“Alright! Playtime is over my darlings. Now for the juicy part.” He announced to the two of them. “I want a really hot…and I mean HOT NO HOLDS BARRED dance session.”
“I know for Shan it would be a walk in the park but Khanak…” he placed his hands on her shoulders. “My dear..you are going to have to change your persona entirely.”
She raised her eyebrows while looking doubtfully at Shan.
“I mean..you have slip out of your nice girl next door avatar and become the femme fatale! Imagine yourself as the sexy sassy wild gal who men go crazy for. You tease, you tempt, you dangle the carrot…Your moves are so hot, and desirable that Shan’s passions are ignited and he can’t rest till he has had you, tasted your skin… But you don’t give in…you just lead him on and torture the heck out of him!” Sebastian exclaimed dramatically, he was breathing hard, just getting into his groove.
Khanak flushed pink, “I can’t do that… That’s not me!”
Finally the D-Day arrived. After much deliberation Khanak chose to put on a simple sleeveless dress of fine white cotton edged with pink and white lace, with delicate barely visible baby pink and white flowers embroidered into the fabric. A wide belt of the same material enhanced her narrow waist and a short-sleeved capped baby pink bolero jacket completed the outfit. Sunita gathered her thick locks and secured them with white and pink satin ribbons high on top of her head. “My angel! You look just like a school girl. I’m surprised this dress still fits you so well. You have not gained an inch since high school!”
“Jiju to gaye kaam se! Megha is going to have some competition today!” A familiar voice piped in.
“Palak! Mama please… tell her not to irritate me!” Khanak said blushing a fiery red when her phone buzzed with an unmistakable beep.
Megha wanted to make doubly sure you’d come,
so I’m sending our driver Dharam to pick you up.
He should be there soon, Miss KissMiss!
As she tried to hide the message from her sister’s prying eyes, Khanak’s chest finally began to reverberate with relief. But why would he send his driver and not come himself, she wondered as she took a final critical look in the mirror.
The Khandelwal House had been transformed. Sparkling lights in varied colors as well as innumerable balloons decked the gate and the main entrance. A long red carpet covered the walkway and the front porch was designed to look like the entrance to a castle.
When Khanak hesitated, Dharam hurried her along with these words: “Madamji, everyone is waiting eagerly for you inside. Baby Megha has been reciting your name constantly since morning.”
Khanak smiled and raced up the steps. It will be cruel to make Megha wait any longer for her Teddy, she thought. At the entrance she was met by two clowns in elaborate costume who welcomed her with an exaggerated bow and a sweep of the hands. One even set a tiara on her head.
“So here’s our special guest, Megha’s darling Doctor Aunty! Welcome! I was getting worried.”
Khanak who was standing bedazzled by the decorations, swung around to see Khushboo walking toward her wearing a wide smile. She was resplendent as Sleeping Beauty in flowing pink. To Khanak’s surprise she hugged her tightly with what appeared to be genuine affection then led her by the hand to the backyard. The huge lawn sparkled like some Disney fairytale landscape. Round tables were covered with pink tablecloth and everything was accented with balloons, streamers and confetti. Children in colorful costumes could be seen everywhere playing, laughing and generally doing what children do. And in the midst of it all Khanak saw the star of the show Megha dressed in shimmering gold, a crown on her head and a wand in her hand. But what was that? Khanak was taken aback when the little girl suddenly broke into loud sobs prompting her to hurry over to her side. She was relieved when Megha stopped crying as soon as she saw her. “Doctor Aunty! Why are you so late? Where is Teddy?” she demanded.
Khanak stooped down to stroke her fine hair; “I’m so sorry darling. Traffic was really awful today. Here is your friend. He’s been missing you just as much as you have.”
Megha’s sad little face transformed with pristine joy when saw her restored Teddy dressed as a little prince in red and black satin. She squeezed Khanak’s waist and then planted a wet kiss on her cheek. “Thank you Aunty! This is the best gift ever!”
