anjali sat before the dressing table staring at the row of green and gold fine glass bangles she had just selected from her rack of bangles. her eyes had strayed to the pale pink ones on another stack wondering if she should combine those with the bright leaf green ones when she caught herself up short.
shyam ji was a cheat. he was in police custody.
what was she doing staring at bangles in the middle of that? anjali could almost see her face lose all expression. for the last three years, every morning she had sat like this and chosen her huge stack of choories to match the saree she had decided to wear that day. she loved looking pretty, enjoyed it when everyone said she looked lovely, but the compliment that always touched her heart and made her feel beautiful, feel that all was well no matter what, was shyam ji’s, of course.
he would stand back a bit and take in her whole look… the saree, the bindi, the bangles, then he’d smile… she loved that smile. every day he found a new way to tell her how gorgeous she looked… “raani sahiba, aap toh bahut bedard hain, humey maar dalengi kya?” or “what have I done to deserve the most beautiful woman in the world… not just here… in the whole universe…” or “raani sahiba, you are an artist, your choice of colours, bade bade kalakar bhi haar maan jaaye…”
(raani sahiba, you are heartless, do you want to kill me?
raani sahiba, you are an artist, your choice of colours, even well known artists will accept defeat…)
anjali felt her eyes begin to water. of course, she had always known he was exaggerating, and no, she was not the prettiest woman in the universe. but his tenderness, his love, his care… that’s what reached her. and she had actually believed it was all true… no exaggeration there. even though… even though… all her life she had seen how terribly untrue a man could be.
her heart seemed to open out and embrace a wilderness. it howled through her, knocking against her inner shell.
shyam ji was also untrue.
nothing really mattered any more. the man she loved was not who she thought he was. and no, he did not love her… whether she was the most pretty woman in the world or not.
he did not love her.
she started putting back her bangles… she wouldn’t dress up today. what was the point. a heaviness began to pervade her limbs, starting with her legs, especially the bad one. anjali felt herself beginning to droop.
she had almost returned the bangles to the rack when she heard them tinkling and she started.
maa. she remembered maa’s kangans, clinking. no, clanking. they were wider and made of pure 24 carat gold, metal has a different sound. it was her sound.
maa would always get ready before the mirror after her early morning bath. her saree was always crisp and fresh, her hair wet… she’d make a middle parting with much care, always with that shell comb nani ji had given her when she got married. then she’d add a dash of sindoor, a bright red bindi, and last of all, she’d slip on the kangans she’d taken off the previous night, just before she went to bed.
no matter what, maa always did that. whether pita ji was happy or sad or drunk or nasty. whether he came home late or early or not at all… maa was always there. and looking calm and beautiful in the mornings.
anjali seemed to suddenly understand why it was that despite all the turmoil of a home where a man played false and cared little for his family, chhotey and she still felt whole, still believed all could be well. it was all because of maa, how she let herself be in the face of everything.
as she sat before the mirror, at that very moment, anjali realised why maa did it. it was really for her children. for her… anjali. maa always called her anjali bitiya. and for chhotey. anjali almost heard the kangans clanking as she remembered.
instinctively, her hand went to the slight bulge just beginning to grow in her middle and she patted it… good morning, chhotu ji, she thought, the words just coming to her… so which bangles should mama wear today.
and she smiled a little as she let her wrist slip through the first five green bangles. then gold… then pink… then green again.
love was a strange thing, it always restored you, provided you knew where it lay and made simple pure complete contact. she had loved shyam ji, and that she knew would take a while to recede, to change… but right here was the beginning of another love and she wanted to be present for it, in full gear.
she looked at the bangles on her arm and jangled them slightly… can you hear my bangles, she asked her unborn child.
“di!” asr walked briskly into anjali’s room. he was all ready to go to work. his hair was neatly brushed back, his stubble impeccably trimmed. his white shirt gleamed literally against the morning sunlight, the blue grey waistcoat was buttoned down, the crease on the trousers’ leg was straight and precise. just a tiny fold of shirt dared to misbehave, that too only a bit, nudging out between the waistline of his slim fitting trousers and waistcoat. he held the jacket slung over a shoulder. in his other hand, he held a glass of orange juice.
