It feels like home. That was the first thought that went through Raga’s head when she stepped into the humble yet cozy house of her sister-in-law’s parents. No matter how assimilated one was to a foreign country and culture, there was a comfort in returning home, to sights and smells that reminded one of their childhood.
Shaking those thoughts out of her head, she smiled at her sister-in-law’s mother, or Garima Aunty as she had come to call her.
“Is that aloo-puri I smell?” Raga asked excitedly. “It’s been ages since I’ve eaten a true, Lucknowi, aloo-puri!”
“Yes, bitiya,” Garima replied warmly. “I was making them just for you.”
“Haaaw,” she heard her sister-in-law exclaim behind her and smiled.
“Just for her?” Khushi grumbled good-naturedly. “And what am I? Chopped liver?”
Garima rolled her eyes at her daughter’s antics before leading them to the dining table and piling up the puris on their plates.
“Khushi tells me you need our help with some kind of an assignment?” Garima asked interestedly.
Raga nodded and said, “It’s for my journalism class. I have to submit my class project by the end of January, and since I am in India for my winter break anyway, I might as well make use of my huge family and interview you all!”
“Interview? Us?” Garima asked apprehensively. “We are not that interesting, bitiya.”
“Don’t worry, Aunty,” Raga said, smiling in a reassuring manner. “Everyone is interesting; one just has to ask the right questions to bring that out.”
“Come on, Amma!” Khushi piped in. “It’ll be fun! Arnavji’s family agreed to do it already, so you will not be alone.”
After some more convincing from Khushi and Raga, Garima agreed to the interview.
“What will it be about?” Garima asked, spooning Kheer into bowls for them.
“Love,” Raga replied simply, shocking Garima.
“What?” Garima asked, startled.
Khushi gave Raga her infamous shocked look, before turning to her mother and saying, “Nothing to worry about, Amma. She’s doing her interviews on couples. In fact, Mamaji and Mamiji are getting interviewed tomorrow!”
Raga, who had been immersed in her Kheer up until that point, looked up, and said, “They’ll be very basic questions, Aunty. And if you feel uncomfortable at all, I promise I’ll stop. Khushi ki kasam!”
“Haaaw!” Khushi exclaimed, making Raga and Garima laugh.
Raga placed her Canon DSLR on the coffee table and took a seat on one of the chairs in the living room. Pulling out her macbook from her bag, she opened the recording software and turned it on before setting the laptop aside. She had found that she didn’t like taking notes while her interviewees talked, it took away from the experience of listening to it firsthand.
“Here,” Khushi said, leading Garima and Shashi into the living room. “Go easy on them, or Amma will never feed you aloo-puri again!”
Garima lightly slapped Khushi on the shoulder for her antics, before smiling indulgently at the laughing girls.
“I promise,” Raga said, before indicating to Garima and Shashi to sit down.
“I am going to go visit Preetho for a bit,” Khushi said tactfully, before leaving the room.
“I just want to reiterate, uncle, aunty, that if at any point you feel uncomfortable with the question, please feel free to let me know and we can move on,” Raga explained once again, and received understanding nods from the couple.
“Okay,” she replied, “Let’s get started then. This is going to be published on Valentine’s day, so I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, did you have a love marriage or an arranged marriage?”
“Both,” Shashi replied, surprising both Raga and Garima. “Officially, it was arranged, but I had fallen in love with her way before that.”
“Now, I have to hear about this,” Raga said, leaning forward in interest. “Explain what you mean, uncle.”
“Well, the first time we met was at Garima’s sister’s, that is Khushi’s biological mother’s, wedding. I was the halwai at her wedding. Having lost my first wife to childbirth, I was a single father, and had to take Payal with me to work. Usually, Payal was a very well behaved child but that day, she was teething, and hence, was very cranky. I was at my wits end. Between constantly pacifying her and preparing the sweets for the wedding, I didn’t know if I would survive the day with my sanity intact.”
