Sunday, July 29, 2012

SS - D-Day Plus One

Arnav Singh Raizada looked blearily at the clock on his bed side table as the alarm went off. He hadn’t slept all night and his head was pounding mercilessly. He pushed himself to a sitting position on a bed that he’d tossed and turned all night long. Raising his long, lean frame off the bed, he headed to the bathroom. Perhaps a quick jog followed by a cold shower would clear his head.


In Laxminagar, Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada had been lying in bed, wide awake. She had not slept all night. How could she? Today was the last day of her life as Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada. From tomorrow she would be Khushi Kumari Gupta again. She sat up in bed and looked at the clock. Six-thirty - time for him to be up and about, probably going for his morning jog right about now, she thought. She lay back in bed, absently fingering the mangalsutra round her neck as she watched the early morning light come in through the windows as the sun came up on another hot day in Delhi.


Sweating profusely after his jog, he sipped some water, splashing some on his face, as he opened the door to Raizada Mansion. Nani was already up, he saw, and in the temple. Soundlessly, he headed to his room. He didn’t want to face anybody today, no loving questions about his absent wife, or queries about if things were okay. Right now, things were beyond not okay.

Back in his room, he showered and changed into his three piece suit. All black, like his mood. He hadn’t felt like shaving and the two-day stubble gave him a dark, closed look. He looked in the mirror as he tied the black tie, but all he saw was a man who had failed.

He came down the stairs, laptop bag in hand to find his sister and Nani sitting at the dining table. Thank God, his sister seemed to be getting better! She looked a lot happier now. Although he was aware that she never mentioned his absent wife or her family.

‘Chotey,’ said Nani, ‘Are you going to Laxminagar today?’ as he pulled out his chair and joined them.

‘No, Nani. I won’t be going there today.’ He noticed the sudden lightness in his sister’s face. ‘I have a ton of work to catch up on. Besides, tomorrow I leave for London’.

‘London again, Chotey?’ Nani said. She looked anxious. The memory of what the previous trip to ‘London’ had wrought was still fresh in their minds. Di tensed up again. He reached across and touched her hand. ‘I’ll be fine,di’, he reassured her. ‘This time nothing will happen.’

Nani frowned. ‘Does Khushi know?’

Before he could respond, his di got up. ‘Nani, I am going for a walk,’ she said. ‘Chotey, take care, and make sure you take your medication,’ she said in that slightly regal tone of hers.

He nodded. They watched Anjali leave, and then Nani turned to him, ‘Chotey, you didn’t answer my question. Does Khushi know?’

He shook his head avoiding her eyes. ‘I’ll tell her today’, finished his cup of tea and stood up. Nani nodded. She didn’t know what was wrong but he looked tired and unhappy. Something was bothering him. Probably the fact that his wife wasn’t here and he was missing her, she thought. It had been almost two weeks now that Khushi had left for her maternal home.

He let the driver drive him to work, sitting in the back, leaning against the headrest, eyes closed, and thinking back on the past eleven days. He had tried. God knows he had tried, in every single way that he could think of, to get her to open up. She had refused. He had tried silliness, love, coercion, blackmail, seduction, tenderness, humor, anger – he had tried it all! He had opened himself up to her as he had to no other person. He had laid his soul bare for her to take. But she had not responded.

The damnedest part was that he knew she loved him, was in love with him as much as he was in love with her. He saw the desire flare in her eyes when he touched her. The pain in her eyes when he’d hurt his back. The love in her eyes as she handed him his medication. The smile in her eyes when he’d turned to her after he’d been smiling at something and looked at her eyes. Her eyes. He could live in those eyes and die in them. He was still struggling to believe that she would deny giving them another chance. Why was she putting them both through this?


Khushi looked at the clock, eight thirty. He would probably have finished his breakfast by now and was headed to work. She hoped he had taken his medication. What was he wearing? She shook her head, willing herself to stop thinking about him. Twenty-four hours and then this charade of a marriage would be over! She couldn’t stop her heart from breaking, but at least it wouldn’t be trampled on by Arnav Singh Raizada anymore.

At ten, she went into her bedroom to check on her phone. Usually, he called as soon as he arrived at the office. Perhaps she had missed it, because she had it on the charger. There were no calls or missed calls or voice messages.


He realized he had been looking at the laptop screen without reading a single word. He shook his head. He had a business to run, and people whose livelihood depended on his business running. He had to focus. But he couldn’t. Finally, he called his lawyer, Mr. Roy.

‘Ah, Mr. Roy, I need you to draw up some papers. I’ll send you the details. I need this done today…’

Finishing his conversation, he hung up the phone and stared at it for a long while. His hands were itching to dial her number, but he wasn’t going to give in. Not anymore. He was done. He had nothing left to offer her. If freedom was what she wanted, then that is what she would be getting. He resolutely focused on this work again. A dead numbness settled in where his heart used to be for a very short while. Arnav Singh Raizada had lost this game.

Then the slow buildup of anger replaced it.

‘AMAAANN!!’ he yelled, ‘Where is the Singhania file?’ when that unfortunate showed his face at ASR’s door.


By five o’clock, Khushi was a nervous wreck. It had been a very tense day for her. She had been jumpy and nervous and absent-minded till her mother and buaji had finally decided that her sanak was way past the danger mark. She could not settle down. It wasn’t helping that Amma and Buaji kept talking about ‘Arnav bitwa’ this and ‘Arnav Babua’ that. She felt like screaming for them to stop. They thought it was so cute that he wanted to come and spend nights at their house. They wanted to know if he’d called and would he be coming over today, seeing as he spent most of his time there these days anyway! But they were realizing that their Damadji had not called his wife all day, nor had he shown his face at their door!

She jumped when the phone rang, it was her cell phone. She picked it up and saw that it was him. Finally! Her heart did a little jump.

‘Khushi?’ he said.

She loved the sound of that voice, she would know it anywhere. ‘Yes, Arnavji’.

‘Khushi, I need you to go somewhere with me tomorrow. Be ready at nine sharp. I’ll pick you up’.

‘What, tomorrow?’

‘Don’t you understand something when it’s said once, Khushi?’ he chewed out the words. ‘Yes. Tomorrow. Nine in the morning. Be ready’, with that he hung up.

She stood glowering at the phone. Who the hell did he think he was? Tomorrow? Didn’t he remember that today was the last day of the contract? That tomorrow she would no longer be his wife?

‘Who was it, Khushi?’ her Buaji asked eagerly, ‘Damadji?’

She was still looking at the phone in her hand, ‘yes, Buaji. He wants me to go somewhere with him tomorrow. Nine o’clock in the morning.’

Buaji beamed. This was good. At least he was taking her out, but nine in the morning was a bit odd to be going out, wasn’t it? Probably wanted to spend the whole day with her, she thought, smiling. Poor Sanka Devi had been all jumpy today until his call came. How much they loved each other, these two. He couldn’t stay away from her for one day even!

D-Day Plus One:

Khushi, was ready and waiting for him at nine o’clock. She wore a pale pink saree that almost blended into her skin tones. She didn’t wear her mother-in-law’s bangles, instead two thin gold bangles adorned each arm. That and her mangalsutra was all the jewelry she wore. Pale pink lipstick outlined her lips, emphasizing the slightly blue smudges under her eyes.

He drew up to the Gupta house and for a moment sat looking at it. For the last time. This would be the last time, ever that he would come to this place, he thought. He was in black today, too. In mourning for a marriage that had never even got off to a start before it was ending. He got out, walked up the steps and rang the bell.

She opened the door almost immediately. His breath caught in his throat as he saw the misery in her eyes, probably reflecting the misery in his. She still wore his mangalsutra and his sindoor, he saw. But he realized that she would probably have too much to explain to her family if she went out with him, without the symbols of their marriage.

Her mother and aunt came up behind her, right on cue. He smiled slightly at them. ‘Namaste, Buaji. Namaste, Aunty’. They nodded at him.

‘Won’t you come in for a cup of tea?’ her mother said.

‘No, aunty. We have an appointment, and we can’t be late for it,’ he apologized. ‘Khushi, shall we go?’

‘I’ll get my bag,’ she said, avoiding his eyes.

They walked out together. He held the car door open for her as she got in. She looked so beautiful, he thought, stamping on the thought before it started in his head.

‘Where are we going?’ she asked a little nervously. He didn’t say anything, just glanced at her and kept driving.

They arrived at a tall office building, and took the elevators to the tenth floor. She glanced sideways at him. He was looking straight ahead, the familiar glower on his face. She dropped her eyes and didn’t see him look at her bent head and close his eyes.

They were ushered into a room, and from behind a desk, Mr. Roy stood up. He leaned over his desk and shook Arnav’s hand. ‘Please have a seat, both of you.’

Arnav held her chair as she sat down looking nervously at Mr. Roy. He smiled reassuringly at her, but it wasn’t a real smile. This was always so awkward. He cleared his throat.

Arnav sat looking deceptively relaxed in his chair. She stole another glance at him and could see the tension lines in his jaw. He wouldn’t look at her. She sat on the edge of her chair.

‘Mrs. Raizada, Mr. Raizada,’ he began. ‘I understand that you wish to dissolve your marriage. I’ve drawn up the annulment papers per your request. But before you sign, Mrs. Raizada, I’d like to explain to you what exactly are in these papers. Mr. Raizada and you will be separating based on irreconcilable differences..’

Khushi stared at Mr. Roy, his words echoing in her ears. They were really doing it. They were getting divorced.

‘Mr. Raizada will be paying you a monthly alimony of ____ thousand Rupees for the rest of your life. However, in the event that you do marry again, this alimony will be stopped.’

Her breathing was getting heavier.

‘You will also relinquish your rights to any of his properties. The only property you will retain will be the property in Laxminagar. That house has been transferred to your name.’

Laxminagar property? What property? Her mind was whirling as he continued to explain each of the clauses of the paperwork. He was droning on and on, and all she could see was his mouth opening and closing. She couldn’t make out any of the words he said.

Finally, he said, ‘So, Mrs.Raizada, I would advise you to go through these papers one more time. If you have any questions please let me know. Or if you wish to change any clauses, then please let your lawyer know. If you are agreeable to the terms, please sign these papers, here..’ he pointed out the highlighted parts, ‘ here.. and..’ turning pages, ‘… here’. He held out a pen for her.

She couldn’t breathe.

To not see Arnav again.
She stared down at the papers in front of her.

To not wake up next to him again.
To not be held in his arms again.
It was all blurring in front of her eyes, as darkness crept in from the sides.

To not have him hold her when she fell.
To not be able to look into his eyes and drown in them.

There was a roaring in her ears.

To not be able to see that smile again.
To not hear him call her 'Khushi' again.

She gripped the edge of the table as her heart seemed to stop beating,

To never see Arnav again....
She couldn't breathe.

Each word that Mr.Roy had said had been like a death knell in his ears, as he had listened with his eyes closed. He knew those clauses, he’d put them there. But suddenly he was aware of her, she wasn’t well. He spun in his seat in time to see her head loll forward as she fainted. ‘Khushi,’ he called, his right arm automatically coming in between her head and the desk. He carefully leaned her backwards until she was cradled in his left arm. ‘Khushi?.. Khushi!’ He tapped her cheeks lightly to wake her up.

Mr. Roy was already at the door calling for water. He turned around to see Arnav Singh Raizada tenderly pick up his wife and lay her on the sofa. He couldn’t see how her left hand had curled into her husband’s collar nor the tears in his eyes as he gently loosened her fingers. He took the water over the distraught husband. Why on earth were they divorcing? This couple was crazy about each other. Arnav took the water from him and he said, ‘I’ll wait outside.’

