|Dolls created by Jayashree Karthik|
Desperately seeking privacy, Ranveer went to the conference room that was the furthest away from his cabin. It had a large table in the centre and could accommodate 20 people at one time. More than anything, it offered him the solitude he sought. It was one of the two rooms that had walls not made of glass. He could not care less if it had been booked by any of his staff. They could always manage to have their meeting in the smaller one on the other end of the office.
He lifted the landline and dialed Ram’s extension. It lifted on the second ring and Ram said, “Yes? Ram here.”
“Ram, can you come over to the large conference room,” said Ranveer, hanging up immediately. Ram arrived there in a few seconds. He walked in and closed the door behind him, catching the stormy expression on Ranveer’s face even from afar. When he moved closer, Ranveer indicated that he sit down.
The moment Ram sat down, Ranveer began, his eyes staring unseeingly at the white board on the wall, “Ram, we’ve known each other since ten years. I think you’re the only friend I have. I…”
Ram interrupted to ask softly, “Is something the problem, Ranveer?”
Ranveer turned to look at Ram and the latter was shocked to see the anger in the younger man’s eyes. “I don’t quite know, Ram. You’re probably aware that Chanda and I are seeing each other,” he said, on a different tack.
Ram nodded, waiting for his boss to continue. “Do you by any chance know that Chanda’s on leave this week?”
“No, I didn’t know that. Has she informed you?”
“She told Parth. I got to know about it through…”
“Shikha,” said Ram, surprising Ranveer. Ranveer raised an eyebrow questioningly and Ram said, “I guessed as I noticed that she was in a jubilant mood before she went into your office. Five minutes later, you’re here and obviously upset.”
“Upset’s putting it mildly. I wonder what reason she gave Parth. If it was some major problem, I’m sure she’d have told me.” Ranveer was reassuring himself more than informing Ram. His very confidence had been shaken up on getting the information through Shikha that morning. He had been sure that Chanda was in love with him just as he had fallen for her charms. He had even been ready to go meet his family and set right the wrong in his past life. Her disappearing like this seemed very strange.
“Do you want me to talk to Parth?” asked Ram. When Ranveer made no objection, he dialed Parth’s extension and said, “Hi Parth, Ram here. How was your weekend?” He gave Parth 10 seconds to reply before asking, “Do you know why Chand’s off this week? A family emergency?” Ram looked at Ranveer as he continued to talk on the phone. “Nothing terrible I hope. Did she sound okay or….?” Ram nodded and realizing that the other man could not possibly see him, said, “Alright then. Okay, thanks. Catch you during lunch.”
Ram told Ranveer, “She didn’t sound too upset says Parth.”
Instead of calming Ranveer, the answer appeared to inflame him further. Hot colour ran up his cheeks as he did his best to hold back his temper. Losing it right now was just not fair to Ram. If Chanda had been in front of him, Ranveer would probably have blasted her. Shikha would have definitely received the boot at that moment.
Ram watched his friend calmly, not saying a word.
A couple of minutes later, a huge sigh shuddered out of Ranveer. He turned to look at Ram and asked, “What do you think Ram? Chanda seemed decent. I thought I could trust her. I…”
“There’s no reason for you to change your mind, Ranveer. Chanda is as decent as they come. Don’t come to any conclusion in a hurry. There’s obviously some kind of a problem. Why don’t you…?”
“Why the hell couldn’t she have called me?” roared Ranveer, getting to his feet in a fury. He wanted to smash something. “I’ve no pride. I called her, so many times. Her bloody phone’s switched off.” He was totally frustrated and a mite worried, although he did not want to admit it even to himself.
Ram had no reply to this. He so wished that Chanda had called Ranveer and told him the reason for her absence. They obviously had gotten quite close over the past few days.
Ranveer calmed down with great difficulty and walked back to sit in the chair he had just vacated. He took a few sips of water and also a couple of deep breaths. He looked at Ram. He trusted his second-in-command. Not only that, he valued Ram’s advice.
“What do you think I should do Ram? I want to rush over to Jaipur and find out what the hell’s happening. At the same time, I’m not hundred percent sure about Chanda.”
“You mean you don’t know whether you’re in love with Chanda. Is that it?” asked Ram.
Ranveer shook his head vigorously. “It’s not about my love for her. I’m not sure that she loves me enough. If she did, she wouldn’t do this to me. Would she?” It was a call for reassurance.
