The flight prepared to land at Jolly Grant airport on a chilly evening that was a stark change from the humid weather of Mumbai, but Bhavya was used to the brisk winters of Dehradun. After all, she had spent her childhood nights tucked in a woollen blanket with a crotchet cap on her head in her Dehradun home. This was the place she knew before she knew the world. And she had managed to return for a vacation after three years. Bhavya saw the land of the city reveal itself, one detail after another as the plane drew closer to it. She took out her blazer as the plane touched the runway. As the passengers started joining the queue for the exit, Bhavya suited herself in gazing out of the window and waiting to be the last person to get out. Everything seemed the usual outside when her eyes stopped at a distant figure standing adjacent to a plane waiting to take off. Janvi? No, how can it be. A tall girl with long silky hair tied in a high ponytail, eerily similar to Janvi. She reminisced how she had envied Janvi's perfect features, even more when she looked at her side profile. A nose and a jawline carefully curated by God. A graceful swan-like neck. She was staring at the same features which were unmistakable even from a distance. As the girl turned to reveal her front countenance, Bhavya gasped.
Has to be her! But it can't be?
"Ma'am , don't you want to go out?", the airhostess stared at Bhavya with a puzzled face. Bhavya wore her blazer and hurried out.
She tried to locate the girl, but the spot where she stood lay empty now. She rubbed her hands and proceeded to the luggage belt.
Her visit was a long awaited one . She had left for Mumbai for her bachelor's, and stayed there when she got a job. Since then , it was only the third time she was visiting her parents in her hometown.
"Choti mem!" , Baku called out as soon as he spotted Bhavya outside the airport. Bhavya hurried towards the SUV which had once taken her to school and back home daily. She belonged to the kind of families in Dehradun that were known by their bungalows and cars rather than faces. She was naturally expecting Baku to recieve her. Her mom was a town-renowned gynaecologist. Her dad was a local tycoon. She always got to see the house helps more than her parents in childhood. During the weekends she was left at home under the care of Janvi, daughter of Gauri the house cook.
"How's everyone, Baku bhaiya?", Bhavya asked as they drove home.
"Same as before, choti mem", replied Baku.
It took an hour to reach Sakshatkar, the bungalow where her parents resided without her now.
Sonakshi was a sight to behold when she saw her little Bhavi get out of the car, now all grown up with a matured vibe that comes from the polish of professional life. Shashi, the father was more discrete about his emotions. The family settled in the drawing room with a brandy bottle after the reunion had sunk in.
"This house is like a graveyard without you Bhavi, especially the bedroom upstairs. It has been unoccupied for so long."
"I am sure the monsters under my bed had a merry time in my absence" , said a giggling Bhavya.
"I am sure they missed you too", laughed Sonakshi.
Bhavya's mom always told her about monsters under the bed that will come and sleep beside her if she does not close her eyes. This trick always worked on her as a child and Sonakshi had kept up the ruse till Bhavya got into secondary school and could no longer be fooled. It stayed as a family gag nevertheless.
After the catch-up session with drinks , the family settled at the dining table. The dinner was being laid out by Gauri , the veteran cook of the house. Bhavya had relished her cooking during childhood.
"Hi Gauri didi ! How's Janvi? Is she here or in Delhi ?", Bhavya asked the house cook as she laid the dinner. Bhavya's question was met with an awkward silence that filled the room. Her parents had their heads hung downwards towards their plates. Gauri fidgeted and lost control of the casserole in her hands.
"She is with her husband in Delhi", said Sonakshi.
"Oh! Doesn't she ever come here?", asked Bhavya.
"She did come for a brief time while you were in Mumbai . This is why I tell you to come here more often", said Sonakshi.
After the dinner, Bhavya hurried upstairs to unpack. She had had a very hard time settling in the college hostel bed in Mumbai and adjusting to the lifestyle after departing from Dehradun. She opened the door to her bedroom and crashed on the bed. At that moment a sudden uneasiness consumed her. All her lethargy from flight was replaced by a ruthless anxiety. Something had changed about the bed. Bhavya got up and bent down to peek beneath the bed. It was a dark void there. She laughed and settled herself on the bed. The unpacking was to wait for tomorrow . She was tired . She closed lights and fell asleep soon.
At midnight, Bhavya felt a soft hand caressing her bangs.
Bhavya half-opened her eyes to see the beautiful body of Janvi laying beside her.
"I was always jealous of your beautiful hair", said Bhavya.
Janvi smiled and kept caressing the curly bangs.
She had always combed Bhavya's hair and given her funky hairstyles which her mother disapproved of . Her dad used to laugh and and tell Janvi that not everyone had beautiful hair like her and those hairstyles did not suit Bhavya at all , who had curly hair as opposed to staight silky hair of Janvi. Janvi used to respond with a shy smile. That smile ....Bhavya was staring at the same smile in the dark now. This is a beautiful dream. And it feels so real.
The next day Bhavya found herself knocking at the servant quarter door, almost mechanically as if there was a force behind her. She had never been so close to this area of her bungalow. Her mother had always told her to not go near servant quarters.
Gauri opened the door and her facial muscles tensed up on seeing Bhavya.
