Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
The view from inside the first courtyard of The Palazzo Vecchio- the town hall of Florence, Italy.
The Boy on The Street
The entire world passes by
While she remains static
Finding relief from her reminiscences
And her morose thoughts
She sees a young man on his way to work
An inquisitive light in his eyes
She knows not his name
It’s but a trifling detail
She welcomes the anonymous exchanges
A smile and sometimes a wave
And assembles a hazy dream
Of carefree tomorrows
And hopeful todays
Mumbai’s historic Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus)
Humayun’s Maqbara (tomb of the Mughal emperor Humayun) in Delhi, India built 1569-70
Alongside Chicago river
Clean windows, plain, glass, open, close, bright,
Light, shaded, paned, shuttered, blinded, boarded,
Rusty, dirty, smoky windows.
Broken, shattered, run down windows
Windows that protect and hide, windows to the world outside
And sometimes to the world within
Unraveling layer by layer, revealing,
A tool for introspection and scrutiny,
A glance into a soul, full of secrets and smokescreens,
Evasion, denial, half-truths
Windows, they tell it all.
Nariman Point, Mumbai
Chap 5: Getting into the Swing
“Where are we?” Khanak asked looking around curiously, she had been so busy talking and watching out for Horse’s antics, she hadn’t realized that the car had come to a halt.
“We are in a southern suburb of Mumbai called ‘Malabar Hills,’ home to many of the rich and famous but most importantly a place where you can find great views!” Shan declared not without some pride. He owed it to his tremendous success first as a model, then as a dancer who later started his own dance company with every show sold out well in advance. He had quickly acquired enough moolah to be able to afford to invest in his own penthouse along with a small private studio in this locale which was no small achievement. He owned a much larger studio downtown, but this was where his most innovative ideas took shape, right in front of the Nariman point skyline.
“I can carry it!”She moved to stop him as he picked up her small suitcase.
“No, I’m going to try to impress you as much as I can now, so you won’t rush to leave when I put you to work!” He laughed snatching the bag out of her reach.
“Just the one? You travel light, I like that.” He nodded in approval but not before throwing her a puzzled glance.
Khanak looked around stunned at the greenery. This was an unexpectedly pleasant sight in the midst of the concrete jungle that Mumbai shehar (city) was notorious for.
They rode the elevator in silence, Khanak still trying to absorb everything while being completely unaware that her companion was using the opportunity to give her a thorough once over.
“What is this place?” Khanak asked for the first time following hesitantly as he led the way to the only door on the entire top floor. Horse was already there sitting waiting patiently.
Shan threw the door open.”Welcome to my humble abode!” He announced with a grand sweep of his hand.
She stepped in, stood still for several moments then slowly turned around appearing dazed.
“Sorry but sometimes the stage ‘me’ catches up!” He laughed loudly at his own joke but she didn’t appear to hear.She was busy taking in the large area luxuriously fitted with plush modern furniture and tastefully decorated with a variety of eclectic and exotic artwork.
“I like to collect and travel” he said answering her unasked query.
It was a very upscale and vibrant setting befitting his flamboyant personality, a far cry from her own home (or house as she preferred to call it now, that she had for such a long time shared with people whom until recently she had considered as her family,) in Chennai which though quite decent in size appeared very ordinary in comparison.
The thought brought tears to her eyes, for she missed that ordinary house where her most beloved memories had taken shape and no matter how hard she tried she knew she’d never be able to forget it. She quickly turned away and dabbed at her eyes
“Anything bothering you?”
“No, I’m fine, just something in my eyes, probably it’s all the soot and grime from the train journey.” She turned and flashed a smile which seemed to stun him for a while.
But Horse could not be fooled, he came to sit at her feet and regarded her with pensive dark brown eyes.
Wow Man! This girl is not only a powerhouse of talent but is also a raving beauty! You need to be careful around her or you just might get carried away! Shan thought trying to tear his eyes away from Khanak who managed to look gorgeous even in her run down day old clothes.
