Khushi smiled warmly as the women gathered around the pond sprinkled water over her head as they blessed her while she let the decorative clay pot bedecked with flowers and large chunks of rock sugar into the water to float and join the others that had gathered around the other end.
She thanked the older women who were Smitha's acquaintances and had jumped at the chance of a single woman praying for a good husband...though Khushi had secretly not asked anything of the sort. She bunched up her sari in one hand while holding on to her pooja thali as she made her way up the slippery stairs where all the men were praying from and keeping a watch on their wives and daughters.
She saw VK help Smitha as she carried a small copper kalasha full of the holy water which she would use to make the payasam later for lunch...She wiped the sheen of sweat that had formed on her forehead while her loosely plaited hair swung around her back as she walked to the top and sat down near one of the secluded sitting areas where not many were present. She had asked VK and Smitha to go on forward as she wanted to spend some more time here
She smelled the earthy scent of the wet mud as the cool breeze lifted the wayward strands of hair away from her face, bringing in the delightful smell of the mogras she was wearing in her hair...courtesy of one of the aunties who was scandalized to find her hair devoid of any flowers and her forehead without the customary bindi
She smiled, as a sort of exhaustion lulled her into a relaxed state as she closed her eyes and tried to clear her mind...she had hardly slept all night as thoughts of 'What if's..' and 'Maybe's..' kept haunting her...she could not help but think that Arnav did not seem too pleased with her decision...or rather the decision she took on both their behalf's...but she knew it was the right thing to do...though her heart yearned for him...like it never had for anyone else
"Still praying?" she heard his voice and thought that she must be hallucinating...but as she opened one eye and then other, he came into focus as he stood in front of her...all freshly showered and smelling divine...much much better than the mogras she was just inhaling a second ago
"Arnav? What are you doing here?" she asked him warily as he shrugged his shoulders and sat beside her, albeit at a distance "I got up around the same time you all left...VK had told me last night that you were all going to come here...he invited me even...so I came...just to see what all the fuss was about" he said as Khushi eyed him suspiciously
"What Khushi? Why are you looking at me like that?" he asked her as she looked away "Nothing...I did not peg you as the religious kind" she said as he gave her a small smile... "I'm not...VK told me a lot about this place and it got me interested..." he said as he surveyed the pool spilling with people "Everyone is just so...colorful!" he said as Khushi smiled
"That they are...all women dress up in their finest today...My mother used to bring me here wherever we used to come to my grandfather's house...and it was especially fun when this festival came around...I think i've only attended it twice before today...but it was always so exciting..." she said as Arnav looked at with a strange glint in his eyes "You look beautiful Khushi" he said as the atmosphere suddenly changed around them bringing in a crimson hue to Khushi's cheek
"Relax...I don't have an ulterior motive for complimenting you...this sari...the colors...they look good on you...red reallu is your color...and it's bit shocking to find you completely covered for once" he said with his eyebrow raised as Khushi's mouth opened in an 'O'... she was just about to reply to him when his next words stopped her
"I thought about what you said last night Khushi...in fact I thought about it all night...nearly" he said as Khushi held her breath... "And.." he said as she wondered what he was going to say "And, you are right...we should just go back to how things were before we...Uh..that night" he said as khushi looked away...disappointed in the fact that he could not even say 'kiss' anymore...just like she hadn't the other day
"I'm glad that we can still talk freely...keeping all the other things aside...and I really want you to know that I like talking to you...you are an amazing person Khushi and I'm glad I met you" he said as khushi smiled tightly and nodded...so much for any high hopes., she thought as she saw Arnav take a huge breath...Gosh! Stop being such a hypocrite Khushi, she berated herself as arnav continued talking
"I also wanted to clear the confusion about my mother" he said as Khushi looked up suddenly and shook her head "No Arnav...you don't need to tell me anything..." she said as he sighed "There is actually nothing to tell Khushi...I share a very formal relationship with my parents...especially with my mother...I won't go too much into depth, but when I said that i'm bad with relationships, i meant it...because I have actually never had any kind of a lasting relationships...except for my best friend" he said as Khushi hung on to his every word
"I'm not telling you this to justify why I said what I did last night, but I don't believe in any other relationships except for friendship...and that's probably all I can ever offer to anyone..." he said as he felt his heart squeeze painfully...he did not know why he was telling her all this, but he felt he owed her an explanation.
