“why, arnav ji? why can’t i love someone else?” khushi whispered trembling all over. her acidity had spiraled out of control. she was holding the espresso maker so tight, its heat was transmitting through her skin permeating to a place in her chest somewhere. hey devi maiyya, what sort of acidity was this!
his eyes went molten brown, a fire leaping in them. he leaned toward her, in his hand a large blood red frangipani, and as she watched terrified, he smiled that heart constricting smile with a gradient, then tucked the flower in her plait and whispered,
“because i love you, dammit!”
gently, hoarsely, helplessly, laughing just a little bit.
khushi leapt up, clapping her hands on her ears… tight.
“hey devi maiyya, raksha karna!” she yelped.
payal, who was sleeping next to her, woke up with a start and stared aghast, what was wrong with khushi?
“khushi! khushi! kya baat hai… are you alright?!” payal said urgently.
(khushi! khushi! what’s the matter? are you alright?)
khushi looked around disoriented… where was the man with that warm searing breath? that fatal slant of lips? where was the coffee? the frangipani? the fire in the brown eyes?
“huh?!! kahan gaye sab?” khushi mumbled, her hand going to her chest…
(huh?!! where have they gone?)
oh no, the acidity was still there.
what had arnav ji said last night??… no no last evening…
where were her flowers? she looked around dazedly and got out of bed in a rush. she went straight to devi maiyya sitting on the desk, right next to the little deity lay a bunch of red, blood red flowers with beautiful velvet petals. khushi’s eyes hovered over them… fascinated and a little frightened. the dhakdhak raced faster. had arnav ji really said he… he…? she couldn’t complete the thought. she clutched her head, what was wrong with her! khushi told herself to stop being silly… she could do this.
had arnav ji really said he loved her?!!! no, he’d said he loved her dammit!
there, she had said it. she knew she could do it.
the next instant she was doubling over and clutching her stomach… everything was hurtling in her… so fast, merciless really.
how could that laad governor say such a thing! he said anything he felt like saying. never thought of what might happen to the person before him… always ordering, always commanding… always…
and yet… and yet… a little smile started peeping at her lips.
payal stared puzzled and worried at her younger sibling. this was a sure and utter attack of sanak, but usually they didn’t last this long, nor did she double over like that. she must have eaten something payal thought getting out of bed herself and walking over to khushi.
khushi definitely had something that didn’t agree with her.
“kya hua, khushi? stomach ache? have some ajwain? ajwain is very good for all this…”
(what’s the matter, khushi? stomach ache? have some oregano? oregano is very good for all this…)
“nahiiin, jiji! i am okay,” khushi gasped, now walking toward the bed, still bent over, “this is not going to go away for a while… or maybe my whole life i will have to suffer…” she muttered, wincing.
“yes, my whole life…” khushi murmured again. then she grinned suddenly and clutched her stomach tighter.
payal scolded her, “stop this drama, my pyaari drama queen, you are getting married in a couple of days, learn to behave a little sanely… once in a way… okay!!” she smacked khushi playfully on her knee and went to freshen up.
“married?!! oh no, hey devi maiyya, raksha karna!” khushi held her middle and went breathless.
(oh no, devi maiyya, save me!)
it seemed to her that in very slow motion he moved closer and closer till his lips were right by her left ear. then his hand moved up and touched the pearls at the nape of her neck, his fingers spread out, caressing her skin, lingering over her back, stroking her along her spine all the way down to her hip.
asr stood before the pool gazing at the water. his eyes were still, glassy. his mind was clearly elsewhere. he was missing her. her funny smile, her off centre plait, her trembling breath as he had drawn near to tell her he loved her.
asr’s irises concentrated into pinpoints.
love. yes, he had said he loved her. he hadn’t asked himself to say it… yet he had wanted to.
what was this love anyway?
a face floated up out of nowhere. gentle, smiling, wise. maa.
asr shut his eyes. that familiar pain when he thought of his mother… he braced himself to face it. yet, all he could see was her smiling face. the pain never came.
instead, he again thought… what is love?
his mother seemed to smile a little wider and then she was gone.
he had given khushi maa’s pearls. why did he like that feeling? he wanted to touch the pearls nestled against her skin, he wanted to bury his face in her hair, a scent of frangipani seemed to reach him from a memory miles and miles away.
dammit, he missed her. where was she? he wanted her here, next to him, in his bed, waking up beside him every damn morning of his life. and to hell with that word love, whatever it was.
he loved her… bas.
and she… it seemed… loved him too. his head lifted, a triumphant glitter in his eyes for an instant.
