“there will be today, there will be tomorrow, there will be always,
and there was yesterday, and there was the day before…”
~~~ leo tolstoy, war and peace ~~~
lips pursed, concentrating, he frowned at the laptop screen as the stewardess came silently and placed another cup of black coffee on the arm rest. a quick sharp gaze at her acknowledging her gesture and asr went back to work.
“sir, can i get you something to eat,” shalini ali asked, she knew what the answer would be, yet it was her duty to ask.
“thanks, shalini, i’m fine…” asr sounded offhand, in his own world.
shalini looked at mrs raizada in the seat beside him and saw she was fast asleep. shalini withdrew from the private cabin, they had been flying for almost eight hours now, and as usual mr raizada had only had coffee and was immersed in his computer. she wondered about mrs raizada, should she awaken her? she had had a hearty lunch though, so maybe it was alright to let her sleep, they were to land around 4.30pm london time, she would serve some refreshments before that. there were cheese sandwiches for asr and freshly made samosas and jalebis had been sent over from his home for mrs raizada.
“hmmm?” khushi murmured in her sleep and her head flopped to one side.
he looked up thinking she was awake. she had been terrified during take off, gripping his hand tight, her eyes squeezed shut and muttering many prayers to devi maiyya sotto voce. yet this was not her first time in a plane he knew.
that had been a flight from delhi to lucknow, blindfolded. asr’s teeth had clenched as he’d recalled the kidnap, sheesh mahal, everything. his eyes had flashed in anger, he’d looked away from her not wishing to let her see it.
they both needed to be away from everything for a while. just be together. that was all.
he leaned across and tucked a pillow under her head, he adjusted the seat so it was almost flat. then he sat looking at her for a few minutes.
the innocent curve of her cheek and the slight pout her lips settled in when she slept touched him whenever he caught sight of them. a lock of hair had as usual fallen forward over her temple and of course his fingers wanted to reach over and tuck it behind her ears as he had done so many times before. but before that… before that…
he bent closer and let his lips touch her cheek, the lightest little peck, his lips resting against her smooth skin just for an instant, brushing against it, feeling its taut springy touch… just an instant.
she felt the kiss and sighed.
her mouth opened slightly and she exhaled, a small gossamer breath slipped out and he felt its warmth against his cheek, his nose… a faint sound as she sighed… she seemed to whisper something under her breath, he couldn’t catch what.
she always spoke of hamesha… eternity, his yes narrowed a little remembering. and in a tiny spec of time, a fleeting moment, eternity he felt was right here, in his hand. he’d caught it and it was there to stay.
he looked at khushi once more and brushed that errant tendril away, then he continued with his assessment of the new project in the uk. he hoped he would have the time to show her a bit of the city. he knew the two weeks were going to be quite packed with meetings and work.
winter was beginning to make its way to the northern hemisphere. there was a sharp chill in the air and as they walked out of heathrow, khushi’s teeth chattered involuntarily though she was wearing a thick jacket and scarf.
she had noticed his ease when they got into the airport. people appeared from nowhere to attend to him, actually a rather beautiful woman in a very short skirt and smooth tights and slim heels it had been.
“come here,” his arm shot out and gripped her shoulder as he brought her close, “better?” he asked, one eyebrow lifting.
and though the breeze had a bite in it, khushi suddenly felt warm and a bit dizzy. she looked at him, eyes a little confounded. she couldn’t quite understand why but arnav ji seemed to be somewhat different here, just like that… her heart rate was raised to an alarming level… her breath struggled and seemed to lose its way at the sight of him. hoonh, really he was a laad governor and this videsh must be like his own land to him.
she had noticed his ease when they got into the airport. people appeared from nowhere to attend to him, actually a rather beautiful woman in a very short skirt and smooth tights and slim heels it had been. she had smiled at arnav ji, said, “good evening, mr raizada, good to see you, do come this way,” and whisked them through immigration.
khushi had never stepped outside india, in fact she’d barely left lucknow ever. they had gone to the family home in the little village nearby for some weddings and things at times. she had been to agra once and yes, now delhi and almost to nainital.
she had never seen an airport terminal either; not really, for in delhi they had gone through a vip entrance and thereafter a quiet, set aside immigration counter. her eyes darted all around as she took in the crowds, the massive proportions of the place, the high ceiling, the modern, metallic grey look, the air of rush and something expectant, excited all around. there were people of so many kinds… had she ever seen so many people from all over the world in one place? some were fair with golden hair, some absolutely dark, there were people who looked like they were from china and people who looked very angrez, or so she thought… they could be from anywhere…khushi’s eyes began to grow a little rounder, it occurred to her what a huge world this really was. and completely unfamiliar. she felt a bit nervous suddenly. would she be able to cope here? and surely she would have to speak to everyone in english. her arnav ji’s favourite language, huh. khushi made a little face.
