At last! I’m out of that place. Khanak paused outside the massive gates of Shan’s complex and took a long deep breath.
His presence had been overpowering in the penthouse, each and every object bearing his unmistakable stamp. She’d have been more than happy to stay there forever, but had to leave to maintain her sanity, to keep her two feet firmly planted on the ground.
“Go on back home Horse, you can’t come with me, maybe I’ll see you later.” She gently admonished the big dog who’d slunk after her, following her down the stairs as she rode the elevator. She patted his big head and urged him to go back. Somehow the animal had managed to endear himself to her without saying a single word.
With a determined tilt to her head, she marched to the bus stop that she had spotted down the road and frowned at the bewildering array of routes and numbers, having no clue where to start. She dug into her purse and pulled out the sheet of newspaper on which she had circled the rental announcements, when another piece of paper fluttered out.
‘Here, take this. It’s the name and number of a man I know very well. He will help you with anything you need. Don’t hesitate to call him, Mumbai is a tough place for anybody new, especially a pretty girl like you…’ She remembered what Shan had said while examining a piece of toast at the breakfast table, as if at any moment expecting it to reveal his future to him.
But why do you need to know your future boss? It is set, isn’t it?It’s me who has to find her path and define her future! She’d thought taking in the plush layout again. It seemed somewhat less daunting in daylight but daunting nevertheless.
He hadn’t even said goodbye when she left, instead seemed focused on plugging away on his laptop, all the passion which he had epitomized during the dance earlier (something she’d never forget,) had disappeared into thin air. The mark of a true professional.
It stung a bit to know that he’d do the exact same with any other girl, that she wasn’t necessarily someone unique. Shut up Khanak! Stop building castles in the air, instead focus on the task ahead and give this Gopinath Hegde a call. ‘Cause he comes highly recommended by Mr. Almighty himself! She chided herself before pulling out her cell phone.
While she was thus busy debating with herself, she didn’t realize that she was being subjected to surreptitious surveillance by a pair of keen brown eyes.
Shan was watching her with considerable amusement from his balcony as she hesitated, paused in her stride, and then started again. Her heavy jet black hair reaching well below her shoulder blades and pristine white salwar kurta that couldn’t camouflage the lines of her elegant figure, set her apart from the rest of the crowd.
No matter how much I try to tell myself, it can’t be denied that people will come, not only to watch her dance but also to just watch her because she’s so damn worth looking at. He sighed, willing her to stop and turn around.
She did but for a brief moment before continuing ahead, not seeing him as he swiftly ducked behind the thick curtains.
Why does she want to find another place to stay when she has one ready and available free of charge? It beats the hell out of me! I’ve never met such a hard headed girl in my life!
“Damn her!” He shouted in vexation. “Damn me! Why am I wasting my time thinking about her when there’s so much to be done? Hope she gets what she wants and leaves me in peace!”
Within the next half hour he was back to his usual self, riding his bike at a furious pace to his downtown studio while trying to clear his head of Khanak. And he thought he succeeded…
As soon as he stepped inside, he spotted Tarun chatting with a new girl. “What’s going on here? Is this a dance studio or the corner cafe where you set up your next date! I didn’t expect this from my lead dancer!” He lashed out at Tarun before marching into his office.
“OMGeeeeeeee! Is that Shantanu Khandelwal? The Shantanu Khandelwal..our boss? Haaaaayee.. I will die if he dances with me!”
“Then you’ll be useless sweetheart!” Tarun said cheerfully as he sauntered behind Shan. The bloody guy always manages to steal my thunder! Koi chidiya toh mere liye chod de yaar! (Leave at least one chick for me, my friend!) Just then the thought of Khanak and her sprightly tap routine entered his mind and he grinned.
“I can’t believe this Hegdeji! Aise toh meri saari savings 2-3 mahinon mein khalaas! (In this manner all my savings will be finished in 2-3 months!) Khanak exclaimed turning away disappointed from another potential rental. She had liked the location, it was close to the shops and Shan’s downtown studio was just a couple of bus stops away. But the landlord was demanding way too much for a single BR apartment.
“Kya karein beta, mehengai ka zamaana hai!” (What to do child, these are expensive times.) Mr. Hegde nodded sympathetically.
“Yes you are right.” Khanak said, realizing that living independently wasn’t easy to do. Life was already teaching her tough lessons. This city saw hordes of people arrive everyday looking to fulfill their dreams. Many went back dejected, but an equal number stayed because they had nowhere else to go. Several of those ended up not only compromising with their situation but also with their self respect.
