Avanti couldn’t stop smiling as she looked at her husband chatting with a couple of members from her group during their buffet dinner in the hotel lobby that night. She blushed remembering her moments with him just an hour ago in the suite. He had hugged her tight, their chests touching and given her soft little pecks on her head making her feel the most cherished person on earth. They didn’t speak anything for a long time especially considering the emotional tirade between them a little before they had combusted…but Avanti knew Keshav’s silence said it all. He was a man of few words but full of riddles and she vowed to peel of each of his layers gradually. The very fact that he confessed his love to her overwhelmed her… he had not just touched her body where it still tingled but also her heart much earlier. There was a little boy inside him who longed to be loved, to be acknowledged appreciated and supported…she intended to do just that no matter what. She had felt his taught pulsating pectoral muscles under her palms as they lay satiated in each other’s arms and her phone had buzzed breaking the moment. He swore getting up and walked into the washroom as she chuckled and answered the call. It was Rahul who had called them over for dinner. She had freshened up in a hurry and dressed to join a waiting Keshav at the door. He had moved to give her way and before she could open the door, he had held her hands and turned her pushing her back to the door. His lips found hers even before she could feign a protest and though they had just had barely been apart for a few minutes after their romp in the bed, she gallantly tugged at his t-shit feeling those strong muscled beneath the fabric. As he devoured her, his hands in her hair holding her in place, her senses all increased multi-fold bursting at their seams. From the scent of his cologne to the scruffy feel of his beard she felt it all… wishing for the time to halt right there. He tugged at her hair as they landed back on earth from the passion filled clouds and she wished they could go on… but then they wouldn’t have made it for dinner. He had watched in amusement with the fire still burning in his eyes threatening to set her ablaze with desire…as she had set her hair and light makeup to hide the fruit work of their little rendezvous on her swollen lips. They had walked hand in hand down the stairs avoiding the elevator to spend more time together and he didn’t miss any opportunity to pull her closer or push the lock of hair away from her face as they made their way to the lobby. She blushed at the stares from her subordinates and teachers from the music school as Keshav and she moved in the line for the buffet spread. Keshav easily mingled with her group as if he had known them for a long time.
As she chewed upon the lovely Hyderabadi biryani, Rahul joined her on the adjoining chair. “…So, someone’s very thrilled…” He chuckled.
“…Rahul…” she feigned a shocked expression and looked back to see Keshav smile and wave at her as he continued to chat. She couldn’t seem to take her eyes off him even touching her lips dreamily once in a while.
“…did I hear a Thank you…?” Rahul continued to tease her.
“…Rahul…cut it…but yes… thank you for everything… you are a true friend.” She spoke continuing to look at Keshav.
“Avanti… are you all set for tomorrow…? Its an important day for us…” Rahul spoke in a serious tone.
“…yea…what…?” She looked at him suddenly confused. She then realised that in her excitement, she hadn’t even asked Keshav how long he was here, given his busy schedule. “…Rahul… let me get back to you later… just text me the itinerary for tomorrow…”
Rahul must have said something but she didn’t hear as she rushed to put away her plate and walked towards Keshav. He saw her and excused himself from the group members he was talking to and moved towards her. They went out for a stroll in the hotel premises and as they walked in silence she spoke. “…Keshav…um… how long are you here…?”
“…If I could I would have stayed back till you finished the event here… In fact, I also wanted to hear you sing… but then workload doesn’t permit it at the moment…. I am leaving tomorrow morning…”
Her heart fell and her eyes filled. It wasn’t that she didn’t know how busy he was… but at that moment she just wanted to be with him. She looked away blinking furiously as he held her hand and turned her to face him. He placed a palm on her cheek wiping away the errant drop that had slipped out of her eye. “Avanti… trust me… after the evening we had so far… it kills me to go back without you… but… you know the situation, right…? Vedshastra needs me there…”
“…I know Keshav… I understand and I won’t hold you back… it’s just that I am… emotional… I missed you and you are going away…I don’t feel like… I wish I could cancel the event but a lot is riding on its success…”
“…the Avanti I know doesn’t run away from the situation but faces it head long…and that makes you the strong woman in am in awe of…” He held her close as they started to walk back to the hotel building. “…This event is important, Avanti… so promise me you will give it your best…? Else I will be worried sick about you and won’t be able to focus on my work back in Mumbai…”
She turned towards him again and they halted. She smiled and looked into his eyes twinkling in the hotel’s street lamp. “…I promise you Keshav… I will finish my commitment thoroughly… and you won’t have to worry…” He kissed her forehead and they continued to walk towards the hotel lobby.
