she was soft and pliant in his arms, her breath was hot on his throat, the crook of his neck. she was kissing him around his neck and then her lips returned to hover near his, inviting his touch. he could feel a need rise in him. a need to hold her and lie by her side, to feel her body falling against his, to be with her, just her and no one else.
what’s the matter with you? a part of his mind seemed to ask.
but he really was in no mood to answer. not today. perhaps not ever.
“come!” he commanded softly against her lips and instead of kissing her, jerked her tight against him. her heart beat went haywire, his hands, his chest, the thrust of his legs, the tremble in his breath, everything seemed to say something to her that made her ears go red. goosebumps spread across her back, riding down to the base of her spine and fanning out.
he let her go and her eyes opened, a moan of protest about to escape her. but it was muffled as she saw him draw out the beautiful string of fine lustrous pearls from its pouch.
he looked at her, then with a wry, unutterably tender smile reached out and put it around her neck.
khushi stared at asr speechless. what was that warm glowing look in his eyes, why did it make her insides melt? what was that cool soothing caress on her skin, pearls slipping against her pulse suddenly hasty and tripping at the base of her throat? arnav ji was magarmach, so how could his eyes be so full of that feeling? and what was that feeling anyway?
asr looked at khushi’s innocent transparent face. she was thinking furiously he could tell. he wished he could figure out the rush of feelings invading him though. a sensation filled him right up and almost welled over. a fierce joy caught hold of him and with it a wild longing. he wanted to see that necklace on khushi’s long swan like neck, ivory white fine skin gleaming. two shades of pureness against each other.
what was he thinking?
really, the pest of a girl.
he saw her hazel eyes grow limpid and swallowed hard.
he turned her gently around and slipped the string under her plait and brought the two ends together fixing the diamond encrusted clasp. when it was done, a silence spread across the moment… quiet and peaceful.
asr bent forward and let his lips touch the spot just below the clasp. he could feel the fine down on her soft skin, the bone at the nape of her neck, her taut skin squirming ever so slightly against his caress, his lingering gentle kiss.
again he felt something lose control, almost explode in him. his abdominal muscles tightened, his diaphragm clenched.
“khushi!” he whispered against her skin and slipped his arm around her from the back, pulling her to him.
she lay back upon him, a serenity spreading through her. her head nestled on his shoulder, he rubbed her forehead with his chin, the stubble pricking and grazing and exciting. khushi’s toes curled.
“come!” he said again and this time held her hand and tugged her along after him. she went without asking him anything. she realised she’d go anywhere with him. anywhere.
he was her magarmach, her laad governor, her khadoos, and he was her hero ji, her and only her arnav ji.
“khushi, tu toh gayi!” she thought as the confusion of it all completely overtook her and made her quiver with a crazy happiness.
(khushi, you’re done for!)
asr drove swiftly, focusing on the road ahead.
khushi sat next to him, stealing a look at him every once in a while. she wondered why he frowned like that from time to time. what was wrong?
the pearls lay heavy and sure on her neck, she touched them unable to stop herself, they made her feel a love from somewhere far away yet near… his mother’s love. khushi closed her eyes, a contentment settling in and wondered if her amma knew what she was feeling right now. she had no doubt whatsoever that she knew, of course. tonight she would have a long chat with amma and babu ji when the stars came out she decided. she also needed to find out why such a terrible man could fill her life with joy… how could anyone fall in love with this rude nasty and yes, quite heartless, character. yet… she had. every day, every moment, she knew just how much.
“why are you making faces again?” he asked brusquely without looking at her.
“huh!” khushi was startled. was she making faces?
“‘faces’ nahin banaye toh kya karein?” she gesticulated with a flying hand as she rushed off into a quick retort confounded both by her own thoughts and his sudden question, “humey toh rona chahiye, chillana chahiye, the problem i am in, if you were in it you’d know, samjhe aap? ek toh, har waqt acidity, usske upar pyaar… haan! pyaar!!!… suna aapne? toh hum kya karein, kahiye!!”
(if i don’t make faces, what should i do? i should be crying, screaming, the problem i am in, if you were in it you’d know, do you understand? first, i have this constant acidity, on top of that, love… yes! love!!!… heard me? so what should i do, tell me!!!)
it was only after she’d completed her madly hurled set of sentences that khushi realised what she had said and stopped her tirade, her lips going into its “o” formation, the same flying hand now clapped over them.
before she could recover though, her whole body shuddered violently and she realised the suv had stopped. asr had braked hard, they were practically in the middle of the road and he was glowering at her with the most furious look ever.
