Short stories by chaitra


It’s become a necessity, to talk to the Moon, every night, as I go back home from work. It’s a very soothing, uplifting feeling. For someone who has had to abandon her dreams to put bread on the table of her family, this is the time of the day I most look forward to.

I work for a call center, in a busy Metropolis. Which city you ask? What’s in a name. It could be any city on this lonely planet. For few months in a year, my shift ends at 9:45PM and for the remaining months, it ends at 10:45PM. For corporates, this one hour is the avenue Admin Teams of a company will milk, to meet their cost cutting targets. Why? It’s not mandatory to provide a drop home if the employee logs out before 10:00 PM.

But for a 22 year old, working in a call center at the cost of her dreams, with 100 rupees at the most, in her wallet in the beginning of the month and 50 rupees in her wallet, in the last one week of the month, these few months are a trial by fire.

I join the Call Center as afresh graduate, immediately after my BSc and I must admit I am depressed with my life at this point. I sit by the widow in the training hall throughout break times and look down three floors. Often, I wonder if it is worth jumping out, and finish the story. But I can’t be so selfish. I suspect it is my lust for life. My life is hardly anything up until this point in time, school for the first 14 years, then Junior College and Graduation. No picnics, no outings, not many friends, no experiences…nothing…blank.

The call center is a culture shock for people like me. While I wear cloths my cousins offer to me, out of pity and charity, my colleagues are wearing brands from Westside, FabIndia etc. While I look wistfully at the assortment of cakes and pastries in the office canteen, my friends often order food from Barbeque Nation, Mainland China etc. While I am the typical Benji, working hard, unnoticed, looking at all the handsome men around and wondering if one of them would perhaps at least take a look at me, my friends are busy partying at the most happening pubs and discos.

After a couple of years pass, I have resigned myself to my fate. I am doomed to be a spinster, working away till I lose my finest years, putting food on the table, educating my siblings first and then getting them married. The handsome men at work, never bother with looking for a personality. Actually, that is just to make myself feel better. The truth is, men at work, want a girl they can flaunt, beautiful, witty, social, extroverted. I am none of these. I am quiet, reserved, always dressing in the most ill-fitting Indian cloths I can find, with no sense of color co-ordination or style. I am witty, only if you manage to get close enough and to top it all, I almost always wear a scowl on my face. You would think I am arrogant at first look.

But that night as I am sitting in the window seat of the bus, that will take me home, I peer out at the sky, after an especially frustrating and draining night. The tears are lined up in the lower echelons of my eye lids, ready to slip out any moment. The guy I thought I am in love with, has proposed to my best friend. I get to know that he is using me to get closer to her. She refuses him as she has only just broken up with her boyfriend and tells me the same night, what this boy has been doing behind my back. I am heartbroken.

As I gaze out of the window into the dark sky, there He is, bright orangish, huge, almost as if reaching out to me. The dark clouds all around have a silver lining. As the bus passes through the empty road, in a 35 minute journey, He does not leave me alone even for a minute. He follows me throughout, floating through the clouds by my side. Just as I am about to get up from my seat, “It’s ok. I am fine. Go now,” I say. The words are unheard by the outside world, because they are not spoken out loud. They are conveyed by an unseen cord, that binds me to Him.

The conductor calls out the name of my stop and I turn to nod my head, indicating to the passenger next me, I intend to get down. The man sitting next to me, moves his legs, making space. I look back at my Moon. He is gone. I draw in a deep breath and step away from my seat. So what, if the boy I was in love with, did not love me. I have found love in the ageless sky.

The next day, I try to get the same seat, but in vain. It’s taken, but two stops later, a seat behind, falls vacant. I immediately, push through the competition and sit down, searching the sky. As I search, the clouds move away, showing His warm glow, slightly diminished from the previous day, none the less, throwing the warm Moonlight on my face. For some reason tears ebb again in my eyes. What is it about Him, that I feel so naked, so compelled to tell all.

“Where is he?” I ask, unashamed, unabashed. “Where is the man who will claim me heart. When will he come? How much longer do I go on like this?” These are not words, these are the outpouring of a lonely heart, that craves for love to knock on her door. Of an age that wants to experience love’s first kiss, first touch. He is there by my side, hearing my anguished heart, floating in and out of the clouds. The signs are clear, there still is miles to go.

A couple of years later, as I sit in the bus with a colleague’s marriage invitation held in my hands, I look out at Him. My friend and I graduated the same year, joined work the same year, went into the same team, got promoted at the same time and that’s where it ends. She is getting married to her childhood sweetheart and I am still the Bhenji, the hard-working girl, who gets dumped with all the work. The tears flow today. I have fought them for two years. Can’t anymore.

“Please bring him to me. Please, tell him to come soon. I want to be loved, to feel that I hold some importance to someone, not because I put food on the table or because I make good PowerPoint presentations, but because I am me. Please ...” I cry. The passenger next to me is stealing worried glances at me, as I sniff silently. The clouds open up, it is raining, the skies cry with me and He is too sad at my condition. He covers himself with a blanket of dark clouds and stays away from me all night.

Two more years have passed. The rules have changed. I am now eligible for a drop in a company car, any time after 8:45PM. Somedays, I ignore Him completely, like he has ignored my pleas all these years. Other days, I sit next to the window, searching the skies for Him, pleading with Him to see me and heed me.

A day later, my colleague who has been married now for two years, tells me she is expecting her first child. I am very happy for her. And I am distraught for myself. I sit looking for Him that night, next to the window of the SUV and search all over the skies. “At least you stay by my side. You are all I have. There is no hope. My life is clear to me.” He appeares then, bright, huge, orangish, like the first time we met. Despite the tears streaming down my cheeks, a smile spreads to my lips.

“You came…finally. You are so beautiful. I wish I could touch you.” A deep sigh. “Stay with me…don’t go. Don’t ever go. I won’t be able to make this journey without you.”

“Mam, the eclipse is going to start in sometime,” says the driver. “What! it’s eclipse today?” I ask shocked. “Look mam, shooting stars,” he points in the direction of the Moon. I look at a shooting star and make a wish. A most ardent wish. “Don’t watch the eclipse with your naked eye mam,” warns the driver. I look away. I would not be able to watch my companion in pain, anyway.

A Few Months Later

As the blue water laps up the pristine seashore, I look up at the sky. He shines down on my face, in His glorious warmth. A pair of hands slide from under my breasts and pull me closer. The man leans over me, as I sit close to him, between his legs. His lips, touch my ears and I close my eyes and melt into his warm embrace. “I love you,” he says. I look over my shoulder, at the kindest, warmest and loveliest pair of eyes I have ever seen. The shy smile is inevitable. It is my honeymoon after all. “I love you too,” I say and turn back to look at my Moon.

“Thank you” my heart moans and He shines, the brightest.



It is a truth universally acknowledged. Every coin has two sides and every human has two faces. What would you do if both the sides came face to face? What would you do if the mirror reflected the very face that you wanted hidden from the world? It’s not a situation for the faint at heart. But then life is all about facing situations you are least prepared for.

Mumbai – Rhea’s Place

It was a flashy, jazzy place and from one look at the place you could tell something was off about it. But natural, it was what was called the viewing deck. The girls were all lined up in a row, each wearing cheap imitations of famous designer’s runway designs, their makeup garish, screaming for attention. The client though was on the other side of the glass pane, invisible to the girls, but viewing all of them clearly. The handler was by the client’s side, explaining like a car showroom salesman, the attributes of the girl and if the girl was a fresher or senior (in terms of virginity).

Rheas came to her all excited. “Congratulations Mythu… this is your first assignment, I am so happy for you girl...” she hugged Mythu close. Yes, that’s the word they used. It was the first time she was being assigned to a man.

One might think girls like Mythili are forced into it. Kidnapped by a trafficking gang, drugged, sold off, abused and what not. But it is much more sophisticated than that. Much more civilized and polished. See a beautiful girl and they mark her out, do in depth profiling. A student pursuing her PhD in Statics. But her family needed her to earn, to support her 2 brothers, living it up. Her meagre stipend was not enough to get her through the month in a cosmopolitan like Mumbai. She needed money and without disrupting her demanding research schedule. With her mother diagnosed of ovarian cancer, the need became more urgent. There were only two options left – to beg (like they did on social media these days) or to die.

Both were not acceptable to her. If she had fought all circumstances to make this PhD possible, she could fight this too. She looked all around for a job and giving up her lifetime ambition of a PhD was not an option. That was when Rhea came into her life. She introduced herself as a Model Coordinator. Mythili had caught her eye from Day 1.

The doe eyed beauty was a head turner. What beautiful eyes those were. There was also a carriage about her, a poise so unusual in all the wannabe girls these days. From freshers to even some professors in the University, Rhea knew they could pay any prize for this beauty. But Rhea also knew Mythili was a prize catch and would have to be coaxed gently into business of trading pleasures. And Rhea had already taken the first step in that direction.

It was after a few modelling assignments, when enquires for Mythili really become difficult to ignore any more. “Do you know how much that producer was pestering me for an evening with you? But I refused. I told him you are not that kind of a girl… he nearly offered 7.5 lakhs for just one evening with you,” she said.

Mythili looked at Rhea with her usual poker face. You could never tell what was going on in her mind from looking at her face. NEVER. The silence and the look weighed on Rhea. Finally, Mythili smiled a helpless smile. “What a tragedy,” she said, her eyes like frozen lakes. “They all tell you how beautiful you are... that God must’ve spent such time and effort crafting this beauty, while their eyes are roving all over your body. They think you can’t tell. But a woman knows exactly what is going on in your mind, from the way your eyes move to the way you stand or sit. Se knows exactly what is going on in your mind,” said Mythili, with steady eyes. She spoke only a few words but when she did speak, her words could silence you with their intensity and wisdom.

Rhea observed as Mythili went back to her books. There had been many girls before, who she gently nudged into the flesh trade, but this girl was different from all of them. Rhea felt a sudden surge of protectiveness towards Mythili. She was human too, you know!

Rhea inhaled a deep, weighted breath. She was about to do the unthinkable. “Listen Mythu, I’ll tell you something. I’ve never spoken about this to any other girl before. I coerce girls into prostitution,” she said bluntly. Mythili just looked on at Rhea, her face calm, her eyes still frosty, like the lakes of Siberia must be in winters.

“You are a beautiful girl and in this world, it’s a crime to be beautiful and needy. Men, wherever you go…they will try their luck with you, use you and move on. But I… I will guard you. I will only give you to the most decent men, that come to me. They will not hurt you like the others. No one wants your brains or affections dear. Not if you are poor and from difficult circumstances. The only thing they want is your body and the liberty to own it. Don’t be naive. Put a premium on that body and the time they have with it. At least end the financial problems your family has. Give your mother and brothers a life they have always dreamt of. And once you have your PhD, fly away. No one will know, no one needs to know. I’ll take care of you. It’s a word and in my trade, unlike the real world – it’s unbreakable.

