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It had been a year since he had so ruthlessly dragged her into his life.
He shrugged carefully out of his jacket as his eyes took in the sight of his beautiful wife, sleeping soundly in what seemed to be a tantalizing confection of French lace and silk sheets.
He didn’t need to look around the room to know, that he had walked into the scene of a surprise gone awry. He’d known her intentions for days, the scented candles, and clichéd smattering of rose petals, merely a reminder of why he’d suddenly been ‘caught up’ in a late night meeting tonight.
Snapping the buttons of his shirt open, as he slid silently into bed with the visage of such sweet perfection that he was married to – Arnav Singh Raizada, the man without a soul, felt a painful tug in the long lost corners of his heart as he allowed himself to bask in the glory that was Khushi.
She had been his benediction.
He stroked one hand, rough, and callused from years of gardening, down the delicate curve of her spine, only to watch, his eyes dark with primitive approval, as she arched up to him, fitting her body into the curve of his own.
By God, she was glorious.
Arnav groaned, the need, his tiny wife ignited in him gnawing away at his self-control.
As if, his previous lapses hadn’t already given him enough to answer for.
Hell – his previous lapses, were exactly why he had just spent his ‘anniversary’ holed up at his office, waiting for his wife to fall asleep, hoping desperately that if he returned home late enough, he wouldn’t have to deal with the ‘celebrations’ she had planned for a day he deserved to be skinned alive for.
Not that he regretted the day itself. No matter what the circumstances, it was still the day he had pilfered the lost part of his soul he’d never hoped to reclaim.
No – he didn’t regret the day – everything that had lead up to it though, that was a different story altogether.
It was also why he sat, propped on his elbow, his callused fingers carefully smoothing away a stray lock of hair, as he watched the shadows cast by her impossibly long lashes dance across the porcelain perfection of her cheeks. Unlike most couples, his anniversary didn’t deserve to be celebrated – it deserved to be condemned – the way he had condemned her with visceral contempt, on that day and for months after.
A better man, a more honorable man would have had the decency to at least explain to her why he’d just spent the better part of his day, fleeing from the aching sweetness of her ‘surprise’.
A better man, perhaps, would have been able to tell her, to explain to her – how that day haunted him.
After all, she had been his benediction – in a time when he hadn’t known he’d needed one. How could he not answer the unspoken questions he knew would crowd her mind?
But then a better man would not have needed to. A better man would never have shroud his wife in accusation after accusation of piecing scorn and then fled like the coward he was when she attempted to scrub clean the stench of his impossible transgressions with candlelight and forgiveness.
A forgiveness that he did not deserve.
Arnav Singh Raizada, had taken enough from her – he would be damned if he took anything else he didn’t deserve, not even if she offered.
He owed her at least that much.
He owed her everything.
* * *
In the weeks that followed, Arnav Singh Raizada had finally begun to look for viable alternatives to cloak his aversion to that one particularly damning day.
The practical business man in him had finally come to terms with the fact that the memories marring that particular day, the one’s that still haunted him, would not be going away anytime soon – and like any good businessman worth his salt – he’d decided that instead of allowing the darkness to eat at him, like a bad wager in a dimly lit gambling den, it was time that he cut his losses and found an adequate substitute.
In another life, he would have allowed it to do just that.
But in another life, the circumstances surrounding his fall from grace would not be accompanied by an angel of redemption, complete with tinkling anklets and an infinite supply of jalebi’s.
And so he fought.
He fought years of indoctrinated distaste for papier-mâché hearts on the Fourteenth of February, or cakes and candles on Birthdays. He fought by yielding with a grace that robbed his young wife of words when he ‘made up’ for his late night meeting weeks later, telling her he would rather celebrate the first time she’d fallen into his arms.
She hadn’t really understood – but then again, he hadn’t really explained.
In the end it didn’t matter, all that had mattered was that he had been able to make her laugh with joy and moan with ecstasy that night – in exactly that order. The year after, he had been away on a business conference, London – too far away for her to plan another celebration – that year, he’d claimed he forgot – at one point he even convinced himself he had, until that fateful day came rolling back yet again.
* * *
The Night before their Anniversary, 2015
As the soft beams of iridescent moonlight filtering through the tinted glass windows of his bedroom, Arnav Singh Raizada, watched in mute wonder as the shadows danced majestically across the achingly delicate curve of his wife’s back.
The light breeze, played teasingly with her long black tresses and the matching silk sheets that were barely draped around her – so much so that they reminded Arnav of another night not unlike this – when his achingly beautiful wife, had melted oh so sweetly in his arms for the very first time.
