Beyond words

When eyes and souls connect

Chapter 39: Indecent proposal

Dadi’s passing away had put a damper on the celebrations in the Raizada household. Mami used the occasion to press to postpone the wedding as well. Nani stood her ground and the wedding was scheduled to take place as decided earlier.

Arnav threw himself into work to make up for the lost time and found himself thinking of Khushi late at night when solitude was his company. Pacing the patio surrounding the pool, his thoughts went back to what Khushi had said on their way back from his mother’s garden.

“Where is this headed? Where are we headed?”

For him it was simple. He loved her. She loved him. There was no need for social sanction for him to be able to claim her as his.

“We come from different worlds…”

They did. She believed in social sanction for him to be claim her as his.

His thoughts meandered to Di and Nani. They had accepted Lavanya at his insistence. They would be happy to accept Khushi as part of the family.

The thought of marriage brought back memories of Di’s first wedding and the the gunshot that had changed his life. Could he sit through the rituals? Perhaps he should elope with Khushi and get married? She would get the social sanction she craved and he would be happy to skip the elements that made marriage anathema to him.

Walking back into the room, he reached out for his phone and noticed Dadi’s letter under it. He would have to find out what the locker contained. He emailed Aman to get that sorted.

Khushi stared at the moon. She felt irritation creep up on her. She had missed Arnav ji. Missed him so much that she contemplated calling him at Lucknow or texting him. Something in her waited for him to reach out. And he had not.

She glanced at her phone willing it to buzz.

Garima walked into her daughters room and saw her standing by the window. Her flawless face looked worried. Standing beside her, she looked at the moon with her daughter and asked “Khushi Bitiya, are you looking at your parents?”

Khushi recovered with a start and hugged her mom.

“No Amma. I was just thinking.”

She looked around. The rest of the family sat in the living room watching TV.

“Amma, there is something I want to ask you.”

Garima nodded. “Tell me bitiya”

Khushi brought the photo she had in her almirah. Handing it to her mom, she watched her face.

Garima’s face turned pale and she held on to the window for support. She stood silent for the longest time. Then she turned, closed the door behind her and walked Khushi to the bed and motioned her to sit down.

“Bitiya where did you find it?”

Khushi bit her lip as she answered “Amma remember the day you asked me to take Payal’s kangans out? I took that box and the box beneath it fell. A bunch of photos fell out and this was one of those. I kept it aside since I wanted to ask you about it.”

She looked at her mom expectantly.

Garima drew a deep breath before she sat down and held Khushi’s hands.

“Bitiya, I had never imagined I would need to open up the past again. You are old enough to know now especially after what happened with Shyam.”

“I was 18 yrs old when I met Mr. Malik. My father worked for him. I went to their home to give something to my father and met him in passing. Over time, I found him come to our home time and again. He confessed to being in love with me.”

“Bitiya, I was 18 and naive. I was in love with him too. He wanted to marry me. I spoke to my father and found out he was married with two children. I was heartbroken. The next time he met me, I told him never to see me again. The next thing I heard was that he and his wife had both committed suicide. I could not live with myself. I repented for having ever met him.”

“When I met your dad, I told him what had happened. He said my past was my past and it would not affect my future. With you two in my life I have never let myself revisit that part of my life till you showed me this picture today.”

Tears fell steadily from Garima’s eyes.

Khushi watched her mom and silently wiped away her tears. She held her face with both hands and gently kissed her forehead.

“Amma I am sorry I reminded you of it again. Will you forgive me?”

Garima hugged her daughter tight and whispered prayers of gratitude to Devi Maiyya.

The day broke and even as Khushi got ready to head out the door when she found another hand covering hers as she opened the door. Surprised she looked up and into those brown eyes she had dreamed of each night.

Hastily pulling her hand from under his, she stuttered a “Please come in” and made way for him to step inside. He made himself comfortable on the sofa and addressed Garima who had come into the living room hearing the sounds.

“Aunty ji, I just came to drop off the wedding invites.”

He held out a bundle of deep maroon cards. Garima graciously took them from him and asked if he would have tea.

Arnav politely refused and added as an afterthought “I am leaving to Lucknow today for half a day. If you need anything from there, let me know and I can get it for you. Khushi has my number”

“I will take leave now. See you all at our home soon for the Mehndi and Sangeet.”

Khushi made to leave as he did and he looked at her with a gleam in his eye.

“Khushi if you are leaving I can drop you where you need to go.”

Khushi looked askance at her mother who nodded encouragingly. Walking behind him, she felt her nerves on edge. This would be the first time there were together after they had admitted their feelings. She still did not know where this was headed.

Getting in the car, she struggled with the seat belt  Arnav reached over with the practiced ease of a man who did this all the time and snapped it in. Feeling his weight on her and the smell of his aftershave did funny things to her. This was not turning out to be a good idea. Focusing her eyes on the road, she sat silent.

Arnav slid his aviators on and eased out of their street. Halfway to where she needed to be, she felt the car slow down and Arnav turned into a parking lot.

“Where were they?”

Arnav was out of the car before she could take in their surroundings and opening her side of the car door.

“Arnav ji where are we? I need to be at the kitchen or Sarita ji will panic.”

He walked his hand on her elbow making her keep pace with him.


They walked inside the building and soon were seated at a cozy booth in what seemed a very upscale coffee place.

Khushi fidgeted with her purse snapping it shut and opening it.

Arnav covered her hands with his.

“Stop it.”

“Khushi you look beautiful when you are nervous. And angry.”

He looked at her in the eyes as he said that.

“Arnav ji, what are you doing? I should really be going.”