They went to bed right away as they lay in each other’s arms they slept off immediately the days of fatigue claiming their hold over them. At least Avanti knew she had the best sleep in months following her father’s demise and she woke up early morning refreshed and ready for the upcoming concert. Keshav too had a flight to catch and after a quick room ordered breakfast, he kissed her hard before hugging her close to him and leaving for the airport. Later, as she looked into the mirror getting ready for the concert, she smiled touching her lips… would people know what they had just been through…? He had kissed her and had left without uttering a word and yet it was like he had spoken to her soul. She blushed and chuckled as she recalled the kiss, she received from Keshav just an hour ago… everything seemed so surreal.
Was she still dreaming…? Was Keshav really there last evening…or was she hallucinating? And… he loved her… She clutched her chest to stop her heart form thumping ahead in a rush.
As Avanti joined the group in the vehicle taking them to the auditorium, she was missing Keshav with terrific intensity. As if they had connected with telepathy, she received his text.
Just boarding… all the best for the concert… you will hit the ball out of the stadium I am sur of it. Make me and your father proud…
Avanti’s joy knew no bounds as she held the phone close to her chest and her confidence levels instantly made a beeline to the skies. Rahul who sat at the passenger side in the front turned around and winked at her chuckling as she glared at him. She couldn’t thank her friend enough…irrespective of his reservations about Keshav, Rahul had played a role in giving her the most beautiful evening of her life. She hoped she could clear the misunderstanding for Rahul and also hoped that he would begin to trust Keshav just as she did.
The Sheetalaraman Auditorium was filled to the brim and the organisers were overjoyed to see the tickets sold houseful. Avanti was the poster girl for her music school, being the youngest female participant from Mumbai at 8 yrs to win the Maharashtra Shreshta Gaika state finale. Her music school which already boasted of having some of the top singers in the country and many in the regional music industry too amongst their alumni, was already popular and it looked like the goal of the event was achieved. Avanti was draped in a beautiful red silk saree with zaree work and a designer blouse which was Arpita’s idea at the time when she had finalised her presence for the concert. Even the jewellery which she had worn was chosen by her sister and at that moment as she saw herself in the waiting room mirror backstage, she missed her tai. Arpita had always planned her wardrobe for her…
She was introduced along with her accompanying singers and Rahul as the other lead, as well as commanded the tanpura. As she settled on stage she mentally prayed to the Almighty and then to her baba for his blessings. This was the first ever concert which her baba wasn’t present and she missed him terribly. But then Keshav’s message flashed before her eyes and she decided to dedicate this performance to her beloved father. The concert started with a prayer to maa Saraswati and soon Avanti sang the famed song from her childhood event finale that had brought her accolades and the next couple of hours passed with various renditions of the bandhish in Hindustani classical forms. Rahul too was his melodious best and she hoped he would someday make it big. There was a time when she had wanted to make a career in singing but teaching pulled at her heartstrings more and she had given up active concerts in favour of tutoring young school kids.
Rahul sang his most popular natya sangeet ‘Marma bandhathali theva hi…’ which even though was in Marathi received ‘once mores’ and he had to sing a small part again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjyDZ2ZzFPA
Avanti followed it by her rendition of the Yaad piyaaki aayi…. The combination of different ragas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=neWuw5NQblM and while the audience applauded Avanti she was lost in her musings for Keshav as she deeply pined for him. She had made up her mind already that after tomorrows event, she was going to take the first available flight to Mumbai and that gave her heart a little solace.
Finally, the classical music concert ended with the Bhairavi raga sung together by the entire group led by Avanti. The song ‘shaam sundara madan mohan…’ regaled the audience who showered them with claps and hoots after the event. This was just the first day and the show was a success with the music academy getting various offers for performances and as each singer was honoured on stage Avanti too was asked to whom she dedicated the soulful melodies of the day to which she replied, it was for her baba…who was actually the soul of her singing…
That evening while the rest of the group went out to the local market, Avanti stayed back in the suite which Keshav had booked for three nights for her exclusive usage. She ordered dinner in the room itself and as she slept on the soft bedsheet she hugged the pillow still holding feeble traces of Keshav’s scent. Keshav had been very busy and they barely had time to talk that night and he insisted she take the train along with the group as planned and not travel alone. While she adored his concern and sense of responsibility, she loathed having to spend another night away from him.
