When she had said Qubool hai she had felt happy and yet so miserable. After all not every girl was lucky enough to marry the man she'd been in love with for months. There was just one catch. He didn't love her. He was marrying her because his Ammi thought it would be best.
As the day of the nikaah had neared, Zoya had dreaded every passing moment. With each rasm her heart had squeezed into a tight little hennaed fist. Allah miyan, make it stop, she screamed silently every night.
Why doesn't he put an end to it, she asked herself every day. But he respected his mother too much to go against her wishes. Heartsore, she had even tried to talk to him once about it. "Mr. Khan, if you are against this wedding why don't you tell phuphi?"
He had turned his back on her. "It makes Ammi happy."
But what about your happiness? She had wanted to ask. What about mine?
Asad too had his doubts about the nikaah. When Ammi had chosen Zoya to be his bride he had been grateful to her for understanding his heart's desire perfectly. A man of few words, he had once declared he'd never fall in love and only get married to a woman who was elegant and mature like his mother. That he had backtracked on every self-assertion to fall head over heels in love with a girl the complete opposite of him, and everything that he stood for, didn't even matter at this point.
It felt right.
That it was seamlessly accomplished, without him having to undergo any embarrassing declarations or awkward confessions, was an added bonus.
But lately his heart felt heavy. He had seen her smile evaporate and a sickly pallor spread across her face over the last few days. She ate less, talked too softly, and never looked him square in the eye any more. Her hands shook when she served him and too often he had seen the redness around her eyes. Did she want out? Was she going to flee? Did she even want to get married to him? Should he tell how he felt about her? What if she laughed at him?
Truth be told, he had breathed an audible sigh of relief when he heard her say, too softly again, "qubool hai."
But at the same time, he felt ice span his heart. What if she felt trapped? Had she been hoping that he'd say no?
When he entered the room that night, he had seen her sitting on the bed, hunched miserably. He felt terrible. How could he not have asked her more frankly about what she wanted. "Um, Ms. Farroqui, you can take the bed. I'll sleep on the settee."
She had nearly gasped aloud at the stab of pain. He doesn't want me. Why did you marry me Mr. Khan?
"Jee," she had said softly.
The slew of guests, functions and rasms next morning, had kept Dilshad and Najma from noticing anything amiss. They both had ducked their heads shyly so everyone just assumed that the newlyweds were embarrassed.
They were teased mercilessly.
Never had Zoya imagined that she would be grateful for a six-inch long ghunghat. At least her tears went unnoticed. Sitting next to her Asad had heard some muffled sniffles and felt helpless. He wanted to hold her in his arms and wipe those tears away but that would offend her, he was sure.
She was so independent and fierce.
He was so unbending and serious.
Why hadn't he put an end to it so that she could be happier with someone who deserved her?
That night Zoya had softly offered to take the settee. "We can take turns so that you can be comfortable. Aapko kal office bhi jaana hai. You need a full night's rest."
Like last night, she played movies and sang songs in her head so that she wouldn't burst into tears and disturb him. When she woke up her body was stiff from holding herself so tight all night. She had decided to sneak into her old bathroom to freshen up every morning. She was terrified that she'd mess up his bathroom and he would be too kind to show his disapproval.
His anger she could take, but his kindness was killing her. He had even offered her the use of his bathroom on the first night, but she had been too embarrassed.
The second morning Dilshad had taken stock of matters at hand. She had never seen a more miserable newly wed couple in her life. What was wrong with these two? They obviously loved each other. Then?
Come to think of it, Zoya wasn't Zoya any more. And Asad. He looked at her as though acknowledging his bride's presence would make her evaporate.
She had wanted to send them away on a honeymoon but Asad had nixed the idea. She was horrified to see him ready to leave for work at the breakfast table.
And why was Zoya in a suit?
"Zoya, if you are comfortable in jeans, please feel free to wear them, beta." She wanted to reassure her daughter-in-law first.
Zoya had looked in alarm at Asad but not said a word.
"Kyun Asad? Don't you think Zoya can wear western clothing even after marriage?"
"It's OK phuphi," Zoya had tried to diffuse the situation, wringing her hands. She didn't want him to feel that he had to agree.
"Umm, actually, Ms. Far ... yeh jo bhi pehenna chahti hain woh pehen sakti hain. I don't mind at all."
"See Zoya? No need to be so formal."
Zoya had merely nodded her head quietly and placed the juice at the table.
Dilshad had watched the two with growing apprehension. While they stole looks at each other, they didn't say a word except for a stilted thank you, or a please. They had it bad for each other obviously. But why were they behaving like strangers? Where was the chemistry and banter that had made her certain that they were made for each other? Ya Allah, main inka kya karoon? She nearly slapped her head.
Half-way through breakfast she had decided upon a strategy. "Asad, you aren't going to office today."
"Not buts," she'd rounded on him. "Apna mazaak bhi udvaoge, aur mera bhi. Does anyone join work the day after their wedding?"
She saw his lips thin in a straight line, and sighed.
"You didn't agree to a honeymoon but you will take Zoya out today and that's final."
They both had looked each other in alarm and then blushed furiously.
