Collaboration by Jigs (Chokri_ASR) and Ruchi (Arshi67), just because we needed a pick me up and an escape to sapno ki duniya together… Happy Reading!
“Amma, it’s been so long since I have eaten from your hands, please can you feed me…”
Garima shook her head in exasperation at her daughter’s nautanki (dramatics) and sat down next her. She took a piece of poori, then scooped some aloo in it before feeding her beloved Khushi.
“If you came home more often from the big city, I would be able to feed my daughter everyday. Bas Khushi, ab bohot ho gaya. (That’s it, Khushi, enough of this.) You’re not going back to Delhi. Your Babuji is much better now and the shop is also back in our hands from that moneylender, Mohanlalji. Now all of the karz (loan) from Payal’s wedding is paid off.”
“Amma, just one more year and then I’ll come back. I want to make sure Buaji’s pension is safe and the court case is closed.”
Garima looked at her daughter in tender wonderment. Her baby, her Khushi, has grown up so much. Where did that chulbuli, mischievous, girl go in the past three years of being away from home. Did working long hours as an accountant, and being burdened by the family debts completely take away her happy go lucky spirit. Although seeing her now with her mouth open waiting for the next bite, no one would guess that.
“Haye re Nandkishore, ee dekho. Apan Amma ke haath se khaana khai rahi hai Sankadevi. Aapan haath ma mehendi lagaye rakhe hee ka?” (Look at this Sankadevi being fed by her mother. Has she got mehendi on her own hands?)
Buaji’s loud voice boomed, as she walked through the front door with Shashi close behind. Garima stood up as they sat down at the table.
“Leave it Jiji. Let her be pampered for a while. She’s only here for a couple of days. She’ll be gone the day after.”
Khushi grinned at her father’s words as she leaned over to get some more achaar from the covered jars in front of her.
“Amma, aap ko bhi khilaye kya Buaji. (Should Amma feed you as well Buaji.)” She quipped wickedly.
Ignoring her daughter and sister in law’s long running drama, a concerned Garima looked over at her husband questioningly, “Did everything turn out okay with the Shaadi ki mithai? Did you deliver it all to Sheesh Mahal? Were they happy with it? Did anyone say anything? Did you meet Diwanji? It was really nice of him to have recommended us for the mithai.”
“Calm down, Garima. Everything turned out well. The Badi Malkin, Devyaniji, came out personally to thank us. She said the Mithai looked and smelt lovely. Just the way she remembered Lucknowi mithai after being in London since the last fifteen years.”
“Garima, oo sab chhodo, hum jo dekhkar aaye hai oo suno. Bade bade log ki badi badi baatein. (Garima, leave all that aside and listen to what I have seen. These grand people with their grand ideas.) Sheesh Mahal has never looked so beautiful, not even when her son had got married. They have transformed the mahal into a real sapnon ka mahal (castle of dreams) for her only grand daughter’s wedding. They have spent so much money, that our whole mohalla ki shaadi (neighbourhood’s wedding) could take place for a fraction of that. Lekin man khush ho gaya dekh ke. (But, it was most pleasing to the eye to see)”
“Did they not ask you to stay back, Buaji?” Khushi piped in with a giggle, pointing at Buaji, dressed in her latest Chikankari saree and her finest pearl set. All under the pretext of helping her brother with the delivery, when in reality it was to satisfy her own curiosity about the goings on that were the talk of the town.
Buaji frowned and smacked Khushi lightly at the back of her head. “They wouldn’t invite people like us! Pagaliya gayi hai kya? (Have you gone mad?)”
“Why not?! What’s wrong with us? Babuji is the best halwai in all of Lucknow. Everyone knows and loves him. Even Shyamji had invited him when he got married to Sheetalji. And they had come all the way from Mumbai for a location wedding. He was so nice to me. Remember that red designer anarkali he gave me?”
