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Sindoor

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Nakul sighed as he saw the younger Mrs Khurana; she was in her usual position, sitting in a chair in the outhouse bedroom, looking from the window out into the garden. She'd spent several days just standing in the window, till one day a rocking chair appeared, facing at just the right angle to allow her to see as much as possible. She'd never asked where the chair came from, but she loved it; she sat in it every day for hours, rocking, thinking, sometime shedding silent tears.
He felt sorry for her, the poor young bride......"Nakul, yahan aao".......... but there was no time to think about that now, he had duties to see to.
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It was his 33rd birthday tomorrow- Dadi had mentioned it in passing, assuming that she already knew. She'd acted as if that were the truth, that they'd decided to not do anything just yet, to wait until he was a little less busy at work, but the truth was simple- she'd had no idea.
It was also the 4 month anniversary of their wedding-- not the formal ceremony in front of the media and society, but of the moment where he had bound them forever by filling her maang with his blood.
How had they reached this place- this limbo? How had things between them altered so drastically?
She sat in the chair he had bought for her and thought about her marriage-- if the relationship between them could be called a marriage anymore.
4 months ago, he had bound them with blood and she had believed that nothing could part them- with every particle of her soul she had loved him and she knew that at that moment he had loved her too.
3 months ago, everything changed.
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Once. Just once.
He'd made love to her just for one night- one day after their formal wedding, one month after the showdown with Naintara.
They'd spent that month blissfully happy, spending time together, getting to know each other. Dadi had taken some time to get used to the idea, but once on board had happily taken over the responsibility of the formal wedding arrangements, leaving them unburdened. NT had tried to spoil things with her suicide attempt, but that brief ripple in the calm of their lives had not lasted long- her manipulation was dealt with by Dadi's experience and Maan's unshakeable strength. Dev had vanished- though Dadi knew where he was, she never mentioned him and they were satisfied with that.
He was busy at work, as always- and though she was keen to keep working, her pregnancy had finally decided to make itself felt, and she had not been able to do much more than rest during the days.
Every evening though- every evening was theirs. He'd come from the office straight to the outhouse- his smile of greeting enough to fill her with energy, her very presence enough to re-energise him. Every evening he carried her to the main house-- he teased her saying that he no longer needed to go to the gym, that carrying her and their baby was all the exercise he needed. They spent hours together after dinner, just talking, getting to know each other, learning all the ins and outs of each other's psyches.
Dadi had smiled indulgently, assuming that they were taking full advantage of their newly married status (for married they were, no matter whether the formalities had been completed or not)- but there had been a strange reluctance on both their parts. There was no lack of desire-- sometimes she felt that his gaze was burning through her, sometimes when she saw him straight after he had showered, she was overwhelmed by the desire to trace the droplets of water down his bare chest. They had spent nights sleeping in each other’s arms- she always woke to find him holding her possessively, protectively.
And yet, they waited- perhaps from need to learn each other. Their entire relationship had been so fraught with tension, so turbulent that there had been no time to simply get to know each other.
He wooed her, and she blossomed- and strangely so did he; her love for him gradually wiped the darkness from his eyes and his soul.
And then the day arrived- he had moved into the outhouse for the last few days of their "engagement" whilst she occupied his room in the main house; and so his baraat left the outhouse to arrive at the mansion. He even rode a white horse, laughing (laughing!!!) at the absurdity of it all.
Adi was his best man, Pinky her maid-of-honour, Pinky's father did her kanyadaan- it was perfect.
It wiped every memory of the first wedding ceremony from her mind-- on that day, her past didn't exist- her life was beginning anew.
By the time the ceremonies were over, it was 7am the next morning- their wedding night had passed in a haze of family, friends and happiness.
Dadi left that morning for Paris-- happy that she'd got her way, happy that her dearest grandchild was finally happy.
They'd already decided that they would stay in the outhouse till Dadi returned from Paris-- they'd shared so much in that outhouse that it felt right to start the next phase of their relationship there.
And so they were alone.
She'd made the first move- asked him hesitantly why he hadn't made love to her yet. When he had explained that he hadn't wanted to hurry her, her love for him had grown even stronger, but she'd shyly reassured him- and been amazed by the strength of the passion he'd been suppressing for her sake.
It had been amazing- a far cry from the pain and embarrassment of her one and only previous experience, and as they'd slept finally she's been sure that nothing could ever part them.
The next morning, the bleeding started.
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She hadn't noticed at first, hadn't paid any attention to the crampy lower tummy pain- but by late afternoon, the pain had become too much to ignore. He'd gone to the office- an emergency had dragged him in against his will.

So, alone, she'd phoned the doctor and arranged an appointment. Nakul had arranged for a car, and she was driven alone to the hospital where he had first taken her.

By the time she arrived, she was doubled over in pain, the tears just starting to fall from her eyes. The driver helped her in to a wheelchair, and trundled her in-- the doctor took one look at her and then everything happened at light-speed.

She didn't remember much after that- just vague images and sounds. Most persistent of all was the sound of someone weeping, weeping as if their heart was breaking. Another impression was of someone exhorting her to live, telling her that he would die without her. Yet another impression was of a voice, raised in anger- telling someone that he would kill them if anything happened to his wife.

Her first concrete memory was of Dadi sitting next to her bed- pale, drawn, looking her age. The next was of the doctor telling her what had happened, followed by the overwhelming grief, by the feeling that part of her had died, by the desire to die too.

She screamed for her baby, then for him but he didn't come. She screamed until they sedated her (if she had asked, the doctor would have told her that he had been admitted too, suffering from exhaustion and dehydration-- he hadn't left her side until he'd collapsed)

When she woke, she had stopped expecting him to come, stopped crying, stopped feeling- just stopped. She ate and drank enough to stay alive, but inside everything had stopped. Dadi tried to talk to her, to tell her something but she just turned her face to the wall and ignored her.

2 days later, he came and sat with her - neither of them spoke to each other. She fell asleep whilst he was there, and when she woke couldn't understand why her hand was wet (if she had asked, the nurse could have told her that he laid his head onto her hand and cried and cried, until he fell asleep too-- it was only when the nurse woke him to give her medications that he left).

He visited every day, coming late in the evening when her sedative was just about to kick in- he never said anything more than "how are you" she never replied more than "fine". She always fell asleep in his presence, soothed against her will. Every morning when she woke, she would find Dadi sitting in a chair drawn up next to the bed (if she had asked, she would have known that Dadi came in every morning just to send him away- he had still not recovered his strength fully and lack of sleep was not helping. He was spending every night sitting in a chair next to her bed, holding her hand and watching her sleep, then spending the day terrorising the office, acting like the dusht danav of old- no time to sleep or look after himself)

After a week, she finally got out of bed under her own power and made it to the bathroom- and was shocked by what she saw. On her forehead, in the middle parting of her lank, unwashed hair was a thick line of sindoor.

She ignored it, assuming it was still there from the day she came to hospital-- after all, she didn’t think her hair had been washed since then.

A day later, she was assisted to the shower, and washed her own hair. He came as usual that evening- just before she slept; she noticed him looking at her hair and gave him a tiny smile- the first one since it all happened "yes I washed my hair-- it looks different, doesn't it". He started to smile back, and then stopped- as if a voice whispered something in his ear and reminded him of something dreadful. She was too tired to think about it, and drifted off to sleep as always,

When she woke and went to the bathroom, she glanced in the mirror and did a double take. The thick line of sindoor had reappeared.

