August 28 2016: 11.30 A.M
“Hi, Raghu.” She called out as she entered the coffee shop.
The guy had called her in the morning, confirming about the meeting.
He was tall and handsome. As she looked at him, her lips automatically curled up in a smile.
“Mr. Raghu? I am Harini.” She smiled.
He smiled and nodded. Her words did not reach his ears. He was lost.
He rose from his chair to greet her. She looked beautiful. Her attitude was somewhere in between convention and modernity.
She did not look like a woman who removed her facial hairs to look beautiful, yet she had a lip gloss on. The smell of her perfume did not cause suffocation. It hit his nose like that spume of white-capped waves, hitting the feet. It was pleasant.
He was not sure why he was attracted to her, when he was not sure whether he was the one she was supposed to meet.
“Hi, Mr. Raghu?” , Harini asked.
“Yeah, Hi,. How may I help you?”, he stammered, as if he heard her for the first time.
“We spoke today morning, regarding this meeting.”
“Oh, yeah. I am actually waiting for you. Please sit down.”, he showed the opposite chair, recovering from the admiration.
“Are you completely fine with it?” She asked again.
“Of course, Yes. But I have few things to discuss.” He answered.
“Oh. Sure.” She smiled.
“Firstly, I would like to talk to you regarding the growth graph.”
“You don’t have to worry about that Mr. Raghu. That will happen automatically.”
“Thanks, that is great to hear. And regarding the take home package?”
“I will take complete care of that. It is going to be a big surprise for you. We have it neat and clean.”
“Neat and clean? You mean the formalities?”
“There are no big formalities, Mr. Raghu. I am going to give away and you are going to take home.” Harini smiled.
“Wow. You sound so practical and simple.”
“There is no use wasting time in complicating things.”
He raised his eye brows, jutting his bottom lip out.
“Well as the rest of details were already shared yesterday, this is all I have from my side.” Raghu crossed his legs.
“Ok, I would like to talk about the training.” She spoke, as she sipped some water from the glass.
“Training? That seems odd. I have nearly 8 years of experience.”
“Well, that is such a good thing, Mr. Raghu. But still I feel each one is different. So I recommend starting with the training after 10 weeks’ time.”
“May I know why there is a delay?”
“During the initial days, the movements would be clumsy and it would be difficult to train.”
“Clumsy movements? You mean within the team?”
“Training can be done as a team or as an individual.” Harini nodded her head.
He pressed his lips together, fingers touching his lips. Harini discerned that he needed time.
“Sir, please don’t worry. You are completely fine with taking it up, Am I right?”
“Of course I am.”
“Do you like it?”
“Of course I am very much interested and convinced about it and that is why we set up a meeting here, didn’t we?”
“Wonderful. That is all it is going to take; the interest and dedication. The rest will fall into place as time moves. Probably for a newbie, initial days might be of a struggle to manage. But you seem to be a veteran in it. It should be a calk walk for you.” Harini smiled.
“Thank you, Madam.”, Raghu flashed his smile.
“I would love to hand it over to you.”, Harini nodded her head. “The security did not allow it inside. I have it in the basket, outside.”, she pointed her fingers.
Raghu crooked his brows, trying to hide his dubiety. “Basket?”, he wondered.
Harini excused herself, as she walked out to bring in the puppy, which she had left in a basket, under the security’s supervision. As she walked, a lady in formals walked past her.
As she bent down to take the puppy, she saw a pair of feet approaching towards her. She heard him say, “I am so sorry Madam. I am late. I am Raghu and this is regarding the puppy adoption.”
Harini raised her head in utter shock.
She saw through the glass door, into the coffee shop. The girl, who walked past her, was now talking to Raghu. She walked fast inside, ignoring the security’s cry to leave the dog outside.
“Mr. Raghuram, I am Deepa from SureChoice. I called you yesterday evening regarding the offer letter and joining formalities for your new job with Infoway. Since you are a high profile candidate, the consultancy requested me to meet you in person for handing over the joining letter and for addressing your concerns, if any.” , she heard the girl in formals, say.
Raghu looked at Harini, his pressed lips, slowly curling up. As he laughed, he saw, Harini smiling involuntarily.
