Saturday, November 25, 2017

After Many A Summer: A Novel

After Many A Summer…
By Dibyajyoti Sarma

Part One
When the telephone bell rang with a blaring note, Prof Panini Rajbahadur was trying to decipher an old Pali text. Not to disturb his wife, who was in the kitchen, he quickly ran to the portico, where the phone was, and picked it up. The excited voice of Sanjana flowed through the telephone wire. “Papa, it’s me. Only fifteen minutes more! Make sure that the TV is on, and you are watching it. Now, please call mummy.”
“Madhuri, its Sanju”, Rajbahadur called his wife. Madhuri appeared from the kitchen, as if she was waiting for the call for a long time. Rajbahadur knew what his daughter was going to tell her mother: “Mummy, make sure that papa is in front of the TV. It’s my first show.”
It was the first show of his daughter. It was a big event. She would appear as the anchor to the most popular TV show, that too, interviewing the most influential business tycoon of the country. It was not a mean feat. What if, it’s just for one show only? The regular host Simi Garewal would be back again next week. But for a newcomer like Sanjana, it was surely an achievement. It was only yesterday when she completed her mass communication degree and joined this TV station, Star Dust. As a father, Rajbahadur was naturally happy. So was her mother.
“Panini, you switch on the TV and sit there, I will get you a quick cup of tea before it starts.” Madhuri hurried back to the kitchen. Rajbahadur did as directed and watched the commercial with disinterestedness. In no time his wife joined him with two cups of tea. Rajbahadur liked his tea. It was the only vice he was addicted to.
After few more commercials, finally the show began. First they apologized for the absence of everybody’s beloved Simiji. Then Sanjana appeared. “Is this our Sanjana?” Rajbahadur asked disbelievingly. His wife nodded with a proud smile. Rajbahadur looked at Sanjana again. She was all made up. Thick-coated lipsticks, hair hung loose, and those new diamond earnings glittering on her ear-lobs.
“Please welcome tonight’s guest, Mr Nimish Parmar.”
The TV screen displayed the face of a middle-aged man, a figure of sheer self-confidence. The host introduced him to the viewers. Rajbahadur was happy with his daughter’s performance. “She is brilliant, isn’t she?” He asked his wife. “Yes,” Madhuri replied.
The interview began. Rajbahadur missed a joke. He was busy gawking at his daughter’s animated movements on the flat screen of the TV.
The focus of the program was the guest, Nimish Parmar, and the camera was busy with him. Rajbahadur did not like this. Nonetheless, his eyes were glued on the screen waiting for the moment when the camera would move towards the host. He was into the programme.
The guest was talking about business and ethics. He was a lean figure, a clean, smooth oval face with small gold-rimmed glasses. His hair was neatly trimmed, but one can see a patch of white here and there. His thin lips had a gesture of smile. His hands were lying on his knees, as he was sitting cross-legged. There was something in his gestures that caught Rajbahadur’s attention. What was it? Rajbahadur could not decipher. But there was something in him, something that Rajbahadur was very familiar with. The camera moved towards the host. Before he could realise Rajbahadur was disappointed. He wanted the camera to move back to the guest, so that he could study him more, that he could find out what was there in him that Rajbahadur knew. The camera moved back to the guest. He was trying to find a suitable answer for Sanjana’s question. His smile was intact in his lips, his animated eyes were moving around and he looked bit uneasy. Then he picked up his hand, with the fingers begun to play with his eyebrow. That was it! It was as if Rajbahadur fell down from the sofa. No, it was impossible! He moved his body, and distanced himself from Madhuri. He leaned towards the screen and looked on with rapt attention. Madhuri was saying something. It could not reach Rajbahadur.
“I am sorry, Miss Sanjana, I cannot answer that.”