“Kabira seep samunder ki

Khara jal nahin le I

Paani piye swat ka

Shobha sagar de II”

Replied Mythili, watching Rhea, as the frozen glass showed signs of melting. “You are asking me to trade in the one thing I have left in this world, that I can call my own…” she smiled a sad smile. “Fine…take this too,” she said, the smile disappearing now.

“This is my punishment for being beautiful and poor, simultaneously, in this world. My grandma used to say, women and beauty are the two worst enemies a woman can have. I have both on my side,” looking at Rhea, as she came over and hugged her close.

“I’ll take good care of you,” said Rhea, kissing her forehead. “Mythu… all your problems are now mine,” she said warmly.

In the Middle of the Bay of Bengal

The cruise was coming to an end in a couple of days. Dhanvin Sangawat, sat next to a beautiful young lady oozing wealth and opulence. She wore a huge rock on her ring finger – a sign of her being married, showing prominently on her henna embellished hands, symbolic of her being just married.

You are the only one I can turn to and now you too are going away from me?” he asked, the pain in his voice too obvious. “What am I going to do now, Meenu,” he called the intimate name, only a few were allowed to use.

“Ani!” she turned to look at the handsome man sitting next to her, his eyes sad and his voice shaky. She was the only woman in the world, he would show his vulnerable side to. “Listen to me… the world is not all that dark as you make it seem. There are good people out there. You need to open your hear. One chance. That’s all I ask. Please, for my sake…won’t you even try,” she pleaded.

“It’s the one thing I can’t give you my dear. Ask me for anything. My life even…it’s yours to take, but don’t ask me to give my trust and above all my heart. It won’t happen, just won’t happen,” he said, getting up to walk away.

As soon as he stood up, he halted dead in his tracks. The face never ceased to disgust him. So much beauty, yet so ugly. He hated the look of it from the bottom of his heart.

Amrapali Sangawat, second wife to Randeep Sangawat and step-mother to Dhanvin though, stood watching the tall, handsome man. As Dhanvin tried to walk past her, looking through her as he always did, she cut his path. “She’ll be gone in two days, Dhanvine. Don’t cling to her, if you want to retain your sanity,” she said, with sharp eyes and observant looks, “take her advice. You are young but this youth won’t last forever. When you look back at the golden years of your life, all you’ll see is lost potential and regrets. So, listen to her,” she said, in an ominous voice.

Dhanvin ignored every word she spoke and walked away. Meenakshi Sisodia looked on sadly as did Amrapali.

Mumbai – Rhea’s Place – Sometime Days Later

“Today is your debut my dear,” said Rhea, inspecting Mythili. She looked so classy even in the cheap imitation cloths she wore. “It’s your first assignment. He’s young, handsome and very very rich…” “How did he pick me Rhea!” asked Mythili, nearly paralyzed by fear of what she was about to do to herself. “I was not even in the parade, why then did he pick me,” she asked, clutching onto her dress. “He didn’t want to see the parade. Said he needed someone with class. So, I thought of you,” said Rhea, understanding the fears of the young girl.

“Can I run away?” asked Mythili, looking at Rhea through tear stained eyes. “Go… go, gladly go,” said Rhea, meaning the words. Mythili looked on as a single drop of tear rolled down her left cheek. “I am ready,” she said, closing her eyes shut tight.

The car is waiting outside. It’ll take you to the Hyatt. At the reception, give them this card,” she said, handing over a visiting card with the name “Sangawat Steel” embossed on it. It was some sort of an invitation for some corporate get together. “Don’t be afraid. When you come back, we’ll go to the spa. Everything will pass,” said Rhea, hugging Mythili close. The truth was, Rhea was equally scared for Mythili.

Mythili stepped out into the hot summer evening and got into a waiting Mercedes C class. The Chauffer held the door open as a handsome young lady, with upright carriage but from a dubious looking building came and sat in the car. “Thank you,” she whispered to a surprised chauffer. After an hour and half in the Mumbai traffic, she stepped out into the drop off area at The Hyatt.

As she walked up the stats to the entrance, the guard ran up to her, to hold the door for the fine lady. Mythili smiled a friendly thank you smile and entered. At the reception she presented the card she was given, and the Receptionist looked at her, her sense of shock not hidden from Mythili. She wondered why, though. She was taken to the 27th floor and the elevator opened into what seemed like a private entrance into a suite. The bell hop indicated that this was her destination, looking at the woman in awe. Was she really a prostitute! he thought to himself.

Mythili drew in a deep breath and stepped out into the suite, walking slowly and uncertainly. She stood in the middle of the huge living room, set with classic style furniture with upholstery that must’ve been from France. She looked around the room unsure, scared and totally awestruck.

“Good Evening!” she heard the strong voice and jumped in her skin, turning around abruptly. He saw her then, her hair flow like the soft river, as she jerked her head around to look at him. His eyes immediately went to her alluring eyes, shaped like those of a gazelle, wide, set to perfection in a pear-shaped face, a slightly pinched up nose and dimpled chin with eye brows that could put any model to shame. But it was the eyelashes set against the grey pupils that gave a “can’t look away once you see” feature to her face.

She had a medium build, at about 5’4”, and a slender figure, small, taut breasts, waist that could be measured by the palm of his hand and long thin legs. Mythili stood still like a mannequin, as she saw him study her head to foot, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks. He was tall, athletically built, his face shaped like a diamond with a square set jaw, his eyes, balls of fire, deep brown, a sharp straight nose, thick brows and small, forbidding lips. He radiated an aura of power and wealth. Each took the other’s breath away and both stood stunned at the unabashed display of the supremacy of God’s creation.

He turned his face in a slight angle to the left and Mythily’s eyes responded by widening what were already huge eyes. He observed her eyes widen to reveal the glorious lashes in full bloom and a smile forced its way out of his lips. Unwittingly, he enjoyed the effect he had on her. It gave his ego a boost. “I must say I am pleasantly surprised. I was definitely not expecting this,” he said, his hands waving up and down in air, in slow motion.

Mythili looked down, at the obvious reference to her body, her heart pounding inside her chest. Her hands and feet turned cold and her ears a deep pink. Dhanvin was amused at her hesitance. If he did not know better, he would have thought she hesitated like a new bride entering her husband’s chamber for the first time. He smiled more openly now. “Sit down,” he pointed to the sofa. Mythili looked up at him, her eyes calm despite the nervousness, he knew she was feeling. Quietly she sat down and sunk into the comfortable sofa. Dhanvin went to the bar counter and returned with 2 huge balloon glasses of deep red wine. He sat down next to her, his sides brushing the sides of the her exposed skin. Mythili’s body went up in flames at the slight touch. She swallowed hard, wetting her lips.

He offered the glass of wine to her. “I don’t drink,” she told him, her voice faint and hesitant. Dhanvin looked at her as incredulously. “I am sorry!” he exclaimed. Mythili looked in to his eyes and the smile vanished from Dhanvin’s lips. The girl was serious. He studied her for a few seconds, gazing into the icy grey of her eyes. Mythili looked away unbale to bear his gaze, but Dhanvin caught her chin and implored her to face him. Her eyes rose to meet his again.

Something stirred inside of Dhanvin. “Have you ever been in love?” he asked her. Mythili’s face was calm, but a small smile appeared on her lips, a rather hesitant smile. “Yes!” she confessed. Dhanvin watched more shocked now. “And you can still do this for money?” he asked her, an edge of disgust appearing in his tone. Mythili looked on, her eyes now slightly narrow. Dhanvin read her silence to perfection. “You don’t think you are doing anything wrong?” he asked her.

“How do you understand my silence?” asked Mythili, looking at Dhanvin, her gaze turning more observant now. “What is your name beautiful,” he left her question unanswered. Mythili looked away at the question. “No names!” Rhea’s advice rung in her ears. She looked up at Dhanvin then, her eyes calm. “Mythu” she stated. Dhanvin smiled. “I am Ani!” he offered his hand. Mythili took his hand, rather hesitantly, her eyes bound to his by an unseen cord.

He didn’t let go of her hand, turning his attention from her eyes to look down at the slender fingers. It was not a soft hand as he had expected. It was a firm hand, one that showed signs of hard work, but the slender fingers and the bright red painted on the nails, did make them look pretty. Dhanvin pressed her hand to his lips. Mythili bit back on the sigh that was caught in her throat. He looked up at her face that had turned pink. A thought struck him. “Let’s play a game,” he suggested. Mythili looked up at him, her smile gone, her eyes worried.

“Let’s pretend that we both love each other and that we really care for each other… deeply….” he said, looking into Mythili’s eyes. Mythili smiled at his words. He had no idea how much his idea had put her ease. “I can do that,” she said. Dhanvin’s eyes changed to sad disillusionment. “I am tired Mythu… very very tired….” he told her, his shoulders drooping. Mythili’s hand went up to caress his cheek. “Have you eaten anything since morning?” she asked him softly. Dhanvin’s eyes widened. “No, I was so busy running from one thing to another, I completely forgot about food,” he admitted. “Let’s order something...” Mythili shook her head. “Is there a kitchen here?” she asked. Dhanvin watched her with curiosity. “You will cook for me?” he asked.

“Of course, my love,” she said. Dhanvin felt a knot tightening around his chest.

He bent down and touched her lips with his. “And what’s on the menu?” he asked, a look of mischief coming over his face. Mythili looked over him. “Where is the kitchen?” she asked again, looking around. Dhanvin stood up and held out his hand. Mythili took his hand into her warm hand and followed him to the kitchen, as if they were just married. She had not seen anything like that before. A huge room, with a marble top isle in the middle, with shelves at the top and bottom on one side, fitted with all the latest gadgets that you could imagine.

Mythili went over to the shelves and opened them one by one. She turned around sheepishly looking at Dhanvin, who watched her amused. “I don’t have the things that we need,” she told him. “And what are the things we need?” he asked her. Mythili stood thinking for a second. She went to the refrigerator, pulled out the fruit juice and then cut the mangoes that had been arranged in a fruit bowl. Dhanvin watched as she filled a big bowl with cut fruit and the juice, arranged a fork and a straw. “Why don’t you have this while I arrange for dinner,” she said, putting the bowl in front of Dhanvin and pulling the chair for him. Dhanvin caught her by her waist and pulled her close. Mythili’s hands came instinctively to his chest, as she watched him wide eyed. Her eyes, like the arctic ice, like the mercury solidified, her pupils wide, dilated. “What beautiful eyes you have,” he said, as he pressed his lips gently to both her eyes. Mythili felt her core melt as his lips touched up on her eyelids. As Dhanvin withdrew, she took a few seconds to open her eyes. Dhanvin watched her, astonished at her behavior. What an actress she was. She made it so convincing. He still held her close. “And how will you do that?” he asked .

