i am bewildered by the magnificence
of your beauty
and wish to see you
with a hundred eyes
my heart has burned with passion
and has searched forever
for this wondrous beauty
that I now behold
~~~ rumi, looking for your face ~~~

why did the oil look so dazzling?

khushi frowned slightly.

then the tear dropped from her eye and her vision cleared.

“no, it is not dazzling, it was just my tear,” khushi thought blankly and held her hand with the bag of batter over the simmering hot oil to drop in a batch of jalebis.

her hand moved making deft little circles, that familiar movement she had known for years. it tried to soothe her, tell her everything was fine. khushi looked down to see how the jalebis had turned out.

distractedly she noticed, there were some funny looking bits of batter turning brown in the kadai, but they looked nothing like jalebis.

and before her eyes they turned brown too quickly, then darker… the oil was too hot.

khushi felt another tear rush up to her eye and without waiting to cloud her vision, fall.

she breathed in sharply, not wanting to feel her breath shake, she was not going to give in to this feeling… and started clearing the burnt bits stirring a ladle mechanically in the oil.


she had thought she’d make arnav ji fresh jalebis in the morning.

where was arnav ji?

khushi could feel a redness behind her eyes, an arid scorching heat as though a desert sand blew there… dry and bereft. her head pounded.

she realised she was standing at the hob making jalebis, that she had at some point taken off her shoes, but she was still in the red dress… the necklace of a million stars, her taarey, lay on the coffee table, she couldn’t remember when she had taken it off.

she told herself. she was khushi, she was not a bad person, she was alright… she was alright. and… and… arnav ji loved her…

she paused, lifting the ladle out of the oil. perhaps she should go change and go to sleep. then a terrible feeling rushed up inside her almost choking her. no… no… she must keep working. doing something. she could not stop… she couldn’t stop… she couldn’t bear to remember the look in his eyes as he left the flat. what was in it? why did it cut so deep inside her? why did it make her feel so filthy? khushi could feel herself on the verge of a scream. she pulled back and deliberately lifted her jalebi cloth again, moving her hand in the way she had learned to years ago. she was alright, she told herself. she was khushi, she was not a bad person, she was alright… she was alright. and… and… arnav ji loved her… yes, he did… she didn’t hear herself sobbing as the thoughts came, she kept making her burnt, broken jalebis.


“amma, are there really fairies in this world? tell me, na?” khushi was lying next to amma as she patted her to sleep.

she had almost dozed off, amma had been humming one of those songs she often sang to herself as she worked in the kitchen. but suddenly this question popped into her head… she had to ask amma.

“fairies? kyun, khushi, aaj pariyon ko lekar ye sawal kyun? you mean there are no fairies in this world?” lajwanti pinched her little daughter’s cheek and asked indulgently.

(fairies? why, khushi, why this question about fairies tonight? you mean there are no fairies in this world?)

“i said there are, amma, but that preeto… bahut buri hai woh… she said i was silly, there are no fairies, only buddhu children believe so…” khushi was drowsy, but the question bothered her, she needed an answer from amma. she could only trust her.

(i said there are, amma, but that preeto… she’s very bad… she said i was silly, there are no fairies, only silly children believe so…)

“lajo ji,” her father had walked into the room, “will you serve me dinner? and, bitiya, aap ab tak soyin nahin?” he went up to khushi and with the gentlest touch stroked her head a few times, smiled at her and left the room.

(will you serve me dinner? and, bitiya, you aren’t asleep yet?)

lajwanti watched her husband leave then turned to her daughter, “humey lagta hai, kahin door, jahan shayad humari aankhon ko dikhayi na de, par man ko dikhayi de… yes, there are fairies there and they have their magic wands… just like you…” lajwanti gave khushi a hug and slipped off the bed, she went to serve dinner to her husband.

(i think, somewhere far away, maybe where eyes can’t see, but the mind can see… yes, there are fairies there and they have their magic wands… just like you…)

feeling quite pleased with the answer and with a calm settling in her, the little girl drifted off to sleep… yes, i am a fairy… preeto doesn’t know, was her last thought before she slept off.


he had left unable to do anything about the images hurtling in him. flashes in his head… a sheen of perspiration on skin, his father’s face, dark unfocused eyes, a little leer making his lips hang loose. asr walked on, the streets were empty, sodium vapour lamps stayed dim as the fog of early winter settled down… lipstick gleamed on a smile, a hand was caressing flesh, large coarse brown hand, pale ivory skin… he shut his eyes trying to block the picture. it persisted. her lips had pink colour on it and it was smeared across her upper lip… pita ji was lying back on the long divan, laughing… arnav wanted to run… run away from there… it was a hot hot afternoon, where was maa… he wanted maa… he wanted… blue eyes twinkled… a strong jawline, confident laughter rang out, she was looking at him rapt, her hazel eyes gleaming, pale nude lipstick… smeared…asr walked through the darkness, he was in the park he saw, along the water’s edge. she had sat there just the other morning wrapped up in a shawl, watching him… from a distance even he could see her eyes.

