her wrist felt tiny in his grip. and for a fraction of a moment he had the overpowering urge to stop right there, turn around and pull her into his arms. to hold her against him and feel her yield, adhere. to bury his face in her hair, to softly stroke her skin, to tuck back that always errant curl on her forehead, to brush his lips tenderly on her forehead and say, “shh… shh… don’t worry, i am here. won’t let anyone hurt you.”

so small and fragile that wrist of hers. but he dragged her along anyway up the temple steps. because there was no choice. he had to act. he had to stop mayhem from entering di’s life. he had to stop the darkness from deafening him. he had to stop the voice of a girl shouting and telling his di’s husband to leave di. and he had to stop the feeling in his chest.

what was breaking in there? what could it be?

nahin hai dil asr ke seene mein. he swallowed hard, no, he had no heart… no heart ever since… everyone knew that. he knew that. she knew that. so what could be breaking and bleeding in his chest.

he had no choice, he had to stop that too. there was no one. no one to turn to. he didn’t need anyone… never. he was arnav singh raizada… he would take care of things.

he clutched her wrist even tighter, almost cutting off the blood flow in her veins and arteries, the insistent thrumming pulse beating against her translucent skin, where he knew her veins showed blue green and he wanted to kiss her there slowly for long as he made love to her night after night after night.

yet he hated her tonight.

they had reached the platform where the deity sat, resplendent in silks and gold, a perfectly proportioned face, kindness in her eyes, a gentle smile on her lips that never faded, an air of benevolence. he didn’t bother to look its way as he hurled the girl with the small fragile wrist before him. an idol made of mud, that was all, mere mud… it had no heart. no conscience. it could not bring justice, it could not diminish pain. the world remained brutal, unconscionable, harsh. while the smile stayed fixed on a face made of inanimate powerless mud.

tears streamed down khushi’s face… the feeling in his chest grew wild. he had to stop it.

mine mine, you’re mine. something cried.

sindoor. mangalsutra. she believed in such things.

he didn’t.

with or without sindoor, with or without mangalsutra, with or without what you call god, with or without lies, falsehood, unfaithfulness… you are mine. for six months. forever.

the black beads gleamed as he snatched the mangalsutra and thrust it around her neck. he did not look into her eyes. he did not feel the tears in his…

mine, you are mine. only mine.

the powder was smooth and full between his forefinger and thumb. red. she was always beautiful in that colour. it had been raining that evening and she had worn red… chiffon, floating and lissome, chiffon brushing his face… her red smearing him.

his fingers moved swiftly, unerringly, to find their mark. a parting at the centre of her hair. straight and clean… unlike her, crooked and filthy, he grimaced and looked at the night.

you are mine, the temple bells chimed in the storm, the fire in the havan raged… yes, you are.

he touched her forehead and drew the line with force. red it bled. his mark on her. forever.

no matter what, you are mine.

his chest seemed to explode. he reached out and held her hand in a fast grip. her eyes were wells of dark desperate tears. he wanted to drink from them.


it was almost ten am, asr sat reading the papers with his cup of steaming black coffee in the sitting room, planning his day. he had to be in office by noon, a designer whose work he liked was coming down to see him.

the habitual frown came on as he perused headlines, flipped to the news from the markets… never good these days anyway… but the greatest opportunities, as every canny businessman knew, were to be found when things were down. his mind wondered over the possibilities… he had been searching for a while for something new to add to the fashion interests of ar. watches, maybe? or accessories… jewellery was an option… di would be great at managing that.

he was feeling calm after the night of the sudden tempest. he felt fresh, alive, eager to go do things, make a deadly deal.

a lopsided grin appeared at the thought… oh to get into a deal now. to find that point in it where you made one sharp single cut and it cleaved perfectly… the diamond cutter’s judgement was needed for that, and arnav singh raizada had plenty of that. the coffee smelled really good, he took a long sip, contemplating getting his hands into something new… another challenge. brown eyes sharpened and glinted, growing caramel cacao sienna.


an intrusion in his thoughts, a welcome one. he had grown used to her popping up in his thoughts like that. and anyway, he loved the feeling of her in him. his lips stretched in a playful grin.

how had he ever lived without her he thought. his heart beat picked up pace; again, nothing new, now he was almost used to this phenomenon. she called it acidity. he thought of her voice, her hair, her flowing arms, her constant chatter… her smile soothed his tears, it awakened his desire… to live, to love… where was she? he looked around and spotted her in the bedroom.

how come she was so quiet?

