“Watch it,” He bristled even as he lifted his eyes and turned to see who had brushed against him this violently. As if there wasn’t enough going on in his head already. Somebody had to go ahead and make it…
“Oh! It’s you…Hi,”
Arjun stared at the young girl even as his head swam for a second. “Krishna?”
“Shhhhhh,” She hissed, her brows crunched violently as she stepped closer. “Don’t call me that. It’s Tripti. And you were the one walking with your eyes glued to the phone.”
Arjun stared back at her in incredulous wonder. But he didn’t have time to babysit at the moment. So he bit out a tight smile and apologized quickly before looking away and taking a few steps.
“Uh…Arjun…” Krishna called out from behind making him groan. But she was Kavi’s sister after all. So he took a deep breath and turned around, hoping that his annoyance didn’t show on his face.
“When you see my sister, can you please tell her that I have gone back home? Not that I think she cares about me tonight but still…”
Arjun nodded his head. “Yeah, ok. Will do. Bye.” Then he turned away again and quickly dialed AV-Sir’s number again on his phone. He needed to find AV-Sir and talk about what he had seen on the stage today. Then again, he bit his tongue as he cancelled the call and let his hands hang loose. What had he seen anyway? Two people singing together and enjoying every moment of it. But…He turned around before his head burst wide open. He needed to distract himself.
He saw Krishna walking away.
“Krishna,” he called out even as he jogged up to her. “Are you walking back alone?”
She turned around, her eyes wide in her face. Coal black and stark against her skin. He wasn’t sure why he was noticing that. Perhaps because he was so used to the hidden gaze that Kavi usually bestowed on him. Kavi…He took a deep breath. Shit!
“Err…no…Anusha and I will go walk together.” She said and pointed to the girl standing next to her.
Arjun blinked as he realized he hadn’t even noticed the other girl. “You will be fine?” He asked again, almost glad that he didn’t have to deal with conflict in wanting to take some time away from the Aarohan venue versus staying back and dealing with what he needed to.
“Sure,” Krishna and looked at her companion who nodded furiously, a glint and half a chuckle evident in her eyes.
Something in the way Kaveri’s sister shrugged, tipped him over the decision point. Or was it because this was Kaveri’s sister. Yes, he acknowledged, that must be the reason he found himself saying, “No, I think I will come drop you both. It’s hardly any distance…”
Krishna’s eyes widened again. It was charming and annoying in equal measure. “No, no….Anusha and I will be fine, right Anu?” She turned to her friend quickly before looking at Arjun again. “Really, you don’t need to drop us. I mean it is still just in the campus.”
“We have instructions to not let girls walk back alone to the hostel.’
“Yeah I know both of you need to head back to the staff quarters not the hostel. That’s even further away and deserted at this time of night. Let’s go. I’ll be back in time…”
Krishna frowned. “Perhaps I should just get Di and then the three of us can go…”
“Kavi will be late. And I will accompany you even if she comes with you.”
“It makes no sense. I mean, no offense but you are hardly Salman Khan”
Arjun stared at the younger girl incredulously. “Did you just…? Never mind…I am apparently given to do things that make no sense. So let’s not argue. The sooner we head out, the sooner I can be back.”
So the three of them set out. Arjun remained quiet all through the walk even as the girls chatted away non-stop. Any other day he would have joined right in. Especially since a lot of their conversation was in fact an Aarohan critique which Arjun wasn’t sure he took very kindly to. Especially when it came from school going girls barely out of their pigtails. But then he had been the one to insist he accompany them.
Plus there was this entire mess about AV-Sir and Kaveri that refused to resolve itself in his head. What he had he been thinking saying yes to AV-Sir singing all these wonderful songs with Kavi? What had been thinking asking AV-Sir to do something like this for him in the first place? For a second he had even wondered if all he had wanted to do was sub-consciously prove that Kavi was never meant to be with him at all. No, he told himself. He really had wanted this to work. Technically, he could argue that it might still work when he told her how he felt and what he wanted later today. But suddenly, that seemed like a ship fated worse than the Titanic.
“Are you okay?”
Arjun blinked out of his little irritated train of thought and looked to his left to see Krishna looking at him curiously. “Yeah, why?”
She nodded her head and then was visibly nudged by her companion, one she ignored with the ease of one who couldn’t be bothered with such girlish gestures.
