lavanya knocked on asr’s door and walked in, she was in a tizzy about the pret a porter line for blooms… she was very sure the standardized sizes needed to be looked at again. the market had changed, quite drastically in fact, in the past few years. the number of young women with a taste for fashion and ready money of their own to spend had grown dramatically. this year, she had a hunch that opening up the sizes and not pushing for only the lean measurements would bring in profits. there was no need to create a separate line for the bigger women, just offer more sizes and mention it clearly in ads. but the head of design was not at all willing to listen to this…
“asr!” la started off even as she stepped into his office, “you have to speak to ashok, this cussed ‘i know everything about fashion’ way of his just gets me, i can’t stand these ‘creative’ huffs!” she did the two fingers up quote sign in the air and shook her head in exasperation.
she’d expected to get an instant response from the usually very quick and alert boss of hers. but it didn’t come.
lavanya frowned at the still figure sitting behind the desk staring at the computer. he had a faint smile on his lips and his eyes looked somewhat unfocused.
lavanya almost screamed, “asr, tum theek ho?”
(asr, are you alright…)
then it occurred to her, he was fine. he was, and this is when la’s jaw almost hit the floor, day dreaming.
what!!! lavanya would have slapped herself and said, “stop hallucinating, la… asr does not do such silly things…”
she somehow controlled the urge, tossed her head and walked out of the room.
as she sashayed down the corridor toward jp’s office, she heard her phone ring.
“yes?” said lavanya crisply, answering the call.
“you are right, lavanya… we’ll go for the bigger sizes,” came asr’s voice, brusque and commanding, as usual. then the phone went dead.
lavanya wondered whether this was reassuring or totally unsettling.
she would go with jean pierre to paris she decided, she wanted to get back that feeling… that a man woman relationship could be cool, pretty casual, yet fun and plenty games. asr had actually fallen in love, she doubted she could ever do that… but she was looking forward to the wedding, she had a smashing gold tissue evening gown…
“aaj mausam hai suhana, kabooter ban gaya laad governor haye kya bahana, what the what the la la…” khushi traipsed into kareena and salman’s room, practically dancing, huge grin on her face, prattling her nonsense song.
(today the weather is beautiful, the pigeon became lord governor what an excuse, what the what the la la…)
salman looked up from his work, “huh! what’s that… pigeon … laad governor… what… whoaaa!” the last exclamation came as khushi pulled him by the hand and drew him into a happy twirl with her… in seconds, she had left him and fallen on kareena. kareena giggled and said “hawww, what’s with you, babe?” and got into a vigorous bhangra with her friend.
“yaar, you women are nuts,” salman said raising his eyebrows and shrugging, “khushi, you alright?”
khushi’s eyes twinkled as she let go of kareena, stood at attention, then started to march around the room yelling, “riiight, left, right, left right…”
she did a couple of rounds, then went and caught kareena in a big hug, rushing soon to salman and giving him a tight hug too.
“aapke liye itne saare jappi, salman ji, kareena ji… thank you so much for that beautiful beautiful shadi ka joda…!” she said eyes shining.
(so many hugs for you…)
“aaah, so that’s the matter!” salman grinned, “see, kareena, she liked the layering of different materials which you said she wouldn’t!” he threw at kareena.
“huh?! really,” came kareena’s retort, “what about the fine zardosi and pearls melange i created which you thought was awful but gave a richness minus heavy gooeyness…!!!”
khushi jumped in between them and yelled, “yaalgaar yaalgaar, kareena ji and salman ji are having a khatarnak war over who’s a better designer… aha!” she paused, then in her quixotic way, she broke into, “aaj mausam hai suhana, war karne ka hai bahana, what the what the what the…”
(challenge! challenge! kareena ji and salman ji are having a fabulous war over who’s a better designer… aha!… today the weather is beautiful, there’s a reason to go to war, what the what the what the…).
laughter came to the rescue as the three of them gave in to the moment. it was obvious khushi was feeling light frothy and almost hysterically happy.
“two two weddings, ji, two two weddings… so kareena ji, you must do do double double dressing up! and salman ji, no jeans allowed, okay? shaandaar jaan lewa sherwani mein aap ekdam nawab dikhenge, nawab!”
(in a magnificent, killer sherwani you’ll look like a nawab!)
“sweetheart,” sighed salman, “are you for real…”
kareena said, “so you did bring back a teri meri kahani from bali, khushi… i am sooo happy,” and she grabbed salman and whirled away into another round of dancing with him.
the watery bulging eyes looked back at asr, venom seeping into them. asr’s cold brown irises gazing implacably, didn’t flinch… that venom was what he had been after all along. it was the only way he’d know shyam was hurting.
shyam sat across from arnav singh raizada in the tiny room in the police station where shyam was being held at the moment. asr had no intention of marrying without fixing this problem first.