he was about to call out to her and say, “hey, we are not on our way to nainital, i won’t cut your salary if you speak,” remembering a day that had so many memories of khushi, typical absolute khushi, replete with pakoda and pagalpan… when he saw her through the doorway, she was standing by the bed and holding up her red dress… beautiful in red she was always, he thought.

as he watched, she lay the dress on the bed. but she wasn’t her usual brisk self and she would normally be talking endlessly while doing things like that… she liked to say all sorts of things to him, especially in the mornings, before he left for work and they parted for almost ten hours, sometimes fourteen. but today, not a word. and there was a slowness to her limbs, a droop to her head as she looked in the cupboard and brought out a dress hanger and a dust cover. she began to put the dress on the hanger.

something about her looked so sad, asr got up and walked over to her without saying anything. he couldn’t. khushi looked completely downcast… what was the matter?

he was right in front of her and she hadn’t even realised, so engrossed was she in her task.

“hey!” he said softly.

her head jerked up and she looked at him, startled.

tears clung to her lashes, gleaming as she moved.

“shit!” he said under his breath… an expletive, out before he could control it.

his chest felt a thing breaking in it.

he held her by the shoulder and drew her near, “what is the matter, khushi?” he asked, a frown of pure tenderness etching lines on his forehead.

“kuchh nahin,” khushi looked down swiftly, trying to get a hold of herself, her stubborn feelings.


“you can tell me… can’t you?” he persisted.

“nahin… woh… aap… you don’t like me to wear a dress in front of… ” she struggled for a second, “i just want to put this dress away… bas…”

“what nonsense!” his anger came as it often did, fast, without warning. he pushed her away and swiveled around. his body had gone ramrod straight and rigid, his jawline had set and looked inflexible, his eyes smouldered. again a tussle had started in his mind…

khushi began to bend down to pick up the dress once more. her lips quivered. why must it always hurt? why was arnav ji so hurtful and why could she not help him… he would always be in pain… tears blurred her vision and when she felt his touch on her bare arm, she asked no question, just turned and hurled herself against him, wanting his arms around her.

he held her and stroked her back, shushed her with whispered “shh!”s as he always did when she cried. she snuggled deeper into him. no need to explain anything to me, she thought… just be happy, arnav ji… please be happy… i can’t bear to see you suffer. the look in his eyes brought a terribly dark night back. she remembered his eyes as he had put the sindoor on her parting that night. he had not looked at her, but she had seen his vacant dark gaze, even that couldn’t hide the pain… she had wanted to hold his hands and bring them to her heart, settle them on her heart beats, let her heart feel his touch and ask, why are you doing this, don’t you know, don’t you know all i want is to see you happy… don’t look like that, arnav ji.

she reached behind her and caught his left hand, he let her hold it and take it to her heart and place it there. she held his hand and stayed where she was.

“khushi,” he said evenly, “please don’t think like that. i know i behaved badly… i know i hurt you… please forgive me.” he realised she was still hurting and she had forgiven him as she always did but that did not mean she was alright.

khushi smiled to herself, “nahin forgiving!” she mumbled.

“stop being too kind to me, stop accepting all my anger and not asking for any explanation…” he sounded dead serious,”problem hai… khushi, i know i have a problem with temper… but honestly, khushi, i have no problem with you dressing any way you please. i even love your ridiculous pompoms heck…”

“kya?!” khushi shot out of his arms, “aap ne mere pompom ko ridiculous bola! hum yeh bardaasht nahin karenge, arnav ji!”

(what? you called my pompom ridiculous, i shall not tolerate this, arnav ji!)

she stood there grinning at him, her eyes pushing aside all hints of the turbulence within.

he looked at her for an instant, then his arm shot out, he caught hold of her wrist and pulled her along with him to the sitting room. he made her sit on a sofa, then sat down a little away from her.

“khushi, i know you don’t like to have serious discussions about us… i know you feel anxious when things are not okay between us… but sometimes, khushi, it is okay to say things… even if it causes a bit of discomfort…” asr spoke in a low matter of fact tone, his eyes on his wife, a need to reach her in them.

khushi wished he would just come and hold her.

“sheesh mahal had rules, khushi… many, many rules… dadi’s rules… and not one of them gave my maa a right to be who she was…” his eyes had grown thoughtful, “har cheez, everything… that happened was about the men of the family, to please them, to make them comfortable…” he took a deep breath, “khushi, you are my wife… you are not my slave… nor my support system…” he smiled a little, “that’s aman… you are the person i can’t live without… i don’t want to live without… jee nahin paaonga… jeena chahta bhi nahin tumhare bagair…”

khushi made a move to get up at that.

