To Jignasha, with love

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A quiet silence surrounded Madhumati as she sat at her dining table, gazing unseeingly at the bottles of achars kept there. A gentle early morning breeze fluttered by as it meandered lazily through the open windows and doors of her house in Laxminagar. Occasionally teasing the ends of the red bandana tied tightly around her head. Bringing with it whiffs of the slowly awakening outside world. The sun had only just begun to tinge the edges of the late monsoon clouds which hovered over the city. Ready to stamp its superiority over them, even as it played an indulgent game of peek a boo with them.

 

A sudden burst of a motorcycle being revved rent the silence, startling  Madhumati. It must be that Mooa Bedi, was the first thought that crossed her mind. She was convinced he’d made it his mission in life to ruin her peace, one way or another. Forever turning up at her doorstep with random requests and offers of assistance. Even going as far as roping in his assistant, Happy Singh, to do the honours when he himself was out and about. All her threats falling on deaf ears, his benign smile never seeming to slip an inch.

 

All of which had been a source of great mirth for her niece, Khushi, who had spent many an hour chortling away at imagined scenarios of her Buaji and Bediji whizzing around the streets of Delhi on his scooter. Her steeped in Bollywood, khurafati mind had never been short of ideas, and years of marriage had done nothing to change that.

 

A soft smile made its way to Madhumati’s face as she thought of her niece. She epitomised her name. Spreading happiness wherever she went. Racking her brains, she tried to remember the parody Khushi used to keep teasing her with…  Ah, yes!

 

Wah, wah  Ramji

Jodi kya banayi

Buaji aur Bediji ko

Badhai hai Badhai

 

Not to mention chirping to that blushing idiot each time she saw him near the house,

 

Mere saamne wali khidki mein 

Ek chand ka tukda rehta hai

Afsos ye hai ki woh Bediji se

Kuch ukhda ukhda rehta hai

 

When she well knew ki main ukhad na loon uss Bedi mooe ko if he steps out of line! None of my remonstrations ever had any effect on her though. Sanka devi that she was. Is, even now. As irrepressible as ever.

 

Madhumati remembered how the younger Khushi used to flit about the haveli in Lucknow chattering away non-stop with the quiet Payal in tow. Forever planning new pranks and giggling away wickedly. One of her favourite ones used to be to steal her parandis (plaits) and use them as reins of imaginary horses. Neighing and going clippity clop around the house as she swung them wildly. Sometimes she used to cut them up and plait her doll’s hair with them. Hiding behind her father when her mother tried to whack her. And her indulgent father always took her side, pacifying his sister with, “Jiji, bachhi hai, let her play. I’ll bring you more tomorrow.”

 

At that, Khushi used to sidle up to Madhumati and give her a bear hug from behind.

 

Acchi Buaji, Pyaari Buaji

Rusa Rusi chhod de

Jaldi se ek hansi de de

Tu gussa gussi chhod de

 

Eliciting a reluctant smile from the adults around her. It had been impossible to stay cross with her for any length of time.

 

Khushi often reminded Madhumati of her own younger self. Maybe that’s why she had been stricter with her growing up. Her innocence, her selflessness often scared Madhumati. Life is not all roses and jalebis, and who knew that better than her. After her husband’s untimely death, everything had changed in a heartbeat. He had been a quiet man who had adored his larger than life wife. The quiet sparrow to her preening macaw. Content to spend evenings out on their verandah listening to old songs on his transistor radio, with half an ear on his wife’s ramblings.

 

He had been her rock solid shield against the taunts of their family about her childlessness. Initially they used to affect her, but as time wore on she became inured to them. Especially after her husband had insisted on moving out of the family home to their own small rented place in Laxminagar. It was he who had encouraged her to start her chikan kari sari business, to channel her free time usefully. Teaching her how to manage her finances, “Life doesn’t come with guarantees, Madhu”, he used to say when she complained that that was his department. They had been happy together in their own little world. Until it all came to an end with his sudden demise. Shashi babua had been a pillar of support, had wanted her to come live with them in Lucknow. But, Madhumati had refused, not wanting to be a burden on anyone. Her self respect hadn’t allowed her to do that. She had somehow made ends meet with the moral support of empathetic neighbours, and the understanding landlord, Shukla.

 

When, years later, Shashi babua had sent Payal and Khushi to stay with her in Delhi, her house had once again felt alive, despite the circumstances under which they had to come. The two girls had eased into her home so easily, filling it with sound and colour and activity.

