Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Lost Princess: Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Hyderabad, February 12, 2013

Talking to your best friend can be excellent therapy. But it can be a headache if you’re in love with your best friend’s brother. Ishaani was realizing it the hard way.

"I saw the screenshot you sent. I can’t believe that idiot replied with a ‘thank you’ to your WhatsApp-essay! Why are you wasting your time on that slob? I’m ashamed to call him my brother…"

Ishaani moved her mobile phone away from her ears as Rashi’s voice began to grow shriller and louder by the minute.

"Girl... don't shout. I can hear you alright. I didn’t write an essay, okay? And he might be busy." Ishaani rolled her eyes and cursed herself mentally. In her eagerness to get over her frustration, how did she forget that Rashi loved to troll her brother?
"It qualifies as an essay. It might not get an A if you submitted to Mrs Ellen. But it would definitely win a prize for the longest and cutest WhatsApp message till date."

Ishaani chuckled. After putting the phone on speaker, she placed it on her bed. Picking up a scrunchy from her dresser-drawer, she rolled up her long hair into a top bun. Their high school English teacher Mrs Ellen would have called it purple prose. But a girl had to say what she had to say. Who texted perfect literary pieces to crushes? Long winding flowery sentences with a lot of smilies and ellipses were her style. Before writing to him, she had watched Rajeev’s ZBC television interview twice. And she could be eloquent when she wanted. No wonder Rashi had called it an essay.

"You know your brother's word quota per day. I’m happy he replied this time. Usually, I have to be content with the blue tick." Her silly heart raced when blue ticks appeared on the WhatsApp-messages she sent him. How pathetic!

Ishaani lived by only one rule. She welcomed anything that put her in the vicinity of her long-time crush, Rajeev Ratnam. The elusive movie director who owned her heart. It didn’t bother her that he either ignored her or treated her like a mere acquaintance when they met in public. And when she happened to meet him at his home, he treated her like he treated Rashi. Like a kid who needed guidance at every point in her life. Yet she always rallied her spirits by focusing on what was important. She loved him. Nothing else mattered.

"Keep munching the crumbs he throws at you and he would never treat you to a proper meal."
"No worries. I will cook him a lavish dinner instead. One day soon," Ishaani said, sounding more confident than she actually felt.
"Don't waste your culinary expertise on him. Cook Mughlai biriyani this Sunday. I’m coming."
"Done. What will I get in exchange?"
"What do you want?"
"Full details about his shooting schedule." That way, she could accidentally bump into him without appearing too clingy.
"Say whaat? Not interested in the list of the handsome actors he roped in?
"Nope." Why the heck would she need a list of handsome men when she had lost her heart to ‘the most handsome one’ among the lot.
“Aren’t you interested in the list of the actresses who might throw themselves at him?"
“Not at all.”
"You know what? You’re a tragedy waiting to happen."
Ishaani snorted and bid her friend goodbye before disconnecting the call.

Ishaani had fallen in love with Rajeev even before she could express it in words. Perhaps she had started worshipping him right from the moment she first saw him. They lived in the same apartment complex and their mothers were best friends. Her first memory of him was of them playing bean-bag basketball using a bucket.  She remembered the way his silky hair bounced when he threw the yellow sponge ball. She was five then. She squealed and clapped every time he managed to toss the ball right into the bucket. He didn’t give attention to his little fan though. He, in fact, enjoyed pulling her pigtails. Though at first, it bothered her, she soon started to love it when he did it.  In his eyes, she had only been the best friend of his pesky younger sister Rashi.  Ishaani sometimes wished Rashi was not her friend for that reason alone.

To say the truth, she took advantage of his big brother attitude. She would approach him for guidance on issues which were already crystal clear to her. Yet, during their conversation, Rajeev would say something that would make her fall a bit more in love. A new perspective, a clever idea or sometimes just his concerned expression.

While in her teens, he broke her heart by falling in love with Maya. A pretty, neighbourhood girl who made her feel like an ugly duckling. In the end, Maya left Rajeev, a struggling assistant director then and married a wealthy man. Rajeev was heartbroken. She couldn’t see him that way. So, she and Rashi took turns to cheer him up by involving him in their activities. He had become extra close to them during that period.

Ishaani loved singing too. Her parents were the renowned Kathak dancers, Krishna and Priyadarshini Reddy. Everyone had expected her to follow their path.  But the music that accompanied their performances had instead captured her attention. Her parents had encouraged her and she had started practising Carnatic music at the age of eight.
It had been music that finally brought her closer to Rajeev. One passion fuelling another. The year Maya left him, something changed between them because of her many attempts to cheer him up. When Ishaani sang his favourite song, ‘Abhi na jao chodkar, ke dil abhi bara nahi’ at a private function, his eyes had lit up. He praised her afterwards, leaving her stammering like an idiot. But she had stumbled upon the path that led to his heart.
Days later, they had been thrown together again, making her believe that fate had solid plans for them.

That day, Ishaani had been invited for a sleepover at Rashi’s. Since the bathroom in their guest bedroom was clogged, she had been advised to use Rajeev’s, the one opposite to it. He had been away in Bangalore and nothing had prepared her for his sudden appearance. Even the memory of standing in front of him clad in nothing other than a bath towel made her blush. He had been as embarrassed and stunned at first. Then as if in a trance, he had caressed her cheek. He had run the pad of his thumb over her lower lip, making her tremble. And then he had kissed her. The tenderness made her already vulnerable heart melt. The rainbow-coloured dream had ended fast and as unexpectedly as it had begun. As though he had come to his senses, he had pulled away, apologised and fled from the room. He left town the next morning and started avoiding her from then on. Perhaps he felt guilty about what had happened.

For her, Southern Star Singer contest, a music reality show on ZBC, had become the ticket to his world. Rashi had told her the winner would get a chance to work in his new movie and that Rajeev would be a judge at the contest. But, his music director Vishwajit had arrived as the judge at the competition instead. Rajeev attended the finale along with many other dignitaries like superstar Saketh Rao. She had sung her heart out, eventually winning the contest. Yet the man she wanted to impress had given her a cold shoulder. She was devastated.

Still, nothing had succeeded in persuading her to forget Rajeev. Not even the thousand taunts from Rashi.

Ishaani used to dislike men with beards but now bearded men reminded her of Rajeev. In her teens, she considered anyone who flaunted tattoos as mad. How could they torture themselves and mar their skin with something as outrageous as a tattoo? She could never love anyone who did that. Yet, when one day Rashi came to her flourishing a photo of Rajeev’s new half-sleeve tattoo, she had instantly fallen in love with it. Rashi had gone ballistic when she praised it.

“You know what! You won’t even mind if he murdered someone. You’ll admire the trail of blood and say how beautifully he murdered. You’re a twit, girl!”

Ishaani had ignored it. Rashi had never been in love. What did she know about being utterly and desperately in love?  Also, Rashi lived to rant and rave. Five minutes after her words left the tip of her tongue, she forgot about the topic entirely.

Love made Ishaani feel alive. Love gave meaning to her days and coloured her nights. Anyway, could anyone choose who they fell in love with? Love just happened.
Ishaani knew only one thing. She would never ever get over Rajeev. Period.

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