tengo hambre de tu boca, de tu voz, de tu pelo
i crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
y por las calles, voy sin nutrirme, callado,
silent and starving, i prowl through the streets.
no me sostiene el pan, el alba me descuicia,
bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
busco el sonido liquido de tus pies en el dia
i hunt for the liquid measure of your step.
~~~pablo neruda, love sonnet xi~~~
she still remembered the day he was born. it was late evening, and she’d just finished dinner when maa started to feel unwell. there was no one at home. well, not in their wing at least. pita ji had gone out as usual earlier in the evening. chacha ji had gone with him. when maa said to call rahim chacha and get him to fetch dadi, anjali complied, a panic beginning to seize her.
she was only seven years old yet she understood care well.
her battle with polio, while strengthening parts of her and giving her a resolve rarely found in a person so young, had also given her a certain vulnerability, a view of life that couldn’t turn away from darkness and embrace the sunshine of childhood.
she’d learned at a young age, life was not fair.
terrible things could happen. her maa and pita ji had become people she loved desperately; and worried about all the time. even though she was only seven.
when the doctor and nurse came over, dadi tried to take her to her room, but anjali was adamant, she was not leaving maa. and she hadn’t. through that long night of labour, ratna malik had looked out over to the door left ajar, and seen her beautiful firstborn sitting on the sofa in the adjoining room, wide awake, looking toward her mother. every time their eyes met, anjali had smiled. somehow wanting to let her maa know, all was well, she was here. ratna malik had always been grateful to god for her child, never mind her mother in law’s obvious disappointment that it wasn’t a boy. to be fair to her, dadi had loved her first grandchild, hiding her disappointment well. and when polio struck, not a person in the house had been less than wonderful about helping little anjali deal with it.
yet ratna knew, both her mother in law and her husband would have preferred the firstborn to be a son, some part of them reserving a higher regard for the male heir.
it was almost dawn. her mother looked so tired, anjali was nodding off, when suddenly there was a rush all around. hot water, towels, people hurrying. the door between the rooms was closed. anjali sat up and waited.
who was that crying?
she got up with a start.
the door opened, a smiling nurse walked out and said to her, “did you ask god for a brother?”
anjali stared at the woman. how did this stranger know?
you see anjali always knew that both pita ji and dadi wanted a son and a grandson, so what if no one told her. and because she loved them…
but what she did not know was that from the moment she laid eyes on the little bundle with thick black hair and a shriveled up face, tiny little hands, soft cushiony feet, she would fall in love.
for almost two months now, she’d feared for her chhotey. what if his eyes never opened again? what if, like maa and pita ji… again and again she’d stopped the thoughts and carried on with the day. trying to be strong.
if she’d felt the stirrings of a new love when she saw him that first time, he as he grew up and was pampered beyond belief by the whole malik family, had felt a fierce sort of protective love for his di,
calling upon all the little ways of coping she’d learned as a child. with chhotey around, she’d rarely needed them any longer, he was always there. she’d known her brother to be different, strong, clever, but the way he’d handled things from that night almost 14 years ago, she was stunned by his resilience, his determination, and he’d become even more important to her if that were possible.
if she’d felt the stirrings of a new love when she saw him that first time, he as he grew up and was pampered beyond belief by the whole malik family, had felt a fierce sort of protective love for his di, who took such good care of him, was willing to take the smaller “half” of the chocolate, never complained about the awful tricks he tried out on her, and hobbled along patiently with him wherever he led. the way he looked at it, he was allowed to bully her a bit seeing that he was her one and only beloved fabulous clever younger brother, but let anyone else bother her even that much and he’d show them.
ratna malik would watch her children and feel a strange sense of satisfaction. she knew when the time came for her to go, these two would take care of each other. mothers tend to think of such things. though ratna had no idea how soon that day would come.
“khushi, it was not an accident… it was that shyam… it was him,” asr felt a rage exploding. khushi looked at him speechless, how did he…?
“chhotey,” anjali’s voice cut into the silence that had fallen across the room.
two pairs of eyes spun to stare at her at the doorway. anjali could only see one pair today. she smiled as the brown of them dazzled her. such a lovely colour, better than any other colour in the world, she thought.
chhotey was propped up on pillows, half lying, but his eyes were open… and wasn’t that him speaking right now?
she remembered tiny hands, cushiony feet.
she stood there staring at him. she wished she’d stayed up by his bed the whole time he was not around…
he watched her with that half smile on her face, a bowl of kheer (had to be) in hand… di. and a thought blew threw his mind, a woman in an other worldly garden sending him home.