She looked petulant.

“Khushi listen. I thought about you, about us a lot when I was gone.”

Khushi’s sat up, her nervousness giving way to anxiety.

He extended a box to her.

She looked at it and at him. His eyes danced with mischief.

“Go on. Open it.”

She opened the box to find beautiful red glass bangles and a smaller box within. Opening that box, she found a simple pearl necklace. Her eyes welled over.

“Khushi, I wanted to get you something that will remind you of me. Even when I am not around. Do you like them?”

Khushi nodded. She looked at the man sitting across from her. This was a man who shied away from anything sentimental. Somebody who found human emotions to be a weakness

“Arnav ji. I missed you a lot too. I wanted to call you. Each time I picked up the phone to call you, something in me hesitated. I should have called. I am sorry.”

He held her hands and kissed each finger.

“You should have you know” he murmured. “I would have come sooner.”

Squinting his eyes, he kept his voice level as he asked “Khushi, will you run away with me?”

Khushi’s eyes widened and she pulled her hands away from him.

“What?” She was not sure she heard him right.

“I mean it Khushi. I love you. I can’t imagine a life without you. I don’t care about tradition. I have too much emotional baggage when it comes to the institution of marriage. I know it means a lot to you. If to have you by my side, we should get married, I am ready to do that but can’t we just elope and get married. Just the two of us?”

Khushi felt tears prick at her eyes again. She shook her head sadly. Arnav ji had come a long way from being against marriage to wanting to get married. But could she walk away from everything she had wanted? Risk being disowned by her parents and her family?

His eyes plead with hers.

“Arnav ji, this is all too sudden. Can we take some time to think about it and not rush into anything we will regret later?”

Arnav nodded knowing he had put Khushi on the spot. He stood up and came to her side to help her up and watched as she slid the bangles on her wrists and touched them lovingly.

“Thank you Arnav ji. I love glass bangles.”

With that they left the place. Khushi felt a sadness in her heart that weighed her down. Arnav wished he could take back what he said.

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Chapter 38: The past comes to haunt

The SUV came to a halt a little away from the house and as Khushi opened the door to let herself out, she felt a hand around her wrist. Turning she found Arnav ji looking at her with so much tenderness that she had to look away.

“Khushi.” He muttered softly. “Do you have to go?”

Khushi looked at him amusement creeping into her eyes. Was this her Laad Governor? Love surely was a great leveler. Pulling her arm free, she opened the door briskly and replied.

“Not unless you intend to kidnap me.”

A wink and she was gone.

Arnav sat in the car watching her walk away. His phone buzzed.

Khushi opened the door to her home and let out a shriek of happiness.

“Amma, Babuji! When did you come? You were supposed to come Sunday? How are you here early?”


She rambled breathlessly and she gave them bear hugs and her face shone with happiness.

Garima looked at her daughter with affection. Shashi Babu held her close and hoped she would find as much happiness as his Payal did.

“Did you bring Jalebis for me?” Khushi demanded even as she scouted amongst the unopened bags her parents had in the living room.

Garima pulled her daughter close and traced the scar on her hand.

“Are you OK Khushi bitiya? We were scared when we heard of your accident. Thank God Arnav bitwa was there to take you to the hospital on time.”

Khushi lit up at the sound of Arnav ji. Her cheeks coloring, she turned away and changed topics quickly.

“Amma, did you bring Jalebis for me?”

Buaji held out a box and Khushi picked one and took a deep breath inhaling its fragrance even as she bit into it. Memories of Lucknow flooded her and she felt nostalgic. Hanging on to her mom the entire evening, she helped them unpack.

As the night fell, Garima and her daughters sat on the bed looking at the jewelry she had brought back from Lucknow. Payal tried on each set and the three of them wept with joy. It was poignant realizing Payal would soon be moving to her in laws home.

“Khushi, can you get me the small box I had put away in the bureau?” Garima asked her even as she held Payal’s face in her hands.

Khushi opened the bureau and found the box her mom asked her to get. Pulling it out caused another box below it to fall. A stack of pictures scattered and Khushi handed the box to her mom before she bent to pick them up. As she bundled them up, her eyes fell on a picture of her mom with a strange man.

Her eyes looked at the picture quizzically and looked up at her mom. Her mom was placing kangans on Payal’s hands. Deciding quickly, she slipped the picture under the clothes and put the rest away. The rest of the evening, Khushi felt disturbed. She was sure her mom had a reason she kept that picture. Who was the man in the picture? Why did she preserve it?

Night fell and the rest of them slept. Khushi lay awake. She looked at the picture again in the moonlight. The man looked familiar. She had seen him somewhere. She had to ask her mom. There never seemed an apt time to talk.

Arnav picked up the phone and her Di’s voice.

“Where are you Chottey? Please come home soon. Dadi passed away. We just got a call from the ashram.”

Arnav’s head swum.

Dadi. The woman who had left them when they needed her the most.

“I will be there Di.”

The next few hours were spent on the phone getting details and calling the Guptas to let them know that the Mehndi and Sangeet would be postponed.

Anjali, Nani and him left by the night flight to Lucknow and reached the Ashram where his Dadi had lived. They spent the next few days performing her last rites and wrapping up her finances. The manager at the ashram gave Arnav a sealed letter stating his dadi had instructed that it be given to him after she passed away.

Anjali had been the most affected by her grandma passing away and she slept almost as soon as the flight took off to Delhi from Lucknow on their return. Nani was seated a row away and Arnav reached out for the letter.

