Navratri- Celebration of the Divine Feminine

Durga Puja-1

Navratri  (in Sanskrit meaning Nine Nights) is the celebration of the feminine divine.  During this festival nine forms of Shakti or Devi are worshiped. She is the ultimate embodiment of creative energy and celebrating her is considered most auspicious. This is one of the most important festivals of the Hindus and is celebrated all over India and the opportunity arrives twice a year: in the beginning of spring and autumn.

Just as India is a land of many languages and cultures, the celebration of Navratri too takes various forms. In West Bengal, the last four days are celebrated as Durga Puja where exquisitely decorated life size clay dolls of the Goddess depicted as slaying the demon Mahisasura are set up and on the fifth day are immersed in the river.

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In Maharashtra and Gujarat, the festival is celebrated with the energetic Garba and Dandiya Raas dances.

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In South India steps are set up and decorated with dolls in an arrangement called Golu.

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The festival culminates in on the tenth day in Vijayadashami meaning ‘victory on the tenth day’ which refers to Lord Rama’s victory over the ten headed demon Ravana as well as that of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahisasura.

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Rhythm&Blues Chap 14: Shattered Dreams

shattered dreams

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14: Shattered Dreams

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“Hello there!” Called out an authoritative voice while a strong hand grasped Shan firmly by the shoulder stopping him in his tracks.

Irked at the interruption, he turned around and was confronted by an imposing specimen of manhood… tall, slim, and square of shoulder, it was obvious this guy hailed from the armed forces…and after a careful perusal of the distinguished features marred by a linear scar on the right temple, Shan figured that he was a close relative. Khanak’s brother or cousin perhaps? Gosh..I hardly know anything about her.

He smiled and shook the proffered hand, concluding that it wouldn’t be prudent to cross any of Khanak’s relatives, particularly if he wished to form closer alliances in the future. Heck! What am I thinking about?

“Hi! I am Shyam..the bride’s brother! Am so sorry to startle you, but you see mom has given me the task of making myself familiar with as many guests as possible. Being away stationed on the border for months on end, I hardly know my own family..let alone anyone else! You must be one of Anand’s college friends’. I’m assuming so, because I know all his school ones!” He roared laughing out loud as if finding the thought quite funny.

Shan guessed Anand was the bridegroom.

“He must have sent you to spy for him. That chap has very little patience. Has been that way ever since he was 5 yrs old. I don’t know how Khanak handled him. Both of them always got along very well.”

Shan felt a sudden chill as Shyam’s voice trailed off and a look of pique settled over his jovial features.

“Hello? Neengal yaaru? Who is this Shyam?”

The welcome interruption came from a dignified middle aged woman wrapped in a bright orange sari who appeared to have been perusing him curiously for some time now. She was carrying a tray loaded with steel tumblers filled with aromatic filter coffee and was quite obviously jostling with way too many things at the same time.. Shan guessed that she was the lady of the house: Shyam’s mother and Khanak’s aunt.

He gratefully accepted the brew his hostess offered him. “I am Shan… Khandelwal.” He said with a respectful incline of his head, glad that Shyam excused himself at the exact time. He didn’t want to irritate him any further.

“I meant to ask who are you? I haven’t seen you around before. Are you Anand’s friend?” She asked again, this time with a pleasant smile which perked up her wan and tired features. Time hadn’t been kind to her of late.

“No..I’m not his friend..and I’m from Mumbai.”

She didn’t speak waiting for him to elaborate.

“I…” He glanced at his feet. “I’ve come with Khanak.”

“What?!” Komal stared at him disbelievingly. “You are here with Khanak? She’s here?” She raised her hands to her face in delight, unable to contain her happiness. “My baby is here? Poor thing..how is she? Is she all right? I can’t even begin imagine how she’s been living..surviving all by herself in that big city, with no one to cook for her or take care of her..she has never been away from home for more than a few days at the most.”

“You needn’t worry. She’s well taken care of, she lives with me…”

Komal didn’t think she heard him right. “She lives with you?”

Shan nodded reassuringly. “Yes, you needn’t worry about her.”

“I can’t believe it. Khanak…my Khanak, living with a man?! How could she? What happened to make her stoop so low? She isn’t that kind of a girl!”

“No..no..Mrs Mishra! You are mistaken!” Shan rushed to clear the air. “Rest assured. It isn’t like what you think. Khanak would never besmirch your name or her’s for that matter. I own a dance company and she works for me. I’m her employer. She’s let’s say my Paying Guest for now as she hasn’t found other suitable accommodations.”

“Oh I see.” Komal calmed down considerably but she continued to inspect him in silence.

Shan was growing edgy. He badly wanted to meet this Anand, wanting to know what he was like and judge him for himself. Was Khanak with him now?

He looked Mrs Mishra straight in the eye as he had nothing to fear or hide. His intentions toward Khanak had been always honorable and would continue to remain so.

Finally she asked with a broad smile. “What kind of employer accompanies his employee unless he or she is someone special?”

“Khanak is someone special. She is very special to me.” He replied having never sounded more sincere in his life.

She nodded in approval. “I gathered as much beta.” Then she stood up and gestured at him while casting a quick glance around. “Come with me. We need to talk some more.”

–xxx–

Khanak ran out of the room, down the single flight of stairs and onto the street, her feet automatically turning in the direction she had taken countless number of times in the past. Down to the end of the narrow road, around the corner where Raghu the fruit vendor parked his cart every day under the shade of the huge Gulmohar tree which was now a brilliant mass of scarlet. After a few months it along with its neighbors would shed and transform the entire street into a lush red carpet.

‘Here’s our very own Oscars Khanak!’ She remembered Anand saying, as he offered his arm which she’d accept willingly and then they’d parade up and down as if they were in the world’s most brilliant spotlight.

“Khanak?...Tum kaisi ho beti?” (How are you, child?) Raghu, the vendor, hailed her. Though born and bred a Tamilian, Raghu had attempted to learn Hindi from Khanak and always made an effort to speak to her in the same tongue.

