Thursday, 29 October 2015

not cut out for love: chapter 30

asr stroked khushi's cheek distractedly as she lay among the crisp white sheets of the sprawling bed in the hotel room. they were both winded by all that had happened that day. he'd been sitting with her on his lap, holding her, gently nuzzling, letting a sense of calm return for they both needed it badly.

without realising, they'd moved and settled into the comfort of the fluffy pillows, the plush mattress and the layers of fine egyptian cotton. it was late afternoon, the sun had started dipping sending long slanted rays into the room. shadows sat in the corners, dappled light played on the furniture.

asr could feel peace begin to settle in him. he had noticed this of late, an unfamiliar feeling really. it was complete and unequivocal like the shade of a large tree or the smell of earth after rain. it stayed in him making contact, soothing, and he had no memory of such a feeling in the longest time.

yet, ever since this girl... his mind checked him and said "khushi!"... yes, ever since khushi had come into his world... this funny new sensation... when had he felt it last?

asr halted his thoughts. he did not trust this feeling. happiness, peace... these were myths really. people needed these to cajole themselves into going through the reality that was life. and the reality was harsh, merciless, without remorse.

someone always got hurt in it. or died.

he would fight reality knowing what it was, not running away to made up emotions, make believe escape strategies.

asr grimaced, throwing off the feeling of peace he couldn't bring himself to allow in.

"aap theek hain?" her voice was drowsy yet full of concern.

(are you alright?)

asr stiffened involuntarily. he was not used to anyone really caring about his state of mind. he preferred to be by himself when troubled and rarely invited sympathy or even empathy.

he tried not to look at her. because he knew that usually was his undoing.

he felt her hand cover his, he had not stopped caressing her cheek he noted... and cursed himself under his breath.

her hand was soft and cool, she curved her fingers over his and gave a slight squeeze.

he could feel a shiver start at the base of his spine and shoot right up his back to his neck.

he tried to stay aloof, away from that gentleness, the softness he craved yet resisted with all his might.


you could never give in. that only brought pain. nothing else. he would never make that mistake.

but try as he might, he couldn't stop himself from turning and looking at her, from bending over to kiss her gently on her cheek, from sliding an arm around her and gathering her close, from pressing his head against hers as she turned her face into the crook of his neck and continued to snooze.

"sleep, khushi!" he muttered, patting her head. they would have to leave soon, there was the havan, he had to take khushi home then go over to shantivan with her.

but before that, there was a small gap of about half an hour. he stayed like that with her in his arms as she slumbered.

a little later, he shook khushi, "c'mon, khushi, wake up... tea time!"

"nahiin!" khushi mumbled, "i am not waking up, hotel ki chai nahin chahiye, mujhe sirf adrak wali chai pasand hai, this place is meant for laad..."

(no! not waking up... i don't want hotel tea, i only like ginger tea, this place is meant for laad...)

"khushi!" he was laughing but managed to sound threatening.

"haan!" she replied in the same tone.

then without warning, she jumped up and was standing in front of him, "now you'll say, 'khushi! drink tea,' i'll say, 'no, i won't!' you'll say, 'what the! how dare you say no?' i'll say, 'i can say what i want to say!' then you'll shout,'what nonsense, apni aukad dekhi hai?" and i'll yell back, 'aukad? just because you have money doesn't mean you can say anything!' you'll shake me then, i'll start crying... arnav ji, will we always be screaming and shouting like this... even after... after..." and khushi made such a pitiable face, asr couldn't help but burst out laughing.

(then you'll shout, 'what nonsense, have you seen your status?' literal translation Big smile and i'll yell back, 'status? just because you have money doesn't mean you can say anything'...)

a veil of lightness lifted the entire moment, even the shadows looked lighter.

khushi stopped talking and stared at the face of the man she was going to marry in four days. his head was thrown back, strong white teeth gleamed as he guffawed, there were crinkles at the corner of his eyes, his skin was brown and taut and shining and she felt like running her fingers along the ridges on his cheeks.

khushi swallowed violently. if he looked this good all the time, it would be difficult to concentrate on anything. maybe in a way it was good he was such a khadoos. "hey devi maiyya, whatever you do you do for the best!" she thought frantically. she so wanted to kiss him just then.

he looked at her with knowing eyes, and an eyebrow went up.


akash was in a pensive mood.

billo mausi had called him badmash and besharam. how strange, thought akash, no one in his entire life had called him anything like that. on the contrary, in fact; he was always seen as the sweet, decent, calm and gentle one. he was polite, he was kind, he was amazingly unaggressive around women, he disliked men being overbearing with those obviously less physically strong.

though he was over six feet tall, he held himself in a way that made him look of average height. and although he spent at least 45 minutes at the gym at shantivan every day, fitness being important to him, he never ever showed off his chiselled arms or torso, always preferring full sleeved shirts, cut straight, no tapering.

yet, today, when those words were hurled at him he had felt shocked no doubt, but now a strange desire flitted through his mind.

if only he could be besharam... even if just once. he missed payal ji. he wished he could pick her up right now and take her to a secluded place and lay her on a rose petal strewn bed...

he was shocked at his own thought... but persisted.

yes, on a soft, flower bedecked bed... and... and...

kiss her... on the cheeks. he wondered if he should go further and decided he wanted to... he'd kiss her on her perfect pert lips, she had such lovely full lips. he would kiss her... he would touch her...

hair... she had thick glossy dark hair, it was always tied in a plait... he wanted to loosen the braid, let her hair run through his fingers.

payal ji... no. he would call her payal. yes... just that.

akash's eyes grew dreamy and a smile spread across his face.

just then the phone rang. he picked it up without checking who the caller was.

"yes?" akash said trying to sound composed.

"i love you... akash ji" it was a girl's voice. akash blinked. payal ji!

"payal ji!" akash sounded completely foxed. then he paused and gathered his thoughts. when he spoke again, he sounded very sure.

"payal... will you come out with me... alone, for a bit? i am missing you, i want to see you!" payal wondered why she was suddenly almost breathless. did he just call her payal? uff, billo mausi would have found that so besharam.

payal smiled tremulously and hugged the phone to her ear, "yes... akash... no ji," she whispered, "i'll wait for you... and you didn't say..."

"i love you, payal," he whispered back, then disconnected.

payal decided she would take along a couple of hot samosas for their date.

"and who are you whispering sweet nothings to, my friend?" lavanya's voice was full of laughter, she had just walked into akash's office.

"er.. ahem... woh.." akash reached for his specs, he was too decent a man to feel comfortable about anyone overhearing his conversation with payal... no ji, he thought feeling happy. he gave a bemused smile and peered up at la.

"okay, akash," lavanya sat down across from him and fixed him with a sombre look,"i need to talk to you about something."

"yes, tell me lavanya," akash replied a little perturbed. la was sounding serious underneath that flippant air.

"akash... i am worried about asr. very... very worried," lavanya started, "i know no one is talking about it... because perhaps no one wants to upset me, they think i am recovering from that accident... but akash, fact of the matter is, this is not really about me... don't you see?"

she leaned forward and there was such a deeply concerned look in her eyes, akash wondered what the matter was.

"it is really about asr! akash, someone is trying to frame him... to harm him... don't you see? the call, the car... it is all so clear!" she shook her head exasperatedly, "and look at asr... he couldn't care less. never ever does he take care of himself!"

akash stared at lavanya taking in her words. it was true.

in all the excitement of the weddings and engagement and all that, even he had overlooked the matter. guilt began to creep up on him. how could he have been so remiss? it was bhai who was being framed... and...

"ptcha!" akash sighed and said with a grimace, "you know, lavanya, you are right. how could we all forget that? and i have been so... but who could possibly want to harm bhai? and that too like that? also la, don't make any mistakes, this person meant you harm as well..."

