Love's Grandeur

“Hello Selena!” said her friend Emma, “is it true that your dad has been transferred to India?” “Yes Emma darling, we are going there for two years.” “Aren’t you scared going there? What about the heat, dirt and dust, plus the worry of being sick?” “Well, I don’t think there is anything to worry about. I think I’m going to enjoy myself. It would be wonderful to visit the place I have wanted to go for a long time and the idea of actually staying there for sometime really excites me.” “Well, then I wish you luck Selena dear and hope everything goes well for you. Do come back single. Do not, I repeat do not, under any circumstances fall for an Indian guy.” “What if I do M. I think I’ll look for nice guys for us both.”

Emma was Selena’s best friend and they were neighbors too. She was a slightly chubby girl of medium height and a round freckled face. She had a worried look on her face for most of the time but she was a very sincere person. Selena was her opposite. She was slim and tall with brown hair and dark brown eyes in an oval face. Her smile was like sunshine. She was a bouncy, chirpy kind of person who could make friends easily.

Mr Brown, Selena’s father was going to Kolkata on delegation from his office. He worked in the hotel business. Selena was his only child and both he and his wife Sabrina loved her dearly.

On august 21, 2003, the Browns arrived in India. They landed at the airport and were taken to their new home in old Alipore by Mr. Brown’s personal Indian driver Jyoti. On the way to their new destination Selena asked Jyoti, “tell me Mr. Jyoti, does it rain very much here during this month?” “Yes memsaab it does, but today it is a nice clear day. You should have seen how it rained the whole day yesterday.”

Selena’s excitement was too great to worry about M’s warning words of water logging, humidity and disease. She was busy watching the people traffic and buildings passing by.

At last they reached their new home and were ushered inside a huge old rambling red colored house by the butler, Mr. Mohan. “Welcome Sir, maam and missy baba. It is good to see you all. Come to the verandah Sir, ladies, tea is ready to be served. The round cheerful verandah had white and green cane chairs with green cushions and white curtains. Tea was laid on a round glass topped table. All three of them sat down and Mrs. Uma handed strong cupfuls of delicious tea to them. She was their new cook. “Sir, please taste these puffy dhoklas I have especially made for you all. See if you like the taste maam. If not there is home made patty and cake too.” “Thank you Uma, I’ll taste the dhokla. Oh! It is quite nice. Mum try one, said Selena, passing the plate towards her parents.

“Welcome to India madam, sir and didiji, called a humorous voice from the doorway and in came Bansi, their personal servant cum bearer. “Hello! You must be Bansi. I know you all from my assistant Mr. Sinha’s letters, said John Brown smiling broadly. Selena said, “are there more people working for us Bansi?” “Yes miss there is Chameli, the sweepress, Nandu the gardener and Kamala the kitchen help. I do all the dusting and polishing. Mr. Mohan does all the shopping around here. He does not trust anyone with things to be bought in the market. The saab who was here before you left everything for us to manage. None of us will give you any cause for complaint.” “Thank you Bansi, smiled Sabrina.

The evening passed inspecting the new house, unpacking and settling down. They had an early supper comprising chicken soup, vegetable bake and rice pudding and turned in tired but happy.

The morning saw all three at the breakfast table at eight thirty sharp. John left for office at nine o’ clock because it was quite far off. Cereal was eaten with freshly baked bread, fruits and fried eggs.

Later during mid morning, an elegant lady in a pink and white sari came in to say hello. She was Mrs. Srivastava their next door neighbor. It turned out that Lila had a son and a daughter Selenas age. Sandeep was working in a multi national company. Presently he was out of town on some assignment. Sandhya, Lila’s daughter was an interior designer and worked free lance.

Uma came into the verandah with a huge laden tea tray and a big smile on her homely face. “Hello auntyji, how nice to see you. I have made special tea cakes for you. Hope you like them.” “Why thank you Uma. You know I love anything you make.”

Later on as the evening progressed, Leela and Sabrina were chatting like old friends. “You are lucky to have Uma as your cook, Sabrina. She really makes wonderfully tempting dishes.” At last, Leela got up to go but not before extracting a promise from Sabrina that she would come for tea to ‘Creamrose Cottage,’ the Srivastava home, sometime during the next few days.

