Human After All Chap 22: He States His Case

Happy Deepawali  everyone! Here’s some holiday reading for you!

chapter 21

22: He States His Case

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“Score!” Sheila, Shantanu’s secretary, muttered. She had been keeping rhythm with her boss’ steady pacing and he had just made it to a hundred in fifteen minutes. At this rate the carpet would soon need replacing, she thought making a check list in her mind, or else she would be. It had been tough but she had managed to make it through to this far. She had done so by doing her job and keeping out of his way. His absent mindedness had not helped much. It became her prerogative to find excuses for his sudden disappearance acts. He frequently skipped important meetings, then when asked why, he would say he had more important things to do than attend silly chat clubs.

She admired him for being completely out of the norm. Despite his unorthodox habits he had already gained a foothold in the market. He had established a name for himself separate from his father and brother as a thinking man’s architect, who designed buildings keeping in mind multiple aspects including aesthetics, ecology, the environment and sustainability. All his buildings were powered by at least 50% solar power and used recycled rain water. He had also been using locally available materials and was willing to accept all kinds of jobs. Nothing was too big or small for him.

Sunil Khandelwal had let his younger son contract out his services as an architect and hadn’t insisted on building those designs. This had broadened their presence in the business and more and more people including the government had begun seeking out Shantanu Khandelwal’s expertise. Sheila was smart enough to realize he had become a major asset to his father’s business and he knew it very well. He could probably call the shots if he wished but being his father’s obedient son he hadn’t done it yet. He’d simply exhibit his defiance now and then by doing things his own way and not toeing the line of tradition as he had done earlier today by skipping the weekly morning meeting headed by his father, which his brother had never missed in all his ten years with the company.

But Shantanu Khandelwal was Shantanu Khandelwal.  A man who made his own rules and lived by them alone. He was a mystery and an alluring enigma, thought Shiela dreamily as she counted rotation number one hundred and six, his handsome head visible above the wood paneling, immersed deep in thought. But one whose heart was already taken as he had made very clear during her interview.

She sighed and waited for an opportunity to interrupt him. There was a lot of work to do.

***

It had been exactly three days since Shantanu’s tryst with Khanak when he had told her they would be engaged and wed in a week. And here he was, yet to take it up with his father, the almighty Sunil Khandelwal.

Hell! He banged his hand on the wall. People usually hesitated while approaching their future parents ‘ in- law but here I am shying away from approaching my own father! He knew the news would probably not be to the great man’s liking but he had to get it out in the open. I don’t care if he blesses our union or not. My mind is already made up and there is no going back, come what may.

Shantanu rang for his secretary. Sheila found him standing and staring out at the panoramic ocean view with his hands in his pockets and his lean back facing her. It was a standard pose that he adopted whenever he wanted to talk on a serious issue.

“Can you call Mr. Khandelwal’s office and arrange a meeting with him for say about 1 O’clock this afternoon?” He said without turning around.

He always addressed his father as Mr. Khandelwal, not Dad or father, whereas his brother was always Akshay. She wondered if it was his American education but instantly dismissed the thought. All Americans she dealt with insisted on addressing her by her first name, a practice they believed put people at ease. No, there was some other reason. There appeared to be an unspoken distance between father and son.

“But sir, you could just walk in. Why the need for a formal appointment?”

“Ms. Sheila, I know what I’m doing and I don’t need any pointers. Please do as I say and don’t ask questions.”

“Will do sir.” She turned to leave and then paused. “This morning’s meeting sir that you forgot to attend on the naming of the new resort casino… Your father was very disappointed when he didn’t see you there. I thought you may want to know.”

He turned around, his face stern. “Thanks for the FYI. It’s all just bullshit. Why the hurry to find a name for a place which is yet to see the design board? There isn’t even a site in the horizon and I can’t begin without any info about the location, views etc.” He shook his head. “Buildings, buildings, and the business of construction, that’s all he cares about. How about building lives and the foundation for a solid family?” Shantanu became pensive. Then he suddenly looked up. “But why am I talking to you about all this? You may go Ms. Sheila and please let me know when you’ve made the appointment.” He turned away dismissing her.

Looks like he wants to discuss his marriage, she thought and sighed again. There goes the most eligible bachelor in Mumbai!

