She didn’t see him for the next two days and for once she couldn’t blame it on the lack of trying. Her eyes seemed to be on a permanent lookout for that familiar saunter, the top of the guitar that seemed to be his constant companion, the shout of his abbreviated name amidst chaos in the cafeteria or the corridors.
She hung back, pretending to read the notice board outside the Refrigeration and Air-conditioning lab when she realized a Final Year class was in progress.
She even did so much as demonstrate a more usual curiosity about Aarohan and its goings on to Arjun. So much so that Arjun had commented, rather curiously on her enthusiastic participation and forced Khushi to realize that her restlessness was rather evident and completely uncalled for.
In the moments following her “audition” and AV-Sir’s disappearance from the auditorium, Khushi had battled, unsuccessfully, with disappointment and despair at not having had the chance to know what he had thought of her rendition. What had been, in the first few minutes of the afterglow of general praise, confidence that he had liked her singing, had rapidly deteriorated into self-doubt and an ultimate conclusion that her imagination may have run wild and cajoled her into imagining appreciation that had never been there in the first place. Had she assumed that moment of connection, uncanny as it had been? Had the warmth coursing through her veins been completely irrational and foolish? Had she let her emotions get out of hand without preamble? Again?
It was not a happy thought.
And therefore, it was hardly a wonder that in the practice sessions that had taken place in the last two evenings in the same auditorium with almost the same audience except the one missing person, her singing had been possibly less than inspired and definitely less than inspiring. Nishant Kumar Pathak, the third year student in charge of all the songs and performances, a chief coordinator of sorts, the one who was evidently AV-Sir’s self-appointed heir and natural successor once the current Final Year batch graduated later that year, had taken her aside and asked her if there was a problem that they could work on together so that her throat would open up and her singing would get back to being just as impressive as it had been on the day of the audition. To say that she had been mortified at being singled out so was an understatement and yet how could she explain just why her vocal chords refused to cooperate and let her voice echo in melody as it had.
“Nishant Sir is super stressed, Kavi. He has so many people to listen to and correct and he has this reputation of being very serious about these things. Plus, he is a bit of snob. He believes that those who are trained in classical singing, especially Hindustani music, are the only ones who should be singing at all. If you’ve noticed, he is hard on almost everyone who is an amateur. Ridiculous if you ask me. We are prepping for a fun night of Bollywood singing, not some classical singing competition. He needs to lighten up. Everyone thinks so. Don’t worry about him.” Arjun had said when she had finally decided she had had enough of Nishant Pathak’s unintentional tyranny.
Khushi might have felt better after listening to Arjun. After all, Arjun’s words had presented such a beautiful contrast between AV-Sir and his self-appointed successor. Wasn’t it just a day before she had sung in the audition that AV-Sir and she had shared a few dialogues where he had made light of the fact that she had no formal training in music, when he had made her feel comfortable and warm – much like he had the first day he had asked her to sit down while keeping the remaining seventy odd boys in her class standing? Hadn’t it made her feel better about having lost her heart to someone because that someone was more than worthy?
If only her inspiration would come back to her… But AV-Sir had almost disappeared from the face of the earth, keeping her spirits lowered and her mood just as blue as the water in the Ganga was grey.
It was in such a mood, her mind full of self-reproach for falling in love with just the idea of someone who ticked all the boxes on a list she never knew existed in her head, that she sat on the cleanest and most secluded Ganga ghat there was in all of Kashi. Her eyes followed the water as it hopped along merrily, its current strong and vibrant as water splashed against the stone steps that was the ghat along its bank. The water was relatively clean in this part of town, closer to the university that housed IE and a host of other colleges. The ghat itself was off the main tourist track and hence relatively unoccupied especially at this time in the early evening unlike other ghats like Dashashwamedha ghat that was adjacent to the Vishwanath temple and all sorts of crazy on most days. She allowed her gaze to travel along the course of the water even as evening temple bells in the tens of other ghats sounded out, some drowned by the chanting of thousands of priests and devotees and others only enhanced by the preparation for the sandhya-aarti.
She had not been fond of the city ever since they had moved here three years ago but there were moments like these, when she felt herself bogged down by her habitual overthinking and other minor issues, when the hint of religion in the air, camphor, flowers, ash, lamp oil, soot, human perspiration and blazing fires, brought some sense of tranquility to her heart. The restlessness she was carrying with her for more than forty eight hours seemed to ease even as a shadow of sadness overwhelmed her. It was ridiculous that what she was feeling could be largely attributed to one specimen of the human race. She had never imagined herself to be one of those teens, despite all her filminess and love for drama. She shook her head. They said those who refused to stumble, fell really hard when they did.
It was certainly true in her case.
And yet, she had as much hope about easing the disquiet in her heart as the Ganga that flowed by, had of being clean one day. She looked at the water in the distance as glittering orange from lamps being floated in its current cast its glow on the small waves and felt a strange sense of dejection in the river’s plight. Maybe one day she would find herself in the mountains, upstream where the water from the snow in the Himalayas had still not been tainted by human desperation.
She hummed the beginning of a song, as she allowed every other thought except the sound of rippling water to fill her ears.
