What would a Hindi film heroine do? Khushi wondered once Arnav’s song was over and Antakshari had resumed only to morph into an unstructured singing session. There was no answer, of course. Because Hindi film heroines never had this kind of trouble. They almost always knew what the hero wanted. Mostly because the hero was almost always very clear about his wants. And these wants – they were almost always centered around the heroine.
Here, however, there was no chance any such clarity – after all she was no Hindi film heroine. She squashed the little voice of girlish hope that wondered if there could be, much to the taste of bile on the back of her throat.
What the hell was she doing, she asked herself angrily, her brow crunching into a deep frown. She didn’t need this. And whatever it was that Arnav Varun was up to, she was done falling for it. Enough time had already been wasted on this topic. And it was going to end.
The next time Arnav Varun pulled something of this sort, he was going to know just how unappreciated it was. “You mean singing songs? Because that is all he has done this time” A voice sniggered in her head. She flicked it way with her willpower and focused on her anger.
She would borrow from every haughty fictional and real characters known to her if that is what it meant. Or better still, maybe this new found annoyance would help her find her own original response to his vagaries. Feeling surer than she had been, she shrugged the feeling of tingling anxiety away.
The rest of the evening passed with little regard to the person of two names – neither herself nor the other. She forced herself to never look in his direction, not even when she knew he was looking in hers. A part of her had wanted to get up, dust her hands visibly and walk out of the session.
However, there were two reasons she didn’t do it. One, she didn’t want to give Arnav Varun the satisfaction of knowing that he was getting to her. Yes, she conceded to herself, there was no point pretending the absence of this silent dance between them, as pointless as it was.
The second reason, of course, was the fact that it really was the most beautiful night. Even without a full moon, the light was enough to cast a faint, pale yellow shadow over the silhouette of mountains and clusters of trees. Moonbeams bounced off the rolling river in chuckles of gaily splashing water. The rocks lying awash in the river’s path – impish in the way they teased her patience – gleamed and shone. Even for this time of day – night to be precise – everything was fresh and beautiful. If at the moment, a couple of fish were to fly up in the sky and across the moon before splashing back into the water, she wouldn’t be surprised. It was that picturesque. And just the perfect atmosphere for the song that was now being sung.
By Arnav of course. And yet, she was determined to see nothing and to pay attention only to the beauty of a gifted voice.
Khoya khoya chaand, khula aasman
Aankhon mein saari raat jaayegi
Tumko bhi kaise neend aayegi
She didn’t care that it might have been a subtle reference to the sleeplessness that she couldn’t deny. It was as much in his sunrise irises as it was in her bespectacled gaze. She didn’t even care that in not caring about the former, she had pretty much acknowledged just how attuned she was to him with every breath of her being. She only reminded herself with every fail of her heartbeat that he was spoken for. A part of her also wanted to cruelly question his morality at pursuing her when he was engaged otherwise – pun intended.
He isn’t actually pursuing you, you know. Khushi told herself with a wry chuckle. You wish he did. But all he really did was apologise for leading you on. Which basically means he knew exactly what you were feeling back then. Which is basically why you are scared.
Stop it. She scolded herself. And then whined the same phrase in her head again, hoping for some relief. Please stop it.
Thankfully for her, Aditi Sinha took over from her “baby” brother soon enough and saved Khushi her sanity. If nothing, it helped Khushi focus on the brilliance of Aditi’s voice even as she sang a male voice original with almost as much charm as her brother had. Her voice was teasing and just husky enough to hint at mystery and romance. Aman Sinha – handsome as he was himself, was a lucky man.
Taare chale, nazaare chale
Sang sang mere woh saare chale
Chaaron taraf ishaare chale
Kisi ke toh ho jaao
She watched as Aditi walked up to Aman and held out her hand amidst cat-calls from all those around them except Arnav – who was half-hiding his face in his hands with a weary smile. Aman, however, was clearly no stranger to his wife’s ways. He took her hand and led her to a quick waltz around the flames as the rest of the group continued to sing for them. She joined too, purely out of instinct as her gaze followed the pair of them with great awe and not-unremarkable envy.
Hum mit chale, jinke liye
Hum mit chale hain jinke liye
Bin kuch kahe woh chup chup rahein
Koi zara yeh unse Kahn
Na aise aazmaao
A little breeze picked up in the otherwise still night and ruffled her hair up about her in a touch of black and white romance, or at least that is how she saw it in her head. Smiling, she tucked her hair back and clapped with the rest of the group as the lead couple took a quick bow and found their seats again.
In the next thirty minutes or so, the group began dispersing for the night, one or two yawning folks at a time. Aman Sinha was among the first few to leave. Aditi had remarked shortly after that he would spend time working on the next day’s sessions, pushing Aman’s status further up in Khushi’s standing. When it was only Arnav, Aditi, Arjun and couple of others from their group around the now dying fire, Khushi knew that she had her way out and that she needed to take it before it was too late.
