This one’s for you, Baba. You will probably never read this. You don’t even have any idea that your daughter obsessively writes romantic fiction. You may not be the most observant man around. We may have our moments of disagreement and difference in opinion. But I know your biggest secret. The fact that you can’t say no to your daughters. That you’d do absolutely anything if you thought it’d make us happy. You might not be able to say in so many words how much your family means to you, but we know anyway. And I hope you know that you mean just as much to us. That we annoy you, because we love you. I hope you can secretly be proud of me one day (you don’t have to tell me), but THAT is what would make me happiest.
The stage was Arnav’s most favourite place. If he’d ever found true peace anywhere in his life, it was on stage. The lights blinded him to everything except his own limbs and his partner–who became an extension of himself. The music drowned out everything except the beat of his heart, moving in tandem to the rhythm his body felt obliged to obey. And his space on stage became his personal bubble of bliss– where emotions flowed pure, true, and untainted. A place where nothing was complicated, and all that mattered was the music and the message.
Contrary to what most people believed, applause wasn’t everything. Applause was more like a pleasant awakening from a very good dream.
But sometimes, the world did manage to intrude upon his ‘happy place’. And those were the days when Arnav heartily wished he was a young millionaire who could smash all his possessions in a fit of rage and get it out of his system.
So he did the next best thing. Picked an angsty piece of music and played the angry young man mourning the loss of his beloved to another. Another favourite piece for difficult days was the one where he could morph into the broken lover pining for his dead sweetheart.
As the last bars of the music faded away, Arnav held his stance, entirely disregarding the beads of sweat running down his forehead and back and his aching muscles.
“Wow Arnav. Way to up the melodrama. The audience is going to lap it up tonight.”
“Khushhhi,” Arnav groaned. “Could you please be supportive for once and just say that it was a touching piece? And pass me that damn towel.”
Khushi Gupta shook her head with a mock serious expression on her face. “Oh, it was touching alright. I’m sure all the young women in the audience tonight, will want to touch you and tell you just how touching it was.”
Khushi grinned and ducked as the towel came flying toward her head.
“Alright Romeo. If you’re done with this round of rehearsals, can we please get something to eat? I’m dying of hunger. I swear. And announce a lunch break for the crew, you ass. Lavanya looks like she’s going to fade away into nothing if she sits there anymore. I worry about that girl. Must she look like the citizen of a poverty-stricken African country, to be a good dancer?”
Arnav rolled his eyes. “YOU tone down the melodrama now.” With a grin at Khushi’s outraged face, Arnav turned to the crew lounging around in the first few rows of the auditorium.
“Alright guys, break for lunch. You can have the rest of the afternoon off. I want everyone back here at 3PM sharp for a final run through and enough time to shower, change, and get everything ready before the curtains go up. We begin at 8PM and that means 8PM. Now scat.”
With a flurry of activity, the rest of the dancers, managers and technicians disappeared for lunch. Khushi waited with a cheeky grin as Arnav zipped his bag up and walked up to her.
Her grin widened. “Tell the truth. You want them ready well before 8 so that you can sattar minute them.”
“Excuse me?” Arnav spluttered over his bottle of water.
“You know, SRK? ‘Yeh sattar minute toh tumse khuda bhi nahin cheen sakta’ and all that.”
Arnav couldn’t help himself. Breaking out into a guffaw, he tugged at her wrist, pulling her closer for a quick kiss, before walking out of the auditorium, his arm anchored firmly around her waist.
Khushi eyed Arnav morosely over her garden salad. Arnav sighed and put his fork down.
“Look Khushi, you don’t have to eat this. Get whatever you want. I like salads and I choose to eat them. Plus it’s ideal before a performance. Please get yourself a burger and stop moping.”
Khushi shook her head. “No no. Who said I’m moping. I want a salad, okay! Everything’s not about you, Arnav Singh Raizada.”
“Alright. Suit yourself. If you faint before the show, don’t expect me to be around to catch you. I have a million things on my mind before shows.”
Khushi debated over sticking her tongue out at him for a few minutes. Then decided against it. The last time she’d done it, he’d walked over and kissed her hard. Luckily they’d been alone. She wasn’t going to risk that in a crowded food court. She decided that offence was the best defense.
“Now are you going to tell me what’s on your mind?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Oh please Arnav. Why did you rehearse ‘No Boundaries’ so many times? That’s already perfect. There’s something bothering you. Spit it out.”
Arnav stared stone-facedly outside the window for some time.
“There was a dinner party at Ashwini Bua’s house last night.”
“I know. You told me. So?”
Arnav sighed before pushing his plate away and putting his head down. Looking up dejectedly at Khushi from the crook of his arm, after a minute, he finally spoke up. “Mum and dad were there too.”
Khushi nodded in comprehension.
“That’s understandable. Ashwini Bua IS your dad’s sister. And she isn’t at outs with him. There’s no reason for him not to be there.”
Arnav sat up straight again, only to start fiddling with the butter knife. “Right.”
As a firm and warm hand closed over his, he let go of the knife and gratefully held Khushi’s hand.
“Arnav, he’s going to come around someday. He HAS to. You’re his only son. How long can he stay mad?”
