The next couple of days were uneventful as Avanti visited Vedshastra and tried to get a hang of the administrative work pertaining to Keshav alone so that he could focus totally on the R and D… She met Rahul on a couple of occasions but except for exchanging pleasantries they barely spoke to each other. Yesterday she had finished her work early and had gone to her Panvel bungalow to resume her search for the black book…She even looked for some clues if her father had left her any like … the game they played in childhood. She made a new list of all the bank lockers and secret places where her father would keep away stuff to conceal from even the family. Avanti of course was given an idea because she helped her father maintain them. There was no corner she didn’t miss till Keshav picked her up on his way home. And…they had their occasional moments where she caught him staring at her and smiling as he looked away. They had lunch together jesting about something mundane and she loved to listen to him crack little jokes. She knew he did it to help bring down her anxiety. Her heart fluttered sending the tiny butterflies from her stomach scamper around her insides. She was so much in love with him… she wondered if he felt anything remotely close… for her… She knew he had been in love with her sister at one time and wondered if he would feel the same for her someday…but then a girl could hope!
It was Friday and she had her date with her step-mother-in-law. Rohini Jaiswal had sent her the address of a fancy restaurant in Chembur itself and Avanti was glad because she wanted to return home before Keshav did. She also had to be extra careful because Keshav had a set of eyes on her. He had said it was for her protection but she had always wondered what the reason was. Akshat had finally ruled out any foul play in Keshav’s recent incident in Vedshastra and while it relieved her to an extent, she got the vibes of something being amiss and made it a point to figure things out on her own before talking to Akshat about it. It looked like her self-sleuthing skills had to be upped given the increasing list!.
Meanwhile she had to figure out how to meet Rohini Jaiswal and also keeping it from Keshav… She knew he had a strained relationship with the woman but Kamya was warm with the lady so Avanti had to take care not to antagonise her. Keshav was to visit Novo Supremo today since Vedshastra was shut every Friday and she had already mentioned in passing that she was to visit some friends in the same area where the restaurant was. He hadn’t responded probably because he had been dug in a pile of files on his study when she had gone to give him the evening tea which was soon becoming a ritual. As she adjusted her salwar-kameez, her favourite set in her existing wardrobe, her eyes fell on her instruments. She realised she had to get back to riyaaz as soon as possible for the upcoming concert in Hyderabad and there was barely any time. She wondered if she had missed out a lot and if she could regain her octaves if she did… but then she remembered the quote on the wall of her music school which said, ‘music once admitted to the soul becomes a sort of spirit and never dies…’ Her father too believed in the same… he always linked music with the soul. Speaking of soul, she hoped to sing for Keshav someday… thinking about his reaction to her song on his birthday and his immense knowledge on the subject. In the last two days he had been engrossed with work and since his voice was better her was busy with phone calls as well and they never got intimate like they did in his cabin or study…she missed him…
She hailed a cab and took a roundabout way to reach the restaurant which indeed was classy… Rohini Jaiswal did have great taste. She was taken by the supervisor in charge of fine dining to the closed booth and Rohini Jaiswal was already present. Dressed in a black sleeveless gown she didn’t look much older to Kamya, her uncanny resemblance to actress Pooja Bedi increasing her oomph factor all them more. She leaned back on the cushioned headrest as Avanti greeted her and stepped inside the booth. They ordered tea and pav bhaji which happened to be a speciality here according to Rohini Jaiswal. As they waited for their order to be furnished, Rohini Jaiswal sighed. “…So dear… how is married life treating you… rather… let me rephrase… how is my SON treating you…?”
