darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning,
with no distinguishing sign, all this was water.
the life force that was covered with emptiness,
that one arose through the power of heat.
desire came upon that one in the beginning,
that was the first seed of mind.
~~~ the creation hymn, rig veda ~~~
her name passed through him, brushing softly against his vocal chords, making him exhale, giving him breath.
the pain of the words gushing out of his vile uncle had coagulated in a throb at the temples. he had to think away from it he knew, or else it would have its way.
“shyam!” he suddenly turned his entire attention to the other man in the room, “how come you have nothing to say? or maybe though chacha ji thinks this whole elaborate set is his, it is actually you who has made us come up to here… this moment?”
caught unawares, shyam gaped at asr. he could sense danger, being the feral creature he was, he could always do that, helped him survive each time, even defeat the valiant.
and then without a pause arnav singh raizada continued, “khushi!”
shyam smiled gloatingly at that, “saaley saab, woh toh idhar hain nahin… shayad aap…”
(brother in law, she is not here… maybe you…)
“… don’t stand there alone, just come inside… to me… mere paas aao!” asr completed his sentence and looked at the door.
khushi heard his voice and knew there was only one thing she wanted to do right now… and if that meant someone might do something terrible to her, even that didn’t matter.
only arnav ji mattered.
he had felt she was there…
khushi walked into the room, a faint smile coming to her lips the moment she saw him.
the two men watched jaws dropping as she walked in, looking at nothing and no one but arnav singh raizada.
as she approached him, he felt lightness come, a slightly fuzzy feeling in his heart, his eyes glinted bright just looking at her.
lovely crazy girl, who knows how she had managed to get away…
he could feel the corner of his lips lift.
she watched mesmerised at the turning of those lips… waiting to see how far it would go, soon it was the full lopsided smile of her dear beloved fantastic fabulous very laad governor husband.
it was like her compass, that pointed toward all being fine, absolutely perfect.
khushi couldn’t hold herself back, she ran toward him the last few steps and fell against him, into his arms, laughing.
no one knew it, but a song played in the air. a song that knew the moment better than any other… rabba vey floated on the gust of a breeze. did the breeze in turn touch the lovers’ hair and make the strands fly a little?
the two captors stared helplessly at their quarries. what was wrong with them? they were hugging and what…???
even as they watched, asr kissed khushi hungrily on the lips taking his time. she clung to him, kissing him right back.
“khushi!” he whispered against her mouth, then kissed her once more.
the hassled voices of the men rang out.
asr lifted his head slowly and drawled, “haan, so shyam, tell me what are you doing here? you are not a malik… you don’t have some old grudge against my esteemed chacha ji or me… or… do you?”
khushi stood next to her husband holding his hand tightly.
“girls are stupid” said the twelve year old boy looking scathingly at his cousin, who stared at the film magazine that belonged to his mother.
“but i love sonali bendre!” exclaimed akash, “see see, bhai, isn’t she you know… sexy…” he whispered the word, fearful that someone might hear him and then he’d have his mother admonishing him shrilly for hours. she hated it when he spoke of girls.
“you are naats to mensuniya girls, understanding, bitwa… i, manorama, will chooj a nice girls phar yous and yous marry her onlyj. no lookings at any bad bad girls… akas bitwa, hum kah dewat hai!” he had heard this too many times from his mother.
(you are not to mention girls, son… i, manorama, will choose a nice girl for you and you will marry her. no looking at any bad girls… akash, i’m telling you!)
“no, she is not… sexy!” arnav made a derisive face, lips curled, eyes glazed, eyebrow cocked, “huh! akash, if you want to hang out with me, you have to stop talking about those people, you know… girls. let’s play chess… your brain needs some work.”
“but, bhai, sonali is good looking, you have to say!” akash said in a small but dreamy voice while the two of them played.
“shut up, akash… all i have to say,” arnav moved a piece and said, “is check… mate.”
