“helena ji, nobody’s looking, come quickly, have another jalebi!” khushi thrust a crisp orange jalebi at helena and stood in front of the elephant, holding up her pale pink dupatta so a passerby wouldn’t notice what helena was up to.
it didn’t occur to khushi even for a moment that her slight frame and translucent dupatta might not quite accomplish the task of “hiding” helena.
helena finished her jalebi and nudged khushi with a playful trunk.
“no more! nahiiin, not good for you… you can’t become too fat, helena ji! aap aise hi bahut sundar dikhte hain!” khushi said with a stern air and nearly jumped when she felt something touch her back.
(no more! noooo, not good for you… you can’t become too fat, helena ji! you look very beautiful the way you are!)
next instant, she was being pulled and her back had come up against…
“aur main?” said a soft voice by her right ear. she shivered and squealed at the same time.
asr put his other arm around her and held her even more firmly. he bit her lightly on the ear and said in an offhand voice, “chillao mat! tell me, am i bahut…”
(don’t shout! tell me, am i very…)
“badsurat, behuda, bhayanak!” khushi hissed and made a face, her arms flailed about as she tried to squirm out of his embrace.
(ugly, rude, scary!)
he held her easily and turned her around.
“is that right, so what were you doing kissing me in front of the whole world last night… ” he laughed and brought her up tighter against him.
“arnav ji! koi dekh lega” khushi stamped her foot.
(arnav ji, someone might see!)
“good!” he replied evenly, “tum mujhe abhi kiss karo.”
(you kiss me now!)
“kya!” khushi was aghast. here in broad daylight. in front of helena and who knows anyone might walk out to the yard any moment… and arnav ji wanted her to… wanted her to…
his hands moved gently over her back.
she shut her eyes tight.
her knees felt crumbly, like babuji’s balushahi when they’re freshly fried and hot. yes, hot… there was something searing inside her knees… she sighed helplessly and leaned forward, her face turning up.
her lips knew where they had to go, what they looked for. she felt his breath on her upper lip, her nose, a slight sound as he seemed to catch his breath and then she was kissing him.
it was a cool light morning in margarita. dew drops still glistened on the leaves, the grass was wet. shades of green spread around for miles, the sky was vast and blue.
asr picked his wife up in his arms and casually walked over to the house. she clutched him tight as she kissed him. there was a faint aroma of jalebi in her kiss.
“tazdiq, it was great meeting you and thank you for your hospitality,” asr stood outside in the verandah speaking to salman’s father on the phone. they were leaving that afternoon around two o’clock, straight after lunch.
“do give my regards to rehana… of course, of course…! yes, khushi will drop in and take her leave, i just want to wrap up some work… okay, all the best, and thanks again!” he disconnected the phone and sat down with his laptop.
he had just had a bath, his hair gleamed and clung to his scalp. he was wearing a white linen shirt under his charcoal grey waistcoat with light wool trousers in the same colour. a pale olive tie was slung around his neck. he looked at the screen with a frown, knotting his tie absentmindedly. aman was still not being able to get him some time in march… he needed to come back to assam, dammit.
the phone rang. he reached for it without taking his eyes off the screen.
“yes!” he said in a crisp curt tone, the call was from a private number.
it was almost ten in the morning, the sun was up and bright, but perhaps even otherwise the onlooker might have seen the chill enter sharp brown eyes, the irises glinted for an instant and went cold, opaque. arnav singh raizada sat up, his shoulders braced, his lips pursed and a hooded, menacing look began to enter his eyes.
“arnav ji, hum aate hain!” khushi poked her head out from the room and vanished without waiting for a reply. she didn’t want to disturb arnav ji, he’d said he had lots of work. beside, there was very little time left. she wanted to meet rehana ji, then go with kanumoni ji to take a look at the riverside festivities. the bihu celebrations would continue today. pity, there was no time to wear her mekhela. and kanumoni ji had told her she’d take her to a weaver’s house nearby to pick up a mekhela for jiji and di and some colourful jhapis for everyone. she had also seen a lovely brass paandaan last evening, she wanted to get one for nani ji but that might have to wait till her next trip, since all the shops were closed today.
“rehana ji, thank you so much, humne kitna achha samay guzara aap sab ke saath… aap yaad aayengi bahut!” khushi smiled at rehana and gave her a plate piled high with jalebis.
(rehana ji, thank you so much, we spent such a lovely time with you.. i’ll miss you a lot!)
