’twas like a maelstrom, with a notch,
that nearer, every day,
kept narrowing its boiling wheel
until the agony
toyed coolly with the final inch
of your delirious hem
and you dropt, lost,
when something broke
and let you from a dream
~~~ emily dickinson ~~~
pain wracked the air. it stretched, it pulled, it mauled and scratched. it wanted to gouge out something. two people lay helpless in its violent rout of all things beautiful and sacred, of all innocence. khushi’s mother was the woman who was there that night, the night it happened, she was the woman asr’s mother had seen and lost all control. asr’s own uncle had pulled khushi’s mother into a filthy game and finally killed her and khushi’s father. asr’s mother had not committed suicide… she had been murdered in cold blood by a man waiting patiently at the window.
a chill had come into the air, dawn was about to break, the gomti flowed peacefully not too far away. everything was silent still, the sounds of early hours were yet to start.
in the hotel room there was a silence of another sort, one which feared the night may never end. khushi lay on one side of the wide double bed, looking up at the ceiling with its ornate curlicues and decorations. on the other side, sat asr, quietly staring out of the window, the water of the river was just becoming visible as the first rays of light touched it.
there was no accident. there was no suicide. everything was a lie…
a sob dry, rough and acrid shook khushi’s frame as it burst through her wind pipe. amma and babu ji had not died in an accident. her heart felt dead. amma was the other woman in arnav ji’s father’s life. no matter how much one said she was trapped by a terrible man, but it was she standing there in sheesh mahal that night.
khushi wished devi maiyya would come and tell her not to worry, this was not true. but it was. this was the truth. her whole life she had believed in a lie. another sob raced after the first one. they killed her parents?!!! just like that? in cold blood? how could they? oh amma, amma… babu ji. her eyes stared up and not a single star could she see. not in her mind, not in her memory…
khushi turned to her side and clutched herself tight. where did one go from here. why was her mind going numb and then coming back with blinding pain.
it had been almost an hour since they’d checked into the hotel. di, akash ji and doctor saab had gone to their rooms. no one was in a state to talk.
“chhoriye humey… leave me… who do you think you are?!!.. let me go… i don’t want you to… what difference does it make to you whether i hurt or not whether i live or…”
“shut up, khushi!!” he ground out through gritted teeth, pulling her close, holding her arm tight. blood was gushing out of a cut on her index finger. “mujhe dekhne do!” his voice was harsh.
(let me see.)
they were standing in the kitchen. it was a week since the night he had given her no choice and held her hand in a vice like grip pulling her after him up the temple steps.
she had had to marry him, otherwise he had promised to wreck jiji and akash ji’s wedding. he had not told her why he was doing this. he had not cared she looked stricken, brutalized. he had not met her eyes when she had looked at him again and again imploring him silently to think, to talk to her, to give some reason, just one, no matter how bad or terrible or even wrong, as to why he was doing this.
he had simply married her with no explanations and told her he hated her. he had thrown her out of the room and let her sleep on the cold stone floor by the pool.
so why, oh why was he so concerned that she had cut her finger? she tried to snatch her hand away again.
“khushi!” he looked at her, his eyes burning with unnamed things, she could only see nafrat, hatred.
she clenched her teeth and hoped her eyes had only hatred in them too.
he swallowed as he watched the blood flowing out in a steady red stream. the cut was deep, he walked with her to the sink and turned on the tap, holding her hand under the water. khushi winced as the jet hit the cut.
she shut her eyes and her brow puckered, tears were beginning to glint between tightly squeezed eyelids. he watched her intently and let the water flow over the cut, washing away the blood, the cold temperature soothing and possibly slowing the flow a bit.
his thumb touched her tear and wiped it away because he simply had to do that. the moist warm drop against his calloused skin touched a nerve. he swallowed hard again. she had gone still. he could feel her let go of all resistance, just stand there mutely and let whatever came, come.
she looked frail and pale and so defenceless, a slight young girl of not even twenty. he felt a choking sensation in his chest. his jaw hardened and his eyes glinted with some emotion. then he bent down and picked her up in his arms and walked out of the kitchen toward their room.
she was too tired to protest, too pummeled by all that had happened in these seven short days. was it only seven days?
it felt like a lifetime.
what was going on? why this hurt? this crazy madness? she would fight it. yes, she would, she was not scared. but right now, she was too tired. and why had he looked her like that just now, what was in his eyes?
as he took long sure strides across the hall and up the stairs, she lay still in his arms. she felt nothing, but she could hear his heartbeats. there was only that one sound she could hear. she pressed her ear to his chest and let the sound, steady and deep and dense, flow into her. it felt real and true. as though that was all there was in this universe.
