Chapter 26

The marigold fragrance wafted into her autopilot senses, the mogra garlands adorning her bun engulfing her in their ambrosial throes.

Kajal sat in the makeshift mandap arranged in the Chintamani temple premises. She was dressed in a bright red saree chosen by her maami, who stood beaming as if she had set the whole show. Well, show it was. Kajal was meant to smile for the cameras like a happy bride, it would make good press and convince all the critics out there who were talking about some hush-hush romance between a superstar and an ordinary girl.

Ajji sat smiling, and Kajal saw her teary. She had insisted Kajal wear the heirloom necklace. However, since KB’s mom had eloped and married, it couldn’t be transferred to her thus, it was now entrusted to Kajal. It pained Kajal to see the woman expecting so much out of this contract marriage. Mr. Mehta flanked ajji and a couple of close friends of KB from the industry.

As expected, there was a frenzy of reports outside the premises, and the security had a tough time containing them.

KB sat opposite to her adorned in an off-white sherwani, and he looked so handsome that her heart paced. But right then, her eyes fell on his uncle standing gloomily right behind in a corner glaring at the proceedings.

She recalled the events last morning after KB had declared their wedding. The uncle had stood up and stared at KB who stood steadfast with his hand around her shoulder. All her bravado she had displayed not minutes ago had vanished into thin air. She had been shocked. She had thought the marriage wouldn’t happen for now and hopefully, she would get time to develop a good relationship with KB before plunging into marital life.

Hetal too had stared wide-eyed and Kajal had excused herself on the pretext of starting lunch preparations and walked into the kitchen. The next hour she ‘busied’ herself in there she barely got to hear the muffled voices in the drawing-room. From the banging of the door vibrating the house, she had known the uncle had already left. Thank God he left. The man didn’t give her good vibes.

Once in a while, Hetal’s piercing voice floated in.

“You are making a mistake KB… think it over.” Hetal had said.

Kajal couldn’t hear KB’s response, though. Was Hetal upset because she loved KB and wanted to marry him? What about KB? Did he like Hetal but was forced to marry kajal on his ajji’s insistence? Hetal didn’t fit the shoe as far as his ajji was concerned.

She had teared up thinking she was such a fool to think otherwise…

The blowing of the conch brough her back to the wedding. She looked around, suddenly feeling lost. Her brother and mama stood smiling so did Poonam tai and her fiancé, who acted like the guests of honor. It was then the reason for her getting into the contract began to sink in. She blinked away tears… at least her uncle and his family and her brother will have a secure future. As far as she was concerned, she was stepping into a cave with only blackness ahead not knowing what surprise may pop up somewhere.

The pandit began reciting the mantras and she felt KB’s eyes on her. She lifted her head to look ahead ans saw him staring at her, his expression unfathomable. She wanted nothing more to drown into the depths of his beautiful eyes. There was so much turmoil in them. He had adjusted the sling on the arm rest but she knew he was uncomfortable.

He hadn’t spoken much with her all day after lunch except for informing her that he had conveyed everything to her mama and the time she had to be ready for the make-up and hair guys. She wondered if her brazenness had put him off… did she cross the line yesterday? She was a novice in those matters and just followed something she had read. He was way too experienced in the area if the old press reports were to be believed. Was he disappointed that she wasn’t the sex siren he was used to?

Her heart thudded with each passing ritual, wondering what she was landing into. As they stood after the final ceremony of the pheras, it was time to seek the blessings of the Almighty and the elders present. She was lost in her thoughts and didn’t hear the pandit. She felt a warm hand engulf her cold one and looked towards KB. He smiled at her and gestured towards the pandit who continued his tirade about the importance of blessings.

He didn’t let go of her hand as they moved inside the temple to seek blessings of Bappa and her eyes filled. Her aai-baba would have been so thrilled… but would they have allowed this alliance to happen in the first place?

A little later post-lunch they posed for the scribes before leaving for Ajji’s home. Ajji insisted on a couple of rituals that her poor health didn’t permit much excitement and travel. So it had to be held in the estate.

The housekeeper welcomed kajal with the traditional Aarti and tilak. She then was made to sit on the couch next to KB while ajji completed the formalities of another ritual, similar to the puja sometime back.

KB walked away to the porch to speak on an incoming call, and ajji held Kajal’s hand in her frail ones.

“Kajal beta, I know this is very hard on you, but I want to thank you, my child…” Kajal was surprised as the woman continued. “…My Krishiv has always been a loner… I have never seen him happy. His mother died too early and his father wasn’t a father figure at all… so he is harsh and angry and feels he doesn’t deserve happiness for some kind of a twisted notion… But all this contract thing aside, I strongly wish you never leave his side. He doesn’t even know what he will miss… please stay by his side… Kajal, promise this ajji…please” the woman had tears in her cataract-filled eyes.

