Khushi’s shoulders slumped as she let her fingers grudgingly let go of the mehendi green chikan-kari salwar kameez that was her favorite special occasion attire. She turned around, one hand still holding the squeaking grey, only partially rusted metal almirah open. “What?” She exclaimed in resigned exasperation. “It is my favorite.” She pouted uncharacteristically. “And yours by your own admission.” She pointed out to her sister who was looking at her as if she was reaching out for poisoned ivy.
“It is when you need to look neat and tidy and professional. Like….no I can’t think of an occasion. But definitely not when you are scheduled to sing utterly awesome Bollywood numbers on a stage with the rest of IE-V looking on.”
Khushi had a mind to say something her mother would immediately classify as argumentative. Futility, however, was always a great demotivator. So she sighed and turned around to pick out a canary yellow churidaar-kurta only to have her sister erupt into a loud NO! again.
“I don’t like spending this much time on clothes, Tripti. Can you let this go? I am not dressing up for Miss. IE-V, you know.”
“Miss IE-V is a sad concept.” The younger girl pointed out dully, one eye still fixed squarely on the clothes arranged rather neatly in the almirah. “And you better gear up because you have less than an hour to get to the venue and we have hair and make-up to go.” Tripti warned, wagging her index finger at her sister.
“Absolutely not. I put my foot down on make-up. I am not…”
Tripti put her fingers in her ears and closed her eyes. “So we agree on the clothes and hair.” She hollered louder than Khushi.
This was a war she was going to lose, Khushi knew. Why was she even bothering? Her shoulders slumped again as she stuck her tongue out at her sister.
“If you had taken a minute to think before hyperventilating, you would realize that make up in this house means kajal which you will apply anyway.”
A small smile threatened to crack Khushi’s pursed lips open. She hid it, however, for no reason except that she needed to contain Tripti’s enthusiasm before she ended up looking like she stepped off the tacky, glossy pages of a family wedding album which usually tetered somewhere on the narrow ledge between loud and garish.
“What about the navy salwar kameez that you had stitched for Manish bhaiyya’s wedding last year?”
Khushi narrowed her brows. “I am not attending a wedding, Trip.”
“That was hardly wedding-ish. Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the argument with Ma about that already?”
She hadn’t. It had been a battle of wills – one that Khushi had eventually won but not before her usually somberly dressed mother’s unbelievably garish choices in wedding attire – for Tripti and her only, left her gob-smacked and permanently scarred.
“I haven’t forgotten but…”
Tripti shook her head, scrambled over from her side of the bed to Khushi’s and pushed her aside rather brusquely. “Hey,” Khushi began only to be cut off by Tripti’s discovery of the dress in question.
As Tripti held the navy blue salwar kameez with a thin ice-cream pink border and a lightly sequined, sheer ice-cream pink dupatta, Khushi found herself smiling. It was definitely her most priced wardrobe possession – one of the few “pretty” things she owned and felt good about. However, for precisely those reasons, she didn’t want to wear this for Aarohan. She wasn’t looking to technically make a good impression there, was she? Or feel pretty.
No, she wasn’t she told herself loudly.
She quelled the little truant voice from within that threatened to expose the deepest recesses of her unofficial longings. “Not this one. Really, Trip. Too elaborate for a…”
“Have you seen pictures of Aarohan evenings? Girls wear the most glamorous things you can expect on engineering campuses. I saw some pictures on the IE-V website. And you have enough stage time. I cannot allow you to go looking like a behenji – which this salwar-kameez just saves you from being by a very small margin anyway. Bas bol diya.”
Khushi couldn’t help grinning at Tripti’s rising crescendo of a voice. She gave her little sister a quick hug and pulled the hanger from Tripti’s hands to put the clothes back in the almirah.
“Di. Please listen to me this once na. What is this stubborness? It’s not like I am asking you to wear low-waist jeans and a chamkeela crop top.”
“Haha. Not in this life even if I wanted to.” Khushi retorted wryly, hugging her full-figured body.
“We’ll dissect that comment later. Abhi time nahi hai.”