“shyam, you will understand what i just said means… you are not going to be leaving prison anytime soon. i’d say, for the next thirty odd years you’ll be in jail. maybe more. depends on how many women we find out about,” he said almost pleasantly.
“you will have no right over my sister’s child and this you will formally assent to. furthermore, you will gain nothing from this alliance of yours, and the case against you will be not only of bigamy but a criminal charge involving the transfer of her defence colony property to your name. along with this case, lavanya will formally charge you with attempt to murder, you will be held in custody right through. don’t bother to apply for bail. i will use every means in my power… fair or unfair… to make sure you never get out.”
shyam looked up startled, his eyes growing hooded and even more bilious.
asr continued, unperturbed, “… unfair means being most appropriate for you and you do know in delhi how far one can go with that… of course, did i forget to mention, you will be disbarred by the law society and never practice law again…” a curious little smile played on fine lips as shyam’s claw like hands clenched at this.
“you will get the maximum sentence for attempted murder and bigamy with an intent to swindling my sister. i will make sure that these two sentences do not run concurrently,” asr looked at shyam keenly. his face was unmoving, hard.
“you will also be tried by women you have cheated across the world, in various cities, one by one, on charges of bigamy, felony, swindling, etc. my main contribution to your future prison terms would be ensuring they do not run together, but one after another… you know ar has a highly capable legal team, we’ll work with lawyers from all the different countries and get this done, don’t worry, jija ji! till now, we have located eight women you have played your sick game with. i am sure we’ll unearth more…” asr paused and then leaned forward…
“i’ll see you in hell, shyam manohar jha, for doing what you’ve done to my sister. by the end of all this, you’ll wish you’d never set eyes on her. you do know how men who are a little soft and physically slight get treated by prison mates, don’t you… shyam?” asr spoke slowly, deliberately. there was a purposefulness in his tone that made the listener squirm… a slight unease rode up the back of shyam’s neck, an ancient response to a sense of danger.
shyam’s eyes went pebble like, dense. he was well acquainted with the state of prisons and the law and order situation within the cells.
“don’t even think of bribing your way out of anything…” asr’s voice had grown softer, almost whispering, ruminative, “you will be dealt with as harshly as you ought to be and i know by the end of your first term you will know exactly what hell is.”
shyam tried to lunge at asr, asr drew back slightly moving out of shyam’s reach.
“your discipline, law… will be used against you… you will not get away with this, shyam… if it’s the last thing i do, i will get you… d’you understand?” a cold gripping anger clenched asr from head to foot. he could barely breathe.
he stood up and walked out of the room.
he had to find the woman who owned the greater kailash house. she must have been the one to call khushi… but was she innocent, or an accomplice?
he didn’t hear shyam swear under his breath, “the last thing, you arrogant fool, the last thing… i am shyam manohar jha, are you trying to play games with me…!!”
“stop fidgeting, khushi kumari gupta,” asr said as khushi shifted position again. they were lying in each other’s arms on a sofa at the farmhouse. it was late evening.
it had been a long harsh day… there was the usual day to day work at ar, then the skirmishes between marketing and product over blooms in agung. and, there had been shyam.
a dark, trenchant flame still leapt in asr, a consuming lick in it.
his teeth automatically clenched, a nerve beat at his temple, the only outward sign of agitation. he could feel fury rise in him.
aman knew a bit about what was going on, but asr had decided not to involve anyone else in this matter. he had learned very early in life to stand alone against the storms of life. to take the battering and never yield. consulting, sharing, dividing responsibility, etc., were things he neither believed in nor was good at, especially when it came to personal matters. and anything to do with di was totally personal…
he also did not wish to put anyone in harm’s way.
he knew how dangerous shyam could be.
he also knew his wife to be was capable of throwing herself right in danger’s path, in fact court it practically, to save others… those she loved.
she had boarded a plane with a complete stranger and charged off to an unknown city so she could earn for her beloved jiji’s dowry.
asr hugged khushi close and even while admonishing her about her constant moving around couldn’t help but kiss her lightly on her head and say, “you’re absolutely mad, do you know that?”
“pagal nahin toh aur kya… who else would fall in love with a magarmach,” murmured khushi snuggling closer.
(of course mad, who else would fall in love with a croc…)
“hmmm… and what was that mausam hai suhana, kabooter becoming laad governor song… huh?” he teased, she was squirming again…
“what??? how do you know? have you put a detective after me! you know which saree i am seeing at a shop far away, you know what song i sing in someone else’s office… chudail!” khushi tried to sit up.
