The last day of the trip was confined to our cottages as we were either mentally or physically unfit for an outing. We packed our things and left for the Airport, the next day early in the morning. My bruises were healing. Rajiv still found it difficult to walk. His forehead was hurting him badly,Rahul told us.
I was the reason behind everything. If I had not accepted the trip invite, none of those would have happened. Revival of all the dumped feelings, just by the mere sight of him; incidents and people to remind him me of him; the bus wreck; the way he put his life at risk to save me; the evening conversation, None of it would have happened. I thought I was slowly getting out of my relationship. The trip and the bus wreck emphasized that I have just fallen deeper, muddling my own life further.
We reached Chennai Airport at 10 A.M. I reached home by 10.40 A.M. My mom was shocked at the bruises. I told her I will explain everything. I had my breakfast.
I told my mom all that happened in the past five days. She was shocked. She was happy I was safe home. She thanked all the good stars and her Gods.
She touched my bruises. She went through the doctor’s prescription and made sure it was given all antibiotics and proper medicines.
I got back to work the very next day. A week passed by. I was completely alright, physically. The scar created by the accident’s impact on my skin healed completely, while Rajiv’s impact on my heart still remained afresh.
He tried to call me once in a whole week’s time. I did not ignore his call, this time, but I did ignore his invite to meet. I have already messed up my life greatly. I was not sure what the consequences were already. I was not ready to meet him again and mess up things further.
I was a Saturday noon; I was watching a movie with my mom. Our conversation greatly reduced, in the recent days. When I was at home, I just brought in television or movies for rescue, so that I need not build conversation. My mobile, which I had kept it for charging, rang loudly, disturbing our attention. My mom turned to unplug the charger to hand over the phone to me. Both of us saw, that it was a call from Rajiv.
I took the phone and walked to my bedroom.
After a few minutes my mom walked in. I stood there holding the window pane, weeping. She patted me gently on my shoulders. She grabbed me by my shoulders and made me sit on the bed. She sat along. She slowly wiped my tears, took my face in her hands and rested it on her chest. Her hug, her warmth and love, made my tears worst.
I rested my head on her lap and wept.
She slowly tucked my disheveled hair strands as she asked, “What happened?”
I did not utter a word for few minutes. She waited patiently for me to speak up.
“Ma, I want Rajiv in my life, again.”, I started, narrating how bad my life was without him and how much I miss him. She listened to me patiently and once I was done, she started to speak.
“Harini, I really do not want to talk about the past; except for one thing. All through my life I had struggled just to give you all the love and care I can, so that you shall not feel the absence of a father. When it came to your wedding, I failed. You felt you needed a father, to speak for you. Marriage is a crucial step every girl takes. No matter how hard or bitter her early life has been, If the marriage can bring her multitudinous happiness, it can complete her life. But if it happens in the other way around, her life is a failure. If a girl cannot feel complete in both parts of her life, it is a disaster. I do not want you to fall on the third category. I am not sure what happiness I have given you, but I am sure Rajiv can give you loads. “
“I accepted for Vishnu, just because, I respected your decision of walking away from Rajiv. If you could remember, I did not ask you any questions. I respect your choices. You were never yourself, since when Vishnu’s alliance was brought up. ”
I could not remember when the last time you laughed whole heartedly was; I could not remember when the last time you relished your food was; I could not remember when was the last time you spoke to me as ‚‘My Harini‘.
I do not want you to get married, just to secure your future, by killing yourself. I am re-iterating. If you feel Rajiv is the right person, please go ahead. I did not have the courage to speak up for my daughter. But I at least have the wisdom to make her feel good about her choice. “
“Do not worry about Vishnu or your Athai or your Perima. I will take care. We will find a way. Also, if he feels, he has to take you with him, I am ready, and I will manage for five years. There is nothing wrong in compromising. It just makes you better. “, My mom assured.
I was not sure how to react. I looked at my mom with widened eyes. I hugged her, tight. She slowly released me.
“What happened? Why were you crying over phone? “She asked.
“Rajiv is asking me whether I could meet him and revisit my decision. “, I replied.
