Posting the story here is a bit tricky due to various account issues. But you can follow the FF that is up to 113 chapters now on MyeDuniya. The tumblr FF is defunct. Haven't updated it for over a year.
Mujhe Yunhi Kar Ke Khwabon Se Juda, Jaane Kahan Chhup Ke Baitha Hai Khuda
Once at the dargah, she sank to her knees and wept silently. Please Allah miyan, don't let me make a bigger fool of myself.
This had become a litany.
Please give me the strength to accept your will and not ask for something I don't deserve.
I should have left then.
I've made such a stupid mess of things. I should have never come to India. Aapi was right.
She wept silently.
Ayaan happened to be there too. He had promised Ammi to drop off some donated supplies for the poor. Seeing Zoya he couldn't but help remember the first time he'd seen her. Right here, exactly like this, crying softly. What was bothering her? He had to find out. Somehow he had never found out why she was crying that first time either. Having got to know her over these past few days, he was surprised at her tears. She didn't seem the type to cry. She seemed so bindaas and chilled out. Something terrible must have happened.
He waited for her to leave, and just like the last time, he chased after her.
"Zoya, what happened? Why are you so sad? Is everything OK?"
Zoya tried to smile and deny it. She was mortified that he'd seen her be so vulnerable.
He persisted, "tell me what's going on! Come on, don't you think of me as a good friend?"
She told him that she was missing her father.
"Is he in America?"
"No, he passed away a long time ago," she murmured with lowered lashes and walked away with her head bowed.
At work, Asad couldn't concentrate.
He was constantly haunted by Zoya's memories, her expressions, that silly shayari ... But most of all, her face this morning when she found out about his damned engagement. Her nonsensical sher from not too long ago, arrested his thoughts:
"Jahanpanah six packs, kab kahenge mujhe koi mil gaya, Jahanpanah six packs, kab kahenge mujhe koi mil gaya Woh pyaar mein girenge, aur bolenge, Oh no! Mera ghutna chhil gaya!"
She'd been so determined then to suss out Ammi's assailant, and to prove him dead wrong about his father. She hadn't given a thought to putting her life on the line for his Ammi. So fiercely loyal to Ammi's faith in Mr. Rashid Ahmed Khan's innocence! Even he had not supported Ammi then. And Zoya had stood up to him and his rigid principles.
No one had even stood up to him like that ever before. And that too for his family. Fighting with him about Najma first, then Ammi.
He squeezed his eyes in bitter remorse.
The terrible words he'd said to her about her character, her parents, her upbringing!
He slammed his fist on his desk.
She must have cried in her room this morning hiding her pain from everyone. Before leaving for work he had glanced longingly at the closed door of her room; he'd yearned to to walk in and gather her in his arms, and kiss her tears and self-doubts away.
He paced in angry frustration and pain.
I wish I had told you much sooner how I feel about you. You were right. I can't express myself and am emotionally challenged.
I wish I could turn back time.
Ayaan called just then and told him that he'd just seen Zoya at the dargah and that she was really upset.
"Bhaijaan, she was crying like the last time."
Asad remembered her crying the first time he saw her at the dargah last year and covered his face in anguish.
"I didn't know that her father had died. She said that she was missing him and that's why she was crying."
Asad told him of Zoya's reason for coming to India in search of her estranged father and how they had only recently found out about her dad's passing.
"Oh my god, I didn't know," said Ayaan. "How can she be so chirpy, and yet carry around so much grief inside her?"
Asad kept quiet and closed his eyes. You don't know the half of it, he thought.
This time she's crying because of me.
Back at home, when Zoya returned, Najma excitedly told her that they had decided to take the previously-discussed road trip to Ajmer Sharif.
"Such fun, no? Hum sab saath saath itni masti karenge. Gaane gayenge, yummy dhaba food khayenge. Make sure you pack right away. We leave tomorrow morning."
Nicely done, Zoya, you moron, she scolded herself. The trip had been her brilliant idea and now it was to be her punishment--close quarters with Mr. Khan and Tanu? Serves you right for being a complete ass. Have fun--here's looking at you kid.
At the dinner table that night, everyone made eager plans for the trip and the wedding.
Silent misery mirrored on their faces Asad and Zoya simply looked down and toyed with their food.
"Zoya, why are you so quiet," asked Tanu archly. "Don't you want to go to Ajmer Sharif?"
Asad looked up at Tanu slightly annoyed. He seemed to detect a cruel streak in her lately.
Dilshad interjected, "nahin, nahin, that can't be. The road trip idea was Zoya's. She's the one who suggested it in the first place!"
Zoya gripped her fork and knife tight. She smiled gamely and said she'd love to go and had always wanted to go because she has heard so much about Ajmer Sharif's spiritual power and healing. She had heard about the place from Jeeju and Aapi who had visited a long time ago.
"Ajmer Sharif ka bulawa aaya hai," Dilshad said to her and Zoya smiled, nodding her head.
She bravely joined in the banter asking Najma what clothes she would be taking and what shopping they would do there, and Najma took over the conversation. When the conversation faltered, she asked how long it would take by road, and again everyone jumped in to answer her question and make more plans.
How long would they be there for?
Where would they stay?
What would the weather be like?
Asad stole a look at her. Only he could see that she was covering up her lack of real participation by posing neutral questions.
He saw that she was barely eating and that her eyes were bright with unshed tears. He also saw her tightly gripped and bandaged hands and how she was barely holding on to her self-control.
He pushed his plate away unable to swallow a single morsel.
Later, Asad turned to Dilshad and said, "Ammi please make sure that you pack your medicines. In fact we should talk to the doctor about what precautions to take during the trip." She had just barely recovered from the shooting.
"Don't worry about it. Zoya's organized all my medicines and I already talked to the doctor today. I'll be fine."
As everyone was leaving to turn in for the night, Zoya cleared her throat and said soflty, "Mr. Khan?"
He turned around quickly at the sound of her voice to look at her. She was twisting her hands again.
Without meeting his gaze she said, "umm ... please remember to take your anti-allergy injection."
Dilshad burst out, "yes, Zoya is absolutely right! You are really careless about your health, Asad. If Zoya hadn't found the injection that day in your room, I don't know what we would have done."
She shuddered with remembered horror. Any longer, and he would have gone into complete anaphylactic shock. Thank god for Zoya!
