The alarm indicated that it was time to wake up. Khushi woke up with a smile on her face as she flounced off the bed and went to the window to see the Sun rise above the hills. She loved this time in the morning and woke up every day before Sunrise simply to see it come out. It gave her a feeling of positivity and optimism; that one must always look forward to tomorrow for it will bring light and darkness will vanish.
As she sat by the window ledge thinking about her day schedule and the list of activities that would be done once they reached Saat Tal, she made a pretty picture with her cream dressing gown billowing around her in the wind, her long hair that was free from its binds flowing freely in the breeze. She would put her hand up and try to control her long brown tresses once in a while but otherwise she didn’t much bother with it. She had a lovely smile upon her face as the first light of the sun shone through the sky.
Arnav who sat in the garden, on a swing that was further away from Khushi’s window thought she was the most beautiful woman on this earth. He wondered how he had never bothered to look at her so early in the morning when in Delhi. He used to go jogging every morning and cross her window. He used to look at her sitting by the window but never once did he stop to look at her. How foolish had he been to have missed those moments of Khushi in all her glory! Yes, her hair had not been so long before, had just about reached her shoulders but still, she’d have made just as pretty a picture.
Khushi’s smile faded bit by bit as a part of her became aware of her body’s tingle. It was as if the breeze had a special fragrance that it carried across to her, Arnav’s scent. It felt to her as if he was around, his scent enveloping her little by little, his gaze searing her body. Her eyes closed as senses took over. Yes, she could feel him close by. But how could that be!
Shaking her head at her own flights of fantasy, Khushi got up from the window ledge and was about to leave when her gaze fell on the garden swing. Her mouth fell open in shock. Indeed, Arnav was here and her senses were not fooling her! She froze for a moment until she heard him shout, “Care to come down and ask me what I might be doing here or do you plan to catch flies in that delicious mouth of yours?”
How dare he mock her! Khushi fumed her good mood evaporating. She didn’t need this today. He had to go and she had to turn calm again; she had to control her emotions, she had a lot of work on her hands today. And yet her anger would not abate, calm would not prevail. Quickly, she stomped off the steps and out the house, into the garden.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here Arnav Singh Raizada?”
“Good morning to you too, my love!” He grinned and continued, “I’ve come to woo my fiancee, Khushi Kumari Gupta. I’ve come to beg for her forgiveness and do what ever it takes to get back into her good books. I’ve come to make her see that she still loves me, will forgive me for my mistakes and consent to be my life-partner.” Arnav’s voice that held amusement in the first sentence quickly turned into sincere pleading.
“Arnav I don’t-” Khushi started but was interrupted gently by Arnav.
“Khushi, I know I’ve made a grave error of judgement by behaving the way I did with you. I know it is a difficult mistake to forgive. But I am here to ask you to at least consider forgiving me. I do not wish to lose you Khushi.”
“Why would you care if you lost me Mr. mighty-Raizada? You had never loved me, never did love me. What game is this that you wish to play for your amusement now?”Khushi’s bitterness was laced with a healthy dose of sadness in her voice.
“I know I have been all kinds of fool Khushi when I said that I don’t love you. Since then, I’ve come to realize that it is no use fighting this feeling I have for you. It won’t go away. I don’t know if what I feel for you is love or lust of desire or affection or – I don’t know Khushi. The only love that I ever knew of was love of my siblings before you came into my life. You know that more than anyone else. At least let me try and prove to you what I feel for you is lifelong. I wish to be with your forever Khushi and I’m ready to do anything you wish me to do to get your forgiveness and your love back.”
Khushi couldn’t believe ears hearing Arnav’s declaration. “Who are you and what have you done to Arnav Singh Raizada; the man who thinks sentiments are a waste of time? The man who knows nothing about being humble, the man who can accuse anyone of anything but never admit to making mistakes. Are you saying you love me? If that is so, I don’t believe you.”
Arnav’s rueful smile was self-mocking. “I know I’ve been not so very modest when it comes to self-praise but trust me, I-”
“Trust you Arnav? Like you trusted me?” Khushi’s shrill voice broke into his sentence.
