I have replied to ALL comments on the last chapter of this story. This is the least that I can do for the overwhelming love and support I receive from you.
I am not able to reply to personal messages on Instagram, Twitter, Gmail or other places, unless urgent. If you see my social media activity, you will know that I am not really active. Thanks for understanding. Thanks for giving me the time and space that I need.
I will keep writing my stories though. I will keep posting and I will stay in touch on this blog. Your love gives me the strength to move ahead.
I am yet to write a post about soooo many things that I am doing right now. I will do that soon 🙂
Take care. Lots of love. Stay blessed 😀
As decided, Manik dropped Nandini to her hospital and went to his office, after which he sent the car back for his family.
Latika, Manoj, Gaurvi, and Trisha finished their breakfast and got ready to roam around the city and indulge in some shopping. Manik had instructed his driver to take the family through some places of tourist interest like the Bangalore Palace. Latika also wanted to visit the Panchmukhi Ganesh temple. So, they went there too. The family loved the outing.
They had lunch on the way and visited nearby places. By late afternoon, Manik called his mother.
“Mom, I have two meetings lined up, back to back. So, I won’t be free before 6 pm. I’ve asked the driver to take you to Brigade road and then to Metropolitan mall.”
“Mmm…okay!” Latika didn’t say much. Her few words said that she was not really pleased. She twisted her lips for a small moment. Manik tapped his pen on the file before, exactly picturing his mom in this scenario. He didn’t say anything too. No major, detailed clarifications. About the meetings. About the importance. Nothing. No pacifications to make her feel better or how he was going to make up for that. Nothing, again. More than everything else – No apologies. At all!
Latika waited and then she threw a deep breath, before she said, “Okay, meet us when you are free.”
“Yep. I’ll try to finish off things as soon as possible. If you need anything, tell the driver. He will arrange.”
“Alright!” Latika smiled and disconnected the call to inform the rest of them, “Manik is not coming for now. He has meetings.”
Manoj shrugged casually and started walking, “That’s no big deal. I was about to say in the morning itself that he shouldn’t disturb his schedules for us. What will he do in the shopping, except tagging along? It’s better this way – that he is at the office and we are free to lurk around the markets.”
Trisha too nodded and giggled as she said, “Yep, that’s cool. Bhai never had the patience for shopping, anyway. In fact, if I was in his place, I would have arranged some fake meetings and excused myself from the torture.”
Latika smiled, and followed them, “Do you really think, I don’t know him? It’s not like I wanted him to be here for shopping with me. But I am in the same city so I want to spend as much time as I can with him but he just keeps running away, God knows why!”
Gaurvi made a face, and complained in a low voice, “Please don’t make fun of him, all of you. Bhai is definitely not making excuses. He must be busy, I’m one hundred percent sure.”
The rest of them laughed loudly and teased her that she was always Manik’s best advocate.
Nandini couldn’t come too. No one called or bothered her. Instead, they were busy shopping and roaming around the markets. By the evening, she almost rushed to be with the family. On her way towards the Brigade Road, she asked the driver where the family was and the driver directed her to a designer gold jewellery store located at one of the turns from the Brigade Road.
Nandini got dropped by the cab at the location sent by the driver and made a quick dash through the turn to be inside the jewellery store where Manik’s family was shopping. Trisha was trying bracelets out of several patterns spread on a velvet tray before her. Gaurvi was choosing a gold necklace set that her parents were going to present her for the baby shower ceremony. Manoj was waiting on one of the cushioned chairs while Latika was beside him, talking to the store manager about latest designs, price of gold etc. Manik was standing far off, leaning on one of the counters, busy scrolling over his phone, least interested in the gold shopping. He was clearly standing there just for the benefit of being there for his family. Nandini didn’t know that he had come only 10 minutes before her.
As soon as Nandini pushed through the glass door of the store and entered, all eyes were on her for a moment. She was intimidated for a moment and scanned their looks for quickly, before she walked towards Latika and apologised profusely, “I’m sorry, ma, I’m late. Actually, I had emergency surgery…”
Latika politely cut her and in a poised way, she said, “But you could have called… no…?!”
