Nandini stood in front of the washroom mirror for some time and blushed hard. Her face, her eyes, her cheeks looked different today. Even a long bath and thorough scrub couldn’t take away that squishy feel from her cheeks and her body. Each feature of her face held a distinct glow. If felt as if each cell of her body throbbed with a new sensation. A soft, fuzzy feel. Something that made her aware of his presence around her.
She could feel his touch all over her, even now. No one had ever touched her the way she had been touched last night. It was weird and too embarrassing. It didn’t feel awkward then, but now she could feel the after-effect of it. More than what she had imagined that it was going to be. The feeling dawned on her more when she was away from ‘him’ locked inside the washroom.
She dried herself and wore a gorgeous Lucknow-made Chikankari Punjabi suit, in nude-pink colour. Her mother-in-law had bought this for her and told her that she wanted her to wear this. It was pretty and apt for travel too. Not too heavy, not plain either.
Taking her hair, behind her earlobe, she blushed more when she noticed a hickey on her neck, right below her left ear. Another one at the collar bone and one above her cleavage. She lowered her eyelids and squeezed her eyes tightly.
Manik knocked at the washroom door, “What are you doing, inside? You never take so much time.”
Nandini rolled her eyes and grinned Manik leaned by the washroom door and knocked softly, “Nanduuuu !!”
She opened the door and walked out, not looking at him in the eye and went straight towards the dressing table.
She nodded, as if to say that she had nothing to speak.
He smirked and walked towards her. He stood facing her, with his back along the wall that had the dressing table mirror and shrugged again. “Since last night, I’m observing you. I’m surprised to find you so quiet!”
She turned to him and showed him the ‘markings’. Cutely, she asked, “How am I going to hide all of them?”
He smirked more and without speaking any word, he pulled her dupatta away from her neck, throwing a glance at the hickeys and smirking non-stop, making her roll her eyes. He folded the dupatta slightly to wrap it around her neck in form of a loop and then made a double loop out of it. His musk fragrance and the feel of his hands around her neck, all the while, was enough to mesmerize her. With his eyes focused on her neck, his hands worked on her dupatta. Adoringly, she fixed her eyes to his face, while he grinned knowingly and teasingly, working like an experienced professional, someone who worked day in and day out with designers and models.
He turned her towards the mirror to finally noticed what he had done with her dupatta.
( I didn’t get the same colour in the second picture. Imagine this in the colour of her suit )
“This looks sooooo cool, Manik!!”
He pressed his lips and held the locks of her long hair to be released from behind her ear, to lay astray around her neck.
“A little smartness… and you will be able to avoid the eyes… It’s just about a couple of hours!” He suggested and almost challenged her to beat the prying eyes, making her blush all over again.
He left to get ready, leaving her wondering how unpredictable life was… Someone who was a stranger till a few days back was such an important part of life, now. And more than anything else, he had an access to the deepest part of her, that she had carefully guarded all her life.
She applied make up, in an attempt to hide her feelings from showing on the face. Not really a make up person, today she got help from a little blush-on, some eyeliner and a dash of deep pink lip shade to speak for her when she went tongue tied.
Meera and Gaurvi gave her knowingly glances when Nandini and Manik met everyone at the breakfast, a few minutes before leaving for the airport.
Nandini tried hard to avoid them but even the meticulously crafted scarf couldn’t hide the blush that gave away what trickled like a dash of diffidence on her demure face. She could hardly speak… or eat… and there, Manik ate like nothing had actually happened.
Akhil had tried to tease Manik, asking him how many he had already used. Manik rolled his eyes in a ‘whatever’ look and walked away.
Meera said, “Nandini, I love the way you have wrapped your dupatta. Like a scarf. So cool. And such an ‘airport-look’…!!”
Nandini pressed her lips and just smiled. Gaurvi pointed towards her wrist and said, “Nandini, you should have wrapped a dupatta here as well!” This made Nandini almost pale when she noticed that the inner aspect of her wrist was red and had a distinct mark. Frowning slightly, scrunching her brows, she pulled her full sleeve and covered the mark with her wrist watch, hoping to finish the breakfast soon.
Meera touched her hair and teased her, looking at the mark below her hair, “I tried looking for these marks, yesterday too. But they are evident today.”
“Meera. Gayu…enough now!” Latika saved Nandini from Meera and Gaurvi who kept giggling. “Come Nandini, meet mummyji before you go to Bangalore.”
Manik and Nandini went to dadi’s room and touched her feet. Dadi again gave them a token of money from her wallet and blessed them in plenty. She kissed Manik’s forehead and prayed for his success. Then she touched Nandini’s head in a blessing and kissed her forehead, saying, “The next time, you come here, give me the good news! I’ll pray for you!”
