the sand was still and smooth, a supple stretch extending all along and beyond. the water danced and gleamed. seagulls called out loud and almost demanding a ear. feathery white clouds roamed aimlessly about in the powder blue sky. a quiet lapping of waves could be heard along the shore. the edge of water was frilly and had a fine topping of white.
khushi felt wave upon wave of feelings fall against her heart. not so peaceful these surges, a turbulence in them, an undertow quite strong and disturbing, traveling through her from end to end.
“hey devi maiyya!” she sighed, tears mere seconds away from spilling over, “yeh humey kya ho raha hai… i can’t understand what’s happening! what are these feelings, are they normal? kya hum achhe nahin hain?”
(hey dm! what’s happening to me? i can’t understand what’s happening! what are these feelings, are they normal? am i not a good person?)
overwhelmed, she fell silent. there were no words really to describe the swell of unsettling thoughts in her.
she had woken up early this morning. they had arrived in bali fairly late the previous night. there had been hardly any time to prepare for this sudden trip arnav ji had decided they were going on. amma and babu ji had sounded happy when she’d called to tell them she’d be away for three days. amma had instructed her to not worry about anything, just enjoy herself with arnav ji. khushi had felt her ears go hot. kareena had feigned a swoon and fallen straight on salman who had yelled.
“how amorous! how intimate! how passionate… oh oh oh… sun and sky and water and love… only looove!” she had trilled, not one to let a chance to be dramatic go by.
khushi had walked out of their office, her heart beats in disarray, her knees quite unsteady. why was everyone so happy? why was no one stopping her… no him… laad governor. how embarrassing, to be just with him and everyone knowing that they were there by themselves…
khushi had fished out a packet of chana from her bag the moment she’s reached her desk and started throwing the little crunchy pods into her mouth hastily.
“do you know ‘ow much your pompoms are dancing, ma cherie?” jean pierre’s voice had brought her back from the land of panic. he was standing smiling at her.
“i ‘ear you go to ba-lee again…” he had not paused as khushi had visibly gulped, “i need you to contact zees gentleman in ubud and tell ‘im to send you ze seengs i ‘ave made a leest of… okay? and remember, ahhnav is now a married man, don’t let ‘im look at all zose girls on ze beech, yes?”
jp had laughed before leaving. all khushi could do was gawk at that last sentence of jon piye ji’s. her phone had rung. it was akash.”ha-an, sir… no no, jija ji?” khushi had stammered.
“khushi, tell me something,” akash had asked in his soft way, sounding slightly confused, “do you think payal will like paris… or should i take her to bali?”
“jija ji!” khushi had exclaimed, “paris? bali? jiji?” she couldn’t believe they were talking about such things as though they were pondering whether to go to chandni chowk or lakshminagar.
a brown hand had come and taken the phone from her nervous fingers.”paris. akash, take payal to paris,” a voice with its unmistakable grain had said, sounding very sure. khushi had watched asr, her mouth slightly open. when had he walked into her office? and why were his eyes looking so brown. why oh why couldn’t she look away. she would not go to bali… who did he think he was… she would tell him right now. she’d gotten her expression, voice, sentence everything ready.
but he had turned and swiftly kissed her. and she had lost the thread of her thought.
di had clapped her hands in glee and exclaimed, “i always knew it! my brother, the romantic man, the honeymoon man…”
she’d stroked asr’s cheek lovingly. he’d winced and said, “hp! black coffee in my room!” and loped up the stairs two at a time leaving khushi downstairs, blushing.
khushi remembered all this and frowned. then she looked at the wide expanse of the ocean and shook her head…
this morning when she’d woken up, arnav ji was lying next to her, still asleep. she had lain there on her side, inches away from him, staring at his profile. her eyes had moved from his forehead down the arch of his high straight nose to his lips, and she’d felt her throat muscles constrict. her fingers had wanted to reach and touch his lips. her eyes had moved further down and she’d started when she realised he was naked.