“di,” he said softly.
she started making her way to him then, she wanted to close the distance. khushi stood aside as anjali approached, she knew how much the two loved and needed each other, never stopped touching her this crazy love.
anjali sat by her brother and carefully put the kheer on the table by the bed. then she leaned over and touched his thick black hair, stroking it gently, her eyes looking at him searchingly as though trying to make sure all indeed was well, her little brother was unharmed, whole, here. he let his hand slip into hers. “chhotey, ” he could feel the tears in her voice. he pulled her to him and held her close, “nahin, di, don’t cry, i am here, see? i have gone nowhere… main kabhi aapko chhorke nahin jaaonga, aap jaanti hain na?”
(no, di, don’t cry, i am here, see? i have gone nowhere… i am not going to leave you and go anywhere, you know that, don’t you?)
without anything having to be said, siblings sometimes read each others minds. he knew she feared he’d be gone… just like their parents. that she needed him not because she was weak, but because she loved him, and all of her parents’ share of love she’d given him over the years. and he knew, it was her love that had kept him sane, given him the will to stay on when maa had gone. two simple gun shots. everything over.
he shivered. she stroked his hair, “shh shh.. chhotey.” she knew what memory wracked him just now.
“nannav!” it was nk.
he’d come up from sydney to be with the family, very concerned about his friend, nannav, and his masi. he also wanted to be sure khushi ji was indeed as fine as she kept saying she was on the phone. somehow, nk felt he was supposed to be here when the family was in trouble of any kind. strange. this india was such a strange place. kept sending him smoke signals… down under or wherever he may be. “hai re nand kissore,” he started as he recalled khushi ji’s aunt, bua ji’s refrain. thank g he was not the nand kishore she pined for.
he walked in beaming from ear to ear and went and gave khushi a big hug. he didn’t see the look in a pair of eyes at this impulsiveness. asr just did not like anyone touching khushi. that’s it. call it backward, unevolved, whatever… but dammit, how dare that nk.
“oh khushi ji, dekho, hamara nannav karma se wapas aa gaya…”
(oh khushi ji, look, our nannav is back from karma.)
“karma nahin, nanhe ji, coma,” khushi said automatically correcting her friend, and then realised nk was doing this deliberately just to make everyone laugh.
anjali smiled at the way nk had fixed her brother’s mood. she’d seen that look. she reached for the kheer, he could do with a little bit of sweet stuff now.
within minutes the whole family was in the room, payal, akash, mama ji, nani ji, even lakshmi ji. everyone was trying to talk at the same time, there were smiles and tears and a slight air of hysteria all around. op decided it was time to serve everyone some tea to cool down with. the nurse tried her best to bring silence and order and failed miserably.
mami ji sat on the bed next to asr, holding his hand. for a change, completely quiet. she recalled two kids whose life was so terribly changed one night. motherless, penniless, homeless. she’d always loved her niece and nephew by marriage, for they’d accepted her for who she was, no questions asked and loved her as their own from the very first day. she knew as the children grew up that her akash was perhaps not as smart as her sister in law’s son, just the kind of thing which creates jealousy and discord. yet, manorama had not minded. arnav’s regard for her had touched a very fragile young woman’s heart, she who couldn’t flaunt her lineage and feel a sense of entitlement, who had to desperately claw at and wrest status from an unyielding world. she loved this boy. and he always could feel that. he got her like few others did. and he never judged her. she picked up his hand and gave it a quick kiss.
nani ji was sitting on the other side on a chair, “chhotey, aap aa gaye… i knew i could trust my grandson,” she smiled at him… she had wondered if life was going to deliver yet another unbearable blow, and was she strong enough to take it at this age. if khushi bitiya deserved such a fate. two months… such harrowing days.
(chhotey, you came back, i knew i could trust my grandson.)
nk’s phone rang, “hello? yes… yes!” he rushed over to asr with the phone, “nannav, lavanya on the line, tumse baat karna chahti hai…”
(nannav, lavanya on the line, wants to talk to you!)
asr smiled as he reached for the phone. khushi frowned as she turned away.
she didn’t want anyone to see that little funny feeling. she knew there was nothing to worry about. lavanya ji was her friend. and arnav ji had no feelings for anyone but her… still. uff khushi, tu bhi na, she thought, stop being so silly, she admonished herself. lavanya ji kitni achhi hai.
(uff khushi, stop it, she thought, stop being so silly, she admonished herself. lavanya ji is so nice.)
he grabbed her by the shoulders as she sat at the poolside potting a plant. his hands were urgent, callouses grazed her skin. he pulled her to her feet, dragged her into his arms and kissed her hungrily. he seemed not to care at all about the soil on her hands, the mess all around. she was too startled to react and then the feeling of his mouth on hers started doing strange things. she couldn’t think straight, couldn’t breathe. didn’t really want to do either. her whole body tensed and strained to get closer, pushing against his, wanting to eliminate all distance between them, wanting just to kiss him back, stay like that as long as… as long as there was… what… why breath of course, she thought through the fog overtaking her brain. more, don’t stop, oh when had she become like this? oh was she ever any different… she moved her lips against his. instigating, insinuating, indulging.
