HAND IN HAND
The Reunion Of A Story
At Singhania Mansion, Bangalore
“Good morning, ma,” Karan wished as he settled down for his breakfast with the newspaper. “Good morning, beta. Breakfast will be ready in another ten minutes, are you sure you don’t want to have some before you leave?” Persuading Karan to eat a sumptuous breakfast especially when he had meetings in the morning was a daunting task for Shalini. He would usually stick to his staple diet of cereal, a wheat bread sandwich, and the regular black coffee. If he was relatively free, Shalini would – with great difficulty – force a paratha into him. If there was a meeting that day, there was no way he would take even a single bite of it. For a man his age, he was too health conscious, Shalini felt.
“No, ma, thank you.” Karan declined as he sipped his coffee from the mug with his eyes focused on the newspaper. “Good morning, bhaiyya. Good morning, ma. Is breakfast ready? My friends were planning to meet, so I may have to go.” Neha walked into the dining hall in front of the open kitchen. Karan looked up from his paper and acknowledged Neha. Shalini wished her too. “Another five minutes, they’re almost done,” she got busy working on the parathas.
“Another movie is it, Pumpkin?” smiled Karan as Neha settled down in her chair. “No, bhaiyya. My folks are all leaving to US for their studies. We wanted to spend some time before they leave. We’re just casually meeting at the café. Ma, do we have to go anywhere today? I could postpone it if we have to go out anywhere.” “You carry on, Neha. It would not be correct to ask all of your friends to change plans. I’ll accompany ma if she needs to go somewhere. My meeting will get over in a couple of hours. I’m sure she can wait for me till then.”
“What is it with both of you?” Shalini gave a serious look as she brought the plate of parathas with her. “One, I don’t have to go anywhere, so there is absolutely no need to cancel any of your plans. Two, you both are my kids, not the other way around. I don’t have to be watched over constantly. Now, eat.” Karan folded the newspaper as he got up. “I’m done with breakfast, ma. I have a meeting now. I’ll be leaving. If you do need anything, please call me. Bye Neha, have fun. Don’t eat too much butter; you’ve already had your dose for the day!” He smiled at her as he left with his laptop bag. “Karan!” Shalini tried to force a serious look on her face as Neha put up ca complaining face to her mother.
At Pegasus Inc, Bangalore
“…So gentlemen, that is the plan for now. Trying to hire legitimate hackers is going to get difficult for two reasons. The ones that have established themselves in the field are going to quote a really high price which might not be profitable for us. If we try to find people who could do it at anything lesser, there’s a good chance that person could prove to be a Trojan – sorry about that pun.” Karan seemed to be making his point very clearly. “What we could do, however, is, host a talent-hunt of sorts, so that people sign up for this. Keep the levels so that we can get the people of the caliber we are looking for. And then, put the winner to the face of the world. That would eliminate any chances that the hacker we hire turns against us. All those in favor, please raise hands.”
Karan’s ideas till date in the company had been fool-proof, every decision, every move was unanimously supported by the entire company. Karan wasn’t surprised to see all hands go up. “Well, then, let’s get to work. Preparations have to happen in three days. Event starts in a week. Announce it on our Social Media, television, and other media.” He turned to his secretary, “Prasad, the formal invitation for certain select students and professionals has to be on my system before lunch, and addressed by me, can it be done?” “Absolutely, sir. I’ll get it typed immediately.” “Thank you, Prasad.” Karan left for his cabin.
“…is it possible to get the attendee list of the entire conference, please?” Karan requested the organizer of the weeklong conference he had been to last week. “Sure sir, I’ll mail it to you in a few minutes,” the organizer seemed quite glad to help Karan. Thanking the organizer, he hung up. After waiting restlessly for a few minutes, his screen beeped with two mails. “Right in time,” Karan exclaimed. He downloaded the spreadsheet with the attendee list. Finding her email id was not hard. He transferred Prasad’s template onto his mailbox.
