asr felt his arms going around her slight frame and pulling her toward him, her body didn’t resist. it felt as if it moved just a fraction of a second or even a smaller count of time ahead of the pressure his palm and fingertips exerted on her back, on either side, just above the waist.
his hands settled more comfortably, his grip getting firm. he didn’t notice the lightness that came into his heart, a faint memory of a night by an ocean grazed his mind lightly. an emptiness was ebbing away, and a fullness flowed in. she moved and he felt her fingers clutch him lightly at the shoulder, he lifted her other hand and brought it without thinking to where his heart possibly beat, he held it there for an instant before sliding it up all the way to his other shoulder.
she sighed and laid her head on his chest as her hands linked behind his neck, her fingers played with his hair. he didn’t know he smiled in the dark as he stooped slightly, seeking something… at last her cheek lay against his. he felt his breath ease. he wanted her to tighten her hold on him and almost on cue she did. they swayed together in that crowded room, milling with new year’s eve revelers, barely any space to move. ne me quitte pas… don’t quit on me… don’t leave me… the song played on. he almost laughed at the corniness of it all. especially because he knew some part of him was saying those very words to this crazy funny creature in his arms, this devourer of jalebis; though thankfully, he was not singing those words, he was just yelling… not all of arnav singh raizada had been destroyed by this girl who came from nowhere one day and became part of him.
part of him. he frowned slightly. yes, he realised that was exactly what she’d become. in a little over seven months, a girl he’d never met before, had become someone he couldn’t imagine being without… ever. when she wasn’t around, felt as though something vital had gone missing. defied any rational explanation this whole thing. and he was always uncomfortable with things like that. something was decidedly odd about this situation, but right now she was pressing harder into him, and did she just moan? he really couldn’t think any more. he turned swiftly and kissed her on her mouth.
she jerked against him involuntarily, surprised by the suddenness of his kiss. he could feel his entire body respond to that, he grabbed her harder and and continued kissing her as they danced.
khushi felt arnav ji’s lips on hers and started. where were they? she’d almost forgotten they were at lavanya ji’s place, so lost she had been in his embrace dancing, that feeling of his prickly, scraping cheek on hers, demanding attention, loving her in its jwalamukhi, laad governor way…
“tu pagal hai!” she admonished herself, “and today you haven’t even had shawn-pan-ye!”… then her eyes widened to large circles, her breath wanted to rush in and her lips formed an immaculate “o” in her mind, even before she realised both were impossible to do since arnav ji’s lips were firmly clamped on hers and she, shameless that she was, was also kissing him back.
“kya!” khush’s thoughts raced, “kitni besharam hai tu, khushi! hey devi maiyya, hume maaf kar dijiye! hum kaise behooda ban gaye hain… sab inki galati hai… nahin nahin… jhoot kaise kah sakte… hamari bhi, hamari bhi!”
(what! how shameless are you, khushi! hey mother goddess, please forgive me! how wanton i’ve become, everything is his fault… no no… how can i lie… mine too, mine too!)
“stop squawking, khushi!” asr said brusquely, freeing her lips for an instant and even before she could reply, he went back to do doing what he had been doing. khushi almost forgot all her protests, but then she closed her eyes, muttered “hey devi maiyya, hume shakti dena!” in her heart and pulled away.
(hey mother goddess, give e strength!)
“khushi!” asr sounded irate. she knew his eyes must have grown angry, darkish reddish fiery brown.
“nahin! arnav ji, sab ke saamne kaise aap humey…” she blushed even as the words tumbled out.
(no! arnav ji, how can you in front of everyone…)
“exactly! not that it matters, but really… sab… too many people…” even as asr rasped out the words through his teeth, he caught hold of her hand and started pulling her along after him, walking with a decisive air off the dance floor, which was practically the whole room by now.
“bhai!” akash called out as he spotted his cousin. his cousin didn’t turn around though, he kept walking. akash saw khushi appear after him, stumbling along. he grinned and turned back, gathering payal closer in his arms.
