I looked at the woman in front of me, sitting on the couch and drinking her cup of special Tulsi Green Tea daintily. Her long fingers delicately removed the short bangs of hair that had come in front of her eyes. I felt rather like a slob in front of her, with her manicured nails, glossy mane cut in the latest style and her aura, while I was dressed up in a pair of denim shorts with a white shirt on and hair tied in a bun over my head.
Dressed up in a comfortable printed maxi dress, my half sister Swara was sitting opposite to me for about half an hour now. She arrived an hour ago, spent a quarter of it with Dad, who returned from hospital in the wee hours of the morning, freshened up for another quarter and then, sat down to have tea. I had already been sitting here when she came. No words had been spoken between us. And it was definitely awkward. I didn’t want to initiate conversation and by the looks of it, she was in no mood either.
Lakshya, the nice man that he is, after such a……..good performance last night, woke up with another fever. He was in bed, grumpy that I wasn’t beside him, with a thermometer shoved into his mouth. More to keep him quiet, than to take his temperature. I smiled as I imagined him sitting on the bed with a pout on his face, arms crossed in front of his chest. Absentmindedly, I fingered my new ring which he gave to me last night after confessing his love, before throwing me on the bed unceremoniously and having his wicked way with me.
“Nice ring, it is an imported one. Costs 2.6 crores!” Swara’s voice reached me. I looked at her, shocked out of my wits. 2.6 crores? What?
“Umm………..how do you know?”
“I wanted to buy it too. Had been asking Dad to buy me one. Maybe that is why he got that attack!”
I tried to control my smile but couldn’t and I saw her in the same position, hiding her own smile behind her large floral printed tea cup.
“Umm……so this is the ancestral Gadodia house? Well, it is old.”
“You have never been here?”
“No. I just knew that there was an ancestral house in Hooghly but Dad never brought me here and nor did I express a wish to come. This place is too…………..ornate!”
“You haven’t seen half of it yet! They don’t have a stove in the kitchen, the tea you are drinking right now has been prepared over a traditional Rajasthani choolah which some ancestor of ours built to keep his Marwari roots alive!”
Strangely enough, I didn’t mind it when she called my father as her own and nor did I mind calling my ancestors as ‘ours’. I had accepted long ago that she belonged to this lineage as much as I did.
Swara widened her eyes as she looked at me. “You got to be kidding me!” she whispered. I shook my head slowly, watching her try to process this new piece of information.
“So that means that my breakfast will also be made on a choolah?” she asked me. I nodded with a smirk. Swara grinned widely. I was struck at how childish she looked but it was a reminder that she was only twenty two.
“That is so unbelievable! I gotta see this! Where is the kitchen?” she asked as she stood up. I stood up with her to accompany her.
“Umm…..I hope you don’t mind helping me…..”
“No issue. I anyways had to see to some things myself.”
We entered the kitchen and Swara’s jaw dropped as she witnessed the scene in front of her. I had been in a similar state when I first witnessed it.
It was a large kitchen with wooden shelves filled with utensils while in the middle, there was a mud stove which was currently on. A man was stoking fire to it by adding firewood while a woman was stirring the curry. Both were dressed up traditionally. They looked up at the sound of our footsteps and smiled seeing me.
“Arjan Kaka, Anjali Kaki! This is Swara……………… Papa’s younger daughter. She came today morning. Swara, they are the resident cooks of this mansion. Arjan and Anjali Vyas.”
Swara gracefully did a namaste while they smiled and reciprocated.
“She has never seen a choolah before, she wanted to see how it is used. Kaki, can you show her? Kaka, I wish to speak to you privately.”
While Swara grinned and joined Anjali Kaki in making aloo ki sabzi, I took Arjan Kaka aside.
“Is she Sahab’s………other daughter?”
“Yes. Swara Sanskaar Singhania now. Please consult with her what she may or may not want to eat. She is very particular about her diet. And by the way, have you prepared the salad I had asked you to, for Dad and Lakshya?”
“Yes, all ready. We are just making this aloo Puri for you, Swara and the immediate staff.”