he left her on the bed for a few minutes. then he returned and started wiping her cut with cotton wool and antiseptic. she didn’t bother to open her eyes, the antiseptic stung a bit, she grimaced. he looked at her face as he wound the bandage around her finger. gradually the lines disappeared from her brow, her face seemed to relax. the medicine had started to soothe and the bandage had arrested the bleeding.
he didn’t ask himself why he cared. why this mattered. he didn’t want to know why he felt better knowing she was alright.
why it hurt him to see her in pain.
he held her shoulder and gently helped her lie down. she stayed prone, eyes still shut. he covered her with a light blanket. then he went to the french windows, drew the curtains and turned to leave the room.
on an impulse though he found himself walking back and tucking with his thumb and forefinger the little errant lock of hers that always escaped and fell on her forehead … he couldn’t resist stroking her soft alabaster cheek, or feeling an odd excitement as his finger touched the outer ridge of her ear lobe and slid over it then got lost in her thick dark auburn hair.
just a couple of moments… yet it felt as though life flowed back into his limbs. he got up and walked out of the room.
she wondered why he hated her so much. she wondered if she hated him enough.
a teardrop found its way out and slid down from the corner of her eye all the way to her ear, just where she had felt the slightly rough skin of his forefinger and thumb stroke and play with her hair. wanting her as much as she wanted him.
this was the first time he had made her lie down on the bed in their room after their marriage… once a long time ago she had lain there with him… the thought struck him as he made his way down the steps. the first time since that night. she looked so lovely lying there. why? why did she look so innocent? his jaws tautened and he walked out of the house. he would work late tonight. he dreaded the thought of that empty bed when he got back.
asr stared out of the window. it must be almost six in the morning he thought. maybe he should call aman and see if the london project was going the right way. he needed to see the numbers.
he didn’t want to think about things. hear all that he had heard. know all that he must know and acknowledge. he didn’t want to know that a man had waited to take her life. he could see them practically before him even now, arguing, his mother and his father, their voices tense and urgent. she had seen him with a woman, but he said she meant nothing to him, then there was sound as though two people struggled and wrestled, short bursts of breath, misshapen, halting words… what were they saying. an absurd thought had raced through his head, were chacha ji and pita ji shooting stool pigeons as they often did?
yeah, chacha ji was shooting… stool pigeons.
maa, you didn’t kill yourself… he could feel his heart pound and a deafening beat in his ears. what was that getting ripped out from inside him? it felt torn and shredded and endless, it grazed and rubbed and burned every part as it moved with erratic unnerving force.
he had never ever been able to touch that truth which was presented to him by everyone that day. maa had shot a bullet into her head when she found out pita ji had a woman, a lover, in his life. another woman. woh aurat.
but no, that is not what chacha ji said had happened.
the leering face of his uncle seemed to mock him, his reedy filthy ugly voice, thick with layers and layers of insinuation and innuendo.
khushi’s mother… she was the other woman? but dadi had accused khushi’s amma, garima… and aunty had agreed she was the one.
bhoolbhulaiya, it was all a maze perhaps, a fanatically well crafted maze that one could, one had to, enter but never leave.
… where was the truth? was there any truth even? bhoolbhulaiya. he remembered meeting her there one morning. she was eating chana. her scooter had bumped into the back of his suv. there was chana on his car. she always found a way to get in, touch him. but now?
chacha ji had killed her mother and her father.
how would he ever face her again. a small eight year old girl with big hazel eyes, he was her culprit. his family had wiped out hers.
his father. at the thought of this man who had broken all sense of trust he ever had, asr shuddered. there never was just one woman, it was a whole string of them…
and because she had gotten away, chacha ji wanted to teach khushi’s mother a lesson?
and chacha ji. so full of hate. why?
his head and heart moved jerkily through the details, trying to find control, ride the chaos and exert his power over it. to find the himmat, the courage he had summoned more than fourteen years ago, after a long long night.
sunlight began to stream in through the window. he got up, closed the curtains, came back to the bed and lay down on his back. inside him an inertness began to creep up and close around his heart. he shut his eyes.
a few feet between the two of them lay, bereft.
asr had just walked into shantivan, back in the middle of the of the day to collect a file he’d forgotten. the moment he walked in he felt it. something was different, a note of the unusual in the air.
was she here?
what the. he checked his thought. why was he even thinking of that irritating girl, she was inconsequential. always talking back, in those ridiculous clothes, how dare she. his lips tightened. why was she here at all! did di have to bring her back into the house to train lavanya.
why did lavanya even agree? women!
he shook his head and walked down the hallway, but the feeling persisted. she was here somewhere. he looked around frowning darkly. he couldn’t see her. he walked into the sitting area, where was she? his eyes fell on the long sofa at the far end of the room, his legs moved toward it, he cocked his head sensing something. he reached the sofa…
and she popped up from behind it. huh! her eyes were large pools of worry and shock, light pink lips formed a circle, a guilty look spread across her face. what’s wrong with this girl, he thought.
