Anikaa & The Mystery of the Painting by Adhya Krish by Adhya Krish - Read Online

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Anikaa & The Mystery of the Painting - Adhya Krish

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financially.

Preface

In the midst of mellowed instrumental music, sparkling lights and giggling friends, Naina was getting ready for her engagement. She was styled by eminent fashion designer and makeup artist in her presidential suite of Grand Hyatt, Hyderabad. The fifty guests of Kapoor clan were occupying the hotel’s premium suites, which were booked months in advance. The prestigious hotel was working with extra staff and twice their calibre to ensure comfort, luxury and security to each guest. It was not Naina Kapoor’s engagement; it was the engagement of Prashant Mehra, brother of Anikaa, " THE ANIKAA MEHRA " and there was no room for mistakes or excuses.

Chapter 1

Engagement of Prashant & Naina

WITH A BRIEF KNOCK on the door Naina’s mother Malvika entered the suite. Mumma, how do I look? asked Naina twirling in delight in front of her mother. 

Malvika proudly studied her daughter from head to toe. On the height of five-feet six inches, Naina was wearing custom-made four inches embroidered stilettos which made her look like a ramp model. Her fair complexion was decently accentuated with an even layer of makeup. And, her blonde hair was pulled up in a neat bun giving her angular face a clear orientation.

Ow yes, you look adorable my darling, said Malvika in motherly tone, mimicking the typical bollywood mother and smudging a spot of kohl on Naina’s backhead.

Oh, come on mumma...please don’t embarrass me, you know I...., Naina stopped in the middle as one of her relatives entered uninvited in her suite.

Malvika....Naina you look beautiful, said Saira embracing them in a bear hug.

I must say...didn’t expected such a grand affair. What an exclusive arrangement you guys have done. Have you decided the date for the marriage yet? Oh...what a pretty set, where did you get that from? jabbered Malvika’s cousin breathlessly.

Malvika answered all her questions patiently, bragging and showing off her expensive saree and jewellery set as Saira was too important to be dismissed. After giving all the relevant information, Malvika adeptly encouraged her cousin out of the room to explore and gossip more.

Where is Nishant? asked Malvika, checking herself in the mirror again.

"Bhai...must be in his room. I didn’t see him since lunch," answered Naina, who was now getting her hair done by the stylist.

Nishant was Naina’s elder brother, engaged to be married to Ria, an investment banker. Unlike Naina, Nishant was calculative, manipulative and a guy who liked to win at any cost. Their father Avinashh, was a renowned diamond merchant and now Nishant was the announced heir of his legacy. Good looks and money from birth granted him opulent lifestyle and egotistical personality.

Malvika, who was now checking herself for twenty-fifth time in the mirror, frowned when the doorbell chimed. She rushed to open the door and Naina’s father Avinashh entered.

Breathing heavily, he croaked- They have arrived.

Avinashh Kapoor was the most- ordinary looking short, stocky man. He was dressed in a simple Sherwani and was sweating profusely. A stranger could never point out that this half-bald man with pudgy fingers ruled South Indian jewellery business.

Malvika’s face flushed pale. Oh no! She’s here...ANIKAA is here. I’m still not ready. (You will never be, thought Avinashh). Where is Nishant? Isn’t he supposed to be down representing the bride side? This is the problem; I have to do everything in this house, babbled Malvika and dragged Avinashh out of the room. Why did you waste so much time- coming to find me here- why didn’t you call or you could have just stayed there? Malvika continued. Avinashh reluctantly listened to his wife’s rants, occasionally nodding and smiling to the guests as they passed through the hall. 

At the entrance of the lavish porch of Hyatt hotel, two black Mercedes arrived one after the other. The attendants rushed to the cars to open their doors. Ramnik, Prashant’s father along with few close relatives of Mehras stepped out from the first car. From the second car, Shireen the matriarch of the family came out along with Prashant. Shireen was mother of Anikaa and Prashant and held 15% ownership in Anikaa’s realty empire. Noticing the horde of guests on the entrance, Prashant held Shireen’s hands and walked towards the hotel entrance where the bride’s relatives were more than eager to see them rather than welcoming them.