***

In his massive corner office, Sunil Khandelwal sat preparing the company report for the upcoming quarterly shareholders meeting. Though he could designate the task to any of his very able staff, he insisted on doing it himself. Being always hands on and keenly involved in the day to day running of his company had been one of the key reasons of his success. Everyone knew nobody could fool Sunil Khandelwal and there were very few who would survive if pitted against him. So, instead people chose to join forces with him and keep him on their side.

There was a knock and he saw Shantanu peep around the door. “Can I come in?”

Sunil smiled broadly and waved his son in.

“Come on in! I don’t understand you young folks nowadays! All this formality to talk to your own father while on the other hand you are absent from an important meeting without even a courtesy call!”

“I’m sorry about that Dad,” his son said ambling in. “I guess I should have called come to think of it. But as you probably know by now I’m not interested in frills and fancy stuff. I care about substance and the soul. Most importantly I don’t like to count my eggs before they hatch.”

“You are absolutely right my son. And I appreciate knowing your POV. But I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way. Sometimes you must take a gamble and place the stakes high if you want to win. I mean if you are hungry enough.”

“Dad!” Shantanu shook his head. “But I’m just a simple guy. I play straight and let my work do the talking for me. Nobody need strain any grey cells here!” He laughed.

“All right son, you’ll learn with time. Now I don’t want you to waste any more of your half an hour.  Any new ideas for expansion, some big deal around the corner?” Sunil said with an indulgent smile.

“Yes I do have an idea for expansion but it’s not what you think.”

“Then?” Sunil raised his eyebrows.

His son hesitated. “What I’m going to say now may make you happy and not so happy at the same time. I want to get married.”

“What? The confirmed bachelor getting married! That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time! So Khushboo was finally able to persuade you. Is it someone we know? Is it Krishnakant Sharma’s daughter? The one you danced with at your comeback party? Say yes! This marriage will mean a great deal to us. I’ve always wanted to buy KK out but now I wouldn’t have to. His daughter will bring all the goods with her! Yes, that’s like my son!” Sunil was jubilant.

Shantanu didn’t seem to share his joy. “Well it’s not as you think,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I wish Mr. Sharma’s daughter all the best. She will make some lucky man happy. But I don’t like to mix personal life with business, too complicated.”

“Then who is it?”

“It’s someone you know and I think like as well. It’s Khanak, Dr. Khanak Agarwal.”

What? Dr. Agarwal? But…you must be kidding me son! When, how?”

“Dad I’m quite serious.”

“But…!”

Sunil then recalled Megha’s birthday, the pretty doctor’s unexpected arrival, her bonding with the family, Shantanu having eyes only for her, then his driving her home despite Dharam being there and available. “Perhaps it’s an infatuation that would pass?” he said with some hope.

“Dad!” Shantanu burst out laughing. “Now you are kidding me! Nope, this is the real thing. She is your future daughter-in- law!”

“Does she know?” Sunil saw his house of cards come crashing down.

“Of course, she does! Didn’t I tell you that I play straight? She knows, her parents know and everything’s hunky dory!” his son said confidently.

“Her parents? What kind of people are they?”

“Just regular people. Her Dad works in a bank, Mom’s a housewife devoted to her two daughters. She has a younger sister who is still working on getting educated. Overall a warm loving uncomplicated family, perfect for me in every sense and I have a feeling that they already like me a lot.” Shantanu beamed.

“You are a fast worker.”

“Well, I don’t believe in wasting time when it’s quite clear what we both want. Besides we aren’t growing any younger. Don’t you want some cousins for Megha?”

His son was at his best charming self and very hard to refuse. But Sunil tried.

“Do you think she would be able to carry out the responsibilities of a Khandelwal bahu? You know she and Khushboo are as different as night and day.”

“Like chalk and cheese, yes. But you don’t make sense, Dad. She’s beautiful, educated, a brilliant young doctor for crying out loud! I want someone who I can talk to and make decisions with. I want my marriage to be on an equal footing and not a one-sided affair like, like yours and Mom’s or for that matter Akshay bros!”

“Shantanu you are overstepping your boundaries!” Sunil exclaimed but couldn’t deny there was a ring of truth in what his son had said.

