4 years had passed like a flash with all school stuff and fun holidays at the villages. The year of his 14th birthday came and Veera waited for the school to shut down so that he could rush back home.
Rush back to her.
He was the happiest when finally it was the last day. The next day he and his brothers waited for his father to pick them up but his father never arrived.
Instead, it was Chandrapal along with Shekher kakasa who had come to pick them up. He was surprised but didn’t inquire understanding the fact that his father might be busy. Even when they stopped at the branch of their family-owned jewellery shop in the city, he didn’t question. Rather he was busy reading all the letters he had written to Ishi during the school days.
Yes, it was a custom both followed when they were away from each other. They would write letters telling each other everything that had happened during the school days and the day they would meet during the holidays they would exchange the letters.
He always hated when Ishi read his letters because she would cry for hours. Something would always happen to him whenever he would see her tears; the pain in his heart would intensify by manifolds.
And to make her stop he would tease her relentlessly till she would beat the shit out of him.
This time too he had written a lot of letters. But along with the letters he had a gift for her.
He did believe in the fact that you can’t gift a god but definitely gift faith. For him, the persona of God had always been his parents and after them, it was definitely Ishi. She had been the one who had made him believe in the existence of the Shivling. And the moment he had spotted it in the market while on a school trip, it had reminded him of her.
He couldn’t wait to see her reaction when he would give this to her.
The excitement in him bubbled as the destination came near. He couldn’t wait to see her. But among all of this, he could sense the tension inside the car. Time and again he glanced at his uncle and found him talking to the driver in hushed tones. He also noticed that there was a car following them. By the time he summoned the courage to ask his uncle about it, they had already reached the haveli.
And then it was all about Ishi.
He had rushed to the hill in the afternoon and waited for her patiently. However, when she came she was limping a little and he noticed that her eyes were red and swollen.
He helped her to the top of the hill and then watched her sit down next to him. Although he wanted to rattle off all he had done during his school days he waited for her to become normal. But the moment her lower lip wobbled a little he couldn’t control himself.
Shanker hugged her and she broke down in his arms. Not able to take it, he started to tickle her in all places and within seconds she hiccupped and then started to giggle uncontrollably.
“What happened?” he asked.
She looked at him strangely and then blushed as he pointed at her tears.
“Tell me. NOW,” he commanded and instantly felt her cringe away from him.
However, he was quicker. Before she could move away totally, he dragged her in his arms and tipped her face.
“Tell me,” he cajoled softly.
“Ajit told on me. He saw us meeting in the previous holidays and he didn’t tell anyone. But today when Baba asked him not to leave the house, he told him everything. And I got scolded.”
“Is that all?”
She averted his eyes but he still could see right through her. Suddenly he stood up and was about to run down the hill towards the borders of her village when she stopped him.
Veera was burning inside. He knew they had beaten her and couldn’t digest the fact of someone hitting her.
“Where are you going?”
“He hit you, didn’t he?”
“No he didn’t,” she replied looking away.
“Don’t lie. I know he did,” he said and then again started to climb down the hill.
“He is my father. He has the right to do that.”
The look of defiance in her eyes and sound of protest in her voice had stopped him that day. Looking at her, he could sense they had done something major but couldn’t do anything but console her.
Clasping her hand in his, he dragged her down the hill and then they both ran together towards their play spot in the forest. Just as he sat down at the base of a tree, he smiled and saw a sweet smile spread on her face.
He would do anything for that smile, he vouched.
“Don’t worry; soon you will be living with us.”
Ishi looked at him questioningly and he smiled in response.
“Your grandfather has again filed a case for the haveli and this time Baba has said he will not only win the case but will also stop all this forever.”
“How?” she asked out of curiosity.
“Baba has found the original deed, which has your great grandfather’s signature. Once that is produced in the court, they will lose the case. Then I’ll make you stay at my home. Will you stay with me?”
A huge smile had spread on her face and she had jumped up and hugged him hard.
That evening when Shanker had returned home he had gone straightaway to his father.
“Baba, can Ishi come and stay with us?”
Vikramveer had turned towards him with a question on his face.
And being his father’s son, he had spilt the beans but only bits and pieces. He hadn’t told his father about the deed thing. When his father had laughed at him he had reacted with childish anger.
His mother had been the one who had explained why Ishi couldn’t live with them. Hearing them he hadn’t been convinced.
“Then how come Amma lives with us?” he had asked his father.
“That’s because your Amma is married to me.”
Hearing his father, his eyes had narrowed with deep thought and then suddenly his face had lit up.
“Okay, then I’ll marry Ishi. She can live with us after that?”
Uma had smiled and pulled him in her arms.
“Okay! But first you have become big like your father and then you can marry Gudiya.”
His eyes and face had lit up like a thousand bulbs hearing his mother’s words.
But just as he was about to leave for his room he had turned and looked at them with an angry pout.
“Her name is Ishi and not Gudiya.”