Saturday, August 12, 2017

Twilight years

                  Can anyone die of a heart break? Can you feel your soul leaving your body, the pain that you harbour in your heart turning into a physical one until it strangles your very being? Perhaps, the greatest test in life is not living but dying. As she went from one day to another, Meera waited for nothing but death. The burden of living was no longer bearable, not since she was left all alone.

                  
                  She woke up each morning at 6, as she had done for 50 years of her life. Every morning, she opened her eyes, straining to adjust herself to the darkness around her. Involuntarily she reached to the other side of the bed, the one that was no longer warm with the person she loved. She hugged the pillow and curled for a few minutes, taking strength to live another day. Her knee ached as she climbed out of bed, another reminder of her age. She opened the drapes to let the sunlight in, set the tea for boiling on a slow flame and went to freshen herself. Once the tea was ready, she poured it into the single cup that was left from the porcelain set that had been her anniversary gift. The rest from the set had been broken by the man who insisted on washing the cups every morning. For some reason, after he was gone, Meera thought that this lone cup represented her. She was the last one left from the set of people who had once formed her family.
                                              
                                                             Image credit

                  She had all the time in the world now. Time stopped being a factor for anything in her life. As always, she made the breakfast and ate in silence. She put on her glasses and read the newspaper from page to page, folded it neatly back in place, went about getting her meal ready. By 9 am her chores for the day were done and all she did was waiting. Sometimes she sat in the balcony and dreamed of gone days. Some days when it was too sunny, she reread some of her favourite books. Some afternoons she opened the huge suitcase of albums that was now kept below her bed and spent all day reliving those moments. Once it was dark, she closed the windows, had an early supper and retired for the day, hoping that the next day she would be somewhere with her husband.

                  
                It had been 3 months since Rajeev died peacefully in his sleep, with his beloved wife at his side. His wife, Meera, was blissfully unaware of the departure of her dear husband until the next morning when she snuggled close to him to wake him up and found his body cold. He sure was one lucky man to have died such a death. For her part, Meera had nothing against her life as well. Meera had lived a full life with her husband. Sometimes she thought she had nothing to blame except for being alive.

               Their life had been nothing but an endless love story that began with an arranged marriage. Meera was married off to Rajeev when she was all of 20 which, according to the times then, was quite late. Girls in her times were married by 16 and had a couple of kids by the time they hit 20. Meera had been quite fierce and put up a fight to complete her graduation. To her advantage, her father respected her wishes and let his only daughter do as she wished. When she finally completed her graduation, her father brought an alliance which she could not deny.

 There was nothing wrong with the guy. He was employed in a bank, which was a rarity and had a stable family. Meera, who read voraciously, had other ideas about the man of her dreams. She expected sparks to fly when she first met her husband, her heart to beat wildly at his smile and to fall head over heels in love with him at first sight. But alas! Nothing of that sort happened when he first came to see her. 

Dressed in a white shirt and black trousers, his hair parted neatly in the centre, Rajeev looked more like he was having a job interview! Meera was dressed in a white sari having a design of red roses, a long red blouse of her mother fitted to her size for the occasion and her hair done in a bun with a red rose tucked at the side. Her wheatish complexion was lightened with powder and her big, expressive eyes lined with kajal at the insistence of her over enthusiastic aunts. She looked nothing short of a diva, but Rajeev was not a fan of made up ladies. He wondered if he could spend a lifetime with a woman like that. Meera saw her dreams shatter when she glanced at Rajeev. Their horoscopes were matched and wedding dates were being discussed when Rajeev insisted on talking to Meera. It was unheard of in any marriage of that time; a man asking to talk to his to-be wife was seen as a sign of trouble. Once again, Meera's father took it upon him to break the norm and let the two of them talk. 