“What have you decided now? “
“Until the previous minute, it was a no, but now, after what you spoke, I have decided to meet him, ma. “ I smiled.
I called Rajiv and I told him, that I will be there, at our favorite meeting spot. Before I left, I made sure, I had a small recap of what I have decided.
“Rajiv, I am so sorry for all that has happened. I have decided to let go few of my rigid conditions. It is the relationship that is more important than anything else. I lost you once. I cannot afford to lose you once again, for you are so precious to get back. So, Listen, I am ok, to accompany you as your wife. I know there are going to be difficulties, but we will work together and resolve. “
I made sure it will work. I wore my best outfit and started, not knowing the actual surprise waiting for me. Though my mom assured, there was a mammoth question that was still open in my mind.
“How would we stop the marriage that has been decided?”
Rajiv was already there when I reached. He sat there as though he had been contemplating on things, which were about to happen.
“Hi”, he smiled as I reached. ”Looking gorgeous.”, he extolled.
“Hi, Rajiv. Thank you. How do you feel now?”
“Much better.”, he smiled.
I pressed my lips tight and rubbed my hands together. I suddenly let out a sigh and sat back, trying to calm down.
I wished he could speak something. I felt my stomach churn. I was not sure where to begin. It was only when, His voice came in as a rescue.
“Harini, I am so sorry for all that has happened. I have decided to let go few of my rigid conditions. It is the relationship that is more important than anything else. I lost you once. I cannot afford to lose you once again, for you are so precious to get back. So, Listen, I am ok, to take you this way, as you are now. We will get married once we are back. I know there are going to be difficulties, but we will work together and resolve. “
I felt my jaw drop.
“You stole my words. “, I smiled.
“Not just minds that are great, even hearts that are in love can feel alike”, he raised his eyebrows. He slowly moved forward and took my hands.
“Harini, I mean everything what I spoke now.”, he nodded.
“I believe in you.” I smiled. “I feel everything is fine now. My mom told she will manage the five years, but there is a big question in my mind. How would we stop the marriage that has been decided?”
Rajiv smiled, which I could not interpret.
“What makes you smile?” I asked, confused.
“I know you will have this question. That is why I have the answer with me and mom need not stay alone. I have an answer for that too.” His smile broadened.
“What? You already have solutions?”
“No. Not solutions; Solution.”
“What, just one?” I asked, completely lost.
“Yes.” he nodded.
“What it is?” I probed my question more curiously.
“You should ask, rather, ‘Where is it?’”, he smiled again.
I held my head. “Rajiv, please, can you please tell me what is going on?” I pleaded.
“Go to the fourth table to your right.” He ordered.
I rose in skepticism. What has he hidden there? , I thought. I walked in a rush to find the answer for the questions that niggled at my mind.
The table was hidden behind a pillar. As I approached the table, at first my legs froze in shock and then became wobbly. I felt the floor spin.
For a moment, I felt as though I was looking at my own self.
I saw the same eyes, the exact angle of my nose, the exactly shaped lips.
I fled to my table in terror. I gathered my wallet and mobile, stuffed those into my bag and started running to reach the door. My running reflected a sense of disquietude. I did not bother to see Rajiv or the other customers. They would have confirmed me to be a zany person. I did not bother. I rushed out; kick started my vehicle and drove home.
I hurried to my room. I caught my head and sat on the bed. My mom came running to me. She was shocked by my quirks.
“What happened? Did you meet Rajiv? What happened dear?”, she asked.
I swallowed hard and looked at her.
“What happened, dear?” she asked again.
“Ma, I saw my Dad.” I said, still holding my head.
“What? Where did you see him?” my mom asked.
“I don’t….”, as I spoke, we heard the door bell ringing. My mom opened the door, just to see her husband waiting at her door step.
I guessed that Rajiv should have brought my Dad home.
“Co.. come in”, my mom fumbled for words.
“Lakshmi, I am so sorry.”, I heard my father’s voice for the very first time in 20 years. I had inherited even the voice modulations from him. ‘Sigh’, I exclaimed.