“oh khushi, my dear, i’ll miss you too, but you will come again, won’t you. and tell you what, next time i’m in delhi, we’ll go and play a round of golf at the delhi golf club! okay?! you’ll love it!” rehana beamed at the girl in a pale blue churidar kurta. she wondered if khushi ever wore anything without sparkles and baubles and pompoms.
salman could see a little panic cloud his friend’s open gaze.
“oh, mummy, kk will take you sightseeing to chandni chowk when you come to delhi… teach her golf when she’s here next!” he cut in, putting his arm around his mother’s shoulders and giving her a little hug.
“haan! haan! wahi toh… chandni chowk!” khushi exclaimed, sounding relieved. this laad governor’s khadoos game, this galf or golf or gawlf or whatever it was, why must she learn it. would he learn the games she played! in fact, she was the best cricket player in gomti sadan and no one could beat her at pitthoo. even as she thought of it, she had a vision of magarmach playing the game, throwing a ball at the pile of seven stones, missing, shouting “dammit!”
khushi started laughing uncontrollably.
(yes! yea! exactly… chandni chowk!)
rehana looked at her bewildered. what had come over khushi today? she picked up a jalebi and started eating it.
later at the river side, kanumoni and khushi spent a few minutes watching the buffalo fight, which was part of the bihu functions. the two gigantic buffaloes, black and powerful, locked horns and battled. both the girls squealed and shut their eyes, but the lure of the fight and the sheer energy of the creatures called. khushi peeped from behind her fingers.
for some reason, she thought of laad governor. he hadn’t even looked at her when she’d left.
after they had tried all the different pithas and other sweets, they went to the weavers.
“take out all the correspondence with shima, aman, and find out if they are doing business with any other fashion house in the country!” there was an unmistakably combative note in asr’s voice.
aman was alert instantly. what had happened? why was asr asking him to look for details of shima’s business interests in india? but he was too smart to ask any questions, instead, his fingers were already reaching for his key pad… he’d need to talk to someone from blackhorn about it, this sort of information was not easy to unearth.
“call me back in an hour and give me a full report,” asr said in clipped tones and disconnected the phone.
aman stared at his phone. one hour?
khushi chose a mooga mekhela with large red motifs for payal. jiji would look so pretty in it, she mused. and jija ji would love that. akash ji was such a nice man, she pondered, her brow furrowing, yes, he was indeed really really nice. not like his cousin at all.
then she smiled to herself. “call me sir!” he had told her when they had met. and now? now he was all, “tum mujhe abhi kiss karo.” she was about to laugh at that when her mercurial mind seized an onslaught of embarrassment. haw! how could she think like that. that too here. while buying mekhela and jhapi and in front of kanumoni ji and the sweet lady who had agreed to open her shop for her on bihu day.
“kitni besharam hai tu, khushi!” she muttered under her breath and rapped her temple sharply.
(you’re so shameless, khushi!)
“baideo! are you okay?” kanumoni asked, worried.
khushi smiled sheepishly and mumbled, “haan! haan! hum toh theek hi hain!”
(yes! yes! i am all right!)
she trembled though remembering how he’d said, “”tum mujhe abhi kiss karo.”
then she started looking at the mekhelas again, which one would look nice on di?
khushi came back with her shopping and went to their room. she had to pack quickly, they had to have lunch and then leave. she wanted to show arnav ji the mekhelas, so she went out to the verandah looking for him.
he was sitting in front of his laptop as she had known he would be.
she looked at his bent head, that stillness about him, and a rush of tenderness came over her. he worked so hard, he cared so much. for everyone. he never asked for anything for himself. no, not really. maybe a kiss… she blushed.
she walked up to him from behind and put her hands on his shoulders.
she felt him start. but he stayed as he was, he didn’t turn around.
khushi frowned. something was wrong. she didn’t know what, but she knew something was terribly wrong.
she began to bend down toward him, she could feel her heart fluttering, an emptiness in her stomach. what had happened? why was arnav ji…
before she could reach down and pull him close, he moved without warning.
he whipped around and buried his face against her, his arms went around her waist, he gripped her tightly. khushi’s eyes widened. arnav ji!
what had happened? her fingers curled around his hair, pressing him against her.
her eyes fell on the floor, there were yards and yards of mooga lying in front of him… on the floor, on the table, on the chair opposite. it looked like he had opened out an entire bale and let it flow all over, everywhere.
khushi started stroking his hair.
“what’s the matter, arnav ji? aap theek toh hain na?” she whispered, letting her hands reach down and rub his back. his shoulders were tense, his back rigid.
