Wednesday, 26 August 2015

230. OS 12. A Delicious Theft (Part 3)


Part 3 will be posted here today.

I know. Sabr ka phal meetha hota he!

Part 3

Khushi looked around with pleasure. All the dishes were done and arranged around her in big vessels. A mountain of laddoos grinned at her from a huge thali. Another small silver dish had sugar-free laddoos.

“Finish your prayers, Khushi,” Payal said, her eyes on the clock. “It is time.”

Munna, Krishna and Payal moved to stand near the door.

Khushi took a special silver plate from her bag and served all the dishes on it. Then she placed it at the feet of Devi Maiyya’s idol, near the ghee lamp.

Khushi folded her hands and closed her eyes.

She prayed, ‘Hey Devi Maiyya, here’s the first taste of what we have cooked today. Chak leejiye and tell me how they have turned out.’

She waited for a few seconds.

Then she said, ‘They are good, aren’t they? I knew you would like them.’ She added in a whisper. ‘Anjaliji didn’t want me to make samosas. I insisted. Aapko acha lagta he na? Isliye. I know how much you love them. Anjaliji doesn’t know anything about food or about you.’ Khushi frowned. ‘There is something wrong with her. See how her brother has turned out! Lurking around the kitchen to steal our bijjnijj secrets!’ She frowned more ferociously. ‘The house seems big and Anjaliji can’t even walk straight, carrying around her big diamond necklace with stones as large as laddoos. Aap ko pata he, she limps in an effort to carry it. Sachi. They seem rich. Then why is he trying to steal my secret? Why does he want to steal from our thali?’ Her eyes widened. ‘Hey Devi Maiyya, I am so stupid. This is how he made his money! By stealing secrets from people like me. Khushi, be careful. He will try to get the secret out of you. Don’t give in, be strong. You are an Indian nari, the descendant of Rani Laxmi bai of Jhansi. Remember that!’

“Khushi, it is time,” Payal reminded her.

“Yes, Jiji,” Khushi replied. She turned to Devi Maiyya. ‘I forgot to ask you for the most important boon we want. Devi Maiyya, stay with us as always. Keep your hand over our heads, give us sharan. May our food be healthy and tasty, may the diners chak their fingers and ask for more. Remember that we use only desi ghee, Devi Maiyya. May our bijjniss grow in leaps and bounds. May Jiji be known as Kheer Kumari of Lucknow and me as Jalebi Rani of Lucknow. That is our binti, Devi Maiyya. Please grant us our wish. And haan, please take care of Munna and Krishna. Let there be no accidents while we cook. Keep them healthy and happy. Chalti hoon. I have to take the laddooos to the big idol they have kept in their pooja room and set the dishes.’

“Ho gaya, Khushi?” Payal asked.

“Yes, Jiji. One moment. Let me do the last tadka,” Khushi said.

She quickly walked to stand before the dishes laid out for her. She blew a flying kiss at the dishes and then with her hands, quickly warded evil eyes from her cooking and pressed the knuckles above her ears.

“Take them, Munna, Krishna,” Khushi gave permission.

The boys carried the heavy vessels into the dining hall and placed them on the tables set for them.

Payal and Khushi carried the thali of laddoos and placed them before Devi Maiyya’s idol. They returned to the kitchen and Khushi picked up the small silver dish of sugar-free laddoos.

She frowned. “Jiji, who eats sugar-free laddoos here?” she asked.

“Anjaliji’s brother, I think,” Payal said absently, looking at the messages on her phone. “She or Naniji mentioned that he is diabetic. Khushi, keep the laddoos before Devi Maiyya and come fast. Happyji has sent a message. He is here with our van. We have to clean the vessels before loading them onto the vehicle.” She moved to the sink to start on the soiled pots and pans.

Khushi looked at the laddoos, tempted beyond her control. What if she sprinkled chilly powder on the laddoos? It would teach that arrogant, This-is-my-house Raizada a much-needed lesson. How dare he look at her dishes? How dare he try to steal from her?

Khushi looked at Devi Maiyya. She had a gentle smile on her face and her eyes were kind.

Khushi sighed. ‘You never let me do naughty things,’ she complained. ‘Aap hi kahiye, doesn’t he deserve chilly powder on his laddoos?’

She waited for Devi Maiyya to answer.

‘Not even a little?’ she asked, disappointed. ‘One pinch? Please? Don't break my heart.’

She waited again.