As she stared at it, she thought back over the past months- she thought of everything she had lost, of the pain and torment she went through for the sake of the baby that was never to be born, she thought of the child she loved and planned for and ached to hold in her arms, she thought of the dreams of the future she had seen that now seemed so unreal and unlikely to come true.

She wept; she simply stood there and wept- wept unstoppably. She wept as she stood in the shower and washed her hair, washed away the sindoor. The nurse came in and found her and tried to get her to stop, but couldn't. The doctor came in and did the only thing she could think of- prescribed more sedatives. She didn't take the sedatives, just kept weeping - but after a time the weeping became a form of cleansing, a way of washing out her pain and anger and hurt and despair. She cried and cried until she had no tears left, and then kept crying inside her heart.

She didn't eat that day. When he came that evening, he looked drawn and tired; he looked at her eyes and it was as if he could see the tears that she did not have left. His face became even more mask like; he asked as always "how are you", she replied as always "fine".

She fell asleep as always with him there- but when she woke that morning, she found an impression in the bed next to her- it reminded her of the first night of their married life when he had cradled her in his arms as she curled up to him like a kitten, seeking comfort and reassurance. She ran her hand over the warm indent- unsure what it meant, unclear what to do, uncertain what the future held.

She got out of bed and went to the bathroom; as she looked in the mirror she did a double take- the sindoor had reappeared.

She was starting to come back to life- her brain was starting to work again, so she did the most sensible thing she could think of. She asked for Dadi to come and see her and then sat down and worked out all the questions she wanted to ask.

3 hours later she had her answers- Dadi had no idea what was going on between them, didn't realise they weren't talking properly, didn't realise that things were at a standstill between them. But Dadi did know what had happened whilst she was in Intensive Care; as she described his desperation and sadness, they both wept. She was left with a thousand more questions, all of which only he could answer.

The most important thing she learned was that she had been in hospital for over 6 weeks, almost two whole months.

It was time to go home, to restart her life.

Geet thought back to the time when she had seen Dev again for the first time, when she had had to leave KC, and Meera had given her shelter. She had woken the next morning and prepared to face life anew, had said that no matter what, life must go on.

The situation was the same now- though her grief was still raw, though her arms still ached for the child she had lost, it was time to start thinking of the future, time to start ensuring that she still had a future. She needed her husband to grieve with her, to take away her pain- she didn't understand why he was holding himself apart from her. She didn't understand what she had done wrong that led to his anger and she really didn't understand why he filled her maang every night but stayed silent during the day.

The only way to get the answers to her questions was to be at home.............well, if Geet Khurana needed to go home, then no one was going to stop her.
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That evening, when he walked into her hospital room, she had washed her hair as before and was sitting up in bed.

After his usual question "How are you?" and her usual answer "fine", she continued talking, noting his surprise.

"Mujhe ghar jaana hai, main ab theek hoon, aur jo araam karna hai woh main ghar pe karsakti hoon."

Having said her piece, she closed her eyes and lay down; within minutes she was asleep. When she woke the next morning, Dadi was beside her as always.

She went to the bathroom and checked, and gave a small sigh of relief when she saw the sindoor filling her maang. She bathed (though she didn't wash her hair, she saved that for the evening just before Maan was due to arrive), and got into a fresh hospital gown, then realised how sick of those formless outfits she was.

As she re-entered the room, the door opened and her doctor walked in. "So, Mrs Khurana, I hear that you're keen to go home- well, lets just check you over and then we can talk about it. Madam Khurana, aap thodi der please bahar intezaar karengi"

Dadi nodded and quietly left- there were arrangements that needed to be made if Geet was coming home, but Maan as always had kept his own counsel, so she had no idea what had been done; she needed to phone Nakul and make some arrangements of her own.

Geet was left with the doctor-- "Doctor sahab, aap ko kisne bataya ke main ghar jaana chahti hoon"

With a look of surprise, the doctor replied "Arre Mrs Khurana, aap ke pati ne; woh roz din mein do teen dafa to waise hi mujhse aap ki khairiyat lete hain, magar aaj subha to woh khud mujhse milne aaye the, keh rahe the ke aaphi ne unse ghar jaane ki baat ki thi"

Slightly stunned by the information that Maan was keeping such a close watch on her health, Geet rushed to answer the doctor "Ji, kaha to tha, magar mujhe ye nahin pata tha ke woh itni jaldi aap se baat karlenge"

The doctor laughed, saying jokingly "Arre Mrs Khurana, aap ne yeh kaise sochliye-- maine bahut kam pati dekhe hain jo apni biwi ka itna khayal karte hon; the nurses are too scared of the great MSK to tell him to leave, so he spends most of the night sitting next to your bed- it's only when your Dadi arrives and tells him to go home that he leaves. Anyway, let me check you over then I start getting your discharge papers sorted out"

Quickly and efficiently, the doctor examined Geet and made a few notes, then said "Good, sab theek hai. Jo hua woh tha to bahut unfortunate, magar shukr hai ke koi complications nahin hain. Aap pareshan mat hona, you're young and fit, hopefully there won't be any problems with any future pregnancies. You can try for a baby again as soon as you want"

Geet was still struggling with the idea that MSK had spent night after night sitting next to her bed watching over her, but them remembered some important questions she needed to ask. She blushed, but asked "Doctor, yeh kyun hua-- kya maine kuch ghalat kiya, kya mere kuch karne ya na karne se yeh hua"

"Nahin, nahin Mrs Khurana, aisi koi baat nahin hai-- aap bilkul aisa mat sochiye-- kabhi kabhi aisa hota hai, aur uss mein koi kuch nahin karsakta, iss mein aap ki koi ghalti nahin hai"

Geet blushed even harder, but she had to know "Doctor, main aur.............mera matlab hai, woh aur main, mera matlab hai main....."

Luckily the doctor was wise in the way of young married women; this was a question she often had to answer "No, Mrs Khurana, koi aisi baat nahin hai. You and your husband can behave as normal, being pregnant doesn't mean that you have to turn your husband into a brahmachari"

Chuckling, she turned away and said "theek hai, main jaake aapke sab discharge papers tayyar kardeti hoon"

Still bright red from embarrassment Geet smiled as the doctor walked out of the room, but as soon as she was alone, her smile wavered.

Some part of her had wondered, had felt guilty, had blamed herself and blamed Maan; they'd come together with all the pent up passion that months of restraint had built; her desire for him as strong as his need for her. She hadn't been able to stop feeling the guilt, the worry that perhaps her physical needs had caused her child to die; she hadn't been able to stop part of herself from blaming him for making her feel that way, for being a willing participant in their madness and encouraging her in her wildness.

Part of her still felt that life had punished her for being happy by taking away her child; every time she felt her stomach and realised that the life she had nurtured and fought the world to protect was gone, her heart broke again.

"STOP"

"JUST STOP"

She stood up and went to the mirror and spoke to herself, wincing slightly as she took stock of the pale, hollow eyed figure facing her.

