Previous Chapter: 143002467
Ret Hi Ret Thi Mere Dil Mein Bhari, Pyaas Hi Pyaas Thi Zindagi Ye Meri
"Baby ko base pasanda," Badi Dadi sang for Zaid as he danced and clapped his hands in her lap.
Even though Badi Dadi was mangling the lyrics (despite being corrected by her grandchildren a hundred times, "Dadi, it's not pasanda like Paneer Pasanda!"), Zaid loved that song and everyone knew it too. He'd loved it ever since he'd heard it at his Nikhat Phuphi's reception in New York. Omar Phupha had rocked him on his shoulders that night when Abbu had come. Ayaan Chachu had tried to intercept, and it had become a fun game of who would win and hoist Zaid as the trophy.
When everyone sang, "baby ko bass pasand hai," Zaid was convinced that they were singing about him.
But neither Badi Dadi nor her great-grandson knew why Zaid's parents blushed so hard each time this song came up.
And it was a good thing nobody knew.
Knowing about their son's love of the song, once, when they were in the throes of their lovemaking, Asad had quirked an eyebrow.
"Baby ko 'base' pasand hai," he'd teased, hoping to make Zoya blush during her ministrations. His hand had tightened its grip on her head by her hair even as his hips jerked in anticipation of that high.
But Zoya was Zoya--the queen of comebacks: Hansi ki bhi Rani, as she liked to say.
On her knees, she had looked up into his face. Her curving lips had glistened ... his glistening skin had burned ... and yearned. Eyes locked with his, lips lingering on the veiny underside, she'd sucked and then run her tongue along his length ... slowly, ever so tantalizingly ... from base to tip.
"Baby ko 'tip' bhi pasand hai!" Zoya had breathed and made him blush instead. And groan when she licked him.
He'd arched as her tongue had done that swirly-swallowy thing he loved so much before taking him in her mouth completely. His bucking hips had made him thrust even harder as she deep-throated him.
Oh god, the woman just drove him mad. Crazy, out of his mind, mad. His fingers'd tangled in her hair and clenched.
"Did you talk to them? What did they say?" Zoya asked Humaira. They hadn't yet heard back from the State Museum and she was getting antsy.
Humaira shook her head.
"Beta, don't worry, ho jayega. yakeen rakho," Raziya told them. "Meanwhile why not follow-up with the Jaipur Doll Museum? I'm sure your dolls will be a big hit at their gift shop too!"
Zoya perked right up. Yes! They had talked about it, even contacted the museum about a month or two ago. But the museum was in the midst of renovations, so that was a bummer. And then the Museum Shop Manager had made some noises about honoring current contracts with vendors.
The girls were thinking of a trip to Jaipur to meet some of the staff in person. You could send photographs by email and post pictures on your website, but seeing the dolls and being able to touch them physically would have its own appeal. Zoya was that confident of their workmanship--once they saw the delicate handiwork of their artists, felt the texture of the silks and satins, any museum curator or conservator would be smitten. Maybe the dolls could change people's minds. Just as they were changing people's minds at home. Their gallery of products was lucky to get a weekend write-up in one of the city's major newspapers last month. That had boosted sales and orders. The Jhansi ki Rani doll and its diferent accessories were still the most popular. The special orders on that alone had allowed the girls to hire some more workers.
The sports dolls were gaining a wider fan base too. Thanks to recent stars like PV Sindhu, Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur, Indian women's sports were gaining younger fans. And Zoya was so thrilled to finally greenlight a Dhoni action figure. She had been heartbroken when Dhoni announced his retirement from captaincy earlier in the year. Oh man, she had cried and moped for a whole week. Watching re-runs of his matches had helped a little but not too much.
Humaira was pumped too. She was designing a Pinterest page for their dolls ("Yes, yes, Aapi I'll put the Dhoni doll on there too with 360 degree views." Zoya had spluttered in outrage. "Allah miyan, what's wrong with you, he's not a doll. He's an ACTION figure!"). When not mollifying her Aapi, Humaira was also responsible for highlighting the life and work of each dollmaker for their website. She loved photographing the artists at work in the factory--they were shy initially but loved seeing their pictures on the site when they were posted.
Humaira had some of her usual concerns though.
"Aapi, are we doing the right thing? I'm scared of getting too big too soon. What if we can't meet the orders ...?"
Zoya frowned. She had similar fears too now and then. But she didn't share them with Humaira, just with Asad. Zoya didn't want a cautious Humaira to be even more worried.
"Also, what if people begin to cut down on luxury spending? I can't bear to think of letting our people go because business slowed down ... " Humaira continued.
"Hmm," Zoya replied. Exactly what she'd fret about and tell Asad every few weeks. Asad would usually talk her off the ledge and push her worries off instead.
Zoya smiled and hugged Humaira sideways.
"It's so cool that we work together! I'm the jump-right-in and Que-sera-sera partner, and you're the more sensible and practical one!"
Humaira nodded, still pensive. She almost raised her thumb to nibble on its cuticle but stopped when Zoya swatted her arm away.
Raziya watched them as Zoya gushed about possibilities and promises.
What if there were no barriers, no fetters, no doubts? How high would girls fly, she thought.
The girls'd had this conversation many times over in the past months. But between themselves they somehow managed to balance out the caution-to-risk ratio. Humaira was the necessary though gentle rein to her Aapi's coltish exuberance. And Zoya managed to convince Humaira to daydream a little bit, spin some fantasies once in a while. So what if things didn't work out, or were imperfect? They'd have fun trying, wouldn't they? Thanks to her mad skills at chiselling away at Mr. Khan's brand of OCD perfectionism, Zoya had become an expert at hawking hopeful imperfection. Even her shers had taken care of knocking Asad down a peg or two: "Aamir ka kehna hai, nahin ho sakti improved perfection. Ab main Mr. Khan ko dikhaungi, unki ASLI REFLECTION!"
