I am short of words when it comes to being able to thank you for the overwhelming response to my stories, at all times. You all mean the world to me.
This site and this new story is a token of gratitude towards all of you for being with me through thick and thin, and all phases that I have ever been.
I wish and hope that this story strikes a chord with the readers and entertains you as much as all of my previous stories have. Do let me know how you find it with your comments and feedback.
Love you all. Stay safe. Take care.
‘Sometimes, even the most meticulously planned ideas don’t materialize into actions, no matter how hard one tries. And on other times, events ensue in a flow as if they were bound to follow a pre-destined path towards their culmination.’ Manik Malhotra thought to himself.
He gave himself a long, deep look through the dressing table mirror while his thoughts wandered in every possible direction. He buttoned up his zardozi embroidered lakhnawi sherwani in cream and gold colour and looked at his reflection in the mirror to identify the look on the face staring back at him.
Was he happy?
He couldn’t fathom his exact emotions about this marriage. But he did know one thing for sure – that the patient he had operated last Saturday before flying down to India for his cousin Aman’s wedding was critical before Manik left the hospital. It was a difficult surgery but as always Dr. Manik Malhotra had managed well. After that, he had taken the flight back home on Sunday.
The patient was doing well until then. Manik had called the hospital and inquired about him. After that, he didn’t hear from the patient or the hospital. For the 10-hour long flight duration from Innsbruck to New Delhi via Dubai and 2 days after that, he couldn’t get in touch with the hospital but since there were no new emails in his mailbox and no emergency messages, he hoped that everything was fine back at work.
Even if it wasn’t, there was nothing that he could do now, sitting in Delhi. The hospital had appointed another surgeon to do a locum of follow-up in his absence. Manik knew that Dr. Boyd was quite a sincere and able surgeon to manage in his absence so he should not worry.
“Manik, are you ready?” His mother Superna’s considerate voice distracted him from his thoughts.
He picked up a hairbrush and started brushing his hair to take them backward, looking into the mirror, and trying to appear normal, “Yeah, mom. Just a moment.”
“What were you thinking so deeply about? I saw that you were lost thinking about something.” Superna came closer to him and touched his arm lovingly.
“Nah! I wasn’t…” he tried to negate Superna’s insinuation about his worries but failed miserably. She was his mom and she knew him better. She knew that he was worried about something.
“Worried, right?” Superna spoke seriously, getting worried herself, and regretful too. “I knew it. I knew that you would be apprehensive. I talked to your dad about it that it is too sudden for you and you might not be happy with his marriage but he doesn’t listen to anyone.”
“Mom…” Manik tried to stop his mom but she was on a ranting spree.
“I can understand. You don’t even know Nandini. You have never met her before. This is such a weird marriage to be decided in just 2 days. You should have refused for the marriage, na?”
Manik rolled his eyes carelessly, “Come on, mom. I’m not even thinking about it. I was worried about the patient that I operated on – my last operation before coming here.”
Superna frowned. She whacked his arm, and gritted her teeth angrily, “You were thinking about the patient? You know what, I am the only idiot in this family. Your dad just thinks about the hospital, the patients, the diseases… all day. Likewise, everyone else in the family does the same. And now, Aman and you! All of you are just bothered about your work and patients. I am the only one left with no proper job other than taking care of all and worrying about everyone whether you are happy or not.”
Manik chuckled, tossed the hairbrush on the dressing table, and held his mother’s shoulders adoringly, “Don’t behave like a melodramatic filmy mommy. Tell me, what is bothering you?”
Her smile returned. A helpless but loving smile for her doting son. She touched his cheek and asked, “Manik, tell me honestly – are you happy?”
Manik shrugged, “Happy about what?”
“About your marriage!” Superna rolled her eyes, almost on the verge of whacking him again.
He swayed his jaw and twisted his lips, “Didn’t think much about it, to be honest. Dad said that I should get married to ‘her’ so I said – yes.”
Superna winced, evidently miffed at this decision. “I had so many plans for your marriage. All of us wanted to talk to you on this trip. Dadi, I, Ramola bua, everyone was so keen on looking for a nice, sweet bride for you. You are already 29 years old and well settled as a plastic surgeon in Innsbruck. We wanted to see you settle down with a girl of your choice but you were never ready to talk about it. And now, suddenly, even before we could plan something, your dad dropped this bomb of Nandini Murthy.”
Manik let his face remain straight and devoid of any expressions. He pressed his lips and turned to face the mirror again, straightening his sherwani, without replying to her and in a way, disappointing her. Superna had been pinning her hopes on him. Quashed by him.
