Part 29: With stronger love, come bigger fights
Naina had just returned from Diya's school and the teacher had complained of her once again.
"She doesn't seem to focus on studies Reena ji. Matlab itni practice karayi hai...ise aata bhi hai...par pata nahi exams mein likhti nahi!
Naina had rebuked Diya all the way home. She'd mumbled, "ekdum baap pe gayi hai...khali khel kood mein man lagta hai...sare sums solve karwaye the...fir bhi nahi likh ke aayi...pata nahi kaise sambhalun ise...life mein tension kam nahi hoti upar se yeh ladki. When she caught Diya looking at her apprehensively, Naina raised her hand as if to slap her and Diya immediately cowered. Mellowing down at the sight, Naina brought her tone a few notches down and banished Diya to her room. "Aaj koi bahar khelne nahi jaana...na hi Sunday ko aunty ke ghar cartoons...Disney Hour sab band! Diya found it wise not to irk her more, hoping that the bout of rage her mother was in since the last two days would pass soon.
As Diya obeyed her and walked meekly to her room, Naina moved to the small temple she'd hung on the wall. She lit a diya and some incense in front of the pictures of various Gods and Goddesses that she'd collected over the years. Diya's result was expected in another week and Naina prayed fervently that she would pass.
Already in quite a foul mood at Diya's petulance and still mighty bitter at Sameer, she was greeted by Rita at office.
"Reena madam...aapke liye yeh saree...present hai! Rita exclaimed as she saw Naina enter.
"Saree? Mere liye? Kyun? Naina looked baffled.
"Madam wo na sir ne kaha aapko dene ke liye, Rita started.
Naina felt her blood boil and her face begin to heat up. Her anger of the morning that had been showing signs of relenting, surged again. So he hadn't been fooled! He knew she'd been about to kiss him the night before the last! And now he was giving her clothes? How dare he? Do chaar baatein kya kar li dhang se...sir pe hi chadh gaya...samajhta kya hai khud ko...saree dega...shaadishuda aurat ko? Itni giri huyi harkat...ise sharam nahi aati? Has he been noticing her limited wardrobe and her constantly repeating dresses? Was this out of pity or merely a ribald act on his part? She hated both the explanations.
"Kahan hain tumhare sir? she enquired from Rita, her eyes furious, her voice caustic.
"Wo...wo to...Ahemdabad gaye hain...unke Nanaji ka ghar wahan pe hai...!
"Pata hai mujhe! Naina snapped. "Kab aayenge wapis...?
"Madam wo shayad ek do din mein aa jayenge...wo unke dost, Rita trailed off as Naina snatched the saree from her and stomped out.
"Yeh bhi pagal hi hai...boss ek kam tha jo yeh bhi aa gayi! Rita rolled her eyes and set about distributing the gifts to the other employees and associates.
Naina hurtled out of the office onto the lane and hailed a cycle rickshaw to take her to the market. She opened the plastic bag and saw a beautiful, though economical red silk, with a navy blue border embroidered with zari. How dare he! She slammed the packet shut in rage.
As soon as she paid off the rickshaw puller, she scanned the market for a PCO. Having located one, she sped off in that direction. There were two people in the queue before her and each minute the person inside the cubicle spent chatting, Naina's temper rose a few degrees more.
Finally as she entered the cubicle and slammed the door shut, she adjusted the saree packet and her purse in one hand, while her fingers automatically punched the numbers of his Ahemdabad residence. The number was still on her fingertips- literally. And then, like a simmering flame, she waited for the phone to be picked up.
"Hello? Sameer's crisp voice sounded at the other end.
"Tumhari himmat kaise huyi mujhe saree dene ki haan? Samajhte kya ho tum khud ko...jab man kare dhang se baat karo...jab man kare na karo...tum dikhana kya chahte ho...tum bade ameer ho...main gareeb...mere pass pehenene ko kapde nahi hain...sharam nahi aati ek shaadishuda aurat ko kapde dete huye...
"Naina? Sameer cut through as he recognized the voice, shocked at the words she was saying.
"Kya hua...kaunsi saree? He enquired in a puzzled tone.
But Naina hardly heard him. "Har cheez ki limit hoti hai...kitaab publish karke tumne mujhe khareed liya kya...? Us raat bhi...us raat bhi...tumne mera haath pakda!
"Oh hello...jaan ke nahi pakda tha...galti se hua tha...hata leti isme kya hai! Sameer's own fierce anger was begin to spark. However, he did not allude to the fact he thought she'd been about to kiss him for fear of being called a fool.
"Aisa sochna kab band karoge tum ki jis ladki ko chaho apne bistar mein ghusa loge...main ab vaisi nahi rahi Sameer...bahot jhel liya maine...! she spluttered in spite.
