“Let it be. Because, sometimes only time can answer your questions.” ~ Unknown
Arnav announced his arrival after letting himself in, shutting the front door behind him. After quickly slipping off his loafers, his feet took him towards the delicious aromatic smell emanating from within the house. His timing was perfect this evening allowing him to partake in the savory desi dinner being prepared.
His mouth watered even before he turned the corner to the kitchen, where he found his grandmother standing in front of the stove, expertly stirring the subzi. From what he was able to see from across the island, it was one of his favorites, bhindi masala. There was also dal chawal on the menu, slowly cooking on the back stove burners.
He inhaled deeply then shifted his gaze from the pots on the stove to the woman who he identified as the epitome of elegance.
His heart paused, then smiled, marvelling at how gracefully she moved around in a mint green saree.
The years might have come and gone with them relocating from Delhi to where they were at present, residing in one of the most affluent towns in Long Island, but there would always be this one constant in his life. His family home, and his loved ones greeting him whenever he walked through the door.
“I thought I heard you but then thought it was your father with the exhaust fan on. What are you doing here, Baccha? On a Wednesday?”
She placed the utensil on the spoon rest, and swiftly wiped her hands on the towel. Her eyes curiously looking at him still dressed in his navy suit then over his shoulder. Confirming that he indeed was alone, she stared at him, seeking answers. But that would have to wait until he properly greeted his grandmother with a wide smile.
“Hello, Gorgeous!” He engulfed her in a tight embrace, dropping a kiss on top of her head. “Dinner smells yummy. I picked the right night to drop in to see my family.” He winked, then walked up to the stove for a closer look at dinner.
“If I knew you were coming, then I would have prepared something other than the usual weeknight simple meal.” She frowned, looking over at the refrigerator, no doubt thinking of what else she could whip up now that he was going to have dinner with them.
“From everyone, you know that I don’t need an extravagant spread, Dadi.” He gestured over to the vegetable sautéing in the kadhai, “Bhindi masala is my absolute favorite. Pair that with your soft hot roti with ghee, and I am content. It reminds me of when we lived in our small apartment, and you would make that with dal makhani whenever I won my game. You couldn’t make the rotis fast enough the way I would gobble them down, sitting on top of the counter with my plate. Don’t tell Ma, but sometimes I would rather just have a normal meal than all that fancy stuff she makes.”
His mother loved cooking, and would often pull together a complex menu consisting of a huge spread from different ethnicities whenever guests would visit. Which now included him as well, since he wasn’t with them here every day. But more often than not, he preferred moments like this, being surrounded by a sense of normalcy. That’s what he had been accustomed to growing up… a much simpler time.
“Your mother means well, and she adores you. So, it’s natural for her, as it is for me, to want to spoil you any chance we get. Which isn’t often, you know. Arnav, you might be all grown up, living on your own, but to us, you’ll always be our nunna munna baccha.” She sang, caressing his cheek. With a sly smile on her face, she added, “Which is why I know there’s something going on with you. Arnav Singh Raizada just doesn’t drop in unannounced during the middle of the week. But, no rush, I can wait. I’ll let your mother drill it out of you later.” She shrugged, then went back to stirring the subzi.
After a quick glance over at the empty great room, and noticing the silence in the house with the television turned off at a time when his father would be watching the evening world news, he asked, “Where’s everyone?”
“Rayu won’t be back till late, she’s going out after work with Harsh. And, your parents have gone out for evening tea with one of your father’s friends and his wife, Raviji, not sure if you remember him from Elmhurst. He wanted Ashvath’s advice on some potential business opportunities. They should be back in an hour or so.” After stirring the dal, she looked over at him. “Food is almost ready, how does dinner for two sound?”
“You don’t want to wait for Papa?” He raised an eyebrow at his grandmother, who often made sure the family ate dinner together.
“It’s alright, I am sure they’ll end up eating with their friends. You coming here ensures I don’t have to eat alone.” She pulled the cover off the large mixing bowl, pushing her hand down on the dough to knead it before beginning the process of dividing it. “How lovely, my grandson and I are having dinner together. It’s been so long with just the two of us.”