She smiled and waved at him but didn’t stop to admire the big golden juicy mangoes that never failed to entice her. Instead she hurried on, hooking a right down another more secluded path.

It was a beloved path; of simple joys; of innocent pranks and mischief. A path she’d take without hesitation at any time of the day to escape from the present, to relive the period of unfettered childhood or just to find a friend who would provide her with unconditional comfort, no questions asked.

Khanak’s heart wept for those bygone days, her eyes welling up with a torrent of spontaneous tears mourning the loss of something that’d never be hers again. She stopped at the large iron gate which led to a grand old house and wondered if she should turn around and leave without meeting her friend and forget about everything.

No..I can’t. He is still my best buddy, and I can’t rest till I speak with him.

She didn’t see any signs of activity. It seemed like the entire house was mourning a death rather than celebrating a new beginning.

He wouldn’t leave. Anand was never a shirker. Khanak thought as she unknowingly took the familiar route she’d always taken, avoiding the main door to escape Mrs. Vaidyanathan’s sharp eyes, instead skirting to the left toward her friend’s room. The window was open as usual. She hesitated before standing on her tip toes and glancing inside.

“Anand?” She called out in a loud whisper..and waited for several moments before turning away in disappointment.

“Khanak is that you?”

“Anand!”

There he was. Her dear friend smiling, like always. His face alive with cheeky mischief as their eyes met and shared secrets privy only to them.

But then his smile vanished and he was no longer her best friend.

She didn’t want him to turn away. “Please..can you let me in..just this one last time?”

He stood still for what felt like eternity before letting her in through the side door and into his room.

Feeling awkward all of a sudden, she dropped her eyes unable to meet his gaze as he stared at her unblinkingly.

“You grow more beautiful by the day Khanak.” He said in a tender whisper.

She looked up and saw regret in those intelligent and warm eyes. They looked unusually deep set and were surrounded by dark circles. The laughter lines had faded from around his sensitive mouth.

Anand was someone whom people would call as quietly good looking. Never much of a talker, except when he was in her company, making enough of an impression with his superior height, intellect and demeanor, that everyone sat up and took notice without him having to utter a word. She had envied him this gift and had never failed to tease him about it..

He’d just laugh in reply and pooh pooh her by saying. “Your beauty outshines everybody else in the room Khanak. I’m flattered tremendously if you happen to take notice of me.”

“Why are you here Khanak?”

His voice brought her rudely back to the present. She chose to ignore the question. “What happened to us Anand?”

“We grew up. That’s what happened.” He said cynically. “Answer me Khanak. Why are you here? To show me what I’ll be losing?”

“Anand..please! You know I’d never do that! Don’t make me feel guilty for something that isn’t under my control.”

“Then why..why now..why today?”

“I..I got a call from Shree..that she was getting married and she wanted me there. I couldn’t say no. But I didn’t know that you were the one…”

“So are you surprised?”

“Yes…I am. I don’t understand. Nothing is clear to me.. Why does she have to get married now and ..and why to you? Didn’t..didn’t you say you’ll wait for me Anand?”

He regarded her for a long time, head slightly tilted to one side as always and then smirked. “I’d have waited a lifetime for you Khanak…but now I know whatever you said that day was just to make me feel better..while actually you had no intention to see it through.”

Khanak hadn’t given enough thought to the subject, but deep down suspected he was right..yet. “That may or may not be true..only time will tell..but why such a hurry? And why my sister? Are you marrying her on the rebound?”

“Rebound!” His laugh was acidic. “Oh my god Khanak! What do you think I am…a vengeful lover or a crazed fiend to even think of doing such a thing to a friend. I’m deeply hurt.”

She could see that he was and at once hated herself for even thinking along those lines. “I am sorry to have said that..but I still can’t figure it out..my mind is in a jumble.”

He plopped down on the edge of his bed and tented his fingers under his sharp chin, while resting elbows on his bent knees. “I don’t know what to say, rather I have no idea who I am anymore.. After your sudden disappearance for no apparent reason, my parents made up their minds that there was no way they’d accept you as my bride and despite my pleas to wait for some news from your side, though you never cared to inform me about your leaving, “ he threw an accusing glance her way, “they raised a big hue and cry about it. Then your uncle as compensation offered Shreya’s hand…and my parents reluctantly agreed. It never crossed anyone’s mind to consult me or ask me if I wished to get married at all!”

“In fact it surprised me no end when your sister agreed. I was shattered! I… am still in shock! I hate my life Khanak!” He exclaimed, his eyes filled with censure and torment. “Tell me..do I have any way out of this hell? Or should I run away too?”

“No Anand.”

“Go away Khanak. Please go away!” He cried in anguish as his noble head dropped into his cupped hands.

The tears finally sprung from her eyes. She couldn’t bear to see the lives of the two most precious people in the world destroyed and all due to something she’d done, albeit she still didn’t feel she’d taken the step in error.

She stepped up to him, her voice trembling yet clear. “I am willing to marry you Anand. If that’d make you happy.”

tbc

Rhythm&Blues Chap 13: Hearts of Glass

hearts of glass

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13: Hearts of Glass

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Tongues wag. They do so for various reasons but the most substantial among them is because they don’t want to adopt a state of dormancy–that’d be akin to ringing a death knell!

Over the past few weeks the busy tongues along a serene and conservative street of the upscale beachside Chennai neighborhood of Besant Nagar were having the time of their lives. They were reaping a golden harvest. From dawn to dusk, in the courtyard of the Ashtalakshmi temple along the shores of Elliot’s beach, even under the Banyan tree of the renowned Kalakshetra Academy you could eavesdrop on the following prattle:

‘The elder Mishra girl has run away and wonder of wonders she has shunned the match of a lifetime- Anand Vaidyanathan! Now who in her right mind would even consider flirting with such an option?!’

‘ The girl is definitely not all there!’ This was the foregone conclusion accompanied by a sympathetic head shake.

‘Poor Srinivas and Komal Mishra.. They have committed no sin by coming forward to take care of their orphaned niece. How were they to anticipate the ungrateful girl would pay them back this way?’

