Thursday, August 30, 2012

SS - The Twilight Zone

The door bell was ringing and ringing. Arnav Singh Raizada woke up with a start. Huh? What was going on? Why wasn’t HP answering the door? 

He crawled out of bed, his eyes going automatically to the other side where Khushi slept, except she wasn’t there. She hadn’t been there in a while, ever since the wedding had been fixed. She was still at Gupta House. A smile tugged his mouth at the thought of his beautiful wife. Yes, she was still his wife, regardless of what the world thought, Arnav thought of her as his wife. 

The commotion outside took his attention away from his reverie. Yes, Arnav Singh Raizada even had reveries these days, all occupied by the wide eyes of Khushi Kumar Gupta .... Singh Raizada. 

The commotion was coming closer. He frowned wondering what the heck was going on? 

‘What the - ‘, he thought, before the door slammed open. He stared at it. 

She was a little over five feet, tall, slim - well more curvy than slim - and wore a pair of snug jeans. A cut-work pair of beige booties covered her well-manicured feet. A baby pink top with shoe-string straps clung to her ample bosom. A pair of glasses hid deep brown eyes. Her hair was half-way down her back, the morning sun picking out the purple in the red. Purple hair? 

Arnav stared at her and then said, ‘what the f-’! 

She looked at him and said, ‘Why the heck don’t you just say fuck, man? I mean it’s not like we don’t know you mean to say ‘fuck’, you know’. 

He stepped back. Okay, he couldn’t say ‘What the-’ anymore. So he started with, ‘Who the hell are you, anyway? And what do you mean by barging into my bedroom without knocking?’ 

HP still stood in the doorway staring at this mysterious woman! 

‘Oh come on!’ she said exasperated. ‘Listen, dude, everybody just barges into your room anyway, so why not me?’ 

‘What? Who?’ 

‘Who? Dude, your bedroom is the Grand Fucking Central Station - Dadi, Nani, Di, Mami - I mean, come on dude, never heard of locks?’ 

He stared at her as she launched on her tirade. 

‘Listen, dude, lemme just say that your KKGSR’s DM sent me here.’ 


She sighed. ‘Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada. Devi Mayya.’ 


‘Yeah. Okay now listen. We’ve decoded a bunch of stuff. By the way, can I just sit down now?’ She plonked herself on the lounger. ‘Geeze, this is hard! How the hell did you sleep on it those nights?’ 

‘How did you-?’ 

‘Look I’ve worked with the whole team. And this is what we’ve decoded. Plus we think you need to stop thinking with your Chotey and think with that Harvard brain you supposedly have under that mop you call hair.’ 

By now Arnav had flopped on the bed staring at this virago. 

‘Hello. Hi. Bye. Bye,’ Mamiji’s annoying chant for the first time was a welcome sound to his ears. 

SHE shut her eyes in frustration. ‘Mamiji - Enough with the Hello Hi already! Besides, what the hell is wrong with you? Why do you treat Payal so badly? I mean look at her, She’s this real sweet girl who doesn’t open her mouth. But you treat her like shit. What’d she ever do to you? And what’s with the clown make-up? Lady, you need to take lessons- ’ Whatever she was going to say was drowned out by Mamiji’s loud wails as she ran away from the room. 

SHE took a deep breath and turned to him, opening her mouth to continue. 

‘Okay, Stop!’ he said before she could say another word, holding up his left hand. ‘Who the hell are you?’ 

She shook her head at him and said, ‘It doesn’t matter who I am.’ 

He narrowed his eyes, putting on his best Akdoo ASR look. 

‘Aw... Look at you, ‘ she smiled and tugged on his cheeks. His mouth fell open. ‘Look, I’m only here to help you.’ 

‘HELP me? With What?’ he couldn’t help it. SHE was like a tornado and he was getting sucked into it. ‘Look - at least tell me your name,’ he said. 

‘GirlOfFire’, she said. 

‘Huh? What kind of name is that?’ 

‘One that I’ve had since the days of free internet email. Now... we’ve got work to do.’ 

‘Work?’ What the fuck was she talking about? 

From the bag on her shoulder, she took out an ipad, and a folder of printouts. ‘Look, we dont have much time,’ she said. 

‘No time for WHAT?’ 

‘Oh till Snakewa attacks you again.’ 


‘Yeah. Shyam. That asshole of a brother-in-law you should have got your sister divorced from ages ago and sent to jail. Instead you land him two tamachas and thats IT? Like, Dude, he tried to kill you!’ 

‘How do you know?’ 

‘The CVs.’ 

‘CVs? ‘ 

‘Never mind that. Listen you know that time you were romancing Khushi with the roses in the hallway? And the whole clan walked in? Well see - that reminded them of the temple marriage’. 

‘The WHAT?’ 

‘Yeah the one between your dad and this other woman.’ He narrowed his eyes. ‘Dude, no point looking at me like that. See we also thought that was Shyam’s sister. But turns out it wasn’t so. And then your sister is having twins. Besides there’s the spinach that Khushi gave you.’ 


‘I know,’ she shook her head sadly at him. ‘I mean even the sonograms don’t show that other baby, but you know what all those pickles jars in GH-’ 

‘The WHAT in the WHERE?!’ She shut him up with a wave of her hand. 

‘And the numbers on the clock. I mean your name means Ocean, right? And Khushi was carrying two pots of water and you spilled one. So you have to do something with water!’ 

‘WHAT? WHAT-ER?’ he was now reduced to echoing her incomprehensible statements. ‘Look. STOP!’ he yelled. 

She sat back, looking at him surprised. He jumped up and started pacing, fingers raking through his over-gelled hair and getting stuck in them. 

‘Look - I still dont know who you are? Why are you here? and why the fuck am I even listening to you?’ His voice was rising with each question. His panther-like strides brought him in front of her. He leaned down, his voice dangerously lowering, ‘I should have you locked up.’ There was menace in his husky voice. 

She looked up at him with adoring eyes. ‘Wow! I could drown in those caramel eyes!’ she whispered. 

‘What?!’ he straightened up. ‘Look let’s start all over again, okay?’ 

She sighed. ‘Okay. I already told you about the pickle jars and the temple marriage. I still have to tell you about NK.’ 

‘NK? What about him?’ 

‘See - he doesn’t just speak in Hindi .. he speaks in code.’ 


‘Yeah - lemme give you an example,’ sounding like a teacher explaining to a very small child. ‘Yesterday he said Jalwa, Dhaar, Tamacha, Machhi and he wanted to see a horror movie.. Did you guys see a horror movie?’ He found himself nodding almost mesmerized by the speed at which she talked. ‘So which JAWS was it?’ 

His mouth popped open. ‘Told ya,’ she shrugged nonchalantly. ‘So listen to NK, besides he is Khushi’s sakha’. 

‘Who’s What?’ 

‘Yeah and you’re her Alfie. And only you can bring her out of the Maze of the Minotaur,’ 

‘The WHO? the WHAT?!’ 

‘Dude,’ she was getting exhausted with his constant interruptions. ‘Did you even go to Harvard ? You keep saying WHAT like you don’t know what I’m talking about.’ 

She sighed. ‘Okay. Listen - if you went to Harvard, why the heck didn’t you follow up when you saw that wire? And if I were you, I’d fire that security guard of you’se. He’s an idiot. Let in Shyam TWICE!! Who do you think put the glass in your sis’s doormat?’ 

‘What?! Glass in Di’s room?’ He jumped up ready to run out of the room. 

‘Relax, Dude. Besides there’s the gloves under the bed and the will under the cradle. Meantime, I gotta tell you about the clocks!’ 

‘What? Clock?! What do clocks have to -’ 

Right at that moment Dadiji walked in followed by Naniji. 

‘Arnaw,’ she said, ‘Who is this woman? And what is she doing here?’ 

‘Dadi, I-’ 

‘Lemme handle this, dude.’ She got up and strolled up to Dadiji who was a good couple of inches taller than her. ‘Dadiji, hmm?’ 

‘What are you doing in my grandson’s room?’ she thundered. 

‘Helping him,’ nonchalantly. 

‘Helping him with what?’ 

‘Clearing the wool from his eyes and his head.’ 

Dadi held up her hand. Stop sign. 

‘Dadi - I have to ask you this. Were you a cop in the ashram?’ 

Dadi breathed in deeply. ‘How dare you? Did your parents not teach you etiquette?’ 

‘Actually they did. But apparently yours didn’t.’ 

‘What?!” - ASR 

‘What?!’ - Dadi 

‘Beti...’ - Nani 

‘What The-’ Mamiji who was hanging around in the corridor. 

