Shaantanu Khandelwal was experienced in the art of making women fall for them, even if he had no intention of doing so. A flirtatious conversation, seductive looks, implicit arrows of shallow romance were not new to him. But a relationship was. Especially a serious relationship. And it leaves me in no doubt saying that Shaantanu had never come across one of Oscar Wilde's golden conclusions: Women are made to be loved, not to be understood.
Since their conversation on the terrace yesterday, Shaan and Khanak had not been blessed with an opportunity to speak on a one-on-one basis. Every moment that he spent without listening to her soft voice directly addressing him, he spent in re-listening their conversation. And up till now if he could conclude something, it was this: there was no existing category in which he could place Khanak. Every word that she had utters up to now had seemed genuine. Each smile seemed like it was meant. All her gestures and retorts seemed to convey that she meant what she said: she was giving them a chance from her heart.
But since this was a territory hitherto not ventured into by Shaan, he not unlike Khanak wished to be cautious. And when one is cautious, one is often jumpy. Thus, when Khanak was not to be seen for several hours this evening, Shaan felt restless and curious to know where she was.
It was around 8pm that Khanak walked in the front door and was met by a stationary figure we know by the name Shaantanu Khandelwal. The man was stunned. Statue. Unmoving. Eyes focused on the woman in front of him. Intently absorbing the tiger-print chiffon top that the woman wore on top of black skin-fit jeans. There was only one word to describe the woman: wow!
But wait a second. This is Khanak we're talking about. The simple, very traditional and casual Khanak. Were Shaan's eyes deceiving him? He'd have loved to say yes, but the truth was that his eyes were perfectly right. And his mind, though baffled, was correct about the woman.
So caught up in his conflicting thoughts was Shaantanu that he did not realize he was staring at Khanak. Ogling would be the word, but we love our hero so we'll call it staring- strong enough to sound wrong but subtle enough to not sound vulgar. The man was, after all, in a process of falling hard for a girl for the first time in his life.
Since Shaantanu was unaware of his appearance to Khanak, let us all thank God on his behalf when he was jolted out of his reverie by Khanak's words.
"Huh? Oh haan hi. Kahan se aa rahi ho? I couldn't find you at home aaj."
"Oh haan wo I was out with a friend."
"Friend? Hmm...so how was it?"
"Good. We had a great time.," she smiled moving towards the staircase that led to the upper story of the house.
When Khanak was safely inside her room. She flung her clutch on the bed and hugged herself. The plan was successful. Shaan's astonishment and unhidden pleasure in his eyes had confirmed it. There was something going on from both sides. She picked up her cell and dialed her favourite number.
After a few rings her friend picked up.
"I think we've hit the right chord." Khanak couldn't help but grin to herself.
"Don't be over-excited Khanak. Before hopping on to what he feels we need to sort out your feelings too."
"My feelings are sorted out. I told you na."
"This is ridiculous Khanak. You're attracted to him and that's enough for you because your parents like the guy? What about all those hopes you had from a marriage? Does this guy fit the bill?"
"Pata nai yaar. But he isn't that bad a person."
"Acha. And you know this how?"
"Okay okay. I know I told you ke he seems to prioritize himself and material possessions over more spiritual and communal benefits but I realize ke maybe it's because he was never showed any other way."
"Khanak he's 26. Don't kid yourself."
"I'm not kidding myself. Jab mein Shaantanu ke saath hoti houn I feel as if there is something that fits perfectly between us. And then my mind interrupts with all these 'logical' doubts that you raise."
"See. That's proof enough that you don't need to start celebrating just now. Relax, we'll test the waters and then sail."
"Bohat deir ho gai tou? I'm not special and probably there are much more attractive women back in Mumbai jin se Shaantanu ki mulqaat hoti hogi." Khanak reminded her friend sadly.
"But Khanak remember he's been put off by all those women. Not that I want to give you any false hopes but phir bhi...you're different and special. If he doesn't realize that he's not worth your time and attention."
