For my dearest Twiggy – Happy Birthday! Here’s wishing you magic, life and love – this year and forever
He would have dived right into the water, with or without a life jacket, if only it hadn’t been pitch dark as it was at this time of the night. He really needed something to take his mind off what had just happened. His body buzzed as the softest graze of her lips sang like music in his veins. What the hell was he thinking? He had not intended to kiss her – definitely not when she had assumed so confidently that he wouldn’t. Or was it the challenge in her voice that had egged him on? He shook his head. She was not a tease – there was no challenge in her voice – just plain conviction that he would be the gentleman he knew she thought he was. If he knew her well – and he knew that he didn’t – she didn’t even understand the extent of what she was able to affect. He couldn’t blame her. Hell, he wasn’t sure even he understood what was going on.
Here he was, merely three days after seeing her again and he was acting like a randy teen. He had been a randy teen once – look how that turned out. If anything, he needed to take it slow. And yet, his need to take it slow had screwed it up, hadn’t it? He had not intended to act on what he felt. He had assumed it was too soon. Now, standing here with her words echoing in his mind, he knew it was too late. He should have known. He should have stayed away. He should have kept his guilt to himself. If he had he wouldn’t have seen her flustered explanations denying she felt anything for him – ironically confirming exactly what she didn’t want to. All of this – this mess – was because he had decided to apologize, because some twisted part of him wanted to feel what it felt like to be adored the way she did. He had guessed years ago and he had known now. And knowledge was a powerful thing. It corrupted minds into believing more of themselves. She had done that to him and he…
Why the hell did he have to kiss her? It was easier without the complication of desire amidst everything else that churned between them. Now, all he could think of what it would have felt to really kiss her, till her ever-curious eyes fluttered close. Instead, he had scared her. The fear in her eyes when his lips has brushed hers in a barely-there kiss – was twisting his stomach into knots. He had not intended to do that to her. He had never intended to do anything that might hurt her and yet there was nothing else that he seemed to be doing.
He felt like smashing something against the rocks just to see if destruction did in fact bring the relief that it promised to. Why the hell had he left the camp earlier today? Why had he taken the evening off, like J had suggested? And even if he had, why did he have to give in to the urge of riding alone to DevDwar? He had just been there last evening. Why couldn’t he have just stayed on the camp to figure out what he was going to talk to her about? No – he had to leave the River and ride through the mountains just so he could clear his head about not having kept track of her in the last four years.
This is ridiculous, he told himself. He knew exactly why he hadn’t tried to find out about her. He had not even allowed himself to think about it. He had worked on it. Consciously. And he had succeeded. Just like he succeeded in doing everything he took on. Then why was he here – in this mess? How could someone who he hadn’t thought about consciously for years affect him like this?
He shook his sister’s voice from his head. Ti-Di had always been that to him – his conscience that refused to keep quiet even when he most needed it to. If Aditi was here, he would asked her to shut up. When she was not physically around, shutting her up was almost impossible.
He cursed a foul word under his breath and winced as one would when they smoked for the first time. He was never one for swearing. Even in college, he had been famous for being the one who would refrain from using any swear words other than ones beckoning hell and damnation. He blamed Aditi again, of course. She had always been very vocal about how swearing always meant using derogatory words for women – in any language. It was tough to swear then without thinking of what Ti-Di would say if she found out. At twenty six, he still found it rather cumbersome to have to explain to those his age and older who looked at him rather queerly when he was not careful to hide his distaste for colorful language.
Saira swore beautifully. He had found it weirdly sexy when he had first acknowledged there could be more than friendship for her. Till he didn’t. And she had ripped him apart for changing. It was one of the first things that had gone bust between them.
He felt like a hypocrite now for swearing exactly because he didn’t know what else to do when it came down to this particular girl.
