Joined: 20 May 2012
She was dead.
She could consider herself dead and cremated.
"Miss Gupta, isn't this the scarf you had bought for your sick aunt?"
She gulped. What would she say now? His parents were both looking quite shocked at the two of them.
"Errm... actually... what happened is that... uhh... my aunt... actually... she... errm... she... she died!"
Please, she thought, buy this! Just, please buy this, Mr Raizada! And don't ask me any more questions! Let me go!
Khushi nodded, trying to appear as sincere as she could.
"Yeah... right on the day I went to meet her at the hospital... and she wanted me to have the scarf..."
She just hoped her innocent face would convince him enough.
"And how exactly did she die?"
He Devi Maiyya! Would there be a day when his questions would be over? Laad Governor! He should have been a lawyer!
"Oh... uhh... actually, uhh... she... she had another... she had another heart attck!"
He looked at her sceptically.
"Well... I think... I think I should go now... my friends are waiting... It was a pleasure meeting you... Good evening..."
Khushi hurried away from the Raizada's table as quickly as she could. Anji was smiling wickedly at her.
"To, Khushi? Kya hua? Mil paayi tum? Mr Arnav Singh Raizada se?"
Khushi just sat silently, though her eyes were shooting daggers at her friend, and had dinner without opening her mouth even once for the remaining of the night. Her eyes, however, searched him from time to time, and what unsettled her deep within was that whenever she glanced at him, he seemed to be watching her...
"Khushi? Tu aa rahi hai, na?" (You're coming, right?)
"Haan, Amma, humne kaha na? Hum parso ki flight she aajayenge!" (Yes, Ma, I told you na? I'll be coming on the flight day after tomorrow!)
"Achha, vaada kar ke tu aayegi! Varna tu kabhi nahin aati!" (Okay, promise me you'll come! Otherwise I know you won't!)
"Fine! I promise!"
"Yes, Ma! Don't worry! I'll take the first flight available day after tomorrow. I need to settle some things before."
"Theek hai, Ulka ko bohot achha lagega." (Fine, Ulka will like it too.)
"Ek to business ki itni saari pareshaaniyaan hai, aur doosri taraf yeh ladki jo kuchh samajhna hi nahin chahti! Ma, you should have-" (I already have these business problems, and now this girl who refuses to understand...)
"Chhote! Hum phone rakkhte hai!" (I'm disconnecting!)
Pavitraa disconnected immediately to avoid hearing her son's ranting. Arnav initially looked at his mobile in astonishment, then he grinned. She always did this when she got the feeling he would start to rant with her. He chuckled and went back to his work, though one person was fully occupying his mind since a couple of months. Khushi Kumaari Gupta.
"Khush! I don't want you to go, yaar!"
Anji sat on the couch sipping tea as Khushi packed her bags. Her flight was scheduled for that night and they had decided to have lunch with Shyaam one last time. The two girls already had breakfast together and now Khushi had finished, she concentrated on her packing. She was only going for one week but she had packed four briefcases already.
"Khush? Isn't that way too much?"
"What? No! I haven't packed my shoes and make-up yet!"
"What? Khushi, are you kidding me? How much are you planning to bring? And by the way, what have you packed yet?"
"Oh! Just a few clothes here and there, you know..."
Anji stood akimbo, frowning at Khushi who was grinning awkwardly at her.
"Yes, I know you! Open this suitcases at once Khushi Gupta! Why do I always have to sort out your things? You should be more responsible!"
She strode to the four bags.
"You're going there for just seven days! Aur tu kapde bhi India mein hi kharidegi na? To yeh sab kya hai, Parmeshwari?" (... You will be buy your clothes there in India, right? Then what's all this, Parmeshwari?)
Khushi could not help but giggle while Anji threw open her luggage one by one. Whenever Anji was annoyed with Khushi, she called her by her full name, or names like Parmeshwari, Sanka Devi, Chamkeeli; and she also started speaking Hindi. She did feel guilty for causing so much trouble to her dearest friend, but what could she do? Anji had herself said, "Pack what you need!" So Khushi had done exactly that.
She had packed what she needed. Really needed. But Anji would not understand that, would she?
"Bye, Khushiji. Take care of yourself."
