Anika sat in Priyanka’s room planning the puja. The priest had said that any date would be ok but the one 7 days later was very auspicious. Anika asked Dadi and she wanted the extra auspicious date. That was more than enough time to make arrangements. Just a few guests were going to be invited. She got a list of all necessities for the puja rituals. Her head still ached so she went to the kitchen to get herself a cup of coffee. Shivaay was already there tinkering with pots and pans.Anika did an about turn to go back when she saw him.
“Anika” Shivaay called out. “did you need anything?” Anika turned back again. “I just needed a cup of coffee. I have a headache. But you finish what you are doing. I’ll come back” And she left. Shivaay looked at her leaving.
Anika sat at a corner chair at the dining table with her diary, pen, and her phone. She was calculating some costs. Shivaay came there with two large cups. He set one in front of her and sat down with the other cup in his hand at the other corner chair next to her. Anika, looked at the cup on her side and saw that it was tea. She inhaled the fragrance of ginger,green cardamom, and cloves from it. The fragrance by itself made her feel better. But she kept to her serious front.
“What was the need for this. I was going to make coffee for myself”
Shivaay: Coffee could have worsened your headache. This will help better. I have added very little sugar to yours.
Anika: But there was no need for you to…
Shivaay: Anika, kya zaroori hai meri har baat se naraaz honaa, argue karnaa? It’s just tea yaar. I was making some for myself so I made it for you too. I am not taking any credit and will not consider it a favor that I did for you. Ok? Drink it while it’s hot. That will help.”
“Did he just call me ‘yaar’ ?” she thought to herself. Aloud she asked, “You drink adrak, illaychi, long waali sweet chai now?”
“Yes” answered Shivaay. He crossed his arms resting them on the table, leaned into her side a little and looked at her directly in the eyes. “Once I had tasted this bright, sweet, creamy, and therapeutic nectar I just could not go back to that dark and bitter concoction. God knows how I had it for so long. Foolish me” he said very slowly and with a poker face.
Anika looked at him for a few seconds, her face hot and flushed red and her palms clammy. Then she picked up the steaming cup and started inhaling the steam and sipping the tea. It was just perfect and with each inhalation and sip she felt her stiff muscles relaxing and her headache easing off. She finished some calculations and gave him the figures.
“This is what I need just for the puja rituals. I will work on the clothes next as they need to be ordered and might need replacement and alterations. Then food. I’ll do decorations last” Shivaay took the estimate from her and nodded to what she said constantly looking at her face. Anika felt distracted by his eyes and the soft expression on his face. She completed her sentence, gathered up her diary and pen in one hand, tea in the other and walked away to sit and work in the living area.Then she realized that she needed to ask him something. She got up again, tea in hand, to go towards him. He was looking at her and understood that she needed to say something to him. He signed her to wait there and got up to come to her. She sat back on the sofa and Shivaay sat right next to her and kept his teacup on the coffee table. “What did you need to ask” he said.
Anika felt her heartbeat racing and inched gradually towards the armrest of the sofa to increase distance between them. “What do you want to wear for the puja?” She asked. “Umm, clothes.” Shivaay answered without smiling a bit.
She gave him a very angry glance.
“Ok.ok. you wanted specifics” he said. “Ummm…Kurta pyjama then.”
She noted down something in her diary.
“Color preferences?” she asked
“Ok , thanks. OmRu will obviously want the same. But I will confirm. I’ll have to bring the clothes to you to check the fitting, once they are here.”
“Sure” drawled Shivaay “Can’t wait.Looking forward to it.”
She looked to see if he was mocking her. He was utterly somber with no trace of laughter. She nodded and continued with her work. He sat and gazed at her for a while. Anika tried her best to keep her eyes fixed to her diary and control the rise and fall of her chest due to her rapid breathing. After a couple of minutes, he picked up his tea and went to join Om in the home office.
Anika let go of her breath. Her back was sweating and she needed a glass of water.
By lunch time she had ordered all the men’s clothes. All wanted basically the same attire so it was a simple task. She had an estimate for the men’s clothes with her. Now came the hard part. Women’s clothing! She decided to start with Pinky and Jhanvi. She was about to go to them when she saw them coming into the living room. They smiled when they saw her working.