“Dear Arnav,

By the time this letter reaches you, I would have joined your dad. I am sorry for having left you and Anjali when you needed me the most. Here is the key to my locker in the bank. In it are some personal possessions of your dad. I want you to have them.



Even in death, his dadi had been curt and to the point. What else did he expect? He turned over the key in his hand. He would have to deal with this another time.

With her death, Arnav had lost all connection to his dad. The man who was ready to leave his wife for another woman. The man who caused his mother to take her life. Arnav felt the old anger stir in him.

Watching the plane land in Delhi reminded him of Khushi. A smile made its way to his face. She was his happiness. His future.


Chapter 36: Soul searching

Khushi sat in the auto and her phone buzzed.


She felt her heart race at the voice. Keeping her voice steady, she answered. She had questions and she had never been the one to back away from asking them.

“Arnav ji.”

“Khushi, I need to talk to you. Where are you?”

“I just left the temple. What is it you want to talk about? Can we talk when I come to your home for the dance practice tomorrow?”

“Can we meet now? Let Buaji know that I will drop you. Tell her I needed your help for planning a cocktail party for Akash and Payal. Get off at the cafe near AR. I will see you there in 10 mins”

Khushi sighed as she switched the phone and instructed the auto to change course. She called Payal and told her she was running late and would be home for dinner and not to worry.

Well! She had questions and the only person who could answer them was Arnav ji.

True to his word, he was waiting at the cafe entrance when she got off the auto. With his aviators on, she had no idea what was lurking in those eyes.

“Get in the car.”

Khushi got in and slid her seat belt on.

“Where are we going?”

“You will see”

The drive was quiet and they soon reached a dirt track. Arnav parked and led Khushi through a rusted iron gate. Wondering if she had been right to trust him so implicitly, she followed him without a word through a tangle of bushes till they came to a clearing with tall rose bushes all flowering.


Khushi breathed in the air heavy with the roses. She felt a peace and calm descend on her. Arnav had taken his glasses off. He looked younger and more relaxed than she had ever seen him.

Wordlessly he held her wrist and guided her to a bench under a tall banyan tree. Without preamble he started.


“Khushi. I know you are wondering why I brought you here. This place is very special to me. It is my mother’s garden. As children Di and I used to come here with amma often. I garden because it keeps me close to her. Someday I will tell you why I am the way I am. Today is not the time for that. But I want you to know that you are the only person I have ever brought here.”

He paused for a bit and looking into her eyes said “To meet my mother.”

Khushi reached for his palm and entwined her fingers in his. They sat together in silence for a few minutes as she took in what he had said. This was the first time he was referring to his parents to her. She knew they had died when he was a teenager and there had been something tragic about their death. She felt connected to him by the thread of grief that they shared.

Just as the sun set and twilight fell where they sat, Khushi remembered the confusion in her heart. She was not sure if this was the time to ask them. She turned her face tentatively towards him. Her eyes asked the questions she was not comfortable asking. He turned towards her, his eyes naked with grief and longing. A need to be held and comforted. She gently lifted his palm and pressed her lips to them. He leaned on her shoulders and for once in his life, let someone else share the burden on his young shoulders.


Chapter 34: Check and Checkmate

The morning rose bright and sunny.

Arnav walked down in his usual impeccable suit flanked by Akash. Anjali sat at the dining table waiting for her brothers to join her for breakfast. Nani looked with pleasure at the happiness that seemed to have descended on their house with the impending nuptials. Mami’s head swum with the number of lists she had going. Did her husband have to pick this week to go out on business? NK looked lost in his own world.

“Di, I forgot to mention but I asked Aman to drop his daughter off at our home for Mehndi and Sangeet. Would you mind keeping an eye on her?”

Anjali looked at her usually morose brother. This was getting interesting.

“Of course Chottey. I liked Anya. She seemed very wise for a 6-year-old. It was nice of you to offer Chottey.”

“It’s nothing Di. Actually I have some work for Aman.”

Arnav looked at his sister.

“Di, Did you want me to hire the same choreographer from our cousin’s wedding for this Sangeet?”

Anjali looked like her eyes would pop out.

“Chottey, What is with you? You never dance. You hate anything to do with music and dance. The last time the choreographer was here, you kept complaining all through. What is with the sudden interest in dance?”

Arnav looked around trying to keep his voice casual.

“Well! it is Akash’s wedding and I figured these things need to be taken care of. If you are not interested, that is OK.”

Anjali’s face fell.

“No! Not that Chottey. It is not that. Of course it will be fun to get a choreographer. You know what, we should invite Payal ji and Khushi ji too. They love to dance.”

Arnav smirked when he realized he had hit target.

“OK Di. If you want it I can arrange for her.”

NK’s voice rang out.

“Actually can we call Lavanya too? She is with Khushi ji and Payal ji till the end of the month. Am sure she will like to dance too. Perhaps we can have some duets…”

NK lapsed into his dream world.

Anjali suppressed a smile and said “Yes NK Bhai, we can call Lavanya ji too and yes we can have duets.”

Breakfast over, Anjali picked up the phone to call Khushi.

The phone rang at the Gupta residence and Khushi picked the phone.

“Khushi ji, This is Anjali. Can you stop by home sometime today? I need to discuss some wedding shopping and sangeet preparations with you.”

Khushi paused a moment, mentally reviewing her calendar.

“Sure Anjali Di. I can stop by evening.”

“See you evening!”

Arnav stopped halfway to the door listening to his Di.

“Evening huh?”

He resumed striding to the door and the world looked a tad brighter.

Khushi stepped out of her Bua’s landlord’s home confusion writ large on her face. Somebody had bought the home they were living in? And they wanted to be anonymous? They wanted no rent?

