yumeji ni wa
ashi mo yasumezu
utsutsu ni hitome
mishigoto wa arazu
though i go to you
ceaselessly along dream paths,
the sum of those trysts
is less than a single glimpse
granted in the waking world.
~~~ ono no komachi~~~
there were fights, practically ever night. pita ji’s voice rising, sharp, rebuking, cutting. sobs from maa sometimes, sometimes just a quiet resolved tone. they could never hear the words clearly… just feel the night voices ricocheting against their hearts. the din reaching above the music. pita ji liked listening to classical music, western, hindustani, sometimes music from south america… there had to be something playing every night… no matter how late he’d come home.
fear and a suffocation would fill her. she’d clutch chhotey, often awake and listening just like her, and soothe him, “so jao… sab theek hai, everything is ok…”
(go to sleep… everything is alright, everything is ok.)
she remembered a night when the disagreement had reached a more violent pitch. she was alone in her room, sixteen or seventeen at that time. she had tried to drown the noise out with a pillow over her ears, her heart was pounding, her feet itched to run and break down the door and somehow reach maa… she couldn’t breathe. chhotey walked in from his room, sat by her, removed the pillow and held her hand in his, he looked into her eyes and said, “di… di, it’s ok, it’s ok… don’t worry, it will be alright, main sab theek kar doonga…”
(di… di, it’s ok, it’s ok… don’t worry, it will be alright, i’ll make everything alright.)
when did you grow up so much, she thought tearfully as she looked at chhotey sleeping now. the coma was over, she couldn’t believe it, was he really back?
when she saw khushi ji sitting quietly at the temple praying to devi maiyya, she’d come into the room to be with him alone for a few minutes. it was almost 11 at night, she’d better get to bed. she stroked his hair and was about to turn, when his eyes opened all of a sudden and he looked at her. what was that in his eyes?
why… “chhotey?” she bent down urgently, but not before he’d sat up and thrown his arms around her waist, burying his head against her. “di…” his voice was hoarse, “maa…”
he needed to tell her about his mother, he had seen her after so so long, yet he had no idea what words to use, how to speak about it. are there end points of time? does one ever get to cross them? where was maa? where was he? but they were both there that’s all that he knew…
maa? anjali held her brother tight. she remembered her feeling of maa in the kitchen earlier in the day. she held him tighter. and the tears came.
when khushi walked in, she found them like that. she felt her own feelings rise and overwhelm her once more. three orphans in a room struggling to take on every rap, every responsibility of life, no one who’s never been to that place will ever know how it feels not to have even one parent. and that too from a time they were so young.
“nahin, nahin, nahiiin, nahin denge hum!” khushi was running all over the room, the suv keys dangled from her right hand held aloft… asr raced after her, he wanted the keys, dammit.
“khushi, stop behaving like a kid… give it to me… NOW, i said…”
the brusque tone did little to quell his determined wife, she leaped onto the bed to dodge an angry young man who was looking rather neat in brown trousers, buttoned down waistcoat and dazzling white linen shirt, narrow grey tie smoothly knotted.
she tripped lightly over the bed, jumped down and out she ran of the room, laughing and declaring:
“aap office nahin jaayenge, doctor saab ne kaha hai, aap ko araam ki zaroorat hai. haan hum mantey hain, araam haraam hai…” she struck a funny pose by the pool, lecturing her non-existent audience, and then resumed with the escape, running to the other side.
“phir bhi… mr arnav singh raizada, aap not going office, understand?” she was breathing heavily, thanks to the chase and giggling.
(you are not going to office, doctor saab has said, you need rest… ahem i aver, yes rest can be no good… but still, mr arnav singh raizada, you not going office, understand?)
asr was irritated and in a hurry and in no mood to lose. he cut in smartly into her path as she came rushing from the other side, caught hold of her with the intention of wresting the keys, but he’d miscalculated the momentum of a flying khushi.
it carried her… and him. straight into the pool.
together they tumbled into the water, fully clothed. he came up spluttering, on a “what the!” hissed out through gritted teeth. she was still laughing. but when she saw his face the laughter disappeared.
