Misery is not the slow creeping well of despair everyone makes it out to be. Nor is it is cold, clammy fog of grief and disappointment that novels love to speak of.
No, It was like fire.
It was as if someone had deliberately lit in a tiny spark inside her that had now evolved into an enormous monster of fire and was devouring everything it came upon. The blaze razed, burnt, decimated and sheared off every single positive ray inside her. Her hopes, self-worth, dignity; everything fuelled those flames of misery that landed her deeper into the quicksand pit that was her life.
And nothing she did or was capable of doing could tame the blaze. Thus she burnt.
Time passed in its usual stroke.
Her family life dipped in a pot of immeasurable grief and humiliation, continued in all its distorted glory. The fragile bonds of relations slowly weathered away with repeated attacks on them. Strains became evident, masks evolved all the more; secrets lifted its head and love frayed as respect diminished.
How do you hold a family together determined to divide?
This was a question Ishaani had repeatedly asked herself, since the day the first signs emerged. At first, all had tried and now, she was the only one left trying.
Always the last one!
The bright rays of the morning Sun, did nothing to soothe her unrest, instead they acted as salt to her wounds. The Sun rising meant another day closer to the date when their case would finally reach a decision. Another day also meant the previous day lost in failure.
Her hands gently smoothened out her wet tresses. Being an early riser, she had already readied herself up for another day of hectic travelling, pleading, begging and getting rejected from any assistance on the case. A bitter smile spread on her face as she stared at herself on the mirror. Ishanni and hopelessness were polar opposites once upon a time. Today’s state showed how time was a really invincible factor that dominates life. Her dull eyes, enhanced in their exhaustion by the dark circles underneath whispered the truth for the world to see.
Alas, all could see, except for her family.
With a stiff jerk she smoothened out the collar of her Kurti when her hands met the thin golden chain around her neck.
Her hands tightly clasped on it and it was minutes later that she realized it.
She clenched her hand and dragged out the chain and the pendent hung upon it from where it lay against her cleavage.
The light caught the pendant in an odd angle. It glimmered brightly for a second and then abruptly descended into darkness.
The chirruping of birds caught her ears and it was only then she realized that her cheeks were wet.
“Is it for me?” the young girl asked, awe colouring her voice.
“I don’t know…it is for a Princess,” the man said pretending to ponder. “Are you a Princess?”
Ishaani immediately dashed into him. “I am Princess, Papa!”
Harshad Parekh laughed loudly. He lifted her and swung her around like in a merry go wheel.
“You are a Princess all right. Papa’s Princess.”
He put her down and crouched down onto his knees in front of her.
“So, I guess the Princess wants her gift, huh?”
Ishaani bobbed her head repeatedly. She really wanted that gift.
Harshad Parekh smiled and deftly took out a tiny box from his pocket and put it into the eager hands of his daughter. She immediately stared at it in wonder and tried to open it. He watched her trying to figure out the mechanism with an amused air.
“I cannot open it Papa,” she pouted.
He reached forward and took back the box. Feeling around it, his fingers met the slight unevenness and pushing it clicked the box open.
A rectangular pendent lay there.
He gently unhooked the golden chain around her neck and slid in the pendent.
“This belonged to my Grandmother. She had told me to give this to the person who matters the most. And you my dear Princess are your Papa’s most beloved treasure.”
Putting the chain back on her, he looked into her bright eyes that stared at him with love and adoration.
“Always remember Ishaani, you are a Parekh. And we Parekh’s are born fighters. Anytime you feel scared…”
“I will come to you,” Ishaani interrupted him.
Her father smiled. “And if I am not there?”
Ishaani gave a petulant glare. “You are my Papa. You will always be there.”
Harshad Parekh sighed. “If I am on a business trip?”
Without missing a beat she answered, “I will go to Ranveer.”
It was with a resigned amused look that the King of Dalal Street stared at his daughter.
“I guess you are right Princess.”
He softly patted her and gave her a wide smile.
The Pendant was back to glimmering brightly again.
A choked sob escaped her mouth.
Silence stifled the room and yet war raged inside her.
How she wished she had let her father complete his words. She was a Parekh and had been fighting as hard as she could but she was tired now. So exhausted and miserable that she could hardly even put on the mask of fake stability in front of her remaining tattered family.
As fate had seen to it, her father was not there to hold her and tell her that everything will be all right soon.
And not even him.
The war inside her suddenly shifted to the background. It was an uncomfortable numbness that spread in her.
Her heartbeat began escalating. The room felt a bit too silent now. She could even hear the sound of her own breathes.
Sweat beads adorned her forehead and her breathing heaved.
Her eyes drifted across the room frantically. Were the walls closing in?
Her breathing deepened.
Her hands started trembling.
She clutched her pendent tightly and tried to get up from the stool to reach the bed. However all of a sudden, she felt dizzy.