 

But, it had also brought into her life Shyam. Shyam Manohar Jha. The lying, cheating, scoundrel. Madhumati’s thoughts faltered as memories of the past flooded in. How easily had that man ingratiated himself into their life and made a gullible fool of her. With his constant, “Buaji, let me make you some tea… buaji, let me look at your pension case for you… buaji, I have no one here and your home feels like a home away from home… buaji… buaji.” And she had basked in his phony flattery and concern. Lapping it up unquestioningly.

 

Not a day went by when she didn’t thank Devi Maiya for pulling her family back from the brink of devastation. She shuddered thinking about what could have happened, and of her own part in nearly ruining her niece’s life. How could she ever begin to forgive herself for that. Not that Khushi had ever by word or gesture made her feel guilty. It was her own conscience that clawed away at her.

 

“Buaji!”

 

And just like that the melancholia dissipated. Flooding the house with sunshine once again. Khushi bounded inside the house and hugged Madhumati tightly from behind.

 

“How are you Buaji? What thoughts were you lost in? Why have you left the door open? And you used to complain about me being forgetful! Hmph!”

 

“Let me breathe and you take a deep breath as well!” A delighted Madhumati heaved her ample self up from the table to turn around in her niece’s embrace.

 

“Where is my aloo puri? And my jalebis? You’ve forgotten what today is, haven’t you?” A miffed Khushi pouted looking at the dining table.

 

“You think I could ever forget this special day, parmeshwari?! Janamdin mubarak ho bitiya. Hamesha khush raho.” She kissed her niece’s forehead tenderly, framing her face in her hands.

 

“Your aloo puri and jalebis are waiting for you in the kitchen. Hamesha ki tarah. Don’t forget to offer them to Devi Maiya first.” she shouted to Khushi’s back, shaking her head at her eagerness. No one looking at her would guess she was a mother of three children. But, for Madhumati, she would always be that child who would rush to hug her on her visits to Lucknow, despite getting scolded for her naughtiness. As loving and large hearted as ever.

 

Moments later an adorable 8 yr old boy, Ishaan, rushed in. Followed by his harried father shepherding in five year old twins. A boy and a girl, Aryan and Ariya, who were a charming replica of their father.

 

“Where’s Amma?” the children chorused, looking around curiously.

 

“In the kitchen, I’m guessing.” their father replied wryly as he bent to take Madhumati’s blessings.

 

“Jeeyat raho, babua.” Madhumati stroked his head lovingly. Arnav was the apple of her eye. Her favourite of all the Raizadas. She still recalled how he had stunned her by asking her to tie the raksha dhaga to him on his engagement. When he does something, he does it wholeheartedly. She admired how his young shoulders carried his responsibilities effortlessly and without any fanfare. Quietly making the Guptas part of his own family. Above all, she loved the love he had for her Khushi. As she had once said, “He too was a sanki, and just what her maha sanka devi needed!”

 

He understood what Khushi meant to her Buaji and made sure that each year her birthday celebrations started here in Laxminagar. With Buaji’s aashirwaad. Arnav and Khushi had made sure that the children were well acquainted with their Nani bua. Bringing them over at least once a week to spend time with her. Giving her the most precious commodity of all. Time and love.

 

As Madhumati bustled about setting the table for breakfast, Ishaan kept up a steady chatter as he rushed around after her. Regaling her with blow by blow details of his many three pointers in the previous day’s basketball game, before going on to update her on his latest level reached in his favourite Fortnite, and the new game his father had bought him, some K something. Her incomprehension no bar to either of them.

 

The twins were busy helping their Amma carry the food from the kitchen to the dining table. Keeping up a constant flow of questions as their young minds jumped from one topic to another. Wanting to know from their Nani bua about all the goings on in the neighbourhood since their last visit. Aryan sneaking in two jalebi from the platter for his sister and him, much to Madhumati’s amusement. Haye re Nandkishore! Like mother, like children!

 

As Madhumati looked around her full table, her heart felt full to bursting with overwhelming love. Families don’t always have to be borne of you to be yours.

 

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Note:

 

Madhumati’s character has been an interesting one. She tended to rush headlong into situations with her heart leading the way. Shades of Khushi I felt. Her larger than life persona was fierce in the protection of her loved ones. I loved the bond of mutual respect she shared with Arnav. So, I thought I’d try and look into her life a little. 

 

I wrote this OS as a birthday present for my dear friend, Jignasha. Do join me in wishing her on her special day. 

 

My dear Jignasha, 

 

You are so much more than a friend for me. You are family. Our Arnav said it best with his wish for Khushi, “I wish ki tumko duniya ki saari khushiyan milein.” And my wish for you is just as heartfelt <3, though sadly not in his uber sexy, husky voice 😉 May all your wishes and dreams always come true. May you live life to its fullest, in all its myriad hues, with each hue imbued with joy and laughter and the love of your near and dear ones.