All colours drained off Nandini’s face and she pressed her lips, “I was about to leave the hospital but the other doctor was not well, so she took a day off and left early… the HOD said that I could leave by 4…but then an emergency came with some complication and then she wanted me to be there… my phone was in my handbag and after I was scrubbed, I couldn’t call… it was already late so I finished the work and asked the HOD if I could go. Finally, by 6, I could leave the hospital…I’m so …so sorry!”
Gaurvi waved with her hand and said, “It’s okay, bhabhi! Don’t apologise.”
Manoj got up from his seat and said, “You sit beta. You are out of your breath. It looks like you came running. And don’t worry, we didn’t need you to be here.”
Latika smiled too and spoke with a dragged sigh, “Yeahhh!! In fact, you could have continued with your work. We were doing just as fine!”
Her voice was warm and tone loving but her words were hurtful. Nandini felt as if she had done a huge mistake and she should be feeling extremely sorry for it. She left a small breath and was almost on a verge of crying.
She turned to look at Manik who was looking at her with an unreadable look on his straight face. He was leaning with his rear on the display counter at the end of the store.He folded his hands across his chest and slightly tilted his neck, but didn’t speak anything. Nandini slightly moved her chin and squinted her eyes to ask for his help, expecting him to speak for her. But he opened his folded hands, searched for his phone in his blazer, made a lopsided twist of his lips and rotated his phone between his fingers.
Nandini heaved a deep sigh and said, “I’m so so so sorry, Ma! Next time onwards, I’ll take care!”
Then she asked Manoj to sit but he didn’t. They were already done with the shopping bit, and now they were sorting out the final selected pieces and getting them weighed to get the final prices. Latika and Manoj helped Gaurvi and Trisha in the final selection. So, Nandini slowly walked backwards to go near Manik and stood facing him, with her back to the family.
He softly, slightly smirked, just for her. She lifted her chin and gave him an evident frown, with a whisper, “Seems like you are really enjoying?”
He murmured back, in a sly tease, “Why not? Since you always love taking and giving soooo manyyyy explanations… and… apolgising for doing your work…”
She made a huge pout and left a deep breath of air, in relief, as if all her energy was drained. He nodded as if talking to a small baby and said, “Now you understand, why I always avoid this scene?? …Yeahhhh???
She made a desperate face and whispered, “You can say that because you were here. I couldn’t make it, so I had to…”
“Hey…hey… wait! I came only 10 minutes ago!”
“What?!!” She was astonished, looking at him with eyes widened. “And what did you say?”
He shrugged casually, “Nothing!”
“Nothing???… you mean, nothing?! Really?”
He shrugged again, twisting his lips. She sighed and leaned beside him, “Ufff!!! You were so right, mannnn!! I am an idiot.” With that she moved her neck, stretching backwards and sideways, as she was too tired.
She looked so adorably cute that he had to turn his eyes away, or else he would have taken her in his arms, there and then. Obviously, it was just a thought. But to resist that temptation was huge. He said, “Trust me. I know, mom!”
“Hmm… You have said that before…But you could have helped me, nah??!!” She complained.
“Listen!” He turned to face her almost in a pose to scold her, but then he mellowed down when he looked at her tired, tiny form. Softly, he said, slightly leaning towards her, “I’ve already helped you enough by warning you, okay! On my part, I have devised a stable balance to deal with my family. I can’t disturb that or get into useless matters to hurt them. It’s your fight. It’s up to you now – you want to give explanations, or apologise, or excuse yourself, or deal with them, or want to be perfect for them, or fight with them…it’s your outlook. I won’t get into that… do as you want… but don’t drag me in it… I’ve been kind to warn you before…no one does…”
She frowned, flaring her nares & spoke in a frustrated tone, “Manik, how mean of you?!!”
Latika spoke to them, “Both of you, what is so important that you can’t wait to get back home to discuss?”
