Here’s wishing everyone a Happy 2016! May this year be everything you need it to be!
She was inside the small three-storeyed building that housed her home on the second field five dripping minutes later, creating a mini puddle around her as she stood blankly, shoulders slumped and glasses already drying to leave big splotch water marks in front of her eyes.
How had this happened? Wasn’t it just a few days ago when just a few happy moments they had shared by the Ganga had put her in a mood good enough to waltz to Pehla Nasha in an empty auditorium, dulling even the embarrassment she would have otherwise drowned in when she had been discovered by no less than the Object of Her Affection himself? In the same vein, today should have been the day she finally announced her having “fallen-in-love” status to Tripti over a bowl of hot, masaledaar Maggi. Instead she was standing at the ground floor of the building that housed her home, soaked to her skin and wallowing in a pool of self pity that came from having realized that not only was Arnav leaving soon, that she had no chance in hell of staying in touch with him. She didn’t even know if that is what she wanted? Staying in touch…what did that even mean? Why couldn’t she be happy with what Arjun had once mentioned – having made an impact by her presence that Arnav would think of her with a smile whenever conversations lingered around Engineering colleges and poor gender ratios?
“Screw it,” she muttered to herself and turned away, hurrying up the flight of stairs, wincing as her breathing became labored by the time she reached the second level. She needed to focus on more important things like getting healthy and fit. How was anyone going to possibly see her in a romantic light if she looked the way she did? She grimaced as she looked down at herself, her soaking clothes highlighting every unseemly bulge.
The door opened to reveal Tripti who was muttering angry somethings on the phone. She glanced at Khushi, raised and eyebrow and thankfully for Khushi, went right back in, phone cradled in the crook of her neck.
Stepping inside, Khushi removed her sandals, unhooked the bag from her shoulder and walked towards the balcony where she could put them to dry.
“Kaveri, you are late and dripping wet.” Her mother’s words cut through the haze in her head as she opened the balcony door.
“Aarohan practice went over, Ma.” Khushi explained even as she deposited her things in the partially closed balcony.
“You should be careful, Kavi. The campus is huge and not always safe to roam around in the dark.” Gayatri Gupta said softly as she threw a large towel towards Khushi which she grabbed and quickly began drying her head.
“I’m always careful, Ma. I’ll try not to be late tomorrow onwards. Today was an exception.” Khushi vowed as she let her wet hair loose from the single braid.
Gayatri nodded. “And I hope you are not taking Mid-Semester too casually? I know I don’t have to remind you but first year Mid Semester exams count towards the final CGPA as well.”
“Of course, I know that. I am studying and I will do well as always,” Khushi lied and looked away from her mother.
There was silence for a few minutes before Gayatri Gupta spoke again. “Which song are you singing finally?”
Khushi frowned in surprise and turned around to look at her mother. Her mother rarely asked her about any extra-curricular activities. It just never featured in the things that they spoke about – which was not a particularly long list of topics either. It had never bothered Khushi, of course. Her parents were busy people with rather intellectually demanding careers. Small talk was the sacrificial lamb in the larger scheme of things.
“Don’t look so surprised. I was always interested in your singing – even in school.” Gayatri smiled and motioned for Khushi to step inside.
This time Khushi chuckled. “This is not the same, Ma. This is Bollywood singing.”
“Better, then.” Gayatri said with a shrug.
“Nani sunegi toh…”
“Toh khush hi hogi.” Gayatri rolled her eyes and mother and daughter laughed together as they took a second to remember the older woman who headed their family-wide Bollywood music craze. The fight between her grandparents over loud music – old, new or otherwise, was legendary. Needless to say her grandfather almost always lost, especially when Khushi and Tripti were visiting them.
“So tell me, what are you singing? Rang de?”
Khushi shook her head. “You know I can’t sing Asha Bhonsle songs, Ma. She sings with inhuman capability. All of them do. But I can at least attempt some of Kavita Krishnamurthy’s songs. I think it is about the voice quality also.”
“You always underestimate yourself, Kaveri. You sing well. Really well. And it could have been so much more. I really wish you had stayed with your classical music training. Your voice is naturally pleasant but with training it could have been brilliant. Singing is such a divine talent. You really shouldn’t have…”
“Ma, there is only so much one can do. I chose academics.” Khushi shrugged, dismissing the memory of the few Carnatic music classes that she had attended at the age of eight. “Plus, those classes were boring…That teacher was…” She shrugged. “So strict. It was never fun. You know the way it is when we all sing together. Even Aarohan – everything is just so light-hearted. I am okay with this.”
