Heroes & Brothers
Heroes & Brothers43 mins 35.4K 43 mins 35.4K
Vivaan was looking for his brother – he wasn’t answering his calls nor was he found anywhere in his usual haunts – not the library, nor the empty classroom on the 1st floor – he was about to give up when he heard music accompanied by a rare sound- his brother’s elusive laughter, he followed Rivaan’s voice to the classroom at the end of the corridor.
Vivaan was surprised into silence when he saw Rivaan with a beautiful girl. Out of all the things a girl and a smitten boy could be doing in a deserted classroom he caught them dancing, that too beautifully; it looked almost like a classical waltz. They danced as if alone in the world; the girl was beautiful in her own form; big Bengali eyes lined with kohl & kajal, full face, shiny curly hair falling copiously on her back in a black mass. As she danced she seemed to be made of sunlight and wind; her sunshine yellow gauzy long skirt twirling lending its own grace to her dance.
Rivaan beside her was not overshadowed or gawky like he normally was – he was surprisingly agile and danced with surefooted confidence & balance – as Rivaan pivoted the girl on his hips and she let go of the ground to twirl in unison a confident gleeful smile appeared on Rivaan’s face which Vivaan had missed on his brother for years together now. Vivaan felt a sudden surge of affection for this unknown curly haired girl and the affection took hold for good when she smiled back at Rivaan with fresh openness. But he could not hide an amused smile for his brother who had hidden behind his tough bitter mask for years. Their trance was broken when he leaned against a table inadvertently and noisily pushing it a bit behind; Rivaan froze mid-twirl as his smile fell - Vivaan could almost hear it shatter on the floor and the girl just came to a stop with a slow grace of a seasoned dancer.
She looked at Vivaan with daggers in her eyes presuming that Vivaan was ogling at her she said “This is a private practice session, we have booked the room for the next hour and you are not invited, so get out,” the last two words said through clenched teeth for added effect.
Vivaan still smiling with sweet amusement said, “While you are very sweet to look at but I am here for my brother,” turning his gaze towards Rivaan smile faltering only slightly, “Were you going to tell me? Or have me wait for another hour, I have been searching the entire college for you.” Vivaan could not hide the slight accusation in his tone. Rivaan was already bristling with the flirtatious words uttered by Vivaan to Madhumita and snapped at Vivaan, “Why do I have to follow you like a puppy – do I have to tell you everything and take your permission to live my life?”
Even Rivaan knew this was an unfair accusation but it felt good to get the seething words and see Vivaan’s irritatingly sunny smile fall off his face – he deserved it for intruding and shattering a perfect moment; never mind that they had agreed to go home early today and Rivaan was supposed to meet his brother at the gate at 2 PM and it was already three.
Vivaan could not understand his brother’s anger - a minute ago he was happy and open with this unknown girl and with him he was his angry self again he thought with some resentment.
“So you want me to go? I will leave you alone. You know, one of these days you will have to make it on your own,” he said with deliberate ambiguity. Vivaan himself could not tell if this was a simple threat of not giving Rivaan a lift or something deeper.
“Yes! You have done it before, you may do it again – get out of my face and out of my life, see if I care,” Rivaan said with unnecessary harshness.
Although this had become their normal pattern of conversation - Vivaan let out a sigh as it really hurt to hear those words and it showed on Vivaan’s transformed face, he clenched his jaw and asked, “Why the hell are you always angry with me?” his voice booming in the empty classroom. “Whatever really, I will go. Do you have enough money to get home?”
“Yes, yes more than enough. Now go!” his voice softening only a little he could hardly understand his own persistent anger at Vivaan but he understood it came from something deep buried and unconscious. He couldn’t help but be a little disappointed when Vivaan stormed out, he still wanted him to wait.
Madhumita was observing the exchange in silence unsure if she should step in and stop Rivaan from being so hurtful – it was not her place and she did not know the hidden reason behind his outburst, hell she did not even know he had a brother, and the said brother was the rather popular overly tall, overconfident football star of their college. She felt a little sorry for Vivaan as she could see all emotions written bold and clear on his face - from initial amusement to hurt then anger then resignation and finally barely contained tears in his stormy eyes – all emotions came, asserted themselves and went away, all true and blazingly real.
“What was that about?, you never told you had a brother.”
“It’s irrelevant, and he is not my brother, shall we continue?” he said as he started the music again. Now Madhumita was even more confused but Rivaan’s cold tone encouraged no questions, instead she thought of giving some unsolicited advice, “You should go after him, he seemed really hurt, I think I saw tears.” When Rivaan just snorted in response she simply shrugged and took her stance – Rivaan took hold of her hand as they attempted a simple maneuver, but their hearts weren’t in it – Rivaan was surprised at the mention of tears, he was too busy feeling resentful to ever perceive that he had hurt his brother. They tried to get back into the grove for 10 minutes, their momentum was greatly disturbed so they simply decided to wrap up for the day.
“Lets go to Bombay blues I am really hungry and thirsty,” Madhumita said as she tied up loose strands of her hair and wrapped up her scarf. The mention of food elicited some rumbling in Rivaan’s stomach as well. Whatever natural rhythm they had in their to & fro banter also seemed to be disturbed as Madhumita tried to get her head around the cognitive dissonance of seeing a totally different version of Rivaan and Rivaan was still lost in thought on how his brother might do well on his threat and actually leave him to his means - silently they headed towards the quaint little restaurant where they found Vivaan sulking on one of the tables cradling a coke, absently trying to pry off its label with a sullen expression on his face, his long feet spilling over towards the other side of the table.
Adorable dumbass Rivaan thought as he spotted Vivaan and gave out a sigh of relief and triumph – his elder brother was ridiculously easy to predict. As he looked on he felt a spot of tenderness in his heart which he instantly resented.
