Banner Credit: BlueMystique
A Collaboration ~ BLUEMYSTIQUE & MIRABELL
He was the ocean to her moon
He stopped in his tracks, mid stride, as if someone had their hand on his shoulder.
Ocean to her moon?
He strode in search of the voice that carried the words, only to find himself in the study. It was Anjali, reading from a book… out loud… to her husband, his right hand man, man Friday, Aman Mathur.
Reaching in his thirst
To bathe her with his depths…
His sister’s voice was strong, yet soft as she leaned against the couch, sitting on the floor. Aman’s fingers were in her hair…
Cool she remained
Out of his reach…
His sister found her happiness in the end, in the most unlikely place… in Aman. Arnav was happy with their happiness. He knew that Aman would offer her the shelter that his sister’s bruised heart needed. They had been married just six months ago. Having moved up the corporate ladder in AR Designs, Aman now handled the global aspect of their business, forcing him to travel. When Aman traveled, Anjali stayed with them. He had just returned from his trip and they were spending a few moments together.
He was probably intruding. No he was intruding, but that was not the point. His entire attention was on the book in his sister’s hands.
A foot now, a breath later
Always touching, pulling and tugging
Indolent gaze she looked…
He walked into the room and stood, unaware that Anjali stopped, waiting for his sister to continue.
“What is it, Chotte?” Anjali straightened from her seat on the floor. Aman sat up self consciously as well. But he was oblivious, simply caught in the spell that the words had wielded.
“Chotte? Is something the matter?” Anjali stood and gently shook Arnav.
“Di? What were you doing just now?”
“Huh, we were …” Anjali’s face turned an interesting shade of red, echoing Aman’s look of sudden embarrassment.
“Di, I heard you say something about ocean and a moon.” He shifted on his feet and looked impatiently at his sister, who exchanged a quick glance with her husband.
He leaned in to look at the book in her hands.
“This?” Anjali pointed to a slim book. “This is a book of poems that Aman got me…It is called Moonlight Wanderling…” Anjali trailed off, her face reddening again.
He grabbed the book from her hands and rifled through the pages quickly and turned it on its back. “The author? Who is the author?”
“Chotte, what happened to you all of a sudden?” Anjali pried Arnav’s fingers and took her book back. “It’s by K.G. Chandra. It says so right here. See?” She pointed to the spine of the book. “Think he writes fiction too. Why?”
“He? Oh.” He was left staring at the book, confused by the tumult he felt, left in the wake of those words he had heard.
Those words, those verses… they sounded like her.
He straightened as he let the awareness of his present come upon him, heartbeat by heartbeat. He looked at his sister, noticing her discomfiture for the first time since he walked into the room. But she was his playmate, his confidante and if there was anyone who knew of his inner workings more than he did himself, it was his Di. He stood, shifting his gaze between her face and the book she held in her hands, unaware that his eyes had shed their veil that he hid behind after she left…
It had been four years since she left… four long years since he reconciled to her absence in his life, he thought. Contrary to what his old self would have him believe, that self before he met her, he did not get over her.
Anjali extended her hand to him, the one that held the book. She offered, “Here, do you want to borrow it?”
Anjali knew; at the very least she had an inkling that he was suffering his personal hell without her. But he had drawn a wall around himself and lived in solitary confinement within that prison. It was a sentence that he had given himself and one he served without a complaint.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude.” He shook his head at both of them, acknowledging Aman. “No, Di, I don’t want… I thought it was…” He turned abruptly and left as he came.
His feet took him quickly to the stairs that would lead him to his room. He needed to escape and escape quickly from…
He was so sure they were her words…
That he was the ocean to her moon. She pulled and he tugged, reaching…
Those were her words, words she had always used to describe their incendiary alliance.
He was Arnav, the ocean and she was Indu, his moon. Khushi Indu Gupta to his Arnav Singh Raizada.
He had locked her away in his heart, allowing himself the only image of her walking away from him, without a second glance. He closed his eyes and recalled, as the picture fell in front of his mental eye… her long braid tucked inside the pallu of her sari, with a stiff spine she walked away from him, taking with her every living piece of his pathetic life.
Her last words to him
“And to think I loved you.”
The silent gasp when she realized what his admission meant, the break in her voice when she told him that she had trusted him, the quietness that engulfed her normally vibrant voice.
Ironic that that was the part of their relationship that he could remember with crystal clarity. Not their fights, or their quasi confessions, but the heartbreak and the shattered pieces of her broken soul.
But that was what he allowed himself to recall.
His feet carried him to the poolside, on their own accord, as they had done many times before. He looked up at the moon in all it’s splendor… So near, yet so far… he whispered to himself as he tried to imagine that it was her in front of him instead.
But all that stared back at him was an image of a broken man, yearning for the unattainable.
Cool she remained
Out of his reach…
There was no sleep, no respite; the moon beams mocked him from the glass doors as he shifted, moved and twisted in his bed. The gentle swell of the water in the pool reflected with a rhythm of its own. With a frustrated sigh he flung himself out of his bed and walked to the glass doors. He knew that there was no hope for sleep. Along with everything she left with, she took his sleep with her.
How long this exile?
