Manasvi picked up her handbag and walked straight out of the exit terminal. She didn’t have much luggage. In fact, she didn’t have clothes fit to be worn in a wedding. As of now, she was surviving on kurtis with leggings or denims. She brought her small bag to Delhi hoping to shop for some festive clothes from Delhi itself.
When she walked out of the arrival gates, her heart almost stopped for a moment, before it started beating again. She knew he had said that he will be there for her. But she didn’t know that the effect would be so profound.
Anshuman was right there. Waiting for her. Looking fresh and rested, better than two days ago when he had met her in Goa. His blue-black striped polo neck tee shirt and blue denims made him look as if a poster boy straight out of a men’s magazine. His beard and moustache were still intact, and so were his long hair, slightly longer than what he usually sported. His smile was the most remarkable feature on his face. So were his eyes. The deep, dark, poignant ones. They held the strongest emotions in them – of pain, of patience, and of profound love for her.
She didn’t want to know what he felt for her. It was written on his face, in his eyes, and his smile. She sighed. One look at him and she knew she took the right step of leaving everything behind to be with him. She couldn’t have disappointed this guy for anything in the world.
He walked ahead when he saw her coming outside. Without saying anything, he stretched his hand and took her bag. She didn’t resist, didn’t oppose. She didn’t even have time to think about it. Her eyes were still fixed at him.
He wanted to ask how her journey went, was it comfortable, and how come she called so suddenly when she was coming the next day. Instead, he simply grinned, and said, “I’m so happy, you are here.”
She had been thinking all this while that she will tell him how Mehta rejected her application. How she finished the assignment and left. How she was desperate to be with him, around him. But she just said, “I had to come. It’s Preksha’s wedding.”
He smiled, very well aware that though Preksha was her close friend, she was there for him.
“Come.” He said, moving ahead to go the car parking.
She followed matching his footsteps. His strides were longer and steps swifter. She was smaller and lagged behind. When he noticed it, while trying to cross a stretch where cars were being taken out, he turned around and stretched his hand for her. Instinctively, without thinking much, she slipped her hand in his hand, which he enclosed warmly and safely.
His touch, his hold was like an anchor to her dwindling ship. How she wished for this stretch to never end and they be walking forever, hand in hand.
Taking care of the traffic, he moved at a measured pace and she followed completely relying on him. They reached the parking area and he left her hand. She moved around the car robotically and sat down on the passenger seat. He drove the car, and for few moment, he concentrated on taking out the car from the parking space and getting on the main road in Delhi traffic at night.
Finally, when they were on the main road, moving at a steady speed, he sighed. “Pheww! Delhi Gurgaon traffic is crazy.”
“Yeah.” She nodded.
“Umm…Preksha’s in-laws agreed for wedding on Saturday. But that also means that we got very less time to prepare… It is a ceremony with very close family members so even distant, far-off relatives are not invited… No friends, or random people… So, mom and dad decided to do it at home.” He kept speaking in small sentences, telling her about the preparations only to keep talking to her.
He knew that after they reached home, they will be surrounded by family and relatives. She knew that too. She could hear him talk for the entire night. Even if it was a random topic and nothing about them.
“Am I talking too much?” He asked. He wasn’t used to speaking so much and that made him feel weird.
Was he blabbering? Did it look odd? He hoped she was not put off by his ramblings.
She smiled widely, and shook her head to refuse, before she whispered, “No.”
Doubtful, he shrugged, “Sure, you are not thinking – why is he telling me all that?”
She tilted her neck and observed him. He looked adorable when he was doubtful, and worried. For he had hardly ever seen him worried. He was always so confident.
She replied, “Anshuman, I’m thinking – how special it feels when someone tells you all that – even the finer details of something. It’s so precious.”
He heaved a sigh of relief, “Thanks. I think, I’m just over the moon that you decided to come over.”
She was surprised. In fact, shocked. Anshuman was never so vocal. Not the least about his feelings. And today, for the second time, he had confessed how glad he was that she had come. Though in small steps, he was trying to convey what he felt. Though, he didn’t need to. Not to her.
Instead of being happy about it, Anshuman’s excitement slowly started to weigh over her heart and she couldn’t remove it from her mind that Preksha’s wedding was delayed because Anshuman was in jail. She had always wanted a big fat Indian wedding lasting for days, but she had to be satisfied with this small event, only because they were majorly delayed and now, they couldn’t make a big noise since Anshuman had sneaked in, in a clandestine way.
Why did they have to compromise on their share of happiness and desires. Because of her!
Everything had happened because of her. And she had conveniently walked out of his life and their tribulations, leaving Anshuman alone to rot in a jail. How she was going to atone her sins, she didn’t know. But right now, she felt like an imposter. Like she didn’t belong with them. She didn’t deserve their love. Neither she deserved Anshuman’s love. She was the perpetrator responsible for their sufferings. She should have stayed away.