Namaste, Namaste....please welcome, chirped overenthusiastic Malvika, putting on her best smile. After the traditional welcome, all went inside the hotel which was modishly decorated with scented white roses and purple orchids. As soon as they entered, Malvika started introducing Shireen to several relatives. Prashant was also walking with Shireen, nodding his head at various introductions. He had no qualms when he heard someone whispering-"Mama’s boy". Why should he? After all, she is his mother and pillar of strength and guidance in his life.

After introducing to thirty odd guests, Malvika regained her composure and asked in a low voice- Where is Anikaa?

Anikaa is on her way. She will be here in few minutes, said Prashant.

Meanwhile, Nishant entered the grand hall of Hyatt hooked on his phone, trying his best to look busy.

"Hey bro, peri pauna aunty," he said before hugging Prashant and partially touching Shireen’s feet.

Where is Anikaa and Uncle? asked Nishant with a sarcastic gleam in his eyes.

Anikaa will be here soon and dad is standing with your father, pointed Prashant where Ramnik & Avinashh were standing with their group of friends.

Nishant skeptically looked at the group.

"Whoa, he looks awesome in black sherwani. You two always complement each other auntie!" remarked Nishant slyly, noticing the slight dislike crossing their faces. He knew that Ramnik and Shireen was not a happy couple and he liked to have his fun by bringing it up one way or the other. Their polar differences were much of an amusement for him and media where on several occasions they had speculated them to be divorced.

No wonder Anikaa put him to his place, muttered Prashant under his breath.

Hmmm...., agreed Shireen acknowledging his son’s comments.

The flow of casual conversation began again; both the families welcomed key dignitaries and famous personalities who were invited in the engagement. Naina entered the hall, accompanied by her friends and cousins. She was made to notice by Malvika who pompously exclaimed- Here comes our princess! Naina walked to Shireen and Ramnik to get their blessings- slightly embarrassed by her mother’s loud announcement. The conversations were now focussed on how the couple looked and everybody was silently waiting for one and only Anikaa.

Nishant was talking to one of his friends when Ria, his fiancée entered the party. She ran straight to Nishant and hugged him.

Hey handsome! You look good, said Ria joyfully.

Looking good yourself. Did you meet everyone? asked Nishant abruptly.

Without waiting for her reply, he gently but imperiously grasped her elbow and steered her towards the family gathering of Mehras and Kapoors. Everyone knew Ria, so they greeted her with warmth and appreciated her appearance except Nishant (who hardly gave her a second look). She soon got in chitter- chatter with Naina and Shireen who were very fond of her.

In a matter of few minutes, the manager in-charge and few staff members scurried towards the entrance of the hall. Nishant breathed- Here she comes! Everyone’s eyes went to the entrance where a tall, slim girl with pale white skin walked in. One of Nishant’s business partners with a smirk on his face said- Anikaa is hot!

She is Rachel, Anikaa’s secretary, said Nishant and cocked his head to the right to see behind Rachel- That’s ANIKAA.

As Rachel, stepped forward, everyone could now see Anikaa. The hotel staff was already on their toes as she entered the hall, smiling and greeting her. She paused for a moment at the entrance and looked at everyone, as if making a hundred and eighty degrees inspection. Anikaa spotted her family and sauntered towards them, fully aware that the hall (now filled with low murmurs) was talking about her and all the eyes were following her. Accoutered in a light- golden lehenga, she looked exquisite with her subtle (but intricate) diamond jewellery which was rumoured to be the limited edition. She walked as if she owned the place- confidently taking one step after the other. Her gait exuded sensuality, authority that demanded natural attention and air of enigma- giving nothing away.

Before Anikaa could reach her family, Nishant and Malvika were already in the middle of her way to welcome her. With a faint smile, she greeted both of them and went to her family. She hugged Naina, wishing and casually approving of her attire.

Before, anyone could say anything Anikaa suggested- Shall we head to the garden? sounding more of a directive than a suggestion.

Of course, we were just waiting for you, said Malvika in a sweet voice.

The hotel staff escorted the family and the guests towards the garden where the engagement was to be done. A beautiful arrangement of flowers and lights were done by the pool with drinks and barbeque. The ceremony was conducted in next few minutes and then the families got busy in photographic session.

SHE IS HOT, BUT SHORT, scoffed one of the Nishant’s friend.

Who? Anikaa? asked Nishant’s cousin.

