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To say that he was surprised would be partially incorrect- from the day Shaan had returned from London Rahul had sensed the change in his friend was somewhat owing to Khanak. To say Rahul was relieved, however, would also be incorrect. For who would accept so effortlessly that his friend who claimed to be unaffected by women had changed so much because of one? But then again, to say Rahul was confused would also be incorrect. For now that Shaan had confessed that Khanak had at least some degree of influence on him, Rahul could be sure that his next task was to find out more about Khanak.
As Rahul and Shaan walked to the sofas, Rahul casually asked, "But abhi tu us ke barey mein kyun soch raha hai? Leave her in London and enjoy the party man."
"Because," Shaan replied "She isn't in London. She's at this very party."
"Ohh! Phir tou ek mulakaat banti hai bhai,"
"Shut up yaar Rahul."
"Tou mein khud hi mil leta houn," Rahul replied.
"Aur kya kahey ga tu ussey? Mein Shaan ka dost houn? Tujeh tou weird samjhe gi hi..upar se mera jeena mushkil karey gi." Shaan knowingly exaggerated.
"Arrey yaar..tu negatively kyun sochta hai. I want to see her. Baat kya karni hai, karni hai bhi ke nai, wo baad mein dekhte hein."
By now they had reached Akshay and Khushboo, so Shaan conveniently ignored Rahul's last sentence and got immersed in conversation. A while later, Priyanka (one of Shaan's cousins) invited all the youngsters to perform a ludi and bhangra in the centre of the hall. Shaan declined, but Rahul was pulled up by Rajesh.
Rahul stood awkwardly in the periphery of the dancing group, clapping and barely dancing when his eyes caught a pair of doe eyes doing much the same as he was a few feet away. Dressed in lime green, light blue and silver, the girl seemed to be a distant relative or family friend of either of the two families. Rahul had never seen her before so he concluded she might be from the bride's side and had joined the dancing group because she was pulled up by one of the girls just as he had been pulled up by Rajesh.
The girl caught Rahul looking at her and they exchanged an awkward smile. The group moved and she was pulled in my someone in the inner circle. She happily joined in more enthusiastically but after a while she withdrew and she did so, she bumped into Rahul.
"Careful there!" Rahul caught hold of her arm to prevent her from falling.
"Sorry," she said straightening up, "thanks!" and left.
Not so many minutes later, Rahul too left the circle and when to get a glass of cold drink. He found the same girl standing by the table. Once again, awkward smiles of acknowledgement were exchanged as Rahul picked up a glass of pepsi.
"Don't mean to be stalking you," he joked, attempting to reduce the awkwardness.
"I'd have never thought otherwise had you not said that," the girl smiled prompting Rahul to ease a bit.
"So are you from the bride's side?" asked Rahul.
"The groom's," she replied.
"Oh! Sorry, I've never seen you so I assumed you're from the other side."
"Are you from the groom's side?" Khanak asked.
"Yes, the groom's like an elder brother to me. Actually, I am-"
"Oh okay. Actually this is the first time I've come to India so I don't really know everyone."
"That's perfectly alright…I've known Akshay Bhai, Aunty, Uncle and Shaan all my life but even I don't know half the people here. Hence the awkward dance," smiled Rahul.
"Oh yeah that!"
"Even though I do enjoy dancing," continued Rahul.
"Me too! But I was unsure of whether I should dance or not. Though I've always wished to dance at an Indian wedding."
Just then, Khanak had to excuse herself because someone was calling her. Rahul walked to where Shaan was sitting and told Akhshay and Khushboo that they should grace the dance floor with their moves.
"Sagai honey do Rahul..phir." said Khushboo.
"Haan ek daffa bharatyanari ki impression jamma le miss, tou phir mehfil jamatey hein," joked Akshay.
After a while, both Akhshay and Khushboo got up to sit with the elders and Shaan and Rahul were left alone.
"Chal na dance floor pe," Rahul urged Shaan.
"Abhey nai yaar, tu ja na."
"No thanks. Ek daffa pehle hi Raj mujeh kheech ke le gaya and I've made a fool of myself. Abhi mein tere kisi cousin to pakarta houn to pull you up. Guests ko pakar rahey hein when the gharwaley aren't dancing."
"Tu guest hai?" laughed Shaan, "Drama na ker Rahul."
