OS 4: A Special Holi
ASR sat by the pool in his garden, working. He jabbed the keys of his laptop, trying to shut his ears to the cacophony from the premises of his house.
It was Holi. Again.
The day when his Di and Nani and Mami and his new sister-in-law, Payal invited all and sundry to his house to drink bhang and douse each other in colours.
He sighed. Didn’t people have anything better to do? What a waste of a day!
He turned his head towards the general direction of the festivities. She would be there...Khushi... He had to avoid her at all cost, he thought. His eyes had developed the disturbing practice of lingering on her for too long and he was getting in to the habit of rescuing her from the consequences of her folly.
It was better he kept away from her, ASR decided grimly.
Something touched him on the knee. He jerked to look down at Laxmi’s limpid eyes. She seemed to say, “You liar!”
“Don’t you have anything else to do?” ASR asked the goat.
The animal blinked.
“Go and eat my plants,” ASR instructed, “as you normally do on the sly. Don’t nag me or I will make mutton of you,” ASR threatened.
Laxmi snorted at his wishful thinking and stalked away to nibble at the succulent leaves of a rare and expensive plant in a pot.
ASR looked in the direction of the noise of the drums and laughter. Almost without his knowledge, he stood up and moved towards the big glass window looking out on the grounds.
Di, Nani and Mami had, as usual, gotten their way. The grounds were decorated with marigold flowers and yellow hangings. Small pavilions had been constructed on his estate to accommodate the guests who were exhausted by too much bhang and the vigorous movements of dance. Tables stood in a line bearing big plates of colours of various hues. A team of bhang makers had been hired to grace the occasion. They were grinding large quantities of green leaves to prepare the intoxicating drink. Drummers were drumming with a vengeance and people were swaying in time to the music.
ASR’s eyes ran quickly over the crowd seeking the distinct form of one girl...the thorn in his flesh...Khushi Kumari Gupta.
But she was nowhere to be seen.
ASR leaned forward to take a good look at the grounds, his eyes turning anxious. Where was Khushi? It was inconceivable that she would miss the event, having a fondness for all family functions and noise and dance, not to mention her Jiji.
His eyes fell on Nani and Buaji. They were standing together, laughing at Mamaji dancing to the beat, holding a glass of bhang on his head.
If Buaji was here, Khushi couldn’t be far behind. She should be somewhere around, he thought. He looked around frantically for the slip of a girl with creamy skin and silky hair, naughty smile and twinkling eyes that had a bad habit of distracting him from his work and keeping him awake at night. He saw Amma with Payal, but there was no sign of Khushi anywhere.
He turned to walk back to his chair, stopped and looked out once more through the window hoping to see her.
But he was disappointed...and worried. Where was she?
Had she gotten in to some kind of trouble as he hadn’t gone down to join them? Scary images of him pulling Khushi to safety at Payal’s wedding rushed through his head. She had been grinning and weeping at the same time during Akash & Payal’s jaimala and had leaned too close to the flame of a lamp in an attempt to see the proceedings clearly. The pallu of her pink saree with golden tassels and pearls had been in danger of catching fire. He had pulled her to safety in the very nick of time.
ASR walked back to his chair in the garden slowly and sat down.
And during Akash & Payal’s sangeet! Khushi had caught her foot in the torn hem of her lehenga and almost fallen down the steps of the stage. He had caught her arm and steadied her.
Mehendi had been no better. During mehendi she had almost rolled down the stairs at his house, the dupatta of her anarkali trailing on the ground and tripping her.
Where was she now? Was she in trouble? His heart felt heavy, his breathing became laboured. Maybe he could go down and check on her...make sure that she was not neck-deep in some mess...
“Arnavji,” came the soft call full of delighted discovery from the door to the garden.
He looked up so fast that he was in danger of getting whiplash.
Khushi Kumari Gupta had come looking for him.
Dressed in a white and yellow suit, she looked like a ray of sunshine begging to be trapped in his hold. The bright red colour on her cheeks added to the summery effect. His jaw tightened in an attempt to effect control over his body.
“Yes,” he asked, his tone discouraging. Drums rolled in the distance.
His harsh tone did not deter her. She swayed slightly as she made her way towards him, a glass of some beverage held in her hand, red colour on her cheeks.
“I came to your house...and looked all over for you....Arnavji...you were nowhere...” she complained, her lips twisting in a pout.
Arnav sat up straight. “What the!” he exclaimed.
She collapsed at his feet like a deflated balloon, chuckling weakly. With great difficulty and acute concentration, she placed the drink in the steel glass on his laptop table.
“What the..what the...you sound really, really cute when you say it...bilkul like a naughty bacha,” Khushi informed him, her body shaking with mirth.
