The plane finally found it’s destination. It landed smoothly at Lucknow airport, making the newly weds too busy to even talk… Relatives surrounded them and took them to Malhotras’ ancestral house.
In a suburban colony of the small city, Malhotras owned a bungalow, with three floors, huge spacious ten bedrooms, large dining halls and living rooms, big garden at the front and an equally expansive terrace.
“Your house is beautiful…and so big!” She quipped when they were finally seated in the living room.
“Small cities have big houses. No big deal!” He shrugged.
She turned to give him a long stare. “Is there ‘anything’ in this entire world which is a big deal for you?”
He sheepishly grinned and stayed quiet after this. They were asked to change their attire. He wore a different set of shirt and trousers. She was made to wear a pink chiffon saree with sequins and threadwork at the borders.
When she walked in the central hall, with her head covered in the pallu of pink saree, he wished to look at her for just one more time, after every time he removed his eyes from her. She was not only cute and pretty, but she was an adorable soul at heart. The way she interacted with and responded to his family was endearing. A rare combination these days. If only she was a little reserved and quieter, she would have been a killer, not that she wasn’t already… but still…
She noticed how handsome he looked in a stark white shirt and brown trousers. His laughter lit up the entire living room. Her eyes searched for him in a crowd of hundreds and when he was not there, she felt lonely. If only, he was a bit soft spoken and uncomplicated, he would have been a deadly package.
They were both subconsciously aware of their gaze on each other and that served to add a distinct thrill and anticipation to the entire irksome routine they followed around the relatives. They knew that the other was seeking them and that left a fuzzy feeling deep inside the chest.
Something about these gazes had changed… Something weird was transpiring between them… from strangers shores, they were now known destinations to each other… from awkward glances, they had graduated to comforting looks…
What it exactly meant, was obscure. It was too early to name it something…
And when their eyes met, they exchanged beautiful smiles, just for each other. She felt cherished and lively and he wished he could treasure her gorgeous smile to light up the part of his day when she wasn’t with him.
Distant relatives, who couldn’t attend the wedding at Mumbai, were invited for an elaborate lunch. Later, the bride and the groom were taken to the ancestral temple and then they were taken to meet the grandma who was ill and had insisted on seeing Manik married before she dies, leading to their quick marriage.
Grandma blessed them and gave token of money to Nandini, who touched her feet. Grandma kissed their foreheads and talked to them for some time.
When they were being directed for something else, Manik noticed that Nandini slightly stretched her back and crackled her neck, cringing. She must have worn the saree for first or second time in her life, he assumed. Given her schedule and examinations etc, she wouldn’t be getting time to wrap a saree and go to hospital. Since last three days, they had been tired…
He took his mother aside and declared that he was tired and was going to his room. Nandini knew that he had done it for her. She simply smiled and mouthed a whisper, only for him to notice,”Thank you!”
He simply smiled before they retired to their room and called it a day. After an entire hectic day, when they were finally left alone in their room, Nandini removed the pink saree pallu from her head and crackled her neck again, “Oh My God…this relative-meeting business is hard work… so many pretences…”
Manik spoke nothing. He just grinned.
“Is this your room, Manik?” She turned around, observing the room.
“Yeah… It used to be… before I got a job in Bangalore.”
He replied and became busy with hundreds of sacred threads in his right hand that were tied to his hand during several rituals and prayer ceremonies since last three days, including some tied at Nandini’s house and some in their ancestral temple. They were so many that it started irritated him.
As the threads were in his right hand, the left hand tried to open and untangle them but failed as some knots were very tight and some convoluted with others. Nandini removed her neckpiece from her neck and loosened the saree pallu, to let it lie freely on her shoulder. She observed Manik struggling with his threads. A deeper part of her wanted to rush back and help him, but she didn’t do anything like that as he had requested just this morning, in the aircraft, to be left alone even during problems. Apparently he didn’t appreciate help unless asked and was self sufficient. So she didn’t offer help. Instead, she sat on a chair and took off her sandals.
Manik kept fiddling with the threads using his left hand but when failed after 15 minutes, he turned to her. “Nandiniiiii…”
“Hmm?” She grinned to ask, eyes fixed on him.
“Can you please help me?”
Her smile widened and with a twist of lips. She added, “Sure! Why not?!!
He knew why she was so happy and that made him grin too. She came close to him and sat on the bed right before him. Taking his hand in her own, she held his threads to be removed one by one as they were neither supposed to cut them or break them. They were sacred threads and they were allowed to open the knots only.
