“I said I am sorry. I should have given you my journal instead.” Arjun said in between mouthfuls of what was the fourth kachori that he was wolfing down.
Khushi gulped and grimaced at the serving of diced papaya that she had been toying with for the better part of the last half hour. The aroma of hot tea and deep fried maida was rich in the air. The fact that it was raining outside like it had never rained before wasn’t helping either.
“Take my advice, have one of these and dump that crap in the bin. You are just cranky because…” He said, pointing to his plate which still had a couple of kachoris soaking in sweet and spicy chutney.
“I am not cranky,” Khushi said vehemently raising her fork at him before stabbing the papaya with unnecessary force. She popped the fruit in her mouth and gulped it down. How the hell was she supposed to survive on this fruit? It was ridiculous to even think about the rest of the day, leave alone the rest of the week.
“Of course you are not. After all, the lab assistant thought I had written up an extra experiment. He couldn’t even imagine that maybe, just maybe, you had missed writing one!” Arjun said throwing his hands up in the air, his voice laced with incredulity. “And you think being the only girl in class is a disaster! For you! I don’t get it!”
Khushi couldn’t help the smile that curved her lips. She looked at Arjun and grinned. It had been rather ridiculous, after all.
In her absent mindedness following the sudden appearance of someone at her doorstep, Kaveri Khushi Gupta – ace student suffering from an unhealthy need to be well-planned and meticulous about her work since she was seven, had forgotten to complete her journal for the laboratory session in Basics of Mechanical Engineering that was due earlier in the day. She had finally been forced to do what she had only ever helped others with in the past – “refer” (here implying copying word to word) to a completed journal in the half hour of lunch break that she had at her disposal before Lab was due to begin. Of course, given that sixty nine boys in her class still considered her as somewhat of an alien for wanting to study mechanical engineering, she had turned to the only person she could – Arjun Agarwal . And while Arjun Agarwal had been a complete gentleman about it, he had also assumed that she was smart enough to know which experiments she needed to refer to from the journal he had handed her – one he had borrowed from a second year student in exchange for thirty minutes of good natured ragging (details of which Khushi didn’t bother asking).
How was he to know that when she would sit down to complete her journal in the far end of the cafeteria, she would catch a glimpse the very person who had indirectly put her in the position of having to refer to other people’s work to finish an assignment! But that was exactly what happened. In order to keep her mind sane and the blush on her cheeks limited to a color that could be explained by the stuffy lunch time air, she had mindlessly written out one experiment and hurried out the cafeteria before she could remember that she needed to finish two.
She was however, not prepared for the sequence of events that followed.
It started off relatively innocuously. In keeping with how her life as a mechanical engineering student had been so far, despite being well down the alphabetical order, Kaveri K Gupta had been blessed with privilege of having her journal “reviewed” first – ahead of all other students (some of whom glared at her indignantly) by the lab assistant. What was the alphabet compared to gender, after all? And though Khushi bit her nails through the process having found out that she had failed to “complete” her journal, in the end she had only received a kind smile and a softly muttered “good work”
Of course, her happiness was not to last long. For Arjun Agarwal was next in line and he had actually completed his work – two experiments with well documented apparatus description and operational process steps. How was he or Khushi or the rest of the class to know, that far from zeroing in on Khushi’s error of omission, the lab assistant would go ahead and reprimand Arjun Agarwal for trying to do more than what was being completed in class? Did he think he was too good for mechanical engineering? Didn’t he know that Professor Sharma didn’t like arrogant know-it-alls?
The class had been stunned more than Arjun Agarwal – who to his own credit took the entire lecture rather too well for his own good. And as a result, Khushi had no words and one more unforgettable incident to add to her repertoire as that first year mechanical engineering girl.
“Poor lab assistant, yaar. After years of drought in the department, he is finally be able to flex his chivalry muscle – kya kahein…” Somebody had sniggered behind her back.
Khushi had turned a deep purple with a combination of embarrassment and anger but the damage was done. She had glared at the lab assistant who, poor soul, had expected to be the hero and had for some reason, slid right down to the equivalent of a pesky extra.
Now, a couple of hours and a comical Arjun later, she was in a better mood, papaya or no papaya.