"Bas Geet, bas. Yeh gham to tumein chodne wala nahin, yeh to hai, ab hai. Yeh gham to ab poori zindagi tumhare dil mein rahega. iss ke saath jeena seekhlo. Tumhe seekhna padega. Tumhein aage badhna hoga. Ab yeh sochna hoga ke aage badhne mein tumhein Maan ka saath milega ya nahin"

She still didn't know why Maan was behaving in the way he was- initially she thought it was the same guilt she was feeling, but the way he never spoke to her, never spent time with her anymore- it was as if he had turned into the same closed off Maan she had met in HP. She was trying not to tar him with the same brush as the men she grew up with, but a part of her remembered how Brij had been disgusted by every miscarriage his wife had, how he had considered her weak and flawed for being unable to have a child, and a small hidden inner part of her couldn't help but wonder if Maan felt the same. She knew it was illogical, she knew that Maan was a good kind man- but the part of her that was still the scared girl suppressed and terrorised by Brij and Darji wondered if Maan was disgusted by her weakness, by her failure.

She had to talk to him, had to find out why he was behaving this way-- she had to be the strong one for once in their relationship.

After all, she was GEET KHURANA, Khurana khaandaan ki badi bahu, Maan Singh Khurana ki patni- she was going to make him talk to her if she had to lock him in the conference room again.
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The sad eyed girl sitting in the rocking chair smiled sadly as she thought back to her determination, her surety that she would be able to bend Maan Singh Khurana to her wishes.

He hadn’t budged, hadn’t moved when she pushed, hadn’t given an inch.

She thought back to her last day in hospital, thinking about what happened after the doctor left the room. She remembered Dadi sweeping into the room, as majestic as ever—telling her that all the preparations had been made and that they would be going home as soon as Maan arrived. She said “Humne Maan se baat karli hai, woh bas abhi ghar se aapke liye kuch cheezein leke aarahe honge, aap jaake naha lein, baal dholein tabtak Maan aajayenge. Hum unka bahar intezaar karte hain”

Geet remembered turning towards the bathroom to obey Dadi’s command, her hand unconsciously going to her maang; she didn’t want to wash away the only sign she had that Maan hadn’t moved away from her completely. She saw Dadi standing outside the room and wondered what she thought about her grandson’s marriage.

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Savitri stood outside Geet’s hospital room and wondered what was going on between her grandson and his wife. Though Maan hadn’t informed her about Geet’s illness till she returned from Paris, since her return she’d spent every day at Geet’s bedside, then spent the nights worrying about Maan. She hadn’t shared her worries with Geet, but she didn’t think that Maan had slept more than 2 hours in a row since Geet had been admitted into the hospital over 6 weeks ago. He worked all day and spent all night sitting next to Geet’s bed- the only time he slept was holding Geet’s hand. Something was eating him up from the inside, but he brushed off every attempt she made to talk to him, citing work pressures. Work pressures! KC was at the head of the field, driven onwards by a seemingly tireless MSK. He had turned Adi into driven businessman (though Adi’s inner kindness had protected him from turning into a heartless drone), Sasha had been redeployed to open a new office in Mumbai (and actually seemed to have turned over a new leaf, shocked at what she had almost been party to when Naintara had attacked Geet), and everyone in the office was working to their peak efficiency. At this moment KC was running so well that even if Maan took some time for himself, he would not be missed, such was the ethos he had instilled in his employees.

And yet he worked on, forcing his body to accept a punishing schedule—between the office, nights at the hospital and punishing workouts in the KM gym, MSK seemed a man tormented; Savitri couldn’t understand why his torment hadn’t improved when Geet’s health started to improve.

“Well” Savitri thought to herself “Geet will be home now,she’ll be able to handle him—she’s alway been able to manage him in a way that no one else could. Woh ghar pe hogi to Maan ke dil ko thoda aaraam milega, uss ke baghair to woh zakhmi sher ki tarah pareshaan horaha hai”

Looking up, she saw Maan walking towards her, carrying the small case she’d asked him to bring “accha hua aap aagaye Maan, bilkul sahi waqt pe—Geet andar naha rahi hai, yeh bag unhe dedijiye, iss mein kuch kapde hain. Agar unhe pehnne mein koi mushkil hui to aap madad kardijiyega, humein zara doctor se ek do baatein pata karlni hain Geet ki dekhbhaal ke baare mein”

“Magar Dadima” MSK started to protest but found that he was talking to Dadi’s back. Not wanting to make a scene, he reluctantly turned and walked into his wife’s hospital room.

As he walked in, Geet emerged from the bathroom—he stared at her helplessly, having to hold himself back forcefully from striding over and scooping her off her feet. She looked pale and weak, so fragile that he thought a strong wind would blow her over. His chest felt like it was being squeezed in a vice, his heart felt like it was going to explode with the need to hold her close and protect her from everything; then he remembered what happened, remembered what he had done and felt the guilt overwhelm him again. Shutting himself down, exerting the control he had developed over the past years, he walked over to her and offered his hand for support. Startled, she looked at him, meeting his eyes- but he looked away and gestured towards the bed, where he had placed the bag

“Dadi ne kapde diye hain, tum pehnlo, main yahin hoon” he said, walking towards the door, stopping when he heard her quietly say “aapko meri thodi madad karni hogi, yeh jo haathon mein lagehue hain, unki wajha se mein poori tarha se haathon ka istimaal nahin karsakti”

Turning back, he saw her point at the drips in the bends in her arms, also noting the multiple bruises bearing silent witness to the length of her hospital stay and how much medical support she had needed.

She gestured silently to the bag, which she couldn’t open; he took the hint and opened it, finding it full of an exquisite salwar suit, beautifully bridal and yet loose enough that Geet could wear it with comfort. There was also a beautiful lingerie set. Looking at it, he flashed back to their wedding night, when he had last seen Geet wearing something similar. Struggling with the mingled pain and desire the memory evoked, he turned to see Geet looking at the luxurious items with an expression that mirrored his inner turmoil. Furiously suppressing the need to beg her forgiveness, he gestured to the clothes. He took out the pants, bending down in front of her and indicating that she should put her leg through. She put her hand for balance on his shoulder and he slid the pants up her legs, feeling how much weight she has lost in the past weeks, feeling for himself the fragility he’d seen as she emerged from the bathroom. Geet stood quietly in front of him, accepting his help as if she had a right to it; as the thought crossed his mind, he realised that she did have a right to it, and realised that the reason he felt no embarrassment or discomfort in helping her in this most basic of ways was because she was his and he was hers- no matter what had happened, no matter what he had done that basic truth hadn’t altered

Silently he held the salwar in the same way, then did up the kamarband, wincing internally again as he felt how her already tiny waist had become even more slender.

He handed her the bra; she turned her back and shrugged off the hospital gown then put on the bra; he’d dealt with enough bras in the past to realise she’d never be able to do it up herself, so reached round to grab the hooks, then did the bra up, feeling a shiver of electricity go up his arm as the backs of his fingers grazed the skin of her back.

As she turned to face him, looking vulnerable in nothing but a bra and a salwar, he turned away hurriedly to find the kurta—as he held it out for her to slip it over her head, they came much closer and he breathed in the scent that was purely Geet. It was the scent that haunted him, the scent without which he was unable to sleep at night, finding peace only when sitting next to her bed, holding her hand to his lips.

