omoraboti, my friend farha has

made that stirring banner.


“eternity is said not to be an extension of time but an absence of time,
and sometimes it seemed to me that her abandonment touched that strange mathematical point of endlessness, a point with no width. occupying no space.”

~~~ graham greene, the end of the affair ~~~

she leaned over him and peered at his face intently. every plane, rise, fall, and curve of it, why was it so dear to her, a face she’d not known long, yet this is where forever met eternity and flowed into endlessness. hamesha. her hamesha. arnav ji, her arnav, her arnav singh raizada. and yes, also her asr.

she so needed to touch him now and feel his quickening skin, his instant comeback to her slightest call.

there he lay, still, in his own world, oblivious to her searching gaze, her desperate need. it had been almost six weeks since that afternoon when the whole world fell silent and a darkness came that was ever more dreadful, for no one knew where it led, did it lead anywhere at all? was the light ever coming back or was this all there was.


she shuddered, her eyes closed, a wretched breath left her body and fractured the calm around. a false calm it was anyway, one that had to be wrested from disquiet and maintained, otherwise things may really fall apart. and instinct told her not to let that happen, no matter what happened, how terrifying it all got.

she sat there leaning over him, her eyes refusing to look away, lingering over those little details that were him; inimitably, only him. the scar with three ridges on his left eyelid, oh it must have hurt him so much, that motorbike, that speed, her forehead creased as she involuntarily flinched at the thought, but then her eyes gleamed… that mark was him and that’s all that mattered. her scrutiny continued over the ridge of his proud straight nose, down to his lips searching for the little drag to the right, that slight asymmetry which made it all perfect, made it him. she sat staring at the tiny groove where his lips met at the end, how tender that downward bend, she wanted to let her index finger run along it, probe gently, awaken it, tell it to make his lips move… it had been so long, almost 45 days of stillness.

his full, insistent lower lip, she could feel it pushing against her mouth, breaking down all resistance, permission had to be granted, but then when had she ever not wanted to give it… hum toh aap hi ke hai… i am but yours already… she remembered how he’d tricked her into admitting she was indeed his even before the seven pheras and all the mantras and rituals of marriage, and she remembered his lips on her cheeks, her forehead, and her mouth, her neck, her palm, her… she felt their warmth, their moistness, their sense of right, their huq, that arousal they brought along with them… every time… har baar… a heat rose across her face, burning her ears, she was blushing.

“dekhiye, aap bilkul bhi achhe nahin hain!” she pouted and complained aloud, you’re not at all nice… “aapne itne dino se hum se ek baat bhi nahin ki, humey… chhuan nahin, dekha tak nahin, aur dekhiye humari haalat.” you haven’t spoken to me in so long, haven’t… touched me, not even looked at me, and look at my state.

(see, you’re not at all nice! for so many days now you haven’t said even a word to me, haven’t… touched me, not even looked at me, and look at my state.)

“chaliye, i will also be angry, i won’t talk to you. samjhe aap?… hum shut up kar rahein hain… haan.”

(there, i will also be angry, i won’t talk to you. do uou understand?… i am shutting up… yes.)

she made a moue, looked at him all upset and threw back her head with a little flounce. everything she knew that made him respond with alacrity… usually.

then she raised her hand and touched the side of his neck just below the ear, gently, her fingers feeling for something. she found it and a slow smile started to spread across her face, swiftly catching her eyes and settling there. she’d found the exact place where his stubble ended and smooth skin began. her fingers hungrily traced the line, all along his jawline, his neck, onto the other side. she stroked his cheek with the lightest touch, then let her thumb settle on his stubble and feel its roughness, its demand, its abrasive sweetness… yes, she loved the gritty planes and ridges and grooves of his face, their scratch against her skin made her feel things she sometimes described to herself when she was all alone. every word of that description inflamed her cheeks. how could she feel such things! yet she did, with him, because of him, for him. and she felt no shame though her cheeks pretended otherwise.

“see, arnav ji, though you are not listening to anything i say, i have made sure dan ji is taking care of you… your hair, your beard… (she could almost hear him snap “what the” at that)… ok ok hume pata hai, this is not a beard, whatever you call it… that thing… i called aman ji and told him to call dan ji the moment we brought you home…”

she smiled at her husband and carried on as though he could hear every word she said.

“the day we heard about that…” she stopped short, no, she wouldn’t tell him about the phone call di had received. when payal and di had told her about it after coming back home that day, a fear beyond all measurable proportion had gripped her heart. she’d wanted to scream and cry and beat something. anything.

but she’d taken a deep long breath instead and gone to her room.

