Khanak paused in the middle of typing her note and reached for her cell phone. She was thinking—It’s probably Dr. Krishnan reminding me of the presentation I have to make at the Charity hospital meet tomorrow. Dr. Krishnan was so like her father–diligent, conscientious and straightforward. She was indeed very lucky he had accepted her as his partner.
But it was a number she didn’t recognize. Someone had infiltrated the mobile network yet again. One more scam. The nerve! Wonder what it is now?
Dear Doctor Aunty…
Khanak sighed with relief. A message from Megha! But as she read on a frown formed on her brow.
She had to go over it several times before realizing its implication. How did he get my number? Oh yes! Her mother had informed her that Shantanu had called home using her cell. Clever. Very clever. Megha wants me to fix her teddy and her chachu is acting as the courier! What an idea! To use a little child for his own ends!
But then why is my heart racing?
Because I want to meet him too or else how will I deliver my thank you note? Even though I know that’s just an excuse… Khanak’s heart flipped over in her chest. Her cheeks burned. Damn him! I won’t reply right away or he’ll think I am eager to meet him. I will later tonight. I’m sure he’ll be up late.
The bedroom door suddenly banged open causing her to almost fall off the bed. It was Palak standing there with her mouth wide open as if bursting to say something but waiting for her permission for some unknown reason.
Khanak closed her laptop and briskly thrust her mobile under the pillow. Palak possessed the uncanny ability of finding out everything before Khanak did herself and then revealing it to Dad and Mom! That just won’t do!
She spoke in as calm a tone as she could muster; “Now what’s the suspense about?”
“Deeeds! Guess who’s coming on TV!?”
Khanak shook her head. “I’m sorry but you’ve lost me there and to tell the truth I’m not interested. I have to work on something for tomorrow before I fall asleep from all the rich food Mama has been making me eat.”
“No way deeeds! I won’t let you go without seeing this and forget about sleeping tonight! Because guess who’s coming on TV? The prince of your dreams…Mr. Shantanu Khandelwal!” Palak said, her eyes bursting out of their sockets.
Khanak was stunned speechless besides being acutely aware of the sudden jump in her pulse.
“Gotcha!” Palak yelled. “C’mon you don’t want to miss the show. He’s the guest on India’s Youth Icons. Have you ever seen the show? Last time they had Anoushka Shankar on it! Your would be is really something I must say!”
And before Khanak could correct her Palak had escaped in to the living room where their parents were already seated on the sofa with their eyes glued to the TV screen in eager anticipation.
Khanak seated herself behind them considering it to be the best position to be. Just so her reactions would be hidden especially from her mother who she knew would be on the alert. She couldn’t be so sure about Palak who she suspected had eyes on the back of her head. Regardless she had to watch the show!
The Anchor, who happened to be a very pretty young woman dressed in a revealing cream silk dress said in a put on husky voice: “Hello folks! We are indeed very lucky today for we have a very rare entity in our midst. He is 29. His looks could give any Bollywood or for the matter Hollywood star an inferiority complex! In fact, he has already bowled me and I mean me over! Another youth icon of India! Mr. Shantanu Rockstar Khandelwal!” There was loud applause from the studio audience.
Khanak held her breath as the camera panned over to Shaan. Yes it was him! Looking casually elegant and absolutely gorgeous in a dark brown sports jacket, pristine white shirt open at the neck and dark blue jeans. At last she was free to observe him closely without the weight of his gaze on her. She realized she had never really had the luxury of admiring the way he looked. His chiseled features, smooth complexion, thick dark wavy hair and shy smile. What? Mr. Shantanu All that Khandelwal is embarrassed? Not used to the adulation is he? Khanak wondered.
Shaan appeared to read her mind. “I’m certainly not deserving of the praise. Besides I believe you are digressing from the topic.” He flashed his most disarming smile at the interviewer. He was back in his element again, flirtatious without knowing it. A complete ladies’ man.
“What am I hearing? One of the most or shall I say The most eligible bachelor in Mumbai who sends a million hearts fluttering just by sitting in this chair is too humble to admit it?” Ms. Anchor pouted her gigantic red lips at Shaan.
The Bitch! What does she think of herself? Khanak fumed.
“Ms. Sheetal, I’m really flattered by the way you have presented me so far but it does me gross injustice to not talk about what I was called here for in the first place. Shall we move on if you don’t mind?” Shaan smiled again expertly sugar coating his remark.
“Alright, if you say so!” Ms. Lollipop Lips sighed. “By the way viewers Mr. Shantanu Khandelwal is not only hot, he is also an up and coming architect who has just returned after obtaining a masters in architecture from Harvard School of Design no less. So my question is, what made someone like you whose father is a well-known builder himself want to work hard to earn a prestigious degree, just in order to join his father’s firm?”