“Bas Khushi. That wasn’t right. If I had been there, I would have made you give it back.” Shashi said firmly getting up from the table. His titaliya was so naive, it scared him sometimes. “Jiji, can Garima and you come with me to the shop. We need to take care of a few things. We can go to visit Vimla chachi after that. She was insisting we come for dinner. A potential groom and his family are coming to see her daughter.”
“Khushi, why don’t you go and visit with Preeto. She’s here from her sasuraal. We will probably be late coming back. Make sure everything is locked properly.” Garima instructed as she took the thali and walked to the kitchen.
“Ji Amma. Have fun. Buaji ki nazar utaar lijiyega jaane se pehle. (Ward off the evil eye from Buaji before leaving) She’s looking sexy. What if the boy chooses her over Vimla chachi’s daughter!” Khushi winked at Buaji, smartly making a mad dash to her room before Madhumati could retaliate.
Deciding to take her Amma’s advice, she called Preetho to check whether she was home. Dejected to know she had gone to her Nani sasuraal, Khushi flopped on her bed and lay staring at the ceiling, trying to think of ways to pass the evening. Her eyes fell on a brown stain near the fan. Memories of its origin washed over her as a smile lit up her face. A bet. A can of specially bought foreign cola. Some vigorous shaking. There were bound to be repercussions. Not that it had deterred Preetho and her. Both of them egging and aiding the other in all sorts of mischief and mayhem throughout their growing up years. Their innocent smiles and twinkling eyes allowing them to get away with mere admonishments from many a neighbourhood aunty.
As she rolled to her side, Khushi spotted a flash of red through the ajar door of her antique teak cupboard. With reminiscences of the past still fresh in her mind, her khurafaati dimaag (overactive, naughty imagination) began to clunk into drive. A gleeful grin took over her face as she jumped out of the bed. She pulled out the red anarkali hanging inside and held it against herself. Looking at her reflection in the full length mirror on the inside of the cupboard door, an impish glint shone in her eyes.
“This is perfect.”
She took a deep breath, savouring the cool Lucknowi air, as she stepped away from the house. Her attention was caught by the squeals and shouts coming her way from the garden next door. She took a step towards them, but held back, telling herself this was not the time for cricket. Not dressed as she was. And not given the mission she had assigned for herself today.
She sighed regretfully as she passed by Preetho’s house a few streets away, missing her partner in crime. It would have been so much more fun having her accompany her on yet another foray.
As she turned the corner, her eyes were caught by the bright glow of distant lights. Sheesh Mahal, standing tall in all its majestic glory. The crescent moon hung low over the building as the last vestiges of daylight slowly fell away. Thousands of fairy lights twinkled as they lay draped across the facade of the mahal.
Her feet moved excitedly towards the glittering structure. In no time she was standing in front of Sheesh Mahal, with the soulful wail of the Shehnai engulfing her in it’s plangent yet uplifting sound.
Startled by the sharp blare of a horn, she stepped back hurriedly. She could see people dressed in their finery alighting from their cars and making their way inside. Her own feet itching to follow in their footsteps. And they did. Her impulsiveness coming to the fore, oblivious to the implications of crashing the wedding uninvited.
She hummed her favourite ditty under her breath, as she looked around in awe at the extravagant decor and sheer moreishness on display. Aaj mausam hai suhana, Shaadi dekhne ka hai bahana, Kya khoob aayega maja jab, Buaji ko sunayenge kahaaniya, la la la la la …
“Excuse me…” She turned, feeling a tap on her shoulder, only to be met by liquid caramel eyes trained on her intently. She stared into questioning eyes as their owner waited for her to respond. Unable to find her voice, aghast at being caught, she stood rooted in place, continuing to stare back mutely.
“Do I know you?” The husky British accented voice forcing her to stutter in response.
“I .. uh hum uh … no .. nahin, I don’t know you. I live in Delhi.”
“Oh, so you are here for the wedding? I don’t recall seeing you at the other functions. Did you just come in?”
Hey Devi Maiya, please help me. What do I do now?