Arnav nodded his thanks. He took a little water and sprinkled it on her face. He was crouching down, his face level with hers. ‘Khushi? Open your eyes, Khushi,’ his frantic calls finally got through to her. She opened her eyes and saw his face, filled with the same fear she had seen the day she had fallen off the cliff. He closed his eyes in relief.

‘Arnavji?’ she saw the tears in his eyes. For a moment, she looked at him, and then threw herself at him, her arms going around his broad shoulders, her face buried in his chest. He staggered a little in his precarious position, and then lifted her up so he could sit on the sofa, too. She was crying, heartbroken. He couldn’t take it. The tears fell down his cheeks as he held her fiercely against him, his face buried in her hair.

‘I can’t do this anymore,’ she sobbed, ‘I can’t. I can’t be without you. Please don’t break my heart anymore’. He listened in astonishment. ‘I love you too much. I can’t breathe without you,’ she was hiccupping as she spoke.

‘Khushi,’ he moved her away a little so he could look into her face. She looked at him with tear-drenched eyes, lips trembling, her long fingers clutching his lapels. ‘Khushi,’ he repeated, ‘please tell me. Please. I need to know. Why do you want us to separate? Tell me what is in your mind,’ he pleaded.

Her eyes searched his face before she whispered one word, ‘Di’.

He swallowed, searching for the right words. ‘Khushi, di is hurting right now. She needs me to help her heal. I can’t leave her. But I need you beside me to help me with her. I can’t do this alone. I need you there with me’.

‘But she is always reminded of what happened when she sees me.’

‘I know. Time is something we have to give her.’ He looked down, thought for a minute. ‘Us getting separated is not a solution, Khushi. I am not letting us go. I can’t. I almost did once before, and I know I can’t do it again.’

‘Once before?’ she asked. He shook his head, cradled her head in his hand and brought it to his shoulder. She felt his voice in his chest, as he spoke.

‘I love you, Khushi Kumar Gupta Singh Raizada. My strength lies in you. Without you…’ he stopped. He took her hand and placed it on his heart. She looked into his eyes, as she felt the strong, sure beat of his heart under her fingers. She read all that she needed to in his eyes. She slowly rested her head back on his shoulder. There was contentment in her face. ‘We’ll do this together, Khushi.’ She nodded.

He wiped the tears from her cheeks, and handed her the glass of water. There was a discreet knock at the door. He moved over to open it. Mr.Roy came in. He looked from one to the other.


Arnav looked over at his wife, now sitting up on the sofa. There was love and joy shining in his face. ‘You can put those papers in the shredder, Mr.Roy’, he said. He walked over to the sofa, helping his wife stand up with an arm around her. With a smile at her he said, ‘I’m taking my wife home.’

Monday, July 23, 2012

SS - Stars in her Eyes

Day 1:

Aman was unhappy. Arnav Singh Raizada was unhappy. ASR's Di was unhappy. And when ASR and his Di were unhappy, Khushi was unhappy. And when Khushi was unhappy, ASR was unhappy. And when ASR was unhappy, he made his right hand man unhappy. Aman was his right hand man, who at that moment poked his head into ASR’s room and said, ‘Sir?’

ASR was heads down in work. Having been away for so long was making it tough on him to catch up with everything that had happened in his absence. There are things that a brother and an EA could do, but some things you just had to do for yourself.

‘What?’ was ASR’s irritable answer.

‘Sir, Khushi ma’am is on line two,’ Aman retreated quickly before ASR could reply.

He hit the button, and said, ‘Yes, Khushi?’ A faint smile tugged his lips at the thought of his delectable little wife. How easy it was for him to think that way now, HIS wife. His Mrs. Khushi Arnav Singh Raizada. But her words brought him down from the little day dream.

‘Arnavji, I just had a call from Amma. Buaji is not well. I was thinking .. I mean would you mind if I go over for a few days to help out?’

He closed his eyes in despair and took a deep breath. Loosening his tie, he said, ‘Of course, you can go. You don’t have to ask me.’

‘I wanted you to know, so that … you didn’t think…’ she trailed off, unable to complete the sentence.

He smiled. ‘No, it’s okay. Go to your family.’

‘I just don’t like to leave you with things the way they are in house,’ she said hurriedly.

‘Don’t worry. I’ll manage.’

‘Okay. Then I’ll leave later in the afternoon,’ she paused. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything.

‘Be careful, Khushi,’ he finally said.

‘I will. Please take care of yourself.’

When you won’t be there to take care of me.. the thought was unfinished in his head. She was so much a part of him now, that the thought of being apart if only for a few days had him breaking out in a sweat. He knew how much family meant to her, be it his or hers. Like him, she always put family first. So he couldn’t blame her for wanting to help her mother out.

It was nine in the evening, when he got another call. This time it was Naniji. ‘Chotey? Where are you?’

‘Working, Nani,’ he replied tiredly.

‘Chotey, you can’t work like this. You need to come home now, can you hear me?’

‘Yes, Nani,’ obediently. Sighing, he decided he wasn’t going to get any more work done, so he might as well go home.

The next morning, he woke up and as usual looked over at Khushi’s side of the bed. It was pristine. Of course, she was at her Buaji’s house! Grabbing a quick shower, he decided to spend some time with his plants. He was enjoying the peace and quiet, when his phone rang. He hit the Bluetooth and said, ‘Yeah?’

‘Arnavji?’ He breathed in. He could almost smell her. He couldn’t believe how much he had been missing her, until he heard her voice. A smile lit his eyes.

‘Yes, Khushi?’

‘Have you eaten yet?’

‘No. I’m waiting for breakfast.’

‘Please make sure you eat properly. And don’t forget your medicine.’

‘I won’t,’ he promised her. A pause. ‘How is Buaji?’

‘She’s still running a fever.’

‘Should I send a doctor over?’

‘No, its okay. The doctor has given some medicines, but he said it’s going to take a little time for her to get well.’

‘Oh.’ Pause. ‘Let me know if.. ‘

‘I will…’ Pause.

‘Are you okay?’ his voice dropped lower.

‘Yes. Yes I am,’ but he heard the little break in her voice and it soothed his heart. She missed him. Almost as much as he missed her. Time to bring her smile back, he thought.

‘So you’re missing me, huh?’

Pause. ‘Missing you?! Why would I miss you?’

‘I don’t know.. you called me this early in the morning.’

‘That was only to remind you about your medicines.’

‘So you’re thinking about me.’

‘Of course, I am… I mean.. I’m not!’ He could almost see the frustrated face she made, pressing her lips together, before she said, ‘I’m hanging up!’ He smiled. Because he knew she was smiling too, and probably mumbling something about a Laad Governor.

Khushi was mumbling to herself. Of all the people in the world, she was the one stuck with the Laad Governor. She slapped her head and walked off. No more thinking about him for the rest of the day.

She was in the kitchen helping her amma when the doorbell went. She went to the door and opened it. To her surprise it was a courier. He held out a package to her and said, ‘Mrs Khushi Arnav Singh Raizada?’

‘Yes? I am she,’ she said.

‘Please sign here,’ he handed over a clipboard and a pen. Automatically she signed it, and took the package he was holding out.

‘Who is it, Khushi?’ Garima came in wiping her hands on a towel.

‘Courier, Amma. Seems like a package for me. But I haven’t ordered anything?’ She tore open the envelope. Inside was a red jeweler’s bag. She opened it and reached in. Her fingers touched a single strand of pearls. She pulled it out smiling at the beautiful necklace. It had a small heart shaped clasp with a tiny red ruby on it. Garima gasped in pleasure.

‘Oh, it’s beautiful, Khushi,’ she said. ‘Did Arnav Bitwa send this for you?’

‘I don’t know, Amma,’ but she did. She reached inside the bag again, and found a little card, and four more pearls.

On the card, in his scratchy writing was written, ‘I kept them’. She held the four pearls in her palms, her eyes tearing up. The very first time, she thought. And he’s kept them all these days, the pearls from her choli! She couldn’t believe it. A smile bloomed on her lips as her cheeks turned pink. Wisely, Garima did not ask her why Arnav would be sending her four separate pearls with the pearl chain. She just smiled and stroked her daughter’s face.

Day Two:

Khushi had called this morning too, and the conversation had gone somewhat like the day before. It left Arnav with mixed feelings. There was emptiness in his room, in his bed, in his heart when he couldn’t see her. Talking on the phone with her was not satisfying him. But, he knew she would do what she needed to do. He understood her need to do this. But it still wasn’t giving him any satisfaction. The good thing was he was under so much work pressure that it was easier to bury himself in it, than wallow in loneliness.

Khushi was feeling restless. Buaji’s fever had gone down a bit, but she was still in bed. She had to take her father to the doctor’s for his therapy, and by the time she returned it was almost lunch time. She was wheeling her father to his room, when her mother came in.

‘Khushi,’ her mother said, her eyes dancing.

‘What is it, Amma?’

‘There is another package from you. From Arnav Bitwa.’ She couldn’t stop smiling.

‘Another package?’ Her mother nodded. She tucked her father in, and then went to her room. The package was lying on the bed. She opened it, to find a small box and a little card. She opened the box first. Inside on white velvet lay a key. She picked it up. She knew this one. His mannat ki chabi. Why was he giving it to her now? Turning over the card, she read, ‘You always had the key’. She couldn’t help but smile at this one. Was he wooing her all over again? She remembered the line from her song, ‘aathon pahar dil pe hai taaley’ (his heart is locked 24/7) but … She had the key .. to it? She didn’t need him to tell her that. She knew it, just as he knew he always held the key to her heart. But her heart sang at this silly romantic gesture. Who would have thought?

Day 3:

The morning calls were becoming routine now. He teased her, she hung up. He called right back and they bickered some more. This was them – they spoke a language of love all their own and if others found it odd, they couldn’t give a hoot!

The same courier arrived at the same time. This time, he didn’t even bother to ask. He just handed her the pen and clipboard so she could sign for the package. This one was a little bigger and softer.

Inside was a beautiful yellow and red dupatta. She stared at it in astonishment. Dupatta? She dug out the card, and it read, ‘Sorry I tore your other one.’ She frowned and then she remembered, in the parking lot. He had torn her dupatta so he could drive away.

‘What did he send today, titaliya?’ Buaji asked from her bed. She was sitting up now, for although the fever had passed, she was still weak. Both Garima and she had started to look forward to the courier now.

Khushi held up the dupatta so they could see it. They ooh’ed and aah’ed over it. Both of them were thrilled to see this daily affirmation of affection that their daughter got. But they were wondering why Arnav bitwa didn’t just come and see her for himself. Why all the gifts?

Day 4:

Khushi was on pins and needles. What would it be this time? The courier had barely rung the bell, before she flung open the door. He held out the package and the pen. She signed it, grabbed the package and shut the door. Running to her room, she ripped open the package and stopped. It was a cell phone. A cell phone? Then she remembered, locked in the store room with him, when he’d slammed the door so hard, the handle had broken off. Then he’d grabbed her cell and thrown it in a corner, so that had broken as well. She looked inside, but there was no card. Hmmmm… what now? She turned it on. Within seconds she got a text message. ‘Call me’ from Arnav.

She heard her Amma calling from Buaji’s room. ‘Coming, Amma,’ she yelled back. She went into her Buaji’s room and both looked at her expectantly.

‘Cell phone,’ she said, baldly, holding the phone out for them to see. ‘He sent me a cell phone.’

