Arpita ran away…?? What the hell…? When…? How…? And most important question… why…? Was it because of her long standing on and off boyfriend Pramod? But she had sworn she wouldn’t meet him and wasn’t serious about him ever since she was engaged few months ago. Now… Avanti looked up at her mother’s frail crying form. The lady had endured a lot in a short while. She was a simple woman who only lived for her husband and two daughters and recently widowed she looked forlorn as she wiped her tears with the stained napkin that Avanti recognised was from the kitchen. Her mother must have been personally looking into the breakfast preparation even though they had hired the cook. But that’s how her mother was… annapurna to the core. She loved to feed people and rarely did visitor to their home leave without a bite of her savories. The fragrance of the freshly prepared medu-vada glided through her nostrils causing her stomach to growl. A pang of guilt hit her hard and her head started to reel as the anxiety which was already touching the roof threatened to capsize her breathing totally. Oh God Arpita what have you done…?
Her uncle moved towards her mother. “Savita… we have to do damage control… all the preparations are in place and this girl… it’s all because of your leniency and pampering… I had told you Arpita was fickle minded. She wasn’t marriage material at all… all she did was look at other boys and now she must have run away with that good -for-nothing Pramod….”
Her mother nodded and began crying again and Avanti walked towards her on trembling legs, worried about her BP shooting up yet again. “…Aai…its ok… just calm down otherwise your health will be affected adversely… let’s think of something… shall we… ask the groom…?”
“…NO… ajibath naahi (absolutely not) … we can’t reveal anything outside now… Avanti…please try calling her… when I tried the phone was out of range…” Her mother began to ramble and Avanti stood rooted to the floor anticipating the worst…what would happen now…? Would Keshav be vengeful…? As she saw her mother speak to her uncle in soft whispers Avanti thought of the day five months ago when her life had subtly changed…
Her father Dnyaneshwar Shankar Rane was science genius in the field of organic chemistry and also a double postgraduate with the second one being molecular biology. He was a supplier of medicinal components and specially created formulae for leading pharmaceutical companies. He had strong work ethics and strictly resorted to working with select companies and valued relationships more than money. He had done very well for himself and his family especially considering he had come to Mumbai as a sixteen-year-old with barely any money in his pocket. He had begun working as an office boy in a bank and attended night school to complete his inter and then following his graduation he immediately took up a job in a chemical company and continued to study further. He finished his post-graduation studies with flying colours and had already patented 5 special dye combinations on par with German technology. He had offers from chemical and pharmaceutical companies all over the world but he chose to stay back in the country. He joined a pharmaceutical giant where he worked for fifteen years before calling it quits and launching his own company… Vedshastra in Khopoli. He had built a personal research lab for himself where he had prepared and developed indigenous formulae for the pharmaceutical companies. The dynamic young director of the company where he had earlier worked often supported him financially and also helped with business relations. Today the simple company had grown into a conglomerate in itself boasting of over 200 employees.
On the personal front too, God had been kind. They lived a beautiful bungalow in Panvel… which was yet another dream of her father, to give the best of everything to his family. He had barely any space to spread his legs during his growing up years in their village but he wanted his daughters to have all the vast space he could offer. Savita was a devoted wife who had stood by her husband’s side throughout and they were blessed with two daughters Arpita and Avanti. Avanti, eight years younger to her sister was always her baba’s darling and he doted on her. Dnyaneshwar Rane loved his daughters fiercely and always made time for them irrespective of his schedules. His only lament was neither of his daughters were interested in taking over the company reins. Arpita loved modelling and lived a flamboyant life styles, busy flaunting clothes on her hourglass figure and gracing every party in town. Even touching just short of thirty-three she didn’t look a day older than Avanti herself… she was blessed with the perfect figure and a beautiful face. She had only studied till twelfth and not bothered further. She modelled freelance besides her love for dance and often attended gigs to the utmost annoyance of their father. Avanti was a total contrast to her sister and was matured and thoroughly grounded. All of twenty-four, she was a teacher by profession and taught in a local school close-by in the primary section. She loved her work and often volunteered in a night school in rural Panvel. Avanti was also a trained singer with a versatile and harmonious voice. She attended the nearby Gandharva mahavidhyalaya branch and was not gearing up to give the 4th exam in the series. She gave a few performances at the local Rotary club mainly to fund charities and had a music room in their bungalow where she went through her riyaaz daily. She hoped to teach music to children someday… Her father who shared her passion for music loved to hear her render some of his favourite abhangvaani or natya sangeet mainly the one in todi raga… She had lost count how many times her baba would have requested the song from her…which she did with great pleasure… He often requested her to sing before his visitors dropped in for meetings, “Avu bala…” as he always lovingly addressed her. “… your voice is dripping with character and your sincerity… your songs just drive away my stress…” She always felt those were the best words of accolades she received in spite of a cupboard full of trophies won at various competitions!
Last year Vedshastra was listed on the stock exchange and they had a dedicated team of handpicked employees to manage the smooth running as her father concentrated on his dream project in his lab. Every evening she would spend time in her father’s study discussing her future plans where she wanted to start a fully equipped mobile school unit exclusively for the children of construction labourers. Her father had approved but had insisted she first settle down before launching full-fledged into any project. Her father also often had visitors during which she would stay away from the study as bio-chemistry or pharmaceutical talks didn’t interest her. Her father often told her the gist of his projects like the utility of particular formula he was developing and she loved to listen as to how it would work wonders for a particular disease alongside bringing down the costs of the medicines close to generic ones.
About ten months ago he had excitedly told her about a wonder compound he had been developing which he said would change the face of the pharmaceutical industry. He had collaborated with his old company and they were to develop the final product and send for trials. She didn’t know much because after that declaration she barely got to tete-a-tete with her father, something she regretted today. His personality had changed drastically and he would be locked up for hours in his study with visitors mainly the director of the pharma giant. It was during one such visits she had met… Keshav Goyal, the director of Novo-Supreme pharmaceutical corporation.