‘Ok, if you say so. How can I fight with you? If you say no, then no it is,’ she gave in. She paused for a moment and then said, ‘You are right. He may be a thief but he is diabetic. He has to eat healthy. And I am a cook, entrusted with the responsibility of filling empty stomachs with nutritious, hot food. I shouldn’t play with food, shouldn’t cause harm to another with my food. My calling is greater than such petty thoughts.’ She closed her eyes, feeling a halo circle her saintly head as a result of such high thinking and generosity of spirit. ‘I am above such cheap harkats,’ she claimed.

She carried the dish to the poja room and placed it by the thali at Devi Maiyya’s feet.

Then she returned to the kitchen and began to work with Payal, Munna and Krishna to clean up.

Finally they were ready to leave.

“Jiji, did Anjaliji give you the cheque for the remaining amount?” Khushi asked.

“No, Khushi. She said she will bring it when we are done,” Payal replied. “Munna, Krishna, call Happyji for help and load the van.”

The boys left.

Khushi went to take her chef’s cap from the peg she had hung it from and found that it was missing. The chilly mala hung there in solitary splendour.

She stared at the peg for a full minute, blinked and then stared some more. Then she called, “Jiji?”

“Yes?” Payal asked.

“I am not dreaming, am I?” she asked slowly. “That peg doesn’t have my cap, does it?”

Payal gave a cursory glance at the peg. “No, it doesn’t,” she replied.

“Jiji, I hung it there,” Khushi insisted.

“Must have fallen down,” Payal muttered, looking for Anjali’s number in her phone.

“No, it is not on the floor,” Khushi said, her voice strained.

“Maybe it fell in the nimona,” Payal said with a smile.

Khushi grimaced. “No, the dishes were placed away from this corner,” she said.

“Anjaliji, we are ready to leave. Kindly send the cheque with someone,” Payal spoke into the phone.

Khushi looked at the peg. ‘He must have taken it. Who else would steal my cap? Chor kahin ka! I should have emptied a whole bottle of chilly powder on the laddoos meant for him,’ she thought.

Payal listened quietly to Anjali’s reply and then said, “Fine.” She cut the call and spoke to Khushi.

“Go up the steps to Arnav Singh Raizada’s room. He has signed the cheque and is waiting to give it to you. He wants to discuss a contract with you. They want us to do the catering for all their poojas,” Payal told her.

Khushi clenched her fists. Her cap! Her beloved cap! She would show him. She turned her head to look at Devi Maiyya and begged her forgiveness. ‘I know you expect better of me, but I can’t take this. My cap. How dare he! My khoon is boiling. I will kill him with my bare hands today. Devi Maiyya, bless me. Make me as strong as a pehelwan, as muscular as Bittu pehelwan in the akhada near our house. I am going for a battle with a thief to claim what is rightfully mine.’

Devi Maiyya smiled.

Khushi marched up the steps to the top floor. She stood undecided for a moment. There were too many doors.

Then she saw an elderly man exiting a room, shutting the door carefully after himself.

“Is he inside?” Khushi asked, foaming at the mouth.

“Ji?” Hari Prakash stood with his hands folded at the sight of the angry Devi without her white cap.

“Is Arnav Singh Raizada in this room?’ Khushi asked, impatient to get her hands on his cheating body, especially his neck.

“Yes,” HP stammered.

Khushi walked past him at the speed of light. HP blinked.

She knocked on the door, struggling to keep herself from banging on it.

“Come in,” came his husky call.

She pushed open the door with both hands and burst into his room to see him sitting on a pale green recliner before a laptop.

Her white cap was lying on the table by his laptop.

Khushi’s anger grew in leaps and bounds till she saw red.

He lifted his head to study her at his leisure.

“Yes?” he asked as if he had no idea who she was.

Khushi ground her teeth till she was in danger of becoming toothless.

“You!” she bit out. “You chor, thief, crook, pickpocket, burglar, poacher Singh Raizada!”

He lay back, crossing his hands under his head. His amused eyes scanned her from top to bottom. How good it felt to be the sole recipient of all her anger, he thought.

“Return my cap to me, you bandit,” she demanded.

“Come and take it,” he invited, his eyes dancing at her fury. Her vocabulary was excellent, he mused.

Khushi marched up to his table and bent to take her cap.

His hard fingers latched onto the satin soft skin of her arm.

“Now how will you escape me, Khushi Kumari Gupta, Lucknow’s chef?” Arnav asked softly, his eyes on the creamy skin revealed by the gaping neck of her suit.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

229. OS 12. A Delicious Theft (Part 1 & 2)

Link to my new short story: Taking Care of You

“I thought I was dreaming when I first saw you," he said.

