Carpe Diem

It’s been a while, eh? I wouldn’t be surprised if I had forgotten how to write.

This isn’t a note pertaining to my stories, which I am hoping to resume in a couple of weeks. It’s not even an official update on why I had to put them on hold, again. I’ve just been going through a tough time recently, all of my own doing, and I wanted to take a break and do something that has always helped me deal with challenging times in my life.

Most of you are aware that I haven’t been around for a couple of months, and you might even know that it’s because I have an exam coming up. It’s not a university exam or even something I really, absolutely need to pass. Having said that, I abhor failing. I have never in my life, failed a single exam. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I cannot stand to disappoint my parents, and the only thing they have ever expected from me was to do well in school. The worst grade I have ever received was a C+, around 78% for those of you who aren’t in the US. I am not saying this to brag. Thankfully, studies was something I was always good at. I liked most of my subjects, and they liked me back. However, I have recently found out that my luck with studying, the mutual affair we were having, has sadly, ended.

Yes, the exam prep is going to hell in a handbasket. And the funny thing is, for the first time in my life, I was actually really, truly trying to do well. Oh, the irony. I gave up tv-shows, reading and writing fan-fiction, going outside into the sunlight, even. I’ve been studying like a maniac for the past few months, and turns out it’s all for naught. I have been doing some practice exams lately and my scores are nowhere near the passing mark. I go to bed feeling like a failure and I wake up in the most foul mood. And I rinse and repeat.

I was in the process of doing the same today, when a thought struck me. I was absolutely disgusted with the way I was behaving, I loathed feeling like the world was falling apart around me because of something as small as an exam, one I didn’t even need to pass. Nothing depends on this. I am not about to fail university. My job is not riding on this. I have no reason to panic day in and day out thinking about this stupid little test.

On the tail of that came another thought (It was a day of epiphanies). I don’t remember the last time I felt happy. Truly, unconditionally happy. I have one of those type A personalities, that can never just stop and smell the fucking roses. I drove myself to complete school and college in as little time as possible, I got a job before I even left college and jumped right into the work life, I am even actively trying to get a promotion because I feel like the work at my current level is not challenging enough. I’m always setting up that next goal, trying to surpass it, trying to reach an end line that I, myself, keep moving further and further away.

So I decided to sit down, and as cliched as it sounds, smell the roses. I closed the books for the day, and took a little time to do something I love doing, and document this moment, so that in a year or two, when I inevitably run myself into the ground again because of my ambitions, I can look back at this and remember to slow down, to savor what I have, for a moment.

So here goes, the reason I should be happy in the here and now:

  1. I am surrounded by people who love me unconditionally.
  2. I have great friends who always keep things interesting.
  3. I have a job that I (on most days) enjoy doing, and the people I work with aren’t terrible either.
  4. Even though I was let go from my job, I have been getting call backs for interviews, for the positions I want to work in. And one of them is looking mighty promising.
  5. I have a roof on my head and some yummy, home-cooked food in my tummy.
  6. I have good books in an arm’s reach.
  7. I have the most beautiful, scenic backyard that I get to have coffee in every morning.
  8. I have internet.

Okay, this is digressing, but you get my point.

PS: I wanted to wait and type this all up once my exam was done, but:

  1. If I passed the exam, then this would sound like a spiel from one of those kids who always complains that they will fail but end up passing anyway.
  2. If I failed the exam, it would sound like I am trying to placate myself.

So you get this wise and maybe insane piece of stream of consciousness writing now. Sorry about that.

PPS: You don’t have to, but if you’d like, comment with what you are happy with in the here and now. Let’s turn this into a mini therapy session.

PPPS: I miss you guys.

IPKKND OS: So This Is Love

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.

“And then?”

“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? LOL 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!

National Shame

Recently, a good friend compared my sass to that of Regina George’s (more on that in a few weeks). I don’t know about sass, but I have the insane urge to create a burn book about all the idiots logically challenged people in our country. This will be an opinionated and a blunt rant, very different from this blog’s usual content but I felt the need to write this. Please feel free to click-off if this isn’t your cup of tea.

On January 28th, All India Bakchod, a comedy group in India, uploaded a video of ‘AIB Knockout’ to YouTube, where a group of comedians roasted Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh, with Karan Johar acting as the roast master. To those not familiar with a ‘roast’, it’s where a person or a group is ‘roasted’ with insult comedy. It’s vulgar, it’s crass, but it’s fucking hilarious. Personally, I found some jokes repetitive and unfunny, but overall, it was worth a watch. I think I described it to a friend as a ‘bad accident you can’t help but be fascinated with’.

Fast-forward two days, and the video goes viral. And of course, as anything that has the audacity to be watched by millions of people across the world, it attracts the attention and wrath of all the “cultured” people in India, who have never in their life spoken a vulgar word or misguided the youth of India.

First of all, the fact that freedom of speech is nothing but a farce in India is disgusting. I don’t understand how people can be so stupid as to not see the fact that, the same right they are fighting against when they want offensive content removed, is the right which provides them with the cushion to express their own opinions.