”You didn’t give me a chance to explain. The second you laid your eyes on me, you had declared me the culprit and yourself a victim that night. How do you expect me to trust you Arnav?”
Arnav closed his eyes in despair as her words conjured up that night, making Khushi’s eyes glitter with tears. “Khushi I am sorry. I will repeat it as many times as you want, any way you want.”
Tears that she had controlled all along fell now from her eyes as she looked at him. She wanted to believe him but her hurt had in gone too deep to trust his words. His accusative words still followed her after all these months. While a part of her wanted to believe in his word, her heart was too scared to accept them at their face value. She knew he was useless when it came to talking about his feeling or sentiments but at least he was trying! – argued her head but the heart silenced those words. She couldn’t trust him, not yet. She wiped her tears with one hand and looked away.
“It is useless Arnav. Go back to where you came from. Even if I forgive you I can never again trust you. I don’t think I can love you again the way I did. My feelings are dead Arnav. Go back to your life and enjoy the company of many pleasant companions. Am sure there’s plenty of fish in the sea for you.”
Khushi’s words, calmly spoken belied her inner pain and turmoil but they couldn’t fool Arnav. As she moved to get away from him, he caught her hand and pulled her back. Gasping, Khushi fell against his chest, stabilizing herself by keeping her hands on his chest. She looked at him with outrage plain in her eyes. He caught hold of both her hands on his chest and gazed intensely into her eyes, his voice just as passionate, “I am not going anywhere Khushi, not until I have proved my self, my love for you. I will get you back, make no mistake.”
And while Khushi was still digesting this, he quickly swooped down, kissed her and let her go. Shock held Khushi in place while she saw him leave the garden and go down the path and disappearing on to the road behind the grove of trees. She wasn’t sure any more about how she should react, how she felt. While a part of her yearned to get back with Arnav, a sensible part of her asked her to hold back, to wait and see what Arnav would do to prove his remorse was genuine, that he was really in love with her.
“Khushi! What are you doing outside child? Don’t you have to get ready for the camp?” Mrs. Gupta’s voice rang out and Khushi jumped as she came out of her reverie.
“Coming grandma!” she shouted back and went back into the house.
Everyone had gathered around in groups, with volunteers handling kid of various ages. It was a first time for many of the volunteers as well as kids and every one was excited. While Sayaham handled kids that were a bit older, Khushi was holding on to the little ones. They both were two regular volunteers and were helping out the other two volunteers of their group that was to leave for Saat tal as their camp destination.
Saat tal comprised of seven lakes; a lovely camping spot just about 22 kms away from Nainital. Here one could come and camp at any time of the year since the climate was always favourable. Khushi’s group would camp here for 4 days in total and handle 15 children in all. Activities like nature walk, listening to and identifying bird sounds, swimming in the river, crossing the bridge, obstacle course and a lot of funny games were a part of the camping agenda.
“Khushi di, the new volunteer is here. He was accepted late into the camp.” Sayaham informed Khushi as they were about to leave.
“But we already have two volunteers, why do we need one more?” Khushi was perplexed.
“Apparently Vaibhavi thinks otherwise. He’s in the office, filling out the last of attendance forms.” Sayaham grinned at her as she shook her head at Vaibhavi, the manager’s behaviour and went into the office.
As Khushi entered the office, her nerves went on red alert, looking at the back of a man dressed in dark blue sweatshirt and slacks. Well-built but lean body and the body language made her aware of who he was even before he turned around and grinned at her. “Hi.”
“YOU!” Khushi gaped at Arnav in disbelief as he stood up and shook hands with Vaibhav. Khushi knew Vaibhavi was not given to be easily impressed by anyone but by the looks of it, Arnav had charmed the socks off her.
While Khushi gritted her teeth in frustration and glared at Arnav’s back, Vaibhavi gave simpering looks to Arnav who was smiling back genially. The old cow was actually cooing her pleasure at him joining their group! Khushi muttered some choice words under her breath as Vaibhavi looked at her and smiled widely, “Khushi, take him with you to Saat Tal. He’s our newest volunteer and we must make sure he is happy and satisfied with what we do out here.”