“You waited,” Rivaan said in a bland tone, Vivaan was startled and he looked up “Done so soon? I thought you would take another hour,” he said with mild resentment and narrowed eyes, mentally kicking himself – he had planned to be nastier than this.
Rivaan took the seat opposite him and Madhumita followed his lead, “As typical of you, you spoiled the moment and our tempo so we had to wrap up.” Madhumita gave him an angry frown – whatever this was between them she didn’t like it and wouldn’t stand for it, just a while ago he seemed genuinely disturbed at the mention of Vivaan’s tears and now he was back to his acid tongue again.
“So why did you wait? You think your loser little brother cannot make it home without your help?” Madhumita was startled yet again. “Enough!” she hissed like a mother at Rivaan, who just shrugged.
Vivaan couldn’t help but feel hurt all over again as he wanted to wait because he could not leave him alone, he wanted Rivaan’s company, wanted the little spat to be forgotten lest it be added to the already burgeoning list of spats that never get resolved, that somehow over a period of time gets added to the litany of Vivaan’s faults and most of all he desperately wanted to make things right between them and be friends again.
He didn’t list all these reasons because he just didn't have the heart to hear how he was simply wrong, besides he knew Rivaan and he knew the little shit wanted him to wait, “Admit it jerk you wanted me to wait, you EXPECTED me to wait for you,” said Vivaan with a voice akin to a low threatening rumble.
But his eyes gave him away,
They suddenly glistened with unshed tears and unsaid words.
This time, Rivaan saw the reaction and with a small sigh, he said, “Of course, you are right, for a change,” sharp edge of his voice softened with remorse.
“I am sorry,” said Rivaan earnestly as he gently kicked Vivaan’s overly long legs.
“Fuck off!” was Vivaan’s only response.
“Language,” huffed Madhumita – she had to put her foot down somewhere.
A waiter suddenly appeared just then. “One veg cheese masala grilled sandwich and one large chocolate milkshake,” prattled off Madhumita with an easy familiarity. “You guys want to order or would you be having each other’s heads?” she asked – she was getting tired of the tense atmosphere.
Mention of food promptly ended the staring contest – of course, Vivaan looked away first; he was intimidating only in physicality, for all his bulk and height he was simply a big puppy.
“One double cheese omelette with toasted bread and one plain maggi without vegetables for the purist,” Vivaan said gesturing towards Rivaan who still refused to speak . Vivaan broke his gaze to smile politely at the waiter adding “Oh and yeah, two more cokes.”
Rivaan was torn between being irritated and flattered at having Vivaan order the exact things he wanted to eat.
“Purist!” he mouthed with a scoff, “Where did you learn that word? Have you been reading something other than comics these days?” he said with a look of mock suspicion.
“Shut-up, don’t demean comics they are a work of art, besides I have been reading Sidney Sheldon,” said Vivaan as he grinned a ridiculously sunny grin not without a touch of pride.
He was actually proud – Rivaan thought shaking his head imperceptibly as Vivaan prattled off about his new found love “and its hot!” he said with big deliciously scandalized eyes.
Madhumita giggled at his expression. When she had first seen Vivaan earlier he seemed like any dumb, arrogant, cocky, full of himself player- someone who gets everything without ever lifting a finger; now he seemed like the most loving brother the universe could make; entirely made out of cuddles and smiles.
It was a marvel - How easily he forgave Rivaan’s poisonous words and how quickly he forgot that he was supposed to be angry.
Rivaan also smiled back; even he could not resist the charm of Vivaan’s hazel eyes which crinkled as their owner smiled, but he still rolled his eyes for dramatic effect as he said to Madhumita, “And he is supposed to be the elder!” at this Vivaan offered his hand, “Yes I am Vivaan, his elder brother, his driver, his keeper,” he said with a flourish as he graciously introduced himself earning a kick from Rivaan under the table.
As Madhumita withdrew her hand from the confident handshake Vivaan rested his elbows on the table cupping his jaw in both his palms doing his best impression of a smitten boy as he asked, “And who might you be pretty lady?”
Turning on his charm like an instinct he smiled his toothy smile and crinkled his crinkly eyes. She could suddenly feel for all the girls she would scoff at for swooning over him and talking about him like he was some sort of a celebrity.
They stood no chance.
Of course, she was better and did not fall for such superficial charms so easily, only now she could feel a tiny bit sympathetic for those who did fall.
She gave him a cool look and introduced herself, “Madhumita Chatterjee” as Rivaan observed in shocked silence it seemed to Rivaan’s mind that Vivaan was trying to steal a girl’s affections from him.
He narrowed his eyes to slits and kicked Vivaan in the shin making him yelp in surprise and look at him with a crooked evil-knowing grin. The waiter arrived with their food just then and everyone dug in but Vivaan did not relent, “So where did you guys meet? I didn’t know he dances by the way.”
“And I didn’t know he had a brother and out of all the people you were his brother.”
“Yeah because I am so handsome, right?” said Vivaan asked grinning.
Neither Rivaan nor Madhumita deemed it fit to reply to that comment. Thank goodness Rivaan thought.
“What’s with the secrets Rivaan?” Madhumita asked Rivaan who just replied with a non-committal shrug.
Digging into his omelette, Vivaan asked Madhumita what she studied.
“Well many things but my main subject is history,” she replied “Hey which year? My major subject is history too, in the second year,” said Vivaan.
“No way I am in 2nd year too.”
“No way how come I never saw you!” Vivaan asked
Rivaan frowned as he observed the irritatingly repetitive exchange; he did not want them to be friends damn-it!