 

Love always,

Ruchi

 

Khayal

Khayal

 

“Mommy, look! It’s a shooting star! Quick, make a wish!”

 

I look down to see my 7 year old daughter’s face all scrunched up, hands joined together in prayer, muttering soundlessly as she peered up eagerly at the night sky.

 

A memory from a long time ago sprang forward. Of another night, in another country. Of another face which had radiated much the same excitement.

 

Jiji, Jiji! Toot ta hua taara. Jaldi, jaldi , jaldi

 

An insistent tug at my hand brings me back to the present.

 

“Mommy, what did you ask for?”

 

Jiji, tum ne kya maanga?

 

I shake my head in amusement at her inquisitiveness as I bend down to hug my baby girl. My Inaara.

 

“It’s way past your bedtime young lady. Let’s get you indoors and in your jimjams.”

 

I march the protesting child inside as she continues coming up with reasons as to why she should be allowed to stay up. “What if the star is coming to wish me for my birthday tomorrow? Won’t it be sad if I’m not there to say thank you?”

 

It is with much effort that I control my laughter at some of her even more outlandish scenarios.

 

After much splashing in the bath and more tall tales being fabricated, I am finally able to tuck her in bed. An indulgent smile crosses my face as I see her clinging on to her favourite doll, Poori Kumari, the keeper of all her secrets. It had been a first birthday present from her favourite Maasi, largely the reason why it occupied pride of place in her heart.

 

Hearing the door open, I drop a kiss on her forehead and turn around to see Aakash walking in. “Daddy…” her sleepy whisper echoes with her adoration for her father. I look on fondly as he bends to kiss his darling Inaara good night. A sight that never fails to gladden my heart.

 

Their bond reminds me of my own with my father. A quiet love which was firm but always fair. A man whose geniality hid a strong core of fierceness where his family’s well being was concerned. Something which nearly cost him his life all those years back. I whisper a prayer thanking Devi Maiya yet again for pulling us all back from that abyss.

 

Later that evening as I sit in the lounge with a cup of tea, I look across at Aakash who is engrossed in a book.  His glasses sliding halfway down his nose before he absentmindedly pushes them back up.

 

All of the sudden another memory rushes through the mists of time. Of a room in Laxminagar. Of Buaji’s glasses perched wickedly on an inquisitive nose and of fluttering eyelashes…

 

Payalji…

 

Akashji…

 

Jee Payalji…

 

Jee Aakashji…

 

A soft laugh escapes me, causing Aakash to look up at me quizzically.  Seeing me shake my head he throws a smile at me and goes back to his book.

 

Jiji, aap dono iss se aage kuch bolte bhi ho kya?!

 

Khushi… It’s only been a couple of days since I last spoke with her, but I don’t know why I’m feeling overwhelmed with so many memories of her today. Maybe, I do though.

 

She was of the same age that Inaara will turn tomorrow when she first came into my life. She had looked at me warily with those innocent hazel eyes, when Babuji had urged her to go with me to what would now be mine and her room.

 

This is your Payal jiji, bitiya.

 

I don’t know what she had seen on my face, but she had put her hand in my outstretched hand and curled her fingers around mine. I remember feeling a fierce protective instinct rush through me as I looked at that tiny hand in mine.

 

It had been months before the wariness in those eyes had made way for laughter. Months before the hesitant tinkle of her dainty payals had turned into a mischievous melody that made all of our hearts sing. Months before the silences were filled with chatter. But, the darkness of the night still brought with it remembered pain and loss. When she would curl up against me, shivering, praying to Devi Maiya to take the demons away.

 

But, they did come… a Rakshas disguised as a Rajkumar… and a Rajkumar disguised as a Rakshas…

 

And when she needed me the most, to my eternal regret, I doubted her. I who had been her confidante, the receptacle of all her thoughts from the moment those tiny hands had curled in mine, had doubted her actions. I know she has forgiven me, in fact knowing her she wouldn’t even think there was anything to forgive, but I don’t know if I can ever forgive myself.

 

That turbulent period in our  happy go lucky lives had taken away so much from us, but it had also given us so much.

 

I still don’t know exactly why Arnavji and she took that step to get married the way they did, but I’m sure it must have had something to do with Shyamji. There had been a strange tension between her and Arnavji in the initial months. Much as Khushi had waved away my concerns, I had not been convinced. I could not speak to Aakash about it because for him, Bhai’s word was final. It still is. And I understand that.