Raghunandhan and Deepa, who had come for adopting the puppy and from the consultancy respectively, stood there, perplexed by the sudden laughers.
“I am sorry, that was due a small confusion. You please go ahead.”, Raghuram spoke to Deepa, not missing to look at Harini through the corner of his eyes.
They laughed more that evening, as they stayed together for more coffee.
Harini was surprised how blissfully she obliged when he asked her if she could stay back for a coffee.
When Raghu insisted on having a coffee, Harini could not deny. Most of the time went in recollecting how seriously Raghu mistook every word related to a dog to his job.
Few minutes of talk made her to wait for him. Why she hadn’t found this with any other guy before, she wondered.
She wished she could meet him often.
She wished, he asked and they did.
August 31 2016: 4 P.M
“Hey, my Chennai Friend!”Raghu exclaimed as he saw Harini.
He was seated in a restaurant inside a famous mall.
“Hi.” She smiled.
It was their fourth day, together. Raghu could not refrain himself from asking Harini about accompanying him in his outing, as he was new to Chennai.
Harini brought her friend along with her on the first day out, which went mostly in formal talks and introductions.
Harini got along well with Raghu in the following two days, that she felt, there was no need for a friend in between. They felt more comfortable together.
“So, what shall we do today?” She spoke as she checked her cellphone.
“Hang out together?” He asked.
“Sure, but on one condition. Not inside such a covered environment. I know it is hot outside. Leave out the hot temperature; there is a lot of goodness out there. “ She winked.
They had a wonderful day out.
When Raghu decided to book a cab, “Most of the time will be spent in maneuvering the traffic. Let us go in my two-wheeler. “ Harini showed the key, as she spoke.
“If it is too hot, ask him to put some Meeta chutney. It is the brown sauce in the smaller pot.” Harini made him eat her favorite Pani puri.
“You like street foods?” Raghu asked, as he wiped his mouth and chin to prevent the liquid from dripping onto his shirt.
“I love them.” She grinned. “I guess I was in 12th grade. Our computer mam, in school, asked us to write a program to print any line of our choice. Most of my friends wrote ‘Hello World.’, while some wrote, Í love India.’ Can you guess what I did? I wrote, ‘I love Samosa.’” Harini laughed.
‘She looks the most beautiful, when she laughs.’ he thought.
“What else do you love?” He managed to ask, amidst his admiration.
“South Indian food varieties.”
He smiled, looking at her.
“What?” She raised her eyebrow.
“I did not mean food; I asked what do you love, in general.”
Harini bit her lip, smiling sheepishly.
“Tell me something more about you.”, Harini broke their 20 seconds of silence.
“Nothing much to say; I was just brought up in USA; Completed my graduation and masters there. I worked with a reputed firm for eight years. I really thought it is time to get back to my country. For now, she is my mother. Now that I have got the job here in Chennai, I should get back to Delhi, take my things, go back to U.S.A and come once for all.”, he paused to smile.
“Things will go good.”, Harini flashed her ravishing smile.
He was still looking at her, smiling broader.
“So?” He managed to talk.
“It is time to leave though I have a lot to tell you. “, she smiled.
“We will talk more. We will catch up this Thursday.”, Raghu smiled at her.
They were happy, that there was something going on, between them.
September 1 2016: 7 P.M
“Sure, I would be there sharp at 9.30. Thanks.”
Raghu saw Harini hanging her call up.
“What is that?”, he asked, as he swallowed a spoonful of Sweetcorn.
“I am a part of the voluntary Turtle conservation group. We just conduct a walk, every night, trying to look for turtle nests and re-locate lost eggs and after the release, we guide them safe to the sea. This happens during the breeding season. This is just to conserve the endangered turtles and Tortoises. This weekend, we are there to guide the turtles mostly. We still have some nests. We will have some job with the eggs too.”
“Looks like you are actively engaged in social and voluntary activities.”, Raghu smiled. “I like that.”, he continued.
Harini looked at him and smiled. ‘He likes that in me?’, she wondered.
“So turtle walk, a nightout. Parents are ok?”
Harini returned to her senses as she heard Raghu’s voice.
“They have thousand reasons to scold me. This is just one of them.”
“Yes unfortunately. And you know what the rest 999 are? I am still stubborn in choosing a guy for me.”