               Sitting in the veranda of Meera's house, Rajeev waited patiently as they were served a second cup of tea that was a pretext of the relatives to eavesdrop into the conversation. Once all of them were out of sight, Rajeev asked Meera directly if she was happy with the match. Meera was taken by surprise. She did not expect him to be so straight forward and ask about her wishes. It was for the elders to decide. Women had no say in these matters. No matter how liberally she was brought up, it was still thought that parents knew and did the best for their children when it came to matrimony. Because Rajeev had considered her wishes, he won her respect if not love. She had kept her gaze lowered all the while, unaccustomed to deal with such situation, but when he asked she looked into his eyes. In his eyes, she saw nothing but honest concern. A gentleness that she did not see while he was with others. Maybe this man was more than he let on. The thought made her feel better about her future. And what a day it had been! From despair to hope, she smiled and nodded. Rajeev, who was preoccupied with the layers on her skin, was dazzled by her smile. In her smile he found what he was looking for-genuineness. Maybe she was not all that she was letting on!

              
              They had a short courtship of 15 days from the time their wedding date was fixed. Unknown to their parents, they met every day. Every evening, after his bank closed, Rajeev would take the train to her stop and they would spend time together. There were no roses or love letters nor chocolates when he met her. But he would charm her with the little things that he remembered about her. Like he would know what kind of tea she preferred at her favourite shop, that she liked peanuts plain and not salted and her favourite colour was purple and not pink (although he found it all the same). She did not know how love felt, but she knew it was one of the things that made a man travel the other way after a hard day at work just to spend half an hour with someone. 

              
             Once they were married, she found herself struggling to adjust with the domestic responsibilities. Her in-laws were old and demanding. Her day started at 6 and she toiled all day with the household work. Making breakfast, getting Rajeev's tiffin ready, attending to her in laws who expected her to hand them whatever they wanted at their beck and call, getting lunch and dinner ready and making sure that the house was always spic and span was stressful. But with Rajeev's support she did it all. In the morning, before his parents woke up, Rajeev helped her clean the house. They quickly stole kisses when he left for work. During the day, the thought of him coming back to her would keep her happy. Every evening when he returned from work, he would take her out for a walk. They would stroll the neighbourhood garden talking about their day, sometimes having chaat at the nearby stall, or go for an ice cream when it was hot. She would feel refreshed when with him. Every Sunday he took her out. Sometimes it would be a matinee show, sometimes a dance program, some days he would take her to the bookstore and indulge her as she would be confused on what to buy and some rainy afternoons they would just laze in their room watching the rain. Rajeev's parents never disturbed them on Sundays and it was the best day of the week for Meera.

                                         
                                                                Image credit
            They were sailing the boat of marriage smoothly, until Meera got pregnant.

To be continued...

Monday, June 5, 2017

All the time in this world

The child that stopped you on the stairs,
wanting to play catch with you,
you left hurriedly with a smile
making a promise for another day
Because you have all the time in this world

The drizzle in the evening and a hot cup of tea,
A moment to yourself all alone in the balcony
You put it aside, engrossed in networking,
You glance outside, wishing it rains tomorrow
Because you have all the time in this world

A phone call you have been putting away
Too busy to spare a few memories
A pleasant surprise in someone’s rather dull day
you could to it today, but you put it off yet again
Because you have all the time in this world

One day to another, you pass by
Letting go of things that make you happy
In hopes of a better chance at life
You let the one you have slip by
Because you have all the time in this world

Unsaid words, incomplete dreams
a whole world of emotions unexplored
You live the same day over and over
Keeping happiness at bay, just because you believe
You have all the time in this world!


Image result for time running out

P.S: Just some abstract thoughts I had today. 

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Kid me not

                She closed the door quietly behind her, tip toeing her way into the house and into the washroom. In her bag she hid the small kit that she had purchased on her way back from work. Although the instruction was to wait until early morning, she couldn't hold on and broke open the kit. She prayed hard before she saw it. Two lines, one faint against the dark one. It had to be the dreaded line. She was pregnant!

                She disposed the kit before she heard the door click. Her husband had turned home unexpectedly early. She looked like she had seen a ghost. Her pale face and fatigued body at once concerned him. He had been telling her to slow down at work. After all, she was just 26. She did not have to burn herself to achieve anything. Together, they could manage the house conveniently and she did not have to strive so hard for a promotion. But for her, it was not about the "have", it was about "want". She wanted to excel at her work, to be looked up to by her coworkers, to be acknowledged in the corporate world and more than anything, she wanted to feel accomplished. Setting up a house and bring up a child was not her idea of accomplishment. She never put down women who gave up full time jobs to look after their kids, but she was not made for that. She couldn't hold a conversation involving recipes, vegetables or child behavior. She was the kind who could grab attention with her knowledge of world affairs, something which amused male relatives from their family and was beyond comprehension of the women she knew. She gelled up better with males as she found it easy to talk to them and on par with the topics they discussed.

