SPF: Reality Bites

SPF 08-19-18 Anurag 2
Photo (c) Anurag Bakshi

SPF: Reality Bites

Words 101

Amidst thunderous applause Kali walked up to the dais to receive her award from the President of India. Not just a wife and mother, she was a woman of substance – of the likes of Madame Curie. Pride and exultation filled her as she surveyed her family cheering and clapping until their throats and hands were sore.

“Wonderful groundbreaking work Madam,” the interviewer gushed. “You are truly an inspiration for all women and we are extremely proud of you.”

“Thank you.” Kali said modestly.

“Tell us Madam who was your inspiration on this long and difficult journey in a male dominated field?”

“My inspiration?” Kali laughed. “Everyone!”

“That’s interesting. Could you elaborate please?”

“I was named Kali because I was dark. I was also given other names because I was fat and short.” Kali shrugged. “Rejected by suitors and reviled by society I turned to my first love, academics.” Kali smiled. “So here I am.”

“What about your husband?”

“He’s been a pillar of strength all throughout. He took care of home and children while I slaved away in the laboratory…”

 

“How long does it take to make a cup of tea?” A querulous voice demanded.

“Coming.” Kali switched off the gas.

***

Written (after a long time!) for the Sunday Photo Fiction – a story in 200 words or less. Thanks to Susan for hosting the challenge and Anurag for the awesome photo prompt. To read the other stories inspired by this prompt click here.

 

 

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – VIII

Links to the previous parts are here:

Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise

Chapter 3: A Lovely Story

Chapter 4: The Unfinished Story

Chapter 5: A Lovely Dinner

Chapter 6: A Lovely Confession and a Spat

Chapter 7: To Hell and Back

Chapter 8: A tête-à-tête

Today was the day!

Exam over, she was rejoining office after a week’s leave. As she dressed her heart thudded with anticipation and nervousness. She dithered over her dress and changed thrice before settling on one. Stop it she scolded herself, you weren’t this nervous before the exam!

Yes, but he was sure to be there waiting for her after work. She wanted to make sure she was well armed with a thick shapeless drab dress and a severe bun topped with her forbidding spectacles.

But to her dismay he wasn’t there. Nor did he turn up the next day. She checked his last updated status. He was online! She hurriedly exited her app. She was relieved she told herself firmly. This was for the best. For him.

“Miss me?” Once again he popped up when she was least expecting.

“I thought you’d gone back to hell.” She stilled her leaping heart.

“I tried,” he fell into step beside her, “but they threw me out.” He grinned engagingly.

She couldn’t help smiling back at him.

“Oh! Hurry they are going to tow away my car!” Before she knew it she was in the car with him.

“Where’s the tow truck?” she craned her neck.

“Must be coming.” He slid the car into motion and winked at her.

“You think you’re very smart don’t you?” she seethed. “Fine. Let’s talk.” She crossed her arms and glared at him.

“Not now.” He focused on the road. “I don’t want to to have an accident.”

She pressed her lips together. “Where are we going?” she asked stiffly.

“To my office. We can have privacy and your sensibilities won’t be offended either.”

She looked away. She yielded the battle and asked. “Are you okay enough to drive?”

He shrugged.

“I mean your leg was broken, so it must hurt?”

“Not as much as it hurts when you rebuff me.”

Sudden tears clouded her vision. She looked out of the window and blinked rapidly. It wouldn’t do to breakdown so easily. She re-bolstered her defenses.

“What do you want?” she demanded aggressively as she faced him in his cabin.

“I thought I had made it clear.” He threw the car keys on the overloaded table. It slithered over the plastic folders and dropped down through a crack in the middle. Lovely sighed and picked it out. Unable to find a reasonably safe place she slid it into the pen stand making sure to keep the distinctive key chain hanging out. “I want to marry you.”

“That’s the trouble with you Sonu,” she faced him with a stern face. “You don’t have vision.”

“Vision?”

“Yes.” She nodded. “You just care about the present. Instant gratification, with a complete disregard for the future, which trust me, will come, sooner or later.”

“What are you talking about?” Sonu was clueless.

She pointed to his messy table. “You threw the car keys without a thought for how you have found it later. All you were concerned about was getting rid of them. But you will leave this room sometime? You will need the car keys? Better to keep it somewhere you can easily find it?”

“I always throw my keys there and I have never ever had any had trouble finding it.” Sonu declared.

Lovely threw up her hands. “That’s neither here nor there. It just proves what I think – that you have no vision and have not spared any thought for the future. Can you seriously see us together? For decades?”

“I can’t see it any other way.” His eyes were soft and warm as they rested on her.

Frustrated (partly because of the way her heart leaped), Lovely almost stamped her foot. “Uff. Please none of this romantic drivel please. Marriage is no child’s play and it’s for a lifetime. Think about it. More than fifty years of commitment to the same person. Can you do it?” He nodded. “I don’t think you can.” She shook her head.

“How can I convince you I am serious? I don’t know about the future but I do know I won’t be able to live for very long without you.” She opened her mouth to give him a dressing down but he forestalled her. “For the past two months as I lay on the bed battled pain and agony of physiotherapy and learning to walk again,” his eyes bored into hers, “all I could think about was you. That you were there waiting for me or worse slipping away from me, kept me going. I pushed myself harder and harder, ignoring the pain. I had to get back on my feet as soon as possible, before someone else snapped you up.”

Lovely’s eyes dropped. She clamped down on her rising answering emotions and rallied. “I am glad I could be your inspiration but this doesn’t prove anything. In fact it seems to me that I am a toy, which has been denied to you. And the novelty of it has you hooked. Soon this craze this obsession will wear off and there would be nothing left.”

“You don’t understand! If I had the slightest doubt that this was an infatuation, I would have never asked you to marry me. I would have wooed you made love to you, got you out of my system and gone on my merry way.” His lips twisted at the shock in her eyes. “Been there, done that,” he gave a self-deprecating cough. “But,” he hastened to reassure her, “With you I don’t feel like that. I just want to be with you.” He looked at her helplessly. “I can’t understand it myself. It’s a weird feeling, uncomfortable and disturbing. Yet exhilarating.” He ran a hand over his hair. “God! I am not making any sense am I?” he groaned.

