Avanti quickly put away her stuff being extra careful with the instruments. She had enmarked the place for them prior to getting them here and she was glad they fit well in the locations designated. She had arranged them around the room in such a way that it gave her a feel of music all around. Her father’s favourite raga being played in the background… her father’s favourite song by the original singer… She got nostalgic and teary remembering those moments with her father when they had first heard Asha Khadilkar render the natya sangeet… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8tWvVY6UTk
Her father had loved it so much he had insisted that she learn it with immediate effect and she hadn’t disappointed him. She felt honoured that after that…every time her baba heard the song it was always from his dear daughter… She remembered a classical music competition she had won at the age of sixteen and it was judged by none other than Asha tai herself and the woman with the golden voice had blessed her saying she had the potential to achieve great heights in Hindustani classical music. It had apparently been the happiest day of her baba’s life and he had embossed the trophy with the date and time underneath it. Among all her achievements her baba had always found this one the most special of all. Avanti wiped her tears as she placed the only trophy she had packed up. She wiped it clean and placed it in the wardrobe.
Mrs. Sinha had offered to help but she insisted on doing things on her own… not sure how much to trust the lady irrespective of the fact that Mrs. Sinha had been nothing but sweet. But all the while, she couldn’t focus on Ashatai’s melodious rendition in the background, her thoughts were scattered in innumerable directions as she thought about the turn of events on her life. She barely took an hour to arrange her things and as she sat on the rocking chair arranged methodically to face the window which in turn faced the tranquil hillock outside, she let her train of thoughts go unhinged. She checked her phone for the nth time… there was no reply from Rahul as yet. What on earth was he doing…? She called him but his phone was switched off…really…? She had left a couple of messages for him in the music school but today when she had called, they had told her Rahul hadn’t visited the school either nor had he informed them… That was strange. Yesterday he wasn’t at work as well… which had surprised her to no end. Was he… alright…? She tried calling Anuj but he was away in the Himalayas for some kind of a meditation camp and would be unreachable for a week. Now there was no way for her to find out. Was Rahul avoiding her or was he actually in any trouble…?
She then thought of connecting with the accounts head of Vedshastra Mukherjee uncle who had been company loyal and her father’s long-time friend. He often visited their home too. A confirmed bachelor he lived with his orphaned nephew near Khopoli and that helped his travel become easy. Her baba had helped with the down payment of his house. Avanti knew the nephew, Prantik was a good for nothing and a drunk, who only caused trouble for his uncle. He had even tried to hit on her once when they had been present for a puja in Vedshastra couple of years ago and she had pushed him away. A couple of employees had seen the events unfold and had caught hold of an inebriated Prantik to the utmost disappointment and embarrassment of Mukherjee uncle. They had wanted to hit him and hand the stumbling man to the police but then her baba had intervened and managed the situation. But Prantik had never ceased to cause trouble and would often be seen loiter around the perimeters of the company, so much that a month after the puja incident her father had to ban him from entering Vedshastra premises. Mukherjee uncle had never been the same after that and he had never visited their home as well. Her baba never bad mouthed the man but she had heard from other staff during her sporadic visits that Mukherjee uncle was behaving strangely and given that he was accounts head a few of them had suspected that he swindled money. She however trusted her father’s judgement and knew he kept his personal and work life separate. If Mukherjee uncle was involved in anything sinister, he would have been terminated from his position with immediate effect. The fact that even today he was at the same position meant her baba had trusted the man. But would he speak to her…? What would she ask him…? She didn’t even know the equation he shared with her baba in his last days.
