Shweta wondered if he had heard it right. Then she hears it again, the scratching sounds. She looks up. Mihir is looking at her. Embarrassed to have been caught staring, he lowers his gaze. Shweta smiles knowingly.
Now they are both hearing the scratching sound. Both feign ignorance and neither betrays their stance.
Anju walks in, “Mom, do you have my earphones, they seem to be lost.”
“Have you seen them, I certainly haven’t.”
Mihir, have you?”
There’s that sound again.
“Mom, did you hear that?” staring at the main door.
“Yep, we heard that.” Mihir decides to confess.
“Should I go see?” staring helplessly at her mom, Anju begs.
Anju walks to the door. She stops short of it, casts a glance at her mother
And flings open the door wide.
“O my, look at this won’t you. Come here mom, come here quick!”
“Mom come here naa,” Anju pleads.
Mihir walks out of the door and picks up one of three little pups, sitting there groggily, abandoned by their mom .
Anju and Mihir bundle up three pups each and bring them into the house.
Shweta yells at them.
“No way, not in this house please you two.”, already melting at the sight of these little wriggly beings, yelping their way into her open heart. She gently strokes one of them, who immediately starts sucking her thumb.
“Oh dear, they seem hungry.”
She calls out to her manservant, who promptly returns with a low bowl of milk.
The pups are unable to drink on their own. Anju goes and brings cotton wool which she then drip-feeds to the pups one by one. Mihir, in the meantime, has gotten the clothes basket and made a little bed for the pups.
Shweta watches and feeds in turn, fascinated it would seem. Her heart is torn. She is not a dog-lover, yet her daughter’s excitement and yearning has pervaded the ambience of their home.
Mihir hasn’t said much but all his actions vet Anju’s need to comfort and care for these motherless creatures. Their sounds and frenzied yelps send waves of joy rippling through the living room.
“We need to keep them safe and happy mom, we do.” Anju states once the frenzy dies down, and the pups take to their new bed.
“I don’t know Anju. What will we do when we travel next month. Perhaps….”
“Yes, we can keep two, and I know one of my friends would want them too. You’re such a darling mommmie!” squealing with delight Anju embraces her mother.
Mihir sits quietly observing the scene and obviously reveling in Anju’s delight. Shweta and he continue to exchange sly glances conceding this foregone conclusion. They both think it the right time.
At a time when Shweta was not Shweta but Mili, she had met Mihir in a train ride.
She was traveling to meet her future husband, and Mihir was returning home in Pune. They had berths opposite each other and had struck up a friendship, ten years back.The train ride was otherwise monotonous, and the train itself chugged along. It seemed to bear no real purpose, if only to reach its destination at the slowest possible pace.
Mili had finished both the novels she had been carrying. Mihir had completed all the office work he had carried with him, and they both seemed rather bored.Mihir asked to borrow Mili’s book.
“Hi, may I take a look at that novel, it seems like an interesting one, is it?”
“Sure. It’s all right. I had expected more, but somehow it loses the plot somewhere after the first 150 pages.” Mili informed Mihir sulkily.
“Oh is that so, then should I bother with it, I mean, sorry, what I mean is may I read it, now that I’m done?”
“Go ahead.” Smilingly Mili planted the book in his hands.
Mihir had looked at Mili then, and noticed the little bump above her right eyebrow, and how her shoulders slumped when she was bored. He observed the curve of her long neck, the clear skin of her shoulder, half-covered by her kurta, he saw how she straightened her back and winced a little, rubbing her slim waist. He quietly observed her movements – and began to sense and feel her curvaceousness, wondering if she were betrothed to someone.
He finished the book quickly, and told her how right she was.
“But you managed to finish it even so haan!”
“I did. What else do I have to do in this train, which now seems like an eternal journey. I wonder when we will eventually reach Pune.”
“If we reach at all,”Mili said dismissively.
“We will, we’ve paid for the journey. Do you want to get off at the next station and take a short walk, I’m Mihir Deshpande by the way.”
Mili let out a laugh, “Gosh, yeah, we forgot to introduce ourselves. I’m Mili.”
“Just Mili eh!?”
“Yep, just Mili. I’m from Delhi, but well, you know, lived in many cities and all that.”
“So you’re in college?”
“Oh no, gosh no, I’ve been working for over three years now. What about you?’
“I’m not in college, no.”
