‘No…no….it hurts…it hurts….Amma it hurts too much.’ She cried whilst shaking uncontrollably, therefore making it impossible for her mother to hold her still in order to apply the medicine.
‘Khushi…Khushi bitya you need to sit still, for me to make the pain go away…’ her mother tried again, but little Khushi wouldn’t hear any of it, only went on moaning about the pain and the blood she saw seeping out of her knee.
‘No….nnooooooooo-‘, she moaned until suddenly she stopped. Because out of nowhere a hand came to rest on her head, that spread calmness right down her body and she knew she would be ok. Not that she had to, but she looked up anyway to find her father’s big, comforting arm caressing her hair as he nodded encouragingly at her to sit still and be the brave girl he knew she was, in order to allow her mother to apply the antiseptic cream.
‘You could not have walked in at a better time, for only your hand on her head brings her any sort of safety, otherwise all my words wash over her in vain…’ her mother cried in amusement and pride at the bond the father and daughter shared: no matter what anyone said or did, it wasn’t until her father would place that hand of his on Khushi’s head would she relax. It was only that gesture that bought her daughter any sort of peace and tranquility when things went wrong in her eight year old world.
‘Khushi? Khushi?!!!’ Arnav’s nervous voice broke her reverie, jerking her out of her paralytical state. ‘Khushi are you ok? You went completely rigid….’ His anxious face came into focus before her. Ignoring his question, she looked up to find no hand on her head, for it was now cupping her face.
‘Khushi…’ he tried again, but she gripped his right hand and raised her eyes to his.
‘Did you place your hand on top of my head?’ she asked in a hollow voice.
‘Khu-hunh? Oh….ummm…yes.’ he replied, confused. ‘I…you were crying, and I didn’t know what to-…I’m not good with words so…I’m sorry, if it upset you. I…I was just trying to-’ he tried to explain.
‘No one has done that in a long time…’ she said in a distant voice as she continued to stare at his hand. A fresh tear landed on his palm and made his whole being ache with her pain. ‘I need to go.’ She blurted out as abruptly as she let go of his hand and stood up.
‘I just need to go.’ She said patting down her un-creased dress and heading for the door.
‘Khushi, did I do something? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-‘
‘Please stop apologizing Arnav ji, you have nothing to apologise for. You have done a lot for me, you have no idea. I just, I need to go now…’ she said again, but didn’t turn towards the exit immediately. She wanted to say more, but didn’t know what or how. Thus after a moment of simply staring at him she turned and left, leaving him completely baffled as to what had just occurred.
Khushi repeated to herself over and over again as she slumped onto the grass and let her tears fall. She hugged herself as she continued to cry outside the Goddess’s temple. She didn’t know how to stop, how to control herself. Arnav’s one simple gesture had opened the floodgates.
Unknowingly he had opened a window into a day in her past that she herself had forgotten. The day when her Bauji had last placed his hand on her head. No one had ever done that since their accident. Her aunt, uncle and cousin had welcomed her with open arms and made her feel like she had a home again, but that sense of calm that pulsated through her body every time her father placed his hand on her head, that had never existed for her again. Not until moments ago, not until Arnav had unknowingly placed his hand on top of her head.
It unnerved her: to find her body betraying her to this extent. It had done so on many occasions prior to the incident that had taken place in the dressing room and every time with him, but this time it had been different. This time it hit her hard. Finding her being react in this way agitated her. Up until he had placed his hand on her head, it had hurt her that no one was able to do what her father had been able to do, no one was able to bring peace to her mind in one simple gesture the way he could. It had been a sore reminder of how she no longer had a father.
Yes, Shashi was her Bauji and every bit her father, but even he had never been able to comfort her in that manner. Oh, he was forever at her side and always had her back, but it wasn’t the same, it never had been, their comraderie was special, undeniably, but different to the one she had shared with her own father.
Even Shyam had been unable to extend that warmth. She had gotten him to place his hand on her head once, just to see. In hope, that in him, she would find that feeling radiate through her body again. But it had not happened and he had scoffed at her, making her go red and drop the idea of ever feeling that way again. Then she had been embarrassed and upset that he had been unable to create that feeling, but in hindsight she had to wonder was that her body’s way of telling her not to trust that man. If it was, she should have listened instead of mistaking it to mean lack of trust on her part, which in turn ended up being one of the reasons why she pushed herself to sleep with him, to prove to herself she did trust him. Although, she should have known then, if she had required that sort of proof from herself then the answer was simple, she did not and therefore should not trust him. But there was no point in mulling over it now, she had done it and could do nothing to change it.
