Hi all, here is the next chapter in the story. Thanks so so much for all your comments. I hope you like this one.
Sanskar was sitting on his side of the bed, quite unsuccessfully trying to read a book. Unsuccessfully, because his thoughts were still on the attacks. True he and Ranveer had discussed the incidents almost a week back and everything pointed to both happening together being more of coincidence rather than an elaborate plan. If he looked back to the facts that they had discussed, it did seem as though Swara was just there at the wrong place and the wrong time, but put that in the context of Ragini’s attack and he still couldn’t get his mind to agree that both being attacked by bikers in helmets using guns could only be coincidence.
He had also been questioning himself about what he really knew about Swara. He would never admit it to anyone if they asked him, but there were questions that his mind was throwing at him that was enveloping him in a cloud of doubt. This was the girl he loved. Questions doubting the basic premise, of his understanding of the girl, not just by others, but now also by his own mind was leaving him feel unsettled not just about the whole matter but also about himself. He needed clarity one way or the other. But he had almost exhausted the easily available venues of information, now the ones that were left brought with them their own set of discomfort.
As he thought about the three names that were revolving in his thoughts, his eyes drifted towards Ragini who was sitting in her usual place by the coffee table working on her project. When they shook hands and became friends last week, he had never expected that she would become something close to his best friend in such a short span of time. But then again, friendship wasn’t about time spent, it was about trust, and somehow he felt that immensely towards her.
It was strange, at least for him, to come across someone that he could share those things that he wasn’t all that comfortable sharing with his friends in LA or even the ones that had been with him since uni days. And yet here he was, sharing those with Ragini, his friend of mere 7 days. But then she somehow made it easy for him to share those things. It sometimes felt as though they were just on the same page – in complete sync – over many of their views and that was something that he had not even realized he would enjoy as much as he did. It was strange that what would start out as quick chat breaks, from her project work, would soon turn into hours of discussion, with the project being left aside. They had been trying to be consciously disciplined, since yesterday, not to get too carried away with their chats, so that her project wasn’t impacted.
He had come to respect her and admire her for her resilience and her philosophy of life. He felt protective of the innocence that she still displayed despite what she had been through. He had come to appreciate the warmth that she spread around as she spoke to his family and with him.
And that was preciously what made some of his investigations tougher. Besides the complication of not even being sure if he would be able to have a decent discussion with them, he was worried about hurting her, his almost best friend, in the course of the investigation and part of him wondered if it would be betrayal of their friendship.
Of the three, Shekhar Gadodia was the one that posed the most threat in this context. He had already realized that Shekhar wasn’t a good husband to Janki Maa nor a good father to Ragini, when he had spoken to Ranveer. But his recent friendship with Ragini made him feel even more incensed towards the man on Ragini’s behalf. True they had never spoken about him, but they didn’t need to for him to see that he wasn’t really there for Ragini in any way or form. He felt disgusted by the man to the extent that he had already decided that he would not meet him in the course of his investigation, if he could help it.
With this thought in mind, he had decided to focus on the two other possible sources of information – Sharmistha and Aditya Raheja. Sharmistha was going to be another sensitive matter similar to Shekhar. One that he had to deal appropriately with it came to that.
Adarsh bhaiyaa has been apprehensive enough about Laksh’s friendship with Aditya, along with his concerns over Swara. Sanskar wanted to find out what that was all about. Even if he might have nothing to add and might not even have been all that close to Swara, but just negating Adarsh bhaiyaa’s concerns in some way or form, he felt, could reinforce his view of Adarsh bhaiyaa being wrong about Swara as well. Truth be told, with the lack of sources, he had to give it a go.
Sanskar looked away from Ragini, his eyes falling on the last of her bags that was still lying by the wardrobe “You still haven’t managed to do all your unpacking?” he asked her
Ragini looked up from her iPad “I just have a few things left from the last bag” she explained glancing over towards the bag “I haven’t been able to get around to it yet”
“I don’t have anything to do right now” he said, since they had just had lunch “I will unpack it for you” he added walking over to the bag, putting it on the bedroom bench.
Ragini walked over “Leave it. I will do it” she told him, as she opened the bag
“You have your project to work on. I have been distracting you enough with our chats. Finish your work, I will manage” he assured her
“It will be faster if both of us are working on it. Besides, I can put things away faster since I know where they need to go” Ragini
“Fine” Sanskar told her and they worked together to go through the bag
“Wow! You seem to have a complete saree store here!” he said as they unpacked most of the way through the bag. He walked to her wardrobe section and peeped inside “And another store here! What exactly are you trying to do, start a saree business? Why do you need so many sarees?”