Sameer's patience finally snapped. To heck with it! Samajhti kya hai khud ko? Ek to khud use kara mujhe aur mujhe hi suna rahi hai! He growled into the receiver, "kya bakwas kar rahi ho... kya fayeda uthaya maine tumhara...hamare beech mein jo bhi tha na wo mutual tha...aur ek baat...tumhe to pata tha na ki main kitna gira hua hun...fir bhi tum hi mere pass aati thi na...yeh to mat hi bolo ki maine kabhi mana nahi kiya!
"Haan tum to bade sant the na?
"Nahi tha sant...par tum kaunsi kam thi? Aur haan...na hi maine tumhe koi saree di hai na mujhe dene ka shauk hai...to isliye mera dimag khana band karo...aur haan office jaake chup chaap apni kitaab khatam karo...mere sabr ka baandh mat todo. He slammed the receiver in place, his face contorted in rage. Even though he hadn't done it as yet, he would have gladly gifted her a saree or two, knowing that she was in need of money. What was wrong with it? He had definitely wanted to help, but knew she would take it in the wrong way, so he hadn't even tried. But now accusing him of something he hadn't done, that too with sick ulterior motives in mind was so out of bounds- even for Naina.
He pondered for a few minutes, trying to reign in his temper, and then he dialled his office. Rita picked up on the first ring.
Sameer spat instantly, "Reena madam ko kisi ne saree di hai?
"Yes sir...wo main unhe bata rahi thi ki Somani sir ne di hai...sab employees, clients ko gift diya hai Rohan sir ki engagement ke liye...ladies ko saree aur gents ko suit piece...lekin madam sune bina hi gusse mein chali gayi!
Sameer gritted his teeth. "As usual. Puri baat sunti hai nahi...nateeja nikal ke baith jati hai! Aur yeh Somani ko saree deni hi thi...to puri duniya ko baantne se pehle mujhe batana to chahiye tha na!
"Theek hai...thanks Rita! He replaced the receiver again and snatched a bottle of water on the table and gulped half of it down.
"Bhai...ho gaya shaant? Pandit exclaimed. It was then that he realized his friends had witnessed the whole heated exchange.
"Kisse baat kar raha tha...itna gussa...itna to wo Safari suit pe hi nikalta tha tera..., Munna chuckled at his joke, when Pandit nudged him in the ribs. They had made it a pact not to mention anything related to Naina, her father, their school, their classmates, anyone- all were out of bounds, well except for Swati, who was now Sameer's bhabhi and Munna's wife.
"Usi ki beti hai na! Sameer clenched his teeth and made a sullen face.
"Kya? Both of them exclaimed together, sure they'd misheard him.
Sameer pressed his palms to his face and rubbed it vigorously. He then plopped down onto the wooden sofa and decided to empty the bottle of its remaining water.
"Ab batayega bhi ya suspense banata rahega? Pandit quipped.
Sameer took a wholesome look at them, before he turned away and stated, "wo wapis aa gayi hai...!
He paused for a second and completed, "Naina...Naina wapis aa gayi hai.
There was a stillness in the room as Munna and Pandit tried to digest this piece of information. "Naina? Munna finally squeaked.
"Wahi Naina...teri...Naina? Pandit asked nervously.
Sameer nodded, still not looking at them.
"Sameer? Munna prompted him to look their way. Sameer bit his lip and turned. Perhaps it was time to let in the secret to his friends.
"Haan..., he sighed, "wahin Naina...lekin ab wo meri Naina nahi hai...kisi aur ki hai...wapis aa gayi hai ek khoobsurat pati aur ek pyaari si beti ke saath!
Munna and Pandit exchanged glances and then Sameer dived into an account of his recent meeting with her and the situation between them now as well as the recent fight.
"Tune hamein pehle kyun nahi bataya? Pandit chipped in, shaking his head in disbelief.
"Yaar kya batata...kuch do teen mahine ho gaye hain...us din jab tum birthday pe aaye the to bolne ka soch raha tha...lekin Anjali bhabhi ki condition ka stress already tha...meri chinta aur nahi add karna chahta tha! Khair chodo us Naina ko...pagal hi hai wo...chal Pandit...ghar chalte hain tere...naam karan ki rasam ki tayyari bhi karni hai!
Munna and Pandit were at their wits end now. They waited outside in the living room of Sameer's Ahemdabad home, each lost in their own thoughts about this newfound information, while Sameer packed the gifts he'd brought for his newly born neice- a soft brown teddy bear and a new Barbie doll. Sameer's eyes lingered on the other Barbie he'd brought for Diya. Still irate at Naina's rash behavior, he pulled a blanket over it and joined his friends outside.
