That night, Snigdha, twisted and turned on her single bed, eyes squeezed shut, not just trying to sleep but to ward off memories of Roshan, that kept barging in, shaking her and making her crave for him, his deep sexy voice, sometimes grating in anger and sometimes tender in soothing her, his warm intense eyes boring into her very soul, asking questions, sometimes glittering with disapproval and sometimes velvety with desire. Snigdha felt as if she was hearing his cries of appeal, to take him out of the manacles of terror and pain. She woke up in the middle of night, drenched in sweat, even in the cold wintry Delhi night, her chest heaving with panic, her heart beating with fear, her eyes frantic on her pale face, her long silky hair tumbling around her shoulders in disarray. Pushing it behind her ears, Snigdha poured a glass of water from the bottle kept on her bed side table and gulped it hungrily. She closed her eyes, to wipe out the image of tied and tortured Roshan. What must be happening to him? Are the terrorists punishing him right at this minute? The army officer she had met before leaving had assured her that Roshan would be alive because it was in the nature of the terrorists to announce any death incurred at their hands of anyone from outside in a big way, so that they spread the message of terror all over the world. Especially, in the case of an international personality, they will make a public spectacle of his death if and when it happens. As no such announcement had been done online or on TV, it was most likely that Roshan was still alive. This was supposed to relieve Snigdha, but she had become more and more tensed, trying her best to hide her feelings. She could now imagine the bone crunching torture that Roshan must be going through at their hands. Her heart went out to him and she closed her eyes, folding her hands, to pray silently to the Almighty to save and help him from the clutches of death. After the silent prayer, she lay down on the bed, staring at the ceiling, till she heard the sound of birds outside.
Their flight landed at 11 am sharp, the bright sun at Bhopal hurting Snigdha’s sleep induced reddened eyes, however much she had splashed cold water on her face. Her family was there to receive her with bouquets and warm hugs, making her throat close with emotion. Her mother’s puffed and red face proved it that she had been weeping non-stop. Her tight hug made Snigdha suddenly relaxed, and after a long time she let herself be hugged and kissed by her whole family. She hadn’t even got the chance to touch the feet of her parents. Snigdha looked at the kids hugging her and looking at her with expressions of elation on their faces. She felt herself enveloped in a golden glow of affection and love, a feeling of security and warmth as if she had no worries now. She answered everyone’s questions incessantly, sometimes laughing, other times seriously, till her mother scolded her father and kids to keep quiet and let her relax.
‘Sidhi is going to stay with us for a long time now. So you can talk to her once she’s relaxed and taken full rest. Once we reach Pachmari, I don’t want anyone of you to irritate her. Don’t you see she has come out of a bad situation? You people think it was an adventure!’ Her mother took control of the situation in a minute silencing the kids and her husband. Snigdha smiled at her Dad who winked at her. She knew her daredevil father would not take a no for an answer and would want to know the whole story and that too soon.
The four hour journey to Pachmari was as usual scenic, mesmerising and tranquil for Snigdha, making her feel relaxed and at peace with herself at once. As soon as they crossed the towns and hit the long winding mountainous road leading up to the hill town of Pachmari, she opened the glass window, enjoying the cool breeze on her face, wind whipping her hair, and the emerald green of the trees and the winding roads seeping into her, making her calm. She loved the peace and tranquillity of the majestic Satpura ranges, the reddish brown hills and the winding rivers below. Her head bowed in front of a roadside primitive shrine, where incense sticks were stuck by some traveller, its smoke covering the vermilion and oil smeared block of stone worshipped by people since ages. She always had this habit of wishing for someone close to her, in the family or friends circle whenever she had crossed this shrine in the past. Today only one name came to her mind whose safety and well-being she was wishing for in front of this primitive God.
The car zipped past the temple, and as Pachmari loomed in front of them, the telltale drizzle started, making the breeze cooler, and day turning gray and dark in an instant. Evening had approached fast without her realising and she now craved for a hot cup of tea which she wanted to enjoy sitting on the verandah of her father’s sprawling house, watching the drizzle in the waning light.
Snigdha woke-up to another tranquil and quiet wintry day at Pachmari. Taking a quick wash and brushing her teeth, Snigdha wrapped herself in a warm shawl and pushed her feet in warm mules, before sauntering towards the sunny kitchen at the back of the bunglow for her morning cuppa of tea, in her old big tumbler, with a winking smiley in yellow printed, and corner slightly chipped. In spite of her Mom’s rebuke on not using broken or chipped utensils, somehow Snigdha had a fetish to use old, very old things. Once she got used to anything, her clothes, shoes, utensils, she hated using anything new unless the thing is rendered useless.
In the kitchen her mother was pottering about, preparing a lavish breakfast for Snigdha. Snigdha peeped inside and found mouth watering delicacies on display. She saw crisp alu tikkis, steaming fluffy poha, juicy khoyajalebis; which a sweetshop made very well in Pachmari, creamy, thick firni or saffron rice pudding in small earthenware kulhar or cups and thin, crusty methi parathas with oodles of green coriander chutney which was her mother’s specialisation. And nearly everything made by her loving hands. Snigdha hugged her Mom from behind saying,
‘Mummy, so many things! I won’t be able to eat it all’. She said mischievously, picking up a crisp tikki and taking a bite into its delicious filling of finely chopped beans, carrot and capsicum and soft mashed potato outer layer. Her Mom’s alu tikkis and firnis could get her the Master Chef Award, thought Snigdha fondly.
Arrey! Today’s breakfast is full of your favourites. Although you very well know, that when kids are here, your glutton father gets another excuse to make me slog in the kitchen making dishes that otherwise I won’t allow him to eat. His sugar is normal these days and I wouldn’t want him to overindulge.’ She said with a complaining note in her voice.
‘Come on Mummy, Dad is so conscious. He will never overindulge. His five km walk daily takes care of that! And living in Pachmari anyways whets your appetite so much. ‘Snigdha took the tumbler of tea offered to her by their family cook, Ravinder who usually felt redundant when her mother was in the kitchen shooing him off to just chops vegetables or lay the table. He, on the other hand, was a very fussy master of the kitchen. Except the lady of the house, he frowned upon anyone who dared to enter his domain where he pittered and pottered to produce some palate tickling and mind boggling dishes made out of mostly stuff he got from the kitchen garden and the backyard, including the big fat chickens.