“Manik, you can refuse, even now.” She suggested in an assuring voice, “You don’t have to agree. I will support you. Dadi, bua, everyone will support you. We are not in favour of this marriage. Your dad has gone crazy. But he won’t listen to us unless you put your foot down.”
Manik replied in a grave, deep voice, “But why will I do so?”
“You can’t marry someone you don’t know.” She suggested hopefully.
“How will it help? Just now you said that tomorrow you will bring new faces for me to choose and select one of them.”
“Better girls… I meant…”
“Better?” He smirked carelessly, “You know what is better, mom? The earlier, the better. The fact is that I am not even thinking about marriage right now. But since all of you insist, I agreed to go ahead with this formality.”
“Okay! I get that… But why Nandini??”
“Why not her, mom?”
“You don’t know her.”
“That’s true for all the other girls, you are planning to choose for me. I really don’t have time or energy for the drama of meeting girls and trying to know them when I know that I don’t even care.”
“Don’t care? Don’t care about the girl you will be spending your life with? You haven’t met her. Know nothing about her?”
“I really don’t care. Trust me, I will adjust with any girl. I don’t think anything about marriage.”
“But whyyy??” Superna huffed hopelessly as if she was talking to a wall.
Manik didn’t reply. Instead, he fixed the diamond buttons in the loops of his cuffs.
Superna tried again, in a worried tone, “I’ve heard that she is mysterious, evil, ominous with a dangerous, harmful streak and she does black magic that kills people.”
This time Manik laughed loudly. He couldn’t stop laughing for a long moment. “Oh God! You suddenly make it sound so interesting. I was not even thinking about marriage. And now, I feel so desperate to meet this sorceress of a lady… Nandini Murthy, the black magician, right?”
“You find it funny?! It doesn’t scare you that she can be evil and dangerous and can harm you?”
Manik shrugged, “Mom, such stories are spread about innocent people by others who wish bad for them. Never heard it abroad but it is particularly a problem in India.”
“Everyone says so…” Superna defended herself.
“You tell me…you are a woman. You should know this. Do you really believe in all this nonsense?”
Superna sighed. She sat down on his bed and started folding his discarded shirt. “I never believed it previously. But today, my son’s life is at stake. So, I’m scared.”
“I’m not!” Manik said, “To be honest, the only thing in my mind right now is that I want to get this issue of marriage done and dusted with so that I can go back to Innsbruck and continue my surgery practice. What better time to do this than now? Aman’s marriage preparations are already on. I will get married in the same functions.”
“This is not how I saw the dreams of your marriage.”
“Come on, mom! I don’t care how the ceremonies take place. I’m tired of this same question by all relatives, again and again. I’m fine to end this issue here. Regarding Nandini, if dad has chosen her, then she must be fine.”
Superna was annoyed, “Your dad is a hopeless case. And so are you. He chose her because he met her a few times when she used to go to the hospital for her aunt’s treatment.”
“So?” Manik shrugged.
“The same aunt died in mysterious circumstances.”
“That doesn’t have to be Nandini’s fault. It could be a coincidence.”
“Of course! The fact that her mother died when she was born and her father died a week before her marriage was a coincidence too. And that she was married for one year to a psychopath who died mysteriously, is a coincidence too?”
Manik heard her patiently and took a moment to process what he wanted to say. Then he replied patiently, “Mom, I don’t believe the gossip circles. Medical education has taught me that a person can either die a natural death or is killed by someone purposefully. Black magic is not listed as a cause of death in our books. Dad told me that he was the family doctor to everyone in her family – especially Nandini’s aunt, her father, and her drunkard, psychopath husband. None of the deaths were murders. All of them were suffering from long-term proven medical issues. Nandini’s only fault is that she was caught in a series of misfortunes. It was her bad luck and we can neither hold her responsible for the deaths of her relatives nor for her bad luck. She is just as much the victim as everyone around her. In fact, she has suffered more as she is alone.”
“So, we are doing charity in the name of marriage?” Superna sighed, well aware that she has lost the case.
Manik became serious and thought for a long moment before replying, trying his best to keep his voice stable, so that his mom is not able to read him. He didn’t want to bother her. But he didn’t want to divulge anything about him to her. His pain was his personal asylum to rot.
He sighed. “No. We are not. Nandini was not even willing to get married again, dad told me. He had to convince her.”
“And you decided to do this favour?”
“No. She is doing a favour to me by agreeing to marry me.”
[The schedule of updates – Tuesday/Thursday/ Saturday for now]