She had gratefully changed into her jeans and shirt and felt that she could breathe again. Asad had noticed that she was using her former room as her closet and dressing room. He felt rejected. Did she think this was a temporary arrangement?
Gruffly, he told her, "Ms. Farooqui, I can clear my closet and you can use half of it."
I am not Ms. Farooqui anymore! She had wanted to scream. Why can't you call me by my name?
"Umm, it's OK Mr. Khan. I don't want to disturb your room. I'm fine."
He gritted his teeth. He had tried, but she kept refusing his overtures.
"Which movie would you like to see?" he changed the subject not wanting to be reminded of how much she didn't want to be in his, no, their room.
He saw the old spark in her eyes. Excited and finally looking in his face with those eyes, she half-begged, "can we watch Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani?"
She squealed happily when he said yes.
I'll take you for a movie everyday if you only look at me like that, he thought. He called someone at work to have the tickets booked and sent to them by the afternoon. He wanted to stay in the room with her. But he didn't know what to do with his hands. Laptop? No she'd think he was working and leave him alone.
He moved restlessly to the bookshelf not really seeing the names on the spines. He neatened the already straight rows.
Zoya watched him from under her lashes. As he turned to walk to his closet to make the distance between each hanger even more precise, she sneaked over to the bookshelf and knocked a whole row of books down.
He came running to see what had happened. He looked at the floor and then up at her. "What --?"
"Oh I'm sorry, how clumsy of me," she lied. She bent down to pick up the books and replace them on the shelf.
"No! Wait!" he yelped and disappeared into the bathroom.
Now what? Am I going to be arrested for messing up Jahanpanah's pristine prison cell?
He returned with a dampened washcloth and proceeded to carefully wipe the already-spotless shelf down. Zoya sat down on the floor cross-legged, watching him, fascinated. When he was satisfied, he reached out to her to start giving him the books now. Each book was carefully swabbed on all sides as well. She would browse through a book before waiting to hand it to him. Because, that's how long each book took to wipe down.
And just like that they were talking about books.
He read more non-fiction than fiction, she noted. Biographies, histories, political analysis. Very few popular fiction titles. She made a moue. He was so well-read. She felt like an illiterate for just investing in pulpy crime and romance fiction.
He had blushed initially at revealing this intimate part of himself. But the more they talked, the more he opened up about his interests. When he went to re-wash the cloth she picked up her iPad and put some old Hindi songs on to play softly in the background.
He was surprised by her selection of songs when he returned. "I didn't know you would like old songs having grown up in the US," he asked shyly. They had moved on to the next shelf by now.
"I love songs from Shammi Kapoor films!" she gushed. "I grew up listening to these. Jeeju and Aapi introduced me to them." She was still handing him books to wipe and shelve. She gasped as she came across a well-thumbed copy of The Great Gatsby. "Ooh, Mr. Khan! I love this book." He looked down at her, completely smitten by the expression on her face. She was smiling as she tried to find favorite passages. Would they be the same as his? In fact, come to think of it, there was one line that could have been written just for her: "Almost any exhibition of complete self sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me." He shook his head remembering it accurately, and returned to the tenor of her voice.
"...the passage I'm trying to find. Ah, here it is." He waited to see which one she'd picked.
She found it, but stumbled and then looked away in embarrassment. Idiot! She'd just remembered that it was from a scene when Gatsby was about to kiss Daisy. Oh god, what a moron! She hastily moved to the last page. Asad knew that she had picked his favorite passage too and also why she'd skipped over it in a hurry. His heart thumped hopefully.
"I love the last lines of the book," she sighed. Closing it she repeated softly and looked up in delight when he repeated the lines along with her: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
They savored the silence and a fragile bond that had just been forged.
"I've always wondered," she mused, with a faraway look in her eye. "why he uses the words 'borne back' and not something like 'tossed.' The 's' sounds at the end of the last sentence would have had more hissing power. More ominous that way."
He thought about what she said. He had never thought about word choice before. "I think you have to look at the whole sentence." He said, still, and thoughtful in repose. "Choosing 'borne back' echo the 'b' sounds in 'beat' and 'boats.' More alliterative and final."
She didn't know she could fall in love with him even more. Damn you Mr. Khan, you're going to make me cry again.
"Wow!" she whispered. "That makes total sense." He beamed, very pleased with himself.
They had managed to make the bookshelf shine and sparkle by now. But suddenly not having anything to do made them self-conscious about talking to each other all over again. The song "Ehsaan tera hoga mujhpar" from Junglee started playing and their hearts constricted in unison.
"Mujhe tumse mohabbat ho gayi hai, mujhe palkon ki chhaon mein rehne do," tormented a taunting Rafi, from 50 years ago.
Their eyes skittered away from each other in panic. He turned away to fiddle with some books, pretending to glance at his watch. She scrambled up to use the washroom to wash her hands. She didn't want to use his towel so she wiped her hands on her jeans.
Before stepping out, she heard a soft crash. She rushed out in alarm. "Mr. Khan, are you OK?"
She saw him kneeling on the floor of his closet with all his shirts and hangers in a messy pile at his feet. "Um ... voh ... actually ... I tripped while trying to fix the shelf," he lied.