But by now Raziya too had learned to raise her palms in invisible prayer each time she heard Zoya's "trust me!"
That "trust me" was too much of a wild card. It could open magical doors and paint a million smiles; but it could also lead to duds or disasters and mini-heart attacks. Like the time when Zoya had dragged Humaira to some ratty old building in the middle of nowhere to track down some lace-makers and crochet artists.
"It'll be fun! And we can think of incorporating these elements in the doll clothes and accessories. Have you noticed how popular lace chokers and necklaces are these days? Little fringe thingies?" She went on and on about some cute little crochet purses and hats.
"We don't have to commit. Imagine if we could have throw pillows in the shape of soccer balls--made of lace and crochet as accessories for sporty girls! Maybe even add leather patches ... Let's just go check it out. It'll be fun. Trust me!" Her eyes had shone, her bouncing feet were a blur.
Raziya, the referee, held up a yellow flag right then as she pitched a fit at this mania. Too often Zoya's pied-piper charm managed to convince Humaira and Siddiqui saheb far too easily.
"Aunty, we'll be fine. The driver will be with us."
"No! It's too far and I don't trust that area. Wait for Asad or Ayaan to come at least."
"But this is the best time to go. Evening will be too late and even more dangerous. Tomorrow and the next day are national holidays."
OK, it was red flag time.
Raziya huffed. Once Zoya had made up her mind no one could talk her out of it. Her giggly gusto packed the punch of an army of hathi and ghodey.
"Fine! I'll come too then."
Because some days Zoya needed as much baby-sitting as Zaid.
"But Zaid?" They were alone at the Siddiqui house. Dilshad was away for a few days to visit relatives. She would return in the late afternoon.
"We'll bring him too!" Raziya'd hoped this would bring the mad Zoyaness down from a boil to a simmer. The girl would surely see some sense now.
"Yay, that's a great idea! We'll bring Dobby too. It'll be a fun outing. We can have a picnic afterwards!" The bouncing started up again, "by the lake!"
Raziya smacked her head. Once again her older daughter had turned her parenting masterstroke into an aa-bail-mujhe-maar moment.
She nearly growled. "Fine, this way you'll realize how worried mothers get when their kids insist on doing foolish things!"
"Incredibly foolish things, as Jeeju would say," Humaira couldn't resist teasing her Aapi.
Zoya had been ecstatic at getting her way so all the lectures and teasing were ignored. Natch.
Soon they were loaded up in the car with Zaid's paraphernalia; a guard now sat in the front seat. They had to take the SUV now.
"Just in case," Raziya had said when the girls raised their eyebrows. She also bullied them into texting Asad and Ayaan where they were going, the address and what time they hoped to return.
"Pata hona chahiye," Raziya added as she sniffed in disapproval and tucked her dupatta under her chin.
All of this took a good hour if not more as the girls knew it would. Raziya made the driver check the car (twice), double-check the spare tire, top the tank and refill the extra petrol cans.
Just. In. Case.
The girls were instructed to carry their phone chargers.
"Just in case," they mouthed behind her back as their eyes rolled.
Raziya didn't care they made fun of her. She knew their constant thumbing across their phones to check snap-insta-face-chat-whatsapp nonsense drained the batteries.
And Raziya was not taking a single chance. The kids might have forgotten about Tanveer and her siege but she would never forget. On some days she imagined a Tanveer lurking in every Bhopal corner.
"I want it on the record that this is not a good idea," she texted Asad as they started from home. "In fact, it is a very bad idea."
"You've spoiled her too much and let her get away with everything!" she replied when Asad responded with a flippant, "duly noted."
She rested easy only when Asad texted: "Fine, I'll send Amit to join you. Thank you for the heads-up and address, Aunty." Only her older son-in-law got her.
In the car, the girls laughed when Raziya pressed something in their hands.
"Pepper spray!" Zoya squealed. "But Aunty, I already have mine in my purse."
"Oh really?" Raziya snorted. "Show me."
Humaira grinned when her Aapi rummaged in her cross-body purse and hummed in frustration. Ratty tissues fell out. Half-open packs of gum. Movie tickets. Lint. A crumpled receipt or ten ...
"Dekha? I knew it," their mother muttered about careless kids who had no sense of danger or being prepared for emergencies.
"Found it!" Zoya announced. And then she made a face when she noticed the bottle's cap was off. She shook it. It didn't sound like it had anything in it.
"Nooo!" Raziya snarled when she saw Zoya's finger on the trigger. "Khuda ke vaste, ab usko test mat karna! If there's any left in it you'll manage to squirt it into your eyes."
Zoya blushed at the sudden memory. She had tried to test the pepper spray once.
On Mr. Khan, who else?
And trust her luck. It wouldn't work and that's how she ended up spraying it into her own eyes. Of course everything that happened that day was Mr. Khan's fault, Zoya smirked to herself.
"Ahh, I'm dying," she'd screamed. "Someone give me water!"
An eye-rolling Asad had handed her his water bottle, which she used to rinse her burning eyes. And then she'd seen the traitorous water bottle in her hand and glared at him.
"Aapne kyun diya?"
That was the first time she'd heard this ludicrous expression from a guy--a repeat offender who had tried to run her over with his car a second time--with a major stick up his ass.