“pyaar? what do you mean? you’re in love with somebody?!!” asr spat out. he sounded incensed, his lips had thinned to a cruel line, his jaw was thrust forward, his eyes were narrow and raging.
then his right arm whipped out, he gripped her left shoulder angrily and started shaking her.
“how dare you! who told you you could fall in love with anyone! you can’t! d’you understand!… how dare you, khushi!” he yelled, his voice growing louder with each syllable.
“daring?!! kahe nahin daring!” khushi’s eyes were stinging with tears now, “kyun, aapne sab daring kharid li kya??! hum pyaar karenge, samjhe aap… kissi se bhi… kahin bhi.. jab ji mein aaye… jitna bhi daring aapne kharidi hain, usse bhi aap hume roke nahin sakte…” she hissed back at him.
(daring?!! why shouldn’t i dare! why, you’ve bought all the daring in the world, have you? i will love, do you understand… whoever i like… wherever i like… whenever i feel like… no matter how much daring you may have bought, even with all of that you can’t stop me…)
he looked at the fire glinting in her eyes, her words wounding him, cutting into a part of him he couldn’t identify. he let go of her shoulder abruptly and turned away, looking stonily ahead.
she could feel him struggling with something. she wanted to fling her arms around his rigid stubborn frame and calm him, tell him it was him she was so badly in love with… but she held back. he had hurt her with that sudden fury. could he not have asked her at least once before flying off the handle?
tension filled the cabin of the suv.
arnav singh raizada looked fixedly ahead and wondered why it irked him, no, pained him… so much? why it mattered at all whether she loved anyone or not? he didn’t believe in love… he didn’t care if she was in love with some idiot. fanciful silly ludicrous fantasizing by a chit of a girl. what did she know of life? or of love? who cared if she thought she was in love? she couldn’t be… anyway, he didn’t care.
so why was that agony moving excruciatingly in his chest?
of course, he didn’t care.
she was marrying him and that was all there was to it.
he was above such things. he was in control of the situation… of everything.
he would drive to the farmhouse exactly as he had planned. he wanted to hold her in his arms and feel her falling upon him and that is what he would do. let her love whoever she liked. big deal.
never occurred to the clever canny young man that what he was thinking was fairly illogical. nor did he notice his hand was trembling as he turned the key and started the car again.
khushi looked at him from under her lashes, why did he care if she were in love with someone else? dhak dhak dhakdhak. her heart rate went haywire again at the thought. hey devi maiyya, khushi prayed, even if there’s no respite from pyaar, surely there is some solution to this acidity! day and night, whether she had had samosas, pooris, jalebis, aloo chaat or not, even when she had not overeaten… this dhak dhak dhakdhak… how would she survive this acidity?
asr wondered why tears blinded his vision suddenly.
“i can’t lose you, khushi!” his mind whispered. he swallowed hard and commanded his tears to subside.
a deafening sound seemed to fill his ears. he pressed down on the accelerator, concentrating on the road.
payal sat with garima in the bedroom preparing the trays that would go with khushi as gifts from the gupta family to the raizadas.
shashi ji and his wife were still finding it a little hard to believe that both their daughters were going to marry young men who had no demands whatsoever. no dowry. this was positively unthinkable in their world. who could get their daughter married without getting into massive debt, becoming practically paupers… garima and shashi gupta were more than ready to mortgage their business, sell whatever little land they had, even garima’s jewellery, to meet the expenses of the girls’ weddings. but now it seemed as though none of all that would be necessary. in fact, khushi’s wedding would cost them almost nothing.
arnav bitwa’s nani ji had said they would have the ceremony at shantivan and since their family was so small and there was hardly any time for them to invite all their guests, the raizadas would take care of the expenses of the wedding and the dinner.
when garima had looked a little forlorn, hemangini raizada had suggested graciously and with understanding,
“humey pata hai, aap ke ghar mein pahli shadi hai aur aap dhoom dham se manana chahenge… why don’t you have a reception in lucknow after the wedding and do everything your heart wishes to, garima ji? and if you invite us, we’ll all come… it’s been years since i went back to my home town!”
(i know, it’s the first wedding in your family and you’d like to celebrate in a big way…)
garima had lain crying the night before next to her husband, remembering the worry she’d had regarding hefty dowries and the extreme kindness of the lady who would become her daughters’ grandmother in law.
pity, arnav bitwa had lost his parents at such a tender age, he didn’t smile much and was quite distant in his ways, but garima somehow couldn’t help but feel bad for him. only fourteen years old and no mother, no father… poor boy. then she’d thought of khushi, her little girl who was orphaned at just eight, and felt a fresh rush of tears. maybe devi maiyya wanted the two children to meet, they would understand each other better because they both had suffered so much so early in life…
shashi gupta had waited patiently for his wife’s tears to abate. however, after almost three quarters of an hour when there was no sign of it, he had taken her in his arms and stroked her hair gently, “garima ji, agar aap abhi itna roengi, toh vida ke waqt kahaan se aansoo milenge?” he’d teased her lightly, hoping to make her smile.