He threw the question to the stars. But the answer was grounded within his own self; that he knew.
The vision of her broken body flying through the air with the impact of Shyam’s car lay etched in his psyche. He knew then, that it was Shyam who had betrayed; betrayed everyone.
He knew when he carried her bleeding body into the hospital, unable to wait for the ambulance.
He knew when he stood by the edge of her hospital bed, petrified by the possibility that she could be gone from him forever.
But she healed. Yet the wounds of his own deception ran deep in her. She felt betrayed by him, more than Shyam.
Love betrayed her.
That was what she said. He was her love, he should have known better.
Did the ocean not know his moon?
She asked him with dry eyes. Her skin and bones had healed, but her spirit was broken.
He apologized, but she walked away.
And here he was, stuck in between spaces, in limbo, watching his world fade as the days went by. Where does one start when seeking redemption?
Regret begets forgiveness
Isn’t that what she said? She also said that he would know when, and he would know what to do.
How long this sentence, Khushi?
His eyes sought the moon that had ridden higher in the sky, playing hide and seek with her clouds.
She was his moon and he was her ocean. Together they were tied, to the rise and flow of each other’s call.
He found her notebook of poems and read her verses to her when she lay motionless on that hospital bed. He reminded her of the communion between his moon and her ocean. Those words brought her back to him. She had awoken to her own words held by his voice.
Those words… Those words that Anjali had read out loud were hers. He knew them at his most elemental level.
A restlessness settled on his shoulders as he rolled them back and bent his neck forward.
This will not do.
Turning abruptly, he strode towards the study to look for the book. Did Anjali take it with her when she went home? His eyes searched through the dark, scanning quickly until they fell on the slim book on his study table.
There was a yellow sticky note to it. He switched on the study light.
This is for you Chotte. I hope you find what you are looking for. By the way, I know the publisher if you need to get in touch with her — A
Why would his Di think that he would have anything to do with the publisher? Without another thought, he sat and began reading.
With a gentle snap, he closed the book. The sky had changed from dark to light with streaks of pink ocher that outlined the high cirrus clouds.
He leaned back on his chair and closed his eyes.
He had spent the night with the book. As he let his fingers wander on the page, tracing the print, he had no doubt in his mind. He had felt her presence when he read these words. The loneliness that had shrouded his world lifted in the last few hours when he spent them absorbed in between the lines. He sat up straight and on an impulse brought the book to his face as he breathed in the verses.
He had no doubt in his mind anymore, he found her. He finally found her after four years of his exile.
It was time, he knew that now.
Unknown to him, his lips tugged into a smile, pulling the corner of his lips into an unfamiliar move. He stood up and walked out of his study slowly as he held the book firmly between his fingers. He looked at his reflection in the tinted window that turned into a mirror in the morning shade. His eyes looked lighter, his face looked lighter.
He felt as if the burden he had worn on his shoulders found flight.
His steps quickened and the last few stairs saw him leap across in a sprint into his room.
Looking up the stairs at the unusual sight of her grandson, light on his feet, Devayani Raizada exchanged a shocked glance with her daughter-in-law, Manorama. Perhaps the good days were going to make more frequent visits to this house.
The ocean entices
Cradling her in it’s tide
With a whispered roar
A roll, a pull, and a stolen kiss
In wonder and awe
She reaches out
To be greeted by sting of salted wounds
And broken reflections
Khushi stared at the words in front of her, gazing with unseeing eyes. It had been four years, but she remembered it as if it had happened yesterday. The sting still so fresh in her mind, the pain visceral in its intensity.
I knew about you and Shyam, I was waiting… waiting for you to betray.
Even though she was the writer, his words still held power over her and bit her with cruelty. She closed her eyes, intent to push away the emotions surging through her, only to fall victim to the images of the past. His caramel eyes, inviting and dangerous, filled with guilt. His voice, broken and hurting. Her heart, shattered and betrayed.
“Khushi Akka?” she heard a hesitant voice call out, pulling her out of her thoughts. “Priya Akka is on the phone.”
Khushi nodded and closing the notebook she was writing in, she deposited in the table drawer, before getting up and leaving to pick up the call.
“Hello Priya,” she greeted her publisher, her voice devoid of emotions.
“Hi Khushi,” her publisher friend from Desktop Publishing, and acquaintance of three years, responded warmly. “I am calling about your manuscript. You mentioned that you will be sending it soon and I was hoping that you are done with the writing. Are you? I just wanted to check in and see if you needed any help from my end?”
Khushi liked Priya Sundar, she was the kind of person who she would have gotten along with grandly, if they had met a few years ago, before everything, before…him.
“No, Priya. I was just completing the last poem for the book,” Khushi replied, her thoughts momentarily going back to the words that she had penned moments ago and the memories that had followed, before shaking her head to be rid of them. “I will mail the draft to you later today or tomorrow?”
“Oh, that’s great,” Priya exclaimed, excitedly. “I can’t wait to get my hands and eyes on it.”
“You’re way too kind. Listen, Priya, I have to go now. It’s time to serve lunch,” she replied, glancing at the clock on the office wall. “I will give you a call once I post the draft.”
