i love thee to the level of every day’s
most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
i love thee freely, as men strive for right.
i love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
i love thee with the passion put to use
in my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
i love thee with a love i seemed to lose
with my lost saints. i love thee with the breath,
smiles, tears of all my life…
~~~ elizabeth barrett browning, sonnets from the portuguese ~~~

“are you sure about this?” he asked in a flinty voice, eyes fixed on the young man across the table. his face was slightly thrust forward, a faintly threatening air about him. the young man however was quite certain of what he was saying.

“yes, mr raizada, a hundred percent sure, sir. he’s right here in delhi…”

“mr roy, please make sure this information remains between the three of us. no one, i repeat no one else must know. ok, let’s go.”

mr roy, arnav singh raizada’s lawyer and trusted adviser, looked at asr and wondered how his client would react to this information. sometimes he worried for asr, he knew asr was not known for his patience.

he was also one of the very few people who knew how emotional his young client was despite his reputation otherwise. he knew for instance that on asr’s mother’s birthday every year, he made a personal donation to a number of organisations helping women and girls. this was never spoken about, nor did his client ask for tax deductions for his generosity. he only called the beginning of the month and reminded mr roy and told him to not hold back on the funds if he felt it was needed.

mr roy knew asr was vulnerable in matters concerning his sister. his sister was to be given whatever she needed or asked for, in the case of asr’s sudden disablement or demise. no questions asked. mr roy had tried to argue with asr about this, but to no avail. some things were absolutes for him.

so the moment he’d received the call from asr asking him to commission someone sharp and trustworthy to find all information regarding shyam manohar jha, mr roy knew something was afoot. his sister’s ex husband had tried to kidnap and murder asr, now he was out on bail and asr wanted to know everything about him? and he didn’t want anyone else to know? a funny sense of foreboding refused to melt away.

“ok, arnav, let me know if i can do anything else…” mr roy said as all three men rose to leave cafe soliloquy. the young detective who till now was the sole focus of asr’s attention had turned to leave when the lawyer held back a bit.

asr turned, he knew mr roy wanted a word in private, “yes, mr roy?”

“nothing, arnav, just… let me know if i can do anything else,” his tone of voice conveyed his worry.

“i will, mr roy,” asr was respectful of the older man, but couldn’t bring himself to calm down.

he strode out of the restaurant with long brisk steps and got into his suv. he slammed the door shut, and sat for an instant without moving.

his head was throbbing, a drumming noise in his ears. his hands gripped the steering wheel. he had this urge to throttle something. the audacity of that cretin.

shyam was in delhi. out on bail.

he was running down the corridor… panic hitting him and pushing him forward. nooo his insides yelled silently… run run run, stop it whatever it is. then the gun shot. once… he kept running. twice.

asr closed his eyes battling for composure. he knew he had to keep cool. he must not let this menace get away this time. that bus came hurtling out of nowhere, khushi unaware about to cross the road, his khushi, the most beautiful woman in the world, khushiii! did shyam really believe he could get away with it?

the thinnest sliver of a smile appeared on his face.

he started the car.

he was running down the corridor… panic hitting him and pushing him forward. nooo his insides yelled silently… run run run, stop it whatever it is. then the gun shot. once… he kept running. twice.

khushi was laughing and look at him as he advanced on her in the pool outside their room. she was turning away shyly as he went to kiss her lips. khushi was dancing with nani ji and la and di her face wreathed in smiles. she was standing in his office and asking him what he was doing there trying to be gutsy when she was really worried by his sudden appearance… khushi was sitting and shivering on the deck chair in drenched lehenga choli, he felt a curious desire to cover and protect her… she was looking back at him as she raced up the stairs of the hotel in her diaphanous red saree… she was yielding below him, climaxing, he wanted to watch her forever… she was leaning down toward him reaching for his lips… khushi was looking up at the stars and smiling… she was standing terrified as he put the vermillion on her hair parting, eternity in her eyes…

i will never let anything happen to you, khushi. a whisper in the wind that streaked passed the speeding suv.

where was he going? he’d been driving around for he had no idea how long. entirely on auto pilot. no memory of changing gears, or turning, or checking the rear view mirror. ever since that day he’d regained consciousness he’d known shyam was behind that reckless bus and his quarry was khushi. he had waited to get a bit stronger before taking this thing head on and resolving it once and for all.

this time he wasn’t discussing or debating the point. he would get this done alone. it demanded a single minded ruthlessness that khushi was not capable of. how could she be. this was anathema to his beautiful paagal girl.

