Hanste Hansaate, Yunhi Gungunaate, Chal Denge Char Kadam
But Asad hadn't been able to come home early.
His phone pinged at 6.
To punish him Zoya had sent him the video she'd taken of one of their honeymoon romps: The Mr. and Mrs. Khan's twerk-n-tease steam-a-thon aboard the Palace on Wheels. The soundtrack, their sighs ... the sights ... were all enough to set his phone and him on fire. He had tried to resist watching for all of seven minutes.
But he did have some down time on his hands.
And then she'd also appended a picture of herself in heels and nothing else--sure she'd strategically posed herself to hint at rather than display her nudity; predictably he'd salivated.
"Zoya, you're killing me," he called almost immediately. "Behave."
Her merry laugh had chimed in his ear making him glower at the frozen time display on his laptop.
"Make me," she teased.
"I will," he threatened softly; she moaned.
"Haw Mr. Khan, you shouldn't be watching selfie po*rn at work! When're you coming home? I miss you."
Asad sighed as he idly played with the stapler. His knuckles still showed a slight bruising. The Dettol antiseptic cream that Zoya had insisted he apply in the morning had long rubbed off. "Not before 7:30 or 8. May be even longer."
"I know. By the way, what did you tell Humaira? Ayaan's been bugging me all day about last night."
"Umm ... he already suspected and told her. So I just confirmed their suspicions," Zoya said in a small voice. If it were one of those old-timey phones she'd be twisting the cord around one guilty finger.
"Aannhh, Zoya! Why does everything need to be broadcast all over Bhopal?"
She remained quiet, knowing that he was just venting. And because she really had no response.
But really Mr. Khan, it wasn't all over Bhopal.
"I didn't tell them everything that happened last night," Zoya mock-pouted.
"Umm hmm." Her dimples were already deepening. And if the phone had indeed been corded she'd be untwirling it from her finger--a sassy stripper unwrapping herself from a pole. "For instance I didn't tell them that the fight was just the appetizer seasoned with some pepper spray. Or that Mr. and Mrs. Jahanpanah enjoyed the main course and dessert much later in the privacy of their khwabgaah and hamam."
Asad's lips curved--how could they not. "Mmm, and what a multi-course feast it was!" He slammed the laptop shut and leaned back in his chair.
"What else didn't you tell her?" His eyes hooded as he heard her blow by blow recap of their lovemaking last night.
"Did I tire you?" he asked with concern a little later.
"Just a little? Then I'm obviously losing my touch!"
She laughed, "really Mr. Khan! Always so full of yourself. But may be you are a little rusty from not being se*xually active all these days!"
Asad groaned and brushed the hair off his forehead impatiently. "Don't remind me!" Thank god that curfew had been lifted. Even Prasad had begun to look a little tattered around the edges handling the boss' temper bursts in the office these past days.
"What're you doing right now?" he asked, taking a deep breath and mentally getting ready to switch back to office mode.
There was a long pause on the line. It wasn't that he was really jealous of his son's feasts. Or may be he needed an upper to get through the monotony of the next few hours. Asad lifted and turned his arm to check his watch. The stapler fell to the table with a dull thunk.
Zoya was right. Ayaan had suspected.
"Who're those clowns?" Ayaan had asked last night when he'd come to help his Bhai change the flat and seen the backs of two bleeding, howling losers disappearing into the night.
Asad had just shrugged as he took a photo of the license plate on the gundas' bike--at Zoya's insistence of course.
"I want to forget this ever happened," Asad had tried to tell Zoya earlier. "Why take this to the police? Do you know how many times we'll have to go back there to make this stick?"
Zoya had planted her fists on her hips and assumed her Jhansi ki Rani pose--back home her friends called it her Joan of Arc look.
"Allah miyan, what's wrong with you Mr. Khan! That's why criminals go scot-free in this country--because victims don't follow due process! Think of how many other stranded passengers these two would harass if we don't report them? And I'm pretty sure we weren't their first victims either!"
"Fine," Asad had thrown his hands in the air and surrendered without too much of an eyeroll. It would be easier to listen than argue with her. And after nearly two years of knowing her why did he even bother to reason with her?
So with a glass shard he'd severed the bike's primary wires at the ignition coil--that bike wasn't going anywhere any time soon. In a fit of passive aggression he'd even slashed the tires. He'd file a formal complaint later and the police could track down the felons from the registration--but if the goons did come back for the bike at least it would cost them a pretty penny to get it fixed. Would serve them bloody well right too.
But Ayaan had known that something serious had gone down despite his brother's reticence in sharing details. Back home he'd told Humaira about his Mukka Ahmed Khan-in-action gut feel. For a minute there he'd even become nostalgic about the times when he and Bhai could take down an army of bad guys in perfect synchrony. Those were the days.
And Humaira hadn't wasted any time in getting details from the horse's mouth itself.
"Aapi! What happened last night? Give me the deets--did Jeeju get into a fight with some gundas?"
Zoya hemmed and hawed. And a part of her bristled. Hey, it wasn't just your Jeeju--your Aapi kicked some butt too.
"Umm ... voh ... actually ..."
"Aapi, you stop that right now! And anyways, I know you're dying to tell me."
Zoya sighed. Yup, Humaira was right. She did want to do a post-mortem on their big post-Zaid gunda encounter. She had felt awesome. The pregnancy had restrained her--don't do this, don't pick up that. A part of her had wondered if she'd lose her warrior skills once she was a full-time mom.