“op!” he yelled, “where’s my coffee?!”
he was buttoning his grey linen waistcoat with a distracted air when anjali hobbled slowly into his room.
“chhotey, i was saying,” she had just started when he whipped around focussing suddenly…
“di!” he sounded worried, “why did you bother to come, should have called me…”
he walked swiftly forward to hold her and tried to get her to sit down.
“chhotey,” anjali sounded exactly like an elder sister handling a not too bright younger sibling.
“i am fine, there’s nothing wrong with me… you know, girls don’t think of pregnancy as a debilitating condition… i am fine,” she was laughing at him.
an innocent, beautiful young woman, with a frail air and a beaming smile, who had really never done anyone any harm. in fact, if anything, she had been handed a nasty serve by life, given a limb that would never do her bidding, always make her slow down, limp, hurt, be viewed as handicapped… less.
asr looked at his sister in her immaculate sage green maheshwari saree, with a neat narrow border in dark grey, her delicate gold necklace with little jade motifs that she had told him to buy on his last visit to shanghai… he recalled she’d given him the boutique’s name and number and emailed him the picture of what she wanted.
how well it suited her. and of course she had bangles up to her elbows almost and the palest most fresh looking make up on, her hair was brushed till it gleamed. nothing about her said just a few days ago, calamity had walked into her life.
asr felt his lips stretch in a tight smile.
life was not fair. it never was. you had to hold it by the horns and yank it to do your bidding. yield. left to itself, all it threw at you was sorrow, betrayal, hardship… what had di done that she should have been treated like this? but he would make sure nothing ever harmed her. he would. yes, he hadn’t realised what a piece of scum that shyam was, but no more. no one was going to mess with his sister anymore.
he felt a funny sadness in him… he had not yet told her about shyam’s multiple marriages.
“okay, i came to tell you, chalo na kuch karte hain, let’s get the family to agree to get akash and payal married along with you too. i know, it will be a little hard for both the families, but you know, i really think akash bhai wants to get married as badly as you do,” anjali smiled and then made a face as if trying not to smile, her hand coming up to cover her lips…
(okay, i came to tell you, come let’s do something, let’s get the family to agree to get akash and payal married along with you too…)
asr said curtly, “me? what nonsense, di! marry badly… you know what i think of marriage…”
“haan haan, mere chhotey bhaiyya, hum jaantey hain,” di giggled, “hum sab kuchh jaantey hain…”
(yes yes, my little brother, i know… i know everything.)
he reached out involuntarily and touched her shoulder. “di,” his whispered interjection was out before he could stop himself.
“chhotey?” anjali was instantly alert, “kya baat hai? are you alright?”
(what’s the matter? are you alright?)
he stood there without saying anything for a long moment, then he led her to the chair by the poolside and made her sit down. he sat across from her and held her hand.
“chhotey, stop getting me worried! tell me what’s wrong!” anjali was beginning to get the feeling something was awfully wrong.
“i don’t know how to tell you this…” asr gripped di’s hand tighter, “but shyam is more of a …” he clenched his teeth, words that would aptly describe shyam went through his head, but he couldn’t say them in front of his sister.
“anyway…” he made up his mind to tell her, “di, shyam has married several women it seems, and… at the same time… cheating on all of them… he’s a…” asr paused for a moment before continuing, “…bigamist, di.”
he looked at anjali’s face with a keen intent gaze. how would she take this?
anjali had a stricken look in her eyes. she sat still.
