The next morning as they had their breakfast in silence, the vexed anxiety in the air very much palpable, the only sounds interrupting the agonising quietude was the clanging of the cutlery. Avanti had woken up early… in fact she had barely slept, her eyelids heavy with sleep a staunch testimony to the fact. She had started to prepare a cup of tea to start her day when a smiling Mrs. Sinha had arrived and she had immediately warmed up to the maternal woman. Mrs. Sinha was a widow in her fifties who had worked here for the last eight years and she had only praise to sing about her employer. She hugged Avanti and thanked her for bringing in the elegant lustre into the household with her arrival. Avanti had blushed and her sour mood from overnight had considerably improved. They had together chatted and prepared a breakfast of puri-bhaji which was apparently Keshav’s favourite. Mrs. Sinha had then gone off to the market to get fresh vegetables after discussing the menu with Avanti.
Now as she finished, she looked up at Keshav who was reading something on his MacBook… He pretended as if she didn’t exist while he did smile at Mrs. Sinha who congratulated him on the wedding. Well, two could play a game, Avanti thought. She decided to continue with the cold war…it shouldn’t make a difference anyway, should it? She was here for a purpose… for Vedshastra and that began today. It was better for her heart too to remain detached… she had another mighty important task at hand… to find the truth pertaining to her father’s last days. About an hour later they rode in his car to Vedshastra where the board of directors were to meet them. As they entered the meeting room everyone who had already assembled there stood up to greet them and also congratulated the couple. Avanti’s eyes filled as she remembered the last time, she had visited this room with her father. She attended these meetings twice a year to sign on some papers as a shareholder. This time it was nostalgic and she missed her baba terribly. She took in a deep breath as they sat and the meeting commenced.
Keshav was a pro and she was impressed with the way he conducted the entire process. He addressed the board with his upcoming plans which involved staying invested and by default the other investors too would remain with Vedshatra. He was now a joint 50 percent shareholder along with Avanti and was unanimously voted to be the signatory in place of her father. Avanti signed the vote of confidence too and she was asked to speak a few words as Vedshatra began a new phase. Her legs trembled as she stood and walked towards the little podium. She touched the stand remembering how she edited speeches for her father at times and how he kept taking off his reading glasses repeatedly as he addressed the board of directors. He was a man of discipline and he had insisted on the podium placement… he felt it was an important element to maintain the decorum.
She sniffed away tears and smiled, addressing the small gathering. “Good morning to all of you and thank you very much for being with us during pressing times in these last few months. My family and I are extremely grateful to you for having kept up the work going after baba passed and striving with a sole aim to achieve what he had dreamed for the company. As you all know, I have always taken a back seat when it came to company matters and have only been a signatory… so I am glad to have found Mr. Keshav Goyal who is not only my…husband but also someone whom my baba immensely trusted. I have complete faith in baba’s intuitions and with that in mind I hereby hand over the reins officially to Mr. Keshav Goyal. I hope you will all continue to be with us as we scale newer heights now on… Thank you…” She stepped down amidst a round of applause from those gathered and for the next few minutes went around interacting with each of them.
She then visited the office wing and met some of the staff she had known for long time and chatted up with them as they wished her with bouquets and hugs. She felt like she had come home… as she walked around, her eyes scouting Rahul but couldn’t find him anywhere… He hadn’t answered her message that she had sent last night in spite of reading it. What the hell… yesterday he couldn’t wait to pour out his irritation and now he was nowhere in sight…disappeared from the face of the earth. Even the admin head was upset about his frequent leave of absence that too without prior intimation most of the times in the last month or so. Avanti was surprised because Rahul was a dedicated employee and her baba had always appreciated his efforts.
She was thinking deeply about what he had told her yesterday even as she left the office and walked towards the exit. Today she had planned to visit her maternal home to pack up her remaining possessions. A staff from office was coming along to help her pack and get the items delivered safely to Keshav’s apartment. She texted Keshav about her plan and though he read it he didn’t respond. Strangely though, she felt hurt… her treacherous heart wasn’t letting her live-in peace …why on earth did his reactions have to hurt her so much…? She blinked away tears resolving to stay strong for the sake of retaining her sanity in the marriage.
At home she bid adieu to her mother who was all packed to go to her ancestral home in their village for a few months… Her mother was still to come to terms with her baba’s passing and Avanti had also thought it was a good decision as their huge house was now empty and she didn’t want her mother living alone in the ghostly silence of the house. Her mother hugged her as she handed over the keys to Avanti. “…Take care of yourself Avanti… live your life now… forget everything that has happened so far and start afresh… got it…?”
