Nandini finally gave up trying to go back to sleep.
She spent a long time in the bathtub, scrubbing and shampooing and preening herself, simply to kill time… wore a beautiful long floral skirt and baby pink ruffled top that made her feel like a princess… and settled on the couch with Dobby and the morning newspaper.
Later, she read a random book on kindle and hated it, watched a few episodes of Humsafar, talked to her ma, relieved her that she was fine and happy… talked to Ashu, her brother and asked about his exams.
She sent messages to her friends, updated her social media posts, read news and articles online and finally by 3, decided to get ready. Manik had said that he’d be free by 4. He hadn’t called as yet, so she didn’t know where they were going or if they were going at all.
She decided to pick something cool to wear, but before she could do that… a message from Manik, made her roll her eyes…
‘I’m sorry! I won’t be free by 4. Some last-minute technical glitches need to be fixed. I’ll be late!’
‘It’s alright!’ She typed back.
‘I don’t know how late it is going to be… can we postpone the date for tomorrow?’
‘Of course! And it is alright, Manik!’
It was not alright with him. He felt horrible!!
With a distinct frown on his handsome face, he typed –
‘I’m really, really sorry! This is going to be the last time. I’ll take care that we follow a proper schedule with the next project. It won’t be a regular thing, I promise.’
This made her smile genuinely and widely. At least, he was trying his best and feeling bad about being stuck at work. She sent him at least twenty smilies together and typed –
‘These smilies are to tell you that I’m not angry or upset. I understand. See you at night!’
Nandini smiled warmly and sat down on the couch. She was really not upset or angry. In fact, she had feared something like this. She didn’t know why but she didn’t expect the exciting prospect of dinner and movie with him to take off so smoothly. It didn’t happen like you planned… on most of the days…
She had been like that herself…
There were days when she was stuck in Operation Theatre for hours beyond time, feeling anxious to reach home early, feeling guilty of making her family and parents wait, feeling responsible for the pregnant female and her child before her on the Operation table… unable to leave work… sometimes unable to inform her family that she was going to be late and was trying her best to be free soon…
But you can’t hurry up an operation… you can’t give up on your duties to be taken care of by someone else… you can’t stop things at work when they decide to go haywire…
At times, she had kept her parents waiting for a family function before they decided to leave her and proceed themselves. She had missed her cousin’s wedding for a difficult emergency surgery as a resident on duty on one of the holidays. She had missed festivals. She had not celebrated Diwali for last 3 years, as she was doing night duty on those nights or an emergency posting.
She would often wonder if her husband would understand these difficult working patterns. That is why she had wanted to get married to a doctor. But then Manik happened.
And things turned the way they were now…
She didn’t mind the way Manik worked. In fact, she was glad that he was so dedicated to work and commitments. She was not a teenager with fancy thoughts about marriage and impractical dreams woven around a husband. She knew about the job pressures and office nonsense more than most females who had lived a protected life.
Yes, sometimes she got frustrated that she was lonely with no one to talk to. But even that was temporary. She knew that once she joined the hospital, she would own the city!
She would have her own friends, life, routine, goals, duties, rosters to follow…
And till then, though she wanted to spend time with Manik, it didn’t mean that she wanted him to leave his job and sit at home with her to coochie coo.
He was at a senior responsible post, in a big MNC… he had a deadline to meet and project to submit today… and it wasn’t his fault that he had to get married at such a short notice, jeopardizing his schedules and deadlines… she was aware of the office politics and the stupid CEO that he was handling… his stress was no less… and to top it all, he was trying his best… and he had accepted that today… he had told her that he considered it as his responsibility to make her feel at home, in Bangalore… he felt bad for not giving her the time she needed… at least he was not being stupid and ignoring her on purpose…
He was tied in circumstances and who would understand it more than her?? Didn’t she expect the same from him, when she joined hospital?? Wasn’t she always worried about how she would balance family and tough working hours??
All this was normal for a busy working professional. In fact, she could never understand why people made such a big fuss over a cancelled programme of entertainment over something as serious as work. The movie and dinner were not more important than work commitments and meeting deadlines when your job is at stake with people looking for a wrong move to sack you. She was mature enough to understand that.