Hmm, speaking of which--
Umm mmm mm ... that ass ... those cumgutters ...
Wait, she still had to tell Asad about cumgutters--the new se*x word she'd stumbled upon ... He'd go red in the face and die of embarrassment for sure. Allah miyan, what's wro--
Zoya blushed deeper then laughed looking up into Raziya's face.
"Naya wala spray sambhal kar rakho," Raziya ordered. Don't argue with me, she implied, or try to tell me that I'm wrong to worry about your safety.
The message, however, was lost on Zoya who was still coming off her s*exhaze.
Raziya tsked when handing Zoya the hand sanitizer a second later. "You don't want any pepper remains on Zaid do you?" she frowned when Zoya looked at her quizzically.
"Haan, Zaidu must not get any pepper spray on him," Zoya winked at Humaira. "Added to all the ghee and badam he'll be too well-seasoned and yummy. We might jussht eat him up!" she pinched her son's cheek as he and his Khala laughed.
"Bana lo mazak apni Ammi ka," Raziya huffed. "I won't apologize for being too careful."
Zoya tucked her arm into Raziya's. "Aww, that's OK, Aunty. We love you for caring too much. Hai na, Zaidu?"
"Ayy wuuv ooo," Zaid crooned.
"I love you!"
"Ayy wuuv looo!"
"Who's a good boy?"
"Yesshh he is!"
At their destination the girls had been first surprised and then tickled to see Amit.
"Sir sent me," he said.
"Just in case," the girls chimed as they looked at Raziya.
Amit happily put Zaid in his baby carrier and strapped it on. Zaid gurgled with glee. He always liked to have the family estrogen balanced out with some token testosterone. And then Amit (Mamu, as Abbu had taught to call him) recited some of his lyrics or even hummed tunes for him. What else could a little guy want? Zaid kicked up his legs and pumped his arms.
Baby ko bass pasanda.
The dirt ... the squalor embarrassed Raziya.
She still marveled at Zoya's thoughtfulness. A girl born and raised in New York and she never made faces at the smells and filth. Not once had she heard the girl complain about how gross Indian streets were or how foul. The open drains didn't make her step falter nor did the dog droppings derail her from her high-spirited mission.
Thank god it was cleaner inside! And that the trip wasn't a total waste. They couldn't resist oohing and aahing over the intricate patterns.
But for almost a minute there, Humaira and Raziya had lost Zoya.
Lost her to another se*xual haze, that is, that she'd started to spin when she saw the scraps of lace and crochet--this would make such a delicious bikini ... unashamedly see-through ... soft ... Asad would love to see her in this ivory number before he ripp--
"Aapi, look at this!"
Sighing, Zoya dragged her eyes ... and mind away.
The girls were able to get samples and promises for future orders. Now even Humaira was excited by the visions of girly glamor painted by her sister--hey, they wanted to appeal to every young girl's dream of realistic dolls, didn't they?
Zaid, meanwhile, was oohed and aahed over too by the local women. Shy, he ducked his head in Amit Mamu's arm.
Back in the city, Amit had waved to them from his bike as he went to report back to Sir. Raziya wasn't as panicky anymore--they were much closer to home.
She wanted to go straight home but Zoya hadn't forgetten their picnic plans.
"We'll have a snack and then some kulfi and then a walk around the lake with Zaid in his stroller! He'll love it!"
Now how could Raziya say no to some Zaidu fun? Or to Zoya?
Once they got to the lakeside, the girls skipped away to get pani puris after setting up Raziya and Zaid comfortably on a blanket under a tree.
And that's when Raziya's heart really got a workout.
First, Zoya's phone notifications went crazy. A second later she was squealing and dancing and whooping.
"Dhoni is in town! They spotted him at Zaiqa restaurant. Oh my god, oh my god. OH MY GOD, DHONI is in town!!!"
Now everyone in the park knew that Dhoni was in town. Humaira was wheezing because her sister had just squeezed the air out of her lungs with a bear hug.
Raziya gripped her heart when she saw Zoya running toward them. Allah, something bad has happened! But then she saw her daughter's manic face.
"Aunty, Aunty, Aunty, hurry! We have to go right now!" Zoya began dumping all the stuff into the basket. Zaid was scooped up and strapped into his stroller; Dobby and his leash were rounded up and secured in the crate--they were both lucky it wasn't the other way around.
"Kya hua beta? Why this rush? Sambhal ke!"
Raziya was greeted only with a chant:
"Dhoni is here. Dhoni is here. My Dhoni is here."
"Where?" Raziya looked around them. Everything was still the same. Normal.
"Not here in the park. He's been spotted at a restaurant. We have to go right now!"
And they did. As soon as they could round up the driver and the guard and pile into the SUV, they zoomed off to Zaiqa for some Dhoni-darshan.
But all the way Zoya's butt wouldn't stay still in the car seat. It couldn't. What if he left even before they got to the restaurant? No! Her life would be over.
It was a good thing Asad wasn't in the vicinity. He would have combusted in a jealous rage at his wife's incredible foolishness.
When they reached the restaurant Zoya groaned as she sighted the small crowd outside. Now what? Most likely the restaurant management wasn't letting anyone inside.
Ahh, but babies can clear crowds and open closed doors to get their moms to meet their "unhoni ko honi kar de, honi ko unhoni, handsome and dashing ... Mahendra Singh Dhoni!"
Zaid Miyan was in total secret agent mode today. As they neared the entrance, he decided to start crying loudly in his Khala's arms as his mom pretended to faint at the restaurant door. And then Raziya went into supermom mode. She yelled at and bullied the doorman and manager into getting them inside: "Help my daughter! Can't you see she's weak from the heat? Get her some water! Oh my god, she's going to die! Call a doctor! Kya ho gaya meri bacchi ko! Koi kucch karta kyun nahin?"