“Are you drunk?” ASR asked, his eyes furious. How dare she endanger herself in this manner? There must be many men at the party, some of them unscrupulous. Did she think that all men were like him, restrained, in control of his feelings, letting his head conquer his unruly heart?
“Drunk?” she tried to glare at him, but her eyes crossed in a comical manner. “Aap ko bata doon, Khushi Kumari Gupta does not drink,” she claimed, her tongue lingering on some of the syllables.
ASR fumed. “You are lying!” he declared. She looked the worse for wear. It was clear that she had taken bhang.
“Lying?” she poked an unsteady finger at his heart.
“Jhoot bolna?” she asked. “Jhoot bole kauwwa kaate,” she let him know. “No jhoot, no paap, no moh maaya...” her voice trailed away. “I am Khushi, not jhooti. Arnavji, don’t you know me? I am Khushi.”
ASR drew in a long breath of exasperation.
“Don’t breathe like that..don’t. The whole world will enter your lungs...or your stomach. What will you do with the whole world in your stomach, Arnavji?” Khushi asked, leaning against his leg for support.
“Khushi, did you take bhang?” ASR asked, pursing his lips.
“Bhang? No, Khushi Kumari Gupta does not drink bhang; she only makes it,” she declared.
“Then why is Khushi Kumari Gupta drunk?” ASR asked, his eyebrow lifted in enquiry.
“Khushi Gupta Kumari drinks only water...water means pani...let me tell you in English...water means pani.. pani... pani puri...golgappe...chaat...samose...” she lost the thread of her argument.
“Khushi!” ASR growled.
She looked at him, her eyes suddenly turning naughty. “You sound just like a lion,” she remarked.
ASR looked heavenwards for patience.
“There is no colour on your cheeks. Bilku pheeka he, and that too on Holi,” she complained. Then she touched her own cheeks, took colour from them and applied them on his lean, stubbled jaw. She smiled. “Ab theek he.”
ASR was left staring at her.
ASR looked at the liquid in the glass she had brought with her with eyes hard with suspicion.
“From where did you get this?” he asked her.
“A boy gave it to me. He said it is thandai,” she smiled at him. “Aap bhi thora pijiye na,” she requested.
His jaw clenched, his nostrils flared.
“Oooo,” Khushi whispered. “Gussa aa raha he..”
“How many of these did you drink?” he asked, his jaw clenched so tight that he could barely get the words out.
“Three,” Khushi said, showing him all five fingers of one hand.
“You idiot! That boy was trying to get you drunk,” he shouted at her, holding her shoulders in a tight hold.
Khushi frowned playfully at him. “Why should anyone try to get me drunk?” she asked.
“To hurt you,” ASR almost screamed in to her ear over the din of the drums.
Khushi winced. “How can anyone hurt me when you are there?” she asked, curling her arms around his leg and laying her head against his knee.
“I was not there, Khushi,” he shouted.
“Why were you not there, Arnavji? This is all your fault,” she declared, rubbing her soft cheeks against his trouser-clad leg and shutting her eyes.
ASR stared at her, his mouth open at her lack of logic.
“I thought you would be there. I wanted to apply red colour on you. Where were you?” she scolded him.
ASR was lost for an answer. He frowned.
“Holi he. So no frowning today,” Khushi said, her finger tracing the line of his frown on his forehead, her eyes fixed on her finger.
ASR swallowed hard.
“Arnavji, I am feeling sleepy,” she yawned.
ASR looked toward his room. Maybe he could carry her to his bed and leave her to rest there for a few hours till her family came looking for her.
“Khushi, get up,” ASR said.
Khushi tried to get up, an impossible task on limp noodles for legs.
ASR caught hold of her arms and tried to help her up.
She got on to her knees, stood up and collapsed on his lap, coiling her arms around his neck.
“Khushi,” he gasped.
“Hhmmm?” she asked, her face against his neck.
“Khushi, I..I will take you to bed,” he began, his mouth dry at the feel of her in his arms. “I mean, the bed...my bed...”
“No, I will stay here,” she burrowed further in to him.
He sat still, scared to move, hanging on to his self-control by his very nails.
“You smell so nice, Arnavji,” she whispered, dragging his fragrance in to her lungs.
“Khushi,” he warned through gritted teeth, the feel of her softness against his body driving him crazy.
“I am not afraid of you, Arnavji,” she claimed. “I am not afraid of your eyes,” she looked deep in to his eyes with dazed ones. “I am not afraid of your nose,” she drawled, touching his straight nose tenderly with one finger. “Or your lips,” she traced the curve of his lips with the same finger..or tried to. If sometimes her finger slipped, neither of them was in a position to notice.