Khushi felt a stab of fear. Images of Shyam crossed her mind. He was behind bars wasn’t he? Did he manage to buy the house so as to have a measure of control on their lives? But didn’t Akash ji say he had no money of his own? Who could it be and why would they not want rent?

She hailed an auto and directed him to drive to her kitchen. She had to figure out who bought the house. The house should have been registered with the government. There had to be a way to figure it out.

Thoughts still pounding her head, she got off and was welcomed with a smell of jalebis being fried for dessert. Biting into one, she decided she had to do it that afternoon after delivering the food to Shukla ji.

Lavanya sat in her office rescheduling meetings and rearranging calendar invites for ASR and Akash for the next week. NK had called her excitedly about preparations for the Sangeet. He had been so cheerful and insistent that she had given in. She squirmed at the thought of being in the Raizada Mansion again for the festivities.

After lunch she had to go to sign the lease on her new apartment. Another week and she would have her own place. While living with the Guptas was fun, she had started to crave her own space and own bed. She looked at the calendar. Her parents were visiting in the next couple of weeks. For the first time since she had moved out, she felt relief and happiness at their impending arrival. Living amongst people who placed much value on familial ties had rubbed off on her.

Khushi pushed the doors to the cafe to see if Manju aunty was there. Shukla smiled seeing her and called out that she was probably in the store-room. Khushi made for the storeroom. Didn’t Manju aunty’s son work for the Building Development Authority?

Arnav hunted for copier for his printer. He looked at the phone. The peon would be in the cafe for lunch. He had no time to wait. He would get it from the store-room himself.

He pushed the door open and ran smack into Khushi.

His eyes widened and he fell back closing the door behind him. Khushi rubbed her eyes adorably and her mouth made a perfect O in surprise.



They looked at each other awkwardly. Arnav broke the silence first.

“What are you doing in the store-room?”

“I came to look for Manju Aunty. Her son works for the DDA. I need to find out who bought our home…”

She realized she was letting on more than she had intended to. Why did it always happen that Laad Governor either made her tongue-tied or made her say everything on her mind. Chiding herself mentally, she tried to move past him to the door.

He put a hand out blocking her way.

“I did.”

Khushi looked at him her irritation giving way to surprise and bewilderment.

“You did? Why?”

“Do I have to explain all of my dealings to you?” Arnav asked smirking.

He loved watching her squirm and get all bothered.

She looked at him digesting what he had said, the questions still swirling.

“Why won’t you take rent? It makes no sense. What are you trying to achieve?”

Arnav’s eyes softened seeing her troubled. He reached out to her, taking her elbow gently.

“Khushi. I meant it the other day when I said I was sorry. My actions in Sheesh Mahal impacted your family in many ways. I am trying to make amends. I am not good with words. This is the only way I know how. Please let me.”

His tone had become quieter and his eyes pleaded with Khushi.

Khushi looked with amazement at how much he had changed. Gone was the arrogance, the place of power from which he operated. She felt the need to reach out, reassure him that it was OK.

Stepping a bit closer, she looked into his eyes and giving him a quick hug, and a quick peck on the cheek. It felt natural. The way she felt with her family.


Stepping back, she realized what she had just done. She looked up at Arnav’s eyes. He looked surprised and something other than tenderness had crept in. Sensing the change in the atmosphere she quickly said “Arnav ji, I did not mean it that way. I don’t know why I did…”

She could say no more as his palm covered her mouth.

“Hush. Say no more.”

With that, he turned, opened the door and walked out.

Khushi tumbled out in the sunlight a jumbled mass of nerves. The day was not going right at all. She had not meant to kiss him. All she wanted to do was reassure him that it was OK. She would not tell Bua. She of all people understood the burden of gratitude. She understood his need to even the score.

She looked at her watch and realized she had to meet Anjali ji before she got home. Hoping she would not run into Arnav ji there, she rang the bell.

Anjali who had been expecting Khushi, opened the door. The two exchanged hugs and made their way to Anjali’s room which had a mass of sarees and jewelry spread out. Anjali took her by hand and cleared an edge for her to sit on. Carefully bending her impaired foot, she made herself comfortable. The next hour sped by with them making selections and checking off items on their respective lists. Just as they were about to wrap up, Anjali frowned at something on her list.

“Khushi ji, I missed the Kangans Nani had kept for Payal ji. I have them in a safe in Chottey’s room. Let me get them.”

She made to rise when Khushi held her arm.

“Anjali Di. Please sit. I can run and get them.”

With that, she made her way quickly to Arnav’s room. Her brain was on overdrive processing the plans Anjali ji had shared with her. The choreographer would be there every morning till before lunch. Payal, Lavanya and she would have to rearrange their schedules to make it. Amma and Babuji would reach Delhi this weekend and she needed to arrange taxis for them.

Having been in and out of Arnav’s room many times before, she had no trouble finding out what Anjali ji had wanted. Clutching the bangles, she was about to step out of the room, when an arm grabbed her and pulled her to the poolside. She was about to scream when Arnav ji’s hand covered her mouth.

“Shh! Don’t scream. I did not mean to scare you.”

She nodded and he took his hand off.

Even as she watched, he deliberately bent and kissed her on her cheek.


Stunned to react, she looked at him questions in her eyes.

Arnav looked at her with a mix of amusement and tenderness.

“I did MEAN it.” He smirked as he reminded her that Di was probably waiting for her.

Khushi walked back in a daze not knowing what hit her.


Chapter 33: Laad Governor or Rajkumar?


