The plane was finally flying high in the sky, leaving the older avenues and hoping to kiss the new destination. Bangalore!
Manik switched on his laptop and studied a proposal saved by him. He spent an undistracted hour with his laptop almost burying himself in it. Nandini logged into pub-med website and read the latest articles about preterm labour. She neither talked to him, nor made any movement to disturb him.
Their attention was distracted when a small stuffed doll dropped between them, from somewhere behind. Immediately, a lady holding a 3 year old baby raised herself, to lean over their seats from behind, “I’m sorry… if you don’t mind… can you please…” She pointed towards the doll.
Manik frowned. Nandini smiled warmly and picked up the doll to give it to the woman behind her with a warm, “No problem!”
“I’m really sorry! She is very naughty.” The lady apologised again.
“It’s okayyy!!”Nandini insisted and touched the baby’s cheek. “She is so cute. What’s her name?”
“We haven’t decided. We are calling her bitto as of now!
Nandini chuckled, “Nice! I love her hair… so curly…”
The lady noticed Nandini’s chura in her hand and asked if she could have a closer look. Nandini turned around and stretched her hand towards the woman.
Latika Malhotra had done everything traditional for her son’s wedding and brought this chura for her daughter-in-law to wear as a good luck after the wedding, for some time. Traditionally it had to be worn for 40 days. Some women wore it for an entire year. But when Manik rolled his eyes at that, Latika had said that they were not very particular about it and Nandini was allowed to remove it after a week of marriage.
Even before leaving for airport, Manik suggested that she could remove it as it was huge and must be cumbersome to manage. But Nandini wanted to wear it for some time more. At least till her mehendi adorned her hands.
Tha lady loved her chura and chirped, “OMG!!! Your chura is so beautiful! I had got the same made for my wedding. My mother got it made from Delhi.”
“This is from my mother-in-law. She got it made in Lucknow.”
“Your in-laws stay in Lucknow?”
“Newly weds?” The lady asked.”Come on, what am I even asking. You look like a newly wed with that chura and mehendi and subtle traditional jewellery!”
“Thank you! Yeah. We got married 3 days back…”
“Cool. It looked like so! Both of you look so good! Going to Bangalore?!”
“My husband works in Bangalore.” Nandini chuckled.
“That’s great. And where are you from?”
“Mumbai!” Nandini chuckled.
“You are so cute. You must have been a pretty bride.” The lady complimented her.
Nandini blushed and was about to say more when she noticed Manik turning his face to her, shutting his laptop and staring at her with a blank look on his face. She cleared her throat and smiled, “Thank you!” And then she sheepishly turned back on her seat to face ahead. Manik didn’t speak anything for one moment, while Nandini grinned widely and played with her chura, waiting for the blast.
When she looked at him again, Manik raised his brows, so irritated that she was scared. She pressed her lips together. He spread his hands before him, slightly in air, as if to ask what was going on. Nandini blushed and giggled sweetly.
Manik had no clue what irked him so much. Was it because, she was laughing and blushing and giggling and it wasn’t for him or with him?
Or was it, because, it was disturbing him big time, not because he was busy in reading, but because she constantly attracted him, making sure that he stayed focused on her.
He found this new feeling, annoyingly irritating, that he wanted all of her… all for himself!
And the person, she was devoting her attention to, was not even another man! They were a lady and her baby. If they could make him envious, then only God was his saviour, he was so sure.
And, now she was looking at him. All confused.
He hated that routine of questions and explanations.
He tried to speak, appearing sane, “Don’t you want to give your phone number and address to a stranger…I stopped you because…” Before he could finish it, she quickly placed her index finger on his lips, slightly leaning towards him, exactly the way he used to do. “Manik…Ssshhh…”
He frowned again, looked at her and then lowered his gaze to the soft finger on his lips with a look that said that he didn’t understand her.
“Are you about to break your own rule? Are you about to tell me how to behave with people I meet…”
“Err…” He was speechless.
She spoke with a lopsided grin on her face, in a determined tone and with a subtle smugness, squeezing her eyes. “I’m not a kid. I’m 27 year old. I’m a doctor. And I know how to talk to strangers. I meet hundreds of strangers every day in my hospital. I know where to draw the line!”
