the alarm was strident and it wouldn’t stop. he reached out in his sleep, eyes still tightly shut, searching for his phone.
where was that phone dammit!
his fingers touched something soft. what was that?! he stretched farther. he felt a contour, sharp and straight… it was someone’s nose.
asr’s eyes opened instantly and he sat up with a start. what the! who was in his bed… with him!! furrows rushed to his forehead knowing exactly where to land and deepen into the lines of a frown. irises smouldered, brown fire leaping in them. nostrils went hot and flared slightly.
who had dared to sully his pristine aloof den. his bed. he gritted his teeth as he swiveled around to identify and overpower the intruder.
his eyes fell on soft, gently curving lines of a pair of lips. he swallowed hard, his lips remembered a longing as his eyes widened a little. his gaze roamed upward… long eyelashes curled and rested on innocent cheeks… a wide clean unlined forehead on which flowing hair, silky and rich brown lay mussed up. what was that red thing on the hair?
asr tilted his head and squinted. that red streak…
khushi. it was khushi! the girl who drove him crazy… the girl he had gone and married.
asr felt a sudden kick in his gut.
married. he was a married man. and his… wife… lay next to him. on the other side of his bed.
a feeling he had no hold over caught him and began a rumble deep inside. what was that?
his body began to shake. white teeth flashed catching the early morning sunlight, brown eyes glinted now steeped in another emotion, wild happy loud laughter filled the room.
he had just spent his first night, he realised, the very first one with khushi lying next to him, right beside him, here in this room that had been only his through all these years. now she would be here… every night.
was this happiness, he wondered, the thing he felt tumbling around in his chest and abdomen?
he’d better get up and go for his jog if he wanted to remain sane, he thought, still laughing.
he’d have turned away but her eyes opened just then and she lay there staring at him.
“what!” he said almost whispering and wondered why he sounded like that. yeah, he really needed to go for that run.
“aap…” she whispered back… but then she sat jerkily up and wailed, “aap hastey hue bilkul laad governor nahin lagte!” her eyes looked stricken and a frown had found its way to her forehead too.
(you… you don’t look like lord governor at all when you laugh!)
“so! tumhe pasand nahin! why are you looking so upset? tell me!” he grinned.
(so! you don’t like that! why are you looking so upset… tell me!)
“nahin! woh! matlab laad governor…” khushi mumbled and dived back into bed pulling the covers over her.
(no… i mean.. that… er lord governor…)
“don’t you dare run away while i am talking to you, samjhi tum!” he said half angrily, half tenderly. he was finding it hard to be gruff among other things.
khushi felt her stomach plummet and reach her toes, she clutched a pillow to her middle. that grain in his voice. “hey devi maiyya… raksha karna,” went up a silent prayer from her shaky diaphragm.
(oh dm, save me!)
she looked frantically around to say something that would cleverly deflect the onset of that ache starting with a tingle in her toes… exactly where her stomach had gone and crashed.
“arre! dekhiye… yeh gulabi gulab kitne sundar hain!!… chaaron ore jaise phoolon ki bagiyaa… haye…” khushi chirped in a slightly high pitched voice and sighed ecstatically.
(oh.. look!… how pretty are these pink roses… as if all around is a garden of flowers… oh…)
“what?!” asr was taken aback, “gulabi… gulab… khushi! what are you saying dammit!” he exclaimed looking around confused… and then it dawned on him.
it was the bedsheet she was going on about. di! he remembered di had insisted on it. and he had… he gritted his teeth… forgotten to get op to change the damn pink monstrosity. virulent pink roses scattered all over his bedsheet in his room…
he almost leapt out of bed, ready to go and get the mistake fixed.
khushi smiled. yeah her toes were feeling a bit better. she wriggled them. he was almost half way off the bed when his eyes fell on her feet. her toes were moving. he had never noticed her toes before.
without even thinking, his fingers reached out again… he had to touch those playful little digits. why was the mad girl moving them anyway? he never wriggled his toes. he must get up and change into his running gear… get someone to change the bedsheet…
he brought her left foot over onto his lap. an urge to run his hands over it and all around assailed him… the silver anklet rested along her ankle, glinting. he flicked the bells, they made that tiny ringing sound. mesmerised, he stroked her foot with his thumb.
there was a miniscule convulsive movement of the leg and a faint “arnav ji!” was heard. he couldn’t see her face, but he liked the helplessness in her voice. he let his finger tips trail up the centre of her sole from the heel to the toes. he heard a ragged sigh behind him.
he smiled slightly.
then he moved up along the bed till he was level with khushi. she was lying supine. eyes closed, a couple of lines still on her forehead and a tenseness around her lips.
he swallowed hard again.
his hand moved along the length of her body and went and rested on her belly. he lifted the hem of her white cotton kurta up and let his fingers settle on her navel. her left hand shot up and came swiftly to cover his. she pressed his hand hard over her stomach.