 “How did you know it was me?” she asked. “I could have been anybody. A thief even.”

He smiled wearily. “I don’t know many thieves who would look at me with anxious eyes and then cry because I was sick,” he mumbled.

Is it possible for love to bloom, sight unseen? Juhi and Abhay are strangers who know each other better than they know themselves. One night changes the equation and the even tenor of their lives and puts all their doubts and fears to rest.

Link to my first e-novel; A Home for Meenakshi

"I love the way you love, Meenu," he whispered, his eyes on hers. "Such loyalty, such passion..."

Meenakshi Sharma, an orphan, lives in Varanasi with her uncle, a chronic bachelor who wants her to become a professional musician. She unwillingly relocates to Delhi to study under a renowned musician for eight months. Staying for rent in the outhouse of the Agrawals, she meets Aditya Agrawal, an attractive young man brooding over the memories of his horrendous past. Pulled between her uncle's expectations of her and Aditya's love for her, Meenakshi struggles with her feelings. How can she disappoint her uncle who had devoted his entire life to her upbringing? How can she pretend to be blind to Aditya's feelings for her? A romance that moves between the alleys of the holy city of Varanasi and the modern city of Delhi.

A blog for my VMs:

Part 1

“Chotey, you got home!” Anjali exclaimed as she saw her brother walk in at nine at night from the office, lugging his laptop bag.

‘Can’t she see I am home?’ Arnav Singh Raizada wondered. “Yes,” he replied.

“The pooja got over two hours back,” Nani informed him. “It would have been nice if you could have joined us,” she added wistfully.

He drew in a deep sigh of relief. ‘I escaped Di’s weekly torture,’ he thought.

“Hamre Akaas bitwaa aai gawa for pooja. Bhy didn’t you comes?” Mami asked.

“I had meetings,” he muttered as he moved towards the steps leading to his bedroom.

“Chotey, freshen up and come down for dinner,” Anjali invited him.

“I have some work to finish. Send it up with whichever Prakash is working for us right now,” Arnav said as he went up to his room.

Anjali pursed her lips. “Yeh Chotey bhi na!” she complained.


A few minutes later, Anjali knocked on Arnav’s door.

“Come in,” he called as he pulled the white t-shirt over his head.

Anjali walked in with a covered silver thali of food.

“Chotey, shall I feed you?” she asked coyly.

“No,” he said. ‘What is wrong with her? Does she think I am 3 years old? I am 30, damn it! Unbelievable!’ he thought.

“Then I will wait till you finish,” Anjali said and sat down on his bed.

Arnav sighed.

The sooner he gobbled up the food the sooner Di would leave him alone to get some work done. It had been a hell of a day. He was exhausted, he was hungry, he still had work waiting for him. The last thing he needed was Di’s emotional blackmail.
He grabbed the handle of the cover and lifted it from the plate of food.

He stood still, immobile as though he had received a jolt.

The fragrance rising from the food was mesmerising.

Naan, sultani dal, veg pulao, raita, Mathura aloo and a couple of dishes he couldn’t recognise. An orange jalebi smiled at him from the plate, all oily and syrupy, filled with everything good he shouldn’t eat.

“I can’t eat that jalebi,” he growled.

“It is sugar-free,” Anjali smiled at him.

He took the plate and quickly sat on the recliner. He spooned a bit of dal and a few grains of pulao into his mouth and almost fainted of pleasure.

‘Is it possible to die of too much goodness?’ he wondered.

He quickly sampled the other dishes too. He was lost for words.

The food was out of this world, the Mathura aloo brought back memories of his mother.

He ate in silence, savouring every bite.

Done, he placed the spoon on the plate and sat back, replete.

“Did you like it, Chotey?” Anjali asked.

He nodded. He didn’t have words to tell her how good it was.
“HP made these?” he asked.

“No,” Anjali said with a smile. “Khushiji did.”

“Who?’ he asked with a frown. Had they employed a new cook?

“Khushiji. She is a chef,” Anjali explained. “She came here with her team and cooked for the pooja.”

He nodded.

“Chotey, I was thinking, shall we give her the order for my weekly poojas? The ladies loved the food,” Anjali said happily.

“Yes,” he said. He would get to eat her cooking next week too.
“Who is she?” the businessman in him asked. “What do you know about her? You know I don’t like strangers in our house. They may steal something,” he blustered.

“Chotey, Khushiji is not like that,” Anjali protested. “Do you know who she is? Don’t you remember Nani’s friend’s Sunitaji?"