‘Yeah - manners, courtesy, etiquette. Call it what you like, Dadiji. My parents taught me to respect other PEOPLE... See that Grandson of yours over there? He worked his arse off to get to where he is. And you come in here and think you can rule the roost? That HIS happiness doesn’t matter in HIS house? Who the heck do you think is feeding you? Huh? Huh?’ She leaned in close to Dadi almost nose-to-nose. 

Dadi went an interesting shade of red, a little paler than a beetroot. 

‘And you are in cahoots with Shyam and Anjali - letting her sneak off to visit that no-good hubby of hers and ‘ she stopped, poking her finger at Dadi’s chest. 

Arnav was standing there nostrils flaring, eyes narrowed in anger. A vein jumped in his forehead. ‘Dadi is this true?’ he ground out. 

Dadi just clenched her jaws much like her grandson. 

‘Get out of my house.’. Pause. ‘GET OUT!’ 

‘Whoa! that was good, my boy,’ she patted him on his back. 

‘And you!’ 

“yeah - Im gonna go too. But dude, next time you gotta kiss KKG - make it quick, huh? cause you get interrupted too much. Whole Grand Central station know,’ she said. 'Besides the SP nuns might catch you at it,'

He sighed and sat down again head in his hands. 

‘Please just go,’ he said. 

‘I will, just as soon as I tell you about the last decode,’ she said. She tapped her iPad and brought up some pictures.. ‘See here? Where you and Khushi are standing apart? Now that means separation, but in this picture you are together, but at the back. That means you’re gonna take a back seat to what Dadi will do. You cant do that dude, it’ll fuck up you’re entire life! Dude you’ve gotta have your SR before he comes back in!’ 

‘That’s it! I've had enough!!’ he said, picking up her papers and thrusting them in her hands. ‘Leave NOW, before I call the police.’ 

‘Alright, alright, no need to be so rude,’ she said. ‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you.’ And with that she was gone out of the room. 

He lay there wondering what the hell just happened. His cell phone rang. Khushi. He smiled as he picked up the phone. 

‘Arnavji,’ she sounded flustered. ‘You won’t believe what just happened.’ 

‘What happened?’ he had a vague premonition which turned to certainty as she spoke. 

‘This girl came to our house. Said her name was Redwine. Now what kind of name is that? Any way she had the strangest things to say..’ 

He groaned and lay back in bed. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 28

Warning: This Chapter contains Mature Subject Matter and has a PG18+ rating! Please leave if you are not at least 18 years of age.

The only sounds in the sound proofed workout room were the soft whooshes of breathing, grunts and thumps of bare feet hitting the wooden floor. Sweat glistened on his brow. The corded muscles of his back and arms and chest bunched as he swung from one move to another, easily and gracefully going through the stances. His long leg kicked out and a harsh cry erupted from his throat. One more, and another harsh cry accompanied it. For an hour he practiced, almost covered in sweat. His inner qi coiling, releasing like the strike of a snake or a tiger. His hands turning into claws or fists and slashing like blades. Each muscle moving in perfect unison with the next. Jeet Kune Do was hard to practice on one’s own, so he usually kept his solo practices for Kung-fu. He’s started learning Kung-Fu as an outlet for his pent-up energy and to keep fit. He’d ended up with Jeet Kune Do because he understood the concept of reality and fluidity. Finally, he was done, breathing deeply through his nose as his pulses calmed down.

He picked up a towel from the bench it lay on, and wiped the sweat from his face. He only wore the bottom part of the gi, the uniform, a black loose pair of pants held in place by a cloth belt. His torso was smooth and right now, very sweaty.

The gym was at the back of Raizada House and Arnav used it when he could. One wall was completely mirrored with a cushioned wooden floor in front, where he practiced his martial arts. At the far wall stood a fully equipped Bowflex, a recent addition that he tried to use every now and then. The glider stood next to it, as well as a rowing machine. A TV hung on the wall facing the equipment. There wasn’t too much equipment in the room, but then it was compact and served the needs of the owner. Staying fit was important to him given his diabetic condition. With the monsoon season it wasn’t always easy to go out jogging. Although the monsoons hadn’t started yet, today was one of those days. The heavens seemed to have opened up and rain poured unrelentingly down in torrents. Delhi traffic was going to be a big mess.

The gym was also a little private haven for him. Few people entered this room. Akash sometimes used it, and he knew that Mami had tried the treadmill once, but given up as too strenuous. So he was surprised to hear the door opening behind him. It must be Hari, he thought, and said, ‘take the towel and put it in the laundry.’ There was no sound behind him. He turned around to see Khushi standing there in warm ups, a bottle of water in hand, and a towel on her shoulder. She was staring at him as if she’d never seen him before. He wondered why and then realized she’d never seen him half-naked and this close, had she?.. the imp made himself comfortable and picked up a bag of popcorn. This was going to be good!

‘Hi’ he said, his pleasure at her presence clearly visible on the smile on his face.

‘Hi’, she replied trying hard not to stare at those smooth muscles. ‘Is it okay if I use the glider?’ she managed in a throat gone suddenly very very dry.

‘You don’t have to ask. Just use it. It gets precious little work these days,’ he answered.

He came really close to her now, and she could smell the musky fragrance of his cologne mixed with sweat - a heady concoction that was making her light-headed.

‘You know martial arts?’ she asked the first question that popped into her head.

‘Kung-fu and Jeet Kune do. Do you?’ he asked her.

‘No. No. I don’t.’ God, she’d have to stop stammering, she thought.

‘Pity. I would’ve liked sparring with you,’ he said. Then he stepped back, giving her some space. ‘Go on,’ he waved his hand at the equipment. ‘I’ve completed my workout. It’s all yours.’ With that, he turned around and headed to the small attached washroom.

She quickly wriggled out of her sweats, put on a head band and headed to the elliptical. Warm-up over, she hit the controls on the glider, raising the difficulty level. The movements were now faster, straining her thighs, calves and butt, the sweat beginning to bead on her brow and neck, trickling down between her breasts. The pounding of power classics in her ears from her iPod kept her rhythm going. She also didn’t hear him come back into the room, this time covered up in light warmups.

He watched her, his eyes wandering from the tight butt in the clinging navy tights to the toned abs and muscles in her arms. Thin as she was, she was whip-cord tight. His lips parted as he remembered last night. With a smirk he turned around and walked out the gym.

Dude, what a wasted opportunity, the imp said. The bowflex, dude, the bowflex. Arnav looked pityingly at the imp. There’s time, he said.


‘Traffic is a mess,’ said Mamaji, as he pulled out a chair and sat himself at the breakfast table.

‘Then its decided,’ said Nani. ‘Khushi, you can’t go the hotel today, and its just not worth it going shopping. You’ll be sitting in traffic all day if you do.’

‘Besides, its your vacation, right?’ Anjali piped in. She placed food on the plate in front of her husband Dilip who had arrived the previous day and would be staying till the wedding.

Khushi just nodded.

‘Then I suggest we just hang out today, and whatever work we can complete on the phone, let’s do that,’ Anjali said with a note of finality in her voice.

Khushi nodded agreeably. Anjali was quite a force, she thought. She is all sweetness and light, but she does get her own way most of the time.

‘Khushi, I’ve arranged a video conference with Sergio today, and you should be present for it,’ Arnav cut in. Looks like today Anjali was not going to get her way, Khushi thought with a small smile.

‘But Chotey, she is on vacation, how can she be working?’ asked Nani.

‘Nani,’ said Arnav, ‘she is Sergio’s eyes on the ground here. She needs to be there for this.’

‘Besides, Chotey,’ Anjali was determined not to be thwarted. ‘I need her to work with me on some of the menus. There are so many rituals coming up.’

‘Di, you’re quite capable of doing it by yourself. In any case, Jiju is here too. He’ll help you. I need Khushi.’ The last sentence was in English as Arnav Singh Raizada was wont to be truly bilingual mixing Hindi and English equally easily with never a thought to grammar and syntax.

There was pin drop silence around the table as everyone turned to look at him, no one had missed the double entendre. Khushi could feel her cheeks burning!

‘You need Khushi, Chotey?’ Anjali emphasized the word in a sugar coated voice.

He looked at them all puzzled - not really understanding why they were all looking at him so funnily, and said, ‘What?! She needs to be there for the conference. That’s it.’

Mami raised her brows, Nani raised her brows, Mama raised his brows and everyone went back to eating.

