Monday, September 29, 2008

War with faith

Doubts are the invisible darts which burst your bubbles of hope. And all the dreams within that bubble come gushing out in one massive torrent , to scatter aimlessly in the wind. Sometimes you end up spending an entire lifetime just chasing those very dreams.

But while her hopes, hung dangerously close to being scattered, she hadn’t given up on hope yet. Chris’ tale though very romantic had sounded too pat, to convince her as being true. But it didn’t ring totally false either. And maybe Chris was not such a good story-teller after all!

One thing she was convinced of, though, was that Lav was, and most probably still is, strongly in love with Shaina. She couldn’t help but envy Shaina. There was the gorgeous, handsome, mouth-watering Lav ready to do absolutely anything for her and there was also Akshay. Though Shaina had never met Akshay, she could only imagine the depth of his love, if all he could think after snapping out of a coma, was to do the right thing by her and marry her.

In the thick romance novels, which kept you awake way beyond sane hours at night, the once heart-broken hero, would begin to believe in the magic of love once again, thanks to the dew-eyed heroine. Could she really be Lav’s dew-eyed heroine? She had also guessed that Lav was as tempted by the thought of marriage as a hydrophobic would be by a swimming pool.

She mentally condemned herself for letting her thoughts run away with her. She had just argued that Chris’ tale was punched with loopholes and she was already piecing those shreds of hope together to repaint her own love story. She strapped her heels firmly in place and appraised herself critically in the full-length mirror. She did not like her soft curls, in a period when straight dead hair seemed to be in trend. She was wearing a dark peacock blue halter, when the rest of the women would be dressed in blacks, reds and maroons. She sighed, but she did love bright colours and she just couldn’t get herself to wear boring blacks.

She heard the blaring of a horn and knew Raina had come to pick her up. She grabbed her purse and rushed downstairs. Raina was looking gorgeous in a black satin mini skirt which was really really short yet long enough to not qualify as indecent and a bold black chiffon top, tied at the back with just a string. She sighed inwardly again. With such illustrious female friends for company, it was no wonder she never guaranteed a second look.

It was Saturday night and by the time they reached, the disc already seemed to be bursting to its seams with a frenzied crowd. She wouldn’t have been here, were they not celebrating Sunil’s, who was incidentally Farah’s boyfriend, promotion party. He was one of the few Indians, she knew who had managed to beat the English intellect in their very own land and achieve managerial positions, they much deserved. The other one was Chris and then of course, there was Lav.

Two Cuba Libras later, she started getting bored of the current conversation, which was about a take on the current political scenario in India and started looking around, drinking in the variety of the crowd. In a sea of white people, she could easily spot one or two Indians. She smiled as she recognized the blackish-brown colours so characteristic of Chris.

She excused herself and threaded her way through the maze of bodies. As she neared Chris, he bent down to pick up something and that’s when she froze in mid-step. Chris’ companion who was making him throw his head back and laugh his famously infectious laugh, was none other than the controversial, Shaina! On an impulse she scanned the crowds once again.

Sure enough, making his way from the bar towards the duo, with a glass of what looked like a cosmopolitan in one hand and scotch with ice in the other. She watched transfixed as he handed Shaina her drink and draped his arm around her bare shoulder. She waited for some time on the sides of the dance floor, her eyes trained on the trio. There was nothing ‘friendly’ in the way Lav’s strong fingers kept caressing Shaina’s shoulder. Chris, who had woven, the now unbelievable love story, didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable by this shared intimacy.

She was furious. She was mad at herself for giving Lav the benefit of doubt. She was angry with herself for putting so much of faith in Chris, who hadn’t batted an eyelash while spinning her a cock and bull story about Lav. It was almost as if she had ‘gullible’ stamped on her face!

She had been eyeing the three of them for the better half of an hour and so far she had still not spotted the mysterious, and convincingly fictitious, Akshay. Another five minutes and she was sauntering up to them with a simpering rage.

“Hello!” she said, her voice husky from the booze.

“Hey…?” said Shaina, obviously not recognizing her.

