“Leave? The puzzlement in her eyes made him realize his oversight in not remembering to share his travel plans with her before. Although to his defense, he thought, was the fact that for the past couple of days, ever since he’d stepped on Indian soil, the two of them had too embroiled in an intense emotional storm to allow for other thoughts.
“Leave for Cleveland?, she asked, trying her best to keep what she thought was disproportionate panic from showing in her voice.
“No, not Cleveland”, he said, “I’m leaving for Delhi tomorrow by train. I have to catch an afternoon flight to Srinagar. There is something… I have to take care of before leaving India”.
Khushi shifted her position, holding a white sheet that covered them close against her bosom. She rested her head on his bare shoulder, her fingers tracing the fine sprinkling of hair on his chest. Her eyes were clouded as she tried to come to terms to their impending separation once again. She wanted to talk about their future, of ways to bind them together, of ways to ensure their permanent togetherness, yet she hesitated, her words resting in the confines of her heart. Knowing his views on marriage, she didn’t want to be the first one to bring up the m word.
“It has to come from his own heart”, she mused, her fingers unconsciously splaying against it, feeling it’s steady beats against her palm.
“Khushi?”, he questioned her quietness, concerned by it, combing his fingers through her silken locks in gentle yet insistent motions.
And when she didn’t say anything, he paused for a while before addressing her unsaid words, his voice deep and intense, “I will miss you too, Khushi. God knows how much I’ll miss you”.
Even as a tear ran down her cheek and dropped on his skin, he asked, “When are you guys going back?
“Day after tomorrow”,she cleared her throat and answered in matter of fact voice, “We’ll be flying out of Delhi late in the night”.
The earlier contentment that had blanketed them was suddenly replaced with restlessness.
While Khushi struggled, struggled hard, to uphold her resolve of not being the first one to initiate a discussion about their future, Arnav was lost in thoughts, his caramel eyes flickering as he tried to make up his mind…
This is not how he’d planned or even wanted it, he thought, exhaling impatiently, but darn it, he couldn’t wait.
He couldn’t wait to bring a smile to her face and the sparkle back in her eyes. He couldn’t wait to dispel the worries that pricked her heart and dilate it with dreams instead.
He took a deep sigh, his eyes firming with resolution and shifted his position to flip her on her back.
He looked down at her face, damp and still flushed from lovemaking and cleared his throat. Surprised at a sudden twinge of nervousness, he brought his face closer and pressed a kiss on her lips.
“I’ll be right back”.
Khushi watched with a mix of shyness and amusement as he got off of the bed stark naked and strode across the room to the wardrobe with an absolute confidence in one’s bare skin.
Just as she was beginning to admire the delectable view of his ripped back, tattoo and beyond from beneath her long, silken lashes, Arnav turned and a certain indecipherable quality about his expression and half smile filled her eyes with curiosity instead.
With the bed-sheet clutched to her bosom, she sat up in bed, her smokey eyes slightly narrowed and beautiful hair tumbling down her back in an untidy cascade.
“What are you up to, Dr. Raizada?, she asked even as he slipped under the covers beside her and turned to look at her, his shoulder resting against the headboard.
His eyes were serious which further fueled her curiosity.
“This is not how I wanted to do it”, he began without preamble, his deep voice imbued with his characteristic no nonsense forthrightness, “I’d imagined us in a classy restaurant with a view, both of us formally dressed, soft music playing in the background. Where I would have…”, he paused for a breath, “I would have felt like a complete idiot but just for you I would’ve gotten on my knee, recited some poetry, maybe Pablo Neruda, you like him a lot, don’t you, and asked you to marry me”.
Khushi just stared at him, her mind blown away by the sheer unexpectedness of the moment.
Wasn’t it just earlier today when they’d had that discussion on marriage on Chunar Fort terrace, when she’d accepted the differences in their viewpoints and resolved to desist from attempting to change them?
“Because that is what you deserve”, Arnav added emphatically, his eyes softening at her bemused expression, “And more”.
