Say Hello to Bela once again! Here I come, slight change in the writing schedule but since I love BKG so much, I decided to go about it first. Hope you don’t mind? ?
Let’s get about it????
Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping.
I woke up to the continuous sounds of messages. Grabbing my mobile, I looked at the screen.
Lakshya had tagged me in 10 memes(this guy has no work, seriously!), Swara had invited me to like her new work related Facebook page, Sanskaar had invited me to attend a Sufi concert, and just now, Lakshya had messaged me a kiss. Seeing the last one, I frowned, turning towards his side of the bed. It was empty.
Bolting out of the bed, I looked at the time which was 7 am. I frowned, Lakshya did wake up early to go to his personal gym but considering that he had torn his ligament while boxing yesterday, it was unlikely that he would be there. Where was my husband?
Another message popped. ‘Meeting early today. Left at 6:45 am. Will meet you for lunch. Love you and do reply to the memes???’.
I sighed in frustration. My mornings these days seemed to be incomplete without seeing him. I looked at the large life-size picture of us on the wall in front of me, stroking his smiling face. We had been having a private moment. Lakshya had been hugging me from the back, rubbing my cheek with his nose and smiling while I had been smiling back, when a random photographer had clicked us a candid and sent us the picture. Lakshya loved it so much that he hired the man and got it printed on our wall in black and white.
Lakshya has been such a surprisingly positive addition to my life. He has filled the void in my life, keeps me on my toes with his weird antics, riles me up to have debates and loves me like I have never been loved before. I smiled warmly as I recalled how he almost throttled Sanskaar for saying that we make an odd couple. I had to pacify him by telling off Sanskaar for insulting my relationship with Lakshya.
Another message popped. ‘Stop remembering me so much, the hiccups aren’t stopping, my love??’. I laughed, shaking my head at him. Stupid crazy lovely Lakshya!
I took a deep breath as I stared at my computer screen blankly. The email that I had received had been succeeded by a phone call and now, I was looking at the message with a heavy heart, mind in turmoil.
I have never been emotionally attached to anyone. Heck, I didn’t even believe in love before Ragini waltzed into my life, changing my notions. She has made me realise that I do have a heart, which knows how to love and empathize. And I have realised this now, as I read the message before me.
My orphanage’s caretaker had passed away. I recalled the old matronly woman, who had tried to be my mother but could never be. She had taken care of me when I was little and then…….left me to fend for myself amongst the other kids. It had been so scary, but then, she had taken me in when my own mother had ditched me. And however she had been, she had been a part of my life and now that she wasn’t there anymore, I should go and pay my respects.
With a sigh, I closed my laptop shut and walked out of my cabin, coat hanging by the arm.
I smiled as I saw the food on the table. Chhole-Bhature, Schezwan noodles, chicken nuggets and pastries were too good for a weekday lunch. I turned to Lakshya to thank him but found him already looking at me expectantly.
He is acting weird. He opens his mouth but doesn’t talk. It’s like, he is trying to say something but isn’t able to do it. I decided to ask him myself.
“Lakshya, is there anything you want to share with me?”
He nodded abruptly. “Have your lunch first. You must be hungry, I know that you have not had your breakfast, you silly girl!” he said, pointing his finger at me in an accusing manner.
I smiled sheepishly. I love breakfasts with him. Seeing him butter his toast while reading the newspaper gives me a certain comfort which nothing else does. I ate a bite of the chhole bhature and looked at him. “Speak.” I said calmly.
“I received a message. Sharda Aunty, my orphanage’s caretaker passed away today, early in the morning. I have to go to Darjeeling, where my orphanage is, in the evening. They will cremate her tomorrow.”
I gasped in shock, covering my mouth with my hand. I could see that while he wasn’t really affected, he was sad and it pained me to realise that he probably lost a motherly figure………..again.
I reached out and pressed his hand comfortingly. He smiled while I fed him some noodles.
“Lakshya, can I go with you?”
He looked up at me in surprise. “You? Why do you want to go?”
“I don’t know. I just……..want to be with you during this time. And catch a glimpse of your childhood too.”