My mom sat looking at the floor.
“Dad, Mom, Harini, I think it is time for me to leave. Please have sometime for yourselves. Harini, call me once everything is normal. I will come home”, Rajiv left.
“Lakshmi”, my Dad called my mom. She did not respond. She walked swiftly to the room where she had arranged her favorite God’s framed pictures. We called it Puja room (Prayer hall).
My dad followed. My legs automatically followed him. He was a thin man now, in his early sixties. We had the same skin tone, he was little taller than me. I could not remember his face when he left us. I was just three years old.
My mom stood there looking at Lord Krishna’s picture. He was her favorite God.
“Lakshmi, I know I don’t belong here. All that you are now is just because of all your hard work and sacrifice. I thought I should never come into your vicinity. I have realized all my mistakes. All these days, I had been apologizing to you, to you only. I do not have any right to ask you to forgive me but, I heard from our son-in-law that my presence is needed for both you and our daughter now. I am here to set things straight for you both. I have missed so many responsibilities in the past. I know they can never be brought back again. Gone are those days. This birth of mine would never suffice to make up for all those you had missed because of me. I feel, I could be of a tiny help for you, at least in your older days and for our daughter exactly at her right age.” , he paused.
‘Son-in-law? Had Rajiv told everything? ‘ I wondered.
My mom, who was silent since my dad came in, spoke for the first time.
“Can you imagine how difficult it was for me? When I placed back the receiver that day, I felt the whole world closing on me. I turned back, just to see a pair of tiny eyes, looking at me, wondering what has made me cry. I made up my mind that day to live every moment for her. “, she folded her saree pallu and covered her face and wept vigorously.
My dad slowly touched my mom’s hands. She removed her hands off her face.
“I am sorry, Lakshmi.”, my Dad had tears.
“It was not easy for me.”, my mom spoke in between her tears. I cried too.
“I realized it later, Lakshmi. I realized all my mistakes; I realized how important you are to me. I realized how badly I am missing, seeing my child grow.” My dad spoke in a single breathe.
My dad was still holding my mom’s hands.
She broke into tears. “It was not at all easy for me. I missed you; as a husband, most of the times, but every minute as a Dad for my little girl. ”, she cried. My dad gently touched my mom’s shoulders.
“I am sorry. Will you allow me to stay with you for the rest of my life and help in getting things done for our daughter?”, he asked.
“It is God’s grace you are back. What else do I need as an aged mother? “, she spoke and turned to her favorite gods. I knew it was to thank them for bringing my Dad back home.
I slowly walked towards my room. I latched it. I was not able to accept anything happening around. Where did he come from? How did he know Rajiv? My mind was confused. I was sure my mom had the same questions. I heard my mom making calls. She had to share it with everyone.
In another 25 minutes, I heard a knock in my door. I opened and there stood Rajiv.
He had answers for all my questions. As we sat in the living room, he started to speak as he munched on some snacks.
“Harini, before leaving for Munnar, I accompanied my cousin to Coimbatore for enrolling him in the college. When we enquired about the hostel and other facilities, the college management asked us to contact the Hostel management. As we entered the Hostel manager cabin, I froze in shock. A pair of eyes, which was already familiar to me, was looking into mine. I was shocked at the resemblance. You both share exactly the same features. The voice modulations, the smile, it was all enough for me to conclude, whom I am talking to. After enrolling my brother, before leaving, I took your Dad out to have a small chat. He first refused, wondering why a stranger would call him outside. “
“I explained about everything, how I know you and mom. I introduced myself to be a good friend of yours. He was not ready to come back to you both. He had tears. He was contented that he came to know about your well being. I tried convincing him to join me, but he refused. I left, with a heavy heart. Later, when you called me the other day that you have revisited your decision, I called Dad to tell him about this. I requested him to help us, for which he readily accepted. He came from Coimbatore last night for us.” he narrated.
My perima had already been home. She was happy that my Dad was back and took special pride in Rajiv’s abilities. It was nine, when my mom served us dinner. My dad bought a plate in his hand to hand it over to me. “Serving two idlies will not make up for the 20 years of disappearance.”, the words escaped my lips.