“di!” he said again, in that urgent way of his.
“why haven’t you had your orange juice yet? hari prakash said you’d refused to have it… now come on, di!” he walked to anjali admonishing her… his voice caught between customary brusqueness and a tenderness he really would rather not have anyone notice.
“chhotey!” anjali said in her usual gentle way, “don’t worry about me… i am fine… really,” she turned to look at him, but he was already bearing down on her with a scowl.
“di! aap theek ho?” he put the glass on the dressing table and the next thing she knew, he was sitting on his haunches before her peering at her face. frowning furiously.
(are you alright?)
an instant later, his arms were around her waist, his head pressed against her lap. he pulled her closer.
a rush of tears drenched anjali’s eyes. chhotey! she hugged him back without thinking.
“di! sorry di, galati ho gayi… i should have known… but please don’t worry, aap ko kuchh hone nahin doonga… i am here… aap ke liye… aur aur… di… aap ke bacche ke liye… pelase aap fikar mat kijiye… di, i will never make such a mistake again… please…” asr burst out, he couldn’t bear to see his sister in any unhappiness… di must not suffer. he would do whatever it took to make her feel alright again… she was really everything to him, though he rarely said that.
(si! sorry di, i made a mistake… i should have known… but please don’t worry, won’t let anything happen to you… i am here… for you… and and… di… for your child… please don’t worry, di, i will never make such a mistake again… please…)
“chhotey!” anjali said at last… calmly.
he went still as he heard her voice, then he lifted his head looking at her.
“yaad hai, chhotey, how maa looked?” she asked, “even when nothing felt right and good?” asr gazed at his sister intently, thoughts of his mother already filling him. beautiful, smiling, always understanding… till that night.
(you remember, chhotey, how maa looked?)
anjali stroked his hair gently, then patted his cheek… there was no one else on earth allowed to do that, of course.
“and why are you scowling again? you think I can’t tell you are concerned like crazy about me?” anjali made a face at asr. he swallowed hard.
“for us, chhotey. only for you and me. she never ever let her misery become bigger than her love for you and me… never gave in.. till that night… don’t worry, this one is here, na,” she again touched her stomach, “i will be fine, tum dekhna…”
(i’ll be fine, you’ll see…)
between them hung a terrible memory. it belonged to them and nothing would ever change its horror.
he held her hand in a firm grip and said, “di… don’t worry… we will be fine…”
anjali nodded and smiled a little.
“tell me, how am I looking?” she asked battling the tears which now threatened a downpour.
“ekdam bhootni lag rahin hain aap, woh mango tree wali,” he shot back without a pause. some part of him felt the touch of a frangipani chudail, all the way from bali.
(you’re looking like a ghost, the one that lives in the mango tree…)
anjali’s eyes widened at that, that’s what he used to call her when they were kids. she picked up an eyebrow pencil and flung it at him, “you! nahiiin… you were always so mean so mean… jao, i won’t speak to you!”
“waise, I have pretty decent eyebrows, but agar aap suggest kar rahin hai, i will see what i can do about it…” he said looking seriously at the pencil which he’d naturally caught with no effort. he looked down, a smirk struggling at his lips.
(well, I have pretty decent eyebrows, but if you are suggesting this, I will see what I can do about it…)
anjali giggled, then said, “okay, now you’ll be late for work… go. and chhotey, i don’t want you to find some clever way to postpone the wedding… i really do not want anything more to be destroyed this time round… last time…” she halted, again a little winded.
asr waited quietly… hoping that his sister would find a way back.
“and besides, you are in such a rush to marry khushi, arent’t you?” she again smiled and teased her brother.
“huh?!” he was taken aback by the turn in the conversation.
“haan, itna pyaar jo hai tumhe unse…” anjali said still looking at him and smiling.
(yeah, you love her so much!)
“what?!” asr was nonplussed. what the. then he said in his smoky, most evasive voice, eyes dismissive of his sister’s romantic notions, “pyaar… aur main! what rubbish, di…”
(love… and me! what rubbish, di)
the tiny almost undetectable trace of wonder in his voice though did not go unnoticed by his di.
