raat tumhare jism se phisalti padti thi
jism tumhara ek jalte siyyare sa
doodh aur dhoop se goondhi mitti
ek falak bhar khushboo thi awaaz tumhari
the silken night kept sliding off your body
your body, like a smouldering celestial object
moulded from clay kneaded in milk and sunshine
your voice, like a skyful of fragrance!
~~~ gulzar ~~~
there was laughter in the corridors. he could feel it coming from behind the pillars… which one was it? yeah that one to the right. who hid there? he went that way but before he could reach, a flash of something, lehenga hem floated and swung and she was gone… she’d run behind another pillar. he could hear the clinking of glass and little bells. he could hear the strains of shehnai in the background, he’d passed the shehnai players sitting atop the decorated gateway as he ran toward the echoing loud sound. it had hit him so hard, catapulted him. di’s eyes had widened, fear in them, wasn’t she a lovely preening bride a moment ago?… that sound…
he was running, he was breathless…
what was the sound? no no not laughter… it sounded like a gunshot.
pita ji must be shooting stool pigeons with chacha ji. but why would they do it in the middle of di’s wedding?
a rustle of silk, and he saw her feet, silver payals glinted on her slender ankles… he was going to catch her. she ran on ahead, laughter floating around her, like bells. he wanted to see her face, he wanted to catch her… you can’t run away from me.
and rahim chacha stood before him pulling the pillars away. why were the pillars sliding away from him? the laughter…
and a report.
he looked back in terror. no mistaking that, it was a gunshot. again. and she stood right there, the girl in lehenga with silver anklets, in the path of the bullet, smiling at him… khushi.
he lunged forward, shouting, “khushiii!”
as always he breathed out on the “kh”, changing the sound, making it come alive, granular, tactile. he would reach her.
but the pillars held him back, they blocked his path, he looked at her with desperate eyes, his voice was choking, why couldn’t she hear him, why wouldn’t she move?
he saw her smiling and turning her head… from behind a pillar in front stepped out khushi’s amma, garima. she held out her arms…
he heard himself scream, “no! khushi!!” but she seemed not to hear him… the pillars were closing in.
his eyes opened slowly, he was sitting at the steering wheel of his car, still trying to calm down.
he must have dozed of. or had he? his mind was caught in a whirlpool of images, he wasn’t thinking straight really. the pillars seemed to be right here somewhere.
he took a deep breath and stepped out of the white sports utility vehicle he preferred to drive. svelte lamborghinis and sleek ferraris gave him a high, but the rugged matter of factness of the suv was what he wanted, and the cavernous cabin at a height from the road gave him a sense of comfort, of security, a place to let his thoughts flow.
intermittent drops of a very slight drizzle flew past his ears, some landing on him.
he took another long breath gulping in the clean fresh air. he realised he had driven into the cantonment area and parked on a quiet stretch by the aravali ridge. yellow brown boulders and rocks dotted the sloping landsacape. there were thorny bushes jutting out in between. they had some red and yellow fruit clinging to the branches.
his eyes fell on the shrub with pale blue flowers close to him. prickly broad leaves, thorn covered dull green fruit. datura. he remembered di insisted on having them every monday, they were apparently essential for the worship of lord shiva. didn’t maa also put these on her shiv linga stone in the temple at sheesh mahal?
she was sitting deep in prayer at the temple in their home when he came stomping in.
she heard him, but before she could turn he was shouting, “maa!”
“haan, chhotey, kya baat hai? aap itne pareshan kyun hain?”
(yes chhotey, what’s the matter, why are you so hassled?)
ratna tried not to show her irritation at being disturbed during her maha shivratri prayers. chhotey had just come back from school, he was obviously hungry, and that always made him grumpy. she was about to call out to anjali to get his food served when he raised his voice again.
“maa! this is poison, why is it here?” her 12 year old son had picked up the bunch of datura flowers on her puja plate and thrown it out into the corridor before she could a say anything.
it bothered him. he was not a child any more, everything about the situation made him feel a faint revulsion
“chhotey! yeh aap kya kar rahe hain? yeh shiv ji ke phool hain, aap ko pata bhi hai?” ratna malik sounded really upset.
