"Ok, one thing we can do is, perhaps finish off this affair. It is enough Ritz. You have a whole life in front of you. Why should you stop when i didn't? Why should you suffer when i choose not to? See the guy at least. May be he is good. And may be we can keep having our delightful visitations in this liberal and pre-lapsarian world of no-knowledge-of-good-and-evil till we agree that many such binaries exist even after you are married?"
At this quasi-prof like chant, he gave her that drunken eyes, husky voice chill down her spine and winked at her mischievously.
"Vihans, get serious ya! This time i can not say no. I have to see this guy. Atleast. May be i shall say no later. But he kind of fits the bill my parents look for and i myself can't pin point an error too. I am absolutely helpless this time around, Vihans."
Ritwika's almond eyes glistened as she spoke and Vihans in no time cupped up her face in his hands.
"Do you trust me?"
"I don't know. I shall better be going. It is getting late. And besides, if at all i have to leave, it should begin by learning to live away from you, from now on itself."
She knotted her hair in a lazy, dishevelled bun and left the place, drowning Vihan's friend's flat in a musky air of her lingering smell.
"This woman is irresistible." Vihans smiled and slid himself in the blanket further, watching her descend down the stairs in his half shut eyes now. He imagined her immaculate, pretty hands opening the door of her car, her fingers unlacing the keys of her room on the side board, her naked feet and toe ring touching the accelerator, making the whole machine vulgar and her sexy in exactly the same measure as her love for him and his lust for her made their romance click till date.
Ritwika tiptoed in her father's room.
"Hey dada! Wassup? Reading??"
She laced her arms around his neck and prompted her cheek for the customary, cute peck. Mr. Trivedi ruffled his angle's hair and asked her to wait while he finished off his last sheaf of copy corrections. With a typical school-girlish frown, Ritwika propped herself on his dad's bed and flipped through the Frontline kept there.
Mr. Vihangam Trivedi was a school teacher in Bihar before he shifted base to Delhi to see their only daughter through her education after her plus two. Ritwika was his dream, pride, investment and everything he could save and spend in his life. He wanted her to do all he couldn't. The first day Ritwika took her first baby step, he wrote in his diary, " One day with the same feet my daughter shall walk upto me clad as an IPS officer and take my blessings. Feeling a proud dad today."
Mrs. Neena Trivedi lost her fertility after Ritwika's birth due to some infection that spread to her ovaries and rendered them useless. She had to get operated quite too early at 23 years of age. There were talks about remarrying Vihangam to be able to produce an heir for the family. Neena cried the whole night and asked Vihangam later into the day to agree to marry with a smiling face for she knew that he loved him and that she would not mind another sister in the family. Afterall, Dasartha also kept three wives to get four heirs. Mr. Trivedi categorically told Mr. Trivedi Senior that he would commit suicide if forced into any such drastic step. Kidnapping men and marrying them were a common phenomenon in Bihar then. Anyway, all that was past. The today had changed so much.
Neena loved Ritwika but always yearned for a son. Always. Someone who would have carried her ashes to the ghats in Ganga after she died. Someone who would have given her a pind-dan after the Trivedi couple departed into the other world. But she was a liberal lady with a very wide mind who allowed her daughter to study so far, who took pride in her daughter's erudition to talk so enchantingly in any company, anywhere, anytime - in English, and establish that the Trivedis had left no stone unturned in creating the only lady professor in the family after her own snobbish mayakewala lots. She was prouder at the thought that this daughter of hers was the most "cultured" among the other host of girls in the family who never had any boyfriends, any affairs, any male contact. Neena waited for all and sundry family functions to see her daughter outshine everyone in the family and establish her pride much further. Afterall, Ritwika was the only 'nidhi' she could produce from her womb.
"Dada, i am sleepy. Tell me to go na if you have lot of work. Why do you still work,papa? I guess it is enough for us to live on my salary. After the Sixth Pay, the money is good, paa. Besides, who wants more money?"
With this, she came closer to the table and snatched his red pen. Mr. Trivedi smiled and be led by her hand to came down to the dining room.
"Beta, you know i love to work. I can't sit still. Till yesterday it was my duty to work and see you through your education. Today, it is my soul working to fulfill my ambitions in the many Ritwikas around. Do you know only yesterday one of my students Niharika called in to inform about her selection in the CSE as an IRS officer. See, if i stop to work,i would lose all of this."
He smiled and added, "You are 26 darling. Take a chance at the prestigious exam. You have like four attempts and the precise age on you. Who knows, with your talent, you might just get through!"
Ritwika gave him a puzzled look. "Dad, i guess we have already discussed this. I have immense respect for the profession. But i am not cut out for the same, paa. And besides why waste time over it when i am happy in this profile and am doing much more creative stuff here. You know dad, my PhD topic on Vidyapati has been approved of. Do you realise what a service it would be to our land when i actually finish it off? Dad, you do realise, don't you, that even a researcher can do a lot in unearthing social flaws and presenting to society a vision?"
"Yes, yes. I know it. I was merely suggesting that. Do not take it to heart."
He smiled and the father-child cried in unison for food before Mrs. Trivedi emerged with piping hot rice and rajma.
How Ritwika wished this moment seized and never ever let her crash on the concrete floor of realities! How she wished there were no frills that had gathered around her life! How she wished there were just the three most lovely creatures in her life! No one else and no one less. How she wished!
"Ritwika, beta, there is this IAS guy in the Home Ministry here. Junior in the ranks but most probably will stick around here for he has lot of family connections with the political class and bureaucrats. His dad and mom were civil servants too. They have really really loved your profile and wish a calm, mature and homely yet working and beautiful wife for him. Beta, this is someone you would not say no to. We know it. Just say yes to meeting him at least. May be he turns to be of your wavelength. May be he is too good to be true, Beta. Just say yes this time."
By this time Mrs. Trivedi had acquired more of an entreating tone. Ritwika could see her eyes looking at her daughter with expectation and tears welled up in them by the time she finished off.
"Maa, please stop this. I have just begun to work. Let me breathe a little. I also want to live life. And why are you guys stuck on this arranged thing? Why can you not consider people beyond our goddamn caste and community and what not? I am not saying that the guy must be bad or something. But why so much of hurry and why at all this fuss with the stupid limits, maa."
"Do you like someone Ritwika?" Cried her mom in shock.
"Maa, i am in love and with a married man! Come on, Maa! You don't have to be in love to put forward a point. Try to understand what i am saying".
In her usual mock tone mode of half denial, half acceptance Ritwika got out with her secret and yet concealed it just as correctly.
It was her dad this time.
"Beta, i respect your point of view but just have a look at him. Meet him once. You will have enough time to breathe and live your life. Noone is going to confine you to a slaughter chamber. All we are saying is meet the guy. Nothing more."
Ritwika dug her spoon deeper into the rice and could merely mutter, "Damn this world!"
The Trivedis exchanged triumphant smiles at this.
To be continued......