Sorry for the delay and thank you for waiting! I can’t believe you would choose to read this when there is so much more (better) to read out there (Second Chances, Hands of Time, to name a couple)
Every day, I count my blessings.
The next day rolled by in a bundle of nerves. She was already wrought with tension thanks to Tripti’s incessant leg pulling over dinner when Khushi had blurted out that she was going to be singing for Aarohan. Her parents had been absent mindedly pleased – the way they usually were with any of her achievements that didn’t involve solving complex math equations. But her sister – well, Tripti had displayed every possible emotion ranging from gobsmacked to ecstatic to bemusedly curious.
“Oh Di, singing for Aarohan! I am so proud of you. Very un-behenji-ish. Do you know that it is supposed to be IE’s best event – completely our type, filmy and everything? I can’t wait to sneak in to the venue. No, wait, you can get me in right? I won’t have to ask Baba anymore.”
It was no surprise that her sister had known about Aarohan. Tripti was strangely clued in about these things unlike her. And as a result, Khushi had been able to skim over any feeling of regret at mentioning the event or her singing to her sister. After all, Tripti would have found her singing live at the event. And THAT would have been impossible to deal with.
Not that this was any easier.
“You are going to meet all the hot guitarists and drummers – I mean as many as you can find in an engineering college. Di, I’m telling you. Use the golden opportunity and find some rockstar senior to romance, okay? Don’t be a bore.”
Khushi had rolled her eyes and reminded her sister of the upcoming History exam even as the memory of a handsome, dimpled guitarist with coal eyes, flashed in front of her eyes.
Now half a day later, she was still jumpy and a not-so-pleasant combination of anticipation and nervousness. She had half a mind to hurry back home after her last class at three instead of walking towards the large auditorium which had been booked for remaining auditions (for other branches of engineering) and for all the practice sessions hereafter. In fact, she was sure that if it wasn’t for Arjun, she would be on her way home at the very moment.
“What do you say?”
Khushi blinked and looked at her friend who was poring over a sheet of paper, scribbled all over in his rather terrible and unkempt hand-writing.
“About what?” She asked, aware that not paying attention to what was being said to her was becoming a habit she didn’t quite appreciate in herself.
“About the weather.” Arjun replied sarcastically, looking up at her with a resigned expression. “About the song, of course. I swear, Kavi, I don’t know what’s gotten into you. You are permanently spaced out these days.”
Khushi frowned. “I wouldn’t be if you hadn’t tricked me into agreeing to sing. I can’t believe I said yes. I mean….singing in front of an audience. And you’ve…” She took a deep breath as they continued to walk towards the auditorium. “I am so going to make a fool of myself.”
Arjun chuckled. “And the worst is that you won’t even be able to hide post the event. Everyone knows you!”
Khushi shook her head incredulously. “I can’t believe you. Whatever happened to being nice?’
Arjun winked and brushed his shoulder against hers. “Nice is boring, Senorita”
Khushi made a face and shifted away from him. “Bollywood songs are one thing, Arjun Agarwal. Dialogues…” She pretended to gag. “If you want to practice your flirting skills, you’ll have to find someone else.”
Arjun chuckled again and broke out into a song. It was one of the most inconvenient side effects of Aarohan and the fact that her friend had signed up as a member-turning-chief-coordinator of the organizing committee. He broke into song too often and not to mention too loudly.
“Khud ko kya samajhti hai, itna akadti hai…”
Khushi shuddered and picked up pace as Arjun continued to sing ensuring that everyone who was walking by, heard him and laughed along at his antics and her obvious discomfort.
“Yaaro yeh hame, lagti hai sarfiri,” Arjun continued, his voice growing louder as they inched closer to the auditorium. Khushi looked back at Arjun who was grinning at her as he continued to sing. Blushing furiously, she walked on, glancing back and away every now and then, trying to avoid the stares of passers-by and other Aarohan participants and hopefuls who were headed to the auditorium. It was in the middle of the first verse of the rather ridiculous song, that she suddenly collided into solid wood. Literally. For the first time really understood what those cartoons with stars hovering over the hit subject’s head were trying to convey.
“Oww,” She cried as she immediately stepped back without looking up, holding her head where it had banged against what now looked like a door that had been opened at the exact moment she had stepped in front of it. She blinked and gulped a large shock of air as spots of color danced in front of her eyes. If she had been a cartoon, this would be the point where there would be stars circling her head.
“Shit!” She heard the loud swearing even she rubbed the slightly rising swell on her forehead. And she froze.
