For Nivi – thank you!
“You missed the best part of this trip, Kavi. You should have said yes to AV Sir’s bike ride offer back to the camp.”
Arjun said as he plonked himself next to her, shaking his head and arms so that sand flew around him and on her. Making a face, she averted her face and closed her eyes till she heard her friend laugh out aloud and apologize with little credibility.
Presently, dusk was falling, the air thick and still with the day’s heat and yet the signs of a cool night lying in wait were evident to the experienced eye. The water, for instance, bubbled more than it hissed as it did in the afternoon. There was a slight breeze as the banks cooled faster than the river itself and gently, invisible currents carved elliptical paths between the elements.
The two hours of rest allotted to them once they had reached the camp site, had gone by in a blink since Khushi had fallen into a deep, unexpectedly restful sleep in her tent, despite the heat. She had woken up with a start just minutes before the rafting debrief session was due to commence. Still, she had been the first ones in the open enclosure that was the venue for their academic get-togethers. The others had dragged their feet in and struggled to keep their sleepy eyes open – most of them having chosen her method of time pass over all else. The sleepy eyes, however, lasted only the first few minutes after Aman made his appearance, Arnav and Aditi in tow. The debrief had been short but impactful as Aman wove concepts of team building, leadership and direction to what had been seemingly just a fun, adventure activity. They had each been asked to choose their highlights from the day’s activities and when it was Khushi’s turn, she had no trouble choosing her favorite moments – a surprising combination of individual contribution and team work – she had always assumed she only had fun reveled in solitary achievements. The session after the rafting debrief was a quick role play based supply chain game that was intended to highlight the importance of communication and collaboration in an organization. Even as Arnav conducted the game, taking over from Aman, Khushi paid little attention to him and was able to concentrate on playing rather seriously, much to her own surprise.
Now, with all the official activities for the day done and dusted, the campers had split into self-selected groups and were presently scattered along the beach. Some playing volleyball in the fast dimming light and others sitting around in alternating silences and chatter.
Khushi had been sitting on the large rock by the river – her favorite spot now, facing away from the volleyball game which Arjun had been participating in till about two minutes ago when he called for a time out and headed over to sit next to her.
“I am fine without living on the edge, thank you very much,” She said, looking at Arjun with a raised eyebrow as she rephrased one of his own dialogues from earlier in the day.
“Ha ha,” He replied dryly and then shook his head. “Two very different things. Swimming in the open river without anchors and riding pillion on a motorcycle behind one of the most responsible people I have ever met.”
At that, Khushi chuckled. “Crush on Aman, now? Does AV Sir know?”
“He has half a crush on his own Jeeja I think,” Arjun said rather dramatically as he pretended to whisper in her ear.
Khushi made a face. “That is gross, Arjun.” She then looked away in the direction of the camp, her eyes screening the expanse, in search. And as if the forced restraint was too much, the words that followed, tumbled out of her gut before she could rein them back in. “His fiancée, or is it his wife now?,” she asked with a well-designed careless shrug, “will be offended to hear such awful accusations being heaped on him – from those who once adored him, no less. Not to mention his sister. And his brother in law” It was a poorly conceived ploy to extract information, she concluded as her own childishly devious words rang in her head.
She waited with bated breath as she picked up a smooth pebble and let it roll between her fingers before she let it slip again, only to pick another one up, this time one of jagged edges.
“His fiancée? You mean you don’t know?” Arjun asked with a frown.
“Know what?” She asked with an unintended sharp edge in her voice.
“You didn’t hear about it?”
This time she frowned visibly. “You know perfectly well that I hear things only when you choose to say them to me. My position outside the gossip network has been well established for years now, Arjun.”
Surprisingly and weirdly, Arjun looked away rather guiltily. “I thought I told you,” He said under his breath.
The wheels in Khushi’s head were churning at full speed now. Something was off in what Arjun was saying. And in the way he was saying it. She shook her head. “Told me what?”
Her friend took a deep breath and looked at her somberly. “It didn’t work out between them.”
She knew her heart was thudding in her chest and that a secret serpent of envious victory was unfurling in her stomach. Karma, a little voice in her head cheered. Shame, another chimed in, a moment later, making her heart twist in a brutal mixture of regret and vindication. She shook her head mentally. Why was she feeling guilty about the latter? He had broken her heart, hadn’t he? Even if done unintentionally, worlds built on broken hearts didn’t flourish like the spring. They withered like her favorite gulmohar on the IE-V campus that had been struck down cruelly one dreadful winter. This news – was only proof that balance existed in the universe. He deserved it.
Bitch-y, a snooty voice whispered in her ears, like a buzzing mosquito that she wanted to swat with little mercy. “He dumped her? After all that drama about Romeo Juliet and what not?” Her voice was waspish, tinged with poison not unlike one bitter and smarting from rejection. Ha, how did she ever think she was over it, him?
