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Rhythm&Blues Chap 9: DUET

duet

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9: DUET

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DIVA’s  Supplies for the True Dancer at Heart

Khanak looked around the small yet beautifully arrayed shop which Shan said had all the supplies that a dancer of any caliber would need. He had brought her there to get her fit into some essentials–“You should always dress the part..and contemporary dancing means freedom of movement.”

“Hello Princess!”

She turned guiltily from a floor length mirror where she had been checking herself holding a sparkly gold costume to her chest.

“Let me introduce you to Damon the Diva, without whom none of our shows would see the light of day. He has us all hanging tightly on to his leotard strings!”

Shan made a show of introducing a very slim and good looking man who could have been anywhere between 25-40 yrs of age being blessed with a complexion any girl would kill for! Sporting perfectly arched eyebrows, makeup and coiffed hair he could have easily passed for a pretty girl had it not been for his voice which was a dead giveaway. “Another jaw dropping performance don’t you agree Shan darling?”

“Yes nobody can beat you Damon!” Shan laughed as Khanak snapped close her sagging mouth. This was the first time she was confronting a gay man who was unafraid to openly flaunt his sexuality.

Damon smiled benignly at her with an elegantly manicured hand placed daintily on Shan’s arm–an act leading to significant discomfort. “Darling..I understand, I tend to shock people sometimes. And you look like such an innocent!” He turned to Shan, “How did this beautiful creature land amongst us big bad wolves sweetheart? You promise to take care of her, don’t you?”

Shan cleared his throat. “She’s old enough to take care of herself, but if you insist…”

“I do..and I know you’ll enjoy doing so.” Damon winked at Khanak who blushed a deep pink.

“You know I’ve had a crush on this gorgeous hunk from the very first time I laid eyes on him but he has sworn to be straight.” He said looking utterly crushed, “and now I no longer wonder why..”

His intimation wasn’t lost upon Khanak who looked plaintively toward her employer.

“Don’t jump to conclusions Damon, Khanak here is a phenomenal dancer classically trained in Bharatanatyam and she is doing me a great big favor by agreeing to take Tashu’s place this season.”

“Ohh! I’m so sorry..me and my naughty mind!” Damon smiled slyly, not for a moment appearing convinced. “I absolutely love Bharatanatyam..Lord Shiva is so Hott! Don’t you think?” He exclaimed while attempting to strike the Nataraja pose which had Khanak break out laughing with her head thrown back–a sight of pure untainted merriment that held Shan spellbound.

She concluded that she liked Damon the Diva very much indeed. People like him who were unapologetic and very comfortable in their own skin were hard to come by in her profession.

“Can we hurry up Diva? Got to get to the studio!” Shan was getting antsy.

But the Diva wasn’t one to be hurried, he liked to take his time.

“So we are shopping for essentials are we? A perfect 4, I should think, don’t you agree Shan?” He said discerningly, his piercing gaze giving Khanak such a once over that she felt like a slab of meat hanging at the butcher’s shop. It took her every single ounce of control to avoid crossing her arms over her chest.

Shan realizing her discomfort looked away. “Whatever you say..you know best.”

“Oh thank you my dear. Come darling! Let the Diva create his magic.” Diva pulled Khanak into the interior of the store..and handed her a bunch of spandex in black, peach and cream which he rapidly and efficiently snatched off the racks and then pushed her into a dressing room. “Try these on for size and then show them to me. Don’t be shy! I’ve seen a lot of girls in the barest minimum! Somehow they feel comfortable stripping in front of me..perhaps because I tend not to get excited..hmmm?”

Khanak had to agree for Damon was soon tucking here and pulling there and she felt as if she was with her girlfriend though the costumes were another deal altogether.

Damon smiled upon seeing her trying to adjust the neckline of a particularly revealing leotard.

“Darling..you have the body so why not flaunt it? Women in this country are allowed to do so and get appreciated..unlike men! Imagine our Shan out there in tights! Phew! Just thinking about it makes me sweat!” He verbalized fanning his face with his hand.

“Women will have heart attacks in droves and the poor man will be arrested for indecent exposure! You can expect such double standards only in our land..otherwise why would they banish me, the best contralto ever to grace the stage..once they came to know that I wasn’t like them?”

“Hmmph! It’s because each and every so called man in a position of power is a PIG!”

“Oh..I’m so sorry Damon, I couldn’t agree with you more.” Khanak said seeing the subject had hit a sensitive chord.

“Oh..forget about it darling.” He smiled cheerfully, “that’s just me stirring up ancient wounds. No matter, it is  your time to shine now!”

“There..look at you!” He swung her around to face the mirror and she let out a gasp of delight upon seeing her long hair pulled up to one side of her head in a elegantly knotted ponytail.

“Now that exposes a sexy long neck and shows off to advantage your delicate bone structure..you’ll knock them all for a sixer as soon as you walk on stage and Tashu will wonder why she stepped off the curb in her 10inch heels!” Damon chuckled sarcastically.

“Stepped off the curb?? But I thought it was an accident.” Khanak said looking at him in the mirror.

“Yes….that was the published report but Diva knows better! Unfortunately it looks like her ploy has backfired big time..thanks to you my darling!” He said looking intently into her eyes. “It’s up to you now to take care of my Shan.”

“What do you mean? I don’t understand.” Khanak wrinkled her brow.

“This Damon can see what other’s can’t..now shall we end it at that? We can’t keep hottie waiting can we?”

“You’ve never taken this long before Damon!” Shan appeared edgy enough to start a war.

“But then I’ve never before had such a gorgeous creature to work with..have I?” Damon said with distinct pleasure upon seeing Shan’s reaction.

“How much do I owe you Damon?” Shan asked staring stupefied at Khanak.

“Ahhh! Nothing at all! That look on your face is payment enough.”

“But I insist!”

“Then send me a free pass to a front row seat at your inaugural..wouldn’t miss it for the world!”

“Consider it done! Thanks Damon! You indeed have magic in your hands.”

“Nonsense!” Damon said looking embarrassed. “This creature, what you have here is magic.

Mark my words..she’ll take you places Shantanu!”

“Damon..you know I don’t like it when people call me by that name!” Khanak could see her Boss’ jaw visibly stiffen.

“Oh..yes..but I’m feeling emo today! So forgive me my indiscretions.” Damon sighed dramatically.