“arnow, stop talking nonsense!” chacha ji cut in, “shyam, get him to sign the will…”
khushi felt a wave of love touch and break over her heart. of course he knew what he was doing. he always knew how to solve problems
asr kept quiet, sensing chacha ji was nervous now. khushi’s entry had taken the two by absolute surprise… they knew something in their plan was not going right.
asr remembered her lips moving beneath his, her body straining against him… you are like life to me, do you know? he thought. then he squeezed her hand. clever, brave girl, khushi kumari gupta singh raizada.
he was dying to laugh he realised.
“arnav, iss pe dastakhat kar dijiye, janab!” shyam was holding out a sheaf of papers.
(arnav, sign here, sir!)
khushi darted a glance at her husband. surely he was not going to do any such thing. she tugged at his hand a little. she felt him give her another reassuring squeeze. he seemed to be saying it was fine, he knew what to do.
khushi felt a wave of love touch and break over her heart. of course he knew what he was doing. he always knew how to solve problems… even when things were terribly tricky. in fact, he liked terribly tricky problems.
she held his hand tighter still. he would know she understood and was ready to go along with whatever his plan may be.
oh khushi was pretty sure by now her arnav ji had a plan.
without even looking at the papers, asr took them and signed wherever shyam indicated he should.
shyam smiled, completely satisfied and looked at chacha ji.
“good boy, arnow… and now, we shall have a repeat show, shall we?” pratap malik was sounding very very pleased with himself.
“aur ek kali raat aur phir se… suicide… double suicide…” he said in dramatic vein, his voice going tinny, louder, grotesque, “poor arnow, he was so broken by the suicide of his parents that he brought his wife whom he loved so so dearly here back to his old family haveli one night and made a pact with her… to die together!!! just like his parents had, and they committed… suicide… how do you like the plot, my dear dear nephew?”
(another black night and again… suicide…)
asr looked at his uncle without expression.
“and my dear bahurani khushi? i wanted to give you a warm welcome, but you just broke into our little meeting… tch! tch! boori baat boori baat…”
(and my dear daughter in law khushi… i wanted to give you a warm welcome, but you just broke into our little meeting… very bad, very bad…)
khushi watched the killer of her parents horrified, a faintly sick feeling in her.
“kill them, shyam,” said pratap malik in a quiet voice.
shyam drew out a revolver from his trouser pocket and pointed it at asr.
asr looked at the nozzle and heard again… gunshots.
it had been a terrible day. by the time he had handled the clients who were doing an about face and being shockingly dishonest, sorted out and got a complete understanding of the legal loopholes and intricacies, spoken to akash in detail about the consequences and the ways to salvage the situation, fobbed off the media and finally decided he’d take a break and get back to it all the next day, he was exhausted.
asr’s head was pounding when he walked into shantivan. he was still wired up, worried and his limbs ached from the tension of the entire day. back of his head two spots throbbed, as though sensing danger… alert, waiting.
he poured himself a drink, the warm mellow colour of whisky spilling over glassy cubes of ice making its way to the base of the glass, something soothing in that.
khushi had come out of the kitchen as he walked in, he had gone past her without a word and headed upstairs. he stood now in front of the french windows looking out, the water in the pool was in its constant flow, his eyes followed the patterns on its surface.
he felt her hands on his shoulder.
he stayed rigid, distant, tired and aloof.
she laid her cheek against his back and stayed there for a while. then her hands moved to the back of his neck and she started to massage him gently. languid, unhurried, undemanding.
he wanted to tell her to leave him alone. he took a sip of his drink instead. his hand reaching up to his tie loosening the knot.
without realising he had leaned back, arching a little against her, she pressed his back now and slipped her arms around his waist pulling him close, he could feel her weight, her contours on his back.
he breathed in deeply. felt like his first relaxed breath in the entire day.
khushi turned him around, held his hand and took him to their bed. he didn’t resist. he needed rest he knew… but the tightness in his body, his muscles, refused to abate.
she took his glass of whisky and put it on the bedside table. she stood before him and took off his tie, then his waistcoat, his shirt, she slipped his soft, light calvin klein tee shirt over his head.
she helped him take his socks and shoes off after making him sit on the bed, with confident fingers she unbuckled his belt and took off his trousers. he felt her fingers at his waist once more and as she went to take his boxers off a rush of plain desire overtook him.
