Saturday, 30 April 2016

pakode manoueuvre

"phir besan mein haldi... namak... aur kali mirch daalti ho..." he is whispering intimately,

"... pyaar se."

then you put in the gram flour, turmeric... salt... and black pepper...
with love.

"tel ko gas pe rakhti ho...aur phir dheere dheere besan se covered aaloo usme chhorti ho... aur phir kuchh hota hai..."

you put the oil (the wok) on the fire... and then very slowly you take the besan coated potatoes and drop them into the oil... and then something happens...

"kya?" asks the girl, disconcereted, almost dizzy.


"pakode... banne lagte hain... kadai mein dheere dheere upar uthne lagte hain... aur banate hue.. tumhe unki khushboo aati hai..."

the fritters.. they start getting ready... slowly they start to float up... and as you cook, you get their aroma...

"aur phir... tum woh ek ek karke bahar nikalti ho..."

and then you take them out.. one by one...

"aur phir tum.. aur main, pyaar bhari baatein karte hue un pakodo ko khate hain..."

and then, you and i, while talking to each other tenderly, eat those fritters...

"hum ek chak-"

let me taste one-

poor girl.  

ab na jaa

just think of it... in the middle of his they are planning a jana, a going. terrible, and yet, maybe that story idea brought the poolside to this beauty.


a poolside and its power

made 43 edits or maybe more... my pakode very taloed. episode 379

Thursday, 28 April 2016

essential pyaar

iss pyaar mein sahi aur galat ka koi matlab nahin... agar matlab hai toh sirf iss baat ka... ki main hamesha hamesha tumse...


in this love truth and lie have no meaning... if anything has meaning, it's only this, that i will always... always...


ncofl... never on a new year: chapter 7

it was soft and cool against his fingers. he stroked the fabric feeling its smoothness, its supple texture. the yarn had a natural golden sheen, a deep innate gold that didn’t need to flaunt itself or glitter too obviously. it was rich and comfortable with its beauty. asr held a fistful of mooga and then slowly let it go… watching it fall.

“can you make it as light as chiffon, weave a fine transparency in? what do you think, salman?” he asked the young designer.

salman grinned inwardly. trust asr to ask for something that had not yet been attempted. yet could be… yeah, he didn’t see why not.

“i’ll set up a meeting with the master weaver and the owner of the workshop, asr…” he replied turning toward his boss.

asr was looking at the mooga again he found, holding a length up and appraising it, deep furrows on his forehead, clearly lost in thought.

“aap itne khoye khoye se kyun hain, helena ji?” khushi asked with a dazzling smile as the pachyderm extended her trunk and took another banana from khushi’s hand and put it straight into her mouth. maila had taught khushi how to feed helena and she had been sitting here for a couple of hours now indulging mr ghaznavi’s pet with all sorts of fruits and other things. elephants in general had a sweet tooth she had learnt.

(why are you looking so lost, helena?)

and helena was especially fond of sweets.

“haye, sach?!!” khushi had exclaimed when she’d heard that earlier, “then helena ji and i are going to be very very very good friends, maila ji… what’s life without sweetness and sweets! like… syrupy… crunchy… sweet… orange…” her eyes had gone dreamy recalling her favourite mithai, and she’d beamed at the mahout, “can i make some jalebis for helena ji?!”

(oh, really??!)

maila had gaped and then scratched his head, then looked at helena with narrowed eyes for a while, and at last said, “of course, baideo, helena will like that, i am sure…” sounding not at all sure.

bahadur was surprised at the request, but he’d made sure the estate’s guest got exactly what she wished for. khushi had fried and dunked jalebis in syrup as kanumoni looked on astonished, never having seen any visitor cook in the guesthouse kitchen and that too with such gusto. khushi had flung her yellow dupatta with gota edging over her shoulder and tied it around her waist, then got busy mixing flour, yogurt, besan, sugar, and other ingredients. soon thick syrup was simmering in a pot and batter was landing on hot oil from a bunched up piece of cloth as khushi baideo’s hands moved deftly and really fast in circles.

when khushi had held out the first jalebi to helena, the elephant had unfurled her trunk, brought it close, paused for a moment over the orange swirl then picked it up and quickly tucked it into her mouth… less than a second later she’d been back for the next.

khushi had jumped up and twirled around in joy, “aapko pasand aaya, this is my favourite sweet, pata hai?!”
(you liked it, this is my favourite sweet, d’you know?!)
the elephant had flapped her ears and come looking for another jalebi.

after a whole tray of freshly made jalebis had disappeared, maila had patted helena’s trunk and said, “bas, helena is good girl, now she will eat good fresh fruit…”

he had told khushi, the elephant did eat some cooked food like rice and bread at times, but her main diet consisted of raw vegetables, fruit, grass, and leaves. sometimes though, helena stole modhu… honey… when shaab bottled it.

khushi had laughed, remembering how lakshmi ji liked to trot into the kitchen and swipe goodies while no one was looking.