Unfortunately only too well.

Lovely clenched her fists and forced her jumping nerves to calm down.

“Look,” Sonu got up from his chair and drew up one across her. He leaned towards her, “there’s nothing to worry. I’ve got it all sorted. I…I mean we, Titu and I talked to everyone and they have no issues with me being the groom instead of Titu. Even Ghasitaram has no problem, in fact he has already sounded out your grandparents.” He smiled triumphantly at her. “They have no issues.”

“What about me?” There was just the faintest tremor in her voice. It cracked and she automatically raised her pitched to cover it. “Have you got me sorted too?”

He looked blank which served to fuel her anger.

“You didn’t think about me, my feelings at all did you? Why would I say no to such a brilliant catch isn’t it?” she jeered. “Why can’t you get it through your thick head that I don’t want to marry.”

“But why not?” Sonu stared. “I am financially sound, reasonably good looking and from a decent family, no in-laws to worry about, what’s the problem?” He looked irritated and frustrated.

“The problem is that it is all about you, the others.” Lovely said. “There’s nothing in it for me. My feelings what I want doesn’t matter at all.”

“Okay. Okay.” Sonu raised his hands and backed off. “Okay fine. We’ll talk about you, what you want. I just thought of removing any concerns regarding familial opposition or hurting Titu’s feelings etc which may have bearing on your stance. If you have any other concerns, we can sort it out together. I promise. So let’s see,” he counted on his fingers, “Titu doesn’t have any problem, my family, your family don’t have any issues,” he grinned, “neither do I. So only you are left.” He tapped his chin. “You are worried, I won’t let you work? But of course I will! I already…”

“You know what galls me?” her tone was conversational as she interrupted him.

“What?” he asked warily.

“This thing about you will let me work. Why would you say such a thing? As if I were your bonded laborer or something. Male chauvinist,” she swore under her breath.

“Hey come on!” Sonu protested. “It was just a figure of speech. I didn’t mean anything other than I fully support and respect your decision to work. Like I was saying, I have my heart set on being IAS officer’s househusband. You go out and set the world right and I’ll keep your home sparkling clean, fresh and welcoming. I’ll look after the children, send them to school, make them do their homework…”

“What if I don’t want children?”

“Every woman wants children!”

“I think you know by now, I am not every woman, at least not your idea of every woman.”

“But you like children!”

“How do you know?” she crossed her arms.

“You told us, that you wouldn’t marry, but you would adopt a child, maybe more.” He shrugged. “But if you are getting married, may as well have children and have fun trying,” he winked.

Her lips quivered and firmed. “What if I don’t want to try? Or have fun?” Angry with herself for allowing the bitterness ooze out, she walked to the window.

***

Click here for Chapter 9: The Ugly Truth

 

 

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – VI

Like I suspected this story is not going to finish in 6 (or 7) parts but to make up for dragging it, I will be posting chapters daily (if you like of course!)

Links to the previous parts are here:

Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise

Chapter 3: A Lovely Story

Chapter 4: The Unfinished Story

Chapter 5: A Lovely Dinner

Chapter 6: A Lovely Confession and a Spat

“Where were you?” a bleary-eyed Titu attacked him the next morning as Sonu sat on the balcony his tea forgotten and crinkling. “I waited and waited for you.”

Sonu started. “But why? I texted you didn’t I? It was late and I…”

“Late? It was barely 11 pm!”

“Yeah. I guess I just wanted to be alone.”

“Alone and you? That’s a first! What’s wrong with you?”

“Wrong? Nothing. Everything is right. Just perfect. You know Titu it’s such a wonderful feeling to be in love. I don’t want to share it with anyone, not even,” he looked at him apologetically, “With you.” He shook his head. “I feel as if I am flying and there’s nothing I cannot do.”

“Oh my God,” Titu retired precipitously to the kitchen for some caffeine boost. So armed and somewhat rejuvenated, he returned to harass Sonu. “You are serious about her? Wasn’t one evening with her enough to get rid of that whimsy?”

“Nope. A life time wont be enough.” Sonu was serene and confident.

“She agreed?” Titu’s heart sank.

“Not by a long shot.”

“I am sure she’s playing hard to get to pique your interest and keep you hooked. She’s smarter than the other girls who are so obvious in their intent.”

“You misunderstand her.”

“And you understand her?”

“Not yet.” Sonu shook his head. “But there’s something in her eyes, a deep seated pain, a wounded look that slashes my heart.” He clenched his fists. “I want to kill whoever put it there,” he growled.

“My, my!” marveled Titu, “what an active imagination you have?! I also met her I didn’t see anything like that? She was laughing and chatting as normally as anyone else, perhaps,” he amended, “a little bit more sense than the average behenji. That’s her only claim to fame.” Titu declared. “Listen Sonu,” he cautioned, “don’t get taken in by the tragedy queen act. She’s not our type of girl. Just forget her and move on.”

“And I am wondering just who is my type of girl? Someone who dances well, parties and drinks? Didn’t we agree that we wanted to settle down?”

“But she doesn’t want to settle down does she? She said it very clearly that she wasn’t interested in marrying. So even if you do manage to convince her to marry, I am warning you, housekeeping will fall on your shoulders.”

“All that is inconsequential and a tiny price to pay if she will agree to have me in her life.”

“You’ve lost it man!” Titu was worried. “You and I are going to Goa and not coming back until you are completely rid of this evil spirit.”

