Arnav sat thinking at the dinner table, ignoring the food on his plate. His abstraction was nothing new to his family but the slight smile that bloomed on his face a few times was a shocker.
Mami peered into his plate. A paratha lay neglected on its silver surface.
Mami whispered to Nani, “Saasumma, why ijj hamre Arnav bitwaa smiling at that paratha, Hello Hi Bye Bye? Kauno jokewaa sunaya tha kaa woh?”
“Manorama,” Nani hissed in warning lest Arnav should hear her.
Finally, Anjali asked her brother, “Chotey, kya hua? Why are you smiling?” A frown adorned her temple.
Arnav woke up from his dreams of a wet night and a sweet pari. “Nothing, Di,” he said, composing his face to its customary sternness.
“Amanji brought your car home?” she asked, still perplexed.
“Yes,” he said shortly.
“Chotey, don’t stay up late working tonight,” Nani advised him. “Get some rest. Kal bhi office jana he na?”
He nodded and lowered his head to attack the paratha, hoping that the questions would cease.
Khushi made a good dinner, chatting cheerfully about the terrible rain, the man she had met that night, the rickshawwala and the songs.
“Hai Re Nandkisore!” Buaji hit her head with her hand. “You got into a rickshaw with a man you don’t know?”
Khushi frowned. “I know him now, Buaji,” she replied.
Buaji looked heavenward for divine help. “You Sanka Devi, you Parmeswari! How many times should I remind you that you are not a boy but a girl? What if the man had tried to misbehave with you? Who would have listened to you screaming for help on such a night?”
“Buaji, he is not like that. He is a pukka gentleman,” Khushi tried to reassure her Buaji.
“Acha? You are giving me his character certificate? How do you know what he is? Is he your Mama’s son for you to be so sure of his character?” Buaji challenged her. “Hai Re Nandkisore! What kind of mushkil have you landed on my head? How can I sleep in peace till she is out of this house?”
“Buaji!” Khushi protested.
“Payaliyya, remind me to call Mishraji tonight. I want to marry her off at the earliest, Nandkisore. Then her husband can run after her. I am too old for this running race,” Buaji wiped her forehead in exhaustion.
“I have to get a healthy boy for her, Payaliyya. Otherwise he won’t be able to keep up with her, Nandkisore!” Buaji decided. “Maybe a lion tamer or a circus ringmaster. Only he will be able to manage this naughty vixen.”
Payal and Khushi burst out laughing.
Arnav quickly pulled out his laptop from its bag and placed it on his table and switched it on. As soon as it booted up, he typed in Pyar Hua Ikrar Hua. Soon he was watching the video clip of Raj Kapoor and Nargis and the umbrella in the rain with the headphones providing him privacy.
“Chotey, your pill,” Anjali came in. “Do you have to work tonight?” she pouted.
Arnav quickly closed the laptop to avoid being caught watching a sentimental and romantic Bollywood song. It would kill his reputation as ASR and begin a never-ending interrogation by his Di. He stood up to walk towards his sister. He took the pill from her, grabbed the glass of water in her hand and made short work of his medicine.
“Go to sleep, Chotey,” she advised.
He nodded and nudged her out of his room. He shut and locked the bedroom door and returned to his laptop to watch the song again and again and again...
“Jiji, he was so nice,” Khushi breathed, hugging the blanket. “And so handsome. Jiji, you should have seen him.”
“Khushi, I will see him later,” Payal yawned. “Can we go to sleep now? We have to get up early.”
Khushi sighed, “Just like a rajkumar.”
“Khushi,” Payal groaned.
“Pyaar hua ikrar hua he, Pyaar se phir kyon darta he dil?” Khushi sang happily, none the worse for her nocturnal adventures.
Payal sat up. “Khushi, if you don’t shut your mouth and go to sleep NOW, I will go to sleep in the kitchen.”
Khushi pouted. “Jiji,” she whined.
“Yes, I am your Jiji. Isliye keh rahi hoon, chup chap so jao,” Payal said, throwing a rug over Khushi’s face to silence her.
“The whole duniya is zaalim. Hey Devi Maiyya, why did you give me a Jiji who doesn’t love me and a Buaji who wants to marry me off at the earliest?” Khushi mumbled under the rug.
A few moments later, Khushi rolled close to Payal and hugged her, settling down to sleep.
Payal smiled. “Whom will you hug after you get married, my bandariya?”
“My woh,” Khushi replied, half-asleep. The face of her new found friend swam in her consciousness. She smiled as she slipped into dreams starring her handsome real life hero.
Arnav got into bed and pulled the blanket over himself. Light from his garden gave his bedroom a dim golden haze. He looked at the moving shadows on the ceiling. Pyar hua, ikrar hua he ran through his head on a loop. He smiled as he shut his eyes.
What was she doing now? His eyes flew open to fall on the clock on the wall. Twelve at night. She must be asleep, he told himself. Wrapped up in a warm blanket in the safety of her house in Laxmi Nagar, she must be resting quietly...unless she snored. He smiled. Or sang in her sleep.
He turned, pulling a pillow to his chest and cuddling it. He shut his eyes and thinking about his eventful evening, slowly fell asleep.
Pyaar hua, ikrar hua he
Pyaar se phir kyon darta he dil?
He was in his formal clothes, the ones he had worn that evening. The air around him was dark and tense, the love song sounding in the background. He was waiting for her, his eyes eagerly seeking her. The road was deserted, leaving him with the drizzle and a big umbrella held over his head.
Kehta he dil, rasta mushkil
Maaloom nahi he kahan manzil...
She came to him, dressed in a red sari, walking slowly but confidently towards him, her eyes twinkling with joy and her lips curved in a smile.
He lifted the umbrella to make space for her. She joined him in its shade as rain fell lightly all around them.
