A ROYAL AFFAIR
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London, March 30, 2009
For Jane, the route to sanity began and ended with Indian food. The subtle flavours of its ingredients had a remarkable way of erasing bad memories and bringing back the good ones. Like a psychedelic, it took her into a world she had left reluctantly. It kept her connected to the person who had introduced the delectable cuisine to her.
She had tried to forget. But Vijay—Prince Vijay Dev Varman of the erstwhile Royal family of Sravanapura, to be precise—had proved to be one unforgettable person. All these years, she had relegated him to the farthest corner of her heart with great difficulty. Even there, he had created nothing but ruckus.
She transferred the rice and butter chicken curry she had ordered from the nearby Indian restaurant onto a plate. She ate a spoonful and immediately waded into dangerous territory. Glimpses of deep brown eyes, demanding lips and sounds of laughter surfaced and swam in her mind’s eye, assaulting her senses. This was the reason she'd refrained from eating Indian food all these months. Not to mention the intolerable yearning that followed.
Yet, today it had become necessary. Memories had been prodded out. Unexpectedly.
As she was wiping down her sink after dinner, her doorbell sounded. Her Mum stood on the doorstep wearing a veritable scowl. Jane let her in, wondering what had prompted her to drive from Surrey to London on a Monday evening.
“Why is your phone switched off?” Margaret Worthington demanded the moment she entered the flat. Sniffing the air, she glowered at Jane. “Indian takeaway! Again?”
Jane looked away to avoid her glare. Why had she come today of all days?
“Would you like some tea? I was about to make some,” Jane asked, attempting a change in topic. But Margaret was, after all, the indisputable warrior. No one could thwart her moves.
“Yes. But before that tell me this. When are you planning to stop torturing yourself over that Indian boy?”
“Mum! You are imagining things. It is just food. I have moved on.” Jane crossed her fingers behind her back. She won’t lie again, she promised herself. Just this time.
“You are not fooling me anymore, love. Susan told me you refused to go on a date with Harry, again. Is that how you plan to move on?”
Jane would have happily wrung the neck of her traitorous friend. But she couldn’t blame her entirely. Her mother was an expert in making people talk. Seriously, the Scotland Yard should avail her services.
“I don’t like Harry. And he is my senior, the executive editor. It won’t work. But I swear, it has nothing to do with Vijay,” she mumbled, taking quick steps towards her kitchen in a bid to escape more enquiries.
“You are a bad liar, love. Right now, I feel I'm inside an Indian house than in my British daughter’s flat.”
Jane grimaced. No matter how much she tried, she couldn’t help picking stuff that reminded her of Vijay. The little brass lamp that she used as a decor piece would have fitted well into the prayer room of an Indian house. She had seen a similar one in Vijay’s room. The throw pillows were designer ones from the Indian store with a motif she remembered seeing on one of Vijay’s sweaters. The CDs she collected were of old Hindi movie songs and ghazals, Vijay’s favourite ones. They used to enjoy the soothing melodies cuddled on the sofa in his room. During the interlude, he would explain the lyrics to her. Some other trinkets were gifts from Vijay, items she should have thrown away if she really wished to forget him. But instead, they constituted her remembrance chest. Love emerged from them and often took her on trips down the memory lane.
Like her two Chinese fisherman tea bag holders. She perched them on two cups and wound the thread of the tea bags on their hooks. While she waited for the water in the kettle to boil, the two tiny figures opened up the vista of how they had come into her possession.
Jane had met Vijay at a party organised by the Oxford University Hindu Society. Being an Indophile, she had grabbed the chance to eat authentic Indian food and enjoy some Bollywood dancing. After a sumptuous dinner, she had stood in the dessert section with an empty plate, confused by the many choices. She had turned to the person next to her for guidance; it had been Vijay.
“Let me recommend these Jalebis. Only the one with the strongest of wills can resist these.” He had said while loading a ridiculous number of Jalebis into his own plate.
She had loved the sweet Jalebis. The lively chat that followed had made them aware that they shared more in common.
