“What a sweet boy and so handsome too.”
Khanak kept her gaze trained on the TV seeming intent on the cricket match.
“Khanak I am talking to you!”
Khanak turned to her mother. “What ma? Agreed Sehwag is sweet. But why would you call him handsome? What happened to your standards? Even dad was quite good to look at before he lost all his hair.”
To which she received a nod from Pramod. “Yes. Your mother used to say she married me only because I vaguely reminded her of Warren Beatty. I guess the reason she’s still bearing with me is because now I faintly resemble Yul Brunner. Yes?” he grinned teasingly at his wife who glowered in response.
“You look more like Amrish Puri minus the voice dad. So don’t flatter yourself;” Palak chimed in. “Didi please! Itna bhi bholi mat bano! You know very well who mom is talking about.”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Khanak said trying to maintain a straight face.
“Beta;” Her mother approached her with a smile. “I was talking about you friend, the one you’ve never mentioned; Shantanu. Shantanu Khandelwal. Such a nice boy and so well-mannered too. What do you think Pramod?”
“Huh? Yes, a very nice name;” Pramod mumbled from behind his newspaper.
Khanak’s mouth widened into an indulgent smile. She was relieved her father hadn’t joined the bandwagon yet. Perhaps because he hadn’t yet met Shaan. If he had, he too would likely have joined his fan club of which her mother and Palak had become most ardent members ever since they had returned from the ER two nights ago. Though it took quite a lot to impress her father. He liked to weigh everything in philosophical terms before giving his approval. Perhaps that was why he had managed to pull through most adverse situations with relative ease. Khanak admired that quality in him and tried to apply it when and wherever she could.
But he hadn’t taught her how to shield herself from someone who had managed to infiltrate every part of her being. Shaan had done exactly that. He had invaded and occupied the rational and irrational mind of Dr. Khanak Agarwal. She had lost all control on herself.
What option did one have when every conversation seemed to lead to Mr. Shantanu Omnipotent and Omnipresent Khandelwal?
Her mother said; “Why don’t you eat my child. Look I’ve made your favorite aloo gobhi ki sabzi”
“Mom I’m stuffed, It’s been only two hours since breakfast and you’ve already talking about lunch. Take pity on my stomach.”
Sunita retorted; “the other day you landed in the emergency because I listen to you all the time. No more. Beta Shantanu has advised me to feed you well. I will only heed to his words from now on.”
Palak guffawed: “Maa why are you calling him beta? Say damaadji. I’ve booked him as my brother-in-law already!”
Khanak fled to her room unable to control the rush of heat to her cheeks. Palak had an uncanny gift of knowing exactly what she was thinking and then liked to blurt it out at the most ill-timed moments causing her terrible embarrassment.
She opened her medicine text book and tried to concentrate on reading the chapter titled Irregular Heart Rhythms upside down. It was a silly thing to do. But she was making an attempt to recruit most of her grey cells. Maybe then she could relegate him to the back of her mind? Just maybe?
But of course it wasn’t to be. The topic was all about the heart beat and its irregularities, a condition she was experiencing now and way too often. Just hearing his name was enough.
She smiled and quit her task and instead pulled out his crumpled note from her purse. She smoothed it out and read it slowly savoring each and every syllable. She sounded out the words in her mind. Then read it aloud as if doing so would make them more true.
“He calls me his Khanak. He’s probably used to having his way. But not with me, he won’t. But it’s hard, so hard to resist. Mr. SK, granted you have a way with words and I really like it.”
She giggled, high on a feeling of excitement and adventure, eagerly waiting for something to happen though unsure of what to expect yet thrilled nonetheless. She carefully placed the note in the book.
Wonder what he is doing now, she thought. He probably wants me to reply to his note. And I haven’t thanked him properly for the other night. But how shall I do it? It will end up sounding inadequate and I’m not as bold as he is!
She pulled out her prescription pad and quickly jotted down what was in her mind before she had a chance to change it. She chose not to mail it but keep it in hand so to give it to him personally if they happened to cross paths again which she suspected and hoped would be soon.
“Hi sweetheart! I’ve been missing you so much! How was school today?” Shaan hauled his little niece on to his lap school bag and all.
Megha ignored his inquiry instead pulled her teddy out of her back pack. “Do you recognize him?”
Shaan’s face assumed a somber expression as he appraised the doll from head to toe. There wasn’t much left of it except a wad of fur that vaguely resembled a stuffed toy.
“Can you see? Teddy is now blind. He can’t smell any food and he is deaf too! I think so though I never found his ears. And he has broken his arm. What will Doctor Aunty say?” Megha cried.
“Aww my little baby. Khanak aunty won’t say anything. Instead she will give you a hug for loving Teddy despite everything.”
Megha vehemently shook her head. “No Teddy is hurt. I know he is though he doesn’t cry like mama does when she breaks a nail. He is brave! But I want him fixed.”
Shaan scratched his chin. “Well…let’s think. What can be done? Maybe I can take him to a toy store and ask them to fix him. I bet they can do it. Or maybe grandma can fix him for you. I know she’s pretty good at sewing and stuff. Perhaps she can give it a shot?”
“No she can’t fix him! He needs an operation!” Megha erupted leaving Shaan momentarily stunned.
“He needs to be treated by a doctor like Doctor Aunty! I’m sure she can take him into her hospital and do an operation on him and he will be fine again!”
Shaan nodded smiling. Megha had taken after her mother when it came to getting what she wanted. It was her way or no way.
“So can you take him to Doctor Aunty and ask her to fix him for me?”
It was not for Shaan to refuse such an opportunity. “I can do that of course! But I don’t know when she will be available…” Shaan wracked his brain feverishly.
“Why don’t we send her an SMS and find out?”
Shaan let out a jubilant whoop. “Megha! You will make your dad proud one day. What a brilliant idea! Let us send one right now!”
As Megha dictated Shaan typed adding his own comments in brackets.
Dear Doctor Aunty! (Dearest Khanak for me)
You are the best! (Of course you are!)
Teddy is broken. Can you fix him for me? (Say yes, stealer of my heart!)
I will send him to you tomorrow. (Via his fav courier 😉
I hope you won’t faint again. (Unless you do so in my arms)
(Meet you at your favorite watering hole tomorrow. Just tell me when and I’ll be there!)