SWASAN – CAPTIVATED FOREVER!
Heyy, It’s Anjali back with the next chapter!!!
Thnxx for comments and to my silent readers….
ALL CHAPTER LINKS : Previous Episodes
CHAPTER 14 LINK : chapter-14
Sanskaar meets Shivaay
For ten days Swara seemed to live in a fog of unreality. She explained everything to Shivaay, much of it spilling out of her in a great rush in Shimla, more of it drawn from her by his careful questioning both then and during the journey home to Kolkata the next day. She told him all she knew about Rudra’s disappearance and about the reappearance of the letter, which seemed to be proof that he had been killed. She told him about the Singhanias and their determination to return home and their consequent refusal to remain with her. She told him about Mrs. Raichand’s giving her a temporary home and of all the work they and the other wives whose husband beloned in the military, had performed tending the wounded.
The story Mrs Singhania had told when she called at Oberoi Mansion, all righteous indignation, had been somewhat different from her own, Swara gathered. She had made no mention of Rudra’s being missing or of Swara’s tending the wounded.
In Mrs Singhania’s version Swara had been simply a headstrong, wayward, disobedient girl who had refused to be torn away from the pleasures of the city and the ineligible men who flirted with her there, most notably the new interesting Mr Sanskaar Maheshwari.
Swara (glaring at Shivaay who sat next to her in the plane) : You believed her? You think I stayed because I enjoyed the frivolities? Do you know me only so little?
Shivaay (unruffled by his sister’s temper) : It seems so. I did not expect that you would be so disrespectful as to dismiss your chaperone. However, neither did I expect that she would discard you. I had a word with Mrs Singhania on the subject.
Swara would have loved to see the altercation between them. Shivaay, no doubt, would have squashed Mrs Singhania’s ego and self-importance.
She had tried several times to tell Shivaay how wonderful Sanskaar Maheshwari had been in her stay in Srinagar, but each time he listened without comment and then spoke about something quite unrelated to what she had just told him. Shivaay would not be able to understand, of course, that there had been nothing ordinary about the past couple of weeks.
Swara had asked him at one point of their journey if he had known Mr Maheshwari before. He had replied saying he knew him enough that he didn’t want Swara to have any acquaintance with him.
Five years ago Shivaay would have been thirty. Doubtless he had known the man. He obviously knew of the scandal that had sent the younger man into long exile. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him for an account of those events, but she held her peace. Sanskaar Maheshwari had never volunteered the information himself. She would not now try to worm it out of Shivaay, who was clearly hostile to him.
She missed him. Their parting had been far too sudden and abrupt. He had left a certain void in her life. She wondered if he would come, as he had said he would. But when he did not come at all, when he did not even call to see how she did or to pay his official condolences, she was undeniably disappointed, even hurt.
She tried not to think about him. He owed her nothing, after all—despite what his sense of honor might say to the contrary. Indeed, matters were quite the other way around. It was she who was in his debt.
Ragini and Laksh were in Kolkata for the year. They predominantly lived in London where they both had their jobs, but since the company had a branch in Kolkata, they alternatively lived here and in London.
Anyways, Ragini was in the beginning stages of her pregnancy and couldn’t travel a long way. Omkara and Gauri came from Bareilly with their young son, where they were staying as Gauri’s mother was ill.
It should have been enormously comforting to Swara to be surrounded by her family. And in many ways it was. But Shivaay, apart from providing the bare facts, was more than usually silent and spent most of his time alone. So it was up to Swara to answer their questions.
It was a dreadful thing to witness the grief of her strong-minded siblings. Ragini bore up the best, on the outside, at least, remaining determinedly brisk and cheerful even though her face looked chiseled out of marble and Laksh hovered over her almost every moment, lines of worry etching his normally good-humored face. Omkara became almost totally withdrawn and spent much of his time in the nursery holding his son even when the kid slept.
There was a terrible, yawning emptiness in their family circle where Rudra had been.
The men who had gone to find Rudra’s body came back empty handed and that made their grief all the more potent.
No body— none to weep over and sit vigil beside. Just emptiness.
Eleven days after Swara arrived in Kolkata, the Oberois organised a funeral service for their brother Rudra. It was huge and many people came to offer their condolences. Swara had sat next to Shivaay, holding his hand, trying to offer him comfort, but he was as stiff as a tree trunk. He was colder, more alone, and she felt nothing could permeate that barrier.
She understood, as a sister, how he felt, but she was still alone. Om had Gauri, Ragini had Laksh. Who did she have?
Mr Maheshwari had not come. He was nowhere in sight even though she looked around deliberately for him.
She thought maybe he was not in Kolkata. Perhaps he had gone back to Srinagar or back to US. Perhaps he had gone into the country to his own estate. But she was hurt by his absence. Even apart from that evening in Srinagar, she had really thought they were friends.