Khushi looked around frantically trying to find a plausible explanation. It had seemed such a great idea from the safe confines of her room. Seeing a board which read Anjali weds Rahul, she blurted out. “Kuch kuch hota hain”.
“Oh, you’re here for Anjali?”
“Haan! Bilkul! Wohi toh. I’m a childhood friend of hers, we were best friends. We actually had spent some time in London at Oxford university a few years back. You know Oxford na? Univeristy hai. We were so cool yaar.”
“Oh really?! I didn’t know that at all. In London you said, yeah?”
“Yeah.” She parroted, but then paused, seeing the glint in his eyes as he crossed his arms across his chest. To divert his attention, as well as hers from the rather attractive fellow, she decided to ask a question of her own.
“So, you are a friend of Rahul? Feroze?” Who knew her encyclopaedic knowledge of the film would serve her so well, she mentally patted herself on the back.
“No” He hesitated before adding. “My name is Aman. What’s your name, Anjali’s friend from Oxford university in London?”
“I’m Khushi. Khushi Kumari Gupta.” She said proudly, but instantly wanted to smack herself for giving away her real identity. But then there was something about him, that had made her reveal her name without any hesitation.
“Kumari …? Nice. Shall we go in?” He extended an arm for her. Seeing her look at him quizzically, he raised an impatient eyebrow and grabbed hold of her wrist to lead her towards the main lawn.
The unexpected caress from his touch on her wrist, caused her to shiver. And she couldn’t fathom why. Was there a chill in the air?
Panicking in earnest now as she saw numerous eyes swivel towards her, she tried to tug her hand away. But, he was having none of it. Seeing her discomfort though, he relented a little and asked whether she would like to go see the gazebo, pointing to a structure a little away from the gathered crowd.
Grabbing the opportunity to get away from being the cynosure of all eyes there, she nodded fervently, giving him a small relieved smile.
Hiding a smirk, he stepped inside the gazebo, with her hand still securely clasped into his. One that was a perfect fit molded together. He urged her to sit before taking a seat beside her.
“Tum theek ho?” He asked in his smooth velvety tone seeing her wringing her red net dupatta.
She looked at him unsure of what to say to extricate herself. Spotting a passing waiter her dimaag ki batti lit up and she called out to him, “Bhaiyaji idhar aaiye na. (Can you come here?) Could you bring something to eat and drink for my guest. He’s from the groom’s side, so we must do his khaatir (take care) properly.”
“But, he …” Before the waiter could say anything further, he was cut off.
“No, no, ladies first. What would you like to have?”
“I’ll have thandai and jalebi. And some pani poori and some rasagulla and some biryani and then one kebab. Kakori kebab. That’s good for now to start out with.”
“What would you like?” She said turning to her companion, relaxed now that the topic had shifted to her favourite hobby, eating.
“Not sure if there’s anything left, but I guess I’ll have some pasta.”
After the befuddled waiter walked away, and relieved at having bought herself some time to think, Khushi took in her surroundings. She let out a delighted sound and walked over to the roses cascading down the columns of the gazebo. Lifting her hand to stroke the soft velvety petals, she took a deep breath, inhaling their heady fragrance.
Wanting to see her face light up further, her companion plucked one of the roses and handed it to her. But, her reaction was unexpected.
“You can’t do that!” She shrieked looking around to see if anyone had witnessed it. Though it did not stop her from taking the beautiful red rose, he extended out to her.
“Why not?” He shrugged nonchalantly. “Who’s going to stop me? This is my…” He stopped abruptly turning away.
“My?” She asked suspiciously, her nose scrunching up and her eyebrows knitting together as she looked at him carefully.
“My best friend’s house. You know, Anjali’s younger brother. You’ve met him, right? Maybe at Oxford? Because he also studied there at the same time.”
“Oh him. Of course. I know him very well. He was such a flirt. Is he still that way? He used to follow me around all the time. Giving me flowers. Writing poetry for me. He even learnt to make jalebis for me. Took me to see Salman Khanji’s films in the cinema hall.” Her eyes taking on a dreamy look, much to the amused fascination of the man looking on.