“We should get going now..c’mon Khanak!”

“Just a minute.” She said turning to Damon. “I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you’ve done for me today.”

Damon smiled at her tenderly shaking his head. “No.. I should thank you..it’s refreshing to see a pure and simple heart in this ugly place. Never ever change my dear.” He handed her a pair of ballet pointe shoes. “These are from Russia and I want you to have them and please don’t say no.”

“Wow..I’ve never seen Damon do that. He must be really impressed by you.” Shan said when they’d left the building. Perhaps I’m right in my decision after all, he thought observing Khanak as she adjusted the long scarf of her pale blue salwar suit. She definitely has a way about her.

‘Jhankaar Dance Studios’  Nariman Point, Mumbai.

“Here we are finally, my place of worship.” Shan announced pulling his sporty Ducati into a reserved spot. Without further ado he grabbed Khanak’s hand and rushed her through the revolving doors of the posh 50 story high building.

She was whisked up in a private elevator to the 45th floor that happened to be dedicated to Jhankaar in entirety. As soon as she stepped off she knew that her Boss was no small fish.. rather he was as big as they come.

Tastefully decorated with soft music playing through hidden speakers, she could see that no expenses had been spared in making the studios one of the swankiest in the business. The lobby was huge. There potential aspirants and clients could lounge in luxury on sleek Scandinavian furniture and entertain themselves watching continuously playing videos of the company’s past performances. And what looked like a large grand piano in the corner was actually the cleverly designed reception manned by a young man in a Pink Floyd T shirt. He sprung to attention as soon as he spotted Shan. “Good morning Sir!”

“At ease Joy! I’ve told you before that I don’t like formalities.” Her Boss replied pulling her forward, “meet Miss Khanak Mishra, our new lead dancer and Khanak this is Joy Samuel..my front man.”

Khanak smiled, and tried to look unruffled as she felt herself being closely scrutinized again. People in this town were very direct in their talk and manners. It made her feel victorian in comparison.

“Hello Shan..you are late. Your dancers are in dire need of discipline. Why do you spoil them so?” A plump girl with bright intelligent eyes came breezing out of one of the inner doors with several glittering costumes slung over her shoulder, a picture of bustling efficiency. After giving Shan a brisk hug and an air kiss she turned her attention to Khanak.

“Divya..meet Khanak Mishra our new lead dancer..here from Chennai..she’s an ace exponent of Bharathnatyam and we are very lucky to have her..and Khanak, this is Divya Sahni..my studio cum production manager without whom I’d have kicked the bucket a long time ago.” Shan laughed.

Shubh shubh bolo Shan!” (Speak positive Shan.) Divya blushed while giving his ear a hard tug thereby eliciting a loud yelp. It was obvious that she was very fond of him. “Hmm..nice, very nice. Welcome to Jhankaar Mz. Mishra!” She extended her hand.

“I prefer to go by Khanak if you don’t mind…”

Divya smiled but it was hard to read those shrewd black eyes. Khanak knew that here was someone she couldn’t afford to annoy if she had any hopes of surviving in this place.

“Does Tash know about your plans?” Divya turned to look at Shan whose visage underwent an abrupt change at the very mention of the name.

“She does..anyway I don’t need her permission. She broke her ankle and we need someone who can take her place . It’s as simple as that. Anyway we need to get down to business. There is no time to waste!” He said curtly before opening the door to a large office and waving them both in ahead of him.

Khanak could sense that all was not hunky dory between Natasha and Shan, just as Diva had suggested.

“Where the hell is Tina? She should have been here by now!” Shan demanded of Divya, vexation clear on his matinee idol features.

“Tina? I haven’t laid eyes on her today.”

“Crap! This is what plagues us today, utter lack of efficiency!” He turned to Khanak, “Tina is our master trainer who I had particularly asked to work with you on your basics, put you through the hoops so to speak. But look we are here but where is she? This is the limit I say!” He grabbed a paper weight from the massive walnut table and flung it across the room. It bounced off the wall with a loud thud making Khanak cringe. She hadn’t expected him to get so riled up, but on careful inspection she saw that the wall bore evidences of prior similar abuse and guessed these fits of temper weren’t out of the norm.

“Yes..unlike me and Tashu and you of course Shan, there are few others here who are disciplined and dedicated toward their work.” Divya remarked with a wry shrug of her shoulders.

“Uh..how long has Tina been working for you if I may ask?” Khanak quipped feeling the person in question was being meted unfair treatment.

Shan shot her a glance as if surprised that she had dared to speak. “A couple of years..why?”

“How many times has she been tardy?”

He cocked a suave eyebrow in amusement while Divya appeared annoyed at her impudence. “Maybe once or twice..actually I don’t recall any one particular time.”

“Then I believe she is late for some unavoidable reason and should be given benefit of the doubt.”

“Hmmm…” Shan sat down in his berry tinted swivel leather chair with his fingers tented under his chin and regarded Khanak silently. Damn she’s good, very very good!

They heard a loud knock on the door and a slight woman with wild curly hair burst in like a hurricane very much out of breath. “Ohh..Shan, I’m so sorry but there was a terrible accident in Chembur and all traffic had to be diverted and my bad that I forgot my mobile at home! I hope you understand. It was something unavoidable!”

“Unavoidable.” He repeated softly. “It’s all right Tina, I’m glad you are okay. Settle down, take a breath and meet your advocate and my new lead…” He got up, clasped Khanak’s hand and introduced her to Tina while Divya looked on dumbstruck.

As she followed Tina who was chattering nineteen to the dozen about how she had always adored Idli, dosa, Bharathnatyam, sambhar and filter coffee not in that particular order, Khanak sensed a terrible misgiving that she had rubbed Divya the wrong way on their very first meeting, but then she had always spoken her mind and she wasn’t going to change something that had always stood her in good stead, fortunately it had prevented Shan from blowing his top unnecessarily.

—-xx

“So how did it go Tina, you two have been closeted together for over a couple of hours.” Shan said unable to wrench his eyes off Khanak who was trying her best to appear nonchalant. She was looking particularly fetching in her brand new leotards which hugged her slender yet perfectly proportioned figure like second skin. Her beauty was all the more enhanced by the natural flush provided by exercise. It also added a sparkle to those jet black eyes and made damp with sweat wavy hair stick to her brow. Just shoot me! Talent ko goli maaro..I will pay top dollar just to watch her walk across the stage!