Also… her papa had served in the Indian army for a few years, before he was hurt and retired. Those years, the family would see him only once in a year. Even when he came back to Mumbai, and set up his own business, she had seen her ma waiting for things for long before they were cancelled at the last moment. Her papa had struggled in his business and her ma had supported him at every step. Sometimes, her ma would smile and continue with her work as before. Sometimes, she would fight and throw a tantrum.
It was really okay!
Manik didn’t cancel it on purpose. He was stuck somewhere at work.
Not his fault, anyway!
And if he felt guilty for letting her down, then he should know that he need not feel that way. She settled over the living room couch, held the cushion in her lap and picked up her phone to type a message to him. She was concerned about him and had to ensure that he worked peacefully.
‘Hey! I prefer late night web series more than a movie. And ice cream more than dinner. Can you please bring Gelato’s Dark Chocolate ice cream while returning home??’
He knew that she had done this to make him feel easy. ‘Would love to share it with you!’
‘I’ll be waiting for you!’
He sighed in relief. More than this, he didn’t know how to react. He was numb…
She was really not upset?? Really??
She had not only supported him but ensured that he worked at peace, without his mind diverted to guilt, feeling bad for her. She could have nagged him for neglecting her… she could have fought for being callous with her… none of which he did purposefully… but she didn’t!
Sonalika did that… Everyday… on and on… day after day after day…
Every time, with every cancelled or delayed programme, he would apologize repeatedly… pampered her with gifts and flowers and chocolates and did everything in the book that a man could do to please a woman… still, she was never happy with him…
This thought saddened him.
He did so much for someone who didn’t deserve it and still, she made life hell for him.
On the other hand, he wasn’t able to do anything special for Nandini…She deserved it the most, but he couldn’t bring himself to do all that, again. He knew that Nandini was being more than accommodating and considerate.
Instead of making him drown in guilt, she had taken a step back and allowed him a space that he didn’t want anymore.
Work wasn’t more important than her. It had been 4 days and he had been feeling this. He hated to leave her alone… he hated to make her wait… he hated to come back late at night… he hated to not being able to spend time with her…
‘I can’t take her for granted…’
He had to ensure now, that he made a proper schedule and fixed timings for work after this project… he had to make her feel special for all that she had done for him… and let her know that he valued her efforts and feelings… that he valued everything she did for him and their home…
He valued her!
Manik was not coming anytime soon and he didn’t even know when his work would be over. Like last few days…
Nandini had an entire evening at her disposal, now! ‘What to do?’
‘Learn something new?’
She called Priyanka masi. Masi teased her about her new married life and asked so many things about her in-laws, Lucknow home, Banglaore home, her search for SR-ship and finally Manik. Nandini replied to every question satisfactorily and when masi was relieved and happy, she asked, “Masi, can you please tell me about some good websites from where I can learn to cook some healthy recipes?”
“Wait!! What…what…what… Nandu… what did you say?? Cook?? Healthy?? Ek toh Nandini Murthy and cooking?? Woh bhi healthy?? What’s up bruhhh???!!”
Nandini blushed and giggled, “I want to learn cooking, till I join the SR ship. I scrolled through some websites but I don’t know how to choose.”
“Tell me more!” Masi was interested and she knew that it was not all. And she was not going to help if Nandu didn’t divulge more.
“Okay!” Nandini gave up, “Manik is usually late for dinner and I don’t know what to cook for him as he is a health freak. I only know how to boil eggs and make an omelette, cook maggi, poha, pasta, upma or maybe tea and coffee…”
“All these are called ‘snacks’…” Masi teased her. Everyone knew the junkie in Nandu.
“Yes! Precisely. But the breaking news is that Manik Malhotra eats proper food… correction… health food. He has a light dinner and even if has a complete meal, it will be dal, chawal, roti, sabzi… proper food!”
“I love that! You needed a hubby like that!”
“What do I do now? I have a few days until I join any hospital. I’m in the process of applying and querying… so?”
“So… help me nahhh!!”
