“I’m running away tonight.”
Khushi announced as she stormed into the room banging the door shut behind her.
“Anywhere nice, darling?”
Well used as she was to her friend’s dramatics, Lavanya didn’t bat an eyelid as she nonchalantly continued her stalking on India Forum.
“Lavvu, didn’t you hear what I said?! I said I’m running away, as in running away from home. For ever. I don’t mean just going round to Vimla chachi’s!”
“I’m sure that will be lovely, Chamkili”, Lavanya replied absently as she continued peering into her laptop. “I wonder if this woman is the MID for that other one who had insulted Barun in the IPK3 forum…hmm, I’ll have to have a word with…”
Before she could continue with her investigation, her laptop was summarily snatched from her and thrust aside. Wincing at the disrespect being meted out to her most favourite possession, she gave in and settled back in her chair to listen to yet another one of her friend’s tirades.
“This is serious, Lavvu. My life is finished. Finito. Amma wants me to get married! Me! It’s… it’s cradle snatching!”
“Well, not technically cradle snatching as you are nineteen, Khush, besides…”
But Khushi was in no mood for logic, as she continued with her ranting. She was incandescent at her parent’s decision. Well her mother more than her father, she opined, because Bauji would never have agreed to this had Amma not put pressure on him. Yup, no doubt about it. That can be the only reason why he would agree to a random rishta. There was no mistaking that Khushi was her Bauji’s girl through and through.
Making a mental note to speak to Garima aunty to get to the actual truth as opposed to Khushi’s version of it, Lavanya looked at her friend who was now pacing up and down. Shoving evermore fistfuls of channa in her mouth as she did so.
“Why don’t you come and sit here and tell me more, Khushi. Seeing you like this is making me dizzy. First of all, where did this fellow pop up from?”
She was convinced her friend must have misunderstood something somewhere along the line. Garima Aunty and Shashi Uncle loved their daughter to bits and would never just marry her off like this. But first she needed to get more information from Khushi.
“Some Shaadi.com relative of Buaji’s, I’m sure. Amma Bauji are being so cagey about the details. All they’ve said is that the boy is coming to see me tomorrow. Bas. With Buaji adding her two bit… The rishta is too good to ignore, Sankadevi, hum kahi deyat hai.”
Khushi had always had imitating her aunt down to a T, much to Lavanya’s amusement. But, this did sound serious, especially given… as a thought suddenly struck her.
“I wonder, Chamkili, what if the mystery man is Arnav?! Maybe Shashi uncle has guessed how you feel about him.”
“What?! Him…that Laad Governor?!”
Ignoring Khushi’s outburst, Lavanya continued dreamily, warming up to her idea.
“Hayee, just imagine if it is Arnav. The one and only Arnav Singh Raizada. ASR. Gosh Khushi wouldn’t that be amazing? Waking up to that view every morning… staring at that perfect profile… losing yourself in those pools of melting chocolate when he opens those eyes…”
“Will you stop with your fangirling already, Lavanya! And if that turns out to be the case, you can marry him!”
Ignoring the slight lurch in her heart at Lavanya’s words, Khushi tried to ignore the images her words evoked, quelling the pang in her heart at the thought of Arnav with anyone else.
“Sigh, if only I could… but sadly ASR has eyes only for you. Have you seen the way those caramel eyes melt into limpid pools of honey when he stares at you? I could be one of Buaji’s achar ki barnis for all the notice he takes of me.”
“That’s because he’s plotting of more ways to irritate me. I bet he’s got a whole diary filled with ideas, How to annoy Khushi Kumari Gupta in seven simple steps. Wait, not a diary, he’s probably got a spreadsheet all neatly laid out. Complete with instructions for Aman as well!”
She had known Arnav since she was three years old, her family having moved from Lucknow to Delhi to a house adjoining the opulent Shantivan. While the Guptas were not quite in the league of the Raizadas, her parent’s Lucknowi background had endeared them to the Raizada matriarch, Devyani Raizada, who was a Lucknowi herself before marriage. And the tiny, chatterbox of their daughter, Khushi, had instantly captured her heart as she flitted about giggling and spreading happiness wherever she went.
Soon, all the inhabitants of Shantivan had come to dote on the little girl. All that is except Arnav. The eight year old had been used to ruling the roost and lording it over everyone until she turned up. Nudging him from his perch as the sole and whole in the clan’s hearts.
Everything about her had annoyed him. Not that it seemed to bother her as she never failed to rush up to hug him each time she saw him. Even as the adults oohed and aahed at her cuteness, he would stomp away grumpily, muttering, Unbelievable, as he did so.