“You have to attend classes you know,” she replied with a sarcastic twist of her brows, then they started their chit-chat about the teachers & fellow classmates, both brothers ended with coke up their noses as they chortled at Madhumita’s rather spot on impression of their ever sleepy professor. Rivaan adoringly looked at her as he wiped some of the coke which had landed on her cheeks “Gawd! you are awful! that was in your mouth” she said with a frowny face as she wiped more of the offending beverage off of her note. “It was technically in his nose” Vivaan teased sticking out his tounge playfully, “Yuck man I make you laugh and you do this to me,” she said not unkindly, the ghost of the smile never really fading from her face.
“You know your name really suits you – Miss Chatterjee,” Vivaan said in a sing song voice with an emphasis on chatter, the flirty smile making a reappearance. Rivaan felt angry again as he saw Madhumita give a grudging smile; did Vivaan even know what he was doing? Did he do it intentionally or did he flirt on autopilot? Rivaan thought and on a childish impulse, Rivaan threw a piece of tomato from Madhumita’s plate at his face which hilariously ended up sticking right on Vivaan’s forehead. Now it was Madhumita’s turn to spew her drink.
“Dude, you cannot just throw other people’s tomatoes. Not everyone hates tomatoes,” said Vivaan and as if to prove his own point he promptly ate the said piece of soggy tomato at which both Rivaan and Madhumita made matching faces of revulsion.
“Even she doesn’t eat tomatoes” Rivaan asserted with silly seriousness, Vivaan raised his eyebrow observing them with a knowing look; a look which people would reserve for love-struck couples who haven’t yet realized that they are in love or couples who act as if no one sees their transparent emotions and exchanges. It was almost ridiculous – like they are trying to use a megaphone to whisper.
“So a match made in heaven then,” Vivaan said, raising his coke as if to toast them and winked as he glugged the drink, the other two laughed a nervous awkward laugh and started to blush a little.
“Yeah right,” Madhumita said but Vivaan did not miss the shy sideways glance she threw at Rivaan who choose the exact moment to look back at her, their eyes met.
Vivaan smiled and continued to make them uncomfortable. Both looked away as a hint of a smile played at Madhumita’s lips as she studied the rest of the tomatoes from her sandwich; as if to deduce a scientific theory for their repulsiveness.
Rivaan tried to fish out non-existent Maggi out of the bowl and tried hard not to smile.
Vivaan’s smile grew and grew. He had found a treasure, a national secret, their own Shangri-La! Moreover, he had found a source of endless ribbing and teasing ammunition against Rivaan.
The awkward silence was broken by Vivaan’s cell phone buzzing insistently. It was his mother. He picked it up and chimed “Hello, beautiful lady” the light strains of his mother’s voice could be heard by the others.
“Both of you were supposed to come home early to help me tidy up the house.” Vivaan sat up straight at the slight rebuke. “Oops sorry, I forgot, actually I ….” he started with a chastised expression “I don’t want to hear your excuse just be here by 6 and pick up a bag of tomatoes from the market.”
A chuckle escaped from Vivaan, “Tomatoes again!” he exclaimed with a mock dramatic expression on his face mainly for the amusement of the two sitting in front of him.
“Yes, we are having your aunt and family come over for dinner you didn’t forget right?”
“N….no” Vivaan tried to speak, “of course, you forgot, now don’t keep me waiting, or you will be chopping onions for the rest of the evening,” she added with chuckle “Maaaa .. ok am coming ok, bye, bye bye”
Vivaan pocketed the cellphone, “ohhkay time to go or she will make me cry with onions, come on lets go kiddo it's your fault I got scolded,” Vivaan said as he got up and hurried the other two along. They paid their bill amount at the counter after a slight argument between Madhumita & Vivaan as they both insisted on paying. Rivaan just rolled his eyes and tapped his feet impatiently.
They started walking off to the college parking lot and the brothers started bickering again “YOU forgot .. how is it my fault”, “you MADE me forget” ..”shut-up” … “you shut-up”
They reached their car, “You want us to drop you somewhere?” Vivaan asked. “Nooo I have my Vespa,” she motioned proudly towards the ridiculously-yellow two wheeler. Rivaan eyed the canary yellow vehicle and his own ride – a green second-hand beat. “I am less embarrassed of riding pillion with her on her bright Vespa than riding with you in your second-hand beat, literally falling apart at the seams,” Rivaan said as he messed with the comically dangling rear few mirror, Madhumita smiled broadly at. Vivaan ignored the jab, adjusting the mirror back into position. “Shut-up, I love my chevy,” Vivaan said as he turned towards the helmeted Madhumita and added. “bye bye be safe,” and started the car. Madhumita pointedly raised her eyebrows. “Seatbelts,” she said and sped off with a wave. Vivaan turned to Rivaan and found him looking at the yellow blur of Madhumita in the distance with his neck bent on his left side in open adoration.
“Pathetic!” Vivaan said shaking his head slightly and steering the car in the opposite direction, strains of a song filtered through a nearby car which had passed along
Unbidden, uncalled, images of Madhumita’s broad mouth smiling flashed through his mind happily imitating the sleep deprived professor. He felt a warm flutter and something melted in his heart.
"Humne suna pyaar ajooba hai"
The song continued in his mind as a gentle November breeze carrying the promise of winter played sending a shiver up his hand which was not entirely attributable to the early winter breeze. Another image flashed through his mind – a joyous smile as she leaned sideways against his hips and twirled with her feet in the air; he could feel the touch still lingering on his side, could still hear the tinkling of the many trinkets she wore. His hyperaware perception forever had etched the moment in his mind.
The face of Vivaan smiling goofily as he leaned against the table also came and he still couldn’t decide whether he liked it or not.
