Happy 2018 to you and yours!
As a new year is born, an old story fades away. What lasts forever is the memory that every moment has been. This update goes to everyone who has been and everyone who still is a part of the River. Thank you for being here to keep me going!
She placed the hair brush on the dresser and glanced at her reflection quickly – just long enough to be okay with the hazy outline of her appearance and turned away. Her hair shone and her eyes sparkled with thick kohl behind her glasses. A crystal lay nestled between her breasts over a midnight blouse paired with the lightest shade of denim she owned. The effect was un-expectedly slimming and strangely pleasant for an evening under the arc-lights. Or perhaps it was the glow borrowed from a long ago time of a similar setting and the first brushes of love. In either case, she was happy she’d refused to shop specifically for the event and stayed away from braver outfits that Divya and Tripti had tried their best to coerce her into wearing. And in hindsight, she was glad she’d stuck to what she was most comfortable in. The fact that there was jewelry of some sort on her was the most she was willing to do. And of course, the dainty silver watch on her wrist. Many second thoughts later, she’d reached the conclusion that the gift wasn’t as bad as she’d first thought it to be. And that it felt wonderful against her skin, irrespective of how it looked. Anyway, she told herself again, who in the world had the time to take a look at her and ridicule the choice of watch-size on her wrist – of all things! Not even her mother was incentivized to improve Khushi this much!
Chuckling to herself at the thought, she sprayed some of her favorite body mist on her pulse and then stepped out of the small dressing area, only to almost walk into her sister. To say that Tripti glittered would be an understatement. In her deep purple halter neck top worn over indigo jeans, her recently straightened hair falling in thick sheets around her face, all the way to the beginning of her waist, grazing large silver hoops in either ear, she looked stunning. Her eyes were lined with thick kohl just like Khushi’s and her lips sparkled with a dash of the trademark Krishna Tripti lip gloss.
“You look stunning!”
“Navy is completely your colour, Di!”
They burst out laughing as they finished speaking.
“I can’t believe it,” Khushi exclaimed. “You have no suggestions on what I should do differently about my appearance?”
Tripti shook her head with a smile. “It’s like there are million LEDs under your skin. So the fact that you aren’t wearing the drops I bought you to go with that pendant, is going to be ignored.”
Khushi chuckled. “That’s mighty generous of you, sister. I must have done something right in my pichla janam.”
“This janam.” Tripti exclaimed as she rushed to borrow Khushi’s body mist and went on to spray some on her pulse points too. “You picked Arnav Varun. That’s no mean feat. He presented his argument about why a career in India is just as lucrative as a career and a life in a developed country – without Mom pointing out the fact that he had seen both and hence was allowed to make an informed choice…unlike me…”
“I think she is just trying to keep confrontation to a minimum. Future damaad and all that…”
Tripti laughed. “I know.” She shook her head again. “Ten years ago would you have imagined your AV-Sir, Mom and the word damaad in the same sentence ever?”
Khushi quelled the rush of overwhelming emotion in her chest and focused on the lightness of conversation at hand. “She always did like the achcha-bachcha boys better than she liked us. So I am not truly surprised she didn’t argue with him.”
“All the achcha-bachcha boys except Arjun,” Tripti pointed out. “That’s a mystery we cannot solve in this lifetime.”
When Khushi said nothing in return, her sister let out a sigh. “Can I not talk about Arjun without it being a declaration of something momentous? Life is not a TV soap, you know, Kaveri Gupta. Iss Pyaar Ko Kuch Naam Mat Do. And before you latch on to that Pyaar – it just seemed to fit the situation – it doesn’t mean anything.”
“Why isn’t he here today?” Khushi asked though she’d resolved she wouldn’t broach the subject with Tripti.
“I didn’t ask him not to come. If he chooses to sulk…”
“Trip – this entire being offhand business…do you really feel as dismissive about him? Because I am beginning to wonder if…”
“Seriously, Di. Let’s not talk about this today.” Tripti said in a small voice. “I want this evening to be perfect for you. We all deserve some of these days.”
“I am fine, Tripti. And irrespective of whether you talk to me about this today, tomorrow or not, I will always be thinking about you and Arjun and whatever this means.” Khushi watched her sister who was now struggling maintain contact.