“what are you doing there?” he asked brusquely, “are you hiding from me?” his scowl darkened.
at that a spell seemed to break. she smiled a dazzling smile at him and batted her eyelids, “nahin toh!” she trilled sweetly, “why should i hide from you? i was… ” she made a little gesture with her head, smiling even wider, “i was only playing hide and seek, yes… yes, hide and seek!”
(nooo! why should i hide from you?)
“huh!” he was taken aback… she was playing hide and seek? in the middle of the day? in his drawing room? what was wrong with her! was she insane!
“playing? don’t lie… there’s no one here… who were you playing with?” he questioned aggressively.
“with…? with?” she smiled again, then looking behind him, she pointed with a raised chin, “why… with om prakash ji, of course, hai na, om prakash ji?” her voice was light and persuasive. a little too bright.
(why… with om prakash ji, of course, isn’t that right, om prakash ji?)
asr whipped around incredulously, op was standing behind him looking at khushi with a slightly befuddled air.
“pakad liya! jaaiye, chhupiye aap, om prakash ji… jaaiye na!!” khushi jumped between the two of them and smiled at op and spoke in a happy trill.
(caught me! go hide, om prakash ji, go hide please!!)
op had heard chhotey saab’s voice and come out wondering why he was back and if he needed anything. he looked at khushi ji’s face and thought… hide?!!
“khushi ji” he said, scratching his ear apologetically and with a helpless smile, all his lack of comprehension evident in the tone.
“achha theek hai, not to worry, i don’t mind… you serve your chhotey saab, we’ll play hide and seek later… ok?” khushi winked at op at this point, quite certain that laad governor who was standing to one side looking angry could not see.
op thought he’d faint.
asr was exasperated. he rasped, “whatever!” and skirted the two of them making his way upstairs.
“op, stop playing and get me a cup of coffee now… i don’t pay people to play. di!… di…” the ire in his voice was palpable.
khushi sighed with relief. this laad governor, she thought and gritted her teeth. anjali ji had just returned from shopping and thrust a beautifully wrapped packet into her hand requesting her to leave it in her bedroom inside the cupboard while she rushed off to the shiv mandir, there was an offering to be made within a certain time, the auspicious lagna, and she was running late, very late.
it was chhotey’s birthday present, she had said, seems it was the rakshas’s birthday today. hoonh! anjali ji had said not to let him see the gift at any cost. it would spoil his mood, he didn’t like celebrating his birthday… ha, why didn’t that surprise her. khadoos, why would he smile and be happy… all the world’s gussa who would look after then!
khushi was about to go to anjali ji’s room when she heard the key turn in the lock. what if it was that laad governor! in fact, she knew it had to be him. he seemed to know exactly how to make her life difficult, appearing like a genie just where he was not needed.
khushi had looked around wildly, where should she go?! where could she hide, there was no time to be wasted, he’d be walking in any second now. sofa! she had run and leapt behind it, thrusting the gift underneath. yes, it was safe there.
now he was looking at her as if she were strange. huh! khushi narrowed her eyes, tossed her head and went to retrieve the problematic package.
later in the day, she was hurrying out when anjali ji asked her to call chhotey to her room before leaving, khushi could see she was very tired, her leg must be troubling her, she had been out the whole day.
khushi went to asr’s room but he was not there. she peered outside.
he was bent over his potted plants, working, completely absorbed. she was about to call out when she saw him stroke a plant with infinite gentleness… he looked at it from different angles, then chose a tiny clipper and very very delicately nipped a stem. he sprayed something on the plant, stood looking at it for a while, lips pursed, as if wondering if all was well. then he picked up the watering can and showered the leaves. his face was not tense, his jaws weren’t clenched. he had rolled up the sleeve of his pale blue shirt, she could see the muscles and veins along his arms move as he worked, his fingers were mud covered but so precise and caring. loving was the word she didn’t want to use.
she didn’t realise that she was just standing there staring at him. almost gawking. she had forgotten why she was here. how could this man look so tender? surely not this man?
as if reading her thoughts, he lifted his head.
their eyes met across the distance. she still looked a bit dazed. his eyes were gentle, soft. she felt her palm tingle, her knee go a bit weak. this was not laad governor. maybe a twin… she would ask anjali ji. he watched her quietly. then suddenly he seemed to remember who she was and the fire started to come to his eyes.
no. not a twin.
“what is it?” he was curt.
“n…nothing… anjali ji is calling you…” she tried to sound feisty but couldn’t. she began to turn away, then she couldn’t stop herself, she turned back.
he was still there, that watering can in hand…
“aap na… aap bade ajeeb ho!” she blurted out. khushi, a part of her yelled, are you mad? but the deed was done.