Ready to assist his grandmother, he took off his suit jacket, then hung it on one of the island stools. He rolled his sleeves up to his elbows as he walked over to his grandmother’s side.
“You must be hungry, why don’t you sit, and I make you fresh rotis.” She motioned to the kitchen table, but he shook his head, taking the roti tawa from the counter, and placed it on the free burner.
“You roll, and I’ll cook.”
He interjected, wrapping his arm around his grandmother’s shoulder, “Like old times, Dadi. I might not be able to roll the perfect round roti, but I can make them fluff all the way. And, this allows me to spread as much ghee as I want.” He laughed, then began to set-up for his part by grabbing the cooking tong.
“Here, let me at least grab an apron for you, so your clothes don’t get dirty. Wait, unless you want to go to your room and change?”
He took a hold of his grandmother’s hand stopping her, “I’m fine as is. Now, let’s get this done so we can have our dinner for two, and talk about our favorite person. Wait till I fill you in on the latest about Khushi’s interview with the New Yorker yesterday.”
That was all it took for them to fall into a nonstop conversation, not just about Khushi but just about everything for the next hour enjoying each other’s company.
His grandmother was right about one thing, it had been way too long since the two of them had spent time together. There was a time when he was younger, and his grandmother and he would cook and go on walks together. Perhaps once Khushi and he get settled in their new home, his grandmother could come spend a few days with them. That’s if she was comfortable with him being in a live-in relationship without the official stamp of a marriage.
He would find out soon enough, he mused, hearing his parents’ arrival just as he was loading the dishwasher with their dirty dishes.
“Arnav’s home! When did you come over? Is everything okay?” His mother’s concerned tone had Dadi and him turning to face her just as she came in their view.
Harika swiftly walked over to him for a closer look, while his father looked on from the entrance to the kitchen area.
“Figured I would stop by to help my Dadi, who seems to be taking on more than she should be with all this cooking. Didn’t we discuss that you would hire someone to help with all of this?” Arnav threw the question more to his father than the women, who he knew would object to the idea that he had been pushing on many occasions.
“Don’t look at me, Son. Your Ma and Dadi refuse to let anyone inside this kitchen to cook for us. At least, they allow a cleaning lady to do the daily chores.” He raised his hand defeated by two strong women possessive over their home.
“I already told Arnav that Harika does most of the cooking when she comes back from the office, but today I thought I would help out since you both were out,” Dadi explained.
Harika glanced around the kitchen, noticing everything had been taken care of from the food to the clean-up, including the dishes with Arnav washing his hands after closing the dishwasher.
“Some habits don’t change, kyun? Dadi’s Ladla, helping her since you were this little.” Harika put out her hand to her waist level measuring out Arnav’s height as a child.
“You better not say that out loud in front of Nugget, otherwise you’ll confirm that I am my Dadi’s favorite.” Arnav winked teasingly, then went to embrace his mother. “You look very pretty tonight. Make any deals?” He questioned, letting go of his mother, then side hugged his father as he joined them.
While his father filled his grandmother and him on catching up with their friends, Arnav felt his mother’s eyes on him the entire time. His grandmother might have been polite in not probing him about his unannounced drop-in, but his mother was waiting for his father to finish up. She stayed by his side as they walked over to the great room. His father and grandmother went to their usual spots, while his mother sat next to him on the sectional.
“Where’s Khushi?” Harika asked once her husband was done speaking.
“She’s seeing her father tonight. NK had to leave town on business Sunday morning, and came back today.” Before he could say anymore, his father spoke.
“It was nice to finally meet NK, actually, all of the Guptas, on Friday at the opening. They were all extremely friendly, and down to earth. Which reminds me, NK and I spoke about getting us all together soon. What do you think about lunch or dinner, maybe in the next week or two, before the commotion begins with Aseem’s wedding next month.”
“I don’t see why not. I’ll speak with Khushi about it, and we can arrange something…” Arnav replied, then paused for a moment, before he added. “Maybe, Khushi and I can host it at our home.”
