and let me talk to you with your silence
that is bright as a lamp, simple as a ring.
you are like the light,
with its stillness and constellations.
your silence is that of a star,
as remote and candid.

~~~ pablo neruda, i like for you to be still~~~

a gentle touch of water on her face… like drops of rain.

wha…? her eyes flew open… where was she? out in the open, under the sky? she looked up startled, straight into chocolate brown eyes. soft, dancing, glinting brown eyes.

no… naughty brown eyes.

as this registered and she struggled to get up, the laughter in the eyes deepened, below that a streak of heat. he shook his head letting droplets of water clinging to his wet dark hair fall all over her face and neck.

“arnav ji!” khushi wanted to sound reprimanding, in a this is no way to behave in the morning sort of tone. but it came out all wrong. sort of faint, a bit garbled, definitely throaty.

brown eyes went devilish. “yes, khushi,” he whispered as he leaned closer and his breath played with her cheek, her ear, her…

“enough!” khushi tried to get her best laad governor voice.

“uh huh,” disagreed the man in no hurry, “nowhere near it.” his slender index finger traced the line of her lips, featherlight touch, a little pause on the lush lower lip. khushi was finding it hard to breathe, how she wished she could just let this go on forever and sink right back onto the pillows, pulling him into her arms, feel his weight settle on her, play with his thick wayward hair, kiss that widow’s peak, draw him close and forget everything. he had just showered, his skin was cool, damp, taut, asking to be touched. and that heady fragrance of his showering gel, why must he do this to her. unfair.

“nahiin, arnav ji, hume nashta banana hai…” she tried to get up again. i have to make breakfast.

“hungry, khushi?” husky voice, a trailing finger touched her eyelids, lips  ever so gentle landed softly on the tip of her nose, the other hand whispered along her midriff and landed on her stomach, he lay his hand on her belly and stroked her soft, tender skin, khushi moaned before she could stop herself, “why not have me for breakfast?”

shocked silence from khushi. then she pushed him hard and off her, right off the bed almost. he fell back laughing. khushi stood up with a flounce, huh, how could you! written all over her.

a sting of tears in her eyes. why was this man so gentle, so sweet with her. everyone knew what a gussa he had. his temper that almost defined him. the whole house quaked at the thought of asr angry. and she got her share of it too…

the tip of her nose had gone red. asr looked at his wife, and now the eyes were just simply and absolutely adoring.

“come ‘ere,” he said in that way of his that always sent a thrill through her, and pulled her down on to him. he held her in his arms, head buried in her hair. khushi could feel his warmth, his strong heart beat near her ear. she wrapped her arms tight around him and just stayed there.

“do you want me, baby?” he asked.

a sting of tears in her eyes. why was this man so gentle, so sweet with her. everyone knew what a gussa he had. his temper that almost defined him. the whole house quaked at the thought of asr angry. and she got her share of it too…

but never ever had this otherwise matter of fact, often brusque man, his anger part of his being, who pretty much went after what he wanted and more often than not managed to get it, been anything but kind, considerate, and respectful of her wishes when it came to this. in so many ways he’d sought her “yes” every time.

no forcing his wife to do what she may not want to. no matter how much he felt the desire, no matter how terribly he needed her. always, with her full and absolute consent. she was not the first woman in his life she knew, yet he managed to make her feel like she was the only one. he made her feel loved in a way no one ever had, and he gave her the right to love him just the way she pleased.

“pati hoon tumhara, haq hai tumhara mujh pe,” i am your husband, and you have a right over me, he’d told her simply. no one had given her this sense of right over them. it took her quite a while to understand what this meant. but she knew she loved knowing he was hers, oh she wanted him so. how could he not know.

she drew away a bit and turned her head to look at him. in her eyes lay the answer to his question. the faintest smile entered his eyes. “say it,” he said looking at her, “i love to hear you tell me.”

she moved in closer and opened her mouth to say what he wanted to hear, her eyes closed in anticipation, maybe a little shyness, “hum aap ko chahte hain, arnav ji.”

“call me baby,” he murmured. oh how he loved to hear her call him that. she whispered it in his ear.

slowly he began to kiss her. a serene calm in his gaze before fire reached it again.


try as she might she couldn’t forget his eyes.

it was as though a shutter had been drawn across them and no light entered. aloof, remote, without any connection with what was all around. two dark brown irises of a rare chocolate hue… but no warmth in them, no melting. just inert, closed, on their own.

he had suddenly disappeared from the temple steps, but she was angry with him for saying what he had. for not believing why she was there in that loathsome hotel that morning. the morning after that terrifying night when only shame stalked her every thought, alternating with suffocating fear. and now this stranger who kept popping up in her life was insinuating… insinuating…


she was not going to let him get away with it. “you go ahead, jiji, i’ll come home a little later…” she called out to payal as she ran down the steps looking for the man. what had he said? “shut up, khushi.” so he knew her name, but what was his… how dare he…

khushi was seething with anger by now, a bit of a delayed reaction to that sudden encounter. she didn’t notice the pigeons in the courtyard whom she fed grains usually, nor all the colourful mannat ki mala that hung from the trees… strings of beads which carried the wish of the devotee to the mother goddess’s ears. simple wishes were granted easily, all you had to do was tie your mala on a tree, pray, and feed the pigeons. and when your wish had been fulfilled you had to come back and untie a mala, thank the goddess, and give the pigeons a hearty meal once more. khushi loved making wishes and rushed back to do the little observances. her favourite part, feeding and playing with the pigeons.