Her mother and Buaji exchanged knowing looks and then burst out laughing.

‘What the-!’ she clasped her hand over her mouth. Her face was flushed a bright pink. She ran out of the room, unable to still the beating of her heart.

Arnav was lying on his bed, no, their bed, arms under his head. She hadn’t called him, yet. It was getting late and he was wondering what had happened. Should he call her? Nope. He’d sent her the text, the ball was in her court. Besides it was late. Almost eleven o’clock. What the hell was she doing? The phone rang. He picked it up, saw who it was and immediately all his irritation flew out the window. He let it ring a second time, and a third before hitting the talk button.

‘Khushi,’ he said huskily.

‘Arnavji,’ she sounded hesitant.

‘Khushi, when someone sends you a text, you’re supposed to reply to it right away,’ he admonished. He heard something like a ‘hmphf!’ before she said,

‘Okay then, I’m hanging up and I’ll text you’.

‘Wait!’ he said

‘Why? I’ll text you. That’s what you want.’

‘Stop, Khushi,’ he whispered. For a few seconds they were both quiet.

She lay in bed, holding the phone close to her ear. Her Amma, Bauji and Buaji had finally gone to bed. Tears filled her eyes and she sniffed. Was this how they would always be? Trying to find a little time for each other at the end of the day? Right now, it was so new, this feeling of being a wife. They had played at it for three and a half months, but now, this was their real start. And it was starting to become so hard!

He heard the sniffle and closed his eyes, wishing he could hold her and tell her it’s going to be okay. Everything was going to be fine! ‘Khushi, stop,’ he repeated, softly. ‘Please don’t cry.’ She wiped the tear from her cheek. ‘Are you okay?’

She nodded and then said ,’I am fine. And you?’

‘I’m okay,’ he said.

‘How is Di?’

‘Better. She came down for breakfast this morning.’

‘Oh! That is wonderful,’ he heard the lilt in her voice and his eyes darkened. This generosity of spirit was so her. He knew she was hurt because Di held her responsible for something she was a victim to. But she didn’t hold it against Di. ‘I am sure she is going to be alright, soon.’

‘I hope so too.’ Pause. ‘And your Buaji, how is she?’

‘Fever came down this evening. But she is still weak.’

He didn’t ask the question he wanted to ask. How long will you stay there? A little later they hung up. He stared at the phone in his hands. At least now, they could call each other when they wanted to. He hoped she understood that. She had the right to call him when she wanted to.

Day 5:

It was a busy day for Khushi. After her early morning call, which now was so much easier as she could talk in her own room, she had been caught up in the daily routine of the Gupta household, - cleaning, cooking, washing. She wasn’t aware of how time had flown till the doorbell rang. She opened the door and there was the courier, this time with a smile on his face. Signature. Grab. Go to her room. Rip open the packet. A box lay in her hands. She opened it and smiled. Bangles! Beautiful pink and red and gold bangles. The card read, ‘Yes, I bought them for you’.

She put them on, admiring them in the mirror, before running to show her Buaji and Amma what her Arjavji had got for her this time.

Buaji reached out her hand and stroked her face. ‘Arnav Bitwa really loves you, huh?’ She blushed, but nodded her head. ‘And you love him, too, don’t you, titliya?’

‘Ji, Buaji,’ was her shy answer.

‘So why don’t you ask him to come over, instead of sending these gifts to you?’

‘Can I?’

‘Of course, you can, titliya. He is your husband. It is your right to do so.’

She looked at her mother and her father, who both smiled and nodded their heads. ‘Yes, Khushi, ‘ her mother added. ‘As his wife, you have the right to ask him.’

As his wife. He is your husband. The words rang in Khushi’s mind. She could feel her heart fly with joy. Those words felt so right, so beautiful. But she just nodded and got up to go to the kitchen. Three pairs of moist eyes did not miss the sheer joy in her face. Their Khushi had found her Khushi – for real this time.

Day 5:

Friday. The end of the week. ASR couldn’t wait for the day to end. He’d spent long hours working this week, but he’d also got a lot accomplished. There was a feeling of satisfaction in knowing things were now once more in his control. And then, things were looking up at home. Di was so much better. And Khushi , he smiled. His day started with her voice. And it ended with hers. He couldn’t think of going to bed now without a small conversation. Not that they ever had long ones. But it was enough for him.

Khushi waited on tenterhooks to see what today would bring. She had been sneaking looks at the clock every now and then, but eleven o’clock came and went, and there was no courier! She was a little disappointed, to be sure. Pacing in her room, phone in hand, she wondered if she should call him. Twice she dialed the number, before hitting the end button. No, she wouldn’t call him. But Buaji had said she should ask him over! Perhaps..well.. She could always do that. She called the number, hearing the phone ring, but he didn’t pick it up. Must be some stupid meeting, she thought. Ugh! I am spending too much time on that Laad Governor! Better get some work done.

But that was easier said than done. She ended up making a pile of sugar-free jalebis and then regretting it! Her mother and Buaji watched with a smile.

At five o’clock that evening the doorbell rang. Buaji opened the door and found Arnav standing there.

‘Arnav Bitwa, bless you!’ she said, as he bent to touch her feet. ‘Garima, Khushi, see who is here!’ she called.

Garima came out of her bedroom, but Khushi was nowhere to be seen. His eyes searched the room for her. ‘She is in the back, beta. Bless you!’ as he touched his mother-in-law’s feet.

They sat down in the living room.

‘Ah!..’ he felt awkward asking this, but did it anyway. ‘Buaji, Aunty, is it okay if I take Khushi out to dinner tonight?’

‘Babua, she is your wife! You don’t have to ask us. Of course, you can,’ Buaji smiled at him. ‘Looks like you managed to win her over, huh?’ she teased him. He smiled and nodded like a little child.

‘Yes, Buaji, I did’.

‘Why don’t you stay here tonight, then, babua?’

‘Can I?’

‘Of course,’ she said. ‘It’s your house, too. You shouldn’t have to ask.’

He smiled mentally thinking of the weekend bag he had packed and that lay in the back of his car.

Just then, Khushi came in and stopped seeing him there. Her mouth rounded into that adorable ‘O’. ‘You here?!’ she said.

He stood up, filling up the space in the room with his tall presence. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I came to take you to dinner’.

She looked at him with a panicked expression at her face, her eyes flew to her mother’s and Buaji’s smiling ones. Both of them were nodding at her.

‘Go get dressed, bitiya,’ her mother prompted her gently. She turned around and walked like a zombie to her room, but not before giving his smug face a look over her shoulder.

In her room, she went through her clothes, What to wear? What to wear?! Her hands touched the crystals on her birthday sari. She pulled it out and looked at it. The bangles matched perfectly.

Fifteen minutes later, she came out of the room. Arnav’s eyes widened as he saw what she was wearing. The birthday sari, the one he had chosen, with the bangles. He swallowed. He didn’t know how he controlled himself from going over, grabbing her and kissing her senseless right then, somehow he didn’t think Buaji and Aunty would appreciate that very much! But God! She looked gorgeous in it, just as he had imagined.

It had been a perfect evening. They had started talking, a little awkwardly at first, but soon, they had so much to say, but so little words to say them with. For the first time, finding themselves truly alone, no interruptions, it had been their first real date. They’d even squabbled a little over something trivial. But that was them. That was the spice in their relationship. It was never smooth. There was a deep inner peace in Arnav as he drove them back. She was quietly happy and glowing.

He hadn’t kissed her yet. But that would be soon, very soon, he thought. She was so quiet he wondered what she was thinking. He felt a touch on his shoulder and saw that she was fast asleep her head cushioned on his shoulder. He looked at her tenderly and continued driving. Pulling up at the Gupta house, he gently braked he car without his usual squeal of tires. He lifted her out of the car, feeling her fingers curl into his collar, he couldn’t help but smile. That small gesture was the world to him.

He rang the doorbell and Buaji opened it. Her eyes widened in worry when she saw him carrying Khushi. He shook his head, ‘She’s asleep,’ he said. She closed her eyes in relief. For a moment, she remembered the first time he’d come into this house, carrying Khushi just like this. She led him to Khushi’s room and opened the door for him. He carried her to the bed, and gently lay her down, cradling her head till it touched the pillow. He switched on the A/c and tucked her in. Buaji smiled from the door. How could she have missed that same tenderness that very first day?

‘Buaji, I’ll just get my things from the car and come,’ he said, once they were in the living room. She nodded and he went to the car. He was back in a few minutes with his bag and a box in his arms. He went into the bedroom.

Khushi was feeling snug and comfortable. There room was cool, but the comforter was warm and cosy. She snuggled in, and then slowly opened her eyes. A single lamp by the bed threw a soft light in the room. Glittering in the dark were the stars and crystals. They hung from the four-poster as she had hung them long ago. She lay looking at them, her eyes widening in surprise. There were many more stars than she had ever had round the bed! But who?!

She remembered the drive home, and vaguely remembered being carried, but not much after that. Who had put her to bed? Arnavji?.. The thought came in right on the heel of feeling the warmth to her right. She turned her head on her pillow. He was looking at her, a smile on his face. She looked at him in astonishment. ‘You? Here?’

He nodded.

‘Does Buaji know?’

He nodded again.

She swallowed. He reached out a hand and tucked her hair behind her ears, cradling her head. Gently, he drew her closer. She resisted for just a second and then let him pull her close. He kissed her, her eyes closing of their own accord.

He drew back and she opened her eyes. The stars were reflecting in her big eyes. ‘This,’ he said. ‘This is what I want to see every day for the rest of my life. Stars in your eyes.’

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Walk the Line: Chapter - 17 - In the Past

Two weeks later, Khushi was breathing a little easier. The new number that she had got seemed to have done the trick. There had been no more calls. Life was much better. It had settled into a routine now, and she felt more settled in. She hadn’t seen Shyam either, nor had she called him. His card lay in her purse, as did Gauri Virdi’s.

It was a Saturday, a gorgeous day, not too hot, not too cool. Perfect weather. She and Debs were going over to Anahita’s. Her parents had decided to find a groom for Anahita. The boy’s family was coming over and the two girls were going to be there as moral support for Anahita.

The house was bustling with activity. ‘Aunty!’ Khushi called as the two of them entered through the door.

‘Khushi, Debs, so nice of you to come over and help. Annie is in her room and she’s feeling very nervous. Why don’t you’ll head upstairs and help her?’ Mrs. Malhotra was an older version of Anahita or Annie as she was called lovingly.

The girls headed up the stairs and had just reached Annie’s room when Khushi’s phone rang. She picked it up and breezily said, ‘Hullo?’

‘Khushi, Khushi, Khushi, tsk, tsk, tsk’, her eyes opened wide, body completely stiff. ‘You think if you change your phone number I can’t find you? Jaan, I will go to the ends of the earth for you.’ She started shaking and her friends watched her with alarm.

Debs grabbed the phone and said, ‘who the hell is this? And who the hell do you think you are? Why do you keep calling Khushi?’

There was silence on the line, the faint sound of breathing. ‘Debs, hunh? Are you jealous that I don’t call you too?’

She was horrified and ended the call. She was breathing rapidly. She held out the phone to Khushi. ‘How did that, that.. THING know my name?’

‘What?!’ Both the girls said in unison.

‘Yes, that THING knew I was speaking, knew my name, Debs, called me Debs,’ she was hyperventilating now. Tears were streaming down her eyes.

Khushi forgot her own horror as she hugged her friend. Oh my God! She thought. This person knows everything about me, even knows my best friends’ names.