Arjun turned to look at her strangely, possibly because the completely out of character behavior that was being exhibited at the moment. Kaveri Khushi Gupta, The Impossibly Un-judgmental (for the most part) was being rather scathing even if under the guise of a carelessly uttered question.
“She dumped him, if you really want to use the word.”
That surprised her. Someone dumped Arnav Varun? Why would anyone dump Arnav Varun? Getting dumped meant not being able to live up to somebody’s expectation. It was difficult to think of an Arnav Varun who someone called Saira had fallen out of love with. He had flaws, she mused. More than leading dimwitted first year nerds on into believing there was something more to the music and the lyrics?
She frowned as she became aware of the bitter taste on her tongue. She felt positively evil for thinking these thoughts. And yet, it was like a digging pickaxe had struck greenish-black gold. The thick, foul smelling liquid of her secret viciousness oozed into the crater of information aided curiosity.
“What did he do?” She asked churlishly, the facade she had been struggling to keep together, falling apart quickly as her voice changed and she leaned into the conversation.
Arjun’s brow furrowed and a look of annoyance flashed across his face. “You know, clearly you are interested in knowing what happened – which is unlike what you have lead me to believe always. Why don’t you go ask him yourself and stop pretending that he doesn’t matter?
Khushi’s heart beat skid along the greasy path that Arjun’s words were leaving behind. “What is the matter with you?” she asked as the area between her eyes and behind the bridge of her glasses began to throb.
Arjun took a deep breath and dusted his palms. “Nothing. I am just tired and not really in the mood to answer for AV Sir. Really, you should ask him.” Then as if thinking the better of himself, he pushed himself up and shook the sand off his shorts and legs. “I better get going. I need to shower before dinner. See you later.”
“Arjun,” She began only to have him completely ignore her as he turned and walked away in quick strides. There was something stiff and tense in his posture as he walked. And the words he had just hurled her way. What did he mean? Did he…Had he finally figured out that she was not as immune to Arnav Varun as she claimed to be? And if he had, why did it bother him enough to be mad at her?
The suspicions that she had battled with, only occasionally though – for years now and with increasing frequency and intensity, came rushing back to her. Did Arjun feel for her, what she possibly felt for Arnav once? The question had raised its ugly head many times in the past only to be quashed by her own conviction that he or for that matter, any other member of the opposite gender – looking as good as they did and having accomplished as much as they had, would feel anything remotely romantic for her.
Now, she wasn’t very sure.
“You look like you could use a drink,”
She looked up to see Aditi Sinha lowering herself on to the rock next to where Khushi was sitting. The older woman looked fresh and crisp in a light blue Lucknowi Chikan top and white shorts. Her hair was pulled into a neat french braid, highlighting all the angles of her rather attractive face, high cheekbones, golden skin and eyes that she now realised had the same sunrise flecks that her brother did. Except, Aditi’s eyes were a warm shade of cinnamon. Her brother’s eyes were darker – sometimes a deep chocolate and others almost midnight black – she didn’t really know and for some reason, it bothered her that she didn’t.
“Trouble in paradise?” She asked as she let her legs dangle daintily in the air. Khushi watched in awe as Aditi’s petite frame lit up the space to her right in a way that her own never did. Or at least that is what she thought. How could it – with tall, stocky legs that literally remained glued to mother earth?
When she allowed herself to flutter back to the conversation, she realized Aditi was still waiting for a response.
Aditi leaned and pointed in the direction of where Arjun had walked away. “Him. He looked agitated. Lovers’ tiff?”
Khushi frowned and shook her head. “What? No, no…” Why did she have to stutter like she had been caught hiding something? And just where had this…this assumption about Arjun and her, come from? “Arjun and I are not…” What did they frikking call it? “We are not together…romantically involved, I mean…”
Aditi looked surprised. “Oh? I thought…” Then she smiled apologetically. “Sorry I just assumed that you and he….”
It was Khushi’s turn to frown and question. “Why?” Arjun and she hadn’t even spent as much time together on this trip as they usually did. Why would Aditi assume they were together?
Aditi shook her head and looked away, making Khushi rather suspicious about the answer that followed. “No just the way you both are…I am sorry if I offended you…It is rather silly of me to assume more than friendship – I blame Bollywood.”
Khushi forced herself to smile and look away. She didn’t want to be rude to Aditi – the woman – nosy as she was being at the moment, was one of those warm, open, freely smiling people she took a liking to instantly. She didn’t want that to change. There was already one too many person she had liked once and wasn’t really fond of anymore, at the moment.
“Since you are too nice to ask me to shut up and mind your own business, I have to prod on – and you have to promise not to hate me because I promise I don’t mean harm – I’m just a hopeless woman hurtling towards middle age, grasping at straws trying to find romance in others’ lives.”
