he had just slipped the narrow end of his charcoal grey silk tie into the loop of the single knot when he felt her ram into him from behind. he inhaled sharply, the knot came undone. but before he could react, her arms had come up over his chest and she was holding him tight at the shoulders, pulling him close… he could feel her bury her face against his fine cashmere waistcoat.
“hey!” asr shouted, “watch out! what’re you doing, khushi!”
he was obviously not pleased at all.
khushi smiled, snuggled closer, and started jumping a bit, jerking him with every little leap.
“aaj kitna achha din hai, hai na, arnav ji!” she chortled, obviously delighted.
(today’s such a wonderful day, isn’t it, arnav ji!)
“really?!” arnav singh raizada snapped, “why, because you might have choked me to death or because i will be really late for an important meeting!”
“haw, hum aapke gussa se nahin darte, samjhe aap, magarmach!.. hoonh! laad governor!” khushi turned him around swiftly and going on tiptoe, kissed him on the corner of his chin. she loved the sensation of bristles poking her lips. she kissed him once more.
(haw, i’m not scared of your anger, understand, crocodile! huh! lord governor!)
“whoa! khushi!” his eyes glinted suddenly. dangerously.
khushi stepped back eyes widening, a hand rushing to cover her lips, now fast forming its customary “o.” he noticed she had the palest pearliest shade of pink lipstick on them. something stirred in him and he felt his right foot take a step forward, toward her. the girl had the strangest effect on him. always… right from that first day he’d seen her.
translucent hazel irises growing visibly worried, khushi moved back a step as if on cue. she was now gazing fixedly at some point below his chin. a curious smile played on asr’s lips for a fleeting instant, then he lunged forward, caught her deftly and dragged her to him.
“uh huh, khushi! where do you think you’re going dammit?” he drawled, his voice had dipped to a smooth low pitch, a grain in it. it seemed to slide up her arm and settle near the base of her throat. khushi shivered. her toes curled and moved without volition. she could feel her stomach muscles tighten.
hey devi maiyya, why had she imagined she could throw herself on him like that and nothing would happen. “ek number ki buddhu hai tu, sanka devi!” she admonished herself, her eyes closed tight.
(you’re the stupidest girl in the world, goddess of craziness!)
“hmm,” she heard his faint murmur as his breath fell on her upper lip… warm, sensuous, maddening.
her ears went hot.
“hum sach much pagal ho gaye hain, devi maiyya, today’s the thirty-first of december, the temperature in delhi is almost zero degrees, aur hume lag raha ki sar pe ek sau doh ka bukhar chada hai! hum kya karein?” she thought fervently in the tiniest split of a very small second.
(i’ve really gone mad, devi maiyya… today’s the thirty-first of december, the temperature in delhi is almost zero degrees, and i am thinking i have a hundred and two temperature! what shall i do!)
his lips rubbed against hers. feather light… now there, now gone.
she turned her head in its direction without opening her eyes and moaned, her lips parting. her ears going hotter still. why did this man… this rakshas… her husband… have this effect-
chiseled, sure lips clamped down on hers, cutting out all thought.
arnav singh raizada gathered the bundle of grey oversized shawl, purple churidar kurta, gold gota, never-still red pompoms, off centre plait with bobbing shiny parandi, delicate purple and silver jhumkas, sparkling little nose pin, scrunched closed eyelids, and hungry pale pink lips into his arms and kissed her slowly, hard… then gentle… a play in his kiss, a promise of things to come.
khushi whimpered and hugged him tight. her hand moved down his back, as she felt the leather of his belt against her shaking fingers, she stopped. no, mustn’t go lower.
she felt a reverberation against her heart. it was arnav ji. was he laughing?
next thing, his left hand had reached back, caught hers, and was guiding it down, further down.
she shuddered and thought she had to push him away, instead her fingers spread across the woollen fabric of his trousers and her other hand followed suit.
“what the… khushi, you’re shameless!” asr said, there was a hint of amusement in his voice and that something else khushi could never define.
he was clearly laughing… khushi was indignant instantly.
but his right hand was moving up along her side toward her breast, thinking was becoming really hard. she closed her eyes anticipating those crazy feelings that had started making a habit of assailing her. she would tell him soon how angry she was with him. how dare he laugh at her, especially when she had fever…
arnav ji was walking now and she seemed to be following… where was he going? he couldn’t leave for work in this state, or could he? khushi clung to him tight. she heard him groan and then his lips were not on hers any longer, his arms let her go and she was sitting on their bed. he was clearly not sitting by her. her eyes opened even as a protest started inside her.
“sorry, mrs laad governor, kaam hai, got to go… but hamari baat abhi khatam nahin hui…” he was standing in front of her, fixing his tie, his eyes were browner than ever in the sunlight pouring in through the french windows. it was a bright delhi winter morning, its warmth hidden deep in the chill. khushi shivered again.