“come here, you,” he groaned dragging her into his arms.
she looked up, startled, she had been so concentrating on the job of making her husband feel a little better she had completely forgotten the effect she had on him. she looked into his eyes, chocolate dark molten deepening with something that seemed to smoulder… and she almost choked.
she had obviously also forgotten the effect he had on her.
he kissed her swiftly and proceeded to make love to her without wasting any time. she lost track of why she was here, that she was concerned about his state of mind just a moment ago, all she knew was that his lips were driving her crazy. and she really didn’t want him to stop.
her clothes were off her body without them ever breaking their fevered exploration of each other. yes, she wanted his lips there on her breast, on her nipple, just there on her mid riff, her belly, her… she pushed him back on the bed and kissed him all the way down along the centre of his chest, her fingers playing with his crisp, fuzzy, fun, chest hair. she bit him lightly, “ow” he exclaimed, jerking slightly and then rolled her onto her back, riding easily over her.
she gazed into his eyes and prepared herself. she wanted him, right now.
afterwards as they lay wrapped in each others arms, their breath not yet quite steady, she asked, “was it a very bad day, arnav ji?”
his left arm was around her hugging her while she lay against him, he stroked the soft skin near her throat as he smiled slightly and said in a drowsy voice, “not so bad… utna bhi bura nahin tha…”
shyam’s hand looked terrifyingly steady to khushi as he held the revolver pointing at arnav ji.
she wanted to throw herself between that gun and her husband. but he had made her promise she’d never do that.
she wondered why shyam was not pulling the trigger.
shyam stood there looking at asr, a dark hatred in his eyes.
“go on, shyam, shoot me…” arnav singh raizada said in his husky voice, khushi started, why was arnav ji goading this man to kill him?
“but it isn’t me you want to shoot is it, shyam?” asr could feel he was taking shyam to the point he wanted… he could almost see shyam reaching the precipice.
it was a good thing he had confronted this pretender before. yes, he was fooled that very first time, maybe his desperate need to see his di happy had made him blind to the truth for years, but tonight he knew he was not going to be scammed.
shyam kept looking at asr, but his gaze had grown frenzied, he had begun to sweat and his face was contorted, a slight twitch invaded it.
“don’t bungle this time also, shyam!” pratap malik’s voice was cutting, “shoot them!”
one would never know whether it was the words or the sneer in the voice that did it, but suddenly shyam whipped around and pointed the gun at pratap malik directly and screamed,
“bas! aur ek shabd nahin aapke gandi zabaan se…!!”
(stop! not a word from your filthy mouth any more!!)
khushi thought she would pass out with relief, she looked at arnav ji. was that a small smile playing on his lips? and his eyes were twinkling??
“pratap malik,” a deathly calm entered shyam’s voice, “have you ever thought why i have been your faithful loyal lawyer for so many years? why i let you insult me again and again, why i save you from the hands of law all the time… that filthy sick business of yours, selling women, young girls…” shyam’s face began to contort again, he was shaking with fury.
pratap malik stood nonplussed. he hadn’t in his wildest imagined this might happen some day.
this was shyam after all, he had given him his break as a lawyer all those years ago. shyam, who listened to every single thing he said, who when he realised after arnow took back sheesh mahal, that his brother in law was in fact pratap malik’s nephew, had sworn to help him take revenge.
they had played so many games together. kidnapped arnow, but alas because of that ridiculous clause in his will which shyam could not fix, they had not been able to take back sheesh mahal…
pratap malik had thought it was a sign.
yes, a sign.
he was meant to do something bigger and more dramatic while snatching back what was his. he would show these ordinary men what he was capable of once and for all. and so he had devised the suicide.
arnav malik would return to sheesh mahal and kill himself.
of course, before that, in a fit of grief and remorse he would sign over the will to the maliks, the rightful owners, no, owner, he… pratap malik.