Gayatri Gupta looked at her daughter and smiled sadly. “Academics are important. We grew up with that value and that is what we could pass on to you.”
“And you should be happy you never had to struggle with either of us,” Khushi said cockily even as her mother snorted but refrained from agreeing even though her eyes shone proudly. Tripti and she had always joked about their parents’ inability to praise their children even when it practically leaked out of every pore in their body. Years of first ranks and perfect scores had gone by with perfunctory nods and slight pats on the back. It was funny, actually, the way both her mother and father struggled with words and emotions when it came to that.
“Anyway, I am glad you are singing at Aarohan. I never kept up my hobby. And it rankles even today. Don’t ever let that happen, okay?”
Khushi stared at her mother in wonder even as Gayatri Gupta quickly changed the topic and shouted out to Tripti to end her – what-was-now-aparently-an hour long phone call. Moments of complete emotional honesty were rare in the Gupta household. They loved each other as much as any close knit family of four did. But the focus on practicality, reason and objectivity almost always won over open-hearted expression. Sometimes Tripi and she would wonder if this was abnormal. Sometimes fights in the Gupta household could also be linked to this need to stay free of unnecessary emotion. And yet, it worked for them.
Khushi smiled to herself and quickly walked into her room to gather a pair of dry pajamas and an oversized sleep shirt. She ignored Tripti and her mother’s argument about the exact duration of Tripti’s phone call, the extended linkage to Tripti’s “poor” (read loss of rank) performance in Class Tests and then the inevitable conclusion that it was going to a miserable Board Exam result for her later in the year.
When she emerged, fully changed, warm and dry from the bathroom ten minutes later, the argument was still on.
“It was only forty minutes, Mum.” Tripti was arguing. “And it’s not like I do this every day. And no, we were not discussing boyfriends if that’s what you are worried about.”
Khushi raised an eyebrow and walked into her room even as Tripti stormed in after shutting the door loudly behind her.
“I am sick of them.” She said pointing to the door. “Like life is only about coming first in class. So I made one silly mistake in Maths and Anirudh Jain scored a hundred. He came first by 3 marks. It doesn’t count. And this is JUST a class test. It doesn’t even count this year! I thought Class X would be different. But noooo…” Tripti raged as she plonked herself on the bed noisily.
“DO NOT call me Krishna. I know that lectures follow when you do that. And I am in no mood for lecture. Mumma just used up my quota for the day. And all because I was talking to Nikki on the phone.”
“And you were not discussing boyfriends.” Khushi bit back a smile and nodded her head matter-of-factly.
Tripti looked at her with a frown. And then the frown disappeared into a chuckle. “As a matter-of-fact, we were. Hers, before you jump down my throat. No one nearly smart enough in Besant Higher Secondary to match my brains.” She said tapping her temples with her forefinger. “Or beauty” She said, flicking her hair and batting her eyelids shortly thereafter.
Khushi rolled her eyes and yet secretly envied her sister for being so secure in her own skin. It was something Khushi wanted for herself and yet was constantly bogged down by what others thought and perceived of her – unnecessary complications as Tripti would call them.
“So you have never had a crush?” Khushi asked, suppressing the need to actually come right out and ask how Tripti managed to stay so positive.
“Of course I have. Hrithik Roshan. My crush, my true love, my soul mate…” Tripti said dramatically as she closed her eyes and sighed. “How can any mere mortal come close to…to that…” She breathed in deeply and leaned back into her pillow.
“Pff.” Khushi waved her hand as she sat on the bed, cross legged and curious. “I don’t mean Bollywood heroes. That way I love Shah Rukh Khan. But that’s not the point.”
Tripti opened one eye and raised the corresponding eyebrow. “Then what is the point?”
Khushi cleared her throat and looked away. Damn! How had she opened up this thread of conversation? Had she learned nothing in fifteen years of Tripti-dom?
“Wait a second, we are talking about crushes and you are asking me serious questions about having had one.” Tripti got up and mimicked Khushi’s cross-legged sitting pose. “Oh My God!” She exclaimed only to have Khushi’s shoulders slump.
