Chapter – 6
Khushi was not sure what was making her heart beat faster,making her feel dizzy but as soon as she entered Negi House; Mallika’s home, she could feel both these sensations. Now why on earth would she feel anything of the sort in her best friend’s house? She had been coming and going here since she’d been young. Why would it arouse such sensations today? The only one who could- Khushi gasped loudly making Mallika turn around worriedly, “What’s wrong? Did we forget something?”
“No-nothing, nothing at all.” Khushi tried to sound cheerful but her breath hitched in her throat. She ridiculed the thought. Nonsense, she was definitely going to have to do something about this paranoia that had her it its grip! First at the bazaar and now here.. get out of it Khushi!
Once they went into Mallika’s room and changed into Mehandi clothes, Khushi relaxed somewhat but was still on the edge. Her instincts, every now and then whispered his presence to her. But how could that be possible?
Khushi had changed into a beige coloured dress that had pink borders. She thought it gave her a homely, plain, “not worth a second glance” look but she had no idea how pretty and docile he looked in it. She wore minimum make-up, her glasses firmly perched on her nose.
Mallika being the centre of attention wore a royal blue Lehanga in velvet with red zardosi work done in it. “Why don’t you wear your lenses now Khushi and you guys, are your dresses for the sangeet ready?” Mallika asked Khushi and her other friends who were changing as well.
Khushi looked around and saw all of them nodding. She groaned inwardly. She didn’t want to wear lenses. “Can I not dance with my glasses on Mallika?”
“Absolutely not! You promised you will leave your stubbornness aside and do as I say on Sangeet evening!”
Mallika pouted and Khushi hastened to assure her that she would, despite her reluctance. Khushi wore the lenses since it would be difficult to do so after the mehandi was on her hands. It had been quite a while since she’d worn lenses. She felt a little uncomfortable with her glasses gone, as if a part of her happy girl façade had been taken away. They went into the ladies room where Sangeet and mehandi ceremonies will take place. Payal was already sitting next to grandmother, getting mehandi on her hand done.
Khushi remembered how NK and Mallika had met as she sat down beside Mallika while two girls started applying mehandi on Mallika’s hands. NK’s side of the family had already arrived, with his Mom and Dad smiling at every one. NK himself was sulking and had thus decided to stay back in the hotel. Khushi knew her friend well. He would not be able to stay away for long from Mallika, never had been able to since they met.
Khushi had befriended NK while studying for her MBA and NK had come to Nainital with her one summer holiday. That is when Mallika and NK had hit it off and even after NK had left, they had kept in touch. Two months back, NK had come down and gone on one knee, in the presence of several hundred candles to propose Mallika. Khushi remembered the joy on their faces when they had declared their love for each other and their commitment to each other. If only she could find that one man who would love her as much!
Khushi’s face drooped at the thought while a girl took hold of her hand and stared applying mehandi on it. Absent mindedly, Khushi looked at her mehandi and sighed. She couldn’t deny it that she did meet the man who was capable of deep love, only- what was love without trust? Angry at herself that she had thought of him again, she tried to focus on what was being discussed around her. They were all talking about the function that would take place after Mehandi.
“Khushi, which song are you and the girls planning to perform on?” Asked NK’s mother. Khushi liked her a lot. She was kind and gentle and by no means, lacking in sense of humour.
“Mummyji, it’s a song from the movie Chandni. It’s called “main sasuraal nahi jaaungi ( I will not go to the in-laws house)” said Mallika, looking at Khushi.
Khushi smiled back, dragging her mind away from dark thoughts. It was Mallika’s special evening and she was damned if she’d let it be ruined. A sparkle lit her eye, as she replied, “Yes, Auntiji, I know it’s a song for wedding Sangeet but we found it appropriate at this time to tease you guys. Marriage may be a bit too heavy what with us all busy meeting Mallika’s demands.”