He shook his head, finished his meal and said, ‘Khushi, Akash, the call is at 10 am, come up to my study. We’ll take it there, okay?’ The minions dutifully nodded.

Khushi grabbed her laptop and headed to the study. Akash was already there along with Arnav. She sat down on the nearest couch and turned the laptop on. ‘No wireless,’ she muttered.

‘What?’ Arnav had heard her and came and sat down next to her. ‘Let me see,’ he said. He leaned in and pulled the laptop in front of him. She could still smell that musky smell of his, but he was completely focused on getting her wireless up and running. ‘Why are you using the guest network?’ he asked, ‘it’s not secure. Use this one instead.’ His fingers flew over the keyboard quickly typing in the password. The network connected. ‘There.’ He moved the laptop over to her, got up and walked over to his desk. 

D&G today again? asked the imp. He glared at him.

Akash and Khushi joined him as he started the call.


Shashi and Anna sat in their suite drinking hot tea. They were still worried about their little one, but there was also the older one to worry about. The Sangeet was the day after tomorrow. One of their little birds would soon fly out of the coop. Their hearts were heavy at the thought. At the same time, they really like their new son-in-law. He was more than they could have asked for her. He cared about her. This was important to them. He cared about her very much, and he would look after her happiness, they were sure.

‘What about Khushi?’ Shashi voiced the unspoken thought in both their minds.

‘Do you really think her and Arnav..?’ asked Anna.

‘I don’t know, Anna. He seems to genuinely worry about her safety. They seem to have formed a bond, yet I can’t tell anything from where I am standing. Is he doing it because he automatically take on responsibilities or is it because its her? He is such a closed book!’

Anna smiled. When Shashi had told her about why Khushi was staying at Raizada House, she had panicked at first. But then she’d seen how Arnav was around Khushi these past few days. ‘Perhaps I am reading too much into it, Shashi,’ she said. ‘But there seems to be some sort of a ..tension between them.’

‘Tension?’ Shashi sat up.

‘Mmm..hmmm,’ she smiled. ‘A good kind of tension,’ she qualified. He smiled fondly back at her wondering if her momma instincts were working overtime or not. ‘And NO, my momma instincts are not working overtime, Shashi’, she laughed almost echoing his thoughts. ‘And speaking of mommies and babies, why don’t you call Payal in here? She must be getting bored out of her wits in her room.’

Shashi nodded and went to call his older daughter in.


Payal sat morosely looking out of the window. Wet, wet day, she thought. They couldn’t even go out of the hotel, the traffic looked horrible from up here. Besides Akash had not called all morning. She wondered what he was up to. She looked at the ring on her finger. A ring he’d put there not twenty-four hours ago. She smiled at it. It sparkled up at her almost telling her to shine like it did. Akash was such a soothing person. She’d had qualms about this marriage thing. Marrying a man you barely knew, although it felt like you knew him really well. It’s not like they had spent a lot of time together, and he’d been making up for it in spades. Every day brought either a phone call or a visit from him. They’d been out to lunch, to dinner, sometimes by themselves and sometimes in a group. He’d introduced some of his friends to her. Lavanya was a big help when it came to shopping. And Anjali was so nice to her! She was glad that she was going to get such a great family as in-laws. She didn’t regret that she’d had to leave her job in Oakland to make this transitions. One of them had to move, it couldn’t be Akash, so it had to be her. He’d agreed to let her work after marriage if she still wanted to. But lately, she was coming to realize that the Raizada name carried a lot of weight in society. How would they accept a working daughter-in-law?

Payal Gupta had a lot to think about on this rainy day.


Rani Sahiba sat in her office, her eyes narrowed in thought, leaning back in her chair. A cigarette lay smoldering in an ashtray despite the no-smoking rules of the office. She couldn’t care less. Outside the rain poured relentlessly, and it helped that the only distance she had to travel from her loft penthouse to her office was in an elevator!

It had been over a week now since she’d seen Khushi drive away with Raizada. And it was only today that she’d found out that she was no longer at the hotel! She’d tried to find out where Khushi had been moved to. It had proved very difficult, the staff had obviously been instructed to keep mum - they were either very well trained about confidentiality or they were scared to death of Mr.Arnav Singh Raizada. All they knew was that Ms.Khushi Kumari Gupta was no longer a guest at the hotel.

Strange. Where else could Raizada have put her up? Or was she still at the hotel but under another name? It was obvious that something had happened to make him take such a step. But what? What exactly did Raizada know about Khushi? This was the question to which she needed an answer and it was going to be hard to figure this one out.

The engagement had been over yesterday, so Khushi was very much in town. She would definitely be in town for the wedding. But she seemed to be in Arnav’s protection.

Arnav Singh Raizada was an enigma. On the surface he had had plenty of girlfriends. But you never heard anything personal about him, from him. He was closed to the press, and only used them when he needed to put something out there - and it was always to do with business. There was never anything personal about him or his family that was leaked to the press. He really kept a tight lid on these matters. He wasn’t gay, was he? She thought irrelevantly, but set the thought aside. Even in business he didn’t give out more than what he wanted the press to know. Arnav Singh Raizada was a master at manipulating the media.

There was a knock on the door interrupting her thoughts, and it opened before she could say ‘come in.’ Shyam walked in. He carried a fat file in his hands and lay it on her desk, before seating himself.

Her eyes narrowed as she looked at him, eyebrows raised questioningly at the file he laid on her desk.

He looked at her trying to read her thoughts. There was a tension inside her that he sensed. ‘Rani Sahiba,’ he said.‘What’s the matter? You look tense.’

She pursed her lips. ‘Did you know that Khushi is no longer at the hotel?’ her voice was like acid.

He sat back, surprised. ‘Not at the hotel? Then where is she?’

‘I don’t know, Shyam,’ exasperatedly. ‘Find out,’ she ordered. ‘And what is this?’ she indicated the file with the cigarette that she’d picked up from the ashtray.

He jumped. ‘It’s the information you wanted. The merchandise,’ he said.

‘Leave it here, let me look at them.’ He nodded.

‘Rani Sahiba,’ he began, but she cut him off.

‘Now leave, Shyam. I have a lot of work to catch up on,’ the ice in her tone was dismissive.

‘Rani Sahiba,’ he persisted, ‘what is it about this girl that made it so hard for you to stay away? When did she become an obsession for you?’

She didn’t know. She didn’t want to know.

‘Leave, Shyam,’ she ordered again.

He hated her ordering him around like this. He knew she knew it. His temper rose because he saw that she would use it against him. There was only one way to stay on top.

He got up and came around the desk. She watched him, swiveling in her chair, keeping her eyes on him. He reached out and touched her cheek. She slowly stood up. Her hand came up and slapped him on the cheek. It wasn’t a loud slap, but it stung. His eyes hooded as he looked at her. He grabbed a handful of hair and hauled her close, his lips crushing hers. His other hand grabbed her breast over her blouse, gripping it painfully, kneading it mercilessly. She moaned, her hands moved to his hair, the grip intense and painful, tugging on it. Mouths open, their tong ues fought with each other.

He pushed her back against the desk, her hips resting against it. She slapped him again, this time on the other cheek. He gasped. He turned her around, pushing her down, so she lay on the desk, feet on the ground, her ass in the air, and shoved her skirt up, roughly parting her legs. He pushed her thong aside, shoving his fingers inside her, smirking as he felt her wetness. She gasped at the sudden thrusts, trying to wriggle away. He held her down with one hand and unzipped his pants. Within seconds he had thrust himself inside her. His pulled back and slapped her hard on the bottom, a red welt forming on her cheek. She moaned, pushing back at him to get him inside her again, her hands reaching behind her, nails scoring his arms. He slapped her again, one hand gripping her hips so she couldn’t move. He shoved right back in. They coupled like animals, deep grunts and ragged panting the only sounds in the room. Fighting, biting, tugging, scratching as they furiously tried to get there first. He felt her insides start to spasm as her hoarse moans got quicker. He let himself go, a harsh groan torn from his throat. Panting, he rested on her back as she lay on the desk, her cheek resting on the cool wood.

‘Now leave, Shyam,’ she said.

He pulled himself out, zipped up and left.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 27

It was a week since the Guptas had arrived. The formal engagement ceremony was now formally over. The rings had been exchanged, the drinks drunk, the couple toasted, songs sung and the hoopla finally over. The guests had gone and peace had once more descended on Raizada House.

