“Nandini ma’m, Manik sir has asked me to give this to you!”
A female staff was on Nandini’s door after she went to get ready for shopping. Surprised to the core, Nandini accepted the leather case from the staff, thanked her before shutting the door again and sat at the edge of her queen sized bed.
The case had a silver grey metallic ‘iphone X’ with a local Paris number and all important phone numbers fed into it, including the emergency numbers. Nandini inspected it carefully, became uneasy about it and put it in her handbag as she was getting late. Alya and Maya were waiting for her.
At the upmarket stores in the city center, Nandini was mesmerized by the beauty, grandeur and the style options available. It was all like a flash of lightening to the eyes…blinding and awe-inspiring!!
But what is good to see from a distance may not be comfortable when you hold it closely. With every dress she tried, Nandini felt a part of herself being lost in that glitz. This was not her!
Somehow, something about it didn’t connect with her.
Alya left her with her stylist and began to shop for herself. So did Maya. The stylist sent Nandu to try a deep neck, strap less evening gown in lumiscent green colour. She wore it and immediately hated it. She was given a few more and every time she found an issue with the new dress. She knew that the problem was not the dress, it was her! She wanted to wear her own ‘Chandni-Chowk’ dress…
By the time, the stylist went to arrange accessories for her, Nandini was fed up. She fetched the new phone from her purse and scrolled for Manik’s number. She didn’t even notice that it had Harshad’s number too. But Nandini was looking at Manik’s name and number. Instinctively, she called him.
He was in the middle of a meeting with investors and buyers when he saw his phone vibrating with the familiar number. On normal days, Manik Malhotra, as a rule, never received calls in the middle of a meeting. He hated disturbances. He ignored the call for once and decided to talk to her after the meeting.
Once he did not answer, as another rule, it was assumed that he didn’t want to answer and people waited for that time. But guess, Nandini Murthy wasn’t aware of any of the rules in his rule book. She called again and the phone which was on the vibrating mode, began to dance to her tune. On normal days, Manik would have become very angry. But this was not a normal day. The cell phone was glowing with a known number flashing, the number that he had given to Nandini.
He looked at the cell phone, rolled his tongue in his mouth, then he threw another glance at the investors around him. All looking at him now. He gave another glance to the phone and chewed his lower lip. His PA and secretaries knew that the caller was going to get a blast from the boss. But nothing like that happened for a moment.
Finally, for the first time, he broke his rules.
“Excuse me, gentlemen, I need to take this call!” He spoke and stood up. If he had said it, it meant that other people had no option but to nod in agreement. He never waited for permission from anyone. Taking his phone in his hand, he walked out of his room to the next empty room in his office.
The stern authority and the intimidating aura that was maintained during the meeting, while picking up the phone, leaving the room and entering the other room was lost once he was alone in the next room. Leisurely, he was now leaning his rear at the desk to receive the call from Nandini.
“Manik… why did you send this phone for me?” She began to bombard him with accusation without any prologue or introduction to the scene.
He rolled his eyes and huffed, “Oh please! I’m not going to apologise for this !!”
“I’m not asking you to apologise. I’m just saying that I have a phone, already!! I don’t need another phone.”
“Nandini…” He spoke patiently as if explaining to a small baby, “I know you have a phone…ALREADY!! But unfortunately, you don’t have a local Paris number. What do we do now? Your phone is actually not working!”
She bit her lip at that. He was right. She had been thinking about getting the local number and was about to ask one of the staff to help her. She had even contemplated about asking Alya for that, while they went to shop. But he had sent it without asking for it. Manik had been so thoughtful. She stayed quiet now, after being bowled over by him.
“So Madam, please keep the phone with you, so that ‘we’ can contact you, in case you get lost in Paris streets or when we need to contact you. It has all the important numbers fed in it, of all family members, head of staff of each department, drivers, emergencies etc. Sorry, I didn’t have your family’s contact numbers in India. Call them and tell them that you reached safely.”
“I’ll do that. Thanks…but still I don’t need a new phone. I can’t accept gifts from you.”
“Why? Aren’t you going to become a part of our family? You should get used to accepting gifts now, as you will get showered with gifts after today evening!”
She gulped her saliva and took a deep breath, looking upwards for some help from Aiyappa. She was not used to accepting gifts and it made her uneasy.
“But Manik… such an expensive gift??!!”
He smirked inwardly and bit his lower lip, at how cute she could be!! He took a brief pause before becoming serious all over again, teasing her in a smug tone, “Now…now… When you are going to become one of the Malhotras, in Paris, this is not called ‘expensive’…didn’t you say last night that you had no idea how rich we were!!”
“Don’t tease me!” She frowned.
“Really Nandini… It’s not like I gave you a BMW or a flat in the uptown suburbs.”
She was not interested. She gave a dry reply, “I’m sure, even that is not expensive for you?”
“Of course, not! You want to try that…You don’t need a credit card to shop in Paris if you are a Malhotra. You just need my visiting card. The bill will reach the office. And there is no limit!”
