‘…You shouldn’t go back to Alwar…’
Gautam’s words kept ringing in her ears as she waited in the airport lounge. It was spilling over with people. Luckily some of the stores were open, like this café from where she purchased a cup of coffee. As she sipped she looked around. She saw little kids running around full of energy. Their harried moms were trying to catch up with few winks as well as keeping an eye on them. She smiled to see some of their antics. She would never know how it felt like travelling with family because her father and uncle never took them out anywhere. Of course they visited their kuldevi temple twice a year as a family but that didn’t count, did it? She and Rewa didi had to wear their traditional attire and little jewellery. Maasa would helm the procedures and their pandit would conduct the pooja. For many years they had the tradition of sponsoring a lunch for the people in the village where the temple stood. But a couple of years before she left Alwar, the tradition had stopped. She knew it was because of the money.
Preeti sighed as she took in a sip of the now warm coffee. How would Gautam react when he would know she went to Alwar? He would be furious for sure. Did she do the right thing by not informing him? Why should it matter anyway? He ran… GODDAMN RAN away from facing her… facing the situation at hand. What was he, a 5 year old? He was elusive about answering any of her questions. Not that she had asked. She now had no obligation to inform him about her whereabouts all the time if he didn’t give her a valid reason for his behaviour.
But why did the fact leave a bitter taste in her mouth and a sinking feeling in her heart? Was it because she was in love with him?
She didn’t know when she drifted off to sleep. She jolted awake when the announcements of flights started. The runway had started to clear thank God, for the receding rain. By the time her flight was announced it was 12PM! Her anxiety was rising by every passing minute. She switched on her phone twice but there was no reply from Rewa didi. She hadn’t even read the text. She tried calling but Rewa wasn’t answering. She switched off her phone as she boarded her flight half an hour later and by the time she landed in Jaipur it was almost 3PM and her phone was dead. She took a prepaid cab from the airport and started towards Alwar. Her heart filled with anticipation of what was to come.
Would her family welcome the revolting daughter back? Or would they be cold. Would she be successful in stopping Rewa’s impending engagement? She only hoped she wouldn’t open a new Pandora’s box.
The distance to her home in Alwar was to take about four hours but the traffic snarl delayed it and her car broke down once. What was it with break downs and her vehicles?
As her vehicle strut towards Bhivadi her city, her home… she started to get the feeling of nostalgia. A lot had changed. Bhivadi was touted to be the next Gurgaon with the IT influx, converting into a concrete jungle. Her favourite nana nani park where Sukhi uncle would get them when they were kids, was no longer there. Instead there was some amphitheatre. She had pulled down the window glass but instantly regretted the heat wave which hit her face. She was now used to the humid Mumbai whether and not the dry heat.
Soon they reached the outskirts of the town where her family home stood. It was just the same as she took in from a distance. It was touching 8PM and she hoped she wasn’t too late. The car passed the mud road to reach the gates of their estate. The guard were new and refused to let her in. She had kept her phone for charging in the vehicle. She called the house landline and spoke to Yash. He didn’t react at all and just instructed the guards to let her in. As the vehicle passed the driveway, she saw there were lights hanging on the well maintained bushes. As she reached the house entrance, she saw a long row of cars parked. People were starting to come out of the decorated entrance to the Haveli. Or were they going in? She couldn’t make out. Oh God was she late? She checked the time again. It was approaching 8.30PM.