“Well thanks for the question. Yes, I am proud to be my father’s son, but at the same time I don’t wish to live in his shadow. I wanted to do something on my own, as the saying goes carve my own path.”
“Then why did you choose Architecture in particular, why not medicine? You could have fixed some broken hearts that way!”
There she goes again! Why can’t she leave my Shantanu alone? Oops! Khanak looked down. Oh no! I didn’t think that!
“Well now that you say it (she heard Shaan chuckle) I’ve been always squeamish at the site of blood. But I admire doctors a lot, they do a wonderful job saving lives, especially a certain one who saved mine.”
Khanak looked up and felt as if he was looking straight at her. Not even the TV screen could diminish the intensity in those eyes. “Now I want that someone to save my life forever;” he said.
“Ah! Are you watching doctor? What a patient to have na? Ok then why architecture?” the anchor rudely interrupted their tête-à-tête.
“Well I have always loved building design, in fact I consider them to be a form of artistic expression. You wouldn’t disagree if you see Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings. He happens to be my icon. Whether it be the Eiffel tower, or the Qutub Minar, the Louvre, or just a school house it should serve its purpose. I want to design buildings that not only serve their purpose but are also green and aesthetic. And I want to apply this everywhere. I want everybody to have access to my art, not just the rich but also the poor. I think I can achieve that.” Shaan’s eyes sparkled as he talked.
So this was the real Shantanu, passionate about his craft. Why does he hide it? Shaan is an idealist. A dreamer. Like me. I like that. I like that very much. Khanak felt her heart soar.
She barely paid attention the rest of the conversation, so mesmerized was she by his persona. His seductive smile, the way he inclined his head. He was the ever attentive flirt, his hands like a sculptor’s so expressive…
She heard the oohs and aahs of her family in the background as well as her father’s admiring comments in between. They had already adopted Shaan as part of the family.
“And before we close what does Shantanu Khandelwal have to say about his heart? Is it available?”
Khanak leaned forward as Shaan looked down at his hands; “My heart is already taken by a most wonderful person and she pretends to not know it…” Then looking directly at the camera again, he said softly; “If you are watching now my dear please I beg of you handle it with care.”
“DEEEDs!” Palak screamed. “Did you hear that?”
Khanak wished the earth would open and swallow her up. This was the last place she wanted to be now. Somehow she summoned her mental reserve and subjected her sister to a stern glare; “I have work to do so don’t you dare disturb me! Papa please tell her.”
“All right beta.” Her father smiled indulgently. “Palak stop bugging your sister. But I’ve got to say this Shantanu is very impressive. I’d like to meet him sometime.”
Khanak sighed. She walked slowly back to her room. She picked up her mobile, typed ‘Yes’ and then pressed SEND.
Khanak’s day went by like a breeze. Amazingly she had woken feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. The meeting with the Board of Directors for the Charity Hospital had gone very well with more donations pouring in and more and more people interested in volunteering their precious time in the new hospital. They were even on the verge of going ahead and bidding for the site. It was a very exciting time. Khanak also thought she had spied Dr. Deepak in the back of the room. Was he up to something? Or was he turning a new leaf?
But it evaporated from her mind when she spent the rest of the day trying to do her job more efficiently than usual. She did not pause for lunch or her usual coffee break. She made do with good old H2O.
Then in the evening she could afford to relax ensconced at her favorite table in the coffee shop next the window. Though outwardly she portrayed a picture of serenity inside she was a bunch of nerves so much that she had even forgotten to order her choice cuppa.
So you can imagine how acutely disappointed she was when Deepak plopped into the chair across from her. She almost burst into tears. She closed her eyes and tried to wish him away. Alas that was not to be.
“There you are Miss Khanak Ice Cold Agarwal! Here’s a drink which fits you to a T. Iced Cafe Latte!”
Khanak opened her eyes and gave him her meanest glare. It was a look that could wither anybody but not Deepak.
“Hey talk to me! What did I do wrong? Didn’t I attend your social meeting today? I did it just for you.”
“I thought as much. Cause there is no logical reason why Dr. Deepak’s hard heart should melt. I’m not impressed;” Khanak retorted.
“All right.” Deepak leaned forward in his chair. “Tell me what do you want. Look at us. We are both accomplished, in the same profession, young, dynamic and successful. Besides I’m rich! We are the perfect couple! In fact, you should consider yourself lucky that I like you.” He sat back preening like a peacock.
Khanak appraised him slowly and weighed the pros and cons. Yes, he was a brilliant doctor, young, able, wealthy. But to what purpose were these attributes when they were used to achieve the wrong ends? He was nothing but a self-absorbed snob. And the only reason he wanted a wife was to serve his mighty ego. He could not hold a candle to Shaan They were as different as chalk and cheese. Good Lord! Now I’m comparing people with Shaan. What’s wrong with me?