He had not been kidding when he had told her today that she knew nothing of him. He was simply reiterating what was gnawing at him – probably had been for years. He knew nothing of her. Except her exemplary knowledge of Hindi songs and a voice as unpainted and fresh as the rest of her, there was nothing he knew first hand. And that was what he had wanted to change. He wanted to hear her talk. He wanted to know what the last four years had been like. He wanted to know why she was here and not in some top-tier b-school. And for that, he knew that he needed to tell her about himself. And as much as it troubled him to talk about Saira – especially with her, he was ready to do it. Because that was the only way they could move forward from the awkwardness that they seemed to be stuck in. And yet…
He clenched his fingers into a fist till his palm hurt and breathed deeply. He looked up at the sky and closed his eyes as a light breeze picked up around him. A second later, he felt water on his face as the wind strengthened and teased the river. He could smell the pine in the distance, the scent of imminent dew as vapour touched leaves and melted into spheres. It would be dawn soon. And he had another long day ahead. He had not been sleeping well for days now. It was bound to catch up with him soon. He only hoped now that it would after the Speed Motors team left.
The realization came as swiftly as his eyes opened with a snap. A pale thread of ice was weaving its way down his spine. The team at Speed Motors would leave in less than two days. She would leave in less than three days. His throat dried as his legs slackened.
It’s a good thing, he muttered under his breath. Let her go. All you can give at this point is explanations and hope. She has more waiting. She always had more waiting. Arjun…She was doing the right thing. She was making the right choice. Three days from now, he didn’t even have a reason to meet her. He still had work here at the camp. Even if he did take the offer with A&M like J suggested…
Damn! He cursed again as he kicked a pebble hard into the distance.
The sudden appearance of voice behind him, made him stumble as his heart skipped a beat. He turned around to see Mohan standing behind him, his hair disheveled and eyes blurry.
“Mohan, what did I tell you about calling me that?”
“Sorry Bhaiyya,” Mohan said with a sheepish grin. “Woh Didi…”
He was going to kill his sister. She was doing this on purpose. She knew he didn’t like being called Munna – it was a terrible name – one he didn’t allow even his mother to use very often.
“What are you doing here at this time? It’s late.” He asked, slipping into Hindi.
Mohan rubbed his eyes even as he tried to hide a yawn and a sigh. “It’s not late, it’s early” He mumbled before he looked up. “Didi asked me to tell you to get the Siyaar set up since you are up anyway. And then, she asked me to tell you we need some more things from Rishikesh. We will need to make a trip. So when the…”
Arnav shook his head. “Flying Fox,” He corrected instinctively and rolled his eyes at his sister’s doing. She referred to everything in their Hindi translations when talking to the camp helper in the guise of being sensitive to their language skills. In reality, playing with words and language was her favorite game. Arnav had always maintained that she had missed her true calling as a writer by being here on the River – just so she could be with Aman. Aditi vehemently disagreed, of course.
He put his hand up. “Never mind your Woh Didi’s. What is this about supplies? Didn’t she just get food, groceries less than forty eight hours ago? How can it possibly be time for replenishment?” He asked with a frown. “And…why are we talking about this at this hour?”
“Didi woke me up early. She came to ask me if I could help you early today…”
“Ti-Di told you to help me set up the Flying Fox now? At this time?”
Mohan nodded miserably, “I asked for leave today. Yesterday she said no…and then late last night – I was already asleep – she got Ramcharan to wake me up,” He grumbled, “And she said if I helped you early this morning, I could go with you for the supplies trip and then have the day off.”
“Why do you need leave? And how will one day’s leave help?”
Mohan grinned and since it was dark, Arnav couldn’t see quite clearly but he was sure the young man was blushing. “Woh…My parents want me to go see this girl…”
Arnav rolled his eyes. This was the fourth time Mohan was going on his ladki-dekho trip this year and it was only still early March. “Phir se? What is with the hurry?”
“Amma wants me to get settled before I go astray. My brother married someone from a different caste and ran away to the city,”
His insides tightened when he heard that innocuously uttered statement. It was a reality in the country, even his more urban friends from IE and IM thought otherwise. And yet, it never failed to get his goat. He could feel his hackles rising in barely hidden fury. He forced himself to take discreet deep breaths even as Mohan looked on curiously. He needed to change the topic.
“And what will you do once you get married. I don’t know if your wife will want to…”
“No, no. She will stay in the village with Amma. Mostly Amma wants a daughter-in-law more than she me to have a wife. She had all hopes pinned to my brother. Now I have to be the better son.”
“And what about the poor girl? God, Mohan, I hope you are not going to marry someone who is not eighteen yet. How old are you, by the way? Do you know marrying before twenty-one is illegal in the country for men?”
