Joined: 20 May 2012
The room was dark, lit by an oil lantern only. The babies, less than a day old, were asleep in the cot they shared, under the dark veil of sleep. Two beautiful creatures, with a fine dusting of dark hair on the heads, their little faces red and their tiny hands curled into fists.
They slept in bliss, unaware of the three white-clad women huddled in a corner, weeping their losses silently.
"Durbhaaga! Durbhaaga!" the youngest was muttering with each breath she took.
No one thought to stop her.
Had they even heard her?
If they had, was she wrong?
The eldest stood, wiping her tears from her face. She staggered to the crib and peered down at the babies. They still breathed. They still lived.
Durbhaaga, because these children would never know their fathers.
Durbhaaga, because these children had become orphans even before they had opened their eyes to this cruel world...
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Joined: 20 May 2012
She [earrings] was looking away from him and she did not say anything at all but he knew already that she was trying to hide her tears from him. He had thought of going home before. Now, the thought was not so sensible because Dadi would be there and he was sure she was going to nag Khushi, like she always did, so he took a detour to Rabindra Sarobar. She did not even notice until he parked the park.
"Hum yahaan kya...?" (What are we...?)
He smiled at her and gestured her to get out of the car, closing his hand around hers as soon as he reached her. "Come."
They walked side by side, her shoulder frequently colliding with his arm. He wanted to hug her tight and comfort her but he knew that public displays of affection made her uncomfortable. So, he contended himself with only holding her hand.
"Arnavji?" she waited for him to look down at her to continue. "Hum yahan kyun aaye hain?" (Arnavji? Why are we here?)
He paused and turned to her, linking his hands behind her neck. "Tum upset thi, na? Kyunki Anjali America chali gayi? I thought that if we went home, Dadi was going to make you do things for her but you need some time away from all that. Toh main tumhein yahan le aaya. Ab dinner ke baad hi ghar chaleinge, okay?" (Weren't you upset? Because Anjali has left for America? [...] So I brought you here. Now we'll return home only after dinner, okay?)
Tears had pooled again in her eyes but this time, she was smiling. A little, weak giggle escaped her lips and she leaned into him, her head against his shoulder.
He tapped his phone against his palm nervously, going over everything at the same time and worrying over it. Would she like the car? It was small, old, second-hand. He had cleaned it as well as he could. Would she like the apartment? It was also small and old, with only two little rooms, a tiny bathroom and a narrow kitchen.
God, the pain in his head was only increasing. What if she didn't like her life here? What if she was not comfortable enough? He was only starting his life here. He had been told it was only normal to start with small, old things and the situation would become better with time. But he wasn't sure if it would be enough for her. He wished he could give her more...
She walked out of the sliding doors right then, pushing the trolley awkwardly before her. He felt himself smile as he looked at her, but he didn't make his presence known yet. He just gazed at her, taking her in. She looked tired and lost and slightly scared, but utterly beautiful. Her eyes roamed over the throngs of people who had come to receive others, desperately trying to find him.
"Anjali!" he finally called her and when she finally saw him, she broke into an exhausted smiled but her pace quickened towards him. He wrapped his arms around her tight, burying his face in her hair and finding the soothing comfort he feared he was forgetting. She laughed shyly, probably embarrassed, as she pulled away.
"Kaisi ho tum?" he wanted know. "How was the journey?" (How are you? [...])
His wife smiled at him fondly, letting him take charge of the trolley. "Hum theek hain, Shyamji, aur safar bhi theek tha. Aap kaise hain?" (I am fine, Shyamji, and the journey was good too. How are you?)
"Now, I'm fine."
He dropped himself bodily onto the lounger with a heavy sigh of relief. Finally, a few weeks of peace. Dadi had just left for Bardhaman. His cousin - his father's sister's daughter - was getting married next month, so Dadi had decided to go over an help' them. Everybody knew exactly what sort of help' it was going to be and his aunt had even begged him to stop his grandmother. He had tried' for the sake of pretence, but not really so hard because Khushi and he both needed a well-deserved break from the old woman's tyranny.
"Aap aise muskura kyun rahe hain?" (Why are you smiling like that?)
Her frown deepened in an adorable manner. "Kya?" (What?)
"Dadi chali gayi," he whispered conspiratorially. (Dadi is gone.)
"Arnavji!" her eyes widened.