              She went up to him to give him a quick hug. She knew he would realize that something was off with her. She did not want to hide the news from him, but she knew very well what his reaction would be. He would be delighted! He would want her to continue this pregnancy and focus all his attention on their family. He had no issues with her working, but she feared the equation would change once a baby would come into picture. For this reason, she had always been cautious, never giving in to moments. But who was she kidding, nothing is 100% safe. She went into the kitchen and started to get the meal ready. She would think about the situation when she the time to herself.

             She lay next to her husband as he watched TV after dinner, not really focusing on anything but simply trying to acknowledge the fact that she was not alone. She could never be alone to make this decision, there was a life already inside her, sitting snugly without judging her. She turned over, quietly calculating how long it had been. Long after her husband dozed off, she kept staring at the ceiling, afraid that the life inside her would give out the secret she was holding on to.

              The next morning, she called in sick to work. Her husband insisted they go to a doctor but she made him go off to work. She just needed some rest and promised him to go to doctor if she didn't feel any better. Once she was sure he reached his office, she got ready to visit the clinic.

             Even though she had made up her mind the last night, she was constantly battling her conscience. It was tough being a woman! She was not ready to commit herself completely to another person who would depend on her. On the other hand, a feeling of unease tucked at her, almost making her question the rationale of her action. Did she really want to give up a part of herself? No, no she was not falling into this trap. She had to be more practical than that. It was a life long responsibility which, no matter how much she shared with her husband, would weigh 24X7 on her.

             She went through the procedure in a detached manner. The doctor confirmed that she was 5 weeks into pregnancy, tried to counsel her into keeping it, told her the options she could have and she patiently sat through the entire thing. At the end of it, she booked her abortion for the day after. Once outside the clinic, she felt the  moistness in her eyes. The maternal instincts had kicked in and she considered going back and cancelling the appointment, but she walked on.

             She coiled on her bed, unknowingly keeping a hand on her belly. She cried to herself. If she told her husband about it, he would see a murderer in her. A woman incapable of loving her own child. Why was it so difficult to understand a woman who did not want a child? It wasn't her choice to be born as a woman but it was her choice to not bear a child right now. Why was it unacceptable to people when a woman chose not to carry on her biological role? Was she just a womb? What about her ambitions and dreams?

            That evening while she was sorting her laundry, she had a terrible ache at the bottom of her stomach. She shouted out in pain. Her husband who was busy on the phone, came rushing to find her unable to move. It was only later that he saw the blood. They rushed to the nearby hospital where they were told that she had miscarried. It took a while for her husband to take in this fact. She was inconsolable. She did not know what was more heartbreaking, the disappointment on her husband's face or the fate of her unborn child.

            The kid she did not want, was perhaps aware of his destiny. Maybe, he too was not ready for the kind of end that his mother had planned for him or maybe he was the one who understood the plight of his mother. He decided to leave, like an unwanted guest who had made a brief entry into his mother's life. She felt guilty of keeping her husband in the dark, who was trying his best to console her, unaware of what her intentions had been. Maybe, it was best for them to keep the facade on. Her kid had carried the secret with him.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Silent Cry

             The clouds had cast a dark shadow since morning. A calm had taken over the village. The markets were not bustling with people, the schools were closed and only a few shops had opened reluctantly. The heavy rains for last 4 days had brought the village to a standstill. He made his way to the lone house. The flood in the fields had made it difficult to access the house. The power was off and telephones weren't working. He wondered what the matter was.

             After a few knocks on the door, he heard the tinkle of the anklets fast approaching. His heart skipped a beat. She was in the house!

            She opened the door and stared at him for a few seconds.
            "You? I did not call you." she said coldly.
            "I came to check if you are ok"
            "What would happen to me?" she said with a smirk. He was shivering slightly. His face had turned pink with exertion.
            "Come in." she said and he followed her.