 

Even during our marriage, Aakash had wanted to wait for his Bhai before proceeding with the rituals. At that time I had equated it with me wanting my sister to be with me at an important milestone. But it went beyond that. The more I saw of Arnavji, the more I realised just how much of the responsibility of the family he shoulders. We all adhere to his decisions because he has earned that right.

 

Today, it is because of Arnavji that Aakash and I are content in our quiet world here in the States. He had been able to see that being away from Delhi was the only way for both of us to come into our own. For Aakash to learn to take his own decisions. For our relationship to flourish. He had asked Papa ji to set up the branch here soon after we got married, well knowing of Maa ji’s nature.

 

It had been a wrench to be away from all that was familiar and more importantly from Khushi. I remember him reassuring me before we left that he would always look after Khushi. And he has stayed true to his word.

 

There is an innate honesty in both him and Khushi. And the same determined instinct to protect and care for their family and their loved ones. He had been the first person to come up to me to quietly ask if I was okay after the Radha Krishna debacle at the Mahila Samiti function.

 

Where he may be more astute in reading people, my Khushi will always think with her heart. I’m glad she has her Arnavji who gives her the freedom to be what she wants to be.

 

Khushi meri patni hai, woh jo chahe kar sakti hai, jahan chahe ja sakti hai…

 

The Khushi I see today is all that her name, Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada, conveys. A woman of note. Not to mention, Sankadevi, Titaliya. The one who flitted from one prank to the other dragging me along on her various escapades.

 

Jiji, chalo na..

 

When could I ever resist her for long. Although I still am unsure how she persuaded me to do the Naagin dance at Bitto didi’s wedding! Centre stage has always been my Khushi’s position while I have been content to bask at the sidelines. A listener to her raconteur. A long suffering, yet compliant, guinea pig to her gleeful teasing.

 

Khushi ki bachhi!”

 

“Daal daal kachhi!

 

As her Arnavji says, “Paagal hai, par cute hai.”

 

And, as I know, “Bachhpan se.”

 

I look out the window at the twinkling stars that are so beloved of her and thank Devi Maiya for granting her her wish.

 

“Humnein sirf itna maanga ki hum sab iss tarah saath rahe, khush rahe, aur hamari zindagi hamesha jalebi ki tarah meethi rahe.”

 

Hearing a soft snore, I see that Aakash has nodded off. A swell of affection fills me as I walk over to gently shake him awake. “Shall we go to bed? It’s still a couple of hours until it’s time to wish Inaara at midnight.”

 

“My baby is growing up so quickly. I can’t believe she’s going to be 8! I hope she isn’t too disappointed Khushiji isn’t here to wish her this year. Although, I’m sure she’ll have the entire family at Shantivan assembled and ready at exactly midnight our time to facetime. With Bhai being made to come home from the office in the middle of the day as well!”

 

“That she will!” I laugh at Aakash’s words, imagining her doing just that. But I still wish she had been here with me like she is every year. The jury is still out on whose smile is bigger on this day every year, Inaara’s or mine.

 

I look at the family photographs lining the wall along the staircase as we walk up to our bedroom. My eyes lingering wistfully on one of Khushi with a 5 year old Inaara. This had been taken at the Zoo just after she had scooped up a running amok Inaara in the penguin enclosure. Both of their faces radiating joy.

 

Hearing the unexpected ring of the doorbell, I place my hand on Aakash’s shoulder. We’re both surprised given it’s late, but there’s a part of me that smiles knowingly.

 

Could it be?

 

I ask myself, staying still as he climbs back down and heads to the door.

 

I see him glance at the camera and even before he turns back to me, I know.

 

Khushi!

 

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Note:

 

The title is both a name blender for Khushi and Payal and also a reflection of the mood of my whimsy. The credit for which, and for making the whole story presentable, as always goes to Jignasha  ❤ She just gets me, every time ❤

 

Khushi’s daroongi lekin karoongi attitude allowed us to see her love more easily. But, Payal, I feel, loved her just as much in her quiet, understated way.

 

I would love to hear what you feel 🙂

 

Love always,

Ruchi

 

Nostalgia

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This past week saw Children’s Day celebrated in India on November 14th, and it reminded me of a piece I had written after watching an episode of the serial, Yeh Un Dinon Ki Baat Hai, where the leads were celebrating their last day of school. Little knowing that they were celebrating the day that separates childhood from adulthood. Which is what it feels like to me when I look back.

 

That episode had evoked a plethora of nostalgic memories for me. The excited, yet nervous, anticipation of the life that lies ahead. Taking the first tentative step towards adulthood, while still largely clueless about what it really entails. Our mind’s eye visualising glorious days free from the shackles of rigorous discipline, little realising that the freedom will come steeped in responsibility.