(garima, if you cry so much now, where will you find the tears at the time of farewell?)
as happens very often in such cases, the plan had backfired. garima ji had started sobbing copiously again and buried her face so deep in her husband’s chest that no amount of cajoling could get her out of there.
now after having had a good cry, garima was feeling unburdened and happy today. she and jiji had gone to chandni chowk and bought beautiful silk sarees for all the women at the raizada house, plus kurtas for the men, a silver thaal for their devi maiyya deity and because she knew her damad ji, arnav bitwa, liked western clothes, she had made shashi ji go to connaught place and get a nice red silk tie and a piece of good suiting material for him.
along with the clothes, they were also giving silver coins to all the family members and for nani ji, manorama ji and anjali bitiya, garima had bought a gold chain each with a devi maiyya pendant. of course, apart from these, they would send sweets and all the other customary gifts for the bridegroom and his family.
they were getting all the balushahis, jalebis, and motichoor laddoos from their shop in lucknow. shashi ji’s most trusted assistant gulabram ji was coming down with everything the next day. khushi bitiya had mentioned that damad ji was not allowed to eat sugar, so garima had told her to make a large platter of different sugar free sweets with a bowl of kheer at the centre specially for him. bua ji was delighted with the suggestion and had said, she’d like to give phoopha ji’s silver bowl to arnav bitwa. when khushi had tried to object, bua ji had given her one shove, swung her long plait in a threatening circular motion and narrowing her eyes hollered, her om pendant bobbing against the folds of her neck,
“tum chup raho, sanka debi! dulhan hau, sab baat ma taan taan mat karo, samjhio? abhi thoda sarmana seekho, parmeswari! oo tumka liye hawai jahaj bhej sakat hayeen aur tum ooka ek chandi ka katori naahin dena chahat ho! ee kauno baat hui, nand kissore?! itna pyaar karat hayeen oo tumse, aur tum ho ki sirf naahin naahin naahin… hai re nand kissore!”
(you keep quiet, goddess of craziness! you’re the bride, stop interfering in everything, understand? learn to be a bit shy, supreme goddess! he can send an aeroplane for you and you won’t even give a silver bowl to him! what’s the meaning of this, nand kissore! he loves you so much, and all you can do is say no no no… hai re nand kissore!)
khushi had left the room with a sullen expression. if only bua ji knew who loved whom and who was the world’s most unloving khadoos man, nand kissore!
the trays were looking beautiful. payal had made intricate paper patterns to lay at the base, then the gifts had been arranged tastefully, fine tissue paper was tucked under the delicate items, a little confetti in the shape of colourful stars were sprinkled over and then the entire tray was wrapped in cellophane.
payal was now tying silver and gold ribbons around them ending with a perfectly knotted bow.
amma sat looking admiringly at the suit material and the crimson tie, she said absentmindedly, “oo angreji mein kaise kahte hain, jab aadmi dikhne mein sundar ho? ‘beautiful’ toh ladkion ko kahte hain na!”
(how do you say it in english, when a man is good looking? you say beautiful for the girls, don’t you?)
payal was engrossed in her work and said without lifting her head, “handsome…”
garima furrowed her brows as she tried to say the new word, “hamsun?”
“nahin, amma!” payal replied patiently and picking up her phone which was ringing, corrected garima with a light laugh, “handsome! hand… some! handsome!”
“er,” came a slightly befuddled voice over the phone, “hello… beautiful!”
payal blushed to a high red instantly. it was akash on the phone.
“nn.. nahin, akash… i…” in her confusion and embarrassment, the ji was allowed to go, perhaps permanently, and she quickly got up rushing out of the room. garima laughed, touched by the funny endearing moment. of course, her other damad ji had to call just now.
“payal, i just wanted to see you…” akash muttered in a gentle voice, “i know there is no rasam or anything, but would you… would you come out with me on a… a… date?”
“date!” payal exclaimed blushing even redder.