Arnav allowed his gaze to sweep from his Dadi to his father then to his mother as no one said anything for a long moment. It wasn’t as if they needed him to spell it out further on what he meant with his last two words. They knew. The silence only confirmed it. And, while his parents chose not to say anything, his grandmother did.
“Khushi’s moving in with you…”
“No.” He smiled, “We’re buying a penthouse together in Rose Hill, it’s about ten minutes from where we are now. The closing is next Friday.”
“That’s next week.” Ashvath’s eyes widened in surprise, then asked. “How did you arrange it so quickly?”
“It’s one of ARG’s listings, and with the building being new there’s immediate availability. Aseem helped push it through with all our contacts. We went to see it on Sunday evening, and Khushi and I both loved the place. The best part is that it’s fully furnished and move-in ready, and there’s not much for us to do other than take our things over. Khushi doesn’t have much…”
“I’m sure she must be excited.” Dadi pronounced, then uttered, “After seeing her loft on Friday, I can’t believe she’s been staying there for the past few months. The poor thing, with everything that she’s had going on, it must have been tough on her. And, I bet her father must be relieved with her finding a new place.”
“NK has never liked her living in the loft. If it was up to him, she would be living somewhere else from the get-go.”
“Then perhaps he should have insisted his daughter stay with him at their home. It isn’t as if there’s no room in their penthouse or mansion.”
“Harika!” Dadi admonished, shaking her head.
“What did I say that was wrong, Maaji?” Harika questioned, then continued without needing a response. “Fine, I understand that like Arnav, Khushi is an adult, but if NK was that concerned, then perhaps he should have done something about it.”
“It was Khushi’s decision to stay there, she’s said that to us. And, don’t you think NK must have tried to make his daughter live with him? What father wouldn’t? You shouldn’t make assumptions without knowing the facts. It’s their family matter, not ours.”
“I don’t agree,” Harika countered her mother in law, “It concerns us now that Khushi is moving in with Arnav.”
“She’s not moving in with me…” Arnav stepped in to clarify, “We are doing this together, as equals.”
“Like roommates?” His mother scoffed in a sarcastic voice.
“What?! No, we’re going to be living together in our home.” He clarified once again, not hiding the incredulity in his tone at where his mother was taking this conversation.
“I’m not stupid, I know all about live-in relationships and what that all means,” Harika answered back, locking her gaze with Arnav’s. “But, I wasn’t expecting this from you so soon.”
“Why not, Ma? Would you react the same way if I was here to tell you that we have decided to get married?” He challenged, “Don’t answer that, I already know. It’s okay to get married after meeting someone a couple of times, like you and Papa, or in Dadi and Dadaji’s case, who never even spoke to each other when their rishta was finalized. Yet, somehow, Khushi and I are wrong?”
“What’s wrong is that you’re against marriage. And while your father might be hopeful that you’ll change your mind one day, I know better.”
“That’s enough, Harika,” Ashvath said firmly, standing up from his chair. “Didn’t we decide to let him be?”
Harika also stood, going face to face with her husband, “How can you be okay with this?”
“Arnav is not a child, you can’t force our beliefs on him. You’re only going to push our son away.”
“It’s our responsibility to teach him what’s right and what’s wrong. Clearly, we have failed.” Harika stared at her husband.
“What you think is wrong, is right to me.” Arnav stated firmly as he stood after having heard his mother. “I don’t need a piece of paper to prove that I am committed to Khushi as she is to me. I love and stand with her every step of the way, and that’s all that matters.”
“Tell me, Beta, how do you plan on introducing Khushi to the world for years to come? What am I supposed to tell people in our family, our social circle, that she’s your girlfriend?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care about any of them. If the label girlfriend bothers you so much, call her my life partner.” He ran his hand through his hair out of frustration, “Ma, why is it always about what people will say or what people will think…”
“You might not care, but as a woman, it matters. Especially in our very traditional social circle, which is very different from the high society that the Guptas are acquainted with.” She asserted a fact that he couldn’t overlook, or at least she hoped so, trying to get through to her son. “As a man, you’ll be able to get away with living with a woman out of wedlock. No one will say anything to you. But, do you have any idea what society labels a woman?”