“Not a chance…you have a crush. This has to be the single-most happy day of my life. Meri Di…I mean ideally I should be the one asking you about how to deal with crushes but I cannot deny having a rather sound judgement about these things…so I don’t blame you for being the “younger” – read “clueless” sister at the moment.”
Khushi groaned and fell back into her set of pillows. “I do not have a crush, Krishna Tripti Gupta. I was curious about you given your rather grand declaration of there being no one good enough. That’s it.”
“Uh-huh – Nope. I think you just let it slip and are now worried about me knowing. Which is ridiculous. Why would you want to hide something like that from me? I pretty much worship the ground you walk on. So it’s not like you can be worried about my disapproval of your choice?”
No, she couldn’t. Tripti was right. And the fact that Tripti and she never made private just how much they loved, admired, “worshipped”, anything the other did was in Khushi’s view the most special thread that bound them together. All that no-emotion drama was reserved for the older Guptas. The younger ones made their own rules. And the biggest one was to constantly remind each other just what was perfect about them. It was almost an unsaid pact between the siblings. And maybe it was the obviousness of this agreement that made Khushi dismiss most of what her sister said to her in praise – even unfairly so.
“I am not hiding anyting because there is nothing to hide.” Khushi shrugged, lying again. She was hiding. And she was hiding because she was scared that it would come to nothing.
What do you actually want it to come to, Kaveri Gupta? A not-so-stray question popped in her head instantly – only to have it brushed away with the swat of a palm as if to shoo away an invisible fly.
“And just so you know, I am singing with someone in Aarohan. And by no means is that person my crush.” Khushi warned, aware that she was voluntarily including Arnav in the mix and thereby opening up a Pandora’s Box of endless questions and unquenchable curiosity
Tripti’s eyes widened. “Tumne chor ki daadi mein tinka wala saying suna hai, Di? This was just like that. Now I really have to come see who this “someone” is.”
“Ha, like you wouldn’t have naturally jumped to the conclusion without my saying anything when you saw me singing with a member – any member – of the opposite gender in the actual event.” Khushi queried with her arms cross against her chest.
Tripti seemed to consider the statement and then shrugged. “It would have probably happened. But now it most definitely will happen. I cannot wait for Aarohan.” She declared even has Khushi sighed and picked up her Engineering Drawing textbook – the one that Arnav had suggested.
“So you were at Aarohan practice all this while?” Tripti asked as she picked up her book as well and the two of them settled down into one of their pre-dinner study together sessions.
“Hmm…” Khushi replied as she opened the book, wincing as images of Arnav Varun flashed in front of her instead of the chapter on Projection of Planes and Solids that she just couldn’t seem to wrap her head around.
“And you were practicing with this….person you are singing with…?” Tripti asked. Khushi sneaked a glance at her sister, surprised by the seemingly disinterested tone. Tripti was flipping through the textbook in her head, her brow scrunched in concentration.
“Yes.” She replied quickly and hoped that it was the end of the conversation.
“Naam hai koi ya Mere khwabon mein jo aaye?”
Khushi looked at her sister blankly even as Tripti giggled, evidently impressed with herself. “You’re funny, KT. Very funny.”
Tripti took a quick bow and raised her collar. “I am, indeed. So are you telling what this person’s name is or…?
“Or?” Khushi asked with raised eyebrows. “Am I supposed to be scared?”
“Tripti, please don’t be a bore. It is not important. And I am being very clear – you are not going to start with this every day now, okay? It is NOT fun.”
Her sister clapped her hands together in a mock Namaste and bowed her head in exasperation. “Maaf kar do mujhe, meri Ma!” She said. “It’s a joke…a little teasing…remember that?”
Khushi snorted, unaware that she sounded to her sister exactly like her mother had sounded to her just a few minutes ago – utterly unconvincing.
“Anyway, I really thought it was going to be Arjun Agarwal. But, if it is someone else…” Tripti shrugged. “By the way, his family is here today, did you know? Arjun’s. I saw them just outside Bose this evening when I was walking back home from school.” She said, referring to one of the boys hostels on campus.
Khushi frowned and then nodded. “Ah, so that explains why he left so early today.” It made sense now, she reasoned when the question suddenly popped up in her head. She looked at her sister curiously. “What is it with you and Arjun anyway? Ever since I told you about him being my classmate, you can’t seem to stop bringing him up in every conversation?”