Khanak turned guiltily to Khushboo, who smiled at her while mouthing a silent Thank You.
Khanak watched on fondly as Megha kissed and played with her teddy when an unmistakable voice made a loud announcement: “To all prince and princess friends; Megha invites everyone to come and watch a special puppet show put up for you exclusively by her dearest Chachu uncle and Doctor Aunty!”
Shantanu stood on what appeared to be a specially constructed stage; dashing in a Prince Aladdin costume- white silk shirt and pants, purple vest and cloak and a turban to match! He grinned and waved at her asking her to come and join him, and Khanak didn’t have time to think when Megha excited screams pierced the air and she was swept along with the rest.
The rest of the evening went by in a blur. Khanak felt animated like a child when Megha forced her to participate in all the games and entertainment. But Shantanu took the cake by seeming to be the biggest child of them all. There was the puppet show and the search for the glass slipper followed by a treasure hunt and of course the inevitable magic show. All these activities took a toll on the children that when it was time for to cut the huge castle like cake most of them were practically asleep, except Megha.
“Khanak, will you help me put Megha to bed? I don’t think she can stay up any longer.”
Khanak followed Khushboo as she carried her little girl to her room then tucked her into bed after kissing her goodnight. Teddy had regained his place at her side.
“Thank you Khanak. You don’t know how wonderful you are.” Khushboo smiled as Khanak left the room and gently closed the door.
“Could you… consider pretending,” Shaan paused; “that we are… deeply in love with each other?” He said and waited for her reaction. Please don’t say no.
“Pretend?” Khanak’s beautiful eyes grew wide.
“Uh…huh…I mean put on an act for the benefit of the world in general and one person in particular—Tash. ‘Cause I want to hit her where it hurts the most. I want to crush her pride, make her blind with jealousy. So much that she digs her own grave and falls victim to her own machinations.
And do so in such a manner that there is no hope for recovery. She deserves no sympathy;” he said looking grim and determined.
But his eyes were tender when they turned to Khanak; “This way she will surmise nothing and when she does… it’ll be too late.”
“But why play a game? Why don’t you simply tell it to her face?” Khanak asked.
He sighed; “I could but she wouldn’t believe me. She has assumed such a thick cloak of self-glorification and prejudice that criticism or rejection of any kind will glide off like water from a duck’s back.
No that wouldn’t work,” he pursed his lips. “That armor has to be riddled with so many holes that she drowns in her own putrid cesspool of despair. And I think it can be done because she too possesses a vice that has spelt the downfall of many…”
His mouth twisted into a cynical smirk; “For some reason she possesses this false notion that she is irresistible. That she is god’s gift to man. She believes I’m crazy about her and that I’m just playing hard to get which makes her even more tenacious. What she doesn’t get is that men look for other things in a potential mate… like inner beauty for instance.” He looked keenly into Khanak’s eyes making her blush again.
Shaan stared riveted. He was enchanted by her virgin allure. He fought a compelling urge to take her in his arms and reassure her of his undying devotion.
It is agonizing but I can’t rush it now, he thought. That moment has come and gone. Her trust in me has faltered and in order to win it again I have to give her space and give her time.
“Shan I’m really pissed that you find your watch more attractive than your companion!” Natasha pouted.
You got that right, he mused while shooting off a text to Diva hoping Khanak would be with him.
“Shan I’m talking to you!”
“Where is Ms. Mishra? Wasn’t she supposed to be here tonight?” inquired Rohan Khatri, one of the designer twins who had opted to let his brother organize the entire show tonight, while he watched from the side lines.
“Ms. Mishra? Who is she?” Tashu asked casually.
Shan didn’t care to enlighten her, sure that she knew already, but was putting on an act of ignorance.
“Rohan is talking about Ms. Khanak Mishra, Jhankaar’s new lead dancer, isn’t she Shan?” Tarun drawled directing a sly smile at him.