What concerned her now was that if her body had given her a signal then, when she had felt nothing after Shyam had placed his hand on her head, was it telling her something now too? If so…what? And was she really prepared to hear it? If not feeling the comfort she felt when her father caressed her, after Shyam had placed his hand on top of her head meant that she should not trust him, than what did it mean feeling it when Arnav did? Was she supposed to trust him? Or had she already begun trusting him? If so, how? After everything he had done, could she really? After everything she had learnt in the last few months regarding men, should she?
Yes, he had apologized, much to her shock and she had forgiven him (because he had meant it). But that did not mean she was comfortable with the idea of being close to him emotionally. But apparently she was, for that was exactly how she felt when he placed his hand on her head. She felt safe, after a very long time. She finally felt like she was not alone. But she didn’t want to feel that way, not about him. In fact she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to feel that way with anyone anymore. She had lost her faith in her ability to trust, for whomever she seemed to give it to had a tendency of betraying it.
She looked up towards the temple and caught sight of the majestic impression of the Goddess inside. ‘What does this mean DM?’ she questioned. ‘I don’t understand what’s happening. My family have turned their backs on me. Bauji is ill and I am not allowed to see him. My whole world has changed and that man…the last man that I thought would ever bring me any sort of peace to me is the only one who has managed to give me a sense of tranquility in these past few havocous days. In everything that has happened he has some how been there and made things bearable. How is that even possible? What does that even mean?’ she appealed unable to comprehend any of it anymore. How and why had Arnav suddenly become her beacon of hope? Her ray of security. A sense of home.
‘Ugh.’ He huffed aloud and found himself staring at the heavens, much in the way she did when deliberating. He hoped to find some solace there, she seemed to. He didn’t know how long he had been staring at the sky or when Anjali joined him.
‘Chotay?’ she whispered as she clicked her fingers in front of him to draw his attention. ‘What thoughts plague my Chotay that have gotten him to consult the heavens tonight instead of his usual practice of gardening?’ she asked amused.
‘Hunh….nothing Di. I was just…star gazing.’ He said without thinking.
‘Hmmm…..really? On a cloudy night?’ she chirped. This was going to be fun. He was clearly hiding something and she was going to annoy him for it.
Arnav reddened and shot an angry look at the heavens. The sky indeed was completely covered with clouds. He had been so lost in his thoughts about Khushi that he hadn’t even realized and the treacherous clouds had not even backed him up. So much for finding solace in the heavens, this was the last time he would chose them to ensue calmness within himself.
‘Chotay?!! Now where did you get lost?’ Anjali’s voice cut his thoughts yet again.
‘Hunh, no where Di. And the clouds just came….you could see the stars a while ago.’ He added, to cover himself and therefore hopefully stop Anjali from further questioning him about it.
‘Oh…soooo, since when did my brother develop an interest in astronomy?’ she wasn’t going to let him off that easily. He was clearly hiding something, whether that something was his feelings for Khushi (which she really hoped it was) or something else, she was going to pester him until he didn’t give it away.
‘Ugh, Di. Just because I’m not out with a telescope every night star gazing, trying to figure out whether Venus is in Neptune or Jupiter is at war with Saturn, or whatever that astronomical jargon is, does not mean I cannot appreciate a starry sky.’ He spat out irritatingly. Why was she being so inquisitive? ‘Anyway, was there a specific reason why you came here or was it just to berate me?’
‘Oh, wow, I just came to spend some time with my Chotay, but if you’re annoyed by it then…’ Anjali said with an offended look, as she turned and began to walk away.
Arnav bawled his fist. Sh*t. He had upset her. That was the last thing he had wanted to do. But she was asking too many questions, questions he wasn’t ready to answer. Questions that would lead to questions which he may never be prepared to answer. ‘Di. Di. Sorry.’ He caught up to her. ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just….you know what forget it. Tell me how was your day?’
‘Do you really wish to know or are you just asking to make me feel better?’ she asked, poignantly.