Annie’s mother was calling from downstairs. They really needed to get her ready. Shattered as they were, both girls pulled themselves together to help her put on her finishing touches. They didn’t want to go downstairs and meet the boys’ family or even see the boy. They were scared out of their wits.

Letting Annie go with her mother, Khushi wandered out onto the little balcony off the room. She shut her eyes in despair. Oh dear God! What do I do? Where do I go? She opened them and saw someone on the drive below, speaking on a cell. The prospective groom probably. Just as he started to turn around, she moved back quickly, spun around and went back in.

Unbeknownst to her, he looked up to the balcony to see the flash of a pair of never-ending legs in straight jeans, the back of one red t-shirt sitting snugly on the wearer, a swath of long black hair obscuring her face. He went back to his conversation.

They sat quietly, each lost in thought.

‘Debs,’ she said, ‘I have to go home. I need to talk to my father’.

Debs nodded. She had been having a quiet cry, as she’d never been so frightened in her life. ‘Let’s just leave. We can’t let aunty know. Because if they know my name, what’s to say they don’t know Annie’s name too!’

‘Yes, and we can’t allow anything to happen,’ Khushi agreed, ‘especially on a day like this.’

They started down the stairs when Mrs. Malhotra spotted them. ‘Girls, where are you going?’ She was holding a big plate of sweets in her hand.

‘Home, aunty,’ said Khushi. ‘I had promised Dad some help … so…’

‘And I am Khushi’s ride, aunty, so I need to go, too.’

‘Girls, I am so happy,’ she said as they reached the bottom of the stairs, eyes filled with tears. ‘The marriage is fixed. Next month is the engagement.’

The two girls hugged her. ‘I am so glad, aunty,’ Khushi took a bite of the sweet as did Debs. ‘But we really have to go.’

‘Okay, girls. Don’t forget to tell your parents, okay?’

‘We won’t, aunty,’ they chimed together. She blessed them as they walked out together.

The ‘groom’ was still out there on his phone, his back to them. They walked silently by him to his right, heads bent, each lost in their own thoughts.

Once more, she never knew that he smelt her perfume (he just knew it was hers) and turned around, he turned to his left, but she had gone past him, and he spun a full three-sixty degrees trying to see her face. She never saw him looking after her, the same girl with the legs and t-shirt, with another girl. She just walked silently by with her friend. She didn’t notice him watching them let themselves out the gate before shaking his head and going back to his conversation.

The three of them sat in the living room, as Khushi explained about the calls to her father and mother. Both of them were very disturbed by her account. Her father sat thinking for a while and then said, ‘We have to talk to their parents.’ Somehow she had not got to the Shyam story.

Almost on cue, the phone rang. It was Debs’ parents and they were coming over that evening.

In the evening, they all gathered in the living room: The Guptas, the Malhotras and the Banerjees. The three girls sat on a sofa, holding hands.

‘Mr Gupta, you do understand that we have heard about the phone calls. Have you called the police?’

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘But they are not willing to do anything about it. According to them, Khushi has not been threatened with physical harm, so they can’t do anything.’

‘What?’ said Mr Banerjee. ‘This person is obviously following her around, keeping tabs on her. Mr.Gupta the police should be protecting her!’

‘I know, but they don’t seem to want to chase something that is not officially a crime.’

‘I don’t believe this. An unknown person is calling up and they can’t do anything?’

Mr. Gupta shook his head.

‘What are you going to do? You can’t keep changing her phone number!’

‘No I can’t’, he said, acknowledging that he couldn’t protect his family as he should have.

Mrs.Banerjee leaned forward, ‘Anna, I am finding this very hard to say. But Debs can’t be around Khushi anymore.’

‘And neither can Annie,’ added Mrs Malhotra.

The three girls looked at their mothers in horror.

‘I understand,’ said Annie. ‘Your daughters should have no contact with Khuhsi’. My poor baby, what are we asking from you?

Tears were streaming down Khushi’s cheeks. She didn’t know why this was happening to her. Why she had to give up her friends, because some .. some… pervert! Called her up every now and then. The girls hugged tearfully, promising each other that once this nightmare was over, they would get back in touch again. It was going to be hard. When the others finally left, Khushi went into her room, and flopped onto her bed.

What was this turn had her life taken? What was she going to do? She couldn’t stay a prisoner in the house, she still had a job to go to.

Downstairs, Anna and Shashi sat on the sofa, her head resting on his shoulder. They held each other’s hands, both feeling scared as well as wondering what they were going to do now. A line had been crossed today and now they had to take steps to keep their daughters safe, both of them.

‘Anna,’ he said, ‘we should move to the US’.

She looked up at him. ‘Shashi, you love it here. Why would you want to move there? And at this point in our lives, starting over?’

He nodded. ‘We have to, and the US is as good an option as any.’

She thought for a bit, and said, ‘I guess we’re San Francisco bound, then.’

The next day, Shashi Gupta started the process of moving the Gupta family to the US.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Walk the Line: Chapter - 16 - In the Past

Rani Sahiba sat at her desk. Her long nails were tapping on the glass-topped table, a pen held between the first two fingers. She raised her eyes to the man sitting across from her. Shyam Manohar Jha, the man she had had the misfortune to marry when she was but twenty-five years old. He was a weasel; he was weak and a coward. But he was damned good at what he did. What he did best was follow Rani Sahiba’s orders. They made a good team. But there was no doubt who wore the pants in this relationship.

She looked down at the sheet of paper that lay on her desk. The details were all there, the numbers, the address, even the date of birth. How had he found that out? She didn’t want to know because she didn’t need to know. She got up and came around the desk, her sari clearly outlining her svelte figure, the miniscule choli barely covering her breasts. His eyes followed her greedily as she perched on the desk in front of him. She leaned down and stroked his face, ‘Good work. But then, you know I like your work,’ she raised one eyebrow up.

‘Yes, Rani Sahiba. I know.’ He held her wrist, bringing it up to brush it with his lips. She shivered.

‘Patience, my darling. You have to have patience.’

‘How much longer are you going to deny me, Rani Sahiba? I need you now,’ she didn’t miss the signs of his arousal. His eyes glittered. She smiled at him, a cat playing with a mouse. Brushing her fingers along his chest, she brought it down to his crotch. Cupped him.

‘Just a little,’ she whispered.

He groaned. As powerful as he was physically, he was putty in this woman’s hands.

He stood up. ‘Enough, Rani Sahiba,’ he said, pushing her hands away. ‘I’ll do it.’

She smiled up at him. ‘You know you will be rewarded very well.’

He had turned to leave, but he looked back at her. ‘I hope it’s worth it,’ he said.


Khushi had finally been hired. She was over the moon about it. While it was not her first choice, Rahul Kaul was still an extremely good start for her. She would make her bones (like in Godfather, she thought) with this company. And then maybe someday she would be able to start her own fashion line. This was what she wanted. She was an artist and she expressed herself through her clothes. She was home alone, when her phone rang. She picked it up automatically, and said, ‘Hello?’

‘Khushi,’ the same whispery voice startled her. She gasped. ‘Khushi, you looked very beautiful today. I just had to call you and tell you that.’ Her eyes grew rounder. ‘Is that one of your own designs?’ She looked down at the ensemble that she had on. ‘It’s beautiful. Just like you.’

Finally breaking free of her frozen state, she hung up. Running to her room, she stripped her clothes off, everything, and threw them on the floor. She stepped under the shower and stood there for a long time. Calmer now, she walked into her room, and picked out the drabbest dress she had and put it on.

Who was it? Why was this person calling her? What did they want with her? The answers were at the back of her brain, but she was not going to deal with them right now. She couldn’t tell her parents, she didn’t want to frighten them. She didn’t know how her father would react. The phone rang again, breaking into her thoughts. She looked at the number this time, and breathed a sigh of relief. Anahita! Thank God!

‘Hey Khushi, did you get the job?’

‘Yah, I did,’ she tried to inject some enthusiasm in her voice.

‘Congratulations! I am soooooo glad for you.’ She smiled, Anahita and her bouncy nature. She wondered if she should confide in her, but decided not to. ‘Listen, Debs was asking if we wanted to go to the mall later this afternoon. About two? We’ll pick you up.’

‘Sure. I can do that. I’ll be ready when you guys show up.’

Feeling much better now, she looked at the clothes littering her floor. She picked them up and put them in the laundry basket and went to get ready.

Malls in Delhi are like malls anywhere. Big, spacious, air-conditioned, and crowded. The three girls walked along, giggling and talking, licking ice cream cones. They’d done a lot of shopping, Khushi especially surprising the others with the amount of stuff she ended up buying. But then isn’t that what retail therapy is? To reduce stress buy useless stuff, get stressed over useless stuff and then go out and buy some more useless stuff. Ah! The vicious life-cycle of consumerism. All done now, they headed outside.

‘Why don’t I bring the car over, and you guys wait here?’ said Debs.

‘Debs, I’ll come with you,’ said Anahita, knowing that the car was parked in a sort of lonely side lane. It wasn’t that safe for a girl to be wandering around alone. ‘Khushi, why don’t you wait for us here with the bags?’ The front of the mall was safer with so many people about.

Khushi nodded, and the two girls walked away. She wandered over to a bench a little away from the entrance, and put her bags down, before sitting down herself. She was engrossed in her ice cream when she noticed two pairs of jeans walking up to her. They stopped about two feet in front of her on either side, effectively blocking her way. She raised up her eyes, and saw two men she had never seen before. They were smirking at her. Her heart beat a little faster. This was not good.

‘Hi’, said one, ‘you look sort of lonely sitting there by yourself.’

‘I think we should join you,’ said the other.

Trying to sound as intimidating as possible, she said curtly, ‘No thanks. Just go away.’

‘Now, now, is that any way to treat someone who wants to be your friend?’

She stood up and immediately realized her mistake. She was much closer to them than she had thought. Their broad shoulders blocked out any view that anyone else might have of her. Where were the girls? she thought despairingly.

‘Get out of my face!’ she said, ‘Or I’ll scream’.

‘Shhhh…’ said the One, as he put his hand across her mouth. She slapped it away. Her heart pounding furiously now, she realized she couldn’t get away from them. The bench had essentially blocked her retreat. She opened her mouth once more, and the hand clamped down on it.

‘Told you, you shouldn’t try it,’ the One said.

The Other put his hand on her shoulder. ‘You’re so feisty. I like feisty, don’t you?’ he asked the One, who nodded enthusiastically.

She tried to pry away the hand on her shoulder, but it was too strong. The One still had her mouth clamped. Tears were starting to fill her eyes.

Two hands clamped down on the shoulders of the men in front of her and spun them around. A fist lashed out catching the One on his cheek. A second blow caught the Other on his shoulder, spinning him around. Khushi stared wide-eyed at her savior.

The two men rushed towards him at the same time. The next thing she knew there was a melee in front of her. The man who’d saved her gave as good as he got. He was powerfully built, a thin shirt stretching across a well-toned body, the six-pack abs visible through the clothes, his muscled forearms bared by the rolled up sleeves. Tight pants outlined his powerful thighs as he kicked one of them to the curb, literally! Finally, the two men backed down, one of them limping, the other holding his jaw.

The man who’d saved her, dusted off his hands, and came across to her. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked gently. She nodded. ‘I’m sorry that you had to face such a thing. It’s not safe for a girl to be alone in a place like this.’

‘Thank you so much!’ she replied. ‘If you hadn’t arrived, I don’t know what would have happened.’

‘Are you alone here?’ he asked

‘No, just waiting for my friends to bring the car around,’ she said.