“Yes she is!” Shan snapped back pretty sure that Tarun had a hand in Khanak’s disappearance tonight. I need to get to the bottom of this! He resolved but didn’t have time to act on his intentions as the show had already started.
Khatri’s summer collection was on display. Tall, thin dead pan models swayed their bony hips down the cat walk sporting various articles of clothing in bright summer colors.
While the women oohed and aahed and their men ogled at the skimpily clad girls, Shan didn’t see anything because Khanak had completely taken over his mind.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” A widely beaming Roshan Khatri had taken the mike seemingly unable to contain his excitement. “We are indeed privileged that Jhankaar has chosen our venue to show off their latest acquisition…. their new lead; the gorgeous Ms. Khanak Mishra!”
Shan sat up, his blues abruptly driven away. She’s here! She didn’t let me down!
“I’m so sorry Shan that you have to make do with someone who is well below your usual level of expectations! Hope you’ll forgive me but you see I couldn’t help it..;” Natasha pouted.
“You better reserve your judgment for after you’ve seen the performance! You may be unpleasantly surprised!” He didn’t hear another word.
The curtains on the grand stage drew slowly apart unveiling a scene that resembled an artist’s studio. Canvases, paints and other paraphernalia lay scattered all over.
Shan was surprised when Diva appeared wearing a smock splattered with paint. But he wasn’t acting his usual happy self, instead he seemed in agony as he paced around like a wild man. He trashed the canvas he was working on and pulled at his hair, seeming utterly deranged. He was brilliant, he had captured the audience’s attention.
Appearing unable to handle the situation anymore, he finally went and stood in front of a shrouded canvas that occupied center stage. He pulled away the sheet revealing an unfinished painting of a girl in a veil. He hugged the canvas and broke into tears. It was clear he had fallen in love with his own creation and as a result was suffering the consequences. He collapsed on the floor in misery.
Then perhaps as if by the force of his incredible passion and love, the painting seemed to come to life.
The scene transformed into a dreamscape.
A slim graceful figure emerged slowly from the fog–her face hidden by a veil of gossamer blue.
The audience moved as one, their eyes glued on her, instinctively knowing they were about to witness something extraordinary, as her bell clad feet struck the floor, effortlessly keeping pace with the rhythm.
Shan smiled—Khanak was back where she belonged.
Glancing around him, he saw all eyes without exception were trained on the lone figure on stage as if bound by an invisible thread. Even Tash’s curiosity seemed perked.
He too moved to the edge of his seat, his pulse racing. Anxious. He did not want to miss the moment when her face would be revealed.
There was a collective sharp intake of breath as the danseuse, tossed her veil away revealing a visage that was exceptionally beautiful not only due to its exquisitely etched features rather more so for an untouched, untainted quality rarely encountered in showbiz.
Her loveliness was of a substance that dreams are made of. Something remote and unattainable.
She was like an ‘apsara’–a heavenly maiden who held in thrall not just her creator but each and everyone who laid eyes on her. With the allure of her wonderfully expressive face and the smooth elegant movements of her hands that moved seamlessly with her lithe body, she cast her spell.
The memories of the first time Shan had laid eyes on Khanak came flooding back when as Shakuntala, she had enchanted and held him captive. Yet this time the magic was reinforced several fold.
He had fallen head over heels and he fell again. This time quite willingly, offering little resistance as she interpreted the simple yet profound words of the song.
‘’Lat uljhi suljha ja baalam..’’
His eyes followed her in a trance as she danced down the catwalk and catching his gaze smiled mysteriously and motioned to him if he would care to rearrange her wild untamed tresses. He was urged to rush on to the stage and run his fingers through her hair. But was the very next moment he was swamped with envy when she turned toward someone else and asked him to set right the awry vermillion dot on her forehead.
‘’Maathe ki bindiya bikhar gayi hai..apne haath sajaa ja baalam.’’