Asad nodded and walked away.
In his room Asad walked toward his closet and opened the drawer to pull out the epi-pen so he wouldn't forget. He noticed her earring and the coin that Zoya had childishly insisted on using to decide whether she would stay back in India.
He also recalled how, for the first time yesterday, his heart had intuitively made the decision to lie about the result so that she wouldn't leave for New York.
He had never lied before. It had felt so right.
He had pretended to be angry at her bizarre pranks, but now Asad knew how happy he was then.
When he had seen her hug Ammi, and Ammi give her a fond kiss, he knew that he had wanted that moment to last forever and that he had found the girl who would love Ammi even more than him.
He bent to caress the earring, but stopped.
Had it only been twenty four hours since she'd told him how she felt? In just one day he had turned his and her world topsy-turvy. How did they go from him struggling to stop her from leaving India, to losing her forever? He sat on the bed and held his leaden head in his hands while images of Zoya's face danced in his head, taunting and plaguing him for his silence and cowardice. Again.
Forgive me, Zoya.
This had become his own tortured litany that he whipped himself with every waking moment.
Edited by dixeij - 2015-06-26T10:27:41Z
The next morning, everyone was packed and eager to set off.
Asad told Dilshad that he'd invited Ayaan to join them.
Ayaan stepped out from behind the SUV and grinned at them while ruffling his messy hair. Dilshad smiled and patted his back. She loved how the brothers were so close to each other despite the rancor between the two families.
They set off with the men in front and the women in the back. Zoya and Najma were in the third row.
Soon they left the city behind and were on the highway.
Fields and tiny towns whizzed by. Any other time, and she would have been glued to window exclaiming and squealing at the zipping merry sights. But not now. Now those sights seemed blurred and fuzzy through the veil of unshed tears.
Zoya plugged in her earphones to watch the video of Mr. Khan asking her to stay back, "mat jao, Zoya."
Asad, meanwhile, had been trying to steal glances at her in the rear view mirror, but was unable to get a clear view even after adjusting it several times. He could just barely see the top of her bowed head. He sighed in frustration and remorse.
Soon a bored Najma piped up, "let's play antakshari. It'll be fun." Almost everyone groaned, but Ayaan liked the idea and soon had convinced everyone to join in. Najma and Ayaan high-fived. "Tanu aap, Asad aur Ayaan Bhaijaan ki team mein hongi, and me, Zoya and Ammi will be in the other team."
They sang some of the most common songs that one remembers by default when this game first starts. Zoya and Asad joined in only when prodded by others. Najma's team got "Ha" and she started singing "Hum tum, ek kamre main band hon." All, except Asad, joined in.
He looked away and remembered that time they were handcuffed in Mangalpur. Finally working together as a team they had managed to escape from their captors and find shelter at the ridiculously-named, Apna Dhaba. But they were still handcuffed to each other.
At night on the stairs he had forgetfully moved too quickly to his right, and she been dragged helplessly across his knees, her face mere inches from his. It could have been just the two of them in the whole wide world. They had been so close. One inch more, and he could have feathered her reddening cheek with his lips.
And then later at night, in the room they had been forced to share, he must have yanked his hand in his sleep. And she had fallen on top of him tumbling into his arms jolting him awake. Her hair had spilled over their faces creating a curtained off private world in which only the two of them breathed while gazing into each other's startled and heated eyes. He could feel her racing heart and"- Both those times, and so many other times too, there was always such a crackle of awareness between them. His eyes and hands had lingered longer than they should have. How easy it would have been to turn her over that night and tuck her soft body under his, bury his face in her neck and"- Even then he had to have known that his mind and body had never reacted this way to any other woman. When he had feared her lost forever in that forest of despair, his heart had clearly told him what it wanted as he prayed for her life. Why hadn't he listened to his heart then? Coward!
When Najma's song ended at "Ya," Ayaan started to sing, "ye raat bheegi bheegi," while lightly strumming his guitar. And this time Zoya remembered the night at the farmhouse and their sensuous dance while it rained. That night had been so magical. She'd never felt so happy, so delirious, and so in love. For the first time, Mr. Khan had allowed himself to open up before her and been playful and flirtatious. Allah miyan, he had actually laughed and teased her! Had they really danced together? She could still feel his caress on her chin and how her breath had hitched when he had brushed his knuckles against her lips. She had completely surrendered her heart that night when he had held her hands in his against his chest. The drizzle had added a veil of heated privacy as their bodies had swayed against one another. His reluctant confession that night ... those words had melted her heart. And then the next day, everything had changed. She squeezed her eyes shut and a tear escaped. She quickly dashed it away and joined in the song.
Much later, Ayaan was driving and Hindi songs continued to play on the radio. They heard some caller request the song "bol na halke, halke" from the film "Jhoom Barabar Jhoom." Najma squealed, "ooh, I love this song. It is so romantic, isn't it Zoya? It's one of my favorite Rahat Fateh Ali Khan song! I know it's your favorite song too." Zoya said yes softly, ducking her head and letting her hair cover her flaming face. This time Asad, pretending to be asleep, relived their heady dance that night. It was still a blurry memory but he could vividly recall the sensation of holding her warm and soft body in his arms and swaying to some unheard music. This was the song he thought he'd heard. It couldn't have been real. But it felt so real. It had steamed that night. It was the first time he had seen her in a saree and she looked stunning with her hair still damp and that dimple still flashing.
He remembered her spinning in langurous circles around him and how he had tried to catch her floating palla but she'd gleefully escaped his grasp, laughing up at him and mocking him for not being quick enough. When she had turned her back to him his breath had caught at the sight of her bare back with two flimsy strings holding her blouse together. One flick of his wrist to tug at them, and he could have rained a thousand open-mouthed kisses, tasting the rain on her exposed skin. What would her skin feel like against his? What if he was bolder that night and scooped her into his arms, carried her inside and made love to her all night? He shook his head to get a grip on his flyaway thoughts. Hollow desire and searing regret rippled through him.
