Arshi FF : Without You

without you: chapter 15

INDEX

pyaar mein hai jeevan ki khushi
deti hai khushi kai gham bhi
mai maan bhi loon
main maan bhi loon kabhi haar
tu maaney na…
the joy of life is there in love
some sorrows too bring joy
i may still accept
i may still accept defeat at times
you won’t accept that…
~~~ kaifi azmi, yeh nayan darey darey ~~~

voluptuous folds of mahogany velvet swished and swirled, the beaded embroidery in silver caught light, a sudden sharp dazzle bounced off a mirror embedded in the work, arnav blinked as it struck his eyes.

the model turned her head from where she stood at the bottom of the ramp, she gave him an alluring look and smiled. come play with me, she seemed to say.

asr looked at the beautiful young woman, tall and perfectly proportioned, a regal bearing, smooth features with a touch of the orient, magnolia skin, tsering from nagaland, one of his favourite ramp models. he gave her a slow, slightly flirtatious, trademark lopsided grin.

she turned swiftly away as if on cue, held her skirt delicately lifting it slightly off the floor and gracefully ran up the runway in the last movement of the finale. the music stayed on for a few moments and then faded.

akash exhaled slowly. he was sitting next to asr, tense as hell, wondering what asr would think of the autumn ensemble he’d put together with the designers, and with a dash of help from di. the two months that asr had been away, first in coma then recovering, had been crucial, they’d had to go ahead; they couldn’t afford to wait for him to recover. nor contemplate a scenario otherwise.

this was an important season for ar, especially since Brazilian buyers were here looking for something big from this part of the world. for months now ar had been trying to get a deal in that lucrative vast market, would this heady autumn they’d created do the trick?

akash waited for asr to make the first comment.

“eclectic, akash,” asr murmured, “mmm, nice… but what am i missing?”

his eyes had a faraway look as he pondered the question.

akash was glad to hear the “eclectic,” then a bit crestfallen at the “missing.” but years of working together with his cousin had taught him that this instinct is what made ar spring to great heights. it was never off. if bhai felt something was missing, it indeed was.

akash smiled and shook his head… he knew bhai would also identify what’s lacking and find the solution. akash may not be the most astute businessman nor someone with a natural flair for fashion unlike his cousin, but he was a gentle soul with an earnest nature and great love for ar, his forte being people. he was a natural at human resources related things and asr depended on him to handle that side of the business, rarely meddling with his decisions.

akash saw aman, the most efficient and loyal secretary in the world he could have sworn, looking at him. aman had a little smile on his lips too. he obviously enjoyed having his boss back at work.

arnav singh raizada stood looking at the ramp, hands thrust deep into trouser pockets, legs slightly apart, forehead scrunched in a frown, head tilted to one side mulling over the issue. there wasn’t much time, they must…

time?

he looked at his watch… seven o’clock. he suddenly missed khushi terribly. she’d been so disturbed by that whole thing with shyam a couple of weeks ago.

“akash, i’m ready to go, want a lift? we’ll fix this later.”

***

“jiji, kya kah rahi ho, aat saal ki bachhi hai khusie bitiya, usko lekar kaise jaaynge hum?!” garima couldn’t believe her sister had just declared that they would go to see a movie with the eight year old khushi.

(jiji, what are you saying, khushi is a kid of eight only, how can we take her with us.)

“gudiya, tu kabhi sudhregi nahin, aaj kal ke bachchey waise nahin hote jaise hum the,” lajwanti sachdev lightly chided her younger sister as she packed away khushi’s dolls getting ready to leave.

(gudiya, you’ll never change, the kids of today aren’t like we used to be…)

garima was still not married, she really had no idea about children and such things, lajwanti shook her head indulgently, always grateful for her loving sister, especially now that both their parents were gone, leaving just the two of them.

khushi came dancing out of the bedroom, all dressed up in her frock with little pockets which she’d filled with lozenges, two little plaits on either side of her lovely lean face, a pink rabbit shaped bag clutched in her hand,

“amma! amma! bolo na! woh kabootar wala iss picture mein bhi hai na?” her voice was excited, she kept leaping up and down, impatient to go out and have fun.