“di! di!..” asr called urgently, “don’t worry, i’ll take care of everything… that.. that… no, he will not bother you ever again. and di, i promise you, you will be alright, you will be happy again…”
without even thinking about it, he drew her into his arms.
she was his responsibility and he had… not been able to do what he was supposed to. the words he used to describe that in his head also he wouldn’t say in her presence.
she was delicate… she was inherently decent, well bred. he was wild, curt, foul tongued, badtameez. she was his whole world and he had f…
her hand felt tender and gentle against his cheek. she stroked it in her loving way, her face buried in his shoulder. he gathered her closer still.
“chhotey, is anything real in this world?” at last she spoke and it was a question that splintered something in him. di was hurting badly. he couldn’t do a thing about it.
again, without any thought, just an instinct, he held her tighter, then took her hand and laid it on her stomach, where he assumed babies grew… and said,
“i don’t know, di… but this is, isn’t it?”
anjali stayed where she was, but he could feel her hand settle on her stomach and hold.
kareena had come into the office early, before the traffic got thick and stymied her efforts to be on time. for time was a precious commodity now. the show was round the corner… in the middle of that asr had ordered that shadi ka joda for khushi… they’d had barely three days to get it together, from concept to finishing, not a sequin out of place.
which was fine. exhilarating actually.
oh, khushi would be so thrilled with the lehenga and velvet choli. kareena smiled in a satisfied way, salman had said, “layers!” and she had shouted “velvet” during the brain storming. jean pierre’s eyes had gone even more blue as he’d grinned and said, “ah ze feel of eet, you are feeling eet wiz your emotion, passion… organic… vehy good…”
jean pierre’s eyes were so blue, kareena’s dark irises sparkled suddenly. then she berated herself, you are not here early to think of jp’s eyes, you are here to work, she told herself… asr’s other, more challenging project was still waiting to be cracked. not much time left.
present sex tastefully and capture that sense of ravenous in blooms in agung.
how… how, kareena darling, how… kareena went characteristically theatrical as she mulled over the problem.
blooms in agung. volcano. raging. flower. delicate. soft. but tough? kareena’s mind started to jump to random words evoked by the name of the show and ravenous.
fire passion seething lava flow burn scorch consume hunger desire thirst petals curling seizing heart of a flower pollen pollination bees birds consuming churning flowing rage seizing gorging arousal frenzy conflagration calm…
her mind skimmed over the words, then returned to hound them for meaning… an idea.
kareena paced the room frantically as she thought. nothing. she stopped in her tracks and picked up her phone and went to her playlist… yes there was the song that just might release the thoughts…
it was her current favourite. andrea bocelli’s con te partiro, the orignal italian version.
she didn’t understand most of it… which was what made her want to hear it more. the low almost whispered first notes came pouring out, kareena let all rational thought fall away as she lifted her arms and started swaying to the music.
soon she was dancing.
“may i intehhupt, cherie?” it was jean pierre, he was standing at the door, watching kareena with an earnest air, but she could tell he was amused.
she froze. her arms were up in the air in a ballerina like pose or so she had decided. the blush came fast and pretty furious, her ears and cheek had turned a mottled beetroot shade in an instant.
“er!” she said looking desperately for an interesting excuse.
“exactly…!” said jean pierre, “maybe you’d like to tell me what it is that is making you loosen your feet… losing your ‘ead over someseeng, kaheena..?”
kareena liked the way he destroyed all “r”s, it was like a french revolution against the very sound itself… and the poor r came out so vanquished, soft and sexy…
“sex!” she said clearly
jean pierre’s eyes widened… “aah, i get eet… yes, zat does make one lose one’s ‘ead… and ozzer seengs…” he murmured with a very french shrug.