Therefore on a pleasant Spring day in April when a brand new shining ‘phoren’ sedan came to a screeching halt in front of this  infamous Mishra household, the aforementioned tongues wagged and twisted themselves into a feverish frenzy.

Dressed in a simple yellow and green raw silk salwar suit with the crinkled shawl drawn over her elegant head and across the lower portion of her face so to appear as innocuous as possible, Khanak entered her former home and rushed at once to find her cousin.

She stood outside the room which not so long ago had been to her as familiar as her very own and hesitated. She felt like an unwanted intruder.

It was packed with women talking in loud voices creating a happy din, one that is so prosaic in a house preparing for a wedding.

She stood there for several moments and listened, catching random phrases enunciated in lilting tones.

Ahhh Savitri amma..aapke haathon mein jo jaadoo hai..Dekho…Dulhan ke kesh…kitne khoobsoorat lag rahe hain na? .(there is unique magic in your hands.. Behold..the bride’s tresses..how lovely they look..don’t they?)

“Kya? What..? Tamil mein (speak in Tamil)..I don’t understand!”

A trill of amused laughter. “Never mind! You are the best Savitri amma!”

Khanak smiled too. Yes, Savitri amma was the local expert on hair design, especially when it came to braiding it with fresh flowers. She inhaled deeply, the sweet aromatic fragrance of jasmine, rose, and marigold, fresh from the fields and it brought back bittersweet memories.

“Look! The Henna’s color shows up so deep! Shreya beti, don’t you worry , you’ll have no problems holding your husband’s interest.”

So it was true, her cousin was indeed getting married. She needed to talk to her.

“Shree!”

All of a sudden, the noise and clamor in the room was replaced by a palpable silence. Khanak could feel the crackling tension as twelve pairs of eyes zeroed in on her, in uniform disbelief.

She looked around in trepidation as mouths dropped open and scandalized whispers filled the air.

Not a soul sprung up to greet her and make her feel welcome. These were friends, neighbors, and members of her family, who at one time had been diehard fans and well wishers but were now acting aloof. They were treating her like an exile, an undesirable, a pariah. They had uniformly passed judgment without hearing a word in her defense and she thought she knew them well.

“What?! Bubbly di’s here?”

The group parted and a figure which she barely recognized flung herself into her arms and began to weep.”You came di, you came! Oh..I’m so happy! This is all that I wanted!”

“Shree! Now, now don’t spoil your makeup.” Khanak said affecting a smile, though her heart was in a turmoil. She wasn’t prepared for this. Evrything seemed too forced and artificial.”You call and I don’t come? How is it possible?” Holding her cousin back by the shoulders, she appraised her critically, looking for any signs of duress; she found none. Shreya looked eager and excited like any new bride with a glimmer of apprehension in her eyes which was to be expected. Dressed in a heavy red Kanchipuram silk sari with elaborate zari work, beautifully complemented with exquisitely detailed gold jewelry in traditional design handed down multiple generations of the Mishra family, her pretty face glowing with minimum of makeup, Shreya looked lovely and all grown up.

“How do I look di?” She asked anxiously twirling around slowly, her hands clasped demurely below her waist.

“You look stunning Shree! Just perfect! Your husband is a very lucky man!”

The bride’s bright smile faltered. “But he may not think so.”

“Why? Why wouldn’t he?”

Her cousin hesitated, then turned away walking back to the middle of the room, her upbeat habitus undergoing a drastic change.

“Because Anand is still obsessed with you Khanak, that’s why!”

There was a long pause as Khanak stood with a stunned expression on her face.

She looked at the woman who had spoken the words, hoping that she was making it up, that it was a horrible joke. But Mrs. Dutta who had a rare gift of making light of even the worst of circumstances, wasn’t smiling at all. Indeed she looked dead serious.

But Khanak wasn’t prepared to accept it, she needed further confirmation. She ran to where Shreya was sitting and pulled her around. “Tell me Shree, please tell me, it’s not true.”

Her sister didn’t say anything but Khanak could see the answer clearly in her eyes and it made her furious. How could her uncle play such a cruel game?! What was he trying to prove?

She exclaimed, “I can’t believe it! Why Shree? Why are you being forced to pay for something that I’ve done? How can chachu do this to you? This is so unfair!” Khanak’s slight figure shook with righteous fury as she marveled at how manipulative her uncle had become. Was he using his own daughter to get back at his niece..or was he offering her as a sacrifice to save his own larger than life reputation?

Shree who had never before seen this avatar of her Bubbly di except when she took to the stage to play the vengeful Kali or Parvati, became apprehensive.

She glanced around, all the ladies in the room were watching the two cousins with their eyes wide open, Aankhen phad kar as they say, absorbing the goings on with unsuppressed delight. She knew it’d be just a matter of hours before the news of the prodigal’s return would have spread like wildfire all over the community. Placing a calming hand on her sister’s shoulder she tried to hustle her out. “Di! Please..it’s not what you think. I’ll  explain, lets speak in private.”

“Don’t try to pacify me Shree!” Her sister retorted, but then allowed herself to be led into a much quieter neighboring room that happened to be her own.

Her eyes panned around in surprise. Everything appeared almost exactly as she had left it, nothing had been moved or shifted…the pictures on the walls of all her idols, her gurus and her own most proud achievements; the elaborate makeup kit which she kept on the dresser containing all the powder, paints and embellishments which were used to transform her from the ordinary Khanak Mishra to the Khanak Mishra- danseuse par excellence, and the little Nataraja shrine where she had paid her daily obeisances before and after her rigorous practice sessions. She went down on her knees and genuflected before the deity having sorely missed the ritual which had become part of her daily routine.

“Yes di.” Shree’s voice interjected amidst Khanak’s musings, “papa didn’t want to keep any trace of you in the house, but mama wouldn’t let him touch a thing saying that she hoped you’ll be back some day to claim what is rightfully yours, though I think she hoped in vain.”

