15: Line and Sinker
“Dadi ma I love you so much!” Shantanu exclaimed as he hugged his grandma early the next morning.
“I love you too beta. What’s the matter? What have I done to deserve this special attention?” She asked with a smile.
“Why? Can’t I hug you like Megha does all the time? I’m also your ladla am I not?” Shaan said pretending to look miffed.
“Of course my son, you are just like Megha for me only slightly bigger. I was just asking as I’m not used to being carried around every day!” She said as Shaan had now hoisted her up.
Her grandson laughed. “Sorry. I’m so happy today that I want to tell it to the entire world!”
“Tell what? Please put me down now before I have a heart attack!”
Shan obliged with her instruction then began pacing the floor. “Umm… How do I say it?”
Dadi ma’s astute eyes twinkled. “That you are in love? Don’t hesitate. Just say it son. Get it out from your chest. So when are the wedding bells?”
Shaan turned to her. “I wish I could say that wonderful day is today. But there is a slight problem. The lady won’t accept it and I don’t know how to make her.” He looked miserable.
“Are you sure about her feelings?”
“I think so but I’ve begun to wonder now…” her grandson said collapsing on the settee beside her.
“Why Shaan? Just now you were jumping for joy. Were you not? I’m sure your instincts are correct. No one can resist my Shaan especially no female of the species!” She pinched his cheeks.
“Aww that hurts! You think so? Then why does she not say yes? Women are a puzzle to me.”
“Yes they are like that. Especially the girl you are referring to if my guess is right. Even I took a while before saying yes to your daddoo (grandfather). I guess it’s because we like the chase.”
Her dreamy gaze prompted a smile on Shaan’s lips. “Is that right? You think Khanak is like that? But she seems so twenty first century and outspoken.”
“Yes! I guessed right and I’m so happy for you!” Dadi squealed. “Khanak may be modern in her thoughts and education but inside she is a very traditional young woman. I bet her family is conservative, close knit and very loving and things among them are implied rather than stated. So it must have been quite a shock to her system when you started bombarding her with your attentions.”
“But I can’t play this waiting game Dadi! I want us to be together like right now! Shaan said impatiently.
“You want her to confess?”
“Yes I do.”
“Then maybe I can help? After all your grandma wasn’t born yesterday.”
Khanak’s phone beeped. She ripped it out of her pocket at the same time looking around to assure she was alone.
She blushed when she saw it was Shantanu. Apparently he had decided to send her messages during the day after their conversation last night. But her demeanor turned serious as she read what he had written…
I have a heartfelt request. Dadi has not been feeling well. She has some body ache, cough, fever. And she refuses to come to the hospital. You know how Dadi’s are.
If it’s not much trouble, can you come by later after work and see her? I know it’s asking for a lot but you know she adores you and would follow only your instructions or so she says. Please, just for my sake? I can pick you up.
Khanak’s brow furrowed as her brain formulated the Differential Diagnosis of fever and cough in the elderly. She agreed with Shaan that the grandma’ of the world are not an easy species to handle and that she needed to be seen.
She typed her response and stated she would make the trip on her own (she didn’t want any distractions) and asked him to send her the address.
Khanak was quite weary when she pulled in to the driveway of the big Khandelwal Manor. Not only was it big in size but in taste as well. Khanak appraised it with interest before ringing the doorbell. She received an almost immediate response. Apparently she was being expected. The housekeeper led her into the huge receiving area and called for refreshments. When Khanak expressed her desire to be shown to her patient’s room right away, he asked her to wait while he warned Dadi of her arrival. Khanak acquiesced but was puzzled. Maybe Shaan’s grandma wanted to make herself decent?
“Oh wow look who’s here! The great Dr. Agarwal, the wonder woman who brought our debonair Shaan back to life and who is Megha’s new idol!”
Khanak glanced up to see Shaan’s sister-in-law Khushboo descending the stairs looking impeccable in a lavender sari. She wore a wide smile of surprise and apparent delight on her face but the hint of sarcasm was unmistakable in her voice.
Khanak smiled and extended her hand. “It appears that we’ve never been formally introduced. Please call me Khanak. You must be Khushboo, Megha’s mom.”
