Joined: 04 September 2011
As Khanak looked at herself in the mirror a smile involuntarily spread on her lips. She did look nice, didn't she? As she started taking off her ear rings heard herself say, "Maybe that's why Shaantanu was so interested in talking to you!"
Nonsense! She reprimanded herself for thinking about Shaantanu.
But it did felt nice, didn't it? Talking to Shaan? the voice inside her head asked.
To her surprise, she could feel the blood rush up to her cheeks. Such a reaction was unacceptable, she scolded herself.
It was nothing but a moment of weakness when I felt something between us. There never was something and there never will be anything, Khanak. Don't be silly. Thinking about him will do you no good!
Once changed into her night clothes, Khanak turned to switch off her lights before going to bed. Manya had already fallen asleep on the double bed and Khanak felt herself feeling drowsy too. After all, it had been a rather eventful day. She was glad that things had turned out so well. Everybody loved the arrangements and the sheer look of bliss on Akshay and Khushboo's face had made her feel happy in a strange way. She felt happy for them but somehow at that instant when she had seen the couple gaze into each other's eyes before exchanging rings, she felt her stomach suddenly get heavy. It seemed as if her chest was falling into a deep pit and there was no way she could bring it back. She ignored the feeling and it wore off as the night progressed, but the intensity of such a sentiment was not lost on her. She hated to admit it and told herself it didn't matter, but it did.
And so when she saw a familiar envelope sitting besides the bedroom door just before she turned the lights out, her stomach did a flip.
What was this envelope doing her?
Surely, it couldn't be?
Yeah…must have been some envelope Mannu dropped accidentally.
Khanak went forward to pick the letter up and was halting mid-action as a warm, familiar scent caressed her nose. She had smelt it before. This was one fragrance she could not forget. It carried their conversation like a faithful messenger, making sure it reached it.
Wait? Did she just say that?
Her eyes flew open at the realization and she immediately stood up, seeing that she had involuntarily closed her eyes as she held the envelope close to herself.
Wait Khanak! Don't be immature. See who the letter is addressed to.
She turned the envelope around and saw the neat script which said one thing: Khanak.
Did her heart just skip a beat? Or was it only a shiver that ran down her spine? Surely, surely it couldn't be him? Couldn't be Shaantanu. But, it had to be.
Khanak quickly turned to see it Manya was asleep. Yes, she was. Sound asleep. Khanak checked if the door was locked and then proceeded to read the letter.
You do astound me a little with your "logic" that creeps into almost every conversation we have. Not that I agree with you, but I do believe we've been more sour than was necessary. I apologize. How about a ceasefire?
Three sentences! She was feeling nervous over three sentences! A part of her felt irritated. After all she had, unwittingly of course, gotten her hopes high. Isn't that what girls almost always do? I'm sure guys do the same, but we're more concerned with our heroine right now.
But then Khanak picked up the letter again and re-read it. Not bad, she thought. At least they were on talking terms- civil talking terms. She hated being impolite with anyone and though she felt she was less impolite than she had the right to be with Shaantanu, she didn't like the fact that she was not on good terms with him. He was human after all. Humans should be treated nicely, no?
Yes, that's our Khanak. Easily forgiving. Always ready to look on the bright side of everything and everyone. Nervously, she took out a writing pad from her bag and scribbled a few lines on it. She then re-read what she had written and pursed her lips in uncertainty. Was she right in writing back to him? Was the timing right? Were the wordings alright?
Oh chup kar Khanak! Youn tou saari raat sochti rahey gi tu.
Shaantanu noticed someone moving outside his bedroom door since the faint hallway light coming from under the door indicated a moving shadow. Who could it be at this hour? He got out of bed and opened the door. There was no one outside. No sound of movement either.
I must be hallucinating after all the exhaustion!
No later had he thought so in his mind that his foot kicked something light in the dark. He switched on the light and saw a paper lying on the floor. Not recognizing it, he unfolded the paper with a slight frown on his forehead.
The frown, however, too no time to disappear once he read the first few words.
Apology accepted but ceasefire needs evidence for reassurance. Hope you know what I mean :)
Shaantanu stretched his eyes as wide open as he could. Was he still asleep? Or had Khanak actually written back to him the same day? The formality in the note was hers, and the wording seemed right out of her mouth. Khanak Jadeja had actually written to him!
Of course Shaantanu was too busy in realizing that Khanak had politely written back to him rather than shout at him in the morning to notice that his heart felt relief at her reply. The few sentences exchanged between them had marked a beginning in their newfound cordiality, yet neither knew much of it at the moment.
"Reassurance?" Shaan asked himself.
What did that mean?
How do I reassure her?
WHY should I reassure her? She was the one giving the bhashan tonight!
Shut up dude. At least you guys are talking like normal people. Don't ruin it.
