A decision is made

One week later after many discussions, arguments and deliberations with my family, I decided to go to Akashdeep estates and live there for some time but on the condition that I was free to come home if and when I wanted. Sunita, my sister called and went on and on about my attitude in not agreeing immediately because the money would help and I was being selfish not caring for the family. I simply told her to think back on her own contribution in making the family so dependent on other financial sources for survival and slammed the phone down.

Finally, after a tearful goodbye, I and Mahesh anna were on our way to Akashdeep estates. I left with mixed feelings, both sad and expectant. But all things considered I knew that my going there would make my family much more comfortable and as far as I was concerned I was ready to face Shalu and her mood changes, in fact had decided to take it up as a challenge. All through the 4 hour drive, that took us on steep roads winding in and out of the mountain range, I concentrated on filling my eyes and mind with the glory of nature that lay before us. The mountains, streams, forest and the many waterfalls ...honestly, I was mesmerised and Mahesh anna being familiar with every inch of the region, kept pointing out and speaking about the many places of interest that came our way. We made a quick stop at a small way side tea stall, sat on the benches there and had tea and some biscuits.

When it was nearing dusk, we left the highway and took a smaller road that climbed steeply up and Mahesh anna pointed  to a hill and to a bright light that looked almost like a twinkling star and said that was Akashdeep estate. He said that the bright light was installed by his father, which had become  a landmark to the locals and helped those who lose their way on the curvy roads covering the mountains at night. Soon we had reached the final bend that put us on the narrow road leading to the estates.

At Akashdeep estates

Just before turning into the wide gates Mahesh anna slowed down the car and lifted his hand in greeting to someone walking on the side. I turned back and saw a very handsome and  athletic young man dressed casually in shorts, sweat shirt and sports shoes, waving and smiling at Mahesh anna and at the same time looking at me with open curiosity.. We turned into the estate gates and I looked at Mahesh anna and what I saw surprised me. Mahesh anna had an angry look on his face and looked very disturbed and I wondered what the cause was? Was it because of our encounter with the handsome young man? who was he by the way? and if he was the reason, why?  However, I was favorably impressed by the strangers smile and an open friendly manner.

Anyway, by then we had reached the house and Rohini aunt was standing at the front door along with another lady and a man. They came down the steps and Rohini aunt hugged me and greeted me with affection. The couple, I came to know were the maid and the driver who lived in the outhouse behind the main house. Nanjappa, the driver brought out my suitcase and a bag and took it into the hall and we followed him. To say that I was quite impressed by the house would be an understatement. It was magnificent, with beautifully carved teak and rosewood furniture  fitted with brass and lots of artifacts, tastefully distributed around the room and large vases filled with beautiful flowers. There was a wide staircase leading up and that’s where Nanjappa was taking my bags. Rohini aunt asked me to follow her, so that she could show me my room. The staircase bifurcated  midway and we took the left side which led to  a passage and two rooms that were located on either side. Rohini aunt took me to the one from which Nanjappa emerged after having deposited my belongings there. He smiled and nodded at me and went down the stairs. The room we entered was very comfortable with a single bed, a table and two chairs, a large  wooden wardrobe and a dressing table. There were wide windows now covered with curtains. Rohini aunt said that she occupied the other room and there was a bathroom in between the two rooms. She told me to freshen up and come down for dinner.

Meeting Shalini

With all this happening, there was absolutely no sign of my cousin Shalini and I very much wondered about her. However, I washed my face and hands, ran a comb through my unruly hair and went down. Next to the large hall was the dining room which was an extension of the sitting room/hall and the Kitchen leading from the dining area, which was large and well equipped with all the gadgets. Nanjappa’s wife Geeta was making chapatis and she smiled at me and asked me about my own likes and dislikes regarding food and so on. It was very pleasant talking to her and watching her dish out the food with an expert hand. I helped her carry the dishes to the table… We, Mahesh anna, Rohini aunt and myself ate the beautifully cooked tasty dinner. I came to know that Arvind, Rohini aunt's son was away on some work but no one spoke of Shalini. But, when we had finished our dinner and went out to the hall, she was there, sitting on one of the sofas looking like a ghost !!! I am probably exaggerating but that’s the feeling I got when I saw her. She sat there looking white and pale so unlike her normal colorful self. When I called her name she suddenly turned looking shocked as if she was rudely awakened from a trance. She really was a pitiful sight and I felt sorry for her. I sat next to her and asked her how she was and she simply nodded her head  without saying anything but looking here and there, her eyes darting everywhere . When I asked her if she had had her dinner she again nodded and sat fidgeting with her hands again looking around her. I was shocked and totally perplexed by her behavior. Rohini aunt and Mahesh anna sat watching us with anxious faces.

Later Mahesh anna led Shalini up the wide stairs and took the stairs leading to the right wing where they had their bedroom. Soon after Geeta and Nanjappa left for their quarters, Rohini aunt and I too went up to our respective rooms. As I changed and lay on my bed I felt both excited and numb thinking about the long eventful day , the brief encounter with the handsome stranger , the evening at the estate home and about Shalini. After meeting her, I also felt guilty about my own uncharitable thoughts about her. 

( To be continued )

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