He caressed her cheek lightly with the back of his fingers. His voice was soft as he asked, “Marry me, Khushi?
Too choked for words, she tried to reply with a smile but the emotions flooding through her heart made even than difficult. Arnav was touched as she said after a while, “You don’t have to. You’re doing this just for me”.
“Of course I’m doing this just for you”, he said with mock arrogance, an eyebrow cocked, lips pursed sinfully together, “Anyone has a problem with that?
Khushi laughed in response. Warm swathes of contentment reappeared to entwine around them again. Impulsively she lunged toward him, cupping his face with both hands, the bed sheet slithering away completely forgotten.
Slamming her lips on his, she kissed him with a fervid passion that sent desire whooshing through his veins once again.
Their hearts pounded wildly even as he pulled her closer by her waist and she slid on his lap, straddling him on her knees.
Ending her kiss with a nip on his bottom lip, she finally drew apart to look at him. Her gaze was dazed and her darkened irises reminded Arnav of spring grass and emeralds.
Humor broke through the desire, the potent intoxicant, swirling in his eyes as he asked, “Should I take that as a yes?
When Khushi assented with a smiling nod, his lips curved wryly, “There is no music and the way you’re moving…”, he paused and swore colorfully as she shifted, “There is no rational thought left in my mind let alone poetry”.
Remembering something, he tightened his grip, his fingers digging on her waist on each side to stall her now mischievously deliberate movements.
“Wait”, he said, “There is something else…”.
“I don’t want to wait”, she murmured against the trail she was imprinting on his chiseled chest and abs with scorching lips and urgent fingertips.
With an expletive Arnav tilted her head back with a handful of her silken hair. He plundered her mouth in a wild, uninhibited kiss that sent a fresh rush of blood and excitement down her veins.
Lifting her hips, he slowly eased her down and wrapped her legs around his waist, gently guiding her inexperienced movements to match his in a powerful synchronous, rhythm.
Their rhythm quickened before finally splintering into disarray as they both reached the summit in quick succession. Submerged in waves of pleasure, they sat in an intimate embrace, their eyes closed, their foreheads beaded with perspiration.
In the aftermath they sat ensconced in each other and silence, feeling their heartbeats slow down and listening to the sound of falling rain.
Khushi buried her face in his neck while Arnav did what was fast becoming a habit with him- run his fingers through her hair.
“There was something else you wanted to talk about”, she said looking at him, her eyes gleaming with tenderness as she pressed a kiss on his lips, “when I.. interrupted you”
Even as she waited for his reply she got off of him and with their bodies spent and untangled they lay down together face to face.
“Interrupted me?, he smiled amusedly, “That is a gross understatement but anyway yes, there is something else. Close your eyes”.
A wondrous expression suffused her eyes before being veiled by eyelids.
She felt both the warmth of his fingers and the coldness of metal against her skin. Opened her eyes, she lifted her left hand to look at it.
The first thing that she noticed was the color. It was deep violet, the color that was now permanently associated with saffron crocuses in her mind. A large extremely rare violet diamond surrounded by small white ones.
“It’s beautiful”, she said huskily…her happiness as always tempered with a touch of sadness at that person’s thought who would’ve exchanged anything in the world to be in her space right now. How easily life had given her what that other person had strove endlessly to attain.
But she hid those thoughts in her heart’s deepest recess and smiled at him. He deserved her smile and her unshadowed happiness, she thought, she deserved no less.
“It reminds me of saffron flowers”, she smiled. Her eyes were faraway as her mind flew to that night when they’d sat together a mountain, looking down at the sprawling saffron fields. It was a ethereal moment when they’d gazed at shadows of mountains and pools of moonlight and accepted their love, first for both of them, in a twilight space between light and dark, right and wrong, dream and reality…
If given a chance to relive the past, that too in light of the darkness they’d had to navigate through as a repercussion of that single moment, that single decision in time, would she have still confessed her love or would she have chosen to keep it unexpressed in her heart?