The following days passed settling the house which both Sabrina and Selena loved at sight. John was still missing his country home. The thing he liked most about his new surroundings was the garden. Whenever he had time he spent most of it gardening. “Nandu you must grow more roses, sunflowers and pansies. Selena loves flowers,” John smiled. “Yes Sir, her room has fresh flowers everyday.”

“Ma, Ma,” called a little girl wearing a blue frock. “Who is this Nandu,” asked John. “Oh! She is Sheila, Kamala’s daughter. She lives nearby and must have come to see her mother. I’ll take her to Kamala.” “Come for tea dad,” called Selena. “Mum’s waiting in the drawing room.” “Right go ahead dear. I’ll come along.”

Sabrina had decorated their drawing room quite like the one back home. All John’s favorite pieces of art were everywhere on the walls, on the side cabinet and his favorite ash tray was on the round low centre table. It was a present from his father in blue porcelain.

The ground floor of the red house had the drawing room, dining room, verandah, two bedrooms, a lounge, a study cum library and the kitchen. The hallway opened outside where the portico stood with marble seats in the corners. The lounge opened to other rooms. Upstairs there were three bedrooms, a sitting room, a verandah and a dressing room. All the rooms had windows which made the rambling old house both airy and light.

The gardens were massive, complete with fountains, ducks in a small pond and best of all a small park like area with green and red benches, a swing and an archway covered with lovely flowers below which there was a path with stones of all sizes and shapes strewn about .Selena loved to walk along this path talking to Nandu about his village in UP, while he attended to the pots and plants.

The master bedroom of ‘Sunshine Manor’, named by Selena, as soon as she reached it, was beautifully done in cream and maroon and Selena’s room had turquoise and shell pink drapes and upholstery. Her room had a window seat where her favorite teddy ‘Mr. Collins,’ sat with his wicked grin and glinting brown eyes.

In a few days, Sabrina and Selena’s personal maid Barbara arrived. She was black with a round chubby face which had a perpetual smile for everyone she met. John’s personal manservant, Gregory had refused to come to India. John in the mean time thought Bansi was as good as Gregory if not better. Barbie took a few days to adjust with the staff but liked ‘Sunshine Manor’ on sight.

Bahadur, their chowkidar was a jovial hefty man in his late thirties. He lived in the servant quarters behind the house. His wife Bela, daughter Mina and son Mukesh were very happy with the angrez saab and mem saabs. Mr. Mohan, Bansi and uma also lived in different quarters with Bahadur and his family. Sabrina used to spend one hour daily teaching English to the staff members. All interested used to come, especially Mina and Mukesh. They were fascinated with Selena who helped her mother.

On Saturday afternoon Sandhya came visiting. “Hello Mrs. Brown, I’m Sandhya Srivastava, your next door neighbor. I was dying to meet you all but couldn’t come earlier being awfully busy.” “Come come my dear, let us go up to the sitting room. Selena is sitting there with her painting,” said Sabrina, ushering Sandhya up the staircase. “Does Selena paint a lot auntie,” asked Sandhya. “She loves to paint when she is free.” They entered the cozy cute sitting room which had a seaside painting by Selena hanging on one of its walls. “This is Sandhya dear our neighbor’s daughter,” said Sabrina. “Nice to meet you at last, said Sandhya shaking hands with the other girl. “Hello Sandhya, I’ve been wondering why we couldn’t meet earlier.” “One client of mine really kept me busy. I came as soon as I was free. You must tell me all about yourself Selena.” Sabrina asked Uma to get tea and they all sat down and chatted about this and that.

Sandhya was a slim and tall girl with big black almond shaped eyes and long tresses of jet black straight hair. She wasn’t very fair but had a certain charm about her which made her popular with anyone she met. She loved good food, watching films and going out and always had a kind word for everyone around. No one had seen her sulking. She always had a smile on her face. Selena liked her instantly and Sabrina thought how cozy they looked chatting and giggling together as if they knew each other from a long time. At last Sandhya left, but not before getting a promise from them to come over for lunch to ‘Cream Rose Cottage’, the next day. “What shall I wear mum,” asked Selena the next day. “Something charming dear. I think the pretty pink and lemon dress you bought for your last birthday will do fine.” “You are right mom. I’ll wear that. What time should we start?” ‘Eleven thirty should be fine. Well I’d better go for my bath because it’s already ten thirty.” “Yes yes Selena I know how long you take. Run along and I’ll send Barbie to help you.” Barbie was in Sabrina’s room getting her blue chiffon dress ready. “Barbie,” said Sabrina, “I’ll manage. You’d better go and help Selena.” “Oh! She will take half an hour in the bath maam. I have plenty of time to get your accessories ready for you.”