"Aapi? Really? You're going to be like that? OK, then I'm telling Ammi and Abbu and you know what'll happen after that, right?"
No! They'd ban her going out anywhere and would saddle her with at least 4 bodyguards.
"It was so cool, Humaira! You shoulda seen us. Mr. Khan was being all seedha-saadha sadhu"keeping his calm (imagine that!) and hoping they'd melt away."
And once Zoya started recapping she couldn't stop.
"Those jackas*ses had it coming! They messed with your General Jeeju and got their skulls cracked and teeth shoved down their throats. Of course I helped with my pepper spray. And I had to inaugurate my new heels by breaking some bones, right?"
"Of course!" Humaira agreed. She could imagine all the action going down in slow motion. She was outraged on their behalf but wished that she could have been there to assist--Humaira was the S-I-N-G queen after all.
She had one worry though. "Aapi, those heels better be OK--I was planning to borrow them for my friend's wedding!"
"Of course they're OK!" her sister gushed. And blushed. Those heels had been a big part of Mr. Khan's fantasies--that's why she'd bought them in the first place. They'd already starred in her selfie torture for her husband. And she was pretty sure he had some grand plans for them tonight. Last night she'd been too tired to fulfill any of Asad's role-playing fantasies. He would exact revenge for their postponement tonight.
He'd said so as much.
"But Aapi, what about Zaid? He was fine?"
"Thank god he slept through it all!"
Of course later in the car both she and Asad had been reamed out by Dilshad for trying to be Bollywood action heroes. "Ab ek bachche ke maan-baap ban gaye ho tum dono! Act accordingly. What if something bad had happened?"
Humaira let her know her mother's displeasure with them too. "Ammi was so mad at you guys! She kept nagging Abbu that he should have been stricter and ordered you all to spend the night here. Then this wouldn't have happened." Humaira giggled. "Ammi is convinced that Abbu's spoiling you!"
Zoya covered her face. Oh man. They'd be raked over coals for this episode in the other house too once everyone found out about the drunk bikers. She'd have to convince Aapi and Ammi to not blurt out the truth.
But if they'd spent the night at the Siddiqui house then a lot of good stuff wouldn't have happened either, Zoya smirked to herself. Sorry guys, but we needed some alone time. It had been ages since I got naked and did the nasty with my husband. And no goons nor parental worries were going to get in the way.
But no doubt, the lectures would come.
Zoya looked over at Aapi playing with Zaid. Once again superhero Zaid would have to come to the rescue to save his parents from the grandparents' scolding. One look at him, and poof! They'd forget whatever it was that they were mad about.
Good boy indeed.
Humaira was still reporting on their parents' discussions. "Abbu LOL'd when Ammi said that. I'm spoiling her? You spoil her more,' he told her."
Zoya grinned. "And what did Aunty have to say to that?"
"Hmmmph!'" together the girls mimicked Raziya's trademark snort and burst out laughing. "Poor Abbu!"
"Are you serious?" Even Asad couldn't believe Shireen's U-turn on the Nuff nikaah when Zoya told him that night. "Is it because of that old superstition that if two sisters are married in the same family they turn on each other?"
"Is there such thing? Never heard of it." Zoya asked. "No, it's just cos. she doesn't want yet another daughter millions of miles away from home."
"Hmm," Asad mused, fingers steepled under his chin. He didn't blame Chhoti Ammi.
He felt a twinge thinking of Najma so far away from them. He missed seeing her at the breakfast table every morning worrying about new diets and how much she'd lost or gained in her daily weigh-ins. Nobody hogged the butter dish any more. It sat forlorn on the table--neglected.
Nikhat would be next to go and be missed just as much.
And now Nuzzhat next in line?
Come to think of it, he'd been mildly surprised at Nuzzhat giving up her independence and opposition to marriage so easily. The first thing Asad had said to Zoya on hearing about all the nikaah talk, was, "she better not think of quitting her studies to get married. And they better wait for at least a year till she's graduated."
Zoya rolled her eyes. "Of course she won't! How can you even doubt that? They both've decided to wait not one but two years!"
"Good," Asad said and went back to answering his emails.
But suddenly he raised his head. "You know, Chhoti Ammi isn't wrong for making a big fuss about this. It is a big deal. I can't imagine not seeing the girls for Eid or even every other day." The house was much quieter without Najma and Zoya's chatter and giggles, their collective ganging up against his akdu ways.
Asad remembered Shireen's last visit to his office and her worries about the girls' rights in a foreign land so far away from home. He knew that Ammi felt the same way about Najma but he was impressed with Chhoti Ammi really taking a stand on this. He recalled that same day she'd been fretting at everyone eagerly pairing Nuzzhat with Faiz and how that scared her. So she was serious about that?
Nope, he didn't blame her at all. She was right to oppose this nikaah. A part of him felt opposed to it too. Why the hell did his sisters have to fall for Americans, he asked himself for the thousandth time. Not one, or two, but all three of them?
This was beyond incredibly foolish.
The last time they'd talked about this mass exodus of his sisters for faraway lands he and Zoya had even got into a spat when she'd told him that foreigners in the US were officially called "Aliens;" he'd been really ticked off on Najma and Nikhat's behalf.
"Is that why Americans are so obsessed with films on Aliens? It's some ridiculous fear of immigrants, right?"
"Wow, Mr. Khan, those brain cells of yours are really working out! Have you been getting the badaam-ghee maalish too like our Zaid?"