This was a question Khushi had long stopped asking herself…
“That night…”, Arnav said with a smile, looking deep into her hazel orbs. His eyes were crystal clear and totally devoid of regret, their belief flowing across to Khushi, making her eyes lambent with love. Just pure, unadulterated love.
“It belonged to my Dadi”, he said, clasping her hand as it rested on the white bed-sheet between them, the violet stone winking in the lamplight, “It has been in our family for six generations I am told”.
“I love it”, Khushi said slowly admiring her hand at leisure.
Her cellphone erupted into a previously set alarm. It signaled it was time to leave and ready herself for the wedding that night.
After a while, a showered and clothed Khushi scurried out of the bathroom with a worried look at the clock on the wall.
Arnav stood with his back to her, clad in jeans, calling the front desk for sheet change.
When he hung up and turned back, Khushi wrapped her arms around his neck for a quick hug.
“I have to rush now”, she said hating separating from him and telling her foolish heart that she’ll be seeing him soon. Tomorrow- she didn’t even allow herself to dwell on.
“I’ll see you at the wedding”, she said, “Don’t take too long”.
“I won’t”, Arnav said with a yawn, his arms releasing her reluctantly. His eyes were hooded with sleep and his mind more relaxed than it’d been for years.
About to leave, Khushi paused and uttered the thought that had always lingered below the surface, patiently waiting for it’s turn. Her voice was quiet yet laced with urgency. “Arnav, Dad wanted to talk to you. We’ll have to somehow carve out time for that too tonight”.
More sensitive to her unexpressed worries, Arnav pulled her in his arms again and pressed a reassuring kiss on her lips, “We will, Khushi. Don’t worry about anything”
It was easier said than done because weddings, especially those of people close to you, are hectic, chaotic, emotionally charged affairs that command your undivided attention. It was the same for Khushi who was caught in that beautiful but a little maddening whirlwind as soon as she reached her aunt’s house.
About three hours and arrival of baraat later, she and Anita stood on the stage next to the young couple. Against an opulent backdrop of gold velvet, tulle and red roses, Vinay and Isha struck a poignant picture in their wedding finery and aura of tender hope. They stood face to face, their eyes clashed, brimming alternately with sappy sentiments and bubbling mischief. To the accompaniment of laughter, ribbing, smell of roses and…shehnai music, they exchanged garlands, welcoming each other to a life time, several lifetimes of togetherness.
Across the heads of close friends and relatives, Khushi caught a glimpse of her aunt. She was smiling, her face melting into a heartwarming mix of pride, joy and sorrow at the impending separation. Khushi was unprepared for the way her heart squeezed with an intense longing for her own mother. For her acceptance and understanding. For her trust and pride. For her unconditional love.
Once again she was swept away by a vivid flash back of that frigid evening, her arm slumping to her side, petals she was showering the couple with slipping down slowly to the carpeted platform.
Manya’s words. Her father”s helplessness. Her mother’s judgement. They all came back to her.
As did her mother’s words
They slew her all over again…
Memories, intangible entities floating in ether, are powerful. They can be a picture in a wounded soldier’s wallet that pushes him to move one more step or the fuel to keep the fire of one’s private purgatory burning till the end of time.
Often hidden from the world and from one’s own conscious mind…it keeps burning…burning…
“She wasn’t wrong“.
The pain was as devastating as always and too deep for tears. Her face blanched, her chest constricted and she froze into a statue oblivious to the revelry she was surrounded with or to the deathly pallor of her face which her red and gold sari accentuated.
She was oblivious even to the pair of caramel eyes that had been watching her from afar, unable to stay off of her and that now swirled with acute concern for her.
She looked up startled when her hand was caught in a firm clasp, her widened eyes locking with Arnav’s reassuring orbs. She exhaled slowly, her body relaxing even as she heard Arnav speaking to Anita in a soft voice.
“Anu”, he said, “I’m going to take your sister with me for a little bit. We’ll be right back”.
“Sure”, Anita whispered back before adding with a wink, “And take her with you to Srinagar as well. I know she’s going to cry tomorrow. A lot. And that bugs me a lot”.
