Avanti stayed up still for an hour in the dark in her room where she had retreated to after her argument with Keshav. Her tears had long dried but the hurt in her heart was still all too raw. More than Keshav screaming, the fact that he refused to share anything with her irked her to no end. She was indeed a novice when it came down to the matters of the heart. She was the most comfortable with her little students in school. She remembered Arpita had once cried throughout the night after one of her many break-ups and she had asked her baba how she could understand what lay in a man’s heart. Her father had run his hand on her head and had said, “ Avu blala… there is no knowing what is in a man’s heart…if you are smart…you will know what to say but if you are wise you will know if you have to actually speak or not.” She had looked all confused at her father and he had chuckled. “…bala, let me put this in a way you will understand. Knowing a person is just like music…we first get attracted by the melody and as we get to know them…we learn their lyrics… so take some time to reach there Avu and never be in a hurry to fall into conclusions…”
Her eyes filled again as she realised, she was yet to learn Keshav’s lyrics. If only he would let her in. She sighed…all for planning a dinner for him… she deserved it for reading more into this marriage than what it was. She was too naïve to fall for his charms…she should have known better. He was a ruthless businessman true to his famed nature which she had read about. Maybe her father was attracted to Keshav’s passionate zeal to succeed… his soul stirring obsession to succeed in his career. Her father loved this tribe or maybe he had this strange sense of displacement of paternal emotions towards Keshav because his daughters had refused to take over the reins of his company. But her heart begged to differ…like on its own accord…it just knew and she wanted to trust it. Whatever it was she was in a soup and had to find ways to stay away from him…that would be the best for both of them. He wouldn’t ruin his health and she wouldn’t be hurt…
There was only one way in which she could distract herself from anything that troubled her. She took out her Harmonium and sat to hit the keys. Her favourite go-to raaga for her mood was the todi… it was meant to alleviate the pathos in the early stage of rendering as her guru had rightly said. Today she chose a beautiful poetry composition of her guru in the raaga for the poem by Maithili Sharan Gupt describing Kaikeyi’s pain in Ramayana. Kaikeyi was cursed and called evil for asking the two boons from king Dasharatha which banished Rama for a fourteen-year exile. What many are unaware is king Dasharatha had promised to make her son the crowned prince during their marriage. Kaikeyi was an intelligent woman and a warrior princess when Dasharatha fell in love with her. Her pride took a beating when Rama was made the crowned prince and she was destined to become a notional slave to Kaushalya. But eventually she came to her senses and Maithili Sharan Gupt describes her turmoil, her repentance, and her pleading with Rama to return back to Ayodhya, in his heart wrenching work. Avanti’s guru had entwined the beautiful lyrics of ’kaikeyi ka Anutaap’ in raag Todi. As Avanti started the aalap and began to sing she was so immersed in her rendition that she failed to realise the door to her room opening and finally when she opened her eyes, overwhelmed with emotions… she saw Keshav seated on the floor before her, leaning back on the wardrobe, his eyes shut, face resting on his arm placed on his folded knee and a tear had escaped from the corner of his eye. Her heart went out to him right at that instant… was he too misunderstood like Kaikeyi?
As soon as she stopped, he opened his eyes and rubbed his face. He was a far cry from the earlier man she had exchanged words with but she couldn’t let her guard down. He had a bottle of water with him which he held out for her. She nodded and drank a couple of sips now relieved from the stressful aftermath of her encounters today. “Avanti… you are gifted indeed… you sing so beautifully… And I…I am sorry…for the way I reacted earlier…actually Rohini Jais…”
“…Its OK Keshav…” She interrupted him abruptly. “…I understand…totally… I am sure you have your reasons and I …shouldn’t have overstepped…Um… let me see what is there for dinner…” She excused herself and hastily rushed out of the room. She picked up the bags she had dropped earlier and kept them away. She prepared a quick dinner of daal khichdi… and watching her creation simmer on low flame, the aroma of ghee spreading around rousing her appetite, she decided it was time for some hard-core decision making. If she had to spend the next year in this house vacillating between her feelings for Keshav then she had to come to a mid-point with her relationship with him. There was no point expecting too much and then feeling the heart break every time her hopes crashed.
As they sat on the dining table enjoying the soul food, she wanted to make her point. “…Um…Keshav…?”
He looked up into her eyes. “…yea…”
“…um… actually… I think…um…”
“…Avanti…you can say anything you want to… don’t hesitate…”
“…No…actually… I didn’t like us arguing…I didn’t like that you yelled at me…not only did it hurt…but it will affect your health as well… I mean…”
“…Avanti…I am sorry…” He spoke with a stricken expression on his face those deep browns carrying an ocean of pain broiling in them. But she held up her hand to stop him, she wouldn’t get swayed by her emotion for him however it churned her insides.