(chhotey! what are you doing? you know these are shiv ji’s flowers, don’t you!)
“i don’t care, maa! it’s poisonous, and no way will i let you have it near you…” with that he was going to stomp out but the look on his maa’s face stopped him.
“and why is shiv ji so important?? why do you even care what he wants!”
he knew this would upset his mother. he had become increasingly more skeptical of and against rituals as he’d grown older, his dadi’s constant harping on the various religious rituals, the dos and don’ts, the must eat this, can’t touch that, etc., that were deemed essential but seemed completely senseless had started to bother him no end. it simply didn’t appeal to his rational mind, to the contemporary thinking he was exposed to in school and which he happily absorbed. he could talk to his nani about all this at times, to his mami even. but somehow, maa just wouldn’t listen.
“chhotey!!” ratna finally lost her temper with her son.
anjali came hobbling as fast as she could from the other room and dragged chhotey away.
“don’t you know, chhotey, girls pray to shiv ji for a good husband? maa prays for pita ji, for his health, his happiness. aap kuch samajhtey kyun nahin hain, hmm? i will soon start praying for a nice husband, your jija ji…” anjali giggled as she tried to bring back calm. how she wished at times that her brother would understand these things.
(why don’t you understand anything, hmm?)
he shrugged her hand off his shoulder and walked away.
who prays for maa, he thought.
he had started noticing the fights between his parents, and he was old enough to know the sort of things being hinted at.
it bothered him. he was not a child any more, everything about the situation made him feel a faint revulsion that crept up his skin and stayed for hours after the arguments had abated. there were nights when he could hear his mother sob, trying to muffle the sound so di and he wouldn’t hear. he pretended he hadn’t. for maa’s sake. for di’s sake. he knew there was no point in saying anything, his mother would insist everything was fine, she had no idea what he was talking about.
so he just let it all be and stayed in his room, studying hard. somehow that helped block everything out. in time, he discovered that he actually loved spending time with his books, his work, he read a lot… there seemed to be a world out there that had so much undiscovered. he spent hours reading of new things, cars, space, flying, films, music, fashion, his curious mind wanting to know more and shut out a world that had started closing in on him.
yet, pita ji was so dear to him. he frowned angrily as he thought that. angry with what exactly he didn’t know.
he bent and picked up a datura flower from the shrub.
the spiny stem grazed his fingers, a remembered sensation. he looked at the light blue petals for a while then he turned to gaze at the expanse of rocks and boulders all around, the light had begun to fall, an even grey had begun to coat the sunbaked yellows and ochres.
it was late october and the sun was setting earlier already. looked like a cold winter was on its way. he tossed the flower away and took a deep breath.
he’d come here looking to cool down a bit.
khushi stood on her toes on top of the step ladder, trying to reach the can of flour at the back of the shelf.
“hey devi maiyya, yeh hari prakash ji bhi na, itna upar maida rakh diya unhone… ”
(hey devi maiyya, this hari prakash ji huh… how high up there he’s stored the flour…)
she pulled out the tin and was about turn when she heard his voice,
everything went upside down inside her, it was him! what was he doing here? she swallowed hard and lost her balance. she teetered precariously for a second, before losing control completely and beginning to fall.
he leaped across from where he was at the entrance to the kitchen and held out his arms to catch her. she fell into them and the momentum carried them both backward, they fell on the kitchen floor, entangled and winded. the flour tin crashed to the floor and opened, plumes of white powder rose and scattered everywhere. there was flour on her hair, her face, her clothes, some on him too. Thank goodness they had one of the best steam mop for tiles on hand ready to help clean up the mess they caused from falling and knocking the flour!
khushi saw the white smeared across his dark grey jacket and closed her eyes in horror.