He looked at Vivaan as if to decide and just then the early evening sun had cast a golden halo on him as the rays struck his brown hair, his skin almost golden in the sun his frame not even fitting in the small car anymore, he had grown so much in the past year. Loved by everyone, successful in everything; Vivaan was irritatingly perfect. No one ever noticed Rivaan in Vivaan’s presence and he had a miserable feeling that Madhumita might yet again be added to the list of those blinded by his brother's splendor.
He decided he did not like it at all, he never wanted Vivaan to know of her. He just felt angry again and on an impulse grabbed a handful of Vivaan’s copious hair and pulled sharply enough to hurt.
“What the heck man I am driving! Are you mad?” Vivaan said with a startled cry.
“Do you want to die in an accident? What’s wrong with you?” he asked again in a genuinely confused expression.
Nothing was wrong with him, it was all Vivaan’s fault he needed to be punched, he needed to be brought a peg down he thought with poison brewing in his heart. He felt the darkness taking him over again as he looked at himself in the mirror his angular face yet to fill out, his jet black hair, his jet black eyes his thin frame, and his never smiling wide set eyes. He had decided in middle school that smiling made him appear weak, an old memory surfaced.
“You should smile more,” his teacher had told him once, “You don’t look like your brother at all, you are so different,” yes so different. “Vivaan is such a good kid he always has a smile on his face, so happy,” his vapid teacher had added to his parents. What made it worse was that this was said at Rivaan’s parent-teacher meeting. How did Vivaan manage to make everything about him? He had thought then, there had been only a passing mention of his excellent academic performance or his debating win.
That day Rivaan had come home and destroyed Vivaan’s new world cup themed football which had been gifted by his parents on his 15th birthday. They had brawled when Vivaan saw what Rivaan had done; Vivaan had twisted his arm viciously and in turn he had been punished, he had been locked in their room – no food, no games, no TV, no comics, no music AND no communication with anyone for the next 24 hours.
Despite his swollen wrist, Rivaan had been really happy for those 24 hours – a dark sort of happiness. Really, a grotesque thing as compared to what he felt with Madhumita - darkness versus light.
He suddenly felt very uneasy.
Vivaan had sensed the dark mood, like the setting of a sun the light had slowly faded out of his brother. “What happened Rivaan?” he asked, concerned. Rivaan responded with a dark look, that summer he had found out what made him so different from the rest of the family, he was reliving that memory right now.
“Ask yourself!” Rivaan said, he liked to play these games, make Vivaan feel guilty, make him squirm.
“What did I do?” Vivaan was confused again “YOU pulled MY hair,” he accused knowing full well how childish he sounded. He knew there was something deeper but just did not know how to handle the depth of his brother's emotions, he would drown trying to navigate them. He really wanted his happy brother back who had started disappearing a few years ago – somewhere around the football incident. Vivaan remembered suddenly.
Rivaan had mercilessly mocked him during his punishment and had reduced him to tears as he showed him his destroyed possession.
Rivaan had laughed and Vivaan had realized then that his brother was cruel, devious & smart and had realized that his little brother – his sweet Rivaan had started to revel in his hurt. Rivaan had been happy to see him cry.
“I hate you,” Rivaan said – that brought Vivaan back to the present moment. Unbeknownst to both of them they had relived the same memory. Complicated and unresolved yet.
“We were friends Rivaan, we used to be inseparable, what happened?” Vivaan asked in a small voice – carrying the weight of all those estranged years.
“We can't always be children, we can’t…” Rivaan struggled to complete his statement “We can't always be happy,” he finally said in a small voice. It was not fair, really.
"Ek sooraj nikala tha
Kuch paara pighala tha
Ek aandhi aayi thi
Jab dil se ah nikali thi"
Another AR Rehman song droned out of the off-tune radio.
What did the words mean? Were these lines written for them? – Rivaan thought furiously, suddenly a well of unmanageable emotions was tapped.
As Vivaan was trying to decode his earlier comment Rivaan said with sudden clarity “YOU became popular, you changed, and you left. You left me behind when I needed you the most.”
"Do patte patjhad mein
Pedon ki Shankho se utare the
Fir itne mausam guzare
Do patte who bechare fir ugne ki chahat mein, fir sehrahoon se guzare"
Vivaan looked towards Rivaan in a stunned silence only punctuated by the wretched song. Rivaan thought with confusion – Was it true? Did he actually feel that way? He felt like crying.
What was wrong with him? What was wrong with the song?
He started crying. He blamed the song.
“Shut the damn radio,” Rivaan said with a sudden ferocity; voice laden with emotion. Vivaan was startled as he noticed the tears. He parked the car; they had anyway reached the supermarket.
…tomatoes…… he vaguely remembered
He stepped out opened the passenger seat door and forcibly pulled out a crying Rivaan in a crushing hug, “It's ok, it’s ok,” Vivaan soothed his brother. “I will never leave you again,” he professed with the sincerity of a child.
"Dil hai toh fir drd hoga; Dard hai to dil bhi hoga"
Aaah the logic of poets!
I told him to shut the damn radio off – a thought not all that angry.
Their aunt and uncle arrived with their two daughters - Riya & Reva – 9 & 11 respectively who had promptly created havoc and taken over Rivaan’s room. Rivaan looked on in utter horror till a mischief occurred to him. “Girls,” he said as he gently tried to herd them out of the room his conspiratorial tone of voice instantly capturing their attention – both looked up from Rivaan’s box of taken apart gadgets like a couple of chipmunks.
