Chapter 60: The Dawn of Graceful Age
Wednesday saw Ranveer and Ishaani on the flight to Mumbai, leaving behind several worries and heading towards several more.
Even though Ishaani seemed determined at first, the sudden turn of events had shaken her own will. Both of them had apprehensions building up in the night preceding their departure, but they couldn't voice it out to each other. Both of hem silently prayed in their hearts that everything would go alright, even though their souls and minds felt captivated by a twisted fear that neither of them could decipher.
Landing in Mumbai eight hours later, both of them had their driver escort them to the mansion, their hearts now beating in palpable excitement. Their fear had now reached a new level of anxiety so that Ishaani could actually feel Ranveer's hand shivering in her own. Both of them remained silent for some part of their journey before Ishaani spoke blankly.
"A lot has changed around here in four years." Ranveer chuckled sardonically.
"Well, this isn't the only thing." Ishaani looked at him and gave him a meaningful look before looking out from the window, speaking absent-mindedly.
"Have you informed your family about our arrival?" Ranveer sighed as he nodded his head.
"Yes." Ishaani gave him an acknowledging look, before twiddling her ring nervously.
"Do Kaka and Kaki live in the mansion?" Ranveer's features now turned into a troubled one as he replied guiltily.
"No. They shifted to a flat after I left. They found the mansion lifeless and lonely to live in." Ishaani gave him a distressed look and Ranveer took her hand in his own. After a few minutes, Ishaani asked him curiously.
"How did they receive the news?" Ranveer gave her a subtle look before he spoke fearfully.
"They were stunned enough. Atleast I know that I'm not the only one fearing this meeting." Ishaani now looked at Ranveer straight in the face, posing her next question.
"Did you tell them about our news?" Ranveer shook his head, his tone now relapsing back into an anxious one.
"No, I figured that we'll tell our families about it together." Both of them looked at each other and smiled tensely, before Ranveer kissed Ishaani on her forehead.
"It's going to be alright." Ishaani gave him a perturbed look, praying aloud.
"I hope so."
"I know so." The driver suddenly took a swerve and Ishaani gave Ranveer a confused look.
"Isn't the route supposed to go straight?"
"Yes." Ishaani looked even more bewildered.
"But we aren't going to the mansion first?"
"No, we are making a little detour. I'm taking you to Falguni Maa's place first."
Fifteen minutes later, Ranveer and Ishaani stood outside an apartment door on the second floor, looking about the place uneasily. The driver had taken their luggage to the mansion and was in charge of setting their suitcases in the room. From what Ranveer had let Ishaani know, Amba and Kailash had already made arrangements in the mansion for their smooth accommodation, and all they had to do was convince Ishaani's family to lodge with them in the mansion for the next five days of their trip.
Looking about the place carefully, Ishaani deduced that the society building was well maintained and the flats were just as well kept. Ranveer and Ishaani looked at each other apprehensively, wondering who would ring the bell first between them. Both of them stood stationary for a few minutes, before Ishaani finally made up her mind and rang the bell.
The door opened half a minute later and Ishaani could have sworn that time had held its pace. Falguni stood before them, in a beautiful cotton blue saree, her hair in a bun. Ishaani couldn't help but notice that the grays in her mother's hair had certainly become much more, along with the addition of a few wrinkles. A mangalsutra hung from her neck gracefully, while she looked much more at peace than usual, even though there was an aura about her that contradicted her entire look.
Ishaani tried to think of several things but nothing came to her anymore. She tried to smile but only a tear managed to escape her eye. She tried to scan her mother's expressions, deciphering what was going through her mind, but all she could make out was a disbelief, her lips quivering steadily, as though several words wanted to leave her lips, but she couldn't find anything good enough.
Both of them stared at each other oblivious to their surroundings, before Ishaani walked ahead and hugged her mother. Falguni remained stunned for a few moments before her arms wrapped itself around her daughter, and both of them remained in the same position, oblivious of how much time had passed, only aware of the other's presence and protection. Neither of them cried nor did they speak a single word, yet it felt as though the sun had broken out through a turbulent and stormy night, the dawn of which was going to lead into a beautiful morning.