They continued to walk for a few more minutes before they reached Anusha’s residence – one of the new blocks right at the entrance of the residential area meant for staff. Anusha thanked him and gave Krishna a hug and hurried away with a giggle that Arjun couldn’t help ignore. He however, did use the moment to thank God for not forcing a sister on him, if these two fifteen year olds were anything to go by.
“I can manage from here.”
Arjun fixed Krishna with a stare and wordlessly continued to walk.
“You must really like her a lot.” She said as she caught up with him.
Stunned and yet sensible enough to not show his surprise, Arjun turned to look at Krishna who still had the curious expression on her face.
“I mean, she says you cannot stop talking and that you are incredibly funny and that you keep things interesting between the two of you and here you are…so….so….I want to say sadu…” Krishna pointed out. “So either you like my sister a lot or you really dislike me…well…not me – I cannot take it personally – you don’t even know me – so you must dislike being stuck minding school girls. Which also points out to you liking her a lot – why else would you be here dropping Anusha and me off – no one really does that…”
“Well, she certainly was right about your ability to talk without preamble.” Arjun replied wryly even as his lips curved into a smile. He wasn’t sure if it was what Krishna was saying Kaveri said about him or the way Krishna herself called him out on his obvious regard for her sister. Either way, there was something positively endearing about this girl. And potentially infuriating. Like looking into a mirror.
Krishna grinned. “Can’t blame me. I can’t walk in silence. That’s for your friend to do.”
Arjun shook his head and took a deep breath. He couldn’t deny being uncharacteristically grumpy to a girl who he should be extra nice to in the first place. “How did you like the evening?”
“My sister the heroine. It was wonderful. And that person…Arnav Varun…goodness, no wonder Kaveri is in love with him. I am half in love with him myself, though honestly he looks too good to not be taken already. I mean I hope he isn’t. He would be a wonderful jeeja…”
His insides seized and clawed at his skin. “She said that? I mean she likes him?”
“Nope. She has said nothing at all. Which should be the biggest clue of all time.”
Arjun looked at Krishna who was smiling at something in the distance as she continued to walk. It seared through his skin and curved into bitter words on his lips. “He has a girlfriend, yes.”
Krishna looked at him, her eyes wide and her mouth pulled down almost comically. “Damn, I really hoped I was wrong. Does Di know?”
He shook his head.
He looked away from the younger girl even though he knew she was staring at him. And he knew she knew how he felt about her sister now. How or why, he couldn’t care to analyze? Or the fact that it was a little child talking to him like she was his agony aunt of some sort.
“Oh shit… Oh wow…Di really…”
He looked at her unblinkingly as they came to a stop in front of the low rise apartment which housed the Guptas.
“You should tell her about…well…his girlfriend and about…”
He didn’t want to listen to a fifteen year old tell him what he needed to do. Especially when she was a pompous know-it-all like Krishna Tripti Gupta. “I need to head back. So please go in.” He said as softly and as kindly as he could. But the fact that he was upset with her clearly caught on with Krishna Gupta. He had admit the girl was ages ahead of her sister in her ability to be aware. He just didn’t know why it bothered him so much.
“Thank you for dropping me home.” She replied just as coldly and turned to walk away from him in a visible huff. He felt guilt slap the insides of his mouth but he bit it down and hurried back.
“Dude, where have you been?” NK-Sir shouted even as he appeared at the top of the steps leading to the auditorium. The crowds had thinned considerably at this hour but there was still music in the air, rambunctious and full of high spirited laughter. How NK-Sir had recognized him in the now dim lighting, was always going to be a question unanswered, especially given the twinkle he could see clearly in his senior’s eyes.
“I went to drop…” Arjun shook his head, deciding against sharing too much information, “Why? What happened?”
“You have no idea what I found out today. I mean, you have NO idea what I found out today.”
“Nishant-Sir, you sound like me. And that can’t be a good omen. Because it would mean I need to sound like you and that…”
“Kabhi toh bakwaas kam kiya karo, Agarwal. You want me to tell you or not?”
Arjun took a deep breath and looked at his watch. He needed to go find Kaveri. But clearly NK-Sir wasn’t one to be dismissed today. “Of course, I want to know,” He said as he smiled sweetly.
“Bhaiyya is engaged.”
Arjun stayed silent and unmoved for a long moment and then blinked. “What?”
“His family is here and…”
“Yeah his mother and sister…He mentioned it to me last night. But that was because it is his last Aarohan.”
NK-Sir rolled his eyes. “Who the hell cares about something like Aarohan? They are here to confirm his engagement to his girlfriend.” He stopped to lean in and peer into Arjun’s eyes. “You do know he has a girlfriend, right?”