"Apni Dadi ke bare mein aise baat karna theek hai, kya?" (Do you think it's right to talk like that about your own grandmother?)
He rolled his eyes. "Jab Dadi seedhe narak se aaye toh main kya karun? It's good that she's gone, Khushi. Ab tum jo karna chahti ho kar sakti ho." (What can I do if my Dadi comes straight from hell? [...] Now you can do whatever you want.)
She was trying very hard to hide her own smile but failing at it miserable, which made his grin widen. "Aap bhi na..."
"I know," he raised his brow cheekily.
Khushi laughed, leaning into him, and Arnav only took this opportunity to pull her tighter against him. If she noticed, she did not show any sign of uneasiness or protest. He smiled indulgently at her as she sobered.
"So, what do you want to do while the wolf is not here?" he whispered.
Only a week she had been here, things were already looking brighter. Maybe women were really the Lakshmi of the household? She was his, anyway. His flat smelled of the rose and sandalwood perfume she wore every morning. Somehow, it appeared like there was more light inside now. She had scrubbed the whole place cleaner than it could ever have been. And he was actually eating real food that she cooked for him, not the stupid reheated dishes.
Shyam let himself into the apartment with a smile. It felt so good to return to what he could now call home, with his wife in it. She greeted him pleasantly and poured him a cup of tea, making his insides bubble. He waited until she had sat down to talk to her about something he had been thinking about the whole day.
"Have you settled in well?"
Anjali snuggled against him. "Hmm."
"And you know the neighbourhood well too?"
He took a deep breath in. "Mujhe tumse kuchh zaroori baat kehni hai." (I have something to tell you.)
"Kya?" she straightened herself warily.
Shyam chuckled and took hold of her hand. "I applied to a few universities for you," he announced, reaching for something in his bag. His hand came out with a bunch of letters. "Most of them accepted you but since University of Chicago is the best, I accepted its offer for you. I remember you had told me you wanted to study literature so... there you go. You just have to register by next week, I can help you with that. And the semester starts next week too."
"Aapne mere liye yeh sab kiya?" she mumbled, her eyes watering. (You did all of this for me?)
He shrugged. "Yeah, well..."
But before he could continue, his wife was hugging him tight, weeping with happiness.
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"Humein itna darr lag raha hai..." (I am so scared...)
She could almost hear her cousin's smile in her voice. "Ab itni bhi pareshaan mat hona. Hum keh rahe hain na, sab theek hoga. Tum bas acche man se jaana, devi maiyya sab theek kardeingi." (Now don't worry that much. I am telling you, everything will be fine. Just go there with positive thoughts, Devi Maiyya will make everything right.)
Anjali felt her fingers grin the telephone tighter, her eyes burning with unshed tears. "Khush... Kaash tum bhi yahaan hoti... Tumhaare bina sab kuchh kitna ajeeb hai..." (Khush... I wish you were here... Everything is so strange without you...)
"Hum jaante hai," came the whisper from the other side of the line and she knew that Khushi was also very close to crying. "Lekin, Anju, hum toh hamesha tumhaare paas hain, yaad hai?" (I know. But, Anju, I am always there with you, remember?)
A small chuckled parted from her lips. She curled herself at her foot of the armchair, her eyes closed as she remembered all the time she had spent with her other half, her Khushi. She tried to imagine her sister right next to her, playing with her hair to soothe her. "Haan, humaare dil mein, na?" (Yes, in my heart, right?)
"Hamesha, jaise tum bhi hamesha humaare dil mein ho. Tumhein darrne ki koyi zaroorat nahin hai, Anju." (Always, like you are always in my heart. You don't have to be scared, Anju.)
"Hmm," she replied simply, absently twisting the edge of her sari in her free hand. Tomorrow, she would have to wear something completely foreign to her; not a sari, jeans and a kurta. Shyam had taken her shopping the previous weekend. She knew she was going to be uncomfortable in the beginning, even if she hated these saris, but he had assured her it would help her integrate better and save her from too much staring.
And he was probably right. Ever since she had arrived in this strange land, she had felt the most uncomfortable one could ever have felt. Everywhere she went, people were ogling at her as though she were from another planet. Some pointed at her, mannerless, others laughed and whispered to each other. Maybe, hopefully, if she dressed like them, they would accept her, or start to?