He shrugged. “Did I say something?”
She removed the finger from his lips, “No, you didn’t!”
“What if …I sayyyy… that you assumed wrong…” His tone was low, almost a whisper…
Huskiness reverberated in his voice as he spoke one word at a time. His eyes fixed on her, the subtle flirtation in his tone, the seductive drag of words and the deep intonation was enough to send goosebumps all through her, even with a simple sentence which had no double meaning…
She sighed!! He could do that even without touching her. His eyes were enough to rake crazy sensations inside her. His words touched her more than his fingers or lips could do.
It was hard not to blush, not to shut her beautiful eyes and turn away with a subtle smile on her lips. She turned again to him, “Care to explain what did you mean, then?”
He just nodded to refuse. No!! He wasn’t going to tell her that he was irked at the fact that ‘she’ was talking to ‘someone else’ and not him…
He was not in any mood to remove his eyes from her or let her breathe easily. He was in no mood to speak either. He had spoken enough in last 3 days… and before that, to her… this girl made him do that. He took a deep breath, grinned and was back to his laptop, mysteriously. She observed him keenly and smiled.
“You will never share what is going inside your mind?”
He nodded with a huge grin, his eyes now stuck on the laptop screen, “Nopes. That was one of the clause, you remember?”
She chuckled, “Yes, I remember! But it was all about we won’t ask anything. There was nothing like we can’t share what we feel!”
“So, whoever feels like sharing…” He raised his hand sideways, denoting her and continued, “is free to do so…”
“Okay! I’ll share what I am thinking!”
He pressed his lips, listening to her. She spoke, “Manik, I’ve been thinking about something…”
“What is it between us?”
He cocked a quirky brow and turned to her, clueless. He had no idea where this was leading.
“I mean… we just met 3 weeks back, and I have never connected to anyone so quickly. I was not expecting ‘this’… so it came as a surprise to me. We married 3 days back and it feels like so many days already… I don’t feel strange with you anymore…”
He stayed quiet, listening to her and chewed the inner aspect of his lower lip.
She raised one brow, and ‘tch-ed’ with her lips, “Tch… What? Say something!!”
“You are forgetting some other basics…”
“We got married on 3rd of this month… our marriage rituals were finally completed at 3 am at night… we made love on 3rd night of our wedding…basically number 3 is good for us!”
She was gawking at him like a goldfish with her mouth open and eyes blinking like a clueless stupid frog. When he pressed his lips and raised his brows for his opinion on his analysis, she finally found her voice, “Myyyy Godddd!!! Such a loser, you are !!! Your emotional quotient is what — ZERO??!!!”
He laughed at that, quite candidly, “Tell me something, I don’t know! And something, I didn’t warn you before!! Don’t cry now that you were duped!”
Irritated, she whacked at his arm, “My foot will cry for someone like you! How cold! And how insensitive!!”
“Why did you ask my opinion, then?” He smirked more, least bothered by the allegations that she had levied on him.
“I was silly!! And I had forgotten that you are incapable of any emotional talk!”
He became a little serious, still not leaving the warmth and glow on his face, “Listen Nandini, we have talked about it before… I don’t understand anything emotional… I am a wreck when things go mushy… but I understand sex…”
“Wowww!!” She mockingly applauded him profusely, “How clear!! So, you mean to say that it is ‘only’ physical attraction between us??”
“No, I didn’t say that! I don’t feel like making love to every woman I meet. Correction, I haven’t felt like that in ages… not even to my ex- … if that helps you! You are certainly special!”
He nodded, teasing her, “How …means ‘how’..??? You can’t measure – ‘specialness’… you are special…that’s it!!”
“But…” She frowned, confused.
He interrupted, “Wait!! Stop right there… are you trying to tell me that you have fallen in love with me??”
“Nooooooo!!! It’s too soon to think about ‘love’… we have talked about it…” She quickly corrected him and deep in her heart, she corrected herself too. She didn’t want to give him the impression that she was so gullible that she trusted people that easily. She fell in and out of love, quickly too. Not that he didn’t know that already. She had been in ‘so-called-love’ thrice before and she knew that she had been proved the ‘idiot’ in that department. While he had learnt his lessons, she was yet to become cynic like him… The fact was that she wasn’t. She felt deeply about anything and everything and quickly named it ‘love’…
No. She wasn’t going to do it this time. She was going to behave sane. She wasn’t going to be hurt this time. She was NOT in love. Period!!!!