“You know who has all 7 harry potter movies AND the game on his computer?” Riya’s eyes widened. “Who?” she asked stupidly already jumping up and down – who else – Rivaan scoffed – he still played along. “Vivaan obviously – and he even got a new electric guitar he is dying to play it – he has practiced the ‘my little pony’ song for you guys,” both girls squealed at the mention of a guitar and Rivaan laughed.
Vivaan was still going over Natalia’s Instagram (Facebook was too mainstream for her) – Was he stalking? No, he wasn’t stalking …. he was just appreciating. like everything else even her Instagram was artistic, he was happy that at least one of his photos had found a way into her account and he was busy analyzing that one photo – the tilt of her shoulders, bend of her knees, the half smile the look of amused aloofness, he looked like a giant dork next to her with his uncomplicated smile plastered on his face –it did nothing to hide his delight at being with her. That’s when the two girls popped up next to him like two curious squirrels all fresh faced and bushy tailed – ready to rumble and cause havoc. Vivaan jumped like was caught watching monkey porn. “Aah!” Vivaan exclaimed shutting his laptop in a smooth swoop. “When did you little goddesses of chaos and destruction arrive, looking all cute in pigtails?’ He pulled on their pigtails. “You don’t fool me… out, out..no destruction in my room,” he got up and tried to herd them out of the room they escaped by tickling him.
Looking there was no escape he scampered to hide his gaming console, his iPad, his other personal items - which if fallen into wrong hands would ensure gleeful teasing about who this certain Natalia was.
“Vivaan bhaiyya what's this? Said Reva as she picked up a half done collage of Natalia’s photos as he was trying to hide his iPad.
“Wow…. Is she the actress from rockstar?” said Riya as she scrambled towards the collage.
“No silly, this one is prettier aaaaand it’s a real person,” Reva retorted with the confidence of a big sister.
Vivaan pried his precious project of Natalia from their grubby hands. “None of your business & tell no one about this, now go I think Rivaan has a Dora the explorer game ready for you,” he said as he shooed them out of the room.
“He has no such game, and we don't play that anymore,” Reva said suspiciously. Her ears had picked up on ‘tell no one about this’ she was delighted to be privy to the secrets of her almost grown-up brother. It made her feel special knowing that they were together keeping secrets from the elders, but she still wanted to use the nugget of information for her benefit.
“Why don’t you give us your iPad and we won't tell anyone bout the rockstar girl.”
Vivaan narrowed his eyes to slits with mock sternness on his face, but to no avail as the girls giggled and started to paw at his computer. 'How does EVERYONE manage to bully me’ Vivaan thought frustrated. He pulled them by their scruffs away from the computer – “Now only for half an hour and then out of my room.”
“Okay,” Riya excitedly settled. Reva rolled her eyes, “You are ALWAYS supposed to ask for more time stupid; No, 45 mins and we have a deal,” she said with big sisterly conviction as she turned towards Vivaan
“Ah ah ah… deal has been struck with the little lady,” he said as he ruffled Riya’s hair and handed over the iPad to them – Riya was already giggling over being called a little lady. He got busy with his phone quietly supervising them and it was well after over 45 mins and with much wrangling that Vivaan managed to stove away the I-pad from the girls reach and grabbed them, forcibly carrying one girl under each arm out of the room as the girls giggled at his antics.
“God! You are heavy, fatsoes what have you been eating?” he said making funny faces as he planted them on the living room sofa where his parents, aunt and uncle were having pre-dinner drinks and chatting.
“Vivaan – come here let me look at you, oh how tall you have grown,” his aunt hugged him and his uncle game him curt nod. “Stop growing now – we won’t be able to find a girl to match your height,” he said.
I have a suspicion we won't be needing to do that - call Rivaan out of his hiding will you,” his mom said.
Vivaan peeped into Rivaan’s room where he found him furiously typing something on the computer, his face a mask of concentration so intense it was almost comical.
“They are calling for dinner.”
He hummed a distracted answer without looking up.
“Come now the girls will start to eat my brains out – I need a distraction,” Vivaan pleaded.
“I will come when I come,” Rivaan replied with a withering look. He really wanted to tell that the hug had changed nothing, he does not get redemption because of one weak moment, but Vivaan had now taken to looking at him with even more tenderness, ‘uggg’ he thought.
When Rivaan refused to move or acknowledge Vivaan even after 15 mins Rivaan felt himself leaving the chair; he was being carried in the air by strong confident hands – Vivaan had picked him up by his midsection and was now carrying him to the living room – Rivaan kicked and cursed as Vivaan laughed with amusement.
This kind of easy play hadn’t happened between them for years. Vivaan suddenly had the courage to draw out his brother with these childish games.
Rivaan hated it. Rivaan loved it. It was amazing how conflicted he felt.
Rivaan would never admit it but when Vivaan had stopped their rough play, he had felt punished – cast away, but unknown to him Vivaan never meant to punish, he had simply lost courage, fearing rejection he had kept his distance.
Things had increasingly become angry between them and towards the end of their 11th & 12th grades, they only spoke in taunts & insults. It had all precipitated in an angry brawl the night before the day Vivaan had left their Bombay home to join a college in Delhi.
It was the most logical thing to do, his father was due for a transfer to Delhi the next year and there was no point in joining a college in Mumbai and leaving for Delhi in the 2nd year.
So Vivaan had gone ahead leaving them behind, Rivaan had taken it really badly – he was in trouble and he was abandoned by the only person who could help him. No logic no reasoning could help him.
When the family had reunited in Delhi in the summer of Vivaan’s 1st-year things continued to be awkward as Rivaan was anything but forgiving. They were distant except for a few olive branches extended by Vivaan – until today.
