omoraboti, my friend farha has

made that evocative banner.

whenever i hear old chronicles of love, its age old pain,
its ancient tale of being apart or together
as i stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge
clad in the light of a pole star, piercing the darkness of time.

~~~ rabindranath tagore, unending love ~~~

“do you know, arnav, there are so many things i want to tell you.

all the things i can’t tell a soul, not even myself at times? i feel if i say those words i won’t be able to get up, won’t be able to carry on…

i can’t say these things, i must believe, yeh zindagi humari hai, achhi hai, hume yahan jeena hai.

(this life is mine, it’s good, i have to live here.)

yet why is it that my heart wants to tell you everything? everything? really all of it? the fears that refuse to leave me. that old sadness i don’t look at. and tears, all the tears… it’s strange how much of tears a little girl can have, even after all seems to have flowed.

why, arnav, why did it all happen? why me?

and tears, all the tears… it’s strange how much of tears a little girl can have, even after all seems to have flowed.

i know this is a silly question. i have asked devi maiyya many times and she looks at me with the kindest eyes. i try to find all my answers in that, i try to forget everything… just hold her close and forget it all… and my stars… my vishwaas, there they are humari amma aur babuji… i suppose some things can never be explained and if devi maiyya thought this was what had to be… i’ll just accept it.

yet, arnav, there are days like this… when i just can’t… i try so hard… that everyone should be okay… no one should be harmed…

i want to scream when i think of a speeding car… my heart pounds thick and fast… raftaar… a rush of lights and sound in the dark… no… stop it… someone stop it please… babuji… amma…

oh, arnav ji,

did it have to be another accident?

did i have to see you being hit by a bus on the road?

why, arnav ji, what have i done that i have to see this?

can you hear me? where are you? do you hear? why me? is it… is it… me?”

“shh. sh… sh. khushi? khushi?

i can hear you always… hamesha. always. remember?

i hear everything you say, even those you sometimes don’t. i hear your rhythm, your cadence, your breath, the hush of your lashes falling across your cheek, the stir of your touch, the hope in your smile. i hear you in my heartbeat.

and i hear the tears drenching your heart. the ones you hide so you can live. the ones you use to make others happy. the ones with which you feel me through all my harsh words and anger.

you don’t have to tell me. i know. don’t you know me, khushi?

… i am here, just here…

we are never away from each other, are we?

and no, khushi, it isn’t you. sometimes some things happen… no reason… they just do…

khushi, i love you.”

why does a sudden wind rustle the waters on a still night? why does a name feel like life itself? why are some things impossible to understand or explain yet they are there, they did happen? why do we search so much to find so little? and why does so much find its way to us, just like that? what is this thing we call love, mohabbat, pyaar, ah love? is it real? is there any proof of it? how do we see it, touch it, feel it? where does it live? how long does it live? is it real? is there anything real except love? rabba ve… rabba ve.


anjali sat with a dazed look on the faux leather upholstered waiting area chair. why were hospital decors so cold and matter of fact, when nothing that went on in hospitals were of that nature? desperation, love, hurt, fear all around, sometimes a tiny ray of hope. but to look at the metal and plastic furnishings, the cool flat walls, you’d never know there were any feelings around here. no feelings.

coming up in the lift today, the lift man had been so rude and aggressive. and he scratched himself, blithely unaware of the crush of people waiting to somehow get out of the stuffy elevator and reach their patient. maybe  a father, a mother, sister, friend, who knows. he didn’t care like these walls and chairs, sickness and death had become mere business, the day’s routine they were, and he was just tired of these people who thought nothing mattered more than their patient.

anjali checked her thoughts. she was wandering off. running away from that voice on the phone, “khushi ji, do you really think arnav had an accident that afternoon?”

she started to feel sick, physically; a bowl, a something, did someone have…?

payal could see the colour drain from di’s face, she rushed over across the aisle, “di? di? are you ok?”

anjali’s hand was trembling and cold as she held payal’s. akash had gone to collect some medicines at the pharmacy, payal wished he’d come soon as she stroked anjali’s hair. what was the best course of action she wondered. di was fragile, and the past weeks had been hard on her. just when she was beginning to feel a little calmer about things. she’d started taking active interest in ar, and joined the post graduate executive programme at the faculty of management at delhi university. she was doing everything she could to give shape to her life once more. once built around only her love for her husband and all the hopes and dreams of their marriage. that’s all.