chiriya wali mandir; the quaint, some might say obvious, name of the temple translated to: the temple of birds. it was said, if your wish was a difficult one, you had to work a bit harder. you had to keep a fast for seven days without drinking even a drop of water, and of course pray and tie the string of beads.

khushi couldn’t imagine how anyone could ever do that. no food for seven days? staying away from food for seven minutes was tough at times. especially when bua ji came from delhi and constantly picked on her. then she had to nosh on chana or ber, roasted gram or dried little sour plums, without pause. who could survive without food for seven whole days?

but right now all khushi could think of was that haughty stranger in a sleek grey suit. suit… whoever comes to the mandir in such clothes. as she rushed to the lane behind the temple, she spotted him. he was striding swiftly toward the row of cars parked by the side of the road.

“suniye!” she called. he walked on. she ran forward and raised her voice, “suniye, aap aise nahin ja sakte!” you can’t go like this. he stopped in his tracks, his back still to her. a bit flummoxed, she too stopped running and stood still.

then he turned in one easy graceful move, looked at her with a faintly insolent air, his raybans hid his eyes, but the jeer at the corner of his lips was unmistakable.

“kyun?” one word, silky, smooth, challenging. who’s going to stop me, it seemed to say.

as she grasped wildly for a good answer, he took off his shades and fixed a cool gaze on her. nothing in his eyes.

“nahin… matlab… you can’t say such things about me… i didn’t go there that night to… to… i needed the money for my sister’s wedding, do you hear me… they said it was a modelling assignment… i am not that sort of girl…” without realising her voice had climbed higher and higher with each word, each difficult thing to say, till she was practically shouting.

he looked at her silently for a moment. then in the coldest voice she’d ever heard, he said, “really? but why are you telling me this?”

“why? you came and said all that to me… why did you do that? i am telling you i am not that sort…”

“mujhe isse koi matlab nahin,” this is of no significance to me… the iciness in his voice cut through her words. “mujhe koi faraq nahin padta,” makes no difference to me. with that, he turned and walked away, sliding back on his shades. cool, unflappable, not interested.

she stood there, wondering what just happened. had she imagined that gentleness in his voice? for there was no evidence of that in those eyes.

as she lay in bed, the eyes came back to haunt her thoughts.

arnav singh raizada looked broodingly into his drink, and wondered why he’d felt compelled to say those things to her on the steps of the temple. why he couldn’t stop himself. why he needed a drink tonight.

next time, he’d tell di to take akash or aman to the temple.

as he lay back in the sofa, stretching out his tense limbs, the black jersey top and pyjama moved over his toned, supple frame, and again he felt the nightmare coming. a shaking breath left his body.


she sat by him in the hospital, holding his hand, talking.

the stars hung over his bed, sun rays filtering in through the venetian blinds playing on them. dr verma had said, it is believed that hearing is the last sense to go. patients in a coma can most probably hear everything. perhaps mrs raizada would like to speak to her husband when she visits. it might give him hope, fill him with the desire to come back, who knows.

dr verma had been a respected name in internal medicine for years. when arnav singh raizada was wheeled in that day, he was in the hospital and it was by chance he’d been called in to lead the team working on this difficult case.

extreme impact, broken ribs, probable head injury, laceration of internal organs… the list was long, yet he had sensed the strength of his young patient. felt the surge of his pulse, his heart beat.

vijay verma did not believe in god, but in the years he’d spent practicing, he’d come to believe there was a force out there that worked in its own way and sometimes actively helped in the process of healing. he’d even been known to have used the word “miracle” when speaking of it to his close friends. he didn’t know what name to give this phenomenon. maybe because… because of nancy, because he felt he’d failed her…

but he told mrs raizada to speak to her husband… he felt that force might be present here.

he watched her from outside the cubicle as she spoke nonstop. she was holding his hand and laughing and chatting away… and munching jalebis. hold it… outside food in the icu?

he turned to call the nurse and saw a beautiful woman standing by the ganesh alcove, praying. of course, arnav singh raizada’s sister… she finished her prayers just then and turned and walked toward him. when she reached him with that slight hobble of hers slowing her down, she looked at him and smiled, “thank you, doctor, for telling us chhotey can hear us.”

he wondered why her husband never came, a week now since his patient had gone into his own world, he’d met many members of the family, even their helper om prakash and the stolid looking driver mohan. never her husband, though.

anjali walked into chhotey’s room. khushi was saying, “aapki aankhen, do you know why i love your eyes? because they remind me of chocolate.”


without you: chapter 5