A squalling baby, a woman in a dead faint, a ranting grandma, and a glowering and armed bodyguard--the manager did the only thing he could think of. He invited them in and seated them at the best table. OK, the second-best because the best was being hogged by Dhoni and his cohorts.
And as if by magic the baby stopped crying, the woman revived to consciousness by a sprinkle of cool water on her face, and the grandma was finally silenced. The manager sighed with relief. They looked like well-to-do people by the looks of their clothes, accessories and bags. No riffraff. They even had a bodyguard with them--of course, the manager couldn't afford to screw things up.
Minutes later as Zaid gnawed on his butter naan and cucumber slices, his mother took stock. Behind the greenery in their booth was Dhoni! Zoya whipped out her phone and turned the camera to selfie mode. She angled it this way and that as Humaira held the foliage back. His hair! She spotted the cropped hair. Aww, he'd changed his hair again! But she still loved him the same.
Hmmph! She wasn't getting a good view. She would need to be a better hustler if she was going to make a memorable Dhoni moment that she could tell her grandkids about.
Zoya promptly ignored Humaira's nervous giggles and Aunty's muttered reproofs as she wiggled around trying her best to get a Dhoni-glimpse.
Thank god, the manager had given them this booth! Zoya raised her palms in gratitude. Then she tucked her feet under her, rose up on her knees, and turned around to reconnoiter for a sitrep. If the plants were shifted a bit to the left and right she might just be able to catch sight of her Dhoni.
Zoya peeked after having made a few necessary adjustments.
She couldn't resist a squeal when she saw him less than 10 feet away. Dhoni's head lifted at the sound and Zoya covered her mouth as she sank down in her seat.
Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my god. She'd seen Dhoni! And Dhoni had almost seen her.
Dhoni. Dhoni. Dhoni, her heart pumped. Stadium-sized applause filled her ears. Zoya hugged her phone. Should she text the world? Post this news on her social media sites?
No, you idiot, just focus on getting another glimpse--a longer one this time. Social media could wait.
Should she walk up to him and say hi?
OK, just take one more peek and then decide.
She repeated her maneuver and caught another look. Awww.
How lucky was she? Zoya wanted to rest her elbow on the ledge and gaze at him forever. She wouldn't blink. No. Not even once. She had to imprint this image in her mind, on her eyeballs. Pictures could come later.
She turned back reluctantly only when Humaira's nervous hands grabbed her to pull her down.
"One more look," she whispered to her sister.
"Zoya beta, eat something first," Raziya tried to distract her. Also she was worried about the fainting. She hadn't yet confirmed if it was an act, or the real deal. What if Zoya was ill?
"Aunty please, just one look!"
But this time when Zoya parted the plants she stared right into Dhoni's narrowed eyes. Uhh-oh. That annoyed look he was giving her wasn't going to get her within a ten-foot radius of her handsome and dashing Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Zoya gulped and ducked her head.
Sh*it. Sh*it. Sh*it.
Zoya Farooqui, you're such a nut job. She clasped her hands in silent prayer. Please, Dhoni baby, don't be mad at me.
OK, maybe if she waited for two whole minutes and then tried again? Raziya glared at her from across the booth.
"Kafi badmashi ho gayee. You've seen him, no? Now eat your biryani and behave!"
Zaid laughed. Isn't it nice to hear your parents get scolded? He clapped for his Chhoti Nani as she gave him another bite of the paneer.
Crossing her fingers for luck, Zoya swung around for one last peek after taking two hurried bites to satisfy Aunty.
This time when she parted the leaves she almost cried out in dismay. Oh no, where did he go? She leaned in further. Ahh, he'd shifted his seat to avoid being pestered by a certain looky-loo.
A disappointed Zoya shrunk back into her seat.
"Aww, poor Aapi. You can't see him?"
Zoya shook her head, too numb to speak.
"Should I try to get a picture?" Humaira asked wanting to return the smile on her sister's face.
Zoya's face lit up.
"No! I have a better idea. Switch places with me!"
"Ya Allah, yeh sab karna zaroori hai kya?" an embarrassed Raziya asked when she saw her daughters climb up on the couch to swap seats. She looked around to see if any one was watching. Why was the baby better behaved than her adult girls? Thank god, there weren't many people here at this time.
The girls ignored her. They were on a once-in-a-lifetime mission.
At a better vantage point now, Zoya rose up on her knees once again.
Ahhh there, now she could see him better. And she was so smart. He wouldn't feel so self-conscious now that she was watching him from another angle. She was just too good.
A smug and smitten Zoya leaned in further for a better lo--
And being her true klutzy self, she mangaged to upend a pot of bromeliads on handsome and dashing Mahendra Singh Dhoni's head.
"What the hell?!" They heard a growl from the other side.
Two waiters and the same manager came running. They made bleating sounds of apology to calm down the angry mutters.
If she could have died of mortification Zoya would have. She would have even killed herself for hurting her Dhoni.
"I'm so sorry!" she croaked through tears of horror and shame.
Someone from the other side came up to their table. The guy didn't look pleased.
"What is wrong with you people," he hissed. "Why can't you just let a person dine in privacy instead of creating a scene? This always happens when he goes out in public. Why can't you be more respectful and normal?"
Oh no, he didn't. He didn't just make Zoya gasp and make those eyes swim in tears.
Raziya was livid.
"How dare you speak to my daughter like that!" she thundered imperially.