At last, both mother and daughter were ready to go next door. John was busy with his friends at the nearby colony club that day. Both ladies walked to ‘Cream Cottage’ where they were met by Tara, the house maid. “Come madam, miss, memsaab and missy baba are waiting for you in the morning room.” ‘Cream Rose Cottage’ was a beautiful house, white in color. It was quite small compared to ‘Sunshine Manor’, but was very well kept and furnished. “Hello Leela”, called Sabrina, entering the beautiful room furnished in green and white. “Hi! Sandhya, lovely to see you again so soon.” The girls held hands and walked towards the swing which was at one side of the room. The ladies sat on chairs at the other end of the room. Just then a girl of about twelve or thirteen walked in with a tray laden with nimbu paani. She was Madhu, Tara’s daughter. Though so young she helped her mother with the household chores magnificently. “Hello didiji, namaste auntiji, smiled Madhu. After about an hour lunch was served. A fantastic feast was laid on the dining table for the guests. Tara had excelled herself by making pulav, paneer cutlets, chicken roast, alu dum and bread pudding for dessert.
After lunch the two ladies sat on the swing chatting happily while Selena was taken on a grand tour of the house and gardens. Sandhya’s room was very cozy, decorated simply by herself. Pastel shades were used everywhere on the walls, cushions, rugs as well as the bedspread. Sandhya showed her dresses and soft toys together with photographs of her friends.

Around three thirty, the Browns left for home with promises of outings in the near future.

On Friday, Selena was sitting on her favorite bench in the garden reading the latest Mills and Boon, her friend Emma had given her as a parting gift. It was early evening and the weather was fine,. Suddenly she was interrupted by a typically male authoritative voice which yelled at her. “Who may I ask are you and what are you doing in my garden?” Selena felt her cheek getting hot and red by what she thought was the most audacious manner in a human being she had met so far. She replied in kind. “This is private property Mr. Grumbler and you can be charged with trespassing.” “Oh! Is that so,” anger made him speak with gritted teeth. “This house is unoccupied at the moment and I consider it as my own.” “Oh! really! Well, how sad for you, but we are the new residents now and I demand you leave this place immediately.” Just then Sandhya called “Sandeep, Sandeep, I guessed you will be here. Have you met Selena?” “Yes sis, but I wish I hadn’t. She is the rudest person I’ve ever met in my entire life,” said her brother, walking briskly towards the gate and going out of it hurriedly as if he couldn’t bear to stay there any longer. ”Dear, dear, my brother is so quick tempered,” giggled Sandhya. “I would say ill tempered, Sandy,” said her friend making a face at the poor gate.” “You love calling me that name isn’t it?” “Well, Sandhya is too long and difficult,’ said Selena laughing and holding her friend’s hand. “Come inside and tell me all about your brother.” “Oh! and I thought you didn’t like him, “said her friend with a mocking smile on her face.

Selena found out that Sandeep had returned only this morning and had come to ‘Sunshine Manor’ right after breakfast. The girls chatted about this and that and generally had a good time. Before going back to her own place Sandhya made Selena promise to go to a movie.

Next day a Saturday saw blue skies with a lovely breeze. Sandhya arrived at her friend’s house at three in the afternoon to see if her friend was ready. Barbie met her downstairs and took her to Selena’s room. “Hi! Selena, ready?” “Yep, just about. Come on let’s go.” Both the girls ran outside where Sandeep was waiting. “Oh! Sandy you didn’t tell me he was coming too. I think I have a headache.” “Don’t be silly girl, come on, otherwise we’ll be late,” said Sandhya pulling her into the car. Sandeep seemed to glare at her but said nothing.

During the interval Sandhya spotted one of her friends sitting with her family a few rows ahead and she excused herself to go and talk to her. Selena felt odd alone with Sandeep. She glanced at his profile noticing that he was looking tense. “I’m sorry Selena. I didn’t know,” he seemed to apologize but his manner suggested otherwise. “It’s alright, Mr.” hissed Selena.

The next week didn’t see much of the Srivastava siblings, both being very busy.