My mom tried to stop me. I rushed inside my room to lock myself up and get into sleep.
It was the next morning; I got ready for office. My Dad was reading a newspaper, as I stepped out of my house.
“Shall I drop you?” , he asked.
“I had been working for the past one and half year. Had you been there all these days to drop me? Do you know which brand of vehicle I own? Do you know where I work? “, I paused.
“Just because my mom had accepted you, it does not mean I will.”, I spoke and turned to leave. I knew my words were harsh. I could not help. I did not wait for his reaction. I strode out.
Too many things had happened in the past few days. It was staggering how rapidly life gets twisted from good to bad, and bad to good, back and forth. I could not refrain myself from sharing the news about Rajiv and my Dad to my friends. I told them when we met for coffee that day.
Deepthi and Hema were very happy about it. How is everybody around able to accept? How could someone forget and forgive everything overnight? I wondered. I was not sure whether I was right or wrong.
I thought I will meet Rajiv. I met him for lunch. I had informed my manager that I would not be available for two hours.
“Harini, there is nothing weird in it. It is natural. It might not be easy. But it has to be this way. When I met him and told about you, he had tears. He had an urge to see you. But he was not ready for it. He had repented for his mistake his whole life. He was not ready to even meet you. He felt that what he had committed in the past was an irreversible sin. He showed me an old photograph of yours. He told that it was taken on your second birthday. You and your mom were smiling beautifully. He felt bad that he took away her smile. He assured that your mom was a brave woman. He was sure that she should be in a good position now, and so his daughter. He refused to return back, because he did not want to disturb you. I could not convince him more. Hence I left Coimbatore alone and never spoke about it to you in Munnar.”
“But when you told me about the marriage that was decided for you and your liking towards me, again, I called him up and told him the truth that we were in love and all that happened in between. You know what he told? ‘I have not done anything for my daughter till date. I have never been a good husband or a Good Dad. This is a great opportunity. I know I might be insulted or mocked upon. I don’t bother. I want to set my Daughter’s life straight. I want to be a pillar of support to my wife, at least in her old age. I am coming in the next available train’. There is no point ignoring him Harini. He is your Dad. He loves you so much.” Rajiv shrugged his shoulders and gestured as if it was all in my hands now.
I thought about what we spoke throughout my day. I had to complete a lot of tasks. I took the office cab to reach home.
As I reached home, I saw the Red Santro parked. I could make out my Athai had come. “Oh God!” , I sighed as I entered my home.
As I entered, My Athai smiled at me. I smiled back, not knowing at which angle I should stop my lips.
As I refreshed myself and came, she pinched my cheeks. “My little girl has grown up, to make decisions on her own. I am very happy that you got your love back. Your dad came home and explained everything. Allowing a girl to live her life is the best gift one can give her and that would be my gift for your wedding with Rajiv.” she smiled.
“Are you wondering what made me decide so? It was just because of your dad, my dear. I was shocked when I saw him today. I had to admit, I met him once in Mumbai. But this time it was a different feeling. The love he had for you had made him come and speak to me. I did not accept it at the beginning. My husband and I were angry. He convinced us. He explained Rajiv’s greatness. I did not accept the praise for another boy, when my own son was around. Your dad was patient enough to make us understand everything. Your Dad proved today that anything could be solved by proper liaison.“ she smiled again.
I looked at my mom. She looked at my Dad and nodded.
We had dinner together and they left by 9.00 PM. I watched the Santro leave, through the bedroom window. I stood still. All of a sudden, I felt the problems in my life had cleared out.
I got my Rajiv back. I can fly with him, without any worry of leaving my mom alone. My dad assured he will be with her, the part which I still did not believe though. My Athai had called off the marriage herself. Things that closed on me slowly disappeared. I felt my life was bright, I felt I could breathe free. I took a deep breath. I felt my lungs fill with fresh air and heart fill with happiness.