She colored under his intense gaze,”You have a beautiful place! Ismein aap ke saath aur kaun rehta hai?” (Who else lives with you here?)
“Aap? Please call me tum! I don’t like formalities!” He paused waiting for her to comply.
“Okay Tum“ (You/informal.)This guy is certainly temperamental!
He smiled appearing satisfied, “That’s better and to answer your question.. No, nobody else lives here other than me and Horse of course!” He said gesturing towards the huge Akita.”As far as I can tell, I am the sole King of this roost!”
“What? No one else?” She asked feeling suddenly nervous,”No parents, no brothers or sisters?”
“Nope!” He shrugged his shoulders. “My family doesn’t live in Mumbai. In fact we don’t exactly get along but that’s a long story! Though I have to admit sometimes it gets lonely here.” But not anymore, now that I have someone to share it with.“ He grinned giving her a slight wink.
This was not at all what she had expected, but the Mumbai experience so far had been full of surprises.“No! I, I can’t live here! I didn’t know..that, you lived alone!” Khanak said twirling one end of thin fabric of her dupatta around her fingers while her mind raced trying to figure a way out.
“Why, what’s the problem?” He asked casually. “I have plenty of space to spare, and Horse who is usually the biggest hurdle seems to have taken very well to you! In fact he seems to like you better than his own master even!” He looked wryly at his dog who seemed to have appointed himself as Khanak’s personal shadow.
“I’m sorry! I should have asked you to take me to a hotel tonight, then I could look for a rental tomorrow.” She replied .
“Why? Why do you need to do that?” He was puzzled, “You are free to stay here as long as you like, I’m not expecting any company. In fact it’ll be most convenient to be able to work with you on your skills and so on.”
“You don’t understand, I just can’t stay here alone with you! It wouldn’t be right!” She declared nervously. When he raised his eyebrows still not getting her dilemma, she thought, he’s either terribly naive or an awesome actor. “In the society that I come from, single girls and guys living together isn’t socially acceptable!” She elaborated patiently.
“Oh! I’m sorry, I should have realized that you belong to the old school. I thought you were a modern and progressive woman of today but instead you seem to have erupted from the dark ages! Boys and girls cannot be friends etc, etc.” He laughed and she detected a certain amount of derisive amusement in it. He wasn’t acting casual anymore,rather he looked irritated. “My interest in you is purely professional and nothing beyond that. I can’t say that I won’t touch you, I have too, the dancing entails it. But I give you my solemn promise that I’ll not step over the line. I don’t go about forcing myself on women especially those who aren’t my type!”
“Okay alright! You don’t have to lecture me, I’ve had a long day. It’s too late to go looking for a hotel right now, so please stay here tonight. I can have someone help you find other accommodations in the morning.” He said looking frustrated.
She didn’t like the idea but didn’t know what else to do, there was nobody else she could turn to without raising an alarm regarding her whereabouts. She was at his mercy and she didn’t like it. Perhaps I shouldn’t have come here after all, maybe Anand would have understood? No, I can’t go back! Anything is better than leading a cloistered existence! I’m sure chachu would not hesitate to restrict my movements, he may even put me under house arrest! Khanak shuddered at the very thought and decided that staying here was the lesser of two evils.
“Huh?” For a moment she had forgotten where she was.
“I’m sorry! I shouldn’t have said all that! You’ve been travelling without proper rest or food and me here acting so insensitive!” His charm was back in full vigor, he appeared a different man altogether.
He walked down a long corridor and held open a door. “here’s a guest room, you are welcome to use it to freshen up and change if you wish.”
“No, I’ll be fine.” She hesitated.
“Hey don’t worry, you can lock the door from the inside. And even if you don’t, I always knock. I know you’ll be itching to wash up after your long journey.” He said encouragingly.
“Thanks, I think I’ll change.” She uttered gratefully walking past him into the large room.
“Horse don’t! The lady needs her privacy!” He shouted as his Akita followed her inside.
