the jalebis were large with so many swirls in them, they were orange and hot and sticky. even though the tears blurred her vision, khushi was determined to count the number of spirals on the one right on top. a whole heap of jalebis sat before her. she could feel their sweet succulence, their crumbly crust she knew would crack under the most gentle pressure from her teeth and out would flow, no pop, the delicious… khushi swallowed… warm, perfectly blended syrup.
two thread. do taar.
babu ji had taught her, the sugar had to melt and dissolve thoroughly and you had to simmer the syrup till the consistency came to that point when two threads, not just one, would form as she pulled her forefinger and thumb away from each other, a drop of warm syrup between them. she knew now at which stage the syrup would have thickened enough but she always tested to make sure… how it resisted the separation of the finger and thumb, trying to hold on, not let them go asunder, forming little strings, like it would tied them up together and hold them like that forever.
khushi’s tears shimmered. why was she forever so far away from the jalebis? and why was the white pigeon sitting on the window sill always angry, his eyes so brilliantly red? like the big ring on her finger and that volacano… that jwalamukhi. jwala… where had she seen a volcano? in bali? or was it next to the pool where arnav ji had… had…
her tears shimmered, the jalebis were an orange cloud.
she licked her parched lips and leaned forward trying to reach them. the one nearest to her, by the corner. she craned her neck and almost fell forward trying to get to it. this was silly, why wasn’t she using her hands to get one? she went to move her arm, but she couldn’t.
her hands were tied behind her back.
her legs were tied too.
two threads. no no, two ropes… khushi wriggled. the white kabooter cocked its head and looked at her intently. khushi hissed at it, don’t think i am helpless, she thought loudly in her head hoping the bird could hear her. she was going to get out of all those shackles and escape… she would get to her jalebi.
she heard the long wail of the siren or what was it? before she could figure it out, the jalebis began to move… it was a train, khushi realised, and it was pulling away from platform number thirty one of new delhi railway station, with her jalebis… going to lucknow.
desperate now, she pulled hard at the ropes trying to break free, but they held on.
“hey devi maiyya,” she muttered under her breath and began running, the ropes trailing behind, not letting go. khushi looked at them as they went around her body now… they were brown and strong and they were actually arms.
the arms tightened. a blast of air, heated, scorched her right cheek.
it was the porter… he was wearing the red uniform. and he was smiling nastily, trying hold her… not let her escape. and why was the porter’s face just like arnav ji’s?
khushi screamed and lunged forward and banged into a very hard object.
“my akas bitwa,” manorama raizada’s voice dripped honey, akash new his mother was upset, “you ares isso luckys that you meetings the sweets sweets daaters in law oph mine, i hopes you enjaayings the hayppy new years party!”
(my son akash, you are so lucky to have met the sweet daughter in law of mine, i hope you are enjoying the new year party!)
“yes, ma.. i..” akash said foggily, the music was loud, he could barely hear his mother, yet his ear had picked the umbrage in her tone. he held payal’s hand more firmly.
payal looked up at him, frowning, wondering why akash was suddenly drawing away from her even while gripping her hand so tightly. they had been sitting together on a sofa in a corner of the darkened room, furniture had been pushed back and nearer the walls to make room for a dance floor in the centre, the floor was crowded; lavanya had invited almost all of delhi, akash had quipped earlier with a little smile.
“is there anyone in the city you don’t know?” he had teased lavanya.
“shut up, darling!” she’d laughed and struck a pose, “watch out, payal, this man is a favourite of all the girls in the room…”
payal smiled remembering that. she grasped his hand and laid her head on his shoulder.
“habh a bhery goods entriyaa into the new years, my bitwa, your pita ji and your ones and onlys mothers bhill miss yous… but bhe sall bhatching teebhee, hello hi new years bye bye old parentswa!” manorama laughed, a brittle shattered note in her laughter. the hurt was out.
(have a very good entry into the new year, my son, your father and your one and only mother will miss you… but we shall watch tv, hello hi new year bye bye old parents!)