“Yeah I do. But…I know just that.”
“Of course. No one else knows more than that. The man has some stamina for secrets. Four years and not one soul knows more than this…and today…Apparently his sister is the complete opposite of him. Dheeraj and Hemant met her earlier today and they’ve declared they are shifting loyalties. She told them all about AV-Sir and his girlfriend’s love story – total Bollywood – she’s a Muslim. Can you believe it? Apparently the families are very close…rather were very close till the news of their relationship broke and then…They’ve finally come around now…after four years of knowing and fighting…”
Arjun’s brow dug deeper into his skin. “Really?”
“Yeah,” NK-Sir nodded furiously, his eyes still dazed. “I mean obviously Bhaiyya’s story would have to be as filmy as that but still…I would never have guessed.”
If Arjun were to honestly analyze his feelings, he knew he still didn’t buy the whole story. Something didn’t add up. And yet…what did he know? Perhaps all this tension was the reason AV-Sir remained so tight-lipped about his relationship. Suddenly all those tense silences and solitary sojourns made a lot of sense. And the doubts about him harboring feelings for Kaveri shimmered warily.
“Where is he? We should go congratulate him.”
“I just did. He was heading towards the backstage area. Apparently he wanted to say thank you to Kaveri….who by the way was looking so lost…make sure she gets back home safe…it’s pretty late,”
Kaveri. Shit. He needed to tell her. Maybe AV-Sir felt nothing for Kavi. But she…it was so evident. And her finding out about AV-Sir from someone else when he had known all along…and her sister knew he did…No, he couldn’t risk that…Even if tonight was not the right time for him to declare his feelings, he knew he would one day and to be able to do that, he needed to be in the clear with her…
“Okay. I’ll see you later. Thank you, NK-Sir.” He said somberly and headed past Nishant Kumar Pathak up into the auditorium only to see Kaveri standing right at the entrance, her eyes stuck to the narrow pathway leading out of the auditorium, like she was waiting for someone.
He took a deep breath and allowed his facial features to relax into a smile. He walked up to her quickly and placed a hand on her shoulder, allowing her warmth to seep into his skin even in the little moment that ended too soon as she turned around, her eyes wary and waiting, like she knew what was headed her way.
“Kavi, here you are and I have been looking for you all over.”
The decision to not tell Kaveri about his little plan with AV-Sir or about how he felt for her, came swift and sure on his second trip to drop a Gupta sister home that Aarohan night. That he wouldn’t end up telling her about either for years after was never planned the way it worked out. When Arjun and AV-Sir met alone the next time, the topic of how either of them felt was ignored. Neither did, however, pretend, that there wasn’t something they had put into motion and killed quite brutally that night.
For the rest of the year, Arjun met AV-Sir like he did during the weeks leading up to Aarohan. The two of them laughed and shared stories – some even about Kaveri Khushi Gupta. But every word was uttered with knowledge of an invisible boundary that neither had had the courage to cross.
The only time one of them broke the pact was the night of AV-Sir’s farewell from IE-V. And even then, there was alcohol to loosen tongues and force apologies out of guilty mouths and repentant hearts.
Arjun had smiled then knowing he meant to apologize to the girl they had only meant to do good by and had ended up hurting nevertheless. “I’ll make sure she forgets about you, AV-Sir.” His words had slurred as much as his seniors even as each one of them avoided the other’s gaze.
“Make sure she knows how you feel, Arjun” AV-Sir said even as he looked out into the hostel lights blinking in the distance, his legs swinging in the air as they sat solemnly on the parapet wall they had first conspired on.
In the years between that last night and the first on the River, Arjun and AV-Sir spoke exactly eight times. Six of those conversations had been initiated by Arjun – the final one just days before the camp when he had called to confirm that AV-Sir’s presence at the camp – while never mentioning that both Kavi and he were headed in the same direction.
How he had not guessed that things would pick up exactly where they had been left off years ago, Arjun would never know.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Sach Mere Yaar Hai
Singer: S. P. Balasubramanian
Music: R. D. Burman
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Sach mere yaar hai
Bas wohi pyaar hai
Jiske badle mein koi toh pyaar de
Baaki bekar hai
- Apologies for the delay my dearest friends. Too many things, none pleasant happened to keep me away from my promise. Nevertheless here I am. I hope you aren’t too disappointed
- Next Update: Thursday, Dec 22, 2016, late night IST