 

School days had a charm all of their own.

 

The special thrill of a martinet of a teacher calling in sick. Free time never tastes as sweet now.

 

The untrammelled  joy of rains causing school to close for the day. Allowing us to spend the day with friends, playing tag with the waves on Marine drive while eating bhuttas. Why does walking there not feel the same anymore.

 

The piling into a car in unbelievable numbers because no one wanted to be the one left out of the fun en route. When did we start seeing that as being squashed.

 

The careful pooling of our monies to hang out at Sea Lounge with one bhel and two cold coffees with ice cream between ten of us. Just because we could.

 

And one day it all changes. Just like that.

 

It’s funny how literally overnight our mental equation with our school, our teachers, our friends, changes. Indulgence casts a halcyon glow over all perceived ills of the past years, as we laugh them away in the glow of hindsight and perspective.

 

The crazy fun of writing messages on uniforms, the running up and down of school corridors casting pitying glances at the juniors still slogging away, the persuading of the peon to divert the staff room chai to us, the mental bonfire of all the needlework we had been made to do (would have been literal if we could find all the pieces!), the pang of knowing we may now never see so many of the people who had been an intricate part of our lives since forever.

 

The last day of the best days of our life.

 

Sach mein, un dinon ki baat kuch alag hi thi…

 

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I would love to hear of your special memories of your school days. Be they from the hazy distant past, or the not too long ago. They remain ensconced in a special corner of our hearts, don’t they? As Gulzar has written, “Ae Umr, kuch kaha maine, par shayad tu ne suna nahi, tu chheen sakti hai bachpan mera, par bachpana nahi.

 

~ Ruchi

 

 

Happy Birthday Jignasha!

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“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.”

 

“You.. they…what…how…”

 

“Lost for words, Khushi Kumari Gupta?… soon to be… Singh Raizada…”

 

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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.

 

Yours,

Ruchi

 

Memories

tumblr_p8109vvYGg1vn5trko1_r1_400

 

Memories are such strange companions, aren’t they? The ones we yearn to envelop ourselves in are always somehow just beyond our grasp. Yet the ones we seek to suppress seem to spring up uninvited, catching us unaware. Making us relive old pain again and again.

 

I stand looking out as the dying rays of the setting sun cast a sublime golden light over the viridescent canopy of trees that lay spread out as far as the eye can see. Lighting the tops in elegant shades of oranges and yellows. Tingeing the slightly darkened clouds that lay sultrily above with a delicate halo. A goodbye before they forget their companion of the day, turning eagerly to their new companion of the night.

 

Even as I revel in the beauty of nature’s kaleidoscope of colours, the memory of that first bouquet of flowers she had painstakingly hunted and brought for me springs to mind unbidden. It had to be in just that shade, and it had to be just that those blooms, he remembered her saying. Because you like it, she had said with a shrug and a smile to my query. Each flower she ever gave me was carefully scrutinised. Always. Each arrangement spoke to me of her, her care, her love. And yet, she hated flowers. They come wrapped in memories of pain, she had said. But it makes me happy to see you happy she had countered my ongoing argument, handing me yet another exquisite arrangement.

 

Now all I have left in those hands are the tears that visit whenever their fancy strikes, toying with me as per their whims. Flashes of, I have to tell… I have to ask… I have to show… make me reach for my phone before I realise that I can’t. Not anymore. I have sat in a taxiing plane not even realising I had tears streaming down my face. She never let me get on one without a panoply of wishes for my safety, keeping me chatting until the very last second… and sometimes more.

 

The most mundane of things can spark innumerable memories of her making me laugh with her… veined marble sideboards, and pretty crochet placemats, posters of SRK in double collared shirts and undressed tables in restaurants, concessions in cinemas and closing time signs in cafes…

 

I keep her mementos locked away carefully. Each one a reminder of a moment, a conversation, a shared experience. But what do I do with the intangible memories that tease, spinning in front of my eyes like a silent film. Let’s ask someone to take our picture, she had said, smilingly persuading a passer-by to do the honours. Several minutes later we’re still there… of course that passer-by turned out to be from her town. Somehow, these things just happened with her. She stood chattering away animatedly while I waited for her.

 

I am still waiting today. Only now, it is a deathly silence that waits with me. A silence in which the only passersby are her memories which continue to sneak up at me.

 

I remember telling her how wonderful it was to have a great memory. Is it? She had countered quietly. I have my answer now.