“…let me finish Keshav… we are adults and matured enough to make decisions… also…um… we are to be staying together… for a year… so… I think it’s best to be cordial to each other… I mean… let’s not hurt each other… anymore…”
“…Yes…I agree…” he said softly.
She was relieved when he said that. She had mustered courage to speak the words and didn’t want her voice to quiver to lay bare her inner turmoil. “…Also…Keshav… um… can we be …friends…? My baba always said friends are with you every step of the way and specially in your low time…and Keshav…you have been there for us…for me when I have needed someone the most…just like a true friend…I… I barely have any friends…”
He stared at her with an expression she couldn’t figure out. “…Fine Avanti… lets be friends…” He kept his spoon down and held out his hand. “…friends…”
They shook hand and she felt light and happy as if a weight was lifted off her shoulders. That night they sat up late, while he continued to work in the study, she finished some paperwork for her school. She had to visit school a few times for the handover of her class and notes. Closing that chapter of her life was particularly painful but it didn’t make sense to travel all the way and it would work well for her students too. She however promised to do her best to continue with her charity work with the school.
She loved to prepare their ritualic tea every evening which they had when they chatted in the breaks from work and was glad to have the camaraderie back… though deep in her heart she knew she wanted more of this…more of them together… a lot more. She had always prided on controlling her emotions very well…even when her sister was to tie the knot with Keshav when she was half way in love with him. But now, whenever Keshav was around, those emotions were scattered all around. Her susceptible sentiments were beyond her control…for music and her singing it was a blessing in disguise but as far as Keshav was concerned it was her greatest weakness.
The next few days were absolutely uneventful and Avanti didn’t know if she had to be thankful for getting into a groove in her new life or worry if it was a lull before the storm. Her day began with visiting Vedshastra with Keshav and the entire working day would be busy as she even began learning the handling of the accounts…Mukherjee uncle surprisingly was helpful too and explained the little details to her. She stayed clear of Prantik’s topic and Mr. Mukherjee too didn’t talk about him. She had heard that Prantik was still banned in the area and no one had heard about him for a long time now. Some even spoke about him getting a job out of town… She hoped he could mend his ways for Mukherjee uncle’s sake. Avanti focussed on learning and was yet to go through the major books but considering she was so very outside her comfort zone she was taking meaningful baby steps. Her couple’s time with Keshav during lunch hour was very special to her where he would share his experiences as a newbie in his work place and the mistakes he had made. It gave her a lot of confidence whenever he encouraged her. Most of all she loved the time she got to spend watching and learning from him…he was an epitome of dedication and hard work. She accompanied him to meetings and he even took her few times to Novo Supremo where she was greeted by his staff with great excitement and thrill. She had a smile plastered to her face all day long and his staff regaled her with the working of the company and she was in awe of the respect and loyalty they demonstrated towards Keshav and by virtue of their marriage… towards her as well. She was totally at ease and chatted freely with Keshav who also looked serene in spite of the work tensions. They discussed everything except family and she was OK with it so far as it helped her keep up her peace of mind. She had lost her heart to Keshav and she could only hope that he would realise its value someday.
She often visited her music school as well to prepare for the upcoming event in Hyderabad. There were barely five days left now and she still hadn’t shortlisted her songs for the same. Rahul was conspicuous by his absence. She was told he came late in the evenings and rehearsed his parts… she didn’t get to speak with him at work as well because they rarely crossed paths and she missed his carefree company. Back home she made it a point to prepare dinner for Keshav daily before he arrived from work. She often left early from work with the driver on Keshav’s insistence while he sat back late with the R and D unit heads. Though he never mentioned during their innumerable chats at home, she knew he was stressed about her father’s formula which was missing. She often caught him lost in thought with a forlorn look on his face… she even heard him argue with Kamya recently and from what she realised from the talk she heard one-sided he was upset with Kamya and had probably something to do with her boyfriend. Why was he so bothered about boyfriends of the women in his family…? They weren’t small kids for crying out aloud. Keshav didn’t appear to be a control freak as Rohini had mentioned but she still couldn’t understand his high handedness when it came to the women in the family. Well she wouldn’t know…she didn’t have brothers and her father didn’t have to worry much about her. If he was worried about Arpita he never let it show. She only wished she had some idea where her father could have hidden the formula and what was in it that was so important for Keshav’s interest in Vedshastra. At least that would have reduced his stress levels a little. She was in regular contact with her mother who seemed to be happy at her maternal home in the village. But so far there was no sign of Arpita which made her worry sometimes.