The whole of next day the trio were busy in the preparations of the naming ceremony of Pandit's newborn daughter, along with Pandit's family. Munna, Swati and their two year old son, Mihir were also present. The atmosphere was lit with the festivities. The traditional Gujarati ceremony proceeded and finally the name bestowed upon the baby girl in Anjali's arms was Prachi. The crowd cheered and a luncheon followed.
The evening when all the guests had been seen off, Munna, Pandit and Sameer assembled again to talk.
"Tune Swati se to kuch kaha nahi na Naina ke baare mein? Sameer asked.
Munna explained, "Bataya tha...par Swati already kaafi gussa hai usse...plus jaisa usne tere saath kiya...usse na baat karna chahti hai na hi milna chahti hai!
"Sameer...lekin ek baat puchun? Tu...tu theek hai? Munna prodded.
"Matlab...tum dono ek time pe itne...itne close the...aur fir teri haalat uske jaane ke baad...
"Yaar main theek hun...par pata nahi kabhi kabhi aise bolti hai wo...gussa aa jata hai yaar! Aisa lagta hai jaise main pata nahi uski life ki har problem ka gunehgaar hun...ab soch main agar aise hi treat karun use toh...ek to jo bhi kiya usne mere saath...wo sab ko side mein rakh ke uski madad karne ki koshish kar raha hun...wo meri jagah hoti to meri madad karti kya...khud to A...Arvind se shaadi karne se pehle ek baar mujhe batana tak zaruri nahi samjha...chalo maana pyaar nahi tha...par kya itni dosti bhi nahi thi?
His friends studied him in silence, unsure of what to answer.
"Uske man ka nahi pata yaar Sameer...par teri feelings...unka kya? Pandit enquired. "Kya ab tujhe uske liye koi feelings nahi hain? Apne dil ko is sabse door rakh paa raha hai tu?
Sameer's face flushed and his eyes lowered.
"Hmm...hain matlab? To tune uski kitaab ka contract liya hi kyun? Munna asked in exasperation. "Sameer hamesha uske baare mein sochta hai tu...lekin kya wo bhi tere baare mein sochti hai...kya use pata hai ki tu usse kitna pyaar karta hai...aur tujhe use kisi aur ke sath dekhne mein kitni taqleef hoti hai?
"Kaise jaanegi? Wo to main kabhi keh nahi paaya aur ab to kehne ka koi matlab hi nahi raha..!
"Toh tu uski kitaab ke piche pada kyun hai? Chod na use...aage badh zindagi mein...life na tere liye ruki na uske liye rukegi! Pandit chimed.
"Dekho...Main manta hun hamare ateet mein bahot kuch hua hai..lekin uski kitaab sach mein bahot achi hai...mere liye, meri company ke liye...upar se wo kaafi gareeb hai!
"To tujhe uska uddhar karne ki kyun padi hai...usne apni marzi se us Arvind se shaadi ki thi na...jab wo US me tha...paisa tha...status tha...wahi dekha hoga na Naina ne...jo tujhe chod ke use chuna tha...aur ab jab din palat gaye...Sameer kahin tera galat fayeda na uthaye wo...matlab main kabhi soch bhi nahi sakta tha ki yeh wahin bholi bhali si, seedhi si Naina hai school wali...jise kabhi jhoot bolna nahi aata tha, Pandit voiced, appalled at how tough it was to discern the true face of someone.
"Haa Ponga...yakeen to mujhe bhi nahi hota...lekin ya to hum use nahi pehchaan paaye ya waqt ne use badal diya! Munna agreed.
For once, despite being Sameer's friends, they could have accepted that Sameer had ditched Naina, but the possibility that it could ever be the other way round had never occurred to them, even in their wildest dreams. But reality had given them a sharp blow when they saw Sameer battling for life in a morbid ICU years back.
Munna rounded on Sameer, "Dekh bhai...sau baaton ki ek baat...sambhal ke rehna...ab wo shaadishuda bhi hai...kisi ki maa hai...kahin kuch unch nich na ho jaye...ya fir kahin tera dil wapis na toote...hum nahi dekh sakte ab!
"Sahi keh raha hai Munna...kahin kuch galat mat kar dena bhai...pyaar ka bhi ek dayara hota hai...aur phir...hum tujhe fir se us haal me nahi dekh payenge...jo bhi hai...kitaab publish karwa de...vaise meri maan to fir use kisi aur publisher se milwa de...ache authors aur mil jayenge tujhe! Pandit asserted.
"Wo to business ke liye sirf...