Luckily for her, Aditi also rose at almost the same time, further bolstering Khushi’s decision. She bid her goodnights to the rest of them and stepped away from the group. Khushi was about to follow the older woman when Arjun reached out to grab Khushi’s hand much to her embarrassment and tugged at it with a tone-deaf rendition of one of her favourite romantic tracks.
“Bekaraar karke humein yun na jaayiye, Aapko hamari kasam laut aayiye”
Khushi blushed to the tip of her wavy hair and tugged her hand back to the safety of her own personal space. She refused to look in the direction of a focused, unreadable, sun-flecked contemplation and made a face at Arjun instead.
“Please do not murder that song, Arjun. I beg of you.”
“Don’t leave then? Didn’t we talk about not being bores and sleeping at ten?”
Khushi continued to look at him blankly even though he knew that Arnav was now shamelessly looking at her, the memory of a late night rendezvous clearly shining in his fire-lit eyes.
“Unlike you, Arjun, I am dead tired. If I stay here for a minute more, I will be falling asleep here.”
“So? Haven’t you ever slept under the stars? It used to be the best part of summer vacation for me.” Then he turned to Arnav. “AV Sir, we should have a sleep under the stars night. We can pull up all the mattresses here on the beach.”
Khushi didn’t pay attention to what Arnav said in response because she was sure he rejected the idea. If Arjun was the idealist romantic, Arnav Varun had been the unassuming pragmatist. That difference hadn’t disappeared in the last four years. If anything, it seemed to have solidified in its intensity. Nevertheless, she couldn’t deny that Arjun really did know the best lines to make her rethink her plan of action. Sleeping on the terrace and then waking up early to snuggle into the chilly comfort of her cotton-filled pillow just before Tripti and she were dragged away indoors before the sun could make its appearance, was her favourite memory of summer too. Well, second favorite, she corrected herself. Her favourite memory of summer vacation would always be reading novels without interruption for hours, sliding in and out of sleep as she did.
“Even so,” She said softly with a shrug aimed at conveying that her mind was immutable.
Arjun made some comment about her which she didn’t pay heed to. Instead she wished him good night and then bade a generic good night in the direction of the others before she picked up her chappals and walked back to the sanctuary of her tent.
Once in her tent and having changed into her favorite night shirt and a pair of mismtached, worn out pyjamas before she tucked herself into bed, she couldn’t however, so much as even close her eyes. She had not been lying about being tired. She was exhausted enough to feel it in her bones and the muscles in her forearms and calves. The underside of her feet tingled as she folded her knees and rested her feet sole down on the thin mattress beneath. Despite the physical aches and pains, tokens of a hard-day, there was no shred of sleep in her consciousness.
The light of the moon filtered in through the slivers of thread-bare canvas in the river-facing side of the tent. The air inside was thick with the gathers of afternoon heat, like she had come to expect. The tent would automatically cool down as morning approached, she knew. Enough for her to feel a chill when she would wake up.
For more than an hour, or so she estimated by the length of time that had passed by and the slight but evident shift of the moon’s position in the sky, she lay absolutely still, her mind clouded with myriad thoughts but with one single focal point – of the night before, the day and finally the evening. Even in such a short span of time, she seemed to have covered more Arnav-distance than she had in the last four years. And that was unsettling. Finally, she pulled herself up and got out of bed to find herself a remedy for restlessness. She looked at her walkman and mixed tape and decided against music. She had had enough for the evening.
She paced in her tent, regretting saying no to a gas lamp that might have been helpful to get some reading out of the way. She walked up to the closing flap of canvas that lay unflattering at the entrance of the tent a couple of times before she gave up and threw it open to walk out. She wouldn’t walk to the site of the campfire, she decided. She would walk upstream, the side she had left unexplored last night. Hopefully, she would not run into either Arjun or Arnav, neither of whom she could handle at this hour.
Thankfully, when she walked along the lesser travelled pebble-marked path to her right, she could see only wisps of smoke coming from the camp fire on her left. And the beach itself was completely deserted. Since her tent was on the left extreme, she could as she walked, see the remaining tents in her periphery. Most of them were illuminated with nothing but silver beams of the half-moon. A couple however, had dull yellow light streaming out of them. She could see faint shadows of moving limbs. She just had to cross her fingers and hope that no one would come out for a stroll at this time. If they did, if anyone did, she promised herself that she would be firm enough to excuse herself and head back to the tent.
The area to the left of the camp was a lot less narrow and un-cleared of foliage, large rocks and stone. In the distance, she could also see the edge of the mountain where the river bank was not wider than a small gali near the Vishwanath temple back home. Wincing as her foot caught a small, usually sharp pebble, she stumbled and looked around her to find place where she could sit. She really should have worn her slippers, she thought as she hobbled around in inspection. They had been told multiple times and by Aman himself to ensure that their feet were covered and that they had enough insect repellant applied on the exposed parts of their body, at all times. She had ignored the instruction and now she would pay. A part of her wanted to turn around to go get her chappals. However, she knew that if she turned away now, she wouldn’t come back. So shaking her foot and vowing to pay more attention to the path, she walked on with a slight limp till the river was in her ears, the sparkle of the moon against the water, catching her eye. She walked right up to the edge of the bank and in a moment of sheer impishness, stepped into the shallow edge, the water rushing against her feet for a second before she realised it was too slippery to be safe. Shaking her leg free of water, she walked back and looked around her to see if she could find another rock to sit on. To her surprise, her gaze came to rest a small charpoy hidden between two large rocks almost as she was about to give up and sink on to the pebbled bank. The only reason she had even spotted it was because the area where there charpoy was standing was slightly depressed, giving her an unexpected advantage of height from where she was standing.
