Sorry to keep you all waiting. And thank you for always being so kind to me. Readers maketh a story, I have always believed. Thanks for bringing this story to this far!
Love you loads.
The family reached home late. They had dinner at a hotel after the shopping and then after having ice cream at a famous joint at Indira Nagar, they were back by 10:30 pm.
The moment they entered the house, Nandini got a call on her phone. It was from the hospital.
“I need to go!” She spoke hesitatingly, looking at her mother-in-law and father-in-law and almost in a requesting tone, she explained, “Actually, the other doctor is not well and it seems they have posted me to be ‘on-call’ at night… it’s a new job…so…”
Manik pressed his lips, nodding at the way she explained herself. Of course! She won’t change. No one changes in a span of a few days and just like that. He realised that he should let her understand things on her own and give her some time, now that she had seen how his mom behaved.
Latika was happy because Nandini had asked her before going. She nodded and spoke to Manik, to instruct him to drop Nandini, “Okay! Manik, you go with her.”
They were about to leave when Latika stopped them, “Err… there was something I want to ask?”
“Yeah…ma?” Nandini turned again.
“Actually, Akhil’s distant bua is here to visit a family to meet the girl she has chosen for her son. Now that they are here, they want to meet Gayu and us. So, if you don’t mind, can I call them for lunch tomorrow?”
Nandini felt awkward at the way Latika asked. She immediately comforted her and assured her, “Please don’t be so formal, ma! This is your home more than ours.”
Latika smiled and then immediately her smile faded as she asked, “But they are a family of five… how will I manage?”
Manik and Nandini were both quick to come to a solution to help Latika, so they both spoke together but different things.
Manik said, “We will order food and snacks from the hotel.”
Nandini offered, “I’ll take a leave. I’ll help you, ma!”
Latika nodded in relief, “Thank you so much, Nandini. Manik, it won’t look good if we order food from outside. They are our relatives, our daughter’s in-laws. They might feel insulted. If we are calling them for lunch, we should host them well.”
Manik didn’t speak anything after that. He just shrugged to accept it and walked out of the house, saying, “Mom, you go to sleep…I’ve taken my keys…”
“How much time will you take, Manik?” Latika asked.
“It depends. If she gets free early, I’ll bring Nandu with me. Or else, I’ll drop her and come back. In any case, at least one hour.”
“Okay. Take care!” Latika closed the door. Everyone went inside their rooms and Manik accompanied Nandini to drop her to the hospital.
Manik drove the car quietly while Nandini waited for him to start thrashing her. When he didn’t, she picked up his aviators from the car dashboard and wore them.
“How do I look?” She asked cutely.
An understated smile sneaked on his lips when he turned to her. Then he cleared his throat and spoke seriously reprimanding her, “You won’t change, nah?”
“What?!!!” She exaggerated her response, with a hand on her heart and asked in a dramatic tone, “You want me to change, kya?”
“Don’t try to act cute with me.” He was irked and then he imitated her, “What was that – Ma… I will take a leave… and help you with cooking?”
“Come on! The last thing I want from you Manik, is you getting involved in kitchen politics. Leave it, na! That’s for me and ma to handle!”
He didn’t know whether to feel relieved or worried about that statement. He didn’t want to dominate her or boss over her like his mom. He wanted her to take her own decisions. At the same time, Nandini had a knack of getting in trouble.
He sighed, “I was just trying to help you…”
“Don’t do that, Manik!” She explained patiently, “Listen, I am okay ordering food and all, but ma is right on her part. When she is inviting people for lunch, she wants to prepare it at home to make it look warm and welcoming. There is no harm in that!”
He snapped at her, “Did you think about yourself? You are not even home right now. You’ll finish work and by the time you reach home, you will be dead tired. Why do you overpromise?”
“Once in a while, we can adjust, no?”
“Why try to be a superwoman, all the time?”
“Why be defensive all the time? Once I know how your mom is like, I can ignore her taunts for a few days. It’s not like she is going to cook tomorrow and I will be able to sleep. I can’t do that. And it’s not like she is going to be here, forever. So, it’s okay to go on a backfoot, sometimes and stay dominated if she feels good about it.”
Manik took a deep breath and concentrated on driving. He knew that Nandini could go to any length to make people feel comfortable. And he knew how his mom was going to take all those efforts for granted. His mom would never appreciate the goodness and extra hard work that Nandini was going to do. In fact, she was going to blame her even if a minor thing went wrong. It had always been like that. It will be like that in the future too. To top it, this was about Gaurvi and her in-laws. His mom was extra sensitive when it came to taking care of Gaurvi and her happiness, her likes and dislikes, her comfort… and that troubled Manik.
He nodded and reminded Nandini, “Do you remember the number of calls mom made when we were in Giethoorn? That was when she wanted to ask what gift to buy for Gayu!”
