The Mysterious Incident At Akashdeep estates - 9

As we approached the town it began to drizzle and the sky was steadily becoming darker and we felt that there would be more rain in store during the course of the day.

Shalini requested or rather commanded Arvind to drop her at the bank since she hated going out in the rain and getting wet and visiting the post office etc. etc. while Arvind and I could finish our jobs and meet her there. Arvind asked me if I too wanted to be dropped off at the bank , in fact insisted that I too should go with Shalini and he would take care of all the jobs that needed to be done. Although I was eager to see Rohit and more importantly see Shalini and Rohit together, I felt it was unfair to let him handle all the jobs alone.

We dropped Shalini at the bank and set off to the post office which was actually run from a house. I was told that in most smaller villages and smaller towns this was the trend, a cost cutting measure with the post master functioning from his house. Here, the post master, a pleasant middle aged retired teacher did the postal services from the open veranda in his house with the help of his wife. He had a table, chairs and a couple of shelves for storage which comprised of his office. Apparently, he also acted as the post man when it was required, personally handing over mail at the 3 banks and a few other offices and shops. Most estate owners came to the post office to collect their mail, which is what we were doing. I had been wondering why the post man never visited Akashdeep and now I had the answer.

We went to the chemist and Arvind had to get some printouts which was done at the grocery shop where they had copier as well, after which we proceeded to the bank. Thankfully, the drizzle had subsided although the dark clouds were gathering . We could hear voices from within the Manager's cabin and Arvind knocked as we entered the cabin. There was Rohit and two other men with him obviously his colleague busy discussing and looking at some files. Shalini sat there with a bored expression. Rohit said hello to us and requested all of us to wait outside while he finished his work and join us.

I could see that Shalini was not very happy with this and walked out and sat alone in a corner.Soon after Rohit joined us and asked me, what I thought of  the post office, the post master and his wife ? who he seemed to admire for all the hard work they put in, since they were paid very little for their services. I showed my appreciation for  them and Shalini, who had joined us, at this juncture said that she was dying of thirst and Rohit pointed to a water filter in the room and continued speaking to us. I could see Arvind trying to hide his smile.

Rohit asked..“So, have you finished with all your jobs?“ If you are heading home, can you please drop me off since we have finished for the day and the week? My own vehicle is at the service station” He finished with a smile ..

So, we all set off and Rohit sat in the front chatting about various matters with Arvind and Shalini and I sat at the back, every now and then Shalini would bend forward to add her own two bits to the conversation. When we reached Rohit’s house we saw Vidyakka  coming out towards us. She smiled at all of us and asked Arvind how Rohini aunt was and touched my shoulder and head with affection. I liked her and her way of connecting with people and smiled at her. She asked Shalini how she was and Shalini began to say how she was bored ..

“I would have thought that  living in a large coffee estate would keep everyone on their toes.. You should have gone with Mahesh, he would have enjoyed having his wife with him away from his daily grind at the estate and you too would have been happy to be in the city with him and your parents.“

Shalini mumbled about how Mahesh had not given her enough time, telling about his trip only at the last minute…The impression I got was that Vidyakka was not impressed by Shalini or her beauty but was indeed impatient with her attitude and airs.

Vidyakka invited us in but Arvind said that we had to be back at the estate to pay the workers off since it was Saturday..

Vidyakka looked at me and said that I should visit them and I told her what Rohini aunt too was keen on visiting her and promised to visit them at the earliest. With that we hurried back to the estate and Shalini disappeared climbing up the stairs..We hurried through the lunch and went into the office where the writer was already waiting with his books. After the last worker had been paid off, we were left alone – myself and Arvind. Rohini aunt too joined us.

Arvind asked me how I liked the experience of living on the estate to which I said that I liked it immensely and each day was a learning experience for me? He smiled at this and after thinking for a while he told me that Mahesh anna should never come to know that Shalini had come to the bank with us. I was surprised and asked him why?

Arvind was not sure what to say but Rohini aunt responded and it was something that I  had perceived, probably an intuition I had all along..