“Shikha!” blurted an astounded but totally flummoxed Chris

“Not you again!” muttered Lav on a groan.

Ignoring the two men, she extended an hand to Shaina, “Hi! You must be Shaina! I am Shikha!” Shaina gave a confused smile and shook the proffered hand.

“I attended your wedding!” she said getting straight to the point.

“Shikha…” Chris warned.

“You don’t really have to talk to her,” Lav said physically turning her away.

But Shaina was intrigued now and she smiled at Shaina, “You did? I am so sorry but I don’t remember meeting you!”

“Of course not! I did not meet you, I was there to just hand Chris his invitation.” She said by way of explanation, “But you looked absolutely dazzling in your pink and blue wedding dress!”

“Thank you!” Shaina crooned. “I had to wait for an entire month till the tailor had finished working on it!”

“Really? Was he the same tailor who stitched Lav’s grey suit too?” She asked innocently.

“Don’t answer that!” Lav warned

“Shikha really…” Chris said intervening

“No silly!” Shaina said warming to the topic of fashion, “ He got his suit from Almack’s! They do make the best suits you know!”

“No wonder he made such a handsome groom!” she said watching Shaina from over the rim of her glass.

Shaina, twined an arm through Lav’s and stared at him with blatant adoration as she said, “the best!”

Friday, September 19, 2008

Cobwebs

Friends are like moonbeams on a starlit night. No matter how bright the rest of the stars shine, the silver streak is still the one who holds the promise of hope.

After a heated discussion with Lav, who was quite adamant that Shaina was married to Akshay, the discussion ended with him banging the phone on, “I don’t need to explain myself to anybody and definitely not to a nobody! So think what you fancy!”

So well, back to the coffee shop, back to stirring thick latte foams with sparkling silver spoons and back to brooding, albeit not alone. Chris was stirring his own mug of coffee.

Putting her spoon down, she took in a deep breath, as if she were about to pose a question of paramount importance. But the question was of paramount importance.. to her! Though, as to why it was so important, she had no clue.

“You remember Lav?” She finally asked.

Chris continued stirring his coffee, “The one I feel for the woman, while I am making out with her or the emotional pfaff romance novels talk about!”

Momentarily baffled she frowned. Then realizing he was talking about ‘love’ and ‘Lav’ she let out an exasperated breath.

“When you are making out with a woman its lust not love,” she corrected him. When he looked all eager to debate this point further, she raised a palm to silence him. “I am not talking of the romance novels either! I am talking about a person! Who you happen to be friends with… or.. .used to be.. Lav Kulshreshtha!?”

Chris hid his smile behind a sip of coffee. The putting the cup down he grinned a more broad and idiotic grin at her.

“You mean the one you thought had a cute butt?” he asked grinning.

“I thought no such thing!” she retorted colouring furiously.

“Oh come on!” he said adding to her embarrassment, “The entire office knows about it! Everybody noticed how you ogled his back till he disappeared from sight!”

“What?” she asked totally mortified. He just chuckled further.

“Ok! Calm down! Maybe I was the only one who noticed!” he said sobering up. Then quite seriously he added, “ So why the renewed interest in god’s gift to woman kind?”

“Well,” she said fidgeting with the paper napkin, “ you remember how you had forgotten his wedding invite and asked me to pick it up for you?”

“uhuh!” he nodded his assent.
“Well, it was for his wedding right?” She asked, her heart beating faster with every moment.

“Uhuh!” Chris acknowledged in affirmative again.

She leaned back in her chair a sadly victorious grin on her face and whispered, “What a jerk?”

“Why?” asked Chris totally at a loss for what was happening, “For inviting me to his wedding?”

“No!” she exclaimed leaning close to talk to him again, “because he has the gall, to claim to be unmarried and meet sweet unpretentious women and fool them into marrying him!”

“Whoa! Hold it there!” Chris said holding his hands up as if surrendering himself, but in fact attempting to stop her flow of monologue. “Lav is unmarried!”

Totally taken aback by this, she scowled at Chris. Either Chris was fiercely loyal to Lav and had hence decided to sacrifice their friendship. Or there was something really wrong here.

