Chapter 63: The Love of a Father
Ishaani woke up the next morning, her body much more comfortable over the soft mattress and pillows. She looked around to find the room empty, and sighed. She looked at the clock, gasping as she realized that it was already 11 in the morning.
Hurrying into the washroom, she freshened up and quickly changed herself out of her nightdress into a comfortable pair of a blouse and pantaloons. She sat back on the bed, suddenly craving more sleep, before a door knock ensued.
Nitin stood by the doorframe, a smile on his face and Ishaani felt embarrassed. She nodded at him in permission and entered inside, setting the tray down in front of her. She smiled, noticing how all the dishes were her favourite before looking at Nitin gratefully.
"You didn't have to take so much trouble for me." Nitin gave her an exasperated look before he spoke not unkindly.
"Ishaani, no formalities with me, please. Enjoy your breakfast." Nitin smiled at her walked towards the door before Ishaani spoke swiftly.
"Wait!" Nitin turned back and look confused and Ishaani gave him a flustered look. "I mean, I need to talk to you." Nitin gave her a painful smile.
"I figured as much." Nitin came inside the room and sat on the couch near the window. "Eat your breakfast," Ishaani made to speak but Nitin continued quickly. "Don't worry, I'm right here." Ishaani sighed and ate her breakfast silently, while Nitin shut his eyes, resting his head back on the couch. She finished her breakfast ten minutes later, and luckily for her, Mala passed by the corridor at the precise moment and took the tray away to the kitchen graciously.
Ishaani came back and settled on the bed once again and Nitin sighed.
"Tell me, what did you want to talk to me about?" Ishaani gave him an uncertain look before she plunged into the conversation.
"I know who you are." Nitin gave her a sad smile, his voice now almost weighing with resignation.
"Then this meeting will be the first for both of us."
"What do you mean?" said Ishaani, her voice laced with confusion. Nitin sighed and continued.
"This is the first time we will be talking as a father and daughter, not just figuratively, but literally." Ishaani nodded her head in understanding, wondering where this conversation would take them.
"Yes... Ranveer told me everything." Nitin gave Ishaani a deep, contemplating look.
"Is there anything to talk about, then?"
"As a matter of fact, yes," spoke Ishaani quickly, afraid that the conversation was not going to have the desired result she hoped for.
"Ishaani, if you are hoping for an apology, you know that you are not getting it. What I did was far much worse than apologizing." Ishaani stared at him intently, wondering how to go about with it, her heart finally overtaking her mind. She spoke honestly.
"I don't want an apology, I just want to know why." Nitin smiled at her ruefully, his next rhetorical statement bearing self-contempt.
"Why I abandoned you and your mother?" Ishaani nodded her head and Nitin let out a breath. "Because I was a fool. I sought fame and success much more than a family. Falguni and I were madly in love, we wanted to get married. Her family opposed, so we eloped. But as much as Falguni was carefree and oblivious to the real world, I wanted to make a name for myself. I did not have time to invest into a family. Two months into our marriage and Falguni told me that she was pregnant. I panicked. I was in for getting a promotion and I had to decide. I chose my career. I was a coward, leaving behind nothing more than a note."
Ishaani nodded her head, shooting out her next question even before she realized.
"Why did the world tag me illegitimate?" Nitin spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, but Ishaani could sense the guilt and reproach in his voice.
"It is because we never were married in the eyes of the law. Falguni and I got married in a temple. My boss back then was a woman and was looking out for an unmarried employee to make it to become the CEO of the company. She believed married men had no vision. So I asked Falguni to keep our marriage a secret till after my promotion, for it was definite. She agreed. But given the fiasco, we never were in need to file for a divorce because we weren't married as per the law."
"But then you changed." It was more of a reminder than even a blankly put statement. Nitin smiled at her appreciatively.
"I did. Funny enough, it was you who changed me." Ishaani gave him a bewildered look before she remembered one of the several guilty secrets that Nitin had entrusted to her back during the time the two of them spent several hours together at the park or at Shikhar's house.
