If she had been reading a romance novel and the author had ended the last chapter at that dialogue, she would have moved the earth to find out where the author lived and kicked her butt. However, for all practical purposes, Kaveri Khushi Gupta had died the moment the question had been posed and hence any action thereafter – poised or puerile was out of reckoning. Because what else could possibly explain the fact that she was in paradise?
Arnav Varun – the star of Mechanical Engineering, star of all of IE-Varanasi, ace singer, best student and unofficially voted the-one-most-likely-to-be-CEO-in-fifteen-years, had asked her – Kaveri Khushi Gupta – to sing with him. With him.
In that moment, she could have been could have been a misty-eyed foolish heroine, singing what she had long declared to herself and the world (that included and was limited to Tripti and her parents, of course) ages ago, was the most romantic song ever. Hours later, she was still smiling, and still singing and not just in her head.
Chahe tum kuch na kaho
Maine sun liya
Ke saathi pyar ka
Mujhe chun liya
She grinned, aware that for the first time in days, she wasn’t blushing or looking away from inky black eyes, embarrassed. She was happy. Really and truly. She sighed deeply and looked around her, her vision tinted with rose in a way she never thought was possible outside a romance novel. Or a Hindi film. She was alone in the large auditorium since practice was still at least thirty minutes away from commencement and she was possibly the only person on campus who preferred to wait in the empty auditorium rather than the bustling cafeteria. Of course, the fact that Arjun was too busy to force her to accompany him, was a big contributor to the fact that she could make the decision to avoid the chai-time crowds at this hour.
She grinned almost impishly at her little triumph. These stolen moments in the large empty room, perfect designed to generate a thousand filmy fantasies in solitude, became so much more significant. Khushi hugged herself for a brief second before she rose from her seat and hurried up the stairs to the stage and walked over to the center. In her head she saw a soft golden light shine about her head, spotlight that she so detested in company had a way to make for a perfect daydream prop. She could feel the soft material of her dupatta flying behind her in sync in with the spring in her step. She positioned herself in front of the solitary standing microphone, aware that it would do nothing to amplify the sound of her voice given that the sound system that needed to be switched on from the control room by the wings that was currently locked and its key safely resting, if she were to take a guess, in Arjun Agarwal’s pockets. Still she knew she didn’t need the microphone today. Her voice would echo in the perfectly engineered sound amplifying silent auditorium because of reasons that had nothing to do with physics and everything to do with the fact that she was happy.
So as the little piano prelude to the song tinkled in her head, the words came back to her lips with a vengeance
Chahe tum kuch na kaho
Maine sun liya
Ke saathi pyar ka
Mujhe chun liya
In her head the words were followed by the drum beat and the string of piano notes that she hummed to herself as she kicked into a small two-step ballroom dance routine, not unlike what Aamir Khan had done in the video that the song had been pictured to.
She could see the pale buttercup yellow of her kurta and dupatta shimmering quietly as it caught the single ray of sun that lit up the stage as dramatically as she imagined it did in her head.
Pehla nasha, she crooned, Pehla khumaar, twirling just a little even as her slightly flared kurta wrapped itself around her ample waist and hips. Not that it mattered today. She didn’t care about how she looked today. Today, even the mirror had been kind. Her face was glowing and she knew behind her glasses, her eyes twinkled.
Naya pyaar hai, naya intezaar
Kar lun main kya apna haal
Tu hi bata
She broke out into the little ball room dance move bit she remembered from her umpteen viewings of the movie, her hand held up in pose, even as her feet swayed in a gentle two step, back and forth as she smiled and closed her eyes.
Usne baat ki kuch aise dhang se
Sapne de gaya woh hazaron rang ke
Reh jaaon jaise main haar ke
Aur chume woh mujhe, pyar se
She bit her lower lip softly as the words dawned on her, making their meaning fully known to the blush that dabbed at her cheeks. Shaking her head she opened her eyes and twirled around, now facing the back of the stage as she let her hands fall back to her side softly.
Pehla nasha, pehla khumaar, she whispered the words and marveled at how her voice still managed to echo in the air around her and vibrated with the beat of her heart.
Naya pyar hai, naya intezaar
Kar lun main kya apna haal
Tu hi bata
The silence that followed was profound and thick. She might have been in the middle of a dense, dark forest or an empty river valley with nothing but the sound of her own breathing and heartbeat gently thrumming through her veins.
It was in that silence that she heard the slight shuffling noise behind her. No river this, no rustling through a rich forest floor. She was in the auditorium and the noise could only mean…people.
Before she could freeze in her spot, before she could feel the full force blood rushing into her face at having been discovered at her uninhibited best, before she could even consider who it was that she would find when she turned around , there was that familiar voice, the voice that started it all, that filled her ears.
