Thank you all for being with the River!
When she first awoke that Saturday morning, three weekends since she’d returned to Bangalore, her head was heavy and her heart bobbing lightly in her chest. The first few moments of dawn went by in wonderment of her own duality of the moment. Was she happy or was she anxious – she couldn’t tell. Minutes passed by as she let her thoughts settle. When she opened her eyes and let her shoulders droop, she realized she was letting her body relax when she hadn’t even known it was rigid with tension.
The answer was simple. She needed to lose weight. And she needed to do it fast. Perhaps going back and joining a formal weight loss program – like the one Shyam had joined – was the only option. And till then, it would have to be a strict diet and perhaps some exercise if she could manage it. The piece of cake she had wolfed down on Friday afternoon was probably the last fun thing she had eaten for a few months.
Pushing herself out of bed, she quickly went about finishing her morning ablutions and chores around the house. The fact that Arjun was still in the US and that Raagini had just returned from a break earlier this week meant that her apartment was squeaky clean and intensely lonely. Calls with Arnav were limited to late nights and early mornings and despite all the help they had from technology, the distance was really hard to deal with. Timezone differences meant that when Khushi was free, Arnav was getting ready for work and vice versa. He had once asked her if she was the kind of person who believed long distance relationships were tough. She’d laughed at the ridiculousness of that question at the time. Now, half a decade later, she finally understood the depth behind it. She couldn’t wait for him to get back to India. Knowing that she’d just been staffed on a six month project in India which would need her to travel little and even then only domestically, gave her hope that things would be better once he was back. Especially since he’d also declared that he was trying to find more work to sell and deliver in the country.
Patience, she told herself as she poured a cup of sugarless tea for herself and took it with her to settle down with her paperback. She was catching up with Raagini later in the day and suddenly, she couldn’t wait to meet her friend. How life and times changed, she muttered to herself with a rueful smile before losing herself in the story that was waiting to be picked up from where she’d last left it off.
Raagini chuckled out aloud, her eyebrows touching her brow as she stepped in for a quick hug.
“How?” Khushi asked, her mouth agape in wonderment as she looked at a visibly thinner Raagini.
“With a lot of walking and very little eating.” Raagini answered wryly as they followed the maitre’d to their table. “I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this lunch. I am going to eat today.”
Khushi watched in awe as they sat down on the opposite sides of the small table. “I am not sure I am going to be able to eat at all now. Raagini – this,” She looked around at her favorite Italian restaurant and shook her head, “was a bad idea. I am going to die of sheer torture now.” She looked again at Raagini’s well defined facial contours and shining skin and sighed. “You look so good! I hate that.”
Raagini smiled. “You are two seconds away from calling me bitch, aren’t you?”
Khushi laughed and nodded. “I am. I wouldn’t have said it out aloud but…” She shrugged as the waitress came around to take their orders. After much err-ing, both girls decided they would skip mains and order salads and desserts. “Completely unhealthy” Raagini pointed out, “But hey I am on a break today and you will start from dinner today, okay?”
“Okay,” Khushi replied as she handed her menu back and then placed her hand on the table. Here was a story, one she needed to hear desperately and she wasn’t about to waste a moment of it. “So, tell me everything. And end with how I can start.”
Raagini grinned. “Believe me, the beginning is something you don’t want to emulate.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Khushi pointed out.
“A week after you left for Detroit, I woke up in the morning one day and couldn’t get out of bed.”
Khushi frowned. “Huh?”
“I couldn’t sit up,” Raagini’s smile softened and voice dropped. “My back…it gave out.”
Khushi stared at her friend in silence. “Gave out?”
“It seems I have degenerated discs in my spine.”
“Oh God!” Khushi exclaimed. “Slipped disc?”
“Not exactly. Medically there is some difference between these conditions but okay for the purpose of this conversation…” Raagini smiled.
“How did this happen?” Khushi whispered incredulously. “And how did you even get to the hospital to get all these tests done?”
“I stayed like that for a couple of hours. Then I was able to sit up slowly. I called Namit,” She said, referring to one of their colleagues. “Thankfully it was a Saturday, so he drove me to the doctor and then multiple tests, MRIs…” Raagini trailed off. “Bottomline, the one thing that became non-negotiable was losing weight.”
“But you were not obese!”