Kaho ki apni preet ka geet na badlega kabhi
Tum bhi kaho iss raah ka meet na badlega kabhi
Pyaar jo toota, saath jo choota
Chaand na chamkega kabhi.
Her hands clasped the pole of the umbrella. She moved closer to him, brought her lips to his ear and said, “Arnav.”
He heard it clearly over the sound of the song, felt her hot, sweet breath against his ear, felt the press of her warm body against his arm.
He let go of the umbrella, his fingers too numb to hold on to it.
She leaned back to look into his dazed eyes.
Raatein dason dishaaon se kahengi apni kahaaniyan
Geet hamare pyaar ke dohraayegi jawaaniyaan..
She threw the umbrella as far as it could go and spreading her arms, spun around, relishing the rain.
Arnav stood staring at her. The rain drenched her red sari, causing it to hug her lavish curves.
He swallowed hard.
Main na rahoongi, tum na rahoge
Phir bhi rahengi nishaaniyaan.
She held out her hand. He took a step closer to her, then another step, then another, till he stood flush against her.
Pyar hua, ikrar hua he
Pyar se phir kyon darta he dil.
Kehta he dil rasta mushkil
Maaloom nahi he kahan manzil.
His arms gathered her close, gently, hoping that he wasn’t shocking her with his forwardness. To his delight, she threw her head back and laughing, shook her head to throw back the strands of wet hair clinging to her cheeks.
“Do you want to hug me?” she asked, her voice soft, her eyes direct.
He nodded. He couldn’t speak. Excitement and eagerness had robbed him of his voice.
“What are you waiting for?” she asked softly, her voice only a breath. “Do you want an invitation?” Her smile robbed the question of any malice. “Don’t you know?” she asked.
“What?” he croaked.
“That I am yours to do whatever you want to do?” Her willingness to give herself to him was was pure, potent seduction. “Just as you are mine?” she asked.
He stared at her for a long moment, reading her honesty in her eyes.
He pulled her in to his arms as he had been longing to do as far as he could remember, crushing her softness against his hardness, coiling his arms around her slim body like chains holding down a prisoner.
She sighed heavily as though she too had been waiting for this one moment. Her arms rose to circle his neck and her cheek rested against his.
He shuddered in desire and a strange kind of tenderness that was strong enough to bring him to his knees.
Her fingers encroached into his wet hair, the nails scraping his scalp, the digits clasping tufts of his silky hair.
“What is your name?” he asked hoarsely, feeling her fingers descend to his nape.
She chuckled, her body jerking against him, the muscles of her tummy moving against him. “Ab pooch rahe ho?” she asked.
“Your name?” he groaned.
“Call me anything you want,” she whispered against the skin of his cheek, her eyes hot on his. “After all I am the fairy of your dreams.”
“Are you a pari?” he asked desperately, his fingers moving over her bare waist, clutching the supple flesh of her shapely curve.
She shook in response. She lifted her face to his and bringing her lips close to his, whispered, “Pari hoon. Sapna hoon. Jo bhi hoon, aap ki hoon.”
She touched his hard lips with her soft warm ones.
She touched his hard lips with her soft warm ones.
He trembled. His limbs felt nerveless.
She freed herself from his arms and stepped back. “I am going,” she pouted.
“No, no,” he tried to stop her.
“I came to meet you on this dark night in the rain and all you want to do is ask me questions. I am katti with you,” his pari pouted and turned her back on him.
“Stop,” he ordered in his ASR avatar.
“Hhmmpppfff,” she made her opinion of his order clear. She took a couple of steps away from him.
He lunged forward to take hold of her arm. He pulled her back towards him. She crashed against him, her back to his front.
“Don’t go,” he whispered in her ear.
“What will you give me if I stay?” she whispered, turning her enigmatic eyes on his.
“Anything you want,” he promised.
“Anything?” she asked.
“Anything under the sun,” he avowed.
“Then I want you. Only you. All of you,” she demanded quietly.
“You have me,” he confessed. “All of me.”
“For hamesha?” she asked.
She turned and threw her arms around him.
He clutched her to him as a drowning man latches on to a reed.
She rained kisses on his face, her arms clutching his shoulders to lift herself to his height. His hands clasped her waist to hold her tight against him.
“Promise you won’t leave me,” he whispered.
His hands rose from her waist to her armpits and his lips captured her smiling lips eagerly. Her pallu slipped down her arm to fall in the water as she ran her hands over his neck, shoulders and back.
Long moments later he found himself repeating, begging, “Promise me you won’t leave me.”
She smiled again, her warm, rosy lips trembling in the aftermath of his passionate kiss, her chest heaving, her pulse throbbing.
“Don’t you know?’ she asked, her eyes tender, melting with love.
“Kya?” he asked, mesmerised.
“I can never leave you.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead, her warm palms cupping his cold face.
He stared at her.
“I am a part of you.” Her nose rubbed against his. “Just as you are a part of me.”
He stared at her in disbelief for a second and then caught her against him, every tendon and sinew straining to keep this treasure as close to him as possible.
His head turned left and right on the pillow, his limbs thrashing, pushing the duvet away. His arms came up to gather her to him but found only air. His eyes flew open and he sat up in bed, sweating profusely.
“Where are you?” he asked, looking around with wild eyes. She was nowhere to be seen. He couldn’t even catch a glimpse of her red sari or her lush hair or her creamy skin or her bright eyes...
He was in his room, in his bed, alone as always.
Gentle rain drizzled over his plants in his garden.
Had he been dreaming? he wondered, feeling his heart sink in despair. Had he imagined meeting the girl on the road? Dreamed up the auto ride to Laxmi Nagar? Or had he imagined her in his room at night? What was real? What wasn’t?