Monday, 22 September 2014

159. OS: 7: The Other Woman (Part 23-24)

Part 23

“Buaji, I am feeling hungry,” Khushi whined.

Chup raho, Nandkisore!” Buaji brandished her belan.

Payal smiled. “Don’t think about food, Khushi,” she advised.

“How can I not think about food, Jiji? I am cutting cucumber. You are peeling potatoes. Buaji is rolling pooris. How can I keep my mind away from food when we are preparing a feast for the evening after the pooja? Jiji...” she cried.

Khushi, tum bhi na!” Payal giggled.

Nautanki kahin ka,” Buaji muttered as she applied the belan with vigour.

“I can smell the ghee in the besan laddoo, Buaji,” Khushi looked with longing at the metal bin with the laddoo.

Buaji said, “Payaliyya, hide this bin in the cupboard...on the topmost rack. Nahi to this chatori will start eating now.”

Payal laughed silently, her body shaking in mirth.

“How can you laugh when I am dying of hunger, Jiji?” Khushi pouted.

“Khushi, we didn’t have breakfast and lunch. That’s all. In two hours we will be at the temple. As soon as the pooja is over, we can return home and you can make up for all the pooris you missed,” Payal said softly.

“From her complaints, you will think that I have been starving her for the past ten years, Nandkisore!” Buaji growled.

Payal laughed while Khushi took umbrage at Buaji’s remark.

“You will understand my value only when I die of hunger, Buaji. Then your Nandkisore will ask you why you killed a phool si bachi by denying her the poori she begged for,” Khushi threatened.

Phool si bachi? Kaun, Nandkisore? You are kaanton ki rani!” Buaji retorted before dunking the first poori in hot oil.

Payal laughed while Khushi grimaced at her failed try.

“Di, we will leave in ten minutes,” Arnav declared.

Mami looked at the clock. “Arnav bitwaa, it is only phor (four). Bhat are you going to do outside a shut templewaa? Kabootar udaane ka shauk he kaa?” she laughed.

“We need to get there on time,” Arnav tried to sound stern.

“In time for what, Chotey?” Anjali asked. “The pooja is at 6pm, isn’t it?” she teased.

“Arnav bitwaa, your Mami is going to do makeupwaa now. Call me after three hours,” Mami tried to provoke him, nudging Nani.

“Yes, Chotey. Manorama need the time to paint the surface of her face,” Nani added.

“I am leaving in ten minutes whether you come or not,” Arnav threatened. “You can let Mohan drive you. I will inform him of the exact location of the temple.”

The three ladies looked at him in wonder and then burst out laughing.

“Arnav biwaa, you goes early and guard the temple. We bill comes with Mohan,” Mami declared.

Arnav quickly shrugged in to his coat.

Nani looked at the other two ladies and winked. She said, “Chotey, are you going to the temple in such formal clothes? Aaj to kurta pehen lete?”

“Yes, yes, Chotey. Your wardrobe is full of the kurtas I gave you. Wear the cream and golden one your Jiju bought for you two months ago,” Anjali prompted him.

Arnav paused for a second. Would Khushi expect him to be in a kurta on such a holy day?

 But a kurta?

 He was not familiar with its workings...What if it fell down around his ankles while he was before Khushi? It was better not to take a risk.

He pulled the coat more firmly around his trunk and pocketed his phone in preparation to leaving.

The three ladies started at him till he vanished from their sight.

“He didn’t wear the kurta,” Nani lamented.

“Saasumma, it ijj great that your grandson at least stopped to wear clothes. He was in such a hurry burry that he might have gone as a nanga bacha, Hello Hi Bye Bye! Hamre nose hi kat jaate!”

Part 24

Arnav parked his car behind the temple and walked to its entrance. The temple was open and a steady stream of devotees was proceeding to its premises.

Arnav looked around to spot Khushi but she was nowhere to be seen.

Maybe she was still at home. Maybe she was dressing to come to the temple, he thought. His feet led him away from the temple, towards her house. His eyes intent on the house, he failed to realise that he was in the middle of the road and blocking traffic.

Horns honked behind him, but he was oblivious to them.

“Arrey bhaiyya, what is wrong with you? Move out of the way,” came  a voice from behind him.

Arnav jerked around to see a rickshawala yelling at him.

“Bhaiyya, you will get knocked down by some vehicle,” the man explained. “Move away from the road.”

“Sorry,” Arnav mumbled as he stepped away to the side. His eyes went to the open doors of Buaji’s house.