Out of the many colleges which were part of Oxford University, they belonged to the same college. Vijay was an undergraduate student in Economics and Management while her chosen course was Oriental Studies. By the time they parted, they had exchanged numbers and a promise to keep in touch.
Next day, she had turned to him for help again to clear her doubts for an assignment in Sanskrit, her subject of specialization. She had been surprised to realize that not many Indians understood Sanskrit. Luckily, Vijay was one of the few in the campus who did, making her approach him often for help. They had become best friends before long.
Two months later, Vijay had dragged her along to help another Indian girl, his classmate, to shop for a party she was hosting. At the Indian store, Jane had become fascinated by the pair of cute, ceramic teabag holders shaped like Chinese fishermen but had kept them back, since they were too expensive for her. Vijay, who had noticed her interest, had gifted them to her, ignoring her many protests.
His classmate hadn't liked it.
"Sod off. He is my boyfriend, you bitch," she had snapped at her when Vijay had stepped out to attend a call. Jane always hated confrontation and had kept aloof the rest of the day.
Vijay soon suspected something was amiss and questioned her when she refused to attend the party that night.
"Leave me alone, Vijay, I am not interested."
"Will you care to explain why?" he had asked, his voice reflecting his confusion.
"I don't want to become the third wheel, you know! You can enjoy your time with your girlfriend."
“The host of today’s party.”
"What? She is just a friend. But you are more than that, don't you understand?" he had asked with an intense look in his eyes.
“If I have ever thought of anyone as my girlfriend, it is you, Janet. I have fallen in love with you. Hopelessly.”
And Jane had lost herself in the promises conveyed by his words and his liquid brown eyes. Somewhere during the hours they had spent together, she realized, she too had fallen in love with him. Then he had touched her cheeks, a featherlight caress. With wonder, she had watched him bend down and claim her lips. The flood of feelings rendered by that tender first kiss had blown away all her doubts. She had responded, clutching at his coat lapels and crushing his lips. It had been magical. The memory made her cheeks grow warm.
The kettle whistled, ending her reverie. She poured the boiling water into the two cups and watched the tea steep. Dropping sugar cubes into them, she walked to the tiny hall where her mother was still scrutinising Jane’s belongings and handed one cup to her.
“I can’t understand you. Even after all his lies and deceit, you still love him? You broke up with him, didn’t you? Hadn’t he come home determined to talk to you and make you understand? Instead of facing him, you had run off to Aunt Molly’s place. You need to learn to face your fears and clean up your act, love.” Margaret regarded her from under narrowed eyes while sipping the tea Jane handed over to her.
Jane’s romance with Vijay had acquired green signals from her mother and other members of her family easily. He was a regular at her home during weekends. They had been a couple since the first year of college. Even during her year abroad, he had visited her home regularly. The time away had just deepened their relationship. She had understood the extent to which she loved him. Yet, never even once during the three long years had she suspected that blue blood flowed through his veins or that he was capable of lying.
Until that wretched day three days after their graduation.
Jane shook her head to ward off painful memories. She made Margaret sit on the couch and prepared herself to break the news that she had received today. How would her mother take it?
“Mum, I guess you will have to hear more about India now. I have been selected to head a team doing a documentary on the ancient monuments constructed by the Hoysala kings in South India. I have to leave for India in two weeks.”
Margaret blanched. Then she snapped.
“Refuse the offer. Or else, resign. I don’t want you to go to that godforsaken country.”
“It is a promotional transfer, Mum. Also, I will be the anchor of the documentary.”
“Whatever! I don’t want you to go. India has never been kind to the Worthingtons. Tell me you refused the offer already.”
“Mum, stop being a drama queen. I haven’t accepted it yet. But I can’t let go of such a great opportunity.”
“You can. And you will after I tell you what transpired at home today.”
Ah! So, there was some drama. In her boisterous and noisy family, everyone meddled in the other’s business if you qualified as their loved one.
What had happened now?