“no… i mean not that sex..” kareena quickly explained, going even more red, “i mean… asr wants a delineation of ravenous for blooms in agung as you know… well i said ravenous reminded me of several things… he chose sex… i have to now express it… tastefully…” kareena’s brow grew lined and heavy as she spoke… how was this going to get done?!! ever.
jean pierre laughed and said, “ahhh ahhnav… naughty… but smart… keheena, i like ze song, i like ze dance… eet will come along…”
“but… but… i was just dancing and listening to my favourite song for some inspiration… didn’t mean to… oh my g… jp…” kareena shrieked as she realised what he said made perfect sense.
she flew across the room and threw her arms around him and hugged him tight, “you are a genius…”
“that i ‘ave to agree i am,” jean pierre grinned, “and you are lovely to ‘old.”
kareena blushed again.
jean pierre gave her a little wink and left the room.
payal had a bemused smile on her face as she wiped the stainless steel plates and laid the table for breakfast. how sweet akash had been yesterday… her heart felt a nervous flutter as she remembered their date. who would have thought akash could be so… mmm… payal gazed out of the window dreamily and thought… romantic. yes, so romantic.
“hai re nand kissore, ee dekho… ee dekho nand kissore. what is an old aunt to do if both her nieces turn out to be mad. there’s sanka devi, never was she ever sane.. and now payaliya!!!” bua ji’s stentorian voice made payal jump.
(oh lord nand kissore, just see… just see nand kissore.)
“ha-aan… bua ji?” payal mumbled.
(yes, bua ji?)
“haan nahiiin, payaliya, nahiin…nahiiin… naaahin! who serves pooris, nand kissore, before frying them…!!” bua ji yelled, nodding her head vehemently at the plates and gesticulating wildly for good measure. her red towel was tied around her head. her long plait swung as she charged forth.
(not yes, payal, no… no… nooo! who serves poories, oh lord nand kishore, without frying them…!!)
payal looked around the table horrified. she had absentmindedly picked up the platter with the pooris that amma had just rolled out and served them… uncooked… to everyone.
payal drew in her breath sharply. what was wrong with her!
“theek hai theek hai, don’t worry, i’ll fry them now… jiji… go sit down, you don’t look too well…” garima came hurriedly into the room having heard her sister in law’s voice. payal was looking nonplussed, almost ashen.
(it’s alright alright… don’t worry, i’ll fry them… jiji… go sit down, you don’t look too well…)
“payal bitiya, go lie down, i think you need a little rest,” garima said anxiously and started collecting the pooris from the plates.
billo mausi gave an arch look from the sofa, her smile spread wide… “this is what happens when children cross all limits… hoonh… sweetheart! what would everyone in gomti sadan say if they heard!” she muttered to herself.
though how exactly people in lucknow would get this specific news from delhi she didn’t ponder too hard. there is a whole news network around the globe which doesn’t depend on the usual media channels. paper, tv, internet, nothing… all it relies on is a bit of neighbourly love, some rigorous nosiness, and perhaps just a pinch of joy at others’ misfortune. the power of this network is formidable.
billo mausi gave a big happy grin, said “arri o payal beta, go go, lie down, must look pretty for khushi beta’s wedding, na?” and went back to reading her book, the latest romance in hindi by her favourite author.
khushi ran into the room at that moment and deposited her cloth bag on the table while talking nonstop, “amma amma! i am hungry… my breakfast… i need to eat right now, arnav ji will be here any minute…! billo mausi, are you reading radha mohan ji’s latest book? preeto loves his stories… in the last one when the hero died, she cried for days! pagal ladki, i told her, it’s just a story, but would she listen… billo mausi, are you crying? aap bhi????”
(mad girl, i told her, it’s just a story, but would she listen… billo mausi, are you crying? you too???)
“hai re nand kissore!” wailed bua ji, “sanka devi, will you pause to take a breath at least! how much you talk!”
“hungry, bua ji, i am hungry!” khushi hugged her aunt and jumped up and down a couple of times.
just then a white suv turned the corner and came silently up along the lane in front of bua ji’s house and parked just before it.
billo mausi flopped onto the easy chair in the verandah looking glum. today, khushi beta’s young man… her mind leapt in and amended, “handsome young man!” yes yes that, mausi did a moue and tucked a silver pin, handsome young man didn’t even get out of the car… no smile on his face, only his big dark sunglasses… no carrying sharrying, not even a little hand holding and pulling. very sad, what was the point then in getting ready so early, thinking he might see her, say “namaste” in that curt way of his. such a waste.