“Did you hear what I said, Shan?”

“Hmm..What Tina.?” Damn work..Shan..concentrate!

Tina beamed, waving her tiny arms around passionately. “I said that she’s awesome! This girl is a natural, she grasped everything so quickly and  has such perfect lines and amazing intuition for what should come next! I’m pretty certain that with intense practice you’ll be ready to go in two weeks!”

“Is that right? No limits?” Shan asked wanting to make doubly sure.

“None! She has the ability to do it all, except classic ballet which obviously takes considerable practice.”

Shan hugged Tina lifting the petite woman off the ground. “That’s the best news I’ve heard in days! And Khanak…” He was about to pull her into his arms but checked himself at the last moment. “Thank you!”

“Oh..you don’t have to say that. It’s my pleasure to work with someone like you.” Khanak replied while thinking. Phew! Now the real trial begins..!

Shan waited for the door to close behind them before jumping in the air executing a roundhouse karate kick. “Yes! I’ll show all my critics..this’ll be our best year ever!”

Tina led Khanak into a very long rectangular room that apparently served as the main dance studio. It was lined with ballet barres along one side and wall to wall mirrors on the other. There they saw several dancers of both sexes, few were busy going over their individual routine while another bigger more raucous crowd was gathered in a corner cheering and clapping. As they drew nearer Khanak recognized Tarun as the one responsible.

“Oh that’s Tarun, our male lead.” Tina said shaking her head and smiling. “He’s such a show off!”

Khanak looked apprehensively at the man she was supposed to be partnered with.., he was doing a series of ballet turns in a continuous circle around a very pretty girl who was watching starry eyed. She appeared inexperienced and very, very young. He was obviously very good and knew it too. Ending with a perfect ten high kicking split in the air, he bowed low as everybody burst into loud applause.

“My dear friends..let me introduce you all to Khanak our new lead dancer!” Tina announced bringing her forward.

“New female lead..Oh my! Tash will be horrified! …But we knew that she was out of bounds..wonder what she’s like… Looks like a green horn!” There were whispers along with muffled laughter.

The words did not escape Khanak’s ears as she scanned the inquisitive faces around her, wondering who would be the supporter and who the dissident. She was no a stranger to jealousy and rivalry and its prevalence in the ‘live and let die’ world of performance art.

“Should we put her through her paces Tarun? What do you think?”

Khanak turned her head to see Tarun observing her quietly as if seeing her for the first time. His eyes wore an inscrutable expression. “Sure..now is as good a time as any!” He replied with a sly smile to Divya. “C’mon Mzz Khanak..we meet again!”

Khanak followed him hesitantly to a small raised platform, shuddering inside as the rest of the crowd followed. “Let’s see if you can follow the leader!”

He  started slow, performing a blend of various dance styles, executing each one with amazing panache. She was initially able to follow but soon lost track as his steps became more and more intricate and complex.. That he was trying to make fun of her was soon obvious and the laughter it was generating from the audience added considerably to her embarrassment so that soon she stood rooted to one spot wishing to be anywhere but there.

“STOP IT EVERYONE!” A voice filled with authority  lashed out from the back. “Is this how you welcome a new recruit to the club? Tarun..I didn’t expect this from you of all people!” Shan looking awe inspiring in a red and black leotard and jazz pants came striding up to them. He was bristling with poorly disguised rage.

Tarun was clearly taken aback at the onslaught. “I’m sorry..I was just trying to make her feel at home…”

“Oh yes..by scaring her out of her wits! Well done! And you too Divya, I see that you were the instigator!”

Divya baulked at being singled out. “I apologize.”

“Ok…but never again or you can all say adieu to your jobs!” The concealed threat in Shan’s voice unmistakable.

Khanak closed her eyes breathing calmer, thankful that the most important person still had faith in her.

“If you really want to make her feel welcome do it with style… Do you have a license ‘coz you are driving me crazy!”

Khanak’s eyes snapped open when she heard his seductive whisper. Her pulse grew erratic and she shivered as goose bumps spread all over her body.

You are the only girl in the room I care about, his eyes wanted her to know as the music started.

Soon he was moving to the rhythm trying to seduce her with his slick swagger as she caught the drift and walked ahead holding her head high, playing hard to get, yet teasing and leading him on with a bounce in her step and a tilt of her hips in a typical courtship dance. Egged on by loud appreciative whistles she finally relented and let him swing her around lifting her high in the air.

“Will you let me take you home tonight Khanak?”

Her mouth went dry as she looked quizzically at him, not sure of what he had just suggested.

The spell was broken as he took her arm, turned to the audience and dipped his head. “Take a bow Khanak. You’ll soon have them eating out of your hands..I can taste it!”

She smiled and bowed unable to suppress a twinge of disappointment. Foolish girl, don’t you know that it’s just a part of the act?

Courtship MJ style 😉

John Travolta and Olivia Newton John heat it up in Grease

Rhythm & Blues Chap 5: Getting into the Swing

nariman point

Nariman Point, Mumbai

Link to all chapters

Chap 5: Getting into the Swing

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“Where are we?” Khanak asked looking around curiously, she had been so busy talking and watching out for Horse’s antics, she hadn’t realized that the car had come to a halt.

“We are in a southern suburb of Mumbai called ‘Malabar Hills,’ home to many of the rich and famous but most importantly a place where you can find great views!” Shan declared not without some pride. He owed it to his tremendous success first as a model, then as a dancer who later started his own dance company with every show sold out well in advance. He had quickly acquired enough moolah to be able to afford to invest in his own penthouse along with a small private studio in this locale which was no small achievement. He owned a much larger studio downtown, but this was where his most innovative ideas took shape, right in front of the Nariman point skyline.  

“I can carry it!”She moved to stop him as he picked up her small suitcase.

“No, I’m going to try to impress you as much as I can now, so you won’t rush to leave when I put you to work!” He laughed snatching the bag out of her reach.

“Just the one? You travel light, I like that.” He nodded in approval but not before throwing her a puzzled glance.

Khanak looked around stunned at the greenery. This was an unexpectedly pleasant sight in the midst of the concrete jungle that Mumbai shehar (city) was notorious for.

They rode the elevator in silence, Khanak still trying to absorb everything while being completely unaware that her companion was using the opportunity to give her a thorough once over.

