I found Indrayudh waiting in the main road for me, and my first reaction on seeing him was to rap my knuckles hard against his head. He held his ears during the time he said, "Sorry, didi. I didn't mean to leave you."
"Indra, that girl is not good for," I said, angrily. I grabbed his t-shirt sleeve, and began to drag him towards the waiting auto rickshaws.
Mumbai was so different from Kolkata, the city of my birth. Unlike back at home where there was a pleasant lull after ten o'clock, Mumbai was pulsating with life. I checked my watch and realized it was ten thirty now. God only knew how much time I'd wasted in talking to that idiotic wannabe actor!
"Bhaiya, are you next in line?" I asked the auto driver. He nodded and we got in.
Another minor difference from the city of my birth: here, the concept of shared autos didn't work. You hired an auto the way you hired a taxi. Back home, there were autos that traveled certain routes, and since they would take four passengers, the fare was definitely much lower than what I'd be paying in a minutes' time, I was sure.
"Didi, please don't tell, ma" begged Indrayudh, "she wouldn't understand. Didi, please…I love her, didi."
"Love?" I laughed, "Indra, you're barely twenty. What could you possibly know about love? And as for your girlfriend," I paused briefly, remembering the encounter with Arij Saxena, and stiffed my resolve, "I wouldn't expect much from her if I were you."
"You don't know her," he began, in a heated voice.
"Here's the deal, Indra," I said, interrupting him, "You will forget all about Akriti and I will forget we ever went to the Saxena Palace tonight."
"Take it or leave it," I said, firmly, looking squarely into his eyes. I knew I was using the fact I was after all elder to him, and that his mother would believe me a bit more than necessary. But I wished he would understand I was doing that for his own good. If Arij Saxena was harshness personified, I couldn't expect anything better from a girl hailing from the same bloodline.
Indrayudh fell silent, and I knew I'd damaged our relationship on my very second day in Mumbai. When we got home, he went to his room without a word, and didn't answer his mother's anxious queries.
"What's wrong with him, Darshana?" my aunt asked, grabbing me by the shoulders.
The act unconsciously jolted the memory of the morning into my mind. I screwed my eyes shut, trying to block out those feelings. I felt myself being shaken again.
"Darshana, what's wrong my child?"
"Nothing, pishi," I finally managed to say, "He's just upset because he wanted to take me to Juhu beach and I told him, not tonight."
"Oh," said pishi, relaxing her grip, "I knew he was a crazy fellow. Indra, Indra – take didi to the beach tomorrow."
Indrayudh came out of his room, and looked at me with hurt in his eyes. I turned away from him. I couldn't believe I was letting Arij Saxena ruin my relationship with my cousin. Nevertheless, Indra said in a fairly normal voice, "I know, ma. I'll take didi there tomorrow if she wants."
Our eyes met for a minute, and I nodded at him. He immediately turned back to his mother and said, "I'm really tired tonight, ma. Can I sleep now?"
Though I found no logic behind it, I felt that Indrayudh's way of skipping dinner was to punish me for forbidding him to see Akriti again. I felt in my bones that Akriti was Arij's sister, and he would go out of his way to protect her. That naturally meant my cousin was in harm's way. I couldn't afford to let Arij harm Indra at any cost.
Tossing and turning, I hardly got any sleep that night. No wonder I went to work the next day, with dark circles beneath my eyes. Mr. Gupta felt rather sorry for me when I ran into the conference room that day, clutching a stitch at my chest.
"Are you alright, Darshana?" he asked me.
"I'm so sorry," I replied, "I-I'm fine. I was running late. Sorry."
"I don't tolerate tardiness, Miss Chowdhury," Shameeka said, from the shadows.
"And your authority would be?" asked Aditya, looking over at her. I couldn't believe it. One of my bosses was defending me to the other? I felt like singing praises of the gods above but controlled that feeling.
"Darshana," said Virat, ignoring them both and looking at me, "Here's the second list. Please bring the first person to us. We need to decide on our heroine today."
So began my day, running back and forth, showing the actors to the conference room, wishing them good luck, chit chatting with them to set their nerves at rest. It was right before lunch break when I was outside talking to another actress while an audition took place inside, that I seemed to finally stumble across someone I could later regard as my friend.
Her name was Kavya, and it was almost by accident that I met her. I had sunk to one of the sofas outside, and put a hand over my forehead, when I felt someone sit down beside me.
"Hello," she said pleasantly.
I looked at her. She had straight black hair that came almost to her waist, and a lock of hair falling obstinately over her eyes. Her eyes had been done to give her an overall bubbly appearance. She was dressed in a blue top and a pair of skinny fit jeans. A leather bag was slung carelessly over her shoulder.
I smiled at her and said, "Hello."
"First time auditions?" she asked, and without waiting for me to reply said, "Don't worry. It's always scary the first time. After that, everything becomes like a rote routine. If the auditions don't work out, then so what? You have great memories to keep in your mind, right?"
"I'm sorry…" I said, my voice trailing off because another surge of her words began flowing.
"This is my third audition this week, you know," she told me, "I'm so bored of playing secondary characters. And I hear this is going to be one of the biggest serials? I'm so excited! I wonder which part I'd land here."
"I think…" I tried to say, but I knew it was hopeless, she wouldn't stop talking.
"Which role are you auditioning for? I would of course like the lead, but no…I wouldn't mind playing a major second character either." She trailed off into her own thoughts. Then recovering just as suddenly she said, "Oh I'm so rude. My name is Kavya Chopra."
"Darshana Chowdhury," I replied, shaking the hand she offered, "And I'm sorry, I'm not here for auditions. I'm the apprentice scriptwriter. I'm helping out with the auditions."
"You're not an actress?" she repeated, bewildered. She began happy the next minute as she said, "So what? We can still be friends, right?"
"Of course," I smiled, "And I think it's time for your auditions now. Let's go?"
As I watched her go inside to enact her scene, I thought she'd fit the role of Sabrina perfectly. After all, she was by nature a bubbly chirpy girl. She flashed me a smile before entering and whispered, "Wish me good luck."
"Good luck," I smiled.
The door closed, and I knew Kavya would give her best shot. And I secretly prayed that she land the role. It would be nice to have someone on the sets with who I could get along with this effortlessly.
Author's Note: Trying my best to make this story reach out to you guys too. Now that I've finished introducing my major characters, be prepared for loads of dramas and actions :D Love you all, and wish that you love this story too… please leave me your feedback. I love hearing from all of you!