This is a bit AU-ish. Taking liberties for this Jashn, okay? Okay 🙂 Enjoy!
“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”
Manorama Mami checked her pink cuticles for the thirtieth time, cleared her throat the fortieth time, and finally, decided to grace the audience at Raizada mansion with her music. To the audience, it was high-pitched cacophony.
Aaja Na Chhule Meri Chunnari Sanam
Kuchh Na Main Bolun Tujhe Meri Kasam
Aayi Jawaani Sar Pe Mere
Tere Bina Karun Jawaani Pe Raham, Hayee!
“Hai Re Nandkisore,” screamed Buaji as she pressed her palms to her ears. “You will sing that at my niece’s wedding? Do you want people to leave even before they have a chance to bless the couple?” Madhumati’s beseeching eyes turned to the rest of the family sitting in the Raizada living room for some support.
Aakash focussed his attention on the chandelier right above him. Naniji pretended to be busy petting Lakshmiji. OP and HP all but sprinted to the kitchen to prepare tea. Mamaji looked sheepish but wisely decided against opening his mouth. It was bad enough he had been subject to the torture of his wife’s singing for weeks now. He didn’t want that to be followed up by a night on the couch.
“Hello Hi Bye Bye,” said Manorama as she got up from her sitting position and made an unsuccessful attempt to adjust her saree pleats. “If you think I am so bad, why don’t you give it a go? Anyhow, it is not just your niece who is getting married. Let me remind you, my nephew is the groom. Let me see who stops me from singing at my Arnav Bitwa’s wedding.”
“There will be no wedding.”
Five stunned faces turned to the door at Khushi’s grumbling voice. She stomped into the living room and plonked herself on the couch next to Aakash. Khushi didn’t seem to notice the worried and curious faces waiting for her to elaborate on that grand opening statement.
Buaji was the first to find her voice. “What do you mean, Khushi? We don’t appreciate jokes like these at such a time.”
Khushi spoke as she fidgeted with the pom poms in her dupatta. “I’m not joking, Buaji. I mean it. I am not going to marry Arnavji.”
“What do you mean you won’t marry Chote? How can you say something like that!” bellowed Naniji.
“Naniji, you must ask your own grandson for the answers. How can I marry a man who doesn’t care about my wishes?”
“What the!” boomed another voice from the far end of the room. This time it was Arnav, quite palpably in his ASR avatar. “Khushi, I don’t believe this! This is a silly matter, preposterous even. And you are blowing it out of proportion. Why would you bring this matter to our families?”
Khushi looked positively enraged. “This might be a trivial matter to you, Arnavji! But it is important to me! I never wanted to involve our families. But I cannot possibly marry you if you can’t even agree to the simplest of my demands!”
“I could say the same thing! I deny you one tiny thing and you want call off the wedding?”
“It’s not a tiny thing! It is-“
“Stop it, both of you!” Mamaji decided this needed to stop. His wife’s singing was enough; he had no appetite for further noise. “Khushi bitiya, would you tell us what the problem is?”
With one final fiery glare at Arnav, Khushi walked back to the couch, this time sitting next to Mamaji. “Mamaji, you know how your nephew is. He is rich and handsome, no doubt. But he has issues.”
“What issues!” Arnav was confounded. What was she going on about?
Khushi ignored this, and continued. “You know, he gets angry with or without reason. Has no sense of humour. Likes black coffee.”
“Seriously Khushi, where are you going with this? And I do have a sense of humour! And what is wrong with black coffee?”
Arnav found himself ignored for the second time in less than a minute.
Khushi was focused on Mamaji. “He doesn’t like ludo. He doesn’t like Serena Williams. And he finishes too quic – well, never mind. What I am saying is, he has all these issues, but I love him anyway. And I was willing to put up with it. But Mamaji, this time he is being most unreasonable. All I asked of him was to name our daughter – don’t look alarmed – I mean whenever we have a daughter, that we should name her Hiranyamayi. Tell me Mamaji, is that too much to ask for? But your arrogant, adamant, absurd nephew won’t even allow me this little pleasure!”
Her tirade was followed by a rather long and uncomfortable silence. She looked hopefully at Mamaji, awaiting his response. A few long moments later, he finally spoke.
Khushi and Arnav spoke simultaneously.
“Mamaji, you too? Am I asking for too much?” she sounded hurt.
It was Naniji who spoke this time. “Khushi, there is no denying that your choice of name for your daughter is a bit unusual. Nevertheless, I must admit it’s a beautiful name. Hiranyamayi… a golden beauty. And you have every right to demand this. Chote, what problem could you possibly have with this? Even if you aren’t the biggest fan of the name, can you not do this little thing for the woman you love?”