The most galling times for him, he had told her in later years, were when his Ma made jalebis for her, or for little Miss Sunshine, as he had nicknamed her. She had been his Ma, damnit. And then to make matters worse, he would see his Di personally sit and feed her those blasted orange coils. Yuck, he would mouth! Her squeals of pleasure and shining eyes had made him want to smash everything in sight.
As time went on, he took to playing pranks on her at every opportunity he got. The first few times she had gone crying to Ma and Di, and got him a few punishments in the process. But, as she grew older, she started giving back as good as she got. Not that she got hauled up for any of it! Of course not. Their Titaliya could do no wrong. The injustice of it all had maddened him.
Khushi grinned wickedly as she thought back to those times. Such fun it was. Although, he did used to get his own back.
She remembered the times Arnav had been forced to wait for her at school. Unable to refuse his Mom, he used to retaliate by making her run to keep up with him, laden with her heavy bag in the heat. He used to come back and push her along even, shouting at her scowlingly!
With the passing of the years, they had both became busy in their different schools and with their different interests. Khushi’s visits to Shantivan became more infrequent and she made it a point to come when she knew he wouldn’t be around. Perversely, this seemed to irritate him more. He had a sixth sense where she was concerned, Di used to tell her laughingly. Knowing she had been before anyone could say anything.
The only times they met now was at festivals and birthdays, which were always celebrated with much fanfare at Shantivan. Those days would find her rushing all over the place, trying to do everything for everyone. Her lehenga spilling with gotas and pom poms, her anklets tinkling merrily, her bangles jingling non stop as she gesticulated animatedly. Vocalising the words had never been enough for her, oh no… her entire being had to be involved.
Despite her best efforts, her eyes would seek him constantly. She would peek at him from the corner of her eyes when she thought he was otherwise occupied, looking away hurriedly when her eyes snagged with his. Each time that happened a strange sensation would consume her. What_the! This was that stupid Laad Governor, not her favourite Sallu, damnit! But her heart seemed determined not to listen to her.
And then he went off to study abroad. She could never forget that summer. Her heart had felt so heavy and restive and she just couldn’t understand why. Helping Anjali di as she did his packing, it was all she could do to not burst into tears.
The few times he had come home for his holidays, he had seemed so remote from the boy she had come to know. She had felt awkward and gauche in front of him. Answering in monosyllables to anything he asked. Until the days leading up to her sixteenth birthday, when everything had changed.
Arnav had graduated and had decided to travel before beginning work at a company in New York. Nani and Ratna aunty had put their foot down and insisted he come to Delhi for at least a couple of weeks. Not being able to refuse, he had come towards the end of August, reaching late at night. By the time he had woken the next morning, it had been quite late. Shouting for Hari Prakash as he walked in the kitchen looking for coffee, he startled Khushi who had been told by HP that no one was home. She had been standing on a ladder just about to reach for the flour to make samosas for Anjali di, when the unexpected shout made her miss a step. Bracing herself for a fall, she had instead found herself in Arnav’s arms. She had felt his husky, Hi, reverberate right down to her toes as he looked down at her. Forgetting to breathe, she had just stared up at him, unable to move, until his cell phone had gone off, breaking their trance.
Thinking back to that moment still made her shiver, as a warm blush swept her face. Those had been heady days when the burgeoning awareness between them had swept aside everything else. The feeling had been too special to even confide in Lavanya, her best friend.
On the day of her birthday, she had sought the blessings of her favourite deity, and was coming down the steps of the temple, when she had seen Arnav leaning against his car, his Aviators shielding his eyes. He had come up to her and silently led her to the square behind the temple. Hundreds of pigeons had been fluttering around there, pecking at the scattered grain. Sitting her down on a bench, he had knelt down and taken her hand in his. Brushing her knuckles softly with his lips, he had clasped a bracelet around her wrist.
“Happy Birthday, Khushi.”
The first time he had ever wished her. And the first time he had kissed her. Even just thinking of that moment suffused her heart with warmth, despite the fury fulminating in her at her parents autocratic behaviour.
Lavanya looked at her curiously as she saw the change in her friend. Sure of the reason, she decided to tease her a little.
“Or maybe it’s Bankelalji. Your favourite halwai. Maybe Aunty and Uncle know that the best way to Khushi’s heart is through her stomach.”
Ducking to avoid the chanas flying her way, she rolled on the bed in laughter.
“Or maybe it’s Happyji at the Kirana shop, so that you can have an endless supply of your favourite soda!”
Khushi jumped on her at that, attacking her with tickles. The two friends laughing hysterically as they collapsed on the bed. Relieved at having improved Khushi’s mood, Lavanya sat up and took her hand in hers.
“Have you spoken to Arnav about this?”
“Of course I have, but all he could say was, if that’s what your parents want, then what can we do. You must do as they say. After all parents will always have our best interests at heart. Unbelievable! Since when did SRK’s atma take residence in him?! Why do you think I’m so furious that I’m running away!”