“behen ji, urmila behen who lives in the second lane, is going to see salman ji’s latest picture again, nand kissore, would you like to go?” madhumati ji was standing in front of her with an encouraging smile, hand on chin.
billo mausi was despondent. “nahin, behen ji, today i have a little gas ki problem, let it be…”
(no, sister, today i have a bit of acidity, let it be…)
bua ji turned away and rolled her eyes, muttered “nand kissore” under her breath and left. her ploy to get billo ji out of the house when the raizadas came in the evening to give khushi’s shadi ka joda had just failed.
“seat belt,” asr said grimly as he started driving.
khushi felt her insides trip into a rapid dhakdhak and settle after a bit. she fumbled with the seat belt. he didn’t help nor take his eyes off the road.
what was the matter with him? he hadn’t looked at her or smiled or even stepped out to open the door for her which he always did. he just sat there looking ahead, not a muscle on his face moved. he seemed somehow dark and more forbidding than usual despite his gleaming white shirt.
khushi looked at him sideways.
that’s it. it was all a dream. he hadn’t said what she thought he had last evening… “because i love you dammit!”… khushi’s dhakdhak raced for an instant. she gripped the armrest and tried to stop it.
“ha ha ha ha! how would this man say such a thing! khushi kumari gupta, tu pagal hai, samjhi tu? look at him… patthar jaisa, gussewala, kala chashma, not the tiniest curve to his lips… can’t even turn his head, so stuck up he is, akkad!!!… how can he… he of all people, our royal highness the laad governor magarmach himself ever say such a thing to you? pagal hai, khushi tu, you hear anything you want to…”
(ha ha ha ha how would this man say such a thing! khushi kumari gupta, you are mad, d’you understand? look at him… stone like, angry, dark glasses, not the tiniest curve to his lips… can’t even turn his head, so stuck up he is, stuccckkk uppp… how can he… he of all people, our royal highness the lord governor crocodile himself ever say such a thing to you? you’re mad, khushi, you hear anything you want to…)
khushi said to herself.
then she replied to herself too.
“hey devi maiyya, want to? why should i want this… this suited booted shaitan to say such a thing to me? i am really mad… bas. i don’t want, okay… don’t want…”
“but i do,” her leaping thought exploded near her heart and made her clutch the seat belt silently.
she turned and stared at him then. what was the matter with him? something was clearly wrong.
“i told di,” he said, still looking at the road. khushi felt an avalanche hit her. such absolute despair in his voice.
she had no idea what had transpired between di and arnav ji, but she knew what she wanted to do, had to do.
“stop the car,” she said quietly, “please, arnav ji, gari rokiye…”
his head turned for an instant as he looked at her… she couldn’t see his eyes but she felt the car begin to slow down. she exhaled and realised she had been holding her breath.
he parked by the kerbside and just sat there. khushi touched his shoulder lightly and waited a moment.
something seemed to give inside him. he swiveled and reached out with both arms… she made sure she was there before his arms had to search or wait.
he held her with all his might and khushi could feel her ribcage ache as she arched across the space that separated their seats, the gearbox jutting in between. but she had to get closer and let him have what he needed… he needed her right now, she knew that clearly. khushi swallowed hard as his pain began to leach into her.
she stroked his hair, his back and prayed to devi maiyya to make him feel better. his breath was hot and torn and scorched her neck. khushi moved her head and pressed a soft kiss on his cheek. his stubble scratched, a familiar soothing assurance in it… he was here, with her, she would not let anything hurt him… khushi felt a surge of thoughts she’d never had coming, but didn’t stop them… she closed her eyes and kissed him again.
they had no idea when they’d both turned and were kissing each other, lips moving, seeking, soothing, teasing, playing, demanding, acquiescing, desiring, needing and never ever wanting the touch to end, the joining to sunder.
a bright morning outside careened past, noisy traffic, dust rising in the air, a busy metropolis on its way to work, school, market, who knows where.
his tongue was playing with hers now, his arms were now more tender, her hands sensed his shoulders were less tense. she drew away and peered at his face, it was looking not that stone like. khushi smiled a little.
