Friday, 31 July 2015

hats off



wrote this light loopy os for a dear friend's birthday. not as dark as asr and khushi's first meeting may have been and who am i to argue with that intensity that colour of deep dark, complete fan as i am of asr and khushi and that pyaar nafrat... but this one i wanted to see them from a lighter place, it celebrated a bday and a friendship... yet i hope i have caught something essentially asr khushi here... thanks for reading. enjoy.



arnav singh raizada was tired.

dammit.

it had been an endless series of meetings today. nonstop noise. he hated noise. the clients were being tricky, he wished he hadn't flown half way across the world to see them. but there was a chance of a major deal for next year's spring collections and, of course, there was no question of not going after it.

why was traffic always heavy on these roads, he wondered, as he swerved sharply, almost missing the turn di had said he might miss, because even the gps didn't show it always.

his neck muscles felt tense, a headache was on its way in, his back was stiff... coffee, a cup of hot espresso, that's what he needed... not go to some crazy place called heavenly bakery and pick up jalebis.

jalebis?

he grimaced.

here in the middle of miami, he had to go jalebi hunting because di had decided his birthday had to have some nice indian sweets and she had found on the net this confectionery which for some unfathomable reason offered jalebis on the menu; and she had gone to check it out the previous day.

asr raised his eyebrows and shook his head... he didn't celebrate his birthday. he found the whole hoopla around just a day in the year a tad tiresome. unnecessary exuberance and expenditure over something that was pointless...

but di was, well di. his lips stretched a couple of millimetres in what seemed to be a smile, it was barely detectable.

for his elder sister he'd do anything in the world and seen from that perspective this little detour was not so bad. but still, di was pushing it a bit. he was jet lagged and wanted to devote all his time to the deal, not run around after food, that too sweets... he was diabetic and rarely ate the stuff anyway.

the heavenly bake shoppe had passed muster. di had taken nani ji and captain raina along for her qc expedition. approval had been given, success declared... and now here he was.

asr frowned and thrust out his lips, he could understand di dragging nani ji along, even mami ji... but captain raina? since when was his pilot such a connoisseur of indian sweets? and di had just met him only a couple of times... ah well, whatever, he thought... enough of this rubbish... he'd just go get the jalebis and pick up a coffee along the way.

his temples had begun to throb, a big migraine was on its way.

he stopped along the narrow lane with a row of shops and other businesses. colourful signboards announced the names... there was heavenly bake shoppe.

as he swiftly unfastened his seatbelt and leaped out of the car, the rain started.

he was nonplussed. it had been a sunny day and dusk was about to set in, not a cloud in the sky. and now this.

he ran to the shop entrance and walked in pushing open the door with force. a strident clanging of bells greeted him, he turned around startled. what was that!

"kaun? who it is?" a muffled, echoing voice came fast on the heels of the clanging.

asr looked around bewildered... what the... who was that?

he could see shelves of confectionery stacked high with cakes, gateaus, pastries, toffee apples, cup cakes... a couple of tables with red checked tablecloths were on one side with chairs around them, a huge cuckoo clock hung on a wall... asr glared at it...

then he looked around once more, he could see no one. so who had spoken? his brow knitted in a forbidding frown. what sort of a shop was this? not a single soul anywhere... he'd had enough.

he turned to leave just as the echoing voice called out again, "kaun hai? who it is?"

he whirled around to see a party hat appear slowly from behind a counter. it was a bright pink conical cap with frills and trimmings in gold and silver tinsel. the entire thing was unspeakably shiny, he almost winced. 

however he stared at it incredulously.

for it was not vertical and sitting on anyone's head as hats normally do, instead, it was parallel to the floor, horizontal, its tip pointed toward him and it was perched on someone's face.

asr was speechless.

"if you aren't going to talk why you have come to shop?" the hat said bobbing up and down, its voice muffled.

