Lavanya Kashyap was having a singularly bad day. The monsoon in Mumbai was alternatively delightful and irritating as fuck.
This morning for instance, she had damned the rains to the high heavens as her car had refused to start, leaving her to depend on public transport to get to work. On top of that, the endless traffic jam on the Juhu-Versova Link Road had made her a good forty five minutes late for work. A fact that she’d been reminded of several times during the day, by her amiable boss.
God! What was with her? Was it her time of the month?
Of course, her boss was a woman. Lavanya had ensured as much. Especially after the last time…
I heard that you’re settled down
That you found a girl and you’re married now.
I heard that your dreams came true.
Guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you.
Luckily, the model herself had been over an hour late, and so Lavanya had gotten off fairly easily.
And then after a grueling eight hour shoot, she’d finally packed the extra lenses, lights and other accessories away into their respective cases, slung her bag over her shoulder and made her way to the main road, hoping to flag down a cab.
Only that exercise took almost an hour. Because God really hated her.
And now, here she was, stuck in another traffic jam near Pali Naka.
Jesus Christ! Lavanya fished a delicate white handkerchief out of her cherry Speedy 25 from LV’s latest Monogram Empreinte line and dabbed it over her forehead. Her white linen shirt had long lost its crispness and clung to her limply as beads of perspiration trickled down the shallow dip of her spine and disappeared into the waistband of her beige linen shorts. She’d pulled her hair up in a fashionably messy chignon to combat the frizz that came as a loving gift with Mumbai’s humidity, but there was no escaping the fact that she looked like a fright.
Well as much of a fright as is possible for Lavanya Kashyap to look anyhow.
Lavanya smiled grimly as she looked at the little droplets of water chasing one another in a steady stream down the fogged up glass of the cab window. A low grey early evening light filtered in through them, rendering the whole with an air of 19thcentury Impressionism.
The world outside looked hazy and out of focus. Nature’s own Gaussian Blur.
She could well remember a time when everything had looked like this. Metaphorically of course. When she’d been so caught up with the intangible beauty of a single moment that she’d failed to see the actual picture. Failed to see what was right in front of her eyes all along.
Old friend, why are you so shy?
Ain’t like you to hold back or hide from the light.
She closed her eyes as a dull jab of pain reminded her of an old wound in her heart. One that she’d assiduously tried to purge, forget, even heal.
She’d largely succeeded. Except for moments like this when a phantom pain came back to haunt her. With a bitter smile, she acknowledged that Arnav Singh Raizada was a difficult man to get over.
Not that she grudged Chamkili her happiness. No. Chamkili deserved it and more. And he deserved nothing less than her. She’d done the right thing by walking away when she had. Her conscience was easy.
But that didn’t make her feel any better. Didn’t stop her from asking herself and the universe, on nights when she’d had a glass too many of wine, where exactly she’d gone wrong. She’d changed everything for him and his family hadn’t she? For all intents and purposes, she’d become Chamkili. Just so that it would please Naniji, Di, Mamiji– and him. If she were to be honest with herself, she had always sensed that invisible cord that tied ASR and Chamkili together. Wasn’t that really the reason behind her metamorphosis? She’d foolishly hoped that if she looked and acted like Chamkili, he might just look at her once, the way he always looked at Chamkili. Lavanya had learned the hard way that no one wanted a copy when the original was available– crude as that might sound.
I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn’t stay away, I couldn’t fight it.
I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded
That for me it isn’t over.
And so after she’d left to go back home to London, she’d left her own Chamkili-quotient behind in Delhi. Sure, it had been fun for a while, but those sequined kameezes and sarees weren’t really her. And then she’d had an epiphany. She didn’t know who Lavanya Kashyap was any more. While she certainly wasn’t Chamkili 2.0, she wasn’t the pre-makeover Lavanya Kashyap either. She needed to find herself all over again.