The next day’s concert was dedicated to light music and Bollywood numbers which the audience enjoyed even more. Avanti sang her favourite number ‘Do lafzon ki hai…’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waeAGdCvJd8 she was so involved in the lyrics given her situation she had a tough time completing the song as her throat choked with emotion. Following that Rahul took over the dias and announced. “Dear all, thank you for the lovely applause and encouragement for our budding singers. As you all are aware, we had conducted a poll yesterday just before you all had exited the venue, for your choice of retro Bollywood numbers. Here is a number specially requested on phone by my dear friend Avanti’s better half specially to be sung for his new wife…. So here I go…”
Avanti was stunned and watched open mouthed as Rahul began the number, “tum saath ho jab apne…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSuHOgDiq6Y he was well supported by another singer from the group and there was a thunderous applause as the song ended. Avanti wiped her cheeks and smiled as she texted a thank you to Keshav.
The rest of the event passed without a glitch and like yesterday all the singers were honoured by a different dignitary this time. Avanti couldn’t wait for the event to end even as she was congratulated backstage both on her wedding as well as the beautiful singing. Another hour went in the photo ops with the dignitaries and by the time she retired to the hotel room post lunch it was already 5PM. She suddenly realised her phone was still on the silent mode and she immediately changed the settings. To her disappointment there was no missed call alert or text notification. Keshav had only replied to her earlier text with a thumb’s up emoji… really…? She placed the phone on her dressing table and went to freshen up before she rested. Like yesterday she had refused to go out with her group today as well. Rahul tried convincing her but she was in no mood to budge and the only way she knew she would be relieved of her fore brooding sense of anticipation, was to hear Keshav’s voice on phone.
As she settled to rest after freshening up her phone rang startling her and she rushed towards the vanity almost tumbling in her nightgown in the process. Her heart fell seeing it wasn’t Keshav but it was an unknown number… who as it?
“…Avanti…? It me…”
“…TAI…? tai…is that you… Oh God…” Avanti burst into tears. “…Tai…where on earth are you…?”
“…Forget about me Avanti…stop crying… Avanti…” Avanti sniffled as Arpita continued. “…Avu… you idiot… you married Keshav…?”
What the hell… “…Yes tai… but… where are you…?”
“…That isn’t important… Avu I ran away from hell and you landed right into it… why… Avu, why…?”
“…What are you saying tai… I didn’t have a choice then…”
“…Avanti…we all have a choice… You shouldn’t have married that bastard…”
“…TAI…STOP IT… stop calling him names… what is going on…?”
“…Avanti…I ran away for a reason… why did you have to commit the same mistake that I escaped from…?”
“…Tai… just… just listen to me… at first I married him…because I didn’t have a choice…we had to save Vedshastra… but now… its real…I love…”
“…It’s not REAL…grow up Avanti… come out of your fairy-tale world…You just think you are in love and all that nonsense… he is a cheat… first baba, then me and now he succeeded with you…Oh God… Avu…”
“…Tai you aren’t making sense at all…” Avanti was now at her wits end.
“…Avu I am sure he hasn’t told you anything about himself…but he did tell me just before our wedding day… I couldn’t go ahead with the façade after that…”
“…Wha…what did…he…say…?” her heart fell… what on earth was going on?
“…Its his health Avu… the bastard had threatened me with dire consequences saying… he would pull out of Vedshastra if I revealed everything to you…”
“…Tai… was this the reason you were…. Upset three days before the wedding…?”
“…yes Avu…he had met me that day just to tell me the truth…”
Avanti’s throat chocked up with emotions as she tried to talk. “…Tai… what…” She could barely whisper.
“…Avanti…Keshav has some health problem… a major one…hereditary he said…he wouldn’t survive much… and hence the drug deal with baba… and our baba… put in everything he had for developing the miracle drug for him… And see where that has landed us…”
Arpita continued her tirade cussing at Keshav but all that ran through Avanti’s mind was… wouldn’t survive much… Keshav was in danger…? Were those two health episodes linked to his problem…? Why didn’t he tell her then… especially after all that they shared…? She didn’t know when Arpita’s call ended with something about joining her mother in the village soon… She just felt the walls close in on her as she landed with a thud on the carpeted floor sobbing her heart out, as the sunset brought a pale of gloomy darkness seeping into her…
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