One year later…
Nandini had been in the washroom since almost half an hour now.
“Nanduuuu…” Manik frantically paced to and fro in the bedroom, waiting for her eagerly and banging the door occasionally to ask her to vacate the washroom. “Hurry up!!”
She opened the door slightly, peeped through the small space between the door and the doorjamb, giving him a painful smile and chided him, “Manik, you know that it’s ‘that’ time of the month and I am already irritated!!! Now, if you can manage… pleeeeasssse give me some privacy??”
He shrugged and nodded, blank-faced, clearly defeated with one simple sentence. She shut the door again and he turned and walked away. What else he could do??
He crashed on the couch in their room and scrolled through his phone for business related messages.
Leisurely, she walked out taking another 20 minutes and brushed her hair facing the mirror.
Manik stood up, irritated. “Whaaaaatttt yaar?? You always have some excuse or the other, to keep the washroom occupied, early in the morning… We are getting late for office!!!”
She giggled and continued to get ready, teasing him, “Is it my fault that I am supposed to get ready and leave at the same time, with you?? I was getting ten jobs. Even from the rival company. They were offering flexibility of timings. Who insisted that I should join the Malhotra group?? Who wanted me to design for Zenith and Sweet Nothings??”
He pressed his lips together, suppressing a teasing smirk. She looked gorgeous… and tempting too…
He held her from behind, slipping his hands around her waist to hug her, “Who asked you to put all your energies in designing those pieces of lingerie?? Which CEO will let you go if you continue to come up with such interesting stuff??”
She blushed and giggled, looking at him in the mirror and hit his arm with the hair-brush in her hand, “Stop it!!”
“It’s not only about work, you know… Which employee will keep the spirits high during work hours?? The lunch and the coffee hour become so spicy with you around…” He buried his mouth in the space between her neck and shoulder and kissed her, tucking her closer to him.
She blushed more and wriggled to slip out of his hold. He didn’t leave her. She whispered, “Manik, you are impossible!!!”
“I was normal… You made me impossible!”
“You were ‘never’ normal…” She teased him, “I taught you to smile…”
“Really???” He kissed her several times on her neck, “Do you want me to count all that I taught you???”
“Aren’t you getting late now??” She literally pushed him away towards the washroom, “CEO Sir, you have a meeting first thing in the morning!”
“Oh mannn!!!” He remembered it and banged the door of the washroom, rushing in, not before saying, “You are such a distraction!!”
She laughed at it, walking away to face the mirror again, “Yeah, I know… that is why you want me around even for the board meetings!! I never wanted to join the Board of Directors, but you and dadu…”
He shouted from inside, “Blame it on dadu!! I was looking for a refreshing change…there were some interesting options too, but then he insisted on YOU…”
She laughed hysterically at that and came back to bang the door from outside, “Manik Malhotra!! You step out of this washroom and see how interesting I make this day for you!! New models are joining today…handsome, good looking models… you know!!!”
“Oh… I love competition…”
“So, you’ll get a tough one!!”
He smirked at all the comebacks from her. She was fun to be with, at all times. Especially because she could never keep quiet, whether he teased her, or fought with her or romanced with her…‘Whoever thought that this girl talks less, was royally mistaken…Outsiders knew the silent, sincere, committed-to-work Nandini… only he knew what a fiesty dynamite she was, when she was with him…’
Life couldn’t have been more beautiful with her around him. It had started as a roller coaster ride first. His silent, calm, monotonous life was hit with a raging storm when he met her first at the airport… an year back!!
She had come to Paris for a fashion designing fellowship at some other company and was supposed to get engaged to someone else. Destiny directed both her pursuits towards one man… Him!!!!
And since then, they had been an inseparable couple who had gone through major ups and downs together but refused to let anything or anyone come in their way. They consciously kept their love and respect for each other above their differences, their arguments and frequent differences of opinion at the office.
She noticed the glorious smile on her face when she looked at herself in the mirror. The source of this smile was the man, who was famous for being a tough taskmaster at work. But when it came to her, all his toughness was restricted to building a sheltering cocoon around her that protected her from any outside turbulence and ensured that the smile on her lips stayed intact.