I slowly walked back to the bed room. I saw my Dad lying down. I did not remember his young face. But he was old now. He had wrinkles on his face. I remember my mom telling about him. He had a good physique. It was all gone. He was very thin and old. His skin was weak and translucent, showing the underlying veins predominantly. He suddenly, woke up, just to see his daughter staring at him.
“Harini?” , he hurriedly got up , to sit.
“Sorry, . Hmm. Uh. I. I really. “, I fumbled for words.
“I thought, I would tell a Thank you. Thank you very much and sorry about what I spoke in the morning. Among all of us here, I knew you love me the most, but the irony is, you are being insulted the most by me only. Sorry for that. ” I spoke and moved away, not waiting for his reaction.
A couple of months passed. My Dad met Rajiv’s uncle. We dined together. I could say both were mutually happy. Visa formalities were slowly processed.
We registered our marriage to apply for Visa. I quit my job. I spent wonderful time with Rajiv, my family and friends. Deepthi and Hema never failed to meet me frequently.
My Dad helped a lot with all the formalities. I never knew he was that knowledgeable. He accompanied me to the consulate and guided for the Visa interview. He was the happiest man, when my Passport came home, printed with the Visa.
The day finally arrived. My mom made sure I missed nothing. I was busy verifying my hand luggage while my father walked in.
“Harini”, he called. I took my eyes off my bag and saw him.
“Here is a small gift, probably the first gift to my daughter”, he extended a bag, with the brand Titan inscribed in it.
“How did you know that I love watches?”, I exclaimed, though I was sure not to accept the gift from him. I was not ready for it. I did not want anything else from him, other than taking good care of my Mom.
“Though I was not with you physically, my biological genes were”, he smiled.
“You love watches too?” I asked. He nodded, “Yes”.
“I don’t see you wearing one”, I replied after examining his wrists.
“I quit wearing it. The last watch that was on this wrist, was the one gifted by your mom for our third anniversary and for fourth anniversary, we were never together. I decided that has to be the final watch that I wore.” , he spoke and searched for something in his brief case. He took out and showed me an old watch, which had stopped ticking. Its face had few scratches.
I looked at him in amaze for a few moments. I was able to understand how he had missed us and how he is repenting for it.
“Harini”, he called, breaking my chain of thoughts. “Have it.”, he extended.
I got it from him, placed it on the bed and went back to scrutinize my bag. It was just Uncle and Aunt who accompanied Rajiv. There were a bunch of people for me. My Dad, Mom, Perima, Uncle, Deepthi and Hema were there.
I held my Mom’s hands tight. I had tears. Five years looked long for me. I will miss her. I made sure I did not cry, for it might weaken her further. Mom and I spoke for a long time. She advised me to take good care. It was after 10 minutes, Rajiv asked me to hurry to departure.
My dad looked at me. I caught his eyes, but never spoke to him. He expected I would tell him a bye, at the least. I was not sure why, I hurried in the direction Rajiv showed me, without speaking anything to my Dad.
I walked fast with him, when my legs suddenly stopped. I shook my hands to loosen Rajiv’s grip and I ran back to the place where my parents were there.
Driven by so many emotions , especially love, I came running to my Dad and hugged him tight. Everyone around me, including my mom, did not expect this to happen.
I hugged him tight as tears rolled down.
“Appa”, I called him, for the first time in my lifetime.
He looked at me. His eyes were moist too.
“I love you, Appa.” I managed to put the words together. “I will miss you.” I completed my sentence.
“Love you too, my child. Have a safe trip. The rest of the life is ours. Don’t worry about missing me. I will always be there for you and your mom.” He smiled.
His words gave me an assurance that he would be with my mom and take care of her.
I walked to the ‘International Departures’ and looked around to wave back to my parents, relatives and friends. I raised my left hand and waved, just to show to my dad, the new Titan watch shimmering in my wrist.
Three years later:
We were back from Columbia two months ago. Rajiv’s tenure was over in three years. We were back immediately. I was engaged to Rajiv, the previous month.
Things had been so good so far, except for one question in my mind. Just because my Dad was back now, would Rajiv prefer only two of us, after our wedding? I kept wondering.