He shrugged, looking at her face, “Then what?? You admit that it is too soon to think about ‘that’… then??”
She reclined in her seat, “I had so many things rattling through my mind. I had so many theories… I wanted to know what was going on… and my heart refuses to believe that it is ‘only’ physical…”
He was very serious when he spoke what he spoke next, “That’s because, you have always believed that you will do it with only the man you love… but you were driven by circumstances and attraction… and now…you feel guilty… your mind and heart are playing with you to get over that guilt!”
She buried her face in her palms and shut her eyes tightly. This was not what she meant when she wanted him to accept that there was something ‘more’ between them. This was not what she felt. Yet, she had ended up making him feel responsible about it.
It was terrible! Now, she wanted to clarify that she didn’t mean it. She had a notion that she will get intimate with the man she loved. But that notion was a naive teenager’s belief.
Right now, it was more than enough that they were married… That they had promised to take care of each other’s likes, dislikes, opinions and beliefs, instead of imposing themselves on each other… That they were sooooo attracted to each other that they couldn’t stop when it came to intimacy… That they loved to flirt with each other… That they sought each other in a room full of people and loved to spend time with each other… and most of all, they had promised that they will stay loyal to each other…
None of her friends already married, love or arranged, could boast of all that in first week of marriage. She had what she had never hoped in an arranged marriage. Why was she even trying to pressurise him into talking when they were clearly on different planets when it came to talking. She could talk on and on about her feelings and he became immediately uncomfortable if it was something deeper. He was okay with flirtations and surface talks… deeper things unsettled him…
Whatever it was… She had forced him to misunderstand her and now she had royally hurt him.
He was not the one to keep grudges and give cold shoulder to people. He had said before to her. He thought about the entire interaction regarding her confusion, let the feeling sink and shrugged it off.
They knew that it had been largely physical attraction between them. Still, he maintained that she was ‘special’ … more special than any other girl on the planet… more special than any other human being… whom he would never want to get hurt… not intentionally!!
The plane landed at Bangalore airport and they deboarded. He tried to keep it casual and light between them, guiding her through the tarmac, holding the cabin baggage, waiting at the luggage carousel and then while taking an ‘Uber’ home.
“I have a car.” He clarified when he sat beside her in the hired taxi.
She cleared her throat, “It doesn’t matter. I didn’t even think about it!”
“Just thought of telling you… in case, you think…your husband doesn’t own a car…”
“Come on… are we now talking about materialistic stuff??! This is offensive… If I was a girl who thought about the size of house or car, I would have asked you when we met before marriage.”
” I just mentioned that I have a car and we won’t have to use ‘uber’ all the time, in case that matters. If it doesn’t fine!! No need to take it in a different tangent!” He tried to stay calm, shrugged while he spoke… hating every moment that she was offended, this time.
She was pissed off, big time!! Especially, by herself that she had given him an impression that she was regretting their intimate moments, thereby insulting him. Next, immediately after a discussion went wrong, another one rammed into it. She felt insulted that he thought about her as a material girl. She knew that he didn’t mean it.
She also knew that he wouldn’t insult her knowingly. It was just that a bad mood after one wrong talk, culminated in another.
“Listen, Manik…” She tried to clarify.
“Listen, Nandini… can we just forget it?? We are talking rubbish… I mean, we haven’t really entered Bangalore and we are already fighting!”
“No, you see… that is why I don’t talk, discuss, analyse and over analyse things… they always get more complicated!”
He was right!! She thought. He spoke less and managed to stay out of troubles. She always spoke more, got into troubles, kept clarifying her stand and ended up offending people she didn’t mean to hurt.
“Hmm…you are right!” She decided to go by the flow and stopped petty discussion about who said what!! It was not going to lead anywhere.
After some silence, they reached Whitfield. His apartment was on tenth floor of a high end, posh building, maintained beautifully.