He stepped away to get the dupatta, and noticed a small silver dabbi sitting on top of the dupatta; to give himself a moment to recover, he opened it, finding Geet’s payal and a small sindoor case. Grimacing internally, he turned back to Geet with the payal; she looked at the small gold chains dangling from his hands and then at him. He could see the memories in her eyes; they were both remembering the moment he had given them to her, another moment of happiness in the halcyon period of their engagement. He had placed them on her ankles with such love, kissing her ankles as he’d done up the payal.

As they looked away from each other, memories threatened to overwhelm them; he was caught unawares when she sat down, holding out her ankle. He could no more refuse her unspoken request than he could cut off his right hand, so he knelt before her and gently placed the payal where they belonged. As he stood up, her bowed head caught his eye, her unfilled maang piercing through him like a spear.

He hadn’t been able to stop himself from putting the sindoor in her maang every night while she slept. He’d needed to let the world know that it was his WIFE lying there in that bed, HIS child that she’d been carrying. He’d needed to remind himself that she had loved him enough to let him fill her maang once, had needed that red powder to remind himself that her love might be strong enough to forgive him. But then, he’d seen the tears in her eyes the first day she’d seen the sindoor and realised that he’d put it in afresh, seen how the realisation that he was claiming her hurt her. He hadn’t been able to stop himself from filling her maang every night when she slept anyway, adding another sin to the long list of sins he’d committed against her already.

As GEET sat there quietly, exhausted by the effort of bathing and putting her clothes on, she felt something touch her forehead, run into her maang; she put her hand up to feel what it was, and was shocked when it came away red. Looking up, she found that he’d moved away, tucking something into his pocket. He was just about to open the door to see where Dadi was as she opened her mouth to ask him why he had done that; as luck would have it, Dadi was just about to knock at the door and walked in as he opened it.

Not wanting to discuss their relationship in front of Dadi, she turned to pull the dupatta out of the bag sitting on the bed next to her; as she did she noticed the sindoor case in the bag and realised that it was still closed. Faced with even more questions (where did he get the sindoor from, WHY didn’t he speak to her, what was going through his mind) Geet decided to stick to her orginal plan—get home and then force MSK to deal with her.

“Chaliye bete, ghar chalein” Dadi said as she walked closer to Geet. “Arre aap ke qameez ki dori nahin baandhi Maan ne, laaiiye hum kardete hain” As Dadi tied the dori, a nurse came in behind her, wheeling a chair; Geet looked at it and resigned herself to the humiliation of being wheeled out to the car. As she started to stand up, she heard a sound, then gasped as she felt herself being lifted by arms that felt like iron. She looked up at Maan, but he refused to meet her eyes, just started walking out of the room. Dadi smiled and told the nurse “Maine kaha tha na, aap ki zaroorat nahin hogi”, and followed her children out.

Both Maan and Geet were silent as they made their way out to the car, both wrapped up in their memories, in the remembrance of all the many times they had walked this way. Geet closed her eyes against a rush of tears as she remembered him teasing her about the baby. As she leaned her head against his chest, overwhelmed by emotion and exhaustion she felt his grip tighten, almost as if he wanted to hold her so close that there was not even space for a particle of air between them.

Unable to handle any more turmoil, Geet’s mind shut off, and she fell asleep. If she had opened her eyes at that moment, she would have seen a look on Maan’s face that would have answered every question she had- the naked love so obvious as to cause the nurses they passed to sigh and dream.

When Maan reached the car, he placed Geet in the back seat and climbed in after her. Dadi turned away to say a final thank you to the nurses and doctors and by the time she turned back and got in the car, Geet had once again been taken in Maan’s arms as he cradled her gently. It was as if he wanted to capture every moment of closeness he could whilst she slept.

The car was silent on the drive home; when they arrived Maan again went to lift Geet. As he did, she opened her eyes, so he stopped.

Dadi spoke “Bete, ghar aagaya hai, andar chalein. Maan, is waqt aap inhein na uthayein, inhe chalne dein”

Saying this, Dadi held her hand out to Geet and helped her out of the car. Maan watched silently, ready to catch Geet if she wavered, but the brief nap had given her some energy back so Geet managed to walk the few steps towards the house.

As the three of them reached the door, it was opened by Nakul who said “sab tayyariyaan hogayeen hain, madam”. As he stepped back, Maan and Geet saw the trappings for a traditional grehapravesh ceremony. Dadi spoke before they could say anything “Hamein pata hai ke aap bahut thaki hain, magar hum yeh nahin chahte ke hamari bahu ki swagat mein koi kami rahe—bas yeh ek rasam karlijiye, aur phir aap oopar jake araam kijiyega”

As she said this, she took the Aarti plate from Nakul; Geet started to step forward to let Dadi do the aarti but she was stopped by Maan’s hand on her arm. She turned to face him and was shocked when he reached behind her to hold her dupatta. As he covered her head with it gently, she couldn’t help but look at him, trying to read what his eyes were saying to her. He refused to meet her eyes, and turned her back towards Dadi .

As Dadi finished the aarti, Geet stepped forward, knocking over the kalash filled with rice. As she entered the house, she saw another platter on the floor, filled with red liquid. She slipped off her shoes and stepped through it, walking towards the stairs leaving a trail of red footsteps behind her. . Dadi walked beside her, and guided her towards the stairs, saying “chaliye, ab aap seedhe oopar jake leyt jaaiyye”

As she reached the bottom step, she stopped and looked up helplessly. The staircase looked as high as a mountain in her exhausted state; she didn’t know if she could manage it and wasn’t sure where to go if she did make it to the top. Did Maan want her in his room or was she going to have another room?

As she stood there, she felt herself being lifted again. Maan silently started making his way up the stairs.

Geet couldn’t stop herself—she rested into the usual position she took when he carried her; her head on his shoulder, her hand resting over the comforting beat of his heart. Soothed by the familiarity of it all, she fell asleep.

When she woke, she was lying on a bed in a darkened room. She moved her hand and found it trapped; as she looked up she found Maan asleep, sitting in a chair next to her bed with his hand gripping hers, his lips caressing her hand even as he slept.

The darkness enveloped them both- as she brought her free hand over to touch the stray lock of hair that was lying on his forehead, Maan’s eyes opened and he jerked back. Looking at the clock, he stood up and said “Shaam hogayi hai Geet, kuch khalo nahin to raat mein uthogi. Mein Nakul se kehdeta hoon” As he said this, he turned and walked out of the room, leaving her with a hundred questions buzzing round her head.

She gingerly stood up, switching on the bedside lamp as she did- she was surprised and relieved to see that she was in Maan’s room.

She felt sticky and uncomfortable—though she had bathed in the hospital, she thought she could still smell the antiseptic that had permeated the atmosphere in the hospital; she decided to bathe again, but wasn’t sure what she could wear afterwards.

She turned towards the fitted wardrobes, remembering that Maan had some loose cotton kurta’s she could wear—she was shocked when she opened a door and found a whole range of female clothing, all of which looked to be in her size and of the styles she preferred. There was even a selection of nightgowns, and as she pulled open a drawer, she found at least 30 lingerie sets, all in her size.

Tears sprang to her eyes as she realised someone had taken the time and trouble to get these all ready whilst she was in hospital—she’d had very few clothes made before the wedding, despite Maan’s objections and orders; she’d been anticipating needing maternity clothes not these beautiful outfits.