“aap ko taxi chahiye, madam?” a voice cut into her thoughts. she almost jumped. did someone speak to her in hindi just now? she must be hallucinating. she knew it she was not feeling too well, she should have told arnav ji…
(do you want a taxi?)
“taxi mil jayega, kahan jaana hai bataiye?” the voice spoke again.
(you can get a taxi, where are you going?)
so it was a real voice and it knew hindi. khushi turned around cautiously and peered. before her stood a somewhat burly indian man with a rough face but a huge smile. khushi gaped and said, “n.. namaste…”
the man looked at her and waited.
“n..nahin hum…” she started to reply.
“no thank you, we have a car,” asr’s voice was clipped as he looked at the man and declined the offer of a cab, he had made sure their luggage had been sent to the car and come up to join khushi.
now he was holding her close and smiling slightly at her, “ready for london, khushi kumari gupta singh raizada?” he asked.
khushi wished she could say something smart like, “is your london ready for khushi kumari gupta singh raizada, laad governor?” instead again she was left all flustered by his glittering eyes and that different air. she noted he was wearing a very long coat and that looked so much like a movie.
the forty five odd minute drive to belgravia was quiet. khushi was too engrossed in the passing scenery to say anything. the feeling of being in a completely new environment held sway and there was something alive and energetic in it. the roads were different, the houses, the trees, the skies… and all the houses they passed seemed to have beautiful greenery, leaves of many shades, some bright flowers also among them… there were little potted plants on tiny balconies, or creepers with a few blooms here and there, rose creepers clung to many walls and others whose names she didn’t know. there were garden patches in some homes and some had lawns and manicured hedges; it was very obvious that people here liked their gardens.
just like her laad governor. her eyes strayed to him for a second as she thought that, and she saw his eyes were on her, a little smile played on his lips. the light was falling fast but she could sense the chocolate brown of his irises looking molten and fluid.
she felt a rush of extraordinary joy suddenly. had she ever imagined that one day she would be coming to a country so far away with a man she loved more than her life?
yes, it was the country that had ruled over her own land for many years and often done unfair things, but it was still a country which had beautiful things in it, she knew, and there were many wonderful people here, also things to see, to know, and she was really excited about her first trip outside india too.
lavanya ji had given her many ideas as to what to do here. she had even made a list of what she call the “must dos” and had said should khushi feel the need for anything she must call her parents who lived in london itself.
but khushi knew as long as arnav singh raizada was with her, she would really need nothing else.
it was not a very large apartment, and it felt so familiar. she felt at home the moment she walked in. the colours were his and so was the almost sparse austere air. grey, black, brown, white, clean lines, minimum clutter and large windows overlooking a view that rose in layers, the trees on the streets was closest, then came terraces, some with charming gardens and finally the city behind it rising to the stars above.
“like it?” he asked as she looked around. then he just pulled her into his arms and started kissing her.
she was taken aback and almost yelped. she even put up her hands involuntarily to push him away. he laughed and held her left hand twisting it behind her.
“khushi, say it…” he said against her lips.
“kya?” she was confused.
“you still don’t know?” his irises had gone dark, his hands were urgent. he lifted her swiftly into his arms and walked in, taking her to the bedroom. quickly he took off his overcoat and helped her out of her jacket.
then he opened the curtains of the french windows lining one wall, and outside against the dark, stretched lights, the glimmering lights of a vast city. they were on the fourth floor of a remodeled old townhouse in this quiet, beautiful neighbourhood in central london. a balcony ran alongside the windows, there were potted plants in planters hung on the railings outside and a palm tree in a large pot grew in one corner. it looked lovely from where khushi sat on the bed.
there was a simple chaise longue in silver grey velvet, a glass top small coffee table, and a recessed wardrobe in the room. a plush dark grey carpet was at the foot of the bed, bedside tables on either side near the head. elegant floor lamps and a couple of bedside lamps threw interesting pools and eddies of light around the room.
khushi had noticed the houses along the tree lined streets were mainly pristine white and had a stately air, a calm enveloped everything. this was his little place, something like a “bachelor’s pad” he had told her. he preferred to live here when work brought him to this city. he had bought the flat a few years ago and a well known designer had done it up for him, but it was just a necessity as far as he was concerned, a place of his own where he could work in peace and not have to see new unfamiliar hotel rooms on every trip.
