HAND IN HAND
The Reunion Of A Story
Karan hadn’t slept all night. Several thoughts were running through his mind, all at once. For the first time in years, he had lost focus. But, as the morning sun rose, all his thoughts were pushed to the back of his mind, and his routine for the day started. After letting some steam off with an intensive workout, it barely took him half an hour to get ready. As he stepped into the dining room, he quickly glanced towards the guest room, and turned his head to the left, to catch Surbhi looking at him, with a raised brow. The whole night played itself in front of him.
“It’s not dance if it’s not on the floor, Ms. Kapoor,” his lips curved just a bit to give a hint of that smile she craved for. It seemed like a long, long time before he stopped looking into her eyes. Surbhi was dazed to even react, which was very unlike her. She slowly let go of her hands around his broad shoulders, still breathing heavily. He was close enough to listen to her heartbeat, to feel her warm breath against his cheeks, to see a drop trickle from the side of her temples. He took a moment before he could let go. She took each step back to the door, uncertain if she herself had been a witness of what happened a few minutes ago. Karan on the other hand, turned back to the window, equally clueless. This was probably the first time he would have felt better if she had reacted and said something. Her silence made it all the more baffling.
“Good morning, Mr. Singhania,” Surbhi seemed so nonchalant, leaving Karan to believe he was definitely overreacting about the whole thing. “Good morning,” he tried to seem as calm as he could. He did not look up until he found his cereal. Surbhi, having a new-found respect for Karan, made sure she didn’t do anything to embarrass him while Shalini was there. After a rather quiet breakfast, which Shalini found hard to digest, Karan got ready to leave. Just as he thought he was spared, Surbhi called him, “Mr. Singhania, a word please?”
He stopped in his tracks, almost in the middle of the hall, to turn around. Shalini was climbing the stairs with the laundry, while Surbhi walked slowly up to him. Each step raised the tension. He wasn’t ready for this conversation.
“Mr. Singhania, I…”
“I hope yesterday didn’t mean anything.” Karan interrupted, shivering inside.
“What? What was what supposed to mean?” Surbhi was completely caught off-guard.
“Uh, nothing. I’m running late. We can talk later,” he couldn’t believe that for once, he was the one to hurry into speaking without thinking.
“Oh no, wait. Let’s talk about it. We’ll get to what it meant to me. Tell me, did it mean anything to you?” Surbhi changed the course of the bullet and fired it back at him.
“Well, no,” Karan lied.
“Really, Mr. Singhania?” Surbhi’s expression melted his heart right away.
“Uh, not in the way you think,” Karan never felt the tie being tighter around his neck.
“Excuse me? How do you even know what I’m thinking?” Karan sensed a change in Surbhi’s tone.
“I really have work. I have to leave.” Karan almost sprinted to the door. As the door shut behind him, Surbhi cupped her mouth and laughed till her stomach hurt.
“I seriously can’t believe he could be like this too. Tries to be tough, but never really works out, does it? It’s almost like a new shade to his personality. But I do have to find out what he was telling. Guess you’ll have to wait till evening, Ms. Kapoor. But this is definitely my idea of fun.” She went back to playing Temple Run on her iPad.
Fortunately, work had been enough to keep him distracted from the morning’s events. He almost felt scared to go home, to face her. However, going home was, inevitable. As he walked in, Shalini greeted him with a warm hug. “Karan, you look tired. Had a rough day?” “Not really. I’m fine. I just have some paperwork left. I’ll join you for dinner as soon as I am done. Don’t wait for me, please.”
“Karan, you know the rules,” Shalini shot him a look.
“Alright, just call me once it’s ready.”
He removed his coat, dropped it into the laundry basket by the door to his room, and walked in. As he folded the sleeves of his t-shirt to pull them back, he found Surbhi, sitting on his bed, with his guitar.
“What on earth are you doing here?” He asked, loud and clear. Surbhi was startled to hear him.
“Oh, good evening Mr. Singhania. As I always say, you have to calm down, but since you never do, make yourself at home.”
“This is my home. But, that’s not the point. What are you doing here in my room?” Karan said, in almost disbelief.