She pressed her lips once and asked, “Please don’t think that I am not getting your point of view. In fact, I am overjoyed that you care so much about me that you are warning me against your mom. But Manik, just for once, please think from my point of view – I’m a new bride, I mean just 4 months old… and new to your family. They have a horde of expectations from me. They are inviting people to our home. What do we do now? Tell them that we are busy? That we should order food from the hotel and spare us? Isn’t that extremely rude?”
He sighed, “Hmm… yeah… you are right. But still… look – I’m not a demon. I didn’t stop you from interacting with my parents and sisters. Just be cautious and maintain distance… that’s all I want… don’t go out of the way…”
She spread her hands in the air and shrugged, “How do people do that? For me – love is ‘all or none’… either give your 100% or none at all.. and why love? I feel like that for every relationship or else, you are wasting time. I have always gone out of the way for everyone I know… and you know that!! When we met first, before marriage, I asked you to attend a casual colleague’s wedding just to make her feel special. I have hundreds of friends and I give all I can, to every friendship.”
“And then get hurt?”
“Yes, sometimes. But those are the lessons I got. So, I don’t regret. My point is that when I am giving my hundred percent to even strangers and patients and friends and relatives… then, why do you think, I won’t go all out for the woman who gave birth to my husband?”
“Hey…don’t be melodramatic okay?!”
She giggled, “Okay, sorry… I guess I went overboard with that…”
“Come back to planet earth from your Mother India syndrome. I really don’t want to see you hurt.” He declared in straight words and frowned.
“I asked the same in the evening– ‘what about you, Manik?’ … Why didn’t you reply to me in the cafe?” She cornered him on that point that she had asked outside the cafe and he had avoided replying that. This time, he couldn’t avoid her.
He smiled, and shrugged casually, “What about me?! Don’t you know that?”
“Yes, I know! And that is why I am asking again and again… you always tell me that you are happy and content if people around you are happy. Is that the balance you have developed with your family too?”
He chuckled, “Yup. I am fine at a distance from them. I get involved only when I am needed, or else, I am quite peaceful in the space that I have created for myself. That is why I keep stopping you. I don’t want anyone of you, to be hurt. If you are happy, I am happy too. If mom is content and satisfied, I feel relaxed. If dad is fine, if Trisha and Gayu are good, I feel at peace. I don’t want anything else. And I don’t want this stability to be disturbed at any cost. I won’t be able to handle it!”
His reply touched her soul so deep that she could feel her heart sinking with that. Her throat dried and her lips were pressed inside her mouth. She couldn’t speak anymore. A lump of saliva stuck in her throat and she could feel a heavy burden weighing down on her chest. Fine droplets of tears rested on her lower lids and she didn’t speak anything after that as she clasped her hands with each other. Even Manik wondered why she didn’t reply to him after that. Instead, she sat quiet, looking at the road ahead for the rest of the journey.
When they reached the hospital, she carefully stepped down, taking care of her saree. Manik stepped down the car and leaned by the car door. Nandini walked around and like always, she said her parting words, “Alright. Drive safely. And sleep well.”
“Just one moment!” Manik stopped her and held her hands in his own. She didn’t say anything. It felt soothing to stand before him as he caressed the back of her hands with his thumbs, keeping her hands secured in his palms. He spoke, “What happened? Why are you suddenly so quiet?”
“Nothing!” She nodded, pressing her lips.
“And you think I will believe that? I can read every look you sport… tell me, why did you suddenly become so low… so sad?”
Tears dropped down her cheeks, as she murmured in a low voice, “Manik, I’m unable to fathom the level of hurt you have been through to reach this stage. You think you are peaceful in a stable space and you have learnt how to handle hurt? No! You haven’t. You have created this shell around you so that no one can reach you there to hurt you. You have secluded yourself from everyone, trying to be busy in work, trying to maintain distance…whatever… simply because you are scared to get hurt. You don’t allow people close enough to be able to hurt you… that is why Dhruv’s betrayal didn’t bother you much… that is why your break up with your ex- didn’t trouble you to the level that you would stop her from going away… she called you ’emotionally unavailable’ and you accepted it…because you knew that you were what she said… you let her go so easily…coz you were never attached…you have stopped allowing people to come close to you… that is why you keep avoiding your parents…”
He exerted a subtle pull on her hands to draw her towards him, to let her take a step closer to him. After a pause, he said, “You don’t need to worry, Nandu. You are inside that shell. With me!”
More tears dropped down her eyes, “No Manik. We can’t live inside a shell… inside our own bubble… in our own world, away from everyone else…”
“Then?” His face became taut as he asked, “Do what?
“I don’t want to be with you inside a cushioned, well-safeguarded cocoon. I want you out…with everyone else…”
“I don’t trust anyone!”
“I trust only you … that you won’t hurt me.”
“Then, come with me to bask in the sun, get drenched in the rain, and face every storm…together!”