“Dad, as I said, I don’t mince my words. Khanak will not be like Khushboo bhabhi, no offence. Nor will she be like any upstart socialite. She will be what she is and that’s the reason I love her. Yes, I do and I have already given her my word and I won’t go back on it, no matter what you say.” Shantanu stood up from his seat. “This is just an FYI, I’m not asking for your permission, though it’ll be appreciated. This is the most important decision of my life and I’ve already made it.”

“Then what’s this charade of asking me? You could just as well go ahead.” Sunil leaned back in his chair.

“Well, I wanted to follow certain traditions and norms. I don’t want people to point fingers and wag their tongues.” He then spoke in a quieter voice, “Dad, I respect you and Mom tremendously and I am sure you will soon love Khanak as much as I do once you get to know her better. Please say yes and make me happy.”

“I need time.” Sunil said his mind was racing.

“All right, then till tonight or at the latest tomorrow morning. Enough time to discuss with mom, for Dadi ma has already given her okay. Bless her, maybe you should talk.” Shaan smiled.

“Okay I’ll let you know tomorrow.” Sunil said, hoping his wife would see his way.

Shantanu nodded and walked out leaving Sunil wondering why he had spoiled him so much.

***
That night at Khandelwal House:

Sunil looked at his wife Madhavi sitting as usual with her faithful companion, her mobile, sending one of her innumerable SMSs to god knows who. For all he knew she could be talking to aliens and soon may even get kidnapped by them, he thought hopefully. But right now he had to speak to her.

“Madhavi?”

“You’re talking to me?”

“Yes, I have to ask you something.”

“Okay, so what have I done now?” She said, continuing to plug away at her phone.

“Well…”

“Well what? Have I taken you to the cleaners? Or did I forget to send a thank you note to Mr. and Mrs. Whoever!” She said without looking up.

“I didn’t say that.”

“Then what else can it be? Every time you need to talk to me it’s for one of those reasons. Madhavi! Why did you have to buy another diamond set, are you planning to get married again? For God’s sake, do I have to have an excuse to buy jewelry for myself? What else do bored rich business tycoons’ wives do anyway?”

“Do whatever you want to Madhavi but please listen to me now. I have something to say which is much more important.”  He paused for effect, “Shantanu wants to get married.”

Madhavi gaped at him as if he had announced they were leaving for Timbuctoo. “Say that again!”

“Our son wants to get married.”

“Pinch me! No, not that hard, you’ll give me a bruise! Oye my baccha! Bless him and bless you for giving me the good news! Now I can put those diamond sets to good use. I knew he won’t be able to resist his bhabhi’s wicked ways any longer! So what stinking rich dad’s beti has agreed to be handcuffed to my laadla?” She asked with a bright smile.

“It’s not like you think. He wants to get married to…” Sunil took a deep breath, “Dr Khanak Agarwal.”

Madhavi swayed in place and placed a hand to her forehead. “OMG! Am I dreaming?”

“It’s true, Madhavi. I know, it’s a terrible shock.”

“Sunil, yes, shock it is but not terrible! It’s the best news I’ve heard in ages! Thank god!” Madhavi clasped her hands together. She was beaming from ear to ear. “At last! I knew it! Shaan would be the one to take a stand, to make his mama proud. To defy the rules! I knew it! He fell head over heels for that cute doctor who saved his life! I saw the signs, that naughty boy! What a lovely couple they’ll make!” She said dreamy eyed. “Sunil, thank you for giving me this wonderful news.” She blew him a kiss. “OMG a doctor in the house! Dadi ma wanted to light a thousand diyas if her living saint came home. I’ll be the envy of my friends! Oh there so many things to do! I’ve to plan the trousseau, poor girl, she has a heart of gold but no dress sense. I have to inform Dadi ma right away!”

“But Madhavi…” Sunil couldn’t believe his ears.

“Eat your heart out Sunil Khandelwal!” His wife rushed out leaving him stunned.

***

It was close to 9 O’clock that night when Shantanu sat with Megha in his lap, in the comfortable rocking chair in her room. He had offered to baby sit her while his brother took his wife to the movies for the first time in many years. They had asked him to come along but he had refused mentioning pending work while in fact he wanted to brood over what had transpired between him and his father earlier that day.