           She brought a cup of tea. As he sipped, she let her eyes hover over him. His sharp jaw line with stubble, his neck,his strong muscles, his perfectly sculpted body.. She felt a quiver. He looked at her and smiled. He stretched his legs lazily. She got up to clear the cup. He pulled her into his lap.

          The next moment, he was all over her. Once again, she was consumed by her attraction to his body. She wanted to devour him. Wild and passionate, he took her to peaks that were insatiable before. It was getting cold, the rain had started again. They lay entwined in the dark room. Sweaty and exhausted.

          When he woke up, she was not beside him. She was already dressed and setting the room in order. It irked him, the way she went about cleaning everything. When they were done, she would change the sheets without delay. She would air the room. She would once again resume her cold composure and behave as if nothing happened between the two of them.
         
         "You must leave before it becomes impossible to cross the fields."
       
         She always became impatient to have him out after she was done with him.

        "You are so selfish. You don't care how I would go out in such situation." he accused her.
        "I did not call you. Lata would be waiting for you."
        "When did you start caring about Lata?" he mocked her.
        "I m not as cruel as you think."
        He laughed at her words.
        "You are nothing but a witch. You lured me and now you behave like the pious one."
        He dressed and left without another word.

        She curled on the bed and stifled her cries. Not because she loved him. She did not love him. She only lusted for him. It was true that she had lured him. It was true that he was once a loyal husband.

       She had changed it all when she had gone to visit her cousin Lata. It was another monsoon. She was staying with Lata's family for a few days as her house was getting repaired. She stayed in a small room next to theirs. The giggles, the whispers and the moans from the adjoining room had made her curious. She could only imagine what was going on inside. It had made her jealous. She was deprived of this romance while Lata was basking in it. Without thinking of the mess that would be created, she went on to bewitch and seduce him.
      When he had come to drop her home, she had chanced on the opportunity and got him into her bed. It was addictive. The more she thought of breaking the ties, the more she found it difficult to get rid of him. It only added to her woes that he foolishly fell in love with her. She did not foresee this.

      She had not even planned to carry this any further than that encounter but she could not control herself when he visited her again. No matter how discreet she was, she worried about the helpers in the field. It would not take one much to add two and two together. In a small town like hers, she would be ousted from the community. A woman living alone, is never actually alone. It infuriated her that he did not understand her situation. He seemed to want her more fervently than before. She had tried to limit him and asked him to come over only when she called but he seemed unable to adhere to any rules. The fact that he scurried back to her the first moment he could after the rains was proof that he knew no bounds. It overwhelmed her when she thought of how irresponsible he had become towards his family. But then, was it actually her place to talk about responsibility?

      It rained incessantly since he left. She broke her reverie and sat by the small fire she had started to boil the rice. The rain lashed on the windows violently, the whistling sound of the wind made her shiver. She sat in the darkness of her kitchen watching over the rice. Then she thought of him again. Even though she had a hundred reasons to shove him away, for once she wanted company. Just another human to share the dark fear that clouded her mind. Oh, she would just keep him with her until the weather returned to normal. She even regretted that she had sent him away in such a harsh weather.
                                            Image result for rainy field
                                                                   Image credit

There was a knock on the door. She walked towards the door, wondering if he had returned back. There was slight bounce to her step as she thought of him. She opened the door to see two dark faces. She recognized them to be men who worked in neighboring fields. They were soaked to the bone but their expression was grim.

"There is a man lying in the field, we think he is your relative" one of them said.
It took her a moment to take in their words. Her throat was dry.
"What happened to him?" she asked fearfully.
She did not wait for the answer. She ran through the muddy fields, braved the water logged low lands and reached the place where people had started gathering. She pushed them apart to see him lying on his back. She dropped to the ground beside him, wailing. She felt widowed again.


            She placed a hand on her child's forehead. He was running a fever. The doctor from the neighboring village had not visited in four days. The child slept peacefully, unaware of the catastrophe that was to befall on the family. She placed another damp cloth on his forehead. It would all be over. Her marriage, her life as a married woman, her life as a woman cheated. He had not known her. For him, she was the woman who cared and raised his family, who knew nothing of the world and his meandering ways. But a wife always knows. She knew it for a long time and suffered in silence. But she lost her mind when he had told her he was going out today. She knew he was going to her. She was not the kind of woman who would forgive him for his adulteration. Only if he knew how much she was capable of doing! She eyed the vial that she had emptied into the milk he had before he left and a lone tear escaped her tired eyes.