well at least his chest was bare, a sheet covered him from the waist down. khushi almost shook with desire and didn’t really want to know if he wore his pyjamas or not.
before she could stop them, her eyes had felt a hunger for him. she loved the taut gleam of his skin, its earthy brownness, she ached to touch the flat of his navel, to put her lips on his nipple, to nip his neck, to wake him up and… that’s when khushi had sprung out of bed.
what was she doing, hey devi maiyya…!!
what sort of thoughts were these first thing in the morning!
her legs had felt cold and she’d gazed mystified at her bare shins. she was wearing a short little something. it was black. silk. buoyant. it had all came back.
arnav ji had walked up to her from behind… he had put his hands on her shoulders and drawn her against him. she could feel the rise and fall of his body, his breath on her neck, the solitude all around, a vast feeling of being in this universe with him, only him. no one else. arnav and khushi.
she had called him by his name in her heart… a tremor in her whisper. he had turned her around. a violent thrust of joy and other emotions had made her close her eyes instinctively.
he had not said a word. she had felt his lips on hers for a moment, then he was reaching down and raising her kurta… it hadn’t even occurred to her to protest. he had taken off her clothes as they both stood in the centre of the room.
something soft had touched her face, then slipped down over her. a dress… what was it?
she had felt his hands settle over her sides, smoothing the fabric, moving down to her waist. his thumbs had brushed against her breast, her nipples, instantly awakening a response. she could feel a tightness as her breasts grew firm, her nipples grew defined. she had heard the slight indrawn breath from him, she had felt her breath grow dense. she had wanted to throw her body against his… but she had stayed still.
he had said softly, “i chose black for you.. do you like black?”
she had opened her eyes then and looked, he had turned her around and she had seen herself in the full length mirror before her. she had almost stopped breathing. a swathe of darkly black chiffon covered her from shoulder to just below her hips. the tiny little thing was cut jauntily, a carefree flounce as it came down, hugging her breasts simply at the top, right below sleeves made of a medley of fine silk strings.
khushi had never worn anything like this. her long legs, ivory and sleek, glowed; her shoulder bones were finely etched and flowed out to arms that were unblemished and beautiful. the column of her neck rose proud and straight from the low neck line. khushi couldn’t believe her eyes.
she looked so bare. she looked almost wanton… like someone else… like those girls she never thought she was. and yet, she didn’t want to run and hide. she liked being looked at by arnav ji… like that… just the way he was looking.
he had lifted her in his arms and taken her to the bed. she had felt a strange tearing need in her… the very thought of him choosing black for her, of making her wear this… whatever you call it… maybe he had designed it??
khushi had clung to him and let the need guide her.
she remembered he had laughed at one point.
she could feel him stroking her back as he’d slept off… he’d murmured, “so you like my colour…”
khushi remembered everything in a flash as she sat on the beach, immersed in a suffocating rise of confusion and other things.
how badly she’d wanted to let her fingers play with him this morning. how happy she had felt lying with her head against his chest last night, feeling the dampness of his perspiration against her cheek and ear; hearing his heart beating somewhat erratic; sensing his body begin to calm lying beside her.
how could she be so… so… well, khushi bit her lips and said the word to herself. shameless.
yes, she decided, she was being just that. of course, she knew one did certain things after one married. but she…she seemed to want all this… yeh sab… khushi again searched for the right word… she could only come up with “baatein.” yeh sab baatein… yes, she was not at all comfortable with the way she seemed to want it, enjoy it, crave it almost… this was bad. what would everyone think of her… worst still, what would arnav ji think of her.
(all these things.)
at last the tear rolled down. khushi sobbed and put her head on her drawn up knees.
