from her face and how her eyes had widened in speechless shock. What he had thrown at her had been despicable. It was no wonder that she hadn’t clarified a thing to him. He hadn’t been the friendliest person those past few days. He’d been cold and distant. And he had dropped her in a manner that even the worst of cads didn’t. It had been cowardly and cheap and unethical. Not at all what she deserved. But then whathad he done that was in sync with his usual self since she had come into his life? Nothing. He had never done movie dates, never done family dates, never cajoled and kidnapped just to have a coffee with a woman. He had never done possessiveness, never been nasty, never been obnoxious, never been unreasonable. And he had never, ever done jealousy.
And yet with her he had been all this, done all this. So given all this, maybe it really was just as well that it was over. Just as well that she had left. Because if she hadn’t he knew for sure he would have been pulled right back to her like a moth to as flame.
He stood for a long time staring out at the night sea. The moon was high and the night was still. The restlessness was deep inside his soul. And it was not going to go away till he picked up his life.
The next morning when he was leaving for work, his mother apprehended him and asked, “Have you thought about what we talked about yesterday?” his mother was back in her tenacious mood.
“What was there to think Ma? I thought I had made everything clear. It’s the best thing that she has gone back to Delhi. She’ll soon find someone on the same page as her. As for me, life is fine right now. I don’t need anybody else.” He reassured her.
“But it’s not just about you.” She argued. “What about what Aditya needs?” She asked him.
He dropped a kiss on her forehead. “He has you.” With that he closed the topic and headed for the door.
“She loved you.” He heard her say softly behind him. He stopped in his tracks and turned around. Then he looked her squarely in the eye and said in a clear, toneless voice, “Well I didn’t love her.” he let her absorb what he had said. This time he strode out without looking back at his mother’s shattered eyes. Sometimes you had to be cruel to be kind, isn’t that what the wise men said?
As the days passed into weeks and the weeks into another new month, Mrs. Dewan’s despair grew. Things had gone very wrong. So terribly wrong. How come? She had been so sure that they had been happy together. She had been so sure that they were perfect together. She still was. That’s why it hurt so much. She still called Radhika and spoke to her from time to time. Radhika called too but not so frequently anymore. She understood why. But talking to her each time only worsened how helpless and hopeless she felt. As a mother it tore her up to stand by and watch her son make the biggest blunder of his life. And she wasconvinced it was a blunder. But then you could only interfere in someone’s life and push so far and no further. She had tried talking sense into him but he refused to entertain the very topic.
As she lamented and despaired, suddenly it occurred to her. There was still one thing she could try! She had to take matters into her own hands. She would play her last card at the breakfast table tomorrow when Aditya was away at school. That was another feat they had managed to achieve; she had been so sure Aditya would be difficult after Radhika had left. But betweenhis new found bond with his father, telephone calls from Radhika (which were getting rarer) and her own efforts, he had continued going to school. And happily at that. Although every once in a while he asked when Radhika was coming back. Each time she handed him an unconvincing platitude, “Soon.” It didn’t matter that deep inside it was her dearest wish too.
It was a typically overcast Mumbai morning. And the mood at the breakfast table was typically placid.
“Pass me some juice please.” He heard his mother request.
Madhav reached for the jug and poured some into a glass for her. Then he continued to eat his breakfast. She stole a glance at him trying to gauge his mood, but could glean nothing as usual. She grimaced and sighed inwardly. But it was now or never, so she took the plunge.
She adopted as casual a tone of voice as she could, “By the way keep your dates free for the middle of next month.”
He looked up at his mother and raised his eyebrows in inquiry.
“And before you say no, it’s important that you go. That we all go.”His mother continued mysteriously. He was just exasperated enough to ask where? When she elaborated, “Radhika is going to get married.” She gave him no time to let that sink in as she continued in the same tone, “Next month. In Delhi. We owe it to her to attend. It will only be a couple of days. So you have a good three four weeks to organize your work schedule. As it is you have been working too hard these days. So there have to be no excuses.”
Oh the satisfaction of watching the shock in his eyes. Of course he was quick to veil it but not before she had seen it. So it had hurt. Badly. Good. She felt jubilant! Triumphant! Elated! But it was still too soon to rejoice. She got busy buttering her toast as she continued because her son seemed to have lost his wits for once. And she was going to make the most of it.
“I am so glad for her.” she finished buttering her toast and got busy making a production of pouring herself some coffee, not daring to look at him now. Because here was the important part. So she continued in a matter of fact voice saying, “At least she had the sense to pick up her life. Now that’s a strong girl. I believe he’s a lawyer you know. Very smart and savvy I tell you, you know one of those dashing corporate lawyer types….”
“Okay” he cut in curtly, seemingly having finally found his voice, “I get the drift.” His jaw clenched and she quickly stole a glance and noticed how hard he was gripping his cutlery. Wonderful! The obstinate devil. But there was no stopping her now. She went to twist the knife in further.
“I did ask her whether it was a love or arranged but you know what, I’m sure its love. I saw his picture. She sent it to me on the phone. He’s very tall and fit. Terribly good looking. Extremely well dressed and..….”
He put down his cutlery with an unsophisticated clatter and stood up, “I’m sure he’s a paragon.” He said in a clipped tone. “Excuse me I’m getting late.”
And she saw what made her heart sing, that made her want to get up and dance – murderous anger in his eyes. She hadn’t seen a single emotion reaching his eyes in all these days. No joy, no anger, nothing; just an impenetrable impassiveness.
Madhav felt a savage anger he couldn’t explain. He strode into his sea facing office in the glittering new high rise. Two months he thought. Not even two months. That was all it had taken for her so called love for him to fade into oblivion! She was already out of love with him and into love with someone who hadn’t even been on the horizon a month ago! And she was ready for the plunge. Ready for marriage! What did that say about her? And to think he had fallen for her charms. Yes he told himself, because what did it matter now? He might as well admit it now. He had fallen for her charms, her smile, her laughter, her voice, her eyes, her face, her beauty. Her. Yes he had fallen for her. In a big way.
And she had wanted him. That’s what she had said in every way but words, hadn’t she? So what had happened now? So easily she was going to be someone else’s? How shallow was that? Well good luck to the poor sod who married her. As for him, he had a business to run. He hadn’t got time to think about the life and adventures of a certain unscrupulous Miss Radhika Kapoor.
“Sir?” his secretary poked her head in through the door.
“Not now.” He growled dismissing whatever she had to say without even hearing it.
His secretary closed the door quietly and took her seat again. Hmm, definitely in a foul mood. Interesting, considering he had only just arrived in office on a Monday morning. And the fact that in all her seven years of working for him, she had never seen him like this. Cold, curt and dismissive.
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Purva Mehta Books
by Purva Mehta
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