Beyond words

When eyes and souls connect

Chapter 42: Will you marry me?

arnavkhushidance

Khushi woke up mumbling Arnav’s name and opening her eyes realized she was home and Payal was asleep next to her. She had a goofy smile plastered on her face as she made her way to the bathroom.

“Payaliya” cajoled Buaji as she woke the sleeping bride to be. “It is your Mehndi and Sangeet today bitiya. Wake up”.

Payal woke, thoughts of Akash ji still fresh in her mind. She smiled and hugged Buaji.

The morning bustled with activity as Lehengas and accessories were set out. Lavanya arrived bright and early to help with make up. Shashi watched his daughters get ready with happiness. Everything was as it should be.

Khushi fingered the silky material of her Jiji’s skirt. She would miss all the rituals. A pang went through her heart. A voice piped up in her head.

“You don’t really have to miss it you know? Participate in your sister’s rituals as your own. Nobody is the wiser.”

She grinned as she hugged her secret to herself. Worry niggled at the back of her brain. It was one thing to promise Arnav ji to get married secretly. How would her parents and Nani and Di react. They would be heartbroken.

Khushi see-sawed between extremes. She would write a long note explaining why she was doing what she was doing. Surely they would understand?

Payal watched her sister with amusement. The usually klutzy girl was even worse today.

“Khushi, look at your face. You look like a ghost. Enough of the powder.”

Khushi looked at herself in horror and shrieked as she ran to wash it all away.

Laughing and teasing the family got ready to leave for the Raizadas where the ceremony was to be held.

The Raizadas waited for the Gupta family with equal enthusiasm. Akash looked splendid in his cream kurta and Arnav stuck to his usual suit. Anjali had opted to wear silk as did Mami. NK had outdone himself in a blue sherwani.

Nani looked at the joy and happiness in their faces and she hoped Anjali would love again. Anjali held Anya’s hand as she posed for pictures. NK had taken over Anjali’s camera and was going to town taking pictures.

Aman had kept his word dropping Anya off and having a word with Anjali about her food and other needs. Anjali found her heart skip a beat at the sight of him with Anya. The love for his child set him apart in her mind. Very few men she had seen made such dedicated fathers.

Arnav looked impatiently at his watch. What was taking them so long?

The door opened to the Gupta family and Anjali took aarthi before they stepped in. Payal looked lovely in her saree and Khushi stunned in her yellow lehenga.

Arnav felt his breath catch at the sight of her. Her eyes searched for him and they met across the hallway. Sparks flew and everyone around them felt the tension in the air. Coughing rather loudly, Anjali lead Payal to the room they had decorated for Mehendi and Nani shooed the men away.

The ladies looked at the books and picked out patterns. When Payal’s was almost done, the lady applying the pattern asked her what letter she wanted in her hand. Payal blushed as she said “A.. Akash ji”.

Di’s heart swelled with happiness at seeing how beautiful Payal looked as she said Akash’s name. Khushi debated how to get Arnav’s name on hers without drawing attention. As if on cue, even as the lady asked her what letter to write on her hand, her cell phone buzzed.

“Arnav ji?” she said aloud as she saw the number.

Using her free hand to pick up the call, she said hello.

“Meet me by the poolside when you are done.” said a cryptic Arnav.

Switching the phone off, she looked at her hand and saw a neat “A” in cursive at the center of her pattern. Devi Maiyya had willed it. She was sure.

A smile broke out on her face as she hugged her secret even more tightly to herself. When her hands were done, she slipped out to the poolside and saw no one. She sat down looking at her reflection in the pool when she spied another join her. Looking up, she saw Arnav ji looking at her with so much love that she felt flustered.

He helped her up and asked to see her hands. She hid her hands behind her back teasing him that he was not to see it before they got married. He smirked and whispered rather loudly in her ear.

“After Payal’s wedding. Remember.”

Her heart thudded as she realized what she had signed up to doing. The smile gave way to a serious look and she looked up at Arnav ji’s face. He seemed serious.

Even as she made to walk away from the pool Arnav grabbed her to place a kiss on her cheeks before he let her go. He couldn’t wait for the evening.

Khushi walked away feeling flustered and upset. What was he thinking? What if anyone had seen? Why did he not understand how she felt about getting married in secret. She had given her word and she would keep it. The joy of the morning was evaporating and in its place a dread and unease seized her. She looked at her mehendi to reassure her that it was meant to be.