At the thought of not needing maternity clothes, the ready tears sprang to her eyes again; not wanting to be caught crying she turned and made her way to the shower, taking with her one of the nightgowns.

Standing in the shower, she wept; she sometimes thought that the tears would never end, that the pain would overwhelm her. However, after a time, she realised that she couldn’t just stand there all night. She took a breath, lifted her face to the water and let the spray wash away the saltiness.

She washed her hair with difficulty, her arms still stiff and painful- then stepped out and dried herself then dressed herself in the gown.

Her skin felt rough, and as she looked around she realised that a range of feminine toiletries were sitting in the cabinet; as she took a little moisturiser onto her hand just to apply to her arms and legs, she looked and realised that every feminine requirement had been thought of. Not having had to think about any of these practicalities since she arrived in Delhi (pregnancy had some benefits), she blushed, realising that Maan must know these things were here; despite the closeness they’d established in the time prior to the wedding, they had still maintained their own space so this was the first time her things mingled with his, the first time she realised the intimacy of sharing living space with a man. Well, she had every right to have her things in his suite-she was his wife, whether he wanted her on not- though she didn’t think there was actually any danger of him not wanting her.

As always, her thoughts circled back to the strange limbo that Maan and she were existing in. The loss of their baby had broken something in both of them, something that needed to be mended before they could move forward. If only she knew what it was, she could start fixing things, but for that she needed to make Maan talk to her.

Suddenly exhausted, she made her way back to the bed and lay down, making sure she lay in reach of where the chair was placed.

There was a knock at the door and Dadi walked in followed by Nakul carrying a tray or something that smelled divine.

Suddenly aware that she actually was hungry, for the first time in a long time Geet smiled.

“Chaliye Geet, bas ye khalijiye aur phir sojayein, abhi aap ko bahut aaraam ki zaroorat hai, Doctor ne poori instructions hamein dedeen hai. Aap bilkul hamari baat maanengi to jald se jald theek hojayengi. Phir aap ko sochna padega, kya aap office wapis jaana pasand karengi, ya phir kuch aur karna pasand karengi, koi study ya aur hobby.”

She sat in the chair next to the bed, inwardly wondering why it was there. Savitri watched as Geet ate a little soup and toast, wondering what to say.

“Geet beta, main yeh nahin chahti ke aap yeh sochein ke aap ne kuch ghalat kiya, ya yeh sochein ke aap ki koi ghalti thi iss mein” she began hesitantly. “Hamare saath bhi aisa kuch hua tha, hamari pehli pregnancy mein yahi hua tha. Hum bahut roye the, aur hamare pati to uss zamane ke mard the, unhein to rona nahin aata tha to humne sab akele bardaasht kiya. Ab, itne saalon baad hamein abhi bhi yaad hai aur abhi bhi dard hota hai.

Magar Geet, humein aage badhna pada, peeche mudhmudh kar to nahin jeesakte the, aur ab aap ko bhi aage badhna padega. Yeh jo gham hai, shayad poori tarhase sirf ek aurat hi samajh sakti hai, magar sabse zaroori cheez yahi hai ke aap ye samajhlein ke aap ki kisi ghalti ki wajha se yeh nahin hua. Yeh ek aisi cheez hai jiski koi wajha nahin hoti, koi zimmedaar nahin hota hai. Oopar wale ne chaha to aage jaake Maan aur aap maa baap zaroor banenge.

Magar jab tak aap ko hamari zaroorat hai, agar aap ko kabhi ek aurat ke kandhe ki zaroorat ho, agar aap koi aisi dil ki baat kehna chahein jo aap Maan se nahin keh sakteen, to yaad rakhiyega ke humne aap ko apni bahu nahin apni beti maana hai. Jab bhi hamari zaroorat ho, hum yaheen hain.”

Having said her piece, Savitri rang the bell she’d brought with her, calling Nakul back in. As Nakul carried the tray away, Savitri stood and leaned over, wiping the tears running down Geet’s cheeks “Sab dil ki bhadaas nikaal do, Geet, sab gham bahado—yeh aansoo ek din to kam hojayenge, ek din aap ko phir muskurana yaad aayega. Haunsla rakho bete” She gently lay her hand on Geet’s head and then turned and walked out of the room.

Geet wept for a time, but strangely it was as if Dadi’s words had touched something deep inside her, reminding her of her decision to carry on, to try and pick up the pieces of her life the way she always did. The pain of her loss was still there, still sharp and keen, but the fresh edge had dulled to a blunter ache.

As she drifted off to sleep, her last thought was of Maan—where was he, would he come back to their room tonight. Would she wake again to find that he’d filled her maang with sindoor, and what would it mean if he did?

She woke the next morning, for the first time in weeks feeling refreshed after a nights sleep. She knew she was alone the moment she woke, but there as a hint of Maan’s presence in the air, a suggestion that he’d been in the room.

She put her hand to her forehead, and gave thanks when she looked at her fingers and saw that they had been stained red..

As long as he couldn’t break this connection between them, she had some hope that she could get him to talk to her, find out what she had done, find out why he had retreated from her.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

That had been 6 weeks ago, Geet thought as she sat in the rocking chair in the outhouse.

Over the last 6 weeks, she’d seen Maan only briefly though they slept in the same room every night. He still slept in the chair, holding her hand- on a few occasions, she had woken to find an impression next to her, or one of his hair on her pillow, but he never spent time alone with her whilst she was awake. He constantly used Dadi as a shield.

Over the last 6 weeks, he’d cut down on his office hours, and was normally home in time for dinner. He even managed to talk to her, simple impersonal conversations that gave no hint of his emotions, conversations that never allowed her to ask him anything about what was going on between them.

He gave her every material thing she could possibly want, most of which she had never even dreamed of or asked for- but didn’t give her the one thing she really wanted; a hint of what was going on inside him.

They’d even been out (of course with Dadi present) to a major business dinner. She’d worn a sari chosen by Dadi with some khaandaani jewellery; for the first time in a long time she’d felt beautiful. However, if she’d been hoping for some response from him, she got none. He’d walked away from her to get changed, returning some time later. When Dadi had asked why he had taken so long, he explained that he’d had to take a business phone call!

(Maan remembered that night too—remembered he’d stopped breathing when he saw her, remembered holding his breath until he felt dizzy, then mumbling something as he walked towards the room he used as a home office. He took a shower there, standing under the icy cold water, forcing his unruly body into submission. He reminded himself that he had no right to look at her, to touch her, reminded himself that he’d already hurt her enough, had done nothing but hurt her since he met her. After standing under the cold water till he was shivering, he remembered dressing in the sherwani Dadi had selected, and making his way down to where his wife waited for him. The moment he saw her again, it was as if he was bewitched by her beauty- he stood there until Dadi noticed him then stepped forward. His remembered his hands aching to touch her, to caress her, to claim her—even to simply put his arm around her waist as they walked to the door. But he hadn’t—hadn’t done any of the things he longed to do.)

