Arm Twisting and Ball BustingAnjali was satisfied with herself as she walked into the living room. Yesterday’s Shagun had gone well. The Guptas had been rather surprised, but that was only to be expected. The Raizadas had barely had time to digest the surprise themselves. Plonking herself next to Akash, whose head was immersed in a paper, she poked him in the ribs.
He jumped and looked around. ‘Di? What’s the matter?’
‘Thinking about Payal?’ she smiled at him sweetly.
‘Um.. er.. ‘ he smiled, blushed looked down and shook his head.
‘I know,’ she lovingly held his cheek. ‘Do you want to meet her?’
‘Hmmm...’ she thought for a bit. Oh this was so easy! ‘I can help you, but you have to do something for me first.’
‘Sure, di, anything,’ he answered rather rashly. As she put her condition in place, he groaned inwardly. It wasn’t rather rashly, it was downright suicidal.
‘Does Chotey have a girlfriend?’ was her question.
‘What?!’ he looked around helplessly. No one was in sight to help him. ‘Di, I don’t know. I mean, Bhai always has girls around him, but girlfriend? I am sure I have no idea!’
‘Really?’ she mocked him. ‘Then what is he doing all these late nights, when he usually gets back home after having a business dinner? Who is he having these dinners with?’
‘I really don’t know, di,’ Akash was now sweating buckets.
‘Haven’t you heard anything, anything at all at work?’ she could see the fish was caught on the hook and was struggling to free itself.
‘No.. I mean.. yes, sometimes.. but.. ‘ he was cursing his inability to yell ENOUGH! at his di.
‘Yes, Akash bitwa, surely you heard something at work? I would like to see my older grandson get married too, you know.’ Nani’s voice made them jump. She sat down and arranged her sari neatly, ‘preferably before my younger one,’ there was steel in her voice, accompanied by one raised eyebrow.
He sighed. The Raizada women were a force to reckon with and Akash just didn’t have the cojones to stand up to them.
‘I heard something, about some girl at the office. But I don’t know. Really,’ he emphasized. ‘With the other girls, they would be coming and going into his cabin, but this one, I have absolutely no idea,’ he spread his hands, almost whining at the end.
‘Find out, Akash bitwa,’ Nani patted his cheek. ‘I really feel my older grandchild should be married first, you know? Before the younger one.’
‘Yes, Dadi,’ he said glumly, the underlying threat in her words clear to him.
Nani smirked and so did Anjali. So this much was clear. If Arnav had a girlfriend, he was going to have to unmask her pretty soon or there would be hell to pay.
Anjali picked up the phone and called the Guptas.
‘Hello, Garima aunty? Anjali here. I was wondering if we could get Payal to go shopping with us. We need to start preparing for the wedding, measurements need to be taken and so on... Yes, Aunty... I understand, Aunty ... can Khushi join us? ... Yes, that would be lovely .. we’ll pick them up around eleven then? ... Thank you so much, aunty.’ She put the phone down, looked at her grandmother and said, ‘Nani, I’m taking Payal and Khushi shopping today, if that’s okay with you?’
‘Perfect,’ said Nani, smiling to herself. Time enough to find out who this mystery woman was in Arnav’s life.
He heard the last few sentences as he walked down the staircase, his heartbeat jump starting its rhythm at the mention of her name, before galloping uncomfortably in his rib cage. ‘Rani Sahiba,’ Shyam said smiling at his wife, ignoring the almost painful pressure inside him. ‘I just returned two days ago and already you’re thinking of leaving me at home on a Sunday?’
‘Shyamji, why don’t you join us as well?’ she said. ‘We’re going shopping and Akash is driving us,’ she smiled benevolently at Akash who had been sitting with his head in his hands all this while. ‘We can make a day out of it.’
‘That’s great,’ he said smiling to himself. Khushi would be there. The sun shone brighter through the living room windows.
Arnav was relaxed on his recliner, phone to his ear as Khushi made him smile with her non-stop chatter about some new Salman Khan movie that she wanted to see.
‘Okay, we can go for it,’ he said. ‘Do you want to go today?’