But the fact that truly enrages me is that, insults and vulgar language being passed between consenting adults, and being watched by other consenting adults who paid to be there, is what is considered National Shame. Rather convenient to forget about the other million and one fucked up things in India, isn’t it?

Let me help you out. Be enraged about these instead:

  • The countless number of times every day, every hour, wherein an uneducated, uncouth, uncultured swine speaks out against women and women’s rights.
  • It being illegal to identify oneself as a homosexual under Indian law, whereas marital rape is still being protected by the same.
  • Female Infanticide.
  • Corruption.
  • Poverty.
  • Religious Riots.
  • Sexual Harassment.
  • Rape.

If you want to be ashamed of something in that country, be ashamed of the continued existence of the above, the country’s leaders’ inability to take charge and our own inability to call them out on their bullshit. Not a fucking comedy show!

ArHi TS : First Impressions – Part 3 (Last)

“Mr. Raizada is here to see you,” the guard informed Shyam, making him sigh in relief.

He’ll get me out of here, Shyam thought.

“About time,” Shyam said as a way of greeting, taking the seat on the other side of the glass. “They arrested me this morning, claiming multiple charges. I have no clue what they think they are doing. I’m glad you’re here to get me out.”

Arnav stared at Shyam silently for a minute, measuring up his opponent. As expected, he came up short.

“Why would I get you out of here when I worked so hard to put you where you are?” Arnav said, leaning back in his chair.

“What?” Shyam asked, laughing disbelievingly. “I’m sorry, I thought I heard you say…”

“You have many problems, Shyam, but your hearing isn’t one of them,” Arnav said. “I am the one who orchestrated your arrest.”

“You’re my attorney!” Shyam yelled, incensed. “You can’t do that!”

“Oh but, I just did,” Arnav gloated, smirking. “Did you really think you could get away with everything?”

“What are you talking about, you bastard?” Shyam asked, getting up from his chair and slamming the glass. “You know what? I am done with you, Raizada. You’re fired!”

Arnav pulled a device out of his coat pocket and turned it off. “I am so glad you said that, Shyam. Now I can go after you in earnest.”

“What is that?” Shyam asked, staring at Arnav’s hand.

“A recorder,” Arnav said, placing it back in his pocket. “I had to get it on tape that you fired me. I have to take care of that pesky detail called Attorney-Client privilege, you know? Now that you’ve fired me, I can go after you in earnest. Akaash could only do so much on my behalf.”

“Go after me for what?” Shyam asked, smirking. “You have nothing on me.”

“I admit, you did a good job covering your tracks,” Arnav admitted. “If I didn’t know what I was looking for, I might not have found it.”

“You’ve gone crazy, Raizada,” Shyam yelled, turning around to leave the room, only to have the guard block the door and look at him menacingly.

“Let me go,” Shyam yelled, glaring at the guard.

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” the guard said.

Shyam turned around to see Arnav nodding at the guard.

“How did you…?”

“You’re not the only one with money, Shyam,” Arnav said, leaning forward. “Sit down.”

Shyam took the seat, looking at Arnav apprehensively.

“The assault charge, the one your soon to be ex-wife filed against you,” Arnav explained. “The countless number of sexual assault charges, and a law suit by Scorpion, the firm from which you stole your Heartbleed bug fix. Those are some of the reasons you are here.”

“How did she…?” Shyam exclaimed, shocked.

“I am still digging,” Arnav said casually, interrupting Shyam. “I will bury you and your company by the time this is all done, Shyam. Mark my words.”

“I believe you were about to ask me how your ex-wife managed to make her charges stick?” he went on, ignoring Shyam, who had gone deathly pale. “You see Shyam, the thing about paying people off? Once another party who pays better comes along, they cheat on you.”

“Why are you…?” Shyam asked, swallowing in fear.

“Because someone told me that you’re a Scumbag, Shyam. And I agree with her,” Arnav said, glaring a hale through Shyam.

“That bitch?” Shyam yelled, forgetting his fear. “What? Did she get to you too? Anjali isn’t a fighter. But Khushi, now that’s one feisty woman. I wouldn’t be surprised if she whored herself to you….”

Arnav grabbed the front of Shyam’s shirt through the tiny opening in the glass and smashed his face against it.

Don’t you dare utter her name, you filthy piece of shit,” he growled.

Shyam laughed boastfully.

“You will pay for this, Raizada,” Shyam said. “I have connections. You will be ruined by the time I am done with you.”

“The connections that are scrambling to cover their asses right this minute?” Arnav asked, pushing Shyam back into his chair.

“You see, Shyam, there is one thing more powerful than money, than greed…fear,” Arnav explained. “I deal with high-profile clients every single day on my job, politicians, police officers, businessmen. I make it my job to know all their dirty secrets, once that would ruin them if they got out. Do you really think anyone would help you, knowing that I made it my personal agenda to see you ruined?”

Shyam’s shoulders slumped in defeat.

“You’re going to die between these four walls, Shyam. I will make sure that you never see the light of the day again,” Arnav promised, before indicating to the guard that he was done.