Avanti was taken aback at her tone but then there was no love lost between Rohini Jaiswal and Keshav, according to what she had heard. “…Um… all’s good Mrs…”
“…Oh, just call me Rohini… I am not much older than you guys… I am just 42 for God’s sake banished into oblivion and treated like a fly on the wall by my own family…” She looked away and for a moment Avanti felt for her. She didn’t know what to tell her and was contemplating on the same when Rohini Jaiswal continued. “…these Goyal men are opportunistic scumbags… and Keshav…? Like father like son… His late father just used me…I gave up my career for that man…you know Avanti…I was the highest paid model those days. I fell for that man’s sob story and he married me promising me the world… I grew up in poverty and had to struggle my way up and I got carried away…” She looked out of the booth window and Avanti saw her eyes fill… “…Avanti…I… I didn’t know he had kept our marriage hidden from the world… he had kept me in that fucking ancestral home in Hisar and I had then thought it was an honour… Honour my foot… I was just his arm candy for his visitors in Hisar and our twins were barely one when the old fart passed away…. He didn’t leave me a dime the slimy old man… just some bonds for the twins…I was stuck…with no formal education or opportunities, I was really stuck with two children…”
She was silent… lost in thought so Avanti spoke. “…How did you manage then…?”
“…Oh…I lived on those bonds for a while since I was a caretaker and then the great Keshav Goyal stepped in…so I got a roof over my heads and my children got to live a good life and pursue good education…”
“…So that’s good Rohini… isn’t it…?”
Rohini Jaiswal snickered and looked away. “Good…” she laughed and rubbed her eyes. “…Good…? Do you know the price I had to pay for Keshav’s charity…? I had to give up my youth… for taking care of the house and that sister of his… but she is a sweet girl…Kamya… never mistreated me… She has been good to the twins too. Avanti, when the twins grew older and Kamya too moved to the hostel I had thought I could pursue my dreams… but then Keshav… he couldn’t stand to see me happy…I was sent back to Hisar and my children separated from me and do you believe it…? They idolise their cruel half-brother over me…they listen to him and I am afraid he is turning my Nirav into another pathetic Goyal…”
“…No Rohini…you are mistaken here…Your children love you…I have seen it in their eyes… you should be proud of them… you have raised them well…”
Their order arrived and as they ate, Rohini Jaiswal spoke. “…Avanti… Keshav is a lucky asshole… he got you in his life… but I pity you…that whatever the reasons…you are tied to him…” Oh God how much did the lady know…?
“…Um…No…I think you are mistaken…” Avanti tried dousing the fire.
“…You and Keshav may fool the world but not me, Avanti… I know yours is a marriage of convenience… Otherwise why would Keshav a Casanova marry a simple…a plain Jane like you…?” She suddenly looked up and raised her palm. “…no offence… When it was your sister, I didn’t really bother… because the kind of attitude she had I knew it was some arrangement… they suited each other… But then you Avanti… why did you have to get into this crap…? He doesn’t deserve you…”
Avanti’s throat choked up with emotions. “…Its… not what you think Rohini… Anyways, was there anything specific that you needed to talk about…?” changing topics seemed to be a better idea.
The waiter arrived to take their plate away and placed fresh cups of tea. Rohini Jaiswal sighed again. “…Look Avanti… I won’t beat around the bush… actually… I am seeing someone… he … he truly loves me… but Keshav won’t let go of the shackles he has tied me with…”
“…have you spoken to Keshav about it…?”
“…Of course, I have… the bastard… I am sorry… Keshav threatened me Goddamn it… He has asked me to go back to Hisar… And I don’t want to go to that hellhole now… He has said he would get me back on the roads along with my children…”
“…Oh… come on Rohini… I know Keshav loves the twins… he would do no such thing…” Avanti was getting annoyed at Rohini Jaiswal now…she somehow felt defensive towards Keshav.