“What is this place?” Khanak asked for the first time following hesitantly as he led the way to the only door on the entire top floor. Horse was already there sitting waiting patiently.

Shan threw the door open.”Welcome to my humble abode!” He announced with a grand sweep of his hand.

She stepped in, stood still for several moments then slowly turned  around appearing dazed.

“Sorry but sometimes the stage ‘me’ catches up!” He laughed loudly at his own joke but she didn’t appear to hear.She was busy taking in the large area luxuriously fitted with plush modern furniture and tastefully decorated with a variety of eclectic and exotic artwork.  

I like to collect and travel” he said answering her unasked query.

 It was a very upscale and vibrant setting befitting his flamboyant personality, a far cry from her own home (or house as she preferred to call it now, that she had for such a long time shared with people whom  until recently she had considered as her family,) in Chennai which though quite decent in size appeared very ordinary in comparison.

The thought brought tears to her eyes, for she missed that ordinary house where her most beloved memories had taken shape and no matter how hard she tried she knew she’d never be able to forget it. She quickly turned away and dabbed at her eyes

“Anything bothering you?”

“No, I’m fine, just something in my eyes, probably it’s all the soot and grime from the train journey.” She turned and flashed a smile which seemed to stun him for a while.

But Horse could not be fooled, he came to sit at her feet and regarded her with pensive dark brown eyes.

Wow Man! This girl is not only a powerhouse of talent but is also a raving beauty! You need to be careful around her or you just might get carried away! Shan thought trying to tear his eyes away from Khanak who managed to look gorgeous even in her run down day old clothes.

She colored under his intense gaze,”You have a beautiful place! Ismein aap ke saath aur kaun rehta hai?” (Who else lives with you here?) 

“Aap? Please call me tum! I don’t like formalities!” He paused waiting for her to comply.

“Okay Tum (You/informal.)This guy is certainly temperamental!

He smiled appearing satisfied, “That’s better and to answer your question.. No, nobody else lives here other than me and Horse of course!” He said gesturing towards the huge Akita.”As far as I can tell,  I am the sole King of this roost!”

“What? No one else?” She asked feeling suddenly nervous,”No parents, no brothers or sisters?”

“Nope!” He shrugged his shoulders. “My family doesn’t live in Mumbai. In fact we don’t exactly get along but that’s a long story! Though I have to admit sometimes it gets lonely here.” But not anymore, now that I have someone to share it with. He grinned giving her a slight wink.

This was not at all what she had expected, but the Mumbai experience so far had been full of surprises.“No! I, I can’t live here! I didn’t know..that, you lived alone!” Khanak said twirling one end of thin fabric of her dupatta  around her fingers while her mind raced trying to figure a way out.

“Why, what’s the problem?” He asked casually. “I have plenty of space to spare, and Horse who is usually the biggest hurdle seems to have taken very well to you! In fact he seems to like you better than his own master even!” He looked wryly at his dog who seemed to have appointed himself as Khanak’s personal shadow.

“I’m sorry! I should have asked you to take me to a hotel tonight, then I could look for a rental tomorrow.” She replied .

“Why? Why do you need to do that?” He was puzzled, “You  are free to stay here as long as you like, I’m not expecting any company. In fact it’ll be most convenient to be able to work with you on your skills and so on.”

“You don’t understand, I just can’t stay here alone with you! It wouldn’t be right!” She declared nervously. When he raised his eyebrows still not getting her dilemma, she thought, he’s either terribly naive or an awesome actor. “In the society that I come from, single girls and guys living together isn’t socially acceptable!” She elaborated patiently.

“Oh! I’m sorry, I should have realized that you belong to the old school. I thought you were a modern and progressive woman of today but instead you seem to have erupted from the dark ages! Boys and girls cannot be friends etc, etc.” He laughed and she detected a certain amount of derisive amusement in it. He wasn’t acting casual anymore,rather he looked irritated. “My interest in you is purely professional and nothing beyond that. I can’t say that I won’t touch you, I have too, the dancing entails it. But I give you my solemn promise that I’ll not step over the line. I don’t go about forcing myself on women especially those who aren’t my type!”

 She felt the sting in his words but held his stare without flinching. “Being modern and progressive does not necessarily mean giving up one’s culture and the way one has been raised. I have lived a sheltered existence all my life and believe that society has certain norms for our own good. I don’t blindly follow them all but there are some I truly believe in.”

“Okay alright! You don’t have to lecture me, I’ve had a long day. It’s too late to go looking for a hotel right now, so please stay here tonight. I can have someone help you find other accommodations in the morning.” He said looking frustrated.

She didn’t like the idea but didn’t know what else to do, there was nobody else she could turn to without raising an alarm regarding her whereabouts. She was at his mercy and she didn’t like it. Perhaps I shouldn’t have come here after all, maybe Anand would have understood? No, I can’t go back! Anything is better than leading a cloistered existence! I’m sure chachu would not hesitate to restrict my movements, he may even put me under house arrest! Khanak shuddered at the very thought and decided that staying here was the lesser of two evils.

 While she was thus occupied analyzing her dire situation, she was unaware that Shan at the same time was regarding her with equal curiosity. This girl was a proving to be quite a mystery, there were a lot of questions that were unanswered. She somehow appeared different from the ebullient and happy person he’d seen when he’d last met her. She appeared preoccupied for some unknown reason, not excited as he’d expect someone to be under the circumstances. And why had she arrived so suddenly without even giving him a call? Was there something else going on that she didn’t want to reveal? Damn Shan! What is wrong with you? Aren’t you acting unduly harsh? Looking at her now, she appeared distressed, miserable and profoundly anxious. ****! She’s my guest for crying out loud! And I haven’t even asked her to take a seat!
“DAMNIT!”

“Huh?” For a moment she had forgotten where she was.

“I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have said all that! You’ve been travelling without proper rest or food and me here acting so insensitive!” His charm was back in full vigor, he appeared a different man altogether.

He walked down a long corridor and held open a door. “here’s a guest room, you are welcome to use it to freshen up and change if you wish.”

“No, I’ll be fine.” She hesitated.

“Hey don’t worry, you can lock the door from the inside. And even if you don’t, I always knock. I know you’ll be itching to wash up after your long journey.” He said encouragingly.

“Thanks, I think I’ll change.” She uttered gratefully walking past him into the large room.

