9: Stoking the Flames
While sitting in the back seat of the car on the way back home Shantanu looked out of the window at the rain drenched city that was winding down after a long day. It had been a similar day that had brought Khanak in to his life and today when he felt almost certain that he wanted her to stay for keeps, it was raining again. It must be a good omen he thought with a smile though he had never considered himself superstitious. Yet now he was willing to believe in anything.
He mused over what had transpired in the clinic. Meeting Khanak on an equal footing (even though he had to concoct an excuse to see her) had injected into him a tremendous zest for life. He felt invigorated and steeped in enthusiasm for the future that so far had seemed bland and quite ambiguous. Now all his doubts had vanished. They had been replaced with an immense tenderness and ardor for her so much that he wanted to take her in his arms and cherish and shield her from all the miseries of the world.
He was sure the feeling was mutual. He had seen it in her eyes though she had tried to conceal it under a veneer of anger and irritation. She seemed tentative and he understood why and respected it. But at the same time he wanted to break her resolve and that had to be pretty soon. Now that he was sure of his feelings, he couldn’t wait to take it to the limit and make her his.
He removed the piece of paper she had given him and read it. He blinked and read it again then began laughing so loud that he woke Megha who had fallen asleep.
He patted her on the head, “I’m sorry honey. Thank you for being who you are. Your Dad and Mom are so lucky to have you; they just don’t know it yet.”
By the time Khanak had gathered enough fortitude to step out of the clinic she was still trembling like a leaf. Shaan had managed to shake the foundations of her very existence. She saw her carefully planned world standing upended in front of her. She would have never believed she would react this way in a man’s presence before. She thought it occurred only in the cheap romantic novels that had been her staple diet like that of any other teenage girl in school. ‘Two can play this game my dear. Soon my ache will become yours.’ She could already feel those words ringing true. It hurt to think he had been so close to kissing her. Maybe then she would have lost herself forever.
Why was he torturing her in such a manner? What was he trying to prove? It was obvious he was not indifferent to the fact that girls found him irresistible and he could have his pick so why had he decided to go to such lengths to pursue her. Their backgrounds and ideologies were so completely different. She belonged to a middle class family who could never hope to achieve anything without a struggle. That word probably was not found in his dictionary. She stood awhile in the rain hoping to douse the flame of passion he had aroused in her. The emotion scared her. She was afraid of change.
Fool! She chided herself. He is just playing the field and testing his prowess on the likes of you. They say that men find strong women attractive and challenging. Yes, that’s it. For him I’m simply a challenge.
But then why would he use Megha as a tool? Obviously he loved her a lot. No he was too much of a gentleman to stoop so low. I will never forgive him if he did that! Khanak fretted.
Back home, Shaan found Akshay and Dadi anxiously waiting for their return. Khushboo and his mother were at a socialites’ party while his father was out of town on a business trip. Life at home was back to usual except for Akshay who had started keeping closer tabs on his daughter. She had started to exist for him and that pleased Shaan immensely. He only wished that his sister-in-law would also see the light soon and give Megha the love she deserved before she started looking for it elsewhere. The way she had clung to Khanak today was an obvious indication. The child was starved of attention.
“When are you going to introduce us to our new bhabhi Shantanu?”
“What? Has Shaan finally changed his mind about remaining a playboy? Tell me who is this girl who has succeeded in trapping my bachelor boy?”
“Shut up Akshay! I know you like to eat your pizza raw. Dadi yes, someone has succeeded in making me change my mind but she is playing hard to get. Yet I am confident I will win her over. You will be the first to know.”
“I wish you the best beta,” dadi beamed. “The girl must be special.”
Back in the quiet of his room Shaan opened the window and inhaled deeply the scent of the rain drenched earth. He closed his eyes and remembered how vulnerable and childlike Khanak had looked with her wet hair clinging to her scalp and the guileless inquiring look in her eyes. She was just like Megha, only slightly older. A woman like that deserved the very best a man could offer. “Don’t you worry my dear, I will provide you with all that you need. All you have to do is say yes.”
He then walked into the bathroom and took Khanak’s prescription out of his pocket.
Gargle mouth every night with 2 tablespoonful of Dettol for BRAIN CLEANSING! Signed Dr. Khanak Agarwal
Shaan smiled and kissed the piece of paper. He regarded the half empty bottle of Dettol in his medicine cabinet. After some thought he picked it up and unscrewed the cap.
Khanak woke up the next morning feeling like a zombie. Then she almost broke down thinking about her packed schedule. She had returned home very late last night. After driving at a crawl in the flooded streets, her small car had got stuck in a pot hole. Not finding any help at the hour she had finally walked home soaked to the skin and in a very bad mood. And when Palak had teasingly inquired her about her date she had lost her temper and yelled at her and gone to bed with an empty stomach. Then she had tossed and turned all night with Shaan’s parting words ceaselessly replaying in her mind and was almost thankful when the alarm went off at 6 O’clock. But then she started to sneeze.
“Beta you are working too hard. Can you take the day off today?” Her mother had said.
To which she had replied as always; “Ma it’s just a cold though I wouldn’t mind sleeping in. But you know if I do so Dr. Krishnan will be overwhelmed and that won’t be nice.”
When she reached the clinic the secretary informed her cheerfully that all her appointments were booked. “It seems like the busy season has already started. When it rains it pours. Are you feeling okay ma’am?”
“I think I am coming down with a bad cold. It was foolish of me to get drenched in the rain last night;” Khanak couldn’t help a groan.
“I’m so sorry to hear that doctor. You’re working like a slave. What you need is a break so you can relax and have some fun. By the way there’s something from that young man who came to see you last night. It came by courier early this morning and I have placed it on your desk.”
The secretary was pleased to see Khanak rush in to her office. She had got the topic for today’s lunch hour!
Khanak picked up a small box from her desk. The words– Dr. Khanak Agarwal–were inscribed on the lid in a jaunty hand. Inside was an empty bottle of Dettol. Was it some kind of practical joke? She then grew apprehensive thinking of all the terrible things that could happen to Shaan. Then she detected a folded note tucked beneath the bottle. She took it out and opened it slowly—
Scared? That I took my Khanak’s advice to heart?
Oh my innocent love, if you think that a small bottle of poison could have made
even a slight dent in your Shaan’s passion you are mistaken.
In fact, all it did was multiply it a thousand fold.
Now the path in front of me is clear and my destination is you.
May I always be the Man in your dreams.
forever yours, Shaan
PS: Eagerly awaiting your rejoinder. I know you won’t let me down.