Who else? Look at her secretary- height, figure, fairness, ah...all in one, a complete package. Anikaa is just five- feet three inches, with heels- five- feet six inches and her wheatish complexion doesn’t appeal to me. And, have you seen her old pictures - where she is looking like an oversized elephant. I don’t know how she managed to pull out those extra flabby inches from her butt. But, she is still not able to match up to her secretary, said Nishant’s friend.

Nishant snorted. Are you blind my friend? he sneered. She is not matching to anyone; everyone over here is trying to match up to her, impress her. Her Instagram was her past; her success is her present," asserted Nishant tipping whisky into his mouth.

O come on bro, she is just ordinary looking. I can suggest you ten girls in this party who are hotter and richer than her. I don’t understand why you people give so much importance to her. She is just a girl next door, said Nishant’s friend.

A girl next door who became a multi-millionaire in just three years. An ordinary girl who is known for her extraordinary artworks, style, keen business acumen and turning soil into gold, said Nishant sipping last of his drink.

Well, she definitely is something....I would like to try... said Nishant’s cousin looking intently at Anikaa.

AFTER A NICE ROUND of food & drinks, music began. Naina and Prashant graced the dance floor with their well- choreographed dance on Elle Goudlings - Love me like you do. Then, Malvika and Avinashh stepped on the dance floor ready to perform. However, the DJ slipped on the wrong song which began as- ‘Chal chal mere haathi, o mere saathi’* which lead to amusement and laughter amongst the guests. The song changed after the line- ‘Chal yaar, dhakka maar, band hai motor car.’ While, Prashant was having a hard time not to laugh on his to be in-laws, Anikaa was immensely enjoying and laughing her heart out to which Shireen glowered. After thirty seconds the song started- Badan pe sitare, lapete huye and Malvika & Avinashh started displaying their hilarious moves which again lead to Anikaa’s roaring laughter. This time she had to hide herself from her mother’s angry glances behind Rachel’s towering height.

When their dance ended, Shireen and Ramnik were ushered by the guests to come on the floor. The song started- ‘Aaja aaja, main hu pyaar tera’* to which both Prashant and Anikaa smiled wickedly and winked at each other. While, Shireen was just clapping and grooving to the music, Ramnik obliged the guests to some of his break dance moves which again lead to Anikaa’s generous laughter. Shireen graciously left the dance floor to Ramnik and he was joined by Nishant. After some complicated dance moves, Ramnik left the dance floor and Nishant took the chance of grabbing Anikaa’s hand. Without any hesitations, Anikaa participated. And, the song changed to-‘Aaj kal tere mere pyaar ke charche’. Gracefully & sensually Anikaa grooved to the song, keeping Nishant at an arm’s length. 

When Nishant advanced towards Anikaa to get close to her, Rachel took Ria alongwith her on the dance floor. Immediately, Anikaa encouraged everyone to join the floor and majority of the guests conceded. Who needs second invitation to dance on Shammi Kapoor’s songs? Good work, said Anikaa in Rachel’s ears and left the floor. (*Bollywood songs)

WHILE, ALL THE GUESTS were still on dance floor Anikaa lounged on one of the canapés; sipping her favourite margherita, checking her phone.

So, I finally found you alone, said a husky male voice.

Anikaa looked up at the stranger in front of him- a tall man with muscular build was holding a wine glass and mischievously gazing at her.

‘Great, finally some fun. Bring it on!’ thought Anikaa. She kept staring at the guy, unfazed, waiting for his next move.

Vihaan, Nishant’s cousin from US, he said and extended his hand.

Is that your introduction? I thought there is more than brawn in you, said Anikaa not taking her eyes from him. She firmly shook hands with him. Vihaan’s expressions immediately changed, not expecting such a firm grip and a biting comment from a girl.

He smiled and sat on the sofa next to her.

‘Manners?....Indian men...all are same. Can’t you ask first?’ mused Anikaa.

Anikaa was always sceptical about good manners. It was an imperative attribute she looked in a man.

Well, here is to Prashant and Naina, said Vihaan, raising toast.

Keeping her face expressionless, Anikaa drank to the toast and plainly stared at him allowing him to play his cards.

I heard a lot about you from Nishant. You are an artist, entrepreneur and a philanthropist- a woman donning so many hats. Hats off to you for your achievements, how do you do it all? asked Vihaan uneasily, perceiving her scrutiny.

I focus, answered Anikaa calmly, slightly tilting her glass to one side and sipping her drink, her eyes not leaving him.