Such was the power of her ‘abhinaya’ or art of expression that each member of the audience felt that she was personally conversing with him or her.
The rhythmic part of her dance was equally mesmerizing illustrated by her dynamic footwork and lightning quick pirouettes that made her skirt swirl around like a floating galaxy of glittering stars.
There was a pin drop silence in the auditorium when the music ended and Khanak held her finishing position.
Everyone let out a collective sigh. It was followed by a deafening roar as they all stood up to give her a standing ovation and inundated her with flowers.
Khanak collapsed into a chair in the green room. Her feet that had been flying across the large stage seemed now unable to hold her up anymore. She trembled with hands clasped over her flushed cheeks and said; “…they appeared to like me Diva.”
“Like you?!” Diva grasped her shoulders; “My dear, they loved you. Theyadored you! Didn’t you hear the clamor?”
“I…I did,” she replied. Her eyes were shining. “…and it was such a relief! I was worried as it was a fashion show with a western theme…would they accept an all Indian number?”
Diva broke into a loud guffaw, “if you are talking about the pretenders, then yes, there is no dearth of the kind. It is laughable when you see how they try to outdo each other trying to exhibit their…” he gestured with his fingers, “…phorenness and look down upon anything even faintly ‘Indian.’ But deep inside they cannot deny their roots and after all art does not have a language nor a country. If you are good at what you do, you’ll have no trouble finding people who will appreciate your work wherever you go, and that’s what it’s all about!”
Khanak nodded seeming relieved.
“You have arrived lady! Ms. Khanak Mishra has arrived! Just beware the likes of Tash, Tarun and co!” He had a broad beam on his face as he removed her new dress from the hanger.
Khanak’s face fell, “I saw her. She was sitting next to him, looking like a doll…so beautiful.”
“Yes. A painted doll! Khanak…!” He exclaimed in apparent frustration, “…how can I explain to you? Please don’t waste time comparing yourself with her or for that matter anyone else! I see it, the audience sees it and most important of all Shan sees it! You are different and hence unique! You’d stand out in any crowd! While most of them out there are engaged in pretending to be what they aren’t, Natasha included, you are comfortable in your own skin! With your abundance of talent and energy, you don’t have to fear anybody, rather they need to fear you! Did you get that?”
“Yes I got it. You don’t have to repeat that again. May I recommend you to anyone who needs a pep talk?” Khanak said giving Diva a tight hug.
“Oh..C’mon don’t make Diva blush!” But he looked pleased.
A loud banging on the door made them both jump.
“Khanak are you there? I need to see you!” They heard Shan yell.
“Diva! What will I do? How will I behave?” Khanak asked anxiously.
“My dear, you don’t have to do anything. Just follow his lead and trust your instincts.” He chuckled and walked over to the door and threw it open.
“What’s going on here?” Shan demanded barging in.
“Girl talk. Now she’s all yours.” Diva said cocking his head sassily to one side. “I think I better say hi to my old friend,” he winked suggestively at Khanak before sashaying out but not before blowing Shan a kiss that made him blush.
Khanak giggled nervously.
“Khanak I…” Shan began but had to stop as he felt an odd sensation of movement, as if he was about to fall. He almost staggered back against the door.
No girl ever before had had this effect on him.
In a halter neck antique rose Versace dress of silk tulle and georgette embroidered entirely in crystal Khanak looked so radiant and ethereal that he feared she’d disappear at any moment.
Her cheeks burned under his gaze. He found his voice at last, “you…”
“Were you pleased?” she asked, her brilliant eyes laced with anxiety.
“Pleased? By what…” He repeated before the implication of her words dawned on him. Damn! Only she can pose such a question! “Khanak! You better wipe off words like that from your dictionary” He continued approaching her, “I don’t know how to say it. You were phenomenal! Perhaps one of the best if not the best dance debuts on the Mumbai stage…” Then he dared to venture further as she shyly lowered her gaze—-“You took my heart and this time I’m not sure if I want it back.”