Arnav wandered out to the pool area with a glass of warm milk in his hand. He had a pensive look in his eyes as he stood by the pool sipping his milk. He loved the stillness of the early hours of the morning. It was too early for dawn, but he doubted he would get any sleep now - warm milk or no warm milk. He sat down, relaxed on the lounger, just letting his mind go blank and focusing on nothing.

The first step towards the wedding was complete. At least nothing untoward had happened. The security provided by the police seemed to have worked well. But then, this had been a small, fairly intimate affair - with mostly family and close friends only. NK and Jamie would be arriving the day after - no, tomorrow, he amended. It was already the next day! At least, he would have someone else sharing his foremost concern - Khushi’s safety. Bhardwaj had come for the party and briefly updated him on their investigation. Now that it was in the CBI’s hands, he was a little less tense about it. But it wouldn’t go away. The niggling worry that something might happen stayed there like an itchy scab. As long as there was danger to her, and somehow he knew there was, he couldn’t rest easy.

A reflection by the other side of the pool caught his peripheral vision. He turned his head. Khushi stood there in a pair of simple pyjamas, covered modestly with a robe, her face turned up to the heavens. Her arms were wrapped around her waist as she hugged herself in the cool morning breeze. She hadn’t seen him as the lounger was in the shadows. The lights from the pool reflected off her face. There seemed to be something wistful in her eyes. He stood up and she started at the movement.

‘Oh! you. You startled me.’

‘Quiet time?’ his husky voice stroking her skin like velvet. ‘What were you thinking?’

She smiled at him, a quiet serene smile. ‘Nothing much. Nothing at all.’

He walked over to her. Taking her hand, he led her back to the lounger. He sat down with his legs on either side, and she sat down in front of him facing forward, leaning back until she lay on his chest. She could hear the slow thumping of his heart under her head. He put his legs up on the lounger next to hers, one leg bent at the knee. He laced his fingers through hers, resting them on her waist and sighed.

‘What’s wrong?’ she almost whispered.

He leaned forward and kissed her neck where it joined her shoulder sending a frisson of pleasure through her.

‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Nothing at all.’

They lay there in silence, looking up at the stars. He moved her hair back from her face, tilting her chin up so he could kiss her. His lips feathered across hers, and she opened them. He sat up and twisted her around so she faced him now. He deepened the kiss, tongue stroking across her tongue. His hands rubbed her back, coming up to stroke her throat with his thumbs, just behind her ears, his big hands holding her head steady while he deepened the kiss even more. Her hands came up, stroking his neck, moving forwards and dipping into the vee of his shirt’s neckline, sliding along his collarbone, dipping lower to his smooth chest. She tilted her head back and his lips grazed across her neck, his tongue leaving a line of fire behind her ear. Her hands tugged at the waistline of his shirt, pulling them out of his pants, running up his taut abs and stomach.

‘Shit!’ he whispered, laughing a little.

‘What?’ She drew back, her eyebrows raised in question. He gestured with his eyes to her clothes. A smile crossed her lips. ‘Sorry’.

He reached for another kiss, lying down, taking her with him, his arms firmly around her, until she was on top of him. ‘No need,’ he whispered. One long leg slinging across the back of her legs. He looked at her face above him. Her hair falling in a curtain around them. A private little world in which just the two of them were there. He cupped her face, searching it, searching inside himself to understand why she was becoming so important to him. He kissed her again, a deep searching kiss that she gave back to, her hunger evident in the small moan that came he drew from her throat. His breathing was getting erratic as her lips made their way down his throat. He knew he had to stop now, before she felt the effect she was having on him.

He sat up again, breaking off the kiss. He shook his head, ‘we have to stop, Khushi,’ he whispered. She sat with her head bowed, feeling a little ashamed at having let go so completely, her face burning.

He lifted up her chin with one hand, looking into her eyes, reading the embarrassment in them. ‘Khushi, what we did just now, its nothing to be ashamed of.’ Her eyes flicked to his, wondering how he knew exactly what she was feeling. She nodded, eyes still fixed on him. He stood up, holding her hand, helping her to stand up as well.

Thank God, otherwise she would have been flopping at his feet like a wet towel, she thought.

He kissed her forehead, and then watched as she went back around the poolside to her room. Khushi entered her room and sat down on the bed. What just happened? For a week they had been so caught up in the engagement and all the activities surrounding it, that they had barely seen each other, much less spoken to each other. And then today, it was like ... fire! She jumped up and went to the washroom. She stood in front of the mirror, her hands raking through her hair, pulling it back, the bright red flags on her cheeks clearly visible. Her cheeks felt hot. She splashed some cold water on her face, hoping to cool it down a little. Patting her face dry she looked at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were sparkling, and her cheeks were still a little pink. It’s the stubble, she thought in horror. Oh. My. God. It’s concealer time tomorrow! and then she smiled a little secret smile wondering if Arnav was feeling just as hot as she was.

If only she knew that Arnav Singh Raizada was at that moment heading into a very long, very cold shower.

Walk the Line - Chapter 26

Raizada Mansion seemed quiet now that all the guests had left. Khushi had also left with them, as she would be spending the night with Payal.

The Guptas arrived at Raizada Hotel and headed up to their suites. Payal and Khushi entered their bedroom and Khushi dumped her bag on the bed. The girls changed into their pyjamas and settled down for a girlie heart-to-heart.

‘Jiji, I can’t tell you how excited I am about the wedding,’ Khushi exclaimed. ‘Are you?’

Payal nodded, grinning from ear-to-ear. ‘Akash is taking me out tomorrow,’ she said. ‘He wants to spend some time with me, he said.’

‘Aw, that is so sweet. You know, Jiji, I’ve been working with them for the last few weeks, and he’s an absolute sweetheart. He’s calm and confident.’ She stopped, grinned and continued, ‘Oh! but I don’t need to tell you that! You already know it.’

Payal smiled and said, ‘Yes, I do. Actually, we talked a lot since he got back. I was a little worried about how I might feel once I got here and saw him again. But.. now..’

‘Didn’t you guys skype? I mean, wouldn’t that have made you feel better about seeing him?’

‘Of course, we did. But still, it’s not the same as seeing someone in person, you know.’

‘So tell me, jiji,’ she began, but her phone rang just then. ‘Hold on a sec.’ She picked up the phone and hit ‘Answer’.

‘Sitting and talking to your sis?’ his voice was husky.

‘Mmmm hmmmm,’ she answered, turning her back to that same sis, so she wouldn’t see the faint blush on her cheeks.

Payal looked quizzically at her sister’s back. Whose call was it that Khushi had to turn away from her?

‘Just wanted to remind you, come into the office with Sergio tomorrow, okay? I’m going to be away for the most part tomorrow morning. But we’ll have lunch together.’

‘Okay,’ she said.

‘Good night,’ he whispered.

‘Good night.’

‘Who was it?’ Payal was waiting for her.

‘Arnav,’ she turned back, head down, busy turning her phone off.

‘What’d did he want?’

‘Ah, leave it, jiji. Just some work related stuff,’ she gave a half-truth.

Her sister wasn’t so convinced. There was something that little sister was hiding, but, she’d find out soon enough. There was time. In the meanwhile, there was shopping to be done. The two girls settled down once again to their chat, discussing all the sundry things that a girl in love discusses with her sister before her marriage.

A knock on the door interrupted them. Khushi frowned, and suddenly her heart began hammering. Being in the hotel brought back memories of the last time that she had been here. Payal opened the door to the suite. A hotel attendant stood there with a tray in his hands.

‘We didn’t order anything,’ Payal was puzzled.

‘Compliments of the management, ma’am,’ said the waiter. He came in and placed the tray on the table and walked out without asking them to sign any receipt.

Khushi and Payal stared stared at the tray, removing the napkin that covered its contents. A steaming pot of something along with two cups, a covered platter, and two dishes stood on it. Khushi lifted the lid on the platter. Jalebis! The pot contained hot tea.

‘So...’ said Payal, ‘The management knows you like jalebis and tea, hmm?’ She raised her eyebrows at her sister, who busied herself taking a couple of jalebis on a plate and wolfing them down.

‘I guess so,’ she mumbled, unable to suppress the small smile tugging at the corner of her lips. Arnav Singh Raizada, she thought, you know me too well!


Arnav arrived at the office of the Commissioner of Police, New Delhi right on time. He carried the files he had on both Shyam Manohar Jha and Khushi Kumari Gupta. Being a well-known businessman in town gave him certain perks, and this was one he determined to make use of. The commissioner was also an old family friend - but he wanted to go through the official channels, the personal one he would use later, if he needed to.