Asad made a face. "No babe, my se*x-starved brain is obviously overcompensating. But I hate the idea that my sisters will be so far away from us. That too in a country where for a few years they'll be regarded as Aliens!'" He made angry air quotes.
"Now all three of them there, so damn far away!" Asad still couldn't wrap his mind around this new development. He punched his pillow in resentment.
But he also knew that Chhoti Ammi's quest to stop this nikaah, however bold, was doomed even at its inception. Nuzzhat and Faiz were not Nikhat and Feroze; they'd bulldoze their way through her opposition with steely charm that even she wouldn't be able to withstand. But hey, Asad wouldn't mind ringside seats to see how long Shireen would stand her ground and be the bumbling villain in this love story.
"I know, it is incredibly foolish that all my sisters-in-law will be so far away from us," Zoya said softly. "Right Zaid? No Phuphis to spoil my baby!" Zaid agreed too. Did everyone's Phuphis go to the US after they got married?
Asad nodded. It wasn't right that Najma wasn't here to hold and spoil her nephew. Zaid recognized Nikhat and Nuzzhat now. But when would he see his closest Phuphi?
If only ...
"Husbands should live closer to their wives' families so that the girls can always have a great support system near by," Asad continued. He looked up sharply when he heard Zoya giggle.
"So when are we moving to New York to be close to my Aapi and Jeeju?"
Ah. He always did forget that didn't he?
"Then you can be an Alien too, Mr. Khan! How perfect! And Zaid can grow up with his Phuphis being on the same continent."
But then his Chachu and Khala and the grandparents wouldn't be close--it was a bummer either ways.
Her eyes shone and that dimple peeped. "Hey, may be I should've married Omar and then there would be no American-Indian wala separation drama in Bhopal! No inter-continental and cross-border nikaahs. Problem solved!"
Asad yanked her arm to make her face him. Zaid's eyes widened in alarm at his dad's grim expression.
"Aaj keh diya hai, dobara mat kaheyega," Asad growled, unaware that his fingers were biting into her flesh.
"I was kidding Mr. Khan," she said softly as she stroked his taut cheek. She grabbed his face and planted a contrite kiss on his lips. "You know me by now. Wouldn't I have run away from every nikaah only to come to you? To only fall into your arms?"
"Hmm, you'd better. Or I'd whoop that ass however glorious it may be," he kissed her palm and settled back against his pillow.
"Asad!" she yelped--not sure if she was protesting the threat of spanking or the backhanded compliment. But may be she deserved that so she let his crankiness go.
Besides, speaking of which, they hadn't even resolved their discussion of Zaid's citizenship. "American mom, American citizen," she'd told Asad too smugly some time back. "Born in India to Indian dad makes my son an Indian citizen," he'd retorted.
God knows what passport the kid would hold.
But all kidding aside, she felt torn too between her American and Indian family. Yes, she was far from home but at least she had Abbu and Humaira.
And Asad and Zaid.
Zoya bent her head to kiss the baby.
But she missed Jeeju so much. She wanted so bad for Zaid to meet him. He'd be such a super-Nanu too. He baby-talked to Zaid every day without fail and told him stories about his mom as a kid. "Come to New York and in winter we'll make snow-girls (because Zoya had refused to make a snow-MAN) and snow angels," he promised. "In summer you can revive your mom's lemonade stand."
That lemonade stand was such fun! One summer as a nine year-old she and her friend had made enough money to treat themselves to a movie and snow cones. Jeeju remembered it fondly because he was in charge of dragging the wagon full of supplies and keeping an eye on them from a discreet distance.
Zoya raised her head in surprise when Asad chuckled instead of frowning at being called an Alien or being reminded of his sisters being halfway across the planet. Or even her lame joke about marrying anyone else except for him.
She'd gotten lost in her American childhood and Indian citizenship quandaries.
"What?" Zoya asked as she finished changing Zaid. He blew happy bubbles as his mom nuzzled him. "Share the joke with us, Mr. Khan!"
"Do you remember once when I was trying to tell you I love you and you wouldn't listen?"
"When was this?" Zoya asked still engrossed in Zaid's expressions as he tried to mimic hers--he was doing that more often these days. She widened her eyes and so did he. She made an O with her mouth and he giggled.
Asad rubbed his brow. "Long time ago. Before we were married. Even before we got together."
"Before the mat jao Zoya' video, you mean?" Zoya asked tongue in cheek. He had her full attention now. And that was, after all, the watershed moment of their love story.
Asad laughed, "yes before that." It felt like a lifetime ago.
"You were setting the table for dinner and I was trying to get your attention to say that we're different but made for each other like a spoon and plate--that we complete and complement each other."
She'd looked beautiful that day. He'd wanted to tell her all day long, in fact he'd been prepping and pep-talking to himself for weeks; he'd even come home early from work that day ... But because of his daily waffling and "voh, main, actually" song and dance, Zoya was justifiably mad at him.
She laughed remembering that moment vividly and Asad couldn't resist joining in either.
"Nnn ... aaa," Zaid singsonged to be included in the merriment too.
"Yesh, shpoon and plate! Abbu spoon and Ammi plate," Zoya engaged Zaid in a high-pitched voice as she played with him. His eyes were drawn to the shapes her mouth made. He grinned and flapped his arms. Did he perhaps remember the rhyme his Ammi often sang for him: "Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle ..."