Before she could answer, he heard her being called in the background.
‘Khushi,’ it was Garima. ‘Get ready quickly. Anjali wants to take you both shopping today,’ he heard. What?! Di was going shopping with the Gupta sisters? Serves him right for sitting up here, but wait .... he could go too, couldn’t he? ‘They’re picking you up at eleven,’ he heard Garima’s final instructions.
‘Arnavji,’ she whispered urgently.
‘I heard. Go and get ready. I’ll see you at eleven,’ he smirked.
He sauntered down casually to the living room, where the entire family seemed to have gathered. Akash had a pasty look on his face as he met his eyes. What was going on?
‘Oh, Chotey, you’re here,’ said Anjali.
‘What’s going on, di?’ he asked insouciantly.
‘We’re going shopping with Payal and Khushi,’ said Anjali. ‘I’m sure you have other plans?’
‘Actually, no, Di. I might join you guys, if you like,’ he said, eyes narrowed, watching the changing expressions on his brother and his sister’s face. ‘We could even catch a movie, maybe?’
Almost every jaw in the room hit the floor. Arnav suggesting a movie? What was wrong with him?
‘Sure... eh.. sure,’ his sister said. ‘We’ll see. Umm.. we have to pick them up at eleven,’ she added.
With a bit of adroit maneuvering, Arnav persuaded his Nani and Di to let him pick up Khushi and Payal.
Nani pulled Anjali aside and said sotto voce, ‘it’s good that Arnav is going. You can ask Khushi about this girl in his office. After all she works there too.’
Anjali looked at her Nani with admiration. ‘Of course, Nani. Shyamji can keep Arnav occupied and I can talk to Khushi. This is really good!’ She did a little hop in her excitement.
At precisely eleven o’clock on that Sunday morning, Arnav picked up Payal and Khushi in his car. Khushi sat next to him, Payal at the back, accompanied by Akash. The drive to the mall didn’t take much time. The three women walked ahead while the men tagged along behind, each of them gazing with unabashed adoration at the woman of their choice. Of course, the only difference was that Akash was looking at Payal, while both Arnav and Shyam were lost in the perfect sway of Khushi’s perfect bottoms.
They stopped at a boutique and started browsing for clothes splitting up as they did so. Arnav wandered by where Khushi was browsing, frowning through a rack. Thankfully, Anjali had lassoed Shyam into helping her at the other side of the store, and Akash was attached to Payal by invisible strings.
Arnav leaned over Khushi and picked out a red lehenga with intricate zardozi work on it. ‘Try this,’ he said holding it out to her.
She looked at the price tag and gasped. ‘Arnavji, it’s too expensive,’ she protested.
‘I want to see you in this, Khushi,’ he kept his voice low, a thumb caressing her lower lip as he spoke. ‘Go on,’ he whispered. His eyes has narrowed and darkened as he looked at her, not letting her mistake the passion simmering just below the surface.
She couldn’t look away from his melting caramel eyes, nor could she deny him. Taking the lehenga from him, she headed to the fitting rooms, while he followed leisurely. Five minutes went by, and she still hadn’t come out. What was taking her so long?
Anjali came up to him, Shyam trailing behind. ‘What are you doing here, Chotey?’ she asked.
‘Um, looking around,’ he said casually.
‘Is Khushi in the fitting room?’ she asked.
‘I think so.’
‘Good. Let me go and see how she’s doing,’ Anjali went into the rooms. Khushi was standing there in a gorgeous red lehenga, ‘Khushi, this is beautiful,’ she gasped. ‘You look amazing in it.’
‘I can’t tie the dori at the back, Anjaliji,’ she said, with a woebegone face.
Anjali swiftly tied the dori and then said, ‘go look at it in the full length mirror outside.’
Nervously, Khushi went out the door, clutching the dupatta securely to her bosom.