*****

“Mr. Raizada?” Khushi asked anxiously, answering her phone. She sent a prayer up to Devi Mayya, asking for the situation to be resolved without having to draw Anjali into the media spotlight.

“I think we are past the stage where we call each other by our last names, Khushi?” Arnav asked, smiling.

“Fine! Arnavji,” Khushi said, testing out his name. “Better? Now tell me what happened. I heard on the news that Shyam was arrested?”

“Yes,” Arnav said simply, getting into an elevator.

“Yes? That’s it!? How? Why?” Khushi questioned.

Her home bell rang, interrupting her interrogation. She walked over to the front door to open it, as she said, “Would you explain how you managed this? I mean, you’re still his attorney.”

Arnav cut the call and smiled at Khushi, who was staring at him slack-jawed.

“Was. I was his lawyer. He fired me,” Arnav said, entering the house without being invited.

“What? Why?” Khushi asked, hanging up her phone. “And what the hell are you doing here?”

“I will explain it all, over…”

“Oh, not again!” Khushi exclaimed, exasperated.

“…a date,” Arnav concluded, with a smirk.

*****

Thirty years later…

Brandon approached an old couple, who were sitting on a bench in the Central Park, and seemed to be sharing a joke. There was such an aura of love and warmth surrounding them that he couldn’t resist asking them for their story.

“Would you be comfortable with me taking a picture of you?”

Khushi and Arnav looked up to find a man dressed in jeans and t-shirt smiling at them hesitantly. He had a dSLR hanging around his neck and a notepad in his hand.

“Brandon, right?” Khushi asked, excitedly. “I follow the HONY page religiously.”

“Yeah, and cries just as religiously as well,” joked Arnav, only to be rewarded with a hit to his shoulder.

“That’s great to hear,” Brandon said, his smile widening, “Would you mind telling me how you met?”

“He was representing my best friend’s ex-husband in a trial, and I marched into his office to inform him that his client was a lying scumbag.”

“And what did you think as she was yelling at you?” he asked, turning towards Arnav.

“That’s a good looking woman,” Arnav replied, staring at Khushi.

“What did he do when you yelled at him?” Brandon asked, turning towards Khushi, fascinated.

“He asked me out on a date,” Khushi said, making Brandon laugh.

“Did you say yes?” Brandon asked, as a follow-up.

“No, I called him a jerk,” Khushi said, staring into Arnav’s eyes and smiling.

As Arnav smiled in return and leaned forward to kiss Khushi, Brandon snapped their picture.

-The End-

ArHi TS : First Impressions – Part 2

“Khushi?” Anjali asked, looking at her friend’s pacing form. “Would you stop it? You are giving me a headache!”

“I can’t believe…,” Khushi mumbled, “…the pure nerve of that ass-hat.”

Who are you talking about, Khushi?” Anjali asked, shaking her head at her friend’s behavior.

“Who else?” Khushi asked, frowning. “That good for nothing…”

She was interrupted by her ringing phone and Anjali breathed a sigh of relief at being saved from Khushi’s angry mutterings.

“Hello?” Khushi said, picking up her phone. “Khushi Kumari Gupta here. Who is this?”

“The Jerk,” came the reply, confusing Khushi for a second before she remembered her parting statement.

You!” Khushi yelled, starting to pace again. Anjali took one look at her, and left the room before she could start ranting again. “How did you get my number?”

“You gave it to me, actually,” Arnav said, and she could hear the smirk in his tone, which only infuriated her more.

“I did no such thing!” she sputtered.

“You did, when you called my office to get an appointment with me. That was sneaky, by the way. I admire that quality in people,” he said, controlling the urge to laugh.

“I don’t care what you admire. Never call me again or I’ll slap you with a harassment suit so quick your head will spin!”

Fiesty,” he said, letting out a chuckle. “Another quality I like in a woman.”

“I am hanging up,” Khushi said, but halted with her hand on the red button when she heard him hurriedly yell out a “Wait!”

“You wanted to tell me something about Mr. Jha?” Arnav asked, steering back to the topic she wanted to discuss.

“Yes,” Khushi said, narrowing her eyes in suspicion.

“You were right,” Arnav said. “I can’t discuss the case with you, but I can, by all means, listen to what you have to say about him…”

“Oh,” Khushi said, surprised. “I’ll make another…”

“…over dinner,” Arnav said.

She hung up on him.

*****

“You need to eat the food, Anju,” Khushi said. “Not just move it around the plate.”

“He doesn’t want a divorce,” Anjali said, staring off into space. “Why would he say that? It’s not like he loves me, he made that clear enough.”

“Because he thinks you are his lucky charm. His company took off after he married you,” said Khushi, stabbing the piece of curry on her plate. “And the fact that he married an orphan works to gain him the Boy Scout image in his social circle. Also, imagine the media scandal he would have to go through if you went public with the information.”

“That’s it!” Khushi said, looking at Anjali excitedly.

“What?” Anjali asked, confused.

“I need to make a call,” Khushi said, and left the table, leaving a confused Anjali behind.

*****

“Mr. Raizada?” Khushi asked, as soon as the person on the other end picked up.