Avanti nodded and wiped away the wetness on her cheeks. “…Aai I am worried about Tai…”
“…Oh… don’t bother…” Her mother shrugged. “…I am sure she must be fine… hasn’t she gone away like this for days before and then suddenly sent a text or called in a few days…? I am sure she will get back to us…”
“…Aai…if she contacts you…give me a call…meanwhile I will do my best here to look for her…?”
“…yes of course… Avu bala… just take care of yourself… I am sorry… I can’t be there for you when you are facing the biggest battle of your life… but I know you are a strong woman… you will do better without me tagging along…”
“…No aai… I will always need you… but for now you need this break… call me if you need anything else and I hope you have packed your medicines…take them on time… I will call you every day…” She then said her good byes and her mother and uncle got into a waiting private taxi which was to take them straight to Shirgaon, Solapur…it was a long journey and she hoped her mother would be fine by the time they reached the village. She also wished Arpita would get in touch with her as soon as possible… at least one worry would be crossed off the chart.
Watching the vehicle disappear she turned around and walked inside… She first went to her room and gathered everything she wanted right from her books collection to all of her musical instruments especially the designer Veena. The staff member arrived shortly with a tempo and they uploaded everything she wanted including her baba’s rocking chair which was her favourite and held loads of memories. She felt like she was a kid all over seated on her baba’s lap while he listened to her sing or tell him about her day… She had even thought of the location where she would place it in her room. Once they left, she locked the house from inside and roamed throughout the interior… they had lived here for about twelve years and the myriad of memories associated with every corner of the house and every inch of every piece of furniture…tugged at her heartstrings. It was as if each was calling out to her to remember them as well as the story embedded in each of them… involving her life with her parents and sister in the house…
Wiping her tears, she dragged her exhausted self to the kitchen where her mother had kept some milk and a tiny box of tea powder for her as if she knew Avanti needed tea. Rest everything was given away to the maids. Avanti prepared tea for herself and taking her cup, walked to her father’s study… she had to start work on her decision. She took out all his files which he had neatly labelled and scanned through them. Though she couldn’t follow the technical jargon she tried to figure out some pattern especially if could point towards what was different in the last project… the files belonging to his last project were all with Keshav and she knew she couldn’t ask him without raining red flags. So, she kept going with what she had and just like her father had taught her she started with a fresh unbiased perspective. She took a fresh notebook and started making her notes right from the first file. These were projects dating to a couple of years backwards. Just like her father would have done, she started to make the columns and categories entering details from each project… including the funds involved and the dates of closing. She knew her father was extremely meticulous in maintaining records and was proud when she saw, all the projects were taken to their logical end and signed off. A few of them also contained Keshav’s signature since his company had collaborated with Vedshastra. She traced a finger on the beautifully slanted signature now belonging to her husband.
A couple of years ago she had participated in a workshop on Handwriting analysis… It was just to give company to a friend but she had been fascinated. She couldn’t help herself as she saw, the way he had patterned the alphabets of his name indicated a strong sense of self, a trait found in successful people. The slight gap in the formation of ‘h’ in his first name pointed towards deep thinking and an addictive personality… addiction to succeed. His handwriting slanted upwards which made him an optimist. The increased waving of letters spotlighted him to be having a thirst for knowledge and an analytical mind… well she was bang on so far based on how much she knew about him. Finally, she saw his signature was large and over shadowed everything else written or printed on the page which was an indicative of perfectionism. She sighed as she shut the file and moved to the next one… if only handwriting could unlock the secrets hidden in his heart…
She didn’t know how the time had passed and it was only when her stomach growled with hunger she looked up from the piles of files around her and saw it was almost 7PM…Oh God… she hadn’t told anyone about her whereabouts… she had only texted Keshav she would be back after packing her stuff… it was hours ago. She took out her mobile and shook her head seeing the battery drained out totally. She was in for trouble back home as there was no way for her to intimate anyone with the landline phone disconnected ages ago…. Not that it would be of any help though. She had terminated the contract for the day security guys starting today and the night watchman /caretaker wouldn’t be arriving before 9PM… she was done for.