“helena ji, you eat so much… but look at you, you’re so pretty! do you know, even i love to eat! ” khushi held out a large slice of water melon to her friend. it disappeared in a flash.

“and do you know, arnav ji also lost his amma when he was just a child,” khushi’s voice grew pensive, “sometimes he also looks lost just like you…”

helena took another chunk of water melon.

“hum kuchh kehte nahin, par isska yeh matlab nahin ki hum kuchh samajhte nahin…” she said as she held out a sugarcane.

(i don’t say anything, doesn’t mean i don’t understand anything…)

“he doesn’t like to discuss things, just like you… but when he hurts…” a sob escaped though khushi wasn’t aware, “see, he’s always had to be strong, and maybe that’s why he is a bit khadoos,” khushi paused, looked around at the green all around, for some reason a volcano came to mind, “nahiiin, a lot khadoos… like a rakshas at times… but inside… you know… hume pata hai, hum jaante hain…” he voice wobbled, she swallowed her tears, “inside he is all gold… khara sona,” she sniffed loudly and gave another chunk of water melon to helena.

(… see, he’s always had to be strong, and maybe that’s why he is a bit nasty… noooo, a lot nasty… like a monster at times… but inside.. you know… i am aware, i know… inside he’s all gold… pure gold…)

“don’t feel so bad, helena ji… dekhiye, how much maila ji loves you and also salman ji’s father. i haven’t met him but i know he must be a wonderful man…” khushi was rambling a little uncontrollably now, holding out more and more fruits to helena.

suddenly the elephant bypassed a banana and reached for khushi’s face instead. she tapped on her cheek gently, then lay her trunk on khushi’s head for a moment, before going back to eating.


“mekhela sadar, baideo,” said kanumoni when khushi asked her what the dress she wore was called.

the skirt was the mekhela and the separate piece of cloth that draped around the body and went over the shoulder was the sadar… or chadar. kanumoni’s mekhela was a in shade of pale pink with motifs in red, her sadar was white, of a lighter material and it had little tiny red tassels hanging along the edges.

khushi flicked them playfully and then showed kanumoni her green pompoms on the sleeves and yellow pompoms on the parandi on her plait, and winked, “you also like pompoms i see, kanumoni ji! stylish!”
the skirt or mekhela had to be pleated, holding it along the top edge. then you tucked the pleats into the petticoat. the sadar was like a dupatta, you fixed one corner to the petticoat over the pleats, and took it around you draping it like the pallu of a saree. khushi was absorbed trying to understand the finer points of mekhela when her phone rang.

“haylow!” she said as she held the sadar in the correct way, letting a couple of folds form at the end.

“kya kar rahi ho tum?” came a husky voice from the other side. the grain in it seemed to come through the lines and caress her. she gulped.

(what are you doing?)

“k.kya? hum? kuchh bhi toh nahin!” she tried to sound nonchalant and failed at it miserably. her heart beat had picked up. she swallowed again.

(wh.what? me? nothing at all!)

“khushi, tum theek ho!” his sounded concerned.
khushi wished he wouldn’t ask that question that way… it made her feel so so… khushi swallowed and gripped the phone tightly… no, he must never stop asking that question that way, she thought, her thoughts getting garbled… she was missing arnav ji, he had been out the whole day.

“helena ji likes jalebi!” she said without thinking.

“whaaaat!” asr’s voice shot up. there was silence for a fraction of a second, then came a burst of loud laughter from the other side.

“you fed the elephant jalebi… khushi kumari gupta singh raizada, you’re mad!”

khushi frowned darkly at this, her chin lifted, her lips thinned, all set for a cutting retort.

“and…” his voice had dropped to a whisper, “i think i’m getting to like mad.”

khushi tried to think of something smart to say, but her mind had gone completely blank. and her heartbeat was cutting out all other sound.