“khushi!” he called out as his eyes opened. it was bright outside he could see through the window.
asr turned to look at her, but she wasn’t there. where was khushi, he wondered and called out once more. there was no answer. he sat up quickly and the cover fell off. he was wearing nothing. asr smiled slightly as he remembered why.
she had been even more beautiful, if that were possible, last night.
he longed to hold her in his arms and kiss her just then, feel her writhe against him, sigh, scream. but his wife had disappeared. now he grinned. he was getting used to the fact that things would not go as expected with khushi around.
in the bathroom, he splashed cold water on his face then pulled on a pair of shorts, picked up a beach towel and went out.
soon he spotted her sitting up ahead near the shoreline. he started running lightly toward her. a rush of energy thronged in him, and something akin to lightness. again that unusual feeling… ever since he had seen her. even more now, now that she was safely and securely a part of his life. he would never want it to be any other way.
he was almost upon her when he noticed she was wearing blue. was it the blue she wore the first time he’d kissed her? but before he could ascertain that, he saw her head was down resting on her knees. she was not sitting and talking to the waves, or the clouds, or a seagull or two as he had fully expected her to.
what was she doing? was she crying??
asr completed the last few yards to her at lightning pace. when he was next to her he sat down and asked quietly, “khushi? tum theek ho?”
(khushi? are you okay?)
she didn’t say a thing. she didn’t lift her head. had she gone really still? asr got worried suddenly.
“khushi, what’s the matter… tell me dammit!” he put a hand on her shoulder, “is everything okay at home?”
khushi’s shoulders shook at this.
he said urgently, “what’s the matter? babu ji?…”
she raised her head and looked at him, her pupils had turned red, tears streaked her cheeks…
“khushi!” arnav singh raizada felt a terrible worry come over him.
what was the matter?
“arnav ji,” khushi whispered, “hum shayad… shayad… “
(arnav ji, perhaps i… perhaps…)
“haan… tum shayad, kya… kya, khushi… tell me!” his voice was raised.
(yeah… you perhaps, what… what, khushi… tell me!)
she had no idea what she should say, and how did you say such a thing anyway? but she looked into the concerned, shimmering chocolate eyes and all she knew was she had to tell him… tell him everything. he was the one she wanted to share her fears, her worries, her troubles with. she knew she could tell him. again, no real rational reason could she state for this certainty. she just knew. and she so wanted to. he was hers… she was nothing without him. she couldn’t lie to him, couldn’t hide from him.
her thoughts seemed to soothe her a bit. she sniffed loudly, drew in her breath and looked at him through her lashes, a little embarrassed by what she had to say, “hum shayad itne achhe nahin hain… hum… hum, ” she grabbed his hand for support, “arnav ji, am i normal?”
(i am perhaps not good… i… i… arnav ji, am i normal?)
asr looked at her perplexed. what was the girl saying? or trying to at least.
“normal?!” he exclaimed, “no… of course, you’re not normal, khushi, you’re you… and not good?” for a second more he was at a loss, then it dawned on him… achhe… good…
“khushi” he said gently, lifting her chin, “come here!” he put his arms around her.
without any protest she let her head rest on his chest and snuggled. she had been feeling terrible, all those thoughts churning in her.
“do you know, i have never felt like this ever before either?” he said, his chin on her head, rocking her gently… “i know, baby, you have never done all this with anyone… i know how new it all is… a little scary, isn’t it? for me too, khushi. mere liye bhi…” she sighed, not really hearing every word, just letting the sound of his voice rumble in her ear and bring calm.
he chuckled, “if anyone is not good between the two of us, it’s me…”
khushi shook her head vehemently making him jerk his head back with an “ouch!”
she buried her face in his chest and kissed him. then she hugged him close.