“Then in walked Garima, like an angel, to my rescue. She had been checking up on the sweets, making sure everything was in order, and trying to nab a Jalebi or two, if I am honest with you,” Shashi said, making Garima blush and Raga laugh. “She took one look at me and without a word, took Payal out of my hands and proceeded to calm her. I think I fell in love with her then and there.”
Garima placed her hand in his, and Shashi covered her hand with his other one before proceeding, “I didn’t know that she was the bride’s sister. I was going to find her and talk to her after the wedding, but when I walked out to serve the sweets, I came to know who she was, and I knew it was futile to pursue her. Her family was well off, she was getting marriage proposals then and there from very well respected families. I didn’t stand a chance.”
“Oh, Shashiji,” Garima whispered.
“We met again nine years later, and the circumstances had changed drastically,” he looked at Garima, silently asking her permission to reveal further details, to which he received a nod in return. “Garima had fallen in love with someone, someone she had thought was an honest man. But it turned out that he was already married. It caused a big scandal in Lucknow. And you know how unfairly they treat women here. It didn’t matter that she didn’t know about his family, they still made her out to be the villain. Having lost her parents, her sister and her brother-in-law in a car accident some six months ago, she didn’t even have their support to get through it all.”
“She had adopted Khushi, as they had no other living relatives, which didn’t help her reputation. I overheard my neighbors talking about her, and how hard it was for a young woman to be a single mother, especially with the scandal surrounding her. I sent Jiji to her house the very next day with a proposal and, after requesting to meet me, and explaining everything about her past to me, she accepted my proposal.”
Garima’s eyes had teared by then and she discreetly wiped at them, not wanting to cry in front of Raga. “I didn’t know,” she whispered.
Clearing her throat, Raga tried to lighten the situation by saying, “And I thought Arnav had a bollywood romance!”
That made the couple laugh a little, alleviating the gloom that had settled over them. Taking the opportunity, Raga turned to Garima and asked her follow-up, “What about you, aunty? When did you know you were in love?”
Garima smiled and looking at Shashi, she said, “I respected him when he sent the proposal for me. You see, as Shashiji mentioned, women who have a scandal surrounding them are easy targets for most men. He was the first man to respect me, despite the scandal.. And when I asked to meet him, I thought he would scoff at my gall. But he showed up, with his Jiji in tow, mind you, so that people didn’t start wagging their tongues again, and listened to me patiently as I told him all about my affair and how I had been deceived. I also talked to him about my responsibility to Khushi, that she would have to be raised as our daughter, just like Payal. And all he said in return was, ‘I don’t care about your past, as long as both of your futures are spent with me, as my family.’ That’s when I fell in love with him. How could I not?”
Raga looked at the couple in front of her, smiling at each other, and snapped a picture of that moment. One wouldn’t know, looking at the unassuming couple, that their history was so complicated and beautiful, that their love had been born out of mutual respect and trying times. Suddenly, she was glad that she had decided to make this her project. Because if she hadn’t, a love story like theirs might never have been shared.
“Mami!” Raga called, for the tenth time, as Mahendra rolled his eyes at his wife.
“Hello Hi Bye Bye!” Manorama exclaimed, walking out of her room. “Give me a few minutes, Ra! I need to make sure I look perfect! This will be going to Amreeka, after all.”
Raga shook her head at the ridiculous nickname her Mami had thrust on her, before replying. “I am just interviewing you now, Mami. I can take the pictures later, when you are completely satisfied with the way you look.”
Manorama didn’t look completely satisfied with her response, but took a seat next to Mahendra anyway, fussing his hair a little, and Raga took that moment to take a sneaky picture of the two.
Raga heard Mahendra sigh at Manorama’s antics and stifled a giggle. It was a wonder he managed to stay sane….relatively sane. Her whole family was certifiably insane.
“Ready?” Raga asked, and without waiting for a reply, lest Manorama change her mind about her outfit, again, she went on. “So…Mama, I never did get to know how you two met each other. Was it an arranged marriage?”
Mahendra laughed out loud for a good minute, much to Manorama’s chagrin, before replying, “Definitely not. In fact, the first time I brought up the topic of marrying Mano, Amma rejected it outright.”