Anjali watched as Khushi walked back indoors. She looked upset.

“Khushi ji, Are you OK? You look upset.”

Khushi looked up at Di concern writ large on her face.

“Am OK Di. I just realized Payal will soon be leaving our home.”

Anjali smiled knowing it was only a matter of time before Khushi would be a bahu in their home too.

“Show me your mehendi” she said hoping to take Khushi’s mind off whatever was bothering her.

Khushi had not counted on anyone asking to see her mehendi. She fidgeted. Anjali took her hands in hers.

“A??”

“Khushi ji. You have “A” in your hand.” she exclaimed.

Khushi looked nervous and tried to explain how it had happened and that it was a mistake. Arnav stood by the stairs enjoying her discomfiture and winking at her when she turned to him for support.

“That’s OK Khushi ji, am sure it was a mistake. Who knows? perhaps your husband to be’s name starts with an “A”” she teased.

Khushi blushed and wished she could disappear.

The rituals of the morning gave way to family time at the tea-table. NK and Lavanya exchanged looks and jibes. Nani was sure Lavanya was well on her way to being a bahu even if not as Chottey’s bride. Life was good!

Washing off the Mehendi, the women changed into their evening wear and got ready for the Sangeet.  Arnav had arranged for performers from outside as their original plan of getting things choreographed had been nixed by Dadi’s untimely demise.

The music started and everyone got up to join in and shake a leg. Khushi was determined to have a good time and pushed thoughts of her elopement to the back of her mind. She decided if the next few days were the last time her family would be nice to her, she would make the most of it.

Arnav watched his girl give in to the music and twirl. He had eyes for no one. Di came to stand next to him and watched his face transfixed. Her chottey was besotted. She felt tears prick her eyes.

Aman had arrived to pick Anya up before her bedtime and thanked Anjali for being so good to his daughter. Anya hugged Anjali and kissed her without being asked to. Anjali felt sad as she watched the little girl go. She had started feeling attached to her. Nani watched Anjali follow Aman and Anya with her eyes and made a mental note to find out more about them.

Lavanya and NK grooved to the music till it felt like there was no one on the dance floor with them. Akash and Payal retired to a semi private corner to spend time before the haldi ceremony. They whispered sweet nothings to each other and quite forgot the rest of the world around them.

The lights dimmed and everyone looked at the makeshift stage as the dancers took their place. The next hour sped past listening and dancing along to popular numbers. Khushi danced so much that she felt her legs would fall off if she did not sit. She found a seat by the dais and watched her Jiji and Akash ji dance lost in each other’s eyes. NK and Lavanya had found seats and were whispering to each other. She would have to talk to Lavanya. She belatedly remembered it would not just be her family and Arnav’s family that would disown her for what she was about to do. Lavanya would never forgive her either.

She felt a despondency settle on her. As if mirroring her mood, the lights dimmed again and a voice rang out from the stage.

“As we come to the end of the performance we have a special dance. This one is dedicated to the sister of the bride Khushi ji.”

Whistles and hoots sounded with the announcement as she looked up. Her eyes popped out at what she saw. Her mouth made an O and she half rose in amazement.

Arnav stood on the dais with a bunch of dancers singing along and mouthing the words “Mujse Shaadi Karoge?” His eyes were fixed on Khushi as he danced.

Khushi looked disbelievingly as he danced with gay abandon. For him to pull a Salman Khan number on her was so not him. She rubbed her eyes as she watched and as the music slowed, he bent down on one knee and indicated for her to join him on stage.

Arnav realized what had happened was still sinking in so he got of the stage and pulled Khushi with him. Onstage, in the presence of both their families, he went down on one knee and in a clear, steady voice asked for all to hear.

proposal

“Khushi, will you marry me?”

Khushi felt as if she would burst. Her eyes shone and she nodded and with fierce burst of love said “Yes Arnav ji” as she lip synced

“Haan. Thujse Shaadi Karoongi.”

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Chapter 20: Cupid finds his mark

rishtapakka

“Jiji, if Akash ji asked you to marry him, would you say yes?”

