Konark express was delayed due to a signal snag and by the time Avanti reached home it was well past 12PM. Her phone was discharged as she had spent yet another sleepless night, the train speeding with the constant rattle of the tracks connecting with the wheels, the only redundant sound most of the time. Even as her group members had snored away or whispered conversations, she had been up trying to google as much information as possible about the maintenance company and their engineer. He was the key to many of her answers. Avanti had exhausted the phone battery in her futile search for possible leads. She had made her to-do list in Docs folder.
- Talk to Kamya di about Keshav’s illness
- Find Shamsunder Valmiki. Visit his home at the given address… Find out if there was any foul play.
- Meet Mukherjee uncle to discuss about baba’s last days… and also what Prantik was upto.
She had made up her mind to find things out on her own before involving anyone else. Of course, she would only find out theoretical information and wouldn’t actually do something…she wasn’t a fool to not be aware of the danger as Rahul had suspected. She also made it a point to discuss it with Keshav once she got even a tiny lead….she would definitely come clean with him and hope he would trust her enough to do the same.
As she stepped into the house Mrs. Sinha was just leaving. “Oh…Avanti so nice to see you back… this house missed you dear… I missed you and the D’Souzas were enquiring about you too….”
Avanti’s eyes filled as she hugged the lady and had a tough time blinking them away. “…I missed you too Mrs. Sinha… I will meet the D’Souzas later today….”
“…Avanti did you eat anything…? The lunch has been kept ready…why don’t you freshen…”
“…Mrs. Sinha…you go ahead and don’t wait on my account…I have eaten on my way here… I just want to rest…”
“…Oh ok dear… see you tomorrow then… bye…”
Once Mrs. Sinha left Avanti rushed to her room to charge her phone. By the time she freshened up and came outside it was continuously beeping with messages…mostly forwards from her music group including pictures taken and comments on social media. They were a huge hit and the music school had received a lot of bookings for performances already. She was glad to be a part of a noble initiative as well. As she freshened up and settled to text Keshav as she had been continuously doing… She saw he read every one of them instantly but didn’t reply. Somehow, she knew he was hesitating… did he regret what happened in Hyderabad…? No definitely not. Then why didn’t he call or text her…? She had to meet him in person tonight and only then could she clarify with him. she wanted to tell him not to worry about anything and just talk to her… she would stand by him come what may…She wouldn’t abandon him, if that was his fear. Her heart felt heavy thinking about the possible scenario.
Her phone rang and she was glad to see Kamya’s name flashing on her screen… Finally! “…Hello Kamyadi… I was about to call you…”
“…Uh…Avanti… I need help and you are my best one now… Please don’t refuse…” The ever confident Kamya didn’t sound herself at all.
“…What Is it Kamyadi…? I will do my best…”
“…Uh…I don’t think Bhaiyya must have told you…. But I have a boyfriend…Sahil Kulsreshtra…. Actually, Bhaiyya is dead against this match because of the long-standing feud with the family… So…”
“…Um…Kamyadi, Keshav has actually told me about this…how can I help you though…?” Now, Avanti was curious.
“…look…I want your help in convincing Bhaiyya for this match… he is a man with his own mind but he does listen to you Avanti…”
“…Um…Kamyadi… I… Keshav won’t like me interfering… So…”
“…I understand your position Avanti… so does Sahil and his family… they have welcomed me into the family with open arms… Avanti…uh… Bhaiyya and you are my only family… and I need you to be on my side as I start a new life with Sahil…” Where was she leading, Avanti still couldn’t figure out. “…uh… today evening Sahil’s parents have a Mata ki Chowki at their Vashi home which his parents visit whenever they come to Mumbai form Delhi where they are now settled… So…why don’t you come over for a while…? You can meet them and see what a wonderful family they are… and maybe that would help you convince Bhaiyya…?”
“…Um…I don’t know Kamyadi…if Keshav will like that…” He wasn’t talking to her as yet and she was yet to bridge the gap in their relationship. She had a lot on her plate and didn’t want him annoy him on her account…not till they had spoken.
