The next day Avanti walked out of the hospital into the waiting Taxi along with her mother and Rahul. Rahul didn’t speak a word with her though his eyes revealed he knew everything that had transpired. Was he in touch with Keshav…? She couldn’t say but she hoped he would … at least she would know how Keshav was doing. She had made her decision and there was no going back on it, but she needed a little time… especially since she had to regain her strength and convince her mother. She would then return back to Keshav… and her home, though she didn’t know how she would bear to stay apart from him for so long. But it was necessary for her to think rationally now especially given the situation they were in with regards to the enemies around them, along with her baba’s research. This was no longer only about Keshav’s disease but there was someone out there who didn’t hesitate to kill and that gave her the shivers. Did her baba want to find a cure for Keshav…? Given how much he liked the man she wasn’t surprised. Her baba never gave up on anyone close to him…family or not. She decided to go with his decisions…she wouldn’t give up either. She would never give up the fight to make things better though at the moment everything including Keshav’s ailment was a blurred entity for her.
She had about ten days, after which she had to go to Kolhapur where she was to accept the university honour on behalf of her baba. She contemplated missing the event but later decided against it. It was one of the last threads holding on to her father’s memories in that place… Besides the Ex-head of Chemistry Dr.Pradhan who was her father’s mentor now in his late 80s had expressed a deep desire to see her. His son had recently connected with her on email. She didn’t know what he had to say to her but she believed he could help her knowing more about her baba…in regards to his profession… perhaps that could throw light on his work in his last days since the black book was nowhere to be found. She was lost in the complex array of thoughts and before she knew they neared her old home. It was cleaned and their maids were back too. She looked around and realised nothing interested her as her mother helped her upstairs to her room. She lay on her bed and the effect of medicines were setting in causing her lids to get heavy and before sleep adduced her all she could see was the beautiful dark browns laden with a defeated anguish which called out to her….
Avanti woke up to darkness around her, disoriented as she looked around and realised, she was in her maternal home. The separation pangs hit her hard as she fought tears remembering Keshav… all she wanted to do was go running into his arms. He probably needed her more than ever… she could see it yesterday. He had been already affected by Kamya’s engagement and now she was not with him when he needed her the most. He was broken and defeated and she couldn’t see him like that. She knew it was going to be tough but she didn’t expect everything around her to remind her of Keshav and their moments in the short time together. Even as she wove her fingers through her hair, she remembered Keshav fingering her locks whenever they got close…he loved the feel of her hair he always told her. As she rubbed the sheen of sweat beaded on her forehead, she felt Keshav’s soft lips surrounded by his rough stubble kiss her there at every instance he got… her eyes teared up with the flood of their memories gaining momentum with every passing minute.
She had to remain strong for both their sakes and she would go to him when he would have no annihilating barriers around him and she would have answers for him. She wiped her eyes inhaling a strong sense of determination. She stood on trembling legs as a wave of weakness swept over her, she walked carefully to the washroom to relieve herself and freshen up. She then walked out to the living room where her mother sat deep in conversation with Rahul. They stopped talking as soon as she walked down the stairs and joined her mother on the couch. She laid her head back on the headrest as a fresh wave of dizziness tilted her senses.
“…Kay ga bala…?” (what is it) her mother was speaking as if she was walking on eggshells around her. Avanti hated doing that to her mother but at the moment she had to grasp at every possible straw.
“…Aai…how do you know about Keshav’s condition…?”
He mother looked at her as if she was a deer caught in headlights. “…Uh… I recently got to know…”
“…Did tai call you as well…?”
“…ho… ca…call…kela hota tine…” (she had called) Her mother tentatively replied. “…Avu bala…its time to eat something and then you have to take your medicines…lets not waste our time and energy on that man…” Her mother abruptly got up and went to the kitchen to heat up dinner while Rahul kept staring at her.
“…What…?” She asked him in an irritated tone immediately regretting her behaviour. “…I am sorry Rahul…its just that…”
“…I know Avanti… I know what happened… what you tried out there was stupid… anything could have happened… I want the complete details once you feel better…”
Avanti nodded. “…Yes…I am sorry…I…”
“…Do you know Avanti…? Keshav had an eye on you…in spite of the fact that you had objected last time… but he followed you till Khopoli and the idiot thought you were on your way to Vedshastra… It was only later in the day when Keshav couldn’t get you on call we realised something was amiss… Keshav brought entire Vedshastra down…he was so upset…Fortunately… we had a meeting with the PI which I was present as well and we exchanged what we knew… it didn’t strike us till later though that you may have gone alone….”
“…Sorry Rahul… I didn’t mean to…”
“…Avanti I have never seen Keshav like that… he was losing it big time and was set to go out himself in search when the men he sent didn’t bring back news… he was running around like a maniac constantly on phone with the local police and Akshat…till finally that man called informing about your situation…He forbade us to accompany him and to manage the crisis here…the news couldn’t make it to the papers you see… we don’t know how people will twist the tale…” he rubbed his face.