Or, of last night – when she’d melted into the cradle of his arms, eager, desperate and wet with need, like the thick ‘chashni’ that coated her tongue with every bite of her favorite sweet.
He wasn’t supposed to be here tonight. But, as caught up as he had been, first in the hilariously bizarre conversation his wife had begun when he had come home, followed by the hours of soul-shattering love making – he couldn’t for the life of himself remember why.
* * *
A little known truth, was that for all her saari’s and aarti’s – Khushi Kumari Gupta – first thing in the morning, was the farthest thing from saanskaari – Languidly, crossing her arms across her husband’s bare chest, only to unfold one hand and with aching deliberation, mere seconds later, drag it down the length of his torso, to awaken him, with a well-placed caress and a fleeting kiss – She was anything but.
And that was how Arnav Singh Raizada, awoke, that particular morning, his arms instinctively going around the soft curve of her waist as he dragged her closer, so that he could kiss her deeper.
“Morning.” He murmured, his voice heavy with sleep, as he nibbled wickedly at the curve of her neck, his hand dipping lower as he maneuvered himself above her in one swift move, before he continued to soothe the now red circle his ministrations had left behind.
Not that the now gasping woman in his arms seemed to be capable of a response – her mouth rounded in a perfect ‘O’, she arched against him, her eyes crashing shut as his hands went lower still.
It was the next sharp stab of ecstasy that shot through her that finally made her open her honey-toned eyes, eyes dark with the pleasure coursing through her, and whisper on a breathless moan, “Happy Anniversary to you too.”
Pure undiluted ice rushed through his veins, as all at once, visions of the bruises he’d left on her both physical and mental tore through him. His jaw clenching, as if dealt a merciless blow – Arnav Singh Raizada remembered exactly why, on this particular day, he was supposed to be anywhere but here.
* * *
“Khushi – can we please just not do this now?” snapped Arnav, his voice harsh with self-recrimination, as he fixed the buttons on his cuff, on his way out of their bedroom.
In hindsight, that probably hadn’t been the most intelligent thing to say. Not when he’d practically leapt out of bed less than twenty odd minutes ago. Especially, not when he’d spent those twenty minutes, simultaneously getting dressed and watching his wife go from baffled to enraged.
“Excuse Me? ‘Not do this now?’ When would you like to do it pray tell – “ snapped Khushi, as she followed him down to the bannister, her muffled footsteps in the plush brown carpeting irritating her even more for reasons she could not explain.
“Arnav, please?” she asked plaintively, her hand shooting out to catch the corner of his coat as she tried desperately to understand what just happened, “What are you running away from?”
For the second time that morning, Arnav stilled. What was he supposed to say – that he was running away from her? That her excitement for this particular day, confounded him when all he could think of was everything he’d put her through – and it had all started on this ‘momentous’ occasion.
That the memories of every painful, degrading incident that had now been seared into his memory came flashing back with that one little word?
Would she understand?
Could he really ask her to?
“Bhai…” interrupted a cautious voice, forcing Arnav’s attention away from the delicate hand that clutched so dearly on to the end of his jacket. He hesitated, for the briefest second – only to tenderly dislodge her hand from his self.
“I have an empire to run, Khushi – this can wait.”
* * *
“Khushi! I mean seriously, you don’t think you’re over-reacting just a little bit?” teased Lavanya, as she watched a decidedly aggravated Khushi snag yet another jalebi off her mini-mountain of fresh fried delicacies.
Not that it seemed to help – Khushi Kumari Gupta or rather Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada was a force of nature unto herself. She always was, and in her own way always would be. Smiling, as she propped herself up on her kitchen stool, the very pregnant Mrs. Nadkishore continued to try futilely to calm her best friend down only to be subjected to yet another long winded rant.
“…He left our bed. As in he practically jumped out of it. I mean, you’d think that after three years I’d be able to understand the man – he acted like I threw hot tea on him – actually no – I’ve done that before, and he still hasn’t reacted like this. The first year I thought it was just him being him, the second year – I rationalized that he wasn’t here – what was today? I still can’t understand it…..why must he be such – ”
“A guy?” Lavanya quipped lightheartedly, as she watched Khushi finally set down her bag full of jalebi dough, only to feel a guilty tug at her heartstrings as she saw the tinge of genuine disappointment that dulled her friend’s usually bright smile.