“haan, pyaar nahin karte, issiliye itni jaldi hai tumhe shadi karne ki… jao mere bhaiyya, have fun with your khadoos asr mask,” she said, mimicking his grim look.
(yeah, you don’t love her, that’s why you are in such a rush to marry her, isn’t that right, chhotey? go, my bro, have fun with your dour asr mask.)
impossible! he thought to himself and turned to leave. there was plenty to be done at the office. shyam really had not chosen the best of times to show his true colours, asr thought in a flash of typical asr like disconnect with the world. he never could tolerate anything coming in the way of work. if only di knew why he was marrying khushi… why he got her here in the first place.
she had been so irritating.
kept bothering him, coming to his thoughts.
so he’d solved the problem. brought her here.
and now? well… he thought to himself… he no longer had to marry her to protect her from that shyam maybe, but he still had to… why?
well, there had to be a plausible reason. and he would look for it later.
what was all this about love?
surely, di knew him well enough by now. he just didn’t believe in all this flaky emotional stuff. stuff that people clung to because they found reality too harsh to handle. and in that reality… there was nothing called love.
but he was not going to upset di with all this now…
“uss baar sab kuchh bikhar gaya tha… iss baar hum waisa hone nahin denge, hai na, chhotey?” anjali said softly, a lost girl in her voice.
(that time everything had scattered, this time we won’t let that happen, right, chhotey?)
he nodded, his lips tightening, struggling with an emotion that threatened to engulf him.
“chhotey, please give khushi maa’s moti ka mala… she would want your wife to have it… nani ji has it in the safe… i would like to give her something from maa… welcome her…” anjali said to him.
(please give khushi maa’s pearl string… she would want our wife to have it…)
his eyes closed involuntarily when he heard that and he started walking away swiftly.
a terrible memory stalked him all the way.
billo mausi waited in the sitting room, her beady alert eyes darting about. she did not want to miss the arrival of the son in law to be to pick up his wife to be. her lips curved up… literally pick her up even. she sighed.
her considered opinion after seeing the latest salman khan film was that, no… what she had seen sitting in madhumati ji’s verandah the other morning was far far more romantic than whatever she saw on the screen the night before.
kuch baat hi aur thi, uss jhatke wali baahon mein uthane mein, she thought.
(there was something else about that whole pick up and hold her in his strong arms thing…)
unconsciously, her entire body jerked and responded to the thought of being caught in just such exciting baahein.
“behen ji” shashi gupta looked up from his newspaper as he felt tremors shake the sofa, “sab theek thak hai na?”
(sister, is everything alright?)
why was billo ji looking so spaced out? maybe she’d caught a bug or something, he frowned.
billo mausi started pushing her pins back into her bun frantically though they had not budged a millimetre from where they were supposed to be and said, “haan ji haan ji, bilkul… hum to waise hi… er aap chai lenge?” with that she bounded up and went off toward the kitchen.
(yes, of course… i was just… would you like some tea?)
uff, hopefully she would be back by the time that good looking boy got here. yeah, he looked very stern and unsmiling, but her heart beat seemed to like that. haye… if only the movies were as good as this. what nonsense, you paid two two hundred rupees almost for these films these days. ticket prices had climbed where… much better than that, just sit at home, no, at madhumati ji’s home, and wait for… she tossed her head.
khushi came out of her room just then, all set for jon piye ji to pick her up. arnav ji had had a word with jon piye ji late last night and told her to accompany the designer to chandni chowk, he needed some more things.
she wondered why billo mausi was suddenly in the kitchen… and tossing her head too. she never helped with any real work…
then khushi’s lips tightened. hoonh, must be the effect of salman ji on her. her salman ji, whose film billo mausi had gone to see even before she had had a chance. oh this unfair world, really. khushi’s eyes narrowed.
okay, it was useful to have billo mausi out of the way last evening. but still, it rankled.
khushi peered at the older lady for a while… yes, it was clear she was smitten, khushi shook her head in a half satisfied, half irritated way.
koi bach nahin sakta salman ji se, kyon! she grinned cheekily, eyebrows dancing, plait swinging a little, now looking completely satisfied.
