aman was in a fix.
a young, pleasant looking man in his early thirties, though he was a few years older than the twenty seven year old man he worked for, aman had the highest regard for his boss. asr was ruthless and arrogant perhaps but he was also sharp as a tack, completely fearless, imaginative and inventive by nature, with a formidable nose for business.
and somehow it felt exciting to be around him. aman wouldn’t dream of giving that up for an easy nine to five job with someone more pleasant and less demanding.
no no, he had to find this khushi kumari gupta. but how?
lucknow was a rather big city, no matter what delhi people thought. hmmm, failure on the other hand, was not an option. maybe akash sir would know something?
he walked up to akash’s room and asked if he could spare a minute. akash, asr’s cousin, his mother’s only brother’s son, was of a calm disposition, gentle and intelligent. tall and rather nice looking, he had a sensitivity that was instantly appealing. there was not a girl in the office who hadn’t wanted to share her troubles with akash sir. while akash did all he could to play agony aunt and offer support of the most platonic kind, once in a way he did wonder if he’d ever meet a girl who’d look at him and feel a tremble in the heart, a little something sweet; but why worry about that he’d chide himself, let bhai meet someone, he was older and once he settled down, then akash would think of a girl, a wife, a sweetheart.
“yes, aman, what can i do for you?” akash was pleasant as always peering at aman through his glasses.
“akash sir… sir wants me to locate this lady in lucknow urgently. i was thinking, would you know anything about her, one miss khushi kumari gupta?”
“khushi…?” akash wondered where he’d heard that name before… and then he remembered.
he was walking into sheesh mahal the evening of the show, and he’d heard a woman’s voice saying angrily, “khushi, don’t worry, he was rude, he is wrong… so what if he’s a customer, he can’t treat people like that… come, gupta sweets has enough customers in lucknow, one less won’t make a difference… are you listening, khushi kumari gupta, sister of payal gupta? huh! c’mon, look at me, smile!”
he’d looked toward the voice and noticed a lovely young woman, a certain simplicity in her, talking to a girl whose face akash couldn’t see. he’d rather liked the fire in her eyes and her elder sister type chat with her sister… he smiled at the memory.
“yes, aman, of course. khushi kumari gupta… if you can find gupta sweets in lucknow, mujhe lagta hai you’ll find her.”
(yes, aman, of course. khushi kumari gupta… if you can find gupta sweets in lucknow, i think you’ll find her.)
aman’s eyes shone with relief and gratitude. okay there may be more than one gupta sweets in lucknow, but he had the whole day, he’d get something done.
“by the way, aman, why does bhai want to find her?”
“sir, i don’t know, but sir wants her here asap he said, he wants to give her a job… i am thinking, do you need another assistant, sir, you know, pam has been a little under the weather lately.”
akash thought for a moment, why would bhai want to employ a girl from lucknow, a girl who sold sweets? then he shrugged and said, “yes, aman, why not… if bhai wants to i’m sure he has a good reason.”
he was pacing in his den. jean pierre had sent in a series of designs based on their chat, but his mind was not on them.
what was aman up to? it had been almost three hours since he’d called, still no news?
he sat down suddenly and started to scan the net, he hit google and keyed in khushi kumari gupta. surely there was some trace of that irritating girl somewhere.
ah… khushi. yes. khushi ke aansoo, (tears of joy) what the.
khushi ambani… khushi mittal… khushi birla… whaaat?
khushi yatri niwas, khushi guest house… hotel khushi. unbelievable.
where was this khushi kumari gupta.
he sat doing nothing for a while. then picked up jean pierre’s portfolio once more and started to leaf through the pages.
there was so much work to be done.
let aman find her. that’s it.
khushi was looking cheerful in bright blue, helping out babu ji at the mithai shop.
“haan haan, chacha ji, jalebi ekdam taaza hain… hum aaj hi subah banayen…”
(yes, yes, uncle, the jalebis are fresh absolutely, i made them just this morning…”)
she reassured a regular customer who was finicky and threatened all sorts of things should the sweets not be up to the mark, yet came back day after day, year on year.
the phone rang and she reached out absentmindedly, “haylow?!”
on the other side was a man with a decent voice, “is this gupta sweets?”
“haan, bataiye, aarder dena hai?”
