Arnav whizzed off in his car, driving the night streets of Delhi rather recklessly, his mind blank. He zipped around the city like a madman, focusing on driving not thinking. Or trying not thinking what Dadi had just said – about that night 14 years ago, that today was his wedding, that Khushi was waiting for him – damn damn and triple damn! He raced the car further as if to run away from it all till he was exhausted and spent broken and defeated he went to his sanctuary.
His mother, she would help him.
Only she could……
It was dark and the lone light at the end of the garden gave an ethereal sense to the whole place. Almost instantly a sense of calm descended over him.
Help me Mamma
Patience Chotte patience! He could still hear her as he nagged her again and again – when will this become a tree Mamma? Her soft laughter, her warm embrace, it was all too real here.
He stared at their tree like a lost little boy, what should I do Mamma?
Their tree never failed to amaze him, inspire him, a symbol of patience and determination. A tender delicate sapling left all alone, exposed to the harshest of elements. It would have been so easy to give up, to yield to the continuously changing seasons and adverse conditions. Yet she stood strong, tall and proud, her gnarled twisted branches witness to life’s scars. Despite everything, she embraced life with open arms, as if to defy nature to do her worst, undeterred and ever graceful through the myriad seasons of time.
He sank down under the tree as if to soak in her strength and patience and sat quietly, looking up at the sky at his mother twinkling brightly in the night sky. He closed his eyes and tried to listen to her voice in his heart. After an eon he could hear her clearly as if she were standing next to him.
What is done and gone can never be undone. Look ahead my son and be happy. If you are not happy how can I be happy? Listen to your heart.
Would you be happy without her?
What purpose would be served by not accepting her and who would be avenged?
What would be the purpose of such revenge? Would I come back to life?
Whom would you be punishing by not marrying her? Khushi, yourself or me or all three?
You told her right here just the other day that she was my bahu from that day. So why this confusion? She is already my bahu, the pheras are for the rest of the family, the society. Would my son desert my bahu in her time of need, at the first sign of adversity as a married couple? Would I be proud of such a son? And most importantly, is any of this her fault? You punished her once for a fault that was not hers for your sister’s sake now you intend to repeat that mistake again for my sake? For how many people’s fault is she going to pay?
He sat there for a long time mulling over all that his heart was telling him shutting out everything else he sat till he could no longer see his mother. He got up. It was time. He had already broken his promise to Khushi to marry her today but this would be the last promise he ever broke he vowed. He took a last look at his sanctuary silently promised I will be back soon Mamma with her.
He drove back home at breakneck speed and dashed into RM, shouting, “Khushi, Khushiiii!”
Everyone sitting in the lobby turned to look at him. Anjali came hurrying forward, “Chotte! Where were you? I have been so worried, your phone was also switched off…”
“Di!” Arnav interrupted her, “Where is Khushi? I need to talk to her?”
“Khushi? But we thought she was with you!”
Everyone looked around in consternation.
Where was Khushi? Where could she have gone and that too without telling anyone?
Arnav, looked angrily around. “Where is Khushi? Everyone is here and no one knows where Khushi is? What the…!!! I was gone for a few hours and none of you could take care of her?” He blasted one and all. “KHUSHIIIIII!!!”
“Chotte,” Di put a calming hand on his shoulder, “She is not at home, we have checked.” She bit her lip. “We thought she had gone with you.”
“Gone with me?” Arnav was incredulous. “Didn’t you see how I was? Do you seriously think I was in a rational enough state to take Khushi along with me of all people? Khushiiiiiii!!!”
“Arnav,” Dadi spoke, her face glowing with smug self-satisfaction, “it is good that girl is no longer here, at least she has more sense and shame than her Maasi who is still here,” she sneered. “I say good riddance to bad rubbish.”
“DADI!” ASR turned on her. “Dont talk like that about Khushi. I have made my decision.” He raised a hand. “I am going to marry Khushi and that is final. Actually we are already married and I want to spend the rest of my life with her. But where is Khushi?”
“Chotte!” Di exclaimed unable to believe what she was hearing. “What are you saying?”
Arnav’s expression darkened. “Di please! At least you should understand?”