Separating after an eon, Falguni looked at Ishaani and smiled, and the latter felt herself doing the same. There were still several of things to be resolved, but for now, it would do for the two of them. Finally turning her attention towards Ranveer, Falguni smiled a little more easily and the latter touched her feet. Falguni smiled as she gave him her blessings and Ranveer gave her a gentle smile.
"You look different." Falguni smiled, while Ranveer gave her a gentle smile.
"Call it the grace of age. You look pretty good yourself, Ranveer. Much better than you did over here." Ranveer shrugged his shoulders modestly, while Ishaani and Falguni both stared at him intently.
"I guess the change of environment worked just as fine for me." Falguni nodded her head before realizing that she had been talking to them at the door.
"Why are the two of you standing out? Come in." Ranveer and Ishaani entered the house, the awkwardness stemming from the first few minutes increasing gradually. The two of them took a seat on the sofa while Falguni sat before them, a small smile on her face. Ranveer and Ishaani looked around the house and smiled, the comfortable aura calming their uneasy nerves.
"It isn't much, but its home." Ranveer and Ishaani both smiled, while the former now took the lead in the conversation.
"Where is Baa? And Nitin ji?" Falguni smiled, before she spoke calmly.
"Nitin has taken Baa to the temple. They should be back home any minute." The three of them stared at each other silently before Falguni turned towards Ishaani.
"How have you been?" Ishaani gave her a look devoid of any feeling and spoke blankly.
"Alright, I guess. What about you?" Falguni shrugged her shoulders tiredly, her voice carrying the same note.
"Same." Falguni smiled significantly, her mind at a blank as to how to proceed the conversation.
"It's been so long," said Falguni finally and Ishaani could hear the bitter regret in her tone. Ishaani sighed, her response only tired than anything else.
"It's been so long."
Ranveer shuffled his hands nervously while Ishaani and Falguni stared into space for the next few minutes, careful enough not to make eye contact with each other. Ranveer already regretted his decision of visiting their families with Ishaani in tow, but he also knew that there was nothing to be done now but to go with the flow of events.
Before Ranveer could make any further conversation, the doorbell went off, with the spectacular effect of Ishaani and Falguni snapping back into the real world. The latter made a dash for the door as the bell rung for the second time, opening the door swiftly. Nitin noticed Falguni's pale pallor and gave her a questioning look before he looked beyond and saw Ranveer and Ishaani sitting over the sofa, staring back at the door nervously. His featured melted into a huge smile, and he walked ahead, happier than he had felt for some time.
Ishaani couldn't help but notice that Nitin was just the same as she had last seen him, save for the more grays complimenting his otherwise black hair. He looked graceful and a poised mind of wisdom, and Ishaani couldn't help but feel momentarily thrilled to see him, before the bitter truth hit her that he was no longer he mentor; he was also the father she had grown to hate.
But following him entered Baa, who noticed the presence of the two of them and stood in stunned disbelief. Ishaani stared at her uneasily, her reaction not making her any more confident, yet somehow she felt relaxed when Baa's expressions changed into one of pain and guilt, rather than indifference or cold rage. Baa, however, looked just the way that she usually did, yet there was something alight her features that never remained earlier - humility. Ranveer and Ishaani both stood up and walked up to Baa, touching her feet and the latter put her hands on both of their heads.
Ranveer and Ishaani both looked at each other triumphantly for a moment, happy that they did get off to a good start, before heading towards Nitin. Ranveer shook Nitin's hand while the latter did the same, slapping his hand over Ranveer's shoulder affectionately at the same time, the smile on his face never faltering away.
The moment Ishaani walked up to him, however, Nitin stared at her teary eyed and made to hug her before he noticed the uncertainty in her expression. He quickly made a mid-swerve with his hands and patted her head gently. Ishaani noticed that Nitin's expression had suddenly turned a little disturbed and in that moment, the two of them shared a transparent look before averting their gazes from each other's.
Baa and Nitin took their seats on their respective chairs while Ranveer and Ishaani sat on the couch again. Falguni disappeared into the kitchen to make them all some breakfast. Baa and Nitin stared at the now highly uncomfortable couple before Baa asked softly.