“I know. And I don’t know what is keeping me from just blurting it all out. But…” Tripti sighed and then in a moment that came after many months and almost unparalleled intensity, she threw her arms around Khushi and hugged her hard.
At once, Khushi’s own eyes filled and she hugged her sister back.
They said nothing to each other but stayed still, each resting her cheek on the other’s shoulder.
“I love you, Tripti.” Khushi whispered in the same instant as her sister did. “I love you, Di.”
Laughing damply, they stepped away from each other.
“I’ll tell you once you are back from Rishikesh,” Tripti promised after a moment of evident deliberation. And then suddenly her mood seemed to change. “I cannot believe you are taking a trip with Jeej – before shaadi,” She exclaimed, “and the parents are being so cool. Why isn’t Mother Dear worried about your virginity?”
Khushi scrunched her nose. “Shut up, Tripti. We are just taking a trip, Trip. Don’t start tripping over terrible assumptions.”
“Ha! Kisi aur ko bewakoof banao. Don’t tell me you guys haven’t done it. No one shines like you do these without sex. It’s a known fact.”
Khushi stared at her sister in incredulous awe. “I don’t even want to know why you know that and what that means.” She turned away step forward so that they could head out for the evening that lay waiting. “And yes, this is me not-so-subtly telling you that we are NOT discussing my virginity.”
“Discuss, not at all. Just tell me it is a thing of history. I need to know my Di is all grown up.”
“Chalo, Tripti Gupta. We are not talking about this. Arnav said he’ll be here at eight and it’s almost eight.” Khushi said as she walked out of her room.
“Of course. Don’t want to keep your…wait a second, Di, you guys are already talking about Roka and weddings but where is the proposal story? And the ring? Please tell me there is one?”
Khushi sighed. “There is none. That we will get married was a foregone conclusion. It’s not movie-romantic but that’s what it is. And I think…I prefer it.” She said honestly.
Tripti rolled her eyes. “It’s not any type of romantic. So I am wondering if Alum Aarohan is a good setting?”
Khushi’s eyes widened. “No, please…Tripti…don’t you dare even say something like this to him. I will punch you in the face. I promise I’ll do it. In any case, I do need to repay you for that slap from back in 1999.”
Tripti shrugged. “Too late for that – it was a moment and you never have those. And I am not going to tell him but what makes you so sure that’s not what he’s thinking already?”
“Seriously, Trip,” Khushi said as she crossed her fingers. She knew she didn’t have to worry about stupid grandiose gestures from Arnav. Their moments were always strangely private. Other than the time when they sang, the presence of others around almost always seemed to activate a private mode on their emotions. Those times were always more about shared glances and smiles, short phrases whispered in low voices and acknowledged with a barely-there nod. And yet, her heart was pounding now. She needed to find Arnav and make sure their story was always just theirs.
She found him waiting at the entrance to the staff quarter, deeply focused on his phone – furiously typing away what she could easily guess had to be a work related email. Before she could say anything however, Tripti gave out a shout. Shiv-ji knew, the number of times her sister used the word Jeej, one would think her Jeej was no less than Shiv-ji himself. Sorry, Shiv-ji, she whispered with a sheepish grin.
“Jeej! Don’t you look handsome enough to be my Jeej!”
Khushi smiled and watched as Arnav looked up from his phone, putting it away as his eyes caught hers for a moment, flared and then flitted away reluctantly to find Tripti’s.
“Absolutely. I have to make the effort to make sure I don’t let down my gorgeous Saali.” Arnav replied with a smile as Tripti gave him a big hug. How her own flesh and blood was this comfortable with physically expressed affection, she wouldn’t know, but the sight of Arnav and Tripti sharing these few moments of togetherness was like a shot of adrenaline to her poor lovestruck heart.
“Tell me I look wonderful?” Tripti asked as she stepped away from him and forced Khushi to stop in her tracks behind her. She twisted and turned as if to model how she looked to Arnav, forgetting rather conveniently that she was now over twenty five and not fifteen.
“You do.” Arnav said softly and then raised his eyes to look straight at Khushi. “You look wonderful.”