"You assumed that I regretted what happened that day Khushi...I didn't...not by a long shot...but then you assumed I did and..." he said as she shifted in her seat, wondering what he was trying to say...he was painfully clear that he could only be her friend...so why go back to all that "Arnav...lets not talk about all this...lets just put everything behind us and..." she said as Arnav pursed his lips and nodded
"Yep..lets do that..." he said as she gave him a small smile and looked away towards the throng of people now walking towards the small temple on the left...an uncomfortable silence fell around them as both wondered how they should proceed...Khsuhi turned her head slowly and saw him breaking small twigs that had fallen near his feet...the silence was becoming unbearable...so she said the first thing that popped up
"What do you do beside writing Arnav?..I don't remember you mentioning your job or business" she said as Arnav smiled slightly and looked at her sideways "Trying to break the awkwardness huh?" he asked her as she smiled sheepishly "I work for a Banking and Hedge fund company...basically we get rich suckers to invest with us and reap millions while me make billions" he said as she looked on horrified
"You con them?" she asked him as he threw his head back and laughed "Pretty much...but its all legal...plus they make huge profits too...so its a win-win situation..." he said as Khushi wrinkled her nose "So, do you travel much or just sit at your desk all day?" she asked him curiously as his mouth lifted in a smile "Sit all day...except for when we are meeting clients...but its a boring job all in all...pays well though" he said as an afterthought as Khushi snorted
"So you do it for the money?" she asked him as he looked at her "That is usually why people do a job...for sustenance...how else do you live?" he asked her as she rolled her eyes "I know that...but why would you want to do something that you find boring, just to make money...do something that is fun that will sustain you, as you put it" she said making air-quotes to the last words
"Look at me for example...I have a degree in management and also had a good offer to join a reputable firm...but somehow it really wasn't for me...so I went into event management and now I am so happy and satisfied with my job, something that I look forward to everyday...even on weekends I can't wait for the week to start and get busy planning someones dream wedding...the clothes, the venues...the food...decorations..themes...its all so exciting! It doesn't pay me as well as a corporate job would...hell, it doesn't pay me even an iota of what I should get, but I feel satisfied..and happy...and I think that matters the most!" she said as Arnav felt mesmerized listening to her
The excitement on her face was infectious and he felt his heart lighten under its glow...she had put her thoughts so simply that he could not help but hope he could also say the same thing one day...that he was done with a job that he hated and instead did what he loved...openly... "Arnav?!" Khushi's voice brought him out of his thoughts as he ran a hand through his hair
"So, money...status...luxury...they don't mean anything to you? Don't you want to achieve something momentous in your life? Make something of yourself?" he asked her as she shook her head "Of course I do...but for me, achieving something momentous is to see the bridal couple's happy joyful faces on their wedding...their parents gratitude for a wedding well planned...I feel I have made something of myself as the guests leave in awe of the beauty in which two souls were united...and that is enough for me...I know that even if I don't do wedding planning anymore...whatever I do, will bring smiles to other's faces...that is what achievement for me is" she said as Arnav felt like pulling her in his arms
She really was one in a million and he was a fool to let her go...but he could not be selfish...one cannot have everything they wish for...and the way his life was structured right now, he could not make place for her...not yet... "So, how come you are writing then?" she asked as he once again had tuned out "Uh...just...I wanted to experiment" he said as she knitted her eyebrows
"Oh...but can you take a leave that long?" she asked curiously as he shrugged "Yeah...I haven't really taken many holidays...so this was a good opportunity to use those accumulated ones" he said as she nodded "So, you took all your leaves to write?...do you realize that that might be what you want to really do? Maybe deep down you want to be a writer" she said as Arnav looked away...afraid she will see the truth in his eyes
"No...its nothing like that...I just wanted to try out writing and see if it will get me somewhere..." he said as she sighed "Well, I doubt you'll go places with the book you are writing" she said as he turned towards her sharply "What?" he asked her as she shrugged her shoulders "Politics? Like really? Its boring...at least I find it boring..." she said as Arnav folded his arms and looked at her "Really? And you think everyone thinks like you? There are lots of people who love reading a good book on a political plot...especially in a country like ours where no one is sure what our Government's ideology is based on" he said as she giggled
"Touche! But it still does not have the same pull as Romance, or Horror...or Mysteries...those are what keeps you on the edge...makes you read all the way into the night..." she said as Arnav smiled inwardly... "You mean like that Pike fellow who you were praising the other day?" he asked her, mindful of the fact that this might lead him into trouble but also hoping to hear more praises for him from her mouth
"Exactly!" she said as he raised his eyebrows "His books are unputdownable...if there is such a word...I agree I'm not crazy of his chauvinistic stance towards the characters...but his stories...they are wonderful...its as if he has lived them...you can actually feel him in his books...in his words...and the fact that no one knows who he is or what he looks like, adds onto the terrific mystery!" she said as Arnav looked away...a small smile playing on his lips
"Oh well...for all you know he must be a geriatric old man...too embarrassed to come out in the open" he said as Khushi huffed and hit him on his arm "So what if he is! He must have a genuine reason to keep away from exposing himself...maybe he wants to remain anonymous because he likes it that way...he has been nominated and won so many modern literature awards in India..but he keeps away from all of them...he probably just wants to spend his fame and fandom with his family and close friends...some people are like that..." she said as Arnav went back into his thought
All the times his publisher told him about some nomination or award being bestowed on him, he felt happy that his work was getting recognised...that he made his readers happy...but not once did he have anyone to spend those happy moments with...not even Manav...will it always be like that? He wondered "What is up with you today!" Khushi's voice made him snap his eyes at hers
"You need rest Arnav...come on lets go...you keep phasing out, lets just head home" she said as the sun shined brightly on them making her squint her eyes as Arnav kept on looking at her in a daze "What?" she asked him as he stood up and looked her in the eye "If you ever come to know who Crispin Pike is...or you meet him...how would you react? What will you say?" he asked her as she looked on bewildered at his question
"Uh...I don't know...I can't really say...but if i do meet him in person, I would like to convey that his books transport me to another world...a world where I don't have to think about anything...worry about anyone...when I read his books, its as if I am the character...as if I am part of the words on the crisp paper...and that is what makes him an uthor who anyone will be honored to meet...let alone talk...so I would look into his eyes and say 'You are simply amazing Mr Pike!'" she said as Arnav's face lit up in a soft smile...and his heart fluttered as he followed her back to their house...