"I think so," Arnav muttered.

 "She has a sister named Vinita."

"So?" Arnav asked.

 "Vinitaji has a husband, Lal Bahadur Singhji. He lives in Lucknow.”

“This Khushi is related to Sunitaji’s sister Vimalaji’s husband Lal Bahadur Singhji?” Arnav rolled his eyes.

“Well, not exactly related, but she is very close to them. She is their neighbour,” Anjali said with a smile that said Chotey would fall in with all her plans.

The said Chotey almost buried his head in his hands. “What kind of an introduction is that?” he asked, fed up.

“I will invite her to do the cooking here for the pooja next Tuesday, Chotey. Why don’t you return home early from the office and meet her? I am sure that even you can’t find fault with her,” Anjali challenged him.

He nodded and after a last look at his clean plate, turned his head towards the laptop.


“Chotey, Khushiji has come,” Anjali said in excitement, clutching her phone.

“Yejj, the cooker ijj here,” Mami added into the phone.

Arnav held the phone away from his ear. “I will get home in thirty minutes,” he said before cutting the call.

He quickly gave last minute instructions to Aman, grabbed his coat and laptop bag and left his office.

He almost walked out when he walked into his house. Every surface of his house seemed to be crawling with guests.

“Damn!” he muttered.

“Arnav bhaiyya,” HP called, surprise in his voice. He had imagined that Arnav bhaiyya had enough common sense to get lost and stay lost till the mayhem in the house ended.

Arnav refrained from replying. He quickly handed over his coat and laptop to HP and began to move towards the kitchen.

“Arnav bhaiyya,” HP called urgently.

“Kya he?” Arnav frowned.

“Don’t go into the kitchen,” HP warned, sweat beading on his forehead.

Arnav frowned. “What the!” he exclaimed.

“The kitchen has been taken over by a devi in a white cap. We are not permitted to enter the kitchen till she leaves,” HP said.

"Really?" Arnav pursed his lips and strode to the kitchen.

Part 2

He placed his hand on the kitchen door to push it open and announce his presence.

“Jiji,” a voice called.

He stopped as if shot.

The honey-like voice and the laughter in it was a fatal combination to a man who shouted instructions at employees and had forgotten how to laugh.

He peeked into the kitchen. His eyes widened.

A beautiful girl in a chef’s hat or toque was standing on a stool, a ladle in her hand. Around her neck was a necklace of red chillies.

“Jiji, look at me, Khushi Kumari Gupta the chef!” she trilled.

Arnav looked at her from the top of her hat to her feet in jooti, fascinated, overwhelmed, lost. He wanted to lift her in his arms and carry her off, maybe to the bedroom of a villa on a secluded island where they wouldn’t be disturbed for a month.

“Khushi, neeche utro,” her sister called. “Enough of your dancing around. The laddoos are ready to shaped into balls.”

“My laddoos will wait for me, Jiji,” Khushi said as she jumped down from the stool. “They love me, just as I love them.”

“Payal didi, Khushi didi, the nimona is done,” a boy called as he carried in a heavy vessel with steam escaping through its lid.

“Keep it here, Munna,” Payal said.

Khushi walked towards the door.

Arnav stepped back slightly.

She took off her hat carefully and hung it on a peg on the wall.  She removed her necklace with caution.

Khushi sat down on a low stool before a huge vessel with the mixture for laddoo.

“Now watch the magic of this Lakhnavi chef,” she boasted before tugging her imaginary sleeves up and shaping laddoos with both hands at breakneck speed.

Arnav looked at her hands. These were the magical hands that had cooked dinner last week? He wanted to go down on his knees before her and kiss every inch of her hands—and if possible her whole body—at least twice.

“Your name should be in the Guinness Book, Khushi didi,” Munna said in admiration.

“Of course it should be. Who won the laddoo-making contest in our gali?” she asked.

“You,” said a taller boy who joined them. He was carrying a tray of hot samosas.

“Who won the Jaldi laddoo banao, Devi Maiyya ki kripa pao contest in our temple, Krishna?” Khushi asked the newcomer.

“You, Khushi didi, only you,” he replied.

“The priest permitted the contest only after you nagged him day and night for two weeks, Khushi,” Payal reminded her with a smile.

Munna bit back a smile and asked, “Payal didi, what can she do? How can she show her talents to the world if the fools don’t hold contests in things she is good at?”

“True. They should have had a jalebi-eating competition too, Khushi didi,” Krishna said, his eyes dancing. “You would have won it hands down.”