“With your permission…” she said, holding onto his chest. Dhanvin smiled a smile that melted her heart. “Go ahead,” he told her. In the next few minutes, a couple of calls were made to the kitchen of the Hotel and some lentils, a pressure cooker and few other things were arranged. In about 45 minutes, a fresh cooked Dal Khicdi with Rajma and Raita was ready on the table.

Dhanvin polished off the whole meal as Mythili watched him with a sense of satisfaction. As he finished the simple meal, he came up to her and saw her plate was empty and the food all gone. “You haven’t even eaten?” he asked, looking from the empty vessels to her. Mythili smiled at his question. Dhanvin raised an eyebrow. “How? Aren’t you hungry?” he asked. Mythili drew in a deep breath. “This has been the most satisfying meal of my life,” she said, her chin supported by her palm, her elbow resting on the table, as she looked up at him.

There was something in that moment, a most intimate, soul stirring feeling, as Dhanvin stood gazing at her calm, serene face. His arm came from his trouser pocket to her cheek, stroking it tenderly. Mythili sat upright as he touched her. “Get up” he ordered. Mythili swallowed hard, but got up almost immediately. He was much taller than her and she had to crane her neck to look at him. Dhavine watched her almost as if her eyes compelled him to not turn away. “Take off your shoes,” he ordered. Mythli’s face froze at his words, her breath now soft, uneven spurts. She caught the chair with one hand, to balance herself, but the next minute Dhanvin’s hand came around her waist. “I won’t let you fall,” he whispered, steeping closer to her. Mythili studied him for a few seconds and let the chair go, quietly. She bent over to her right side first, taking off her shoe with her right hand and then to her left. Dhanvin’s eyes though, went from her eyes to her lips, which she seemed to wet from time to time. It showed him she was nervous, even afraid. He would know soon, what those lips must feel like. His eyes narrowed.

His gaze drifted to her slender neck and the plunging V neck that revealed a cleavage that had not fully matured. Her breasts were small and taut and merged into and almost non-existent waist, which he held secure in his arms. Mythili looked up just at that moment and caught him studying her. He felt the goosebumps rise on her arms as his eyes lingered on her waist. He looked at her then. “Step on my shoes,” he ordered. Mythili’s eyes widened slightly, as if she was not sure she heard him right. Dhanvin smiled then. “You heard me right, step over my shoes,” he repeated. He saw her wet her lips again. “You need to hold on to me, if you don’t want both of us to fall,” he said.

Her breath was warm, forceful. Mythili closed her eyes for a couple of seconds and opened then to look in to his eyes again. Dhanvin was not sure why she was so scared, maybe a bad experience with a previous customer! He saw the hesitation turn into decision. Mythili slowly brought her hand to his sides, holding him hesitantly and then put her feet one by one on his shoes. She was immediately 3 inches taller than earlier. Dhanvin’s head titled to the left now, noticing how she bent away from him. He could feel her pushback in his arms. “Hold on tight…” he whispered as he bent low. “I don’t have to bend too low to kiss you now!” he teased, as her eyes widened in panic and shame, her cheeks wild with blushes.

As she pushed back in his arm, Dhanvin eyes turned into balls of fiery desire and he puled her closer to him. His lips touched her lips slowly, as he watched her with half open eyes. Mythili shut her eyes tight, her grip on his shoulders, tightening into a firm grip. Dhanvin pressed his lips on hers now, pushing to find entry into the paradise she withheld from him. His right arm came from behind her waist to the nape of her neck, adjusting the angle of her head, to give him access. Her hair felt like the softest silk he had ever touched.

A small warm sensation began in the core of Mythili and as Dhanvin pressed his lips into her, the warmth seemed to expand into a ball of fire around her naval. Unable to bear the pressure of his lips on hers, her lips capitulated and Dhanvin’s mouth plunged into her mouth, taking all he found in the way. He crushed her to him, his mouth going in deeper and deeper as Mythili’s hands left his shoulders and came around his neck, gripping his hair tight at his intensity. Within seconds, they were both fighting to breath, as Dhanvin changed the angle of the kiss, his tongue now mercilessly dictating terms to her’s. Mythili’s heart was close to exploding at the things he did to her. He let go slowly, still holding her close, his mouth moving away, but his lips still lingering on her’s. He didn’t want the moment to end, he didn’t want to be parted from those lips.

Slowly, after kissing her softly a couple of times more, Dhanvin withdrew, his eyes heavy with desire and passions. Mythili though was not in her senses. She had no clue what had happened, panting hard, her breath caressing his throat, eyes shut tight. Dhanvin smiled at her. He bent over and whispered in her ear, “Mythu, you are crushing my toes.”

Mythili opened her eyes abruptly, realizing what had just happened. “I am sorry,” she said, trying to get off his toes. “Uh huh!” said Dhanvin shaking his head slightly. “Where do you think you are going?” he asked, his right hand coming to stroke her lips, that were slightly swollen at his kisses. “Your toes…” Mythili started uncertainly. He looked up from her lips then, his eyes intent on hers, his eyebrows raised. “I said that to wake you from your dream,” he stated. “I enjoyed that kiss…. You are a great kisser!” he complimented.

Her eyes changed from confusion to gloom. Her head and heart scremed to her simultaneously. ‘You are falling for him’. She wanted to tell him the three words that seemed to have taken over her existence in the past few minutes. Dhanvin watched as her eyes, ran amuck all over his face. It seemed like she wanted to say something, but the words were stuck in her throat. “You want to say something?” he asked, his face curious. Mythili’s brows came together in a frown and separated as quickly. She smiled then, the gloom gripping her eyes now. “I enjoyed that kiss too,” she replied, relinquishing her shame.

Dhanvin smiled widely, observing her closely. He released her from his grip slowly and Mythili stepped away from him. “I have eaten, you have not. I’ve had some dessert too, “ he said, coming close and playing with her hair, as Mythili looked to the ground. “What should we do now?” he asked. Mythili’s head rose hopefully then, searching his eyes. “I am waiting!” said Dhanvin after a few seconds, knowing there was something she had in mind. “Let’s talk about you,” she asked sheepishly. Dhanvin shook his head. “I can’t do that,” he told her, his hand running up and down her arm. Mythili drew a deep breath. “I know,” she said. “Don’t give me any specifics. Talk in generality,” she asked.

Dhanvin studied her for a moment. Sure, he had bought pleasures of flesh before too, but this was way abnormal. The girl was quiet, there was poise about her, that he had never seen in girls from this class, she was too reserved for a girl from this profession. In fact, if he had not known better, he could have sworn, she seemed like she was a professional intern at some corporate house or something.

“Then let’s start with you,” he said, pulling her closer and sweeping her off her feet. Mythili, looked down as he caught her close to him. He took her to a room beyond the dining area. It seemed like a bedroom. He carried her past the bed to the French windows, that were open and an infinity pool lay in front of him. He set her down on one of the lounge chairs laid there. “Can you swim?” he asked. Mythili nodded shy yes. He pointed to the far left. There’s a woman’s changing room there. You’ll find everything you need over there. Change and come back here,” he told her.

Mythili got up to walk toward the room barefoot. He caught her hand immediately. “Don’t keep me waiting long,” he said, his eyes smoldering with uninhibited desire. She nodded shyly and walked away. A few minutes later as she walked in with a robe around her, she saw him making a lap from one end to the other end of the swimming pool. He heard the sound of footsteps even as she tried to tread softly, the watery surface around the pool announcing her arrival. Dhanvin hauled himself out of the pool right where Mythili stood.

Mythili did not know where to look, for Dhanvin wore nothing but swimming shorts, that barely reached his lower thighs. He was dripping wet with water and he was coming towards her. She stood clutching her robe close to her chest. She had never undressed before a man and her heart was doing strange things inside it’s chamber, thudding fast one moment and skipping a beat the other. Dhanvin came over to Mythili and stood towering over her. He put his hand on her hand and slowly opened the knot tied to the robe. The belt fell away and Dhanvin gently pulled away the bathrobe from her slender shoulders. She had chosen a black backless one piece, which had blue piping running across the hem. It fit her like second skin. Mythili’s chest was heaving erratically as she stood in front of him. She was scared to look up, scared to see what she would find in his eyes. Dhanvin’s eyes though rested on her chest, watching her chest swell as he looked on.

“Mythu, are you a good swimmer!” he asked coming closer, hugging her close to him. Mythili closed her eyes as he caught her in his embrace. “I am ok, I can manage in swimming pools, not oceans and rivers,” she said, just to keep her mind occupied. Dhanvin separated from her and looked at her strangely. He caught her hand in his and led towards the pool. As they came close to the pool, he saw Mythili, put one foot into the water. “Is it OK?” he asked. Mythili looked up at him unsure what he meant. He held her eyes captive with his burning browns. “The water?” he asked. She nodded a yes. Dhanvin cupped her cheek in his palm and bent over to kiss her lips again.

They entered the pool together, holding hands. Mythili stayed close to the edge and Dhanvin swam to the middle. He saw her hesitate and indicated towards the shallow side. The pool was about 4 feet tall at the shallow end and 9 feet tall at the deep end. As Mythili reached the shallow end, Dhanvin caught her and pulled her to him. This time though, his lips took her throat, pressing into her jugular. Mythili gasped, pushing up out of the water and stood up. He came from behind her and caught her to him. “Did I scare you?” he asked, looking just a tad worried. “Are you OK?” he asked, not waiting for an answer. His lips brushed across her shoulder and ran over to her neck. He pressed his lips over her earlobes and then bent down to kiss the area under her earlobe. Mythili shivered at this unknown intimacy. Dhanvin felt Mythili shiver in his arm. He turned her to him slowly.

Her face had tuned a deep pink. “Your face…you are blushing….” he exclaimed, unwittingly. Mythili looked into his eyes, holding the tear in her eyes from falling. “Is that abnormal!” she asked. “Who are you?” he asked her. “You know the answer to that question,” she told him. Dhanvin studied her for a minute. She was sharp and witty. “I’ll ask again. You don’t have to give me specifics. Who are you?” he asked.

“It’s not important. What is important is that I am human, just like you,” she told him. Dhanvin’s brows knotted in a frown. “I feel everything that you do Ani, every emotion that you feel, I feel too,” she explained. Dhanvin pulled Mythili closer, but this time, her eyes did not look away. They withstood the intensity of his gaze, overpowering them with an aura of their own. “I have known many woman in life Mythu, very well educated, educated in some of the best universities of the world, ambitious, gorgeous, wealthy….but there is something here, that I have not seen in a young woman before . What makes you so wise?” he asked, his eyes intent on her.