 

Sochta hu mein kabse gumsum

Ke jabki mujhe bhi khabar hai

Ki tum nahi ho kahin nahi ho

Magar ye dil hai ki keh raha hai

Ki tum yahi ho yahin kahin ho

 

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Note:

 

The lyrics above are taken from a song which I love, Yeh kahan aa gaye hum from Silsila. It embodies feelings of restlessness, of yearning, of hope, yet has an underlying acceptance of the inevitable. For me, this piece is a reflection of those feelings.

 

 

The Compelling Barun Sobti

Barun Sobti

 

There is so much opprobrium being heaped upon Advay right now, and understandably so. We the viewer are aware of the Dev hidden in Advay, of the machinations of Indrani to deceive the world about her role in the killing of Advay’s parents, but Chandni isn’t . So, if you look at it from her perspective, her life forthwith most certainly comprises of only a series of amavasyas.

 

Jakad liye hai chand ko kale ghanghor baadal

Reh gayi chandni unke girah mein hokar bebas

 

Intezaar hai uss samay ka

Jab kar na sakega baadal taghaful

Chandni ki shwaith sheetal roshni ko

 

Na chahkar bhi pighalna hoga usse

Toot kar bikharna hoga

Apne gham ko barasne dena hoga

 

Aur tab hoga Chandni ka imtihaan

Jab woh sametegi unn badalon ko

Apni roshni ki nirmalta mein baandhegi unko

 

Translation:

The moon lies trapped by the dark tumultuous angry clouds

Helpless lies the moonlight obnubilated

 

I await the time when

The clouds can ignore no longer

The unblemished purity of the moonlight

 

Unwillingly the clouds will be forced to melt

Forced To break and scatter

Forced to pour out their grief

 

And then will be the time of Chandni’s trials

When she gathers those scattered clouds

And ties them together, enveloping them in her healing coolness

 

 

And through it all, Barun’s prowess as an actor keeps me gripped. He is both the predator and the victim. And seamlessly gets the viewer behind both these avatars. The nuances and shades of Advay that he portrays so effortlessly continue to compel me to vaar doon sab sense and sensibility uss par.

 

 

Ajeebo gareeb kapdein pehenkar bhi

Dikha toh dikha sirf usska chehra

 

Lal peele neele chaka chond roshni mein bhi

Dikhi toh dikhi sirf usski aankhein

 

Rote bilakte logon ke beech

Dikha toh dikha sirf usske Nani ki god mein behte ashk

Anginat hote anyay ke beech

 

Dikha toh dikha sirf phulon ki sage par usske pairon se behta lahu

Ab Kya naam doon iss paagalpan ko…

 

Translation:

Amidst the stranger than strange costumes

The only thing I could see was your face

 

Amidst the glare of garish multi hued lights

The only thing I could see were your eyes

 

Amidst the crowds of weeping people

The only thing I could see were the tears flowing as you lay in Nani’s lap

 

Amidst the untold travesties being committed

The only thing I could see was the blood flowing from your feet on that sea of flowers

 

Now what should I name this madness…

 

That wall of framed photographs of his gorgeousness in Nani’s room is mine in my head 🙂

Fangirling much?! 😉

Advay Singh Raizada Ruminates

4KFCGwC - Imgur

I’d best start with a disclaimer because I understand that’s all the rage currently. And if there’s one thing I totally get peeps, it’s rage.

 

You may have noticed my penchant for a bit of random conflagration, ya? Although, I must apologise for the cheap lighters I’ve had to use. Between that wannabe Inspectress Clouseau (who can give him a run for his money in the deadpan staring stakes, btw) and that perma cheerful, I will state the blindingly obvious because  it is blindingly obvious, Tanatan one, my Dunhill ones have got misplaced. Well, either that or they’re somewhere beneath all the stuff haphazardly, but perfectly logically and artistically if I may say so, dotting my room near the pile of dried up noodles. Pot noodles are the thing where I grew up guys!

 

Coming back to the point at hand, I just want to clarify that these are my thoughts, and mine alone, and I felt I ought to share them with you because, you know, umm… uh… well… I just did, okay. I felt, so I did. Sorry? What was that? All those asides to the camera you ask? Of course they don’t count! All that generic stuff is for the general TRP contributors. You guys are special. So, special pyaar ka paigam toh banta hai.

 

Having got that out of the way, a bit of social niceties are always good, no? So,

 

Hi!

 

I’ll just wait a bit, Shall I, while you’ll pick yourselves off the floor? 😉

 

Never fails to baffle me, this fondness you guys have for my voice. But, as it’s helping me here I’m not gonna complain. A soft, husky whisper in the vicinity of an ear, and voila. Goosebumps galore.