“But I don’t get one thing.” Khanak said looking puzzled as they stopped at a small cafe to take a break. “Why do people give me a smaller quote but then turn around and tell you that the place is already taken or decide to suddenly jack up the prices?”
“I don’t know dear. They probably change their mind once they realize that you are a single girl. People have weird reasons you see.” He answered after a slight hesitation, and proceeded to chomp down his tea biscuits.
“I still don’t understand. I really had positive feelings about the last place, and that girl was in desperate need of a roommate or so she told me.” Khanak insisted, not appearing convinced.
“Okay beta, I need to get going. If you wish we can try again tomorrow but that will be much removed from the city.” Mr. Hegde said, standing up suddenly.
Khanak nodded and smiled her thanks to the kind gentleman who had taken time off from his busy routine to accompany her at her boss’ behest. She was extremely disappointed though. If securing a place to stay meant moving farther away then it’d significantly add to her daily expenses and she had no idea if she’d be able to afford it at all, since she still wasn’t sure about her role in Shan’s company.
“Kitni badi ho gayi hoon, magar asliyat se kitni door. Yeh bacche bhi zindagi ko mujhse behtar samajhte hain.” (Despite being grown up, I’m so far removed from reality. Even these kids know life better than me.) Khanak thought as she watched homeless children clad in rags playing on the beach.
“I am fine, don’t worry about me. Think about Shree.” She tried to sound peppy as she explained to her aunt on the phone that her new life was treating her well.
“Mumbai is much bigger than Chennai, and you don’t know any body there either.” Her aunt responded.
“Yes, it’s very big but I lucked out. My boss is very nice, he’s helping me get set up here. Soon I’ll have a place of my own and you’ll be proud of me.” Khanak said cheerfully, wishing her words turned out true.
She sat on the beach watching the sunset, knowing that she had to make her way back soon. She hoped Shan won’t be disappointed that he had to share his place with her another night.
“Hello Horse!” She said greeting the dog who was waiting for her patiently outside the door. Maybe I should talk to him about my pay. It’s so embarrassing but I’ve got to start somewhere, she thought as she knocked.
“Oh! Aap hongi Khanak madam! Aaiye! Chai peeyengi kya?” (You must be Khanak madam. Please come in, will you have tea?) Asked a middle aged gent who answered the door.
Khanak smiled with amusement when she realized that his voice was muffled by his huge handle-bar moustache. That he took great pride in it was apparent by the way he twirled its ends around his fingers every few seconds.
“You must be Dibubhai, right?” Khanak recalled Shan mentioning his cook.
“Haan! Sahi pehchaana madam I am Shan baba’s cook. Though he treats me more like a family member, I’ve been with him ever since he was born.” He said with a proud smile.
“Will you like a dash of my zesty masala in your tea?” He asked as he moved around deftly in the kitchen.
“Yes I’d love that, thank you. It’s been a long day.” Khanak said gratefully accepting the warm cup and inhaled deeply the aromatic blend of spices. Her fatigue started easing right away.
“Aapke Shan baba kahaan hain?” (Where is your Shan baba?) Khanak inquired after a few sips. It felt odd to hear someone call her boss a little boy.
“He’s in the studio, practicing.” Dibubhai replied, resuming the dinner preparations.
“Really? Can we watch him?” Khanak asked eagerly. It’d be a treat to see the man dancing.
“No, I don’t think he’ll like it.” Dibubhai shook his head.
“Why not?” Khanak wanted to know. He didn’t ask my permission when he watched me this morning!
“Uhm…” Dibubhai hesitated. “He is a very private person. And there are things he doesn’t like to share with anybody else.”
“Don’t worry Dibubhai! He won’t know we’re watching him. And I’m not a snoop, so don’t you worry.” Khanak said earnestly before walking up to the studio and flicking on a hidden switch which controlled the viewing panels and sound from the private studio. But what she saw at once surprised and shocked her.
Her boss wasn’t dancing. Instead he was playing the violin.
She turned to look at Dibubhai, who gently nodded his head and then turned proudly to look at his young master.
“He’s a classically trained concert violinist. It’s his first love.”
She found it difficult to believe. But the evidence was right there in front of her. The music was achingly beautiful. The player tugged at her heart strings as he drew his bow lovingly over the bridge of his instrument. He appeared in love, and it looked so real and beautiful that she felt herself flush with emotion.
(Joshua Bell Plays Shubert’s Serenade)
Anyone who was capable of igniting such a reaction in his audience was no mean artist.
“So what happened?” She turned curiously to Dibubhai.
