The sun had finally set and half an hour had passed after Savitri’s performance was over. But, Raja sa had yet not stopped thinking about her. “Beautiful. Elegant. Pretty.” he had been chanting ever-since he had seen Savitri dance that evening.
Pacing to and fro, recurrently, from one end of the corridor to the other, he did not even care to look up. “Dekh k Thakur Sa.” said Veer Singh, into whom Raja sa had so carelessly bumped. Standing in front of him, the tall man, who was also his childhood friend, smirked at Raja sa.
“Haan haan Veer Singh. Mai toh dekh k hi chalu. Maybe you need to be a little more alert when meandering round the mansion.” Raja sa parried, unwilling to accept his mistake. Knowing well-enough about his stubbornness, Veer Singh chuckled and left the corridor vacant for Raja sa to once again begin his foot-slog.
“Veer Singh”, Raja sa called out before he could leave, “Tell Devdutt that I have asked for him, immediately.”
“Hurry up, Rangoli. I have to go out.” Savitri could barely wait to get out of the room and meet Hridhay.
“What is it, chhori. Let me make sure you look gorgeous, lest Raja sa will have me sent to the kaal-kothri.”
“The performance is over. Ab ye sringar kyu?”, Barely composed, Savitri was restless. In her eagerness to meet Hridhay and anticipation, she failed to notice the surprise that her credulous question had left on Rangoli’s face.
“Why don’t you say Rangoli? I really have to go.”
“Kya matlab kyu Savitri? Kya tu nahi jaanti? Ye toh riwaj hai.”
“Kaisa riwaj?” For once Savitri was paying a little attention. Though, at the back of her mind, Hridhay never really left her attention.
“Kya teri Baisa ne nahi bataya tha?” Rangoli asked timidly, unable to find words that could explain Savitri why she needed to look good and for whom.
“Kya nahi bataya? Rangoli baate mat ghumao, batana hai toh batao nahi toh jaa rahe hai hum apne kaam se.” She was agitated. A thousand questions fogged her mind, but not a single questioned the intentions behind all of this saaj-sringar. Obscure from what encircled her life, she stood and started towards the door, ready to dash out of the chamber.
“Theher jaa chhori. Baith yaha mhare gher aur sun.”
The vehemence in Rangoli’s voice made Savitri frown. What could be this serious, she thought nervously. Reluctantly, she sat on the bed and stared at Rangoli “Make it quick”.
“Kitni Khoobsurat ladki thi Majib Ji! Mujhse toh bhulati nahi ek minute ko bhi.” The madira made his speech muffled and unclear. Pouring some more, refilling his glass, Hridhay couldn’t help but dream about touching the olive skin and long neck of the courtesan he had just witnessed dancing in the hall.
Lost in his own thoughts, Majib nodded with a smile that expressed more of his intentions that he would have wished to reveal. “Kya naseeb hoga uska jo bhi uska chehra dekhega.”
“Aap toh dekhne ki baat karte ho, yaha toh haath bilakh rahe hai use chhoone k liye.” Hridhay raised both his hands looking at them, thinking of all the things they could if given a chance.
“Khwaab na sajaiye sahab, Raja sa chhorhe tab toh humari baari aayegi.” Majib mocked at the castles he was building in the air.
“Haa haa, aap hai toh unhe todne k liye. Abhi toh dhang se par bhi nahi lage the becharo ko.” Hridhay made a face at him.
“Toh kya kijiyega ji? Zabran ghus jayenge kya uske kamre me?” Majib laughed before slipping into a sound sleep.
Unaware how well his words had mixed with the liquor to put ideas into Hridhay’s mind, he was dreaming of everything he had talked about. The evidence was not subtle since the silk kurta was too thin to guard it.
In his state of inebriation, Hridhay slipped out of his room to look for the girl he so ardently wanted. Afraid that he would slip and fall, he carefully dragged his feet forward while taking support of the wall. Though he had so quickly, so passionately left in search of her room, he had absolutely no idea how he could ever find her in this grand mansion.
The quest that began with much vigor of a gin-soaked man, it soon turned into aimless sauntering from one staircase to the other.
“Pata nahi kaha chhupa key rakha hai us Raja sa ne jo mil hi nahi rahi. Aur ye jaam bhi khali ho gaya.”, irritated by his failed mission, he desperately wanted to return to his room. But, only if he could remember the way back. He went upstairs and downstairs, to the right and to the left but all of them looked so familiar that he could never pick on the right one. The wooden carvings seemed to be too identical to mark any difference. With elephants carved on all them, he did not know which door to push.
Agitated and impatient, he kicked a random door. He barely got any time to be know whether it was his room or not. The door had barely flew open when his leg slipped and Hridhay fell on the ground.
“Ye toh humare hi atithi me se ek dikhe se Raja Sa.” said Devdutt who was observing the man who had just kicked the door and himself tumbled on the floor. “He is too drunk. Its hard to even stand near him. Obnoxious!” he wrinkled his nose, covering it under his palm. “I think he’s fallen asleep.”
“Ram Sevak! Take this man to his room, immediately!”
He watched a sturdy man come, who must have been in his early 30’s. His mustache covered half his face and the arms showed off roughness of a wrestler. Ram Sevak lifted the man who seemed to be mumbling something in his sleep. Soon, both were out of Devdutt’s sight. Once over with the obnoxious experience of having to smell a drunkard fallen in front of the room, he turned to Raja Sa.
“I will let Rangoli know Raja Sa. In fact, if I am not wrong, she must be busy helping Savitri dress up. I will send for her immediately.”
“Humare kaksh me nahi Devdutt, peechhe bageeche me. Yaad rahe.”
Savitri sat on the bed. Too shocked that minutes had passed and she had not even blinked. Staring at the ground, the world seemed to have fallen around her.
Rangoli kept calling her name, but the girl seemed to have fallen deaf to every sound. She refused to move. Had it felt any easier, she might as well would have refused to breathe. Everything and everyone around her seemed to have been a lie all along. Baisa knew. She knew it all along. Savitri kept thinking. Hridhay knew. What would he think of me when my identity would be revealed? The questions kept pouring in. There was no end to her confusion, sense of betrayal, and urgency to run away. She felt dizzy. She was about to fall on the bed when a soft knock brought her back from her thoughts.
“Le aa gaye chhori tujhe lene.”