asr gripped the secateurs firmly.
he looked at the tip of the stem, brow scrunched, lips pursed, willing his mind to focus. he was not going to think of anything else now. he would snip the stem just where he knew he must, he was…
“am i speaking to mr raizada… mr arnav singh raizada?” she had a poised voice, he could tell from the way she said his name, especially the “r,” that she wasn’t indian. she sounded… asian? yeah, asian.
all this he had processed and thought in less than a fraction of a moment. a sudden chill had come into the air, and it wasn’t because it was winter in delhi.
he had replied curtly, “yes!”
she had seemed to laugh just a little. he had frowned.
asr tried not to think of what she said after that as he placed the edge of the clippers on the stem. but the thoughts wouldn’t go away.
naho yamakawa, that was her name. she was the wife of dave ogawa, the obnoxious little man from shima. she was in fact the daughter of the major stakeholder in the company, he had no idea she was involved with running the business. asr grimaced. ms yamakawa had introduced herself and then said after a little pause, “mr raizada… i heard about your meeting this morning… may i apologise on my husband’s behalf. i hope you will allow us to take the discussion further.”
there was a bold clear simplicity in the way she spoke. when she’d realised she had called at such an early hour, she’d been contrite. he had sensed she had miscalculated the time possibly because she was agitated. it was obvious she was nothing like her husband. there was refinement in her way of speaking and she seemed to know her business well. she also wanted to work with ar. she had been looking, she’d said, for some time for a fashion house in india…
asr let the woody tip fall as he cut it off and moved toward another stem that needed to be trimmed. pruning in winter as the plants lay dormant was important. the camellia shrub was slightly overgrown, he would spend some time getting rid of what was not needed. the flowers were in many ways like roses, yet different… the pale pink of this one maa would have…
he shook his head and stopped the thought.
“i am looking for a line in mooga silk,” he heard naho’s quiet careful voice, “are you familiar with the silk, mr raizada?”
a soft brush of a pallu on his face, a mere hint of a scent he had known always… maa liked mooga. or moonga silk as everyone called it in lucknow, in delhi… those days. moonga means gold, his mother would say. you only get this silk in one place in india… he remembered the golden glint… no, sheen… of the material, it was a little stiff, not like the other silks he’d seen, but then as you wore it for a while, it grew soft…
apparently, there were many japanese women who liked mooga, it had been popularised among people with an eclectic taste by a small family run boutique. naho yamakawa wanted to introduce the material to her clientele… in a line that was essentially western but had touches of the orient… she wanted to meet him and talk about it.
mooga… pure gold. unconsciously his fingers reached and caressed the thick shiny leaves of the camellia plant as if seeking to touch something… feel its texture, know it once more. he swallowed hard and went back to pruning. the first of january had not been an easy day for years. but it would get over soon.
and anyway, there was work to be done.
“naya saal mubarak ho, lakshmi ji!” khushi beamed down at the quadraped then gave her a hug.
lakshmi ji, by now quite used to the new members of the family and their ways, rubbed her chin against khushi’s kurta and gave a little, “meh… meh…”
she had a feeling there would be a reward for that soon. a palm heaped with crunchy things came into her line of vision and a very happy goat leaned forward to grab a mouthful of crisp chane.
“how am i looking today? nice na, lakshmi ji… kyun!” khushi said chirpily, she was very pleased with her deep red churidar kurta with gold gota and pure zaree pompoms. she wanted something dressy for the day. it was new year, not just another day, after all.
“aap bahut hi mahurat lag rahin hain, khushi ji!” it was nk, who had just come into the sitting room still looking sleepy, his hair tousled. khushi turned to him and beamed.
(you’re looking very auspicious time, khushi ji!)
“mahurat nahin, nanhe ji…” she started to correct him.
(not auspicious time, nanhi ji…)
“khubsoorat!” payal said walking out of the kitchen carrying bowls of kheer, “khushi, stop preening and thinking no end of yourself,” she admonished as her younger sister made a face, “go call arnav ji and everyone else… breakfast is ready.”