Raghu was happy. It was confirmed she was still single.
“You have a lot of rigid conditions?”
“Not really. The problem is just because my expectations are too simple.”
“Oh.”, Raghu nodded.
“A guy’s horoscope has matched.”
Raghu looked at her blank.
“My parents have sent my photograph. They are expecting a call anytime tomorrow morning. “ She paused to take a big bite of the corn kernels from the cob and continued.
“You know, when an answer is expected from a guy’s family, Mom always goes around with the codeless, taking it even to the kitchen, making sure to attend the call in the first ring. Dad sits, having his Laptop active all the time, checking for any email from the groom’s side. A month back, my mom nearly dipped the codeless into the hot Sambhar, almost getting confused between the codeless in her right hand and a ladle in the left.”
Raghu laughed out loud.
“Don’t laugh at that. That is my bitter story.” She pressed her lips and let a small part of her tongue out.
“Sorry.” He replied.
“Never mind, I was just kidding.” Harini smiled.
There was a silence in between the two.
“Hey it is time. I need to go home.” Harini sighed, as she broke the silence.
“Sure, I just thought ..” He paused. She gazed, in an attempt to read his mind.
“Don’t think too long, I am already hungry.” She winked.
They finally reached the restaurant, Harini had been vaunting about.
“This is one of the best restaurants in Chennai.”Her eyes beamed in pride.
Raghu acknowledged her delight.
The waiter came to take up the order.
“One masala dosai, one sambhar Idli, A south indian filter coffee.” He placed his orders.
Harini awed him with ecstasy. ‘Wow. He remembered about her liking and he was ordering for her too.’ The mere thought lit her face with impish glee.
“What would you love to eat?” Raghu’s voice brought her to reality.
“Your order.” He showed the menu card.
Harini’s face sank.
“One Dosai.” She ordered.
“What happened?” He asked, scrutinizing her face.
“I thought ..” She paused and shrugged her shoulders. ”Chuck it.” She shook her head. “So tell me, how was your day out.”
“Come on. Something is wron…” Harini stopped Raghu in between, as he spoke.
“Had fun?” She asked , trying to avoid Raghu’s comment, as she placed her sling bag on the table.
He moved the bag away as it hid a part of her face. He placed his elbow on the table.
“Well, Before I answer, Listen, I do not want to cast a bad impression on you. So tell me, why are you angry?” He sounded impuissant.
“I am not angry.”
“OK, in that case, why are you disappointed?”
“No, I am not.” Harini replied, fixing her gaze at the glass.
Raghu looked at Harini , while she still looked away.
“Yes, I am disappointed,” she spoke after thirty seconds.
“Why?”, he asked.
“I don’t think I can explain it.”
“You cannot or you do not wish to?” he smiled; the same calm, godly smile. He sat there studying her face.
Harini shook her head.
He smiled, as if he understood what was going on.
“Ah. I am so sorry for disappointing you. See, I had a wonderful day with you and I know we have become closer. That does not mean, I need to order food for you and since I have become closer, that does not mean you have eat, all that I order for you. Let us keep it simple. It’s your tummy, your food. Order what you like and eat your heart out.”He smiled.
She nodded, heeding to him keenly, smirking at the absurdity of her expectation.
“So apology accepted?” He asked.
She was the one who expected others to let her live her way. Why was she trying to fit herself into his circle of likes? , she stopped for a moment, as she thought.
‘Why am I getting disappointed by a five-day-old friend?’ She wondered.
Their order came.
“Thank you.” Raghu smiled at the waiter.
Harini looked up with a shock.
“What?” He asked.
“Will you reject me, If I do the same thing?” She looked at him.
“Excuse me?” Raghu tried to get some more clearly.
“Uuhh.. Nothing,” Harini smiled as she tore a big piece of Dosai.
“He helped us. It is basic manners.” Raghu shrugged his shoulders. Harini smiled.
They ate and parted ways.
September 2 2016: 10 A.M
Harini’s father placed the reciever back in dismay.
He looked at his wife and shook his head. “They are not interested.” Harini’s mom looked wretched.
“It is ok, Mom.”, Harini, who was seated on the divan, consoled her mom.
Her father sat with his hands on his head.