‘Would you mind if I waited with you till they get here?’ She shook her head, no. ‘You look like you’re not from Delhi,’ he remarked.

‘I’m originally from Lucknow. But we live in Delhi now,’ she responded, and then cursed herself for giving any information to a complete stranger. But then, he had saved her, so it should be okay. She spotted Debs’ car and said, ‘there they are!’

The car drew up. Khushi turned to pick up her bags, but he had already picked them up and handed them to her.

‘Thank you,’ she said. He just nodded. She got into the car and it drove away.

He watched the car leave and stood there for a while. The two men came up to him.

‘Boss, next time try not to hit us so hard,’ said One.

‘You’re paid to do your job. Do it,’ he said harshly. He took out a thick bundle of notes and gave it to them. They took it and left.

Shyam Manohar Jha had stepped into Khushi Kumari Gupta’s life.

In the car, the girls had demanded to know who HE was and what was going on? She gave them the story, as briefly as she could.

‘So what was his name?’ they wanted to know. She had slapped her forehead and said, ‘you know, I never asked him.’

‘Of course, now that destiny has brought you together, you’re going to meet again, for sure,’ said Anahita who firmly believed in all things destiny as shown on TV!

Debs on the other hand was a little more cynical. ‘Yes, of course, Anahita, and there’ll be background music and hair flying in front of hair fans and Rabba Ve,’ this last she sang out loud. They doubled up with laughter. ‘Oh and never mind the eye locks and falling into the hero’s arms,’ she hooted. ‘Did you fall into his arms, Khushi?’

‘No,’ Khushi was spluttering through her giggles. ‘Didn’t get time. Plus I would’ve had to get up on the bench to do that.’ She and Debs high-fived!

‘Well, we’ll see, won’t we?’ said Anahita in a huff.

‘Of course, Anahita,’ the other two said in union.


Khushi had started with her new job. It was exciting and demanding and challenging and she was more than up for it. The days were going quickly and she was settling into her rhythm now.

Her cell phone was ringing, but because she was in the office, she’d left it on silent. She didn’t hear it go a second time either.

Her father picked her up every day after work, as it was on his way home as well. That evening, she stood on the sidewalk waiting for him. A sudden vibration in her bag startled her. She opened it and pulled out her phone. Ugh! She had forgotten to set the ringer back on. She turned it up and was rewarded by the chimes again. She answered with her customary, ‘Hello?’

‘Khushi, why didn’t you pick up my calls earlier?’ the whisper was in her ear. She couldn’t believe it! She hung up.

It rang again. This time, she checked the number before answering. It was her father. ‘Khushi, I am tied down with some work today. Can you get a cab and go home?’ he asked.

‘Yes, of course, Dad. Don’t worry. I’ll get home okay,’ she answered.

‘Go carefully. And call me when you get home,’ he said.

‘Yes, Dad, I will.’

Dropping her cell in her bag, she headed to the main street as the offices were on a little side street. She saw a taxi coming and tried to flag it down. It zipped past her. Her lips thinned in frustration. She continued walking when a black car came to a stop right beside her.

‘Hello?’ the voice was familiar.

She turned around. It was the man from the mall! ‘Hi!’ she said, smiling in surprise. ‘What are you doing here?’

He laughed. ‘Driving home,’ he replied. He stopped the car and got out. ‘What about you?’

‘Well, I’m trying to get a cab home as well,’ she replied.

‘Where is home?’

‘Vasant Vihar.’

‘Oh! What a coincidence. I live in Vasant Vihar, too. Can I give you a ride?’ he was still standing by his car.

‘No. No, it’s okay,’ she said. ‘Besides, I don’t even know you…’ her voice trailed off.

‘I’m sorry. I should’ve introduced myself. I’m Shyam Manohar Jha,’ he extended a hand.

‘I’m Khushi, Khushi Kumari Gupta,’ she replied shaking his hand. ‘Mr. Jha, its very ‘-

‘Call me Shyam,’ he interrupted. ‘Then I won’t feel like a stranger’.

He was smooth, she had to give him that. And she had no option but to reciprocate in kind, ‘Then you must call me Khushi,’ she responded.

‘Well, in that case, Khushi, can I still give you a ride?’ he opened the passenger side door.

She looked at it, hesitated, nodded her thanks, and got in. They made small talk as he drove. Coming to Vasant Vihar, she gave him directions to her house. He stopped the car, and as she unbuckled her seat belt, he said, ‘Khushi’.

She looked over at him. He was holding out his business card. ‘My card,’ he said. ‘I’d like to keep in touch, if I may.’ His eyes were searching her face.

She smiled, suddenly very uncomfortable with the situation. ‘Thanks,’ and took the card. ‘Thanks for the ride, too.’ She got out of the car and hurried into her home.


Ananhita, Debs and Khushi sat in Khushi’s room, reinforced with plates of chips and cups of tea, while she recounted her second encounter with Shyam two days ago. The pale Delhi sunlight was coming in through the windows casting reflections on the walls and ceiling.

‘Hunh!’ said Debs, ever the practical one. ‘So he just showed up, like that, out of nowhere?’

Khushi nodded.

‘It is destiny, I tell you,’ said Anahita.

‘I don’t like it, Khushi,’ said Debs. She took a sip of coffee and said. ‘It’s like this. I don’t believe in coincidences. This doesn’t happen in real life. There’s something off about this.’

The other two looked at her, their mood suddenly somber. Khushi drew a deep breath and said, ‘I have to tell you guys something’.

They looked at her in alarm. ‘What? What did he do?’

‘No, no, not about him. But what you said, Debs. There IS something off. I don’t know how to deal with it.’ She told them about the phone calls. The listened with open mouths.

Debs: ‘How many calls, Khushi?’

Khushi: ‘About ten. I don’t pick them all up.’

Anahita: ‘Have you told uncle?’

Khushi: ‘No, I haven’t. Just can’t figure out what I am supposed to tell him’, worried.

Debs: ‘Just tell him you get too many prank calls. You need to change your number.’

Khushi: worried nod, ‘Yes. I should tell him.’

Anahita: ‘Is someone following you around?’

Debs and Khushi: ‘What?!’

Anahita: defensive, ‘well, you did say they knew what you were wearing…’ trailing off

Khushi: nod.

Debs: ‘You have a point, Anahita.’ Pause. ‘You might need to go the police.’

Khushi: ‘But I don’t even know if it’s a man or a woman!’

Debs: ‘Ewww…’ shudder. ‘A woman?’

Khushi: ‘No, I mean. The voice is like a whisper. So you can’t make out the VOICE. It’s only a whisper.’

Debs: Thinking, ‘Strange that these two things should be happening at around the same time.’

Anahita: ‘Serendipity. Coincidence.’

Debs: ‘Coincidence my ass!! I wonder if Shyam is linked to the calls.’

Khushi: ‘huh? How can that be? How would he know about the calls?’

Debs: ‘True.’

Anahita: ‘Tell uncle. Just tell uncle everything.’

Debs: ‘Yep. For once, she’s right.’

Khushi: ‘Okay, I’ll do that.’

Later that night, Khushi knocked on her Dad’s study room door. ‘Dad, can I talk to you?’

‘Of course, my child. Come here,’ he said as she walked in.

‘Dad,’ she began and stopped. Drew a deep breath and began all over again. She told him everything, about all the calls, and the Shyam episodes. Her father listened with growing horror to the story, but his face reflected nothing of his inner turmoil. He didn’t want this for his little angel. Like Debs, he too was suspicious of this man who showed up twice within days in his daughter’s life. Especially since it was just after those calls. Or perhaps it WAS just coincidence.

Walk the Line: Chapter - 15 - In the Past

The lighted path stretched in front of her, darkness on both sides, hiding the people watching out there. She stepped out into the light, resplendent in her olive green and red lehenga slowly walking down the center, eyes downcast, hands to her side, a golden veil half covering her face, her up done hair giving her added height. Half-way down the path, she stopped and lifted her eyes, and gazed out into the darkness looking for her prince. She smiled. The crowd sighed. Chin high, she completed the rest of the walk with confidence, one step in front of another, one hand on hip, the other swinging by her side. The crowd cheered. Khushi Kumari Gupta was dancing with joy inside.

Ann and Shashi Gupta applauded with the rest, their faces shining with pride. They had all moved to Delhi a year ago, when her father decided to move his business to Delhi since Khushi had enrolled in the Delhi Fashion Institute. He was worried about her living alone in a big city. Fiercely protective of his daughters, he wanted them to feel safe no matter where they were. So the entire family moved to Delhi. They were a close knit family and this was his way of taking care of them.

It was the night of the fashion show at the Delhi Fashion Institute – the day before graduation. Each of the students had to design a wedding dress, which they would have to then either model themselves or get someone to model for them. The catch was that each student had to pair up with someone, so that one person designed a bride’s dress and the other person the groom’s. Khushi had teamed up with her new BFF – Anahita – and the two had decided that Anahita would play the groom, while she would play the bride, which tickled their funny bone because Anahita was short and plump and Khushi was tall and slender. The crowd loved it!

In a shadowed corner, a small, red glow moved up to a pair of lips that took a long, slow drag on the cigarette. Through the smoky haze, narrowed eyes watched Khushi walk the ramp and then widened in surprise as Khushi’s smile broke through the nervousness. She was gorgeous! The thought was there. The desire came after. This girl was something. There was something a little un-Indian about her, something unconventional. Her body, the lithe, long-boned body was a treat for the eyes. Long fingers stubbed out the cigarette. The shadow moved away from behind the wall and went to sit down next to Shyam Manohar Jha.

The show ended and all the girls headed back to the dressing room where their instructors awaited. There had been a formal panel judging their effort. The results would be announced the next day. But for today, it was party time.

The next day, Khushi was sitting with the rest of her class in the auditorium. They were going to announce the winners of the fashion show. Anahita and she clutched each other’s hands as the dean walked to the podium.

One by one each of their dresses were critiqued. Finally the moment came. Khushi and Anahita were the top scorers! Their ill-matched Jodi had just won the best Jodi. The judges had loved the humor in the concept and rewarded them accordingly. It was amazing.

‘Khushi, this is awesome,’ said Anahita, hugging her friend.

‘I know,’ she was laughing in wonder. ‘I have to call Mum and Dad and Jiji and tell them.’ She was making the call when one of their classmates, Debolina walked across to them. Typical, spoilt brat though she was, Debolina also had a heart of gold. She was also from a filthy rich family; which perhaps explained why when she was in the class – as her talent as a designer was highly questionable.

‘Guys,’ Debolina said in her usual languid way. ‘My parents are throwing a party this evening. I do want you’ll to be there.’

‘Sure thing, Debs,’ Anahita replied, still super-happy about the results.

‘Khushi? How about you? Are you coming or not?’

‘Sorry, Debs, on the phone with the parents. Hang on, lemme ask them,’ she responded, covering the phone while she spoke. ‘Mom, Dad, Debs’ parents are throwing a party this evening. Can I go? Please?’

Debs rolled her eyes, ‘Momma’s baby!’ she said jokingly, punching Khushi on the arm.

On the other side, her parents laughingly agreed to let her go. ‘Sure, why not?’ They had met Debs’ parents before and didn’t mind their daughter going to their house.

‘Yes!’ She turned to Debs. ‘I can go. What time?’

‘Seven, be there,’ Debs turned and walked away.

‘Oh my God! What’ll I wear, yaar?’ Ananhita looked worriedly at Khushi.