involuntarily he smiled at that thought.

he realised he’d driven himself to a spot on the outer edge of delhi where he liked to come to clear his mind. he got out of the car and stood breathing in the fresher cleaner air.

and then out of nowhere they came again. two explosions, one after another, inside his head. maaa. he sank to the ground.


it was seven in the evening. khushi was getting worried. where was arnav ji?

and for some reason, again and again today, she was remembering the phone call di had received which was meant for her. someone had said it wasn’t an accident. di was certain shyam was out to kill arnav ji. khushi had struggled with that information ever since. the fear it stirred in her, the worry. arnav ji couldn’t be told about it… no, she shuddered at the thought of his reaction to this information. he’d rage, he’d thunder, he’d go out to get shyam, no one would be able to stop him…

he was not strong enough. she had thought she might lose him… no. no.

she was not putting her arnav in harm’s way. no… her head was shaking at the thought, she was not going to tell him, nor would di or anyone else.

“why are you standing alone here in the corridor and shaking your head, khushi?” asked an amused voice making khushi jump.

she turned sharply and there was lavanya, laughing, looking beautiful, arms held wide open for a hug.

“lavanya ji!” khushi ran into her friend’s arms, “aap yahan? kaise? mera matlab kyun… nahin nahin, mera matlab, hum kitne khush hain aap ko yahan dekhkar…”

(lavanya ji… you here? how? i mean why… no no i mean i am so happy to see you.)

khushi was struggling with her emotions. she was tense about asr and that phone call, yet genuinely delighted to see lavanya. the girl who had started out disliking her but later become one of her best friends.

“chamkili! calm down… i know you are happy to see me, and i am not that sensitive, remember?” a sassy smile, “i am la, who does strange things and whose dresses are too short…” of  course, she was wearing a rather tiny little outfit, very smartly cut.

“nahin nahin, lavanya ji, ” khushi rushed in, “aap… you look nice in your dresses, really…”

“chamkili, chalo let’s sit down and talk… i have come to see your handsome husband, pata hai na… asr is my friend… hmmm?” she smiled mischievously. khushi gave her a playful push and the girls went down to sit in the living room.

(…you know don’t you, asr is my friend…)

“so how is he, chamkili…? and you?” la smiled at khushi, “how are you? i have been worried about him… but more about you…” there was a sombreness in lavanya’s voice.

khushi felt a lump in her throat. how strange were these things called relationships. this was the girl whom once her husband had brought home as his girlfriend, once he was engaged to… and yet. khushi looked at lavanya and smiled, “chai? ya mango juice? ya phir…?”  she raised her eyebrows and did an exaggerated tippling gesture with her thumb, then she winked and winked some more. khushi’s turn to tease la.

(tea? or mango juice… or?)


khushi dressed with extreme care.

this was a happy evening. one of the happiest of her life. jiji was getting engaged to akash ji. at last she could completely put behind her the trauma of not finding a husband only because her father could not afford the dowry being demanded; while people talked incessantly about it.

“oh poor gupta ji, how will he get two two daughters married”, “hey payaliya, how old are you this year, dear?”, “not that i want to interfere, but isn’t payal beginning to look a little old, maybe you should get the younger sister married while the going is good.”

khushi remembered that scooter demanding bridegroom for whom she was willing to do modelling and had gone to sheesh mahal that day… well he then said he wanted a car.

her dear elder sister, for whom she wished she could do everything and more, who was only eleven when khushi had come home to stay with her family, her step mother’s niece. yet payal had accepted her instantly as her own sister.

in fact, khushi remembered as if it were yesterday, the little oath payal took under the peepal tree near gomti sadan, saying this day onward they were sisters and payal would always love her and protect her as her elder jiji. after saying this, payal had tied a string on a branch, then given khushi a jalebi that babu ji had made just that morning.

the sweetness of that jalebi. khushi sometimes felt she could still taste it.

she looked into the mirror and staring back at her was a lovely woman in a green lehenga choli embroidered with sparkling silver gota and intricate stitches, and around her was wrapped a beautiful pink dupatta, shimmering. khushi had told amma to spend on jiji’s trousseau rather than buy her a new dress for all the wedding functions. she would wear her old lehenga for the sagaai. after all, she’d worn it only a couple of times before… for the wedding she’d get a new dress…

khushi fixed the gota ribbon on her long plait with extreme concentration. her thought was trying to go somewhere she didn’t want it to.

it was painful. she wouldn’t think about it. but was there any way of avoiding reality or the pain it brought with it?