It was Thursday evening and she was packing for the six-day event at Hyderabad. She was leaving late morning the next day and they were to take the train from Mumbai CST in the afternoon and alight at Begumpet the next morning on Saturday at around 7.15 AM if all went as per schedule. They had a couple of meetings to attend as prequels to the main event. Sunday was a rest day and Monday and Tuesday they had the charity event at the famous Sheetalaramam auditorium in the heart of Hyderabad. They were to be put up in a hotel close to the auditorium to save time and also to enable rehearsals. They were to leave for Mumbai on Wednesday and reach on Thursday. Avanti had been looking forward to the event for the last three months ever since it was first announced. She had wanted a break from the mundane hassles at home and Arpita’s marriage preparations then. But today as she shut her little suitcase her heart wasn’t in the right place. She didn’t want to leave Keshav… no… NO…she couldn’t have the attachment. Her eyes filled thinking of how it would be after the year was done with… how would she bear to stay away from Keshav. She was getting attached to him, irrespective of her determination, her resolve weakening with every passing day.
“…so…all set for tomorrow Avanti…?”
She startled hearing Keshav behind her. “…Hey when did you arrive…?”
“…a little while ago… and stepped in here when you were lost in thought… what is it…? Any problem…?”
“…Oh no… not at all… come on let’s have dinner…” Avanti tried to go around him to exit the room. He caught her arm and stopped her as she looked up straight into the pair of her favourite eyes boring deep into hers.
“…why the hurry Avanti…? You will be gone for almost six days… so why don’t we just… chat…?”
Avanti nodded and while she prepared the chapatis he sat right there in the kitchen and they talked about all the humdrum ordinary matters related to work place and home. Keshav had a humorous side to him which Avanti had recently known of and she loved that aspect more. He was quick witted and could pull off a joke with a neutral face… even now as she stood in the kitchen, she cracked up time and again as he regaled her with some funny stories of his mistakes at work from the past. Avanti didn’t want the moment to end…it was the most he had spoken at length and she had enjoyed every instant.
Later post dinner he put up a movie…Sweet Home Alabama… oh her favourite… She had just told him once in passing and was touched by his gesture… but was still at a loss about the reason for his behaviour the other day. He seemed relaxed after many days as well so she let it pass. As the movie progressed, she couldn’t focus on anything accept the enigma of a man seated beside her. His hand was on the backrest behind her and though he didn’t touch her he was just… too close. When it screened her favourite scene where the female protagonist Reese Witherspoon was proposed by the Mayor’s son in the Jewellery shop, she as always got all mushy and teary.
“…Hey…all Ok…?” He must have heard her sniffle her tears.
“…Yea…it’s just that it’s so romantic… I had watched this movie years later after its release when I was about sixteen… and had stars in my eyes… silly dreams at that age…I fantasised my guy doing something like this for me whenever he would propose…” She chuckled.
“…but don’t you think such dreams are overrated…? We have to have an ambition…some goal in life…”
Oh God could he be more cynical? What a way to ruin the mood…She shook her head “…I agree… goals are important to move forward but dreams give you the power…they propel you forward so you reach those goals… Any ways…” She switched off the TV. “…OK listen… I have discussed the menu with Mrs. Sinha and she will be coming in the evening as well to make dinner for you. Do not…I repeat…do not eat outside food…” She stopped as she looked at his amused look. “…And take your medicines on time or else Kamya di will be upset…” as soon as she mentioned his sister his face fell and he looked away rubbing his face. He stood up to walk away but she couldn’t leave the conversation half way for the next six days. She stood up as well and held his hand. “…Wait Keshav… what is it…? Sorry but I overheard your conversation on the phone the other day… is Kamya di alright…?” He didn’t answer and just looked blankly at the wall. She let go of his hand. “…Its ok… I … was just worried that’s all…I didn’t mean to intrude…and…”
“…Kamya is seeing someone whom she wants to marry and I don’t approve…” He said in one breath interrupting her.
“…Why don’t you approve Keshav… Kamya di is a successful doctor with a strong head on her shoulders…”
He turned towards her his expression pained. “…Avanti…that’s because I know the guy… Sahil Kulshreshtra… he is my childhood friend and we had grown up together…family friends at one time…”
“…Then what is the problem…? You should be happy that…”
“… Avanti there is a history with the Kulshrestras… Your father knew them too… Sahil’s father who was closest to my father…literally partners in crime… he refused to help us when we were almost on the roads…can you beat that…? We… just me and Kamya… were left to fend for ourselves… we have gone through so much….and now she seems to have forgotten everything … She wants to get married into that household…no… Avanti, I won’t allow that to happen…” He walked back to his room rubbing his face. That was the maximum he had ever spoken to her about his family. She wondered what was the true story was…nonetheless she hoped to talk to Kamya indirectly once she got back and now, she had to focus on her upcoming trip.
As she slept that night, she couldn’t help but wondering how much she would miss Keshav…but then missing someone was a part of loving them…wasn’t it? She knew she was in love with Keshav… had always been… but then would being apart show her how strongly she felt for him…?
But what would be the outcome of all these feelings and their analysis… it would be futile. A tear fell down her cheek on the pillow on the side she had turned to sleep. This was a one-sided affair, but then…she would always keep him in her heart…forever.