“I don’t know Ragini. I am not sure whether you should get dragged into this affair.”
“I volunteered for being dragged into all your affairs-happy and sad- the day I married you. Not mentioning our terms of the oral contract though!”
Lakshya smiled as I drew circles on his palm. He nodded his assent. “To be honest, I can have nothing better than having you beside me. Thanks for understanding Ragini. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
We reached Darjeeling an hour ago. We were travelling to stay in the company guesthouse for the night. After completing the cremation tomorrow morning, we would return home in the evening.
Ragini held my hand as our car whizzed past the forest in the hills. My guesthouse was just fifteen minutes away from the orphanage, and on a hill. I was familiar with the constant round roads but Ragini was probably having sickness. I gave her a medicine and pulled her towards me, engulfing her in my arms.
Stroking her hair, I smiled as I looked at her innocent face. Having her in my life is the biggest blessing I could have gotten. People die everyday for love, looking for it like crazy but I found mine so easily. She has a heart made of gold, she cares for me so much and loves me even more. Sometimes, it gives me goosebumps. To think that someone so wonderful was mine and mine alone. Deeply in love with me.
The dinner had already been set by the time we reached and I was relieved to find that it had simple, comforting homemade food, something I am sure Ragini would appreciate. I escorted Ragini to the table and made her eat myself. After we both had had our food, I put her to bed and then changed into sports clothes.
I jogged all the way up to the orphanage, running around the familiar trees, on the familiar road and breathing the familiar air. It was a bittersweet moment for me, revisiting my past, as it came to me slowly with each step I took. I had my wife today with me who, under normal circumstances, I would have been pleased to share my childhood with. But with Sharda’s death and my own haunting past, I just prayed that Ragini stays safe and unscathed in this place.
Sweating profusely, I stared at the huge iron gate in front of me. A tattered signboard had the words “Shanti Anaathalaya” printed on it. I recalled my unwillingness to return to this place from school when I was young. I recalled the little window that gave me a view of the streets outside. This orphanage is located outside the town and away from its hustle and bustle, with only some residential quarters a few miles away. It was lonely then, almost haunted and it was the same, so many years later.
I hid behind a tree as I saw a shadow coming outside the gate. Straining my eyes to see the person better, I got a shock as I saw who it was. What was he doing here? How……………
I watched silently as he came out to keep the garbage. I waited for him to go back inside, then silently came out and returned to my guesthouse, a mixture of fear and anticipation running through me.
I squeezed my eyes shut as I heard Lakshya’s deep baritone voice close to my left ear. His voice is so soothing, it makes me want to sleep more…………
“It is 7 am. We have to reach the orphanage by 9. Please wake up.”
Suddenly my mind registered my surroundings- the foreign bed, the unfamiliar smell, the cooler air. I recalled coming with Lakshya to Darjeeling. Recalling the purpose of our visit, my eyes flew open.
Lakshya was bending over me, watching my face closely. I gave him a feeble smile and he returned it, helping me in sitting up.
“See, I have brought breakfast in bed for you. Such a nice guy I am, you must be thanking your lucky stars that you got me as your husband………”
I smiled as he prattled on and on about his great achievements while topping my pancake with fruits and honey. I picked up a fork and took a bite of my French toast in sugar syrup, watching him in amusement. I wish his face would ever light up at seeing me like it does when he praises himself!
“And then that useless Sanskaar Singhania just gaped at me while I won the tender, fair and square. You, madam, had been busy in a surgery otherwise you could have seen that priceless reaction. And his wife, your equally good for nothing sister Swara seemed to be least bothered, I am sure she was checking out Mrs. Hooda’s pink chiffon sari………..”
I chuckled as I recalled Sanskaar’s face when we met the next day in the hospital where he had come for a routine checkup. He seemed to want to curse Lakshya very badly but knew that I would send him to the orthopaedics if he did that. And sure enough, I did receive Swara’s call, telling me that Mrs. Hooda’s pink chiffon sari was actually a fake, bought from Chandni Chowk. How she knew it was beyond me, but maybe it had something to do with the Hoodas’ trip to Delhi a week prior.