“very interesting, mr raizada,” tazdiq ghaznavi said as he poured a whisky for asr, “salman says you are trying to see if mooga can be woven lighter, more gauzy… i tell you just a bit of entrepreneurship… throw it in and see how our traditional skills and industries will flourish!”
“it’s a beautiful yarn, mr ghaznavi…” asr replied taking the glass from his host and raising it, “thank you for having us over, mrs ghaznavi…” he smiled slightly at salman’s mother.

“cheers… and welcome to assam!” mr ghaznavi held up his glass of soda with a twist of lime, he had decided to give up alcohol recently he’d said.

“oh please call me rehana!” simpered salman’s mother as she patted her perfectly blow dried hair and smiled at asr.

salman looked from his mother to his boss, he didn’t miss the twinkle in the perennially serious man’s face before asr replied, “thanks… and i am arnav… it’s wonderful to be here with all of you. salman has done a splendid job of finding us exactly what we’re looking for.”

“proud of you, my son!” mr ghaznavi said, throwing an arm around salman, “mrs raizada…”

“khushi…” said khushi with a smile. salman ji’s father was as easy to take to as his son she had felt when they’d met. he was a short man with a wide chest, something solid about him. his hair had gone almost completely grey though he was in his late forties only. he had a crisp, matter of fact way of saying things… and most of all she liked him because he had done what he had for helena. such a man, khushi had decided even before meeting him, could only be a good man and a kind man. “hey devi maiyya, this world should have more people like him,” she’d said quietly to herself, as usual without quite realising what it was she was doing.
most of her conversations with devi maiyya happened in this way. at times when she noted how many things she had said to her goddess in a day, she was surprised devi maiyya didn’t demand more sweets and offerings from her.

“okay, but only if you call me tazdiq…” countered mr ghaznavi, “i believe you had a good feeding session with helena this afternoon.”

“aap ko kaise pata, tazdiq ji?” khushi stared at her host, eyes widening.

(how do you know, tazdiq ji?)

“this is assam, khushi, the gardens,” salman laughed, “you sneeze here and people in jorhat tea estate will tell the doctor he is needed…”

“i believe helena loved the jalebis…” tazdiq was smiling.
“hawww!” khushi exclaimed, her hand lifting to cover her mouth.

“and if you want a nice mekhela chadar, don’t worry, i’ll take you shopping. we could go for golf tomorrow and afterwards to tinsukia, don’t you think that’s a good idea, jaan?” said rehana turning to her son… then went on without stopping, “don’t look at me like that, khushi my dear… kanumoni was so excited that baideo liked what she wore and had tried to pleat the chadar… i know! it’s bihu day after, you can wear yours then, i’ll get it stitched… did you bring a blouse?!”

asr watched the expressions flitting across his wife’s face and decided he was glad he had dragged her to come along on this trip.

“galf?” said khushi weakly, her hostess was unstoppable.

“yeah, don’t you play, my dear? even i knew nothing of it… in baroda who played golf, but in assam… everyone! it’s good fun, i’ll show you…  okay, so that’s settled!”

rahana was a plump woman somewhere in her forties, and she obviously enjoyed dressing up. she wore a beautiful chiffon in dove grey with a finely embroidered border, grey beads sparkling in it. her blouse matched her saree exactly, on her neck was a twisted double string of darker grey pearls. diamond studs glittered on her earlobes. she wore pencil heels and teetered delicately on them. a bracelet with four strands of pearls sat on her left wrist just above the diamond cocktail ring on her index finger.

khushi smiled at her and clutched her red dupatta. her red and silver churidar kurta, hair left open, shining and straight, a faint pink lipstick and tiny bindi in bright pink had earned her a long slow stare from her husband. but now all she could think of was… galf? that laad governor played it sometimes, and she had no idea what it was.

hoonh! why such games had to be invented… hey devi maiyya, raksha karna…

asr began to smile. brown eyes glinted, a familiar gradient sloped up. alas a pair of hazel eyes were too perturbed to notice.

salman wished his mother would curb her enthusiasm and bossiness a bit. but he knew she was lonely living here in the gardens, miles away from the next planter’s home and someone to talk to. she enjoyed having guests.

“khushi, come, let me show you the river from our balcony,” he said.


“par aapko rasta kaise pata chalega?” khushi asked, looking worried.

(but how will you know the way?)

