Hello, everyone. Here I am with another update of Chandrataal 🙂 I think this part marks the turning point. From here on we might see a turn in relationships.
But more important, the second part of 1857 Dust of Ages is out!!. The first part did well and I will soon be mailing gift coupons to Sarika, Juhi and Jyothi (if she would please email me her email address). Keep reviewing. Against first 10 would get part 3 free 🙂
The deal remains the same-first 10 reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads get the next part free. I had a mind-blowing 100 downloads of the first part…but here are only 9 reviews on Amazon.in. So one place there and 1 review on Amazon.com (Thanks to Juhi!). So nine places free to review. Goodreads too has some free space! Review and I will send part 2 free.
Hoping to hear from you soon. And now on to Chandrataal…
‘Raghav! Raghav!’ Khushi’s heart lurched and the small chisel slipped out her fingers. The loud yell split silence of the mansion. Khushi frowned as she looked towards the doorway. What happened to those cool sardonic tones that annoyed her so much? A thud of running footsteps told her that Raghav was indeed rushing to Mr. Raizada’s aid.
Khushi shrugged and turned back to the painting at hand. It was one of the Malik ancestors posing as the ruler of his small kingdom. The artist had captured the salt and pepper beard in great detail and Khushi needed all her concentration to retouch the delicate strands of black and white. As she worked her mind wandered downstairs. She had hardly heard from Mr. Raizada since their stand off right here, a week ago. They still met over the meals and often in the corridors. During those encounters, Arnav Singh Raizada would acknowledge her with a polite nod and an amused smile, daring her to judge him as Anjili and Sheetal lavished him with prodigious attention. But his pursed lips and frown when he thought no one was watching, told Khushi that he bore that attention rather than invite them. Only this morning she had heard him sigh in frustration as the twins played footsie with him and Anjili told her daughters to be careful about his leg.
‘Yes, girls. Always remember Mamu’s leg. IT should never be forgotten. Not for a moment.’
Khushi would have sympathized with the man had she not seen Anjili’s fallen face at his sneering words.
She stood back to examine her handiwork. Not bad. Just some touch up on the right corner of the canvas and it would be as good as new.
The sound of more footsteps and furniture scrapping against the floor disturbed her concentration. She had to admit, she felt curious. Normally Chandratal was a haven of peace and quiet except for the noisy banter of the twins. Trying to ignore the commotion downstairs, Khushi stretched her shoulders and bent backward, relieving the tension from her back. Perhaps she would finish the painting tomorrow.
She took off her gloves and wondered if she could go out. The loud voices piqued her curiosity.
‘Give it to me, Bhaiya,’ she heard Hariprakash as soon as she stepped out.
‘No need of it Hariprakash. Just get out of my way,’ Arnav growled.
‘Chottey, it was broken. That is why I put it in the discarded items.’
‘You don’t have to explain yourself to me, Anjili,’ The voice was cold. Khushi could imagine the hurt on Anjili’s face.
‘But why are you being like this?’ This time Anjili did not back out. From the landing, Khushi saw the trio. Anjili was blocking her brother’s way. ‘You told me you wanted nothing from this house. I asked you again and again and you told me…’
‘I know what I told you,’ He hissed in exasperation, trying to find a way around as Anjili. Anjili held his elbow as he tried to walk around.
‘Then why? You said you cared for nothing. Then why this attachment to this old broken chair.’
‘Leave it, Anjili.’
‘And why don’t you let me touch Baba’s room. It needs sprucing up before…’
‘I also don’t feel the need to explain anything to you. I need to go.’
‘No, you need to stay and think. And stop running away as you have been doing since Baba passed away. I understand you were hurt. So was I. But it isn’t that he had forgotten us. He had…’
‘My leg hurts,’ he told her curtly using his handicap to silence his sister. He was lying. Arnav stood straight holding the chair by its back without no difficulty. Khushi shook her head as she watched Anjili’s shoulders slump and fight leave her. She stood aside as her brother carried the broken up the stairs.
Khushi was so engrossed in the drama that it was only when he was on the top stair that she realized. She had been eavesdropping and the man would soon discover. Hastily she stepped back but it was too late.
‘I…I just came out to …to take a break,’ she stammered, embarrassed at caught staring.
‘Glad we are able to furnish you with some entertainment too.’ He said sarcastically, still carrying the chair in one hand and leaning on the stick on his other. She shook her head in embarrassment but he had already walked away.
