“So NK is going to wait in the wings while you pamper yourself here, with all that eeky stuff on your face and get pedicure-manicure?” Khushi asked her childhood friend Mallika in an outraged voice, “Where is your sense of fairness? The guy has travelled thousands of miles and wishes to talk to you for a couple of minutes before the mehandi function. What is wrong with that?”
Mallika looked at her friend with exasperation. Her face pack was surely going to crack if she spoke another word trying to explain to Khushi why she couldn’t meet NK before the engagement tomorrow. She had tried to explain it to her that her astrologer considered it not the right time for her to meet him but would Khushi listen?
She gestured to Khushi to wait for a minute while the pedi-mani ladies finished their job and asked the professional facial expert to remove her face mask. Once that was done, she calmly turned towards Khushi and said, “Babe, I’ve tried to explain it to you again and again but you won’t listen to me. Punditji said it is not the right time for me to meet him. IF I do something bad may happen. I am not willing to take that risk Khushi. Try and understand this please and make him do so too. You know he listens to you!”
“Hmmph.. I hate all this astrological nonsense. What’s the point of keeping two people who love each other apart, even if it for a couple of hours?” Khushi grumbled and then sighed. She would have to accede to her friend’s wishes. Mallika believe in such nonsense and it was her engagement, her life. “Fine, I’ll tell the poor guy, he must wait until tomorrow although I dislike it. He’s my friend too you know. ”
Mallika laughed, “Yeah, and your admirer too my love. He was half loved you when he met me and had it not been for us matching so well and falling in love with each other, he may have waited for you all his life. According to him, you’re an innocent angel who has come down to Earth and can do no wrong and no matter how hard I try to tell him that is not the case; you’re a nutcase, he won’t listen to me.”
The smile that had found its place on Khushi’s face got wiped off immediately. “Don’t! I am very fond of NK and I wouldn’t wish for you to talk about him like that. He’s my friend and what’s more he’s like a brother to me.”
Mallika squeezed Khushi’s shoulder and came up to hug her, “I know darling. I know. He’s so good at heart and so kind.. I sometimes think I have dreamed him up. “
Khushi brightened at this, “Nope. He’s real and he’s here for you. You’ll be engaged tomorrow and then soon married and then… !”
Mallika blushed and swatted Khushi gently, “chal hat.. pagal! Now if only we could find another like NK that you would fall in love with.”
Khushi moved away from Mallika so as to hide her face full of anguish, “You could give me 100 such NKs and I still wouldn’t be the right girl for him. Until I don’t have your cheerful and kind disposition, I can’t have such a man as NK. “
“What kind of man would you like then?” Asked Mallika, coming to stand next to her friend, perplexed by her tone. “Did you already find one and not tell me about him? Did you Khushi?”
“What’s to tell? Not all stories are bestowed with happy endings and we must reconcile with this fact of life.” Khushi said and then brushed the unhappy thoughts off her mind. She couldn’t break down ever!
She smiled and said “We are not going to talk about me now Mallika. We are simply going to focus on you. And my watch tells me if we don’t go back home soon, we’re going to be reprimanded big time before the Mehandi function!”
“Khushi, are you- you’re not happy. I know that. Won’t you tell me what happened? I’m your best friend.” Mallika put a hand on Khushi’s shoulder, turning Khushi towards to face her. Khushi smiled and said, “You’re my best friend, yes. And there’s nothing to tell. I mistook a devil incarnate for my Prince Charming and my heart got bruised, is all. Trust me, I’m fine!” and saying this, she moved away from her childhood friend again and said, “Look, it’s time we left. Forget all this and let’s just go. I want us to have loads of fun today. “
Back at Gupta Residence, Mrs Gupta was talking to Payal, “I knew he would sooner or later come forward to claim her attention but I didn’t think he’d act upon it so soon. He wishes to see her today, at Mallika’s mehandi function?”
Payal had spoken to her grandmother about the phone call last evening and her conversation with Arnav. Payal sighed, “Arnav ji is not a very patient man grandma, especially where Khushi is concerned. The day she left Delhi without telling anyone of her whereabouts was the day I shudder to think about. I’ve never seen a man so furious grandma, ever! For some days I thought, Arnavji was going to throttle Khushi if he found her. He stayed in that murderous rage for many days and then his black moods took over the entire household. Everyone, even Dadiji was so scared to talk to him lest he went into one of his anger fits and walked out of the house again. He worked himself to the ground, and would snap everyone’s heads off at the merest mention of something that reminded him of Khushi.
He left for London soon and after a few weeks, came back and then went away again. He was like a man on mission. Akash said he’d heard him making some enquiries about Khushi but Akash also didn’t dare ask his Bhai what was going on. He wouldn’t speak to anyone about Khushi, especially not to Mum and Dad. The last time he was in Delhi and had gone away again in a day, he looked like he had been stabbed to death. We had tried finding out what the matter was but he just left. Akash thought maybe it had something to do with a big deal that had gone sour. But then, Anjali di called after a few days, demanding to know what had happened. She said she’d never seen Arnavji like this in her lifetime, not even when their mother had run away with their father’s friend and their father committed suicide with heartbreak. He was devastated by something he had found out, she said.”
Mrs Gupta looked sad, “Such a tragedy that two people who are too alike in nature have met and perhaps fallen for each other. I know there is a strong bond between Khushi and him though neither would admit it openly. I could feel that when we met him yesterday. At my age, one knows these things. I wish Khushi would confide in someone! She keeps everything to herself more than ever now, cries in the night and simply looks lost at times. Yesterday when I met Arnav, I felt the same emotions running high in him as I feel in Khushi. He’s determined to talk to her and if that day is today, so be it! We’ll take it as it comes. Khushi must face him and get it over with if that’s what is going to happen. She can’t move on until they both have unfinished business with each other. Children today…” Mrs Gupta looked as if she was Atlas on whose shoulders lay the burden of this world for a moment. Then she straightened her shoulders and said, “Let’s go Payal. We’re getting late for Mallika’s mehandi function.”
