16: Sweetest Taboo
Anand was true to his word. At the hastily constructed mandap in the backyard of the Mishra house, he took over the responsibility of Shreya from her father in his own highly capable hands.
The bride glowed as she and the groom were showered with blessings. And at the auspicious hour to the thunderous sounds of the nadaswaram and drums, Anand tied the mangalsutra around Shreya’s neck. The knots were then reinforced by his cousin sister and the bride became officially a part of his family.
Khanak eyes shone bright through a veil of tears as she watched her best friend grasp her cousin’s hand and take the seven vows around the sacred fire.
She felt at peace despite her sorrow. Shreya wouldn’t have found a better husband and perhaps Anand wouldn’t have found a better wife. It was time for her to move on.
“Anand is one lucky guy.”
The tiny hair follicles on the nape of her neck pricked and stood erect as she felt his voice drip like rich honey into her ear.
She closed her eyes, letting the warmth seep throughout her being. She had missed him, oh how she had missed him.
Trying not to let her tone belay her excitement, she said, “Yes, anyone who marries a girl like my cousin is very lucky indeed.”
“I didn’t mean to say that. He is lucky because he has you for a friend.”
‘The one who makes your pulse race..makes your heart sing with joy..’
“He was more a friend to me than I was ever to him.” She mused then said abruptly. “Let’s go..we are done here.”
She quickly walked to the door as the ceremony drew to a close. She didn’t want to wait anymore. She was sure her friend would take good care of her sister. She only hoped that Shreya wouldn’t regret her decision, instead be a worthy soul mate.
“Why..why are you running away? Don’t you want to meet your aunt?” Shan asked hurrying after her.
“I don’t think after today anyone would care to bring me into their thoughts or even remember what I look like!” She mumbled haltingly running to where the car was parked. “..not chachu, he has disowned me already, or Shyam bhaiya, who at one time couldn’t sleep without having a good chat with his favorite little sis Khanak, and ..and my Komal chachi…” she paused as the image of her aunt’s sweet face floated across her mind’s eye. “My sweet chachi, I know she’ll never forget me but how many times will she defy my uncle?” She shook her head slowly. “No I can’t get her into any further trouble than she’s already in. She has tolerated enough of her husband’s taunts. I’m just a common thief. Its better I remain that way. Out of sight and out of mind.”
Watching her surreptitiously as she trained her gaze out the window, he wanted to wrap her in his arms and hold her. He wanted to keep her safe, ask her to entrust him with all her pain.”
“Where are you going? This isn’t the way to the airport.”
“We aren’t going to the airport.We need to get something to eat.”
“Eat?” She laughed. “My stomach is so full with all what I’ve heard today that there’s no place for anything else.”
“But mine does and so does yours!” Shan said adopting a stern posture. “Rules of employment at Jhankaar, three square meals a day or risk losing your job.”
She didn’t argue.
Dakshin: Park Sheraton
“Ahhhh!” Shan sat back looking blissful. “Memories! Do you know that I ate right here in this very restaurant before I saw you the first time.”
Khanak looked up. She had been toying with her food; a few bare morsels having made their way past her throat.
He grinned. “You come from a state so rich in culture, the food…ummm… my taste buds are having a party! I’d so love to come here again. Will you give me company?”
She picked up her water and took a tentative sip. The glass shook divulging her mental state.
“I don’t think so. As you saw today I’ve lost my home…soon I shall lose my roots too. I feel like a nomad..the only difference being that I’m all alone.”
“You aren’t alone Khanak.”
“I am damnit! Stop trying to make it look better than it really is!” Her eyes glowed fiercely. “Do me a favor and call a spade a spade…and please if you are done, can we leave now and get on with our work? This place makes me feel claustrophobic!”
“I said no.”
“Why not? The purpose of my visit is complete!”
“Yes we will go but I don’t think that you in your current state of mind would you be able to deliver the 200% I expect..I doubt you’d even be able to even give me 50.”
Khanak’s anguish was clear on her face. “Perhaps you are right but I’ll try my best. That’s all I can say.”
Shan leaned closer. “I’m sorry but I’ve kept something from you.. I was fortunate to meet your Komal chachi..she’s very nice.”
“You did and I didn’t?” She smirked. “Yes, she is a gem and I’ve let her down badly.”
“No you haven’t. She believes in you and still supports your decision. She always will.”
Khanak sighed. “That’s good to know. I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to say a proper goodbye.”
“You still could.”
“She would like you to attend the wedding reception this evening right here in this hotel.”
“No. I can’t do that. I don’t have the courage to face those people again. Its better that we leave.” She got up and walked out.
“Khanak please listen to me.” Shan rose and followed her. “Don’t you wish to leave with your head held high? Even though they may not accept you, don’t you want to show everybody that you did nothing wrong by following your dreams?”
