This is a part II of the story ‘I will’. Click here to read the part one.
Present Day: Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh
The haldi function went into late afternoon. The family had now started preparing for the grand ladies sangeet organised in the lawns adjoining their haweli. Rudra took time out and decided to retire to his room. Some one handed a hot cup of coffee to him and advised him to just lie down for a while. They were right. But the only problem was Rudra had no sleep in his eyes. He walked over to the balcony and stared at the horizon. Sun had not set yet. But it was cloudy. Monsoon was on the anvil. The balcony of Rudra’s room was on the left side of the haveli that overlooked the gardens, some shrubby trees and then the Antia lake. From a distance he could see few youngsters having a good time at the chai ki tapri. Then there was a couple cozying up behind a tree. Rudra thought of Laxmi… and then came back to his room.
Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh: Four and half months ago
After no feedback from the Rathodes for 15 days, Laxmi’s father had called up Raghuvendraji and politely asked what their opinion was. Apart from being a respected family, Thakurs were one of the largest cement dealers and retailers in Western UP. That suited very well to the Rathode’s construction business. It was a winning proposition for the Thakurs too. For Rudra’s father, it was much more than two families coming together for a wedding. On the same evening, he summoned Rudra to his room.
“What is wrong with you? Why are you delaying the proposal? Don’t you like Laxmi?” Raghuvendra Rathode had curtly asked Rudra that evening.
“Nothing like that Papa, just that I need more time to think.”
“How much more? 15 days have passed, for god’s sake! Is there a problem with Laxmi?” Rudra nodded. “Thakur khandaan ek izzatdar gharana hai, humein ladki pasand hai. Main aaj hi unhe phone kar deta hu. Rokke ki taarikh pakki kar lete hai. Baaki tayyariyan bhi to karni hai.”
“But Papa… kya main ek baar Laxmi se mil sakta hu?”
There was a pause and then his father said. “Hmmm… theek hai. There is a Cement dealer’s meeting tomorrow in Kanpur. I’m going and Laxmi’s brother Tej Singh is also going to come there. I will ask him to get Laxmi along. You meet her in the hotel. But remember… Khandaan ki izzat ka sawaal hai. Uska khayal rakhna”
The father son duo started early next day and reached The Landmark Hotel, Kanpur barely minutes before the conference started. Tej Singh was waiting in the lobby along with Laxmi, dressed again in an elegant looking green chiffon saree. Parties greeted each other cordially. Laxmi bowed and touched Raghuvendraji’s feet. They discussed business for a while with Tej Singh testing Rudra’s knowledge about the construction industry. Tej Singh suggested that if it was fine with Rudra, he could drop Laxmi to Unnao after they are done. After it was agreed, the two left the couple in the lobby and went for the conference.
From the corner of the eye, Rudra had been observing Laxmi. She was nervous. But some where he sense the brewing dissent inside her mind. Now that the two were out of sight, Rudra turned his attention to Laxmi. The tightly draped chiffon saree was perfectly showing off her petite figure. She was sans make up, but was wearing beautiful earrings, the same medium sized bindi and an elegant looking pearl necklace… and was still neither talking nor paying attention to Rudra’s observing eyes.
“I’m new to Kanpur you see… so you will have to suggest me a place we can go to. What is good around here?” Rudra finally broke the silence.
“Its warm outside” Laxmi said with looking at Rudra, “We can go to the cafe in the hotel. I’m sure you have questions… I have too. Lets settle it here”
“Whats the matter Laxmi?”
“Whats the matter? You are asking me? I told you to refuse the proposal, also sent you sms that day and pleaded you to not pursue it. But you didn’t. You kept on asking why, why… sent ajju to convince me. And even though I’m still saying no, through your father you confirmed our wedding? Can’t you understand? I DONT WANT to marry you!”
Laxmi was loud enough to unsettle the lobby. The passersby had now started taking notice of the argument about to happen between the young couple. “I think we should go to the cafeteria.” suggested Rudra. “No! I think we should go home.” Rudra let out a sigh of disappointment and reluctantly nodded.
Kanpur to Unnao is a 25min drive. But due to the flyover construction near Shukla Ganj, they had to take the highway route, which was going to give Rudra that extra 20 minutes, in what he was thinking as the last attempt to set things right. Refusing to marry Laxmi was never an option with Rudra. Not because he had fallen in love with her. But because if the marriage was not to happen, at all, one of them had to die or runaway and thus forget their families… forever. His thoughts wandered all over the place, trying to find the best way to explain this to Laxmi. For 10 minutes, no body spoke. Then she broke the silence.
“Look, I’m sorry I shouted… and that I didn’t take your calls or reply to messages. I thought you will understand. But now that your father has already confirmed, I want to confess this. I don’t think I will be able to keep you happy… or love you ever. Our marriage may happen. There are many who see benefits here. But are we going to be happy with this relation? I don’t think so. It will be my mistake. I think I will have to live with it, and now you have chosen to live with it too. I’m sorry, but I can’t help.”
“Laxmi…” Rudra spoke softly after a momentary silence. “If you don’t mind, can I ask you some thing?” She nodded. “Are you in love with some one else?”
Present Day: Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh
Laxmi’s candid confession had some what unsettled Rudra that day. On their way to Unnao, Rudra had insisted on meeting Om, the guy Laxmi thought she loved. He was a simple guy, a graduate who had just got an entry into the Indian Army. He was about to be commissioned. Laxmi had introduced him as her fiance and Om hadn’t reacted. He was fine with Laxmi marrying some one else. They spoke about Om’s eagerness to join the Army, the life of an officer and how he had chosen between lot of money, fancy degrees and dying for the country. It was a strange conversation. He hadn’t spoken to her for a week after that meeting. Neither did she. When his father proposed the date for the rokka, he had called her.
Laxmi and Om were classmates. He was one of her good friends and knew her family too. Although they loved each other, Om never tried to talk to Laxmi’s family or go out of the way to marry her. For him, nothing was more important than his ambition to join the armed forces. Laxmi, for him, was a responsibility he was happy to wear but not to carry. Laxmi knew this. Then why do you love him? Want to marry him? Rudra had asked on the call. The reason was freedom. Om was the only child of his parents. His family, although well to do, was small. They neither had the baggage of their clan nor the tradition of their caste. And going to DU for higher studies, work for companies, start own boutique, travel abroad… Laxmi had ambitions too. She thought Om could fulfill them. A day before her rokka to Rudra, she had written a letter to Om asking him if he could run away with her. On the same day he had sent back an envelop that contained her letter along with a copy of his commissioning letter. The answer was obvious.
Rudra was lying on his bed, thinking about that day. On the wall opposite to his bed, he was looking at the picture of him and Laxmi. It was taken on the rokka day. It was the first time when they stood together, neither of them smiling. I almost ran away yesterday night. But I couldn’t. I can’t commit if it wont happen before our wedding… or after. Laxmi had whispered in Rudra’s ears while this pic was being taken. The astonishment was showing in the pic. His thoughts were broken by a buzz on his mobile. It was a message from Laxmi.
“Do you have any plans to run away before the wedding?” It read.
“Nope. Who should I run away with? But if you have any such plans, let me know. I’ll save my trip to Unnao :-)” Rudra replied.
“That trip toh you will have to take Thakur sahab… aagey bhagwaan ki marzee :-)”
To be continued…