She felt a pang in her chest when she remembered the day she had forced Khushi to dress in a salwar, run away from school and watch a film at the cinema. That one day had changed so much in their lives. They had been little girls at the time, in her mind, and now... Anjali felt so grown up. Even Khushi, who had always seemed older in several ways despite being the youngest, looked like she had matured into a beautiful woman she could not really recognise anymore. She started to share her thoughts with her sister but right then, a man's voice coming from Khushi's side interrupted her.
Anjali felt Khushi's hesitation and giggled girlishly. She knew exactly how it was to be torn between the husband and the sister. "Go," she said. "Don't keep your husband waiting."
She didn't have to see Khushi to know that the girl was blushing furiously. "H-haan... hum tumse baat mein baat karte hain. All the best for tomorrow." (Y-yes... I will talk to you later. [...])
Sighing, she finally hung up when she heard the line go dead. While she had been talking to Khushi, everything had seemed fine. She had started to believe that things would really be fine. But for some reason, the sinking feeling returned. She rested her chin on her knees, longing for some comfort. Then, she reminded herself that she still had to prepare dinner and made a move to get up, but as she did so, she caught her husband standing at the entrance of their apartment.
"Shyamji? Aap kab aaye?" (Shyamji? When did you come?)
"Tum phone pe baat kar rahi thi." A closer look at him had her slightly worried. He looked a bit unwell. (While you were on the phone.)
She walked towards him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Aap theek toh hain, na?" (Are you alright?)
He had gone very pale but he just nodded quickly, moving away from her and to their room. "Just tired."
Anjali watched him go with a frown. Something was wrong. Hastily, she shook it off. No. She was overthinking everything. He had just gotten home from work. He would obviously be tired.
He raised his brow at her. "Meri billi, mujhse meow?" (My cat is revolting against me?)
Had it been somebody else, she would have shied away and asked for forgiveness, even if it were Anjali. But she had developed this strange, closer camaraderie with her husband that forbid her from being herself all the time. It was both funny as well as frightening how fast she was changing and becoming more playful and daring around this man.
"Aapki billi aapse meow nahin karegi toh kisse karegi?" she giggled. (Who will she revolt against if not you?)
He frowned, pretending to be deep in thought as he took slow, deliberate steps closer to her, making her heartbeat increase drastically. "Hmm... You do have a point, Mrs Raizada." His arms almost automatically reached around her, fastening on her waist to pull her against him.
It was as if the most natural thing these days. He could not be in the same room as her without being this close to her, without touching her. And when he did, she did not feel the least bit of discomfort it. She wondered why, she found no answer, but she felt the happiest and safest this way, when he was near her. Although, she did have to forcefully forget her heart existed at times like these, because if she did not, the strange leaps and lurches would surely make her faint.
Arnav smirked down at her, a crooked smirk that instantly pinned an anchor to her heart and made it sink painfully before releasing it with such an abruptness, her breath caught in her throat for a dizzying moment. Thankfully, he noticed nothing. He merely gazed at her, the early morning sunlight falling on her face. She wondered what he was looking at. Her eyebrows knitted together and she began to pat her face to see if there was something wrong. One morning, she had woken up with her bindi on her cheek, to her husband's great amusement. He chuckled, now, and, taking hold of her by the wrists, he placed her little hands on his chest.
"Where were you?" he asked.
Khushi tried not to shiver as she sensed the rapid thud of his heart against her palm. "Voh... Anjali ne kaha tha ke voh aaj phone karegi. Hum unhi se baat kar rahe the." (Anjali had told me she was going to call me today. I was just talking to her...)
A soft smile teased his lips. "Well, that explains..." he drew his thumb across her cheek and showed it to her. Moisture from a stray tear she might have forgotten clung to his skin. She bit her lip, knowing he did not like her crying. But he did not say anything. He just cradled the back of her head with his large hand and brought her closer to him so that he could press his lips against her forehead for a long, comforting moment. Meanwhile, her heart fluttered like a huge butterfly inside of her.
"So," he began cheerfully, pulling away to look at her but never letting him out of his embrace. "We have spent the past week around Kolkata and I don't think we've left any interesting places unseen. Toh ab kya karein?" She shrugged sheepishly, knowing he had already something planned. As she had predicted, a devious grin appeared on his handsome face. "Great! Jaao, biwi, apna saamaan bandh ke aao. Hum-tum jaa rahe hain!" ([...] So what shall we do? Great! Go, wife, pack your things. We are leaving!)