"what the!" asr swore under his breath. his head was splitting.

below the pink hat, he could see some parts of the person's clothes. it was a woman. yeah... and she wore a canary yellow kurta with lots of trimmings in silver gota, lime green pompoms, bunches of them, hung from her short sleeves and near the neckline, which were visible even though she was crouching.

she was definitely not from this part of the world... actually, where was she from! asr's face contorted in irritation.

where did they wear things like that even now... in fact, why did they ever wear such things. his fine sense of fashion was clearly disturbed. he had made his fortune in this line and such a flagrant disregard of it...

well, he'd better get her to serve him and leave, he thought, before his head really blew up.

she was still not quite standing up, though her head was above the counter level.

what was wrong with the woman!

"stop talking through your hat dammit!" asr ground out,

"what nonsense! take that thing off your face! now! i don't have time to waste on this ridiculous game... what sort of a shop is this!"

"kya?? humey nonsense bola?!!" the hat moved about as the speaker shook her head, "chup kar khushi kumari gupta, yeh angrez shaitan se baad mein nipat lena, abhi devilry hai uss pe dhyan de..."
the girl... yes she seemed to be a slim and slight young girl really... muttered under her breath.

(what, called me nonsense!! shut up khushi kumari gupta, now there's devilry to be done, tackle this english devil later!)

then she said loudly, "dekhiye! don't shout... my hands are in jalebi syrup, i can't take off hat... old diabetic customer needs sugar free syrup... what can i do if hat is slipping off just as i start to dip jalebis?"

devilry? asr blinked.

what was this girl going on about! what old diabetic customer? jalebi! suddenly the penny dropped. his anger soared. his nostrils flared. he shot out a hand, and pulled the party hat. hard.

snap.

the elastic thread of the hat broke as it fell off.

large, almost tearful, extremely angry hazel eyes stared at him now... unblinking. shades of grey and green milled around dark grey irises.

he noted she was still crouched awkwardly. and now her fine bow shaped lips had begun to quiver.

obviously she had forgotten to take her hands out of the syrup. silly girl.

he smiled at her nastily and said, "i'm arnav singh raizada... i think you have an order for me..."

at that, the girl's eyes began to grow larger and round, her lips made a perfect "o" formation and both her hands came up instantly to cover her mouth.

"hey devi maiyya," the girl squeaked... no squawked, "aap toh buddhe nahin hain!"

(oh mother goddess... you aren't old!)

asr's smile widened, its nastiness increasing.

khushi kumari gupta looked at the haughty stranger on the other side of the counter. he was dressed in a smart grey jacket with a waistcoat in the same fabric below it, he wore a dark charcoal tie, his shirt was steel blue, his trousers perfectly creased. his thick dark hair was brushed back and not a strand was out of place though khushi could see a few drops of rain clung to his hair.

khushi noticed the sharp dip of his hairline at the centre of the forehead... bhairon chacha had just such a dip, but he never wore clothes like this... and nor was he so slim and tall... his lips were definitely not thin and chiselled like this man's and he certainly did not have such clear brown eyes, they had something shiny and reddish in them... like the chocolate cynthia ji made.

hey devi maiyya, worst point of difference... because all of the differences were bad, really bad... but the worst was the fact that the man was not old.

he was young. very young. and very angry.

***

cynthia ji had promised anjali ji that the jalebis for the diabetes patient would be ready in time. he was one arnav singh raizada and he would come and pick up the sweets himself, it was his birthday after all, anjali ji had smiled gently, taking a bite of jalebi daintily and closing her eyes in appreciation.

"mmm... khushi ji! thank you thank you! i am so glad cynthia here invited you to spend the summer working with her and teach her to make some indian mithais... where is your father's shop in lucknow? you know we go there often, our old house is there, it's a hotel now, and chhotey drops in at least twice a year to check on things... i would love to get some sweets from your shop..." anjali ji talked away cheerfully and khushi wondered why this lady whom she had only just met was telling her so much about their lives.

she liked the lady though, especially her beautiful pale green chanderi saree and matching bangles. she saw people in indian clothes every day, after all, she was staying with bhairon chacha and his wife janaki chachi.

her babu ji's second chacha's son was bhairon chacha, he had come to america years ago and done very well for himself. he sold gujarati farsan, all sorts of snacks and a wide range of suparis from lucknow. really no one could make suparis as good as the ones made in her hometown...

khushi's mind wandered and came back...

haan, she saw sarees and churidars and things every day, but usually all were in polyester or nylon... not very pretty... but anjali ji's saree... it was lovely really.

khushi realised she had missed much of what her enthusiastic customer had been saying...

cynthia ji patted anjali ji on the shoulder and said, "rest assured the birthday boy's jalebis will be fantastic!"

birthday boy? but he was a diabetic, na? khushi frowned, he must be at least fifty, if not sixty. this was an ailment of old people really, poor things.

she smiled and did a namaste to the gracious elderly lady who had come with anjali ji.