That’s remarkable! I didn’t tell you what I do. I...

"You live in America with your parents, who you left a year ago for your Spanish girlfriend. After, devouring all your money she left you and you came back sulking to your parents. Your typical Indian parents forgave you as you are their only prodigal son. And, now being back to your shed you need a business partner to help you get into Indian market for exporting. In addition to this, your mother is looking for a beautiful, high- profile, well- cultured, how you put it...sushikshit* and susanskari* girl for you. Though you are 32, your family is looking for a girl who is 25 or less, a strict vegetarian and a virgin. Correct? That’s what you used to do, have done and want to do in your life. Did I miss anything...?" asked Anikaa smirking. (*Sushikhshit- Well- educated. *Susanskari- Well- cultured.)

Speechless, Vihaan was gawking at Anikaa trying to figure out words to say something. To save him from further embarrassment, Nishant stepped in who was watching all this from the beginning from a safe distance.

Vihaan...Aunt Priya is looking for you, said Nishant. Vihaan tout de suite excused himself, mortified with what happened.

You are a spoilsport, said Anikaa, giving a mischievous smile.

And, you are going to scare my guests away. I have already warned my gang about you, but it seems- they still want to play with fire, said Nishant.

Fire! You are putting a caution on me. No wonder, your brigade looks gobsmacked, chuckled Anikaa.

So, are you into the deal of Nilkanth lands? questioned Nishant.

So you just swooshed your cousin to interview me? counter-questioned Anikaa.

Now, I can’t discuss clothes and jewellery with you Anikaa. 

Nah, you can’t. You have done a miserable job this time. I know you never hire designers, but it’s high time you get one before wedding. I don’t want Kapoors’ scion or clan to be featured in worst dressed celebrities list 2018, said Anikaa earnestly.

Puzzled, Nishant started analysing her statement whether she mocked only his dressing or whole of his family’s. Before, he could make out and say anything, Ria joined them.

Hey, mind if I join you guys? asked Ria.

Anikaa warmly welcomed her with a genuine smile.

Nice ceremony, how I rushed in to catch the flight. I was having a presentation in the morning, followed by hours of meeting. Didn’t get enough time for lunch as well, packed up and rushed to take my flight. Glad, its weekend now. I can finally sleep, said Ria in one breath.

Anikaa was impressed with Ria’s simplicity and honesty. Unlike Anikaa, Ria was bashful and simple who liked to work backstage that made her look average in the eyes of people like Nishant. She used to study with him in college where they met first. However, Anikaa always regarded Nishant as a non- deserving choice for Ria.

Don’t worry, you will get plenty of time to rest, assured Anikaa.

How about you, aren’t you feeling tired of making these arrangements, asked Ria.

Anikaa couldn’t help smiling at her innocent question.

Rachel did all the arrangements. I just directed her of what I want and paid for it. And our hard-working Mr. Nishant Kapoor cooperated very well. Isn’t it, Mr. Kapoor? teased Anikaa.

Nishant was still analysing her earlier remarks, so he just nodded.

We are going to Munnar tomorrow. Wanna join? questioned Anikaa out of the blue.

Ria was surprised when Anikaa invited her. Nishant & Malvika always described her as high-handed and cold and, here she was inviting her to family vacation.

It’s just my family and Zorabians (Rustom and Gul Zorabian- family friends of Mehras). You can also come; we will have good time, said Anikaa.

Sure, I would love to come. Thanks, for inviting me, said Ria.

Nishant, sitting next to them, listening everything was vexed for the reason that Ria didn’t ask if he could come in. Surely, if he invites himself, Anikaa will never take him. But, if Ria was given the privilege, he wanted to have it as well. Stupid girl, he muttered, looking at Ria.

I will ask Rachel to do the arrangements, said Anikaa getting up.

Anikaa spotted Rachel sitting by the bar and advanced to her, gulping last of her mocktail.

Rachel darling, don’t get drunk. I don’t want media to highlight your inebriation instead of Prashant’s engagement. Plus, we have a flight to catch tomorrow morning, said Anikaa.

I am glad...everything went off smoothly, said Rachel looking at the parting guests.

To our much-deserved holiday, she said raising her glass of scotch.

May we make our holidays worth it, said Anikaa raising the toast in agreement and gulped her drink.