“You did attend his wedding that night, didn’t you?” She asked clearing her cobwebs one by one.

“Yes I did!” Chris stated.

“And he married Shaina?” She asked taking the next step

“Yes he did!”

“Then how on earth is he unmarried!?” She asked completely foxed by his last statement.

“You see Lav married Shaina because Shaina was pregnant with Akshay’s kid. But Akshay was in the ICU due to a major car crash. She was four months pregnant and there was no way out but to have the baby. Nobody knew when Akshay would snap out of the coma. So Lav married Shaina. Seven days later, Akshay snapped out of the coma. Fortunately the namesake marriage, which had taken place more for the society, had not yet been legalized. So three weeks later, Akshay and Shaina were legally pronounced huband and wife by some court in Mumbai!”

Silence.

“Then why all the secrecy around it?” She asked bewildered and awed.

“Not many people know that Lav had married Shaina. It was just close friends and family. When Shaina married Akshay, it was decided that the Lav-Shaina wedding should die a natural death. Lav didn’t want to put Shaina through the agony of explaining her fickle minded nature while choosing husbands or justifying her pre-marital pregnancy. Whoever mention the Lav-Shaina wedding are just told that they made a mistake about the groom.” Chris explained.

“He must have loved her!” She exclaimed on a whisper

“Completely. He still does. There is no place for another woman in his life.” Chris explained.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mysterious Wedding

Half-knowledge is like a particularly annoying itch, which surfaces bang in the middle of a boisterous party, where for the first time you have managed to grab the spotlight. You are dying to reach out and scratch your crotch, but you just can’t! No spotlight hero gives in to his ancestral inclinations.

In a somewhat similar predicament, she sat at the dining table, twirling her snazzy cell phone on the smooth glass surface, seeking solace in its whirring motions. Some distance to her right, lay Lav’s visiting card face down on the table. She knew he was at the wedding, as surely as she knew it was he and Shaina on the lush lawns of Moor Manor. She was almost sure, that he was the groom, after all she did attend the wedding!

On an impulse she got up and started pulling the drawers of the filing cabinet. She knew she had stashed the wedding invite somewhere. She remembered it was a brick red card, with gold trimmings. She remembered sitting with the card cuddled in bed and dampening the golden ink with tears, she didn’t know she was shedding. How teenager-ish, she thought as she ruffled some more papers in search of that vile card. And how teenager-ish of her to have kept that card as a romantic memory of a painful heartbreak.

But how intelligent of her too! For now that card would prove to her and to Raina, whose head was ringing with pseudo wedding bells, that Lav Kulshreshtha was a liar! That he did get married at Hutchinson Gardens and to Shaina! Yes, he could steal your breath away with one smile and his voice poured over your cold heart like hot chocolate, but he had married and that was the bitter truth. She rummaged further fervently praying for the card to find its way under her seeking fingers.

Forty long minutes later her prayers were answered. With a heart thumping as wildly as dyslexic workers with sledge hammers, she opened the card:

A marriage is a promise,
Like so many promises,
We might fail to keep this one,
Or like some others we might see it through…
Who can predict what the future holds?
But we have set our hearts
To honestly attempt
Sculpting our lives
Into one magnificent wonder
We want to inaugurate this promise
In the presence of friends
Who made us believe
In the magic of such promises
So please be there..

Lav and Shaina

There! There were those words again, which had moved her to tears then, as they moved her to tears now. The confused promised of two hearts in love, willing the world to be a little easier on them. She squinted at the card again, yes, it was signed Lav and Shaina and not love, Shaina. He could not fool her with that, at least. So he did get married to Shaina! Of all the rotten things to do! Not that marrying Shaina was a rotten thing to do. Hiding the fact, that he was married, was a rotten thing to do.