“what’re you doing!! paagal ho gayi ho kya? are you MAD?” he shouted, water flying off his face, hair, ears, everywhere as he jerked his head vehemently with every word. sunlight glinted off the droplets.
she looked at him, worried and scared, but from the corner of her eyes she could see the water catching light; memories came raining… that first time they met in sheesh mahal… and the day she’d tricked him into doing the pehlwan thing at the neighbourhood “gym”…
his eyes were dark and angry, yet all she yearned to do was tiptoe up and kiss them. so compelling those caramel dipped eyes. and that chiseled jaw line, the column of his neck, the obstinate thrust of his chin.
she stared at him without a word.
“khushi?!” his voice softened… “what’s the matter? tum theek ho?”
(khushi? what’s the matter? are you okay?)
“ha…aan, arnav ji, aap theek hain? are you ok?”
he looked at her ruefully, what a state. he started to see the humour of the moment. here he was, fully dressed for his first day at work after an endless three month hiatus away. the autumn/winter collection was upon them. he was excited about getting back to ar, to design, to the thrill of the new collection; then there were the collaborations akash had been talking about.
he’d chosen his clothes with care, a crisp white shirt after ages, his favourite browns, a tie from zegna, sometimes they still did such nice stuff; he admired fine workmanship, intuitive design. and then he’d slipped his feet into brand new boots from hermes, oh they fit him just fine… he wanted to feel a sense of winter, albeit it was only september.
now everything was wet, submerged, limp, and not very trendy.
he felt a rumble deep in his stomach… laughter shook his frame. he guffawed loudly, corners of his eyes crinkling.
khushi couldn’t hold back anymore. she stood on her toes right there in the pool and kissed him on the chin. then leaning forward she pressed her lips to his cheek bone and kissed him hard and quick.
he looked at her and with a little pull tugged her right into his arms… “mrs khushi kumari gupta,” he paused…
“singh raizada,” said she completing without thinking.
her eyes were closing with pleasure but she quipped back, “it’s my brand, samjhe aap… i don’t care how you say that word, for me it’s her…mees! bas.”
he smiled, he loved to hear her do that…”you have to pay for this… do you know how much my shoes alone cost? and they were absolutely brand new.”
“pay? nahin, aur aapko kisne kaha woh mehenge hermees joote pahen ne ko!”
(pay? no, and who told you to where those expensive hermes shoes!)
his cheek rubbed hers, scratching her tender skin with his stubble, he murmured “hermees?… really? and which brand is that?”
her eyes were closing with pleasure but she quipped back, “it’s my brand, samjhe aap… i don’t care how you say that word, for me it’s her…mees! bas.”
“khushi!” his voice said things that never failed to thrill her.
he looked at her twinkling grey green eyes, her perfectly arched eyebrows, sparkling innocent skin, that off centre plait, which he always had an urge to pull… then untie and watch her hair drape over her back, her shoulders. and those incorrigible bauble like pompoms… the ultimate fashion magnate’s wife, he couldn’t help but smile.
and he could never look at her for this long and not feel a little sense of gratitude…
“come, shall we look at the sky together,” he said as he lay back with his arm around her, they floated on the cool rippling pool, looking up at the wide blue sky.
white woolly clouds sailed across. somewhere there were stars shining.
“khushi,” he turned and kissed her ear, mercurial as ever. then he was up, she was in his arms, and he was striding out of the pool.
“arnav ji!” she yelped.
he set her down on the edge, pulled himself out of the pool in one clean haul, picked her right up again and strode into the room. without stopping he walked to the bathroom…
“nahin, arnav ji, doctor saab ne…”
he shushed her protests with a timely shaat up khushi kiss, and in minutes was peeling off his wet clothes while she stood there speechless. didn’t take him long to get to her sopping wet churidar suit. dripping fabric clung on, refusing to slide off, a little struggle, a pull, a push, and khushi could feel her breath going haywire.
“c’mon, mrs raizada, you don’t want to catch a cold,” he said as he briskly pulled her under the shower, and let the warm water cascade all over them. he turned off the water and dried her with a soft large turkish towel, “better not leave your hair wet,” he pushed back her hair from her face then his fingers trailed down, his thumb traced the hollow of her neck. water glistened there, he rubbed it gently, just where her pulse beat suddenly faster; his thumb ventured along the muscle that stretched from collar bone to ear, stroking, massaging, driving her a little crazy. a warm little kiss in a ear. she wriggled involuntarily.
“arnav ji,” she wanted to scold him, but it came out a little throaty and not at all threatening.
