To Read Part I
Akash knew his daughter was alive as she had just called him a few moments ago. He took out his jacket and wrapped his little angel in it and held her close to his heart. Kriti’s eyes were wide open in shock and she was still trembling as Akash wrapped the jacket around her. She didn’t have the energy to even hold her father. One guard checked Vinit. “He is still breathing! Call the ambulance please.” Another person immediately called the ambulance and police at the same time.
One week after the unfortunate night of the incidence, Kriti returned home from hospital. The effect of the incidence had caused Vinit to drift into coma and he had been shifted to ICU. Doctors were unsure of his condition and were trying their best to revive him to normalcy.
“I am sorry Baba! I am really sorry for all this…” Kriti had started blaming herself for the miserable condition of Akash, Vinit and herself.
“It was not your fault beta…Why are you blaming yourself?” Akash tried to console his beloved daughter.
“It was all my fault Baba. Because of me, Vinit is battling for his life today.” Kriti couldn’t stop blaming herself and she burst into tears.
“Being a girl is not your fault dear…”
“The culprits are already behind the bar and will face the consequences.” Akash said as a tiny drop of tear escaped his own eyes. It was heartbreaking for him to see his beloved headstrong and cheerful daughter in such a vulnerable state but Akash was trying to be as strong as possible. He knew, if he lost control, it would be very difficult for his daughter to come out of the shock of the incidence.
“Okay, you take rest now. I will make some steaming ginger tea for you. That would make you feel better” Akash tried to smile but failed miserably.
“Okay Baba…” As much as Kriti tried not to think about the horrible incidence, she couldn’t stop the thoughts from haunting her day and night. She was equally in pain for Vinit. “God! Please save him ….I will do anything for his life” prayed Kriti.
It had been 3 months since the fateful night and slowly Kriti had started accepting her fate. Vinit also had a miraculous recovery and was out of coma and under treatment for his head trauma. On the other hand, all three accused of that night got convicted to lifetime imprisonment for their heinous crime. They challenged the verdict in high court which was still pending. The memories of that fateful day started fading with each passing day and the scars started to heal.
Two years had passed since the night of the incidence and Akash and Kriti’s life was slowly getting back to normal, but few things had changed forever. Kriti became much more responsible. In fact, Kriti and Akash reversed their roles and now Kriti was more strict and concerned whereas Akash started behaving casual.
“You are behaving like a kid as you are growing older baba.” Scolded Kriti.
Kriti was displeased by the fact that her father is neglecting his health. He was type 2 diabetic and had no control on his taste buds.
“Nothing will happen to me, don’t worry!” Akash replied casually.
He continued. “These doctors unnecessarily scare you to extract more money…”
“I don’t want to hear anything on this. No sugar at all for you and that’s final.” Declared Kriti.
Their casual argument was disrupted by the sudden sound of the door-bell. Kriti went to open the door. It was Vinit!
“Ah!! What a pleasant surprise!” Kriti couldn’t stop smiling. She genuinely felt pleased every time she met Vinit. His sound health had helped her a lot in breaking free from the chains of guilt she had carried for the past 2 years.
“Welcome beta… How are you?” Akash enquired.
“I am fine uncle. Hope you are not eating sugar and your diabetes is under control…” Vinit said as he passed a quick wink at Kriti. Vinit was like a family member and he knew every single detail about Akash and Kriti.
“Ohh! There is nothing like diabetes. Doctors keep fooling you for more money.” Akash always neglected the fact about his health. He just pretended to be happy for every single moment of his life for Kriti.
“How come you are here so early morning?” Akash asked casually.
“Baba!!! What kind of question is that? He can come here anytime and you know that.” Kriti felt embarrassed by her dad’s sudden question.
“It’s okay Kriti. I am not a stranger to you guys and yes its little odd to come at 8 in the morning.” Vinit replied with sheepish smile.
“Actually…. I came with a purpose…” Vinit said looking straight into Kriti’s eyes.
“And what is that?” a puzzled Akash asked Vinit.
“Err… I have actually been thinking of something for the last couple of days…” Vinit paused, now shifting his attention to Akash.
“ummm….I…if you don’t mind…”
“Uncle…. If you don’t mind, I would like to marry Kriti!” Vinit said with his fingers crossed. He was fully prepared for the consequences of his statement.
Kriti had already guessed that Vinit had something in mind the moment he had entered the house. After all, she had known him for years to have sensed that. She was feeling overjoyed to hear Vinit’s proposal but controlled her emotions.
