I loved the comebacks they gave each other. I also loved the battle strategy book bit, it was so spot on, seemed like a delightful dig at the character too. Loved this.
The Viper’s Nest
There was a blackhole swirling beneath her feet, slowly swarming her senses and sucking her below the level of all reason. She was lost. Lost in a sea of affluent men and women with gold on their bodies and disgust in their eyes. Lost between stiff coats, expensive bourbons, and lavish gowns that singled her out for the imposter she was.
A hubbub of choruses was assaulting her ears. And she could hear every brand of curse with stark singularity.
“Married him for his money.”
“What a shameless climber.”
“How dare she come here.”
“Marrying Bajaj? Now there’s a schemer.”
She should’ve never come. It was a conclusion she’d reached a hundred times in the past ten minutes. Her husband never attended such parties. All he sent her way was a cold look and a casual shrug if she even mentioned the dozen invitations that sat languorously on their coffee table.
Why had she come? She pressed her lips together and stared at the blue ribbon tied around her wrist. For Anurag. Stupid. Idiot.
She’d wanted to talk to Anurag. She’d wanted to knock some sense into him. If the rumors were true, he wasn’t himself. He was crushed, and drunken and wasting his life away. And nothing in the world could hurt her more than watching him do that to himself. And all because of her.
So here she was. Desperate. Clutching at straws and a total glutton for masochism. She caressed the blue ribbon on her wrist again. It was a charity ball at Mrs. Desai’s and they were all color coordinated with partners. She’d somehow tricked herself into getting the same ribbon as Anurag. Now only if she could wait a few more minutes for the ball to start. In the dark, with masks on, nobody would see her talking to him. Everyone around her was sporting gilded masquerades. All the while, her mask was becoming a wrinkled tragedy trapped between her agitated fingers.
Ten more minutes she told herself.
Ten more minutes of this humiliation.
Except, ten minutes were going to last a lifetime, as she was about to find out.
“Prerna,” Mrs. Desai sang in a high-pitch that was laced with artifice.
Prerna braced herself and brought a socially appropriate smile on her face as she turned to face the host.
The smile didn’t last. Her face took a turn for pasty white the moment her eyes landed on the woman beside Mrs. Desai.
Stiff and vibrating with poison.
Taking a deep breath, she kept her eyes fixed on Naina Desai. This was no time to lose her composure. Not now, when she’d endured so much and come so far.
“You look ravishing child,” Mrs. Desai adjusted the million-dollar necklace around her neck for the umpteenth time, “that gown is Riya. Of course, it’s her. That cut. My god, that cut. It’s not part of her new collection though. She must’ve done a custom request. When did you give the order?”
Prerna fumbled. What did she know of designer outfits and stitch cuts? This was getting exhausting, “I…well—
Desai cut her, her words sharp and condescending, “of course you don’t know. Well…well, at least your dressing sense has cranked up a notch since your marriage to Rishab Bajaj. And I wouldn’t expect any less from him. Although, darling, an advice from this old dumpling, you need to learn to carry yourself. Your sense of dressing is still very middle-class. Those shoes? And that watch? Just embarrassing.”
Prerna gave her a stiff upper lip, “it’s my mother’s watch. I’m really proud of it.”
Desai hooked her fingers and called forth a waiter, picking up a glass of champagne for herself, “what is it with you people and your over the top sentimentality? I mean no offense, but who wears a watch like that to a party like this?”
Prerna opened her mouth to reply but Mohini beat her to it.
“That’s the thing about girls like her. Gold-diggers and social climbers but always end up giving away their measly origins. And anyway, Veena teaching dressing etiquette? Imagining that woman at a designer’s is as picturesque as thinking of a bull in a china shop. No class and zero tack.”
The women that had formed a circle of sharks around her, all laughed. They were out for her blood. And ridiculing her was the event of the day.
But knowledge didn’t blunt the hurt that surfaced inside her heart and exploded through her body. She felt the sharp sting of tears veil her eyes and clicked her jaw shut to stop the onslaught of an emotional breakdown. She could do this. She was made of steel. She was going to survive.
“Who is that?”
Suddenly a quietus swept the room. The clinking of glasses, the uproar of chuckles, the lulling glide of music had faded and a new wave of curious whispers was swarming the crowd.
“Who is that?”
“My God is that?”
“No way. Impossible.”
Prerna knew some important personality had graced the main door. Another politician or celebrity or business mogul. She couldn’t muster the effort to give a damn. Tears were burning the back of her lids and all she wanted to do was leave.