“uh huh!” he murmured, a devilish glint in his eyes. her lips were now slightly parted, her head had turned to one side and a few strands of hair fell over her forehead and her eyes.
he watched her quietly. had she any idea how beautiful she was? just lying there like that, not a shred of added colour, in her simple plain white cotton salwar kurta with its dark red edging, her breath quickened and a palpable expectancy in her expression, her very stance?
she could feel his breath on her face, her neck… khushi was surprised she had not felt his lips on hers yet… she opened one eye cautiously.
and there was laad governor watching her, his eyes slightly narrowed, a faint frown on, his lips pursed, with that little drag to the right.
khushi felt her heart go skittering down this time. why did this jwalamukhi have this effect on her, hey devi maiyya! it was the morning after her first night in her new home, there was so much work to be done. she had promised nani ji she’d make kheer and poori for breakfast. mami ji loved kheer, maybe it would sweeten her heart a little for jiji. and nani ji liked poori she knew. she also wanted to make jalebi for everyone especially di, and some sugar free ones for this khadoos man… khushi’s eyes widened, she had to act!
she lunged toward the left, away from him, in a smart getaway move.
faster than you could blink, he had followed and was pouncing on her, stopping her from escape with a firm hold on her waist. khushi pummeled, his other arm flew up and caught her hands… they rolled with the momentum.
neither realised they were on the pale grey carpet by now. they tussled, they fought. khushi snarled, “jaane dijiye!” asr bit her ear sharply and whispered, “get away if you can… or…” he kissed her hard where a nerve ticked on her neck, “…want to!” his voice had gone thick and humid. khushi shuddered. her hand came up to push him away but somehow that never got done.
(let me go!)
they made love abandonedly right there on the floor. an urgency overtaking, a furious yet tender love finding expression in touches, whispers, turns, reaches, holds; when she arched below him, he felt a ridiculously burgeoning gentleness and joy. when he lay by her side exhausted, she kissed him sweetly on the cheek and murmured, “hmmm…” completely happy.
“arre!” khushi squealed all of a sudden, “hum toh bistar se gir gaye!! ha-aan, hey devi maiyya! yeh kaise hua… aap kya-”
(wo! we’ve fallen off the bed! yes! hey dm, how did this happen… are you-)
he pulled her close and put a lazy finger on her lips,
“shh! sh… don’t panic, khushi! it’s okay,” he said in a husky murmur. khushi gave him a sideways glance, surprised.
“achha hua hum gire!” asr suddenly chuckled, catching sight of the pink rose printed sheet.
(good thing we fell!)
“chhotey, have some breakfast and go!” nani ji called out as asr came running briskly down the stairs. he was wearing a steel grey three piece suit, his shirt was a flawless white, the single knot of his deep grey tie sat perfectly at the neck. his hair was still wet and brushed back, his stubble was smooth, his skin shone, there was a lilt in his eyes his grandmother had never seen before.
nani ji smiled to herself. chhotey was so sure he would never marry… look at him now, she thought.
“oh my hayndsome nephooj, haye daiyya!” trilled manorama from the dining table, “today youj lookings isso phits and phabulous like james bondwa, haye hello hi bye bye… comes comes, lets mami put blayck tika, najar na lagey humaar bitwa ko!” she came sashaying from the dining table, resplendent in her light green paithani with gold and multi-hued peacocks all over, the ring finger on her left hand stuck out with a black smudge on it, she had quickly gathered some kohl from her eyes.
(oh my handsome nephew, my my! today you look so fit and fabulous just like james bond, sigh hello hi bye bye… come come, let your aunt put a black mark on you lest the evil eye should fall on my nephew!)
asr brushed aside her hand and said curtly, “mami, you know, main inn sab baton mein vishwaas nahin karta… nani, sorry, have to run today, I’m late… send some breakfast with khushi… mohan will take her to the office later!”