Below is my favorite rendering of this beautiful song—
Liking it so far. Please leave a few words in comment. 🙂
A blinding flash of light followed by another and yet another then several in succession.
Shiny limos plying equally shiny bodies that disembarked and gave the paparazzi their much needed glamour and gossip fix.
But Shaan didn’t realize that he too was one among them—a willing player expected to read his lines from a script repeated and rehashed so many times that it had become second nature. So much that sometimes it was hard to distinguish the real from the put on.
But this acting and role playing had become boring and stale. He wished he could fling the cloak away and scream—This is not me!
And that urge was particularly pressing today as he stood there all alone on the red carpet acutely missing his new associate and partner.
He wasn’t flashing his usual heartbreak smile nor paying heed to the earsplitting screams of jostling fans leaning over the fences with their arms and bodies stretched out, wanting to touch, to get a piece of him.
He appeared totally unaware of it all and that infused his persona with a uniquely mystic and attractive aura.
Where is she? Should be here by now. Not a peep from her since she left in a hurry this afternoon!Is she not coming? She said she would be here well in time. Khanak isn’t one to shirk from her professional duties. He racked his brains; Did she take that blabbermouth Trish seriously…or did something happen between her and that loser?
A voice hailed him from behind—“Someone is looking wickedly distracting tonight!”
He didn’t have to turn around to figure who it was. He cringed; “Natasha…you here?”
She was checking him out in her usual pose—perfectly coiffed head slightly tilted to one side, a slightly amused smile playing on voluptuous red lips and a svelte figure wrapped in deep sea green that perfectly offset her eyes. She had mastered the art of snaring attention.
Yet it did nothing for him. He stared blankly at her.
“Are you so overwhelmed with happiness that you are struck speechless?”
He heard one of the Khatri brothers’ high pitched laughter in the background. It was their show and she was the guest of honor.
He flashed her his usual smile; “think what you will Tash.”
“Won’t you walk with your dear old friend? Or have you forgotten your manners?”
Shan offered her his arm though he’d have preferred to seem uncouth and walk away. The news hounds didn’t need any more scoops that night.
Earlier at Diva’s–
Khanak had rushed over following the prompts of her instinct knowing that he was probably the only one most likely to provide the peace and comfort she so desperately desired.
“Now look at yourself!” Diva said turning her around to face the mirror.
Khanak’s stared at her image wide eyed, “Do I look okay?”
“Okay? OMG girl! Get real!” Diva exclaimed in exaggerated surprise. Today he had on a purple do with sweats to match.
“You look sensational! Stupendous! Kya kehte hain usko… Item! Yes you look like an item! And in that shade of blue you are bound to send the whole audience to the hospital–the men with hearts attacks and the women in a raging jealous hysteria!”
Khanak laughed; “Oh please leave it Diva! Don’t flatter me! Tell me the truth!”
“You hurt my heart!” he looked woebegone.
“Oh I didn’t mean that! I’m so sorry!” She jumped up to console him; “You are so sweet. I’m just not used to so much praise.”
“Girl get this straight!” he said tapping her shoulder lightly with his beautifully manicured fingers. “What Diva says Diva does! He speaks his mind–showering praise or critiquing when and where it is deserved. I don’t believe in keeping people in the dark!”
She nodded waiting expectantly.
“All right,” he smiled gently holding the point of her chin between his thumb and forefinger; “Let me put it simply. You possess a special kind of beauty, a rare hypnotic mix of innocence and charm. It is so powerful that it can even make a gay man wish he was straight.”
Her cheeks grew warm when she noticed that he was quite serious.
He then laughed and blushed himself, “But if that were to happen my Shaan wouldn’t like it at all! And Diva cannot afford to infuriate one of his best customers can he? Uske biceps dekhe tumne? Did you see his biceps? Mein toh mar hi jaoonga! I’ll be dead for sure!”
