2: Another Kind of Love
Shantanu rushed into the huge foyer and saw it quite empty except for his Dadi (grandma) who was trying to console a little girl dressed in pink.
Shantanu looked questioningly at Dadi who looked concerned.
Dadi was Sunil Khandelwaal’s (Shantanu’s father’s) mother. She had been widowed at a relatively young age and had brought up her only son on her own. She was a strong woman with an even stronger personality and no one took her lightly. Shantanu was her favorite grandson and it was obvious that he took after her.
“Shantanu, Megha has been ready and waiting for you here for the past three hours,” Dadi said. “And no matter how many times I reassured her you’d surely come she wouldn’t leave this spot! After all she’s just a child.”
“Yes Dadi. Rest assured it won’t happen again in the future,” Shantanu said before turning to his niece. “Sorry I was a little delayed but our date is still on.”
Megha smiled appearing none the worse for wear, “Chachu I repeated that stupid word at least a hundred times and it didn’t work. Why? Is it because I’m a bad girl?”
“Of course not!” Shantanu chided her playfully. “Sometimes magic can get old and rusty. Next time I promise it’ll work right away. No waiting and no tears.”
“Cross your heart and hope to die?” Megha asked in all seriousness.
“Yes or you will make my cry!” Shantanu laughed. “Shall we leave? We don’t want to miss the beginning.” He clasped Megha’s hand, waved to Dadi and turned to walk out.
“Megha! Shantanu! Where are you going? Hamein nahin bulaya (You didn’t invite me)?” rang out Khushboo bhabhi’s familiar sing song voice that rarely changed its tone and tended to irritate Shantanu a lot.
Khushboo was Shantanu’s beautiful and classy sister-in-law, his brother Akshay’s wife, who carried an air of self-importance about her. People didn’t matter to her. What did was their social status and bank balance and she had the habit of walking around with her nose in the air. So much that Shantanu often wondered if she would run into a wall. What had Akshay bro seen in her that others hadn’t?
“Mom I’m going on a date with Shantanu uncle and you are not invited!” Megha announced gripping Shantanu’s hand tight.
Khushboo looked pityingly at her brother-in-law, “Poor boy. What a sad plight. You just had to ask and I would have hooked you up with some grown-ups.”
“Thanks but no bhabhi. I could never live up to your standards. You would have been embarrassed. Besides, this little girl of yours has an IQ higher than any grown-up you have in mind.”
Khushboo wrinkled her nose, “Oh alright but tell me who on earth would want to talk to a beautiful face? Anyhow, thanks for entertaining Megha. I’m always so entangled with my social obligations.”
Shantanu clicked his heels smartly together and bowed, “It’s my pleasure. Come on Megha let’s go!”
“Where are we going, Chachu?”
“If I tell you, it won’t be a surprise anymore and I know you love surprises.”
After a few minutes–
“Where are we going Chachu?”
“Now now we’re almost there!”
Megha seemed in awe but once they were seated in their own private viewing box she started to chatter excitedly. Shantanu broke out into a laugh then he hugged her tight and said; “The ballet is about to start, watch and listen carefully and don’t speak.”
“Ballet, what’s that?”
“Shhh! Just watch!”
The curtains opened and the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake by the famed Bolshoi Ballet began.
Megha sat up in her seat as the lovely but tragic classic tale unfolded before their eyes. From the beautiful and grand sets of the royal palace to the surreal scenes of the enchanted lake in the forest, where the handsome young prince meets the loveliest Odette who is cursed by the evil sorcerer to be a swan by day and a woman by night. The graceful ballerina held the audience spell bound with her flying leaps and incredible pirouettes.
Shantanu was concerned Megha would be bored but he was happy to see the little girl watching with rapt attention and a smile of bliss on her face. Only toward the end did she turn and hide her face in his jacket scared to see the wicked sorcerer who drove the two lovers to jump to their death. But then she started smiling again when she saw the other swans freed from the curse and the Prince and Odette rise up to heaven. The show ended to a standing ovation and Megha clapped harder than anybody else.
“Would you like some ice cream?” There was a long pause as the little girl seemed lost in a another world. When Shantanu repeated the question she smiled and shook her head; “No chachu lets go home. I want to dream about the Prince and the Swan Princess!”
Shantanu smiled pleased that the outing had turned out to be a success. He then decided to try harder to persuade his brother to spend more time with his child and take her out more often. Akshay would also have a great time and unwind just like he had.
It was raining cats and dogs as Shantanu strapped Megha in the back seat of the car though she wanted to sit in the front next to him. He insisted it was the safest place for kids.
“But don’t you want to be safe too?”
Shantanu laughed as he started to drive slowly peering through downpour, “Then who will do the driving? Besides, I am a grownup and I know how to take care of myself.”
“If you say so. But when I’m bigger I will drive and make you sit in the back so you can be safe too!”
Shantanu wondered at the logic of little children and wished he had never grown up. Then he felt sad thinking about Megha and how she had been left to fend for herself all day instead of spending time with other children and being showered with love by her parents. Why did people have children when they didn’t want to take care of them?
“Chachu I love you!” he heard his niece shout from behind.
“I love you too sweetheart.”
“Don’t get married ever!”
“I have no plans to, but why do you ask Megha?”
“Because then you won’t have time to take me out and I will die of sadness just like that ballerina!”
“No don’t say such things. That was just a play.”
“Chachu look out!”
Shantanu saw blinding lights approaching in the front followed by the sound of screeching breaks, then everything went black.
Dadi: Grandmother (Father’s mother)