“He was scheduled to play as the lead violinist for a well known European Symphony when they bluntly told him he couldn’t. He was crestfallen, he had worked so hard. It had been his dream to play at the opening.”
“Why did they reject him? He obviously is an amazing talent!”
“Yes. He has nothing to prove on that matter. They didn’t let him play because he had broken some unwritten rules.”
“Yes rules. He had taken his music on the road, playing with local bands, in clubs etc. He even took liberty to experiment blending the traditional with modern and that wasn’t acceptable to the old guard. They called him an upstart, not suitable to play with them and asked him to either give up or leave. He left and returned home.”
“Why? Why did he do so?” She asked. The music had stopped. She saw her boss stand up and start tapping his feet to another beat.
“He was heart broken, he couldn’t believe that his musical spirit would be restricted in such a manner. He tried to find a distraction. That’s how the modeling started, followed by dance which he found he had a natural aptitude for.”
Khanak smiled as Shan started playing a familiar tune, his energy was infectious.
(David Garrett- Smooth Criminal ;))
“He wanted new music for his dance routines, so he started composing and playing again, but only within the privacy of his studio where he also makes his own recordings.” Dibu said smiling, when he saw Khanak clicking her fingers to the rhythm.
She closed her eyes and began swaying in time to the tune. “Wow! This is superb! Thank you letting me experience this Dibubhai!”
“If Shan baba found out he will kill me! I better get back to my cooking.” He said before walking away. He liked the new young lady. She held herself very well. If baba ever considered getting married he wouldn’t find a better life partner. But who would talk to him?
“Oh S***!!!! ****! *******!!”
Khanak’s eyes shot wide open upon hearing the slew of oaths interrupt the flow of music. She saw that as a result of his frenzied playing, a string had broken off the violin and cut Shan on the jaw from where the blood dripped unheeded on to his white shirt. But he appeared least bothered, rather seemed more keen in the condition of his instrument.
“Is he crazy?” She exclaimed and without further thought rushed into the room.
“What the hell! What are you doing here?!” Shan yelled at her.
“Taking care of you!” She chided him while holding her shawl to the wound. “And you call yourself a professional!”
Ignoring his protests, she dragged him by the arm to the kitchen. “Do you have a First Aid kit?” She asked an astonished Dibubhai.
“I can take care of it, I’m not a kid! Who allowed you to come in to the studio, did you Dibu?” Shan blustered indignantly but complied when Khanak forced him to sit down and let her clean the wound with cold water.
“Gosh! It’s a very deep cut! You may need stitches!”
“Rubbish! I won’t need any stitches! Ouch! That stings!” He jumped as she dabbed his jaw with disinfectant. “Answer me Dibu!” He persisted in his rant.
“It’s not Dibubhai’s fault. I insisted because I wanted to see an artist at his best.” Khanak retorted cheekily. “And I did see him. It was an experience like no other. You are fabulous!”
Shan looked into her eyes and saw that she wasn’t lying. “So you know now my deep dark secret?”
“Deep, yes. But not dark. Music like that can only bring immense light and joy into people’s lives.”
“Hmmm.. Thanks!” Shan said reluctantly. “I need to change my shirt.” He was abruptly back to business. “By the way, did you find a suitable place?” He inquired casually.
“No, everything is way beyond my budget. I don’t know what to do.” Khanak said in a frustrated tone, failing to notice the edge of his mouth curve in a hint of a smile.
“All right. You can’t do much about it now. We’ll tackle it tomorrow.”
“Okay” Khanak nodded realizing that he was right. “I need to change too.” She said excusing herself.
“Dibubhai! I’m in a real good mood tonight!” Shan exclaimed with a wide grin as he scratched Horse behind his ears, and rubbed his belly when he rolled over. “Yes, Horse feels so too! Don’t you Horse?” and got a happy bark in reply.
When Khanak returned she was surprised to see all the lights dimmed. She felt a tug on her sleeve as Horse pulled her toward an oval table set for two with candles flickering inside jeweled glass chambers.
A sudden thrill of excitement pulsed in her veins when she heard footsteps approach.
“Ms. Khanak! I’ve been so neglectful by not extending you a formal welcome to my group. So I’m taking this opportunity to rectify it. Welcome! I’m sure our association will be fruitful. Let’s drink a toast.” Shan said coming to stand by her side, lifting a glass of chilled champagne. He looked dashing in a black dinner jacket.
“Thank you. I hope so too.” She said trying to hold her own glass of sparkling water steady.
“Then, will you honor me with a dance?”
(Phantom of the Opera)