after meeting shyam, anjali had let her other bits submerge, settle right at the bottom. she had so much, why should she want more? she had someone who loved her despite her shortcomings. her limp, the day to day demands of a physical handicap, and that terrible broken wedding. no, she would take care of this man, he was the centre of her existence. a sharp, intelligent girl decided her personal ambitions, her flair for business and such things were really not important. what mattered was shyam. her every fear of loss was crystalised in that emotion as she turned almost full time to prayer and religious observance seeking the blessings of the almighty in preserving this happiness.

payal had sensed the potential strength of this woman the day shyam’s truth came out. a steel she had associated always with arnav ji, came into his elder sister’s eyes. then she ripped out her mangalsutra. in one stroke, just like that. payal had gasped audibly; wasn’t this the woman they’d all felt, especially khushi, was too weak to handle the truth about shyam? that very mangalsutra had almost come undone once long ago and how she’d panicked, as a result of which khushi had kept mum about the deceiver… and all that happened afterwards had happened. payal sighed.

she remembered how minutes after hearing shyam was not only after money and nothing else, but had himself killed their child, anjali gathered herself and struck back.

whoever called must have said something terrible, payal thought, oh no, was everything ok? she held anjali firmly and said, “di, just hold on, i’ll get akash to get some water…”

even as she spoke, anjali crumpled, her face was buried in her knees, she seemed to be losing consciousness.

dr verma had just walked into the ward for a regular round. he saw the two women at the end of the aisle and walked over quickly. he could see miss raizada was in no state to even sit up. as he reached for her pulse and asked the nurse to get some water, he said, “miss raizada, don’t worry, now let’s see what’s the matter with you…”

anjali felt warm fingers settle on her wrist, an air of calm in them. she sat up slowly, looked him in the eyes, her eyes beginning to fill up, “dr verma, my husband is out to kill my brother. that was no accident.”

vijay verma looked back into eyes growing desperate, and he remembered another pair just as dark and intense. intense with belief. nancy, why did you believe so much?

he didn’t know why he said what he said next, “trust me miss raizada, we won’t let him.”

miss raizada had a husband, so he was right, he could sense there was a man in her life.

payal was shocked at what di had just said. “who called, di? shyam ji?”

“no, payal ji, it was a woman… but i know on whose behalf she called… it was no accident, payal ji… no accident,” her lips quivered and at last it became impossible not to cry. her little brother, her chhotey, her papad ka tukda jab dekho ukhda, the one who trailed after her as she hobbled along, never pushing her or trying to overtake, always over protective of her, fighting with anyone who dared to call her names, who had always taken care of her, someone wanted to hurt him. no no no. no. never.

payal sat down, what would they do now, this strange terrifying knowledge. where was akash? why was he taking so long? what should they do? what would they tell khushi?

khushi? payal’s breath almost stopped. how would they tell khushi? should they tell her? wasn’t it better to just let it be? khushi wouldn’t be able to take it… not this… her thoughts raced.

the door of asr’s cubicle opened and khushi came out smiling. he was breathing, he was warm, somehow she never felt bad when she was around him. that night she’d stayed up when they thought they hated each other, even that night she’d been happy because he was there. even when he’d been khadoos and rude she’d wanted to take care of him, hold him. ajeeb.


that’s what. ajeeb they were. again she smiled.

but when her eyes fell on the three people huddled together, somehow she knew she would have to face the next thing. the time had come.


why was she everywhere? he thought. that girl…

it had not been easy. his first time back in lucknow after that day with chachaji, he and di being thrown out of their home. maa gone.

a deep breath. the thoughts disturbed him. it had not been easy.

how was he ever going to feel alright in these corridors, these rooms, this whole place? sheesh mahal. no you are not mine, you never were. you belong to the darkness. to the abyss of no return… your walls wrap around my mother’s scream and a gunshot.

no… two gunshots.

whose hand was on the trigger?

he was suffocating.

another long deep inhale and a controlled exhale.

he had done what he’d said he would, promised in fact. chacha ji and his careless, ceaseless spending on the “good” life had necessitated first turning the usurped sprawling mansion sitting amid 40 acres of land with manicured gardens and orchards into a hotel. soon enough, that too wasn’t enough, finally sheesh mahal had to be mortgaged. that was just the chance asr had been waiting for.

now this sprawling mansion was his.

his eyes grew dark and opaque, cacao 90 %. there was not a trace of joy at the thought. just a chilling sense of winning. power. power that only money gives you.

and money doesn’t come easy.

sounds he didn’t want to hear were echoing in him. too many memories. why were they all so difficult?

