Shyam was in the shadows. His vision trained on Arnav Singh Raizada who was busy on a conference call, pacing the area near the poolside of his room.
A venomous hatred rose within Shyam against the man in front of whom. The man who was always in control. His saalesaab.. Shyam almost felt delirious at the irony of the name. It was a strange name.. saalesaab. Remove the postfix and it would perhaps describe the name he had in mind for ASR. And that would still be one of the milder ones.
Shyam was fed up of living in his brother-in-laws shadow. When he married Anjali he had thought god was being helpful and was handing him what he deserved in his life. All his life he had spent being mediocre and suddenly he had managed to land himself a sweet looking wife. An added benefit was definitely the fact that she was rich.
Sister to one of the rising business tycoons of India. His wife, Anjali Manohar Jha.
For a while he had gotten enough from Anjali to take care of his own shenanigans. In return he kept her happy. Which of course was quite easy. All that was needed was a little praise, a forced smile and lots of flattery. Shyam was good at all these things. He dreamed of more, but would not have been in such a hurry if he had not met Khushi that fateful day in Lukhnow.
He could not stand one more minute of looking at the competent successful man in front of him. Not when each time he was only reminded of one thing. Khushi was going to marry Arnav.
He walked into his room where Anjali was getting ready. She looked into the mirror and spoke to his reflection. “Kya hua aapko? Do you want some tea?”
He bit back a grimace. Always this interfering nagging presence in his life. Anjali had outlived her usefulness to Shyam. Shyam could clearly see it.
It did not come as a surprise when the thought had entered his head a few days back. He had wasted no time. His underhand dealings had brought him in contact with enough people, who might be categorized as the scum in society. Well, scum had its uses.
He had managed to hoodwink his unsuspecting wife to get money to buy what would be needed to finish what he had in mind.
Arsenic. Untraceable. Tasteless. Deadly. A pinch in a glass of sherbet and a sip taken from it. Shyam would have gotten what he wanted.
That is what he had mixed in the glasses on the night of the sangeet. Two glasses. One for Anjali Manohar Jha. And one for Arnav Singh Raizada.
He had felt invincible for a minute. And his eyes had landed on Khushi’s babuji, helpless on a wheelchair. Shyam had laughed, possibly like a maniac. It gave a better effect he had to admit to himself. And he had boldly told Shashi Gupta what the glass held. The man who had tried to stop him from marrying Khushi. Well he could not speak anymore. Shyam had seen to it.
And now the other two obstacles in his path to khushi and money would be gone soon. Perhaps this over confidence had led him to boast about it. Who would have known Anjali would have walked up to him just then and demanded to dance? She had this annoying habit of showing up at extremely wrong times.
“boliye na.. Should I bring you some tea. You are looking tired. Should I oil your hair?” In the room, at present, Anjali was limping towards him. He did not feel like hiding his irritation. “nai rani sahiba. Humne kaha na I don’t want anything. I have work. Humein disturb mat kijiye“.
Her face had fallen, but Shyam deliberately turned and sat down in front of his laptop. He did not see one word on the screen. Instead continued to remember the night of the sangeet. With his wife dead Shyam would be free. Free to marry the girl whose would be husband was also dead. Because the second glass was meant for his saale saab.
But the glasses had shattered and so had the easy solution to every complication in Shyam’s life. How could Shyam have known that Shashi Gupta would find some way to break the glasses filled with the poison? He banged the laptop lid and brought his hands together. The blood rushing into them. He did not pay any attention to the discomfort.
Khushi could not belong to Arnav. Under no circumstance would Shyam allow that to happen.
He was an orphan like Shyam. Then why did he deserve so much money? Why should he have the power to do what he wanted? And why should he get to marry Khushi?
Never… the answer was simple. Shyam looked deranged as his brain fixed on a single thought.. Arnav and Rani Sahiba had to die.
“Khushi tu bhi na..“, Payal teased and gave an insistent tug at her younger sister’s long her. Her younger sister was going to marry into the same house as Payal. Khushi was marrying the man she supposedly couldn’t stand even thinking about.
Khushi was sitting at the foot of the bed leaning against it, while Payal sat cross legged on the edge of the bed applying oil on Khushi’s hair.
“Jiji humne kaha na I don’t want to talk about that laad governor. And don’t pull my hair“. She glared at her jiji.
“achcha Khushi.. First you don’t tell me tumhe Arnavji pasand hain and then you don’t even want to talk to me about him. hum toh tujhse baat nai kar re Khushi“. Payal managed to looked piqued, thoroughly enjoying teasing her sister.
