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Om and Aashi sat at the same table as they had sat at when they were at that cafe last time. Aashi sipped her coffee slowly while Om looked at her thoughtfully. “Serves me right for thinking I had you all figured out.” he said eventually. ” I think I was getting arrogant and you shook me out of my smugness.”
Aashi smiled as she set her cup down and looked at him. “Is that a good thing or does it make you mad?”
“Are you kidding me!? Why would I be mad? I have discovered a new facet of your personality today and it is really exciting although it worsens the hell I go through when I crave for you.”
Aashi became serious. “I make you go through hell?”
“It’s a guy thing. Not your fault. To explain what I mean by that I would have to cross certain limits but I don’t know if you are ready for that as yet.”
Aashi weighed his words carefully and tried to understand what he meant. She was able to grasp some of his meaning and it brought a faint blush to her cheeks. She looked at him directly and the look in his eyes set a swarm of butterflies in the pit of her stomach.
Om saw her struggle and decided to change the topic. “Thursday is Saahil’s Surgery. We are all a little excited and a little tensed. Anika though, is a nervous wreck. She tries to hide it but her perpetually strained face is hard to miss.”
Aashi listened attentively. ” Thursday? What time?”
“Ten in the morning.”
Om looked at some deep emotion clouding her face and her eyes which she blinked a few times. “Would it be ok for me to come over for some time on that day? To the hospital I mean? Or I can visit later if you think your family might need privacy on that day.”
Om saw her controlled expressions from behind which he could sense her deep feeling. ” You won’t be invading privacy as far as my family is concerned. I on the other hand…”
Embarrassed, Aashi looked at him
“…would love to have you by my side. It would be a big comfort.” Om finished mischievously.
Aashi shook her head. “What’s gotten into him today. All that teasing.” A mischievous glint came into her eyes as she thought about it.
“Send me the details of location and I’ll be there at sometime around noon. I’ll wrap up my work at the office before that so that I can go home from the hospital.” she said.
After talking and discussing various things for some more time, Om drove her back to her office.
“I’ll see you on Thursday.” she told him as she got down. “And by the way, who told you it’s a guy thing? I wouldn’t call it going through hell but my cravings are pretty strong too. But to explain it to you I would have to cross certain limits.” She grinned widely at his taken-aback expression and went to her office entrance. Om looked on with his mouth open until she had gone inside. Then he shook his head and drove off back home.
Soumya, Rudra, and Priyanka came back from their college together. They went to get a snack before heading upstairs. There was noone around. “Looks like Papa and Chote Papa are still in their office. Mom must be reading in her room and Choti Ma must be watching some bhakti channel.” Rudra said grinning.
Soumya and Priyanka giggled at that.
“Others, busy I guess.” he shrugged.
“I’ll go see what Aai is doing.” Soumya said getting up. Rudra and Priyanka nodded at her.
“Prinku, I am thinking of skipping college on Thursday. What about you?” Rudra asked.
“Me too.” Priyanka said thinking about her numbered days at her current college and felt excited about the next phase in her life. She realized that Om Rudra still knew nothing about her plans.” I must tell them myself.” she thought.
Soumya walked into her room to find her Aai sitting on the couch near the wall. She was sitting with her feet up, turned toward the door and looked directly at Soumya as she entered the room and went to her closet to get out some casual clothes to change into.
“What are you doing sitting there Aai? I had a snack. Still a couple of hours till tea. Everyone is probably busy. Why didn’t you go and sit with Dadi for sometime? She really likes talking to you. You know what happened at college…”
Suddenly Soumya realized that there hadn’t been a single sound from her mother as yet. She turned around to find her mother staring at her. The expression on her Aai’s face shook Soumya to the core. She rushed to her mother and noticed her tear stained face. Soumya felt terrified. “Aai!! What happened?” she cried.
“Get the things that are lying on the bed” Ranjana said in a cold voice.
Confused, and heart pounding in her chest, Soumya walked to her bed. What she saw lying there drained the blood from her face and she felt nauseous with terror as she stood there petrified.
“Bring it here.” Ranjana said in an icy voice.