They made many stops along the way. Zoya mostly stayed quiet, and close to Dilshad and Najma. Najma's excitement and constant chatter helped cover her misery. Sometimes. But she would pretend to be immersed in her iPad or stuff her ears with her headphones when Najma mentioned mehendi functions, shaadi songs, weddings, waleemas and honeymoons. She didn't want to pretend that she had a headache. Phuphi and Tamatar would fuss and then she'd die of embarrassment because Mr. Khan would know why she was faking. "Zoya, we have to make a list of songs! It'll be such fun!" When her voice became steadier, Zoya would get Najma diverted by talking about Ranbir Kapoor, his upcoming film and how they'd watch it when they returned home. "And we still have to watch Aashiqui 2," Najma gushed. Ayaan rolled his eyes, "chick flick," he muttered. His sisters and Humaira too would go on and on about that one. "The songs are so nice, na? Here," she grabbed Zoya's iPad. "Let's play some of them." Oh god! Not that one. Please, please Tamatar, Zoya screamed silently. Because I'll really burst into tears right here, right now. "No, let's listen to some peppy songs. How 'bout Badtameez dil or Balam pichkari?" she asked Najma who eagerly agreed.
Ayaan noticed something being off and grilled Asad about it, "what's going on with Mona darling? Why is she so quiet? Do you think she's still thinking about her father?" Asad turned his face away and shrugged. "C'mon Bhaijaan, I know that you don't like her, and think that she's a goofball, like me, heh heh, but she's not all that bad. Remember how she kidnapped me from the hospital so we could meet?"
Asad swore under his breath and kicked a stone away savagely. How had he forgotten that? Zoya had seen how upset he was about being forbidden to visit Ayaan at the hospital and she'd promised him a surprise.
They were soon back on the road. This time Dilshad sat in the passenger seat, while Ayaan slept in the third row and Zoya was at the window. Najma was fast asleep with her head resting on Zoya's shoulder. Tanu too slept. Asad could now see her face clearly in the rear view mirror as he drove. He stole glances at her as she stared listlessly out of the window. Zoya was exhausted. She couldn't bear the plugs in her ears any more. Her hands hurt. And that permanent lump in her throat just wouldn't budge let alone slide down. The song, "Ajeeb dastaan hai yeh" came on, and Dilshad exclaimed, "Oh I love this song." She increased the volume and started softly humming along with it.
"Kisi ka pyar le ke tum, naya jahan basaoge, Yeh shaam jab bhi ayegi, tum humko yaad a-ogey."
Asad sharply looked up into the mirror and saw tears streaming down Zoya's face as she hastily wiped them. He swerved to avoid a car as he rushed to quickly switch the radio station. Dilshad asked crossly, "why did you do that, I was listening to it?" "It was boring. I want to listen to the news." Zoya made a strangled sound and Dilshad turned around and asked with concern, "are you OK, do want us to stop, Zoya?" With her face averted Zoya nodded a yes. As soon as Asad pulled over, she rushed out and ran a little distance behind the car. She fell to her knees on the side of the road and sobbed uncontrollably. Dilshad exclaimed, "oh the poor thing is carsick, let me take some water for her." Asad stopped her with a hand on her arm, "Ammi, aap baithiye, I'll do it."
He walked up slowly after her. She felt someone coming and started to choke back her sobs. Asad placed his hand on her shoulder and offered her the bottle of water. She took it from his hands, and turned away to splash cold water on her face. She took a sip hoping to wash the taste of ashes from her mouth. He offered her his handkerchief and she shook her head no. "Zoya, please" He whispered hoarsely. He wanted to hold her hand and beg her forgiveness on his knees. If only he could pull her into his arms, kiss her tears away, and promise to keep her smiling all his life. He thought again of her tears at the Dargah when he had first seen her. This time he was responsible for her tears and lost smile. His heart squeezed and he clenched his fists helplessly. That's all he could do these days besides lashing out at himself silently for being the biggest fool in the world who had blindly gambled his life away. He saw her wipe her face hard with her hands, push her shoulders back and stalk proudly toward the car, a queen ready for the guillotine. He looked forlornly after her. In the car, Zoya shut her eyes and couldn't help but play back his words to her right now. He had sounded just as tortured as he did in that video. She knew he felt guilty and that splintered her soul even more. She didn't want him to feel guilty because of her. She didn't want him to feel sorry for her. Why, Allah miyan are you making this so hard? Why can't I accept that he's not mine, never was. His words and eyes hold me back but his actions scream that he doesn't see me as someone worthy of being a part of his family. And don't actions speak louder than words? She dug her fingernails into her palms to punish her dumb heart.
next morning they went to pay their respects and offer prayers at the
famed Dargah of Ajmer Sharif. Everyone was modestly dressed with their heads
covered as they moved toward the inner sanctum.
were crowds of pilgrims from all over the world, milling about,
praying, chatting, chanting, and tying sacred threads by the millions.
sold sacred chadors, flowers, sweets, and other offerings, holy men
called blessings and duas as they brushed passing heads with peacock
feather clusters. Families
and loners bustled. There were sick and elderly on crutches and in
wheelchairs. Kids darted about and bumped heads, young married couples
with hopeful faces murmured prayers ... Incense smoked and perfumed the air; hope and despair collided and rubbed shoulders.
The men and women separated to offer their prayers and seek blessings. Najma,
Dilshad and Tanu later moved on to tie their threads on the elaborate
lattices groaning under millions of wishes and hopes. Asad,
still hyper aware of Zoya and her torment, noticed from a distance that
she was just holding her thread and looking at it in a daze, but not
tying it. A
little boy slammed into her, nearly knocking her off her feet. She bent
and smiled at him. He was being pushed around by his older siblings and
complained that he wanted to tie a thread too. He had dropped his somewhere and
no one was willing to give him another one. Zoya gave him her thread and
he tried to unsuccessfully tie it, but he was being bumped around by
the crush of bodies. His tiny fingers were uncoordinated. Laughing
now, she helped him by picking him up in her arms so that he could get
closer and have better access. But he still fumbled and she tried to
help him, but couldn't. Asad's
knees went weak at this sight of a smiling Zoya with her head covered,
holding a squirming child in her slender arms. He stepped up and guided the boy's hands to
help him tie the thread. Once done, Zoya put him down and the boy happily scampered away to join his siblings. Zoya was about to
walk away when Aasd offered her his thread. Not meeting his gaze she
shook her head. "No thank you, it's OK, " she said softly, and walked
away to wait for everyone to be done. Slowly
he walked to the lattice and tied the rejected thread. Through
the intricate mesh, Asad gazed at her receding back and bowed head; the distance yawned between them.
dinner, back at the hotel everyone lounged in the plush suite,
discussing the trip to the holy site as well as upcoming wedding plans.
