the lights diminished to a low almost eerie, then were completely extinguished.
darkness was all around.
the hum of voices died down.
stillness came and settled into the black quiet space. hands reached out and fingers intertwined, pens were put down on notebooks, fingers alert on shutter buttons took a break. people were mystified, even frightened. yet there was a waiting… bated breath… a hush of expectation.
sound came first, then light, reversing the order of nature.
feet running… a set of them, then more, then more still. bare feet striking a hard surface, over their rhythm, the sound of breath, growing in size and pace, louder and yet no more than a whisper really. many breaths aligning, rising, falling, harmonising.
how many people were there? who were they? was everything alright?
even as nervousness grew, a flash of red. light!
spotlights from high above picked graceful bodies leaping and pirouetting on the long ramp below. lithe, toned figures in pitch black leotards executed breathtaking moves, in each dancer’s hand a floating length of fabric: silk, chiffon, cotton, lace, all in red and orange and every shade of fire, heat, rage.
yet among them was a sleek tall dancer, dressed utterly in black, no swath of cloth in his hand, his moves majestic, large and flecked with anger… a redness in their core.
his companions milled around his furious grace, their arcing and swishing banners painting the darkness in colours of fire…
a sound of distant drums thundered in, other percussion sounds came rushing. the tempo gathered speed, the dancers grew more joyous. or was it frenzied? they swirled around like whirling dervishes with their pennants held aloft… a magnificent build up, a sense of culmination, of eruption.
the audience sat transfixed. this opening sequence by ar was not exactly what anyone had expected. ar was known for its beautifully choreographed, brilliantly executed runway events. they had even had brazilian carnival dancers once. and a couple of years ago, the show had ended with an offbeat, retro dance inspired by audrey hepburn’s number in funny face as a tribute to her, the timeless fashion icon.
but this was nothing like those.
in fact, it was hard to even call it a dance. it was a canvas of sensual and elemental movements that aroused deep seated feelings which made you slightly uncomfortable and yet they elated. ignited.
as the dancing reached a crescendo, music stopped. all sound was out.
the audience drew in its breath.
and into this walked a single figure swathed in red from head to toe. dark carmine red, sequins scattered across her bosom and limbs, her scull cap glittering with red gemstones.
music began to enter and ascend. the dancer in red moved gracefully toward the ferocious lead in black. the flames around them fulminated and fumed.
the man and the woman began a duet… it seemed, of destruction… he would not let her be, he would end her… he sought dominance, she lay unresisting in his arms, he whirled around her punishing, demanding she fight back… she leaped into his arms and twirled with him as if in happiness, he flung her away, she danced alone but didn’t succumb…
at last she drew him into her arms, she soothed him with her swaying movement it seemed, she clasped him to her bosom.
a voice was heard, a grain in it and a matter of fact yet ruminative delivery, “when the agung is angry, no one dare go near… fear… stalks the earth.. the very flames themselves… the lava flows and all it wants is to end… to end.. end it all…”
on the ramp, he laid her down and embraced her. moments of love were portrayed by sensuous hands, legs, eyes and turns of body…
the voice continued, “yet the frangipani knows otherwise… she knows because she fears not his rage, she knows because she finds what no one does… she knows what he seeks what he feels .. she knows of his deep true hunger… his ravenous hunger… for that thing no one can name…”
the dancers bearing red arrayed all around like a chorus, reflecting and elaborating the story unfolding.
the two dancers at centre rose and stood and intertwined… the true destination of the dance had been reached. it was not death. it had to be love.
the voice grew soft almost whisper like, “the agung calls out to the frangipani they say with that anger and fire each time…”
the man and woman kissed. a sculpted, serene vision. both utterly still.
the words came floating, “the frangipani has never been known not to have heard and come…”
the music turned another corner and grew large and energetic. the dancers streaked in, running again. they circled the lovers, then lofted them high and and began to leave the ramp.
the lights went out again.
a moment later, a flash of many bulbs and the all was brightly lit. before the audience stood at least twenty models in their blooms in agung silhouettes.