Nandini felt her eyes popping out at that. She gulped hard and nodded like a battery operated robotic doll, making manik smirk. Almost similar blessings from all the relatives followed.
After giving a long look to the room that gave her some really beautiful memories to be treasured for a lifetime, Nandini sighed to ward off the little attachment she had developed with Manik’s room and left the room, tugging on her gray suede handbag.
They received wishes from Manik’s father and mother, masis and aunts and uncles, cousins and sisters and left for the airport. Akhil and Gaurvi dropped them at the airport. Their 2 year old baby doll, Ishani, hugged Manik who played with her mamu all the time while they were in the car. Nandini couldn’t help giving them a look of adoration. The bond they had was so precious.
When Ishani started crying because she wanted to grab his hair and he wasn’t letting her do it, Manik quickly gave her back to Gaurvi, “Hold your daughter. I can handle kids only for some time. Till they are not wailing and babbling!”
Gaurvi chided him, “Really Bhai… you are such a loser! It was okay till you were playing with her. Try to pacify her, she will be fine again…”
He twisted his lips helplessly, shrugged and raised his hands up in air, “Sorry boss… Taking efforts is not my cup of tea!”
Gaurvi frowned at him cooing to her baby, while Akhil laughed. Nandini smiled lightly to keep it easy and neutral between all of them. When she turned to look at Manik, he was looking at her with a helpless look on his face.
They were dropped at the airport. After another row of pleasantries exchanged, Gaurvi hugged Nandini and whispered to her, “Listen Nandini, I can’t say this to bhai, so I am talking to you. Forgive me for being intrusive.”
“Please di, don’t say like that!” Nandini assured her that she could say what she wanted to.
Gaurvi spoke in a concerned tone of an elder sister, “See, both of you don’t know each other well. This alliance was fixed by families and you went ahead and got married as per your families’ wishes. Life is not as easy as it might seem. There will be a lot of chaos. Just be a bit patient… you will need this patience, with bhai!”
Nandini smiled and hugged her back, “Don’t worry di. I’m not someone who fans the chaos. I know how to find the most beautiful moments in a mess.”
Relaxed Gaurvi smiled and touched her cheek, “Look at me. Who am I talking to… you seem to be the most sorted person, I’ve ever met. I’m so relaxed now. Have an amazing life ahead!”
“Thank you!” Nandini blushed again.
“You can take off the dupatta now!” Manik smirked, teasing her as they stood in the queue to board the aircraft. He was right behind her and she could hear him at her shoulder. She blushed, displayed her boarding pass and walked past the cabin crew to locate her seat. He followed.
She took the window seat and settled there, keeping her handbag near her foot. He stuffed the cabin baggage in the overhead space and sat beside her.
She pulled off the dupatta curled around her neck, “Uff! It’s so hot… I was sweating inside these knots.”
He smirked. “But it helped right?”
She rolled her eyes, blushed more and stayed quiet. He smirked more, “You surprise me so much. Are you the same girl I met three weeks back?? I mean, where did THAT girl go, who was armed with so many comebacks, snippets, quips and teases for every word I spoke…”
“Hats off to you, Manik Malhotra, no one has really shut me up, till today!”
“Whaaa–aaat??!!!!” She giggled hysterically for she couldn’t believe it that he said that. “My god, you are unbelievable! You may speak one word and you — slayyyy!!!”
He was thrilled at the compliment from her. She wasn’t usually very generous with compliments. And when she did praise him, it was something he wanted to treasure.
“Nandini Murthy, praising me?? Wowwww!!” He pretended to sigh and raised his leg to rest over his knee.
Nandini laughed, “I do praise people! Come on… why is it so surprising to you??”
“Honestly…I was fearing a long lecture from you about how I should have pacified Ishani and how I have personality issues and I am not normal…etc etc…”
She took a pause before she cleared her throat and replied, “I don’t lecture people on how to behave… or how to act with their loved ones…”
“Err… Many girls do that… and… especially now that we are married…”
“Yes. Girls do that but a lot of men do that too, when they are in love or maybe feel a certain kind of hold or possession over their partner. On the other hand… we… we…”
“We??” He raised his brows, wishing to hear her version of them.
She frowned, trying to think, “I don’t know… I didn’t get time to think. But I certainly don’t find any need to tell you what to do or correct you…Our marriage was based on certain rules, I suppose…”
“And you remember those rules?”