“In case you aren’t aware, that is what I wear every day. Besides that, there are also some that I need for special occasions” Ragini explained
“You cannot have been wearing sarees in UK” He stated looking at her confused. She nodded “Well what
about here back home at Maa’s? Did you wear sarees there?” he asked still staring at her collection.
“Not really. I mostly wore jeans, kurtis, salwar suits and if I could get away with it, then skirts of dresses if Dadi was in a good mood” Ragini said with a small smile on her face as she remembered her Dadi and her memories back home.
“So why do you only have sarees here?” Sanskar asked confused
Ragini looked at him as if he had grown another head “Sanskar, that is what all the bahus of the house wear here. You do know that it is the tradition of the house”
“Are you even comfortable wearing them, if you aren’t really used to them?” Sanskar asked. Girls were illogical sometimes, he thought to himself. He had seen girls wearing short skimpy dresses in freezing cold temperatures in NY, when he was studying at Cornell, before moving to LA for his job.
“Sanskar, it is not as though I haven’t worn sarees before. I have just never worn them for long duration, but with time you get used to it. It is not all that bad as you are making it out to be and all girls have to go through it. Pari Bhabhi did as well” Ragini explained
He had always stayed away from all these topics. It didn’t affect him so he wasn’t bothered about it either. It was his Badi Maa or Mom or Bhabhi’s department. He wasn’t one to comment one way or the other about Uttara’s clothes either.
“Ragini, I am not talking about all the girls, I am talking about you.” He told her softly “You are trying to change your dressing, wear something you are not comfortable with, trying to then get comfortable with it, to show that you value the traditions of this house. But as person you are someone who does already value those traditions. You already show that through your actions. You care about my family. You are always respectful to each one of them. Even a blind person will be able to sense that in just the few days that you have been here. You are fine the way you are. And I cannot think why the rest of the family will not be able to see it as well. You aren’t going to be disrespectful to them or the traditions just because you wore something that you are more comfortable with”
“Sanskar, I understand what you are saying, but what is wrong in bearing a tiny temporary discomfort on our part, if we can make our elders feel happy and ensure that they don’t have to hear not-so-great comments from outsiders? Isn’t it worth it? Besides, you are forgetting that they are my family too now.” Ragini told him gently with a smile
“The fact that you are willing to do this for our family is nice.” He said emphasizing on ‘our’ “It’s even better that this is just a tiny inconvenience according to you, but there will be times when the inconvenience won’t be all that tiny and don’t forget that tiny things also can add up to a lot. Just don’t compromise so much that you start feeling stifled and stop being yourself. Okay?” he told her. She nodded with a warm smile “By the way, do you really think that the family would be unhappy if you wore something more comfortable that isn’t a saree?” Sanskar asked her
“Sanskar, what is you and sarees today?” Ragini asked him with a teasing smile “I Do you hate them so much or are you trying to keep some for yourself? Send it to that drag girl friend of yours”
“I don’t hate them” Sanskar said rolling his eyes “And I definitely don’t want any” he said glaring at her “And we agreed never to talk about those embarrassing things. I do know yours too you know” he warned
“Okay! Okay! I am sorry. Promise no more talks on those incidents” Ragini said making puppy eyes and a sorry face. Sanskar rolled his eyes as he shook his head and gave her a small smile “Okay let forget all that now and help me with this” Ragini told him
“Actually, I will be right back” Sanskar told he rushing out of the room
“Sanskar, where are you going?” Ragini called out but he was already out of the room by then.
Sanskar was back in 15 minutes “Okay, get ready” he told her
“What? Get ready? Why?” she asked him confused as she arranged the last saree in the wardrobe
“We are going out shopping to get you some comfortable clothes” He told her walking over towards the washroom to get ready
“What?” Ragini asked
“What?” He said shrugging his shoulders as if she should not have been surprised by what he just said “I spoke to Bade Papa, Papa, Maa and Mom. They are fine with you wearing clothes other than sarees” Sanskar said “Get ready and be quick about it. We need to leave now. And yes” he added turning to look at her “close your mouth. We may not have flies in the house, but you don’t want to take that chance”
By the time they returned from shopping, it was already tea-time. They quickly dumped the bags in the room and had some snacks with the family before Ragini went off to help Pari Bhabhi with the rest of the house-hold chores and then dinner preparations.
Sanskar on the other hand, hung around the hall that day, unlike his usual habit of going off to the room. He had a reason for doing that. Before he could meet with Aditya, he wanted to find out who he was, as discreetly as he could.
