“Ahh there you are,” ASR pounced on her, “who’s this Shubham?”
“Your telecon is done?”
“Yes,” he brushed her question aside curtly, “What’s this about…”
“Oh! Just look at the time?” Khushi exclaimed. “I have to make dinner. Have the AC guys finished their work? God knows what mess they would have created…” she fussed.
But ASR was having none of it. “That’s done and the kitchen is clean too. And we can order dinner…”
“Order dinner! But why? Guddu has come home and would like ghar-ka-khana,” she hurried away.
“Nothing doing,” ASR grabbed her by the hand and dragged her to their room, “you aren’t going anywhere before we’ve had this talk.” He wore an uncompromising expression.
“Hey DM! Ab inko bhi sambhalena!” Khushi muttered in a hasty aside before turning to face ASR’s wrath with a serene expression that belied her thudding heart.
“We’ve had this conversation remember? Let her be…”
“I am letting her be!” ASR spoke through clenched teeth and took a step forward and she backed off. “I just want to know who this guy is. Or am I asking for too much?”
“Of course not!” Khushi said in placatory tones. “What do you want to know about Dr Shubham? He’s a senior of Chotti at her hospital. I wonder what Guddu would like to have for dinner? Any ideas?” At his thunderous expression, she hastily added, “Never mind, I’ll call him,” she dialed his number but he didn’t pick up his phone. “Uff yeh ladka bhi na!” She chewed her lip. “Haan!” she clicked her fingers. “I’ll ask Nani,” she turned to go.
“How dare you Khushi!” ASR caught hold of her by the arm and swung her around. “Main tumse baat kar raha hoon!”
“Haan toh kariye na!” Khushi extricated her arm from his grasp and rubbed it. “Aur koi telecon nahi hai kya?”
“Shut up Khushi, warna…” He thrust a forefinger into her face.
Khushi flinched but stood her ground. “Warna kya?” she curled her finger around his and bore it down, unresistingly. “If you are ready to listen, I can talk.” She offered. “But if you just want to throw a tantrum…” she trailed off enjoying the play of expressions on his face.
ASR went blacker (if that were possible), then he had a bit of a tussle with Arnav, then a resigned look as ASR was over-powered by Khushi’s husband of more than three decades. He relented and crossed his arms. “Bolo.”
“I am not sure if it is anything serious but Chotti does seem to have a crush on Shubham.” She raised a hand as ASR reared his head and said hastily, “Shubham is a good boy, with a decent family background. Not millionaires but well to do. His parents are both doctors and he has two elder sisters, both married and settled abroad. He and Guddu were in the same football team in school and they know each other since then. That’s all I know.”
“Does this…this guy also have a ‘crush’ on Angel?” Arnav bit out.
Khushi began folding the clothes that lay scattered on the bed. “Hmm,” she mumbled, “good question. And a million dollar one.”
“He must be!” Arnav protested. “How could he not?”
Khushi laughed at his face. “How contrary! You should be happy if he doesn’t, shouldn’t you?”
“Well if he is a good guy, I have no problem. But if he is leading her on…” he clenched his fists. Khushi’s curled her hand over his. “Relax. He isn’t.” Khushi paused and smiled a secret smile. “And in fact interestingly, Chotti thinks he doesn’t care about her.“
“But you think he does?” Arnav said skeptically.
Khushi put her nose in the air. “I don’t think! I know so. He cares much more than he lets on and that itself makes me wonder if he is crazily and madly in love with her. Much more than Chotti’s crush.”
“Haan of course, he would be.” Arnav crowed. “After all she is a Raizada.”
“Oh forget it.” Khushi pushed him. “Hatiya. Let me do my work.”
“First you tell me why you think he…whatever.”
Khushi grinned. She leaned forward and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. “Remember when I had high fever and all of you were out of station?” She said. “You were in Singapore and the kids in college?” she prodded.
“Oh yeah.” Arnav nodded.
“Well Chotti called Shubham and asked him to check up on me. He not only came but stayed the whole night putting cold compress.”
“Of course he would.” Arnav snorted. “It’s his duty. He’s a doctor.”
“Exactly.” Khushi retorted. “A doctor. Not a nursemaid. He could have arranged for one but Chotti was panicking from afar, so to calm her down he stayed put.” Khushi smiled. “Not for me. But for Chotti. And he came the next two days until you returned and stayed the evening with me even though I was much better. And all he did was lead me to talk about Chotti!”
Arnav grunted. “Did you tell Chotti that?”
“I thought it best not to interfere.” Khushi said. “Let time take its own course.”
Arnav looked at her approvingly. “At last some sensible talk from you.”
Khushi stuck out her tongue at him as she picked up a pile of washing and put it out. “I am always sensible. You please maintain a cool head and let them sort it out. Besides,” she hesitated.
“What?” Arnav looked at her closely. “Come on. Out with it.” He insisted as he followed her to the poolside.
“I am not so worried about Chotti,” Khushi said slowly, “But Guddu.” She heaved a sigh and sat down with a thump on the swing outside.
“Guddu? Deva ko kya hua?”
“Major khichdi paka raha. And worse I don’t know what to think. Good or bad. Sahi ya galat. Hey Devi Maiyya raksha karna.”
