“I have been wondering why there isn’t any video with you. This is a good choice though I wish it had been all three of you singing.” Khushi said as she smiled at Divya. The older woman had just finished telling her about the third song in their album that would feature only Arnav and Divya in the vocals while Nishant-Sir would remain in the background as chorus. There was even a rough recording with Arnav and Divya’s voices that Khushi now had on her phone, one she knew she would be listening to several times for how wonderful it sounded in his voice, for how it brought him right next to her even when he was miles away.
“It’s not one of my favorite songs but it sort of goes with the idea of completing the soulful Punjabi trio. So…” Divya shrugged.
“Oh, I in fact like the song quite a bit. And it’s a theme!” Khushi exclaimed. “Of course! It makes so much sense now. Though,” She chuckled, “Chappa chappa is mostly Hindi lyrics but it I guess it is Punjabi in essence. So it fits the “theme”.”
Divya chuckled. “Not the best of themes. I’d have preferred a Kishore or Rafi but…”
“I guess everyone does those these days. All the singing contest winners end up releasing albums in this space. This way you do something different and since the songs are more recent-ish, more young folks are likely to watch.” Khushi mused out aloud.
Divya looked at her queerly.
“What?” Khushi asked self-consciously under her former senior’s speculative gaze. “What did I say?”
“You just repeated what Arnav and NK had argued. Almost word for word.”
Khushi er-ed and shrugged, biting back the great minds think alike retort only to have Divya smile warmly.
“I’m making you uncomfortable, aren’t I?” Divya said with a wistful sigh. “I’d say I am sorry but this is so much fun. At thirty, there are few things that make me feel this way. So, you really will have to excuse me. And hopefully stop blushing. Because I am not kidding, Kaveri,” Her voice took on a playful warning tone, “this is going to get worse when Arnav is here.”
“You talk like thirty is sixty!” Khushi shook her head with an incredulous laugh. She knew now why Arjun had been such a Divya Sahay fan back in college. “Where is Nishant-Sir?”
“Nishant. Or NK.”
Khushi took a deep breath. “Where is Nishant?” She asked changing the topic. “You think he needs any help? Not that I can claim to be of any in the kitchen but…”
Divya waved her hands. “He has found this new found passion for tinkering around in the kitchen – can’t call it cooking it has nothing to do with nutrition – because that is too boring,” She said wryly, “Thankfully hot chocolate is something he seems to be able to do fairly well. He’ll be okay.”
Sure enough, Nishant – Khushi emphasized the silence that should have been occupied by the “Sir” in her head – walked in a few minutes later with three steaming mugs of steaming hot chocolate and unsweetened cookies –an unsual choice for lunch but infinitely more convenient given none of them seemed to be interested in making an effort to cook.
They had barely sipped the hot chocolate once each when the doorbell rang, faintly since they were in the den but it might as well have been the church gong at noon in the Vatican for the way it sent her heart drumming. Nishant put his mug down and made to stand up when Divya held on to his wrist and looked at her instead.
“You want to get the door?” She asked with her tongue tapping the insides of her cheek.
Khushi shook her head and gripped the porcelain mug she was holding a little tighter for support. “No I am good here.”
“You sure? I mean I can imagine it’s been what – a week? We understand,” Divya said with a nudge into Nishant’s ribs even as he looked on in what was at least half-embarrassment. “We’ve been there. In fact, NK is still there. You should have seen him when…”
“Divya,” He began and shifted uncomfortably in his place. Khushi almost felt sorry for him. Except his fiancée was making it her life’s mission to make her snap and shout her feelings out aloud just so that she would shut up. If she had been in a less favorable situation, knowledge of Arnav’s feelings-wise, she would have hated Ms. Sahay’s guts.
“I am sure.” She reassured the couple sweetly and sank back in her seat with more nonchalance than she had ever felt in reality. It had after all been only two days and not the week Divya was implying.
So she had no one but herself to blame when Mr and the future Mrs. Pathak left her along to her devices in the den to answer the doorbell which not surprisingly given their delay, rang out again, this time twice in quick succession indicating barely contained impatience.
Khushi’s fingers tingled as she placed the mug of cocoa on the side table and picked up her phone, opening and closing apps at random just so her mind would have something to do other than listen for steps that seemed to be taking forever to make their way down the stairs to the den.
When the sound of footsteps did make it to her ear canal, she was surprised and decidedly relived that it seemed to be just one set. Clearly the newly engaged couple had decided to allow their best friend some privacy. How she would deal with them once the moments of reunion were over and they had to all be in the same room again, she didn’t want to think about. At least this way, she didn’t have to worry about two extra pairs of eyes on her as she…
The gentle tap on her shoulder made her shiver but seemed a little off. Breathing in deeply, she allowed her tucked in leg to fall to the floor and rose, turning slightly to face him.