(no one can save themselves from salman ji, why!)
“chhotey, are you alright?” nani ji asked as she gave him the pearls which she had given her daughter the day he, her grandson, was born. her jeweller had come across some beautiful basra pearls, natural yet almost flawless and round, with the deepest lustre. hemangini raizada had been delighted to get a string made for her daughter.
after seven long years ratna was having her second child. hemangini had hoped her daughter would be blessed with another beautiful offspring and one more person who would fill her life with love. she knew how hard ratna struggled in her marriage, though they rarely spoke of it. her daughter would not wish to burden her in any way, beside she believed it was the duty of a wife to be resolute and face whatever her marriage brought.
hemangini sometimes wondered these days about the wisdom of that.
true, a certain toughness helped you tackle life. but what if injustice were heaped upon you and you still had to bear it all in the name of tradition and wifely duties.
she shook her head as the thought came.
“kya hua nani… you okay?” her grandson asked instantly.
(what’s the matter, nani… you okay?)
hemangini looked at her handsome grandson, how fresh and ready for the day he looked… his eyes were like ratna’s.
nani ji smiled, “yes, chhotey, I am… even though I suppose there is enough reason not to be…”
asr knew how much his nani had faced in life and always with supreme grace… plus a steely unbending strength.
“nani… di…” he began.
“don’t worry, my child, i know anjali is going through painful, awful moments right now… but she will be alright… i slept in her room last night and will spend time with her now… when a storm comes, chhotey, you have to hold your self down and get tethered to the ground… not let anything blow you away…” nani ji sighed, she missed her arun ji all of a sudden. that smiling gentle face.
“I know, nani ji…” asr swallowed, “you are there… you won’t let anything happen to di,” he had no idea why but he felt his nani needed a hug right now and he gave her a quick one before striding out with a, “tell mami ji to chat with di… that will make her happy…”
hemangini watched the receding back of chhotey and thought, “yes, anjali… but i hope i could take care of you too… yet i know i didn’t really manage it… where has your smile gone, my child, it’s been so long… but now khushi is here… maybe she will bring you joy… be your happiness…”
asr put the pouch with the pearls in his pocket. and tried not to think of laughing large hazel eyes and a pair of fine lips stretched in a cheeky grin, pale pink lipstick shimmering on them. he tried not to swallow hard. faraq nahin padta, his mind whispered.
(doesn’t make a difference.)
“see see, jon piye ji, that is lal qila, red fort… i have never been inside… but you know shah jahan ji who made it… oh he loved his wife so much… have you heard about him and mumtaz mahal ji?” khushi was pointing excitedly at red fort as they drove past on their way to old delhi.
she beamed brightly at jean pierre.
she didn’t tell him that when she saw him at the door that morning, her heart for a second had felt so forlorn. where was that unsmiling face she suddenly longed to see? he was supposed to be here every morning but already he had sent akash ji one day and today jon piye ji. that laad governor must be rushing around scolding someone right now, she’d thought and then sighed wishing she were the one being yelled at.
then she’d given herself a mental whack on the cheek, told herself to stop the nonsense and smiled cheerily at jean pierre.
jp had of course noticed that little pause and would have even teased her about it, but his eyes were drawn to the gnome like lady sitting on the sofa behind, he wondered who she was and why she was looking at him so keenly, a strange glint in her eyes.
so instead of pulling khushi’s leg, he had stepped in and bowed a little, “good morning, madame, lovely to meet you, i am jean pierre, i work here with khushi,” he had said to the lady with his most charming smile.
“hullo ji hullo,” the lady had said smiling from ear to ear, “i am billo from lucknow i come to see how bitiya is. you know, dilli so so far…”
khushi had chimed, “haan, this is billo mausi, jon piye ji… she likes the same hero that i like, you know.”
jp had watched as the lady had blushed practically beetroot red and shoved khushi playfully, “haye… how does she know!”
khushi had grimaced and said, “pata chal jaata hai… one just gets to know,” winking at jean pierre, but after that quite inexplicably making a sour face.
and then they had left, the lady billo from lucknow now frantically settling the pins in her hair.
as khushi and her companion disappeared from sight, billo mausi had decided, definitely madhumati ji’s home was the best place to be at if you wanted to see romance, adventure, even phoren land. how fair that boy was, and with blue blue eyes.