“Nani please!”, this wasn’t going very well for him, Arnav realised. “This isn’t just about Khushi. This is about… our daughter! I told her she could pick any other name. ANY other name. Just not this. It sounds…funny. What if her friends in school tease her about it?”
“Are you even listening to yourself!”, Khushi couldn’t take it any more. “This is a ridiculous excuse! She isn’t even born yet and you think people will tease her about her name? It’s a lovely name! Moreover, children can make a joke out of any name. Why, don’t tell me your friends didn’t have nicknames for you in school. Even I had nicknames. You just don’t want to-”
“Enough!” ASR roared in a voice that declared the end of the debate. One knew better than to speak after this particular brand of “enough” from ASR. But if ASR knew how to roar, our Khushi was no less than a tigress.
“Keep that anger to yourself, tiger. I’m not having this any more. I give you one day. If you are willing to agree to Hiranyamayi, I might still consider this marriage. If not, you’d better send someone to collect the ring.” She hmph-ed and walked right out the door.
NK found himself smiling with hope as the door closed. Maybe now he had a chance. He’d be damned if he let it go. He had to get to Khushi before Arnav made his move.
Arnav could feel his heart beat faster than ever, as a cold fear took over his being. He was too proud to show it, but finally, it sunk into him. He hadn’t expected this to become so serious a matter. What if Khushi actually meant what she had just said? What if she—NO! He wouldn’t let that happen. Something had to be done. But could he tell her the truth?
Arnav walked to his room, took out his phone, and called Aman.
Khushi parked her car outside near the gate. Fetching her phone, she typed a quick message –
“La, I’m at Anjali Di’s. If Arnav asks, you don’t know. If anybody asks, you don’t know. If Buaji asks, tell her I’m safe and well and that I’ll come home tomorrow.”
Having informed her best friend of her whereabouts, Khushi headed to Anjali’s house. Anjali Di – Arnav’s sister, but her friend, guide and philosopher. And she liked her coffee with milk.
Lavanya stared at her phone in a dilemma. Her best friend had confided in her. And expressly asked her not to tell anyone about it.
On the other hand, there was NK. The man she loved. The man she longed for. That wonderful, charming man. The man who, sadly, did not love her.
Instead, he was infatuated with her best friend. Didn’t he see that Khushi didn’t love him? That she belonged to Arnav – mind, body and soul?
More importantly, how could he not see just how much she, Lavanya, loved him? That she loved everything about him? From the very moment they had met?
She had received a call from NK sometime back. She had been delighted, allowing herself to believe that he may have actually called to talk to her. Soon she realised the ulterior motive. He wanted to know where Khushi was.
Should she tell him? Could she betray her friend? Perhaps if she did, NK would finally understand just how much he meant to her? Khushi would understand; she knew what NK meant to her.
Lavanya had made her decision. She dialled NK’s number and told him about Khushi’s location.
He cut the call with an “Okay”. She didn’t even receive a polite “Thank You.” Lavanya felt her heart break all over again.
Thank God for Aman, thought Arnav a few hours later as he drove towards his sister’s house. He didn’t want to know just how Aman managed to get the information. He was just glad he knew where to find Khushi.
Did she really think he’d let her go?
He’d have to remember to give Aman a significant hike. He was his biggest asset.
“…to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.”
“Men are idiots.” Anjali declared as she prepared a third cup of coffee for herself and Khushi. She wished she had some alcohol at home. They needed something stronger.
“They are, Di.” sighed Khushi.
It had been a little over an hour since she’d come to Anjali’s place. And while Anjali had leant her a patient ear, she also had her own problems.
“Really. Idiots,” the elder woman repeated. “Why can’t they do even the simplest things? My brother won’t let you pick a name for your daughter. And my husband! Absolutely no concern for others! I mean, I’ve requested him a million fucking times. Why can’t he just take care of this one thing! He forgets he isn’t a bachelor. In all our years of marriage, he has always, ALWAYS left the toilet seat up!”
“I hear you, Di.”
Just then they heard the doorbell ring.
“I’m not getting the door. Tell Shyam he’ll have to learn some manners.” said Anjali as she walked towards the bedroom.
When Khushi opened the door, it wasn’t her Shyam Jijaji. It was her fiancé. Wearing a smug smirk. And a pair of jeans and a flattering green sweater she had gifted him a few months back.
“Have you made your decision?” she asked, making no effort to invite him inside.