Of course your Majesty, Khushi wanted to curtsey and say but control her impish nature. And then it clicked. Of course Vaibhavi would simper. Not only would Arnav give her more publicity by acting as a volunteer for her organization, he would also donate generously. Distaste curled up her lip as she regarded him with contempt.
“How much have you said you are willing to donate to bring that simpering smile on Vaibhavi’s face?”
“Will depend upon how this camp goes Khushi. I need to ensure my donation is going to go into good hands before I declare an amount.” Arnav’s silky reply came back and Khushi could’ve groaned with annoyance when Vaibhavi with her none to subtle hint voice said, “It is upon you to inspire confidence in Mr Raizada for our organization Khushi. A job well done now will ensure good future for this organization that has given joy to many, including you my dear.”
“Yes, Vaibhavi.”Khushi murmured and with a glare would have killed the faint hearted, he directed Arnav towards her group.
“I’m so happy to be a part of your group Ms. Gupta.” Arnav said after they’d left the office and Vaibhavi behind.
“Keep your snake tongue to yourself Mr. Raizada. You can impress Vaibhavi and others, not me with this fake volunteering. You were never even remotely interested in anything that had to do with children. So why now?”
“I think Ms. Gupta, you do me great injustice by judging me upon my past actions. I’m a changed man and ready to prove it to you. Besides, Anjali di has a special place for children in her heart. This organization is just the kind of place where she would want her share of donation to go.” Arnav replied back, his earlier amusement gone. Khushi swallowed a lump in her throat when he thought about Anjali; his sister. Anjali had gone through a series of problems herself when she had been young. It was not hard to believe she would staunchly support such as organization as this one. Forgetting for a moment that she didn’t wish to talk to him, she asked, “How’s di? And Dean?”
Arnav looked at her with tenderness. No matter how angry Khushi was with him, she had a soft spot for both Anjali and Dean. He replied, “They’re both quite well, engaged actually.”
A smile lit her face, “Really? Oh, how wonderful! Please pass on my regards and congratulations to both.”
Arnav gave her a look, “You can do that yourself too Khushi. They would be very glad to hear from you.”
Khushi shook her head in denial, “Best I don’t.”
Arnav couldn’t say anything after that since they’d reached the group that was waiting for them. After the initial introductions, Khushi paired up Arnav and Sayaham with the team of teenagers who already seemed excited to get moving. They all climbed the bus in which they were supposed to travel. Khushi being the supervisor was the last to climb into the bus and found herself sitting next to Arnav. The rest of the seats were full. Sighing, she sat down and said in a low voice, “Give up Arnav before it is too late for you to back out of this outing. You will not enjoy it. I cannot be persuaded by money, and flattery.”
“But you can be when you see the side of me you’ve not known of, Khushi. I am happy to be here and with the kids. Let me do what I wish to do.”
He sounded so different than his normal self that Khushi had to look up at him. As usual, it took her a moment to tear her gaze away from his intense amber eyes that seemed to want to eat her up. Feeling hot, she looked away and said, “Fine, be like that. But I am warning you, don’t talk about the past or our future together any more. I don’t want to hear it. If you wish to prove yourself, prove it with your actions, not just words.”
Arnav nodded his assent and said, “Alright Khushi, I will do just that. No talks of how our future could be together, no trying to pressure you.”
It was short drive and soon they reached Saat Tal. Man-made tents stood out as aliens in the thick woods that were decked with the background of majestic looking mountain peaks. Khushi got out of the bus and breathed deep. She absolutely loved this place. Warm air breezed past her, keeping her comfy as she got the children out one by one, with the help of other volunteers. George stood at the fore-front with all the kids. Khushi made sure she stayed with him since it was his first time here. George looked happy to be surrounded by the kids. Khushi saw this and smiled. Thank goodness, he had found his strength and was coping.
Arnav got out with the last of kids from the bus and looked around. The place was indeed beautiful, flanked by tree forest made up of pine and oak. One by one they got the kids into a circle. The kids were now instructed by Khushi about the camp activities, sleeping and waking times, warnings about their surroundings and the do’s and don’ts. Each kid was then given a whistle and a card with their name written on it in simple English and Braille. The cards were then pinned to their T-shirts by all the volunteers.