"Sirf business Sameer? Chal maana business ke liye hi hai...par tere pass aur bhi editors hain jo uske saath kaam kar sakte hain...to tu kyun use personal time de rha hai...? Sameer opened his mouth to protest, but Munna cut him off, "aur humse jhoot to mat hi bolna...hum jaante hain ki kahin na kahin tu uske saath waqt bitana chahta hai...par bhai...happy endings na sirf pariyon ki kahaniyon me hoti hain...asal zindagi mein nahi!
Sameer listened to his friends' advice guilitily. They knew him too well for him to be able to hide his true emotions.
"Ab main commitment bhi kar chuka hun yaar...contract signed hai!
"Contract to toot bhi sakte hain...! Munna retorted.
Sameer's eyes widened in shock.
"Tu contract tod sakta hai kisi bahane se...paise hain nahi...power hai nahi...tu jaanta hai wo contest nahi karegi...par na Sameer tu hamein mat bana...hamein pata hai uski khushi ke liye tu aaj bhi kuch bhi karega...chahe badle mein tujhe khud kyun na taqleef sehni pade! Pandit declared as he propped his legs sideways on the sofa.
"Sahi baat hai...tyaag ka devta ban jata hai insaan pyaar mein! Munna added.
"Pyaar to tune bhi kiya hai! Pandit offered.
"Tabhi..experience se bol raha hun Pandat! Munna replied seriously.
"Ho gaya tum dono ka? Sameer asked irritatedly.
"Dekh bhai...hum dono ka to ho gaya...byah ho gaya...baccha bhi ho gaya...lekin tera kya? Munna enquired.
"Matlab..., Munna glanced at Pandit, who nodded his approval. He plunged in to tell Sameer what he and Pandit had been discussing about last night. "Dekh agar tujhe us Naina saath kaam hi karna hai toh...toh...toh tu khud shaadi kyun nahi kar leta?
A sudden silence fell over the room. Munna looked anxiously at Sameer, while Pandit steered away from his reach for fear of being hit, while Sameer gaped at them both, trying to absorb the information. Finally, the lull broke as Sameer shrieked. "Pagal to nahi ho gaye ho tum dono?
"Isme pagal wali kya baat hai? Sab karte hain...tu kyun nahi kar sakta? Pandit exclaimed bravely and cowered immediately as Sameer turned to glower at him.
"Gusse se mat dekh...tere bhale ke liye keh rahe hain...! Munna drew Sameer's attention.
"Lekin mujhe karni hi nahi hai shaadi...zabardasti hai kya? Sameer uttered in a mix of anger and exasperation.
Pandit's eyes flew to Munna's and then he got up and uncovered a glass of water and offered it to Sameer. "Tu paani pi pehle!
"Kya? Paani? Sameer's snapped.
"Peena padega pi...thanda ho jaa! Ahemdabad ki garmi sar chadhi rehti hai tere!
Sameer shot him another of his scorching gazes and finally snatched the glass of icy cold water from his hand and gulped it all down in a go.
Satisfied, Pandit resumed his seat on the sofa. Somehow the cold water worked and Sameer spoke in a much calmer voice, which surprised himself. He mused, "acha tareeka hai gussa kam karne ka...saalon ne pehle nahi bataya kabhi mujhe...jaake Naina ko roz thanda paani pilaya karunga!
"Dekh yaar...ab to sach teri aankhon ke saamne hai...uski sach mein shaadi ho gayi hai...ek bacchi bhi hai...aur kisi ka na sahi...us bacchi ka to soch...tum dono ke beech agar firse galti se kuch ho gaya aur uske pati ko yeh pata chal gaya...kya tu us bacchi ko uske parivaar se alag karna chahta hai...yaad hai na tere khud ke saath kya hua tha? Kya tu wahin taqleef kisi aur bacche ko dena chahta hai?
Sameer had never thought of it this way. Even if by some strange possibility, Naina indeed came to him, that would mean she would have to break her marriage with Arvind. And as a result, Diya would be a part of a broken family. No wonder Sameer could be a loving father, even if just a step-father, but in the end, he would be responsible for snatching away the love and affection of her biological father from Diya. No! Even in his wildest dreams, he would never let Diya get hurt. He wanted Naina with him, but not at the cost of her and Diya's happiness.
Pandit's voice fell into his ears again. "Yaar waqt ke saath insaan sab bhool jata hai...tujhe bhi aadat ho jayegi... kitne log hain jinhe pyaar nahi mila...zindagi thodi na rukti hai...aur kya pata qismat ka...pyaar firse bhi ho sakta hai na...aur fir jab tere saath koi aur hogi..toh naturally tera dhyan Naina se hatega...apni zimmedariyon ka ehsaas hoga!
"Haan..upar se jaise wo tujhse gusse mein baat karti hai...iska matlab to saaf hai na ki use shayad tere liye kabhi koi feelings nahi thi...wo professional hai to tu bhi reh!