She yawned, “Ohhh… Mr. Malhotra…How impressive!! By the way, does your visiting card buy a new data card?? For I need a new number right now…you know, I’m still not a Malhotra yet. And I need time to get used to this power display!”
He laughed at that for a long moment. Evidently this time, leaving her puzzled. “I’ve ordered a new number for you. If you are not comfortable, you can give the phone back after your number arrives. It’s my spare phone that I sent for you. You just reached last night. I couldn’t have bought a new phone for you at this short notice.”
She grinned, “Thank you so much… you relieved me off this burden!”
“Burden? It is supposed to be a light weight phone…”
“Such a lame joke!!” She rolled her eyes.
Did she call him lame? And why was it cute, anyway? He rolled his eyes too!
“I sent it while your new number arrives. You need a contact number in Paris. In case, you need to call anyone…or call me…”
“Why would I need to call you??”
“Actually, I do… Err… I wanted to talk to you…”
“See?? Didn’t I tell you? … Shoot now… “
“You know…” She hesitated.
“What is it, Nandini?”
“I hope I’m not disturbing you…”
“Whoa! Awesome…. You remembered quite soon, by the way!” He was reminded of the meeting that he had conveniently forgotten.
“Forget it… tell me what’s bothering you?”
“Manik… I don’t know how to put it across… actually, I’m not comfortable with this shopping bit with Alya or auntyji. I mean, I know my Indian outfit might be a little ordinary or maybe a little tacky for your class… but it was bought by my mom for this occasion. I’ve never seen my real mom. I don’t remember anything about her but my Meera mom is closest to me when I want to think about my relatives. I will let her down if I buy a new outfit to suit my new family and forget about her.”
He frowned, thinking about this weird issue! Weird, according to him, because he had never thought that a dress could cause such furore. He never thought so deeply about emotions attached to material things.
Trying to understand her, he took a deep breath and replied, “Nandini, I don’t know. Girls think differently about certain issues and boys think differently. I cannot think so emotionally, especially about a dress. Still I would say 2 things…”
“Number One – You don’t wear a piece of a designed cloth. You wear your attitude when you go somewhere. I tell that to everybody and coming from the CEO of the biggest designer wear brand in Paris, you need to take this seriously – A dress doesn’t make you appear beautiful. It’s YOU… your smile, your happiness, your attitude, your confidence that makes the outfit shine for you! So relax. Wear whatever you want to…whatever makes you feel confident …makes you feel happy… and what makes you feel like ‘you’…everyone else will understand…”
She was relieved. A wide smile lit up her face, “Deep one, haan??”
“You thought I was shallow??”
“No…never! … What was the other thing that you wanted to say?”
“Oh yeah… Number Two…” Manik was back to his stern, scolding tone that he treated everyone with, “Nandini Murthy… What the hell were you doing at the dining table, nodding to everyone, with a stupid silly smile and agreeing to them? Didn’t you have a voice then, to tell them what you just told me right now??”
“Manik… I couldn’t speak…”
“Take my words Nandini… you need to stand up for yourself and ONLY YOU can speak for yourself. Why will anyone be bothered about your life? Everyone is busy!”
“Oh God! I didn’t call you for this class!! … I know, all that…”
“Of course, you do… Madam ‘know-it-all’…I hope you are keeping a distance from the good looking thieves in the market!”
She was beetroot red at that, “You won’t stop teasing me, na?? God! Why did I call you??”
“To disturb me in the middle of a meeting… and to say what you couldn’t speak at the dining table… I can’t believe it that you are so dumb…”
“It’s not a joke… I don’t talk much…”
“Really?? Now, that’s a joke, Miss Murthy…I’m amused…”
They were now arguing like childhood buddies, “Get lost, Mr. Malhotra!! Why am I even trying to explain you that I didn’t know what to say at the dining table… I am so new to everyone… I don’t know them!”
“New to them?? … So, you mean to say that you know me since ages or what?” He spoke it in a casual flow without even realising it.
She was shocked at the implication of what he just said. He was right!!
How was she able to talk to him so easily while she considered everyone else, including dadi, as distant people and was cautious before talking to them?? How could she pour her heart out to him when she had met him just last night??
Before others, she was scared of being judged. She was apprehensive. And she was nervous.
But not with Manik!!! She was just so comfortable with him that she didn’t even call Harshadji, when he was the one she should be calling after reaching his home. She was not looking forward to Harshadji’s advice or opinions on her issues, apprehensions, doubts. She was talking to Manik, instead.
Manik’s words brought the realisation dawning on her…
This was not good! This was not right!! She was embarrassed.
“Okay… we’ll talk later!” She tried to close this talk right at the inception.
He pressed his lips together and couldn’t speak anything more, for he was aware that he had made her uncomfortable. Trying to do some damage control, he said, “Yeahhh… Alright, even I have a meeting to get back to! See you at the party in the evening.”
Nandini bit her lower lip in helpless expression and squeezed her eyes shut. “Okay!”
She went inside to change her dress and to be ready to tell Alya and Maya, politely, that she was not comfortable in what they wanted her to become!!
I can’t thank you enough for all the love you people have been showering on this story! I’m deeply grateful to each and every one of you.