Sonu didn’t object and went along with his friend’s suggestion. If Titu was right, it was an infatuation, a passing obsession, might as well take measures to rise above it. She deserved better and more than a passing interest. Yet in the midst of exotic locales, high on feni and romantic beaches, all he could see was her – laughing teasing, brooding, resigned, blanked out and that raw anguish that had flashed in her eyes before it was tucked away out of sight. Something horrifying had happened in college that much he was sure, but what? He raised his glass at Titu gyrating on the deck with a crush of people shook his head and turned away to admire the colors of sunset. Would she have found this romantic or would she have made some cutting comment about nature showing off? He clicked a picture and wished he could send it to her. But she had deigned to even share her number. Now the only way to contact her was to go to her home. Unless…

“Hi! I’m here to discuss a loan.” Sonu landed up at her bank.

Lovely jerked up. “What are you doing here?!”

“Told you,” he grinned, taking the seat across her, “I want a loan.”

She looked at him primly and straightened the sheets on her table. “I don’t deal with loans. I deal with claims,” she shot him a look from her brow, “I’m the bank’s unofficial troubleshooter,” he could have sworn there was a gleam behind the spectacles, “and I have special permission to shoot troublemakers.”

“Well,” he shrugged toying with a stapler on her table, “if you can’t give me a loan, I will stake a claim to your time.”

“I don’t have any time.” She dismissed him.

“But you will go home?” He pointed out. “I’ll drop you home.”

“I can go home by myself.” She snapped. “Thank you.”

“It’s no trouble.” He smiled setting her teeth on edge. Ignoring him, she nodded to the customer standing behind Sonu. “Yes? Please tell me.” She invited.

Unfazed Sonu stood up. “I’ll catch you after work.” He sauntered away while she stared at his retreating back with annoyance and anticipation. Contrarily to punish him (and herself for that transgression, that leap in her heart) she dithered over her work, until she was all caught up. Let him sweat it out, she was still seething over his high-handed behavior, but he was probably cozily ensconced in his air-conditioned gas-guzzler, she thought sourly switching off and locking up for the day. Or maybe he had gotten bored and left, she couldn’t help looking this way and that to see if he was actually around.

“Looking for me?” he popped up from behind.

Arrogant and full of himself, he definitely needed to be taken down a peg or two. “One can’t be too careful,” She curled her lips, “with the kind of good-for-nothings loitering on the streets.”

“What do you mean?”

“The streets of Delhi are choc-a-bloc with suited and booted,” she gave him a scathing disgusted look, “rabid dogs.”

He turned on his heels and walked away.

Good riddance to bad rubbish, she thought triumphantly. But it was a hollow victory. And it was strange how much space ‘rubbish’ could occupy her mind.

She couldn’t get his hurt expression out of her head. Every time she tried to focus on her studies, his eyes would flash up on the pages of her book – surely that hadn’t been a hint of tears? What had she said that he got so upset? She shut her traitorous book with a snap. And why did she care? Because what I said was plain mean? Besides what right did she have to insult him like this?

But it was okay for him to pester and harass me?

He wasn’t harassing! That’s just his way.

Yeah right, make excuses for him. What about me?

Apologize to him.

To him?! But why should I? He started it.

So you finish it. By apologizing. Show him that you are a better person. Can you do that?

I guess. But what if he takes it as encouragement?

Surely you know how to control one man? And you want to be an IAS officer?

She sighed. She had been way out of line and he deserved an apology. Staring at his calling card, she dithered for a long time. Should she call him? Should she apologize in person? Maybe she could pay him a visit at his office? But wouldn’t that give him the wrong message? Give him a tacit license to dog her steps. Besides they had nothing in common. What was the point in building a relationship that was based on a false premise? Relationship! She didn’t do relationships! Darn him for wasting so much of her time and thoughts! She needed to study. May as well be over and done with it.

She texted him – Hi.

She stared at her phone. Single tick. Double tick. No last seen status. Perhaps he was asleep – it was 3 am. Her heart thudded. The ticks turned blue. He was online. She sat up clutching the pillow to her middle. Why was he not responding? Perhaps he didn’t know it was her? Her DP also gave no clue as to her identity. It’s me, Lovely she typed and then hesitated, Jigyasa.

Still no response.

She checked the DP, it was him and he was still online. Was he ignoring her or was he mad at her; or worse hurt because of her?

It is Sonu isn’t it?

He was typing!

No.

She stared. She could have sworn it was him.

Oops. I did check the DP.

Did you?

She frowned and checked again. She almost gasped with surprise.

A mangy unkempt dog stared back at her.

I am sorry. It came out spontaneously.

For what? He wasn’t ready to absolve her so easily.

For crossing that line

Prove it

Prove what?

That you are sorry. Meet me after work tomorrow.

No.

Fine. He went offline.

I’m busy tomorrow. She yielded. Maybe on Friday.

Great!

Already regretting her hasty decision (and annoyed that he did take her apology as a license to continue pursuing her), she typed back but why do you want to meet me?

Even I wonder.

Her heart thudded.

I just have to. Like an addiction I am helpless

Her heart stopped.

I can’t stop thinking about you. It’s as if there’s nothing in my world apart from you.

She felt hot and cold. Her fingers shook as she slowly typed. Perhaps that’s because I am the new toy that you cannot have.

Perhaps

She swallowed hard to dislodge the lump in her throat.

Or

She froze and stared at her screen.

I have fallen in love with you

Tears rolled down her cheeks. She wiped them away fiercely. You are crazy

Yes. About you

What do you know about me?

Nothing. But that doesn’t matter. I only know that I cannot live without you.

Sweat beaded her brow. She felt as if she were flying yet a dreadful weight dragged her down.

Her phone pinged.

Let me live. Marry me. Please.

Go to hell. She switched off her phone and gave into the luxury of gut-wrenching sobs into her pillow.

Heavy eyed and listless, she got through the next day alternating between exhilaration and dread of meeting Sonu. She cautiously and reluctantly switched on her phone at the office. Disappointment tore through her. Not a single message from him. She was the new toy. He was already bored of her. Or accepted that she was unattainable. Well that suited her just fine and she was well out of all that mess she had sworn she would never get into it. She threw herself into her work. But she couldn’t resist checking her phone about a million times. He wasn’t waiting for her outside the bank either.

This wasn’t like him to give up so easily she couldn’t help thinking. Had she again hurt his feelings by saying go to hell? What if something had happened to him?