“Really!?” Raga asked, fascinated, as Mahendra ignored the threatening look his wife sent his way. He was having a little too much fun to stop. “Why is that?”
“Mano was always a little…unique,” Mahendra replied, smiling. “She was never one to follow traditions, and back in the day, Amma was a little more concerned with propriety than she is today.”
“And Mahendra here, was a casonava,” replied Manorama, huffing. “Tell her about that, why don’t you?”
“For the hundredth time! I wasn’t involved with Swathi!” Mahendra exclaimed.
“That’s not what she told me!” Manorma countered.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Raga yelled, interrupting her Mama and Mami’s heated discussion. “Who’s this Swathi?”
“Your Mama’s ex-lover.”
“Your Mami’s non-existent sauth.”
“Thanks. That helped,” Raga replied sarcastically.
“Swathi was our class-mate, and a friend,” Mahendra said, giving Manorma a warning look. “She was also a bit insane. She told your Mami here that she liked me, knowing that we were in a relationship, and ever since then, Mano is convinced that Swathi and I had an affair.”
“She told me that she liked you, and that you liked her back!” Mami said, glaring at Mahendra.
“Mami, whom should you trust? Mama, who has been your husband for more years than I have been born, or Swathi, who you don’t even know any longer,” Raga said, hoping to put an end to the ridiculous fight so they could move on with the interview.
“And Mama, that woman almost broke you two up and you still call her a friend?” Raga asked, making the smug smile, which had taken over his face at Raga’s reply to Manorma, fall off his face.
When Raga was satisfied that the two looked equally guilty, and would not bring up the topic again, she said, “Now that that’s settled, let’s go back to Mami being a rule breaker.”
“Oh yes!” Mahendra said, his smile returning full-force. “You see, Mano and I went to the same college and had always been at each other’s throats due to our competitive nature. I guess it’s true what they say about there being a thin line between love and hate. Without even knowing it, Mano and I had fallen in love. It helped that your Mami was a looker in college.”
Manorma blushed at the compliment, and said, “You weren’t too bad looking either. Anyway, as he was saying, we tried to bring up the topic with our parents but Sasumaa outright rejected it, which made my parents that much more determined to find me a groom better then Mahendra, to show Sasumaa up.”
“Before we could even think of other options, Mano’s parents had decided on a groom for her, and were preparing for the wedding post-haste. I was at my wit’s end, not knowing what to do. I had been able to bring Amma around to the idea, after long days of persuasion, but now, Mano’s parents wouldn’t hear of it. They said Amma had insulted them by rejecting Mano, and they weren’t willing to send their daughter to a house like that. I thought I had lost her for sure.”
“But he was in love with me,” Manorama said, looking smug. “I met up with the guy and told him all about how crazy my family was, exaggerated my father’s love for guns and violence and my mother’s penchant for anything and everything superstitious, and said he was a great man for willing to be married into my family, even after knowing all about it. And finally, to put the cherry on the cake, I told him about how the man I had an affair with previously had disappeared surreptitiously right after I told my parents about him. I will never forget the look on his face,” Manorama laughed, remembering it all. “He couldn’t run away fast enough.”
“Smart man,” Mahendra interjected, earning him a slap on his shoulder.
“Since the groom had run away from the marriage, there was a huge scandal and I was deemed unmarriable, as it happens,” Manorama explained. “And that cleared the path for me and Mahendra.”
“But that wasn’t without its challenges,” Mahendra explained. “Amma had heard about the scandal and was unsure of the rishta, but I held my ground and she had had no choice but to accept. And Mano here learned a thing or two about the perils of stepping outside the society’s rules,” Mahendra said, remembering the way her family had been ostracized following the scandal.
He had been a witness to many a nights of guilty tears shed by his wife, and he knew that was the reason she was so concerned with the acceptance of society today.
“Oh Mami,” Raga said, moving over to hug her Mami, finally realizing why she acted the way she did, and why she was always so concerned with how others perceived her.