she sat looking around the room wondering what he wanted her to say. he walked back to her and pulled her onto his lap as he sat on the chaise longue. he gently nuzzled the crook of her neck, kissed along the back of her neck, her nape, up to her ears… there was a relaxed languid air about him. as if he had not a care in the world.
the room settled down around them beginning to feel warm and welcoming. khushi realised this was the first time ever since they got married they would be living in a home all by themselves. just the two of them. and strangely enough, even though she absolutely loved living with family, in fact, she couldn’t imagine living any other way, yet, she was filled with a sense of thrill at the thought that it was only arnav ji and herself for the next two weeks. no one else.
well, there was mrs higgs. the lady who came in regularly to make sure the place was clean and aired, and the plants were taken care of. but she didn’t live here.
and he had said he also had a car parked in a nearby garage, preferring to drive it himself; though he did say at the rate london was getting congested he wished he could just use his helicopter to move around.
khushi giggled at the thought.
he tugged her closer to him and said, “what?”
“what nahin, what the kahiye,” she retorted.
(not what, say, what the.)
“huh?” he was clearly more interested in doing what he was doing…
“you want to fly around all over the city of the sahibs… haan? laad governor kahinke!” she snuggled into him and tucked her head on his shoulder.
“hmm, at last she says it,” he murmured, “remember who i am and obey me, d’you understand!” he chuckled and made sure she understood exactly what he wanted her to comply with.
he watched her as she slept on the chaise longue after they had made love. the silhouette of her profile, her breasts, her long flowing body. he never tired of looking at them… or wondering if he made her as happy as she made him.
as she lay there and the lights of london gleamed behind her in the night, he had a feeling of stars, of promises of a place away from here.
it had been almost a year and nine months since the night he had dragged her with him to the temple and forced her to marry him.
his eyes registered the pain he felt, the pain he knew he had given her.
they came from another dark night when shots had rung out, two gun shots. he shuddered. no maa had not killed herself. it was chacha ji. and it was his wife’s mother who had been the bait used. khushi’s mother… his eyes closed in helpless rage, his father had tried to molest her and she had escaped… but not really. ultimately no one had escaped. especially two women. he had always blamed the other woman, he had always thought she had played a game to trap his father and perhaps she had even wanted to get rid of his maa and take her place.
when dadi ji had accused garima aunty and she had not denied the fact… he had felt a curious sense of extreme disappointment but really no anger. he had known khushi’s amma too well by then to know she was no player of games.
he had felt unsettled, there was a feeling of something not quite right in the whole situation. a profound feeling of galat. wrong. but exactly where and what he had not been able to tell.
now he knew.
not khushi’s amma, but khushi’s own amma was the other woman… yet, was she even to blame. if anything… without his realising a sob settled in his heart. his uncle had taken khushi’s parents away from her.
and worse still, his own father had tried to molest the mother of his wife.
asr’s eyes glittered in the dark. a streak of danger in them. the malignancy of sheesh mahal seemed to spread and reach a room thousands of miles away. two women had been egregiously wronged. by his own father.
no, three women had been wronged. the third lay before him. and she was only eight then.
he got up slowly and went to the sitting room next door. he picked up a remote and pressed a button. the sombre aching notes of beethoven’s moonlight sonata filled the room. he poured himself a scotch and stood by the window sipping it neat, not even a splash of water.
khushi stood before asr, shaking with rage, “why, why won’t you tell me what i have done, how i have hurt you and why you have done this to me… forced me…” her eyes filled with tears. angry tears… not tears of sadness but fury… they spilled freely down her cheeks.
he stood watching her, unable to say a word. anger, hurt, sense of betrayal, an earthshaking loss and loneliness churned and pummeled him. he could feel its blows raining down on him, his breath scattering… their rhythm snapped… but he couldn’t say a word. he looked away and stared out through the french windows at the pool blazing under the sun outside. he couldn’t bring himself to say he had seen what he had… he had known what he had… he had felt what he had.
all he wanted to do was tuck back that willful lock on her forehead. touch her soft shiny hair tenderly and caress her skin and know she breathed near him, just by him, always his… hamesha.
khushi could feel a wild hunger overtake her suddenly, she woke up with a start. she looked to see if he was up, but he was not next to her. she sprang up a little worried, scared, disoriented.
“i am here, khushi,” she heard his voice and looked in its direction. he had just walked in the door and stood there. his glass was still not empty. khushi frowned, he was drinking by himself, was he alright?
“arnav ji, mujhe bahut bhookh lagi hai,” she blurted out, her body sending out slightly garbled signals in her jet lagged state.
(arnav ji, i am very hungry…)
his face broke into a wide grin at that and he said huskily, “now that is actually what i was waiting for you to say.”