About ten days later Sabrina went to market with Barbie and Selena. She wanted to host a house warming party which was due long back but somehow got delayed. Around twenty guests were expected and Barbie had made a long list of shopping items since she had been allowed a continental meal basically with added attractions. They returned home early evening to find Sandhya waiting in the sitting room upstairs. She was thrilled to learn about the party and quickly decided to wear her new sari. “No Sandy, this time you will be my special guest and will wear one of my new dresses.” ‘Don’t be silly Selena, it won’t fit me,” giggled Sandhya. “Oh! you don’t know dear Barbie. She will fit you in no time, smiled Selena. “Well! If you insist,” said her friend. The two girls went to Selena’s room who showed her new dresses and asked Sandhya to try one. “Dear Selena you are really generous. This is a wonderful dress but I really think it would suit you more since it is the most gorgeous pink I ever saw,’’ sighed Sandhya. “Come, come, now, don’t flatter me. I had you in mind when I was buying this. I will wear the blue one. Just try it in the dressing room Sandhya and show me.” A little while later, Sandhya came into the room. “Oh! Sandy it’s looking lovely and fits you fine. Barbie will make a few adjustments and you’ll look divine. Barbie came into the room with iced lemonade glasses for the girls and was instantly grabbed by her mistress, “hey Barbie, just check out Sandhya’s outfit and mark the places needing alteration. Better start work on it right away.” Barbie managed to put the tray down before turning and twisting Sandhya muttering to herself. ‘It needs very little work. I’ll do it tomorrow. You’ll look fab Miss Sandhya,” and she went out of the room.

Sandhya returned home and regaled her mum with Selena’s plans. “How nice of Selena to think of this, she really is a nice girl. We are very lucky to have such good neighbors. I’m looking forward to this party too.”

The party was planned for Friday night and by Wednesday Barbie had done a wonderful job on the pink dress, even ironing it for Sandhya who would be coming over to ‘Sunshine Manor’ to get ready. Preparations were going on in the kitchen with even kids helping out.

At last Friday dawned with a promise of lovely weather and early morning Chameli got busy scrubbing floors while Bansi saw to it that there was no speck of dust anywhere. Mr. Mohan had every thing gleaming with polish and Nandu had surpassed himself with the flower arrangements. Uma was huffing and puffing about for once obeying Barbie completely. The chicken roast was smelling wonderful while the lamb chops with garden vegetables looked really nice. There was a heavenly aroma of Basmati rice while the fish fry was being kept aside to be fried later. There was egg curry and vegetable cutlets were being prepared by Mr. Mohan himself. Barbie had made her special Minestrone soup with soft and buttery dinner rolls and the soufflé (orange. Lemon and chocolate) was being supervised by Sabrina who was an expert in this field.

All the maids’ children were running around on various errands and Sandhya was already upstairs in her friend’s room getting ready. She was looking lovely in the pink dress which had a small bodice with puff sleeves and embroidered roses on it. The slim waistline flaired out to a pleated knee length skirt with huge pockets again embroidered with roses. Selena surprised her friend with a pearl pendant on a silver chain which she put around Sandhya’s neck, shooing off her protests, saying, “I’m just lending this to you for this evening. It doesn’t matter at all.”

Sandhya had kept her hair open and was wearing high heeled white and pink sandals. Selena put make up on her friend’s face with pink lipstick, blush on, eye liner blue eye shadow and mascara. At last satisfied with her efforts, Selena hugged her friend. “Oh! dearest Sandy, you look out of this world, somehow ethereal,” laughed Selena, twirling Sandhya around the room. “Come on Selena, enough of me. What about you? Have you seen the time? It is six already. If you don’t hurry you’ll never be able to get ready,” said Sandhya pushing her friend towards the dressing table. The guests weren’t expected till seven thirty, but Selena wanted to be downstairs latest by seven. She wore her blue dress, which was a long fitting dress, plain with lemon and pink embroidery on the neck and hemline. With it she wore blue sandals, a diamond ring, necklace and ear rings. She put on light make up and kept her hair open. Sandhya was already downstairs helping Sabrina with last minute details in the dining room when Selena came down the stairs. She was half way down when Mr. Mohan ushered the Shrivastava couple and Sandeep into the drawing room. “Hello! Uncle, auntie. Hi! Sandeep”, mumbled Selena. “Hello dear, where’s your mom?” smiled Lila. “Come auntie I’ll take you to her,” said Selena taking Lila’s hand and pulling her towards the drawing room. Just then john saw them. “Hey Suresh, Sandeep come, come my friends. You are the first to arrive.” Together they entered the lovely drawing room and while the guests took their seats, John went to the bar. “What will you like Sandeep? Suresh will give me company with whiskey.” “I think I’ll have beer uncle and please I’ll help myself.” “That’s it boy. I’m making you the official bartender as per now,” laughed John.