“Why wouldn’t I? Those were the basics…right??” She spoke in a flow as if it was an understood clause between them. Then she stopped for a moment and resumed again, “Manik, just because we slept together… like any married couple would do… like people who are attracted to each other do… it doesn’t mean that I have forgotten the basic premise that brought us together. I remember the conditions between us and why we needed to lay the rules… We are both emotionally not prepared to let go… Let go of our apprehensions about allowing someone to ravage our lives… if that is a proper word…”
“Hmm!” He chewed his inner lip to think what she was saying. So good to hear in theory. Next to impossible, to practice.
She continued, “I know that you don’t like being told what to do and what not to do… I’ll try not to judge you… and not to interfere in your life…”
This time, he was gawking at her in surprise. He had not expected this!! Not, in the least!!
“So, you mean to say that I can check my messages and you won’t crib about it??” He carefully, almost fearfully asked, raising his phone to show her that he had messages that he needed to check.
She chuckled, with a subtle blink of her eyes, “No! I won’t crib. Go ahead!”
He observed her face and puckered his brows for a moment, nodding, “Naahhh!!! I can’t be that lucky!!! I mean… which wife doesn’t crib?? Which girl doesn’t nag??”
“I won’t!” She shrugged and took out her phone from her handbag, “I have a life too. Pretty busy one… and tell me, will you be relaxed or restless, when not checking those messages?”
“Restless, obviously!” He sighed, “What we enjoyed in Lucknow was weekend bliss. Office was closed for 2 days… but it’s Monday today. Office opened and with that the entire ruckus opened like a pandora’s box!”
“Check them and reply!” She signaled towards the phone, using her brows and eyes.
He grinned and unlocked his phone. “You sure don’t mind?” He asked again.
She chuckled teasing him, “I don’t mind and I won’t even ask you whose messages are those and what you are doing… I haven’t forgotten that ‘mind-your-own-business’ fiasco… on our last airplane ride… and also…what was that?? … ‘I can handle my problems on my own…thank you’…”
He was mortified, big time!! She was back to her game !!!!
He opened his mouth to say something but swayed his jaw sheepishly, “I’m sorry… sorry, again… sometimes, I get so worked up that I don’t realise what I am speaking and to whom…”
She smiled, “Forget it! You apologised it, right then and explained your point of view as well. I’m totally fine…”
“Manik, I’m not a kid. I don’t stick to words. I can see a person behind his words and behaviour. When you apologised and also told me why you said that, I forgave you, right away.”
He was confused. Very confused. He had heard about girls doing all kinds of tantrums, if not given time or importance. He had been with an attention seeker who had harassed him for working hard and not being dedicated enough to her. He had seen girls in his family, friends’ circle and films about how they wanted to be the center of attraction at every place, how they wanted husbands to revolve around them like planets revolve around Sun making it a center of the Universe, how they wanted to have their way at every thing, how they wanted to know everything and nag their husbands with even the smallest details about their lives as if that was the only important thing in the world.
This girl totally, totally confused him!!!
She was telling him that she was going to maintain the rules of non interference … their so called rules… no complaints-no suggestions, no nagging – no cribbing, no expectations and no disappointments rules… even now!! How was that possible??
“Nandini, why are you being so nice to me?”
She giggled, “Why? You don’t believe it that I can be a nice girl??”
He laughed sheepishly, “No, it’s not that! Err… Okay… I’ll be honest. Come on. No girl can be that nice!!”
She opened her mouth in disbelief and whacked him, with her phone. “I AM nice!!”
“I can’t believe it that you won’t interfere and you won’t nag me for little things…and you won’t pressurize me to go your way… orask me to change myself… the way we discussed before getting married…”
“I can do that!! Whyyy!!! I need my space too. I will have a busy life and I want my independence!”
“Oh yes!! You may want that… but it stays at ‘the girl’ enjoying the perks. When it comes to the man, they need to be everywhere around him, bossing over him…”
“Bullshittt… that’s so wrong… Why don’t you think, a girl can give her man some space??”
“Because you girls are programmed like that… nosy and clumsy… interfering and dominating… you just love to rule a man…”
“No!!! Noooooo…. that is so wrong, Manik…you are so opinionated about girls.”
He loved it when he found her trying to hold the argument and keep it to her side. “Nandini… accept it. No girl can do that. Period.”
“What if I do so??” She lifted her chin and peered straight into his eyes, challenging him.
Not lifting his eyes from her, he heaved a deep, laboured sigh. Then he replied in a soft, husky whisper, holding a smile on his lips.
“I will keep my part of the deal. I will cherish your spark and let you be crazy! And I will never, ever, ever ask you to change!”