Chapter 3

“Two things remain irretrievable: time and a first impression.”

Cynthia Ozick

In India, the cosmic rose, Tripurasundari, symbolizes the beauty, strength, and wisdom of the divine mother.
In Hinduism and Buddhism, the form of the rose evokes the cup of life or the center of Mandala, a configuration of geometric shapes, which symbolizes a meditational path to Nirvana.

I reared up and bit Adnan’s arm hard. Squealing, he let go. I rolled away.
The black riding boots threw me. I stared blearily with unfocused eyes at the man wearing them.
Rajveer bent, grabbed me by the arm, and hauled me up unsteadily to my feet.
“Aadri, run home. You will not stop till you reach your father, got it?”
I nodded. My head was buzzing. My vision was blurred, not my hearing.
He let go.

I ran all the way home without stopping.
My hands clutched the torn shirt to my chest, tears fell unchecked, but I did not stop till I reached the house. I was shouting hoarsely for my father.
Papa grabbed me. I had to tell him before the way I looked distracted him.
“Adnan grabbed…horse barn…Rajveer is fighting…quick…hurry…he has a knife!”

Vishwas uncle did not stay to hear more. He ran in the direction I had come. Men followed while my mother ushered me indoors.
The family doctor came to check on me.
“You have suffered a concussion. But your pupils are not dilated, and you have no trouble walking. So, I will recommend you sleep.”
He administered a sedative then left.
He had an urgent patient waiting.
Adnan was apprehended and handed over to the police.
However, Adnan had managed to stab Rajveer.
Vishwas uncle studied my resolute expression.
“I need to see him,” I hated that my voice was shaking.
“Yes, my dear.” Vishwas uncle took me under his arm like a bird gathering a fledgling under its wing.

For saving my sorry hide, Rajveer lay with an oxygen mask covering his face, hooked to instruments that beeped and looked frankly intimidating.
He was unconscious.
“He is stable. My son is a healthy young man. He will recover consciousness soon.”
Vishwas uncle spoke confidently while he gently stroked Rajveer’s hair.
“He does not look very comfortable,” I spoke my honest opinion. Based on his furrowed brow and the restless manner in which Rajveer kicked his legs.

“He does not like sleeping in unfamiliar places. Aadri, run your fingers in his hair, making light circular motions. He likes that.”
Rajveer’s brow cleared as if proof positive that he liked my touch.
I wanted to sit there forever, but none of the adults would allow it.
“Tell him ‘you are safe. You are loved, and you are very special.’ He prefers that to a simple good night.” Vishwas uncle guided.
I forced the words past the lump in my throat.
On reaching home, I went straight to the family temple to pray for Rajveer. I was praying when the sedative finally kicked in.

Unbeknownst, I had seen his inner angst in Rajveer’s eyes twice.
Twice it stabbed at my soul.
In seconds when our gazes clashed, I saw his inner demons unleashed. The desperate fear he felt for my safety that my infant’s brain misunderstood.
When I had nightmares as a child, I would see myself falling through interminable darkness, weighed down by iron blocks.
The inability to breathe, that hopelessness would jolt me awake screaming garbled nonsense.
Now I realized those feelings were never mine. The child in me had sympathetically reflected his pain.
Vishwas uncle spared no expense, but Rajveer’s recovery was slow.
Fearing infection from a prolonged stay in the hospital, Rajveer shifted to our home. Mum personally supervised each bandage change during his recovery.
They gave him a heady cocktail of drugs in the initial month, so he was out of it most of the time.

“I want to learn to cook,” I announced at the dining table.
Mum and Dad looked at each other.
“This year, you have boards, Aadri. Maybe next year”
I looked at Vishwas uncle, my staunch supporter in every crime.

“Chitra, Aadri wants to cook so she can make Rajveer’s favorite dishes. Being a picky eater makes him a difficult patient. I think it adds to her feeling of guilt.
If she can do some act of service for him, she will get relief from that.
Don’t think of her as a child. Think of her as a human soul wanting to repay a karmic debt.”

I would sneak into Rajveer’s room to sit by his bedside. Gently stroking his head, I would repeat the words Vishwas uncle taught me, chanting them like a mantra.
You are safe. You are loved, and you are very special.

One night I fell asleep on the bed beside him, curling into his side.
Vishwas uncle woke me. “It is morning.”
I sat up, rubbing my sleep-filled eyes. “I can sleep a while longer.”
“Not by his side. Your mother will not understand.”
But Vishwas uncle did.
I am to this day convinced that karmic debt talk was hogwash.
Vishwas uncle knew I was head-over-heels in love with Rajveer.

The kind of love that if I could see him, my day brightened. If I could do any odd service for him, I felt my life had a purpose.
“Please, RamuChacha,” I grabbed the glass of saffron and turmeric milk.
RamuChacha was not happy. “Your mother will disapprove.”
“Why does Mum have to be told?”
“It is not right for a young lady to enter a gentleman’s room so late in the night. I am risking my job here.”
“If Mum asks, I will take the blame. What do you think I am going to do? Recite him a ballad while he sips a glass of milk? I will keep it on his study table just like you do and leave. I promise.”

Rajveer lay on a daybed reading yet another positive mental attitude book.
Now I knew his routine by heart.
He awoke at four every morning and exercised. He usually would go for a run, but now confined to bed, he meditated.
He had a dog-eared copy of The Gita that he read a chapter of before eating breakfast.
While recuperating, he could not come to the dining room yet; he would force himself to sit at a table. He did not take any meals in bed.
In the evening, done with the day’s work, he would bathe, change clothes, and cross-check account books till it was time for dinner.
After dinner, he read a book in bed till he felt sleepy.

Rajveer was surprised when I entered his room. I could sense his gray eyes tracking my motion. I did not dare look directly at him.
“Your milk.” I placed the tray on the square glass table.
“Thank you.” He asked when I turned to go. “Where is RamuChacha?”
“He had a headache, so I told him to take it easy.” It was a smooth lie.

RamuChacha looked at me as if I were acting bizarre.
“Young master specifically told me this morning that you must not bring him milk at night.”
“This is not Young Master’s house.” I glared, forcibly taking the tray.

Rajveer accosted me. “Don’t you know you are not supposed to enter a bachelor’s room this late at night? I could be changing or”
I scoffed. “I know your routine. To catch you changing, I would have to come to your room before dinner. Here is your milk, and stop ragging RamuChacha.
The poor man is so old, yet he must fetch and carry the livelong day for Young Master.”
It pinched my heart that he did not call me Aadri anymore.
“I won’t even speak. You will not be disturbed. I will just place your milk here and leave. Where’s the problem?”
Rajveer had no choice but to accept with ill grace.
Mum came to know of it, but she did not take issue.
RamuChacha had been hyperventilating for nothing.
Rajveer was preparing to leave for Mumbai the following day after the doctors gave him a clean bill.
I placed the milk glass at its customary place and turned.
“You won’t have to do this tomorrow.”
Thanks for rubbing it in, I thought.
“Thank you for taking such good care of me.”
I nodded. I wanted to say a thousand things. So, I said nothing, the duffer that I am.
“Good night Aadrika.”
God Aadri, you are such a mutt, I scolded myself soundly in the privacy of my bedroom. Talk to him. How will he come to know your feelings if you never explain?”