     

   

      

Monday, December 12, 2016

Of winter and memories

                                             bed, bedroom, room, window, winter
                                                Image courtesy: favim

              Cold winter mornings, they remind me of the warmth of your naked skin against mine. Spooning against you, under the duvet, your breath tickling my senses.

              Cold winter mornings, they remind me of the times I snuggled with you, resting my head on your pillow, taking comfort in your smell and feeling secure.

              Cold winter mornings, they remind me of the rare times I climbed out of bed before you and then nestled back with you, rubbing my cold feet against your warm ones and giving you goosebumps.

             Cold winter mornings, they remind me hot ginger tea that I made every morning for you and complained about how I preferred coffee more.

             Cold winter mornings, they remind me of how you would sneak my socks inside the blankets so I can wear them warm for work.

             Cold winter mornings, they remind me of how you loved to smell the rose scented cold cream I used. Of  how you would hold me a little longer when you left for work.

             Cold winter mornings, they remind of the steamy bathroom glass where you scribbled with your finger. They remind me of days you were insatiable and dragged me back into bed.

            Cold winter mornings, they remind of holidays we took in log cabins. Of days and nights of unbridled passion. Of me refusing to get out of bed. Of you obliging and making me coffee in the electric kettle. Of long talks and short naps. Of hot piping food ordered and devoured while watching TV. Of the glint in your eyes as you had your way with me. Of the longing I felt each time I recognized your intentions.

            Cold winter mornings, they remind of the Sundays that began only at noon. Of lazy planning and then staying put at home, shutting out the entire world. Of watching series back to back. Of the drink that burnt my insides into dizziness. Of how we danced slowly into the night. Of you patting me into sleep.

           Cold winter mornings, they remind me of how cold your body felt, lifeless. Cold winter mornings, I wonder if you feel cold inside the bed storage. Cold winter mornings, I feel my heart frozen with your deceit. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Confession

                    It wasn't the first time that she had attempted to write. The innumerable draft mails in inbox were silent witnesses of the difficulty she had putting her thoughts into words. But then, she wasn't the one who had her way with words anyway. It was always her. The person she was desperately trying to reach out, yet didn't dare.

                   It was the last month of the year and she had resolved to come clean before the year ended. The guilt she harbored had become too much to bear. It felt like a heavy weight on her chest and she couldn't breath easy without getting it off. She had made the decision way back in June, thinking she would have enough time to prepare herself to face the consequences of her disclosure and here she was, not an inch closer to her plan. She checked the time again, it was way past her work hours. The lights were out in most sections of the floor. She wondered if she could just stay back and finish what she was writing. She liked to be alone these days. She could think clearly and put her ideas out better when she was in solitude.

                  It was past midnight when she completed the email. It was the best she could do. She decided it was time to click on the send button. She did not want to wait any more. With a sigh, she sent the email. She packed her laptop, booked a cab and walked towards the office entrance. Her heart was throbbing wildly. She did not feel like herself. After months, she felt unburdened but the adrenaline in her system was making her dizzy. She knew it was a catastrophe in somebody's life.

                 She reached her apartment at 1 am. It was not unusual for her to be this late. However, it was unusual for the gate to be open at this hour. The security guard was not on his post. A mild shiver coursed through her body. Was something wrong? Her panic dissipated when she saw the guard walking back. He smiled at her. She took the lift to her floor. She saw that her neighboring door was wide open. She peaked into her neighboring flat and stood frozen. It was her.

                "Hi Riya, you are very late today", her elderly neighbor said.
                 "Yes aunty, I had work today", she responded, her eyes still fixed on what she was seeing.
                 She smiled.
                 "Riya, Anwesha just came now from Delhi. She will be here for delivery. She is in her ninth month. Ofcourse, you must be knowing", Anwesha's mother blabbered excitedly, unaware of the tension between both of them. She went into the kitchen leaving them both together.