“How did you make such a mistake anyway? I mean you are the one who told me where to find the description for the Babcock and Wilcox boiler in the textbook. I remember clearly because I was surprised that you knew even before we had been told that is what we needed to do in our journal?” Arjun asked curiously.
Normally, Khushi would have been proud of such devious praise. She liked to be organized and knowing what class was going to be about was one of those top few things in her priority list. This time, she simply shrugged. “It just completely slipped out of my mind. It happens.”
The truth was it didn’t happen. Not to her. And there was only herself she could blame. So much for vowing to focus only on her education.
“Anyway,” Arjun said finally swallowing the last of his snack, helping Khushi breathe a sigh of relief. “I was with the Aarohan team during lunch.”
“Aarohan? What’s that?” Khushi said as she continued to force the papaya down her throat.
Once again, Arjun looked at her like she had grown horns. “How can you not…It’s the annual end of first term cultural event. The third year students organize it but all performances are by the first years. It marks the end of the ragging period – sort of like a welcome from the seniors.”
Khushi shrugged. “How was I supposed to know this? In case you’ve forgotten, we’ve been in this place for less than a month.”
“But you have lived on this campus for three years! And Aarohan is IE’s most famous cultural event – mostly because the other events suck.” Arjun chuckled.
Khushi rolled her eyes. “Being on campus doesn’t mean…Well…never mind. How did you get access to the Aarohan team in the first place?”
“They wanted first years to volunteer to be on the organizing committee and start scouting for other first years who would participate. So…”
Khushi looked at him curiously. Arjun Agarwal had never been the gregarious sort in school. Or was he? He wasn’t exactly shy but rarely had she seen him participate in debates or plays or musical events…as far as she knew he was one of those students who had been pleasant and a favorite with teachers but not really outstanding in terms of academics or extra-curriculars. “How come you weren’t this enthusiastic in school?” She blurted out, surprised at herself for having been rather plain speaking – something she didn’t usually associate with herself.
Arjun, being his cheerful self, took no offense. If anything, it looked like Khushi had handed him a compliment. He waved his hand. “School was a bore. School teachers are even more boring. They have favorites and only those people get the chance to be enthusiastic. You know, like you were always on the debating team sent to any inter school competition…”
Khushi bristled. “That’s not fair…I was sent when I didn’t want to go on more than one occasion.”
Arjun grinned some more. “Relax…I didn’t say it was your fault. And maybe it wasn’t the teachers’ either…” He shrugged. “I just decided to take things into my own hands. I don’t want to sit around and let others make my choices anymore….That’s the reason, I even came to Banaras….my parents wanted me to be in Bombay…”
Khushi stared at her friend in awe. She had never really begrudged having her parents guide her through life and yet listening to Arjun made her wonder if she should have tried. At least, it was something to learn from. Arjun Agarwal ’s attitude was definitely in the right place. So she smiled.
“So what are you responsible for on the team?”
Arjun stretched his arms and cracked his knuckles. “Music. I need to look for people who can sing, play some instrument, you know…the gaana bajaana gang…”
Khushi smiled. “Good choice. Better than logistics.”
Arjun nodded. “Of course. I wasn’t going to get caught in that. That’s a shitty job. Anyway…I need to start looking for participants…” He looked at her and his eyes fluttered open and close, almost shiftily. “So…eh…Kaveri…I have…I mean I am thinking of…nominating you…”
Khushi dropped her fork with a barely heard clang…but it could have been a meteor crashing on the earth by the look on her face. “What?” She asked rather loudly.
“You heard me. I know you sing really well. You used to in school…always in the choir, remember…”
“That is not singing!” Khushi exclaimed. “And I was always forced into being part of the ridiculous choir. It wasn’t like I was singing Bollywood songs there…”
“But you can sing Bollywood songs here….In fact…IE-V is famous for being so much more…desi…in essence…”
“I am not sure that is a compliment.”
“It’s not…” Arjun began but Khushi held her hand up, silencing him sternly.
“Arjun….you want to be enthusiastic…your call…excellent one might I add…Leave me out of it. I have enough on my plate without adding to it…”
Arjun sighed and closed his eyes, muttering something under his breath.
“What is the big deal? Find someone else. It should be easy…you already seem to know half the batch anyway.” Khushi said wryly. It was true and it was something that had amazed her. Over the last three weeks, she had seen Arjun’s network grow leaps and bounds. Every day she was sure she spotted at least ten new people clapping his back. She had no idea when he found the time. Or the energy. Maybe his staying in the hostel helped.