"i know i know, akash!" la was impatient and strident as she was wont to be, "the man wanted to kill me... but he couldn't, right? but still why would he want to make asr the scapegoat if he were only after me? think, akash, think... it is really asr this fellow is after... i am sure of it!"

the two of them took a minute to digest this surmise and again the phone rang.

akash blushed instantly. a part of his mind that he had no control over pranced up and said, that must be payal. akash admonished the errant thought and picked up the phone.

"akash bhai?" it was di... and she sounded excited, "please, on your way back from office go to lakshminagar and pick up payal ji and her family... we have a havan at home and nani has invited everyone. i have spoken to payal ji's mother, just pick them up, okay, bas... i better rush, your jija ji wants to take me somewhere... today only he wants to go, see? in the middle of all this..."

"okay, di," akash started to say, when lavanya interrupted...

"anjali!" she grinned at akash, "give me the phone, i haven't spoken to her in ages... i must congratulate her!"

she grabbed the phone from akash and chimed, "anjali... congratulations, such good news... baby... wow!"

anjali was always fond of this girl her brother had a friendship with. she was different and certainly not very traditional, but anjali liked her upbeat nature and her openness.

"hello, lavanya, thanks" anjali giggled happily, then said, "but tell me, how are you? i heard about the terrible accident... are you alright? chhotey was so worried..."

"no, no, i am fine, just glanced me, that nasty white suv..." la said dismissive almost of the incident.

"white suv?" anjali sounded nonplussed. lavanya realised anjali had no idea and she wished she had held her tongue, obviously asr didn't want to worry his sister in this state... and now she, la, had gone and said that...

she rushed in changing the subject, "guess what, anjali, you know the funniest thing happened in bali... i saw this man with his girl friend out on a romantic date, he had his arms around her, all cootchie cooing in the dark... and would you believe it, he looked exactly like your husband. ditto. believe me..." la went on blithely not noticing the silence at the other end.

"yeah... it was funny, i actually stopped and stared almost... then i realised i must be seeing things... i know your husband couldn't be there... anyway, you know na, they say we all have our lookalikes in this world, i think we are supposed to have seven people who are identical to us... anjali, you there? is the line dead?" la stopped when she heard nothing.

"no... no... lavanya, i am here," anjali spoke quietly, "that is... so interesting, i must tell shyam ji... he was in australia actually when you all went to bali... okay, bye then and take care, lavanya..." anjali's gentle voice made la feel terrible.

she had said two things to anjali, whom she rather liked, and both related in a sort of uncomfortable, even negative way to the two men she was closest to. what is wrong with me, la thought and made a face.

"you saw someone who looks like jija ji in bali, la?" akash's voice cut into her remorseful reverie.

"yes, akash..." la said wanly, "of course, it wasn't shyam... but yeah... looked just like him... now see, i have said all the wrong things to anjali... i really think i need to get away for a while... maybe after the show, i will go to paris and do the ooh la la french thing for some time..."

akash knew this bright young woman may have many faults but her feelings for asr were genuine and strong. she was bound to be shaken by the big change in her life. bhai was going to marry khushi and it was pretty apparent to anyone looking at them that he was completely in love with her.

"hey, la," akash patted her hand, "take it easy... you're okay... now let's crack this one about who is after asr, shall we?"


hemangini raizada looked around the hall and the pooja room adjoining, anjali bitiya had done such a marvelous job of decorating it. her grand daughter had an eye for detail which always amazed and pleased hemangini. it showed interest, taste and a good mind, the proud grandmother smiled.

such a joy, her only grand daughter.

even though she had been afflicted all her life and then to have faced the terrible tragedy of losing both her parents, in that unimaginably difficult manner... and her wedding having to be called off the same evening...

hemangini shook her head, it was so wonderful to see anjali bitiya had stayed healthy and centred in her mind. she hadn't lost hope or the will to carry on. of course, nani ji knew, her grandson had a lot to do with that.

she would never forget how chhotey had handled the whole thing. she had been worried, he was his mother's boy... how would he cope? after that night had come the ignominy and helplessness of being turned out of their own home... sheesh mahal.

nani ji shuddered remembering those days. and chhotey. how he had withstood everything. overnight he seemed to grow up. he was brother, father, friend, everything to anjali. how hard he worked and with such focus. there was no other choice perhaps, but how hemangini wished her grandson were not robbed of something that used to light up her daughter ratna's life, no matter how harsh her marriage became.

her chhotey's smile.

nani ji sighed deeply, now that chhotey was marrying khushi bitiya, maybe that would come back at last.

oh she knew her grandson well enough to know he would not be rushing around grinning from ear to ear, but within him... maybe there the smile was coming back?

"nani ji," shyam sounded elated, he had just walked into the room. hemangini raizada beamed at him. damad ji had made her bitiya so happy, and he was a really amiable young man, knowledgeable about the shastras unlike her very modern young grandsons.

"say, damad ji, what's the matter?" she asked pleasantly.

"nothing, nani ji, just wanted to let you know i am taking your grand daughter, my wife, out for a little surprise, we'll be back soon... so please don't worry... " shyam said with an ingratiating smile.

"surprise?" nani ji was pleased, "haan haan zaroor jaiye, anjali bitiya, you have done enough, now go with damad ji... the rest om prakash will manage..."

(surprise? yes yes do go... anjali, you have done enough, now go with our son in law... the rest om prakash will manage...)

"hello hi bye bye!" mami ji came rushing in, "who eej goingj bherej? me manorma goingj parlour..." then she saw her mother in law and mumbled, "mistakes hui gawa..." loudly now she averred, "me goingj mandirwa, i bhills be backs soons, anjali bitiya, you needings anything? i can do ebhrythings you bhants... go and hab phuns, my girls, hab phuns... okay?"

(hello hi bye bye! who's going where? i am going to the parlour... ooops mistake... i am going to the temple, i'll be back soon, anjali, do you need anything? i can do everything you want... go and have fun, my girl, have fun, okay?)

"going to the temple, are you?" said mama ji strolling in, "come, i'll drop you, i am going that way today, meeting some people close by..."

"hain? naahin naahin, bhy you bothers, i takes the other cars, don't bhants to disturbiya you, no?" mami ji said with alacrity.

(huh? no no, don't bother, i'll take the other car, don't wish to disturb you...)

mama ji's lips twitched, he said, "it's no bother at all, manorama, don't worry, whichever way you are going i'll go that way... don't i always?"

mami ji tossed her head a little angrily, then again catching her mother in law's eyes, changed her demeanour and smiled sweetly at her husband, "let us go thens... hello hi bye bye!" she trilled.

nani ji shook her head again... marriages, she thought, yes, they are really made in heaven. and heaven indeed help some marriages.


"hello, akash?" asr was driving back with khushi, the blue tooth earpiece was clipped to his ear and he had been pretty much constantly on the phone ever since they had left the hotel.

traffic was getting thicker, arnav singh raizada was not known to be patient with the din and clutter of the rush hour road. every once in a way he swore under his breath but kept on talking to various people.

when khushi heard akash ji's name, she looked up...

"what? di told you to pick up payal and her family? okay... but khushi is with me, i'll take her home and maybe bua ji and khushi can come with me... okay... what?!!! what did you say?!"

khushi started as arnav ji's voice went up a few notches. he sounded abrupt, worried. what had happened?

"no... no..." asr seemed to be trying to calm down, "it's okay, i'll talk to her... i'll tell you what, you take everyone home, i'll bring khushi..."

khushi watched silently as he pulled over to the side of the road and started making a call, he looked tense, his fingers moved very fast, almost jittery.

khushi could see he was agitated.

he waited a while then tried the number again. and again. every once in a way he said, "damn!" under his breath but didn't look at her or say anything.

khushi hoped everything was okay... of late there had been so many things happening...