There was a pin drop silence for a long minute. Akash looked at Kriti who was already trying to read her father’s expressions. The moment Akash and Kriti’s eyes met, she raised her eyebrows in an attempt to let Akash know that she wasn’t a part of this and it was as much a surprise for her as it was for him.
Akash then turned his face towards Vinit who was sitting quietly with his head down, eagerly waiting to hear ‘Yes’ from Akash.
“Vinit?” Akash broke the silence.
“Aa…Ye…Yes Uncle!” Vinit’s heart was pounding like a hammer.
“Why do you want to marry Kriti?” Akash questioned before Vinit could finish his sentence.
“I think I love her…” Vinit gave the best reason he could come up with at that moment.
“You THINK or You DO?” Akash was trying to play with Vinit’s thoughts.
“I mean I DO uncle…” Vinit clarified.
Kriti had been a silent spectator all this time. Though she didn’t say a word, somewhere within she knew that there couldn’t be a better person to marry than Vinit. She also knew how Akash thought and thus was quite sure that her father would agree to Vinit’s proposal.
Vinit and Kriti had never been into any kind of relationship other than being close friends and thus, she was quite impressed by how Vinit decided to directly ask her father instead of going through her. Akash was also aware of this fact that they were nothing more than best buddies. So everything seemed positive to Kriti and the thought of spending her life with someone like Vinit caused her heart to skip a beat.
“NO! This is not possible!” Akash announced in a stern and clear voice. He was out of his seat and towering down on Vinit as he made his statement. Kriti and Vinit were stunned to hear this.
“Wh….what?” Vinit was out of words.
“Yes, you heard it right. This is not possible and I won’t give permission to this.” Akash sounded more determined than ever when he said that.
“But why Baba? He almost died saving me! And the best part… unlike other boys who are more interested in wooing the girl, Vinit was mature enough to ask you directly rather than going through me… then why NO?” Kriti couldn’t hold back her silence anymore. She was feeling bad for Vinit.
“Kriti, I know what I am saying and you know it very well I am never wrong.”
“You could be this time Baba!” Kriti was indirectly trying to convince her father that even she wanted to marry Vinit.
“Uncle please! I really would like to marry Kriti.” Pleaded Vinit who failed to understand where things had gone wrong. After all, he had decided to approach in the best possible way.
“Good you asked me… but I guess I have already told you my answer in clear words.” Akash wasn’t in a mood to give much explanation for his decision.
“Baba…..” Kriti felt helpless at that moment.
“I think I have cleared myself and now you guys can do whatever you want to. End of the topic for me” Akash declared as he once again settled down on the chair and picked up the magazine lying on the nearby table to give a clear indication that he wasn’t interested in any further talks.
Vinit and Kriti were clueless why he was behaving so weirdly. Vinit decided to give one final try before leaving from there, “Take your time uncle and please try to think from our perspective. Believe me, I am sure I will keep your daughter happy all her life.” and he left hurriedly without even looking back at Kriti who was still standing in a daze. He did not want to look weak while desperately trying to hide his watery eyes.
“Why Baba? Vinit is gone, so can you at least now explain why you denied his proposal?” The incidence that occurred 2 years back had transformed Kriti into a stronger lady, capable enough of bearing much more pain than usual.
“I know what’s going on in your mind beta.” Akash tried to explain Kriti. The sternness in his voice was gone and he sounded more like a helpless father.
“I have known your relationship for years to understand one thing Kriti that you guys had been just good friends until now and under normal circumstances, you would never have thought about getting married. In fact, I’m sure you have laughed right on my face even at the thought of it. Correct me if I’m wrong” Akash said while holding Kriti’s hand.
“Yes Baba…. I suppose you are right.” Kriti knew he was making sense.
“I strongly feel that Vinit is doing all this simply out of guilt. You do understand what I mean… don’t you?”
Kriti slowly started getting the point. “Yes… I know it very well what you mean.”
“Friendship and marriage are two totally different things. Trust me on this, once you get married to your friend, that too your best friend, things will not be the same.” Akash knew he could justify his decision.
He continued. “I may be wrong when I am saying this but, I strongly feel that once he gets married to you, he won’t feel guilty anymore. Right now he is simply trying to compensate for the fault for which, he is not responsible but still it makes him feel guilty.”
“I am not saying he should spend all his life in guilt but with your help as a true friend, he can be out of it.” Kriti was calmly listening to what her father was saying and slowly the storm within her was beginning to calm down.
“He is the only child to his parents and we don’t even know if he has consulted them on this issue.”