“Hello Hi Bye Bye!” Manorma exclaimed, realizing her eyes had watered at the reminder of her past. “I need to retouch my makeup or I’d look like a ghost in the pictures!”
Raga laughed at Manorama’s antics before letting her leave, dragging a reluctant Mahendra behind her, to get ready for their photoshoot.
“Asha!” Aman called out, running behind the two year old. “Sweetie, you can’t eat that!”
“What do we have here?” Raga said, catching on the squirming and giggling toddler and lifting her up. “Are you troubling Aman Jiju again?”
“Thank god,” Aman said, reaching them and opening the girl’s hand and removing the peanuts from them. “I don’t know how she got a hold of them.”
“Oooh, someone’s getting fired today,” Raga said, thinking about the tantrum Arnav would throw once he got home and came to know of the little mishap.
“Which is why we are not telling mama what happened, right Asha?” Aman said, lifting Asha into his own arms before calling JP to throw the peanuts away. He would give the staff a good verbal lashing for letting this happen, but having Arnav go off on everyone wouldn’t help the situation.
“Naughty Jiju,” Raga said, laughing.
They walked to the sitting room upstairs, the area frequented by the younger generation, and took a seat.
“Anju should be here any minute,” Aman said, fixing the ribbon on Asha’s hair. “Munchkin was a little cranky today, so it took her longer that usual to get her ready.”
“Don’t be so formal, Jiju,” Raga said, taking Asha back from Aman’s arms. “This is not an official interview, and I am not an actual interviewer.”
“That’s not what I have been hearing,” Aman said, smiling. “Apparently we are going to get to know our elders a lot better?”
“You lot are going to get showed up is what’s going to happen,” Raga replied, stopping Asha from pulling her laptop off of the coffee table it rested on. “I am so glad I am doing this. It has been such an eye opening experience for me.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Aman said, just as Anjali walked into the room, completely put together as always. It surprised Raga that between having a toddler and managing the new kid’s section at AR fashions, Anjali had enough time to dress up, let alone always manage to look like she had just walked off a fashion ramp.
Khushi was right behind Anjali, and headed straight to Raga, much to the toddler’s delight.
“It’s so not fair!” Raga whined as Asha abandoned her for her Mami. “Why do you get to be the favorite?”
Everyone, including the kid, laughed at Raga’s plight, before Khushi said, “Munchkin and I are going to go play outside. Have fun with the interview!”
Raga waved to the kid and turned back to find her sister and brother-in-law in a deep discussion about work.
“Nuh uh uh,” Raga said, interrupting them. “I hereby declare this a ‘no work’ zone.”
Anjali smiled indulgently at her sister, and Aman discreetly checked his phone to make sure Arnav hadn’t messaged or called him.
“Don’t even try it,” Raga said, extending her hand out for the phone. “I told Arnav Bhaiyya he would be in big trouble if he contacted you today. Like, ‘proposing a Salman Khan movie marathon to Khushi Bhabhi for the valentine’s day weekend’ big.”
The pair laughed out loud at that as Aman handed over his phone, knowing that Arnav wouldn’t risk Raga’s wrath.
“Now that we have taken care of that, let’s get started, shall we?” Raga asked, making sure to hit record on her laptop. “Tell me a bit about how you met.”
“I think the first time we met was right after AR fashions had really taken off,” Aman replied. “Arnav hadn’t really had an official secretary before then, but as the company grew, he realized he couldn’t do it all on his own. He had just interviewed me for the second time before telling me that the job was mine if I wanted it when Anjali barged in, without realizing Arnav was busy.”
“I was extremely embarrassed,” Anjali said, blushing.
“Arnav had reassured her that everything was fine, of course,” Aman said, remembering their first meeting.
“But you didn’t say anything, and I was so afraid that I had offended you,” Anjali said, looking to Aman.
Aman blushed a bit before clearing his throat and saying, “I was struck by you. To be perfectly honest, I am glad I didn’t say anything because I am completely sure I would have made a fool of myself if I had attempted to do or say anything at that moment.”