“Khushi?” Arnav asked, confused, before realizing who called him. “Khushi! I knew you would change your mind.”

“Yes, I’d like to go on that dinner date, if the offer is still open?” she asked, rummaging through the stack of papers on her desk.

“Of course,” Arnav said, typing out a message to his secretary to make reservations. “May I ask what brought on this change of heart?”

“You will see,” Khushi said, smiling, finding the card she was looking for.

“Okay. Does 8PM at Purple Orchid sound good? It’s a new restaurant that opened in Worli, and it has raving reviews,” Arnav asked.

“Sure, sounds good,” Khushi replied.

“Great! I’ll pick you up at 7:30 then.”

“No need. I’ll meet you there,” Khushi said, and before he could protest, hung up on him again.

Immediately, she dialed the number on the card she was holding.

*****

Arnav looked at his phone in disbelief.

She was the first person ever to hang up on him…him…twice in the same day.

Unbelievable, Arnav thought.

*****

Arnav handed over the keys to the valet and stood to the side as he drove the car to the parking lot.

I’m here…he sent a message to Khushi and left to wait inside the restaurant.

Be there in 2…came her reply, as he took the table the hostess showed him to.

“Mr. Raizada,” he heard her voice and turned to look at his date, and felt his breath whoosh out of him.

She was dressed in a black anarkali, with her hair pulled up into a messy updo. If he thought she was beautiful before, she looked ethereal now. His eyes were drawn to her swan-like neck which was exposed, thanks to her hairstyle, and he felt a new kind of hunger start in him. A few wisps framed her face, and highlighted her hazel eyes, which were looking at him, bemused.

“Mr. Raizada?” she called again, snapping her fingers in front of his eyes.

He leapt up from his chair and pulled hers out for her, like the perfect gentleman that he was.

Khushi looked at him, and tried not to stare, but failed miserably. He was dressed in a black suit, and he had foregone a tie for the occasion, exposing his neck and a small part of his chest. She felt her mouth water at the thoughts running through her head and chastised herself.

Remember why you are here, Khushi.

“You look…beautiful,” Arnav said, continuing to stare at her.

She averted her eyes and tried to stop the blush from spreading across her cheeks, in vain.

The waiter walked over to them, providing them both with a much needed distraction to get their bearings. Once they had placed their order, Arnav turned to Khushi and tried to make small talk.

“So…you never replied, what brought this on?” Arnav asked, genuinely interested in the cause for her change of heart.

“Anjali,” Khushi said, not beating around the bush. “You have fairly more connections under your belt than the lawyer representing her, and Shyam has enough money to spend getting a lawyer like you. I know you can spin the story in a way which would make the entire divorce process a long, tiring ordeal.”

Arnav sat back in his seat and folded his arms, sighing in disappointment. Looks like it will be a strictly business dinner after all.

“So…I am here to change your mind. I will explain the truth to you, the one I came to your office to tell you, before being inappropriately proposed to.”

“There was nothing inappropriate about it. You are single, and so am I. And you are not my client, so I did nothing wrong,” Arnav interrupted, frowning.

“Be that as it may, I did not come there looking for a boy-friend. And since you offered to listen during this date, I would request you to not interrupt me until I am done saying what I have to.”

“As long as you don’t digress,” Arnav interrupted, again, before saying, “Please continue.”

“I am not sure what lies Shyam fed you, so I will start at the beginning. Anjali and I grew up in an orphanage.” Looking at his sympathetic expression, she hurriedly explained, “It wasn’t that bad, actually. Buaji, that’s what we called our warden, took good care of us, and Anjali and I had found a sister in the other. We studied hard, got into good colleges and once our education ended, started working for non-profit organizations, to pay it forward, so to speak. That’s where Anjali met Shyam. He was one of the sponsors for the non-profit she worked for, a company that provided shelter and career opportunities for victims of domestic violence. He only made small donations, but for Anjali, it was the thought that counted.”

They were interrupted by the waiter, and once he had placed their dishes in front of them and left, she started speaking again. Neither touched their food.

“He expressed an interest in her after a month of knowing her, but Anjali didn’t reciprocate right away. After a while, he started pursuing her seriously, and even proposed to her. I was over the moon; he was a good man with a stable income who helped people in need, what more can one want for her best friend? I…I might have pushed her a little, and so did Buaji, and Anju finally accepted his proposal.”

“Everything was rosy as f**k for a couple of months,” Khushi said, getting aggravated. “Anju moved in with him after their marriage, naturally, but we still kept in touch. I used to visit her often, and as months progressed, I started sensing that she was distressed for some reason. I never understood why because whenever I was there, Shyam was cheerful. He spent time with us, with me, which should have raised a red flag, but me being an idiot thought of him as my brother. On one of my visits, I found Anjali sobbing in her bedroom, and confronted her. She confessed that Shyam had been having affairs since a few months into their marriage, and when she confronted him, he acted like it was her fault, that somehow, she didn’t give him enough time and attention, which wasn’t true! She loved him!”

Arnav silently passed her a glass of water, and she took a sip of it before putting it aside and continuing.