"Spoon and plate? That was the best you could do? Really Mr. Khan, your communication skills were really MA then! Graduating from voh ... main ... actually' to hi, I'm spoon and you're plate. Let's get hitched!' "
He chuckled. When she put it like that it did sound absurd but he was kind of trying to convince her that they were made for each other ... like a spoon and a plate. Why in god's name couldn't he have come up with a better simile? Because he'd been inspired by what she was doing right then, that's why. He had thought it would be a nice ice breaker--a neat segue into what he really wanted to say. But as usual things hadn't quite gone the way he'd planned. In his head it had seemed like a good idea, in execution though ... it'd missed the mark--by a mile.
Because when it came to expressing any emotion besides anger in front of Ms. Farooqui somehow he always got tongue-tied in those days. When not shouting at or shaking her, words deserted him.
Even saying sorry had been a challenge.
And then in the midst of his clumsy cutlery confession Ammi had walked in to see Asad clutching the tableware uselessly. He couldn't even remember when he'd picked up the plates and silverware in his nervousness to get Zoya to listen to him. That had ended another feeble attempt to tell her how he felt.
"Why am I the spoon?" Asad asked thinking back to what she'd just said. "I could well be the plate."
Zoya's dimples deepened. "Think Mr. Khan! Spooning a delicious dollop of chocolate sauce or whipped cream into my mouth ..." She mimed the action--closing her eyes and moaning in satisfied pleasure.
She crowed when she saw him blush a furious red. Asad licked his lips.
"Yeah baby, that's why!" Zoya wiped her eyes after a hearty laugh at his expression. "But what made you think of that day all of a sudden? It was more than a year ago."
"That word Alien.' You were really angry with me that day and yelled at me for always reminding you that we were different."
"And I said that we were as different as a human from an alien!" Zoya remembered perfectly now. God! In those days he spared no opportunity in reminding her how different she was from him. And for him different may as well have meant "deficient" or "deviant" when it came to her! "It was partially right you know."
"That we're like spoon and plate?"
"Nooo!" she said through fresh peals of laughter. "That we were as alike as human and alien! Like Jadu from Koi Mil Gaya!"
Asad co*cked an eyebrow. "Un uh, not Jadu. Like PK from PK.'"
Zoya sat up, curious. "Why PK?"
He waggled his brows and meaning dawned.
"Ohhh! Cos. he was buck-naked at the beginning! Nice job, Jahanpanah, I like the way you think! So tonight you're going to be the Alien from a faraway gola visiting this earthling. You can even use the guitar to cover up! Or we can play spoon and plate if you want," she added after she saw the speculative look in his eye.
"Deal!" But the ups and downs of their own love story reminded him of the original discussion of Faiz and Nuzzhat. "Why does a girl fall hard for a guy who chases and charms her? I really expected Nuzzhat to hold out longer."
"A girl falls hard because she feels flattered," Zoya grew more serious too. "And a girl worries that she might not get a better chance than the one right under her nose."
"What?" Asad was horrified. "So, most of the love marriages on the planet are really girls saying yes to the first guy that shows any interest in them?"
"Not most. But a lot are. And I'm not talking of those ultra beautiful and glamorous girls who know the power they hold over men and make them drool. I'm talking of the everyday girl who's raised to think that if a cute guy even looks at her she should be grateful ... the girl who grows up worrying that if she doesn't marry then the world will come to an end."
"That's just depressing," Asad said after some thought.
"I hope Nuzzhat didn't say yes to Faiz because she felt grateful or desperate. She's much smarter than that. I doubt she'd take this step just because it's convenient to be married into the same family as her sisters, right?"
Zoya paused in her playing with Zaid. She had been tickling him under his chin and rubbing her nose against his cheek.
"No. I thought that too--I even wanted to tell Faiz to back off. I think Nuzzhat tried really hard to fight Faiz's chase and charm routine for exactly these reasons. And Faiz realized it too: she wasn't playing hard to get or being the friend-zoning diva. She was just very wary of how this love story seemed too easy, too scripted and convenient for everybody else ..."
"How come we didn't follow the chase and charm script?" Asad wondered switching back to appraising their own saga.
Zoya laughed and Zaid blinked up at her in surprise. He smiled a toothless grin too. "Mr. Khan you hated me, remember? Why would you chase and charm a girl you despised?"
"I never hated you." He should've known she'd say that.
"I never lie!"
"Double liar! There's a coin in our drawer that would beg to disagree! And remember the day after our suhaag raat--you lied all morning to everybody so that you could get me home alone and---"
Asad threw his hands up in the air. Fine, he'd concede that lying though why the woman couldn't see that he had lied only to be with her he'd never know.
He grew serious and remote. "That first time I saw you ... it wasn't hate."
Zoya held up a hand and began ticking off each item with a finger, "first, if you'd really fallen for me at the dargah as you always claim, then you would have come chasing after me."
Asad opened his mouth to object but she was quicker. Her head bounced in sync with the animated gestures.
"Second, when we met later, you could have tried to charm the girl you supposably fell hook, line and sinker for instead of running her over with your car and then fighting with her! Hai na, Zaid?"
Zaid gurgled and cooed in agreement with his mom.
Asad now held his head in his hands forgetting the immediate discussion. How many times had he told her: "supposably isn't even a word."
Typical American arrogance of inventing words and then justifying their existence by writing your own dictionary and conveniently calling it a "variation" of the real word.
Her other oft-used fave was another doozy: "irregardless." Really? And no, it's "caramel," not "carmel," and "accessories," not "assessories."
"It is so a word! And I can prove it," she'd argue a hundred times and pull it up on her blasted iPad. "See?"