Except it was not….
Arjun Agarwal’s very visibly bright grin greeted her with warmth she had missed for weeks now. “Hi Kavi.” He said with a wink as she stepped to her side and threw her arms around him in a bone-crushing hug.
“Arjun,” She grinned in absolute delight as she held on to him tightly for a long second before she let him go and placed two rather stingy slaps on his arms, her brows knitting in consternation. “I knew it! I knew you were here in the US. Such a…”
“Oww…Amreeka aake violent ho gayi ho Kavi…Or should I say physically expressive ho gayi ho? Was that a bear hug I just got from the world’s most awkward social greeter?”
She slapped him on the arm again. “Shut up. Why did you lie about not being in the US? And don’t say that you wanted to surprise me. You didn’t…”
“I was against this plan given our…” He shrugged with a knowing twist in his brow. “I didn’t want to surprise you,” Arjun said wryly, emphazing the first person singular pronoun. “I had no reason to want to do something nice for you. You aren’t my…”
It was only then that she realized that she had, in the few moments of sighting her best friend, forgotten all about the man she loved. She immediately looked past Arjun towards the steps and saw Divya and Nishant walking down. And no one else.
“Can you believe this?” Divya was saying, her face full of wonder and warmth as she watched Arjun and Nishant exchange back slapping hugs. “Honestly Agarwal, I never thought you of all people would lose touch with us. I was so convinced you are the ace networker.”
“Uff, not you too. College was a decade ago kids. Ab toh Ma’am-Sir chhodo.” Divya interrupted making everyone laugh.
“Bhabhi chalega? I cannot call NK-Sir’s wife by her name. Na baba. Marna hai kya.” Arjun said earning a thump on his back from both Divya and Nishant even as Khushi’s eyes strayed to the stairway leading up and out from the den.
“Phone.” Arjun said as he nudged her before walking towards Nishant and Divya, the new trio now conversing rapidly about the decade they’d wasted.
Khushi turned to look at her phone which was lying orphaned by her mug of now cold choclate, blinking with a message.
She looked at the other three in the room and made sure none of them was paying any attention to her before she swiped her phone and read the messages.
I’m in the kitchen.
She swallowed and looked up to find herself being ignored by the occupants of the room. Still it wasn’t as if she could just walk up the stairs and into the…
So? She typed and hit send.
Come up. I want a better greeting than the one Agarwal just got.
It amused her that he sounded as disinterestedly jealous as he did.
I can’t just walk up to the kitchen. It’s embarrassing.
You are what – a couple of years shy of thirty? What is there to be embarrassed? Come up.
See this is what I meant by high handed, she typed with a small smile. I am not coming. You…you come down. What does this have to do with age anyway? One doesn’t need to be nineteen to be naïve.
She chuckled and shook her head. Achcha? Who hid the fact that Arjun is here in the US from me?
I didn’t hide. I was very careful in my responses to your questions.
She smiled at the message when the phone beeped again. And tell me it wasn’t a good surprise.
She shook her head. It wasn’t.
The phone beeped again immediately. You didn’t look upset to see him.
She looked up at the stairs again instinctively but there was no one. She considered telling him off on plotting given the past and dismissed it. She was hardly upset anyway, which surprised her but not enough to cause her to dwell on her reaction. So she changed her message, her lips curving again as she typed. I wasn’t. But it wasn’t a surprise. I knew something was off. I was just distracted enough to not pursue that line of investigation.
Distracted? Now you are talking. Why?
She rolled her eyes mentally. Stop sending messages. You are in the same house.
Then just come up to the kitchen and greet me properly.
“Just go. This is too obvious even for you.”
Khushi looked up in surprise to see Nishant Kumar Pathak smiling at her. Shiv-ji! Arnav Varun was going to be the absolute death of her. “I’m…”
Before she could finish that statement, fortunately or unfortunately, Arnav walked down the stairs, taking her words and her breath away as he kept his gaze fixed on her and walked like he hadn’t a care in the world. She looked away and clenched her fingers into a fist as everyone turned to greet him and the room burst out with laughter and chatter. Not surprisingly, he stayed in the center of the conversation as Divya made some joke about Arnav’s unblinking gaze, finally forcing him to look away as he dismissed her teasing dryly and walked up to Khushi. Keeping her on tenterhooks, he said nothing to her but leaned in as if to kiss her cheek, only to pick up her mug of cocoa and sip from it directly.
“I’ll make you both a mug each,” Nishant offered.