“ Shalini and Rohit have known each other a long time and were in love when they were in college. I am not sure what happened after that, probably Shalini left Rohit to marry Mahesh who is far more prosperous and Mahesh came to know about their relationship after marriage which must have been hard for him but he was understanding about it since it was in the past. However,  ever since Rohit came here, Shalin has been acting weird and she is trying to rekindle her romance with Rohit from what I see. So, Mahesh is worried and wonders as to what the future holds for him?“

Now I could understand the situation a lot better and it also brought in more complicating thoughts that disturbed me. Did Rohit still love her ? I asked them what they thought of Rohit ?

Arvind responded, " Rohit is very likeable and a thorough gentleman and while he is friendly with Shalini, personally I feel that he would never encourage her. More importantly he genuinely likes Mahesh, one can see that, and he would never spoil his friendship with him. But knowing Shalini, she is the kind who would go to any length to get what she wants. In some ways she is still a spoilt and pampered child and Mahesh gives in easily just to keep her happy which has made her worse. She is not a nice person in fact she is cruel,"  and Rohini aunt too nodded and when I mentioned about having met Vidyakka she was genuinely happy and told me that we could visit them the next afternoon since it was Sunday.

When Arvind said those last words he had an expression that was difficult to fathom. I had always thought that he liked Shalini but that day I began to have doubts. I also wondered what Shalini could have done that brought out such strong feelings in him? No doubt she was self centered and selfish and as far as Rohit was concerned, she was probably bored and wanted to have some excitement and his coming there must have been a godsend opportunity for her. But then why go into depression? What was behind that if it was genuine? Even if it was not genuine, what was the need to pretend? These were questions and thoughts that really bothered me. I also remembered my mother telling me not to get involved in their personal matters. I decided to take things as they come but when I thought about Rohit, I suddenly realised how much he meant to me and it was difficult not to have any personal thoughts.

Although Rohit liked Mahesh anna, I was not sure about Mahesh anna's feelings for Rohit because I clearly remembered his expression on that first day when we had met Rohit near the gates of the estate and how Mahesh anna was anything but pleased with the encounter. I was worried and very disturbed by all this and although it was drizzling I decided t go for  walk and be by myself in my favorite spot. I told Rohini aunt who asked me to take an umbrella with me and I set out with my stole and an umbrella . The weather was glorious, dark but there was a fresh cool breeze heavy with water drops, I felt exhilarated..

Automatically I went up the hill to my favorite spot and as I climbed up, could see Shalini at a distance going down in the opposite direction which also led to another hill. I sat on the bench and looked down at Rohit's cottage and my heart skipped a beat when I saw him walking on the road below, he disappeared from my sight after a while when the road sharply curved. I sat there feeling small , wondering whether he was going to meet Shalini and I could feel tears pricking my eyes. I sat there for a long time unable to appreciate the beauty of the nature and then must have fallen asleep.

When I suddenly woke up, Rohit was there looking down at me with a concerned expression. I straightened up and was not sure what to say...

"I am again sorry to have rudely awakened you... is something bothering you? You had tears on your cheeks like a small child .." he seemed so caring and concerned and I could feel my tears welling up which I brushed away with my hands.

Of course I could not say what the real reason was, so mumbled about how I missed my family! But I already could feel a change in my mood as he sat on the bench besides me asking me about my family asking questions. The world seemed such  beautiful place and I was aware of every little thing around me and all that mattered was this moment when I was with Rohit and the very fact that he had come here looking for me was more than enough to make me happy! We sat there for a long time saying nothing but all my senses were aware of him and all I could do was smile at him and when he smiled back at me I felt as if there were no dark clouds.

Little did we know that dark clouds were gathering around our very lives and how? when the downpour began it would consume and threaten all of us! But for the moment all was well with my world.

I thought back on what I had read somewhere .. "Throwing both my hands up to the sky, I am letting myself go, I'm just living for the moment "

Now when I think back I realise that was one of the happiest days of my life that I would treasure forever !

 ( to be continued)

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