They shook hands and sat down. Commissioner of Police, Nikhil Bhardwaj, was in his fifties and his hair was liberally sprinkled with grey. Deep lines on his face emphasized the stress level of his job. He was known for his honesty and his hard-nosed approach to all activities criminal.

‘Arnav,’ he said. ‘It’s a pleasure to see you. Tell me, what is your interest in this case’.

Arnav had already briefed the commissioner on what he wanted to talk about when he’d asked for the appointment. He handed over the files he had. ‘I did some personal investigation into it.’

‘What’s your interest in this case?’ the commissioner asked again. ‘And what makes you want to open it up again?’

‘Miss Gupta is back in India on some work. She’s working with me. She had been receiving phone calls even while she was back in the US. The police there said it was out of their jurisdiction as the phone calls originated in India. But now that she is here, she has received those calls again. I couldn’t find anything going back six years on Shyam Manohar Jha. Which is why I am wondering if you can help.’

The commissioner thought for a moment, tapping his fingers on his desk.

‘Arnav,’ he said. ‘The case is four years old. But if, as you say, she has been receiving calls since she has been in India, then yes, we can reopen the case. It does present a clear and present danger to her.’ He paused. ‘We don’t have some of the resources I need, but I’ll see if the CBI can be roped in as well. This is after all a kidnapping case, and they are better equipped to handle it.’

This had the potential of becoming a high-profile case, he knew. The complexity of the case had been increased because the first time, Ms. Gupta had evidently been keeping some things back. Some things that she would not or could not talk about. This had hampered their investigation to an extent. And that is why Shyam Manohar Jha was out there somewhere. But where? They had also been unable to establish the identity of this ‘Rani Sahiba’. Who was she? She was obviously related to Shyam, but how? Like Arnav, their investigation had turned up nothing. If this time, the investigation had to go back further than six years, then he definitely needed to bring in the CBI. And to top it all, a high-profile businessman’s sister-in-law-to-be was the abductee’s sister. It just got a whole lot more complicated.

Arnav stood up, realizing that this meeting was done, but he trusted Bhardwaj and knew that he would follow up on it. They shook hands, and he turned to go.

‘Arnav,’ he looked back as Bhardwaj called him, ‘I will be in touch with you. We need to discuss security for the wedding.’

He nodded. ‘Thank you, sir,’ he said quietly and walked out.


It was almost eleven when Arnav finally walked into the office. Aman followed him in, briefing him quickly on the most important stuff.

‘Aman,’ he stopped the narrative. ‘Can you make reservations for lunch, please? For two. And, Aman, make it Mexican, please.’

Aman hopped to it like a good bunny. He got reservations at a Mexican restaurant and confirmed it with Arnav.

Khushi was busy working in Lavanya’s room. A meeting reminder popped up. From Arnav Singh Raizada. Lunch. 12:00 pm. Meet me in the reception. Don’t be late. A. She clicked on accept and edited the reply. I wouldn’t dare. K. Send.

At five minutes past twelve, Arnav was still waiting in the reception, starting to fume at her when he noticed her coming into the hall. His eyes widened as he saw her come around the corner, she was wearing a saree! The simple single-colored pale mauve chiffon that clung to her curves, revealing nothing and hiding nothing. Pale mauve lipstick on her lips and her hair tied in the usual ponytail, swinging with her walk. She looked professional and yet sexy, all at the same time!

‘Sorry, I’m late,’ she said coming to a halt in front of him.

He didn’t say anything for a heartbeat, and then said, ‘Let’s go!’ He turned around and started walking towards the exit; she followed him out. Both of them were completely oblivious to the open-mouthed stares from Lavanya and Akash who had just then come out of a conference room. They looked at each other in amazement.

Lavanya dragged him back into the room and shut the door. ‘Akash!’ she said. ‘You’ve got to tell me...Please, what the hell is going on with him and her?’ waving her arm in the general direction of the door. Her eyes were full of suppressed laughter and the dimples were out in full force.

‘Really, Lavanya, I don’t know,’ he protested. ‘You know how Bhai is, completely closed. But what I’ve seen of him with her, I’d say yes. There does seem to be something going on.’ He really couldn’t deny it any more to her. He’d seen the look in Bhai’s eyes, the completely besotted look of a man in love. But would Bhai understand what was happening to him? He very much doubted it. The man didn’t know what being in love was all about. Now he on the other hand... his face took on a dreamy look.

Lavanya looked at him in exasperation. ‘Oh God! Are we in Payal land again?’

He just smiled at her. ‘Lavanya, you must meet her,’ he said.

‘I will, Akash,’ she patted his shoulder. ‘We’re going shopping this afternoon with Anjali.’

She was just as excited about the wedding as any good friend would be. Akash was a cutie-pie and he deserved a loving wife. Someone sweet and kind and calm and loving. From what she’d heard, Payal definitely fitted the bill. Not like Khushi, she thought. Now there was a girl with a fire inside her, and Arnav Singh Raizada seemed to be stoking it. She pushed down the small feeling of jealousy that raised itself in her mind. She wasn’t going to ruin a good life by being petty, she had already decided that a long time ago, and she was going to stick by it.

‘Let’s go, Akash,’ she said, ‘and take Sergio out for some lunch as well.’

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 25

Khushi waited impatiently with the rest of the Raizada clan in the lounge. The Guptas were coming over for lunch and to spend the day with them.

She’d met her family last night, thanks to a certain someone, who brought a smile to her lips. Much to her disappointment, neither NK nor Jamie had been able to get enough time off to come for the wedding. So they would be arriving only a few days before the wedding itself and leaving right after that. Her parents had been surprised that she was not staying at the hotel, but Arnav had quickly smoothed over that slightly awkward situation, without raising any suspicions.

This morning, the two of them had worked companionably in his study, since the family would be taking some much-needed rest after the long flight. She longed to call her sister up and chat with her. But she would be here soon, and they’d probably get the time for some long-delayed girl talk. Her gaze wandered over to her soon-to-be brother-in-law. Akash sat at the edge of his seat, head down, his fingers nervously picking at his nails. She smiled and moved over next to him.

‘Akash?’ she said, the saccharine coating of her question bringing his head up. ‘What’s the matter, brother-in-law?’ her eyes twinkled mischievously.

Anjali caught onto the conversation and moved across to them, plonking herself down on his other side.

He looked from one to the other like a deer trapped in the headlights.

Mami and Nani chuckled as they watched poor Akash sandwiched between a sister and a sister-in-law. It was not going to be smooth sailing for him from here till his wedding. But it would be a lot of fun for all the bystanders!

‘Yes, Akash,’ said Anjali, ‘tell us whats the matter?’

‘Umm.. no.. nothing.. nothing at all,’ he stammered.

‘Really?’ Khushi pointed at his fingernails. ‘Then why are your nails looking so ragged?’

‘What?!’ he looked horrified at his nails. They still looked good as they had done after his manicure (yes, Akash had actually gotten a manicure!) ‘Oh no!’ he groaned, realizing that he’d been had!

The two girls broke out in peals of laughter, their voices reaching Arnav as he made his way down the stairs. His eyes were immediately drawn to Khushi’s face. She was glowing. He was glad they’d made the trip to the airport last night.

The doorbell rang, and Hari ran to answer it. The Guptas walked in.There was a rush of greetings before finally everyone was sorted out. Sergio has also joined the party, as it was a weekend and he would be on his own.

Lunch had been served buffet style in the garden, so that everybody could relax and chat and enjoy themselves. Akash predictably hovered around Payal, with both Anjali and Khushi barging in every once in a while much to the couple’s discomfiture.

Arnav sat with Sergio talking shop. He wore his aviators as much to protect himself from the sun as to hide his eyes, which seemed to follow Khushi with unfailing regularity. She was wearing D&G today too he knew, and it lifted up his spirits just knowing that.

Finally, lunch was over, and Arnav decided it was time he talked to Shashi Gupta about his youngest daughter. He excused himself and went over to Shashi who was busy discussing something with Mamaji.

‘Mr.Gupta, can I speak with you alone, sir?’ Arnav asked.

Shashi was surprised. The older Raizada sibling was a bit of a closed book, and he was surprised that he was seeking him out to talk to him. What could it be about? He followed the younger man into his study.

Arnav had taken off his sunglasses, and took a deep breath wondering how to approach the matter.

‘Please, sir, have a seat,’ he gestured to the sofa. He sat down as well, and was silent for a few seconds. How much should he tell this father?