(what’s the matter, arnav ji? you’re okay, aren’t you?)
she felt him lift his head, she looked down at him and felt her breath catch. the whites of his eyes were streaked with red, his irises had gone dark and expressionless.
“shima canceled the order,” he said without wasting any words.
“kya? how can they do that?” khushi reacted sharply. a ball of anger seemed to shoot out of nowhere and lodge itself in her head.
“no, arnav ji, they can’t do this to you… you’ve done so much work and everyone here thinks you will come and sell what they make… and…” she struggled with her emotions.
“shh! sh! just hold me, khushi… please,” asr said interrupting her.
khushi caught something in his voice. a note of intense sadness. of loss. she reached out tentatively and touched his cheek. the stubble scratched her skin lightly.
“arnav ji?” she said looking at him intently.
“khushi, my mother loved mooga, she had this saree…” he said looking into her eyes…
as he said the words, it came again… 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.
khushi stared at him lost for words, aching for him. she reached back and picked his hand up and brought it to her cheek. she rocked him slowly, and waited for some answer to come.
“hey devi maiyya, help arnav ji… show him the way… no, us… show us the way out of this terrible feeling… unki amma… ” a little sob rise in her, which she quickly stifled.
the plane began its ascent into the wide clear sky. the blue stretched calm and serene for as far as you could see, below green undulating earth with row upon row of tea bushes began to grow distant. strong sunlight poured into the cabin falling across their faces. there was a warmth in the winter sun, a comfort.
khushi held asr’s hand tight, her stomach was emptying out as it always did during these times. captain raina had said there may be thunder and showers ahead.
arnav ji had not spoken much at all. khushi wished she could do something to make him feel a little better. and also the thought that the mooga project was over, that they’d never come to assam again, not meet helena or kanumoni or the others, all of it felt terribly sad.
“kya aapki amma woh moonga saree mein bahut sundar dikhti thi?” the moment the words were out, khushi wanted to kick herself. what was she saying? now arnav ji would feel even worse and anyway, why was she asking such a silly question, of course, her mother in law must have looked very pretty, she was such a lovely looking lady…
(did your mother look very pretty in that mooga saree?)
she felt him move sharply next to her. she looked down at her fingers which by now were wriggling nervously.
a warm… no, very hot… breath fell on the side of her nose. khushi closed her eyes waiting for his wrath.
“moonga… tum bhi moonga kehti ho,” there seemed to be a question in the statement and almost a caress. khushi opened her eyes and turned to look at him. he was watching her, and yes, there was an almost gentle look in his eyes. the sunlight made his irises translucent, khushi stared into them dumbfounded. what if she drowned in them right now?
(moonga… you too say moonga.)
her irises widened at the thought.
a light touch on her cheek made her start. arnav ji had just brushed her cheek with tender fingers.
“huh? moonga?” khushi was feeling particularly foolish at the moment. what had she said? why was he looking so… so… sweetly… really, just like, just like jaebi…. yes! like that… at her.
“tum pagal ho!” asr smiled, his teeth flashing for an instant, crow’s feet at the corner of his eyes, his arched eyebrows going up. khushi stared as she felt her stomach empty out again. but the plane was not going up again, maybe there had been thunder and lightning… she shook her head slightly.
“haan! haan! woh toh hum hain hi! amma bhi kehti hain… jiji bhi… bua ji bhi! hum koshish karte hain yeh sanak ko samhalne ki… par…” khushi mumbled confusedly.
(yes! yes! i am that! amma says so, so does jiji, also bua ji! i try to do something about this madness… but…)
“don’t you dare!” he cut in sharply even as he bent closer and pulled her to him.
“nahin??? nahin… dare?” khushi was almost incoherent now. there were things scampering about in her empty stomach now, also goosebumps running up ad down her shin… all this activity was making her dizzy.
(not??? not… dare?)
she felt his finger under her chin, he lifted her face and gave her a quick kiss on her startled lips.
“no! pagal tumhe suit karta hai… aur stoopid bhi!” he said coolly and turned away, let her go, settling back in his seat.
(no! mad suits you… and stupid too.)