(mami, you know I don’t believe in these things!)
mami ji pouted prettily, her red lipstick ashimmer. then she made a face looking at payal who was serving breakfast at the table.
“hello hi bye bye, so bhun daater in la bhurking girls, going aaphis, and bhun daater in la isstay home types! koi baat nahin, humaar saas bahu tarchur pirogramme ka liye ek hi enough howat! he he he!” she cooed.
(hello hi bye bye, so one daughter in law is a working girl and will go to the office and one daughter in law is the stay at home sort! no problem, for my daughter in law-mother in law torture programme, one is enough! he he he!)
payal looked at her mother in law startled, a little taken aback. akash sighed and gave a reassuring look to payal, then he reached out and squeezed her hand under the table. his father looked over the edge of the newspaper at his wife and muttered, “savere savere tota ke tarah saree aur baatein bhi chidiya jaisan!”
(right in the morning a parrot coloured saree and prattle like a bird too!)
mami would have snapped at her hapless husband, but one look at her mother in law told her it would be more prudent to keep her lips sealed.
nani ji smiled ever so faintly, pleased with manorama’s decision.
“come on, akash!” asr said sounding impatient, “let’s go!”
anjali was arranging flowers near the hall, she grinned cheekily and said, “how come you’re so late today, chhotey? kya baat hai? liked the pink roses bed sheet so much… man hi nahin kiya uthne ko?”
(how come you’re so late, chhotey? what’s the matter? liked the pink roses bed sheet so much… didn’t feel like getting up?)
“what!” asr glowered at his sister. she smiled at him broadly, looking smug.
asr shook his head as he walked up to her, “aap theek ho, di?” he asked, he needed to know she was fine. she was alright.
(are you okay, di?)
“don’t try to change the subject!” anjali stuck a red rose at an angle into the crystal vase, “khushi loved the sheet… didn’t she, like I said she would?!!”
there was the sound of something clattering. everyone looked up. khushi stood at the head of the stairs in a bright magenta churidar kurta with orange pompoms and silver gota, a stupefied look on her face, a tray lay on the floor, flowers scattered around it.
there was silence for a few seconds.
then asr’s voice was heard, crisp and matter fact, “ah! khushi! tell di how much you liked the bedsheet, okay! I’ll see you later!”
and before anyone could react, he was briskly striding down the hallway and out the door.
while driving to work, asr dialled home and spoke to op, “mere kamre mein bedsheet change karo! abhi! I should not see anything but white sheets on my bed, d’you understand?!”
(change the sheets in my room! now!)
akash tried to smother a smile and looked out of the window. he remembered how pretty payal had looked lying against the pale pink hue. he wished he could run away with her somewhere right now.
“ah, jean pierre, you’re here!” asr said sauntering into kareena and salman’s room.
jp and the young trainees were draping a model and talking to one of the seamstresses.
“kareena, come in later and tell me about your idea!” asr said looking consideringly at the silhouette.
“idea about…” kareena seemed to falter.
“yeah… about sex! okay?” said her boss without moving his gaze from the dress being created. then he frowned and walked out.
jean pierre looked at kareena, eyebrows raised. salman whistled. kareena threw a pencil at salman and made a face at jp.
only three months left for the show and nothing had come to kareena’s mind as yet. a tasteful way to portray sex… hunger… in blooms in agung.
khushi walked into her office around eleven.
there was a heady fragrance in the air.
a vase with at least three dozen pink roses sat on her table. next to it lay a sprig of red frangipani on a sheet of paper.
khushi felt her breathing constrict and then catapult. on trembling legs she walked up to her desk and touched the pink petals. they were so soft. she breathed in and picked up the red frangipani, unconsciously tucking it into her plait. then she read the uneven scrawl on the sheet of paper. bold black strokes, but what did they say?
laad governor had such a terrible handwriting. she scrunched her brow and tried to read. pock leogit? huh! what?
“pack light. it’s quite warm in bali now. we leave tonight,” said a familiar voice.
khushi turned to stare at the door between their offices.
arnav singh raizada stood there with a lopsided smile.
find all chapters here