“Never mind NK. This is Amar-Prem stuff.”
Arnav sputtered and burst into laughs as he wiped his mouth and held the mug back out to Khushi. “Amar-Prem? Really?” He asked redundantly even as Khushi took the mug back, careful not to touch his fingers or meet his gaze. What the hell was happening around her? Till yesterday she was one who couldn’t be bothered to share even open secrets with her closest friend and her sister. And now…
“I think she just meant do dost ek pyaale mein chaai…rather hot chocolate peete hain,” Arjun pitched in. “Andaz Apna Apna wisdom, AV-Sir.”
“Of course. You would gather wisdom from Andaz Apna Apna.”
“Better than gathering wisdom from Maine Pyaar Kiya.” Arjun countered with a smirk of his own.
“Touche,” Arnav said with a serious nod.
“God, you guys still talk in riddles, don’t you?” Divya interrupted. “What’s there to pussyfoot around now?” She said throwing her hands up in the air.
And as if synced by the chime of an inaudible alarm, Arjun and Arnav bent their head in Divya’s direction and asked for her forgiveness in varying extents of drama that made Khushi chuckle despite all else that was prickling under her skin in awareness and awkwardness.
“Abhi, mujhme kahin…
Bbaaki thodi si hai zindagi…”
The notes stayed soft and silent in the now silent room as Arnav sang, his back facing her. She could see his fingers move over the black and white keys uncertainly as they found the rhythm of the song. She felt the music in her heart as tears came as suddenly as the song had. Why he had chosen this particular one at the moment, she didn’t know but…
Jagi dhadkan nayi
Jaana zinda hun main toh abhi
Kuch aisi lagan, iss lamhe mein hai
Yeh lamha kahan tha mera
As his voice hit the highs she had only admired in awe in the original, Arjun cleared his throat and a streak of annoyance flashed through those who were just about falling into the trance of Arnav Varun’s music.
“I know. Everyone – especially Kavi here – wants to stick something sharp and painful in my gut for interrupting this performance. But,” He stood from his couch and shook his head rather dramatically. “This is not a Hindi movie jahan hero can find only large gatherings and apparent occasions of joy to unleash the song of eternal heartbreak as the audience wonders and the heroine brushes tears away discreetly.”
Those in the room, Khushi included, stared agape at Arjun for a long couple of minutes before bursting out into a mixture or groans and reluctant agreement.
“Trust you to come up with this, Arjun, seriously.” Nishant continued to stare at Arjun in what could only be termed open adoration.
“Arre it’s true. From the sixties and Chalo Ek Baar to the nineties mein Aye Kaash Kahin Aisa Hota…”
“Which song is this?”
“Mohra.” Khushi supplied wryly. She had to admit though that Arjun Agarwal, as always, did have a point.
“Aye kaash kahin aisa hota, ke do dil hote seene mein,” Divya sang with little melody and much gusto, only to be joined by Arjun shortly thereafter.
“Ek toot bhi jaata, ishq mein toh,” He sang with Divya. “Ek toot bhi jaata ishq mein toh, takleef na hoti jeene mein.”
“Hey bhagwan!” Nishant slapped his forehead. “What group of filmy crazies is this? Kaveri…you know this song too?”
Khushi grinned and nodded.
“Kaveri is the sardar of this gang. Gabbar Singh hai yeh…” Arjun teased.
Khushi chuckled and allowed her gaze to clash with Arnav’s briefly, taking solace in the shared warmth that was reflected in both their eyes as early evening settled around them. In the moments after Arnav had walked into the den, initial teasing notwithstanding, the group had fallen into easy companionship mostly chaired by Arnav and his executive decision to order in for lunch. Lunch had been eaten amidst talk that meandered and yet stayed firmly rooted in camaraderie and nostalgia. And now, it was, not surprisingly again, time for music.
“Coming back to the point, you can’t just shoot down songs, Agarwal. I really did want to listen to Abhi…But now that you have…you think of a song and Arnav will…” She waved a hand in Arnav’s direction, “sing”
“Sure. Any other commands that we may salute up and execute?” Arnav asked with a raised eyebrow. “But I am not singing alone. Someone,” He looked straight at Khushi, “needs to sing with me.”
Immediately Divya whistled and Arjun winked at Khushi. “Someone,” He nodded at her. “Please do the honors.”
“A male solo to replace a male solo,” Khushi replied easily without looking at Arnav. “If someone is needed to sing along, it will have to be Nishant-Sir…”
“Super idea, Kavi.” Arjun acquiesced surprisingly easily. It became clear why just a second later. “Dilbar Mere would be perfect for this, AV-Sir.”