"That's not even a credible dictionary. And anyways, it's not a synonym for supposedly,' and not used the way you're using the word."
His laptop lay by his side, forgotten. He would never win that battle; he wouldn't even try.
"I'm not the chasing kind," Asad said softly. "You know that by now."
Didn't she know it too! The centuries this man had taken in confessing his love for her! She could well have been several continents away if he'd had his way with words. And Allah Miyan, thank you for that lie that kept her longer in India! Spoon and plate aside, he'd been most expressive in that "Mat jao Zoya" video which he hadn't realized he was recording. She planted a swift peck on his cheek in silent gratitude as she alerted to his serious tone.
Asad remembered the regret that had flared up in his chest when he'd opened his eyes at the dargah and found her gone. That paroxysm yawning in his heart had felt alien too. He hadn't been able to explain it away.
"Those days I was too busy running away from the idea of marriage to go chasing after a girl." A smile tugged at his lips at another memory. "And how could I possibly charm a wild cat that was ready to claw my eyes out that day?"
"Babe, you know I'm right!"
She relented; she had read him the riot act that day, hadn't she? All the anger she'd felt against Aapi and Akram and the frustration at not being able to find her Abbu--she'd dumped on Asad that day. And then his 19th century views on how women should act and dress had really pissed her off even more.
"But you could have tried to come after me ..." Zoya's voice tapered off.
Yes, why hadn't he tried to find her when he'd opened his eyes and found her gone that day? No other woman had had this effect on him so he should have known that this girl was something special. He also knew that Ayaan had tried to find the mysterious girl they'd seen crying at the dargah. Then why ...
May be that's why. Ayaan. Had he backed off because Ayaan had expressed an interest in the same girl? He remembered that just before going to the dargah that day Ayaan had joked: "I hope that a girl never comes between us!"
How easy was it for Ayaan to say what was on his mind and how hard it was for him ...
But in his heart Asad knew. Even if Ayaan hadn't expressed an interest in that girl he still wouldn't have gone after her.
It just wasn't him. All his life he'd run away from girls instead of after them.
Fate intervened of course, thank god. And somehow Asad had happened to be driving along the same road that Zoya was trotting along having whipped herself up into a royal snit as she ran away from a literal marriage.
"I ... " Asad cleared his throat. "I didn't even think of going after you. May be I thought you were a mirage ... or that it was Allah's will: I opened my eyes and you were gone. And I figured you weren't made for me ... and then I saw you again ... for a minute I thought my prayers had been granted. But then our fight confirmed the idea that we weren't meant to be."
She scooted over to lay Zaid in his arms. Dazed, Asad looked down at him as Zoya stroked his cheek.
She sniffed resting her head on his shoulder. "Stop lying to yourself, Asad. You were punishing yourself, right? Always thinking that you didn't deserve to be happy! Thank god for that lie and that video both of which came from the heart, or we wouldn't have had this!"
They looked down into Zaid's animated face.
Zoya burst into tears for that man who'd locked himself away in a tight shell of dark anger because he thought he didn't deserve any better. And seeing her, so did Zaid. "Look, you've made us cry!"
Asad pulled her tighter to his side. "I carried too much anger inside me in those days--turning my back on happiness meant that at least I wouldn't hurt anyone else ... Thank god you barged into my life to save me from myself!" He raised his eyes in prayer as he held his family in his arms.
He had really tried hard to resist their love story.
"I literally fell into your bed and you threw me to the floor!" Zoya tried to lighten his mood.
He kissed the top of her head. "What can I say? I must have been blind not to see that you belonged in my bed. Forever."
"Right," Zoya admitted. The twists and turns their lives had taken before she got to this bed! "So when you really think about it, I was the Alien that Allah dropped into your lap!"
"The extra terrestrial that kept falling into my arms every other minute," Asad added.
"E.T. at home," she nuzzled his neck. Citizenship and nationality really didn't matter in the larger scheme of things, come to think of it. What mattered was that she was home.
Asad snickered at her twist on the film character's signature line "E.T. go home." He had no idea of the epiphany that had shimmered through her mind right now.
Zaid was still sniffling--not having found his happy baby groove yet. Zoya nudged Asad to sing to him. Brushing his nose against his son's Asad sang the American lullaby he'd heard Zoya sing so often.
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
When you're not happy, my skies are grey,
Please don't take my sunshine away."
They looked at each other as Zaid babbled happily now, his tiny arms held in front of him and his eyes shining. "My skies were grey till you came along," Asad bent his head to murmur in Zoya's ear.
She shivered as he nipped her ear. "Honey, your skies were dark--black and bitter just like your coffee--before I came along!"
Asad laughed and Zaid gazed up at him, riveted by that image. He loved to see his father laugh--this sight was his favorite, second only to him singing or humming.
"Lighting up my skies like a meteor shower?"
"You bet!" she nodded thinking back to that meteor shower night over a year and a half ago. As the stars had blazed and trailed overhead, their earthbound destinies had battled to tumble them into a tumultuous embrace.
Still humming softly Asad settled back in bed with Zaid on his chest. He loved to feel the baby's strong heartbeat against his chest. His hand patted his son's back, gently lulling him to sleep. Zaid's cheek fanned by lush lashes plumped up where it pillowed against his daddy's chest.
Zoya leaned on her side to watch them after removing the laptop from the bed. This sight was worthy of a mental snapshot; she took a real one to send to everybody on Whatsapp. "Goodnight from Zaid," she captioned it.