Khushi sighed. “This is too …well-fitted…err….and the neck is too…”
“Uff…Firstly you should be happy that you have a body that can have clothes fitted to it. Everything I wear looks like it’s been thrown carelessly on a clothes-hanger.”
Khushi held her hand up. “We are not arguing about being on the extremes of the weighing scale. Let’s just accept that neither is much fun.”
Tripti chuckled at that. “True. We are a couple of sad girls with body image issues. But that doesn’t mean we cannot dress up when the chance presents itself.”
“Body image issues? Too many Hollywood high school chickflicks, I think Krishna Tripti. Or wait you aren’t reading stuff like Cosmo or something right?”
“I have no clue what Cosmo is.” Tripti shrugged though Khushi didn’t quite believe her. “But I am serious. You should wear this,” She said as she extracted the navy salwar kameez and thrust it into Khushi’s hands. “And then I will fix your hair. Priyanka showed me a cool style to straighten hair using a steam iron and a towel.”
Khushi’s eyes widened. “No way. I know I am not a fan of my jhaadu-wale baal but I definitely prefer this to being bald.”
“Very funny.” Tripti rolled her eyes. “Ab jao – change. You have a little less than forty five minutes to be at the venue. And you still have hyperventilating about singing in front of an audience to take care of.”
Khushi slapped her sister’s cheek lightly only to earn a not-so-light thump on her back before she accepted the dress her sister was holding. Now, if only her heart slowed down a bit on the anticipation she couldn’t seem to control.
She had made a mistake. She shouldn’t have let Tripti force her into wearing what she was. It clinged to her body too much. The neckline was lower than usual and though Tripti assured her that it was more modest than the occasion mandated, she remained jittery. Surely gazes were trained on her for longer than usual. And that was saying something, wasn’t it? It made her more nervous than she already was. She toyed with her sling bag, tempted to pull her hair back into a pony like she usually did. How could she have been lured by her sister’s praise and let her hair loose? Sisters were meant to praise, to compliment and and be nice, after all. She pushed an errant lock behind her ears and her glasses up the bridge of her nose and breathed in deeply. She had, at the very least, won the glasses versus contact lenses fight with Tripti. It was definitely the time to celebrate small mercies.
Someone she recognized but couldn’t remember for the life of her, thrust a small booklet in her hand. It was the Aarohan programme schedule. She clutched it tight and walked through the building crowd. The event was scheduled to start in about thirty minutes but students were gathering outside the auditorium already. It was the time of evening when sunlight turned orange and evening cast shadows on everything it touched. The area just outside the auditorium, on normal days a large well-manicured garden with flowers blooming in every corner, had been turned into a motley collection of “stalls” which ranged from MBA and M.S. entrance test coaching centers trying to lure students with their early bird offers to stalls by leading beverage manufacturers who were currently running happy hours with free drinks for everyone who stopped by. Needless to say the crowd was distributed in favor of the latter.
Ignoring whispered references to “that first year mech girl” and the chaos that only seemed to spread as if in a secret salute to the second law of thermodynamics, Khushi hurried towards the “green room” where all the participants were expected to assemble.
To say that she wasn’t prepared for the sight that greeted her, would have been an understatement. Not only was the room a classic example of what would constitute a nice mix between cacophony and pandemonium, it also proved that her fifteen year old younger sister was definitely more in-tune with the way things worked than she could ever be. Everywhere she looked, she saw glitter and glamour. The women sparkled and the men looked like they had accepted a secret challenge to not be bested by the other gender. Sure, they didn’t look like they belonged to the pages of a fashion magazine. A bad early 90s college movie, maybe. It was still enough to leave her stunned for words. Eyes were lined with mascara, hair gelled for men and flying for women, lips were painted and shirts glimmered in the warm lighting. Ha, she thought to herself. The stares she had assumed were probably people amazed at how under-dressed she was. It was enough to make her smile and let her bunched muscles relax. Now she only pre-program nerves to deal with.
“Kavi, you are here!”