Zoya busied herself by scrolling her cramped fingers across her iPad.
She had to hold it together or she'd lose it and ruin everything. She
tried concentrating on her breathing to distract herself. In ... out ...
in ... out ... Anything to tune out the crashing and burning of her miserable heart.
Tanu's hawk eyes weren't fooled. She deliberately began to bait Zoya.
Sharp that she was, she had noticed something deeply unresolved between
Asad and Zoya. The usually giggly and annoying Ms. New York wasn't in
her element and Jammy wasn't scowling or being hyper-critical of her. How was
it that no one else had seen both of them being miserable.
"Zoya, what do you think about marriage? Maine suna hai ki aap apne nikaah se bhaag gayin theen."
Every one looked at her in horror as an angry Asad started to interject.
Zoya spoke up, softly, yet firmly. "Yes, you heard right. I wasn't
ready for marriage. I panicked ... aur mujhe koi aur rasta nahin
soojhha, to main bhaag gayee," she owned up miserably.
Taking a deep breath, she continued, "my method was wrong, I know that. May be I am irresponsible and don't think about consequences.
I seem to act first and think things through later ..." Ain't that the truth, she reprimanded herself yet again. "I'll always regret
that I hurt Aapi terribly, but not that I ran away. He was not a good
Dilshad and Najma nodded in agreement. They knew about what had happened and how they had nearly lost Zoya.
self-condemnation slayed him. No, you aren't irresponsible, Asad wanted
to yell. You did the right thing! I was irresponsible for trusting
Akram and forcing you to apologize. Asad recalled with hollow fury how
he had reached Akram's house just in time to prevent the
forced marriage. He remembered how his heart had stopped at the sight of
blood on the side of her mouth. Asad felt the rage and shame rise in him once again. How dare that man drug her, beat her, and force her to get married to him? Thank
god he'd gotten there in time, or god knows what would have happened.
He would have never been able to forgive himself. His fists clenched and he very nearly smashed a vase through the window.
But seeing Zoya's bent head, her hair screening her face once again, made his anger evaporate. Shame and dull loss replaced it. He hadn't yet apologized to her for that incident. Despite her reminding him that he owed her an apology. How
could he? He didn't know how to. Asad still shuddered imagining how
Akram and his cousins had kidnapped her, drugged her, and beat her up. What if they'd ...? And he had bullied her into going self-righteously demanding that she do the right thing. Is that what she was thinking too?
She was. But not the way he feared.
nahin hai," he'd said for her. He hated her, and yet he'd come to her
rescue. Even later in Mangalpur ... He'd risked his life for her so many
times. What if something had happened to him? What about Phuphi and
Najma? Yes. She was irresponsible. For
her, it was yet another reminder of how he must think the absolute
worst of her. She had been mad at him for that Akram incident then. But
now, she wished she could just curl up and die. "You're a misfit," he'd said a few weeks later. "Aap kabhi bhi ek acchi bahu ya biwi nahin ban sakti," he had reiterated. He was right.
She cleared her throat dislodging the painful lump that had formed, and not succeeding completely. "Umm ... Mr. Khan?"
He whipped his head around eagerly to look at her. I'm so sorry for being a total jerk. Please forgive me, he wanted to say.
"I never thanked you for saving me that day. Thank you."
He hated himself even more.
he couldn't pull his eyes away from her face. Her angry words that he
always judged her character by her wardrobe, slashed him. She was right.
He had let corrosive prejudice blindside him. And the irony was that
when he'd finally realized his folly, he'd also blown his chance of ever
being with her. He lowered his gaze. Meanwhile everyone else joined in
saying that yes, Zoya was right about the importance of love and dignity
in a marriage. Tanu was miffed.
Ayaan looked unusually thoughtful and sad. But
then he said, "Aap kitni himmatwali hain Zoya. I don't think anyone
else in your place could have done that. Chahe who shaadi ke kitna bhi
khilaaf hota, chup chap, samaaj ke darr se, 'qubool hai' keh deta."
looked up sharply at him and sensed that there was something deep bothering
Ayaan. He had never seen his brother this serious, or as contemplative
Later, when both brothers were in their room, he asked Ayaan, "what is going on, why are you so tense about something?"
tried to brush it off, but Asad persisted, "I know you very well and
know that something's wrong even before you know it. I can tell that
something is eating you up inside."
Ayaan chuckled ruefully, "Bhaijaan, I could say the same for you. For a man who's engaged to be married, you don't look so happy."
ducked his head and said sternly, "we aren't talking about me. Ayaan,
tell me, what's bothering you? You've never hidden anything from me.
It's got to be something big."
Ayaan sighed and then reluctantly told him about being pressured to get married to his uncle's daughter.
Asad urged him to tell him everything.
recounted Mumani's conspiracy to trap him and Humaira in his bed when his
brother was away in Mangalpur. And then how, for a price, he had said
yes to this engagement with a girl who loved him, but whom he only care
for as a good friend.
Asad was able to connect the dots.
"That's where you got the money to pay off that corrupt police officer?"
Ayaan said nothing.
Asad started to pace the floor.
"This is all my fault. If I had allowed Ammi to pay off Hassena bi that day, this wouldn't have happened." He knelt in front of Ayaan, "I'm so sorry. I didn't know. I wish I could have done things differently and spared you this pain."
shook his head saying, "it's not your fault, Bhaijaan. But now that
I've given my word I will follow through even if it kills me."
Long into the night, as Ayaan slept, Asad tossed and turned. There are so many things he would have done differently today. Why had he been so rigid and so smugly blind? He glanced at Ayaan. Both of us are silently chafing against being forced
into loveless marriages. Yet Zoya fought against being forced into a
marriage against her will. How difficult it must have been as a girl in a
new country to make that choice that neither of us are able to make?
Guilt curled up inside to smother him. He had always seen himself as right and her as wrong. And today that self-righteousness was thumbing its nose at him, strangling everything that was right, everything that was just.
