Manik walked towards the garden area of the hospital in a confused state of mind.
His love for Nandini was going to overshadow every emotion he’d ever feel in his life, he was sure about it. But his inherent trait of staying ‘in-control’ at all times and doing things ‘his-way’ troubled him.
He had been changing… at least for Nandini… but today he realised that he had married the strongest female of this world, who didn’t bat an eyelid before going against her husband, even when she had no where else to go. She stayed with what she felt was right, even when she loved him so much that she couldn’t live without him.
She knew that he never forgave people, she knew that he might not get over the betrayal and may never forgive her, she knew that they had no life without each other… still, she had taken the risk.
For a moment, he felt as if his mind had stopped the capacity to comprehend and react.
No matter how much he loved and trusted her. It was impossible for him to believe that Nandini had kept facts hidden from him. She had involved dadu and Cabir in his secret, embarrassing him before them and she got Harshad freed the day they left for Barcelona.
All these days on their trip, she had been lying to him.
That is why she had taken his laptop and phone so that he had no clue about what happened to Harshad. Neither he, nor his staff could contact each other. It was unbelievable and disheartening.
His mind wanted to be angry with her, for that was how it was supposed to be!
He never forgave anyone. All those who went against him were thrown out of his life. This had been his way… his unspoken rule…
But Nandini was the only one, in the entire universe, who had never obeyed to any of his rules till date. Why will she do it now?? It was so expected of her to do the unexpected.
She was so unpredictable that this had become one predictable trait of her… He reminded himself that before this, he had always loved this trait… This was not the first time, she had gone opposite to him… In fact, she had always stood up against him… fought with him… challenged him…even when she was new in Paris and knew no one here… even when she was working at his office… even when she had every reason to succumb to his charms when they were in Lucerne… even when she didn’t believe in his definition of casual relationships… she wanted and settled only with a marriage that promised her a forever… she knew that she deserved ‘love’ … ‘his love’… and she made him promise that… At every step, she had done what she felt was right and he had fallen more deeply in love… almost like crazy…
He was afraid if it was going to happen this time too… No wonder, his heart refused to listen to whatever crap his mind could have tried churning against Nandu…
Why he couldn’t let her mind rule his heart, he had no idea… a heart that beat for her… a heart that protected her, even when she was against him… a heart that stayed with her, even when it was located in his chest…a heart that stood up against him, along with Nandini…
It had always been like that with Nandini and that was how it was going to stay! Period.
When he crossed a jogging track and entered the grass, he could see Harshad reading a book for an elderly woman. A very weird sight. Manik rolled his eyes. When he spotted Manik coming to the garden, Harshad immediately got up, excused himself from the lady and walked towards Manik with a helpless smile on his face.
“Hey bro!” Harshad reached Manik and tried to hug him.
Manik didn’t respond to him that easily. In fact, he was sarcastic, “Bro??”
“Still upset with me?? I know what I did was a big crime. I know it even looks stupid to say this, but I am truly, genuinely sorry for that accident.”
He wished he could take out all his anger on him, today. He wished he could tell him that life and family are not to be taken that casually. Manik gave him a sarcastic, angry look, “Sorry?? You nearly killed me and my wife… And all you have to say is – sorry???”
Harshad took a deep breath and nodded, “I don’t know what had gotten inside my head at that time. All I wanted was property, office and your position in the Malhotra group…”
“Which you were never interested in before this!! You never cared to come to office, you never worked or studied hard…”
Harshad sighed and spoke thoughtfully, “Because that was not me. I loved music and photography…I stayed focused there… then suddenly, one fine day, I realised that you were cutting down my sanctions. I was in money crunch… a severe one!! I had taken loan from someone in Italy and he turned out to be a mafia… he started threatening me and I was angry that you were stopping me from using the money that belonged to me too!” Harshad shrugged and spoke honestly.
Manik was extremely furious at that. He glared at him angrily and spoke with gritted teeth, “I have never stopped you from using the family money. In fact, you splurged it lavishly on booze, women and your leeches of friends… but this time, you were trying drugs. Someone told me about that and it became necessary to cut down on your money. Otherwise, you could have become an addict without batting an eyelid.”
“I didn’t understand that you did that for my wellbeing. In fact, I never wanted to understand. All I wanted was to hurt you and take your position.”
“Well!! You almost succeeded!!” Manik dismissed his explanations and turned around to walk away when Harshad caught up with his steps and stood before him to ask him to stop.
“You’ve always forgiven me. Please do it one more time. Please?? I promise I won’t give you a chance to complain. I will try to make everyone feel proud of me.”
“And why would I trust you??” Manik asked with a bitter tone in his voice and reprimanding looks on his face, “What made you change colours, all of a sudden??”
“Not sudden!! It’s been long since I have been thinking about it. Do you know that I was kidnapped and held hostage for nearly two weeks. It was terrible mannn… It was close to death! I was scared… I was broken… It was extremely depressing. I realised how precious are basic necessities to survive and I had taken everything for granted. I was so helpless that I was dying for a basic human experience at that time… craving to talk to someone at that time.. to have a decent meal… to sleep in my bed…”
Manik folded his hands across his chest and had furrows in his brows as he stared at him pointedly. Who knew that better than him how he had taken out his anger on Harshad. Now, it felt so peaceful and liberating to know that his punishment had drilled some sense in Harshad’s brain. Harshad had finally started thinking after that. He was finally admitting that he had never valued what he had.