“Won’t you ask me to come inside?” Arnav was unable to wipe the grin off his face.
“Stop looking so smug. I’m sure the only effort from your end to find me was a call to your darling Aman. Stop acting like this is your achievement.”
“Who do you think trained Aman?” he cocked an eyebrow.
“That’s besides the point. Are you in on Hiranyamayi or not?”
“Khushi, please. This is not an important matter. We don’t even have a daughter yet! And if you continue to be this angry, I don’t think there is going to be any possibility of one.“ he pleaded, placing his palm on her cheek, his eyes holding a million wonderful and tantalising promises.
Khushi was not amused. Tempted, but not amused. “Arnav, this isn’t just about the name. This is about your complete disregard for what I want. Will it always be like this? “
She turned around and made her way into the living room. Arnav took this to be her reluctant invitation for him to come in. “Khushi,” he had to tread carefully. “Why do you say such things? Have I ever refused anything you ask of me? I even came to watch that Salman Khan movie with you!”
“That was because you stood me up on our date the day before.”
“I made up for that with a memorable night, didn’t I? I think you made that rather clear with the way you moan-“
“Shut up, Arnav! This is your sister’s house! She’s in her room but she may still hear us!”
“Fine then. Lets take this to the terrace?”
NK couldn’t hear anything no matter how hard he tried. What were these, soundproof windows? And how the hell did Arnav get here before him! How did he even know where to find her!
He could see Arnav and Khushi talk. They seemed to be arguing, he noted with some delight. A little while later, he saw them walk further inside the house, Arnav leading the way. Where were they going! He had to find out.
He had to get inside the house. He couldn’t afford to let anyone know, though. Not before he could catch a few moments with Khushi. Swoop in just when the time was ripe.
NK had been to this house before. He remembered the kitchen window, and that its latch was broken the last time he was here. He would give it a go.
He couldn’t believe he was sneaking into his own cousin’s house. Anything for Khushi, he thought. Sending a silent apology to Anjali, NK lifted the kitchen window, and made his way inside her bungalow.
Anjali heard footsteps recede away from her room. She hoped Khushi and her brother would work it out. They were such kids! And they’d have to learn to keep the volume low, else these would prove to be the last days of peaceful quietude at the Raizada mansion.
Where the hell was Shyam? Perhaps she shouldn’t have picked this day to argue? He did have an important case at hand. No, she reminded herself. He always had an important case at hand.
She freshened up and came back to the living room. She was in the mood for some kurkure. But before she could take the first bite, the doorbell rang again.
Oh, Shyam was finally here. She composed herself, schooled her features. She wouldn’t greet him with a smile today. She would make her point. He wasn’t getting away with time. He’d have to get his toilet etiquettes straight.
Yet again, it wasn’t Shyam. This time, it was Lavanya at the door.
“La! Hi!” Anjali was unable to keep the surprise from her voice. “Please, come in.”
“Sorry for barging in like this, Anjali Di. It’s just…I really have to see NK.” Said Lavanya, as her eyes searched the room for the man in question.
“You came here looking for NK?” Anjali was confused.
“Yes. How long ago did he get here Di? And where is he?” she sounded almost frantic. She had to get to him before he got to Khushi. For her sake and Khushi’s. Oh, why did she have to tell him? She had betrayed her friend AND allowed herself to be exploited.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, La. Khushi did come here and Arnav followed. Not NK. Why did you think he’d be here?” Anjali was curious. What was going on here?
“Erm.. Di,” Lavanya struggled to respond. She couldn’t possibly tell Anjali what was going on. The woman would run straight to the temple and get on to yet another fast. “It’s just.. you know…he is really fond of that puppy that keeps visiting your garden. So I thought maybe he had come here to see him.”
“You thought NK was here to see the puppy?”
“Err…yes.” Shit, Lavanya swore softly. Why couldn’t she think of a better excuse? This made her look like an absolute numbskull. What was she going to do now? She was so sure NK would be here. He wouldn’t miss this chance to get Khushi, the idiot. He had to be here. But then Anjali would know about it, wouldn’t she?
“La?” Lavanya snapped out of her reverie as she saw Anjali waving her palm in front of her face. “What is the matter with you?”
“Oh. Di. Nothing. I thought NK would be here. Never mind. Do you think I can speak to Khushi now? You mentioned she is here, right? Where is she?”
She was sure NK was here. And he’d have to be where Khushi was. Even if she didn’t find him, she would be able to warn Khushi. Khushi was well aware of NK’s little crush on her.