“Sounds great, Khushi. Have a nice day,” Priya wished, before ending the call.
Returning the receiver to its place, Khushi turned to leave the room, but halted in her path, held captive by the view in front of her, the ocean stretched for miles ahead.
The ocean entices
Cradling her in it’s tide
Beckons her with a whisper
With a tale to spin
A moment in prison
With a toss, crash and crush
Hearts mingle and drift
Words wave a weepy blend
Tears wash ashore
She heard a clatter of dishes, and tearing herself away from the alluring sight, she turned and walked out of the room.
Arnav paced the length of his office, occasionally glancing at the book he had set on his office table, as if it provided answers to all the questions running through his head since the moment he had heard his sister recite those lines… her lines.
His initial excitement at his epiphany had faded, to be replaced by a nervous excitement bordering on dread.
Should he pursue this? What if she wasn’t ready yet? What would her reaction be if he tracked her down? Would she see it as another strike against him? What if she had moved on completely? Forgotten him like the bad memory that he was…?
Sighing, he walked over to his desk and picked up the book again, needing to feel the solace her words enveloped him in.
He was the ocean to her moon
Reaching in his thirst
To bathe her with his depths…
Closing the book, he leaned his head against his chair’s headrest, letting the echoes of her heart wash over him.
Her words, like always, had cleared the haze of confusion from his mind. They had held a hidden longing…would she have written of ocean and moon…of him and her, if she had moved on? If she didn’t, in some corner of her heart, hold the tiniest bit of forgiveness for him?
He had held the cards close to his chest all those years ago, and it had cost him her. This time, he was ready to lay himself bare, as the ocean was to his moon, and let the chips fall where they may.
Deciding on his path, he called up his sister.
“Di, you were saying you knew of K. G. Chandra’s publisher, right? Can you please give me their info?”
It was late in the night, dinner had been served, fellow members of the Ashram had helped her with cleaning up. It was a silent ritual – the dinner and the clean up.
She had always felt the pull of the ocean, even though she was born and raised in the landlocked regions of Lucknow. Perhaps it was her middle name, Indu – the moon, that pulled her to it – that intractable tug between the two forces that bound each to the other.
Perhaps it was him…
Didn’t the ocean know his moon?
What was it with him and his thoughts occupying her mind today? It was as if the universe insisted on a message for her that she was not keen on acknowledging.
Shaking her head silently, she sighed deeply. Her feet led her to the oceanfront as if they had a will of their own. The Ashram stood on the shores of the ocean. It was one of the many blessings she had received when she sought refuge in the Ashram, a place she had called home in the last four years since she fled from her past, from him.
Along with the quiet that the Ashram offered, the Ashram also offered her, her ocean… The one that gave her solace, became a salve to her broken spirit as she found her writing.
In the shadows of the orange that the sodium vapor lamps offered, she could see the waves rolling onto themselves with quiet insistence. They looked to her as if there was a muted message they seemed to bring with them as they crashed below.
Alone, she stood across the darkened shores, watching the waves crash against the dark rocks that had been stacked against the road. A strange restlessness had transferred from the ocean to her soul, as she stood gazing at the slow swing of the water back and forth, crashing and crumbling as if it held a message for her.
Why couldn’t she stop thinking about him today. A shiver ran through her, belying the residual warmth that the day had left behind. She had no need for a sweater in Pondicherry, she pulled her sari pallu tighter around her shoulders as she stood watching the dark horizon.
She had left everything behind when she left Delhi, after her run-in with Shyam. She was glad he was locked away and paying for what he wanted to do to her… kill her by running his car into her.
The scars on her body had healed, but she bore wounds that continued to fester. Shyam’s betrayal had crushed Anjali in particular and the Raizada family. His pursuit of her in spite of his marriage to Anjali brought another blow to her own family. When she rebuffed his advances, his pursuit turned zealous and when she threatened to end his deceit, he crashed into her in a deliberate attempt to silence her forever.
She shook her head to shake herself away from the thoughts that she had held at bay. Why were they in pursuit of her as if they held new tidings.
What secrets do you hold within you? Her eyes sought answers in the surf. The waves responded with a loud crash, spraying forcing a smile at the corners of her lips. The movement felt alien on her face, as did the small flutter that seemed to settle in her heart.
….although, thankful for the offer, we would regrettably have to decline the invitation….
Arnav read and re-read the email response from K. G. Chandra’s publisher. He was disappointed, no doubt about it, but the response also gave him the confirmation he had been looking for, that this was indeed Khushi. Why else would they refuse his offer to make the author’s poem a focus point of AR Design’s upcoming ad campaign for their latest creations?
He was, however, plagued by his doubts again. Did this mean Khushi wasn’t ready to let him back into her life? Would she ever be able to forgive him? Should he pursue this further, knowing that she had refused the invitation he had extended?
Running his hand through his hair in agitation, he walked over to the poolside, hoping that the night sky and it’s queen would be able to resolve the conflict he found himself in.
The answer however, came in the form of his sister.
“Chotte, HP told me you haven’t had your dinner,” Anjali said, her tone tinged with disapproval. “You promised me you wouldn’t skip meals…”
“I think it’s Khushi,” he said, halting his sister’s lecture.
