Azure here….back with the next part. This story will have flowers update so bear with me. Thanks
Ruhi Sethi – Ragini
Sahil Tandon – Sanskar
Tarun Kakkar – Laksh
As I had predicted, my cousins had arranged an elaborate welcome for us. As if the dhol and nagadas were not enough, they had hired some dancers. If it wasn’t evident before, this should make it clear. My cousins were over-the-top and filmy!
Tarun, the crazy guy that he was, soaked in all the drama and was enjoying dancing with those dancers and with my cousins.
I on the other hand was in a different soup altogether.
After my Mom had done her aarti (Indian ritual) to welcome me, I was literally tossed from one relative to other. Each one taking turns to squash me in a tight hug. I was their pass-the-parcel in short, with music and all!
By the time they were done with me, I was dazed and had little sense of orientation. I probably even looked like a zombie. I sure as hell felt like one!
“Putar (child)” Bejee (grandmom) called out, signaling me to come towards her.
I touched her feet and hugged her gently. She looked frail. She had grown so old in these past 10 years. The Bejee I remembered before leaving was full of vitality. But age has a way of catching up with everyone.
“How are you?” I asked her gently in Punjabi.
“I am better now that you are here” she told me, while running her hand over my head “He is a soona munda (nice boy)” she said pointing to Tarun
I nodded with a smile. Bejee was probably the only one who didn’t want be to be with Sahil. She was never much of a fan of his. It never bothered me much then. But then nothing much said against Sahil ever registered with me. I was blind to it all, by choice.
But after all these years, it felt good to see her approve my choice. She patted my cheeks as I made to stand by and take in the house that I had grown up in. A house that I had missed these last 10 years, and yet never realized how much I missed it, until right that moment.
That was when my eyes fell on her. She was standing away from all. She still had the same love and care in her eyes for me. Shalini Maa.
She wasn’t really my Mom. My mom was Jasvinder Sethi. Jassi for all her near and dear ones. But Shalini Maa was no less than Mom to me.
I felt something catch in my throat as I saw her. I hadn’t spoken to her these 10 years. I felt guilty about it now. I took tentative steps towards her. My eyes feeling up with emotions that I wasn’t sure I could express in words.
She had always been like a sister to my Mom. Actually more than a sister. She was married to my Papa’s best friend, Rajendra uncle or Raj as he liked to call himself. I felt a smile break on my face at that thought of the filmy things he would do when we were kids. He even planned to change Shalini’s aunty’s name to Simran at one point in time. For a second I wondered where he was, before I remembered Papa mentioning that he would be back in the evening, as I was being tossed around.
Shalini Maa, unlike Raj uncle, was never much into the filmy craziness that uncle displayed, but she was always a good sport and took all of his antics in her stride.
My connection with her was different. It was deeper than the one I shared with my own Mom. And she for her part, loved me more than she loved her own son. More than she loved Sahil.
She was the one who realized it first, when I was hurting over Sahil. She was the first one who told me he wasn’t worth it, if he caused me so much pain.
“Shalini Maa” I said softly as I reached her, before I hug her tightly. I knew this tight hug would not make up for all the hugs that we missed in those 10 years, but I couldn’t help but want to hang on to her.
“Missed me this much?” She asked gently
“You don’t even know” I mumbled against her when I could finally speak
“You will go away soon though. This time for good” she said gently as she ran her fingers through my hair.
“Don’t think of that now. Let me just enough being with you” I said pulling back
I saw her eyes had moistened. I was sure mine had as well. There was something in her eyes. A wish. May be even a regret. I knew what she wanted. It was what I too had wanted one. But things were different now. I had moved on.
“Are you happy with my marriage?” I asked her tentatively. Somehow, her approval of Tarun meant the world to me.
“Are you happy?” she asked me. I nodded softly “Then I am happy too. All I want is your happiness” she said patting my cheek
We looked at each other for a while. It felt as though she wanted to say something, ask something. But she never did. I too had a question that was dying to leave my lips, but I too held back.
I couldn’t move on, if I kept digging the past. I reminded myself.
Fifteen minutes later, I was standing in my room. There were so many memories that I had in this very room. Good ones and bad ones.
I walked over to the dressing table, it still had my photos from childhood. Our photos from childhood, I reminded myself. Sahil and I. Time had ages them. Added its sepia tint on some of them. But that didn’t take away from them. I wasn’t sure if anything would.
I walked out into the balcony, that opened into the garden. I looked out to see a tent being put up for the wedding preparation.
Without meaning to, my eyes drifted to the house across the garden and to the room that was opposite mine. It was his room. Sahil’s. It seemed to be curtained off right now. I quickly looked away, least I see something that would make me unhappy.
Unknowingly my hands traced the railing of the balcony. This was the last place I had seen him before I flew away to US. To Boston for further studies. He had brought me my favorite apple ice-cream as we sat in the balcony having what was our final chat.
“Roo!” Tarun almost screaked as he entered the room.
I turned around to see what was the matter
“Save me!” he said, wide-eyed
“What happened? Did one of my cousins get to you?” I asked him worriedly. If they had harassed him in any way, they would have to face me, I thought firmly.
“No” he said meekly
I was confused. Tarun and meek didn’t go together. If anything, Tarun was always a few steps ahead and over enthusiastic about everything. That was how he had forced me to give in and become friends with him when I first landed in Boston and met him during classes.
“What happened?” I asked him, still unsure what was going on with him
“Pammy aunty” he mumbled, practically eating the rest of the words in the sentence
“What?” I asked again “All I could get was Pammy aunty”
“Pammy aunty attacked me” he mumbled, lowering his eyes
“Attacked you?” I asked again, trying to be sure. That wasn’t like Pammy aunty. She was a bit, well over friendly, to put it mildly and a big flirt to put it bluntly. But she was never someone who would attack anyone
“She pinched my cheeks” he mumbled
“Oh! She thinks you are cute little boy I guess. You were over enthusiastic out there” I said making baby faces at him
“She didn’t exactly pinch the cheeks on my face” He said, blushing
“Oh” I was confused, that was before I realized what he had just said “Oh!” I exclaimed wide-eyed, before bursting into laughter
“Roo! How can you laugh at this? My virtue was being threatened” He said almost pouting like a small kid
“Don’t worry, I will marry you with this questionable virtue as well” I said laughing
“Roo! There was a chance I might not have been able to show my face to anyone” he complained
“Oye! Drama queen! Relax your virtue is safe” I assured him, before breaking into a bright smile thinking about the funny situation “Pammy aunty can get a bit friendly” I said tentatively. He widened his eyes to counter me “Okay! Okay! She can get way too friendly, but she knows you belong to me. She won’t attack you anymore. I will talk to her”
He nodded finally
“Get some rest now” I told him softly
But he stood rooted on the spot
“What happened?” I asked, seeing that he wasn’t willing to budge from his spot
“What if she is waiting for me outside?” He asked throwing me a innocent expression
I shook my head “Fine! Come on. I will drop you to your room. I will protect you from her” I assured him
He finally nodded and made his way out.
I followed, shooting a quick glance at the room opposite mine.
Should I have really come back home? I wondered, not for the first time, as I walked out of the room.
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