Honestly, he was impressed by the quality of the letter content. “Perfect. I just hope this makes up for what happened back in the States. I’ve done my part. It’s up to her whether she wants to take part or not.” He made some minor changes to make sure it looked a little more professional. He finally attached a video to the mail. “I’m glad I recorded it,” he thought to himself. He seemed somewhat apprehensive about hitting the send button. He went through the mail, proof-reading it atleast a dozen times he moused over the send button. “May I come in, sir?” Prasad knocked on the door. Karan jumped with a start, impulsively hitting the send button. He clumsily replied, “Come in, Prasad. Please knock softly next time. Here, I’ve highlighted a few names in this spreadsheet that I want you to invite, in my name. Do it from the company email address.”
At the Kapoor Villa, New York City…
“Yayy! Fight, fight. Jeeju, you have to win this time. I’m on your side,” Surbhi cheered as she stood on the sofa with the bowl of popcorn as her didi and jeeju were embroiled in a deep argument.
“No, way I’m letting her go to Bangalore.” Anjali seemed firm in her decision.
“But she wants to participate in this competition. She is saying it’s a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity. And she is going for work, not a vacation. She has my permission.” Amit was in full support of Surbhi.
“But she can’t go and live for a whole month, or maybe even more, all alone there.” Anjali argued back.
“Mrs. Anjali Kashyap, I can take care of myself. You please don’t worry about me.” Surbhi interrupted.
“Well, Surbhi, your sister has a point there. But, wait,” Amit turned to Anjali, “Why will she go alone? Aren’t we going with her?”
“As long as you’re willing to cancel our business trip the coming fortnight, and leave for India, I have absolutely no problem,” Anjali smiled scornfully.
“Oh damn. My bad. I guess, you don’t get the permission after all,” Amit felt sad for his kid.
“But jeeju,” Surbhi was on the verge of tears. “This is really important for me. Pegasus requires a software expert with the exact same capabilities that I specialize in. This initiative is a way to prove my worth to the world. And, it’s not a small company. It’s one of the few Indian companies that have made their presence known to the whole world and taken over the global market.”
“Alright, calm down. I’ll do something about it. But don’t get your hopes too high.” Amit reassured her as he went to get a change of clothes.
“Now, you, get off the sofa. I’ve had enough of your tantrums today,” Anjali helped Surbhi climb off the sofa. She seemed quite victorious.
“This happiness isn’t going to last long. Your superman is going to find a solution for me, didi. Like he said, don’t get your hopes too high.” She winked at her sister, snatched her popcorn bowl and fled back to her room.
The Next Day, Early Morning…
“I’m not letting her stay in some stranger’s house. That’s final.” Anjali folded her hands in defiance.
“But she is not a stranger. She was my senior in college. She’s very sweet. I heard she moved to Bangalore with her family a long time back. I’m pretty sure she is the best bet for Surbhi. If Surbhi wants to go to Bangalore, I’m willing to let her go. And she has been in the hostel during her grad school. Come on, Anjali. You have to let her explore the world. And you’ve let her go as far as San Francisco.” Amit pleaded Surbhi’s case.
“But she was in the same country. This time, it’s different. The culture, the people, the lifestyle, the food, the language, everything is different. She’ll find it hard.” Anjali was resolute.
“Fine, here’s the deal. I’ll come back soon after my work is done, alright? I won’t sit there and waste time,” Surbhi tried convincing her sister. “See, I have three months for formal graduation. You can’t expect me to stay at home for three months, can you? I wouldn’t have agreed on staying in someone else’s house too. But since you’re this adamant about not letting me go, I’m agreeing to it. I’ve done a lot of compromise here. It’s time you did, too.”
Anjali was visibly hurt by Surbhi’s words. “You’ve grown up now Surbhi. Why do you even need my permission? You think you’re doing me a favor? Please, there’s no need for that. Who am I to stop you?” Tears rolled off her eyes. Amit nudged Surbhi to be more sensitive. Surbhi cursed herself for being so blunt. She sat next to Anjali, and gave her a tight hug. Wiping the tears off her face, Surbhi reassured her sister, “Didi, you’re my everything. I would never do anything that you don’t want me to do. There’s no doubt in that. But, jeeju is telling he’s made all arrangements. And I’ll call you on skype every day, alright? Now, give me permission to go to Bangalore, so I can do my work happily when I go there. It’s a competition, and how can I perform if you both don’t support me. Please, didi?” Her puppy faced expression would get the work done most of the times.