(sorry, mrs lord governor, have work, got to go… but we aren’t done as yet…)
“so why’s today such a good day?” he asked laconically, adjusting the knot and shrugging on his sable pure wool jacket. she was feeling too shaken and a bit fuzzy headed to notice that his breathing was still ragged.
arnav singh raizada was smart enough to have deduced by now it was a losing battle he fought against the feelings this girl aroused in him. but some habits never leave you. or maybe they are there to save you, who knows. he looked at her dazed expression and strolled up to her, hooked two fingers under her chin and lifted her face,
“what’s up, khushi?” he asked again, khushi blinked slowly. why did the way he said her name, with the “kh” like a little eruption in space and time, always make a mark? felt like a caress, always.
“huh?… haan! arnav ji, aaj saal ka akhri din haya… kal naya saal shuru hone wala hai! new year, arnav ji, new year!” khushi exclaimed suddenly remembering why she had gone running to him in the first place. she wanted to tell him about this, all her new year plans.
(huh?… oh yes! arnav ji, today’s the last day of the year… tomorrow a new year is going to start! new year, arnav ji, new year!)
she spoke in a rush, excited, clapping her hands, eyes dancing, eyebrows keeping pace, “we’ll celebrate! lots of lights, lots of balloons, lots of aloo poori, samose, aapka chicken tikka, mami ji ka kheer, jalebi… bahut saare jalebi… i’ll decorate the whole house, hum sab… di, nani ji, jiji, jija ji, bua ji, lakshmi ji… mama-”
(we’ll celebrate! lots of lights, lots of balloons, lots of aloo poori, samosas, your chicken tikka, mami ji’s kheer, jalebis… lots of jalebis… i’ll decorate the house, all of us… di, nani ji, jiji, jija ji, bua ji, lakshmi ji… mama-)
“shut up, khushi!” asr’s voice was tight. whip like.
“kya?!!” khushi gaped at him. what had he just said? she looked at him incredulously.
his face had lost all emotion, all play. it looked still, frozen. his eyes were glassy, his nostrils flared slightly. short sharp breaths exploded, cutting through the sudden silence.
khushi was stunned. what was the matter? why was arnav ji looking like that? what had she said?
she saw his hands ball into tight fists.
“arnav ji?” her voice faltered.
he turned and started to stride out.
khushi could feel a terrible frisson rise. she got up with its momentum and ran past him, barring his way.
“kya hua, arnav ji? please tell m…” she pleaded, her eyes misting.
(what happened, arnav ji? please tell m…)
arnav singh raizada closed his eyes and took a long breath. there was darkness again.
“khushi,” he sounded so so distant to her frantic ears, “we’ll talk when i get back… need to go now.”
“lekin, arnav ji…” khushi couldn’t stop herself… but he had side stepped her and was walking down the corridor already. long strides, back straight, anger seemed to radiate all around… and something else.
(but, arnav ji…)
khushi followed without thinking. he skipped swiftly down the three flights of steps leading to the sitting room and gallery.
“chhotey, good morning!” di called out from the dining table, “come, have your breakfast… hari prakash ji, toast laaiye!”
(come, have your breakfast… hari prakash ji, please get the toast!)
“sorry, di! got to go!” asr didn’t look at anyone or say anything else as he went straight to the door and walked out of the house.
khushi felt herself go limp as she heard the door slam. arnav ji! what was the matter?
she came down slowly, a heaviness invading her limbs.
she was so distraught she almost collided with anjali who had come out from the dining area to see what was wrong. chhotey had sounded so short. he hadn’t even looked at the family having breakfast at the table, not bothered to wish anyone.
“kya baat hai, khushi?” anjali steadied her sister in law with a hand on her shoulder.
(what’s the matter, khushi?)
payal was serving her mother in law some paratha, she paused. why was khushi looking so stricken? and jeth ji had left at lightning speed…
“hello hi bye bye, bhy you ares isstopping the paratha isserbhice, you isstay at home daater in la! pilanning to isstarbhe your mothers in la, eej eet, payal… bitiya?!” manorama raizada said, starting on a tart tone and ending with a sickly sweet smile on her bright red lips as she saw her mother in law look at her sternly from the head of the table.
(hello hi bye bye, why’re you stopping the paratha service, you stay at home daughter in law! are you planning to starve your mother in law… is that so… payal… my daughter?)
“hanh?” khushi looked at anjali blankly.
almost nine months into her pregnancy, anjali had gained weight and her stomach protruded, round and clearly visible now. anjali carried her extra weight and curve with grace, choosing light, diaphanous sarees that draped prettily and she never tired of patting her stomach, or stroking it gently, as she murmured silent endearments to her yet to be born child.
she never mentioned shyam or his treachery.
hemangini raizada kept a watch over her eldest grandchild, she hoped the ache in her brave anjali bitiya would ease with the birth of her baby. anjali had also resumed french lessons and that nice doctor who had helped her at chhotey’s show, dr vijay verma, he dropped in some evenings for a cup of coffee. it gave hemangini great joy to see her grand daughter laughing and talking with a friend, the fact that it was a man made her curiously enough, very happy. anjali harboured no romantic feelings for doctor saab she knew, nor he for her; but this friendship was clearly good for both… which also had something to do with the fact that they belonged to opposite genders, hemnagini raizada instinctively gleaned.