Sanjana gave a meaningless smile and said, “It’s okay, Mr Parmar. Now, can you tell something about your childhood to our audience?“
Mr Parmar adjusted himself in the chair he was sitting and said, “There’s nothing much to write home about; it was certainly a happy one. He gazed straight towards the camera. “I was reared in a small village somewhere in Maharashtra.”
A cold shiver went through Rajbahadur’s spine. No, it couldn’t be! There was a mistake. It could not be he! Rajbahadur covered his eyes in his palms, as he often did when he was uneasy.
Rajbahadur did not know what to feel. But he was not glad for sure. He felt as if he was standing in a whirlpool of time waiting for a revelation, for which he was not prepared. What if it was he? At the same time Rajbahadur was happy. Suddenly, he felt free of that onus of guilt he was carrying all these thirty-two years. If it was really he…
“So Mr Parmar, you have got everything in life, heath and wealth, power and pelf,” Sanjana’s voice on the TV. She was trying to be poetic, Rajbahadur thought dryly. “…But as far as our information goes you are not married yet. Our audience would like to know why you did not marry, Mr Parmar.”
“Why I did not marry?” Mr Nimish Parmar started to play with his eyebrows. Rajbahadur’s eyes were glued on the screen. He had this peculiar habit of playing with his eyebrows when he was not sure about something, Rajbahadur reflected. But then …
“Why I did not marry?” Mr Nimish Parmar repeated the question. Then he gave out a hearty smile. “I did get married, miss Sanjana. It was long time ago, before I became Nimish Parmar. But then something happened. It was lost.
“What happened, Mr Parmar? Won’t you share the incident with the audience?”
Mr Nimish Parmar made a defensive gesture, and then dropped it midway. “How many people do you think Miss Sanjana, would be watching this show?”
The hostess informed proudly that it was the most popular show on the Star Dust TV.
“Then, probably, I could use this show to make a small announcement, if you please!”
“Sure, Mr Parmar. We’d be delighted.”
“There was someone I lost many years ago. If that particular person is still alive, and with my good fortune, watching this show, then I would just like to convey that I still miss those days. I would like to ask for forgiveness.” Mr Parmar spoke very slowly, calculating each word before he uttered. Rajbahadur felt he was freezing. He was dead except for his ears. He was swallowing every word with a batted breath. What he would say next?
“Would you like to reveal the name, Mr Parmar?”
Mr. Parmar thought for a minute, and then uttered slowly, “It’s not important Miss Sanjana, thank you very much.”
This was the end. This was height that Rajbahadur could endear. He jumped up from the sofa with a start and ran towards the bathroom. He wished if he could just destroy the place, which was his home. He wished if he could bang his head in the mirror and kill himself. He wished if he could run to the terrace and shout, “Raghu…”
“What happened, Panini?” Madhuri shouted from the TV room. “Nothing, you carry on, and tell me latter, what happened.”
The mirror reflected his face, the face of Panini Rajbahadur; an impressive face shadowed by age. There was someone else lurking behind this face, who was it, Su…? Was he still alive? Rajbahadur thought, wasn’t he dead thirty-two years ago?
As he came out of the bathroom, Madhuri was standing outside, questions in her eyes.
“What happened, Panini?” she asked desperately.
“Nothing. Just feeling weak. Is the show over?”
“It would be, soon. But I never saw you feeling weak. Suddenly what happened?”
“I am a human being. Can’t I fall ill sometimes?” Panini replied sharply. Madhuri smiled generously, handing him a towel. “Oh, I forgot, you are a human too.”
“What do you mean? Panini’s voice was still irritable.
“Nothing. Now, please go to bed and take some rest. For dinner we have to wait till Sanju returns. In the meantime, I will get a cup of tea for you.”
Everyone knew how Madhuri doted on her husband. It was the talk of the neighborhood. And, why not? Panini was an ideal husband; even his dire enemies would admit it.