“yes, khushi?” asked he innocently, cognac eyes laughing; determined none of doctor saab’s recommendations would be followed… “you want me to stop?” husky, velvet voice. velvet that’s been stroked the other way.
khushi wished her dhakdhak would stop, so she could say what she wanted to. then she heard herself whisper, “nahin, arnav ji, nahiiin…”
(no, arnav ji, noo…)
he was driving furiously toward her home. his head throbbed, blood pounded at his temples. his jaw was set, anger everywhere. he clenched his teeth and pressed hard on the accelerator.
how dare she.
when she’d left suddenly with that accusation that he was playing a game with the whole world, with her. with lavanya ji…
what about lavanya ji… she’d cried out.
he’d lain there stunned.
yes. he had forgotten lavanya.
how could he.
he sat by the pool, eyes fixed on the water, thoughts crashing through him. what was he doing? why was he letting this girl get so close? so close that he forgot everything? even his girl friend.
what sort of a man was he becoming? no. no. not like his father. he couldn’t breathe. he buried his face in his hands…
he’d tried hard to stay away from khushi since the day he’d lost all control and kissed her. right here it was, and she was so lovely in her uncertainty, her desire…
this afternoon when he’d walked into the house and lavanya and khushi were in the drawing room, he’d hesitated for a moment. should he go in and check on her? he’d hurt her the evening before he knew. he could still see her eyes numbing as he gave lavanya the necklace she liked and asked her to see how it looked on lavanya.
why? why did he do things like this?
then he’d heard lavanya say, “wow! khushi, that’s beautiful… kisne diya… awww, how cute, you’re blushing, tell me, did your boy friend give it to you?”
boy friend? he thought, no, khushi kumari gupta has no boy friend…
“nahin, woh, shyam ji…” he heard her say.
shyam ji? he wondered, who was that? the only shyam he knew was his brother in law and it couldn’t be…
“shyam ji… yes, your shyam ji, jinke saath aaj tum shyam ko bahar ja rahi ho… jo tumhare…!” lavanya was laughing, exaggerating the shyams… shyam ji, yes, your shyam ji, with whom you’re going out this evening… the one who’s your…!
“haa..aan,” khushi sounded hesitant, uncomfortable, “lavanya ji, chhoriye hamari baat, come let me pot this lovely plant which you want to give arnav ji for your… kya hai wo…?”
(ye..es, lavanya ji, forget about me, come let me pot this lovely plant which you want to give arnav ji for your… what is it…?)
“anniversary,” lavanya beamed, easily distracted, “yes, i met asr exactly one year ago… thanks, khushi, for suggesting and picking up the plant for me… very clever, you always know what he likes… my smart secretary and now my dear friend…”
he hadn’t waited to hear any more. he could feel himself go cold and then hot all over… so she was going out with someone. a man. shyam ji.
he could feel an emotion surging through him. all he knew was he wanted her and he wanted her right now. so he’d come and found her here, potting that plant.
no thought… just a need.
how could he allow himself to…? his hands balled into a tight fist. he had to talk to lavanya. he couldn’t go on doing this. this was not right. “i am right, main sahi hoon,” his mind said. he closed his eyes and waited for a feeling to settle.
he had to tell lavanya it’s over.
he sensed a sort of calm coming over. he had taken a decision.
lavanya was standing by him.
“are you ok?” she asked. when he kept quiet, she sat down next to him on the deck chair and laid her head on his shoulder…
“oh, asr,” she flung her arms around him, “i am so happy…” he wondered how he’d tell her.
“sooo happy, ” she continued, “for khushi…” he stiffened involuntarily… “she’s engaged, you know… to her shyam ji.”
everything went red. a loud banging in his ears.
he felt as if someone had kicked him in the gut. he stopped breathing almost. all emotions drained away. a terrifying blank.
into that, he heard himself say, “lavanya, let’s get married.”
he reached her place just as she turned the corner on her scooter. she’d gone to the temple before coming home. terribly disturbed. not wanting to see anybody till her thoughts had straightened out a bit. why had she let arnav ji go so far with her? why did she want him to? why was she behaving like this? why was…?
and she looked up to see him reversing to park. he turned at the very same moment and saw her.
without even thinking, she swung around her scooter and rode away. she couldn’t, couldn’t see him now.
he swore and changed gears, following her. she accelerated her little chariot and sped as fast as possible, but she was scattering… losing her concentration, wobbling every now and then, she almost rode off the road once, but she was hellbent on not stopping, not meeting this man again.
he could see her losing it, her scooter not quite as steady as it ought to be. he slowed down, but stayed on her trail. he would meet her today, no matter what.
neither of them noticed the large truck lumbering up, suddenly it was almost upon her.