Mythili looked down, a half smile on her lips. “Why do you smile?” he asked, impatiently. Mythili looked up at him, drawing a deep breath. “I am so wise, that I am here today, in front of you, giving in to your carnal needs. This is the reward for my wisdom,” she said, with calm eyes. “Pothi padh padh jag muya, pandit bana na koi, dhai akshar prem ke, padhe so pandit hoye,” dohe by Kabir Das…. said Mythili, walking away from him for the first time.

Her words were powerful, filled with pain, that her beautiful face expertly concealed and unmatched. He had no answer to give her. Dhanvin went after her and caught her hand as she got out of the pool. Mythili turned around to look at him, stopping where she stood. “Mythu, pull me out or drown with me,” he offered. Mythili turned around fully and caught him with both her hands. “Help me,” she told him. He smiled at her and let her haul him up.

“Do you still care for me?” he asked her, studying her eyes. He is reminding me it’s all a game, thought Mythili to herself. She walked up to him and touched his cheek with her palm, looking up at him. “For as long as I am here, I will care for you…Ani,” she told him. She is reminding me that it’s all a game, thought Dhanvin.

“You know you are a very good actress. I know some producers and they could help you land good roles. Would you be interested?” he asked, studying her keenly. Mythili looked at him, her eyes, sheets of cold glass, her face pale now. “Is the state my life is in, not enough, that you want to ruin it some more?” she asked him.

“What is the state of your life Mythu?” asked Dhanvin. The curiosity in his face seemed so genuine. Don’t fool yourself Mythili. This is dangerous for both of you, her inner voice said. “A dream, I am living a dream right now, a beautiful dream, but, bound by time,” she told him.

“Then let’s not waste anymore time,” he said, and picked her up once again, his arms holding her close, his eyes stormy again. Mythili’s eyes though, had a warm glow about them. She was sure for the first time in her life. There was no turning back now. Dhanvin carried Mythili to one of the lounge chairs near the pool and sat down with Mythili on his lap. Both were wet, dripping water, but the wet bodies, as they touched each other, created unimaginable heat. Dhanvin bent down and took her lips urgently. His left hand, went from her waist down to her hips and thighs. As his hands kneaded her slender thigh muscles, his lips wreaked havoc over her’s, he came down to her throat and his mouth took her collar bone, in a kiss that set fire to Mythili’s insides.

She was like an instrument and he an expert extracting myriad tunes from it. Where his lips touched her, a new note of music emerged. Unable to hold himself, Dhanvin pushed Mythili under him and stripped away the straps of the swimming costume, to expose her breasts. He took his fill at the sight of the ready, taut breasts. He took his time, fondling and kissing them, one by one. Mythili was in seventh heaven, her head spinning with a dizziness she had not known before, her core a furnace of need. Dhanvine stopped for a brief moment to look at her, as she lay under him. . He carried her form the pool to the bed and lay her there. Mythili opened the sheets and Dhanvin got in next to her, coming over her immediately.

“Hmm! Where were we?” he exclaimed, as he bent over her naval. She was warm now, her fingers caught in his hair, as he went back up to take her lips. His hands went from her naval, to her hips as he raised her to meet his waiting needs. He had now stripped her naked, studying her slender form as Mythili lay with her eyes shut tight. This was it. She was crossing over now, from one side of the social order to the other, to be forever dammed. The word prostitute would be applicable to her from this moment on. The pleasure she felt a few moments ago was gone. People buy services, like medical, financial etc. And people buy services like carnal pleasure too. The only difference in the first category and the second is, somethings should never be sold or bought The body is a temple of the soul and she had just sold it off to a man who wanted to use it to satisfy his base needs. Mythili was ashamed of herself and waited for the ordeal to end soon. It was over in a few minutes, the last guard to her virginity breached. Dhanvin withdrew and saw a few traces of blood on the sheets.

He looked from the sheets to Mythili, who lay still like a dead body. The tears that raced down her eyes, confirmed his worst fears. Dhanvin sat up with a jolt and rushed into the bathroom. He came back dressed and helped her clean up. Wordlessly Mythili took Dhanvine’s help to clean up and then dressed up. Dhanvin got her a glass of water and she drank a little and put the glass away.

“Have some more water,” said Dhanvin softly. Mythili nodded her head. “I am OK.. I would like to leave now,” she said, unable to look him in the face. She was not sure, she would be able to look anyone in the face after today.

Dhanvin came over to her and kneeled in front of her. He cupped her face with both his hands. His eyes were sad, like hers. He kissed her on her eyes and then came down to kiss her lips. Mythili swallowed the tears in her eyes. Dhanvine released her and looked at her for a long time, as she sat with her head held down. “Look at me Mythu,” he ordered.

“I can’t,” she whispered. “I want to feel your gaze on my face once more,” he told her. Mythili raised her head slowly and looked at him, her tears barely held back. Dhanvin’s fingers balled into fists. “I wish…” he left the sentence hanging.

Mythili smiled a sad smile. “I wish too Ani…” she said.

A Few Months Later – Sawai Amritpur

As he sat working on his Mac Pro, his assistant entered his chamber. Dhanvin Sangawat looked up, his eyebrows raised. “Your guest is here Sir,” said Ravi his assistant, cum chaffuer cum agony aunt “Where are we putting them up?” asked Dhanvin. “At the palace Sir,” replied Ravi prompty. Dhanvin smiled in satisfaction. “Thanks Ravi. I was not sure I told you,” said Dhanvin, going back to the laptop. Ravi walked in and stood before him. “Any luck?” asked Dhanvin. Ravi shook his head, “No,” he said “I want that night back Ravi. I just want to relive that night once again, feel everything I felt that night again. Is that too much to ask for?” he asked Ravi. “No, it isn’t. IF, it was any other girl, even if she was from a poor family, from another religion, we could have fought for your love. But it’s a prostitute. And you know this will never be accepted. I am glad the girl had the good sense to leave quietly. But if YOU say you want to relive that night again, she must really have been something,” said Ravi, pacing in the huge office.

Dhanvin sat deep in thought. His step-mother’s words echoed in his ears. “This time will not last forever and when you look back at life all you will see are lost opportunities and regrets. Was her curse about to come true?” Dhanvin wondered. “Let’s not keep my guest waiting. Let’s go,” he said, as he got up from his throne. As the MD of Snagawat Steel, he was the man in charge after his father had retired from work. He preferred to travel around the world with his second wife these days and all business and property related matters fell to Dhanvin.

He walked out of his office into a an equally wide office with two cubicles on both sides. One was occupied by Ravi and the other was vacant right now. Beyond the this lay the the meeting rooms, 2 each on both sides and beyond this were cublicles for staff. The reception was beyond the door that separated workspace from the lobby.

The lobby was minimally furnished with modern low seating. As Dhanvin entered the lobby, he could make out his professor sitting in comfortable leather sofa. Prof Soundarajan stood up as he saw Dhanvin walk up to him. Dhanvin could make out there was a lady with the professor, although the face was hidden from his view.

“Sir, how are you,” said Dhanvin smiling broadly. “It’s so good to see you,” he said hugging the man in his tale fifties close. “I am very well, should I call you Mr Snagawat?” he asked, pulling Dhanvin’s leg. “Please Sir, you are embarassing me,” said Dhanvin, disengaging from his favourite teacher’s embrace.

“Well Dhanvin, I know it was not spoken about, but I have got my student with me. Meet Mythili Gora. She is pursuing her research in Compilation of Complex Data. I thought it would help me, to bring her along,” introduced Prof Rajan. “Sure sir, no problem,” said Dhanvin and looked towards the girl beside the professor.

Dhanvin’s face fell immediately. He felt the earth give in below his feet, felt the sensation of being punched hard in his gut. Dhanvin looked from Mythili towards Ravi, who looked at Dhanvin with a puzzeled expression. He did not know what to think of this girl, standing like a picture post card come alive, in front of them.

Mythili had been metally preparing for this moment, since Prof Rajan had chosen her for the assignment. She had tried every trick to avoid going there. But Prof Rajan, would just not take NO for an answer. He insisted that if she wanted her ersaech endorsed, then she would have to make this trip. Rhea was not happy about her going to Sawai Amritpur. She agreed to let Mythili go with great difficulty. It was this exact moment when she would have to come face to face with him that Mythili had been dreading. She assumed that he would be someone from the senior management, but not in her wildest dreams, did she imagine that she was serving the man himself – Dhanvin Sangawat- Prince of Sawai Amritpur and the heir to the Sangawat Family. She looked at him, her face unsure, her voice holding it’s nerve. “Hello sir,” she said raising her hands in a namaste. She looked away as hastily.

Dhanvin was completely confused. What was Mythu doing here with his professor. Why was his professor introducing a prostitute as his research student. Was he too taking Mythu’s services too? “Oh c’mon Mythili… shake hands with him. He is royalty but doesn’t have such airs,” said Prof Rajan. Mythili looked on from the professor towards Dhanvin, her grey eyes, unsure, apprehensive. Dhanvin looked at her, his contempt knowing no bounds. What else could be expected from a woman like her. Mythili obeyed Prof Rajan and held out her hand for Dhanvin. Dhanvin looked from her face to her hand and then back up at her face again. “God knows how many hands she has shook. In this case I would prefer the traditional Indian greeting,” he stated bluntly, and joined his palm in a namaste. Mythili looked at him, her eyes calm, observant and not unresponsive to his insult. She joined her palm again and bowed her head slightly saying Namaste.

“How easily you bend in front of men,” remarked Dhanvin, to Prof Rajan’s shock and Ravi’s disbelief. He was openly taunting and insulting the girl, a guest, that too one who had come wfor his favourit teacher’s help. It did not make any sense to Ravi. “Sir, what are you doing. Prof Rajan will be embarrassed, he got her here,” he bent over and whispered into Dhanvi’s ears. But Dhanvin would have none of it it seemed. He looked at Ravi, his eyes g;eaming with hatred. “This is the girl” he whispered. Then out loud, he said, she will stay in the room next to Meenu’s” he told Ravi.

Ravi was shocked at his words and stood brooding for sometime. Prof Rajan was confused with Dhanvin’s behavior. The young price, seemed to not take lightly to the fact that he brought an assistant without prior notice. “I am sorry if I have offened you by bringing her Dhanvin,” Prof Rajan started.

Djanvin looked towards his teacher fondly. “No Sir, please… You don’t need to inform us Sir. I would be glad to be of any assistance to you. I am also ery glad that you choose us to partner with ,” said Dhanvin and then looking at Mythili said, “It’s just me. I have a problem with women, who are too easy to command,” he said, glaring at Mythili. “Anyway, you must betired. I am going for a meeting right now. I’ll see you home for dinner?” said Dhanvin, walking away briskly.