“Aaah take your dirty paws off me, you moron… dog,” exclaimed Rivaan as he was unceremoniously plunked on the living room couch. Rivaan felt the obligatory irritation but just below the surface of his consciousness he felt a contentment born of forgiveness; of friendship. However unlike the girls, he kicked Vivaan on the butt eliciting more laughter from the girls and mildly irritated glares from the elders except his mother who looked on with an indulgent smile – her eyes crinkling at the corners just like Vivaan’s.
“So how’s college going? are you adjusting well?” their uncle asked.
“Yes very well, it is a good college, the professors are really great and their programs are very well designed” Vivaan replied enthusiastically, whereas Rivaan just indifferently leafed through a magazine – small talk bored him, besides Vivaan had answered – the question was obviously for the golden boy who cares what Rivaan does.
“You have always been such a handsome boy. Delhi is suiting you well – when did you grow so tall?” his aunt inanely smothered him with hugs and compliments again.
“Yeah a lady killer you have at your hands Sushmita,” uncle said turning to their mother. “What’s the girlfriend count?” he asked with a casual hand on his shoulder and an easy laugh. The question came out of nowhere and stopped him in his tracks.
Vivaan went red in the face instantaneously as he racked his brain for a coherent answer – suddenly he was thrown into a tumultuous whirlwind of self-doubt – was Nat his girlfriend? Why can’t she be my girlfriend? Oh no they are looking at me – do they know what I am thinking – think of something to say stupid – meanwhile Rivaan had a plastered all-knowing smirk on his face.
Supposed internal monologue was playing on his face like a cheesy play for all to see – ACT 1 – deer in the head lights; Act 2 -staggering self-doubt; act 3 – fumble for an evasive answer, act 3 – get irritated at idiot brother act 4 – SAY SOMETHING IDIOT.
“Hehe .... ah .. I don’t have a girlfriend,” he replied with the awkward half-truth. Idiot - He thought to himself.
His mother rescued him by calling him to help with setting the table, as they came back and served the soup to the group, Rivaan said “Come on Viv, tell uncle about your girlfriend army.”
Still the center of unwanted attention and still blushing, “He has an army of fangirls, and this idiot thinks they are interested in football,” Rivaan added with amusement not entirely devoid of envy.
“I don’t have an army,” Vivaan hissed back.
“Just one then?” his aunt asked.
‘What’s with the Spanish inquisition? Rivaan is going to pay for this…’
“What about the photos in the collage below your mattress,” Ria said and then clapped her mouth in shock at blurting out his secret – Vivaan would have found the gesture endearing if not for what she just blurted out.
“That was Nargis Fakri, RIA” Vivaan bluffed spectacularly which was thankfully accepted.
Mother to the rescue again, “He hardly has time for a girlfriend – he is so busy with studies, football, and he has even joined a band – and let me tell you they are really good.”
“Great – all-rounder then- both music and sports are imperative for an all-round development of mind and body – you will be a fine man,” his uncle declared.
“He has become a star player – they have started depending on him heavily, he is almost famous for his powerful kick,” his father said proudly.
Rivaan had started to feel invisible as he sat there scowling he really did do well on his own but no one noticed him, no one would ask him what his subject was, no one would ask about his hobbies because Vivaan was there – always there, the center of gravity, occupying every space, every conversation, every accolade.
“What are you studying Rivaan, what subject have you taken?” his aunt asked him suddenly – question came out of the left field as if just to prove his resentful musings wrong. He resented that too.
“Economics,” Rivaan replied dryly. “Hons,” his mother added with pride.
Rivaan smiled a little.
“Impressive, it’s a dry subject but the future of our country is in the hands of its economists,” his uncle said – he was the master of inane, smart sounding but actually dumb declarations Rivaan thought.
“I also do unsolicited vulnerability testing on unsuspecting networks as a hobby,” he said as he preened a little as if to say – ‘See even I can be an all-rounder’; he was sure most of the words would roll off his confused audience – his uncle frowned, no one liked being mocked, but Rivaan snickered at the thought that no one could tell who exactly was being mocked.
“Yeah he is a smart one, you should see him demolish people in his debates,” Vivaan said ruffling his hair.
“DON’T patronize me,” Rivaan snapped jerking his head away from Vivaan’s hands – the warm fuzzy feeling of successfully mocking a confused audience immediately went away as Vivaan did not even get it that he was being mean. He was just so infuriating.
Vivaan just raised his hands in surrender.
“You should not be playing with things you have no business meddling with,” his uncle said with a stern note.
“Oh please people are so careless with their data – they deserve to be hacked, its survival of the fittest uncle – dumb people have to face the consequences – the economy depends on it.”
Hence ensued a convoluted discussion of the world economy, the new cyber threats and global warming where Rivaan was doing the most talking.
Vivaan wasn’t interested – he had other fish to fry, he did not get Rivaan’s obsession with being smarter than everyone else so he roughhoused with the girls instead as they whispered him with questions of a certain Nargis Fakhri lookalike and he furtively showed them her Instagram account.
As the evening progressed, the dishes got cleared and mango ice-cream was served and Rivaan for the first time in possibly ages, squealed in delight – yes squealed. Yes, he could be a child and act his age – he just rarely choose to do it.
The girls got restless and went out to ‘discover’ the house – when they turned up dragging Vivaan's new guitar everyone understood what quest they were on for the last 15 mins.
“Look what we found,” they chorused, Vivaan frowned grimly.
“It's not something for you to find,” Vivaan scolded and snatched it back. “Don’t touch it again,” - his voice suddenly took the grown up, commanding quality.
Reva gave him a wary look as Riya was startled into tears – as is the nature of little girls – they cry – and they look adorable innocent angles as they cry. Vivaan immediately softened.