Mohan grinned and looked away shyly. “Arre nahi Bhaiyya. I will be twenty two next month. And I don’t want to marry a child either…Aditi Didi already gave me one big lecture on that. And I told my mother…Amma knows that…That’s why it is taking so much time. The three girls I met – all of them fourteen or fifteen…”
Arnav cringed at the thought. Fourteen was as old as his youngest cousin – it was wrong. Up in the hills, it was difficult to believe the existence of a society that had evolved from where the previous generation had been. Some days, it got to him so much that the thought of going back to the same world and joining corporates like A&M seemed like a completely selfish thing to do. The worst part was not being able win the battle between the urge to renounce the superfluous and the life he was programmed to desire as a child – stability, income, accomplishment. Maybe someday…
“Bhaiyya – can we please have the Siy..Flying Fox set up and leave before morning. That way I’ll still make it home…”
Arnav sighed and shook his head, but set off with Mohan in the direction of the small forest behind staff tents where there were a few trees and a clearing earmarked for the Flying Fox. During training season, the ropes and gear usually remained set-up. The Speed Motors team was first for this season and hence found the River less structured than Aman usually preferred. Setting up the Flying Fox was physically hard. It took strength and Arnav had volunteered himself indefinitely when he had officially come on board. He had always relished the ache that came with a job well done. Today, however, it seemed like it was exactly what he needed to prevent his mind from straying away as it was threatening to.
“Mohan, catch,” He said as he sent the rope flying up to the younger man who was now perched up a branch. It was where the team would have to climb to swing from. She would have to do this…And he knew she would but…He had seen the nervousness in her eyes seconds before her chin rose and her back straightened – every single time. It made him smile even as he pulled the rope and twisted around the trunk in knot. His eyes fell on the deep black gash on his bicep extending all the way to his forearm – two thin lines with ridges in a perfect imitation of heated rope.
He pulled the rope harder and finished his knot with several tugs to ensure strength before he could go back to the tree where Mohan was working.
In the next hour, even as the sky began to lighten and the trees came awake, the two men worked in silence punctuated only by the occasional instruction. So it was unnerving when his sister sneaked up on him even as he was getting ready to do a couple of rounds of test runs on the entrapment.
He turned around and frowned as he stared at Aditi’s freshly scrubbed face and immaculate appearance. Even as diminutive as she was physically, it was this no nonsense look that reminded him of just how strong she could be when she wanted.
“I was never worse,” He answered even as it suddenly dawned on him that he had been set-up.. Of course she had noticed as keenly as Aman had. His sister probably thought it was hilarious that he was pacing up and down the river and riding in the mountains in the middle of the night.
“You are harassing that poor fellow, Ti-Di.” He said wryly as he nodded at Mohan standing below the other tree. “Every sentence out of his mouth begins with Didi ne kaha…”
“Better than Amma ne kaha,” Aditi rolled her eyes. “Idiot wants a bahu for his mother,”
“You believe that?” Arnav inquired with an incredulous laugh. “Two months after the wedding, he will be asking you to employ his wife on the camp. And I know you – you will say yes.”
“Well,” Aditi shrugged, “If it will keep him here and focused instead of thinking about how to…”
“Don’t” He put his hands up in front of him. “I know where this conversation is headed…”
Aditi chuckled and half hugged him before she made a face. “You are too tall, Munna”
“Like that prevents you from calling me Munna. Really Di…” He shook his head with a resigned sigh. “I guess I should be grateful that you don’t call me Munna in front of…” The half-smile on his face slipped. Damn!
He groaned. “You did not. Please tell me you did not refer to me as Munna in front of the Speed Motors team”
It was the glint in his sister’s eyes that stopped him a second before the realization of what he said caught his tongue. As expected, Aditi’s left brow hooked even as her face remained serious.
“Munna, when all this is over…”
He fixed her with a blank stare. If she was trying to get a rise of him, he wasn’t going to oblige.
“I mean when the Speed Motors team is gone – which is not too far a day now…”
He clenched his teeth into an uncomfortable grind. He had forgotten just how annoying his sister could be when she wanted.
“…take me to that place Aman and you go to – you know – to smoke?”