And then the silence drew closer, wrapping around her like a blanket. She didn’t have to see who it was. She saw it on the faces that stood in front of her. Shock. Awe. Nervousness. Mrs. Desai pasted the biggest smile on her lips Prerna had ever seen. Mohini Basu had turned chalk white with anger.
And then he was upon her. The scent of sandalwood, spice and Cuban cigars filled her senses and spread like an ice avalanche, dousing the wildfire inside her.
She turned, and there he was. Looking as royal as he always did. Commanding the presence of every man and woman in the room.
He was dressed in pure black and his face was an unreadable mask. Rishab Bajaj was a bolt. You could never tell what he was feeling. Like a spectator watching a trickster pull in the crowd, all you could do was sit tight and play the guessing game.
But Prerna was becoming attuned to the subtle play of emotions an outsider couldn’t tell.
She kept her eyes trained on him while his gaze spared the room a tactless survey before landing on her.
Prerna hated the way that made her feel. Nothing about her feelings for this man was simple. No black and no white. Her feelings were a cluster of threads, every single weave so deeply intertwined with the other, she had no clue how to sort through them. She hated him. She hated him with a ferocious intensity that had escaped her before he invaded her life.
And she was here, so hated, so ridiculed because of him. But she couldn’t deny the sense of relief that swept her when he came into sight. She wanted to stagger and fall into his arms and let him comfort her the only way he somehow seemed to do. Without a word. Without any contact.
And she hated herself for that. How was it possible for one man to be both: Pain and relief. Wound and salve.
“Mr. Bajaj,” Mrs. Desai droned on, lavishing Prerna's husband with a smile that could single-highhandedly have eclipsed the Sun, “this is an honor.”
“Rishab Bajaj,” Mohini’s tone was a complete antithesis to Naina Desai’s warm welcome.
Rishab branded the Basu matriarch with a penetrating stare.
Prerna couldn’t help but gape. It was like watching two cats sizing each other, each proposing a challenge the other couldn’t refuse. But every dual had a winner. Mohini flicked her gaze away and her husband won, a mockery of a smile hinting at his lips.
“Mrs. Desai,” he began in silken menace that sent chills down Prerna’s spine, “the party’s quite the affair. Of course, when I wrote you that check, I had a different kind of charity in mind. But then the peacock has its fancies. I hope you’ve spent my money on some good bourbon.”
Naina blistered under the remark, “Mr. Bajaj. You’re such a tease. Of course. You’d expect nothing less of me. The wine’s French. Fresh from the vineyards of—”
“All frankess Mrs. Desai, I’ve never much adored the French.”
“Well. There’s bourbon. Strong. Only if I’d known you were coming—”
“You would’ve probably put on a better dress, counting all the possibilities. But then you still owe Riya Gujraal quite a handsome sum of money. It’s a shame you didn’t trust my generosity and asked me to extend another check. Your husband’s a good…well he’s okay but I make it a point to help the needy and the destitute.”
Prerna watched in shocked awe as Naina Desai turned pink. She expected a scathing remark or at least an effort to fight back but Naina just smiled and acted like they were both in on a secret joke.
A waiter approached. The silver tray in his hands had a shimmering blue lagoon floating in a champagne glass. Mohini reached for the drink but Rishab wasn’t done yet.
“So, you do have something marginally good to offer. What is that?”
Naina caught the straw and clung for dear life, “it’s a special cocktail. Three parts punch. Two parts soda. One—”
Bajaj effectively cut through her muddled description, “no alcohol?”
“Of course. It’s what Mohini always—”
“Great. Prerna doesn’t like alcohol. She’s a complete puritan, I’m afraid. She’ll take it.”
A small pause succeeded the declaration. The ember of animosity had turned into a firestorm. Mohini wasn’t passive anymore. Her rage was burning everyone in her vicinity. She gritted her teeth and stamped Rishab with a look that could butcher lesser men, “this is for me. You can put a special order for your wife.”
But her husband wasn’t a lesser man. He watched Mohini calmly, a panther circling around an agitated prey, “Mrs. Desai, Prerna doesn’t look well. I’m sure you can accommodate another drink for Mrs. Basu here.”
Naina hesitated only for a split second before reaching for the glass and pushing it into Prerna’s hands, “of course. You don’t have to ask. Mohini I’ll put another order for you.”
Bajaj slanted his head but didn’t peel his gaze off Mohini’s red face, “what a generous host you are.”