“Well, now that I’m finished with getting a job at your firm, and the fact that we’re supposed to be friends for now, I am entitled to have access to you…” Surbhi covered her face with one hand, while Karan crossed his arms and leaned onto the door.
“I mean, your home, and being able to talk to you. Either way, I’m just here to string your guitar. One of them snapped while Aunty was cleaning the stand.”
“Alright, but how do you know how to do that? Are you trained?” Karan walked towards her, in an attempt to grab the guitar from her, as soon as possible. It seemed as though someone was meddling with his child. “Let’s just say you can thank the internet, along with me. Seriously, Mr. Singhania, we’ve moved into the 21st century. It’s high time you stop asking such questions.”
“Whatever.” Karan tenderly took away the guitar from her and put it back to the stand, not before he checked the tuning of each string. She was flawless at the job. “Can you please play something for me on that?” Surbhi asked, so sweetly, that deep inside, Karan wanted to.
“I think I already have. Check your mail.” Karan sat on the couch, picking out a book to read. Surbhi got up from the bed, walked over to him, pulled the book out of his hands, and sat cross-legged, right next to him.
“So, it’s alright when you go down that road, but not me, is it? Not fair. And please use a bookmark. It’s unhealthy to fold pages…” Karan snatched the book back before she could complete her sentence.
“I don’t fold pages or use a bookmark. I remember the number of the page. And, I didn’t mean to dig that topic, but it seems to be the best way to keep you from raising your expectations about me. Unless you have to say anything else, can you leave the room so I can finish work before dinner?” Karan put the book back in the shelf beside, and got up to connect the system. “Well, I work for this company too. At least, I will, in some time. It’s only fair I get to see the work you do and help you with it.” She stood up in her excitement to help him with his work.
“So, you expect the owner of the company to show his work to a regular employee?” Karan didn’t know how to get rid of her now other than offending her. “Well, what good is your company if there’s no transparency? For the record, I’m not just a regular employee. I am a student from MIT, the best there is.” Surbhi’s answer made him realize she would drag him down and win the argument if he didn’t stop. He turned the laptop to her. “But it was your call to walk into my company for a job, making you my employee. Alright, here, take a look at this presentation, But only one condition; no critiquing. Even if you find some problem, solve it. Let’s see what you’re made of.”
“Challenge accepted, Sir.” Surbhi bowed down to Karan as he rose to go get changed.
He thanked himself for getting that Walk-in wardrobe made while designing his home. If it wasn’t for that, he would have to go to the bathroom to change his clothes. As he closed the translucent glass door to change, he could hear the sound of the keys on the keyboard, a symphony to his ears. Such was the charm of the woman who was at it. After washing his face, he stepped out into the bedroom. Surbhi was busy browsing on her iPad, laptop to one side of the table
“You gave up so soon?” Karan sat down on the couch as she moved aside to make some space for him next to the laptop. “You seriously underestimate my skills, Mr. Singhania,” Surbhi did not take her eyes off the iPad. She slowly sat on the couch cross-legged. Karan noticed it, but did not say anything. He spent a few more minutes to give his final touch to the presentation, to make it seem more like him. He turned the system off, and kept it aside. Picking up his book, he turned to the page he had stopped. He waited for her to leave the room, but she showed no sign of it. He slammed the book shut, kept it back on the shelf, moved to the bed.
“Why are you really here, Ms. Kapoor?” Karan tried his best to be audible enough, but not too loud.
“What?” Surbhi was puzzled, and Karan couldn’t figure why.
“What is it? Go ahead,” Karan waited for her to talk.
“I wanted to visit this place. I asked Aunty to let Neha come along with me. But she refused. She didn’t agree to let me go either. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Well, you’re free to go wherever you want. I wouldn’t prefer sending Ma or Neha along. If it’s a matter of a couple of days, I think I can arrange for something myself. But, unless you’re going to say Hogwarts or Narnia, where do you want to go?”
“Yeah, like I would be happy to involve you into my trips. I just wanted to visit Chandigarh,” Surbhi was scared, especially after witnessing how Shalini reacted .
Karan was thrown into a dark deep storm of memories at hearing the word. His entire childhood flashed in front of him, and it was not a very happy one. He tried to remain composed, for he knew better than taking out his anger at Surbhi.
