20: Blow Hot Blow Cold
Khanak watched with fascination as Mrs. Bak Bak’s eyes grew wide and round as saucers, and her eyeballs popped out like a constipated frog though Khanak hadn’t ever observed a constipated frog. She stopped struggling, instead put her arm casually around Shaan’s waist, who responded in kind by tightening his hold.
“Hi Aunty! This is Shantanu! And Shantanu this is Mrs Ba…er our neighbor.”
Mrs. Bak Bak chimed in eagerly, “Hi! I am Khanak’s bestest well-wisher and fan. My name is Kamini, Kamini Chatopadhyay and you are?”
Shantanu was all smiles, “I am Khanak’s favorite patient, in fact I am her…”
“Shaan!” Khanak interrupted. “Get in the elevator honey. We are already running late for the party. Sorry aunty maybe some other time.”
Shaan looked surprised but he shrugged and followed the smiling Khanak into the elevator, leaving a shell shocked Mrs. Bak Bak behind.
But as soon as the elevator doors closed Khanak pushed him away.
“Ouch! What’s this? Blow hot, blow cold? Or is it that time of the month? You know, when you female folk see red?”
“No it’s not and it’s none of your business. Are you tired of me already?” Khanak retorted with a coy toss of her mane.
“Not at all.” Shantanu grinned. “I knew from the very beginning that dear Doc Khanak has an unstable side to her psyche but least did I know it would be this unpredictable.”
“You think I’m crazy?” His paramour inquired fiercely.
“Just a little, like me. Not to worry, I can handle it perfectly fine. Now come here, let’s get on with our business.” He said crowding her into a corner.
“Hey Khanak! Wow you are looking hawt!”
Shaan turned his head and saw that they had company— a pimply teen of about fourteen or fifteen who was staring at his sweetheart with ill-concealed admiration and he wasn’t paying any attention to Shaan.
Immature Twit! How dare he call her by her first name! And how dare she let him? Shaan riled.
“Oh hi Sameer! Thank you!” Khanak blushed. “Shaan this is Sameer. Sameer…Shaan.”
Shaan gave a grumpy nod but the kid continued to gawk at Khanak.
“This ancient beast is so bloody slow. We should have taken the stairs!” Shaan couldn’t keep the irritation out of his voice.
As soon as the elevator stopped, he grabbed Khanak by the elbow and almost dragged her over to his shiny new Porsche Boxster.
“Shantanu please! What is wrong?”
“Just get in the car Khanak or do you want me to dump you in?”
She didn’t argue.
Shaan felt a certain element of control when the powerful engine of the sports car responded to the slightest pressure on the accelerator. It was like an extension of him; smooth, sleek and sure. But the grim set of his jaw line said otherwise.
Khanak had never seen Shaan like this before and wondered at the cause of his sudden change of mood. “So whose wires are crossed now or is it that certain time of month for you too?” She said in an attempt to make him laugh.
His reaction took her by surprise. “Stop it Khanak! This isn’t funny! What were you doing leading on that…that confused pubertal mess back in there?”
“What do you mean by leading on? I wasn’t doing anything like that. And if you mean Sameer, he’s just a kid Shantanu,” she protested.
“He’s not just a kid! I saw the way he was ogling at you. The fact is you are too naive and gullible!” Her companion hissed from between clenched teeth.
Khanak’s voice shook, “I’m neither! It’s you who is acting insecure and jealous. I can’t believe this! Let me out, I am going back.”
“I won’t. You are coming with me, whether you like it or not!” He locked the doors and speeded up quickly, causing Khanak to fall back into her seat. She eyes sparked with fury but prudence made her maintain her silence. She turned to the window and gazed out blankly while trying her best to not let the tears fall.
Shaan felt let down when she didn’t come flying back at him with her rebuff. Therefore, in order to drown the loaded silence, he turned the volume of the radio to full blast and was callously satisfied when he saw her flinch. But then he immediately retracted his step ashamed at deriving pleasure from her pain.
As they idled at a traffic light, Shaan’s racing thoughts and emotions gradually wound down. Music, particularly good music always had that effect on him.
Sting was singing–
Keys that jingle in your pocket
Words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly
Was it something that I said
Lovers walking along the shore,
Leave their footprints in the sand
Was the sound of distant drumming
Just the fingers of your hand
Shaan glanced at Khanak. She had withdrawn into a cocoon. Her eyes resolutely turned away in an appearance of aloofness. Her slight figure in profile looked fragile and vulnerable. The tension evident in how she held her shoulders stiff and nervously fidgeted with the metallic clasp of her purse.