“hey devi maiyya,” she called out to her saviour silently, “yeh humne kya kar diya, ab laad governor itna chillayenge…”
(hey devi maiyya, what have i done, now laad governor will shout so much…)
when he opened his eyes he saw her looking at him terrified, only one eye open; a hazel eye most apprehensive, pink lips quivering, and she seemed to be muttering something, flour on one cheek and all over her hair.
she looked a little crazy and so terribly desirable, his breath caught.
he groaned involuntarily and pulled her close, covering her lips with his, a devouring hunger in him.
his arms held her tight and crushed her against his body, her skin felt so soft where her arms brushed against his. his right hand roamed her body, urgently stroking her back, her waist, moving down to her thighs...
khushi was completely taken aback at first. what was he doing? kissing her here in the kitchen? on the floor? what if someone came? if someone…?
she didn’t notice when her arms went right around him and held him back just as tightly. when her fingers started stroking his hair, the curves and grooves of his earlobe, his stubble covered cheek. when a guttural moan started deep in her throat. when she began kissing him right back, just wanting to feel him, his touch, nothing else. this is all that mattered.
“khushi, i can’t do this any more. please move in with me,” his voice was husky, desire coated.
he rolled on to his back pulling her and she lay on top of him, their lips still locked. he bit her lips lightly, rubbed his lips against hers, playing, nibbling, as if he couldn’t let go. she felt his palms on either side of her face, he ended the kiss with a groan, tore his lips from hers and said raggedly, “i can’t go on like this… i want you too much, i need you, khushi…”
khushi looked at asr dumbstruck, her breath still racing, she had no idea what he was saying.
he needed her? he couldn’t go on? arnav ji? and what was she doing here on the kitchen floor kissing him? what was wrong with her?
a little groggily she drew away and tried to sit up.
“khushi!” he went to tug her back.
“arnav ji…” she sounded distraught.
suddenly without warning he got up swiftly, held her hand and pulled her after him with a peremptory “come with me.”
but his eyes on her were so tender she felt her knees turn to jelly as she struggled to follow him.
he went up the stairs, through his bedroom and reached the poolside. he stopped by the water and let her go. she stood in front of him looking at him helplessly. she knew she should leave. if only her legs would listen.
“come here,” he whispered softly, and she floated into his arms without a word, her head rested on his shoulder, her arms went around his waist. her heart felt a longing she no longer wished to deny.
“khushi, i can’t do this any more. please move in with me,” his voice was husky, desire coated.
she was drowning in that voice, the rush of naked craving in it, maybe that’s why she didn’t understand what he meant immediately. she looked at him, eyes unfocused.
“move in with me, sweetheart, come and live with me, here, mere paas, mere saath, mere ghar mein.”
(move in with me, sweetheart, come and live with me, here, with me, in my house.)
slowly she began to understand what he meant. and when she did, she flinched and pulled away.
she looked at him shocked. what did he just say? to her? tears stung her eyes, a terrible sense of shame filled her being,
“aap humse aisi baat kaise kah sakte hain?”
(how can you say such a thing to me?)
the tears wouldn’t stay in check this time, it hurt too much. they spilled over and flowed down her cheek.
he looked at her, wanting to retort sharply, wanting to tell her there was no need to act so holier than thou, tell her she was feeling every bit of desire he was feeling, tell her anything, something, to wipe out that accusing look in her eyes which all the hurt couldn’t hide.
but he couldn’t. the tears were all he saw and they cut through him, touching a part of him he had forgotten for years. why? why did her tears matter so much? why did he want to take them away forever?
he turned away abruptly.
he’d gone for a game of golf that morning. long time since he’d had time to play a full round. he’d won, of course, and that always felt good to arnav singh raizada. after lunch and a couple of beers when he got back to rm, di opened the door and greeted him with a happy smile. he hadn’t seen her smiling so brightly in months.
he stepped forward and gave her a quick hug, “di! aap theek ho?” he asked smiling himself.
(di! are you alright?)
force of habit, but he knew she was ok.
“op, mera golf set gym mein rakh dena,” he threw over his shoulder as he ran up the stairs to their bedroom, wondering what khushi was up to.