“…Oh no…don’t breathe a word to him, Avanti…Actually its Sahil’s parents’ anniversary so they have this celebration… they have extended the invitation to you…Rohini along with Naman and Nirvi will be there so you won’t feel left out…”
“…I …I am not sure… Kamyadi…Keshav would be upset if he finds out…”
“…He won’t find out Avanti… please come just for a while… I will arrange to drop you home before 10PM… Bhaiyya won’t come home today before 11PM anyway…so…”
“…What…? How do you know that Kamyadi…?”
“…Uh…actually I called his PA at Novo Supremo… he is heading there today evening from Vedshastra …and it would be very late…”
“…Great Avanti…you are a gem… I will arrange to pick you up at 6PM from outside the lane…that OK…?”
After the call disconnected Avanti held the phone in her hand for a while. Why was she so worried about Keshav’s reaction…? This was an opportunity to ask Kamyadi about his illness as well as find out more about the Kulsreshtras. If the family feud would end then Kamya would be so relieved… She deserved happiness as well. Maybe if Avanti actually tried, she could douse the embers of animosity burning silently for years…another worry that Keshav could strike off his list. Convincing herself she decided to visit the market for a gift for the Kulsreshtras.
Later as she dressed in her favourite pink silk saree gifted by her mother on her last birthday, she wondered what she would say at the event… She looked at the beautifully wrapped gift and wondered if the Kulsreshtras would like something so humble… but then she wasn’t someone who socialised and didn’t know a lot of things… unfortunately she couldn’t consult Keshav on the issue, not that it would matter anyway. He had decided to go incognito. She shook her head as she applied minimal make up and stuck to a no-jewellery look, her favourite one. She wasn’t someone who believed in the symbolic adornment of the married look. Though she knew her mother would have thrown a fit if she were to see her daughter dressed like that. Right at 6PM she was seated in a comfortable vehicle sent for her by Kamya and as she crossed the Thane creek bridge the fear of the unknown started to build in her belly. What would transpire today…? Suddenly she felt she was thrown into the cage with a pack of hungry wolves. Would she be devoured or would she fight and if she chose the latter…would she win…? Come what may she knew she had a lot of explanation to do tonight before Keshav!
As she stepped out of the vehicle, she was spell bound by the beautifully decorated home of the Kulsreshtras. The entrance was stunningly beautiful and Avanti stood in awe watching the intricate floral patterns adorning the doorway. There was some kind of music being played inside which she still couldn’t hear well and before she could take the next step, Kamya called out to her. “…Avanti come this side…” as she turned around, she stared open mouthed at a beautiful Kamya, radiant in a yellow Anarkali suit in blue embroidery with matching turquoise jewellery. Just then a tall handsome man joined Kamya with a hand on her hip. He had worn a designer onion shaded silk kurta with white churidar. “…Uh…Avanti…this is Sahil… and do you know…? He was bhaiyya’s classmate in school…”
Sahil nodded and said. “…Welcome Avanti, Kamya has spoken so much about you, I was eagerly waiting to meet the woman who stole the elusive Keshav’s heart…. Do come in…” He gestured towards the entrance. Avanti nodded and smiled… she missed Keshav and hoped he could have come as well.
As she entered the drawing room… she stopped her walk and stood to stare at the beautiful idol of the Goddess… which she just couldn’t take her eyes of. It was Goddess Durga seated on her vahan, the lion. Around her were the idols of other deities like the Ganesha, Hanumaan, Shiva and also Shirdi Sai baba. Avanti was moved to see the beauty radiating from the Goddess. “…Avanti…?” She startled as Kamya called out to her. “…come on…I will introduce you to Sahil’s parents…” She held Avanti’s arm and dragged her towards the inner rooms which was the actual drawing room or the seating room as they called it. There were many people talking simultaneously, who fell silent all of a sudden as Kamya walked in with Avanti. Sahil was already there standing next to an elegant woman clad in a beautiful white with embroidered salwar kameez, probably in her sixties from the looks of it. Sahil spoke something into the senior woman’s ears and she looked up at Avanti studying her anxious face and then her minimally wrinkled face lit up as she walked towards Kamya and Avanti.