She didn’t need to look up to know who was on the other side of that door. Yet, before she could tell herself exactly that, her eyes had found Arnav’s. He was peering down at her, his face oddly colored with patches from her own banged up vision. He was tall, she realized as always choosing the most inappropriate moment to soak in irrelevant detail. Though for Khushi, who stood at nearly five feet seven inches herself, realizing someone else was significantly taller was not exactly irrelevant.
“I am so sorry,” He took a step towards her; placing the guitar she now noticed he had been carrying, by the wall.
Rubbing her forehead which was now swelling rather rapidly, she shook her head slowly, fighting back the beginning of a dull throb. She opened her mouth and tried to tell him that she was okay only to find herself struggling with a partially dry throat and complete loss of sanity. Only this time, she could fool herself by blaming it on the accident rather than the person literally behind it.
“Kavi, are you okay?” Arjun rushed forward, his voice urgent and devoid of erstwhile humor and teasing.
With both of them staring at her, Khushi finally let her hand swing to her side and smiled at them slowly. “I’m fine. It’s okay…I wasn’t looking…”
“It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have been annoying you. Sorry, Kaveri. I really am…” Arjun continued in the same urgent vein, ignoring Khushi’s assurance.
And for some reason, seeing Arjun so troubled and guilty didn’t go down well with her. So she took a deep breath and smiled with more gusto. “What’s a little bump on the head if that makes you stop croaking, Arjun. I mean Khud ko kya is bad even for you.”
Arjun’s face deepened to crimson, surprising Khushi. But she was glad that the moment of awkwardness was over. Now, if only the other pair of guilty eyes would look away. She blinked once and raised her eyes to catch him peering into her face, a small smile teasing his lips. It was then that she realized that his eyes really the color of the deepest midnight in her memory. And around his irises, decorated like the suns rays were little flecks of rich chocolate brown, the kind of chocolate that made your mouth water. It was also then that she realized that his face was strong and hard, all angles and sharp edges and yet she couldn’t deny the hint of softness in the soft crinkles by his eyes and the corner of his mouth, gentleness that made her wonder what it would be like to…
Her cheeks burned at the complete unexpectedness of her thoughts. She looked away as she realized which way they were headed.
“Do you want the on-call doctor to take a look at your bruise? The first aid room is not very far away. I could…Or if you are more comfortable with Agarwal…”
She frowned at that. Did he think that Arjun and she were…? He did, it was written all over his face and the curious glances he was giving the two of them. It annoyed her. She had not been immune to the looks she had received from the regular third years that came to rag their class or her own classmates who couldn’t help but smile almost knowingly when they spotted Arjun with her in the cafeteria.
“I’m fine.” She reiterated, this time more forcefully than before. And maybe even a little rudely. “I don’t need the doctor. It’s just a bump.”.
Whatever it was, it succeeded in snapping the thread of a moment that seemed to hold her captive in his presence.
He said something to Arjun that she did not particularly pay attention to. Arjun responded as enthusiastically as ever, promising to take care of something she didn’t quite catch. At the end of Arjun’s speech, AV Sir looked at her once, his eyes strangely muted and yet just as rich as the darkest raven. And then he was gone.
It took Khushi all of thirty minutes to completely forget about the small little incident and the darkening bruise just above her left eyebrow. Of course, she would have been happier if this also meant forgetting all about the owner of coal eyes, raven hair and indented smiles who sat strumming his guitar as a first year Electronics Engineering batchmate of hers belted out a near perfect rendition of a popular pop number – a favorite with yuppie guitarists since the day the song was first released
Tum jo mil gaye, diye jal gaye, mere khaabon mein
Ban jaao tum mere humsafar
The singer, Pranay something, sang beautifully, his voice a lot softer than the owner of the original. And he didn’t look half bad. Which was to say that he was rather good looking in the classic filmy way – medium height, chocolate boy looks – almost like Aamir Khan of his first few films. She could see a few girls giggling and nudging each other in that tell-tale girls-group way that she hated even more now because she didn’t have the opportunity to be part of one . She recognized them immediately as her lucky (to have gender company, that is) counterparts from Computer Science engineering or another such female-friendly branch. Pursing her lips she redirected her attention to the large stage in the center.
She shrugged off the brief moment of annoyance and looked at Pranay-something more closely. And yet, her gaze was drawn only toward the long lean fingers that weaved through the musical chords of the guitar and the face that was almost completely hidden by a shock of hair.