For the past one month, since being dragged back here from LA, he had been more or less in his own world. He hadn’t really paid attention to what was happening around the house. When Adarsh bhaiyaa spoke of his concerns about Laksh, that was the first time he had heard about them. Over the last week, he had finally noticed Laksh being out of the house most evenings. A quick chat with the watchman revealed that he was never back in the house before 2am at the earliest. He had heard from Adarsh that he was out with Aditya Raheja every night. He wanted to find out what was going on and he wanted to do that tonight.
It was around 8pm in the evening when Laksh walked down the stairs all ready to leave. Sanskar gave him 5 minutes lead and the started leaving the house himself
“Sanskar, are you going somewhere?” his Mom asked him
“Mom, I need to go meet a friend” Sanskar said trying not to lose more time, before he turned and added “Don’t wait up for me to have your dinner. I am likely to have dinner with him” while looking at Ragini. She gave a quick nod, despite feeling a bit confused. Sanskar had after all never mentioned about any plans to meet any friend today.
Sanskar would have liked to follow Laksh alone, but he had no real idea of where Aditya Raheja’s farmhouse was. It seemed that that was where Laksh usually went to, if what Sanskar’s bodyguards told him was true. He got in the car with his bodyguards and asked them to head to that place.
By the time he reached there, it was already close to 9pm. There wasn’t any security around the farmhouse. Laksh’s car was parked outside but he couldn’t see Laksh’’s guards anywhere.
“I am going to go in” Sanskar told his guards. When they made to follow him in, he stopped them “You wait outside. I will go in alone” They seemed startled and reluctant, but he managed to get them off his back finally.
The house seemed mostly quiet leaving aside some music that was coming from a part of the house. He followed the sound of the music, walking along the perimeter of the house. As he neared the rear part of the house, he saw a group of boys sitting by the wicker chairs and sofa lining the pool. He could spot two girls there. Seeing them, he could guess that they weren’t part of any friend circle with the boys but had most likely been paid to be there and entertain the boys. He couldn’t believe his Lucky could be associated with this group. It didn’t make sense.
“What wrong with you dude? You have been down lately” Sanskar heard one of the boys say. Sanskar was standing by the edge of the wall, trying to see as much as he could, while being covered by the foliage around.
“Looks like he had been having a dry spell, if you get what I mean” another boy said in an amused tone
“We all know what you always mean, Karan” a third one teased “Poor guy has the most succulent meat in front of him and has been asked to go vegetarian” he said bursting into laughter
“f**k off Vicky!” Sanskar heard Lucky exclaim. He hadn’t been able to see Lucky, who seemed to have been at the further side of the wall, cut off from his sight of vision.
“What is this about?” the first one asked
“Oh that is right, you have been out of the country for a month, haven’t you, Sid?” Karan said “Lucky’s Bhai from LA recently got married and he has a new Bhabhi in the house. Ra-Gi-Ni ‘Bhabhi’” emphasizing the word Bhabhi
Sanskar’s heart raced as he heard Ragini’s name mentioned. What was going on here? Why were they talking about Ragini? And especially in relation to the crude conversation that seemed to be going on between them!
“Please don’t call her that! As if my family isn’t doing that enough!” Lucky said annoyed
“I don’t get it?” Sid said confused
“Lucky has been mesmerized by her enchanting beauty and knocked off his feet, in the very first glance. His words, mind you!” Karan explained conspiringly “But he has been zoned into the devar slot” he said with a chuckle
“Don’t forget the latest, she has made him her Bhai now” Vicky added
“Your Bhabhi, Lucky!!” Sid asked surprised
“Shut up, Sid” Lucky spat at him “It is not as if Bhai has been interested in her. Family forced him into the marriage and he wouldn’t mind getting rid of her the first chance he gets. I don’t see why I cannot pursue her instead.”
Sanskar clenched his fist hearing this. He wanted to go over there right then and knock some sense into Laksh for the disguising way he was talking about Ragini. But before he could, the fifth person spoke making him stop in his tracks.
“Lucky, she is not going to be yours even if your brother leaves her” the person said
“What are you talking about, Ady?” Laksh asked
“Did you forget that if Aditya likes something no one can stand in his way?” Aditya said
“Don’t tell me you like her too! Wow! This Ragini must be something else if you have a thing for her” Sid said
“Ra-Gi-Ni” Aditya said letting out a vicious chuckle “She has to be special to garner Aditya’s interest. She has a figure that can elicit fire in a man” he said moving his hand in the air making the shape a female form.