he swallowed hard.

such innocence and that feeling for him in those large hazel eyes.



why for him… not him… not him. his breath seemed to get stuck half way up his chest somewhere. again he swallowed hard. she was smiling at him and eating a ber, he wanted to kiss her, she was lifting her lips to his, the ber was now in his mouth and it was tangy for she’d bitten into it… she was laughing and trying to hide it, he had just walked into the living room, something wet and fluid oozing out of his shoes… later she had said it was mango juice because she couldn’t find orange juice… what???… and there she was, climbing out of the window of her home and running away with her mojris in her hand while he stood at the door looking at her, shocked. what was wrong with the girl… asr halted in his track. the night was somehow thicker than usual, no cracks for light to seep in through.

what had he done.



she didn’t hear the door click as he walked in.

the room was dark, except for a floor lamp which he had switched on when they’d walked in earlier.

he came in wanting to run to her, find her, hold her, be with her.

khushi… he wanted to bury his head in her hair, feel her arms around him, her breath upon him. there was no peace without her… there was no ease without her.

but he knew he couldn’t do any of that.

he had hurt for no reason, brutally… he had taken an evening she had wanted to fill with just the two of them straight into a nightmare. and she had no idea why. why was he like this? why…

she was at the hob, with a kadai in front of her, she seemed to be absorbed in her cooking. why did it not surprise him. he was sure she had managed to get everything needed to make jalebi here. his wife was a resourceful, smart girl. he almost smiled at the thought.

in fact, he had been fairly certain she’d be there. she was still in her red dress, her hair hung to her waist, the light from the outside behind her sylph like silhouette.

he wanted to stride up to her and pick her up in his arms, go straight to their bed and make love to her till she laughed and giggled… he needed to hear her giggling… and to feel her touch on him, her scent crushed against him and left behind on his skin. he needed to hear her say, she forgave him. but he didn’t deserve any of that. nothing.

his legs felt leaden suddenly, his arms seemed to grow heavy from the shoulder down. he walked very slowly to the sofa and sank down on it. and sat there, too roiled to move. his lips set in a straight tight gash, his eyes anguished. khushi, he heard her name echo in him.


it was morning when his eyes opened. he had slept off on the sofa he realised. he turned swiftly toward the kitchenette… no, she was not there. he got up quickly and ran to the bedroom, a fear clutching his middle… khushi… had she…?

he found her lying among the crumpled white sheets, a startling splash of red… her pale flowing limbs gleamed in the sunlight cascading in through the windows… her hair splayed out in auburn dark streams all around. exhaustion on her face and marks of tears.

arnav singh raizada felt his insides empty out, she looked so fragile, so slight and helpless… he couldn’t stay away any more… no, khushi, please don’t hate me… don’t go away… thoughts raced through his mind without asking his permission or approval. please never go away… i am wrong… if you don’t want me… i wouldn’t want to…

but why was she not moving at all?

why was her breast not rising and falling with the flow of breath?

asr felt a chill grip his heart.


why was she so still?

why was she not saying anything?

why was she not moving?

was she…

his legs began moving before his mind could reach the decision…
he was before her, bending over, his hand shooting out toward her face, fingers scanning the space just below her nostrils.

checking for breath.

breathe, khushi, breathe… his mind screamed… he was again on a cliff’s edge and she was not breathing…


khushi, no!

don’t leave me!

don’t go!

his eyes darted over her face frantically…

why was she not…

khushi, i can’t live without-

“arnav ji?” she said.

he looked at her startled, she was looking at him through half open eyes.

he swallowed as he felt the solace of her gaze. his eyes stayed unmoving, feeling the peace of her innocent eyes upon him. there was sleep clinging to her irises, her lids struggled to stay open.

he felt his breath at last relax and return to an even rhythm. you’re okay, khushi, here… with me… he swallowed and remained where he was, still unable to move… the cataclysmic grasp of absolute fear ebbing away slowly, still not quite done.

then she smiled slightly, the corners of her lips turning up just a little and he saw her long beautiful arms lift. she held them open and just waited for him.

why is it that this generous gesture did not surprise him one bit either. his heart ached at her giving, it yearned for her sweetness.

khushi. who loved him beyond all questions, all anger, all barriers and each and every limit. who called him from her heart and he could hear her call no matter where he was… even when he almost wasn’t.

relief and a mystical happiness flitted through him, she was holding out her arms to him, she had forgiven him. he was not a man who cried easily, but he knew at this moment, there were tears at the corner of his eyes.

