Chap 3: Dreams and Schemes
Introducing Trish: Shan’s neighbor and ‘unofficial girlfriend’ who had escaped the clutches of her way too rich and overbearing parents and chosen to live in ‘hiding’ in Mumbai. She was supported by her brother Tarun who had resorted to the same earlier and now had established himself as a pretty successful model and dancer working in Shantanu’s company. But she had been too lazy to look for a job and this was a frequent bone of contention between her and her brother and a source of amusement for Shan who tolerated her only because she made him laugh.
Mumbai city: Home of Bollywood and the financial center of India
“Hey boyfriend! What’s biting you? Why didn’t you call me when you came in last night?”A pretty girl strolled without bothering to knock, into the swank top floor penthouse apartment of Shantanu Khadelwal, owner and artistic director of Jhankaar; a leading music and dance company based in Mumbai. She had borrowed the keys a long time ago; never remembering to return it. Why would she, after all she considered herself Shan’s unofficial girl friend.
Shan didn’t answer; he didn’t to a lot of her questions. Either he pretended not to hear or simply shrugged his powerful shoulders and flashed his 1000 watt smile.
She looked on in awe while he did his routine 100 pushups with his large Akita ‘Horse’ on his back who weighed close to 75 lbs. He’d been with him since a puppy, (a gift from one of his Oriental admirers) and ever since he’d used him as weights. It was another thing altogether that Horse had decided that he liked the position and had stuck to it ever since.
“I hope he doesn’t get any weightier or he’s sure to break your back one day,” Abhay had warned him several times and Shan had dismissed it in his usual fashion; he loved Horse.
But there was no love lost between the Akita and Trish and he let her know so with a low growl. He didn’t like anybody acting possessive with his master whom he guarded jealously.
“Why don’t you get rid of him Shan? What will happen when I start living with you?” Trish had ventured hesitantly one day, though she knew the answer already.
“That won’t ever happen as long as I have Horse with me. I don’t intend to give him up for anybody!” Shan’s short and blunt retort had ended any further discussion on the topic.
He wiped himself down with a towel and looked at Trish absently, “When did you get here?”
“I’ve been here for the past 10 minutes talking my head off but you never listen; do you?”
Shan smiled taking off his ear phones, “now what were you saying?”
Trish rolled her eyes–Shan and his music, constant companions.“Why didn’t you call me when you landed last night, I could have come over. I missed you like anything.”
Shan disengaged himself from her embrace, went over to the kitchen and poured himself a tall glass of Orange Juice. “Is there some sort of rule that I should call you?”
“Am I not your girl friend?”
“You’re just a friend, nothing more.”
“What about all those kisses and I love yous?”
“Just friendly ones; have I ever implied anything else?”
“No…,” she had to reluctantly agree knowing well she wouldn’t be able to win the argument. They’d had it already several times in the past.
Choosing to change the topic, she settled herself on one of the bean bags which lay scattered on the floor while her host made his eggs and smoothie breakfast.
“Want some? It’s a new recipe.” He asked knowing well she’d been aiming toward a size zero and had chosen to go on a salad and soup diet so to bag a top modeling assignment or audition for a movie. He didn’t approve of it at all.
“Naah! Too much cholesterol and calories!” She waved a royal hand in dismissal. “By the way did you hear about Tashu’s accident? Have you found a replacement yet? Why don’t you give me a shot?”
Shan laughed watching her try to do a pirouette. “You should try out for the circus, they will snatch you up in a heartbeat. You have two left feet. The girl who is going to dance for me has to be exceptional because Jhankaar is exceptional. Tashu did fit the role perfectly.”
“Blah, blah, blah! Tashu, Tashu all the time! Isn’t there anyone else besides her who can dance in this world?!” Trish exclaimed rolling her eyes.
“There is somebody who could take her place; if only she knew what she wants.” Shan murmured softly thinking of Khanak.
“What did you say?” Trish asked absently turning up the volume of her favorite TV show.
Meanwhile in Chennai:
“Wow Bubbly di. If I were a guy I’d surely kidnap you and hide you away from the rest of the world!” Shreya exclaimed seeing Khanak looking exquisite in a blue gold Kanchivaram silk sari; her simple makeup and demeanor adding a certain elegance to the entire look. But she didn’t appear particularly pleased.
“What’s up? Unhappy about leaving home? I can understand but you are so lucky! There are a lot of girls out there who wouldn’t mind giving their right hand to be in your position now.”
Khanak gave her cousin a sharp look. For once she felt that Shreya was including herself in the list of Anand’s admirers; but she dismissed the thought right away. Shreya and Anand rarely spent time together and when they did, they always ended up arguing and as far as she knew, Anand had always treated her cousin like a younger sister. Shreya had always been somewhat wishy washy; changing her mind and opinions at the drop of a hat.
“They have arrived.” Komal announced coming into the room.
Shreya hurried out, saying she needed to inquire Anand about something.
“You know what you want and only you can make it happen.” Komal advised Khanak before leaving the room.
“Vanakkam!” (Hello in Tamil)
“Vaanga!” (Welcome in Tamil)
“Eppadi irukkinga?” (How are you?)
“Nallaa Irukean.” (I’m fine.)
The Mishra’s graciously welcomed their old friends and neighbors the Vaidyanathans; Mr and Mrs Vaidhyanathan along with Anand their only son and Sudha their married elder daughter and her husband.