“I’m not sure. I think they went upstairs. But I don’t know if you should go there right now. I think they’re in the middle of an argument. Actually I hope they are resolving an argument. So maybe you could wait here till they come down?”
“Sure, Di.” Lavanya replied with some hesitance.
“Great, wait here. I’ll bring us some tea and kurkure.”
“Actually Di, since I am here, could you make your special poha? I’ve been craving one for some time now.”
“Of course, La! Just give me 15 minutes.”
“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
Certain that she’d bought herself some time, Lavanya tiptoed her way upstairs. The bedroom door was ajar and there was nobody inside. So, they were at the terrace then.
She saw him just as she reached the door to the terrace. NK was there, hiding behind the rainwater harvesting tank. Arnav and Khushi were standing not too far from him, but far enough for their voices to be inaudible. Making sure she didn’t draw any attention from the three present on the terrace, she quietly walked till she was standing right behind NK.
“NK” she whispered in his ear. He turned back, shocked. No! He couldn’t be caught so soon!
He was relieved to see it was Lavanya and not Anjali who had found him. But wait, what was Lavanya doing here! “Why are you here?” he asked, trying to keep his voice as low as possible.
“To stop you.” she hissed.
“To stop me from what?” he was angry now. He didn’t want distractions.
“I know why you are here. And I’m not going to let you do this.” she held his wrist, trying to pull him away.
“Wait, does Di know I am here?” he asked, panicked.
“No, she doesn’t. And don’t worry, I won’t tell her. I don’t want her to know her cousin is behaving like a sneaky thief. What are you doing! Have you lost you mind?”
“What I do is none of your business. This isn’t funny. And get you hand off me!”
Lavanya made no effort to hide the painful sting she felt at his words. “I will once you’re out of here. What do you think you are doing? Sneaking into your cousin’s house. Eavesdropping on a couple about to get married.”
He had had enough. “Listen to me, Lavanya. I will not have you tell me what I should be doing. I suggest you get out of my way. Right now.”
Lavanya sighed in defeat. She realised there was nothing she could do at the moment. Her eyes pleaded with him to hear the words she couldn’t say. To understand what she felt for him. He didn’t oblige her, and turned back towards Arnav and Khushi.
“The lunatic, the lover and the poet, Are of imagination all compact”
Anjali’s brain was working over time. She couldn’t believe what she had witnessed. She’d finished preparing her poha sometime back, but when she couldn’t find Lavanya in the living room, she’d waited a few and then gone looking for her. What she saw left her more than a little surprised.
So, her cousin had the hots for her brother’s fiancé. Her brother’s fiancé’s best friend had a thing for her cousin. But the cousin wasn’t interested in the best friend. And no one knew about this? She had some inkling about NK’s crush on Khushi. But that was a long time ago. She had no idea he still harboured such feelings for Khushi.
Well, she knew about it now. And she’d be damned if she didn’t know anything about it. Why to settle for a single happy ending when there was a possibility of two? She did enjoy playing cupid. If she had managed to convince the mighty ASR to propose to his girlfriend, NK would be a cakewalk.
Yes, she smiled to herself as she saw Lavanya walk back into the living room. If she was surprised to see Anjali already waiting for her, she didn’t show it. “Sorry Di, I was just freshening up.” she muttered.
“No. I am going to freshen you up.” said Anjali seriously.
“Finish your poha quickly.” she said with an authority that was the ultimate sign of her Raizada lineage. “We’ve got work to do.”
“What work?” What was Di going on about, she wondered.
“Work. To get NK’s head straight. We need to work some magic. And I know just the charms that work on the menfolk.”
Lavanya adjusted her saree blouse yet again. What was Di thinking? This blouse was too much even for her. Did this scrap of cloth even constitute what could be called a blouse? And how did Anjali Di have this? Was it possible that there was more to her than her pooja ki thaal?
“Di, I’m not so sure about this. I may not be able to pull this off, you know. And it just feels wrong. Like I am scheming to trick him or something.”
“Shut up.” Anjali chided. “Firstly, if I can pull this off, there is no reason why you can’t. You used to be a model! Secondly, we are not trying to trick him. Just a nudge to open his eyes. Trust me, one look at you in this, and he will forget all about his infatuation with Khushi. Once he has seen you in that light which sets a man’s loins on fire, I am sure his heart will follow suit. Trust me. I know.” she said confidently.
“You mean… ??” Lavanya couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Yes. It’s tried and tested.” Anjali confirmed. “Now get ready. I’m going to make a sound. Distinctly my voice. Loud enough for NK. Not enough for Chote and Khushi, I hope. I know NK will come running. He may have a thing for Khushi but I am still his Di. You take it from there, okay?”
