... is Ishq Wala Love
Shyam was slowly realizing one thing. It wasn’t going to be easy to get Khushi to be his. Arnav was the thorn in his side, the speed breaker in his road to happiness, the firewall to his heart’s connection with Khushi, and he didn’t know how to get around it. He’d just have to get Khushi to see his point of view. They were made for each other, and she had to acknowledge it.
He turned his head to watch Anjali sleeping peacefully next to him and sighed. He was stuck here in this gilded cage with a woman he didn’t want, while his jailor was keeping the love of his life away from him. Poor Khushi, he thought. Tears filled his eyes as he thought of her, being held by Arnav and who knows what else. It was intolerable. He wiped them away and sniffed, while Anjali let out a little snore.
But tomorrow was another day, he thought resolutely. I will get her out of this mess. With that thought in mind, he closed his eyes and submitted to the arms of Morpheus.
The pre-marriage ritual where a woman’s arms and feet are adorned with henna, her future husband’s name written in the intricate patterns drawn on her body. The deeper the color of the henna, the deeper the husband’s love is, it is said.
Khushi and Payal watched happily while the mehendi artists drew the patterns on their feet and hands. The girls chattered happily, surrounded by womenfolk, who all were getting their hands done as well.
Men, said Naniji, were not allowed at this function. Buaji enthusiastically agreed. Yes, of course, the boys had no business here. So Arnav and Akash closeted themselves in Arnav’s room, and attended to their real business, knowing that Shyam could not get to Khushi as long as she was surrounded by the other women. Muted sounds from the festivities downstairs drifted up to their room. Their Mamaji had arrived the day before the roka and had also joined them in Arnav’s room, more than relieved not to have to listen to his wife’s incessant Hinglish chatter.
Khushi’s feet had almost been done, when she felt the irresistible urge to use bathroom. Carefully lifting her lehenga, she made her way to the one attached to the guest room. She stepped out of the bathroom and was shocked to see Shyam standing in front of her.
‘Shyamji?’ she said warily. ‘What are you doing here?’
He looked at her intently, moving closer to her as she backed away slowly.
‘What are you doing, Khushi?’ he asked in a low voice.
‘What do you mean?’ she was surprised by this question, wondering where on earth Arnav was.
‘Why didn’t you come to me, Khushiji? If Arnav is forcing you into this marriage, then tell me, I’ll fix it,’ he said earnestly.
She looked at him like he’d grown two horns and a tail. Backed away one more step and looked him up and down.
‘Are you okay, Shyamji?’ she asked concernedly. ‘Perhaps you need some rest. Rest always fixes things,’ she smiled brightly at him, her smile as fake as the fake sincerity in her voice.
Shyam looked at her with wonder. Daiyya ho! She was concerned for him! Little birds tweeted around his head, and bees buzzed around the flowers blooming in his heart. He shook his head to clear it, although Shalimar still held him spellbound.
‘Khushiji,’ his voice was soft, his eyes tender. ‘You don’t have to go through with this marriage, you know,’ he said.
Her mouth and eyes dropped open. What was he smoking?
He came closer, his hands reaching out for her arms when the dulcet voice of Anjali came through the open doors. ‘Khushiji?’ He stepped back quickly.
She came around the corner, a green net saree artfully draped around her size-zero figure. ‘Arrey, Shyamji? What are you doing here?’ she said, surprised to see her husband.
‘Ah.. I .. um ... I was just asking Khushiji if she was okay,’ he mumbled.
‘Why? Khushiji, is something wrong?’ Anjali was all concern for her beloved Bhabi.
‘No, Anjaliji, I am fine,’ she shook herself back to normalcy. Thank Devi Mayya Anjaliji showed up on time.
‘They’re waiting to do your mehendi,’ Anjali smiled sweetly at her.
Khushi smiled, nodded and fled out the door.
‘Really, Shyamji. What were you doing here? If someone had seen, what would they have thought? Poor Khushiji’s honorable name would be in the dust,’ she admonished smilingly. Putting her hand against his cheek, she said, ‘should I feel jealous?’
‘Rani Sahiba,’ he spread his hands out helplessly. ‘What are you saying? She was looking lost, and so I stopped to ask her if anything was the matter.’ He took her elbow and led her out the room. ‘Besides, you know, I don’t really know her that well, even though she is getting married to your brother!’
‘Hmmm... That’s true. You really haven’t spent much time with her, have you? But you know what, once they’re married, you’ll have all the time in the world to get to know her,’ she smiled blissfully.
‘Do you think Saaley Saab is doing the right thing, Rani Sahiba?’ he stopped her, holding her elbows, looking deep into her eyes.
‘Why, Shyamji?’ her eyes filled with tears. ‘Why are you thinking like that? After so many years Chotey has finally found the woman he loves and agreed to marry and now you...’ she sniffled.