Khushi looked at the bundle on her lap. They really were sample invites. Did he really come to drop the invitations? Shaking her head she focused on them and picked out a couple she liked. She then picked her phone to follow-up with the girls who worked for her on how the day went and if they were able to manage without her.

Payal returned looking happy and flushed. Her eyes were bright. Khushi’s heart overflowed. Love did suit her Jiji. Akash Jijaji was fast becoming her favorite person. Another two weeks to Mehndi and Sangeet and then the wedding. She realized with a pang that her Jiji would be moving to the Raizada Mansion. Well! At least she would be in Delhi.

As if Payal heard what Khushi was thinking, she pulled her to the porch outside. She was bursting to share the news with someone.

“Khushi. Guess what was the surprise?”

“What Jiji? Tell me na?”

“We.. I mean Akash ji and I after the wedding will be moving to Lucknow for a few months.”

Payal paused for what she said to sink in. Her eyes shone.

“Few months Jiji?”

“Yes. Arnav ji told Akash ji that he needed him to relocate to Lucknow for about 6 months to handle some business they are setting up there.”

Payal lowered her voice.

“Akash ji thinks it is because Arnav ji thinks we need the time away from sasuma after the wedding,”

She grinned as if she was privy to some inside joke amongst the Raizadas.

Khushi gave her sister a big hug and squeezed her tight. Her Jiji deserved all the happiness she was being showered with.

Payal bounced back into the home to find Bua with a surprised look on her face looking at what looked like a check register. Her forehead had furrows in it from thinking so hard.

“Payaliya, come look at these numbers for me. Why does my account have more balance than it usually does?”

Payal sat next to her Bua and crunched the numbers for her. She added up the numbers and looked at the past month to compare debits.

“There it is Bua ji. Your rental check has not been cashed yet. That is why you have a higher balance.”

Bua sat lost in thought. The check should have cleared by now. She would have to follow-up with the landlord.

“Hai Re Nandakishore. With all the work relating to the wedding, I now have to follow this one up as well” she said as she rose to go in the kitchen.

Khushi who had come in as well, grabbed the check register and concurred with what Payal said.

“Buaji. Am feeling good enough to go out. I will look into this for you tomorrow morning” she said as she pocketed the check book and the passbook from the table.

She was hungry and peeked into the kitchen to see what Bua had for dinner. Her eyes fell on the teacups on the counter and the memory of Arnav ji assailed her.

“Who was he? The laad governor who enjoys having the last word, reminds her of her aukat and pushes her away or her rajkumar who rescues her from burning buildings, bashes goons who dare lay a finger on her, says sorry without hesitation and brazenly presses her fingers to his lips?”

“What did she feel for him?”

Khushi smiled absently at her naivete in the years before when she mistook her attraction for him as acidity. She now knew that she was attracted to him. She definitely liked him. A lot. Love? Did she love him?

She felt color rising up her cheeks at the thought and decided she had enough of playing the demure damsel. It was time to up the ante. Two can play this game.

Cheering up, she let go of her fingers she had been staring at and looked up. Bua and Payal sat transfixed watching her.

“Sanka Devi! What were you thinking of? Your cheeks are so red. Are you OK?”

“Should we call Arnav ji?” Payal teased. “He always seems to be there when you fall, when you decide to walk into speeding cars.”

“Jiji! You too??”

With that the Gupta sisters attacked their food with gusto.

Lavanya entered the home, her face radiant.

“I had such a good evening” she declared. Payal and Khushi looked up and at her expectantly.

“Well! NK had asked me to show him around Delhi and we had a good time driving and walking around the main spots.”

Payal and Khushi looked at each other and said in unison.

“NK? Good time huh? Just walking and talking Lavanya?”

Lavanya looked at them and added hurriedly.

“We are just good friends now. He is cute though.”

Khushi felt happy for her friend. She had been through much the past couple of years and NK would be good for her. He was goofy and knew how to make her laugh.

“Did you have dinner or are you joining in?”

Lavanya waved her hand breezily and disappeared into Khushi’s room.

Arnav sat at dinner table playing with his food. Nani and Anjali looked at each other meaningfully.

“Chottey, Are you OK? You seem to have lost interest in food these days? You are going to temples. You actually volunteered to take the invitation samples to Payal ji’s home. Sab teek hai?”

Anjali reached to touch her brother’s forehead in mock concern. Nani smiled coyly and Mami looked at everyone with suspicion. What was happening without her knowledge. She would have to find out. Akash and Mama dug into their food without any hesitation.

Arnav pushed Di’s hand and scowled. He ate hurriedly and left without a word. Reaching his room, he let the mask down and a smile played on his lips. He relived the evening and the look of surprise on Khushi’s face as he walked away dropping the invites in her lap. Something about being with Khushi brought the child out in him. He loved sparring with her and having the last word.

She had looked lovely in her night suit he thought distractedly. What would he give to be able to kiss her. He recoiled with horror at the direction his thoughts were taking him. Mehndi and Sangeet were a couple of weeks away. How was he going to contrive it such that they could meet often?

He smiled as the answer dawned on him. All he had to do was let Di know casually and his work would be done. He went to bed a satisfied man.


Chapter 32: Smooth moves


Khushi traced her fingers along her cheeks and smiled. Payal walked in to find Khushi twirling a strand of hair with a smile playing on her face. Her eyes looked distant and Payal’s presence was not yet felt.

Gently laying a hand on her sister, Payal brought her back to the present.

“Thinking of whom Khushi? You have a far away look on your face.”

Khushi came to with a start and blushed a bright red and started fiddling with the bag Payal had brought in. She slid her feet off the bed and felt unsteady. Payal gave her a hand and in an hour both sisters were ready to leave. They found at the billing department that their bills were paid for and a car was waiting to take them home. The driver handed a note to Khushi.

