The girls fell over each other trying to explain the predicament they found themselves in, he heard them out patiently and nodded, “Yeah, heard something on the news,” he said without elaborating further, “Your car must be stuck in traffic and of course your phones mustn’t be working either?”
They shook their heads in unison, “Ok fine,” he took command of the situation, “Let me walk you girls home, or at least till where we can find a cab or something, come on it isn’t far.”
“But Sherry, my parents will be so worried, doubly because Aisha is staying with us these days” Anya fretted, “and mom will probably have flooded Delhi by the time we do reach home.
Sherry nodded his head, “Come along, my office is just ahead, the landline is working, you could tell them you are on your way ok?”
Anya looked at Aisha and nodded her head relieved, “That would be great! Thanks,” she flashed him her (bua’s) brilliant heart stopping smile; the darkness around hid his arrested expression before he turned away to lead the way.
Just then Anya’s phone rang; the network had been reactivated! Anya was happy to be able to speak to her father and reassure him of their safety. Kshitij was mighty relieved and talked to Sherry to fix up a mid-way meeting point for hand over of his precious baggage. Kshitij turned back home to inform a near hysterical Anjali; this time he took his car to drive up to where he could pick up the girls while Sherry began walking with Anya and Aisha in tow.
“How lucky that you came when you did,” Anya laughed chirpily as she tripped happily alongside him, feeling on top of the world, “And when did you come back from Singapore?” she turned to Aisha, “You knew!” she accused hotly.
Aisha shook her head, “Nope, I was just as surprised to see him and truly what a God sent!” she shuddered, “I was terrified.”
“Forget it,” said Sherry crisply, “It is one of those unfortunate situations and definitely not your fault, although how come there were only two of you today?” He cursed himself and could have bitten his tongue.
Sure enough, Anya looked at him suspiciously, “What do you mean ‘how come there are only two of you today?’ Aisha too was staring at him.
“Come on kiddo,” he hurriedly went on damage control mode, “Didn’t you just say that you come to attend a coaching class so there should be a bunch of students along with you right?”
“Yeah of course,” Aisha piped up and explained about the extra auspicious once in a lifetime day for couples to unite and ensure they lead their saath janams together.
“But Sherry, when did you come back from Singapore? And how come you didn’t even contact us?” she pouted.
“Its been almost a year since I shifted back,” he admitted hesitantly, “Mum wasn’t keeping well,” he explained, “And I got better things to do than to hobnob with a couple of kids,” he sneered loftily.
Both girls glared at him, he grinned unrepentantly without looking at either of them.
“Isnt it strange?” mused Anya thoughtfully, “You have been working here for almost a year now and we too have been coming here for almost a year and we didn’t meet each other till today! What a lucky coincidence.”
“Yeah, a lucky coincidence indeed,” echoed Sherry, the shadows hid his blushes as he walked them (slowly almost dragging his feet, savoring this rare precious occasion – oh I have really lost it, he thought miserably to himself) to where Kshitij was waiting. Formal introductions and thanks expressed, hospitality offered and waved away, Sherry strode off rapidly, without a backward glance. He was thankful for the darkness; he was sure his expression was even more desolate than that of Anya’s.
He had carefully avoided looking directly into Anya’s eyes throughout but in the end, whilst bidding her goodbye, almost involuntarily, their eyes had clung, each unwilling to look away first, each willing the other to speak first, of that which was uppermost in their hearts. Sherry had broken eye contact first, relieved that both Kshitij and Aisha were already in the car, else they too would have been scorched by the passion and longing that bound them together, “See ya around kiddo,” he murmured casually through a suddenly tight throat, an equally casual half salute half wave, he escaped, with his dignity and pride intact. The voice in his head was silent in deference to the tsunami of emotions that assaulted Sherry. This was it, he couldn’t afford to meet her again, not if he wanted to maintain his sanity, not if he wanted her to continue to pursue her studies and career and achieve all that she was capable of. A man of the world, he had clearly read it in her open guileless eyes, he just needed to crook his fingers and she would come running.
No dammit, he thought savagely, you can’t do it, she is just a baby, drop it Sharath Singh, I am warning you; he walked swiftly with lengthening strides, focusing his attention on the road not realizing that he had reached home, a good ten kilometers away from his office.