The more she thought about it, the more she was convinced that he had indeed meant his wedding to Shaina be a buried secret! The wedding at Hutchinson Garden was more like a select dinner for invitees only. There was even an uniformed guard at the entrance checking if you were carrying an invite. She wouldn’t have gotten an invitation either. It was just fate and coincidence indulging in one of their favourite games, which had landed the invitation in her lap. She barely knew Lav. She had always just admired him from a distance and listened to tales of his wondrous deeds from the many colleagues who had a crush on him as well. And she definitely didn’t know Shaina.

But Chris did. Chris knew Lav , as a competitor and a potential rival in the race for promotions. Besides, Chris and Lav were legendary friends. And Chris and she were friends. Not legendary, but close friends, who could occasionally share a drink, get drunk, abuse the world, let down their masks and not hold it against each other the next day. So, when he had forgotten his invite to this hush-hush wedding, he had called her and pleaded her to fetch it for him. Lav having seen him at the entrance had ensured his invitation-less wedding.

So when she stood at the entrance with an invitation, not meant for her, and the guard had bowed her in, she quite naturally walked in!

So ok, she had been a gate-crasher wedding! Lav didn’t know that. She had had an invite. Maybe he had thought her to be a friend of Shaina’s!

But all that was the past. What was the present was the existence of the wedding invite and the glaring fact that Lav had lied. Her itch of half-knowledge was turning into a full blown rash! She picked up the card and studied his number as if it were a complicated mathematical equation demanding the fullest of concentration.

She picked up the phone and dialed his number.

“Hello?” he said in the melting chocolate voice and she did almost melt.

“Lav?” she felt she ought to confirm his identity.

He laughed, that rich laugh which kept you warm at nights. “I sure hope you are referring to my name and little else…”

She blushed. Knowing there was no way he could see her, she still blushed under hi seasy flirting.

“This is Shikha, Raina’s friend?” she said revealing her identity.

“Oh yes! I do remember! The one who got her grooms confused!” he said the smile still lingering in his voice. “What can I do for you? Clear some more cobwebs?”

“Actually,” she said her temper beginning to rise, “ I called to tell you , that your cobwebs need a broom taken to them, and you perhaps need to jog your memory and that you have the groom confused at your own wedding!”

“I told you, Shaina is married to my best friend Akshay. Not me.” He said beginning ot sound exasperated.

“Then why am I staring at a wedding invite signed Lav and Shaina?”

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Curiosity

Curiosity is like an ageing woman with a warped sense of humor. She keeps nagging you with a million possibilities, of what possibly could be, until you shut her up with a dose of facts. I remember this one incident, where my dog had run away and this old neighbour of mine, painted with vivid words possibilities such as being frisked away to the dog pounds; trampled under a fast moving car driven by a crazy young man, who didn’t even pause and look at the crushed dog; tied to a tree by the street kids and beaten into whining. Thankfully my dog had just run to the backyard, in search of a new place to pee and came faithfully back.

So as she sat at the coffee shop with Raina, waiting for Lav Kulshreshtha to show up, the old lady called curiosity played havoc with her mind. Concentrate! She told herself. If on nothing else then do concentrate on the rich aroma of the frothing latte and meditate in its sensuous pleasure. But Raina couldn’t let it be. She was going on and on about how mr. perfect ought actually to have some flaws and how she, her trusted friend, was ‘entrusted’ with the responsibility of finding flaws in him. Nagged beyond endurance by Raina on one hand and curiosity on the other, she blurted, “Isnt being married, flaw enough?”

Raina looked like Tom (from Tom and Jerry), who had actually finally caught a mouse and couldn’t believe his own luck! She stared at her, with her huge eyes widening into perfect circles and she breathed on a whisper, as if speaking out loud will undo the fact, “He is married?”

She just shrugged her shoulders and continued walking her spoon in aimless circles through the thick froth in her cup. Raina’s hand flew to her open mouth in a very theatrical move. She clutched her wrist, with her free hand, putting a stop to the growing whirlwind of coffee, “How do you know?”

“Because I attended his wedding!” she said finally letting go of the spoon and unwrapping Raina’s hand from her wrist.

“What?” she screamed loud enough to turn heads. Then looking around to assess the damage she had caused, she leaned in further and asked, “When and why didn’t you tell me?”