‘One of your creations, dumbo. You’ve got some awesome clothes in your wardrobe now. Designed by Anahita Malhotra,’ she finished with a flourish. ‘Wear one of those!’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Absolutely. You’ll look gorgeous!’

Khushi dressed for the party in one of her creations. Her own idea to Anahita was good for her, too, she’d decided. It was a floral creation, white with deep red roses, that was almost retro in look. The deeply plunging neckline showed off the blood red lacy camisole inside, while her white arms and shoulders were shown off in the off-the shoulder top. The bodice was latticed in white fabric. The flared uneven hemmed skirt stopped just below her knees. A spritz of perfume, dark red lipstick to match the roses, and long dangling silver earrings completed her look. Silver high heels and clutch bag were her only other accessories.

Her father dropped her off at Debs’ house. ‘Call me when you need to get home,’ he said.

‘Dad,’ she protested, ‘I’ll cab it. Not a problem. Besides it’s not that far either.’

‘Khushi,’ he father said gently but firmly, ‘I’ll pick you up.

‘Okay, Dad,’ she always gave in when he used that tone. She stepped out of the car and went into the party.

It was in full swing when she arrived. Soon she was sipping a fruity punch and chattering with all her friends. There were a lot of people that she didn’t know, but she didn’t care. Most of the students were there, nobody missed a bash at Debs’. Her parents threw the most awesome parties. Good food, good music, good conversations, their parties had it all! And Khushi, being Khushi, was enjoying herself thoroughly, her outgoing, bubbly nature making her the center of every conversation that she was in.

She was unaware of the pair of eyes that followed her every move. Dark eyes that rarely let her out of their sight.

She stepped away from her friends to go the bathroom. That fruit punch was really getting to her, she thought. The bathroom was down the hallway, and it was relatively empty. She felt refreshed when she came out, having touched up the lipstick just a tad. She was putting her lipstick in her bag, when she collided with someone.

The tall lady in front of her was elegant, so say the least. Khushi made her out to be in her mid-thirties, about five-ten, and a body that was to die for, draped in a red sari that revealed more than it hid! Long fingers, with matching blood red nails steadied Khushi. The face matched the body – mature, flawless, perfect!

‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ Khushi stammered.

‘No, don’t be. Is that the bathroom?’ the lady asked. Her voice was deep and husky.

‘Yes, it is.’

‘Oh. Thank you,’ the lady stepped inside. Khushi looked at the closed door and shrugged before walking away.

Ananhita, Debs, Khushi and a bunch of their classmates were chatting in a group, when Deb’s mother came up to them. With her was the Lady in Red – as Khushi was mentally starting to call her.

‘All of you, I want you to meet Ms. Gauri Virdi. Gauri, these are my daughter’s classmates,’ she announced. They shook hands with the woman, most of them in awe of the name. Gauri Virdi was the owner of the best modeling agency in India. She had a commanding presence and was known to be a hard task master and a hard-nosed business woman. In a man’s world she was the Queen.

‘Good to meet you all,’ she said. ‘And you’re Khushi,’ she bestowed a smile upon her.

‘Yes I am. Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t recognize you before’.

‘That’s okay,’ graciously shaking the hand that Khushi extended. She paused and said, ‘can I talk to you for a moment?’

‘Sure’, Khushi was a little bit nervous.

They stepped aside and Gauri turned to her. ‘You’ve got potential, you know. You carry yourself well, good bone structure, flawless skin, you’d make a great model. Have you thought about it?’ Her eyes were appraising the astonished girl in front of her.

‘No! I… er .. Actually I never gave it a thought.’

‘You should. You’d do well,’ she opened her purse. ‘Think about it. And if you do decide you want to try your hand at modeling, give me a call,’ holding out a small business card.

Khushi took it, stammering out her gratitude, and placed it in her purse. Gauri reached out and lightly touched her cheek, then she turned and walked away.

Weird, thought Khushi, a vague uneasiness settling into her stomach.

The week passed by uneventfully. She had been interviewing with a number of companies, but nothing was popping at her yet. Not that she didn’t have offers, she did, her portfolio guaranteed her that much. It was she who was looking for just the right fit. There was a new company on the horizon, AR Fashions; she had seen their work and their direction was one she had felt most in tune with. She felt that if she started with a new company, she would grow with it and be established in a few years, as opposed to starting small in a big company. She had so wanted a job there, but there had been no response from them so far.

Tired and hungry after a long day, she was coming home in the cab when her cell rang. She answered automatically, ‘Hello?’

‘Khushi?’ She was puzzled. She didn’t know this voice. It was almost a whisper. And she couldn’t make out if it was a man or a woman.


‘Khushi, how are you, my angel?’

Her eyes widened in surprise. ‘Who is this?’

A short burst of breath, almost like a laugh held in, floated down the line, ‘it’s me,’ said the whisper.

‘Who’s me?’ She was getting nervous now.

‘Someone who loves you dearly.’ Shocked, she held the phone away from her ears.

‘Shut up, you asshole!’ she almost shouted. ‘Who the heck do you think you are? If you don’t tell me your name I’ll..’

‘I’ll what, Khushi?’

She didn’t know what to say. She hung up.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Walk the Line: Chapter - 14

In a small hotel room in Delhi, Shyam Manohar Jha sat brooding. The room was almost dark, the only illumination coming from the lights outside the window. They threw his face in the shadows more than light. The narrow chin, large heavy-lidded eyes, and thick lascivious lips shadowed by the goatee he wore. He fingered the chain around his neck as he sat thinking.

The picture in the newspapers had surprised him. He hadn’t even been looking at anything in particular when something about that photo caught his eye. She was here, in India, again. Khushi Kumari Gupta. The bane of his life. He has spent six months in jail because of that stupid chit of a girl, and now she was back!

But what was she doing here? The picture had not said much. There were two men in the picture, one a foreigner and one was Arnav Singh Raizada. She was a little behind them looking away, and she didn’t seem to be with them. The thought of her being in the same city as him made his face twitch.

There seemed to be no way to find out where she was, but he had. She was staying at the Raizada hotel. So she WAS with Arnav Singh Raizada after all. His whore, probably. ASR was known to have dozens of women throwing themselves at him. She must be one of them too. So much for the Miss Goody-two-shoes innocent act that she put on so effectively.

He hated her, hated her with every cell of his being. She had cost him six months of his life. Well now, she would pay for it. Pay for it in ways she couldn’t imagine.

The ringing of his cell startled him. He picked it up.

Rani Sahiba was calling.


Khushi hiccupped and drank some more water. He sat there with her hands in his listening to the horrific story, but his face was impassive. She didn’t hold anything back. He was furious, but one look at her wan face and he knew it was not time for anger. There would be time for that. For now, he had to find a way to protect her. The threat was very real.

‘Do your parents know the whole story?’

She shook her head. ‘I couldn’t tell them. I don’t know why I told you.’

‘Look at me, Khushi.’ She raised her eyes. ‘You’re my responsibility while you’re here. I won’t let anything happen to you.’

The fear came back into her eyes. ‘You can’t be with me all the time.’

‘I know.’ A small smile tilted the corner of his mouth. ‘But …you have to trust me.’ She nodded like a little child. ‘Go wash your face,’ he said.

While he waited for her to get ready, he ran through all that she had told him and all the options in his mind. She had to be safe, not just for this trip but for her entire life. She needed to be free of this fear, free of looking over her shoulder at every step. She had to feel safe again. He looked out into the darkness that lay over Delhi. Somewhere out there was Shyam Manohar Jha. And he had to get to him.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Walk the Line: Chapter - 13

Two weeks had gone by in a whirl. They had traveled to Mumbai, Kolkata, and Bengaluru, visiting plants, craftsmen and the markets. Back in Delhi, Khushi was exhausted but happy. This had been a good trip so far.

One discordant note stood out. The newspapers had got hold of the story. Photographers had been waiting at Mumbai airport, but the tight security screen around them had held strong. Aman had come through this time. She didn’t know how Arnav did it, but there had only been one photo of hers in the papers, just a side profile in the background.

Her parents were arriving at the end of the week. Payal and Akash’s wedding was to be held in Delhi itself in two weeks. Khushi would be returning back with them. The deal was almost done. Now it was in the hands of the lawyers who were drawing up the final paperwork.

She sighed as she walked into her room, undressing as she went. She turned on the taps to fill the bathtub, and pinned her hair up. She was longing for this soak. Sinking into the perfumed bubbles she closed her eyes and rested her head against the back, her mind blank. The ringing of the phone brought her back to reality. She picked up the phone next to the tub and said, ‘Hello?’

‘Khushi, you’re back in India and you didn’t tell me?’ she gasped. ‘How could you, Khushi? Do you know how much I’ve missed you?’ She slammed the phone down, staring at it in horror. The phone rang again. She cut it off. It rang a third time and she cut it off again. It rang again. Scrambling out of the tub, uncaring of the wet footprints she left on the marble floor, shivering in fright she ran into the bedroom. It stopped. Her cell phone rang. She picked it up. Arnav! Closing her eyes in gratitude she answered the phone.

‘Why the hell were you hanging up on me?’ angrily before she could even say hello.

‘It was you?’ she said.

‘Yes, it was me. I called the landline twice. You hung up on me. And the second time…’ he stopped. ‘What do you mean it was you?’

‘Nothing,’ she said, still trying to breathe.

‘Khushi?’ his throat was tight. ‘Khushi, what happened?’ He thought for a moment. ‘Did you get another call?’ Tears were streaming down her face. ‘Khushi, are you crying?’ He closed his eyes. ‘Don’t. Please, don’t,’ his voice broke. She didn’t say a word. ‘I’m coming right over. Stay in your room and don’t open it for anyone other than me. Okay?’

‘Okay’, she said.

He grabbed his jacket and keys and rushed out of his room. Nani was in the hall as she looked at him taking the stairs two at a time. ‘Chotey? What’s going on? Where are you off to in such a hurry?’

He didn’t respond, just walked out the door, already calling the hotel’s security manager. He was going to have his hide. ‘I want two people outside Miss Gupta’s room. Immediately. And no one goes in, unless she identifies the person. No one. Get it?’ He didn’t wait to hear the stammered response from the poor man. Fifteen minutes later he squealed to a stop in front of the hotel, he strode through to the reception, ‘where’s the manager?’

‘In his cabin, sir,’ the receptionist replied round-eyed.

‘Tell him to come up to Ms Gupta’s room, right now.’ He strode to the elevators.

The manager was already waiting when Arnav reached the floor. ‘I told you that Ms. Gupta’s security was of the utmost importance.’ He chewed the next words through clenched teeth. ‘There has been a security breach. From this point on, there will be NO incoming calls from outside this hotel on her landline, do I make myself clear?’

‘Y-yes sir,’ the totally intimidated manager stammered. The two guards looked on impassively.

‘Now, leave. And make sure I don’t have to do this again, because I won’t,’ he said. He knocked on the door, ‘Khushi?’

She opened the door; he stepped in and pushed it shut behind him. Her eyes were drenched in tears and he couldn’t take it anymore. He wrapped her in his arms, cradling her head with one hand, while she cried on his shoulder, her hands clenching his shirt. ‘It’s okay, Sh… I’m here now,’ he whispered. She calmed down after a bit, allowing him to lead her to a sofa. He sat her down and sat across from her on the table, holding her hands with both of his. ‘Look into my eyes, Khushi,’ he said, looking at her downcast face. ‘What’s going on?’

She drew a deep shuddering breath, wiped her nose on a tissue. She was still in her robe, damp tendrils dangling in front of her makeup-free tear-streaked face, and red moist eyes. She was the most beautiful person on the earth for him.

