Orphaned Saryubai had to find a place to stay after she ran away from Janardandev home in the fort. She did not know where to go – started walking aimlessly.  She walked till she reached a village. It was almost dawn. She was tired – first time in her life she walked that far. Brought up in the security of fort, she could not dare escaping the fort – that too avoiding the front gate of the fort that way in normal condition. She was scared of the darkness of night, jungle animals, fierce dacoits, but she was more scared of the possibility of her getting married with a person other than Raghupati. She had given her heart to him – how could she take it back?

Exhausted Saryu sat under a tree near a large home – within moments she slept.

A milkman passing by the road discovered a beautiful young girl sleeping under a tree early in the morning.  He called his wife. His wife took Saryu to her home. As she asked the young lady about her identity, Saryu burst into tears. Women’s heart knows another woman’s. The lady listened to her patiently and decided to give her shelter.  Her milkman husband objected – a humble person like him would not be able to hide a girl from such an influential home for long. Moreover, once the news breaks he would be punished. His wife remained adamant. He finally had to approve her idea. Saryu was given shelter with the condition that she would have to conceal herself inside home. She found it a good proposition.

The well-to-do milkman’s house was quite large. Saryu was allotted a room there. The simple affectionate milkman Ramdas and his wife never had any disagreement again about providing shelter to the Rajput girl. The grateful Saryu tried her best to support them by her culinary skill. Good food wins almost everyone’s heart in the world.  Ramdas’ wife Shantabai felt happy to have a grown up women as a friend at home. They were a family of five. Two of her son’s already joined Shivaji’s force as foot soldiers. One went to Delhi with Shivaji and another was working as a sentry in the fort. Her daughter was still too young and there was no other woman at home.

Milkman’s wife was intelligent – met Janardandev in person to convince him about Saryu’s determination, her decision to stay in her home. She knew an influential person like Janardandev would try to find his daughter; if found out, her family would be in trouble. Janardandev had no other option but to accept the reality. Even if he brought her daughter back, the date of wedding he fixed was already over. He couldn’t arrange it with the proposed groom once again!

Several months passed like that. On one evening Saryu was chatting with the Shantabai when Ramdas came back home with a news. Addressing his wife he announced, “You have reason to be happy today. I have got good news!” His wife replied, “Good news! What is that? Is there any news of my son’s coming back?”

Ramdas: “Soon he will. I have heard Shivaji escaped from the prison of that rogue Emperor and he is on the way to home. In that case, my son also will come back with him!”  Shantabai sounded more than happy, “May God help them reach home safe. I have not seen him over a year now. Only God knows how my worried I am!” Ramdas added, “Of course he will come back! He was working with the troop under Raghupati Havildar. I received news of Raghupati as well.”

Saryu’s heart started dancing in cheer. She was listening to the Ramdas’ words in breathless anticipation. He continued talking to his wife, “You remember what our son told the day when Shivaji drove Raghupati out calling him a rebel?” His wife replied, “How do you expect a woman to remember all those detail?” Ramdas had to state again – his son had told that there was no other hero like Raghupati in the entire army of Shivaji. The King must have humiliated him by mistake; someday he would come to understand his own mistake and only that day he would be well-aware of the virtues of Raghupati. The father was happy that his son’s predictions came out to be true. Also possible that he was trying to cheer up depressed Saryu. He knew how belief in her man led Saryu through a tough time. Why did he narrate Raghupati’s story more than own son’s?

Saraju’s heart was trumping in cheer and anxiety. She started sweating.

Ramdas went on talking about Ragupati – how he went to Delhi in disguise following Shivaji and proved his innocence – how he was promoted directly to the role of a chief of five thousand soldiers – how everyone in the cities, markets and villages were cheering in the name of Raghupati on hearing the stories of his heroic deeds.

Saryu could not tolerate the pressure of her merriment and anxiety any longer. She got up to take asylum in the darkness her room.

 

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The river Neera was flowing in the soft morning sun of the autumn. Sunlight made its waves glee in cheer. Gorgeous corn-fields were spread till horizon on both sides of the river, as if the earth-goddess in her green dress was smiling being pleased worshipped by the farmers. North and east of the river were covered by plush green fields and a few villages, elegant hill-ranges extended one after another in the south and west.

Pretty Saryu’s got back her lost brightness within a few days. She again dazzles with new hope, happiness and joy. Again she listens to the notes of the singing birds on the distant trees carried by the morning breeze. Again she goes to the river afternoon – looks at the far side of the river standing at the riverbank. Sometimes sitting on the riverbank in the evening, she listens to the melody of flutes played by returning shepherds.

Even Ramdas’ wife sees the change in her. Today they are walking towards the river together. She tells, “Saryu, you look stunning these days!”

Saryu blushes, she know what her friend of bad times mean, “Who told?”

Shantabai: “None! Can’t I see it myself?”

Saryu: “You are making mistake!”

They reaches the river bank – see a tall man in the attire of a hermit coming towards them. Coming closer, he announces own presence, “Hara Hara Mahadeo!” His tall stature covered with ash was looking wonderful in the dim light of the evening.”

Her eyes sparkles and lips took the colour of freshly blooming buds, her cheeks brightens. No she is not mistaken by the hermit’s dress any longer. Today there is enough sunlight to recognise the man. She whispers, “it’s him!”

Shantabai didn’t see the hermit before, first she was astonished, but quickly grasps the wit of the young man. She runs away smiling – leaving the space empty for the young lovers.

Saryu’s heart is beating fast. Her body is shivering with deep emotion. But quickly she controls herself – keeping her natural shyness and fear aside, she gazes sharply at the hermit – “Sadanand Swami?”

Looking at her silky hair adorning her beautiful face once again, Sadanand loses himself. Embarrassed at being caught, he murmurs, “Well, I needed to put on this dress for long.”

“That is reason you cannot leave this dress now.” – Saryu tries to accuse her man for having forgotten her for long.

Raghupati comes closer to her. Even he quivers seeing his love after such a long time, waiting patiently only for him. He sounds emotional: “You did such a big sacrifice only for this poor Raghupati!”

Saryu: “A woman does not consider the chance of following her husband a sacrifice.”

The hermit breaths heavily. He holds her hands. The touch stirs the girl. Her hands held in his starts trembling.  The man cannot resist embracing his love revealing all his desire for her, hidden so many years. Both their pair of lips cannot stop showering kisses on each other.