A thrill ran up her arm. Khanak reflexively pulled at her hand but Shaan wouldn’t let go. Rather he held on even tighter.
“C’mon Shan…not in front of strangers!”
“Sweetheart, Tarun isn’t any man of the street. He’s one of our own, aren’t you Tarun?”
“What is all this? What are you hiding from me?” Tarun stared at them with a perplexed look on his face.
“Oh you don’t know? Were you missing from last night’s party? But of course! You were out on one your usual skirt chasing jaunts. Time to settle down Tarun!” Shan said grinning broadly.
Tarun went red in the face, “Keep out of my affairs Shan. Just tell me what’s going on!”
Shaan exchanged a glance with Khanak; “Alright then Tarun, I present to you my fiancé,”
“You didn’t get it? She is my mangetar, my hone waali, my partner for life. Gosh! Am I lucky or what!” Shaan iterated as he wrapped his arm around Khanak’s waist and tried to force her on to his lap while she blushingly resisted.
Tarun gawked at them; “How? When?”
“It’s been a while… when Khanak and I went to Chennai for her cousin’s wedding. I was waiting for the perfect moment and it presented itself during the reception party in the presence of her whole family.” Shan looked at Khanak and she nodded her approval, “We wanted to keep it a secret and announce it later but last night my hand was forced. You can ask Tash, she was there and was shocked too just like you.”
“Yes,” Khanak said; “poor thing, she even asked to see my ring. I felt so bad for her.” She placed a hand on her heart and managed to look genuinely sympathetic.
Even Shan looked convinced. But there was more.
Khanak waved her hand in front of Tarun’s face, “Look at this. Isn’t it gorgeous! Shan…he’s so sweet. He had it specially ordered from France…and did it cost close to a hundred?” she looked inquiringly at Shan.
“OMG! Two hundred K! In dollars! Can you believe that Tarun? I can’t! I am wearing a fortune on my finger!” she stared at her ring. “Shan you shouldn’t spend so much on me.”
“Aww darling that’s nothing! Wait and see what’s in store!” He retorted with a smile.
“What do you mean nothing? How about all the designer wear? Diva told me they all came special order from Milan and each cost an exorbitant amount!” Khanak stared into Shan’s eyes. Why had he spent so much on her?
Tarun went ballistic; “What?! Have you gone f**** crazy Shan! To spend all that on a girl! The yearly budget of Jhankaar is probably is not even half!”
Shan answered him irritably; “I’m not exactly poor Tarun and if I do fall short I’ll take a loan. I can expect you to pitch in can’t I?” he cocked a brow.
“Yes I’m sure he will Shan,” Khanak looked at Tarun with a beautiful innocent smile. “I’ve heard you are independently rich and after all what are friends for if not in need… hmmm?”
“Besides we only fall in love once don’t we darling?” Shan said in a husky drawl while kissing the tips of her fingers one by one.
Khanak bit her lower lip all of a sudden dizzy; “Stop Shan! aap bhi na!”
“Haaye! Isn’t she precious Tarun?” Shan said gazing adoringly at Khanak. “Darling aap nahin tum kaho. It brings us closer.”
“Shan you’ve gone utterly insane!” Tarun yelled jumping to his feet. “If you don’t watch it you will be bankrupt in a few days and take us all down with you. Damn and I signed a contract too! Oh no! God save me!” He then rushed out slamming the door behind him which caused Horse to erupt into a mad barking spree. He was too agitated to hear the loud laughter that broke in his wake.
Dibubhai entered the penthouse to be greeted by a strange scene— Shantanu and Khanak were slapping each other’s hands and doubling over with laughter.
What really passed through his mind is hard to say but for sure he wasn’t displeased especially after what Tarun had said when he bumped into him. He had emerged from the apartment looking as though he had just been to a screening of Raaz 4 or something similar.
The couple in question hadn’t yet noticed his presence. They were rejoicing in the initial success of their deception—
“Khanak you were simply brilliant I must say. You almost even did me in. For a moment I thought I was dreaming!” Shan said after he was able to catch his breath. “But Tarun for sure took the bait.”
Khanak blushed. She couldn’t believe playacting had come so easily to her. Perhaps because most of what she had done wasn’t pretense at all. She shook her head, “I was just… Dibubhai!”
The faithful old retainer was eyeing them both with an incredulous smile on his face. “Shantanu beta, is it true, what I just heard?”
His young master frowned, “Heard what?”
“That you and Khanak are going to make my wishes come true by tying the knot soon?” he then turned beamingly to Khanak, “I knew it ever since I saw you that you were the ideal mate for Shantanu baba!”