Hands trembling Soumya picked up the worn-out bag and the white envelope and walked back to her mother.
Once Rudra and Priyanka were done with their snack they proceeded to their room.
“Rudra Bhaiya, I talked to Shivaay Bhaiya about something this past Sunday. I haven’t had the chance to talk to you and Om bhaiya about it. Shivaay Bhaiya also got busy with work probably. Can I talk to you for some time in your room?”
Rudra was surprised. “Of course. Now that you have mentioned this you think I can rest until I know what you want to talk about.” he said excited.
Priyanka laughed as they walked toward Rudra’s new room. As the passed by Soumya’s room they heard a loud sob.
“Aai!! Aai, please let me explain. It’s not like you are thinking. It was an accident. Aai.”
Priyanka and Rudra looked at each other alarmed. Just as they approached the door to Soumya’s room, they heard a loud cracking sound that sounded like a slap.
Impatiently, Rudra barged into the room Priyanka right behind him. The sight that met Rudra’s eyes sent blood rushing straight to his head. Soumya sat on the floor near her mother’s feet, an angry pink mark slowly darkening on her left cheek as she held it defensively with her left palm.
Rudra looked at her and then in complete dismay, looked at Ranjana. A horrified Priyanka gasped for breath and not knowing what else to do, rushed out of the room. She had just gone a few steps in the corridor when she bumped right into Om, who had just come back after dropping Aashi back at her office.
Om took one look at his sister and felt a sense of panic. “Prinku!! What happened?” he asked as he held her by her shoulders.
“Bhaiya… Soumya… Soumya’s Aai… Bhaiya… Soumya’s Aai hit her.” Priyanka said sobbing as her face showed the terror Om had last seen after she had witnessed one of Tej and Jhanvi’s vicious fights a few years ago.
Om hugged her and calmed her down.
“Prinku, you are my brave sister. Shivaay told me last night what you were planning to do for your future. That requires a lot of courage. Shivaay told me he saw a new confidence in you. You need to help me right now. Go downstairs and act as normal as possible. Except Anika and Shivaay, noone should be able to come to Soumya’s room. I don’t know what is going on there but unless I am sure it is something that can be shared with the great elders of this house, I don’t want it getting out. Can I depend on you?”
Priyanka took a deep breath in. “Shivaay Bhaiya told him. And he thinks I am very courageous and he needs me right now. I can do it.” she thought. ” Yes bhaiya. I’ll take care that except Shivaay Bhaiya and Bhabhi, noone enters that room.”
Om patted Priyanka’s cheek and walked toward Soumya’s room. As he entered, he heard Rudra shouting, “Why did you do that? How dare you hit her?”
Om looked stunned at the scene before him. Rudra looked livid, Soumya sat on the floor sobbing, and Ranjana stood staring at Soumya and shaking with an emotion that looked like a mixture of pain and anger.
“Don’t talk to her like that Rudra!” Om heard Soumya shout. “She is my mother. She can hit me if she is angry. Leave from here. It’s between my mother and me.” she said quivering as she slowly got up, still crying.
“Like hell it’s between your mother and you!” Rudra shouted back.
Om knew a very basic fact about Rudra that only Shivaay was aware of other than him. Rudra was a very gentle, soft person. He had witnessed his parents fights and Om’s drug abuse when he was extremely young. Therefore he tried to stay in a happy-go-lucky world constantly trying to keep everyone light-hearted. He thought that by doing that, he could stop turmoil from coming into their lives. As a result most thought he was incapable of intense emotions. However, once his anger was invoked, having lack of practice in dealing with his own anger, he was unable to put brakes on it. Yelling and fighting was going to incite him further. Om walked up to Rudra quietly and put his right hand on his shoulder. “Calm down Rudra.” he said in a low voice. Om could instantly feel the shivering in Rudra’s body go a couple notches down.
“What’s going on here?” Om asked looking at Soumya who seemed horrified to see him in the room.
“Bhaiya. It’s between my mother and me. Please take Rudra away from here.”