Ravi and Prof Rajan were left exchanging glances. Mythili though looked at Dhanvin as he walked off briskly. She knew exactly why he was behaving the way he was. At the swiveling doors, Dhanvin turned around and found Mythili looking at him, her grey eyes, betraying the hurt she felt. Dhanvin’s eyes narrowed. Now she knew how he felt, when he saw her with his teacher.

Durgadas Fort

What Dhanvin called home, very modestly was a 118 room palace, right in the middle of Durga Rani Lake, in Sawai Amritpur. The lake itself had a diameter of one Km. To reach the main entrance of the palace, one could either walk over the Ramp built from the lake shore to the fort or take a boat. The palace was now converted into a 7 star hotel and only the very special guests of the Royal Family were accommodated in the Palace. Since Prof Rajan was Dhanvin’s mentor, he had pulled out all stops to make his Guru as comfortable as he could. What he did not account for, was that he would bring a companion with him, and that too.. But why Dhanvin would ask for Mythili to be put up next to Meenakshi’s room, Ravi could not figure out. And then the thought struck him. But of course. Ravi had to talk to Dhanvin. This was a dangerous game and before Dhanvin got in any deeper, he had to do something

As Dhanvin waited for his guests to arrive, reading some financial news on his Kindle Voyager. He looked up when he heard the knock on his door. Ravi peered in. “Come in,” he signaled, going back to his news. Ravi came in and stood observing him keenly. When no questions came, Dhanvin raised his head. “What!” he exclaimed. “Why that room!” asked Ravi. Dhanvin’s eyes narrowed as his nostrils flared. “Keep out of it Ravi,” he warned. Ravi observed the young man seated in front of him. This was very unlike the Dhanvin he knew. “Ok, I’ll come when they are here,” he said and walked out.

As soon as he stepped out, he knew exactly what needed to be done. He placed a few calls and then waited for the guests to arrive.

They were seated at the dinner table, a rectangular table that could seat upto 12 people. But presently, there were only 3 of them. Prof Rajan seated to Dhanvin’s right and Mythili to his left. Dhanvin had been warm and cordial with his Professor, while being blunt and almost rude with Mythili. As the first course got served, Dhanvin turned to his left and asked, “Do you cook Mythili?” Mythili looked up from her plate, her grey eyes, blank, her face, serene. But before Mythili could answer, Prof Rajan stated enthusiastically, “she is an excellent cook. You must taste her Poori Aloo,” he said.

Mythili looked from the Professor towards Dhnavin, her eyes not so sure anymore. Dhanvin’s gaze though was fixed on Mythili, his jaw throbbing violently. Mythili swallowed hard. She turned to her right side, where she had placed her bag, on the ground and bent to pick her bag. “What are you looking for under the table Mythili?” asked Dhanvin and saw her raise her bag quietly. After two seconds, she handed a square, gift wrapped parcel to Dhanvin.

“Thank you, for letting me stay,” she said, offering the gift to Dhanvin. Dhanvin looked at the modest wrapping of the gift and indicated for one of his serving staff to take it from Mythili’s hand. He looked at her then. “I am surprised at your courtesy,” he said, his eyes cold. Mythili looked on at him, her eyes pleading with him to stop this game.

“Yes Mythili, how very thoughtful of you. It didn’t occur to me to bring anything for you Dhanvin, but Mythili as usual, the sensible girl that she is, has thought of everything,” he said, eating a spoon full of delicious food.

As the conversation moved to work related topics, Mythili only spoke when spoken to. Dhanvin turned to her abruptly, as they were being served some Laal Maas with some special bread that was only made at Durgadas Fort. “So, tell us something about yourself Mythili,” he said studying her, as she froze at his gaze. “What does your father do?” he asked, staring at her. Mythili looked at Dhanvin, her eyes narrowing as a sheet of tears emerged in her eyes. She got up quietly and walked away from the dining area, murmuring a soft, “excuse me,” as she left.

Dhanvin looked at Mythili walking away and his left hand, which rested on his thigh balled into a hard fist. He turned towards Professor Rajan with a blank face. “She comes from a very ordinary family, lots of problems I guess. She doesn’t talk about it but one hears stories from time to time,” said Prof Rajan. “I think you are being too hard Dhanvin. You don’t seem to like the girl,” he pointed out, studying him closely. “I don’t need to like her or dislike her Sir. She means nothing,” said Dhanvin all too soon. Prof Rajan looked away, one brow raised.

Mythili sat on one of the benches in the well-lit lawns, her favorite Kabir Ke Dohe, book in her hand. But it was impossible to concentrate. It had been a mistake coming here. She should never have come. She looked at the greyish blue water flowing in the distance. She was now a captive in his palace, a bird in a golden cage. She drew in a deep breath. Mythili closed her eyes. She had pictured her visit very differently. She had hoped he would be pleasantly surprised to see her there, would hold her close and….

Mythili’s eyes opened up wide. She was admitting to herself. She came only and only with the hope that she could meet him again, even if for one last time. But the way he had reacted to her was right. Any man in his place would assume the same. Mythili closed her eyes once again. “It’s a big mist….” his palm came over her mouth, as he sat behind her, pinning her to him. He cradled her head in his right hand, his left palm, completely covering her mouth.

Mythili who had tried to scream, quietened up immediately as she realized who it was. Dhanvin looked down at her, her eyes wide in fear and panic. And as soon as she recognized who it was, he felt her warm breath on his palm. She had forgotten to breath for a couple of seconds. Dhanvin withdrew his palm slowly from her mouth. Mythili nor Dhanvin though, tried to move away from one another. Mythili recovered first, breaking eye contact with him. Dhanvin released her then.

Mythili stood up, fidgeting with the hem of her Kurta. Dhanvin sat down watching her, his eyes cold, but a smile coming over his lips. “You did not forget my touch. I must’ve made quite an impression,” he said sarcastically. Mythili looked up at him, the hurt in her eyes, there for him to see. “It’s not what you think,” she told him.

Dhanvin stood up then and came to her. Mythili stood rooted to the ground as he came to her, like a predator approaching the prey. “How do you know what I am thinking,” he said, coming closer, to almost touching distance. A tear climbed into Mythili’s eye. “Please Ani..,” she said, looking down at the ground. She heard him draw a deep breath. His hand came to grip her forearm and he marched her away from the garden back into the palace. He took her in through a passage she had not noticed before. It took them straight into a huge kitchen.

He switched the lights on. He pointed to a small breakfast table. “Sit,” he said, his hand pointing to the table. Mythili went and sat at the table wordlessly. He brought her a plate filled with the Laal Maas and some naan and put it in front of her. Mythili looked up at him. “Don’t tell me you’ll only eat with my permission,” he said, watching her closely. As she broke the bread and dipped the naan into the curry, Dhanvin watched curiously. She barely took any curry, just dipping the bread in the gravy and not taking any pieces of meat. “What are you doing?” he asked, an irritated tone in his voice. He pushed her hand away and tore a piece of bread and took in sumptuous amount of curry in the folded bread and brought the food to her mouth.

Mythili watched him with an unfathomable expression in her face. She opened her mouth and her tongue brushed his finger. As Mythili bit into the succulent meat, she coughed as the bread got stuck in her throat. Dhanvin put a glass of water to her mouth, his hand rubbing her back, up and down gently. Mythili closed her eyes, to calm her breath down, both due to the food as well as his touch.

Dhanvin kneeled in front of her, watching her with shrewd eyes. “Why are you here Mythu?” he asked, looking at her intently. Mythy’s hand paused in midair, at his question. She searched his eyes, hoping that he would understand. Dhanvin looked at her greys, that seemed to beg for his understanding. He needed to hear the words from her, needed to hear her say it. “Are you here for money?” he asked her.

The look in Mythili’s eyes changed at his question. Her eyes became reserved, her gaze observant. “Do you know what gift I got for you?” she asked him. Dhanvin looked at her confused. “What?” he said.

“Kabira garab na kijiyea,

Kabhau na hasiyea koi

Ajahun naav Samudr mein

Na jaane ka hoi”

She said, looking at him, with penetrating eyes. “Don’t talk in riddles. What does that mean?” he asked. “You should open my present,” said Mythili getting up from the table. “Sit down and finish your dinner Mythu,” ordered Dhanvin, in a stern voice.

“I would have. But you put a price on that dinner and I can’t afford it,” she told him, looking him straight in his eyes. “I came because Prof Rajan refused to endorse my research till I helped him on this trip,” she told him, walking away.

Dhanvin caught her hand and pulled her to him. “Do you think I am a fool. Do I not see the way Sir looks at you,” said Dhanvin, gritting his teeth. Mythili’s eyes came alive at his words. She did not try to fight him, as he held her close, his hands holding her at her waist and pinning her to him. Her face was so close, that he could kiss her if he wanted. Mythili’s hand rose to cup his cheek. “Only 3 days Ani… tolerate me for three days. After that, you’ll never see me again,” she told him.

“That is three days too many,” he said, pushing her away from him and he walked out of the kitchen.

Mythili looked at her plate. She tidied up the table, washed her plate and went to her room.

The next day, as Dhanvin sat in his office, Ravi came in, walking in briskly. His eyes were bright that day, very bright and there seemed to be a spring in his step. Dhanvin, on the other hand looked like he badly needed to sleep. Ravi took one look at Dhanvin and asked, “Oh oh. Someone is having sleepless nights! I wonder why?” he said. Then before Dhanvin could react, he pulled out an envelope and placed it on the table.

“This is my gift for you. You can thank me later,” he said, smiling widely. “Why does everyone here talk in riddles. Tell me clearly what it is,” Dhanvin erupted. “This is a file on Mythili. Go through it,” he told Dhanvin. ” You’ll feel better,” said Ravi, smiling an understanding smile. “How? How will I feel better when I know the woman I love is on a pleasure trip with my professor? I am going nuts here and you,” said Dhanvin stopping abruptly. He turned to look at Ravi, who watched in shock.

“Sir…” Ravi tried to say something. “Leave me alone Ravi,” said Dhanvin slouching on the couch with his head in his hands. His hand reached for the envelope Ravi left on his desk. He turned around the envelope in his fingers for a few seconds and dropped in back on the table.

He came out a couple of hours later and saw Mythili, working in the cubicle opposite to Ravi’s. She sat with a laptop in front of her, completely immersed in her work. Ravi stood up as Dhanvin walked towards the cubicle. But Mythili was completely unaffected by his arrival.