He smiled sheepishly. ‘Well in that case I will tell you every minute little detail just to punish you for your behavior before.’ Anjali smiled, while Arnav feigned horror. They were fussing over each other when Hari Prakash joined them completely out of breath and clearly agitated regarding something.
‘Di…Di…’ he called to Anjali gasping for breath. She immediately was at his side, as was Arnav.
‘Hari Prakash ji, what happened? Are you Ok? Chotay, Chotay look at him, what’s wrong with him?’ Anjali voice filled with concern as she petitioned to Arnav hoping he would make some sense of the scene before them. ‘Is he having an attack of some sort?’ she asked worried.
‘Di..ssh.’ Arnav said calming her down, ‘HP, what’s wrong?’ Arnav asked point blank. ‘Does your chest feel constricted? Are you having palpitations?’
‘Arnav bhaiya, Di….no…no….my heart is fine…it’s…I don’t know….I tried but…I don’t understand…’ he huffed.
‘What don’t you understand? What’s wrong?’ Arnav asked, calming down a little now, as he didn’t seem to be having any sort of medical emergency.
‘She…she just won’t stop Di. I tried, but she…’
‘Who?!!’ both Anjali and Arnav asked together.
‘Khushi ji.’ He blared, as if they were somehow stupid to not have known. The mentioning of her name twisted Arnav’s stomach in a knot while it brought further concern in Anjali’s heart.
‘Khushi…why….what’s happened, what’s wrong?’ Anjali asked, for Arnav was finding it hard to create a sentence let alone spit it out.
‘Di, I don’t know how long she has been there, but she has completely lost it, won’t listen to a thing.’ Hari Prakash related, finally managing to calm his breathing.
‘What do you mean she has lost it? Where is she? What happened to her?’ Arnav asked through gritted teeth, how dare he suggest she was not in her senses?!!
‘She’s in the kitchen, where she has built a tower of jalebi’s and is continuing to fry more, even after I tried to stop her. I just came home with the groceries and found her there, I don’t know what to do…’ he succumbed to the pool chair, his legs unable to bear the trauma he witnessed inside his kitchen moments before. Arnav and Anjali at once made there way to the kitchen, although Anjali after she had made sure Hari Prakash was stable.
‘Khush-‘ Arnav began but stopped, as he took in the sight. The whole kitchen counter was covered with pots. There was a large mountain of jalebies in a platter on the left side of the stove, while a big bowl of batter sat on the right side. A stream of batter splashed the counter between the stove and the bowl. On the burner next to the batter, sat a wak in which four jalebies were being fried, while on the left burner was a pot of syrup. In front of all this stood Khushi, covered in flour, one hand holding a jalebi which she munched on absentmindedly, the other hovered on top of the wak, grasping the tongs with which she flipped the jalebis. He couldn’t help but smile, she looked a complete spectacle.
‘Khushi…are you ok?’ Anjali brushed past Arnav and rested her hand on Khushi’s shoulder, grabbing her attention.
‘Hunh?’ Khushi started at her company, her eyes went from Anjali to Arnav and her heart gave a violent pang. Immediately she dropped her gaze on to her hand, which caused another shock. ‘HUUUUNNNNNNNHHH!!!’ She took a sharp breath as her eyes moved from the tongs in her hand to the scene in front of her, she had not realized when or how she had come into the kitchen and began resorting to her old habits of frying jalebies when stressed. She clapped her hands on to her mouth, causing the jalebi in her left hand to collide with her lips which she then scarfed down, as if to remove any trace of there having been any jalebi there. She gaped wide eyed at the mess she had made and then turned to Anjali, ‘Oh god, Di, I’m so sorry…I…I don’t know when….I…it’s an old habit, when I get stressed or confused I make jalebies, the twisted contours have a way of solving my twisted problems…I’m so sorry…I will clean all of this up…’ she declared, as she switched off the stove, took out the four jalebies from the pan, soaked them in syrup and placed them on top of the already tall jalebi tower and then began surreptitiously cleaning the counter, until Anjali intervened.