Mallika nudged her with her elbow and outraged face while NK’s mother laughed. “Sounds like fun to me. I look forward to watching it. Is Mallika performing as well?”
Khushi chuckled, “She doesn’t want to give the wrong impression by doing it herself so we’re going to do it on her behalf.” Mallika blushed and other women around laughed.
Khushi looked around for her grandmother who seem to be missing and asked Payal, “where’s grandma?”
Payal tried to speak with an air of carelessness but was not sure if she was able to pull it off, “Oh she must have gone to the other room to meet others. There are so many people of her acquaintance, you know. She keeps on flitting around.”
It seemed as if Khushi had accepted her explanation because she nodded and focused on what was being drawn on her hands by the mehandi girl. “Do you want a letter written in it?” Asked the mehandi girl to Khushi.
“NO.” Khushi replied firmly, not giving herself any chance to feel sorry for herself. She had no business thinking about Arnav at this time.
Soon the mehandi session was over and older ladies brought in “dholak” and tambourine. They started singing old folk songs meant for weddings and engagements. Normally both the bride and groom parties teased each other with these songs. Khushi’s song may be filmy but it was of similar nature too. Men had been allowed back into the room now. NK’s mother was dancing with Mallika’s father and the other relatives had also started dancing with each other. At Mallika’s quiet whisper, all girls moved away into the other room to dress for their performance. Payal accompanied all the girls to help them dress and make-up since she was quite a good hand at it.
Khushi came out wearing a green Lehenga with pink dupatta that was tied from one shoulder to the other side of her waist so that it may be easy for her to dance in it. The other girls were similarly attired too in Lehanga, the colours of their choice. Giggling and laughing with the other girls, Khushi came out into the room and stood beside Mallika. It was time.
By the time, the older ladies finished their song and sat down tired but happy, the girls had taken their positions. And then began the dance. Khushi danced gracefully, lip singing the song and giving out perfect, naughty expressions. The song was all about teasing NK’s family- his mother, his father, his sister, his brother-in-law. It talked about how each one of them comes to take her to the in-laws’ abode and how she’d make excuse not to go with them.
The song came to its climax, to the part that spoke about the last message coming from the beloved. Khushi had decided to drag Mallika into the song for this verse since NK had shown up in the middle of the song and was sitting beside his mother, cheering her.
As Khushi moved with the music to drag Mallika and NK into the song, the verse began, “paanchwa sandesa mere piyaji ka aaya, koi bahana na phir yaad aaya…” (the fifth message came from beloved and I couldn’t remember any excuse…) Mallika and NK looked at each other; their gazes shy and loving and spiritedly played their part on the verse while Khushi went into the background with the other girls.
The song was almost done and it said, “nange paanv main daudii chalii jaauungii, maike vaapas main lautakar na aauungii, sainyaa jii se lipat main jaauungii, huun suunii sej sajariyaa sajaauungii, ban ke bistar main haay bichh jaauungii..main sasuraal nahiin “…(I will run to him barefoot, I will not come back to my mother’s house, I will hug my beloved and decorate his life, I will become his bed by laying down for him) Mallika blushed furiously and stumbled on the last line but NK held onto her hand.
When the song was over, Khushi jumped and cheered loudly along with others, hugging them each in turn; her sadness, her worries, her heartaches forgotten. Here was one couple who was so much in love, so committed to each other, it brought tears into Khushi’s eyes. She moved away while the pair basked the glory of praise from everyone.
She wanted to move away for a bit and keep to herself for a few minutes. Going out in the garden will surely help. Thinking this, she moved without thinking and bumped into someone.
Arnav had watched Khushi dance from distance. He grit his teeth when he looked at other guys watching Khushi with lust and admiration. He wanted to tear their eyes out, so angry was he. He admitted to himself feeling jealous, knowing he didn’t want anyone else looking at his Khushi that way. While she had danced, he could feel his body stirring with desire, his heart turning over in his body, jumping with joy at seeing her again, happily dancing. She was simply beautiful!
