The phone rang shrilly. It was the guest house clerk informing her in glacial tones that her taxi had been waiting “for almost ten minutes ma’am”. “Tell him to wait some more.” Riya said firmly. “Unless he wants me to prance out in my petticoat” she muttered to herself.
Being a size zero had definite disadvantages when one was dressing for an Indian wedding. A bosom that filled out her Wills Lifestyle work shirts quite adequately appeared positively meagre in the choli she’d got stitched to match her best Benarasi sari. She looked at herself in the mirror for a bit, and decided to go for her back-up outfit instead, but even the dressy Anaarkali-style churidar kameez would be a disaster without the Wonderbra knock-off she’d bought on her last Thailand trip.
“Choli ke peechhe kya hai, choli ke peeche…” she sang to herself as she darted around the room, trying to locate the elusive bra which finally turned up tucked into the front zip of her laptop case. Riya gave a little yelp of alarm as she looked at the clock. Gaurav’s baraat was due to leave at 5.45, and it was already 4.00. She dressed in a hurry, adjusted the plunging neckline of her kameez, and grabbing her clutch, ran out of the door.
She reached Gaurav’s flat at 5.30 to find the bridegroom balanced precariously on a stool, fixing a string of fairy lights above the front door. Evidently she wasn’t as late as she thought. Gaurav hopped down as soon as he saw her, and pulled her into a bear hug. “Mom, dekho, our hot-shot banker girl is here” he called out, and his mum came bustling out. “Arre, beti, finally, we missed you so much at the sangeet!” she said. “Come in, come in, we’re just about to start the sehra-tying ceremony.” Riya hugged her, and said “I didn’t know there was a ceremony around that.”
“There’s a ceremony around everything.” said a familiar voice, and she looked up at the tall figure behind Gaurav’s mom. Dhruv Malhotra. Riya’s eyes gave him a quick once-over, and her heart rate tripled. He was as cute as ever, rumpled hair, chocolate-brown eyes behind impossibly long lashes, a tiny dimple in his left cheek that showed when he smiled. “It’s been a long time.” he said. “Hi Riya.”
All the coolly sarcastic lines that she’d rehearsed over the last ten years flew out of her head as she took his outstretched hand. Little thrills ran up her hand as it touched his, and she blushed, hardly paying attention to Gaurav’s mum twittering away next to her. The one thing she caught was that Dhruv was Gaurav’s cousin. “Which explains why he’s here,” she thought as she followed Mrs. Chopra into the flat.
The sehra-tying took a while, and there was a mad scramble to get into the hired cars that were to take the baraat to the wedding venue. Riya had just taken her place in the middle seat of an Innova, when Dhruv slid into the seat next to her.
The car was cramped, and Riya was very conscious of Dhruv’s hard, muscled thigh pressed against hers. A sudden impulse to reach out and touch him flared up, and Riya almost groaned aloud. She turned her head away. “Get a grip” she said to herself firmly.
Dhruv had been four years ahead of her in architecture college, drop-dead gorgeous, and hugely talented. Riya and he hit it off the first time they met, and they spent most of their free time together, hanging out in the college canteen, or bunking classes to watch movies over endless bags of popcorn.
Things got a little more serious during the end-of-semester picnic. She’d slipped her hand into his as they separated from the rest to wander around among the trees. At some point, Dhruv turned to her and gently pulled her into his arms. She could feel his heart thudding against hers, as his lips touched hers, very gently at first, then a little more urgently. She completely lost control as his tongue slipped into her mouth, flinging her arms around him, and twining her body against his. His arms tightened around her – they were both flushed when they pulled apart a minute later. He looked as dazed as she felt, but he put her away from him gently. “We should go back now.” he said. His shirt was unbuttoned almost to his waist – Riya must have done that at some point, though she had no recollection of anything other than the sensation of his mouth on hers. Dhruv started buttoning it with shaky fingers, and then stopped suddenly to pull her into his arms again. “I love you” he’d whispered into her hair as she buried her face in his chest.
College was closed for a week after the picnic, and when it reopened, Riya found Dhruv inexplicably avoiding her. After a few abortive attempts at cornering him in college, she barged into his hostel room one evening to ask him what the hell he thought he was playing at. He gave her a long, condemning look – “like I was some kind of reptile,” Riya said indignantly later – and said,
“Your dad thinks I’ve been harassing you.”
Riya’s dad was a senior professor in the college – evidently someone had taken it upon themselves to tell him that his daughter was up to No Good with a senior student. Dhruv had been called in for a disciplinary meeting, and threatened with expulsion if he ever went near Riya again.
“So you were spineless enough to say yes, sir, sorry sir, never again sir?” Riya demanded. “He said you told him…” Dhruv began, and Riya yelled “And you believed him!!! You unspeakable moron, it didn’t occur to you to come and ask me?” She picked up a cushion and threw it at him. Dhruv responded by yelling back, and she threw something else. And then Dhruv made the cardinal error of bellowing “Whether you complained or not, I can’t take the risk of your dad screwing up my career. It’s easy for you to talk – whatever you do, we all know that prof’s kids get top grades however dumb they are!” At that, Riya slapped him very hard, and stormed out of his room, scattering the bunch of boys outside the room who had been listening avidly.