Slowly and steadily the other guests arrived. John’s office assistant Mr. Ashok Sinha and his wife Sujata, his neighbors the Vermas, Guptas and his good old pal Jacky (Jaikishan Prasad), a bachelor working with John. A little while later, the other neighbors, the Kotharis and Dalmias arrived. Shikha Dalmia was a very friendly and helpful person. She quickly came to the dining room with Lekha Kothari. “Hi there everyone! It’s so good to be attending such a wonderful party at this lovely house. Do you need any help Sabrina? No honestly we are game. Just tell us what to do.” Thanks but everything is being managed well. Carry on upstairs, I’ll meet you in the sitting room in two minutes,” smiled Sabrina warmly.
Jyoti and Nandu were busy getting the guests’ cars parked properly and then entertaining the drivers. While the men folk enjoyed their drinks and jokes in the formal drawing room, the ladies gossiped in the sitting room. Barbie and Uma served all sorts of soft drinks to the women folk. “I’ll have the lichi juice Uma,” said Shikha going towards the tray. Small pieces of kebabs, vegetable cutlets, paneer shaslik and dal moth was also being rotated among the guests. Dinner was served at ten. “I think I’ve eaten tomorrow’s breakfast too,” giggled Lekha. “The food was simply divine Sabrina,” said Shikha. After dinner, coffee was served in the garden with everyone enjoying the cool breeze. Selena noticed Sandeep sitting on one of the chairs. He looked very prim and proper in a dark blue suit, a light blue shirt, black shoes and a navy and white striped tie. She went near him and he got up. “Do I bite Mr.” asked Selena dazzling her shining white teeth at him. “Not exactly maam but you never know,” replied Sandeep with a half smile, which did not reached his eyes. He hadn’t forgiven her for the first encounter.
Just then Sandhya came and said, “Sandeep, dad’s looking for you. He wants you to say a few nice words to Anju.” Sandeep made a face at her and went past them to the small gathering near by. “Bhaiya is in a fix Selena. Anju Kothari was complaining to my father that her favorite person hadn’t talked to her at all. Dear bro can’t bear Anju and she seems to have all eyes for him. Dad doesn’t want to ruffle feathers since they are our next door neighbors too plus Kothari uncle has great connections in the business world.” Selena watched silently as Sandeep seemed to love talking to Anju who clung to his arm in a most annoying way. She was pretty enough but Selena thought of her as a really spoilt little girl with no brains at all. She hadn’t said anything to Selena and ignored her throughout the party.

At last the guests departed and the hosts took to bed. Uma, Mr. Mohan, Nandu and Barbie kept away the left over food in the two huge refrigerators.

A few days later Sandeep called at ‘Sunshine Manor’. He asked Selena whether she would like to help him out with some editing he had to do at home that day, it being a holiday. Selena was very surprised. Of course she said yes. “I’ll be waiting in the park Selena. Come as soon as you can,” said Sandeep walking out to the gardens with his briefcase and a huge paper packet. Selena thought he must be in a real fix for help otherwise he would never ask her. She quickly combed her hair, put some light lipstick and rushed downstairs. Sandeep was sitting on one of the benches. “Hi! where is Sandhya today?” asked Selena sitting. “She has gone visiting relatives with mom and dad. She’ll be back in the evening.” As Selena waited for him to tell her what to do, she couldn’t help noticing how handsome Sandeep looked in a sea green shirt and cream corduroy pants. He had a preoccupied look on his face but smiled as he looked at her and Selena’s heart did a somersault. Men did things to a woman’s heart and they never even realized it. She had a few flings back home but it was this Indian guy who was steadily making a place in her heart and soul. “I want you to edit these reports. I have a lot more paper work to do,” said Sandeep.