What will Dad do? Will he be able to get the entire family to vote against me? No, Akki and Dadi are on my side. I can probably count in bhabhi too; her behavior has changed considerably since Megha’s birthday. But Mom I can’t predict. She has always been a hard nut to crack, Shantanu thought as he twirled a lock of Megha’s hair around his fingers, It was so different from Khanak’s, lighter in shade and finer.

“Stop doing that Chachuu! My hair will get all matted like Mom says.”

“I’m so sorry!” Shantanu raised his hands in defense.

“Can you tell me a story? I can’t sleep.”

Shantanu sighed. “Please excuse me this once honey. I am tired, long day at work.”

“Okay. Do you want me to tell you a story then?” Megha asked innocently.

“Of course. I’d to love to hear what my baby has to say.”

Megha smiled appearing pleased and after making herself more comfortable in his lap enunciated in a dramatic voice, “This story is what Mom tells me all the time and it’s really true!” Her brown eyes opened wide. “There was once a beautiful girl just like Mom who lived in the biggest castle in the whole world ever! Are you listening?”

When Shaan nodded, she continued, “She was so happy, playing and laughing, but one day her Daddy married again and that woman was very bad and she hated mama and sent her to the forest. I hope my Dad never marries again!”

“I’ll make sure he won’t! What happened then?” Shantanu was curious to hear Megha’s interpretation.

“A witch in the forest gave poor Mom a bad apple and she ate it and died!”

“Died?”

“Yes, she was dead like really dead but then Dad was riding by and he saw her and kissed her and she woke up and then I was born. So, I am a real princess!” She said with a broad smile.

Shantanu guffawed at how she had managed to mix fiction and reality. Then he asked, “So you were born after they kissed?”

“Yes! Mom did not want to tell me but when I asked Grand Dadi how babies were made, she said by kissing. Is that right chachu? If you kiss Doctor aunty she may get a baby?”

Shaan laughed again and shook his head, “No my sweetheart! It’s far more complicated, something you won’t understand right now. I will talk to Dadi ma to stop filling your ears with ridiculous stuff!” So it was Dadi who sabotaged our first kiss, he thought.

“I miss Doctor Aunty!” Megha’s mood had undergone a sudden change. “I wish she was here with teddy and me. Can you ask her to come tomorrow?”

“I miss her too.” Shaan sighed closing his eyes.

“Can she come here and live with us and tell me stories every night?”

“Yes, if I have my way she will come here soon so you can play with her but she can’t sleep with you. Well may be occasionally.” If I let her that is, Shaan smiled.

“Yeah! That’s awesome! Did you hear that Teddy? Doctor Aunty is going to stay with us!” She addressed Teddy who was lying on the floor.

“I love you Chachu! You are the bestest!” Megha flung her arms around his neck.

Shantanu hugged her back hoping her wish would come true.

Later. after she had fallen asleep he laid her gently on the bed then sat down at her side and watched her with wistful eyes.

“Khanak, if you were here with me now, you’d know how much we all miss you.”

He covered Megha with her blanket and settled back down in the rocking chair and closed his tired eyes. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep.

Deepawali Greetings!

god-ganesh-at-diwali-festival

Wishing all my friends near and far A VERY HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS DEEPAWALI!

Just as on this day Lord Krishna destroyed the demon Narakasura and rid the world of fear, let the light of knowledge rid the darkness of ignorance from our hearts and minds.

 On an aside what I like more about this story is that Krishna took his wife Satyabhama along.  She was one stubborn woman and a bold one too. She helped Krishna kill Narakasura 🙂

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Human After All Chap 21: Killing Me Softly

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chapter 20

21: Killing Me Softly

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Khanak couldn’t shake the feeling of unease as she wandered over to the dimly lit music section. She was concerned about Shantanu. Had she been too harsh with him? But then he had started it, and what was that about getting jealous of a poor fifteen-year-old, who was only going through a difficult stage in his life? Hadn’t Shaan been through it himself? Couldn’t he empathize instead of blowing his top? Hmmph!

But where was he now? What was he up to? Did he leave? How would she get home? What would she tell her Mom and Dad? She wasn’t used to lying to them yet at the same time she couldn’t bear to hurt them, Khanak brooded as she stared at a huge poster of Lady Gaga.

“I certainly wouldn’t want you to look like that.”