Chapter 2

The Invitation

NEXT MORNING, THE NEWSPAPERS were splashed with photographs and news of the high-profile ceremony. There were some newspapers who allegedly sighted the closeness between Nishant and Anikaa. If only they knew!

Mehras had just finished their breakfast when Rachel turned in with their flight tickets at- Taj Falaknuma Palace. They checked out from the hotel and reached airport catching Zorabians at the entrance. With usual greetings everyone rushed in for boarding pass & security check. A few college students recognised Anikaa and asked for pictures which she gladly obliged. Cladded in blue Diesel jeans, white Chanel t-shirt and Gucci shades with little make-up, Anikaa looked stunning. Anikaa loved brands and was always the talk of town for her envied collection.

After brisk security proceedings, all of them settled in a private lounge.

Where is Ria? asked Rachel, sitting next to Anikaa in the private lounge.

She called in the morning, she can’t make it this time, said Anikaa wondering if Nishant was behind her withdrawal.

Prashant looks so tired, said Rachel, sipping coffee.

And, you are back to pumping caffeine in your body, mocked Anikaa.

Rachel and Ramnik had a queer habit of drinking coffee before boarding the plane. Anikaa looked at Rachel and then at Ramnik confirming their routine.

Well, it just relaxes me, said Rachel squirming on her seat.

Why didn’t you invite Naina for the trip? I mean they are just engaged. Don’t they deserve time to know each other better? asked Rachel.

Prashant didn’t invite her, said Anikaa searching for her macbook in her bag.

And, you didn’t say anything to him, asked Rachel ingenuously. Anikaa took out her laptop and looked at Rachel.

I mean..... I know you don’t impose your opinion on anyone. I just..., stuttered Rachel under the glance of Anikaa.

You know Rachel, it is important to give space. It is his life, let him do his mistakes and learn from it. I am always there to help him. Besides, I am not missing Naina at all, coz I know that she will never come alone. She would get Malvika or Nishant with her. And, I don’t want them to spoil my time, said Anikaa in a firm voice opening her laptop and putting all her devices on airplane mode.

Can I ask something? asked Rachel. Anikaa nodded.

Why do you don’t like them? And if, you don’t, why is Prashant engaged to her. He seems pretty lost himself sometimes. See, he is not missing her at all, said Rachel.

Both the girls looked at Prashant who was laughing with Gul and Shireen on something.

Naina is a good girl. I like her. Malvika is not a problem as well...upper class rich socialite who is always vying for attention and diamonds- typical. But, her brother Nishant is my concern. It’s in his eyes and I can’t ignore it. Anikaa sighed and added- He is a kind of a person who always likes servings on other’s plate, said Anikaa in a low voice.

Passengers travelling to Kochi are now requested to... the announcement was made for boarding the flight. A flight of an hour and a half was long enough for Anikaa to have a quick nap. As soon as they settled, she dozed off. Her motion sickness was one of her weaknesses as well as strength. Weakness because she was not able to read or write in a moving vehicle and strength because she used to be fresh after taking a quick nap.

Anikaa woke up when the flight landed. She saw few passengers hastily rising from their seats, pulling their extra large bags from the cabin luggage compartment and then queuing up the door to get down.

Impatient birds, muttered Anikaa looking out of her window.

Dark clouds enveloped the sky inhibiting the sunlight and one more plane landed on the watery tarmac. Kochi was looking amazingly refreshing and green. She looked around and saw Shireen and Gul...laughing and looking out of their window, Ramnik snoring and Prashant animatedly discussing some new car model with Rustom. Prashant was obsessed with cars from his childhood. One look at any car and he will tell all the details about it- brand, mileage, fuel consumption, speed. It was the very reason they now owned six high-end luxury cars.

The group marched out of the airport toward their cars which were already waiting in the parking bay of the arrivals, ready to embark on a four- hour journey from Kochi to Munnar.

Mam asked the driver and at Anikaa’s nod the car moved out of the airport. Anikaa was drowsily looking out of the car windows as the journey began. The mountainous roads, fresh breeze and the mist surrounding the distanced forests were alluring as well as daunting. The hairpin turns on the roads were the most endurable part of the journey for Anikaa as it used to elevate her motion sickness.

She put on her headphones, connecting them to her Ipod. Her eclectic music playlist comprised of songs such as Hemant Kumar’s