Dhanvin marched into her workspace and walked behind her chair and observed what she did. She seemed to be working on spread sheets and a few other analytical tools. Dhanvin watched her compile the Data and bent over her to look closely at what she was doing. Mythili turned her head from her system and jumped out of her skin as Dhanvin stood breathing down on her. Dhanvin watched her eyes widen, her thick lashes curl up above her eyes, mesmerized by the way her eyes turned from dark grey to a subtler grey green at close.

“I told you long ago, that you are a great actress,” he said, his arm coming to hold the table. His self-control was like a straw slipping out of his hands. “You’ll make a great actress,” he whispered, looking into her eyes. “You look so convincing,” he said, his eyes simmering with an anger Mythili could not fathom. He saw her brows come together in a frown. She tilted her head slightly to her right, “is it so easy for you to judge me?” she asked back.

“What’s going on here?” Dhanvin and Mythili looked towards the voice. Prof Rajan stood at the entrance of the cubicle, his eyes narrowed, observing both closely. His voice was unusually sharp. “Is he troubling you again Mythili?” he asked, looking severely at both.

Dhanvin looked towards Mythili, his eyes curious to see what she would say. Mythili smiled a calm, composed smile. “No Sir, not at all. He is just checking how I’m doing,” said Mythili, looking at the professor.

“Liar!” remarked Dhanvin, looking at Mythili. “Your student is a liar Sir. I was troubling her, but not in the way you imply,” he said. Ravi stood there, scratching his forehead, not knowing how he was going to deal with Dhanvin’s mood swings. Dhanvin walked out of the chamber, casting a look of disgust at Mythili, before walking away. Ravi chased behind Dhanvin. “Sir… SIR!” he called out. “Ravi how many times do I tell you, don’t call me from behind!” he exclaimed exasperated.

“Sir please, this is important. I wouldn’t call you otherwise,” said Ravi, panting slightly as he caught up with Dhanvin’s brisk pace. “Sir, this is all wrong. It’s not what you think…” Dhanvin didn’t let Ravi finish. He threw his hands up in the air, “riddles again… I can’t take it, this ring-a-ring-a-roses with words. Why can’t you just say things as they are…. Anyway, leave that aside. Meenu is coming today evening. I want everything to be perfect for today’s get together. Don’t give me a chance to get mad at you. I am already on the edge,” he warned, his eyes pouring into Ravi’s and he walked away.

Ravi shook his head, scratching his hair in utter uncertainty. The man was falling head over heels or rather had fallen head over heels and he didn’t know how to react. After of couple of minutes of looking here and there Ravi went back.

That evening at the Palace, as Mythili sat in her room, reading a few papers she had got home from work, she heard the chirps of birds coming from the gardens. The sun had already retreated to his home it was dark already although the hour was only 6:30. Mythili knew it would be cold outside on this November evening. She wrapped up a thin shawl and walked out into the lawns. She must have walked for about half a kilometer, when she heard water flowing. She walked in the direction of the sound and came to a beautiful fountain, huge, with a peacock carved in marble as the centerpiece. It had spread it’s feathers fully and seemed to be dancing at the first rainfall. Mythili slowly walked around the peacock and as she came to the rear of the statue, her heart skipped a beat.

Dhanvin stood there, his arms folded at his chest, his eyes smoking embers of fire, watching her with such ferocity, that it scared Mythili, to stay there with him. “Oh, I am sorry for intruding,” she said and turned away to go back to her room.

“Wait wait...” he came to her in two strides and caught her upper arm. His eyes now burned with desire. She had seen that desire in his eyes once before too. “Where do you think you are going,” he said, dragging her towards a secluded spot, behind some bushes, where they could be hidden from view, if someone passed by. He pushed her back into a tree and bent over her suggestively. Mythili’s eyes were wide now, panic showing in them. Dhanvin leaned over her, his body pressing into her’s, pinning her down to the tree. Mythili swallowed hard, her tongue coming out to wet her lips, as she searched his eyes. “Ani…” her voice turned husky, as he came closer.

“Umm!” he said, looking at her panic-stricken eyes. “What a sweet intrusion this is,” he said and bent down to take her lips. Mythili’s hands, came up against his chest, trying to push him away, as his lips pressed into her lips. Dhanvin smiled at her feeble struggle. “You don’t need to act with me. I know you way more intimately,” he said, capturing her hands in his, and pressing his body onto her body, his lips now relentlessly pushing through her lips.

Mythili’s head spun with the sensations she was experiencing. As his lips pressed down on her lips, her mind raced to that first kiss, when she had stepped on his toes. She knew it was a lost battle. Maybe for the first time and last, she could kiss him back. One last kiss…to last her a lifetime. Mythili drew in a deep breath and gave in to his demand. His lips found entry into her mouth and he grunted in approval, his hands crushing her to himself. Mythili’s hands moved away from his chest, coming around his neck and pulling him closer as Dhanvin deepened the kiss. She tried to kiss him back as best as she knew, but was no match to his skill.

They kissed for a long time, till her skin was fire, her lips swollen with pleasure. When he withdrew, she clutched onto him for support, her eyes shut tight, her head bent low, panting hard. Slowly Mythili withdrew, her head bent low, as both recovered their breath. Dhanvin stepped away from Mythili, observing her with condescension. His hands went into pocket inside his coat pockets. “At least your body knows what it wants. How you come alive in my arms,” he said, his eyes studying her face, with an intensity that set Mythili’s heart on fire and pulse racing. As Mythili watched shocked at his words, he took out, what seemed like a piece of paper.

“It’s a blank check,” he told her. “I am in a much better position to take care of you and your needs,” he said, looking her up from head to foot. “Don’t waste yourself on men twice your age,” he said, putting the paper in her hands and walking away from her.

Mythili stood too shocked to move at the way he had humiliated her. Her hands shivered at the humiliation that had just been meted out to her. Utterly shocked and her self-respect devastated, Mythili walked back slowly, her face blank, her eyes distant. She somehow managed to reach the room and once she got in she shut the door tight, latched it and stood with her back to the door. It finally hit her, why he despised her. He thought she was here with Prof Rajan to…. The tears rolled out of her eyes in quick secession, as her legs gave way.

She slid down to the floor and squat down, her knees clutched close to her chest. The pain in her heart was unbearable. Mythili hid her face in her palm as the sob finally tore out, a heart wrenching cry of pain, of humiliation, of dejection and of love.

She felt a hand on her shoulders. Mythili looked up at the person who stood over her. As her tear stained eyes saw the hazy picture of a woman, another sob tore out. She looked down at the piece of paper in her hands. “And he gives me this,” she said, looking up the woman, her naked pain, bringing a tear to the eye of the woman who stood next to her.

The woman squat down, in front of Mythili. “Shhhhh, calm down.” She gave her a glass of water. “here, have some water,” said the woman. Mythili drank a few sips of the water and wiped away her tears. She raised her head and looked at the woman, who helped her in distress. As she looked up, she could not believe her eyes at what she saw. Mythili shook her head, taking in a deep breath. “I see him everywhere. Even you, look like him,” said Mythili, completely exhausted.

The woman’s eyes narrowed, and a small smile appeared on her face. “Who are you?” she asked. Mythili looked up at the woman, who came to her room and asked her who she was. “I am Mythili, assistant to Prof Soundarajan,” she said. “Who are you?” asked Mythili, her brows knotting together.

The woman smiled a mysterious smile. “How is Dhanvin?” she asked, catching Mythili by surprise. At the mention of Dhanvin’s name, fresh tears emerged from Mythili’s eyes. She bit on her lower lip, to stop yet another sob from tearing through. “I think you should leave now. I want to be alone for some time,” said Mythili, her chest heaving erratically.

“I am afraid I can’t do that,” said the woman, her mysterious smile intact, observing Mythili closely. “What do you mean?” she asked. “We are in my room,” she said, her hand sweeping across in the air. Mythili looked around the room, it was much bigger than her’s and the furnishing too was different. Mythili shot up to her feet. “I am so sorry to….” The woman touched Mythili’s hand. “It’s perfectly ok, don’t worry,” she said.

“But may I know who you are?” asked Mythili, “so I can thank you.” “I am Meenakshi Sisodia, twin sister of Dhanvin,” she said, a touch of regality in her tone. The blood drained off Mythili’s face. She stood completely scared, terrified as well as embarrassed all at the same time. “Excuse me, I am sorry… I should go…” said Mythili all flustered.

“Calm down,” said Meenakshi, a smile appearing on her face, her hand coming to hold Mythili again. “It seems my brother has done something that has upset you very much. And since you are our guest here, taking care of your comfort is our primary responsibility. Come, sit with me for some time,” said Meenakshi, a friendly smile appearing on her face.

Mythili stood confused, unsure how she should react. Would refusing to stay be rude? Meenakshi smiled more openly now. “I don’t bite, unlike Dhanvin,” she said. A small smile appeared on Mythili’s face. She walked with Meenakshi towards the antique furniture placed on the left-hand side o n the room.

“Do sit,” said Meenakshi. “Now, what is your full name?” she asked. Mythili looked up at Meenakshi apprehensively. “Mythili Gora. Why do you ask? Is it to evaluate my social standing?” asked Mythili.

Menakashi’s eyes narrowed. “Do I need to?” she asked back. Mythili immediate looked away, biting down on her lips. “Can I please leave,” said Mythili, still looking away. Meenakshi drew in a deep breath. “I would like to make it up to you Mythili,” she said, her voice more serious now. “I can’t have guests of my family leaving with such bitter experiences. It just won’t do. We are having a small get together, for close friends and family today, she said, as Mythili looked on. “I would like you to come there as my special guest,” said Meenakshi.

“Will Dhanvin be there?” she asked, without blinking an eye. Meenakshi’s eyes narrowed at her question. “Yes, he will, but he will also be very busy taking care of the guests and I will be there to protect you from him. He won’t dare cross swords with me,” she assured her.

Mythili shook her head. “I don’t want to be rude. But I think it’s better… if I don’t” she said, hoping the gentle lady would understand her predicament. “I will take it as a personal insult if you refuse,” said Meenakshi, her eyes now stern. Mythili looked at her haplessly.

“But mam...” “Ahaha,” interrupted Meenakshi. “I prefer being called Meenu,” she said. Mythili swallowed hard. “Meenu, I have no cloths to go to such an evening. I was supposed to be here for there days, but I most likely will go back tomorrow. Please, try to understand…” she pleaded.

“That’s not a problem at all. You see the bed, there’s a few sarees and jewelry kept there. Pick whichever you like and then you can return them to me after the evening,” said Meenakshi, solving this problem too. One created problems for her and the other was hell bent on solving her problems, Mythili thought to herself. She took in a deep breath and showed signs of accepting. As a last-ditch attempt, Mythili said, “I could be an imposter, I could run away with all your jewels… I could be a thief,” she tried to reason.