“Well, about a year ago!” she confessed, “I didn’t tell you because, if you have heard about him from your parents, he obviously somehow managed.. to.. get unmarried!”

“That’s impossible!” Raina exclaimed, “You cant get divorced till after a year of being married! What a b******!! What is he going to do with his first wife?”

“Maybe she died!” she said behaving quite like curiosity herself. “Maybe he is a widower. Which would explain why he needs a wife again!”

“Bull shit!” Raina said shaking the contents of a sugar sachet into her sweetened coffee. “I am sure he murdered her! How vile is it to keep a first marriage a secret?” she picked up her spoon with renewed energy and noisily stirred the melting sugar.

“You know what?” Raina added squinting into some far off image. “ It shows lack of character. It shows the need to hide behind secrets. And I am telling you,” she said pointing a coffee dripping spoon at her, “ I am marrying no such widower!!”

She could see that Raina had worked herself up into quite a state with this piece of information. She was digging inside her preoccupied mind to come up with something soothing to say, when the doors of the café swung open and in stepped Lav Kulshrestha!!

The past year had done absolutely nothing to him. His black hair still curled adorably behind his ear, his jaw still had that firm look, his eyes could still melt rock hard hearts. As he scanned the café, his eyes alighted on hers and glinted with a faint recognition. He walked towards their table.

Raina had her back to him. So when he whispered, “Raina?” she almost jumped out of her chair.

“Yes?” she frowned at him.

“Lav,” he said, waiting to be invited to join the table.

Raina frowned at him as if he were same alien. It was evident her mind was elsewhere. Slowly the frown gave way to the dawning of his identity and she hastily urged him to join them for coffee.

Leaning towards her she whispered, “ If the widower is this handsome, even I am bound to make some concessions!” Saying this Raina turned her prettiest smiling face to Lav.

She was fuming. Raina, didn’t even know that Lav was a widower! It was just abstract hypothesis! But just because he was heart-breakingly handsome, she was about to overlook the fact that he was married.

“And wont you introduce me to your friend?” he asked, ever the gentleman. “In fact, I think we have met before… I just cant seem to remember where!”

She was seething by then. The coffee had set her insides on fire and the pseudo smiles were grating on her nerves. Before Raina could say anything, she looked straight in his eyes and said, “ Of course we have met before! At your wedding? Or don’t you remember being married?”

Raina kicked her hard under the table and scowled at her. Lav just let out a rich laughter that turned more than one female heads.

“My wedding?” He asked reigning in his laughter, “ You met me at my wedding?”

Completely shocked by his callous pretense and overwhelmed with the idea of defending her friend against the deceptive clutches of this handsome criminal, she added, “ Hutchinston gardens? October 2007? Rings a bell?”

He sobered up quicker than a bucket of cold water on fire. “Yes, in fact it does! Shaina’s wedding?”

The way he said it, confused her, “yes.. shaina’s wedding.. to you…”

This time he frowned, a very unpleasant emotion flickered in his black eyes, “ If this is a joke, its in horrid taste. I am equally un-keen on getting married as probably you girls are. I am here to just indulge my folks. Does not mean I have to take character slights from anybody!”

“ No.. no.. “ Raina was hastily plunging into conciliatory explanations.

“You didn’t marry Shaina?” She asked confusion evident in every pore of her face.

“No!” he declared, “ Shaina married my best friend Akshay!”

She turned a deep red and looked down into her coffee. There was silence around her. She looked up and she said, “ Sorry! I so apologise! I so thought it was your wedding I was attending!”

Damn! There she had just put her foot in her own mouth. She gave him a panic-stricken look and was already working up excuses to flee.

“And you thought so because?” he almost demanded.

“A week ago I saw you in the lawns of the Moor Manor, on a nice romantic moonlit night.. with.. well.. Shaina!” She said thinking he had a right to know.