With an extreme sense of betrayal, I saw Lakshya eating the pancake that I thought he had been preparing for me. I glared at him fiercely while he continued telling me about the rising prices of gold and his smugness about Sujata Singhania’s curbed expenses because of this. I stabbed his pancake with my fork and he realised his folly quickly, making another one for me faster than I could say ‘starvation’.
I looked at the people around me. This was a rather interesting gathering. There were people from all walks of life, Lakshya’s former co-mates of the orphanage with their respective families as well as the other locals. It was 9:30 am, and almost everyone had arrived.
Lakshya pressed my hand as a man approached us with a woman behind him, carrying a chubby child in her arms. He stopped before Lakshya and squinted at him.
“Lakshya, Deven. Lakshya Maheshwari.”
The man’s expression changed as his eyes hardened. He scowled at Lakshya who was looking at him in a smug manner. Lakshya turned towards the woman behind Deven and nodded to her. She gulped down while looking at her husband. Seeing that he wasn’t looking, she passed a feeble smile to Lakshya.
“This is my wife Ragini. Ragini, they are Deven and Tia. I told you……..”
With a peak of interest, I turned towards the woman and observed her. She was a petite young woman, dusky and pretty. However, she looked overworked. The child in her arms was a cute one, chubby and smiling toothlessly. I smiled at her as I clutched Lakshya’s arm tightly.
Deven turned to Lakshya. “Thank you for coming to my mother’s funeral.” he said. Lakshya nodded and we parted.
“What was that?”
“Deven and I don’t see eye to eye.”
“I could figure that out. But WHY?”
“Not now please, Ragu. Later.”
I looked at my husband in worry as he continued looking around. He was very uncomfortable, even scared and I wanted to know why. I decided to approach him about it later.
Above us, standing in the balcony were young kids. They must have been the current residents of this orphanage. They peered down at us with interest. I smiled at them and a few grinned back, waving their hands at me.
There was an announcement in the room. “Due to some confusion about the right mahurat, the prayer meeting will start an hour later. You may all do whatever you wish to meanwhile. We are sorry for the inconvenience caused.”
Lakshya rolled his eyes. “Typical. This Deven cannot handle a single function by himself, how he is going to handle this entire orphanage is beyond me!”
I patted his hand in comfort. “Lakshya, how about you show me around? I want to see the place you grew up in.”
Lakshya stiffened. He turned towards me and asked, “Why do you want to see around? There is nothing special here, we lived a frugal life.”
“But I still wish to see it. It would give me so much pleasure to see the places where you used to play, eat, study. Please?”
Lakshya sighed in resignation. “Sure then. Come.”
He held my hand and escorted me towards the garden. It was uneven, some patches green with overgrown grass while some were sparse. There were a few swings and monkey climbers and a single broken merry-go-round in the middle. Lakshya smiled a little as he touched it gently.
“I loved this merry-go-round. I would rotate on it all the time I would be on the playground. In fact, it was I who broke it! I had grown too heavy for it, I remember how much I was punished………”
Lakshya stopped abruptly and gulped. He stepped back and looked around. “When I was a child, this park was actually a park. It was covered with green grass all over and there would be ladybirds. They would crawl on me all the time and give me rashes, those blo*dy blimpy little insects!” he muttered in irritation. I laughed, imagining a little Lakshya frowning angrily at little insects as they crawled all over him. I jogged a little, joining him as he started walking ahead.
“This is the small park of the orphanage, we were also allowed to play in the one that is behind the orphanage. It is close to the forest so we were always supervised. But there were housing blocks nearby and so we would have more company. Nothing much. Shall we go inside?” he asked. I nodded with a smile.
We entered through the back door and Lakshya showed me the kitchen. “I didn’t know how to cook so I was usually assigned the task of either chopping the vegetables or cleaning the rooms. Sharda Aunty used to cook, most of the times, with some help from a loquacious maid, I don’t remember her name………”
We turned around and saw Tia standing there, smiling at us. She entered the kitchen and took out a jar. “Her name was Sudha. She was Oriya. You forgot so easily Laksh?” she said as she started making tea.