Tera mujhse hai pehle ka naata koi
Yun hi nahi dil lubhaata koi
She whirled around to see Arnav walking into the large auditorium, a large smile on his face even as he continued to sing, In a pale cream shirt tucked into camel-colored khakis and that familiar leather strap of his guitar running across his chest, hair ruffled slight by what she could only assume was the air-curtain at the entrance, he was handsome enough to take her breath away more quickly than it would have been taken given the situation. She caught his gaze and stilled, her feet refusing to take her away from the imaginary spotlight. She should have wanted to run in that moment, having been caught daydreaming with such shameless romanticism. And yet, there was something magnetic in his voice, something in the way the memory of her song and the presence of his were woven together. And the fact that something completely out of the ordinary was happening around her.
Tera mujhse hai pehle ka naata koi
Yun hi nahi dil lubhaata koi
Jaane tu ya jaane na
Maane tu ya maane na
It was just a song, just a silly little song from a long time ago, one that most people her age and younger had not even heard of. Neither would she have if she didn’t have parents who enjoyed Bollywood music just as much as they enjoyed their discussions of how fluid dynamics could be used more efficiently to solve Mumbai’s traffic situation.
And yet, with the voice that had just petered away to continued silence – one that was caught between their gazes – thick and poignant, there was no ignoring the words. Was it him telling her what she hoped he was? Was this uncanny connection that seemed to tug at her heart and always inexplicably towards him, one as profoundly felt by him? One as unabashedly corny as Hindi film songs suggested? Of another lifetime?
She stepped forward, finally finding the will and the resolve to move, when the magic spell that had been cast in a radiant sun beam and a golden voice, shattered.
Na jaane kahan se aayi hai
Na jaane kahan ko jayegi
Deewana kisi banayegi
It should be a crime to interrupt two very soulful songs by something this cheerfully flirty, Khushi decided before she looked to her right, in the direction of the chorus voice only to see Arjun and a couple of others she recognized from practice sessions with huge grins and hands curved into make-believe mics in front of their mouths.
It was the sound of Arnav’ chuckling that broke her churlish reverie and brought her back to the world that in fact housed not just the two of them but a whole host of others, all of whom seemed to have witnessed her singing and with Arnav’s cue had now collapsed into an impromptu antakshari – not unlike the ones that she had grown up participating in with her family.
“Come on, Kavi. Finish the song?” Arjun yelled from the front row and Khushi couldn’t help but grin right back at him. She shook her head and refused to sing.
Arjun however simply shrugged and curled his hand back into a mic
“Kisi ke haath na aayegi
He sang stretching the last syllable out for whatever it was worth, the index finger in his free hand pointing at her as he sang.
Khushi frowned and made a face even as she realized that Arnav’s eyes were trained on the two of them, his mouth curved in an amused, half curious and wholly adorable smile.
“K – Kaveri – your turn to sing now.”
Khushi rolled her eyes and walked quickly towards the flight of stairs that led back to the seats facing the stage.
“Spoilsport. It’s antakshari! How can you say no to it?”
“She doesn’t need to sing. This is going to be war against you, Arjun Agarwal” A girl’s voice echoed from somewhere behind Arnav and Khushi saw a whole bunch of the Aarohan participants entering the large room and quickly shuffling along to join one of the two “teams” that had been formed.
“You’re on, Suchita. And all the best – you don’t know who you are up against. I am the undisputed king of Bollywood songs.” Arjun replied, wiggling his eyebrows as he spread his arms wide and took a bow.
Before she knew it, the auditorium formally split into two halves – one with Arjun and other with her though it was only Arjun Agarwal who remained in the position of leadership as she took the song that her side of the room had burst into (Kitabein bahut si, padhi hongi tumne), to slip back into the crowd and away from the limelight where she had once again, unwittingly found herself just minutes ago.
She remained hidden for the most part of the next thirty minutes as Antakshari continued with Arjun matching everyone who sang beautifully with his only weapon, a knowledge of songs that impressed her. It was a tough task given just how deep her own repository of songs ran. It was in those thirty minutes that Khushi had also noted with wonder how both Arjun Agarwal and Arnav Varun seemed to have people wrapped around their fingers even though both of them were as different as could be in the way they reacted to those around them.
Arjun – he was an entertainer; to entertain he used every trick there was in the book – he was the flirt with the girls and the buddy with the boys. And it was strangely endearing to see so many of these absolutely new people react to his enthusiasm with such open appreciation. They cracked jokes at his expense, teased him mercilessly for his lack of singing talent and yet with every seeming “insult” Arjun Agarwal’s skin just seemed to get thicker. He held his audience with a proficiency of an artist who knew his craft and was aware of how good he was at it. It was clear that he took no one seriously – least of all himself and that he knew that it was clear to everyone. He was going to be just as much of a hero in four years as Arnav Varun – except where Arnav Varun still remained steeped with mystery and subtle grace, Arjun Agarwal would be so transparent that one wouldn’t be able to help falling in love with him. In a small little moment that she would revisit multiple times in the coming years, Khushi wondered why after that initial appreciation of his apparent handsomeness, Arjun Agarwal had not been the one to make her toes curl and her heart race.