"Ya, Khush! Take care. And call me once you reach there!" Khushi rolled her eyes. As if she could forget that? Anjali had chewed her brains during the full two hours they had taken to reach Heathrow Airport, constantly reminding her to take care, enjoy and call her at least once every day. Shyaam did not speak a lot. Well, he never did. He was too dumb! He was a nice guy, but not Khushi's type, and she hated the efforts Anji made to put the two of them together.
"I know, Anji! Kitni baar boleingi aap?" (... How many time will you tell me that?)
Anjali just beamed cutely at her, while Shyaam smiled shyly. They were not that closely related, even they shared the same family name. In fact, their dadas (paternal grandfathers) were the sons of two brothers. Apart from the name, they had nothing similar. Khushi shook her head and headed to the immigration desks. She had already completed her check-in formalities. Actually, she had felt quite disappointed when Anji had cut down her total luggage to two suitcases and one handbag, and these contained all what Anjali thought was 'REALLY NECESSARY, NOT STUPIDITIES YOU WON'T HAVE THE TIME FOR!'.
Arnav sat in the lounge, reading his mails. He hated leaving work. He was attending this stupid wedding only for his Ma's sake. He did not care about Ulka at all. He did not even understand how people could be stupid enough to decide getting married. He himself did not believe in marriage. People got married, had children, but then they found out they could not handle things, the marriage broke and the kids suffered the consequences...
Never mind! He shook the idea from his mind. Why think about the past?
His Blackberry beeped. It was his Ma.
"You are coming, na?"
He smiled at the message.
"Yeah, I told you not to worry!"
He sent the message and finished his coffee. As the boarding was announced, he checked his mails again for one last time, entering the plane, then, he put his mobile to silent mode, wondering why he had ever agreed to go back to this place he hated so much...
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Arnav pushed the trolley out of the airport, scanning around for a familiar face. Someone tapped at his shoulder. He turned to see a young man he did not recognise.
"Arnav Singh Raizada?"
He nodded, his usual frown in place. He looked at the man suspiciously. He was dressed casually, unlike Arnav who wore a dark maroon suit, but he was chic enough.
"I'm Tanishq Talwar. Ulka's fiance."
"Oh! Nice to meet you."
They shook hands.
"So, shall we?" Arnav was tired after the flight and he had not gotten an ounce of sleep thanks to one of those babies who had spent the whole time crying and screaming. Now, all he wanted was to go have a nice hot shower and then sink in a warm bed and sleep. But the heat here made the idea repulsive. He could just have a cold bath and sleep. Unless an air conditioner was available. He noticed Tanishq hesitate.
"Sorry, I'm waiting for another person too. She was on your flight. I wonder why she's taking so much time..."
Khushi was having difficulty with her trolley. When she looked at it she saw it had a faulty wheel. Sighing, she put all the effort she could in pushing her crippled trolley out. Thank God she had been able to sleep. In fact, she had fallen asleep right after the take off. The lady sitting beside her complained about a baby crying all along the flight duration, but Khushi had not heard a thing. Well, good enough!
The warm of her hometown enveloped her, bringing a beautiful smile on her face. The smile widened into a grin as the sunrays fell on her. She inhaled deeply the air of this place she had grown up in, with her loved ones. Four years already since she had left it all to go to London for her studies. She had taken up a course on journalism, which had lasted two years. She had begun with a freelance career before she had finally been recruited by The Economist. And it was all thanks to Anjali. Khushi had initially applied to fashion magazines only. It was fashion, in reality, which truely appealed to her but she had been rejected by all of them. On her best friend's advice, she had applied to other magazines.
"Try everywhere, Khush. You might get a chance somewhere at least," Anji had told her. So she had applied every vacancy in that field, she had gone to every interview she had been called to and in the end, she had gotten the job at The Economist. A dry smack on the back of her head brought her out of the past.
"What were you doing, duffer, taking all your time and going in the opposite direction? D'you have any idea how worried I was? We've been waiting for so long!"
Khushi turned around. The sun was blinding and she couldn't see who was talking to her but she already recognised him by his voice and words.
She flung her arms around his neck.
"Aap kaise ho?" (How are you?)
