To falling in love!
“Gum sum ho kyun?
Paas aao na”
Khushi looked up just in time to see her sister pretending to waltz into the room they shared, her face scrunched up even as she continued to sing.
“Roothe ho kyun?
Maan jao na” Tripti swayed and closed eyes as she twirled her way across the room.
Khushi rolled her eyes and then winced as the action made the skin on her bruised upper eye stretch painfully.
“Gumsum ho…Oh shit!” Tripti rushed to Khushi’s side, dropping her school bag on her side of the bed unceremoniously. “What the hell happened to your eye?”
Khushi winced, this time at the sudden shrillness of Tripti’s voice. It simply reminded her of just how much both of them could screech without meaning to. Not that Tripti cared, of course. Such propriety was all Khushi.
“It’s not that bad,” Khushi began as she pried her glasses away from her face and leaned back as Tripti leaned in to look closer into the bruise.
“Not that bad? I am surprised your glasses are intact. How did you manage to do this?” Tripti asked, her eyebrows narrowed and her hands squat on her hips in a manner that made her look uncannily like their mother.
“You look like Mom.” Khushi grinned at her sister and put her glasses back on. “I am jealous.”
Tripti shrugged her shoulders superiorly and walked back across to her side of the bed, plonking herself on it as forcefully as Khushi was used to.
“So, who punched you?” Tripti asked as she pulled her hair free of the pony it was held up in. Khushi watched in silent awe as her sister splendidly raven hair spilled all around her face. Tripti was incredibly pretty. It made her proud. It also made her never want to see a mirror.
“I walked into a door. Don’t ask.”
Tripti shook her head. “Di, what does it take to look where you are going? Or wait, this was before your audition na?”
This was the trouble with sisters. They knew you too well.
Khushi shrugged. “It was but I wasn’t nervous, if that’s what you mean. It was more Arjun’s fault than mine.”
Tripti flung her arms wide and fell back into her pillow. “Arjun Agarwal.” She closed her eyes dramatically. “Please tell me he is just as handsome as he was in Mumbai, Di. My future Jija-sa. I am so proud of you.”
Handsome? Khushi thought about her first reaction to Arjun Agarwal’s sudden appearance a month back. She had used the same word. It seemed like such a long time ago. Especially since the arrival of a certain AV-Sir on the scene. Handsome? Now that word didn’t belong to Arjun anymore, did it?
Killing her own smile quickly, she cleared her throat. “Kill the drama, kid. And just so you know, there is very little likelihood of a future Jija-sa. You better crush all the Hum Aapke Hain Kaun dreams.”
“Arjun had a younger brother if I remember correctly, Di. Hum Aapke Hain Kaun is very possible. Except, I would immensely prefer Arjun to his weasel of a brother,” Tripti said with such matter of fact seriousness that Khushi couldn’t help chuckle. “Plus, Anuj Agarwal was younger than me. And shorter. Not fun.”
“Arjun isn’t all that taller either, you know?” Khushi pointed out and then shook her head. “I cannot believe we are having this conversation.” She said as she went back to the diary that she had open in front of her, a number of songs written and furiously crossed off as unsuitable for the purposes of the Aarohan audition. “Help me pick a song, Trip. You can drool over Arjun later.”
Tripti turned to lie on her left side and raised herself on her elbow. “So you didn’t sing today. Convenient.”
“Nothing convenient about the bruise, I assure you.” Khushi went on even as Tripti plucked her diary out of her lap and started pouring over her list.
Five unnaturally silent minutes later, Tripti shut the diary close with a decisive snap. “Di, we are not singing for Sa Re Ga Ma. Have you looked at these songs? BORING. Not to mention difficult. They will never let you sing such stuff at Aarohan anyway. That is supposed to be a FUN event. Remember FUN?”
“I can’t be singing Kisi disco mein jaayein, ok?” Khushi snapped. And then she was reminded of the girl who sang that sexy club number. And AV-Sir. Maybe Tripti did have a point. Raina beeti jaaye was not going to cut it. Plus, who was she kidding, she couldn’t pull off a Raina beeti jaaye even if she wanted.
“Why ever not?” Tripti asked. “Kisi disco mein jaayein is awesome. So much fun. In fact pick any Govinda song. Guaranteed hit. You don’t even have to technically sing well.”
Khushi rolled her eyes and winced again. “Thanks” She said drily.
Tripti grinned. “You sing well, Di. I didn’t mean that. But seriously, some of these songs,” She held up Khushi’s diary, “will earn you nothing but boo-ing.”