“Excuse me,” Naina fled the scene while onlookers cast amused and wry glances their way.
Mohini gritted her teeth and raised her face to Bajaj, “you—”
“Easy Mrs. Basu,” Rishab lavished Mohini with a slow smile that didn’t reach his eyes, “my mercies have an expiry date. You don’t want the flip to switch and have the Basu empire crumble beneath the weight of your runaway speech.”
They both shared a dangerous silence before Mohini fisted her hands, cast a look of pure hatred Prerna’s way and marched off into the other direction.
Leaving Prerna alone with her husband. Alone. Confused. And angry as hell.
“Well…well, well,” Rishab finally turned her way, giving her his full attention, “I didn’t peg you for a party girl. You never fail to disappoint Miss Sharma.”
She didn’t have the energy for tact anymore, “I don’t have to explain myself but since you’ve come all this way, it’s obviously for a reason. I came here because—”
Rishab caught her wrist and pulled it between them, his thumb and forefinger taking in the expanse of the ribbon wrapped around her wrist, “for Mr. Basu. That’s evident." He took the glass from her and passed it to another waiter, "come with me.”
Prerna glared at him, “no thank you. Leave me alone.”
“I wasn't asking. Come with me.”
Prerna grew rigid, “I’m not a little pet you can dish out orders to. I said no.”
In a second the ribbon was off her. Prerna panicked and reached for it only to have him pocket the damn thing and brand her with a blank look, “follow me or that clandestine rendezvous you’ve planned will go to waste.”
He left and Prerna had no option but to follow.
She had to run to keep up and her heels were proving to be a problem. Bajaj ignored every greeting and strode up the stairs. The house was a quintessential baroque mansion. Reeking of old money and family prestige. The chandeliers, the artefact collection and the paintings alone were worth a fortune.
They went up another level, passed through a quiet corridor and stumbled upon a double door. Bajaj turned the lock and stepped in, his gait casual, his hands going to his pockets. Prerna followed him and stopped dead in her tracks.
Mr. Desai was up against a wall, his clothes in a dishevel, his hands wrapped around the woman he was kissing.
The woman that wasn’t his wife. Prerna stifled a gasp of laughter given how bizarre her life had turned but Rishab just stood there indifferently.
The couple noticed them immediately and broke into frenzy, stammering, and howling and adjusting their clothes.
“Get out Desai and lock the door next time,” Bajaj deadpanned.
And to her amazement, Desai did just that. Apologizing on his way.
Prerna shook her head, “I don’t understand how—”
“It’s simple math,” Rishab walked further into the room, uncuffing his coat's sleeves, “he owes me $3 million and if I tell him to fall on his knees naked and lick the dirt off my boots, he’d do just that, with a performance to stun the stars, for extra tip of course.”
Prerna opened her mouth to retort but was left stunned by the room they were in.
It was nothing short of a mini museum, tantalizing her senses and stunning her into silence.
The walls were teeming with celing-high gilded showcases. She traced her fingers against the glass of one and watched in awe as a rare collection of pre-partition coins sat in glorious display under a sheen of spotlight.
“$3 million,” she said absent-mindedly, “why?”
His voice was much closer than she expected, “because of this. Precisely. I didn’t want the drunken sod selling a collection as rare as this.”
Prerna frowned, “why not buy it?”
“Desai is an idiot. His father on the other hand was a good man. One of my mentors,” Rishab started casually, “some collections shine the brightest in their place of birth. Taking it away will marr the beauty.”
Prerna shook her head, “I don’t understand you. You treat people like objects and treat objects like people. How can a lifeless collection take precedence over real flesh and blood?”
Rishab watched her in amusement, “you’re angry.”
Prerna turned his way and the dam broke, “of course I’m angry! What you did there. Everytime I try to understand you you do something so monstrous, so inhuman I can’t fathom how a heart can beat inside a beast like you. You insulted the host. You insulted Kaki Ma—”
Rishab took a menacing step toward her and she backed off, “no. That’s not why you’re angry. You’re angry because you feel rejected. You feel left out, insulted. You feel like an outcast.”
Prerna didn’t deny, her voice rose in pitch, “of course I feel dejected! They hate me. Everyone hates me. They called me a social climber, gold-digger, cradle crook, my god. All of it, All of it, because of you!”
Rishab was unbothered, “the opinion of Mohini Basu yes. She’s been such a support to you all your life. The loss is truly felt.”