“Horse don’t! The lady needs her privacy!” He shouted as his Akita followed her inside.

“It’s alright, he seems harmless. I think I’m starting to like him.” She said with a slight smile before closing the door.

“Lucky Dog!” Shan whispered before sauntering back into the living room thinking a dog’s life wasn’t too bad at all.

 Maybe I should order some chow. Food always helps initiate a conversation, maybe it’d get her to open up. He thought before putting on some David Sanborn on the music system.

After sometime when Khanak ventured back from the guest room, she was surprised to hear the sounds of loud jovial laughter against the background of some lovely Jazz music.

She hesitated standing in the periphery seeing that her host had been joined by a couple of others, an extremely thin, anorexic looking girl who was literally hanging onto Shan’s arm looking like she could hardly support her own weight and a tall athletic looking man who was lounging against the kitchen island with his back toward her. The girl was wearing a halter top and a tiny skirt while the man was wearing a sleeveless T and shorts which showed off his long, slim and powerful legs.

Khanak felt overdressed when she glanced down at her deep mauve suit which though a perfect fit covered her completely. Maybe I should get into something less formal, she thought heading back to the room when Shan called out.

“Hey Khanak, we’ve been waiting for you! Tarun, Trish! I present to you our new lead dancer Ms. Khanak Mishra! And Khanak meet Tarun and Trish, the weirdest brother and sister duo in the world. Tarun also happens to be the lead dancer of my company.”

“What? That’s great news Shan!” The young man called Tarun spun around to look at her and his eyes widened in surprise.

Khanak saw the resemblance between the brother and sister right away, they had the exact same eyes, but Tarun was by far more good looking and he wore his wavy hair slightly long which framed his high cheeked boned face to perfection.

Was Shan drunk when he chose this girl in the lead role? Tarun stared unabashed at Khanak, not believing that she fit their requirements.She’s a stunner alright but looks more like a village belle than somebody who can swing a leg or twist a hip he thought while looking enquiringly at Shan who knew exactly what was going on in his mind. He grinned and took him aside.

“She’s my surprise package.”

“What surprise package, darling? She looks like she’s going to stand up anytime and advertise for a washing detergent! Look at the amount of clothes she’s wearing! Does she even understand the language we are speaking?” Trish said pertly wrinkling her nose at Khanak.

“Trish! If you talk like that to my guest I’ll ask you to leave right away!”

Khanak laughed good naturedly, “Oh I didn’t mind that! That is truly quite funny Trish! Is that your name? By the way my name is Khanak, and it’s really nice to meet you.” She extended a hand toward her..

“Ahh! At least you can speak and no I’m not really pleased to meet you.” Trish walked away without giving her a second glance.

 Horse growled.

“Let’s see if you can dance to this!” Tarun in the meantime had changed the music. “It’s swing time!”

He took Khanak’s hand and pulled her to the center of the room and started to swing her around twisting and turning so quickly that she felt lightheaded.

“Tarun stop it! You are being rude! She hasn’t had anything to eat or drink in a long time! Are you alright?” Shan asked jumping to her aid.

“No, I’m fine.” She said recovering quickly and smiled.”It was just so sudden.”

She took a long sip of the water that Tarun offered, he was feeling guilty. “Can you play it again?” She asked and as Tarun obliged, started to dance on her own expertly. “You know I used to watch some old Fred Astaire movies with my Guru who was his big fan and an expert tap dancer to boot!”

“Wow! That’s awesome!” Tarun shouted joining her and threw her into a spin and this time she didn’t complain. Shan watched the two with an inscrutable look on his face while Trish looked on with marked surprise and obvious jealousy.

“I think that’s enough for tonight! Ms. Mishra has proven that she can dance and quite well at that! But modern dance is quite a different ballgame altogether! We will test those waters tomorrow!”  Shan announced curtly before stopping the music though it took a while for Tarun to let Khanak go. 

Later after all of them had finished a quick Pizza dinner, Khanak lay on the bed in the guest room acutely missing her old home, not sure how long could she manage to stay away. “I wonder what is it about me that is so upsetting to him?” Khanak wondered while Shan stood staring out at the brilliantly lit skyline thinking just the same.

Some great music for swing dancing! 🙂

Rhythm & Blues Chap 4: Break Free

R and B

Chap Links

Chap 4: Break Free

-o-

Dadar station(Major Railway/Train Station in Mumbai, India)

“CHAIYAA! CHAIYA GARAM GARAM CHAIYA!!! Madam Chai?” (Tea! Tea! Hot hot Tea..! Madam Tea?)

Khanak woke up with a start and looked bleary eyed at the thin almost emaciated child with very bright eyes, who was extending a glass full of the milky brown brew. It took her a little while to realize where she was.

Then it all came back to her. What had transpired more than 24 hrs ago; the shock, the tears of anger and disappointment at being considered a liability by her uncle. Why hadn’t her parents  taken her along on their fatal journey? Then she wouldn’t been alive to face this day.

“Nahin chahiye.” (I don’t want it.) She shook her head in the negative.

“Madam..coolie (porter) ?”

“No thanks, mein theekh hoon!” (No thanks, I am fine!)

“Aho bai, tumcha samaan jast bhari aahe! Tumchaashi uchaalal janar nahi” (No madam, your bag is really heavy! You won’t be able to lift it!)

“Kya? Hindi mein bolo!” (What? Say in Hindi!)

“Madam aapka saaman bahut bhaari aahe! (Madam your luggage is very heavy!) Lifting very difficult!” The heavy set rotund and cheerful porter replied in an admixture of Hindi and English.

Everybody seems to be living a wonderful life except me.

“Meine jab nahin kaha toh nahin samjhe!?”(When I say no, I mean no, understand?) She replied sternly.

“Nahi bai saheb, mein uchalun ghein, tumchi je iccha asel te deun dya!” (No madam I will take it, you pay me whatever you wish!) Persisted the coolie now in Marathi tugging at the handle of her black suitcase trying to wrench it from her grasp.

“No you say whatever, but I won’t relent!” She shouted back clutching tightly at the article in contention in which she had hastily packed a few last minute essentials after making the decision to leave the dwelling which she’d called her home for 20+ years. That and she also held on to her shoulder bag as if her life depended on it because it contained all the money she called her own and the big wad of notes which her aunt had thrust into her hand upon chancing on her intentions.