"Aur hum yeh nahi keh rahe ki abhi ekdum se shaadi kar le...matlab sochna to shuru kar...teri bhi umar ho rahi hai shaadi ki...shayad abhi man na ho...lekin sochega to shayad man ban jaye...aur fir ladki kaunsa ek jhatke mein mil jati hai...time lagta hai achi ladki dhundhne mein jisse teri bane...jo tujhe samjhe...!
Sameer was lost in deep thought all throughout his flight back to Delhi the next day. Were his friends right? Did he really ought to think of marriage? But he knew he would never be able to love anyone else the way he loved her. With that comforting thought, he shut his lids to catch an hour of sleep before his plane touched down in Delhi.
Three days later, when Naina entered the office again, still piqued at the blatant gesture from Sameer and their bitter conversation over phone, she spotted Rita in a deep magenta silk draped around her. Exactly same as the one she'd been offered, only in a different colour.
"Good morning Mrs. Mittal!
"Good morning! Naina responded, her eyes still on the fabric draped over Rita. Rita followed her gaze and chipped, "arey yeh wahi saree hai jo Somani sir ne ladies staff ko gift ki hai madam...aapki jaisi...shayad us din aapko colour nahi pasand aaya...aap change kar lijiye...mere pass abhi bhi stock hai!
"Somani sir? Naina asked startled.
"Ji madam...Somani sir...unke bete Rohan ki engagement ho gayi hai na...unhone do hafte pehle London mein apni girlfriend ko propose kiya tha...unki MBA college ki classmate hi hai...bas shaadi ki tareekh pakki huyi to khushi mein sir ne sabko gifts bantwa diye...Somani sir Rohan sir se bahot pyaar karte hain na!
Naina was now heartily embarrassed. Damn it Naina! Puri baat sun to leti! Kham-a-kha use suna diya. Tabhi wo gussa tha! As Naina recollected fragments of their conversation, her heart wrenched. She'd been so rude to him. Had even passed such crass comments at him. No wonder he'd snapped back at her. She threw a lame smile at Rita and asked to meet Sameer, fully sure he would've shredded the contract to pieces now and would ask her to leave.
But as she entered, she noticed that Sameer was engrossed in some editing work- his pen moving to and fro, marking big circles, scribbling words here and there with red ink. He registered her presence with a curt nod and motioned to the chair behind his desk. Her fingers started playing with her purse strings, waiting for the impending storm- for doom to splash over her.
"Sorry! she blurted, before she knew it.
Sameer's pen stopped in mid-motion and he glanced up at her, his expression grim, waiting.
I'm sorry..., she repeated. "Wo us din...jo phone call kiya...Rita ne sir bola...to mujhe laga aapne...but abhi unhone bataya aapke father ne...aapke bhai ke engagement...con...congratulations! she confessed meekly.
Sameer gave another brusque nod and returned to the editing.
Okay? That's it? This is worse than the tempest she'd imagined! Naina sighed to herself.
"Chapter twenty mein kaafi issues lage hain mujhe...yeh parts change karne chahiye...baaki editors se bhi unka opinion le sakte hain...but yahan, yeh chapter seventy two mein end bhi thoda change karna hoga iske hisaab se! He straightened and passed the sheets of paper he was working on to her.
"End change karna hai? Naina questioned. That was her story. She shouldn't have to change it because of someone else's opinion. But then maybe she had to. Sameer probably knew what would sell and what wouldn't.
"Itni buri bhi nahi hai ending jitna soch rahi ho...thoda change bola hai...tumhare idea ko nahi change kiya! Sameer averred and then Naina realized he was watching her, his forehead creased in concentration.
"Ab sorry bol rahi hai...yeh acha hai kuch bhi suna do...zubaan pe control hai nahi...ise laga hoga main contract na tod dun...pehle to itni gussail nahi thi...lagta hai dheere dheere baap jaisi hoti jaa rahi hai...bechari Diya..., he never thought he could feel this way but, "...bechara A! Kitni matlabi hai...maine kaise nahi pehchana ise kabhi...shayad wo sab care, wo concern natak hi tha...!
Naina raised her brows and Sameer realized she was staring right back at him. He turned away from her wordlessly.
The entire morning and afternoon passed in formal, clipped conversations, pertaining only to work.
Another author came in to meet Sameer in between, and Sameer was very cordial and pleasant with him. As he let Naina work in a corner, he gave his attention to the other writer for two hours, heartily praising him for his knack of writing a gripping thriller, before he passed him to the other editor for a second opinion on a few highlighted parts. Sameer singing praises of another writer like this made the novelist in Naina feel jealous and the woman in Naina gloomy, for Sameer had never used adjectives like brilliant', exceptional', spell-binding' etc. to describe any of her work. She observed him for a while as he worked on some accounts with Rita and checked her watch. It was nearly 2. She decided to interrupt.