Sanskar felt as though it was a slimy snake hissing her name. He felt his anger reaching a tipping point and made to stride over there to make Aditya pay the price for uttering her name in such cheap manner and for the comments he was making.
But before he could, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned around to see Ranveer there. Sanskar made to move back towards the boys, but Ranveer tightened the grip on his shoulders and shook his head. Sanskar clenched his jaw and turned to the boys.
“When did you see her?” Karan asked
“Aditya is aware of every girl in Kolkata that is worth being aware of. And she is definitely worth being aware of. All you need to remember is that I get what I want” Aditya said firmly “And right now I want Ra-Gi-Ni. Ra-Gi-Ni with her luscious lips and that s*xy waist.”
“Ady” Laksh said a bit surprised
“You know how it works Lucky. She is mine. I will make her mine. Get over it.” Aditya uttered “Ra-Gi-Ni. It won’t be long before I have you in my arms and in my bed” he said as he snapped his fingers towards one of the girls massaging his shoulder, asking her to get his drink.
Sanskar lost all his cool hearing this. Something snapped in him. They were talking about Ragini. His best friend Ragini! His wife Ragini! so what if they weren’t really truly husband and wife! He lunged towards them only to be held back by a powerful grip that pulled at him and tried to drag him away. Sanskar tried to break free from the grip “Let go of me Ranveer” he warned, trying to rush towards the pool even as Ranveer dragged him farther away from them all.
“Let me go” Sanskar spat at him again
“Are you crazy? What are you going to do? You are one and they are 5 of them.” Ranveer tried to reason
“I don’t care” Sanskar said still struggling to free himself from Ranveer’s girp
“Don’t be stupid. All that will happen is that they will beat you up” Ranveer told him
“Fine! Fine! Let me go” Sanskar told him
Ranveer let his grip loosen a bit. Sanskar removed his grip and rushed towards the car. Ranveer followed him briskly. Sanskar went to one of his bodyguard “Give me your gun” he ordered the person. The guard looked behind Sanskar and stood still. Sanskar turned to see Ranveer behind him. He clenched his jaw. “Give me the gun”
“Sanskar come with me” Ranveer told him
“I am not going anywhere with you” Sanskar shot at him
Ranveer motioned something and before he knew it, he was being flanked by his own guards and pushed into the car with them trapping him in from both sides. Ranveer quickly sat in the front passenger seat.
“Take us to Gadodia farmhouse” he instructed the driver before sending a message to someone and asking his own men to follow.
“What the hell is the meaning of this? Let me go!” Sanskar snapped at all of them “Are you my bodyguards or his? Why are you listening to him?” he said shoving the guards away from him.
Sanskar tried to struggle most of the way to the farmhouse before glaring at Ranveer. Ranveer looked at him through the rear view mirror but didn’t react to any of his comments. When then reached the farmhouse and his bodyguards stepped away, Sanskar strode into the house. Adarsh, who had just arrived after being messaged by Ranveer, looked at him
“What was that?” he asked Ranveer confused
“Sanskar followed Laksh to Aditya’s farmhouse. They were talking about Ragini” is all he said before striding into the house himself, followed by Adarsh. He didn’t need to say anything else.
Sanskar entered the garden-facing bar room, bursting to the seams with anger. He shoved one of the chairs in front of him aside and kicked it hard. Just then Ranveer walked in. Sanskar charged towards Ranveer
“What the hell was that? What were you trying to do?” Sanskar shot at him as he shoved him in the chest
“I am trying to stop you from doing something that you will regret tomorrow” Ranveer told him somberly
“You don’t have to worry about me! I wouldn’t have regretted it” Sanskar shot back
“You are not in your senses right now. And don’t worry, I am not worried about you. I am doing this for Laddo” Ranveer told him
“Don’t! Don’t even say her name!” Sanskar warned him “You don’t deserve to say her name or to be called her brother. How could you stand by and listen to what they were saying about Ragini and not feel any anger. How could you stand by and watch it calmly?” Sanskar screamed angrily
“Just because I appear calm doesn’t mean I am not angry inside” Ranveer told him firmly
“Well you sure fooled me!” Sanskar shot at him
“Don’t comment about something you don’t know” Ranveer told him
“I don’t want to know! I don’t want to know how a brother remains unaffected when some bastards are talking shit about his sister!” Sanskar said throwing his hands in the air
“What did you want me to do? Take a gun and shoot them that like you were planning to?” Ranveer asked him. Adarsh looked at him surprised. Ranveer gave him a small nod to confirm his statement.