They smiled sheepishly and nodded to dismiss the entire scene, hoping that they were not overheard. It didn’t look like so, as everyone else was smiling too. Latika called her, “Nandini, can you please come here? I want you to help me choose a few items.”
“Sure!” Nandini was alerted like a robot on command, as she quickly rushed towards Latika.
Latika showed her few pieces of jewellery that Gaurvi and Trisha had chosen, a beautiful gold bracelet for Trisha, a necklace and ear-rings set for Gaurvi, gold anklets for Latika. Nandini sifted through the delicate pieces as Latika spoke, “Bangalore and Chennai are places where I usually shop for gold jewellery. The designs, the quality, the variety is unmatched. Nowhere in the country, you get such stuff.”
“Yeah!” Nandini nodded, “They are so pretty!”
“Okay, look at these diamond rings…” She asked the manager to give the tray of 4 heavy gold rings with diamonds studded in them, “Which one is the prettiest?”
The shiny sparkle in the diamonds was so exquisite, it looked that they were freshly cut and studded in the rings. All the rings have different beautiful patterns. Nandini couldn’t decide on one, “All are so beautiful!”
“But you can wear only one na…” Latika said lovingly.
Manoj added his joke, “Or say, for now, we can afford only one!” And laughed at his own joke, joined by Gaurvi and Trisha.
“Meeeee!!” Nandini was left speechless. And stunned.
“Of course!” Latika picked up two rings, “Did you think, we will buy jewellery for our daughters and forget you!”
Immediately, she felt guilty and ashamed, “No… ma… I mean… I didn’t mean that… I … I mean, I don’t need any jewellery! I have so much jewellery that was made at our marriage.. it’s only 4 months…”
“Yeah, I know, but I remember that you don’t have an engagement ring. As you were married directly, without the engagement. So, you need to have a diamond ring, that everyone in our family has…”
“But I really don’t wear jewellery…” Nandini tried to excuse herself. She was finding it awkward, especially after bitching with Manik about how monstrous his mom was, and then she accepted honestly, “And I am kinda careless too… I keep taking off my rings and watch before surgery and during household work and keep them, here and there… I don’t want to take responsibility for such a precious, expensive piece…”
Latika smirked, and spoke in a know-it-all tone, “You can get rid of responsibilities, just by saying that you don’t want them. This is not how it is done. You are married now, will have kids tomorrow, will be at my place someday… you ‘have’ to ‘learn’ to take responsibilities…”
Nandini didn’t know whether she should be feeling overwhelmed at Latika’s gesture of buying her a ring or be intimidated at her attempt to dominate every scene. She didn’t mind being dominated too. Living with relatives had taught her to be submissive and understanding at times like these. But she didn’t like how Latika tried to prove that Nandini knew nothing, was worth nothing and needed to learn a lot in life. She pressed her lips as she didn’t want to answer back.
This time, Manik stepped forwards, casually picked one ring and spoke like a naughty kid, “I like this one! End of discussion?”
“Why don’t you let her choose?” Latika insisted.
“Because she will keep refusing and you will keep giving some gyan or the other…” He laughed casually, “I’m so hungry ma… let’s go and eat something… Come, I’ll show you all an amazing South Indian Cafe, that specialises in 140 types of dosas.”
Latika gave up, nodding sweetly and took the ring from Manik, “As you say! Okay, Nandini, give me your hand. Let’s check if it fits.”
Without a second thought, Nandini stretched her hand towards Latika, who was taken aback at the tattoo on her finger – beautifully inscribed in black permanent ink – Manik!
It was then, Manik and Nandini both realised the presence of the tattoo and the memories attached to it. Latika gave her a knowing smile and said, “Interesting!”
Gaurvi teased her, “Now, I see… why were you refusing the ring…”
The girls giggled and everyone joined, leaving Nandini embarrassed and Manik walking away, out of the store, with an exaggerated – ‘whatever!!’
Latika hugged Nandini and said, “Manik is so lucky to have you. I’m so glad I chose you for him.”