“ma!” akash replied sounding chastened, “okay, okay… payal and i will come home before twelve… we’ll bring in the new year with all of you, anyway bhai also is not in a very bright mood and di too…”
“kauno jaroorat naahin, bitwa!” it was his father, he could hear muffled mutterings of protest from his mother in the background, “payal bitiya and you enjoy, we are fine! manorama, kaahey barbaray rahi ho, you are looking so beautiful in that new saree…”
(there’s no need for that, son! payal and you enjoy, we are fine! manorama, why are you muttering away, you are looking so beautiful in that new saree…)
akash realised his father had disconnected. payal was now sitting a little away gazing at him clearly perplexed.
“akash… really, maybe we should go home… it’s almost ten o’clock… and khushi is alone too, nani ji had said to send her back with mohan ji but, i know her, she loves new year and she’s so sad now… where is she?…” there was a little tremor in payal’s voice.
akash reached out and pulled her into his arms, “shhh… don’t worry, khushi will be fine, and bhai… and di…”
“and you, akash? will you be fine? sasu ma…” payal murmured.
“come,” akash said crisply, suddenly getting up and pulling her along, “let’s dance.”
the clamour of heart beats was deafening, khushi stared up into furious brown eyes.
“what the hell are you doing, khushi?” asr rasped out.
khushi felt the wool of his waistcoat under her finger tips. arnav ji’s arms were around her, his fingers were digging into her waist on either side. what was he doing in a suit? where was the train? her mind was still woolly, where had the pigeon gone? a gnawing emptiness nagged at her suddenly.
“ja-lebi?” she said looking lost.
“what! stop talking nonsense dammit! do you even know how worried i was! why did you leave bua ji’s house without telling her where you were going… where have you been the whole day? why aren’t you answering your phone dammit! why are you running around alone out here! khushi, khushii! ” the words came rushing and raging at her. asr’s grip on her waist was so tight she could hardly breathe. she stared at him confounded. her head was spinning, why was it all getting darker…
“answer me!” he shouted.
“hmmm?!” khushi mumbled, her hand went to her forehead. she swayed slightly.
“khushi?” asr peered at her frowning. what was the matter with the girl? “khushi…” without his knowing his voice had dropped, grown gentle… his eyes were filling with concern.
khushi gave a dazed stare and tried to say something. was it “kabooter?” asr felt an uncanny sensation, a warmth around his ears… khushi…
“shh!.. shh… don’t talk… have you eaten anything yet?” he whispered looking into hazel eyes, trying to read an answer in the darkness of the alcove. the music was loud, the hum of conversation, laughter and a particularly loud guffaw from time to time filled the air.
khushi let her arms slide around him and started to let go.
“sh**!” an expletive shot past her ear. his hands stroked her back, then he was walking her toward the couch where she must have been sitting. he made her sit down, then lie back, lifting her legs onto the plush cushion.
“stay here, okay!” he said quietly. a lock of hair fell across her forehead, he felt a funny tug inside, he lifted his hand and let his fingers run lightly over her forehead, brushing the lock away.
he looked at her lying there for an instant before turning and striding swiftly out.
“asr! asr! where are you going? didn’t you find khushi?” lavanya called out as she spotted him briskly walking through the the crowded room toward the entrance to her apartment.
“i found her, lavanya… don’t worry… won’t mind a sandwich though… think i need to eat something. i’ll be right back,” he said and and left before la could say anything.
he came back in soon and went toward the kitchen.
“here, asr! ye lo! cheese sandwich… get you a drink?” lavanya stopped him on the way.
(here asr! take this! cheese sandwich… get you a drink?)
“i’m fine, lavanya… and thanks!” he gave her a tight smile and strolled off toward the alcove.
jean pierre was sitting by the side, cooling off with a beer after a hectic round of dancing with kareena, he patted the seat next to his and grinned up at la, “la, come seet wiz me for a while… ahhnav will be ‘ow do you say… uccha hai!”
lavanya took the offer and sat down, then said with a wink, “stop pretending you don’t know how to say ‘accha hai’ just to make me feel better, jp… i am worried, asr never goes to new year eve parties… never! i hope he’s okay.”
jean pierre smiled wryly and sipped his beer, and wondered if la was beginning to get over ahhnav.
