i love thee freely, as men strive for right;
i love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
i love thee with a passion put to use
in my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith
~~~ elizabeth barrett browning, how do i love thee ~~~

how he wanted to pick her up in his arms, hold her against him, feel her body, her breath, gather her to himself and never let go. he wanted to put her on that bed di had bedecked with flowers and tell her he adored her, adored her. no matter what.

he didn’t care she was in another man’s arms and that it was his own brother in law. he didn’t care she was screaming and saying “why don’t you leave anjali ji!”, his own sister. he didn’t care his eyes could see, his ears could hear. because he couldn’t deny his heart… couldn’t deride his longing, couldn’t damn his truth. he couldn’t let her go.

but he knew he could do none of that. he knew it even when he was fourteen.

when he had so wanted to hold his mother’s still body in his arms and coax her back to life. when his heart had screamed and had embedded that echo in his stricken being forever. when he had heard two gunshots.

how he had wanted to scream, “no! you can’t take her away! i won’t let you!” to whoever or whatever that was taking her away. he had wanted to cry, “maa, you won’t ever leave me, will you?” he had so wished he could change the fact that faced him that night… even though some part of him knew he couldn’t. not ever.

his eyes filled with a terrible feeling, some might call it pain… oh why was she in red. khushi lay there a splash of crimson against the cold night floor, outside his room where he had thrown her, pushing her viciously, looking away, resolved not to care.

telling himself, she deserved this, she had brought this upon herself. telling himself, he had to hurt her like this, because he had to protect di… and her unborn child.

a sob tore through him and he put his head in his cupped hands for a moment, unable to bear the sight of her shivering slightly in the night air. he lifted his head soon enough… he could not leave her alone there… his bride, his sister’s husband’s lover, his very breath.

“khushi!” his breath seemed to caress her name.

he sat on the chaise longue looking out and whispered, “i hate you!”


“kyun, kyun nahin kar sakte aap ke bhai mere jiji se pyaar? yeh… kyun yeh ‘cannot happen’!” khushi was angry with this obnoxious man and mimicked his imperious tone as she played back his words to him.

(why, why can’t your brother be in love with my sister? this… why is it ‘cannot happen’!)

he wanted to say because i don’t believe in the ridiculous thing you call pyaar… love.

he bit out through gritted teeth, “kyunki main nahin chahta ki mere bhai kissi halwai ki ladki se shadi karey!”

(because i don’t want my brother to marry some confectioner’s daughter!)

this defiant, pompom swishing girl really got under his skin, he needed to get back at her somehow.

“kya!!!” she was livid, “duniya ke sabse achhe halwai hain woh, samjhe aap!!… aur hum unke uttaradhikari hain… suniye, hum bhi nahin chahte ki hamari jiji kissi laad governor ke bhai se shadi kkare!” she pursed her lips angrily and tossed her head.

(what!!! the world’s best confectioner is he, understand… and we are his heirs… and i don’t want my sister to marry some laad governor’s brother either.)

“uttar… what!!” even as he felt his anger soar, he felt diverted, hijacked by that confounding, unpronounceable word the maddening girl had flung at him.

“listen, you!… i am not…” he thrust his face forward, pugnacious and ready to rip into her.

“aap listen!” she shot back instantly, eyes shooting fire, a finger wagging threateningly in front of his face.

it was the silence all around that they both felt at the same time. he turned to the left, she to the right… all around them sat people… staring… shocked. they had forgotten in the heat of the argument that they had come to a restaurant to talk about akash and payal.


asr looked at his watch. it had been only a couple of minutes since he spoke to di. another hour and forty minutes to lucknow.

“khushi, khushi… where are you? talk to me…” his mind raced ahead searching the skies, the slowly appearing stars… where was she!

