“What the hell Aman!” The office echoed with ASR’s growls and bellows while Aman stood stoic and unmoved. “Why haven’t you cancelled the meeting yet?”
“Sir, you have to go to Singapore, the deal…”
“To hell with the deal. Cancel it.”
“I don’t think that’s very advisable Sir. The repercussions…”
“To hell with repercussions. I bloody well don’t care.”
Before ASR could reduce her to ashes with his blazing eyes, the savvy secretary uttered the magic words. “It’s Anjali Maam.”
“Di! Kaise ho? Sab theek…?”
“Nahi baba. Hum theek hai.” She laughed. “Relax. I called to give you some good news.”
“Good news? What?”
“Kshitij has a conference in Singapore. He wants me to tag along. I wasn’t too keen but if you are going, it will be fun won’t it?” Anjali was at her chirpy best.
“Haan Di, par I will also be busy in meetings you will get bored. If Khushi was going along…”
“Oho Khushi ko chodo. I wanted to spend some quality time with my brother. Wont it be nice? Just you and me like old times? Hasn’t it been ages?” Di’s voice shook.
“Di!” Chotte’s voice was soft yet urgent. “Di please…”
“Theek hai agar tum humare liye itna bhi nahi kar sakte,” Di sniffed.
“Di! Please. What do you have in mind?” Chotte was resigned.
“Nothing much Chotte!” Di was bubbling now that she had gotten her way. “You go on to Singapore, attend your meetings and I will join you a couple of days later. We can paint the town red while Kshitij attends his boring conference. And then once he is free, you can go back to your boring meetings. Surely you can spare two days for me – on 5th and 6th June?” Di slipped in casually.
Chotte sighed. “Yes Di. No problem Di.”
“Love you Chotte!” Di was all but dancing her eyes twinkling merrily as she raised a hand for a high five with Khushi.
Khushi reciprocated but with mixed feelings. Di ke liye kuch bhi karenge aur mere liye? Bas snap, growl, frown etc etc. If I had suggested this would he have agreed? Never in a million years. Tears clogged her throat.
“Kya hua Khushi?” Di gently turned her face by the chin. Khushi averted her eyes. “Kya hua? You should be happy. Chotte is going to Singapore.”
“At your behest.” Khushi mumbled. “Agar hum kehte toh…”
Di stared at her. She nodded ruefully. “I know what you mean. Kshitij ke saath bhi yehi haal hai.”
Khushi looked Anjali who nodded. “He never has time for anything. But I just have to say – Khushi would like it –all problems and objection just vanish!”
Khushi gave a rueful laugh. “I suppose so.”
“Suppose nahi aisa hi hai. They get so little time with their sisters and they ask for so little that they cannot help but jump at their bidding. But biwi toh hamesha hi saath hai na? Kabhi bhi mana sakte hain? Right?”
“But that’s not fair is it? Hamesha hi biwi ko sideline karna? Kuch bhi keh do, naa koi consideration naa koi lihaz…”
“Who said life is fair?” Di countered. “But what happened to you? You were always so suljha hua? So understanding…”
“Hum thak gaye understanding karte karte. Kabhi toh woh bhi understand kare hume? And to make matters worse, Chotti thinks ASR ko humne pamper kiya hai, humne bigaada hai, when the truth is ki ASR ko…” Khushi bit her lip.
“Humne bigada hai,” Di completed the sentence. “Yes but it’s also true that jo kasar baaki thi, woh tumne poori kar di.” Di’s eyes were soft with understanding and affection. She reached out to touch Khushi’s cheek. “I am so glad that he found you. You complete him in all respects.”
Khushi’s eyes fluttered. She didn’t look up.
“Idhar dekhiye,” Di forced Khushi’s chin up. “Kya baat hai. You are looking sad and depressed. Chotte does love you, tabhi toh yeh surprise plan kiya. And he does hate his plans flopping.” Di smiled, trying to coax Khushi into smiling.
“Nahi woh baat nahi hai Di. I appreciate his gesture and I know he loves me in his own way. But yet I sometimes cannot help but feel slighted, unwanted, excess baggage…”
“Khushi?” Di was shocked. “Aisa kya keh diya Chotte ne?”
“Nahi, kuch nahi, bas aise hi,” Khushi wasn’t willing to go into the depths of their earlier conversation. “Just that I cannot understand my place in his life.” She shrugged helplessly. “Don’t get me wrong Di, but there is always someone else, Nani, you, the kids…mera number kahan aata hai?”
“Kaisi behki behki baatein kar rahi ho Khushi? I thought you were the rational and practical one.”
“I am tired of being the rational practical one.” Khushi wore a mutinous expression. “I also want to throw a tantrum, say whatever comes to my heart. If he can why not me?”
“You know Khushi,” Di wore a faraway expression, “even though Chotte is younger than I am in age, ever since my parents passed away, he has always taken care of me.” She gave a sad smile. “We lost everything overnight, my wedding was called off, I was handicapped – he felt responsible for me. It was as if I was his child.” She reached out and held Khushi’s hand. “He had to grow up instantly and change from a pampered spoiled brat to a responsible adult. He cannot deny me anything. Just like he cannot deny his children anything. So he has to be on top of everything, in charge and in control. But with you…”
“But with me?” Khushi asked.
“With you, he can let go, be himself for here is the person on whom he can lean. You are someone who is his responsibility but yet he has the luxury of being your responsibility as well. With you he can afford to let go of the need for control. Kuch bhi ho toh he knows he has his Khushi to sort it for him.” Di looked around. “This place is now a happy home all because of you,” she squeezed Khushi’s hand, “and everywhere you can hear ‘Khushi, Khushi, Khushi,” her eyes crinkled.
Khushi swallowed. “Theek hai theek hai Di aur zyaada apne Chotte ki vaqalat karne ki zaroorat nahi hai.” She sniffed. “I won’t murder him,” she paused, “this time. But hum itni aassani se chodhenge bhi nahi.”
Di hugged Khushi. “Short of murdering him, you can do anything with him,” she twinkled, “license hai tumhare paas.”
Khushi leaned forward to give Di a hug. “I am sorry for being so childish.”
“Pagal.” Di hugged her back. “You are welcome to be childish with me anytime you wish. We girls must stick together.” Di twinkled. And,” she paused, “better fix an appointment with a gynecologist. Shayad kuch zyaada hi PMS…”