Khushi smiled slowly at that, despite her dark mood, and turned to nod at Aditi. How could anyone take offence to such charm? Plus, maybe this is what she needed at the moment – to think about Arjun and to not think about Arnav.
“Why aren’t you together?”
In her world, surprises were rather routine. Shocks, on the other hand, were rarer than a “you look nice” compliment from someone other than her sister. So it was only natural that when Khushi experienced it at Aditi’s question, she took a complete minute to process just how surreal the moment was, before she looked at the other woman and frowned like she should have right away.
“Huh?” She asked rather vaguely before realizing just how dumb, quite literally, she sounded.
Aditi chuckled. “Please don’t tell me you are going to say that you have never thought about him – you know,” she punctuated with air quotes, “that way.”
Khushi smiled despite her growing wonder at the direction this conversation had taken so quickly. But then, this is exactly what had happened with Arjun just minutes ago. So maybe it just made sense that she was talking to someone about him. Even if that someone was a complete stranger.
And the sister of the person you once thought you were in love with, a voice reminded her, making her turn her head to scan her surroundings and make sure she wasn’t being watched.
“Is this your way of asking me to mind mine own business?” Aditi’s voice probed into the growing haze around her. “Because it is surprisingly effective.”
Khushi shook her head. “No, sorry…I…” She took a deep breath. “I have thought about it,” She admitted for the first time – to someone else as much as she did to herself. “And I decided it would never work. Our personalities are too much at contrast.” She might have added that right up until before the start of this trip, she was sure he didn’t, that he couldn’t really ever think of her romantically.
Now she wasn’t too sure.
Aditi’s face was scrunched up in disbelief. “Pff…You both love Hindi songs – there’s a great foundation to work on.”
Khushi’s eyes flew up to meet Aditi’s
“I mean, I know he doesn’t sing as well as you do – but the feeling,” Aditi continued, “It’s right there. Sometimes having that one thing in common is all you need.” She then looked away quietly, “And sometimes not having that one thing in common is all that it takes.” Khushi looked on at the older woman curiously. There was something poignant in her words – almost personal. If she were a person comfortable with touch, she might have reached out and placed her hand on Aditi’s shoulder.
Of course it was a good thing she didn’t because the next minute the older woman’s face was set perfectly pleasantly. “You have no idea how much it hurts that Aman doesn’t care about Hindi film music as much as I do. He lets me be whacky with it though…which is the saving grace of our romance, I think,” She grinned at herself as she looked out in the distance.
Khushi looked away, blushing in the shadow of Aditi’s barely hidden affection for her husband. And yet her heart was aflutter for entirely different reasons of course. Aditi was right about music being something that could bind, just not about the other person in question. The person who was pretty much the main reason why she couldn’t think of anyone else romantically – not because others weren’t worthy – because she couldn’t risk being wrong again.
Her emotions were now officially all over the place now. Hadn’t she just been dead curious and sadistically happy about Arnav’s broken relationship? And now, here she was, secretly admitting to herself that music still bound her to him and thereby kept even the possibility of another, even someone as nearly perfect as Arjun, away? A deep shudder ran through her body. Whatever she had expected Aditi’s company to do, it had not been this. She needed to do something. She needed to talk about something else. Anything that would put an end to the misery in her uneven breathing and complete lack of consistency in behavior when it came to a certain someone.
“So how did Aman and you get together?” She asked, more in the hope that Aditi’s romance would give her solace in the knowledge that these fantastic things did happen to people. If nothing else, she would at least have some distraction from the line of questioning that Aditi had just sparked off about Arjun.
“We grew up in the realm of each other. Our parents were family friends. But we never had anything to do with each other except be polite and indulge in small talk on special occasions – festivals, weddings – social events really. It changed one day – suddenly. He had come to deliver a team building workshop where I was working. I think it was one of his first few assignments. Love at first sight for me,” Aditi said with a small, secret chuckle. “I don’t think I had truly seen him before that. He took a little more time to get over the tangles of family ties and professional ethics.”
Khushi smiled even as she shrugged at the confirmation of what she had always believed. “It wasn’t love at first sight. It never is”
“You don’t believe in love at first sight?” Aditi asked as her smile widened.
Khushi shook her head. “When someone is good-looking, perhaps.” She shrugged, having dismissed the idea proposed by Bollywood through countless across the room stares ending in everlasting love, years ago.
Aditi snorted. “Looks have nothing to do with falling in love. It’s about….” Aditi flailed her hands about. “You feel this connection…inexplicable most times….Not as cheesy as someone somewhere is made for you and all that but not very different…you know like your sixth sense…it’s weird but you cannot wish it away.”