“Sorry I had to rush for a meeting. Stay safe and look right and left before you cross the road. – Arnav ji”

Khushi raised an eyebrow as she folded the note and put it away even as Payal gave her a piercing look. She had a great many questions for her sister but it could wait a couple of days. What was Khushi doing at the temple and why was Arnav ji there? NK had asked Arnav ji yesterday but Arnav ji had not answered his questions.

Was her sister in love with Arnav ji? Confusion reigned in Payal’s heart. Perhaps Akash ji would know if his Bhai was looking as lost as Khushi was these days? And what was it with NK bhai showing up with fishy reasons at their house? He had a bunch of red roses he was forced to give Buaji. Payal smiled at the thought and turned her attention to Khushi.

Khushi had nodded off and Payal turned her attention to the road.

Arnav wrapped up his meeting with clients and felt a rush of euphoria go through him. This was what had been the driving force in his life. The thrill and exhilaration that came from pulling business away from competitors noses. This deal would mean more trips to Lucknow. Perhaps Akash could set base in Lucknow for a bit after the wedding and handle things from their end? He would have to talk to him.

Making mental notes, he picked up his coat and whistled wordlessly to himself as he walked out of the AR building. Lavanya watched him leave and smiled to herself. Khushi certainly seemed to be good for ASR. He seemed to actually smile at people and stopped to make small talk. The office certainly was buzzing with curiosity on the boss’s behavior.

Lavanya’s phone buzzed. A text from Payal confirmed Khushi was back home. Another hour and she would leave too. Khushi’s accident had seemed to be the catalyst that broke the ice after she had left the Raizada house more than a year back. She had continued working for AR but had maintained a cool distance from Arnav never venturing anything personal. Arnav had been grateful and reciprocated in kind. After Anjali Di’s marriage had crumbled whatever trace of softness had been there in his countenance had died and he had thrown himself into work maniacally. Meeting Di, Arnav and NK at the hospital had thawed that ice and she felt herself hugging and catching up with Anjali. NK came across as a nice guy and had made her laugh after a long time. She had enjoyed his company that she thought nothing about it when he had asked her if she could show him around Delhi.

Now that it was actually time to meet him at the cafe, she was not sure it was a good idea at all. She pulled the compact from her bag and looked at her face critically. A touch up and she would be good to go.

Anjali sat in the living room with Nani, Mami and Mama. They were looking at the invitation samples and picking out one for the wedding. Mami had a tough time staying away from all the cheer and reluctantly gave in. She was vociferous in what she wanted for HER son’s wedding. Anjali smiled and realized Mami would grow to like Payal over time.

Arnav got into his car with every intention of going home till the surprise on Khushi’s face as he strode away after caressing her cheek flashed in front of his eyes. He would stop by to check in on her and go home. Before that he had a few calls to make.

The doorbell rang. Sure that it was Bua returning from her errand, Payal opened the door to see Arnav ji at the door. Before she could ask him anything, the phone rang. Motioning him to take a seat, she ran to get the phone. Khushi walked in limping a bit but otherwise looking all too well for someone who had been in an accident recently. Getting up to help her to the couch, Arnav put his hand over her shoulder and a mild heady mix of citrus and jasmine wafted up. Positioning her on the couch, he turned to take a seat when Payal announced she had to step out for a bit. Would Khushi be OK? Could she get Arnav ji something to drink?

Khushi looked at her sister. This was so not her.

“Who was it on the phone Jiji? Where is Bua? Where are you going?”

Payal blushed a furious red and said Akash ji had just called. He was waiting outside. He wanted to surprise her with something and had promised it would not take more than an hour. Would she please not tell Bua ji?

Happy that her Jiji was being courted, Khushi nodded happily letting her know she would be fine. Arnav smiled contentedly knowing his plan was working.

“Khushi, Are you OK? How are feeling now?”

She detected something other than concern in his voice. Wary, she looked up.

“Get well soon” he said simply as he extended a small box and a red rose to her. Reaching out for it, she thanked him and smelt the rose before setting it on her lap. Opening the box, she found six tiny jalebis. Sheer joy overcame her and she looked up at Arnav who was taking in every little transformation on her face. Popping one in her mouth, she extended the box to him and on second thoughts retracted her hand.

Even as she relished the juicy crumbs in her mouth, she saw him lean over, pull her hand to his lips and press a small kiss on it.

“I miss you Khushi.”

He said it without preamble. Like it was the most natural thing to say.

Her face flushed and she was very aware of his hand over hers. Of his lips on her skin. Of the bristle of the five o clock shadow as her hands grazed his chin. Suddenly everything in the room seemed loud. The minute hand ticking across the clock. The sway of the curtains against the wind. The sounds of children playing outside. The evening sun seemed too bright and everything stood out in extra relief.

Stilling her thudding heart, she quietly removed her hand from his and looked up. He looked sure of himself and his place in her life. His eyes followed hers never leaving her face.

“Arnav ji. Thank you. I am not sure…”

Even as she spoke, Bua ji entered the house and stopped at the sight of Arnav in the house. Acknowledging him quickly, she looked around, her eyes searching for Payal. Arnav stood up and addressed her.

“Buaji, I just stopped by to drop of sample invitation cards for the wedding. Di and Khushi were working on them before the accident so Di wanted her to take a look at the ones she had selected.”

Bua looked relieved and turned to go to into the kitchen. Khushi watched the exchange with an open mouth and even as she turned, Arnav gave her a broad wink, dropped a bunch of invites on her lap and walked out.