She had to be careful not to intrude and suddenly shock her family in front of the guests. She was in her trousers and top which she had changed into in Mumbai airport since her salwar kameez were drenched. Her unruly mop of curls was blowing around her head. Her father hated it when she didn’t oil and tie up her hair neatly. She couldn’t enter the house through the main entrance. She decided to take the back door. It was strictly meant for the servants at home when the house boasted of at least a dozen of them at one time. But she now knew there were only two of them now. Budia kaki their old cook and Sukhi’s widow Sita. They were childless so Sita aunty came to stay with them after the incident which killed Sukhi. Her family was reeling under guilt about his death and readily agreed to have her at home. She at times doubted the true reason for her father’s insistence for having Sita at home. The girls in the Sengar household were forbidden from emerging out of their rooms after 10PM. One day a year before she had left home, she had been parched with disturbed sleep and had walked into the kitchen late into the night only to find her father and Sita in a tight embrace. She had quickly hidden in the shadows. She knew her mother was never the same after Rohit’s death and her father… well he had wanted to satisfy his physical cravings. To her horror she hadn’t minded one bit. Probably Sita was the reason her father had recovered from the grief faster. Also he took good care of her mother. So she was ok. She wondered, as she walked towards the backdoor navigating through the undergrowth, if they still shared physical intimacy. She stumbled as it was dark and there was no light bulb in sight. She just hoped she wouldn’t step on snakes… As she reached the backdoor and tried the knob it turned easily. Looked like Budhia Kaki had indeed grown older. She had forgotten to lock the back door. But good for her she thought as she entered the house dragging her suitcase. There was a chaos of sounds. She was surprised at Yash’s reaction. As if he was expecting her. Did Rewa tell him? In that case the others would know too. She had to quickly go to her room and get dressed and join the event. She didn’t know what she would do today but she had to be there for Rewa. She was bone tired and struggled with her bag as she climbed the stairs. The house was of old architecture and had an entertaining hall adjoining the drawing room. The engagement must be held there. Huffing and panting she reached her room.
A wave of nostalgia hit her hard as she saw her room. It was exactly like the way it was when she had left. Only the walls were painted in light blue otherwise her double bed, set of cupboards and study table were untouched. In fact there was fresh linen spread on her bed which indicated the family knew she was arriving. In spite of everything a smile touched her lips. She was home.
In the next fifteen minutes she had freshened up and worn a sequined silk salwar kameez, put minimal make up and rushed downstairs.
There were very few people in the hall. In fact people had started to leave. Oh God …was the engagement over? It was well past 8PM…Of course they wouldn’t have waited for her. But… Rewa? She was worried. She rushed through the throng of people. She saw her parents and her eyes filled. Her mother saw her and instantly rushed towards her engulfing her in a teary hug. Preeti couldn’t control her tears at seeing her frail mother. She had lost weight and had the perennial dark circles beneath her eyes. Her mother held her by her arms and then holding her face brought her head down to kiss her forehead. Her mother was a short but beautiful woman in her prime days but stressful life in the Sengar household under a domineering husband and then Rohit’s demise had changed her. She was never attached to her mother but seeing her like this made her very emotional. She hugged her Tayiji and maasa who could barely walk even with help and was confined to the wheelchair. They seemed happy. Her father and uncle grunted their hellos but she saw her father’s eyes were moist. Did he miss her? She would never know as he never even spoke general stuff leave alone emotions. Yash was indifferent. She didn’t blame him. His young uninterested shoulders were overburdened with family responsibilities. Her mother introduced her to the groom’s family consisting of his mother and sister and her husband. The mother gave her a once over and looked disinterested. The sister was beautiful and smiled, nodding in acknowledgement and she liked her instantly.
But Rewa wasn’t around. “Where is Rewa didi?”, she asked her mother.
“She is showing Vikram around the property.” Her mother said softly. “Preeti, beta…come have something. You must be hungry…” Her mother looked at maasa and her father. She felt them nod as her mother dragged her away to the dining hall. There was so much food kept on the table she drooled. But at the same time she was again worried about Rewa.
“Ma, why did you all force Rewa didi?” She asked her mother. He mother’s face fell. She looked around as if someone may overhear and came close to her. “Beta, you have come after so many years. Don’t stir up anything now…”
“Ma… but Rewa didi loves Suyash. Why are you all ruining three lives?” She couldn’t hide the contempt in her voice.
“..Shhh… talk in a low voice. Your father and uncle might hear. This was a business match dear. Sengar Diamonds was sinking…. Only this alliance could save it… so… you have to understand dear…” He mother sighed and looked away.