Khushboo barely brushed her fingers. “Your fame precedes you. Shaan calls you his savior and Megha walks around hugging the sorry toy you gave her ignoring the hundreds of more expensive ones she has.”
“Aww Megha is sch a sweetheart! She is just like any other child. All she wants is love. She could care less about what a toy costs. It just happened she got the teddy when she was very scared and anxious and it was a source of comfort to her. That’s why she is so attached. She is such a precious child. You are indeed lucky to have her.”
“You think so? I don’t get to spend much time with her. She’s either in school or then with Dadi ma.” Khushboo shrugged her lovely shoulders.
Meanwhile Khanak was getting anxious. Her appointment with Dadi ma was long overdue.
Khushboo though seemed oblivious to Dadi’s condition. She looked intently at Khanak; “By the way what is your opinion about Shaan, my devar?”
Khanak pursed her lips. She was not used to being quizzed in this fashion. That too about somebody who had turned her world topsy turvy. Why was his name on everyone’s lips?
Her inquisitor burst out laughing. “You too! Don’t worry my dear. It happens to every girl who runs into Shaan. They become tongue tied. I’m sorry he didn’t spare you.”
“Since when have you started taking interest in my affairs Boo Bhabhi?”
Khanak heaved a silent sigh of relief. She turned around and saw Shaan striding down the hall looking breath taking in a blue pinstripe shirt and tie. He gave her a reassuringly smile while continuing to address his sister-in-law. “Dr. Agarwal is here to see Dadima who has not been feeling well. In fact, she has gone out of her way to do us this favor as she is so busy dealing with other things.” At that Shaan turned and winked at Khanak that made her blush pink.
“But I didn’t know Dadi was sick. But then no one cares to inform me about anything these days?” Khushboo sighed but continued to watch closely as Shaan led Khanak up the stairs.
Khanak found Dadi alone in her large bedroom. She was lying on the bed with her eyes closed and a handkerchief tied around her head. Khanak sat down beside her and took her hand. It was cool to the touch. Satisfied that she didn’t have a high fever, she asked her to describe her symptoms.
“Khanak beti! Tum aa gayi! I hope you don’t mind calling you by your first name. It is so beautiful. How are you and your family?” Dadi said animatedly.
“They are all doing well. But I heard you were feeling a bit under the weather lately. What’s going on?” Khanak asked with a concerned smile. She was aware that Shaan was standing at the foot of the bed and watching. She wished she could see the expression on his face.
“Oh it’s just some headache, fever, aches and pains that I’ve had for a couple of days. I’m just getting old you see. Shaan just worries about his Dadi too much.” Dadi smiled.
“Don’t ever say you are old. And its Shaan’s duty to worry about your health.” Khanak said and decided that Dadi didn’t look seriously ill at all. She then quickly examined her while asking her a few key questions, impressing both her and Shaan with her efficiency and bedside manners. Dadi appeared to be in near perfect health which puzzled Khanak. At one time she even thought she saw Dadi wink at Shaan or was it something she had imagined?
“Grand Dadi ma! Here I’m back as I promised. I finished all my homework!” Megha squealed as she ran into the room.
Then seeing Khanak there and Dadi on the bed, she stopped in her tracks and her mouth opened wide. “Hi Doctor Aunty. Why are you here?”
“Hi precious! I just came to see Dadi because she was feeling sick.” Khanak said as she gave Megha a hug and lifted her up.
“But Dadi ma was fine earlier. She had worked in the garden all day but even then she agreed to play hide and seek with me. Does she have a Headache?”
Khanak looked from Megha to Dadi and then to Shaan who was staring out the window.
Dadi smiled guiltily. “You know Megha, I can never refuse to play with you. And Khanak, as soon as I saw you, all my aches and pains flew out the window. I think I should somehow get you to stay with me in this house permanently. What do you say, Shantanu?”
“I couldn’t agree more Dadi ma.” Shaan said as a wicked grin spread on his face.
Khanak scrambled to her feet. “Megha your Grand Dadi ma is doing great and I bet she can play hide and seek with you again. I think I should leave now. Call me if you have any problems.”
“Thank you Khanak beta, you are a blessing. Shaan could you attend to our guest please?”