“Arjun,” Khushi began with a frown but by then the damage was done. Arnav was already walking up to get his guitar. And the song itself was unveiled as the others – Divya, Arjun and Nishant, sat beside her as Arnav sat facing them all on his favorite cushioned stool
The guitar strummed right into Khushi’s heart as Arnav’s voice cast its now flirtatious spell again.
Dilbar mere, kab tak mujhe
Aise hi tadpaoge
Main aag dil mein laga doonga who
Ke pal mein pighal jaaoge
If his rendition of heart wrenching numbers was gutting, his singing flirty ones was plain torture.
Dil se milega jo dil toh mehekne lagoge
Tum meri baahon mein aake behekne lagoge
Hosh kho jaayega
Pyaar ho jaayega
Arjun catcalled and clapped loudly as Arnav winked at him and shrugged at her as if to indicate that it was she who wasn’t leaving him with any option but to embarrass the hell out of her like this.
When the music ended and Arnav bowed to them in mock exaggeration, Khushi turned to Arjun and asked him to keep his suggestions to himself which only made him laugh out louder.
Thankfully, after that the songs were selected with less focus on teasing Khushi mercilessly though in the playlist that followed, rarely was she spared the knowing glances from either Arjun or Divya. Nishant too, on occasion, chuckled in her direction even if everytime with a rueful shrug accompanying his reaction.
Khushi, however, determinedly stayed out of the singing – not as much as a conscious effort as thanks to her now pronounced shyness.
“Let’s do this with the karaoke version. It won’t be the same otherwise.”
She blinked out of her little reverie as she saw Arnav and Arjun already setting up the laptop and plugging in speakers. Before she knew it the song was playing and Arnav and Nishant were listening with the intent of those intensely tuned into recreating the magic with as much precision as they could manage. It was this that made Khushi smile in absolute joy. Here in this room – especially with Arnav and Nishant tuned into each other with music binding them together – she felt completely at peace. Like something from a long time ago had come twirling across the universe to a full circle.
Nishant started as the karaoke chorus supplied the suffixing Ya Baba
Kaatil hai nazar
Arnav joined, waiting patiently as Nishant had for the chorus.
Ek noore nabeen
Rab ki rubaai, ya hai tabaahi
Gardan surahi, boli Ilaahi
Arnav and Nishant’s alternating voice streamed through the karaoke video with the pre-recorded chorus Ya Baba fitting in perfectly with their easy capture and regurgitation of the song and it’s notes But it was the unabashed fun that they seemed to be having with the song that came through most. It was easy to see why they wanted this to be their next video. It would have never occurred to her but it fit perfectly with Nishant’s slightly Sufi voice and Arnav’s now playful notes.
Afghan jalebi, mashooq farebi
Ghayal hai tera deewana
Arnav sang with shy grin as he looked at the floor.
Bandook dikha ke kya pyar karegi
Chehra bhi kabhi dikhana, he looked up straight at her and winked – slightly enough for others to have missed it but evidently enough for her to feel the tug that almost always seemed to make her want to kiss him senseless – even when he did things like this to…
Bhai Wah Bhai Wah
She smiled as Nishant pitched in and sang the next lines with unrecognizable zest
Khawaja ji ke paas teri chugli karunga
Main teri chugli karunga
Haan teri chugli karunga
Anguthi mein qaid teri ungli karunga
Main teri chugli karunga
Haan teri chugli karunga
Perhaps it was the recently concluded engagement that cast special light on the words but suddenly Khushi found herself clapping just as enthusiastically, even participating in the chorus as they all joined in celebration of the official couple’s ongoing and imminent happiness.
By the time song ended three minutes and almost fifty seconds later – twice all over – it was evident that Sufi / Qawwali would be their new theme for the next trio with Afghan Jalebi recreation being priority number one on the release.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Gaate The Pehle Akele
Album: Khamoshi (The Musical)
Singers: Kavita Krishnamurthy, Shraddha Pandit, Khusnum, Chorus
Music: Jatin Lalit
Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri
Hum toh suna, jo jaata hai
Woh laut ke, phir aata hai
Baat achchi hai na?
Baat sachchi hai na?
Baaje re baaja hamara, naache re sansaar saara
Pyaar se muskura, kya hua bhool ja
1. Belated wishes to you, Priya (ladkikijhy). Hope you have a wonderful year ahead!
2. Next Update: Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017, late night IST
3. Thank you all for reading and being with the River! I understand that these chapters are hard to comment on. Some times life catches up. Sometimes, you just don’t feel like saying something. Whatever the reason, if you are unable to say something here, I understand. Please do not apologize – that makes me so guilty! If and when you have anything to say, I am always here!