|Dolls created by Jayashree Karthik|
RANVEER LEFT THE OFFICE IMMEDIATELY. He just was not in the mood to do any work and could not quite face being there without Chanda’s presence. He was quite amazed at how he had got used to having her around in just a few weeks. Pushing his worry to the back of his mind, he concentrated on the mundane tasks at hand.
He went to his car service centre and had his BMW completely fine tuned. He later got the petrol tank filled up before going home to his row house. He booted his computer and checked out the route that he would be taking and updated the GPS on his cell phone. He sent some important emails that could not be postponed and set up the ‘vacation responder’ on his email as he was not sure whether he would have internet access at Jaswantpura. Of course, he planned to take his laptop along with him.
Ranveer meticulously packed a suitcase full of clothes. It would take at least two days of driving before he reached his village which was 700-odd miles from Delhi. He decided to leave Tuesday morning and drive on till he reached Ajmer. It would take him anything between six to seven hours to reach the city. Going online, he booked himself a room at Mansingh Palace, Ajmer. He had been to the five-star group’s hotel in Agra and had liked the service. Since he would be driving throughout the day over two days, Ranveer was very particular that he got a good night’s sleep. After receiving confirmation of his room booking, Ranveer got up to get some coffee. His stomach growled in protest as he had not had anything to eat since breakfast. Looking at his watch, he saw that it was past seven.
He went down and was relieved to see his cook at the kitchen counter making dinner. “Maharajji
, will that take long?” he asked as he caught the subtle aroma of biryani. The cook turned to look at Ranveer and nodded. “Biryani aur sabzi thayaar hain. Garma garam roti abhi bhan jaayega do minute mein
,” he assured Ranveer before he went back to kneading the dough.
Ranveer gave up the idea of having coffee and walked to the washroom on the ground floor. He came back to the kitchen and was pleased to see that a roti was already ready. He took a plate and served himself some food and went and sat in the hall in front of the TV. When he got up to serve himself a second helping, Ranveer told the Maharaj that he need not come for the rest of the week. The older man nodded his head before asking, “Masala chaas banadoon?
Ranveer nodded at him before saying, “Aap bhi khaana khaalijiye
.” The cook brought a tall glass of buttermilk and placed it on the table in front of Ranveer. He smiled, thanked the young man politely for the offer but refused to eat. He took his leave and left Ranveer’s home, shutting the front door quietly behind him.
The long evening stretched out in front of Ranveer. He sat in front of the TV switching channels, not able to concentrate on any of the shows. He could not help but be aware that Chanda had not bothered to call him for the third day in a row.
SHIKHA HAD SPENT THE WHOLE DAY BROODING AT HER DESK. She was so angry with Ranveer and the absent Chanda that she wanted to throw something. Keeping Ranveer’s warning well in mind, she controlled her temper and set out to work. She was concentrating so hard that she did not realize it was lunch time until she looked up to see that most of the seats in the office were empty.
Not having any friends in the office, she was still quite cut up that even Ram had not bothered to call her for lunch. Ranveer had not got back to his office and she presumed that he was still sulking in the conference room. On her way from the washroom, Shikha noticed that Ram was in his cabin on the left side of the office. She pushed the door without knocking and asked him, “Have you had lunch?” She did not bother with any kind of a greeting as she did not think much of Ram.
Ram looked up from his computer to see Shikha sitting on the corner of his desk. She reminded him of a spoilt brat except for small mannerisms that suggested a drastic need for attention. And then there was this sadness lurking at the very back of her eyes. Hearing the way she spoke so confidently, it would take a very mature person to note these and Ram was definitely that.
Ram took a sip of water from the bottle near him and took his own time answering her. Shikha tapped her foot impatiently against the side of his table. She so wanted to shake up his calm demeanour. She did not bother to make the effort as she was quite aware that that would be a very difficult task. If she had mentioned that to Ram, he could have easily advised her that she had come the closest to shaking him up in all his 32 years.
“Have you?” he asked, aware that she had not.
“Why would I ask you if I’ve already had lunch?” she asked him rudely.
“Oh,” drawled Ram, getting up from his chair, “you wanted my company. Let’s go.”
“As if I care,” said Shikha as she stepped out of the cabin ahead of him. She gritted her teeth in anger. Why had she gone to ask him? The answer was obvious. She had not bothered to get friendly with the rest of the staff. She thought that they were all too young and immature for her taste. Her eye was on the big chance and hence she had cultivated a relationship-of-sorts with Ranveer. She told herself that she put up with Ramsingh only because he was Ranveer’s Executive Assistant and she needed to do a lot of coordination with him.
Ram had a mysterious smile on his face as he watched the slender woman walking ahead of him. She could be quite beautiful if she was stripped of the permanent sneer on her face. It would be a challenge but he was very much up to it.
He walked ahead and held her elbow as she moved fast. She turned to look at Ram in shock. The man had guts, if nothing else. Not able to shake him off, Shikha walked with him to the lift, her jaw aching with tension. They got in and went to the canteen. There were only about 30 people in the large canteen. Most of the people in the building had already had their lunch and left as it was past 2.30 pm.
Shikha and Ram got their lunch trays and went to sit at a corner table. They ate in silence for a few minutes before Ram asked, “Would you like to go out for dinner tonight?”
“Wouldn’t your wife mind? You can’t spend all your free time with me,” she said sarcastically.
Ram caught on immediately that she wanted to know whether he was married. He could not imagine Shikha asking him a direct question. She would rather die than admit to being curious about someone’s personal life. And he was happy that she wanted to verify his single status.
Shikha’s jaw dropped for the second time that day when he replied, tongue firmly in cheek, “I’ll divorce her if she interferes too much.”
She stared at him wondering whether to take him seriously or otherwise. She had been quite confident that he was a bachelor and had just wanted to be objectionable. But his reply shook her up. Then she noticed the twinkle in his eyes and realized that she had been had. If anyone had told Shikha that Ram had a sense of humour, she would have laughed at them. But to her amazement, Shikha realized that Ram not only had a funny side to him, he also knew how to laugh at himself. That’s when she decided to have dinner with him and find out more. There was also the reason that Ranveer had so obviously slipped out of her fingers, presuming that he had ever been held in them in the first place.
ON THE SAME DAY, CHANDA WAS IN HER HOTEL ROOM in Mount Abu. The facilities were quite basic and she was on her way to a solitary meal. She was a resilient young woman who was also quite optimistic. She had pushed away her problems to the back of her mind and decided to make the most of her holiday. There was a group of people going on a trek first thing on Tuesday morning. She decided to join them and booked herself on the tour.
When thoughts of Ranveer intruded, Chanda crossed her fingers and kept her faith in Lakshman. He had promised to sort everything out and she knew that her brother will. And she refused to feel guilty about not contacting Ranveer – not before sorting her marriage to Veerendra out. While the situation had been the same the last week, the shock of seeing her father-in-law had made Chanda rethink the situation. If and when she spoke to Ranveer, it would be as a free woman and not otherwise. On that thought, Chanda went to bed and had a peaceful night’s sleep.