Note : This piece of fiction is based on my imagination on how the Ranavat clan had celebrated Holi if it had fallen between the Sangeet and Mehendi functions instead of Maithili being kidnapped. Kindly ignore the fact the wedding day was to be held on Maha shivratri which falls before the festival of colors. For the purpose of this fiction I want our dear couple to be on opposite sides of the battlefield.
Rudra was glad that Aman finally had a breakthrough. He couldn't wait to get back to headquarters and follow the new lead. The house was more suffocating as the day of the wedding approached. He just wanted to get out. He took out his uniform from the closet and started to unbutton it. Paro's stubbornness to see the truth might force him into wedlock with her. She would become his wife. His beautiful wife. He shut his eyes tight in an effort to stop the images imprinted in his mind. But he couldn't stop himself from remembering her first day at the haveli. She was putting away her things in her corner of the room when he returned. She was staring at him with fear in her doe-eyes as he bolted the door. She had no idea of the fear that returned to his heart that night. She was another beautiful woman. One who would charm her way into his life and wreck it when she decides he is not good enough for her. He forced himself to remember that she was just his witness nothing more. His job required him to keep her away from Tejawat's clutches while building a case to bring him down. He grabbed his keys and headed out of his room.
As soon as he set foot into the aangan, he realised it was empty. Where did everyone disappear? He rushed to the Paro's room. She wasn't there. His heart thumped as he raced to the kitchen to find it empty. "Paro!" he screamed as he ran kept checking every corner of the house. He couldn't wait to find her and berate her for leaving the haveli after specifically telling her not to. But what if she had been taken against her will. His eyes fell on the shivling. He hoped that her faith will keep her safe. He went upstairs and out to the terrace as he heard noises there. His entire body shuddered with shock as blue-colored water fell on him. He glared towards the assailant who immediately froze. Sumer came over and clarified, "Sorry banna. My friend here doesn't know you don't like to have a little fun." He pulled the other man away. Rudra sighed as he realised almost everyone was drunk on bhang. He looked around for Paro and saw her dressed in a white ghargra with a dark blue border and matching choli. Her hair was blowing in the wind and her silver jhumkas shimmered in the sun. There was a smidge of color on her face probably by Maithili or Sunheri was standing next to her.
"Happy holi, bhaisa!" Sunheri squealed as she smeared him completely in bright pink color. Samrat rushed to his sister's side before his cousin exploded in rage at her. "She's had some bhang and not in her senses. You should go wash it off before the stain sets in your uniform," he advised. Rudra stormed out without a word. He should have know there would be Holi celebrations on the roof. His aunt always made arrangements in the terrace for the occasion as it was easiest to clean up. "Where are you going, beendini?", Mohini enquired seeing the young woman follow her nephew out. Maithili replied that she wanted to check if her Devarsa needed any help. "Why are you concerned? Parvati beendini will tend to his needs. After all they are to be married in two days," Mohini said with saccharine sweetness. Paro was annoyed at the suggestion. The worst part about pretending to be the Jallad's bride was having to face him whenever he was home. She didn't mind doing little things for him. After all he did make sure she was safe and comfortable inspite of thinking of her as the enemy. Even her old nightmares ceased to haunt her since moving here. Except for the moments when he decided to taunt her with his advances which meant nothing to either of them, life was as pleasant as possible for a girl in her glided cage. She stopped by the kitchen before heading to his room. The festival of colors had meant so much to her as a child but now she had no place for such gaiety in her life. Part of her was thankful when Jeeja said that Rudra had the dibs to smear her with colors and everyone listened except for Sunheri who managed to apply a pink powder on her cheeks. But in the corner of her heart she felt an ache to see everyone but her in a celebratory mood. She wanted to play with her new friends too just like she used to with Bindi and Nandu jeeja. She then chided herself. It wasn't fair to Varunsa's memory for her to be thinking of such things. Even if her marriage lasted only a few hours, she was bound by the vows she made around the sacred fire. She had to lead an austere lifestyle. She knew Rudra would stay away unless he has the time to force himself to punish them both this way. She wondered if pretending to be engaged was worth the trouble to him. Then she remembered his words how so many people other than her were tied up to this mission. She wasn't the only woman whose life had become colorless after the massacre at the border.
She pushed the door to his bedroom and looked around for him. Her heart skipped a beat when she realised that she had entered without knocking. Why this hestitance to enter? This room will be yours too once we are married. She remembered his words. What if neither of them back away? Was she ready to be his wife? Was she ready to spend her life with this man whom she avoided while he was home? How long could they stay that way? She heard water running in the bathroom with the door slightly open. She knocked before pushing it ajar. "Tsk!" she winced as he shook his uniform shirt ridding it of the coloured powder. He was immediately by her side cradling her face with a gentleness she never expected from him. She felt his fingers pushed her hair out of the way and slightly blew on her eyelids. "Are you alright?" he asked concerned that the powder affect her eyes. She nodded and opened her eyes slowly. In his eyes, she saw concern swirling in his beautiful brown eyes framed by thick eyelashes. No matter what lies his tongue spoke these were her allies. His eyes always told her how he felt. She could always trust him. Blood rushed to her cheeks as she saw the image of his hands on her face on the bathroom mirror. She took a step backward and he dropped his hands. He turned back to the task at hand.