Walk the Line: Chapter - 12

Monday morning, breakfast at the Raizada household. Khushi had packed her stuff already, and made her way to the dining room.

‘Khushi,’ smiled Naniji. ‘Come, sit down.’ She looked approvingly at Khushi. Here was a girl who wore Western clothes, but maintained the modesty of her Indian upbringing. Today she was in a grey skirt that was pencil thin but flared at the knees in soft ruffles, a pink full-sleeved shirt, and high heels. Her hair was tied back in a ponytail that swayed as she walked. So far, all she had been wearing were ethnic clothes, but now, she looked like a woman with a successful career. Exactly the kind that Arnav needed by his side.

Khushi smiled back at Naniji and seated herself. Arnav was already there, drinking tea. Soon they were joined by the rest of the family. Anjali and her husband, Dilip, who’d arrived the night before, came down the stairs. They made a very cute couple, and were obviously very much in love.

‘Nani,’ Arnav was looking at his grandmother. ‘I am taking Khushi in to the office. Can you please have her bags sent to the hotel?’

‘Of course, Arnav, but why couldn’t she continue staying here?’

‘Nani, her boss arrived last night. There’ll be a ton of work that she will have to do, mostly with her boss. It makes sense for them to stay at the same place,’ he explained. He sipped his tea, ‘and then when her family arrives for the engagement and the wedding, they’ll be staying there as well, so ….’ He shrugged.

‘Khushi,’ Nani reached across and touched her hand. ‘We’d like you to spend time here with us whenever you can.’

‘Nani, it’s a business trip for her,’ he protested.

‘Chotey,’ she cut him off, ‘I’m not asking you. Are you telling me that she will be working the next few weekends, too? Do you want to work her to death?’

‘Nani,’ he sighed and gave up.

Khushi was smiling inside. So. There is one person in the Raizada household that didn’t get the ASR what-I-say-goes treatment. In fact, that’s probably where he got that stubborn trait from. She raised dancing eyes, and he glared right back at her.

They drove to the office in silence. No music in his car, she thought. Akash sat in the back going over some files. The offices of the AR group of companies were located in a tall glass and steel building. She followed them into the office to find Sergio waiting at the reception for them.

‘Sergio,’ ASR walked forward and shook hands. ‘My brother, Akash,’ he introduced him. ‘Come on up to my room.’ The four of them walked up the curved staircase to his cube. Glassed in, it gave a complete view of the cubes below. They sat down and began their day.

The day passed in a blur. By six o’clock Khushi was already trying discreetly to massage a crick in her neck. She had been given a desk in a room with AR’s Operations Director, Lavanya. Lavanya was tall and willowy and gorgeous. She was also the consummate professional. She had helped Khushi getting set up with what she needed for work.

ASR popped into the room. ‘Khushi?’ She looked up at him. ‘Let’s go. I’ll drop you off at the hotel.’

Lavanya raised her eyebrows at that. ASR doing a personal favor, so not like him. And he hadn’t even acknowledged her presence in the room, his whole attention focused on Khushi.

Khushi nodded and gathered her things together, slinging her back pack on one shoulder. They walked out of the door, failing to see the faint smirk on Lavanya’s face. Oh dear, ASR, she thought. You have it bad!

She walked into Akash’s cabin and stood with one hip resting against the door. He looked up at her and said, ‘Lavanya, come on in’.

‘Hi, Akash!’ she smiled showing off her dimples. Sitting down across from him, she crossed her ankle. ‘So… tell me about this Khushi girl. What’s going on with her and ASR?’

Akash was surprised at her astuteness. He’d known Lavanya for about as long as ASR had done. He’d known about her crush on him. But she had quickly realized that the way up the ladder at AR Group wasn’t via the bedroom and so had decided to use her brains instead, to get her what she wanted. And she’d been rewarded equally well for her efforts – monetarily as well as a with lasting friendship with ASR.

‘I don’t know what you mean, Lavanya,’ he parried.

‘Oh come on, Akash. You know that’s not true.’

He shook his head and said, ‘ASR will have our hides if he found us talking like this.’

‘He’s already left with Khushi’, she pointed out. He couldn’t help the small grin on his face at the memory of his brother’s very public kiss with that same Khushi. She didn’t miss it. ‘Give, Akash!’

He shook his head again. ‘Can’t Lavanya. Company policies.’

She raised her eyebrows, got up and sashayed out of the room.


ASR pulled up at the hotel and the doorman ran to get her door. He headed into the reception area where almost everybody came to attention at the sight of the owner walking into the hotel.

‘Is Miss Gupta’s room ready?’ he asked the obviously crush-ridden receptionist.

‘Yes, sir,’ she stammered, handing over the keys. ‘Her luggage has already been taken care of.’ The manager hovered in the background, smiling servilely.

Khushi was getting used to this now, people bowing and fawning over him. What is wrong with you people? She thought. He’s just a man.

The smooth elevators took them to the twenty-first floor. A large floor to ceiling window opened up to a vista of Delhi. On the other side corridors led off in both directions. They set off to the left. She noticed that each of the rooms had double doors. He stopped at one midway down the hall, slid in the card key and held open the door for her.

She gasped. The room was a suite. The living room was modern, decorated in grey-blues with ebony colored furniture. A large screen TV hung on one wall. A study table with full setup and a phone stood against the opposite wall. A single red rose stood in a thin, tall vase on the coffee table surrounded by plush sofas. A plate of cookies and chocolates sat next to it, along with an envelope. A set of double-doors led to the bedroom. A large king-sized bed dominated one wall. The floor to ceiling glass windows continued here with the same view of Delhi. One wall was a closet with frosted glass doors and a recessed luggage rack in which sat her bags. A robe had been laid out on the bed. There were more flowers in this room, all red roses.

She turned around and looked at him. He was watching her.

‘This is beautiful, Arnav,’ she sighed.

‘Thank you,’ he replied softly. ‘I hope you enjoy your stay.’ With that he moved to the door, turned back and said, ‘We’ll be going for dinner at seven-thirty.’ He raised his eyes, ‘can you be ready by then?’

She nodded. He let himself out. She turned back to the room and looked around. Kicking off her heels, she walked over to the cookies and picked one up. The envelope caught her eye. She opened it. It was a standard welcome letter for guests of the hotel, signed by Arnav Singh Raizada. But at the bottom in his slashing handwriting she read, ‘One month is over, Khushi’.

She closed her eyes and bit her lip as her heart beats quickened. Like so many times in the past month, she relived that kiss - the smell of him, the feel of his soft lips, the taste, the sight of his darkened eyes, blazing with passion, the rough touch of his stubble and his thumbs on her cheeks. The whispered promise. One month was over. What now? In the past three days, never once had he encroached on her space, not once had he tried to speak to her privately. All these unsaid things between them. What was it?

She shook herself from her reverie and hastened to the bedroom. Her bags had already been unpacked, her clothes neatly hanging in the closet and her lingerie in the drawers. She retrieved her handbag from the living room and pulled out the jewelry case at the bottom, along with her passport. She tucked them into the safe and locked it.

By the time Arnav got home that night, it was almost eleven o’clock. He had dropped Sergio and Khushi off at the hotel first. He walked into his room and started undressing. Well? Said the imp. Well what? He asked. Well, me lad, how was your evening? The imp cackled. Shut up! Shut up!! SHUT UP!! He didn’t want to think of the evening. Tearing off his jacket, tie and waistcoat, he paced in his room. His shirt felt too confining, and he unbuttoned the collar, the sleeves, rolling them up, pacing all the while.

All day, he’d had to force himself to focus on his work. She was a singular distraction that he couldn’t take right now. But flashes of her beautiful eyes came into mind at the most inconvenient moments. He spun around. And then this evening! He swallowed, closing his eyes. She had worn black. A simple little black dress, except it showed off the creamy expanse of her shoulders and not much else. Full sleeved and down to her knees, it was perfect on her, the clingy material revealing her curves and yet not revealing anything at all. What was happening to him? Why couldn’t he stop thinking about her?

In typical ASR fashion he decided to take stock. She wasn’t beautiful, not in the conventional sense of the word. She was definitely not his type.

No, said the imp, she’s ethereal, that’s the word you’re looking for.

She was smart, no doubt about it. It had amused him at first when he learnt how much about the fashion world she knew. But then she started having a counterpoint to almost every point he brought up. Sergio had sat back, smiling as his protégé took on ASR. So yes, she was smart.

The imp nodded sagely.

And goofy, he hadn’t forgotten the ridiculous dance in Monterey. What was she thinking?

Not much, said the imp, she was feeling and expressing herself! Something you would know little about.

She loved music. He preferred silence.

Sometimes there’s music is silence and silence in music, pontificated the imp.

And she was traditional.

That she is, agreed the imp.

I don’t like traditional. I like modern.

Yeah, right.

Nani and di like her.

Yes, they do. They see more to her than you do, agreed the imp.

She is annoying. She argues with me.

That’s cause she isn’t afraid of the great ASR, na-na na-na na na, said the imp.

He was exhausted. He threw himself on the bed and passed out like a light.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Walk the Line: Chapter - 11

Khushi woke up in the early hours of the morning, 3 o’clock by the bedside clock. She looked around the unfamiliar room lit only by a dim night lamp, and slowly woke up. How long had she been asleep? The house was dead quiet and it was dark outside. It was three in the morning?! She’d been asleep for fourteen hours! She frowned, as she vaguely remembered a phone call. Getting out of bed, she picked up her phone. Four missed calls. Arnav! She shook her head. Wide awake now, she figured there was no point in trying to sleep anymore. Looking around the room, she found a small fridge, thankfully stocked with water and juice. She freshened up, took a bottle of water and pulled out her laptop.

There was a guest wireless network that she could jump on. She logged in and started checking her emails. A small popup came on screen. NK was pinging her! She grinned.

‘NK bro, gm’ she typed.

‘Khushi, how r u? Glad u reached safe. How u liking Delhi?’

‘just woke up, lol. It’s 3 in the am’.

‘wt u doing up so early?’

‘couldn’t sleep. Slept for 14 hrs already’.



‘hows everybody?’

‘good. They r so nice 2 me.’

Far away in San Francisco, NK smiled. He was wondering how to phrase the next question when he saw the message from her.

‘got new phone #. .. +91 98…’ she typed in the rest.


‘ya. Asr gave me… ‘ she stopped writing and erased it. ‘ya’.

‘kewl’. He had no doubt who was behind her getting a new phone number.

They chatted for a while and said goodbye/goodnight. She was about to log off when another popup came.

‘wt u doing up so early?’ ASR.

She looked her screen then typed, ‘wt U doin up so early?’

‘don’t need sleep’

Really?! ‘nor me’

‘ya right. U were out like a light!’ he paused. ‘u ok now?’


It wasn’t the first time they had chatted, but this was the first time they had chatted about anything other than impersonal business talk.

‘u shd get some rest’

‘u 2’

‘k’ – she was surprised. ‘g nite’

‘nite’ she typed. Finally shutting down, she got back into bed. The sound of water woke her up a few hours later. Someone was watering the lawn. It was about seven in the morning. She felt refreshed and ready to face the weekend.

Walk the Line: Chapter - 10

A muggy, muddy looking cloud hung low over Delhi. The sun struggled to pierce through the thick atmosphere, until finally the plane came in lower over the city. She was feeling woozy after the long flight. Though she was flying first class, the twenty-odd hours of flying had taken its toll on her. She could feel the cotton-wool feeling in her mouth – dehydration, although she’d taken care to drink lots of water during the flight. Her insanely focused lifestyle would also have taken its toll had she not decided to stick to her daily routine swim.