arnav ji was getting engaged to lavanya ji this evening as well.

a joint sagaai party at raizada mansion.

khushi inhaled slowly, and started putting her kaajal with care. now for a little light pearl pink lipstick… just a little. and which bindi should she choose… her hands shook a bit, she closed her eyes and tried to calm down. bangles. green… light pink, some silver ones? yes, that looks nice. she slipped the bangles on.

as she bent her body sideways to fix the pearl strung dori at the back of her blouse, she felt a resolution descend.

it was ok. everyone wanted him to marry lavanya ji. nani ji would be happy, so happy, so would di, after all lavanya ji had worked hard to understand the ways of the family and everyone loved her now.

not just arnav ji.

yes, ar… nav…ji.

she inhaled again. and let the breath go, telling it to be steady, not shaken.

he would be happy with lavanya ji.

and lavanya ji must be ecstatic.

and lavanya ji was her friend.

she would be happy for her dear friend.

“bas khushi, meena kumari hona band kar… tu khush hai, samjhi?”

(enough khushi, stop being meena kumari, you’re happy, understand?)

she slipped on her golden sandals with little heels quickly and traipsed out, “main kaisi lag rahi hoon?” she called out happily to everyone gathered in the sitting room.

(how am i looking?)

“ee lo, aa gayi sanka devi, arre parmeswari, tum kya kabhi buri lagi ho? bahut sundar lag rahi ho… ab jaldi karo, samaan uthoao…” bua ji snapped as usual and khushi grinned. all was well, bua ji was starchy with her, she enjoyed that.

(aa there comes sanka devi, now, ultimate goddess, have you ever looked bad? very nice you’re looking, now come, take these things…”)

“bua ji, magar hum aap jaise sundar kabhi nahi lage!” khushi giggled as she ran past bua ji.

(bua ji, but i’ve never looked prettier than you…)

payal pinched khushi, bua ji looked thunderous, her heavy jowls shook as she gaped, babu ji said “jiji, khushi is teasing you, you know that,” amma said “khoosie bitiya!!” in an admonishing tone. khushi hugged jiji and said, “tum kitni beautiful ho, jiji, dekhna aaj akash ji tumhe…” and she laughed as payal pinched her again.

(you are so beautiful, jiji, see today akash ji will…)


when he walked into shantivan, the two girls were sitting in the living room talking.

“lavanya!” he was startled to see her. and happy.

“asr!!” lavanya ran up to him and gave him a quick hug, plonked a kiss on his cheek. “how are you? you had me worried you know…”

asr smiled at his friend, a curious girl, who had sides to her you wouldn’t guess, though instinctively he’d possibly warmed to those very things in her.

“you’re looking good, lavanya,” asr said, gazing at her, appreciating what he saw.

“asr! stop it!” lavanya knew he was avoiding her question. thus far and no further, so asr. he hated people fussing over him, probing.

khushi felt her face flush. arre, am i mad, she thought, it’s only lavanya ji. some things stay in layers within, maybe. she shrugged it off, but not before he’d seen her little awareness.

“khushi!” he turned to her, “come with me, i want to take you somewhere.” he had an impatience in his voice.

“arre, lavanya ji is here… you’ve been out the whole day… it’s almost seven thirty, you must be tired… go out…? now?” khushi reeled off, her voice rising.

“khushi, just listen to me, will you?” his voice had dipped, grown dense.

“khushi, don’t worry about me, go with asr…” said lavanya,  “i can take care of myself, let me see where’s nani ji, and lakshmi ji…? see ya, asr. khushi! jaao!” she practically pushed khushi as she told her to go with him.

(khushi! go!)

“lavanya, i’ll see you soon,” he smiled at her and walked out with a still not so certain khushi.

she went toward the suv, “kahan jana hai, arnav ji?” where are we going, she asked.

(where are we going, arnav ji?)

“not there,” he replied softly, “there…” he was pointing away from the car to his… motorbike.

“kya?!!!” khushi almost shrieked, “you’re not well, arnav ji… that motorbike, you always go at such high speed…”

“shhh… shh,” he held her shoulders in a firm grip and gently moved her toward his bike. the night after they’d made love the very first time, he’s had this overwhelming desire. no idea where it came from.

but he wanted to feel free, breathe deep, touch breeze. with her.

he wanted to ride with her, just her, him, the air, the road, and the desire to go, to move, to fly. asr never had such feelings.

he’d gone out the next day and bought the bike. nk was chief consultant and though he was all for a bmw, asr had liked the pulse of the honda, and so that was what he chose.