"oh khushi ji, that's my nani ji..." anjali said.

nani ji was beautiful, khushi noted and she had the kindest pair of eyes. devi maiyya had such kindly eyes...

and who was the pleasant looking young man who stood respectfully to one side and said not a word? he seemed to be nice.

***

but now she was looking horror struck at fairly unkind eyes, the owner of which was not at all nice.

khushi didn't realise her sticky fingers had inadvertently covered her mouth and cheeks with syrup. she stood there wondering what she should do next.

"pack the jalebis and give me the bill, and try not to make such personal comments about men you have just met... unless," he paused and tilted his head, looking down at her with a quizzical yet insulting air, "you are the kind of girl who likes getting personal with men you've just set eyes on... that is once you have sussed them out with your shiny party hat!"

he seemed to be laughing at her. yet there was no doubt he meant to insult her.

"aap ki himmat kaise hui..." khushi said indignantly.

(how dare you...)

but before she could finish, he had lunged forward and was grasping her shoulder tightly.

"himmat dikhana toh maine abhi shuru bhi nahin ki..." he said through clenched teeth, "pack the jalebis dammit!"

(i've not even started showing what i can dare...)

his headache had spiraled. he could barely see, it was hurting so much. he closed his eyes as a sharp jolt of pain shot through him.

***

khushi watched stricken as the man who had been holding her shoulder so mercilessly started to sway and then he let go of her... falling back. stumbling.

if khushi had not jumped up and run around the counter and caught hold of him, he would have passed out on the floor.

she steadied him and tried to keep him standing, but she was no match for his weight, he slid down on the floor anyway, though she managed to let him slide down gently... she made him lean against a counter, half sitting... and went to fetch water... she had to revive her customer.

she sprinkled ice cold water on his face, once, then again... then in a frenzy...

why wasn't he opening his eyes!!

"stop it!" his voice was weak, the words were slurring..." sweet... gimme something sweet..."

"par... you're diabetic... anjali ji..." khushi looked at him flustered, feeling a little useless.

hey devi maiyya, what if something happened to this man and all because of her stupidity. she prayed hard to her dear goddess, promising to give a kilo of jalebis in offering if she made sure arnav singh raizada got up and walked out of the shop, absolutely hearty and healthy... even nasty.

"now!" he commanded. even in that state he sounded dangerous.

khushi leapt up and fetched a jalebi and held it to his lips.

"sugar..." he murmured, "not sugar free... sugar..."

she nodded frantically, her eyes getting darker with concern.

he managed to stir up and took a bite of the jalebi.

snap.

the crumbly crunchy dessert she was an expert at making, broke.

she felt a sigh leave her and realised she had been holding her breath.

he chewed slowly on the sweet delicious confection. it tasted good... he could feel his dizziness subside... he reached up for another bite and accidentally her finger slipped into his mouth for an instant.

she started at the moist touch of his lips and tongue and drew back her hand hastily.

he looked at her with eyes suddenly focussing... this time his eyes decided to settle on her slightly parted lips, he noticed she wore a pale pastel pink shade of lipstick, her lips were moist and glistening, there was a childlike tilt to them at the corners and she seemed to be breathing very fast.

he had an insane desire to lean forward and kiss her.

"pack the jalebis and give me your bill!" he said brusquely.

she stood up quickly and started doing just that.

what was that funny feeling she'd had just a moment ago? when he was looking at her, his eyes still not quite sharp, his gaze on her lips... had she wanted to actually lean forward and...

khushi blushed to a beetroot red and quickly keyed in the bill.

when he walked out of the shop she felt suddenly very alone.

he put the jalebis on the seat next to him in the white suv he always drove no matter where he was. his eyes rested on the packet for a moment.

then he called di and said, "i hope you have invited lavanya to the party.."