“This is just for the audition.” Khushi said defensively but by now, she knew that she needed to find something fun. “I can’t sing fun songs, Trip. Really. I mean,…”
“Come on, Kaveri Khushi Gupta.” Tripti sat up and straightened her back. “Of course you can. Didn’t you tell me that you were playing antakshari when you get “conned”” she air quoted and rolled her eyes at the word, “into participating? Ab antakshari mein Raina beeti jaaye toh nahi ga rahi thi na?”
“Antakshari mein I was singing Iss deewane ladke ko. I can’t possibly sing that song tomorrow.”
Tripti’s eyes lit up almost comically. “Of course. Iss deewane ladke ko…The only girl from FY Mechanical Engineering singing one of the few songs where the girl gets to flirt. It’s brilliant. It’s perfect. It’s the answer to all problems.” She finished with a flourish, her voice rising to a crescendo dramatically.
“Krishna Tripti Gupta, you have officially lost your mind.” Khushi said as she swung her legs down to the floor and quickly rose to make her way out of the room, ignoring Tripti who continued to extol the virtues of the song Khushi couldn’t even consider in her list of possibilities.
“Genius! She’s a genius!” Arjun exclaimed the next day during lunch. His eyes shined, uncannily like Tripti’s in that moment. “I never knew Krishna was this much fun. Honestly I had her pegged as…”
Khushi looked at him in confusion. “Huh?”
Arjun stopped talking, his hands suspended mid-air. His eyes narrowed. “Shit! Did I get her name wrong? That would be really embarrassing. I thought her name was Krishna. It was always funny – this thing about the two of you named as rivers. I promise you, some of our classmates even called you the Ganga-Yamuna geniuses…”
Khushi shook her head and held up her hand. “Wait. Stop. You got her name right. It’s just that no one ever calls her Krishna. So it took me by surprise.”
“Oh!” Arjun shrugged and then leaned in curiously. “No one calls you Kaveri. No one calls her Krishna. Why do you have those names then? I mean this is like Hey I am Arjun but you can call me Shah Rukh Khan. You know, naam toh suna hi…”
Khushi slapped her palm against her forehead and winced as her skin stung by the unnecessary force of her own action. “Stop, stop…Arjun really….”
“Shah Rukh Khan” Arjun interrupted with a chuckle.
Khushi stared at him in wonder even as a slip of a laugh bubbled through her lips. “Shah Rukh Khan? Really?”
Arjun threw his hands up in the air. “Who else! The man is gold with women. See even you think better of me because I like him.”
Khushi’s face flushed. Was she that transparent? And how did…
Arjun grinned. “I didn’t actually know you were a fan. But if it helps,” He leaned forward and mock-leered, wiggling his eyebrows and spreading his arms out in imitation of the man in question.
Khushi burst out laughing. “Were you always like this, Arjun? Why don’t I remember?”
Arjun shrugged again and leaned back in his chair, picking up his cup of tea and taking a slow slip as the teasing light in eyes flickered. “You…” He looked away and Khushi skipped a heart beat. What was that flash in his eyes?
But before she could dwell on it any longer, the moment snapped and laughter was back. “You didn’t have time to look up from your books and notice us common folk, Chashmish Gupta”
Khushi’s heart continued to beat hard, hammering against her chest. She couldn’t believe what her sub conscious was telling her. It couldn’t be true. Someone like Arjun – handsome, cheerful, adorably flirty, could have ever felt anything for her…she was fat, wore glasses thicker than bottles of soda the canteen sold by the dozen, cared most about studying and marks…She shook her head. No, it was her filminess playing tricks in her head. Arjun Agarwal couldn’t….
And neither could Arnav Varun, a small voice rang in her head, drowning out the chaos of the cafeteria.
Her choice of song was not going to make any difference. And maybe she needed to just stop thinking how AV-Sir was going to react to her singing and just sing. So what if Iss deewane ladke ko was a flirty song. This was the only way she was going to have fun. And she was going to have fun.
She looked up at Arjun, who was looking at her curiously. “So you think Iss deewane is a good idea?”
Arjun slapped the table hard with his palm, his face alight with a grin. “Of course. It is perfect. Just as bindass as a Mechanical Engineering girl’s choice of song should be. And I can speak out the dialogue in between. I can already hear the whistling. This is going to be a hit.”
Khushi’s nerve withered and died. “You will recite the shayari in the song? God, Arjun…No…Everyone already thinks…” She shook her head.
“What? That we are seeing each other?” Arjun asked with a smirk. “That such a bad thing?”