Khushi looked at her sister as she asked this question. It was bedtime. Payal lay twirling her long tresses. Her eyes looked distant and she seemed lost in thought.

payalkhushi2

Khushi’s question pierced her thoughts and she jerked her head up. Her eyes narrowed.

“Khushi! I thought we had agreed not to talk about that.”

“No jiji! I am just asking. What if he did? Would you agree?”

Payal looked at her suspiciously.

“Did anyone say anything when you went to the Raizada house today?”

Khushi shook her head, her eyes looking innocent and a smile threatening to burst out of her face.

“Actually Akash ji asked me today.”

For a moment Khushi did not believe what she heard. Her eyes widened.

“He did?? What did YOU say???”

Buaji peeked her head in hearing Khushi’s excited scream.

Managing to convince Bua nothing was the matter, Khushi dragged her sister outside.

“Say that again jiji. Akash ji asked you? What did you say?”

Payal remained silent.

Unable to tolerate the silence, Khushi held her hand.

“Jiji are you OK? You know you can tell me right? I will stand with you no matter what you decide.”

Payal looked at her sister and felt relieved she did not have to carry it inside her for much longer.

“I am OK Khushi. I was caught unawares. I mean I knew I liked him. I knew he liked me but marriage seems too much too soon. We hardly know each other.”

“I asked him what he knew of me. Of our family.”

“Was he sure his family would accept me? His mother?”

“Akash ji listened to everything silently. He held my hands in his and said just one thing.”

“He says he loves me. As is. With all of my past. He says he is sure he wants to spend the rest of his life with me. He says he will talk to his Dadi and his parents. He wanted me to answer his question.”

“Did I like him enough to marry him?”

“I don’t know Khushi. I am so confused. I told him I did like him. I did not know enough about him to say I will marry him. I asked him to talk to his family and if he was serious enough and if his family agreed, to talk to Bua and Amma and Babuji.”

Khushi listened with widening eyes. Wasn’t it just the day before that she and Anjali ji had talked about it? They were talking marriage already? She did not know whether to be excited or scared. Her jiji would move away?

“Jiji. I love you. You know that right? I think you did the right thing. Don’t worry too much. Everything will work out well. Do you plan to tell Amma/Babuji now or are you planning to wait?”

Khushi felt as confused and scared as her sister. It was one thing to tease her but to actually wait to hear from the Raizadas was nerve-racking. Should she call Anjali ji? Would it seem too forward of her?

Akash paced up and down in his room.

“What was taking Di so long to come? He needed to talk to her before he spoke to his Dadi and Ma.”

As if Di heard his thoughts, she opened his door and let herself in.

“So my bhai, did you talk to Payal ji? What did she say? Tell me she said yes. Please. Pretty please!”

Akash looked at his Di. Her earnestness at securing his happiness made him feel warm all over.

“I spoke to her Di. She said she liked me. She said she could not say yes to getting married till I spoke to our family and everybody were OK. She seemed to think I was rushing about getting married. She said if every body agreed to talk to her Bua and her parents.”

“I don’t know Di. Each time I talk to her, I feel convinced she is the best person for me. She balances me out. I can’t imagine living with any of the girls Ma keeps pestering me to get married to.

Akash looked at his Di, his eyes pleading “Please make this happen Di.”

Anjali felt like a woman on a mission. Her Akash would get his Payal. She would see to that. Chewing over what Akash had said, she asked him to keep it to himself till she had had a chance to talk to Chottey and Nani. She felt sure they would back Akash up. They would have to tackle Mami as a family.

Arnav looked at his phone. A cryptic text message blinked. “Meet me by the poolside”

Di never sent text messages. Least of all when they were both home. Wondering if it were a prank, he had half a mind to march up to her room and find out what she was up to. Whatever it was he would find out soon enough. He spied Di walking to the poolside. He got up, curiosity getting the better of him.

Di looked like child who had a secret that was threatening to burst out of her.

“What is it Di? I have never seen you this excited before.”

Anjali looked around to make sure no one was listening to them. Leaning in closer to Arnav, she whispered “Akash is in love.”

Arnav wasn’t sure if Di was joking. Why would she joke about something like this? Keeping his face serious, he held Di by her shoulders.

“Di, stop giggling and tell me what is the matter. Akash is in love with whom?”

“Payal ji.”

“Payal?”