Then when Deepak grabbed her hand she jumped as if stung. “What are you doing Deepak? You’ve no rights!”
“Ahem the lady is with me. May we be excused?”
Khanak looked up to see Shaan standing next to the table giving Deepak a Dude want to take me on look.
She saw Deepak’s face turn purple. It made her feel so good she wanted to jump up and hug Shaan. Instead she satisfied herself by smiling slyly at Deepak.
“You are with him?!” Seeing Khanak’s nod and Shaan self-assured smile Deepak opened his mouth to say something. Then he somehow changed his mind and got up and left but not before throwing a final ‘I’ll see you’ glance at Khanak.
Khanak heard Shaan cough. “What’s up?”
“Stop murdering those ice cubes. What have they done to deserve your wrath? Do you think they represent Deepak? Poor guy.”
“Why would you think so?”
“I would pity anyone who is a victim of your anger. You should have seen your face when I stepped in. It could fry an egg! In fact, he owes me one.”
“You think I look like that?” Khanak blurted but when she saw Shaan trying hard not to grin she couldn’t help but break into a laugh. It made her feel much better and calmer. Then when she saw Shaan looking at her, for the first time since they had met she stared right back. But then had to quickly look away.
“Come on Khanak drink. That cup has been longing to be lovingly hugged between your lips.”
“What? What did you say?” Khanak turned back.
“Just what I meant. Take it any way you want.”
She blushed as he grinned and said. “You know what your best feature is? Your eyes. They are very expressive and honest. No matter what you say they always speak the truth. That is why I call you innocent. It’s true believe me. Only kids whose hearts are unblemished have eyes like yours. See now. You haven’t said a word but your eyes, they are telling me to go on. I love it!”
It added to Khanak’s agitation to know that her companion could read her like the back of his hand. “Okay,” she declared in a hurry. “But why do you need to hide your feelings? And you hide a lot don’t you?”
“So that’d mean you saw my interview. Did you get my message? It was meant only for you.”
Khanak lifted her chin and met his amused gaze defiantly; “No don’t go around changing the topic. Yes, I did see it but in it I saw another side of you. Someone with dreams and ideals, who wants to achieve something in his life. So why do you always act this way and put on this ‘I could care less attitude’? Is it because you think it is not cool?”
Shaan spread his hands wide; “All right if you want me to talk about it. Yes, perhaps or maybe because I’m afraid my dreams won’t come true and my plans won’t succeed. I’m still a novice and the ground I stand on is not yet firm. That is why I hide. But you found me out. I will grant you that.”
For the first time Khanak sensed a vulnerable side to Shaan. He was like a little boy who wanted to wear his father’s shoes but feared he’d be rebuked.
“By the way did you check out the girl who was interviewing me? Wasn’t she something to look at? Did she make you green with envy?” He was back to his teasing.
Khanak tilted her head; “okay then what was her name?”
“Her name?” Shaan wrinkled his forehead; “Guys don’t care about girl’s names.”
“But you happen to know mine quite well. That’d mean you really didn’t care for her.” Khanak declared smugly.
Shaan smiled.“I better watch out from now on. Doctor does not mean easy to fool.”
“Didn’t you get the SMS? It clearly states I am her courier.”
“Okay then where is Teddy?”
“Here.” Shaan deposited a small box on the table.
Khanak opened it and smiled to find the misshapen toy inside. There was also a note. Megha had written her a message in her babyish scrawl. It said—
Dear Doctor Aunti.
Pleese fix teddy for me!
Make him see and smell again!
And pleeese don’t meke him have pain. He will cry.
And give my Chaachu a kiss! Chaachu made me right that. He said he will bring it back to me. LoveU. Megha.
“You are impossible!” Khanak burst into an embarrassed laugh.
“Megha wanted you to give her a kiss. So I offered to act as the courier again. Did I do wrong?”
Khanak shook her head still smiling. “Tell her I will fix him soon and kiss her for me. I don’t believe in couriers for kisses.”
Shaan pretended to look aggrieved. “I will excuse you but only this once. So you like children?”
“Of course and Megha is a darling.”
“That she is. Aakhir niece kiski hai? So one thing’s settled between us.”
“That we both like kids? It is a very essential part of our future together. If only I could fast forward this dilly dallying bit and get to the point. God this woman! She makes me work so hard!” Shaan threw his hands up in the air.
Khanak couldn’t suppress a giggle. Suddenly she remembered her note. She removed it from her purse and extended it across the table. “Here take this. But read it after I’m gone. And next time bring Megha.” She left before he could ask why.