“Why?”Ranjana cried.” Why do you want them to go away. They should know that the girl they trust and love and give shelter to is capable of such treachery. You live in their house; therefore they must know what you have done! Especially Om! He is like Sameer right! Your own brother! Then he should know!”
“What she has done?” Rudra heard that statement and understanding dawned on him. She had found out about their wedding and Soumya hadn’t told her the name of the person she was married to.”That’s why she wants me out of here. So she can keep that fact hidden.” He realized.
Ranjana picked up the old bag from the couch and overturned it spilling the contents on the floor. “Look at that Om! She just admitted that it belongs to her. Thank God she did not cook up another lie. There is still a little bit of my daughter left in her.” Ranjana said angrily.
Om looked at the objects that had fallen down. He tried to understand what it was and in order to do so he stepped forward and picked up the things. A mangalsutra, some rings, threads. “What’s this?” he thought in a daze. Then he realized what those items were and got up looking at Soumya. There was complete disbelief on his face. “What’s all this Soumya? Did you get…”
Soumya stood there ashamed, her left cheek already bruising a little as she wept quietly.
“It was an accident bhaiya. A misunderstanding. It wasn’t something that I had meant to happen. Circumstances drove us to a place where a bunch of people misunderstood us to be run-away lovers. We were deceived into drinking intoxicated drinks and were made to sit in a mass wedding ceremony, in an attempt to help us out. When we came to our senses we realized what had happened and were horrified. Not knowing what to do we just ignored the fact and decided to forget about it.”
“Another lie.” Ranjana shouted. “She is not telling me who the guy is but I think this is a made up story. I think it is some friend from Pune. Look at this!” she showed Om the envelope from Soumya’s old college. “She has applied for a transfer without telling me anything about it. She probably wants to join that guy and live a hidden married life with him in Pune. What else am I supposed to make of these two things together?”
“Nothing.” Om said. “You should not be making anything of it and listen to her reasons. She can’t deceive anyone. She has clearly made some very poor choices.” Om said glaring at Soumya as she withered under his admonishing gaze. “But she can’t trick and deceive. And Rudra is right. You shouldn’t have hit her.” he said putting an arm around Soumya’s shoulder as she crumpled at even a hint of sympathy and comfort from Om.
Rudra looked at the deepening misunderstanding in Ranjana’s mind.He looked at Soumya facing the entire brunt of an accident they were both involved in. He started to lose the last remnants of his rapidly disappearing patience and moved steadily towards his breaking point.
“That’s not true Aai. That guy is not in Pune. I wanted to get away from Mumbai. I wanted to be near you and forget all this.” Soumya cried. “But then I realized I was throwing away my future goals of becoming worthy enough to support you. I was letting go of a golden opportunity just because of a foolish accident. So I decided to withdraw my transfer application.” She looked woefully at Rudra. ” I already mailed a withdrawal request yesterday. But this letter had already been sent by then I guess.”
As Om supported a shivering Soumya, he noticed Shivaay enter the room in complete shock and signalled him to remain quiet.
“I don’t believe you.” Ranjana said. “You could have shared this with me if it was just a foolish accident. What I went through to educate you and Sameer after your father passed away. And Sameer…” Ranjana sobbed clutching at her heart. “He joined defence services at the young age of nineteen because that promised an early job and income so he could help me support your education. And look at what you did! If you were so innocent, you should have told me. And even now, you refuse to tell me the guy’s name.” she shouted again. “Who is he? Where is he? Tell me.”
Soumya stood rooted to her spot, mouth zipped shut.
Om looked at Soumya. “She is very hurt Soumya. She feels betrayed and alienated from your life. Who is he? Tell her.”
Soumya stood there with her mouth firmly shut as she kept wiping tears from her eyes.
“See! It either means I know that guy or the marriage means something to her and she has no intentions of forgetting about it which in itself is preposterous. Forgetting marriage! I am taking her back to Pune with me tomorrow. I never knew my trust in her could be broken like this.”
“Neither did she!” said Shivaay as Rudra, Soumya, and Ranjana turned around surprised “Prinku sent me. Anika and she are making sure that noone else comes here.” Then turning back to Ranjana he said, “She did not know that her mother’s trust in her could be broken so easily either! Don’t you know your daughter? Don’t you know that she can’t do anything wrong on purpose to hurt you! And if you want her to share something with you, you think you will achieve that by shouting at her…” Looking at Soumya’s red face he added angrily, “and by hitting her…?”