"I'm happy to see the two of you together again. How did this happen?" Ranveer and Ishaani looked at each other awkwardly, before Ranveer answered politely, even though a small smile had crossed his features.
"Long story." Baa nodded her head, the shock of seeing the two least expected people in her house in that moment slight present on her features. Falguni's absence did not make matters easier even though Ranveer and Ishaani were that she must have been listening to the conversation from the kitchen. Seeing as Baa looked incapable to make any more conversation, Nitin took the initiative and addressed his next question directly to Ranveer.
"Where do the two of you stay now?" Ranveer cleared his throat softly before speaking, while Ishaani twiddled the ring on his finger with more vigor.
"In Greece." Nitin nodded his head in a courteous manner, before posing his next question to Ishaani in a concerned manner.
"Why didn't you ever tell us about where you were, Ishaani?" Ishaani gave Nitin a highly flustered look, but before any further discussion could happen, Ranveer jumped in as the saving grace.
"We were both distraught and we needed time away from everything, from everyone. What we did wasn't right, but then again, nobody was that accommodating back then either. Funny, I and Ishaani were both living in the same place for three years, but it was only a year ago that we met. Since then, things have been different altogether."
Nitin and Baa stared at Ranveer unsatisfactorily, and Ranveer knew that his response was more confusing than resolving, but he knew that he wanted to have this conversation with both the families together. Ishaani remained silent during the entire time, hoping for Falguni to re-enter the living room. Somehow, seeing her mother after all those years only made her crave for more and Ishaani felt stupid thinking about the fact that she already missed her even though she was in the other room. Nitin and Baa, in the meanwhile, scrutinized the couple for a few minutes, before speaking in a bewildered yet not in an unkind tone.
"So, what brings you back over here now?" Ranveer took a deep sigh, speaking truthfully.
"We wanted to set things right. We both have finally reached the point where we can look behind at our past and accept it for what it was, rather than play a blame-game. Besides, there is something else that we wanted to talk to you about." Baa nodded her head solemnly, a new curiosity now appearing over her aged features.
"Well, what is it?"
"I and Ishaani will be here for five days. We wanted you, Falguni Maa and Nitin ji to stay with us at the mansion. I've called my parents there as well." Baa and Nitin looked at each other uncomfortably, before the latter spoke practically.
"Your parents will be there too?"
"Yes," said Ranveer plainly. Nitin gave him a deep look, his tone hesitant.
"Is it necessary for us to join you?" Ranveer gave Nitin an understanding look as he nodded his head.
"Yes." Nitin sighed, before speaking in a blank tone.
"Alright. I'll pack up some basic necessary stuff for us to carry along as well."
Falguni joined them again and called all of them on the table for breakfast, with Ranveer and Ishaani giving re-assuring looks to each other throughout their meal, while Falguni, Nitin and Baa stared into their plates guiltily, each heart responsible for a terrible mistake. After several minutes of an icy atmosphere, during which several pleas were made to Ranveer and Ishaani on avoiding to take them to the mansion, of which none were entertained, Falguni cleared off the table, while Nitin went into the rooms and packed up their suitcases.
Back in the car, Ranveer and Ishaani sat ahead, while Falguni, Nitin and Baa sat in a strained silence. After a few minutes, Ranveer spoke softly.
"I've called the others for lunch as well."
"But aren't they all leaving for their trip to Cuba tonight?" said Falguni, while Nitin and Baa nodded their heads in agreement.
"Yes. It's why I'm calling them for lunch." Ranveer and Ishaani sighed. They knew that what they had in mind was a task much more difficult and testing than it seemed to be. They did not know why they loved testing fate as much as fate loved to test them, but either way, it was as though the three of them were interlinked. Even though Ranveer and Ishaani could not understand how they were to accomplish the impossible feat of opening old wounds and escaping without a scar, there was a strange hope in their heart that maybe, afterall, there was a morning in wait for them.
As the car entered the gates of the mansion, Baa spoke with emotion.
"It's been four years since I last saw the mansion." Ishaani looked at the tall pillar of her strength and refuge, before she spoke hoarsely.
"It's been four years since we were last home and all together.”