While Arnav worked with a set of serious looking teenagers, he looked over at Khushi who seemed to be enjoying herself with little children. Each kid was called over, cards were pinned on their T-shirts and they were given a sweetie and a kiss. The kids seem to love it and hugged Khushi back, with a huge smile on their faces. It made Aranv’s heart constrict when he saw her so happy with children. It made him think of his lonely childhood and he so much wished he had had someone like her with him then.
“Arnav bhaiya, where is my card?” The question asked my one of the giggling girls brought his attention back to his group. He saw Sayaham’s raised eye brow and questioning eyes looking at him and then at Khushi. Arnav smiled at Sayaham and tugged on the girl’s pig tails, “it’s right here missy. If you’d just stand straight, I’ll pin it.”
The girl giggled again as Arnav pinned the card on to her T-shirt. He was no good when it came to being touchy-feely with kids and was glad he had teenagers to deal with. Boys at this age didn’t like to be hugged and girls were shy of hugs.
Sayaham came up to him after the children had been served their breakfasts and the activities were about to begin. “Arnav bhaiya, now we will be taking the children swimming. Khushi didi will look after all the girls while you, me and George will look after the boys. It’s difficult to control boys when they’re swimming and feel adventurous as compared to girls in our experience.”
Arnav nodded and grinned at Sayaham, “I comprehend that mate. Let’s go then.”
As they walked up to the kids, Sayaham asked, “You already know Khushi didi from before, don’t you?”
Arnav looked at Sayaham who was all of not more than 20 in astonishment. “Is it that obvious?”
“Khushi did would normally come and supervise you from time to time but she hasn’t come to your aid yet. Is she angry with you?”
“She has the right to be Sayaham. I hurt her and now I’m here to do anything that will get me her forgiveness. Any help you can give will be appreciated.” Arnav put forward his case and smiled.
“Anything that will make Khushi didi happy, I’ll do. If she’s not going to be happy with you, I won’t help you. I know that Khushi di hasn’t been happy since some time so if you can make her happy-” Sayaham declared boldly, though a little hesitantly.
Arnav smiled and put his hand on Sayaham’s shoulder, “You’re a good guy, a good friend. I can assure you your didi loves me but is angry with me. I must gain her forgiveness before I can make her happy again.”
“Okay, I will try to help you when I can.” Sayaham smiled and they shook hands. It was time to work. Soon they were immersed in handling kids. Arnav found it wasn’t easy to control an excited kid and keep him happy at the same time. He had to put a curb on his temper and be patient. But he also realized that he was enjoying himself with these children. He listened to what Sayaham was telling him,
“This exercise is as much for us volunteers as it is for these children. Paying them attention will keep us on our toes at the same time helps us to learn more about them, their behaviour and the activities that will benefit them the most. Nothing to worry about at this stage.”
Arnav glanced at the farther side of the lake where Khushi was with all the girls. A lot of laughter came up from that side which meant that they were all enjoying themselves. Sayaham told him of the activity that Khushi always took up with the girls. Water fights were apparently her way of getting the girls closer and also helping them let their aggression out good naturedly. At the end of an hour, the children were taken back to their tents and a change of clothes was given to all. All the children were supplied by clothing by the camping organization. While the boys were dressed in yellow, the girls were dressed in pink.
The next activity had been to listen to the birds that sang and identify them. While the activity in itself had been fun, Arnav slowly got bored. He didn’t have a ear for the sounds of birds of that kind. He was grinning at the thought when his eyes fell on Khushi who was looking at him. As their glance met, he saw her gaze turn mocking as if telling him he didn’t belong. She was about to turn away when she heard Sayaham, “Arnav bhaiya, you said you were interested in bird watching. Do you know if you want to see the typical wren babbler from her, you should Khushi di to take you into the bushes now. This is the right time of the year when they can be seen. In fact-” He turned to Khushi, continuing, “Khushi di, you should take our new volunteer to do the bird watching now. I think I had seen some wren babblers come that side of the forest a while back.”