“no.. no… hear me out,” he gestured with his hand telling her to keep sitting, “you don’t have to wear what i want you to wear, eat what i want you to eat, do anything just because i want you to… i have said before, don’t change a thing about yourself… and even if i don’t want you to wear something, if you wish to, if you think it’s good for you, just wear it, samjhi tum… khushi, i don’t want to tie you down…” he sighed, “for you i want freedom… just the freedom to soar… be everything you can be… i love watching you being… just you… ok?!” he was smiling to himself now.

“ok… i did feel a strange anger watching you being looked at by yosel,” he said, again growing sombre pushing into conversation that was difficult, “i don’t think it’s logical, i think it has a lot to do with feelings from sheesh mahal, i don’t say it’s right… and haan, i have my gussa as you know… everything became too much… ek ghutan si…” he had closed his eyes involuntarily, as aftershocks of the night before’s turmoil came upon him again.

(… a sort of suffocation…)

when he felt a weight on his knees, he opened his eyes quickly. what the! she was sitting on his lap… and as he stared at her, she leaned forward and started kissing him, slipping her tongue into his mouth before he could say anything.

“khushi,” he groaned against her tender sweet caress, her sensuous stroking of his lips, his teeth, his tongue, his palate, she nipped him on the chin and rushed back to take his mouth in a kiss again… her body strained against him.

he let his arms go around her and pulled her nearer still, his hand roamed over her, unable to stop, not wanting to be able to stop.

she was beginning to pull his tee shirt up his chest now…

“i have to be in the office by twelve,” he said as he started kissing her neck, her throat, then pulled her right up so he could rub his cheek against her soft belly and kiss her on the tender skin there, just a little plump, full, just the way he liked it… he bit her playfully. she squirmed.

“toh jaaiye, aapko kaun rok raha hai,” she said, holding his shoulders and pulling him up so they were facing each other again, and she moved closer, tantalising, teasing, touching the tip of her nose to his and drawing back as he sought to come closer, her hands off him, held away… “jaaiye,” she said in a guttural whisper. a hum of energy thronged the air, and perhaps a wayward breeze had gotten in and was playing with their hair… was there a song rising somewhere too?

(so go, who’s stopping you… go…)

all he could manage was another wretched groan. before he pulled her hard into his arms and felt her body yield readily to his.

khushi could sense a lightness in her bones, her very breath… her heart was bursting with just plain and simple love. did arnav ji have any idea how much she wanted to be tied by him, kept close, held firm and tight and told to shut up, get out… feel his gussa, be the one he would hurl his hot singeing gussa at. her arnav ji… how could a rakshas be such a rajkumar… it still surprised her.

“jaaiye!” she whispered again.


“no… no… akash, i know what you say is true… but it really doesn’t excite me… not for ar!” asr sounded quite adamant speaking to akash over the phone.

“par bhai, you know, this is the trend now and there’s potential… i’ll go with what you decide, bhai, but a line for men may not be a bad idea and our understanding and experience is there too… any young man in the country would love to wear clothes from a design house led by one of the most trendy men ever, i am sure,” akash was smiling you could tell and asr knew when his cousin wanted to get something across, he didn’t give up easily, no matter how gentle and pliable his demeanour and tone.

“okay!” asr said abruptly,”will think about it… but primarily ar is about women’s clothes… it’s about a woman, her style, her spirit… akash, that’s our arena, our base really… so let’s think of something else too, shall we?” he paused for a second, then continued, “and akash, all well with payal?”

“yes, bhai… she misses khushi though, her doctor has asked for a few weeks of bed rest… and doctor verma seems to agree,” akash said bye and hung up.

asr wondered for a moment about doctor verma. vijay verma seemed to be growing close to di. then he let the thought be and went back to his work. he liked the portfolio of the young british woman he had just met. angela dasilva, her mother was english while her father was from goa, she seemed to have a refreshing view of the silhouette. something youthful and vibrant yet just a little vulnerable in the look…

but what was the next thing he wanted to take ar to? suddenly, this question had become important to answer. because ar had to go to its next level, scale to a new aspiration. after a long long time he felt this call in him, his imagination fertile, his will strong, a sense of excitement at the very thought of tomorrow.

years ago, he recalled his first nascent dream. a fashion house. contemporary, fashionable yet wearable clothes for women. he had been fascinated by the current nature of the business, its transience, the sense of speed in it, of change. maybe that gave him energy… animation. and a sense of being alive. when death was his first thought in the morning, last thought before he drifted off to sleep.

mami ji had sold all her jewellery so a young untried boy’s gut feel and hard work would get a chance. asr smiled at the thought of his crass loud mami. such absolute faith in him, so much love. he suddenly missed her.