“hey! only half an hour to new year, nannav! eleven twenty nine… thir… hey!… where are you going?” nk looked at them surprised, he had stepped off the floor for a drink.
asr said nothing. khushi tried to stop and talk to nk, but her husband tugged her hand harder. khushi went flying and protesting after him.
lavanya appeared next to nk, she was grinning.
“what’s going on, humey kuch samandar mein nahin aa raha!” nk looked puzzled.
(what’s going on, i don’t ocean a thing!)
la pecked him on the cheek and said, “not samandar, silly, samajh… and i am so happy to see them go! i was getting worried!”
(not ocean, silly, understand.. and i am happy to see them go! i was getting worried!)
nk looked at la mystified. he was beginning to sort of like her, but she wanted her guests to leave her party! huh?!
la smiled to herself. asr never attended new year’s eve parties. never. her smile widened… she still knew the man she once had…
“how about a dance?” the voice startled la.
salman was standing before her, cool and unfazed as ever. la looked at the young man… almost a boy, she thought, must be at least five years younger than her.
she slipped easily into his arms, was slightly amused at the startled look he gave her, and then they were dancing.
nk shook his head bemused and took another sip of his drink.
deep in the middle of the floor, jostled by other dancers, jean pierre drew kareena closer and whispered, “i am glad i took your enchanting suggestion and came to india for ze new year, ma cherie.”
enchanting suggestion, kareena liked the sound of it… she felt like designing something gossamer and mysterious to that.
“but, arnav ji!” khushi started to demur as asr marched her to the suv and opened the door for her, clearly impatient for her to get inside.
“shh! khushi, we’ll talk later, let’s go now!” he said in a decisive tone of voice and helped her in. without waiting to hear what she had to say, he walked over to his side, got in, turned and fixed her seat belt, then his, and started the car.
khushi stared at him speechless, what was the matter with arnav ji! where were they rushing to? and now? khushi’s eyes fell on the dashboard clock… it was almost thirty five minutes past eleven. the roads were dark, dense winter fog reduced visibility, a thin film of dew had already started to settle on the windscreen. asr drove looking straight ahead, he was absolutely silent. in the dark, khushi could see his irises glitter at times.
“see see, i ij knowings only this years ij goings to be teep taap bootiphool, raju ji… hello hi bye bye, you don’t belieb me why? ebhen phuture-phit guru ji sayings the same!” manorama clapped her hands in glee and gave her husband an arch look.
(see see, i know this year’s going to be beautiful, raju ji… hello hi bye bye, you don’t believe me, why? even future-fit guru ji is saying the same thing.)
they were sitting in their bedroom watching the new year’s eve programme on manorama’s favourite channel. future-fit guru ji and kamlesh khabri were her two favourite men on television. she believed everything they said. while one made her feel she had some control over what was to come, the other satisfied her craving for gossip and scandal. manorama raizada was absolutely certain that to be successful in life these things were essential; she categorised both as reliable, useful information.
her husband gave a patient smile and gingerly put an arm around his wife’s shoulder. manorama was dressed in black tonight. she had announced she knew the “sappisticate colourwa phar new yearj, hello hi bye bye,” and pulled out a remarkably gaudy black banarasi. the rich black silk had been ambushed by large clusters of silver and gold zari with a layer of bright shiny sequins. manorama contrasted the saree with an orange red blouse with large holes cut into the sleeves. a diamond and yellow gold choker, at least four inches wide, was wrapped around her neck. long shoulder dusters of diamond and gold glittered on her ears. her arms were covered in gold. just before sitting down on the sofa to watch television, she’d thrust her left hand out and wagged her index finger at her husband.
(the sophisticated colour for new year, hello hi bye bye.)
“ee cacktails ringwa dekhat ho? phassoniya ij my passuniya, you knowj! isspessal phar ours pribhate party i wearings hello hi bye bye!” she had said with a coquettish shake of her head and fluttering of eyelashes under heavily blue eye-shadowed lids, pointing to the garish diamond and gold ring in the shape of a pair of lips.