“Nandini, do you know that when a girl wants to … really wants to cook for her man… that too, food of his choice and not hers, it means that he has captured a very important place in her life… in her heart…”
Nandini blushed. Tucking her lower lip inside her mouth, she closed her eyes. Manik and his scent were still lingering fresh on her mind.
“So, I was right!! You are in…lo…”
“No…no… no… Masi… please??” Nandini could feel goosebumps all over again.
Nandini pressed her lips in apprehension, and nodded, “Err… I’m sure its not love. I have abused this word ‘love’ so much that I don’t even know if it is a true feeling or another passing emotion of similar kind. I mean… I have professed to be in love… so easily… so immaturely… with the wrong person, every time… I can’t allow myself to behave that stupid again…”
“Come on, Nandu… don’t be so harsh on yourself!”
“I’m not being harsh. I haven’t lost faith in love… it’s just that I’m not going to be impulsive this time… It has been so painful in past that I don’t want to be quick to name it ‘love’ and then suffer in pain later…”
“My God!!! How do you think sooo much?? Okay forget it… we were better talking about your new life and Manik… you appeared so happy!!”
“Masi… I just want to make it a bit easy for him… he always ensures that I’m fine, sends the driver and helpers to make life easy for me… I want to do the same. Now… Are you helping me or not?!”
Masi giggled, “Sent you few websites on whatsapp. Don’t bother to tell me how the food turned out. I will ask Manik…”
“Dare if you talk to him! He’ll be embarrassed…” Nandini immediately panicked to stop masi.
“Arreeyyyy!!!” Masi was laughing by now at how Nandu was unable to handle the tease and was worried more about how Manik will handle it. “So protective you have become… how does it bother you if he will be embarrassed or not, when you don’t even love him… and why are you so protective, by the way… it should have been the other way round.”
“I’m sure he is protective of me too!” Nandu defended Manik, making masi smile widely.
“I’m so happy for you, Nandu…” Masi said and asked softly, “Since when did you start feeling sooooo much for him??!”
She blushed, “I don’t know, masi. Yes, I do feel strongly for him… but…”
“It’s not love…??”
“I don’t know… I don’t believe it myself. I mean, we’ve just met. We know so little about each other… yet…”
“Nothing!!” Nandu rolled her eyes and blushed.
“Nandini… you promised me that you will tell me when you begin to feel something special for your husband…and who will you talk to, if not me… tell me now…”
“Err…” She hesitated for a moment. She never knew that talking about Manik would give her a different kind of high. She was so proud of him, she liked so many things about him and she couldn’t talk about him with anyone… not her parents…not her friends… and certainly not him. And she was dying to talk about him.
“Yet??” Masi insisted and pestered her.
Nandini gave up and spoke in almost a dreamy voice, thinking about Manik, “Yet, it feels like I’ve known him all along… Like we were always together… He makes me feel so beautiful… he makes me feel important and cherished… He looks at me like his universe begins and stops at me… he apologises so profusely when he is late at work or when he is not able to give time to me and I don’t even feel angry at him… He ensures that I’m fine and free from all problems and worries, at all times… he leaves almost all decisions to me.. about almost everything, from home decor to spending money, from joining hospital to taking the vacation… he gives me a free hand at everything… I mean, he never stops me from doing things I love, even when he personally hates them… never nags me for doing things for him… whether I cook or not… whether I sleep till late… whether I know about his likes or dislikes or not… he doesn’t pester me to take care of him like a baby… and yet I want to do all that for him… he isn’t a male chauvinist who has a set notion about ‘how girls should behave’… he isn’t suffering from the ‘demanding husband syndrome’ who would make circumstances hard on you… he is like that best friend who promises to make life easy on you… “
She didn’t realise that she had spoken so much without taking a break and masi had been listening to her with a wide smile on her face.
“All that you spoke about him… can you tell me in one line…”
Nandini spoke with her heart beating hard, almost with lips trembling and mind defying her changing emotions. “He is amazing. Just out of the world!”
Nandini frowned, “No… It can’t be happening so soon…I’m an idiot… you know me… I’m an emotional fool. You can’t be encouraging me for that… you should scold me, masi… I make the same mistake again and again… all the time… this is not done…”
“Nandini…” Masi chided her, to stop her. “Accept it!”
“Its not love!”