Amidst all the gloom and doom, there was a ray of sunshine, a breath of fresh air, a reason to celebrate – though ASR being ASR (err whenever he felt like it, he could still just as easily slip into his ASR avatar – what! No~oo a leopard cannot change his spots can he? haan camouflage zaroor kar leta hai achche se 😉 ufff there I go again ramble ramble 😛 ) didn’t think much of it (idiotic nonsense is what I think he called it) and so didn’t bother to inform anybody that he had been chosen for the best businessman of the year award yet again. Actually this year was rather special for it was his tenth award in a row (kuch zyaada ho gaya kya? Par yeh toh ASR hai right? Kuch bhi zyaada nahi ho sakta hai ki nahi? 😀 ). Anyway, the news couldn’t be hidden for long and it was Khushi who first read about it in the newspaper, “Oh! You didn’t tell me!” exclaimed Khushi as she put down the newspaper; she rushed to hug and congratulate Arnav. Reflexively, he opened his arms to receive her and strangely Khushi’s obvious joy and happiness at his honor gave him greater pleasure and gratification than the news of his award had! Slowly the news trickled in and congratulations poured in – ASR unknowingly slid back into the Arnav/Chotte mode – after all it is tough to be standoffish and curt with so many people fussing over him.
The entire family went gaga over him, while Guddu and Chotti were properly impressed, once again, with their dad, “My daddy is the bestest,” boasted Chotti to her friends, “he can do anything he wants, he can walk, he can swim, he can drive, a car, a helicopter a spaceship, anything,” she waxed eloquent about ASR without a care for facts and the girls were too gullible to really question her, though one or two did look like doubting Thomases but Chotti frowned them into silence, “His next branch of ARDesigns is going to be on Mars,” she confidently declared. Even the Mumbai gang called up to congratulate ASR and promised to come down for the formal event scheduled for about a month later (well Mamaji insisted – this was a welcome opportunity to mend bridges and maintain a semblance of a family). Anya of course was overjoyed particularly so because the event was conveniently scheduled for the day when her exams ended. She was over the moon and extracted numerous passes for her friends, who would be thrilled to be able to attend such a gala event, the food was sure to be ‘finger lickin good’ and err of course the opportunity to meet the mighty ASR, would be the chance of a lifetime, she declared. Arnav shook his head, “Yeah yeah and in that order I presume?” Anya laughed as she rang off and rushed to share the good news with Aisha. More reason for them to celebrate, later. Dwarka Anya and Aishe were struggling under the weight of the numerous tomes strewn across their room; thick fat books lay all over the bed while they took to sleeping on the floor for it was simply too much work to empty their beds before crashing out, easier to just doze off in whatever position they were in at any given point of time. Exams were just around the corner and time was in short supply, “But just one more month of this torture and we will be free, yipeee!” Anya did a short jig, “Next month, at this time, we are probably living it up at Mamu’s award ceremony, oh how I wish we could fast forward this time!” she groaned and staggered as she attempted to shift a couple of books and make a place on the chair. Aisha shook her head mournfully, “If only life were that easy – complete with fast forward and rewind buttons, still got tonnes to slog before I can sit for the exams,” she brightened, “But thank God the theory exams get over first and the icing on the cake? My practicals get over earlier than yours!” she gloated while Anya glared at her, “So? Big deal, just a week’s difference,” she dismissed airily. Aisha twinkled at her, “Oh really just a week is it? Wanna lay bets that it is going to feel like a month, the hostel will be deserted and you can have fun all by yourself,” she teased. “Yeah yeah rub it in rub it in,” she grumbled, “I will also see who will accompany you on your endless shopping sprees for your trousseau,” she huffed. “Aww come on Anya, I was just teasing you, it is just a week’s difference,” it was Aisha’s turn to brush away the gap. Anya laughed, “Haan ab aaya na uunth pahad ke neeche! Come on now enough of jabbering, let’s get back to studying.” As you may have guessed from the conversation, Aisha was engaged and was set to marry her childhood sweetheart Yatin within a month of their final exams getting over. She was going for a short honeymoon to Switzerland before joining her job in Kolkata, for this was where Yatin was currently working. Excited as they were about the upcoming wedding and its myriad celebrations and events, both the girls (actually mostly Anya) were dreading being away from each other. Ever since they could remember, they had always had each other and now all of a sudden, they would no longer be in the same city. Tears clogged her throat she swallowed hard, gritted her teeth and dived back into her studies determinedly.
