In the glow that pulsated in the air around her, surrounding her like a warm blanket on a cold but sunny day; her practice for the day was nothing short of spectacular. She had been pleased with herself. And those who really knew her (which was limited, again, to one person in the world at the moment – her sister) would know, was an unexpected occurrence in Kaveri Khushi Gupta’s life.
So much so that when Arjun had teased her about going from disinterested to hesitant to nervous to finally becoming an important part of Aarohan (with two songs and the chance to be Arnav Varun’s post-event performance partner!) – had bothered her only enough to make a face and shush Arjun away while trying to hide a smile. Not that she had needed to be very emphatic. In his own particular brand of afterglow, Arjun had rather been keen to go back to that bunch of girls, especially Suchita Prakash from FY Computer Science Engineering if she were to hazard a guess, who had flirted right back with him in the guise of Antakshari. Khushi had, in the aftermath of the event, concluded that Antakshari needed to be declared the country’s unofficial flirting platform – one that was exploited shamelessly by those still relatively untouched by American sitcoms and Hollywood rom-coms.
So now she sat in the audience, alone but not lonely, waiting for practice to end and for Arnav to finally tell her what he expected of her.
“You should train in classical music.”
She looked up at the owner of these gently uttered words, surprised with what she was being told, especially when she saw who it was behind that little piece of well-meaning advice.
Nishant Kumar Pathak or Nishant Sir as he was referred to in the true tradition of IE-Varanasi, was sliding into the row of seats in front of the one she was occupying, stuffing (or extracting – she couldn’t be sure) things from his backpack.
Khushi blinked – half surprised and half confused. This was the first time Nishant Sir was actually “talking” to her. The only other times were usually after she finished practice and it mainly consisted to feedback on specific parts of the song, almost all of them uttered with a dispassionate lack of energy which she attributed to his personality with little thought.
“I know I am known as the classical music snob but training in music really helps hone the talent that you evidently have – even if you don’t want to pursue it professionally.”
Khushi shook her head and smiled. “I know. My parents really wanted me to learn. Somehow I just never found the will to stick through.” She said softly, suddenly aware that Nishant Sir really did taking singing as seriously as he was known to. And while it was very different from her own attitude, she had to admire the tenacity of his efforts. She felt guilty at having judged him as a crabby boor in the past. She did judge rather quickly, she realized as she remembered have made a similar change in opinion about Divya Ma’am.
He smiled and nodded. “Yes, my sister never did train in music either and she sings almost as well as you.”
Khushi felt herself blushing at that compliment. It was definitely a BIG deal coming from Nishant Sir – even if it didn’t quite succeed in making her toes curl the way someone else’s did.
As the thought crossed her mind, she smiled secretly and looked up, poised to scan the room quickly and find the objection of her thought as she almost always did these days. And as if right on cue, that someone else’s voice filtered into her ears.
“NK, kam se kam compliment toh theek se kiya karo! I know we don’t have girls in our branch to help you hone your skills but try…”
AV Sir’s teasing smile was the first thing Khushi saw as he ambled along the row of chairs in front of her and then suddenly climbed up one chair and jumped over to where she was sitting, all movements lithe and graceful. Khushi’s heart beat had quickened without warning, as it always seemed to do in Arnav’s presence.
“Kya, AV Sir” Nishant Sir shook his head but there was a definite flush of beet red coloring his neck and rising rapidly into his cheeks. Khushi felt her face warm even as she looked away from both of them, suddenly unsure of what to make of the situation.
Arnav chuckled even as someone hollered for Nishant Sir and he quickly nodded at both of them before taking their leave, evidently relieved.
AS Nishant Sir left, Arnav turned to her. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to put you on the spot but I couldn’t let an opportunity to tease NK go by. He is too serious for his own good.” He said as he plonked himself into the chair next to hers.
She looked at him with a small smile and shook her head, hating herself for never having anything wise or funny or just…words… to say to him.
“So are we allowed to ask what inspired the Pehla Nasha performance today? Or would that be a rude intrusion of your privacy?” Arnav asked, his eyes twinkling even as his voice, husky and low cast, its usual spell on her already intoxicated senses.
For an uncharacteristic, impish moment, she wondered if the twinkle would still remain intact if she were to answer his question honestly. But the moment passed just as quickly as it had come upon her. And she found herself shrug despite the rising need to fan her cheeks and wish the permanent blush she seemed to wear around him, away. “I’m just a little filmy, I guess?” She said softly even as she heard Arnav break out in a hearty chuckle.
“Again I would not have guessed.”