Geet remembered that night. Maan had taken the shimmering stole from Nakul and draped it over her shoulders; she thought she felt his fingers graze her shoulders, but the sensation was so light that she couldn’t be sure whether she’d just imagined it. He’d been about to walk to the door when Dadi said “Arre Geet, aapne maang nahin bhari. Ek minute—waise to mein in sab cheezon ki qayal nahin hoon, magar aap logon ki abhi nayi nayi shaadi hui hai; aap to chuda bhi nahin pehnti hain, thoda sindoor bhi nahin hoga to log baate banayenge. Nakul, zara sindoor to layyiye.”

They’d stood there, frozen in a strange tableau—Maan and Geet both in black and red, Savitri in white. When Nakul came down with the sindoor in his hand, Maan had stepped forward as if compelled. He’d taken the case from Nakul and opened it, and taken a pinch. Dadi had turned away for a moment to give Nakul instructions about something, leaving Maan and Geet with the illusion of momentary isolation. She looked at his hand, then at him—for once he met her eyes and they stood there, trapped in each other’s gazes. The silent communications between them were as clear as ever—she read every iota of torment he was suffering, the self loathing that she couldn’t understand, as well as the helpless love he could not hide. He read her loneliness, her longing for him, read the fact that her love for him had not diminished yet.

For a moment, he wavered- almost reached out to her, almost grabbed her by the hand the way he used to and dragged her off to their room- he even started to put his hand on hers.

Then he stopped (he’d been assaulted by a memory of the way she had looked in that hospital bed, how fragile she looked even now but she wasn’t to know that).

He changed the direction of motion of his hand—placed the sindoor in her maang and then turned away.

She almost said something, then realised they were not alone; the moment passed as Dadi turned back and said “ab hum chalein? Lagaliya sindoor Geet, good—I don’t expect you to follow all these traditions all the time, but some of these women can be very catty, aur mein nahin chahti ke koi bekaar it baat kare”

That night, they must have seemed the dream couple to anyone looking at them. The paparazzi took photo after photo of them, until Maan’s ferocious stares convinced them that enough was enough. Maan stood close enough to her to give the appearance of touching her, only she was aware of the way he kept a space between them. His arm appeared to be round her waist- only she was aware of the distance he maintained. He guided her through the crowd, standing back as she was stopped by one society matron after another, but ever present in case she needed him.

When the time came for the dancing, she saw him whisper something in Dadi’s ear; a few seconds later Dadi stood from her seat saying “Geet bete, agar aap zyada bura na maane to kya hum ghar chalsakte hain, hum bahut thak gaye”.

Acquiescing silently, Geet stood too, finding Maan standing behind her as she turned. They walked out together, and drove home—Maan took the wheel himself, gesturing to the driver to take the passenger seat. When they arrived home, the driver got out to open the door for Dadi and Geet, but Maan stayed in the car. As soon as the two women were out, Maan drove off leaving Geet staring after the car in frustration. She fell asleep waiting for him to return.

That night passed like every other night, as had all the nights since.

“Bas, bahut hochuka, ab bas”

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

That night, when Maan reached home, he was exhausted and wanted nothing more than the sanctuary of their room. Though he wouldn’t allow himself to trouble Geet in any way, just being in her presence, just being able to hold her hands in his was enough to give him temporary peace.

There were times when he just wanted to fall to her feet and beg for forgiveness, and hope that she would give him another chance. The nights when she had nightmares were in some ways the ones he dreaded the most. He could never stop himself from climbing into bed with her, from cradling in his arms and soothing away her night terrors. Every time he took her in his arms, he was assailed by memories of their one night together, of every time he had ever held her in his arms, of how their bodies still fit together as if they were two halves of one whole. Every time he held her, he weakened, kissing her hair gently, sometimes allowing himself to kiss her forehead. He almost always woke that morning feeling that they could fix everything, that they could be together again.

And then he would remember exactly how he had hurt her, how many times she had taken him back, how many ways she had forgiven him; remembering that, the strong MSK who terrified some of the hardest businessmen in Delhi was himself scared at the thought that she would finally reject him and decide to leave him forever—he always decided it was better to continue in this limbo for a while longer, to give Geet more time to forgive him.

Tonight, all he wanted was to reach their room and breathe in her scent, gain momentary peace.

As he climbed the stairs, he imagined what it would be like to be happy again, to be free of this crushing burden of guilt, to not know that he was the reason that Geet had lost their child.

He knew that she’d lost the child, their child because of his initial (hidden) wish that the baby didn’t exist. His love for the baby had taken a long time to develop; he’d initially hated it as a sign of Geet’s having once belonged to someone else, then as the reason that she wouldn’t commit to him, then hated it as the constant reminder that the brother he’d raised and loved almost as a son was a lying cheating toad. His final reason for hating it was the one he felt the most guilty about—he’d resented having to share Geet’s love, resented the knowledge that she would always choose the baby over him. He’d never had anyone who he adored as much as he adored Geet, and the knowledge that her love would never be exclusively his had driven him mad for days. The week they’d been apart had been the worst- he’d blamed the baby for being the reason Geet wanted to prove her independence and wished that it would just vanish. When she’d come back to him, the wish for the child to vanish had lessened, but even then it hadn’t gone. He’d made sure she saw the doctor not to ensure the child’s health but purely to look after Geet; he would have done anything to ensure she stayed with him, even accept another man’s child.

But within days, his love had grown more secure, and he’d realised that love was infinite; just because she loved the baby didn’t mean she loved him any less—with time, his love for the child had grown and on the night he’d first filled her maang with blood, he’d been protecting the child he thought of as his as much as he had been claiming Geet as his wife. When he told her that night that the child was his responsibility as much as his, when he had laid his hand on the gentle swell of her belly- he’d meant it. He wanted that child more than anything—a living breathing part of his beloved, another part of her to love and cherish, another person with whom he could be the real MSK and not have to maintain the facade he showed the rest of the world.

In the month of their quasi-engagement, they’d laughed and planned, talked about what they would do as parents, debated names and schools. He’d developed the habit of lying with his head on her belly, talking to the baby as if it could hear him. She’d fall asleep with him lying there, and he’d whisper to the baby, telling it how much he loved its’ mother, how much he would pamper it. He’d whispered that he would love it the way his parents never loved him, would make sure that the child KNEW that it was loved and wanted. He’d hoped that the depth of his love would erase the memory of his initial hatred.

On their wedding night, as he’d bared Geet to his eyes, as he’d kissed her and caressed her- he remembered laying an almost reverential kiss on the swell of her belly, remembered the way he’d kissed the tears from her cheeks a moment later.

That had been before the passion had overwhelmed them, before they’d gone on a journey so intense that he’d never experienced anything like it before.

He knew that he should never have been so physically demanding but the long suppressed needs of both his body and hers had reigned supreme. Geet had been far from a shy bride, the long hours they’d spent together removing any inhibitions she might have otherwise had.

She had been as involved as he had, but it was still his fault- he was the experienced one, the one who should have been able to restrain himself. But he hadn’t, he’d been unable to stop himself from taking his fill of Geet and imprinting himself onto Geet’s soul and body as much as possible.

And somewhere in that long passion filled night, he’d done something that had hurt the child, done something that hurt Geet, something that led to a wish being fulfilled that he’d long wished erased from his memory.

When he’d received the phone call the next day telling him that Geet was in hospital, his world had collapsed. He’d known that he didn’t deserve such happiness, but he hadn’t imagined that life would rip his happiness away from him so quickly and brutally.