Arnav felt his breath stop. He hadn’t been prepared to see her step out in that lehenga. She looked so much more beautiful than what he had imagined - so ethereal. This shade of red brought out the pink in her cheeks, her shy eyes lifting to meet his, watching the desire flame in them. He couldn’t look away, and he couldn’t breathe. All he wanted to do was crush those petal-like lips of hers under his. He swallowed his suddenly dry throat. Suddenly, the desire to have this vision, this angel for ever in his life didn’t seem such a bad idea. In fact, right now, it seemed the best idea in the world. His eyes traveled over the rest of her, the heat in them leaving goosebumps on her skin.
She stopped in front of the mirror, directly looking into his eyes through it.
She raised her eyebrows at him. How do I look?
He smirked. Ravishing.
She blushed. Lowered her eyes. Lifted them to look at him. Really?
He smiled, pursed his lips. We’re taking it. You are wearing that, but only for me.
She looked troubled. Its too expensive.
He raised his eyebrows. We’re taking it. I’m getting it for you.
She nodded. Thank you. And turned away to go and change.
Shyam stood there mesmerized watching as Khushi came out of the fitting rooms in the red lehenga. His vision blurred at the edges, all he could see was her in front of him, a goddess no less. Her pale skin in stark contrast to the flaming red of her clothes, her eyes, lifting and dropping as she looked in the mirror, checking herself out. His eyes wandered over the curves of her bosom, barely hidden by the sheer fabric of her dupatta, the sleek lines of her waist, peeking out in ivory glory between her choli and the lehenga, her long legs emphasized by the mermaid cut of the skirt. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he swallowed. Khushi, he thought. He wanted her, needed her as much as he needed air. He watched as she turned around and went back inside presumably to change.
Anjali came out just then, and the moment was lost. He smiled at her, ‘Rani Sahiba, didn’t you find anything you liked?’
‘No, Shyamji,’ she wasn’t upset, just annoyed. ‘Nothing I liked, but Khushi found this gorgeous lehenga and I think she should get it. Let’s go check out that other rack there,’ she said, dragging Shyam along with her.
Khushi came out to find Arnav waiting patiently for her. He took the clothes from her and said, ‘go help Payal. I’ll join you later.’ With a quick look around, he brushed his lips against her cheek and walked away.
It was only when they were sitting in the coffee shop for some much needed sustenance that Anjali got up and said, ‘I need to use the restroom. Khushi, do you want to go as well?’
‘Yes, I will,’ said Khushi, unknowingly falling into the little scenario that Anjali had set up. The two of them walked away to the restroom. Payal and Akash were sitting at a separate table and were too absorbed in themselves to even notice what was happening.
Khushi came out of the stall to find Anjali washing her hands. As she joined her at the sink, Anjali wondered how to get Khushi to begin talking about Arnav. She’d noticed how they kind of avoided each other. So to begin asking those sorts of questions about Arnav, who was also Khushi’s boss would take a wee bit of manipulation. But Anjali Jha nee Raizada prided herself on being nothing if not a master manipulator.
‘So, Khushi, did you know about Akash and Payal?’
‘No, Anjaliji,’ Khushi was quick to deny. ‘I had no idea that Akash sir, I mean Jeejaji and Jiji were even going out. It was only when you’ll called yesterday that I finally realized why...’ her voice trailed off.
‘Why what, Khushi?’ Anjali was willing to let Khushi commit verbal harakiri.
‘No.. nothing, Anjaliji,’ her cheeks stained now with mortification. Ugh! if only she could control this color on her cheeks!
‘Oh well, I guess people at the office will always talk about these things though, isn’t it?’ Anjali continued as she dried her hands and leaned against the wall waiting on Khushi.
‘Oh yes, they do, Anjaliji,’ once more the deer was getting trapped.
‘I bet they talk about Chotey and his girl friends also, don’t they?’ Anjali laughed as if it was just a small matter.
‘Girl friends?’ Khushi’s voice rose an octave.
‘Yes. I mean Chotey has always had girl friends, you know. It’s not like we didn’t know about it,’ she leaned forward like she was telling her a big secret. ‘But we know better, because if he’s serious about a girl, he will definitely tell me, you know.’