That surprised him. “You know about that? I mean you know he smokes…” And I do too…Shit this was awkward. Even if she did, couldn’t she have kept her mouth shut? Did she have to…
“Of course. You think a wife can’t tell when her husband comes home after a smoke. Mint and coffee – either or both – don’t really help you know. I can easily tell when…”
“Shucks, Ti-Di – stop….I do not want to know…” He said as his face colored. Aditi really could be such a…Wait a second…Oh shit…he hadn’t realized….he put his hand on his mouth and cursed himself for being an idiot….Shit…He had smoked today. And he had kissed her.
“What…what did you do?”
He looked away from his sister as Khushi’s face swam in front of him, the feather-like touch of her lips tingling in his…
“What supplies do you need?” He asked, changing the topic quickly. “We should go before morning. Mohan needs to be home by ten as well.”
“Silver nitrate and some other medicines,” She said even as she glanced at his forearm.
“I am doing this thoroughly. No one will get hurt if they do it properly.” He absently covered his gash with his other palm. “If there is nothing else, the supplies trip can wait till these guys…” He clenched his teeth as discreetly as he could, “till next week.”
Aditi looked at him blankly. But her eyes – they saw him too well. He knew then that the conversation was finally where she wanted it to be. “You weren’t going to tell me.” There was no accusation in her tone. Damn her. She really knew how to work him.
He looked away even as he found the grooves in the tree. He placed his right hand in the highest groove he could reach. “There is nothing to tell, Ti-Di. Don’t start”
He put his left leg in the lower most groove and pulled himself up in one swift motion.
“So the fact that you didn’t tell me they were from IE-V and that she is the same girl you wanted me to mee…”
“Stop it, Ti.” He said harshly. The slip of the Di from his address of her was a habit that stemmed of years of pushing and pulling between them. It was in moment of anger and unexpected love that they slipped into calling each other Ti and Munna
“You better be careful, Munna. She is not like Saira.”
“I don’t know what that means,” He bit out and turned away from her. He really couldn’t go down this path with his sister.
“You never know what anything means when it is about Saira, Arnav. I think I have given you your space but I have had enough…”
“Look, you were very clear about your feelings for Saira. But that story is over. And I do not appreciate you – or anyone else – bringing her up. I am not ready to bitch about her yet…”
Aditi stepped closer and pulled at his t-shirt so that he turned to face her. Her eyes were blazing now as she looked up at him. “Saira was my friend – the sister I always wanted – as much as I love you. But liking her or loving her like a sister doesn’t mean not seeing that you and she were not meant to be…” She pushed him away from her. For her size, Aditi could be really strong when she wanted. “And because of the mess the two of you made – I lost a friend. As did Papa and Maa..”
Arnav took a deep breath and looked away. He walked up to the tree where he needed to fix the rope ladder than the team would use to climb up. He found the grooves and placed his right hand on the topmost one he could reach. Then he placed his left foot in the bottom most groove and pulled himself up. He couldn’t do this. “I’ll go to Rishikesh and get the damned medicines, okay. You manage the rafting today. I’ll get out of this place. That’s what you want? You got it.”
He didn’t wait for his sister to respond before he gingerly reached up for the next groove and pushed himself higher up the tree.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Bin Tere
Album: I Hate Love Storys
Singers: Sunidhi Chauhan, Shafqat Amanat Ali
Music: Vishal – Shekhar
Lyrics: Anvita Dutt Guptan, Vishal Dadlani & Kumaar
Ajnabi se huye kyun pal saare
Yeh nazar se nazar yeh milaate hi nahin
Ek ghani tanhaayi chha gayi hai
Manzilein raaston mein hi gum hone lagi
Ho gayi ansuni, har dua ab meri
Reh gayi ankahi, bin tere
Bin tere, bin tere, bin tere
Koi khalish hai hawayon mein, bin tere
- Next Update: Aug 15, 2016, 9-10 pm IST
- Some very wonderful River friends started a dialogue, well many dialogues if you will, on the Nadiya Kinare section. If you have anything to say about the River (good, bad or ugly) or any questions that you have for me (except plot questions, of course ;)), please feel free to chime in. As they say – the more the merrier!
- It has been brought to my notice that not many folks know about my non-FF (and for some reason non-romance) blog. So leaving a link here for Wishes and Wanderlusts – in case any of you are interested in reading what little I could churn out without using IPK names!