Her eyes conveyed all kinds of thoughts through their expressions, her hair that had been tied in a braid with a silver thread, her poise, her tiny waist and the tantalising belly button that could be seen when she lifted her hands to dance, her smile; sometimes naughty, sometime mischievous, sometimes downright sinful. Her mouth when she touched her tongue to her lips, as was her habit when she was worried or concentrating hard. He ached to touch her mouth, to taste it again. He wanted to hold her in his arms again, her body moulding to his and feel her melting into them.
He had planned to watch her from a distance and make his move the next day. But one glance at all those guys who seemed to be leering at Khushi, waiting for the dance to be over so that they could ask Khushi out changed his decision. Earlier Khushi’s grandmother had told him that Khushi had been tensed since yesterday and asked him if he could perhaps postpone his plans. He had assured her that he would be careful while talking to Khushi and only if Khushi was willing will he take his plans further.
Of course, there was no way he was going to stop until he claimed her, he knew that but he didn’t think her grandmother needed to know that at this time. He had come with a purpose and he would not leave until his heart was with him again-his Khushi. He would try to be gentle. He would need to control his temper and stay calm. He had never had trouble before when it came to being calm and controlled; only with Khushi did he lose it completely. Khushi had enough power to ignite his temper, had sometime deliberately provoked him even! As to her grandmother telling him, she had been behaving weirdly since yesterday, he knew why. Of course she would! Her heart recognized his heart beating in close proximity to her. No matter how much they fought and declared they hated each other, their hearts still beat as one.
Arnav moved ahead and he saw Khushi trying to get out of the room while a couple of guys moved forward to talk to her. To hell with everything, he had to get there before anyone else!
“Oops! Sorry, I-” The sentence was left unsaid as she stared at the face of one man she had dreaded to see again, her heart had ached to see again. Arnav!
“So we meet again, Miss Khushi Kumari Gupta.” He drawled, steadying her with his hand on her arm.
Khushi went through a brain freeze at this point. Her mind boggled, hardly making any sense as questions emerged in her head. She must certainly be hallucinating! How could he be here? How would he know she was here? How did he know the Negi’s?
While a part of her mind juggled with the questions and their comprehension, a part of her registered that he had lost weight. His jaw looked more defined than ever, his bright amber eyes intense than ever and glittering with emotions that rocked her world once. He was wearing “Brioni”; the sickeningly expensive, custom tailored suit as usual, giving him his “I’m the boss” look that had turned many a girls to mush in Khushi’s opinion. His hair had been cut short to look make him look hot and sexy and he had an evening stubble. Her body heated up and danced its own tune while her mind was still trying to come to grips with his presence.
While she was still trying to formulate questions and come up with plausible explanations, Arnav pulled her out of the room and outside, away from all eyes. He walked briskly down the steps and into the garden. Surely a figment of your imagination couldn’t do that! His touch had seared her arm. It was real enough, hot enough just like when Arnav used to pull her into his arms and kiss her senseless.
“Sit. We need to talk Khushi.” He growled huskily as his eyes devoured her, while he sat by her side, still holding her hand.
Khushi looked up into his face, her chicken brain still computing the fact that he was here. At his words though, she jerked away from him and gasped; the spell broken.
Her breath hitched in her throat. He was here for real and not her imagination! Breathtakingly handsome as ever, Arnav was dangerous when he looked at her like this. Her palms started sweating as heat pooled inside her stomach and lower, heart beating like the flutter of a caged bird. How could he look so mouth watering and how could she still feel like this after everything that had happened?How could she still ache for his arms around her!?
“What are you doing here Mr. Raizada ? And why have you come? Have you not done enough, not said enough?” saying this, Khushi tried to get up.
“ Sit down Khushi! I am not done talking with you yet!” He caught her hand in his again and growled softly between his teeth, his temper already slightly showing.