As though he had summoned her, Buaji came out of the house, dressed in fine clothes. She turned her head to shout, “Payaliyya, Titliyya, jaldi aao. The aarti won’t wait for you.”

Arnav quickly walked away. The last thing he wanted was for Khushi to see him before she was in the temple.

Khushi and Payal joined Buaji and Khushi held her own & Payal’s thalis as her sister locked the door. Then the three of them joined the crowd surging towards the temple.

Suddenly Khushi stopped. She looked around. Arnav Singh Raizada was somewhere around. She sniffed the air, her eyes scanning the area anxiously.

“Why are you soonging the air, Sanka Devi? Were you a dog in your last birth?” Buaji asked.

The crowd pushed them forward. Khushi walked with her family, her heart beating wildly. Was Loafer Singh Raizada loitering around the temple? She clutched her thali firmly.

Buaji, Payal and Khushi prayed and moved to the side to let others take their place. Buaji sat down a small ledge alongside other middle-aged ladies. Payal stood by her. Khushi leaned against a pillar facing them.

‘How can he be here?’ she thought. ‘I must be imagining his presence. After all, what has he got to do with Teej? And Shyamji said that his wife frequents a temple near their madhouse. So why should he appear here? Khushi, tum bhi na! Your imagination is as out of control as you are.’

Three girls came to stand by her. Khushi shifted to give them space. Four more ladies joined them, pushing Khushi away from her place. Khushi sidled over to another side of the pillar, away from Buaji’s eyes.

Arnav stood looking at Khushi, mesmerised by her beauty. She was in a pastel green sari with silver work on it. Her hair was unbound except for a clip or two.

 She looked impossibly beautiful, more gorgeous than any woman had the right to be.

She was standing against the pillar, her head thrown back, her eyes closed, deaf to the sound of the bells ringing, blind to the crowds thronging around her.

“Khushi,” he hissed.

Her eyes flew open. She turned to look at the pillar with suspicion in her eyes.

‘Who is calling my name the way he does?’ Khushi wondered. “Did I imagine it?’ She peeked around the pillar to spot the culprit.

Arnav watched her look around in confusion and panic. Just as she was about to see him, a plump gentleman stepped before him, blocking her sight.

Arnav tried to move closer to her. His eyes fell on Buaji and Payal. As he watched, Buaji whispered something in Payal’s ear. She nodded and moved towards the pillar to find and join Khushi.

Arnav moved towards Buaji.

“Arnav babua!” Buaji beamed. “I was telling Payaliyya today that it has been long since you visited us.” She patted the space beside her.

 Arnav sat down obediently.

“Are you alone here, Buaji?” Innocent Singh Raizada asked.

“Na babua, Payaliya and Khussi are with me. They are fasting today,” Buaji divulged.

“Where are they?” he asked, looking around.

Buaji sighed. “Bitwaa, Khussi was standing against the pillar here, where I could see her. Then these ladies came and pushed her away. So I sent Payaliyya to keep her company. Oo kaa he, bitwaa, I am very worried about her.”

“Payaliyya? I mean, Payal?” Arnav asked, a frown on his face.

Buaji sighed. “No, Khussi,” she said.

“What happened to Khushi?” Arnav felt his face pale.

“Hum kaa bataye babua, a goonda is following her around, proposing marriage,” Buaji confided in him, her big eyes round with worry.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

158. OS: 7: The Other Woman (Part 21-22)

Part 21

Khushi called Shyam.

“Shyamji, hum Khushi he. I am sorry to disturb you at this time of the night,” she began.

“It is alright, Khushi. What is wrong?” Shyam asked, rubbing his tired eyes and setting aside the legal documents he had been perusing.

“Woh...I wanted to ask you if I could take leave tomorrow,” Khushi said, her voice low.

“Kya hua, Khushi?” Shyam asked, frowning. Had Arnav hounded her till she was scared to go to office?

“Woh... Teej he na, Shyamji. Buaji wants me to fast to get a good husband,” Khushi confessed.

Shyam hid his smile. There was a good husband hanging around her, drooling. If only she would give him the time of day, he would carry her away on his white horse before she could say Arnav Singh Raizada! It was Teej? Damn! He would have to present himself at the temple of Anjali’s choice in the evening to break her fast. He mentally reminded himself to remind Sharmaji to remind him the next evening.

“No problem, Khushi. You fast. May you get married very soon,” Shyam said, tongue-in-cheek.