The room was closing in on her, the smell of incense sticks clogging her nose. Something was stuck in her throat, making guttural sounds.
The room was spinning now.
And he stood there. Staring at her!
His dark eyes holding the same intense look it always did.
Her eyes, wide and frantic met his. And then darkness claimed her.
The air today bore a splendour in its invisible fibres as it swirled across the town freely as if carrying a message of the arrival of a long lost friend; a melancholy filled rain fell prodigiously in the streets, though by now it had subsided a great deal. Not one, not two, but everyone noticed the change, and many hearts certainly wondered. The wet morning after the rain in September had left the town soggy though its spirit was as exuberant as any other sunny day. The day was cool but those stuck on the roads of Mumbai had a better reason to grumble today at the awful sight of the vehicles lined up as far as their eyes could follow.
“Arrey yaar, what’s this holdup? Some Minister is coming or what?”
Jigyasa Mishra sighed in exasperation at her friend’s antics. “Don’t you read the newspaper, Niki?”
Niki Borah gave her an I-don’t-and-you-very-well-know-it look.
Jigyasa huffed. “RV is coming. And don’t ask me who he is.”
Niki froze. “Wait a second, you mean the King Douche with loads of money? We have been stuck for hours for him? Seriously, why does he need to travel by car like us poor commoners? Can’t he hire a plane or something? He is filthy rich.”
Jigyasa whirled around. “He did arrive by plane. He is probably going to his office or residence now. And for heaven’s sake why would he use a plane. He is in the city already. And what do mean by douche? He is the youngest King of Dalal Street ever. And he is a genius! “
“He is a douche,” Niki replied flatly.
“How in your infinite wisdom did you reach that conclusion?”
“All the money Kings are douches and corrupt. See those poli…”
Something hit her head, disturbing her rant. Her eyes fell on the huge bar of chocolate.
“Thank God,” Jigyasa murmured as her friend descended into a world of chocolate delusions. Niki loved her food and she loved her sanity and peace and quiet too.
It was at that moment, the sharp whistle rang out. From two and a half hours the road had been blocked by the police for the people. And finally the desired reason was for all to see.
Three Jeep’s raced by filled with black suits handling weapons.
Bodyguards, Jigyasa realized.
A grey Ford with tinted glass swiftly crossed next.
And finally the –
“Bugatti Chiron!” Jigyasa murmured. It was classy, fast and gorgeous. Only one person could be in there.
Another Jeep filled with bodyguards raced by, followed by an Ambulance and three more Jeeps.
As the whirs of the last car died away, another sharp whistle filled the air.
The grunting noise of the blockade being removed rose up accompanied by whirs and roars of engines starting up.
Jigyasa put the key into the ignition and the car stated with a whir.
So, the King of Dalal Street was finally back to India.
A white car with tinted glass smoothly swerved to a stop.
The road was deserted. The Sun took his throne at the peak of the noon and the heat pervaded in waves.
The door to the Shotgun opened and a man stepped out. Dressed in tailored suit pants and a white shirt whose top two buttons were undone, he immediately scrunched his face at the heat.
With a soft click the door on the passenger seat opened and a man got out. He was dressed in a grey three-piece suit in complete contrast to the other man.
“Sir, how are you not boiling in that?”
The second man chanced a glance at the former and gave an amused smirk.
The first man huffed. “Don’t tell me you have some procedure of controlling your bodily reactions too. Are you some kind of Alien, sir?”
“Alien, really?” The formally dressed man shook his head and turned to look at the stairs. Without another word he began to swiftly climb them.
“Sir…sir, wait.” The other man also followed.
The two men came upon an adorned pavilion where a huge Banyan tree was present. It was laden with bells and red strings tied around it to represent unfulfilled wishes and wants. Behind it was a golden structure with a dome type ceiling.
“Sir, I don’t mean to offend you, but we have just landed here. Why did we have to immediately come here? The Temple wasn’t running anywhere.”
The grey suited man stayed silent. He stared at the Temple with an intensity that was completely out of the place.
“Sir! Sir. RV Sir!”
The hassled tones brought him out of his ponderings.
“Puneet, wait here.”
The man called RV made his way towards the Temple. He passed the Banyan Tree and opened his shoes. Leaving them behind, he stepped in.
“Wait here? Wait here! In this blinding stifling heat. Uughh!”
Puneet nearly growled with annoyance and stared around. Everything looked baked, as far he was concerned. The environment looked yellow, the way it does when the Sun rays are piercing and heat suffocating. Dust and dirt flew abundant with the hot breeze gaily swapping stories.
Poetic much? Seriously the heat interfered with his brain.
Puneet sighed. Eight minutes had already passed. What exactly was RV sir doing inside? And he, the poor innocent PA was stuck with his cruel boss in this pinching heat.