“shh!” replied asr, “seat belt!”

when she made a face, he leaned over, pulled out the belt and fixed it for her. then he planted a swift kiss on her nose and started the car.

the open top jeep picked up speed as they drove out of the ghaznavi’s home and onto the narrow, uneven road winding through the garden. it was dark all around, over the estates and the far away little hamlet where the workers lived. khushi looked around in trepidation.

darkness unsettled her. she remembered things she had no clear memory of yet they lurked. unsettling.

shaken, she looked up. and almost stopped breathing. had she ever seen such a vast stretch of twinkling, sparkling, dazzling gleaming stars?

she turned her head and gazed as far as she could to her left, then her right, she craned to see behind… nothing stopped the stars. they spread like an unending blanket over the dark.

“khushi?” asr was peering ahead at the road, there were no lamp posts, only his headlights to show the way.

“hmmm?” she replied distractedly.

“puchhogi nahin? what if we get lost?” he asked, wondering why his wife was ignoring him suddenly.

(won’t you ask? what if we get lost?)

“the forest will start soon, and who knows…” he continued, looking ahead.

“kya? forest? arnav ji! aap aise kaise kar sakte hain! it’s dark, you don’t know the way… and what if a tiger or a lion.. or a….” khushi seethed looking for a suitable animal to add to her  list.

(what? forest? arnav ji! how can you do this! it’s dark, you don’t know the way… and what if a tiger or a lion… or a …)

“rhino? haan, yeh theek rahega. assam, so we could have rhinos attacking us,” he said looking at her.

(rhino? yeah, that should be good. assam, so we could have rhinos attacking us.)

“arnav ji!” khushi was aghast.

“i don’t think there are any lions around here though..” asr pressed on the accelerator and the jeep leapt forward.

khushi clutched his arm and shuddered.

“relax, khushi!” he said, “there’s only one road here and it goes straight past the river. tazdiq said, it’s a great spot… especially now with the full moon just a couple of days away… they are building a bridge… you’ll enjoy the view! now come on, put your head on my shoulder and shut up.”

khushi wanted to glare at him, but instead she sighed and did exactly as he told her to do, well she did put her head on his shoulder, but she had to mutter.

“galf? i have to play that laad governor wala game?!” she turned and pushed her face against his upper arm and put an arm around his chest.

(golf! i have to play that laad governor’s game!)
asr chuckled. he wondered if rehana was ready for the what was coming her way.

“khushi, i saw mooga today, yards and yards of it… a strange gleam in it… ajeeb…” he said, changing the topic abruptly, there was a something in his voice that made her look up.

“you know, assam is the only place in the world that makes this silk? mooga means yellow… but here it means gold…” he paused, shrugged and said, “mami ji would love that…”

khushi was about to agree when he said as if to himself, “maa loved her mooga saree…” a pallu seemed to reach out from somewhere and brush against his face.
he blinked.

a pale yellow moon shone in the dark rippling water.  khushi looked  up and there the moon was up there too. she smiled. the bridge stretched out not even half way across the wide river… its silhouette loomed in the dark. something poignant about it. on the other shore was what… she peered. was that a dense line of trees? a forest? or were they clouds? clouds on land..

asr pulled her onto his lap as they sat looking at the peaceful stretch of sky and earth, lit only by a moon daring to grow back from diminishing. he put his arms around her and let his right hand rest on her breast. khushi turned and kissed him somewhere beside his cheek, below his ear, and went back to her contemplation.

he bent down and bit her lightly on the side of her neck and let his lips brush against her skin.

“i missed you…” he murmured softly as if to himself.
she heard him of course, she turned around and drew his head to her heart.


khushi lay exhausted and happy against him, still quivering with an unnamed excitement in some part of her. his skin was damp. she put her palm flat on his navel and felt his instant response. he turned and stretched out on his back as if saying something, his body faintly visible in the moonlight stealing in through the windows. she slowly rolled over following an instinct, nothing else. she covered his body with hers, lying on him, and let her arms go around his neck, her head settled over his bare shoulder, she was ready to go to sleep right there.