She got her harmonium like she always did whenever she was anxiety ridden or disturbed and tried to settle with her favourite raga…Vrindavani Sarang… She had barely sung the aaroh and the avaroh… when she realised her heart wasn’t in it like it usually did. She kept it away and checked the time it was 12 noon and she would have to hand over Keshav’s tiffin to his driver who was running errands after dropping him to Vedshastra. Mrs. Sinha had diligently packed a neat tiffin box as she had suggested and kept it ready before she had left for the day. Avanti smiled as she thought of the kiss, they had shared on the terrace garden on their wedding evening and reflexively touched her lips. Keshav had been ever so gentle driving away all her apprehensions. She didn’t know how the thought came in just then… but…had he kissed other women just as gently…? What about Arpita…? She knew he had liked her quite a lot…did they kiss as well…? she knew they were needless doubts…
Just then her phone buzzed with an incoming text…it was from Rahul. Oh thank God… finally the guy had good sense to return her messages. At the same time the driver arrived and she did the needful with the tiffin container. She then walked to the dining table and sat as she opened the inbox…
Hi Avanti…sorry for not getting back earlier. Am extremely caught up… trust me it’s important…and murky too. I am close to finding facts… I will contact you in a couple of days. Till then take care and stay safe…please…
P.S: don’t tell your husband about this text… delete it immediately…
What the hell… what was Rahul up to…? He was obsessed about finding the truth behind her father’s accident. She didn’t want to believe the facts from the police initially but there was enough circumstantial evidence which ruled out any foul play and although heart-breakingly difficult, it was what her rational mind told her. Her baba was a victim of an unfortunate accident. But what did Rahul unearth…? The more she thought, the more she was perturbed… She was more curious about the events that led to the day of her father’s demise. Something wasn’t adding up. Keshav had at the time told her he was getting the accident investigated privately but she hadn’t been in the right state of mind to question him later… Did…did he know something and had been hiding it from her…? Though she wanted to trust him the haze of conflicting thoughts were clouding her perspective to take a stand. She touched her head to stop the emergence of a tiny lingering headache… her stress levels were rising… giving her some kind of a premonition of something amiss soon to befall on her…on them.
She decided to take a walk right then since there wouldn’t be many people around in the afternoon and she doubted the paparazzi would be interested in a plain jane like her… nonetheless as a precautionary measure she covered her head with a stole and took off with her sunglasses. She walked aimlessly circling a park close by trying to clear the rushing influx of thoughts… maybe try to arrive at another hypothesis. However even after almost an hour it was all in vain…she was just running in circles both physically and mentally. It was then she suddenly felt the prickling at her nape… as if a sense of being watched. She quickly turned around but the area was secluded and there was nothing out of the ordinary that called for attention. Somehow the sense of unease refused to pass and she didn’t know what was in store. Were her suspicions about her father…his death…true? Did it have to do anything with that last project he worked on…? Did that mean she and her family were innocent bystanders who were now in some kind of danger…? Did Rahul actually uncover something important…? Did Arpita have an inkling…? And finally did Keshav know the truth…?
As she walked towards her building caught up in the whirlwind of questions with no answers in sight, she saw her first-floor neighbours and old couple step out with their pug. The D’Souzas were a septuagenarian couple who had introduced themselves via Mrs. Sinha who also provided her services at their home in the evenings. Mrs. Sinha had told her they had lost their only son who was in the Indian Army to a terrorist attack at the border years ago and had mostly confined themselves at home. However, as she approached them, they gave her a warm smile. She nodded in acknowledgement. “Hello Mr. and Mrs. D’Souza… I am Avanti. Thank you for the lovely pie… it was delicious…”
Mrs. D’Souza’s smile widened and with a sparkle in her eyes she said. “…looks like you like solitude as well… so the afternoon walk, Isn’t it…? Fortunately, we have greenery this side… I am glad you liked the pie…it was my Daniel’s favourite…” She looked away. Her husband patter on her shoulder with his trembling wrinkled hands. He looked apologetically at Avanti.
“…I am sorry Avanti…my wife seems to go on and off with her manners…it’s just that she still hasn’t got over the fact that Daniel is no more… nonetheless…do visit us whenever you get the time… it will mean a lot…”
“…sure…I will… take care…” Avanti nodded and entered the lobby to take the elevator. Just then her phone buzzed with an incoming call. It was Kamya. Finally, a ray of sunshine…she thought smiling.
“Hey Kamya di… what’s up…?”
“…Hi Avanti… all OK dear… just stepping into surgery in five minutes… it’s been terribly hectic… this one going to go on at least for the next five hours marathon…so thought I could just squeeze in a call…. Bhaiyya isn’t answering his phone so called you…”
“…um…yes… things are busy on the work front… managing two companies is tough… was there something you wanted to convey…?” Avanti had sensed a little worry in Kamya’s usually composed voice.
