“How long would you be gone for?” Akriti’s voice was shaking. The last thing she wanted was to break down in front of Parth. She had heard her father rebuking her mother numerous times for weakening his resolve by crying in front of him. It was the same story almost every other day. Subsequently, she had vowed never to let her man see her tears. Even though they hadn’t said the words, it was an unspoken agreement that they belonged together. But now, he was leaving India with his family, for God knew how long. To avoid meeting his gaze, she focused on removing invisible lint off her dupatta.
Parth knew her inner turmoil all too well. How could he not? They had been together since the day his family bought the land next to her house around six years ago. Technically, they were neighbors, but their lives were worlds apart. While the Reddys (Akriti and her parents) struggled to make the ends meet, his family could not spend enough. However, when it came to affection, Reddys had it in so much abundance that Parth wished to have been born in her family. Nonetheless, the thought of having born as a brother to Akriti quickly chased those musings away. There was no doubt in his mind that he wanted, nay needed, to protect and cherish her as a lover and not a sibling.
Without voicing their inevitable predicament, he let his eyes linger on the object of his affection. He studied her pale face that had recently developed dark shadows under her nut-brown eyes. These were the eyes that filled his heart with the hope of a better tomorrow. Although he realized Akriti was on the verge of breaking down, he longed to hear her honey-dipped voice laced with optimism. To make her feel better, he wore the kurta pajama that she had gifted him a few months back. Now the thought that his apparel could eliminate the dismay of his departure sounded moronic even to his own ears. What was I thinking? He thought to himself.
Perhaps, she had the same notion when she chose to wear the red salwar kurta that he had bought for her. “Akriti, have some faith,” he said, lifting her chin with his finger to look into her eyes. Dark pools of fear had replaced the ever-residing hope from them. He could not bear to be the cause of her distress, but he had no option but to go with his family. It was strange how his father was treating him like a kid, though he was almost sixteen. Parth insisted that he let him stay with the Reddys, while he took care of his business in London. But, no! Mr. Kapoor was adamant that he would not leave his only son behind. Besides, he didn’t know how long this current case would require.
For a moment, she held his gaze, but then began looking at a pair of sparrows poking each other with their beaks. With one hand she covered her eyes to block the piercing sun rays and lifted her eyes to follow the pair as they flew high up in the sky. “I have a sinking feeling that we will not see each other again,” she whispered in a gentle voice that held neither anger nor pain. Finally, she locked her eyes with him.
“I would never let that happen, Akriti.”
She squeezed his palm and rose from her spot from under the tree. Parth watched as she turned her back on him and strode off toward her house. As much as he wanted to comfort her, he knew nothing could reduce her anguish. Instead, he swallowed the lump in his throat and watched her red dupatta flowing behind her until she turned the corner. Parth succumbed to her misery and allowed himself to cry. Fresh tears streamed down his cheeks as he buried his face in his palms.
The sudden jerk of the car broke Parth’s reverie. The driver, whose name he didn’t bother to learn, turned toward him and apologized profusely. He was a nervous man with jittery hands. If it were up to Parth, he never would have allowed him to drive. But, like many other things in his life, he did not get a say in this decision as well. At least Parth managed to persuade his father, Mr. Kapoor, to send him back to India. That was not an easy conversation. It involved a lot of yelling, begging, and emotional blackmailing from both sides, but finally, Parth won with a lot of terms and conditions.
“I would not allow my only son to live a life of a common penniless columnist. I can only tolerate your decision if you stay under the roof that I would provide, the car that I would arrange, and the driver that I would appoint. And under no circumstances, you are to put your life in danger,” Mr. Kapoor declared in his typical commanding voice. He raised his index finger in the air like a zealous speaker and warned Parth. “If I so much as get wind of your non-cooperation, I swear to God you would curse the day you were born.”
Parth suppressed his grin with as much effort as he could muster, but he broke into a fit of laughter when he heard his mother chuckle from the next room. Annoyed, his dad turned to face the other room, “You think sending our son off to India after so many years is funny?” His voice echoed against the brick walls of the hall.
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic, honey.” Parth flinched at the term of endearment. His dad was many things, but honey was not one of them. Ignoring his reaction, his mother continued, “Parth would be back before you know it. Having lived the luxurious life of London, he would not be able to breathe his beloved country’s air for more than a day. Let him go and watch him return with a visible pang of regret.” She waved her hands dramatically to drive her point home.
The sound of the opening and closing of the trunk indicated that he had reached his “accommodation.” He knew exactly what to expect, and a quick glance out of the ambassador confirmed his presumptions. On the entrance stood a beautiful white marble fountain. The water was coming out of the beaks of two peacocks facing the sky, of course, the statues — not the real ones. The area surrounding the fountain was covered with lush grass and colorful flowers. A circular path had been carved around the fountain and between the entrance of the mansion and the main door of the haveli to allow cars to pass through without disrupting the flourishing garden.
It took every ounce of him not to pounce on the servant who rushed to open his door. “Thank you,” he said with an annoyed expression and got out of the car. Later, when he was finally alone in his bedroom, he regretted his misdirected fury. Ever since he was separated from Akriti, he had begun to loathe the fine luxury that his parents clung to. Even with his immense money, he could never locate the Reddys.
The news of the massacre that followed the partition of India hit him like a thousand daggers on his heart. The fact that his father knew the whole ordeal in advance and flew them out of India without so much as warning the Reddys, hurt his teenage heart. He had begged him to do something to help Akriti and her family, but Mr. Kapoor declared that he could nothing for them. The very definition of a heartless snob! After just a few months, Mr. Kapoor threw a grand party to celebrate the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II, as if he knew the royal family personally.
“The fiesta is our opportunity to flaunt our resources and network with established businessmen. It would also prove our loyalty to this country. And you will not only join it but participate wholeheartedly,” Mr. Kapoor stated matter-of-factly, while Parth cried his eyes out.
“Listen to your baba, Parth. The sooner you learn the tricks of the trade, the better it would be for your future.” Even his mother dismissed his plea that he be allowed to sit this one out, as a maid continued putting on makeup on her already heavily painted face.
Parth never felt as alone as he did on that very day. He knew with absolute certainty that Akriti was the only normal person in his pretentious world. Since fighting his parents could not get him anywhere, he decided to play the role of a good son until he could convince them to go back to India — alone. Although in their eyes, Akriti was long dead in the riots during the partition, his heart told him otherwise. For twelve years, he numbed his heart so much so that he could only feel gravity. Each day he rehearsed the words that he would say to her after finding her. He trained his heart to believe that it as only a matter of when and not if.
Once Upon a Time in India Part 2 would be out soon. Can’t wait? Click the link to read the complete Once Upon a Time in India story.
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