“Let me be the judge of that,” interrupted Meenu, with a broad smile. Finally, Mytthili nodded her agreement and walked up to the bed.

As soon as Mythili left the room, Meenakshi placed a call to Ravi. “Ravi? What can you tell me about Mythili Gora?” she asked.

By around 9:30 PM, the Banquet Hall of DurgaDas Palace had transformed into a buzzing bevy of royalty who walked around in their traditional finery. The women all wore, their chiffon and silk sarees, with the pallu draped over their heads, while the men wore their sherwani with their swords and daggers tied to their waist.

As Mythili walked into the room filled with royalty, she felt terribly conscious and out of place. She had half a mind to turn away and walk out. As she went into the hall, a few guests turned to look at her curiously. Since she did not know how to drape the saree, in the traditional Rajasthani way, she had draped it the only ways she knew, the normal way. As she walked in very self-consciously, Meenu walked up to her.

Her gaze was full of admiration. “You look very beautiful,” said Meenu, coming towards Mythili. “I am feeling very conscious. Please, can I go back to my room,” said Mythili, tucking her saree blouse back in place. Meenu pulled her hand away from her blouse, her eyes narrowed. “You are scared you will run into Dhnavin?” she asked, mischief playing in her eyes. Mythili looked away, the pain returning to her eyes.

There is someone I want you to meet,” she said, taking her hand and walking with her.

“Ma,” she called out after some time. Amrapali turned around to look at two of the most beautiful women she had ever seen in her life. The first was of course her step daughter, the second was someone she was meeting for the first time. “You must be Mythili,” said Amrapali, studying the beautiful eyes set in pretty face. But it was not the face that attracted Amrapali’s attention as much as poise and grace with which she carried herself. Mythili looked at the woman in front of her. She was much older than Meenu, but Mythili could tell she must’ve been extremely beautiful in her hey days. She had a light creamy skin, that seemed to glisten, her eyes black, huge had a deep aura, her face now slightly wrinkled was perfectly sculpted and she seemed like someone, who had seen life at close quarters.

“Namaste,” said Mythili, enchanted by the beauty of the older woman. Amrapali nodded.

“You are everything Meenu described and more,” she said. “How are you feeling now Mythili?” she asked betraying the fact, that Meenu told her what had happened early evening.

Mythili looked from Amrapali towards Meenu. Just then she felt a familiar touch on her arm. Mythili closed her eyes shut, biting down on her lower lip. Meenu and Amrapali saw Mythili’s reaction to Dhanvin’s touch. He turned her around to face him, his eyes wild with fury. Mythili looked at him for one second and looked away, unable to bear the disgust she saw for herself in his eyes. “Dhanvin, she is my guest,” said Meenu, her tone stern.

Dhanvin looked at Meenakshi furiously. “No, she is not,” he said gritting his teeth. “I need to talk to you,” he said breathing down unevenly as he looked at Mythili. Amrapali interjected. “Whatever you do, remember she is our guest here,” she said. Mythili saw, Dhanvin’s face squirm in boredom. He simply ignored her words and pulled Mythili away from them both towards the balcony, away from all the guests.

Mythili was shuddering now, fearing what fresh insults he will haul at her. “I didn’t want to come, but I was forced to,” she said, looking away, as he dragged her out to the balcony by her arm. He stood her in front of him and observed her closely, panting hard with fury. Mythili refused to look him in the face, blinking hard to keep her tears from falling.

“What are you trying to do? Coming here dressed like this? Phishing for new clients?” he asked. Mythili’s eyes turned to him then, wild with pain, wide with anguish, grey as grey can be. She couldn’t help the tears that fell. “It’s always my fault whatever I try to do,” she said, breathing hard. “Isn’t it? I can’t seem to do anything right. And when I try to do something right, I get pushed into a corner. What am I supposed to do? Why don’t you just tell me what I am supposed to do?” she told him.

“You come here, wearing my mother’s saree, that she will one day give to my bride, with my family heirloom jewelry and you hobnob with my sister and step mother and come to an invitees only party , dressed as you are, YOU, a woman like you,” he said, his eyes spewing hatred at her, “I would be mad to think you came here dressed like this for me, wouldn’t I” he said, glaring at her, his arm, seeing her arm in fury.

Mythili ‘s eyes poured out the tears helplessly, as she could take his words no more. She shook her head slowly, completely crushed. “Whatever I say is in vain, till you feel my pain.

Akath kahani prem ki

Kutch kahin na jaye

Goonge keri sarkara

Baithe Muskae”

And Mythili walked away from him. Dhanvin watched her walk away, completely confused and frustrated. After a few seconds, when he couldn’t watch her walk away from him, he went behind her.

Mythili walked out of the banquest hall and raced towards her bedroom.

Much later that night, Mythili stood at the window of her room, gazing out to the lawn. She had already spoken to Rhea to arrange for a ticket for her to leave tomorrow. That was the best thing to do. There was no point in staying back and prolonging this agony. She seemed to bring out the worst in Dhanvin. He could not stand the sight of her, so potent was his hatred of her. The tears flowed again, as she wiped them again for the nth time.

She heard a small creaking noise then and turned towards the door. The latch turned open and there he stood, in all his regal finery. He was wearing an off white Sherwani with a sword tied to his waist. She had not had the opportunity to notice him well earlier in the evening due to their altercation. A bright red pagdi crowned his head, with a crown jewel pinned to the center. He looked even more tall and imposing in the traditional attire. Mythili swallowed hard, her eyes tired, teary.

Dhanvin walked into the room and closed the door behind him, locking it and putting the key in his pocket. Mythili stood at the window, her head rested to the window frame, fresh tears emerging from her eyes, as he walked up to her. Dhanvin came up close and saw her tears flow. His hand automatically reached for her cheek, pushing the tear away from her face. Mythili looked down, taking in a deep breath.

“I did not have a chance to finish off our conversation earlier,” he said, his voice soft, his index finger raising her chin to look up at him. Mythili looked up at him, her eyes resolute, bracing for his next attack.

Dhanvin’s arm came around her waist, immediately causing her heart to thud fast and her pulse on the 5th gear. “You look very beautiful today,” he said, his forehead rested against hers. “This was all a mistake,” said Mythili. “I will return your mother’s cloths immediately,” she said, trying to move away from him.

Don’t…” he said looking down at her, his finger tracing the line of her jaw, “yet… Let me look at you properly,” he said, his voice low, taking his fill, looking at her head to foot. “Why didn’t you change until now?” he asked, looking into her eyes, his eyes still on fire.

Mythili drew in a deep breath, shrugging in response to his question. “Could it be, that you like the richness and opulence?” he asked now, a slight edge of sarcasm entering his tone. Mythili looked up at him, her eyes, cold, sheets of ice now. Dhanvin’s arm crept up behind her back, coming up to her neck. Mythili was pulled close to him, his lips lingering over her cheek. “Is that what you want Mythu… to be my bride and enjoy all these riches?” he asked. Mythili closed her eyes shut, as his lips caressed her cheek and descended to kiss her throat. “No,” she said, unresponsive to his touch. Dhanvin withdrew from her, watching her closely. “No, it’s not what I want. If it means to be humiliated by you every day and night like this, then definitely it’s not what I want,” she said, her eyes holding up to him.

“Are you refusing my offer?” he asked, hurt and anger obvious in his eyes. “I don’t take lightly to rejections,” he warned her.

“Yes,” said Mythili. “I am refusing your offer. Nothing at the cost of my self-respect,” she said, in a resolute voice.

“Self-respect? Even a woman like you can talk of self-respect?” he asked, in condescension.

Mythili looked at him for a long time. Then she stepped on his toes one foot at a time, her hands coming across his neck. Dhanvin held her close, his eyes surprised at the liberty she took with him. Mythili kissed him tenderly on his lips, her eyes shut tight, giving herself to him selflessly. After a few seconds, she ended the kiss, and looked at Dhanvin. “I remember that evening very fondly,” she told him, showing her true feelings, openly. “I don’t want to sully those memories, by accepting what you offer,” said, stepping away from him.

She raised her hand to silence him, as he started to say something. “Purity is not a question of the body Ani,” she said, shaking her head. “No body is pure. As we speak, your body is preparing to excrete the waste from the food that you have eaten, your skin is pushing out waste water from the pores, this body is a walking, talking dump of waste. Purity comes from something that cannot be touched by the material world, from something deep within, that influences who you are and what you become. A spark of the divine, that everyone carries within. That is what makes us pure. Your actions and thoughts are what make you pure, not this body,” she told him. “I would like to be alone now, Mr. Sangawat. Your things will be returned back safe,” she told him, her head held high.

Dhanvin stood speechless at her words, confused, perhaps even defeated. He walked out quietly from the room. His footsteps took him to the one room, he had not visited in very many years.

Amrapali was surprised as Dhanvin came to her, his shoulders drooping, his face defeated, completely exhausted. She knew the cause, but not the details. As he walked into the room, he looked around, “Where is Papa?” he asked, looking at Amrapali. She smiled, “In Delhi,” she told him. Dhanvin’s eyebrows rose. “With my mother?” he asked. She smiled an affirmative smile.

Dhanvin drew in a deep breath. “It didn’t work did it?” she asked him, handing over a stiff glass of whisky to him, offering for him to sit down. He looked at the sofa and squat down leaning against the furniture, his eyes hazy. “It didn’t…. I don’t think it could ever have?” he told her. Abruptly, he said, “she is a prostitute,” and he looked at Amrapali. Her eyes narrowed. “So was I,” she said, pain taking over her eyes.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Dhanvin, but as his eyes returned to her, he saw the pain on her face. “How is it possible?” he asked, shocked at her revelation.

“Your father rescued me from a trafficker. I had been abused and sold twice before. Your mother used this reason to get divorced from him. You see, she felt very tied down with all the responsibilities of being a queen. She did not like that. She wanted to be free, master of her own time. So, she divorced your father and settled in Delhi. Your father needed someone to look after the day to day running of the estate. As well as someone to raise the children. He offered me marriage, a marriage without love. You see, your father never loved anyone other than your mother. So, while I looked after you two and the estate, your father would often join your mother in Delhi. I got saved, your parents were free to do as they pleased, and the estate and you kids had a caretaker,” she said, looking into the distance with sad eyes.

Dhanvin was astounded at the information. “Is this why you never had children?” he asked, as subtly as he could. Amrapali looked down at him. “But I have two wonderful children,” she said, running her hand through his hair. Dhnavin looked at her with an affection he had never felt before. “I am so sorry, I thought you were the reason my parents separated,” he said, as tears fell from his eyes. “And you let me hate you,” he said, ashamed of himself.

“Don’t cry my dear. I could not bring myself to tell you the truth. It was better you hated me, than hate your mother,” she said, stoking his hair with motherly love.