“ladies and gentleman, welcome to ar’s biggest show of the year, blooms in agung!” arnav singh raizada walked onto the ramp, dressed in his trademark black jacket, black waist coat, black slim fitting trousers. this evening even his shirt and tie were black.
everyone broke into applause.
khushi kumari gupta singh raizada had just realised why he’d insisted she wear her red chiffon today. that laad governor! khushi gritted her teeth. how embarrassing… good thing only he knew she called him jwalamukhi and that frangipani… khushi blushed.
that’s when she heard his voice and looked up. he stood there, in complete command of the moment.
arnav ji… he had worked so hard for this moment… all these months. he sensed her eyes on him and for a second his chocolate gaze rested on her.
she smiled at him, her anger gone, then she puckered her lips and kissed him from where she sat. did arnav ji smile slightly?
backstage, kareena sighed in sheer relief and collapsed onto a chair. she was almost in tears, exhausted with anxiety. asr had said it had to be a classy interpretation of sex! she had cursed herself roundly and dramatically every day since the day she’d told him what she thought of when she heard “ravenous.”
i mean, kareena… really?
must you be such a big mouth? such an idiot?
then kareena beamed. just before going onstage, her boss had startled her with a terribly lopsided smile and said, “well done! that was classy, and yes… it was sex… made me ravenous…” he’d actually winked at her before striding away.
kareena was still clutching her heart metaphorically… how did khushi survive this devastating man… and where was jp… she wanted to tell him, everything had gone off well… where was he…
“zat was spectaculah, my darling,” said a voice with french accented english near her ear. then she felt a pair of lips kiss the edge of her ear lobe, exactly where she liked it… she stood on tiptoe and kissed his lips, sliding her arms around his waist.
“does zees mean you ‘ave almost made up your mind to come wiz me?” jean pierre asked when she ended the kiss.
kareena smiled and said, “still thinking… seriously!”
the reply came, “i’ll wait… seriously…”
aman looked at the whatsapp message. the trial against shyam manohar jha was going well in the us. mr dinesh singh was a wealthy smart man who had waited long for justice. he had spared no effort to make sure only the best prosecution lawyers worked on this case.
there had been a hearing that day. mr singh had sent a message to both asr and him saying it looked like they would get the life term they were asking for.
aman smiled slightly. his boss was a good man… perhaps the toughest dealmaker he had seen though. and it felt to him as though life had also succumbed to asr’s unyielding, hard driving and honourable ways. out of nowhere had come a phone call from mr singh… and suddenly it was possible to punish shyam in the way he deserved. just plain charges of bigamy would have let him off too easily.
aman took a glass of wine from the waiter passing by with trays of red white and rose.
“cheers, asr,” he thought to himself as he raised the glass and took a sip.
salman had watched the show with a critical eye. it had gone smoothly and it had made an impression he could clearly see. his first dress was already in a collection, on the ramp and would soon feature in a fashion magazine. salman was feeling ridiculously happy. he made a sombre face and stood at the back of the ramp along with all the designers who’d worked on blooms in agung.
kareena whispered, “why so serious, dude? you can smile a little you know…”
salman glowered. he was wary of public show of practically everything.
“jaan!” the lady’s voice was loud and clearly audible.
salman almost jumped out of his skin.
it couldn’t be… but no, he knew it was… it was his mother.
“mother!” he said in a sombre tone.
“beta! jaan! my jaanu, i am so proud of you!” squealed his mother standing at the edge of the ramp and waving out.
kareena muttered, “stop pretending, go give her a hug!”
khushi appeared next to the lady, “aap maa hain salman ji ki?” she beamed.
(are you salman ji’s mother?)
“salman ji?! where? salman khan!” the lady replied excited.
“nahin! woh… salman… ji…” khushi pointed lamely toward salman…
his mother looked at him still not quite comprehending…
salman watched the quick step of emotions on his mother’s face and couldn’t help himself. he started to laugh.
khushi shook her head and tried to persuade her friend to help out…
“kareena ji!!” she called out.
“don’t tell me, even kareena kapoor is here, m’dear,” said salman’s mother, eyebrows raised, very impressed, “what a fantastic debut my son has had… oh i must thank that handsome boss of his…”
khushi’s eyes darted to the lady’s face.
what! she was looking at arnav ji… no arnav… her arnav. khushi stared daggers at the lady.
the show was over, guests drank wine and nibbled on light bites waiting for dinner to be announced.
asr walked up to kareena and salman and shook their hands.