His memories of those initial days were hazy; he remembered weeping, raging, fighting; he remembered breaking down in Dadi’s arms when the doctors had said that Geet was finally out of danger.

He did remember how Geet had reacted when she saw him—she had lain there and just looked at him, without a single indication that she needed him or his support.

His next memory was of the way she cried when she saw the sindoor he’d been unable from stopping himself from putting on her. She’d washed away the sign of his love and cried because he’d put it there- could there have been any clearer indication that she blamed him for the loss of her child.

He’d decided then to give her time, to not pester her, to make no demands from her till she had forgiven him. The only thing he had been unable to stop himself from doing was putting the sindoor in her maang every night as she slept; the fact that she never asked him to stop the only sign he had that she might forgive him some day.

It was getting more and more difficult to hold himself apart from her- with every day that passed he was going a little more insane. His body was covered in bruises and cuts, mute testament to the daily physical abuse he subjected himself to in an attempt to tire himself out enough so that he could sleep.

Perhaps it was time, he thought, perhaps the time had come to talk to her, to ask her if they could try again. He was willing to promise anything, accept any punishment she deemed necessary, if only she would give him another chance.

As he reached to top of the stairs, he noticed that the door to their room was open. He walked in then stopped as he found the room empty.

For a moment, his heart stopped. As the ground seemed to tremble beneath his feet, only one thought kept going through his mind—she’d left him.

He stepped forward, with no thoughts in his head except to run away and hide; to go away and lick his wounds until he could think about where he might find her.

A flash of light from the bed caught his eye- he looked down and found Geet’s sindoor case sitting on a piece of paper.

Picking both up, he walked to the window to read what was written on the paper. It was a single line

“agar aap ko meri talash hai, to mein aapko apne maiyke mein miloongi”

As Maan felt his heart restart and felt the strength flow back to his limbs, he realised that Geet had given him another chance.

With both note and sindoor case in his hand, he walked out of their room stopping only to retrieve something from the safe.

As he walked into the outhouse, a string of memories ran through his head- the first night they had spent there together, the first time he had cooked for her, the nights she’d spent nestling in his arms, the time he’d seen her wearing a dress for the first time- there were so many moments they had spent in this house together.

He climbed the stairs and knocked on her door, waiting for her to answer. When she opened the door, he was momentarily stunned; she stood there wearing the same green salwar qameez she’d worn on her first day at KC.

“Geet” he started, then stopped, unsure how to proceed.

She held up her hand in a gesture her recognised “Pehle aap ko meri baat sunni hogi”

He followed her in to the room and watched as she turned and stood at the window, looking out at the moon-kissed garden.

“Maan, humara kya rishta hai? Meri samajh mein nahin aaraha hai ke aap kya chahte hain, ke aap ne hamare liye aage kya socha hai. Hum aise to nahin rehsakte hain, iss aadhe adhoore rishte mein.

Mein soch soch ke thak gayi hoon ke ye sab kyun hogaya, aap mujhse itni door kyun chale gaye.

Mere paas koi jawab nahin hai, mein samajh nahin payi hoon ke yeh kyun hogaya. Agar mujhse koi ghalti hogayi, agar iss shadi se aap khush nahin hain to aap mujhe abhi batadein- hum aaj hi yeh dhong khatam kardete hain. Agar aap ko yeh pareshani hai ke mein aap ko bacche nahin de paoongi, to woh bhi aap mujhe aaj batadijiye; magar jo bhi baat hai woh aap ko aaj kehni hogi.

Aap roz raat ko chhup ke meri maang bharte hain; aaj raat agar aap meri maang mein sindoor bharna chahte hain to aapko pehle mujhe jawaab dena hoga. Agar aap ko yeh haq chahiye to aaj khullam khulla izhaar karna hoga ke aap kya chahte hain. Maine aap se kabhi koi baat zyada der tak nahin chupayi, to aaj bhi nahin chupati. Main ab bhi aap ko itna hi chahti hoo n, mein hamesha chahti rahoongi. Agar aap mujhe ab nahin chahte, agaar aapko meri kamzori se ghin aati hai, to yeh meri qismat hai, magar aap mere liye hamesha se sab kuch hain aur rahenge. Magar mein yeh aadhi zindagi aur bardasht nahin karsakti. Agar hum saath rahenge to poori tarha se saath rahenge, nahin to mein aaj hi yahan se chalijaaongi. Magar aaj yeh faisla hoke rahega ke aaj ke baad humara rishta kya hai”

Having been unable to face him whilst she bared her soul to him, she waited thirty seconds before she turned to face him, unnerved by his lack of response.

She saw him sitting on the bed, hiding his face in his hands. As she took a step towards him, he looked up and she saw that his eyes were wet with suppressed tears. Their eyes met and it was as if the floodgates opened; their silent communication system came back online with a vengeance. Weeks of suppressed emotions flowed between them as they stood trapped in each others eyes, all the love and sadness, all the loneliness and despair, every answer that she had demanded was there in his eyes. But she needed him to say it, needed the words for once.

“Geet, tumne yeh kaise socha ke tumhari koi ghalti hai, ke tumse koi ghalti hui hai. Tum kamzor kahan ho, tumhari kisi baat se mujhe ghin kaise aasakti hai. Agar hamare kabhi koi bhi bacche nahin hue to mujhe koi farq nahin padta, mujhe sirf tumhari zaroorat hai. Tumse koi ghalti nahin hui hai, ghaltiyaan to sab meri hain; hamesha ki tarha meri wajha se tumhein kitne dukh sehna pade hain. Tumne hamara baccha meri wajha se khoya, magar tum phir bhi mujhe maaf karrahi ho, mein kitna khushnaseeb hoon.

Main aaj tumse bheek maangne aaya tha, ke mujhe ek mauqa aur dedo, tumhein khush karne ka, ek mauqa aur dedo yeh dikhane ka ke mein tumhe kitna chahta hoon. Aur tumne aise hi mujhe maaf kardiya.

Main wada karta hoon Geet, tumhe kabhi phir koi dukh nahin doonga, tumhe koi bhi dukh pahunchane se pehle mein apne haath kaatdoonga magar tumhe kabhi koi dukh nahin hone doonga. Mein kabhi tumhe phir koi chot nahin pahunchaoonga.”

He stood up and walked towards her, taking her hands in his.