"From dargah-gazing at aliens to doting daddyhood--you've come a long way, baby," she said to Asad.
His fingers laced with hers and Asad fell asleep too; he dreamed of a baby clad in diapers--was that Zaid, he couldn't be sure--kicking and flying in the air as he karate-chopped a hunter trying to kill a lion with a bow and arrow.
When Zoya lifted the baby off Asad's chest, his arms were reluctant to let go. She patted both papa and papoose trying her best not to disturb either's sleep.
"Shh," she whispered in Zaid's ear as he mumbled at the separation. "Let Abbu sleep, he's tired." She watched Asad sigh and roll on his side.
"Feeding time, baby," Zoya soothed. "Aren't you hungry? Come I'll show you the stars and we'll say hi to Nani."
Late at night, when it wasn't too cold or hot--just right like Goldilocks, hai na, Zaid?"--she liked to sit with him in the backyard and point out a star she'd picked out as a child to signify her Ammi. That star had been her secret-keeper and confessor, her imaginary best friend and guiding light all these years. It was the star in the center of Orion's belt--Jeeju had pointed it out to her when he'd got her her first telescope for her sixth birthday. Since then, on many a warm moonless night they'd unfurl a blanket on the community park lawn and track constellations with her sandwiched snugly between Aapi and Jeeju.
Oh man, she didn't realize how badly she was missing him.
"That's Nani," Zoya told her son pointing high up in the sky after straining to find her beacon. "And she's watching over us."
Zaid's lashes drooped after intently gazing at the stars in his mom's eyes.
When she slipped into bed later as softly as possible so as to not wake Asad, she gasped and then giggled when his arm snaked out to pull her into his naked side.
"I thought you'd be tired tonight," she breathed.
"A quick nap was all Jahanpanah needed. Now about the wishlist ..."
"Allah Miyan, what's wrong with you Mr. Khan! It's past midnight."
"Please Mrs. Khan, stop playing coy. Now picture this, I'm the scientist who's going to probe the Alien that was just captured and delivered to my top-secret lab."
"Shh. Why're you wearing so many clothes? And where're the heels?"
"Oh really? This is what you capture Aliens for? For se*xual fantasies and midnight cabarets?" She hissed, her voice smothered by the kurta he was helping her out of.
"And mind-bending experiments as my se*xual slave. Ready?" he asked as he secured her handcuffed hands to the bed post and ran his own hands over her exposed body.
"Always!" she writhed as his lips followed. "Will I be spanked for being a bad Alien?"
"Yes. With a spoon!"
"Nuzzhat?" Dilshad asked as she opened the door to the fuming girl armed with a rolling suitcase one early morning.
"Badi Ammi, I've had it with her!" Nuzzhat barged in huffing in outrage.
"Kya hua, beta? Whom are you talking about?" Dilshad went to the kitchen to get the agitated girl a glass of chilled water.
"Ammi, that's who! She's driving me nuts showing me albums of eligible boys from Bhopal and Indore. She's inviting a family over for dinner tonight. Can you believe it?"
The phone rang just then. It was Rashid asking to see if Nuzzhat was there.
"Yes she's here and she's hopping mad," Dilshad said.
Rashid sighed. "Dilshad, is it OK if she stays with you all for some time? It'll give us a few days of peace here. Mother and daughter have been going at each other non-stop and my poor Nikhat is caught in the crossfire."
"Haan haan, zaroor," Dilshad calmed him down. "We'd love to have her here. It'll be like having Najma with us and there can never be enough people to change diapers!"
"Good," Rashid laughed. "Make sure you get her to do most of the changing. Akal thikaane lag jayegi!"
Dilshad frowned. She didn't undersand what Rashid was talking about but he'd hung up before she could ask for clarifications.
Kiski akal thikaane lag jayegi? Nuzzhat? But---
Zoya had walked in by the time she turned around and Nuzzhat was rocking Zaid.
"Hi baby! Remember your favorite Phuphi?" asked Zaid's favorite Phuphi.
"Mmm ... baaa," he sang.
Zoya gave Dilshad a quick update as Nuzzhat went in for her first diaper change of the day--all that cuddling and giggling had obviously squeezed the baby's tiny bladder.
A second later they heard a squeal and a shout and ran to the bedroom.
Nuzzhat was hyperventilating with a hand clutched to her heart.
"Nuzh, what happened?" Zoya asked as she rushed to check on Zaid. He smiled in naked glory as he spotted his Ammi.
"Nothing," she stuttered. "Umm ... I don't think Bhaijaan was expecting me to be here."
Zoya blushed. Jesus H. Christ. She heartily wished that Asad hadn't walked in from the bathroom in his birthday suit. Because if he had then he would kill her.
And poor Nuzzhat would be scarred for life.
"No I didn't, thank god," Asad told Zoya later. "But I was just about to remove the towel around my waist and it's a good thing she shrieked."
Zoya giggled as she played with Zaid. "Haw, Abbu would have been all nangu baba shame-shame!"
Zaid chuckled. Or at least it sounded like he did if you used your imagination. He knew all about being nangu baba and shame-shame.
"Aapi's been telling me forever that we we need a second changing station somewhere else in the house. I guess, she's right."
"It's all your fault, you know," Asad said as he fixed his cuff. "You could've given me a heads up."
"I was about to but I got distracted with telling Ammi about Nuff."
"So Nuzzhat's staying for few days?"
"And how will that convince Chhoti Ammi?"