“No no no don’t cry baby – I am sorry I won’t scold, but it’s very delicate ok? You could have broken it,” he said as he hugged and mussed her hair one-handedly while he cradled his precious with the other. Still sniffling Riya went to her mother to get more pampering, and was rewarded with a kiss.
“Don’t worry Riya, Vivaan will play a song to make it up for you.”
“With pleasure,” Vivaan immediately obliged taking his stance with the guitar. “Show-off,” Rivaan muttered.
“Any requests?” he asked and then proceeded to sing and play various songs and for the first time, Rivaan noted that Vivaan had the voice of an angel. How much had changed in the last one year? He thought.
The audience was enthralled with the lights dimmed and the nip in the air the atmosphere was cozy, familial – Rivaan couldn’t help but feel at home – a feeling he loathed, he didn’t want to feel at home he wanted to break free.
Vivaan sang song after song with such earnestness that the cheesy lines actually carried meaning – he could tell why everyone loved him, he could relate to the feeling – they were helpless to love him. How could they not? He had no guile. That’s what stopped HIM from loving Vivaan; how could he? And why should he? Why should Vivaan get everything? He already had everyone’s adoration he did not need Rivaan’s too, he knew it to be unwanted so he did not give it.
Strung between loving and hating Vivaan he was lost in thought when Vivaan announced something.
“What?” he asked “ I said the next one is dedicated to Rivaan,” Vivaan said eyes glinting with mischief he continued, “It's not really made for the guitar but HE loves it.” Rivaan now looked decidedly confused and more so when Vivaan played the beginning strings – he did not recognize the song at all.
“Meeriiiiiii ho na… Meeeriiiiiii Ho na… Madhumita ….Madhumitaaaaaa”
Shit Rivaan thought and swallowed as he struggled to hide his reaction.
Vivaan continued – he sang the whole cheesy song with relish, emphasizing each word of adoration with a knowing look towards Rivaan.
Trust Vivaan to find an obscure song - quite possibly the only song with ‘her’ name in it – Rivaan thought furiously.
It was always ‘her’ even in his thoughts, he could never take her name – had she noticed that yet. His inability to take her name without feeling self-conscious?
Rivaan thought and fought with himself and struggled to crush his own smile, after a few stanzas Vivaan concluded with an unnecessarily whispered “Madhumita!” Rivaan remembered that song now there was no Madhumita at the end – "Bastard!" Rivaan busied himself with his phone to hide his reaction.
Vivaan winked at Rivaan again and the audience clapped – that’s it, he has done it – trying to be diabolical with the devil himself. Rivaan coolly walked towards his guitar wielding brother with a glass of chilled water and dumped it on his head, with a crooked smiled on his thin lips.
A disoriented Vivaan sputtered water and shook his head, he growled angrily, “You better run you little shit,” – the elders were shocked and the girls were overjoyed to have witnessed drama and bad words.
Vivaan shoved the guitar aside and ran after Rivaan who simply playfully circled the sofa challenging Vivaan, amid squeals of laughter and imploring commands from his father Vivaan caught up with Rivaan to twist his arms and rub his wet face all over Rivaan’s shirt.
Vivaan suddenly remembered how Rivaan hated physical contact so just to spite him or probably just because he hadn’t done it in a long time he planted a big sloppy kiss on Rivaan’s cheek.
“Eeks, you are disgusting, get lost – I will have to take a bath now.”
Vivaan laughed uproariously at Rivaan’s disgust. “No no .. I am going to dunk my head in undiluted phenyl” Rivaan yelled as he stormed off.
Everyone had been worried when Rivaan dumped the glass of water thinking that their pleasant evening might not end well but everything returned to normal as breezers making a re-appearance had caused Rivaan to make a reappearance. They lingered, the pleasant lazy conversation went on – Vivaan and the girls started to quietly doze off, making a sweet picture perfect moment – with one sister snuggling at each side, his hands protectively curving on their shoulders, his own head lolling off to one side. Rivaan had broken out a new book and was somehow trying to sprawl on the same couch with legs propped on the sofa back behind Reva to rest on his brother’s shoulder.
It was a tender moment – a slice of perfection. The sisters gushed over their four children and clicked a photo for posterity as the three sleepy heads woke rubbing their eyes and Rivaan rolled his eyes in disdain unnecessary cuteness he thought. – to his mother even that look was endearing although she worried that his eyes might roll right out of their sockets if he continued doing it much longer.
Before long they wrapped up and farewells & goodnights & ‘god bless yous’ were said – the sisters had discreetly nudged their children to touch the feet of their aunts and uncles; the said aunts and uncles had made a sweet show of humility, “No no no beta don’t touch my feet,” although secretly pleased that the tenacious hold of supposed culture was still strong for the next generation.
Once all had retired Vivaan came out for water, he had changed into comfortable sweatpants and a thick long sleeved t-shirt – it was getting chilly. He was just about to keep the water bottle back when he was startled by a figure stealthily making for the door and dropped the a glass of water making a ruckus.
“Rivaan!, where’r you going now?” he exclaimed.
“WHY do you have to shout and break things you HIPPPO? Now Mom will wake.” Rivaan whispered urgently.
“Going for a walk?” Vivaan asked as Rivaan opened the door – swiftly Vivaan caught hold of Rivaan’s other hand hidden behind his back and discovered a cigarette – not that he was surprised but he still gave a disappointed glare.
He snatched away his hand and roughly shoved his brother to get out of the door – Vivaan followed him out and shut the door gently.
“Are you going to tell mom and dad?” Rivaan asked furtively.
“No … but don’t ok? Don’t smoke.”
“Well it's not your choice,” Rivaan said, suitably satisfied that Vivaan wouldn’t tell on him he simply walked off – deciding on that walk after all.
