The Making of a Raizada BahuThe offices of AR group were quiet at this time of the evening. Only a few people were left around. Aman walked into ASR’s cabin, a bunch of files in his hand.
‘ASR,’ he said.
Arnav lifted his head from the laptop he was buried in, squinting at the slight headache starting to thump against his temple. He wondered what had brought Aman here and raised his eyebrows. ‘What?’
‘These are the files you asked me for, the ones you wanted to take home with you today,’ Aman said.
Arnav nodded and gestured towards his bag. Aman put the files in it and straightened up.
‘Has Khushi left?’ Arnav asked.
‘No. She’s still finishing that last report. I told her she could do it tomorrow but she wanted to complete it tonight.’
‘It’s late,’ Arnav frowned looking at his watch. Aman nodded waiting for him to speak. ‘You can leave, Aman. I’ll be leaving in five as well.’
‘Sure,’ said Aman, walking out the room, knowing his boss wanted to get on the phone as soon as he was out the door.
Arnav dialed her extension and she picked it up on the first ring.
‘What’re you doing so late, Khushi? Why didn’t you go home?’
She smiled softly at the concern in his husky voice. ‘You’re working late, so I thought I’d give you company.’
The dull ache in his head vanished at the soothing tones. ‘Meet me at my car in ten minutes. Is that enough for you to wrap up?’ he smiled.
‘Mmm hmm .. I’ll see you there,’ she nodded because she knew he would be looking at her out of that glassed in cabin of his. She looked up and sure enough he had that little smirk on his face as he looked at her. She put down the phone, saved her work, and shut down the computer. Quickly she gathered her stuff and headed out.
Five minutes later, she was munching on chana waiting near the elevator doors through which she knew he would come. She watched him walk towards her, slowly, the loping gait something that she never tired of. His whole body spoke of tiredness, lines on his forehead and shadows under his eyes. His stubble was darker too at the end of the day.
‘Hi!’ he said smiling as he got close to her and held open the door for her. ‘It’s quite late. Dinner?’
She nodded and pulled out her phone, calling her Amma and Bauji to let them know she would be late, yet again, but that she would have dinner at work. He waited till she finished her call, and then called his Di to let her know that he would be working late again. Di of course, as expected made a huge issue out of it, and he sighed and raised his eyebrows as she giggled at the squawking noises emanating from the phone.
‘Yeah, Di .... No, Di ... Okay, Di ..,’ he mouthed before finally ending the call. ‘What d’you wanna eat?’
‘Italian?’ she asked, knowing his penchant for that cuisine without still comprehending how someone could eat bread and noodles at the same time. But she was developing a taste for it, after all, she was being exposed to the best.
He smiled at her as she put her hands on the back of his neck, her fingers digging into and releasing the tension in the corded muscles. He groaned in satisfaction, closing his eyes, his head thrown forward as he let her ministrations work its magic. Finally, he straightened up and started up the car, putting it into gear.
This was the time of day he liked best, he thought. Actually, time of anything. Coming back to Shantivan, coming home, the family around him. He walked wearily up the steps to the front door and rang the bell. Hari Prakash opened the door and smiled at him, taking his bags and allowing him to walk into the big hall.
The hall was empty and he was taking the stairs two at a time when he heard something in the kitchen and headed back down.
She came around the corner of the kitchen and exclaimed in delight as she saw him, her eyes sparkling with joy, her lips curving up in a grin. ‘You’re here! Why didn’t you let me know you were coming back today?’ She hurried towards him, throwing her arms around him and hugging him.
‘Rani Sahiba,’ he smiled, the dimples flashing in his cheeks, ‘I couldn’t stay away from you for so long. So I had to come back home earlier. I finished my work and here I am!’ He hugged her back before dropping a kiss on her temple.
‘Have you eaten?’ she asked him anxiously, leading them towards the dining table.
‘No,’ he shook his head. ‘I was in a hurry.’
‘Hari Prakash!’ she yelled. The man came running around the corner.
‘Please heat up some food for him. We’ll be in the dining room,’ she instructed. ‘And please make some fresh rotis,’ she added.
They sat down at the dining table, holding hands and looking into each others eyes. She chattered on, happy that her husband was finally back from his week long trip.
‘How’re you? Have you been taking care of yourself?’ he asked, rubbing a thumb over the back of her hand, sending delicious shivers down her back, a promise of more to come in the hours ahead.