"hello? arnav singh raizada speaking... yes, please tell me where he is... i need to find him... now!"

he finished the call, then slammed the steering wheel with his bare hand. khushi was aghast, "arnav ji!" she caught hold of his hand without thinking...

"how could i've been so stupid, dammit!" he exploded, "i should have told them to inform me if shyam ever left the house with di alone... how could i!!"

khushi was horrified, so shyam ji had gone somewhere with anjali ji... and was someone keeping an eye on shyam ji? maybe it was just a harmless trip... khushi was about to open her mouth and try to calm arnav ji down, then she shut up.

the vision of shyam ji at happy ji's garage rose up before her eyes. he was driving a white suv which he wanted to paint black.

khushi shivered, a worry for anjali ji beginning to spark off in her too.

this man was not good, he was not safe to be around. what if he harmed anjali ji...

khushi looked at arnav ji with desperate eyes.

he was looking straight ahead, his face had lost colour, his jaw had hardened to a sharp angular stillness, his eyes glinted dangerously.

he made a jerky movement, it was the phone.

"ok.. ok... greater kailash part one, e-27... got it! get the police there... RIGHT now... i'm coming!"

he began driving.

"i don't want you caught up in this, khushi. let me ask akash or aman to pick you up at moolchand..." he started instructing khushi looking straight ahead.

"nahin, arnav ji... i am not going anywhere. i am coming with you..." khushi said clearly.

"i said..." asr was already gritting is teeth.

"i heard what you said," khushi said calmly, "but i am not listening to you, i am coming..."

"khushi!" he sounded really angry.

"arnav ji, is this the time to waste on this pointless argument? you know you have to hurry..." she sounded so reasonable, it was hard to argue.

he concentrated on driving.

there was silence for a while. then he said, "she is not answering her phone!"

she could hear the fear gripping his voice.

she tried dialling anjali ji's number. there was no answer.

khushi closed her eyes and prayed, "hey devi maiyya... raksha karna... keep anjali ji safe, keep di safe..." she kept her thoughts targeted on her prayer.

e-27 in greater kailash part one was a simple three storey house, it looked freshly painted, the garden however was not well maintained, the grass was overgrown and the plants looked wild and dry.

asr stopped the car right in front of the gate and got out swiftly, running into the driveway. khushi followed him.

they came to the main door of the house, he looked around wondering for a second what would be the best course of action. then he simply tried to open the door and walk in.

the door was unlocked. they were inside the house... no one seemed to be about.

asr looked at the staircase to their left leading up. a wild look had started to enter his eyes.

getting here was one thing but now that he was where he had been told shyam had brought di, a frantic worry and a sense of foreboding had quickly set in.

where was di?

"di!" he called out, "di! di!"

the doors of all the rooms on the ground floor were open, a smell of paint in the air.

he turned and caught hold of khushi's hand and started racing up the stairs with her. she could see him wincing every now and then.

his ankle.

he had hurt his ankle just the other day.

he was about to call out to di when they reached the third storey, but suddenly they heard voices.

"no! no! do as i tell you... exactly as i tell you... " it was shyam and he sounded almost threatening.

"par, shyam ji, aap humey kahan le jaa rahe hain? why have you blindfolded me?" di was confused, she seemed to be laughing...

(but, shyam ji, where are you taking me? why have you blindfolded me?)

"you'll see, raanisahiba... you'll see," shyam's voice made the hair on the back of khushi's neck rise. he sounded like he was gloating. hey devi maiyya, she thought, keep di safe. she realised not for a second had she stopped calling devi maiyya ever since she'd heard shyam had spirited anjali away somewhere.

asr said "shit!" under his breath and the next instant he was flying toward the door from behind which they could hear di and shyam ji.

he flung open the door, rushed in and his blood nearly froze at the sight before his eyes.

di stood there with a dark blindfold across her eyes. shyam stood just by her, holding a large pair of scissors.

shyam was gaping at the unexpected visitors, for a moment completely thrown.

arnav singh raizada didn't want to lose the advantage of surprise, he knew you couldn't underestimate the enemy.

he lunged forward and fell on shyam, grabbing the scissors. together they rolled onto the floor.

anjali shouted, "what happened? who's that? shyam ji!!"

khushi ran into the room and caught hold of anjali's hand.

"di, di... hum khushi... don't worry, sab theek ho jayga... aap theek hain, arnav ji bhi yahan hain..." khushi said urgently to anjali trying to calm her as she took off the terrible blindfold. what game was that monster playing, she wondered.

(di, di, it's me, khushi... don't worry, everything will be alright... you're okay, arnav ji is also here...)

anjali blinked a few times when the tie came off her eyes and looked at the two men on the floor, her eyes flew to khushi, horrified.

"chhotey! what are you doing?" she screamed as asr caught hold of shyam by his collar and started punching him on the face.

"leave shyam ji! i said leave him! LEAVE HIM, CHHOTEY!" anjali screamed.

asr went on hitting shyam.

khushi tried to hold anjali, anjali pushed her aside and went limping to where the two wrestled on the floor.

"don't come near my sister, you scum... don't... you... dare!" asr ground out between clenched teeth as he hit shyam a few more times.

"chhotey! what are you DOING?" anjali shouted again.

shyam was flailing, almost collapsing by now. asr seemed to hear di at last. he looked in her direction, his eyes red rimmed, frenzied.

he said trying to sound as normal as he could, "di! get away from here... main hoon! aap ko kuch nahin hone doonga... di!"

(di! get away from here, i am here, i won't let anything happen to you!)

anjali bent down convulsively and grabbed his hand trying to pull him away from shyam.

"di! shyam is cheating on you, di... and he tried to kill lavanya the other day... today he was going to... going to..." asr couldn't finish his sentence, he got up and caught hold of di in his arms.

shyam was too winded to get up. he writhed around on the floor trying to get up.

"kill lavanya, cheating on me? kya BAKWAS kar rahe ho, chhotey... don't forget you are talking to me about my husband!" di sounded angry and stern, she pushed asr away and started to kneel down to assist her shyam ji.

(kill lavanya, cheating on me? what NONSENSE, chhotey... don't forget you are talking to me about my husband!)

asr caught her by the shoulders and pulled her away. he was adamant, she was not going anywhere near shyam.

khushi looked at asr, he looked stricken. she looked at shyam, was there a smile on his face? khushi frowned.

"di! he had those huge scissors in his hands, he wanted to kill you! don't you see? di.. di!" asr's voice grew urgent, "i didn't want you to find out like this, i promise, but you can't be with that... that..."

"raanisahiba, aap theek hain?" shyam whimpered looking helplessly at anjali.

(raanisahiba, are you okay?)

"now saaley saab has accused me of so many things, i feel embarrassed to even say it... but woh dekhiye, in that corner... i wanted you to inaugurate that, which is why i was carrying those scissors."

now my brother in law has accused me of so many things, i feel embarrassed to even say it... but look over there, in that corner... i wanted you to inaugurate that, which is why i was carrying those scissors.)

anjali had started crying by now, she raised her tearful eyes, asr and khushi followed her gaze.

in the corner of the room sat a beautiful baby cot, around it was tied a wide red satin ribbon.

khushi drew in her breath sharply looking around the room. there were pretty motifs on the white walls, one wall was candy striped in pink, blue, yellow and white. the closets were finshed in a pastel cream shade, there was a chest of drawers on one side and a plastic table for toddlers with four plastic chairs in blue and yellow tucked around it.

it was a nursery, she realised.

anjali was sobbing by now, "he brought me here to show me the house he had quietly bought for us... he got it ready all by himself... a surprise for me... he was just bringing me to this room which he must have decorated with so much love... and you, chhotey, are telling me he wanted to kill me? how could you, chhotey? how could you behave like this? what is the matter with you? why can't you leave the past behind? why are you doing this to me?"

asr looked around aghast, yet he could smell a trap in this. he tried to put an arm around di, but again she pushed him away.