Arnav looked amused before solemnly surveying Khushi’s face and saying, “Although the idea is extremely appealing, it’s not at all good for someone who’s just decided on trying to mend fences with your parents”.
Her wistful eyes conveying her finding that idea extremely appealing as well, she said with a sigh, “You’re right”.
“Try asking Dad, Di”, said Anita with a grin,
“Maybe he’ll relent and let you go saying…what was that line…Ja Simran..ja…apni zindagi jee lay”.
Chuckling at her sister’s flight of fancy, Khushi uttered her old refrain that she hadn’t used in a long time. It brought with it a rush of nostalgia for the person she once was. Her old self.
“Life is not a Yash Chopra movie, Anu”, she smiled at her before turning to follow Arnav down the stage and toward the exit of the hall.
They went outdoors, crossing the wet grass to reach the patio. The string lights on the surrounding shrubs and trees appeared brighter under the overcast sky and the wet stones gleamed in the light of halogen lamps. After wiping the bench under the arbor with a handkerchief, they sat down in it, inhaling the relaxing scent of earth, rain and flowers.
Arnav called Navin, holding his phone in front of them, both of them a little nervous as they waited for the call to be connected.
Arnav cleared his throat as Navin’s face appeared on the screen, his bespectacled solemn countenance showing signs of a loosely restrained smile that wasn’t allowed to show just yet.
“Namastay Uncle”, said Arnav, echoing Khushi’s happy greeting. He watched quietly as Khushi inquired after his health, his progress, his various appointments…and after a pause after her mom.
That was followed by a short pause…which was hurriedly bridged by Khushi rushing into speech once again.
“Dad, Arnav wants to talk to you. To both you and Mom. Can you call her too?
Navin took his time replying to her request, his eyes veering toward a space to his right, his eyes flickering imperceptibly as they communicated with the person there, his jaw tautening with sudden anger at her stubbornness.
“She is…busy”, he said turning toward Khushi again. His features softened with compassion at the child-like yearning he glimpsed in her eyes,
“But I’m here”, he added with a small, reassuring smile.
Sensing her hurt, Arnav squeezed her hand, his eyes firming with resolve as they met Navin’s.
His deep voice was strangely compelling in it’s confidence and sincerity as honesty driven words flowed out effortlessly punctuated at intervals by either a fiercely protective Khushi or thoughts- some old, some new and some freshly conceived on the spur of the moment.
“Uncle, let me begin by apologizing to you, to Khushi, to your whole family for all the pain, the humiliation, the insult you’d had to face. I’m deeply sorry. I really am”.
“But it wasn’t your fault”, Khushi interrupted him, turning toward him, her eyes agitated, his humble apology not sitting well with her, “You couldn’t have predicted any of those unfortunate series of events. It wasn’t your fault. None at all”.
“Let me finish, Khushi”, said Arnav with a touch of impatience, “It was my fault to the extent that I should have cleaned up my mess, set my personal life in order before asking you… letting you to be a part of it”.
“You didn’t force me”, she countered, “I entered your life with my eyes wide open. It was my conscious choice”.
As they argued back and forth, Navin sat back in his chair and watched, his eyes slowly flickering with amusement, his lips twitching into a smile. They were already behaving like a long married couple, he mused, deeply moved by the threads of love, respect and protectiveness he noticed woven into their feisty argument.
Clearing his throat, he said poker faced, “Ok, let’s skip the apology part”.
Arnav turned toward him again and said with a disarming half smile, “To cut a long story short I love your daughter and consider it my good fortune that despite my various issues, despite the hurt I’ve caused her…”.
Khushi interrupted him again, “I hurt you more so don’t say that”.
Ignoring her this time, Arnav repeated, “Despite the hurt I’ve caused her, she still loves me and I’m calling today to ask for her hand in marriage. I wish I could meet you and Auntie in person but I have to go to Srinagar tomorrow for an urgent matter. Ma will be calling you guys soon. She’s planning on visiting you after Khushi reaches Cleveland”.