(mother, mother, tell me, that pigeon man is in this film too, isn’t he?)

lajwanti caught garima’s eyes and they both burst out laughing, garima ruffled her sprightly niece’s hair and said, “haan meri maa, wo toh hai hi hai.”

(yes my mother, he is but of course there.)

khushi saw her first movie at the theatre that day. it was a poignant love story called “hum dil de chuke sanam.” khushi smiled every time the man from the kabootar ja ja movie appeared. she’d seen that on tv, of course.

when she was older she sometimes wondered if there was ever a time she hadn’t known salman khan’s name, salman ji to her always, and honestly she could never recall such a time. kabootar wala was somehow always there.

***

he walked briskly into the bedroom, in a hurry to see her. surprisingly, the lights were off. he took off his jacket and threw it on the bed. he was tired.

“khushi?” he called out, was she not at home? his brow was already furrowing. he could feel a disappointment begin to make its way up within.

where was she, dammit. he just so needed to see her face now, he wanted to hold her softness in his arms, feel her satiny hair, hear her chirpy voice recounting all sorts of things. sometimes he didn’t hear the words, just took in her happy sounds and felt light and a bit crazy.

where was she?

“khushi?” he walked into the wardrobe, the bathroom, but she wasn’t around.

he ran out to the poolside, “khushi!!”

and he saw her then. she was sitting with her back to the wall on the floor at one corner of the pool, head buried in her knees. her shoulders shook once in a way.

“khushi!” he whispered, “what’s up… kya hua?” his voice was tender, soft… “tell me, kissi ne kuch kaha? tell me, sweetheart

what the. khushi was crying.

didn’t take him long to cover the distance that separated them. nor sit right there on the floor by her. nor gather her close into his arms and bury his head in her hair.

“khushi!” he whispered, “what’s up… kya hua?” his voice was tender, soft… “tell me, kissi ne kuch kaha? tell me, sweetheart… see? i am here… don’t cry, tell me…”

(khushi!! what’s up… what’s the matter? tell me, has anyone said anything? tell me, sweetheart… see? i am here… don’t cry, tell me…)

but she just couldn’t speak, all she could do was let the tears flow. how she hated crying… how she disliked showing her unhappiness to others. yet somehow, though ever since she’d heard arnav ji’s first “khushi!” she’d tried to stop, to wipe the tears… for some reason she couldn’t.

when she buried her face in his shirt, right where his heart beat, she wanted to turn her face into the sound and cry a river, a torrent…

his fingers came up and gently touched her cheek, they inched up toward her eye, wiping the tears along the way. he held her tighter still.

“khushi, shyam ne uss din jo kaha tumhare… about your parents… it’s bothering you, isn’t it?”

(khushi, what shyam said that day about your… about your parents, it’s bothering you, isn’t it?)

khushi wondered how he could tell. she put her arms around him and said nothing.

he held her and lifted her up in his arms and carried her to the bedroom, he sat on the lounger with her and rocked her like a child.

“shh, shh… come here, don’t cry, ” he crooned lovingly, kissing her cheeks, tasting the salt of her tears… somewhere along the way something seemed to reach her and she turned her face to catch his lips with hers and kiss him back with longing that mingled all her times: her childhood in it, her teens and now this very moment, and all those days when she thought she hated him…

some feelings are not easy to understand… even in her nafrat there was this need, this longing, she let her fingers run up his back, back of his neck, along his hairline, up to his jaw. she felt his rasping, grazing stubble on her thumb, a thrill in it that never went away, no matter how many times she felt it. sometimes his voice had the same feeling, it touched her, it stayed on her. again she stroked.

“hey you,” he murmured, “stop touching my stubble, you’ve got to pay every time you do that you know.”

she let her lips brush against his stubble, enjoying the prickle on the sensitive skin of her lips… ” rakshas!” she whispered, her voice a little throaty.

he grinned in relief. she was over it for now, he would…

but thinking was not possible, not while she was nibbling his ear, running her hand up the column of his throat, kissing his chin… her fingers were growing urgent, he could feel their pressure, a film of sweat seemed to break through to the surface of her skin.