“Dad, please. Don’t do this. This is just one guy.”
“Harini, stop. We have lost four years in finding a groom for you.” Her dad replied.
“If anything at all can console us, it could be your wedding only.” Her mom added.
“By next year, you are going to be relieved then.” Harini smiled.
“Hope so. Please understand our predicament, Harini.”
“Of course Dad, I do.”
“Next time, if the guy’s family is ok with the proposal, please don’t find a reason to reject the guy. Act better in front of them and please make us happy.”
“Pretending will make you happy? Dad, were you the same person who asked me to take special pride in being my own self?”
“Harini, not again. Please don’t strike the same chords.”
Harini shook her head. Her mobile rang.
“What happened?” Raghu’s voice filled her ears. As she heard his voice, she slowly walked into her room.
“It is a ‘No’ .” She wriggled her hands in air, in ecstasy. She was not sure what made her so happy.
The excitement in her voice made him happier.
As she saw her mom coming, she changed her guesture to throw her hands in air, kept her face remorse and spoke in croaky voice.
‘Who?’ Her mom gestured.
‘A Friend.’ She maffled.
“I will call you later. Mom needs some help.” She cut the call.
“Is she married?” Her mom asked.
“Who?” Harini asked in confusion.
“The girl, on the other side of the phone.”
Harini could not control her laughter.
“Not yet.” She was still smiling.
“What is there to smile?”
Harini shrugged her shoulders.
“Looks like a friend who is very much concerned about you. She is keeping track of your happenings; Should be a close friend of yours. You know her for a long time?” her mom asked.
Harini shook her head, thoughts struck with Raghu. “It is just few days, since we have met.” She replied.
Her mom left her room.
Harini smiled. ‘Was he the man?’
‘Very much concerned about you.’ Her mom’s words echoed in her head.
She sat, pondering what would happen next.
September 2 2016: 8.30 P.M
She sat, pondering what would happen next.
She saw Manoj coming out of his office.
“Aadvika, I asked you to go home. Why are you waiting here?” He asked, as she opened the door to get into the car.
“Manoj, I did not want to go alone. Mom called me in the afternoon to convey that Latha Aunt has come home. She will definitely ask about baby, which would make me fluster.”, she spoke as she sat.
“So?” He asked, anger marring his brows.
“I just thought we could go home together.”
“Can you even understand how difficult it is for me to manage in office? You are making a call at 7.30 that you haven’t gone home and you are here. I was in middle of a meeting. How could I stay calm inside, when you are waiting outside? I had to finish it quickly and postpone two other meetings for tomorrow.”
“Can you even understand how difficult it is for me to manage our home?”
“Don’t play with words.” He snubbed.
“Why are you so rude?” Her voice broke.
The car came to a halt, waiting for the signal.
Aadvika was in tears.
“Aadvika, please control your emotions. Do you even realize the windows are not tinted? The guy next to our car in the two-wheeler can see us.”
“So your problem is someone seeing me cry and not actually the fact that I am crying?”
“I really don’t know how you envisage words. Your interpretation skills are beyond my imagination.”
The rest of the travel continued in utter silence except for the music system, which played its mundane playlist.
Manoj parked the car and turned off the engine.
“Greet her with a smile. Please don’t have this somber face.” He said.
Aadvika, got down, slammed the door behind her and walked as if she did not hear him.
As the guest completed the dinner, Aadvika searched for the kitchen towel, to wipe off the stains from her glass top stove.
“Aadvika, can I come in?” Latha stood at the doorstep. She turned as she heard her voice.
Latha slowly moved in, to hold Aadvika’s hands.
“Aadvika, How is your job?”
“Going on Aunt.” She replied.
What begins with a generalized question often ends with the most embarrassing question, thought Aadvika.
“So have you been consulting the doctors?” Latha arrived at her cardinal question. She often turned her head to check if no one was there at the living room.
‘You could have asked this when Manoj and I were together. Why embarrass me, alone?’ She thought.
“No Aunt. Most of the tests are done. Everything is normal. So we are waiting for it to happen naturally.”
“Listen Aadvika, Manoj is Sujatha’s only son. She is living every moment with the hope that she will have a grandchild. She is the sweetest person. You must be so lucky to have her and this family. Take things seriously.” Latha’s tone slowly changed.