These days, studies were her best friend and source of support, where she could forget that Aisha would soon no longer be at her beck and call, or that would Sherry ever be at her beck and call? At the rate things were going, she very much doubted it, he probably thought of her as a pesky kid whom felt responsible for, probably because she had ‘saved’ his life, she often thought morosely. Anya was missing Sherry terribly, ek toh she hardly had any time because of the upcoming exams and strangely enough these days he always appeared to be away on business trips these days, perhaps he has a girlfriend, she thought rather unhappily.
She sighed and got back to her studies forcing away every other thought from her head. The days were long and the nights even longer as the girls slogged it out, the exams came and went – all their hard work paid off and the theory exams were a breeze. Now just the practicals remained and soon these were over too. Aisha left the hostel as did most of the other girls and Anya was more or less alone. With not much studying to do, she was at a rather loose end and time hung heavily on her hands, even Sherry was not in town (as usual). Even Anjie was out of town, she could go to RM of course; she chewed her nails thoughtfully and then brightened. Coming to a sudden decision, she dashed off to meet Sherry’s mom, bearing flowers. Woh nahi toh uski kahaniya hi sahi! Sunita of course was glad for the company and welcomed her with open arms. They had a leisurely lunch over their favorite topic of conversation –Sherry. Anya couldn’t have enough of his stories and Sunita of course couldn’t resist talking about her son. “Tell me Maam did he have many friends as a child or while in college?”Anya gently steered the conversation angling for a deeper insight into his love life that is if Sunita knew about it. “No,” Sunita shook her head, “Actually he was always quite a loner, happy in his world of books and computers. Anya listened wide-eyed, “Achcha so he had no girl-friends and stuff?” she went straight for the bull’s eye; Sunita smiled to herself, “Nahi, actually he never really brought any girl home as such so I don’t really know,” Anya pouted mentally was that a good thing or a bad thing, clearly his Mom didn’t think of her as Sherry’s girl-friend, “Actually come to think of it there has been only one girl he has ever brought home,” Anya’s heart leaped, “Maya, her name was I think,” she said with a faraway look in her eyes, unknowingly shattering Anya’s heart. “What…what was she like? Where is she now?” Anya asked in a small voice, jealousy eating into her. Sunita suddenly burst into hearty laughter, Anya looked at her in surprise, “Oh there was such a funny incident! I simply must tell you, Sherry had just graduated from college and had taken up a job,” she shook her head and laughed again, “I was also so foolish and naïve! Unbelievable and inconceivable that I would do such a thing or even countenance such a thing, but that Maya was so persuasive and it all happened so fast that I just went with the flow,” she shuddered, “Thank God Sheru found it amusing otherwise the whole incident could have really backfired!” “Maaaammm,” Anya shook Sunita, getting impatient to know the details.
Sunita settled down comfortably and told Anya the story.
But for you my dear friends here is Sherry Maya aur Sunita ka kissa, DM ki zubaani.
“Hey Ma, meet my “friend” Maya,” called out Sunita’s son, Sharath. Sunita stopped in her tracks, with her heart giving a little skip, was it her imagination or was there a slight emphasis on the word friend? “How nice, come in, come in, no, no need to take of your shoes, you should have told me,” she muttered in an aside to her reprehensible son. He simply grinned. Maya made haste to put Sunita at her ease, “Oh don’t worry Ma’am, no formalities please, I just met Sharath on the main road and I just tagged along for a glass of water.”
