His unrelenting grip on her slender wrist would leave behind a mark that would most probably remain for atleast a few days, considering the fact that the slender arm in question was prone to bruising quite easily. Arnav Singh Raizada, however, did not come to think of that as he hauled Khushi Kumari Gupta across the raizada mansion hall. Khushi took hurried steps to keep up with ASR’s long strides.
They had barely made it across the threshold of his room when he banged the door. He back was almost plastered to the door as she uncertainly looked at Arnavji.. Laad governor kahin ke.. What was he angry about now? His face was still, giving nothing away, but she could read his eyes. There was a storm inside them that she felt herself getting blown into.
“Kya kar rahi thi tum Khushi?” He spoke in a low controlled whisper, law clenched, face insert and eyes narrowed.
“Hum toh bas nanheji ko…” .. He moved like lightening pinning her to the door.
A hand on either side of her, barely touching her, holding her his prisoner. The abrupt movement had left her dazed and she paused mid sentence. For an infinite exquisite moment they stood in silence, an image painted on a canvas. Perfectly carved muscles clearly visible on his exposed forearms. Her heaving breath adding vitality to the seemingly still canvas. In each stroke of the picture there was movement, for in the silence two eyes were doing all the talking.
“What the? Naheji? So you give nicknames to everyone you meet Miss Khushi Kumari Gupta?“. His tone was meant to hurt. It did exactly what it was meant to do.
Khushi felt something crumble inside her. Why did he have to be hurtful devi maiyya? And why do I care about his words? She tried to turn towards the door, but he barred her way. His arms entrapping her. His eyes ensnaring her further.
“We have not finished talking“, his lethal voice echoed in the room.
“Choriye humein… Aapko kya farak parta hain? I can use any name for any person I want.. Why does it matter to you?” . She lashed out. An angry cornered kitten.
She could read a faint flicker of hesitation in his tumultuous eyes. Taking advantage of which she moved his arm away, opened the door and rushed out, tripping on her way.
ASR was left fuming. Khushi was right.. Why does it matter what she said? He paced around the room.
Outside the wind had also picked pace. A wild uncontrollable storm had arrived. The satin curtains on the french window leading to the poolside flew with such force that there was danger of the curtain rods giving way.
His mind subconsciously registered the menacing weather, but most of him was still swimming in thoughts of a pair of stormy eyes.. Aapko kya farak parta hai?.. She had demanded to know..
He was asking himself the same question and none of the answers that came to him were good enough, frustrated, the last semblance of control snapping, with sharp disjointed action, he hastily unbuttoned his jet black waistcoat. In one fluid movement he was out of it and had flung the waistcoat on his bed.
A low rumble of thunder and a blinding flash of lightening brought him to the present. He whirled around and stared outside. The sky had darkened, a torrential downpour could not be far behind.
Dammit! Had Khushi safely reached home? No.. There was not enough time…
He grabbed his blackberry and keys and sprinted to his SUV. Not wasting a single precious minute he select her number from the last dialed list. The SUV key chain dangled from his thumb as he used the same hand to bring the phone close to his ears.
He knew with certainty she would not pick up. With the same certainty he knew he would get to her. He threw open the car door, revved the engine and pulled out of Shantivan gates just as the first large raindrops splashed across the windshield.
His desperation had reached an unbearable high. At the first red light, he hit his hist hard across the steering wheel and gulped down the windstorm inside him, in an attempt to think rationally.
The skies had opened up. A deluge was upon unsuspecting people and Khushi was still not picking her phone. He drove madly through the empty streets. At each sharp turn the white SUV veered dangerously.
Within minutes darkness seemed to engulf the streets of Delhi. In it the car tyres screeched loudly as the car skidded to a halt next to a drenched shivering girl.
Khushi knew it was him with as much certainty as she knew he would come and get her. The auto drivers she had hailed to try to get back home had all refused on account of the weather. She felt a sad helplessness. She missed the scooter she was used to borrowing in Lucknow.
“One takes such a lot of things for granted“, she thought woefully. But, Khushi hardly took anything for granted, really. Babuji had been the kindest father and amma and jiji the most loving family possible. Even buaji loved her dearly. Every single day, in the ways Khushi knew, she tried to bring happiness to their lives.