“khajoor!” yelled bua ji in a stentorian voice, “ee dekho, nand kissore, humko pata tha, kuchh na kuchh toh hum a ho bhool hi jaayenge. mewa, diried pharoot, khajoor, pishta, kajoo, kismis… we have forgotten to get all this for the raijaddan!! garima!!! chalo chalo, jaldi…”
(date! see, nand kissore… i knew it! we’d forget something or the other. dried fruit… dates, pistachio, cashew nut, raisins… we have forgotten to get all this for the raizadas!! garima!! let’s go… quickly…)
“don’t worry, madhumati ji, just give me a list, i will go and get everything,” said a sweet considerate voice. male.
shashi babu, who was sitting quietly reading the papers, looked up sharply. something in the tone of that voice.
mr bedi stood at the doorway looking at his jiji with a benign air, his eyes puppy like, a slight smile on his face.
bua ji smiled widely at her devoted neighbour and said in her loud booming voice, “theek bakhat par aye ho, nand kissore!”
(you’ve come at the right time, nand kissore.)
bedi ji blushed the colour of damad ji’s tie.
shashi gupta’s eyes narrowed ever so slightly.
weddings always brought an element of insanity mixed with joy, there seemed to be a lot of that around today, he thought. then remembering his wife’s crying bout, he corrected himself… no, since last night.
by the time they reached the farmhouse, it was almost five in the evening. the sun was beginning to set, a profusion of oranges and pinks and violets had gathered along the horizon. khushi was lost gazing at them.
“get out!” came a cold voice from behind her shoulder. she looked back startled. asr was perusing her through narrowed eyes, lips tight.
khushi made a face and tried to undo her seat belt. her fingers for some reason fumbled awkwardly not achieving this simple task.
next thing she knew he was swearing under his breath and releasing the belt with one swift flick of his fingers.
then he shot out of the car and went toward the door without waiting for her.
what was the matter with him, she wondered. even if he thought she loved someone else why was it bothering laad governor so much!
khushi could feel her anger begin to rise… and yet she knew, it could not be just that. arnav ji was worried about something. was it about di?
she got down from the car and walked into the sitting room after him. he slammed the door shut, locked it, then inexplicably and as always without saying a word, pulled her into his arms.
“arnav ji!” she looked up startled.
she was prepared to see angry eyes glaring at her. instead, a lazy, flirtatious brown gaze made her heart beat quake and shift to high speed.
he took his time, letting his eyes glide over her face, then sliding down her neck right up to her breasts. khushi’s body went stiff and then shook involuntarily at that look. he chuckled softly and his eyes move back up to her face.
“so you think you can be in love with someone else, do you?” he asked her in a slow, slightly dangerous, drawl.
khushi felt her knees turn to water. she clutched his arms hard where they held her around her waist and said, “ha..an… yes!” thrusting her chin forward defiantly.
his eyes gleamed like a cat’s as he bent near. her lips reached up involuntarily wanting to be kissed, be bruised, be clung to. he evaded her lips and let the tip of his sharp straight nose rub against hers. khushi felt herself strain against him, he drew away.
“uh huh! you can’t!” he whispered by her ear, nuzzling her forehead, catching a strand of hair between his lips and tugging at it. khushi’s eyes closed as the yearning grew in her. her hands moved to his chest, roaming, wanting to clutch him close. then he bit her ear lobe sharply.
“ow!” exclaimed khushi grimacing and even as the headiness of the moment began to overpower her, she fought back. she opened her eyes and retorted, though her voice was husky, tremulous, “of course, i can!”
“really?” he countered, his hand moving up her hips, along her side, across her belly, her sternum, to her breasts. khushi gasped, her body thrilling to that deliberate caress. then summoning all the strength she could, she drew away from him and challenged him with one eyebrow raised and a smirk on her lips.
he smiled back pleasantly, but his eyes glittered with a funny determination, he murmured in a husky silken voice, “lagi sharth?”
(take a bet?)
khushi steeled her resolve. she was not going to let this laad governor win. she nodded firmly.
with a smile that made her swallow and shudder at once, he swooped down and in one swift motion picked her up. he strode to a plush roomy sofa with its smooth cream upholstery and a few black downy cushions and sat down with her… but a second later he was lying on it and had pulled her right on top of him.
she lay over him looking down at his shining brown eyes. he lifted his head a little, his lips reaching up, his full lower lip thrust forward, a hunger in his gaze now. khushi felt herself give way as she groaned and bent down to kiss his chin, his rough sensuous cheek. her lips lingered over his cheek, raining tiny kisses, then her lips covered his and moved jerkily, convulsively over them.
his hand cupped her buttock as if he had every right to. she looked at him not saying anything, then his hand stroked her back all the way up languidly. khushi sighed as a thousand sensations collided in her and euphoria took over. she could feel his chest pressed against hers, she knew their bellies were flush against each other’s, she could feel his taut thighs below hers. a heat rose from within, scorching them.
she moaned, “arnav ji… i…” she wanted to tell him, she needed to tell him.
she felt a pull on her plait and her thick, soft, brown flecked dark tresses were cascading all over them. he laughed, a guttural strangely exciting sound, his teeth glinted for a moment and he grabbed a handful of her hair, yanking her closer.