“but you are looking very pretty, khushi..” anjali said from the dining area, she grinned and winked at payal, “if one elder sister won’t pamper, the other must, kyun! tell chhotey i’ve made sugarless kheer for him…”
“di!” it was asr, he was rolling down his sleeves as he came from the poolside, “i hate the stuff… no sugarless kheer…!” he scowled at the offensive bowl sitting on the table. then abruptly said, “payal, give me some kheer, will you!”
he sounded terse.
anjali looked at him, surprised. concern filled her gaze.
khushi said without thinking, “but, arnav ji… you aren’t supposed to…”
“i’ll decide what i am supposed to or not!” asr said in a clipped brusque tone, picked up a bowl from the tray payal was carrying and left the room as everyone watched absolutely nonplussed.
anjali looked after her brother silently, worry and sadness clouding her eyes. khushi stared at him mouth open. what had come over arnav ji! she would have snapped perhaps but then she saw di’s face…
he sat at his desk staring at the screen of his laptop. the office was empty, it was silent all around. he sought its calm and tried not to feel the sensation in the pit of his stomach.
mooga. he had to find out the particulars. how much was available. who produced it. was there any surplus, what would it cost… when was it made, were there any environmental issues… how did one ship it… assam… at the other end of the country, rich in natural wealth… petroleum, tea, silk… but a little cut off from the rest… upheavals at times… what was it like?
he picked up the phone and chose a number, still staring at the screen.
“hello? yes… salman? i was thinking… would you know anything about mooga silk? anyone in your family… around the tea estates? what? oh okay… yeah, maybe i’ll need to go over soon.. okay see you.. huh? what? yes yes.. happy new year!” he spoke to the young designer and went back to studying the material, beside him on the desk lay a thick tome on indian fabrics and textile and some copies of japanese fashion magazines.
“sara din agar aap kaale badal ke tarah dikhe toh kya sab khush ho jaayenge?” asr started as he heard her voice. khushi stood before him, her hands on her waist, an arch look on her face.
(if you look like a dark cloud the whole day will everyone be happy?)
he frowned at her and snapped.
“kaale badal… whaaat? khushi, what’re you saying, dammit! why are you here?!” his voice rose sharply, partly because he was taken aback, partly because he was angry.
khushi came up to his desk, put her hands on it and leaned forward, her face grim.
“don’t think i am scared of you! you’ll do whatever you please and everyone will keep quiet you think?” khushi said, her anger evident in her voice. her hazel eyes flashed, her bosom heaved, asr stared at her.
“aap apne ko nuksaan pahunchayenge aur hum sab sirf chup chap dekhenge? aap kissi se kuch nahin kahenge, hum se bhi nahin… what had you said… no shouted! yes, shouted… ‘you’ll marry me… now!’ just because you believed you had to… not because you loved me even! that is allowed, mr arnav singh raizada, but hum is not allowed to know anything about you, do anything for you… bas dekhte rahein aap ki taqleef… aur… aur… ” khushi’s voice had risen and sounded quite stern till now, suddenly it was wobbly… she took a deep breath, steadied herself and continued, “you’ll eat anything… anything! even though it’s not good for you… k..k..kill yourself…” khushi had no idea but she was bawling by now.
“no, mr raizada, i am not… i am not… dammit! you are!” khushi cried out and sobbed, her breath shaken, tears beginning to stream down her face. she could never explain to him the feeling that had gone through her as he’d picked up a bowl of kheer full of sugar and stalked out, refusing to talk to anyone. she had sat through breakfast quietly wondering what to do. later she had gone looking for him and was told by op, who was clearing up the garden by the poolside where arnav ji had been working since early morning even before she had woken up, that he had left for the office. she knew this day was not easy for him so she had tried not to crowd him, stayed away, hoping he’d feel a bit better. she was touched by what he had done for her the previous evening.
but when he reached for the kheer…
(you’ll harm yourself and we’ll just watch without saying a thing? you won’t say anything to anyone, not even me… what had you said… no shouted! yes, shouted…’you’ll marry me… now!’ just because you believed you had to… not because you loved me even! that is allowed, mr arnav singh raizada, but i am not allowed to know anything about you, do anything for you… just keep watching you in pain… and… and…)
“shhh! khushi, no…” his voice was low and yet it made her listen. she stopped stuttering and crying and looked at him. he was still sitting on the other side. his eyes were fixed on her face. they glittered like pebbles. she could read nothing in them. she stared mesmerised still… how could eyes have so much shine in them she wondered. his lips began to stretch… was he smiling? she saw a helpless look pass across his face… she wanted to run to him. but something held her rooted to the spot. something said, stay… don’t move.