” Jhanvi Aunty, men’s clothing is all decided. I called Tej uncle and Shakti Uncle to finalize and talked to OmRu. Here is the cost estimate for it…”
“Very good Anika. But please give all cost related papers to Shivaay. I will just mess up and then there will be a confusion later. Om is trying to cope with this new resort deal so I think he should be left undisturbed as this is all new to him. Did you include Saahil’s clothes in men’s?” Looking at Anika lowering her eyes Jhanvi understood and just said “Arrey he is also a little man. Include his in men’s clothing. Ab ek bachche kaa kyaa alag bill banegaa?” Pinky smiled understanding what Jhanvi was doing.
Anika kept the estimate sheet back in her diary and nodded uncomfortably. “Jee Aunty. You are right. I will add Saahil’s clothes to this and give the papers to Shivaay. Now we have to decide women’s clothing. Please tell me what basic stuff both of you want. Based on that I will decide which store to call to bring selections here.”
Jhanvi and Pinky both gave her their preferences and she noted down all the information on a fresh sheet in her diary. Pinky smiled at her neat, organized work.
“Anika beta. I have na changed my mind completely.” Anika looked up. ” Jee? Ok. Tell me and I’ll make necessary change in my notes”
“Arrey, not about my clothes.” said pinky.
Then she laughed and said, “Pehle main kehti thi meraa beta hiraa hai hiraa. Par ab main kehti hoon, beta to mera achchaa hai par bahu meri kohinoor hai kohinoor. Such sincere work you are doing for Mummy ji. Ab baaki kaam khaane ke baad. Go, call everyone who is home , for lunch.” Saying that Pinky got up and left. Jhanvi too followed her. Anika just looked at them open-mouthed and tried to ignore the happy, warm feeling spreading inside her at open praise from Pinky.
First she went and called Rudra and Saahil. Saahil was coloring and Rudra was reading a book. “See bhabhi we are so responsible. We played video games for some time and then did some productive activity” said Rudra happily. “Very good Rudra” smiled Anika. Looking at the empty chips and cookies bags around them it was hard to imagine they would need any lunch but she still asked them to come.
The girls were not back from college as yet so Anika went to call Om and Shivaay. They were discussing something in the office. Other people had left. “Aunty is calling everyone for lunch,she told them. Both looked up at her. ” You go Shivaay” said Om. “I’ll wrap up and be there in five minutes”
Shivaay got up and joined Anika. They walked together to the dining area. “Jhanvi Aunty has asked to give all puja related papers and bills to you. She does not want to handle it and wants Om not to be disturbed because of his new deal work. So I’ll have to come and talk to you several times for the next three-four days with estimates and for money to give to each vendor.” said Anika
Shivaay listened to her and said “My pleasure”
Anika looked at him but again, he was looking straight ahead and without any smile. They had reached the dining area and he went and sat at his usual chair.
Soon everyone was there and they had their lunch amidst Pinky’s , Rudra’s, and Saahil’s amusing comments. Anika’s eyes watered at this perfect picture of domesticity. “For how long will I have this” she thought to herself. Shivaay looked at her and understanding what was going on in her head he felt distressed at her tearful eyes.
The next few days were full of activities. After a lot of discussion, confusion, and consternation, finally all ladies clothes were decided and ordered. The flowers and decorations for the puja had been finalized and workers were already putting them up. The whole atmosphere was very festive, upbeat, and cheerful. Everyone was having evening tea and dinner together since Anika had arrived. Both gatherings would be full of entertainment with Pinky’s, Saahil’s, Rudra’s and Soumya’s quips, jokes, and smart-alec comments. Dadi looked happily at her full family at such times and prayed desperately to God to do some miracle so that it would not change.
Anika would take the papers, bills, and planning issues to Shivaay sometimes during the day but mostly in the evenings. He would give her cheque or cash to make payments. They would sit side by side and look over the papers. Sometimes Shivaay would lean in and help her with a calculation or point out something to her. She gradually eased up about his proximity at such discussions. Shivaay on the other hand became a live wire, exercising all that control. Remembering her outburst on that terrace at Sunset Point Resort, he was careful not to touch her or be overbearing. However, being so close to her, being able to feel her aura, take in her scent, and yet not being able to so much as touch her was messing up his hormones big time.