(you… you’re very strange!)
“main ajeeb hoon!” he sounded confounded for a moment.
then his left eyebrow rose in a sharp arch, his eyes glinted, he perused her at a leisurely pace. bright blue churidar kurta with pale yellow trimmings and print, the kurta most unfashionably short and edged with shiny gota, a gaggle of pompoms gushing below puff sleeves accosting his sense of sophistication with every bounce and swing, each one of them… a few even hung along the gotta encrusted waistline… tight off centre plait, now on now off camel skin mojris with sequins, a mirror work covered maroon cloth bag slung over her shoulder, large almost cartoon like rounded eyes. she must be the sole saviour of the gota industry in the country, his lips began to lift and set at a lopsided angle. she was actually nodding at what he’d exclaimed…
“unbelievable!” he muttered under his breath. and wondered why he wanted to laugh out loud. not throttle her.
she ran from there, sure he would throttle her if she stayed a moment longer. and the thought of those long muddy fingers on her throat… she scampered even faster…
his eyes opened and he reached out. his hand landed on her and he held tightly, pulling her to him. his eyes were still closed. he must have dozed off.
she came to him without word or sound, just rolling across the distance that separated them, her hands grasping him. their bodies met and touched. a fire started that neither wanted to contain. eyes still closed, they felt each other’s hair, skin, flesh. they pulled off each other’s clothes without asking or demurring.
he raised himself, knowing her longing and wanting to fulfill that and nothing else.
just a need and a longing. something that nothing could question ever. nothing could pollute ever. nothing dare deny.
his lips sought her breasts first as she bit his throat lightly, tasting the salt on his skin, she let him slide down and settle on her breast. she knew what he wanted, she needed to give him that. was that enough to be called a whole relationship she wondered. her hands moved to his head and sank into the thick dark hair. she drew him closer to herself. the demand of his lips on her skin felt searing and soothing at once. the rough caress of his stubble, she smiled as she felt that. his touch sent peace to her heart, it was a blessing. she wrapped her legs around him wanting to feel him join her again, in a dance that had started where she would never know, but it was a bright and lit place where it had first taken breath she knew. bas, pata chal jata hai… you just know, that’s all.
a gust of wind seemed to swirl through the room, a song lifted over the river maybe…
he raised himself, knowing her longing and wanting to fulfill that and nothing else. her longing was untainted, pure, innocent. it came from light, it gave light. he thrust into her and heard her swift intake of breath, a moan. he loved to hear it every time. he did not know how to pray, how to believe in things outside the here and now, but in that… hints of another place… hamesha.
then both were lost as craving took over. they moved and flowed and ebbed and embraced, cresting again and again. cruelly ripped emotions had transformed to extremely heightened physical energies, finding their own path to release, to expunging. their bodies knew where to find the way out of that glut, that pit of destruction they had been dragged to by a malignant voice that wouldn’t stop. by lascivious eyes and treacherous blood. by betrayal, by lust, by death.
arnav singh raizada and khushi made love as the day dawned and grew brighter. their breath, sighs, gasps, guttural incoherent sounds filled the room.
they were both getting ready when he bumped into her by mistake. she was at the dressing table, trying to comb her hair with her fingers, and not let the torn and tattered pompoms bother her too much.
he had just come out after a shower, the air carried his fresh smell in, she looked up, but his head was covered in a towel as he rubbed his hair dry, he didn’t see her.
“dammit!” he cursed softly under his breath. khushi smiled, laad governor! she thought.
“dekhiye na, humarey kurtey ka budbuda kharab ho gaya!” she said in sweet little girl voice, knowing full well what that would get from him.
“whaaat! budbuda… what’s that, khushi! what’re you saying?” he sounded all tycoonish and impatient.
khushi pointed to her pompoms with a sad face.
he looked at her dumbstruck, then rolled his eyes, muttered, “unbelievable!” and went and stood by the window with his phone. no, he would make that call to aman about the london project.
“ajeeb laad governor hai yeh…” she hummed softly to herself to the tune of an old and lovely song her mother used to hum as she fixed her dupatta and turned to make sure she looked alright. a slight rush of tears did wet the corner of her eyes, but she let it pass.
(strange laad governor is this…)
asr said to aman, the moment they got back he would leave for london… yes, with khushi bhabi of course. why couldn’t they call her mrs raizada he thought. mrs raizada, he smiled slightly. yes, maa would have loved her. he swallowed as the lump rose in his throat.
two young people caught in the terrifying maelstrom of life had decided they would make their way out, this time they would not be, drowned, defeated… by lust, by treachery, by death.
(sorry, my hindi is not what it could be… budbuda may not be the word for pompom, but it felt right, so…)