“I’m not complaining, you know,” she clarified softly, her kohl rimmed doe-eyes fixed carefully on a spot above Lavanya’s shoulder, “I know exactly how lucky I am. He’s changed in so many ways, for me. It’s not like I don’t see everything he’s done, or the things he does.” Her voice cracking ever so gently, she continued, almost shyly, “He’s gone from being my personal ‘Laad Governor’, to the man who always has time to take me out to the latest Salman Khan movie, who makes a point to drive me to Buaji’s himself, no matter how busy he is, makes sure he takes me with him on almost every business trip, being the man who only complains bi-weekly about being dragged to Puja’s, and hardly ever when subjected to …well, me. I know how much he’s changed– I really do. And you have no idea how amazing he makes me feel, with just one look in the middle of dinner party, or one whispered word on his way out in the morning -”
Lavanya Kashyap, had been an honorary Raizada family member for much longer than she had been a Raizada family member. As current best friend and former fiancé to her two favorite Raizada’s, she was also uniquely placed to note that both of them were absolutely insane.
On one hand there was Arnav – a man, who found time, while managing a multi-million dollar International Fashion House, to make sure that his wife didn’t go visit her parents alone, and yet stubbornly refused to buy her a damn rose on their anniversary.
And on the other there was Khushi, ever understanding Khushi, whose wide-eyed innocence and impossibly forgiving nature threatened the sanity of almost anyone around her – stubbornly refusing to let her cynical bastard of a husband not celebrate what he saw as ‘a marketing campaign’, and yet feeling guilty for not letting him the entire time.
If anything, insane was probably an understatement.
“But?” she prompted tenderly leaning over to cover her friend’s hand with her own as she watched her blink back tears of guilt and recrimination.
“ – But Lavanyaji…sometimes… just sometimes, as perfect as things may be, you want to be able to look forward to something, anything really to remind you of all the things you are grateful for – is it really so wrong to want to ask for that?”
* * *
It wasn’t that he didn’t remember the date.
That’s not to say he did remember the date, he didn’t remember the date – obviously – but that wasn’t the issue. Not really.
The issue was that for the life of him he couldn’t see the point of remembering dates. And it wasn’t just him, Anyone who’d sat through six credits worth of Professor Koehler’s Marketing class, knew exactly how shallow the notion of Anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Birthday’s or, any other ‘day’ was.
He should know, it was a marketing ploy he used to make millions of dollars in base revenue every year – Hell, most of his employee bonuses came out of commercialized holiday campaigns.
And yet, he’d given in on all of them – except that one – or at least that was the explanation he gave Aakash, when he’d pointed out that he could save himself a wealth of marital unrest by simply acknowledging the date.
Maybe if he had, he wouldn’t be sitting here, hoping against hope that his wife would pick up his call, and let him explain.
Not that there was much he could explain, he admitted as he grabbed his keys and on that note dragged a frustrated hand through his already tousled hair. It was thus, as Arnav Singh Raizada, former tycoon and currently tormented husband – started to make his way out of his office, that his phone finally connected.
“Dick move ASR.”
The words were a statement – not a question. They were also most definitely not what he’d expected to hear when he picked up his phone to call his wife for the millionth time since that morning.
“Is she there?”
“What do you think, smartass?”
Common men did not consider, Arnav Singh Raizada –to be a man one trifled with.
Unfortunately for him, the caller on the other end of the phone was neither common, nor a man.
She, happened to be an ex-fiancé, a best-friend and a very pregnant sister-in-law all in one – which unfortunately for him meant he’d have to keep his ire in check.
Her husband, who decided it was an opportune moment to ‘talk’ to his cousin, however, was an entirely different issue.
“It’s idiotic and I’m not having this conversation with you. Now tell me where she is, Dammit!” Snapped Arnav, his already frayed nerves finally having reached their breaking point, as he listened to his cousin tell him yet again, how the way to a woman’s heart was through sparkly baubles and cakes too dense to be able to easily cut – it was, basically, an Australian accented lecture on everything that meant nothing to any woman of substance – and yet there he was, in a dimple-filled little bubble with his annoyingly, happy wife and here he was trying to figure out a way to explain to his usually amazingly considerate wife why the word anniversary in particular made him want to cringe more than nails on a chalkboard.
Or more appropriately why it made him flinch as it had this morning.
“Nannav, you really need to pull you head out of your nether regions. She’s not asking you to give her a Chip n’ Dale’s demo, she’s just asking for you to do something, anything to commemorate what must be a beautiful memory for her.”
Far from being the soothing balm it was meant to be, however, NK’s well meant lecture began to inadvertently touch on the very thing Arnav Singh Raizada had been refusing to admit for over two years now – even to himself.