Aadvika, stood there, blank and tongue tied.
“Aadvika, Suja and I spoke for a long time in the evening. We have decided something. Suja strongly feels you would protest against it. Hence she asked me to speak.”
“Aunt, just a second.” Aadvika strode out of the kitchen in search of Manoj.
Sujatha, Manoj, his dad and Latha’s husband were chatting in the bedroom.
“Manoj, can you please come here. Latha Aunt wants to talk to us.” Aadvika, herself was surprised by the tone and pitch of her voice.
“What is it, Aadvika?” Suja tried to move forward.
‘Ma, Unfortunately this is regarding child birth, so medically, you will be of no help and that is why I called your son.’ She thought. “Manoj, please.” She spoke, as she signaled him to come out.
The clock struck 10.30 P.M. Latha, Sujatha, Manoj and Aadvika were seated in the couch, while Manoj’s dad preferred sitting in the dining table.
“We just thought.., ”Latha paused. Aadvika did not take her eyes off her.
“We just thought, it would be better if we adopt a child.” Latha looked at Aadvika, for her reaction.
“Yes, I spoke to the orphanage. There is a two month old baby. They will come here tomorrow morning, for the formalities. “, Sujatha added.
Aadvika felt blood rushing to her face. She made sure, she did not cry. She did not want to be a loser.
“Manoj, before the concerned people come tomorrow, I need to talk to you.” , she demanded.
“Tell me.”, he replied.
She looked at him. Her eyes were beseeching him to let her talk in private.
“We will discuss about this and will confirm tomorrow morning, Ma. Please ask the people to hold on, until we say.” Manoj spoke to his mom.
“Manoj, your mom had made all the arrangements. It would not be nice if we back out now.”
‘Why should she decide my life without my consent?’ Aadvika thought.
“It should be ok Latha. We will try to manage it. Now why don’t we try to get some sleep? “, Manoj’s dad tried to stop Latha.
She felt happy as her father-in-law stepped in.
“What is going on Manoj?” She asked as she locked her room.
“Mom had felt so. What can I do about it?”
“What the hell Manoj? Do you even understand what is happening around? How can this be decided without our opinion on it?”
“Mom asked me to tell it to you. I.., ” Manoj was stopped by Aadvika’s tears.
“You knew it? Didn’t you tell her that you needed to talk to me? This is my life, Manoj. This is related to my baby. How the hell can someone else decide on it?” She asked as she stabbed her the tip of her index finger against her chest.
“It is not someone. Mind your tongue.” Manoj snarled. “She is my mom.”
“How dare you ask that?”Manoj yelled on top of his lungs.
“Lower your voice. We will be heard outside.”
“You are provoking me to shout.”
Aadvika broke into tears.
“Still you have not told anything about it.” Manoj asked her, regarding the adoption.
“Manoj, do you even understand, how difficult it is for me? I am crying and you just want to stick to the point right?”
“Yes Aadvika, I cannot understand anything. Keep sobbing, looks like what my mom was telling is true.”
“What did she say?”, Aadvika, asked, as tears blurred her vision. Her cheeks were wet and red.
Manoj shook his head.
“I asked, what did she say?” She asked, her neck veins bulging out, nostrils flaring in anger.
“Until you keep crying like this, you are never going to have a baby.” Manoj lowered his voice as he spoke.
Aadvika broke into hysterical tears.
“She told this and you did not say anything against it, right? That is because she is your mom. Who Am I Manoj? I have left everything behind, just for you.”
“Every wife does that.”
“In that case, ever mom gives birth.”
“Aadvika, this is the limit. Why are you making life so mise…” Manoj stopped in between.
“Complete it Manoj.” Manoj shook his head. “Miserable, right?”
Manoj sat on the bed, facing the wall.
“Yes, I make your life miserable. True. ” She sat , her back to the wadrobe, hugged her legs, rested her forehead on her knees and wept badly.
September 3 2016: 6.10 A.M
It was few minutes past 6 A.M in the morning, when Manoj woke up, by the sound of his alarm. He looked around for Aadvika. She was not found in the bed. He looked at the room. It was still locked from inside.
He threw his quilt off his lap, and got off the bed in panic, in search of her.