"di, i am sorry to tell you, shyam is seeing another woman... we have proof," asr said quietly.

"proof? we?" di looked at him, incredulously, "you have had shyam ji followed?"

shyam whimpered and fell back on the floor.

before asr could say anything, they heard footsteps rapidly coming up the stairs. it was the police.

"please, inspector, that is shyam manohar jha, i believe you have evidence that the car that hit miss lavanya kashyap a couple of nights ago is his..." asr greeted the officer.

things happen at a curiously disjointed and almost mechanical way at times, even when emotions are running high and there's a sense of disbelief spreading.

the police took shyam away.

but before leaving, he caught hold of anjali's hands suddenly and wept, "raanisahiba, this is all a misunderstanding, everything will be alright and don't be too angry with arnav... he means well, he is just misguided... i told you he was being too quick in taking decisions these days..." he gave a funny sideways glance to khushi as he said that.

then he smiled almost pleasantly at asr and left with the police.

anjali stood still and expressionless watching him go. khushi looked at arnav ji, he was looking even worse now...

"di!" he said as he took a step toward anjali.

anjali swayed slightly and began to crumple. by the time he reached her and held her tight in his arms she was unconscious.


without you: chapter 30

"there will be today, there will be tomorrow, there will be always,
and there was yesterday, and there was the day before..."

~~~ leo tolstoy, war and peace ~~~

lips pursed, concentrating, he frowned at the laptop screen as the stewardess came silently and placed another cup of black coffee on the arm rest. a quick sharp gaze at her acknowledging her gesture and asr went back to work.

"sir, can i get you something to eat," shalini ali asked, she knew what the answer would be, yet it was her duty to ask.

"thanks, shalini, i'm fine..." asr sounded offhand, in his own world.

shalini looked at mrs raizada in the seat beside him and saw she was fast asleep. shalini withdrew from the private cabin, they had been flying for almost eight hours now, and as usual mr raizada had only had coffee and was immersed in his computer. she wondered about mrs raizada, should she awaken her? she had had a hearty lunch though, so maybe it was alright to let her sleep, they were to land around 4.30pm london time, she would serve some refreshments before that. there were cheese sandwiches for asr and  freshly made samosas and jalebis had been sent over from his home for mrs raizada. 

"hmmm?" khushi murmured in her sleep and her head flopped to one side.

he looked up thinking she was awake. she had been terrified during take off, gripping his hand tight, her eyes squeezed shut and muttering many prayers to devi maiyya sotto voce. yet this was not her first time in a plane he knew.

that had been a flight from delhi to lucknow, blindfolded. asr's teeth had clenched as he'd recalled the kidnap, sheesh mahal, everything. his eyes had flashed in anger, he'd looked away from her not wishing to let her see it.

they both needed to be away from everything for a while. just be together. that was all.

he leaned across and tucked a pillow under her head, he adjusted the seat so it was almost flat. then he sat looking at her for a few minutes.

the innocent curve of her cheek and the slight pout her lips settled in when she slept touched him whenever he caught sight of them. a lock of hair had as usual fallen forward over her temple and of course his fingers wanted to reach over and tuck it behind her ears as he had done so many times before. but before that... before that...

he bent closer and let his lips touch her cheek, the lightest little peck, his lips resting against her smooth skin just for an instant, brushing against it, feeling its taut springy touch... just an instant.

she felt the kiss and sighed.

her mouth opened slightly and she exhaled, a small gossamer breath slipped out and he felt its warmth against his cheek, his nose... a faint sound as she sighed... she seemed to whisper something under her breath, he couldn't catch what.

she always spoke of hamesha... eternity, his yes narrowed a little remembering. and in a tiny spec of time, a fleeting moment, eternity he felt was right here, in his hand. he'd caught it and it was there to stay.

he looked at khushi once more and brushed that errant tendril away, then he continued with his assessment of the new project in the uk. he hoped he would have the time to show her a bit of the city. he knew the two weeks were going to be quite packed with meetings and work.


winter was beginning to make its way to the northern hemisphere. there was a sharp chill in the air and as they walked out of heathrow, khushi's teeth chattered involuntarily though she was wearing a thick jacket and scarf.

"come here," his arm shot out and gripped her shoulder as he brought her close, "better?" he asked, one eyebrow lifting.

and though the breeze had a bite in it, khushi suddenly felt warm and a bit dizzy. she looked at him, eyes a little confounded. she couldn't quite understand why but arnav ji seemed to be somewhat different here, just like that... her heart rate was raised to an alarming level... her breath struggled and seemed to lose its way at the sight of him. hoonh, really he was a laad governor and this videsh must be like his own land to him.

she had noticed his ease when they got into the airport. people appeared from nowhere to attend to him, actually a rather beautiful woman in a very short skirt and smooth tights and slim heels it had been. she had smiled at arnav ji, said, "good evening, mr raizada, good to see you, do come this way," and whisked them through immigration.

khushi had never stepped outside india, in fact she'd barely left lucknow ever. they had gone to the family home in the little village nearby for some weddings and things at times. she had been to agra once and yes, now delhi and almost to nainital.

she had never seen an airport terminal either. her eyes darted all around as she took in the crowds, the massive proportions of the place, the high ceiling, the modern, metallic grey look, the air of rush and something expectant, excited all around. there were people of so many kinds... had she ever seen so many people from all over the world in one place? some were fair with golden hair, some absolutely dark, there were people who looked like they were from china and people who looked very angrez, or so she thought... they could be from anywhere...khushi's eyes began to grow a little rounder, it occurred to her what a huge world this really was. and completely unfamiliar. she felt a little nervous suddenly. would she be able to cope here? and surely she would have to speak to everyone in english. her arnav ji's favourite language, huh. khushi made a little face.

"aap ko taxi chahiye, madam?" a voice cut into her thoughts. she almost jumped. did someone speak to her in hindi just now? she must be hallucinating. she knew it she was not feeling too well, she should have told arnav ji...

(do you want a taxi?)

"taxi mil jayega, kahan jaana hai bataiye?" the voice spoke again.

(you can get a taxi, where are you going?)

so it was a real voice and it knew hindi. khushi turned around cautiously and peered. before her stood a slightly burly indian man with a rough face but a huge smile. khushi gaped and said, "n.. namaste..."

the man looked at her and waited.

"n..nahin hum..." she started to reply.

(no, we...)

"no thank you, we have a car," asr's voice was clipped as he looked at the man and declined the offer of a cab, he had made sure their luggage had been sent to the car and come up to join khushi.

now he was holding her close and smiling slightly at her, "ready for london, khushi kumari gupta singh raizada?" he asked.

khushi wished she could say something smart like, "is your london ready for khushi kumari gupta singh raizada, laad governor?" instead again she was left all flustered by his glittering eyes and that different air. she noted he was wearing a very long coat and that looked so much like a movie.


the forty five odd minute drive to belgravia was quiet. khushi was too engrossed in the passing scenery to say anything. the feeling of being in a completely new environment held sway and there was something alive and energetic in it. the roads were different, the houses, the trees, the skies... and all the houses they passed seemed to have beautiful greenery, leaves of many shades, some bright flowers also among them... there were little potted plants on tiny balconies, or creepers with a few blooms here and there, rose creepers clung to many walls and others whose names she didn't know. there were garden patches in some homes and some had lawns and manicured hedges; it was very obvious that people here liked their gardens.

just like her laad governor. her eyes strayed to him for a second as she thought that, and she saw his eyes were on her, a little smile played on his lips. the light was falling fast but she could sense the chocolate brown of his irises looking molten and fluid.

she felt a rush of extraordinary joy suddenly. had she ever imagined that one day she would be coming to a country so far away with a man she loved more than her life?