It was my birthday, that day; a very special one; my first Birthday with my Dad and my last birthday as a Spinster.
Almost all of my loved ones wished me, except Rajiv. I was waiting for the clock to tick 11.54 AM. It was 11.56 , and his wish did not reach me. It was almost evening. I tried calling him. He did not answer. I was not sure where he was.
My parents had arranged a small get together in the evening, for dinner. Mom and Dad were busy with the preparations. They did not seem worried about Rajiv’s dormancy since morning.
‘How could he forget?’, I thought.
It was 6.00 P.M . My Dad arranged for a surprise cake cutting. He bought in the cake and knife and relatives and friends around sang the birthday song.
I was in no mood to cut. I told my parents, that I won’t cut until Rajiv comes.
“Son, she is not cutting the cake. Why don’t you come in and wish her.”, my dad spoke to him over phone.
“Rajiv Sir. Please come inside. This idiot is neither cutting the cake nor letting us to. It looks too yummy. Come in fast”, Deepthi spoke as she grabbed the phone from my Dad.
Everyone had a good laugh except me. ‘Is Rajiv around?’, I turned my head and saw him coming in.
“Happy Birthday.”, he smiled, giving me a rose.
“You were here?”, I asked.
“Not until 5. He had planned a surprise for you. He asked us not to reveal it to you.”, My mom smiled at us.
“Ok, now, cut the cake and come with Me.”, he ordered. I cut the cake and once my mom started distributing, I was in Rajiv’s car.
He drove for twenty minutes, parked the car and asked me to get down.
He held me from behind and closed my eyes gently. I did not know what was happening and tried to hold his hands and open my eyes. I felt my lashes fluttering in his palm. He slowly guided me. I heard the lift door open and I heard a wooden door opening.
He made me stand still at a place and took his hands off. The marble beneath my feet felt chill. As I tried to open my eyes, the surprise initially seemed blurry and my eyes got a clearer image of my gift.
It was a new house. He had gifted me a house. He had placed me before the Bedroom. It looked big and perfectly finished. I assumed it was the master bedroom.
“This is my small gift for this cute birthday baby.” he extended his hands in air. “I hope the surprise was good.”, he smiled.
“The house is lovely.” I smiled at him.
The wall had a beautiful painting of Lord Krishna. I turned to him in confusion.
“But, you like Lord Ram, right?” I asked him.
“Yes, but your mom loves Lord Krishna, right?”, he tried to mimic me.
I was stunned.
“Yes. This is our parent’s bedroom.” he smiled.
“Would they be staying with us?” I asked with widened eyes.
“Yes and I know this was the question that kept running through your mind. I saved the answer for your birthday. It was only your mom before. But since your Dad has joined us, we will have to take care of them both.” he smiled.
I cheered like a small girl. I turned around, hopped and clapped my hands in sheer bliss.
“Now, it is time to see our room. “He dragged me to another room.
It was perfect and pristine. I looked at the walls for surprise.
As I kept looking at the walls, he stood behind me, slowly placing his hands on mine. He raised my hand and chin, and held my index finger straight. He then moved closer resting his chin on my shoulders and started counting the stars in the ceiling with my finger. The ceiling had beautiful lighting effect, which resembled the sky. The stars disappeared at one part and appeared in the other, making it look real.
“One, two, three, four and till it ends, I will be there for you”, I heard him say and he tilted his head. His cheeks were against my neck, sending few chill waves through spine. My body temperature suddenly changed and my skin responded his sudden contact, with Goose pimples all over. His unshaven beard tingled my skin on my shoulders. I could easily tell he was able to sense, how my body reacted. He slowly raised his head and stood in front of me and looked at me, directly.
“I will count the stars every day, with my moon beside.”, he looked at me, with love filled eyes.
“I love you, Rajiv”, I smiled, looking at him.
I ran my fingers through the scar in his forehead and frowned. “How bad it would have hurt?”, my tone saddened.
“No worries. If not for this, I wouldn’t have got my Harini back. I love that bus.”, he winked.
I held his hands and rested my head on his chest. He enfolded me with his comforting cuddle.