Avanti sniffed away her tears. “…I understand Rahul and I am miserable thinking about Keshav…but Aai…”
“…don’t worry Avanti…give it time… Aunty needs time to cool down…everything has probably come like a shock to her….she will understand eventually…”
Avanti nodded. “… Rahul…I want a favour from you…” He nodded patiently and waited for her to speak. “…um… I want you to give me a daily account of how Keshav is doing… I mean… he tends to skip meals…”
“…I promise you Avanti…in fact he was the one who had arranged the transport here and informed me about all this… Avanti…he was a wreck…”
Tears welled up as she remembered Keshav’s stricken face from last evening and she vowed to go back to him never to separate from him ever again. “…I miss him like my next breath Rahul… but I couldn’t help it… As soon as I return from Kolhapur next week, I am going back for good… But meanwhile I need your help in finding out some information…”
Later that night after her mother retired for the night, Rahul and she sat up late looking for all possible articles on Huntington’s disease in her baba’s study. After about 3 hours of brainstorming with Rahul she typed out information on the hereditary disease and took out the prints. She made a neat folder with the collated information and pasted a sheet on the summary on the cover of the folder. Her baba had taught her the value of meticulous documentation which made work easy.
Her summarised sheet mentioned the following:
Age of onset: mid-life…30s or 40s (symptoms show up)
Slow eye movements
Loss of energy and fatigue
Current medication: managing symptoms. Fitter the person, the better it is for him.
Symptoms worsened by stress
Avanti stared at the last bold letters and they blurred as tears sprung up… Keshav was in distress and she could feel it right in her heart. Though he wasn’t physically present or in contact with her he pulled at her heartstrings and she was even more determined to hold on to the hope of getting him out of this trepidation. Rahul looked at her but only held her hand as she sobbed realising the agony that Keshav had to go through and at the moment he was all alone… battling every fireball thrown at him. She was glad Rahul was here with her… he understood her plight and morally supported her as well.
Rahul stayed back as it was very late by the time they were done and she went upstairs into her room. As she went to bed, she texted Keshav.
I hope you had your dinner. Take your medicines before going to bed…
She saw he immediately read it as if he was waiting for her message… and though there wasn’t any reply it brought a fresh bout of tears. All the time she spent with him in the short time that they were acquainted and married, all the memories sneaked out of her eyes rolling down into the pillow.
The next day too was spent in research in her father’s study. Rahul joined her after office hours and gave her a detailed account of what he could find out about Keshav. She was relieved that Keshav had his lunch and evening snacks in office and hoped he would have his dinner on tie as well. She religiously kept texting him reminders irrespective of him not replying but was happy that he read them all. She also tried matching the symptoms that she had read from what he demonstrated so far and she could barely find any… She was curious to know more with regards to his diagnosis and current line of treatment and there was only one person who could help her.
The next morning, she called Kamya who was delighted to hear from Avanti especially after what had happened on the day of the engagement. Kamya was also excited as Sahil’s family was talking about helping her with attachments to the best hospitals in New Delhi after her residency, where she would be moving post marriage. She was scheduled to go for the first round of interview next week and wanted to meet Avanti prior to that if it was possible. Avanti agreed and since she was feeling much better now, she planned to meet Kamya a couple of days later on Thursday. Her mother was to go for a day long satsang and jag ratra that evening and would be home late at night. She didn’t have to make excuses then.
On Thursday Avanti met Kamya for lunch at a pre-decided hotel in Vashi. Sahil was there too and soon Rohini joined them in tow with Parminder. Once again though the man spoke well and blended with them, aptly supporting Rohini in most of her view points, Avanti couldn’t shake off the feeling of something untoward when she looked into his eyes…somehow, they made her uncomfortable. But she was also happy for Rohini… who looked radiant in her black outfit. The woman really knew how to dress up for any occasion. They all had small talk as the lunch was served and Avanti was comfortable after a long time. Parminder took out his glasses…thick ones and that surprised Avanti. How did he manage so far without them…? As if reading her mind Rohini spoke up. “…Parminder here has trouble with his distance vision…can you beat that? None of you could guess… right? He hates contact lenses too and now with reading glasses too things are tough for him… but still he does his work with an enthusiasm that could put all you younger guys to shame…” Rohini looked adoringly at Parminder who was clearly embarrassed but he led her close and gave a kiss on her head. Kamya giggled and Avanti was happy to see her smile…she just hoped she could see Keshav like that as well…
Avanti made sure not to let anyone know about her…accident and hospitalisation. Soon Rohini and Parminder left after lunch and Avanti left with Sahil and Kamya to Sahil’s home. His parents had gone back to Delhi and Avanti was less guilty about what had transpired the last time she was here.