“ARNAV,” Dadi cracked the whip once again, “Even after knowing the truth, you want to marry that girl? Are you in your senses Arnav? Her Maasi trapped your father for his money, destroyed our family…”
“Stop it Dadi!” Arnav clenched his fists. “What her Maasi did or did not do is not Khushi’s fault.” His eyes bored into hers. “Just as what Dad did is not my fault. Besides, you cannot clap with one hand can you?”
“Unbelievable!” Dadi’s icy calm demeanor cracked, as did her voice. “I can’t believe this! What spell has this girl cast on you? She has trapped you in her web of deceit for your money! Are you so blind that you can’t see it?”
“No Dadi I can’t see it.” He retorted evenly. “And you still don’t get it do you? I love Khushi. And I know she also loves me.” He paused. “Nothing else matters.”
Arnav raised his hand, “But Dadi, even if what you say is correct. Even if she wants only my money, she is welcome to it. All my money is worthless, my life is worthless without her.”
“Arnav! Don’t be so foolish and emotional, use your head, don’t be led astray by your heart….”
“Right Dadi,” He held her gaze, “let me use my head then. Where did you get the photograph from?”
“That is not important Arnav, what is important is that we got it before it is too late, before the wedding….”
“No Dadi, it is too late. Khushi and I are already married. We have been husband and wife for the past 6 months so it is too late to do anything. I was just doing this for your sake, if you object, sure we won’t go ahead with the rest of the rituals, but Khushi remains my wife,” he paused before continuing softly with a steely note in his voice, “With or without your blessings.”
“Calm down Chotte,” Nani stepped in, “Haan Sumi, tell me who gave you the photo and when did you get to know about Garima? You didn’t need the photo to identify her did you? You told me you would never forget her face and did you not did you? The tension between you to on the day you gave the bangles was very evident. Yet you deliberately chose to keep quiet? You decided to come forth only now at the time of the wedding? Why Sumi why?”
“Yes, I got to know earlier,” Dadi accepted unemotionally, “but I wanted Garima to undergo the same agony that we underwent 14 years ago.”
“Great Dadi,” Arnav gave a bitter laugh, “Even if it is at the cost of your own grandson’s future, life and happiness? I hope you enjoy your revenge,” he dismissed her and looked around, “but where is that Khushi? She really drives me crazy,” he fretted, “Where could she have gone?” Suddenly he turned to his Di and snapped, “Where is Shyam?”
Anjali was rather taken aback with his tone. “Woh….he was here till sometime ago….but he had a headache,” she faltered, “He said he wanted to lie down, HP can you see if your Jijaji is inside?”
“No Didi, he is not in his room.”
Anjali, looked apprehensively at ASR. “Achcha, let me call him.” Arnav paced up and down restlessly as she moved away to call him.
“Kahan hai aap?” She questioned softly. “I was so worried, everyone is here only you are not here. You know Khushi is missing and Chotte is very angry. He is asking about you, okay, please, come soon.” She disconnected the phone. “Chotte, he’s outside taking some fresh air. He will be here in just a moment.”
Chotte, grunted. He had a bad feeling and it was growing by the minute. Khushi, Khushi, if only you had a little more faith, a little more patience, I was coming back…
Oh really? How would you have reacted, if she had left you standing at the altar?
Khushi…where could she have gone….Laxmi Nagar?
“Do you think Khushi has gone to Laxmi Nagar?” He asked Buaji who was consoling Garima having climbed down from her moralistic high horse after Arnav’s blistering attack on his Dadi.
Buaji shook her head, “The keys are with me.”
“Damn it!” Arnav turned on his heels and drove off to the temple. Khushi was sure to be here, he told himself. But she wasn’t. Yet he could feel her here. He had met her here so many times. How could she not be here? I kept running away from her and yet she kept crossing my path. And now when I need her, she’s nowhere. Is this what is called kismet? Hey Devi Maiyya his heart called out silently as Khushi’s face with all its myriad expressions floated up help me find her, he sank down on the steps.
His phone rang, an unknown number; he picked it up. “Hello?”
“Arnavji, hum Khushi bol rahe hain…”
Click here for Chapter 4