“Mummy – will you please tell me a story?” My daughter asked. “I’ll be there in five minutes sweetie,” I replied. “I just need to tell a part of it to some friends who are waiting rather patiently.”
I won’t apologize for the delay. But I hope with all my heart that you like this installment! As always – thank you for reading!
“You know all the songs and the lyrics from memory! I was all set to write down lyrics for you for each of those songs.” Arnav remarked incredulously. “I am impressed.” He continued as stepped out of the auditorium on to dimly lit but freshly laid tar road.
Wind blew softly rustling leaves in rhythm even as the scent of imminent rain wafted towards them. She had read the word they used to describe the scent and on a normal day, Khushi would have stopped the earth in it’s orbit in her bid to recollect. Today, vocabulary was the last thing on her mind.
The humidity of the day was a distant memory. It was perfectly crisp, fragrant and beautifully cleansed. Despite the night that had fallen over the city like supple Banarasi silk, there was something fresh and new in the air.
Or was it just present company that kept her spirits buoyant?
Khushi smiled to herself and adjusted the thick strap of her backpack over her shoulder, uncaring of how her dupatta – light chiffon today instead of her preferred staid cotton alternatives, fluttered behind her.
“So do you.” She remarked, glancing at him. “Is that why you are impressed?” She asked demurely even as she surprised herself with the ability to react so quickly to his comment. Was she trying to flirt with him? Did this mean that she knew how to?
“Of course,” He replied, grinning at her as he walked by her side, the warmth of his body caressing the air to her right, strangely at odds with the slight nip that raised her bare arms in goosebumps. “I consider myself to be somewhat of a Bollywood song expert.” He avowed so seriously, it made her laugh. This facet of his personality was such a contrast to everything else she had learned of him. But then most of that had been hearsay, she remnded herself. This – was first hand. Real. Maybe this was him. Although this by no means meant that the mystery of Arnav Varun had been resolved. If anything she only craved to know more. Things like the little hint he had dropped about having had to apologize to his mother a lot as a child. AV-Sir as a rambunctious little boy – was quite an image. So when he had offered to walk her back to the staff quarters which was a little secluded from the rest of the campus and at least a couple of kilometers from the auditorium, she had yielded with little reluctance. If he thought less of her or if he had offered only to be polite without actually wanting to walk all the way, she didn’t want to know. This current set of events was playing out like a cozy little dream. She wasn’t sure how long this little dream would last but she knew that she was going to make the most of it while it did. Or so she was able to think at least in the wake of an evening brimming with joyful companionship.
“If you were not a Fourth Year, Arjun would have challenged you on that statement.” Khushi said softly, choosing to keep to herself the fact that she had often avowed that she deserved the title the most amongst all those she mingled with, as limited as that number was.
Arnav chuckled. “He is quite the Bollywood encyclopedia, I have to agree. Some of the songs he comes up with are downright atrocious!” He shuddered. “Coupled with that voice…”
Khushi laughed. “I am surprised he is not being asked to actually sing.”
“The IE-V crowd hasn’t ever thrown chappals at or boo-ed a singer out of Aarohan. But why risk it? He replied seriously.
As Khushi looked at him, his eyes glittered with humor.
“But,” Arnav held up a hand. “Arjun Agarwal wouldn’t actually get boo-ed. He would pick the most crowd friendly Govinda-numbers and all of IE would forget about the efforts of folks like us despite all the vocal chord torture we are subjecting ourselves to.”
“That is true,” Khushi replied, shaking her head. And then she broke into a smile as remembered the conversation she had with Arjun earlier in the day about making him wanting to make himself memorable to the likes of AV-Sir. If Arnav Varun was a hero in Arjun Agarwal’s world. Arjun Agarwal had clearly made his presence known in Arnav Varun’s.
“Mutual Admiration Society” She muttered softly still amazed at how little time it had taken for this weird relationship to take shape even if it couldn’t be named yet. Or ever.
She looked at Arnav as he interrupted her thought, almost expecting to see him laughing at her slip back into her world of dreams. However, he was just looking at her with a strange glint in his eyes. Like he was trying to figure out…
“Nothing,” She rushed to dismiss her muttering and thereby avoiding having to explain what she meant. In any case, Arnav Sir probably already knew just how much he was “worshipped” in the college. He didn’t need to know that she was right at the top of the list of his current admirers.
Silence followed as they continued to walk beside each other. Khushi couldn’t help but surreptitiously glancing at Arnav’s profile as he walked with trademark grace and enviable lassitude. Did he have any idea just what this walk was doing to her already smitten heart? Had he ever felt how she was feeling at the moment? Was there any possibility in the universe, he might have offered to walk her home for the exact reason she had accepted his offer? She looked ahead at the winding road in front of them, shimmering softly in pale halogen lights with little rain drops swirling in the breeze. She would reach home in less than ten minutes of togetherness. Ten minutes was all she had until any such opportunity ever presented itself in the future. And she was spending these precious moments thinking! No – she couldn’t waste..Turning with a snap jerky enough to have cracked an air pocket in her neck, sounding in her head like the breaking of bone.