A constant Achilles’ heel was not being able to do anything for Anshuman when she had a chance. At least, a harder try would have been kind to her heart. She would have had the satisfaction of doing her best.
She kept thinking about it, feeling guilty that she was missing Anshuman’s monologues and what he was sharing with her about Preksha’s wedding. She was now missing the present too.
“What happened? Why are you so quiet?” He asked.
She had no one to share her deepest, heartfelt emotions. He was the closest to her. She didn’t want to hide from him. She replied, “I shouldn’t have come. It’s your family’s personal event with only close ones…”
He interrupted her, “You ARE the close one to us. You are immediate family.”
“But all this delay and subdued events… the hushed wedding… it wouldn’t have happened like this… I can’t forgive myself.”
His voice became stern when he interrupted her again, “No, we won’t discuss it again. It was not your fault.”
She pressed her lips and kept quiet after that. He drove silently. Soon, they reached home, where everyone, from RajSingh and Madhu, to Preksha and Dadi, and their close relatives like buaji, chachaji, chachiji, and cousins received Manasvi warmly, hugged her, and made her feel like one of the family.
They had been instructed to not post on social media about the wedding and not make a noise with far-off relatives. They needed to be grateful to Junaid Khan and shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize his standing and job.
Everyone understood and swore to secrecy. One of Anshuman’s cousins teased Manasvi. “We are all asked to not talk about it. But here, we have an international reporter among us.”
Manasvi threw a sideward glance at Anshuman. He was observing her. She smiled warmly, and replied in a deep voice.
“I’m family first. Reporter later.”
Anshuman chuckled in glee when she said that. He had no idea he was going to feel so special when she would declare herself part of the family.
Madhu gave a drink to Manasvi and asked, “Do you have any festive clothes? Traditional wear, etc?”
Manasvi bit her lip and nodded to refuse. Preksha said, “I’ll be shopping for sarees and lehenga from tomorrow. Come along, we will buy them together.”
Manasvi nodded, and added with a slight whisper, “That’s what I was thinking – I’ll buy from here.”
Madhu asked, “Manasvi, I have something in mind. If you don’t mind, may I ask?”
“Please aunty…err… Ma…you don’t have to ask.”
Madhu smiled widely and asked, “We were thinking of doing the same functions for you and Anshuman. Last time, it was a quick marriage, with court and documents etc. This time, we want to see you both getting married again, with all the rituals.”
Manasvi was listening to her tongue-tied. Marriage with Anshuman, all over again, felt like a fairytale dream. But was she even ready for this another enormous gesture from them? She nervously wet her dried lips by taking them in her mouth and left them slowly. She turned towards Anshuman who was looking at her unabashedly, and so was everyone else.
Madhu said, “Don’t look at him. Anshuman doesn’t believe in rituals. That is why I am asking you.”
Slightly relieved that Anshuman had refused them, Manasvi gained confidence. They were on the same page, after all. Slowly, she replied, “Ma, I understand your emotions. But I personally feel that this is Preksha’s special moment. Her day. We don’t want to steal the light from her.”
Her ‘we’ was always endearing. How she included ‘him’ in ‘her’ decision and declared to everyone that they were together in this. They didn’t want to make it ‘their’ moment. Anshuman grinned and stood up to leave, because he knew that if he stayed, then his cousin’s teasing game would start. He always left during awkward conversations. But this time, Preksha and their cousins Mehul, Prateek, and Kavya, all teenagers, stopped him by coming in front of him.
Preksha declared, “I have no issues sharing the limelight. Bhai and Bhabhi will get married properly this time, and I want to ensure that this happens in this time only. Or else, they will both disappear for months like before.”
Anshuman gave her a fake smile, “Let me go. You need to take rest. Your mind is not working well.”
Preksha refused, “Nothing doing. Say ‘yes’…”
Manasvi frowned slightly, “But Preksha…”
Madhu kept her hand on Manasvi’s shoulder, “I know you are feeling awkward. And you always do. Trust me, I’m doing this for both of you. After this marriage, before all relatives, done with haldi, and mehendi, your awkwardness will reduce too. Or maybe you will learn to deal with it.”
Anshuman turned around to look at Manasvi. She looked worried and nervous when her gaze met his. For a moment, it felt like they were the only two people in the big hall, and could communicate across the length of the hall. Anshuman sensed why she was so worried and uneasy. She was still not able to get over the troublesome guilt overpowering her. She didn’t want to go through anything that drew attention to her and reminded her that she had let him down.
He sighed looking at her. She looked all the more adorable when she was edgy and fidgety. Then, he said, not leaving sight of her.