“do you know, jon piye ji, shah jahan ji met mumtaz ji in the meena bazaar… ” khushi went on happily, “and he liked her so much the minute he saw her, that he took off the pearl necklace he wore and threw it at her, saying, ‘come, marry me and be my queen now!'” khushi lifted her head in a regal moghul emperor sort of way and gestured the flinging of pearl strands most dramatically.
jean pierre started laughing. the driver of their car tried hard to suppress a grin.
“i seenk, khushi, ma cherie, zat story is very lovely but a bit full of ze fancy… i seenk she was ‘is muzzer’s niece or somesing like zat… and maybe they did meet at ze bazaar, but yes… about zat love… oh zat was just perfect… very french too… he had ozzer wives i believe and many ozzer beautiful ladies too no doubt… and yet, she indeed was ‘is queen… and to ‘er ze world owes ze most maginifique taajh mahaal…” jean pierre said smiling at khushi.
“oh… so you know the unromantic so called real story,” khushi looked crestfallen, then she perked up, “never mind, phir bhi, i am sure he flung those pearls at her, like that… see, like that…” she prattled away.
just then, her phone rang.
“haylow?” her heart beat fast. was it…?
“khushi?” anjali’s voice floated in through the clamour of heartbeats getting in the way of hearing, “i was wondering, would you have a little time to come and see me today? in fact as soon as possible?” anjali requested.
“haan, anjali ji… i mean, di… but i am out with jon piye ji and we are going to chandni chowk…” she offered wondering what she should do.
anjali made the decision for her, “no problem, khushi, you finish whatever you’re doing, then come here, with jean pierre… i haven’t met him ever but chhotey is very fond of him… and both of you have lunch with us, i will talk to you then… think that will work for you?”
“of… of course, di… as you say, we will be there by about 12.30…” khushi replied and said bye to her sister in law to be.
where was this laad governor! he hadn’t bothered to call her… not once since the morning. and she had taken the trouble to go to his office with dinner in the middle of the night. he obviously couldn’t care less for her… khushi grimaced and thought… there had to be a way she could dislike him thoroughly.
anjali greeted khushi with a beautiful smile and a hug then turned to jean pierre and held out her hand, “hello, nice to meet you, jean pierre, i am anjali, arnav’s elder sister!”
jean pierre was instantly entranced. khushi gawked at anjali… what was di saying? what was this language?!
jean pierre caught hold of anjali’s hand and said in french, “anjhaali, what a lovely name and madame, how well you speak my language… i didn’t realise ahhnav’s sister spoke french…” he grinned amiably, “‘e doesn’t…”
anjali ushered them in, limping slightly, but khushi was amazed at how composed she looked.
“oh khushi, i learned french back in school in lucknow… i seem to have a knack for languages… and jean pierre, i know my accent isn’t perfect but it is such a pleasure to speak a language i have known for years and yet for miles around there’s no one to speak it with…, come, sit… hari prakash ji, aap sherbet aur pani le aiye… you two must be tired… uff chandni chowk is such a mess…”
(hari prakash, please get the sherbet and the water…)
jp started talking animatedly with anjali about what they had found on their shopping spree… french, english, bits of hindi whirled around khushi… she tried to concentrate but hunger was making her fidgety. she was distracted.
and she wondered where that rakshas would have his meal… maybe he would join them.
but lunch went by without any sudden intrusion of rapid footsteps and abruptly flung commands and instructions.
mami ji was in form though, “how arej yous, monshure jeen pierce… i am so glads to meets,” she said and held out her hand imperiously. jean pierre decided the lady deserved the kiss on the hand she had decided this meeting merited. he politely touched his lips to the back of her hand.