“BMI says I was…I still am nowhere close to BMI indicated ideal weight.”
“Some studies say…”
“That BMI is not the right indicator?” Raagini completed what she had started to say. “I know. But you have to start somewhere, you need some reference. So there it is. The ultimatum, however, came because I have a weak back. The doctor told me that if I want to be able to dance again, be able to carry a baby, be able to sleep without worrying about snapping into two…”
“Shit, Ramu!” Khushi interrupted, her heart hammering in sheer terror as she heard Raagini’s calmy uttered words. “I am so sorry!”
She shook her head. “Don’t be. I was scared but I think it was a wake up call I needed.”
It was a very expensive wake up call if there was ever one, Khushi thought to herself and then realized that she was on the brink of an equally harsh debit from life if she didn’t do something about it quickly. Perhaps her debit would not be medical. Perhaps hers would be what she feared most of all, what she had no reason to expect and still worried about every breathing moment since that evening when Arnav had told her how he felt….
“Anyway,” Raagini continued, ending Khushi’s tumble down a familiar spiral. “I had to take two weeks off work – that was what was happening when you pinged one day and I told you I am off work. Before I headed back to work, Shyam called one day – to ask after my health – which was very sweet and completely unexpected. But when he called – I had my lightbulb moment. I asked him how he went about that weight loss center. To his credit, he was not shocked or offended. Instead, he gave me the number of his weight loss consultant at the center and even put in a word. I joined three days later. And this…” She mock bowed, “is the new, improved me.”
Khushi sat silently for many moments in which time their salads arrived. “I don’t know whether to be happy or sad about your weight loss story anymore,” She confessed as soon as the waitress left them to enjoy their meal.
“I mean, are you able to dance now? Is the spine problem solved?”
She shook her head. “No. And I don’t know if it will be solved this easily. I am going to try everything to make sure surgery is the last option. So, weight loss isn’t solving the problem but as my doctor says, it’s not getting worse.”
Khushi smiled sadly. “I wish I had been around to help. I am so sorry, Ramu.”
“I know. I can’t dance! Imagine that. I miss that the most.”
Khushi shook her head. “Unbelievable.” She said as they dug into their food. “Of all the things you miss – dancing!”
“Priorities, darling.” Raagini answered. “Anyway, enough about me. Tell me about your trip, Ms. Amreeka-return. How was Wyatt? How was it working with AV?”
Perhaps it was the stress of the distance or the tenor of the conversation that had just ended, Khushi didn’t have to work too hard to not blush. She made some quick, non-committal replies about work and about Arnav. Raagini made some comments about her being lucky which Khushi dismissed pleasantly. She replaced Raagini’s questions with some of her own about Raagini’s project experiences. The meaningless friendly exchange continued well past salad and into dessert.
It was halfway through dessert that Khushi picked up the thread of their conversation about weight again.
“Of course. Come along tomorrow morning and I’ll make the introduction. If I am able to lose weight, I am sure it will work for you too.”
“Thank you,” Khushi replied. “I will. I just need to get started on this with quick results. The fact that nothing moves on the weighing scale is just too frustrating.”
“I hear you,” Raagini responded. “And I am going to regret this tiramisu when I step on that scale tomorrow – yes, they weigh you every time you go. Let me warn you – this is not for the faint hearted.”
Khushi chuckled. “I am willing to try anything here. I was this close to buying a TVC sauna belt yesterday, you know.”
“I know!” Raagini exclaimed. “God, I’ve lost track of the number of imes I have almost placed an order on the phone!” She laughed out aloud. “Chalo, good. I will have company again. I am hitting my first plateau – it will be motivating to have you around. It really does feel good to imagine that your body is getting healthier.”
Khushi rolled her eyes. “I couldn’t care less about my health at the moment. At the most, it’s a happy coincidence.”
Raagini looked at her oddly for a second and then smiled almost shrewdly. “It’s a guy, isn’t it?”
Khushi’s face flushed. So much for not blushing.
“It is a guy!” Raagini said out aloud, causing several of those around them to look in their direction. “Shit, sorry. But…damn! Now that is an interesting life!”
“Hardly interesting when you are wondering what he sees in you.” Khushi muttered under her breath and pushed her dessert away. It tasted like crap anyway. Where was a gooey chocolate cake when you needed one?