                "Riya, why don't you come in?" Anwesha asked.
                 She looked at Anwesha. Surely she had not read the email. She realised she was staring at Anwesha's baby bump. She looked ready to pop a baby anytime. And then it struck her! What had she done! She had ruined Anwesha's life yet again.

               "Anwesha, I am sorry. I am sorry" she broke out and just rushed into her own flat.

                Anwesha was dumbfounded by the sudden outburst. A year back, her childhood friend Riya had just stopped talking to her. She refused to divulge what had happpened that led to this strange behavior. She had tried her best to prod her and find out what was bothering Riya. As much as she could think, she did not have a reason why Riya had out of the blue broken all contacts with her. They had no arguments, no complexities and had been best of friends before Anwesha had moved to Delhi. Anwesha had cried some nights on her husband's shoulder when she had lost all hope of Riya's friendship. With time, she had forgotten all about Riya's bitterness. She was occupied with her pregnancy. Riya was unaware of her pregnancy.

               She changed into her night clothes and lay on bed, thinking of what had transpired.
               The next morning, she opened her phone and realised that she had not switched on the data roaming. The messages and emails started pouring. She was surprised to see one mail from Riya.

               "Anwesha, I have been unfair to you. Not just unfair, but unfaithful. I could not face you after what I had done. I could not bear to talk to you. I did not know how I was smitten by Rahul. I just did not plan it. It just happened. 

                Trust me, I was the happiest person when you got married to Rahul. I did worry about you moving out of the house and not being able to spend time with me, but all my doubts were set aside when Rahul so readily became a part of our lives. I loved hanging out with you both. I did not do it conciously, but a dark desire crept into my heart. To have what was yours. Unknown to me, Rahul was also having the same thoughts. When you guys decided to move to Delhi, it broke my heart. Not because you would be moving to another city, but because I would not be able to see Rahul. I hated how selfish I had become. A week after you guys moved to Delhi, Rahul came to visit me. I was all alone and without thinking about you, we sinned that night. Something changed after that. Rahul distanced himself from me and I could not bear to live with what I had become. I did not dare tell you. You both looked so happy together. I did not want to break your house but I could not go on as if everything was the same. Why am I telling you this now? Because it is breaking me apart. I cannot fathom the hurt it will cause you but I cannot go on another day with this guilt. I am sorry Anwesha, I did not mean to hurt you but I have. I have hurt you deeply. I know it is impossible to forgive me, but know that I never intended it that way."

                She touched her baby bump and smiled and said,

                "Rahul will never know you are not his".
             
               
               
                  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Fort Vengeance Part 3

                    Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

                  Sardesai tossed and turned  on his bed. He had been unable to sleep ever since the killings at the fort. The case had made him impatient. It wasn't that often that a case like that happened in Raiji. In his career he had never seen a crime like this. The weapon did not match any of the conservative weapons used. Who was this mastermind? How did a simple town like Raiji give birth to such a criminal?

                   He felt his wife's hand over his chest. She caressed him lightly. He turned towards Sadhna, his wife. 
                   "What is it that keeps you occupied these days?"
                   "Nothing" he lied to his wife as he ran his hand into her long hair.
                   "I heard about the fort."
                   "From whom?" he asked her, at once alarmed.
                   "I have my sources too" she giggled.
                   "Sadhna, please tell me, who told you?" His tone scared her. 
                   "Dilip, the locals know all about it. They talk in hushed tones about the murders because no one knows for sure. There are rumors that there is a ghost in the fort."
                   "What rubbish" Sardesai dismissed his wife's news. But it bothered him that the news was out in the public. Did that mean that there was someone who was letting out the secret? His investigation had not progressed much but whatever he had come across in the last 2 days had been shocking. If given a free hand, he could have openly investigated the matter but Patil had tied his hands. He now knew only too well what happened to people who went against Patil. 