Bewafa suno bewafa,
Dooba dooba rehata hoon aankhon mein teri
It wasn’t surprising that she was singing along, her feet tapping to the gentle drumming, her upper body swaying to the gentle rhythm. There was an air of celebration in that auditorium and it was nothing like she had ever experienced before. Even all her favorite singing sessions with her family against the backdrop of sweltering nights and power outages or cloudy evenings by the Ganga, couldn’t come close to the slight exhilaration she felt.
The song came to an end and the few folks who constituted both participants and audience clapped heartily.
She saw Pranay walk up to AV Sir and shake his hand before he went on to do the same with the person on the keyboard and the one at the drums. Despite being a motley collection of new and old IE-Vites, there was a sense of belonging and ownership that shone on every face. Khushi wondered if her face reflected some of it as well.
As the thought crossed her mind, she realized that her banged up forehead had given her momentary time out from the audition process. She was technically not required to sing to be evaluated – after all, they would have her sing because they didn’t have another choice of female voice from Mechanical Engineering. But AV-sir, Arjun had said, insisted that she get a chance to be part of the entire process, the chance to sing with music, say hello to those who she would be practicing with for the next few weeks – her first formal integration point with the broader IE-V community. And though when Arjun had conveyed AV-Sir’s message, he had added liberally to the enthusiasm behind the words, she couldn’t help admire the thought. It was gallant. Chivalrous, even.
“So do you know which song you are singing?”
She literally jumped up as she heard his voice. She looked up as AV-Sir settled into a chair next to hers, waving at someone and mouthing something silently at someone who was nodding his head right back from the stage.
When had he walked up to where she was sitting? How long had she been lost to the world? And the most important question of all. Why had he come up to her?
She swallowed, fisted her palm and took the moment of his distraction to school her features to calmness she didn’t feel.
She had to sing a song. And though she had imagined herself singing to an audience that cringed, one that clapped enthusiastically and one that promptly fell asleep, she had spent absolutely no time thinking of the song itself.
Before her lips could part to allow words to emerge from her parched throat, before her brain could form a coherent response to a question that she didn’t know how to answer, ebony eyes were trained on her again, a slightly bronzed and more than slightly handsome face relaxed into an easy, amiable smile.
It didn’t help.
She cleared her throat and shook her head and blurted out the first thing that came to her head. “I am not a trained singer.” Did her voice actually sound rude and shrill or was it her own over active imagination? Did he actually flinch when she said what she did? No, he couldn’t have. She had never been faulted for cacophony. If anything, her softness of voice and manner had always been praised. Not that she had ever believed any of that.
“Lucky you.” He chuckled. “I had to endure several years of forced Hindustani Classical music training.”
She smiled at that despite the clamminess of her fingers. No wonder he sung so well. And yet stayed away from trying to make his singing sound…pretentious…yes, that was the word. People who were formally trained in music had a way of looking down upon film music and those who…
“I prefer Bollywood singing, of course.” He continued as she flitted in and out of her own thoughts and conclusions. “It is more fun. Music should be fun. That binds people together…” He stopped, his hands raised in the air, and looked at her again, this time grinning sheepishly, the corner of his mouth crinkling into a deep impression.
And her breath caught. If falling in love was a journey, she had just crossed a critical milestone.
“Sorry, I get carried away sometimes…” He shook his head, seemingly at his own enthusiasm and looked away.
And she fell deeper. And some more. She looked at him as discreetly as possible as he rose and yelled out some instructions as another potential participant made her way to the center of the stage and those with the instruments began to play bits of the music to test their knowledge.
She couldn’t possibly sing today. She couldn’t even speak.
Her head began to throb again.
She swallowed again and balled her fists tighter, squeezing blood out of her pale fingers as she saw yellow patches appear under the skin of her palms.
There was a moment of silence as if the air around her was giving her time to understand just how deeply she had fallen. And then the music began to play.
She recognized the number immediately. It was a song of seduction in what they were calling was the first erotic thriller in Indian cinema. The atmosphere shifted almost suddenly as a couple of students in the auditorium whistled. A cabaret song, a singer with a husky, sexy voice, lyrics that warned the listener of the treacherous ways of her lover.
Dil ko hazar baar roka roka roka
Dil ko hazar baar toka toka toka
Dil hai hawaaon ka jhonka jhonka jhonka
Dil ko bachaana, dhoka na khaana
Dhoka hai pyaar yaar pyaar hai dhoka
It was a warning for her! A surge of heat flooded through her body as AV-Sir leaned back into his chair, his face now twisted in a deliciously devilish smirk.