“No, Ms. Kapoor. None of us will ever accompany you to there. It would be better if you could cancel your plans of going there.” Karan was firm, and stoic.
“Look, I don’t expect you to come along with me or anything. I’m not going to probe you for reasons either. But, I can manage it on my own there. I know the language too. I’ll be back in two or three days. Please, this is really important for me,” Surbhi pleaded.
“Ms. Kapoor, as much as I would like for you to go, you are our guest; which means, you’re my, I mean, our responsibility. And I’m sorry I can’t send you to a place where I wouldn’t go myself. If anything happens…”
“Mr. Singhania, I understand. But you too have to understand that my purpose of going there outweighs everything else. And my didi–jeeju won’t let me go if they find out”
“But why do you want to go there? You’ve lived your whole life in the States. Why is visiting this place so important, that you are desperate to go there, against the will of your own family?” Karan was perplexed.
“Do you always answer my questions, Mr. Singhania?”Her voice broke before she could finish her sentence. She stood up to look at him in the eye. “Every time I’ve asked you something, you deny answers. I’ve learned to live with it. But, today, when your decisions are affecting me in ways you couldn’t possibly care, again you are denying me answers. But you always want me to give an explanation for my decisions. Why do you think that is alright?” Surbhi turned away to wipe the tears off her eyes, and crashed onto the couch.
Karan felt terribly guilty all of a sudden. Moving to the couch, he knelt down in front of her, and helped her with a tissue. “Alright, now please wipe your tears. You can go, but only for a couple of days. I’ll arrange for everything tomorrow. But before I let you go, I need to know why you’re doing this. Please, Ms. Kapoor.”
“I will, only if you tell me why you don’t want to send me there, or come there yourself.” Surbhi sniffled.
Karan still remembered that day vividly. It was the day his life changed forever.
16 years ago…
“We’re ruined because of those bastards!” Sharath stormed out of his room. “Sharath, no! You can’t be serious. Please calm down” Shalini tried her best to pacify her husband. Alcoholism had changed the man he once was. “Don’t you realize Shalini, he betrayed us. We could have had everything. But he trotted off to his father-in-law like a dog,” Sharath was furious. “No, Sharath. How long are you going to hold him responsible for what you have done to yourself?” Shalini questioned him. “What I have done to myself? We wouldn’t be struggling to make ends meet if it wasn’t for them. And you have the nerve to tell me all this was my fault?” “I’m not telling that everything is your fault, Sharath. But look what you have done. You could have changed things. We could have come out of this downward spiral. But you chose to resort to alcoholism and self pity. And now you’re dragging us all into it too.”
Karan had just put Neha down to sleep when he heard his parents shouting in the hall. He peeked through the door, terrified to his bones. “Everything I have ever done was for you and my kids, and you have the audacity to tell me I don’t care about you at all?” Sharath threw the glass he held in his hand at the wall. “Sharath, no; you’re taking this in the wrong way. All I am saying is what you’re doing is not the way out of our suffering. It’s going to end in only one way.”
“You’re right. This can only end in one way. And then we can move past it,” Sharath walked towards the door. Shalini did not expect him to react that way. “I’m warning you, Sharath. If you don’t leave all this, alcoholism, wasting what’s left of your money on gambling, you’ll never see me or my children ever again. Is your unreasonable hatred towards others for the mistakes that you have made, more important than your family? Decide now” Shalini shot the last arrow in her quiver. Sharath stood still for a while.
“Then so be it. And when I come back, I don’t want any of you to be in my house. Get out!” Sharath bellowed. Karan stood behind the door, tears running down his eyes. That night, he saw the kind of man his father really was. He promised himself to never be the kind of man his father was. He told himself that his mother and sister would have to mean more than anyone else in his life. But more than anything else, the ten year old boy was terrified of what fate held for him. Starting over would change his world in ways he couldn’t possibly imagine. But, if it meant his mother and sister would be happier, he would accept the change with open arms, no matter how hard it would become for him. And then they left, bags in hand, to a city far far away, where they would never be bothered by anyone from their past, where they wouldn’t have to carry the burden of his father’s sins.