His eyes moved from hers to linger on her plump, inviting lips.
Khushi parted her lips in response.
ASR jumped up with Khushi in his arms. She had to be put to bed and away from him at the earliest.
“Where are you taking me, Arnavji?’ she asked, smiling, not in the least alarmed.
Silently he carried her in to his bedroom and tried to drop her on his bed. She held on to his neck with arms that resembled steel wires.
“Khushi,” he hissed. “Chhodo mujhe.”
“Nahi chhodenge. Kyon chhodein?” she pouted.
“Koi aa jaayega, Khushi,” he bit out.
“Aane deejiye. I hope it is Anjaliji,” Khushi mumbled.
“What the!” he exclaimed.
“I will ask her why she raised you to be a khadoos, gussewala akhdoo,” Khushi declared.
ASR managed to free himself from her hold.
“Leti raho wahan par. I am going to work,” he declared.
“I am coming with you,” she said, trying to crawl out of bed.
“Lie down, you fool. You drank bhang, you can’t stand straight, you have no idea what you are getting in to and you want to follow me?” he fumed more out of his slipping self-control than anger against her.
“I can stand too,” she claimed. She tried to stand up on the bed but felt her head spin.
“Arnavji, the room is going around me in circles. What jadoo have you done on me?” she asked.
ASR firmed his lips. She was stealing questions from his mouth. He caught her arm to steady her.
“Jaadugar saiyyaan, chodo meri baiyyan...,” she said smiling fondly at him.
“Unbelievable!” ASR said although his lips trembled slightly in a smile.
“You are smiling, you are smiling,” Khushi clapped her hands in joy.
ASR found himself holding her in his arms, cradled against his chest. “Khushi, lie down and go to sleep,” ASR begged.
“No,” she frowned. “I will stay with you, awake. We can talk and talk and talk...” she yawned.
ASR heaved a sigh of long suffering.
“You have beautiful eyes,” she remarked.
ASR jumped in shock, his arms tightening around her.
“When you look at me with your eyes...” she paused.
“When I look at you with my eyes?” he asked, his voice sounding rusty.
“Something happens here,” she pointed to her heart.
“Really?” he asked in a whisper.
“Really, Arnavji. And you are always looking at me. Why are you always looking at me?” she asked.
He parted his lips in shock.
“Kahiye na?” she demanded.
“Because...because you are prone to getting in to trouble,” he managed to say. “Someone has to keep his eyes on you,” he stated.
“I get in to trouble because you stare at me so,” she confessed to a stymied ASR. “Your big eyes look at me as if I am a jalebi to be devoured. Tab my legs start shaking and I fall down. It is all your fault, Arnavji,” she neatly laid the blame for all her accidents at his door.
“Sleep, Khushi,” he pleaded.
“Yes. Pata nahi kyon, Arnavji, but I am feeling very sleepy. You don’t mind if I sleep, do you?” she asked, sorry that she couldn’t entertain him longer.
ASR looked heavenwards. “I have been asking you to do the same for the past one hour, Khushi,” he said, laying her on the bed.
“Will you sit with me?” she asked, taking hold of his arm.
“What the!” he asked.
“I am scared to sleep alone,” she sighed, her lashes falling to cover her eyes. “When Jiji was with me, we used to share a bed. I would hug her and go to sleep. But you took Jiji away from me,” she complained.
“Not me, Akash,” ASR cleared his name.
“She came to your house, leaving me alone,” Khushi said. “Now I sleep with the light switched on, hugging her pillow.”
“Are you scared of thieves, Khushi? You shouldn’t be. Your chabar chabar alone will make them give up their lucrative profession if they enter your room,” ASR teased, his eyes glinting with sardonic amusement.
“Who is afraid of thieves?” Khushi asked yawning, her eyes shut. “I am scared of the dark. Amma and Babuji had their accident at night. Why can’t it be day all the time? Why should the sun set? I will ask Devi Maiyya,” Khushi said.
ASR stared at her, his eyes regretful, pained.
“Arnavji,” Khushi called to make sure that he was by her.
“I am here, Khushi,” he said softly.
“You won’t leave me alone, will you?’ she asked, anxious.
“No, I won’t,” he promised.
She extended her hand to take hold of his. He placed his hand in hers and let her curl it beneath her soft, warm cheek. He sat by her on the bed and gazed at her sleeping form.
Wind blew in through the open window and ruffled her hair. A few silky strands escaped the tie and fell against her cheek red with holi colour. With a gentle finger, he smoothed it behind her ear, his eyes tender, soft, molten in love.
Time lost all meaning to ASR. His work remained forgotten on the table in the garden. Laxmi ate her fill of leaves in the garden and marched out through the bedroom, but ASR had eyes only for his sleeping beauty.