he closed his eyes and swallowed hard. he could feel his pressure drop, his breath slow down, he knew he couldn’t live without her. there really was no hysterical exaggeration in this, no melodramatic lover’s assertion. this was the truth as he knew it to be. astute, sharp, completely averse to hyperbole, he had understood this fact when he began to feel his love. he knew it to be his life force now, it made him want to live… stay alive. for years, he had not felt the coursing flow of desire, a desire for life itself…

she had brought it to him… on her crazy lit up spiritedness, her beaming grin, her faith in him, her joy in him, her touch filled with quickening and calm at once, her heart full of vishwaas, her pure whimsy, her smile, her silken cloud of hair, the gentle bend in her neck, her shell like earlobes, the inward curve of her waist where his hand loved to settle and slowly slide down to her hip, her eyes that sparkled with laughter with anger with a wanton craving for him, her soft sure breath, her “arnav ji”. he stirred, almost smiled, as he thought he heard her voice just then.

“jee nahin paaonga tumhare bina,” the words slipped through his mind. was there ever a question of life if she were not with him.

(won’t be able to live without you.)


he must not think like that. he jerked up and sat staring out of the window. he had to remain focused, alert… he had to bring her back…

“where are you, khushi… talk to me, baby.”

outside the cabin windows, the sun was setting, an orange purple fuchsia navy many hued band sat across the bending horizon… colourful, unabashed, just like her.

his eyes went to the skies above… were the stars out yet?


he had wanted to tell her why… why he couldn’t let her go. why he was ready now… why he understood… why he wanted to live with her… forever.

he would ask her today to marry him. he smiled as he took out the little case from the safe in the wardrobe. when she had walked in with payal and the family a while ago, she looked so lovely in her orange churidar, hair open, he had almost dragged her into his arms and asked her then and there.

but he’d managed to hold himself back.

“come to my room!” he had whispered as he leaned forward to take a bag from her nervous hands.

“huh!” she had looked startled, scared.

“i won’t eat you up,” he had laughed softly, “just come as soon as you can.”

she had looked at him bemused as he turned and left with all the bags, looking stunning in his white shirt and brown jacket, his hair slicked back, skin gleaming. this man was impossible, and why did he always set her dhakdhak racing? why did he want her to go to his room, her knees felt warm and tingly all of a sudden. she needed to sit down.

the wedding was this evening, noise and rush filled the halls and rooms of shantivan. even the garden was buzzing with people, decorators, caterers, neighbours, relatives, children.

he would tell her here, in the quiet of his room… he wanted her all to himself when he told her. he wanted to see her face… her eyes.

he heard her at the door and turned to see her walk in. she looked flustered, a little excited too it seemed to him. he loved the slight colour on her cheeks. he smiled faintly and held his hand out, she walked up to him where he stood at the door to the wardrobe.

“come!” he said in that way of his, that mixed love and command in a chaotic heady concoction. and she followed him without even asking where he led her. her fingers felt the male roughness of his skin and wanted to hold on, no matter what. she didn’t wonder why despite being hurt by his suggestion that they live together, and that truce they had called for the sake of the wedding and the happiness of their families, she didn’t feel a single bit of resentment or anger. she trusted him… she wanted to go with him… yes. and where was he taking her?

he brought her to the full length mirror on one side of the walk in wardrobe and made her stand facing it. she was puzzled, her eyes darted to his, he said nothing, just smiled again, ever so slightly, one side of his lips going up a little. her heartbeats pelted. she stayed still.

he walked around to her back and murmured by her right ear, “close your eyes…” smooth, husky notes touched the nape of her neck raising fine goosebumps… something in the timbre of his voice today, its colour… why did it thrill her so…

she shut her eyes. she felt his hands moving over her head, near her face, down by her neck… then she felt the touch of metal… cool, heavy, solid metal… it went right round her throat and his hands were at the nape of her neck, fixing something.

she opened her eyes without waiting for him to tell her. right in front was her reflection, she looked at herself and there was the necklace… the beautiful gold necklace she had liked and he had given to lavanya that day, khushi’s brow wrinkled, only to hurt her he’d said. lavanya had not liked the set and he had returned it to the jeweller… khushi had stood there numbly watching the charade.