Khushi knew she was not convinced but she nodded nevertheless. There was no point arguing with someone who clearly believed in their own point of view so firmly.
“I am not converting you, am I?” Aditi asked.
She grinned sheepishly and shook her head. “I just…I guess I am not the type of person someone would fall in love with at first sight.”
Aditi looked at her curiously. “You would be surprised.” She said softy and then grinned. “Tanha tanha yahan pe jeena, yeh koi baat hai?”
Khushi smiled but looked away from her and hoped that this was when Aditi decided that thhe fun in this conversation was over.
Nothing of the sort of course, was going to happen.
“But I am surprised you didn’t say that you were not the person who could fall in love with someone at first sight. Does that mean it has happened? Is that why Arjun has never been in the running? Was there…Is there someone…” Aditi leaned in to look at her closely and Khushi couldn’t stop the blush rising in ungainly chunks up her neck and into face. Her cheeks were positively on fire.
She shook her head.
“Terrible liar, you are Kaveri.” Aditi chuckled and then sobered up. “Sorry, I am just all over you, aren’t I? Mun…Arnav always tells me that I am a complete busybody. Poor chap has been on the receiving end of my intrusion more than anyone else. I try not be this way with others – especially those who are not family but…” She grinned again. “You can tell me to mind my own business and I will, I promise. I won’t even take offence.”
Khushi looked at her and for a minute considered telling Aditi exactly what she had asked for. The words were almost at the tip of her tongue when they betrayed her and morphed. “There was someone a long time ago…but…it was stupid…”
Aditi’s eyes remained fixed on her face. “Why was it stupid?”
She took a deep breath. “He had a girlfriend.” A fiancée really, she corrected herself silently. Aditi didn’t need to know that – and end up putting things together – she seemed like the sort of person who would.
The deep sigh she felt in her stomach, echoed in her ear to the right where Aditi was seated. “That is rough. Did you wish they broke up?”
Khushi turned to stare at her in shock. That was twice in less than thirty minutes. This woman was something else. “No,” She shook her head violently. “Of course not.”
Had she? Had she ever wished Arnav’s relationship ill? She couldn’t recollect for the life of her if she had ever thought nasty thoughts in the days following Aarohan. Surely not? But then, how had they gushed into her brain the first thing after Arjun told her that things had not worked out for Arnav and his Saira?
Aditi laughed out loud for several minutes and forced Khushi to snap out of her thoughts. “You really are as nice as you look. I wished my first boyfriend’s girlfriend so much ill, I was convinced they broke up because of it.” She said with a wry, far away smile. “It seems like such a long time ago.”
Aditi nodded. “My friends hated me that first year – I could do nothing but mope around and bitch about her – she happened to be from my college too. The worst part – he knew – he so knew how I felt…. That was the part I hated the most.”
In that moment, Khushi knew that Karma or not, the universe definitely did seem to know exactly what she needed and proceeded to ensure she had it. What else could explain this – this feeling of shared misery – of knowledge that she wasn’t alone in what was probably as common as teenage acne. Her face eased and her lips lifted into a curve.
“But you said he was your first boyfriend. So it finally worked for the two of you?”
Aditi raised her eyebrow and shrugged. “When you wish for something….the universe conspires and it happens…Shah Rukh Khan said it – who am I to disagree with him?”
“You like Shah Rukh Khan,” Khushi nearly squealed in a rare moment of one-ness with a near stranger. She wanted to point out that Paulo Coelho had said it before Mr. Khan and then too, it was probably a scriptwriter somewhere. But then, this was no time to bring in mundane fact checks, was it? SRK fan club was an endangered species. It needed to be celebrated.
Aditi threw her hands up in the air. “Who doesn’t like Shah Rukh Khan?”
River Song, Music and Lyrics:
Song Title: Tanha Tanha
Singers: Asha Bhonsle
Music: A. R. Rahman
Kisi ka toh sapna ho, aankhon mein teri
Koi dilbar toh ho, baahon mein teri
Koi toh bane, humsafar, raahon mein teri
Yeh zindagi toh jaise, ek sazaa hai
Saath kisika ho toh, aur hi mazaa hai
- In what will be one of the best things to ever happen to the River, Nivedita – my dearest friend from the banks, has penned down her version of what Arnav Varun’s story might be. I cannot in words, express, what an honor it is to have someone write for the River. So thank you, Nivi and here I bring to you – Nivi’s AV irrespective of whether or not my version will be similar to hers, her tale is pure magic.
- And while Rivers flow, A Homecoming awaits. Twiggy writes again and this one promises to be just as special and unique as every other one of her writing has been. Join her on the new journey – coming soon – The Homecoming
- Next Update: Apologies for the delay, busy days are here as my little one turns five this coming Thursday (yes she is as old as IPK!). Chapter Eleven will be updated by the end of June.