“Very funny. I didn’t think you were. You look…” Mili stopped short.
“I look, go on.”
Mili felt a little reticent. Mihir prodded her, getting friendlier, more pushing, and he moved onto her side of the seat.
Mili moved closer to the window. She could smell his aftershave as she inhaled his presence so close to her. She felt a strange intimacy coming over her. Mili also felt reticent to further this genre of exchange. But the man prodded her, friendlier and more engaging. deftly moved onto her berth. His short brown hair bobbed as he spoke. He was definitely an attractive young man.
“So, what do I look like, go on Mili.”
Mili held her breath.
“Mmmmm, I would say, you look like an actor, or perhaps a standup comedian, who’s been working a long time, and doing well too.”
“You’re having me on now. I don’t look like an actor. Actors are con artists, and they are usually good-looking too. “
Mili took the bait. “And you are.”
You mean I have the air of a con artist or I am good looking?” twinkling eyes, the slight slant of flirtation in his voice, and Mihir felt the journey had been worth his while. He wanted the train to slow down; he didn’t need to reach Pune at all at that very minute. His mood carried strength and Mili had gotten into the swing of it.
“Yeah, one could call you good-looking in a con artist kind of manner.” not willing to relent that easily.
“Hmmm, that’s not very flattering. So, for you Mili, from Dilli, I’m willing to keep it up- the con artist guise, and thereby remain wickedly handsome.” And with that his gaze plunged straight into her eyes. He was drowning in their blueness, and dragging her along.
She was startled, vulnerable, and breathless. Here she was, on a life’s journey to meet her would-be husband, someone she had quite joyfully been corresponding with.Flirting was definitely not her, and yet here she was, at it, with a complete stranger. And she wanted at that very moment to be ravaged by this unknown presence. The very force of these stirrings shook her.
Mihir on his part was doing a fine job of riding along, and gaining ground rapidly. He had no clue of who she was. He felt inextricably drawn to her. He found her absolutely gorgeous with the passage of time, and now he felt he wanted her for himself.
Mili shifted closer to the window, sensing it the right thing to do. She could smell his aftershave as she inhaled his physique. A inexplicable sense of intimacy passed between them. A recklessness was creeping into the space that separated them.
“SO Mili tell me what takes you to Pune? Work? Pleasure? or both?”
Biting her tongue, Mili burst out,“I guess it’s more work than pleasure. What about you?”
“You are lying.”
“Why, why do you say that?” a weak smile playing on her lips.
“Well there’s nothing about you that says you are on an official visit. There’s something in your demeanour that says ‘relatives’. Tell me I’m wrong.” he flung the challenge at her in as mischievous a manner he could muster. Instead, all he could think of was nightfall, and she in his arms, his lips locked with hers. The pulsating train was encouraging every carnal thought of his.
“You are right. I am off to meet someone who could be my fiancé!” and she had quickly turned away from him. She stared out into the dark night, the coaches’ reflections glaring right back at her in the window pane.
“See I told you.” But his voice had lost its luster.
The dinner boy arrived with two boxes of stale food. They both grabbed their cartons and ate quietly.
Later, when the train had an hour left to reach Pune, they had held hands, and exchanged mobile numbers. He had kissed her long and deep, in the darkness of the coach. She hadn’t stopped him. He had touched her breasts with practiced ease, and short of making love, a force far larger and frenzied had consumed them quite completely.
Later when she met her future husband, she gave herself to him, but not before she had met Mihir on five different occasions at his quiet flat in Pune, and not before they broke each others’hearts. Mihir had not once proposed marriage. She had not said she wanted him forever either, not once. They met, they ravaged each other, felt a completeness that stayed, and they parted, each time believing it to be their last meeting. The fleeting time that they spent in each others’ love, strengthened their resolve to cease meeting, yet seemed to further cement a deep yearning to unite. So they met, furtively, hurried yet hungry, thinking they could fool time, and since none knew of their bounden existence, they didn’t exist.
Now, in the present time, Mihir meets Shweta. Her husband had died in a car accident a year ago. Mohair had seen a rather quaint coffee shop off the main road. Hoping to be by himself, he found Mili. There she was, just a little grey at her temples. He felt faint, both with relief and disbelief. This is in Delhi.The embers that had lain dormant were reignited as soon as their eyes locked. There they were, those blue sapphire-like eyes.