“OH WOW!” a scream came to my ears. I turned around and saw Swara excitedly stirring the aloo curry. Anjali Kaki looked at me in amusement. I smiled back as I joined them on the floor after asking Kaka to prepare some yoghurt for the two ‘patients’.
“Hey this is so cool! Brilliant! But……..can Dad eat this?” Swara asked as she dropped the ladle. Anjali Kaki replaced the curry with a kadhai of oil to fry the pooris in.
“No. He should eat very light food, devoid of oil for at least a week. Kaka has already prepared a green salad with yoghurt for him. If you want, you can eat it too, if you have an issue with this breakfast.” I replied as I motioned to the curry.
“No ways! I am going to eat Aloo-Poori only! After all, I cooked it today! I am going to taste it.” she replied as she flipped her hair back. Anjali Kaki looked at me, offended to the core while I controlled my laughter.
A very interesting phenomenon was taking place. All of us were seated at the dining table, Dad, Swara, Lakshya and I. Swara was giving Lucky weird looks while Dad was alternately giving him dirty looks and me, sorry glances. Lucky, meanwhile, was switching between giving Swara weird looks, Dad dirty glares and me loving naughty winks. I was having a gala time seeing them all.
Lakshya and Dad glared at each other as they simultaneously ate a bite of their salad. Swara looked between them and then at me and raised her eyebrows. I smirked at her.
“Ragini beta, this salad tastes good……”
“Ragini, what an awesome salad baby………….”
Both of them said simultaneously and then stopped, glared at each other and then looked away. I sniggered as I ate my poori, watching Swara eat hers with her plastic gloves on. Cause she didn’t want to ruin her new French manicure!
After the breakfast, Swara and a nurse escorted a grumbling Dad to his room while I helped Lakshya stand up. “I wanted to kill that ass of your father! He almost broke my marriage!” he growled as he made kicking motions behind Dad. I giggled as I wrapped his arm around my neck and wrapped mine around his waist to give him support.
“And you, betrayer Meena Deol! You gave me a salad to eat while you and that makeup box Swara ate Aloo-Poori! Not done!” he wagged his finger at me. I rolled my eyes at him.
I put him to bed and as I was about to leave, I was pulled back. I landed on my husband’s chiselled chest, my lips on his exposed skin. Current passed through my body.
“Where are you going madam? Why don’t you be of some use here?” Lakshya asked as he wrapped his arms around my me.
“What use?” I asked him. He smirked. “Just take off your clothes and mine and come in bed beside me. Then we will discuss the numerous number of ways in which you can help me heal!” he said with suggestively. I smiled and punched him on his chest as he howled in pain. I stood up as he clutched his chest.
“Remember, I will file a case of………….”
“Domestic violence, I know! Call up your lawyer while I see to my father.” I said sarcastically as I walked away.
“Don’t worry baby, raat baaki Hai! You would be coming to sleep here and then see how I pay you for this blow.” his voice boomed as I smilingly walked towards Dad’s room.
“Then Mom told me that her new bag costs 20k but the shop manager was so smitten with her that he gave it to her in 17……………………DAD! YOU AREN’T SLEEPING, ARE YOU?” Swara was saying as I entered the room. I guess I was a blessing in disguise for him as he really had been dozing off!
“Hello, feeling better?” I asked him as I walked up to him. Despite of what he has done with me, he is still my father. And I am not like him, who runs away from her responsibilities. I am his daughter as well as a doctor and both of these roles demand that I see to him.
I did some routine checks, studied his reports and recommended some medicines to the nurse who went to buy them. Meanwhile, I told him to do some light exercises while I draw up a diet chart for him after consulting a dietician.
I went out, emailed the reports to my friend Dr. Sonakshi Bose Dixit and requested her to sketch a diet for Dad. As I was about to turn to another corner, I heard Swara calling me from behind.
“Hey……….Ragini! I was wondering if I could talk to you for a few minutes?” She asked hesitatingly. I nodded to her and led her to the garden outside where I called for some juice for us.
“Thanks. I wanted to ask you actually………Is he okay? Dad, I mean. He is fine, isn’t he?”
“He is fine, as fine as a middle aged man who has just had an attack could be. In fact, he is far better. People don’t usually find it in themselves to move but he is doing that, so, yeah.”