Khushi turned around to see Arjun sauntering over towards her. He looked handsome enough to make her smile. Sporting a crisp white shirt with navy denims and sneakers, his hair gelled only lightly and swept back from his face, he looked fresh and ready for the evening. She had to admit that Tripti did have a point. “You look nice!” She said softly as he neared her, surprised with herself. She had always believed that she was one of those who didn’t do casual but genuine compliments well.
Arjun grinned boyishly and took a bow. “So do you!”
She dismissed it instantly and instinctively as always. He was just being polite, of course. Nevertheless, she smiled at him. “This looks like everything is in order. All on time.” She said sarcastically, a minute later as she waved her hand around.
“What’s a college event without chaos?” He quipped. “I love this!”
Khushi shook her head and looked around her in wonder. Loving chaos was an artform she would never truly master.
And then her brain, in true tribute to being Kaveri Khushi Gupta’s, jumped to a not-so-irrelevant little topic, forcing her to acknowledge that she wasn’t a mere observer. And that he had eventually made his way to her thoughts after all. Where was he?
“Did you take a look at the program?” Arjun asked, “You go after…”
She looked down at the small booklet she was holding and opened it more as a attempt to push thoughts of a certain someone away.
“Haan, you go after Rohan and Farha for Pyaar Hua…. I think that is right in the middle of the program. Then we have Iss Deewane…towards the end of the program. And then finally of course, there is AV-Sir’s session. But that would be only after nine.”
Khushi took a deep breath. “How did I end up agreeing to singing so much?” She whispered to herself before she tucked her stomach in and reminded herself that this was the final day for all things related to singing and to the person she was refusing to think about. Tomorrow would be a new day. Sure, she would miss….No! She couldn’t think about that.
“I have to run now.”
She frowned, suddenly uncomfortable with the idea of being alone in this crowd without her anchor – which Arjun had easily become. “I thought you were the pre-program coordinator. Shouldn’t the logistics and operations volunteers take over now?”
Arjun shrugged and smirked in that very familiar Arjun-way. “What can I say? They can’t seem to do without me!”
Khushi rolled her eyes and then watched as Arjun bade her farewell and hurried away. She looked around her and sighed. She felt truly alone and it wasn’t a pleasant thought. It was if anything a scary thought. It had been nearly three months since she had first walked into IE-V as a student and she had exactly one friend.
And one huge crush!
Shaking that thought out of her mind, she gathered her dupatta and walked in the direction of the stage which adjoined the green room.
The program started thirty minutes later with as much noise as could be expected. Even an auditorium that had a seating capacity upwards of a thousand was jam-packed. The initial ten minutes remained somber with the Director of Engineering addressing the first years with what was a truly short and completely boring little speech. However, he was evidently familiar with the fact that none of the students really wanted anything serious that evening. By the time the comperes for the evening made an appearance amidst wolf whistling and loud applause, the Director and the few Professors who had accompanied him, had disappeared.
Khushi had found a spot in the wings where she could stand and watch the evening unfold even as other singers found their little corners around her. She had tried to look for any signs of her parents but wasn’t surprised to not see them. Her father, as much as he enjoyed music, was too grave to indulge in open frivolity. “Hmph! It’s just an excuse for silliness. Plus I don’t want to listen to people murdering perfectly good songs.” He had retorted with an ungainly snort when Tripti had asked him about his attendance. Her mother had mentioned dropping by but Khushi knew she wouldn’t be surprised if Gayatri Gupta chose to not attend the event just as her husband had.
The rising volume of claps announced the real beginning of the program as the first singer – a Electrical Engineering girl came forward with her rendition of Madhuri-Dixit’s famous mathematical dance superhit – with dialogues and everything. To say that she had the audience dancing in joy was an understatement. Khushi found herself smiling and cheering the unknown co-singer with everyone else that surrounded her. In that moment, the loneliness from just moments ago was forgotten as she realized that she was indeed part of a little community and a group of people who despite being very different from her, would always remember this evening with fondness.