Her eyes widened even as she laughed. "Kya? Arnavji, aapko kaam par nahin jaana, kya?" (What? Arnavji, don't you have to go to work?)
He gave her an incredulous look as he released her and crossed the room to the wardrobe. "Khushi, your husband is the owner of his company. Main jab chaahoun vacation le sakta houn, no one can stop me. Vaise bhi, mera kaam orders dena aur problems solve karna hai aur voh main phone pe bhi kar sakta houn. Plus, Dadi-The-Slave-Driver aas-paas nahin hai humaara dimaag khaane ke liye." ([...] I can take days off whenever I want, no one can stop me. Besides, my work is to give orders and solve problems, which I can do on the phone. Plus, Dadi-The-Slave-Driver is not around to eat our brains.)
"Khushi," he sighed as he walked back to her, his expression very serious. "Look, I want to do this. I want to spend time with you. And I want you to see the world too. Khushi..." he took her hands in his. "You know, I've never just made plans to go like this before. Before meeting you, actually, I only knew my work. That's probably why you'll notice I don't have friends and my cousins don't really care about me. I never gave them any time since dad passed away... and I was already distancing myself after ma... With you, it's different, I need you around me, Khushi. I want to play truant, just leave everything and be with you. I... Do I even make sense?"
She only nodded at him because her emotions had formed a hot ball in her throat and if she tried to talk, she would end up crying. Nobody had ever said something like that to her before, not even Anjali...
"Good," he kissed her cheek and sauntered away. "Pack your things for about two weeks, I don't know how long we might be but it's going to be two weeks max. Let's try to get back one week before my cousin's wedding so we're rested, then we can go there. And I will get all the calls diverted from home to my mobile. Dadi ko kuchh pata nahin chalega," he winked.
Khushi nodded again, watching him while he gathered his things with boyish glee. Oh, she knew he had never been like his in the past, so prompt and carefree. She knew she was not the only one who had changed. But to have him tell her about it like this... She just wanted to run to him and hug him and thank him for everything he was doing for her, to make her feel better about everything she had gone through and was going through. She could almost forget all of it, honestly, and only remember the part of her life she had lived with him.
She could forget her father had died before she was born, she could forget her mother had never shown her true affection in her eighteen years, she could forget she was separated so harshly from her twin sister, she could forget the fear of losing Badi Ma. And happily so. As long as he was there.
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Joined: 20 May 2012
Frowning, he stared at the screen before him, very conscious that all his colleagues were leaving. He shot a tight smile at Evan, who gave him a pat on the shoulder as he went. Over-time. That was his excuse for staying two hours late every day. They all thought he probably needed extra money since he had a wife to care for too now but it was not entirely true.
Of course, the extra money was welcome but what he really, desperately needed was to stay away from his flat for these two hours. Because it was during these two hours that Anjali would call or receive a call from that one person in India he was trying to run away from. Khushi.
Her name brought along her image and he leaned back in his seat, sucking in a breath between his teeth. How he hated this feeling. It made him feel like he was cheating on Anjali. He was not. Shyam did not want to feel any of this. So he steered clear of his own house when he knew Anjali was going to be talking to her cousin. He could not bear hearing her name being repeated over and over again, he could not bear having to listen to Anjali tease her about her husband. It brought such a shameful rage within him, he didn't know what to do about it.
But he never took it out on Anjali. Never. He wanted to take it out on Khushi, he wanted to hate her so much, but he was incapable of it. And anyway, what was her fault in this? It was not as if she had lead him on, she had cleanly refused his advances from the beginning. And he had respected that. The fault was his. It was his thoughts and feelings that were vile. So he punished himself deeply for that. Every single day. He made sure that he suffered for all of it alone. And he made sure that Anjali was never affected by any of this, that she was always happy.
He glanced at her as he entered a rougher, narrower road and smiled stupidly. She was fast asleep, her head rocking gently against the window. It reminded him of the past few days they had spent on the road, all by themselves, some sort of honeymoon. They had roamed around aimlessly in the car, stopping at almost every town or village they passed, until they had reached somewhere around the Jharkand-West Bengal border, then turned back to go home. She was not used to travelling so long so she had been exhausted by this trip, but it had made her immensely happy to see all the different places they had been to.