“Don’t worry ajji… I will do my best… Krish is a wonderful human being… I just hope he shares his pain with me.” She spoke honestly.

“Did he tell you to call him ‘Krish’…?” Ajji asked her, smiling and she nodded shyly. “…Oh, that’s wonderful. I am the only one who calls him by name. Even his grandfather called him ‘KB’”

Hope blossomed in her heart. But, did it mean she meant something to him beyond a contract bride?

Later that evening, after a quick dinner they rode back to the penthouse. As soon as they stepped in KB turned towards her.

“Your new clothes set is kept in your room so you can go and rest now. Tomorrow morning, I have some urgent work with Mr. Mehta and the producers of my ongoing serial. The shooting is stalled, so I have to do a couple of scenes with my close-ups… so good night.” He rushed into his room as if he couldn’t wait to get away from her.

What the hell was wrong with him? After what they had gone through in these last few days, she felt something was brewing between them. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she walked into her room, shutting the door behind her. She flopped on the floor, holding her legs close to her chest as she cried her heart out.

He heard her door shut and his heart splintering into tiny bits, even as he leaned his forehead on the connecting door. He listened to her sob and all he wanted to do was go and take her into his arms. She had been selflessly there for him and yesterday he had the time of his life… her wide innocent eyes sparkling as she had been happy to see him come…

Right then she had asked him about his bruises and he had been jerked back to reality. The severed heads of his friends swam before his eyes. How could he enjoy life when he was responsible for theirs cut short? And that girl, whoever she was, they still didn’t know. He didn’t think he would be so fiercely attracted to Kajal, not just at a sensual level but also intellectually and emotionally. She was intelligent, and he craved for her fun company, not to mention the sexual undercurrents between them, trying to raise its head now and then. She was a fabulous cook too, and more than the taste, he loved the life she put into the food. She had made this house into a home already.

He had almost thought of letting her go and not ruining her life by marrying her. He would still help her with money and the job too. But then Hetal and his Subodh mama had arrived, reminding him how important this marriage was. He hated himself for forcing the decision on Kajal, and the lady hadn’t said a word. She kept looking at him expectantly, hoping for some explanation but he couldn’t embroil her in his mess.

He knew Kajal liked him… more than a friend, and he couldn’t let the poor woman hope. Hetal knew what role she had to play, and though she hated it, she agreed to go with the flow. It was all set for tomorrow evening. It should be enough for Kajal to start disliking him, and it would make his life a lot easier if she did. His guilt would reduce. He couldn’t wait to get into the particular room…

Kajal’s sobs subsided, and he hoped she would sleep well. He just hoped he could rest as well, knowing that the woman was right next door… the woman he was in love with…

Meanwhile, in the Dongri slum

“Don’t ever show me your face Rafiq…” Chameli screamed, her voice piercing the paper-thin walls of the brothel room. She adjusted her shimmering dupatta and tied up her hair into a messy bun.

“Chameli… meri jaan… don’t do this. I told you, it’s just a matter of few days…” Rafiq buttoned up his shirt not bothering if his drunk hands did the job correctly. He was hard, and Chameli had left him high and dry.

“Rafiq, you moron… you are a leech… do you know that? You promised me stars… you promised that necklace. And you couldn’t even do it. So why should I waste my youth on a scum like you? That other man from Delhi who comes here only for me, is gifting me a ruby ring do you know that? And that other party from Mira Road… he has arranged a getaway with just me to a five-star resort… just for sleeping with him. He isn’t rough like you either. So get the hell out now before I get you thrown…” She stood up and Rafiq was tempted to slash that delicate neck that plunged into her fake nape line. But they didn’t allow weapons inside and it was deposited at the counter.

He strutted out as the madam made a face at him. Every dog had his day, and he would have too. Chameli would be his soon

His phone buzzed. Freak… Saab calling so late in the night. Must be something urgent. Finally, Allah heard his prayers.

“Hellllooo Saabji…”

“Listen carefully and don’t fuck up this time Rafiq…prove your worth.”

What the fuck? Was the older man crazy? Prove his worth he had more than done that. For years and the body-count was also lost. Such an audacity. “Yes…yes Saabji. I await your command…”

“Shut up and just listen… I want you to contact this man who will help you with our target’s schedule… and I will tell you later how to go about the job. Just study the target for now. After that hospital debacle, he has increased protection around him, so do you work stealthily. I am reaching there next week and will plan the job…”

The call disconnected, and his phone beeped with an incoming message. Who the hell was this man?

‘Subodh Deshmukh’


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