he smiled and plunged into her arms, where he had wanted to be all along, ever since it had started to hurt, yet he had wanted to hurt her.

he gripped her tightly in his arms and buried his face in her neck, her hair falling over his face, his stubble grazing her shoulder. she winced and giggled a little. again he felt peace spread through him. smooth alabaster skin, taut and luscious, a musky fragrance in its hollows… he breathed in deeply and pressed his body against hers, wanting her cleansing touch, her unsullied embrace.

“i am sorry, khushi… galti ho gayi,” he whispered against her ear.

(i am sorry, khushi… i made a mistake.)

she turned her face and kissed him quietly on the cheek, then cradled his head near her bosom. she turned her body and lay against him, stroking his hair.

“i… i… have the most terrible thoughts at times…” he started to speak.

“it’s okay, arnav ji,” she said, “it’s over…” though her heart was scythed, though she still felt slashing pain and a curious insult at the way he had behaved, she did not want to dwell on it.

ever since arnav ji’s accident, khushi felt a reluctance to stay too long with what was painful between them. he was there, alive, talking, being himself… she didn’t want anything more. she would deal with everything else… she would find some way. last night she had ached terribly, she had not been able to walk up to him and forgive him. though she knew in his heart that is what he was asking for… she knew him well. when he had stormed out she had felt thick pain, and yet, she had known he would come back… he would want to love her, and only after she had forgiven him would he feel like himself.

but she had not been able to last night. something about the whole day had caught up with her and exhausted her… she had needed sleep.

now it was morning. and he was here… all she wanted was to have him in her arms, happy, sighing, relaxed. her arnav ji. her peace, her home.

she stroked his cheek.

“promise me, you’ll never leave me, khushi,” he muttered wretchedly, “mujhe chhorke kabhi nahin jaogi… i am not easy to live with, but, darling…” he paused, struggling, “main tumhare beena-”

(promise me, you’ll never leave me, khushi… you won’t leave me and go anywhere… i am not easy to leave with, but, darling… without you i won’t-)

“arnav ji, shh, aise nahin kahte… hum aap ko chhorke jaayenge kaise… hum kya jee…?” she interrupted him.

(arnav ji, shh, don’t speak like that… how will i leave you… can i live…?”)

“shh…” he cut in then, “don’t say that, khushi!”

suddenly she was giggling, her whole body shaking…

“and what is so funny, mrs khushi kumari gupta singh raizada?” he asked brushing his stubble against her cheek, nibbling her ear lobe… she turned to see his eyes were twinkling, deepening brown, no longer hurt and still.

“aap… aap very funny!” she chimed.

(you… you are very funny!)

“funny,” he replied, “let me show you funny,” and without warning, he ran his fingers over her smooth bare thigh, from near her hip, down to her knee, a soft deliberate caress. she trembled all over and convulsively moved closer to him.

“arnav ji, just now you were so filmi… now again you are arnav ji!” she was laughing and holding his hand, playfully moving it away.

he kissed her impulsively on the swell of her breast where it rose over the neckline, then with a swift gesture, he pulled her with him so they were both sitting up on the bed.

before she knew what he intended, he had slipped down onto the floor and was sitting before her on his knees, his arms came up and went around her waist as he sat there smiling up at her. her heartbeat catapulted, that smile of his, lips aslant, it never stopped messing with her heart beat. he leaned down and kissed her bare knee. she blushed.

“i know, khushi,” he said, “you will say there’s no need to say this,” he had a clear almost childlike look on his face.

his eyes shone up at her, serious and straightforward, no game in them.

“but, i have to say this. i… main… main shayad abhi bhi… i’m not yet free of all that happened and there are parts of me… parts that i… i don’t understand… maybe maybe i fear them, khushi…” his voice had started sounding strained, he was searching in him to find what it was that he exactly wanted to say…

(but i have to say this. i, i… perhaps even now i… i’m not yet free of all that happened and there are parts of me… parts that i… i don’t understand… maybe maybe i fear them, khushi…)

“fear, arnav ji? nahin, aap mein aisi koi baat nahin hai…” khushi looked earnestly into his eyes and said what she believed.

(fear, arnav ji? no, there’s nothing like that in you…)

“hai, khushi. kuch cheezein… main… my father…” his eyes grew troubled, “main shayad… galat… khushi…” he let go of the effort and buried his face in her lap, hugging her even closer.

(there is, khushi. some things… i… my father. i think i am… wrong… khushi…)

thoughts of sheesh mahal entered the quiet room in belgravia and descended on him, they whispered things he had tried for years not to hear. galat… there was something so terribly wrong about all the time. you could feel it everywhere. he had never breathed free, never been a part of that menacing air looming. what made it so he could never understand. and yet he belonged there, that was his home, there was his being, his blood. his father was galat. and arnav singh raizada knew the fault did not lie in his uncle or circumstances, it lay deep and true in his father. pita ji was wrong. and yet he loved pita ji. even now.

