“Phew” Arjun said as he plonked himself in the chair that Arnav had been occupying.

Khushi looked at him wryly. “You enjoyed every minute of that.” She said rolling her eyes, as Arjun placed his hands on his ears and mock apologized to Arnav who was standing on the stage, shaking his head at Arjun with an indulgent smile.

The last thirty minutes had been “Arjun Agarwal Ragging Break” and everyone in the auditorium, had taken time out of practice – which was already running late, to participate. True, it was not ragging that could be pegged to humiliation like ragging was taken to in many institutions. But then Khushi began to wonder if humiliation or otherwise was actually just in people’s heads. What else could explain the pure unadulterated sporting behavior that Arjun exhibited? He sang the most insane songs from Bollywood’s underbelly. He flirted under surveillance, spilled his darkest secrets, picked who he thought was the most beautiful girl in the auditorium – to his choice’s pleasure and everyone else’s disappointment. He did everything with unmatched energy, a grin on his face and such openness that no one took offense or even laughed at him. They laughed with him, even cheered him on.

Arjun shrugged. “Stop disapproving. It was fun. Tiring, though.”

Khushi shook her head, unable to fathom how he could subject himself to this and be this cheerful in the wake. “Why?”

He raised an eyebrow. “This is how you make life long contacts. Tomorrow, Arnav Varun could be the CEO of some big multi-billion dollar business and he would remember me.”

“As the class clown.” She offered drily.

“Ouch” Arjun said, clasping his hand over his heart for a second before he rolled his eyes. “So? Clown is not exactly an insult. He’ll remember me as someone silly. He’ll laugh at the memory. That’s great”

Khushi continued to stare at him speechlessly.

“What?” He asked.

“Wouldn’t you rather have him want to do that and try and make himself memorable to you?” She asked, aware that she had no idea what she was saying and yet deeply interested in what motivated Arjun to be who he was. Someday, she would tell him that these questions were ways to probe to find something that she could identify with, or learn from.

Arjun shrugged and held up his forefinger. “One – that sounds convoluted. Two – Maybe he is trying to make himself memorable by being so awesome at everything he does. Or maybe he doesn’t care. I can’t control what he wants to do. I can only make sure my network is strong.”

Network? She cringed. “How do you think of these things? I mean…it sounds like all this fun is calculated…it’s weird…”

“You think too much, Kavi.” Arjun said, biting back a yawn. “It sounds calculated but it is not. I am having fun. I am just trying to answer your question on why I think it is okay to have people laugh at me. Or in this case, with me.”

“Those are called rationalizations.” She countered only to have Arjun shrug again. “So what’s your rationale for being my friend?”

“I told you. Woman CEO with a story about being the only woman in her Engineering class. And who would she call her best friend?”

“You might be overestimating your worth, Agarwal.”

Arjun laughed. “Did you just call me Agarwal? So looks like AV Sir really does have a fan. It was not him impressing you…it was you being impressed with…”

“Stop it, Arjun.” Khushi said, shaking her head. “You did it in front of him. Please don’t. Even as a joke these things are not funny. I don’t want…”

“See? I told you. You think too much. It was teasing. People do it all the time. It doesn’t mean anything. This is not school. People are not going to carve AV Sir’s name in a heart on your desk in class.”

Khushi frowned. “How…” It was a long lost memory. Someone had once engraved Arjun’s name in a heart on her desk in school. It was the year they had graduated to Class 6. Things had changed overnight in school. Girls and boys didn’t talk to each other anymore. There was giggling and laughing, teasing and most of all inane acts like wood engraved hearts with names carved inside.

“It was my name, was it not? My friends didn’t allow me peace for six months after that.”

Khushi snorted. “What do you think happened to me? It was my desk.”

Arjun chuckled. “But this is not school. AV Sir probably doesn’t even remember my joke anymore.” He said and then looked in the direction of the orchestra. “Though I wouldn’t blame you if you really did have a crush. I mean – I have a crush on him and I am not even gay.”