Two days before the Puja, Anika went to his room after evening tea. The flower arrangement person was now saying he needed more flowers for the designated decoration. She needed to discuss that and a couple other things with him. She explained all that was needed. He listened patiently and gave her the necessary payment. Then as she was leaving , full of the craving to be close to her and connect with her, he called out,
“Anika, we need to discuss some issues. Ignoring them won’t help.”
She turned around and said sternly, ” I know. I have several questions for you too. But now is not the time”
Shivaay’s frustration reached its breaking point. He said quietly but sharply, ” will there ever be time? You are either busy with puja arrangements or interacting with everyone else. To me, you only talk about the needs for the puja. Once puja is over you will spend more time laughing and joking with everyone else. Then you will say that nothing is resolved ,you will take Saahil and leave me again, and I’ll be left again to pick up the pieces of my soul” Shivaay was out of breath saying all this in one go.
Anika felt furious. She retorted in an equally low voice, ” YOU will be left to gather pieces of YOUR soul? You crushed and crumpled mine so badly that I was not sure if I was left with one. And I did not even understand why. And what did you expect me to do? Stay here and take abuses from you and your beloved Tia who could do no wrong? When you came to me with those divorce papers you told me not to care about marriage , mangalsutra, and sindoor crap and that you could never stay married to a girl of my background. Guess what, I took your great advice, did not care about all of those things, believed what you said about us , signed the damned papers, AND LEFT! What the hell are you accusing me of now?”
Shivaay staggered at her blatant statement of facts. ” I told you, I tore those papers that very day. I did not want to go ahead with the divorce”
“Why? Because you found out Tia’s truth that same day. Isn’t that right? Be honest for God’s sake and tell me the truth.Did you or did you not?”
“Yes.” said Shivaay softly. ” I caught her red-handed in bed with Robin who was actually her husband. But I tore the papers…”
“What?” Anika said stunned . “Robin was Tia’s husband? And you caught them in…Oh my God! That must have enraged you and you went and tore the divorce papers”
Part of what Shivaay had feared had happened. She had come to the wrong conclusion. Weakly he said , “No. After you signed the papers I was agitated and went to my office. I tried to figure out what was happening to me. I realized that I did not want to let you go, that I was willing to forget everything that had happened and accept you as my wife. I realized that I loved you. I tore the papers and went to tell Tia that it was over between her and me and caught her red-handed with Robin. It made my life easier in some ways. I came back home but you were gone.”
” And I am supposed to believe that crap. Your face tells me that you are hiding something. You are lying. I told you I am not a money hungry idiot who will readily accept such stories just so she can live in luxury. I have never been afraid of working for my living and spending 2 months in your mansion did not shake that.”
“Believe me Anika, what I just told you about the divorce papers is true. I really love you.” Desperate Shivaay closed the
gap between them and took her in his arms.Anika protested but his grip was firm and vice-like. His eyes had the desperation of a man fighting for his life.They were red and streaming with tears. “Please believe me” he said sobbing.
“Why? Did you believe me when I tried to tell you about Tia. Instead I heard you telling your brothers that poor girls like me tried such stunts to attach themselves to rich men so they can escape poverty and lead a comfortable life. You even said that I could sleep with anyone for money. In effect you called me a pr*stitute. How can you love a whore like me? ”
“Anikaaa”, thundered Shivaay in sheer rage, his right hand raised to slap her, but he stopped it in mid air and lowered it.”Don’t you dare call yourself that.”
Her face red and wet with tears, she turned around and left the room, and
found Om and Rudra standing some distance away looking terrified. But her mind was not thinking straight. She started to walk past them.
“Anika.” said Om. Don’t go like this. I want to talk to you.
“Not now Om. I love you both too much. I don’t want to say anything to you that I will regret later.” But Om did not let go. He asked Rudra to take care of Saahil and followed Anika. Part of him was terrified that she was going to leave the house again.
He caught up with her, held her hand, and pulled her into his room. She did not resist. He gave her a glass of water. With shaking hands Anika took it and drained all of it in one breath. Once her breath slowed down a little Om said, “Anika, do you love him?” She wiped the tear that escaped at that question but did not answer.
“He made horrible mistakes. Unforgivable maybe. But Anika, he is telling the truth.He loves you like crazy. Which is why he just couldn’t accept what was happening and he sabotaged his own love in every way possible not realizing the consequences. When faced with the results of his actions, he broke down because he cannot live without you”
“Why, did he die in the past 3 months” she seethed.