“you are not just good,” he said, “you are the best, samjhi tum! the best thing that’s happened to me… i can’t live without you…”
the sand and the water and the clouds knew what he said was true.
part of arnav singh raizada still couldn’t quite process this fact though. it was completely irrational… no, it was extra rational… outside the ambit of the rational. and he had never thought he would accept anything like that ever. but now he did. even though he didn’t understand it.
khushi kumari gupta was still not totally convinced that she was not bad, she was also quite unsure as to why she felt such a strong sense of happiness at the very mention of his name, or even laad governor, magarmach, jwalamukhi, khadoos or rakshas. or why her hands were stroking his cheek, playing with his stubble right now. she was sure though that she had banged into an unyielding object one day and nothing had ever been the same from that moment. that sticky syrup all over his black shirt… hey devi maiyya, is that why she had made her jalebis all along? just to find this man she loved. khushi sighed again.
his breathing was growing ragged. he stood up without warning and pulled her after him till they reached a hammock nearby. he swung onto it and carried her up.
“make love to me, khushi!” he commanded with a serious look at her.
her eyes widened. out here in the open? what if someone saw them?
she nipped his neck anyway. she let her fingers roam over his chest, his hips, his navel anyway. she lay by his side and pulled his hand to her breast anyway. when he cupped her breast and took her hand and put it on the waistband of his shorts, she didn’t draw it away.
he decided he’d tell her later that he’d hired the entire place for their three days with each other. what was that silly thing called honeymoon anyway…
payal looked down all around from the top of the eiffel. she was smiling from ear to ear, her eyes had widened and she held akash’s hand tightly. akash stood by her looking adoringly at her. had there ever been a prettier girl atop this celebrated tower? had a man ever felt happier here? this was paris and they were two lovers that’s all… no names, no limits, no “nahin.”
“nahin, amma, it’s not cold…” payal said. akash’s head jerked toward her. what?
payal was speaking to her mother on the phone he realised. akash lifted her hand and placed a warm kiss on the back of her palm.
“kya?” payal’s voice wobbled, she shot akash a look that said don’t do that. he kissed her palm instantly again.
“besharam!” payal mouthed the word without making any sound and pouted.
akash was sure at that moment, no happier man had ever stood and loved at 906 feet above paris.
“stop the car, arnav ji!” khushi said, an excitement in her voice.
“what!” asr slammed on the brakes without waiting for her to explain. she had not been feeling alright, perhaps something was bothering her again.
khushi jumped out of the car and went running to the side of the road, looking at the foliage there… she looked around the area, then came traipsing back, standing on his side of the suv and smiling up at him.
“yaad hai? don’t you remember? it was here that you…? that you… that night? you know when we were coming back from the volcano?” khushi asked.
asr’s lips began to curl. one side went up slowly. his eyes started that familiar swirl to a darker more dangerous cognac brown. crows feet appeared at the corner of his eyes, eyes looking really rampantly amused.
“so you remember that night… hmmm?” he asked in a soft low whisper.
khushi felt her cheeks begin to flush.
“hmmm?” he repeated even softer than before.
khushi looked nervously down at her feet. her flip flops were new as was the rest of her ensemble. she was wearing a snug fitting red tank top with a billowing white voile shirt, the girl at the boutique had taught her how to wrap the aquamarine blue batik sarong around her waist. arnav ji had insisted that she try some beach clothes, she had demurred at first then given in. she had liked the look of those sarongs the staff at the resort wore.
asr leaned forward and peered at her, his lips pursing, his eyebrow shooting up, now openly teasing.
khushi turned and ran.
no sooner had she bolted, the suv door was flung open and a man in black trousers, black shirtsleeves and grey waistcoat, hair brushed back neatly gelled, leaped out. the chase began.
the volcano knew what the sand and water and sky also did. this was going to go on for a while. the frangipani whispered, yes a while… quite a while… something like forever.
my dear wonderful readers… thanks for reading ncofl. this was yet another chapter that was not supposed to be there. but then khushi and asr are not about supposed to bes, they are the flight of our deepest imagination and longing, searching way beyond the limited, set, and pat. and finding dhakdhak resonating everywhere, especially where it is not supposed to. and now, that epilogue.
i am so glad what started as a short story went into a half century chapter. thank you so so much. all of you… and kabootar.