“come!” his voice was a whisper, a caress, a command… he moved allowing her to get comfortable and put his arms around her. then he stroked her back as she fell asleep.

he had not told her of the real dangers of this beautiful state, where people disappeared without a trace so often, where lives had been lost for years and years without any solution to the problems, where extreme loveliness had learned to coexist with egregious loss and bloodshed…

she would worry unnecessarily about him coming here in the future… and he would be back, for after the visits to the workshops, he felt in his gut the mooga project would work out. she would lose her pristine picture of salman’s home, helena’s home…

asr held khushi tighter, then he lifted a hand and gently pushed back the tendrils off her forehead.

mad girl who feeds jalebis to elephants.

he had requested both tazdiq and salman not to mention anything about the recent kidnappings in the area to khushi.

he thought of the women making their resplendent silk. he must find a way to create a fall for western lines. they deserved so much more… the people of this land had been stymied by unrest for far too long. his thoughts drifted across what he had seen and heard over the past two days.

he took a deep breath and laid his cheek against her hair.

hope you enjoyed the chapter. i look forward to your thoughts. thanks for reading and letting me imagine new asr khushi moments.


ncofl... never on a new year: chapter 6

“kk! you look dazed… are you hungry?” salman asked khushi from the front seat of the ambassador car taking them toward margharita tea estate where they would be staying at the guest house. salman’s parents were at a garden nearby, he had wanted to make sure his boss stayed at the best place around here. salman had grown up in assam. he loved the place, in fact, he was almost proud of it… it’s natural beauty, the richness of the land, the people who had a certain simplicity and freshness, the wide open non skyscraper interrupted skies. but being salman, he wouldn’t say much, just try to see to it that you had a great time while you were in his part of the world.

he had found out about a couple of workshops where they could go and see mooga weaving. these were not large set ups, but they were known for their quality. the weavers were all women as had been the tradition and while prices were high, it was only because original techniques were adhered to and just fine mooga, or muga, silk yarn was used without any slipping in of cheaper threads. mooga weaving is complex and asr was happy to come to the less commercial centres to get a feel of the textile and its possibilities.

they had landed at mohanbari airport at about three in the afternoon.

“mohanbari… matlab mohan ji, yaane krishna bhagwan ji ke ghar!” khushi had exclaimed clapping her hands.

“bua ji would love this airport… nand kissore!”
(mohan bari… that means mohan’s, that is lord krishna’s, home!)

then she had sniffed loudly.

“what’s up, khushi? you okay?” asr had murmured distractedly as he helped put the luggage in the boot.
“nahin… woh… ghar…” khushi had mumbled looking down.

(no… just that… home…)

“not again, khushi!” asr had said sounding exasperated.
“look,” he’d been brisk, “we are here for only four days, four… days… okay?” he’d paused for emphasis, shrugged and looked at her, an eyebrow raised, before continuing, “di will not have her baby before we return, nani ji will not think you are a selfish girl who left everyone and came away with me, payal will survive without your chatter and… that pigeon…” he’d shaken his head, clearly at a loss for words.

“hum knowing! no one will miss me and kabootar ji will eat all the channe i have left near the pot of roses, but…!” khushi had shot back, her eyebrows dancing up and down… then she’d walked off with a little flounce and sat on the back seat, looking out of the window.

(i know no one will miss me, and the pigeon will eat the gram kernels i have left near the pot of roses!)

she had hardly said anything since they’d set off almost half an hour ago.

“huh?!” she said starting as salman spoke to her.

“are you hungry, kk?” salman repeated his question.
“nahin! samandar!” she blurted out.

(no! ocean!)

“samandar?” salman sounded mystified.

“whaaat?” asr scowled, “khushi! what are you saying? tum theek ho? salman, will you ask the driver to pull over!”

“thapa…” salman began but khushi cut in…
“nahin nahin, salman ji! i am fine! i meant… yeh chai ke bagiche… tea estates! see, like a green ocean… jahan bhi dekhiye hara hi hara…” khushi tried to explain. she had never seen a tea estate before, the tea bushes growing for miles along the slightly undulating slopes, they reminded her of the endless sheet of blue and sun and sand and wind she’d seen in bali. here too the sky had a different blueness to it, she was sure… it couldn’t be an illusion.

(no no, salman ji! i am fine! i meant… these tea gardens… tea estates! see, like a green ocean… wherever one looks, it’s only green…)

“dekhiye, arnav ji… hai na samandar jaisa!” khushi suddenly turned, beamed at asr, her smile wide and full, her pearl like teeth glistening and her hazel eyes full of joy.

(see, arnav ji, isn’t it like the ocean!)

asr wasn’t prepared for this, she had been in a huff and incommunicado; now without any warning, this. he felt his heart lurch, his stomach muscles tighten, and there was a funny feeling near his throat. he stared at her bemused. then recovering quickly, he leaned forward, and brushed a strand of hair off her forehead. why didn’t the girl do something about that lock, he thought. a part of him though was quite pleased she didn’t.

he let his lips slant to a small sardonic smile. he said nothing.

salman grinned, “an ocean of tea! we could go surfing…”

“haan,” khushi chirped happily, getting lost in the idea, “chai ka samandar, adrak daal ke! khushboodar, mehekti, mithi, hayee… haan!” khushi smiled to herself, then she muttered under her breath, “na ki koi kala, kadwa coffee, woh bhi bahut garam!”

