Léas shone bright on Savitri’s face, waking her up into a fresh start of the day. Her eyes opened to see Hridhay fast asleep beside her. Stretching her arms, she smiled. Her long hair were untied and she saw her dress fallen carelessly on the floor. Hridhay’s clothes just beside hers made her feel so warm inside. Joy and relief had filled her breast and she sighed, smiling to herself.
Just a night before she was anxious and afeard about what Raja sa would do to her. But with Hridhay beside her, she barely cared about the world, even Raja sa. Nothing could go wrong with Hridhay beside me. She resolved in silence.
“Mmph!” Hridhay groaned while shifting in bed. He opened eyes and squinted at the daylight. Immediately palming his forehead, he closed them tight and groaned again.
Savitri got up to get him water from the matka kept near the mirror. She quickly picked her clothes and put them on. Savitri felt like her 14 year self, when she used to spend her days with Hridhay. She remembered fetching him water and bringing him his favourite desserts. “I love barfi.”, he had once told her and Savitri had brought him some the very next day. She had spent the entire evening poking Baisa to teach her how to make them.
Savitri was pouring water from the matka into the peetal tumbler when the tumbler slipped from her hands making a loud clangour sound.
“What is that?”
“Oh nothing. Just that the glass fell from my hands.” said Savitri shyly.
Hridhay sat upright, eager to know who that voice belonged to. He saw a familiar face. It was beautiful. The big round eyes, long hair, and that gorgeous olive complexion. He could swear he had seen such splendid beauty before. But, where?
She stood before her. Gazing at him lovingly. The way he was looking at her assured her that he remembered. He had not forgotten her. She smiled, her cheeks turning crimson with blushing and she just couldn’t look him in the eyes.
I have never seen a girl shy like that before! How lovely she looks. Hridhay admired her. He had no idea who she was and how he reached there. Yet another munificence of Raja sa, I suppose. He concluded.
Hridhay got up and began clothing himself. Soon he was ready to leave Savitri’s chamber.
“Where are you going?”, she asked slightly worryingly.
“What do you mean where? I am going to my room.”
“When will you come back? I am afraid that Raja sa will send his men after me. Can I come with you?” she was looking at him hopefully. Such attitude, coming from someone he did not know, baffled him.
“Dekho raat jo hua hai ho gaya ab gale mat pado mere. Raja sa kyun bhejenge apne log, vo log kya karenge tumhare sath, Raja sa ko kya chahiye tumse, isse mujhe koi matlab nahi. Vaise bhi aaj raat bhi toh koi aaega hi na is kamre me, usse maang lena madad. Tumhara toh kaam hi yahi hai.”
His words pierced her conscious, filling her with many questions. She looked at Hridhay with disappointment and contempt. Years of wait and months of confusion came rushing in and she was filled with impatience and anguish. She expected her heart breaking, her eyes teary and soul crying with grief. But, instead, she was angry. She had been holding everything inside for so long. Baisa’s lies, Raja sa’s impudence, and now Hridhay’s insolence had her emotions gushing in a way that she could no longer control. She wanted to cry, laugh, and hit him all at the same time.
She held Hridhay by his arm and pulled turned him in a way that both were facing each other.
“Koi aur aega matlab? Tum soch bhi kaise sakte mere baare me aisa, apni Savitri k baare me aisa?”
The name echoed clear and loud as if a thousand drums in unison.
“Savitri”, he breathed. He looked at her in amazement. But, you were in Culcutta. How are you here? Why are you here? Why is Raja sa after you? Who are you? Who have you come to be?
“It is me, Hridhay. Your Savitri.”, her smile was weak. She hoped to be comforted by him, now that he knew.
“How come you are here in Rajasthan? Oh Savitri, how could I not recognize you? I found this lovely face familiar but oh, how did I not know.”, he held her by her shoulders. “Look how beautifully you have grown.”
His gestures were generous and kind, but distant. There was no sign of warmth and affection. He behaved like an acquaintance who quickly inquired about your well-being only dismiss you sooner. She looked at him in disbelief, feeling like a fool. Her eyes were misty and a lump in the throat was all that she could feel at the moment.
“Why didn’t you tell me last night? I wouldn’t have had…I thought you were only a….”
“Whore?” she completed the sentence for him.
“Oh, forget the night Savitri, it happens.”, he faked a nervous laugh. “Let’s talk about something else. Kaafi din baad mil rahe hai, bohot kuch hoga tumhare paas batane k liye.” he shifted from her side to sit on the bed. “Toh batao kaisi ho tum?”
Every single word he spoke, nipped. The way he talked, so carelessly, disgusted her. The way he avoided looking at her, hinting at how little he cared, pricked.
“Why did you never come back like you promised?”
“I…..I was about to come back, Savitri. Believe me.”
“When, Hridhay? five years have gone by without you even sending me a letter. What if something terribly wrong must have happened?” she thought about Raja sa and her in his orchid. A shiver ran down her spine.
“I am..I am sorry, Savitri.” he stuttered.
“You do not sound like you are sorry, Hridhay. In fact, there is no care or affection in your words when you talk. Has everything changed?”
“Kuch nahi. Forgive me, Savitri.” he said without even looking at her. His sight fixed on the floor. “It was all my fault.”, he shook his head in agitation.
“Look at me Hridhay. What is it that you are sorry for? she asked worried if Hridhay was fine, whether time had treated him gently.
“I am very sorry”, he said again only this time he looked straight at her. “Sorry for spending the night with you – a maudlin self-pitying wench! Five years have passed you fool and you are still glued to those merry-go-lucky childhood fantasies. Look around Savitri”, he said dreamily, taking a full spin, “the world is full of beautiful women like you. Imagine this – different women, some fair other dark, some with curly thick hair others with long straight hair. Who wouldn’t want to run his hands through their soft skin and kiss those lips, tasting like a different wine, each one of them?”
Savitri could not believe what she was hearing. She saw him standing before her, laughing at all she had to say, mocking her sentiments, and discarding them with a nonchalant sway of his hand. A childhood fantasy! Other women? She could hardly contain herself. Everything happening was too much for her to take in. She had spent five years waiting, thinking of nothing but him. Five years believing that no matter how far or distanced she was from him, she was loved. She kept reassuring herself against everyone else’s belief that Hridhay will come for her. And here, he was, talking about the touch of other women’s skin.
“Do you hear yourself? What has become of you? How have you come to be so lewd and licensious?” his thoughts had left her perturbed. “What changed you so much? What made you so vain in life? It is as if you are not the same person I used know.”,
“Oh stop that unnecessary display of emotions Savitri. Look at you, daughter of a harlot. Then look at me, an ambassador of kings and traders. Kya mail hai humara, Savitri? Par ek salah deta hoon tumhe, jitna hai usme khush raho varna ji kaise paogi?” Hridhay faked compassion before leaving the room.
Savitri saw him leaving. Her eyes were burning and even she did not know whether it were the tears or her rage that stung her eyes. Her palms folded into tight fists. She breathed deeper to calm herself down. All that Hridhay said was still echoing in her mind. Stronger, you are stronger than that, Savitri, she repeated wiping her teary eyes. Her rampant thoughts drove her into a frenzy of rage. Her feet moved forward and she walked in the direction to a new life.
It was 6 o’clock in the morning when a servant came knocking at Raja sa’s door.
“What is it, Madri?”
“A woman has come to see you, sire.”, bowed Madri.