‘Waow…stop Khushi. Its’ ok. This is your house too, you don’t have to explain yourself. Besides I’m more concerened about this stress you mentioned, rather than the mess in the kitchen. Are you ok? What is bothering you?’ she asked, as Arnav too moved closer to listen. However, Khushi had no intention to share the problem on her mind, especially not in front of Arnav, as it had to do with him. She still couldn’t get it out of her mind, why did it affect her so much that he had been able to infuse such comfort inside of her just the way her dad had been able to? Try as she may to forget it, she couldn’t. She couldn’t be happy about it or sad. It had felt good to feel the comfort of that gesture again but at the same time annoyed her as to why it had come from him, why had he reminded her of her father? She didn’t want to think of either them as similar, because they weren’t!! Or where they?
‘Khushi?!’ Anjali called her out of her debate.
‘Hunh, Di. Oh. You know just….ummm work.’ She said without thinking and then immediately regretted it, as Arnav was standing right there, to whom Anjali now turned.
‘Work? Chotay, what is this, are you over working her? You know what she is going through how could you-‘
‘Di, I haven’t –‘
‘Di…Di….no Arnav ji hasn’t done anything.’ Khushi cut in, before things got out of hand. ‘I…I just….’ She tried to think up of a way to resolve it, ‘Its’ just that the fashion show, its around the corner, the weekend after next you know, that’s just what has occupied my mind. It’s my first ever fashion show….for the first time my designs will be showcased….and one of my mock-ups there are not at all up to the level it should be so….just tensed regarding that….’ She reasoned. Only, after she had did the gravity of what she said hit her, making her stomach give a wild lurch. In a fortnight her work would be on display for the world to see and critique. Suddenly, she didn’t feel so good anymore. Nausea gripped her at the thought of the day, when people from god-knew-where would come and see her line. What would they think of it? The last time it had been Lavanya’s show, her designs a masterpiece, would hers’ even be able to compete? Were her’s really worthy of being put alongside Lavanya’s?
‘Oh. Is that what you’re worried about? Well don’t be, I may not know much about designing but I do know my brother and he would not have hired you, if you were not the best for the job.’ Anjali smiled encouragingly and then added, ‘right Chotay?’ seeing Khushi eye him for confirmation.
‘Hunh? Oh ummm….yeah. You know for a fact Khushi that I value your designs, trust my judgement if you cannot trust yourself.’ Arnav said a little too coldly, in order to not sound too concerned in front of Anjali. Khushi was a little taken aback by his bluntness, after the afternoon they had shared, but she didn’t show it.
‘Ok that settled, how about we put this kitchen back into order before Hari Prakash ji comes back, poor man, nearly had a heart-attack seeing his kitchen being used without his knowledge.’ Anjali joked, as she and Khushi got to work.
It wasn’t until three hours later, Arnav managed to catch Khushi alone as she made her way across the lawn to retire for the night.
‘Khushi.’ His voice made her jump. ‘Sorry.’ He apologized, for his sudden appearance.
She stared at him, a second sorry, in the same day. He was definitely getting better at it.
‘I….ummm….are you ok? Was the fashion show the only reason why you were worried earlier?’ he asked, wanting to be assured that his gesture earlier at the office had not upset her.
‘Yes. That’s all it was.’ Well that wasn’t the truth, but as she had come to learn, after saying it, it was part of the truth, now she wasn’t planning on telling him about how she felt after he had placed his hand, for she herself up until now wasn’t sure how she felt regarding it.
‘I mean you left so abruptly….’ He trailed off.
‘Oh, that…umm,’ how was she going to explain that. ‘I, uh, just remembered something I needed to do for Bauji. I had to meet the Pandit ji, for a puja….’ Oh god, this was so bad, she lying using her Bauji. Now she would have to go arrange a puja…well that didn’t sound like a bad idea. In fact, it was a brilliant idea, she could arrange one that would make Garima and Madhumathi come, for they wouldn’t say no to a puja, regardless of how angry they were with her and there may be she could thaw some of their anger.
‘Oh. Ok. Cause I thought….well, as long as….good. So when’s the puja?’ he changed the subject, unable to bring up their proximity earlier.
‘Oh…umm…’ why was he so interested about when the puja was, it wasn’t like he would attend it, atheist as he was, 'Pandit ji, will get back to me tomorrow….ok I’m going to be off now, am really tired.’ She added, before he could question her anymore and rattle her brain further.
‘Oh, right. Ok. Yeah. G’night.’
‘Goodnight.’ She smiled and turned towards her room as he watched her go inside, finally, at ease with the knowledge that she wasn’t upset with him.