Ranjana felt deeply pained by Shivaay’s accusations. Sobbing hard she said, “You think I am a strict, intolerant mother? Ask her how many times have I hit her in her life?”
Soumya looked tearfully at her mother, “Never Aai! Never. You are the best, most tolerant mother. I am lucky to have you. I am bad. I will come home with you.”
“Because that guy lives there right?” Ranjana asked again.
“No Aai! No!”
“That guy does not live there and Soumya did not plan anything!” Rudra shouted in frustration.
Everyone looked at him surprised. “You know him Rudra?” Ranjana asked weakly.
Rudra looked at Soumya’s worn out face and the pleading in her eyes. He looked at the torture on Ranjana’s face. Soumya would never reveal the truth and Ranjana would never have peace if she did not know the complete truth. And all this agony so his name could stay hidden. And it also meant that Soumya would leave tomorrow. Rudra took a deep breath. “Yes. I know that guy. It’s me. In that accidental wedding ceremony, Soumya and I got married while we were intoxicated. We were horrified when we came to our senses. After spending days in tension, not knowing what to do, we decided to just ignore that fact and try to lead normal lives.”
Om and Shivaay looked at him in astonishment. “You got married to Soumya?” Om asked incredulously.
“Yes. It was me. We were running away from a difficult situation with that crazy girl Romi. We lost our car. Landed amongst another bunch of crazy people and trusted them to be nice. Rest both Soumya and I have already told you.”
“Why didn’t you share it with us? How could you hide it from your brothers?” Shivaay asked deeply hurt.
“Sorry Bhaiya. But the topic was such. We thought if we did not mention it, the matter would go away. Besides, we are too young for marriage. Both of us want to build our future and make something of our lives. The very mention of marriage would have sent an electric shock in the family and we would have been forced to accept it, or take it seriously. Worst case scenario, Soumya might have faced accusations of trapping me or some such nonsense from Papa, just like what Bhabhi faced from Choti ma at the beginning of your marriage. Either way, our future was at stake. So we decided to stay quiet about it. ”
Shivaay winced at the mention of what Anika had to go through. But it made him see Rudra’s point. “Why did you apply for transfer then? ” he asked Soumya.
“Because I was nasty to her since I felt concious about what we had gone through. She decided it would be best if she went away. But after we sat and talked about it, Soumya realized that an incident beyond our control was not worth destroying her future.” Rudra answered for Soumya making Om look at him in surprise. These two were at loggerheads all the time. And yet, Rudra could not tolerate any accusations at her and answered for her!
Shivaay nodded while Om looked still shocked at all the revelations, still holding Soumya protectively. “What about the marriage?” he asked.
“It’s irrelevant bhaiya! We don’t want it. We are too young for it. Noone but us knows about it. No legal documentation has been done. Until now it was as if it had never happened.”
“Except that it did happen and it did affect both of you.” Ranjana said harshly. “And what about the rest of this family, your parents Rudra. Shouldn’t they know?”
Rudra shot her a fierce glance. “The man who is my dad in the real sense of the word, stands right here. His name is Shivaay. He knows. By default, therefore, his wife is my mother. So in effect my parents will know.”
Om smiled at Rudra with pride while Shivaay swallowed back his tears. “Aunty, these two have completely valid arguments. They are too young. This wedding took place in an unknown place among unknown people under intoxication. Even if it were widely known, it could be easily made null and void due to the circumstances. Let them live their lives and pursue their dreams. Everything happens for a reason. I am witness to that and am thankful for it. Just let it be. Let Soumya go to college here. Rest assured that she is loved and cared for by two older brothers here.Let the future unfold on its own.”
“I can’t go back leaving her here, knowing what has happened, and that none of the elders know about it.”