"We have a plan, trust me," Zoya's eyes twinkled.
"Oh god," Asad groaned; he watched Dobby's reflection pause in the licking of his paw and wink up at him.
But Shireen wasn't giving in either. She threatened and cajoled and nagged till Nuzzhat agreed to come for dinner that night even if she stayed on at the Khan house for a few days. To ease and smooth things over, everyone came over to dinner from the Khan house. And they were greeted by some ladkewalas--an uncle and aunty and their son and daughter. Nice people. Shireen did the rounds of introductions her voice rising in alarm because Nuzzhat hadn't come with them.
"Nuzzhat?" she asked Asad.
"Umm ... voh ... actually ... Chhoti Ammi ..."
"She's coming straight from her rehearsal," Zoya decided to help her husband out. Luckily Zaid was keeping everyone else diverted. "She said she'd be late and to start without her."
An hour later, lying in wait for her errant daughter, Shireen squeaked in dismay when she saw the strangest vision walk in through the door.
"Ya Allah," Dadi exclaimed and clicked her prayer beads. But her lips twitched.
Siddiqui Saheb's eyes bugged and Rashid slapped his head though he had to bite his lips to keep from laughing.
The guests turned and stared in horror.
Raziya found their expressions hilarious. She covered her mouth with her dupatta but couldn't restrain a snort from escaping.
They saw Nuzzhat walk in towards them dressed as the Hindu goddess Kali with theater paint slathered over her face. Her curly hair blew wildly around her face and the dark make up made her eyes seem ghoulish; she waved a trident in one hand.
"Hey guys!" Nuzzhat walked up to the table and greeted everyone. Her tribal attire rustled and swished.
Ayaan gulped his food the wrong way and Asad had to slap his back so his favorite brother wouldn't choke to death thanks to their baby sister.
"Nuzzhat! What is this? How dare you dress like this and keep us all waiting?" Shireen said in her sternest voice. Ya Allah, she knew that Nuzzhat would protest but this was too much.
This, she hadn't expected.
Nuzzhat bent over her father's plate and broke off a piece of kabab before popping it into her mouth. "Yum! But you know Abbu, I'm thinking of turning vegetarian."
There were more gasps around the room.
"Ammi, the rehearsal for our play went on longer than usual. Is it OK if I get a tattoo?" She walked up to Shireen and kissed her on the cheek leaving a smear of make-up behind. "So sorry," she dimpled shyly at the guests.
She would have looked pretty but the gory make-up made her look ghastly. Nuzzhat waved at the young man with the tips of her fingers and then winked at him.
He sucked air and looked ready to flee.
Shireen fluttered her hands. "Umm, OK, OK, go get out of this ... this costume and then come join us." She shooed her youngest out of the room. It was a wonder she was still standing. That tattoo remark had nearly slayed her.
"I'm sorry for that," she apologized to the guests, her heart sinking.
Before her daughter had walked in she was telling these kind people about Nuzzhat's sweet nature, her fondness for family, being a homebody, learning cooking and---
She hadn't felt the need to tell them that her daughters were learning Taekwondo and that Nuzzhat was actively involved with her college street theater troupe. That just hadn't come up.
Shireen felt her blood rise. Why in god's name was her daughter dressed as a Hindu goddess of all things? Just to torture her mother, that's why. And wanting to be a vegetarian? She was doing all this obviously to drive a knife through her poor mother's heart, that's why.
By the time Nuzzhat came back down looking human and almost presentable in a beautiful suit, the guests had predictably fled excusing themselves by saying that they had an early flight to catch the next day.
Shireen would have sobbed but she was too furious.
Raziya had taken Zoya aside and scolded her. "Obviously this drama has your fingerprints all over it." When Zoya opened her mouth to protest Raziya held up a hand. "I don't mind. But don't be too hard on Shireen. Your Abbu will really be mad if she has a nervous breakdown!"
"Shh, I'm just warning you. Don't take this too far."
"Hummph,' Zoya pouted. It was such a great plan too. Nuzzhat was already going to be in costume for her play but it was Zoya's idea to not remove the make up till she got home.
But may be Aunty was right. They'd better tread lightly. Or Asad might kill her too.
When the following week another set of ladkewalas had been summoned, Nuzzhat was the exact opposite of her previous avatar. Today she was at her sharmilee and gharelu best. She answered all the questions and her mother's bre*ast swelled with pride even though she was upset that the girl was wearing her glasses and had oiled and braided her hair.
But when Nuzzhat rose to serve the guests she would have been perfect if only her heel hadn't snapped off and she hadn't spilled scalding adrak and elaichi chai all over the groom-to-be's lap. He yelped, possibly at the prospect of being neutered. She sobbed as she tried to sop up the liquid with her dupatta.
Her father and Bhaijaans slapped their foreheads.
Shireen was livid. But she didn't know if this was a genuine disaster or a mere act. Her daughter was also an accomplished actress after all.
The third time was no charm at all.
Nuzzhat was more herself this time--no greasepaint, spirit gum, oily hair or flimsy heels. Shireen had been on guard all day long"she'd even managed to keep Nuzzhat at the Siddiqui house today.
As the evening progressed, she breathed easier as Nuzzhat chatted with the family easily. She had forbidden the child from serving anything this time. Humaira and Nikhat would do the honors. Shireen felt hopeful. Nuzzhat really seemed to be getting along with the boy. There had been no mention of theater and Taekwondo.
"We are hoping that you won't mind a long engagement," Shireen said to the boy's mom. "Our Nuzzhat wants to finish her studies. Just one more year."