yes, it was the country that had ruled over her own land for many years and often done unfair things, but it was still a country which had beautiful things in it, she knew, and there were many wonderful people here, also things to see, to know, and she was really excited about her first trip outside india too.

lavanya ji had given her many ideas as to what to do here. she had even  made a list of what she call the "must dos" and had said should khushi feel the need for anything she must call her parents who lived in london itself.

but khushi knew as long as arnav singh raizada was with her, she would really need nothing else. 


it was not a very large apartment, but it felt so familiar, she felt at home the moment she walked in. the colours were his and so was the almost sparse austere air. grey, black, brown, white, clean lines, minimum clutter and large windows overlooking a view that rose in layers, the trees on the streets was closest, then came terraces, some with charming gardens and finally the city behind it rising to the stars above.

"like it?" he asked as she looked around. then he just pulled her into his arms and started kissing her.

she was taken aback and almost yelped. she even put up her hands involuntarily to push him away. he laughed and held her hand twisting it behind her.

"khushi, say it..." he said against her lips.

"kya?" she was confused.


"you still don't know?" his irises had gone dark, his hands were urgent. he lifted her swiftly into his arms and walked in, taking her to the bedroom. swiftly he took off his overcoat and helped her out of her jacket.

then he opened the curtains of the french windows lining one wall and outside against the dark, stretched lights, the glimmering lights of a vast city. they were on the fourth floor of a remodeled old townhouse in this quiet, beautiful neighbourhood in central london. a balcony ran alongside the windows, there were potted plants in planters hung on the railings outside and a palm tree in a large pot grew in one corner. it looked lovely from where khushi sat on the bed.

there was a simple chaise longue in silver grey velvet, a glass top csmal coffee table and a recessed wardrobe in the room. a plush dark grey carpet was at the foot of the bed, bedside tables on either side near the head. elegant floor lamps and a couple of bedside lamps threw interesting pools and eddies of light around the room.

khushi had noticed the houses along the tree lined streets were mainly pristine white and had a stately air, a calm enveloped everything. this was his little place, something like a "bachelor's pad" he had told her. he preferred to live here when work brought him to this city. he had bought the flat a few years ago and a well known designer had done it up for him, but it was just a necessity as far as he was concerned, a place of his own where he could work in peace and not have to see new unfamiliar hotel rooms on every trip.

she sat looking around the room wondering what he wanted her to say. he walked back to her and pulled her onto his lap as he sat on the chaise longue. he gently nuzzled the crook of her neck, kissed along the back of her neck, her nape, up to her ears... there was a relaxed languid air about him. as if he had not a care in the world.

the room settled down around them beginning to feel warm and welcoming. khushi realised this was the first time ever since they got married they would be living in a home all by themselves. just the two of them. and strangely enough, even though she absolutely loved living with family, in fact, she couldn't imagine living any other way, yet, she was filled with a sense of thrill at the thought that it was only arnav ji and herself for the next two weeks. no one else.

well, there was mrs higgs. the lady who came in regularly to make sure the place was clean and aired and the plants were taken care of. but she didn't live here.

and he had said he also had a car here, preferring to drive it himself, though he did say at the rate london was getting congested he wished he could just use his helicopter to move around. 

khushi giggled at the thought.

he tugged her closer to him and said, "what?"

"what nahin, what the kahiye," she retorted.

(not what, say, what the.)

"huh?" he was clearly more interested in doing what he was doing...

"you want to fly around all over the city of the sahibs... haan? laad governor kahinke!" she snuggled into him and tucked her head on his shoulder.

"hmm, at last she says it," he murmured, "remember who i am and obey me, d'you understand!" he chuckled and made sure she understood exactly what he wanted her to comply with.


he watched her as she slept on the chaise longue after they had made love. the silhouette of her profile, her breasts, her long flowing body. he never tired of looking at them... or wondering if he made her as happy as she made him.

as she lay there and the lights of london gleamed behind her in the night, he had a feeling of stars, of promises of a place away from here. 

it had been almost a year and nine months since the night he had dragged her with him to the temple and forced her to marry him.

his eyes registered the pain he felt, the pain he knew he had given her.

thoughts intruded.

they came  from another dark night when shots had rung out, two gun shots. he shuddered. no maa had not killed herself. it was chacha ji. and it was his wife's mother who had been the bait used. khushi's mother... his eyes closed in a helpless rage, his father had tried to molest her and she had escaped... but not really. ultimately no one had escaped. especially two women. he had always blamed the other woman, he had always thought she had played a game to trap his father and perhaps she had even wanted to get rid of his maa and take her place.

when dadi ji had accused garima aunty and she had not denied the fact... he had felt a curious sense of extreme disappointment but really no anger. he had known khushi's amma too well by then to know, she was no player of games.

he had felt unsettled, there was a feeling of something not quite right in the whole situation. a profound feeling of galat. wrong. but exactly where and what he had not been able to tell.

now he knew.

not khushi's amma, but khushi's own amma was the other woman... yet, was she even to blame. if anything... without his realising a sob settled in his heart. his uncle had taken khushi's parents away from her.

and worse still, his own father had tried to molest the mother of his wife.

asr's eyes glittered in the dark. a streak of danger in them. the malignancy of sheeshmahal seemed to spread and reach a room thousands of miles away. two women had been egregiously wronged. by his own father.

no, three women had been wronged. the third lay before him. and she was only eight then.

he got up slowly and went to the sitting room next door. he picked up a remote and pressed a button. the sombre aching notes of beethoven's moonlight sonata filled the room. he poured himself a scotch and stood by the window sipping it neat, not even a splash of water.


khushi stood before asr, shaking with rage, "why, why won't you tell me what i have done, how i have hurt you and why you have done this to me... forced me..." her eyes filled with tears. angry tears... not tears of sadness but fury... they spilled freely down her cheeks.

he stood watching her, unable to say a word. anger, hurt, sense of betrayal, an earthshaking loss and loneliness churned and pummeled him. he could feel its blows raining down on him, his breath scattering... their rhythm snapped... but he couldn't say a word.  he looked away and stared out through the french windows at the pool blazing under the sun outside. he couldn't bring himself to say he had seen what he had... he had known what he had... he had felt what he had.

all he wanted to do was tuck back that willful lock on her forehead. touch her soft shiny hair tenderly and caress her skin and know she breathed near him, just by him, always his... hamesha.


khushi could feel a wild hunger overtake her suddenly, she woke up with a start. she looked to see if he was up, but he was not next to her. she sprang up a little worried, scared, disoriented.

"i am here, khushi," she heard his voice and looked in its direction. he had just walked in the door and stood there. his glass was still not empty. khushi frowned, he was drinking by himself, was he alright?

"arnav ji, mujhe bahut bhookh lagi hai," she blurted out, her body sending out slightly garbled signals in her jet lagged state.

(arnav ji, i am very hungry...)

his face broke into a wide grin at that and he said huskily, "now that is actually what i was waiting for you to say." 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

a moment that shatters calm

concentration flies, sanity flees; eyes glazed, acidity attacking, you gape and watch unblinking.


office episodes
episode rambles

without you: chapter 29

i have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and i am not who i was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
~~~ stanley kunitz, the layers ~~~

khushi stared down at the little pink bag clutched in her hands. it was so tiny, a little shiny purse with brown edging and trimmings. her heart felt a desert wind blow through, shattered lay everything all around, a peculiar sensation right in the centre of her heart, spreading and taking it over.