“hello hi bye bye! payal bitiya, youj are gettings ups bhy? remembers you ares supposing to lie downs and put leggsiya up, okay? om prakash, bhy naats bringing aarange jooice, so late aalready, my grandson gettings hungry i am suwar!” manorama was in form today, her banarasi was purple and bright, her lipstick a wonderfully mismatched coral, the thought of becoming grandmother obviously filled her with delight and she saw no harm in letting a sense of power get into the mix and assert itself too. a grandson… yes, the first grandson of the raizada family would be her akas bitwa’s boy.

(hello hi bye bye! payal dear, why are you getting up? remember you are supposed to lie down and put up your feet? om prakash, why haven’t you got the orange juice yet, it’s so late already, my grandson is getting hungry am sure!)

“sorry, mami ji, i’ll just get it!” om prakash said in fairly crisp english. mami ji glared at him. om prakash looked sheepish and scratched his head, payal began to grin.

she wondered what her mother in law would say if she told her both akash and she were hoping to have a daughter. the house had lost a daughter that day when a terrible man had decided to kill his own offspring. though neither akash nor she spoke to the family about it, they had both sensed a curious blessing when she discovered she was pregnant.

akash had held her tight in his arms, she could feel his joy… “payal ji, do you know how happy you make me…”

“hmm hmm,” she had mumbled clinging to him. this gentle, quiet man with deep eyes whose beauty was always hidden behind those glasses of his.

“what do you want, payal ji, beta ya beti?” he had said looking at her with a wide grin, “ya phir dono hi?” he had actually winked. payal recalled with a giggle.

(what do you want, payal ji, son or daughter? or perhaps both?)

“i want a child, someone who will be healthy, happy, and bring happiness for all of us,” she had replied, “par, akash ji, why do i get the feeling, it would be perfect if she were a girl?” it was such a powerful feeling, payal had been genuinely confused, taken aback.

akash had stroked her cheek, cupped her face and kissed her on the nose, “payal ji, it’s because you are wise and sweet and kind, and because you and i want the same thing… she should come to our family, na? our little girl…”

payal started as she heard manorama say, “hoonh!” and shake her head disdainfully, her massive kundan earrings swinging wildly, om prakash getting above himself and learning english clearly still rankling with her.

“how good om praksh ji sounds, hai na, mami?” anjali had just come in with the orange juice, “payal ji, come, have your juice jaldi jaldi… how is my little nephew or niece doing?”

“anjali bitiya, eeph i habhing grandson then how you ares habhing niece, tells me?” mami said with an arch smile.

(anjali, if i am having a grandson , how would you have a niece tell me?)

“no problem, mami ji, if i have a niece you can have her for granddaughter, promise!” anjali pulled mami’s leg gently, “aur fir, granddaughters are the best ever, don’t you think… ask nani ji!” anjali was obviously in a bright and happy mood and looking at her mami decided to let her ire go.

okay, she would deal with it if it turned out to be a granddaughter… and anyway, she would still be a dadi, her mother in law would have to give her face. and beside, if not grandson this time… next time. she tossed her head, said, “i go touchupiya makeupiya and comes!” and sashayed away with her trademark side swings.

payal almost burst out laughing remembering khushi’s “idharwa one thumka udharwa one thumka” walk as she did a take on manorama raizada one day to cheer up payal… her sister was impossible really, she hoped khushi was having a good time with arnav ji. she had been through so much… and to find out all that about her mother. payal suddenly missed khushi terribly.

pregnancy did funny things to you, payal found it was getting hard to suppress her thoughts, modify her feelings. one minute she was giggling, the next she wanted to cry.

she felt a calm hand stroking her arm and shoulder. di was sitting by her on the bed, looking at her.

“don’t worry, payal ji… you feel sensitive and funny when you are pregnant,” anjali looked so kind, again payal felt like bawling,”all sorts of thoughts and feelings, i used to have so…” anjali’s voice halted abruptly. a shattered look flitted across her face.

payal held her sister in law’s hand in hers and just waited for her to recover. nothing that happened to di she knew had been easy. but at this moment, she understood it perhaps better than ever before.


it was almost six in the evening, and though it was quite late in delhi, asr decided to call di anyway. he had been thinking of her a lot today. for some reason, a disquiet in him. was she alright? he had been away for over a week but she had hardly called. that was strange. usually, for all sorts of pointless things di would dial his number, then fret about the stupidest of things.

“di?” he said, that impatience typical of him in his voice, the instant he heard the ring tone go off.

“di! are you there!” he continued without waiting for an answer.

“hello, chhotey! haan baba, i am here,” di sounded happy, he relaxed a little.