(a sea of tea, with ginger in it! aromatic, fragrant, sweet, sigh… yes!… not some black, bitter coffee, that too… too hot!)

the man sitting beside her jerked ever so slightly. there was silence in the car.

as she turned away to look out of the window and resume her cold shouldering of the man who had refused to listen to all the reasons she had given as to why it wasn’t right for her to accompany him on his trip to assam, she felt a gaze of brown eyes on her neck. she was quite sure.

then she heard him whisper softly, deliberately, “i heard that.”

a shiver ran up her spine. she knew he was smiling like a laad givernor. no… a magarmach. were there any magarmach in assam?


khushi shivered again.

it was a low, spread out colonial bungalow, verandahs all around, sitting in the middle of a huge plot of land with mint green lawns and beds brimming with bright seasonal flowers in shades of orange, red, pink, even blue. there were trees and shrubs and creepers heavy with blooms and a gazebo by a lily pond. pale pink and white lilies grew in it amid large circular lily pads.

khushi stared at the vibrant garden as they got out of the car. four white wrought iron chairs and and a couple of tables were set under a large umbrella. she wished she could go and sit there, and enjoy the fading rays of the winter sun. unconsciously she checked in her cloth satchel bag to see if she had remembered to get along her channe.

“kya dhoond rahi ho?” asr asked, he had been about to walk into the house, but khushi stood there staring at the lawn. now she was groping for something in her bag.

(what are you looking for?)

“huh?” khushi blinked. she had forgotten to bring her channe.

“bahadur!” asr called out to the man in a white livery who had appeared as they drove up to the covered porch. he must have been in his fifties, he’d said namaste to them and started helping with the luggage, carrying the suitcases into the house.

“ji, shaab!” bahadur turned and hurried up to asr.

asr took his duffel bag from bahadur’s hand and opened the zip. he pulled out a plastic packet from inside, then handed the bag back to bahadur with a curt, “thank you!”

he walked up to khushi and gave her the packet, “payal said you might want this!” he said laconically.

khushi was puzzled. jiji? what had jiji sent for her?
she opened the packet, looked in, and gave a squeal of joy.

“channe!” she nearly screamed and looked at the dour man in front of her with shining eyes.

again his heart did that lurch thing.

this time he laughed and pecked her on her cheek.

she felt her cheeks go hot. arnav ji and she had disagreed over this trip. she had felt it was not right, not done really, to leave home like that. she was the bahu of the house, the daughter in law, she had her duties…
“the house didn’t marry you, i did. you didn’t marry the house either… so really khushi, what’s the problem? it’s four days…” he had said impatiently as she had tried to make her point. they were standing by the pool, and it was a beautiful day. khsuhi wished they were not disagreeing like this.

“beside, will you be able to spend four days without me, khushi? what if a tiger ate me up in assam or an elephant trampled me…” he was laughing, which made khushi even more angry.

“aap?? aap…!! how can you say such things, arnav ji! sab kuch mazak nahin hota!” she had gritted her teeth and glared at him.

(you??? you…!! how can you say such things, everything isn’t funny!)

he had leaned forward at that very moment and kissed her hard on her lips, his arms had gone around her and tugged her till she fell on him.

she had felt his tongue thrust against her clenched teeth. she had tried not to give in, but then she’d heard a guttural sound deep in his throat and had felt her toes curl. and she had simply let him do as he pleased.
it was impossible to think when he got into this mood. and she always seemed to feel and hear so many unspoken things when he was like this. whenever he held her, even frowned at her, when he called out to her… that “khushi!”

somewhere along the way he had picked her up and taken her to their bed. she hadn’t protested when he had caught her dupatta and let it slide to the floor, then taken off her kurta, her churidar… she had let him make love to her, too lost in him to think of anything… she only felt his need and his extraordinary arousing of her senses.
afterwards, he’d said sleepily to her, an arm flung across her breasts, “come with me, khushi, and save me from the tigers and elephants…” he had a lazy smile in his voice.

she had wanted to throw her arms around him and snuggle but she had again felt a frisson of unease. amma had always told them that once you married, you had to take care of everyone in the family, not be selfish, not go away and have fun with your husband only. it’s the sign of extreme irresponsibility.

he had gotten up a little, balancing on his elbows, bitten her lightly on her earlobe and said, “stop thinking so much, khushi kumari gupta singh raizada… go to sleep.”