What do care? She jeered herself. And what do you know about him? Nothing right. Just be thankful that he is out of your hair and get on with your life. Stop moping and get back to studying.

She pulled herself together and immersed herself into the world of academics. Like always this was her sanctuary her abode of peace and tranquility where she could forget about the world, and herself. Yet once in a while Sonu managed to intrude here as well. Where was he

By the next day she was concerned enough to call up his mobile from the office landline. She didn’t want him to get the wrong message again. But his phone was switched off. Why would he switch off his phone? It’s not like she was pursuing him.

Maybe someone else was. Maybe she had come back into his life. Maybe he was regretting his hasty declaration. Maybe, argh!

Forget him. Move on.

I would if only I knew he was fine.

Why do you care?

There were no answers or she didn’t want to admit to them. She had only one thought – how to get news of Sonu?

After three dreadful days her phone pinged.

Hello from Hell.

***

Click here for the next Chapter 7: To Hell and Back

 

FFfAW: The Pick-me-up

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The Pick-me-up

Words 175

“Come for a walk?” Reema was at the door. “Please! I need to vent.”

“Sure.” Dia shut the door behind her. “Yikes it is hot!” she gasped.

“I know,” Reema agreed, “But I simply had to get out.”

“What happened?”

“It’s every damn thing,” Reema groaned, “and the weather isn’t helping. I have an office deadline, college cut offs and admissions are giving us sleepless nights and on top of it, my father-in-law.”

“What’s he done?”

“He has begun to invite random people home.” Reema groaned. “We’ve guests for dinner and lunch.”

“Just make twice the amount.”

“One batch is pure vegetarian.”

“Oops!”

“Exactly.” Reema sighed. “But there’s one good thing.”

“What?” Dia wiped her brow.

“I don’t dread Hell anymore.”

“Right. It couldn’t be hotter than the kitchen.”

They laughed.

“I guess I better get back.” They traced their steps back. “I can see another crisis looming.”

“What?”

“The husband has a cold.”

“Oh no!” Dia commiserated. “Poor you.”

“Thanks for the shoulder.” Reema grinned.

“Anytime.” Dia winked. “But remember, it’s my turn tomorrow.”

***

Written for the FFfAW challenge – a story in 175 words or less. Thanks to Priceless Joy for hosting the challenge and I am happy to have managed to rise to the challenge this week. Successfully or not, is up to you to decide! To read the other stories inspired by this prompt click here.

Sonu aur Titu ki Lovely – V

Links to the previous parts are here:

Chapter 1: A Lovely Noose

Chapter 2: A Lovely Surprise

Chapter 3: A Lovely Story

Chapter 4: The Unfinished Story

 

Chapter 5: A Lovely Dinner

Back home, he had another task cut out.

“What?! Why!?” Titu was annoyed. He had been quite sure Lovely would veto Sonu’s plans and save him the bother. Dammit now he would have to spend time in her company. What if anyone asked who she was? He couldn’t very well say fiancé could he? She was downright ugly and a blot on his standards. “I don’t want to get to know her better!” He echoed Lovely’s sentiments. “What’s the point?”

“What will everyone say?” Sonu asked. “We did put off the engagement saying that you needed time to get to know her didn’t you? And if you don’t meet at least a couple of times, they are going to get suspicious. Even her own Aunt and Uncle.”

“What a bore.” Titu grumbled. “And what a waste of a perfectly good evening.”

“If you were so dead against going, why didn’t you say something before I went to meet her?”

“I did! But you didn’t listen,” Titu pointed out. “Besides I thought she would refuse. I am still surprised that she agreed.”

“She had no choice.” Sonu smirked. “Plus she also has a vested interest,” He pointed out smugly, “She needs to keep up appearances of this engagement.”

“Makes sense.” Titu nodded, “but,” he shot Sonu a keen look, “what doesn’t make sense, is your interest?”

“My interest?” Sonu got up to pour himself a glass of water. He drained it. “I don’t know what you mean.” He picked up his car keys. “Okay then see you at around 7?”

“What’s going on Sonu?” Titu stood in front of him.\

“Going on? Nothing.” Sonu shrugged. “I just remembered, I was supposed to meet a caterer…”

“Don’t lie Sonu!” Titu interrupted, “If you know me, I also know you. So out with it.” He insisted.

“I really don’t know what you are talking about!” Sonu stuck to his story. “I am just trying to help…”

“How are you helping me by forcing me to meet this girl? She doesn’t want to marry me and even I don’t want to marry her….”

“Exactly,” Nodded Sonu, “We need a valid reason to break off isn’t it? The sooner we meet and the oftener we meet the earlier we can convince Ghasitaram that you aren’t suited.” Seeing Titu’s unconvinced expression, he added, “You do know Ghasitaram is hell bent on this alliance?” Titu nodded glumly. “It’s not going to be easy to break this one,” Sonu warned. “We have to find a solid reason one that even Ghasitaram wont be able to overlook.”

“That will be tough,” admitted Titu, “the way he waxes eloquent about his friend. In fact he said until college they were like you and me. It was because of the partition they lost touch until now.”

“I know. He told me that as well. And that’s why we have to meet Lovely and find some solid reason that would convince Ghasitaram.”

“What if he doesn’t get convinced?” The dreadful possibility gave Titu the jitters. “I am not marrying that girl and that’s final!”

“Okay fine! I’ll think of something.” Sonu reassured him.

“I know!” Titu snapped his fingers. “You could marry her.” He said slyly. “You seem quite taken in with her.”

“Rubbish.” Sonu hedged. “It’s just that she’s piqued my interest. She’s so…so different and refreshing from the usual girls, that’s all.”

That’s all. Titu grinned to himself. This was getting interesting. He made no more objections until he saw Lovely.

“You do know we aren’t going to the temple for bhajan kirtan?” Titu said as Lovely got into the car.

She paused in the act of shutting the door, the only indication that the barb had hit home. “Yes.” She slammed the door shut and pulled at the seat belt.