“You don’t know Dad, Khushi. He can hold a grudge forever.”
“Against other people, maybe. Not against you! His son!”
“No, Khushi. You don’t get it. He doesn’t even look at me. He won’t acknowledge me at all. Yesterday was incredibly uncomfortable. He spent all evening looking right through me. So I left early as well. If he doesn’t want to talk, neither do I.”
“Invite him for tonight’s show. Go on.”
“No way. He never shows up.”
“Arnav, the last time you invited him was six years ago. When you were just starting out. Things have changed. Your dad may have been apprehensive with reason. You know how difficult dancing is, to have as a career! But you’re here now. You’re the best dancer and instructor the company’s got. Akash Sir trusts you enough to let you run the show all by yourself! You’ve danced at shows all over the world! You’ve even worked on movies, damn it! Try again. Have you ever thought about how upset you two make your mum? Having to choose between her husband and son like this?”
“Khushi, Dad was never happy with what I wanted to do. Do you think it was easy? Hiding my dance classes from him. Having to lie to him about going to those god damn IIT coaching classes. He blew a fuse when I told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t interested in becoming an engineer after class twelve. Like I would have gotten through any of the entrance exams. I was bloody awful at science. Frankly, all things academic. I flunked class eight for God’s sake! And when I told him that I was going to dance professionally after graduation? That was the last straw. He asked me to choose and I chose dancing. I haven’t looked back since.”
“Arnav, maybe it’s time to stop lying and hiding? Maybe it’s time to be upfront?” Khushi gave his hand an encouraging squeeze. “Tell him what you want, Arnav. He’s your dad! He’ll come around. My dad was unhappy too when I told him that I wanted to stay on with the company on an administrative position after my injury. But I explained to him that this is what makes me happy. And he gave in.”
With a small nod, Arnav picked up his fork and started eating again.
“Did you do it?”
“I left a message on his voicemail. We don’t talk remember?”
As Arnav flashed her a brief smile and stepped onto stage for the opening act, Khushi muttered a disgusted “Men” under her breath.
The show had ended, almost everyone had left but there was no sign of Arnav anywhere. Khushi was starting to feel a little worried now. Expertly dodging crew members and waving off backstage well-wishers with a vague smile, she continued weaving through the area, looking for him.
All of a sudden, she spotted a familiar back, now clad in a ratty white t shirt, standing near the door, waving a donor off.
With a sigh of relief, she jogged as quickly as her injured foot would allow her to, toward him.
Hugging him tightly from behind, Khushi whispered a quick apology.
Arnav turned around with a confused look on his face. “What are you apologizing for, sweetheart?”
“Your dad didn’t show up. I’m sure he will eventually. He just needs more time.”
Arnav hugged her close. “But he did, Khushi. He did. I just said goodbye to them. He didn’t say much. Just ‘good show’. But you were right, Khushi. It’s a start. Mum’s invited me to lunch on Sunday. And she told me I could bring anyone I wanted along with me, with a sly smirk. I have no idea how she knows, but you’re coming with me, okay!”
Khushi could feel him smile against the crook of her neck.
Now however, it was her turn to be confused. “What do you mean, you just said goodbye to your parents?”
“Umm… that I waved them off, said ‘adios’, you know how people say goodbye right?”
“Arnav! I’m serious! The man you just said goodbye to. He’s your dad?”
Arnav smiled and hugged her again. “Yes. I was just kidding, silly.”
Khushi pulled back resolutely. “But Arnav, that man is Mr. Jaiswal. One of the company’s largest sponsors!”
The smile slowly faded from Arnav’s face. “Jaiswal was my Dadi’s maiden name. Are you sure that’s him?”
“I’m positive. I’ve seen him so many times! He’d drop by at the office to make donations in person. Always in cash. And asked for the receipt to be made out to a Mr. Jaiswal. He even brought his wife once. They’ve always been a bit aloof, but very nice. Akash Sir and I figured that they had an interest in the performing arts.”
Arnav turned away from her.
As Khushi tentatively put a hand on his shoulder, he whipped around and hugged her again. Khushi felt scalding tears brand her shoulder where he rested his head.
She wrapped her arms around him, stroking his back and whispered, “He’s always cared, Arnav. He just didn’t know how to tell you. So what do you think I should wear on Sunday?”
Yes, this is a Father’s Day celebration. Celebrated widely as a complement to Mother’s Day, in India it falls on the third Sunday of June. I’m however, also going to make a rather audacious request to everyone here who has a child.
While I pretend to know nothing about parenting, I can’t help but compare the fact that I was allowed to do exactly what I want– follow whatever dreams I have; to friends who didn’t have the same liberty.
It made them incredibly unhappy, they ended up fighting with their parents more times than not, and also, lying and rebelling in the silliest and often very dangerous ways.
Just because a career path isn’t conventional or not all that well paying, doesn’t mean that it’s going to ruin a person’s life.
All I’m saying is, if you have doubts about what your child wants to do, hear him/her out and listen. You might just be surprised.
And that goes for all of you who have trouble telling your parents that you don’t want to do what they want you to do. They only want what’s best for you. Do your research, arm yourself with facts and logical arguments as opposed to tears and tantrums.
A rational conversation works both ways.