“khushi… tum…”

“haan, arnav ji, main… hum ‘pay’ karne se dartey nahin. samjhe aap!” she moved against him with a sense of right…

(khushi… you…

yes, arnav ji… me… i am not scared of “paying”, you understand?)

and she rubbed his stubble once more.

he could hear the giggle she was trying to hide… he lay back on the lounger and pulled her atop him. minx, he thought. crazy, gorgeous, maddening… always always his. he hugged her, and remembered that first day in sheesh mahal. how much he’d wanted to take care of her. how insanely angry he’d felt at the thought of her and those men. his body stiffened at the thought.

“arnav ji,” she opened the top two buttons of his shirt, and let her hand slide in, she loved to feel his skin, smooth and cool to her touch with a spring in it. she had never ever touched anyone in this way. she had had no idea how it would make her feel, what she was supposed to feel even.

of course, she knew all the things she was meant to know at her age… about husbands and wives… and what they did with each other. preeto and a couple of other friends couldn’t stop talking about this sort of thing. but somehow khushi never did enjoy those frantic whispered sessions the girls got into.

she understood the basics… it was something everyone did after they got married. she blushed every time she thought about it and pushed it aside.

with this man she learned the real secret of the thing so covered in giggles and shushes.

when he touched her she felt somehow different, strange, like nothing she’d felt before. she began to realise she felt like a woman. yes, just that, a woman. she felt things she’d never ever felt before, never known might even exist. tremors, hitching of breath, sensations in hidden even unknown places, frissons of excitement, an ache that wanted to grow and burst, desire, heady and rampant; and joy when she saw him happy, his head thrown back in ecstasy, his eyes muddled with sweetness and ravenous hunger…

and when he did things to her that she had no way of even remotely gleaning were ever possible, she was embarrassed, taken aback, a bit afraid, then because she trusted him she let herself go… to places no one could have told her about.

she was alarmed at first, even ashamed, a little shocked at herself; till she saw the love in his eyes, his delight, till his hands and lips and heartbeats told her it was all ok, she was not wrong to feel this way.

there was no wrong and right in this whole thing. there was only instinct… her instinct, a woman, a being, a mate. his mate. and somehow in it all she started to sense forever, a forever called hamesha.

her hands moved over the contours of his collar bones, his chest, the taut plane down to his navel. the hair on his body was crisp and wry, it tickled and trailed wanting to cling to her. a calming steady feeling spread through her.

and a sensation at the pit of her stomach that made her feel alive, concentrated, right here in this moment, only here. and here was the only place she needed to be, wanted to be.

she nudged closer and kissed him on his bare chest. she started to undo the next button.

he lay there looking at her, a beautiful feeling washing over him. this was the first time ever khushi had made the first move.

he was going to be made love to by the most precious woman on earth. his wife. i won’t let you drown, he thought, you won’t let me drown.

he swallowed hard and raised his back as she slipped the shirt off him.

***

on her way to college that morning, anjali sat quiet in the back seat as mohan ji drove. her thoughts again went where she wished it wouldn’t go.

shyam.

in the rain spewing venom. a quiet girl in an innocent yellow saree watching everything with helpless eyes. why was she so vulnerable? why did she remind anjali so much of herself?

and what did shyam mean about khushi ji’s parents?

and chhotey? was chhotey really ok? he seemed to be so immersed in the season and the show, but was he really? you never knew with him, always hiding his feelings… especially the ones that made him vulnerable in any way.

anjali felt a shiver up her spine suddenly. an uncanny feeling as if something terrible approached.

“mohan ji,” she said, “aap hospital le lijiye…  jahan chhotey saab the…”

(mohan ji, take it to the hospital, where arnav was admitted.)

as mohan drove up to the drop off point outside the hospital, just for a moment anjali hesitated.

what was she doing here really?

then lifting her chin, gathering resolve, anjali singh raizada took a step out of the car and went toward the reception.

***

“iss rakshas ke do, ek nahin, do… bade bade mote mote ankhen the, and he didn’t have horns or a tail… but uff what a gussa he had,” khushi was telling the kids a story, their tuition class was over and since the next day was a holiday for janmashtami they wanted to stay back and hear a story from her.