(op, keep my golf set in the gym.)
he walked in and saw her sitting on the floor, sewing something, humming to herself. she looked so happy, he stayed there watching her for a moment.
his lips started slanting to an amused lopsided smile, she was singing her favourite salman khan ji song. no, no, now it was his song and her song, their song really.
“hhmmm hmmm hmmm hmm hmmm hmm” teri meri meri teri, prem kahani hai mushkil… khushi was so engrossed she hadn’t even noticed him. he sneaked up on her from behind, and swooped down to snatch away what she was sewing.
khushi looked up in the direction of the hand, startled, and when she saw it was him, she pouted “arnav ji…”
but before she could say another word, he’d reached down and kissed her hard, his nose tickling and rubbing against her chin. when he drew away, her mouth and eyes had all gone into the kkgsr “o” formation.
he flicked her nose with a finger and said, “biwi, i want to date you… come have dinner with me tonight.”
his brown eyes glinted with excitement and laughter, chocolate dancing. every time this happened she was astounded her khadoos, curt and angry arnav ji could smile like this and look so carefree.
she grinned back and said, “dhanyavaad, pati dev ji, par aaj hum nahin jaa sakte aap ke saath… aap bhi nahin jaa sakte, kyunki aaj raat hamare yahan mehmaan aa rahe hain!”
(thank you, husband dear, but today i can’t go with you, nor can you go anywhere, because we’re expecting a guest tonight!)
“guest? who’s coming?” he frowned.
“doctor saab… doctor verma,” she said with a wide gamine smile.
“doctor verma? why?” he was clearly confused, why would the doctor suddenly come home for dinner? and then he remembered khushi saying something about di and the doctor, he looked at her and she was still smiling with a satisfied air.
he saw red.
anger rushed to his head. furious, gargantuan anger.
“why can’t you mind your own business, khushi?!” he lashed out.
even as she turned to him, surprised, shocked, taken aback, he raged.
“why must you always interfere in other people’s lives? who are you to decide whom di should meet, why did you invite that doctor home? who are you to decide anything to do with her in fact? she is my sister, do you hear me? not yours, mine! she’s been through hell. i am not letting anyone… anyone… do you hear me!!! make her unhappy again. she is my sister, my responsibility, she stays with me… and you, you stay out of it, do you UNDERSTAND!!!”
his voice had risen till it was echoing all around. khushi looked on shattered.
“arnav ji…” she tried to say something,
“shut up, khushi!” he yelled brusquely and walked out.
he went straight back to his suv and drove off, shaking with fury, ears red hot, eyes burning, his head throbbed. he needed to be by himself. needed to take control of his feelings.
and now he was standing here, calm at last.
she’d looked so fragile as he’d stormed. he swallowed hard. he’d better get back.
something made him look at the shrubs among the rocks again, what were those little reddish brown and yellow berries?
“khushi, can we start again?”
“nahin, arnav ji,” her voice was flat, no cadence.
“khushi, i… i can’t say things i don’t mean. i don’t believe in marriage, khushi.”
“haan, arnav ji.”
“akash and payal are getting married. neither you nor i want to spoil things for them. shall we call a truce for their sake?” he stuck out his hand.
she looked at it for a long moment, and then held out her hand. her tiny palm slipped into his large calloused one and he felt life return to him. he exhaled slowly and whispered, “khushi.”
she was not in their room when he got back. he felt fear clutch his heart for a second.
he walked out to the poolside. no, she wasn’t there either.
“khushi!” he called as he walked over to the living area, searching for her. he found her in the kitchen making aloo dum and poori, merrily chatting with di, who was wearing a beautiful blue fine chanderi shimmering with gold bootis and lots of her favourite bangles.
when she saw him, she smiled and came forward, “aap aa gaye?! aaiye, zaraa chakh ke bataiye kaisa bana aloo dum.”
(you’re back! come, just try the potato curry and see how it’s turned out.)
anjali said, “chhotey, ungli chaatte rah jaoge!”
(chhotey, you’ll be licking your fingers.)
akash walked out ready for the gym, “haan, bhai, today the aloo poori is great, thanks for the tasting, khushi ji!”
payal came behind him looking very pretty in a pink chiffon saree, her hair tied in a loose bun, she looked at khushi and said, “khushi, get ready quickly, doctor verma aate hi honge.”