It was ten songs of multiple genres later that Khushi first allowed herself to look for him actively. She might have lasted longer if it had not been Nishant Kumar Pathak’s cameo with Teri Deewani that reminded of the time when she had listened to Nishant’s Sir near perfect rendition of the popular Sufiana-style song and marveled at its perfect recreation of how she felt for the one with two names who had been siting beside her at the time.
She couldn’t deny, at least to herself, that she had expected to run into him or at least see him in every place that she had been in since she had first arrived at the venue. And though she had been sure multiple times of being watched, she really wasn’t. The floppy head of hair, eyes that shone with unparalleled brilliance, that strap of a wooden guitar that clung to his chest, long legs encased in fitted denims…
Stop it! She admonished herself even as she craned her neck to see if he was on the other side of the stage. Or maybe he was in the audience? He didn’t technically need to be with the performers till the after event was scheduled to start.
Yes, that was it. She would see him when she stepped on to the stage. Rather she would not see him because like most evening programs the fact that the audience section was darkened meant that the performer on stage would see nothing but silhouettes.
She would know if it was his silhouette, of course. And then?
She was either going to fumble…Or she was going to sing better than she ever had? Heartbreak or not, he was her inspiration. She couldn’t deny it. She had been a childish idiot because of one stupid dream and an even more inappropriate reaction to it. And he was clearly too grown up to indulge a child throwing a tantrum. He didn’t owe her that. No one did. And she didn’t expect it. Yet, it still bothered her that it was barely hours to go before their final few moments together and he was nowhere to be seen. Just days before that dream which had ruined her sanity, she had been wondering if he would show up to wish her luck before she went on stage the actual day of the event. Here she was today, searching and failing rather miserably.
Yep, she only had herself to blame.
“Kaveri, you are up after Rohan and Priyanka. They go after Nishant-Sir.”
She stumbled without moving and clenched her palms together as nerves returned with a vengeance. Arjun wasn’t around either. She really was going to sing in front of strange motley collection of students and there was no one to even wish her luck.
“Stop, stop, stop” She muttered under her breath, straightening her back. She adjusted her dupatta again and took a deep breath. There was a silver lining if she wanted to see it. She would see him in the audience, wasn’t she? He had to be there! And then when it was time for her to sing with him, she would be her pleasant, friendly version. Not the prickly snob that she might have been perceived as in the last few interactions. It was no one else’s problem that she didn’t know what to do with herself and her wayward feelings.
Things were going to change.
They didn’t. He was nowhere to be seen. Even as she fought nerves that always made her jittery in the initial moments she spent in front of a large group, even as she breathed in the music and sang with all her heart, her eyes had searched frantically. Her estimate was correct. She couldn’t see the audience composition as clearly as she would have liked but she had spotted Tripti and her friends in the far left. Arjun, surprisingly enough, had been standing right next to Tripti. . But there hadn’t even been a hint of that familiar profile amidst the crowds.
The song had been received well. No one hooted when she was singing. People clapped enthusiastically when she finished. It may not have been the best performance for the evening but it had been a good one. When she walked back from stage into the wings, she had been welcomed with smiles and compliments. Arjun met her soon after and heartily thumped her back for having “smashed it”. And yet none of it was able to put her spirits back to where they belonged. Why the hell did Arnav Varun have a habit of vanishing whenever she was most looking forward to seeing him?
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Tum Ho Toh
Album: Rock On !!
Singers: Farhan Akhtar
Music: Shankar, Ehsaan, Loy
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Tum ho toh, gaata hai dil
Tum nahi, toh geet kahan
Tum ho toh, hai sab haasil
Tum nahi, toh kya hai yahan
Tum ho toh hai, sapnon ke jaisa haseen
Jo tum ho toh, toh lagta hai
Ki mil gayi har khushi
Jo tum na ho, toh lagta hai
Har khushi mein hai kamee
Tumko hai maangti
Note: Chapter Fifteen has 4 parts. This was Part 1. Please bear with me!
Next update will be delayed – maybe 10-15 days from now. I see an avalanche headed my way and I am not even wearing a snow-suit! <deep breath!>