Pani pani re
Khare pani re
She imagined the music that played in the original playback version, the sound of water sloshing against stones as the river flowed through icy mountains. It was a far cry from the ice and the fog-breath inducing weather and yet the slight nip in the evening air as clouds gathered overhead gave her the best possible companionship she needed for the song. The rest, as Tripti would say, was all in her head.
Pani pani re
Khare pani re
Nainon mein bhar ja
Neendein khali kar ja
It was a song that almost always made sure her eyes were moist in its wale. The lyrics were profound in the singer’s search for lost innocence and simpler times.
Pani pani in pahadon ke dhalanon se
Dhuan dhuan kuch vaadiyan bhi aayengi
Ek gaon aayega, mera ghar aayega
Ja mere ghar ja
Neendein khali kar ja
Khushi smiled softly as she stopped singing and took a deep breath. It was beautiful song. And whether it was the name her parents had given her or the fact that rivers were one of nature’s most stunning creations in the way they represented life and its trappings, journeys across terrains to the ocean, it was a beautiful feeling to be able to sing along with the flowing water. She was a romantic. She couldn’t deny it.
“I must tell Nishant he is worrying for no reason.”
Khushi jumped up in her seat, her beautiful illusion shattering as the voice pierced through the small bubble she had sealed herself in for the last few minutes. Suddenly, it was the slightly less crowded ghat in Varanasi and not just her and the Ganga sharing moments of togetherness.
She turned around, as was customary now not really needing visual aide to know who the owner of that voice was.
Arnav Varun was walking up to her, his eyes glittering brilliantly with the reflections of the flowing river. His hair was slightly wind swept and yet there was a sense of impeccable grooming about him. That was another one of those qualities that stood him apart from the crowd. Engineering student or not, he was not one for sloppy behavior. Maybe that was part of the discipline that was going to make him the gold medalist and the one most likely to succeed.
She lowered her eyes as she realized that she had been staring too long to be considered polite and forced herself to smile even has she could feel her pulse leaping out of her wrist.
“May I?” He asked, waiting patiently next to the stone slab she was sitting on.
If this was Arjun, he would have been sitting with an arm around her before remembering that it was probably polite to check if she minded company. And he would have made her snap out of this somberness with all his silliness. She would have been laughing before she realized it. Yes, she would have been happy if it had been Arjun interrupting her solitude. And yet, she couldn’t help but be immensely grateful that it was not.
Smiling she nodded and shifted slightly though the slab was big enough to seat at least five fully grown adults. And yet, she could feel the warmth of him in the air that touched her arms as he sat down, facing the river like she was, a good distance away from her physically.
“I didn’t know that this ghat was popular with the first years already.” He remarked as he pried the guitar off his shoulder and allowed it to rest softly by his side.
She looked at him and shrugged. “No…I’ve been coming here since we moved to the campus three years ago.”
Arnav nodded. “It is the best part of this town. Other than the university campus, of couse. The rest of it,” he shuddered. “And I thought where I come from is the pits.”
“I think they keep it polluted knowingly. You know, that brings in the tourists who want to see the “real” India?” She offered, surprised that she was willing to share her borderline cynical thoughts so openly with a practical stranger. Of course it was only after she had spoken that she realized that he had given her the perfect opening to start a more meaningful conversation – at least exchange basic information like hometowns and she had skipped it. What was she going to do about herself? She sighed inwardly.
AV-Sir chuckled. “That actually makes sense.”
Khushi smiled and looked away.
They sat there in silence for the next five minutes. Khushi was never one for unexplained silences with people she knew. Except her parents, her sister and complete strangers, she could never really participate in a silent togetherness in a way many people did extremely naturally. Even with Arjun, in the rare moments of silence that stretched between them, it was always Khushi who spoke first and initiated conversation. So it was weirdly satisfying that it was not the case with Arnav Varun. Or AV-Sir. Or Arnav. She still hadn’t decided how she referred to him even in her own head. God forbid if she ever had actually to call out to him by a name!
“Do you talk less as a matter of principle or is it a side effect of being the only girl in four years of Mechanical Engineering students?”
Khushi looked at him in surprise only to find a gentle teasing smile on his face as he looked at her once and looked away at the river. With the sun setting behind, his profile was swathed in a mixture of darkness and light, throwing his features in sharp relief. Khushi’s breath caught in her throat as she cleared it soundly. She couldn’t act like a total idiot. She owed it to herself.
“I’ve never been a great talker but yes, it does help now.” She said softly.
Arnav shook his head and smiled as he tilted his head to look at her again. “So was the choice by design or by default?”
Khushi had to admit that it was at least a different lead up to the “Why Mechanical Engineering question?” Or maybe she was just being kind because of who was asking the question? Whatever the case, she found herself answering with significantly lower annoyance in her voice. “My parents wanted me to stay at IE, Varanasi because they are here. And though I wasn’t particularly inclined to have my way over which IE I chose, I wanted to at least have the final say on the branch. Ma wanted me to take up Electrical or Chemical. Now, if only she had told me why she preferred those branches…” She trailed off.