Nandini could actually feel her tongue being tied to her palate and unable to move through her mouth to say something, while the entire passage from her mouth to her throat dried.
They paid the bill and went to the nearby cafe that Manik had suggested. Everyone took a seat, while Nandini walked slowly, in the end, still reeling under the shock of Latika’s hug and warm words of appreciation.
Manik made everybody comfortable and asked them to order their favourite type of dosa. Then, when he looked at Nandini, she was right at the entrance, fiddling with her shoe strap. He excused himself and went back to bring her, “What happened?”
She raised her beautiful eyes to let them meet his eyes, held his hand to stand straight… and nodded, with a soft whisper, “I give up! I lack the capacity to understand your mom. She is so confusing.”
He laughed aloud, “Come inside. What will you have? You must be hungry!”
“Seriously, Manik. You find this funny?”
“It IS funny. What did you think? It was going to be easy??”
“No… but I’m losing my mind now. I haven’t met a person like her… I need to take one side. I don’t know whether to love her or hate her? To go all out and trust her or be wary and scared of her??… I’m getting restless…”
He sighed. “Don’t think so much. Go by your instincts, like I do!”
“You love her… right?” She asked with an adoring sigh, feeling bad for him. To live with someone and then to love her too, who only knew how to spin things around her must have been traumatizing.
He lowered his face to avoid letting her see the expressions on his face and nodded, “Who doesn’t love their mother?”
“But she is so weird?!”
“She is complicated… Nandu! That is what I was trying to tell you and I’m glad that you could see it yourself. She is not bad. She is not evil. But she is VERY VERY difficult. You need to please her to be in her good books. You need to appease her likings and wants. You need to explain each and everything why you did something and why you didn’t… or else she will make you feel as if you are good for nothing. In short, the world revolves around her.”
“How does your dad manage?”
He kept quiet and chewed his lower lip. Then, in a serious tone, he said, “We’ll talk about it on some other day. Let’s go inside, they will wonder what keeps us for long… all the time! I don’t want my mom to start feeling threatened…”
“Hmm!” She nodded. “Just one thing…?”
“Is it so difficult to live by her rules? I mean, if we love her and we want her to feel happy, what is the problem in making her feel special?”
Immediately, he frowned, and snapped in a sharp angry tone, “Do not even try that!! Okay? That’s the worst trait you have…You go all out to make people feel special… you try to be perfect at everything you do… that is why I ask you to not attempt anything here…Unless you want to be crushed and trampled under her feet. So, I repeat, don’t do that…”
“Uhhh…” She frowned visible, unable to understand what made him so angry.
He added, in a softer, caring tone, “Every effort of yours will go unrecognised and leave you hurt… All that you do, will never be enough…”
His worry and concern for her were adorable. He lost his temper quite often but when he did it for her, she felt proud of being with him. She didn’t need to worry or care about her well-being. She had someone doing that for her. Like she did for him! No feeling on the planet was more assuring and more wholesome than this.
She smiled gloriously and held his hand, taking a step closer, “Manik, I love it when you are protecting me!”
“Shut up!” He smiled slightly, almost awkward at this sudden display of love. The next moment, he turned to go inside. “Let’s go. Or else, they will come outside.”
She followed him, with a soft whisper trailing behind him, “Don’t you think, you should tell her what you think about her overbearing ways?!”
“Are you crazy?” He frowned and was worried again. “Don’t you dare do that… ever!!”
Cutely, softly, she asked, walking towards the corner seating space, “But why?”
“For obvious reasons – She will never accept it and she will be hurt!”
Nandini stopped walking and held his elbow to stop him too. He shrugged to ask her what happened to her. In a low, deep, poignant voice, she asked, “You say that you have devised a stable balance with your family… what kind of balance? To take all the hurt on yourself? You worry that I shouldn’t get hurt. You also worry that your mom shouldn’t get hurt…”
He didn’t want to hear more. He turned away, as she sighed – “What about you, Manik?”