It was a formal and for the first time slightly awkward occasion for everyone. But as it is usually among friends, the atmosphere cleared quickly and the purpose of the visit was forgotten.
“Ahem…” Anand cleared his throat, “Dad, mom, I hope you know why we are here today, don’t you?”
“Oh yes, Sharat, bhabhi, I almost forgot. Where’s our Khanak? Anand is eager to see her!” Mr Vaidyanathan exclaimed in his usual jovial manner.
“Yes, where is my beautiful bahu (daughter-in-law)?” His wife added earnestly.
“Here she is!”
A sudden quiet enveloped the cozy gathering, as all eyes directed on the girl in question, as she walked in holding a tray of freshly brewed coffee.
Perturbed Khanak inquired, “What happened? Did I interrupt something?”
“Nothing, nothing at all! I was just wishing I was 30 yrs younger!” Mr.Vaidyanathan responded laughing much to the chagrin of his Mrs. “Our son Anand is very lucky though. He’s getting a friend and a wife in one.”
“Dad please!” Anand chuckled, nudging his boisterous father. He could feel Khanak’s discomfiture.
Anand was whom anyone would call ideal groom material. He scored good or excellent in all departments. A well educated, in fact quite brilliant young man who was focused in life, practical, had a great temperament; was always willing to listen, respected women and their opinions; good looking, tall, slim and confident. What more could a girl want?
“Okay! Though our children have been best friends forever, it’s better that we let them talk alone.”
“I agree. Khanak beta take Anand to your room.” Komal said looking meaningfully at her niece.
Instead Khanak led Anand to the terrace– a beautiful green paradise lovingly created and tended by her. It also happened to be a favorite haunt for both of them.
“Why are you looking at me like that? Haven’t we met before?”
“Yes we have but never like this. I’ve never really got to appreciate your beauty. You are as delicate as a porcelain doll. I am afraid that you’d break if I touch you.” Anand said after some hesitation; having never talked to her like this before.
“Bah! Me… delicate!” She laughed. “You are joking! Remember it was you who always begged me to pick mangoes from our backyard tree because heights made you dizzy?”
“Yes but that was a long, long time ago, when we were children. We are grown up now.”
“Does that mean that our relationship should change?” She turned to him anxiously.
“Well no. Why should it? You will always be my best friend before being my wife.”He paused hesitating before going on, “In fact I consider myself quite lucky because of that.”
“But what if this best friend doesn’t want to be… I mean she just wants to remain your best friend?”
He understood she was serious, “I know it must have been quite a surprise for you. I didn’t want it to happen like this at all. But you know how parents are,” he laughed. “When I got the job offer in New York, Amma (mother) started worrying right away; foreign soil, temptations, he will forget us etc etc. And no matter what I said she wouldn’t be assured. The only solution was to get me married.”
“So she approached me asking me if I had anyone in my mind before they started the search and I immediately thought of you.” He glanced at her. She looked away.“Khanak somehow I can’t think of sharing my life with anyone else. You’ve been always my…”
“But you never said anything before, never made me suspect.”
“Perhaps because I was afraid I’d lose your friendship and that I was unworthy of you? But now things have changed.”
She interrupted. “What if this friend of yours wishes to be something in her life: dreams she has seen that she wants to fulfill?”
“What are you trying to say Khanak?”
“Anand you are a wonderful person. Any girl would be flattered to have a suitor like you. It’s just that I’m not ready to be tied up in a relationship yet, of any kind. I want to first achieve something, be given a chance to shine which I know would be close to impossible if I accepted your proposal.”
“Then what do you want me to do?” He looked crestfallen.
“I want you to find another girl who will be more than willing to be your life partner and stop wasting your precious time on me.”
“You think that finding a mate is child’s play?”
“No, I didn’t mean that Anand. Please don’t get me wrong.” She didn’t want to hurt him.
“Khanak you are the only girl for me and I am willing to wait for however long you need me to wait whether it be 6 months or a year or longer!”
She was shaken by the force of his sincerity, “What if that time never comes Anand?”
“It will come surely Khanak. We shall be together one day, you and I.” He smiled confidently and she almost believed him.
Khanak felt at peace that night. Anand had promised to persuade his parents to wait it out. That’d give her time to achieve her dreams; something was better than nothing.
“No, I will not accept it. Good matches especially someone like Anand who worships the ground she walks on are hard to come by. What if he changes his mind after he goes abroad?”Khanak overheard her uncle Sharat arguing with her aunt in their bedroom.
“Please keep your voice down. What will she think?”
“Let her hear! It’s high time she did! How long are we going to support this burden? Yes well, I have grown fond of her over time but how long will she remain with us like this? That’s why I’ve chosen Anand for her!”
“What are you talking about Sharat? She is like our own daughter. Would you do the same to Shreya too?”
“Yes I would! I don’t approve of girls working. It’s these movies and news media…they are influencing their minds; making them get out of control! Khanak is marrying Anand next month and that is my decision and it’s final!”
“No more talk on this subject Komal! I want to sleep!”
Khanak turned away in shock. Her uncle considered her a burden; something to be disposed of as quickly as possible and forgotten.
She walked into her room and sat on the bed, then picked up the card she had discarded on the floor last night.
Desperate times called for desperate measures.
A lovely song from the movie ‘Luck By Chance’