“Haan. Khushi’s jiji. Remember Akash’s sudden affection towards the garage in Laxmi Nagar?”

A light bulb went off in Arnav’s head. Akash did seem to offer to get the vehicles serviced every so often. But Payal? He would have to talk to Akash.

“Did Akash talk to Payal? Is she open to getting married to him?” His tone was all businesslike.

“Yes. He did. She wants Akash to talk to us and if we all agree to ask her parents. She says she likes him but feels he is rushing to marriage too quickly.”

Arnav’s opinion of Payal went up a notch. At least she did not seem to be in a hurry. He stood in thought for a moment. Nani ji would approve. Mama ji would have no objections if this is what Akash wanted. Mami ji? She would throw a fit.

He knew how to get through to her. But first he needed to talk to Akash.

“Di, where is Akash now?”

“Give me a minute Chottey.” Di’s head was bent typing something on her phone.

Less than a minute later, Akash sauntered in to the poolside as if it was the most natural thing for all three of them to be huddled there.

Arnav looked at his cousin critically. He did look lost in thought.

“Akash, Di tells me you love Payal and want to marry her?”

“Yes Bhai. I really like her. It’s convincing mom that am scared about.”

“Just answer this. Are you really sure you want to marry her. Are you sure you will not regret your decision?”

Akash looked at Arnav wondering if he would have to walk on coals next to prove his love.

“Yes Bhai. I love her. I want to marry her. I am very sure about how I feel about her.”

Arnav nodded as if making a decision.

“Done deal. I will talk to your mom. Di will talk to Nani and Mama. We will have this wrapped up today.”

Akash looked at his brother not sure if he was discussing his future or a business deal. In any case, he was not complaining.

Arnav headed straight to Mami’s room and knocked. “Who is it?” sang Manorama mami as she walked up to the door. Opening, she blinked twice noticing Arnav at the door. It was not often he deigned to grace their quarter with his presence. Perhaps he decided to get married and was here to tell her that Akash’s path was clear? She was sure he brought good tidings.

“Arnav bitwa, come in please” she pulled him in with authority.

Arnav looked around. Mama seemed to have stepped out. He cleared his throat and came straight to the point.

“Mami ji, Akash wants to get married to Payal. Khushi’s sister. I am hoping you and Mama ji will agree. He is sure this is what he wants.”

Mami’s eyes grew round as saucers. She spluttered “What? My Akash bitwa? I have lined up girls from rich families and he wants to marry that Payal?”

“Never.” she thundered and paced up and down. “if he goes against my wish and marries her, either she will stay here or I will.”

She raged for a few minutes and turned to look at Arnav who had taken a seat and was waiting for her to be done. “You have my answer. You may leave.” she said and walked to open the door.

Arnav stepped in front of the door and said in a low firm tone.

ArnavMami

“Mami ji, this marriage will happen with or without your approval. If you accept and permit the marriage happen without incident, you have control over your son. You gain the upper hand. If you do not, your daughter in law will still be a bahu here and usurp your place. The choice is yours. You can choose to have the upper hand by dictating how the wedding happens and what powers Payal will have. The choice is yours. Think with your brain and not your heart.”

He kept his eyes level with her and watched her brows crease with consternation. Her brain appeared to be working over time. She seemed to weigh all the possibilities and finally said a simple “I agree to this marriage but nothing else.”

Arnav walked out a happy man.

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Chapter 19: Matchmaking

The sun streamed in through the bay windows. Arnav squinted to look at the clock. He must had fallen asleep some time early morning. Picking himself off the bed, he debated if he wanted to be around when Khushi came. He wanted to talk to her. Needed to. That would have to wait till he could catch her alone. He would go to work after lunch.

Khushi looked at the pile of clothes on her bed. It was Anjali ji she was visiting. Why did she feel the need to impress? Staring at the pile, she picked a suit in pale pink with white embroidery. She decided to let her hair loose pinned with a small clip by the ear.

She looked simple. And sweet.