Sanjana was chatting away throughout the dinner. She even forgot to eat narrating the experience she had as the host, and about her celebrity guest.
“But Sanju, Rajbahadur intervened, “I thought you were in love with Hritik Roshan.”
“No?! And I am not in love with Mr Parmar either. I am just in awe with him. Like hell.”
“Because, he gave you those diamond rings?”
“Papa, how can you be so mean? You know me.”
“Just take care. It is not good falling in love with old men.” He gave a coquettish smile to his daughter. Sanjana made a face of mock anger.

When Madhuri came to the bedroom after completing her chores for the night, she found Panini sitting on the floor searching for something in his old suitcase.
“What is it Panini? What are you searching for?”
“Nothing, you go to sleep. Tomorrow you have to go to the temple. I will join you in a minute.”

When Madhuri woke up next morning, she found Panini still sitting on the floor, with the old suitcase open and its contents scattered all over. For a second Madhuri was shocked. A terrible feeling occurred in her mind that something had happened to Panini. Then Panini looked at her, and said in a clear voice, “Good morning.” In a jiffy, all her fears were gone. She had full faith on her husband. He could do no wrong. It was a trust born from many years of experience. She wanted to ask what was wrong with him, but there was something in his entire disposition that prevented her to question Panini about anything. She ran towards the bathroom. She was late.
Now, Panini began to tidy the contents of the suitcase. It was an old suitcase, which his mother brought from her parents’ home on the day of her marriage. It was the only memory he had of the village. It was the only thing that he carried along when he came to this big city thirty-two years ago. Things had changed over the years. But somewhere deep down something remained intact, unalterable, yet not pleasant. He hid them all in the suitcase before laying aside an old photograph. Once a blank and white photograph now faded into yellow. On the centre of it were two young boys with shorts and shirts, and with arms in each other’s neck. Two smiling innocent faces, faded with time.

Before Rajbahadur could reach his University department, he heard the telephone ringing in his cabin. He hurriedly unlocked the door, and picked up the phone.
“It’s Hari, you are late today. What’s happened?” the voice on the phone was concerned.
“Nothing. How are you?”
“Did you see Sanjana’s show yesterday?
“Su…It was our Raghu.”
“Don’t call me Su.”
“Why, I always called you Su. At least, when we are alone. Su…?
“It was Raghu… Our Raghu… Aren’t you not glad we found him at last?”
“You know Hari, I am … I did not have a wink last night.”
“I know, I even …”
“Then what Su… Don’t you think we should call him up, and say we are alive still…?”
“But Hari, it’s a long time… things have changed…”
“Nothing has changed, Su… You saw last night, he still remembers you, like the way we do...”
“I don’t know, Hari… Come to my place in the evening… Sanjana would be glad to see you. She has so many things to tell …”
Rajbahadur hung the phone up, searched for an empty envelop in his drawers, and at last found one. He put the photograph, which he had retrieved from his old suitcase, inside it and wrote the address: TO NIMISH PARMAR. Then he put a notice on the board that he won’t be taking any lectures today.

On the other end of the city, Hari was pacing around in front of his swanky photography shop with visible agitation. His next-door music shop owner asked him, “Manoharbhai, kya hua? Aren’t you feeling well?” Hari looked at him, “On the contrary, I am feeling better. It is like I have found the ultimate medicine for an age old disease.” He went inside. He was uneasy, not because he was disturbed. He wasn’t. He had everything in his life a man could ask for, at least a man of his disposition. He had a blissful married life completed by the death of his wife, a son in a good corporate position, a lovely daughter-in-law, and an adoring granddaughter. He was in a position to spend an easy retired life for the rest of his days. Amidst this happiness, there was something amiss in Hari, famously known as Manoharbhai in this market area, a sense of guilt that haunted him day and night in all these thirty-two years. His son, Akash had asked him at many occasions to sell the photography shop that he owns. “Upon my dead body,” Hari would reply on each occasion. He knew for sure he could part with this shop. But it was more than a source of livelihood for him. It was his breath for which he was still alive. It was the only source to evade his sense of guilt.
Yesterday, after the show he felt that out of the blue he had got a chance to live all over again, a rare chance to atone for his guilt. He was proud of Raghu’s success. It was as if a wild dream had come true. At the same time he felt a sense of emptiness within him. The sense of guilt, which was a part of him in last thirty-two years, was gone, leaving him dry and vacant. He did not know what to do, and that is why he was uneasy. On an occasion like this, advises from Su used to be of great help. But today, Hari knew, Su would be much more disturbed them him, thousand times more. He felt that they should call Raghu and tell him all about it. But would Su allow that? He could sense the turbulence going on in Su’s mind. But somehow he was sure they should call Raghu up. This was a rare chance and he did not want to miss it for anything in the world.
He went inside the shop and searched for Nimish Parmar’s number in the telephone directory. There were several of them, his residence, and his different offices. He dialed the head office number.
“Hello, Parmar & Parmar Company.” A sonorous female voice answered.
“Can I talk to Mr Nimish Parmar, please?” Hari tried to speak in English. Over the years he had picked up a good quality of manageable English.
“Do you have an appointment, sir?”
“No, but it’s urgent. I need to talk to him.”
“Sorry, sir. Mr Parmar cannot be called without an appointment. Would you like to take an appointment, sometimes next week?”
“No.” Hari answered bluntly. “But can you do me a favour, my daughter?“ he tried to speak as politely as he could. “Can you pass on a message to him?”
“What is the message, sir?”
“Just tell him that Hari called, and if possible ask him to call me back. My number is 56135331.”