“But we are just…” His potential future mistress lowered her gaze.
“Dibu…” Shan interjected in a somber tone. “If you are going by what Tarun said then it is only partly true. Khanak has been nice enough to assist me in carrying out this bluff.”
His servant looked puzzled, “Bluff? I don’t understand.”
“Uhm…” Shan’s eyes briefly locked with Khanak’s, “Tash has returned and is bent on destroying my life and career and I felt that this would be a way to teach her a sound lesson.”
Now it goes without saying that there was no love lost between Dibubhai and Natasha. That she was up to no good was a conclusion he had drawn a long time ago. He would have warned his master about his suspicions but hadn’t, feeling it wasn’t in his place to do so. But this was too much— to drag an innocent young woman into the entire mess!
“Yeh sahi nahin hai! This is not right! I will not be a willing participant in this deception!”
“Dibu please understand. Khanak is…is a wonderful friend who…”
“A friend?” Dibu’s shot a look at her. He knew there was more than friendship involved. Glowering at his master he said; “This is not what I expected from you…”
Shan placed a hand on his shoulder,” Dibu don’t get excited, I can explain…” Then he pulled him into his room.
When they emerged several minutes later, Khanak was surprised to see Dibu beaming ear to ear. He was also exchanging sly smiles with Shan. She wondered what had transpired between the two that Shan had to keep secret from her. Later, the mystery got deeper when Dibu treated her to a special South Indian breakfast, “You must be missing home,” he said and asked if the spices were right.
“Everything is perfect, Dibubhai, yeh bhi koi poochne ki baat hai?”
“Whatever I do for you won’t be enough,” he replied smoothing her head tenderly with his hand. “Now tell me if there’s anything you want me to make for you this evening bahu!”
“Bahu” Khanak gaped at Dibubhai then shot a suspicious glance at Shan who was watching the proceedings with keen interest and a twinkle in his eyes. His answer was a casual shrug.
Dibu laughed; “I’m sorry maaf karna bahu, I mean Khanak! I don’t know much acting vacting, but isn’t it imperative for your game that the enemy is kept in the dark and gets no clue of the true situation?” He looked to Shan who affirmed with a somber nod.
“It’s absolutely vital Dibu. If that were to happen then all our efforts would come to a naught.”
“Isliye that is why;” Dibu said. “To avoid spoiling the entire khel that both of you have hatched with so much difficulty; I would have to act the part at all times. Or else I may give it away. Hope you don’t mind bahu.”
“Khanak please!” Shan piped in, “I’ve never seen a worse actor than Dibu and as he said we cannot afford any mistakes whatsoever. Tash and her cronies will be in a constant state of high alert.”
Khanak agreed though reluctantly. She felt as though Dibu was enjoying his role much more than he was willing to admit.
“So from now on, in this house I will cook only what bahu wants. Agreed Shan baba?” Dibu announced directing what appeared like a wink at his master.
Shantanu responded with a smart salute. “Of course. For all that Khanak is doing for me, she deserves it. Anyhow, I’m tired of the continental potpourri you churn out every day.”
On their way down in the elevator:
Khanak caught Shan’s admiring gaze and looked away. She was terribly confused and still at odds at all that had transpired in the past couple of days. She was having trouble coming to terms with what exactly was going on in her life. If it was all just make believe–a dangerous game she had agreed to participate in or did it have a significant dose of reality in it? She so wished to believe that it did. That what she had agreed to wasn’t a plot or a pretension. That Dibu’s addressing her as bahu was…. Stop it Khanak! Stop digressing from your aim! All you need is to achieve your dreams; everything else is secondary! A cold blade twisted inside her chest.
Meanwhile her handsome companion taking advantage of her preoccupation was examining her with unbridled interest. She had discarded her usual churidar kameez in favor of skinny boyfriend jeans and an alabaster cowl neck top. With minimal make up, her thick jet black tresses loosely braided to one side and erect carriage, she looked simply stunning, enough to make his breathing uneven. It seemed as if by making this change she had fully evolved into her role—of a self-confident woman who was single mindedly pursuing success.
“Huh?” He looked at her guiltily and wondered if she had deduced his thoughts.
“What did you tell Dibubhai to persuade him so quickly?”
His lips curved into a mysterious smile; “let’s just say he got the general idea and leave it at that.”
Khanak frowned. It didn’t appear like Shan was about to divulge any further.
PS: this update is dedicated to my friend Daisy who harbors a special fondness for this story 🙂