Khushi drew in a deep breath. How could she tell him the tale of her premarital romantic woes starring an Absurd Singh Raizada?

“Shyamji...” Khushi paused.

“Yes, Khushi?” Shyam asked.

“Woh..woh..Can you give me Arnav Singh Raizada’s home address?” she asked, trepidation in her heart.

Shyam’s eyes widened in shock. He sat speechless for a moment. Then he said, “Khushi, you went there once, didn’t you? Ab kya hua?”

Khushi sighed heavily.

Hum kya bataaein, Shyamji? Don’t mind me saying this, but there is something seriously wrong with your Saale-saheb,” she said.

“What did he do now?” Shyam asked, horrified.

“He..he...,” she hesitated. The less people knew about Lattoo Singh Raizada’s marriage proposal the better. “He sent me gifts, Shyamji.”

Shyam opened his mouth and then thought better of it. So this was his Harvard-returned Saalesaheb’s mode of wooing.

“I..I want to return them. That is why I need his address, to courier them to him,” Khushi licked her dry lips, praying that Shyamji wouldn’t ask her why his brother-in-law was inundating her with gifts.

He didn’t.

Shyam recited the address. Khushi wrote it down.

Then Shyam led her out of the coil expertly. “Don’t think badly of Arnav, Khushi. He feels bad that he hurt you with his words and actions. He is trying to make up for them with the gifts.”

“Ji...” Khushi croaked.

“So Khushi, is tomorrow your frst Teej?” Shyam asked casually.

“Ji,” Khushi stammered, relieved that Shyamji had asked no further questions.

“Where will you break the fast? At home or at a temple? Anjali normally goes to a temple near Shantivan,” Shyam put her at ease.

“Temple. There is one close by our home. Buaji, Jiji and I will go there tomorrow morning and evening,” she chattered in an acute sense of deliverance.

“I see,” Shyam murmured.

Hum phoone rakhte hein, Shyamji,” Khushi looked at the clock.

“Good night, Khushi,” Shyam wished.

Shubh raatri,” Khushi responded, feeling her heart settle in to its normal rhythm, an event that wouldn’t have happened had she heard Shyam’s conversation with Arnav after he cut her call.

“Arnav, expect a courier from Khushi,” Shyam warned him.

Arnav smiled. “I am. She made her mind very clear,” he said. “Jiju, I was going to call you. Tomorrow is Teej. Di is fasting for you. So please come to the usual temple at 6pm.”

“Why don’t we change the venue this time?” Shyam suggested.

Arnav frowned.

“Maybe you could bring your sister to the temple in Laxmi Nagar,” Shyam proposed. “You know the temple, I am sure. The one close to Khushi’s house,” Shyam’s voice carried his smile.

A smile bloomed on Arnav’s lips. “I owe you one, Jiju,” he said.

“You do, you do. I will remind you of it when the time is ripe,” Shyam threatened him playfully.

Part 22

Khushi looked at the orange sari laid out for her with a jaundiced eye.

“Buaji, is it necessary to wear a sari on Teej? Will Devi Maiyya scold me if I don’t?” she asked. Lugging a saree while going around a banyan tree and fighting the crowds was not going to be an easy feat. And that too on a hungry stomach.

Buaji hit her on the head. “Chup chaap pehen lo, Nandkisore, if you know what is good for you.”

Ek to no breakfast, no tea. Upar se goondagardi?” Khushi put her hands on her waist and challenged Buaji in play.

Buaji swung her chotti around her neck and advanced towards Khushi.

Khushi gave up the uneven fight and ran for her life, leaping over chairs and hiding behind her laughing Jiji.

A few minutes later Khushi and Payal set out from their home to the temple. Khushi’s eyes scanned the surroundings with the expertise of a surveillance battalion on patrol.

Kya dekh rahi ho, Khushi?” Payal asked.

Kuch nahi, Jiji,” Khushi turned to smile widely at Payal and tripped on a stone.

Payal caught her arm just in time to save Khushi’s front teeth. “To dekha karo,” she admonished Khushi.

Khushi flushed and looked down at her sari pleats. This sari and that Asinine Singh Raizada were sure to ruin her day!

Payal tied her dhaga around the banyan tree.

Khushi looked around for a manly figure in a black or brown coat and  a head full of lush hair.

Payal walked around the tree, her hands folded, her head lowered.

Khushi’s hands were folded but her eyes were seeking a man with molten eyes that could thaw an iceberg and a voice that could cause angels to err.

“Did you pray, Khushi?” Payal asked.