“open your eyes, khushi!” asr sat on the couch bent over her.
khushi frowned a little. what was that?
“ankhe kholo, i said!” he sounded stern.
(open your eyes, i said!)
what was that nudging at her lips though? it felt sticky. the tip of a tongue came out cautiously and touched the sticky thing.
next moment, a pair of eyes opened wide and a girl lying prone was sitting up very fast, arms and legs flailing, red pompoms swaying wildly.
“jalebi!!!” she shrieked.
arnav felt relief and a need to laugh loudly struggle violently within him. he glared at her and said, “go on… eat!”
khushi realised arnav ji was sitting holding the jalebi to her lips… he had been trying to feed her. her toes curled at the thought and a warmth spread along her upped arms, she thought she might stop breathing.
she opened her mouth and let her teeth touch the crisp surface, it cracked and broke even before she had really bitten into it… sweet delicious syrup poured onto her lips… khushi sighed, her eyes closing.
“when did you last eat?” asr asked watching her closely.
khushi remembered the pooris lying in front of her heaped and hot that afternoon, she remembered she had left home without having breakfast… her mind wandered over the day… what had she eaten… when?
“uh… urghfd!” she gurgled and took another large bite of jalebi, munching quickly… she could feel the sweetness perk her up, she wanted to eat more… and she liked the way he held the jalebi near her lips and made her bite every time her mouth was empty. she licked her lips and took another bite.
“so you haven’t eaten anything today!” he said in a matter of fact tone.
“okay, no problem, now finish these,” he picked up a box of jalebis that was lying on a table behind her and placed it on her lap.
“kya?!!” khushi squealed… “aap ko yeh kahan se mila… a whole box of jalebi… from…. bengali market…? arnav ji?”
(what?!!! where did you get this from, a whole box of jalebi… from.. bengali market…? arnav ji?)
he would never know at which precise moment his heart did a deliberate and slow yet incredibly fast somersault; at “bengali market”… or at “arnav ji”… but he knew he had to…
asr groaned and dragged khushi into his arms. he needed to feel her heart resting upon his chest, he had to let her hair tumble all over his neck, he had to hold her, he had to tell her,”i missed you, khushi…” he buried his face in her ridiculously soft hair and rubbed his face against her…
khushi strained and pressed close to his body, her arms went up and around his neck, an exultant streak of joy shot through her… arnav ji was with her, right here. he was not angry… he was not upset…. he had fed her jalebi. was he going mad?
khushi smiled and frowned at the same time. then she was giggling, thinking of how weird she must have looked doing that.
he started kissing her just about then. his lips were hard and demanding and as she moaned arching against him, they grew soft, searching, playful, she closed her eyes and kissed him back… she let her tongue trace the contour of his lips… she bit lightly the slight cleft on his chin… his stubble grazed her lips, the tip of her nose, she turned her face from side to side, enjoying that prickly sensation.
“pagal!” he muttered and tried to sit up. she pulled him back and asked, “aapne mere liye jalebi kharida?”
(mad!) (did you buy jalebis for me?)
“no, ” he said calmly, “i bought them for me!”
“arnav ji! stop lying!” khushi nipped his ear lobe sharply.
“ow!” asr exclaimed.
suddenly khushi pushed him and sat up once more, “arnav ji! hey devi maiyya, hum sach much pagal hain… aapne kuch khaya? dawai li? tell me!”
(arnav ji! oh mother goddess, i am really mad… have you eaten anything? taken your medicine? tell me!)
he lay there smiling up at her, brown eyes glinting, even in the darkness she could feel their brownness.
“relax!” he said, stretching out and getting her right back into his arms, “i’ll eat my sandwich… in a minute.”
and then he was kissing her again.
khushi remembered arms refusing to let her go, brown strong arms. she leapt up once more.
before he could react, she jumped over him, got the sandwich lying on a plate on the table and thrust it against his lips.