“I was worried, Dad is so fit and has no bad habits, except for the glass of whiskey he takes before bed……..”
“Me too actually. I was surprised to hear that he suffered a stroke. He eats well, goes for jogs too. And one glass in one day doesn’t matter much unless…………………”
“I think he has been drinking much lately. I mean, I visited him almost a week back, a few days after Sanskaar and I met you that night at dinner. It was afternoon and he was already having his third glass of whiskey. It seemed unusual to me at that time and I even questioned him but he avoided it.”
“That is a problem if it is true. He anyways has had alcohol problems before…….do you have an idea what it could be about? Dad and I had a big argument two and a half months back and we weren’t on talking terms, so I have no idea what is going on in his life.”
Swara frowned at me deeply. “Ragini……don’t you know that Dad and I don’t share that close a relationship?” she asked cautiously.
I frowned back at her, caught off-guard by her statement. What does she mean? I was the less favourite one, not her. She had been the ‘spoilt by her father’ daughter, not me.
“Sorry, but I was under the impression that you are our father’s favourite daughter.” I said to her coolly. This was a sensitive topic for me, I had grown up without his love!
“Aren’t you his favourite? He was hardly at home when I was growing up and when he was, he was in his study. And he has your photo in his study.”
“And yours in his wallet.”
“And Mom’s in his phone’s wallpaper. Is Mom his daughter too?”
“Don’t be silly! I have hardly got much time to spend with him and he didn’t even pay my tuition fees for medical school!”
“Well, he hardly talked to me, I have always imposed my presence on him in the hope that one day he would take me seriously. He thinks of me like he thinks of my mother: silly and frivolous, someone to flaunt and spoil!”
“What are you saying? So basically, by both of our accounts, he has neglected both of us?”
“And Mom too! That is why she always spends all of his money, as her revenge. Actually……………………”
Swara stopped midway, and bit her lower lip which was slightly trembling. She was on the verge of crying. I don’t know what took over me, as I put my hand on hers soothingly. She looked up at me and I smiled gently, nodding at her to continue. She could trust me, now that I knew that both of us had been wronged.
“M…Mom says that she was his mistress. He already had a ‘happy family’, complete with a rich wife and a beautiful daughter. It was just fashionable to have a mistress as many men in his circle did. My mom was a model and they had an affair. It wasn’t serious. But then she got pregnant and she wanted to keep me. Dad, who was quite smitten with her, agreed too. But your Mom got to know and she left and after her death, he married Mum. Mom says that she thinks he lost interest soon after. And add to it the fact that I was……………another daughter, not a son!”
My heart went out to the poor woman in front of me. She had started sobbing now and I pulled her to myself as I hugged her. She sobbed in my chest for some time while I patted her back soothingly. After some while she calmed down and I gently pulled back, still holding her hand as a sign of support.
“Thanks. I…..needed to talk to someone about this. Shall I tell you something? I have grown up hating you!”
I smiled as I pressed her hand, replying that the feeling was mutual. She grinned widely.
“I always used to hear from Dad how brilliant you were in your studies, how independent, how simple and grounded and how gracefully you handled everything. With him praising you so much, I always felt so gawdy. He became even more unapproachable. I was really jealous of you. When I got to know that you were planning to become a doctor as you had passed your entrance, I almost plucked my hair in anger!”
“Your hair is beautiful.”
“Goes after Mom. Yours are so long and beautiful too, must be after your Mom, right? Cause if anyone of us had taken after Dad, we would be balding already!”
Both of us imagined ourselves with a balding head and shuddered.
“You are amazing in your own right Swara! When I used to be so jealous, you were always in Page 3, looking like you were a model. And it was enough to set me off, for I always used to dress in baggy shorts and a ripped shirt…….”
“You have no idea how much we paid to keep us in news. Gadodia Industries works partly because we are always in the news, one way or the other. Dad and I have no close contact but it is an unspoken rule, the more Mom and I keep our surname in the news, the more he spends on us. It is like a payment.”
“Maybe that I why I didn’t get even a penny!”
“I think you didn’t get anything cause he is really stingy. Do you know, once he called up five different caterers just because he thought that the price of Paneer was too high! He called up all of them to compare the price! How cheap is that?”