“khushi,” he murmured, protesting and leaned forward to kiss her again.
it was after a while that he spoke next.
“what has my sister done, khushi, that she has to suffer so much?” khushi felt like crying when she heard him say this with that sadness in his voice.
“and you know, i thought, i could take care of her, make everything okay… after… after… my parents… i really thought… that i could make it all okay for her… i would protect her… no matter what.. heck, i thought it this morning too… i would… but i couldn’t, could i?… i just couldn’t,” his lips were set tight, his breath shuddered as he said the last words.
“nahin, arnav ji, ” khushi cut in… “don’t think like that… you have not failed… you have done your best always… i know that… i just know that… and babu ji always says, that is what we can do and must do… our best… if you have done that, you’ve done all you could and there is never failure then… today it seems like that… but, arnav ji… i will not hear you say that about yourself… samjhe aap?”
khushi had no idea her voice had gone more and more urgent as she’d spoken, till she was sounding quite loud and stern. but at her “samjhe aap”, her senses seemed to pick on something and she shut up, horrified. hey devi maiyya, she had just shouted at arnav ji and that too while he was in such a sad state. but that was the whole point. she hated to see him like that. and now she’d made it worse, soon he’d be yelling at her.
asr sat looking at the girl in light green and yellow and sizzling silver gota before him, her eyes were fiery a moment ago and her voice had moved from mellifluous to militant just now. she was breathing fast at this moment, looking fixedly at the stick shift gear.
she was startled when she felt his hand hover over her cheek, was he going to slap her?!!! no… it was the tenderest sweetest slightest little stroke by long fingers with slightly rough, calloused skin as he pushed her stray tendril of hair back and tucked it behind her ear.
khushi’s eyes moved and clung to his face, his lips had started to curve, no… they were slanting… slowly but surely, almost enjoying their climb. arnav ji was smiling, her heart leapt.
“pagal!” he said softly, it felt like a caress on her skin… she was sure this was jadoo tona, his voice actually touched her, aroused, loved.
“laad governor kahin ke!” she whispered back, eyes wide staring openly at him.
nani ji was resplendent in a white chikan saree edged with jaalis in gold along the border. mami ji managed to look almost pleasant in a vivid red, it was a paithani this evening. anjali was enchanting in her pale blue organza. bua ji beamed at the ladies as she opened the door, such a beautiful family her nieces were going to be part of. their generous nature and good breeding were written across their faces.
“hello hi bye bye!” said mami ji’s sharp voice, dispelling the illusion in one stroke, bua ji blinked, “bhere eej that too issmart niece oph yourj, hoonh! now she eej too shy to openwa door, bhen she openly doingj all theengj to be dones behinds closed doorj!”
(hello hi bye bye, where’s that smart niece of yours, huh! now she’s too shy to open the door when she openly does all those things meant to be done behind closed doors!)
bua ji gawked.
anjali went still.
“manorama!” nani ji said sharply.
mami ji did a lip shimmy, left right left right left, very quickly.
but billo mausi had heard the words and her ears did perk, her heart did leap… ah, could it be for joy?
when anjali handed over the shadi ka joda on a beautifully decorated tray wrapped in silver foil and tied with strings of gold gota, both bua ji and garima ji almost started crying. weddings were such emotional things. even mama ji and shashi ji felt something. what really happens when two people, from two different families, marry… how it changes everything.
shashi ji hoped khushi bitiya would be happy, loved, protected and would take care of the family she had decided to make her own. mama ji hoped the girls coming to their family would find happiness with them and settle down well. he also prayed his wife would take to payal, sooner rather than later.
shadi ka joda. just three simple pieces of garment, yet so much was wrapped in it, most of all the thought… the moment is here.
khushi stared at the tray, her mouth went dry.
had arnav ji chosen her joda? maybe not. he didn’t like to go on shopping sprees and plus he liked fashion… not traditional wedding things. maybe nani ji and di had chosen it. khushi smiled brightly and went and touched all the elders’ feet. payal followed suit.
“bhy touchings my pheetwa bhen you actually likes holdings my poor bitwa’s handwa, hello hi bye bye, you bads girls,” mami ji suddenly snarled before anyone coud stop her.