‘Yes, of course,’ she replied. ‘You’d think with Chotey around, I wouldn’t be taking care of myself?’
‘Thank God for Saaley Saab!’ he smiled back. ‘The only way these trips are bearable is because I can rest assured that he’ll be taking care of you. Which reminds me, where IS Saaley Saab?’ he looked around.
‘Late at work,’ she pouted.
‘Again?’ he asked a look of astonishment on his face, but not really that surprised on the inside. He knew what a workaholic his brother-in-law was.
‘Yes,’ she nodded sadly. ‘He’s been so busy, lately. Especially this last month.’
Akash Singh Raizada came down the stairs intending to grab a glass of water from the kitchen when he spotted his cousin and her husband at the dining table. He made a detour towards the table.
‘Jeejaji!’ he exclaimed, grabbing his hand and pumping it. ‘When did you arrive?’
‘Just a while ago,’ Shyam Manohar Jha said, pulling him in for a quick hug.
Hari Prakash came in just then with bowls of dal and curry and hot rotis in a basket. He placed them along with a plate, glass and bowls in front of Shyam before leaving the table.
Soon Nani and Mami also arrived hearing all the noises downstairs. The whole family sat around and chattered while Shyam ate.
He looked around happily. Yes, this is definitely what he liked. Shantivan. His Family. His Wife. The love and care and comfort of being the brother-in-law of Arnav Singh Raizada. Once more his thoughts went to his erstwhile missing brother-in-law.
It seemed Anjali too had the same thoughts. ‘Akash,’ she said. ‘What’s so important that is going on at AR these days? Chotey’s late almost everyday. Tonight he said he was having a working dinner. And this is not the first time!’
Akash gave her a baffled look. ‘Nothing that I’m aware of, Di,’ he said. ‘I mean, right now, things are kind of slow, deadlines are there, but none that are that urgent. So I don’t know what’s holding Bhai up!’ He made a mental note to ask Aman about it. There had been whispers that he’d been hearing. Some girl that worked at the office and Bhai. But then, Bhai always had “some” girl or the other in his orbit. Although, this time, no one wanted to talk to him about it. He wondered why. Knowing his di and his bhai, he didn’t doubt for a minute that if Anjali heard of these rumors, she’d have him by his figurative balls till he found out about it. And then it would be Bhai’s turn to hang him by those very same balls. Uh-huh. He wasn’t going to get into this whatever-it-was that Bhai was up to. For now, he would focus completely on Payal.
Payal Gupta. He sighed. He stared at the salt shaker with a silly smile on his face, completely unaware of the narrowing of Anjali’s eyes as they honed in on him. Oh yeah! She knew that look. Akash was worried about Anjali questioning him about Bhai. Little did he know, she was going on a completely different route of interrogation altogether. Luckily for him, the front door opened and the man of the moment, Arnav Singh Raizada walked into the hall.
He stopped on seeing the group at the table, a genuine smile of happiness breaking over his face at the sight of his brother-in-law. ‘Jeejaji!’ he exclaimed, walking over for a brief hug. ‘This is a nice surprise. Now you can take over Di from me.’
Shyam grinned and said, ‘what, Saaley Saab, you’re already tired of your di? And I promised to spend seven lifetimes with her! That too, only because I thought you were going to help me do it!’
Anjali pouted, while the rest of the clan broke up in laughter.
Saturday mornings at Raizada mansion are lazy days. Aarti in the morning, followed by a late breakfast. Sometimes it was shopping for the ladies or a trip to the temple. The brothers hung out, Arnav in his garden, Akash sometimes giving him company. Shyam also joined them for a cup of tea. They all came together at lunch, a laughing, joking, taking-digs-at-each-other family, just like any other.
Not this Saturday though. Things were aligned a bit differently in the Raizada household today.
Anjali was on the prowl. Akash was sitting in the study going over something on his laptop when she spotted her prey.
She sat down next to him and he turned and smiled pleasantly at her.
‘So, Akash bitwa,’ she began, ‘I thought the workload at AR was light. How come you’re working on a Saturday morning?’
‘No, Di,’ he shrugged. ‘Just some things I have to catch up on that I missed last week.’
‘Catch up, huh?’ she chewed a fingernail. ‘So if work load is light why didn’t you finish it at work itself? We could’ve gone for a movie today, you know.’