She shivered when the familiar voice rumbled in her ear. He had come as close as he could get without establishing physical contact yet had made the tiny follicles in her neck to stand on end. This habit of popping out of thin air at the least expected moment had totally messed up the integrity of her nervous system. In desperation, her fingers pressed against the side of her neck to quiet the strong pulse that had begun banging away, causing her ears to ring.

But Shaan as usual looked unperturbed, his eyes inscrutable in the dim light as he observed her with his arms casually crossed over his chest.

That irked Khanak. She tapped her foot furiously on the carpet then turned on her heels and proceeded to walk out of the store when Shaan grabbed her wrist and firmly pulled her back.

“Not so fast! I’m not used to playing catch me if you can with immature female doctors!”

“Nor am I used to being accused of leading on adolescent boys by so called mature men!” On impulse she stepped on his shoe.

“Ouch! You Vixen! No. Not again! Not before you hear me out!” His grip on her wrist only got tighter as he tried to overcome the shock of pain.

He pulled her toward the listening station which was fairly isolated at this late hour except for a lone young fella who looked ridiculously funny jamming to soundless music with his earphones on. Khanak was seized by an insane desire to laugh out loud. Shantanu was making her completely distraught.

“Put this on.” And when she protested he placed a headset gently on her head surprising her by his sudden change in attitude. Then, placing a finger on her mouth, he took her hand and held it over his heart. Soon she was lost as he mouthed the romantic lines from an old Hindi ballad.

Shantanu’s face broke into a smile when his paramour’s complexion suffused with shy color and she hid her face in his chest. He folded her gently into the protective circle of his arms. It was clear she had forgiven him. Yet, he wanted to be absolutely sure so he went down on his knees in front of her.  As Khanak gazed at him dumbfounded, the sound of clapping hands and shouts of “C’mon Forgive Him,” brought her rudely back to earth. A small crowd had gathered around them they were egging Shaan on. She wrenched her hand free from his grasp and blundered out.

“I am sorry Khanak! I really mean it, look at me, please! Do my eyes lie to you?” Shantanu pleaded.

Khanak closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “There’s nothing to forgive. I just wanted to see how much you cared for me.”

Cared? OMG Khanak! I don’t care about you, I’m mad about you! You drive me nuts but I can’t imagine being with anybody else. My life revolves around you and you alone can save me again and again and again. Don’t you dare doubt my feelings or I will…”

“Will what?”

“Lose my self-control and carry you away to some remote island and ravage you till you beg.” He hissed loudly in her ear making each word stick.

“Doesn’t sound like a bad idea,” Khanak muttered under her breath. She was trembling like a leaf.

He traced her jaw line with his forefinger. “Khanak my love, I promise we will be engaged and wed within a week. Till then, we must try to find ways to distract ourselves, like this…”

He pulled her into a large shoe store and before she knew it had seated her on a padded stool. He flicked away her sensible moccasins and took both her feet in his hands.

“Shantanu, stop! This is embarrassing!” She said as some of the clientele had started to look.

“I’m doing nothing wrong, just admiring my girl’s hardworking feet. Poor dears, they need to be pampered,” he said, his voice oozing seduction.

Bewitched she watched as his strong and slender fingers expertly massaged her soles sending wildly inappropriate messages to her brain. Then after efficiently scanning the displays, he brought back a pair of shiny black jewel encrusted stiletto pumps which he slipped onto her feet before she could utter a single word in protest.

“Now walk!” He ordered.

“I can’t! These aren’t my style!”

“They are! They are my woman’s style. When she wishes me to know that she wants me as badly as I want her, she wears these.” There was a concealed threat in those fudge brown eyes and as she stared at him his pupils appeared to dilate ever so slightly making the message even more urgent.

She walked awkwardly down the aisle, trying her best to appear nonchalant while her heart thudded hard and fast, knowing that not only had she become a spectacle for the shoppers in the store, but him as well.

“They look great! We’ll take them!”

She watched with some trepidation as he paid at the counter and boxed her old shoes and walked out, his arm possessively around her waist.

“What was that all about?” she asked. “I don’t want new shoes, especially of this kind!”

“Well, I know that very well, in fact nothing about you is hidden from me, remember I told you that your eyes never lie?”

