Saturday, November 17, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 55

It was late afternoon when the car drew up at the gates of Raizada Mansion. They opened up and Mohan drove to the portico and parked. 

Arnav looked over at Khushi. ‘You ready?’ She nodded her head, feeling rather nervous. But he seemed calm and composed, and she took her cues from him. They walked hand in hand to the door, and he rang the doorbell.

Hari opened the door, they stepped in and stared in astonishment at the sight that greeted their eyes. The hallway was a buzz of activity. Nani and Mami were standing there chattering about something. A pile of bags stood near the lounge. Akash came in from the kitchen with a big bottle of water, which he set down on a table. Anjali appeared out of nowhere and spotted Hari standing with Arnav and Khushi.

‘Chotey! You’ve arrived!’ she exclaimed. ‘And you brought Khushi with you? Why didn’t you tell us she was coming?’ She came over and gave him a hug. Nani, Mami and Payal came over to them.

‘Di, what’s going on?’ he asked, having dropped Khushi’s hand to hug his sister back. Payal was hugging Khushi as well. ‘Where are you going?’

‘Chotey, we decided to spend the weekend at the farm house. So we’re all going there. We were going to let you know to come over there as well! Hari, take Khushi’s bags to the guest room,’ she instructed, ignoring his attempts to talk. Hari ran off to do her bidding.

Arnav tried to get in a word sideways, but Nani cut him off, as she hugged him as well. ‘Chotey, we were expecting you a little later. We had told Hari to tell you to come to the farm house, too. But now that you’re here, why don’t you join us later? Freshen up and come over.’ She turned to Khushi, said as an afterthought, ‘Khushi, welcome back. You’re coming to the farm house as well.’

‘But, Nani-’ he tried again.

‘Chotey, we’re already delayed. We’ll leave now, and you both follow us,’ Nani said.

Hari ran in with Khushi’s bags which he took to the guest room. He came back and picked up the family’s bags and took them out to the car.

‘Nani, we have something to tell you,’ he tried again.

Mami waved a hand in front of his face. ‘Arnav, you can tell us at leisure once you both come to the farm house. We’re getting late. Come Akash, Payal,’ she called her son and daughter-in-law, who dutifully followed her out.

Within minutes the hallway was empty, with Arnav and Khushi standing there staring at the door closing behind their backs.

‘What the hell just happened?’ he ran his fingers through his hair, looking completely baffled. ‘Did you tell Payal?’

Khushi shook her head as surprised as he was, ‘no. She was going on about how fun the weekend was going to be!’

They both stared at each other and reluctant smiles came on their faces.

‘I guess we’ve got to go to the farm house,’ he said, chuckling softly. He put his arms around her. ‘Although the idea of you and me in an empty house is much more appealing right now,’ he murmured in her ears, before kissing her thoroughly.

‘Go and pack something for the weekend, and freshen up. The sooner we tell them, the better,’ he sighed coming up for air. She nodded, her knees feeling distinctly wobbly after that soul-searing kiss, leaning against his chest, taking huge gulps of air. They stayed that way for a bit, before moving apart. ‘Come up to my room when you’re ready,’ he said.

She showered and changed into a pair of jeans, and a powder blue shirt, moccasins and a spritz of D&G. Packing her bag didn’t take her much time either. She picked it up and headed to his room. She knocked and waited before pushing open the door to let herself in. It was after all, her husband’s room although he hadn’t answered, and the sound of the shower running in the bathroom told her why. A packed weekend bag stood beside the bed, and she put hers down next to it. She looked around the room and saw the music system that she hadn’t seen there before. It was state-of-the-art and included a dock for an iPod. Had he got that music system installed because he knew how much she loved listening to music? She looked around and noticed the speakers hidden in the nooks of the room. She wasn’t aware of him coming out of the bathroom and watching her examining the system.

‘Like it?’ she spun around at the husky tone, her eyes widening at the picture in front of her.