‘Sir,’ he began. ‘Khushi is staying at our place at my behest.’ He blew out a long breath and then continued, ‘she told me about what happened to her four years ago. I didn’t think it would be wise to have her continue staying at the hotel, given the circumstances. So I brought her here. I’ve my own security, and CCTV coverage that is constantly monitored. Besides there’s always someone at home. At work, she is with people I trust. I just needed you to know that ...’ how much could he tell without scaring this father? There was another daughter’s wedding to be taken care of. But he had to make sure they understood that he had only Khushi’s best interest at heart

‘I just needed you to know that I am taking care that she is safe, sir’, he finished.

Shashi Gupta was astonished. That Khushi had actually told this man about her trauma was in itself amazing. She never talked about it, though the nightmares still came every now and then. He knew this boy’s character only by reputation, and yet Khushi had trusted him enough with her innermost secrets?! What did he mean - taking care that she is safe?

‘Is there a danger to her now, Arnav?’ he asked, his heart thumping again, as he felt that old feeling of helplessness grip him again.

‘Not that I know of, sir,’ Arnav answered honestly. He looked straight into Shashi’s eyes, willing him to trust his judgement.

Shashi looked back at him. He was impressed by the strong, steady young man in front of him. He knew that he ran a business empire that he had begun from scratch. He had a reputation as an ethical businessman - somewhat of a paradox in itself. There was something about him, an air of calm self-confidence and an aura of command, that inspired trust. Shashi nodded. ‘Can you tell me what happened?’

Arnav could feel the heat rising in his throat, and was glad he was sitting with his back to the window, so his face was in relative shadow. The memory of that night was something that he brought out occasionally, and that too, only in complete solitude.

‘She started getting phone calls,’ he said. ‘But I’ve changed her phone. It’s now a number that belongs to the Raizada corporate account and not to any one person. For all practical purposes, its untraceable,’ he said. ‘Since then, its been fine. But I still wanted to make sure that she was safe,’ he added. ‘That’s why I brought her here.’

Shashi looked at Arnav with new respect. Khushi’s sister was marrying his cousin, yet he had taken on her responsibility while she was here in India! Impressive. He looked at Arnav with new eyes. Was it possible? Khushi and this boy? no - this MAN. For it was a man he saw in front of him, not a boy. Shashi Gupta was a wise father. He would keep his thoughts to himself and wait for his daughter to open up. He and Anna would have much to talk about tonight, he thought. For the moment, he felt he could trust Arnav Singh Raizada. There was some comfort in that.

Meantime, he stood up and held out his hand to Arnav, who took it, standing up himself.

‘Thank you, my son,’ he said. Arnav just nodded.


Outside Khushi was talking to Sergio. She’d been aware that Arnav was no longer around, but suddenly she realized her father was missing, too. Oh God! She thought. Had he gone and told her Dad...? She hoped not without her being there as well. She nodded and smiled as Sergio continued talking to her. Thankfully, Akash and Payal joined them, and she could slip away.

She went inside the house, just in time to see her father leave from the next set of French windows. She decided to go look for Arnav, but then spotted him coming down the staircase. She marched up to him. He looked surprised to see her.

‘Have you been talking to my Dad?’ she asked when she was close enough to speak without shouting.

‘What?!’ he looked taken aback.

‘Did you just talk to my dad? About why I am here?’ she came closer, eyes flashing fire, hands on hips.

‘Yes, I did.’ His lips thinned. He looked over her shoulder at the people outside on the lawn. Bending down, he grabbed her wrist and started dragging her towards the stairs.

She wriggled her wrist trying to break free from his iron-hard grip. ‘Arnav! What the hell do you think you’re doing? Let me go!’ She was breathless trying to keep up with his long strides.

He shoved her into his room, shut and locked the door.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ he said.

‘With me? With ME?!’ her voice was rising as anger colored her cheeks red. ‘You’re the one talking to my Dad without my permission-’.

‘Your permission?’ he cut her off. ‘I don’t need your permission, Khushi Kumari Gupta,’ he ground out.

‘No, of course you don’t,’ she sneered. ‘You’re the great Arnav Singh Raizada’, she spat out, ‘of COURSE, you don’t need anyone’s permission. Didn’t it occur to you that I might want to talk to my Dad as well?’

‘No, it didn’t. He needed to hear it’.

‘From me, not you’. She shoved him as her anger reached a peak. He grabbed her forearms.

‘Stop it!’ he said. Just as soon as the anger flared, it died down. He pulled her close, resting his forehead against hers; both of them still breathing heavily. ‘Look. I thought it best if I explained to your Dad myself, why you’re here,’ he explained a little calmly - wondering why he needed to give her an explanation.

‘You could’ve asked me to join you’ll,’ she said, simmering down a bit as well, her eyes on the floor

He drew back, but still kept his hold on her. He tilted his head, trying to see into her eyes, until she looked up. He bent and kissed her, finally wrapping her in his arms. She did not respond for all of a couple of seconds, before parting her lips.

He kissed her with all the hunger he had in him, letting her feel it, and she didn’t hold back either. Her fingers curled into his collar, standing on tip toes, meeting him passion for passion. Finally, he drew back. His eyes crinkled into a smile and he tapped her nose. She blushed again. His smile grew broader, ‘you know, you blush a lot!’ She dipped her face, so he couldn’t see into it. ‘Go wash your face,’ he said. Her mouth opened into a full ‘O’, her equally round eyes darting up to his. ‘You look hot,’ he said, not even trying to hide the double meaning. She glared at him, before darting into the bathroom to wash her face. 

The imp just smirked and said, you go, dude. You managed ‘us’ time in a house full of people! He doffed his hat at Arnav who smirked right back at him!

Walk the Line - Chapter 24

Arnav and Khushi arrived at Raizada Mansion and he helped her out of the car. They walked up to the door together, a slight awkwardness between them. They would be living in the same house for the next few weeks, in front of family and friends, under the same roof. They’d meet for meals, and conversations. The imp grinned slyly - but no ‘us’ time, dude! He turned away.

He fidgeted a bit, as they waited for the door to open.

‘Ummm...’ She looked at him expectantly. He took a deep breath and tried again. ‘I’ll have to go out after lunch. Got some work. I’ll be away all afternoon. Will you be okay?’

She nodded her head, just as the door swung open. Hari, the servant looked at them expectantly.

‘Hari, Khushi’s bags are in the car. Put them in the guest room,’ he instructed, before he strode in ahead of Khushi. Anjali was waiting for them in the lounge.

‘Khushi!’ she exclaimed, with a genuinely happy smile. ‘I’m so glad you’ll be staying with us now. Finally, Chotey has made the correct decision.’

He raised his left eyebrow questioningly. Really, di?

Nani joined them and they all moved to the dining room for lunch. Khushi sat across from him, looking everywhere but at him, conscious of his eyes on her every now and then. Anjali watched with amusement in her eyes, their constant eye contact not lost on her. Nani looked at her with raised eyebrows and she gave a slight nod. Yes. These two definitely had something going on.

‘Di, I have to go out for a bit,’ Arnav said. ‘I’ll be back late,’ his gaze flicked to Khushi who had her head bent studiously studying her plate. Feeling a little irritated, he stood up and walked away, slamming the door shut on his way out. Khushi jumped at the sound.

Nani reached out and touched her hand. ‘Don’t worry, Khushi, dear,’ she smiled reassuringly. ‘Chotey is always like this - surly, grumpy... but he has a heart of gold.’

Khushi smiled back, her tension a little reduced by the gentleness that she saw in the wise eyes.

Arnav pulled up at the sleek glass and concrete building that housed his offices. Once in his office, he pulled out the files he would need for the afternoon’s meeting. ‘Aman!’ he called. His personal whipping boy, Aman showed up, apprehension written all over his face. For a moment he stared at him and then started giving him rapid fire directions!

At about two in the afternoon, his next appointment arrived. The fashion show to launch the Madrid-Raizada line would need models. There was no one better than Gauri Virdi in the world of modeling. She had only top models in her stable and they stayed there because she was the best at what she did.

Arnav stood up as she walked into his cubicle, her high heels adding inches to her height. Her hair was pulled back into a severe French knot on the back of her head, and a sleek business suit showed off her long, toned legs and torso. She held out her hand, and he shook it, surprised as how much strength there were in a pair of ultr-feminine hands. The nails were cut short, french-manicured with a clear coating. He waited till she sat down before sitting down himself.

He was aware that she was looking at him much like a cat that looks at a bowl of cream. He was used to women looking at him that way, and it didn’t affect him. The imp smiled. Yah. There’s only one person who could look at you like that, eh, lad? He closed his eyes to get rid of the imp.