Tripti blushed, a rare occasion for the younger Gupta sister. But she didn’t shy away from answering the question like Khushi would have. “Have you seen him? He is…” She sighed and clasped her hands. “And he has become positively handsome, now. Was he really as tall as this? He must be almost six feet?”
Khushi shook her head, “I thought you didn’t have crushes?” She asked, raising her left eyebrow into a hook – a completely irrelevant talent that Tripti genuinely envied.
“No one from Besant Secondary – I was very categorical.” Tripti clarified, raising her hand.
The sister burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of their conversation when they heard Gayatri Gupta holler for dinner. Quickly pursing their lips, they shut their books, neither of them having read so much as a word, and hurried out of their room.
“Of all the rain songs that Bollywood has created for rainy nights like tonight, this* is what you choose to listen to?”
After the initial spell that had left Khushi drenched and dripping earlier than evening, heavy downpour had resumed an hour after dinner. In an unspecified tribute to the weather and her somber-if-not-sad mood, she had plugged her earphones in her ear and played rain songs, sticking to the more forlorn melodies like the one Tripti was now raging on about.
Khushi frowned and tried to snatch the earphones back from her sister who was now holding them up in one hand while the other rested on her hips, even as she leaned on knee over.
“What the hell?” Khushi snapped, trying to pry the wires back even as the near-dead Walkman lying by her side whirred painfully replacing the melancholy melody she had been enjoying.
“Seriously, Di. I mean there is Tip tip barsa pani, Kaate nahi kat-tey,” Tripti said, counting the chart toppers from the amorous-end of monsoon songs list, “The Hum Tum title song,” She continued, shaking her head. “And you are listening to this…”
“It is one of my favorite songs. And sad songs are beautiful…”
“And you love Vinod Khanna…”
“I do. If not for Amitabh Bachchan, he would have been my favorite actor from the 70s and 80s.”
“That is ridiculous logic.”
“Give me my earphones back, Trip. And go back to studying. Let me study as well. I have Mid-Sems in less than a week now.” Khushi said sternly, ignoring the look of utter mischief that was lurking in Krishna Tripti’s eyes.
“Let’s go get wet in the rain. With atrocious Bollywood background music.”
She finally had to put her books down and stop the whirring rain songs audio cassette that was pretty high up in her list of earthly possessions before she looked up at her sister incredulously. Tripti always did have the most outrageous ideas. But sometimes, she couldn’t still help being stumped.
“It is an hour short of midnight.” She said casually, knowing that a vehement reponse was just going to strengthen her sister’s determination to execute the said idea.
“And the parents are asleep – what better timing?” Tripti remarked equally casually.
“Did you hit your head when you were looking for your chappals under the dining table earlier?” Khushi asked expressionlessly.
Tripti clucked and shook her head. “Chalo. Rain. Now.”
“No. And you shouldn’t…”
Before she could complete her statement, Tripti was already pulling her by her wrist, strongly enough to move her twenty kilo overweight body with surprising ease.
“Stop it,” Khushi said, trying to pull her hands back when Tripti let her go, sending her stumbling back against the study table-chair she had been occupying.
“Mat aao. I am going. Unlike you I know how to have fun once in a while. You be a bore. That is what you do best.”
Khushi rolled her eyes. “You are not really going to step out into the rain right now?”
“Watch me.” Tripti said and sashayed out of the room. It was only a couple of minutes after she had left Khushi staring into space that the older Gupta sibling realized that her Walkman now lay orphaned and devoid of her favorite compilation.
Springing up from her seat, she hurried out of the room and towards the large balcony just as Tripti stepped out and let out a shriek – presumably as the cold water seeped into her perfectly dry night clothes.
Khushi turned around and looked in the direction of her parents room, which was thankfully shut close and presumably drowning in the loud drone of the air-conditioner. Tripti had indeed chosen her timing well.
She turned back and walked to stand at the edge of the door that led to the balcony even as the wind swept her hair up around her, spraying her face with fine mist. A small smile stole up her face. She was being stuck up as always. On any other day, she would have begrudgingly stepped out in the rain and danced with Tripti till the skin on their fingers pruned and turned pale yellow. Today propriety was more an excuse to hide the gloom that came from the fear of unrequited, short-lived and completely unjustified feelings for someone she couldn’t even technically claim to know and yet believed herself to be in love with.