Yeah. I won't ruin it. Shaan repeated.
But why not? Teri kya lagti hai Khanak?
Haan! Meri kya lagti hai Khanak?
Shaan slapped his forehead and gave a slight pull at his hair.
What am I doing yaar? Why the hell am I so confused? What if Rahul's right? What if I'm being stubborn for no good reason? What if Khanak actually is nice and I'm just overthinking the whole thing? Why can't I talk to her without overreacting one way or the other? God! I should just stop thinking and ignore her. Her being there or not doesn't affect me. She's practically a no one in my life so why should I think about her.
Yeah! Bas I won't think about her. And whenever she's around I'll just act without thinking. Act like me. Yeah. No need to be nice if I don't feel like being nice. Or to be rude when there's no reason to be rude.
Just relax man! Don't overthink.
Shaantanu got into bed and kept reminding himself to calm down, eventually falling asleep during this self-debate.
When Shaantanu came down for breakfast the other day, he was greeted by a smile from Khanak.
She was pretty, he noted subconsciously. As he sat down, she served him a paratha indifferently and he dug into it as soon as it touched his plate. Sunil and Akshay noticed the easy air around the two. It seemed like a customary thing, though everyone knew Shaan was no fan of eating parathas. It made the two older Khandelwals chuckled inwardly as their eyes met across the table. Had their Shaan finally fallen?
The day passed lazily, with the family chatting away over cups of tea. It was somewhere in the evening that Shaan and Khanak found themselves sitting alone together because Rajesh and company had decided to play video games and left the two on their own. Before they could talk, Sunil came over and sat besides Khanak.
"Itna acha lag raha hai tum sab logon ko yahan dekh kar beta. Chitresh tou itne arsey baad India aya hai," Sunil said to Khanak.
"Jee uncle, humein bhi bohat acha lag raha hai. I've always wanted to sit with a big family and enjoy the day listening to old tales and customs," Khanak smiled.
"Thorey aur din ruk jao na beta,"
Thorey aur din? Shaan's ear pricked! What did that mean?
Were the Jadeja's leaving? But weren't they supposed to be here for a couple of weeks?
"Ruk sakti tou zaroor rukti uncle. You know I love staying here. In fact, I'll miss everyone so much when I go back. But jana parhey ga," Khanak replied sadly.
What the hell is going on?! Shaan panicked.
Is it just Khanak whose going? No one else mentioned anything.
Sunil sighed, "Haan beta. Kaam kaam hai aur parhai parhai. One can't miss it especially at this level."
"But baqi sab tou houn ge uncle. Aap log tou maza karein ge I'll be the only one who will miss out," Khanak replied.
So it was only Khanak who was going!
And why hadn't she told me about this earlier? Shaan raked his brain.
Sunil patted Khanak's head and gave a quick look at Shaan. "You don't have to miss out beta. You just need to decide on things,"
Khanak looked on confused as Shaan drank in the words of his father. He still thought Khanak and Shaan had a chance!
Suddenly, Shaan realized what reassurance Khanak had demanded. And for the first time, he felt he must do it even though he didn't think it made much of a difference.
"Errr….dad." Shaan paused. "There's nothing like that." Shaan finished awkwardly, not sure of what to say exactly.
Sunil and Khanak's expressions mirrored each other. Finally, Sunil understood what Shaan meant and tried again, "Soch lo beta. Decision tum dono ka hai but don't rush."
"It's been months dad. We know what we're going. I'm sorry agar aap ko aur mom ko bura lagey."
Sunil nodded and slowly left. Once, Sunil had gone Shaan turned to Khanak and smilingly asked, "Ab khush ho? Are you reassured?"
Khanak tried to take it what had happened and decided that she had indeed heard it all right. Shaantanu had finally told Sunil that he and Khanak had decided not to pursue this relationship. "There's nothing like that" he had said with an air of finality. It was true. He had done what she had asked him to do.
All she managed was a faint smile and a fainter "Hmmm" as a reply to Shaantanu.
The youngsters went out for coffee next evening. Rajesh, Shaan, Natasha, Priyanka, Rahul, Khushboo, Akshay, Khanak, Manya, Harsh and a few cousins of Shaan's. The coffee house was warm and cozy with just the right ambiance. It was refreshing but not loud, sober but not dull. As the group sat round the huge corner of the first floor where the sofas had been placed, they discussed everything from the engagement to Akshay and Khushboo's love story, from cricket to fashion and had the typical boys vs. girls debate.