He had promised himself that he would take her around the world. Had he thought of it before, he would have planned a trip across North India for her, taken her to see the Taj Mahal, the Laal Kila, the palaces of Rajasthan... but there had not been enough time when he had suddenly improvised this road trip. Still, there was nothing he could regret about the time he had just spent with her. Grinning, he stopped the car just outside his uncle's property and turned to his wife again. A soft sigh escaped his lips as he took her in. How the hell could anyone be so beautiful?
Her mouth twitched as she shifted ever so slightly, making his heart melt like butter in the sun. She was like an adorable baby when she slept, and he hated to wake her up but he slid his hand over hers. "Khushi," he whispered, leaning towards her, smiling as she stirred and awoke.
"He Devi Maiyya!" she sat up straight, looking at her surroundings frantically. "Hum pohonch gaye?" (Oh my god! Are we there?)
Arnav chuckled. "Yup!" She blinked at him, dazed for a minute, then proceeded to smooth her hair in panic. He caught her hand and brought it to his lips. "You look fine, Khushi." She reddened furiously as she gazed at him with her wide brown eyes. His heart felt like it was imploding and exploding, both at once. God knew how many times he would fall in love over and over again with this girl, but he was never going to regret it.
Fear was bubbling inside of her. Her nervousness would be obvious since she was twisting her fingers together painfully, but she could not help it. As soon as they had been welcomed by the Chatterjee family, she had been steered to one side with the ladies and she had no idea about her husband's whereabouts. Breathing deeply, she tried to concentrate on the conversation. There were about twenty to thirty women and young girls gathered around her. She barely recognised any of them, except for Dadi and Piyali Bua, who had just welcomed her in her home.
She also understood that the woman right across to her was Dadi's daughter-in-law, Debina. She sat next to her own daughter-in-law, Skye, throwing superior looks at Dadi. Sudeep's wife, Khushi noticed, looked just as disoriented as her, probably because all this was new to her and she did not understand what the women were talking about. Khushi smiled at her in understanding when their eyes met.
The discussion was revolving around Karva Chauth, which was in just a few days, Khushi remembered suddenly. She had forgotten all about it. Someone remarked that it was going to be the first Karva Chauth for Dadi's two new granddaughters-in-law, arousing a few teasing giggles and comments but Dadi stonily looked down at Skye and huffed.
Khushi bit her lip as her eyes started prickling abruptly. It was going to be Anjali's first Karva Chauth too. And she was not here... When they were little girls, they had gone over all these things together and decided they would do everything together... How deluded they had been...
He was later than usual but she did not say anything. She did not want to be a nagging wife. She stood in the living room, hesistant, as he let himself into the apartment with a tired sigh. Then, she changed her mind about trying to make a conversation and shuffled back into the kitchen. Gnawing on her lip, she squeezed her eyes shut and scolded herself. How could she be so gauche? She wished Khushi was around. Khushi always knew what to do...
She felt him come behind her and wrap his arms around her, burying his face in her neck. Startled, she jumped and he rubbed her arms reassuringly. "Are you angry with me?" he asked softly. Anjali shook her head. He pressed his lips against her skin for a moment before turning her around so he could see her face as he regarded her with a small frown. "You left the room without saying anything."
"Aap bohot thake huye lag rahe the... toh humne socha ki humein aapko pareshaan nahin karna chahiye..." (You were looking very tired... so I thought not to disturb you...)
Her husband smiled down warmly at her. "You never disturb me, Rani Saheba." It pulled a smile out of her when he called her that. She fiddled with the buttons of his shirt shyly. "Aaj din kaisa tha tumhaara?" (...How was your day?)
"Theek," she shrugged. "Like always."
Shyam chuckled. "Hmm... University life can be like that. Vaise, main late kisi vajah se hua hoon. Ma sent some things for you. For Karva Chauth. It's not a lot because she had to hide it from my father but... I dropped by the post office to get it." (... Anyway, I am late for a reason. [...])
He brought her back to the living room where a small grubby cardboard box lay on the coffee table. She had not noticed him bring it in earlier, but she had been quite distraught then... He gestured her to open it. Her mother-in-law had sent her a few small things as token; a pair of jhumkis, two silver anklets, a packet of bindis, a few hundred rupees, a short note of apology. Anjali felt her eyes fill up as she gathered the gifts in her lap.
"Hey," Shyam pulled her in his arms worriedly. "Kya hua?" (Hey. What happened?)