“khushi!!!” he screamed. his hands gripped the steering wheel, he hit the brakes.
she’d managed to veer to the left at the last minute and somehow stop her scooter. the truck driver cursed as he passed by. she sat on her bike trembling, something exploding in her.
again his hands grabbed her shoulders, “what are you doing? pagal ho gayi ho kya?!!! are you mad? tumhe kuch ho jata toh…? what if i lost you! what if i lost you dammit!!!” his voice had risen in panic, in terror, he was shouting.
(what are you doing? have you gone mad?!!! are you mad? if something had happened to you… then…? if something had happened to you? what if i lost you dammit!!!)
she looked at him and wondered why he was so shaken. why did he care? she felt the need to assert herself. enough of him doing as he pleased. what was that he did with the necklace yesterday? and then today…
“what would have happened if i’d been hurt… or even if i’d died, for that matter??” she shouted back “aap ko kya faraq padta hai?!!”
what difference would it make to you?
he looked at her incredulous, “mujhe kya faraq padta? mujhe faraq padta hai!!! mujhe faraq padta hai kyunki… kyunki…”
(what difference does it make to me? me? makes a difference because… because…)
and he couldn’t finish that sentence. he was going to marry lavanya.
he’d come to tell her that she was wrong, she was a fine one to talk when she had made love to him despite being engaged to another man. he wanted to tell her she was the one playing games… he wanted to berate her, tell her she was galat… wrong.
now he couldn’t say a thing.
the anger roared out of nowhere and made him its own. he stormed to his car and came back, carrying something. he picked up her hand and slammed it on her startled palm.
a little pink and brown plastic purse.
she looked at it without comprehension. where did he…? and even as the night of sheesh mahal began to return, his voice deafened everything.
“stop leaving your things all over the place, especially in my room… do you understand? how dare you? how dare you judge me? before you judge me, look at yourself once, khushi kumari gupta. are you the sweet innocent girl you think you are…? and before you get the wrong idea… don’t think some rich man was sitting clutching your purse to his heart pining for you. get this straight, once and for all… you mean nothing to me. nothing… aur tumhare aur mere beech jo hua, uska koi matlab nahin… koi matlab nahin.”
(…and what happened between you and me, that means nothing… means nothing.)
he stopped for a second, struggling it seemed with something, then he went on,
“congratulations, khushi kumari gupta on your engagement, and i will let lavanya know how happy you were to hear she and i are getting married.”
when he was done, he turned and walked away.
she sat there shaking.
he drove off before she had started her scooter.
he didn’t look back, he didn’t see the tears streaming down her face.
and there was no way she’d ever know he was on the road for hours and when he finally parked the suv and let the torrent come, only dry sobs echoed in the car, the tears lay too deep within.
she snored gently as he got ready once more. when he was done, he gave her a quick kiss on her forehead and left for the office.
di stood at the doorway with her aarti plate, he smiled resignedly and let her do her thing… he didn’t believe in all this, but he felt a certain comfort in knowing some things will never change. nani ji and mami ji walked him out, pretending to be in some desperate need for a walk, a health thing they assured him. they knew chhotey hated fuss, so…
when he reached office, again a tempered but obvious excitement in the air. boss was back. his peon ran after him with his bag, aman came over with the files… it was a good feeling to be back, he thought, feeling himself relax. akash wondered if bhai wanted to take a look at the collection right away. pam and sim simpered, yeah he thought, as an eyebrow went up… some things really never change.
“in a moment, akash, ” he said and asked to be left alone. in the quiet of his den, he put his head down on the back of his chair and closed his eyes for a second.
what was that music in his head? strains of western classical. he shut his eyes tight, blocking out the sound.
he dialed a number on his phone, “mr roy, this is arnav singh raizada… yes, thank you… yes… mr roy, please call the agency, i need to know everything you can find out about shyam manohar jha. yes, he’s out on bail… and mr roy, this is confidential, share the information with no one except me.”
he put the phone down and got down to work.
“you will always be safe with me, khushi, i will keep you safe.”