Khushi’s face flamed again. She cursed herself. Why couldn’t she be cool about all of this? She was eighteen years old, not twelve. She needed to grow up. Pulling herself up, she looked into Arjun’s eyes. “It would be…but..” She shrugged. “Who cares what others think.”
Arjun grinned and held up his palm which Khushi slapped hers against. “That’s my girl.”
Khushi took a deep breath. It was done. The decision was made. Now…all she had to do was….sing…without fainting…Dammit…what had she gotten herself into?
The spurt of adrenaline lasted exactly thirty minutes. All it took was one look at AV-Sir, sitting in the audience, center aisle, his eyes trained on her and no one else and Khushi was a goner. The orchestra strained and danced in rhythm, preparing for her song of choice but Khushi heard nothing except the loud rancor of her own heartbeat. It was a wonder how she hadn’t yet suffered a stroke given how much exercise her heart got these days.
She turned slightly to look at Arjun who was intently studying the piece of paper in front of him.
“Arjun,” She whispered.
Arjun looked at her once before going back to his sheet. Khushi rolled her eyes. He was nervous. All he had to do was spout some silly shayari in the middle of her song and he was nervous? This was ridiculous. She wasn’t going to do it. Not with everyone looking at them like this. They were laughing. At their choice of song. At them standing together looking jumpy and full of nerves. Even AV-Sir. Surely that was laughter in his eyes. What was she thinking? She couldn’t do this.
“I can’t do this.” She whispered and lowered the mike in her hand. “I can’t sing that song, Arjun. No…I’ll just…I’ll just sing what I had come prepared for.”
Arjun looked at her, his eyes wide in shock. “Kavi, please…come on…I just told the guys,” he said pointing to the orchestra, who were thankfully still tuning themselves to an equal music.
“I don’t care. I am not singing Iss deewane ladke ko…What was I thinking? You get me into all these ridiculous situations and I…I stop thinking…” Khushi said urgently, keeping her eyes away from AV-Sir who was now leaning forward, almost as if he knew what was happening between Arjun and Khushi. Which was ridiculous. He was sitting a good twenty feet away from the stage.
Arjun’s face fell and Khushi felt a twinge of guilt. But Kaveri Khushi Gupta could testify in front of a grand jury in that moment that stage fright was destined to trump guilt any given day, any given moment.
“Are you sure…your song…it’s nice but it won’t get approved. They have this thing about everything being…”
“Yes, I know, everything needs to be fun. But I don’t care. I will sing what I sing. They can all go to hell. Hell, I didn’t want to sing in the first place.”
“God, Kavi, you are panicking.”
Khushi took a deep breath. She was panicking. She looked at Arjun again, this time taking a minute to gather her thoughts before speaking.
“I’m sorry. I know I am being a child but…”
Arjun held up his hand and shrugged. “It’s okay. Whatever you are comfortable with.” He stepped back from her and walked towards the orchestra.
As Khushi let the lyrics of the song of her original choice come rushing back to the fore, she heard Arjun and the orchestra team quickly exchange words about the change in plan. She couldn’t have asked for a better friend than Arjun in that moment because what could have been a rather embarrassing situation with her having to explain why she was changing songs at the last minute, was being handled rather too smoothly by him.
“Guys, what’s the problem? We need to get started on song selection and rehearsal. Can we please hurry up?”
The other final year member on the Aarohan team, Nishant-something yelled out from the right wing.
Khushi swallowed and looked back at the orchestra to check if they were ready.
Arjun nodded and stepped away from the stage to join Nishant Sir and the person on the keyboard Ravi-something nodded at Khushi. He held his thumb up in question and Khushi nodded. As he gave her the key, Khushi closed her eyes and lifted the mike and held it close to her mouth.
“Shhh,” someone yelled and all the noise in the auditorium died down to nothing. It was her stage now.
She took a deep breath and allowed the music to come to her.
“Dil ne kaha, chupke se
Yeh kya hua chupke se”
Her voice trembled slightly. But there was something powerful about the way her voice echoed in the large room. All her doubts and misgivings fell away as the keyboard took over and played the piece of music that lilted through the sound of a sitar and rose to a crescendo merging into the sound of a hundred violins and the echoes of morning mist across the Himalayas thrumming in the vibrations that she felt in her heart.
Kyun naye lag rahe hain ye dharti gagan
Maine poochha toh boli ye pagli pwvan
Pyaar hua, chupke se
Ye kya hua, chupke se
Her feet tapped, her free hand drummed against her thigh, her body radiated warmth that she knew came only from music.