Her cool fingers on the skin of his wrist were enough to rake crazy sensations rushing towards his spine. She was so close that he couldn’t avoid the awareness of her presence with him… the fragrance that originated from her, her hair falling down when she tilted her neck to see the tangles, her breaths brushing at his skin and hair, making ripples and tingles of desire inside him…
She leaned closer to his wrist, dealing with the knots, thread by thread and unknowingly, he leaned forwards, towards her, till they were so close that his breaths touched her face. It was her turn to feel his presence now. She became conscious and slightly moved her just her eyes towards him, only to find him lost in her. She pressed her lips in apprehension, took a deep breath and was back to dealing with the knots. She had opened almost half of the lot.
He lowered further with his eyes still on her but stopped at a short distance from her hair, her face… She prayed for the work to be finished soon… She was beginning to get the goosebumps, she felt whenever he was around…
Without any word spoken between them, both could feel the tension rising in the room, giving her jitters and giving him crazy thoughts…
How it would feel to squeeze her in his arms… and how it would feel to kiss her mindlessly…
Needless to say, she thought on almost similar lines…
He could feel her nervousness as now her hands trembled. To make it a bit easy, he said, “Let’s break them… they are taking long…”
“Patience Manik…” She murmured, “Your mom said that we shouldn’t break them or cut them…”
“If you go on listening to these people, they will make you crazy…” He joked.
Thankful to him that he made it easy to communicate all over again, she opened the last knot and said, “I have that energy!”
She took away all the threads and smiled widely, “You are free now!”
“Not sure if I love it now… or it was better to be in tangles… “
She blushed when he said that and walked away. She removed her bangles and all the jewellery her in-laws and parents had given her. He untucked his shirt and opened the first two buttons, moving around to open his cupboard and find his towel.
The dynamics between them fluctuated between ease, comfort and camaraderie on one end to awkwardness and nervousness on the other end and they could both feel it. It was becoming hard to stay around each other, without touching, without noticing subtle details about the other and without getting attracted.
He turned to throw a glance at her and found the act of removing the jewellery so enticing that he stood stupified to observe it. She noticed it in the mirror and shook her head to discard the crazy thoughts.
“Stop staring, Manik!” She whispered.
He grinned and turned away, “Just one day more, Nandini…”
“One day?” She turned to him, unable to understand.
“Just for one more day, we need to be around each other. We can shift to two separate rooms when we reach Bangalore… we’ll be busy in our work through the day… and stay in our rooms after that… probably we won’t be seeing a lot of each other.” He hoped.
“Great!” She quipped.
“You are suddenly so happy?”
“Obviously! Who wants to stay around you?!!” She teased him with a smirk.
“Hello, Madam!! I can say the same…” He teased back, turning around after picking up the towel and sat on the edge of the bed, taking off his shoes.
“Can I ask a question?” She tried to divert the topic and spoke while taking away her heavy diamond ear rings, gifted by her mother-in-law.
“Was she the grandma who wanted to see you get married before she died?”
Manik couldn’t stop smirking at that, “I have only one grandma, Nandini…yeah, she is the one…”
Nandini walked back to stand before him, right in front of him, where he was sitting by the edge of the bed. Her mouth was open and eyes widened.
“What? Why are you giving such looks?”
“Manik, who told you that she is about to die?? Doctor?”
“No! Are you silly? Grandma wasn’t well last month and since then, she is chanting that she is leaving the planet.” He rolled his eyes.
She chuckled, as if giving him an earth shattering news, “Sorry mate! She ain’t dying soon. She appeared hale and hearty to me. She’ll bless the planet for at least 4-5 years more.”
He laughed loudly at the way she said that. Nodding his head side to side, he reminded her, “Nandini… she is my grandmother…”
“But she was the one na, who was the reason to speed up our marriage process…”
“So what is your problem with that?”
“She is fit! Okay?!! Now, I seriously hope, she doesn’t tell you that she wants to see your baby before she leaves the planet!”
He sniggered, getting up from the bed, “Nandu, if you stop to hear what you speak, you might be able to understand how hilarious, you sound, sometimes…”
“Manik, I’m serious… what if she says something like that…” She turned her neck up, lifting her chin to focus on his face.
He leaned ahead, lowered towards her, slightly, seductively and winked.
“Then we’ll go for it ?!”
“In your dreams!”