through her tears she saw a glint of red. it was her ring, arnav ji had given it to her… the ruby was shining and shimmering.
both chhotey and anjali bitiya had gone through too much… hopefully life would start being a little kinder now. khushi bitiya and payal bitiya had brought a lot of happiness with them. khushi made chhotey very happy she could tell, though he tried to pretend nothing had changed and continued to look grim and unsmiling. and maybe dr verma some day… an old grandmother wove dreams for the children of her one and only daughter, a daughter so brutally taken from her. hemangini sighed, tomorrow was her ratna’s-
“khushi?… has something happened? chhotey said something?” anjali asked once more as khushi said nothing, then she started leading her to a sofa, “you know, chhotey is never quite himself on this day… actually…” anjali looked a little lost, unable to complete the sentence.
“bitiya,” neither had noticed that nani ji had walked across and was standing beside them, “it’s ratna’s birthday tomorrow… chhotey and anjali bitiya both still feel the loss…” she said simply.
khushi realised in a bleak instant what had happened to arnav ji.
she wished she could go running after him just now…. she wished she could take back everything she had said about today and the new year. poor arnav ji, her heart pounded, what had she done! why, khushi, why don’t you ever think before speaking, she admonished herself.
her eyes again filling with tears she put her arms around di and hugged her close, resting her chin on anjali’s shoulder, loving her with all her might. “di! i am so sorry, di… ” she whispered.
through her tears she saw a glint of red. it was her ring, arnav ji had given it to her… the ruby was shining and shimmering.
she thought of the volcano in bali suddenly… why does a volcano spew smoke and fire and lava? is it because it’s been hurt and smote and beaten and blighted by life, khushi wondered. “drama karna band kar, khushi,” a voice in her head muttered.
(stop being dramatic.)
she thought of the volcano, she thought of her red fiery ring, she thought of her arnav ji, she thought of the kabooter with red eyes in lucknow, she thought of his maa, of anjali ji’s maa, of nani ji’s ratna, and she wept uncontrollably.
he could see there were fifteen missed calls from khushi. he wished he could call her. but he couldn’t. she was right now in her office in the adjoining room but she had not come in to see him, nor had he gone looking for her.
he stood gazing down from the french windows that skirted the curved edge of his office. the sight of people at work, people going about creating things, people focused and in control, always calmed him. but today, everything was roiling within.
maa’s birthday. something cut into him.
why did the whole world have to make such a ridiculous show of celebrating the first day of the year? what was so wonderful about it. and anyway, nothing in this world was really about beauty or joy, everything just a sham. a sick game that people played again and again, ad nausum, ad infinitum… the sham of being happy. while all the while it cheated, it frauded, it lied and ripped and tore… and innocent people died.
he hoped the client he was to meet in a few minutes would be difficult. very very difficult.
it might help him get a grip on things. challenge always soothed the broken torn extremities of his mind. he disengaged neatly from the scatter, the pain, and swooped down on the problem, all his faculties charged.
khushi sat staring blankly at her computer screen.
arnav ji hadn’t taken her calls. nani ji had said, arnav ji would come around eventually, to leave him alone for a while. he didn’t like being crowded when he was hurting.
“devi maiyya,” khushi whispered to the little idol of her goddess sitting on the shelf by her side as she adjusted her red and gold chunari quite unnecessarily, “hum kaise unhen akela chhor de… unko kitni taqleef ho rahi hai, aur sab mere vajah se…”
(devi maiyya, how can i leave him alone, he is in such pain, and all because of me…)
khushi got up from her chair and started to walk to the connecting door between their offices. arnav ji must be there.
as she put her hand on the knob though, a strange feeling came out of nowhere. was there suddenly a gust of wind? khushi shivered. she had a clear and simple feeling, he didn’t want to see her right now, he had to be by himself… khushi turned slowly and went back to her chair. then unable to bear the silence, she went out looking for kareena.
asr thought he heard khushi. was she calling him? he was about to turn and look at the connecting door when he felt strands of his hair lift slightly as if there was a light breeze nearby. he swallowed involuntarily.
“khushi,” he heard her name somewhere within him. her lips had the lightest most pearlescent touch of pink.
his eyes closed, he flinched lashed by an unnamed pain. when his eyes opened, there was a streak of fire in the brown.
he scowled darkly. that client had better be tough.
again a story out of nowhere. i was going through the usual new year festivities when this mad need to write about asr and khushi at a time like this came by. the asr and khushi of not cut out for love, a fanfiction i wrote some time back, beckoned. this is a sort of continuation from ncofl (click here to read), if you haven’t read that story, some of the references may be difficult to get, but i hope not too problematic. i have written the first chapter, i think there are two more chapters to go, though i am not sure. if you’re reading this, i so appreciate it and am grateful. i hope you had a splendid year end and the new year promises only the best. would love to hear your thoughts about this chapter. will try and be back tomorrow. latest the day after, with the next bit. it’s never good to see the two of them suffering, i need to resolve this soon otherwise the kabooter will fix me with a really nasty red stare.