the first time he took khushi on a ride and felt her arms slipping around him from behind, her head resting on his shoulder, her body lying against his back, he’d swallowed involuntarily, a feeling welling up. he’d experienced a burst of energy that had flabbergasted him. to feel the wind through your hair, flattening your clothes against your skin, to hear her sigh and giggle as she felt the rush of the ride, the sky above, the road ahead… this was a lightness he’d never known.

he’d never been a young man before it seemed to him. he’d given her hand a quick squeeze in gratitude. he liked being young with her.

tonight he needed to feel this way again. with her. just her.

“ready, darling?” he asked gently as she fixed her helmet and put her arms around his waist.

“haan, arnav ji” she gave in at last and laid her head on his back, then turned and kissed his shoulder blade, “ready, my… darling,” she whispered.

“oh khushi!” he held her tighter still, her head against his chest. he closed his eyes, and in his head he heard gun shots.

her arms held him tight and he rode with a steady pace. he could feel her heart beating against his back, merging with his. he smiled, yes, you and me, jab tum meri paas hoti ho hamari dil ki dhakane ek ho jati hai. even when we are away from each other, our hearts beat in unison. he turned toward a less busy road, the quiet of trees wrapped around them in the dark.

(when you are near me, our heart beats become one…)



“tum mujhse itna pyaar kyun karti ho?”

(why do you love me so much?)

“arnav ji!!”

“no really, why do you love me so much, khushi? i am not a very nice guy… i shout and scream, i don’t listen to you…”

“aap chup karenge?”

(will you stop it!)

“no i won’t keep quiet, tell me khushi, will you ever stop loving me…”

“arnav ji, stop the bike, please,” she said quietly but urgently.

he stopped and parked on the side of the road.

she sat on the bike and he stood before her, their arms reached out without preamble as if that’s what they were meant to do, and they stayed there locked in an embrace.

“aap… why are you saying such things? and why are you feeling like this, arnav ji?” she asked at last.

“oh khushi!” he held her tighter still, her head against his chest. he closed his eyes, and in his head he heard gun shots.


that night he made love to her as though they hadn’t met in years. there was a hunger in him that wouldn’t be assuaged. his hands explored every inch of her body, caressing, loving, adoring. his kisses smote her, his breath raised fire, she reached for him with the instinct of a mate, doing things no one teaches you other than your desire. your love, your desperate complete love… the love that says you cannot live without him… and he without you.

spent at last they slept, snuggling into each other’s bare damp skin, “i love you, khushi,” he murmured, she felt her heart beat quicken in reply.


“how dare you? who do you think you are?” a demonic rage flared in his eyes. he pulled her to him with a harsh motion. she looked at him aghast as she felt his hand move down her back…

to her dori strung with pearls.

he tugged once with a vicious snarl. it snapped.

her eyes went still, his bore into her… livid and on fire.

ratta…tat…tat… tat…   tat.

the pearls scattered on the hard flagstone tiles by the pool.

“asr, shall we go?” la called out from inside his room


next morning he got ready with care in the walk in wardrobe cum dressing room. white shirt, linen, gray flannel waist coat, charcoal gray flannel jacket, slim fitting trousers, dark chocolate brown charvet tie, narrow the way he preferred, black boots. he was combing his wet hair pushing it back in place when she walked in and said,

“good morning, arnav ji!” a radiant smile and a blush pink ensemble with several pom poms, hair in plait, parandi in place, plenty gota. he smiled and pulled her pom pom… “you are so understated, khushi,” laughter in his voice.

“arnav ji!” just love in hers.

he hugged her and said, “promise you won’t change?”

she left with a “jaldi aiye, nashta thanda ho raha hai.”

breakfast is getting cold.

he turned and in an instant the smile was gone. he opened a drawer at the back, recessed and locked, even khushi hadn’t found it in this year and a bit. inside lay a revolver. he took it out, checked the magazine, took out the bullets and loaded the gun. and slipped it into his jacket pocket.

he was not going to be having breakfast today.

not till he’d taken care of something.

i love you, khushi, whispered the wind.

note: usually, asr always wears a helmet, even though he loves the feel of the breeze in his hair, on his temples… but tonight he is in a very turbulent state of mind, so even when he sees her putting on her helmet, he doesn’t wear his, he is yearning for something tonight, do excuse this mistake, it is not at all advisable to ride a bike without a proper helmet.


without you chapter 14