“I’m not someone you can order around, get it? Let go of my wrist. I am not going to sit around and listen to whatever vile accusations you want to throw at me. Let me go or I’ll scream!”
“ Well then, you might as well scream because I’m not letting you go.” Arnav held her hand in tight grip, his eyes chips of ice. He took a deep breath. He was here to woo her, not frighten her. He had to calm down!
“Look Khushi, I will let your hand go but we really need to talk. You have to listen to me, give me a chance.”
“Let my hand go and we’ll talk.” said Khushi.
The moment he let her hand go, she ran from his side, shouting, “To hell with you Arnav Singh Raizada.”
She didn’t run far though. He caught her by the waist just when she reached the beginning of the steps.
“You really need to learn manners Khushi.” Arnav growled and before she could so much as retaliate, he picked her up like she was a sack of potatoes on his shoulder and dragged her back deeper into the garden, surrounded by trees. She was breathing heavily, struggling and trying to free herself unsuccessfully.
“Let me go damn you! I’m not your property! How dare you pick me up like this, how dare you touch me! Let me go this instant! Why should I give you a chance? Did you give me a chance?” Khushi pummelled him with blows on his back. Not that they seem to be affecting him at all. He put her down and pulled her into his body, his hands quickly holding hers as she tried to hit him.
“Calm down you wild cat! You’ll injure yourself and me both if you keep on doing this.”
“I don’t care! Let me go you beast. Oh!”
In one moment, Arnav arms twisted her arms behind her back, forcing Khushi into his body. Khushi struggled even more, tears forming in her eyes. She would not cry, she would not! She couldn’t let him see she was weak.
“You’re hurting my arms dammit! Let me go!” Khushi wailed as finally tears fell down her cheeks. “Let me go Arnav. Please! I can’t take this anymore!”
Khushi sobbed silently while Arnav looked at her, his rage fading all of a sudden. He let her go and moved away from her while she sobbed in her hands, quietly.
“Why have you come Arnav? What more needs to be said?”
“Khushi.” Arnav felt his voice grow hoarse. Hell, he could never see her crying and this was worse! He had come here to make up and he’d already shouted on her, forced her, hurt her and now she was crying again. He ran his hand through his hair, dishevelling it. “Dammit woman! I just wanted to talk to you. If you’d simply hear me out, I’d not have to force you like this. “
As if he couldn’t bear to hear her sobbing any more, as if he couldn’t bear to stand away any more, he close the distance between them and removed her hands from her face, turning it into his chest. “Khushi.”
While Khushi sobbed on his suit, Arnav breathed in the scent of her hair. Green apples and cinnamon. Her hair always smelled the same, fresh and lively. He pulled her deeper into him, his hand going around her waist, another going through her hair. “Khushi” His voice was a mere croak accompanied with a groan. “For God’s sake, have mercy on me. Stop crying. I hate it when you do that.”
She could hear his heart beating as she lay her head on his chest and cried, beating hands against him and mumbling, “I hate you, hate you.”Suddenly she stilled as his hands moved from her hair onto her back, caressing her. Was she mad? Why was she letting him hold her! She pushed herself away from him, her tears on her cheeks, her eyes blazing, “ You have a hell of a nerve Mr Raizada. You are the sole reason for my tears and my miseries and yet you- Please, just go away. I do not wish to speak to you.”
Arnav didn’t touch her this time. She had kind of hoped he would stop her as she started walking away but he only said, “ Khushi stop.”
Khushi stopped walked but didn’t turn back. He continued, “I know the truth and I know you were innocent. I know now all about how Shyam lured you into that room and tried to molest you.”
Khushi turned around quickly, her eyes shocked and surprised. Arnav continued, his voice filled with guilt “ I found out the truth recently when Shyam was drunk at a party and boasting how he had you in his claws then, how you struggled, how I didn’t believe you and how he got one up on me.”
