Raghav felt very uneasy, seeing Aradhana like this after all these years. Age had made her more beautiful, resplendent and her personality reflected the same congeniality and ease as her husband, further enriched by goodness and wealth. And she came in wearing the same pleasant smile at Raghav.
Aradhana: Hi Raghav, how are you? – she greeted.
By now, he was totally uncomfortable.
Rohit smiled in understanding, also slightly feeling sorry for Raghav…at what he had to abruptly face. He knew it was awkward and therefore, instantly pitched in to comfort him.
Rohit: Sit down please. Don’t be disconcerted.
Raghav, now, was at a loss for words. Not knowing what to say, he simply blurted out.
Raghav: So, you knew, all along? – he asked them both.
Rohit and Aradhana unanimously proclaimed: Yes, we knew.
Rohit: But I think you need to know the full story and Aradhana will be the best person to explain it to you.
Aradhana continued: Raghav, after your elopement, your father suffered a severe depression. He came to meet my father, crying and begging for an apology. He believed that because of his family, our people were hurt, and I must be devastated. He was ready to compensate for your, err…misdeeds, any which way possible.
My father was slightly forward in his thinking. He convinced your dad that it was none of his fault, for one cannot be expected to have control over their adult children. Besides, if you loved somebody, it was better that you married her, rather than messing up someone else’s (my) life and that everything happened for good.
After that incident, your father kept repeatedly visiting our house to ensure that we were okay. It is these meetings that went on to create a lifetime of bond and friendship between our fathers.
One day, he arrived with the marriage proposal of Rohit. Rohit’s family came to see me, and your father took charge of all the meetings, from thereon, to ensure that marriage happens sans any impact of the previous break-up. It was evident that he wanted to atone for his guilt. Everything went on smoothly and over a period, I got happily settled into my new life. After all this, my family began to adore the kind of man your father was. My father, on the day of my marriage hugged him out of heartfelt gratitude and they continued to be the thickest of friends for the rest of their lives. Though, your father never mentioned you anytime, my father could always sense that he missed you a lot. Couple of times, my father even tried to convince him into a reconciliation, but your father never wanted to discuss it. Probably, he did not want to disturb you in your new life.
My father passed away couple of months ago. We had been to the village. Uncleji (your father) is very old. He was tearful as well as saddened by the loss of his best friend. So, we had brought him here for a couple of days. Another reason was that, we wanted him to meet his grandson because, as you know, time and tide waits for none. Who knows what may happen tomorrow? From the moment Nitish stepped into our home, a year ago, I knew that he was your son.
When uncleji first saw Nitish and casually asked us about his background, we couldn’t lie to him. You should’ve seen how overwhelmed and teary-eyed the grandfather-grandson duo were, upon meeting each other for the first time. Nitish demanded to know the reasons. And when he knew, he hit upon this plan. So, money was never the reason for those fights inside your home because their college has enough sponsors for players like him and Akshat, besides providing them with educational scholarships.
Raghav sat in silence for a long time, tears spilling out of his eyes and balls of deep regret curling inside his heart. He felt very small, selfish and inadequate as a man… shrunken several times in size, before every one of these people including Aradhana and mainly his own son, because even a sixteen-year-old boy could discern the mistake that he had committed by ignoring his parents for several years, for it was nothing but his ego and false-pride that had held him back, when he could have mended it all up years ago. Yet a small pride remained. Though he had failed as a son, his son had not failed him. In fact, he had risen several notches higher. Now it was time for him to rise.
He stood up, apologised to Aradhana for the past and with heartfelt gratitude, thanked the couple profusely, for their sensitivity and understanding. At that moment, his was heart crying (for his parents), but his lips held on to a tight smile. The first thing he would do, he decided, was take his entire family to meet his parents and beg for their forgiveness. But even before that, he had something else to do – pull Nitish into a tight embrace, for the boy well-deserved that.