Khushi smiled and shook her head. Over the last few months, he’d finally learned that she was not one who could accept compliments on how she looked without scoffing or snorting and most often both. This, she realized, was his special AV twist into communicating what he wanted to without invoking her ire and uncovering her Pandora’s box of self-doubt.
“Thank you, Jeej. You are the absolute best. Now,” She turned to look at Khushi and looked at her shrewdly, “You guys obviously want to be alone. I don’t intend to be the haddi in this s.l.o.w.-cooked-kebab. So off I go and see you guys in an hour on the stage.”
“Trip, don’t be silly.”
Both Khushi and Arnav both spoke at the same time but of course, it was the discord in their responses that was most hilarious for Tripti Gupta. She laughed out aloud for several minutes before she air kissed her sister’s cheek, calling her a fattu under her breath before traipsing away under the guise of having promised to meet friends from her batch who had flown in earlier in the evening.
“How was your call?” She asked as soon as they were alone and starting walking towards the auditorium. One glance at him confirmed that Tripti had been right. He looked spectacular as always with a navy jacket and stone washed jeans paired with a white shirt. He had pushed his sleeves up to his elbow so that the gash she so loved was visible on one forearm while the other sported a large sporty watch that gleamed in the borrowed light from the halogens above their head.
“It was okay. It’s December and the strength of the practice is practically zero. And for some reason the client has decided they want to see the proposal come in before Christmas.” Arnav said softly as shifted closer to her so that his warmth was grazing her own. “But never mind that,” He said as he turned to put his arms around her waist and pulled her to himself.
“Don’t” She warned as he leaned to kiss her.
“Lip gloss. And I am not carrying any extra. I don’t want to look…”
“Like you’ve been kissed thoroughly?” He asked teasingly.
“Like I didn’t get what I really wanted and had to make do with just a few meagre kisses.” She shot back, without hesitation – a skill that seemed to surprise her.
His eyes widened. “I am hurt! I will have to show you how “meagre” my kisses can really be. Now I cannot wait for us to leave for Rishikesh.”
“Wait a second, we are going to Rishikesh to be able to drive up to DevDwar. That’s all. What else are you hoping for?” She asked with a sly smile.
“You’ll know soon enough, baby. I know you more than you think you know yourself.” He whispered in her ear. “I know what we both want.”
Khushi squirmed in his embrace and clenched her teeth as her body threatened to let go and give in to temptation. “You seem to be awfully sure. I am not sure I like that.” Her voice rasped against his jaw as he buried his nose in the crook of her neck.
“Be that as it may be, I have a spurned motorcycle ride to avenge. I intend to make this trip count in many more ways that one.”
Khushi raised one eyebrow in surprise. “You remember that?” She asked as he adjusted her weight in his embrace and allowed her to slide and rest on the natural bridge his arms formed in their entangled state.
“How can I forget that?” He asked seriously.
“You are kidding, right? You don’t actually mean you felt bad at the time?” She asked curiously. “I was overwhelmed with your presence at the River. And I cannot believe I wasn’t transparent enough to let you know how I felt.”
“You were angry – that was clear” Arnav agreed. “But I still felt…” He shrugged and then as if in a decision made quickly in his head, his eyes resumed their shine. “I need payback. And I know what I want. Okay?”
She pushed his arm away and stepped out his hold. “Seriously, Arnav. It may not be broad daylight but we aren’t invisible either, you know. All this talk…especially when there is so much singing to be done today.”
He laughed and turned so that they were walking again.
“So,” She cleared her throat, “there is nothing weird about tonight and how it will end, right?”
He looked at her with a quick snap of his neck. “You are asking me this?”
She looked at him suspiciously. “No would’ve been a better answer.”
He shook his head. “I cannot believe you don’t trust me!”
“It’s getting harder by the minute, Arnav. What is going on? I told you I do not like surprises. Seriously…”
He turned so suddenly, she almost tripped. Before she knew it, he was kissing her so thoroughly, she had to groan to make him realize she couldn’t breathe.
“What the fuck,” She said, her heart in her mouth and body buzzing with unsatiated desire.