She knew she was lucky to have them. But she also knew it would not be babuji who would come to take her home today. Amma, buaji, jiji would not rescue her from the storm. For one minute she indulged in the possibility of buaji arriving on a scooter shouting “aree sankadevi“.. She allowed herself to smile, then immediately felt tears pooling in her eyes.
What seemed like ages ago, amma had once told her and jiji that if the first drop of rain fell on one’s cheek then that meant the girl’s would soon marry a man who loved them forever.. Hamesha.. Khushi had spent all monsoon running in the gomti sadan open courtyard, giggling loudly, willing the ran drops to fall on her cheek.
When the first water droplet had made its way down her cheek she had remembered this long forgotten game. But now, not one single drop, but a millions drops had succeeded in drenching her completely and Arnavji’s car had just stopped before her. He had opened his door and was walking towards her.
“Khushi tum thik ho?”, he asked in voice that made her dejected insides melt and happily tip toe back up in excitement.
“Gari mein baitho“. His tone was clipped, yet there was an elusive something that made Khushi’s damp spirits start to enthusiastically shake away the cold.
He was already seated when she slid into the seat next to him. Out of habit she pulled at the seat belt, not at all expecting it to come as willingly to her as it did. It did come and she quickly buckled up. A satisfying delighted click echoed in the car.
She chanced a look at the scary laad governor who was staring straight ahead. He had come to her. She was no longer getting soaked in the rain, but was comfortably sitting in the shelter of his car. She would soon be on her way home. Arnavji would ensure she got home.
Suddenly, she felt absolutely elated and a big smile pushed away the troubled clouds and shone brightly on her still wet face.
“What?” Arnavji turned to her and asked distractedly. His hair looked darker, shinier as it must have gotten damp and he must have run his fingers through it. Tousled.. That was how his hair looked.. A hard to curb desire rose within Khushi.. She wanted to smooth our his hair.
She felt like laughing at the insane thought, but sobered down immediately. Laad governor was always quite scary in this car… first he would put on her seatblet, then drive fast and the next thing you know Khushi Kumari Gupta would be left standing in the middle of the road.
Ha! This time she had put on her seatbelt so he could do nothing about it.. Wait.. Not giving herself a chance to think further she leaned towards him. Her face within inches of his. Her hand shot up, brushing his nose, to pull his seat belt with as much force as she could muster. Firmly she tugged and said a little prayer to her dearest devi maiyya, that the seat belt would actually get fastened in the first try.
Her prayer was answered. His seat belt was in place, she stayed hovering over him, unable to move away. Specially not when the anger had vanished from his face and was replaced with something more dangerous. He looked amused, his lips curving upwards. Khushi could see her reflection in his sparkling eyes.
She gulped and withdrew. A deafening sound in her ears… dhak dhak dhak..
“So, you have learnt a few things from me, after all“. His eyes were on the road as the SUV glided along the empty street.
Dhak dhak dhak.. Hey devi maiyya.. What had she done just now? Put Arnavji’s seatbelt for him?.. Dhak dhak dhak..
All too soon the car halted before buaji’s house. This time he leaned towards her and swung open the door. She took a deep breath and immediately felt hopelessly breathless. The essence of this laad governor’s infuriating smile was in the air. She was lightheaded.
“Ghar nai jaogi Khushi? Or do you want to come home with me?“, definitely a smirk.. Dhak dhak dhak.. He must be able to hear her heart, it was surely to loud.. She might have to skip dinner as well.. This acidity was too much.. She scrambled out of the car and intentionally banged the door.
Even before she had time to turn, the rakshas was speeding away. That increasingly light headed rebellions part of her wished fervently she was still sitting in the car next to him.
ASR was in a good mood as he entered Shantivan.
“Aa..achoo..“. Before he knew it, di had descended upon him. “Chote you are drenched. You will catch a cold. Jao kapre badalo. Why don’t you take care of yourself chote? You need a wife.”