“Khushiji?” she asked, hope unfurling in her heart at hearing her former friend’s name. True, her memories associated with Khushi had been tainted by the selfish acts of her ex-husband, but there was a reason Anjali was considered the more level-headed one of the two siblings. She had separated the victim from the crime a long time ago…she just wished her brother had come to the same conclusion earlier than he had.
“K. G. Chandra,” he replied to her half-formed query. “I think K. G. Chandra is Khushi.”
“What? But I thought it was…”
“Khushi Indu Gupta, Di,” Arnav said, turning around to face her. “I am sure of it. What I am not sure of is…what to do with that information.”
“What do you mean you are unsure, Chotte?” she asked, excitement seeping into her at the prospect of seeing Khushi. “You go to her, of course.”
“But Di, the way we ended…the reason Khushi left…” he hesitated, his uncertainty taking over his conscious once again.
Agitated, he turned away from his sister to glance at Khushi’s namesake, wistful to be wrapped in her arms again.
He felt his sister place a comforting hand on his shoulder as she said, “You know, when Aman gifted me that book, I didn’t put it down for the longest time. Something in it resonated with me. The words, the yearning…I didn’t see it then, Chotte, but I realized a few nights ago, the reason I had been so enthralled by her verses…,” turning him to face her, she placed her other palm on his cheek, much like she used to when they were kids, and said, “…it’s you. I see the same regret in your countenance, the same love.”
“I cannot promise you that she will welcome you back with open arms, but Chotte, if she had been feeling even an ounce of what you have in the past four years…wouldn’t you risk her rejection for the possibility of her happiness?”
Anjali saw the haze of indecision clear out of her brother’s eyes, and in it’s place stood a quiet determination she hadn’t been privy to since Khushi left him.
“Thanks, Di,” he said, giving her a quick hug before stepping away from her and grabbing his phone off of his poolside coffee table.
“Yes, tell Anand to get the flight ready, I need to go to Pondicherry at the earliest.”
It was the morning rush on the narrow busy road. Khushi quickened her steps to get her manuscript printed and mailed to her publisher. She rummaged through her bag for the oft forgotten cell phone to call Priya, her publisher and her friend when her phone rang.
“Priya? I was just getting ready to call you. This is a strange coincidence.” Khushi laughed awkwardly.
“Hmm yeah. I have been trying to call you for a while now but your cell was out of range or something.” Priya paused and then continued, “I don’t know if this means anything to you at all…” Her voice trailed off uncertainly.
Khushi frowned at the cell phone. That uncertainty was very atypical of Priya. “What is it Priya?”
“You know that you receive solicitations from many places right? And you have asked me to decline all of them. I have been doing exactly that. But there is one very persistent invitation that keeps showing up and I thought you should know that it is from AR Designs…”
“Who?” Khushi interrupted her, her heart thudding in her throat at the sound of that familiar name.
“AR Designs Khushi. They are the new big thing in the fashion industry.” Priya rattled off.
Khushi halted mid-stride, jostling people around her, earning frowns. She muttered quiet apologies and moved to a corner.
“What do they want Priya?” There was a chill she felt in her bones, a fear that she had been discovered?
“They want to showcase their new line of fashion designs with your poems as the theme. Oh, before you say anything else, I wrote to them declining their invitation. Although I do think that that is the most high profile offer I have seen in a long time for any author I have worked with, Khushi. It is something to think about. Think about the publicity…”
“No, Priya. No.” Khushi was quick to cut her publisher off. Panic pushed the bile into her throat as she tried to edge her word in. “I am not particularly enamored by that kind of publicity and I prefer to keep things the way they are at the moment. I hope you are…”
“Khushi, that is fine with me. I am just offering my professional opinion here.” Priya’s voice carried a hint of exasperation as she placated her friend. “And, I have declined their offer, like I told you. But I have a feeling that they will circumvent me and approach you directly. I got a sense from the phone call I received.”
“What do you mean, approach me directly? They can’t. I mean they don’t know that it is me, Khushi, right? You got a phone call too? I mean, you said that you got a letter.”
Khushi tried to make sense of what Priya was not telling her. “Actually Priya, can I call you back in a few minutes? I am on my way to the courier to mail this manuscript to you.” Khushi took a deep breath to calm herself.
“Oh sure. Khushi? Are you doing ok? There is nothing to be alarmed about by AR Designs, Khushi. They are a bonafide business and they just want access to your works, that’s all. Okay? And no, they don’t know that Khushi Indu Gupta is K. G. Chandra. Okay? Call me soon and we will talk more.”
There was a click on the phone and Khushi was left holding the cell phone in her hands, frozen to the spot. Too many things happened too quickly she thought as she took a shuddering breath in.
Glancing around and quickly bringing herself to her present she forced herself to move her feet to get the chores completed. Flight would have to come later and she knew how to flee and where to flee as well.
And flee she did, later that evening, after dinner. It was her place to be, her place where she found her peace, and most certainly herself. The afternoon sun was beating down, but the roar of her ocean silenced all else in her.