He got up to pace angrily in the limited space in the room. Why did this have to happen? Why didn't I ...? Asad stopped in front of the wide plate glass window. It was pointless. Knuckles gripping the
window-frame tightly, he stared sightlessly into the black night for a
Zoya was in the bathroom of the room next door that she shared with
Tanu. She looked at herself in the mirror and upbraided her reflection,
"just snap out of it and get over this. People are starting to notice
your being too quiet. Don't let Phuphi find out about your stupid crush!
Accept what you can't change, and don't let anyone find out about this.
Stop this moping and get over yourself already. C'mon, Zoya, you're a
strong girl! You can do this. You have to do this. You must!"
Song in Title: Shanghai (2012), "Duaa"
Edited by dixeij - 2015-06-26T11:09:48Z
Tujhse Naaraaz Nahin Zindagi, Hairaan Hoon Main Chapter 6
day in the car, Asad noticed Zoya smiling and talking a lot more, and making
an aggressive effort to participate in the activities and chatter. He
heard her babbling non-stop about inane things and with a pang knew that
this too was a faade. She didn't want anyone to notice her heartache
or ruin the trip.
His heart wrenched as he thought of the thousands of times he had yelled at her calling her inconsiderate and selfish. He
remembered the time he nearly said, I hate you, and his cruelest words
to her, "accha hua khuda ne aapse apni ammi chheen li, kyunki aapko
rishton ki ehmiyat nahin hai."
His fingers clenched on the steering wheel. Self-loathing bubbled up to gag him.
was just no way he could make up for the terrible things he'd said
and done to her. He was still awed at how she never held a grudge and
forgave so easily. He would never forgive himself as easily. Once after a
bitter fight, she'd actually smiled at him as he continued to scowl at
her. "Main zyada der tak kissi se naaraz nahin reh sakti. It's not in my
nature. Jaiye, aapko maaf kiya!" Every day since he'd learned a new facet of
her, felt chastened for judging her and misreading her. Just because
she wore jeans and came from the US, he had stereotyped and humiliated
her. She was right about him being judgmental. He deserved to suffer for his behavior, but she didn't deserve this.
soon got tired of Zoya's incessant yapping and Dilshad crossly told her
to go sit up front with Asad so that she could keep him awake while he
drove. Zoya froze but nodded her head in silence, and settled in the
passenger seat armed with her iPad. She swallowed several times and fiddled with the radio stations. Finally,
taking a deep breath, she said to him with bent gaze. "OK, Mr. Khan
what should we talk about or do to pass the time? You know what, aapne
'Dil Chahta Hai' dekhi hai? No? Then main apko apni favorite movie ki
story sunati hoon." He'd seen that film, and liked it too. But he let her tell the story and
just listened to the texture and tenor of her voice. She got more and
more animated as the story developed, and even decided to play the songs
from the film. Najma and Ayaan joined in gleefully. Tanu rolled her eyes. But
Zoya's voice started to falter as she got closer and closer to the romantic scenes
between Akash and Shalini. Shalini's attempts to get him to accept that
love was real and worth reaching out for made her squirm in
embarrassment now. Nicely done, Zoya. Another moronic and lovesick choice to make a bigger fool of yourself. You may as well have it tattooed on your forehead: Misfit Zoya loves Mr. Khan. Her eyes stung. Thankfully Najma and Ayaan had really gotten into the storytelling as well and started to narrate that part while speaking over each other. Najma said, "C'mon Zoya, it's time to play jaane kyun' at this point." While Zoya fiddled with the iPad to find and play the song, she ducked her head to hide her blush. Asad too remembered the time she had walked in on him in the bathtub while he (badly) whistled "jaane kyun." He swore softly. Zoya heard him and shriveled up inside. Thankfully
the song ended without her embarrassing herself any more, and Ayaan started to act out the cult proposal scene. He
recited Akash's romantic words to Shalini, loud and clear with the
exact expressions. Zoya looked away and Asad looked straight ahead
unblinkingly. Zoya thought about that scene in the film and imagined Mr.
Khan on bended knee. She shook herself and pasted a smile on and
clapped with the others when Ayaan finished with a flourish. After the story was done, she said, "OK, how about a cricket quiz now?" Najma screwed up her face in distaste, but knew that her Bhaijaan would love that. She settled back quietly. Zoya
tapped on her iPad and after a few minutes began asking trivia
questions which he tried to answer distractedly. Ayaan kept blurting out
wrong answers from the back, and both she and Asad kept correcting him.
Neither could forget the time when she'd challenged him to a trivia
match on cricket and won. While he had acted annoyed then, he'd been
impressed with her knowledge and passion for the game. As if in sync, both remembered
his hateful words after she and Najma returned from the match he'd
forbidden them to go to; Zoya cringed, mortified, and Asad kicked himself for
his repeated assault on her character.
Tanu did not look happy at all, but congratulated herself, "no matter what you do Zoya, Jammy is all mine now."
they ran out of cricket questions, Zoya started to read news headlines
from her iPad but that got boring real fast. Then she hopped to
Bollywood news and Najma sat up and chimed in about celebrity gossip.
her energy started to flag, Asad reached out and handed her his water
bottle. She gulped down the water thirstily and seeing her head thrown
back, throat exposed, he again remembered their return from Mangalpur
after their harrowing escape. She'd looked so vulnerable, so beaten.
Even then he wanted to hold her, but he had resisted, choosing only to
wipe her face and tuck her hair behind her ear. He
told her softly, "why don't you rest now and may be take a nap. I'll be
fine, you don't need to feel obligated to entertain me." She looked into his face as he looked straight ahead and quickly lowered her gaze. "I'm sorry, I'm being annoying." There was a barely discernible tremor in her voice that only he caught. "No, please don't think that." He tried to reassure her. From the back Ayaan quipped, "Zoya we haven't heard any of your shayari for so long." Her eyes watered in fresh mortification. In painstaking clarity, every playful sher of hers against Mr. Khan played on a sick endless loop in her head.
"Ruhani sukoon aur dil mein chaiyn hona chaheye, Ruhani sukoon aur dil mein chaiyn hona chaheye, Aapka naam Asad nahi, chairman hona chaheye."
Humsafar na baniye, humein akele ki aadat hai Zubaan ko mishri na banayiye, humein karele ki aadat hai.
"C'mon Mona Darling, how about some bad shayari?" Ayaan clowned and urged.