“Ma… this is not done OK?…”
Her mother gave her a glare. “You don’t get to talk on these matters after staying away for so long. I know you are going to go back as soon as possible. So don’t interfere in the family matters here.” He mother swiftly walked away.
Her appetite was now dead. She had to find Rewa and Vikram and confront them both. She may have to face her father’s ire but she would leave the place. But at this moment Rewa didi was more important. She wouldn’t be sacrificed for the family.
Preeti slipped out of the dining room and jogged towards the veranda. Rewa had once told her the potted plants had all dried up due to the lack of upkeep. But today they were all in full bloom. The front lawn was neatly moved and the bushes were trimmed. The show-off made her nauseous. She was barely here for an hour and she wanted to run away… again. She missed Gautam terribly. He would know how to deal with the situation for sure. But then he wouldn’t have allowed her to come here at all. She was lost in her thoughts when she heard laughter coming from a distance. Was that Rewa didi? But why was she laughing?
She rushed towards the source of the sound. She turned towards the pillars housing the canopy of creepers her favourite spot to hide when they played as kids.
She walked slowly as the sound of laughter increased. It was Rewa for sure. Who was she with? As Preeti neared the dark corner, she called out, “Rewa didi? Are you Alright?”
Rewa and Vikram were standing in the dark corner with their back towards her. On hearing her voice Rewa turned around and swiftly walked towards her.
“Preeti dear… So nice to see you.” She had tears as she hugged her. Preeti hugged her back and looked at her holding her by the shoulders.
“Didi, you look beautiful… but … but what is all this? What will happen now?” She asked panic in her voice.
“Don’t worry Preeti, my fiancé will take care of everything…” Then looking towards Vikram’s silhouette she asked, “…won’t you Vikramji?”
The man in question came out of the shadows. All blood drained out of her face as she saw Gautam standing there dressed in a beautiful black and white sherwani and shooting daggers at her.
Preeti stood stunned into silence watching him with her eyes wide open.
Someone called Rewa and she turned to Preeti. “Look Preeti we will catch up later ok? Maasa needs me to meet someone. Meanwhile why don’t you show Vikram ji around?”
Before Preeti could fathom her words Rewa rushed towards the main hall.
“So…” Preeti said through clenched teeth. “…this is why you didn’t want me to come to Alwar… so that you can cheat my folks here?”
“Preeti… it’s not…” he started to say.
She held her hand up and raised her voice. “SHUT UP… SHUT THE HELL UP…. You Bastard…how dare you…” Before she could say anything else he strode forward and holding her hand dragged her into the shadow of the canopy.
She forced her hands away and slapped him hard. He held his cheek and starred at her molten anger in his eyes.
She pushed him away and yelled. “How dare you use me? How could you…. My sister… of all the people…? How could you manipulate me…?” She pushed him again but this time he held her hands and pulled her towards his chest. She struggled but couldn’t free herself. She tried to kick him in the shin but he butted her and dropped her on the grass below and the next moment he was sprawled on her holding her hands on top of her head on either side. She was crying and closed her eyes.
“Look at me Preeti…” He ordered softly.
She opened her eyes. They were both panting heavily. There was darkness all over and she could only see his eyes shining in the light of the lawn and felt his erection digging at her thighs. She wanted to throw up…
“Preeti… you have to trust me on this…”
She looked away.
“Preeti…do you… do you trust me?”
She stared back into his eyes and said, “I will trust a wolf but not you… you understand? Now just… let me go. I just hate the site of you… You Asshole just LET ME GO.” She creamed the last words and he let her hands free.
She quickly stood up and brushed her clothes. As she started to walk away he said behind her. “Life isn’t what you think it is Preeti. Everything around here is a charade…”
She just kept running till she reached her room. Locking the door she fell on her bed sobbing loudly into the pillow.
The only words ringing into her ears besides her bawling were ‘everything around here is a charade…”
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