an image of a pair of trembling full lips cut in out of nowhere. that girl. who was she? why was she on his mind? he really didn’t give a damn for such girls. a ridiculous waif like creature with really strange clothes… were those pompoms hanging from her sleeves and plait? he grimaced. she was falling back about to hit the ground, he felt a strong desire to reach out and catch her. stop the fall. he had to get away.

he had to get away. he reached for his phone. “aman? please ask captain raina to get ready, i am flying back now… yes aman, don’t interrupt. you and akash come back tomorrow with di, i’ll send the plane back. oh, and tell dan i need an appointment this friday afternoon.”

he ended the call, thought for a moment, then a half smile… almost. he dialed again.

“yes, it’s me, darling,” the smile was there definitely, “i’ll see you in…” he checked his watch, a beautiful iwc in white gold, “say, three and a half hours?”

the response to this announcement amused him, it seemed.

“yes, i’m coming back now… not a problem, i hope?”

a full smile at last…

“i thought not, lavanya.”

clearly, he had won again.

“that horrible man, devi maiyya, why do i keep meeting him?” khushi was before her dearest friend and protector again. the day had completely thrown her. after she fell down, finally the lucknow bystander who’d been watching delicately from afar had come running. suddenly, a whole crowd around her… muttering, murmuring, but since she was a girl, keeping their distance. she was hurt, her palms were grazed, and when she suddenly saw a leering man just inches away from her face, she screamed.

her dupatta had fallen off and lay a little away from her, and this leering tough, yeah he was big and obnoxious and… khushi shuddered at the thought… he said, “o ji, don’t be angry that the man in the car didn’t take you, i’m here, come, meri jaan, jaaneman…”

“what?” khushi could feel her anger surging, bringing with it the power to fight back. “you…”

but she didn’t have to say much, a hand appeared from behind the man’s head, caught him by the scruff, lifted him off the floor and threw him on the ground, away from khushi. khushi looked up agog. now what.

but looking back at her was a sharif, yes, definitely sharif… civilized and really gentle looking man with a sweet smile…

“are you ok?” asked the stranger. he carefully picked up the dupatta and handed it to her with the utmost respect. khushi was too taken aback and winded by events to say anything. she noticed as she took the dupatta, he wore a bracelet with a big chunky phiroza… what a pretty colour, she thought. and she had heard buaji say turquoise was an ancient protection amulet, it was a symbol of wealth, it cuts the evil eye and brings good energies. the man saw her eyes on his bracelet and smiled slightly then he turned to the goon now sitting up slowly and said, “hum lucknow ke hain… streeon ke saath iss tarah pesh nahin aate…” we’re from lucknow, we don’t treat women like this, at last khushi began to feel a little more like herself.

he bid the rest of the crowd to leave as there was really nothing to gawk at, and then with a “if you’re fine, i’ll take your leave,” he walked away.

“what a nice man he was, devi maiyya… not like that…” she made a nasty face, “that… that laad governor… aa ha ha ha… lord of all he surveys… but, devi maiyya, i am really upset… nothing is going right, how much i’m trying to earn some money for jiji’s shaadi, but nothing… and then this awful man… you tell me what should i do?”

just then bua ji walked in, her only aunt on babuji’s side, babu ji’s elder sister. “hai re nand kissore…” said she in her customary loud and colourful vein, “what are you barbaraaoing in front of your devi maiyya? hain? when will you learn the value of time, nand kissore, when? warm up the dinner, girls… you want your only bua to die of hunger, or what?”


khushi looked at her aunt’s considerable girth, and couldn’t suppress an impish grin.

time… time… yes, thought khushi… mustn’t waste time… and opportunity. buaji was here, she would be leaving in a couple of days… what if… what if… khushi jumped up and went to the kitchen as bua ji smiled in relief.

what if, khushi was thinking, she went to delhi with bua ji and looked for a job… perfect solution!!! there were no jobs here. bua ji always lamented her lonely situation, no one for this childless woman ever since her husband, bless his soul, had departed this world… so now, she could have the pleasure of the company of her favourite adopted niece khushi kumari gupta…

khushi smiled in triumph. then made a face again… and you, she thought, arnav singh raizada, in delhi i won’t have to see your khadoos face again. understand?!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!! hoonh!

when bua ji checked around half an hour later why dinner was taking so long, she found khushi immersed in making golden yellow, crispy, syrupy, luscious jalebis. a mound was ready next to the smoking kadai. payal stood by her, quietly watching her little sister in action. hai re…


without you chapter 8