She shook her head sadly. "Kuchh nahin." She was touched that his mother had thought of her and made this effort despite his father being such a difficult and tyrannical man. She told him that, omitting her feelings concerning his father, but he seemed to think the same. She also told him how she and Khushi had planned to celebrate their first Karva Chauth together and it hurt that they were so far away now. For a long moment, he stared blankly at the wall. (Nothing.)
"I'm sorry," he finally muttered. "I'm sorry I tore you away from her."
Anjali sniffled. "It's-"
"No, don't tell me it's okay. I realise that you two were very close and I drove a wedge between you two and..."
Smiling, she raised her hand to his cheek, causing him to falter. The guilt was so pronounced in his eyes but it was not his fault at all. Now, grown up and mature, she realised how their childish fantasies had been silly. Even if she had been in India now, nothing would have changed. She and Khushi would not have been able to spend a lot of time together. Being married, they would each have their own responsibilities.
"Shut up," she giggled. "That is absurd."
Boldly, she closed the distance between them and kissed him. She had never done that before. She had always waited for him to make the first step. He stiffened for a moment, then she felt him smile against her lips before he pulled away to push his mother's gifts off her and pull her into his lap so that she was straddling him. She gasped but he pulled her down for a kiss that left her shaking. His warm hands slipped under her short cotton kurta, which he tugged off her as soon as they broke apart, panting for air. She looked at him in bewilderment.
He nodded dismissively. "Later." He was more engaged in peeling her bra off her. She shrieked and pinned her arms on her chest to cover herself.
"Yes," he replied amusedly, his finger tracing invisible patterns on her bare skin. "Here, now."
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"And what are you doing here?" She [jewellery] looked up to find her husband standing at a distance from her. She smiled shyly and shook her head. "Are you hiding?" he whispered, barely containing his amusement, and sat down beside her on the floor.
"Nahin toh," she chuckled. (Not at all.)
She bit her lip. "Koyi kuchh kaam karne nahin deta yahaan aur agar hum kuchh nahin karein, toh humein khaane ke khayaal aajaate hain... Itni bhookh lag rahi hai aur neeche voh khaana bana rahe hain, toh... Humne socha ke yahin baith jaate hain aur... kissi aur cheez ke bare mein sochte hain." (Nobody is letting me do any work, so I start thinking about food... Now I'm so hungry and they are cooking downstairs so... I thought I should just sit here... And think about something else.)
He chuckled heartily at that and placed an arm around her shoulders to pull her closer. "Good idea. Mujhe neeje log pareshaan kar rahe the. Let's hide here, both of us." She giggled and leaned against him. "Khushi?" he whispered, interlacing their fingers together. "Vaise... Mujhe bhi bohot bhookh lag rahi hai." (... Some people were annoying me downstairs. [...] By the way... I am also feeling very hungry.)
"Haww! Kyun?" she turned to him with wide, surprised eyes. "Aapne kuchh khaaya nahin?" He shook his head sheepishly. "Kyun, Arnavji?" (Haww! Why? Didn't you eat anything? Why Arnavji?)
"Tumne kuchh khaaya hai?" (Did you eat anything?)
Khushi rolled her eyes at him. "Aaj Karva Chauth hai, Arnavji. Hum kuchh khaa nahin sakte." (It's Karva Chauth today, Arnavji. I cannot eat.)
"Then how do you expect me to eat anything?" she felt the little smile that had been playing on her lips fall and her eyes began to sting with tears. He rested his forehead against hers and sighed. "You are going through all this trouble of starving yourself for me. I cannot let you do this alone, can I? I cannot sit and eat, knowing that my wife is not eating or drinking. I will eat only when you do, and you do not have a say in it, okay?"
She sniffed and nodded. "Okay."
"You nose is red," he grinned. She made a face and rubbed it, only causing it to go redder. He laughed and pulled her closer to kiss her nose. A shudder ran down her back. "So," he looked at her seriously. "Are you ready to do this?"
"Hmm?" Khushi frowned confusedly.
Arnav shrugged. "Spend the rest of eternity with... with me?" He chuckled at her baffled expression. "Come on, don't tell me you don't know what Karva Chauth means!"
"Hum jaante hain!" she protested, quickly telling him all she knew. He smiled and shook his head impatiently. "Yes, yes... But the crap about the seven births, that's not true, you know that, right? It doesn't make sense if you think about it?" (I know!)