“That’s where you are wrong,” Khanak said solemnly turning back to the mirror.
“Diva wrong? Never! And that Shan is an open book for me. I’ve seen the way he looks at you sweetheart! Haven’t you?” His face wore a fond smile.
Khanak pursed her lips and shook her head not wanting to acknowledge what her heart so eagerly wished to believe.
“Eyes speak a lot…and I know exactly what Shan’s say.”
Khanak made a valiant attempt to steel herself, “He is a very nice man, kind and generous. It’s just his compassion that you see.”
“Okay. So be it. But why should you let that bother you?” Diva asked watching her closely for her response.
Khanak dropped her gaze; “I…I…”
Diva chuckled; “There! So the flame burns equally on both ends! Wonderful! I can’t wait to dress you up for the wedding!”
“Diva please don’t!” Khanak exploded in anguish. “… that can never happen!”
“Shan is meant for Natasha. They complement each other perfectly. They are the eternal couple!’”
“What utter rubbish! Who has filled your head with such bakwas?” Diva appeared genuinely surprised.
“I see it everywhere…in the news….magazines…even Tarun…”
“Tarun!” Diva spat out, “…that slimy SOB! His only job is to create malevolent mischief! Don’t you believe a single word he says! As for the magazines, Khanak hon… I didn’t think you were so naive! Don’t you know the only way the media keeps itself in business is by feeding the frenzy and fanning the rumors?”
She wasn’t convinced; “Yes you may be right. But I believe it in my heart to be true. She has been Shan’s friend and partner for a long time and he has relied on her. The only reason I came into the picture is due to the accident.”
Diva nodded, “Some of what you say is true but not everything. These eyes have seen a lot.” He laughed, “You can call me a walking behind the scenes encyclopedia! If I get my memoirs published I’ll become an instant millionaire! But then who’ll trust in me?” He said wryly.
Khanak gave his hand a tight squeeze; “I do Diva…”
He smiled, “I know you do darling. That’s why I love you. You are pure of heart and you don’t pass judgments just because…”
He paused before going on; “…as far as Natasha is concerned… she too used to be like you at one time… fresh, talented, hardworking, eager to make a mark. But then she changed, she became a victim to fame. She became self-centered. She couldn’t tolerate anyone better or even as good herself…she couldn’t let independent talent thrive. So instead of working on improving herself she began to resort to crooked and devious ways. She made herself indispensable to Shan; started producing his shows… took on some of the hiring and firing in the pretense of helping him out. It was a way of making sure that nobody in Jhankaar could challenge her position and then even got him to give her an exclusive contract.”
Diva looked at Khanak, “I could see Shan’s frustration build. He wanted to break free from her. But she had accumulated a lot of powerful ‘friends’ in the industry who always managed to convince him otherwise. Then all of a sudden out of the blue, I don’t know what occurred in that twisted mind of hers that she decided to break her ankle…”
Khanak broke in, “Break her ankle? What do you mean? Which dancer would want to do such a thing on purpose? You must be mistaken!”
“Exactly, no dancer in her right mind, but Tash isn’t sane! When she saw Shan unwilling to toe the line, she took it upon herself to teach him a lesson. So just before the new season began she faked an accident and broke her ankl, sure that he won’t find anyone else good enough to take her place thereby making him undergo a major loss and ultimately enslave him for the rest of his life. But…” Diva smiled, “…she made a mistake. She failed to figure you in to her calculations.”
Khanak stared unblinkingly at Diva, stunned at the revelation.
“Unbelievable isn’t it? But this is how showbiz works…talent isn’t enough anymore. You need a mentor…and fortunately you’ve found the best one in Shan.”
Khanak was at a loss for words; all this information was too much to absorb. It was difficult to fathom that evil could reside behind such a beautiful face.
Diva glanced at his phone and cried out, “OMG! Talk of the devil! You have been summoned!”