 

While we’re on the subject of getting affected, what’s with the constant blushing and hyperventilating every time I drink something?! Breathe people! Waise, you’ll are giving me more ideas here. I should use my secret stash to go after more people. Depending on my mood, whisky, tequila, vodka, and, of course, the more innocuous stuff for the under age ones. Nimbu pani anyone?

 

Shall we first address the elephant in the room and get it out of the way? The barrage of mutterings and rumblings that constantly hit me everytime I stand silhouetted in a doorway, is distressing. Let me ask you a question my darlings. Have you’ll seen the pantomime reject shop I’m having to infiltrate? Now could I dress any other way if I want to not stick out like a sore thumb? Now do you see why? I’m actually just the simple guy you’ll saw weeks back, who traipses across parched lands, carrying urns, blazing his own path in life, armed merely with a guitar strung across his back and a pair of killer glares, one of which being the literal sort. Oh, let’s not forget the vintage washed jeans, ya? Sigh, the good old days.

 

I am truly grateful for those glares though. The sheer amount of bling unrelentingly accosting my eyes in Allahabad is staggering. There’s odd and then there’s odd. That’s all I can say. I remain awed at people’s ability to even move with all the bits and bobs hanging off them.

 

And, I include Mausaji here. It’s not just the female of the species. You know, the one married to the Engish wali mausiji. The same mausiji who’s swallowed the Hindi to English dictionary wala shabd kosh. And can’t stop vomiting its contents. The one who needs to stop ogling me. It’s getting more than a little weird. Let’s hope her red wala laal lipashictek doesn’t come anywhere near me. Another reason why I’m okay with covering myself with lots and lots of fabric. Shudder.

 

The other Mausiji has illusions of being the descendent of The Riddler himself. Beats me how deluded people can be. Classic example here of a triumph of SKD over AD, don’t you think? Now, if ever there was a candidate for the personification of enigma, it would have to be Sasuma (not being presumptuous or anything, but I’m willing to bet 16… crores of course, PP baba ain’t gonna be the one calling her that) The aura of ruthlessness melded with gravitas that she exudes fascinates me utterly. The air fairly crackles around her. I must confess to a certain frisson with her around. Imperious and impervious describes her well I think. Saam daan dand bhed should be inscribed on her coat of arms! I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Chanakya Neeti is compulsory bedtime reading for her.

 

Coming to her three betis… what is this strange predilection for having all the women in sets of three? The senior jijjjis, the junior jijjjis, even the blondes who’d dropped in apropos of nothing during the aarti came in a set of three. And I’m the one called Ajeeb here!

 

The shat pratishat Vashisht warbling trio have some very peculiar set pieces I have to say. I was tempted to ask the ogling mausiji today, that if there can’t be fire without smoke, then how can her nieces create those little tufts of smoke without fire? Having said that, they are ever so easy to manipulate. Despite what old Wills had said, “though she be but little, she is fierce! It’s been such fun peeps. Getting Chandani all riled up and huffing and puffing has been a trifle too easy so far. Candy from a baby really (Just a heads up peeps. Candy stripes coming up soon. Be prepared – Yup you guessed it, I was in the Scouts back in Blighty).

 

Throwing the Bhole ke Sainik’s (as I had said earlier, just peculiar!) own words back at her feels so delish though. Much as she’d like to believe it to be so, my head is not the one jisme jamta hai dahi… My dimaag is the one jisme jalti hai badle ki aag

 

The one she provided the sparks for. The one she fanned. The one that burnt to ash my innocence. The one that killed my parents. The one that snatched my brother from me. The one that burns like an eternal flame in my eyes.
After all, jo sach hai woh sach hai.

 

 

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Note:

Advay Singh Raizada came in the form of Barun Sobti. How could I do anything but watch?! All I can say is that, “Yeh ishq nahin asaan!”

Gif Credit: ..Bonanza.. (IF)

A Summer’s Day

FotorCreated

Viridescent hues surrounded her. Myriad shades of emerald as far as the eye could see. Vast carpets of grass calling out to be tread on. Rustling leaves whispering invitingly to come peek behind to catch a glimpse of the whites and pinks of the cherry blossom they cloaked.

Dappled sunlight played hide n seek through the canopy of winter’s once gnarled branches now preening in their new foliage. A gentle breeze wafted by intermittently, lazily, teasing her dupatta to billow out, before rushing back to her. Whipping up errant strands of her hair, cloaking the world from her hazel eyes. Tresses which rejoiced in the freedom of being away from the one who never failed to overpower them, determinedly tucking them back.