“The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Lavanya felt uncomfortable on the comfy chair. She was nervous, unsure, terrified even. What was she doing? How would NK react? What if this backfired? What if NK didn’t notice anything at all?
She heard him then, calling out to Anjali. Di had done it then. And he was here. The door opened and he entered. He looked around for Anjali before his eyes found her.
Was it surprise she saw in his eyes? Or was it irritation? What was she supposed to do now? Say Hi? Keep sitting as she was or stand up and greet? She preferred to sit; she felt more comfortable that way. But Anjali had made it clear that NK had to see the blouse. Well, or the near absence of one. Oh, this was getting awkward.
“Have you seen Di?” he asked. “I thought I heard her scream.”
“Yes,” she replied hesitantly. She was never comfortable lying. “She hit her elbow against the door. She is okay now.”
“Oh,” he took a step back. And that was when his eyes finally registered what was in front of him. As Lavanya got up from the chair and brought the pallu of her saree around her waist, he realised that she looked nothing like the woman he had seen less than an hour back. NK gulped.
Why was he here, again? Yes, Anjali. Thank god she was fine. He didn’t do all this just to turn himself in. “Wait,” he heard Lavanya say just as he turned around to leave. “Where are you going?” she asked softly. Why did her voice sound funny?
“You know where I am going, La. And please, don’t say anything. I know what I am doing.”
Lavanya was sure her attempt at a husky, sultry voice was unsuccessful. But a girl’s gotta try. She gave it another shot. “You’ve been eavesdropping for hours, NK. What purpose is that going to serve? We could spend some time together… you know how I feel about you. Why won’t you at least give us a chance?.” She wasn’t sure if she sounded sexy or desperate.
“Really, Lavanya? This is when you choose to bring it up?” he said, annoyed. “I’ve made myself clear multiple times. I just don’t feel that way about you. Why do you make me repeat it? It makes me feel like the villain here.” This was getting difficult, he thought. Especially when she was looking so…stunning!
“Why, NK? You won’t even give us a chance but you are ready to housebreak just to pursue your own cousin’s fiancé? You know I love you. I have for a long time. I love you knowing that you have some feelings for Khushi. That door is closed. Then why? Do you think I am not good enough? Look at me, I’m awesome! I am beautiful and independent and charming. Why don’t you understand!”
Lavanya thought she’d choke. She hated behaving like this. Stating the obvious, explaining herself to people. Being desperate. She brushed her tears aside before they escaped her eyes. No, this wouldn’t do. She wouldn’t be weak, she told herself. If she was in love, that would have to be her strength. Not something that crippled her.
“Please, Lavanya” he said, his impatience obvious. He really didn’t have time for this right now. “This isn’t about you. Look, I can’t talk right now. Just please know that this has nothing do with your person. I have eyes only for Khushi, La. I’m sorry.” he turned around to leave.
“No!” Lavanya stopped him yet again. She wouldn’t let him do this. And she wouldn’t give up the fight this time. She’d either make him see the light or end this chapter once and for all. But not without a fight. “Where do you think you’re going? Back to the terrace? So you can try to mess with a wonderful couple? What is wrong with you, NK?” she took a step closer to him, her voice softening. “This is not you. The NK I know is a wise and honourable man. The first time we met, I couldn’t stop admiring the way you could make everyone around you smile. What happened, NK?”
She ignored the way his jaw tightened and kept at it. “All I am asking is that you give us both a chance. What you are pursuing is a dead end with heartbreak for everyone. Can’t you see that? And how could you do this to your own cousin? And Khushi, who I thought was your friend too? They are a happy couple, NK. Do you really want to be the one to unsettle things?”
Lavanya took another step forward, her palm held out. She felt the need to hold his hand.
That was when she accidentally stepped on her saree pleats, her pointy heels entangling with the netted border. This saree was a bad idea – she knew it! When she bent to free the pleats, her pallu fell forward, the low neck of the blouse exposing the expanse of her chest. She cursed Anjali for making her wear this excuse of a blouse. She couldn’t even pin her pallu. When she tried to multitask – free her pleats and replace her pallu on her shoulder – she lost her balance. She found her palms on NK’s chest and she took his support to break the fall. All this happened in a matter of seconds.
When she finally managed to straighten up, she was shocked to see the look on NK’s face. What was it? Anger? Could it be… disgust?
“I cannot believe this.” he seethed.