her eyes wanted to close but couldn't. she wanted to cry but the dry parched feeling within yielded no tears. the heat caught her behind the eyes and almost gutted all it touched.

amma had run down those corridors. a singeing breath hit the back of her throat.

she was in her pink saree, clutching this little silly bag, assaulted by someone she trusted, locked in a room, grappled with, touched...

khushi shuddered.

it was almost two weeks since they had returned from lucknow, arnav ji and she were supposed to leave for london the next day. she had known they were all going through very difficult days and had not said anything to him. in fact, she had smiled and laughed and tried to be happy. especially around jiji.

khushi wanted to be happy for jiji. jiji was expecting her first child... oh how much they had talked about such things as they grew up... how many kids who'd have, what their names would be, who would be smart, who pretty... how they'd joked and laughed.

despite everything, a burst of joy had erupted in her when they returned to shantivan and were given the "good news". jiji had looked radiant and jija ji so proud.

she had hugged payal and thanked akash for coming to help them even in the middle of all this.

jiji had made a face and said, "chup kar, khushi, i am not that frail and weak... of course akash ji had to go... are you trying to be formal with me?"

(keep quiet, khushi, i am not that frail and weak...)

khushi had apologized and willed herself to get into a happy frame of mind because she wanted to never ever spoil a moment for her sister.

aloo kumar or jalebi mati she had declared she would call her nephew or niece. the happiness in jiji's eyes had made her heart dance, so powerful its energy.  a mother to be. her jiji... and yes, jija ji of course... but how wonderful, she'd be masi. masi... what would the baby call her...?

yet every day the thoughts had come. she had tried not to let them bother her. told herself a million times not to let all this matter. koi matlab nahin. doesn't mean a thing. the past was over... there was no point in delving, in dwelling.

when she had gone to see amma and babu ji the day after the night that changed everything, how amma had sobbed. sitting on the bed, she had clutched khushi's hands and begged her not to misunderstand her jiji, lajwanti was not to blame. she was just so lonely. no one understood her need to be given a little time, some attention... after their parents died... jija ji traveled on work all the time, she herself was busy with college. lajwanti took care of little khushi and just waited for the wretched feeling of death and emptiness to pass.

khushi remembered amma's pleading face, her tears pouring. she had never seen her amma cry like that. not even when dadi had recognised her and hurled accusations.

but on that day, amma wanted to tell her everything about lajwanti.

it was almost as if a dam broke.

a whirlpool of painful emotions buried deep came rushing out. a hot forceful geyser, uncontrolled. it drained amma.

jiji had been so lonely in her heart, in her mind, garima wept.

she went to temples and prayed hoping to cope with things... she was a beautiful strong woman with many interests, unlike girls of her background, she had been actually encouraged to go to college by their father, study, and marry a little later than the usual age at which girls were married off... she liked to paint, she liked to read, make new things, she had a curious happy mind, she was not like the other girls who settled down to mother in law gossip and taking care of the home. she always had a yearning...

it had been on one of her visits to the chiriya wali mandir that pratap malik had found her... "why was it raining that day, khushi bitiya..."

garima had suddenly wailed and collapsed into tears. she would never forget that afternoon when she had received the call from lajwanti. her sister was crying into the phone not being able to say anything... finally she'd understood, jiji was hiding in a sweet shop near sheesh mahal, disoriented, helpless. garima had told her to stay there, she'd come and get her.

she had gone in an auto, found jiji, and brought her back home. jiji was so tired, so winded from the whole thing she had slept off in the auto. then garima remembered a curious detail as one often does in the middle of traumatic experiences. she remembered she had taken jiji's purse and put it inside her own bag. this little pink bag with brown work on it.  she had kept it with her ever since, somehow unable to give it back to jiji, worried it would remind her of that day... and she hadn't been able to throw it away, something made her keep it. then one day she just couldn't find it, maybe it was here in one of the cupboards somewhere...

sitting in her bedroom now, khushi looked at the purse and clutched it, bringing it up to her heart. the pain grew. "amma!" she whispered.

garima had stayed with lajwanti till her husband returned from his latest tour. for months after that, garima would come and live with jiji when jija ji was away. jiji couldn't sleep alone... she felt vulnerable, sometimes very guilty... or just angry.

how much garima had implored jiji not to go to sheesh mahal that night when pratap malik told her to, but lajwanti knew this man... he could destroy her. more importantly her family. and she had insisted on going.

garima had had a strange premonition that evening and gone to sheesh mahal looking for jiji. what she saw left her speechless, confused, horror struck. two people lay dead... one was dushyant malik she gathered, the other his wife.

wife? but jiji thought dushyant ji was a bachelor.

garima had shivered violently at the memory. for a moment she couldn't speak.

an air of loss and arrested horror pervaded the huge rooms and hallways and she had stood there nonplussed, staring. the talk swirled all around amongst the thronging crowds, wedding guests who now kept vigil over the dead; they spoke of the gunshots, the quarrel between husband and wife over another woman, the daughter's wedding in disarray...

suddenly an older lady stood before her, accusing her of shocking things. the other woman... she was the other woman the lady said, because of whom her son lay dead.

garima had understood the game suddenly. her jiji was the bait, someone had planned all this... everything. she remembered how pratap malik had threatened lajwanti into complying with his request. he had given her no choice. why? because he needed her there no doubt. but... for this!

she couldn't bear to let anything harm her sister... she had not been able to save her from the attack years earlier, but not again, she would not let that happen.

she did not correct the lady's mistake. she let her believe it was her. she only pleaded for forgiveness, she had no idea he was married she said and then she ran away from there. she went home and said not a word to anybody. she would talk to jiji the next morning she thought.

soon the news of the accident came.

amma had never believed it was an accident. never.

amma stroked khushi's cheek with the hands that had comforted her since that fateful day, "bitiya, I didn't want to have anything to do with that terrible place any more. you were there, my jiji's reflection, her only child, my sweet little niece... remember how you used to watch salman khan movies even when I thought you were too young to? kabootar ja ja ja...?" amma's voice had trailed off.

then she had looked at khushi and said, "I decided I would live with you, not kill myself and everyone around me... my jiji's gift, her nishani... did I do wrong, khushi bitiya, kya hum galat the?"

(my jiji's gift, something of hers... did i do wrong, khushi, was i wrong?)

khushi swallowed hard as she remembered amma's words. she had just held amma in her arms and wept with her.

some pain, some injustices just had to be borne... there was nothing anyone could do.

she looked down at the purse once more. she had not told amma how her mind had flown to a strange thought as she spoke. it was like the mind leapt off before she could stop it.

she had remembered that evening when she was getting ready for the modeling assignment. when she had to go to sheesh mahal dressed up. she'd worn her green and pink lehenga choli and then while searching in amma's cupboard for a gota ribbon she had seen the purse.

it looked so pretty, she had taken it out and looked at herself in the mirror carrying it.

uff, nice! she'd thought and decided to take that purse instead of her jiji's golden batua. somehow the pink purse felt just perfect with the dress.

amma... why can't I feel anything any more... khushi stared blankly at the sunlight diminishing outside.

she had not been able to speak to the stars at all ever since that night.


hot phulkas were being served by om prakash and hari prakash, extra hands needed at the table as there were several guests at dinner that night. doctor verma had managed to get away from the hospital earlier than usual and joined them, he was taking anjali out later. nk and lavanya were also here, also planning to go clubbing afterwards.

and nani ji had invited bua ji to join them as well. she knew payal bitiya would like to have someone from her family during this time and bua ji would also wish to see her niece as often as possible; nani ji had grown rather fond of this feisty martinet who was her grand daughters in law's one and only aunt. lakshmi ji seemed to have a special fondness for her, and madhumati ji would indulge lakshmi with little treats every time. she knew lakshmi loved bananas and so large bunches of banana would arrive with the beaming lady on practically every visit.

conversation was on full swing as the delicious food came to the table and was devoured. anjali had cooked after a long time. rahim chacha had sliced and diced tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, little red radishes for hours for the salad today. anjali bitiya was known to be very very particular about the way food was prepared and offered. he didn't mind. as long as she looked happy. he could see she was beginning to be like her old self again.