I’m sorry, Mr. Singhania. I honestly didn’t know any of this. I’m sorry I hurt you, forcing you to bring back all that pain.” Surbhi held his palm in one hand, while wiping tears off her own face with another.
Karan pulled away. He felt excruciating pain, reliving those moments. “If you still want to go there, no one will stop you. It’s just too hard for any of us to go back to that place.” Karan stood up and climbed up to his window sill, to see the night sky.
“Do you know Mr. Singhania, Chandigarh was my home too. When I was five, I was found crying on one of the streets,” Surbhi laughed, as tears continued to roll down. She sat down on the other end of the window. Karan couldn’t imagine how much strength she had to summon to laugh through something like that.
“I was found by the police, put in an orphanage, from where didi–jeeju adopted me. All they knew about me in the orphanage was my name that they found on a handkerchief pinned to the half-torn pinafore that I wore. Didi took me to their home, and jeeju took us to the States. As much as they have loved me, I don’t know if anyone else has. But there is still a void; the fact that I do not know who my parents actually are, eats me away from the inside. If only I could know who they were, my life wouldn’t be incomplete. Jeeju doesn’t discourage me from finding my paths. But, didi, she’s still protective. She thinks it would hurt me more if I try to go back to the past and always wants me to see the future. But I can’t move on, without finding myself. And that is why, I want to go there, see if I can find anything that can even remotely give me a clue about my biological parents.”
“I hope you find what you need. It’s a magical place. Some people are just unlucky to have to leave that place.”
“I’ve heard it is. But I seriously do wish I was going to Hogwarts.” It was extremely hard for Surbhi to stay sad. Wiping the last of her tears, she smiled, “Speaking of Hogwarts, I see you do follow the pop culture. So, which Harry Potter actor or actress, and my stress being on actress, do you like the most?”
“There are movies?” Karan seemed really surprised.
“Oh my God! Do not say you don’t know about the Harry Potter movies,” Surbhi almost had a nervous breakdown.
“Of course, I do. Bonnie Wright.” Karan shook his head watching her flip.
“Oh, now you’re funny too? Stop freaking me out Mr. Singhania,” Surbhi started massaging her temples, laughing at how badly she got played. For a long while, and they could never keep track of time, they stared at the moon, lost in how their lives had played out so far, making them the people they were today.
He bent back down into the room to pick his guitar up. He found peace in music. One song and he could cheer himself up. Hoping it worked with her too, he strummed a melody.
Kitni baatein yaad aati hai,
Tasveere si ban jaati hain
Main kaise inhe bhoolun,
Dil ko kya samjhaaun
He paused a brief moment, to notice any change in her expression. His happiness within knew no bounds when she joined him.
Kitni baatein kehne ki hai,
Honton par jo sehmi si hai
Ek roz inhe sun lo,
Kyun aise gum sum ho
Kyun puri ho na paayi dastaan,
Kaise aayi hain aisi dooriyaan
Dono ke dilon me chhupa hain,
Jo ek anjaana sa gham
Kya ho paayega woh kam,
Koi kya kahe
Dono ne kabhi jindagi ke,
Ek mod pe thi jo payi
Hai kaisi woh tanhaayi,
Koi kya kahe
Kitna veeraan hai yeh sama
Saanson me jaise ghulta hai dhuaan,
Kaise aayi hai aisi dooriyaan
Kitni baatein yaad aati hai,
Tasveere si ban jaati hain
Main kaise inhe bhoolun
(Song: Kitni Baatein Movie: Lakshya Lyrics: Javed Akhtar)
As she walked back to the door, Karan called out, “Ms. Kapoor?”
“Yes?” she turned back.
“If you need anything, I’m just a phone call away.”
“I know, but do you realize the consequences of your offer?” Surbhi’s eyes lit up as she heard him.
“I do, but my bearing torture is still better than you getting lost and toruring some innocent guy on the street for no fault of his.”
By now, she had learnt, that Karan was the kind of person to show his feelings through gestures, not words. His rough exterior and sarcasm was like a defense he put up to fend off people. She smiled at him, as she left the room, leaving the door ajar.