"No, that's OK, Ammi," Nuzzhat interjected. "I don't have to finish my studies. I can get married whenever!"
Her audience gasped.
"Nuzzhat," Asad said quietly. "You must finish your studies."
"But why Bhaijaan? It's not like I'm really going to do much with a degree, right? It's just a piece of paper. A marriage certificate is the ultimate degree for an Indian girl after all."
Asad narrowed his eyes at her in warning. He suspected where this was going. He was also not happy about this daily drama of scaring away new batchelors every other week. The girls would fly away to America but their whole family would be the laughingstock in Bhopal at this rate.
"No, you should definitely complete your studies," the young man piped up. This conversation was scaring him. He didn't want to get married to a college drop-out. What would his friends say?
"But then I'll have to wait at least two or three years to be married. Because after I finish my studies I want to apply for drama school in the US."
Shireen gasped. "US? Why will you go to the US?"
"Why not Ammi? I've already applied for a visa and sent out college applications."
"Nuzzhat!" Shireen screeched forgetting about the guests. She leaped up from the sofa and was rocking on her heels looking almost like goddess Kali herself. "How dare you? I've been doing all this to stop you from going to the US!"
Nuzzhat stood too. "Ammi," she said softly. "I already told you, there was never any need to do this for me. And it's not about going or not going to the US. It's about my rights and choices. And since you don't want me to do what I want then I may as well have no choice at all. I may as well quit college and be the good little Indian girl who boys can come and look at and reject week after week."
Sobbing, Nuzzhat ran up the stairs to her room.
"Nuzzhat!" her mother called after her uselessly.
And for the next couple of months that's exactly what she did.
Nuzzhat stopped going to college and quit Taekwondo and theater despite everyone's pleas. She stopped taking Faiz's calls or texts. She became the perfect little Indian girl who learned to make the best aloo-gobhi and dosa and sambhar and kheer and haleem and biryani and koftas.
And she became vegetarian.
Shireen was sick to her stomach with guilt.
She had expected her daughter to claw and fight but not this. Not this slow suicide of not doing what she truly loved or being herself. Even the others could no longer bear to eat the grand delicacies cooked and prepared by her daily.
Mostly everyone just pushed their plates away.
Shireen felt her resolve weaken. She was crushed. Not because she would lose another daughter to the US. But because she had hurt Nuzzhat so terribly. It was not right to crush a young girl's hopes and dreams this way.
Helplessness clawed at her.
But when the doorbell rang one night at dinner and Wajid ushered in their visitor, Shireen wept with joy.
"Shukar hai Allah ka ki tum aa gaye," she cried. "Welcome home, Faiz!"
"Where is she?" was his greeting.
"In the kitchen cooking up a storm and making her mother sick! Go and talk to her. Tell her, she wins."
Pitching his backpack to the floor Faiz leaped toward the kitchen.
Shireen burst into tears as everyone erupted into cheers and applause. Ya Allah, she was going to lose another daughter to the US and she'd hurt her girl for nothing.
She hadn't seen Naz come up behind her son. Naz hugged Shireen and patted her shoulder.
"Abhi se your daughter is making my son run like a paagal deewana! He wouldn't sit still the whole flight."
When Shireen gave her a watery smile, Naz grinned. "I'll be a double saas now! Two times the mazaa and bahu torture!" she cackled as a laughing Nikhat came up to hug her.
"Ammi," she told her mother-in-law. "Abhi mujhse hi kaam chalana padega. Nuzzhat and Faiz won't be making you a saas for another year or so."
Naz made a face. Then her face lit up. "Awesome! I've already joined a gym and by that time I'll be the se*xiest saas ever!" She cut her eyes to Nikhat. "And may be the se*xiest Dadi too?"
"Ammi!" A blushing Nikhat fled.
There was a shriek of delight in the Khan house too the next day. Zoya launched herself into Jeeju's arms.
"Jeeju, you have such a long life! I was just telling Zaid about you."
"Where's my grandson," Anwar asked impatiently. "I couldn't live another moment not holding him in my arms."
He fell silent as Asad handed a squirming Zaid to him.
"Oh my god, he's an angel," Anwar said through tears. He whispered duas over the baby's head.
"Aapi, did you know about this?" Zoya asked.
Zeenat nodded smugly as they watched Anwar with Zaid. "He was moaning and groaning every phone call about how jealous he was and how he was missing out on holding Zaid. So I said, come, hold him then! What's stopping you?' "
Asad meanwhile was eyeing the giant cardboard box that the taxi driver had just deposited at the door.
No, please tell me that's not what I think it is.
Anwar saw him looking at the box and gushed. "Yes, I got the teddy bear," he announced to Zoya who bounced and clapped in glee. She fell upon the box and Dobby circled the unraveling packaging in anticipation.
But when Zoya pulled out the massive soft toy Dobby squeaked in alarm, his hair at end.
The cat ducked between Asad's legs for protection. "Do something!" Dobby's hunted eyes relayed to Asad.
Oh. My. God, Allah Miyan, Asad groaned silently. Not that life-size bow-tied and vested teddy bear, please god no.
Though heaven knows why he was complaining. This bear could eat Dhoni bear for breakfast and not even blink an eye. And Dobby obviously was going to behave himself from now on.
Song in Title:
PK (2014): "Char Kadam"Edited by Klondy - 2015-09-20T20:48:50Z
Topic started by dixeij
Last replied by -jass-