“It’s going to ra…” Her voice broke.
Rain? Really? She was going to talk about the weather? Of all the great things in the world, she was going to comment on the rain. And then what? Hope that he would volunteer to tell her his favorite rain song? That they would sing together as they walked not unlike the hero and heroine of many a Bollywood movie and its obsession with this form of precipitation?
Thankfully for her, Arnav clearly had not thought much about the complete inanity of her comment. “I think we’ll get indoors before it does” He commented sincerely as he glanced up at the skies. “The staff quarters are hardly any distance from here anyway.”
Khushi cleared her throat and smiled. This was the time to comment about being worried about him getting drenched. But wouldn’t that clearly indicate that she cared? Which would mean that she liked him? Liked him. She didn’t want him to know that, did she? But then, what use was it to like someone if they didn’t know? Shit, she was a complete mess. And she thought she was doing well. This was ridiculous. No, she corrected herself. This was a complete disaster. She adjusted her duppatta self-consciously and cleared her throat again. On one of these rather uncomfortable and yet completely invaluable moments, he was going to ask her if she was getting treatment for her throat infection. Afterall, with all that throat clearing that she resorted to in his presence, it wouldn’t be exact surprise if he did!
“So which of the songs do you absolutely detest?”
She glanced at him, sighing almost visibly in relief as he took charge of the conversation, yet again, quelling the voice that warned her that this was a definitely sign of hopelessness.
“From our list, I mean.”
Our list? He was referring to his list as….
“Oh shut up, Khushi,” She muttered to herself, this time being careful about being completely inaudible. “None. I like all the songs” She answered insincerely. It was a barefaced lie. But surely such lies were part of polite conversation? Like how people innocently commented about her skin and her large eyes even as they acknowledged her rather “healthy” size.
“So that grimace when I was singing Pal pal dil ke paas was because…”
He was laughing at her again. And he had noticed she had grimaced? She looked down at her feet to make sure she wasn’t actually flying before she spoke. “I wasn’t…” She began and then thought better of her idea of polite conversation. “It’s an awfully boring song. As is Chehra hai ya…I mean I am really glad you aren’t asking me to do the alaap in that one.”
“I do see your point about Pal pal…but Chehra has a good tune!” He exclaimed, his eyes wide in surprise.
“I don’t know. Maybe the visuals are too deeply etched in my head.” She confessed.
“If I had not seen you lip syncing every verse of Neele neele ambar par, I would have guessed you were not a Kishore Kumar fan.” He commented slyly.
She stopped walking at that statement even as he continued to. He had seen her…observed her…What did this…mean?
Nothing! Of course nothing. This was just…
When he stopped and turned to look at her quizzically, she immediately looked down and pretended to shrug her feet to rid herself of a non-existent pebble lodged between her foot and her shoe.
She quickly hurried up and fell back instep with him and they resumed their path.
“I am very fond of Kishore Kumar. And Neele Neele Ambar Par is a great song. But it is also true that every singer has his bad list. Some of the songs from that list though, are unfortunately chartbusters.” She shrugged. “I like very few of Kishore Kumar’s standard chart toppers.”
“Please tell me that Aanewala Pal is not one of the songs you dislike? I don’t think we can be friends if that is the case.” Arnav avowed.
Khushi, of course, had no clue which song he was referring to because by then all she could hear ringing in her head in a musical echo was the bit about being friends. Did he think of her as a friend? Did he? Suddenly inexplicably nervous about the situation she was in, her hands cold and clammy like they were just before the start of an exam; Khushi shook her head and forced herself to focus on the song.
“It is one of my favorite songs.” She said softly. And Arnav had sung it beautifully, almost bringing tears to her eyes with his rendition of the soulful lyrics.
“NK insists that I should be singing it at the Final Year farewell later this year, not now.”
Khushi looked at him and smiled sadly. “It would be a very apt farewell song.” She acknowledged, her nervousness now replaced by a deep sense of impending loss. This was his final year. He would leave. And she would still be here, even witnessing three more Aarohans without him. She knew now that she probably wouldn’t sing in any future events. It wouldn’t be the same anyway.
“Does it scare you?” She asked softly, knowing within that despite how she felt about IE-V at the moment, when the time came to say goodbye, three plus years from now, she would be miserable.
When the silence stretched for longer than it had in any of their conversations to date, Khushi was forced to wonder if possibly the brevity of her question had in fact rendered it un-understandable and without context. Her fears however, were baseless. Because Arnav’s reply was just as precise as it would have been if she had spelled her question out loud and clear.
“I would be a fool to not be scared.” He said with half a smile and a self deprecating shrug even as he continued to look ahead, his eyes shining as the ink of his iris caught the amber street light and glittered like flambe. “I am so well settled here, in this place – the people, the places, the routine, the achievements, the failures…all so intricately woven but in an orderly, expected pattern.”
Khushi stared at him in awe as he defined the comfort in predictability and routine with such beauty.
“But a part of me also looks forward to seeing if any of this is going to change out there in the “real world”, he air quoted the last two words and shrugged again. “I guess it will be exciting too, to shake things up a little.”