"What are you doing here?" he asked trying to maintain his composure. Her closeness was beginning to create a havoc on his senses ever since the rituals had started. She replied that she had come to help him wash his uniform. "I'm capable of washing my uniform myself, been doing it for years. I don't need you hovering around me. Nobody is around for you to act like the concerned fiance," he said struggling to rinse his soiled clothes from the boiling water. His rudeness bothered her. She hated to stand idle and watch someone struggle when she could help out. He saw her fidget with the ends of her dupatta with thoughts racing through her mind. "Leave, I don't have time for this. I have to go to work," he barked. She calmly told him that she will make sure that the shirt is washed and stain free by the time he returns. He stepped back from the bucket of hot water.
"What are you doing?" be shouted as he saw her empty half a cup of sugar into the bucket where his precious uniform was immersed. She replied, "My Mamisa used to tell me that the best way to remove holi stains was to immerse it in a bucket of hot water mixed with half a cup of sugar. Once it cools you can just rinse it off." He stood back hoping she was right. His BSD uniform was his life. He wanted it without any blemish even if he never got to wear it again because of this stubborn girl. He saw her put a finger in to check the temperature of the water. "Are you mad? Your fingers will get burned," he shouted grabbing her hand. The force with which he pulled her caused her to crash into his chest. He gently blew on her fingers and looked into her eyes. He knew she wasn't in pain but couldn't release his hold on her waist. He remembered the night when Ranavat returned to the Haveli. He asked if he got married when she was plastered to him similarly. Was this how life would change for them in two days? Will they be able to talk easily about mundane things like laundry?
Paro didn't understand what the curiousity in his eyes meant. She remembered the first time she thought of helping him. She had brought haldi to tend to the cut on his cheek. But his instinctive reaction to her touch ended in a tumble on his bed. He had the same look when he lay on top of her. Had he been so lonely since his mother left him that he forgot the tender feeling of compassion. The simple touch of concern you feel when someone around you needs assistance.
Rudra let go of her as soon he sensed her glance. One look into his eyes seemed to be enough to look into his very soul for her. He didn't want her to pity the emptiness within. His swift action wasn't without consequence. The ends of her dupatta was stuck on his belt and her choli uncovered. He looked at her apologetically, he never meant for that to happen. He was fine with teasing and taunting but would never act in a manner unlike a gentleman with her. He gulped as the creamy skin of her waist came into view. The silver chain teased him as if it had more right to be there than his fingers which were placed there a minute ago. His deftly removed it from his person and looked into her eyes. He saw apprehension, she didn't know what he was doing. To be fair, he didn't either. He took a step closer and she took one back. She tugged the dupatta but he held on to it. His feet stopped as she was pushed back to the sink. She looked at him with eyes wide like a child. He quietly tucked the end in his hand into her ghagra not breaking his glance. Her heart skipped a beat as she felt his fingers linger. Her breathe hastened as his scent assailed her. She winced again when she felt him snap her waist chain. What was his problem with her jewellery? She wanted to ask as he glared at it. It shouldn't have challenged him, he didn't want to explain. He blinked and he realised she was staring at him modestly pulling the dupatta across her bosom and the chain visible through the fabric. He rushed out cursing himself for letting his imagination run wild.
Rudra was almost at the fountain when he heard her voice when he saw more of his cousin's friends head to the terrace. "Paro!" he called out. She came immediately not wanting to be told off for ignoring him. "More of Sumer's friends have come. If you don't want to go up, stay downstairs. It's fine. I don't want anyone to trouble you when they turn unruly with the bhang that is overflowing in the terrace", he advised. She said she wanted to only help jeeja and will stay away from others. A soft breeze blew a lock of hair on her face distracting him. He pushed it aside before she did. "Just be careful," he said and turned to leave. "Wait!" she said holding his arm. He stopped and looked back. She raised her hand to his ears tentatively. She expected him to rebuke her but he didn't. She rubbed off some off the color from his ear lobes. "You can't go to work with pink ears," she explained. He gave her a small, reluctant smile. Maybe this wouldn't be bad. If they could be civil towards each other, marriage needn't be a punishment. If only battle lines weren't drawn between them.
Maithili had come down a few minutes ago to get more colors for the guests. She saw the exchange between Paro and Rudra and smiled. It was nice to see the new couple in a state of pleasantness rather than the usual tension. She saw Rudra heading towards her and perplexed. She didn't want him to think she was spying on them. "I...holi...guests..." she stammered turning red with embarrassment. He quietly took some red color in his hands and walked back to the woman who was no longer just his witness. She was his bride, someone his heart was learning to trust, someone his soul longer to reach out to even as his trained mind held it back.
Rudra smeared it on her soft cheeks as she looked on with shock in her eyes. "Someday you will realise that your loyalty to the wrong people has cost you too many things. The joy of this festival needn't be one of them," he said heading to the door. For the first time since she moved here she thought about the man and not his actions. He knew somehow this is what she wanted and it was just their age old customs holding her back. He knew just like always and helped her before she asked. Maybe if they weren't on opposite sides of this battle, life might be pleasant with this man who seemed to have so many qualities, so many colors. His courage, his loyalty, his vitality, his honesty were all a part of the canavas that made Rudra Pratap Ranavat. The Jallad who massacred her baraatis. The Rakshak who saved her from thugs. They were just a small part of him. But the rest of him was the man who was with her today. A young man with a gentle soul who did care about her wellbeing and her happiness. Of all the colors she liked this best on him.
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