Any other time, Zoya would have
jumped down his throat and mocked his own shayari as lame. But today
she just smiled tragically saying she could only do so spontaneously and
not on demand. "Nothing is coming to me right now. I'm sorry. Besides, Raabert you can't force genius. It just happens," she tried to assert haughtily. Only Asad saw her hands gripping each other tightly.
"Accha, main ek line bolunga, then you complete it."
He recited a line and Zoya, for the first time fumbled, at a complete loss for words.
tried to cover up her silence and visible discomfort by saying, "stop
this silliness. I don't want to hear any bad shayari."
her head, Zoya turned to Tanu and offered, "I am beginning to feel
sleepy, may be you can come up here and keep Mr. Khan company."
agreed eagerly and after a brief stop, they both switched places. Tanu
tried to start a conversation by referring to past experiences from
their childhood, but Asad was still distractedly looking at Zoya in the rear
view mirror. Gratefully he noticed that she had put on her ear plugs and
was leaning back with her eyes closed. He saw her lips quiver. Her hand
came up to cover the telltale sign of her torment. But not before he'd
seen her throat move as she swallowed several times. His hands clenched
impotently on the steering wheel yet again.
Reluctantly, he returned his attention to the road while listening to Tanu and answering in monosyllables.
After Ajmer it was decided that they would stop over in Jaipur.
Najma was excitedly talking about jewelry shopping with her mother as they discussed the wedding functions.
"Ammi, you have to decide on the date of the sagaai soon."
Tanu preened with pleasure.
looked up sharply at Zoya in the rear view mirror. Thankfully she had
her earphones on and probably didn't hear this discussion.
and once we are done with shopping, can we please go to Chokhidani? My
friend went and said that it's beautiful. Please Bhaijaan," Najma
soon reached the historic city. After checking in and freshening up at the
hotel, they went to a reputable jewelry shop recommended by Dilshad's
friend. The women were soon engrossed in designs, and oohed and aahed at
the diamond jewelry.
Asad and Ayaan rolled their eyes and sat by themselves on a settee.
"This is so boring," said Ayaan.
"Just wait," said Asad, "when you go back home, they'll drag you around like this too."
"Chaliye na, Bhaijaan, we'll go sit in the car, crank up the AC and jam on my guitar."
almost refused but liked the idea and decided to give in. He glanced at
Zoya and noticed that she was not really interested in the jewelry
She was tapping away on her iPad, headphones stuffed in her
ears, and only looking up when Najma dragged her attention to admire
some piece of jewelry.
How had he never noticed her simplicity and lack
of adornment? He hadn't seen her shop for clothes or jewelry and
trinkets with the same enthusiasm as Najma and Tanu. Even on the trip so far,
she'd mostly bought souvenirs and gifts. He shook his head. Just more
proof of his blindness to her true nature and what he had truly lost in
He walked up to Dilshad to tell her that they were going to the car.
"No," she insisted, "you have to stay so that we can pick out the engagement rings."
Asad's hands fisted and he mentally slapped his head. Looking over at Ayaan,
he spread his hands helplessly, and morosely sat down by Dilshad.
and with slumped shoulders, Ayaan walked over too, and sat by Zoya
peering over her shoulder to see what she was up to.
She slapped the cover shut and glared at him.
Thank you Raabert!
couldn't bear to hear any more talk about engagement rings. She had
blocked out the sound. But wasn't able to do the same with the sight of
boxes of rings spread out before Phuphi and Tanveer. From the corner of
her eye she had spotted Mr. Khan come and sit next to Dilshad and her
heart had stopped.
Ayaan grinned and waggled his eyebrows at her.
"Secrets? I am going to find out what you're hiding!"
"Impossible," she snorted, her voice almost not quivering, "you'll never be able to figure out my password."
heard this exchange and was immediately reminded of the day he and Ammi
had walked into the house and saw a big mess in the kitchen. Ammi had
been upset, and looking at the mess a muscle had ticked in his neck. He
was furious for Ammi's sake. Trying to figure out the cause of it, they
had been surprised by Zoya popping up like a jack in the box from behind
chirpy announcement that she was baking a cake for Phuphi had brought a
smile to Ammi's face on the day that she was most sad. Zoya had then
walked over to her propped-up iPad on the dining table, equally messy
with dry flour all over the surface, to find a recipe for chocolate
"Oh, yeh toh sleep mode mein chala gaya. Wait."
And then the strangest thing had happened.
She did a little jig, waved her arms about rhythmically, and sang, "la, la-la-la, la."
And they heard a similar sing-song response in a cartoon voice come from the iPad.
Both he and Ammi had looked at each other and then at Zoya quizzically.
in her inimitable style, she had cocked her head to one side and said,
"mera password hai" as though it was the most natural thing in the
Ammi had smiled more and almost laughed, while he had mentally rolled his eyes and clutched his forehead in annoyance.
did he think she was annoying then? Why couldn't he see that she had
helped to bring joy to Ammi at her darkest moment of despair?
She was right.
He'd always been too judgmental.
And now everything was over.
Asad sighed heavily and Dilshad looked up at him. She had noticed that he
had been tense and distracted of late. She stiffened and glanced at
Najma and Tanu trying on different rings.
Her thoughts raced.
is going on? Why is Asad so moody and silent? He is not as hyper about
Najma's safety or correcting her every two minutes about being too
chatty, he isn't even getting annoyed with Zoya or trying to control
her. In fact Zoya is behaving strangely too.
looked more closely at her son who was frowning at Ayaan and Zoya who
were bent over her iPad, heads together. He didn't seem happy or content
with the decision to marry. What had made him take this decision?
Najma broke into her thoughts. "Ammi what about this one?"
Dilshad no longer had her heart in it.
shook her head and abruptly said, "actually, I already had a ring made
for Asad's sagaai a long time ago. We'll use that one. Let's go."
Najma reluctantly returned the ring to the salesperson.
They left, to Ayaan and Asad's relief, and Tanu's dismay.
had hoped that Khala would buy the ring that Najma had shown her. It
was the latest design and she didn't really trust that the ring she
would have to wear would be as stylish. But she continued her pretense in being the dutiful future bahu.
Ayaan and Najma had decided that after shopping they would spend the evening at Chokhidani.
found it strange that Asad was allowing both of them a free rein, and
not objecting to any of their giddy plans and schemes.
She said, "I am tired. Why don't you drop me off at the hotel and then you all can go."
