Khushi would never really admit to it, but her favourite place to wander around and get lost in was the shiny and slightly eccentric Hauz Khas village in South Delhi. As someone who had seen more than her fair share of Indian cities in her short eighteen years, Khushi always insisted that the soul of a city in India was never to be found in the routine touristy places that guidebooks recommended. It jumped out at you when you least expected it. For example, it was tangible in the nip of the early morning breeze in Kolkata when middle-aged, pot-bellied men conscientiously wrapped up in very warm and very ugly sweaters, shawls, and monkey caps, stepped out to buy fresh jalebis and shingaras on a wintery Sunday. It would wave tantalizingly at you in the form of humidity that made your skin glow and your hair frizz while you pushed your way anonymously through the crowds thronging Mumbai’s streets at any time of the year. It grabbed you and enthralled you with the astonishingly pleasant summer breeze that whistled through your hair while you swayed to the electrifying beats of an open air rock concert in Bangalore.
Soul was a complex phenomenon. It came from people, it came from places, it came from things. You couldn’t quite define it or pin it down. But you could feel it alright.
Therefore Khushi had given up trying to figure out what it was about Hauz Khas that drew her to it. While it was a fascinating mixture of old Sultanate architecture from the 13th century and modern commercial restaurants and boutiques that catered to the vast population of foreign tourists with plenty of money and a desire to experience the exotic; it was clearly an artificially cultivated image of the vibrant but unnaturally clean India that beamed at you from the Incredible India adverts. It was the sort of place that Khushi should have disdainfully turned her nose up at. But she didn’t.
Perhaps it was her recognition of the subtle way in which the modern blended in with the ancient. Perhaps it was the fact that she couldn’t really figure the place out–there were always nooks and crannies waiting to be discovered. Perhaps it was her inherent appreciation for how aesthetically pleasing the place was.
Whatever it was, Khushi loved wandering the narrow, paved lanes of Hauz Khas village– losing herself among outrageously expensive but delightfully quirky shops and cafes.
One shop in particular enthralled her like no other. Right at the end of an exceptionally narrow blind alley, stood the very unimaginatively and unpretentiously titled Kaanch.
True to its name, Kaanch sold all things made of glass. Well not everything, of course. It wasn’t Disneyworld or anything. But it did indeed sell the most beautiful glass ornaments and baubles. Brilliantly coloured glass lanterns and shades in various shapes and sizes; tumblers and vases and plates and bowls in vibrant hues, even trays and trays of little multi-coloured glass beads– Kaanch glittered and twinkled like fairy tale palaces were supposed to.
Khushi had felt drawn to the shop right from the first day she’d stumbled upon it. It had pulled her in, mesmerized her with the charm of light and shadow created by all of that sparkling glass.
But then, she’d kept going back to it. Every weekend her feet found the way back to Kaanch and its slightly taciturn owner. It wasn’t as though the items on display changed every week. It was that the magic never dimmed. Every time Khushi walked into the shop and silently looked at the fragile pieces of glass, she felt as though she were seeing them for the first time– noting a new facet, a hitherto unseen angle at which the light glimmered.
Then of course, there was him. Arnav. She knew his name. Everyone in the area did. And the fact that he owned Kaanch.
Beyond that, everything was a blur of speculation and guesswork.
He obviously wasn’t fond of talking too much. He outright rebuffed any attempt to draw him into conversation or flirt with him– and Khushi had tried both. With all the confidence that youth, beauty, an army background, and a naturally sunny disposition afforded, Khushi had been more than a little miffed when the young owner of Kaanch had displayed no interest in her.
Maybe he had a painful and mysterious past. Maybe he was an orphan who had found an unlikely vocation in glass-blowing. Maybe he had a broken heart. Maybe his dead mother had loved glass. He might as well have stepped out of the pages of a Gothic romance novel, giggled Khushi. The possibilities were endless.
After weeks of haunting his shop, he merely afforded her with a polite nod when she dropped in to browse yet again, answering any questions she had in single sentences.
“How much is the large red lantern?”
“Five thousand rupees.”
“What about the little glass beads?”
“Six rupees for the smaller ones and ten rupees for the larger ones. Same as always.”