” No” said Om controlling his own temper. He could not bear to hear that about Shivaay but he knew the mental state she was in. “But there is a difference between breathing and living Anika. Shivaay was alive but not living. The life he lead without you was devoid of any happiness. It was just an existence. Anika, people make mistakes. If we love them, and if they love us, we must give them a chance or we might miss out on the best relationships of our lives”
Anika who still had over-rush of blood in her brain said before she could stop herself, ” Really Om? Is that why you are giving Tej Uncle a chance? I have known Shivaay for five months. Tej uncle is your father. I don’t know what he did to you but he is clearly repentant. Do you give him a chance to save that relationship?”
Om froze at what she had just said and Anika was stunned at the very same thing. Looking at the intense pain on Om’s face sent her in panic mode and all her anger evaporated.
“Oh my God! What have I done! ” she said.
Om took a couple of steps backwards, stumbled against and armchair, and sank in it staring ahead of him. Anika rushed to him. “Om, I am so so sorry. I told you not to talk to me right now but you wouldn’t listen. You love your brother so much that you have to take in all the poison of his share too? I am sorry Om. Please forgive me.”
Om just sat there staring ahead at nothing. Anika gently patted his left cheek with her left hand and shook his right shoulder with her right. But Om did not respond.
She sank down to the floor near his feet and started to sob bitterly. Om felt something hot and wet on his feet and that brought him back to his senses.
“Anika” he said horrified. “What are you doing? Please get up.”
Anika looked up eagerly at the sound of his voice. Om saw her red puffed up eyes, strained nerves on her forehead, and her gasps for breath as she sobbed.
He felt shaken at that sight. “Sorry Om.” She pleaded, ” I had become insane with anger. Please forgive me. I had no right. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought that I would hurt you, the purest soul I have known apart from my Saahil”
Om heaved a sigh, composed himself , then said ” Anika, you are older to me in relationship. You should not be at my feet like this. Please get up”
She got up slowly. He signed her to sit in the chair next to him. She did.
“In Ooty, you told me that I am like a twin brother to you, right?” She nodded wiping her tears with her sleeves. ” Then how is it that you have no right. In fact you have double right. You are my sister. And, as my bhabhi, according to our culture, you have the position of a mother. You have every right to ask me to practice what I preach. I will think about what you said. Will you think about what I said?” Anika nodded tearfully.
“He has been a jerk to you” Om continued “His actions cannot be justified. But the fact remains that noone will love you like he does, and noone can love him like you can. Without him you will survive, without you he will just exist, not live. So think about everything, ask him any questions that you need to ask him, consider why fate brought you together , TALK to him, and then decide. And please don’t disappear from home again”
Anika nodded. Then she got up and left the room. Om waited to ensure that she had gone. He closed the door and then started to cry quietly.
Anika turned back towards Shivaay’s room. She found him sitting at the edge of his bed holding an album. She went and sat next to him. He looked at her with surprise as he had not expected her to come back. She took the album from him. It said, “Today we give you her pictures, tomorrow we will give you bhabhi in person. It is an O-Bro promise.”
She looked through it and found various pictures of her from her time at Oberoi Mansion. A tear escaped her eye and dropped on the album. “Shivaay , I have a couple of questions for you that have bothered me for the last four months. If I ask them will you answer honestly?” Shivaay nodded. “Ok. She said. I’ll ask them tomorrow. No energy left today. Let’s clean up our faces and try not to alarm our family at dinner.” He nodded again. She gave him back the album and asked, “Rudra gave this?” “Rudra and Om. ” answered Shivaay. “They wanted to replace the sleeping pills I was popping daily”
Anika winced inwardly at the mention of Om. Then to Shivaay’s complete surprise, she took his left hand in hers, held it for a moment, then got up. I am going to get ready to go downstairs. I’ll use your bathroom to freshen up. I don’t want anyone to see me like this. Shivaay nodded.
She went to freshen up. Shivaay stared at his left hand and prayed .
Phew!!! Hope this part was not a little too much. Thanks for reading it. Thanks for the encouragement and support. Please leave a comment if possible. I’d really appreciate it.?