George chimed up enthusiastically, “Yes Khushi, do take him. I had an exciting time watching the birds. I think he deserves to watch them too since he’s come from so far.”
Khushi smiled at George while she thought frantically on what she should do. Apart from out-rightly denying not to accompany Arnav anywhere, Khushi could hardly say no. After all, she had done that with George before who had professed an interest in birds. So she nodded and got up. Arnav had a slight smirk on his face as he got up and waited for her to come to him. He knew what she was thinking, drat the man!
“If you want to watch birds, no talking. Don’t make noise when we’re there.” Khushi told him rudely and walked off, leaving a silently amused Arnav walking behind her. As they reached the bushes, Khushi indicated a place close to her, asking him to sit down. Arnav did so and slipped, only to fall against Khushi.
“Watch it!” barked Khushi as she caught his shoulder and helped him. Her slight shiver when his body had touched her hadn’t gone un-noticed by him. So I do affect her big time, thought Arnav, satisfied with the reaction.
He held his breath sitting next to her by the bush. The children were a little further away, playing by the lake and being supervised by the other volunteers. Khushi had come to this side of the forest to catch a glimpse of scaly breasted wren babbler. He had no idea that Khushi liked bird watching. He was starting to think there were many things about her that he had not known before, that were slowly being exposed in front of him. Just how many layers of Khushi were there inside one?
“Arnav look! There they are- scaly breasted wren babbler! Oh, what a sight this is!” Khushi whispered excitedly. She had caught hold of his arm as she pointed to the area a little far away from the bushes they were behind.
Indeed there sat two birds that to Arnav looked like all other birds. One was pecking the ground while the other was doing something to it. He frowned as he whispered in Khushi’s ear, “What are they doing?”
Khushi’s entire body tingled when Arnav spoke in her ear. Her heart beat out of control or so it seemed to her. She put a hand over it and said, “Don’t talk in my ear for heaven’s sake! I can hear you when you whisper.”
“Umm..yes.” Arnav mumbled his mouth still very close to Khushi’s ear. He wanted to kiss her ear but he knew it would be too soon to try and seduce her. He would have to wait until evening. “So what are they doing?”
Khushi tried to gather her wits and after a moment replied, “The one pecking is eating insects off the ground and the other is trying to peck the moss on the ground. They are going to build a nest somewhere. It is mating and breeding season right now.”
“Ah! Mating and breeding season. So they’re going to have babies soon. How many babies can they breed?” Though Arnav’s question seemed harmless, his voice was not. It had gone all husky and deep- aroused. Khushi was trying hard to control her voice. She didn’t want to get out of control and she knew Arnav’s close proximity and his voice was affecting her nerves. Her body wanted nothing more than to get closer to him, to have his mouth on her. NO! She must retain control of this situation. She moved a little away from him, just an inch to give herself some space and said, “They lay 2-5 eggs in every breeding season is what I know. The season is from March to August, they’d have to build a nest before they breed and collect food.”
“Of course, smart birds, these. We should follow their example instead of fighting all the time.” Arnav said and then carried on, I can earn for us and you can make a home for us- for our brood.”
“I don’t want to talk to you any more Arnav. You said you wouldn’t talk about us if I allowed you to come with the group. Don’t go back on your word Arnav Singh Raizada.” Her wobbling voice must have disturbed the birds for they flew off. An upset Khushi walked away from the bushes while Arnav looked on, with a hand at the back of his neck, his eyes closed and sighed. Patience, he should learn more patience!
After the incident, Khushi seemed to avoid him altogether when ever she could help it. At first Arnav was quite irked about her reaction to the entire incident. He wanted nothing more than a full confrontation. But a side of him that was learning patience asked him to bide his time and watch Khushi during this camp. It would help him make plans for later.
By the time three days were over, Arnav had learnt a lot about the organization through the volunteers as well as through children. Some of the children who were regulars and mostly teenagers had their stories to tell which fascinated Arnav. Some even ranted on about their teenage woes to the volunteers. Khushi indulged in such a parley with girls almost all evenings. Evenings were calmly spent, with no camp fire music but with listening to the sounds of the birds and storytelling. A word of encouragement and close counselling as a friend made the children feel better and more self-confident. During this camp, they were given freedom to roam about within a limited distance; this exercise increased their trust in themselves while group activities helped them learn being responsible for their actions.