Sunita instantly warmed to her, oh thank God for the Ma’am, what a lovely child. She hated being called Aunty by all and sundry. “Yes, yes a glass of water for sure, just a minute, sit, sit, Sheru, switch on the AC, I know it so hot.”
Sunita bustled off to the kitchen. Sheru followed at her at her heels snarling in low undertones, “Don’t call me that!”
“Oh dear,” Sunita grimaced, “sorry, I forgot.”
“You always forget”, he hissed, “better call me Sharath always…..Sheruuu”, he snorted and stomped back to the sitting room.
Sunita came back with an appropriately laden tray, Maya too was the picture of courtesy and rushed to help, while exclaiming, “Oh you shouldn’t have!”
“So where did you and Sharath meet”, said Sunita, trying to cover up for her earlier gaffe.
“Oh we met a few months ago while doing our respective internships in a company, said Maya,” he was coming around the corridor swinging his bag and hit me with it”!
“Oh, and then you hit it off together after that,” laughed Sunita heartily.
“Ma!” chided Sharath a bit embarrassed, “You know Maya, Ma is always making such puns,” He apologized.
Sunita, smile faltered a bit, she was rather proud of her puns. She shook off the feeling, “Never mind about me. Tell me about yourself, where you staying, are you working, do you…?”
“Ma, Ma, relax, breath between your questions,” Sharath stopped her in mid-flow.
Maya laughed and said, ‘Its OK, Sharath, I don’t mind, actually it is rather nice to meet someone who actually wants to know about me. Ever since Mom passed away, nobody really bothers about me.”
Sunita’s heart instantly went out to her, “Oh I am so sorry, what happened to your Mother?”
“She passed away 2 years ago after a brief illness, I now live with my father and 2 brothers both older to me,” said Maya. “All of us are working and I am usually the first to reach home and as I hate going back to an empty house I often visit this market to do my daily shopping and delay my return home”.
“I understand”, Sunita sympathized, ‘I am also alone, and now with him working late,” she gestured to Sharath, “I also often feel at a loose end. Come over anytime you like, don’t hesitate. We could even go shopping or for a movie if you like.”
Maya’s eyes lit up, “Oh that would be nice Ma’am, Movies are my weakness, but the ones I want to watch area strict no-no for the guys at home in my life.” This was the beginning of an unlikely friendship; they shared and enjoyed many a movie and outing. Days flew by rapidly as they are apt to do in happy and busy times.
However, soon Sharath became even busier in his own world and had little if any time for his mother. Maya too suddenly stopped coming. Sunita presumed Sharath was spending time with Maya and was rather hurt that he did not confide in her. After all, I am not stopping him. Maya could have also told me, she thought rather resentfully.
After a couple of weeks, when Maya called to say hello, Sunita was rather curt and hung up soon. Feeling snubbed, Maya decided to get to the root of whatever was troubling the old dear. Also, her primary aim of inquiring about Sharath’s whereabouts was as yet unanswered. ”Hello, Ma’am, here I got some flowers.” Maya landed at Sunita’s doorstep one evening.
Sunita melted, “Oh dear, you shouldn’t have, thank you, they are beautiful.”
Maya smiled and said, “I am sorry I didn’t contact you for so many days, actually some guests had come and I was rather busy.”
“Oh that’s OK, my dear you don’t have to explain, I have also been busy with the whitewashing and the cleaning”, said a visibly softened Sunita.
“Yes ma’am, I know, Sharath told me and as I haven’t also met him for a long time, he told me he was helping you….”
“Helping me?” Sunita interrupted Maya, “but as you can see he is not, he comes home very late these days and I thought he was with…,” Sunita trailed off rather lamely.
“So”, said Maya, thoughtfully, “where is he? He is not helping you, he is not with me. He is obviously not working late, for he could have told both of us the same thing.”
He is having an affair was the joint obvious and instant conclusion.
Click here for Chapter 314