Anjali walked with an added bounce to her uneven gait. No amount of physical exhaustion was going to bring her down today. Today was Diwali. And that meant something damn it! It meant the dawn of a new era; a celebration of the hope and light that was to emerge from the depths of all that had cast a shadow over their lives. Not that Arnav was Ram or anything. Ha! What a thought. Though, she supposed that Khushi had freed him from his self imprisoned exile. And together, they had found their way home....where they belonged.
Placing small candles along the banister, Anjali hummed a happy tune. The smell of fresh marigolds, hung in cascading streams, infused the air with an earthy smell as the house glittered with the flickering of small flames housed in freshly made clay candles.A frustrated hurumph managed to catch her attention. From the corner of her eye, through the slit of a door, Anjali spied Khushi glaring at yards of red chiffon on the floor. Her natural instinct was to offer help but the tension between them still lingered and she was hesitant. Anjali had been dancing around Khushi's volatile mood, desperate to remain in her good graces.
I want her to have a family. This family.
Well that settled it. If she was going to be apart of this family then Anjali would just have to treat her as such. Tension or not, Anjali was older and had every right to charge into that room just as any sister would. And so, she did.
"Stuck?" Anjali offered as a conversation started. A wry smile, stretched across her face at the flustered Khushi.
The other woman, not expecting anyone, let out a startled shriek. Placing a hand over her heart, she accused..."You scared me."
Anjali walked forward and expertly gathered the material, sliding it between her fingers. "You looked like you could use some help."
Khushi stood awkwardly, trying to cover her abdomen, unable to protest. Tucking one end of the saree into her petticoat and partially around her waist, Anjali made light work forming a series of pleats, she looked up and teased..."You know if you don't breathe you'll probably pass out." Khushi had been holding her breath, her muscles taut, uncomfortable with the physical contact. A light frown creased over her forehead as she stared down at her waist. "I've been trying for ages. They keep slipping."
"It's like doing your first sutures. They seem tricky and slippery at first but after a while you can do them in your sleep." Holding a few safety pins in her mouth, she pinned the pleats together and helped Khushi with the palla. Letting out a deep breath, she declared her work done. "All done. Now hurry down the pooja is about to start. Chote won't make it. He won't tell me why but he says he's somewhere important." Anjali walked to the door, with the intent to let Khushi finish getting ready.
"Thank you." she said hesitantly.
Anjali turned and caressed her face lightly. "You know, you wouldn't have to thank me if you just called me Di."
There was a hesitation in her features and a flicker of pain in her eyes that made Anjali's breath catch. But in a blink of an eye it was nowhere to be seen, her affect once again unremarkable. Instead of letting it go, Anjali felt the need to know, her voice worried..."What? What happened? Was it something I said?"
Khushi stared at the woman before her, torn between the pull of her heart and mind. It would be so much easier to just deny and pretend....to move on. But Khushi had always valued interaction based on honesty. Not honesty of action but honesty of character. Pretending, scheming, manipulating, putting on a facade...simply was not in her nature. Anjali had hurt her in a way that was most likely beyond her comprehension. It was not fair to hold on to an anger that she could not understand.
"I'm angry at you." Her voice cracked.
Anjali's face fell. "I know."
Khushi smiled softly. "The thing is...you don't."
Anjali went to speak only to be interrupted by Khushi. "Not that it's your fault. You don't know because you don't know me. Intentionally or unintentionally you broke my heart. More than Arnav in some ways." The confusion on her face spoke volumes. "I guess its mostly my fault. I've been alone all my life. With Arnav I began to dream of a future. For orphans the future is a dangerous place. Full of hope. Hope...the sweetest of liars" Nostalgia held her eyes captive, bitter resentment seeping from its pores. The room was silent, the gravity of the situation taking hold. Anjali held her breath knowing what she was about to hear may determine the future of their relationship.
Khushi sighed..."But I dreamed. I couldn't help myself. I dreamt of lazy Sundays, of school runs, of birthday's...and somehow....in between all those silly little daydreams... I made a place for you."
"Oh god..." Anjali let out in a devastated breath. The pieces were beginning to fit.
"The thing is..." she said with a wry shrug of the shoulders. "...that day you came to meet me in the hospital; the day you gave me your blessing with your kajal ... I, the sentimental fool that I am, made you the maternal figure in my imaginings. I thought we would be co-conspirators against Raizada, that when things happened that were beyond my understanding I would have you to turn to. That if you just placed your hand on my head all my fear would melt away. And then it felt like you betrayed me only for me to remember you can only really betray someone you have a relationship with and yours, it was with Arnav... not me. "
What supposed to be a bitter laugh from the young surgeon, morphed into a sob, as she furiously wiped away at her tears. "It's a joke isn't it? The pragmatic, reserved doctor Gupta is so starved for affection that she attaches herself to any sort of maternal figure that happens to come along." Khushi paused, taking a breath as she turned to face the other woman. "So you see, the person I am really mad at is myself; for being the fool of my own fantasies. And for that, I owe you an apology. You really had no hand in my anger at all."