He rolled his eyes. “Di even if you didn’t tell me I would still change into dry clothes , you know? Aapko toh aadat hai thore drame ki exactly like Khu..“. He almost bit his tongue.
Luckily his di’s phone had started to ring and she had not noticed the “khu“.. If her smile was anything to go by, it must be jeejaji who had called.
Back in his room ASR quickly changed into a comfortable blue and white v-necked sweatshirt. Using a warm white towel, rubbed his hear vigorously as he sat down with in laptop in the poolside.
ASR was still happy. Amar had sent him a whole mailbox full of emails he had to start going through. He was sure he would get through them in no time. Competency was something that he didn’t have to try too hard to be good at. He was Arnav Singh Raizada, after all..
He had just finished reading the first line of the very first email when a crunching sound distracted him.
NK stood with a colorful packet of some unhealthy too salty fried snacks, with a characteristically bemused looking Aakash close behind.
“Naughty naughty Nanav.. Mere bhai.. Tum shaadi kar re ho? .. Wo bhi Kushiji se? sweet sweet Khushi se?”
“What the.. Nk, I am not getting married“. ASR went back to his email.
“Bhai you didn’t tell me you are marrying Khushiji. Congratulations bhai.. Par.. Par aap toh shaadi karna hi nai chahte the.. In fact aap toh shaadi mein believe hi nai karte..“, continued Aakash, apparently still quite perplexed by what his mother had just told him and NK bhai.
“Aakash didn’t you hear? I am not marrying khushi“. ASR steadily denied.
“Phir toh sab budhiya hai nannav“. NK happily stuffed his mouth with a handful of chips and munched noisily much to ASR’s irritation.
“NK bhai, budhiya nahi.. Badhiya“, Aakash helpfully corrected his cousin. “But why is it good?”
“Because Khushi is so pretty.. Itni pretty Khushiji is khadoos nannav ke sath.. No no Akash.. Khushiji toh.. Cheeni hai and Nannav.. Nannav toh diabetic hai“. Warming upto his them, tugging at his jacket collar NK continued. “Now main.. NK.. NK toh thanda thanda cool cool hai.. So Khushiji and me..”
ASR had had enough. “Enough NK.. You don’t need to think about Khushi..”
“Par kyu nannav? Kyunki mamiji thik bol rahi thi? Tell..tell.. Jhooth bole toh kawa daate..and look okay.. Jab pyar kiya toh marna kya… and jo mar gaya samajho ghar gaya“.
Extremely pleased with his little impromptu speech on love he firmly took hold of Aakash by his shoulder and steered him out of the poolside.
Asr was left along, struggling to decide between getting angry at NK or being extremely amused.
His phone started to vibrate.. A familiar number flashed.. He received the call.
“Bhaiyaji? aa. achoo“.. Her clear voice came from the other side. Now what was she upto?
“Will you send us our dresses on time or not? Dekhiye aise hi I can’t eat these days, with all this dhak dhak I will surely loose weight, so better make my lehenga an inch tighter on the waist. Bhaiyaji are you writing all this down? Ek inch kam. Jiji ka lehenga has to be the best and mine too. Humein dance bhi toh karna hai. Do you think laad givernor jaise logo ko dance karna aata hoga? Lo.. Hum bhi paglait hain how will you know. Aap bas lehenge sahi size ka banayiye..”
“Khushi have you gone mad?“, he finally had to cut it.
“Arnavji aap darji ke paas kya kare rahe hain? Do you have to get a suit stitched too? And why are you answering his phone? Aap ajeeb hain..“, replied the clueless girl.
“Main.. Main ajeeb hoon.. Aur yeh tum keh ri ho? Look at the number you have dialled. And Khushi.. Goodnight“.
He cut the call and shut his macbook. There was no way he was getting any work done tonight. But the feeling in him was still the same.. happiness was what he felt, thanks to a crazy scatterbrain of a beautiful girl… Khushi..
Bangles with beautiful meenakari work, heavy kundan necklaces and dazzling diamonds laden rings were spread out. The two sons of the Raizada house were about to get married. This was only the beginning of the preparations. There was lots left to do. For now, the ladies of in Shantivan were busy swooning over the jewelry sets, when Shyam walked in.
