Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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 fiancĂ©e?’

‘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?’

‘Arnav!’

‘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.

7 comments:

  1. Its a great FF, waiting for more to come, do Update soon

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  2. ...and the imp spared me from awwwing . but, arnav watching khushi slep? awww.

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  3. See i told you i love this imp...........aaaawwww.
    What a great FF.............so so glad that i found this.

    Liza

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  4. Well, I'm Awwwwwing at the imp's Awwww... Wow, what VVIP treatment... Great update...

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  5. I think im going to join the imp.... Awww!

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