Sanjana was sitting on the verandah cuddling her Labrador dog Jim, when Hari reached Rajbahadur’s house. Seeing him approaching, Sanjana ran towards the gate.
“Hi, Manohar uncle. Did you see my show yesterday?”
“Yes, my darling, I saw the program and I saw your diamond rings too. Your Sandhya bhabhi was green with jealousy.”
“Don’t tell me. She is never jealous of me. Now, I will complain about you to bhabhi.”
They reached the Verandah and Sanju ran inside to announce the news of Hari’s arrival. Madhuri arrived first. “Bhabhi, first give a cup of tea. Other things later.” “In a minute” Madhuri disappeared in the kitchen. Sanju appeared again in her best mood. “Now tell me Manohar uncle, how was the show.”
“I told you, it was brilliant. Sandhya was saying you were brilliant then even Simi Garewal.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Sanju said in a mock air of pride.
“Now what’s that?”
“That is, tell me how you liked Mr Parmar. Isn’t he brilliant?” For a second Hari’s face flashed up with pride, then it gave away to a kind of indescribable sadness. How he longed to tell Sanju that her Mr Parmar was one of them! One that they thought was lost. One that was very dear to them.
Rajbahadur appeared to save Manohar. “I think our Sanju is in love with that Mr Parmar.” He said. Hari looked into his eyes. They were two pieces of coal. Nobody could read anything there.
“Papa!” Sanju complained. But at the same time she was flattered by the possibility of the situation. If he were some years younger, she would not have mind dumping her current boy friend Karan. The tea arrived, and a new session of gossip began, where Sanju took the active role. The subject was still Mr Parmar. Rajbahadur was sipping the tea with utmost concentration. There was no reaction in his face. Hari was uncertain. He wished if Rajbahadur could react. Then he would have known what was going inside him.
He had to know this. He said at last, “Panini lets go to your study. I have something to discuss with you.” Nobody complained about their private discussions. It was usual business. Whenever Hari would come to Rajbahadur’s house he must have to talk to Panini in private. It was taken for granted. There are so many things to share between friends, especially as close friends as they were.
Once inside, for the first time, Hari closed to door. “Su… what is happening” he asked in whisper.
“Do not call me Su.” Rajbahadur snapped. It was banned to call him Su in his house. Or anywhere else where there was a third person involved. “I am sorry, Panini,” Hari apologized. “It’s all right, Manohar,” Rajbahadur replied emphasizing the name Manohar, signifying that he had not broken the rule.
“But,” Hari said sadly. “How I long to call you by your real name.”
”This is reality, Hari.”
“Yes, this is reality.” Hari said, gazing at the coal of Rajbahadur’s eyes. “That we have found Raghu back.”
“No. The reality is that he is no longer Raghu, but some Nimish Parmar.”
“So smart of him. And he has got money too. I wonder how he gathered all those money. Do you thing he joined some underworld don?”
“Rubbish.” Rajbahadur replied, finally in a tone, which is well known to Hari, a tone, which was ready to defend his friend at any time.
“We must try to meet him, Pani…” Hari hated to call him Panini, at least today.
“Do you really think so?” Rajbahadur returned to his usual expressionless tone.
“Tell me, you do not wish to meet him,” Hari replied with a flash of anger, “you never wished to meet him?”
“You know what goes inside me, Hari. For thirty-two years I am carrying a scar in my heart. I sleep with a desire to meet him at least for once. I wake up with the wish, if I could meet him. Thirty-two years is a long time, Hari. Things have changed. Now my daughter is in love with him.” Rajbahadur tried to smile. “Yesterday when I saw him, I was not sure it could be he. He has changed a lot. He looks better now, not like you and me who has grown old.
“Don’t tell me. You may be old, but I’m not. I am still young. I am planning to get married again.” Hari tried to cool the tense situation.
“Yes why not. You can ask Sanju if one of her friends would be interested.” Both of them laughed. “Did you saw him last night? Did not he look gorgeous? I actually cannot blame Sanju. He is still the man with whom anybody can fall in love with. But his hair is getting gray. He should try some dye. No?”
“But I did not like his hair style either. I liked him when his hair was long.”
“Yes, I know. So that you can braid his hair like that of Mala Didi, and colour his eyebrows too.”
“Yes, he looked a perfect bride to you.”
“Oh Hari.” With a sudden impulse Rajbahadur forgot his resolution. “How I wish to hold him in my arms. And pat him.”
“That’s what I am telling you. Call him up; everything would be all right.”
“Things have changed, Ha… Manohar. We are no longer what we were. He is no longer what he was.”
A tense silence followed. Rajbahadur broke the silence.
“Madhuri says, I am not a human being, either a god or a devil, but certainly not human. Yesterday, after I saw him, suddenly I realised that I was at the verge of turning human again. And I have to hold it back. I cannot do this. All hell will break loose. What will happen to Madhuri, Sanju? You know everything, Hari, how I became what I became!”
Hari got up from the sofa, and hugged his friend. “I know Su... it’s been difficult what we endeared… what you did for me… I have seen them all and suffered.”