‘Ah.. That .. Di.. ‘ he stammered. I missed work cause I was out with Miss Payal Gupta. Shit! He couldn’t say that! ‘Just some small things, that I have to take care of.’ He focused furiously on his laptop.
‘I see,’ she peeked onto the screen. ‘And Googling women’s accessories is part of this work?’ she asked with an innocent look on her face. She watched with amusement as he turned a very interesting shade of red. Deciding to let him off the hook she came straight to the point. ‘So, what’s her name, Akash?’ softly.
He smiled, a soft, dreamy smile. ‘Payal. Payal Gupta,’ he replied equally softly, relieved to finally get it off his chest.
She raised her brows - so much for subversion. Her brother was a sweet heart! ‘Who is she?’ she asked still softly.
‘Khushi’s sister. You know, the girl who is Bhai’s PA? Her sister,’ he qualified. With a shy smile, he turned his phone on, swiftly clicking through the photo albums and stopping at a face. Heart-shaped face, large shy eyes, perfect cupid’s-bow lips. She was a beauty and Anjali could see how she had won her little brother’s heart.
‘So, what does she feel?’ she asked. He nodded. Well, well, well, thought Anjali. So he’d already done the groundwork. ‘I’m proud of you, my son!’ she patted his back. ‘Now, to tell the family.’
He gulped. ‘That’s what I’m afraid of, Di,’ he said. She met his eyes, eyebrows raised and said, ‘is this what you want?’
‘Absolutely,’ in a heartfelt voice.
‘Then let’s do this. Let’s tell Chotey and your Jeejaji and go from there, okay?’ she quickly took charge. They headed down to the pool area garden knowing that Chotey would be out there at this time of the day.
Saturday mornings in the Gupta household is a completely different story altogether. They all woke up at different times. Buaji and Garima would visit the temple, while Payal and Khushi slept. Breakfast would be cooked and ready by the time the two sisters made it out of their bedroom, although it was Payal who usually woke up first. Khushi on the other hand, had to be dragged out of bed, before she was awake. A boisterous brunch was on the menu, before the rest of the day got under way.
Khushi woke up slowly and rubbed her eyes. She looked around and saw that Payal was already awake and gone. With a quick smile she drew out her phone, typed in ‘Good morning’ and hit send.
Arnav heard the distinctive sound of an incoming text and stopped watering his plants. He picked it his phone and smiled. She was waking up real late today. It was already eight-thirty! He dialed her number and said, ‘you’re late today, you know,’ as soon as she answered.
She smiled and said, ‘Laad Governor. It’s a Saturday. I’m allowed to sleep in,’ snuggling back on the pillows against the head board.
‘Not when I am not sleeping,’ he retorted, her sleep roughened voice doing things to his pulse rate. He could imagine the ‘O’ she would make with her eyes and mouth and he wasn’t wrong. ‘Because I can’t sleep without you, Khushi, not anymore.’ He smirked. Right on cue he heard the gasp.
‘Hawww!’ she gulped and said. ‘Why wouldn’t you sleep without me?’
‘I need you next to me, Khushi, always,’ he closed his eyes, wondering what it was that this child-woman did to him. His hormones ran wild and all he wanted to do was jump her bones when he was with her. He could imagine her right now, face flushed from sleep and the blush she always wore on her face around him. The need to be with her, around her all the time, the need to do away with this subterfuge was eating at him. Soon, very soon, he would have to make the decision. End it? Could he?
She was silent, her eyes closed, almost as if she could feel the intensity of the things he left unsaid. Her heart beats accelerated to an uncomfortable pace. She placed a fist against her heart, feeling his pain as clearly as if he was there.
‘Arnavji,’ she whispered.
‘I miss you too,’ she said, feeling totally inadequate and yet not knowing what else to say.
He opened his eyes just in time to see Anjali, Akash and his Jeejaji walk in through the door.
‘Thanks for that, Mr Roy,’ he quickly improvised. ‘I’ll call you back in a bit with the details, then?’
She stared at the phone in puzzlement before realizing that someone must be there with him. ‘I’ll wait for your call,’ she said softly.
‘Thank you,’ he said equally softly, and Anjali frowned at his tone. He hung up and looked inquiringly at the trio. ‘What’s up?’