“par jiji… aap janti hai wo rakshas akroo laad governor kaise hain.” At the very mention of him Khushi had turned towards Payal and had started to speak even more animatedly. Payal knew there was no point in trying to get Khushi to notice how life seemed to erupt in her at the very mention of his name.
“Imagine agar tum Aakash jeejaji ko pphone karogi then what will happen..” Khushi slouched her shoulders, pushed an imaginary spectacle up on her nose, then sighed. Mimicking Aakash’s low tone she said , “Payalji.. aapne phone kiya? Tell me Payalji. I am listening“.
“But jeeji agar humne Arnavji ko pphone lagaya he would say..” This time Khushi puffed up her chest and brought her lips close together, brows furrowed and snarled, “what the!”
Payal was giggling helplessly at Khushi’s imitation when their buaji and amma walked in.
“aree Payalia ee liyo nandkisore. pphoto dekho. tum aur damadji kitne achche lagat ho sath. Isn’t it Garima? Made for each other nandkisore“.
“ha jiji. All the photos are lovely. Specially Payal and Akash. Achcha kiya jo Anjali bitiya ne humein sare pohotos bhejwa diye.” Garima agreed with her sister-in-law and fondly patted Payal on her head.
Khushi snatched the bundle of photographs from buaji’s hand all ready to use this opportunity to return’s Payal’s favour and pull her leg a little. But the photographs were too captivating to not get lost in. She had hardly had time to look at anything or anyone because all her attention had been held by one person that night, she thought sheepishly.
How could she have spared any attention to notice anything when he danced with her that way. She blushed at the scandalous image of his hand making its way across her waist. pagal mat ban Khushi..
“amma look how pretty your saree is! aur jeeji in this photo you and Akashji have matching smiles. buaji with naheji.. you make a perfect couple! There must be a hundred different varieties of food.” Khushi excitedly commented on each photo as she flipped through the stack.
Food.. Hmph.. How could she look towards food when he had been looking at her that way.. Dinosaurs had decided to start a dance to teri meri in her stomach.. Hehe.. She giggled at the thought..
But slowly something amiss started to register in her. She grew quiet as she reached the end of the stack of pictures.
Buaji and amma could sense that their plan was working. Their girl, in denial, was looking for pictures of someone and herself. They nudged each other in delight.
“umm buaji aur pphoto hai kya?”
“nai toh parmeswari. This is all that was sent. kyu? kuch dhundat ho ka?“.
“no buaji.. I.. just thought.. kuch nahi.. ” Khushi sternly told herself she was not looking for anything.
But it was of no use. She did badly want to see her photo in the saree.. That saree that he had gifted her.. And try as hard as she might she wanted to see them dancing.. How had it looked? Even in her heart she had to whisper it softly.. It was a deepest secret.. But the dance had felt wonderful.. devi maiyya aap toh samajh rahi hai na.. I just think photo rehta toh I could have kept it as a memory. Bas dance ke liye. nothing else..
“chalo tab thik hai. If you are not waiting for any more pphoto tab toh ee hum le jate hai. Garima oo Arnav bitwa and sankadevi ki pphoto jo alag rakhi thi lete chalo. She does not want to see“.
(Okay then that’s fine. I will take this photo away. Garima, let us take it away, the photograph with Arnav bitwa and sankadevi that we had kept aside.)
Payal had burst out laughing. Garima good naturedly handed the remaining photographs to Khushi and went to finish preparing lunch. Buaji winked at Payal and followed Garima out. The two sisters were left alone in the room.
Payal settled down to tie Khushi oiled hair into a plait as Khushi looked at the photograph in her hand. Was this her? Her hair blowing in the wind, his hand on her waist. The way his gaze rested on her and she was staring right back into his eyes. Her heart almost stuttered to a halt.
They looked like a couple from the films she loved watching. No that was not possible. She was not heroine like and he.. rakshas.. He was not at all hero like.. But a voice almost immediately dared to reply back.. He can fight.. He can dance.. He umm.. Looks nice.. And he brought you jilebi..
“dekha Khushi? And you say you don’t love him? buaji is right. tu bilkul pagal ho“. Payal was looking over Khushi’s shoulder at the photo which showed two people wrapped up in each other.
“nai jeeji.. wo… I told you na aise nai hai. It is a plan. We did this so mamiji says yes.” In a small voice Khushi unconvincingly spoke and was hit on her head by Payal.