"Kya?" she was completely lost now. (What?)
"Okay, look. On Karva Chauth, you women pray for your husbands' long lives and you ask to have them as your husbands again for the next seven births, right?" She nodded. "So... well, take this example, say the two of us are at our first births, okay? You'll ask for me for the next seven births, won't you? Say you do get me as your husband in your next birth, for that birth's Karva Chauths, you will be asking for me for another seven births. So if you look at it from this birth, you are asking for me for eight births, actually, see? Not seven. And now, if you count all the coming births, well, you are basically asking to have me in every birth for an eternity. Am I making any sense?"
She nodded. "Humein laga tha aap iss sab mein vishwaas nahin rakhte?" (I thought you didn't believe in all this?)
His eyes gleamed with mischief. "Acting karni padti hai, Dadi ko sataane ke liye." (I have to act to irritate Dadi.)
"Haww! Aur aap humein ab bata rahe hain?" she hit him lightly on the arm as he laughed. "Arnavji?" she called him softly when he sobered, but she avoided looking at him. She firmly kept her gaze on their interlaced hands. "Hum ant kaal tak aap hi ke saath rehna chaahte hain." (Haww! And it's now you are telling me? Arnavji? It is you I want to be with till the end of eternity.)
Next to her, he stiffened. When she chanced a glimpse at him, he was staring at her impassively so that she had no idea of what he could be thinking. Her heart sank. Had she made a mistake in telling him that? He looked away after a few minutes, cleared his throat and disentangled himself from her in an effort to get up.
"Before I forget," he mumbled, "main tumhaare liye kuchh laaya tha. I hope you like it." He opened his laptop case and took a flat, carefully wrapped package out of it and handed it to her. She took it without saying anything. "Uhh... I hope you like it... Raat ko puja ke liye... you can wear it... I... Uhh... I... I have to..." (Before I forget, I had brought something for you. [...] At night for the prayer...)
He shot out of the room before she could take her next breath. Her hunger vanished. She sat there, wondering if she had just made the biggest mistake of her life. He had asked her the question, he should have been ready for an answer. Any answer... No. She had made the folly of opening her heart to him. She shouldn't have told him about her feelings like that...
He walked down the corridor with the impulse of hitting his head in one of the walls of his uncle's house. That he was an idiot would be the understatement of the year. What he had just done was massively stupid and he deserved to beat himself up well for this. Oh f**k! He must have hurt her so much... She was just starting to open up to him and he had screwed everything up!
But that had been so unexpected too... He paused and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, replaying her words in his mind. She wanted to spend an eternity with him. It was him she wanted. She chose him. Was it what he thought she meant? His hands clenched into tight fists, he bit his lip and racked his brains. Where could she be?
Arnav had left the room in haste because what she had said had completely disoriented him. He needed to get out of there, think about what he had just heard, clear his head before he misunderstood her and impulsively did what he wanted to do since he had first seen her. Kiss her. God, he wanted to kiss her so much... It had never been easy at all on him to be this close to her, and yet so far, but he had borne the pain and done his best to build their relationship on the right basis first. But then, this afternoon, she had said something that had completely destabilised him... When he had finally realised his mistake and returned to the room, his wife was no longer there and even after some three hours of looking for her, she was still missing, as if the huge mansion had swallowed her up.
She carefully smoothed her sari in place with a frown. It was beautiful. Of course it would be beautiful, he had chosen it. Khushi inhaled deeply as her eyes pricked again. She tried to concentrate on the gems that were winking at her playfully from the jewellery set Dadi had gifted her. It brought a smile out of her. It was as if grandmother and grandson had conspired together to buy their gifts from her on this day, they matched so well, but she knew that would be impossible. Her husband and grandmother-in-law seldom got along.
She wondered if he had looked for her after he had left the room. Probably not... But just in case, to avoid him if he ever decided to come back, she had taken whatever she would be needing for the night and fled from the room. Her sisters-in-law had told her they could get ready together, sit and talk, have some fun. She had not intended to go but then she had changed her mind. She couldn't bear to see him again for now. She felt so scared of the prospect. She felt scared that what she had confessed to him had irreparably changed things between them. And that was the last thing she wanted...