“Yuck! And he just bought your Mom a villa……….”
“That one is registered on his name, and well, it got him some space in the newspaper which he would have otherwise paid for!”
“Damn! He is too much………….”
“Do you know, he had a huge fight with Mom just the day before Sanskaar’s birthday? I had made an excuse of going out with friends to him while I had been preparing for a midnight romantic meal for him. I had almost everything planned and then I got a call from my Mom who was in tears. Naturally, I had to rush there and in that chaos, Sanskaar’s birthday plans were ruined! He thought I had forgotten and was upset for about two or three days after that.”
Oh. I remember how dull Sanskaar had sounded that day. I had cursed her so much for breaking my friend’s heart while her dilemma had been so big. Poor girl!
“Oh and by the way, I had another reason to hate you because of Sanskaar. One man I love and it turns out that he is best friends with my half sister! Sorry for separating you both, I did it intentionally. I didn’t want to share him. He still worries for you, regarding your husband. Umm…….you know of my history with him, right?”
Hearing about Lakshya from her mouth made my insides burn in sheer jealousy as the events preceding my marriage played in my head. I nodded curtly. Swara, meanwhile, was now talking freely.
“I don’t like him much, Lakshya, I mean. He was a real jerk to me. He didn’t love me and just assumed that I wanted to marry him. When he approached me, I had had a fight with Sanskaar, so I welcomed his advances. But soon we patched up and to be honest, Lakshya was such a git! And Dad had already struck a deal with him. I couldn’t even talk to him about Sanskaar and I, given our distance. So we eloped. I am glad I didn’t marry him. Do you know, when we met for the first time, he bragged to me that his car alone was worth more than Dad’s monthly income!”
“Oh! Really? That is so rude……..” I said as I smiled. “But that does sound like my husband!” I added. Both of us smiled at that.
“Yep! I knew we would end up murdering each other. And plus, I have always loved Sanskaar, no one can replace him in my heart. And by the looks he was giving to you during breakfast, I think you both are really happily married.” she said slyly. I blushed a beet red.
“I….We are in love and I am loving it. He can be a jerk but his recent misfortune brought us closer.” I said. I didn’t mind sharing my story with her, I realised that I needed someone with whom I could share my story.
“Oh yes, I heard about it. Initially I was quite thrilled but I realised it must be really hard. And knowing everyone, no one may have helped him. And especially not Dad!” she snorted.
“I had to break all my savings, sell my mother’s jewellery and my ancestral house to arrange some amount for him. He couldn’t raise that entire sum by himself despite selling off all his properties.”
Swara gasped at that. “I……I am so sorry to hear that! It requires real selflessness to sell off your mother’s belongings.”
“Lakshya gifted everything back to me on my birthday last week.”
“Oh, it was your birthday that day? When we met? Belated Happy Birthday. That is really cute, you know? Very romantic.” she said dreamily. “Anyways, what is it with Dad and Lakshya? They seem to love each other too much……….” she asked.
“Understatement of the Year! They HATE each other. Dad thinks he doesn’t deserve me while he thinks Dad doesn’t deserve me. Dad hates it that he blackmailed Dad to marry me while Lakshya hates it that Dad was ready to ‘sell’ me off for some money. And that I was neglected. And that Dad broke the news of the events preceding my marriage to me when he had been ready to confess his love!”
“What?! That sounds juicy! So you had no idea how you exactly got married to Jerkshya?”
“I coined that name for him when he used to be khadoos!”
“Good one! I will call him that too! Yep, I had no idea. I was lied to. I got to know it yesterday and well, Lakshya was here to confess his love. We had a huge fight and I even threatened to divorce him and well, he confessed in the most romantic way possible and I forgave him. And we…….”
“Kissed and made up? How romantic! I had no idea that Jerkshya had a romantic bone in him. So cute! I assume that this ring must have been gifted by him?”
“Haaye! Here, Sanskaar is as obsessed with gold as his Mom! I mean, my mother-in-law even does gold facials!”
“She looks rather overdressed at times, no offense.”
“None taken! Dude……you gotta see her during traditional Rajasthani festivals like Gangaur and Karwa Chauth! I get the horrors!”