Khushi shuddered and closed her eyes as the memory surfaced of how close she had come to being raped, by her own cousin too! Had Arnav not interrupted on time, she’d have been raped and killed by that obsessed creep. Another shudder racked her body as Khushi tried to control her panicked breathing. Deep breaths. It didn’t matter any more. She opened them to look at Arnav; her eyes a tale of anguish and then down, “So you know now. Yet you didn’t believe me then.”
Arnav looked as if someone had put a spear through his heart. Oh her eyes! How much had she suffered and he had compounded it all! He was just as responsible for hurting her physically and mentally as Shyam was. No wonder she hated him now. But he couldn’t live with her hate, he just wouldn’t! He had to ask for forgiveness, she had to give it to him.
His eyes tried to show her how sorry he was, how he suffered and lived with his guilt since the last so many months but she refused to look at his face. He turned away from her and spoke quietly,
“ I can only tell you that justice has been served. He is in jail now since he had also embezzled funds from my company. Even when he serves his sentence and comes out, he will not be entertained in any decent society.” His eyes searched her face desperately for some sign of forgiveness, some sign of her mellowing down now that the culprit had been caught and given his due punishment, “ Khushi, I know I didn’t believe you at the time since I had seen the proof with my own eyes, proving otherwise. You must realize how it looked at the time.”
Khushi looked at him, her hurt and despair plain in her eyes.
“Yes, I do now. You believed that– that creep cousin of mine who was your friend and employee rather than the woman you were engaged to; me- the woman who kept on telling you that she was not in the room by her wish but had been forced. You believed only what you saw, not in me.
You proved everyone right; all those who kept on telling me I was a fool to get involved with you- that you had no heart, no conscience, that you were ruthless in your real life as in business. Those who told me that I was naïve to believe you were engaged to me and wanted to marry me because you cared for me even if you didn’t–you couldn’t care, you couldn’t love. You proved them right and you proved silly naive me wrong. But I learnt my lesson.
I know now Mr. Raizada. It hurt horribly at the time; your distrust, your betrayal but I’m alright now. I am over the hurt and am even over you. You needn’t worry, you needn’t lose your sleep over it. I know you are not in the habit of apologizing no matter how big your crime may be. I don’t expect you to apologise just as I know I will not forgive you.”
“Khushi, I am sorry.” The words slipped out of Arnav’s mouth before Khushi could move. She looked shocked, only stared at him when he repeated again, “I’m really really sorry. I should have believed you. Forgive me and come back to me Khushi. I-”
A giant wave of rage enveloped her as she realized what he had just said. “Forgive you Arnav Singh Raizada? For what? For being your-pompous-ass-I-am-always-right-self? I don’t think so! You and I can never be together again. This conversation is over and I have nothing more to say to you.”
“Khushi, stop!” Arnav’s command fell on deaf ears as Khushi kept on walking. Tears had begun again. He wanted her, oh yes he did.. but only to assuage his own guilt, only to make himself feel better. He didn’t really care for her. Well, he could rot in hell for all she cared!
Her feet came to a stop at his softly spoken, “Khushi.” His next words scared her as did the determination in his voice. “Fine. We’ll talk another time. I’m not going to go away so you might as well face it. I’m here to get you back in my life and you will come to me again. I am not letting you go Khushi. I am staying here at Negi house as their guest since they have invited me to the engagement party.”
Khushi looked back and stared at him for a moment. She whispered so softly that he almost missed her words as he spoke to herself, “So you’re not here just for me. I knew it.”
She walked away, wiping her tears with her dupatta while Arnav stood looking at her departing dear back. A part of him was rejoicing. He had seen the proof in her eyes. Her despair told its own story. She still loved him! However,… he sighed. She was not going make this easy for him. He knew he’d have to crawl before he would be able to win her back. A determined glint came in his eyes. Tomorrow was another day. He was ready to grovel, he was ready to crawl- in his own ASR/Arnav style.