“Aadvika.” His voice trembled as he called her name out.
As he tried to look around, he found Aadvika, sleeping on the floor, near the wadrobe.
“Aadvika.” He slowly touched her.
“Ajju ma.”He raised his voice.
She was startled by his voice and sprang up off the floor.
“Manoj.” She called him. He looked at her. Her eyeslids were bulged. He could understand they might feel heavy for her.
He sat on the floor, neared her and hugged her tight. She hugged him back.
“I am so sorry for what happened last night.” , he apologized.
“Manoj, I do not want to adopt a baby. Please.”
“Ok, Sure. I will not ask you why. But let us not. I will speak about this to mom.” He spoke, as he looked at her.
“I love you, dear.”He placed his chin on the top of her head, as he hugged her. “I love you so much and I am so sorry,” he continued.
They looked at each other for more than thirty seconds.
“Remember, not to forget to sleep on the bed, even at times, when you hate Me.” He winked.
“Hating you is something impossible Manoj. I love you.” She smiled.
Manoj, had his breakfast. As Aadvika was not interested in adopting a child, he wondered how he would answer his mom’s questions. He appeared to eschew them completely.
Aadvika boarded the taxi and left for school.
She looked occupied most of the time in school.
She spent her lunch time in the school chapel. It was serene. It was almost 12.40 P.M. There were only 10 minutes left for the lunch recess to cease. She had classes right after the lunch break.
She wondered about the food she had packed. She slowly walked out, a couple of meters away from school, offering the lunch she bought to few needy kids outside.
The little boy’s smile bought tears to her eyes.
As she turned to walk back to the school, she stopped, as if something pulled her saree. She turned around, there was no one around. All that she could see was, a group of kids, eating the three rotis she gave them. The joy in their face told her so many things.
She walked back to school, ruminating on what had struck her a while ago.
“Manoj, I feel, we could sponsor a child’s life.”, she spoke. She had called Manoj during the short recess in the afternoon.
“What are you talking about Aadvika?”
“Dukku, I contemplated on this for a long time this afternoon. I feel we can contact an orphanage and sponsor for a child’s life.”
“Yes. There is a sum which needs to be paid every year for his/her education. Once he/she completes, we can sponsor for his/her wedding, until he/she leaves the orphanage. I feel we could do that Manoj.”, she continued.
“Ok, Sure. I will find out the procedures.” He smiled.
“Yes, please. Thanks Dukku. I have classes for all the three following periods. I cannot go around with the phone browsing for sites. If you could give the contact number, it will be great.”
Later that evening, Aadvika received a text from Manoj. He had called her twice, while she was in the class.
“0948563- Blooming buds Chennai. Please contact this number.”
She touched the number in the text message and her caller app, connected to the number. The true caller App showed that it was the Chennai Number.
“Hello.” A warm voice answered the call.
September 3 2016: 5 P.M
“Hello.” A warm voice answered the call.
“Hi, This is Aadvika from Mumbai. Is this Blooming buds.”
“Oh, Yeah, please tell me. I am a volunteer there.”
“We would like to sponsor for a child’s lifetime. I just wanted to know the procedures.”
“That is so kind of you Mam. Thank you.”
“Please do not mention it and please call me Aadvika.”
Aadvika could hear the voice on the other side smile.
“Sure Aadvika. Regarding the procedures, it is simple, since you have specifically asked for a life time sponsor I can tell you directly, what the procedures are. Life time sponsor starts from kids of any age. What is your preference?” The volunteer from Chennai started her conversation.
She asked a few questions for clarifications and Aadvika posed few from her side too.
“Please send us the DD in the name of Blooming Buds. Thank you so much for your help. Also can I have an alternate number?”, she asked.
“Sure. I shall give my Husband’s number. May I know your name?”
“Of course, I am Harini.” She smiled.
Harini cut the call. The woman on the other end, Aadvika, sounded so well. Harini could not explain the connection, but she thought there was something.
She saved the incoming number and switched to the Texting app immediately.
She looked at the profile picture. She saw a slim, tall and fair woman, draped in a beautiful saree.
‘Beautiful.’, she thought. She smiled at the picture, as if she had registered her face in her mind strong.
“Hi, reached home?” , Harini sent her a message, later that night.
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