(how are you, monsieur jean pierre… glad to meet you…)
mami ji blushed and tittered, “how bhery frenches yous arej, he he he… hello hi bye bye… i means, bon joor aw rivoirj… you sees i ams too the phonds oph the englissiya but your frenchiya,” mami gave her version of a sophisticated tinkling laugh making anjali grin, “i must issay, you habh a bhery phines language too…” now it was jp’s turn to hide a wince with a grin. no matter how cool and trendy and comfortable being in any part of the world he was, he still was a frenchman and to be told his language was in any way not miles ahead of english… was very, to put it mildly, painful.
(how very french you are, he he he… hello hi bye bye… i mean, bon jour au revoir… you see i am very fond of english, but your french… i must say, you have a very fine language too.)
“buts, i tells you toorooth, i no knowings frenchiya… not like englissiya… eet waj anjali who tells yous arej french… so manorama going internats and quickly googlings, haan my akas bitwa taughts me you knowj… and learnings the phine frenchiya…”
(but i’ll tell you honestly, i don’t know any french… not like english… anjali said you were french… so manorama went to the internet and quickly googled, yes my son akash has taught me… and so i learned fine french…)
nani ji looked around the table, saw anjali looking light and relaxed… happy with the way the day was going, she instructed om prakash to bring out the desserts…
khushi almost shrieked when she saw the jalebis.
“haan, bitiya, i know you like jalebis…” said nani ji, she was sure khushi would bring happiness to this home, something about this young girl touched her and made her feel warm and happy, “try these, they are from bengal sweets in khan market… i love them you know… these small crisp ones, so good…”
later, while jp spoke to nani ji and mama ji, anjali had a quiet word with khushi.
“i just wanted to tell you, khushi… i have a feeling my brother will try to postpone the wedding… he will make some funny excuse and push it back… i know him, if he feels i am not feeling strong and up to it, he will not go ahead with the plans, especially since he is so much in love with you and wants to have you with him…” anjali held khushi’s hand.
khushi picked up a jalebi with the other hand and started stuffing her mouth…
laad governor loved her so much? what was anjali ji saying? had she ever seen her brother? was that monster even capable of loving? that nasty khadoos, that… that, her lips tightened, that jwalamukhi… always spewing fire and smoke… love, huh!
and yet, her heart had leapt at the words… what if indeed he had loved her so much… what if he wanted to marry her because he was in…
“shut up, khushi!” she heard his biting command in her head. she started. yes, she’d better shut up indeed…
“promise me, you will not let him change the date… this time i don’t want any chaos, i want to see the two of you happy together…” anjali finshed saying what she was. then unable to stop herself, she asked, “khushi, do you want some water? how will you swallow all that jalebi…”
khushi stared at her, confounded.
she had just entered her office when the door between his office and hers was fllung open and in strode a very irate arnav singh raizada.
“where the hell were you!?!!” he barked menacingly.
“i..we…” khushi stuttered taken aback by the blast of anger.
“i asked you to take jp to buy some stuff, not go spend hours with him having lunch and… jalebis?” he looked even more angry.
“you took him to eat jalebis?!!!” he thundered.
khushi wondered how he knew about the jalebis. was he after all really a chudail or maybe he was into jadoo tona. khushi started biting her nails nervously.
all the parathas and jalebis she had dug into were making her feel a little light headed now. she had no idea there were bits of crushed orange jalebi on her light blue kurta, sticky and resolutely clinging to the material. highly visible.
asr could have throttled her at that moment. somehow it maddened him that she had had jalebi with another man. her large eyes staring up at him when he’d banged into her that very first time, the crunchy orange bits of jalebis sticking to his black silk shirt… syrup dripping… her lips, light pink, tremulous… flashed in his head.
he wondered why he felt something near his chest. of late this had happened a few times.
then he loomed closer to her and said, “answer me! where were you…?”