A realization that in itself was alarming, because, if there was one thing Arnav Singh Raizada was known for it was his ability to put mind over matter – or at least he was.
The mind was funny that way – it made you believe, that if you could even just narrowly avoid thinking about it, if you didn’t come out right and acknowledge it, if you did all of that just right – then, maybe, just maybe the guilt wouldn’t be able to catch up, and eat at him the way it threatened to – at least not yet.
“Nannav mere bhai, seriously – are you even listening to me?”
* * *
There were many things people expected the wife of a fashion mogul to excel at.
Running away, unfortunately, was not generally on that list. It was none-the-less, an act the wife of one particular Fashion mogul excelled in.
The thing was, as fate would have it, from the minute she’d fallen into his arms three years ago – all roads, from that day forward, led back to him.
From darga’s to Delhi – from hospitals to home – it was always him.
In the beginning she’d fought it, been frustrated by it or worse been frightened by it.
But that was three years ago.
Today, she sat nimbly at the edge of the pool-side she’d once slept beside for months, her head tilted back, as she simply allowed herself to take in everything around her. The stars high in the night sky, their constant presence a balm to her soul in ways she would never be able to truly explain, the cold water, weighing down on her anklets, making them infinitesimally heavier as they clung to the raised arches of her feet.
Which was why – Khushi Kumari Gupta, was not surprised in the least when the thunderous crash of her bedroom door, signaled the arrival of her harried husband.
Which was why she was able to hear beyond the harshness of his tone to the sharply laced fear of his curt– “You’re here.”
* * *
“Where else would I be?”
She’d said it so simplistically. So matter-a-factly.
As if the icy fear that had pooled in him for hours as he’d gone from her office, to Buaji’s , and then Lavanya’s and again to Aakash’s, and even Di’s – was beyond asinine, was beyond anything.
Part of him, wanted to rage at her for putting him through the past few hours, for not picking up her phone, for not being where he’d thought she would be, for making his family fall so in love with her, that they remained damningly silent on her whereabouts, even as they watched him slowly drown in quicksand-like fear.
For making him love her so absolutely, that even the irrational fear of her temporary absence threatened to ravage his very soul.
Three years ago that would have been exactly what he’d done.
But this was now.
And the Arnav Singh Raizada of today was different.
He wasn’t better, not yet.
He wasn’t even calmer.
He was simply different.
She slid her feet out of the pool, raising herself up off the side like a mermaid turned human, her feet leaving a trail of wet footsteps as she made her way to where he stood rigid, at the door, her head tilted ever so slightly – almost in wonder, as she asked –
“Why did you think I left?”
Because you should.
Because I don’t deserve you.
Because this day of all days should remind you of all the ways in which I am unworthy.
All, answers which sprang to mind. None of which, would ever pass his lips.
He wished he understood this woman.
But even today, he knew that he perhaps never would.
She was glorious – calm, sweet, concerned even – and glorious.
He had expected umbrage, rage, disappointment even for what she should see as his stubborn refusal to bend to quaint little customs.
Instead he stood there, his entire being on edge from the mental torment he’d put himself through for the past three hours, quite simply unable to process anything beyond the fact that she was standing there.
She was still there.
* * *
In any number of infinite ways, Khushi remained the same headstrong young woman who had come to Delhi in a cloud of scandal that had threatened to swallow her whole.
It was in that moment of utter ruination, however that she had discovered the one thing that allowed her to stand, unchanged, where she stood, toe to toe with a man that had the power to crush her soul, or worse, break her heart – that she had discovered that she was not afraid.
For if the darkest moments of scandal could not lay her low, if the year of mental warfare following it could not – then nothing could. Not even this man who stood mutely before her, drenched in fear, desolation and more fear.
Her feet still wet from their pool-side rendezvous, she stepped closer still.
So close that she now had to look up to actually see him.
So close, that his arms came around her instinctively, to hold her against him.
So close, that her wet feet now stood on soft handcrafted Italian leather, instead of plush carpets.
Pressing her forehead against the still uneven beat of his heart, Khushi, allow her hand to slide up the lapel of his jacket, her face upturned as she forced him to look at her.
And yet, the second she’d stepped into his arms, she’d felt the walls rise high yet again.
* * *
His arms wrapped around her like steel bands, Arnav Singh Raizada, for one brief second allowed himself to the silken head of hair tucked preciously under his chin.
In the next second however, he hardened his supposedly incapacitated heart, along with his grip forcing her to turn her face up to his, only to have her lips captured by his own.