"Ahhh...sir...wo...meri beti ka school se chutne ka time ho raha hai...aur Arvind bhi nahi hain to kya main use yahan le aaun...? Naina hesitated.
Sameer looked up when she spoke, cocked his brows and wordlessly pointed to the door with his hand and returned to his work without so much so as a second glance at her. Naina observed as she got up, that this time, he also did not offer a lift.
Half an hour later, Sameer was subjected to an enthusiastic greeting from Diya, "Sameer uncle...namaste! Diya has wearing her school uniform, a soft brown tunic with narrow checks of blue, yellow and red, cinched with a broad black and red belt with the school emblem, with a pristine white shirt underneath. Her feet were encased in black ballerinas with the morning polish now replaced with specks of dust and dirt, worn on top of white socks with red stripes at the end.
Somehow, the innocence and the genuine glee in the voice of the child made it impossible for him to frown at her. She was unusally chirpy today, as if she was really happy to see him. Sameer flashed a broad smile at her and pressed a kiss to her cheeks, and then enquired about her school. Diya hastily passed her green Milton water bottle and her schoolbag to her mother as she started recounting the events of the school to him.
As Diya spoke, Naina noticed that the warmth Sameer was showing their daughter did not seep over to her. While he was normal and friendly with Diya, he continued to ignore her. Diya talked to him about how Medha's pencil had broken a few days back, and feeling sorry for her, Diya had lent her her only one. Then they both had to share the same pencil for the exam and as a result couldn't complete the test. Naina was surprised. Diya had not told her this. Was that why she scored low on the Maths test? Sameer too was concerned as she heard him point out, "beta to aapne teacher se kyun nahi kaha ki Medha ki pencil toot gayi hai?
Diya explained to him, "uncle Alka miss na bahot gussa karti hain...unhone kaha tha ki agar koi exam mein pencil nai layega to use zero milega...to Medha rone lagi thi!
"Isliye tune exam mein sare sums nahi kiye? Naina shouted at her, mad at Diya for being too kind as to try and help others at the cost of herself and then at her ownself, for having upbraiding her at having a heart of gold.
Sameer too felt somewhat proud of the little girl before him and patted her forehead. "Beta...aap bahot ache ho...lekin next time...madam ko bata dena aisa kuch hota hai toh...madam gussa nahi karengi...main baat kar lunga...aur aap ek hi pencil kyun le gaye the...agar aapki khud ki pencil toot jati toh?
Diya didn't answer and Sameer guessed that their limited resources stretched to Diya's schoolthings as well. Mentally, he made a note to buy her a few essentials like pencils, erasers and scale when he went outside. Naina mentally cursed herself for not buying another pencil for Diya when she was pestering her to do. Turns out she'd really needed a spare!
Ironically, Diya shared much more with him than she ever did with Naina herself or Arvind. Before this, she'd quite thought of her as a reticent child, but when she was with Sameer, something opened up inside of her. This gave her a sharp pang at her heart, as she realized the mockery of fate. Diya could pour out her heart to her father, but could not have him for a father. The piercing in her heart multiplied a hundredfold as the father in question finally spared her a steely, cold glance. For a flicker of a moment, she noticed emotion in those eyes, but it was gone the next instant.
Diya sneezed suddenly and Sameer looked at her and then at Naina in a sudden show of concern.
"Wo kal school se aate waqt baarish mein bheeg gayi thi...ise bhi bheegte hi sardi lag jaati hai! She realized what she'd let slip and checked herself as she saw his eyes widen slightly at the explanation.
Diya too got the cold like him then? Interesting. His thoughts were braked by Diya's recital of how their music teacher was preparing the class for a group song.
As he and Naina resumed their work each, Sameer noticed Diya was feeling restless, sitting on the sofa, next to her mother. Her legs kept dangling to and fro and she lifted a spare paper and started working diligently at making an aeroplane out of it, wiping her nose in between with the handkerchief her mother had pinned to her tunic on the front.
"Diya! her mother remarked. "Page mat waste karo! Le yo isse bana lo! She handed her a rough page from the old draft.
His mood lightened by merely watching her and as he stole glances at her mother, he found it hard to stick to his silent treatment.
"Kya...kya soch rahe ho? Naina spoke cautiously.
Sameer shook his head, "nothing...haan to chapter twelve... He focused his and Naina's attention back on the work at hand.
