Preeti adjusted her new dress looking into the mirror in her room. That day the Sengar household was busy with the events leading up to the birthday celebrations of their beloved maasa. Relatives thronged the house and maasa thrived on crowded households! She had been a little under the weather for last few days but today she felt much better. Preeti’s father and uncle had arranged for a maha puja and it started with all their relatives being present. Gautam and his little family was the guest of honour. She was told his father was dead and he had a younger sister whom she had met the other day. She was married and currently on the family way. She was thinking how little she knew about him. When they were together in Mumbai he barely spoke about his life but once in passing he had mentioned an aunt and a sister…had she heard right? Had he said ‘aunt’? Anyways there was nothing she was sure about these days. Except for the fact that she was leaving for Mumbai tomorrow. Her ticket lay in her folder in her room.
Gautam and his family arrived at noon as the puja was in progress. Preeti’s anxiety levels had skyrocketed in anticipation of his reaction after their encounter yesterday at the salon. She had worn a peach coloured salwaar kameez gifted by Rewa. The netted dupatta was her favourite. A matching neck piece and jhumkas in her ears completed her look with minimal makeup. She wore mojris in her feet again a gift from Rewa. She had let her hair loose over her shoulders. She wondered about Gautam’s reaction…it was as if she had dressed only for him.
She was standing in the foyer welcoming guests when they arrived. Gautam looking handsome in an off white kurta paired with white Chudidaar, gave her a once over and walked away. She had no right to actually after what she had decided, but was disappointed. She clenched her teeth to control her emotions from overflowing. His mom stared and smiled in a way that sent shivers down her spine. His sister smiled as well but she could only sense warmth there. His sister Narmada, was a short lady and she hugged her. She held Preeti’s face in her palms and said, “Preeti, you are so beautiful…” Her husband had come today and he held Narmada protectively. Preeti loved to see love for his wife in his eyes and she hoped someday she would find that…would she? Her eyes filled as she saw them walk away wishing to see such emotions for her in certain pair of brown eyes. If wishes were horses…
Preeti had instantly liked Narmada. Soon after the puja, lunch was served outside in the lawn where the pandal had been erected. After lunch the guests gathered in the hall where seating arrangements were made. Gautam and his family were involved in informal chatting. Preeti was forced to be there so she went to a corner and made herself inconspicuous. Suddenly one of the women in the group announced loudly. “Priyamvada, now that Rewa is getting settled you have to think about Preeti too isn’t it?”
A sudden silence descended over the hall as everyone’s eyes fell on her. Preeti was now suddenly conscious with the attention on her. Her eyes found Gautam looking at her with an unreadable expression. Seated on his right was Rewa dressed in her finery and grinning ear to ear as she looked at her. Preeti wanted to hate her for that.
Preeti’s father stepped ahead and spoke. “We definitely are thinking about Preeti’s wedding as well. There are a couple of alliances we have shortlisted. Once Rewa is married we will proceed with them. Preeti was stunned hearing her father. When did all this happen? She was in tears and looked towards Gautam. He had clenched his jaw in anger. He thought he could hide it from others but she knew he was writhing in anger inside. The asshole deserved it, she thought. Anyway… she was going to Mumbai tomorrow. She was glad she hadn’t informed anyone at home. She would actually run away…again but this time without informing anyone. Her father and uncle had no more power to force anything on her once she was in Mumbai. She smiled to herself thinking about it. The relatives got busy discussing about potential suitors for Preeti.
A little later maasa was drained out with the excitement so she asked Preeti to wheel her into her room. Preeti in turn wanted an escape from the shenanigans and readily agreed. Maasa’s room was the last one on the ground floor. It had an attached balcony opening up to the wilderness outside. Though it wasn’t maintained these days, maasa love to spend her evenings there. Preeti helped her settle in the bed. Maasa held her hands with her heavily wrinkled fragile ones and said, “Preeti beta, are you alright with what your Bapu has decided for you?”
Preeti never lied to Maasa. She didn’t reply. Just stood looking down at their hands.
“Beta, don’t give in if you don’t want to. If you like someone then fight for it. Not like Rewa. She just gave up on Suyash… she must have loved Vikram’s money more. Can’t blame her though. She has seen tough times here. Anyways you are strong. You will do what is right. I am sure.” Preeti’s eyes filled and she bent and hugged maasa and gave her the call bell before leaving from her room.