No matter how different they were, each of them tried to keep the negative energies away from the love nest they had built with utmost love and care.
She was sitting at the couch, tying the straps of her sandals, when he came out of the washroom and deliberately shook his head to release the droplets of water from his hair to splatter over her.
“Eeeww… when will you stop doing that??”
He chuckled, in a matter-of-fact way and replied, “Never!! Didn’t we promise that we will never change?”
“Yes,” She smiled fondly, remembering that day, “We will never!! In fact, even if we try, we can never do that…coz that’s what makes us….US!!”
She stood up, “Manik, can you make yourself free, a bit early today??”
“We need to go to the market to buy a gift for dadu and dadi.”
“Did you forget that it’s their 51st wedding anniversary tomorrrow. We have a Satyanarayan puja at home tomorrow.”
He danced a brow in a naughty way, “Ohhhkayyyy!!!! So, that means, it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow??”
She fastened the knot of his tie and straightened his collar, with a pretty blush on her cheeks, “Yes, it is!!”
“Special day for us, as well?”
“We met for the first time, a year ago, today…”
“Found a connect in each other…fought for the first time…”
“And many times after that…”
He slipped his arms around her lower back and pulled her into him, “Such a long way, we have come!!!”
“A long…long way… my life completely changed…”
“Mine, as well. You came smashing into it, bumped into me and left me zapped till date.”
She smirked, “Yeah! So, how can we celebrate one day when every moment spent with you is so exhilarating…”
He chuckled, and teased her, “What an amazing wife, who never nags her husband to give gifts or party with her over silly days.”
She giggled and tip toed on her toes to reach up till his cheeks and gave him a peck on his cheeks, teasing him back,”What an amazing husband… always finds time to romance, even if getting late for the meeting!!!”
“Oh….Shittttt….Such a distraction, you are!!!” He grumbled, leaving her laughing more and teasing him more.
For the puja at home, several arrangements were done on a huge scale…relatives of Malhotras arrived in the best of their attires, bringing with them, gifts and wishes for dadu and dadi…
Maya had been arranging for the comfortable stay of guests and was instructing the staff about it. When she spotted Nandini in a beautiful traditional anarkali suit, Maya smiled and sweetly pointed it to her, “Saree, it should have been, daughter-in-law! You were supposed to wear a saree…it’s a huge ceremony…all friends and relatives are coming…”
Nervously, Nandini nodded, “Chachi, I’ll just go and change…”
Maya smiled again, clearly victorious and equally vicious, “Forget it!!! I know that you won’t have a designer saree. So, what’s the point in changing anyway??”
Maya left, leaving Nandu speechless and angry. Manik approached her when he saw her upset, “Hey…what happpened?”
“I really don’t like her. I will never like her.” Nandu grumbled.
“Who??” He shrugged, looking here and there.
Instead of gossiping with him about Maya, Nandini stayed focused on her own pain and frustration, grumbling continuously, moving around, stomping her feet, leaving Manik flustered. He followed her.
“I never liked her, even before. She never apologised for what she did… and then, she is always passing derogatory remarks…why will I have designer wear?? I’m a designer myself…at none other than Zenith?? It’s not that I don’t have a taste for a designer saree… just that I don’t find it worth spending some thousands of euros for something I can’t use… but I know, she hardly cares…”
Manik stopped her, held her shoulders and steadied her. “I got that!! … Maya chachi?? Right??”
She made a face and whined, “Manik, why is she always like that?”
He smiled knowingly, “Just like us, a lot of people don’t change. Relatives fall in that category. And, Chachi is one of them. She is not going to change, not going to apologise… we know that… Why spoil our day for her? Learn to ignore… not everyone is going to become nice and goody-good with you…”
“I’ll try to remember.” She calmed down. He had the same effect on her as she had on him. A shower of rainfall over the scorching land.
He smiled, “Okay, smile now.”
She scrunched her nose lovingly and lightly punched him on his chest. “I still don’t take orders, Malhotra !!”