“I have nothing planned.” He said to her. “Though…I did wonder if I…” He shook his head. “I know you now, remember? Trust me.”
“I do.” She avowed with feeling. “It’s just that…Tripti is an idiot. She just…”
“Yeah, she did that to me too.”
Khushi’s eyes widened and she cost her a couple of steps that Arnav took as he continued to walk.
“She told you?”
Arnav looked back and nodded his head for her to follow. “No. She asked me to.”
“To…er…propose on stage?” She offered, latching on the absolute certainty in his eyes that screamed confidence about the fact that they were infact talking about the same thing.
He nodded. “It’s the best way to round this story up – her words, not mine.”
Khushi groaned. “God, this girl is insane. She won’t tell me one bit about Arjun and what’s going on. But she just…I am going to whack her.”
“Ouch, you are worrying me.” Arnav chuckled. “Violence, Kaveri – it’s too much even for you.”
“I should be worrying her. The idiot.” She shook her head. “Seriously, there has to be some filter. My life reads like some sort of romance novel to her. It’s cra…”
“See this is really hurting,” He said.
“God, please tell me you are not doing that. I mean…please…”
“Uff, meri Ma…”
“I am not your Ma…” She quipped, still frowning at the thought of Tripti’s random nonsense.
“Okay. Uff meri Biwi…”
“I am not that either.”
“Then, I guess Krishna’s suggestion isn’t…” He trailed off with a deep throated laugh. “I may not have a ring handy but…”
“Arnav, I will kill you.” She warned. “It’s not funny.”
He curved his arm around her waist and pulled her closer as they continued to walk. “See I always knew, if you get us killed, it won’t be in road accident.”
Khushi’s cheeks burned at the memory of the dialogue he was referring to, instantly taking away the edge of the moment. Perhaps she was overreacting. So Tripti was being herself. Arnav would be himself and allow her to be herself too. She didn’t have to worry so much. God, how had she ever imagined herself to be calm and patient.
“But if and when you do get us killed, I will be happy to sing Khushi ne hamari hume, maar daala,”
She burst out laughing at that. “That was awful.”
“I had to get the making a joke out of your name given its excessive presence in Hindi movie music.” He argued matter-of-factly.
“You are insane.”
“Deewana hun main, deewana nahi” He hummed softly.
Again Khushi chuckled. “What does that even mean?”
Arnav shrugged. “It fits here and that’s all that matters.” He said as they neared the main building and turned towards the old auditorium.
By the time they reached the auditorium, the chaos of the impending session exploded in their faces. Back-slaps and half hugs were exchanged as people wondered about changed appearances and elapsed time. That the volume of Humsafar would be many times that she remembered of Aarohan, was a shock to Khushi’s system – one she didn’t have time to process as she battled exclamations from those who could figure out without being told that she and Arnav were a couple. Of course, there was much hilarious recollection of her “First-Year-Mech” title from those who were her seniors back in 2005.
It was finally a moment before they were due to be on stage, the entire entourage of them that were to sing today, when Khushi realized the others – including her sister – had stepped away from them, leaving Arnav and her in the wings.
Before she could open her mouth to ask Arnav what was going on, he turned to her and stepped closer. “Krishna was wrong. This, is the way to close the loop on the first part of our story.”
She blinked and urged her mind to process what he was telling her.
“I added one little song for us to sing. Will you sing with me?”
Khushi swallowed as she looked into his eyes, brimming with hope and warmth. And love. She nodded, not trusting herself with words.
“I am assuming you still don’t need lyrics.”
She smiled at that and shook her head. “I still don’t need the lyrics.” She confirmed.
He took a deep breath and stepped a little closer, enough for her to see the sunrise flecks in his eyes and for their breaths to mingle. “If I forget to say it out aloud later, thank you for singing with me today.” He whispered against her mouth as their lips brushed softly. “And forever on.”
River Song, Music and Lyrics
Song Title: Main Agar Kahoon
Album: Om Shanti Om
Singers: Shreya Ghoshal, Sonu Nigam
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Tum hue, meherbaan
Toh hai yeh, dastaan
Ab tumhara mera, ek hai caarvaan
Tum jahaan, main wahaan
(Click above to find the Author’s Note)