Everyone in the room stilled. Even Zaid.
"It was an honest mistake. Obviously my daughter didn't mean to do it on purpose. Look, she's so upset that she's crying!"
Zoya covered her face. No, she wasn't crying. She just wanted the earth to open up and swallow her. Where was a Jahanpanah-ordered wall in which to chunwao her, when one needed it the most?
Humaira jumped in to broker some peace. "We're so sorry. My sister is a big fan of Dhoni Sir ... we got carried away. Please, humein maaf kar dijiye!"
An angry Dhoni rose from the booth behind them, dusting his head. Flecks of soil went flying as he started to move toward the exit.
"Please Mahi ... umm, I mean Mr. Dhoni, please don't be mad at me! I'm so sorry." Zoya jumped up on the seat, hands folded, puppy-dog face begging for forgiveness.
Raziya hid a smile behind her dupatta. That face always managed to work magic with Siddiqui saheb and her son-in-law. It would do so with Dhoni too.
"I'm such a huuuge fan! Your biggest!" She pleaded, arms gesturing wildly. Everyone must say that him. But Zoya pressed on, undeterred. "You stay so cool and calm under pressure. The best captain India's had--of course your record speaks for itself. In fact, you're the best in the history of the game in India!"
Zoya clasped her hands in prayer. "Your laser-sharp reflexes, your stumping, they are M.A. I mean, Masha'Allah! Please, please, please play in the next World Cup! You have to! Don't listen to your detractors--they're idiots. You're the best. An absolute LEGEND!"
By the time Zoya was done gushing, her tears had evaporated and her eyes shone. Her cheeks were rosy and her dimples blazed.
Zoya started to bounce on her toes when she saw her hero halt and turn around. Oh my god, oh my god, it was working!
"Aapka 2005 match against Sri Lanka--183 not out? It was epic! Historic! I have watched that match at least a hundred times. Your hair then, your shots, 10 sixes! How are you so hand-- I mean awesome?"
Dhoni had started to smile by now. The slender woman in jeans was hopping on the booth seat. The nutty and loud enthusiasm was a nice balm to his ego--almost making him forget the blow to his head. And, how could he resist such a delightful recap of his career?
Now that the hook was in, Zoya reeled him in. She jumped off the seat and picked up Zaid from his high chair. "Zaid, look baby, it's Dhoni! Remember?"
Zaid clapped his hands. Of course he knew Dhoni! He had seen the match that his mom was raving about. At least six times. Well, parts of it. A baby doesn't have too much time to sit still. With both hands Zaid swung an imaginary bat in the air, helicopter-style.
"Say hi," his proud mom encouraged.
Zaid waved at Dhoni. "Oni Mamu!"
Zoya's face fell as Humaira and Raziya started to laugh.
"His dad makes him call you Mamu!" Humaira explained to a baffled though charmed Dhoni.
He laughed too. "Now that's a first." He bumped fists with Zaid. "And Mamu is happy to meet his littlest fan."
Zoya was not happy about this self-christening. Her pout intensified.
"It's my husband's idea of a joke," she glowered. "A bad joke."
It was Raziya who took charge then. You'd think her girls had no manners or sense.
"Please join us for some tea, or coffee. Hum aapke bahut shukar-guzaar honge. We're sorry for ruining your meal." She glared at Zoya who lifted her chin in defiance.
Dhoni looked at his wrist. He did have some time till his next appointment and then Zaid leaped to be in his arms. The little face begged for some testosterone company. The bright eyes blinked at him and a dimpled toothy grin followed. Dhoni Mamu was toast.
"Fine, just for a few minutes."
Even as he jumped when he heard the girls shriek in delight, Dhoni settled down warily on the chair provided by the manager. Zaid was returned to his high chair; he laughed when Dhoni tickled his toes.
Zoya could NOT contain her glee at getting a second chance. Thank you, Allah miyan! And thank you Zaid miyan, too.
"Aunty, do you know what an amazing player Mr. Dhoni is? He's played 300 one-days." She rested her face in her palms looking up at him in utter devotion. "And he's the world's best wicket keeper! Remember how I showed you his handiwork, frame by frame? Lightning-fast reflexes! He's a cowboy with a glove--the absolute BEST!"
Zoya mimicked Dhoni's signature gesture. "Watch my elbow," she commanded her audience. "Think how much power it must take to not rebound but actually move forward!"
She stumped the imaginary wicket.
And both she and Zaid cheered, "OUT!"
"Umm, Aapi, I think Mr. Dhoni already knows all these things about himself. Why don't you recite the sher that you made up for him? You recite it at all the matches we see after all." Humaira turned to Dhoni. "It's her superstition. She says if she doesn't recite it at exactly the right moment then you don't--"
Zoya's face turned red. She elbowed her sister. Did she have to embarrass her in front of hot and handsome Mahendra Singh Dhoni?
"Honi oni, honi oni, oni, ono," Zaid chattered.
Zoya glowed when Dhoni said with a grin, "sure I'd love to hear a sher in my honor."
Raziya almost wanted to warn him: it's not as genius as you'd think.
"Please," he said and Zoya was a goner.
She cleared her throat even as Zaid continued with his refrain.
"Umm, it goes a little something like this:
Unhoni ko honi kar de, honi ko unhoni;
Unhoni ko honi kar de, honi ko unhoni;
Handsome and dashing ... Mahendra Singh Dhoni!"
She waited for applause. But Dhoni was laughing instead. Raziya and Humaira joined in too. Zoya made a face. This was not her day obviously.