She turned, “ yes, I’d love to. But I think it’s too late for that now. I don’t wish to stir the embers.”
“Your aunt thinks that you deserve your rightful place in the family, and you can do that by standing up for yourself and showing everybody what you’re really made of.”
She hesitated. “But in front of all those people…”
“She said that it’s going to be a very small gathering ..just close friends of the family…a chance like this may not come again..what say?” Shan grinned encouragingly.
“What do I have to lose?” She smiled back.
Khanak was having second thoughts as she sat on the bed in the room he’d booked well ahead of time, as if he already knew what her decision was going to be.
“I’ve become so predictable…so pliable; it’s like I’m not myself anymore.”
She fingered the designer sari she’d packed, in the faintest hope that circumstances would be conducive enough that broken fences could be mended. It was the sari she had splurged on the day she had taken the stage as Shakuntala…the fateful day she’d met her new boss and her entire world had turned upside down.
Maybe Komal chachi is correct. Why should I hide my face, when my only fault is to dare to listen to my heart? She met her eyes in the mirror. Khanak Mishra is a true artist and I am her.
“Were you waiting for me?”
Khanak rotated on her feet and her heart flipped over inside her chest. Her companion was dressed to kill. In a sleek black dinner jacket on white silk, he looked like what he was; a man who made her restless; be it near or far away.
He held out his hand. “Give me back my heart.”
She looked confused. “what?”
“Give it back to me.” He insisted, “you’ve absolutely no right to look so beautiful.”
She blushed dropping her gaze. She had worn a pristine black and white viscose netted sari, which shimmered as she moved, setting off her slim hourglass figure to perfection; her dark tresses caught up to one side pinned with faux pearls framing her exquisite face that only needed a dash of kohl and lipstick to give her a touch of divinity.
“Hmmm…are you planning to keep it for insurance purposes?”
A shy smile played on those coral lips.
“Beautifuller!!!.Gosh!! Let’s go inside before you decide to kill me.” He said feigning lightheadedness.
Her eyes glittered as she took his arm and walked confidently into the cozy hall feeling a lot less hesitant.
They had arrived fashionably late, thereby their entrance having a significant impact on the chattering guests.
She sensed the silence, but it didn’t confound her.The pressure of his fingers spurred her on.
Standing still near the raised stage she observed her best friend with her sister before they spied her.
Her sister looking gorgeous in deep blue silk was animatedly saying something to Anand and he looking uncomfortable but dandy in crisp formals was listening attentively.
Thank God! At least they are talking. Khanak took an inward breath of comfort.
“Bubbly di! What a pleasant surprise!”
Her cousin came forward to give her a bear hug, while Anand stared at her dumbstruck.
“Your di could only afford this little token.” Khanak said giving Shree a small velvet box which revealed a beautiful pair of gold and pearl earrings.
Shree’s gracious tears spoke for themselves.
“And Anand…I’ve nothing to give you except my best wishes.”
He looked tense, his gaze flitting from her to Shan. “Won’t you introduce me to your companion Khanak?”
Shan came forward, his hand outstretched and a bright grin enhancing his countenance. “I am Shan Khandelwal, owner of Jhankaar, a professional dance company in Mumbai and I cannot say how delighted I am to have someone of Khanak’s caliber agree to work for me.”
Khanak watched as Anand perused Shan critically before his face relaxed and he appeared to nod in approval. He threw her a meaningful glance. “So, it appears that you’ve found your goal Khanak.”
She smiled back, happy that at least her friend understood her.
Things appeared to be going quite well.
People were in a generous mood with ready smiles, all enquiring about her work and none raising the issue that had cloaked her with notoriety.
She felt better and better. Even Shyam bhaiya.
“My darling sis.”
He hugged her tight. “You don’t have to say a word, mom has explained everything.” Then catching sight of Shan who was deep in conversation with Komal chachi. “Hey! Why didn’t you tell me earlier that Khanak works for you? I could have spent some more time with her.”
“My darling baby!”
Khanak felt she was back home when her aunt embraced her. Everything was going to be alright!
But there were still a few wrinkles that hadn’t been ironed out despite best of intentions. Her uncle. He didn’t meet her eyes..nor did he acknowledge her presence, looking through her as if she were a ghost. He rudely intruded and pulled her chachi away right in the middle of their conversation, ignoring her protests.
“Chachu..please!” The words died as soon as they formed in her throat.
His behavior didn’t go unnoticed and quickly a shroud of unease spread over the gathering. All the good had come undone. She turned to walk away unable to handle the humiliation.
“Where are you going?”Shan’s handsome face popped into her sphere of vision.