Sighing to herself, she walked carefully along the pebbled strewn path, careful to make sure she found the soft springy sand to place the pad of her feet. When she reached the charpoy, she checked it first to make sure all the thick, coarse jute strings were intact in their criss-crossed pattern. The last thing she wanted was to sink down to the bottom in an ungainly heap, even if there was no one to witness her fall. When the charpoy passed all possible inspections, she sat on it gingerly, easing into the seat as the device creaked under her weight. Five minutes of awkward sitting later, she was finally reassured that the thing wasn’t going to buckle. So she pulled her legs up straight in front of her for a second before she pulled her knees to her stomach and hugged herself. Her chin came to rest in the little cavern between her knees as she stared into the river. The moon had now disappeared behind a couple of stray clouds and it was completely dark. It was such a beautiful place and for some reason, she found the knot in her shoulders easing away. Whatever it was she had come looking for, she seemed to have found with unanticipated ease. She knew it was a matter of minutes before her eyelids drooped under the weight of sleep. Smiling to herself, she closed her eyes, promising herself that she would rest only for a few minutes before heading back to her tent.
The voice seemed to be pattering into her ears like the sound of rain against her window pane – her absolute favourite sound in the world. It was insistent and yet had a certain beat to it. Almost as if nature was challenging her to find the lyrics and sing along. So far, she had yet to find the words. She would, she knew. One day. Smiling at the thought, she allowed herself to ignore the voice only to have it touch her hand in the next instant. She pulled her arm away and tucked it in the curve of her body.
She blinked with closed eyes as she tried to turn in her sleep only to realise that the frame of her glasses had dug into her temple again. It hurt as she straightened them. She really did need to remember to remove them before she fell asleep.
“Kaveri, wake up. You shouldn’t be sleeping here.”
“Sue me,” She mumbled as she frowned. Tripti really did need to be spanked once to remind her who the older sister was. Using her first name was not going to earn her any favors. Or didn’t she know that already? Saying so, she succeeded in turning away from the voice only to have something smooth but hard poke into her hip. Flinching at the alien intrusion against her thread bare shirt, she slowly allowed her eyes to open. For a few long moments, she had no idea where she was or why.
Till the shape of the adjacent rock came into focus. Blinking again she turned to her left to see the indigo expanse above her. It was only when a light breeze brushed against her arm that she realized the silver holes in the carpet above were stars. Jerking up to a sitting position, she straightened her clothes and her glasses before turning to look at her left. Her mind had already begun invoking Shiv-ji to dispel any unfriendly spirits that might have taken offence to her shameless presence.
Of course, the person she saw scared her a lot more than any ghost could have in that moment at least. And it was no Tripti.
Arnav was staring down at her, his eyes glittering softly in the dim light of the hour, his face set in an unreadable mask. Or maybe she was just too groggy to notice. Great, she told herself. Of course he had found her. Again. Maybe that is what she had been hoping for. After last night, what other reason could there be for being out alone so late at night. And falling asleep on a deserted charpoy to top it. Oh the ignominy!
“You are going to have a stiff neck.” He said as she swung her legs down, her eyes quickly roaming over her clothes to make sure she was still decent. “And a cold.”
She looked up at him and stood quickly. She considered saying something stupid and inane and decided otherwise when she finally saw the glint in his eyes. If she didn’t know better, she would have bet he had come looking for her. Taking a deep breath, she mumbled a quick goodnight and began to rush past him.
She really needed to tell him to stick to one of her names. This oscillation was meant only for family. Even Arjun called her just Kavi. Arnav Varun, of all the people in the world, wasn’t allowed to choose what to address her to his liking. The words almost erupted in her throat when she felt his presence behind, too close for comfort.
“All I am asking for is a conversation, a chance to explain”
She turned around at that. She didn’t need to see him to know he was being earnest in his request. It was his biggest weapon – the ability to be so sincere in his communications. It was a bloody lie. Her eyes burned with anger. Sure, he may not have anything to apologize for from four years ago. But this pursuit…it was not helping. If anything, it was highly uncomfortable. As a professional, couldn’t he just leave her alone and get the week over with as quickly as they could?
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi
Album: Chori Chori (1956)
Singers: Lata Mangeshkar, Manna Dey
Ithlaati hawa, neelam sa gagan
Kaliyon pe yeh, behoshi ki nami
Aise mein kyun, bechain hai dil
Jeevan mein na jaane kya hai kami?
Kyun aag si laga ke, gumsum hai chaandni
Sone bhi nahi deta, mausam ka yeh ishaara
Next Update: Tuesday, Jun 7, 2016