10: A Story of Love
“So am I in for sure?” Khanak asked anxiously as Shan tossed his bike keys to the parking attendant at his apartment complex.
“Dhyaan se Shyaam (careful Shyaam)…not a single scratch should be seen.”
The boyish attendant raised a cheeky finger in salute before roaring away on the shining vehicle in glee. Shan chuckled shaking his head indulgently.
“Kya (What?) ..He just drove away on your bike and you are laughing? What if he steals it?”
“He won’t..he’s an honest boy who leads a very tough life. I’m just letting him have his moment of thrill, he lives for it..did you see how his face lit up when he turned the engine on?”
Khanak nodded, appreciating this new soft side of Shan which he kept well hidden. Inside all the glitz and glamour hid a very caring and real human being.
“And yes you are in. Why..were you in doubt?”
“I..I, wasn’t sure..after what happened on the stage with Tarun.. I questioned myself.” She said nervously.
His features tightened. “Tarun shouldn’t have done that..his behavior was totally unacceptable and I don’t know why Div didn’t put a stop to it either. He’s been getting out of hand lately..I need to warn him not to take his position for granted.”
“Thank you so much! Oh God I’m so happy! If I hadn’t got the job..I don’t know what I’d have done.”
“What do you mean?” He was distracted by loud barking as he unlocked the door..
The giant puppy almost knocked her over putting both his forepaws on her shoulders and licking her face with great enthusiasm.
Shan laughed. “You better start putting makeup on. Horse hates how that tastes.”
“Then I definitely won’t, he’s adorable!” Khanak said smiling hugging Horse tight.
Shan smiled back, still having some trouble accepting her simplicity and down to earth attitude. She’s so different from the rest..like a breath of fresh air.
“Shucks! I forgot, today’s Dibu’s day off!” He said noticing the bare dining table. “Maybe we can go out to eat..what say?”
“Can I suggest something?” Khanak asked after quickly going through the pantry and refrigerator.
“Would you mind if I tried my hand at some cooking? I’ve been tremendously missing my aunt’s home cooked bhojan (meal).”
“Sure, sure..be my guest! I’d love to taste something other than Dibu’s standard continental fare.”
Khanak did a small jig on the spot and would have hugged Shan but held back at the last moment.
He grinned, his eyes following her as she rushed in to the guest room for what she said was a quick shower.
“My my..what do you think Horse? She’s not just a fantastic dancer but also full of other delightful surprises.. Hmm what if I ask her to stay here forever..would she agree?”
“STOP! You cannot go in there..unless I go with you and that she won’t allow!”
He struggled to pull the pup back as he decided to amble into the bedroom after Khanak. “You’ll have me hanged one of these days..GOD!”
Trying with great difficulty to appear cool and composed Khanak went about preparing an ambitious meal while Shan watched her with his arms resting on the granite counter, sipping a martini a la James Bond ‘shaken not stirred’.
“Smells like heaven..You’ll soon be dealing with the green eyed monster in Dibu’s guise for sure.”
“He should be least concerned…I’m not planning to take his place.”
“I wish otherwise…you are definitely more picturesque than he ever will be.”
Khanak blushed before turning away to chop some onions which had her sniffling in no time.
“Hey let me..I’m the best onion chopper in the business.” Shan volunteered eagerly. But by some strange act of fate he ended up slicing his own thumb. “I seem to have become weak and accident prone lately..wonder why.” He said looking at her with an innocent smile as she spruced him up. “Maybe I like being pampered.”
“What?” She looked sharply at him..
“Here..I think you can take care of the rest yourself!” She said thrusting the bandage in his hands.
“Hey..I didn’t mean to. It’s just that its been so long. I..I guess I’m missing Dadi ma’s touch.” His face fell and his eyes seemed lost in a far off place.
She felt sorry for him, wanting to know more but didn’t think it was her place to intrude. Why had Diva appeared so concerned about him? “Ahh..nothing like the aroma of traditional Indian spices to titillate the taste buds.. Methi Aloo, phulke, Kashmiri pulao, mint raita, sambhar soup and kulfi.”
“No ice cream?” Shan asked.
“Hmm..kulfi sounds more authentic don’t you think?”
He dug in to the repast with single minded dedication and nothing was said for the next half hour while Khanak looked on with trepidation.
He got up from his chair and walked over to where she was watching silently twisting and untwisting the cream napkin over and over on her fingers.
“You didn’t like it?”
“Like!” He dropped down on his knees..took her hands in his gently kissing her palms not letting go as she tried to pull them away.
“What can I say to someone who reminds me of a past that I want to forget? Those wonderful yet painful memories when my grandma used to make methi aloo and bread just like this and feed me with her own hands after my father had locked me up in my room when he discovered that I hadn’t gone to school once again? What can I say?” His eyes delved deep into hers.
“But he never did so to my brother or my sister… I used to wonder if I was really his son and repeated the same mistake over and over waiting for the day when he would just pat my head and tell me it was fine and to not do it again.”