"You're just saying that. You've always been protective of me."
"And that's for a reason Khanak. You need to start believing in yourself."
Meanwhile in the living room, Shaantanu was still left in an utter state of confusion.
Khanak? Wo bhi in western attire?
Of course Shaan. Tujeh kya lagta hai wo school bhi shalwar suit mein jaati hogi?
But still yaar...ghar pe tou kabhi nai dekha ussey youn and it just felt awkward yet nice seeing her this way.
Pata nai Khanak kya soch rahi hogi mere baray mein. Ek tou mein bhi itnay duffers ki tarhaan still ho gaya tha.
It must have been so awkward for her too.
But dekh Shaan. Good thing is that she's not all that different.
At least rehne sehne mein tou she can adjust to your lifestyle. Maybe she is just traditional in her values and waise modern hai?
Exactly. Yahi hoga. Don't overthink the situation man.
Dinner went as was usual and soon after everyone retired to their room either to sleep or to study. Khanak, on the other hand, went at started watching television in the living room.
"Aren't you going to go sleep?" asked Shaan.
"Nai tou," replied Khanak.
"But it's 10 already."
"Tum tou sa jati ho ab tak, right?"
"Usually. I mean, agar neend aa rahi ho tou so jati houn."
Shaan sat down on a sofa beside hers, glad that they finally had time to talk one-on-one.
"So you lied to me that day?"
"When you said ke you sleep at around 10."
"I never said that. I said ke raat ko log sotay hein."
"Er...haan but you implied ke tum bhi jaldi soti ho."
"Shaantanu don't be so sure of yourself."
"Shaantanu! Yaar please call me Shaan. Ek tou when you start calling me Shaantanu tou itna formal lagta hai. Shaan is fine thanks."
"But mujeh Shaatanu kehna hai."
"Bas ayse hi."
"'Bas ayse hi'" Shaan mimicked Khanak, "Seriously Khanak you're such a puzzle. Kabhi itni sweet aur submissive lagti ho and kabhi totally stubborn and saucy."
"Acha!" Khanak blinked her eyes in wonder at Shaan, "Wah bhe you know me so well," she laughed.
"At least I'm holding up my part of the deal," continued Khanak.
"I'm holding up my end as well."
"Acha then tell me: why do the shades of my personality surprise you?"
The question was genuine and Shaantanu could sense it was essential to the progress of their relationship. But how could he tell her something he didn't know himself?
"Well...I mean you look simple but then there is nothing simple about you."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
"I mean...ke...you're complex."
"Everyone is complex Shaantanu. Why do you expect me to be different?"
"So are you like everyone else? Kya tumhein bhi wohi chahiye jo sab larkiyoun ko chahiye?"
"Aap ko kya lagta hai sab larkiyoun ko kya chahiye?" asked Khanak genuinely, in a soft voice. She had built up a path to this conversation so cautiously yet she was still afraid to know the answer.
Shaan was playing with his fingers now. Nervous would be the perfect word to describe him. Unsure would be another.
"Don't you know sab larkiyoun ko kya chahiye? Tumhein kya chahiye?"
Khanak was looking directly at Shaan who was still busy looking at and playing with his fingers.
"Mujeh apna tou pata hai Shaantanu aur meine aap se kuch nai chupaya. But you haven't answered my question: Aap ko kya lagta hai?"
"Jo hai wohi lagta hai Khanak!" Shaantanu said, finally looking directly into Khanak's doe eyes.
He was trying to avert the question but Khanak was determined to ask him. If they had agreed to go down a path to discovery together, they should at least be clear of a few perceptions the other person held. This was one of them.
Not knowing whether she had the right to ask this or not, Khanak spoke with as much confidence as she could muster: "Why are you so skeptical of women, Shaantanu? Why the strong dislike?"
PS: I wanted to keep Khanak's western look modern yet modest. Would love to hear your views!
Edited by ABlank90 - 07 July 2012 at 8:19am