“thik hai if you agreed to marry Arnavji just for my sake then no need to marry. Akashji aur main jaise bhi shadi kar lenge. And for such a reason koi zarurat nai to get forced to marry. Samjhi tum? Let us cancel this wedding. Phone lagao Arnavji ko“.
Khushi was taken aback by Payal’s declaration. Not marry .. In all the options she had not once thought of this. She felt a sudden hollow in her chest. Like the wind had been knocked out of her.
Without thinking she spoke up. “nai jiji.. wo.. he must be busy in office. You know how angry he gets if he is disturbed while he is working. aur phir mamiji… arre jeeji we forgot you have to meet Akashji , yaad hai? Let us plan that. ye sab choro.”
Payal could sense Khushi’s trepidation. She decided to indulge her sister, who would in time definitely know what it was that she felt for the man she was about to marry. Smiling she let herself get distracted as Khushi planned a secret trip to Shantivan.
It had been a busy day in office. ASR had been in continuous meetings with the foreign delegations that had arrived. And in the middle had come Khushi’s call.
“Om Prakash where is my coffee?” ASR yelled as he loosened his tie. All day his attention had been directed in cracking the deal. He had meticulously reviewed each minute detail repeatedly with Aman. His entire focus had been on getting it right. That was the precision that ASR worked with. And he did not allow himself to make mistakes.
No sooner had the deal been signed his thoughts had jumped to the maddening girl he had struggled to keep in the periphery of his mind. Even while driving his car back home he was irritated.
She had come up with some plan to make Payal meet Aakash and had called asking for ASR’s help. Of course he had to tell her it was a stupid idea!
He rolled up his shirt sleeves till his elbows. His muscled forearms clearly visible as they strained in tension. “Om Prakash coffee“, he shouted again, impatiently.
Om Prakash scurried in with a mug and placed it on a table. He could tell Arnav bhaiya was not in a good mood. But he was certain that what he had on the tray with the coffee would weave magic to fix Arnav bhaiya’s mood. He let out a shrill chuckle and nervously spoke. “bhaiya naniji ye bheji hai. party ke photo.”
“Leave it on the table“. ASR ordered in an off hand manner, as he stared towards the poolside.
He was restless. What did she mean when she said she would ask NK for help instead? Both their heads together would surely mean even more trouble than usual. He felt an undeniable urge to talk to her. Maybe he should have called her back earlier.
Even more restless than seconds before, he turned to pick up his phone from the table. His hand was arrested in its action as he spotted the photograph lying on the table.
Khushi.. in the saree.. The green saree he had chosen for her.. draped sensuously on her curves.. her face resplendent in the light.. staring back into his eyes.. while he held her close..
ASR gulped, his eyes loosing focus, dazed at how much he craved to be close to the girl in the photograph. Then he abruptly turned, sensing the very girl close by.
His senses were right. She was close. She had rushed right into his room the exact same minute. In fact, she dashed right into him.
“What the!“.. Quickly regaining his balance, his arm comfortably wrapped around her, as her startled eyes locked with his.
“aap? What are you doing here? aur.. ye aap kya kar re hai? choriye humein..“. She fidgeted, her eyes darting in all directions.
ASR was about to answer when he was distracted by the door closing with a bang. What was going on? He idly wondered. On second thoughts.. nothing else really mattered.. than the girl in his embrace.
“Khushi, in case you did not notice, this is my room. Remember? aur kya karne aayi thi tum yaha? Hmm?” His voice was low and gravelly. He was definitely not going to let her go anywhere. She felt just right, exactly where she was.
Om Prakash was grinning like an idiot outside ASR’s room. He had just locked Khushi inside. Now Arnav bhaiya would be happy.
“Om Parkaas.. Eeha who eej comingj? Humka lagat hai koi eeha aaya tha. Tellj peleejh.“. Mamiji was about to get her beauty sleep when she had decided she should eat the last piece of mithai that was left in the kitchen.
(Who came here? I feel someone did come. Tell me please).
On her way there she had noticed a suspicious flash of color dash through the hallway. Her sleep forgotten, she had taken it upon herself to unravel the mystery of the colorful unidentified blur.
“eeha? Eeha koi toh nahi aaya. Hum hi hai mamiji. Om Parkaas“. He flashed a set of brilliant white teeth at the doubtful mamiji, who was still peering in all directions.