“That day never came…” He laughed. “And grandma died and all hell broke loose.” He turned to Khanak earnestly, gripping her fingers hard in his hands. “Tell me! How can a true parent mistreat one child while rain love on another? How is that possible?!”
She wrenched her hands away, stood up and pretended to get busy clearing the table. “I don’t know..that’s a tough question to answer.” His words had made her recollect her own painful memories..would chachu do the same to Shree?
“I’m sorry about your grandma, it’s really hard to say good bye to someone whom you really love.” She turned away and briskly walked nto the open kitchen, trying to hide the tears that had sprung up in her eyes.
He followed and pulled her around with force. “Why don’t you know the answer? Why can’t you tell me?”
“Because I am an orphan that’s why!”
He stared stunned at her for several moments. “But I thought you had a loving and supportive family..”
“Yes..so did I. But when my chachu who I used to think the world of, insisted on marrying me off against my wishes, because he considered me a liability..I couldn’t stay to find out, I ran away and..and here I am. I really don’t know if my father would have done the same thing. If he’d have also killed my dreams.. Because he’s long dead and gone, so is my mother.”
She broke down and he hugged her gently letting her cry, while Horse came up and rubbed against her leg.
Khanak stepped back suddenly and wiped her nose roughly with the edge of her dupatta. “I’m..sorry. I shouldn’t have done that..you are my Boss and I’m your employee.” She bent down and kissed Horse on his head.
“No I consider you much more than that.”
She threw a sharp glance at him.
“I mean..I’m a human being first and then anything else.”
“I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to invoke your kindness or your pity. I wish to be hired only on the basis of my talent, that is what I’ve worked hard on all my life and that’s why I left my home. If I don’t fit the bill then tell me so frankly, I’ll leave right away. I’m sure I’ll find something else.” She smiled trying to make it sound easy and casual. “I can join a smaller company or maybe even teach dance..I’m sure there are plenty of parents out there who want their children to get a taste of their culture and heritage.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” He looked down intently at her face while grabbing her arms again. “I’d never have hired you if I didn’t think that you were the right one for me. You have that spark, that josh, that spirit inside you which I’ve seen in no one else. You make the stage come alive and make me feel like I want to dance with you..be a part of your story. I want to…I want to…” He stopped abruptly and stared at her not believing the words that were at the tip of his tongue. Was he going insane? Or was he unconsciously falling into a trap that he himself had helped create? Was it all an infatuation?
Horse’s loud barking at the door came as a welcome interruption. Shan felt unusually tongue tied and bothered. His new companion was wrecking havoc on his organized and uncluttered life and he wasn’t sure what to make of it all. Yet he didn’t like the disturbance. “Who can it be at this God forsaken hour?”
It was only 10 pm.
“Hello..boyfriend! We have a date tonight!” Trish walked in all saucy wearing a backless dress with a deep revealing neckline, a red satin bow around her scrawny neck and heels to match.
“What date..I don’t remember any..and anyway I have loads of work left to do.” He said glancing at Khanak.
“Darling!” Trish hung on to his arm while Horse started a low continuous growl. “Remember last Valentine’s when that Tash stole you from me..that Bitch! You promised to make up by taking me out this year..and today is the day! Besides your whole artsy stuck up gang will be there.”
“Yes Shan.” Tarun said sauntering in behind his sister looking dapper and snooty in a white jacket and red bow. “Navin Jha and Sherie Bajaj are both supposed to make an appearance with their respective exes..you know how they adore the ground you walk on and doing a little PR especially at a time like this doesn’t hurt does it?” Aiming a sly wink at Khanak.
“Don’t be a nerd baby, where is your fun side? Oh will you ask that stupid animal to shut up! How do you tolerate that thing!” Trish said waving her red painted nails in Khanak’s direction. She already looked plastered. “Anyways here I am lover boy, give us a kiss.” she pouted her dark red lips.
Khanak looked away embarrassed. “Please excuse me, I need to practice what Tina taught me today.”
“No..you come too, meet the in crowd, get familiar with their ‘high class’ ways! You can be my bro’s date since none of his are planning to show up!”
“Trish, that isn’t very nice!” Tarun glowered.
“I’m just saying the bitter truth my dearest bhaiya (brother). It’s high time you realized that girls aren’t toys!”
“But…” Khanak protested then agreed with much reluctance on seeing Shan’s faint nod.
The Buddha Baron (An upscale watering hole and dance lounge haunted by the who’s who of Mumbai’s entertainment industry.)
The youthful party of four managed to attract attention as soon as they made their entrance. Though Tarun and his sister Trish were no mean eye candy..the objects of particular interest were the very handsome pair who accompanied them. Shan in a black tux which he had chosen to wear over a red silk shirt with a fluffed red silk handkerchief as the only adornment making him appear rakishly debonair and charming at the same time and the lovely girl who stood behind dressed in a simple yet elegant white tulle cocktail dress with a sweetheart neckline and a twisted red satin cinched waist which enhanced her fresh beauty but what attracted everybody more was her wide eyed innocence and naiveté which was a rare sight to behold.