Zoya and Najma wouldn't have it. "No, you have to come with us."
But Dilshad held firm.
reached Chokhidani after dropping Dilshad at the hotel and Zoya was
enchanted by the place. The smells and sounds, the ethnic dcor, the colorful
costumes, and camels and elephants were just like the India she had seen
in travel brochures. She ran ahead of everyone, whipped out her iPad
and started taking pictures. At the entrance they saw beautifully decorated earthen pots in front of a rustic thatched hut and a charpoy. Both Ayaan and Najma urged everyone to pose for a family photo. Zoya took a few shots of all four of them.
Then Ayaan said, "OK Mona darling, you come and I'll take a few snaps."
She handed him her iPad and went to sit by Najma.
Ayaan finished taking the photographs and then holding her iPad aloft gloated, "yes, now I can see what you were up to."
Zoya charged after him.
held the iPad higher as she unsuccessfully hopped around him in circles
trying to grab it out of his hands. Ayaan being taller kept
switching it back and forth from one hand to the other driving her
insane as she pouted, screamed, threatened and grabbed at his arms. It was the oldest trick in the dating rule book that girls didn't know of.
Ayaan lapped up this attention and playfulness.
"Raabert, I'll kill you," Zoya panted, face red, as she wiggled and tried yet again to retrieve the iPad.
"Arz kiya hai...," started Ayaan.
"Ayaan!" he heard a stern voice, and looked at his older brother sheepishly.
"Give it back," commanded Asad crossly.
was not liking the sight of Zoya in such close proximity to his baby
brother who was deliberately baiting her by holding her precious iPad
out of reach.
Ayaan complied reluctantly.
Damn! Bhaijaan always ruined his fun with girls. Zoya slapped his hand when he returned it.
Najma found all this very amusing and asked Zoya, "when will you ever tell me the story behind Raabert and Mona darling?"
leaped in and putting his arm around his little sister, began to
animatedly tell her about "Operation Laal Rumaal," and how that failed
dismally because their Bhaijaan, Akdu Ahmed Khan, and he waggled his
eyebrows at Zoya devilishly, was always over-prepared. The man could foil the CIA.
just didn't have the heart to hear this story. Too many painful memories
resurfaced. And she certainly didn't want to see the expression on Mr. Khan's face when Ayaan told Tamatar about their ridiculous plans. That was the night he'd called her a misfit. Determinedly she wandered over to look at a folk dance performance not
too far away. She took more pictures of women in colorful folk costumes
dancing on broken glass and the edges of blunt swords without drawing
Ayaan continued, "and then we had to execute Operation Pyaasi Aatma.'"
was helpless with laughter when he told her how he had worn a white
sari and wig and stood in the middle of the road with a burning candle
to delay Bhaijaan so that he couldn't testify at court the next day. And
for his pains, Bhaijaan had given him a resounding backhanded slap,
which had hurt for days after.
massaged his cheek, stuck out his lower lip playfully, and made puppy
dog eyes at Asad who hit him upside the head and then ruffled his
already unkempt hair.
Then Ayaan told Najma how he had locked them in the farmhouse that night.
She raised her eyebrows in amazement.
She couldn't get over how Zoya and Ayaan were still alive after tricking Bhaijaan like this.
was obviously getting soft. He wasn't even nagging her too much during
this trip. The engagement must definitely agree with him, she thought.
however, sniffed and felt left out of all the merriment. Her ears
pricked at the part when she heard of both of them spending the night
together in an abandoned farmhouse.
Asad's aloofness was grating on her and she resented how he kept looking at Zoya with concern.
"This has to stop," she murmured to herself. "High time Ms. New York went back to where she came from."
enjoyed the camel and elephant rides, Tanu was the only one to decline.
Zoya had been reluctant initially. It didn't seem right to treat
animals this way. The camel looked stoic, but the elephant's sad eyes
just tugged at her heart. After the ride, she had stroked its trunk and
patted its cheek with the Mahaut's permission. But she had to smile when
he told her its name: Anarkali.
She cooed and murmured silly assurances in Anarkali's ginormous ears.
watched from a distance, smitten and bereft. Tanu had complained of her
feet hurting so he was giving her company as she rested on a nearby
He dragged his eyes away form Zoya's slight figure dwarfed by the elephant.
had to stop this. It wasn't right for him to pine away like a tragic
Majnu. And at least Majnu had the guts to tell his love that he loved
What was done, was done.
He better get his act together and start to focus more on Tanu.
Ayaan and Najma were having the most fun of all.
by now, Zoya too was getting into the spirit as she and Ayaan traded
insults and shayari. Ayaan hooked his arms with her and Najma and
strutted around like a peacock. Zoya gave him a side kick and fled
giggling as he bellowed like a bull and charged after her.
Asad was relieved to see Zoya's spunk and smile return, he was not
liking that Ayaan was getting so close to her. He itched to be part of
the charmed circle but felt excluded.
He wanted Zoya to be on his arm, not Ayaan's.
They had hot badam milk at one of the stalls and Asad almost choked on his, as he remembered that last time he's had some. Zoya almost leaped to his aid but clenched her fists instead; she crossed her arms tight to control them.
Ayaan thumped his brother's back with glee winking at a laughing Najma.
Najma dragged everyone to dinner after various stops at jewelry and souvenir stalls.
was an elaborate affair. The men were honored with tikas and got to
wear pagdis as they sat on the floor. They were treated to a huge
smorgasbord of Rajasthani traditional foods with generous servings of
desi ghee. Servers in traditional outfits ladled spicy foods, condiments
Zoya was entranced.
eating she just had to take several photographs of her food and post them on her instagram account. She even took a
video of everyone enjoying their food and of the servers.
Najma put her hand out to block her, "Zoya, stop! Don't you dare take a picture of me while I'm eating."
Zoya grinned and playfully pinched her cheek.
"I love this, Tamatar. I love India. So gorgeous. I'm going to miss it when I leave."
Najma's face fell.
"You can't leave. You have to stay until the wedding at least."
Tanu, sitting next to Najma heard this exchange and rejoiced that Zoya would soon be out of her hair.
Asad heard Najma's aggrieved voice and felt his heart twist.
Suddenly, he couldn't enjoy the meal. With his head bowed, he strained to hear what Zoya said, but he couldn't catch her reply.