“yeah…” asr said huskily near her throat, and bit her playfully, “i live in the frangipani tree… though that gender… hmm” he kissed her again, “do you know you were composing the song while driving to work? you even forgot i was sitting next to you… i would rather be chudail than chidia…” he laughed out loud as khushi picked up a cushion and started hitting him with it.
(i would rather be a witch than a bird…)
khushi was breathing heavily now and laughing, her hair had come undone, at some point he had slipped off the parandi decorated scrunchy that she wore at the end of her plait and her silky straight tresses had loosened out, opened and tumbled all over.
she was wearing a pretty dark red today with a yellow and red leheriya dupatta. her skin glowed against the colour, healthy bright and alluring. her eyes shone in excitement and mirth. all he wanted to do was kiss her on that beautiful innocent cheek and play with her hair. he swallowed hard, this beautiful girl raining blows on him, he wouldn’t be able to live without her. he knew that with a certainty he couldn’t explain to himself.
khushi was about to hit him again when she noticed a movement at his throat. his adam’s apple… it moved up, there was a pause, then it came down slowly settling. khushi paused. something about it held her attention completely. she wanted to hold that moment in her she felt…
slowly she leaned over and kissed him on his adam’s apple. her eyes closed, her arms went around him and she simply lay over him feeling things she couldn’t find words for. i will never let anything happen to you, she thought.
“marogi nahin mujhe?” he said his hand stroking her hair.
(won’t you hit me?)
khushi felt her whole body respond to that playful teasing voice. it started as a pleasing flutter near her heart and then a clamour, a hunger thronged her. she held him tighter and with a little whimper started kissing him along the long taut column of his neck, his collarbone… an intimacy in her touch which came from deep within, without premeditation or conscious intention.
khushi clutched his collar and pushed her head against the warmth of his body, moaning slightly.
he could sense the change in her caress and his body responded, his heart beat raced, a different fire scorched… he could feel thought fade away even as he tried to hold on to it. “khushi…” he breathed out as he felt her hand slip into his waistband at the back, “darling…”
he let a languid hand catch hers and just stay there. then he pulled her closer as she lay on him, shifted a little and put his right leg over her left leg as they lay entwined. with his free hand, he stroked her back, his lips hovered and played on her hair, her forehead, he could feel his hunger grow… she sensed him it seemed for she reached up, nibbling his chin lightly, her cheek rubbing against his, her breath was uneven, he kissed her eyelids, his body pressed against the length of hers… a volley of unspoken communication exploded between two people who had met one unrecorded day in a foyer of a hotel and nothing had remained the same that moment on.
asr let his tongue trail over khushi’s upper lip, a lingering, familiar touch. khushi opened her mouth, her teeth glistening pearly white against plush pale pink lips. his tongue slid over the sharp edge of her teeth, something thrilling in that… he started kissing her as he had longed to ever since they’d left the office.
yet he’d held back… he knew himself… and he knew how innocent and full of wonder the girl in his arms was. she believed, he was sure, that girls only made love to their husbands. so… he would wait… be her husband. and let her keep her dream. her illusion… yes it was certainly that, it was. but he didn’t want even one of her illusions to break. certainly not her dreams.
he had neither. but she would have her dreams, her illusions, her fantasies, everything always… if he could help it.
why did he even feel such ridiculous things for this girl who had just barged into his life? again, he found no answer.
her hands were now busily taking off his shirt… she was kissing him at the same time.. every nerve in his body was alive. he wanted her… now.
“khushi!” his whisper was guttural, doused in desire… his shirt lay on the floor. his hands reached out and started to take off her kurta without even asking for permission, felt like it was his right, and khushi simply sat up and let him.
her eyes called him with such plain clear love. there was no inhibition in them. she held out her arms to him, and asked to be taken into his embrace, both of them bare to the waist, only a wisp of a lacy brassiere on her still.
he closed his eyes, breathed in deeply and let her come to him.
pale ivory skin touched male brown warm torso. shuddering breath rent the air.
“arnav ji,” she whispered, her eyes tightly shut, where was this feeling taking her… had she ever been here before?
her hands splayed across his back, her belly rubbing against his skin, she had never ever felt such a sensation. she was almost naked. yet it felt right.
so terribly right.
his fingers rode lightly across her back and when they came to her bra strap, they unclasped the hook, knowing that is what she was waiting for, she wanted. he could feel her breasts move as they were freed of the tie. a terrifying tenderness overcame him… he swallowed hard again.
this beautiful woman.
she was holding him with urgent hands and kissing him now… her body thrust against him. he could feel himself going over an edge. her hand explored his upper thigh…
he pushed her away before he lost all control.
she looked at him dazed.
he smiled tightly and kissed the tip of her nose.
then without a word, he helped her into her bra and her kurta, lay the dupatta with extraordinary care over her shoulders and hugged her.