She made her way to her favourite oak tree, heedless of the beckoning beauty of the others along the way. Loyal to a fault, as always. Uncaring of the dust she sank down against its inviting trunk. Wishing it would fold her in its arms and let her sleep. For evermore.

Unwillingly, high pitched shrieks and giggles made their way to her. Deeper remonstrating voices accompanying them. Tinged with indulgence. The sounds of tiny feet rushing, the thuds of bouncing balls, the thwack of willow, the accompanying gleeful screams, all swirled around her.

Yet, inside of her, an oppressive silence reigned. All consuming. Drowning. Leaving her a mere shadow of the chirpy, vibrant person who had personified her name. Aeons back.

She stared, hypnotised, at a woodpecker relentlessly going about its business. Drumming rhythmically. Unceasingly. Its goal the insects lying hidden in the silver birch. Food for its young ones. Its babies.

Babies.

My baby.

Why my baby, Devi Maiya?

 

gTe5X6kac

 

Note:
I wrote this based on a prompt given on a Leisure Writing IF thread. The words to be incorporated were Tree, Silence and Hypnotise. So, this is what came to mind. As ever, ArHi are never far!

Memoirs of An Oberoi Mobile

ishqbaaz

 

He gave a wry smile as yet another pretty young thing waltzed in preening, throwing a disdainful look at his bloated, corpulent self. Ah, the arrogance of youth he thought. So full of their own beauty. So frighteningly unaware of the pitfalls of life. Unable to see beyond the gloss and glamour. Absorbing the richness of the Oberoi name the moment they step over the threshold. Little understanding that reflected glory says nothing about their own self. It is but borrowed plumage.

 

The man, Khanna, gave him a hesitant smile as he withdrew slowly after showing in yet another of the latest and smartest of them. Guilt at having deceived them swimming in his eyes, vying with the obligations his job entailed. Wordlessly pleading with the one who had outlived them all to introduce the newcomer to the reality of the position. An imperceptible nod by the wizened old one giving some solace to the heaviness in Khanna’s heart.

 

The new entrant settled herself in prime position, determined to be the next one chosen to be caressed by the hands of the legendary Shivaay Singh Oberoi. She had heard tales galore about the softness of his hands, the pliable whorls of his ears, the thrilling firmness of his voice with that patent catch. He deserved to be the one holding her, to slipping her close to himself. Very, very close, she thought as a becoming blush adding a delicious tinge of rose to her golden self.

 

Much as he tried apprising her of the realities of life in Oberoi Mansion, she paid no heed to them whatsoever. Tiring of her taunts of jealousy and of her snide remarks about him being past it, he withdrew defeated. Muting out her shrill tone. Perching himself back in his place, he thought to himself with a resigned  shake of his head, there’s none as deaf as those who won’t hear.

 

It wasn’t long before a hand reached in to grab hold of her, positioned as she was for just that. Turning around to give him a triumphant smile, she sashayed out all charged up.  Muttering a small prayer for mercy, the old stalwart looked up heavenward. Not holding out much hope however. The swelling of the ranks in the household had brought with it changes, but it had also brought tempers to razor edges. Brief feints of saving were just that. Feints. The ultimate reality remained. Death.

 

A loud crash and the accompanying high pitched squeal made him wince. Sigh, as Dadi had said, family traditions and parampara were important. And, clearly, Shivaay Singh Oberoi wasn’t letting go of what his Bade Papa had started all those years back. In fact, the zeal and vigour with which he was following it was oddly fascinating to witness.

 

He geared up to bless the shattered remains of yet another pretty young thing. Plugging himself in the mains to try and charge himself up to administer the last rites. Something that had become a bit of their own tradition in that cabinet over the years. Now which caller tune should be used this time around, he mused. Puccini’s Sono Andati or maybe even Mozart’s Requiem Mass. As executive decisions seemed to be the world order of the day, he didn’t think to ask for the opinions of the remaining survivors.

 

Note:

 

I’m not sure how many of you are watching Ishqbaaz, but the mobile phone has played a starring role in many a scene. The male lead has a penchant for smashing them on a regular basis. A post made on the forum that shall not be named, sparked an idea in me and I wrote the above from the perspective of one of the ones who got away from an untimely death.

As you can see, for me, the amusement quotient and the ridiculousness of it all far outweighs the feelz where Ishqbaaz is concerned!

 

 

Serendipity

serendipity

 

 

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!

 

Gomti Sadan

Lucknow

 

“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”.

 

“What?!”

 

“Anjali and…”

 

“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.

 

“Anjali!”

 

“Coming, Rahul!”

 

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.

 

***********

 

Note:

 

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 🙂