So, despite her shyness, she had finally joined her sisters-in-law in the big room they had told her they would be in. Some of the aunts had joined them and they had sat down to talk. It was mainly gossip, so Khushi had listened silently. Then when dusk had fallen, they had started to get ready for the prayers and she had helped Skye, who was very new to all this chaos. Now, they were leaving for the mandir downstairs and she was feeling nervous all over again. She would have to see him again, there was no other choice.
Now that he would finally be allowed to see her, it would be with around a gazillion people around them, so obviously he would not be able to talk to her properly. Still he weaved his way through the crowd looking for her in desperation. If he saw her, at least, he would know she was okay. Earlier, after scouring the whole mansion to find her, he had finally learned that she was, with all the other women who were fasting, in the east wing but they had restricted the area to females and children only, hence it was out of bounds for him. Same for when they had gone downstairs to pray.
The women were to meet their husbands in the garden after the prayers, to wait for the moon to appear, and that was due soon, then they could all go inside and have dinner together, so he would have to wait some more to get to talk to her. At last, just as indescribable despair starting writhing in him, he felt someone touch him delicately on the arm. He stopped and turned around and found her standing behind him, staring at the ground obstinately. Okay. She was fine, but not really, was she? Hurt flashed in her eyes, making him feel awfully guilt. Oh, he had hurt her. A lot. Speechless, he placed an arm around her and led her to a secluded corner, and she let him do so, but in absolute silence. He wanted to kick himself.
Although, she was looking incredibly beautiful. He had chosen well, both the sari and the woman. And he could see that his grandmother had an excellent choice too. That she was slightly flustered made her even more endearing. Arnav smiled, wanting to kiss her again. Maybe he would. Later. he needed to make amends first. But right when he started to formulate an apology, pandemonium broke lose. The moon was out.
She could say it was a lucky escape. Folding her sari as deftly and quickly as she could, she also kept an eye and an ear on the door. No sign of her husband yet, which was still good for her. Khushi flung the sari into the wardrobe, stowed the jewellery away and snapped the lights off before scrambling into bed, her heart hammering. And she achieved all of that in the nick of time because the door opened precisely a second after she had pulled the covers over her. She heard him walk in and close the door behind him. She had her back to him, on purpose. He looked at her through the darkness, sighed tiredly and made his way to the bathroom to change. She sighed too when he was gone and shut her eyes. It was definitely a lucky escape.
She didn't move the least inch when he sat on the bed. He had to admit he had married a very good actress but unfortunately for her, she could not fool him so easily. He knew her too well. Gently, he placed his hand on her shoulder to turn her onto her back. A smile settled on his face. Maybe she was not that good an actress; her cheeks were still wet from her tears and her breaths were too irregular for someone who was supposed to be asleep.
"I know you're awake, Khushi," he whispered. "Stop pretending." For a moment, she hesitated but she eventually opened her eyes to glance at him briefly before looking away, at the wall perhaps, he couldn't make that out easily in the moonlight. "I'm sorry," he squeezed her hand, lying down beside her. "My reaction earlier was... You caught me by surprise, Khushi, I didn't know what to think or to say, I... Khushi, I..."
Her eyes were gleaming with tears when she lifted them to meet his gaze again. "I didn't want to hurt you," he breathed. Because hurting you, means hurting myself a thousandfold. Her breaths came out ragged and he wondered if she could feel the same ache that was killing him. "I... Oh god, Khushi, I don't know how to... I..."
Telling her that he loved her scared the wits out of him. What if it was too soon for that and he scared her instead, now? Maybe she hadn't meant she loved him, maybe she just wanted to tell him that she loved his company enough to spend the rest of her life with him? No, he couldn't tell her that right now... But then... He was losing his mind, really. Taking a deep breath, he went with his instinct and threw caution to wind. His hand slid behind her neck and pulled her towards him, pressing his lips against hers.
Khushi reacted by going still. He retracted, sensing it. She was looking at him, her eyes widening with alarm. Arnav realised she was not breathing anymore, as if she had forgotten how to. He shook her lightly. "Khushi, breathe. Breathe dammit!"
She gasped for air, suddenly getting out of her state. He wanted to ask her if she was fine but he feared he had frightened her. He hadn't, he soon learned, because, panting heavily, his wife burrowed her face in his chest and wrapped an arm around his torso tightly. Relieved, he kissed the top of her head, rubbing her back to comfort her.
That had been quite a day...
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