Three Days Later…
“Ms. Kapoor, I understand that you’re crazy, and I repent having made that offer without thinking through it, but do you really have to Skype me at midnight?” Karan was startled when he received an invitation to video chat just before he was going to turn it off.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t just hear that. But, Mr. Singhania, from where did you find this place? I mean, seriously, I could live here forever. You have some really good contacts.”
“Well, you didn’t just call me at this odd hour to tell me about your future plans. Did you find what you were looking for?” Karan tried to get to the point as quickly as possible. Her enthusiasm fell almost immediately.
“No, that was a dead end. I can’t even imagine why I went down that road. I didn’t know it would only demoralize me. Maybe some other time, I’ll come back here. I can start afresh” Surbhi was determined.
“Is there I can do to help?” Karan wanted to help.
“No, it’s fine. There’s nothing you could do that I can’t. Just forward a copy of my flight tickets. I’m coming back tomorrow.”
“Fine, I’ll do that. Tomorrow, I have a meeting, so Ganesh will be there to pick you up at the airport.” Karan told her.
“Oh, thank goodness. Ganesh is a lot friendlier than you will ever probably be. I’ll take care of that. You can sleep now.” Surbhi laughed as she waved good bye to Karan and closed her system. Karan’s life was quiet and peaceful for the last three days, but a part of him still missed her. Refusing to acknowledge it, he forwarded her the ticket details and went to sleep, only to stare at the ceiling for what was left of the night.
The following morning, Karan was somehow trying to fit through some gap between his tight schedule to get to the airport. He had instructed Ganesh to take the car to the airport. But if this gesture was good enough to cheer her up, he was willing to give up three work hours for it. While he was still stuck through the appointments while Prasad tried to make some room, Shalini had other plans.
“Ganesh, you can go home today. I’ll pick her up myself.” Shalini couldn’t wait until Surbhi came back.
After haggling with Shalini for a while about the fact that Karan would be extremely angry if he got to know that Ganesh didn’t go to the airport, Ganesh had to give up to Karan’s mother. After telling Shalini a dozen times to drive carefully and call him if she needs him, Ganesh left, worried but helpless.
“Neha, stay at home. Your bhaiyya may come around in a while. Tell him everything will be alright, I’ll be careful.” Shalini called out to Neha before she left for the airport.
“Don’t you think you should tell him yourself? He’s going to be enraged when he finds out and more so, if not from you.” Neha knew her brother. Her mother and brother were equally adamant and stubborn. If they had thought something through, they would go through with it, no matter what. And this wasn’t the first time Shalini decided to not heed to her son.
“Just do what I say. He’s the one who says I shouldn’t stay at home all the time. I’m only listening to him. I’m going to leave. Stay safe till we come back. Bye!” Shalini hugged her daughter and kissed her on her forehead before she left. Holidays were a tough time for Neha. She missed being with her friends. And since everyone else was away on trips, she crashed on to the sofa with a bowl of potato wafers and turned the channel to her favorite sitcom.
About two hours later, when Neha was swamped watching the television, and was considering to switch it off and browse through for some foreign universities, when she got a call. “Hello!” she was pretty excited to answer the call. “How is it that you’re calling me of all people today?”
“Hey, Neha. All that talk later, tell me where you are. At home?”
“I’m fine. Thanks for asking.” Neha replied curtly. “What is it with you? I’m at home. Why?”
“Alright, great; I’ll reach there in 5 minutes. Get a water bottle and an ice pack, lock down your home, and run to the exit. I’ll meet you there. Make that three minutes. Hurry up!” The call ended.
Neha, was confused about what happened, but she went about as instructed. She rushed to the refrigerator to pick up the ice pack and the water bottle. She loaded them into her bag, wore her loafers, locked the front door and ran down to the exit, to find a Jaguar waiting at the main gate. She locked the gate as quickly as she could and settled down into the front seat of the car.
“When did you come down to India? What happened? What was so urgent you got me to rush down here with all that chaos?” Neha asked the man in the driver’s seat. When she did not get any answer for a moment, Neha started to worry. “Karthik bhaiyya? What happened?”
“Your mom’s car met with an accident. Karan’s on his way there. I don’t think there’s anything to worry, but you know him. So, I came to pick you up. Don’t worry. We’ll reach there as fast as we can.” And the car whizzed away.
To be continued…