It was probably the first time in his life that Arnav let go of his inhibitions and became a child with all the children. While he played with the younger ones, he also indulged teenagers into a good game of baseball. To his astonishment he found, most of them could actually play well. When he asked Sayaham about it, he was informed that the first baseball game had been played some years back. They found the children were very attuned to the sound of the ball and could play well simply on the basis of the sound of the ball.
Arnav was humbled to be a part of such a feeling. It was a lesson to him about how weakness can be turned into strength without being bitter. Blindness was not an issue with these kids; this camp was the place where they forgot their blindness, learned practical skills that would help them in their daily routine and lives as well as developed friendships.
He also found out that apart from such camps, the organization lent hands to these kids when it came to finding a vocation of their choice. While some were very good with words, some had uncanny management abilities; some were more homely and liked to participate in workshop that helped them learn embroidery, sewing, cooking, drawing, etc. Some liked theatre and could act or mimic really well. There were also those who were very good with mathematics and science. The organization was always in need of donations so that they could provide scholarship and training to such talented children. Arnav decided then and there to provide a large donation to the organization and also be a part of it.
He could now admit to himself that he had initially come to this camp with the intention of seducing Khushi. He saw a different side of Khushi during this camp that made him ditch all his plans and go with the gut feeling. The more he found out about her, the more his conscience smote him about doubting her. Gone was Arnav who only wanted to get Khushi back for himself; the one who had been trying to seduce her with his words while they had been bird-watching.
How selfish he had been in thinking he wanted Khushi back only because he loved her. Now he wanted Khushi to come to him by herself, not because he seduced her or only because he loved her. He wanted her to come back because she loved him and couldn’t be happy without him. He would try his damnedest to get her back now more than ever.
For Khushi who spent as much time with children as possible, it was impossible to ignore Arnav when he was so adorable. She tried to keep away from him after the bird-watching incident, letting Sayaham help him most of the times but sometimes, it was impossible. Like when the teenager girl had cried for her broken heart and she had been unable to console her, he had come forward. He had taken her in his arms and comforted her, telling her what a big fool the guy had been. He had been able to calm her down and the next day, he had surprised her yet again by being of assistance to a guy who wished to play the guitar. He kept on surprising her as the days passed by.
Something big and gooey had spread over Khushi when she had seen him playing with little boys and girls. He looked so young and – he looked like he was enjoying himself! Who would believe Arnav Singh Raizada, the business tycoon who was always aloof, who cut people into pieces with his sharp tongue; Arnav who had accused her so unjustly could be like this? Who was this guy who was warm-hearted, a giver, a care-taker and so free with his hugs and his love? He had not even once tried to get her alone, he had not even once tried to seduce her as she thought he would, he had not tried any of the tactics that he normally would. Was this the self-confident Arnav her heart had fallen in love with in reality or had she fallen for that Arnav who had been arrogant and rude- a bad boy literally? Who was to be blamed for her confused heart- herself or him? Confusion spread over and around Khushi’s mind as she went off to sleep on the third night of the camp.
The last morning of the camp saw them arranging things to be taken back. Khushi was tired and dark shadows showed under her eyes, indicating she had not slept well. She saw Arnav looking at her with concerned eyes but he didn’t demand she tell him what was wrong. Instead he had come to her quietly and asked her, “Are you okay Khushi? Tum theek ho?”
Khushi had smiled, nodded and moved away to talk to Sayaham who called her. Once they put everything in the bus, they all in the bus and left, with Khushi sitting next to Arnav again.
Chapter-13 Pre-cap: Arnav’s begins wooing in the earnest-his humble deeds demanding forgiveness make Khushi want to give in-she remembers their first kiss- the club terrace scene follows.
NOTE: Phew! After a long update like this, I’m going to need rest. :-)) Please make sure you comment or like the post at least when you visit and read. Thanks all! ❤