A little noise in Manik’s room made Nandini jump in excitement and she rushed to see if he was there. His room was just opposite to her room, on the right segment on the first floor of Malhotra mansion. Harshad’s room was next to hers. And there was another spare room on this floor, facing Harshad’s.
The door of his room was ajar and a staff member was taking out Manik’s tuxedo, his shoes and his other articles.
“Err…excuse me… Manik sir…??” She didn’t know what exactly she wanted to ask.
“Ma’m, Manik sir has asked me to get his things to the office. He will get ready there itself as he is running late. Do you need something, ma’m? You can tell me!!”
“No. Thanks!” Nandini nodded to refuse and left his room.
She had just arrived back from shopping and was about to go to her room to get ready for the party in the evening. Noise in Manik’s room gave her a hope to see him but he wasn’t there.
She went on explaining to herself in great detail, that why she wanted to meet him. Several theories came up – like – he was the first person she met here…she found an unexpected friend in him… he had been a silent support throughout her stay, since yesterday…he had sent the phone for her…she just wanted to thank him…etc etc… and blah blah… People do such gestures for guests and Manik was a nice person…that is why!! THAT’S IT !!!
Then she entered her room and realized that she hadn’t talked to Harshadji. Since one month!! She was living in his home… With his relatives… And he wasn’t even bothered to call her!! That was not only weird. That was downright insulting!! It was slowly becoming difficult to accept.
She maybe quiet and tongue tied before everyone else, including Harshadji…She didn’t speak much…but that didn’t mean that she was a fool! She was quite intelligent and had loads of self respect.
She had come down to Paris, only after she had a training in her hand. She didn’t want to be dependent on her future family for supporting her, both financially and career wise. She had come alone, only because she had no one in her immediate family who cared for her enough to accompany her to a new land… for her new relationship… except her Meera mom, who loved her a lot but was tied in family responsibilities. For the rest of her foster family, she had always been a burden.
She was sent alone to Paris at a confidence that dadi had given to her mom that she will be well taken care of… She was sent with a hope that with Harshadji she was going to find a new family, a new life, a bright future…
Everyone knew that Nandini was not comfortable with new people. She was shy and quiet with almost everyone for she never knew what to say and how to behave. Same was her behaviour with Harshadji. Even Harshadji had said that he spoke less too. So Nandini never got to know much of him… or maybe, what exactly he wanted.
She was worried, once again…
She had tried to call him in the afternoon, after talking to Manik and after realizing that she was getting more comfortable with Manik, instead of Harshadji.
Since then, she was drowned in guilt!
But Harshadji didn’t answer her call. She had left messages for him, asking him to talk to her. But he didn’t reply to any of her messages. After coming back to home, she tried calling him again, but his phone was not reachable!
Nandini was thinking about all this when Maya came to her room with a huge diamond necklace to be worn with her dress.
“Auntyji… I can’t…” Nandini stammered, nodding vehemently, trying to refuse.
“Ssshhh!! Stop calling me aunty…first of all! Try calling ‘mummyji’… and yeah, I agreed to your request that you wanted to wear the dress your mother bought for you. Now, you agree to me to wear this necklace, your mother-in-law bought for you. You will do that, right?”
Nandini nodded, still uneasy but now with a coy smile on her face. Maya could read a few lines of worry that were now residing on her little forehead. “What happened? Why is my princess so tensed?”
“Harshadji hasn’t talked to me, even once!” Nandini finally divulged before the older mother figure.
Maya smiled, “Harshad is always like that. He never calls me too! He gets careless sometimes…I talked to him a while back and he said he was on his way towards Paris. He will reach before party time.”
“Really??” Nandini was thrilled.
“But he didn’t answer any of my calls. Last time I talked to him, it was a month back…”
“He was busy since one month… he was travelling a lot… and today he didn’t answer because he might be driving…”
“Ohh!! Actually… Since I came here, I’ve talked to everyone except Harshadji…”
Maya chuckled, “A little more wait won’t hurt…right?? Don’t worry…he is coming back…then it’ll be just you and him!”
Nandini blushed and lowered her eyelids. Maya left after blessing her and telling her to wear the necklace.
Little seeds of doubt in her mind were crushed by Maya’s assurance. The same used to happen in India. Whenever she was in doubt, her fears were calmed down by Meera, with phrases like – ‘give him some time’…’even you don’t talk much’…’boys are sometimes more shy than girls’… ‘you two have never met’… ‘he doesn’t know you so he doesn’t know what to talk’… and all that stuff…
Nandini believed that because she herself was like that. If she was not comfortable, she won’t talk much and she was generally not comfortable with most people, especially new people…She would only talk when she was comfortable with someone. She was bold and confident when she was alone or with people she chose to share her inner self… knowingly or unknowingly!!