Exactly one week before the interview, Mr Nimish Parmar was sitting in his office scanning the appointments for the week. Some names, which would soon turn into faces! The faces with the names combined would turn into acquaintance, then… that was it. That was the limit. Mr Parmar never allowed himself to go beyond that. In last thirty-four years, Mr Nimish Parmar never allowed himself to be a friend to anybody, only acquaintance, and a long list of them. There was nobody to complain either. He was a good employer, a good citizen and a good human being. So, who cares if he has got a hole in his heart? Apparently, he was a successful man, as successful as anyone could be, and he knew success was always apparent.
He was flipping through the pages, when he saw a new name, some Sanjana Rajbahadur from, which shocked him little, Star Dust TV. Apparently he is been popular among the newspapers, but never approached by television people. He flipped the page with a thin smile in his face. Then there was the name again, two appointments consecutively. No, he was mistaken; actually it was three; three appointments consecutively. “Interesting,” he muttered and pressed the intercom to his secretary, a middle aged lady called Margaret. “Margaret,” can you enlighten me about this lady who has taken appointment for three consecutive days. “May be some fan of yours, sir.” She answered in a non-committal tone. “Why don’t you ask her yourself? She is waiting outside in case you care to meet her.” Mr Parmar couldn’t help but to care. “Send her in.” He said finally.
A soft nock in the door and entered the young girl whom nobody would guess otherwise then from a television company.
“Have a sit, Miss…” he looked into the diary and said, “Rajbahadur.”
“Please call me Sanjana,” She settled herself. “Thank you.”
“First thing first, Miss Sanjana, can you tell me why you have taken three appointments consecutively?”
She gave him a seductive smile; he knew it from experience. “Sir, I am here in a mission. I cannot possibility fail in that. So, I needed some more time to convince you.”
“And what is that you want to convince me, Miss Sanjana? To buy your worthless TV Company?”
Sanjana never imagined that Mr Nimish could be so blunt. Suddenly, Sanjana was nervous, and she did not like that. “No, sir,” she said, “I had some other mission.”
“What is that?”
This was the question for which Sanjana had rehearsed for so many days, how to say that, how to convince Mr Parmar. But now she forgot everything. So she had to say the facts. The fact being that their channel was presently going through a low TRP. So they thought if they could get an interview with Mr Parmar, they hope to regain their popularity. Would Mr Parmar help them? Mr Parmar smiled. “You have two more days to convince me. I would definitely not want to waste your appointments. So good luck! See you tomorrow.”
Next morning, Sanjana arrived precisely in time. Today she was a different Sanjana from the previous day. She was wearing a beige coloured suit with her hair loose. As soon as Mr Parmar saw her, he was filled with a kind of filial feeling. It was something new for him. He greeted her warmly. When asked for his answer, he told her that he has not decided yet. He told her that she had another day to go. So, she needed not to worry. “In the meantime, I would like to seek your help if I may,” Nimish asked politely. “I would be glad to be of use.” Sanjana replied in earnest.
“You see Miss Sanjana,” Mr. Parmar began in a matter of fact tone. “Our company is launching a huge campaign for our frozen vegetable products. We have designed several media ads, but I am not sure which one among them is the best. So, I was wondering if you could help me. You have a degree in mass communication, after all.”
Sanjana was but happy to yield. She was led into a conference room with a big video projector. Only then she realized that she had landed into a soup. The ads, conceived and choreographed by best media companies of India and abroad, were all brilliant; each one was better than the earlier one. How was she supposed to choose the best? After some time a young boy bought a cane of coke for her. It was then she realised that Mr Parmar was not there. All the while she was thinking that the person was sitting near her making her both proud and uneasy.
At last it was over. Lights were on again, and Mr Parmar was standing at the entrance. “So, how was it? I hope you could endure it all.”
“Yeah. It was fun. Now, I would be very lucky if you don’t ask me which one was best. All of them actually.”
“But which one you would like to see aired by your TV Company.
Sanjana answered, and instantly, Mr Parmar ordered the men standing behind Sanjana to go ahead with the particular ad. They walked back to the office. There, as if pre-decided, one young man was waiting for them. Mr Parmar did the introduction. This is Mr Satyakam. If you excuse me, I have to take your leave. Satyakam will attend to you.
Satyakam offered to give Sanjana a lift to home, which Sanjana refused flatly. She had her own vehicle. But the guy was persistent, “Please madam,” he kept saying, “You have to allow us to drop you at your house. Otherwise, my job is gone.” Finally, Sanjana had to yield. Satyakam said that he would take care of her vehicle. As they drove through the city, the Mercedes car suddenly halted in front of a big jeweler’s shop. Again Sanjana was surprised. What’s now! Satyakam requested Sanjana to come down to the shop. There was another round of requests. Again Sanjana had to give in after some time. The guy was well trained to do his job, she thought. They went to the shop, and she was forced to buy a pair of diamond earrings; she enjoyed all the adulation.
But when the car finally dropped her in front of her house, and as she was climbing the stairs of the verandah, she was not sure what his father would say. But the news surprised Madhuri more than Panini. She said instantly that Sanju should not have taken the gift, and she should return it tomorrow: “Nobody gives such an expensive gift for nothing. There must be some intention behind this.” Panini said, “You have to take the decision Sanju. If you want to keep it, keep it. Else return it.” Sanjana decided she would keep the gift. If nothing else, she had earned it somehow. It was not given just like that.
The third day when she went to meet Mr Parmar again, she was welcomed generously, as if Mr Parmar was waiting for her. Suddenly she was very proud for herself.
“What is your decision sir,” she asked.
“What do you want me to say?”
“Yes. This is my first assignment and I don’t want to fail.”
“Fine. I won’t fail you.” Said Mr Parmar in an air of finality. “But who will take my interview? You??”
“No sir. I wish I could. But, I don’t think they will give me such a big break so early in my career.”
“Why not, try it. You will get it. So shall we keep next Saturday for the show? But I have some prejudices. First, it has to be live show. No recoding. Secondly, if I do not like to answer some questions, I won’t be forced.”
“Agreed. Anything you say.” Sanjana was more than happy to have her mission accomplished.
How Sanjana got to do the interview is another story. Just two days before the interview the CEO Mr Sinha called Sanjana to his office and told her that she would be doing the interview. She was dumbstruck. How could it be possible? What happened to Simiji?
Nimish was not certain why he wanted Sanjana to do the interview. There was something about her that made him feel secure. Something, he was not sure what.