“He did? I didn’t realise he was so romantic. What happened then? Why did he leave you?”
“Uff, he didn’t leave me! Woh toh, I had to leave him when I came back to Delhi.”
“Oh, so you’ll be able to rekindle your friendship when you see him again today. You should ask him to go with you for another movie. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.”
“He will?” She stood up abruptly as she realised what tall tales she had been getting carried away with. Clearly the adage of ‘stop digging when in a hole’ having passed her by.
“What happened?” Arnav followed suit as he heard snatched mutterings of “Buaji” and “Sankadevi” coming from Khushi.
“I have to go. Anjali will be waiting for me.”
“Wait, let me take you to her.”
“No, no it’s okay. I know the way.”
She bolted out of the gazebo, looking for an escape out of Sheesh Mahal. In spite of not wanting to leave him. There was something about him, that caused her heart to beat erratically. However, she knew it wasn’t an option. She needed to make her escape. That too, jaldi! Bhaag Khushi bhaag…
But, she didn’t make it far before she felt her arm taken once again. As she turned, he pulled her up against himself, his warm breath whispering inside her ear. “I’m not letting you go just yet.”
She tried to wriggle out of his hold, but he tightened his grip. Her eyes widened, and her heart slammed against her chest, when he bent his head closer towards her.
“Kya hua, tumhari … naak laal ho gayi hai. (What happened, your… nose has turned red.) Don’t rush away. I’m only just beginning to enjoy your company. I may have given you a flower, but I still have to write you poetry and take you to the cinema, and of course make jalebis for you… again.”
A soft gasp escaped her mouth, as she stared at him in horror as realisation dawned. It was his sister’s wedding that she was crashing.
“I’m sorry…” She began, as tears of contrition sprang in her eyes. The guilt consumed her, unable to meet his eyes.
Seeing the tears welling up in her eyes, he immediately loosened his hold. But, before he could say anything he heard approaching footsteps and a familiar voice calling out.
“Chote! What are you doing?!”
“Meet my friend, Di. Khushi Kumari Gupta, from Delhi.” He introduced her smoothly before Khushi could say anything.
“I hope you are having a nice time, Khushi, at my wedding.” The imagined emphasis on ‘my’ rung loudly in Khushi’s ears, causing her to turn redder. “Chote, I’m sure you’re taking care of our guest.” As Anjali placed her hand on Khushi’s shoulder, she threw a knowing grin at her brother, sensing the undercurrents between the two.
He watched his sister walk towards her husband and turned to take a nonplussed Khushi’s hand in his.
“So, Khushi Kumari Gupta, now that I have you, I, Arnav Singh Raizada, don’t plan on letting you leave me anytime soon.”
Her gaze locked shyly with his as he leaned down, sealing his words and her unsaid ones, with a kiss. Serendipity resulting in her larking to lead to attraction, and not admonishment, this time. Marking the beginning of their journey to hamesha.
Writing Serendipity together has been more fun than the mischief Khushi and Preetho must have got up to, growing up in their mohalla in Lucknow. I don’t doubt for a moment our giggling rivalled theirs. A six hour phone call may or may not have been involved! And a Jignasha shaking her head at yet another of the longest sentences she’s ever read was definitely involved!
Both of us are huge fans of Kuch kuch hota hai, and of Kjo’s Anjali. She lends herself so well to Khushi’s character, doesn’t she?! Those references practically wrote themselves. And I’m sure you will agree, we have all been in Anupam Kher’s shoes where Arnav is concerned, when he tells his student to cut his hair! And it was not because, as Feroze said, “You’re just jealous, Taklu.”
Jignasha, my darling, thank you for taking me along for the ride. You share your ideas and words with me so generously. Hamesha. It never fails to move me. ❤
And thank you to all of you for reading and supporting our story 🙂