Khushi chuckled. “I am not sure I believe you, Arjun.”

Arjun looked at her and leaned in suddenly, his nose almost touching Khushi’s. Khushi’s heart flipped for a second. She didn’t feel like something was churning in her ribcage – like she did even in a ten feet distance from Arnav – and yet, there was definitely a sense of…She couldn’t define what it was. “Believe me,” He said, lowering his voice several uncomfortable octaves.

She cleared her throat. “Enough.” She said, leaning away. “I told you, you are wasting your time flirting with me.”

“Shhhhh…” Arjun said, leaning into her further.

“Wha..” Khushi said, surprised with his behavior. Flirting was okay but this…

“Is she looking?” Arjun whispered into her ear.

Khushi frowned and looked around her, still uncomfortable with Arjun’s proximity. “Who?”

Arjun clucked and tugged on her hand. “Surbhi Singh.”

“Who is that?”

Arjun breathed in deeply. “To your right. The most beautiful girl in the auditorium.” He said matter-of-factly, referring to the answer he had given during the ragging session.

Khushi looked to her right and this time saw the two girls standing a few feet away, both of them giggling even as the girl who she now knew was Surbhi Singh, flicked her hair away from her face and continued to almost determinedly look in the opposite direction. Something in the girl’s stance told her that she had in fact been looking at Arjun and her.

“She isn’t at the moment, no.” Khushi said wryly and then looked into Arjun’s eyes directly. “Kindly explain.”

Arjun breathed in deeply and equally determinedly continued to keep his gaze away from the other girl. “Have you seen her? I am using the jealousy…” He shook his head. “Tum nahi samjhogi. Come,” He tugged at her wrist again. “Let’s go to the cafeteria as I think of another way to get her attention.” He leaned away and frowned. “I was so sure the public praise would work. Kya yaar,” He said, his mouth drooping almost comically.

Khushi continued to stare at him, amazed. “So this…”She waved her hands in the space between them. “This was a…I don’t even know what word to use.”

“Ab tum dictionary baad mein dekh lena, Kaveri Gupta. Chalo.” Arjun rose, still holding Khushi’s hand firmly.

Khushi extracted her hand. “I can’t. I have practice.” She said, pointing in the direction of the stage.

Arjun looked at her and then smiled. “With AV Sir?” He asked as his smile morphed into a huge grin.

Khushi smiled sweetly and batted her eyelids. “Yes. With him.”

Arjun wiggled his eyebrows. “Him? No name-taking? God, Kavi. This is a whole new level, isn’t it?”

She felt her face flame but refused to be embarrassed. She leaned into Arjun, determined to not back down from this most insane conversation with Arjun Agarwal. “Will your jealousy ruse work if Surbhi Singh hears that I am crushing on someone else?”

He shrugged but looked to his right, nevertheless, making sure the two girls were far away. “Crushing?” He smirked at her as he brought his gaze back to her, his eyes twinkling. “Crushing?” He asked again and stepped away from her. “This is interesting.”  He said as he cross his hands across his chest and tapped his feet.

Khushi shrugged and rolled her eyes. At the very moment though, by some cosmic coincidence, the object of their conversation interrupted rather loudly for his usual volume of conversation


She looked up at the stage where Arnav stood, motioning for her to come over and join him. She  nodded, thankful for the chance to leave Arjun to his own devices. Turning to Arjun, she opened her mouth to take his leave when….

“You asked him to call you Khushi?” Arjun squeaked and pretended to faint, falling into a nearby chair with a loud thump. “This is not just interesting. This is serious. Kaveri Khushi Gupta is falling in….”

Khushi picked up her bag, the little white paper with the list of songs that Arnav had handed her earlier in the day and hurried away from where Arjun was still standing, his voice strangely devoid of the teasing lilt. She didn’t look back at her friend, immensely glad to have gotten rid of him especially when he was going to verbalize what she knew was true.

“Are you okay?”

She looked up to see Arnav peering into her face bemusedly.