Khanak blinked away her tears. “Komal chachi is probably the best mother any girl could aspire to have..but as you say its fruitless to dwell on the ghosts of the past.”

She wrestled to redirect her mind back to the current problem. “Alright..don’t try to distract me now,” she said assuming a stern stance. “What rubbish did I hear out there?” She demanded pointing a shaking finger toward the room they’d just left.

Her cousin muttered, looking down as if she was guilty of a major crime. “Yes, it’s true. I am getting married to Anand.”

“Then you are being coerced into it! I will talk to chachu right now. ” Khanak retorted. “I can’t let him do this to you!” She marched to the door.

“No di…,” Shree stood in her way. “It’s true papa asked me but he didn’t force me. I said yes willingly.”

“You did?..I don’t believe it. He probably tried to show you the moral high ground. Can’t you see that it’s his ploy. You are the sacrificial goat?”

Her cousin remained unmoved.”No di..I mean it. I..I want to marry Anand.”

Khanak’s furrowed her brow in consternation before bursting out in wry laughter. “Don’t try to pull wool over my eyes dear cousin! Wasn’t it just a few days ago that you were preparing to hold a swayamvar…and now you say this?”

Shree colored, “you may not believe it, but I’ve had a crush on Anand since 5th grade. He was the best. Good in everything he undertook and a gentleman too.”

“You never told me about it.,” Her sister remarked dubiously.

“Maybe because I thought both of you were meant for each other, you with your beauty and talent and he with his brains and charisma, a perfect match made in heaven.” Shree shrugged. “Anyway..he’d never even look at me when you were around. I was always the annoying Kabab mein haddi!”

Khanak stared at her trying to sort the true meaning of what she was hearing. “You are such an innocent child!” She said lifting her cousin’s chin. “you don’t know what you are saying. Marriage isn’t a board game that you put away when you get bored. It’s a lifelong commitment. You are being victimized and you don’t even know it.”

“No..di..that isn’t true..papa said.”

“Yes exactly..papa said…” Khanak smiled grimly. “This is not happening..this is just not happening! Something smells really rotten here and I have to stop this outrage!” She declared before flinging the door open and running out.

A short while ago;

“Thanks.. I think I will take it from here. This is something I brought upon myself, so I should face it alone.” Khanak said to Shan as soon as he pulled up the black Audi in front of the Mishra digs.

With his hands resting on the wheel he scrutinized her slowly. He couldn’t help but admire the guts this girl possessed. After fleeing from a life of forced bondage she was willing to confront the lion in his own lair? To what end?

She unlocked the door.

“What if you don’t come back?”

She twisted around and he saw those luminous doe shaped eyes probing his face, as if rummaging for his true intentions. He cleared his throat. “Uh…umm. I mean what happens to our contract?”

S***! He cursed himself when he saw her  gaze harden, and wished he could retract those words. They sounded harsh and impersonal, but wasn’t that how she defined their relationship?

“Don’t worry. I’ll try my best to keep out of chachu’s way.” She said, her tone matter of fact as she draped her shawl over her lovely head drawing the crinkled edge across the bottom half of her face leaving only those huge black eyes exposed.

Now who wouldn’t recognize those beauties? He wondered.

“Anyways I think chachu will behave himself today…at least I hope he will, “ she muttered before opening the door of the car and hurrying toward the house.

“Damnit!” His palm thumped hard on the horn, making him jump. “This is getting more and more contorted! I can’t let it happen! She can’t get away so easily!” He jumped out of the car and tried to hail her but she’d already disappeared inside the house..

He paced up and down on the sidewalk before choosing to venture in. There wasn’t anybody who knew him here. Besides he was in dire need for nourishment. (Khanak had rushed him here direct from the airport without stopping anywhere in between for brunch..) What did she take him to be? Her wind up monkey??

He couldn’t prevent his lips from flirting with a smile. It felt good to be ordered around for a change, especially if the person doing the ordering was Khanak.

The bungalow was nice, not huge and palatial like his old home where a kid could get easily lost and escape detection for days, but manageable.  The Mishra house was a medium sized two story house with a cream facade sporting a fresh coat of paint and pretty red tiles on the roof.

There was a large garden area up front with rose bushes bordering the drive way.. but it appeared to be suffering from lack of a nurturing hand, perhaps Khanak’s. He could easily picture her, an avid amateur gardener happily pottering around the yard.

There wasn’t much fanfare or hullabaloo around like you’d expect in a traditional wedding. It seemed like the Mishras were treating it as a relatively quiet family affair. Only the two young banana plants which bordered the entryway belied that something auspicious was going on inside.

He gingerly stepped into the main hallway taking care to discard his shoes outside as he had seen others do and was immediately greeted by a shower of fragrant water.

“Vaangha!” (Welcome in Tamil.)

“Namaskaram!”

Brushing his pale brown linen jacket he turned to the right to find a couple of teen girls dressed in brightly colored silk pattu pavadais (South Indian formal attire,) smiling and giggling.

“Hey stop!” He shouted when they one of them dared to douse him again.

“Don’t worry, it won’t stain, it’s part of the warm welcome.” The girl giggled. She was tall and thin like a reed, and seemed to find his discomfiture extremely entertaining. “Haven’t you been to a wedding before?”

He shrugged. “Not here in the South.”

“Oh… so whose guest are you?”

He hesitated at a loss.

“I think he is with Khanak di..I’m pretty sure I spied her run upstairs just a few minutes ago.”The other girl chipped in, proving much more observant than her friend.

“Really?!” The tall thin girl stared at him, her mouth forming a big ‘O’.

He quickly hurried past, not waiting for them to alert the whole house, he didn’t want to place Khanak in any more trouble than she was already in.

So this is the place Khanak pines for so much! He thought looking around the quaint surroundings. He could easily place Khanak there. The large airy living area wasn’t loud and garish but elegant and tastefully decorated which complimented her persona to a T. He deduced  the lady of the house shared many of her niece’s quirks and traits.

Suddenly he wished he had come here under better pretenses, perhaps as a… He didn’t dare continue the train of thought.