‘Forgive me, Rani Sahiba. But... ‘ he stopped, this wasn’t helping. A crying Rani Sahiba would mean questions. ‘Come, let’s go down,’ he said, putting his arm around her.
‘Oh! but you can’t come down,’ she cried. ‘It’s a women’s only function, silly. Come down when you’re called for lunch, okay?’ She cupped his face, and planted a kiss on his cheek, before heading down, her tears forgotten as she went to join the merriment.
Later that evening, more guests arrived. The Guptas had stayed over as the evening’s entertainment would be the Sangeet ceremony, celebrating the love of the two couples. Music rose to the rafters, people danced to the rhythmic beats of the dhol. Color and happiness permeated the atmosphere at Raizada mansion. Happy days were here again.
Arnav had been waiting to catch a glimpse of Khushi all day, and now finally, he could mingle with crowd. From his vantage point at the top of the stairs, he watched as his Khushi danced with abandon with her friends and family, both his and hers. His eyes were glued to her, drawing him to her. He wasn’t going to dance of course, he never did. But he couldn’t stay away from his beautiful heart even if he wanted to. Flicking his gaze over the crowd, he saw his brother-in-law at the other end of the room, staring. He didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that the object of Shyam’s attention was Khushi.
God! The man never gave up. How stupid was he? If Di saw him now... No sooner had the thought entered his head, than he noticed, to his horror, his sister making her way towards her husband. Quickly cutting through the dancers, he reached his sister’s side.
‘Di,’ he said, holding his sister around the shoulder and steering her away. ‘Come and sit. You’ve been running off your feet all day.’
‘It’s your wedding, Chotey,’ she said softly, all her motherly love shining through her eyes. ‘I can afford to work a little today.’
Khushi had noticed him with his sister and came over. ‘Di,’ she said. ‘Arnavji is right. You should rest for a bit.’
Anjali looked from one to the other. What a perfect match! she thought, smiling through her misting eyes. ‘Chotey, I know you’re itching to have some time with Khushi. Go,’ she urged. ‘No one’s looking.’
Arnav needed no other words of encouragement.
One look at Khushi’s face, though, and he knew she wanted to dance some more. She’d been enjoying herself so much, and a wedding was all about the bride. He hadn’t yet danced with his, he thought. Besides, there was Shyam. One Stone. Two Birds. He held out his hand, she put her hand in his, as he led her to the center of the floor.
The song changed to a soft one, one that spoke about a love that makes you bend your head in front of a love so divine. When all the roads in your life lead you to that one person. When all your prayers for your love are to the one you worship. When the one you love is the one you worship. Khuda Jaane!
As the chorus soared, he twirled her around, lifted her up and slid her down his body, his eyes only on her, hers only on him. Everyone stared as the passion and love these two had for each other burned in their eyes. To see the incandescence of their love was to be in the presence of something beyond just love. Garima, Buaji, Mamiji, Anjali all wiped surreptitious tears as they watched them.
Shyam threw his hands up and walked out of the room.
Akash and Payal watched him go. She wiped a tear from her face, and he turned her around, wiping her cheek with his thumb, his tender eyes asking the reason for her sorrow.
‘My sister has finally found her Rajkumar,’ she said smiling, turning to look at the couple on the floor. ‘These are tears of happiness.’
He looped his arms around her from the back and spoke in her ear, ‘And my brother has found his heart.’
Turning her around, he lifted her chin, and asked, ‘but what about you?’
She blushed prettily and in the cover of the dim light, reached up and planted a quick kiss on his cheek. ‘I found mine before she did.’
He smiled at that, content. He didn’t need burning passion and intensity. He needed the peace that comes with a deep seated happiness. And he’d found that with the woman in his arms. And as for passion? Well, Payal was Khushi’s sister, and he was Arnav’s brother. Did one need to say anything more?
Under cover of the noise of the continued celebration, Arnav was finally able to draw Khushi away from the crowds to the relative peace of the poolside.
‘Arnavji, what are we doing here again?’ she asked.
‘Khushi, I just wanted to spend some time with you. I won’t get to see you till the wedding now, you know.’
Her face fell at that. ‘I know,’ she said softly, resting her head on his shoulder, as they sat together on the lounger.
‘Arnavji, I have to tell you something,’ she said, as they came up for air after a few long kisses.
‘What?’ he looked at her.
His eyes searched her face. She played with the buttons on his sherwani as she told him about her encounter with Shyam in the guest room. He listened quietly, but she could sense from his deep breathing that he was keeping a tight rein on his rising anger.
‘That piece of scum!’ he muttered, when she finished, his hands turning into fists.
‘Arnavji. What are we going to do?’ she was starting to feel a little desperate. It wasn’t herself she was worried about. She knew Arnav would never allow anything to happen to her. It was his sister she that was concerned her. ‘How are we going to tell Di this?’
‘I’m hoping we won’t have to,’ Arnav was thinking. Somehow there had to be a way of not hurting his sister, but right now all the avenues seemed blocked. Shyam did not seem to be getting the message that they were sending out.