"When you said you saw your daughter in the park and that hit you hard. That was… me." Nitin smiled at the shocked look on her face and he spoke calmly, his mind lost in the memory of the incident.
"Yes. It was 5 years after Falguni and I split. I reached the peak of my success and did very well. One day, I had to meet one of my old friends into the park, and he was late by half an hour. I was just looking around all the families in the park when I saw Falguni and a five-year old version of you. You were playing on the slides and swings, yet you were lost and distant. And then you asked for me. Throughout the time, looking at all the fathers playing with their kids, you asked for me. And there I was, standing so close to you, yet I was mortified. I could no longer breathe, realizing what I had done. I could not come back to you and Falguni, for your mother was a woman who would never lose her self-respect and take me back. I was the reason for her public humiliation. I was ashamed to say the least to even stand in her shadows."
"And you gave away everything." There was a certain awe in Ishaani's voice and Nitin squirmed uncomfortably.
"No, I threw it away. After spending the next and perhaps the worst seven days of my life, during which all I think I did was consume unhealthy amount of alcohol and drown myself in shame and guilt, I realized that it wasn't worth it. I gave away most of my money to charities and I quit my job. I needed time to think, to figure out. But in those months to follow, I only knew that I had to be your invisible benefactor. I tried to be there for you in all ways possible, if not physically or emotionally, then financially. I still had enough to sustain me a lifetime and the next generation to follow as well and I decided to use it for your well-being. That was until Falguni met Harshad Parekh."
"How did you find out about them?" Ishaani's question was instantaneous and Nitin let his lips curve in spite of himself.
"One of my friends were an associate at Harshad Parekh's firm. At that time, Falguni was in a dire need of a job and there was no way I could help her directly. I gave Falguni's reference through him and Harshad gave her a job. But then, a year and a half later, I come to know that Falguni and Harshad Parekh were getting married. I was shocked, disturbed, until I did a background check on him. I didn't want Falguni to go through the same ordeal she had to go through with me. Turns out, Harshad loves her more than anything in this world. She was to get a family and you were to get a father who accepted you so warmly and affectionately as his own. I was happy."
Nitin nodded his head and Ishaani continued for him.
"And all those years, you got yourself a decent job. One where you were content and satisfied and you stayed away from our lives, knowing that Papa was there, yet you did keep tabs on us." Seeing that Ishaani remembered his confessions much more clearly than he had expected her to, be shrugged tiredly.
"Yes, I had to know. But everything was going about perfectly. Falguni found out about my invisible role in your life a few months post her marriage and she was furious. She made me swear to your life that I would never return back or cause an upheaval in it. I was forced to oblige. I moved abroad a month or two later, only to return back six years ago. I occasionally called out friends in the country to find out about how you all were doing and each time, I had satisfactory answers."
Ishaani now looked at him curiously, wondering whether she should ask what she had in mind. Nitin spotted the perturbed look on her face and gave her a reassuring nod. Ishaani now questioned in a meek voice.
"I've been curious all along and you never told me either. What made you re-enter our lives? What made you meet Papa on that Diwali night?" Nitin didn't look offended or uncomfortable even in the slightest with her question and answered it truthfully.
"I returned back from France four months before Diwali because I was tired and needed a break. However, soon after coming here, I knew that the markets had entered a depression in those three months prior to Diwali. I also knew that Harshad Parekh had nearly gone broke because of all his investments sinking. I went to offer him help. I also knew that you had just gotten engaged and that you were to get married in a month's time. I was ready to help him solve financial matters so that it didn't affect you or your marriage in any way. I think you know what happened next."
"Where were you after Papa died?" Her tone had a childish demand in it and he sighed.
"Out and around. I knew that his bank accounts and properties were frozen post his death. You all were helpless, lost, confused. I resumed my role as your invisible benefactor, for I could not break my promise to Falguni. Ranveer took over my role from me once he was that financially capable. The two of you met two years later and circumstances forced you to get married to him. He decided to bring me back into your life. I was apprehensive, even reluctant, but he wouldn't hear of anything. And well, you know what happened."