She placed her mehandi clad hand on Avanti’s cheek and said. “…Welcome Avanti beta… Do you know I was Kamya’s mother’s best friend till she… anyways Keshav and Sahil too were best friends at one time… but then…” Sahil hugged her from the side as she inhaled deeply and continued. “…I wish things could go back to what they were at one time… Avanti… my gut instinct tells me you are the key to unlock the relationship again…” She smiled sombrely her eyes filled with love and sadness…further moving Avanti…
“…Maa…” Sahil spoke up. “… Avanti has just arrived and you are already burdening her tender shoulders… its Keshav we are talking about, maa… he won’t budge… I know him very well…” He sighed. “…Avanti don’t mind maa… she has high hopes…. Oh look here’s dad…”
Avanti saw a tall man with aristocratic demeanour and broad shoulders who was a senior version of Sahil. Sahil walked towards him. “…Pa, meet Avanti… Keshav’s wife…”
The man stood before her dwarfing her and everyone around him totally. He looked at her for a while as she gave a trembling smile and nodded “…Keshav is one lucky guy…Avanti beta…God bless you…” his baritone reverberated around her as he placed a hand on her head while she blinked away tears remembering her own father. Soon the panditji called them and everyone marched to the outer room for the puja. As the keertan began Avanti who sat next to Sahil’s mother at her insistence also sang a couple of hymns. Mrs. Kulsreshtra hugged her after her second rendition. It was a Devi Bhajan which she often sang during Navratri visit to her friends’ homes. The senior woman kept speaking to her in between the songs and Avanti developed a liking for Sahil’s mom. Kamya was right…at least Sahil’s mom was a wonderful lady. The keertan was done in two hours and everyone broke up for the maha prasad… The light food was amazing but Avanti couldn’t shake the feeling of anxiety that kept rising time and again. She still wasn’t sure of what she could tell Keshav, to convince him to agree for this alliance.
As she was lost in thought there was a tap on her shoulder. She turned around to look at Rohini Jaiswal in a beautiful outfit next to a handsome older man with salt and pepper hair. Rohini Jaiswal was a pretty woman but today she almost stole the show. Most of the women were heavily dressed here but Rohini was a step ahead in her off while lace adorned lehenga and black velvet off shoulder blouse. Not to mention the heavy jewelery as if she had come for a wedding. Her companion had worn a white silk bandh gala… “Avanti… meet Parminder Singh… and Parminder, this is Keshav’s wife…Avanti…”
“…Hello Avanti… it’s a pleasure meeting you…I wish I could meet Keshav but unfortunately he is prejudiced about meeting up with me…” He smiled but something about his eyes irked Avanti… not that she was a great judge of people by their looks or vibes but at that moment she couldn’t place a finger on what was troubling her. Maybe it had to do with her existing anxiety.
“…Um…Rohini…you look beautiful… um…where are Naman and Nirvi…?”
“…oh they are busy with their exams…” Rohini brushed the topic off which wasn’t surprising as she usually didn’t bother with their routines form what Avanti had been told. But then Kamya came in right then and held her arm.
“…ok all of you… its time now… Avanti I am sorry I didn’t tell you earlier about this…”
“…wha…what is it Kamyadi…?” She had kept her gift along with the others on the gift table. Was that a problem…? What was it?
“…Uh…Avanti just come along…please…I need you now…”
Avanti just nodded as she walked towards the main hall again and she saw Sahil and his parents standing before the dias. His father saw them walking towards them and picked up the mic. “…Dear all… thank you from the bottom of my heart for having come today for this special occasion. A lot of you were asking us about the special occasion for this puja which we had kept as a surprise… and now is the time…” Avanti was wondering what was going on as she dragged herself towards the dias with Kamya holding her arm tightly and Rohini and Mr. Singh following them closely. His father continued. “…So here it is… please welcome the latest member into the Kulsreahtra family… my son’s soon to be wife…Kamya Goyal… and today is the roka ceremony…please wish the young couple as they step into an important phase of their lives…”
That she was shocked was an understatement. Avanti was stunned to silence. She didn’t know what to say or do. “…Ka…Kamyadi…? What is all this…? ROKA…? Without Keshav…?”