A curtain of water fell, dousing the hazel embers of her eyes, and she stared out into the distance. Quiet breathing diffused into the emotional aftermath as both women sat reeling from the effects. Khushi felt stripped raw, her breath ragged. The spiel had not been planned or thought out in aching detail as most confrontational conversations in her life were. She had given voice to her every fear. Fears that had held her captive, held her back. What had started as a conversation had somehow become a soliloquy; a cathartic release. More for her own benefit than Anjali's. The feeling was terrifying yet liberating. She was naked and exposed but free from her own judgement. And that had to be worth something. Taking a deep breath, she let go. Khushi blinked and became aware for the first time in minutes (hours?) of the visceral input around her.
As liberating as the monologue had been for Khushi, it had effectively served as a slap in the face for Anjali. Anjali a mother, a sister, but most importantly a daughter had failed to understand Khushi. Khushi whose fears, hopes and dreams were just as real as hers had been when she had lost her Maa all those years ago. Anjali supposed that in someways she complemented Khushi. As tough as Khushi appeared on the outside she was a broken girl on the inside. But Anjali, despite her overt display of maternal affections and penchant for histrionics, was a grounded woman, accepting of her own weakness and empowered by her fears.
She knew she was fiercely loyal and protective of her family unit, even more so when it came to her brother. Perhaps it was this that had blinded her toward the needs of the young woman who had brought her brother peace. Because in reality Khushi wasn't really family. Family was Nani, Arnav, Aman and Neha. And even then, there were times Aman could not understand the bond that tied Arnav, Nani and her. Their shared experience, years of suffering and hardship, had bound them in a way that was beyond the understanding of any outsider. The world was a cruel place and crawling out of the slums had taken sacrifice; of morals, of justice and of dignity. It was all too easy to loose ones sense of self. And it was in then, in the time when one's foothold of reality began to waver, that the other would guide them back.
It was almost unfathomable to Anjali how one could have gone through it alone. But that was what Khushi had done all her life. There was no one for her to fall back on. No one to fight for her happiness and let the rest of the world be damned. And that was what Anjali had done for Arnav. Fought for his happiness and let Khushi be damned.
Because Khushi wasn't family.
Suddenly her composure gave way to silent tears of shame.
Khushi's vision cleared. Anjali sat on the bed next to her, still as a stone, silent tears leaving tracks in her makeup. "I really do mean it you know." she whispered. "I wasn't being sarcastic or anything. I truly was angry at myself. I don't want you to feel bad. You really couldn't have known. My anger was misplaced and it wasn't fair on you."
She watched the other woman for a sign of response. She got none. Anjali seemed to be deep in thought. Her face still but her eyes determined. With a no nonsense brush of her face, she cleared her throat and acknowledged Khushi. It was a surreal moment that passed between the two women; an inherent understanding of the sanctity of what had been said here tonight.
Anjali tucked a stray strand of hair behind Khushi's ear and cupped her face. "Chote hates daliya." she said. The utter bewilderment gave rise to a little bubble of laughter that Anjali Raizada Mathur was famous for. Swiping at her now ruined eye liner, she placed a dot behind Khushi's ear and taking advantage of the momentary paralysis she then proceeded to place loud sloppy kisses all over the younger woman's face. A brief reprieve from the onslaught allowed a moment of clarity for Khushi.
I thought we would be co-conspirators against Raizada.
The day you gave me your blessing with your kajal ... I, the sentimental fool that I am, made you the maternal figure in my imaginings
And just as she realised what Anjali was trying to convey, the other woman in between a flood of tears hiccupped a heart breaking....
"Sorry. I'm so so sorry."
With that Anjali gathered Khushi in her arms as she broke down again. It didn't seem possible to have any tears left. In the embrace the women found forgiveness and hope. Khushi clutched on to Anjali like a lost child, unsure and afraid of the world. And Anjali, in return, gave her all the love she had, cradling her in her arms and wiping away her tears.
"Bas. That's enough crying for today." She fixed the crumpled palla of her saree. "This is going to take time and its not going to come immediately. But for better or worse you are apart of the family now. Feeling like one will take some time and adjustment. You don't just form those kind of attachments over night. Familiarity needs time. We'll just have to be patient. And as for me....I can't change what has happened in the past but I sure as hell will be by your side from this moment on. You can count on me. You can be angry at me. You can be disappointed in me. You can learn to expect things from me. To rely on me. Because it is your right. Because you are family. And I in turn will expect the same from you."