Raina gasped audibly. He said nothing. Silence stretched. Raina cleared her throat drawing two lost attentions back to the table, “So now that we know that you are not married, and definitely single…”

Monday, September 1, 2008

Full Circle

Sleep was like the golden strands of dawn, slipping away even before one could notice their subtle presence. Almost anything could steal her sleep away from her, even the soft footfalls of the approaching breeze. So when her phone screamed shrilly into the silent drunkenness of the night, it startled her sleep into disappearing. She rubbed her eyes once again and checked the display on her cell phone, it was three am.

“Hullo?” she answered sounding wide awake. The last vestiges of fatigue beat a hasty retreat out of her body as she stretched into a sitting position.

“Did I wake you up?” she asked. Why is it that people ask the most obvious questions when they wake others up at alarming hours?

“No! Not at all,” she said tapping her foot on the cold floor in search of her slippers. “ I was just lying awake thinking of sleep!”

“Heeheeehee,” she giggled nervously. Her voice was heavy, which could only mean two things; either she had been drinking heavily or she had been crying. Either ways, the phone line was booked till the early hours of a restless morning.

“Mom had called from India,” she informed.

She stopped mid-way through the act of sinking her feet in her puppy brown slippers and asked, “Everything Ok?”

“NO! Everything’s not OK!” she bawled. Hearing her bawl, she hurriedly grabbed her dressing gown and donned it over her pyjamas.

“Hush! Calm down! What happened?” She asked heading towards the kitchen. Coffee always buffered a shock.

“Its ma,” she sniffed at the other end. “She has finally found the perfect guy to marry me off to!”

She banged the coffee kettle so hard on the platform, that she almost cracked the glass bottom, “this is the tragedy?! Raina!! You are calling me at three in the morning to bawl over an occurrence which takes place at least thrice a week.. Unfailingly!”

“No!” Raina hastened into the conversation, “No! It’s serious this time. It’s a son of a friend of Dad’s Elder Brother!”

Realizing that she had no choice but to hear this out, she reached for the coffee beans and spooned them into the coffee maker.

“So?” she asked switching the coffee-maker on.

“So.. he has apparently done his law from Harvard and has a successful practice in London. He wines and dines the who’s who of London and has opened a sister concern in India. Within six months the Indian sister concern has apparently made it to the top list of India’s who’s who and so how could this guy be any wrong?”

Point to be noted. How could such a guy be any wrong for ANY girl? “So.. why is he still single?” she asked peeping into the fridge to see if she could manage a midnight snack.

“See?? Exactly my question! I am sure he has a defunct testicle!” Raina sniffed again

She rolled her eyes to an unseeing audience and pushed the bowl of fruits aside to reach for the peanut butter. Fattening and highly comforting.

“Oh wait! And he has a name!” Raina was saying

“Of course he has a name!” she said balancing the phone between her shoulder and ear and slicing the bread into thick slices.

Raina laughed, “ he is called love!”

“What?” she said laughter shaking her voice, as she cut the banana into thin slices.

“Yeah I know, so totally weird!” Raina confirmed, “Love Kuru.. Kul.. shesta or something like that…”

“Lav Kulshrestha?” She asked holding her breath.

“Yes! That’s it!” Raina celebrated. “Wait! Do you know him?” she asked

“Umm..heard of him,” she agreed and then, “ you know what girl? Let me just call you back in five? I really gotta go…”

“Pee break?” Raina wanted to know

“What else” she laughed and hung up.

But no it was not a pee break that had made her run. It was the topic of their conversation – Lav Kulshrestha. It cant be, it couldn’t be! Could it? But he was married. He had married last year.

She still remembered the wedding. It was a spectacular affair, of ribbons and roses and the perfect band, playing the perfect music, for the perfect couple. Yes, the perfect couple. She still remembered them standing in the garden, drenched in the moonlight as conscious of each other as two forlorn teenagers, yet each brimming with love for the other.

Her heart still ached with a raw pain, as if somebody had mercilessly pulled the bandages off a healing wound and ripped it further open in the process. Her heart had been torn into a million shreds as she had watched her love crumble on that moonlit night. She had somehow made it to the wedding, but she remembered nothing of it. All that the name brought back to her were crushing emotions.

So what was he doing out on the marriage market again?