Instead of looking for some stranger outside for borrowing a phone… again, it wouldn’t have mattered since she didn’t know Keshav’s mobile number by heart… she began to search for a cab. It was tough since their area rarely had cabs coming in. She thought of asking the Godbole family next door for lending a car but they would have asked too many questions and she was too tired to think of answers to appease their curiosities. She walked as fast as her tired legs could carry her even as she felt giddy with hunger pangs. She didn’t have the time to buy something to eat as she finally found a cab… the drive to his apartment was long and by the time she reached baring the traffic it was almost 10PM… she immediately rushed inside the building premises and entered a waiting elevator… just as she emerged out of the elevator on the fifth floor she saw… commandos… storming out of the house … oh no…was Keshav alright…? She rushed inside to chaos and suddenly as she stepped into the drawing room there was a pin dropped silence… As if she was watching a movie and had pressed on the mute button. She looked around and saw a number of commandos in their all black outfits yielding guns, a few of them on monitors watching something, currently paused in their respective actions. Finally, from the sea of black… emerged a harried looking Keshav. His hair was unruly, his eyes bloodshot and his clothes from morning were creased and all over him. He saw her as if he was seeing her for the first time and rushed towards her hugging her tightly. “…. thank God you are safe…. I… I died a hundred deaths already….” He held her for a moment more stunning her speechless as she wondered what was going on…
In the next ten minutes the commandos cleared the house and it was then she saw her things placed at the entrance of her room. As she tried to move towards them, Keshav held her arm and turned her towards him. “…Just…what the fuck…were to trying today… where the fuck were you…?” He spoke clenching his teeth and starring daggers at her.
She was exhausted to her bone and even looking up into his eyes was taxing her already depleted energy. “…Keshav…I was at my home…winding up… I had texted you earlier today…”
“…that was in the morning… I was waiting here since 6PM… I came home early to help you get settled… And do you know what I have gone through these hours unable to contact you…? Why the fuck is your phone switched off…?” His voice rose and he was panting.
“…Keshav my phone died…I didn’t know… when it did. I left as soon as I was done… and… and didn’t have the time to charge… I…”
“…Stop giving me bloody excuses Avanti… this is the height of irresponsibility… not something expected from you of all the people…”
“…Stop overreacting Keshav…” She as annoyed now…why was he accusing her just for being late?
He came very close and held her arms. “…overreacting…? OVER-FUCKING-REACTING…? You are so naïve… One phone call was all you needed to make…As if you couldn’t find a phone anywhere to borrow…”
“…I …I didn’t have a number to call…” She whispered as her tears broke the barriers that she had kept up all this while. She hunched down and began to sob…she couldn’t take it any longer as the days’ events caught up with her.
All of a sudden, the hold on her arms loosened and he hugged her to his chest… it was all the move she needed and she hugged him back as she continued to sob into his chest. He was the anchor she desperately needed at that moment. He rubbed her head and back. “…Hey… Avanti… I am so sorry dear… I… I was terrified out of my wits when I didn’t find you home and… couldn’t reach you too… I called your mother who said you should have been here in the afternoon itself… I… I didn’t know…. I…” She looked up at him and saw the sincerity in his eyes, the exact same look she had fallen for. He rubbed her cheeks with his rough warm palms and as he held her cheek, she leaned into one of them. Her eyes were almost shutting on their own accord. “…. Avanti… don’t do this to me ever again….” He whispered.
She stared at him and then nodded into his palm as he hugged her again…. squeezing the life out of her as if she would disappear right there. They stood like that for a while and then he spoke. “Avanti…?”
“…Have you eaten…?”
“… come let’s have dinner then…” He moved away and looked at her still holding her shoulders.
“…I… I am too sleepy now…Keshav… I can’t…”
“…. Don’t… don’t argue now…. Avanti please… le…let’s e…eat…” She stared at his face as it contorted and his hand hold over her shoulder loosened and fell lifelessly as he staggered back. It was happening just like that evening in her house…
“…Keshav… when did you last eat…?” She was frantic now…
He plonked on the sofa and laid his head back on the headrest. “…Mor…morning… break…fast…”
“…oh my God Keshav… now, who was being irresponsible…? wait…let me get you something…” her hands trembled as she rushed to the kitchen and brought him a plate of steamed rice and masoor daal curry. By the time she reached him his eyes were shut and head had fallen to one side. Panicking she placed the plate on the centre table and sat next to him holding him close to her chest…rubbing his back… he stirred and it was then she released the breath she was holding. “…Ke…Keshav please stay awake… here eat this….” As she straightened him so that he was resting a bit on her body she held him close to her with one hand and fed him with her other. Soon he had food and she let him rest on the sofa as she rushed back to kitchen to get him turmeric milk. Once she helped him have it, he opened his eyes slightly. “…Keshav where is the medicine…?”
“…bedside table…” He whispered and she ran to his bedroom. She didn’t have the time to admire the beautiful décor that was so…so Keshav… Opening the bedside table drawer she found the same medicine that she had given him the other day and taking it, she scampered back to him. Holding him up she helped him take the medicine. She them made him recline a bit on the sofa while she went back to the kitchen. She had a quick dinner and later she sat on the neighboring sofa keeping an eye on his resting form. He looked so innocent… a far cry from the man who was enraged just a few minutes ago…. A perfect submarine in the desert. She chuckled as she gazed at him and before she knew she was fast asleep on the sofa….