He chuckled and held the hand that had punched him, whispering to her, in a husky threat, “Someday, I’m going to sue you for physically assaulting me!!”
“Yeah… yeah…” She laughed, this time.
Dadu and dadi had arrived by now, talking to relatives, accepting wishes, meeting people. Things appeared nicer again.
Dadi came near to Nandini and spoke in a concerned voice, “Nandu, you shouldn’t exert and stand for long…take rest, beta…”
Nandini gave her a blank look, “Why dadi?”
“This is the most important phase in a woman’s life, after marriage…” Dadi chirped, giving them a mysterious smile, “Pregnancy!”
Nandu stared at her with a stunned look on her face while Manik and Dadu rolled eyes.
“I’m not pregnant, dadi…” She immediately clarified.
Dadi smirked, “Do you think, I’m naive??”
“Not naive, but definitely mistaken…”
“You have been feeling weak since a few days, I observe you every day… that day, you took our Gynaec’s number from your PA… and didn’t you take a half-day off from office, yesterday??”
Nandini nearly panicked at the gross mis-interpretation. She stammered, “Err… I was feeling weak as I had sore throat and fever last week, I took Gynaec’s number for one of our managers who is pregnant and not happy with her doctor… and I took half-day yesterday to go shopping with Manik… for your gift!! Manik, tell dadi, na!!”
“She is right, dadi!” Manik intervened. but smirked.
Dadi frowned, “Manik, you keep quiet. Nandu, why were you vomiting last night?”
Manik was enjoying every silly question and it’s clarification… He raised his brows and looked at Nandini to listen to her side… He loved to see Nandini with a cute, defensive look on her face.
“I ate sushi last night at dinner and the fish didn’t suit my tummy…” Nandini tried to clear out.
Dadi took a deep breath and then smiled knowingly. “You don’t need to hide it from us. Don’t feel nervous or scared, beta… it’s something to be happy about.”
Clearly, she ‘wanted’ to believe that it was true. Speechless, Nandini turned to look at Manik. No matter how funny it was for him, it wasn’t the same for Nandini. He nodded to her in assurance and turned to Dadi. “Dadi, Listen to me… Nandu is not pregnant!!”
“How do you know?” Dadi snapped back.
Manik wondered if it was okay to tell his Dadi that he knew it, for sure, because of several reasons – they used protection and the fact he knew that she hadn’t missed a period… He looked at Nandini and found her scandalized at the thought that he was going to divulge something even more uncomfortable and embarrassing, before everyone … She nodded vehemently, in a sign for him to keep quiet.
Finally, instead of discussing the details, he just shrugged, “I know that!!”
“She might not have taken the test, na? Go, get a test done.” Dadi suggested.
Nandini nodded side to side and turned away to avoid further embarrassment before dadu. Manik smiled and pressed his lips, before releasing them and hugged her, “It’s YOUR day, dadi… not ours. Enjoy it, focus on it… we’ll talk about us later!!”
Dadu got the cue and curled his hand around dadi, “Gayatriji, let’s go… a lot of guests are waiting for us!”
Dadi and dadi left, leaving Manik and Nandini alone. Manik smirked. Nandini reprimanded him, “You are laughing?”
“Nopes!!” He sniggered more.
“Come on, ya… not fair!!”
“You looked like a drenched kitten shivering in rain while talking to dadi…”
“Manik, did you see that?? Just how interfering can someone be?? Your family is so nosy.”
“I know, it gets irritating…”
“She knows that I asked the PA for Gynaec’s number, she knows that I took half-day off… Is dadi spying on me??”
“Hmm… she does that… all the time!! And now, she won’t rest until she finds out if you are pregnant or not… and if you are not, then she will make sure to convince you to become!!”
Nandini opened a big mouth in shock, “No wayyyy!!!! … And now, you’ll say that she won’t change… accept that!”
Manik laughed, “Hmm… isn’t that true?”
“Manik… your family has so many different specimens…”
“Every family has such specimens. To crib about them, or trying to change them is a waste of time. Everyone won’t become nice and caring in the end…it doesn’t happen like that.”
“But they should give us some privacy, na??”