Khushi nodded, still a little overwhelmed by the onslaught. Something quite remarkable had taken place. Anjali now looked at her with a strong, silent and fiery determination. In that moment Anjali knew that this instinctive protectiveness had nothing to do with her brother and his request. Her maternal instincts had just decided that the world could be damned. Anjali Mathur was now in Khushi Gupta's corner fighting against anyone or anything that came in the way of her happiness. Khushi was now her responsibility.
"If ever you need anything, or feel alone or scared. You come to me. No questions asked. Capiche?"
She nodded. Anjali's eyes softened. "I know loving Chote hasn't been easy. I know staying by him must be even harder but he loves you. He loves you with a zeal I haven't known him to possess. And I know you do as well. But even then there will always be somethings you won't be able to express to one another. At those times I've always found comfort in Nani and now I hope you will find comfort in me."
She held her hand gently in support. Khushi looked down at their hands and sighed.
"Sometimes I'm afraid....I'm afraid that one day he'll wake up and resent me."
"What?" The idea sounded ludicrous.
"That one day as this beast takes hold of him, he won't recognise himself in the mirror. That he will fall in his own estimation as a man. That when he will look at me he will remember all that he's lost. That he'll remember what could have been and will push me away. I'm not sure what I'll do that day. I'm not sure how I will be able to handle his hate."
Anjali looked at the worry in Khushi's eyes and smiled knowingly. "Relationships are never simple. But I know Chote. So I know that you are right. He will push you away and he will be bitter. You have to know though his resentment and anger will have nothing to do with you. He could never blame you. Never."
"He'll blame himself." Khushi muttered, understanding what the other woman was trying to say.
"And it will be up to you to love him enough for the both of you."
Khushi nodded in silent contemplation.
"You pushed him away so many times in the beginning but he came back every time. Fought, every time. He fought till you had something worth fighting for. And there will most likely come a time in the near future where his circumstances will make him forget all this and then you will be the one who has to fight. Fight to remind him of what you both have. It won't be easy but when it becomes too hard, you'll have me to lean on. That much I can promise."
"Didi, Naniji aap ko neeche bu la rahi hai." (Sister, Nani is calling you downstairs.) OP interrupted them, with a brisk knock on the door, bring an end to their conversation.
Anjali acknowledged him with a quick nod. Squeezing Khushi's hand she said "Come. It's your first diwali. Let me see a smile."
Khushi managed a feeble, watery, sorry excuse of a smile. Anjali sighed, standing up. "I guess that'll have do for now. Now let's go before Nani has our heads."
It had been a fruitful day. Harrowing but fruitful. Arnav had started to notice changes in himself. Nothing major but still, noticeable. He knew that the activities of today should not have tired him out so. Two years ago and he would still be good to go till the wee hours of the morning but somehow midnight was creeping up on him and his body had voiced its protest. Still he wouldn't let it keep him down. Managing to get his little top secret mission underway and missing diwali pooja had meant two birds killed with one stone. Besides, Arnav much preferred Diwali once everyone had gone to bed. He felt it was perhaps the only time he could enjoy the festival of lights the way it had been intended; in silence. The flickering of several hundred oil lamps into the night was really a beautiful sight to behold; one that brought him peace.
The only downside to his little adventure today was not being able to see Gupta rocking a desi outfit. Di had been dropping hints the whole week of the outfit she had bought his girlfriend. Girlfriend. The word sounded foreign...empty. Not enough.
Arnav walked into his room quietly, trying not to disturb the sleeping family members. As he opened the door to the poolside, it felt as if the gods he had so rudely rebuffed earlier this evening, had heard his silent prayers. Out by the poolside was his Khushi. Surrounded by concentric circles of lamps she looked other worldly; their glow falling softly on the angles of her face, lending an aura of mystery, of intrigue and of seduction. A red saree was slung low on her hips, its palla shamelessly flirting with her taught creamy, abdomen. The very next moment the wind shifted a fraction, tickling her hair and she looked up, caught by his eyes.
"Hi." he managed. His voice a husky whisper.
"Hi." she replied, hers equally breathy.
Kneeling down he held her gaze, drinking in her beauty.
Khushi blinked herself out of her stupor and looked around. She had caged herself in a ring of lights. "Mmmmm."