Their discussion lasted about an hour, going meticulously over each and every profile that she had brought. It was a good meeting. Arnav was glad he was getting what he wanted. Gauri was a shrewd business woman, and knew that having her girls associated with this brand would probably launch a few of them into the international arena. This was good for her business, too.

Finally, she leaned back in her chair and said, ‘So ASR, tell me. What’s going on with this Khushi girl?’

His head had been bent studying some papers on his desk, so she couldn’t read his expression. He went still and then looked up, his face schooled into the blank mask he wore at business meetings. A mask with opaque eyes and expressionless features.

‘Khushi? You mean Ms.Gupta, right? She’s Sergio’s associate,’ his tones were clipped, the voice even and devoid of any nuances. She smiled at him. He continued looking at her blankly.

‘Ah! Yes. Of course,’ she said. ‘I should be going.’ She stood up.

He nodded and walked over to the door, holding it open till she walked out. If she’d looked over her shoulder she would have seen the little vein ticking in his forehead, and the clenched jaw muscles. ASR did not like having his personal life questioned by acquaintances. Personal life now, is she? the imp smirked. He reached out to grab it by the throat.


He didn’t get home until after dinner. Di, Khushi and Nani were sitting chatting in the lounge, while he could hear the TV running in the next room, obviously his brother and uncle were watching the news. He barely greeted them, not stopping till he’d reached his room. For some reason, he felt out of sorts. A quick shower and change into a pair of cargo pants with a full-sleeved tee, before he headed downstairs again.

There was nobody there. ‘Hari!’ he called. The servant came running out from the nether regions of the house. ‘Dinner, please,’ he said, heading to the dining area.

‘I’ll have it ready for you in five minutes, sir,’ Hari ran to do the master’s bidding.

Khushi had been sitting in her room, staring at her open laptop. She was a little surprised that he’d barely spoken to any of them on his way in. What was wrong with him? Was he always like this? She jumped as she heard him call Hari in an irritated tone. For a minute she sat there, wondering if she should venture out. Then she did.

He was sitting alone at the dining table. Most of the lights in the larger living areas had been killed. He was leaning back against the chair, eyes closed, his face showing lines of fatigue in the harsh light above his head. She could hear Hari in the kitchen doing something, getting his dinner? Her heart did a strange flip-flop at the sight. There was a loneliness in him that reached out to her. She wanted to run her fingers on his forehead and wipe out those lines. She wasn’t even aware that she’d started moving towards the dining area until he straightened up and looked right at her.

He watched her coming towards him. She was dressed in a simple white salwar suit, her long, loose hair stirred gently by an errant waft of breeze, around a make-up free face. A vision for his tired brain. A small smile tugged at his lips as he saw the hesitation in her steps.

‘Hi,’ her voice was soft.

‘Hi,’ he replied back. He watched as she seated herself at the table next to him. Hari came in from the kitchen, bowls and a container of puris balanced on a tray in his hands. She reached out and poured Arnav a glass of water. He watched her in silence. Hari set down the tray and she pulled it towards herself, overturning his plate for him.

He was bemused watching this side of her, this domestic side of her. Feels good, doesn’t it? said the imp. She serving you dinner? For once, he had nothing to say to the imp.

‘Thanks,’ he said to her instead.

‘At home, Ma never allows us to eat alone,’ she said, putting food on his plate. ‘She says its not good for your digestion.’ Hari departed silently seeing how Khushi madam was taking care of the head of the family. She smiled at Arnav. He smiled back and began eating.

They continued with small talk as he ate. He told her of his day’s work. She told him about the shopping spree his sister wanted to go on. He didn’t know what he ate, but whatever he put in his mouth seemed to taste better than ever before. They discussed about the upcoming fashion show. All things and nothing at once.

Finally, he was done. ‘Khushi, why didn’t you go to bed, yet?’ he asked.

‘Well, the family gets in today, and I was hoping to go to the airport and meet with them,’ she said a little hesitantly.

He looked at her, his brows coming together in a frown. ‘Khushi, their flight gets in at one in the morning. Just how were you planning on going to the airport?’

‘Taxi, of course,’ she said.

‘Taxi.’ He breathed in deeply, a slow simmering anger rising in him. ‘You’re going to take a taxi at this hour to go to the airport?’ he bit out.

She was startled at the anger in his eyes.

‘Yes... ‘, she stammered out.

‘Khushi, this isn’t America. This is India. Girls don’t wander around at one in the morning, in a TAXI.’

‘I’m not’ air quotes ‘wandering around’, air quotes , ‘Arnav,’ her temper was starting to flare too. ‘I’m going to the airport to meet my parents’.

‘No, you’re not. I’ve arranged for the cars to pick them up. You can meet them in the morning.’

‘Oooh!! who’re YOU to tell me what I should be doing and where I should be going?’

‘Have you forgotten WHY you’re here? in this house?’ They were both standing up now nose-to-nose, their voices hadn’t raised, but the anger between them palpable to anyone who would’ve seen them. They both stared at each other, neither willing to back down.

‘No I haven’t’, she said, ‘but I’m not gonna let some stupid .....asshole... ruin my life’. 

‘They already tried once, Khushi. They know you’re here. I’m just trying to take care of you.’

‘Who asked you to? Who gave you the right to tell me what to do?’

There was dead silence. She breathed out loudly, knowing she had gone too far.

‘You. Are. Not. Going. To. The. Airport,’ he bit out. ‘And that’s final!’

She turned and stomped away to her room, wiping away the angry tears from her eyes. What a jerk! she thought.

He watched her go, his fists balling in frustration. Why does she have to be so goddam stubborn? he thought. I hope she doesn’t plan on still going to the airport. He sighed, the anger draining out of him. He headed back to his room.

It was almost 12 am, he lay in bed, unable to sleep. Dammit! He thought. It had been so good to see her when he got home. But she had to go and... he shook his head. Finally, he sat up and picked up his phone.

She was still wide awake, laying in her bed, still fuming. She heard the whooshing sound of an incoming text. She picked up the phone and looked at it. Arnav. ‘Be ready in 5 mins. Meet me in hall’. A small reluctant smile crept across her lips. Evidently, this was Arnav Singh Raizada’s attempt to apologize!

They entered the hall together and for a moment just looked at each other. He was still dressed in his casual clothes, but she’d changed into a pair of blue jeans and a red tee-shirt! Her hair was still loose. Unconsciously, the corner of his lip went up as he walked towards her. As he came close, he smelled it again. D&G! He understood and accepted the apology.

‘Shall we?’ he said, dangling the keys in front of her eyes. Eyes dancing, she nodded. They headed out the door together.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

SS - Aftermath

Arnav Singh Raizada stood at the gates of Raizada House watching as the police van drew away. Finally, he was rid of Shyam Manohar Jha from his life. He stood there until he felt a hand on his shoulder. He knew that calming touch - Khushi. He turned around and looked at her. The small gash on her cheek had stopped bleeding. Her face was pale, almost white; the stark red of the sindoor on her forehead and parting stood out in contrast. He’d put that sindoor in her parting just two days ago. Her eyes were full of a pain that reflected his own, glittering with unshed tears. Wordlessly, he took her in his arms and held her tight, his face buried in her hair. Their long shadows in the setting light of the sun merged into one.

For a long moment, they stood like that, holding each other, taking strength and comfort from each other, just thankful that they still had each other. They drew away, but he still kept an arm around her shoulder as they walked into Raizada House together. There was still more to be faced inside.

The living room looked like a hurricane had swept through it, furniture overturned and broken, decorations strewn around, broken shards of glass in lying in clusters. They picked their way through it towards Akash, Payal and NK who stood near the foot of the stairs watching them as they walked in, moving towards them.

Payal came forward and hugged her sister, silently offering her comfort, while NK and Akash clapped their hands on their brother’s shoulder.

‘Bhai?’ Akash’s concern for his brother clearly visible on his face. ‘You okay?’.

Arnav could only nod. He looked at the two men who’d stood by him in what had to be one of the most difficult days of his life.

‘Where’s di?’ he asked.

‘Upstairs, with masi and nani,’ said NK, his face devoid of his usual dimpled smile. ‘She needs to rest.’

‘Yes, I should go to her.’

Akash wordlessly shook his head. ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea, bhai. Let it be for today.’ He understood the pain his brother was in, but once again, he was being the sensible one. ‘Payal, why don’t you get Khushi cleaned up? I think she needs some medicine for that gash.’

Payal nodded and led Khushi away to her room. She could see how shell-shocked her sister was. The brothers watched them go.