“Anju, she is not like me. She never had enough confidence to begin with. She’s fragile, you know? I asked her to have a serious conversation with him, to tell him that his behavior was unacceptable, and that if he didn’t stop, she would need to get a divorce. Again, I pushed her into it. I shouldn’t have. But she did as I said, and Shyam…he…he’s a beast. I went to their home the next day to find her covered in bruises! That monster, that douche-bag had hurt her!”

She was crying at this point, and even though Arnav had the strongest urge to comfort her, he knew that she needed to get it off her chest.

“I called one of my friends and asked her to come pick-up Anju at once to take her back to my place. I stayed back to pack up her stuff. There was no way I was letting her stay there for another second. I was almost done packing when he came home. At first, he was pissed that Anjali had left, but then he changed…his eyes…” she shuddered. “Said he was waiting for an opportunity to be alone with me for forever, that Anjali kept coming in the way, and it was good that I stayed behind. He tried to…well, he tried to force himself on me,” Khushi said, as if she was discussing the weather. She wiped away her tears, and looked directly into his eyes, and found his furious gaze staring back at her.

“I kicked him where it hurt and ran away. The next day, Anjali filed for divorce. We discovered, after the fact, that, he was, in fact, not having affairs. He was coercing women into sleeping with him, the woman from the non-profit Anjali worked at. He threatened them that he would reveal their locations to their abusers. They are still frightened that he would do as he said which is why no one is willing to testify against him. And without that, we don’t have anything against him. The officer who took Anju’s statement seemed to have conveniently “lost” it and completely forgotten about it. Now, Shyam is insisting that he doesn’t want a divorce, and you are helping him with it.”

Arnav clenched his fists in anger.

“But I will not let you. Do you hear me? Maybe you’ll argue for him, and maybe you’ll win the case, but I will not let that douche-bucket so much as glance at Anju. If you don’t convince him to agree to an amicable divorce, and to never agree to bother Anjali again, I will go to the press with everything I just told you. I have a reporter awaiting my call, and believe me, they’re chomping at the bit to bring a company like Shyam’s down. Imagine the riot women’s right activists will bring down on not only Shyam, but on you. Both your companies’ shares will tank and your reputation will be in the mud.”

She stared right at him as she delivered the threat, and Arnav had to applaud the gall of the wisp of a woman sitting in front of him.

“However, I don’t want Anju to go through the press circus, which is why I agreed to this date, to resolve this issue with minimal damage. The ball is in your court, Mr. Raizada.”

Arnav stared at Khushi for a second before replying.

“As of now, Shyam is still my client, and understand that I can’t discuss anything about him, with you.”

Before Khushi could start ranting at him, he continued.

“But by this time tomorrow, I will take care of it. You have my word, Khushi Kumari Gupta.”

Khushi stared into his eyes, and found nothing but sincerity reflected back at her.

She nodded hesitantly.

*****

AN: Looks like it will end up being a Three-Shot afterall! Haha. Thanks for all the lovely comments!

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Index : Blooming world

ArHi TS : First Impressions – Part 1

“There’s nothing we can do, Mrs. Jha,” Mr. Aman Mathur informed her. “His lawyer is twisting the facts and making it seem like you are the one who was unfaithful in the relationship.”

“It’s Malik,” Anjali replied, staring at the window absent-mindedly.

They were in one of the conference rooms at Shaw L.L.P, an up and coming law firm that had, despite their young and amateur lawyers, gained a reputation of being a force to be reckoned with. However, that was not the case when it came to Anjali Jha nee Malik’s case. The bright green walls of the room and the tastefully placed accessories seem to be mocking Anjali at the moment. Her life has been anything but bright and put-together for the past couple of years.

Anjali was a cheerful girl, who despite the obstacles life had thrown at her, always had the ability to look at the bright side of a situation. But that was not the case anymore. She scoffed at the irony when she remembered how happy she had been, two years ago, to this day, when Shyam Jha had proposed to her. She had thought that this was her moment, the gift life had given her, for having a never say die attitude despite the hardships she faced in life. Oh, how wrong she had been. Her life up until the point she met Shyam had seemed like a cake-walk compared to what he put her through.

“What do you mean you cannot do anything?” Khushi said, enraged on her friend’s behalf.

“Ms. Gupta, we have tried attacking them from all angles,” Aman replied. “He simply is wealthier and has a better network which works in his favor. Not to mention that he has Arnav Singh Raizada representing him, the best divorce attorney money can buy in this country.”

Shyam’s company had taken off after Anjali married him. He owned a computer security firm which was hired by other companies to test the security of their networks, and to strengthen their firewalls. Shyam’s company had found a major vulnerability in the encryption software of one of the companies it was hired to test. The vulnerability affected the encryption software of more than 17% of the internet’s web servers that were well trusted up until that point. Since Shyam’s company was the first to discover it, they had a head start on the bug fix, which was delivered to all the affected servers. The incident had catapulted Shyam’s company into the international market.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Mathur. I thought we hired you to represent Anjali, not sing praises about Shyam and his bloody lawyer,” Khushi said, irritated.