Ram did not say anything as he did not know enough to assure his friend. Instead, he asked, “Will it be so difficult to wait the week out?” That’s what Ram would have done. But then, Ram was quiet and calm by nature. Ranveer being a go-getter, sitting back and waiting for things to happen was just not acceptable to him.
He had been toying with the idea of confiding his life story to Ram. That’s what he had started to do in the beginning and had got sidetracked.
“Ram, you’re my best friend. I’ve a secret that I’ve not been able to share with anyone. I’m married,” he said baldly. There was just no other way to say it.
A small smile broke through on Ranveer’s tense face when he caught the astonishment on Ram’s face. His expression was priceless. Ram was always composed, dependable and stoic. In all these years, Ranveer had never seen the older man ruffled by anything. Even now, when absolutely shocked, Ram did not utter a word and waited for his boss to continue.
“I don’t quite know whether my marriage will hold up in a court of law.” Another deep sigh shuddered through Ranveer. “I got married to an 8-year-old girl at the grand age of 13. I know the custom’s ancient, but believe me when I say that my family’s extremely old school. I was not given a choice. In fact, when I told my mother that I did not want to get married, she cited the reason that I was too young to understand.” Ranveer’s voice was bitter as he recalled pleading with his mother. She had not thought that he was too young to get married.
“In the end, I just ran away. I tried to get away before the ceremony, but could only do it after the deed was done.”
It was a wonder Ram managed to keep his jaw from dropping as he heard the bizarre tale from Ranveer. The Ranveer Singh he knew was a computer whiz kid who ran a company almost singlehandedly, paying the salaries of 50 plus employees – totally acceptable in the twenty first millennium. The same man was the victim of child marriage was mind blowing. Never for a minute did Ram believe that Ranveer could be spinning a tale. Ranveer was quite honest and he had never heard him tell a lie. Okay, he had not talked about his marriage, but that was an omission and he could not quite blame the young man for that.
“I was lucky that Dave and Jane took me under their wing. At first, I was too ashamed to tell them the truth. But over the years, I had to tell them why I’d run away from home. You know the rest of it,” he said, his shoulders hunched, as if the whole world rested on his manly shoulders.
Ram had never seen a defeated Ranveer before. Even at the beginning, when the company was floundering for funds, doing badly on the stock market, Ranveer had always been cheerful and confident. Today, he appeared shaken.
“You haven’t lost faith in Chanda, have you?” asked Ram, getting to the crux of the matter. He realized that that was what was bothering Ranveer and hence the crushed look.
“I don’t quite know what to think. I haven’t known her long, but she’s too straightforward. I don’t think…”
“There you have your answer. I feel you should give her some space and wait the week out.” Even as he said it, Ram was sure that Ranveer would not be able to do that. It was just not him to sit back and wait for things to happen.
“Tell me something Ram. What happens if I take this week off too? I don’t give a damn about the gossip that might spring, so let’s not go there. Otherwise, do you think the company will not fall apart if I stay away for a while?” He was joking, of course. He had structured the management in such a fashion that it could function independently of him.
Ram smiled as he said, “Don’t you worry about that Ranveer. You’ve trained us all too well to hold the fort for a while. You go on. Just one question – do you plan to visit Chanda?” Somehow Ram was not for the idea.
Ranveer shook his head as he said, “No, I’m planning to go back home. Let me get my wedding annulled and await Chanda’s return. Don’t you think that’d be a sensible course of action? I’ll go crazy waiting the week out here.”
Ram smiled, seeing the determination on Ranveer’s face. At least, he had a goal to look forward to now.
“In the meanwhile, Ram, I’d be grateful to you if you can get rid of Shikha. Give her a month’s severance. I don’t think she’s adding any value to RS Software. What do you think?”
There was not a peep from his Executive Assistant. “Ram?”
Ram looked at Ranveer. “Since it seems to be a day for confessions, I have something to tell you. I’m in love with Shikha.”
Ranveer was startled, to put it mildly. He was glad that he had not said any demeaning thing about his secretary. He definitely did not want to hurt or offend Ram.
“She has a drinking problem. I’m trying to work out a way to have her treated. Do you mind…?”
“Take your time, Ram. I’m sure you know best how to deal with the situation.” He got up indicating that the meeting was over. His mind was already planning his trip back to his hometown. He decided to drive in his car as it would give him some time to think of his plan of action.