He stood there bare-chested, a pair of warm ups slung low on the hips, the vee of his pelvises pointing her eyes downward. Her gaze traveled up the rock-hard abs, the immaculately sculpted pectorals, the corded neckline to his jaws and eyes that had turned into dark, molten caramel. He came across to her, hooking his hand behind her head and pulling her close. Her hands went up to his chest stroking it, feeling the velvety smoothness of his skin, her nostrils filling with the smell of his freshly-showered skin.

He waited watching her, allowing her to explore his body how she wanted to. He gave her the freedom to run her hands all over him, only his narrowing eyes and his slightly erratic breathing giving away the effect she was having on him.

‘I like it,’ she said softly.

He leant forward and lightly trailed his tongue along her throat. Her eyes drifted shut. He kissed her cheek, a long, slow, kiss, taking his time with it. Nuzzling along her jawline till he found the hollow behind her ear. His thumb stroked the hollow behind her other ear at the same time as he kissed her behind one, his tongue mimicking his thumb. He felt her shudder in his arms, her nails digging into his shoulders.

‘Arnav,’ her hoarse whisper was a plea.

He drew back and looked at her. It never failed to arouse him to see her like that, head thrown back, eyes dark with passion, lips begging to be kissed, the high flush of desire on her cheekbones. He leaned in again and kissed her, a slow, sensual, mind-boggling, knee-weakening kiss, that began with soft butterfly touches to her lips, deepened with his mouth, and seared them both as their tongues met, mouths open wanting to take each other into themselves. Right now though, they needed to make a move if they wanted to reach the farm house before dark. He drew back and softly kissed her again before letting her go. ‘Tonight,’ he promised them both. ‘We’ll finish this tonight.’

****

It was just turning dusk when they finally turned off the dirt road leading to the farm house. The two dogs came running around the corner, before he’d even stopped the car. They spent a little time with the dogs, petting them and playing with them, before heading inside.

‘Hari,’ he called, the servant having come earlier with the rest of the clan to help Uttam with the household chores. ‘Hari,’ when he appeared, ‘where’s everybody?’ he asked.

‘By the pool,’ the servant replied.

‘Get our bags out and put them in my room,’ he instructed handing over his keys. Hari nodded and went to do his bidding. He took Khushi’s hand in his and they both headed out to the swimming pool.

‘There they are!’ said Mami, spotting the two of them. ‘Here come the lovebirds.’ she snickered softly. Her mother-in-law gave her a reproving look, but smiled as she watched her grandson walking over to them, holding firmly onto the girl next to him, who was discreetly trying to wriggle out of his grasp. She noticed Khushi whisper something to Arnav, who bent his head in to listen to her and then said something to her very softly. Everyone pretended they hadn’t seen the exchange.

‘Bro, Khushi, you guys want drinks?’ Akash stood up heading to the bar area.

‘Yes. A mango juice would be nice, and Khushi?’ he asked her finally letting her hand go.

‘Mango juice for me, too,’ Khushi said, heading over to Payal and sitting down next to her, pretending she didn’t see the glare that he sent her way.

Akash brought over their drinks and handed them over. Conversation hadn’t stopped while this little exchange was going on, Anjali prattling along about something or the other, Dilip interjecting every once in a while. Evidently, Arnav’s brother-in-law had also decided to join them for this outing. There was an air about the family, he wasn’t sure what it was, but they seemed to be suppressing something. He looked across at Khushi and noticed that she was following the conversations around them, joining in and chatting with everybody at ease, munching away from the plate in her hand. He suddenly felt hungry just watching her eat. But they still had to tell the family about the wedding. He was contemplating how to bring this topic up, when hunger pangs got him again.

Leaning forward, he put his glass down on the table, picked up a plate and put some food on it. He placed the plate on a table next to him, and picked up his glass with his left hand. The light from around the pool caught the ring on his finger.