(khushi, get ready quickly, doctor verma will be coming soon.)
mami ji peered from the drawing room, “payal bitiya, hello hi bye bye, bhy you are lookings so pretty, haan? guest is coming phar my bootiphool niece so bhy my khoon bhari… i means tune bhari bahuriya dressing dressing, with makeupiya and aaalll?”
(payal dear, hello hi bye bye, why are you looking so pretty then? the guest is coming for my beautiful niece, so why is my blood filled… sorry tune filled daughter in law dressing up, make up and all?)
nani ji grimaced at her habitually loud daughter in law and said, “anjali bitiya, aap ne doctor saab ko khaane pe bulaya, bahut achha kiya.”
(anjali dear, you did a good thing by calling doctor saab for dinner.)
nk came out of his room looking cool and excited, “di, sorry i couldn’t join you guys this evening, you see, khushi ji, aaj i have a hot date… garam tarikh… you know!”
“haan, nanhe ji! you enjoy, ok?” khushi gave him a sweet smile as she handed asr a plate of poori and aloo dum.
“of course, hum bahut razaa karenge!”
(of course, i will have lots of assent.)
“razaa nahin, nanhe ji, mazaa,”
(not assent, nanhe ji, fun.)
khushi corrected her friend and turned to see her husband looking at her intently. he smiled slightly and said, “can i get your razaa on something?”
she looked and said nothing.
he ate the aloo poori with relish, licking his fingers between every bite.
she pretended she was working hard and had no time to sit by him, but she stole a glance every now and then.
he could feel her eyes on him. his heart was almost bursting with a funny sort of huge feeling for this nutty girl.
he finished eating and went off to their bedroom. she walked in after a short while and went toward the wardrobe.
he walked up to her and held her from behind.
she went still.
“ji,” her voice was small. he’d hurt her deep he knew.
he turned her around and held her face in his hands, “i’m sorry, baby.” his voice was soft, pleading for forgiveness.
she stayed there looking at him with her honest wide eyed gaze.
“i shouldn’t have said what i did. you care for di and everyone in my family in a way that leaves me speechless… i hurt you so badly, yet, just for di’s sake, you went on as if nothing had happened… and khushi i just feel like a heel that’s all… you didn’t even invite doctor verma… i am so so sorry.”
his heart had filled with peace at the sight of his whole family happy and full of hope, di radiant amidst it all, and there was his wife, allowing the happiness in, not marring it in any way with her own troubles.
he hugged her again.
she put her head against his heart and heard it go “dhak dhak dhak dhak,” how she loved to hear that. her own heart beat had started racing a bit… he was holding her, after all.
she let her arms encircle him and pressed closer.
“arnav ji, i know you don’t mean to hurt me… you are scared for di’s sake i understand… unhe jo chot mila… aap heel nahin hain, aap sirf mere arnav ji hain, bas.”
(arnav ji, i know you don’t mean to hurt me… you are scared for di’s sake i understand… the hurt she got… you’re not a heel, you’re only my arnav ji, bas.)
he remembered another time when he’d accused her of interfering in di’s life and much more. how time had taught them both to understand a bit better. he remembered her laughing behind the pillars, her payals tinkling, that bullet going toward her. he had to save her.
“to get your assent, i have a bribe for you,” he said and held out a little plastic bag.
she looked inside and looked up, eyes shining, “ber?!” she squeaked “aap ko kahan mila?”
(sour plums? where did you get them?)
“freshly plucked from the ridges of aravali by your arnav ji, bas!” he teased, he was so glad he’d checked to see what those fruits were on that darkening landscape.
as she devoured her bers, he said, “will you please do me the honour of running away with me?”
she looked up…
“for our honeymoon?”
khushi’s eyes started to go round and saucer like. she popped a ber into her mouth.
he chuckled looking at her, then leaned forward to start a long slow languorous tumultuous kiss. it was amazing what one could do with a ber and a pair of willing lips.