Avanti didn’t waste anytime and immediately started to discuss Keshav’s condition with Kamya. The latter sprung into her professional mode as she explained his issues to Avanti.
“…Avanti… Keshav has the mutated gene and has already being showing subtle symptoms for a while especially since last two years now. We regularly get the MRI done…every six months at the moment and his last scan was normal…i.e the brain is not affected as of now…. There is no sign of atrophy. But… given the condition and family history… the full symptoms could set in…say about two years from now…” Avanti stopped breathing as reality started to sink. Kamya sat next to her and patted her hand. “…look Avanti…though there is no cure for the disease, there are medicines to manage the symptoms and even prolong their severity from setting in…” Avanti only nodded trying to hold back her tears. “…but there is something you should know Avanti… the symptoms are triggered mainly by stress… or when he hasn’t eaten for a long time, Bhaiyya who tends to have hypoglycaemia (sugar levels falling low), it’s aggravated… So, he has to eat on time, regularly and…” She held Avanti’s hand together. “…and…Avanti the only way he faces less stress is when you are with him… so please Avanti…do not leave his side…please…” Kamya blinked back tears even as Avanti nodded. Just then Kamya got a call and she excused herself to answer it moving away towards the open window at the end of the long drawing room.
Avanti smiled sadly at Sahil even as the information she had received from Kamya was settling with a strange heaviness in her heart. Sahil gave her a glass of water and started the conversation. “…You know Avanti… Keshav is the most stubborn human I have ever known…” He chuckled as he continued. “…even as kids he would listen to reply rather than to actually listen to the speaker… he was always restless to achieve whatever he set his mind to…” He sighed and smiled looking at Avanti. “…But in spite of all that he faced in his pathetic childhood he has literally lived for the people he loved… he is fiercely loyal towards his family and friends and would go to any extent for them…”
“…why…then…Sahil…? Why didn’t you stand by him those years ago…? Even if your father refused to help…why didn’t you…at least …”
“…That’s because of his son-of-a-bitch father… he was a wretched excuse for a human being…”
Avanti was stunned. “…what…?”
“…Avanti… that man… he was a known womaniser…he made a move on my mom…twice. My parents ignored it because he was stone drunk both times and Keshav and Kamya were innocent… but a little before his death he molested my mother… and if not for his poor health he would…have… the bastard would have raped her…” Avanti gasped as he continued his eyes blazing in anger. “…my mom often visited their home at times without me in tow, to help out with Kamya… the kid was barely twelve and suffering from her menstrual cramps all alone with no one to talk to… one day my mother had gone to help her with the issue and as she emerged out of Kamya’s room after she slept, the bastard attacked her out of the blue….as if he was waiting for her….” Sahil halted for a moment anger written all over his face, his nostrils flaring up as he panted. “…There were no servants that day… and the swine wasn’t drunk either…My father was furious and severed all ties with the family…both personal and professional…That man had even swindled company money to the point of bankruptcy so my father withdrew his partnership but not before pumping money to revive the company for a while more till Keshav could take over the reins…. Unfortunately, his father…the parasite he was… ate away at that fund as well…leaving a shitty legacy behind for Keshav and Kamya…” He sighed again and with a trembling smile, looking at Avanti. “…But in spite of all that…I am so happy Keshav and Kamya turned out the way they are…”
“…Um…Sahil…why didn’t you tell this to Keshav…? I am sure he doesn’t know…”
“…Avanti… When it comes to us, Keshav had his blinders on… He probably won’t believe it. As it is…he barely has some sporadically good memories with his father… I don’t want to ruin them for him now…even Kamya got to know recently by accident and she resents her father already…” Avanti nodded trying to understand. “…Avanti…I have been away for long but I have always followed him and even later when Kamya and me started dating…. Avanti…Keshav is… uh…lonely…right from childhood…in spite of all his achievements. He has this Casanova image and he has dated women before but I know for a fact he was never into anyone before…it was only to drive away his loneliness… So… don’t leave his side… Ok…? I could see the affect you have on him…I don’t know when we would reconcile…. But I would be happy if he is at peace…”
Avanti nodded wiping away her tears even as her phone buzzed with an incoming text from Rahul. ‘Keshav didn’t have lunch today…I rushed upstairs but he had left by then for some crisis in Novo Supremo…thought you should know…’
Oh no…she had forgotten to text Keshav a reminder to have his lunch… worry ate her up… what would happen if he didn’t eat at all. She bid good bye to Kamya who was busy on the work-related call and Sahil walked her to his car instructing the driver to drop her at her destination. Before the vehicle started, she called Novo Supremo office but couldn’t reach Keshav’s PA and right then she made her decision…her destination was Deonar…