                   "When we were young, Prabhakar Kaka would sometimes visit us and tell us about the history of the fort. He loved to teach us. He took us to each and every corner of the fort. Did you know there is a hidden passage in the fort?" Sadhna mumbled, staring at the ceiling. 
                   "What did you just say? A hidden passage?" Sardesai sat up. 
                    Sadhna raised herself and leaned against the pillows. 
                   "Sadhna you never told anything about Prabhakar Kaka. How was he related to you?"
                   "There isn't much that I know of Prabhakar Kaka. We were only kids that time. He was my father's cousin. He used to visit us in Nagpur once in a year or two. It was only after I shifted to Raiji for studies that I came to know how popular he was."
                    "What do you know about the secret passage?" he interrogated. 
                     "I have never seen it. He never showed us the passage. He said it was the best kept secret of the fort. I doubt if even he knew where it was. But he did tell that one cannot stumble upon it if one looked too hard for it. It always intrigued me, the secret passage."
                                                                     ***

                     She sang about the winter nights. About the fire. About the love that keeps the heart warm. About the ice daggers that cuts the soul. When she sang, her melody carried pain. Her eyes closed, she was lost in her past. A past that had so much happiness and so much deceit. 

                     It numbed him every time she sat like that. He had goosebumps all over. For him, she was his world. He could do anything to make her happy. Yet, on days when tears rolled down her cheeks, he watched helplessly. He never interrupted her. He knew it was her only release. Her history made his blood boil. With a strengthened resolve, he set on his task.  
                                                                      ***
                    Mukta was nervous about her father's visit. Her father had never expressed any love for her or her brother. She was always conscious in his presence. As a child, she always hid in her room when her father was in the house. He too never bothered to interact with her. The only time he had been proud of her was when she had topped her class 10 exams. He had kept a grand party at their bungalow and distributed sweets in his constituency. It was the only time when she had felt like his daughter. She had thought that this would change her relationship with her father. She had been brave enough to tell her father that she aspired to be a doctor. Her father had been indifferent. The very next day, Dinkar kaka had told her that her father was sending her to Raiji to pursue an Arts degree. Mukta was heartbroken. She had not even been consulted on this major decision of her life. She was sure that her father had no plans of investing on her future and would find an alliance for her that would benefit his political career. He was the most selfish man she knew. She began hating her father with a new vigor. The only good thing about Raiji was that her brother was already there. Sharad had met a similar fate when he had desired to be a writer. He was promptly packed to Raiji and enrolled in commerce. Patil wanted him to complete a management degree so he could carry on his businesses under Sharad's name. 

                 She had told Samarth that her father had ways of knowing her activities and if he found out about campusdiaries he would expel Samarth. Samarth had simply laughed off her worries. She remembered Sharad's words. No, she would not be careless. She had messaged Samarth that she won't be coming online. He had simply said ok. Just ok? Why did she have to tell that to him? Unlike her, he had other people to chat to. Why would it matter she was online or not? Her father would reach late at night. She could have still chatted with him. Now she regretted tell him she won't come online. She was already missing him. Was she falling in love with him? Did she have the right to?
                                                                     ***
               
                  Early in the morning, Sardesai decided to meet Dr Raghuvanshi. He was a 90 year old man who had lived in Raiji all his life. He was a historian. Sardesai's mind had been racing ever since he came to know about the secret passage. After talking to Sadhna, he was sure that there was something about the fort that he needed to know to solve this murder mystery. 

                 Dr Raghuvanshi lived in his old ancestral house. The house had been renovated but had maintained its old world charm. They called it wada in Marathi. A very few houses in Raiji had remained in the wada structure. It was a single storied wada with rooms arranged around a courtyard. Dr Raghuvanshi often entertained people in his courtyard which had huge swing and small seatings surrounding it. 
                      
                A maid opened the door. Dr Raghuvanshi did not keep too well and seldom went out. Age was taking a toll on him. The old man hunched. He walked slowly into the courtyard and directed Sardesai to take a seat on the swing. The maid helped Dr Raghuvanshi on the swing and went about doing her daily chores. Dr. Raghuvashi coughed repeatedly as Sardesai introduced himself. Sardesai wondered if the nanogenarian could be of any help. 

               Dr Raghuvanshi adjusted his spectacles and spoke, "I have never seen a policeman at my doorstep. Researchers and students often come to me for guidance. This is the first time a policeman is seeking my help. I am flattered!"
               Sardesai was getting impatient. 
               "Is it true that there is a secret passage in the fort?" he asked straightaway
               "Only a secret keeper would know" Dr Raghuvanshi smiled. 

To be continued