“Then why? Why this coercion?” She was confused.

He turned to her, “My darling, I want to dress you from head to toe, indulge you, spoil you. This was just a sampler. You don’t have to wear anything to please me, pun not intended. Be what you are. But humor me on occasion; it will hurt if you refuse.”  His eyes twinkled with mischief.

Khanak retorted, “Why don’t you shut up your dirty mind sometimes! You are just…”

“Too impossible? Irrational? Unbelievably crude? Well that’s my way, just get used to it.”

Khanak began to feel dizzy, she couldn’t understand if it was due to emotional hyperactivity or the lack of nutrition. “I.. need to sit down. Please don’t carry me!”

“Oh, my sweetness, I’m so sorry! You must be starving. How inconsiderate of me! And most of the restaurants have closed too.” Shaan looked genuinely concerned.

“Just get me a drink of some sort and I’ll be fine. I can eat something at home.”

He led her to a bench. “Sit here and I’ll get something from the coffee shop. Here, read your book in the meantime. Me Rochester to your Jane Eyre.” He smiled handing her the copy of Jane Eyre that he had bought at the book store, leaving her flummoxed.

After several minutes of restless waiting, Khanak walked over to the cafe to find him laughing loudly with the teenage attendant at some private joke. Irritated, she marched up to his side and dragged him away.

“Hello! Possessive, are we? Nice. Here’s your ice cream float,” Shantanu grinned.

“Hang yourself from the nearest tree! What’s with you men? Did you forget I was waiting?” She said fuming.

“Sorry, but she asked me if I was single. Man, times are changing fast!” He shook his head.

“You!” She pummeled his chest with her fists then ran out of the exit.

“Hey hold on to your horses! Won’t you ask what I told her?” He yanked her around.

“Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know!” she cried averting her face.

He forced her to look at him. “I told her I was married to the most beautiful girl in the world and I have no intentions of looking elsewhere for as long as I live.” She knew he was telling the truth when his lips descended hungrily on hers. A few moments passed before he said, “Let me take you home before things get out of hand.”

tbc

Loneliness

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Introducing Loneliness

Your constant companion

You lie if you say you don’t know me

I’m the one who sits beside you in the empty passenger seat

I’m the stranger who smiles at you at the mall

I’m the blanket you wrap yourself in every night

I’m the clock you hear ticking in the hall

I’m the breeze that ruffles your hair on a cold winter morning

I’m the scream that reverberates through your lonely frame

I’m the earth who cradles you in the grave

‘Now and Forever’ is now Available! This time for real!

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Thanks for your patience. I sincerely apologize for announcing the release prematurely. But this time I’m not kidding! The sequel of Inconvenient Relations– Now and Forever is now available for purchase on Amazon, in both kindle and paperback formats. 

Can Shaan and Ruhi face their biggest fears and unite together?

Shaan and Ruhi Ahuja, very much in love Indian newlyweds, discover each other in Simi K. Rao’s Now and Forever—the sassy and sexy sequel to Inconvenient Relations. After getting the scare of their lives while traveling in the Grand Canyon, Shaan and Ruhi go back home to one dilemma after another. Shaan’s job is in jeopardy, and one of Ruhi’s closest friends, Sunshine, needs her. How will Shaan and Ruhi handle life’s hurdles, while still trying to get to know each other as husband and wife? Will they be able to forsake all others and consolidate their relationship?

To know the answer to all these questions read ‘Now and Forever’ — an all out fun and intriguing sequel to Inconvenient Relations!

PLEASE FIND BELOW SOME OF THE BUY LINKS

US

UK

IN

DE

FR

AU

CA

I hope you will read and enjoy the book. If you can please do post a review on Amazon and Goodreads and tell your friends 🙂

Thank you!

Human After All Chap 20: Blow Hot Blow Cold

Chapter 19B

20: Blow Hot Blow Cold

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“KHa..n..aK!”

Khanak watched with fascination as Mrs. Bak Bak’s eyes grew wide and round as saucers, and her eyeballs popped out like a constipated frog though Khanak hadn’t ever observed a constipated frog. She stopped struggling, instead put her arm casually around Shaan’s waist, who responded in kind by tightening his hold.

“Hi Aunty! This is Shantanu! And Shantanu this is Mrs Ba…er our neighbor.”