Other people came back to the house that she would rather not have seen. The Singhanias came with Reshmi. Even Captain Rohan Singhania was there, looking dashing as he moved about on crutches, and won for himself the admiring looks of many of those in attendance—a hero and survivor of the battle.
Reshmi hugged Swara and was reluctant to let her go.
Reshmi (whispering in Swara’s ear) : I’m so sorry I couldn’t be a good friend to you. I do not care what Ma or Papa says. You were brave and I told everyone I knew.
She choked up in tears after that and couldn’t speak. However, her mother more than made up for it.
Mrs Singhania : I am glad you are safe. It’s a very good thing that you are suffering a huge loss else I’m sure your brother would be furious about your selfishness.At first he was inclined to blame me for leaving without you, if you can imagine such a thing. I daresay he has realized his error since then, though. Indeed, I do not know how he could avoid doing so.
Swara merely lifted her eyebrows, regarded her former chaperone with silent judgement, and moved on to another group.
She would have preferred to avoid Rohan Singhania altogether, but he deliberately put himself in her way and asked for a private word with her. She sat with him in one corner of the drawing room, a little away from everyone else. She would, she supposed, forgive him. But it would take an effort of will to speak the words. She would do so only because really he was of no importance to her whatsoever.
His facial bruises had faded. He looked, she thought, quite as handsome as ever. It was hard to believe, though, that once, not so very long ago, she had been slightly fond of him.
Rohan : I’m so sorry for your loss, Swara. I… I also hope you’ll forgive me.
Swara : It’s alright, Rohan. It was a difficult time and we were not rational.
Rohan (looking relieved) : I’m so happy you said that. I didn’t want you to think that.. I thought that perhaps I had raised expectations where I intended none. I may have raised your hopes for a permanent relationship.. with me.
He was not, she realized, talking of their final encounter outside the Singhania’s house but of what had happened between them on the day before he went into battle.
Swara : You thought that I harboured hopes of marrying you?
Rohan flushed and looked sheepish.
Swara (her Oberoi hauteur shining through as she looked at him with disdain) : Whatever you meant that day, I did not take them seriously. Had you asked me outright on that occasion, I would have said no. You shall have to ask my brothers and my sister for their approval before i give my decision. Even if you did do that and then you had asked me, I would have told no for there is not the slightest chance in this universe that I would allow myself to be shackled to a pompous ass like you.
Rohan went red with outrage and glared at her.
Rohan : You will never find a better catch that a Singhania. We are known for our diamond business throughout the world.
Swara : I don’t care about that. Perhaps if you had tried to apologise for your behaviour the last time you saw me in Srinagar, I might have granted it. But.. I’m glad you didn’t. Your ego is not suitable of loving someone else.
Rohan (standing up) : My mother was right about you.
Swara (rising as well) : How so?
Rohan : You are mighty haughty for someone who acts like a complete flirt in public. You think no one’s seen you and Sanskaar Maheshwari hold hands in the park or him hugging and kissing you in front of Mrs Raichand’s house?
He sounded like a spiteful boy retaliating for an insult.
Swara (her eyes showing supreme disgust) : I was wrong. It seems you do know how to talk about someone other than yourself. Sadly, That doesn’t do you much credit either.
She continued to stare coldly at him for a few moments longer. But inside she was shocked. Could it possibly be true? There was gossip about her? Because she had remained behind in Srinagar to tend the wounded and await word of Rudra, and Mr Maheshwari had been kind enough to watch after her and to escort her about Srinagar when she had needed relaxation? Because he had been kind enough to escort her to Kolkata when she had needed to come?
When had she been seen embracing him? She could remember only one occasion, outside Mrs. Raichand’s when she had been weary from overwork and had slept with her head on his shoulder for a few minutes. She had stood on the step above him afterward and leaned forward and kissed him.
There were always pedestrians on that street.
She might have guessed that there would be gossip in Kolkata, of course. The Singhanias would have brought plenty with them. And those other things, so supremely unimportant during those days in Srinagar, would seem shocking indeed to people who had not been there to know what it had been like.
Ofcourse, Rohan Singhania would be extremely disgusted with her. One would think he was from the 1800s and incapable of allowing females their freedom.
Swara smiled with arctic contempt at him and turned away without another word.
Was this why Sanskaar Maheshwari had not come to Oberoi Mansion during the past ten days or to the service today? Had he been driven from Kolkata by the gossip? Perhaps even from India? That would be extremely unfair.
But if it were so, she could never expect to see him again. It was a horribly depressing thought. Today of all days she longed to see him, to watch that lazy smile light his eyes again, to listen to his attractive accent, to hear him call her Shona. She wanted someone of her very own with her—a dear friend.