A couple of hours later, Anjali came looking for Khushi.
She looked high and she looked low, but could not get a glimpse of the girl. Finally she decided to ask Chotey if he had seen Khushi. She walked in to Chotey’s bedroom and stood shell-shocked to see Khushi asleep on Chotey’s bed, her cheek resting on his palm, her Chotey sitting by her and staring at her.
“Chotey,” Anjali squeaked.
“Sshh..” ASR ordered. “Don’t disturb her.”
Anjali gulped. “Chotey, all are asking for Khushiji. If someone comes and sees her in your bed...” Anjali tried to warn him.
ASR frowned. “She fell asleep,” he explained lightly.
“Chotey!” Anjali could shake him. “If they see her here..like this...they are going to assume that something is brewing between you and Khushiji.”
“So?” ASR asked.
Anjali almost stamped her foot. “They will demand that you get married to Khushiji. Now, only your family knows how allergic you are to love and marriage. The Guptas have no idea. They will expect marriage; you will refuse. They will think that you are playing with Khushiji’s feelings. It will spoil the cordial relationship the two families share now. Think of Payalji and poor Akash,” she pleaded. "Think of Nani."
Mami came in to the room and stopped short. “Arnav bitwaa, Khussi ko kaa hua? Did you scold her so much that she fainted, Hello Hi Bye Bye?”
“Mami!” Anjali exclaimed.
“The Gupta family bill be here soon, Arnav bitwaa,” Mami warned. “Hide her under the bedwaa. We bill take her out later.”
ASR rolled his eyes at his Mami’s drama.
“It is alright,” he told Anjali.
“What is alright, Chotey?” Anjali asked, her hand on her hips.
“Yes, bolo, bolo, Arnav bitwaa. How can scaring your sister-in-law’s sister in to behoshi be alright?” Mami asked.
“Err..marriage is alright,” ASR turned his head away from Anjali.
Anjali gasped and collapsed in a chair. “What did you say, Chotey?” Her voice was a mere thread.
“Yes, bhat did you say, Arnav bitwaa? Marrijj is alright?” Mami asked. “Kiski marrijj? Kaunsi marrijj? Payaliyya aur Akass bitwaa ka?”
“You can talk to the Guptas, Di,” ASR mumbled.
A big smile spread across Anjali’s face. “Really, Chotey?”
“Yes,” ASR nodded, his face flushed.
“Taaak to the Guptas? About bhat?” Mami asked, her painted eyes round in wonder. “Akass bitwaa has already married Payaliyya.”
Anjali hugged Mami. “Not Akash, Mami. Chotey wants to marry Khushiji,” she said laughing and crying at the same time.
Mami gasped. “You proposed to Khussi, Arnav bitwaa? No wonder she is behosh!”
“Mami, let us go down and talk to Nani and the Guptas,” Anjali said smiling away.
“Yes, let us. Nahi to the Guptas will come looking for Khussi. Arnav bitwaa, throw a bucket of water on her face and ask her again, Hello Hi Bye Bye!” Mami advised.
Soon the Guptas and Nani came in to Arnav’s room, followed by Anjali, Payal & Mami.
Before Buaji and Amma could be shocked by Khushi’s presence in his bed, Arnav said, “She had too much bhang and came in to the house.”
Buaji frowned. “Par bitwaa, Titliyaa does not take bhang.”
“Haan, Jiji. She makes it every Holi but does not even taste it,” Garima said.
“Some boy gave her bhang and told her that it was thandai,” ASR explained.
“Luckily she came in and saw me. We talked for a while. She was sleepy, so I put her to bed,” he explained, leaving out the interesting parts.
“Hai Re Nandkisore!” Buaji exclaimed.
“Devi Maiyya ki jai ho,” Amma said.
“Chotey, Anjali bitiyya was telling us that you want to marry Khussi bitiyya?” Nani wanted to settle everything on the spot before ASR changed his mind.
“Yes,” ASR blushed faintly.
Buaji and Garima looked at each other.
“Babua, are you sure?” Garima asked, wondering how a serious and stern ASR would cope with her madcap niece.
“Maybe you should think it over,” Buaji gave him a way out. “Kono jaldi naahi he, Nandkisore. Take your time, take your time. Titliyya is not going anywhere.”
“I am sure,” ASR stated.
“You really like Sanka Devi, Nandkisore?’ Buaji asked.
“Yes,” ASR said.
“Then it is alright, babua,” Buaji said. Who was she to stop Arnav bitwaa from taking on the bundle of trouble named Khushi Kumari Gupta?
“May Devi Maiyya protect you,” Garima blessed him, knowing that he would need it.
Section 3 (on Saturday)