Selena took the pile from him and felt an electric shock go through her as their hands touched. Her heart skipped a beat and she quickly hid her embarrassment behind the paper work. She was looking over at the reports when Sandeep interrupted, “is it alright Selena? Can you manage? “Of course I can, I’m a graduate you know with lots of secretarial experience.” “Oh how nice, I didn’t know,” teased Sandeep. An hour passed and a half passed with both of them concentrating on their work. Nandu who had come to water the flower beds near by saw them and said “shall I ask Uma to get some tea for you saab?” “Yes Nandu that will be nice I would love some tea and snacks,” smiled Sandeep.

Selena didn’t say anything because she was too surprised to hear both of them. She thought the way Sandeep was giving orders, it seemed this was his house and his servant and Nandu too had agreed to run errands for him with a beaming face. Twenty minutes later, Uma arrived with a tray laden with tea and snacks. Chicken sandwiches, fruit cake and hot tea was really welcome. Selena noticed that Sandeep was gobbling up the sandwiches one by one. “Shall I ask Uma to get some more Sandeep?” she asked sweetly. “Oh! did I eat your share too? They are really delicious. Taste one,” laughed Sandeep. They worked for another hour but still there was more to do.

“Come inside Sandeep. We can carry on in the sitting room if you like. It is getting dark here, suggested Selena. “Carry on what Selena,” teased Sandeep. “Oh! come on. I don’t like jokes.” “You don’t, how about a practical demonstration,” and before she knew it she was inside a firm embrace and Sandeep had planted a swift kiss on her lips. “How dare you Sandeep. Let go of me,” hissed Selena. “Come on darling it was just a friendly gesture which I think is very common in your country,” said Sandeep catching hold of her hand and pulling her inside the house. “It is in my country but not in India. Would you have done it if I was Indian Sandeep? Isn’t it called taking advantage of,” complained Selena. They were in the empty sitting room now. Sabrina was resting in her room. As soon as Sandeep had placed his briefcase on the table, he pulled Selena into his arms. “If you think I took advantage of you maam, I’ll take my kiss back” and he kissed her again. Selena was now laughing uncontrollably. “Stop teasing me Sandeep or I won’t do your dirty work for you.” “No no divine princess you can’t do that,” said Sandeep. “Well then let’s start,” smiled Selena. “Come to my arms and I will,” laughed Sandeep. Selena made a face at him. “I mean work Mr.”

At bedtime, the events of the afternoon and evening kept teasing Selena and she couldn’t sleep. She had been angry with Sandeep when he had kissed her the first time, but wanted more the second time. She somehow felt more secure and at ease in his arms than in any of her English boyfriends. Sandeep had made a small sweet gesture into a pure and simple delight. She pulled her pillow over her face as she could feel her cheeks going hot and red. Just then the phone rang. “Hello Selena, I knew you would be awake, so am I. Am I forgiven for the amorous act of before?” “You are not Mr. and I was sleeping,” laughed Selena and kept the receiver back but not before she heard Sandeep gurgling with laughter.

The next evening Selena went to ‘Cream Rose Cottage’. Sandhya met her at the door. “Hi Selena, I was just about to call you. How are you? Come inside.” After chatting for some time Selena asked “where’s your dear brother? Is he out?” “Yes he left early for Delhi this morning. He had to go for some office work. He’ll be back next week.” They talked for some time more, had tea and chat pakora and then Selena returned home. The next few days Selena seemed at a loss not knowing what to do. The sun seemed to shine less and the flowers had lost their scent. She was missing Sandeep more than she had thought possible to miss someone.

The following Saturday, Selena decided to visit her friend and find out whether her brother had returned. She met a worried Sandhya who told her that Sandeep had returned last night but had high fever. He had the doctor now in his room. Just then, Lila and Suresh came down the stairs with the doctor. “He has viral fever, Mr. Srivastava. Give him Paracetamol tablets every six hours. It will take a couple of days.” The doctor left and Selena went up to Sandeep’s room with Sandhya. Just then the phone rang in the sitting room and Sandhya went to answer it.

Selena tiptoed to Sandeep’s bedside and saw that he was tossing and turning in his bed and was mumbling something. She went nearer and heard him asking for water in a very feeble voice. She lifted his head and put the glass of water to his lips. He took a sip of the cool drink and lay back exhausted. Selena put her hand to his forehead and felt it burning. Just then Sandhya came back. “Sandy do something. He is burning up,” said Selena. “I have to go down for a minute Selena. Can you please wipe his forehead with the cloth dipped in eau de cologne? I’ll come back with juice for Sandeep together with his medicines.”