“Of course,” She assured him with a small smile and walked up to stand by him.

“Shall we get started?” He asked. As she nodded, he held his hand out for the list of songs which she promptly handed to him, being very careful to avoid brushing his fingers.

“Not all of these are duets. Especially the ones at the starting. You don’t mind me rushing through the list in order?”

Khushi shook her head. “Not at all”

“Alright, then.” Arnav said with a half smile and stepped away to pick his guitar up and quickly confer with the orchestra before he walked up to the single chair and mic in the middle of the stage. As he sat and swung his guitar over his shoulder to hold it in place, he nodded at someone who rushed to pick up another chair and place it next to him. As the chair was placed, Arnav looked at her and motioned for her to join him. As strange as it was, there was nothing else Khushi wanted to do in that moment, nowhere else she wanted to be. Arjun Agarwal and that conversation, were long forgotten.

She waited as Arnav’s guitar pick strummed against the strings.

“C” He said softly, almost to himself as the keyboard joined the same chord.

“Hmmmmm” He began as Khushi watched and waited for the magic to take her prisoner as it never failed to.

Tum ne woh kya dekha, Jo kaha deewana

Hum ko nahin kuchh, Samajh zara samajhaana

The guitar strumming lilted following the gold that his voice was, smooth and seductive. A small beady sound that she recollected from the original song sounded from her right. As she looked, she saw Nishant Sir with an instrument she didn’t actually recognize. There was a whole set of people around them. How had she not noticed anyone else?

Pyar mein jab bhi aankh kahin lad jaaye

Tab dhadkan aur bechaini bad jaaye

Others from behind them joined in a soft almost inaudible chorus humming, giving Arnav’s voice the push it needed to shine and echo.

Jab koi ginta hai raaton ko taare

Tab samjho use pyar ho gaya pyare

Khushi smiled as a few others, singers from senior batches who she recognized but didn’t know, closed in on Arnav and her and stood around them. It was automatic, as if this motley group had been doing this for years together. Which they probably had.

Arnav’s voice dipped, tingling the base of her spine as it did. There was a hint of laughter, just as the song demanded. Would his talent never cease to amaze her? Or was she destined to only fall a little deeper with everything that he did?

Pyaar tumhein kis mod pe le aaya

Ke dil kare haye, haye koi to bataye, kya hoga

More folks joined, their voices now more than just whispers and hums. Khushi looked around in surprise. Where had all these people come from?

Pyaar humein kis mod pe le aaya

Ke dil kare haye, haye koi to bataye, kya hoga

Humming continued as Arnav’s strumming lowered to a dull beat and the keyboard played on softly posing as a flute a moment here and a violin a moment there

Battiyan bujhaa do….

Chuckles ensued as someone sang in a slightly feminine, high strung voice, much like in the original rendition of the song.

Are batti to bujha do yaar, Another spoke, dropping the song to insert beautifully melodious prose

Battiyan bujhaa do ke neend nahin aati hai

Battiyan bujhane se bhi neend nahin aaegi

Each line was being sung by a different person even as others contributed to the chorus in perfect harmony

Battiyan bujhane vaali jaane kab aaegi

She waited now in bated breath for what she know was the perfect little highlight of the song. And just like she expected, Arnav Varun and his gang of singers didn’t disappoint.

Shhhhhhhh…Shhhh Shhh….He shushed, his eyes laughing as his plectrum stilled against the guitar strings in a pregnant pause.

Shor na machao varna bhabhi jaag jaaegi.

Someone on her left whistled as the strumming and the unknown instrument continued.

Pyaar Tumhein kis mod pe le aaya

Ke dil kare haye, haye koi to bataye, kya hoga

Pyaar humein kis mod pe le aaya

Ke dil kare haye, haye koi to bataye, kya hoga

Everything fell to a silent still, dramatic as everyone who was singing waited with baited with bated breath. And then the pace of the song changed in the blink of an eye, as Arnav’s voice, led the little group loud in its strength.