But right now the place was anything but serene. It appeared that he had landed in the midst of a brouhaha, an organized pandemonium.

He recalled attending another wedding not too long ago..that of a long standing acquaintance (there are very few ‘friends’ in the entertainment industry,) when he had secretly shuddered at the conceited extravagance of the whole sordid affair. The garishly overdone guests with their painted faces and fake smiles vying for  umpteen photo ops…They were probably there for the free booze.. but what made it worse was that the bride and groom were taking the plunge for the 3rd time, making them seasoned veterans of the marriage bed; that very minor detail taking away the innocence.. instead making the entire deal crass and vulgar.

But this was situation was different…rushed yes…frenzied yes..but charming regardless.

He surveyed the crowd as they observed him with candid curiosity–one a handsome stranger who appeared to have walked straight out of the pages of GQ magazine (Shan had taken care to dress down,) while the others, most of them women, akin a large group of peacocks at a rave party.

The best part of it all was the music. He could hear strains of the lively scintillating sound of the reed instrument, the Nadaswaram in harmony with the rhythmic beats of the drum, the Thavil. It was haunting, soulful with a touch of the divine and  was emanating from the back of the house. He felt his steps turn in the said direction of their own accord.


This was perfect. He just hoped Khanak escaped unscathed.

Here’s a lovely rendition of the Nadaswaram as played at a South Indian Wedding

Walk With The Dinosaurs

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Yes you can! Literally! At Dinosaur Ridge National Natural Landmark located in Morrison, Colorado which is just west of Denver. It is where some of the world’s best known dino fossils were found including Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, Stegosaurus and Allosaurus. Here you will find beautifully preserved dinosaur tracks and bones of the Jurassic (144-208 million years ago) and Cretaceous period (144-65 million years ago) which were first discovered in 1877.  Being there is like taking a monumentous step back in time.

Rhythm&Blues Chap 12: Smooth

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Chapter Links

12: Smooth

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“Ooooohhhhhhhmmmmmm” A sound emanating from the depths of the eternal soul. “Shanti, Shanti.”

Clear your mind. Control your breath. Elevate your soul to a higher plane.. Call on your inner strength. Forget who you are, what you are, your purpose in life. Merge yourself with the supreme. Breathe in..breathe out..in…out..in.. There I’m getting it.

Bubbly di! Look! I got straight A’s just like you! Finally! Like you said if I really want something I can make it happen and I did…and it’s all because of you di! You are the Best!’

Shree… Sweet  young innocent Shree..with stars in her beautiful grey brown eyes, just like her Dad, though a lot more carefree and fun loving. Childlike, never wanting to grow up despite being all of twenty, just three years younger than her cousin.

Everybody said that Khanak grew up the very day her parents died. Every step she took wasn’t without considerable deliberation. Her behavior was exemplary, everybody looked up to her.

But see how it turned out? Khanak, (the one who could do no wrong) ran away bringing shame to the family, while Shree..young, flighty, irresponsible Shree chose to toe the line and get married. Married? The very thought made Khanak cringe! Was it some kind of a joke? No she’d sounded pretty serious on the phone..Then was it a trap? Was chachu behind all this? Was Anand…? No! Anand wouldn’t participate in such treachery..he simply wouldn’t! He’ll always be my friend before anything else. But people change. I’d  never have guessed he thought of me more than just a friend.

 

I mustn’t go. No I can’t. What if? But Shree sounded so desperate.. She sounded like she wanted to confide in me. Khanak wavered, her sister needed her.  It’s so difficult to take a decision. By going back I run the risk of losing everything I’ve gained–this new found freedom. Not this glitter and glamour but a lot more. All this excitement and adventure that I have embraced wholeheartedly. Thanks to him, the one with those intensely haunting eyes. The corners of Khanak lips curled into a hesitant smile. I have nothing to fear except myself.

Ouch!” The soles of her feet stung as if she had suddenly stepped on a sheet of ice.

“HORSE!”  A deep harsh voice rang out in rebuke, penetrating deep into her core.

Khanak staggered backwards from the ‘Vrksasana’ (tree) pose unable to hold her balance. But her fall was broken by a warm solid surface which implied an unusual sense of security yet at the same time a pulsating danger.She began trembling like a leaf.

“Khanak?” The same voice now soft, whispering intimately into her ear.  “I’m sorry but you see my bloody pet fancies himself in love with you. He always seems to get there before I do, as he possesses the courage of the innocent, unlike me.”

She could hear the poor creature whimpering. What did Shaan mean?

The tremors had eased replaced by something else she didn’t want to delve upon. Abashed, she tried to straighten her body and regain some semblance of composure, she was getting way too comfortable with him.

“No, don’t. Keep your eyes closed and lean on me.”

She complied trembling again as he interlaced his fingers through hers stretching her left arm straight out while guiding her right to rest on the flat of her stomach pressing her lower back on to his hips so she could feel his thighs glide against her gluts.  

“Why?” Breathless she was barely able to get the word out of her mouth as her body was assailed by sensations completely alien and forbidden.

“Umm..” His breath caressed the nape of her neck. “Well I was thinking of including a number in the show, where the heroine goes blind but doesn’t lose courage. Rather she capitalizes on her disability to reign supreme.”

“But how..?” She asked keeping her eyes closed as he threw her into a spin then caught her in his arms again. Her fingers clutched at his shirt. She felt lightheaded. Her breath came in shallow spurts as her pulse thundered in her ears. But she didn’t open her eyes, lest he’d see what she had been trying so hard to hide.

They were in the penthouse’s tastefully landscaped terrace garden–an oasis of tranquility high above the madding crowd below. Peppered with meticulously tended flora in a bewildering array of terracotta pots along with a sprinkling of exotic water features, the place gave an illusion of a land far, far away. They were surrounded by music wafting through strategically placed speakers. No one could ever consider taking the risk of separating the man from his music, that would be equivalent to committing sacrilege.