Later that day, Khushi met Anjili for their evening tea. The ritual of sharing evening tea had been disrupted by her brother’s arrival. Today, Anjili sought her out again. Arnav had gone with Sheetal to buy something from the town Anjili told Khushi in a tight little voice. Thought Anjili seemed to have recovered her usual sunny nature, the morning’s run-in still rankled.
Khushi, on the other hand, wanted to clarify her position. She had not been eavesdropping, as Mr. Raizada had implied. And whatever the brother thought, Khushi did not want Anjili to have think she had been. When Khushi mentioned the incident, Anjili brushed aside her apology with a sigh.
‘Don’t take him otherwise, Khushi. I understand his remark was uncalled for but these aren’t easy times for anyone of us, what with Chandrataal going out of our hands,’ Anjili leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes.
‘Out of your hands?’ Khushi looked up from her cup of tea. The words surprised her. ‘But I assumed that this was your mansion.’
‘We did too,’ Anjili chuckled. ‘Rather Arnav did. But Baba had other ideas. He didn’t will it to Arnav or me.’
‘Didn’t will….but to whom then. YOU are his children…whom did he…’
‘Adopted kids, Khushi.’
Khushi shook her head in disappointment. Everywhere she turned she saw evidence of Arvind Malik’s insensitivity. The man liked to play with lives – pick up people, give them affection only to betray them in the end.
All her life she had been eager to meet him but never once had she liked the man. Even when she had known nothing about him except the fact that he was her biological parent. But the man who could abandon a girl when she was pregnant with him a child was not fit to be deemed a father. Her mother Sujata had been left alone, bearing the cruel taunts of the small town where she lived as she valiantly battled with the complications of early pregnancy. And then her family too had given. Her little siblings were laughed and jeered at. It had become difficult for her old parents to move out of the house. So they sent their twenty-year-old daughter to Delhi, under the guardianship of a distant relative.
Sujata had survived with nothing but her grit and determination – working at a school, tutoring children, pretending to be a young widow. Khushi still remembered the years of her early childhood when her mother worked day and night to make the ends meet. She had been thirteen when Sujata met Dr. Shashi Mathur, her stepfather. Shashi uncle had been kind and generous and when her mother started her new life with him, no one had been happier than Khushi. It was then that Khushi first mentioned her desire to meet her family. She and Sujata had traveled to Chandrataal to meet her grandparents. But the distances had grown too wide and even after all the years, Sujata and Khushi saw the disapproval lurking in the eyes of her parents. They had never gone back. When Khushi had mentioned Arvind Malik, her mother had refused right away. She did not want to open the old wounds. Khushi had surrendered. She decided to wait, to grow up and then confront the man who was responsible for her birth.
But he was already dead by the time she could make it to Chandrataal. Khushi wondered what Anjili and Arnav thought of him, the children who got the love and attention that should rightfully have been hers. She felt she wanted to know more about the man.
‘You know, Anjili,’ She said cautiously. ‘the more I hear of your baba, the more I get confused. He doesn’t seem to be very nice. Once he had adopted you…’
‘NO, you don’t understand him, Khushi. Baba was the nicest, the kindest man I ever knew. He brought us up with so much love that I never missed my parents.’
‘But he was not a happy man. We learned how unhappy when he died. You see, he had fallen in love with a girl from Chandernagar. But his parents disapproved. They considered themselves over and above the people of the town. So, baba was packed off to a University in America. He went with dreams in his eyes, of making it big and when he was independent he would return and marry the girl. But when he returned two years later, the girl was nowhere to be found. On top of it, he learned that she had been pregnant. I think it broke his heart. It’s the reason he never married.’
‘But…I ..didn’t he …why didn’t he look for her.?’
‘Day after day, Khushi, year after year I saw him looking for her. SO many people took him for a ride, claiming that had found her whereabouts and he would go rushing, only to learn that it wasn’t her. That’s why he did this.’
‘Willed this house to his child, if there is one or the mother if it isn’t. Even when he died he hadn’t given up hope. I think Arnav knows this though he is so angry. You know this is the house of our childhood too. Arnav loves every corner, every little bit of furniture. You saw how angry he was when he saw baba’s old chair in the discarded items. He may not admit, but he still loves baba. They were so close that at times I felt left out,’ Anjili shook her head as she chuckled. ‘Baba has willed this estate to him, the townhouse to me. But this mansion which means so much to Arnav, he gave it to that unknown child. And that is Arnav’s grouse against him.’