“Then why are you dressed as if you are?” Titu deliberately rubbed it in ignoring Sonu’s glare in the rear view mirror.

“What’s wrong with what I am wearing?” Lovely said stiffly looking down at her sober full sleeved salwar kameez. “Besides, how does it matter what I wear?”

“Of course it matters!” Titu didn’t start the car. “We are going to a friend’s engagement party. What will everyone think? That my fiancé is a behenji?”

“Shut up and drive,” Ordered Sonu from the backsat.

“As you wish,” Titu slid the car into gear and zoomed off. “But for your kind information we are going to a discotheque. So don’t blame me if everyone stares at you or makes fun of you.”

“I thought it was a formal function.” Lovely said stiffly. “Not some half-naked dance party at a discotheque.”

“Call it what you like but we people like to wear clothes which we are comfortable in and not what society expects us to wear.” Titu tapped his fingers on the wheel one eye on Sonu’s black expression. He laughed to himself.

“I am comfortable in these clothes, thank you very much.” Lovely sat stiff and composed as Titu gunned down the road.

“Whatever.” he looked at Sonu through the rear-view mirror, “She can be your friend, fiancé whatever. I refuse to be associated with her.” He screeched to a halt. “Here we are.” He got down from the car. Sonu leaped out and accosted Titu. “How can you be so rude?”

“I had to be rude to be kind,” Titu was unfazed. “If she went in looking like that they would demolish her in no time.” He shook his head. “What were you thinking? And what the hell are you playing at?”

Lovely exited from the car. She slammed the door with finality. “I’ve booked a cab. I am going home. Thank you for a fine evening.” She glared at Sonu.

“Hey no!” Sonu went to her. “Don’t do that! If you don’t want to attend the party,” he looked behind where Titu was already deep in conversation with a couple of girls in bits and pieces of garments, “I’ll drop you home.”

“No thanks.” She raised a hand. “I’ve had enough of your hospitality.” She raised a hand to hail her cab.

Sonu walked up to the cab and dismissed him with a 100-rupee note. He turned to face a fuming Lovely. “If you don’t want to attend the party, I won’t insist. But please let me drop you home. Please.” Lovely glared at him before looking away. Taking it as tacit acceptance he went to Titu. “Give me the car keys. I’ll drop her and come back.”

“Sure.” Titu said affably and handed over the keys to him.

“Please,” Sonu held open the car door and waved her in. She looked up from her phone where she was hunting for a cab. Pursing her lips, she got into the car with a regal swish.

Sonu hurried over to the other side and started the car. “Sorry.” He said. “It’s all my fault. A misunderstanding. I should have warned you about the kind of party.”

“Yes you should have. They you wouldn’t have had to waste your time picking and dropping a behenji.”

Sonu winced but rallied. “Titu said that! Not me. I would never say that to you. Not in a million years.” He swore.

“Wouldn’t matter even if you did.” She dismissed his avowal rather rudely. “I just find it weird that all their lives girls are constantly nagged to dress properly, cover properly sit properly and then wham one fine day she is supposed to drop ALL her inhibitions and along with it everything else! She’s not supposed to draw any attention to herself; She should blend into the background and yet be attractive engaging and forward enough to catch a rich handsome husband. Idiotic double standards.” She ranted.

“Yes I suppose the mixed signals can be confusing,” he slowed the car and slid in to the parking.

“Confusing? They are dizzying and oh so frustrating!” She looked around. “Why are we stopping here?”

“I thought it was only good manners to at least treat you to dinner.” He unstrapped himself and got out of the car. He opened her door where she sat mutinously.

“I don’t want dinner. And definitely not with you.”

“Ouch.” Sonu winced. “No one has ever been so rude to me ever in my life and definitely not a beautiful girl.”

Lovely snorted and crossed her arms.

“Please. Look the guard is coming. Please don’t make a scene. Please!” he begged. The security guard had begun to stroll towards them. Rolling her eyes, Lovely got down from the car. “I don’t like these blackmailing tactics.” She warned. “And it’s the second one tonight. One more and you’ve had it.”

“Yes Ma’am.” He said meekly shutting the door behind her. “I wasn’t very sure what kind of food you’d like so I chose Indian. Is it okay?” He asked worried. “Would you have preferred Chinese or Italian? We can go to another joint nearby if you like.” He waved his hand.

“No.” She shook her head. “I’m not here to ‘enjoy’ my food but only to fulfill my years of ingrained societal niceties, to complete a formality and sooner the better.” She looked at her watch. “I have to study.”

“It will be a quick meal I promise.” Sonu looked at the hovering obsequious waiter. “Anything special you would like me to order?”

She didn’t even deign to reply. Sonu quickly gave their order and dismissed him. “Your ingrained good manners don’t extend to me?” He half-joked half-complained.

She looked at him with a puzzled arrested expression. “You are different.” His heart leaped. “You and Titu. I feel like banging both your heads together.” She said conversationally. “You especially get my goat.” She looked at him thoughtfully. “And I don’t seem to feel the need to censor my words with you.”

Pleased, Sonu leaned back as the waiter served them their drinks. “Cheers!” He raised his drink in a toast. “May you continue to be honest and frank with me.” He indicated her drink with his glass. “Don’t worry, that’s non-alcoholic.”

“So,” she raised an eyebrow, “Yours is alcoholic?”

“Yes.” He took a sip. “Alcohol keeps me focused.” He grinned.

She crossed her arms. “After you finish dinner, I’ll take a cab.” She said pointedly.

“Just one drink,” he promised. “So,” he leaned forrd, “Do you actually like studying?”

“Yes.” She nodded.

“Strange.” Sonu looked at her with concern. “Since when do you have this disease?”

Lovely threw back her head and laughed. He stared at the transformation it brought to her face. She glowed and he was the moth to her light.

“No I am serious.” He insisted wishing he could keep her animated and alive always. He hated the pained withdrawn look that she often wore. “Were you fond of studying even as a child?”