the pot lay half filled with enriched soil, the feathery, green and black maidenhair fern stayed in the tiny nursery starter pot waiting to be transplanted. the sun was about to set. he held her tight against him and let the moment stretch. khushi moaned. without a word, he picked her up in his arms, strode into his bedroom and put her down on the bed.
she lay there dazed.
he walked briskly back to the french windows, shut them, drew the curtains, then went to the door leading into the house, bolted it, and started unbuttoning his waistcoat as he made his way back to her. in a second the waistcoat was off and flung on the lounger, he came and sat by her on the bed.
they looked at each other, two people in an island, a moment separated from the continuum of time. here. now. khushi had never known such a place existed. nor, curiously, had he. slanting rays of the setting sun filtered through the cream drapes, bathing the room in a misty delicate light; did she have something to say? did he?
he drew her up and made her sit facing him, she moved without any resistance, melting into the sensation, just feelings all around her. in her. deep inside, flutters in her abdomen, she lifted her mouth to his, eyes imploring… don’t stop, don’t ever stop, they seemed to say.
with a groan, he started kissing her again.
her hands went up and cupped his cheeks, pulling him nearer. there was the smell of rich earth on her palms, smell of birth, life, heady, elemental. he inhaled deeply. he could feel her heart racing, he held her wrists with both his hands, the touch of her skin, the leap of her pulse driving him crazy.
why was she so lovely?
why couldn’t he stay away from her?
why did he want to see this girl with pompoms all the time?
why did she make a difference to him?
he let go of her mouth for a second and bent down to nibble the ridiculous orange pompoms dangling on her quaint puff sleeve, then he lightly bit her upper arm and kissed the bare skin. he felt the shiver, the immediate onrush of goosebumps.
goosebumps spread from that spot to every part of her body, she squirmed and shuddered violently.
he smiled, eyes narrowed in pleasure, in triumph, a glint in their molten brownness, and went right back to kissing her. now slow and sensuous, and tasting, lingering, biting, playing. she lost herself to his urging and prodding again. yes, kiss me, she thought, hold me.
his arms went around her as if in response to her unspoken demand. her kurta covered every inch of her back, yet as his hands moved she could feel their heat. she wanted it so much on her skin, against it, burning her. she moaned again.
as though each little thing from her were a signal for the next, he responded. arnav singh raizada sighed as he started to push her back against the pillows, settling himself against her, in seconds they were lying next to each other, in each others arms, entangled. their lips locked, her hands stroked his shoulders, his back, his arms wrapped around her tighter still. her dupatta pulled against her throat, choking her slightly, she winced.
“what happened? what happened, khushi? are you ok?” arnav knew something was wrong, and panic gripped him. he stared into her eyes worried.
she wondered at that instant panic. “kuchh nahin… kuchh nahin.. yeh dupatta…”
(nothing… nothing… this dupatta…)
he acted swiftly, tugging her diaphanous dupatta off her neck. then he threw it away from them. it flew away in a chiffon swirl… khushi was stunned, her dupatta meant many things to her, most of all a covering for her body, a protector against prying eyes. in lucknow, in delhi, there was no dearth of the filthy gaze… she saw her dupatta land on the lounger over his waistcoat. a hundred thoughts went through her head. this was not right. how could she. how could arnav ji… no… she looked up and saw his darkening warm chocolate gaze, she heard a need in his laboured breath. “khushi” he whispered… she lay back again, helpless before everything she felt, her desire growing red and hot around her ears. her feelings for him threatening to burst her heart. he watched this beautiful woman struggle with a moment and succumb.
her eyes were soft and innocent, her lips sumptuous, ready to give, and she lay there waiting for him.
an emotion overcame him. he held still looking at her lying there. no resistance, no demands, ready for whatever this was leading to. his… if he wanted her.
how could he hold himself back. her eyes were soft and innocent, her lips sumptuous, ready to give, and she lay there waiting for him. he felt again a surge of ridiculously intense emotion, knocked him out a bit, he swallowed hard. then buried his face in the nape of her neck, kissing a trail up her shoulder, her long, swan like neck, all along the taut muscle from somewhere near her collar bone to the back of her head… she arched her neck in pleasure, his hand explored her body, covered in her gota lined kurta and churidar. he knew no one had done this before, he knew this was not what she would ever do unless… unless…
he didn’t want to think any more. tenderly he kissed her eyelids, his hand felt for hers and held it tight then tugged it over his chest to his beating heart. he wanted to feel her soft fingers on his skin, right there, feel his life force. she let her hand remain in his and waited as he slowly kissed both lids… the tip of her nose. her stomach churned and emptied out at that, she clung to his hand.
