Unending strings of twinkling fairy lights were draped on the trees lining the garden. There was no fixed pattern on how the lights were wound on the branches. The effect was more whimsical this way.
A mixture of traditional and modern was apparent everywhere. Pastel apple green lace drapes fluttered in the breeze. The gazebos that had been set up had wines and creepers with violet flowers growing along the pillars.
Even the food had the appearance of a heady cocktail from Italy and Delhi. Counters were spread with waiters from the best five star hotel standing in attendance. Live counters where you could get the spiciest pani puri to the most subtle flavoured pasta, if that is what you chose. Neatly tucked away in a corner was a mountain full of crispy, dripping with sugar, mouthwatering jilebis.
Anjali Manohar Jha had wanted everything to be absolutely perfect. She stood surveying the final preparations, with her husband, Shyam Manohar Jha. She was pleased with how the decorations had turned out.
Guests would arrive any minute and Anjali was far from ready. Her soon to be sister-in-laws had arrived with their mother and buaji. All the ladies, young and old, were busy getting dressed. It was chaotic with mamiji, buaji, naniji all trying to get dresses at the same time. But, then it was a house where two weddings were about to take place sometime soon. There had to be confusion.
“Hum tayyar hoke aate hain Shyamji. And this sherwani is looking very good on you“. Shyam heard his wife compliment him and immediately plastered a sugary sweet smile on his face.
He fingered the carefully folded parchment in his sherwani pocket. It was there.. As he saw his wife leave a delirious expression settled on his face. The crowd would work as a perfect foil for what he had in mind. Yes, he had not been idle while Arnav and Anjali had been busy organizing the sangeet function.
Aakash and NK stood at the entrance of the lawn. Both dressed in expensive bright sherwanis in red and blue. Both were clearly searching for someone in particular because they were ignoring the stream of guests that had started to pour in.
“Akash, NK don’t stand there like a pair of idiots. Why aren’t you making yourselves useful?”
ASR in his black immaculate perfectly fitting suit had walked upto them. He curtly nodded, acknowledging a group of overdressed ladies, who looked quite dazed as they walked by.
Akash suddenly spotted the vision his eyes had sorely been missing. Payal was walking down the dimly lit pathway with Akash’s dadi by her side. He distractedly muttered something to ASR and dashed towards the girl he longed to dance with the whole night. ASR let him go. Obviously the man would not be of any use in his current state.
ASR turned his attention towards NK, who was doing a pretty good imitation of a giraffe trying to look over everyones shoulder. ASR had a suspicion about who NK was trying to spot in the crowd. For NK’s sake he hoped his guess was wrong. ASR was pretty certain he was not wrong.
“NK go tell the orchestra to start playing“, he ordered his cousin.
NK became more agitated. “par nannav, main Khushiji ka intekal kar ra hoon“. In his excitement, he failed to notice the quite violent turn ASR’s thoughts had taken.
“when Khushiji comes I am going to bow down, aur apna hath age kar I will ask her.. Do you want to dance with me?“. NK swirled around with an exaggerated mock bow and found himself staring at two highly delighted eyes, that belonged to a large happy woman.
“Hum ho do babua“, buaji patted the scented rajnigandha garland hanging from her long plait. She took hold of Nk’s sweaty hand and walked away with him stuttering behind.
ASR was a little relieved to see NK go. Though Khushi’s amma, Garima aunty, looked anxious as her eyes trailed her sister-in-law walk away with NK. ASR noticed Khushi’s babuji was as usual with a benevolent smile as he sat looking at everything around.
ASR sensed a deep feeling of affection wash over him. Uncle and aunty always had genuine smiles and behind their simple unassuming air were twinkling intelligent eyes. He took the wheelchair handle from Garima aunty and moved them to a well lit table near the edge of the garden,away from most of the hustle bustle. A deft hand movement resulted in a waiter rushing with small cups of the finest bon china filled with steaming hot soup.
“Aunty do you want anything else for now?“, he politely inquired, taking a seat next to them.
Garima, who was secretly in awe of this particular future son-in-law, found herself warming towards him. Bitwa does look aloof and speak less, but his manners are impeccable. She looked at him talking to Khushi bitiya’s babuji and explaining something which Garima had not caught on.
Tears threatened to come pouring as she saw her husband nod his head, listening earnestly, unable to say anything to his damadji, so making do with smiles and nods as much as he could. Garima knew him enough to understand he liked Arnav bitwa too. He had always wanted an intelligent caring husband for Khushi.
Arnav bitwa was still saying something. She thought about Khushi… Her old eyes had seen her bitiya when she was around this young man. Her little daughter who could not stop talking endlessly talking about movie heroes and raj kumars. Garima could feel the emotions come chocking.. She had always felt doubly responsible for Khushi. Her jiji’s last memory.. She never wanted Khushi to miss her real mother.