“Ahh.. I like it so much here..at least I don’t have to watch out for some old fart’s hand up my arse!” Trish said loudly to Khanak who was busy absorbing the sights around her. The colorful language took a lot of getting used to but she had to reluctantly agree with her view..the place was huge!
The ambience at once stunned and mesmerized the untrained eye. The decor in reds and golds with wooden panels and exotic artifacts looked classy and refined but at the same instant managed to appear glamorous and trendy. The center of focus was a giant Buddha the bar’s namesake, sitting serenely enthroned. The covered entry led into a large open area decorated with amber colored lighting and red and gold Chinese paper lanterns.
A live band played in the background giving the evening a sensual feel.
Couples dressed in the theme colors of the evening were already swinging to the music.
“Thank you.” Khanak said softly as Shan pulled back her chair, both remained acutely aware of the other despite making a singular effort to avoid any kind of contact.
She sighed in relief when he hurried away after being hailed by a particularly large boisterous group; their earlier conversation had put her feelings all in a jumble.
Tarun didn’t wait around much longer either..he was still miffed at being targeted by Shan in front of the other dancers. He believed that he had been unfairly singled out and blamed it squarely on Khanak.
“My brother is such a jerk…he makes every girl he goes out with think that she is the only one while actually he is just playing the field.” Trish observed while they watched Tarun cozy up to a very buxom blonde.
She drew in hard on her pink women’s special filters before letting the smoke drift out through her nostrils then promptly went into a coughing fit. “*** these cigarettes! I thought they’d make me look cool for Shan, but he hardly looks at me. I’d rather have red wine instead..they say it’s good for your health.” she giggled. “By the by has he come on to you?” She asked Khanak archly.
Khanak flushed. “What kind of stupid question is that? I just work for him.”
“But I know your heart goes ding dong when you are with him and I’ve also seen the way he looks at you.. Wanna be my chammak challo o.o..” Trish winked taunting her while she jigged on the spot to the catchy tune.
“Trish please there’s nothing like that between us…” Khanak said trying to remain calm while feeling all giddy and agitated inside.
“Ahh..jaane do (let go) you can have him..I don’t want him, anyway he has no time for me.” Trish brushed her off. “I went after him only on my **** bro’s say so. When he said it’ll help make Marcus jealous. Ohhh..Marcus, Marcus..when will you come back to your Cleo?”
Khanak followed Trish’s dazed eyes to the dance floor where she saw a slim and very attractive young man dancing intimately with a scantily dressed girl.
“Isn’t he a dish! We used to be always together until Tarun spoiled everything! Oh..I know Marcus wants me back, if only he’d answer my calls.” she said her eyes screwed up. “No I must not cry..that’ll spoil my makeup then he won’t look at me at all!”
Khanak found her a tissue and watched blow her nose hard into it. She realized that Trish was a lost and thoroughly spoilt girl who was being exploited by her brother for his own gains..she wondered at what they were.
“I think I’ll go to Marcus and tell him everything!” Trish got up and wavered over to the dance floor holding onto tables for support, she could hardly stand straight.
“Khanak!” Shan came over with a couple of his friends who looked like twins. He held out his hand to her, “let me introduce you to some of the best known names in the fashion industry..the Khatri brothers–Rohan and Roshan and this is Ms Khanak Mishra., my new lead dancer.”
Khanak smiled feeling quite a bit exposed as both the brothers swept her over.
The one called Rohan grabbed her hand and smooched it sloppily. “Nice meeting you Ms Kha.nak..I’m sure we shall keep in touch.”
Shan eyed him with derision before whisking her away. He whispered, “keep away from those two..they are wolves in disguise. But you don’t have to worry, I won’t let them touch you!”
She looked up at his face and was arrested by a strange look in those yummy brown eyes. Her pulse went haywire.
The music picked up, a very familiar rhythm..one which made her want to dance and sing with joy.
Placing an arm possessively about her waist he pulled her to the open floor. “Shall we show them what dancing is all about?”
He jerked her close to his chest, a warm hand firmly supporting her back. “It’s time for your first show..Just remember I lead.. you follow.”
She smiled and nodded, feeling no fear at all.
She danced without hesitation, as if the movements were ingrained into her body, following his every move smoothly. Then gaining confidence, feeling a familiar thrill of being in the limelight she came into her own. Her eyes sparkled with mischief as she smiled coquettishly and her body teased him drifting very close and then moving away making his heart race with excitement as if she was dancing for him alone and no one else.
No one dared share the stage with them. They held their breath as they watched the two dance as one..lovers caught in each other’s spell..
He reluctantly released her after acknowledging the thunderous applause moved back and let her take her bows. I need to take care, this is definitely more than just infatuation.