“Khushi,” Anjali admonished. “I’m sorry, Mr. Mathur. She’s just irritated on my behalf.”

Khushi and Anjali had been best-friends since childhood. Both of them had lost their parents to tragic accidents and were placed in the same orphanage. Khushi was younger to Anjali by two years, and was the happiest person in the world, when Anjali had finally found a home with Shyam. However, that also meant that she was the one who felt most betrayed after Anjali, when Shyam turned out to be a total scumbag. She had come to see Shyam as an elder brother, and was heartbroken when Anjali told him that he marriage was not all it appeared to be.

“I completely understand, Ms. Malik,” Aman said.

“So what do we do now?” Anjali asked, leaning forward onto the table. “I don’t care if he doesn’t give me a penny in alimony, if that’s what’s holding us back.”

Aman fidgeted in his seat, “It’s not…exactly about the alimony.”

“Then what?” Anjali asked, frustrated. “What does he want from me!?”

“He wants…you,” Aman said. “He wants to stay married to you. He is not agreeing to a divorce.”

“What!?” Khushi screeched. “Oh, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”

“Khushi!” Anjali yelled, horried, but Khushi was beyond caring.

Giving Aman a dirty look, she stomped out of there.

*****

“I am here to meet Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada,” Khushi said, tapping her foot impatiently.

“Let me take a look,” the receptionist said, typing into her computer. Lavanya Kashyap, read the nametag on her desk. She was a pretty girl with eyes that were painted to perfection. If only the girl learned how to smile, she would be a heart-breaker.

Khushi wondered if this elusive Mr. Raizada was also as uptight as his secretary seemed to be, and realized that whatever he was or was not, he must be a certified jerk to have taken over Shyam’s case.

“You can wait in his room,” Lavanya said, pointing to a door on her right. “He’ll be back in a minute from his meeting.”

Khushi thanked Lavanya and walked into the room she had pointed to, opening the door hesitantly.

The room looked like it was conjured straight from a catalogue. It was a vast space filled with minimalistic furniture that despite its simplicity had a classy elegance to it. One of the walls was made entirely of glass interrupted only by thin metal that held them together. The room was painted a dark brown, but the wall of windows and the light colored furniture made the room look inviting and bright.

Khushi walked over to the windows and gasped at the uninterrupted view of the ocean.

“Astonishing, isn’t it?” said a voice behind her, making her turn around, startled.

If she had thought the view of the ocean was beautiful, it was nothing compared to the specimen standing in front of her. His six-foot figure was clad in a three piece black suit, accentuating his lean figure. His hair looked like it had been coiffed to perfection, despite the fact that he was currently running his long, lean fingers through it absentmindedly. His eyes, the color of melted caramel, staring straight at her, sent a thrill through her spine. A smirk played on his lips, sending her heart aflutter.

“Yes,” she breathed, not knowing if she was reacting to him or his office view.

*****

Arnav Singh Raizada was invincible.

That’s what everyone said about him, that’s what he said about himself.

For the first time in his life, he was defeated. The girl in front of him had felled him without even having uttered a word.

She was arrayed in a red dress that accentuated the creaminess of her skin. Her long, black tresses were left undone, framing her face in the most beautiful way possible. Her bangles chimed as she lifted her arms to tuck a wayward strand behind her ear. Her hazel eyes stared at him with open curiosity, but the innocence in them was what attracted him to her. She wet her lips in anticipation of speaking, drawing her eyes to their plumpness.

Damn, that’s one good-looking woman.

He was pulled out of his daze by her response to his question, the one he had forgotten the second he had laid eyes on her.

“Yes,” she whispered, staring straight at him.

The intensity of her response sent a jolt through him.

“Ms. Gupta, I presume?” he asked, extending his hand out, eager for a touch.

“Yes,” she replied, placing her hand in his. The jolt he had felt before intensified, and he pulled back his hand before he could make a fool out of himself.

“I understand you are looking for the services of a divorce attorney?” he asked, remembering why she was here, and pointing at a seat, as he walked around to his chair. He surreptitiously glanced at her neck and ring finger, only to find them both empty.

“I was looking for your services specifically,” she said, taking the seat he had pointed at.

He raised an eyebrow at that. She was direct, and he liked that.

“And what can I help you with?” he asked.

“It’s actually what I can do for you,” she said, ignoring his surprised expression. “I am about to save you the trouble of representing a scumbag.”

Had he thought her an innocent?

“I lied about my purpose when I got the appointment,” she said, stating the obvious. “I wasn’t sure if you would agree to speak with me if you knew why I was really here.”

“And that would be why, exactly?” he asked, glad that she didn’t need a divorce. This would make what he had in mind all the easier.

“Shyam Manohar Jha,” she said, without beating around the bush. “He’s lying to you, and I wanted you to know the truth before you went ahead and ruined Anjali’s life.”

He felt his playful demeanor slip away, as the lawyer took his spot.

“I can’t discuss this with you,” he said brusquely. “There’s this little thing called Attorney-Client privilege, you see.”