“Baba, why am I getting a feeling that there’s a stronger reason for you to reject Vinit’s proposal than simply what you are telling me”, Kriti asked her father with questioning eyes. She had never seen her father act so adamant in spite of being a strict father. There had been times when Akash had shown non-agreement to Kriti’s requests, but this time his decision seemed rock solid.
Akash slumped down on the couch and immediately got lost in thoughts… his hands held in a tight fist. Kriti was now sure that her baba was seriously hiding something. She kneeled down in front of Akash and held his hands in her own.
“Baba, it’s not like I don’t trust you or your decision. In fact, I have trusted your decisions blindly all my life. But, this time your decision doesn’t seem convincing enough to me, the reason being that I have known Vinit more closely than you. I’m sorry if I have hurt you in any way but if there’s anything you would like to share that can make you feel better, please do it. I promise to accept your decision once you have poured your heart out to me. At least then I will have a strong reason to say no to Vinit.”
Akash took a deep breath and looked up at Kriti. “You have really grown up Kriti and I guess it’s the right time to let you know of few things that have burdened my heart for the past 30 years. Though I had never planned to reveal this to you, I think the time has come to relieve my burden”, Akash said as he pulled up Kriti to sit beside him on the couch.
“You do know that your mother and me had been best friends just like you and Vinit”, Akash started to which Kriti nodded in acknowledgement.
“One day we were out with friends to visit an amusement park. Since, we didn’t have our own vehicles during those years, public transport was our only mode of communication. The amusement park was located on the outskirts of our city and it had become dark by the time the bus dropped us at the nearest bus stop about 20 minutes’ walk from the colony where your mother and I lived. The usually bustling bus stop had become deserted by then and there was no chance of getting a rickshaw to drop us home. So, we both decided to walk back home.”
Akash paused for a long moment and then continued, “We had just started to walk out of the bus stop when two men wearing helmets came from behind and obstructed our way. They started passing nasty comments at your mother as they prepared to get down from the bike. Though I was a regular member of the gym even in those days, the two men looked huge and there was no way I could have handled them alone. So, I tightly held on to your mother’s hand and pushed the men hard in an attempt to escape. But, they were strong and immediately caught hold of us. We were trapped and we both knew the dangers lurking ahead.”
Kriti was listening to her father with pin drop silence. Though she had already guessed what was to come ahead in the story, she didn’t want to hear it.
“One of the men caught hold of your mother and started fiddling with her saree. I immediately jumped to stop him but the other man was quick enough to push me back. As I struggled to stand back, the man caught both my hands and pinned them behind my back while the other man stated tarnishing your mother’s modesty,” Akash cried out as tears started rolling down his eyes. He had held the burden of that fateful night in his heart for 30 years and he could hold no more. Akash burst into tears as Kriti gathered her father into her arms. She had never seen her father so helpless and weak and it tore her heart. Tears started rolling down her own eyes as she tried to console her father.
“It’s ok baba, you need not say anything more. I’m really sorry to have opened your wounds. Had I known you were in such deep pain, I would have never asked you for an explanation.” Kriti tried hard to console her father who was still crying. Not even in her wildest dreams had she thought she would hear of something like this from her father.
Still trying to struggle with his tears, Akash slowly got up from the couch and went to stand near the window, staring blankly at the moonlit night outside. Kriti came to stand behind him.
“The guilt of not being able to save your mother’s modesty has killed me every single day of my life. Just like Vinit, it was this feeling of guilt that had instigated me to marry your mother. The effect of this guilt was that I became over protective and every time I tried to show my genuine concern towards you mother, she would take it as a pitty on her and things started worsening over the years. Luckily for her and unfortunately for me, she escaped the misery of our marriage with her death, while leaving me alone to carry the burden of that night all my life.” Akash turned to look back at Kriti who had a strong reflection of her mother’s face.
Kriti now understood why her father had been so protective towards her since childhood while giving her enough freedom, so that she won’t feel choked just like her mother had felt while she was alive.
Akash and Kriti held each other in a tight long hug, trying to heal each other’s wound with the warmth of their bodies.
“Baba, though it was a painful explanation for you, I now understand your reason behind rejecting Vinit’s proposal. In fact, I think I can now convince Vinit myself without revealing ma’s secret to him and I’m sure he would understand. Thank you baba for being there at every step of my life and for being my guiding angel.” Kriti said with a smile of sincere gratitude as she landed a kiss on his cheek. She had done it for years every time Akash had done something to make her happy and this was her best day!!!