Sweat bead littered on his forehead. God only knew how his boss was surviving the three-piece suit when he had already abandoned his the moment they landed in India. His boss was cold blooded. Seriously, he was a cruel cold-blooded alien monster determined to rule the earth and make the humans minions to his goal. And he, Puneet the PA was going to be-
“Is this some new type of Yoga?” soft cultured tones pierced through his dreams.
It took a fraction of second. Apparently his glorious ponderings had made him take a whole new pose and once his concentration broke, his feet twisted and-
“Oops!” RV stared at him amusedly, his eyes glinting with suppressed mirth.
His wicked boss now simply went past him to Banyan Tree. Puneet’s mouth fell open in outrage. He didn’t even enquire his health.
RV directly went towards the tree and gently rolled out a red string. Tucking it, he went around the tree and finally tied a knot. Then he took out a small bell from his pocket and hitched it to the string.
He closed his eyes, bowing his head.
A few moments later her took a deep breath and opened his eyes. He turned to look at the sulking Puneet.
“Ishaani, are you sure?”
The worried tones of her cousin shook her out of her thoughts.
She turned to look at Sharman staring at her with furrowed brows.
“Are you feeling dizzy again?”
Ishaani shook her head. “I am fine, Sharman.”
“No, you are not. You fainted today and luckily I was the one who found you. Then you made me swear not to tell anybody else. And now you suddenly want to visit the Temple. What happened, Ishaani?”
Ishaani sighed. “Do you trust me, Sharman?”
“What kind of a question is that?” Sharman retorted. “Of course I do.”
Ishaani gave him a small smile.
“Then wait here.”
It was the early dredges of the era of dusk settling in. Cool breeze swapping about, the cacophonies of worshippers milling about in the Temple, with heavy wishes burdening their hearts.
Ishaani was one of them.
She slowly stepped into the temple. Immediately a sense of peace and serenity enveloped her. She meandered towards the Idol of Goddess Durga and fell to her knees in front of her.
It was as If ages of hopelessness and despair had caught up to her giving her an aura of a person who had gone through thorny circumstances in a short amount of time. It was, as if laying in front of the idol somehow brought her the tiniest bit of respite.
Her mind drifted to the Incident in the morning.
She had fainted. And come to consciousness with Sharman sprinkling water on her face.
As always determined to not cause her family additional problems, she made him swear an oath not to tell anyone. She didn’t want her mother to worry even more.
But that wasn’t the only reason.
These sudden fainting bouts were not new to her. Quite familiar and at times even welcome.
Her doctor had termed them Blackouts. It was a psychological condition when the brain shut down to relieve excessive stress and tension. Her quirk was that it occurred when she would be unable to handle the pain and grief and more often than not, the trigger was him.
Immediately her mouth tasted sour.
This condition had emerged first two and a half years ago. Since then it was her constant companion and no one knew about it. Except herself, her doctor and her father.
With a reluctant push she got up and suddenly came to face the Pandit. Old weathered face with lines of kindness etched in them he smiled at her.
A bland Imitation of a smile flitted across her face. The Pandit laid a hand on her head.
“Ma Durga never lets her children go away empty handed. Your wishes will be fulfilled.”
Ishaani shrugged. “I had lost that hope long time ago. I only come here to gain some respite.”
The Pandit stared at her for some moments and then handed her a red string with. “Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. Reminisce a time you had faith and try again today. May be your belief will be renewed.”
It would be a long number of minutes that passed before she made a move. The ball of red string attracted her gaze like a moth to a flame.
She closed her eyes and made her decision.
The Banyan Tree was huge. It was like a world in itself, all the tiny bells glinting and the red strings shimmering in delight. Ishaani joined the group of women gathered together.
“Arrey Beti, you want to tie the bell too. Come here.” A woman beckoned her and took her to the little stall that had many bells placed in a heap. Ishaani chose a small golden bell and had her initials engraved.
Sighing, she tied it to the string and made her way to the group.
She joined them and together tucked the string in one side and started making rounds.
As she walked, her thoughts drifted and for the first time in months she prayed.
Please help me. Please save my home. Please help me. I am tired. Please help me.
Reaching the end of the string, she tied a knot and hitched it on another string. She closed her hands in a prayer and then turned to go when a small clattering sound caught her ears.
Turning back she saw a small silver bell rolling on the ground. It appeared to have fallen from its string.
Immediately she bent to catch it and her fingers closed around it.
Her skin began tingling and all of a sudden her heart began to race.
For a moment it was like the whole world had stopped spinning and it was only her conscious. Or perhaps the whole world had moved and she had frozen in time forever.
It felt as If butterflies erupted in her stomach.
Slowly she brought the bell closer to her eyes. She turned it and her fingers felt a small jagged uniformity. There in the base of the bell were two letters engraved.