there she’d sat for hours before devi maiyya, wondering what she should do with this new catastrophic intimation. she’d looked out of the french windows where she’d often seen him thinking his thoughts, the pool water rippled and swirled and played unaware of the troubles. tears had flowed unstoppable from her eyes as a torrent of words rocked her mind. gradually had come a quiet, her mind had traveled inward, away from everything… like the day she’d received a phone call herself and a man’s ragged voce had said “khushi, i love you.” husky, gritty, eternal, hamesha.

we have known each other out of nowhere, we’ve loved each other in a way we never knew love could be, we’ve spoken to each other across distance, maybe even time, were we supposed to meet? did you know or i that day in sheesh mahal, under that blazing sun, in the bright blue pool, drowning together that we were to be together anyway, always? what did you and i know, how you and i struggled not to know, but here we are. you and i. yes, you are perhaps far from me right now. but you’ve been away before and then too there was the threat of death… murder… that time it was diesel… this time a bus… arnav ji…

yaad hai, aap ne kaha tha… “main uss ahsaas ki baat kar raha hoon jo hum tab mehsoos karte hain jab hum ek doosre se door hote hain… door rah kar bhi ek doosre ke paas hote hain… wahi pyaar hai, khushi…”

remember, you’d said… i speak of that feeling which we feel when we are far from each other… even when afar, we are close to each other… that is love, khushi.

haan, arnav, when we are far away from each other, we are still together, you and i, and that is love… i will not fear. i am scared to lose people, i once thought i couldn’t bear it, not since amma and my babuji, all those years ago, but no, i shall bear, i shall not fear… you are in me, i am in you, together we will face this thing… even if it is called death.

“the day we heard about that … option,”

khushi resumed talking to asr, “the option to bring a coma patient home, we immediately said, yes, you must come home, be in your room… i know you’ll be happier here…”

it had been decided to move him to shantivan as security would be easier to manage here, in a private contained space. twenty four hour surveillance around the house and a mini intensive care unit in their bedroom, weeks had passed since the day she’d resolved to fight this battle the way she wanted to and he would want her to.

she plumped his pillows and sat by him once more.

“jaantey hain, jab se aap aaye hain, ghar mein sab kitne khush hain… nani ji has started going to satsang. di comes and shows off her new bangles to you and talks about ar, she’s really enjoying her management classes… akash ji roz raat bahut der se aatey hain, woh aapka fashion show aa raha hai na… jiji looks a little sad but i make sure she gets her dose of tickles to keep her happy, pata hai mami ji is planning to go on a diet, hello hi bye bye,” khushi did a perfect mami ji and giggled.

(do you know ever since you’re home how happy everyone at home is? nani ji has started going to satsang. di comes and shows off her new bangles to you and talks about ar, she’s really enjoying her management classes… akash ji comes home late every night, your fashion show is approaching that’s why…  jiji looks a little sad but i make sure she gets her dose of tickles to keep her happy, do you know mami ji is planning to go on a diet, hello hi bye bye!)

“aap sun rahein hai na? dr verma says you can hear, but arnav ji, till you tell me… how can i believe that… boliye… do you know doctor ji is a really nice man, that day when di was all upset about you, he was so kind to her… you think he and di… i must find out if he’s married… haan haan aap kahenge it’s none of my business… but phir bhi, you know me, naa,” she held his hand tightly and smiled… but try as she might the tears just wouldn’t be stopped, they clung to her lids and glistened…

(you’re listening to what is say aren’t you…)

“aur mama ji, he keeps telling me he is sure his bitwa will be well soon. amma and buaji come by regularly… and nanhe ji has made a trip from australia only to see you… his hindi is just as bad as ever, he said “khasta” instead of “khatra” the other day when he heard…” she stopped again, no she mustn’t lose control, arnav mustn’t hear of anything now, not when he was so helpless… “can you imagine… crisp instead of danger? when we said you were completely out of danger, you know… and see!!! have you seen what i’m wearing?!!”

she took his hand and moved his fingers over her clothes, “i am wearing a saree, just the way you like it… i know aap ko woh sab gote wala churidar itna bhi pasand nahin hai and just because i am comfortable in them you never tell me anything… but i want to wear what you like you know, i see things in your eyes… humari dhadkane…” her voice trembled, she hadn’t seen his eyes for so so long.