For rest of the world, Nandini Murthy was quiet and reticent!
She had only one close friend, Navya. And when Navya left New Delhi, after getting married, even that touch was lost in her life. She had no one to talk to, about her apprehensions, her fears…her doubts…her worries…So, she stayed quiet and let it bottled up inside her! Maybe that is why she was latched to the nearest support offered to her… Manik!!
Nandini was once again trying to justify her newly found bond with Manik.
A weird tussle had started today… She was here for a man with whom she had talked over phone for a few times and had exchanged messages but not even once did she feel close to him. It was all mechanical and dry. Instead of getting close to him, she was drawn to the man, she had met only last night!! And immediately she was so easily getting along with him that she was sharing her feelings with him…now, this was weird!! No matter how much she had tried to justify it since afternoon, she knew that it was not right! It was totally wrong… and immoral … to get attracted to future husband’s cousin!
‘Attracted??!!! Did she just accept that to herself??!!!’
‘No, I’m not!! This is not attraction! I’m just trying to be comfortable in this new country…new surroundings… he has been so kind to me… that’s it!’
‘Kind to you? Is that why you were fighting with him? You fight with him because you are fighting your own feelings for him!!’
She was shocked at the revelations which had started budding when he asked her why she was talking to him as if she knew him since ages! Still, she kept denying it!!!
‘No….no….no…. that’s not true! Maybe because I see in him, what I have always wished for in a man. Something that I could never see in any other man that I have ever met… that care…that concern… that compassion… !!!
Even after a consistent stable relationship with Harshadji, it remained superficial and shallow. Their talks were limited to their routine and job and likes etc. There was no intimate connect between them. They talked because they knew that their marriage is fixed… by family!! There was no other bond. She never seeked Harshadji’s help even if she was stuck somewhere. She never called him in a bad mood to ask him uplift her spirit or make her smile. She never dreamt about him or fantasized a life with him, like all normal girls do, with their future husbands.
There were so many instances where she had shared about her likes and found Harshadji, not interested. She had accepted him to be her fate. She had assumed that men were generally like that, cold and distant. Her own foster father, Meera mom’s husband, was like that. Inconsiderate to his wife and kids. So Nandini thought it was normal for men to be insensitive. All that was before she met Manik!
But that didn’t mean that she should get carried away with a man who belonged to other woman. Manik was getting engaged to Alya today!! Nandini knew that she had no business being attracted to him! It was a momentary phase and she needed to get over it as soon as possible. This was frivolous and this was desperate…according to her!
She knew she had to get over this small, little, silly feeling for Manik…who was more like a goal for her and not her immediate subject of interest!!
She was supposed to stay loyal to Harshadji…someone she had not even met before!!
“Harshad, where are you? You told me that you will be here by evening!” Manik had started to lose his patience with him.
“Relax bro…I’m on my way! I’ll reach before the party…”
“Are you really coming? I’m beginning to get worried that you are fooling all of us, here!”
Harshad made a careless face, “Like you all have decided to harrass Harshad beyond measures! Mom has been calling me. You have been calling me… I told both of you that I’ll come… and now, even that girl has been calling me!”
“Nandini??” Manik sat alert on his chair, “Did she call you?”
“Twice! She is a pain in the neck, you know! If I don’t answer the call, she can’t keep quiet. She has to call again.”
“Dude, she is going to be your wife! Show some respect!”
“Don’t teach me respect, Manik. Wife to be ?? Only if I allow that… for now… I’m super irritated with her…”
Manik was extremely angry.”So, why didn’t you tell her this, before she came here?”
“I was dropping hints that I was not interested. I told you before, I thought that she will get the hint and things will die down themselves. It’s only now, that I realised that it is serious!”
“Harshaddd!!!!” Manik was so frustrated that he couldn’t think of any words, “Always so irresponsible!!! You promised me that you will not mess with this perfume launch and engagement. Don’t do any mischief now! Don’t break this girl’s heart!!”
“Heart??” Harshad laughed loudly at that, “Since when did Manik Malhotra talk about heart etc??”
Harshad laughed again, “Okay! I’m coming! Chill…”
“Thanks. For not giving dadu another chance to be upset. And maybe, you change your mind about Nandini after you meet her. She’s a nice girl!”
“Is it? Now, if you are saying this, she must be something. Alright! See you at the party!!”
Relieved, Manik disconnected the call, wondering what made him convince Harshad to think about Nandini and change his mind, when he was not even interested in meeting her! He had no idea.
For now, he just knew one thing… He couldn’t see her down or broken!!