Anjali laughed a little before saying, “You didn’t tell me that!”
“I felt myself admiring you more and more everytime we met. You were always kind and sweet. You never said one bad thing about anyone and you always cared about everyone around you. I grew to like you, a lot more than was appropriate, considering you were my boss’s sister.”
“Oh Aman,” Anjali said, placing a hand on his shoulder which he removed to hold in both of his.
“You don’t know how much I have regretted that,” Aman admitted as he looked into her eyes. “If only I had plucked up the courage to tell you how I felt, maybe you wouldn’t have had to go through…”
Anjali shook her head, saying, “There is no point thinking in what-ifs.”
“I can edit this part out,” Raga assured them, not wanting Anjali to feel uncomfortable.
“It’s not necessary, Raga,” Anjali said, smiling at her sister’s thoughtfulness. “Shyam is my past, but he had been a part of my life. Even though the experience isn’t one I would wish upon even my worst enemy, it did bring me Asha and made me the person I am today, so I don’t regret any of it for even a second.”
Aman hugged her sideways and said, “And that is one of the many reasons I love you.”
Raga smiled, seeing the radiant smile on her sister’s face before moving on to her next question, “Okay. Who asked who out? I heard from Khushi Bhabhi that there’s a bit of a story there?”
To her surprise, she saw Aman blush, again, and said, “Oh, I have to hear this!”
Anjali giggled before explaining, “It was a couple of months after Shyam’s truth was discovered. Aman had stopped by Shantivan to give Chotey some important files, and heard Asha crying as he was passing by the room.”
“I just peeked in to make sure everything was fine, but when I saw no one there, I walked in,” Aman said.
“I had just gone down to get some milk for her,” Anjali explained her absence. “When I heard her stop crying, I rushed back up, wanting to make sure she was fine, and found this one here holding her and swinging her from side to side. She had fallen asleep! That was probably the moment I started noticing him as someone other than Chotey’s colleague.”
“I just wanted to bring her to someone,” Aman explained. “But when I picked her up, she had looked so much like her mother that, much like the first time I had seen her mother, I was struck. I might be a bit biased but she was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.”
“I put her to bed and we just…started talking,” Anjali said, remembering the day. It had a been a relief to talk to someone outside of the family, someone who, she had thought at the time, was unaffected by Shyam’s betrayal. Someone she could trust to keep the conversation private.
“I think, talking to Aman, someone who hadn’t been in the thick of it all, helped me gain a little perspective,” Anjali explained. “I felt like a great burden was removed from my shoulders, like I could finally take a deep breath of fresh air.”
“We talked for hours that night,” Aman said. “And it felt good, to be there for her, to share her burden somehow.”
“After that night, Aman used to drop by from time to time, under the pretense of needing a signature from Chotey, or to drop off a file he had forgotten, and we would end up talking into the night, like we did the first time.”
“It felt like a second chance, you know? I had let her go once before due to cowardice, but I wasn’t about to make the same mistake again, damn everything else to hell. But I didn’t want to ask her out too quickly and break the fragile relationship we had built up to that point. Turned out, I was worrying unnecessarily.”
“I waited for the longest time for him to pick up the courage and ask me out, but when it looked like it wasn’t happening anything soon, I decided to take matters into my own hands,” Anjali said, and Aman ducked his head in embarrassment. “On one of our nightly meeting, I turned to him abruptly, in the middle of a conversation, and said…
“How many more dates are we going to have on my balcony?” Aman finished for her, laughing a little.
“I was, of course, instantly embarrassed and startled babbling,” Anjali giggled.
“And before she could change her mind and decide that she didn’t want to be with a coward like me, I kissed her!” Aman said. “That stopped the babbling. It was a neat trick, one I use to this day.”
Anjali shushed him, lest the rest of the family hear them, as Raga laughed on.
“Mumma!” Asha called as she ran over to her mother. Anjali picked her up and placed her on her lap, before kissing the toddler’s cheek, as Aman watched on with a peaceful smile on his face.