(i am wearing a saree, just the way you like it… i know you don’t much care for my churidars with gota and just because i am comfortable in them you never tell me anything… but i want to wear what you like you know, i see things in your eyes…my heart beat…)

“see… can you feel it… chiffon… i am wearing a very sundar green and yellow chiffon saree, and my hair is open, silky and flowing… haan… i have on this small little shiny bindi, and you know even though i say so, hume pata hai, i am looking very nice… don’t you want to see me?” she paused for a moment, trying to come back to even keel; khushi, khushi, calm down, she admonished herself.

“i know i love to talk… mujh se chup nahin raha jata (i can’t keep quiet)… that whether you talk or not i will go on… but that doesn’t mean you just keep quiet, say nothing… it’s been almost 45 days you know, i can’t bear to not hear from you for a second… and it’s been more than six weeks… chhai hafte, hey devi maiyya… i don’t know about coma shoma, okay, now you talk to me… if i’d done this to you how would you feel? haan? what the, what the karte rahtein aap!! (you’d be saying what the what the!!)… i know i am strong,” a little sob escaped unnoticed…” you make me strong… and… and i am pretty strong anyway, but phir bhi… is this fair…?” the tears were streaming down her face by now, her voice grew louder, angrier, completely in love, “enough! if you won’t talk to to me, i will also not speak with you, and because you are being so stubborn, arnav singh raizada, i will also be akdoo, like you, i will also go away… bas.”

with that she got up and turned around… away from him, the free end of her saree, her gossamer light yellow and green chiffon pallu swished and spread out.


he’d just stepped out of his suv in the hotel porch, the valet was about to take his car for parking. the day had been overcast, incessant thunder and heavy showers, pity his client had been cooped up his first day in delhi in the hotel room. arnav singh raizda was here to meet his client for dinner; black shirtsleeves, sleek waistcoat of charcoal gray buttoned down all the way, black trousers, silver black narrow custom made tie, hair brushed back, gleaming skin, glittering cognac eyes, perfect stubble, he had every idea what this did to the passing stranger of the female kind. however, it mattered little to him. mere information, that’s all. he was too sharp not to notice.

as he turned to stride up the steps to the lobby, a gust of wind.

and a soft billowing light something blew over his face and moved across it. caressing, gentle, sensual, sensuous… he knew this touch, he was a man of fashion, fabric was his business, his passion. chiffon… he said to himself, fine, pure silk chiffon, only that had this smoothness, this delicate yet inviting lightness against the skin. this swish. it clung to the disruptive stubble on his cheek before sliding off .

he wanted to say something… but he couldn’t. she was beautiful. utterly, absolutely, crimsonly. he couldn’t think beyond that, only feel a desire to go near… as close as he could… what was happening to him. he gulped.

he turned along with it and looked up. there she stood, in her red chiffon saree, the pallu still finding its way to her, the wind having led it astray. deep dark crimson red, colour of blood, around a lissome shimmery figure, alabaster white translucent skin. a moment ago the red was on him… plain chiffon with a narrow border of sequins in the same shade, glinting. her hair was open, auburn tresses swinging down all the way to her waist, a few strands flew in the breeze, bangs falling forward onto her forehead, large opalescent danglers swayed on either side of her oval, finely chiselled face. almond shaped eyes with dark expressive irises, now clearly startled, under arched perfect dark eyebrows, aquiline nose with a haughtiness all its own, high cheek bones, line of cheek flowing to clean jawline and down to a long endless neck, and those lips. again those lips… soft, innocent, from that day in the pool, that day in the mandir, and that morning when he had…

he wanted to say something… but he couldn’t. she was beautiful. utterly, absolutely, crimsonly. he couldn’t think beyond that, only feel a desire to go near… as close as he could… what was happening to him. he gulped.

she looked at him aghast. when she’d felt her pallu getting caught on something, she’d turned involuntarily… and seen a man in black, his face covered. a slim, lithe man, in differently cut clothes, not like the men she met… and then his face came into view. hair slicked back, hard jawline, sharp straight nose, but all she could see were those eyes… glowing, colour of chocolate, how she loved chocolates, a fire lighting in them slowly, smouldering brown eyes. chocolate melting.

for a long moment the world paused. two people looked at each other. taking in things that only the wind and the rain and the night knew of. there was a song in them it seemed, a lilting strain that rose skyward, a melody not all could hear, but some could, yes some could… perhaps some day it would reach the right ears.

a streak of lightning, a crack of thunder… the spell broke. she whirled to run up the stairs and away from that gaze… it did things to her that it wasn’t meant to… he was the rakshas…

he stood motionless. her hair, those locks on her forehead, he wanted to touch them, just once… tuck them behind her ears, those tiny lobes… he shook his head, what the f…!!