“What do mean Khushi?” Arnav got antsy. “Speak clearly not in riddles.”
Khushi sighed. “Well fine! But my earlier condition stands. Listen but if you throw a tantrum I am out of here. I’ve got a ton of work anyways. Oh! Naniji wanted…” regretting opening a mouth she made to escape but it was too late. The cat was out of the bag.
“You aren’t going anywhere,” Arnav sat down beside her and clamped her to his side. “Now spill the beans.”
Khushi looked at him guiltily. “Guddu will kill me if he gets to know that I…”
“And I will strangle you right now if you don’t get on with it.” ASR did look mad enough to carry out his threat.
“He is in love with this girl, Mishti Dutta…”
“Mishti!” Arnav looked as if he had bitten into something bitter.
Khushi rolled her eyes. “Her name is Durgeshwari but everyone calls her Mishti.” She said with exaggerated patience.
“Where did he meet her?”
“Not sure. Coaching class?” Khushi said vaguely. “School?”
“Didn’t you ask him?” Arnav was incensed.
Khushi sighed resignedly. “There you go off tangent! Last night when I went back to his room to give him some water he was looking tense. I asked him and all of a sudden he started speaking. I didn’t want to interrupt or do anything that might cause him to withdraw or regret his frankness. Besides how is it important where they met?” she challenged.
“Okay fine. I just wanted to make sure somebody is not out to ensnare him. Love!” He snorted. “Does he even know what love is?”
“Just because you didn’t know doesn’t mean he would also not know.” Khushi sighed. “And haven’t you learned by now that you can’t control fate by?” she said gently. “They have their journeys and we can only help them and support them. If they want it. Otherwise we can only sit and watch, just like we see movies.”
“Well I hate movies.” Arnav said petulantly.
“But you do like English movies,” Khushi poked him.
“At least they get over fast. Not like your never ending Ramayana Mahabharata. Aur bhi kuch information hai ki bas itna hi?”
Khushi knotted her fingers and played with them. Arnav put a hand over them and squeezed them. “Khushi?”
“Her family’s not very well off,” Khushi said quickly, “they stay in a joint family. Last week, her uncle,” Khushi faltered. She swallowed and attempted to speak again. Her voice, low and hoarse was barely audible. “Her uncle raped her when no one was home.”
Dumbstruck Arnav could only stare at Khushi. “She complained to her parents. But instead of prosecuting the uncle, they arranged for her to get married to a man twice her age.”
“What does Deva want to do?” ASR exploded. “Play the hero and marry the girl? I won’t allow it!” He thundered.
“Too late Dad.” Deva stood there with a wild look on his face. “Mom,” his voice was hoarse, pleading, “I married her. You have to understand Ma, I had no choice.” He flinched at the look of shock on their faces. “I left her outside. Let me know if we are welcome or not.” He turned away.
“Devansh!” Blasted ASR. Khushi grabbed hold of his arm and held him back. “Arnav! Listen to me please. Arnav!” she shook him. But he was beyond her.
“Devansh!” He yelled at the empty doorway.
“Arnav! Aapko humari kasam!” Uncaring he strode off, determined to catch Devansh and make him see reason. He would get them divorced. He would give her money. Settle her…
Khushi was standing in front of him saying something. Her voice was faint as if coming from far away. He shook his head and attempted to focus on her.
“What if Shyam had raped me?”
He turned to look at Khushi who repeated her question. “Answer me Arnav, if Shyam had raped me would you not have loved me?” her voice was steady, yet there was a hint of doubt and an accusatory tone. “Would your love have been less? Poor and defiled…”
In two strides he had crushed her in his arms. “Khushi.” He groaned. “Khushi.”
“Arnav.” She whispered relieved to have him back.
“Please Arnav,” Khushi looked up at him pleadingly, “give Mishti a chance. All we want is that she should love Guddu isn’t it? And if he loves her…”
“What if he doesn’t? What if he did the right thing for the wrong reason?”
“That’s one step better than you.” Khushi’s voice was low and tender. “You did the wrong thing and your reasoning was all haywire.”
His eyes were tortured and haunted. “What if he regrets his hasty decision? What if his love turns to hatred? What if he…?”
“Then we shall have to be doubly supportive of Mishti isn’t it?” Khushi shushed him. “But what if he doesn’t do all these things? After all, all said and done he doesn’t have your ‘baggage’ to deal with does he?”
“But he is my son. He’ll hurt her, which will only hurt him. Khushi I can’t bear to see him hurt. I can’t …”
Khushi gave a laugh that broke in the middle. “He isn’t five years old and neither is he learning to ride a bike riding that you’ll have a safety padding all around! It is his life he has to live it. And we know very well with love comes heartache, these are inseparable.”
Arnav heaved a sigh and rested his forehead on hers. “We are a pair aren’t we?”
“He is your son after all.” Khushi held him close for a moment, an eternity, before pushing him away.
“Let me go, Sasurji.” She wrinkled her nose at him. “I have to welcome my bahu home.”
Well kya bolti tu? Too dramatic. Unacceptable? Untenable? Do share your thoughts – thanks for reading.