“I understand, Mr. Raizada,” Khushi said, equally bluntly. “You don’t have to discuss anything with me. In fact, you don’t even have to speak. You just have to listen to what I have to say, and then you can decide what to do with that ass-hole.”

Arnav felt a smile creep up on his face, but stopped it in its tracks.

Innocent, my foot.

“Are you listening?” she said, snapping her fingers in front of his face, bringing him out of his thoughts.

She had worked herself up with her little rant, the one he had failed to listen to because he was lost in his thoughts about how beautiful she looked. Her hair was flowing in the breeze coming through his windows, and her cheeks were red with anger. She clearly hated his client, and he was interested to know why, for sure. But he had something more important in mind first, and before he could control his brain, he blurted out…

“Go out with me.”

Her fingers stopped mid snap as she stared at him in shock. Her eyes became round, to the point where he was anxious that they might pop out. Her mouth formed an ‘o’ in shock, that made her look even more adorable, and him want to kiss her even more than before.

“What!?”

In for a penny, in for a pound.

“Go out with me. Dinner. Tonight,” he said, matter-of-factly, as if it was a normal occurrence.

If looks could kill…

She stood up from her chair abruptly, sending him a nasty glare before turning around and walking out the door, but not before she muttered, “I came to talk to one jerk about another!”

*****

AN: This Two (or Three!) Shot is dedicated to all the people who made my birthday all the more special. This gift is nothing compared to what you lot have given me, but since stories are what brought us all together, I thought it would be a fitting thank you gift. Love you all!

Ruchi, a special mention to you because, like I said, I love you dammit!

This TS was inspired by the following Humans of New York post…

“How’d you meet?”
“He was representing my best friend’s ex-husband in a trial, and I marched into his office to inform him that his client was a lying scumbag.”
“And so what were you thinking while she was yelling at you?”
“That’s a good looking woman.'”

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Index : Blooming world

Dramione TS : Malfoy Manor – Part 1

His heart stopped beating for a second when he saw her. He didn’t think they would meet again, not after he ran off from Hogwarts after Dumbledore had died. He was sure Potter would have told her all about his cowardice, and how he was the one responsible, more or less, for their headmaster’s death and the invasion of Hogwarts by death-eaters. No, he didn’t think he would see her ever again.

 

“What do we have here?” Bellatrix asked gleefully. “Draco! Come here.”

 

Keeping his eyes on Hermione who was glaring at him, he walked over to Bellatrix, his aunt, who was looking at him with her manic eyes. She held a fistful of hair of someone who looked to be his age, although, the boy’s face was so disfigured that he had no way of knowing who he was, if not for the fact that two-thirds of the golden trio was here with him.

 

When he hadn’t spoken for a couple of minutes, Bellatrix prompted him, “Well?”

 

He swallowed nervously, and grabbing hold of his fleeting courage, replied in a hoarse voice, “I can’t be sure.”

 

Bellatrix’s demented smile fell a little, as she glared at him.

 

He felt a hand clamp around his neck from behind, and flinched. He could feel his father’s ragged breath on his neck, as he whispered, “Look closely, son.”

 

“If we…are the ones to hand Potter over to the dark lord, everything would be forgiven…all would be as it was, understand?” his father said, as he looked into his eyes.

 

Even as he nodded in understanding, he could feel his hatred for his father growing, for landing them in this situation. If not for Lucius’s pureblood ideals, their family would not have been in the position where their own house, a place where one was supposed to feel safe and protected, was taken over by a hypocritical asshole with a propoganda.

 

Before he could get in trouble for letting the venom running through him spew in the form of words, he was saved by one of the snatches who was idiotic enough to speak up to his father.

 

“Now, we won’t be forgetting who, actually, caught him, I hope, Mr. Malfoy,” he said, sarcastically.

 

You dare to talk to me like that in my own house!?” his father screamed, his voice becoming more shrill as the sentence ended.

 

“Lucius,” his mother whispered as she pulled him away, as always, making sure his father didn’t do something stupid and get himself hurt.

 

Bellatrix, who hadn’t been paying any attention to anything other than identifying the boy in her hold, came over to him and took his hands. He concealed the instinctive flinch at being grabbed by the deranged woman, and went along with her.

 

Leading him closer to the disfigured boy, she made him kneel in front of him, speaking in her child-like voice, “Don’t be shy, sweetie. Come over.”

 

Her voice changed as she threatened him, “Now…if this isn’t who we think it is, Draco, and we call him, you’ll kill us all. We need to be absolutely sure.”

 

Staring into the stranger’s face was disconcerting. His eyes were swollen, and red. The skin around them bloated as a result of whatever curse had hit him. He must be in pain from the looks of it, but the steady gaze focused on him, judging him, unnerved him.

 

“What is wrong with his face?” he asked, stalling for time.

 

He knew that this was Potter. In addition to being found with the other two-thirds of the Golden Trio, the gaze that was unflinchingly directed at him was all too familiar to him. How many times had they stared-off at each other because of their school rivalry? Which, in retrospect, seemed silly to him. What were they fighting about? Status? Blood-purity? He couldn’t give a fuck about any of them today.