“why haven’t you called me for so long, di, what’s the matter!” he said with his brusque demanding air.

“chhotey, will you stop shouting?” anjali said in her big sister voice, “what’s the matter? i just wanted you to have a bit of time with khushi ji and …”

“so, how would that be affected if you called,” he said completely refusing to understand this sort of thing, “khushi was also worried, in fact, she said to me that i should call to see…”

anjali sighed.

“chhotey, tum toh pagal ho hi, ab khushi ji bhi…” she said, “tell me, how is everything with you? are you having your medicines? and taking khushi ji to some nice places, ya phir you are stuck in your office… chhotey…”

(chhotey, you are mad, now even khushi ji…)

“di…” asr cut in.

anjali could sense a hesitation in his voice.

“di… i want to ask you something…” he started.

“yes, chhotey?”

“di, do you… i mean, are you… di, do you like doctor verma?” asr said it feeling a thousand feelings ambush him. his brow creased in a deep frown, his jaw was set… his body tense. and he had no idea why. but he was worried about di he realised. very worried. he could sense something and he knew she was struggling. they had hardly spoken since that night at sheesh mahal.

shyam and chacha ji and all that came spewing out that night… a tic appeared at the end of his jawline. how was di handling it all? she had been through hell ever since his kidnapping. it had been relentless. his lips tightened as he thought of shyam. how he wished he could make it all go away… how he wished di never ever had to go through that pain ever. certainly not again and again… but life was rarely what you wished it to be.

you had to take it in your hands. make it work. make it go where you wanted it to. arnav singh raizada told himself to calm down, di needed him he knew…

“chhotey, what do you mean?” anjali sounded strange, not her usual self. evasive.

“di! main aapse kuchh kahna chahta hoon… aap humse badi hain, aap humse behtar bahut kuchh samjhti hain… aur aap mere liye sab kuchh hain, aur rahengi… di, i have always laughed at you when you have spoken of feelings… okay okay! i don’t mean feelings… i mean… love!” he paused, a little awkward suddenly. then resumed, “i just wanted to say, if you feel… i mean… di, do you feel good when you are with doctor verma… or think of him… do you want to spend time with him? then i just want to tell you, please don’t let any fear or ideas of good, bad, whatever stop you… di, you deserve to be happy and…” thoughts crowded him, in them a sadness he could never allay, “maa… never had it… but di, a second chance… don’t turn away from it…” his voice had grown gruff, tears poured in him somewhere, he could neither stop them, nor deny them.

(di, i want to tell you something… you are older than me, you understand things better than i do… and you are everything to me, you will always be.)

anjali would have laughed and said, why i thought i was like nirupa roy when i spoke of love and a girl who will make your breath stop, now you are sounding like a karan johar film, but she couldn’t. she closed her eyes and let her tears flow.

“haan, chhotey! i will not let happiness go should it want to come to me… dekho na, kitni koshish ki maine, par shyam ji… but no, i know chhotey, you are there for me always and now khushi ji too… yes, i like doctor verma, bas?” she wondered why her heart felt so light and easy as she said the last sentence. she had turned instinctively to vijay for help so many times, somewhere along the way she had started feeling all kinds of things when he was around, but she had not felt comfortable with her thoughts… did she deserve happiness at all? maybe not, maybe that’s why everything always ended terribly in her life…

when vijay kissed her at the door that first time, she had wanted to hold him close, but she hadn’t… she had no idea how to view her feelings. did good people fall in love more than once? and besides, she had let one man touch her… how could she allow anyone else? dadi always spoke of the high moral ground a woman must aspire to… if you were a girl, you had to be careful, your izzat was everything, a good woman would never allow anyone but her husband get intimate with her and of course, good women never had more than one husband…

anjali knew a lot of what her paternal grandmother had instilled in her were really fairly empty ideas, possibly her dadi’s way of coping with her life, but ideas imbibed as a child have a strangely firm grip over your thoughts and instincts. she had not been able to be totally at ease about the feelings and desires vijay evoked in her. so she hid it all behind brisk happy talk and held her arms firmly by her side as he kissed her when they met and parted. she did, however, accept every invitation of his and nani had let it be known that any time doctor saab wanted to, he was welcome to come and have dinner with them. he dropped in quite regularly and even mami had started warming to him.

“yes, i do like him…” anjali repeated, “my naak pe gussa dil romantic shomantic bhaiyya,” she was blushing a fairly bright red.