While Khushi had learnt maths from her babuji, Payal had always preferred to help Garima around the house. But every morning during breakfast both sisters would sit and hear their father read aloud the newspaper. He had insisted they know what is happening around the world. And while they learnt all this from their babuji, Garima had tried to teach them both the one thing she herself knew. To love unconditionally.
She could glimpse the same unconditional love in Arnav bitwa’s eyes, even though they were guarded and often sad.Her mother’s heart could see his concern for everyone and her heart warmed upto him. Her daughter would be happy with him. He would take care of her.
“wo.. bitwa.. Khoosi bitiya was getting Lakshmiji ready. Aap toh jante hain how she gets carried away. Then she sent us all out here fearing we would be late if we waited for her to get ready. Hum thik hai bitwa. Aap jaake baki meheman ko dekhiye“.
So that is why she was not here yet. Getting Lakshimji ready.. ASR assured them he would be back to check on them and got up to go. His eyes desperately searching for her. Impatient.. Insistent for one glimpse of her..
Someone, ASR was sure he should know by name, was shaking his hand as felt her walk in. Unerring his eyes turned to where she had halted. Her hands were fidgeting. A telltale sign she was nervous.
ASR had to swallow hard. She looked ravishing. Creamy white skin in contrast to the dark luscious silky green. The saree hugged her curves. Her arms were bare. Lithe and flowing. Even from this far her earrings shone. So did her bindi.
Her hair swayed in the gentle evening breeze. She raised her hand and brushed it away. ASR was suddenly jealous of her hand. A fierce possessive instinct overwhelmed him. He wanted to be the one brushing away that stray lock of hair.
With a start ASR managed to bring himself back to the conversation with the man in front of him. Part of ASR was impatient. Who was this man anyway? ASR had no idea and did not even care really. Right now, all he cared about was getting away from him. Towards her.
Khushi wasn’t sure why she felt shy. Maybe it was related to the fact that she had caught her reflection in the mirror and she looked beautiful tonight.
Before this she had never given her looks this much thought, but tonight was different. She had dabbed a little of the expensive lip gloss..it had a beautiful name.. rose petal.. And she had lines her eyes with a kohl pencil..
It was not all this that made her look different. This green saree made her feel alive. The ripples in the pleat, the smoothness of the aanchal as it brushed her back, the million sequins on the borders that glittered whenever she moved. She had remained transfixed in front of the mirror.
His saree.. She swallowed hard and squeezed her eyes shut… chup kar Khushi kumari gupta.. It was time for some prayers.. Hey devi maiyya Arnavji did not even tell me unhone humare liye ye saree kyu kharidi.. And here I am.. So nervous.. Raksha karna devi maiyya.. I don’t know mujhe kya ho raha hai..
Exactly on cue, as always, her heartbeat decided to speed up… dhak dhak dhak dhak.. By now Khushi knew what that meant. He was close by. She dare not open her eyes. Maybe he would not see her and just go away, she thought wishfully.
“Khushi“… Her eyes flew open. He was all in black. She could not take her eyes of him. Focus Khushi.. She scolded herself mentally.
He was not saying anything wrong. Still she felt her face heat up as she heard her name on his lips. “Aa..aap aise humara naam mat lijiye“.
It was the wrong thing to have said, because the laad governor was smirking and Khushi didn’t know where to look to hide from his unwavering gaze.
“You have worn my saree Khushi“, said the rakshas without breaking his stare.
Khushi found herself get hopelessly muddled. What was she supposed to be saying right now?.. Umm..”saree?”..
“ha toh? I wanted to wear a lehenga. No one dances in a saree“..
He almost snarled at her response. Good.. She knew how to handle an angry laad governor, it was when he stopped being a laad governor that Khushi’s problems started. Just the thought of a non-angry Arnavji was enough to send her heart in overdrive again.
“Arnie ..daarrling.. You look so good..” Khushi ended up rubbing her eyes in disbelief as whoever this girl was brushed her lips across ASR’s cheeks.
Khushi’s blood was boiling. Shameless rakshas has no sense of sahi and galat. He could have said namaste decently or if he had to be friendly then he could have shaken the girl’s hand.
“You look lovely too. Excuse me.” ASR was about to leave when he noticed Khushi’s murderous expression. A light headed recklessness spread through him. He was ready to see what happens.
“Actually, are you enjoying the party?“, he asked the elegantly dressed girl. He did not know the girls name so conveniently did not address her in any way. He seemed to have forgotten a lot of names tonight, he wryly thought to himself. At the same time, part of him responded back, reminding him, there was one name he had no intention of forgetting. And one face that was imprinted in his thoughts.
Khushi looked sullen. The moonlight and fairylights all reflecting of her already glowing face. All it needed was a shade of red, and ASR knew just the thing that would get her to blush.
