The thundering sound of applause was still ringing in her ears. “That was an amazing performance Ms. Ketki!” the announcer came up to the stage. The audience stood up. A standing ovation! Ketki could not believe it. She knew she had played well, but with high profile musicians and a knowledgeable audience she was surprised by the reaction. Her cheeks were flushing with embarrassment or excitement, she was not sure. She bowed with a ‘Namaste’ and left the stage.
There was a knock on the door of the dressing room. She looked back. Wiping her tears of joy, she smiled and stood up. “Awesome, Ketki! I knew you could do it!” Siddharth stood there. “Thank you”, she smiled.
The news item was very disturbing - “Famous industrialist’s mistress wins the most prestigious music award. Are we selling our awards?” Ketki could not believe what had been printed.
“Sorry ma’am, but Mr. Chandra is unwell and has not come to office,” the phone was disconnected. How could the press write something like that! She was friends with Siddharth. He was her college mate. They had not been in touch since they left college. Through a social networking site they had found each other after many years. But that he was the son of a well known industrialist was not known to her till she read it in the papers that morning. From hear-say she knew he was from a rich family and herself being from a middle class family, she was not close friends with him.
Once more her life felt a falling pack of cards. Her cell phone rang. “Would you like to reply to the press? I am from the Free News”. “No” she replied and disconnected the line. Why do the press people think it is their birthright to get into people’s personal lives? She hated all of them.
She had not had a morsel of food since the last evening. She had woken up in the morning and rushed to see the news in the papers. Instead of the laurels she had expected, it was all tears for her. Why has life to be so cruel to her? She could never find an answer to hat.
Her cell phone had a missed call. She dialed the number. “Ketki?” she recognized the voice. It was Tanveer, her lawyer. “Your husband has applied for custody of your daughter. He says after the news item in the press today it is not good for her to stay with you.” The devil is preaching the Gospel! She thought. “Don’t worry, we can handle it,” said Tanveer. Her head was hurting. She made herself some coffee and had a few biscuits. She felt as if she was in some web from where she could just not escape.
It was late evening. Ketki had not realized when the sun had set. She had been lying on her bed all day. Not being able to do anything but sulk. There as a knock at her door. Who could that be? “Hi Ketki.” Siddharth stood at her door with a bouquet of flowers. “This is for you. Cheer up!”
She did not know how to react. Had he not seen the news? There was an uncomfortable silence. “So how about going for a long drive?” it looked as if he was unaware of what had happened in the news today. “May be after you make me a good cup of coffee,” he said. “That’s a pretty girl, who is she?” he picked the photo frame in his hands. “My daughter, Payal” she said. “Oh, but you said you were single!” he thought he had made a mistake by saying that. “We are divorced.” She cut the question short. Did that make a difference to him? She could not say. “I am sorry I should not have asked that,” he seemed apologetic. “Did you read the news?” she asked while serving the coffee. “Oh, that’s all rubbish, don’t give it a second thought. Come, you get dressed up, we are going for a long drive and dinner to celebrate your success.”
He opened the door of his black Cadillac. She was not sure of what she was doing, but then too exhausted to think about anything. The music in the car was the recording of her performance of the previous day. “Can we change the song?” she asked. He switched on the radio. Soon they were on the beach road. She remembered this was the road she and her husband Rohit would take on his motorbike when they were dating each other before marriage. There was total silence between them. Suddenly he put his hand on her hand and said, “Cheer up! You’re with a friend!” His smile was enchanting.
It was a beautiful full moon night. The city lights in the distance looked very beautiful. The gentle breeze was ruffling her hair. The waves were lashing the seashore, reminding her of the turmoil in her heart. “It’s so peaceful here,” finally Siddharth broke the silence. He took out a small folding table and two folding chairs from his car. He seated her on one chair and went back to the car to bring a bottle of champagne and two glasses. “To your success,” they touched the glasses to each other. “May you reach many more heights, and may I be able to celebrate all of them!” he said with a smile. “Thanks!” is all she could say.
“Table for two, by the beach,” he said. The attendant led them to a corner table. The place was heavenly, and the restaurant one of the most expensive ones. Why is he doing all this? She was not sure.
“Your office said you were unwell,” she asked him. “No, actually I was settling some things, so decided not to attend.” He looked uncomfortable at the question. “You said you are divorced. What happened?” this was a question she always hated to answer. “I wasn’t good enough for him; he found the type he wanted.”
“Thanks for the great evening. Made me feel better” she said. He gently kissed her hand and waved good bye. “Whenever you need anything, anything at all; remember you have a friend on whom you can count always.” He waved and went away.
“Hi Mom, how was the evening?” it was her daughter Payal on the line. “Sidd is great, isn’t he?” “How do you know him?” Ketki could not believe her ears. “Oh we are friends on Facebook. We met a couple of times at school, I really like him mom!”
Ketki was wondering if all this was pre-planned by him. Was he trying to use her? The wealthy often have mistresses as a prestige symbol. “Good morning, how are we today?” it was Siddharth. “I have to meet you, the earlier the better,” she was curt with him. “I am on my way, you have half an hour to make a good breakfast for both of us.”
This was the first time she saw him in jeans and T-shirt. In all her turmoil, she had never noticed him to be handsome. It was only after what her daughter said the night before, she noticed it.
“Yes ma’am what’s the matter?” he said cheerfully. “How did you get to know Payal?” she looked at him angrily. “We are friends! She is cute, isn’t she?” he said. “How did she know about yesterday evening?” she was trying to sound firm. “It was her idea, she loves you a lot. After life gave me a second chance with you, I found out everything about you. I had lost you once before, and you didn’t even know that.” He became very emotional. “Your husband was my best friend. When he told me you had agreed to marry him, I was shattered. I always felt I was just a bit late.”
“My parents were keen I marry. I saw a number of girls, but may be you will think I am crazy, I rejected each one, only because every time, my heart went back to you. I loved you immensely and that was what kept me going. And finally I found you once again. I felt that life has given me a second chance. I have been sneaking on you. This time I did not want to lose you to anyone. I went about finding everything about you. Your story made me feel sad, but also happy for myself. I know you will think I am selfish, but I know that when I lost you, I was most selfless, and it didn’t work”, he said.
“I have a confession to make. The award was not fixed, but I did have some influence to get your name into the list of participants. I am sorry, but I knew you were good and had to do it. Otherwise it doesn’t work.”
There was a long silence. He then took her hand. Ketki began to sob. He closely held her head on his shoulder and patted her gently. “Ketki, it may sound a bit odd, but will you marry me?”
Just then her cell phone rang. “Mom, did you agree? I have told him that I am a very difficult daughter and he has agreed to be a great dad!”
“When both of you have already decided for me, how can I say no?” she had tears of joy rolling down her cheeks while he hugged and told her, “Forever and ever, I am yours! Welcome to my world”