“kya? what? aapne mujhe stupid kaha? suniye, mr arnav singh jo bhi hain aap…” khushi’s eyes had narrowed by now, she was all set to fight this magarmach, this lad governor, this…
(what? what? you called me stupid? listen, mr arnav singh whoever you are…)
she glared at him just as he began to laugh.
his whole body was shaking, his shoulders heaved, he guffawed without even turning to look at her once.
khushi felt something pound in her heart. she forgot her ire. arnav ji was laughing… he was not sad any longer. whatever it was that had brought it about, it was okay. and anyway, she was not stupid, maybe she was sanka devi… but not stupid… let him say it. he just wanted to pull her leg maybe.
asr grabbed her hand suddenly and brought it to his lips. he kissed her on her knuckles, and said, “moonga… let’s do it, dammit!”
khushi looked at him not quite understanding what he meant and again feeling her stomach emptying out.
“pata hai, arnav ji, sabko taufe bahut pasand aaye! hum kitne khush hain… nani ji wore the jhapi and nanhe ji took a selfie with her… and really, nanhe ji looked very smart in his jhapi… aur mami ji ko toh moonga bahut pasand aya, woh keh rahi thi dhalamal ji ke yahan jaayengi aur latestwa deisgns gold jewellery kharidengi, hello hi bye bye… ” khushi giggled as she recalled her aunt in law’s glee upon seeing the golden hued fabric.
(you know, arnav ji, everyone loved the gifts so much! i am so happy… nani ji wore the hat and nanhe ji took a selfie with her… and really, nanhe ji looked very smart in his hat… and mami ji loved the mooga, she was saying she’ll go to dhalamal ji tomorrow and buy some gold jewellery with the last design, hello hi byebye!)
“bua ji bhi khushi thi… aur jiji…” khushi spoke in a rush of happy words as she changed into her night clothes… a plain white salwar kurta with red edging. she had just opened her plait and combed her hair, her waist length auburn tresses swung loosely. though she had loved assam, it felt good to be back home.
(bua ji too was happy… and jiji…)
“khushi! come here!” asr called out from the poolside.
when she stepped out, he reached out from the deckchair where he was lounging and pulled her onto his lap. khushi loved it when he did that. she threw her arms around his neck and snuggled close, settling into his arms. her ears knew what they’d hear… the quiet thudding of his heart and the gentle murmur of the pool a little to the left. perhaps the rustle of leaves too… and the scent of the roses might waft about.
was there a moon up over their heads? khushi tried to peek. asr held her tighter, not letting her move.
“khushi!” he whispered.
“hmm?” khushi smiled and rubbed her face against his tee shirt. it was soft, she could feel his taut chest just below it. and his heartbeat was beginning to keep pace with hers.
“you were right!” he said, catching her left hand and bringing it to his lips.
the single light at the poolside shone on her blood red ruby ring. khushi stared bemused. she was right? about what?
“about new year…” he seemed to read her thoughts.
“it was her birthday,” he murmured running his fingers through her open hair.
“yes, she did look beautiful in her mooga saree… moonga…” he laughed a little… “moonga…”
he sat up suddenly holding her in his arms.
“i’m going ahead with the mooga project. shima doesn’t want it… koi faraq nahin padta! we’ll find a market, a buyer, many buyers… i don’t care. mooga is on,” there was a lightness in his voice. he sounded carefree… happy.
(shima doesn’t want it, doesn’t make a difference!)
khushi felt a wild surge of something in her.
she turned and pushed him till he was lying back on the chair again. then she reached up and kissed him on his chin. the stubble tickled her lips as usual. she reached higher and kissed him on the tip of his sharp straight nose. he’d been taken by surprise for a moment but now his hands were on her hips, squarely settling down, taking charge, demanding things.
she smiled slightly to herself and began kissing him on his lips. she was unprepared for the hunger that rose in her as she felt his sculpted lips under her tongue. she shuddered and thrust against him… knowing he would be there. gold perhaps is just a moment between two lovers. gold perhaps is a knowing within that some things can never diminish, never be tarnished, never be anything but pure…
“happy new year, mr arnav singh..” khushi said drawing away for a moment.
“raizada, not jo bhi hain aap!” he chuckled, his fingers beginning to pull the drawstrings of her pyjamas.
(raizada, not whoever you are.)
“and now… shut up, khushi,” he said, beginning to kiss her thoroughly.
they make me feel they make me crazy they do for me things of the finest kind, so much faraq padta hai dammit.
many many many apologies for this long gap and supremely delayed update. i couldn’t manage time, very sorry. thank you for reading never on a new year. i hope you had fun. this is the last chapter. i will add an epilogue next week… yes, this time, next week means just that. i hope some day soon, again the bug to write about asr khushi bites me again, and i am back, hopefully making you happy and not taking forever to update. without a reader, a story really doesn’t get told. thank you so so much.
find all chapters here