Ashvath’s eyes flickered at the harshness of his wife’s words, while he had refrained from saying anything prior, he knew he needed to step in.
“We should…” Ashvath placed his hand on his wife’s arm, but Harika shook her head.
“Please, don’t stop me, Ashvath. Not today, my son needs to hear this, better from us than outsiders.”
“What would that be, Ma?” Arnav said with a flash of annoyance, “That all of the sudden like the rest of the world, you see Khushi differently now? What’s next, you want me to break my relationship with her?”
Harika glanced around at everyone, then looked at Arnav, and let out a disbelieving laugh.
“You have it all wrong, and you have no idea how much I admire and feel for that girl. I’m on her side. And, as I’ve told your father and your Dadi, Khushi is perfect for you, and our family. We all love her as if she’s one of us.” Harika’s voice came out soft, yet impactful.
“Not as if, she is a part of our family, like you and Rayu.” Dadi said gently, expressing her feelings for Khushi to her grandson.
“As a mother of a daughter, I will tell you that you are being unfair to Khushi by not giving her her rightful place in your life by marrying her.”
“It would be unfair if I was forcing my opinion on her, but that’s not the case. And just so we’re clear, like me, she could care less about others opinions that aren’t our immediate family. Khushi’s strong enough to face the world with me by her side.”
“For now, this arrangement might work for both of you, but what happens when someone else is added to the equation?” As Arnav’s eyebrows shot up at her question, she clarified. “What happens when you decide to bring a child into this world? Whose name will he or she take? Baby Gupta or baby Raizada…”
“I don’t know, and it’s a bit too soon to be speaking of babies.” He shut his eyes, and clenched his fist tightly feeling his anger rising.
“Obviously it isn’t, given you’re both committed to each other, and will be living together as a couple. And here’s something else for you to think about… you do know what they call a child born outside of a marriage, right?”
His fury intensified, clashing his gaze with his mother’s, and he did nothing to conceal it “Mother, don’t say it!”
“I won’t, neither would anyone else here, but the world won’t be kind to our Khushi or your future child.”
He had heard enough, and couldn’t take anymore. This was a battle he knew he could never win with his mother or the traditionalists of the world.
“We will have to agree to disagree on this topic, Ma.” He might have addressed his mother, but he also looked at his father. “Our decision stands, and Khushi and I will be moving into our new home once the closing is done next week. I hope that my family will be happy for us as we move forward in our relationship. But, I’ll understand if you don’t.”
He had said all he needed to say, as had his family. With nothing else left to say or hear, he made his way back to the city.
Even if he tried to brush his mother’s words aside, he couldn’t. He had been unprepared for the surge of emotions that accompanied him emerging from what his mother had expressed. As well as the unspoken words that his father held back, doing his best to stay neutral.
He should have predicted this would be the outcome with his parents, specifically his mother, given their ideology of marriage. For as long as he could remember, his family constantly talked about his future, one that included him married with children.
His intentions were never to hurt his family or disappoint them in any way, and yet, he had.
Why couldn’t his parents accept his decision?
Was it too much for them to see beyond the institution of marriage, where it was either everything or nothing for a couple in love and committed to each other?
When he staggered inside his home close to ten o’clock, Khushi was still out with her father. Seeing that she wasn’t back yet, he took it as a sign that maybe her conversation turned out better than his.
The first thing he did was grab himself a much needed strong drink with his mood as black as the thunderous clouds outside. Soon the heavens were going to open up with an impending storm looming on the horizon.
He slowly walked over to the window in the living room, and made himself comfortable, sitting down on the floor up against the window. With a drink in his hand and a bottle of scotch next to him, he waited for the storm to make its debut.
A moment later, the arrival of rain, steadily drumming against the window, caught his attention. He held his hand to the cool glass, watching his breath condense around his outstretched fingers.