She had mailed the packet to her publisher and called her back from her room. She soon learnt that it was Aman Mathur, who had called and tried to negotiate with Priya. Khushi knew, in her heart, that it was Arnav Singh Raizada’s signature move – where he stayed out of the picture and had Aman front and center negotiating. Priya had informed her that Aman had pulled all the stops at making the offer attractive. They wanted her writings; her poems in particular for a fashion show centered around themes that were too close for comfort.
“Is it you? Have you found me?” She whispered to the ocean. Her cheek caught the flying surf that crashed on the rocks by the road she stood. “Why? What do you want from me now?” She tried negotiating with the rumbling ocean.
Why now? Her eyes roved wildly around the vistas she rejoiced, but all she could feel was her heart thundering in her ears.
There was no doubt in her mind that that call, that negotiation that took place between Priya and Aman was orchestrated by Arnav Singh Raizada. There was no doubt in her mind that he blew her cover off. He knew.
She had left him without a backward glance when she walked out of his life. No, her life. She had left her living behind and lived in a shell for the last four years.
It was not just his exile, it was hers as well, for where her ocean went so did his moon. Didn’t they?
Didn’t exile begin with separation? Here she stood, on the shores of her soul’s only connection, washed and drenched by her own decision to wrench herself from everything that revolved around him.
Why didn’t she tell him the truth when she had the opportunity? Why did she keep her secret about Shyam’s deceit when she discovered it?
He never asked, she reminded herself. So she didn’t share.
In the next instance she felt her cheek whipped by the ocean froth. There were no secrets between them anymore, she smiled deprecatingly at the wave that woke her up. Her ocean forced her out of her hiding.
She didn’t tell him because she expected more out of him. He should have known without her telling him that she did not betray anyone, most importantly, him.
She was not the one who perpetrated that infidelity, it was Shyam and Shyam alone. Arnav should have known better, should have had more faith in her.
But he didn’t. He failed the test. Love had betrayed her and sent her on her exile.
She sank slowly to the big boulder that sat adjacent to the sidewalk when her knees refused to hold her up. What was she going to do now? Was she ready for him?
Nothing like a goal that set a man on to his purpose that gave wings to his feet and lightened his load on his shoulders. Arnav Singh Raizada’s eyes gleamed with a renewed fire, his spine just a tad stiffer that morning.
The pilot announced the flight’s descent, forcing him to stop his pacing and take his seat for the final stretch of his journey.
Looking down on the azure waters of Bay of Bengal from his aeroplane’s window, his heart seemed to beat just a smidgen faster at the prospect of resting in its home.
What was a matter of minutes felt like eons to his expectant heart. But finally, after many torturous moments of idle sitting, he was given permission to disembark.
Stepping out of the plane, he noticed a car waiting to take him to his destination, and mentally thanked his brother-in-law, before climbing into the car and instructing the driver to take him to the ashram he had tracked K. G. Chandra down to.
The short drive seemed longer, unable to keep pace with the speed that his mind held. He had made this journey many hundreds of times since he boarded the plane in the early morning. Looking out of his car window, he urged his heart and his mind to slow down.
But what if she was not here. What if K.G. Chandra was not Khushi Gupta? What if…
No. This was not a moment for doubts or thoughts that seconded him.
He stepped out of the car onto a quaint street, and glanced around to get his bearings. The air was ripe with humidity, the ocean just a few feet away. The journey down south had taken most of the day, owing to maintenance issues with the flight, and the blanket of night was almost upon them.
His heart tugged at him to walk the small distance to the ocean, to visit the reflection of his nightly companion encompassed in his namesake, but he willed his feet to move him towards the ashram’s head office, so he could find her instead.
Contrary to the quietness of the street, the office was bustling with activity. Hope leapt in his heart at the possibility of finding his Khushi right then and there, but a quick scan of the room dashed that in its bud. Sighing, he walked over to the reception, and requested a meeting with the head of the ashram.
Aman’s search had only led him this far. Even though a hired PI had been able to track the manuscripts back to the ashram, he hadn’t been able to confirm or deny Khushi’s presence in the ashram.
The list of the ashram’s occupants was kept under heavy lock and key, owing to the diverse group of people seeking solace there. But Arnav hoped a chat with the head of the ashram might yield him a positive result.
“Madam will see you now,” said a young girl of about sixteen, giving him a sweet smile before turning around and running away.
Arnav walked into the modest office, and found a middle-aged woman seated behind the desk. She greeted him with a kind smile and an invitation to take a seat.
Once he shook hands with her, and introduced himself, he seated himself, and cleared his throat in anticipation of the conversation, only to be beaten to the bat by her.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Raizada?” she asked, looking decidedly less warm as she closed the file she had been studying and giving him her undivided attention.
“I was wondering if I could meet one of your ashram’s occupants…K. G. Chandra?” Arnav said, trailing off at the slight stiffening in her form. If he wasn’t a businessman and hadn’t taught himself to catch the slightest of tells, he would have missed it completely.
“And may I ask your relationship to them?” she inquired, leaning back in the chair and folding her arms, a defensive posture.
“I…” what was he to Khushi? He hadn’t ever been her boyfriend, and saying he was her employer just felt wrong. He supposed, he “… was a friend.” He paused and corrected himself, “I am a friend.”