“Do you wish to join me in my funeral?” She had quit caring. An alien would have gotten a better reception.
“You are not going to give up now Khanak!”His fingers clasped tight on her delicate wrist as he forcefully pulled her to the clearing in front of the stage.
Her uncle’s withering glare made her knees tremble but thatonly served to strengthen her partner’s resolve. He whispered firmly. “Don’t worry about who’s watching..or what’s going on in their minds! Show them that you an artist to be reckoned with. Show them that you are a star!”
She felt her cares slowly melt away. His words acting like a crutch, renewing her purpose…life could still be beautiful.
Her eyes focused on his bright ones as everything else grew dim. Once again they were all alone and he knew exactly what she needed.
Music lent rhythm to her faltering limbs. She hadn’t forgotten how to move.
This was where she belonged, in the circle of his arms.
She quivered as she felt his fingers touch her bare back for the first time.
He realized it too. His gaze widened as her skin glided like silk under his caress.
Hands grasped tight, hearts pounding in their ears, they moved as one, unrehearsed, their frames in perfect alignment.
He mouthed the words of the song. His eyes making her believe that he meant every word.
Ek din ..Ek din teri raahon
Baahoon mein panaahon mein
Aaungaa kho jaunga
Ek din tera ho jaunga
Some day I will come in your path
In your arms, in your shelter
I shall come and lose myself
Someday I shall be yours
He didn’t have to lead her, she knew exactly what to do. Back stiff, shoulders straight, head held proud and erect, they moved without fear..
Yeh dil to na keh saka yeh baatein
dil to na keh saka
This heart couldn’t express these things
Tu jaane na tu
Chaahat meri kitni betaab hai
Ho jo barso meri palkon mein tha
Tu wohi khwaab hai
You aren’t aware
How impatient is my desire
The one whose thoughts have been forever in my mind
You are that dream
Feet sliding back and forth in tandem, every movement in sync with the rhythm. Sensual yet sublime. Like the strains of a Spanish guitar..
Har ghadi har ghadi teri yaadoon mein
vaadon mein iradon mein
Aungaa kho jaunga
Ek din tera ho jaunga
Every moment, in your thoughts..
Memories and intentions
I will come and be lost
Someday I shall be yours
They floated light as butterflies on the dance floor. He threw her into a tight spin. Her body sparkled like a flickering flame. The audience despite themselves, watched mesmerized holding their breath, sighing with relief when he caught her in his arms again.
Yeh Jhukti nazar
Jaane jigar hosh le jati hai
Mein kaise kahon
Ek ajnabi dard dejati hai
Your lowered gaze
Take away my senses
How can I say
They leave me with a strange pain
He wrapped his arm around her thighs lifting her up to the level of his hips while she interlaced her long fingers behind his head pulling her face close. His eyes dropping to her full lips.
Chupke se Chupke se teri neeedon mein
Khwaabon mein khayalon mein
Ek din tera ho jaunga
Quietly when you’re sleeping
In your dreams and your thoughts
I will come and be lost
Someday I shall be yours..
She straightened her legs resting them on his shoulder…curving her spine falling back in one smooth movement so her hair skimmed the floor; blood rushing into her brain as the top of his head grazed her chin and his lips brushed her gazelle neck.
A loud collective gasp was heard as she came back up, her face flushed and hooked her leg onto the back of his, letting her sari ride up to just below her knee.
Ek din teri raahon mein from Naqaab
A loud voice rang out the report as sharp as gunfire. “I’ve seen enough!”
Khanak stood rooted to her spot as her chachu who hadn’t said a word to her all evening came up ..isolating her from all those around…his eyes filled with rebuke and animosity.
She saw his jaw working, his lips grimacing as he tried to control his fury..but he couldn’t..he let her have it.
“Is this why you ran away from home…to…exhibit yourself in such a shameless and public way..in front of this” he glanced around, “respectable crowd..and that too with a stranger!”
“Srinivas please!” Her chachi tried to placate him but he went on regardless.
“Though your aunt tried very hard to convince me otherwise; I believe that YOU” He pointed an accusing finger at her, “are not fit to bear our family name…in fact right now my brother and sister in law must be turning in their graves, for having brought forth a daughter who is bent on ruining whatever is left of our reputation!”
Khanak stared at him numb with shock. The person whom she had respected despite all his failings; finding excuses for his behavior was now snatching away her identity..her name.
“Go away girl! And don’t ever dare show your miserable face around here anymore!” He hollered pointing dramatically toward the exit.
But her companion had other ideas.
“Mr Mishra. I will not tolerate anyone addressing my future wife in such a deprecating manner!” Shan winked conspiratorially at Khanak before slipping a beautiful diamond studded platinum band around her finger.