“hold me, khushi,” he whispered by her lips and licked her cupid’s bow in a long slow caress. then he thrust his tongue into her mouth, his mouth wide open, inviting her kiss. she sighed and let her lips close over his. yes, kiss me like this, she thought. hold me in your arms always, make me yours…
she writhed against him as she held him tight, her arms going around his back.
“hold me. khushi… always!” he whispered as he kissed her eyes gently, then her nose, her forehead, her chin.
khushi lay over him.
there was a still murmurous silence all around as they lay there.
then he said softly, “i told you, you can’t love someone else…”
khushi frowned. what? was he doing all this just to win a bet? the nerve of this man.
she tried to draw away.
he held her tighter.
she looked at him angrily.
he grinned back at her.
“kyun, hum kyun kissise pyaar nahin kar sakte… sab pyaar bhi aapne kharid li kya, mister arnav singh raizada?” she snapped at him, clenching her teeth. now livid with him.
(why, why can’t i love anybody? have you bought all the love too, mister arnav singh raizada?!)
his eyes went curiously still at that. he looked at her almost thoughtfully for a long moment. then he nodded.
“what!!! laad governor kahinke! apne aap ko kya samjhte hain aap?!” she lashed out and stood up quickly, he didn’t attempt to catch her back. he lay there just looking at her.
(what??? you lord governor, you! who do you think you are!)
she turned and stormed out of the room going out to the verandah. why was arnav ji playing this terrible game with her. what was the meaning of all this? the whole day he had been difficult. something was bothering him and she couldn’t figure out what.
and what was all this talk of love? okay, so by mistake she was the one to bring up the word… but he? why was he doing this?
tears were threatening to pour out by now, she walked to the edge of the verandah, wanting to run out onto the garden, anywhere… far far far away from him. she would go and look at the krishnachura tree, the one he had planted for his maa. she felt the pearls against her skin, they soothed her somehow. she was about to step out when something caught her eye. what was that? it wasn’t there the only other time she had been here.
as she looked out, her eyes widened, her breath almost stopped.
on her right, at the far end of the pristine green lawn stood a row of new trees. not very tall ones, fairly short, maybe about six feet high each. but they were old enough to bear flowers. big lush clusters of red frangipani flowers.
red crimson carmine fiery, mingling with the many hues of the sky.
almost ten frangipani trees ran along an arc. as she stared open mouthed, she noticed another clump of frangipanis stood a little away from the red ones. about five trees, each with a frangipani of a different shade. white, yellow, light pink, dark pink, magenta and yellow.
khushi swallowed hard and closed her eyes. her body began to shake uncontrollably. his fingers were brushing against the nape of her neck as he pinned flowers to her hair… so tender his fingers felt, a little rasp in them and something warm, fluid, pulsating…
khushi felt a tear drop roll out and fall along her cheek. it rolled all the way down, she knew she would feel it separate from her skin and fall just now.
but a pair of warm lips settled on it.
khushi started. asr was kissing her tear slowly, a gentleness on his face, his eyes closed.
khushi stared… how could he be so sweet one minute and the next…
“khushi!” he said softly, his breath seeming to want to cling to the “kh”, letting it go only after a little clinch.
khushi looked up at him as he straightened up, his eyes never leaving her face. was there a helplessness about him?
what was the matter, again khushi wondered.
she wanted to ask him why he had planted the frangipani trees in his garden. the red frangipani.
her breath grew shallow, a sourness came into her mouth. what if he laughed and said because he had bought up all the frangipani in the world? what if he mocked her. what if he said she was reading meaning… par isska koi matlab nahin. it has no meaning, just like her… in his life.
no, devi maiyya, today she couldn’t bear it. she would not ask him.
she’d ask him something facetious instead. she would pretend it didn’t matter to her. nothing mattered. she was fine.
she smiled at him, hoping it was a bright happy smile and asked in dulcet tones with a flutter of her eyelashes, “why, arnav ji? why can’t i love someone else?”
his eyes went molten brown, a fire leaping in them. he leaned close to her, she could feel his breath brush her cheek; warm, light, staying on her skin. it seemed to her in slow motion he moved closer and closer till his lips were right by her left ear. then his hand moved up and touched the pearls at the nape of her neck, his fingers spread out, caressing her skin, lingering over her back, stroking her along her spine all the way down to her hip.
“because i love you, dammit!” he whispered in her ear. gently, hoarsely, helplessly, laughing just a little bit.