Arnav was chuckling softly beside her. “So designed default then.” He summarized and Khushi smiled back.
“And why are you called Khushi when your name is Kaveri?” He asked a small second later.
Khushi’s cheeks colored as she remembered telling him to call her Khushi – something she hadn’t allowed most of her classmates to yet. “Khushi is my middle name. My parents named my sister and me with names of rivers they liked and emotions they felt at each our births – happiness for me and contentment for her.” She smiled at that. It was her favorite family story and one she usually took many together spent hours together to reveal. Yet…
“So you are Kaveri Khushi Gupta and your sister is?”
“Krishna Tripti Gupta.”
Arnav smiled, his coal eyes glinting off flecks of gold as the evening sun caught between those lashes. “Kaveri-Krishna, Khushi-Tripti” He smiled some more. “That is pretty amazing.”
Khushi smiled. Tripti had always claimed that Khushi had the better combination and Khushi had felt vice versa. Neither of them was completely happy with the most important part of their identities and yet this story was as dear to her as it was to her sister.
“Who would think that Professor Gupta was capable of something as poetic as this?”
Khushi frowned only to see Arnav hold up his hands in front of him. “Kidding, kidding. Not risking the ire of my project guide’s daughter.”
She blinked and looked away. “He is absent minded” She acknowledged sheepishly. “But brilliant,” She countered immediately.
Arnav nodded. “Of course. He is one of the best professors we have at IE. When he first came three years back, he was our Applied Mechanics professor. It was a pure treat to be in those classes. He made everything sound so…simple.”
Khushi felt her heart swell with pride. She was proud of her father on most days but with Arnav’s words, it was something different, better, more meaningful.
She smiled at him tentatively and tried to keep her beating heart in check. After spending more than two days wondering where he had disappeared after her audition, after wondering if anything she had sung had made any impact, it was almost incredible that she was sitting with him, on a beautiful monsoon evening at a peaceful Ganga ghat. A part of her just wanted to come right out and ask him where he had disappeared that day. And yet how could she without also revealing just how much his presence and his opinion had come to mean to her. It was that thought that brought her thoughts back to his opening statement from a few minutes ago came back to her. “What did you mean by telling Nishant..Sir about not worrying. He is worried I am not…that I won’t be able to sing well?” She asked quietly. She wasn’t surprised that Nishant Kumar Pathak had shared his misgivings about her singing with AV-Sir. After all he wasn’t even technically wrong. And yet it hurt.
Arnav clucked dismissively. “I am not worried. Not after what I just heard. You’ll be fine. I guess you just need to stop worrying about what others are thinking about your voice and your song.”
Khushi jerked her head up to look at him curiously. Had he known somehow that she had been seeking his approval, his feedback?
Arnav shook his head. “You tend to hold your voice back. Even the other day, as wonderfully as you sang, there was hesitation in your voice, you know?” He frowned. “Like you were holding yourself back even as your voice struggled to break free.”
She should have heard the professionalism behind his comment but all Khushi could hear was that she had sung wonderfully. Wonderfully. That was praise. Pure and simple. It was as if a weight had been lifted off her chest. She had sung wonderfully. He had not disappeared because he had been disappointed in her.
“…would say…khul ke gao. If you need inspiration, take time to think about it. Nothing makes your song sound better than if you know and feel what you are singing.”
The smile on her face refused to dim even in its muted state. The diyas floating in water glowed brighter, the water splashed along more merrily.
Khil uthi toh kali
Paaya roop naya
Poochti thi kali ke mujhe kya hua
If she sang right now, Arnav wouldn’t have a chance to say any of what he was saying right now. She smiled to herself and looked away as her legs swayed gently in the air.
“I’m so sorry. As I mentioned the other day – I tend to get carried away when I am talking about…”
Khushi looked at Arnav and realized that they were still in the same place and he was now looking at her evidently embarrassed for a rather lengthy feedback session.
“No, no,” She hurried to assure him. “Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I will…” She nodded her head earnestly, “I will try to sing without worrying about how I sound. It is what my mother has always told me about singing as well.”
AV-Sir’s face relaxed. “Gayatri Ma’am sings too?”
Khushi nodded. “Both my parents do. Ma is even trained in Carnatic classical singing though she never really took it up seriously. She spent a few years in Chennai when she was growing up and my grandparents were very fond of classical music.”
“That’s explains the fascination for the name Kaveri.” Arnav said softly.
Khushi chuckled. “Yes. I am glad she didn’t grow up in Banaras. Ganga would have been a very difficult name to laugh off.”
Arnav laughed out loud at that and Khushi’s heart soared in the aftermath of that hearty wholesome laughter.
There was no question about it anymore. She was in love.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Aate Jaate
Album: Maine Pyar Kiya
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, S.P. Balasubramaniam
Lyrics: Dev Kohli
Tum Kaun Ho
Batla Toh Do
Kyun Karne Lagi Main Tum Pe Aitbaar
Khamosh Rahun, Ya Main Keh Doon
Ya Kar Lun Main Chupke Se Yeh Sweekaar
Yehi Sach Hai – Shaayad Maine Pyaar Kiya
Next Update: Tuesday, April 28, 2015