she spun around before he was done, he fell back a little startled, “hey… hey, take it easy,” he said softly.

she looked at him, and couldn’t stop the million and one questions coming to her eyes… what… what was he doing? what was he trying to say? what…

he smiled again. slow and just a little flirtatious. she felt her stomach empty out, her hand flew to her throat, and her fingers felt the undulating gold. he came forward and bent down… the merest brush of lips on her collarbone just by the necklace, a gossamer light kiss, a caress of warm breath on ivory skin. khushi’s eyes closed again of their own accord.

“i am sorry…” he said next to her lips… and again that rub of gentle lips, now by the side of her mouth. khushi sighed, her lips parting.

they stayed like that for a moment, then she turned her head and looked at him, “arnav ji… aap humse maafi mat mangiye…” don’t apologise to me, arnav ji. she had no idea why, but she really did not need him to say that to her anymore, she did not wish him to feel this way… she wanted him to be happy, smiling, a little khadoos, always laad governor…

but the way he was looking at her made her insides all fluttery and hazy.

“khushi!” he said in a funnily serious sort of way…

there was a rapid knock on the door of the room. asr looked toward it, a frown on his forehead instantly. “what the…!” a sharp expletive.

again a knock, louder this time… then op called out, “chhotey saab! chhotey saab! nani ji aap ko bula rahin hain… jaldi aiye…”

(chhotey saab! chhotey saab! nani ji is calling you, come fast…)

op had an urgent note in his voice, asr shook his head and looked at khushi. she was looking worried.

he stood there gazing at her for a moment more, then he traced a wandering finger down her cheek, going up again to touch her lock of hair falling forward and tuck it behind her ears…

“khushi, wait for me, i’ll be back,” he said and turned to leave.

just before reaching the door, he whipped around, strode back, clasped her to him, and kissed her hard and long on her lips. his lips bruised, then grew gentle, warm, seeking, tender. she clung to him, her lips desperate for his touch, his loving… she had seen a trace of something in his eyes as he bent down, it made her tremble all over. what did arnav ji want to say to her? why had he called her here?

he lifted his head at last and walked away.


“mango… nahiin nahiin… aur ek chocolate…” khushi’s eyes were glittering with happiness. the summer evening was balmy, at last the blaze of the sun had disappeared, and a cooler air blew, chilled by the fountains and ponds bordering the proud sweeping avenue leading from the president’s palace, rashtrapati bhavan, right down to india gate and beyond. asr watched as his wife devoured icecreams, they were standing before a brightly painted vending cart near india gate. carts and customers milled around. on their way back from the hanuman temple, where he took khushi on tuesdays, she had looked so longingly at the scene, he had had to stop.

(mango… no no… another chocolate.)

he watched her pale green pompoms bob up and down as she conversed with the icecream vendor. clearly, her voracious appetite for his icy product had impressed the man. khushi took the cone with two scoops of chocolate icecream eagerly and started licking with gusto.

“arnav ji, this is so good… mmm… i think i can eat at least a half a dozen of them at a go…” she mumbled as she ate, barely looking at him, totally concentrated on her cone.

“actually, khushi, you have already had half a dozen… this is your seventh…” asr muttered, amused. how his wife packed away so much into that svelte body of hers he had no idea… and after almost two years with her, he had stopped wondering. she loved her food, especially jalebis, golgappas, pooris, etc., etc., etc., and ice cream, and the copious quantities seemed never to settle on or mar her curves. he could imagine many of his models would kill for this trait, they’d probably hate khushi for this. nah, that was impossible… he smiled to himself.

she finished her cone, tucked her hand in his and laid her head on his shoulder, he could sense something was bothering her…

“arnav ji… i feel so bad you can’t eat all this…” she said as she got into the suv. she sounded sad.

she sat quiet as he drove, the thought of his diabetes was clearly bothering her. he gave her a sideways glance, a minute ago she was so happy… he wondered how her thoughts moved so quickly.