Khushi was trapped. She couldn’t walk away from this conversation if her life depended on it. She tried hard to keep a straight face and not look as devastated as she felt.
Anjali perused her nails with deep interest, as if every millimeter of her cuticles were of utmost importance. ‘I am after all, his sister. Like I am sure that the girl he is seeing right now, you know the one he goes out for dinner with?’ she flicked a glance at Khushi’s rigid face. ‘What’s her name again...?’ Anjali scratched her head.
‘Hunh?’ was all a stunned Khushi could say.
‘You don’t know her name? Surely you must know it, you’re his PA after all!’ she exclaimed.
‘I .. I don’t know, Anjaliji,’ Khushi stammered out, her face as white as paper.
‘Darn ... I keep forgetting it. Anyway, never mind about Chotey,’ she waved a dismissive hand, keeping her disappointment from showing on her face. ‘Let’s go back to our table.’ She led the way back, her brows furrowed in puzzlement.
So even Khushi didn’t know this elusive girl? Hmmm ... something was not right. Somebody knew something and they weren’t telling her. Why the mystery surrounding this girl? Who is Arnav Singh Raizada’s girl friend? Anjali was like a dog with a bone, and like the same dog was unwilling to let it go.
Arnav lay on his bed deep in thought. Khushi had come out of the restroom looking like she’d been hit on the head with something hard. Her eyes had glittered with unshed tears and they were tearing at his heart. She’d refused to talk to him, in fact, she’d gone unnaturally quiet after that, only picking up pace when they’d finally gone to see that stupid Salman Khan movie. He’d felt a little happier when he saw her reactions to the movie. Of course, it hadn’t helped that he’d been relegated to a corner next to Akash. Khushi had sat between Payal and Anjali. He’d hated that. He’d hated not sitting next to her, holding her hand and feeding her popcorn. But then, he couldn’t have, could he? Moreover, he couldn’t understand what was going on in that head of hers. Her strange behavior had initially thrown him off, and angered him, but now he was worried. She’d even left the lehenga in the trunk of his car.
A quiet knock on his door disturbed his thoughts.
He opened the door to find his Nani there.
‘Chotey? I want to talk to you,’ she said.
‘Come on in, Nani,’ he sat on the bed facing his grandma sitting on the recliner. She searched his face with her eyes, one hand reaching out to stroke his head. He slid down from the bed and sat at her feet, his head in her lap. She smiled a little. Deep inside this big man there was still her little Chotey. She wondered how best to bring up the topic of the elusive girlfriend, and then decided that the best way would probably be to just ask him about it.
‘Chotey, you know that I am going to ask you something that I’ve been wanting to. Now that Akash is getting married, have you thought about settling down?’
He sighed. He knew this would come up. ‘Nani,’ still with his head in her lap. ‘I ... you know how I feel about marriage.’ He hugged her knees.
She frowned. This was the first time that he’d not jumped up and thrown a major tantrum about it.
‘I do, Chotey. We get so many offers for you, and we always refuse them. And then we see those pictures of you in the papers or the news. And now this.. ‘ she stopped.
He raised his head. ‘This? What, Nani?’
She sighed looking into his eyes. Holding his face with both her hands, not allowing him to look away she said, ‘you always claim you have too much work. Yet we know that work is not what keeps you late these days. So who is it?’
This was it, he thought, looking away for a moment, before he looked into her eyes and said, ‘I will tell you, Nani, when the time is right. I need to be sure first - of both of us.’
She had to be satisfied with that. This was more than she had ever expected from him. She smiled and dropped a kiss on his forehead. ‘Okay, Chotey. But make it fast. I do want to see my great-grand-children before I die.’
He chuckled at that, standing up and helping his grandmother to her feet. ‘Nani, you have a long time to live. So don’t even try me with that guilt trip. Not buying it,’ he smiled.
‘Good night, Chotey,’ she smiled as she walked out of the door. This was better than she had expected. She trusted him. If and when he was willing to tell her, she was all ears for him, because years of experience had taught her, that the harder you push, the more is the resistance. She would let Chotey make that call himself. Somehow, she knew it would be soon.