“Alright, go.” Anjali shut her eyes as she gave Surbhi permission.
“I love you so much, didi!” Surbhi couldn’t control her excitement. She jumped from one sofa to another, while Amit, having received the consent of his wife, went on to make arrangements for Surbhi’s stay.
At Singhania Mansion, Bangalore…
“Hello, yes, this is Shalini speaking. Amit? Kashyap? …Oh Amit, of course I remember. You were my junior in college. We were a part of the Fine Arts Club, right? I was just surprised that, it’s been over 30 years and a college mate happened to call me now. I shifted to Bangalore long time back… There were personal reasons, Amit. Nevertheless, tell me, what can I do for you? …Oh, sure. Not an issue at all. She can stay as long as she wants to be here. …Don’t you worry, she will be well taken care of. My daughter has just finished her high school. She has holidays for a good number of days. She’ll give her good company. …When will she be coming? …four days from today? I’ll arrange for a pickup for her from the airport. She’ll have to struggle finding the address if she comes in a cab. I’ll send you the details the day she is to leave. No problem, Amit. I’m happy you thought of us. Why don’t you too come down to visit us sometime, while your sister-in-law is staying with us? …Sure. Let me know if I can help you with anything else, Amit. Okay, bye.”
Shalini hung up the phone. She seemed happy that they were going to have a guest, in so many years. After Shalini had moved to Bangalore with her kids, she had started afresh, and although she was relieved that her past wouldn’t haunt her, she always felt alienated in a new city. Back then, she didn’t have the time or the luxury to afford guests, but now she was blessed with a successful son, and things had changed.
“Who was on the phone, ma?” Neha called out from the kitchen. Shalini walked back to the kitchen to finish cooking dinner. “Oh, it was Amit, a junior of mine in college. He was a very talented artist. He shifted to New York a long time back. His wife’s sister is coming to Bangalore for some work. We will be hosting her for some time. Now, convincing Karan is the deal. Where is he? He said he’ll be back after his meeting. Such a workaholic he is. God knows when this kid will behave like ordinary people?”
“Which kid, ma?” Karan walked into the house. “You, sir.” Shalini mocked him. Loosening his tie, Karan smiled as he walked to his room, “I’m not a kid anymore. Albeit, the one sitting next to you is.”
“Bhaiyya, I’m not a kid either. I’m eighteen now.” Neha whined.
“Alright you two. Get ready for dinner. Neha, help me put these plates on. Karan, get ready fast. After dinner, we need to clean the guest room here.” Shalini rose to bring the dishes.
“Clean the Guest room? Why? Who is coming, ma? Why didn’t you tell me before? Who are they? How do you know them? When are they coming? Where are they from? How long are they going to stay?” Karan seemed inquisitive. He did not remember having talked to any relative in the past sixteen years now. He didn’t want to sustain relationships with a lot of people. Relatives in most situations were really nosy when it comes to others – he had heard – and Karan wasn’t someone who entertained that kind of nuisance.
“Karan,” Shalini raised her eye. “Please ask one question at a time. My Junior’s sister-in-law is coming in four days for some work and she’ll leave as soon as her work is done.”
“She? Oh, alright. Whatever you feel right.” Karan scratched his head, seemingly distracted. “Dinner first, please. I’ll be back in a minute.” He took care not to be too nosy when it came to girls. He knew Shalini would take the first chance to talk him into marriage whenever the topic of girls came around. He would try his best to avoid any such scene. He just slid back into his room before either of them could say a word.
“See, you don’t even have to tell him that there’s a guest coming, and he already has a hundred questions.” Shalini shook her head in disbelief, laying the plates on the glass table. “You know how bhaiyya is, ma. He atleast agreed to let a girl stay at our place without argument. We should be glad.” Neha brought the dishes one by one.
In his room, Karan quickly changed his clothes. He hadn’t eaten lunch. Suddenly he regretted his mother’s offer to eat a paratha in the morning. Before leaving for the hall, he checked his phone for any notifications. There was a new mail. It was probably from Surbhi. He had set an alert if in case she responded. Had she accepted his invite? Had she rejected it? He wasn’t too sure. Hesitant to check the mail, he gently dropped it on the bed and left the room to have dinner.
To be continued…