Khushi made a face but before she could say anything, Arnav laughed and held his hands up against her in self-defence. She blushed again, hating herself for doing that so often in his presence. “I definitely don’t mean because of the glasses – I just meant that your parents are Professors,..to imagine any amount of filminess…er…” He shook his head and then smiled sheepishly. “I may have judged a little bit after all.” He said softly, his face honestly contrite, his words encased with genuine repentance. “I’m sorry. We don’t realize sometimes how many pre-conceived notions we live by, do we?”
Khushi shook her head to tell him he didn’t need to apologize even though she couldn’t smile like she would have really liked to in the aftermath of that unnecessary but sincere apology. “Sorry I don’t mean to make a big deal out of it – I just grew up with the image of being this serious, studious girl that it…annoys me when people assume that I don’t have my share of fun. No one can actually live like that – I mean so uni-dimensionally. So while I may not be overtly talkative or “fun”, I still do have my own share of…”
She stopped talking as she realized that Arnav was looking at her with a strange smile. She almost wanted to ask it was that he was thinking when he nodded. “I understand.”
And while Khushi was sure that he had never known any moment where anyone thought any less of him – serious, sincere, fun or fantastic, she believed him when he said he understood.
Another small moment of something silent and undefinable passed between them in that moment, or so Khushi would have stated if asked. And once again, as filmy as she had declared herself to be and as her life proving itself to being these days, the background broke into song, this time in Nishant Kumar Pathak’s beautifully sufiana voice.
Preet ki lat mohe aisi laagi
Ho gayi main matwari
Bal bal jaaon apne piya ko
Ke main jaaon vaari vaari
Mohe sudh budh naa rahi tan mann ki
Yeh toh jaane duniya saari
Bebas aur laachar phiru main
Haari main dil haari
Was there any doubt anymore that she had in-fact lost her heart and very evidently so for the world and for the one she had lost it to, to see in her eyes? The thought scared her. She couldn’t help feel that she had exposed her most vulnerable side to the one sitting next to her. And yet, in his proximity fear was only a shadow of what it should have been.
“No one sings this one quite like him.”
Arnav’s words brought Khushi screaming back to focus on Nishant Sir’s voice. She looked at sideways and realized that her besotted expression had probably been construed as awestruck appreciation of the singer. And while there was no doubt that Nishant Kumar Pathak’s voice was pure gold; in that moment, it was the song and its uncanny resemblance to how she felt about the person sitting next to her that had taken her breath away. She had apparently not given away her secret as she feared. Stronger in the aftermath of that knowledge, she softly agreed with Arnav on his assessment of Nishant Sir’s talent and looked away smiling to herself even as someone called out to Arnav by his name.
Tere naam se ji lun
Tere naam se mar jaaon
Teri jaan ke sadke mein kuchh aaisa kar jaaun
Tune kya kar dala marr gayi main mitt gayi main
Ho ji ha ji ho gayi main
Teri deewani deewani
Khushi lowered her eyes and looked towards her right to see Arnav twisting slightly to talk to someone who was standing right behind them. Her ears still full of the music that played to Nishant Sir’s song, she heard Arnav’s voice, soft, courteous, teasing, serious – all at once. There was something completely mesmerizing about the way he conducted his business, the way he spoke to those that were his peers and his juniors, the way the intonations of his voice had the ability to make even the trickiest problems seems just a little more than mundane.
Hey main rang rangeeli deewani
Ke main albeli main mastani
Gaaun bajaaun sabko rijhaaun
Hey main deen dhram se begaani
Ke main deewani main deewani
“Arnav” – another voice – female this time sounded to her right. She saw Arnav complete his current conversation and turn his attention to the girl who had called out to him. She could hear the smile in his voice, the ease with which he offered solutions to the problem he had been approached with.
Tere naam se jee loon tere naam se marr jaaun
Tere jaan ke sadke mein kuchh aaisa kar jaaun
Tune kya kar dala marr gayi main mitt gayi main
Ho ri ha ri ho gayi main
Teri deewani deewani
Khushi jumped at the intrusion, unsure if it was due to sudden end of the song playing in the background or the fact that Arnav had finally spoken her name out aloud – her preferred name – one she had given him access to when she had reserved it from so many others.
“You are as much a dreamer as you are filmy, aren’t you?”
His voice was teasing and yet there seemed to be the hint of something else in its smoky depths. If she was truly delirious, she would say it was a hint of jealousy at her apparent immersion in someone else’s voice or maybe a hint of interest heightened by apparent state of unawareness. But she was not delirious and hence she knew it was neither – just amused awareness of her ability to be lost to the world with little warning and a lot of Bollywood music.
Smiling to herself, she shook her head and looked directly into his eyes, in a rare moment of complete acceptance of her feelings. “I guess I am.” She replied.
For a second, the expression in his eyes changed as something glittered amidst two blinks of long, enviable eyelashes. For a second, Khushi’s heart soared in foolish hope.