"You know, I saw your match when you were in Bhopal the last time! You played 67, not out. So cool! I sneaked away with a friend who's now my sister-in-law!"
"Sneaked away from home to watch a match? In this day and age? But why?"
"Ohhh, that's because a certain fire-breathing dragon had forbidden us to go." Zoya was still made at Asad for training their son to call him Mamu. "But then he saw us celebrating your six on TV and that was the end of that. I was chewed out and exiled by the Jahanpanah."
Which century had he blundered into, he must've wondered.
"Exile? I didn't know there were dragons in Bhopal," Dhoni teased.
"There aren't any left any more," Humaira piped up. "And that dragon is now my Jeeju."
Zoya wanted to know more about Dhoni's family. He was naturally tight-lipped about that. Did Ziva still call him Mahi? Did he name her that because he liked NCIS just like her?
The tea soon arrived. Dhoni waved it away.
"But please, you have to have some or we'll think you haven't forgiven us!" Zoya coaxed.
Humaira quirked an eyebrow. " 'Us?' Really, Aapi?"
Zoya ignored the barb. She had such plans! There were still pictures to take with him. News to post on social media.
She knew exactly where she'd put the framed photo on her bedside table. Would Asad mind? Wait till she told Asad about the day they'd had! And wait till she told Jeeju! He would just die--
Zoya pinched herself. This really was Dhoni, right? She wasn't dreaming this, was she?
"AAHHH!" Dhoni yelped the next second.
Zoya recoiled in horror. In her self-test to see if this really was Dhoni in the flesh, she'd reached out to touch his elbow. Just a little touch. He wouldn't even know it. And the teapot just happened to get in the way. It ended up in Dhoni's lap. Yes, she found out, Dhoni was very much real.
And the sh*itstorm that was going to descend on her would be very real too.
"There's something seriously wrong with this woman!" Dhoni muttered as he jumped up and his chair went flying behind him.
"I'm so sorry, I'msosorryI'msosorryI'msosorry--" Zoya cried as she leaped out of the booth to assist.
Dhoni raised his arms to ward off another disaster and backed into a waiter with a trayful of sodas and ice cream sundaes.
Everyone watched them swing high up in the air, arc, and spill over the cricketer's shoulder--and run down his shirt front.
Oh well, at least the scalding from the tea wouldn't lead to blistering.
"Ya Allah, yeh ladki," Raziya dropped her head in a palm. Wait till she told Zainab about this new drama.
Dhoni was done.
Running hot and cold he stormed out with his entourage leaving behind a distraught and scarred-for-life fan.
This match, he didn't mind quitting. This time he was all too eager to flee to the pavilion. Why the hell did he even agree to come to this wretched city? What was he thinking? Life was much safer in Mumbai. He could even relate to the Jahanpanah who had tried to exile this woman.
Zoya's phone rang and she could have screamed. It was Asad.
When she ignored the call, a text followed.
"Where are you? Everything OK? Call me. I have great news."
Zoya sighed. She could not talk to her husband right now. Nope, not with the state of utter despair that she was in.
Raziya patted her back in comfort. "It's OK, beta. It's not the end of the world."
"It is the end of the world, Zoya wailed as she buried her face in her hands. "I've lost my Dhoni forever!"
"I can't talk right now," she texted Asad when she saw a series of question marks in his next few messages. He'd be hyperventilating soon. "We're fine. What news?"
"Thank god," Asad texted back. "I was getting worried." Aunty's worries from the morning had begun to prick and niggle.
Ahh, but if he only knew. If only his bat signal had pinged to let him know he needed to rescue his wife from her dumb self.
He sent her a long text next. Even he didn't have the time to talk right now.
"I was planning to surprise you, but never mind. I've managed to convince MS Dhoni to be our brand ambassador and he's going to be coming over for tea at home. At 6. You can thank me later."
Worse, it was 4:45 PM.
Asad meanwhile, was immensely pleased with himself. This was a major coup. He'd snagged the biggest gift for his wife and that should immunize him from any se*x curfews for the next year or so.
Maybe they could role play him being a cricketer and her an IPL cheerleader tonight ...
In fact, Asad smirked to himself, he was better than any of those loser husbands who tried to spring a surprise on their wives. He was thoughtful enough to give his wife enough notice so she could look her best when he brought the grand Dhoni home.
Zoya was frantic. Not only was there Dhoni to worry about, but now her husband would find out about the Dhoni-catastrophe and probably have her walled in a brick tower, Jahanpanah-style.
Her maqbara would have "Allah miyan, what's wrong me," as the epitaph. People would take selfies against it and laugh at the crazyass woman entombed inside.
At around 5:30 PM Zoya looked hopeful when a message from Asad pinged. Yay, maybe the program was cancelled and Dhoni had left town--chased away by a raving lunatic.
She crossed her fingers.
No such luck. She opened Asad's text and quailed.
"Guy's not doing too well. He's been grumbling about some psycho let loose in Bhopal who ruined his day. I could kill that person if I got my hands on them. He's saying he encountered 'a weapon of mass destruction.' Can you even believe that? What's wrong with some people! You better have a super Zoya-style welcome ready for him to take his mind off this nasty episode."
"AMMI!" Zoya cried.
"I'm dead. I'm so dead! Mr. Khan is going to kill me," she blurted in tears when Dilshad came running to the room.
Zoya had looked at the picture window and almost thought of doing a runner.
She could run away, live at the Dargah or become a traveling female Pir who wore green and blessed random people or yelled predictions for the future. In fact, Zoya had also looked around for her runaway backpack. But it had been donated a long time ago. Her roving eyes had looked for escape but then sighted a napping Zaid. Allah miyan, what's wrong with me. Of course she couldn't run. She had to stay and face the music--the music of thundering horse hooves and trumpeting elephants coming her way to trample her into Zoya kababs.