That afternoon at lunch, things went into hyperdrive in the Raizada household. For once, it resembled the boisterous lunch at the Gupta’s, except of course, the Guptas had no clue that their lunch would soon be disrupted as well. Mama and Nani did not take a lot of convincing that they should at least go and take a look at Payal. Mamiji was a different ball game and it took all of Shyam’s, Anjali’s and Arnav’s collective powers of coercion to finally get her to agree to go and meet Payal. Akash sat by quietly letting it all flow over his head. Arnav was not even sure how he felt about it. Khushi would now be part of his family. He didn’t quite know how he felt about that.
Saturday afternoon, the Gupta household went into an uproar. A call from the Raizada’s is enough to cause that much turmoil. They wanted to ‘visit’!
‘Why us?’ asked Garima in obvious confusion. ‘I mean we’ve never met them and now this? Coming over to our place?’
Shashi smiled at Garima and said, ‘well, we will know when they come here right?’
Madhumati couldn’t get past the occasional ‘Hai Re Nankishore!’
Khushi dragged Payal into their bedroom, stared at her sister for a few seconds, put two-and-two together and said, ‘Akash sir?’ in a completely incredulous voice. Payal blushed, and nodded. ‘How? When?’ She paced up and down, biting her fingernails. ‘Why didn’t you tell me, jiji?’
‘I didn’t know what to do, Khushi. I mean, Akashji and I met a few times and he did ask me if I liked him and I said yes, but... I didn’t know they were going to come so soon!’ she looked positively terrified.
‘So that’s where Akash sir was,’ Khushi was mumbling to herself. ‘I wonder if Arnavji knew about it and kept it from me?’ Then she shook her head. ‘No, he would have told me. This big of a thing, he would have told me,’ she reassured herself.
On cue, her phone rang.
‘What’re you doing?’ he asked.
She stepped out on the verandah and said, ‘did you know?’
‘No!’ he yelled, then calmed down. ‘I had no idea, did you?’
‘No,’ she said. ‘But you know, those afternoons where Akash sir took off, I think he was meeting with jiji.’
He chuckled. Smart boy. ‘So I’ll see you today evening. We’re bringing the Shagun,’ he told her. ‘But don’t tell anyone.’
She giggled in excitement, ‘I won’t.’
‘I’ll see you soon,’ he repeated and hung up.
That evening, the Raizadas pulled up to the Gupta’s front door. Manorama Mami was disappointed, this was so not the kind of house from which she wanted a bahu. The rest of the clan however was immune to such thoughts. They went up the steps and Nani rang the doorbell. Two hearts were beating fast as they waited for the door to open.
Madhumati Bua opened the door and wished them all, asking them to come in. They’d only ever met Arnav before and he took it upon himself to make the introductions. They all sat down, before Nani got straight to the point.
‘Pardon us for suddenly coming to your house this way, Madhumatiji,’ she smiled. ‘I have always wanted my grandsons to be married into families that have cultures and traditions just like ours. We’ve seen your Khushi bitiya and know that she comes from a wonderful, loving and caring family, with all the traditions that we respect. So when Akash bitiya found the girl he liked, we had to come.’
Madhumati, and Garima stared at Naniji, while Shashi just smiled at her. This was a good family, he could see and he would be more than happy to have his daughter married into this family. But which one?
‘Khushi?’ whispered Garima.
Arnav heard her and his head swiveled towards her. Oh No! Was Nani saying Akash wanted to marry Khushi?! Is that what they thought? His head pounded as his hands clenched on his knees, ready to get up and fix this misunderstanding.
‘We would like to ask for your daughter Payal’s hand for our son, Akash,’ Nani concluded gracefully.
Right then, Payal walked out of the kitchen carrying a tray of snacks in her hand. She placed it on the table, and Nani lightly held her hand urging her to sit down next to her.
Khushi followed her in with another tray.
He watched her walk into the room.
The ivory of her skin glowed against the deep blue of the simple salwar. Her hair was tied back, with a couple of unruly bangs tossing on her forehead. The blue of her salwar emphasized the blue in her large blue-green eyes, lined with kohl. A pale peach gloss outlined the bow shape of her mouth, while the solitary diamond on her nose glittered in the diffused light of the room. The soft chiming of her anklets were all he could hear as her vision clouded out his other sensory faculties. She bent down to place the tray on the table, the action causing the dupatta round her neck to slip a bit, drawing attention to the small but firm curves of breasts. She looked up and away, and smiled, a soft shy smile, with a faint dusting of blush on her cheeks.
Shyam Manohar Jha had fallen irrevocably, irreversibly, insanely in love with Khushi Kumari Gupta.