“um… khushi!” he said, “remember that day when we went to black cadillac, the restaurant… to talk about akash and payal…?”

khushi looked at him perplexed, what was arnav ji talking about? why was he thinking of that day now?

“yaad hai?” he looked at her…

(do you remember?)

“so what was the word… that uttar… uttar something you said to me?”

“uttar???” khushi was flummoxed. then she remembered and with a big grin she recalled how confounded he had been by that word… she said, “uttaradhikari! why, arnav ji?”

“yeah, that’s right… uttaradhikari… what does it mean, khushi…?” he asked.

“heirs, arnav ji, heirs… ” she told him with a little emphatic nod of her head.

“heirs…” he paused and looked at her appreciatively, “tum kitni intelligent ho, khushi!”

(you are so intelligent, khushi!)

khushi started to smile, very pleased with herself.

“so what do you say, khushi… ghar jaake hum thoda uttaradhikari banaye?”

(so what do you say, khushi… shall we go home and make some heirs?)

khushi looked at him, eyes widening, lips getting into their “o” formation. asr tried to keep a straight face but his shoulders shook with laughter.

“arnav ji!… aap kitne burey hain…” khushi sputtered indignant. asr knew the thought of diabetes had been neatly replaced by the confusion of uttaradhikaris and their creation.

(arnav ji!… you are so bad…)

i love you, khushi… the words went through his mind… unbidden. i know, arnav ji… she thought, amid all the crazy feelings.


“where are you? where are you?” drummed through his mind as they flew covering the 280 odd miles from somewhere near delhi to the heart of lucknow.

he had wanted to take her to sheesh mahal, she had wanted to go there where his mother’s garden grew…

she would not let the darkness bother her, because he was there somewhere… she was not alone… she was never alone… not any more.

maa was turning around in a garden looking at him… he was just fourteen, he wanted to run to her, but she was telling him to turn back… someone was waiting for him… he turned and ran toward that person, he couldn’t see her… suddenly he was a man and there was khushi… why was the bus hurtling toward her! khushi, look out!

he started to run…

“sir, we should be there in half an hour,” captain raina’s voice came over the p.a. system. asr looked at his watch, it was almost seven in the evening.


the water pulled him down. the weight had landed on him out of nowhere. he could feel the rush of cold water surging up as he and the weight spiraled downward.

with herculean effort he pushed against the flow and kicked with his legs till he felt an upward movement return… he was going toward the surface of the pool now, the sun was glimmering out there, its circumference wavy and constantly moving as he looked through the water.

he was out at last, he took big gulps of air feeling his lungs release and swell. he whipped off his goggles to see what he was holding… the thing that had fallen on him.

and he saw her. her frightened eyes… trembling lips. it was a girl.


he reached up and tried to touch her face, wipe away the water… but she wasn’t here. he had been thinking of that first time he had seen her… he remembered so many things…

he was not giving up. “no khushi, i won’t let anyone hurt you, can you hear me?”


(warning: this section is fairly adult in nature, read only if you’d like to.)

he moved inside her… slowly, stroking upward, touching her in the places that made her moan, quiver, arch up… needing him, enjoying him more.

his hand glided down from the curve of her waist along her smooth graceful side to her hips, turning to cup her firm buttock… it fit his hand perfectly… and draw her closer. a little sound escaped her lips, he smiled and turned to look at her.

he never tired of watching her as he made love to her. there was a joy he could not explain in making her happy, seeing her feel extreme and absolute pleasure, in breaking into an orgasm with her… or after her, having seen her reach a high. she sometimes smiled at that moment… he knew this was a picture he’d always carry in his soul. soul… did he even believe in such a thing.

he had never equated what he had always thought of as sex with anything like this. sex had been a simple thing, viewed on https://www.tubev.sex/ and enjoyed amongst others. not like this. he sometimes felt they were going past a barrier, a horizon that bound reality… he felt a closeness, a melding with khushi where all lines between them seemed to disappear. it was a strange feeling, one he had not sensed before… it made him feel whole and true… eternal.