A worried Selena nodded her head and started putting the wet cloth on Sandeep’s forehead. She stayed helping her friend look after her weak brother for nearly an hour. Sandhya had gone down to the kitchen to bring up a tray of light food when the patient slowly opened his eyes. Finding Selena near his bedside he asked with a feeble smile “when did you come Selena?” “Sometime back. How do you feel now Sandeep?” “Much better. I seem to feel extremely exhausted Selena.” “It will be alright Sandeep. It is just the viral thing which is making you so tired and weak.” Sandhya entered the room with Tara following her with a tray containing vegetable soup, toast and a light custard with fruits. Selena got up to go. “Have your food Sandeep and get well soon. I’ll come again in the morning.” Sandhya came to the head of the stairs with her friend. “Come Selena I’ll accompany you to the gate,” she said. “No Sandy you better go and feed your brother. He needs nutrition and cheer very badly,” smiled Selena, going down the staircase.

Next morning around ten thirty, Sabrina and Selena came over to Sandhya’s place. The doctor was just leaving after assuring Lila that her son needed to rest for a few more days as he had become very weak. “How is Sandeep Lila?” questioned Sabrina. “Oh! hello! Sabrina, come come. He is much better thank you. Do come and meet him both of you. He really needs company.” All of them went upstairs to the patient’s bed room. “Hello Sandeep, how are you son?” Sabrina said going to his bed side and fussing over him. “Oh! auntie I’ll be fine now that you have come to see me, Sandeep spoke with a weak smile. All of them sat chatting for sometime. Tara brought them tea and snacks and Sandeep had to have horlicks which he disliked immensely. In a few days Sandeep was fit to go to office.

One afternoon, Selena was sitting in the garden writing a long letter to Emma. She was disturbed by a whispering sound. She looked around to see Mina and Mukesh, children of Bahadur their chowkidar, smiling at her. They wanted to give her something. It was a model of a ship which both had made for her. She thanked them and promised to keep it in her room. Just as she was finishing the letter, Sandhya arrived to tell her that she and her mom were going to New Market for shopping and tea at Flury’s. “Why don’t you and auntie come along too,” asked her friend. Sabrina was ready and Selena was only too happy to go to Flury’s which she liked very much. They returned in a happy mood late in he evening.

Next Thursday was Sandhya’s birthday. She came over to her friend’s place to decide about a party. It was late afternoon on Monday and Selena met her friend near the garden path. “So what have you decided to do on your birth day Sandy,” asked Selena pulling her friend towards the garden seat. “I think I’ll have a nice party. “I’ll invite a few close friends and neighbors and Sandeep can call his friends if he likes.” “Well what about the menu Sandy? Have you decided what all will be served?” “The cake will be from Flury’s ofcourse. The rest of the items will be decided by mum and Tara.” “I’ll send Uma to help Tara Sandy.” “That’s good. Now tell me are you free to come shopping tomorrow morning? I want to buy a silk salwar kameez from one of the boutiques on Russel Street.” “Oh! I would love to come Sandy,” smiled Selena. “Well come and sit down and help me make the guest list. The neighbors will all come, that is four families including you all. Then about two to three friends of Sandeep, our cousins from New Alipore and Camac street, my friends Shalini, Chitra, Mamta and Shobha and mummy’s friends, Sadhna auntie and Jalpa auntie.” “That’s quite a big list Sandy. Now what about the menu? “Well the final choice will be mum’s but we can make suggestions. Chocolate cake and cheese patties from Flury’s. Chole, tikki, sandwiches and bread rolls can be made at home. Anything special you’d like to eat Selena?” “Yes why don’t I ask Barbie to make some kebabs and Mr. Mohan can make Shaslik.” “Won’t that be too much to ask of them Sel?” “No not at all. I’m sure it can be managed.” “ Well thanks a million dearie. I’ll have to leave now. Be ready at eleven tomorrow for shopping. Bye sweetie, laughed Sandhya giving her friend a warm hug.

Shopping took two hours the next day but the result was very rewarding. Selena bought a South Indian silk sari for her friend though with great difficulty because of Sandhya’s protests. “You have wasted good money on silly me Sel,” Sandhya had cribbed but had been silenced by a determined Selena who said the gift was also from her parents. The sari was a lovely sea green with baby pink zari border and buties. Sandhya had bought a navy blue raw silk salwar kameez set with a lovely magenta dupatta with zari embroidery.