Lavanya could not fathom what had brought about this change. She waited for him to speak further.
“Here you are, lecturing me about honour. The next second you use some cheap little tactic to, what, seduce me? I don’t love you, La. But I did believe you to be a good person. I was wondering what made you change your clothes. Now I know.” he said, his voice icy. He failed to notice the shock and utter despair on Lavanya’s face.
“Do you think a sleazy dress and a well timed fall will change my mind? I mean, to think that a second back you couldn’t stop talking about what was right and what was wrong. I should have known. You call Khushi your friend but didn’t think twice before telling me where she was. You knew well that I’d follow her. Now you tell me I shouldn’t be here?”
He knew he was spewing venom and a most of it was unwarranted. He regretted his words even before he had finished speaking them. Lavanya’s teary eyes did nothing to assuage that feeling of shame that had now taken over him. He knew Lavanya was never one to resort to such silly tactics. Even if she did intend to entice him, it was perhaps a genuine attempt to persuade him. He knew better than to question her love for Khushi. Or for him, if he were honest. What, then, had made him say such things? He did not know.
And he didn’t have the time. Not right now. Unable to see the cold fury and deep disappointment in Lavanya’s eyes, he left without another word and headed to the terrace.
“I’ll follow thee and make a heaven of hell,
To die upon the hand I love so well.”
“Arnav, I know you are hiding something from me.”
When they got to the terrace, the beautiful view of the evening sun had left them both without a will to fight. So they just sat there, talking about nothing in particular.
To Khushi’s surprise, it was Arnav who brought up the topic again. When she looked closely, her earlier doubts were confirmed. While it was Arnav’s nature to always try to have his way around things, he was rarely unreasonable. It was unlike him to simply refuse something she asked for so earnestly. If anything, he would usually give her something before she could even ask for it. He was constantly overcompensating for the way he had treated her in the first months of their acquaintance.
Why then was he being so adamant on such a simple thing? Either he really didn’t like the name. Or, and more possibly, there was another reason he wasn’t telling her about. She had been trying to get it out of him for a while now, but he continued to evade her questions. Her patience was thinner than a hair’s breadth now.
“Listen to me carefully.” she said, her timbre serious. “I know there is something you aren’t telling me. And I need to know it. We are about to get married, Arnav. I don’t expect us to not have any secrets at all, but you can’t just not tell me things because you don’t feel like it. I’ve given you all the space you needed, all the time you needed in this relationship. You cannot take that for granted. Are you going to tell me or not? You expect our marriage to work on one sided communication?”
“Khushi please,” he pleaded. “Don’t say such things. We are getting married and our marriage is going to be a long and happy one. I cannot live without you, remember?” he held her hand.
She brushed it away. “There you go again. Do you think I am a fool? That I can’t see that you simply don’t want to answer me? What is this big secret you are trying to hide from me?”
Arnav sighed. He had tried, but he knew he couldn’t get away. Yet, how could he tell her? What if she didn’t believe him? He rubbed his palms over his eyes in frustration.
“Arnav,” she spoke again; this time there was tenderness in her voice. “Tell me? I know you think this is a small matter. But it isn’t to me. I just need to be reassured that you are actually ready to share your life with me. Not a room, not your name. I want you. All of you. Please?”
He seemed to be lost in thoughts for a few long minutes. When he finally spoke, she experienced what she thought was the worst anti-climax of her life.
“I had an girlfriend. Hiranyamayi. That was her name.” There. It was said. He held his breath.
He didn’t expect what he saw next. Was she… laughing?
“What the!”, she said, catching her breath. “This was your big secret? And I imagined everything right from a childhood nightmare of yours to perhaps some illegitimate child in another town!”
“What! No! How could you even think that?”
“What was I supposed to do? You made it seem like you were protecting some deep dark secret!” she said, mocking him. “Why didn’t you just tell me before? None of this drama would have happened.”
“Well, I thought you’d be mad. Or you wouldn’t believe me.” he shrugged.
“Why wouldn’t I believe you?”
“You know…because when you mentioned this name it struck me that I forgot to name this one the other day you asked me to list my previous relationships.”
He looked like a boy when he was embarrassed, she thought. It was adorable.
“So what? It’s not like I was keeping track. But how did you manage to forget a name like Hiranyamayi?”
“I don’t know. It was a long time back, and it wasn’t really serious. It just slipped my mind. I didn’t think you’d believe that it was an honest mistake. You were so serious that day when you asked me about my previous girlfriends. I thought you’d think I left out her name because I still felt something for her. Remember how you flipped out when you found Divya’s photograph in my wardrobe?”