No one had ever accused Arnav of not being prepared.


Chapter 31: Muddled messages



Khushi wove in an out of sleep. She felt her head throb and her body was in pain. The sedatives were wearing off. Payal lay asleep on the couch by her side. The room was lit in an eerie blue glow of the hospital corridor lighting.

She looked at the bandage on her hands and legs and felt the one on her forehead. The doctor said she had been very lucky to escape with minor injuries. She winced as she tried to reach for the glass of water on her side.

Sipping the water quietly she tried to remember what had happened. She had stepped into the road then she was airborne and the next thing she sensed was Arnav’s voice saying something to her. She had felt wetness in her palms. She was not sure what Arnav had been saying but she had felt an enormous peace come over her. When she had finally felt good enough to open her eyes and talk, Payal and Lavanya had been by her side and Arnav was leaving after promising to come back in the morning. His eyes had looked at her with so much tenderness that she felt disturbed. She tried to quell that feeling of unease that something had happened that evening that had changed the nature of their relationship and she was not sure what that was.

Payal turned in her sleep and Khushi looked at her sister with love. Lavanya had insisted on staying but Payal refused to budge. Eventually all of them had left long past visiting time. She wondered if Amma and Babuji knew. She hoped they did not. There was no point worrying them with so much left to do for the wedding. NK had come too. He had been standing in a corner happy to run errands and content to watch. Even in her weakened state she had noticed his eyes going back to linger on Lavanya.

The thoughts jumbled and twisted in her head till she fell asleep.

“I loved you then. I love you now.”

“I am sorry. Really, really sorry.”

Did she imagine them? Khushi woke with a start to stare into Arnav’s eyes as he fussed around her like she was a child. It was late morning and her room buzzing with activity. A nurse was taking readings and Arnav was leaning over adjusting her pillow when her eyes met his. His eyes flickered with something of a surprise and happiness to see her bright-eyed looking at him.

Standing up, he looked around to see if the nurse was still around and spoke softly.

“Are you OK Khushi? Do you need anything?”

Khushi looked at him distracted by the tenderness in his eyes. The rude, brusque Arnav she could handle but this new improved version was scaring her.

“Am OK Arnav. Arnav ji. Can I go home? I feel better.”

Arnav looked at her with a mixture of amusement and concern.

“Make that Arnav. And yes, you will be discharged in a couple of hours. Payal has gone home to get you change of clothes.”

He stepped closer now that the nurse was leaving, closing the door behind her.


He sounded husky and his voice was dangerously close.

Her nerves were on alert and she felt every cell in her body react to his presence.

“Khushi, I was scared I would lose you yesterday. I.. I realized how much I needed to say this aloud.”

“I am sorry Khushi. For everything.”

He sat down and took her hand in his.

“I know I have a long way to go to earn your trust but I want to make a start somewhere. I wanted to meet you yesterday so I could say the words. Will you forgive me?”

Khushi looked at him. So much had changed from the first time she had seen him.

“Arnav… ji. I had forgiven you a long time ago. When Payal told me you had met her with Akash ji at the temple to apologize to her for what happened at Sheesh Mahal. The night Shyam ji was also at the temple…”

She paused at the memories and as if brushing it away continued.

“I knew then, that you had not meant to do what you did. I was upset and hurt by what had happened that Diwali night but I wanted to put it behind me. I knew Lavanya was your girlfriend and I had no illusions about your affections for me. I had no right to expect anything”

“Let the past remain in the past. We are going to be related now by Jiji getting married to Akash ji.”

“Can we be friends?”

She gripped his hand. Arnav looked at her steadily, absorbing what she was saying and a gleam came into his eyes.


He gripped it back and held it for a while. Then getting up in a fluid motion, he brushed the side of her cheek with his fingers and tucked in her hair before striding out the door.

Khushi looked at him, her senses in overdrive. She was falling hard. For him.

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Chapter 27: Can I trust you?

Did she forgive him?

Khushi lay awake, unable to sleep. She had reached home, helped Payal remove the make up and spent time with Lavanya before they all went to bed. It had been an exhausting day and by all accounts she should have been asleep by now. Sleep eluded her.

“Truly, Madly, Deeply.”

The words swum in her head. Did she forgive him? There was no question. She had been hurt by his walking away. By his dismissal of her feelings. But she had never held it against him. This is how he was. He battled his demons by running away from anything that threatened the careful walls he had built around himself. She had seen past the exterior, beyond the carefully erected barriers. She had seen him at his vulnerable best and her heart had gone out to him. She felt a kinship with him that she could not explain. She pushed the covers back and went to the window. The moon was bright in the sky.

“Can I trust you again?” she whispered.


Arnav sat by the poolside, sleep evading him. He held the note in his hands. He turned it over a few times. He had hurt her far too many times. There was so little he knew about the girl who occupied so much of his waking thoughts. He thought back to the first few times they had met and wondered why he had felt that innate need to crush her spirit? Was it because she represented everything he loathed about the world. The hope, the optimism and the unshakable faith in God? Did he want to crush her to prove he was right? That power and money were the only immutable things in this world? That the world was a cold, hard place with no space for the warm fuzzy emotions she represented? What if he had been wrong?

A conversation from a long time back echoed in his years.

gazebokhushicrying gazebo

“I was eight when my parents died. I did not know what death was. For a long time, I waited for them to come back. What more? Even today I believe they have now become stars, and so I sleep with stars hanging over my bed. Even today I am scared of fast cars, of the dark, of sleeping alone. Even today I hope this is all a bad dream, and one day I will wake up and they will be back.”