Desperately – needing to touch her, to feel her, to simply hold her.
Ravenously – like a man starved of human contact for centuries, instead of mere hours.
Punishingly – as if to ensure whatever else, the last three hours would never happen again.
It wasn’t that he was afraid of losing her. For in truth there was nowhere she could hide that he would not find her – simply because he would never stop looking.
His hands molding the devastating curves of her body to his own frame, as he carried her yielding self to their bed – the one place he knew, beyond a doubt that he was in control of what she felt, what she thought – what she remembered.
So engrossed was he, in the utter perfection of his wife’s body, that he almost did not hear the words she whispered in his ear as he dragged the thin strap of silk from her shoulders with his teeth.
“It doesn’t matter.”
One knee balanced precariously on the cavernous bed, he shifted, ever so slightly, her words washed over his entire being, soft enough to cling to him, and yet infused with enough conviction to make his eyes close involuntarily in temptation.
His voice hoarse with feelings he dared not show in the light of day, he asked almost childishly, “How?”
He could feel the smile flit across her lips, as she pressed her face to his chest, only to have her pull back and silently begin to unbutton, the wells starched garment, as if her methodical movements were answer enough. And then, just when he thought she wasn’t going to answer at all, she answered him with a kiss.
A soft delicate kiss. Pressed to his chest, where her hand rested, just above his beating heart.
And then she looked up at him, her hands sliding to cup his face, cradle it as one would a child – “I stopped thinking like me – and asked myself what horrible delusion you could possibly be punishing yourself for this time.”
His gaze riveted by the aching sweetness of the words falling off her lips, he pointed out, almost reluctantly – “It’s far from a delusion. I..”
“Love me?” she prompted, the lightness in her tone in direct contrast with the despair in his.
“Always.” He breathed, the word almost a whisper against her skin, as he buried his face in the curved sanctuary of her neck.
“Tell me why it hurts –” she whispered back, pulling herself back ever so softly, her arms wrapped around his arms, as he bent, tenderly, pushing back a loose tendril of hair, to bare her to him – her silk, red negligee now pooled effortlessly at her waist, and then lower still as he guided the cloth off her, as if even thin barrier was too much for him.
“Because you want to commemorate a day I deserve to be castrated for.”
Her soft tinkling laugh only making it worse – every fiber of his being wanting desperately to reach out and destroy him from the inside out.
“And if I assured you I am very thankful that you weren’t divested of specific parts, would it help?”
“Khushi – it’s not funny-”
“I want to celebrate my anniversary Arnav.” She said simply, as if it wasn’t all intricately wrapped up in memories so vicious they threatened to strip bare all that they had built since.
Desperation shooting through him, as he joined her under the soft silk sheets, Arnav Singh Raizada, began to do what he did best – Negotiate.
“Anything else. Let’s celebrate anything else – the first time I kissed you, the first time I saw you work yourself into a panic over me, hell darling, wait five months and I’ll celebrate the first time you fell into my arms – “ he promised bleakly, each promise interposed, by rough-tender kisses, meant to make her amenable to anything he said.
And just in case that didn’t work, he offered more, his forehead sealed against hers as he fit himself against her, in an age-old rhythm, Arnav Singh Raizada begged, his voice cracking ever so softly on the words, “Anything. Dammit, Darling anything – just don’t make me ‘celebrate’ the day I tore apart your world, your family – I can’t, hell, I won’t.”
Her voice breathless, as this strong imperfect man loved her, in the only way he knew how she answered with devastating simplicity– “You are my family. You are everything.”
His eyes slamming shut at the tenderness of her answer, he moved with aching deliberation one last time inside her – willing her to feel every ounce of the soul-shattering ecstasy her words had just given him.
And with one last gasp, of sheer wonder, as the stars shattered into a million pieces around her – she did.
It has been a very long time since I was last here – and I am truly humbled to be back, in the company of such illustrious talents. The initiative to bring back so many of us for once final celebration of our favorite, ‘jodi’ has allowed many authors, myself included, a chance to relive, and give back to all the love our readers (Yes, that means YOU!) have showered us with in our years as writers on the forum and the many years since.
For those of you who have been requesting blog links and access to my personal blogs – I am very sorry for not being able to have replied earlier –
India Forum’s Link for ‘Salvation’ – HERE
My Personal Blog Link – HERE
My India Forum’s Index Link – HERE
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
For those of you who are following the blog for Expressions of Love aka the OS collaboration of the ages, the blog link is HERE.
And finally, once again – ‘Read and Review, my Loves’! ❤