Rahul caught Shaan looking a bit distracted and he noticed that Khanak was quiet too, unlike the lively girl he had met at the engagement. Shaan had told him about the talk with Sunil and Rahul was still unsure of how to take the news. Since Shaan said he felt relieved to be "done with it" Rahul replied he was happy for his friend who had been caught in the middle of this arranged marriage thing. But deep down, his gut feeling told him that Shaan's mind was still caught in the moment when he got "done with it". Rahul was sure Khanak wasn't far from his mind. After all, if someone's absent existence had bothered you so much when the girl was continents away, how could Rahul suddenly believe his friend was unaffected by Khanak? But what was up with Khanak? Why wasn't she talking? Raj and everyone had also given him the impression that Khanak was a very sociable person. But why she seemingly reserved today?
"Khanak! You're quiet the philosopher I've heard," grinned Rahul, "why don't you tell us how you think guys are obviously better than girls?" bringing Khanak into the converstion.
That was Rahul- effortlessly composed and a gentleman with tact, thought Shaan. But why the hell is he so interested in talking to Khanak!
Khanak was quick to reply, "Philosophy has it's grounds in reality nonetheless Rahul. If it were that obvious, you wouldn't have needed a girl to say guys are better. And of course, since empirical evidence suggests otherwise….it is both philosophical and realistic to say girls are far better," she smiled.
Why the hell is SHE smiling like a goof? thought Shaan.
"Isn't that too simplistic and highly sexist?" Rahul asked.
"Why, isn't that the sort of answer you'd give in support of guys?" Khanak caught him.
"Matlab?" asked Rahul.
"Rehne de Rahul. Tujeh samajh nai aye ga. Tujeh PhD karni parhe gi iss pe before you can understand half the things this girl says," chipped in Shaan, taking Khanak by surprise. He hoped Rahul would shut up now!
Rahul barely suppressed his laughter at Shaan's agitation. God, he loved his friend!
"Bhai does that mean ke jab tak larke PhD nai karte they are no match for girls? So we're obviously better," exclaimed an excited Manya.
Before Shaan could think of a response, Khanak said, "You couldn't be more spot on. You've conceded Shaantanu. Hark luck boys!" smiled Khanak and then excused herself after a while saying the cigarette smoke from a nearby table was getting to her and she needed fresh air.
Five minutes later, Shaantanu stood besides Khanak on the balcony of the coffee house. Khanak had wrapped a shawl round herself and was rubbing her arms to fight the chill in the air.
"Kaafi fresh air le li hai. Come inside now thand lag jae gi warna." Shaan told her.
"I like it outside here," she replied.
An awkward silence ensued which was finally broken by Shaan.
"Tum kuch kaho gi nai?"
"Kis barey mein?"
"What about it?"
"Are you reassured?" Shaan asked.
"About us. I came clean about it with dad. Are you happy now?"
He waited for her answer. She waited for it too. Not finding any, she said "You did the right thing."
"For making me say this to dad. I feel much more relieved now. It's like a huge burden has been taken off my shoulder now."
Khanak's stomach suddenly felt heavier. She didn't know how to reply. She didn't know whether he had wanted to hear this. The past day had been a blur for her. As soon as those words had come out of Shaantanu's mouth, she felt as if something had been upset in her life. She felt a change had come. A change she had not expected. But she knew there was no future for herself and Shaantanu. She knew that, right? But even so, how could she suppress the nagging memory of how it had felt to have a good conversation with him. How it felt when he had said she might be slightly different from other girls. How he had nearly become a friend. And how she nearly had lost her heart to him.
Nearly, she repeated in her head. Thank God for nearly.
She closed her eyes to recompose her thoughts and smiled at Shaantanu. "I'm glad you're happy and free now."
"Well, you're free too," he smiled back.
She nodded and turned back to looking at the city lights. He followed her gaze and soon was lost in the lights himself.
"Uff you guys! Itni thand mein you're standing outside" Natasha's voice brought the two back to reality.
Natasha rubbed her hands together and then chained her right arm to Shaan's left. Khanak noticed this and turned back to the city.
"Fresh air mil gai, Khanak?" Rahul walked up from behind the trio and stood next to Khanak.
Khanak turned to him, smiled and nodded.
"I just can't stand smokers and cigarettes," she told no one in particular but had her head turned towards Rahul.
"Tsk," said Shaan, "Phir tout um ghalat bandey ko bata rahi ho Khanak. Rahul might mind it."
Khanak's puzzled expression made Rahul speak up, "Shaan likes to exaggerate. I just got the habbit for a few months in college. But I gave it up soon enough."
"Haha…we'll he lives on exaggeration and drama," chimed in Khanak, not really expressing displeasure at Rahul's smoking history as Shaan had expected.
What's happening to you dude! Rahul tera best friend hai and tu ye soch raha hai! Wo bhi iss silly si Khanak ke peechay? Shaan's mind reprimanded him.
"Achaaa! Cut it guys let's go inside," whined Natasha.
Rahul gestured for Khanak to lead the way and the two went inside, all smiles noted Shaan, while Natasha dragged him inside too.
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