“Well I am not going to name my children after her anytime in my life, so how does it even matter?”
Tia gave a peal of laughter. “As sarcastic as ever, aye? Well, glad to see that your sense of humour is intact. Mine has gone down the gutter.”
“Marrying Deven wasn’t your brightest idea…..”
“I loved him Laksh.”
“You will always remain Laksh to us. Even if you keep shouting at the top of your lungs, we will all continue calling you Laksh, instead of Lakshya.”
“Which is why you guys have never progressed. Move on from the old habits, adopt new ones. See how life changes.”
“It is easier said than done.” she sighed as she turned towards us. “Want some tea?” she asked. I shook my head and so did Lakshya. We said a polite goodbye and continued on our way.
“Do you reckon Lakshya, that she is happy?”
“Of course she isn’t. She can never be. Deven and she had an on-off relationship. She fell pregnant and the idea of becoming a father appealed to Deven so they eloped but she miscarried the child soon after. I guess they have been married for about 3 or 4 years.”
“That is sad. But that reminds me, why have you changed your name?”
“Lakshya sounds s*xier. Especially when you say it, with your own mouth, in that super seductive whisper…….” he said with a smirk as he wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. I smacked his upper arm and we climbed up the stairs, towards the rooms. As we climbed up, my gaze fell on a photo that was hanging on the wall. I smiled as I saw a bunch of smiling faces before I was struck at finding a familiar one amongst them. In the middle of the the picture, dressed up in an oversized shirt and baggy pants, smiling in all his glory was my husband Lakshya! He looked no more than 7 and was super cute. I squealed in delight and Lakshya came towards me in curiosity and then smiled a little seeing the picture. I quickly whipped out my phone and clicked a picture of the photo. “You were so damn cute Lucky…………those cheeks! Awwww!” I said as I pinched his cheeks. He rolled his eyes at me.
We reached the first floor and I was astonished at the state of the surroundings. It seems as if the good part of the house was just the ground floor which also served as the residential quarters of Deven’s family. This floor, which houses the orphans, is pathetic in its structure. The walls were pale green and there were plumbing leaks everywhere. The floor was clean but very old. We started moving forward.
Lakshya opened the door to a room which had tables and chairs. “This served as our common room cum study room. In the mornings, we used to have classes here when we were young and in the evenings, we used to have our dinner here, in a batch of 20.” he said as he entered inside. The room had a stale smell and I coughed a little. Lakshya turned towards me in alarm and escorted me out quickly. “Are you alright baby? You want water?” he asked with concern. I shook my head and smiled. He smiled back and we continued our tour.
“These are our rooms. We used to sleep some five or six people in one room.
They are too small for more.” he said as we peeked into the rooms. There were kids inside, reading books, playing and talking amongst themselves. On seeing us, they smiled brightly and we smiled back, before walking ahead.
Lakshya took in a deep sigh before he turned to me. “This is my old room Ragu.” Lakshya said as he pushed a door which creaked open to reveal a small dingy room. The walls were pale yellow and dirty, plastered with some faded posters. There were cracks close to the ceilings and the walls were damp, thanks to the plumbing leaks. There were two single beds on the ground, which was dirty and black at some places.
Tears came to my eyes seeing the conditions Lakshya used to live in. I controlled them for his sake, as he finally turned towards me, after watching the room with a faraway look in his eyes.
With a smile I asked him, “Which bed was yours amongst them?”
Lakshya game me an uncomfortable look. “I d…..n…..no bed was mine. The elder boys used to sleep on the bed. I used to sleep on the floor, with a few other kids.” He replied, stuttering in shame.
I couldn’t control my tears anymore as I choked a sob, keeping a hand over my mouth. Lakshya immediately clutched my other hand and started rubbing it, pulling me towards him and wrapping his arms around me.