And that’s what she’d done. After giving herself some breathing space in London (aka a year of sulking, moping, shopping, crying, screaming, playing with her new baby niece, ranting, partying, feeling sorry for herself and effectively convincing her family that she needed therapy for her bipolar behaviour), she’d come back to India.
Only she’d come to Mumbai instead of going to Delhi. A clean slate. A fresh start. It was exactly what she’d needed. And that’s when she’d taken up photography professionally on an instinct. She’d dabbled in it during her college days but had eventually been pulled to the more glamorous world of modeling, design and styling. Photography was hard work and not nearly as glitzy as the movies made it seem. Nonetheless, Lavanya found a sense of peace that had long eluded her with her images, with her lights and with the joy of capturing a moment– immortalizing it, manipulating it. She understood vaguely what God must have felt like when he’d said “Let there be light.” Of course she wasn’t the atheist that ASR was. Nor the devout believer that Chamkili was. She was just… in between… like she’d always been.
As she continued looking thoughtfully out of the window, she realized that her one and a half years in Mumbai had given her much more than she’d expected. It had given her true independence. It had given her privacy. It had given her space to heal and get back on her feet. It had given her the liberty to be herself– away from the judgmental eyes of Delhi’s upper circles.
Lavanya admitted quite freely now, that one of her fundamental problems had been her desire to please. She wasn’t confident in her own skin the way Chamkili was. She’d always felt an overwhelming need for approval–especially from those she admired. And she’d proved the outrageous lengths she would go to, to gain that same approval. She suddenly snorted. Jalebis and pakoras! She had an irrational desire to laugh. Now that most of the pain had been leached from the memories, everything seemed funnier in retrospect.
ASR’s face when Khushi had tried to cover for her.
“What nahi– pot!”
Lavanya chortled. That madcap Chamkili. She really did know how to have fun. The earlier Lavanya Kashyap would never have known how much fun dancing recklessly to raunchy Hindi numbers could be.
The laughter died away as suddenly. Yes. She’d needed to get away from it all. Which was why she still hadn’t told any of her acquaintances and friends in Delhi about her work in Mumbai. She’d deliberately stayed vague about her whereabouts.
Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me, I beg
I remember you said,
“Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead,
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead”
Although she felt much braver and stronger now, she still didn’t have the courage necessary to face them.
All of a sudden, the cab came to a halt. She jerked forward at the unannounced stop.
“Aa gaya, Madame.”
With a slight smile to the cab driver, she paid the fare and got out of the cab, almost running up the steps in her eagerness.
As she entered the cosy little coffee shop, and looked around for him, she felt an odd sense of restlessness, of breathless anticipation.
When her seeking eyes finally met his, she could feel the day’s fatigue, the sudden cloud of melancholy and self-loathing– all fade away in a blink.
Bombay had also given her this man.
As she walked with slow measured steps toward him, everything else except the look in his eyes faded away. That hungry, burning gaze warred with an all-consuming tenderness–as though he wanted to devour her and lock her away from the rest of the world at the same time.
And that is when she had another epiphany. She’d finally found that feeling. This is what she’d wanted all along. Nishad Nair was miles away from ASR. He was a rather geeky software engineer as opposed to a glamorous fashion mogul. He was pleasant looking but he had none of ASR’s flamboyant good looks. He wasn’t overbearing or possessive. He laughed frequently and found everything from people slipping on banana peels to Keeping Up With The Kardashians funny. In fact, he found the idea of a brooding man with a mysterious past hilarious.
She didn’t want ASR or even someone like ASR. It had all been an illusion. She wanted someone to look at her like ASR looked at Chamkili– as though she were the only woman not just in the room but in the whole world. And that’s exactly what she’d finally found.
Covering the last two steps in a quick bound, she nestled into his outstretched arms. She’d come home.
And someday, someday she’d be able to pack her bags and pay Chamkili and ASR a long overdue visit. With Nishad holding her hand throughout, she’d do it.
Part II- Set Fire To The Rain