After Arnav finished speaking, Navin smiled at him, a genuine smile that gave him all the answers he needed without a need for words.
“And Sujata and I will look forward to your mother’s visit”, was all he said, his voice thickening at the moist sheen in his Khushi’s eyes. Knowing Khushi, he knew her happiness would be complete only when Sujata was happy too.
After goodbyes were exchanged and Arnav was about to hang up, Khushi took the phone and spoke into it, her voice slightly choked with emotion “Mom, I know you’re in that room too… I’m sorry, mom, sorry for all the hurt and disappointment I’ve caused you…”.
Unable to finish the sentence, she hung up and they rose from the bench together. Without a word, Arnav took her into his arms, holding her close as she struggled to keep tears at bay.
Her ears strained as she wished for the phone to ring, wished with all her heart for her mother to relent and call her back. Call her back with the reassurance that she’d forgiven her…that all was well…that she still loved her…
When all she got was silence, a wave of hurt ran across every fiber of her being soon crystallizing into anger- an emotion much easier to voice than hurt.
Her fingers curved onto the front of his blue shirt he wore underneath a gray suit and tie.
The strong barrier of loyalty that had always prevented her from speaking or even thinking ill of her mother began to slowly crumble.
The agony in her voice was heartrending even as it alternately shook with anger and broke into tears.
“How can she do this to me, Arnav? How can she stay angry with me for so long? How can she stay so uncaring of me, my happiness? Isn’t a mother’s love supposed to be unconditional?
As past memories came to the fore again, the agitation in her voice spiraled, and every word uttered was paired with raw pain.
“Manya called me a slut, a selfish, cold hearted home breaker and what did my own mother have to say to that? She said that Manya was right”, she cried looking into Arnav’s shocked eyes, “She said she was right..”.
Too shaken for words, Arnav’s heart filled with disgust and anger at his blindness and self absorption in those days.
“This is what my mother believes of me, Arnav. This is where her never ending anger stems from…”, she said, the bewilderment in her eyes clawing at his heart.
Setting aside his own burgeoning anger against her mother, he tried to comfort her the best way he could.
“I’m sure she doesn’t, sweetheart”, he said, “Anyone who knows you even a little bit can never believe that of you. I’m sure it’s just a phase and she’ll come around soon”.
A touch of steely entered her eyes. “I’m going to stop caring. I’m going to stop caring as well”.
Although secretly convinced that not caring was a near impossible feat for Khushi to achieve, he couldn’t help thinking that a little of it would actually be good for her.
He looked down at her. Yellow light slanted on her face throwing her soft features into sharp relief.
“I wish I could come to US with you”, he said, his voice husky with regret, “but I have to be in Srinagar…”.
He paused, a whole gamut of multihued emotions flitting across his normally impassive features. “September 7th is coming up in two months”, he said, “and I don’t want to spend it in darkness and alcohol this year”.
Khushi froze, her breath caught in her chest and her heart reeling from an onslaught of sensations.
Arnav took a deep, steadying breath. His eyes crinkled into a smile that was belied by their unnatural sheen, “Aarav was an amazing little guy and every minute he spent with me I’n now trying to see as a blessing…my good fortune. He certainly doesn’t deserve to have his Dad soaked in alcohol and tears on his birthday, right?
Arnav eyes flickered as he struggled against that inexplicable reticence some people have about talking about good deeds.
“I don’t know if this makes sense or not”, he said, clearing his throat, “But sometime back, after I took a sabbatical from work, I got this idea of converting Saffron Fields the company into a non profit organization, a charitable trust, where all it’s surplus revenues would go toward building schools in remote villages. Our first school will open on the 7th”.
Without a word, Khushi wrapped her arms around his shoulder, her eyes spilling with tears.
“It makes perfect sense, honey, it makes perfect sense to me”, she whispered hoarsely against his collar, her heart expanding with a sense of peace.
After a while, Khushi wiped her tears with the back of a hand and drew back to meet his eyes.
Her eyes were calm with a firm resolve.
“I’m coming with you”, she said quietly.