“It’s well known that in people who are blind, the other senses try to take over, and compensate for the loss, such as the sense of hearing, “ he said abruptly letting Khanak go and moving away drifting in a confusing circle. “You can easily tell which direction my voice is coming from because you tend to concentrate harder.” He smiled as she turned around and walked confidently to where he was standing.

“Similar is the sense of touch…” He blew gently on the unruly curls which had escaped her topknot making her shudder and scrunch her shoulders.

“But I can feel that even with my eyes open.” she said trying to cover up her confusion.

“Oh yes you can, but not as acutely, the same goes for the sense of smell,” He said closing his eyes and inhaling deeply. Her faint fragrance appeared much stronger, a lot more delectable, though he wasn’t able to place it. She was growing more exotic.

Man it’s a hot one

Like seven inches from the midday sun

I hear you whisper and the words melt everyone

But you stay so cool

My mu equita, my Spanish Harlem Mona Lisa

You’re my reason for reason

The step in my groove

And if you say this life ain’t good enough

I would give my world to lift you up

I could change my life to better suit your mood

Cause you’re so smooth

 

And just like the ocean under the moon

Well that’s the same emotion that I get from you

 

You got the kind of lovin’ that can be so smooth

Gimme your heart, make it real

Or else forget about it

I don’t get this feeling at all. Something is drastically wrong with me! Shan surmised as he held her close. In a way the Tango called for an extreme degree of contact, almost to the point of indecency but for him it was perfect, an excuse to hold her, chest to chest, hip to hip, thigh to thigh. It was like a sensual soiree, an orgy on the dance floor.

GOSH! How can a girl I’ve barely met throw my life completely out of gear? He glanced at Horse who was eyeing them mournfully. Sorry chap, she’s mine for the time being.

He gazed at her beauteous face, supported on the top of a long and graceful swan neck, which in turn urged the beholder to navigate his vision down to a limber and exquisitely shaped body whose every last iota pulsated with a vibrancy none could ignore.

He’d found her preoccupied all day, missing several of her cues, appearing least affected even when Tina had lost her temper and walked out in a big huff. But instead of giving her a stern slap on the wrist like Tina had expected him to, he’d just sidestepped his authority and let Khanak be.

Why? Why did he find himself on this self destructive path..why didn’t he  seem to  care if his precious show was a success or not? Nothing seemed to matter anymore except to have this lovely creature near him always, smiling her gorgeous smile. That was enough to keep him happy.

I’ll tell you one thing

If you would leave it would be a crying shame

In every breath and every word

I hear your name calling me out

Out from the barrio, you hear my rhythm from your radio

You feel the turning of the world so soft and slow

Turning you round and round

 

And if you say this life ain’t good enough

I would give my world to lift you up

I could change my life to better suit your mood

Cause you’re so smooth

 

And just like the ocean under the moon

Well that’s the same emotion that I get from you

You got the kind of lovin’ that can be so smooth

 

Gimme your heart, make it real

Or else forget about it

 

Smooth Santana

 

His hand jerked her head forward so she knew his sensuous mouth was just inches from hers, she could feel the imprint of his long strong fingers on the sinews of her lower back guiding her by firm subtle pressure into just the way he wanted her to move. They were perfectly attuned to each other, their movements complex yet precise and pure.

“What was up with you today? You were lost in some other world.Tina was extremely disappointed. It’s not like you.”

She sighed, “yes, I shouldn’t have. .I need to apologize to her.”

“You are anxious about your sister and her marriage. You’re feeling guilty about running away.”

She nodded, “how did you know?”

He ignored the question and deftly maneuvered her through the trellis densely overgrown with sweet smelling Jasmine. “Khanak, how many times should I say this? Soon I’ll start sounding like a broken record.” He twisted her around, propping her arms straight up and as she stood on tip toe, her body elongated and taut akin a violin string, he let his hands drift down slick and smooth along her torso in a intimate caress.

She moved away blushing deeply but he didn’t let her get too far, he couldn’t.

“Sorry  but it’s part of the dance.” He tried to get some control over his senses and reassemble his thoughts. “You are in your prime right now, at the brink of immense fame and fortune. You did what you felt was right and that was exactly what you needed to do. You listened to your calling because if you hadn’t you’d be sitting right now shackled to your unwanted spouse, stifled in your unhappy marriage. And all to what end? Just to satisfy your uncle’s ego?”

She opened her eyes and looked at him in silent awe. “But I have to go..I can’t let my sister down.”

He nodded. “Of course. Don’t worry I won’t let anybody take you away from me.” But then hurried to fix his error as soon as he saw her expression change to one of arch bewilderment.

“What I meant to say, is if  I let go of you, my main player, I’ll be finished. For the next 6 months at least you have an exclusive contract with me though I haven’t drawn up any papers to that effect. I’ll make sure it gets taken care of without delay.”

Her lips tightened into a thin line and her brow furrowed with understanding. She released herself from his embrace and said curtly, “You don’t have go to any such trouble, I will keep my end of the bargain; you have my word.  I have an early train to catch. Good night.”

“No…you are not going alone. I’m coming with you.”

She turned around fuming. “You don’t trust me?!”

“I do..but your chachu seems like a whole different ball game! There’s no way I can leave you unguarded in his company, because I’ve no one to replace you with.” Shan retorted matter of factly shrugging his shoulders. “I’ll have my agent book a couple of plane tickets for late tomorrow morning. Would that be alright?”

She nodded reluctantly seeing no way out. “Yes..I guess it’d be fine.” Then she walked away without a backward glance, her slim back hard and stiff.

 

At Diva’s the early next morning:

“Hey darling! Why are we wearing a grumpy look on that angelic face?”

‘By the way, the Khatri brothers are organizing their annual fashion show next week and they want us to be their guests of honor…I’ve asked Diva to be kind enough and get you fitted with some new outfits. We have no time to spare.’

“Go ahead and tell me what you need me to do Diva. “ Khanak said irritably. “I’m just a puppet who dances to the tune of my lord and commander. It doesn’t matter how I feel as long as the work gets done. In six months I’ll become just another fading memory.”