She insisted that he come home with her, tightly holding his hands in hers and says to him, “All of us live with our past. All of us allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is where I am…..”
At home, Mili has instructed him to address her as Shweta. He somehow knows. He has no idea whence this knowledge. So when he meets Anju, their daughter, he is certain beyond doubt.
Mili tells Mihir how she had been christened Shweta by her husband’s Marathi family as per tradition. Mihir winces. After meeting Mihir, little Anju tells her mother that this friend of hers, who she refuses to address by name, makes her feel very ‘strange’, When Shweta repeatedly asks her to describe the strangeness, Anju bursts into tears.
So today, the very same evening, Mihir and Mili decide to tell Anju the truth about her birth, although Mili is reticent. Mihir insists, as he is keen to adopt her openly as his own. He feels the sooner Anju knows the better. He reminds her how they had lost one ‘present time’ long back, and wouldn’t want to lose another ‘present moment’. Mili acquiesces and accepts his wisdom.
How does Mihir realize he is Anju’s father? Mili is flummoxed.
When he runs into Mili at the café this evening, he senses a bond with her, beyond the physical craving he has suffered from in all the years apart. The agony of waiting eternally, was more than he could have borne. He feels betrothed to her, he always has. Now, flung into the ring again, he wants to rekindle those ghosts that have tormented him all these years, and fuse into her being.
Anju is in her mother’s arms when Mili tells her The Truth of her birth. Anju is certain her mother is making up a story because she has found a new mate. Mili does not give in to her tantrum and begs for patience, and tells her that she would never ever lie to her child to meet her own ends.
She makes up a simple tale, wrapped in truth.
Anju weeps through the night, and clings to her mother. She senses that this was perhaps the strangeness she has felt on meeting this man, her father. She fears losing her mother. She is totally comfortable in their world and wants to retain this what they have, and doesn’t want it destroyed by anyone, even if it were her ‘real’ father. She doesn’t miss having a father. She fears an irreversible change this romantic love would wreak in its wake. She feels no love, no excitement, only a trepidation that accompanies fear, the fear of loss.
Mili promises her child that nothing that Anju cannot embrace will be allowed to happen. She reassures her gently that she had genuinely loved her husband, the man Anju had known as her father. She explains to her in as little detail as possible about her actual birth father, Mihir Mihir. How and why she had chosen to marry her husband to be with, for Anju’s sake. She tells her, in no uncertain terms, that Anju was luckier than most kids, because she now had two fathers to call her own. Yet the one that survived, was there for them, now and forever if God willed it so.
Anju wants to know how this person, who is perhaps her birth father, can love her spontaneously although he has not known her, never met her? How can a ‘stranger’ suddenly become a loving father just because he is her biological father? What if he did not take to her, astounding Mili at the clear thinking.
Ultimately Mili makes a promise to her child: Mihir can only promise to do his best, and if he fails to live up to their expectations, he will be asked to leave them and not return. She is careful not to betray any sense of hesitation. That said, Anju still demands of her mother that she would only marry him once they both agreed that he made a good husband and an excellent father. The girls are reunited, and Anju falls fast asleep within a matter of minutes, at peace with the exchange.
All the while, Mihir is sitting outside the room listening to the mother-daughter conversation with copious tears rolling down his face. An inexplicable sense of pride wells up nigh choking him. He senses both loss and fulfillment, both beyond his grasp. He is overwhelmed, quite completely, by a sense of discovery of not one, but two strong women in his life. His Mili is truly the Blue Sapphire- the Neelam of his life, the one that’s right there for the asking, and concealed from one’s vision till one’s faculty is correctly developedto view it in all its splendor, and not get blinded.
He is lost and yet he senses that he has been found himself. He wants to seize that which he feels is all his, yet he knows that the timing has to be just right.
Mihir enters Shweta’s bedroom, just as dawn breaks, and he observes, at first ruefully, Anju’s beautiful face streaked with the night’s tears. And then, his heart lurches as the growing light traces disappearing shadows, and replaces them with undefined peace, quietening the elephant in the room.
Mili holds out her right arm to Mihir, reposing Love. Mihir in turn places his right palm upright in her hand saying, “I Do”, as he slides onto the bed, placing his head on her chest, as gently as he possibly can. The Elephant in the room is swallowed up by the pervading Light which dissipates the gloom of the night that has just passed.