“Kaveri,” Raagini began a moment later and then seemed to change her mind. She nodded and went back to her cake.
“No, say it. I cannot keep imagining what you were going to.” Khushi insisted.
Her friend sighed. “Okay. If you are losing weight for a guy, don’t do it. It won’t work. If it isn’t there already, it won’t magically come because you weigh a stone or two lesser.”
Khushi remained silent. She didnt want to correct Raagini’s assumption that it was not a guy she was hoping to attract – that part was strangely taken care of. It was a guy she was hoping to retain long enough to last a lifetime.
“Believe me, I have been there.”
“Yup” Raagini quipped. “I did the entire weight loss drama “for him”. It didn’t matter. He couldn’t have cared less and in the end it was a stupid Mummy ko dark skinned Madrasi ladki nahi chahiye sequence that spoilt the whole thing.”
Khushi bit down a flare of annoyance at an unknown set of people. “That was the problem?”
Raagini sighed. “Yes. And I know what you are thinking. We are top tier b-school educated women. These things shouldn’t happen to us.”
Khushi shook her head. “No, I know they do. I am just saddened by the futility of such non-sense. Like two people don’t have enough drama of their own to deal with that they need this caste, creed, color, religion shit clouding their vision.”
There was silence on the table following Khushi outburst as both girls fiddled with their cutlery and waded through the shadows of their individual and collective lives.
“There is no chance of anything working out?” Khushi asked eventually, unable to accept that heartache still existed so painfully in the lives of those around her.
Raagini shook her head. “I’ve stopped thinking about it. Too much time has been spent trying to make it work. Sometimes it is just not meant to be.”
And it was at that somber note that Khushi carried with her long after the afternoon was over.
“Why aren’t you on Facebook?”
She shouldn’t have been surprised by the question. It was one she got asked fairly often. But coming from… “Are you on Facebook?” She asked instead, returning his surprise with some of her own.
“I am heartbroken that you haven’t looked for me yet.”
Her heart skipped and rumbled gaily in her chest. This side of him was even better than the person she thought he was all the time. “Practice is everything,” She replied with a small chuckle. “I spent many years training to not google your name.”
She regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. Where had this come from? She was most likely PMS’ing. What else could explain the moroseness that was her mood this evening? Especially when she had no reason to be anything less than dreamy and bursting with love. It had been four weeks since she’d come back from Detroit and every day had started and ended with conversations like this one. Text exchanges filled her days and nights. She slept little and still didn’t find herself battling yawns all day. She found herself smiling – unexpectedly, by herself and a lot – not necessarily in that order. Work had transformed from supporting small pieces of disconnected research to her next full time project, this time offshore data analytics for a project with one of Wyatt’s key competitiors – it wasn’t her favourite kind of work to do but it kept her spirits up and gave her enough mindspace to focus on life and all the beautiful and not-so-beautiful things that came with it.
No, she had no reason to be morose; she had no reason to bring up the past as painfully as she just had. “Sorry,” She apologized before Arnav could speak. “I don’t mean for that to sound as sad as it did. It was just…”
“I am sorry, Khushi. For what happened and for my role in it.”
Now she felt like an absolute jerk. What was wrong with her? “No, please…don’t…” She took a deep breath. “I am sorry. I really didn’t mean it the way it came out.”
There was a moment’s silence before he spoke. “I know. And I am glad you aren’t measuring your words.”
Ha! Wasn’t she? Wasn’t he?
“But I am sorry nevertheless.”
She bit back the sense of rising irritation, clamping down on a feeling that was entirely baseless and most likely the result of all the days she’d spent now actively pining for his proximity. She needed to change the subject. “I am not fond of social media. I was on Facebook but it somehow seems like a place where people present an alternate view of their life where nothing is wrong and every opinion is strong…I got tired and I left.”
He laughed softly. “I am not actively on any platforms either. I just happened to log in to my account today after many months and somehow ended up looking for you and…It was a simple question.”
This was her fault. He was being perfectly normal and she had to go and ruin it so that he was choosing his words carefully again. Why? Why couldn’t she be one of those people who could go from melancholy to carefully constructed cheer with little effort and much conviction? “So why did you login to Facebook today?” Excellent, Kaveri Gupta. Brilliant effort, she chided herself dryly.
“To update my relationship status.”