It was almost as if God had slapped her face with a wake up call. There was self-pity and then there was her. What was wrong with her?
Khushi looked up at her sister’s deliberately coaxing voice and without allowing herself another think, stepped out into inky night, smiling as water coursed through her scalp, caught the amber street lights between her eyelashes and washed her self indulgent desolation away.
As if on cue, Tripti’s favorite rain song tore through the sounding of thunder even as her sister swayed her hips, held out her hand and imitated what she remembered as the most atrocious dance moves in the history of Bollywood.
“I love this song” She cheered as music gave way to the sound of dripping water, the sound reinforcing the ttitle of the song and at melodic odds with the rest of what was to follow.
“Have you seen the video?” Khushi asked, her voice unnaturally higher as it scaled the sound of the song and the rain.
“We got told off for it once remember? We were watching that stupid play your request show on cable and this was the song playing when Ma came back from college.”
Khushi chuckled. “She had screamed at us like she had caught us watching porn.”
Tripti laughed and raised her hands in the air, catching water in her palms before splashing Khushi’s face with it. “Ab tu hi bata oh sajan, main kya karun” She crooned with the song as she rushed forward, grabbed Khushi’s glasses and her own before hurrying to place it on the side table by the balcony door.
“Sing this song with that partner of yours. Then we are talking.” She challenged as she joined Khushi back in the balcony as the song skipped to the first stanza. “This is seduction at its best.”
Khushi laughed at Tripti’s choice of words, amazed at her fifteen year old sister’s unabashed revelry.
Naam tera mere labon per aayaa tha
Maine bahane se tumhe bulaaya tha
The memory of Arnav walking by her side earlier in the evening flashed in front of her eyes, making her blush. She was grateful for the darkness around her, the music and the rain and most of all, Tripti’s lack of attention on her, as she turned to hide her flushed cheeks.
And then she joined the recorded voice, at the same time as Tripti, finally as uninhibited as the song playing in the background mandated her to be.
Jhoom kar aa gayaa saavan main kya karun
Once again, the sisters convulsed into laughter, only to be interrupted by what Khushi thought, with more than a little surprise, was the sound of the doorbell.
“Doorbell,” She yelled to Tripti who shrugged, motioned about not being able to hear Khushi over the din and continued to prance around the balcony.
Khushi, hurried back in, her heartbeat now pounding in her chest as she looked at her still closed door to parents’ room. Tip-toeing to unsuccessfully avoid covering the mosaicked floor in a trail of rain water, she walked the short distance towards the door and threw it open only to reveal sunrise chocolate eyes, a shock of disheveled dripping hair, a tall, rangy frame outlined by soaked clothes.
Not a sound escaped her lips even as Arnav Varun closed the distance between them in one long stride, flooded her body with unfamiliar heat, her lungs with the scent of rain and river before he curved his palm around her neck and closed his mouth over hers.
Stunned by the thousand arrows of piercing sensation that shot through every pore in her body, she clutched at his shoulders, her nails digging strangely into her own palms when Tripti’s voice slapped against her tingling cheeks.
“Yoohooo…Jaago mohan pyaare!”
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Zara zara behekta hai
Album: Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein
Music: Harris Jayaraj
Singers: Bombay Jayashree
Tadpaaye mujhe teree sabhi baatein
Ek baar ae deewaane, jhootha hi sahi, pyaar toh kar
Main bhuli nahi haseen mulaquaatein
Bechain karke mujhko, mujhse yun naa, pher nazar
Ruthega, naa mujhse, mere saathiya yeh vaada kar
Tere bina, mushkil hai, jeena mera mere dil mein
Author’s Note: Thank you all for being so patient, so kind and encouraging. I don’t know if I am qualified to even refer to what happened as writer’s block or to say that it is gone. But I know I want to write. And I know I want to finish this story. I hope you like what you read. And that you will let me know when you don’t. I don’t want to put a date for the next chapter and not live up to it. But soon, I promise!
A special shout out to “Piku” for reminding me just how beautiful the Ganga is on the banks of Banaras and Calcutta!
*- The rain song Khushi was listening to – one of my favorite melancholic tunes, heartbreaking lyrics.