Chap 2: Tumult
Khanak flipped the card over, feeling the texture with her sensitive fingers. Hmm expensive card stock; Mr. SK isn’t exactly foraging for a living. She perused the lettering;
Owner and Artistic Director
Jhankaar music and Dance Company
It was followed by a contact number; simple and to the point.
Very unusual for an entertainment company; it either spelt arrogance and self confidence or simply fame.
Then out of impulse she brought the card up to her nostrils and sniffed—a distinctive, unmistakably male scent that immediately conjured up an image of a pair of gorgeously seductive brown eyes. She recoiled as if stung and let the card drift to the floor.
What am I thinking? A hand drifted up to a rapidly fluttering heart. Control yourself, Khanak… such thoughts are forbidden. Girls such as you don’t think that way, at least not before marriage and not for somebody other than your husband!
She glanced at the card as it lay innocently on the floor. Let it lie, she had no use for it. This was her home; where she belonged. Turning the lights out, she settled down to sleep.
Meanwhile at the Chennai airport:
“Shan! It’s of no use dude! She won’t come! Girls like her are very traditional. Her parents would never agree.”
“But I thought I saw something in her eyes, a hunger to break out of the mold, to become famous! She has it in her Abhay!” He waited till the very last moment before dejectedly joining the line.
A Bright and early morning at the Mishra household in Chennai:
Like everyday it was greeted with the fragrance of agarbattis and the rhythm of bells; dancing bells which Khanak wore on her feet as she practiced her dance routine. She had done so without interruption ever since the tender age of five when she had begun learning Bharathnatyam.
Her aunt Komal, Shreya’s mother, frequently advised her to take it easy, “After so many years, dance must have become ingrained into every atom of your being; then why the need for such rigorous practice?”
“No matter chachi (aunt), the first and foremost principle of mastering any form of art is practice, practice and good practice, without which the artist will become a langur (monkey) as my Guruji says and I certainly don’t want that, do you?” Khanak laughed.
Komal shook her head, laughing along. Despite being a very mature and talented artist Khanak at times younger than Shreya who was two years her junior, “No baba, then your sasural wale (in-laws) will accuse me of sending a chimpanzee instead of the orangutan you already are!”
“Oh no chachi! I’m not going anywhere! I want to stay here with you as your monkey forever.”
“Yes my dear, you will stay with me always.” Her aunt nodded though without conviction.
Khanak was Komal and Sharat Mishras niece. Ever since her parents had been killed in a train accident when she was barely two years old, Sharat (her father’s younger brother) and his wife had taken her in and she loved them as her own parents. They had never differentiated between her and Shreya or their older son Shyam who adored her and was very protective. He was an officer in the Indian Army and had just been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. They were all very proud of him.
But this morning found Khanak distracted and unable to concentrate. She was feeling unusually irritable and listless.
She turned around briskly to see Shreya standing at the door grinning mischievously.
Khanak snapped, “What’s up? Don’t you see I’m busy?”
“What’s the matter di? You look all red and flustered as though you’ve been caught doing something you shouldn’t.” Shreya sauntered in hiding something behind her back.
Khanak ignored her cousin and began practicing her mudras–she had beautifully expressive hands. Shreya watched fascinated.
“Nothing, I’m just not myself today. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Aha! So that’s the secret behind the card. Your prince charming! Mr. Shantanu Khandelwal! Shall I tell brother and Anand?”
Khanak broke her pose and snatched at the card that Shreya was brandishing over her head. It wouldn’t do for her to spread the word. The whole household would turn upside down. The only reason why she’d been able to continue learning classical dance was because of Komal aunty’s and Shyam’s continued support and only because she had caught the eye of her Guruji as someone who possessed the potential of becoming a major exponent of the art.
Her uncle had never been for it. He was a staunch proponent of the old school which maintained that girls from good families do not perform on stage. “After schooling daughters take care of the home and hearth. It is our culture,” he often reiterated.
“Stop it Shree! He was someone who saw me as Shakuntala and wanted to know if I would be willing to join his dance company and I refused. That’s all! And don’t you dare tell anybody!”
“Aww… but di! What an incredible opportunity! Big city stage, international exposure, name, fame, I can already see your name blazing in neon: Khanak the diva of dance!” Shreya exclaimed, clasping her hands together and gazed dreamily into the distance unaware that she was giving voice to Khanak’s dreams.
“Not all dreams come true. So stop before chachu (uncle) comes to know about it!”
“Now what are we hiding from chachu? Are we making plans to go to a late night movie?” Komal walked in smiling brightly, bearing a string of fresh mallipoo (Jasmine flowers,) which she attached lovingly to Khanak’s luxurious mane; a daily ritual.
“Now my Khanak looks like an angel; Anand is very lucky indeed.” She stepped back to admire her niece whose thick black tresses contrasted most wonderfully with her smooth, glowing complexion and her classically perfect features which she had inherited from her mother.
Anand Vaidyanathan and his family had been their neighbors for as long as Khanak could remember. Her senior by a few years; he worked as an engineer for a major software company and was doing very well. Khanak had always considered him a close friend and confidant.
“Why is Anand lucky? Are you hiding something from me chachi?” Khanak asked, suddenly anxious.
“Bubbly di, Anand and his parents…” Shreya began.
“Shh! Let me tell her.” Komal said turning to Khanak. She grasped her hands, “Anand and his parents are coming over to see you today!”
“Well, for some time we have known that you like each other and Anand is a gem of a boy. He worships the ground you walk on.”
“What are you implying?”
“I’m just saying that Anand is leaving for the States soon. His parents want him to settle down before he leaves. So when they asked him, he made it quite clear that he wished to marry you and no one else. Your uncle obviously couldn’t refuse such a wonderful proposal!”
Khanak witnessed her whole world come crashing down around her. “But what about my opinion; did anyone care to ask me what I want? Yes, I do like Anand but only as a friend. I don’t love him; for me that is key for a happy marriage. Anyway I’m not interested in all that right now. I want to make a name for myself and I’ve barely begun my journey! Please, say that it’s a joke; a very cruel one but a joke nevertheless!” Khanak pleaded with desperation in her eyes.
“My child, I wish it was but it isn’t. You know your chachu quite well; once he makes up his mind no one can change it. I tried very hard but he is not willing to listen.”
“But I cannot marry Anand! I cannot!” Khanak collapsed onto the floor.
“But di!” Shreya interjected, “Anand is such a nice guy!”
Komal said, “From what I’ve seen, Anand is a young man with a very steady head on his shoulders. If you speak to him, I’m sure he will understand. He will never force your hand. He loves you way too much to hurt you.”
Khanak stared at her Aunt through tear filled eyes, “What do you mean?”
“Yes, I’ve seen it in his eyes, whenever he looks at you. Though he has probably never said so. He won’t refuse you anything.”
Khanak smiled wanly. She’d always thought she knew Anand very well. She’d never had any inkling of his feelings towards her. Never had he done anything to make her suspect it. He had always been a ready, caring companion and friend— her best friend.