Mrs. Bak Bak chimed in eagerly, “Hi! I am Khanak’s bestest well-wisher and fan. My name is Kamini, Kamini Chatopadhyay and you are?”

Shantanu was all smiles, “I am Khanak’s favorite patient, in fact I am her…”

“Shaan!” Khanak interrupted. “Get in the elevator honey. We are already running late for the party. Sorry aunty maybe some other time.”

Shaan looked surprised but he shrugged and followed the smiling Khanak into the elevator, leaving a shell shocked Mrs. Bak Bak behind.

But as soon as the elevator doors closed Khanak pushed him away.

“Ouch! What’s this? Blow hot, blow cold? Or is it that time of the month? You know, when you female folk see red?”

“No it’s not and it’s none of your business. Are you tired of me already?” Khanak retorted with a coy toss of her mane.

“Not at all.” Shantanu grinned. “I knew from the very beginning that dear Doc Khanak has an unstable side to her psyche but least did I know it would be this unpredictable.”

“You think I’m crazy?” His paramour inquired fiercely.

“Just a little, like me. Not to worry, I can handle it perfectly fine. Now come here, let’s get on with our business.” He said crowding her into a corner.

“Hey Khanak! Wow you are looking hawt!”

Shaan turned his head and saw that they had company— a pimply teen of about fourteen or fifteen who was staring at his sweetheart with ill-concealed admiration and he wasn’t paying any attention to Shaan.

Immature Twit! How dare he call her by her first name! And how dare she let him? Shaan riled.

“Oh hi Sameer! Thank you!” Khanak blushed. “Shaan this is Sameer. Sameer…Shaan.”

Shaan gave a grumpy nod but the kid continued to gawk at Khanak.

“This ancient beast is so bloody slow. We should have taken the stairs!” Shaan couldn’t keep the irritation out of his voice.

As soon as the elevator stopped, he grabbed Khanak by the elbow and almost dragged her over to his shiny new Porsche Boxster.

“Shantanu please! What is wrong?”

“Just get in the car Khanak or do you want me to dump you in?”

She didn’t argue.

Shaan felt a certain element of control when the powerful engine of the sports car responded to the slightest pressure on the accelerator. It was like an extension of him; smooth, sleek and sure. But the grim set of his jaw line said otherwise.

Khanak had never seen Shaan like this before and wondered at the cause of his sudden change of mood. “So whose wires are crossed now or is it that certain time of month for you too?” She said in an attempt to make him laugh.

His reaction took her by surprise. “Stop it Khanak! This isn’t funny! What were you doing leading on that…that confused pubertal mess back in there?”

“What do you mean by leading on? I wasn’t doing anything like that. And if you mean Sameer, he’s just a kid Shantanu,” she protested.

“He’s not just a kid! I saw the way he was ogling at you. The fact is you are too naive and gullible!” Her companion hissed from between clenched teeth.

Khanak’s voice shook, “I’m neither! It’s you who is acting insecure and jealous. I can’t believe this! Let me out, I am going back.”

“I won’t. You are coming with me, whether you like it or not!” He locked the doors and speeded up quickly, causing Khanak to fall back into her seat. She eyes sparked with fury but prudence made her maintain her silence. She turned to the window and gazed out blankly while trying her best to not let the tears fall.

Shaan felt let down when she didn’t come flying back at him with her rebuff. Therefore, in order to drown the loaded silence, he turned the volume of the radio to full blast and was callously satisfied when he saw her flinch. But then he immediately retracted his step ashamed at deriving pleasure from her pain.

As they idled at a traffic light, Shaan’s racing thoughts and emotions gradually wound down. Music, particularly good music always had that effect on him.

Sting was singing–

Keys that jingle in your pocket
Words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly 
Was it something that I said
Lovers walking along the shore, 
Leave their footprints in the sand
Was the sound of distant drumming 
Just the fingers of your hand

 

Shaan glanced at Khanak. She had withdrawn into a cocoon. Her eyes resolutely turned away in an appearance of aloofness. Her slight figure in profile looked fragile and vulnerable. The tension evident in how she held her shoulders stiff and nervously fidgeted with the metallic clasp of her purse.