“nahin answering!” khushi hissed then. she hadn’t seen him the whole day, and now he was yelling at her. how dare he! she quite forgot she had wanted to be at the receiving end of his yelling that very morning.
he would have jerked her to him and shouted but his phone rang just then, he looked at the phone. it was di. he walked away from her room back to his, slamming the door.
khushi sat down feeling bereft as if hit by a storm. her legs were shaking… her tears wanted to leap out of her eyes. but she held firm. no, laad governor, i am not going to cry for you, she thought.
kareena popped in her head at the door and said, “hey khushi, missed you at lunch… want to come and try some jalebis, salman and i picked up from this great shop at khan market…?”
khushi almost shuddered, “no thank you, kareena ji… maybe i will never have jalebi in my life again…” she said looking down and muttering.
“what? what did you say?” kareena walked in, “no more jalebi? but why? why art thou so sad, my sweet khushi!” she said with a little drama in her voice, “ahhh… could it possibly be-eth a lover’s tiff?”
“lover?!!!” khushi hissed again… “kareena ji, my lover doesn’t work here, okay? he makes everyone love and everyone feel happy and he never ever yells for no reason though he beats up people… bad guys… not good guys like some people i have had the bad fortune to meet…” she was almost sobbing.
“hey hey hey, khushi, take it easy…” kareena hugged her friend and crooned gently, “all will be well… our own sallu bhai, your lover’s namesake, sends his regards, you missed a fabulous lunch, woman!” she gave khushi a tight squeeze and wafted out of the room.
khushi started her computer and began to look through her files.
not even five minutes had passed when the door opened.
“khushi!” his voice sounded low… contrite.
khushi continued to work.
“khushi!” he said again. yes, definitely he was sounding apologetic.
she decided she would just ignore him.
but how is that even possible when a hand is gripping your shoulder and angry brown eyes are boring into you.
“don’t you dare ignore me, dammit, when i am talking to you!” asr snarled.
khushi’s eyes instantly welled over.
“what the!” he exclaimed, letting go of her shoulder. then he quickly walked around her desk, caught her by the hand and pulled her up, his calloused skin grazing against her, making her shiver involuntarily. he started marching her off to his office.
khushi wriggled her arm trying to snatch her hand away, but he was of course stronger and determined to have his way.
when he reached his office, he shut the door, then without a word put his arms around her holding her close.
“chhoriye hume,” she said through gritted teeth.
(let me go.)
he said nothing, burying his face in her hair and remaining still.
“what is this natak you do, mr raizada, every time…” khushi was too angry to respond to the feeling spreading in her… his head felt so snug against her neck, she wanted to stroke his hair, to let him kiss her neck, to let him kiss her eyes, her lips, make love to her till she was squirming and dizzy, but no… she was not going to be weak today.
who did he think he was.
just because she loved him…
she almost yelped when the feeling caught her off guard, but still she did not give up.
she stood stiff and unyielding and waited for him to let her go.
“di called…” he said softly, “i didn’t realise…”
“i was worried…” he said carrying on talking.
khushi rolled her eyes.
“i was in a meeting, i couldn’t call…” he was stroking her back. khushi’s muscles clenched, her knees almost gave way, but she raised an eyebrow and looked amused… didn’t matter to her that no one could see her expressions… this had to be done… the jwalamukhi had to be told to… told to… no, no, not make love to her madly… told to stop yelling… yes yes, that was the whole point of this exercise.
“khushi, talk to me!” his voice had a caress in it, something grainy, tactile; a feeling of wind blowing over fields of wheat, she wanted to turn her head and let his breath play on her cheek, her mouth, but she stayed still.
“don’t you ever, ever, ever, dare have jalebi with any man other than me, samjhi tum!” he whispered against her throat.
khushi felt a rush of something, like air being sucked away from all around and everywhere. she felt herself move against him, seeking his every hollow and rise and hard angular plane. she moaned and thrust her body toward him. what was he saying to her? she thought of fiery eyes, all chocolate and anger looking at her and the orange jalebi plastered on black silk.
he didn’t want her to have jalebi with any other man…
khushi grabbed his hair and turned her face toward his. she needed him to kiss her…
he didn’t make her wait long. his lips were hard on hers. hungry, thirsty… insatiable. she caught his lips between her teeth and bit him lightly, she let her tongue find his and played with him. she slipped her arms around his waist and held him tight.
he picked her up and made her sit on the work table at one side of the room, then he stood before her, her legs on either side of him. he caught her around her hips and brought her close, leaning closer, and began kissing her eyes, her nose, her lips, her throat… her ears, she squirmed startled and then wriggled in pleasure when she felt his warm tongue in her ear… it felt so tender and funny. she let her tongue into his ear without a thought… she wanted him to feel as wonderful as he made her feel.