“We will suggest it next year,” Khushi said, smiling widely, imagining herself devouring basket after basket of jalebis.

Munna and Krishna shook their heads and left the kitchen.

Arnav could only feast on her beauty as he stood hidden behind the door.

“Chotey, you are here,” Anjali exclaimed.

Khushi stopped making laddoos. Payal and Khushi looked towards the kitchen door that was ajar.

They saw a formally dressed young man staring at them.

 Anjali came rushing to join him and do the introductions.

“Khushiji, Payalji, this is my brother, Arnav Singh Raizada,” Anjali said. “Chotey, this is Payalji. This is Khushiji.”

Payal smiled and folded her hands in greeting. “Namaste,” she said.

Arnav nodded, his eyes on Khushi.

She was standing and staring at him with a suspicious look in her eyes.

“Anjali bitiya,” Nani called from afar.

Anjali excused herself. Payal moved away to check on the kheer on the stove.

“You are Anjaliji’s brother?” Khushi asked, her eyes trained accusingly on Arnav.

“Yes,” he replied, his voice huskier than normal.

“Why were you skulking behind the door?” she asked directly.

ASR opened his mouth to reply, but found he didn’t have to.

“If you think you can find the secret ingredient I add to my laddoos and other dishes by hiding behind the door and peeking at us, then you are dreaming,” Khushi declared, her hands at her waist.

“What the!” Arnav exclaimed.

“It is our trade secret,” Khushi claimed. “Don’t think you can steal it from us.”

“This is unbelievable!” Arnav exclaimed.

“Do you know who I am?” she asked.

“Khushi Kumari Gupta,” he replied, baffled at the turn of events.

Khushi grimaced at him impatiently. “I am a Lakhnavi chef. A chef, samjhe aap? Hamare bijjnejj he, bahut bada. We do catering for poojas, parties, funerals, birth of babies, puppies etc. Haven't you heard of us?” she asked.

“No,” he admitted, feeling he had fallen down the rabbit hole, a strange feeling for a man who had grown old too young.

Khushi shook her head in pity. “You don’t know anything,” she passed judgement. “What do you do?”

“I am a businessman,” he admitted.

Khushi clutched her heart with both hands. “You are a businessman?” she asked, her voice thin with shock.

“Yes,” he replied. Why was she staring at him as if he were the axe murderer? He wanted her to look at him as though he had hung the moon and the stars.

Khushi jumped to stand between him and her laddoos, her arms wide to block him from looking at her sweets.

Her dupatta had lifted to coil around her neck, leaving her chest uncovered. His eyes ran over her lissome body with pleasure.

“Don’t think you can steal our recipes,” Khushi thundered.

“What the!” he muttered. He was being accused of corporate espionage? Laughter bubbled in his chest.

“Take your what the, what the and go out,” Khushi pointed dramatically at the door. “If I see you hanging around here, devi maiyya ki kasam, it won’t be good for you,” she threatened.

“Really?” he asked, quirking one brow. “Kya kar logi tum?”

“I will throw chilly powder in your eyes,” she declared.

He stared at her. He was already burning in his attraction for her, but chilly powder? “This is my house,” he reminded her, aghast at her intentions.

“So?” she asked.

“This is my house, my kitchen. How dare you try to throw me out of my own kitchen?” he thundered.

“How dare you look at my sweets?” she thundered right back. “The kitchen may be yours, but I am not, my sweets are not, my nimona is not, my parathas are not, my dum bhindi is not, my paneer pasanda is not, my kheer is not. They are not yours and never will be.”

“Dekhte hein,” he challenged her.

“Jab kuch bhi aapka hoga hi nahi, to aap kya dekhenge?” she asked him, her nose in air.

“Chotey,” Anjali came into the kitchen. “Are you still here?” she asked, astonished.

Arnav firmed his lips.

“Khushiji, the pooja will begin now,” she said, smiling at Khushi.

“We are ready, Anjaliji. Please take your brother away from here so that we can complete our work,” Khushi requested.

“Yes, yes,” Anjali agreed, trying to shoo Arnav away from Khushi.

“I hope the milk for kheer hasn’t curdled,” Khushi muttered so that Arnav could hear and understand that he was the curdling agent.

He wanted to stick out his tongue at her, something he hadn’t done even in his childhood. Or throttle her. Or kiss her long and deep till they forgot their own names.

He let Anjali drag him out of the kitchen.

On his way out, he filched her chef’s hat hanging from the peg on the wall and stuffed it into his pocket.

Part 3