She rolled her eyes and regretted having said no to a video call – how she’d have loved to see his expression right now! Alas, she’d been putting off getting her eyebrows threaded and her face was positively hirsute at the moment – not a visual she wanted to present ever and especially not to the man who had little reason to love her in the first place. “And what did you choose? It’s complicated?”
He laughed. “It is not complicated in the least. Not anymore! And wait, I thought there’d be more of a reaction to that statement. Are you saying I can go ahead and pick a more appropriate option?”
“I am saying nothing of the sort.” She snorted and then rolled over to her stomach, putting her phone on speaker and placing it in front of her. “When are you coming back?”
“Thirteen days.” He replied instantly, like he’d been thinking of it too.
“That’s two weekends away.” She whined and then put her head down on her bed, smothering her gasp of longing that seemed to rest at the tip of her tongue when she spoke to him on the phone. I miss you didn’t begin to cover the extent of her yearning. She was boorish and cranky and it was all his fault.
“So, is it now a good time to ask why you are….” He hesitated. “Er…In a less than good mood?”
He noticed. Of course he noticed. “I am not…” She began instinctively and then decided there was no point lying. “I am hungry.”
“You are hungry.” He reconfirmed and then chuckled softly. “That’s an easy fix, baby. Get something to eat. I am sure you have something to….”
“I am on a diet and all I have at home is fattening crap.” She bit out. “And I don’t feel like munching on a carrot stick. Or drinking a glass of milk.”
He chuckled some more but this time, there was a hint of deeper bemusement in his voice. “What sort of a diet is this? If you are hungry, just eat something.”
A roll of annoyance completely misplaced flushed through her blood stream. “I can’t just eat anything. That’s what’s got me to this place. I need to lose weight.” Shiv-ji, why was she telling him all this? He was not going to be able to help. This was her decision, her resolution to find confidence that she would be able to live up to his expectations and desires. Why was she dragging him into her mess? This was for her to solve.
“Eating so little that you are hungry at bed-time is not the answer, baby. Eat normal, wholesome food and find a way to burn more than you take in. Come on, I am sure you know this.”
“Ha! Easy for you to say. You spend an hour on the treadmill like it’s your own personal daily vacation. I can’t walk for thirty minutes at six kilometers an hour without feeling like my heart will give out!”
He chuckled softly. “Baby steps. Nobody gets to high fitness levels overnight.”
She frowned and bit back a grumble. “Whatever.”
“You think I’m preaching.”
“Of course, I think you are preaching.” She stated sulkily.
“Achcha baba, I am sorry. I don’t mean to sound condescending. Giving advice comes naturally to me now, unfortunately. You should tell me to cut it out when it gets out of hand.”
She frowned for a second before a smile tugged at her lips. “I am sorry I am being grumpy. And I know about the advice part. It’s just suddenly strange to be on the other side. I feel like I now know what Tripti keeps harping on about.”
“That hurts, Khushi.”
This time she laughed out aloud. “I never knew you for melodrama. I think you are spending too much time with Arjun.”
He sighed. “That I am, unfortunately. But what choice do I have – yeh dooriyaan, majbooriyan…”
“Mushkil bada, yeh pyaar hai?” She asked.
He took a deep breath and seemed to drift off as she waited with a half smile pasted on her face despite the poky edges of bad tempter that she knew was still hovering under her skin.
“Arnav,” She whispered with feeling, forcing herself to draw on the moments that meant more than the imaginary ones that would take her nowhere.
“Have I mentioned I love how sexy my name sounds when you say it.”
She blushed and buried her face in her mattress again. “Okay,” She whispered. “Then let me not be a killjoy by pointing out the absolute cheesiness of that “baby” endearment from a few moments ago.
An inaudibly shocked second of silence passed before Arnav Varun burst out laughing again. “I really hoped you would let that pass, you know.”
“Not a chance,” She countered.
“I can’t pull that off,” He sighed into her ears.
“No one can pull that off,” She replied as her fingers crossed and her lips curved into a well-defined crescent.
“I am going to keep trying though, I think. I like the sound of it.”
“Dammit!” She said as she clicked her tongue in mock-disappointment.
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Mushkil Bada Yeh Pyaar Hai
Singers: Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan
Music: Viju Shah
Lyrics: Anand Bakshi
Next Update: Monday, Nov 13, 2017, late night IST
Please excuse typos!