"akash, come eat some more green jackfruit curry, i know it's your favourite, so why are you being so shy?" anjali asked as she put some curry on his plate...

"nahin... di, actually.." akash mumbled, he was feeling really full.

(no... di, actually...)

"no no, now you must eat well, you are eating for two after all..." anjali giggled.

everyone burst out laughing.

"di!" akash protested with akash like mildness.

payal said, "aap ekdam theek kah rahi hain, di!"

(you're absolutely right, di!)

mami muttered, "hello hi bye bye, ee ghar ma only girls are ispeakings and ispeakings, no bhalue for my bwoys... khamosh bitiyaj and bahuj... come akas bitwa, i bhills gibh you some nice pawtato dum, you bhil enjaay!"

hello hi bye bye, in this house the girls are the ones talking all the time, no one values my boy... keep quiet girls and daughters in law! come akash, i will give you some potato curry you'll enjoy!)

bua ji joined in with, "hai re nand kissore, bichare damad ji, aap agar gala jara tej naahin karna sikhoge toh pachtaoge... hai na, arnav bitwa?" she gave a sweet smile to asr, several winks thrown in.

(hai nand kissore, my poor son in law, if you don't learn to raise your vouce, you will suffer... isn't that right, arnav?)

he had been sitting quietly next to doctor verma, eating his three phulkas with light dal, a little salad and a small bowl of jackfruit curry, and looking at khushi. she looked distracted. though he could see she was making an effort to join in and be part of the lightness and bonhomie.

he wondered how long he would have to wait.


"i think anna should wear the dark olive and zohara should take the lucknow pink," he said frowning thoughtfully at the girls as they walked the little studio ramp at ar. dress selections were on for the coming season and they had been working long hours for almost a week now. asr had hardly had time for anything other than the show. he was used to this, it rarely got to him.

but this year something was bothering him... he wondered what. his mind found it hard to come to that placid calm he knew was vital for taking the right decisions. more than seventy five dresses, a whole lot of options, choices, combinations, the mind had to know what it wanted...

the music soared, a row of models walked in graceful and svelte, swaying, sashaying, showing off the silhouette... light gossamer frills in tiers at the edges of many dresses. springtime. rebirth, regeneration, flirtation.

asr got up and left the room.

in minutes he was outside and then in his suv, seconds later he was off, driving smoothly and fast down the highway. ring road... good, the traffic was easy. he needed to get there now.

he reached shantivan in less than twenty minutes, a distance that usually took at least half an hour sometimes longer. he let himself into the house and walked in. hari prakash was dusting and came running to take his bag, asr waved him away with a swift motion of his hand and walked urgently down the hall and took two steps at a time now visibly hurrying toward his room.

he reached the bedroom and walked in, his steps quickening.

"khushi," he called out softly, she would be here somewhere, it was afternoon, she might be dosing at the poolside.

he walked outside and there she lay on the deckchair, but she was not sleeping. she was looking at the water and humming to herself.

he stood still. he had never heard her singing. yes, she danced he knew, and he loved watching her. but she had never sung really.

what was the song?

he couldn't make out, because she was humming not really uttering all the words, just some.

she finished her song and then reached down and began dipping her fingers in the pool, playing with the water. he started walking up to her...

she turned around startled out of her reverie...

"aap?" she sounded confused, "iss waqt?"

(you?... now?)

"!" he nodded, eyes glinting clear chocolate in the bright light, almost translucent. khushi's breath caught in her throat. arnav ji was looking so terribly handsome. she had never known a man could look this good in a plain white shirt with a narrow grey tie. and his hair was shining, swept back neatly, he must have gone to dan ji recently. her eyes went a little dreamy and lost focus and she openly stared at the man looking down at her.

"main..." he stood over her, a lopsided smile all set to wreck her peace of mind, "you don't want me around?"

(yes! me...)

and then even as khushi tried to find her voice and say something coherent, he leaned down all the way and started kissing her lips hungrily. she lay there a little taken aback till all she could feel were his hard lips on hers, his tongue licking the inner surfaces of her lips and pushing against her teeth, she forgot everything and just kissed him back. her hands rose to his face, she let her fingers feel the graze of his stubble, it always aroused her that prickly touch... she slipped her fingers into his hair then. she loved touching his thick dark strands. today they felt springy and crisp, tickled her palm. she shivered a bit.

he carried on kissing her, his kiss becoming less urgent, almost languorous... he licked her lips gently and planted soft tiny pecks on her lips. she heard herself moan, she felt her breath ease with a lazy feeling spreading over, making her want to pull him to her and lie back in the sun next to him, snuggling, playing, letting his hands roam over her. she wanted to loosen the tie, undo the buttons of the shirt and let her hand slip in, stroke his firm supple chest and lay her palm upon his heart.

suddenly he deepened the kiss and her breath leapt and went haywire.

when he was done, he let go of her lips, and eyes fixed on her with that crazy making smile on his lips he stood up.

"you don't want me around?" he repeated and laughed softly, "lucknow pink..."

"haan? aap ne hume kya bulaya?" khushi managed to get a few words out though she was not really focusing still.

(yes? what did you call me?)

"oh i've missed you these few days..." he said quickly, as always trying to mask emotion and always khushi could hear the passion searing through.

"and..." he paused, cocked an eyebrow, then said with a drawl, his voice going even more husky, "i can see you missed me too... mmm, yeah, quite a bit, dammit!" the dammit came out soft, granular, caressing.

khushi watched him eyes widening, the man was teasing her, first he comes home when he is not supposed to, then he kisses her like that and now...

"see you later, khushi! lots of work to finish, might be late... bye!" he said reverting to his clipped matter of fact tone and left.

when he walked into ar twenty minutes later, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with the collection. the mind had found its calm.


khushi was turning down the beds and going about getting the room ready for the night. the lamps had to be lit, the bed made, she had to change. why were her hands and feet feeling so heavy? this was not good. she didn't want to worry anyone.

she knew nani ji was very upset. how difficult it must have been for her to hear that her daughter had been murdered, she did not commit suicide. not that anything really changed but still... not to know the truth for so long, and each version of this incident more painful than the other. suicide, murder, no matter what the cause, the result was always the same. her daughter was gone, never to return.

and what about arnav ji and di... were they not also struck badly by this whole thing? khushi could feel her eyes going moist. why, devi maiyya, why did you let such a horrible thing happen? what have arnav ji and di done that they should suffer like this? and... and... khushi's breathing began getting shallow as again the thoughts of a woman in pink running down the corridors of sheeshmahal began to crystallize and take over her mind, almost her body.

"khushi!" his voice was a warm caress on the nape of her neck. she turned her head and looked at him wanly, her eyes going resolutely blank. she didn't want to trouble him.

"come!" he coaxed with almost a whisper and took her hand walking her to the wardrobe. he chose a beautiful black fine silk and lace long nightie from among her nightwear. she preferred to wear her simple cotton salwar kurtas at night, but he had bought her some lingerie though she rarely wore them.

with tender fingers, he undid the dori of her kurta...

she reached up and held his hands, "main pehen loongi, arnav ji..." her voice was soft but curiously flat. he almost winced at that.