As she walked out closing maasa’s door, she stopped dead in her tracks. Gautam stood right in front of her. If looks could kill then she would collapse dead. His angry gaze was intense on her. He looked around and then holding her arm pulled her into the next closed room and latched the door. The room was her Bua’s room which they used whenever she came over to stay with her family. It was a rare occurrence but still, the room was maintained well. She didn’t switch on the lights as it would call for attention. He pulled her towards the bed and dropped her there. He fell on her his weight on her making a huge dent on the soft mattress. She wanted to scream at him but he covered her mouth with his, giving her no time to react. His insistent mouth parted her trembling lips and she welcomed him as if her life depended on it. He stroked her mouth and fondled her breast through her clothes, her traitorous nipple pebbled with his mere touch and she moaned into his mouth. He suddenly stopped the kiss and raised his head. Supporting himself on his arms he looked into her eyes.
“So… you are happy eh? Eager to get married is it?” he said as he panted.
Her temper rose and she tried to push him away. “You have no right to butt in. None of your goddamn business…”
“…it is my business darling… Do you think whoever those guys are… can they pleasure you like you need to be? Can they make you come just the way you like? Can they make you wet like…”
“…STOP…just STOP….” she pounded at his chest “…this is not fair. You can’t… can’t talk to me like this… I hate you so much Gautam….”
“…no you don’t hate me Preeti…”
Her temper rose… her entire anger at the situation she had been ever since she had come to Bhivadi was now directed towards him.
“…oh yes I do… I HATE you from the bottom of my heart… you are a manipulative cheating bastard… Not much of a difference between you and that monster from twelve years ago…”
That hit the mark and he withdrew away from her. He had a shocked expression on his face. She had never seen it before and she was by now familiar with all his facial nuances.
She sat up on the bed straightening her clothes and hair. She knew that was a low blow but he had not left her any choice. She wanted a clean break-up… Gut wrenching though, that was the only solution for her distress.
She stood and walked toward the door watching him as he stood at the foot of the bed his back hunched with his hand on the cot railing supporting him. He looked defeated and it killed her from inside. But she couldn’t show him her weakness. As she turned to open the latch he said in a soft cracking voice. “Don’t ever… compare me with that… MONSTER… I am nothing like him…”
She turned towards him and said trying to keep her voice steady. “I am going to Mumbai tomorrow. Whether anyone likes it or not, I don’t care. I will never come back here again. And don’t try to contact me in Mumbai. Everything between us is over…
She didn’t react and just walked out of the room her head held high. Finally it was some kind of a victory for her. Within her heart she felt anything but victorious.
She ran upstairs to her room, changed into comfortable home clothes and lay on the cool floor sobbing her eyes out… She stayed there till she was told the guests were to start leaving. She was an emotional wreck. Sometime later she was summoned by her father.
As she walked down the stairs she saw her extended family and some other relatives had gathered in the drawing room. Gautam sat with his little family in tow. He had a look in his eyes as he saw her…she recognised it. It was a victory look. Oh God what was he planning?
Her uncle stood up and made an announcement. “Now that everyone is here, we have an announcement to make. Maasa’s health has been extremely fragile for the last few days. Yesterday her doctor said that the cancer had spread and… the time would be arriving sooner than expected….”
What? Maasa had cancer…and nobody bothered to inform her? She struggled to hold back tears for her dear Maasa… Her memories with Maasa flashed before her eyes. He uncle continued. “… Considering her wish to see her granddaughter married, we have decided to pre-pone the wedding of Rewa and Vikram Singh…”
Preeti looked at Rewa who was all smiles and then at Gautam who was brazenly staring at her.
“… The wedding will be solemnised tomorrow itself…” her uncle continued. “…It will be a low key affair considering maasa’s health. I thank Vikram and his family to have supported us during this difficult hour…”
Tomorrow? Really TOMORROW? What the hell?
Everyone gathered around the to-be wed couple and started to wish them.
Within the next hour everyone including Gautam had departed. Priyamvada walked upto Preeti and said, “ Preeti I know you were planning to leave tomorrow….”
“…How did you know ma?” She asked shocked.
“…I… I saw your ticket copy. It had flown out of your folder. I had gone to your room to keep the laundry. I tried to collect the flown papers and then I saw your ticket. I.. I wouldn’t have stopped you beta…but stay for a little longer.. At least for the wedding… for maasa’s sake?”
Preeti nodded reluctantly. She had to witness the same ceremony that she was running away from. How would she control her emotions tomorrow? How could she watch Gaurav marry Rewa right before her eyes?
Her heart was breaking into so many pieces and only she could feel the anguish… A pain that would remain with her, all her life…
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