We laughed as she relayed to me how underdressed she feels when she stands in front of her mother-in-law.
“Once, we had to go to a brunch and I dressed up in a white crisp shirt and blue jeans, all time classic. Imagine my horror, I came out and saw her wearing a long thick yellow gold chain with a royal blue sari! I was confused whether I was underdressed or she was overdressed. She keeps telling me, “Gold is a woman’s prized possession.” As if! I feel so stuffy merely by seeing her, you at least don’t have too see such things daily.” she said as she leaned back on her seat.
“I think I am lucky then. No mother-in-law to deal with!”
“She is sweet otherwise. Just loves talking. About gold. Sanskaar is his mamma’s boy and even if he wasn’t, I would have no problem with her. She is not that typical saas who tortures her bahu. In fact, she even encourages me to continue modelling.”
“Hmm…..good for you. So, what are you doing these days?”
“I have my finals coming up, then I would be an official interior decorator! I am good at it. Plus, I am thinking of launching my own brand, for interior decorating. And I am also trying to get a modelling assignment. You?”
“Not much, when compared to your schedule! Few surgeries,some old aunties who keep asking me how much time they have left in this world and an old uncle who keeps on flirting with me!”
“Why wouldn’t he? You are beautiful……umm, I mean………”
“It is okay. Well, thanks. I have always considered you to be beautiful.”
“Haan? Really? Thank you. But you know, you have better features than mine. My nose resembles Dad’s too much, it is a pain!”
“Umm…..sure it does. I feel sorry for you. Lakshya says that both of us have some similar features.”
“We should, we are sisters after all!”
A silence followed this as Swara realised what she had just said while I tried to process my feelings. Somehow, it was not that weird for me. Hearing that she was my sister. Come to think of it, by blood, she IS my sister, even if she is a half one. I can’t change or escape this fact in my lifetime. In order to break the awkward silence, I spoke gently, “Tell me more about your dream.”
Swara was restored to her former spirit as she again started chatting.
“Haan, so I have decided to open a studio where I would hire other interior decorators, and together we would offer our services to decorate houses.”
“Okay. What exactly would be included in your services?”
“The usual stuff. We would recommend which position is best to place what furniture, which wall should be coloured what and which draperies would suit the rooms……..”
“Hmm…..so your work would be to advise, not actually help them in selecting their furniture and draperies?”
“Umm……….. I, I don’t know. Should I be providing them with that too?”
“Well, sorry to be so frank Swara, but there are enough freelance interior decorators these days and to be honest, everyone does up their own homes. If you want to make a business out of it, it would be better if you do something more than plain advising. Like, you know, do some fieldwork!”
“So should I be selling stuff?”
“Not at all! You see, you could collaborate with a firm who makes furniture and draperies and then, while offering your services as a decorator, offer your clients some discount if they buy the stuff from you, which would be provided by that firm. People would definitely come in the name of discount!”
“Sounds absolutely fab………….”
“What is your target audience? Like, rich and elite or would you cater to the middle class too?”
“For the middle class clients, it is better if you start a website. Like, online retailing. They could choose the layout and you could provide them with the services. E-commerce is rising high nowadays and building a clientele online would be far more easier.”
“Damn you are right! I never thought of it this way! You are so smart Ragini, you have a great business acumen. Why didn’t you start a business?”
“It was my childhood dream to become a doctor.”
“Oh! Congratulations then. You are a heart specialist, it is a tough branch I have heard.”
“It is but then, it is also the most interesting one. And it is also much in demand.”
Suddenly, Swara’s phone buzzed. She excused herself and went aside to talk. She nodded a few times, rolled her eyes twice and smiled once. She put down the phone and came back.
“Mom. She was asking if there is any improvement in Dad’s condition or should he be shifted to a private hospital in Kolkata?”
“He is okay. In fact, it is better to keep him here, surrounded by nature and less work. It would help him heal.”
“Though Ragini, what do you think could be the exact reason behind his stroke?”
“Weak heart, if we go by the reports. Some changes in his lifestyle have resulted in his heart weakening and so, he suffered that attack.”
“Hmm………that sounds believable. I…….. I actually thought that there could be some personal reason.”