“Am I old enough for you to change your mind on that Ranjana?” Dadi said drawing everyone’s attention to herself as she stood at the door listening quietly to their conversation. “Priyanka couldn’t hold me back and my Anika put the trust in me that my grandsons couldn’t. To address your concern that no elders in the family know about this, I know. And as the head of this family I decide that this marriage will not be talked about. Soumya will pursue her studies as before, and Rudra will go to work right after his exams finish.”
Ranjana cried looking at Dadi. “Mausiji! How is that possible? How can she stay here after all that? Rudra himself said, if anyone else comes to know, what kind of insults will be thrown at her. And besides, this is wrong!”
“Accidents are wrong? Children trying to pursue their dreams and support their loved ones is wrong? Or is supporting your children when you can witness the honesty in their eyes wrong? Soumya has two older brothers, a bhabhi, a best friend, and a Dadi supporting her here. Not to mention Rudra who I am sure will prove his friendship too. Who will dare throw insults at her? Leave her here. Let her study and we will all get past this phase together.”
“I am not convinced.” Ranjana said shaking her head as Rudra looked at her completely exasperated and then at Soumya in absolute agony.
“I am sorry that you are not convinced. But I will not let you snatch away her future because of a mistake that was not her fault. If you try to take her with you, I will declare that she is married to me, I will bring the witnesses and evidence of it, I will get it documented legally, and I will not sign any kind of anullment or divorce papers, no matter what. She is above eighteen years of age. I will enforce the terms of a marriage in a court and until the whole matter gets sorted out she will have to stay here.” Rudra said with a hard expression on his face while Soumya and Ranjana looked at him aghast. Om and Shivaay were stunned by Rudra’s stand.
Dadi looked curiously at Rudra and recalled his recently changed behavior and his concern for Soumya. A slight hint of a smile played on her lips before she controlled it. “Ranjana, trust your daughter. Trust my grandchildren. I am telling you they are much wiser and nicer than their parents and me. Don’t get stuck up with the tattered and torn, ancient norms of the society. Half of them were made just to repress and control. Don’t assume that the older the generation, the wiser the decisions. Such arrogance will ruin us. Look at the purity of their intentions and have faith. Otherwise, I will have no other option but to support Rudra in his decision.”
Ranjana looked at her crestfallen. Then she looked at Soumya with tearful eyes. Eventually, with slumped shoulders she went and sat on the couch. “I give up. I am defeated. Do as you like. I won’t say anything now.”
Soumya wept at her mom’s condition. Shivaay looked at Rudra with a new respect and pride and left the room along with Dadi. Rudra felt mortified at Ranjana’s defeated expression but he knew that anything he said at that moment would make things worse. He quietly walked out of the room as well.
Breathing a heavy sigh of fatigue, Om made Soumya sit on the bed and wiped her tears. Then he walked up to Ranjana and kneeled down in front of her. She looked at him with vacant eyes. Unable to bear the agony in them, Om took Ranjana’s hands in his. “Do you trust me?”
Ranjana felt tears sting her eyes again. How could he remind her so much of Sameer. They had no resemblance whatsoever. And yet…
“Do you trust me?” Om repeated his question and Ranjana nodded silently.
“I will take care of her. She won’t suffer. And as soon as her exams end, she will come to spend time with you during her vacations. Forgive her or she will not be able to focus on her studies. Forgive Rudra for his rudeness but believe me he has the purest heart you will ever find. Give them a chance to prove themselves. Please Aai.”
Ranjana lost it at that. She pulled her right hand from his and kept it on his head. ” I trust you. I forgive her. I’ll let her prove her earnestness to me.”
Om sighed in relief and got up to leave the room. “Go talk to Aai Soumya. Even though it isn’t your fault, she has been wronged.” he said as he left.
Phew!! Thanks for reading Everyone. This chapter got very long as I wanted to complete the confronted in one chapter to avoid abruptness. Shivika and Priyanka-Shikhar interactions coming up soon. I don’t know whether this turn in Rumya’s marriage revelation will be liked or not. But this is what I could come up with given how young Soumya is. Their journey of realization of their love is just beginning and I tried to give it a solid base. Anyway, enough of my commentary. Hoping you will like this chapter despite its lengthiness. Please comment if you can ?