“memshaab!” the young woman said.

khushi’s eyes widened, her lips rounded to a perfect “o” as she stared uncomprehending.

“huh! memsahib… kaun memsahib?” she asked looking around. she was in the room they were to live in. it was large and airy with windows along an entire wall, the wall was in a shade of lilac. the bed linen and curtains were in a paler tone of lilac. the bed was really wide; the furniture was painted white, there was a desk set into a corner with a leather upholstered chair, a lilac throw lay over the back, a large comfortable sofa sat before a low coffee table. the sofa covers were in a mauve, pretty close to the lilac. khushi liked the vase filled with purplish blue small feathery flowers on the table. she had never seen flowers like that.

“aap memshaab!” the girl smiled and nodded her head at khushi.

“nahiiiiiiiin… i am not memsahib…!” khushi’s eyes went wide and… did they think she was like that, hoonh!, khushi scowled… that laad governor… no, hey devi maiyya, raksha karna, she wanted to be nothing like him. always ordering people around, not listening to anybody…
(hey, mother goddess, protect me!)

“memshaab!” it was bahadur. he had just walked in carrying a tray laden with tea and cakes.

“shab theek hai?” the elderly man asked with a smile. he had a broad happy face lined by time and weather, his skin was a shiny dun, and his eyes were almost disappeared every time he grinned yet you could see the glint in them.

(is everything alright, madam?)

“kanumoni, memshaab ka shaman cupboard mein rakkho!” bahadur turned and instructed the girl at the door.

(kanumoni, keep madam’s clothes in the cupboard!)

“memshaab, yeh kanumoni… she will help you…” he said to khushi, who was still looking faintly horror struck.

(madam, this is kanumoni, she’ll help you.)

“memshaab? nahiiiin… !” khushi shrieked suddenly finding her voice… “bahadur ji, kanumoni ji, you can’t call me that… hum not memshaab, hum khushi kumari… see? khushi…” she smiled, “kumari!” she smiled wider.

(madam? noooooo!)

two sets of perplexed eyes followed her.

“ji?!!” exclaimed both the young girl and the older man.

“haan! aap bahadur ji… aap kanumoni ji… hum khushi…” khushi tried to explain…

(yes! you… bahadur ji! you… kanumoni ji! me… khushi…)

kanumoni giggled and said, “baideo!”

khushi frowned, “bye bye???” she was reminded of mami ji.

bahadur beamed, “khushi baideo… elder shishter… okay, memshaab?”

“baideo! do people here call jiji that? how pretty!” khushi grinned at both of them, “bahadur ji, baideo… okay?”

the sun began to set fast around five. khushi stared unblinking at the sky turning pink orange purple mauve over the stretch of green, the spare tall shade trees growing amid the tea bushes became dark silhouettes against the burst of colour. far far away was the horizon somewhere, khushi sighed.

a dark shape loomed before her eyes. she started. but before she could scream, a pair of lips had landed on hers and she was being kissed thoroughly. khushi struggled a little, then decided she liked the kiss too much to fight it… or maybe she liked the kisser. he had walked up to her from behind obviously while she sat out in the garden having tea. he’d been out for some time. she couldn’t see his face in the dark, but she could feel his stubble grazing the skin by her lips, his teeth were sharp and smooth against her tongue, a faint aroma reached her nostrils. it was pleasant and made her want to… want to… she inhaled deeply and thrust her lips against his, unable to complete that thought.
“hmmm…!” he grunted still kissing her, then the lips lifted from hers for a moment and she heard him say, “what if someone can see us?”

once more she got no time to react, the lips went right back to doing what they were doing.

khushi decided she didn’t care any more, she flung her arms around his neck and pulled him down onto the chair. his hands were riding up under her kurta soon, his fingers were cool against her waist, her ribcage. she wriggled and protested, but didn’t stop him.

“still angry with me?” he murmured as his mouth moved along her cheek toward her ear. she wished she could speak, but it was getting difficult to concentrate on anything… and what was that orangey fragrance around him, something sweet in it and heavy… she nodded vigorously.

“okay, then i’d better go to helena,” he said. was he laughing?

she reached up and ran her fingers through his hair, clutching a handful she drew him nearer, arching her neck, lost in the touch of his lips on her neck, her ear lobes.. her..