Pyaar Tumhein kis mod pe le aaya

Ke dil kare haye, koi to bataye, kya hoga

The others borrowed strength and speed from Arnav and joined right along.

Pyaar humein kis mod pe le aaya

Ke dil kare haye, haye koi to bataye, kya hoga.

Drum beats echoed in the distance as the couple of drummers who had for the last few minutes waited patiently for their turn, pour their heart out into the song.

Aakhir kya hai aisi bhi majaboori

Mil gaye dil phir bhi kyon hai ye doori

Are, dam hai to unase chheen ke le aayenge

Di na ghar vaalon ne agar manzoori

Those around Arnav, Nishant Sir in particular, morphed his voice to sound gruff, belligerent, rebellious like the lyrics suggested,

Dam hai to unase chheen ke le aayenge

Di na ghar vaalon ne agar manzoori

Pyaar humein kis mod pe le aaya

Ke dil kare haye, haye koi to bataye, kya hoga …

The group erupted into cheers as the vocals and music spiraled to a high and dropped to silence.

“Not bad, AV Sir. All of us still seem to remember this one almost exactly as we performed it last year.” Nishant Sir said as the back-clapping and the whistling became tamer than the ferocious peak they scaled right after the end.

“After the disaster that all the practices were last year, NK, I can only thank our stars.” Arnav chuckled as he adjusted his guitar.

“You sang this last year?” Khushi asked, unable to hold the question back despite being aware that the conversation was largely based on shared memories that she didn’t have access to.

Arnav looked at her and smiled. “This was the finale last year. You know before everyone decides to play every shady song there is and dance to those tunes.” He chuckled.

“And it was a big hit.” Nishant Sir added, surprisingly upbeat as he joined their discussion.

“It is going to be a big hit this year too,” She avowed and felt her heart soar as she saw Arnav’s face light up.

“We are starting with it this year. You know, just to get the spirits up and sort of set the stage.” He explained. There was quiet pride in his voice and Khushi couldn’t help but feel his enthusiasm in her own veins.

They stared at each other for a micro moment before Nishant Sir called out to the next song – another famous male solo guitar number.

Khushi watched as Arnav belted out song after melodious song, his voice a soft lullaby in one moment, a flirty ditty in another. She shivered when he seduced her senses with his singing and smiled when he allowed every little bit of optimism to fill the air around him.

She knew the point where the songs changed from boyish fun to romance was fast approaching. And yet, she now felt no fear. She would sing with all her heart. And in what was unfolding around her, it was clear that all she needed to be by side and all would be well.

“Ready?” He called a few minutes, a small water break and several awe-filled sighs later. It was now fifteen minutes past seven. The lights, golden and hazy had come on in the auditorium. The crowd around them had thinned to almost nothing. To her surprise, Arjun who had left sometime after she had left him musing about why Arnav had been allowed to call her Khushi instead of Kaveri, had not returned. It was most unlike him and yet, Khushi for the first time since that fateful first day in IE-V had not felt lost without him.

She took a deep breath and nodded as Arnav allowed the guitar pick to strike all the chords together. He shouted a quick unclear instruction in the direction of the instrumental team.

The music picked up as the guitar strum was accompanied by the keyboard and then finally the rhythmic, familiar drum beats. Immediately Khushi could imagine her father drumming loudly on the table, his face scrunched up in effort not unlike when he was engrossed in solving a particularly difficult problem.

Jaane Jaan Dhoondta Phir Raha

Hoon Tumhe Raat Din Main Yahan Se Vahan

He looked at her and held his thumb up in indication for her to be ready for the alaap that accompanied the second rendition of the introduction

She allowed herself to remember the alaap and sing along as he repeated the introductory lines

Jaane Jaan Dhoondta Phir Raha

Hoon Tumhe Raat Din Main Yahan Se Vahan

Mujhko Aawaaz Do, Chup Gaye Ho Sanam

Tum Kahan

She looked right into his eyes as the alaap ended and smiled.