“I see,” she replied, looking entirely unconvinced. Staring at him for a second longer, she leaned forward in her chair and placed her hands on the table, as she said, “I am afraid we cannot help you in that matter, Mr. Raizada. As you might be aware, we shared as much when your office gave us a call a few weeks ago…”
“…owing to the wishes of many that make this ashram their home, and our own stringent privacy policies, we do not give out information about our residents to anyone. I am sorry you had to make a trip here for nothing, but…”
His heart dropped to his stomach at that bit of news. He hadn’t been sure, of course, but he had hoped that the ashram would be more amenable to an in-person visit rather than a phone call that could have been placed by anyone, but it looked like he had struck out.
“If anything changes, we would be happy to give you a call,” she said, her tone indicating an end to the conversation.
“I…sure,” he said, and shaking her hand in thanks, left the office, disappointment evident in his form.
He was expecting that to happen; he was so sure that this would lead him to a dead end. He was prepared for it he thought. But dammit, disappointment couldn’t get more bitter than this, or weigh him down. He shook his head, racking his brain for a solution, an alternate to what was happening.
No, this cannot be the end. He had to find her, he had to make amends. He had to find her, find his home in her.
It was too late to go back and bargain with the Ashram head. But he would be back, he had to be back. He resolved silently as he looked around and paid attention to his surroundings for the first time in the evening.
It was dark, the night sky reflected the orange of the street lamp, throwing the ocean into shadows. But the ocean lured his feet to ignore the car parked on the street, as he found himself walking towards the beach. There was an unknown call to it tonight as he found himself striding with purpose…
She stood in the shadows of the night, unable to take her eyes off of the rolling waves. She had not had a moment of peace since her call to Priya, her publisher. Why would he want to break his silence after four long years? Why now?
Yes, she had been the one to leave. She had been the one to banish him from her life, to force them both into this non-existence. But that is what it had been, a shared sentence. If he had spent his sleepless nights conversing with the moon, she had spent them on the shores of the ocean, seeking comfort in it’s ebb and flow, in the memory of him.
And as angry as she had been with him for not trusting her, and as betrayed as she had felt, she now realized that she had betrayed him as well, by not trusting him with her own truths, by not trusting him to believe her, but most of all, by walking away from him…
It was a strange thing, this feeling she had, as if the next moment portended a culmination to an event that she was not privy to. Her heart seemed to beat faster in anticipation as she drew in a deep breath to calm herself down…
There were just a smattering of stars he could see in the sky. But the moon was rising slowly up from the horizon. It was not a full moon, but it held the potential of its fullness, the moon beams lighting the tips of the wavy froth that rose from the cresting waves. His Indu…
There were a few people walking on the sidewalk, as his own eyes searched unknowingly. His feet seemed to know their destination, like his heart. It was his questioning mind that seemed to search.
She was here, he knew that at an elemental level, but had nothing else to show for his conviction. His heart insisted that he look for her here.
She was here.
His phone rang a strident bell, forcing him to stop abruptly, bumping into the person behind him. He turned and apologized as he stepped away to a shadowed corner of the sidewalk to answer the call. It was his Di.
“Di? What happened? You alright?”
“Chotte, you tell me what happened? You are the one looking.” Anjali interrupted. There was an urgency in her voice which echoed within him as well. He shook his head at his Di.
“Nothing Di. Nothing happened. I haven’t found her yet. She wasn’t at the ashram and the people there said that she wasn’t there.” He frowned and said, “No, actually they said they don’t share any information regarding their residents.”
“So, do you think she is there? That she is hiding or something?”
“I don’t know Di. I don’t know.” His frustration clear in his voice.
“Well, what are you going to do then Chotte?” Trust his Di to kick him into action. He smiled to himself.
“I am going to look for her Di. I am going to find her, and bring her home.” His eyes scanned the beach. He hadn’t realized that he had walked that far along the shore…
The hair on her nape stood on end as goosebumps bloomed on her arms. That was a voice from her past, a voice she had locked away in the deep recesses of her mind and heart. She was sure she was imagining it. A voice that she had missed and longed for, for four very long years. But it was unmistakable to her body, she thought, as she tried to erase the feeling from her arms, rubbing the goosebumps away.
“I have to find her Di. I have to find my home.” He whispered to himself more than his sister who was still on the phone.
Yes, that was his voice. There could be no mistake.
She closed her eyes tightly, pinching her lips together from crying. This was crazy, she was hearing things now.
Is that how much I miss him… that my mind conjures his voice out of the ocean’s roar?
Tears gathered around the corners of her lids. She must be going crazy, she thought as she drew in a shuddering breath. It was time to return to her room anyway.
She turned away from the waves, mumbling a soft goodbye to them in a reassurance that she would return to them the next day, but the next thing was a wall of muscle she walked into.
He didn’t realize that he resumed his walking until he bumped, rather heavily, into another walker. The impact forced his phone out of his hand and on to the concrete pavement.
The impact winded all the air out of her body as she clung to the arms that held her shoulders from falling.
A series of muttered curses later, he looked at the person he bumped into. Shock and surprise shuddered through him. His throat moved but there was no sound. He tried again.