“I couldn’t hold her back any longer,” Khushi whispered, as Raga picked up her camera and snapped a picture.
“It’s fine, Bhabhi,” Raga said, picking up her stuff and leaving the room with Khushi, leaving the little family in their happy bubble.
“Do you ever find it odd?” Raga asked munching on her pakodi.
“Find what odd?” Aakash questioned, trying to steal a pakodi from her plate, only to get a slap on his hand.
“That we both live in the US and this is the first time we have met in three years? That too, in India? Are you avoiding me?” Raga questioned, faking hurt.
“You’re the one who’s always busy with assignments and internships. How many times have Payal and I invited you to come over? Come to think of it, maybe you are avoiding us!”
“Yes, I am. Your love struck expression whenever you see Payal Bhabhi makes me gag,” Raga said, poking out her tongue at her brother.
They heard Payal’s giggle and straightened up.
“Bhabhi! We were just talking about you,” Raga said jovially. “Doesn’t Aakash Bhai look like a lost puppy everytime he sees you?”
“Why, you…” Aakash said as he reached out to twist her ear, but caught air as she ran away to hide behind her sister-in-law.
“Saved by Bhabhi,” she said as she led Payal over to sit next to Aakash. “Now, sit down like the good brother and sister-in-law you are and indulge me with answers to my insightful questions!”
“More like nosey,” Aakash said, causing Raga to huff.
“I am going to take the high road and ignore that,” Raga said, before deliberately turning to Payal and asking, “How did you two meet, Bhabhi?”
“I was going to the market one day and I saw a car almost hit a kid,” Payal said, trying to remember their first meeting. “The driver had stopped the car in time, but the kid was very shaken up. I picked him up and pacified him before sending him on his way. I stand up, and Aakashji was there, and I ranted about the stupidity of people bringing in a car into the tiny streets of Laxmi Nagar. He agreed with me, and tried to talk to me, but I had realized that I had just ranted at a complete stranger and was quite embarrassed. So I apologized and ran away.”
“And took my heart with you,” Aakash said, making Payal blush and Raga gag, as promised.
“So it was love at first sight? Did you say ‘I love you’ right away?” Raga followed-up.
Aakash snorted before saying, “Far from it. In fact, I was rejected, twice.”
“Now why doesn’t that surprise me?” Raga asked. “How did you screw it up that badly?”
“Nuh uh. You can’t put that one on me. It was maate’s fault. The first impression she had made on Payal was such that Payal decided she wanted nothing to do with her, and, as a result, me.”
“Oh no,” Raga said, remembering the obsession her Mami had with status and social standing, even though, she now knew the reason for it all. “Did she…?”
“Yup,” Aakash replied. “It was such a drastic situation that Bhai and Bhabhi had to play matchmakers for us. Can you believe that? Bhai?”
“No!” Raga exclaimed, giggling. “Arnav Bhaiyya? Really?”
“It was right out of a movie, and now that I look back on it, I can’t believe I fell for it,” Payal said, remembering the way she had run over to stop Aakash from jumping off a cliff. “They had orchestrated an entire suicide scene, pretending that Aakash was so heartbroken at my rejection that he had decided to jump off a cliff. They even had a suicide letter written.”
“It wouldn’t have been pretense if you hadn’t saved me, Payal,” Aakash said seriously, only to have Payal shake her head and say, “Don’t say such things!”
Raga cleared her throat, and asked her next question before things started getting too serious, “What would you define as the turning point for your relationship?”
“Our move to America, hands down,” Aakash replied, placing his hand on Payal’s. “It gave us the space and time, away from everything, to really get to know each other, to grow into our love. As sad as I am to be away from everyone here, I truly am thankful for the opportunity Bhai gave me when he decided that I was capable enough to head up the overseas office.”
Payal turned to smile at him shyly, as he looked on with an adoring smile on his own, and Raga took the opportunity to grab their picture.
“I find it very hurtful that you didn’t come to me for sisterly advice when you were trying to woo La,” Raga said kicking her brother’s feet off the garden table with her own.