Main Yahan

Tum Kahan, he asked with a smile, as mysterious as the ink in his eyes.

Main Yahan.

She smiled and looked away as he nodded in acknowlegdgment. If she had looked up, she would have seen everyone who was present in that auditorium, smiling and shaking their heads in silent praise. But when had Khushi last been aware of anyone else when Arnav Varun had been around

Paas Tum Ho Khade

Mere Dil Mein Chhupe

Aur Mujhe Kuch Pata Na Chala

It was pure magic – this feeling that she was soaking in. She could have been singing this song in amidst emerald trees and golden sunlight. She could have been the last woman alive on this earth. And none of it would have mattered.

Paas Tum Ho Khade

She interjected with the alaap.

Mere Dil Mein Chhupe

Aur Mujhe Kuch Pata Na Chala

She smiled right back at him and picked up her lines with enviable ease.

Dil Mein Dekha Nahin, Dekha Saara Jahan

Tum Kahan

Main Yahan, he answered with a small wink, taking her breath away

Tum Kahan she asked again.

Main Yahan, he answered his eyes shining.

Jaane Jaan, he began as she resumed her alaap.

Dhoondta Phir Raha

Hoon Tumhe Raat Din Main Yahan Se Vahan…

She allowed her voice to drop to a lower scale. It was her favorite part of the song, one she always sung with gusto in the antaksharis and other random singing sessions she shared with her parents and sister.

Mujhko Aawaaz Do, Chup Gaye Ho Sanam

Tum Kahan

Main Yahan, he answered and ended the song with a flourish amidst claps and nothing but pure, unadulterated joy of shared music.

River Song, Music and Lyrics

Song Title: Jaan-E-Jaan Dhoondhta Phir Raha

Album: Jawani Diwani

Music: R.D. Burman

Singers: Asha Bhonsle, Kishore Kumar

Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

Dil Machalne Laga

Yunhin Dhalne Laga

Rang Bhara, Pyaar Ka, Yeh Samaa

Aaj Aise Mein Bas’ Chhod Kar Chal Diye

Tum Kahaan?

Main Yahaan

Note: To everyone who has waited for the river to flow again, been worried for me and for just being here to read when there is so much more that life – real or virtual – has to offer – thank you, This story may mean many things to you, to me what matters most is the generosity of those who read this! The river would be nothing if not for the people who revel in its journey!

Next update: Saturday/Sunday, Jul 25-6, 2015

89 thoughts on “Chapter Eleven: This and That

  1. Hi Meera,

    Hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day..

    Jabardast ipdate & my favorite so far.. just because there practice started with all time favorite jaane ja..their interactions, their aakhon ki baatein, gestures, smiles.. love how you write in between songs with every one involved & their response & reactions..group song of satte pe satta was so good.. sitting next each other was innocent yet sensual & same for their jaane jah song…
    So Arjun really likes her & his funda is so funny about expanding network for future.. bless you for such a awesome story & characters…and of course songs too.. just reliving college days..


    Ps: this khushi reminds of DP in yjhd movie.. so innocent/pavan, intelligent, cute chasmish…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pure bliss. I felt like I am transported to IE Varanasi’s auditorium and watching the practice.
    Arjun found out Khushi is crushing over Arnav. I know he was after other girls. But his disappearance making me wonder about his equation with Khushi. Was he upset or jealous or just happy for his friend? Beautiful songs.
    Tum Kahan?
    Main Yahan! I am not going anywhere until I finish reading this story.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. My all time favorite song… ” Jane Jaan doondta phir raya”…. Tum Kahan… Meh Yahan
    So now we have triangle around Khushi… Arjun, AV and NK… right?? Arjun is cute but not when he is messing around Khushi and AV… Actually don’t like anyone who is messing around them…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Did Arjun crush over kh in school , the wooden carved heart seems very traumatic to him
    Why did he leave when Arshi were singing
    Did he get hurt becos kh has a thing for AV sir
    Jaane ja- Ashaji & RD combo was a stupendous hit


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