Zoya went over to Zaid's crib and laid a palm against his cheek. She took a deep cleansing breath. By god, she wouldn't go down without a fight. She would, till her dying breath, try to fix this mess. She was not Zoya Farooqui for nothing.
But unfortunately Nuzzhat was at a performance and could not get her theater supplies to alter her Bhabhi's appearance in time. No wigs, no nose wax or prosthetics.
There was only one thing left to do.
Zoya squared her shoulders.
Traffic had delayed them, but when Asad walked in with their guest of honor and others, he was pleased to see the living room clear of all Zaid-clutter. The sofa cushions were arranged in perfect martial order; all glass surfaces gleamed. Candles perfumed the cool air and an array of pastries, cookies and savory goodies graced the coffee table. Fresh flowers adorned console and side tables. Soft Indian classical music played in the back. A breeze blew the gauzy sheers gently. And there was no Dobby in sight. Probably in his crate or locked in the bedroom.
The room could have featured in a design magazine.
Good job Mrs. Khan, he thought to himself with a jealous pang. Of course she would go all out for her handsome and dashing Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
But where was she? And Zaid?
Asad was still distracted as Dilshad came forward to welcome their guest.
"You have a lovely home," he heard Dhoni say to Ammi and Asad's chest swelled with pride. Just wait till he met Zoya.
In the car, Asad had tried to tell him that his wife was his biggest fan and Dhoni had shuddered. "Please don't talk to me about fans. Gives me flashbacks."
"Aati hi hogi, beta. Please, do come in. Have a seat."
Asad was amazed when Chhoti Ammi and Dadi materialized from somewhere. Oh, they were here too? OK, looks like this was going to be a party. He still remained puzzled though. If the elders were here where were the girls? No Zoya, or Humaira or Nuzzhat. Aunty? Asad looked at Ayaan. His brother shrugged and ruffled his hair.
"Where's my champ?" Ayaan asked Shireen.
"Napping," Dilshad said, too quickly.
Asad's gaze narrowed. His son was napping at this hour?
"Yes, it was a long day for him today," Amit added. He had already reported and debriefed Asad on the mission. He'd even shown Sir pictures of today's adventures: Zaid Miyan coronated with ribbons of lace.
Amit and Ayaan pulled out the dining chairs to set up around the living room for extra seating.
Asad texted his wife. "Where are you? We're here already."
"Relax, Mr. Khan. I'm coming."
Dhoni was seated by now and being plied with snacks by the moms. Everything was beautifully decorous and tehzeeb-e-afta and Asad's heart thrilled at the scene.
Hands resting on his hips he surveyed his domain.
The bedroom door opened and Asad beamed in anticipation. Ahh, Zoya was coming. So she'd planned a grand entrance, had she?
But then he sucked air. His jaw hit the floor. Who was this? This wasn't Zoya!
He watched a woman glide out of the room, ethereal in a white abaya suit. There was no hop or bounce, or skitter or scatter that he'd come to expect of his wife. Not a giggle to be heard for miles. Where was Zoya?
This woman wore a hijab, for god's sake.
Asad tilted his head in puzzlement.
There was something incredibly familiar about her and yet his brain could not process this angelic vision. She wore a kundan tika at her forehead and thick glasses at the end of her nose. Only her kohl eyes showed, the rest of her face was covered with a chiffon naqab. He could see the shadow of an elaborate nose-ring under the veil; its chain undulated when she came closer and half-bowed before Dhoni.
"Adaab," she said in a husky voice.
OK wait, Asad had heard that voice before. And he'd seen this get-up before too in one of their cosplays. But Asad's brain was still jetlagged. Zoya-lagged, rather.
"Hunh?" Asad heard Ayaan say. "Mona darling?"
Dhoni had risen and turned around by now. Obviously the much talked-about wife was here. But did he just hear the words, Mona darling? Dhoni shook his head. This day in Bhopal was turning out to be the most surreal.
He bowed too as the regal woman neared and greeted him. How charming. He did not think that Mr. Khan's wife would be so demure and traditional. The way he talked about her in the car made her sound like a firecracker. Maybe he had two wives? No, no, he mustn't stereotype. But he couldn't imagine this woman being a cricket fan. Polo would more be her type of spectator sport.
"Please excuse my daughter-in-law," Dilshad said. "She has a sore throat and won't be able to talk much."
Asad's brow wrinkled in more confusion but he was diverted again by Shireen handing him his coffee. She patted his back.
"Yes, yes, poor thing. She's a very quiet child," Dadi added.
Asad choked on his coffee.
Ayaan had to leap up to pat him on the back. A quiet child? Asad reeled. Something was very machli as Tamatar always said.
Thank god Asad's choking fit had distracted Ayaan or he'd be rolling on the floor right now. A quiet child and Mona Darling? Yeah, in an alternate universe maybe.
"We are so blessed to have you here," Shireen said hurriedly. She looked up at a still-dazed Asad. "We're so proud that you said yes to working with our Asad. He has worked so hard these past years. All single-handedly--"
They heard car brakes squeal outside. A minute later a harried Siddiqui Saheb rushed in followed by Rashid.
Siddiqui Saheb homed straight for Asad. "Beta, bechari ko maaf kar dena. Maarna mat. Itne saalon baad woh humko mili hai! I won't be able to live without her. Hum mar jayenge."
Asad's brow crinkled in alarm. What?