(yes, want to order [pron: aarder, a la miss gupta]?)
“nahin… er may i speak to miss khushi kumari gupta?”
(no… er may i speak to miss khuhsi kumari gupta?)
“haaan?” her voice rose sharply, then “haan kahiye, hum khushi kumari gupta…”
(yes, tell me, i’m khushi kumari gupta.)
there was a moment’s silence, aman was so relieved to have found her at the fifteenth gupta sweets he’d called in lucknow that he paused to send up a brief prayer.
“miss gupta, hello ji, i am aman saxena, calling from delhi, ar industries… er we have an offer for you.”
“offer? kaisi offer? koi ek ke saath ek phree wali agar hai toh…”
(offer? what kind of offer, if it’s one of those buy one get one free, the…)
she was going off at a tangent about if this is a one for one offer, etc., when aman rushed in.
“nahin nahin, miss gupta, this is to offer you a job!”
“job? kya?” khushi was nonplussed enough to shut up for a second.
“ji, haan… as executive assistant… to our vice president… the job is based in delhi…”
khushi’s eyes grew progressively larger and her lips started to form an immaculate “o”.
“kya? dilli mein… who is giving me this job? and why?”
(what? in delhi? who is giving me this job? and why?)
“ji, mr arnav singh raizada…”
khushi heard the name and something went blank in her.
she had been so happy that evening. there was a huge order from hotel sheesh mahal for a big fashion show. they had ordered five hundred jalebis and the same amount of balushahis.
when she’d arrived at the hotel with the sweets she was in such a happy frame of mind.
the fashion show people wanted the sweets served on large platters sprinkled with rose petals. and the sheesh mahal manager had told shashi gupta, her babu ji, that it would save time if he sent the sweets arranged like that. so khushi and payal were entrusted with taking the order to sheesh mahal that evening.
khushi had never been inside sheesh mahal.
chalo, she’d see a big hotel today and after that she and jiji were off to preeto’s wedding.
as she dressed for the evening, in lehenga choli, she thought, maybe she would take a quick peak at the fashion show too, she’d never seen these “madel shadel” (model and a delhi style “shodel” to round it off nicely) and who knows she might pick up a nice tip or two?
oh, she enjoyed dressing up and adding little accessories, how she loved her gota and pompoms, even on her plait she tucked little matching colourful parandis with tiny little pompoms.
haan, she wanted to see what these madels did. she fixed her gota ribbon around her plait and she was ready.
“chalo, jiji, chalein?” she’d called out to payal as they left with a little blessing from their father, and a “koi gadbad mat karna, jaldi ghar aa jana, ” from their mother.
(let’s go, jiji, shall we?) (don’t get into a mess, and come home quickly.)
garima gupta worried about her girls. she may not have given birth to either but she was a true mother alright, including that slightly fretting love that mothers bestowed on their daughters of marriageable age in the middle class milieu of theirs. girls going out by themselves after sunset, always a cause for concern. and while payal was 23, khushi was barely 20, and such a madcap. really.
the girls said “aate hain,” in unison and ran out giggling.
(we’ll be back)
in this light and happy frame of mind they’d gotten into the auto and followed the little van with the mithais to the hotel.
it was dark by the time they had reached, almost 7.30 in the evening. while payal settled the fare, khushi had rushed forward, saying, “jiji, i’ll go and call someone to fetch all this…”
something made her pick up a tray of jalebis as she left.
her beautiful pink lehenga with lots of sequins and gota glimmered as she ran out into the night, her green dupatta fluttered in the cool breeze. her tiny golden slippers skipped over the flight of steps of the grand entrance leading into the ornate, old building.
khushi held her jalebi platter in one hand, a bit of her lehenga in the other so as not to trip, as she went in through the doors held open by two fancily dressed doorman with huge mustaches.
oh, she felt like a princess, she walked in on light and excited feet. she looked around… ah, there was a counter with some officials of the hotel, she’d better go there, she went to take a step in that direction when she thought she heard payal call out, “khushi!!”
“haan, jiji!” khushi turned back toward the doorway looking for her sister even as she took quick steps toward the counter.
the next thing she knew she’d slammed into a hard object.
her hand with the jalebi platter had gone flying with the momentum, the platter had tipped. now it was pressed against this object as she tried to balance desperately, her hand pressed on the platter, her head feeling dizzy. her eyes shut involuntarily.
what was that!