“Yes. Studies came easily to me.” She shrugged. “My parents, especially my father encouraged me and I always topped my school.” Her face clouded. “Until they passed away.”

“I am sorry.” Sonu cursed himself. That dreaded look was back. “It must have been very tough. I lost my mother and that was so difficult to cope with but to lose both your parents.” He shook his head. Surely that wasn’t why she appeared to wear a mask to cover the real her? “How did you cope?”

“I was shifted to the hostel soon after they passed away. It was the best solution for all concerned. Dadi had taken the loss of Papa badly and Chachi had her hands full with two young children and my tantrums alternating with bouts of depression were too much for them to handle.”

“Hostel must have just worsened things for you.”

“No actually it didn’t.” She toyed with the cutlery wearing a far away look. “Hostel was the best thing for me. There was no time to mope or mourn. Life was too busy and hectic with sports and extra-curricular activities. They put me into theater, which was very therapeutic for me. I got the chance to forget myself, become somebody else and also give me perspective and helped me to cope with my loss. Plus while in hostel I could pretend everything was fine, that my parents were still at home, I was just studying.” She swallowed. “That’s why I often refused to go home during vacations.”

“You aren’t taking your drink?” he asked. “Should I order something else?”

“I don’t take drinks with strangers.” She said baldly.

He stared. “I am sitting right here! How could I have laced your drink?”

She shrugged. “How do I know you aren’t in cahoots with the waiter? He seemed to be pretty paly with you.”

Giving her a resigned look he reached out and poured half of her drink into his now empty glass and downed it. “Happy? Convinced?”

“One can’t be too careful.” She refused to apologize.

“I am surprised that you actually agreed to have dinner with me.”

“If you remember,” she pointed out, “I didn’t agree. I have a horror of creating scenes and drawing attention.” She admitted. “But,” she warned. “I am a black belt in judo and karate.”

“Oh.” He was impressed. “I am glad you are on my side.”

She just raised an eyebrow. He grinned cheekily. “So where did you learn self-defense? In school?” He attacked his food.

“I wish.” The brooding dark look was back. “I learned it in college.”

Something had happened in college?

“You studied from DU right?” she nodded. “You stayed with you grandparents?”

“Initially. Then I shifted to the hostel.”

Definitely something in college.

“What did you study?”

“Math. You?”

“Math!” His eyes widened. “Don’t even ask!”

“Did you even go to college?” She mocked.

“Good question!” He grinned engagingly. “I only remember the college canteen.” He looked at her empty plate. “Aren’t you going to eat either?” He pointed to his plate. “Look I’ve been eating and drinking and am still alive.”

“There are worse things than death.” But she helped herself to a piece of naan and some dal.

What he dearly wished to ask but wisely held his tongue. “How’s your grandfather?”

“Not well.” She said shortly.  She took a cautious sip of her drink and put her napkin on the table. “How soon can we go?”

“Once you finish eating.” He promised. “You’ll have to go home and cook dinner for yourself.”

“I already cooked before coming.”

“You cooked?”

“But of course. I get the children ready for school, pack their tiffin serve breakfast, make lunch for everyone and do it all over again in the evening.”

“What does your Chachi do?”

“She oversees everything, decides the menu, controls the purse strings, manages her in-laws, husband kids…”

“But I suppose the children’s homework is also your headache?”

She softened. “The children are no bother.”

“You should thank me.” He asked for the finger bowl

“Why?” she frowned.

“At least you won’t have to serve dinner tonight.”

She laughed. “Actually, honestly that was also one of the reasons I got down from the car.”

“Is that also the reason you are so against marriage? Because you have to cook clean and serve?”

“Partly.” She shrugged. “I don’t mind the work so much as the skewedness of the relationship. Why is everything just her responsibility? Why should she only cook…?”

“That’s not true! Even I know how to cook.” Sonu claimed. “In fact I make a mean biryani and often on weekends when the mood strikes, I cook for everyone.”

“Good for you,” she applauded. “But can you do that everyday not just when the mood strikes you? Four meals a day, every day regardless of heat, the humidity, health and mood?” He was silent. “And listen to complaints and criticisms?”

“That shouldn’t be enough to put you off marriage,” he argued. “You could keep a cook, an army of helpers. And what about children? You do like them don’t you?”

“Yes of course.” She nodded. “Later, when I am better settled in my career and have bought a house of my own, I intend to adopt a child, or as many as I can afford. But I have no intentions of being a slave to someone else’s moods and dictates.”

“No place for men?”

“No.” She stood up. “Can we go now? Or should I book a cab.” She scrolled through her phone.

“Let me pay the bill and we are out of here.” He promised. “How about an ice-cream on the way. Then you won’t have to scrounge for something in the kitchen.”

Her lips twitched. She nodded. “I do like ice-cream.” She admitted.

“Finally!” He pumped his fist

“Can I have your phone number?” he asked as he dropped her off home after a companionable ice-cream binge topped with arguments and discussions over the best flavors and brands.

“You can,” she said, “but you may not.”

“Damn.” He banged on the wheel setting off the horn. She frowned at him and got off the car. “Why not?” he wasn’t giving up so easily.

“Why should I? You do have the landline number don’t you?”

“I thought we could chat sometimes?”

“I don’t have time to chat.”

“Okay fine.” He surrendered. “At least take my card.” He thrust it into her hand.

“Why would I need your card?”

“Who knows?” He shrugged. “Perhaps to plan a wedding?”

He was rewarded with a laugh before she disappeared inside.

He looked at the time on his phone. Just 11 pm. And four missed calls from Titu. He looked up at the dark sky and the moon stared back at him. He suddenly cherished the silence, the loneliness. He couldn’t stomach the thought of going back to the blaring thudding music the gyrating mass of bodies. Not when he was in a different world altogether. He wanted to savor the evening, every gesture, every nuance every expression.

***

Click here for Chapter 6: A Lovely Confession and a Spat

Whimsical Notes

music-room
Photo (c) Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Whimsical Notes

Words 100

“Do your homework.” She told her seven-year-old, who was sprawled on the bed, his nose buried in a book. “I’m going to the market.”