Everyone turned to look at Zoya when they heard a loud smack and then a louder, "ouch!"
Idiot. In face-palming herself she had mashed the tika into her forehead and it hurt like the dickens.
"Abbu," she hissed. She had nearly gotten away with being Mrs. Azeem-o-Shaan-Shahenshah. "Allah miyan, what's wrong with you!"
Asad's head whipped around. He knew! He just knew it. It was all crystal clear now. He'd added two plus two and wasn't liking the result.
He pointed an accusing finger at his wife and roared in helpless fury, "YOU! You're the psycho!"
His head fell back as he gripped the bridge of his nose.
"I should've known! It could only have been you!"
Dhoni's head swung side to side as though he was at Wimbledon. Say what now? What was going on? What psycho? This woman didn't look like a psycho. He saw Mr. Khan muttering angrily to himself and pacing the floor. Was the man actually counting backwards from ten? And then recounting from 20?
Dhoni cleared his throat. "Umm, maybe I should--" Wait. Wait just a second. Those words: "Allah miyan what's wrong ..."
Dhoni clutched his heart. He'd heard those words this afternoon. At least two times. It was--
As if in slow motion he turned to face the elegant woman. Funny, she looked so harmless. So statuesque. She could've stepped straight out of Mughal-e-Azam ...
He saw her remove the glasses ... those glittering eyes ...
Realization was swift.
"Oh my god," he croaked and fell backwards. Those lightning-fast reflexes failed him. He looked at Asad for help. "It's her!"
"Of course it's her! It's always her! You were right, she IS a 'weapon of mass destruction!"
"Mr. Khan!" his wife stomped her foot. The naqab fell away. "You're so mean!"
"I'm mean? Me? Yeh lijiye, I am mean!"
"Beta please," Rashid pleaded with his son. "Don't be angry with Zoya." He turned to their guest. "Dhoni saheb, hum aapke gunehgaar hain. Please, humari Zoya ko maaf kar dijiye. Iss bechari ki koi ghalati nahin hai!
Dhoni was about to protest but he was interrupted by a frantic Asad.
"Abbu please, yeh bechari nahin hain! Bechare toh hum log hain."
Koi ghalati nahin hai? What was wrong with these people?
But a second later, Asad recoiled in horror as he thought of something. "Oh my god! She's going to be on the news! The restaurant must have CCTV. They must've already sold it to some media outfit by now. They'll be airing this for weeks! ZOYA!" he thundered and lunged toward her.
She jumped up on the sofa and assumed her warrior pose. Everyone caught the flash of jeans under the abaya.
It made Asad even more apoplectic with purple rage as Ayaan and Amit tried to hold him back.
"Mr. Khan," Dhoni interjected. The cool and calm Dhoni was back. "Don't worry about that. I had my people buy the footage and delete it. There will be no news."
Asad shook off Amit and Ayaan. He brushed his hair off his forehead and straightened his tie. His breathing was still ragged as he glared at his wife.
Fists at her waist she glared right back.
The standoff would have continued into the night. There would be no draw to this day and night match.
"Tell me, Mahi," thankfully everyone heard Dadi ask. "Did our Zoya really attack you with tea and ice cream after conking you on the head with a flower pot?"
You could've heard a pin drop.
And then Ayaan guffawed like a lunatic. "Only Mona darling!"
Dilshad and Shireen joined in when they saw a reluctant smile tug at Dhoni's lips. Soon he was laughing too. What a day!
Siddiqui Saheb helped his daughter down from the sofa and hugged her. Asad rolled his eyes. This woman would get away with murder at this rate and still be seen as bechari by his family.
Zoya stuck her tongue out at him.
There was a clatter at the door. A breathless Nuzzhat came flying in. "I came as soon as I could! Zoya Bhabhi, here! I have the wig and fake nose!"
"Too late!" Ayaan choked through fresh laughter.
Siddiqui caught that look in his son-in-law's eyes. "Please beta, marna nahin."
Asad covered his face. Jeez. Thanks to his father-in-law, Dhoni would think he was a wife-beater.
"Siddiqui saheb, I would never do that. But you do see how impossible she is, right?"
"Forgive her, beta. You always do. Of course he doesn't hit her," Siddiqui turned to explain to Dhoni.
"But," Zoya pouted. Everyone turned to her. She slowly ran a hand over her right arm--shoulder to wrist. Her eyes widened in innocence, the pout deepened, "I have scars."
Asad and Rashid groaned in remembered remorse.
"Allah, yeh ladki," Dilshad cried. "Zoya, behave now. Chalo, go serve Mr. Dhoni some tea."
"NOOO!" Dhoni and Asad yelled in unison.
Asad stepped up. "Ammi let me do it." He scowled at Zoya. "You stay away. At least 15 feet away."
She made a face.
"Is it safe to come out now," Humaira called out from their bedroom door. She was dying to find out what all that laughing was about.
"Humaira begum!" Ayaan loped toward her. "Why are you hiding in there?
"Because we wanted to make sure that Mr. Dhoni wouldn't recognize us," Raziya added as she stepped out with Zaid in her arms.
The laughing started up again. Oh yes, there would be recaps much to Mr. Dhoni's dismay.
And then Zaid called out, "Oni Mamu! Ayy wuv yoo!"
There, the deal was sealed.
Song in Title:
Baadshaho (2017): "Mere Rashke Qamar"
*My humble homage to "I love Lucy" episode: "Hollywood At Last"
Next Chapter: 147588416Edited by Klondy - 2018-06-19T14:44:28Z
Topic started by dixeij
Last replied by -jass-