Speaking of racing hearts, Khushi turned her attention to the other end of the spectrum, the one that had her particularly hooked, lined and sinkered with criminal ease. Arnav Varun was everything Arjun was not. He smiled with restrain, spoke little, sang with heart wrenching beauty and remained hidden beneath that aura of polish, unattainability and awe. Even in that completely informal setting that she was observing so clinically, there was a little pedestal that everyone around seemed to have placed Arnav on. And while he seemed to be aware of it, he did very little to take any advantage of this very exclusive benefit. She saw the girls sing with him, their eyes as starstruck as she knew her own had been just moments ago. She saw the boys emulate even if just small little things he did – like offer a seat to a girl standing near him or encourage in that soft voice someone who had remembered a song to counter the great Arjun Agarwal’s undefeatable mastery.
The moment from minutes ago when it had been just her and him, seemed like a day dream that it really had been. She had no hope in hell with this man. And yet, she was grateful that despite all of this adulation around him, he still found the time to be nice to her, to seek her out even.
“Hiding after having started this madness in the first place?”
She snapped out of her thoughts as she realized that Arnav had walked over to take a seat beside her, his eyes smiling like they almost always did. A whiff of faint musk that must be his cologne threw her off for a second before she managed to inconspicuously clear her throat and smile back at him in silence.
“We are going to have to practice longer today to make up for this.” He said, shaking his head. “And we can only talk about our session after that. Will that be a problem?”
Even if she knew she would be caned by her father for whiling time away just days before Mid-Semester exams, there was no way in hell she was going to say no to that, was she? It was just as well that she didn’t have parents who had ever felt the need to discipline their children with even as much as raised voices.
“No,” She whispered and shook her head.
“Not worried about ED anymore?” Arnav asked casually.
“No…the book you…you suggested – it was really good. I don’t think I will ever be able to master that subject – but I think I might avoid a fail grade.” She answered honestly, thankful that she didn’t need to exaggerate or sound ungracious. The book – for whatever little time she had spent looking at it since the time she had it issued from the library, was every bit as helpful as he had declared it to be.
“You already had time to go through it? In less than a day?” Arnav asked, his face mired in surpise for a second before he nodded. “Of course, you would be a sincere student. I should have known.”
Khushi let her shoulders slump. “Because of the glasses?” She said bitterly, unable to keep the tone out of her voice. It was her pet peeve, this seeming perception of her being “studious” – which was also not-so-secretly the same as “no-fun”. In school, it had always been attributed to her glasses – the pair she had worn over her eyes for as long as she could consciously remember.
“Well, I can hardly call half the folks who wear glasses in IEV sincere, at least not anymore.” Arnav said wryly. “And no, I didn’t mean sincere as a veiled insult. It was a compliment. Sincerity is underrated and uncool in IEV but the truth is almost everyone here is here because they were for at least the year before they cleared the entrance exam, one version or the other of sincere.”
Khushi felt ashamed at having jumped to that conclusion. She, on her part, should have known he would not be the kind of person who would make fun of academic focus – at least he didn’t give off that kind of vibe.
She wanted to apologize but wouldn’t that be taking too much liberty of a passing acquaintance, she wondered and concluded with little uncertainty that it was best to smile her way out that particular line of conversation.
To her advantage, the little break in their conversation also happened to be followed by dispersal of the antakshari groups as Nishant Kumar Pathak, put a lid on the frivolity by clapping his hands meaningfully and telling everyone in a firm voice that practice time couldn’t be allowed to wither away for a moment more that evening.
“You finally managed to convince him today, by the way.” Arnav said softly as the orchestra made its way to the stage and the singers paired and grouped as necessary under the guidance of Nishant-sir and the ever present and all important Arjun Agarwal.
She turned her head to look at him in confusion for a moment before the meaning dawned on her. Of course Nishant Kumar Pathak had been around as well. Everyone had to witness her song and dance, didn’t they?
“That was really good singing today. And you did it – you were singing like you meant every word – it was pitch perfect.”
Khushi smiled as she turned her face to look into his eyes as she heard the words she really and truly had been waiting to. She should have said thank you or something clever about singing behind a veiled curtain even on the day of the event. As always, she did neither. She smiled and allowed herself to revel in the warmth that was coursing through her veins.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Gulabi
Album: Shuddh Desi Romance
Singers: Jigar Saraiya, Priya Panchal
Lyrics: Jaideep Sahni
Rang bhi gulabi
Ye naav bhi gulabi
Dariya me jo main bahun gulabi
Kahun bhi gulabi
Main sahun bhi gulabi
Lagta hai main rahun gulabi re
Jaane re jaane mann jaane hai rang,
Rang gulabi hai preet ro
Next Update: Friday, May 29, 2015 – ish