(yes, i do like him, my anger on his nose but at heart all romantic bro.)

asr smiled slightly. at last the niggling feeling was gone. di sounded like herself… and she had a spark of joy in her voice. he was hearing that after years, perhaps for the first time since that day when he had come home and slapped shyam in front of her dazed eyes and thrown him out.

doctor vijay verma was a good man and if he’d never had that accident… the one shyam had so carefully engineered, vijay verma would never have come into di’s life.

as he thought that, asr checked himself… no, life was not a simplistic linear tale where loose ends got tied up neatly. but what the, once in a way it did happen. he threw back his head and laughed. the last vestiges of a bleak dark feeling beginning to leave his body, his mind… feelings which had started on a terrace one dark night.

this really called for a good single malt whisky he decided and got up, now in a hurry to reach home.

as he walked out into the breezy evening, his tie flew up and checked out the air, his hair followed suit windblown in seconds, he called khushi to tell her about di and to get ready quickly… but her phone was busy.


“amma?!!!” khushi shrieked with delight, “how come you are calling me… international call! hayee, chaliye phone rakhiye, i’ll call you back…”

(awww… go on, put the phone down, i’ll call you back…)

“nahin, khoosie bitiya,” amma said quickly, “i just wanted to hear your voice, bas… and give you some very good news… your babu ji is much better now, he is walking a little bit too… doctor verma has been so helpful… and khoosie, aaj unhone bahut din ke baad humse baatey ki! devi maiyya ka lakh lakh shukr,” khushi could tell her mother was crying. and surprisingly, there was something other than just happiness in her voice.

(and, khushi, today after a long time, he spoke to me! many thanks to devi maiyya for this blessing!)

“amma! i am so happy to hear that, will you let him say hello to me, i haven’t heard him for so long,” khushi knew she sounded tremulous, “par amma, tell me, what else did you want to say… we are never going to hide anything from each other, theek hai? bataiye humey, hum jaantey hain you are upset…”

(… we are never going to hide anything from each other, okay? tell me, i know you are upset…)

“nahin, woh…” garima paused then deciding something, carried on, “unhoney humse kaha ki he did not have a stroke suddenly as we all thought… woh.. woh… shyam ji unhen dawai nahin di jab unhen daura aa raha tha, aur… he grabbed him and tried to kill him, in fact…” she said haltingly.

(no… he told me that he did not have a stroke suddenly as we all though… that… shyam ji refused to give him his medicines when he was getting an attack, and, he grabbed him and tried to kill him, in fact…)

“shyam ji!” khushi couldn’t believe her ears. and yet, a part of her said, why should that surprise you. what had her poor babu ji done to that monster… why did her wonderful loving father have to suffer like this… for more than two years he had suffered. suffered so much. but why, why did shyam ji do this?

a memory flashed. babu ji going almost hysterical when he saw di that first time when she had come home to talk about jiji’s wedding.

babu ji must have known, khushi deduced, that shyam ji was married to di when he was trying to manipulate her into marrying him. how very sad for her father, not being able to help his daughters… and how sad for anjali ji, to have been married to such an unholy man.

hey devi maiyya, why do good people suffer like this?

“amma,” khushi tried to soothe her distraught mother, “devi maiyya will protect babu ji, don’t worry, he will be fine… and see… shyam ji will pay for this too… we may have no way of proving this, but i know he will not get away with it… if only i had not met him that day,” khushi almost wept as she remembered,”sab meri galati hai!”

(it’s all my fault!)

“shh… khoosie, don’t talk like that… galati kissiki nahin hai… in life things happen, we just do what’s best at that time… i was perturbed, i wanted to tell you because i felt you needed to know the truth… payaliya is pregnant now, i don’t want to upset her… but some day…” garima gupta had gone through much in life and she had learned the importance of keeping focused on the valid, the good… there was enough and more evil and wrong in the universe, but if you had even one thing good in your world, it could vanquish a million evils. and she had been blessed with so many wonderful people in her life, who loved her without question. she was mother to two beautiful girls she had not given birth to and she was the only love in a man’s life whose second wife she had become. but still, when she had heard about shyam, she had sorely felt the need to kill someone for the first time ever in her life.


“nand kissore ka matlab kya hai, nandlala ka matlab kya hai, shyam ka matlab kya hai, giridhar gopal ka matlab kya hai? buaji, why does your nand kissore have so many names? my salman ji has only one!” the ten year old child was helping her aunt set up the janmashtami jhoola, endless questions pouring out as she darted about putting a flower here, a little silk cloth there, dusting and rearranging the tiny swing again and again. she loved janmashtami, she wanted to sit next to kishan ji and be swung in the jhoola. and she wanted to be the one to pull the string longer than anyone else during prayers.