Ishaani nodded her head swiftly, her mind steadily relaxing. After a peaceful silence if a few minutes, Ishaani questioned once again.
"What about Maa?" Nitin had a shrewd understanding of the implied meaning of her statement and spoke plainly.
"Just because Falguni refused to acknowledge your existence, it didn't mean that she did not care. Just like I was there for you when you were broken and lost, your mother was the same. Once you left without letting me know where you had gone, I only had Shikhar's assurance that you were alright. Then their own internal disputes took place and Baa and Falguni were homeless once again. Your mother had been strong for too long. She crumbled. I only helped her collect the broken pieces of her will and frame it together. I gave her a shoulder to cry on."
"Ranveer tells me that you let her stay at your place." Nitin nodded his head in agreement.
"She knew that she was no longer young enough to make a new start all over again with the additional load of another family member. In those few months post your marriage, I and Falguni had managed to see past our history. The same thing happened. And one fine day, I ask her whether she would marry me and she said yes. Yes because she had found a friend in me and because she was too weak to pull on any further. Baa was reluctant with this arrangement at first, but she complied nonetheless."
Ishaani sighed, as she leaned her aching back against the soft pillows behind her. Nitin looked at her lovingly and she smiled, a tear escaping her eye treacherously. Nitin gave her a look of concern, but she wiped away the stray tear, her voice now slightly shaky.
"Somewhere deep down, I always knew that the two of us shared a much deeper relationship than a father-figure and daughter-figure. When Ranveer told me the truth, I felt... surprised. Yet it did not shock me." Nitin looked nervous and guilty, deciding that it was best to speak his heart out like old times.
"I thought you would cut me out from your life." Ishaani's eyes widened and she shook her head vehemently. Nitin sighed, while Ishaani took her time to compose herself. Accomplishing the feat after a testing few minutes, she spoke with a mixture of honestly and resignation.
"You know, every time you mentioned your daughter and your wife, and how much you repented every day for what you had put them through, it reminded me of my father. And I knew that had I been your daughter, I would have given you a second chance every time I saw you genuinely repent. Because I had made the same mistakes as you. I abandoned my husband when he needed me the most, even though our reasons were different. I knew what it meant like to yearn for a second chance. You were the only one who gave it to me, and you were the only one who ever made me consider forgiving my father."
Nitin's eyes widened and he stuttered in disbelief, his eyes searching Ishaani's own ones for a sign that betrayed her implied meaning.
"What are you trying to say?" Ishaani shrugged her shoulders.
"Before Ranveer told me that you were my biological father, he had once asked me whether I could ever forgive my father for what he put us through. I was not entirely truthful with him, but the fact is that I would have forgiven him. Then Ranveer asked me the same question once he told me the truth, and that made me reconsider. But my answer still remains the same."
"I forgive you. For I have seen you repent before my eyes every, single day. I know that you know the true impact of your action. Maa saw your redemption as well. She wouldn't have married you otherwise. So my answer is yes."
Nitin sat stunned for several minutes before he got up and came to sit next to Ishaani. He stared at her blankly, tears welled up in his eyes as he hugged her. Ishaani smiled and hugged him back, her heart lighter than it had been in months, before they separated after a few minutes.
Nitin looked stunned, but remained silent. Ishaani smiled, her own inhibitions about her decision fading away, and the respect and affection she had for him over the past four years returning swiftly into her heart. Nitin looked up after a few minutes of silence, before he spoke in a strong admittance, a firm belief in his voice.
"But your father will always be Harshad Parekh and nothing will change that." Ishaani smiled at him gently and he couldn't help but do the same.
"You were always the closest I had to a father once he passed away and you still are. You cannot replace him, but your spot in my heart will remain the same. Nothing will change that." Nitin smiled at her and gave her a hug and she did the same. Nitin stroked her cheek lovingly and kissed her forehead.
Ranveer stood outside the door, a broad smile over his features. He sighed lightly, as his heart had finally been set free. He saw Ishaani and Nitin talk easily and felt a strange happiness course through him. He shut his eyes in worship, whispering to himself soulfully.
"I did it. I finally accomplished your last wish."