At around four-thirty, when he got up for a break, he realized they hadn't had lunch. It was normal for him to miss his meals, but he'd kept Naina...and oh no...Diya too. Poor girl must be hungry. He went upto Rita and asked her to send in a few cheese sandwiches, some coffee (the way Naina madam liked it, even though he always felt she used too much sugar and even though he was still angry at her) and some milk for the child inside.
Diya, who'd dozed off on her mother's lap as the adults worked, was stirring by the time Sameer came inside. "Hey beta..., he plucked her cheeks. "Ninni ho gayi? he smiled at her and she smiled back, rubbing her eyes and nodded.
At that moment, the sandwiches, coffee and milk arrived. As the peon set it all on the table, Naina wondered if he'd heard her stomach growling. They'd been working today all through lunch. Not that it mattered much to her as she mostly tried to avoid spending a lot on her own meals. A samosa or thepla for Diya after school amounted to three rupees once in a while and that usually sufficed when she wasn't able to cook her healthy meals. And three days in a week, Naina tried to couple breakfast and lunch together and eat something heavy to last her till the evening- sometimes a parantha or two, sometimes it was plain milk.
Naina inspected the sandwiches carefully and found them to be stuffed with delicious, melting cheese. A soothing aroma wafted into her nose. She then looked at Sameer apologetically as her stomach grumbled. "Thank you...lekin Diya ko cheese nahi pasand...aur doodh ke liye to iske vaise bhi nakhre hain!
Sameer's eyes darted to Diya. Did she really not like cheese? Maybe she wasn't that similar to him anyways. I bet A doesn't like cheese too. But on the contrary, Diya was eyeing the sandwiches rapaciously. Maybe she doesn't know they have a filling of cheese inside. Or maybe, it was another of Naina's refusals to accept anything that he offers.
"Main kuch aur mangwa dun? Veg sandwich...pav bhaaji? Paranthe? He quizzed and then added, "doodh mein Bournvita daal ke diya toh...Bournvita to generally bacche pasand karte hain na?
Naina gave him a look, which made him wonder if he did know children at all. Perhaps, with no experience, having not had his own, he shouldn't be a judge of what Diya liked or not. He'd failed on all three accounts- milk, cheese, sandwiches today.
Then Naina's slow voice interrupted his thoughts, "agar koi parantha...gobhi ka ya kuch mil jata toh, she fished through the remaining fifty rupees in her purse and closed her hand around the note. It was all she had to last till Friday. She'll forgo dinner today then. As it is, she would have sandwiches, thanks to Sameer's generosity.
Sameer's hurt ego was assuaged a bit and he nodded. "Sure. While Sameer and Naina took a sandwich each, he noticed how Diya was focusing more on the sandwiches rather than her own parantha. With frequent coaxing from Naina, Diya finished her food, but Sameer could tell she wasn't sated. Around six, when they finally got up to wind up for the day, Naina took out the note of fifty rupees and handed it to Sameer for the meal.
Sameer eyed her and then at the note in her hand and flippantly avoided, "iski zarurat nahi! And walked over to his desk to pack his briefcase as Naina left with Diya, who waved vigorously at him.
Fifteen minutes later, Sameer strode out of office and saw that Naina was busy buying some groceries from the vendors spread out on the streets, while Diya waited around looking bored.
Sameer walked upto her and Diya's eyes lit up on seeing him again. "Sammer uncle! she spread her arms out, wanting him to pick her up. Sameer obliged happily and Naina tried to pass a small smile which he did not return.
"Isko ghuma ke laaun ek round? Tab tak tum sabzi le lo? Sameer requested Naina in a formal tone.
Naina nodded, "ok...but please jaldi aana..., and then went back to arguing about the price of brinjal.
Sameer strolled around with Diya in his arms, pointing out to the stray puppies around. He spotted a stationery mart and took Diya inside. "Diya...kaunsi pencil chahiye aapko?
"Wo uncle...mumma la dengi...! Diya politely refused.
"Arey beta...mumma ko uncle bata denge...kaunsi yeh red-black wali ya yeh plain wali ya fir yeh pink flowers wali...yeh flowers wali achi hai na...? Sameer hoped he was correct in assessing Diya's choice this time and was elated when she announced happily, "Pink flowers wali!
Sameer wanted to buy the entire box for her, but Diya kept shaking her head. He finally brought two of those pencils for her, knowing that for today, this would have to do.
As they stepped out of the shop, Sameer saw a Kwality wall cart nearby and enquired from Diya, "ice cream khayega uncle ka baccha?
Diya clapped her hands and then sombered, "mumma...daantengi!
"Mumma ko uncle mana lenge...chalo kaunsi pasand hai...?
"Chocobar to uncle ki bhi favorite hai!