“well done, both of you. i’ve decided to send the two of you to paris for three months. you will work with jean pierre and get a feel of the international scene. you will also get a chance to see a couple of essential shows… whaat!” asr frowned. his two interns were looking at him mouth open.
he shrugged, raised his hands in a little what the gesture and walked away.
jp sauntered up to kareena and smiled, “i told you… seriously.”
salman rolled his eyes.
his mouth was still open.
anjali and payal were sitting together at a table when the giddiness hit anjali. she could feel a darkness begin to descend. she got up panicking, reaching out blindly.
“payal… payal…” she mumbled, her lips getting heavier. then she passed out on her cousin’s wife.
payal held anjali, almost giving way under the dead weight. di was into her final trimester, nothing must happen to her now, payal thought wildly.
she looked around the room and shouted, “is there a doctor here… we need a doctor!!”
“di!” asr had heard payal’s voice, he came running from the far end of the room.
khushi began to rush toward them as did akash.
as asr cradled di in his arms and payal sat down on shaky legs, a deep voice said, “i am a doctor… may i take a look at the patient?”
all eyes turned toward the owner of the voice. he was a tall man with greying hair, he had the most intense dark eyes and a kind smile. his eyes were keen and curiously youthful.
“i am vijay verma… ” he started to introduce himself.
“dr verma! what a surprise!” it was salman’s mother, “even you are here today! how lovely! did you see salman’s work…”
dr verma smiled politely at the lady and turned toward asr. together they lay anjali down on a sofa. he checked her pulse, then sprinkled some cold water on her face. in a few minutes anjali had opened her eyes.
asr breathed out slowly… he had no idea how long he had been holding his breath…
“i don’t think you have anything to worry about, mr raizada, but just to be on the safe side, i’ll speak to her doctor and see what she suggests. it must have been the strain… these last few days are always difficult…” he said.
“di! i’d told you not to come!” asr snapped, his worry making him angry. khushi glanced at her husband and seeing his bleak expression decided to leave him be. di was well, that was the main thing, hey devi maiyya.
“bye jp, bye khushi… salman, kareena, di… di! you must take care of yourself” lavanya was in a vibrant emerald green chiffon dress, looking every bit the fashion conscious and fashionable woman she was. she’d just got her new burgundy jimmy choos and she lost no chance to draw attention to them. she looked back and lifted her leg examining the underside of a slipper…
“oh, see nk, now some chewing gum is stuck on the heel… who eats chewing gum at a fashion show… i tell you people these days…!” la complained.
“oh, la, that’s a gorgeous pair of sandals… ” kareena gushed, “jimmy choo?” a tinge of envy in the younger girl’s voice.
la drew herself up and gave a little smile, “yes, darling… one of my jcs…”
khushi was dying to ask who this jimmy ji was, but she wanted to get di some juice first.
“give me a hug before you go, khushi!” la said, embracing her, “see you after a month… i am so looking forward to this cruise with nk…”
nk grinned and exclaimed, “al fida, khushi… hasta la vista!”
khushi did a namaste and waved a bye.
“not al fida, nanhe ji… al vida… aur… hasta… la… vista,” she ventured into the new words and they came out sounding almost a hundred percent the way they should.
asr looked at her amused. his eyebrow was already rising on his forehead. good, khushi thought, he is looking a little less worried.
they were driving back home in the suv when khushi had to ask, “arnav ji?”
asr cut in, “arnav…”
khushi started again, “arnav… yeh… what is hasta la vista? something to do with lavanya ji? la?”
asr grinned, “yes, it means la go slow… aaste.”
had his shoulders not been shaking, khushi would have bought that story.
“arnav… ji!” khushi glared.
“okay, don’t get mad at me… just means, see you soon…” he said catching her hand and tucking it under his on the steering wheel.
“woh dr verma… wasn’t he nice?” khushi said completely changing the subject.
the moon was high in the sky. clouds passed over its pale visage at a sedate night like pace. the water in the pool was a deep hue of midnight blue as it undulated and flowed.
the red chiffon was still stretched across the surface where it had landed a few moments ago.
lying on the deckchair two lovers separated themselves from the universe.
asr kissed khushi’s breast as his hand stroked her middle, her stomach… she shuddered convulsively and moaned.
a black shirt landed on the flagstone floor.
another set of clouds passed over the moon.
a delicate ivory hand stroked taut brown skin…
nothing they say is forever, but at this moment you’d know without a doubt that is not really true…