“arnav singh raizada!!!… hume naukri dega? i don’t want his job… samjhe aap?” she was about to hurl the phone down, when she heard the man say quickly…
(arnav singh raizada!!! he’ll give me a job? i don’t want his job… do you understand?)
“dekhiye dekhiye, before you put down the phone, please keep my number, it’s 9810345623… 9810345623… my name is aman, just call me if you should reconsider. whatever salary you ask for, ar is ready to pay.”
money. again that money talk from that obnoxious man.
without a word khushi put the phone down.
it was not a what she’d walked into.
it was a who.
a who with furious dark brown eyes which were boring into her right now.
“what the!” erupted through clenched teeth. hard jawline grew more angular. a hot breath fanned her face.
khushi looked dazed… then aghast at what lay before her eyes.
her hand was crushing the platter against the man, jalebi side pressed against his chest. black silk shirt… black jacket… her panicked gaze noted. now with orange jalebi on them. and. some. syrup.
she looked up again, now even more horrified.
a steel like band along her back and waist told her his arm was around her and he was holding her tight against him.
“hey devi maiyya!” escaped her trembling pink lips, her eyes started misting. the man stood there seething. he was dressed impeccably, well at some point it was that, his hair was brushed back, his stubble sleek, he was obviously dressed for an occasion.
his eyes were growing more and more fierce… furious.
“what are you doing, you fool!” he spat out through still gritted teeth. “pagal ho gayi ho tum, dekhke nahin chal sakti!” brusque angry voice. are you mad? can’t you see where you’re going!! dark swirls of anger all around them.
(have you gone mad, can’t you see where you’re going?)
khushi was too shaken and scared to talk.
“i will…” he pulled her harder to him, obviously to hurt rather than hold.
“i will… what’s your name, who sent you…you’ve come to spoil my show, haven’t you… stop me from getting there on time… who who WHO has sent you?” he shook her.
“tell me now!” all of this under his breath as they were in the hotel lobby and he clearly was not going to create a scene. but punish her he would.
khushi’s mind was in disarray, her breathing gone haywire. what was happening? who was this dark rakshas, this terrible stranger? why, why was she in this mess? what would happen to the order? the sweets?
finally she found her tongue, “h..hum khushi kumari gupta, hum… toh sirf yeh mithai ka aarder yahan laa rahe the…”
(i… i… i’m khushi kumari gupta… i had only come here for this … this order of sweets…)
“the order of sweets?!! for my show?” he looked down at his chest, black silk with bits of jalebi. a long angry breath, then he said, “i am rejecting this order… take it back where it came from, do you understand?”
first the crash. now this?!
khushi was mortified.
her lips quivered. her eyes pleaded.
“aap aise nahin kar sakte… aap kyun aise kar rahe hain? ” she practically pleaded.
(you can’t do this… why are you doing this?)
her silly but innocent act couldn’t land the shop in this kind of trouble. babu ji couldn’t afford to shrug off the cost of this huge order.
he looked at her face, his gaze moved and settled on her lips, he stood stock still, his eyes on her lips. then slowly the eyes traveled over her face all the way to her eyes. she’d never felt a male gaze like that on her… and so terrifyingly close.
his irises were dark, and cold, icicle like now.
where was all that fire she’d seen flaming there earlier?
“paisa… huh… paison ke liye tum jaisi ladki kuch bhi kar sakti hai, hai na?” he had a jeer in his voice, a devilish nasty smile on his lips as he said that.
(money, huh, girls like you will do anything for money, won’t they!)
it was such an uncalled for attack on her character, khushi couldn’t say anything, just stare at him aghast.
suddenly he jerked away.
she felt his arm leaving her back.
he stepped back… one… then two steps.
fire rode back into his eyes.
he looked at her once.
and then turned and strode away.
khushi felt a tear escape her eye and hurtle down her cheek.
she hadn’t realised she was almost weeping by then.
mr arnav singh raizada, how dare you, how dare you call me with the offer of a job? who do you think you are. khushi looked at the phone she’d just slammed down, still shaking with anger.
thanks to supriya.arshi and sunshine80 for the banners.