he rolled over till his body lay across her, his free hand shot out and rested on the bed, so he could balance himself above her; his eyes roamed her face, desire on his, he lowered himself upon her, letting his breath play against her cheek, delaying the kiss, wanting to feel her impatience.
their lips met. passion again. she was drowning in it, he was lost. the sun sank further into the ocean, the room grew dark, the silence was interrupted by the sound of hastening breath.
how she managed to roll out from under him she’d never know. where she got the strength from would always remain a mystery. her entire being wanted to take this quest to its end, though she had no idea what that might be. all she knew was she wanted to go there. that’s all.
yet her thoughts said, “no, this cannot be.”
the herculean struggle between thought and craving lasted excruciating moments. her fevered hands slowed down, her lips went still. seconds later, she was out, pushing herself away from him, to the far end of his large bed, with its brown satin male air, soft white egyptian cotton sheets in the folds of deep brown silken covers. coffee and cream. so darkly tempting. she closed her eyes.
he looked at her perplexed, disoriented. still on a high.
“khushi?” gentle, velvet voice, “darling, what happened… are you scared?”
she looked back at him not saying anything for an instant. she was loathe to open her mouth and say the words. why was life like this? why was it so unfair? how would she live without… ?
“nahin, arnav ji, yeh ho nahi sakta…” soft, firm voice.
(no, arnav ji, this cannot be…)
“ho nahin sakta?” in an instant rage sparked, nostrils flared, “kyun? what the hell are you saying, khushi! stop playing games.”
(can’t be? why? what the hell are you saying, khushi! stop playing games.)
she snatched a shard of his anger and shot back, eyes smouldering, “hum koi khel khel nahin rahe hain… khel toh aap rahe hain… hum sab ke saath… lavanya ji ka kya hoga, arnav ji?” you are playing the game… with all of us. what about lavanya ji. the words seemed to tear into him.
(i am not playing any game… you are playing actually… with all of us… what about lavanya ji?)
the colour drained from his face. he had forgotten lavanya.
absolutely, completely, utterly.
khushi picked up her dupatta, adjusted it across her shoulders, there was a bruise where his fingers had rubbed hard when they held her with that exhilarating demand. why, why was it like this?… she wanted to run back to him. to be held in his arms, her head on his wide warm chest, his energy pulsating around, the smell of his cologne and skin mingling, making her forget everything.
she looked at him silently, then turned around and left the room, closing the door behind her.
a man he’d never seen before was standing at the door. tall, distinguished looking, an air of authority and calm about him, salt and pepper hair, dark intelligent eyes… a little smile hovered on his lips.
“hello, mr raizada, welcome back,” deep, sonorous voice, something very pleasant about it.
“doctor verma,” anjali practically jumped up from the bed where she was still sitting by him. she beamed at the man, eyes shining, “haan, doctor, chhotey is back.”
asr watched his sister’s reaction, so this was his doctor, and how nice to see her smile at someone like that. but wait a minute, why was di smiling like that?
when they shook hands… yes, the doctor felt that was the appropriate way to greet a young man who’d fought so valiantly… asr liked the quiet strength in the hand, something clean in that shake.
dr verma succeeded where the nurse hadn’t. within minutes, the room was back to calm, the family having been persuaded to leave the patient alone for a while. he needed rest.
asr lay back with his eyes closed. he was tired.
khushi could feel an angst in her. surely she wasn’t worried about that call from lavanya… no, it was really all of all this, everything.
arnav ji was back… this was over… but yet, hadn’t he just said he knew it was shyam? and so many days…
unable to sit still, she got ready to thank devi maiyya for his safe journey back. where were the flowers? ah here. she picked up the match box to light the diya. she struck a match head against side of the box. nothing. strike. strike… she was just not getting this simple thing, really. strike once more.
“stop feeling so terrible,” he whispered as he removed the box and match stick from her hands. he had left the bed and walked up to her quietly. she was so torn, she’d not heard him at all.
“arnav ji, aap… you should not be standing,” she said laying her head on his shoulder.
“come” he said, and led her to the bed. they lay down next to each other, he drew her into his arms and closed his eyes, she let her eyes watch him as long as they could remain open. at last the excitement, the tension, the up and down of emotion, all of it caught up with her, and her eyes shut.
asr smiled ever so slightly. he could feel her breath settle. his thought moved swiftly, “shyam, don’t think you’ll get away with this.”
that day after she’d walked out of the room, he’d left the bed and gone outside. it was almost dark, a light breeze played on the water. he’d sat by it for hours. how could he do this? how could he forget lavanya? what was happening to him. he had to talk to lavanya. and he had to had to stop this feeling. he couldn’t let a girl do this to him. even if she had ridiculously cute pompoms, even if she felt so right, so perfect when he held her.
arnav singh raizada had long shunned the idea of love. he had no way of telling how it felt.
thank you, chhotey, for the fabulous edit above.