“Lovely building!” She remarked, continuing the small talk in the elevator.
He smiled, “Only the building. Can’t say the same about the apartment!” She just smiled at that.
He searched for the key in a small pocked kept on one side of the main door, and murmured, “Let’s see if Cabir got the apartment cleaned or not? He said he got it done… but our maid’s idea of cleanliness is weird!”
“You keep the keys here?” She was surprised at that easy access to the apartment. She kept asking more, “Cabir lives nearby? You share the maid or what?”
He opened the door and they entered as he replied, “Yes!!! To all the questions. The 9th, 10th and 11th floor belong to employees of Phoenix. I mean, the company pays the rent. Cabir lives next door and Dhruv, right opposite to us… there are 4 apartments on this floor!”
“Where are your friends? They didn’t come to receive us? None of them came for the wedding too?” She asked, turning around to observe the house.
“We have an important project to be delivered next week. So, they didn’t get leaves. Today is Monday so they are in office. I instructed them to stay there. They were too keen to bunk office and welcome you. I told them to work for the day and meet you in the evening!”
It was a simple apartment with large windows in every room. No furniture, no decorations, no curtains. 4 plastic chairs in the center of the living room. A large TV on the wall. A kitchen with basic amenities and two bedrooms. He took her around the apartment and showed her the rooms, the kitchen and the washrooms.
The living room was in the center and the two rooms extended on each side, one near the entry door and one far away. A pooja room extended beyond the first room, connecting the living room with the two rooms. The kitchen was semi-open and it overlooked the living room, separated only by a granite slab.
“I know, you don’t like it… it is kinda …very simple and basic…” He shrugged. It was indeed the most basic and suffocating space.
“Manik… it is not like that… it is just that…” She spoke, peering out of only one window opened in the living room.
“Just that??” He asked.
She walked away and peeped inside the bedrooms. They were spacious and large, with one double bed and one almirah in each. No other frills or decor. He walked behind her and tried to look at the apartment through her eyes. She turned to answer him and found him behind her, waiting for her reply.
She smiled warmly, “Just that… It looks like a bachelor’s pad… kinda hostel room… and I like it a lot… because every corner screams that there has been no girl here, till date…”
He chuckled at that and loved that she had analysed it so well. Sometimes, analysing things wasn’t that bad!!!
At least she wasn’t asking him if he had brought a girl here, before.
“Thanks. I couldn’t have explained if I was living with a girl or not, in case you doubted.”
“Don’t worry! Now, I know how difficult it must be to endure you!” She grinned.
He opened his mouth. Surprised!!!!
She wasn’t angry. She wasn’t upset. She wasn’t crying. She had accepted that they had a bad moment together and moved on, like they had beautiful moments too. He was mighty impressed.
“Okay??!!!” He walked inside one of the bedrooms. One which was larger and more airy. With a slight disappointment in his tone, he spoke casually, “So?? We have ‘two bedrooms’… two washrooms… and whatever you don’t want to share, we can get them in two…you are free to choose any of them!!”
She touched the cupboard and ran her fingers along the length of it, before she asked, “Is this room yours?”
“Yeahhhh… I mean… I used to sleep here…”
“Manik…” She thoughtfully tapped her fingers on the wood and turned to him. He was leaning by the wall, near the cupboard, observing her quietly, waiting for her to speak.
She walked closer to him. Raising her hand slightly, she rested it over his chest, in a move so subtle and yet so sensuous. Taking another step closer to him, she spoke in a sweet voice, keeping the shrill in her voice low, “Manik…What do I have to do to prove that I didn’t regret even a second of it. It was as mutual from my side as it was from yours… And I am not ashamed to say that I am terribly attracted to my husband. Everything else can wait!”
He was as simple as a baby. Never to hold grudges. Never to take silliness to far. He smiled warmly and curled his arms around her, “You want to do something to prove it?”
“Yeahhhh!!” She nodded cutely.
In a real serious tone, trying not to intimidate or force her, he requested.
“Then stay with me in this room. Choose my room!”
She grinned and teased him, “You missed a chance, Malhotra! You could’ve asked for something else… as I didn’t even consider the other room… not even once!!”