(this monster had two, not one, but two big, big, fat, fat eyes, and he didn’t have horns or a tail, but oh what an anger he had.)

khushi passed around the plate of jalebis, then bit into one and closed her eyes in happiness, the sweet juice trickled into her mouth and the crunchy bits made contact with her taste buds.

“mmm! woh rakshas hamesha kala ya safed ya phir khairi bhusa jaisa rang pehenta tha… aur uske kaan pe pata hai kya tha?”

(mmm! that monster always wore black or white or brownish ash kind of shades… and do you know what was on his ear?) 

the children looked agog.

“nahin na? ek bada sa… neela sa… daant… blue tooth.”

(don’t know? a big… blue… tooth… blue tooth.)

arnav singh raizada had been sent by his sister to fetch this crazy middle class girl home for some janmashtami decoration. he gritted his teeth as he heard her words. then he knocked on the door. when she opened the door and found him glaring there, her eyes widened, her lips described a perfect “o.”

then before anyone could react, she slammed the door shut, charged to the next room, leaped out through the window and ran for her life, mojri in hand.

bua ji’s voice could be heard in the background, “dekha!! dekha!!! sanka devi, tumhri sanak kahan uth gawa, hai re nand kissore!!!”

(saw? saw? oh sanka devi, where has your craziness reached, hai re nand kissore.)

***

dr verma looked up from his files to see anjali walking into his office. he got to his feet quickly, “anjali! is everything alright? something the matter with arnav?”

anjali stood looking at him quietly, “no, everything is alright. at least i hope it is.”

then not being able to keep that cool front up any more, she frowned battling a spate of tears that suddenly threatened, and limped across to a chair by the large desk with neat stacks of paper and a laptop open by the side.

vijay verma had walked around his desk to her side by then. he put a hand on her shoulder,

“anjali… what’s the matter?”

she looked up at him, eyes a little moist, but the tears had been overcome,

“doctor verma, why do i have this terrible feeling that something bad is about to happen?”

he looked at her for a long instant, why he wondered did it matter to him what happened or not to this woman. who was she to him?

who was nancy to him?

he pulled up the the other chair meant for visitors close to hers and sat down.

he asked gravely, “why don’t you tell me what has happened.”

she liked the gravelly timbre of his voice, there was a feeling of depth and decency in it. she had no idea why she’d chosen to come to him, somehow that time when shyam had called and vijay verma had assured her he wouldn’t let anything happen to her brother, she’d believed him. believed chhotey would be fine.

“but before that, how do you like your coffee? black? milk? sugar?”

she wondered again why she’d come here… to him.

***

asr moved his arm slightly, trying to slip it out from under khushi’s head without waking her up. khushi moaned the moment she felt him stir.

“it’s okay, ” he whispered, “i’m just turning on the lights, go back to sleep…”

“mmm,” she protested with a little frown and pulled him close.

he looked at his supine wife, completely oblivious to all care, lying there lovely and abandoned, just wanting him that’s all. he started to smile… then a big laugh rumbled deep in his gut and he shook as it came out in a loud guffaw.

khushi sprang up and sat on the lounger, eyes flashing, part of her face illuminated by a poolside light.

“khushi,” he said with a broad suggestive smile, “aaj tumne jalebi nahin banaya!”

(khushi, you didn’t make jalebi today!)

“arnav ji!” khushi was mad at him, she picked up a cushion and threw it in his direction.

he looked at her face and in a shining sliver of a single moment he saw clearly what he had to do.

he had to bring spring to the collection… that abandon of khushi’s, that fullness and spark of hers.

it was autumn and winter in this hemisphere, but in most of brazil it was spring in october, november, december. a bright lush single piece, in oranges, green, maybe just a bit of pink, in feathery chinon or his favourite chiffon, or perhaps organza… among all the heavier darker drapes of silk, velvet, lycra, pashmina. yes, a touch of the season of birth and freshness.

that’s what ar’s autumn/winter needed.

but that was not the only thing he realised.

he also knew at that moment, he had to return to sheesh mahal. he had to find out.

INDEX

without you chapter 16

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