“Maan, meri kuch samajh mein nahin aaraha hai aap kya kehrahe hain—aap ne mujhe kab dukh diya, kaunsi chot ki baat karrahe hain”

“Meri wajha se hamara baccha khoya tumne, kya yeh chot nahin thi? I was so demanding that night, I should have been more gentle- if I had been more restrained none of this would have happened. Yeh sab meri wajha se hua Geet, tum mujhe kaise maaf karsakti ho”

Geet was suddenly filled with anger. “Aap itne dinon se yeh sochrahe hain, ke yeh aap ki wajha se hua hai. Aapne itne dinon tak mujhe akele choda, jab mujhe aap ki zaroorat thi, aap ke sahare ki zaroorat thi, sirf isliye. Arre ek dafa mujhe se pooch to liya hota, doctor se pooch to liya hota. Iss mein aap ki koi ghalti nahin thi. Maine doctor se yahi poocha tha, ussne kaha ke iss mein hamari koi ghalti nahin thi” She was suddenly crying, pounding her fists on his chest “Maan aap ne mujhe akele kyun choda, mujhe aap ki itni zaroorat thi, aapne to mujhe bilkul besahara choddiya tha. Maine to apne bacche ke saath saath aap ko bhi khodiya tha, kya aap ko koi andaza hai aapne iss tarha mujhe kitna dard diya hai”

Weeping, she grasped his shirt and said “aap mujhe kabhi phir akele mat chodna, main aap ke bina nahin jeena chahti hoon”

He raised his hands to cover hers “mujhe maaf kardo Geet, maaf kardo. Mujhe laga ke tumhein pata hai ke yeh sab meri wajha se hua hai. Aaj jab sab dil ki baatein bata rahe hain to mera ek aur sach jaanlo, isse pehle ke tum mujhe poori tarha se maaf kardo”

He looked down at where he was holding her hands and said “Geet, jab tumne mujhe bacche ke barey mein pehle bataya to mujhe uss bacche se nafrat thi- aur bahut dinon tak rahi. Magar jiss din se maine tumhe apni biwi banaya, uss din se maine tumhara bacche ko bhi apnaya-magar main ab tak apne aap ko nahin maaf karsaka hoon ke maine ek masoom se kabhi nafrat kaise ki. Mujhe pata nahin ke tum mujhe kaise maaf karogi”

“Main jaanti hoon ke aap mere bacche ko bahut chahte the. Aap iss bat ke liye mut dosh deejiye ke aap ke dil mein kya tha—kya aap ko ye lagta hai ke mere dil mein kabhi yahi khayaal nahin aaya. Jab mein Brij se bhaag rahi thi, jab meri samajh mein yeh nahin aaraha tha ke mein aap ko kaise bataoon, kya aap ko lagta hai ke mere dil mein yeh khayal nahin aaya ke kaash ye baccha nahin hota. Yeh to hona hi tha. Jab mere bachhe se mujhe chund lamhon ke liye nafrat hosakti hai, to main aap ko kaise koi dosh de sakti hoon ke aap ko kisi aur ki nishani se waqti nafrat hosakti hai. Mujhe to yeh sochke khushi hoti hai ke aap ke dil mein uskeliye pyar paida hogaya tha, aur main jaanti hoon ke uske jaane se aap ko itna hi dukh hua hai jitna mujhe.

Magar aap mujhe kabhi phir akele mat chodna, kabhi nahin. Aap samajh nahin sakte ke maine yeh hafte kaise mar mar ke guzaare hain. Aap hamesha yeh kehte hain na, ke main aap se kuch bhi kehsakti hoon, to yeh bhi sach hai ke aap mujhe se kuch bhi kehsakte hain. Bas wada kijiye, aap mujhe kabhi phir aise akele nahin chodenge”

As he put his arms around her and held her close, she kept whispering “kabhi mujhe phir mat chodna”

As he stood there, his entire world held in his arms, he couldn’t believe how he had ever though he would be able to stay away from her. “Geet mujhe maaf kardo, mein paagal hogaya tha, tumhein hospital mein dekhke paagal hogaya tha. Main tumhe kabhi nahin chodoonga, mein tumhein apne se door kabhi nahin hone doonga”

Such emotional intensity cannot be sustained for long, and after a few moments she drew away. “Maan aap kab se theek se nahin soye hain, aur ab bhi dekhiye, thakan ke maare aap se khada bhi nahin hoya jaraha hai. Aaj to mere saath yahan solijiye. Hum aur sab baatein kal karlenge.”

As they reached the bed, he noticed the sindoor case he’d left there earlier. He bent and picked it up; as she looked at him questioningly he opened the case and took a hefty pinch of sindoor. When she realised what she was doing, the ready tears sprang to her eyes again, and she slightly bent her head to allow him easy access. As she felt his fingers stroke her forehead, then felt the gentle kiss he placed where the sindoor started, she moved into his arms and held him; his arms came around her and they just stood there, reaffirming the bond that had been shaken.

She drew back and pushed him gently onto the bed, encouraging him to lie back, then climbed in next to him, taking the position that came naturally with her head lying over his heart. As his arms encircled her, they both drifted off to sleep, exhausted by the emotional outburst they’d both experienced.

A few hours later, Geet woke with the feeling that someone was watching her. She opened her eyes and saw her husband lying next to her, his fingers gently stroking her head, his shirt open to the waist. She looked at him, suddenly aware that they were alone in bed. She gently moved closer to him and placed a kiss over his heart- thrilling at the sharply indrawn breath. She repeated her action, only to feel his fingers tangle in her hair and pull her head back so that he could look into her eyes. Silently, he asked whether she was sure, silently she answered yes.

As he lowered his lips to hers, her hands reached up to stroke his bare chest, his shoulders- she felt his other hand find the zip of her qameez and draw it down. As he drew the qameez down her shoulders and arms, following the path of the cloth with his lips.

She gasped as she felt the scrape of his beard on her belly; she entangled her fingers in his hair as she felt his kiss just above her kamarband.

He looked up at her once more, taking permission- when he saw the look in her eyes, he smiled and undid the kamar band, then slid the salwar down her legs. As he came up the bed, he shucked off the jeans he’d already undone, leaving them finally bare.

As she came into his arms and felt his lips descend on hers, she knew that things would be okay, that they could get through anything together.
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Sometime later, as she lay replete in his arms, her hand making lazy circles on his chest, she said seriously “Maan, don’t ever leave me again, mein phir ye bardaasht nahin karpaaoongi. Aap ko wada karna padega, aap mujhe phir kabhi akele nahin chodenge.”

“Geet, I won’t, I’ve realised ke main tumhare baghair zinda nahin hota hoon. Main wada karta hoon ke main phir tumhein nahin chodoonga”

The declaration felt like a vow and she smiled as she kissed his chest in acknowledgment.

“Geet” she heard the smile in his voice “agar tumne yeh phir shuru kiya to tumhari neend bahut kharab hojayegi”

“maine kya kiya,” she asked innocently “aur waise bhi, chaand ki itni roshni aarahi hai, ke mujhe neend kahan aasakti hai—agar aap ko sona hi hai to aap pehle uthke yeh khidki to band kardein”

He laughed and disentangled himself from her “Uss chand se to hum ne kuch nahin chhupaya, ab uss bechare ko bahar band karrahi ho, chalo theek hai. Magar iss chand se kya kya chhupaogi”

As he spoke, he bent down to retrieve his trousers and delved into the pocket. He took out a platinum chain with a locket attached and showed it to her. It was a full moon, with every flaw and mountain perfectly depicted. On the back, in tiny script was written “Har subha tum se shuru, har raat tum pe khatam- Maan ki Geet.”

“Maine socha apni birthday pe main apni jaan ko ek tohfa doon. Ab tum rona mat, mere paas rumaal ab nahin hai” he laughed as he placed the necklace round her neck. He kissed the nape of her neck where the lock of the chain rested, then turned her towards him and kissed the tears from her cheeks and her eyes.

As she lifted her lips to his, she smiled, finally content. There would still be battles to fight and storms to weather but as long as they were together, they could defeat any obstacle- for Maan was Geets and Geet was Maans and that was the way it was meant to be.