With a sigh he looked at her. Her eyes were round with worry. He didn’t want that, not today. He wanted his fiancee to be happy. Only one way to do it. He leaned forward and kissed her, brushing his lips over hers, until she gave in to him, her palms rubbing along the corded muscles at the back of his neck.
‘Saaley Saab? Khushiji?’
What the?! Of all the unwelcome sounds, Shyam’s was at the top of the list. Arnav stood up, placing himself between Khushi and Shyam, so that she was hidden from Shyam’s view.
‘Jeejaji,’ he said pleasantly. ‘What are you doing here?’ His smile never reached his eyes, that had turned cold and flat like a snake’s, watchfully watching its prey.
‘I just came to see where you were!’ said Shyam. ‘People are looking for you downstairs.’
‘We’ll be down soon, Jeejaji,’ he said, not moving an inch.
‘In any case, what were you doing, Saaley Saab?’ Shyam persisted.
The balls of the man, thought Arnav, gritting his teeth. ‘It’s my room, Jeejaji. I pretty much have freedom to do whatever I want to here. And I’m here with my fiancee, so do I have to draw a picture?’ The cold hostility in his voice was lost on Shyam.
But before Shyam could say another word, the door to Arnav’s room opened and in walked Akash, followed by Payal.
‘Bhai?’ Akash came to a stop when he saw Shyam there, while Payal bumped into him from behind.
She recovered quickly and said, ‘Khushi, are you okay?’
Khushi nodded her head.
Akash came and stood next to Arnav, and said equally pleasantly, ‘Jeejaji? You’re not enjoying the Sangeet downstairs?’
‘I was there, just came up for some fresh air,’ Shyam was feeling the neckline of his kurta digging into his neck.
‘Oh, then you missed Bhai and Bhabi’s dance, did you?’ Akash stressed the Bhai and Bhabi. ‘It was beautiful! Bhai, I didn’t know you knew how to dance like that.’ He clapped Arnav on his back.
‘And Khushi,’ Payal jumped in, ‘you looked like a Rajkumari in a fairy tale dancing with her Rajkumar! you both looked so good together, Arnavji,’ she gushed.
‘Thank you, Payal,’ he smiled at her.
Shyam was making gurgling sounds.
‘Jeejaji? Are you okay?’ Arnav asked, his tone full of concern. ‘Shall I call Di?’
‘No,’ Shyam was sounding like someone had their hands on his windpipe.
‘Shyamji!’ the bell like tones of Anjali’s voice came through the door, two minutes before she stepped into the room.
Arnav stood with his hands on his hips. What the?! What did people think his room was? Grand Effing Central Station? People just barged into it as they pleased? He needed new locks, he decided.
‘Arrey! you all are here?! What are you doing here? Shyamji, you too?’ she scolded prettily, trying her hardest to look angry while blinking her heavily mascaraed eyelashes. And I mean heavy in the literal sense. ‘Shyamji, come on. You are such a tease. Why can’t you leave these people alone? They need some alone time together,’ she simpered coyly. ‘Remember when we were engaged?’ She pouted, wrapping her hands around his arm and dragging him away.
The four of them let out long sighs of relief.
Arnav Singh Raizada lay in bed, wide awake looking at the moon, peeping in through the curtains over the window. He wondered if Khushi was awake looking at the moon as he was. Tomorrow, a new life starts. This time tomorrow, Khushi would be here, in this room with him, and for the rest of his life. It felt strange to him, and yet excited him as well. He looked at the ring on his finger and glided a finger over its surface. No beginnings. No end. Infinity. Like the love he had for her, and the love she had for him. No beginning, no end. Like he’d always been waiting for the love to come into his life, and when she’d dropped into his arms, it finally got underway. But it has always been there. She’d always been there. She’d always be there. He smiled.
Khushi and Payal lay in bed, talking quietly, but mostly silent. Their last day as sisters in this house. From tomorrow, they would be in another house. Starting a new life, sharing a new life. As sisters, yet sisters-in-law. Adjustments, compromise. Mamiji and her hello-hi-bye-bye. But always with their Rajkumars! All of that. And more. The thought of the suhaag raat weighed heavily in both their minds.
Akash looked at the picture of Payal that was now the wallpaper on his phone. His eyes were full of dreams as he curled up in bed, and fell asleep.
Shyam lay in bed watching Anjali sleep. His heart was heavy with despair. He had tried, so hard, but now it looked as if all was in vain. Or was it? Was there something he’d overlooked? Something he could have done differently? If only Rani Sahiba didn’t keep showing up at the oddest moments, he thought. He snorted and turned on his side away from her. He might as well get some sleep.
Tomorrow would be a long day.
Ritu, Payal, Beenz - my loves, you have kept me going and egging me on to get more and more twisted ... so here it is.. Ishq Wala Love. I love you all, Dammit!! Mujhe Farak Padta Hai!!