“now you’ll eat and i’ll talk!” she said sticking her chin out.
“really?” a smile completely crooked came on in a flash. khushi almost dropped the sandwich and clutched her heart.
“that’s unusual… you do both… usually!” he said, a dark arched eyebrow went up emphasising the “usually.” then he held her hand and took a bite of the sandwich. he saw her smile slightly… when khushi hadn’t answered her phone, he’d called mohan, he didn’t want to worry nani or di… bua ji was looking frazzled already. mohan had told him khushi had gone to the farmhouse but she was at lavanya’s at the moment. he’d been driving past bengali market on his way to lavanya’s when something had made him stop and pick up a box of jalebis for khushi.
box of jalebis. where was it, he wondered, and reached out, searching. the box lay open on one side, its contents had spilled out onto the sofa… he moved his hand and found his shirt front was sticky, little bits of crushed jalebi were stuck here and there.
a memory came… a beginning. that first day he’d met her at sheesh mahal. his black silk shirt had been ruined but all he recalled now was hazel. hazel eyes… large, tearful, clear and limpid.
his hand roamed over the front of her purple kurta, it was sticky too.
asr took another bite, he remembered how he hadn’t been able to forget this girl ever after that.
when he’d reached lavanya’s apartment, he’d gone through the throng of people looking for her, salman had seen him and said, khushi was at the back in the alcove. he’d hurried there and as he’d walked in khushi had come running with eyes closed and banged straight into him.
she was looking at him rapt as she fed him. his eyes took in her finely drawn eyebrows, her twinkling hazel irises, her sharp, straight and long nose, the tender curve of her cheeks, the undulating lines of her lips, the arc of her ear lobe. he breathed in deeply. was happiness really possible in this uncaring harsh world, he thought.
last day of the year. tomorrow would have been maa’s birthday. his lips tightened.
he let his eyes rest on khushi’s hands, her fingers were long and graceful, he noticed how delicately they moved, her nails were never long, just covering the tips of her fingers and filed to a neat oval. the surface of her nails shone.
“sorry, khushi,” he said in a quiet voice, looking straight into her eyes. “i shouldn’t have shouted…” he caught hold of her hand and kissed the finger tips.
khushi felt a rush of tears at the back of her throat, she hoped arnav ji was all right. that he wouldn’t feel too terrible the next day.
the dance floor was really crowded now, it was past eleven and people who were party hopping were coming in, ready to bring in the new year soon. almost all the lights were off. dancers swayed and jostled, once in a way someone screamed or laughed loudly.
“ne me quitte pas…” don’t leave me… don’t quit on me.. sting’s voice rose and fell and caressed the senses. a drugged languor came over khushi as words she couldn’t understand at all fell all around and went over her and two beautiful arms held her, pulling her closer and closer still.
asr took her right hand, pulled it up and put it on the side of his neck, his skin felt taut and cool, she let her fingers slide further up and played with the springy hair at the back of his head. her other arm slid up his chest and her hand rested on his shoulder. they moved against each other, slowly, swaying to the music. even her heart beat seemed to have slowed and merged with the heart beat of the chest pressed against hers. his hands went down to her hips, drifted lower and drew her closer once more. without quite realising how, the lines of their body adjusted and aligned even as they danced, soon their cheeks were pressed together against one another’s, and their arms, their bellies, their thighs… and they moved in unison… just the two of them, there was no one else really in that room… in the world… on this last evening of the year.
he turned his face and kissed her hungrily for a timeless moment then went back to dancing, his cheek pressed against hers. khushi leaned into him and moved to the rhythm…
ne me quitte pas… je t’inventerai… des mots insensés… que tu comprendras… don’t leave me… i will invent for you… senseless words… which you will understand.
were becoming part of not cut out for love.
i hope you enjoyed the chapter. look forward to your thoughts. i wish i could write every day,
i so enjoy writing this story. hope to be back wednesday/thursday with chapter 4. see you soon.