“I agree!! But Nandu, she cares for you.. that I’m so sure about… coz dadi cares for everyone in the family. She can be biased, but not insensitive… she loves you…”
“Whatever!!” Nandini shrugged and went to meet Niki and Cabir when she spotted them talking to the group of their friends.
Niki hugged Nandini and Manik. Cabir followed. They had been a happy married couple since six months now. Niki was happy in her in-laws house and her mother-in-law doted on her. Manik was relieved that finally his sister got her due, a family to call her own and a mother in form of mother-in-law. She was welcome and loved in Malhotra mansion too.
Abhimanyu had arrived after personal invitation from dadu. Dadu had grown to like him a lot. Manik had facilititated a merger of his company with Malhotra group for the traditional wear and now they were working together with Abhimanyu’s company taking care of ethnic wear. He also managed their Engelberg office which was turned into an ethnic division, delivering the stuff promised in the contract. Mukti had moved to Engelberg as she worked with new designs and was shifted to the traditional stuff. She closely worked with Abhimanyu and had confessed to Nandini once, about how she had a major crush on him. Today, she made it a point to come to the party with Abhimanyu.
Dhruv and Alya came together too… Dhruv was promoted as senior manager in Sweet Nothings, after Mukti moved to Engelberg. He had attended Milan Fashion week and all other festivals with Alya. Dhruv and Alya had been dating since 3 months and appeared like a happy couple but not with a serious commitment. They wanted to give each other a year before they committed seriously.
Harshad came with Soha. Manik noticed them and went towards Harshad, towing him away by his arm, to talk in a corner. “What’s going on?!” Manik asked.
“Bro…Hey!!! I came all the way from Madrid… for dadi and dadu… to wish them!”
“That, I can see!!! But this girl?”
“Soha!! I wanted her to meet mom and dadu and dadi…”
Manik glared at him, in anger, “Oh hello!!!! If you think, you can make her meet them and make your relationship official, then hang on!! I won’t let you marry this girl…”
“Why??? Don’t you know, why?? I know her already… She is after your money and status, you idiot!!”
Harshad smirked, “Manik, will you stop that? You are always bullying me… Always, you have to find a fault in my decisions…”
As if Manik cared, “Ha!! Do you even know the meaning of ‘bullying’… Your every wish of living on this planet will vanish once I decide to bully you!!!”
“Urgghh… bro, we made peace, then why this ego…I really like her…” Harshad pleaded.
“You are mad!! And you will take a lot of time to grow up. Till then, do as I say!!!”
“No… means … N… O…. NO!!!!” Manik declared his decision… in straight words… leaving Harshad stunned. He had come to realise that Manik knew a lot more than him, about almost everything and had a sane mind on his shoulders. Most importantly, whether Hasrhad liked it or not, Manik was going to remain the key decision maker in the family, apart from dadu, who incidentally trusted and believed in Manik.
Harshad liked Soha, but not that much that he would mess with Manik for her. He shrugged carelessly. If not Soha, then the youngest kid of Malhotras was going to find another girl. It wasn’t like there was a dearth of girls for him. And he wasn’t like Manik, who would fall in love with one girl, go to any lengths to get married to her and stick to her for life.
Manik walked away and Harshad moved to Soha to make her feel comfortable, at least for tonight. Nandini held Manik’s elbow and teased him, “Accept him Manik, he is not going to change too. He will remain your pet peeve!!”
“Godddd!!! His decisions annoy me!”
“But, I’m glad that at least now he listens to you and knows that you are talking about his own benefit.”
“Yeah…” Manik smirked.
Dadu approached Manik and Nandini when he saw Harshad and Manik arguing, “What happened Manik?”
Manik told him the entire incident that had happened in his office when Soha had joined as his secretary and why she got fired. Now, she had come with Harshad to become a part of their family.
Dadu smiled, “When I have ‘you’ taking care of home and office affairs, I have nothing to worry about. Handle the situation, the way you feel is the best!”
Nandini frowned, “Dadu, you are giving him so much leeway. Don’t you know how Manik works. He takes everything to extremes. He is so bossy.”