He told this to Padmaja. After the interview was over, he drove straight to her place. On the way he purchased a huge banquet of flower. Padmaja was like a mother to him. She was one of the reasons why a non-descript Raghu became Nimish Parmar. She, Nimish and the old Mr Parmar shared a strange relationship among them, there was no name to it, and they did not need a name. They were comfortable with each other’s existence in their lives.
After Padmaja said her thank you for the flowers, placed them in a vase, and offered him a glass of whisky on the rocks, he asked, “Did you see the interview today?”
“Yes, of course! You looked stunning. I have even recorded the entire program for Parikshit to see when he returns.”
Parikshit was old Mr Parmar, Nimish’s father. Currently he is in UK taking medication.
“Did you see the host?”
“Yes, the same girl, whom you gave the diamonds.”
“Yes, she was wearing them.”
“Good looking, I must say. Do you want me talk to her parents.”
“About what?” Nimish knew where the talk was heading. He despised the subject. “No, there was something else, I wanted to talk to you. This girl, Sanjana Rajbahadur, there is something about her. I don’t know, but entire bearing reminds me of someone…”
“Yes, probably. But why is it Padmaja? Today, after so many years! I thought I have forgotten all about him. He was just a shadow of memories. There was nothing real about him. But when this girl came to meet me last week, it was as if in a flash my memories about him were rejuvenated…”
“I don’t know darling, probably that’s because you are living alone for long. You need some company, some love…”
“Love? You mean sex, you know I have them abundant, and for love I have you, father…”
“Don’t talk big, you called me only twice last week, that too to talk about this girl, and no visit at all. Now freshen up. You are staying here tonight. No straying, please. Tomorrow we are flying. Hey sweetheart, listening to me…” Nimish’s mind was somewhere else. He came back to reality, “…I have cooked rajma for you.”