Riya’s lips twitched a bit as she thought how Bollywoodish the whole scenario was – evil-father-creates-rift-between-lovers. Her poor dad, he probably genuinely thought that she needed rescuing from Dhruv.
The car went over a bump, and her body responded excitedly to almost landing in Dhruv’s lap. “Down girl”, Riya said to herself. Agreed, Dhruv was super-gorgeous (and still single according to Gaurav’s mom), but there was no point getting over-excited. He’d probably forgotten all about their two-day romance, and she did not want to boost his ego by making a fool of herself over him.
The baraat stopped some 500 metres before the hotel, where a white horse was waiting, next to a brass band. Riya got out of the car staring open-mouthed. “You’re serious?” she asked Dhruv, as she watched Gaurav clamber onto the horse. “He’s going to ride through Kolkata on a white horse?” Dhruv chuckled. “Punjabi wedding, right, even if it’s in Cal?” Riya cast a rueful look at her high heels as the baraat started dancing down the road to the hotel. “Take the shoes off and give them to me” he suggested.
Riya stopped dancing when the baraat reached the hotel, and ran up to Dhruv to take her sandals from his hand. “Thanks” she said breathlessly, trying to slip them on while standing on one foot. For a second she lost her balance, and fell against him, his arms automatically coming round her to steady her. “Nice”, her body said approvingly as her breasts were crushed against his broad chest for a moment. Riya pulled away and ran up the steps, feeling all hot and tingly. “As long as he doesn’t think I fell on purpose.” she thought.
Dhruv followed her slowly. He’d been more shaken than he’d like to admit on seeing Riya – he thought he’d got over her long ago. But his first impulse on seeing her had been to drag her away and make long, slow, delicious love to her. She’d looked stunning while she danced, curly hair tumbling around her flushed face, and the figure-hugging fuchsia pink kameez outlining every curve of her adorable little body.
The wedding took forever, one ritual following another. Riya slipped out for a breath of fresh air once the pheras were done. Dhruv was standing outside in earnest conversation with Gaurav’s mum. Mrs Chopra turned to her. “Riya beti, I need some help. Can you go with Dhruv and speak to the decorators who’re doing up Gaurav and Shilpi’s room? We tried, but the men only speak Bengali, the supervisor isn’t around. And they’re making such a mess of the room….”
“Yes, of course”, said Riya. Dhruv gave her one of his trademark, curl-your-toes-up smiles, and every bone in her body promptly turned to mush.
“How come you’re a banker now?” he asked her as they got into the lift. ““I figured in my second year that I sucked at architecture, so I did an MBA. Best decision of my life. And…” here she opened her eyes wide at him “I topped my class in B-school too, even though my dad wasn’t a prof there.”
Dhruv groaned. “I’m so sorry I ever said that” he started saying, then Riya grinned and said “Relax, I’m pulling your leg. And I said plenty of mean things too.” “Do you still throw things when you’re angry?” Dhruv asked curiously. Riya nodded, her expression sheepish. “Not at work though.” He grinned and pulled her in for a quick hug as they stepped out of the lift. “Good” he said “I’d hate to think you’ve changed.”
It took almost an hour and a lot of Bengali firm talking to get the room done. Riya heaved a sigh of relief as the last florist left the room closing the door behind him. “I need a drink.” she said. She turned quickly at the sound of a cork popping. “You can’t open Gaurav’s champagne!” Dhruv shrugged. “So, I’ll replace the bottle.” He poured out two glasses and gave her one. She took a sip, and peeked over the rim of glass at him. “Nasty stuff.” she said. “Beer is so much more value for money.”
Dhruv started laughing, and Riya looked around for something to throw at him. He captured both her hands between his, just as she was reaching out for the ashtray next to the bed. The movement brought them closer together, and after a second’s hesitation, Dhruv leaned forward, and kissed her gently. He drew away to look into her eyes. Presumably, he liked what he saw, because he gave a little groan and lowered his mouth to hers again. They sank down onto the sofa in the middle of the room.
Riya opened her eyes after several minutes. “My God” she said, her eyes huge. “That was…” she struggled for a word. “Amazing?” Dhruv suggested. “Mind-blowing? Simply awesome?” She smiled, hugging him hard. “All of those.”
““I guess I never stopped caring for you.” Dhruv said softly. “We were idiots to waste so many years.”
“Speak for yourself.” Riya said cheekily. “I was scoping the market” and as he raised an eyebrow, she capitulated “but you’re right, I’ve never been able to forget you. And….” she hesitated.
“And, maybe it’s too early to say this, but I think I might be in love with you all over again.”
The last bit of the sentence came out muffled against Dhruv’s eager lips, and Riya gave herself up happily to enjoying the next few minutes, secure in the conviction that this time round, their love was going to last.