“No you’re not”, said Arnav equally firmly, “We just decided on everything. Everything should go according to plan. And I’ll be back in US by the middle of September anyway”.
“But I want to be with you”, she said.
“I understand you do, honey, and much as I will miss you, you can’t come because it’s not practical”, he countered, “especially after the talk I’ve just had with your Dad”.
Although Khushi understood his reasoning, she wasn’t convinced by it because her heart tugged at her, commanding her to stay with Arnav, to not leave his side at such a significant time in his life.
But Arnav wouldn’t hear of it. “And that is the end of this discussion”, he said bossily, after a while, his eyes twinkling at the mutinous look that entered her narrowed eyes.
She opened her mouth to argue some more but Anita’s urgent text summoning her to the hall did succeed in bringing an unsatisfactory end to the discussion.
Meanwhile at the wedding venue, a sumptuous buffet dinner had been served and people stood in lines on either side of the vast hall waiting for their turn. A popular song played in the background while groups of children played in the periphery, immersed in their own halcyon world.
After texting Khushi, Anita put her phone back on the table, asking Madhu Bua to mind it while she went to the restroom.
As she rose up from her chair, she was once again very conscious of Aman, who seemed to eternally lurking in the peripheries of her field of vision having difficulty in both approaching to talk and keeping his eyes away.
Anita was certain it was guilt and her summary dismissal of his apology that was making him behave that day.
With her self esteem at a record low, she didn’t realize how charming she looked in a beige and pink chiffon anarkali, or even spare a thought to it.
“Good”, she thought tartly, keeping her eyes stubbornly averted from him, “You deserve it for kissing a girl and not even knowing why”.
Her spirited thoughts faltered for a second as memories of their kiss, her first kiss, came to the fore slowly stirring the sleeping butterflies in her stomach awake.
Perhaps it was anger at those butterflies but when Aman blocked her way just outside the hall and asked if he could talk to her again, she spoke more harshly than she’d wanted to.
“But why?, she said, “Didn’t I make it clear that it wasn’t a big deal? What else is there to talk about?
“If it wasn’t a big deal”, Aman asked, a vein leaping at his temple indicative of the stress he was under, “Why are you avoiding me? Why can’t we go back to being friends?
Anita’s eyes were incredulous as she heard his words. She quelled a desire to scream, to shake him silly for being so unbelievably insensitive.
Convinced that if she opened her mouth only the crassest of words will escape, she started walking away with her eyes spitting fire.
She gasped when Aman extended his hand and caught her wrist in a tight grasp.
“I miss our friendship, Anita”, he said, holding her bemused gaze, “I…I
As Aman paused to gather his thoughts, approaching footfalls made Anita free her wrist and turn away from him.
They were Aman’s cousins and while they commanded all his attention by engaging him into a conversation, Anita headed toward the restroom, seething with rage, her eyes filled with angry tears.
About an hour later, dinner was over and preparations were underway for initiating the culminating event which was not only the grand finale of the night but also the heart of any wedding. The seven vows around the holy fire.
Both Anita and Khushi were too distracted by a mix of external and internal factors to notice the unnatural quietude, the turbulent eyes of the other.
While Anita’s young heart was confused by Aman’s attitude and didn’t know what to make of it on one hand, on the other, it strictly forbade it to indulge in the foolishness of wishful thinking.
The expression in Aman’s eyes when he’d comforted a distraught Khushi on her fateful birthday night was reminder enough to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground.
“But it hurts”, she would occasionally say to herself through cracks in her newly made armor, “It hurts a lot. How could’ve I been so stupid?
Khushi, on the other hand couldn’t reconcile herself with the idea of not being beside Arnav on Aarav’s birthday. Memories from a year ago, of their meetings at the Cleveland and later the Amsterdam airport kept coming to her.
As did Arnav’s words from earlier that night.
“He certainly doesn’t deserve to have his Dad soaked in alcohol and tears on his birthday, right?
“Soaked in tears and alcohol”.