‘Chotey, what is that?’ asked Anjali. ‘You’re wearing a ring? When did you get one?’

He stopped, the little mushroom filled puff-pastry half way to this mouth.

Payal piped up, ‘Khushi, this is such a beautiful ring! Is this your engagement ring? But what’s this other ring?’ She was holding Khushi’s left hand in hers, refusing to let it go despite the surreptitious tugging on Khushi’s part.

Khushi looked at Arnav helplessly. He put down the puff pastry and walked over to her. Except a hand on his arm stopped him.

It was his sister. ‘Won’t you ask us why we decided to come to the farm house this weekend?’ she asked.

He stopped, puzzled by the question, shaking his head, no. He didn’t have a clue. There was a reason?

‘Chotey, we know that you and Khushi are engaged, but you can’t live with her without getting married, you know. So we’ve decided that you are going to get married next month. What will society say if we have a young, unmarried girl staying under our roof?’ completely ignoring the open-mouthed expression on her brother’s face as she continued. ‘So we’ve decided that she will stay here with Payal and Akash while you go back to Delhi.’ He turned around to look at his wife, staring at him with something like panic in her eyes. ‘You’ll get time to meet with her, get to know her a little better, of course’ she smiled at him chirpily.

‘Di, I won’t ..’ the words were strangled in his throat. He tried again, ‘I CAN’T get married.’

At his words, his grandmother and his aunt wailed loudly and covered their faces with the free ends of their sarees, their shoulders shaking with loud sobs. Payal got up and turned around, her back to her sister shaking with sobs, too? Khushi looked bewildered at this sudden turn of events. He looked around at everybody. His brother was studiously studying his drink, while his uncle too had turned away.

‘Can’t or won’t, Chotey? As it is, you’re engaged to Khushi. You have to marry her, but you have to follow the rasams.You won’t do this much for your sister, Chotey?’ his sister was asking him, tears leaking through her eyes, her slender frame shaking. His brother-in-law also had his head bent, but that was only a tribute to his wife’s Oscar worthy performance.

‘Di, I can’t,’ he finally said. ‘We’re already married!’ he was expecting a different reaction, all he got were louder wails from his aunt and his grandmother, while everybody kept their same stance with no change. He pulled Khushi up from her seat, and tucked her into his arm, ‘I’m already married, Di,’ a little softer. ‘To Khushi.’

At which point, the whole group erupted! Mami and Nani put down their saris, and he realized they’d been howling with laughter. Payal staggered back to the couch, holding onto Akash as they collapsed with mirth; and his sister doubled up with laughter holding on to her baby bump, her husband holding her up, while his uncle guffawed and slapped his thighs!

‘What the?! It’s not funny, you guys,’ he was trying to shout above the cacophony. It was a good five minutes before everybody calmed down and finally everybody was sitting down again. Arnav sat with Khushi facing Nani, his hold firm on her hand.

‘Chotey, did you think that we wouldn’t come to know that you and Khushi had gotten married already? NK told us everything. He even sent us the video link so we could watch it!’

He made a mental note to quench his thirst for NK’s blood the next time he saw him, and perhaps a few broken bones would be added bonus, he thought!

His attention was drawn back to his grandmother who was speaking to him, ‘Chotey, this was a very quick decision you made. You never showed any interest in getting married before, and now this? Are you happy about it?’

He held his grandmother’s hands and looked into her wise eyes. ‘It’s true, Nani. I never wanted to get married. But Khushi .. believes in this, traditions, marriage, all of it. I wanted to do it for her.’ He turned to his wife, the look exchanged between them speaking volumes. ‘Yes, I am happy, Nani,’ he said.

She understood what her inarticulate grandson was trying to tell her. She put her hand on his cheek. ‘You did the right thing, Arnav. We always wanted Khushi to be a part of this family, and now she is.’ She saw the love for his wife in his eyes and wiped a tear from her own.