“Khanak my princess!” Diva propped her chin up and wagged his heavily arched eyebrows. “You sound miffed at my boy Shan!”

Khanak’s lips twisted into a smirk, “No, not really. He just woke me up from my daydream and not too soon I think. Better to know now than later…so I can look out for myself and not let my expectations run too high.”

“Oh Sweetheart!” Damon said fixing a stray curl in his strawberry blonde hair. “Please don’t talk in riddles, they make my head spin!”

He rushed toward a rack and pulled out several of what appeared to be exclusive designer outfits and laid them out with great reverence on the back of a red settee. “Do you know from where these came from? “

She shook her head in the negative unable to take her eyes off the exquisitely elegant display.

“They are from the best fashion houses in Milan–Versace, Armani, Prada, Valentino, Dolce Gabbana, Etru…you name it, it’s here!” He said caressing the luxurious fabrics with great tenderness. “and they were all handpicked for you by that stupid boy waiting patiently outside.” He pointed to the studio door.

“For me? I can’t…I don’t understand.” Khanak looked dumbfounded.

“Yes my girl, all of these are just for you and you alone! The must’ve cost an outrageous penny. Do you think he’d have gone to this extent for any regular employee?”

Khanak didn’t know what to think or say.

Meanwhile Shan glanced at his Bulgari and figured they weren’t going to make it. Has Diva suddenly discovered his bisexual roots? The very thought terrified him. He knocked urgently on the inner studio door.

“Oh Shan, you naughty boy! Don’t rupture an artery, I wasn’t planning on stealing your girl!” Diva rushed out tittering.

“She’s not my girl Diva! By the way..what happened to the outfit?”  He asked glancing briefly at Khanak who was staring at him bemused.

“It’s not considered lucky for the bridegroom to see his bride in her wedding gown before D Day young man!” Diva said, pausing for effect before breaking into a loud peal of laughter.

tbc

An Incurable Insanity Chap25: Amends

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Chapter Links

25: Amends

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There wasn’t really a chill in the air. Yet Ruhi was captured by an uncontrollable shiver as she stared up at the window of the dwelling they had just left. She had felt so much warmer and safer inside.

Shaan saw her draw her arms up to hug herself. “Are you all right?”

Their eyes locked briefly before his own fell reluctantly to his side. They waited till the lights turned off.

“Poor Mr. Lee, she’s going to give him a tough time,” Ruhi observed while smiling to herself as they slowly ambled together to the place they called home.

Not unlike you, sweetheart. Why do all women like to play hard to get? Not that there isn’t any thrill in the chase! Yet one does wish to be rewarded periodically. He saw his earnest appeal slide ineffectually off her slim back.

“Did you say something to me?” She paused midstep, hoping he had.

“Uh…no. I was just ruminating.”

“Over what?”

“That women, no matter how ancient, can easily twist a man around their finger, like Sunshine has Mr. Lee or Chang or whatever his name may be.”

“It can’t be done unless he wishes to be ensnared. He has to be a willing victim.”

Yes, that’s right. It’s just a game for you, isn’t it, Ruhi?

But she wasn’t attending to his thoughts. “It’s so nice to see someone in her situation to not have lost the will to live life to the fullest. I really wish her all the best, she deserves it.”

“Yes, she does indeed.” I owe her for today, or I’d never have gathered enough guts to say what I needed to say.

“I bet she is still watching us.” Ruhi stopped, glancing back still uptight. “I think I saw something move.”

“Must be that bird. I hate him!” Shaan declared with vehemence.

“Why? And he has a name, JJ.”

“Fine, JJ! All he did was curse me out in different tongues!”

Ruhi laughed. “You probably deserved it. Animals are much more intuitive than humans you know.”

“You think so?” Shaan erupted. Why does she not lose a single chance to tease me?

“Oh c’mon! There’s no need to get crabby now. He’s a sweetheart, besides he sang for me!”

“Oh, so you wish to be serenaded, do you?”

“I’m certainly not immune to it.” She became pensive. “It just feels good that someone thinks me worthy enough…”

“Ruhi, I—”

But she didn’t let him finish. “Oh yes! What was all that about?”

He raised his brow, feigning puzzlement.

“I, I mean by what you said there, in Sunshine’s house, in her presence.” She was getting all rattled, and he was relishing it.

“Oh that…”

“Yes. What were you driving at?”

Okay, my man, here goes… He cleared his throat. “Ruhi, you know I have never willfully lied to you. I have always been honest.” Even though I was fooling myself.

“So you wish to imply that your words weren’t in jest? She sought his face under the deceptive shadows of a street lamp probing for a sign, any hint that he may not be telling the truth.

His eyes did not waver. “I would never play with your emotions.”

“Then what you told me not once but twice and not so long ago has all of a sudden become a thing of the past?” she demanded incredulously.

Damn! I knew she would put me in a spot. I can’t afford to appear flaky. He inhaled a cautious breath. “At the moment, I did mean it. But now that I’ve gotten to know you, it’s not the same.”

She let forth a peal of mocking laughter. “So I’m supposed to discount the hurt and the insult?”

“I cannot take back what I said, and sorry is not a word that I like to use much! All I can say is that when we met, we were complete strangers, and I wasn’t a rational being. The second time I was so vexed that I just wanted to live in isolation. You were not to fault at all!”

“So does that mean you and uhh…Des are no more?” The subtle relent in her tone sent a surge of hope through his veins.

“We are absolutely not! She was just someone I hung on to because at the time I was floundering in the dark, then…”

“Then?”

“Then you came into my life and everything changed and…” His eyes said the rest.

She wanted to believe in him more than ever, but her mind advised her to be watchful, she couldn’t afford another heartbreak. “So what do you propose to do now?”

“I…” He fell silent. But I cannot tell her how I feel; she won’t believe me. She would wonder how could somebody fall in and out of love so quickly. She won’t understand that I really never was in love with Des. It was all an illusion, make-believe. He regarded his scuffed-up shoes for inspiration. “In the past few weeks, I have gotten used to having you around. I look forward to talking to you, to seeing your face every day when I wake up and before I go to sleep.”