Kyon naye lag rahe hain ye dharti gagan
Maine poochha to boli ye pagli pawan
Pyaar hua chupke se
Ye kya hua chupke se
Titliyon se suna
There was no audience in front of her anymore. She was seven, just as she was when she first heard this song. It had spoken to her even then, the gay abandon of a girl in love, the beauty of the mountains, the fire in her eyes, the soft shimmer of water around and the calls of a fight for freedom. She didn’t understand the movie, she didn’t even grasp the meaning of the words. But when did music ever have to be about that?
Titliyon se suna
Maine kissa baagh ka
Baagh mein thi ek kali
Ek din manchala bhanvra aa gaya
Her eyes flew open and found the deep coal ones she had been avoiding for so long. And suddenly words that had never meant anything more than a song that showcased her untrained talent, took a life of their own. Her mouth curved into a smile, a wisp of hair uncurled itself for her tightly held hair. A soft breeze found the skin of her cheek and it didn’t matter that none of this was real.
Khil uthi vo kali paaya roop naya
Poochhti thi kali ki mujhe kya hua
Phool hansa chupke se
Pyaar hua chupke se
There was laughter in her voice. It had never been easy for her to bring that small chuckle as she had sung this line in the past. And now it came so naturally, like it was meant to be here in this moment, years after she first heard the song, that it would come alive; like it was meant to be for him, for his benefit.
She smiled as took a second to rest her voice, allowing music to continue the journey.
And she saw it mirrored in twin pools of glittering admiration.
Maine baadal se kabhi
Ho maine baadal se kabhi
Ye kahaani thi suni
Parvaton ki ek nadi
Milne saagar se chali
In that moment, she was that river, the embodiment of her own name. And there was an ocean waiting for her. She would find out eventually that the line had sealed her fate in that moment not just as mirror of her name but his too.
Ho naachti dolti
Kho gayi apne saagar mein jaake nadi
Dekhle pyaar ki aisi jaadugari
Chaand khila chupke se
Pyaar hua chupke se
Kyon naye lag rahe hain ye dharti gagan
Maina poochha to boli ye pagli pawan
Pyaar hua chupke se
Ye kya hua chupke se
She allowed her voice to trail away as the keyboard and drums picked up pace and rounded up the song with a flourish. For a second, there was silence in the auditorium. Khushi felt herself breathing hard, like she had been running for the past four minutes. She waited in anticipation her teeth sinking into her lips as she lowered the mic and took a deep calming breath.
The applause that followed, mute as it was due to the limited strength of the audience was as unnerving as the rush of people around her. She could hear words of admiration, smiles and laughter – some curious, some surprised, others gladly pleased. Arjun was patting her on her back and telling whoever cared to listen just how right he was in his judgment of her ability.
But Khushi didn’t care.
All she sought was his approval and amidst all the chaos, she had no chance to see what she really wanted to. She could crane her neck, she could excuse herself and walk up to him. And yet her feet were frozen. The song had awoken something deeper than she had expected of herself. The strength of her own feeling surprised her. It wasn’t possible. Such things were limited to channels of art – films, books, poetry. Life was supposed to be different. And yet, for once, she didn’t want the sane side of her to win. She wanted to believe flimsy net of gold that had spun itself around her.
“Kavi, that was mindblowing, really. It almost felt like it was….”
Khushi looked up at Arjun as the others peeled away, allowing her the glimpse of the audience in front of her. The seat was empty. Her eyes scanned the gallery, the rows of empty seats, the small group of students at the right most corner, the door that remained slightly ajar to the bright afternoon sun. Nothing.
“You sounded inspired! Yes! That’s the word…Beautiful.” Arjun said enthusiastically, cutting into the urgency of her visual search like a screeching note in perfectly rendered symphony.
And yet, it was Arjun she owed this moment of self-discovery to. So Khushi forced herself to smile at friend, ignoring the fact that it felt mechanical. She shook her head to dismiss his praise and dragged her eyes back to the house in front of her.
AV-Sir was gone.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Ho Gaya Hai Tujhko Toh
Album: Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Udit Narayan
Music: Jatin Lalit
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Aye waqt ruk ja, tham ja, theher ja
Waapas zara daud peeche
Main chhod aayi khud ko jahan pe
Woh reh gaya mod peeche
Note: Life just went spiralling out of control. Next update will be significantly delayed (I am thinking at least 10 days at this point). But after that I promise, it (the update schedule) will become regular. Please bear with me!