“kya?!” khushi sprang away from him as the words registered, her head still reeling, her mind longing, “hele… kaun?”

in the fading light, his face was not clearly visible but the dark shimmer of his eyes cut through the shadows, made her breathless again. he was laughing.

“helena, she’s beautiful…” asr said, his left eyebrow cocked and he shrugged. she gawked at him.

“come!” he said in a crisp tone, she shivered slightly.
“you must meet her!” he caught hold of her hand and walked with long strides toward the porch, she followed feeling utterly confused. he was going to introduce her to some woman… girl… no, it was a chudail. yes, surely… khushi’s lips thinned and her ire rose… this shadyantri sher, no, frangipani chudail… he had brought her to a lonely deserted place only to kiss her and play with another…

“say hello to helena, khushi!” asr whispered in her ear.
“huh?!” khushi exclaimed, disoriented… something soft and wet touched her fingers, she looked down startled. a long brown something was playing with her fingers, her palm, her arm… khushi’s eyes followed, amazement gathering in hazel irises.

“salaam, baideo… helena, say salaam to baideo,” a tiny gnome like man she hadn’t seen before urged in a singsong gentle voice.

khushi’s dazed eyes moved from her hands to the face of the man and climbed all the way up to where she could see one eye next to a huge slapping ear. grey, wrinkled skin, long swaying… trunk.

it was an elephant.

khushi almost screamed.

“shhh!” asr was holding her hand in a reassuring grip now, “it’s okay, khushi… this is helena… salman’s father’s pet… okay? breathe… breathe… it’s okay!”
khushi looked blankly into warm brown eyes. pet? a whole elephant? this huge humongous creature??! she thought of lakshmi ji.

“p..p…pet?” she stammered, holding his hand tight.

“yes, khushi…” asr’s voice was gentle suddenly, he stroked the elephant’s trunk as he spoke, “helena here was a baby when mr ghaznavi… tazdiq… saved her after poachers killed her mother. she’s been with them ever since. she’s ten years old now… and that’s maila, her mahout…”

khushi watched the animal and asr for a few minutes, not saying anything. a strange affinity between the two she could sense. and arnav ji’s voice had been so soft, like a whisper almost, as if he were talking to himself… helena. she let her tongue go over the syllables.

“namaste, helena ji!” khushi said clearly to the elephant, folding her hands, “aap se milke badi khushi hui… hamare lakshmi ji bhi aap se milker khush ho jaati!” she grinned and patted helena’s trunk gingerly. then with growing confidence.

(namaste, helena ji! i am delighted to meet you… our lakshmi ji too would be very happy to make your acqaintance!)

maila nodded approvingly and repeated to helena, “helena, say salaam to baideo…”

helena turned her head a little and looked at khushi, then slowly she raised her trunk in a greeting.

khushi felt a thrill rush through her. asr swallowed and tried to look nonchalant, a curiously moving sight, the girl from lucknow with an off centre plait and bobbing blue pompoms meeting the orphan elephant from assam. he found himself wondering if elephants ate jalebi.

then he shook his head, maybe it was indeed time for a consultation with dr hussain, delhi’s leading psychiatrist.
“arnav ji, dekhiye, the sun is rising!” khushi was standing at the window, watching the morning light as it broke and the gardens and distant hills, hamlets, and a river came into view.

“shut up, khushi!” grunted asr from the bed.

khushi drew her white dupatta around her shoulders, there was a slight chill in the air.

she thought of the green ocean, of being called memshaab; of an orange flecked sweet aroma on her arnav ji… it was most likely from the honey he’d said, mr ghaznavi kept bees and he’d taken arnav ji to see the hives; she thought of young and pretty kanumoni ji who wore a dress she’d never seen before; of bahadur ji with glinting eyes and all “s” sounds turned to “sh”; of nand kissore’s home, the airport; of a big grey pet called helena ji… she began to feel a glorious lightness.
such an ajeeb and wonderful place arnav ji had brought her to.

she was too happy and distracted to notice a pair of deep brown eyes open, look at her appraisingly for a couple of moments, then close even as a hand shot out and grasped her around the waist and yanked her off her feet.

“arnav ji!” khushi yelped.

“arnav!” came the brusque command.

“jwalamukhi!” she countered, settling into his arms and pushing up his tee, trailing her fingers over his chest.



there was something about these two that made you go a bit crazy, the jhalli and the tycoon, and all that dhkdhak.