“you are mine, always, samjhi tum?”
again that unspoken wave of communication. khushi nodded against his chest. i can’t live without you, arnav ji, she thought.
while shrugging into his shirt, he smiled a little arrogantly and said, “why can’t you resist me, khushi?”
khushi realised she had been staring, she made a face and threw a cushion at him, it missed him and fell into the urli full of red frangpani.
“meh mehhh!” bleated lakshmi ji walking into nani ji’s bedroom.
“kya baat hai, lakshmi? why are you so talkative in the evening suddenly?” nani ji looked up from the tray on which she was arranging all the many things needed for the wedding ceremony. purohit ji had given an exhaustive list and now that two of everything were required, it was best to start preparing early and avoid confusion at the auspicious hour.
(what’s the matter, lakshmi, why are you so talkative in the evening today?)
“ratna, chhotey is getting married… i hope i have done right by your children, we are trying so hard to keep anjali safe, i really don’t know how i couldn’t tell… that… damad ji…” she was in the middle of her quiet talk with her herself and her child when her pet goat pranced in.
lakshmi ji ran to nani ji and reached over swiftly, picking up a betel leaf from the tray and chomping on it fast.
nani ji frowned. this was not like her at all. and lakshmi must have just had dinner. even while nani ji pondered worried, lakshmi grabbed another betel leaf and ate it up.
why was she so upset nani wondered.
“ee dekhau, humaar sanka devi ke vaaste toh humaar saadi ka joda hai hi, nand kissore, ooka haldi ke liye… par payaliya, my darling one, where will i find a lehenga for you now?” bua ji wailed.
(just look, i have my wedding lehenga for the goddess of craziness, nand kishore, for her turmeric ceremony… but payal dear, my darling one, where will i find a lehenga for you now!)
this sudden burst of emotion out of the blue had everyone flummoxed for a moment. then khushi’s voice was heard loud and clear, “oh ho buaji, don’t worry for nothing, you know… we can both get into your saadi ka lehenga and still there will be space…”
she giggled and jumped around her bua ji.
“haink! mazaak karat hau, apni bua ki sizewa lekar aisan kahat ho… hai re nand…” bua ji wailed higher still…
(what! you’re making fun of me, saying such things about your aunt’s size… oh lord nand…)
as garima cut in, “khoosie! does anyone speak like that to an elder…!!”
unfazed, khushi danced some more and hugged her aunt, “sabse bada sizewa hai kisska pata hai, bua ji?” she asked and made silly funny faces at her glowering aunt.
(you know what has the largest size?)
then she fell on madhumati ji again, and yelled, “aapke dil ka, bua ji.. itna bada xxxl dil toh kissi ka ho hi nahin sakta… ussi liye thoda bada lehenga chaiye tha… samjhi aap?
(your heart, bua ji! such a large xxxl heart no one can have… which is why you need a slightly larger lehenga… d’you understand?)
“titaliya,” beamed her bua, om locket stuck on a fold of sumptuous neck, “tum kitni sararti ho gayi ho… aur bhi zyada… kaa baat hai, mohabbat ho gayi hai na babua se?”
(butterfly mine, you have become so naughty, even more so, what’s the matter… fallen in love with sonny boy, is it?)
billo mausi simpered and sighed at that. her hand automatically reached for her pins.
shashi gupta saw that and smiled a little, behen ji had been behaving rather strangely of late, but he was happy her mood had lifted. he had just called rajat ji and invited him to come for the wedding, it would be a nice surprise for billo behen ji.
payal blushed a full happy red and looked down, her ears flaming. she was horrified, what was happening to her.
khushi thought of the way she had felt just a while back and said, “nahiin, bua ji… it’s all jadoo tona… xxxl jadoo tona…,” caught hold of her jiji’s hand and ran off with her into their bedroom.
(noo, bua ji… it’s all black magic… xxxl black magic…)
“xxxl jadoo tona? hai re nand kissore!” came bua ji’s lusty exclamation.
“devi maiyya raksha karna!” replied khushi still laughing giddily.
it was early morning, the clock in bua ji’s living room was about to strike seven when the phone rang.
it was sunday, no office today, who could it be, khushi wondered as she struggled to wake up and answer the phone.
then her heart beat went haywire… was it arnav ji?
she grabbed the phone and whispered, “haylow!”
the voice she heard made her heart go still and very very cold.