“Hmmm, this sounds fishy. Or as Mamiji would say, something black in the dal… And not at all like ASR…”
“You are such a pankhi, Lavvu!”
“Woh toh I am, but I’m sure there’s more to this.”
“Whatever! You know what, I’m going to go with this rishta. Let’s see who this namoona is. Let’s see how Arnav likes seeing me with someone else. Maybe that will bring out SRK’s Vijay Agnihotri in him!”
“On that note let’s treat ourselves to your favourite Gol gappas and your Amma’s khichdi” Lavanya jumped up and held her hand out to Khushi. The two spending the rest of the evening chattering away, indulging in their favourite pastime of breaking into song at the strangest of prompts. Leaving Garima shaking her head at the mercurial mood swings of her daughter.
The next day, 9th September, Khushi woke to sunlight streaming in on her face. Blinking, she opened her eyes slowly savouring the warmth. Flinging aside the duvet, she sprang up. It’s my birthday! She looked around eagerly for her parent’s present. She tore open the wrapping to find a beautiful anarkali in the most exquisite shade of carmine. Even as she rushed to hold it against herself in front of the mirror, the previous day’s events came to mind. The random rishta…
She thought back to her birthday last year when Arnav had snuck in through the window at midnight to wish her. Her Laad Governor had to be the first to wish her. She remembered the kisses he brought her birthday in with… and also the silver wrapped other sweet kisses he had given her, making her promise to eat one of the tiny sweet delights every 15 mins for the whole day… telling her to think of him every time she did so.
Determinedly pushing aside her thoughts she went out to seek the blessings of her parents and Buaji.
“Tumko duniya ki saari khushiya mile” her Bauji kissed her tenderly on her forehead, before giving her a red velvet box.
“Another present, Bauji?”
“Another? I had wanted to see my bitiya’s face when she saw them, so I hadn’t kept it in your room this time.”
“But, the dress…”
Khushi paused as a small hope stirred in her. Maybe Arnav… nahi nahi Khushi. Stop with your wishful thinking, she remonstrated with herself as she opened the box to reveal the most beautiful pair of jhumkas.
Turning to hug her Amma in delight, she had just opened her mouth to ask her about the dress when Lavanya arrived, distracting her with her favourite flowers and a huge box of Tiramisu. Squeezing the life out of each other, the two went off to seek Devi Maiya’s blessings.
Khushi looked longingly over at Shantivan as they went out. Couldn’t he even be bothered to call, or even message, but that dress…
As the evening drew near, she grew more despondent. No one from Shantivan had called to wish her. This had never happened. Ratna aunty always made her favourite jalebis on this day. And Naniji herself made Mathura Aloo puri for her.Why was everyone being like that.
She changed into her new anarkali at Lavanya’s insistence, giving in reluctantly. The tiny kernel of hope in her still flickering exigently as she put the finishing touches to her make up before going down. Seeing the smiling faces and twinkling eyes of her family, contrarily had tears springing up in her eyes. Could they not see how unhappy she was. Just because she had made an effort this morning to be cheerful, did they think she was alright with all this. Did her wishes and dreams not mean anything to them.
Before she could venture further into the room, the doorbell rang. Frowning, she looked at the time. Wasn’t there another half hour before those rishta walas were due to arrive. How keen were they?!
She walked over and opened the door only to freeze in shock at the sight that awaited her. Naniji, Ratna aunty, Mamaji, Mamiji, Akash, Payal bhabhi, Anjali Di, all stood there, dressed in their finest, laden with covered trays in their hands.
Bringing up the rear was the Laad Governor himself looking drop dead gorgeous in a royal blue jodhpuri and sporting a devilish smirk.
“Will you not let us enter, bitiya?” Naniji’s amused words brought her out of her stupor as she hurriedly stepped aside to allow them in, bending to seek their blessings as they did so.
Arnav waited until the rest of the family had gone in before stepping forward.
“Hi… Happy Birthday, sweetheart.”
“Lost for words, Khushi Kumari Gupta?… soon to be… Singh Raizada…”
I have written this story for my dearest friend, Jignasha. It is her special day on 09/09. I hope you will join me in wishing her a Very Happy Birthday!
Jignasha, my darling, you transcend the word ‘friend’ for me. I actually don’t think I could vocalise what you mean to me. But, I know you will say, “main samajhti hoon”. You allow me to be me with you. You even put up with my random shayaris, patiently listening to me go on and on! The hours we spend chatting and laughing and discussing nothing and everything are special for me. I admire the way you approach life, giving your best in everything you do. The way you are able to look beyond the petty, life is too short to hold grudges. You are so very dear to me and I hope you know you will always remain close to my heart.
Love you hamesha.