“Well, the changes in his lifestyle have probably been brought by some person tensions, I am sure. Dad and I never really had a close relationship so I don’t think it was because of our tiff. Something to do with you or your mother?”
“Nothing to do with me, other than my constant hints to him to buy me that ring you are wearing. And Mom normally shares everything with me so I don’t think it has got something to do with her either. Do you think it could be some business tensions?”
“Possible. We would have to ask him.”
“He won’t reply. You know how he is, he will try to steer clear of the conversation. Sometimes, I feel as if he is having an affair!”
“Yeah, just think of it. He may be having a mistress and probably a son from her who he must be thinking of making his heir. He must be tensed as to how to reveal all of this. So he had an attack!”
“You have a weird imagination………but if it is true, this mistress theory, then I would guess that he has another daughter from her!”
“Poor Dad! Girl-Producing Machine!”
Both of us looked at each other and then burst out laughing. Swara covered her mouth with her hands as she unconsciously leaned towards me while I leaned towards her as I clutched my stomach. She lost her balance and was about to fall but I instantly caught her hand and pulled her towards me, protectively surrounding her with my arms. We stopped laughing as we realised that we were almost hugging each other.
We both turned towards the source of the voice and found Lakshya standing there, hands in his pocket with a freaked out expression on his face. Swara immediately stood up, excused herself and ran away. Lakshya walked towards me.
“Meena Deol……..are you having an affair with Swara?”
“What is wrong with you Lucky, she is my sist……………”
I stopped as I realised just what I had almost said. Lakshya sighed as he sat beside me and took my hand.
“What I had always feared has come true!”
“It was my worse nightmare that you and her would become chummy and conspire against me!”
“Why would we conspire against you? Do I look like a vamp to you?”
“No, but who knows, what all can happen in this cruel world………”
“Shut up, won’t you?”
“How about you shut me up properly by closing your mouth over mine, aye?”
Needless to say, my time before lunch was very pleasantly occupied.
It had been two weeks since Papa’s stroke and Lakshya’s confession and we had all returned to our homes a few days after. I was now almost settled into my new life: truly being Lakshya’s wife in our home. Life was pretty much the same, we would work hard, come back home, spend our time eating and chatting but there was now a great amount of love apparent.
I was coming back home when my phone beeped. I looked at the message which popped up. It was an unknown number.
Number: Are you free? Can I call you?
I frowned. I didn’t know who this number belonged to. I typed my reply.
Me: Who is it? Do I know you?
A second later, the reply came.
Number: It is me, Swara.
I was pleasantly surprised. How did she get my number? I saved her number and texted her to call me. A few seconds later, her call came.
“Hi Swara. It is a pleasant surprise, how did you get my number?”
“I stole it from Dad’s phone!”
“He gave you his phone?”
“Umm…..no, actually. I stole his phone, then I stole your number and then returned his phone!”
“Tough work! I didn’t expect you to contact. How are you?”
“Oh, mighty brilliant! Actually, I wanted to ask you something.”
“Are you free this weekend? Actually, I am graduating this Friday and so I am planning to throw a small party to celebrate the occasion. I would love it if you and Lakshya could make it. Plus, I thought about your advice and researched a lot, consulted my teachers too and they think it would be awesome. We could discuss it in detail.”
“I would have no problem. I will talk to Lakshya and revert back to you by tomorrow morning.”
“Oh sure, no problem. I hope you will come. I will send the invite once you confirm. Thanks a lot. Bye!”
I smiled as I disconnected the call. It was a strange thing, that she was inviting me to an obviously private and close gathering. Nevertheless, it was pleasing. I entered the house and sat on the bed as I looked at her saved number in my phone. I had never really considered her my sister, not even my friend. She was that lucky child who was living the life meant for me while her mother was taking my mother’s place. But after getting to know her better, I have realised that she has lived as miserable a life as I have. I used to be jealous of her once. Yet, now that she had offered a hand, I was unwilling to let this go. I have never had close female friends and the idea of having a sister is a novel one, yet, I realised, I had no issue.
I was feeling that our relationship would soon be progressing.
Right. Sorry, it doesn’t contain much Raglak but I promise, the next shot would have ample Raglak in it. Promise. Now go comment quickly!