"chhotey!" squealed di, "since when are you so interested in your birthday party... don't worry, i have invited everybody i should!"

"everybody? you don't know anyone here, di," asr said curtly and put the phone down. he could here di laughing. impossible.

***

"chhotey! come here!" di called out to asr, there were balloons and streamers up all over the beachfront house they'd rented for the short stay, also fairy lights.

ridiculous.

di was unstoppable once she had a thought in her head.

every year they struggled with his birthday, ultimately she threw a party and he walked around stiffly being greeted by everybody and finding it all absolutely stupid.

arnav singh raizada had grown up mostly in new delhi... even after years of education in schools abroad, his accent held onto a trace of his city...

stoopid.

that's how he pronounced stupid and that was the only thing to call this year's party too.

a whole lot of guests milled around. where had di even met them! ah, captain raina had been invited too... he saw di hobble across to welcome him the moment he walked in.

something caught at asr's throat.

he had never seen his sister walk "normally". he had never seen her run. if there were a fire in the room, di would not be able to run out...

polio.

maa had said di was about three when it struck and left his sister handicapped forever. her left leg never recovered, between callipers and special shoes, she learned to manage to walk somehow. he wasn't even born then. she was seven years older, now thirty three, in charge of bridal wear and traditional india at ar... still single.

he strode over to di as she greeted captain raina and peered down at her...

"haan, chhotey?" she asked a little surprised.

"aap... theek hain na, di?"

(you're okay, aren't you, di?)

he had been off hand and short with her the entire day.. she hadn't said a thing, just gone about organising the do.

anjali put a hand on her brother's cheek and said with a smile, "of course, i'm fine... chhotey, it's your birthday, i am not just fine, i am happy... okay?"

he looked at her for a moment, shrugged and gave a little smile before walking away.

as she had said "birthday" he'd remembered a pink conical hat talking to him.

he went straight to lavanya and drew her outside onto the stretch of verandah that led to the beach. lavanya was looking splendid in her off the shoulder white evening gown, her dark tan gleamed seductively against the white... her face as always was made up beautifully, her hair was swept up in an elegant french pleat and she carried a single botega evening purse as accessory. no jewellery. of course six inch heels by jimmy choo, her absolute passion.

he decided he had to stop the hat from making any further appearance in his mind. or make any conversation with him.

he began to draw la into his arms, she sailed in willingly, but just as he was about to bend his head and claim her eager lips, he heard a voice mutter, "abhi devilry hai uss pe dhyan de..."

(there's devilry, concentrate on that...)

devilry.

what could that hat have been talking about... no... not the hat... the girl!

"asr!" la said in a sultry voice, complaining... he realised he had forgotten she was even there while lavanya was clinging to him, her arms around his neck.

he took a deep breath and was about to get back to doing what he was sure he had to when di's "chhotey! come here!" interrupted him.

***

"have you met khushi ji, chhotey? she's the jalebi maker at cynthia's lovely heavenly bakery... oooh what a find... i must say i am pleased with myself... chhotey, meet cynthia... do you know she's italian american? and she's promised to tell me how to make the pasta so that it's just right... al dente... that's what cynthia said... you know, cynthia, chhotey loves pasta and at home it's always over cooked! come cynthia, let me introduce you to my mami ji and mama ji, and the rest... chhotey... take care of khushi ji, will you?"

both asr and khushi had stood stock still during the introduction, di had not let anyone speak anyway...

now asr managed a brief smile at the good looking american woman anjali said was the owner of heavenly bakery. she was wearing a black evening gown with a flamboyant shawl thrown over her shoulders which had bold red roses splashed across. she wore red, white and black spats on her feet and a bold red necklace with cascading beads around her neck. her eyes were startlingly blue.

"you met khushi this evening, didn't you, mr raizada?!" cynthia a decapri said with a smile. her wise eyes and forever romantic heart had picked on something as the two young people stood without saying a word, just looking at each other.