"Hi Gauri didi, I was wondering if you have any contact number of Janvi. I really want to catch up with her and find out how she is doing in Delhi."
Bhavya started getting restless when Gauri stood there with a blank expression. And then suddenly she noticed the framed photo on the table behind Gauri. Photo of Janvi. A garlanded photo.
Gauri started closing the door as soon as her senses alerted her to what Bhavya had noticed.
"Wait ! Gauri didi wait !" , Bhavya stopped the door from closing and entered the house. The aged lady was helpless in front of Bhavya's strength.
"When did this happen? How come no one told me ?", asked an outraged and shivering Bhavya.
"Bhavya baby, Janvi became very sick. When she vomited, your mother took her to the hospital with Bahadur. Memsaheb treated her for the sickness for many days but one day she passed away. Guess it was in her destiny."
"What sickness did she have?"
"I don't know baby . Now please go. Memsaheb will not like to know that you are here. She did not even want me to tell you this."
"Sir, your daughter Bhavya has come to meet you", said Shashi's assistant Tanya. Shashi focused his eyes on his charming assistant.
She is glowing today. How does she look like a naughty teenager when she is in her late twenties?
Shashi had conquered it all. He was to be remembered for expanding his father's small business to a full fledged company with impressive stake holders. He was featured every now and then in the Dehradun local. He had been the eligible bachelor in his days. He had looks, money and intelligence.
He considered his wife lucky. He could have had a beautiful woman like Tania. But Sonakshi had seemed like an eligible choice that time, or so his family thought. She was educated and from a good family.
"Send her in", said Shashi.
Bhavya entered the cabin with a flustered face and took no second to pop the question.
" Dad, why didn't anyone tell me that Janvi is no more !"
Shashi was not prepared for this. He quickly took his eyes away from his daughter.
"Well, this happened during your college final exams and we did not want to distract you. It is very unfortunate but she got sick beyond recovery."
"What about yesterday? Why couldn't anyone tell me yesterday? And what was she ailing from?"
Shashi finally lost his cool.
"You have come here to ask me this ? Why not ask your mother ? She was the one who took her to the hospital. She knows more. Why bother me ?"
"Dad, mom's clinic is not at a walking distance as your office. When she comes home I will ask her."
Bhavya stormed out of the office leaving a shook Shashi behind.
How did she find out ? Did that Gauri open her mouth ?
Janvi was haunting him even after all these years. The beautiful Janvi....
Shashi saw Janvi enter his cabin. He startled as for once he saw Janvi in his secretary. He let out a cry.
"Tania! Do not wear your hair like that from tomorrow"
Tania stared at him baffled.
"What are you staring at !!?? Do not wear your hair in a high pony from tomorrow !!"
"Mom, how did Janvi die?", Bhavya asked a well prepared Sonakshi who was already aware by now of Bhavya's knowledge.
"She had consumed something lethal. I tried my best but could not save her", Sonakshi showed no tension in replying.
"But mom, why was this hidden from me even till yesterday ??"
"We thought it would be best for you to not know and focus on your exams.
Now Chandni can drop in for dinner preparations anytime. Do not mention this in her presence."
"Chandni? Where is Gauri didi?"
"She left for her village."
"I will not be having dinner today."
Disgusted and disappointed with her parents, Bhavya ran upstairs with thumping steps that managed to stir Sonakshi for a moment. But Sonakshi was not the kind of woman who let anyone get to her. Not even her close ones. The only time she let her emotions come forth was when Shashi betrayed her. But in the end she saw to it that there is nothing between her and her husband.
"Chandni! Make dinner only according to two people today . Sahab is not coming home."
Bhavya spent the whole evening in coming to terms with the trauma. She wished she had not been so oblivious to the people back home. She was like her parents afterall. If only she had not been so caught up with her own life. Her food was brought upstairs by the new cook but remained untouched until her eyes started to droop.
A biting cold wind started whistling in the middle of the night and woke Bhavya.
"Bhavya baby .... baby ....."
Bhavya could hear whispers of her name in the wind. The wind felt alive. Her legs started shaking. I'm so cold. The wind is overwhelming me. Is it really calling my name? She got up from the bed to close the window. She looked outside at the Mahua tree where Janvi hung with her hair tied to a branch. Her face was a purplish blue . She was swinging from her hair like a pendulum.
"Bhavya baby. Do not sleep on that bed."
"Janvi, your stomach?"
Janvi's stomach seemed to be protruding out more and more. And now she could hear the cries of an infant coming out of it. She closed her ears as they grew louder. She closed the window and opened the lights.
She hurriedly dialled Baku's number and begged him to drop her at the bus stop.
Baku had been very obliging and did not even bother to ask Bhavya if she was going with Memsaheb's permission. It was not in his nature to question anyone from the family. He had simply followed Bhavya's orders and dropped her to the bus stop.
Bhavya now sat waiting for the bus with a ticket to Delhi. Delhi seemed the best bet before she could get back to Mumbai. She knew people there. But she was not going anywhere. She was getting away from here. She wanted Oblivion to take her back in it's comfortable arms. She wished she had never come out of Oblivion.