Selena wore a dark blue salwar kameez for her friend’s birthday bash which she had purchased from the same boutique her friend had gone to. Selena looked ravishing with jewellery, a bindi on her forehead and matching bangles. On her feet she wore silver anklets and Kolhapuri chappals. She was looking sweetly Indian with mehndi which both she and Sandhya had got on their palms. She was finding it difficult to keep the silvery odhni round her neck and it kept falling. In the end she got Sandhya to fix it on one side with a peacock brooch which belonged to Lila. “You look out of this world Selena. I think you will make a beautiful bride for me,” whispered Sandeep offering her a soft drink as soon as she entered the Srivastava drawing room. Selena slapped him playfully. He introduced her to his friends, Ranjit, Shekhar and Raghav. Sandhya’s friends were very friendly and talkative. She introduced Selena to her cousins Megha, Shambhavi, Alok and Amarendra. The food was excellent. Selena danced with Sandeep and his friends and also with Alok and Amarendra. Everyone liked the kebabs and shashlik very much and Mr. Mohan was preening like a peacock with all the praise he received from the guests. Uma was like heaven’s blessing to Tara and Barbie was busy supervising. After food, music and dancing, everyone played antakshri and dumb charade and it was nearly midnight when all the guests left. “Thanks a lot for a wonderful evening Lila,” smiled Sabrina. “Good night buddy,” guffawed John shaking Suresh’s hand. “Bye Sandhya and happy birthday once again,” said Selena. Sandeep was bidding goodbye to his friends. He waved at the departing neighbors and so did his pals.

The following months passed with Sandeep and Selena getting to know each other much better. They talked for hours about this and that. Selena found him to be the most caring, comfortable and loving man to be with. He never embarrassed her with more intimacy than she wanted and Selena found staying locked in his arms with the occasional kiss and caress most satisfying. They loved walking for miles with Sandeep’s arm around her shoulders and it was during this private time that she got to know how intelligent he really was. His general knowledge was superb and he seemed to be interested in every aspect of life and living. He always had a knack for solving any of her problems and his ready smile and laughter always cheered her up. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was very kind and generous. The best thing Selena liked about him was his courteous manner even towards the servants. Both of them loved nature and its beauty.

At last December arrived with cold winds and no sun but the thought of her first Christmas in India really excited Selena. Barbie had started shopping for the Christmas eve dinner and Christmas day meals already. Plum pudding, turkey and all types of goodies were being prepared in the kitchen. Sabrina had given orders for plum cakes to be made for all her neighbors and the servant families. The Christmas tree had already arrived and Sandhya and Sandeep had volunteered to help in the decorations. The Christmas shops in New Market had been raided by Sabrina and Selena for the tree’s decorations. Selena gave Sandeep initial handkerchiefs and a silk tie while he got a silk scarf and pearl earrings for her. Sandhya had bought a book and a DVD of the old classic ‘Gone With The Wind’ for her friend who gave her a lipstick and nail polish together with a box of chocolates. Mr. and Mrs. Srivastava gave a crystal vase to Sabrina and a box of cigars to John. In turn they gave a silver bowl to them. Selena danced with Sandeep and when he whispered ‘I Love You’ the magic of Christmas was magnified. The food was simply made in heaven and everyone seemed to laugh a lot. ‘Sunshine Manor,’ looked sunny true to its name and all the kids of the servants were really happy with their presents, cake, food money and merry making.

About a month later, Sandeep walked in and surprised Selena by proposing marriage to her. He said, “darling I can’t live without you anymore. Marry me tomorrow.” Selena was quite shocked. “What’s your hurry,” she giggled. “Well auntie and uncle have agreed to a February wedding. What do you say Selena?” “I’ll marry you any time you want Sandeep. I love you very much, more than I thought possible,” smiled Selena with stars in her eyes.

That night while the two walked in the garden hand in hand under a beautiful sky, the stars and the moon seemed to smile down at them. The magic was in the air and Selena was thinking how Emma would get a shock when she wrote to her about her marriage plans. Emma would come for her wedding and maybe fall in love and marry one of Sandeep’s friends and then both of them would live in India forever.      


More by :  Amita Sinha

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