And then it was gone, lost amidst clearing of throats and un-entangled gazes.
“I have a list of songs here. I don’t think we’ll go through all. But last year…” He handed her a sheet of white paper with a neatly hand-printed list of songs. “It really depends on how much time we have.”
She took the sheet of paper from him and immediately redirected her wayward thoughts to focus on the task at hand – the reason why she even had a chance at being in the same breathing space as Arnav Varun.
“I have a few songs that I would like to prioritize over others. Like most things, we’ll have to balance between popular choice and personal choice – I am sure you can imagine that those two are almost always mutually exclusive sets.”
She smiled at that and looked up at him. “You mean choosing Khaike paan banaras-wala over…”
“Over Tere mere sapne from Guide,” He smiled back at her. “I had to make that choice in my second year.”
Khushi frowned. “Rafi vs. Kishore. That is a tough choice. I love Tere Mere Sapne. It is Mohammad Rafi at his best. But how can you possibly not sing Khaike paan banaraswala on this campus – this is Banaras! It would be tantamount to treachery.”
Arnav chuckled. “Clearly you are more suited to be IE-V-ian than I am. I was almost exiled for even suggesting the switch.”
“I want to say I understand,” Khushi said with a sheepish grin.
“But you don’t.” He sighed dramatically. “Ok how about my choice last year – I had to choose Tanhayee over Jhonka Hawa Ka?” He asked, now turning completely towards her and folding one leg under himself as he made himself comfortable in the seat next to her, suddenly almost boyish in his excitement.
“They let you sing sad songs?” She asked in surprise, remembering what Arjun had mentioned about keeping everything light and..well…fun.
“Well….” He began, looking strangely embarrassed when it suddenly made sense to Khushi.
“Of course. They let you sing any songs you want to.”
Arnav grinned again, this time sheepishly. “That, well…yes.” He said, his face suddenly tinged with a hint of blush that seemed to fill out the sharp angles in his cheeks. “And the fact that eventually the alcohol takes over and most of those who stick around only want songs that help them share their heartbreak stories without actually having to admit to having had their hearts broken.”
This time it was Khushi who laughed out aloud at the wryly uttered, completely ridiculous statement. “What? That sounds so stup…” She began, her eyes beginning to water with unconcealed mirth when she realized the implications of the words that had formed the beginning of his statement. “Alcohol?” She quizzed, her eyes round in her face and her smile banished to the back even as nervousness found its mark again. Images of rowdy behavior, drunk college students, eve teasing – a lot of those Bollywood induced and some merely supplemented by common sense, flooded her mind.
Her panic must have shown on her face. After all, this was hardly something she wanted to or could hide.
“It’s not that bad…” Arnav began but evidently he had realized just what he had revealed and exactly what she had inferred. “No one is allowed to stoop to misdemeanor,” He assured her, his voice ringing with strength as every syllable was enunciated with confidence. “There is noise and a boisterous crowd to boot but…nothing ever gets out of hand. Ever.”
She looked at him with unbridled apprehension, unaware that her teeth had caught her lower lip, in a characteristically vulnerable give away.
“There are other girls around as well. If you are uncomfortable, I can…we’ll make sure that at least the fourth years are around. Plus, I will be there…as will Arjun – the entire team you see here…”
Despite her initial reaction, the urgency in his voice, made Khushi chide herself. She was not a baby. She was going to be eighteen soon – an adult who could handle what life threw at her. And then this was the college campus. She had to stop panicking like this. After all, she had four full years to go and lifetime thereafter. Taking a deep breath, she looked up and nodded. “Sorry I just got a little worried…I mean I am sure….I mean I have never really heard of anything wayward happening….I mean…” She was stammering and she didn’t know whether it was the way he was staring at her, like she was some big mystery he thought he had all figured out before it shocked the hell out of him again or if it was because she had not succeeded in convincing herself of being able…She was…”I am so so…”
“Stop,” He said with a bemused chuckle. “Is that your favorite word?”
She blinked and shook her head, confused by his sudden change of demeanor. “Huh?”
“Sorry. That’s your favorite word, isn’t it? You’ve used it more number of times around me than I have said it to my mother and God knows, I’ve had to say that to her enough!”
Khushi blinked as her face continued to burn scarlet. She really had said sorry that many times? Arnav Varun was a naughty kid? She shook her head. Her brain really was turning into mush around him. What else would explain going from embarrassment to wondering about him as a child in less than two seconds.
“Er…I’m….” She began.
Arnav laughed out aloud, making many heads turn to look at them as his voice rang out loud. “Sorry?” He offered even as her face continued to radiate fire.