“Khushi?” His fingers tightened over her shoulders. Was he conjuring her out of his desperation? He blinked hard to clear his vision. His heart dropped into his stomach and he could swear, it stopped its beat for a few moments before it started in a rush.
She knew that touch even before she saw his face.
“Arnav?” She gasped as her eyes cleared. Her fingers dug into his flesh as she reeled in shock.
“Oh God.. is that really you? Khushi?” He was afraid to move his fingers lest he awoke from his sleep like he did in the last four years. He hated that dream. Hated it.
His fingers moved slowly away from her shoulders to her neck and face, reaching and touching as he made sure she was no apparition.
“Khushi? Oh God.. Khushi?”
She felt herself pulled firmly into his arms as he wound them tightly around her into an embrace. She told herself this was not real. She was hallucinating, her forlorn heart’s longing, tricking her brain. She shook her head berating herself, wishing for things that couldn’t be. This felt too good to be real. This was not real.
“Oh God… Is it you? Khushi? Are you really here? Khushi?”
She felt numb with shock, allowing herself to be swept into his arms without a second thought. A stillness went through her as she stood transfixed, not knowing the moments that passed.
No, this was real, his tight grip, his warm breath in her scalp. He was here and she was wrapped in his arms.
He muttered into her hair, “I knew it. I knew that I would find you here. Khushi…”
All she heard was her name whispered repeatedly by him. All she felt were his arms around her and the gallop of his heartbeat beneath her ear. Her cheek felt the warmth of his skin through his shirt, his belt buckle pressing into her stomach.
That heartbeat she heard was his. No, it was hers. He was here… really here.
Was it a bane or a benediction? She wasn’t sure. Was she supposed to rejoice or reject? Or do neither? Standing in the circle of his arms she forced herself to still, listening to her heart thunder alongside the roar of her ocean.
As she let the awareness of her surroundings take over, she felt her breath release from her body in a whoosh.
She removed her hands from his arms and tried to take a step away from him. She could see a few passers by give them a curious look before they left. But his arms held her in a vice like grip that she was left to struggle, insisting.
She had been running for so, so long, that her first instinct when faced by him was to flee… flee from him and from all that his presence in her life entailed.
It took a few moments for him to realize that she was struggling to free herself, but when he did, he let her go immediately. Awareness of his immediate presence seeped into him as he took a step back from her while reluctantly letting his fingers go of her. He pushed his hands into his pockets and fisted them, exercising firm control over his impulse to touch her; just touch her to feel that she was real, that she was here in front of him.
But not yet… He needed to confirm for himself that she was here. He reached to tuck a loose strand of her hair behind her ear before he shoved his hand back into his pocket.
His touch was electric, fleeting as it was. She felt his finger graze her ear as he tucked her hair behind. Her eyes closed as if they had a will of their own. But it was over before she could savor it. She opened her eyes to see if he was still there.
The breeze that was slow earlier, whipped now, pulling and tossing their hair. He saw that her sari pallu flew, almost pulling her off her feet with force. He wanted to reach out and hold her, but he forced himself to wait.
“Khushi?” His voice was hoarse and his eyes glowed with fierce emotion. She could see the struggle in his eyes, in the way he hid his fists inside his jacket. She could feel his eyes rove over her face with an insistence as if memorizing her features, renewing their acquaintance. She knew that her eyes copied his actions.
“Khushi, say something.” His hand reached out, but he pulled it back. “How are you doing? It’s been so long.” So very very long.
She heard his longing in those two words – the so long reverberated in her own soul. It had been so long since she saw him, heard his voice, that raspy inflection when he called her name. She missed that look of irritation on his face when that errant lock of hair refused to leave his forehead.
She had not blinked once, lest he vanish like he had done so many times in her waking dreams. She couldn’t release the words that welled up in her throat. They seemed to transform themselves into tears and rushed down her face instead. For someone who spoke a mile a minute, here she was, paralyzed. He stole not only her breath, but her words as well.
But when the realization of his presence did seep in, the only word she could utter was the name that had been her silent mantra for the past four years.
They both spoke at once, catching each other’s surprised look. It was something that happened often in their past, something they had laughed about. He teased her that he read her mind too easily and she always retorted that she knew his mind even before he did.
Now, looking into each other’s eyes, it brought all the painful moments of silence and distance that they both endured in the last four years to the fore. A brief moment of shared levity, a bittersweet recollection of all that they had in the past and all that was lost that stood between them.
“How are you Arnav?” She asked first. She could see that he was a mere shadow of what he had been before, lean and lost. She let her eyes take in as much of him as they could. She missed him.
He shook his head and swallowed. Would she understand that he stopped living when she walked out? That he witnessed life’s passage, but had not participated in it, could not participate in it? It was as if his life had hit the pause button.
“I am here now.”
That was all he could get himself to say.
Her eyes filled with tears at his reply, mere four words that spoke volumes of his loneliness, couching his expiation. She brushed her tears aside brusquely, frustrated that they stole a few moments of clarity with which she could just see him.