Anjali paced her room. She was excited at the thought of meeting Khushi. It was a year. A rough year that had been. Following the breakup of her marriage, she had relocated to Lucknow for a while, refurbishing and setting up their purani haveli as a vacation home. The process of giving life to a relic in ruins reminded her of the shambles her life was in. She poured her energies into it and was satisfied when the place looked airy and bright. The decor and the simple pieces she had chosen for the home gave a vibe of old world charm. She had loved it there but began missing Chottey and Nani. While in Lucknow, she had rediscovered her love for photography. The only thing of value she had from her father she thought wryly. She had gone on jaunts to nearby locales to shoot pictures and in the process shed her sorrow. Her eyes regained their shine and she learned to laugh again.

She liked Khushi. She had even thought for a while that she would have been a good Raizada bahu. She held her own against Chottey and did not think twice of telling him what she thought. She smiled remembering how she had brought Chottey down for the aarthi on Janmastami. Those were good times.

Walking down to the kitchen she checked to see lunch was ready and hot jalebis were being made. Nani ji sat in the study her Laxmi by her side. Even Nani seemed to be in good spirits. Khushi truly brought happiness with her when she came.

Mami frowned at the scene in front of her. All this circus for Khushi. That middle class girl who seemed to have every one dancing to her tunes. Not her. Not mami ji. She would show her place. That she would.

Lunch over, Arnav announced that he was off to work. Anjali looked at him in surprise.

“Chottey, I have asked Khushi to come. Aren’t you staying?”

Arnav weighed his response.

“Di, My world does not stop because we have someone coming in.”

With that he turned and left before his face gave him away.

Walking with long strides he pulled the door open to a vision in pale pink. He stopped and stared for what seemed a long time. Hearing her clear her throat, he muttered a weak “Hi!”

arnav

“Namaste!” she said clearly and smiled before she walked down the familiar walkway to the study.

He stood rooted. Recovering, he slid his aviators on and walked out the door.

Khushi slowed down as she heard the door close. Her heart threatened to jump out of her mouth. He had made a fine vision opening the door like that. She kept forgetting how much he affected her. Her heart thudded and she felt blood rushing to her face. Taking a moment to calm down, she closed her eyes and the walked to the study.

Anjali ji wrapped her in a warm hug. Bending down at Nani’s feet, she felt pure love and warmth as she blessed her. Mami refused to acknowledge her and Mama ji said a warm hello. Sitting next to Nani, she petted Laxmi and looked around.

Not much had changed at the Raizada Mansion. Hari Prakash was still there. A line of old family pictures lined the stairs going upstairs. Those pictures were new she thought. Her eyes fell on a portrait of Anjali ji’s mom and dad. They made a handsome couple. Arnav ji did look like his dad she thought before she realized color was flooding her face again.

Looking at Anjali ji, she held out her hand and clasped it in hers.

“Am sorry Anjali ji. I had no idea who Shyam ji was. I had no feelings towards him other than that of a friend.”

“Ssh! Khushi. It is in the past. I hold no grudge towards you or anyone. Shyam was a cad. He used me and would have had no compunctions using you. We are both better off without him in our lives. Let’s speak of better things.”

Khushi looked at her in admiration.

Biting into a fresh jalebi that was in front of her, Khushi went on to share what she had been   the past year. Both Anjali ji and Nani ji were very happy for her and made no bones about it. She went on to share how Payal helped her with the business and how she was thinking of expanding into other offices in the area.

Anjali ji interrupted her.

“How come Chottey never told us you were making food for his employees?”

Khushi’s eyes twinkled as she replied.

“That’s because I took good care to never to be seen in front of him. Plus Shukla ji dealt with him and not me.”

She hesitated a bit before going on.

“Anjali ji, I must tell you this. Lavanya and I have become good friends. She helped me start this business. We meet often. She is doing well and is engaged to an old friend who always liked her.”

The evening drew to a close and Khushi said she needed to leave. Nani hugged her and asked her to stop in every once in a while and Anjali ji said she would walk her to the door.

At the door, Anjali insisted on walking her to the street. When they were beyond earshot, Anjali held Khushi’s arms.

“Khushi ji, there was another reason I wanted to meet you.”

Khushi looked at her with concerned eyes.

“Payal ji. Our Akash likes Payal.”

Anjali’s eyes twinkled as she said that.

“Khushi ji, if Payal is still single I would like to help Akash win her over. I need your help.”

Khushi’s face broke out into a big smile.

“Anjali ji, I have even better news. Jiji likes Akash ji. All he needs to do is actually ask her!”

With that the two sisters hugged and promised to meet again to bring things to a head.

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