the thought came simply to him.

he felt winded by its quiet assertion. yes, he thought, he did love his father.

he had tried not to, he had vehemently opposed and denounced what his father had done, he had assumed he would never feel, could never feel, anything good about such a man. and yet… he could not change the way he felt about pita ji.

perhaps his fear came from this. was he the son of his father after all… with that deep and true fault embedded where no one could see it? only he sensed it? how he hated it when he lost his temper… it took him straight to the memories of his father and a horror that he carried something, anything, of dushyant malik in him.

she was stroking his hair with urgent hands telling him not to feel this way. she was here she kept saying, she was here for him. and she knew there was nothing wrong in him, not a shred of galat.

he listened to her lovely bell like voice.

and just lay there.

he could feel the soft folds of chiffon against his face, brushing his eyelashes, delicate gossamer fine. her fingers were cool on his face, she stroked his eyelids, his cheek, he could feel her bend down over him and kiss his temple softly.

so much beauty in this world, he thought. it gave him the strength to look up at her and finally say perhaps what he had needed to say to her all along.

“he was wrong, he was weak, he hurt maa… di… me. but i couldn’t hate him… khushi. i love pita ji… i tried not to… but,” he frowned wretchedly, torn by this bizarre confession he was making… what would khushi think. still she was the one he had to say this to, needed to say this to… he needed to tell someone about these hidden feelings of his that never rested, never gave peace. they stayed behind dark crevices in him, invisible even to him. but something in him knew they were there, they did exist. she was the only one in this whole world he could trust… she was the one whom he had hurt, and would keep hurting if he didn’t do something about it. he must tell her.

what had happened last evening, he didn’t want that to happen again. if that meant he had to face this revolting thing it was a small price to pay. he couldn’t do that to khushi… to himself, anymore.

he looked into her eyes and completed his sentence, “… i can’t help it, i find i still love him.”

she had been looking at him with concern in her eyes. she seemed tense.

but now she smiled at him in that gentle knowing way of hers and murmured, “just as our children will love you, arnav ji.”

he was dumbstruck for a few moments. what was that she said?

how did she always know what to say that made things fall into place. made him feel whole and true.

“but, khushi…” he demurred.

“koi but nahin, koi shut nahin… dekhiye, woh aapke babu ji the… unhone jo bhi kiya, par aap toh unse pyaar hi karte the na? and can one stop loving just like that?” she looked at him so seriously, he wondered where she got her conviction from, “galat… sahi… hum yeh sab dekhkar thodi pyaar karte hain?… it’s not about that you know, it’s a feeling… and once it comes, it’s not easy to just let it go… it blesses us, it fulfills us, it makes us give of ourselves… aapki amma bhi toh unse pyaar hi karti thi na?”

(no but, no shut, see, he was your father… whatever he may have done, but you loved him, didn’t you? and can one just stop loving like that? wrong… right… do we love after checking all that… it’s not about that you know, it’s a feeling… and once it comes, it’s not easy to just let it go… it blesses us, it fulfills us, it makes us give of ourselves… your mother too loved him, didn’t she?)

he started smiling, “is there anything you don’t know, khushi? come ‘ere…” he pulled her down onto the carpeted floor and lay down next to her.

“what were you saying about…” his hand went to her back as he looked for the zip of her dress, “our children, hmm?” his face hovered over hers, really close, his eyes were laughing.

she squirmed and then shrieked as he pulled the zip down with a swift tug. khushi went to grab the front of her dress trying to keep it from slipping down and off her body. but he was quicker, she could feel the cold air hit her bare torso as he tossed her dress onto the bed.

“you looked beautiful last night, khushi,” he whispered as he kissed her on her neck, her cheeks, her nose, her breasts, her stomach, her belly button and kept on kissing her moving further down…

“i wanted to make love to you like this all through the evening…” he was kissing her shin, first the right one, then the left. his lips felt warm and urgent, his heated breath trailed along her skin. she could feel goosebumps spreading over her belly, on her shoulders, along her upper arm. he had never kissed her like this before…

“you are the most beautiful woman i have ever seen,” he nibbled her toes as he undid the buttons of his shirt and took it off…

he kissed his way up along her leg and by the time he had reached her lips she was arching, her body taut, wanting him to kiss her, hold her, make her his. she had so longed for arnav ji all of yesterday…

the touch of his calloused hands on her breasts made her sigh. she slid her arms around his hips and drew him down onto her…

“i love you, arnav ji,” she whispered as she brushed her lips against his and felt him enter her.

it was a long time before either of them became aware that they were on the carpet and the room had gotten really cold.

you don’t love someone because they are right or wrong, you just love them… sometimes so much, it hurts and still you can’t help but keep on loving.


without you chapter 35