he knew she was nearing climax. her eyes were half closed, her chin thrust upward and out a little, her lips were parted, her breath came in short quick bursts, her arms were spread out on either side, long and lissome, he loved her flowing contours… her arms had just turned and she was clutching the bedsheets… her body was moving to his rhythm and her skin was damp, especially where the pulse beat at her throat. he lightly bit her just there, then kissed a trail down to her breast. a taut, pert nipple brushed against his cheek, he laughed and rubbed his stubble on her breast playfully. she jerked below him… and then he could feel her beginning to move differently… she had reached a limit… he waited to see that smile.


“arnav ji!” she whispered… she sat in the dark room on the floor, her knees drawn up, arms hugging them close. she knew where she was… she knew who had brought her here… her body had felt his disgusting hands and she had known him despite the blindfold.

they had gagged her and tied her hands, covered her eyes all the way from the dhaba till here.

then her mouth and hands were untied, the blindfold was off, and the lights turned out… only a dim lamp stood vigil by the four poster bed. she had heard the men leave… all she remembered was a knock on the door when she came out after her bath, refreshed and clean… all set for arnav ji to come back. she had cooked him a honeymoon lunch… her surprise. with his favourite bharwa karela, channa daal, poori, aloo tikiya, sugar free gajar halwa and yes, chicken tikka, just the way he liked it. at home she had so wanted to talk to nani ji about making a little chicken and other non-vegetarian things she knew he loved. but he had been adamant. in no way was he going to unsettle the household, make nani ji and the elders uncomfortable. they knew he, akash, even di liked to eat meat or fish at times… and they never interfered with that, as long as none was cooked at home. nani ji was a woman of immense grace and wisdom… she also knew how to accept the changes time demanded.

he loved and respected her deeply. and he knew, if asked, she would say “yes” but that was because she loved him, not because she was comfortable with the idea. and so, khushi had never talked to nani ji. she was waiting to see his face when she served him his lunch… she felt a deep satisfaction when she saw him relish his food, he would eat quickly, and just the amount he felt was right, then he’d lick his fingers in that precise way of his. it always thrilled her in a strange sort of way.

she heard the knock and hurried to open the door, a smile on her face. the sunlight hit her eyes as the door swung open… “aap aa…?” you’re here, she was about to say that when a large cloth enveloped her head, and she smelled something, then she passed out.

when she came to, she was in some sort of a vehicle… there was a low hum, and it was all very smooth.

she couldn’t make out what it might be… till it began to dawn on her… this must be a plane, an aeroplane. khushi had never been in a plane in her life…

she felt herself go limp and the only way to calm her terrified senses was to blank out. khushi started thinking of jalebis and kabooters and icecream. uttaradhikari… she giggled as she remembered.

she had to survive this thing she knew… she would not let the darkness bother her, because he was there somewhere… she was not alone… she was never alone… not any more. he was hers and he was there and he would come and get her… no matter what.

“arnav ji! can you hear me?” she asked silently, sitting petrified on the hard, hand polished marble floor. she wondered if he could see stars from where he was.


he saw the twinkling lights spread across the sky… stars are inanimate objects many lightyears away from earth, they twinkle because of perfectly logical, scientifically explainable reasons and they do not communicate with us. he knew this was the case and yet, he no longer asked himself to be perfectly and purely rational all the time… once you have felt love, it gets a little hard to do so, he realised, especially if you happen to adore a girl called khushi kumari gupta singh raizada.

“yes, khushi, i can see the stars,” he was talking to himself without even knowing he was… “don’t worry, tum theek ho? i will come and get you… okay…?” he said it in that easy confident tone of his, his “okay” short and almost impatient, like the man in a hurry it belonged to.

(don’t worry, are you okay? i will come and get you, okay?)

he thought she said, “hum jaantey hain… humey vishwas hai.”

(i know, i have faith.)

he buried his face in his hands then and everything went dark and concentrated for a second.




without you chapter 24