(what’s the meaning of nand kishore, what’s the meaning of nandlala, what’s the meaning of shyam, what’s the meaning of giridhar gopal?)

“hai re nand kissore, aafat ki puriya, sanka devi, now i have to tell you why god himself has so many names… that one is god, samjheo? ooka agar vishwa brahmand ke saare naam chahiye, toh woh unka howat… kaa? nand kissore means son of nand, also nandlala… syam yaani syam varna, kaala… he was not fair you know…” exasperated though madhumati was, she explained to her curious noisy niece.

(that one is god, understand? if he wants all the names in the whole wide universe, then they are all his, what! nand kishore means son of nand, also nandlala… shyam as in the shyam colour, black… he was not fair you know…)

“haw, if shyam means black and that is god’s name then black is good na, bua ji? then why do you make jiji put fair and lovely? she hates it you know, also all that turmuric paste and malai…” khushi made a face as she danced around with a garland of flowers before placing it where bua ji was sternly telling her to.

“since shyam means dark, does god do dark things? ever?” khushi’s next question flummoxed bua ji.

“dark things? no, parmeswari, god does what needs to be done, we do the dark things, nand kissore… then blame god… see how we name all the world, nand kissore, after god… thinking only good things will be done, but never happens that way, never! hai re nand kissore!” bua ji sighed heavily, khushi wondered why bua ji never took off that om locket on that tight chain around her neck, the one that bobbed up and down constantly when bua ji spoke…

“om matlab kya hai?” khushi continued firing questions.

(what’s the meaning of om?)


asr walked into the flat feeling excited, where was khushi? he had to tell her about di.

“khu-” he began to call out…

then he saw her standing at the doorway of their bedroom. her eyes looked puffy, her nose was red. what-

she began running toward him just then…

she was running toward him in a dark dishevelled godown, that first time she’d raced across to him and put her arms around his tired bruised body… letting him come home at last…

she was running toward him in a room in sheesh mahal, shyam and chacha ji watched, their jaws dropping, asr was pleased to note. her eyes were only on him and a curiously happy smile on her face…

ohhh khushi…

his heart seemed to call out to her from across all the times they had been together, been each other’s. mine, you are mine, a voice in him said..

he let his briefcase fall to the floor and held open his arms.

she landed on him, throwing him off balance a bit. he wanted her to do just that… he wanted her to always know he was there no matter what.

“hey!” he laughed, “what’s the matter…? missed me so much?”

she had buried her face in his neck and was refusing to look up.

“khushi?” he asked, now tender… there was no answer.

“khushi!” his voice grew instantly urgent. something was wrong.

“it was him, arnav ji…” khushi whimpered, “my babu ji… he wasn’t sick, shyam ji tried to kill him…”

they had never made it to nainital… and he had left her on the road, angry with her… no, with himself. later he had heard her father was in hospital and some unknown force had claimed him. he had to see her… he had to be there for her… even if he wanted to get her out of his thoughts, his sight, his life…

“khushi!” he had whispered standing in that hospital corridor.

and she had come running to him… into his arms, throwing herself on him, burying her face against him, wanting reassurance… nothing else… and he had not been able to return her embrace, tell her it will be alright, he was there, he would let nothing happen…

his arms went around khushi gathering her closer, “shh… shh… baby, my sweetheart… khushi… don’t worry, shyam will not harm you any more, he will never hurt babu ji again… i am here… i promise…”


“kadwa hai…” khushi said grimacing, after the first sip.

(it’s bitter!)

asr had persuaded her to have a whisky with him. she was not too keen, but he had assured her she would love it and if not, he had some good red dessert wine on standby.

he had never needed company to have his drink. but for a while now he had wanted to sit with khushi and have a drink… his drink.

he wanted to make it for her in fact. three cubes of ice in a baccarat crystal heavy bottomed whisky glass, he tended to prefer the classic harcourt design, although smoke was yet another look he enjoyed, younger but stylish. a splash of macallan into it, sliding and dancing over the ice. how much? always, his call… no peg measure to interfere and start quoting rules to arnav singh raizada.

he had decided to start with the lighter more pleasant taste of macallan toned down with a little ice before letting her try his favourite laphroaig with just a drop of water… too smoky for a beginner he reckoned and he didn’t wish to turn her off permanently.

the clear glass showed off the amber tones of the fiery liquid, she looked at it, her nose wrinkling.

“try it,” he coaxed, they were sitting by the window looking out at the lights gleaming outside, the moon was a large golden ball tonight.

she took a sip gingerly. he waited, his glass almost at his lips.

then she pronounced her verdict.

“what the… this is not mango juice, you know… let it be, i’ll get you a …” he started off, immediately irate.