Arjun looked at her and smiled sheepishly…”It’s a branch-wise thing…ermmm…and there is a clause that each branch has to have at least one female participant – all events put together…And…”
Khushi clapped her hand on her forehead. “What the hell did I sign up for!” She uttered loudly. “How did they do it last year when there was no girl in ME? Tell them to assume…in anycase…who are these people…just some stupid college fest committee…I am …I am not singing…no way…”
She put her fork back in the box still half filled with papaya and closed it with a tight click. She picked up her cup of tea and gulped it down. “I should go home. If only I’d known you were asking me to stay back because of this…”
“Don’t you think you may be overreacting just a teensy bit?” Arjun asked half-amusedly.
Khushi shook her head. “Maybe I am. But I am not singing. NOT SINGING.” She reiterated and picked up her bag, slinging it over her shoulder in one quick move. She adjusted the crisp of her pale blue cotton dupatta and slid out of her chair. “I will see you tomorrow morning…Civil Engineering field lab at 11 a.m.”
“Kaveri…” Arjun began.
But Khushi shook her head and waved at him. Singing? No way was she singing.
Because he may be singing too? AV Sir? A small voice asked her as she walked away from the table Arjun and she had been seated on.
“No.” She told herself. It had nothing to do with anyone else. She didn’t want to sing. And that was that.
Abhi na jao chhod kar…
Khushi whirled around, her eyes round as saucers as she heard the voice.
Arjun grinned at her and winked in exaggeration and then continued to sing.
Abhi na jao chhod kar
Ke dil abhi bhara nahi…
Khushi’s face burst into flames as a few passersby glanced in their directions with bemused smiles. “What the…” She began only to be cut off by more of Arjun’s untrained singing….
Abhi abhi toh aaye ho
Abhi abhi toh…
“Arjun,” Khushi hissed and stepped towards him. “What are you doing?” She asked, her voice trembling with embarrassment even as her face continued to stay warm and red.
For a second, it seemed like the goofy grin on Arjun’s face had slipped. And then, it came back on full force.
A couple of her classmates stopped by the table and grinned at her, their eyes alternately finding her and Arjun.
She shook her head and turned around.
“Aisi kya jaldi jaane ki
“Deewana…” He threw his hands apart, much to her increasing indignation cum confusion. “Hoon mana…Suniye…deewane ki…”
“Have you completely lost your head?” She asked, incredulity replacing indignation much too swiftly for her own sanity and to her own surprise. She needed to be careful. If not, the smile that threatened to tease the corner of her lips, would break out and all hell would break loose.
Arjun grinned and looked at the couple of boys – Ashish and Deepak – both relatively friendly boys from her class (They had smiled at her – on separate occasions of course). “Hum ek geet ga chuke hain…Ab teri hai baari…”
She had to fight hard to keep her face blank. He was singing the couplet from a popular TV show – one that had cashed in on India’s favorite pass time – one that merged Indians’ love for Bollywood and all things musical.
“Yeh hai antakshari…” Arjun said, raising his hands for a high five and winking at Khushi with barely concealed enthusiasm.
Khushi shook her head. “You are crazy…” He was crazy…How had their conversation turned to this??? He was singing. Arjun Agarwal , her classmate turned friend turned traitor, was, in his untrained, rather unmusical voice, singing and forcing her to sing…by employing one of the weirdest tricks in the history of everything.
“Main shayar toh nahi…”
This time the smile slipped through the opening of her parted lips. “Stop…please…”
Arjun nodded as he continued to sing. “Magar aye haseen…jabse dekha maine tujhko mujhko shayari aa gayi…”
A couple of folks from nearby tables whistled and despite herself, Khushi grinned.
Arjun grinned back. “E…for you…”
Khushi shook her head. “No way. I am not going to be part of this…”
“Say you forfeit your claim to the title as Bollywoods music dictionary” Arjun said shrugging his shoulders.
Khushi rolled her eyes even though she was surprised that Arjun knew about her self-proclaimed expertise on Hindi film songs. “I am not falling for that…I am not…”
“Tic tic one…”
Khushi chuckled. “Seriously, Arjun…”
“Tic tic two” He said and waved his hands only to have Ashish and Deepak chime in for “Tic tic three.”