“mmm,” he said, his voice gritty. she wanted to hear that again she decided and stuck her tongue into his ear again.
“mmm… nice game, huh… khushi!” he sounded amused. she blushed and bit his ear lobe, she loved the way it was almost translucent, she had often noticed how light seemed to pass through it.
“khushi!” he murmurred for no apparent reason. and just stood there, arms around her, letting her rest against him.
he did wonder for an instant why it bothered him so much… such a ridiculous thing. why should he care who she had or did not have jalebi with.
“i want to give you something…” his voice was husky, not yet returned to its usual matter of fact tone.
he took out the pouch with his maa’s pearl string and drew it out slowly.
khushi looked at it… how beautiful she thought… so deep and ivory white… was he giving it to her?
she gaped at him. why?
then she suddenly leapt off the table and ran out of his reach.
“nahiiin!” she said, hindi film heroine like… he looked up completely mystified. what had gotten into her?
“you can’t do that to me… i am not your plaything… that you will throw moti ka mala at me and command me to be your rani… and then… and then…” khushi was breathing heavily by now, having worked herself up quite a bit…
(… that you will throw your pearl string at me and command me to be your queen…)
“then you’ll marry other wives and treat me like your favourite… no never! don’t think you are some shah jahan or someone, samjhe aap!” khushi stood fuming, giving him a withering angry look.
“kya bakwas kar rahi ho tum!” he bit out through gritted teeth. eyes blazing, brown simmering and turning dark orange, tawny.
(what rubbish are you talking!)
“these are my mother’s and di wanted you to have them…” he thrust the pearls back into the pouch and glared at her.
“haan!” khushi’s face was all confusion now, “hey devi maiyya, what have i gone and done now… arnav ji… please… forgive me… and… and give me the pearls… please…”
he stared at her through narrowed eyes, his gussa still making his ear lobes hot, his breath searing. he wanted to scream and tell her to shut up and get out of his room.
yet, he couldn’t. instead, he walked up to her and slowly pulled her back into his arms.
what was this need, he wondered. kyon faraq padta hai?
(why does it make a difference?)
since the morning he had wanted to hear her laughter… see her wide gamine grin… especially when a memory had come calling… he never allowed anyone near that memory. but today he wanted to feel her light happy craziness… let it soothe him.
why could he not tell this ridiculous girl to go away and let his life get back to being what it was. calm, ordered, focussed on work, just the way he liked it… and then to make mega deals…
“don’t speak to me like that, d’you understand!” he said, meaning to sound angry and scathing… but he knew she could feel the tenderness in his words. he couldn’t make himself sound anything else.
she closed her eyes and rested her cheek against his waistcoat, it felt warm and soft with the slightest graze in it, like his voice… and the white shirt… clean, pure, no subterfuge, gleaming… just like him.
no matter how harsh he was, she as usual could hear something else in him. it called her. it made her want him. it made her want to take care of him… even though he was laad governor. hoonh.
he softly kissed her forehead and tucked her forever flying bang off it, tucking it behind her ears. he wondered how he would tell her about what the detective agency had called up a while back and told him.
shyam manohar jha was actually married to at least four other women. his sister’s marriage was really not legally valid. the man was a complete hoax and a menace… how would he say all this to di. yet he knew he had to. it was his duty.
for a few moments though, he would let it all be and just gather his thoughts… gather this pompom infested insane woman in his arms and ask her to…
“call me laad governor,” he whispered hoarsely in her ear.
suddenly, she could tell he was tense about something.
“no” she whispered back, “that is too nice a name for someone as bad as you, i will call you magarmach, samjhe aap?” she laughed and lightly bit his throat.