(why are you touching my feet when you actually like holding my poor son’s hand, hello hi bye bye, you bad girl.)
payal looked aghast, tears springing to her eyes. the entire room drew in a sharp breath.
surprisingly, it was mama ji who spoke then, “manorama, please don’t create a scene now,” he said with quiet authority to his wife, after which he turned to his hosts and smiled slightly, “shashi ji, garima ji, madhumati hji, i think our children are ready to get married …”
“yes yes! ekdam ji ekdam, huh, i heard how they’re saying “sweetheart, sweetheart” already ji! very bad very bad!” came billo mausi’s voice now, a little tart, a little jaunty.
in the silence following that, troubled looks were exchanged… payal ran out of the room.
“haan ji,” mama ji was cool despite the interruption, “that’s why, we… all of us… feel, if you don’t mind, we would like to take payal bitiya home sooner than we had planned…”
“i know it is difficult and maybe we are being a bit demanding,” nani ji said, stepping in graciously into the difficult conversation, “but we think our akash bitwa is very keen to marry bitiya, and she is so lovely, we can understand his rush…” mami ji whimpered and looked as if she’d explode any second. nani ji glared at her and continued unfrazzled, “so we were proposing that we get them all married on the same day, that is this coming monday… all our children would be happy then, and we would also have double the reason to celebrate…”
billo mausi almost fainted. anjali clapped her hands and burst into a big smile.
“chacha ji, chachi ji, bua ji… haan kar dijiye na!” she said without guile. her eyes shone. khushi took one look at everyone’s face and had a feeling she knew what was coming… she ran out too and went to their room, where she knew jiji was sitting and feeling miserable.
(chacha ji, chachi ji, bua ji… pleases ay yes!)
a sense of brewing storm abated, instead a feeling of wonder floated around the quiet sitting room.
“hai re nand kissore, saadi ka mahaul hai, why such silence all around… hum kya aap ko kabhi naa bol sakat hai, nand kissore? aap badi hain, behtar jaanti hain!” bua ji beamed at nani ji and folded her hands.
(hai re nand kissore, it’s a time of wedding, why such silence all around? can we ever say no to you, nand kissore? you are our elder… you know better!)
following her lead, shashi ji and gariima ji also smiled… their heads were no doubt spinning but the beautiful elder who had proposed the idea brought such a sense of calm with her…
“of course, if you agree, we will be ever grateful… and don’t worry, hum dilli mein itne saal bitaayen hain, do shadi ka intezaam toh hum do dino mein karwa hi sakte hain… hum lucknow ke hain, hain na?” nani ji smiled.
(of course, if you agree, we will be ever grateful… and don’t worry, after all these years in delhi, we can manage to arrange two weddings in two days… after all, we’re from luckno , aren’t we?)
a little laughter and relief started to enter the conversation.
“i won’t say we are completely comfortable about this whole thing, but if you’re saying this, ji… we are sure this is a wise thing to do… but really, what gives me peace, endless peace, is knowing that my daughters will be going to a home where someone as gracious and kind as yourself is head of family,” shashi gupta said.
anjali instantly picked up her phone and said, “mohan ji, please come!”
within minutes, mohan, their driver, entered bearing a large tray wrapped in silver and gota…
“shashi ji, garima ji, please accept this shadi ka joda for your payal bitiya, anjali bitiya went out and chose it herself. of course, we don’t want her to miss out on all her wedding related ceremonies, so if you don’t mind, tomorrow we’d like to have you over for a small havan, akash bitwa would like to give her a ring at the time.”
anjali smiled and looked down, her eyes had filled with tears but no one could see, her voice was strong and even as she said, “haan, shadi is not a game, every part of this ceremony is meaningful, i hope payal likes what i chose.”
garima ji gave up trying to control her tears and started weeping.
asr was immeresed in his laptop, frowning as usual, lips pursed and thrust forward… the buyers from england were becoming too unreasonable, something had to be done…
he heard the door open suddenly making a loud noise and looked up. irritated.