 

“What is wrong with his face?” Bellatrix echoed his question, turning to the snatchers accusingly, for making her job more difficult than need be. If not for the boy’s disfiguration, The Dark Lord would have been summoned already.

 

“He came to us like that,” the snatched hastily explained. “Something he picked up in the forest, I reckon.”

 

“Or perhaps he ran into a stinging jinx?” Bellatrix wondered out loud. “Was it you, dear?” she asked, pointing her wand at Hermione, the endearment sounding like a threat in her voice.

 

Draco felt his mother’s hand touching his back, breaking his trance. He hastily stepped away from the boy and went to stand next to his parents.

 

“Give me her wand!” she commanded. “Let’s see what he last spell was.”

 

Laughing maniacally, she pointed at Hermione and whispered, “Got you!”

 

His heart dropped into his stomach at hearing Bellatrix’s words. His aunt was well trained in the arts of torture. In fact, Voldemort was more merciful to his victims than she was. She enjoyed watching people writing in pain as she used her favorite curse on them. She liked to see her victims humiliated and begging for death before she finished them off.

 

That stupid girl couldn’t leave it well alone, could she? Always the brave one, always sticking her neck out for her beloved friends. Her stupidity might just get her killed today, and he didn’t know how to stop it.

 

Something caught Bellatrix’s attention on her way to acquire Hermione’s wand, and she stopped in her tracks and gasped.

 

“What is that?” she whispered, horrified. “How did you get that?”

 

The snatcher, the indifferent one, looked at her with bored eyes as he replied, “Found it in her bag,” he said, pointing at Hermione. “Reckon it’s ours now.”

 

Before he could so much as blink, Bellatrix was choking him with her whip. Pointing her wand at him, she cursed him as she used her whip to pull the sword towards herself.

 

The other snatchers didn’t stand a chance against her either.

 

“Go!” she screamed. “Get out of here!”

 

If Draco thought she looked demented before, she truly looked every bit the psychopath she was at that moment.

 

Walking over to Hermione and Ron, she grabbed Ron and pushed him towards her sister. “Lock the boys up in the cellar!” she commanded.

 

Draco watched, horrified, as she turned towards Hermione and gleefully whispered, “I need to have a conversation with this one…girl to girl.”

 

He could see Hermione standing her ground, trying her hardest not to show the fear she felt.

 

Stupid girl.

 

Where did you get the sword?” Bellatrix asked, twisting Hermione’s arm painfully behind her back.

 

“I don’t know,” Hermione choked out, gasping in pain.

 

“Maybe this will help,” Bellatrix smirked, as she let go of Hermione’s arm. “Crucio!

 

Draco made a move to step to move forward, to do what, he didn’t know. Was he naive enough to think that he could take on his aunt? Not to mention, his father?

 

His mother placed a hand on his shoulder to stay him.

 

Hermione tumbled to the ground, writhing in pain, as she gasped for breaths.

 

Bellatrix lifted the curse as she walked over to her, “Did that awaken your memory?”

 

“I don’t…” Hermione cried. “I don’t know.”

 

Crucio!” Bellatrix repeated the curse, more viciously this time around.

 

Hermione rolled on the ground, sobbing, curing into herself to stop the pain in it’s tracks.

 

The hand on his shoulder clenched, as if his mother knew that he was about to do something stupid, putting them all in danger.

 

Bellatrix circled Hermione before stopping next to her, and lifting the curse. She straddled Hermione, moving her face close to the girl’s as she whispered, “That sword is meant to be at my vault at Gringotts. How did you get it?”

 

Hermione’s sobs subsided, but she continued to weep and twitch with the after-effects of the curse as she repeated over and over again, “I don’t know.”

 

Holding her down, Bellatrix went on, “What else…,” she asked, menacingly, “…did you and your friends take from my vault!?”

 

“Nothing…I didn’t take anything,” Hermione choked out through her sobs.

 

I don’t believe it,” Bellatrix whispered, and grabbing a hold of Hermione’s hand, started carving something into it.

 

Draco’s stomach turned as he heard the heart-wrenching screams of the girl who had once stood bravely in front of him, and punched him right in the face, not because she couldn’t have jinxed him seven ways to sunday, but because she was telling him, with her actions, that she didn’t have to be better than him to give him his what for, that the muggle in her was enough to take him down.

 

Blood oozed out of the cuts his aunt was carving into the girl’s arm, blood as red as his, as every other person’s in the room. At the end of the day, weren’t they all the same? Did they all not have the same crimson blood running through them? In fact, hadn’t the girl in front of him proved to him, many times over, that if there was anyone who was superior here, it was her?

 

With that realization, the haze he had been living in for the past seventeen years of his life was lifted. With that same realization came the awareness that, for the first time in his life, he could let himself feel, let himself be aware of, and act on the attraction that he had always felt for her.

 

He stared at the burning mark on his arm for a second before he made his decision. Voldemort had taken a lot from him: his parents, his morale and his life, he would be damned if he took her too.

 

Pushing away his mother’s arm from his shoulder, he lifted his wand hand, and yelled.

 

“Stupefy!”