Kamya turned towards her with tears in her eyes. “…Avanti…I know what you think… but Bhaiyya won’t agree and convincing him is next to impossible but…I wanted a part of him here so… I called you here… please just… be with me today…Avanti… please…?”
Before she could react Rohini Jaiswal spoke. “…Avanti… Kamya is doing the right thing… Keshav won’t agree at all… I wish I could do something like this… but am stuck because of the kids…”
What the hell was going on…? But the next few minutes passed in a blur as Avanti saw the young couple in love exchange rings and garlands as they hugged each other. Then there were photo ops as the people gathered there came towards them to wish the newly engaged couple. As Avanti stood at a corner wondering what on earth, she was to tell Keshav, Sahil’s parents came upto her.
“…Avanti beta…” his mother spoke. “…I know it’s difficult for you… actually Kamya was all alone today… so thank you for coming…it means a lot not just to her but for us as well… The marriage will be after her residency is over with and… hopefully by then Keshav will give in…”
Avanti nodded slightly…the cat had bit her tongue. Kamya and Sahil walked towards her as well. “Avanti…” Kamya spoke holding her hands. “…Thank you so much for being there for me… Just please try to convince Bhaiyya… for our wedding…”
“…IN YOUR WILDEST DREAMS…” a voice bellowed behind her and a startled Avanti turned around. An angry Keshav stood there like a lion waiting to pounce on his prey and he was looking at Kamya but immediately caught her eyes… his molten greys started to burn her insides. “…So dear wife… this is where you were…just piling up a list of backstabbers…were you…?”
“…Ke…Keshav…it’s not…” Avanti Stuttered.
“…Just keep quiet… Avanti… and get going already….” He spoke in his low menacing voice.
Sahil moved towards Keshav. “…Keshav…yaar…”
Keshav held up his hand and looked away. Avanti saw the tremble in his hand that he had used and could see him panting hard. She knew he was losing control for whatever reason and she had to get him out of this place. She turned towards the senior Kulsreshtras and nodded apologetically to them, even as people started to watch with increasing curiosity about the scene playing out. Come what may, she couldn’t embarrass Sahil and his parents and it wouldn’t be an auspicious beginning for Kamya.
Sahil’s father stepped ahead. “…Keshav… you need to cool down son…”
“…I AM NOT YOUR SON… I am nobody to you… I didn’t know you could stoop so low as to involve my sister in this battle between us…” Keshav was panting heavily and as Avanti looked at Kamya’s expressions she knew it was beyond being upset… she was definitely worried as a doctor. Avanti stepped ahead and moved towards Keshav with pleading eyes.
Keshav looked at her his face hardening like a chiselled stone as he held her hand and dragged her out of the place. Sahil and Kamya ran after them and as they reached the exit, Sahil touched Keshav’s shoulders…but Keshav showed his hand away. “…Don’t you dare touch me…and you Kamya… you just ended our relationship… if you want to continue being my little sister then severe ties with this man right now…”
Kamya gave him a defiant look as she held Sahil’s hand tightly. “…no Bhaiyya… I can’t do it… you are both important to me… why do I have to choose…?” She started to sob and Avanti’s heart went out for her.
“…Alright fine… then let me choose for you…I no longer have a sister…” Speaking with his teeth clenched, he turned around and walked towards the waiting car dragging Avanti along. Before she got in, she turned back to see Kamya collapsing in Sahil’s arm as she clutched his lapels…what a way to end a special day for her.
As the vehicle moved out of the gate, Avanti’s heart fell in anticipation of what was in store for her now… did she inadvertently ruin everything?
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