Harshad continued, “I also realised that you should know yourself first and then act, accordingly. When I was never interested in office and work before, why was I even trying to acquire it?? What did I want to prove? Taking care of Malhotra group is not my cup of tea. That’s you!! That’s not me!!!”
Manik gave him a glaring look when Harshad said that it was Manik’s forte to see business and not his!! How convenient of him… what an escapist…
“I missed my music and travels and hippie life when I was in that building. So, I decided that whenever I was let free, I will go back to what I love the most and I won’t ask you for money. I will try to earn money from what I love to do… modelling, my concerts and music albums!”
Manik softened a bit at that, “You can always take the money from office when you need, but only for valid, genuine needs. Not for drugs, alcohol or girls. You can use your credit card but I will monitor it for some years, if it goes well with you??!”
“I’ll try my best that I don’t need that. Now, I want to earn a bit of respect for myself. Just like you have.”
Manik smiled. For the first time in their lives, Harshad had been praising Manik. Even lavishly so. He shrugged, “Well, in that case… All the best!!”
“Thank you, bro! For sending dadu and Cabir to set me free from that office. I knew that you would come for me or send someone, like always. Initially, I thought that you were the one who was behind it. But when dadu and Cabir came there to rescue me, at that time, I realised that you always have my back… somehow you know everything and you have always helped me.”
Manik didn’t reply to that. For one moment, he opened his mouth to tell Harshad that he was mistaken that Manik had rescued him. In fact, the credit for his pain went to Manik. And he was rescued and freed by the girl, Harshad had never understood… the girl who had come from India, just for Harshad, hoping to find a heart in him but in return, Harshad had hurt her so much.
What was Harshad’s loss, became Manik’s gain!!!
Manik knew that he was forever going to remain grateful to Harshad for rejecting Nandini. He had never valued the diamonds that unexpectedly fell in his kitty and which he unceremoniously shrugged off, always and threw them away. Manik felt pity on Harshad. It was true that he had missed a lot in life because he had no idea how to take care of things and people who mattered…who deserve an important place in life!
He was about to tell him all that but then he stopped himself. If Harshad was beginning to think and value his life, his family and his priorities after this torture, then he didn’t want that ordeal to go wasted.
He also liked the way Harshad was talking to him. Like someone will talk to his older brother. Telling him everything would mean going back to square one with Harshad.
Manik refrained from telling him about anything and decided to let the impulse go. He turned around to sit at a wooden bench in the garden and smirked, “Seems like, the prison worked to clear your brain out of a lot of shit…”
Harshad smiled sheepishly and sat beside him, “It nearly killed me!! You had no idea, how depressed and desperate I felt. When I was freed, I wanted to run away… somewhere far… maybe, to Venice!!”
“Then why didn’t you go?”
“Because of dadu!!! He said that my punishment is still not over and I have to serve in this asylum for one week, till you are back from Barcelona. He said that you are on holiday in Barcelona and I am your culprit. So, ONLY if I apologize to you and Nandini and get forgiveness from you, then I can leave the city. In the meantime, I have to serve this hospital…”
“Serve??” Manik smirked, “What good are you worth??”
“Not fair!” Harshad rolled his eyes, “I read books for the inmates, play guitar for them, sing them songs and talk to them.”
“Interesting!!” Manik was amazed. It was quite a co-incidence that in past one week, both of them had rejuvenated their lost selves… found themselves back… found their passions back… and set their priorities right!! It was not a difficult time afterall, for Harshad too! If Manik was in heaven, having a beautiful time, Harshad was not suffering too.
It relieved Manik, a lot!! It relieved a lot of his guilt…
All thanks to Nandini!!!
Harshad was telling him about his experiences at the asylum and how dadu had asked him not to leave this place. Though he was not caged here, he was simply requested to stay here. Harshad had agreed.
Doctors at the hospital, Cabir, Niki, dadu regularly talked to Harshad and emphasized on how important it was to take life seriously… to take family and love seriously… to stay positive and develop a consistent useful attitude instead of becoming a nuisance…
“So you are still going through the punishment with all the lecturing!! Phewww!!” Manik smirked.
“Imagine… the torture!!”
“You needed it, big time!!!”
“Don’t even get me started on what all you need…” Harshad rolled his eyes.
“Okay, let’s not fight. I’m tired after the travel from Barcelona and now I crossing nearly entire Paris to come and meet you!”
“That means, you have forgiven me?? Can I come home with you??” Harshad grinned expectedly.
Manik nodded, “Yes… For now, I have forgiven you… but I DO NOT FORGET… I’ll keep a watch on you. You go back on your words… I’ll go back on mine!!”
Harshad raised his hands in air, right before him, “Whoa!!! Don’t worry… I know what I want in life.. at least, now I know… I’ll try we don’t clash…”
“Let’s go home!”
“Wait!!” Harshad stopped, “What about Nandini? Will she forgive me? I am her culprit. I have always wronged her.”
Manik swayed his jaw, thinking about Nandini and her letters, and replied, “She has forgiven you long back!”
“How can you say that?”
“Trust me!! I know her better than you. More than that, it is an unsaid rule made by Nandini recently that we can speak and act on behalf of each other!!”