The plane was taxiing to the jet way as she tried to see out of the window. There wasn’t much to see. It was pretty much like any other airport – out in the middle of nowhere! It came to a halt at one of the jet ways, and slowly the passengers started moving towards the exit. The hall smelt of phenyl – why did they all smell like that? She could feel her nostrils itching as they were irritated by the strong antiseptic. Immigration was mercifully quick.

She hitched her backpack on her back, and handbag in hand was following the signs for baggage when she heard herself being paged. ‘Bangkok arriving passenger Khushi Kumari Gupta, could you please go to the nearest house phone?’ She was surprised. She was looking around for a phone when a man came up to her.

‘Ms Gupta?’ he said. She nodded. ‘Please come with me.’

She was getting nervous about this, but this was an airport, so she should be okay, she thought. She followed him through the baggage hall and then she saw him. Arnav. Tall, elegant as ever in his three-piece suit, one hand in his pocket, standing and talking casually with a man in a white uniform. He turned right then to look straight at her.

‘Hi’ he said, before turning to his companion. ‘Mr. Mehta, this is Khushi Kumari Gupta,’ he introduced her to the man in white who held a clipboard in his hand. ‘Khushi, this is Mr. Mehta, head of customs at Delhi airport.’

‘Hullo, Miss Gupta’, she nodded at him. ‘May I see your passport and boarding pass?’ She handed them over to him. He looked them through, and checked something on the clipboard. ‘I see you have two bags’, he handed over the boarding pass with the baggage stickers to the man who’d brought Khushi over. ‘Bring madam’s bags over. Can you please describe your bags to him?’

She was highly surprised by all this but decided to go with the flow. ‘They are both olive green, soft luggage,’ she said, ‘a duffel bag and a suitcase’.

The men continued talking till the minion came back with a luggage cart, both her bags securely in it. She put her back pack onto it as well.

‘Please come with me,’ Mr Mehta said. They followed him to the diplomatic channel. He unhooked the ropes and led them through it.

‘Hey!’ said a man standing in the long line for the ordinary people. ‘How come she goes through there?’ He started moving towards their line.

‘This is the diplomatic channel,’ Mr. Mehta was obviously used to handling people and making his word count. ‘Please stay in your line’. Then he gestured for Khushi and Arnav to follow him. Once through the metal detectors, he handed Khushi’s passport over to her. ‘Nice meeting you, Ms. Gupta. Welcome back to India. Mr. Raizada’, they shook hands, ‘a pleasure as always, sir.’

‘Thank you,’ she said, still dazed by the events. She turned to Arnav but he was already on his phone, asking his driver to bring the car around.

They stepped out of the doors and started walking along the sidewalk, the minion still pushing her cart along behind them. A flash went off in Khushi’s eyes.

‘Shit!’ she heard him exclaim. He stepped in front of her, shielding her with his body, dragging her through the small crowd of paparazzi that had somehow found them there. She didn’t know what was happening, and panic was rising in her throat. But his warm clasp on her forearm made her feel safe somehow. He would take care of it. He bundled her into a car, the door held open by the driver, who’d already seen the photographers. They were shouting questions at him, at her.

‘Miss? What is your name?’

‘Mr. Raizada, who is your companion?’

‘Is this your fiancée?’

‘Who is the lady, Mr.Raizada?’

He jumped in next to her and slammed the door shut, the tinted glasses finally affording some shelter. The driver helped the minion place the luggage in the trunk quickly. Then he too, jumped in, started the car and peeled away from the curb.

He leaned back and closed his eyes. How had this happened? He looked across at her.

She was looking terrified. ‘What is going on, Arnav? Why are they hounding us?’

He shook his head. ‘Reporters,’ he said. ‘They follow me around. I was hoping to get you out of here quickly. I’m sorry.’

‘Why would they think you and I?’ she choked.

He shook his head again. ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He dialed a number. ‘Aman. There were reporters at the airport today. I don’t want this getting into the media, okay?’ Pause. ‘Yes, she’s here with me and I think one of them got a photo of her.’ Pause. ‘Each and every one of them. Yah, make sure that it happens right away, Aman.’ He hung up and looked over at her. ‘Aman will take care of it,’ he said, wanting to remove that panicked look on her face

She was dazed. For the first time, she was glimpsing the kind of power that money and status could buy. His presence at the airport ensured that she didn’t have to go through the hassle of customs. It was a luxury that few could afford. And then this! Paparazzi! Was he really that famous in his country? And he could squash newspaper reports of him with just a call? She was unnerved by the thought. She hadn’t seen this side of him before. There was a hard look to his face, an implacable harshness that only those that opposed him saw. His eyes were cold and flat. Arnav Singh Raizada was furious!

His jaw was clenched in anger, anger directed towards himself for not taking better care of her. The deal with Sergio was essential to AR’s growth plans. It had been Sergio’s choice to bring Khushi to India, and he hadn’t stopped to think what it might mean to her, knowing what he did. Nor could he tell Sergio how to run his business or his resources. For a long while, he stayed silent.

She stared out of the window not knowing what to say or do, blindly watching the scenery flash by. She jumped at the touch on her arm. He looked calmer now and he was holding a box out to her. ‘What is it?’ He signed with his eyes that she should take it. She took it from him and opened it. Inside was the latest smartphone. She raised her eyebrows and looked at him.

‘I already have a phone,’ she said.

‘I know. But this one has an Indian SIM card and plan. And I know you would want to call your family, so…’ he shrugged. ‘I’ve fed your family’s number into it, as well as NK’s and Sergio’s,’ he said.

She turned it on, delighted with the beautiful touch screen. She opened up her contacts list and right on top was ‘Arnav’. He’d fed in his numbers for her, too. A tentative smile touched the corner of her lips.

All the anger left his body and the tension left his face as he saw that small smile. Sigh! Went the imp.

She was surprised when the car drew up to the gates of the Raizada mansion. ‘What is this?’ she asked. ‘This isn’t the Raizada hotel?’

He nodded. ‘You’re staying with us for the weekend. Nani and di insisted. Once Sergio gets here, then you can move to the Raizada hotel. It’s also closer to our offices.’

It finally dawned on her why her travel arrangements had been different from Sergio’s.

Stepping into the Raizada mansion was a revelation for her. A yawning hallway stretched in front of her. Tastefully decorated with seating areas, it was modern and traditional all at the same time. In front of her stood the smiling trio of Naniji, Mamiji and Anjali who held a thaal in her hand.

Anjali felt choked as she looked at the picture in front of her. Arnav, her Chotey, standing to the right and slightly behind Khushi, who stood smiling at them. She moved forward and performed an aarti applying a small tika on Khushi’s forehead. She smiled, reaching out a hand to draw Khushi in, and said, ‘Come in, Khushi.’ She didn’t miss how Khushi crossed the threshold with her right foot forward. Silently she sent a prayer up to the Gods. Let this one be the one.

And so, Khushi Kumari Gupta entered the Raizada mansion for the first time.

‘Hari Prakash,’ Naniji called the servant. ‘Get Khushi’s bags and bring them to her room, please.’

They were gathered in one of the seating areas. Arnav remained standing. ‘Di, I have a few calls to make, I’m going to my room.’ She nodded, and he turned and walked up the stairs to one side of the hall vanishing along the corridor, not looking back over his shoulder.

‘Khushi, we are so glad you could stay the weekend with us,’ Anjali was smiling sweetly, with a hand on Khushi’s shoulder. They chatted for a while, and then Anjali said, ‘you must be tired after that long flight. Why don’t you go freshen up? We’ll have lunch after that.’

The guest room on the second floor was beautiful. Airy, light, the color scheme reminded her of a desert. There was a seating area in a niche with light colored bamboo seats, and bright cushions. A large king-sized bed occupied one wall and a dresser alongside it. These were also in the same light colored furniture with similarly bright pillows and throws. Potted plants in different nooks brought the green of an oasis into the desert themed room. Light curtains blew in the breeze. She looked out the window and saw a lush lawn and gardens.

A quick shower in an extremely well-appointed bathroom helped revive her a little. She decided to wear a churidar-kameez discarding the jeans and shirt she’d worn on the flight for more traditional wear. Out in the hallway, she saw Hari Prakash coming towards her.

‘Khushi didi, lunch is ready. Please follow me,’ he said.

The dining table was large and ornate, and could easily seat ten. Nani, mama, mami had already arrived and Anjali was just making her way there from the kitchen a bowl of something in her hand. ‘Let me help,’ said Khushi, moving towards her.

‘No, no, Khushi, not today,’ smiled Anjali. ‘Today, you are our guest. Tomorrow, we shall see.’ Placing the bowl on the table, she seated herself.

Khushi had just sat down, when she saw Arnav coming down the stairs, followed by Hari Prakash. The mealtime was dominated with small talk, primarily by the three Raizada women. Mama was wont to make a crack or two at his wife, but it was obvious that he loved his Manno very much. Arnav kept silent for the most part. Khushi just watched the dynamics of the group around her. It was clear to her that while Arnav didn’t say much, when he did everyone listened.

As they were finishing, he turned to her and said, ‘Khushi, I’d like to go over some stuff with you. Can you please come to the study at about two?’


‘Chotey!’ Both Naniji and Anjali protested at once. Nani looked sternly at him. ‘Chotey, she has just arrived after a long flight. She needs to rest. Besides she is here in Shantivan (so is that the name of the house, wondered Khushi) as our guest. She will not be working while she is here.’

‘But, Nani..’

‘No buts, Chotey! I have said it and that’s final. While Khushi is here, she is not working. Once her boss gets here, then she can start.’

He sat back, frustrated, but he also knew when to give in to his equally immovable Nani. Khushi was giving him an apologetic look.

Right after lunch, she started feeling a little light-headed. Making her excuses, she went to her room to lie down for a while. She thought it would be a while only, but she wasn’t aware of when she fell asleep. The ringing tones of a bell brought her up from the layers of sleep. She sat up trying to orient herself. The room was dark and she could see a flashing light on the table. Groggily, she walked over and picked it up. It was the new phone and the name flashing on it was Arnav.

‘Hullo,’ she whispered. Her eyes were refusing to stay open and her breathing was still deep.

There was silence at the other end. Then, ‘why the hell didn’t you pick up the phone earlier?’ he rasped.

She looked at the phone – three missed calls. She must have slept through them. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. She was trying hard to stay awake. ‘I…I…’

‘Khushi? Are you okay?’ he sounded concerned.

‘Yeah.. yes… ‘ she still could not focus. He had hung up. She looked at the phone, puzzled, put it down and stood for a bit. Her eyelids were feeling so heavy she closed them, her head was drooping and she was swaying on her feet when he barged in through the door. Quickly he scooped her up in his arms and took her to the bed. He laid her down gently, his eyes never leaving her face. Anjali rushed in right after him.

‘Chotey? What happened? Why were you running? Is Khushi okay?’ anxiousness laced her voice.

‘It’s okay, di,’ he started to straighten up and then realized that Khushi’s fingers was holding tight onto his lapel. Just like she had that last time. Anjali noticed it, her eyes flying to his face watching him. Gently, he untangled her fingers and brought her hand down. She helped him draw the covers over Khushi who was deep in sleep again.

‘What happened, Chotey?’

‘Nothing,’ he shook his head. ‘I think she’s just jet-lagged. Let her sleep.’

Anjali nodded. She flipped on a small night lamp, then brother and sister left the room. But not before he turned to look at her sleeping face. Awwwww! Said the imp.