“Do you love my father?” he asked, looking up at her. She nodded a yes. “Very much, the only man I love. You can think of me as some sort of Meera Bai,” she said, making a joke of herself. But Dhnavin couldn’t laugh. How easily she had sacrificed her happiness for the man who saved her life. He drew in a deep breath. And how harshly he had judged her. “I will never be able to forgive myself,” he said, looking away, his palm balled into a fist.

“But there is one way, you can make me very happy,” said Amrapali. “Marry her,” she told him. Dhanvin looked at her with pain filled eyes. He caught his head in his hands. “I’ll ask you a fundamental question Dhanvin. Answer me,” she told him. “Do you love her?” she asked him.

Dhanvin’s eyes filled with pain. “Yes,” he whispered. “Very much.” “Would you like to share your life with her?” she asked. “I would like nothing more than that, to have her with me, beside me, all my life……” Dhanvin looked away. “So how does it matter if she is a prostitute?” she asked. “It matters, because it’s a question of the reputation of my family and ancestors,” said Dhanvin, his eyes now balls of fire.

“Calm down son. Listen to me very carefully. Is this the first time you have bought pleasures of flesh?” she asked him. Dhanvin looked down in silence. “If you buying pleasure’s is not shameful, why is her selling pleasures a shame?” asked Amrapali. “She is not the villain Dhanvin, she is the victim. You and people like you, who want to put a price on things that should never be sold are to be blamed. For as long as man will put a price on these things, women like Mythili will be forced, coerced, pushed and persuaded into selling their bodies. Now tell me…. how have you upheld the reputation and honor of your family and how will she tarnish what has already been squandered away?” asked Amrapali.

Dhanvin sat completely flummoxed by his mother’s questions. “Wait a minute,” said Amrapali and went to her wardrobes. She came back with an envelope. “Read the contents of this envelope. Ravi tried to give this you. But you did not bother to read it. He gave it to Meenu and she to me. Read it,” she said, looking at him lovingly.

Next Morning

Dhanvin had not slept all night. His mother’s questions haunted him all night, making it impossible to sleep. Till he spoke to Mythili, it would be impossible to calm down either. He waited for her to come in, knowing she would come by 8:30 AM. When she had not come by 9:30, he called Ravi. “Where is Mythili?” he asked. “She left early morning today. She left a note for you on your desk,” said Ravi, looking at Dhanvin sadly. “Can you please come and sit with me,” said Dhanvin, looking at his secretary. “Aha… you have come back to your senses I see,” said Ravi, coming to sit with him.

He opened the small envelope on his table. “Dhanvin Sangawat” was written in clear alphabets. He smelled the envelope before opening it. It held the blank check he had given her. Dhanvin clutched his head in shame. A small piece of paper dropped onto the table.

“Somethings should never be sold or bought,” it read.

“It’s time for the courier. I’ll just check if there is anything and come,” said Ravi, excusing himself.

Dhanvin opened the folder that Ma had given him yesterday. It had a picture of Mythili, her pretty face, her grey eyes and a hesitant smile, looking innocently into the camera. He read the documents one by one, transcripts of her University. She had been a topper all through, with 90+ marks in Mathematics and Sciences. It also had hospital bills of her mother, undergoing treatment for cancer and college fees of her brothers. There was a letter that Ravi had typed out, as a final report. Her father was absconding and after her mother’s cancer was diagnosed, she was the sole bread winner of her family. Her mother and two brothers lived in a small apartment in Bhubaneshwar, which she had bought in August this year. August! Was that with the money he had paid! She was presently working in Prof Rajan’s private firm as a Business Analyst to support her family while persuing her research. Prof Rajan was more of a father figure to her, according reports from people who knew them. He helped her with the job as she is a very self-respecting girl.

Rhea who introduced her to modelling and tried to push her into flesh trade was still a friend and Mythili was regularly paying her some money, every month in fact. She consults Rhea for all her problems.

In the end, Ravi had put in bold, THE EVENING IN THE HYATT WAS HER FIRST AND LAST ASSIGNMENT – as confirmed by Rhea

As Dhanvin read the letter, completely overwhelmed by what he had learnt, Ravi came in with another envelope in hand. This came for you, but there is no name or address, he said displaying it. Dhanvin put his hand out to take the envelope. He tore the edge open and found another check fall out.

It was a check for 10.5 lakhs. There was a note attached to the check. “The girl who serviced you that night wanted to return the money. This is the full amount with interest. The delay was due to some unforeseen circumstances.” There was another brief note in there “PS: She has decided to go back into business” it read. Dhanvin stood up with a jolt as he read the last line.

Ravi looked at him worriedly, as Dhanvin looked at him completely stupefied.

Mumbai – Mythili’s Room- Few Days Later

As she got dressed, the call came. “Mythu, are you ready…” asked Rhea. “Yes,” said Mythili in a resolute voice. “Good, the car is waiting for you, outside your apartment,” she said. “OK,” said Mythili. She went and sat in the waiting car and was taken to Airport. “Where are we going?” she asked the driver. “The client is not in Mumbai,” said a familiar voice. “Will I be back by evening?” she asked. “Depends on what he wants to do?” said the chauffer. Mythili looked out of the window, slightly apprehensive now. “Nothing to worry. It’ll all be paid for,” said the chauffer.

A few hours and a chartered flight later, they landed in Jodhpur. A car was waiting for Mythili at the Tarmac. It drove her towards Sawai Amritpur it seemed. “Are we going to Sawai Amritpur?” she asked the driver. “yes mam,” he said. “To Druga Das palace?” she asked. “No mam,” said the driver. Myhtili drew in a deep breath, shaking her head at her fate. Why did she keep coming back to this place, she wondered?

They stopped inside the drive way of some very expensive apartment’s. The chauffer, with his hat drawn well over his face, opened the door for her. She got out and he escorted her to the left. “No 27. 9 is my boss’s lucky number. Always prefers the 27th floor,” he said and walked away. Mythili’s brows knotted. Why did he give me this information, she wondered? She drew in a deep breath and clamed herself down. From this point, her self-destruction would begin.

She stepped out of the elevator and found herself in front of apartment number 27. It was the 27th floor of a hotel where…. Mythili stopped herself. She knocked on the door and felt it give way. She opened the door and walked in, slow and unsure. Today she wore a deep red dress, with a cut on the hem, to reveal her thighs. The huge hall had a viewing gallery with widows in a semicircle and a well-stocked bar opposite to the sitting area, next to the viewing gallery.

“Good Evening!” she heard the voice, that haunted her every night and jumped in her skin. She knew before she turned around, who she would find there. Dhanvin stood watching her, just as he had watched her the first time, looking at her from head to foot, and she reacted in exactly the same manner, as the first time, the color rising in her cheeks. “Mr.…” “I prefer being called Ani… but you already know that, don’t you?” he asked, walking up to her lazily.

Mythili bit back on the tears that were about to form in her eyes. She looked away from him as he came closer. Dhanvin observed her, as she looked away from him. Her anger and her disappointment were justified. He stood in front of her, close but not touching. “Let’s start all over again Mythu,” he said, his eyes, pleading her this time. Mythili looked at him, her eyes cold. “It’s a game for you isn’t it,” she said, as her voice quivered with emotions. “You enjoy tormenting me like this? You probably enjoy humiliating me, but its no fun being on the other side of the torment and humiliation,” she said, walking away from him.

He caught hold of her hand as she walked away. He came up to her, her hand still held in his. “Then allow me to make it up to you,” he asked, looking at her. Mythili looked up at him, searching his eyes. Dhanvin came close to her, his palm cupping her cheek.

Pehle agan birha ki

Pache prem ki pyas

Kahe Kabir tab janiyea

Naam milan ki aas

“I opened your gift,” he said, looking into her eyes, that looked at him with disbelief. “But I need someone to explain all that wisdom to me. And who better than you, to teach me the meaning of life,” he asked her. Mythili stood speechless at his words. The tears came slowly, as she looked on in disbelief.

“You read the book!” she exclaimed, her hand reaching up to cup his cheek. “Yes,” nodded Dhanvin, his love and longing visible in his eyes. “I read it… only read it…. But I don’t understand it,” he said. “You should ask Amrapali mam,” said Mythili, completely shocking Dhanvin. “There is no one wiser than her, I know of,” she said.

Dhanvin studied Mythili closely. “You only met her for a few brief minutes, how did you deduce how wise she is?” he asked amazed. “I don’t know. When you look at her, you can tell she has experienced life from close quarters. Its there in the face, her eyes…” said Mythili.

“I went to her after our conversation in your room,” said Dhanvin, stroking her cheek. “She told me somethings that day, that changed my perception. She also told me I should get married,” said Dhanvin looking at Mythili. Mythili wet her lips, swallowing hard. She felt the wind drain out of her lungs. But managed to smile at Dhanvin. “So, this is your bachelor party? Before the marriage?” she asked, faking a smile.

Dhanvin, looked at her, her words feeling like a thousand cuts to his heart. “To say anything is in vain, till you feel my pain,” her words echoed in his ears. “I feel your pain,” said Dhnavin, looking at her, with pain writ eyes, Mythili looked away, as tears welled up in her eyes. “You want to torment me like I did to you?” he asked Mythili, holding her by her arms and bringing her close to him. “Look at me Mythu,” he asked her, his voice now husky. Mythili turned to him slowly as the tears flowed out. “Will you consider marrying this foolish man?” he asked, his pride like the grains of sand at his feet. “I was blinded by my jealousy and refused to see the truth. But you are wise, isn’t it? Will you let me partake in your wisdom? All I offer to you is my love, unconditional, for as long as I live,” he said, looking at her hopefully.

Mythili looked on at him, a small smile beginning to dance on her lips, the tears that flowed now coming from a deep sense of happiness she felt within. Mythili, took Dhanvin’s right arm and wrapped it around her waist. He smiled a knowing smile at her as she bent down to the right first and then to her left. She stepped on to his toes one by one and met his lips, tenderly, with love and with warmth. Dhanvin held her close to him, his hands caressing her back tenderly. She was precious beyond any material possessions he ever had. When they ended their kiss, he went away for a few seconds and came back with square box. He handed it over to her. Mythili looked at the box and looked back up at him. “Open it!” he said softly.

As she opened the box, she saw the three-layered, grey pearl necklace. The grey of the pearls, matching the grey of her eyes. “Not diamonds, not rubies… not sapphires... I give you rare grey pearls, to match the grey of your beautiful eyes,” he said, kissing her tenderly on both her eyes. “Grey is a negative color, but these are so rare and so pure. You may have strayed into prostitution, but your pure soul, transformed even that into love…. I love you…. Mythu…” he said, hugging her close.

The End

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