Vivaan followed – before long they started walking together. Silently.
This was fine, this was peace. Vivaan wasn’t about to break it by tattling about a silly cigarette – they were at peace with each other after a long time – the cry was cathartic – they had both cried, getting curious glances from other shoppers. Vivaan felt a surge of emotion and put an easy hand over Rivaan’s shoulder – Rivaan gave an icy look but did not shrug it off.
Rivaan made his own peace offering by offering his cigarette which was promptly declined – “Not even one puff?” as he dragged even deeper – Vivaan looked on impressed and disgusted at the same time.
“Noo, no, man I tried it not for me – besides it affects my performance,” Vivaan said getting a naughty side glance from Rivaan immediately catching his thread of thought Vivaan said, “on the field you idiot.”
It WAS getting chilly, Rivaan was hardly affected but Vivaan’s nose and cheeks had turned red with cold – he was now rubbing hands together to ward off the chill.
Awkward silence followed – They did not want to talk about what happened in the evening – the subject too heavy and ponderous to discuss on a pleasant day’s night, so Vivaan broke the silence with the only topic he knew will bring an instant smile
“So where did you meet her?”
Prince of darkness meets the princess of light.
Rivaan smiled at the memory. He remembered the meeting like he remembered all his hours with her – like a calm oasis breaking the expanse of the desert which was the landscape of his memory.
It was a few months ago – a miserable sticky July day. He never truly believed in providence before, but looking at how the hot afternoon had given way to thunderstorms as the evening progressed and as their threads entwined he had no problem believing.
He was standing at the window of an empty classroom where up until 5 mins ago he was bent over his books dripping sweat over some project work cursing the pathetic ceiling fan as he waited for Vivaan to be done with his last class. As if on an instinct he had turned to the window – he caught an unexpected breeze, strains of some peppy song filtered through one of the classrooms on the ground floor.
It seemed that the preparations for the annual fest had already started.
She appeared like a …. (wait for it) …. Vision. There I said it - vision, she appeared like a vision in the deserted corridor of the west wing of the arts building, the strains of music were perfectly in sync with the artful steps she was taking as the music picked up the next instant she danced a little as she made way towards the exit. She was literally skipping like a little girl. The breeze gusted a little more as if encouraged by the tinkling of her trinkets and played with the cloth of her scarf.
After a quick furtive glance on her part to ascertain that she was truly alone she did a couple of languid twirls that even a ballerina would be proud of, the music came to a conclusion and so did her dance with her head raised skyward in a simple exultation of BEING, a smile only for herself, a joy only hers. She opened her eyes and the moment shattered as her eyes had locked on with the person standing at the first-floor window of the opposite building.
Her first thought - Little prince of darkness.
She would later tease him – laughing hysterically how very appropriate her initial assessment was, much before the deep end came and swallowed him.
His gaze intense, his mouth set in a curve undecidedly between a smile and a frown, his hair thick, wavy and starkly black – yes little prince of darkness. It sent a flutter in her that she refused to recognize as desire. Suddenly shy and self-conscious she simply bolted.
Rivaan could see the transformation and felt dismayed – her smile had fallen and he didn’t like being the cause of it. One moment she was grace & beauty and the next moment she was painfully self-conscious and clumsy.
He noticed that She had dropped something, Rivaan had been wickedly happy when he discovered that the thing in question was her exam hall ticket.
Where would the world of romance & storytelling be if the heroines stopped dropping these utterly vital things? Rivaan thought – sardonic and removed out of his own story even as he was falling in deep.
Feeling a little like a character in a cheesy romantic movie which he was compelled to enact by the force of supernatural direction he ran out of the classroom and down the stair to pick up the enticing piece of good luck. It had started to drizzle and the wind had kicked up – he hid it in his shirt protectively.
Girls! – he had thought with a hint of fondness klutzes the lot of them – even the utterly graceful, put together divine symphony in pink he had just witnessed had been a klutz to drop her own hall ticket without which she couldn’t appear for her exams .
It fell to him to be her knight in shining armor. He would sweep her off of her feet – he daydreamed.
Had she done it on purpose? Some unconscious part of her made her clumsy so she could be rescued? Do women do this as an evolutionary ploy to pick up mates? – his nerd brain had taken him into uncharted anthropology – as if he was studying the mating behavior of a new species.
He had caught himself in time to banish the thoughts – he would not let a feminist anthropology student ruin his romance so he got back to his daydreaming - oh yes he was in for the long haul – head over heels, truly madly deeply – and whatever sloppy classless clichéd description was popular seemed so apt now.
Vivaan playfully side rammed him into the railing of the small bridge on which they were walking startling him out of his intense reverie, his cigarette half burnt & untouched. A genuinely happy smile played on his face, a smile he couldn’t wipe off. He needed this, he needed to talk to Vivaan, he needed to gush about Madhumita to him.
Vivaan noticed the rare smiles and began singing again ‘Ajooba’ –
That song again – he thought unable to stop blushing finally his clueless brother had learned the power of observation.
A few more lines and a few more well timed shoulder bumps later Rivaan conceded and told him how he met Madhumita – how he sopping wet in the ensuing squall had tracked her down to her home to return her vital hall ticket – how she had looked at him warily, how her mother had appeared behind her and scolded her for her carelessness and offered a very shivering Rivaan a cup of steaming coffee and a nice dry towel and how to his joy and astonishment he had easily fit in with the unknown family of Madhumita, her music teacher mother and scholar father – all of them disgustingly happy and well adjusted, he didn’t feel any disdain for them; nope not for them.
Perfect – in so many ways. He believed in magic and providence for a short while. Both brothers slept content that day, little did they know that this peace was but a brief sparkling interlude in their very chaotic lives.