“Arnav…” she sighed as wrapped her arms around him. “I admit I was feeling a bit upset that day. And I made you spill out everything. But it wasn’t because I thought you still loved her. I believed you when you said you didn’t even know it was there.”
“Then why?” he asked, bringing her closer to him so he could rest his forehead on hers.
She lowered her eyes.
Was Khushi being bashful? This was new, he mused.
“I was jealous…” she admitted softly, her eyes still not meeting his. “Not because I thought you still loved her. It’s just…it pains me when I think that there was a time in your life when someone else made you smile. When it wasn’t me who made you happy, who made you laugh, who made your eyes twinkle and shine with love. That you waited for a call from someone who wasn’t me. When your heart beat for someone else. It’s silly, I know. But I am jealous of all those who were a part of your life when I wasn’t.”
When she finally looked up, she hadn’t been prepared for the sheen in his eyes. She leaned in and kissed him softly.
“Khushi,” he struggled to speak; he was not accustomed to being this overwhelmed. “I know it sounds clichéd but believe me, I had no idea what it was to feel like this until the moment you quite literally fell into my arms. I have never felt this happiness before. And believe me, nobody is sadder than I am for not having you in my life before this. But we shall make up for all the lost time, won’t we?”
Before she had a chance to respond, he kissed her with such enthusiasm that she was taken aback. However, she soon responded ardently to his passionate demands and he pulled her even closer. She weaved her fingers in his hair as his found their way inside her kurta, his body hardening as his hands met her heated skin.
It was only when she felt him untying the strings at the back of her kurta that she remembered where they were. “We’re at the terrace” she whispered, with some irritation at having to stop. “Any one can see.”
“Let them.” he took her lips again. She let him. It was too tempting.
“I love you” he said close to her ears. She stilled.
“What did you say?” she asked. She could hardly believe it.
“You know what I said.” he said, burying his face in her neck. She pushed him back.
“Say it again, please? You’ve never said it before… and now that you did, I couldn’t see even you properly. I won’t ask again, I promise. I told you I didn’t need words. Just this once, Arnav? Look at me.” she implored. “I want to have this moment in my head and my heart forever.”
How could he resist those eyes? Taking her small hands in his large ones, he gently touched the golden band that bedecked her finger with his. He made sure to look into her eyes when he spoke the words this time. “I love you, Khushi. And I feel these words are inarticulate. I do not know what words can tell you how I feel, so I try and let my actions do the talking. But know this. Without Khushi, there is no Arnav. You make me want to believe in eternity. Because I know my love for you is eternal.”
He waited for her to say something. “That bad?” he chuckled, when she didn’t.
“It was perfect.” she said, hugging him close. “I hope this moment morphs into a star. Bright and shining; twinkling in the skies. For eternity.”
“Oh,” she added. “Just so it’s clear, we are not naming anybody Hiranyamayi.”
They sealed the deal with a kiss.
“So quick bright things come to confusion.”
NK wondered if he was a masochist as he saw the couple in front of him embrace. It was breaking his heart and yet somehow couldn’t look away. What was it that held him back? Was it the exquisite sight of two people so deeply in love? Was it the beauty with which two souls were so flawlessly attuned to one another?
When he did look away, everything came crashing upon him. The realisation, of what he was doing. Of what he had been pursuing. Of the foolish dream that he was holding on to. Of the level to which he had stooped in the process.
The feeling of unending shame took over him as he left the terrace and walked downstairs. He walked aimlessly till he saw the door to the balcony. It was a beautiful little place where Arnav had helped his sister set up a small kitchen garden. He could use some fresh air, he thought as he entered the small space.
When he saw Lavanya standing at the other end, he thought he would simply buckle and fall. Never before had he experienced such disgrace and remorse. There was no anger in her demeanour. Just disappointment, and something akin to pity.
He didn’t think he had the strength to speak at all. Was there anything he could do or say to right the wrong he had done by her? Perhaps not. But at the very least, he owed her an apology.
Drawing all the strength he could muster, “I’m so sorry” he said, his eyes now meeting hers. “You didn’t deserve that. I wish I could take back all that I said.”
“But you can’t” she sighed. He was surprised at the gentleness with which she spoke. Why was she not screaming at him? Was she not angry?
“No, I am not.” she answered his unspoken question. “I alone am to blame for my pain. Because I failed to respect myself. I allowed myself to bend and be made so weak that I didn’t think twice before betraying my friend. I set myself up for heartbreak.”