“… You are an Angel Avanti… you don’t know your husband and what he is capable of… But then… I have seen the way he looks at you… he is smitten and I think if you talk to him, he will… let me go…” She held Avanti’s hands across the table. “…you see…Avanti… I want nothing for myself…I don’t want any share of property or money…nothing at all… The guy I am seeing has it all… But my children… they are also Goyals and I am worried Keshav will be vengeful against them… So, Avanti…please talk to him…”
“…I will…give it a try… but I don’t promise you anything Rohini… I have to get going now…”
“…Avanti I think you are too trusting when it comes to Keshav and you don’t believe what I say… Keshav is against that man I am seeing saying it’s his gut feeling… that’s ridiculous. Let me introduce you to Parminder … you will know what a great human he is…”
“…Um…I don’t really know about that…”
“…Please Avanti… please don’t refuse… you are my only hope now…I have a right to be happy after all that I have gone through… please…” Rohini Jaiswal spoke with tears streaming down her pretty face… threatening to ruin her makeup.
“…Ok ok… once I get back form my concert in Hyderabad…I will meet your guy…ok…? And I will also talk to Keshav… but again… don’t keep your hopes high… I am a new entrant into his life…”
Rohini Jaiswal nodded as they both stood and Avanti left earlier towards the cool cab stand…she didn’t have the patience to wait for an OLA. Throughout the journey back home she kept pondering over what Rohini Jaiswal told her… well her life got more complicated than ever… Oh baba… how I miss you…
It was 6PM when she reached the elevators taking her to the house and she was glad she could make it in the traffic on Sion-Trombay road in spite of the evening peak hour traffic. She didn’t want to face Keshav and lie to him… it was better he didn’t know details. He had raised an eyebrow when she had mentioned about meeting her friends today and she had purchased spinach and cottage cheese on the way home to prepare Keshav’s favourite Palak-paneer for dinner… She wanted to cook for him and smiled to herself wondering about the look on his face when he took the first bite… As she stepped into the house, she immediately knew she wasn’t alone. But the drawing room was dark and there was no light coming from the study as well… she shook her head trying to drive away the paranoia and stepped in to switch on the lights.
“…So what did mother dearest have to say to her darling daughter-in-law…about her prodigal son…?”
Avanti dropped the bag in her hand startling as the lights came on and revealed Keshav sprawled on the couch in his home clothes… “…Um…what are you talking about …. you are back home early today…are you alright…?” Avanti was a tad bit worried.
“…Cut the façade of being a caring wife Avanti… and please don’t test my intelligence… I may be a fucking number of other adjectives to fill a dictionary but stupid is not one of them…I know you met Rohini Jaiswal today…”
The nerve of him to have gotten her followed again. “…Ok fine… I met her… I didn’t tell you only because I knew you wouldn’t like it…”
“…then why the hell did you meet with her…?” He stood throwing the TV remote on the couch, hands on his hips…his face with clearly annoyed expressions.
“…I met her because she requested me… she wanted to talk… she… she is miserable, Keshav…”
“…there you go… to save the world. The deceitful woman calls you and you drop everything and even lie to me…try to escape my eyes out there and meet her… it looks like she has got you convinced with her sob story… about how I have tormented her…”
“…Look Keshav…I don’t know if she is telling the truth or not…. But she is desperate to stay in Mumbai with her lover… I think you need to let her go…”
“…Let her go…? Have you lost your mind Avanti…? You know nothing about the woman and want me to just… let her fucking go…?” he was breathing heavily his taught neck muscles straining the skin covering them… his veins threatening to pop out any moment.
“…ca… calm down Keshav… it’s just that she was so upset…I felt for her… she doesn’t want to go back to Hisar and… she doesn’t want to be away from her children… that’s un…I just feel that’s unfair…”
Keshav starred at her his gaze burning a hole in her forehead and then suddenly his face turned expressionless. “…Let me make one thing clear Avanti… you are my wife on paper… do what you want… in your personal life…I don’t care…but my family is NOT YOUR CONCERN… do you understand…? So just stay out of my family matters…” He slammed the remote to the floor breaking it into pieces along with her startled heart and turning around the couch walked back to his room… he slammed the door so hard the sound reverberated in the huge house.
Avanti sat on the couch with a thud, tears streaming down her face… what did she do wrong to deserve this…? Keshav refused to share anything and expected her to understand… She had thought they had something going on… but it probably was just a dream… and she was now wide awake…
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