"No Asad. Don't try to fool me. I know when something is bothering my kids. Just tell me honestly, what's going on?"
He stood up and started to pace the floor restlessly.
His chest burned with unsaid confessions. Self-loathing gnawed at his gut. Every time he closed his eyes, Zoya's face appeared. There were smudges under her eyes. She didn't even make eye contact with him these days. Whenever she was forced to say something to him, she focused in his ear or collar. He unconsciously punched the back of the sofa.
"There's nothing to tell Ammi."
"Really? And that's why you're behaving like a caged and wounded lion right now?"
She sat back in the chair.
"Asad. Do not make me take those filmy kasams. I am not going to let this go till you tell me what's bothering you."
Asad sighed and knew he was beaten. But how could he tell her about what happened that night. How sordid!
He hemmed and hawed, but Dilshad gave him a stern look.
"Enough! No more voh, actually! Tell me. Main tumhe yahan se jaane nahin doongi jab tak tum mujhe sab sach sach nahin bata dete. That's why I sent Najma to Zoya and Tanu's room. You will stay here all night if you have to."
He sat back down on the bed and looked away from her. Running his hands agitatedly through his hair he tried to pacify her by telling her that she always wanted him to get married. Since he'd known Tanu for most of his life, he had decided that she would make a suitable bahu for the family.
Dilshad shook her head. "This was true 10 days ago too. And you always brushed me off when I brought up the topic of your nikaah. Why did you decide suddenly to get married? Knowing you well, I know that you would have asked me first. Why didn't you? Why this rush? Something has changed. I know this in my heart."
Haltingly he told her how he had made the gravest mistake of his life and lost control one night. Now he was only doing what he thought was right.
He hung his head in shame.
Dilshad was aghast. She could not believe that her son was capable of such a thing. For a morally upright and highly principled man who respected women, this would have been impossible. Her Asad? The man who didn't even look at women wrong? Someone who hated his father for what he'd done to his mother so long ago ...?
She was too stunned to respond immediately.
Asad looked at her shamefacedly.
"Do you hate me Ammi? Have I completely fallen in your esteem?"
She rushed to sit next to him and held him in her arms.
"Never," she said. "I just can't believe it, that's all."
He held his head in his hands and wept for all that he had done, and not done. His pride and silent procrastination had cost him his love and happiness. He had turned his back on the best thing to have happened to him.
She could not bear to see him like this. This could not be true. She wanted him to marry, but not this way. She hugged him harder and pushed his hands away to hold his face in her hands.
"I refuse to believe this of you. You? A man who has defined his life by hating his father's actions, could not possibly have done anything like this, or hurt anyone. You are always so restrained and self-controlled. Tumne aaj tak kissi ladki ko chhua tak nahin hai, buri nazar se bhi nahin dekha hai! It's impossible. There must be some misunderstanding."
Asad shook his head regretfully.
"No. I don't think so. And now I must make things right."
That night Dilshad could not sleep.
She kept replaying the past few months over and over again in her head. Somehow she had thought that Asad had been showing signs of liking Zoya. He seemed to smile more, even though those were mere half-smiles. There seemed to be nothing between him and Tanu except for friendly concern. They hardly seemed to have anything in common except for memories of their childhood.
But no one could miss the sparks between him and Zoya.
Could this be the reason for Zoya's recent silence? She had thought, that Zoya was sad and quiet because of her Abbu.
As sleep overcame her just before dawn, she had made up her mind.
She'd get to the bottom of this.
Next morning at breakfast, Ayaan and Najma were elbowing each other and whispering among themselves.
The other four members of the party were too preoccupied to really pay any attention to these two.
Ayaan cleared his throat to get everyone's attention.
"Badi Ammi, what if we went to Agra from here?"
Before anyone could react, Najma jumped in full steam, "Please, please Bhaijaan, it'll be such fun. I've never seen the Taj and I'm dying to see Fatehpur Sikri. I've heard it's beautiful."
"No, I'm sorry," said Asad in a clipped voice. "I have to return to work. There are important meetings that I postponed for this trip."
As if Ayaan knew that this would be his response, he quickly interjected.
"But Bhai, just take one day more, and then you can fly back from Agra and we can drive back on our own."
"Are you crazy," Asad bit back.
"How can you drive such a long distance? No, this is just not happening."
"But Bhai, Zoya knows how to drive, she and I can take turns."
Before Zoya could say anything, Asad scowled and curtly said, "No."
Zoya bowed her head letting her hair cover her pained eyes. I'm sure he doesn't trust my driving skills. He would never entrust his family's safety in my hands.
She turned to Ayaan and said quietly, "Raabert, I can drive, but I don't have an Indian license."
Ayaan and Najma looked conspiratorially at each other.
"OK," he said to Asad, "you cannot turn down this idea. It is so brilliant and so foolproof. You take the extra day off. In the meanwhile call your driver to take the train and reach Agra by tomorrow. You fly out day after tomorrow to attend your precious meetings, and he and I can drive the ladies back home."
Najma clapped her hands and pleaded with Mr. Khan.
"Please bhaijaan, this is the perfect solution. You can't say no. We may never get such a chance again. And I'm sure Zoya has never seen the Taj Mahal before. Have you Zoya?"
Avoiding Asad's gaze, Zoya shook her head.
"See? You have to say yes." She folded both her hands placatingly, "please, please, PLEASE, Bhaijaan!"
How could he withstand this onslaught? He glanced at Zoya's bent head and took the decision.
"Yay!" shouted Ayaan and Najma pumping their fists in the air and high fiving. Other diners looked at their table indulgently.
Dilshad sat back in her chair and sighed. She no longer wondered why Asad was letting his arm be twisted by his brother and sister. She had also seen Asad and Zoya's pained faces when Najma had gushed about the Taj being the most romantic place on earth. This solidified her resolve. While she had hoped they could go home as soon as possible, she couldn't resist Najma and Ayaan's obvious glee.
May be this is a blessing in disguise, she thought. It'll give me more time to observe Asad, Tanu and Zoya closely. Allah, help me guide my children to happiness. Let their lives not be shadowed by doubts and crushed dreams. Asad has seen too much pain. He's taken such good care of me and Najma. Don't condemn him to a lifetime of more pain. He deserves so much more. Reham kar mere bachhon pe, mere Maula!