"Nai I met this really nice girl abhi…wo bhi meri tarhaan side pe khari ho ke clap kar rahi thi because she didn't know if she was supposed to dance or not."
"Really nice girl?" Shaantanu turned to give Rahul a look which said "Oh really?" with connotations.
"Really nice as in really nice. Full stop. Tu train na bhagga."
"Train to tu bhagga raha ha mere dost. Finally! Kon thi by the way?" asked Shaan.
"Arrey mujeh kya pata yaar. She was just standing there like me and we talked a bit. Bas."
"Haan haan. Bas." Shaan mocked him.
"Tu meri fikar chor aur apni fikar kar. And mujeh Khanak se milwa na yaar. Ek baar dekha tou de so that next time I had a face to match with her 'displeasing' personality."
"You said it right there yaar. Displeasing. Actually make it 'displeasingly confusing' personality. Yahan jo tujeh sab se annoying and self-righteous bandi miley gi. Overly dressed in silver. Wo Khanak hogi. You can easily set her apart from the crowd!"
Akshay and Khushboo exchanged rings and then took blessing from their parents and the elders of the house. Shaantanu and Natasha had been holding the trays on which the rings were placed for Khushboo and Akshay respectively.
After the ring-exchange, Shaan got off the stage and looked for Rahul. He couldn't find him around but saw Khanak standing alone besides a table holding a cold drink in her hand. Instinctively, he went towards her. She seemed to be lost in her thoughts because she didn't see him coming.
"Mein bhi yahi soch raha tha…ke meri jaga tumhein stage pe hona chahiye tha to do the honours. After all ye decorations and all bhi tumhi ne oversee ki hein," said Shaan, catching Khanak's attention.
Khanak looked at him in a frustrated sigh, rolled her eyes and started to move away. Shaan held her arm to stop her.
"Chorein mujeh Shaantanu," she said trying to release her arm from his grip.
He gave a throaty laugh.
"God I love it when you talk in such a way. 'Chorein!'" Shaan mimicked.
Khanak tried to jerk her arm away more strongly, but failed. Shaan brought her closer- to where she was initially standing when he came and left her arm.
"Acha sorry! Mein tou waise hi mazak kar raha tha Khanak tum serious kyun ho jaati ho?"
"Aap ka aur mera mazak kab se hai Shaantanu?" she asked softly but firmly.
Shaantanu sighed and looked down at his hands, "Actually Khanak that is what I wanted to talk to you about."
He looked up at her and noticed she was still unaware of what he meant.
"I mean after you left my room last night I felt really frustrated. And as I thought more and more about what you said I realized that I'm not just frustrated because I don't like what you said but I'm also frustrated because I really don't understand why we're in this place."
"What are you trying to say Shaantanu?"
"Khanak dekho let's face it we're not going to get married. We're poles apart-"
"I know but why are you telling this to me?"
"Because Khanak, I think we started on the wrong foot yaar. I mean pehli meeting se hi we should have understood. Parents, family sab apni jaga sahi hai but what about us? We don't want to get married and that's what should matter. We gave it a chance and we've gotten our evidence now too."
Khanak interrupted him, "Shaantanu, fine. We're poles apart. We're probably two people anyone except our parents wouldn't see as a couple but if we gave it a try tou kya ghalat kiya? Trust me, I don't like the equation we share right now but it is important to me to have the conscious satisfaction that I can truthfully tell my parents that I respect their choice. And in my opinion, we started on the right foot but then limped on the wrong one…" she trailed off.
After a pause of a couple of seconds, Shaan replied "You know…you're right. We started off just fine, I mean, you actually looked like a sane girl I could actually have a conversation with but then I just can't remember how we got here."
"Kind of surprising we're having a civil conversation right now, no?" Khanak smiled and was joined in by Shaan.
Shaantanu fell silent and Khanak felt it was her responsibility to continue the conversation now that Shaan had taken up the initial step to talk to her about them.
"Can I talk to you on a personal level?"
"Err…I don't know what that means but I'll try not to mind what you say."
"Shaantanu, my observation of you tells me that you're not ready for marriage. In fact, you probably dislike commitment to women. I, on the other hand, made it very clear to you that I believe in the sacred bond of marriage and believe that this is the best commitment two people can make. Thus, obviously it means a lot to me. However, my parent's opinion in this regard is also important and that is why I agreed to meet you. For whatever reasons, but I chose to get to know you despite getting the feeling that your mind, let alone your heart, might not be in any such arrangement. I did not assume you were in for fun or that you were insincere, and took our mutual agreement at its face value. We did not commit, but we agree to know each other better."