“I’m glad he hasn’t changed…” Dadu smirked.
Manik raised his brows victoriously, as if teasing Nandini, “Thanks dadu… and you, please relax…”
“Yeah, I will!!!”
Dadu and dadi accepted wishes, thanked people, welcomed the relatives who kept pouring in and asked Harshad to stay for a few days, now that he had come home after almost 5 weeks. Harshad agreed.
“Manik, why don’t you go and take care of our office in Bahamas. I need someone to look into the affairs for the next week or maybe 10 days!” Dadu asked him.
Manik nodded sincerely, “Okay dadu. I’ll go!”
“Don’t worry about the work here. I’ll personally take care. We have Dhruv and Abhimanyu too, to help me!”
Manik nodded obediently, “Ji!! Dadu, I’ll take Nandini with me…”
Dadu smiled and nodded. Dadi was elated too. Now that she had found a new obsession… to see Nandini expecting a baby.
The puja and the festivities, exchange of gifts and wishes, chatter and laughter ended on a positive note. Everyone was pleased to meet each other after a long time. They decided to hold a small get together every month to stay in touch.
However difficult it was to deal with certain nosy people, nagging aunties, questioning bua, taunting chachi, interfering dadi… but together, they were a package!!!
Each one had an annoying quality but they were still part of the family – A family, which Nandini never had. Since childhood, she had lived in homes where she was considered an outsider. She had a family now! Here, they were being ‘a bit’ mean to her, at least some of them, but she knew that she can’t expect everyone to treat her like a princess. It was enough that they considered her a part of the family. And she was very happy with that!!!
The package came along with loving people, adoring sis-in-law Niki, a best friend, and now brother-in-law Cabir, friends like Dhruv, Alya, Abhimanyu and Mukti who cared for her and loved and respected Manik.
Above all, there was dadu, the mountain of the family, taking everyone under his wings. He trusted her for her decisions and intentions, loved her like a daughter and gossiped with her about everyone in office and family like they were some teenagers.
And then there was Manik… different from all of them!!!
He ensured that her day began and ended with a gorgeous smile on her face. To be able to love someone with all your heart is beautiful, but to be loved back with an equal or maybe more intensity is a divine blessing. There was nothing more that she could have ever asked for.
Nandini had never had any complaints with her life. She had learnt to live life on a positive note, no matter what hardships came. She knew how to remain happy and stay positive, under all circumstances. Her life was all about gratitude and humility at what she had received…
But after Manik came in her life, she realised how the best was reserved for her while she struggled in her early years.
She had been taking off her heavy earrings. All through the pooja and the dinner, they had been the source of nuisance to her silky hair and pain to her ears. She placed them delicately on the dressing table.
He walked leisurely towards her, and let his fingers trail over her upper back, just around the nape of her neck, dealing with her gold necklace.
“Let me help you!” He suggested in a husky voice.
She smiled with a coy blush, “You don’t let go of even one chance, na??”
“To romance??” He laughed, taking off her necklace, and placed his chin on her shoulder, hugging her from behind, “I just remembered how I helped you in taking off the jewellery, the day we got married.”
She smirked, “How noble of you!”
“You have no idea how noble I can be…” He teased her.
“I would like to know.” She softly blushed.
“Pack your bags.” He turned her to face him and whispered over her cheek, giving her a soft peck there, followed by another feather soft peck on her lips.
She asked in a cute but confused tone, “Manik, are we really going to Bahamas for a week?”
“I would say – 10 days!” He kissed her on her lips, making her step closer to him. Almost a year had passed since they had been together, still every touch made her feel as if it was their first touch… the same exhilaration… the same thrill… the same passion… She kissed him back, closing her eyes to the fascinating scent of his cologne and numbing effect of his fingers moving in her hair with the same intensity as his lips moved her hers, in complete possession and desire.
Taking a small breath, she managed to ask him, between his addicting kisses, “But… why are you taking me with you?”
He smirked and lowered slightly to slip his hand below her knee before he lifted her in his arms, with a mysterious look in his eyes as he peered deep into her eyes.
“Because… sweetheart… there is no office in Bahamas!!!”