“Okay Bubbly, even if I wish to I can’t ask you to stay because I know I won’t be able to change your uncle’s decision.”

Khanak nodded in agreement. She was yet to come across anyone as hard headed.

“But I will miss you a lot and so will Shreya!”

“Yes, I know. But I see no other option. I don’t want to get married before I make a name for myself, become somebody. At least I want to give it a fair try.” Khanak held her aunt’s hand in earnest. She loved her both as a mother and a friend.

“How will you go about it my child? Where will you go? You haven’t been much on your own at all. Sometimes I think we’ve both cloistered you too much.” Worry furrowed Komal’s brow.

“You meant well, no parent…” Khanak caught herself, “you did what you thought was best. Don’t bother. I’m a city girl and I can take care of myself.” She’d left her with those strong words.

So much for my confidence! Khanak thought as she got down from the train, her mind still a sea of conflicting thoughts and emotions. Have I been too impulsive? She glanced around nervously at the milieu of confused humanity around her; everybody seemed to be heading somewhere or the other, with not a second to spare.

Maybe I should’ve tried to reason with chachu? She wondered briefly before promptly dispelling the thought. No! Who am I trying to fool?  I’d have just bought myself permanent shackles! Khanak shivered at the terrifying image.

She picked her way towards the exit and dialed the number of a friend she knew who resided in Mumbai, working and living independently away from her family. Khanak had always admired her but never quite understood why she insisted on staying alone; but now she did.

She heard an automated voice message; “This is Vandana. Unfortunately I won’t be available for the next several days. I’m getting married!”

Khanak’s heart sank. Getting married? As far as she could remember, her friend had been determined to remain a spinster for the rest of her life but as things had changed for her, maybe they had for her Vandana too.

She sat down on her suitcase, feeling more despondent than ever. She didn’t want to give up after having come this far. Her hand groped for and found the card deep inside her purse. It was the only avenue left.

  Continue reading

Rhythm & Blues Chap 2: Tumult

R and B

Chap 1

Chap 2: Tumult

-o-

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;

Shantanu Khandelwal

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.

“Bubbly di!”

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!”

“But why?”

“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.

tbc

Rhythm & Blues Prologue/Chap 1: Follow Your Dreams

R and B

Rhythm and Blues

This story is my humble tribute to the wonderful world of music and dance.

Chap 1: Follow Your Dreams

-0-

Chennai city one December evening:

It was a pleasant evening in this major metropolis of the south. This city has a reputation of being more or less not a very ‘happening’ place when compared to the other major hot spots in the country. But things have started to perk up. Many more shopping plazas such as malls, chic restaurants, and other means for time pass entertainment besides the traditional movies, classical music and dance shows had added more columns to the city’s CV. The noveau riche from the professional 20 – 30 some things had started showing interest in spending rather than conserving their sizable incomes that was diametrically opposite to the Pravachans of their fathers and forefathers. But then who cares?

Yet there were some things that hadn’t changed and perhaps never would such as the welcoming of each new day with the haunting chant of ‘Suprabhatam,’ on the radio, the refreshing aroma of South Indian filter coffee, the humongous crowds lining up outside cinema theatres to watch Rajni God’s movies, and the ritual congregation of our ‘Gossip Ammas (mothers)’ every evening at the corner temple. As Schools, colleges, government offices and banks closed down for the day; children, youngsters and adults made their way back home to relax and rejuvenate.

One among them was a sprightly young woman in a bright blue-green cotton salwar suit, riding one of the innumerable Scooties which plastered the busy streets every day. She made her way down Cathedral, turned left on Binny then headed toward Stella Maris College, one of the premiere institutes of higher education for young women in Chennai. Parking in front of the gates, she frantically searched the faces of the young women drifting out, hoping she hadn’t missed her cousin again. Removing her helmet, she shook out her thick wavy black hair, and pulled out her mobile.

As she waited for a response, her wandering eyes spotted her cousin’s familiar slim figure across the street at a bus stop apparently enjoying a tete- a- tete with a tall young man dressed in standard office attire. Sensing a mixture of relief and irritation, she crossed over and tried to catch her attention. When several attempts were not met with success rather stirred up unwanted male interest she hollered;

“Shreya! Shreya!”

Shreya stopped her chatter mid sentence and looked up to find her cousin Khanak, looking her usual bright and beautiful self, not so subtly waggling her eyebrows at her.

With a markedly guilty look on her face, she hurried up to her cousin without so much as a goodbye to her good looking companion.

“Sorry di, but when you didn’t show up I thought I’d take the bus home,” she blurted out in a hurry in an attempt to ward off the inevitable questions that were bound to follow.

But Khanak was too sharp to be dissuaded so easily. Turning her scootie around and indicating her cousin to sit behind her she said sternly,

“Accha bahana dhoondha hai! (You have found a great excuse) Disn’t I call just 10 min ago saying that I’m running a little late? Did you forget everything after seeing Mr. Cool Dude?”

“No di (elder sister) I…”

“Leave it! I was just teasing!” Khanak laughed, “but you have been very secretive! Never mentioned your bus stop buddy! What’s up?”

“Khanak! Shreya said relieved. “Thank Heavens! You really had me really scared there for a while! I was just advancing my Swayamvar (self selection of husband)!”

“What? Are you planning to get married? Or run away? What will mom and dad say when they find out or do they already know and am I the only one steering blind?”

“No Khanak it’s not what you think! Anyways these things wouldn’t make sense to a crackpot like you who always is in favor of ‘Life taking its own course.’ But that’s not me, I believe in action. I’ve already started the procedure of audition and elimination. It may take a few years before I find him but I anticipate loads of fun in the process! What say Ms. Dancing Doll, shall I start one for you too? Will surely get applicants aplenty with your incredible allure and out of the world talents!” Shreya giggled; her excitement infectious.

Khanak laughed but shook her head vehemently, “Thanks but no thanks! You are not going to change my mind. In fact you are sure to get into trouble soon yourself! Better abandon these foolhardy projects! Where do you get these ideas? Concentrate on your studies and work on standing on your own two wobbly feet first and everything else will follow. As I’ve always said, for every person, God has made someone else somewhere. Believe me, he works in mysterious ways!”