He couldn’t take this. After all that had happened, how could she blame herself? “Don’t say that, La. I can now safely say that I understand just how helpless unrequited love can make one feel. You were only trying to make me understand. I did things far more despicable. Come to think of it, I cannot believe you loved me despite all that.”
He had been a fool, he realised. Going after something he knew he could never have, ignoring a chance at happiness that lay right in front of him.
“I didn’t have a choice.” he heard Lavanya speak. “I was in love with you long before I even realised what had happened. This is so stupid…” she felt embarrassed.
“Lavanya,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “I don’t expect you to forgive me for what I said today. And I have done nothing to make you trust anything I do or say. But believe me, all those awful things I said… they meant nothing. I was just… angry. And sad. I know you… we are friends. At least we used to be, until everything got so complicated. I know you are a good friend. I know how much you treasure Khushi’s friendship. You are a good person, La. Please don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Especially not me.”
He waited for her to say something, or at least acknowledge his words. She looked like she was collecting her thoughts, carefully weighing what to say next.
“I was trying to seduce you, you know.” she said, finally. If he was being honest, she also needed to come clean.
“What?” he asked, surprised.
“Not the fall… I mean, that bit was an accident. But this saree, this..” she pointed a finger at herself; “This whole thing. It was deliberate. I was hoping this would force you to finally notice me. And perhaps give us a serious thought. This was my last resort. I decided against it when we started talking. I realised it was stupid. But then these silly heels got in the way and I slipped and then you…” she didn’t want to recall his words again. She was better off believing him when he said he didn’t mean any of it.
She also didn’t mention Anjali’s role in the whole scheme. It wouldn’t do anybody any good. In any case, though it was Anjali’s idea, she had also consciously played along.
They both stood in silence for many long minutes. It was awkward at first, but they both found themselves relaxing as they watched the sun set and the skies turn a deep shade of crimson. They leaned against the parapet, their hands resting on top of it.
Still quite unsure, he placed his hand atop hers. When she didn’t flinch, he held her hand firmly. “I’m sorry,” he said, sincerely.
“It’s not okay,” she said, still looking at the skies. “But I forgive you.”
“May I also say one more thing?” he asked. She turned towards him and nodded.
“You do look smashing in this saree.”
“Here come the lovers, full of joy and mirth”
5 weeks later:
The Raizada mansion was lit up like a Christmas tree to welcome its newest member. Even though the newest member was known to them for months now and spent more time there than in her own house.
Anjali, Nani, Payal and Manorama Mami had taken every measure to ensure that the gruha pravesh ceremony was perfect. After all, their Arnav was bringing home his wife. The woman who had managed to make him smile.
It was a beautiful ceremony, perhaps more memorable for the Raizadas than the rest of the day. The wedding was a grand affair, lively and dazzling. But this – this was just them. Family, home, and their togetherness.
They were all tired to the bone but their spirits more lively than ever. They sat there in the Raizada living room – chatting, talking, making jokes, teasing. There was joy and laughter in the air. It was perfect.
Anjali was happy. Her Chote was married and her husband had finally started to put down the toilet seat before he left.
Naniji was over the moon. Her grandson was married to the woman he loved, and he’d made the right choice. He was in safe hands.
Akash and Payal pretended to converse while they played footsie.
Mami was satisfied. She wasn’t allowed to sing at the wedding, but they’d let her sing at the gruha pravesh. She thought her performance was quite the success.
OP and HP were the happiest of the lot. Khushi Bhabhi had that special prowess of keeping their Arnav Baba’s infamous temper in check. Bless her!
Arnav and Khushi had eyes only for each other. When Nani finally called it a night, the lovers knew it was only just beginning. He winked at her, a wink that said, “Can’t wait to get that saree off you.”
She smiled saucily, as if saying, “Get ready for a wild ride.”
It was a night to remember.
“For you, in my respect, are all the world; Then how can it be said I am alone, When all the world is here to look on me?”
— THE END —
Phew! There you go! Almost 8000 words! If you’ve made it to the end, I must thank you!
As some of you may have guessed, from the story and the quotes, the plot of this OS is loosely inspired from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My attempt at adapting from The Bard himself was both audacious and foolish, I understand. But AMND is one of my favourite plays of all times, and I just couldn’t help myself from writing this. There is also the fact that I pretty much suck at writing romance. I do morbid well, and can wrap my head around comedy. And because we are Jashn-ing, I thought a laugh might be a good idea ?
I hope you all enjoyed this. And that it made you smile.
Arnav and Khushi, humesha 😀