“How are you?” He wanted to know. Had she healed fully from the incident? How was her left leg, the one that was in a brace for the longest time? The one that took her a long while to heal? She needed physiotherapy. Did she have access to it when she was away from him? His eyes tried to gauge but her leg was hidden behind the folds of her sari.
She saw his eyes rove her entire being. He was concerned. The lines of worry that she was so familiar with came back with a force on his face. He was looking at her leg.
She shrugged and smiled. Would he understand that his penance was hers as well? His exile was her banishment as well? She walked away from it all, she left her life behind. What she denied him, she renounced as well. She had watched life leach away from her without him.
She saw his pain writ in his eyes, his weary eyebrows, his drawn face. It was her pain too. His punishment was hers too.
And this time, she let her words flow free, “I am here too.” She spoke softly.
And he let her words sink in as their eyes lay locked on each other. He wanted to say so much, tell her everything… his regret at his own doubts, anguish at the pain he caused her, his promise of penance. But he was wordless.
Words were her forte, not his.
He breathed out loud with a broken sigh. Unshed tears reddened his eyes and with trembling lips he whispered, “Yes, you are. You are here.”
Yes, she was.
“I missed you so much. I missed you…” He closed his eyes, freeing the tears that were stuck in his eyes.
She bit her lip to stifle a gasp as her eyes traveled the path of the tear that rolled down his cheek. No!
“I miss you even now. I am sorry Khushi…” The muscles in his throat cried in mutiny. He shook his head. His hands extended out in an entreaty.
His outstretched hands slayed her. His entreaty was her own.
“I know. I miss you too… even now.” Tears she had buried deep within her found gaps and flowed down her face.
She reached out and grabbed his hands. But it wasn’t enough, she wrapped her arms around his middle and melded herself to him. She couldn’t stop her body from trembling. She felt him shudder at her touch. With a moan she tightened her arms impossibly around him, trying to absorb him into her being.
She was home… finally.
He gritted his teeth to stop his shaking, but it didn’t matter anymore. She was in his arms now, and for the first time in what felt like forever, he felt her take a deep breath.
He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer and buried his face into her neck, and he could breathe now.
He was home.
Tears ran down his face as he clenched his jaw, from giving in to the intense urge to just let his tears flow, undammed. But he could feel her sobs racking through her body.
“Sshh Khushi, please. It’s going to be alright now. Don’t cry.” Awareness of the very public nature of their meeting in a beech seeped into Arnav. Although it was late, there were a few people walking, throwing curious looks at them. He turned her away from the lights and moved her to a silent corner as he tried to console her one more time.
“Khushi? Please honey?”
The entreaty in his voice broke through the despair she fought from. She clutched his shirt on his back and leaned her forehead on his heart and tried to regain control over her tears. “I am sorry. I just…” She stopped, hoping to halt the tears that seemed to overwhelm her again.
She leaned back as much as his arms allowed her and tried again. “It’s just that I…” She whispered into his chest.
He had to lean down to catch her whisper as he gently brushed his cheek against her own. He looked around, it was dark and they were alone on the beach. He reached for her chin and gently raised her face to his.
Her face was awash with the moonlight that glistened at the tears that spiked her lashes. Her nose was red from crying and she bit her trembling lip.
He whispered a kiss on her nose and shook his head. He understood.
“I am sorry.” She whispered to him, her fingers gently wiped trails of his tears. She saw her world in his gaze.
“Why are you apologizing? I am the one who has to apologize.” His thumb caressed her jaw while his other hand gathered her closer. “I will spend the rest of my life apologizing if you will allow me.” His voice turned into a whisper towards the end as his eyes beseeched her to understand.
Was it possible for hope to fill the crevices in her heart this quickly? Was it possible to leap across the chasms that their heartbreaks caused?
She held his wrists in her own. She realized that if her heart beat any faster it would seize right there, but a small tendril of joy began to unfurl in her heart as she looked into his eyes that seemed to reveal his very soul to her.
She raised herself on her tiptoes and pressed her forehead against his and said softly, “Only if you promise me seven lifetimes.”
She looked into his eyes and whispered, “Take me home Arnav. Let’s go home.”
“I love you, always have and always will, my Indu…” He tilted his head to press his lips to hers, sealing his promise.
And I love you the moon whispered to her ocean.
AN: From Mirabell – And so the jashn continues.
Perhaps the fat lady will never sing for this couple who have shown us the hamesha in zindagi so evocatively, so imperfectly that it has made many a storyteller in us.
In the traditions of Arhi/Arshi there was yet another storyteller and for that I thank you.
Having never written anything like this with another person, the encounter, process and products were a collaborative meditations between me and Ridz-Bluemystique. We hope you like it and we certainly hope that it met the standard set by many others who have posted before us.
The love we have for Arnav Singh Raizada and Khushi Kumari Gupta have made it possible for us to meet, exchange and collaborate. Let the storytelling continue…
From Ridz – Well, I am so very glad this was one of my more successful forays into collaborating (she says, ignoring the many other failed attempts at collabs weeping in a corner). Thank you, MB, for writing with me, and putting up with my nagging. And to the rest of you, I hope you’ve enjoyed this small love story of the ocean and the moon, our humble attempt at a hatke fairy-tale 😉 See you at another time, with another tale….