“…Uh… not really… just remind him… to go for his check-ups… his doctor called me… Bhaiyya has been postponing for over a month now…”
Check-up…? For what…? She wondered if it had anything to do with the recent episode. “…is…um…everything alright…? Why is a check-up needed…?”
There was a moment of silence after which Kamya replied. “…Oh, nothing serious Avanti… it’s a yearly check-up that we all do as a family…you will do as well eventually once you settle down…. You see…I am a doctor in the family so tend to get paranoid…” Avanti heard soft laughter which she felt was forced. What was going on? “…Ok then Avanti… I will take your leave now… My phone will be switched off for few hours…. Take care…”
The sense of foreboding unease further tightened its hold around her as she got into the elevator and later into the house. She had texted Keshav after sending the tiffin earlier, but there had been no reply though he had seen the message. She decided to make a call…at least hearing his voice would reassure her. She dialled his number as she stepped into her room, her stomach growling in hunger. The call was answered in noise and all she could hear was a lot of people screaming at the same time. What on earth was happening…? and then she heard a distorted hoarse voice. “…Hel…hello… Avanti…?” and then there was a coughing.
Worry palpable in her voice she couldn’t help but ask. “…Keshav… are you alright…? What’s wrong…?”
The noise sputtered in the background “…Avanti…” he heard him breathe hard… as if he was wheezing and her heart stopped. “…Avanti… I…” He coughed violently amidst the cacophony of a myriad noise spectrum around him and then the line went dead. She called back frantically but there was no response. She then called the company landline but there was no answer. Appetite all gone her heart fell… was Keshav OK…? Just then her phone buzzed again with an incoming call.
Panicking she answered…her voice barely a whisper. “…hello…?”
“…Hello Mrs. Goyal…? Ma’am, this is Akshat Chaudhury here… there has been an incident in the company and Keshav sir has been hospitalised… we are on our way to Silas multispeciality hospital in Chembur which is a ten-minute drive from your home…” Avanti was stunned to silence as Akshat continued. “…Ma’am, there will be a green I 20- car reaching your gate shortly…it will bring you here…”
“…How…how is he…?” Avanti’s voice cracked as she fought back tears.
“…He is under observation but nothing to worry… he asked for you before he lost consciousness…so please come soon…will text you his room…”
She barely disconnected the call and rushed to take her carry bag… even as the intercom announced the arrival of the car. In the next few minutes, she was outside Silas multispeciality hospital. With her heart thudding she ran to the elevator to take her to the fourth floor where Akshat had mentioned in his text. The corridors were empty except for select hospital staff and the antiseptic odour pierced her senses bringing back memories of her mother’s hospitalisation years ago. How she hated them…
She saw a young man in a black jacket standing outside a room with the title ‘VIP suite’ immersed in his mobile phone…furiously texting with a frown on his forehead, his irritation evident. She didn’t have to ask him to realise he was Akshat… the man was just like Keshav had described him. Tall and lean but muscular and definitely if his story was what Keshav had once told her in passing, then looks were indeed deceptive. He turned as she reached the room and nodded with a neutral face, gesturing to the closed room.
“…wha…what happened…? How is he…?” she was scared to peep too.
“…Ma’am…he is out of danger…his quick thinking saved others from being here… there was a gas leak in Vedshastra…”
“…what…? Gas leak…? How is that possible…? We take utmost precaution…”
“…Ma’am… I have taken it up on priority to look into it… but… Keshav sir… he needs you more than anyone right now… all the time he was being transported in the ambulance he kept asking for you… he was worried about you as he still struggled… and in the years that I have known him… he has only cared about everyone else…” She thought she saw moisture in his eyes. Was he close to Keshav…? “…Ma’am…I will get going now and will come tomorrow morning. Will you be fine here…? The car is downstairs and I have texted you the drivers contact… you may call him whenever you wish to go home…”
“…No…I… I am fine here…I will see him now…” Avanti took in a deep breath to gather her strength and creaked open the door slowly as she stepped inside. She saw a pale Keshav lying on the bed with an oxygen mask covering most of his face and tubes running through his arm. Was this even remotely related to what Rahul mentioned in his text…? Keshav didn’t react to the sound of her footsteps and she gently called out his name. There was still no response.
She couldn’t hold it anymore as she crumpled to the floor in a crying heap.
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