“what the!” was out of his lips before he saw who it was.
khushi stood there, in a dark green chiffon saree, her hair was open and hung to nearly her hips, she looked flushed and excited, the ruby on her finger glowed even more red against the green she wore.
“you did it! you did it” she said and came running to him.
he got up slowly, a tad puzzled, “what, what did i do, khushi kumari gupta?” he asked, a slightly indulgent look had come into his eyes.
“but before that, it’s late, how did you come here?” he said.
“i came by auto!” khushi replied.
“auto! this time of the night? pagal ho gayi ho kya, what’s wrong with you?” the change in tone was mercurial, he was shouting at her, eyes blazing.
(auto! this time of night? have you gone mad, what’s wrong with you?)
khushi almost jumped back in fright. then she held the edge of his desk with shaking fingers, steadied herself and retorted, “yes, i am mad, that i love you and that too so much and i want to come and talk to you and thank you for getting my jiji and akash ji to marry on the same day as us and for handling everything and for making sure di is smiling, yes she was smiling and that too a big huge real smile, laad governor ji, not a fake smile when i saw her just half an hour ago when she gave jiji her shadi ka joda and also i am mad because i wanted to come and tell you i love the lehenga and choli and dupatta you had jon piye ji, salman and kareena make for me, i spoke to kareena, and yes i am also mad because i never seem to understand what will make you shout next and because…”
“shhh!” asr had walked up to her and was holding her in his arms by then, looking at her with the most shining brown eyes ever, smiling devilishly, “don’t get so angry with me… main aisa hi hoon, khushi! but you… you’re beautiful…”
(don’t get so angry with me… i am made this way, khushi! but you… you’re beautiful…)
his lips just had to find hers then and how could she say anything to him, though he was so very difficult to handle, khushi kissed him hungrily, she had felt such a crazy sense of pleasure as she had seen the shadi ka joda… one look at it and she’d known her rakshas had something to do with it, everything to do with it. every detail spoke of him, and it said every time, he wanted her… he loved her, he was waiting to make her his. khushi sighed against his lips and spread her fingers flat on his back drawing him closer.
he lifted her in his arms and went and sat on his chair and continued to make love to her. his lips moved along her throat, where the pulse beat at the base he lingered and kissed her again and again, tiny featherlight gossamer kisses, she thought she heard him moan, her stomach flipped at the sound, she clutched his shoulder with one hand, she ran the fingers of her other hand through his thick, springy hair. she could feel his entire body taut and urgent against hers. love me, she wanted to say, always hamesha, never ever leave me.
“khushi!” he whispered, his lips trailed down over her chest to her breast, her hand came up and caught his guiding it to the front of her blouse, telling him tacitly to undo the buttons. she started opening his shirt buttons, she could hear his breath go uneven, she knew she was hardly breathing any more.
her hands pushed aside the white linen and touched the bare skin of his chest… khushi kissed him and lay her cheek against his cool skin. arnav ji’s heart was just here, somewhere below her cheek, khushi closed her eyes and let the enormous peace of that feeling seep in.
but where was there any time for peace when gentle rough fingers caressed and teased the small of her back, her breasts, when her body tensed and flinched and longed to that touch. his fingers moved away suddenly and she shivered feeling cool air on her skin, the next moment, it was warmth all over. his lips were on her breasts, kissing, nudging, just lazily drifting.
khushi smiled… her rakshas had the sweetest touch.
he looked at her suddenly, arms gathering her and cradling, “khushi, i don’t know what marriage is, but will you wear the lehenga for me and promise never ever to change a thing about yourself… just be who you are and come and live with me?”
khushi almost wept of course when she heard that.
“aap ko pata kaise chala ki humey gota aur pompom pasand hai?” she asked with an innocent grin.
(how did you know i love gota and pompom?)
he looked at her for a moment incredulously, then murmured, “bas… pata chal jata hai,” and went back to doing what he’d been doing before this unfamiliar urge to talk came over him.
(one just knows.)
marriage? what was this thing. who cared! he was marrying khushi. and in every little tremble and whimper and “arnav ji” of hers there was forever and hamesha.