he had told shyam to get khushi killed in a terrible accident before arnow’s eyes. then lure him in that broken state with hints of khushi’s past being buried in sheesh mahal. what a stroke of luck, his nephew had fallen in love with and married that ungrateful lajwanti’s daughter. the whole thing had a sense of drama pratap malik felt thrilled with.
but shyam had messed up the murder of this silly chit of a girl.
and so he had had to think fresh, find a way to get both of them here. get arnow to find you and drop a hint cleverly about his wife’s link to sheesh mahal, he had instructed shyam. of course, this could have been done on the phone, but the chance of a dramatic encounter, pratap malik didn’t want to miss out on it.
thankfully shyam had managed that though he had whined endlessly about how much arnow had beaten him and been just a moment away from killing him.
he had promised shyam, not to worry, he would get the opportunity to take revenge too.
and now after waiting those months for arnow to recover, letting things calm down a bit, while he finished a big deal in london which needed him to be there for some time, now that they had finally set the whole thing up so perfectly…
what the heck was shyam doing?
pratap malik glared at shyam.
“i could have killed you years ago,” shyam whispered through clenched teeth, “but i wasn’t sure… i wasn’t sure…” his breathing became terribly laboured.
then recovering somehow, shyam continued, “do you remember seema jha, malik saab?”
pratap malik gave him a confused stare, seema jha sounded familiar but where had he…?
“she was my mother…” shyam breathed in heavily, “she was a married, self respecting woman, you scoundrel, when you met her and did what to her i will never know. but as i grew up, i heard the whispers… all around, people talking about her, insinuating things… your mistress? your whore? what… what did you force her into…” shyam’s voice was rising, losing control…
“she couldn’t take it, she couldn’t survive what you did… she gave birth to me and after a few days, when i was only days old, she killed herself.”
khushi looked at shyam shocked. pratap malik had started to perspire.
“they thought i was your filthy gift to my mother… that you had gotten her pregnant. my father threw her out of the house months before i was born, though it was he that had sent her to you… oh i found out about things as i grew up…my father owed you money… to write that off, you had asked him to send his wife to you… now do you remember? because when i kill you, malik saab, i need you to know why it is that you are dying…”
asr held khushi’s hand real tight, as if getting ready.
“i thought maybe i was really your son… so i decided i would take everything that is yours and maybe spare you,” shyam sneered, “i knew losing your things would hurt you far more than losing your life… i wanted to watch you suffer… death seemed too easy for the wrong you had done me… my mother. oh i killed off my mother’s husband, don’t worry… my first little misdemeanour, a simple viper in his bed as he slept… when i was fourteen years old. it felt good to watch him flinch and writhe and die…” shyam’s voice had gone icy cold,
“but now, malik saab, looks like you don’t have to live… because impotent as you are,” shyam began to laugh,
“you could not have given me as that filthy gift to my mother… and turns out i really did kill my father…” he threw back his head and laughed, a streak of insanity in his demeanour.
“you all are so ridiculous standing here watching me go on and on… did YOU… YOU SCUMBAG, really think i would kill khushi… my khushi… she is mine… do you really think i told the bus driver to kill her, YOU IDIOT? he was supposed to just drive past her hassling arnav, so you wouldn’t suspect anything… instead the bus hit arnav, i prayed he would live… or his wife and sister would get everything and it would all get complicated… and he did live… i snared him as i knew i would… with or without your RIDICULOUS instructions, pratap malik… now, i will kill you and arnav… ENOUGH natak drama game everything… now along with sheesh mahal, khushi will be mine forever…” shyam’s voice rose to a crescendo and stopped abruptly. khushi shuddered.
the shot rang out at the same instant that asr tugged at khushi’s hand and started running pulling her along with him.
by the time shyam had fired the shot and turned around arnav singh raizada was racing down the corridor outside holding khushi kumari gupta singh raizada’s hand in a firm grip. the pigeons in the eaves and corners of the edifice stirred and flew out all around.