Had she detected a slightly sarcastic tone?
‘Why did you name your shop Kaanch?”
“Because I sell glass.”
She could almost hear the silent ‘moron’ tacked on to the end of his response.
“Yes, but why not something more romantic? More poetic?”
“Because I’m not a silly teenage girl.”
He hadn’t returned the grin that had broken out on her face at that.
It was therefore, with a considerable amount of surprise that Khushi read the little poster pasted onto either side of the shop’s door.
Kaanch presents a glass-blowing demonstration and interactive workshop with Arnav Raizada and Aman Lekhi on Saturday, 3rd September, 2013. With degrees in chemical engineering and electrical engineering respectively from IIT-Delhi, the two ex-classmates and friends discovered a common love for glass-working while on vacation in Italy in 2008. Having taken a certificate course at the Abate Zanetti Glass School in Murano, the two began glass-working as a hobby in 2009. Kaanch was finally founded in 2010 with the two boys doing what they like best. Come watch Arnav and Aman show you what it takes to create the wonderful pieces of glass on display at Kaanch. To register, call XXXXXXXX.
Khushi whistled softly. Would you look at that! Arnav-I-Dont-Like-Talking not only has a fancy last name, but he also has a friend! One who runs Kaanch in partnership with him! The poster had told him more about the reticent Arnav Raizada in five minutes than he had in all the while she’d known him.
‘So you just popped in at that Glass School-place and asked for an admission form?”
Arnav shook his head in disbelief, looking at the door of his shop. The exceedingly familiar figure of Khushi Gupta stood there in her trademark low-slung jeans and loose linen shirt, tucked in at the waist. Over the last couple of months, the girl had been haunting Kaanch every weekend to look at the same things again and again. She never bought anything; just looked around, as though she had never seen anything more fascinating than his shop. She was just like every other college girl on the streets of Delhi with carefully kohl-rimmed eyes and belts that matched her shoes, except for her weird obsession with his shop. He couldn’t figure her out. She seemed eager enough to talk to him, and would blatantly flirt with him at the slightest encouragement, but he didn’t for a second believe that he was the main attraction at Kaanch. No, Khushi Gupta–as she’d proclaimed herself to be, came to marvel at his glass. He was an added bonus, he had realized with a rueful shake of his head.
So it wasn’t remotely surprising when she’d turned up for the workshop half an hour before it was due to start.
Aman raised an eyebrow at him, silently asking him to explain. He shrugged. He couldn’t really explain Khushi Gupta. Best leave that to her.
“Hi! You must be Aman Lekhi. I’m Khushi Gupta. I love your store. I come here all the time. How come I’ve never seen you before? It’s always Arnav.”
Aman looked slightly taken aback at the barrage of words Khushi threw at him without any warning. “Hi. Yes, I am Aman. I look after the production unit and help Arnav out with the finances occasionally. That’s probably why. Nice to meet you, Khushi Gupta.”
“So where did the idea of the workshop come from? That is so cool! I’ve never seen glass-working live. It looks a little dangerous in pictures, to be honest.”
Arnav sighed and went back to arranging chairs around the back open back area of the shop where the demo was due to take place. He still had a lot of work to do and couldn’t deal with the Gupta girl’s questions. She didn’t really care or understand. It was probably a passing phase for her. This workshop was a last ditch attempt at salvaging a dream. Perhaps it had been impractical and foolhardy to give up the rather lucrative jobs that he’d been offered during campus interviews, but he couldn’t really bring himself to regret it. He’d done well at IIT because he’d always been hardworking. But he’d never really felt the kind of driven passion toward engineering that he’d later discovered with something as simple and at the same time, as difficult as glass-working. So impressed had he been with his brief visit to Murano, that he’d immediately signed up for the certificate course with Aman in tow. The two boys had just graduated and had managed to save up for the back-packing holiday that eventually changed their lives. While he’d done the course almost on a lark (silently thanking god for his Dad’s money), the love-affair he’d begun with glass had been for keeps. He’d known very soon that this was all he’d ever want to do. It hadn’t been easy, of course. Arnav could remember the events of the last few years with almost clinical precision. Arguing with his parents, applying for loans, applying for permission letters and grants, bribing various bureaucrats, months of planning, research, sourcing raw material, working on a business model, working on marketing, setting up, struggling to stay afloat, advertising judiciously– all of it had been a part of the journey. At times he’d hated it. But then he’d reminded himself why exactly he’d been doing it. At the end of it all, he thought of Kaanch with almost maternal pride. It was his baby wasn’t it? His and Aman’s. He smiled darkly at the horror that would be evident on his homophobic mother’s face if she ever heard him talk like that. It was bad enough that her engineer-beta had given up a perfectly good job and gone and started a kaanch ki dukaan.