“It’s alright, he seems harmless. I think I’m starting to like him.” She said with a slight smile before closing the door.
“Lucky Dog!” Shan whispered before sauntering back into the living room thinking a dog’s life wasn’t too bad at all.
After sometime when Khanak ventured back from the guest room, she was surprised to hear the sounds of loud jovial laughter against the background of some lovely Jazz music.
She hesitated standing in the periphery seeing that her host had been joined by a couple of others, an extremely thin, anorexic looking girl who was literally hanging onto Shan’s arm looking like she could hardly support her own weight and a tall athletic looking man who was lounging against the kitchen island with his back toward her. The girl was wearing a halter top and a tiny skirt while the man was wearing a sleeveless T and shorts which showed off his long, slim and powerful legs.
Khanak felt overdressed when she glanced down at her deep mauve suit which though a perfect fit covered her completely. Maybe I should get into something less formal, she thought heading back to the room when Shan called out.
“Hey Khanak, we’ve been waiting for you! Tarun, Trish! I present to you our new lead dancer Ms. Khanak Mishra! And Khanak meet Tarun and Trish, the weirdest brother and sister duo in the world. Tarun also happens to be the lead dancer of my company.”
“What? That’s great news Shan!” The young man called Tarun spun around to look at her and his eyes widened in surprise.
Khanak saw the resemblance between the brother and sister right away, they had the exact same eyes, but Tarun was by far more good looking and he wore his wavy hair slightly long which framed his high cheeked boned face to perfection.
Was Shan drunk when he chose this girl in the lead role? Tarun stared unabashed at Khanak, not believing that she fit their requirements.She’s a stunner alright but looks more like a village belle than somebody who can swing a leg or twist a hip he thought while looking enquiringly at Shan who knew exactly what was going on in his mind. He grinned and took him aside.
“She’s my surprise package.”
“What surprise package, darling? She looks like she’s going to stand up anytime and advertise for a washing detergent! Look at the amount of clothes she’s wearing! Does she even understand the language we are speaking?” Trish said pertly wrinkling her nose at Khanak.
“Trish! If you talk like that to my guest I’ll ask you to leave right away!”
Khanak laughed good naturedly, “Oh I didn’t mind that! That is truly quite funny Trish! Is that your name? By the way my name is Khanak, and it’s really nice to meet you.” She extended a hand toward her..
“Ahh! At least you can speak and no I’m not really pleased to meet you.” Trish walked away without giving her a second glance.
“Let’s see if you can dance to this!” Tarun in the meantime had changed the music. “It’s swing time!”
He took Khanak’s hand and pulled her to the center of the room and started to swing her around twisting and turning so quickly that she felt lightheaded.
“Tarun stop it! You are being rude! She hasn’t had anything to eat or drink in a long time! Are you alright?” Shan asked jumping to her aid.
“No, I’m fine.” She said recovering quickly and smiled.”It was just so sudden.”
She took a long sip of the water that Tarun offered, he was feeling guilty. “Can you play it again?” She asked and as Tarun obliged, started to dance on her own expertly. “You know I used to watch some old Fred Astaire movies with my Guru who was his big fan and an expert tap dancer to boot!”
“Wow! That’s awesome!” Tarun shouted joining her and threw her into a spin and this time she didn’t complain. Shan watched the two with an inscrutable look on his face while Trish looked on with marked surprise and obvious jealousy.
“I think that’s enough for tonight! Ms. Mishra has proven that she can dance and quite well at that! But modern dance is quite a different ballgame altogether! We will test those waters tomorrow!” Shan announced curtly before stopping the music though it took a while for Tarun to let Khanak go.
Later after all of them had finished a quick Pizza dinner, Khanak lay on the bed in the guest room acutely missing her old home, not sure how long could she manage to stay away. “I wonder what is it about me that is so upsetting to him?” Khanak wondered while Shan stood staring out at the brilliantly lit skyline thinking just the same.