Her mother had been unwell and the cook was also down with the flu. So, Avanti had taken the tray laden with homemade Aluwadi and ginger tea and stood outside her father’s study knocking at the door tentatively. However instead of her father it was opened by the most handsome man she had ever seen in her life. Her eyelids refused to blink as she brazenly stared at the fine specimen before her. Clad in a prim Nehru jacket the tall lean built suave look did his toned body total justice. She had never thought a beard would look so hot on a guy…with a sun-kissed brown tanned skin, overall, he oozed sensuality and opulence dripped all over. He had cleared his throat to startle her out of her fantasies and she had embarrassingly looked away and walked into the study. As she had placed the tea and snacks on the table finding place among the host of files and folders and balance sheets her father had rubbed his fatigued eyes and smiled. “Hey Keshav… this is my daughter Avanti… and Avu this is Keshav Goyal…the director of Novo-Supreme pharmaceuticals…” She had looked up to see the hunk smile revealing a perfect set of teeth and God…the man had dimples… really…? How could someone look so good…? She was not the one to fall for superficial beauty but that day, her heart fluttered and soared…she looked downwards at her clothes. She was clad in lose fitting track pants and t-shirt marked with her creativity in the kitchen…i.e spices and a couple of spots where the tea had splashed as she had poured in the cups. Her unruly curls were bunched up together in a messy bun and a mind of their own as they haphazardly flew all over her crown. She wanted the ground to open up right there and swallow her whole…
“Hello Ms. Avanti…” His baritone had uttered her name and her entire being had trembled. “…you sing very well…” What? When had he heard her?
Her father must have seen her confused and spoke. “…Ah…Avu he heard you when you sang for me that natya sangeet… ‘soham hara damaru baje….’ Do you know Keshav loves music as well…don’t you Keshav…?” He had nodded and smiled yet again. She hadn’t believed in love at first sight but if there was any such concept existing then this was it… she had fallen for him. “…and by the way Avu… Keshav here used to be a part time model too…” Of course, he was!
In the next couple of months that passed, she often saw Keshav visit them…at least twice a week and she could hear his car whenever she stayed up late to complete her school preps… well after 1AM. There was barely any exchange of communication between them except for occasional greetings or a couple of etiquette laden questions. He always made it a point to compliment her singing which made her put greater efforts into her riyaaz. She often timed her singing just before he arrived which was usually clockwork every week and he was seldom late…
About six months ago she had heard arguments from her father’s study and had been worried. It was 11 PM and she was up waiting for Arpita to return form one of her gigs… when would her tai ever learn…. She strolled down stealthily and stood eves dropping outside the study. She couldn’t make out much but she finally heard her father say. “…this is not done Keshav… just not done… I can’t be cheated like this… I have put everything on line here… even this home…” Avanti had held her t shirt tightly near her chest as her breath caught in her throat and she felt sick to her stomach. What was her father talking about?
She heard Keshav speak something but couldn’t process it. Her father then spoke again his voice sounding as if in agony. “…Keshav… I stand to lose everything… no…no… you can’t do this no…” She couldn’t her anything later. All she wanted to do was barge in and shake up her father asking him to tell her everything. What the hell…? Was Keshav the reason why her father, who was an epitome of kindness, was reduced to a heap of agonising mess…?
From that day onwards her father had sunken further, being a mere shadow of his former chirpy self. She and her mother tried their best to cheer him up. He occasionally drank late into the night and barely heard her sing. Avanti was extremely perturbed and wondered if she had to speak with Keshav since he was the only one who had long conversations behind closed doors with her father. One day about four months ago, her father called her to his study. He seemed composed like earlier times and she was thrilled. Before she could ask what he had wanted to hear from her, he spoke. “…Uh…Avu bala there is something I want to tell you… I haven’t told your mother as yet…”
“…Um…baba is everything OK…?”
“…uh…yes…yes…all OK…Actually I have fixed Arpita’s marriage…”
“…what…?” She was stunned. “…with whom…?”
“…you know him bala… its Keshav…”
Avanti thought she would collapse right there as she gripped the edge of the mahogany table. “…But Arpita tai… she agreed…?” her sister had been commitment phobic from the go.
“…I spoke with her today morning when you were away at work… Its high time she settles in life… Keshav knows Arpita from their modelling background… He isn’t much older to her… just about a couple of years…he has dated her as well in the past… and most of all, he knows her well, Avu… but there is something more…”
Struggling to hold back her tears Avanti asked him. “…yes baba…?”
“…our finances are bad and everything depends on the success of this formula… but it’s going to be a while… the current profits will barely sustain the overheads in the company. So… marrying Keshav will make him a part of the company as well through Arpita’s shares and he will invest further indirectly… Since he is the one going on board with the finished product based on my formula, he will be having vested interests as well so he will be dedicated…”
“…But baba…isn’t this a wrong reason to get married…?”
“…Avu… Keshav really likes Arpita…a lot… she needs to be practical and grounded now…enough of her globe-trotting shenanigans…” Her father sounded furious but then immediately sighed and continued. “…Keshav can handle her theatrics with utmost panache of his own… Your sister needs someone like him to get her derailed life back on track… and the best part is… she has approved of him as well and for a change without any arguments…”
Avanti only nodded and walked out of the study leaving her father pondering in thought. She rushed to her room and threw herself on the bed sobbing into the pillow. For the first time in her life she had fallen in love… but with a man who liked and was all set to marry her sister…
Life was such a bitch…
(Glossary: natya sangeet: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sangeet_Natak
bala: endearment in Marathi, for ‘child’)
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