“It is beautiful. Fantabulous. You do everything in style Arnie“, the girl gushed. ASR bit back a grimace. People actually thought he might like the name Arnie. He hated nicknames as a principal. Yes, laad governor included.. he sternly reprimanded himself.
His attention went back to Khushi, who was busy glaring at the girl.
The girl, whose name would most probably never be known, had caught him staring at Khushi and had directed her attention there. “You must be the future Mrs Arnav Singh Raizada. Hi..I am Sohara.. What an exquisite saaree!”
Khushi looked slightly mollified by the compliment and even managed a tiny smile as she joined her hands in namaste.
“Why are you both not dancing?“, Sohara asked. Khushi had just opened her mouth when ASR cut in, “khushi does not like to dance in a saree“.
“oh.. that’s too bad. Such an inviting dance floor, underneath the stars, will go waste. Would you like to dance Arnie?” .. ASR would have refused immediately, except for the look of indignation on Khushi’s face.
“wo.. hum…“, Khushi stuttered desperately. A lopsided deliciously wicked grin appeared on ASR’s face. “tum.. kya khushi? Tell me..”..
“Khushiji main appka waha rahat dekh raha tha and aap yahan hain? Chaliye let us dance Khushiji“. NK had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
This time, it was Khushi’s turn to want to refuse. Then one look at Sohara, and finally at ASR. The smile was wiped off his face.. Good.. She decided.. It served him right..achcha hua..
A mischievous grin lit up her eyes and with exaggerated sweetness, batting her eyelash, she said, “Aap kitne achche hai nanheji“.
NK, smiled happily, little knowing the effects of his simple words on a certain man in denial.
Khushi did not want to dance with nanheji, but she was going to say yes. She tried to inconspicuously look at the person whose eyes she could feel on herself. She thought wistfully.. it was not like he wanted to dance with her..
She turned towards NK and the next thing she knew a warm insistent hand had pulled her close.
He was staring right into her eyes. “Sorry NK, Sohara, this dance is Khushi and mine”, and she found herself being led to the open garden area, as the piano notes chimed in.
His hand lay on her bear back. A shiver ran down her spine. She squirmed and noticed a satisfied expression appear on his face. He had brought up her hand and placed it on his shoulder. His other hand was firmly entwined with hers as he raised it.
Khushi forgot time and space. She vaguely heard a lilting tune. Guitar and piano grew to a creschendo as an earthy voice crooned.
For a second she found herself listening to the beautiful song. The next second she forgot even that as she twirled. And slammed back onto his chest. She could feel his heartbeat under her fingertips. In wonder her eyes found his. His eyes were twinkling, a whirlpool of emotions glimmered in them, that she found herself willingly drowning in.
She had moved away. Her hand stretched outwards still joined to him. He jerked her back and dipped her, supporting her in his strong arms. On his face was a kind of ..desire.. She gulped as she gave the look this name.. She was melting at his touch.
Her body sang to his tune. She found herself loving the song. Was this how people danced? Why didn’t one simply keep dancing their whole life, the rebellious bit of her asked.
She could feel her back mold against his front. His fingers were brushing aside her open hair. His breath on her nape tingled. It made her shudder with a feeling too new to fathom.
She was whirling away again. From this distance he looked even more breath taking. Strong. Lissome. She wanted to go right back into his arms.
Anticipating her move, he held out his hand. His eyes beseeching. She flowed back, her body on fire with each touch.
The wind had picked up speed, in perfect harmony with the rising beats. Flutes were chiming in..rabba ve simmered in the air..
Khushi’s anchal had blown over, covering his face. He used his hands to push it away. Even that simple gesture left her breathless. It felt like a caress, scorching her from inside.
They were now swaying slowly. An intimate whisper,”tum is saree mein…” She desperately longed to hear what he had to say, but he had lead her into another move. A barely concealed laughter, as she came whirling back to him…”Khushi were you jealous?”
“hum.. nai toh.. why should I.. aur waise bhi humein toh lagta hai aap jal rahei..” Her voice and breath had left her.
Her back was towards him, his hands resting on the curve of her hips holding her steady. Slowly she felt his hand trace a path across her bare back. Light fingers came in contact with her extremely aware skin. She forgot to breathe.
devi maiyya..she closed her eyes, her knees were weak. She sensed him reach the thin dori.
It dawned on her then. He was tying her dori..devi maiya.. She wanted to tell davi maiyya so much.. Instead she turned to look at her Arnavji. He pulled her against himself. A sinful curving of the lip as he brushed his cheek against hers in a slow deliberate dance, and whispered in her ear, “I am not done yet“.
She could hear her heartbeat resonate in her ears just as the first drops of rain started to fall… dhak dhak dhak..