“How dare you—”
“You are such a glutton for validation Miss Sharma.”
“This might come off as a foreign concept. But people like me? We don’t have much except the respect we build. And you single-handedly destroyed me. How can you stand here and look me in the eye knowing you’ve taken everything. Everything!”
Rishab scoffed, and went to a shelf that had a collection of Rubik’s cubes. He picked one and methodically starting setting it straight, “I’m afraid everything didn’t include your lectures. They’re growing quite tedious to be honest.”
“Let me set some facts straight for you. You were born in an average middle-class family, to Moloy Basu’s lower level servant and his family-minded housewife.”
“It hurts doesn’t it? You really think the crowd out there gives a damn about your supposed respect?”
“What do you know about respect?”
Rishab smiled and began striding toward her, his eyes dark, his steps predatory.
“You try so hard to act like a good girl. And yet here you are. Coveting everything that’s escaped you. Anurag Basu and the prestige of being his wife and Moloy Basu’s daughter in law.”
Prerna stepped back, her gaze nervously flicking between him and the clicking cube buffeted between his hands, “stop it”
“You want these people to like you. You want to stand in front of that crowd and be the center of attention. You want them to tell you what a sport you are. You want glory and appreciation and most of all, you want approval. You want it so bad you’re vibrating with the pain of their rejection.”
She shook her head, “bullshit.”
“You’ll never be one of them Miss Sharma. Even if you were his wife, they’d hate you. Whisper behind your back and mock you all your life. Your status and your personality make the difference of a bean hill to them. You were dirt before and you’ll be dirt long after you’ve gone. They’d still whisper behind your back and mock the Basus for having poor taste. They’d reject you. Even with your hair in a golden coiffure and your lips painted red. You’ll always be an outcast. No matter what you do.”
“What do you know about being an outcast?”
He gave her a cold smile, still closing in on her, “I wasn’t born in the master bedroom of the Basu mansion with a silver spoon in my mouth. I was born in a one-room slum in the gutters of this city. My mom was a prostitute. My father was a drunkard. I watched him beat her black and blue every night while I stood in a corner and wept. Small. Useless. Without power."
Prerna gulped, rocking on her heels in shock, watching the blankness in his eyes take an intense gleam. He threw the cube and cornered her, “let me give you a lesson on power. Everyone in that room below is a wretched idiot with a secret to hide. All of them would run over you in a heartbeat if it serves their purpose. They do it every day and they’ll do it long after you’re gone. You’ll never earn their love. Which is why you need to learn to bask openly in the hate they show. Love doesn’t change people. Power does. Pure, unadulterated power. They’d all murder me in my sleep if they happen upon the chance. But they can’t. So, they dance to my tunes and sing the songs I tell them to sing. I’m an alley rat running the gig of Alexander. That is power.”
Prerna hit a shelf and gave a little jump when she heard the hissing sound behind her. She turned around and looked straight into the eyes of a viper. Startled and terrified, she gave a yelp and plastered herself to Rishab, throwing her arms around him and holding on for dear life.
In a second His arms were around her and his mouth lingered over her ear, crooning in a soft whisper, “sshh. It’s okay. You’re fine.”
She heard the lock unclench and froze, burrowing deeper into warmth that was a part of him, “what are you doing? No.”
“I told you,” his voice dropped to a low caress, “relax. It can't hurt you.” He pushed back and her eyes dropped to his hand wrapped around the viper. The cold green eyes were staring back at her and the intensity there forced her to push back, fear crippling her bones.
But Rishab was composed, his fingers spreading against the viper’s skin in a gentle caress. His eyes attuned to every movement of his tail, and his mouth curved in a soft smile.
He raised his head and their gazes clashed. And in that moment it was as if she could see the viper’s soul mirrored in his. It was as if they were one.
“Come here,” he said. She shook her head, still resisting the pull.
“It won’t harm you. Come on.”
He let the viper wrap its tail around his arm and pushed his thumb beneath its mouth, beckoning her closer.
“Don’t be afraid,” his voice lulled the alarms, forcing every muscle in her body to relax, “it’s just a house pet.”
He stepped closer and her heartbeat slammed against her rib cage in a painful declaration of fear and anticipation.
His spare fingers found her and he pulled her hand over his, smoothing her palm over the silken rough surface of the viper’s head.
“Drain the viper of its poison and he’s not a threat anymore. Useless. Crippled. Wasted.”