“That would have been the least you could have done!” Sanskar said
“In case you have forgotten, your brother was one of those sitting there. Did you want me to shoot him too?” Ranveer asked him
“Laksh!” Sanskar said “I cannot believe he would fall down to such a cheap level. How could you let him get there?” he asked Adarsh “Why didn’t you knock him out and shove some sense into him? I cannot believe he could say something like this about Ragini. His own Bhabhi! He is not the Lucky that I knew. He is not my Lucky. He is a stranger!” Sanskar said feeling anger and pain coursing through him
“Sanskar, why do you think the family was worried about him?” Adarsh asked him softly “He has been caught up in really bad company”
“Bad company is no excuse for what he has said today!” Sanskar exclaimed “Did you know what he and his friends said about Ragini today? They called her……” Sanskar trailed off unable to say the words
“And you!” Sanskar said turning to Ranveer “I don’t get you. You were so bothered about her happiness the other day and now someone says some really cheap things about her and you throw the excuse of my brother being there, in my face. She is my friend and I am pissed off. How are you not?” Sanskar asked Ranveer shaking his head.
When Ranveer didn’t respond, Sanskar felt his anger trickle back through his veins “What is your excuse for not beating the hell out of that bl**dy Aditya!”
“He is my Kaka’s nephew. Any wrong or rash move there could be made to backfire worse, on the family, including Laddo” Ranveer told him
Sanskar shook his head “That is all you are good for! Excuses! Excuses for why you wanted to but couldn’t stop the wedding! Excuses for not beating those bastards up for saying cheap things about Ragini! Excuses!” Sanskar said “Fine! Hide behind your excuses! Why the hell did you stop me from taking care of them?”
“You aren’t part of this world. You aren’t meant to be. Don’t be in a rush to join it” Ranveer told Sanskar calmly before walking to the bar. He made three drinks for them – whiskey on the rocks and placed it on the coffee table by the lounge chairs. Ranveer and Adarsh sat down, picking up a glass each
“Sit down Sanskar” Ranveer told him gently “Have a drink”
“I don’t want your drink!” Sanskar threw at him
“Sanskar, just because I didn’t act rashly or impulsively like you, doesn’t mean I am going to sit by and not react at all. There will be punishment for this. A punishment that will be more than suitable for their crime. No one can say those kind of things about my Laddo and get away with it. But it will not be an impulsive one. No that just won’t do.” Ranveer said, his voice firm. A chilling cold vibe flowing through it.
“I am with Ranveer on this. Ragini is like a sister to me as well. This isn’t going to be forgiven and forgotten” Adarsh assured him
Sanskar looked at them, unsure if he could trust them and unsure of what their words implied. But he knew he had let down his friend today, by not defending her.
“Have the drink. You need it” Ranveer told him
Sanskar walked over, feeling guilty, angry and drained, eyeing the drink “I don’t want apple juice today” he said
“This isn’t apple juice” Ranveer told him “I knew we would need something stronger today”
Sanskar looked at the glass and drowned the entire drink in one gulp, breaking into coughs at the end of it
Ranveer looked at Adarsh surprised “He is more the wine and champagne kind of guy” Adarsh explained even as Sanskar continued to cough as the strong drink hit his throat.
Ranveer nodded before going back to the bar and getting the entire whiskey bottle. He poured a couple of pegs of whiskey into Sanskar glass. Adarsh looked at him started, before a look passed between them. The drink was going to hit his head, hard and fast. Today, it was better that he was knocked out. It would stop him from doing something stupid and rash.
As Sanskar’s coughs calmed down, he saw the refilled glass in front of him and drowned It quickly.
It was midnight when Ragini heard a knock on her door. She had been wondering where Sanskar was. She was worried about him. She had pondered over calling him, at least just once, to check if he was going to be late even more than what he already way, but finally held back assuming he was having a good time with his friend, after a long time.
When she heard the knock, she rushed over to the door, hoping to see Sanskar. Sanskar was there alright, thrown across on Adarsh’s bhaiyaa’s shoulders. Adarsh walked into the room and laid Sanskar down on the bed, with the help of Ragini.
“What happened?” Ragini asked Adarsh bhaiyaa, seeing Sanskar in that condition
“He had a bit too much to drink. Don’t worry he will be fine tomorrow” Adarsh assured her with a smile
Ragini wasn’t sure what to make of it. Something just didn’t feel right. But it looked as if, she would need to wait till tomorrow for Sanskar to wake up before she found out anything.
Precap – hangover
Links to previous chapters
Credit to: Azure