Payal was hiding under the bed in Akaksh’s room. She had come to surprise Akash, thanks to Khushi and NK making the meeting possible. The rendezvous might have progressed glitch free had it not been for the voice that reached her ears. Akash’s mother was making her way towards her son’s room, and it seemed like she was looking for someone. Completely taken aback Payal had ducked under the bed, from where she cautiously pushed aside the hanging bedspread to check for any signs of approaching feet.
And her partner in crime, the hapless son, had rushed into the closet. He might have escaped all trouble, but NK in all eagerness to help ensure the successful completion of his and Khushi’s supposedly fool proof plan had come into the room just in time to see Akash enter the closet. NK had run to the closet door and locked it from outside and run out again.
What NK did not take into account was the fact that Akash closet door would not open from inside if locked from outside. And to unlock it from outside would require a key. The key in question was safely in the keychain with Akash’s car keys and office drawer keys. And this key chain, as was Akash’s habit to carry, was in his pocket.
“hello hi bye bye.. Aakash bitwa.. bhere are youj? hum goodnight bolat khatir eeha aaye and youj naat herej. kahin kho toh nahi gaye tum. Akash bitwaa? ” mamiji called out, sensing something not quite right.
(Where are you? I came to say goodnight and you are not here. Hope you did not get lost somewhere.)
“mamiji aap idhar ho. aur main aapko kidhar khoj raha tha. Let us go to your room mamiji”. Feeling like a knight in shining armour, who had braved perils, to bring two lovers together, NK walked away with mamiji.
Slowly Payal came out, heaving a sigh of relief.
“Aakashji“.. She called out desperately..
“Payalji“.. His muffled voice came from inside.
She made towards the closet, attempted to open the door and realized what a situation they had landed themselves in!
“I am hiding from mamiji..“. Her face was inches away from his.
There was a faint crease on his forehead, as he kept his intense gaze on her. His lip dragged upwards to thr left, in a devilish smirk that was wrecking havoc in Khushi’s heart.. Dhak dhak dhak.. it pounded in her ears..
“And why were you hiding from mamiji? Did you come to meet me? Miss kar rahi thi mujhe?“, he questioned.
She fidgeted, suddenly intensely aware that his arm was resting on her back. He remained unyielding, savouring her state of discomfort. He knew enough to notice what being near to him did to her. Her shuddering breath and crimson cheeks were more potent than any aphrodisiac.
“hum.. jeeji.. wo..”, she managed in a breathy whisper. Then perhaps realizing the fruitlessness of trying to deny her response to his gaze and his demanding touch, she fell silent.
“tum dar kyu rahi ho itna? main tumhe kha thori na jaungi?“. The irony in the sentence did not go unnoticed by ASR, for that was exactly what he felt like doing.
It was intoxicating to feel the effect he had on her. It made him want to break rules.. Hell he had even forgotten what those damn rules were that he was breaking!
Clearly in panic her eyes rose to meet his scorching gaze. “I am not scared. I came here with jiji. unhe Aakash jeejaji se milna tha. Nanheji helped me plan everything“.
His hold on her hand tightened at the mention of NK. A dangerous glint shone in his eyes. “Didn’t I tell you it was a stupid idea? Now you are stuck. When will you learn tum sab kuch nai kar sakti ho?”
She was still a little dazed and had missed the hardening in his eyes. She mumbled bravely..”nai.. hum…” Suddenly it struck her, “humne aapko pphone kiya tha. You did not help me. aur waise bhi I can do anything“.
He noticed she was not looking towards him. Even when his other hand rose and grasped her open hair. She swallowed and avoided his gaze. “do anything? tum 2 minute bina kuch bole chup reh sakti ho?”
She shivered. No thoughts of trying to pull away anyway near her brain. She waited silently, her face angled away from his, eyes lowered. An unfamiliar coyness had made its appearance.
Now that she was quiet she was even more hard to deny. She looked beautiful. Perfect. Meant to be in his arms.
As if pulled by gravity he felt himself move towards her. His lips touched her cheek. The sound of a kiss echoed in the silence, mingled with the loud beating of two hearts.
Inhaling sharply, she went still. His lips remained grazing her cheeks, eyes shut, unable to move away. Tortuously slow they moved towards her quivering pink lips. All air left her in a rush.
dhak dhak dhak…
There would certainly have been no stopping..
But then the damn phone had to ring! Nymph like she slipped through his grasp and rushed to the door.
“What the? You are locked inside the cupboard? Are you crazy Akash? Where are the keys ?” , ASR growled on the phone.
Simultaneously Khushi exclaimed, “Arnavji we are locked inside. This door is not opening“.