(i'll wear it, arnav ji.)

"no, today i want to do this... theek hai, khushi?" he bent a little and nuzzled her cheek, placing a soft warm kiss on it before going back to helping her change. khushi held her arms up like an obedient child as he slipped the kurta over her head. the entire evening seemed to change pace, enter a dream.

(no, today i want to do this, that okay, khushi?)

he unhooked her bra standing behind her and bent to kiss her on the shoulder blade and cupped her breast from the back pulling her close, letting her rest back against him. her full breasts felt the comfort of his touch and she allowed her head to lie back on his shoulder. he took off her little jhumkas and the few glass bangles she wore. then he made her sit and helped her out of her churidar and briefs. when she was naked, he knelt before her and let his arm go around her waist, laying his head on her lap. he lifted her hand up and put it on his hair. he knew she liked to play with his hair. he could feel her fingers move a little as though unable to stop themselves.

she sat quiet and listless. he slipped the nightie over her head and made her wear it. then he pulled her up. the sheath of silk fell fluidly as she stood and shimmered down the length of her body, at the centre across her midriff and back sat the lace, her ivory skin peeping against the black. auburn hair fell to her hips as he undid her plait and brushed her hair with even measured strokes. hazel eyes had a plea in them, what did they want?

he wished she would smile just a little, maybe tell him what troubled her... he had waited long, but with each passing day he could see she was not really coping, just trying very hard to.

he gathered her in his arms and hugged her close. "i love you," he murmured against her hair and then he picked her up in his arms and took her to bed.

"mujhe nahin bataogi?" he set her down and asked. she looked up... his eyes were dark, sombre, and concerned.

(you won't tell me?)

"nahin! arnav ji, i am fine," khushi willed her voice to sound chirpy, "just tired, you know so much is going on... jiji is pregnant, she needs the right kind of food and nanhe ji and lavanya ji are here so i must do something for them too... really it's nothing."

asr thought, at least she is talking... he prompted, "and?"

"and?" khushi frowned, "why dekhiye na, hum toh aloo kumar ya jalebi mati ke liye jabla bunna chahte hain, usske liye chandni chowk se woh achhi wali wool lana hai, phir imli ka achaar, haan imli ka achaar banana hai, iss liye bua ji ke saath woh saket market gaye the, bahut achhi imli wahan milti hai, aap ko pata hai... aur..." and she had no idea but by now she was weeping copiously, tears flowed down her cheeks

(and? you know i want to make a sweater for aloo kumar or jalebi mati so i have to get that nice wool from chandni chowk... and the tamarind pickle? yeah, want to make some... for that i went with bua ji to saket market... you get great tamarind there, you know?... and...)

he held open his arms and this time she didn't resist, she flung herself into them and cried without restraint. he started to feel life flow into him. he let her cry till she was sobbing and hiccuping almost done with her first real tears since that night at sheesh mahal.

"shh, shhh..." he crooned softly, rocking her. khushi started to calm down a bit. suddenly she looked up at him, he caught sight of her tear stained, innocent face... something in him broke a little.

"aap ko pata hai, arnav ji, she had that pink bag with her that day... that day.. that she..." she couldn't finish her sentence as an ache wrenched through her, from her gut to the top of her head and she threw herself back into his arms, clinging and shaking.

"khushi! khushi... calm down... shh..." he soothed her even as he remembered the tacky little purse, pink and kitschy.
the pool cleaner had caught it in his net the day he had first set eyes on khushi when she had almost drowned him. inside it he had come across the advertisement that told him why she had come to sheesh mahal in the first place.

he had kept it... and then tried to throw it away but om prakash had brought it carefully to delhi... and it lay there in his cupboard till khushi found it again.

it was her mother's purse? she had been carrying it that day when she came to have lunch with pita ji? well she thought it was lunch. he remembered the woman in pink running as though chased by fiends down the verandah... khushi's mother.

a sadness clutched his heart.

he didn't believe in such things, but maybe she had wanted her daughter to come and find him. maybe she had wanted to release herself of the treachery and leave behind hope... beauty.

a pink funny purse, what mysteries did it hold in its heart. his mother, her mother, both betrayed by the same man. his pita ji, a man he had once loved. he remembered his vision of a woman gardening when he lay in coma. maa... he would have run to her, but she had seemed to say to him, go back... someone is waiting there for you.

he held khushi clasped in his arms.

"i... i can't forget her... i can't just let her suffer like that... arnav ji, is it okay if i don't go to london with you... i want to go to chiriya wali mandir and i want to do the vrat for her... i want to feel her, arnav ji..." khushi was crying again.

(i want to do the fast for her...)

"vrat? what vrat?" he asked.

"it's a simple fast, only seven days..." she started to say.

"seven days?" in an instant his anger arrived and shot up, "seven days of not eating? khushi, seriously. you want to do all your endless fasts i never say anything, but seven days? why is it that people just don't get it? these things don't work... do you think your mother will like to see you in that state? do you know that purse, it led me back to you... i tried to throw it away, but it came right back... khushi! tum kya kah rahi ho? i am a rational man as you know. you have taught me a lot about feeling things, believing in of all things, stars... but this... no, i can't accept.. ok if you want to do this... fine...!"

(khushi, what are you saying? i am a rational...)

khushi was staring at him shocked. from loving gentle lover to asr in extreme anger how long did it take.

"f... fine?" khushi stammered.

"yeah, fine. do it... but," he thrust his face close to hers, "i will also do it... bas. enough. if this fast has to happen, that is the only way it will happen."

"arnav ji, please, aap kya kah rahein hain?" khsuhi implored.

(arnav ji, please, what are you saying?)

"main kya kah raha hoon? tum kya kah rahi ho...?" he shot back and stood up.

(what am i saying? what are you saying?)

"khushi... dard saha jata hai, usse hum bhag nahin sakte... kabhi nahin. aur shayad dard humey mazboot banata hai, himmat deta hai... i don't know khushi, there's so much pain all over this whole life of mine, maybe it's become a habit... " the slightest catch in his voice, but she could hear it... she went to him and held him tight.

(khushi, pain has to be borne, we can't run from it... never. and maybe pain makes us strong, gives us courage... i don't know, khushi, there's so much pain all over this whole life of mine, maybe it's become a habit...)

"nahin karenge vrat... theek hai?" she whispered.

(won't do the fast... okay?)

"khushi... come with me..." he went toward the french windows. outside, it had started to rain.

"arnav ji," she sounded hesitant.

"come," he said in that masterful yet loving way of his, khushi knew she would go to the ends of the earth with him if he called like that.

they stepped outside into the rain. the downpour was heavy, rain drops dashed down on them and splashed off their face, nose, eyes, lips, hair, arms... drenching them. they stood by the pool wrapped in each other's arms just letting the rain fall and wash away memories that really would never leave.


"khushi! belt," said asr raising his eyebrow and moving his head to point at the seat belt on the aircraft seat.

"kya? yahan pe bhi seat belt?" khsuhi exclaimed.

(what? seat belt here too?)

"khushi!" asr said with an exaggerated air of patience.

"aur get out bhi?" khushi grinned at him.

(and also get out?)

"uh huh... no getting out of this one, khushi kumari gupta singh raizada... you are going to the land of the bad angrez... london," he said coolly and started reading the economist.

"haan, i know, woh log laaye the na laad governor hamare yahan," khushi shook her head, her eyebrows danced, she made a sassy face, "ab unko hum dikhayenge laad governor kya hota hai."

(yes, i know... they had brought lord governor to my country... now i'll show them what's a lord governor.)

the plane began to take off, the noise drowning out khushi's yell of horror.