(see this cocktail ring? fashion is my passion, you know! i’m wearing it specially for our private party, hello hi bye bye!)
rajveer singh raizada watched his wife’s rapt expression and hoped fervently future-fit guru ji and kamlesh khabri and phassoniya cocktail ring had managed to make her forget that her son was at a party with his wife, the girl he loved and had chosen to spend his future with.
“set aside the cocktails, whisky, and other drinks, everyone… it’s champagne time! get ready for the count down!” lavanya called out cheerfully, handing out flutes of bubbly to everyone.
payal blushed as akash thrust a glass in her hand and winked at her.
it was almost midnight, when asr parked the car in the driveway of shantivan and alighted swiftly. he walked across, opened the door on khushi’s side, and picked her up in his arms without uttering a single word. then he began striding toward the entrance.
“aap… aap kya kar rahe hain!” khushi squealed.
(you… what are you doing!)
“shut up, khushi!” asr’s voice was curt.
was he angry? what was the matter? khushi began to feel terribly flustered.
what am i doing? what the hell am i doing? asr thought to himself… and yet he knew he had to do this, he wanted to do this dammit.
senseless, the whole thing was senseless.
it had always been, said his mind… why must everything make sense, it asked. asr shrugged off the question and walked even more briskly.
bedi ji, happy ji, billo mausi, her husband rajat ji, madhumati ji, and the others celebrating the coming of the new year at lakshminagar, stepped out onto the verandah shivering a little despite their woolens, and got ready with their phool jharis.
the sparklers would be lit at 12 midnight sharp. rajat bhalla tried to keep a distance from his wife, hoping she would not expect him to lift her in his arms at the auspicious hour. for the sake of his waist and back, he prayed she would get over this particular penchant of hers soon.
bedi ji blinked adoringly at bua ji in the cover of the dark.
“nani!” anjali exclaimed, clutching her middle.
“what’s wrong, bitiya!” hemangini singh raizada looked with concern at her granddaughter sitting on the chair next to hers.
“kuch nahin!” anjali laughed, “the baby kicked!”
hemangini felt a rush of joyous excitement, she laughed a little, and unnoticed in it was perhaps a sob. her ratna’s grandchild was getting bigger and stronger every day. soon the baby would be here.
arnav singh raizada reached their bedroom carrying his frowning wife. he walked in and kicked the door shut, then he went up to the chaise longue by the french windows and with great care laid her down on it.
the pool outside was placid and dark, a row of blue and white fairylights glimmered on the far wall where the stairs led up to the drawing room.
khushi looked up at arnav ji, bewildered. her hair was mussed up, there was barely any trace of make up on her face. she lay there, a helpless air about her. she wondered why she felt so languid, as if even if she wanted, she couldn’t get up. was arnav ji doing some… wait a minute… jadoo tona!
her eyes darted to him at the thought. he looked into her eyes with a curious smile as he bent down and took away her large snuff coloured shawl, below which of course was her yellow cardigan. he caught hold of it and peeled it off her with a no nonsense air, then he pushed her back against the sofa.
his eyes were an intense brown, khushi noted. this was jadoo of some sort, no doubt.
he leaned down again, the smallest smile playing on his lips. her eyes picked things on his face she couldn’t decipher. something wild caught at her. was there a fleck of yellow in his brown eyes?
he came closer still, she stared at his lips, that beginning of a slant.
a feeling overwhelmed her and as she closed her eyes, it was just then that his lips make contact. khushi felt her breath draw in and air hit the back of her throat.
his lips brushed hers, light and teasing and seeking what she wasn’t quite sure. he nudged against her mouth, something touched the sharp edge of her upper incisors, fluttering against the inner surface of her lip… it was his tongue.
khushi felt the languor grow, a headiness. she tilted her face up and gently licked his lips, then she ventured further… a light little nip on the lips came next. she reached up and put her hands on his cheek, pulling his face near.
his arms went around her and he began to kiss her, no more play and tease in his lips.
he still couldn’t fathom why that day he had lost control the way he had. what had stirred in him exactly as she’d lain just here, looking lost and innocent.. in that blue churidar kurta with its gota, its pompoms… her hair falling over her forehead.
that very first time he’d kissed her.
right here… on this chaise.
he had no idea also why it was important to bring her here tonight… kiss her as the new year came in.
new year meant nothing to him. no, it did actually. it meant maa would not be celebrating her birthday, again.
he held khushi tight in his arms and his mouth closed on hers. he hoped her year would be all she wanted it to be.