“I learn from my mistakes,” NK replied, throwing his napkin at her. “Remember Jen?”
“That was one time!” Raga replied, affronted. “And I was five!”
“She never spoke to me again!” NK countered, causing Raga to huff resignedly.
“Now, this, I need to hear about,” Lavanya piped in, stowing her phone away. “What exactly happened with this Jen?”
“No!” they both said simultaneously, surprising Lavanya.
“Ooookayy,” Lavanya replied, looking at them like they were crazy.
“We’ve wasted enough time,” Raga said, her tone, all business. “La, I was wondering, how did someone like you, even give the time of the day to someone like NK Bhai?”
“He bumped into me,” Lavanya replied. “Literally.”
“Intentionally?” Raga questioned NK.
“Of course not,” NK replied, a little too quickly.
Raga gave him a doubtful look but moved on.
“I was carrying a cup of coffee, and it spilled onto the both of us,” Lavanya explained. “NK, being the gentleman I thought he was, offered to buy me another drink. I said yes, because let’s be honest, he’s cute,” to which Raga just placed her hands on her ears and pretended she couldn’t hear.
“Who said the three words first?” Raga asked.
“He did,” Lavanya replied, looking adoringly at her fiance.
“We were walking on the beach, eating ice-cream, and I saw that she had gotten some on her nose,” NK said, remembering the day. “I turned to her and was cleaning it away when I realized that I had never, in my whole life, been as happy as I was at that moment. And the thought of ever not being with her made me want to hurl. So I just told her how I felt.”
Lavanya smiled brilliantly at that recountance, before saying, “I love you too, babe.”
Raga snapped a picture of the couple staring at each other, before breaking up their moment.
“Where did you go on your first date?” Raga asked, wondering how her brother had managed to woo the girl in front of her.
“I set up a dinner date at a beachside restaurant,” NK replied. “I made sure everything was perfect, even managed to get a list of her favorites from her secretary.”
“Sounds romantic,” Raga replied, amazed that her brother could have planned something so elaborate.
“It was horrible,” Lavanya replied, shaking her head. “It was all going great, and I was really enjoying myself, but then NK left to go to the restroom and his wallet fell out of his pocket. In my attempt to return it to him, I realized exactly who he was related to.”
“I come back from the restroom to find her gone, and my wallet lying on the table. She wouldn’t take my calls, or let me visit her office. I was at my wit’s end, and that’s when, thankfully, Arnav and Khushi decided to make a visit to England on a holiday.”
“Khushi being who she is, wanted to make everything alright between NK and I, and came to visit me, to plead NK’s case.”
“And that’s when I came to know how Nannav can screw everything up even without being present within a 1000 mile radius!” NK exclaimed.
“Oh, that’s right, you and Arnav Bhai had a history?” Raga questioned, remembering all the invitations and cancellations she had received way back when.
“I like to pretend that never happened,” NK replied grumpily.
“I had thought that he knew about Arnav and I, and was just stringing me along for the hell of it Turns out, your brother is as clueless as everyone thinks,” Lavanya said, and was interrupted by an offended, “Hey!” from NK. Not caring, she continued on, “and had no clue about my history with Arnav. Khushi made me see that it was all one big misunderstanding, so I decided to give it another go with him. I really did like him, you see?”
NK smiled smugly at his fiance, and said, “And that, sis, is how you woo your lover.”
“I’ll be sure to make my date run away on my first date, thanks,” replied Raga sarcastically.
“This is stupid,” Arnav grumbled as he took a seat on the poolside bench, as Raga set a timer on her camera, to take a picture every few seconds. She knew that her brother was unpredictable and that she needed to be ready to capture a romantic moment between him and Khushi, no matter when it happened.
“Salman Khan marathon, Arnav Bhaiyya,” Raga whispered, making sure Khushi didn’t overhear. “That’s all I’ll say.”
Arnav glared at his sister but kept mum.
“I can’t believe you got Arnavji to agree to this,” Khushi exclaimed in wonder, sitting next to him. “You must like her as much as you like Di, Arnavji!”