At Mallika’s house, the party had begun. Guests had arrived from all corners of the world. Big wigs, executives from various companies that Mallika’s father had dealings with had come in to attend the engagement party. One could also see local politicians mingling around. Arnav was talking to one such local politician but his eyes kept on roaming around in the house, looking for that particular girl who had brought him here — Khushi.
He heard laughter from the other part of the house and knew the mehandi function had started and the womenfolk of the family were having fun while they waited for the intended bride and her friends to return from the spa. While he was actively searching for Khushi, he didn’t intend to come in contact with her until the time was right. He will not meet her today- oh no. He only wished to look at her, take in his fill of her today while she enjoyed herself. The journey to claiming her as his will begin tomorrow.
He heard the commotion at the end of the party hall and knew she must have arrived. Only his Khushi could make such a din and encourage others to do it too. A slight smile touched his lips as he imagined her face. She would be laughing and teasing her friend, dancing her hands around and talking animatedly with her eyes.
Thinking about how her eyes could talk took him back to the day after they had been introduced and he had messed up her mind.
Khushi had been walking around in the garden with Akash and another friend of hers when he saw her again the next day. He had just come back from work- a hectic day that had been filled with meetings with politicians and bureaucrats not to mention some other smart ass businessmen who had a carrot stuck up their- never mind that! He was tired to the bone and wished to get out of his dark blue suit that he had worn all day long. A long hot shower and some comfortable clothes was what he craved. Added bonus would be hot dinner and a book to read in peace.
Unwittingly his eyes strayed towards the trio walking in the garden, his eyes staying glued on Khushi. She wore a cream coloured sweater with and her feet were stuffed into shoes. She had a focused, concentrated look on her face and she was listening to whatever Akash’s friend was saying very intently, her glorious hair open and blowing in the wind. At one point, it looked as if she would argue but she kept quiet and looked as if she was mulling things over in her mind. She had a frown on her forehead and she kept on biting her lower lip as if forcing herself to stop speaking out her thoughts. He felt a tremor run through his body when he looked at her pale pink lips, especially the bottom lip that she was worrying. He wished to go there and put his mark on those lips. A hunger was taking hold of his senses; hunger to taste those lips.
Hastily he snapped out of those thoughts. He didn’t need this complication in his life. For heaven’s sake man, you’ve just met the girl and you didn’t even like her so much! – He told himself. He already had a girl who was willing to share his bed and be at his beck and call back home in London. Women were meant for pleasure and not to be trusted. What fascination could such a girl as this Khushi Kumari Gupta hold for a big tycoon like himself? He delivered this lecture to himself and walked off.
Once he had showered, he got into a horizontally striped sweater and put on his Gucci loafers. They were quite comfortable to walk around in, in his room. Smiling, he dialled the number to his Di in London. He came and stood by the window in his room talking on his Bluetooth with his Di. The window overlooked the garden. Khushi, Akash and the other unnamed friend were still walking in the garden and Khushi was saying something, the expression on her face earnest. She seemed to be pressing her point home as her companions looked dazed by her and kept on nodding.
And then she smiled. Arnav found he couldn’t take his eyes off her face, he could barely respond to his Di. Her smile had him captured. He hung up, promising his Di to call later while his eyes never strayed from Khushi’s face. Her smile held all the joy of the world, as if she had found a treasure. She whooped with joy, laughing and clapping her hands, making those two dumb fools standing next to her grin while an unwilling smile graced Arnav’s face slowly. She looked really pretty when she smiled.
While the two guys started talking to each other, turning their backs on Khushi as she searched for something in her book, Arnav found himself mesmerized by her. She stood directly under the lamp light, scribbling something in her book, the tip of her tongue caught between her lips that were still curved in a smile. Arnav felt his body stir and loins tighten as he saw her; her face glowing and her tongue coming out to be caught between her lips. What the hell was wrong with him! How could he be so affected by this chit of a girl!
He was about to turn away from the window when he felt her gaze on him. As if Khushi felt his gaze, she suddenly looked up from her book and straight at him. The smile on her face disappeared abruptly. She looked at him; confused as if asking him why he stood there looking at her as he stared back, his desire in plain view for her to see, not knowing if she understood how at this moment he wanted to touch her, taste her. A slow flush started on her face going down to her neck. She looked away and up again. Unspoken questions were asked by her with those beautiful eyes, questions to which he had no answers. She looked down as if feeling awkward and quickly walked to the other two guys. Something was discussed and she smiled at them. Turning away, she moved towards the exit of the house gate. Just before she turned out of the gate, she looked back and up at him. He was still standing at the window, looking at her. They shared one last gaze and she left.
Someone cackled next to him and he came back to his surroundings. Outwardly calm, he felt his heart thud loudly. He knew she was in the hall.. she had come. Only in her presence did he heart beat so fast, so loud that he felt the entire room would hear it.
His Khushi may be out of spirits when alone, as her grandmother had informed him yesterday, but she also possessed fighting spirit- like he did. She would never let anyone know what she felt. She was so much like him in such aspects. That had been his undoing. If only she spoken to him and told him the truth- he shook his head to clear the fog of despair- no matter. It will all be solved soon- once he caught up with her. He looked on as she came into view.