‘Chotey, Khushi, my dears, these old eyes have waited such a long time to see the day when my grandson brought his wife home. Now today, you both are sitting in front of me, and I have so much happiness in my heart. I couldn’t have chosen better for Chotey myself,’ she stroked Khushi’s head and said. ‘But I have a request for you.’

‘Anything, Nani,’ he said.

‘Would you two get married again the way our traditions dictate? NK told us that it was only a civil ceremony. I am not asking for all the pre-wedding rituals, but I would like to see the daughter-in-law of this family with vermilion in her parting and a mangalsutra - the wedding chain - around her neck, that is put on during the ceremony. I would like you both to take the wedding vows as your ancestors have taken, Chotey,’ she finished with tear-filled eyes.

He was startled at his grandmother’s words. He looked across as Khushi, a question in his eyes. She looked at him and nodded, just the tiniest bit. His grandmother didn’t miss this little exchange and happiness filled her heart. Her lonely little grandchild had chosen wisely. This girl was indeed the one meant for him.

He smiled at his grandmother, ‘as you wish, Nani,’ he said.

‘Khushi, tomorrow your parents are arriving,’ Anjali put her hand on her sister-in-law’s face. ‘We told them how bad we felt that we couldn’t be there for the wedding.’

‘So they are coming here so that we can have the religious ceremony at least. The varmala and the pheras.’ - the exchange of garlands and the wedding vows. ‘This is why we came to the farmhouse,’ smiled Anjali.

‘Can we just have the marriage next week?’ Arnav asked, his voice was strained.

Nani smiled and said, ‘yes, of course, we can. It will be a bit rushed, but it can be done.’

‘And now, I have tons of arrangements to make. Must get hold of the caterers, the decorators-’ his Di was going on until he interrupted.

‘Stop! Di. Do we have to have the big wedding thing?’ The madness he’d been trying to avoid all along. ‘Can’t we just have a small, intimate affair?’

‘What?!’ exclaimed his aunt. ‘And give up a perfectly good chance for celebration? We want to party, Arnav. It’s your wedding. Besides have you asked Khushi what she wants?’

He bent his head, trying hard to keep his temper under control. It was for this reason alone that he had gotten married quietly in San Francisco. None of this zoo-cum-circus! He felt like a side-show freak! Her hand was soft and cool through the thin cotton of the sleeve covering his arm. In truth, he felt a little bad because he hadn’t ever asked her what she wanted. He looked into her eyes. They were sparkling with laughter at his predicament. Now she understood just what it was he’d been trying to avoid. The heat of his anger died away.

Anjali looked over at her and tried to convince her to have the BIG wedding, ‘Khushi, don’t let Chotey tell you what you want. If you want a big wedding, just say so!’

‘Actually, Di,’ she hesitantly used Arnav’s way of addressing his sister. ‘I think his idea is good. It’s about taking our vows together,’ she looked into his eyes, ‘with just people that we love and who, in turn, love us, around us.’

His hand came up, tightly gripping the hand she’d placed on his arm. He was thrilled to hear her stand up for him, but more thrilled to hear her articulate so easily what he’d been wanting to say.

‘Well then,’ Di was pouting. ‘You tell us, where do you want to have the wedding? Back home or in a temple?’

Once more they looked at each other, a secret smile for their little secret, before he turned to his sister and said, ‘right here.’

‘The farmhouse?’ Anjali thought for a moment and then clicked her fingers. ‘You know, not a bad idea at all, Chotey!’ she smiled her approval. ‘Sometimes, you really have some good ideas!’

His mouth fell open much to everyone’s amusement.

***

2 comments:

  1. Oh I can just see the scene.. the women in this household always had the upper hand in Arnacs life, even though he thought it was him in control. This story is wonderful!

    ReplyDelete

Please leave a handle with your comments if you are commenting anonymously.. so that I can thank you, and PM you when I update.