“How can that possibly be exciting?” Khushi exclaimed, unable to control her instantaneous reaction.
Arnav looked at her and his eyes narrowed for a second as he blinked. It was almost as if he had only just realized that she was still walking with him. And then he blinked again and chuckled. “It’s like the first day of school, I guess. You get new uniforms, new pencils, geometry boxes, books…you know? I remember making sure my mother got me all of that every year right till the end.”
Khushi shuddered. “I hated first day of school. It was just so…” She shook her head. “Uncomfortable.” She finished, mentally shuddering as she thought of all the first days that she could remember.
“So the first day here in IE must have been quite a nightmare, then? With the added benefit of this special status you enjoy?” He observed, his gaze thoughtful as it scanned her face.
When she simply shrugged with a queasy smile, he frowned and then exclaimed. “And I didn’t help, did I?”
It was true. With Arnav Sir’s chivalrous instruction, he had singled her out, made her life just a little more complex than it was. She had proclaimed that rather vehemently once, had she not? And yet, now, with Arnav Varun having reached the same conclusion and already sounding what she knew was the beginning of an unnecessary apology, Khushi was rushing to reassure him. “No, it was very…” She cleared her throat, “nice of you…I was very nervous as it is.”
He shook his head apologetically. “I am sorry for what it is worth. But if any of the third years or first years are giving you grief because of that – like how Arjun…I know he is your friend so that probably is just a joke…but if anyone else is troubling you…let me know, okay.”
Khushi’s eyes widened. “No…no…please…no one does….it’s just Arjun…and he is just…he likes to be…”
This time Arnav chuckled. “If you tell me, I am not actually going to beat them up. Not a Bollywood film, remember?” He whispered as he leaned in to her, close enough for her to see the tiny flecks of chocolate dust that spilled from his irises – rich and iridescent.
Once again, Khushi’s heart skipped a precarious beat as she inhaled his scent as it mingled with the rain in the air and squeezed her ribs in acute awareness – the first true hint of something more that awe, adoration, even love. This was the first time she had ever felt this way in her eighteen years of existence and it terrified her.
She stepped slightly away from him, hoping that her movement was as inconspicuous in reality as it seemed in her head.
They walked the rest of the distance in silence, her still reeling under the fact that every interaction with this man brought her face to face with something new about herself. And him…she really wished she knew what was going on in his head. He seemed unperturbed, just as composed and together as he always was. He had no idea what he was doing to her. And she..she suddenly felt the intense need to protect herself from whatever it was that was going to go wrong. And it was going to go wrong. Because how could it possibly go right? What did right even mean in this context? That he would fall in love with her? He was going to leave in about nine months. What chance did she stand?
And then she laughed at herself. Time? That was the only hindrance she saw to what she secretly hoped for? What about the fact that she wasn’t half as beautiful as any of other girls who didn’t shy away from expressing their interest in Arnav Sir – if Arjun was to be believed? What about the fact that she had been a size sixteen for longer than she cared to remember and that the only other thing people noticed about her, other than her ability to excel academically, was her size?
“I think I’ll be able to manage now,” She said brusquely as soon as the train of thought ended in her head. They had reached the diversion in the path that would take her to her home in less than five minutes.
“Are you….” He began and then shook his head with a smile. “I’m sure you will be fine. Thank you again for helping me out with the singing. I think you are going to have to continue the tradition of the Aarohan After-Hours next year onwards.”
She felt like a heel. He was being perfectly nice. Whether he felt anything special for her or not, he was being a true gentleman, and she was behaving like a PMS’ing teen. Unexpected tears gathered in her eyes which she blinked back quickly.
“Thank you for asking me when there are so many great singers around.” She said softly, putting into words the gratitude that she truly did feel, love or otherwise.
“Now you are just fishing. And I am not going to oblige.” He said seriously even as his eyes smiled. “NK would not approve,” He explained and then winked. “I better get going. Thank you for saying you can manage from here…looks like I’ll need to run if I don’t want to get drenched,” He said even as a couple of big drops splashed on her cheeks and on her glasses. She bit back a grimance as her view flickered and blurred.
Nevertheless, she looked up as she saw more drops headed towards the earth in the light of the pale yellow street lamp they were standing under. “Oh!” She said as she nodded urgently, thankful that he hadn’t actually noticed her earlier churlishness. “You should hurry.” She whispered even as he raised his hand in a small wave and turned away.
As he quickened his pace and almost broke into a quick run before disappearing into the darkness, Khushi sighed, the rain gathering force before it burst down on her in a blanket of water.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Aye Kaash Ke Hum
Album: Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa
Singers: Kumar Sanu
Music: Jatin Lalit
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Ho bas agar tum hamare sanam
Hum toh sitaaron pe rakh dein kadam
Saara jahaan bhool jaayein
Bas nagme tere pyar ke, gaate hi jaayein
Note: This is one of my absolute favorite songs and a big part of how I fell in love with Shah Rukh Khan! Sigh!
Next Update: Aug 4, 2015