Khushi sighed and let her shoulders droop. Her bag slid off her shoulder and plonked on the table.
“Gaana aaye ya na aaye…gaana chahiye Kaveri Khushi Gupta…”
Ashish’s eyes grew wide. “Her name is Kaveri Khushi Gupta?” He asked Arjun before looking at Khushi. “That’s your name? What do people call you then…Kaveri or Khushi?”
Arjun clucked and shook his head. “Disturb mat kar Shukla…Kaveri’s turn to sing and she has E.” He turned to Khushi. “Tic tic five Khushi…” He said, switching to her middle name with unexpected ease and a meaningful look at Ashish.
“And may I ask what happened to tic tic four?” She asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Spent in shushing Shukla. Now, tic tic six, Kaveri Gupta…E or I for you..they are the simplest letters for Hindi songs…And you can’t…” He sighed dramatically. “You lied, Kavi…I must call and tell all our school friends…you obviously aren’t a Bollywood expert. Padhai-khor chashmish.” He stuck his tongue out.
Khushi laughed out aloud this time. Arjun really was incredible and strangely funny. Sighing again, she shook her head. “Is deewane ladke ko, koi samjhaye..” She began singing, laughing a little as she did. There was something almost cathartic about just giving in and singing. It reminded her of all the impromptu singing sessions her family had – on road trips, when there was no electricity and nothing to do, on Sundays..The truth was that she loved singing. She didn’t know if she was good at it. She knew she was okay and definitely not off key.
“Pyar mohabbat se na jaane…kyun yeh ghabraaye
Dard-e-dil, jaane na,
Pass main jitna aaon, utni duur yeh jaaye, jaaye haan jaaye
Iss deewane ladke ko…”
She stopped and smiled. “Happy?” She asked.
Arjun grinned. “Of course. See I told you, you sing well. What say, guys?” He turned to Deepak and Ashish. As Khushi copied his gaze, she saw that it wasn’t just Arjun, Deepak and Ashish any more. There were at least a dozen folks, mostly from her class standing around the table and smiling at her, nodding even.
“I am not…”
“Looks like you found the Mechanical Engineering, team, Agarwal. Well done. As long as you don’t sing, that is”
This time, Khushi didn’t need to turn her head to know who it was. She knew that voice. She lifted her eyes and surely enough, it was him.
“AV-Sir…She sings well, doesn’t she? I told you.” Arjun jumped out of the table and rushed up to where Arnav Varun was standing, his guitar slung over his shoulder and his eyes gleaming with a brilliant smile, dimple flashing in that left cheek as he stared at her.
“Join us for the practice session tomorrow evening.” Arnav said quietly and then turned to look at Arjun. “Get the list to Tiwari soon. We need to practice…especially for those who will be with the instruments”
Arjun nodded. “Yes, Sir. Will do. I have the list from the other branches done already.”
Arnav nodded and stepped away from them, smiling at her once before he quickly bid them goodbye and hurried away.
River Music, Song and Lyrics
Song Title: Raah Mein Unse Mulaqaat Ho Gayi
Music: Anu Malik
Singers: Alka Yagnik, Kumar Sanu
Lyrics: Zameer Kazmi
Tere Been Kuchh Naheen Bhaataa Hain Mujhe
Har Taraf Too Najar Aataa Hain Mujhe
Zindagi Taaron Ki Baaraat Ho Gai
Jise Darate The Wohi Baat Ho Gai
Next Update: Saturday, Mar 28, 2015. The Tuesday schedule will return as soon as life gets back on track. For now – thank you so much for being kind enough to wait – even look forward to more of this tale!I know this story isn’t exactly leaping from one highlight to the other (far from it!) – but that is exactly how I have it planned :) I guess I have to admit that this is my own piece of indulgence. So I apologize if you came looking for substance – I am not sure there is going to be much of that here :)
Oh – and there is going be generous amounts of Hindi and Bollywood (Did I hear someone say “Duh!”?). Please let me know if you need some sort of dictionary. I will try to come up with one for every chapter. For starters – Tripti means contentment just as Khushi means happiness – the two emotions Shiv and Gayatri Gupta felt at the birth of their two daughters respectively!