“hume kadva cheez pasand hai,” she said ignoring him and looking very serious, and took another sip, “jaisa kadva karela… khadoos laad…” her eyebrow was raised, and she was attempting a lopsided grin.

(i like bitter things. like bitter gourd… nasty lord…)

he looked at her and started laughing. she was flirting with him, dammit.

his eyes grew soft as he took his first sip looking at her… how his crazy jhalli girl had grown in just these couple of years. a girl who was raised in a simple home, sheltered; who had hardly seen anything of life; tender, innocent, nubile; who believed in life being a straightforward thing where if you stuck to traditions all would be well… who had almost walked into a pillar when she heard lavanya was living with him and they were not married… who had a childlike belief in good, who had an innocence nothing could mar… who had never ever thought she would meet a man as difficult as him and then actually fall in love with him… how much she had faced… and how much she had fought off her own barriers… taken steps outside what felt safe… how magnificently she had handled it all, the bad things, the new things, things that confused and challenged her… and his weeks in coma… how had she managed so much… his pagal, his khushi…

“khushi!” he raised his glass, “to you, because you are… you!”

khushi blushed and took a huge gulp of the warm golden liquid. felt as though she tasted him.


“arnav ji, let’s go out!” khushi said, her words slurring slightly.

“out?” he was definitely not uninebriated, “khushi, come ‘ere now!”

he wanted to make love to her.

but she was having none of it.

“out! bahar… now… i want to go out, otherwise arnav singh raizada, you going jail, samjhe tum, chakki peesing and peesing, only buriyah with you… nooo khushi?” khushi giggled.

he sighed, she had gone into filmi mode… now there was no escape.

“okay! okay!” he stood up with his hands raised in the air, surrendering… “let me get the car keys…”

“nahiin!” she leapt up and fell on him, “no bentley shentley!”

bentley… shentley??? asr winced.

“huh!” he exclaimed, then muttered, “what’s wrong with the women in my life… bentley shently romantic shomantic… i need a drink…”

“no drive,” she swayed a little, “no drive when you drink… my car… we take my car… okay, big red car?”

red? he thought… a smile slanted across his lips, ohhh khushi, you always look beautiful in red… even that night when i was a monster you were a lovely princess in carmine.

he smiled mushily, quite drunk now, he had no idea how many macallans he had poured into his glass… khushi was so happy… who was counting…

“mine, you are mine, mrs arnav singh raizada,” he whispered in her ear and tried to pull her toward the bedroom, he couldn’t understand why they were not making love still.

“and you are mine, d’you understand, laad governor mister raizada, no chakki no peesing!” she wagged her finger at him and pulled him along in the opposite direction, out of the flat stomping across with him to the main road, then she stopped at one point…

“no, khushi… nooo!” he protested, realising what she’d meant.

“yes, yesyesyesyesyes,” she prattled merrily pushing him into the huge red bus that had just trundled up to the stop.

what the f… he thought… there was red, there was khushi, there was him and that night… beside nothing said you couldn’t kiss your wife in a bus… nor you couldn’t make love.


they were the last two passengers in the bus now, they’d gone all the way to the terminus then got into the bus coming back… they sat arms around each other, snuggling, nuzzling, kissing at times.

“do you know, arnav ji,” khushi rubbed her cheek against his stubble, “this is our second bus ride together…”

“it is?” he looked at her nonplussed, then his eyes sparkled browner still, “last time there was such a big crowd and you had been crying so much, tum bahut roti ho khushi,” he whispered.

(you cry too much, khushi.)

khushi swallowed hard. so she had not imagined it… he was there with her that day, when she had missed him terribly, scared he may not recover, desperate for him.

“arnav ji or salman ji?” he looked at her quizzically and said, wanting to make her feel loopy again, happy… just the two of them together.

“daniel ji!” she replied after a thoughtful pause.

“huh?” asr was foxed.

“haan!” she put her head on his shoulder and settled in comfortably, “aapne kabhi james bond film dekhi hai? hayee, maar dhad, dhishum dhishum, action drama, sachchi mein angreji film utna bhi bura nahin hai, aur daniel craig ji toh… my name is bond, james bond, my name is raizada, arnav singh raizada!” she chortled.

(yes, have you ever seen a james bond film? oh, the fighting, the bashing, the action and drama, really, english films aren’t so bad after all… and daniel craig ji is… my name is bond, james bond, my name is raizada,
arnav singh raizada!)

i’ve drowned and dreamt this moment
so overdue, i owe them
swept away, i’m stolen
let the skyfall…
~~~ adele and paul epworth, skyfall ~~~


without you chapter 36