Khushi couldn’t get over these words and even as she went through the motions of social etiquettes for the rest of the night, they wouldn’t leave her alone. That’s how he must’ve spent Aarav’s birthday last year, she mused, no wonder those meetings hadn’t even registered in his mind. No wonder he was unable to place her when they met again in Srinagar by a beautiful stroke of Serendipity.
Her heart wanted to go…but her head concurred with Arnav that it was not practical considering they’d just started on a road to mend fences with their parents.
Unable to keep his eyes open after dinner, Arnav had returned to his room but not before Anita had extracted a promise to visit sangam together next day.
Now, besides missing him and steeling his heart for their separation the next night, Khushi also checked her phone from time to time, yearning to hear her mother’s voice.
Her call never came and the small fire in Khushi’s heart grew bigger with every beat.
Many seedlings of change were sown in Khushi’s heart that night and Khushi could only discern them upon hindsight many years later.
Apart from her mother’s call that never came, there was another event later that night, a painful event, that acted as a catalyst for a deep introspection, a subconscious sowing of seedlings, a change in perspective.
It was a little before midnight, just before the pheres. The holy fire was being ignited and the soon to be weds being summoned. She stood near the mandap, resting her tired back against a decorative pillar, her arms weighed down with fragrant garlands.
At a nearby table sat Aman’s mom and her neice, who incidentally was also Isha’s good friend, taking morbid delight in a juicy conversation whose inherent malice and self righteousness carried over to Khushi in nauseating waves. It forced her to take notice of their words despite herself. It didn’t take her long to realize with a sense of shock that they were talking about her and Arnav.
For a moment she was too stunned to react.
Was it the same person who’d had a long conversation with her not too long ago? When she’d brimmed with sweetness, inquiring about her and her parents with what had seemed like a genuine smile on her lips and concern in her voice? How could somebody be so duplicitous?
Her words were cruel yet permeated with self righteousness and her listener, Isha’s friend whom Khushi got along with really well, agreed wholeheartedly. Heck, Khushi thought, her heart twisting with pain, she’d thought she liked her. They’d even exchanged numbers last night, promising to stay in touch.
“He was still married when their affair started”, the lady said, “And…I’ve heard from my source that his wife even attempted suicide”.
“Can one really blame her?, her niece asked.
“It amazing how insensitive people can be”, Aman’s mom continued, “Did you see them all evening? No shame. I feel sorry for Sujata. Can you even imagine looking at him that he lost his little son not so long ago? It’s really unbelievable. Relationships just don’t matter to some people. But they forget what goes around comes around too- such people can never be happy”.
“Aman bhai had a lucky escape in my opinion”.
Khushi’s nails dug into her palms and left crescent indentations. She took a deep, shuddering breath, waiting for her burning heart to settle.
“How easily people assume an air of moral superiority? And how easy for them to reconcile this moral superiority with all that malice and jealousy in their hearts? How easily they pass judgements and sentences without even a trial, without even a consideration of giving benefit of doubt?, she thought slowly, “Based on half-facts, hearsay and just plain conjectures”.
“Having no clue”, she thought with spiraling anger, with small fires merging into an all consuming conflagration, “Having no fucking clue about the oceans of grief Arnav holds in his heart or the effort that goes behind in keeping that smile on his face or just staying afloat or the years of misery and compromise that his married life was”.
“And having no clue”, she continued after a pause, “about our intentions, the demons we’d had to battle or the trials, tribulations, the unforeseen circumstances we’d had to overcome to reach where we are today”.
Even in her anger, it didn’t take her long to suppress an impulse to confront them. She knew she wouldn’t be able to change their opinion and that there were probably many others in the society at large who thought exactly like she did.
She couldn’t control their thoughts or anyone’s thoughts. The only thoughts she had any control over were her own.
The holy fire was ignited, it’s purifying flames dancing and crackling, their shadows flickering on Khushi’s face. Gradually her anger cooled. She looked back on their journey so far and retraced it, her eyes suffused with a golden glow.
And in that moment- Khushi steeled her back and held her head high. She pronounced herself… Not Guilty.