But how needy that sounded now that the thought had verbalized itself in her mind. She did not need him. She did not need anyone. She straightened her shoulders and joined another group of visitors.
Finally everyone had left. Ragini and Laksh had gone home. Omkara and Gauri had gone up to the nursery to see their son. Swara felt horribly lonely despite all her resolves—and despite the fact that she had refused an invitation from Laksh to go back with them for the evening and from Gauri to go to the nursery with them.
She would go to the library, she decided, and sit with Shivaay. She would not disturb him. She did not expect him to talk to her or entertain her in any way. She just wanted to curl up on one of the leather chairs there and feel the reassurance of his company.
She did not knock on the door. She opened it quietly, intending to creep inside without drawing attention to herself.
He was standing before the huge portrait of their family, The five children with their parents, before their parents were taken away in a car accident, his back to her. His shoulders were shaking. One of his hands was clutching the shelf above his head. He was sobbing, choking on the sounds.
Swara gazed in horror for a few paralyzed moments.
Then she closed the door even more quietly than she had opened it and fled upstairs to her room.
If even Shivaay was weeping, the end of the world seemed near.
She cast herself facedown across her bed and gathered fistfuls of the bedcover on either side of her head.
Rudra was dead.
He was gone forever.
For the first time since returning to Kolkata, she gave in to a storm of grief.
The sun was shining as Sanskaar approached Maheshwari Villa in Chandipur. As he drove through the driveway, He was powerfully reminded of how he had always loved the Villa, how thankful he had always been that he was the elder son of this family. He would stay here forever. This lengthy approach to the house had always lifted his spirits.
But it was five years since he had last seen it. His father had been alive in those days. His brother had been his close confidant. He had been a carefree young man, eager to enjoy the pleasures and the companionship of his peers, but eager too to learn all that he needed to know about the business as his father’s heir. Adarsh had been more inclined towards academics and was now a successful doctor with his own practice in Chandipur. Sanskaar had been a basically happy, blameless young man whose life was progressing smoothly along a path that had been mapped out for him since childhood.
And then disaster had struck in a series of nightmarish events over which he had seemed to have no control whatsoever.
He felt as if he were driving back into someone else’s life.
He got down from the car and walked towards the gardens where he saw three women, two of them bending and playing with a kid of about three years old, the other standing gracefully and smiling at the young one.
She turned back when she heard the sounds of Sanskaar approaching. And then she cried out, and came running toward him, one hand holding up the hem of her saree. She was petite, still youthfully slender, still dark-haired. Her face was alight with welcome.
Annapurna : Sanskaar, My son!
Sanskaar hugged her tightly.
Sanskaar : My mother! Ma!
He caught her up in his arms, spun once about with her, and set her on her feet again. She stood back and raised one slightly trembling hand to his cheek while her eyes devoured his face.
Annapurna : You’ve become a big man. And so handsome, my beloved boy.
Sanskaar (kissing her cheek) : I’ve become old while you seem to have become younger. You’re merely a girl now.
It was not quite true, of course. There were streaks of gray in her hair and there were lines in her face. But she had aged well in five years. She was still lovely.
A man had come hurrying up from the other side behind her. He was soberly clad, but looked happy, tall and lean.
Sanskaar : Adarsh!
For a moment it seemed that the brothers would hug each other. But both hesitated and the moment passed. Sanskaar held out his right hand, and Adarsh clasped it.
Adarsh : It’s good to see you again, Sanskaar! This is my little one, Shraddha, born while you were away.
Sanskaar greeted his sister in law, Parineeta, then turned to his younger niece, who smiled at him as he pulled her cheeks slightly.
His niece. He had a nephew and a niece. Life had gone on for everyone like nothing had ever happened.
Annapurna : Here’s Uttara too.
She was his cousin and had lived with them since the death of her parents. She at least looked much as she always had—small and solid, dark-haired and very pretty. She had not yet married. She must be at least twenty four or twenty five by now.
Sanskaar smiled at her and greeted her.
Uttara smiled back and actually kept her hand on his.
Uttara : Sanskaar!
It was not a poor welcome, he thought as his mother took his arm and drew him in the direction of the house. There was no sign of hostility or resentment in any of them. But there was a guardedness, a certain awkwardness, as if they were all strangers—as indeed they were.
He had been robbed of his family, he thought, among other things. Would the closeness that had always characterized their relations with one another ever return? Could it be retrieved? He felt the absence of his father keenly. His father had been his hero.
And then his father had rejected him. Utterly. He had preferred to listen to the lies and fabrications of others rather than listen to the words of his innocent son he had always claimed to love.
That had been a terrible betrayal.
Worse than Tia’s.
Worse than Shivaay’s.
His father’s distrust had been devastating.