The girl was a stunning singer, her voice every bit as professional as one could expect from a well-trained amateur. Her voice was smoky and playful, her eyes beautifully glittering. She was no Khushi. This girl knew just how good she was and played to her strength. And she had the audience lapping up her notes. Khushi envied very few people in life, her own means enough to satisfy her meagre wishes. But in that moment, Khushi envied the girl who held Arnav Varun’s attention.
Dhoondega koi bahaana, dhoondega koi nishaana
Dil ka baazaar hai yahan to dil ko dilon se bachaana
Dil ko hazaar baar roka roka roka
Dil ko hazaar baar toka toka toka
Dil hai hawaaon ka jhonka jhonka jhonka
Dil ko bachaana, dhoka na khaana
Dhoka hai pyaar yaar pyaar hai dhoka
The song ended and the air around her burst into wolf whistles and loud clapping.
“Stunning!” AV-Sir exclaimed and held up both his hands in multiple thumbs up. “See? Could classical music have helped with that? This one is a winner.” He said out aloud, not to her particularly and yet there was no one else around, was there?
He was here. Sitting next to her. Talking to her. These things didn’t happen to Kaveri Khushi Gupta. And even when they had in the last few weeks, it had made her uncomfortable but not like this. This was uncomfortable, yes and yet, she seemed to like the feeling.
She was losing her mind. And she was soon going to lose her voice. She reluctantly let her shoulders stump. She was going to disappoint him majorly. Her voice wasn’t half as good. And yet… She really really wanted to run away from the audition.
“But it is not your genre, is it?”
Khushi looked at him in surprise. She had half expected him to forget about their interrupted conversation.
She shook her head. “My sister does the Alisha Chinnoy and Asha Bhonsle songs better.” Tripti did have that kind of voice. Though she was sure that even the hard to impress Tripti would have been bowled over by this recent performance. And she would have understood Khushi’s nervousness.
“You don’t have to be nervous. Pick any song that makes you comfortable. If your head is hurting and you don’t want to sing today, I…”
It was exactly the life raft she was looking for. And she, coward that she was, was going to take it.
“If it is not too much bother, can I sing tomorrow?” She asked, her voice lower than its usual pitch. Not just a coward. She was being a fool too. There was no two ways about it.
Only, this time she didn’t care. She wouldn’t be able to sing today. Or ever. But since they did say one day at a time…
Arnav looked at her, his eyes narrow in concern. “Of course. We will be practicing every day. We can do this tomorrow. Don’t worry about it.”
Khushi nodded and looked around to see if she could spot Arjun. When she saw him surrounded by people with urgent voices and papers in their hands, she realized she would not have a chance to speak with him. So she shifted slightly for a second before she rose to leave. “Thank you. I’ll prepare a song for tomorrow.”
If Arnav was surprised by the sudden-ness of her farewell, he didn’t let it show. “Sure. We are practicing here tomorrow too. The audi is booked for us right up to the actual event..”
Khushi nodded and slid past him along the aisle. Another participant shuffled up to the stage and the familiar music testing exercise began. Someone shouted out to Arnav to hurry up back to the guitar. He yelled back for them to give him a minute. She heard shuffling behind her and picked up her pace.
His voice cut through all the chaos around her, almost a whisper in her ear. She stopped and turned around. Yes, sir she almost said out aloud. In her head, her voice remained throaty and embarrassing.
“I’m sorry about the accident. I really didn’t mean to…” He let his words trail away.
Khushi stared at him dumbly, unable to decide what she could say to an apology as sincere as that. Her heart continued to pound in her chest, loud and dramatic.
She shook her head and tried to smile. “I’m fine.” She said and then added as an afterthought, what she rarely did with anyone else. “And please call me Khushi.”
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Raabta (Kehte Hain Khuda)
Album: Agent Vinod
Singers: Hamsika Iyer, Arijit Singh
Lyrics: Amitabh Bhattacharya
Faili thi siyaah raatein
Aaya tu subah leke
Bewajah si zindagi mein, Jeene ki wajah leke
Khoya tha samandaron mein
Tanha safina mera
Sahilon pe aaya hai tu Jaane kis tarah leke
Kuch toh hai tujh se raabta
Kuch toh hai tujh se raabta
Kaise hum jaane, hume kya pata
Kuch toh hai tujh se raabta
Author’s Note: Sorry I am not yet able to do the translation. I will start with that as soon as workload eases up a little I promise.
And on that note – the next chapter may be delayed :( I will try and post next Sunday (April 5, 2015) but I will know only closer to the weekend if I am alive or not (drama alert!) Till then, please wish me luck!