“Okay Di! No one can win with you! By the way, how are the preparations for the grand finale tomorrow night? Isn’t it going to be Kalakshetra’s first attempt at performing this dance drama? I’m so excited and you in the lead role would be like icing on the cake! Isn’t it?”

Khanak smiled. Yes she’d been waiting in the wings for too long. Tomorrow she would get her long awaited dues.

 

Dakshin, Park Sheraton:

Shantanu was in culinary paradise as he worked his way slowly through the South Indian sampler at the popular Dakshin restaurant. His palate had never before savored such a myriad  blend of exotic flavors and heady combination of fresh spices. Everything  so different from his native fare yet still very much Indian. He was glad that he’d taken his friend Abhay’s advice and gone easy on breakfast and lunch for an empty stomach was a prerequisite to do justice to the sumptuous spread.

As he slurped up the savory Sambhar and took another bite of the unusual yet delicious Banana dosa, Abhay chipped in, “didn’t I tell you? Now you owe me one!” He chuckled.

“Oh definitely! I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for anything! Waah! This beats continental any day! Maybe I can send Dibubhai here to get coached. Wonder if they’ll part with their recipes. Thanks for insisting on bringing me here!’ He relaxed back in his chair. “What a wonderful week we’ve had. Great music, dance and food! I’m already having withdrawal symptoms and we haven’t even left yet,” he said, a look of profound regret coming over his classically handsome features.

“Ha!” Abhay exclaimed shaking his head, “You are always one for melodrama. Behave like regular people for a change!”

“No Abhay! I’m serious. I swear! After coming here, thanks to you, I’ve realized that our country has so much to offer that a lifetime may not be enough to explore it. We should celebrate our culture so the whole world sits up and pays attention! In fact I’m thinking of including some Bharathnatyam in our show. What do you think Abhay?” His eyes shone with excitement.

“That’s a great idea Shan! It’ll be a first, but how?”

“Yes, how?” Shan repeated pensively while watching the musicians play live mellifluous Carnatic (South Indian Classical) music. His hands and feet kept involuntary rhythm with the talam (beat).“Let’s sleep on it tonight. Meanwhile, if we don’t hurry we are sure to miss the opening act of the Grand finale performance.”

“Oh Yes, I almost forgot! Kalakshetra’s putting on Shakuntala for the first time! What a way to end the season!”

“Yes, isn’t it? I’m curious as to who would play the title role!”

“Me too. Let’s go!”

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Crush (An Ode to Young Love)

crush

 

Crush 

(An ode to young love)

—o—

It was a lovely dream, the loveliest she’d ever had. It had to be a dream, for how else could something so wonderful be true?

The occasion was the annual Quiz contest and Maya had been chosen to represent their high school as the most likely candidate to win back the coveted trophy they had so narrowly lost to Mt. Carmel last year. And everyone was sure she was the only one who could do it. Not just everyone, she was too because she always won everything. She was invincible.

Maya was oozing with confidence, egged on by the looks of nervous despair on the opposing team members’ faces (her reputation had preceded her) and the shouts and hoots of encouragement and cheer from her own school mates who had turned out in droves. The battle lines were drawn and she had been crowned the indisputable queen.

That is until she saw him and he saw her.

Her mind– her needle sharp, ever alert intellect went blank and the rest of her came alive. It  was as though she had been struck by a lightning bolt though she’d never had the experience but the sensation couldn’t be equated with anything else she’d been through.

He was the Quiz master, new that year replacing the old one who with his sonorous voice and pompous attitude had become passe and an object of ridicule. Young, handsome, dynamic and self assured—her ideal male counterpart, a person she believed didn’t exist.

Maya was thrown off her moorings. Try as hard as she could, it proved impossible to wrench him off her sphere of vision. So it appeared was his lot as well. For even while posing questions to others she seemed to remain his sole object of interest. And when it was her turn, every single time, her responses would freeze in her throat and she could do nothing but stare blankly back at him like a mute numb-skull.

Was it love at first sight? No, that was silly adolescent crap. It was more than that. It was desire, a raw naked primal want she recognized in those brazen eyes that caused her body to shiver and the heat to rise to her cheeks. That was it. She was done for. He had stolen her thunder and she’d been dethroned even before the coronation.

The cheers turned into boos as her school lost again and this time by an unheard of margin. She left the stage acutely embarrassed but what pained her even more was a deep yearning that would remain unfulfilled.

It was a lonely trip back home. But somewhere along the way she was accosted and jostled into a dark alley. She was trapped in a rough yet sensual embrace. A pair of hands roamed her nubile body in such a familiar manner that her knees turned to water and she would have collapsed to the ground had she not been held up.

Turning her around he ventured a simple question, “Will you run away with me?”

She scored with her answer.

Milan (A Wedding Story) Chap 1B: A Proposal

sneha3 695

Chap 1A

~

Chap 1B: A Proposal

—o—

“At last…I feel human again!” Mili said, pausing to take a sip of the steaming brew that she held in her hands.“Ramu kaka…nobody can make  better chai than you!” She called out, looking back over her shoulder, while stepping out of the kitchen. Ramu was their servant who had been with them ever since her father had been a little boy. He was practically a part of the family and everybody fondly called him kaka or uncle.

“But no one can ever top you mom, no one!” She said with a wink directed at Kiran.
Then gazing out of the window at the blooming passion flower vine which hugged the entire left side of the house, she exclaimed joyously,“It is so wonderful to be back home!”

Kiran smiled, secretly observing her daughter, as she settled down at the table and began working on some pea pods. Yes, her husband was right. Their little girl had indeed blossomed. The sloppy, rambunctious tomboy, who used to bring the entire house on its knees with her exploits had disappeared giving way to the beautiful and elegant young woman who sat in front of her. The transformation had come about so quickly that it appeared almost miraculous! Yet, she was still her Mili, her precious little child, whom she wanted to cherish and keep in close proximity all her life. But Kiran knew that would be asking for too much.

“So… Did you have a good time with your friends yesterday?” She asked, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her daughter’s ear.

Mili nodded, “Yes, it was like old times. First we went to the bazaar, then to the movies and then back to Annie’s place where we chattered each other’s ears off!” She laughed. “Yet there was something odd about it all…” She paused in her task, her large jet black eyes taking on a wistful look. “Some, like Sonia and Jess, were only there physically while their minds were engaged elsewhere. Probably worried sick about their husbands and their babies.”