“Yes, Arnav Bhaiyya likes my ideas very much,” Raga replied, winking at her brother. “Right, Bhaiyya?”
“Can we just get this over with?” Arnav gumbled.
Raga knew not to mess with her brother too much, so she started her interview before he changed his mind and decided that Salman Khan wasn’t that bad anyway.
“I think half the world knows how you two met,” Raga said, remembering the tape her idiotic brother had made public. “But when did you first realize you felt something other than extreme hatred for each other?”
“The photoshoot,” Arnav replied without even having to think. “There was a bit of a mixup at one of AR’s photoshoots and Khushi ended up modeling for us. She was in a red saree, with her hair untied, and I forgot about everything and everyone else around me. It was the first time I had felt that way about a woman, and it freaked me the fuck out!”
“Arnavji! Language!” Khushi admonished him before thinking about her own answer. “I think the first time I ever looked at him in a different light was when he came to pay off Babuji’s hospital bill,” Khushi explained. “Don’t get me wrong, I was very aware of his presence before that, but I never really paid it too much attention, until that day.”
“And when did you realize you were in love?” Raga asked as a follow-up.
“I had probably fallen in love way before this, but the moment I realized it was on Akash and Payal’s Havan night, when I went to find Khushi and found her sandal and broken bangles on the side of the road. I thought she had been in an accident, and that I was too late to save her. I had, never in my life, been so scared. The thought of losing her…” Arnav shook his head to get rid of that thought. Khushi placed her hand on his in comfort before turning to Raga.
“Diwali night,” Khushi replied, her voice lacking the usual joy and exuberance. “He proposed marriage to Lavanya that night, and I knew that the heartbreak I felt at his rejection of me wouldn’t have hurt so very much if I hadn’t already fallen for him.”
“Khushi, I am…” Arnav started, only to be interrupted by Khushi’s usually cheerful voice.
“Arnavji, what is it they say in english? All’s well that end’s well?” she asked, smiling at him.
Arnav still looked troubled, but at Khushi’s nod, indicating that everything was fine, he turned his attention back to his sister.
“Who said ‘I love you’ first?” Raga asked, wanting to move away from the touchy subject she had unraveled.
“Arnavji did!” Khushi exclaimed cheerfully, before explaining further. “It was during one of our arguments, or should I say, his rants, and he just got so frustrated with whatever we were arguing about that he said, and I quote, ‘I love you dammit!’”
“How romantic,” Raga said, making Arnav frown at her sarcastic tone. Khushi didn’t catch on to it, said, “I know, right?”
“And finally, what is one of your favorite things about the other?” Raga questioned.
“His smile,” Khushi said dreamily, making Arnav crack one of his elusive smiles. “He smiles so rarely that it is like a little present every time he does.”
“And what’s your favorite thing about Bhabhi, Bhaiyya?” Raga asked.
Instead of replying, he leaned forward and placed a kiss on Khushi’s cheek, making her eyes go round in surprise, as the camera clicked its timed picture.
“That,” he replied, leaning back.
“I brought all the copies I could find,” NK said, as he distributed the New York Times papers around the living room. Raga had submitted her assignment to a competition and won, and as a result, her article had received a publication in the much acclaimed newspaper on valentine’s day.
They had all received a draft of their own interview for review once Raga had completed compiling it, but this would be the first time they were getting to read it in its entirety. Opening up the papers to the center page, they began to read…
So This is Love by Raga Malhotra
“And they lived happily (aside from a few normal disagreements, misunderstandings, pouts, silent treatments, and unexpected calamities) ever after.” – Jean Ferris, Twice Upon a Marigold
AN: It’s still valentine’s day somewhere, right? I’ve had this idea running through my head ever since I started RWR, but I just didn’t have the time to put my fingers to keys and type it down. But today felt like the perfect day to get this out there, and with a lot of help from Chutki (Boyznaka), here it is!
Hope you enjoy this special edition of RWR. I will be back on February 28th with an interview from Cineraria. See you all then!
Happy Valentines Day!