Three years later, things were still very hard. They had their moments of success, but with the ever-rising cost of real estate in the capital city and labour, along with raw materials– the situation was definitely worrying. He didn’t know how much longer they’d be able to stay afloat. While the location in Hauz Khas ensured a steady stream of visitors with a lot of money, it never seemed to be enough.
Why did it have to be so hard, damn it? Why couldn’t it just be him playing around with raw glass, giving free reign to his fancy, playing God in a way?
The marked increase in chatter told him that it was almost time for the workshop. He looked around to see most of the chairs occupied. A sizeable turnout was a good sign. Keeping his fingers crossed, Arnav nodded at Aman. The more loquacious of the two, Aman would be doing most of the talking while Arnav did more of the demonstrating.
It was show time.
Khushi was unusually quiet after the demo had ended. She hadn’t even responded to the blatant overtures of a rather over-friendly boy from a group of students from another college who had wanted to try something different with their Saturday afternoon. She didn’t run to the front to ask questions. Nor did she ooh and aah over the beads Arnav had created right in front of her eyes.
She did shuffle around however, hanging back until the last of the audience had trickled out.
Aman had taken a stack of chairs to the backyard from where the company they’d been rented from would pick them up. Arnav was carefully sweeping up the shards of a little blue bowl that he’d accidentally knocked over while clearing up.
Sensing her presence, he looked up, eyeing her curiously. She clearly wanted to say something, but seemed to be debating the point. Definitely a first for her.
He almost smiled. She was very predictable.
“I just wanted to say that I hope Kaanch does really really well.”
Arnav narrowed his eyes in some confusion. That was the last thing he’d expected her to say.
“Thanks… I guess.”
“No, I mean it. I know you probably think I’m a flake who comes here because she’s got nothing better to do and it’s not like I ever buy anything either. But I wanted you to know that if I could afford it, I’d buy everything in your shop. And that I’m really glad you do this. I can see how much this means to you. I saw the way you looked at that bowl when it broke. As though it physically hurt you. It might not count for much, but I hope Kaanch becomes enormously successful. And that you and Aman become super-famous because of the awesome things you create.”
A reluctant smile had broken out onto his face. “You really do have an obsession with this shop and all this glass, don’t you?”
Khushi had nodded, smiling back. “I love coming here. And I promise you I’m not a creepy stalker. I just really like this place. So I wanted to say thank you.”
And just temporarily, Arnavs troubles faded away a little.
“Alright, creepy stalker. I appreciate your interest and wishes. And you’re always welcome here.”
She’d grinned even wider at that. “Cool! Do you need help? I can on weekends, you know. And you don’t have to pay me either. Ok so maybe I’ll charge five glass beads a week. I think that is a VERY good deal.”
Arnav had laughed at that. “Alright. I’ll think about it.”
Khushi had turned to leave at that, turning back at the last minute.
“And do you want me to come up with names for the objects you guys sell? It would be AWESOME. Like you could call the big red lantern that I like ‘Angaarey.’ Sounds angsty and cool na? Kinda like you. You do have this angsty thing going. What is up with that?”
Arnav had chuckled and shaken his head. “Goodbye, Khushi. I’ll see you next week.”
As the brilliance of her smile and chatter faded out of his shop, Arnav felt strangely invigorated. He could do this. Kaanch was stronger than what her name implied.
Eid marks the end to the holy month of Ramadan in Islam. I must confess, Eid had always meant pineapple, dates, and biriyani to me (the shameless hog that I am). It was only this year that I asked a friend to explain what it was really about. I’m quoting her, because I don’t think I can do a better job of explaining.