Khanak keenly observed Shaan looking down at his shoes, but his posture indicated that he was listening intently to what she was saying so she continued.
"And we were doing well Shaantanu. We spent time. We got to know each other. Each other's company was in fact more agreeable to us than we had initially thought-"
"But then what happened?" Shaan looked at her. "Why did we go back to square one?"
"I wish we had gone to square one Shaantanu. In fact, we went even behind that."
"Yeah! We went to quarrelling, taunting, and not even listening to what the other person was saying…" Shaan said.
"We couldn't stagnate our equation there Shaan. Unless we truly opened up about ourselves to the other person, it was futile to even think about there being any formal relationship between us."
"Arrey yaar. Khanak don't do there warna phir se larai shuru ho jae gi." Shaan complained.
Khanak continued in a soft, calming voice "Kyun Shaantanu? Agar koi hum se koi aysi baat karey jo hum sunna nai chahte tou why do we always fight with them? Aap ko meri baat buri lagay tou ignore kar dijiye ga but at least hear me out."
She paused to see if Shaan would raise a protest. Seeing none, she continued.
"Shaantanu jab hum ne decide kiya tha that we're going to get to know each other as friends, I took it seriously. I told you about my interests, by hobbies, by thoughts. Was it so unfair of me to ask you to do the same?"
Shaan spoke hesitantly, "Er…I guess…nahi..But phir bhi Khanak I needed time unlike you,"
"It was difficult for me too Shaan. And I am a girl. My privacy is more vulnerable than yours any given day, whether I like it or not. But I opened up to you so that you might feel comfortable and our time spent could be more meaningful. I gave you time to open up…but kitna time Shaantanu? You just kept on dodging my questions, delaying your response…"
"Fine…but then you accused me of being some famous playboy who often graces newspapers!"
She laughed a little, "Granted, I might have implicitly given that impression. But wasn't that the tone of mystery that had been set when it was established that you would ignore my questions?"
She had cornered him. They both knew that. So of course, Shaan tried another way out.
"You were impolite. I am not used to that and I never signed up for that." He pointed out.
"I was terse but never wrong. Forgive my straightforwardness Shaan, but I did say this conversation was going to go on a personal level: was it not your insecurity about women and your egoistic belief to always ignore them that kept you from being a 'friend' as had been decided?"
Shaan did not reply but Khanak felt she had made her point. She felt her agreed and as long as he accepted it to himself, she did not need it in so many words from his mouth.
"Do you not think I felt unfairly treated when your end of the deal wasn't met?" she continued.
"I….I am sorry you felt that way Khanak. Honestly, I just thought you were being pushy like every other woman and that ticked me off. I felt cheated. I felt that you had deliberately given me a good impression and were now dropping the act. So, I ….well that's why I reacted the way I did." Shaan finished awkwardly.
"Arrey guys dinner is served tum dono yahan kya kar rahey ho?" Rajesh interrupted the few second-long silence that had crept between Shaan and Khanak. Khanak proceeded to the dining area with Raj while Shaan said he'll come after making an important phone call.
"Or maybe you deliberately took her to be a pretense because you couldn't bear your theory being wrong," someone addressed Shaantanu from behind.
Shaan turned around to see Rahul facing him.
"I was standing on the other end of the table all the while you were talking to Khanak there. I didn't think it was chivalrous to interrupt and make her uncomfortable but I did think it was well within my rights as your best friend to eavesdrop."
"Unfair hai ye Rahul," Shaan complained.
"And if I had not eavesdropped and had asked you to tell
me the conversation, wouldn't you have told me?"
"Kuch batane ko nai hai Rahul," Shaan insisted.
"Well, that's your interpretation. Mine is different. And seriously Shaan, I get it if you don't want to talk about this abhi but tu soch yaar. Itna tou tu samajh hi chukka hoga ke Khanak was not pretending. But tujeh kyun laga ke she is pretending? Maybe you automatically assumed negative things about her because of your 'theory'." Rahul concluded.
Finally...a long update!! I was super nervous about this important interview I have tomorrow and felt it would be good to update...turns out I just could not stop writing. Looking forward to what you all have to say...
Joined: 28 March 2010
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