Anjali’s face lit up. A doting expression rested on it as she limped across to her smiling husband. Her Shyamji was finally home. Nani and mami looked upon the couple affectionately.
“Rani sahiba .. Ab toh hum aa gaye hain.. Will you tell me what have you been hinting about on the phone that has made you this happy?“. Shyam looked intently at his wife, a smile plastered to his face.
“Aap kaise hain? You have grown thin.. Why don’t you eat properly when you are alone? Humein kuch nahin pata..after the weddings I will accompany you on every trip. Nani aap keh dijiye inhe..” Anjali turned to her nani. Her face still shining.
“Shadi?” Shyam’s eyes had narrowed.
“Yes jeejaji Akash and nannav ki barbadi.. Sorry sorry.. I mean shaadi“.. NK approached his brother-in-law.
“Damaadji ab ready hui jayiye.. Aur phatee saree aur khoon bhari taang ke liye giftiya dene khatir.. Bhat will you gibj.. Tellj pileejh?” Mamiji chimed in.
(Get ready.. To buy a gift for khoon bhari taang and phatee saree.. What are going to give them? Tell me please?)
Shyam’s eyes turned glassy, almost ready to pop out of his head. His mind deciphered the gist..his saale saab was about to marry Khushi.. Shyam had to think fast!
Early next morning there was pandemonium in Gupta house, much more than usual, because not just the usual bustling Khushi was adding to the chaos, but buaji and amma were also in a frenzy.
“Hai re nand kisore.. Titiliya eeha se nashta hatai diyo.. Ka pata kab oo raijada logan eehan aa jayee“. Buaji yelled loudly as she plopped onto the old sofa. It swayed dangerously under the sudden weight.
(Titliya.. Take this food from here.. Who knows when the raizada family might show up here.)
A red cloth was tightly bound around her head. She had a splitting headache.
“Payaliyaaa taiyyar hui ki nahi? Hai re nand kisssooree..“. Her niece was getting married. For a second her brows came together in worry. Aakash bitwa’s family was very rich and they had not even called once to confirm the marriage. But, as soon as the worry entered her mind she brushed it away. Her Payaliya was a lovely girl. Those raizada’s would be lucky to have her.
Khushi zoomed past her buaji, brush in hand, mouth foaming with toothpaste.. “Move move buaji.. I have to get ready. And I will not have breakfast, thik hai?”
Madhumatiji was shocked.. Was sanakadevi all right? No breakfast.. She had not had dinner either..in fact come to think of it she had barely touched her breakfast yesterday..
“Jiji come quickly. Phone from Shantivan“. Garima, her sister-in-law, was frantically beckoning her.
Madhumatiji rushed to the dusty black phone, spent a few seconds untangling the wire of the handset, realized it was a lost battle, so bent low to reach the earpiece and breathlessly greeted whoever was on the phone.
Aakash bitwa’s grandmother’s voice reached her. They were on their way to Gupta house. In fact, one car was almost there. She heard the old lady say.. “We would like Payal bitiyas hand for Aakash and Khushi bitiya’s hand for chote.. Humara matlab Arnav ke liye.”
Buaji could not believe her ears. ..Her sanakadevi marry the raizada boy.. She could vaguely hear the word love on the phone.. Everything was swimming before her eyes..nand kisore.. Her sankadevi and that khadoos Arnav bitwa were in love.. The phone dropped from her hand..
She swayed dangerously.. Her vision blurred.. then darkness..
Madhumatiji was in the process of fainting when NK walked in with a decorated silver plate full of dry fruits. He jumped to catch the falling old heavy lady.
Garima bustled around worried. She had picked a steel glass from the dinig table and sprinkled water on her unconscious sister-in-law.. “jiji.. Aap thik hai? What happened to you?”
Madhumatiji hazily heard Garima’s anxious voice. She blinked her eyes. As her vision started to clear, she saw an unknown face next to her. The beautiful fair boy was kneeling towards her.. he was struggling..
Madhumatiji erupted into peals of laughter.. “Hai re nand kisore.. Babua are you trying to pick me up?”