she wasn’t used to heels, she shouldn’t have listened to jiji and worn them, but it was preeto’s wedding and they were going to a big five star hotel in delhi, she’d never been to one.  payal was worried about khushi, she was sad every day about not getting a job still… there was no point telling her it had only been five days since they’d arrived. the mountains of daily jalebi were getting so big even the neighbours and all the voracious kids of lakshmi nagar couldn’t finish them. payal hoped dressing up and going to her friend’s wedding would take the gloom off her sister’s mind.

khushi tripped and as she fell backward with a squealing yelp, he was galvanized in a way he never had been before. all he knew was that he had to catch her before she hit the ground. he forgot he’d pushed her violently only a few days back and driven off, he forgot he felt she was sent by someone to spy on him, he forgot his anger with her… arms outstretched, he ran up the stairs and caught her.

the impact made him lose balance almost, but he stood firm, in his arms a woman in red that he couldn’t take his eyes off. her lips were quivering and she was muttering something to herself. what was she saying? she raised her eyes and looked at him and again that sensation of drowning.

“i have to stop this,” he thought.

“i must get away,” she thought.

“so you followed me to delhi,” he said in the nastiest, coldest, most insulting way he could.

she stiffened all over and glared back, lips pursing.

his eyes didn’t miss the change in those lips. no! said his head. he abruptly set her down on the stairs and strode off.

she stood right there for almost a whole minute, trying to gather herself…


the young boy wandered into the unfamiliar place. he’d never been here before, such a pretty space, where was he? it was so green…  filled with fresh colours, there were plants everywhere, shrubs, young trees, saplings in a nursery bed, a strong tall tree near the centre of the garden… yes, one could call it a garden, only he knew nothing like this existed anywhere, something told him that. was it the mist or the coolness in the air, something said it was not here, not here, somewhere away. yet somewhere close. so close.

what a strange feeling. what was that tree… was it a sal? solid, tall, dense, sal tree? where had he heard of that before? someone told him a story once about a tree. wasn’t that a sal?

he stood there looking around, bemused, such an ethereal quality to this place. who was that? at the far end of a hedge swathed in a profusion of mauve, purple, frilly wisteria falling upon it from an overhanging trellis, he saw her.

she was working on her pots, they sat on a ledge, a saree covered her head to foot, her pallu hid most of her profile. yet he knew her… of course, he knew her. he felt his heart do a flip and begin to race. she was here, oh and he’d been looking all over…

he started to hurry toward her, he knew there was no need to say anything. she would know.

as he closed the gap separating them, why did he feel as if it grew a bit wider. again he tried, again that feeling. was she further away? no… he had to reach her. he started to walk resolutely in her direction.

this time the distance didn’t shift. he was getting closer. just a few more steps.

she turned even as he thought this. there she stood. beautiful, loving, her smile so loving, he wanted to fly to it. to hold her. to never ever…

he stopped. she’d just said something. was he ok?

yes, yes, he was… now that she was here.

was he happy?

it threw him, this question.

happy? khush? but he hadn’t thought of happiness for so long…

khush. as he thought of the word, he started to feel it in him. a small little nudging feeling, and slowly it grew, expanding and growing and touching him, till he wanted to say it.

he looked at her.

she stood there smiling. the kindest, most loving smile.

he knew what he had to do. he had to say it.

“khush…” he said and then he knew not why, he let his voice carry on and find an “i.” “khushi!” the “kh” seemed to caress his throat as he released it with a tenderness, on the “shi” he exhaled and felt a world a galaxy a universe of sadness fall away.

“khushi,” he said again and looked at her.

she smiled once more.

he stood there smiling back at her, a part of him wanted to bridge that distance forever.

but she had reminded him. and he felt a restlessness. forever called but it was elsewhere.

“khushi.” he had to find her… the bus… “khushiii!”


she felt a tug on her pallu, she froze. her hand reached up and caught her pallu at the shoulder instinctively.

this couldn’t be. she remembered what had happened with the tea… her dupatta caught in cactus thorns and she flinging hot tea on his face, his chest… ufff. her heart was pounding. she so wanted it to be what she knew it couldn’t be… she had hoped so many times in these days… every waking second of all these weeks, sometimes even in her sleep, her dreams… yet, she had to be strong… this could not…

“jaa rahi ho?” his voice was soft, husky, with that grain that was his. only his.

(are you going away?)

she closed her eyes, a rush of blood, crimson, gushing, pounding coursed through her toes, her gut, her head, her ears.

she whirled around.

and looked straight into chocolate brown eyes. glittering.


without you chapter 9