Shaan hurried after Khanak as she briskly climbd down the stairs then rushed out of the door to her car. “Hey what’s the hurry? Wow! Cute is the word!”
“What?” Khanak turned around. She didn’t know what to feel; angry or amused.
“I mean your ride. Though it doesn’t fit even the slightest with your personality.” he said lounging against her Nano.
“What do you mean, it doesn’t fit my personality?”
“Well its small and cute, while you are… Overpowering. I would expect you to drive a Hummer or something similar.”
“What! You think I’m like a bulldozer? How dare you? Make a fool of me, bring me here on false pretenses and then proceed to make fun of me!” Khanak’s cheeks burned red.
Shaan stood up straight and approached her. “I’m so sorry but I was desperate to see you again. Please forgive me. Say that you forgive your Shaan?”
Khanak began to tremble. His mere presence was wreaking havoc on her composure. Her legs had turned to jelly. She leaned back on the bonnet of her car for support and he took the opportunity to draw even closer. He hedged her in by putting his hands on either side of her body, blocking all avenues of escape. But she didn’t want to escape anymore. She stared hypnotized into the chocolate brown of his irises.
“Chaachu, what are doing to doctor aunty?”
The spell broke. Khanak felt relieved and yet disappointed. Her companion swung around guiltily to face his neice who was standing near the side entrance of the house. She was staring at them curiously while clutching what appeared to be a rag doll in one hand. She looked at Khanak. “Can you give teddy back to me on my birthday? Is he alright?”
“Oh yes he’s fine. Your Birthday…how wonderful. When is it?”
“It’s tomorrow.” Megha said with a toothy grin.
“Oh no. It’s not tomorrow, its next week my dearest.” Shaan laughingly shook his head.
“Oh I thought daddy said it was tomorrow and we’re having a party. You will come won’t you Doctor Aunty?”
“Uh… I have to check my schedule.” Khanak smiled.
“You have to come! All the people who love me are coming! Don’t you love me, Doctor Aunty?” Megha seemed close to tears.
“Of course, I do sweetie! Who could not love you? And please call me Khanak.” Khanak drew the little girl into a hug.
“Do you love me Chaachu?” Megha turned to Shaan.
“Yes I do.”
“Then do you also love Khanak Aunty?”
“Ummm… I guess I do.” Shaan turned to Khanak who dropped her eyes.
“Then Doctor Aunty, do you love Shaan chachu? Say yes, because only loving people can come to my party!”
Khanak saw that Megha was quite serious and would probably start to cry if she didn’t agree. She reluctantly nodded in the affirmative.
“Great!” Megha’s face lit up as if by magic and she skipped away.
“So what was all that about? A declaration of truth?” Shaan was even closer now and his eyes were probing her face intently.
“Kids see only in black or white, hate or love, no in between and I didn’t want to break her heart.” Khanak knew she was hedging.
“Aww C’ mon! I’ve had it Khanak! Enough of this game! Stop dangling me like a puppet on a chain! You know and I know that ‘like’ is too tame a word to use for what we feel for each other!” her companion’s voice shook with passion.
“Shucks! If I were a cave man, I wouldn’t have asked your permission! I’d have just dragged you by the hair to my cave and made you mine but unfortunately I was born in to a civilized world! But darling, this time I won’t let you go that easy. You have to say it or else…”
“Or else?” Khanak felt her heart was about to burst out of her chest.
“I’ll kiss you. By force if I have to and I assure you, you’ll enjoy it.” He replied in a husky whisper.
“Then go ahead and kiss me.” Khanak blurted out, throwing all caution to the wind. What the heck, hadn’t she been dreaming about it all along?
She didn’t move, just closed her eyes and waited for her Prince to seal their bond.
“Chaachu, are you going to kiss Doctor Aunty?”
Both jumped apart as if stung. It was hard to say who was more disappointed, Khanak or Shaan. But Megha was certainly not.
After settling her pulse as best as she could, Khanak left. She gave Megha another tight hug, but couldn’t bring herself to meet Shaan’s eyes.
As she drove along the driveway, she turned around and saw Megha waving with her free hand while Shaan simply looked at her, a slight smile on his face.