He thought of what they had been through so far. Their chance meeting in the flight, then again, thrust together at the hospital. Her taking care of his responsibility Megha, and then being there when he needed her the most. How she had become an obsession that he had pursued relentlessly till she had acceded to his sentiments and made him feel on top of the world. They had accomplished so much in so little time and yet here he was behaving like a bully, trying to establish his turf, picking up a petty quarrel. She had done no wrong yet was bearing the punishment.

Looking at her almost cowering in her corner, trying to unsuccessfully pull the edge of her skirt down over the top of her knees, he felt overcome with remorse. He wanted to fall on his knees and beg her forgiveness for his shallowness and sheer hubris. He reached for her hand but she withdrew even further away.

A Major Mall in Malad W, Mumbai:

Shaan skipped the valet and drove the Boxster into the basement parking lot himself so as to get a chance to talk to Khanak. But she jumped out and disappeared even before he turned off the engine.

Silently he scoured the crowd for her lovely face but knew his task wouldn’t be easy. Khanak had seemed determined to evade him. Not being overly fond of crowded places, he usually preferred to shop in free standing shops for his clothes and other necessities. The constant bustle and hubbub of these huge brightly lit spaces made him feel alone and isolated. He wanted to find his Khanak as quickly as he could.

Where had she gone, where would she be?

He spotted the mall directory at a distance and headed over for some inspiration, oblivious of the several looks of admiration directed his way. His above average height and singular look of quiet determination added mystery and allure to his already handsome figure. He scanned the listed categories quickly and ticked them off one by one.

Jewelry?  He closed his eyes and pictured Khanak in his mind. Her ear lobes were usually adorned with tiny studs except today they had been replaced with hoops. Around her neck Khanak always wore a simple chain of gold with a tiny Ganesha pendent which she had exchanged today for a delicate silver heart necklace. Her wrists and fingers were always sensibly bare. No he couldn’t imagine her in a jewelry store.

Clothes? An image of Khanak in her usual work attire of crisp cotton saris drifted across his mind except for the occasion of Megha’s birthday when she had come dressed as a living doll, one that almost had made love to (Shaan felt his heart speed up). Though he’d rarely seen her other than at work, he couldn’t imagine her checking out the latest fashions and styles. She didn’t gel as a shopping freak. He dismissed the clothiers.

Meanwhile Khanak was pacing the aisles of the second floor aimlessly. There was still a lump in her throat and her vision had started to blur again. She leaned on the railings for support and tried counting slowly to 10. Her complete unawareness of her beauty and state of mental upheaval made her especially attractive to the opposite sex leading to a few low whistles which she ignored or didn’t hear.

Her mobile beeped an SMS.

Where the hell are you? I’ve been looking all over!

She chose not to respond.

It’s getting on my nerves. Stop behaving like a child!

Are you alright? I’m worried. Sorry. Forgive me?

Shaan was getting edgy. He racked his brain again. Where would she go? Where would he go if he needed some comfort? An idea struck him and he raced to the stairs.

Khanak entered the massive Citylights bookstore that occupied all of three floors. She wondered why it was called as such when it catered to a variety of interests such as toys, music, movies, video games and other novelties. She overlooked the distractions and made a beeline to the literature section and began to slowly scan the dust jackets for her favorite titles.

Shaan was randomly flipping over the pages of the latest edition of The Economist when his nose detected a subtle scent—Khanak’s perfume. What had she called it? Beautiful.  Excited he looked around and spotted her distinct frame with her shiny black hair disappear down an aisle.

He checked his immediate impulse to follow her instead entered into the neighboring aisle. He almost felt like a voyeur secretly watching the object of his desires. Her sweetheart lips shaped into a pout of concentration then relaxed into smile when she found something she liked. The gesture repeating several times as she picked up a book, lovingly flipped the pages, before placing it back.

Khanak smiled when she found a new edition of her favorite book, her copy at home was dog eared with repeated use. It was an old story, but very forward in its outlook. She was very fond of the plot which was far from prudish, in fact it’s heroine did everything with considerable passion despite several odds. Maybe she should buy it. Then abruptly she changed her mind and returned it to its slot and walked away.

tbc

PS: Am expecting my new novel ‘Now and Forever’ the sequel to Inconvenient Relations to be out soon. Will keep you posted.