That night, Arnav and Khushi lay on their bed, each on their side staring up at the ceiling. Finally, he turned his head to look at her. He could see the tears leaking down the sides of her eyes. She made no move to wipe them away.

‘Khushi?’ he said. She swallowed. He turned to face her, putting his hand on her shoulder, she finally looked at him. ‘I need you,’ he said simply. She scooted over to his side of the bed, holding out her arms to him. He held her close, resting his head on her chest. Her arms wrapped around his head, holding him close as well. They finally fell asleep like that.

A piercing scream woke them up. They started up and jumped out of bed. Another scream rang through the house as they ran towards Anjali’s room. Akash and Payal were already going in through the door as they dashed towards it, only to come to a halt in front of Dadi, who held up her hand in her imperious way.

‘No,’ she said. ‘You are not coming in’, her hate-filled eyes looked at Khushi.

‘Like hell, Dadi’ said Arnav grabbing Khushi’s hand, and finally doing what he’d wanted to do for so long. He tried to move past Dadi.

‘Arnav,’ shouted Dadi. ‘You can’t bring her here.’

‘She’s my wife, dadi. I married her, with all the rasams, and followed your stupid rules to the letter. Get used to it, dadi. She’s my wife, the elder bahu of this house, and she goes where I go,’ finally he was letting all his pent up frustration with his dadi out.

‘No,’ said Dadi. ‘She is just a loose woman who has broken up your sister’s marriage. Can’t you see that?’

He looked incredulously at Dadi. Di was inside, he could hear her sobbing but Dadi wasn’t allowing him and Khushi near her? A vein started throbbing on his forehead. He wasn’t aware of how hard he was gripping Khushi’s wrist. She bit her lip, wincing a little from the pain. Immediately, he turned to her, aware of what he was doing.

‘Khushi? I’m sorry,’ he relaxed his hold on her, but still held her wrist.

‘See? Your sister is in pain, inside, but all you can think of is your wife,’ she sneered. ‘See what she’s done to you? She’s even come between you and your sister.’

Arnav breathed deeply trying to control the rage now coursing through him. Khushi was clinging to his arm with her other hand, and it was only her touch that was stopping him from physically hurting his grandmother. Without another word, he walked past her and entered Di’s room with Khushi in tow.

Inside, he saw Akash on the phone, calling the doctor. Mami and Nani were on either side of Anjali trying to calm her down. Payal was getting out the sedatives and pouring a glass of water for her. Anjali looked at Khushi and screamed again, a loud piercing shriek that hurt the ears.

‘You,’ she said, pointing a long finger at her. ‘It wasn’t enough that you took my Chotey away. You took my Shyam away, too.’ Khushi’s eyes widened in horror as she saw the complete lack of reason in Anjali’s. ‘You flaunted yourself in front of him. You saw how happy I was to have him back and you couldn’t take it, could you, you little slut?’ Everyone looked at her in horror. Vile words kept spilling out of her mouth, their beautiful Anjali transformed into something so ugly they never could have believed it if they weren’t seeing it with their own eyes.

Arnav ran to her, ‘Di, di, what are you saying?’

‘Oh shut up, Arnav,’ she said in disgust. ‘You are so stupid. Can’t you see that she wants my Shyam? Don’t you know what she is capable of? She wanted Shyam to divorce me so she could have him!’ She shoved his hands away. He backed up from this Di that he had never seen before.

‘Exactly,’ said Dadi from behind him. ‘She is the one who needs to be out of this house, not Shyam. You should go and tell the police to release him immediately. Can’t you see Anjali needs him here?’


‘Subhadra!’ finally Nani spoke up. ‘What are you saying? Didn’t you see what he tried to do? He tried to kill Arnav and Khushi, for God’s sake’.

‘He was just trying to protect Anjali and their baby from this woman,’ Dadi sneered.

Arnav looked from his hysterically sobbing di to Dadi wondering if he was in a nightmare.

Payal had her hands firmly on Khushi’s shoulders. She could feel the trembling in her thin limbs.

The doorbell rang. It was the doctor and soon HP was ushering her into the room. Nani, Mami and Dadi stayed inside while the rest waited outside the door. The two sisters were silently holding each other, tears streaming down their faces. The brothers stood lost in thought. NK joined them.

‘Nannav, mere bhai,’ he said softly. Arnav looked at him. There was sympathy in his eyes. ‘It’s not over yet, you know.’ The brothers looked at him questioningly. ‘Di and Dadi. It’s still not over,’ he said again.

‘What do you mean?’ Arnav said. NK just shook his head.

The doctor came out after what seemed a long time. She looked at Arnav and said, ‘I’ve given her a sedative, and she will be resting now. But I’d like you bring her into to my clinic tomorrow. I also need to talk to you alone.’ He nodded his head.

The next morning, Arnav ushered Khushi into the doctor’s chamber at the clinic. He was surprised to a new doctor standing next to Di’s doctor. A short, fatherly looking man in his late fifties, he exuded an immediate sense of comfort.

‘Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada, this is Dr.Kejriwal, a psychiatrist.’ They all shook hands. She looked at Khushi inquiringly. ‘I did say I needed to talk to you alone, Mr. Raizada,’ she said.

‘Khushi is my wife, doctor,’ he said, ‘there’s nothing you can tell me that she can’t hear.’

‘Very well. Please, have a seat.’ She waited until they were all seated. ‘Mr. Raizada, this is always very difficult for us doctors. But I have to ask you this: is there a history of mental instability in your family?’

Arnav looked like another bomb had gone off under his chair. ‘What?!’ he looked from one to another. No!’ he said. ‘Not that I know of, at least.’ He felt Khushi’s hand holding onto his under the table. Her touch calming him down.

‘Very well, then.’ Dr. Kejriwal said. ‘I understand you are her only sibling?’ Arnav nodded. ‘Well,’ he seemed to be gathering his thoughts. ‘It looks like Mrs.Jha is suffering from a form of bi-polar disorder. Now, this may be related entirely to her pregnancy or it may be that the pregnancy has triggered her latent propensity for the disorder. I won’t know until I have examined her in more detail.’

Arnav felt like his whole world had come to a stop. He swallowed, trying to focus once more on what Dr.Singhania was telling him. ‘Mr.Raizada, whatever be the reason for her mental condition, we will need to start her on medication. But first, we need to talk about the baby.’

‘What about the baby?’ Arnav whispered.

‘Anjali is almost full-term now, Mr.Raizada. Its my recommendation that we perform a c-section on her. In about three weeks. The baby will be premature, but most babies survive at that stage. There are risks but they can be mitigated.’

‘The drugs that we have to use on Anjali might adversely affect the baby, you see,’ Dr.Kejriwal added. ‘So it will be better, if this happens before we start on the medication.’

His listened with his eyes closed.

‘We need your permission, Mr.Raizada,’ said Dr.Singhania, gently.

For the first time, Khushi spoke, ‘Let us talk this over, please’. Her soft voice made Arnav open his eyes. He looked at her, his pain and bewilderment reflected again in her eyes. She looked at the doctors. ‘Can you give us a moment?’

‘Of course,’ the doctors said. ‘We’ll be outside. Please think this over very carefully’.


Six months later, Arnav woke up to the sounds of chirping and gurgling on the baby monitor. He looked at his wife, sleeping in one of her Taekowndo poses, except that she had her slim arm tossed around his bare chest, her long silky legs in between his rough ones. Carefully he got out of bed so that he did not disturb her. Pulling on his jogging clothes, he headed to the nursery. The baby was in the crib, gurgling and kicking around. He picked her up and cradled her, caramel eyes looking into caramel eyes.

He turned around at the sound from the door. Khushi stood there with a bottle of milk in her hand.

‘You didn’t wake me up?’ she asked.
‘You looked too peaceful sleeping,’ he said.

She blushed, went and sat in the rocking chair. He placed the baby in her arms, and she held the bottle to the baby’s lips. She cooed over the baby, while he crouched in front of her, stroking the baby’s head. Their eyes met.

‘Who’s going to go see mamma today?’ she stood up and held the baby on her shoulder to burp her.

This was a day they waited for every month. Anjali was still in hospital - a healthcare facility that took care of the mentally ill. Her baby had been born by c-section five months ago. Dadi had been sent back to her ashram. The Raizada home was once again a home, with a new member and one gone. It was peaceful once more, but peaceful with a sense of sadness and loss.

Arnav stood up and placed his arms around his wife and his niece. ‘Krittika Singh Raizada’, he said in a satisfied tone.