"uh??!" asr seemed at a loss, then recovering quickly he said, "yes, yes, of course... di.. uhm... i did meet... khushi... at the shop..."

"of course you did!" cynthia laughed and winked, "i had to step out for some medicines, anjali, and that's when your handsome brother came to get his jalebi... did you try it? was it good?" she looked at asr and raised a perfectly arched eyebrow.

di started to drag cynthia away, "uff, that red lipstick looks so good on you, cynthia... i love red lipstick, but it looks horrid on me!" anjali said, pouting.

cynthia laughed and countered, "just a question of finding the right red, my dear... i like shiraz more than chanel i must say," she giggled as anjali handed her a glass of wine.

no one noticed the two women wink at each other before walking up to the guests.


***

she was wearing a pink and purple concoction now, he noticed.

tight churidaar, short tight kurta, a neatly pleated dupatta lying across her throat and falling over her shoulders, golden gota, pink pompoms. her plait was a bit off centre and really tightly braided... pompoms hung in a cluster near the nape of her neck. she carried a cloth bag in maroon with loads of mirror work, her fingers were clutching the strap tightly while she looked down at her feet and stared hard.

"forgot your hat?" he asked softly.

she instantly looked up as he knew she would. she had felt sort of fluttery when he just now said her name.

the "kh" had sounded like you could touch it. no one said her name like that. not even babu ji. khushi felt tears sting the back of her eyes.

it was a huge house... really beautiful and there were so many people all around. yet she knew no one. only cynthia ji... and anjali ji had whisked her away...

"tum theek ho?" the man asked, his voice was brusque, as before... and again she heard something in it... as before.

(are you alright?)

she looked up and smiled brightly, "haan... don't worry, arnav... ji... you go to birthday party, i will take care... main theek hoon..."

(yes... don't worry, arnav... ji... you go to birthday party, i will take care... i am alright...)

she looked all of ten he thought as she said that, trying to be brave... strong... he looked around at the sophisticated crowd all around, smartly dressed people adept at socialising, very comfortable with having money and enjoying it, completely at home here on this expensive property where one of india's wealthiest young men's elder sister was throwing an indulgent, no... over indulgent, birthday party for her twenty six year old brother.

he took a long breath and put a hand under her elbow, "come!" he said to her beginning to propel her forward, fully expecting her to listen to his command.

she looked into his eyes squarely for a moment. he was startled at how clear her hazel eyes looked.

***

khushi stood in the verandah looking at the play of moonlight on the ocean surface. it seemed to her like a sheet of glass, endless and boundless, was spread over the earth, holding it in place... and only the moon was allowed to step on it and dance.

jiji would love miami, khushi thought. and again felt a pang of home sickness. cynthia ji had come to lucknow on her first visit to india just a few months ago, said it was a birthday treat her husband had given her, because she believed in her past life she was indian. khushi had no idea about past lives, but she felt cynthia ji was indian even in this life... she was warm,  friendly, felt like family in no time... and oh how she loved indian food.

in fact, it was her love for jalebis at her babu ji's mithai shop and her repeated visits that had brought about their friendship.

later when she had heard that khushi had an uncle in miami, she'd suggested this fantastic idea... why not let khushi come to miami and teach her some of the mithais she was so good at making, for a very handsome fee of course... that way, she'd travel to another part of the world and meet her family there as well... have a completely new experience.

it was what cynthia ji had called a "win-win" situation.

it had been that too. but today, almost a month into her two month stay, khushi was suddenly missing her family.

maybe it was this party... anjali ji, nani ji, mami ji mama ji, such a nice family, and they were in a way from lucknow too... how much anjali ji loved her brother, just like jiji loved her...

she felt a little sob rising and quickly got up to fob it off dashing into a man who had just walked into that part of the verandah.

"hey, lady!" the man's words were slurring... khushi started, there was an unfamiliar smell in the air.

"are you alone, sweetheart?" the man spoke again, now lurching toward her.

khushi panicked... she had never been confronted by a drunk person before... she made to walk past the man... she could hardly see him in the darkness, it was the most secluded spot in the long verandah.