“Thank Heavens! That is something I don’t have to be concerned about for a long long time,” she concluded brightly.

You may be surprised my dear…Kiran thought. I should not procrastinate anymore.“I have some news..” She said.

Mili perked up, “What news? Has our neighbor run away with her driver? I sensed something shady there.”

“No!” Kiran said laughing, “Our neighbor is quite happy with her husband as far as I can tell. You have to stop letting your imagination run wild. It is something else. Do you remember Dr. and Mrs Sharma?”

Mili frowned, shaking her head.

“Perhaps you don’t. You were very young when they left. But you should recall their son, Ahaan. He was three years your senior in school.”

“You mean Mr. Times of India? Of course I remember him!” Mili said, bursting into a peal of laughter.

“Times of India…?”

“Yes. Because he was the biggest political junkie! While the rest of us were talking about the latest movie, he was waxing eloquent on the state of world affairs. While we were smuggling Sidney Sheldon in our satchels, he was walking around with a book on Churchill or Lenin in plain sight! I used to tease him so much about it…”

“Why, because he was different?”

“I guess you could say that…” Mili’s brow drew together in a frown. “ And all he did was stare at me with those serious bespectacled brown eyes and walk away. I sometimes wished he would shout back. His silence was getting on my nerves. Then one day he did. He lectured me on respecting my peers —how dare he?!” Her face grew red with indignation.  “Another time, he caught me playing truant with a couple of my classmates and told me off, saying that it would affect my grades! Big deal!…… Oops!” She bit her tongue and managed to look appropriately chagrined.

Kiran smiled. The cat was out of the bag. “That was very sweet of him. He was just looking out for you.”

Mili was glad that her mother didn’t berate her on her bad behavior, “Perhaps he was. But the manner in which he said it all, I wanted to punch him in his smug face..I nearly did!”

“Thank heavens you controlled yourself Mili!” Kiran managed to look shocked, though she was enjoying this recount of her daughter’s school days, which she hadn’t been privy to. “I had a different opinion of him, though..”

“Why?”

“Remember the day when it was raining heavily and all the power lines were down? The phones weren’t working either. You had stayed back for a school play rehearsal and I was worried sick. Your papaji (father) was out of town also. I was about to leave the house with kaka to look for you, when I heard a knock on the door and found you standing there with Ahaan. He was holding his coat over your head while getting soaked to the skin himself. And then he left right from the door, even when I asked him to come in. A very gentlemanly thing to do.”

Continue reading

Milan (A Wedding Story) Chap1A: Mili

Milan-001

Milan pronounced [Mil-un] मिलन <- Hindi. Origin: Sanskrit : A coming together.

sneha3 731The Nilgiris or Blue Mountains are a part of the Western Ghats located in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Coonoor is a town known for it’s production of tea.

Chap 1a: Mili

—o—

It was an early Spring morning in the valley. A thick blanket of soft dense fluffy white covered the verdant hills of the Nilgiris (Blue Mountains,) forming an illusion which slowly dissipated as the Sun came up; just like a pleasant dream that dissolves and fades despite desperate attempts to latch on.

A cool breeze pregnant with moisture blew in through the wide open windows of the large villa with the whitewashed stucco walls and the red tile rooftops.

Mili stretched in her bed–long, lazy and limber. It was nice to be home at last and out of the hot and humid climes of Chennai. And this time she was back for good. At least till she could figure out what she was going to do next with her life. For now, she was going to relax, take it easy and get reacquainted with her past.

She got out of bed, ambled over to the window and gazed out at what remained of the beautiful vista that had greeted her for as long as she could remember.

The Serenity tea estate was among the oldest and largest in Coonoor. It had been a part of Mili’s family, the Bharawaj’s, for several decades. From what she had been told, in order to escape the furor and violence that had erupted in the northern territories during the country’s partition in 1947, her grandfather had relocated to the south where the situation was much calmer. After procuring the tea plantation, he had  invested his entire wealth in it and then nurtured it with great love. It had prospered since, producing some of the finest tea in the land and provided livelihood to several families who worked on it.

But times were changing. The nouveau riche, that the country was breeding in plenty, wanted to buy up everything in sight and convert it into residential and commercial real estate. Many of their neighbors had succumbed to temptation, sold their properties for premium prices and moved away, leading to the profusion of brand new construction that blocked Mili’s view.

Mili’s father, Jai Bharadwaj, was among the few remaining proud and stubborn plantation owners who had resisted. But the pressure was mounting. Production was down. Many workers had quit for greener pastures. The house and land was mortgaged up to the hilt, forcing him last year to sell a few hectares in order to break even. Mili knew that it was just a matter of time before their home wouldn’t be theirs anymore. She wished she could help but had no clue how.

She sighed, turning away from the window, “I’ll worry about it later. Right now I need some garama garam (piping hot) chai!”

Wrapping her shawl snugly around her shoulders, she raced through a long open corridor and burst into a large living area startling her mother Kiran, who happened to be deeply immersed in the painstaking task of shelling peas.

“Mili!” She exclaimed dropping a steel bowl on the floor with a loud clatter. Fortunately it was empty.

“Sorry ma! I just couldn’t wait to wish you a very good morning!” Her daughter said, throwing her arms around her mother’s shoulders.

“It’s alright beta(child)” Kiran smiled indulgently at her daughter. They had been playing this game ever since Mili had been in elementary school. Now she was a young woman of twenty four. Habits die hard. She smacked away her daughter’s hand as it sneaked towards the peas.

“Aww!”

“Seems like affection continues to flourish between mother and child. How about me? I feel left out.”

Mili looked up and saw her father standing near the main door, ready to leave for work, as usual, sharp at eight.

Papaji (father)!” She shouted, running to embrace his hefty frame which remained straight and strong despite the years that had passed. Only his face showed signs of wear and tear.

Kissing the top of her forehead, he gently stroked her cheek, “You have grown so big, so fast. Time just seems to have melted away. I wish I could ask it to stop, but I can’t.” He said while exchanging a knowing glance with his wife. “I must go now. Have lot of work to do.” He abruptly turned and strode out of the doorway.

“What happened to Papaji, ma? Something I should know about?” Mili said, looking at her mother whose eyes had lost their earlier sparkle.

Kiran avoided her gaze, “Nothing much. First go and get your chai. We need to talk.”

tbc

Note: Most of the words in Italics are from the Hindi language.