Arnav navigated the lights with ease till he reached her. Slipping her hand in his, he leant her his support as she struggled to walk with the saree. It still amazed him, how enamoured he was by this woman. Hypnotised. Captivated. He watched the sway of her heavy jhumka's precariously attached to her butter soft lobes, the concentrated frown upon her brow, the sparkle of her eye, the loose curl of hair at her nape...he was enthralled by her every move, her every thought, her every breath.....her very existence. Still, what amazed him even more was her response to him. They had left the candles a while back, but her hand lay in his, her eyes wide and earnest locked with his own. He had unconsciously started to view himself through her eyes, believing that he really was all that she believed him to be. She had allowed him to stop hating himself, to stop hiding under the facade of his success, to love himself as she did. What had he done to deserve her?
He smiled lazily at her inability to do anything other than blink her eyelids.
"Hi." he said.
"Hi." she repeated.
He grinned at the silliness of it all. And she smiled back at him. An impish, childish sort of smile that made his heart sing; her bottom lip caught on her top teeth, her eyes dripping with mischief and her dimples on proud display. Arnav had never seen her so carefree and open before. He wished he could capture time but for this moment.
Khushi wrapped her arms around his neck and they began to sway gently with the breeze. "Hmmmm."
"Do I get to know why or am I just going to hear you purr tonight. Not that I mind by the way." Arnav teased, unable to wipe the smile from his face as she mock slapped his chest.
"It's my first diwali and it's everything I imagined it to be. I'm in a saree, there are candles everywhere, I went to a pooja, I'm dancing with you and I made up with Di."
He raised his eyebrow. "You have had a busy day. And Di? Miracles will never cease. Maybe I should just leave you two alone more often."
"You really only say that when you don't have a good come back. Anyway I'm glad you and Di are sorting it out. She's not too annoying when you get to know her. But seriously what happened?"
Khushi sighed. "We talked and I decided I'm done worrying. What has to happen will but I'm not going to let it get in the way of what we have. I'm going want to enjoy every moment with you. Live in the now."
Arnav stopped swaying and hesitated before saying a quiet ... "Thank you."
Khushi knew it was more than a simple expression of gratitude. He was saying thank you for giving them the chance to live. For giving him the chance to live. To really live.
"I find open communication delivers the best results with the Raizada siblings."
Arnav chuckled. "Don't let Aman hear you say that. He insists she's a Mathur."
Khushi shook her head. "Na-uh. Today I found out 'once a Raizada, always a Raizada."
His affect stilled as he studied her carefully. And then, in the space of a heartbeat the atmosphere became electric; the static a drug. Swinging her around, he slammed her against the side wall unable to contain his desire. They paused a second, as her eyes frantically searched his trying to make sense of the madness. The longing in his eyes was naked. Not waiting any longer, he swooped down to claim her as his own. She managed a soft gasp before his lips were upon hers. Time seemed to stop for them and they clung to one another. It started as a caress, lips brushing against the other, gentle but captivating. A rush of butterflies began their ascent from navel, erupting in her chest.
He tasted salty but still sweet. Standing on her tip toes she drew herself closer to him, letting her eyes fall shut. She was safe. With him, she was safe. The breeze whipped around them, his shirt fluttering against her hands. The kisses grew more urgent and she felt the blood pool at her centre, her core pulsing with need. Hands did as lips do, their exploration more urgent, trailing down her back, pulling at her dori. Hers gripped at his shoulders, her leg trying to go around his waist as he lifted her up on to the wall.
Desire gave way to need and they parted but for a second; their breath short and ragged.
Looking up, his eyes dangerously dark he whispered against her neck...
"Indeed. Once a Raizada, always a Raizada."
First of all I can't believe we made it to thread three. Thank you so much to all the lovely and very patient readers of HAM. I know it can be difficult to follow a story when the updates come once every month. But I thank you for following nonetheless. If it weren't for your constant badgering I probably would have given up on it. My life has been very difficult lately and I have been focussing on myself, something I have neglected for a very long time. So writing has been put on the back burner for a while. Not completely forgotten though. I sincerely thank all those who have sent me their best wishes. Sometimes your lovely PM's make me cry. It's easy to forget their are good people out there.
And on that note, thank you to all the lovely people who have told me how much they love YLME; old readers and new. I have decided that I will indeed finish the story. only because I went back and read all the chapters and realised what a waste it would be not to. The Khushi in that story I think deserves her happy ending. Also I have NOT written more than 54 chapters so don't worry about it. But I won't be finishing YLME till HAM is done.
The next update for HAM will be an interlude and then we will be on the home straight. I think after the interlude there will only be three more updates and then the epilogue. (Might have two parts.)
So please stay with me till then. I really value those who comment. I know it is after a long time I update but it still requires that same effort and time. Having said that, this update took me ages and I'm not quite as satisfied as I have been with some of my other updates. But it is super long and in the universe now and I hope you enjoy it.
Lots and lots and lots of love Sasak.
Also something I wanted to share. It is haunting but so beautiful.
Also something I wanted to share. It is haunting but so beautiful.