The walk cleared his head and stiffened his resolve. And true to his resolution, he resolutely stayed away from Anya the rest of the year that she came for her coaching classes. Though he continued to watch her from afar, his heart breaking and soaring each time Anya looked around, clearly looking for someone – was it him? He thought eagerly and yet depressed, what was the point of it? He stayed in the shadows having already planned to send out the guards this time, if the need ever arose. Thankfully it never did and all too soon Anya completed her schooling and stopped coming for the coaching classes as well.
Sherry found that he couldn’t bear to sit in that office any longer without the hope of even a glimpse of Anya. He resigned from his job and set up a consultancy of his own at the other end of Delhi (Dwarka) with the aim of helping young budding entrepreneurs kick start their projects. This was more interesting and right up his street. It was a challenging task and even though more risky and less profitable (at least for now) than his previous job, he enjoyed it more than sitting in an office the whole day, his thoughts drifting ever so often to what if the mobile network had not been restored just then? Anya would have known where his office exactly was and she would surely have made an effort to meet up with him. Probably just as well he thought with a sense of deep desolation; even fate was conspiring against him. He squared his shoulders and got on with life determined not to cross Anya’s path again, not if he could help it. Anya had sent him a long effusive bubbly mail which all but confessed her state of mind without actually going as far as saying that she was head over heels in love with him; he read and re-read that mail a zillion times but deliberately held off responding for days before sending a polite, curt and non-committal reply about how busy he was and wishes her all the best for her exams. A hurt silence followed. He knew he should be relieved that his plan worked, but kya karein dil hai ki manta nahin.
He sighed and moped; he sought solace in his work. His new venture kept him busy and entangled till all odd hours of the day and made up to a large extent for all the loneliness and heartache. He made a lot of new friends, including girlfriends, but none could touch his heart, that clearly was sworn to another. He sighed and gave in to his mother’s nagging; he agreed for an arranged marriage; but then the contrary ‘voice’ in his head wouldn’t let him be, ‘are you sure?’ it kept asking, ‘will you be able to do justice to any other girl’ it taunted over and over again. What the hell do you want he snarled back, you don’t want me to pursue Anya you don’t want me to marry another, what am I supposed to do?
‘Do nothing, your life is done for as it is, don’t spoil another’s as well’
Relieved, Sherry bowed to the dictates of his conscience and backed out of his commitment, “Ma, forgive me, I don’t want to get married,” seeing her disappointed expression, he hastily added, “I need to focus on setting up my business first,” he claimed.
Sunita, a sensible middle aged elegant lady had single-handedly brought up her one and only son. She was a teacher by profession and by dint of sheer hard work and dedication was now the Principal of a reputed school in Dwarka.
“But why don’t you want to marry?” she was taken aback, not really convinced about his need to set up his business first, “Abhi kuch din pehle hi toh haan bola tha?” She viewed his flushed and slightly defensive expression with some degree of concern, even as he shook his head regretfully, “I am sorry Ma, I thought I could,” he shrugged helplessly, “But now I find that I cannot go through it, it wouldn’t be fair,” he almost whispered, as if to himself.
“Sab theek hai na?” The flush deepened, “Is…is there someone else?” Sunita asked with trepidation.
He looked away and then slowly nodded his head, “Kaun?” she demanded.
“Hai koi,” he said cagily, a bit ashamed of dangling after an underage school girl.
Sunita’s heart sank; she steadied her nerves and steeled herself, “Who is it Sheru?”
“It’s not important Ma,” Sherry got up to leave the room unwilling to reveal the foolish workings of his heart to anyone, least of all his mother, “Besides that is a dead end, Ma, it is just not possible,” his voice broke just the teeniest bit.
Sunita just held out her arms, his torn expression too much for her; his face crumpled for a fleeting and then hardened, he sank down and buried his face in her lap.
She caressed his hair and then forced his head up.
“Is it a man Sheru?” she invited briskly, “Tell me Sheru, I am a big girl, I can take it,” she sat calm and composed, only the tightly clenched fists revealing her inner turmoil.
Sherry froze and his eyes flew to his mother’s serene expression and almost laughed, his heart breaking as self-loathing filled him, “No Ma, it is worse than that!” and looked away.