Khushi nodded.

“Shall we return home?” Payal asked.

“Yes,” Khushi agreed, her fears allayed for the moment.

As soon as they got home, Khushi shed her sari and crawled in to her customary suit. She picked up the sari she had packed carefully last night and ran out of the house.

“Where has that Toofan Mail gone now, Nandkisore?” Buaji asked.

“I don’t know, Buaji,” Payal giggled.

“Payaliyya, did Titliyya tell you anything about the goonda who is following her?” Buaji asked.

“No, Buaji,” Payal replied, the laughter dying.

“Did she tell you his name, Nandkisore?” Buaji asked.

“No, Buaji, she didn’t. Hamein bahut chinta ho rahi he, Buaji,” Payal confided.

“Maybe we should go to the police,” Buaji thought aloud. “But if there is publicity or the boy tries to retaliate by hurting Khussi...” her voice trailed away. “We can’t stand guard over her all 24 hours of the day, Nandkisore.”

Payal nodded. “Maybe we should inform Shyamji. He is a lawyer. He will know what to do,” Payal suggested.

Buaji drew in a deep breath of relief. “Woh theek he, Payaliyya,” she agreed. “It is a good idea. But I wish Arnav babua would come home, Nandkisore. We could ask him what to do.”

Payal nodded enthusiastically.

Unaware of the fond wishes of her family, Khushi sent off the package with the red sari to Shantivan and stood in the office of the couriers with her eyes closed, feeling relief and some kind of nagging loss.

“Do you want to send something else too?” the clerk asked her.

‘Yes. Me to outer space. Can you do it?’ she wanted to ask but didn’t. She shook her head and walked out.

The road home seemed very long. It hadn’t appeared so when she had raced down it to the couriers. Slowly she made her way through the crowd of pilgrims, children, vendors, street hawkers and office goers.

Had she done right in returning the gift? Yes, she couldn’t keep it. It wasn’t right. But maybe she shouldn’t have called his home and revealed his obsession with her to them. What would they do? Would they fight with him for follwing her like a shadow?

‘Khushi, don’t worry about that 6-foot Adamant Singh Raizada. He is perfectly capable of looking after himself and holding his own against his nutty family. You worry about your own health and how to free yourself from the leech-like hold that man has on your head and thoughts,’ she advised herself.

“Chotey, get up,” Anjali swept aside the curtain and let sunlight fall on Arnav’s face.

He blinked his eyes and sat up. Today he would see Khushi...

“Today is Teej, Chotey,” Anjali informed him. “Your Jiju...”

“He asked us to join him at a temple close to his office,” Arnav informed her. “We need to reach there at 6pm.”

“He called you, Chotey?” Anjali's eyes filled with happy tears.

“Yes,” Arnav left the bed and stretched, his mind lingering on Khushi and all the possibilities open to him.

“Chotey, we wanted to ask you something,” Anjali began.

Mami and Nani left their post outside the door and walked in.

“What is wrong?” Arnav asked, frowning.

“Arnav bitwaa, a girlwaa phoone kiye rahe yesterday,” Mami began.

“Who? Why?” Arnav asked.

“A.. Khushi...” Anjali said.

Arnav looked down to hide his smile. So she had complained to his family.

“Chotey, she said that you are pestering her by sending her gifts,” Nani said. “What is happening?”

“Is she lying, Chotey?” Anjali frowned. “Why would you send gifts to some girl?”

“Because I intend to marry her,” Arnav said, picking up a towel. He looked at the stunned faces of his family. “Don’t worry. You know her.”

“We do?” Nani frowned. “Kaun he, Chotey?”

“Ijj it Mrs. Sharma’s daughter? Arnav bitwaa, hum kahe rahe. Iph it ijj her, I am going to Lucknow now on my phast feet if I don't get train. Saasumma, she pushed one mother-in-laaa down the seedi and ijj now looking for the next one!” Mami shuddered.

“Don’t worry, Mami, it is not her. My Khushi won’t do anything like that. She may kill me but not you,” he comforted her.

All gasped.

“Who ijj this wonder, Hello Hi Bye Bye?” Mami asked.

“The girl Di accused of having an affair with Jiju,” Arnav said as he walked to the bathroom. At the door he turned to look at the startled faces in the room. “I proposed to her. She refused. But I am determined to marry her.”

“Chotey?” Anjali whispered.

“She doesn’t know it but we will be meeting her today evening. You can apologise to her then,” Arnav told his sister before entering the bathroom and shutting the door.