He scrabbled up. “Market? I’m coming with you.” He hunted for his shoes.

“What?! No!” She was taken aback. “It’s only vegetable shopping. You hate that…”

“Bad things happen to girls in parking lots.” He said darkly. “I can’t do anything,” he admitted, “but I can shout for help.”

My baby, my knight!

“Would you like to learn to play the guitar?” Perhaps that would distract him.

“Does he have a mustache?”

“The teacher? Yes.”

“Okay.”

***

A true account written for the Friday Fictioneers – a story in 100 words or less. Thanks to Rochelle for hosting the challenge and the photo prompt. To read the other stories click here

 

 

Arnav Goes to School – VI

Finally the final part!!! 😀

Click here for the previous chapters:

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Pink and Red Balloons during Daytime

Part VI

“What the….!”  Khushi blinked and shook her head.

No blood, no mayhem and no Arnav either.

“Where’s your Daddy?”

Deva didn’t even look up while Chotti straightened and waved a vague hand, “Inside.” She went back to coloring the sea, sticking out her tongue. The dolphins were tricky they kept trying to merge with the sea. Or was it the sea splashing on to them?

Yeh Laad Governor bhi na. Khushi fumed. Master manipulator and number one trickster – didn’t even spare his kids. Her eyes narrowed and her lips firmed. If he thought he had ‘won’ the deal, he had another think coming. She wandered over to Guddu and peered over his shoulder.

He was studying!

On his own!

Unbelievable!

Some hanky panky was afoot. She was sure. “Why isn’t he here?” She asked mildly enough throwing her bag on the sofa and crouching down beside Chotti.

“Oh Mamma,” Chotti looked up her eyes sparkling, “Daddy is in the guest room ‘creating’ some fun thing for us.”

Khushi sat back on her heels in surprise. Creating some fun thing? What did that mean? Oh! Right! She smacked her head and stood up. He had blackmailed and terrorized her poor little babies while he made deals in the privacy of the guest room. I should have said no phones allowed, she cursed herself. She decided to catch him in the act but just as she turned her eye fell on his phone that was charging on the side table. Just what the hell was going on?

“Hey Chotti aren’t you done yet?” Deva stretched. “Don’t tell me I have to wait for you!?”

“Just this little bit Da.” Chotti pleaded. She looked up. “Help me?”

“Okay.” Guddu plopped down beside her.

Khushi’s eyebrows shot through the roof. From which side did the sun rise today?

“Da,” Chotti was speaking softly, “How was your test?”

“Okay.”

Chotti looked at him worriedly. “Why don’t you check it over once again? You don’t want…”

“Maybe I will.” Deva went back to scanning the sheet.

Chal kya raha hai boss?! Laad Governor to sahi main boss nikle! Khushi felt a grudging admiration but mostly annoyance. He comes one day and gets them to not only dance to his tunes but talk to each other civilly as well. But just for that she was willing to give him a walk over.

She frowned. What was he doing in the room? Was he sleeping? Was he not well?

“So all done guys?” A disheveled Arnav strolled in with a bit of pink streamer sticking out his pocket and a bit of thread clinging lovingly to his cheek. “Hi!” He smiled as he spotted Khushi and blinked slowly at her.

Unknowingly, unwillingly Khushi floated towards him and plucked the gustakh thread from her personal beard and flicked it away. “And what were you doing my dear Laad Governor?” She marveled at his expression. So relaxed and comfortable. Arnav’s eyes were sparkling. He leaned down and whispered into her ear. “It’s a secret. But I can tell you another secret if you like?”

Khushi could only stare and blink at him. She brushed a hand over his hair. “What?”

His breath tickled her senses. She shivered. “I was having,” he paused, “fun.” He looked amazed and thrilled at the same time.

Khushi laughed at his joy. “Fun doing what?”

Arnav turned to the children still slaving away. “What?! Not done yet?” He flicked the paper from Deva and said, “Go help Angel.”

Without a word of protest, Deva sank down beside Chotti who also shifted to make space for him.

“I don’t understand.” Khushi shook her head in bewilderment. “What have you done to them?! Where are my squabbling bachchas!?”

Arnav coughed and hemmed and hawed. He leaned towards her and muttered into her ear behind the cover of the exam sheet. “Much as I would love to claim magical powers, I have to admit I got the hang of it only half-hour ago.” He shook his head and said with a sense of wonder. “When I surrendered.” He slid his arm around Khushi and pulled her close. “They are adorable. Thank you.” He kissed her chastely.

Khushi blinked at him and smiled tremulously. “Thank you.” Her heart was in her eyes and the RV, which was blowing softly, picked up tempo.

“Tantarraaaa!” Chotti jumped up holding her chart, urging her brother to hold the other end. “How’s it?” she asked with eager anticipation.

“It’s beautiful.” They chorused. “Isnt it Guddu?” Khushi prodded.

“Yeah. Dad, were the answers okay?”

Arnav looked down at the sheet in his hand. “Oh, yeah, well,” his eyes glinted, “now that your Mom is here she can check it,” smirking he thrust it into her hand and walked ahead, “come on and check out my ‘homework’!”

“Yay!” The children ran after him. He turned back to look at Khushi. “Aren’t you coming?”

Now what? Khushi slipped the test paper in the social studies book and hastened to catch up though she needn’t have hurried. He was waiting for her.

“Okay, here’s the thing,” he was as excited as Chotti was while getting ready for a shopping expedition, “Khushi you close Angel’s eyes and I will close Deva’s and yours.”

They stared at him and each other in surprise.

“Come along now. Hurry!” ASR hustled them.

Blinded and handicapped, they shuffled forward with Arnav guiding them ahead inside the room. He quickly shut the door with his foot and led them in. “Can you feel something?”

Khushi shook her head. “No.”

Chotti raised her nose and sniffed. “I smell something. I know!” she jumped up and shook off her mother’s hand shrieking, “Balloons!”