Sunita’s heart sank; she went all hot and cold, she forced him to look at her in the eye and spoke firmly to him, “Tell me Sheru, talk to me Sheru, you haven’t compromised someone have you?” she gritted her teeth and steeled herself for the worst.
This time Sherry burst out laughing, “Maaa!” he expostulated, “You really are something!”
Sunita sat still, even as relief flooded her, oh how she loved his laugh, how she loved him, keep him smiling always, she prayed, “Does that mean No?” she asked gravely.
“Yes,” Sherry got up from the floor and sat down beside her, “That is No I haven’t ‘compromised’ anyone, although I am not sure if my ‘crime’ is any less,” he said his expression darkening.
“Sheru! Don’t drag this thing so much! Have some consideration for my poor nerves,” Sunita pleaded, feeling quite stressed out, his hopeless and lost expression almost killing her.
Sherry nodded his head and said soberly, “She…she is just a baby, a little girl,” he swallowed and looked defiantly at her shocked expression.
“H…How old?” she quavered, fearing the worst.
“Hardly eighteen years of age,” he finally confessed.
Sunita could have laughed with relief, he had really scared her when he had said, ‘a baby’, “Is she involved with someone else?”
“Yeah,” he shrugged self-deprecatingly, a faint flush staining his cheeks, “Yeah,” he repeated with morbid relish, “Me,” he declared confidently.
Sunita sagged against the cushions and hit him on the arm, “Sheru! You nearly gave me a heart attack! Spinning out a Cheltenham tragedy like that! Problem kya hai phir?”
“Really Ma!” now it was his turn to be taken aback, “You don’t see any problem in that?” he asked disbelievingly, “We are almost a decade apart!”
“So what?” she countered, “Your father was twelve years older to me,” Sunita shrugged, “I need a strong cup of tea,” she declared and busied herself in the kitchen, “And,” she shook her finger at him, “I can quote several other examples as well before you start off ‘tabhi your marriage didn’t work out’ and all that nonsense,” she looked at him warningly.
“You got to be kidding Ma,” he protested, ruthlessly stamping on the wildly soaring hope even as the world suddenly seemed a brighter place.
Sunita looked at him calmly, “Why should I ‘kid’ you? For me this is no ‘crime’,” she declared categorically, “Haan you may have to wait a couple of years, let her grow up, maybe get some experience, get a degree, perhaps a job and then see how both of you feel by then,” she handed him his cup of tea and patted his cheek, pleased to see the disbelieving spark of hope in his eyes, “Who knows you may have moved on by then, or maybe not, but there is no need to enact the Majnu tragedy,” she castigated him, “What’s the hurry? Patience my dear boy, patience.”
Sherry put down his cup of tea and spontaneously hugged his mother, “Ma! You are the best!” He felt light and hopeful; perhaps he could wait for her to grow up, perhaps she would still be interested in him or then again maybe not – out of sight out of mind, the voice in his head mocked his lofty and fanciful notions. But then Ma was right, patience is what he needed and time; he would put an ‘alpaviram’ on this angle for now and get back to it later to try his luck when she was older and he wiser.
True to his resolution, he put Anya firmly to the back of his mind and channeled his energies into his work. Slowly but steadily built up an enviable reputation for himself and began getting requests for his magic touch in re-instating flagging companies to their former glories from all over the country as well as helping youngsters kickstart their new ventures.
Life, as they say, went on as usual, the pain in his heart a bittersweet reminder of his love visible to none except his mother, whose heart ached for her son. She prayed for strength and courage for them.
Ab wapas RM chalein, jahan Nani had returned home from the hospital?
Udhar everything was going fine at RM (touchwood!). Nani made a slow but steady recovery and finally got rid of her cast and started going for physiotherapy – painful but Nani bore it as only she could. Things continued to be hectic at RM and in fact more than ever before – there had been a rash of get togethers at RM what with Chotti’s birthday (she turned 3), Deva’s Birthday (he turned 5), Arnav’s birthday (well what’s a number after 30 right?) Rakhi and Janamashtami celebrations.
Rakhi was rather special this year, for ASR announced an addition to their ever growing family, much to the delighted surprise of all concerned.
Click here for Chapter 293