Sameer pecked her cheek and brought two chocobars for them both. He unwrapped Diya's ice-cream and handed it to her. As she began to lick as if she was in heaven, Sameer grinned and started eating his own. For a few blissful minutes, the oblivious father-daughter duo relished their ice-creams.
And then Sameer walked her back to where Naina was almost wrapping her grocery shopping. She turned to them and instantly her brows crinkled. Both Sameer and Diya tried to look innocent. Sameer had wiped Diya's mouth carefully.
Naina noticed the two new pencils poking out of her tunic's pocket and concluded Sameer had brought them for her. But something was wrong. And it wasn't the pencils. She pulled Diya by her hands and felt the stickiness on her fingers. She sniffed her hands and then her mouth. "Tune ice-cream khayi hai? Naina's voice was strict.
Diya remained mum. Apparently, she wasn't taught how to lie. Naina's eyes drifted to Sameer and she read the truth in them.
"Smash! A hard slap sounded across on Diya's cheeks, as Naina shook with uncontrollable rage. The vegetable vendor looked shocked himself.
"Naina! Sameer immediately lifted Diya in his arms, who was now on the brink of tears. As her wails and sniffs started, Sameer immediately admonished her, struggling to contain his voice, "bacchi hai...ek ice-cream hi to khayi hai...thappad maarne ki kya zarurat thi...maine hi kaha tha...kaunsa roz roz khati hai.
"Mana kiya tha na tujhe? Naina ignored Sameer completely. Instead, she hollered at Diya who shrinked in fear and continued to cry.
"Aur tum...tumse kisne kaha ki tum meri beti ko kuch khila sakte ho...? It was now that Naina directed her rage at him.
"Damn it Naina! Itna over-react kyun kar rahi ho...scene mat create karo...tumhe mujhse problem hai to seedhe seedhe bol do na...Diya ko maarne ki himmat kaisi ki!
"Himmat? Diya meri beti hai...main jo chahe karun! With this, Naina snatched her daughter from his arms protectively.
She checked her bruised skin and patted her head to make her stop crying, but Diya was trying to jerk away from her. Naina was still fuming at Sameer. Her fierce gaze was met with a glacial, loathsome look on his part. Naina knew he was trying to tame his own thunderous rage under that stare.
Sameer crossed his arms against his chest. "Samajh gaya...itna bura hun na main...ki tum meri di huyi ek chocolate tak apni bacchi ko khilana nahi chahti...! His words pierced her like shards of ice. What?
Naina started to protest, but Sameer cut in indignantly, "maine notice kiya hai...main kuch bhi laata hun Diya ke liye tum mana kar deti ho...meri di huyi aaj tak ek bhi cheez tumne Diya ko nahi khane di...na sandwiches...na doodh...na ice-cream...kya sach mein Diya ko kuch bhi pasand nahi ya fir tumhe wo sab dene wala pasand nahi hai?
"Sameer please! Naina opened her mouth.
Sameer raised his hand. "Ohh and by the way Naina...main tumhe ya kisi aur ko apne bistar mein ghusane ki planning nahi kar raha all right?
Naina whimpered. She knew she'd gone too far there. "Sa...Sameer..
But Sameer had had enough. He strode across from her and started to walk away, when he heard her low, trembling voice utter, "Diya beemar hai Sameer!
He halted in his tracks. As he wheeled around to look at her, he saw Naina was crying profusely. He stood looking at the scene in confusion. He was unsure of how to react- whether to be angry or whether to console her.
Naina put Diya down and looked at her daughter who was in tears like her. She pulled both of her ears and murmured, "sorry beta...mumma ko maaf kar do?
Diya continued to sob, while Sameer looked at the scene in surprise. And then Naina bent down and pulled Diya into a tight hug as she looked at Sameer with a gaze that could've melted iron. Obviously, Sameer's anger began to ebb away. He found his voice finally and asked, "I know wo beemar hai...zukaam mein ice-cream khane se bahot problem hoti hai Diya ko? Sameer wondered if Diya had some allergic reactions due to the ice-cream and began cursing himself mentally for offering her the same without consulting her mother.
Naina shook her head as she tried to wipe Diya's tears and her own with her pallu.
"Naina please batao kya hua hai Diya ko? Sameer blurted in exasperation and worry.
Naina nodded and raised her eyes, "kahin baith ke baat karte hain! Sameer nodded.
Some fifteen minutes later, Naina was seated on a park bench with Sameer at her side, listening intently to her as Diya lay down on the doing something with the grassblades. As Naina erupted in a fresh bout of tears, Sameer couldn't help but clasp his hand around her head and pat it in consolation as he fought to stay strong himself. Why was Diya's condition worrying him so much?
This was a question he was struggling to answer.
Hi Sur Darling!
Topic started by Samaina_1990
Last replied by hj42928