Nilanjana stepped into the silent edifice of the house.
She felt as if she had to. The maddening clamour of all the people outside was irrevocably dampening her spirits. She had not been excited about this ‘family trip’ as it is, whereby every nook and corner of the big joint family of her in-laws was hunted and pestered with the proposal for a get-away and the most obnoxious ones it seemed were hand-picked to be taken to Shimla for so-called family bonding. But just two years of free matrimonial inclusion into the most illustrated gas stove making business houses of Delhi and she knew better than to object. Sometimes obliging others becomes a way we oblige ourselves.
Nilu set one foot inside the manor and she felt she had meandered into a different earth altogether- a quieter, solemner, life springing in the inanimate earth and all the jarring sounds relegated to the distant backdrop. Her sister-in-law could not feign to really hide her subtle contempt when Nilu had asked her to accompany her within. “Oh dear, little Nilu! What will you see in a god-forsaken house that some haughty Britisher made a hundred years ago? I knew that stupid guide was no good. If it were not for this beautiful garden and flooding last rays of sunlight here, I would have asked papa to sack him for bringing us all so high up on this mountain for a picnic. Stay here baby, we are about to start an antakshari of all the men versus the women.”
Phew! This almost a Semi-Hum Apke Hain Kaun types ‘reality’ show proceeding from the last three days was taking its toll on Nilu and she moved in by herself into the uninhabited house. Who would discern anyways if one was missing in a crowd of 34? Not her husband for sure, as Anshul was diligently conniving his custom made cocktails for all the guffawing jeejas and chachas, bubbling more with pride on each loud request and pat on his back, than the soda fizzing within the glasses. And the true bloodied Punjabis that they were, he would be busy throughout the evening handling bottles and stirrers instead of her thoroughly bored emotions.
The house though not very exciting from the exterior, was exquisite and pristine from inside to say the least. The furniture was Victorian and vantage with rare, intricate carving and in antique teak. The walls were adorned with antique plates and life like portraits of savvy ladies in dainty hats and stern looking men in uniforms and badges casing the better part of their chests. Some beautiful artefacts, artillery and sculptures were sprayed here and there standing out against the mute pastel milieu. It spoke volumes even in the minimalistic that was there. It seemed she was sauntering through an early twentieth century adobe in London. Spellbound, she moved into the central courtyard that had just a glass ceiling and multi coloured stone flooring so that sunlight played most impishly in her sphere of influence dancing among the ivy leaves that it swathed. It felt like an ethereal world existing within a not so real one either.
But just then she heard a thud of the door behind that startled her. She turned around to find that two nosey children of the jing bang outside had followed her into the house. Nilu decided to walk out in case more kids attempt to come in too and spoil any of the unscathed beauty that emanated in the bleak isolated interiors. She shhhh-ed the kids and told them to walk out saying it was not the place for children to be in and they giggled and disappeared behind one of the curtains. Also sad at the rude interruption of her aesthetically satisfying experience, Nilu took a deep sigh and turned her steps to go back to the on-going circus outside.
Just then something shone from inside the open doors of one of the rooms, almost like a ball radiating colourful rainbow rays and despite herself, Nilu found her feet moving towards the source of that almost magical illumination.
She hesitatingly drew aside the floral print ornate curtain that fluttered in the cold breeze of the open windows, even as she drew her coat more tightly around her own petite frame. It was a room full of books and unfinished caricatures and portraits spread on easels and on a large sofa. The source of that light was an exquisite paper weight of crystal kept on a bureau, with colour sprayed within that reflected the sinking sun’s light like the most glorious spectrum.
She palmed it gently and almost dropped it in the next second when she was startled again by a voice from behind her.
“It has a sense of magical attraction, doesn’t it?”
She gathered herself and the “magical” paper weight, putting it back to where it lay and turned around to see a tall man in his early thirties perhaps and dressed sprucely in casual jeans and black shirt. He was an Indian but had almost blondish hair with a flick falling over his impeccably white complexion that made her rethink if he really was a Britisher, who might have walked right out of one of those paintings after a costume change and make-over.
For the next few seconds none of them spoke and incessantly viewed each other as an awkward silence crammed the room.
(To be continued...)