"Tu baat hi mat kar mujhse! Why did you take so much time?" (Don't you dare talk to me!...)
"Sorry, Bhai! My trolley's crippled!"
He laughed, "Ok, fine. Chalo."
Arnav pinched himself hard enough to draw blood. Was this real or was he just dreaming? Only seconds ago, Tanishq had excused himself. Finally the cousin he was waiting for had come out but she had taken the wrong direction. Arnav watched as the guy walked up to a girl and smacked her head from behind. And when the girl had turned around, it was his world which turned upside down.
Khushi Kumaari Gupta!
Where had she come from? He watched her hug Tanishq, smiling brightly like the Lucknow sun. Arnav was convinced it was a mirage, but the pinch he had given himself contradicted the idea. He regained his posture and frown, seeing them approach.
If he had been negative about this trip, something now told him things would be better. More fun, maybe. With this girl around, he felt... strange. He was not himself. He was no longer The ASR. It felt more like he was Arnav. The same Arnav he had been years ago, before a storm had wrecked his home...
"Bhabhi nahin aayi?" (Sister-in-law did not come?)
"Then, why had you said 'we' earlier?"
"Actually, I'd come to fetch Ulka's cousin. He came on your flight too, you know? And I tell you, don't you dare repeat this to anyone, but he's a bit scary."
Khushi laughed. "What? Scary? Seriously, Bhai? Well, Khushi Kumaari Gupta is not scared of anyone, mind you!"
Tanishq smiled at his little cousin. "You have not met him yet, Chutki. Don't judge him beforehand, you might get a surprise!"
Khushi rolled her eyes. Four years and it seemed that her cousin had forgotten her already. But she had not. Tanishq had always been a quite shy guy, easily intimidated by the stronger. Hearing hthat he was getting married had not been such a startling news, but the fact that it was a love mariiage had certainly knocked Khushi off her feet. It was difficult not to love her sweet and cute cousin but how on earth had he managed to declare his love to Ulka was a mystery to her. Tanishq was Khushi's favourite cousin, after Payal of course.
He was Payal's Buaji's (aunt) son, her only son her husband had given her before her had died during his military services. After becoming a widow, Madhumati had moved in with her brother, not married yet at that time, due to her in-laws' constant nagging about her being barren; it had been five years of married life and yet, she had not given the family good news. The Talwar's youngest son had ended up dying without an heir. Few months later, Madhumati had discovered she was pregnant but continued staying with her brother and she gave birth to the shy Tanishq. He was three years older than both Payal and Khushi. These three, having been brought up in the same house were closer than any siblings on Earth.
"Khushi, meet Mr Raizada. Mr Raizada, my cousin, Khushi."
Raizada? The name broked through her thoughts. Raizada? The name was familiar... Oh crap! Not again! Raizada? She squinted to see him, but the morning sun shone fiercely, right behind his figure, creating a bright halo around him. She could not distinguish the man's features at all. Was it really him?
Please Devi Maiyya, not him, not again!
"Good morning, Miss Gupta."
As if conscious of her trouble she was having to see him, Arnav moved. Horror settled on Khushi like a drape. She was frozen of the spot, unable to utter a single syllable. Every time she was in front of him, that was exactly what happened to her. She lost her faculty of speech. Literally.
Tanishq had been right. Mr Raizada was indeed intimidating. Scary, too, when it came to her. A voice in her head was clearly laughing at her. What happened, Khushi? You are not scared of anyone, are you?
You might get a surprise. Tanishq's words resonated in her mind, which felt empty. Her mouth had dried. He had been wrong there. Surprised? My foot! It's a bloody shock! He Devi Maiyya, why are you doing this to me? Was the prasad (offering) I had made the other day not good? You did not like it? Is that why you're making me run into this inquisitive Laad Governor all the time?
Dark pools of coffee, beckoned her, attracted her, and as she looked into them, she saw a faint glint of humour. Yet, he was still sporting his signature frown. Khushi realised her heart was beating faster than usual. Was it the fear of him? Or was it something else?
Arnav watched as the happiness on her face metamorphosed into stark horror within the fraction of a second. He was definitely going to have fun. He knew it...
Joined: 28 January 2012
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