Prerna was in a daze. Slowly, exhilaration and adrenaline took over every fiber of fear thrumming through her body. She felt Rishab’s thumb stroking a tattoo against the pulsing beat of her throat and easing the tension in her shoulders. Everywhere he touched, a fire spread. Heat engulfed her skin and a sense of peace spread through her.
It was a silent minute of exploration and courage before he said it, but when he did, the words rocked her soul.
“You like it,” his stare was a brilliant black, “Power. Prestige. There’s a part of you that enjoys the allure of darkness. That enjoys a little corruption. You love it when you play the games I do. You love the thrill that only comes when you know your methods are wrong but the results are right. You’re not as white as you’d like Miss Sharma. You’re a lot more like me than you’d like.”
She staggered back, shaking her head, "you’re wrong.”
Rishab’s gaze dropped to the viper and he let it go, watching the dazzling tail disappear beneath the shelf, “don’t worry. Mr. Basu will never find out his Mary Sue has a devil’s side. It’ll be our little secret. Yours and mine.”
Prerna folded her arms, “you think you’ve everyone figured out, don’t you?”
Rishab erased the distance between them and pushed an arm against the shelf, effectively closing her in, “we’re all clockworks Miss Sharma. All of us animals trying to scratch an itch. Find out what makes someone tick and you have him under control.”
She could smell the cologne that she’d come to recognize as only his. The faint but lethal cocktail was going to her head and washing over her senses.
“Animals huh? What am I then? A rabbit?”
“You’re a dove Miss Sharma. Unassuming. Graceful…submissive.”
She scoffed, “what are you then? A lion.”
He didn’t smile, “Can't you guess? I’m a viper. Cold. Lethal. Venomous.”
And she could. The memory of those eyes lingering at the back of her neck, raising goosebumps. She tore her eyes from him, “that’s…that’s bullshit. People aren’t machines. We don’t work that way, “give me that ribbon.”
He pushed away and obliged, throwing the flimsy fabric at her.
“Go ahead,” he brushed a sliver of hair away from her face and tucked it neatly behind her ears, “I want you to dance with Mr. Basu tonight.”
Prerna grew wary, “why?”
The strange, gentle languor that had ballooned between them a minute ago dissipated. The man now staring back at her reminded her very much of the viper that had just escaped.
“Because I want Anurag Basu to have you for a moment. I want him to take a whiff of your perfume and put his hands on you. I want him to covet you with open eyes and filled arms. I want him to recollect what it’s like to be with you and his wounds to puncture open. So, when the night finally falls and you leave him to hold my hand, sit in my car and go to sleep in my bed, he has your memories to haunt him in his dreams.”
Prerna froze on the spot, hurting with the need to put her fists into his face. Rishab gave her a cold once over, his eyes playing at amusement and boredom.
He set his coat straight and his mouth turned up on one side, “like I said Miss Sharma. We’re all animals. Everyone ticks a certain way. You’re the itch Anurag Basu cannot scratch. And his pain is the key to making you tick. I’m leaving in five minutes. And you’ll dump that stupid ribbon and go with me.”
It wasn't a guess. He was right. She was going with him. Going back home.
She caught his hand as he made a move to leave and stared right into his eyes, “you were right. You’re a viper. Cruel and poisonous.”
Drain the viper of its poison and he’s not a threat anymore. Useless. Crippled. Wasted.
Easier said than done.
Edited by .amigos. - 5 months ago
I am HERE
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS OS. Seriously you are one such talented writer ki main kya bataun!
I loved everything about the story. How Prerna was insulted and how came The Bajaj and made poongi of them in the most befitting way, especially back to Mohini. Then he took her to the private rooms where the coins were kept and the way he explained the true psy of Prerna to her. How efficiently and easily he reads everyone. Life has been every tough to him and he gave even a tougher fight and he knows how much everyone hates him. Oh you described so very well that I am speechless. I loved everything. Then comes the Viper. Oh I hate snakes but why you used it was so important. Because Bajaj considers himself to be one. Though he tells Prerna why the Viper who looks scary is actually useless wasted and crippled. Bajaj's venom is yet to be taken out. Until then he is as venomous as the viper as he says.
I liked how he said Prerna was an itch which Anurag cant itch. And that is what Bajaj wants to do and he is. Glad that he explained why he wanted her to dance with Anurag.
I loved the OS it left me wanting for more! Is there anyway to churn you everyday for stories? I am desperate to read more.
Edited by MisHumptyDumpty - 5 months ago
Topic started by .amigos.
Last replied by Tanu221