“who said i didn’t love you even?” his voice was hoarse and the words seemed to just leave him of their own volition. he leaned forward and reached out, his fingers, long and brown, touched her left cheek… a touch that had grown familiar, that she needed… stroking away the tears, they moved to her forehead and tucked a strand of errant hair behind her hair.
he looked at her without blinking, a steady long gaze. she could see his eyes grow hungry slowly. she felt her own heart beat quicken, her lips crave something.
khushi caught his fingers and gave him a weepy smile.
his lips stretched… at an angle… this time it was a smile.
his shoulders moved once… again.. then he snorted.
khushi frowned. what? that jwalamukhi… that magarmach that frangipani…
“i won’t die if i have one bowl of kheer, khushi…” he tried to say evenly but he was clearly laughing.
khushi made to pull away in a huff but he had caught hold of her hands in a firm grip by then and was walking around the desk already.
even though he laughed, there was a fire in him she knew… he dragged her into his arms roughly but his voice was the most tender as he said, “so you called me dammit!”
khushi sighed and threw her arms around him. she had felt so terribly left out the whole day and worried for him… why couldn’t she have fallen in love with an easier to understand man, she wondered, then she quickly shelved the idea and looked up at him adoringly.
asr saw the smiling face, the bright grey green eyes, right now the grey was iridescent, golden… he felt something draining from within and an animated exhilaration begin to make its way in. this girl was crazy and she was beautiful… most importantly she was his.
he smiled, his teeth flashing. he went to kiss her but held back…
what is it that goes on between a man and a woman in a space of time not recorded anywhere in any annals but for a split second surely eternity was there, and everything went still, perhaps even time. a topsy turvy moment. when lips know a tingling, eyes search, sensation is born on fingertips, and in some corner of a mind or heart or some other vital organ a person becomes part of another. what is such a moment called, or do such moments never have a name…
“arnav ji,” khushi whispered, her eyes now fixed on his lips, she could see them thinning slightly.
“khushi…” even as he murmured her name he was drawing closer, kissing her eyes, her nose, then her lips… he had picked her up in his arms and was sitting on his chair, leaning back, letting her lie across him, upon him, pulling her near, running his hand over her back, his breathing erratic, rubbing his stubble on her cheek, her chin, her neck, smiling at her little protests, turning his face to kiss her again, listening to her sigh of contentment…
she had been angry with him and for some reason that had felt good. she had looked stunning… though how one managed to do that in pompoms and gota continued to remain a mystery. his mind checked his thoughts… he was again perhaps trying to run away… maybe because of that damn wetness behind his lids. tears. stinging and warm.
he swallowed hard and kissed her deeper, he felt the swell of her breasts against his chest, her breath…
mooga… he would go looking for it, he decided. long time since he had sat beside her in a plane. a pallu seemed to brush across his face, a faint familiar scent…
“aap yahan kaise aa gaye?” khushi shrieked as she saw the white pigeon. she peered at it, yes, the eyes were red. it was her old friend from lucknow, no doubt about it. and now he was sitting here in the garden at shantivan.
(how did you get here?)
it was almost five in the evening, she had left arnav ji after a most satisfying lunch at the dhaba near his office. he had watched resignedly as she had polished off her three parathe, one makki ki roti, a bowl of raita, another of sarson ka saag, some lasooni chutney with it, plus a couple of hot bhajiyas, she particularly liked the brinjal one, then there had been a round of ice cream at the parlour. he had asked for a bottle of mineral water and taken a swig from it every once in a while. he’d said he would grab a bite later. beside that bowl of kheer…
khushi had wanted to throw the sarson ka saag at him.
after she was done, he’d walked her to the car, kissed her lightly on the tip of her nose and said, “mind that temper, khushi kumari gupta singh raizada! i might get to like it too much.”
khushi had blushed violently remembering what had happened in the office earlier.
he had waited till mohan ji had driven out of the parking lot, then gone back to work.
she blushed once more at the memory. really, arnav ji just didn’t understand that you couldn’t… couldn’t…
“kahiye, kabootar ji, koi aise karta hai kya… woh bhi saal ke pehle din… aur office mein…” khushi muttered to the bird.
(say, mr pigeon, does anyone behave like this… that too on the first day of the year… and in the office… )
“shut up, khushi! stop talking to the bird!” asr said from right behind. he must have come into the garden through the poolside door.
khushi went as red as her deep red churidar kurta, her pompoms swung wildly. she felt his arms go around her from the back. he pecked her lightly on the neck and asked, “think your kabootar will fly with us to assam?”
hope you enjoyed the new chapter. and no, that was not a scary woman calling early morning. i have a feeling next chapter will be the last one. let’s see. do please leave your thoughts. i love to hear from you. thanks for reading and have a wonderful new year… gong xi fa cai.