And balloons it was! The entire room was filled with balloons. Green and pink balloons bobbed above them, just out of reach.

“What’s all this?” Khushi asked in wonder even as Chotti jumped up trying to catch them. Even Guddu lost his gravity and joined her.

“Hey! Hey, wait, wait,” Arnav cautioned, “there are rules.”

“Rules?” They chorused.

“Yes!” Arnav nodded. “It’s a game.” His eyes were sparkling and he rubbed his hands in glee. “See those makeshift goals?” he pointed to two crude semi enclosures at the opposite ends of the room made with streamers – again pink and green. “So it’s like this there are two teams. Deva and your Mom, and Angel and I. Yours are the green balloons and ours are the pink balloons. Okay?”

They nodded. “But what do we have to do?” Chotti asked.

“We have to transfer our color balloons to our goal. But,” he paused, “we can only use our heads to do so. Four points for a goal and two points for bursting the other team balloon. So what do you think?” He asked in anticipation.

“Mom! Let’s play!” Guddu jumped into the fray. “Come on hurry! We can win this,” he looked at Chotti and smirked. The fire of battle was in Khushi’s eyes as she strapped and tucked in her dupatta around her waist.

“Daddy!” Chotti pulled at Arnav. “Come on!”

And away they headed, this way and that way, bumping into each other not to mention furniture and the walls. But did they care? No! They were having too much fun, especially popping the other team balloons. Guess who was winning?

Arnav’s team of course!

Including Chotti in his team was a strategic decision – he picked her up and carried her around as she head-butted the high floating balloons, pitching pink ones into the goal and pinching the green ones against the wall. He was her eyes, she his head. The scales were heavily tilted against the mother-son duo and they cried foul loud and long, which made the game ever so much fun. It was a boisterous game fun-filled game that left them panting and grinning from ear to ear – especially Arnav and Chotti.

“This was the best day ever Daddy!” Chotti clung to her father.

Unstated and thirsting for victory Guddu asked, “Do we have more balloons Mom?”

Khushi looked at Arnav, who shook his head. Actually he had the rest of the balloons stashed away safely.

“Mom, can we play this game with Anki bhaiyya and Shubham….?”

“Not Shubham!” Chotti sprang up.

“You don’t have to play!” Guddu retorted.

“Why not?”

“Because you are a cry-baby!”

“I am not!” Denied Chotti hotly. “You are just being mean because I won…”

“Oh please! You didn’t win. Dad did..”

Leaving them to sort it out among them, Khushi turned to Arnav to sort out their issues. “You cheated!” Khushi said but without much heat. “You deliberately took Chotti in your team.”

Arnav shrugged and flicked her nose. “Too late to cry now.”

Khushi huffed and puffed. “I demand a rematch.”

Arnav grinned. “Any time, my dear any time.” He cast a look at his still squabbling kids and lowered his voice. “Just you and me okay?”

“Deal.” Khushi sighed as she was reminded of the reason for the day. “Okay so that means, you won today’s deal.” She had little choice but to concede defeat. “What do you want me to do?”

Arnav shook his head, “I may have won the game, with a little bit of smart thinking but today was an eye-opener. And,” he coughed, “You don’t know how many times I almost caved in and called you.”

“Why?” Khushi laughed. “Couldn’t make them toe the line like your employees?”

He shook his head. “Give me a roomful of employees any day!” They laughed. He held her hands. “I learned a lot today and appreciate how difficult it must be for you…”

Khushi squeezed his hands, “But I wouldn’t exchange it with a roomful of employees!” Khushi scratched her head and admitted. “Although some days I do wish I could run away.”

Arnav nodded. “I understand now.” He looked at them on the verge of blows. He sighed. “So, much as I hate to admit it – you win. I lose.” Strangely her smile of victory did nothing to ruffle his feathers. “So what do you want me to do?”

Khushi nibbled at her lips. “I want you to promise to spend more time with the kids, not just on holidays but during their weekdays, school days….”

“I will come once a week,” Arnav swore, “maybe twice a week.” He was determined to make up for lost time.

Khushi raised her hands in mock horror. “Not twice a week please! I can’t handle three kids together on a weekday.” She paused. “Well maybe I could take the afternoon off…”

“Whaa…? No! And just who are you calling a kid? Hey! Don’t do that!” Arnav yelled and grabbed hold of Guddu just as he was about to literally pull the rug from under Chotti’s feet.

“Just look at him Daddy!” Sobbed Chotti, “he always does this….”

“Enough of your drama Chotti,” Khushi said exasperated, “I saw what you did…”

“I didn’t do anything…” Chotti cried piously.

“You did!” Guddu shouted. “You broke…”

“I did not!

“You did!”

“Did not!”

“Well maybe once a month,” Arnav said. He scratched his head, “Or once in two months, perhaps for a couple of hours…when you are at home…”

“Oh no, no, that’s cheating Arnav…”

“No it’s not! It’s just that I would love to spend more time with you…”

“Liar! You just want back up support…”

“Rubbish!”

“No! I can see it in your face…” Khushi shook her finger at him.

“What can you see in my face?” Arnav moved forward.

“That look…” Khushi stood her ground.

“Which look?”

“That look which says i-got-khushi-cornered-where-i-want-and-i-will-just-on-squeezing-her-until-she-caves-in expression.” She accused

“What the…!” Arnav was surprised into laughter, “Unbelievable! Where do you get that from?”

“From your face…”

“Nonsense…”

And so on and so forth they went on and on beating their kids hollow (err figuratively speaking of course) and I had little choice but to draw the curtain on this day where Arnav (literally and figuratively) went to school.

A/N Thanks for your company on this whimsical journey of mine – wouldn’t have been half as much but for your active participation and appreciation. If you would like to read more about Guddu, Chotti and Anya (including her particular love story with a twist) who are all inextricably entwined with the lives of Arnav and Khushi, please join me for some old wine on a new page. The original Silver Streaks which I have begun to re-post on my blog or you could read some more snippets from there lives which are listed here: From DM’s Desk