“you looked beautiful in blue that day,” he murmured by her ear, he had no idea how tender he sounded, he hoped he wasn’t losing his mind, “you know that was her favourite colour.”
khushi knew suddenly why he had brought her here, which day he spoke of, and who he was speaking of without having to be told.
she stroked his hair, his back and hugged him.
“aap ki amma bahut sundar thi na? neela pasand tha unhen… and why not, hai hi itna sundar rang… samandar, aasman, sab neela… aur hamare taarey…” she was smiling, he could feel her lips move against his temple, he breathed in, her musky wafting fragrance filling him. why was there a scent of frangipani he wondered. yet he knew why.
(your mother was beautiful, wasn’t she? she liked blue… and why not, it’s such a pretty colour… the ocean, the skies, all are blue… even my stars…)
“khushi, blue is the colour that least occurs in nature,” he said in a staid sort of voice, his right hand settling on her left breast. he pecked her on the soft skin of her throat, just where a pulse beat fast.
“arnav ji, humey mat sataiye!” khushi made a moue, “phir hum jon piye ji ki neeli neeli aakhon ke baarey me bahut kuch kahenge!”
(arnav ji, don’t tease me! then i’ll say a lot of things about jean pierre’s blue eyes!”
“what the!” snarled arnav singh raizada lifting his head with alacrity and glaring at her.
“rakshas, magarmach, jwalamukhi!” she threw at him, giggling.
“you’ll pay for this!” he whispered in a menacing tone. yes, there were yellow flecks in his eyes.
khushi gasped and sprang up, ready to flee.
he caught her easily and dragged her right back, she collapsed in a heap into his arms, on his lap, against his chest.
“happy new year, khushi!” he laughed and flicked her nose with a finger. his hands were already beginning to pull off her kurta.
khushi flung her arms around him and shut her eyes, “hey devi maiyya, arnav ji ko duniya ki saari khushiya dena!” she prayed to her goddess.
(hey mother goddess, give arnav ji all the happiness of the world)
“naya saal mubarak ho, laad governor… shadyantri sher!” she said by his ear and started opening his shirt buttons.
arnav singh raizada’s shoulders shook as laughter overtook him even as desire ran rampant across his body. his wife had given him a gift for new year… a new name.
shadyantri sher. scheming lion. dammit, he’d married a lunatic. he hoped she’d never change.
as he showered later, the agony hit him. first of january. on her last birthday, di had made maa a lemon meringue cake and nani ji as always had sent kheer and a saree from delhi. pita ji had come home late at night, but maa had waited to cut her cake with him.
he could still feel her excitement as she untied the blue strings of the present he’d given her. it was a little blue ceramic vase, for her to keep flowers on her bedside table.
he had to stop this… maudlin sentimentality had no place in his life. she was gone. that was all.
he felt a shard of pain somewhere… he couldn’t tell where exactly. he stepped out of the shower and dried himself with the large white towel.
when he came to the room he saw khushi was still fast asleep on her side of the bed. he lay down beside her and slipped an arm around her from the back. it was almost six in the morning. he’d sat quiet at the poolside for hours after she’d fallen asleep. maa had such a beautiful laugh…
as his eyes were about to close, the phone rang.
“hello?” it was a woman’s voice, “am i speaking to mr raizada… mr arnav singh raizada?”
he didn’t recognise the caller. there was a foreign lilt to her pronunciation. asr felt a sudden chill in the air.
he was her jwalamukhi, sometimes he was her magarmach too.
i am late as usual, do forgive. asli duniya on a rampage, everything coming at you together… yet the need to write this story keeps pulling me. i hope you’re enjoying never on a new year. many of you have left comments on the page, thanks so much for that. won’t make any promises, will be back as soon as i can.