There was something about the rain that comforted him. The patter of the drops tumbling from the dark grey skies, bringing serenity along with them no matter the chaos around him.
Just like the melodious voice of the woman standing over him.
“I’m a dance in the rain kinda woman, but I don’t mind being cozied up with my love to watch the rain. Can I join your party?”
He flashed her exquisite reflection a smile, “Sweetheart, you don’t need to ask.” He turned, extending an outstretched hand with the need to have her next to him where she belonged. “Come, please.”
Despite the long row of windows with plenty of room, he leaned against the wall of the corner, and spread his legs out for her to lean up against him. She sat comfortably in between his legs, and tilted her head to look up at him.
“I’m sorry,” She whispered, “I wanted to be back here in time for when you got home, but Daddy and I had gone to Society to meet up with the twins for a late dinner, and drinks, though nothing strong like what you’re having.” She looked at the almost empty glass in his hand, “When you texted saying you were headed back to the city, we were in the middle of dinner.”
He placed the crystal tumbler on the floor, then slid a hand into her hair and pulled her head back.
“There’s no need for an apology or an explanation, just kiss me.”
She arched against him, her back to his chest, offering all she had, and he was one selfish bastard, kissing the hell out of her until they needed to pull away to catch their breath.
Not wanting any distance between them when she shifted slightly, he possessively tightened his arms, and buried his face in the crook of her neck.
“I am not going anywhere.” She said softly, placing her hand on top of his resting on her waist.
“Yes, Love, I am right here with you.” She tilted her head, and kissed the side of his forehead. “Now tell me, what happened with your parents. Seeing your somber mood, I am guessing all didn’t go well. Did they not approve of us living together?”
He lifted his head as she sat up, turning to face him. There was no delaying sharing what had transpired with his parents.
“It’s the whole notion of us not getting married which they don’t agree with. For them, it seems to be the holy grail. I realized today, that they’ll never understand where I’m coming from.” Feeling exhaustion catching up with him, he drew his knee up, and closed his eyes for a second. “You know, I expected your father to be the one that would potentially have an issue with us living together, but it turned out to be …” His words trailing seeing her bite down on her lip as she looked away. “What’s the matter? Did it not go well with NK?”
“The good news is that there was no objection from him with us moving in together. In fact he was completely fine with the idea…”
“And, the bad news?”
“Like your parents, my father also wants to see us formalize our relationship.” She said with her shoulders slumped. “He doesn’t like the fact that our decision is final. Guess, he would like for us to keep our options open for, if and when, we want to start a family of our own.”
The sheer guilt, the helplessness in her tone pricked at him as he found himself abruptly standing up.
“Is that what you want now, Khushi? For us to get married.” He snapped.
She sat there quietly for a moment before her own anger spiraled and she stood, “Arnav, you’re taking everything out of context. You wanted to know my father’s opinion so I told you.”
“Why do I sense that you agree with them? My mother, your father…”
“Everyone has their own view, and I have to respect that. And, it doesn’t mean I agree with my father or your mother. As parents, they want the best for their children, us. So, I feel for them to see one of their dreams for us being shattered with our decision. That’s all there is to it.”
“And, what about me?” He said quietly but sharply, “Do you really understand my stance or are you sacrificing your dream, your future for me?”
“It’s been a long evening, Arnav and I really think we need to sleep on this.”
He shook his head, and grabbed her arm, “I need to know now, Khushi.”
She flinched as he gripped her tightly, “We have already spoken about this, and came to a conclusion together to not marry. I am with you that we don’t need a piece of paper to define our relationship. A decision that I am sticking by. That’s final. But, what I would like to know is, why are you second guessing yourself?”
He said nothing, but firmly stood there with his gaze fixed on her.
Everything seemed to be crumbling from where he stood, and while Khushi had answered him confidently, deep down he was left with his mother’s words…
Was he being unfair to Khushi?
There you have it, the Raizadas reactions 😉 I would love to know your thoughts…
As always, it’s a pleasure to have all of you along on this journey !