Sleep did not visit him that night. When he was young it was a usual business, this insomnia. For nights, he could not sleep. It was not that he was dreaming about those days in the village, those days with Su, and Hari, and the tragedy with Mala Didi. He did not have to think about those events, it was all there in his mind, incessantly. There was no escape. But his sleeplessness had deeper reasons. Something that had wrecked in soul forever! Even the love of Padmaja and old Mr Parmar could not heal them properly.

By next evening Nimish and Padmaja were in UK visiting old Mr Parmar. The patient was improving. But Padmaja was sad as usual, seeing Parikshit lying in the bed. So Nimish ended up taking care of both the people. He did not complain. He was aware of Padmaja’s story. What’s more, he was a witness to this strange tale of love and sacrifice.
Padmaja was the widow of Parikshit Parmar’s one of close business associates. When her husband died without an issue a few years after the marriage, and when her husband’s family threw her out of the house blaming her for the death, it was Parikshit who took care of her, giving her a job in his office and providing other amenities. Those days Nimish was driving Parikshit’s Mercedes. At many occasions he ran errand between the two. He saw the love that inevitably sprouted between them. Padmaja was alone, and Nimish understood Parikshit’s need for love.
Those days, things were not running smooth for Parikshit. His wife was completely taken by alcohol. His only son was abroad, married to Nigerian woman, refusing to come back to India. There was constant quarrel at home; sometimes Nimish had to wake up two o clock in the morning and attend Parikshit’s car. By the time, Nimish had grown very close to him. Parikshit would tell him everything, all his worries and woes. His business was flourishing and his personal life was a ruin. Padmaja was a solace, and Nimish. Nimish was not sure if helped them embarking into a relation. But they were comfortable with each other, and it was more than Nimish could ask for. He wanted his father to be happy. At any cost!
Then came the blow. News came that Parikshit’s son was dead. His body was bought back to India. The news shocked his mother too to death. After witnessing two deaths in less than one week Parikshit was devastated. Those days Nimish had to grow up unbelievingly fast. He had to nurse Parikshit back to the normal. He was given the Power of Attorney to the Parmar businesses. It was a real hassle for Nimish. On the one hand, Parikshit’s failing condition, on the other, the business. Many people were not happy when a small chauffeur was handling the Parmar Empire single-handedly. He had many enemies and he had to win them. It was not an easy task, and he did not have any friends. It was at that time that Nimish asked for Padmaja’s help. She did her best, more than Nimish could ask for. For Nimish she was the woman of substance.

Now, after so many years, Nimish knew he had actually won that unlikely battle, against all odds. He was full of gratitude for Padmaja. He wanted to give something in return. He talked about it to Parikshit and Padmaja. They should get married. Parikshit was not ready for another bond, so was Padmaja. They were happy as they were, as lovers. Then Padmaja gave the suggestion, why not Parikshit adopt Nimish? Nimish was not sure if he should agree with the idea. He was not sure if could bear all those responsibility. But Padmaja reasoned out, that Nimish was already into responsibility if he liked it or not. So why not make it official? And one day in the court, a twenty-nine years old boy called Raghu Pardeshi became Mr Nimish Parmar, the sole heir to sixty five million Parmar Business Empire.

Parikshit was lying on the bed reading The Economist when they arrived. First thing first, Padmaja gave the news of Nimish’s interview. “Lucky chap,” Parikshit quipped, “They never called me once.” Then Padmaja told about the girl. “Did you really liked him, son,” Parikshit turned to Nimish, “Pads, that’s a good news. You can prepare for the marriage. But for that I must go home.” Parikshit wanted to go home, to India. But Padmaja did not agree, till the doctors allow.
Padmaja left the hospital after two hours, while Nimish stayed with Parikhit. They had a bond, a deeper bond beyond the existence of Padmaja.

[As of today dated Wednesday, March 16, 2005, I am still working on the novel]

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