“What’s up AV Sir? Is Kavi making you laugh…that would be a first – she usually does the opposite.”
Khushi turned around to see Arjun jump over a couple rows of chairs to head over to where she and Arnav were sitting. “What the he…” She began, frowning at Arjun who came up to her, winked and slid past her to join Arnav who was, much to Khushi’s now perpetual embarrassment, still laughing.
“What did she do?” Arjun asked, raising his eyebrow at her before he faced Arnav.
“She…” Arnav shook his head. “You seem to know each other for some time?” He asked Arjun as his chuckles softened.
“Too long, AV Sir.” Arjun sighed dramatically.
“Has she said sorry to you just as much as she seems to say to everyone else?”
This time Arjun looked at her incredulously. “Sorry? No way…she always gets everyone to say that to her…”
Khushi wanted to throw her hands up in the air at the ridiculousness of her situation. “What crap…”
“Sandeep Mishra…He was caught cheating off your GK answer book and you…It was one stupid, GK test – it didn’t even count for anything and…” Arjun turned around to face her. “You made him apologize to you a hundred times…”
“I did not…It was Mrs. Joshi who gave him lines….” Khushi began hotly.
“And who went crying to Mrs. Joshi…”
“I did not…”
“He pushed me to the ground because he didn’t want you to score a six in stupid corridor cricket at Lunch time!” Khushi countered, surprised that she remembered exactly what Arjun seemed to too.
“Goodness! I was just kidding when I asked how long you knew her….You share some history don’t you?”
Khushi blinked and looked at Arnav who was looking at her and Arjun alternately as if…There was something definitely suggestive in the way…She turned to look at Arjun, hoping for him to say something that would throw Arnav off. Of all the people in the whole wide world, she didn’t want Arnav Varun to think there was anything between her and Arjun.
Strangely though, Arjun was looking like he had been stumped…
“Arjun,” She said through clenched teeth. What was wrong with him?
Arjun Agarwal blinked and looked at her..well…strangely….And then…it was gone…
“Kehdo ki tum ho sorry…warna…” He began singing even as Arnav continued to laugh. “Jeena nahi tumhe hai marna…”
“Wha…” Khushi said, throwing her hands up in the air. “How…why…I mean…How…”
“Dekho kabhi na aisa kehna…” Arjun continued dramatically and then whirled around to look directly at Arnav. “She said sorry to you? Enough for you make a comment about it?” He asked Arnav. When Arnav nodded with a shrug, he turned to look at Khushi and smirked. “Kya baat hai Kavi…Yehi adaa…toh ek sitam hai…”
Was the fire in her face ever going let up? Arjun Agarwal really wanted her to drop dead and die, didn’t he?
“Are you…teasing her..and me…?” Arnav interrupted her thoughts, enunciating each word with utmost clarity, “In the same breath?” He asked with that beautifully raised brow. “Forgetting that I am the senior, are we, Agarwal Babu?” He said with a smirk, his voice smooth and insanely attractive in the way it succeeded in making Arjun Agarwal clear his throat and stutter.
“Er…Sir…I am so sorry…But…you…aapne hi toh…I mean…That first day…You said it..”Let her sit”…that comment is a legend, isn’t it?”
“Arjun!” Khushi exclaimed incredulously. She couldn’t believe her ears. Arjun Agarwal…She was going to kill him.
“Agarwal, you are so dead.” Arnav said softly, his eyes laughing as he turned around and whistled loudly before calling out to some of his friends. Before Khushi knew it, the little moment was a thing of the past. They were surrounded by third year and a couple of fourth years, all of whom were focused only on Arjun Agarwal – who, not surprisingly, seemed to be enjoying all the attention in that good-natured manner only he seemed to possess.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Humko Sirf Tumse Pyar Hai
Album: Barsaat (1995)
Singers: Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik
Music: Nadeem Shravan
Jaagte rahe hum to raat bhar
Ek lamha ek pal bhi soyi na nazar
Jaagte rahe hum to raat bhar
Ek lamha ek pal bhi soyi na nazar
Tum nigahon mein, tum khayal mein
Haal hai bura humara aise haal mein
Youn to humpe na karo sitam
Author’s Note: Do you feel like the story isn’t going forward? Do you want to pull your hair and say “Yes, yes, we understand Khushi is smitten…what now?” Do you want to say “WHEN WILL WE KNOW WHAT ARNAV IS THINKING?” (Yes, the caps mean I know you are yelling :P) Don’t worry – you are not alone. But indulge me please? :P All in good time!
Next Update: June 8, 2015 (delayed I know. But my little baby (who was incidentally born the same year that IPK first aired and hence is the same age ;)) starts formal school this coming week. So I expect to have my hands overflowing with starting troubles! Wish us luck!