"c'mon, honey... where are you going? huh! come here," she felt a beefy large hand grab her upper arm and she was about to shriek when the hand let her go suddenly... she fell backward against the railing and held it to steady herself.

"don't you dare touch her!" she heard arnav singh raizada's furious voice.

"sorry shorry shorry, didn't realise i was steppin' on toes, man..." the man mumbled picking himself up from the floor where he'd landed when asr gripped him by the collar and hauled him off khushi.

khushi saw arnav singh raizada standing there looking at her and a sense of relief washed over her.

without thinking, she threw herself into his arms and clutched his shoulders tight.

he could feel her slight frame against him, she was breathing hard, her heartbeat hammered against him. his arms lifted of their own accord and went around her, holding her secure and tight.

"it's okay, khushi... you're okay..."

she rested her head against his chest and listened to his heartbeat... he was a complete stranger... he shouted... he said terrible things... and yet, she felt safe here.

hey devi maiyya, raksha karna... maybe she'd had too many jalebis and it had messed up her head.

he was stroking her hair gently and holding her like he had always held her just that way, here by the ocean, by the moon, on this verandah.

maybe he had... who knew... amma said there were many things in the universe that we didn't understand, that we perhaps never will... but that doesn't mean they aren't there, they aren't true.

she felt her nerves settle and then she heard a sound. this was a familiar noise. it was her stomach rumbling.

she was hungry. food... she needed food.

she lifted her head and looked up at him and again words that shouldn't slip out, did... "aap toh buddhe bilkul nahin hain.."

(you are not at all old...)

he looked at the innocent unspoilt face, "so you don't like old men... only young ones..." he had to say it, if not for anything, to see the eyes look shocked, then angry.

she opened her mouth to protest.

this time he didn't stop himself from leaning forward and kissing her.

khushi's eyes grew round, and she told herself sternly, this man was a khadoos bad laad governor and she must move away. but she didn't.

who did he think he was... she would slap him when he had finished kissing her she decided, call him "makkar, kaminey, besharam..." tell him her hero salman khan would give him dhishum dhishum like that and like that and have him flat on the floor...

(lout, cretin, shameless)

yes, she would do all that after he was done with this kiss...


***
anjali and cynthia hi-fived giddily, now both completely sozzled...

"it was a great plan to let them meet in the shop, cynthia!" said anjali, her words not very crisp, the wine was very potent... "shhhmart of you to shhay you have to buy medishins..."

"but, anjaaahli, i never planned that!!" cynthia said shaking her index finger and head, "no... not me," she took a large gulp of wine.

"i thought they could meet at the shop, but i didn't know i would need to suddenly rush out for medic...cccines... you know. the headache jushtt came from nowhere and i had to go to the drugstore... and jussht then... your brother arrived... how strange! how do you say in hindi, my dear... ajeeb!" cynthia elongated the "a" of this hindi word she'd picked up on her trip to india and made it sound very american.

she was sounding quite inebriated too and
totally happy "and you, my smart indian ladki, were the one who spotted khushi the moment you walked in and decided she was just what your brother needed... niiishe birrrthday gift.. huh! by the way, where is that handsome pilot of yours who can't take his eyes off you..."

anjali blushed and took another sip of the excellent shiraz. and they both continued to shamelessly look at two people on the verandah from behind the long curtains in the living room.



***

"what's devilry...?" he murmurred against her ear holding her in his arms and swaying slightly to the beat of the music that wafted out and filled the night.

"devilry... huh!" she stopped moving and frowned, then she grinned and said, "dilivry, arnav ji, dilivry... aapko jalebi dilivri karni thi na..."

(delivery, arnav ji, delivery... had to deliver the jalebis to you...)

he realised she had had her hat over her face when she'd said that... and started laughing.

she could see his eyes glinting like pebbles in a stream... and what was that? her heart was beating wildly all of a sudden. this had to be acidity... she must eat.

he pushed back a tendril off her forehead and tucked it behind her ear.

"you look good in a hat," he said, "want to have a coffee with me tomorrow?"

khushi's acidity pelted.


 






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episode rambles
 
 





 

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