They had both been orphaned at a young age. He had become bitter and locked himself out while she hid her pain behind a mask of cheer. She had accepted and moved on believing her parents were watching her. Perhaps he had the same hopes, same aspirations but lacked the courage to let go of the past?

“Can I trust you? a voice echoed in his head. He looked up and trusting the voice within whispered back.

“Yes. you can.”

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Chapter 23: Realization

Arnav held the crumpled piece of paper in his hand. Making the first move in relationships had not been his style. He opened it to read “Jeth ji, friendship MEANS much to me. It has to be earned.”

Arnav felt a frisson of anger radiate through his being. “How dare she.. What did she think of herself?”. He read the note again noticing the capitalized “MEANS”. Was she telling him something. His mind went back to the last conversation they had after the Diwali night.

“For me you or whatever happened tonight MEAN nothing”

He sunk to the ground, his back against the bed frame. The images played in succession in his head. The hurt in her eyes as he backed away after leaning in to kiss her that Diwali night. The tear that escaped her eyes when he stood with Lavanya announcing they were to get married. The devastation on her face at her doorstep as he uttered those cruel words dismissing everything she had felt in one swoop.


How had he even expected her to respond to his offer of friendship? She was right. He would have to earn her trust before her friendship let alone love.


Did he actually say that?

Khushi sat by the window sill. The full moon poured a silky light all over her room. Her hair was open. Her thoughts far away.

Arnav. Not Arnav ji. She had earned the right to be his equal. Hadn’t she? This time they would start out as equals.

“Can we start afresh? As friends.”

The note had been burned into her memory. What did he want from her? He had destroyed her that night hadn’t he? She knew as well as he did that what had happened was not an impulse. They had been drawn to each other as moths to the fire. Writing her reply had been difficult. She knew how hard it would have been for him to take the first step. Arnav Singh Raizada never asked for anything. He demanded and got away with it. If he wanted to her in his life in any capacity, he would have to earn that right this time.

She looked at the sky. The bright light of the moon had overshadowed the stars. She knew her parents were up there watching over her. She had to sleep.

Tomorrow Jiji would be engaged.


Payal sat in the living room clutching the phone. Akash ji had called for the third time that evening. He was besotted. She had to give it to him. For all his mild manners, he was a wild horse at this romance thing. She half expected him to pop in to her room through the window next. Life was good.

Akash couldn’t believe himself. Tomorrow he was going to be engaged to the girl of his dreams. His Payal. The first time he had seen her at the market looking for dupattas, he had fallen hook, line and sinker. Growing up with a mom who believed in flaunting, he craved for the simplicity that Payal offered. He needed someone silent and strong. Someone who would stand with him. By his side. Not ahead. Not behind. A partner.

Anjali watched the moonlight filter in through the window. The drapes moved in the breeze sending shadows dancing on the walls. Tomorrow one of her brothers would be engaged. She sighed wistfully at the thought. When would she see Chottey’s eyes shine with happiness the way Akash’s did? Would she ever see him laugh. In the fourteen years since he had taken responsibility for their well-being, he had been a man on a mission. He hid behind his pain. His heart was shuttered in making them impregnable to hurt. He used cynicism as a shield and held a grudge against the fates for leaving him without a mother’s love to cocoon him. She had done her best but what he needed was a shore for his soul to moor itself. A sunny, calming presence that could heal away the hurt and apply balm to his troubled soul. An image of Khushi inveigled itself into her conscious. If there was one girl who fit the bill it was Khushi but Chottey seemed to always get off on the wrong foot with her.


Devi Maiyya, please make Chottey see sense she whispered as exhaustion overcame her.


Chapter 18: The past, the present and somewhere in between

Khushi tossed and turned in her dreams. She was caught in a collapsing building, her screams dying in her throat as she realized she was all alone. She was fainting and a finger tenderly caressed her cheek as it tucked in a stray strand of hair. She is waking in a strange room dizzy with fever and exhaustion. A familiar face fades in an out feeding her milk and medicine. She is flying through the hospital lobby hurtling herself against a calming presence sobbing and letting go of her fears. She is sitting quietly mulling the burden of gratitude when a palm caresses the top of her head reassuring her all will be well. She is standing in a tangle of lights when every touch, every contact seems to set her skin on fire. Her heart is racing and the skin on nape of her neck is tingling with anticipation.


Gasping for breath, Khushi woke up unable to distinguish between the dream and reality around her. Calming herself, she looked around. She was still in her bed. The stars twinkled merrily above her. Jiji was fast asleep. Slipping out quietly she got a glass of water and stood by the window sill looking at the inky blue sky. As she usually did, she scanned for and found the two stars she looked on as her parents. She sent a wish heavenward.

“Are you looking down at me?”

Thoughts of another night crept in.

looking at stars

“Do you believe they become stars?”

Any shred of sleep slipped away. She felt alert and awake. She was meeting Anjali ji today. She would have to pick something up on the way to their home. Something simple. Something meaningful.

Arnav ji. Would she meet him today? Did she want to?

Arnav stood by the pool sleep eluding him. All it had taken was one “Hello” to destroy his facade. The sound of her voice had awakened those dormant feelings in him. The memory of a lone tear escaping from Khushi’s eyes when he announced he would marry Lavanya had haunted him for months. He had seen her mask slipping on when she wished Lavanya well. How he had tried to crack that mask open on that fateful car ride dropping her home.


He had always acted in anger. This time had proved his undoing. She had gone. Gone from his life forever. So he thought till he heard her voice again and hope rose unbidden.

He would have walk the path to redemption.