“But I irritate you and bicker with you, what of that?”

“It doesn’t matter at all. Rather, I feel it is an expression of our getting more comfortable with each other. I want you! I, I need you to be with me always, by my side.” He approached closer, “And I hope we can make it work, you and me as man and wife. I’m willing to give it my best.” There, it’s out! How will she take it?

It was her turn to look down at her shoes; she hadn’t expected it. It was too much too soon, and she couldn’t digest it. She couldn’t think! She tapped her feet and looked down the path. Her legs were itching to go on a run, away, far away from this madness he was creating inside her!

Then all of a sudden, she turned to him fumbling with her jacket, “C’mon! Help me with this stupid zipper. Hurry!”

“What’s going on, Ruhi?” Did my revelation affect my spouse so much that she has taken leave of her senses? He thought, while obliging her, pulling up the zipper of her light jacket, which enveloped her torso like a glove. His fingers grazing the sensitive skin of her neck in the process. She shuddered.

Damn! She feels it too!

She mussed up her hair then, hastily putting her arm through his, rested her head intimately in the crook of his shoulder, “Hug me!” she said in an urgent whisper.

Wow! Perhaps lady luck is on my side! She has changed her mind already! He hugged her.

“Not so tight that I can hardly breathe!” she chided him.

“Hell! What is going on? Are you up to one of your tricks again?”

“Your eyes are magic, your body fragrance sublime. Say yes, or say no, you are still my Ruhi!”

Shaan wheeled around to see Debo and Sujoy with Anu in a stroller, approaching fast from behind singing and laughing.

“OMGeee! Dibhai, dadamoni! I… What a surprise!” Ruhi shouted letting go of his arm.

He regarded her with admiration. Got to give it to her, if anyone can give Sunshine a run for her money, it’s my Ruhi!

“Hi Sooj, Debo! How come out for a stroll so late?”

“Hi, Shaan,” Debo said coyly, directing a wink at her husband. “We are always out with Anu at this hour. It’s just that we don’t happen meet you two every day.”

“Oh my little Anu. My Shona! My, my how you have grown!” Ruhi squealed with delight as she scooped up the toddler who came to her readily. “Why don’t you leave her with me sometimes, di? I’d love to babysit.”

“No, that’s not fair, is it, Shaan?” Debo said, looking mischievously at him.

“Uhm…what? What’s not fair?”

“Haaye yeh toh kaam se gaya!” (He’s bowled over!) she declared, eyeing Ruhi who blushed.

“Ahem! Debo, let them be. I think we are interrupting something important here.”

“Oh no, not at all!” Ruhi stated.

“Oh yes we are!” Sujoy corrected her with a smile.

“Oh, I’m so happy to see both of you like this!” Debo exclaimed, enveloping Shaan and Ruhi in her warm gaze.

“Do come to the apartment, we can talk for sometime,” Ruhi pleaded.

“No, no, Anu has to be put to bed, and we don’t want to be cursed to hell as Shaan is preparing to do right now. Do we, Sujoy?”

“No, of course not! Will see you tomorrow at work Shaan… perhaps?”

Shaan grinned and nodded as the trio quickly bid their goodbyes and hurried away.

He smiled indulgently at Ruhi as she unconsciously latched on to his arm again and leaned on his shoulder while they resumed their walk. He wanted to savor these precious moments where there were no questions to be asked or answers to be given, just a peaceful togetherness.

At the bottom of the steps, he paused; he needed to know. “So it was all for the benefit of Debo, wasn’t it? Are you afraid of her?”

“Huh?” She snapped out of her private musings and moved away taking on a defensive posture. “No…actually, yes. I didn’t want to suffer another lecture.”

She unzipped her jacket; it had gotten quite warm.

He nodded. “I agree with you entirely. She used to be a teacher by profession.”

She giggled. “Must have been a very good one then. Let’s go, it’s time for Two and a Half Men.” She turned toward the stairs.

“No,” he said, blocking her way, “not before I know your decision.”

“About what?”

“That you will stay here with me?”

She smiled mysteriously. “So you are anxious for my answer, Mr. Grey?”

He grasped her roughly by the arms. “Damn you, Ruhi! Didn’t I warn you not to call me by that awful name again? Or I’ll…”

“You’ll what?”

“Kiss you,” he blurted out.

She let out a tiny gasp while her eyes widened with irrational excitement. She wanted to incite him further, take the risk. “Then do it, Mr. Grey!”

“Ruhi!” He pulled her roughly to himself and was surprised that she came readily without a struggle.

What is she trying to do now? Can’t she see that I’m crazy about her?

Her pulse thudded loud in her ears when she saw him bend forward, intent on carrying out his threat. Give it up, Ruhi! What is there to lose? You want it as bad as he does!

“No!” She pushed him away and ran up the stairs.

He groaned, crouching down on the steps. “God I hate this girl! I really, really do. But I don’t want to let her go either. This is torture unending. What am I to do?”

He felt a tap on his shoulder. “I’m willing to consider it!” There was mischief in her voice.

“Not so fast.” He pulled her down before she could run away again. “I need to know now! Please don’t go, say you won’t!”

She stared at his anxious face and melted. Poor Grey. He has been through a lot today. “Fine, I’ll give it my best shot, but on one condition!”

“I’m willing to do anything!”

She laughed, gently stroking his cheek. “Can we get some pizza from Tony’s?”

“Phew! You witch! You had me scared sick.” He smiled, looking relieved, and then holding her firmly by the hand, proceeded up the stairs.

“Look here. If you start calling me names,  I’m gone tomorrow!”

“I’m sorry! But you irk me to the infinite degree.”

“Then I’d better leave.”

“No! I like being irked.”

Giggles. “Order the pizza right now. I want to watch Ashton.”

“Like hell you do! We are watching Gone with the Wind on DVD!”

“No way!”

“Yes way!”

A door closed with a loud bang.

tbc