He thought of what they had been through so far. Their chance meeting in the flight, then again, thrust together at the hospital. Her taking care of his responsibility Megha, and then being there when he needed her the most. How she had become an obsession that he had pursued relentlessly till she had acceded to his sentiments and made him feel on top of the world. They had accomplished so much in so little time and yet here he was behaving like a bully, trying to establish his turf, picking up a petty quarrel. She had done no wrong yet was bearing the punishment.
Looking at her almost cowering in her corner, trying to unsuccessfully pull the edge of her skirt down over the top of her knees, he felt overcome with remorse. He wanted to fall on his knees and beg her forgiveness for his shallowness and sheer hubris. He reached for her hand but she withdrew even further away.
A Major Mall in Malad W, Mumbai:
Shaan skipped the valet and drove the Boxster into the basement parking lot himself so as to get a chance to talk to Khanak. But she jumped out and disappeared even before he turned off the engine.
Silently he scoured the crowd for her lovely face but knew his task wouldn’t be easy. Khanak had seemed determined to evade him. Not being overly fond of crowded places, he usually preferred to shop in free standing shops for his clothes and other necessities. The constant bustle and hubbub of these huge brightly lit spaces made him feel alone and isolated. He wanted to find his Khanak as quickly as he could.
Where had she gone, where would she be?
He spotted the mall directory at a distance and headed over for some inspiration, oblivious of the several looks of admiration directed his way. His above average height and singular look of quiet determination added mystery and allure to his already handsome figure. He scanned the listed categories quickly and ticked them off one by one.
Jewelry? He closed his eyes and pictured Khanak in his mind. Her ear lobes were usually adorned with tiny studs except today they had been replaced with hoops. Around her neck Khanak always wore a simple chain of gold with a tiny Ganesha pendent which she had exchanged today for a delicate silver heart necklace. Her wrists and fingers were always sensibly bare. No he couldn’t imagine her in a jewelry store.
Clothes? An image of Khanak in her usual work attire of crisp cotton saris drifted across his mind except for the occasion of Megha’s birthday when she had come dressed as a living doll, one that almost had made love to (Shaan felt his heart speed up). Though he’d rarely seen her other than at work, he couldn’t imagine her checking out the latest fashions and styles. She didn’t gel as a shopping freak. He dismissed the clothiers.
Meanwhile Khanak was pacing the aisles of the second floor aimlessly. There was still a lump in her throat and her vision had started to blur again. She leaned on the railings for support and tried counting slowly to 10. Her complete unawareness of her beauty and state of mental upheaval made her especially attractive to the opposite sex leading to a few low whistles which she ignored or didn’t hear.
Her mobile beeped an SMS.
Where the hell are you? I’ve been looking all over!
She chose not to respond.
It’s getting on my nerves. Stop behaving like a child!
Are you alright? I’m worried. Sorry. Forgive me?
Shaan was getting edgy. He racked his brain again. Where would she go? Where would he go if he needed some comfort? An idea struck him and he raced to the stairs.
Khanak entered the massive Citylights bookstore that occupied all of three floors. She wondered why it was called as such when it catered to a variety of interests such as toys, music, movies, video games and other novelties. She overlooked the distractions and made a beeline to the literature section and began to slowly scan the dust jackets for her favorite titles.
Shaan was randomly flipping over the pages of the latest edition of The Economist when his nose detected a subtle scent—Khanak’s perfume. What had she called it? Beautiful. Excited he looked around and spotted her distinct frame with her shiny black hair disappear down an aisle.
He checked his immediate impulse to follow her instead entered into the neighboring aisle. He almost felt like a voyeur secretly watching the object of his desires. Her sweetheart lips shaped into a pout of concentration then relaxed into smile when she found something she liked. The gesture repeating several times as she picked up a book, lovingly flipped the pages, before placing it back.
Khanak smiled when she found a new edition of her favorite book, her copy at home was dog eared with repeated use. It was an old story, but very forward in its outlook. She was very fond of the plot which was far from prudish, in fact it’s heroine did everything with considerable passion despite several odds. Maybe she should buy it. Then abruptly she changed her mind and returned it to its slot and walked away.
PS: Am expecting my new novel ‘Now and Forever’ the sequel to Inconvenient Relations to be out soon. Will keep you posted.