“I should not have brought you here against my better judgement, so sorry Ragini, you shouldn’t have seen this. I should have known you would get upset. So sorry, please forgive me, I………”
Unable to say anything more, he just hugged me tighter as I felt his teardrops on my head. I kissed his chest slowly, closing my eyes and taking his comforting smell in. He stroked my hair as we stood there in a companionable silence.
I took a deep breath as I sat with the other people in the hall. It was too small for everyone to fit in, which was why only the orphanage’s former residents like me were inside, while the other well-wishers and our families were out in the garden.
I could spot Deven talking to a man who, if I was to identify, was his childhood crony Samay. They were the bullies of the orphanage, making sure that other children lead miserable lives. Next to them were Shreya and Shruti, twins who were elder to me by three years. They now had a boutique of their own in Kalimpong. I could spot a few other people who I knew, none close to me though.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw a bespectacled young man. He seemed familiar, though I couldn’t recognise him.
“Lakshya Maheshwari, yes. Sorry, I don’t seem to recall your name.”
“I knew you wouldn’t. It’s Kunal Ghosh. I was two or three years younger than you, always crying. Remember?”
A very distinct image of a pathetic little child in broken glasses, who used to bawl his weak eyes out all the time, came to me. I suppressed a groan as I turned to him with newfound recognition. “Kunni?” I asked with dread. He nodded smilingly and this time, I couldn’t help but groan in frustration. Why did this irritating creature always cling to me?
“Bhai, you have become so famous! I read about you all the time, I am in Apna Bank, as Junior Manager. You are our idol!”
“I was so upset to read about your bankruptcy but I am happy that you have come out of it. Why, even my girlfriend is a great fan of your wife’s dressing sense.”
An image of a seriously displeased Ragini, lecturing this mouse on feminism and the need to not judge women by their clothes came to my mind and I chuckled softly. The idiot continued prattling.
“Her name is Shraddha, she is a teacher. She tries to emulate high end fashion but her salary doesn’t allow her much leeway with the clothes and cosmetics………”
I zoned out as he commented on how fine I was doing and how rich I was and how beautiful my wife was. I rubbed my temples, wishing death on a certain someone with black spectacles and greasy hair, with a talking capacity more ferocious than the ‘zabardasti ki cool’ Swara Sanskaar Singhania.
I smoothened the front of my white suit as I looked at Tia who was drinking her third cup of tea. Her child Shravan was fast asleep on her lap with his thumb in his mouth.
“You are very beautiful.”
I was lost in my own thoughts before Tia interrupted them with her statement. I looked at her in surprise and smiled uneasily.
“Laksh seems to be madly in love with you. I have never seen him look at someone with such tender expressions on his face.”
“We are in love, yes.”
“The perks of having money, I guess.”
Her last statement made my blood boil. What is she trying to insinuate, that we are in love with each other because the other one has money?”
“What exactly do you mean?”
“Well, love is a great feeling alright but it flies out of the window really soon if there is no money to keep the house running. Just like the love between me and my husband. You both have enough money that even your great great grandchildren can spend it recklessly, so I guess it leaves you both with enough time for hobbies like love.”
“Love is not a hobby. I can understand that your own cash crunch has led you to form such opinions but you better keep them to yourself. Do not judge my relationship with Lakshya, we have survived a highly publicized REAL bankruptcy to reach where we are now.”
“Fair enough. Laksh is tough to live with, though. He used to be fine, a silent moody loner, but fine before that incident……”
“What incident?” I asked sharply. Her face became pale and she averted her eyes.
“It is nothing…….”
“You better tell me now that you have said it out loud. Nothing you tell me is going to change my opinion about Lakshya, I love him and I always will.”
“It isn’t something you would like to know about.”
“And who are YOU to determine what and what not I would like to know about my husband?”
“He carries more secrets than you know he does. And they are not just normal secrets, they are burdens.”
“Do you know about Lakshya’s origins and his past?”
To be continued………….
*Ducks to save face from the onslaught of slippers*
Oh well that was abrupt but it has another part to it, dedicated to Raglak once again. And then the next would be Raglak too. So yeah, wait for it. Happy Dasai and yes, advance mein Happy Diwali ?