Anjali was restless and disturbed. The way Chotte had snapped ‘where is Shyam’ echoed again and again, reinforced by the fact that Shyam was missing and he didn’t return in the promised 10 minutes. In fact, Anjali thought with growing unease, it was more than half an hour before he appeared. Thankfully Chotte had not been home to witness his delayed return, yet she herself could not shake off the bad feeling.
Chotte kidnapped, Shyam accused. Now Khushi missing and was Chotte suspecting Shyam? Was it more than a simple misunderstanding? Was there some truth in the accusations? Did Shyam dangle after Khushi or was Khushi pursuing Shyam? Both were inconceivable and yet the more she thought about it, one of the two had to be correct. Shyam or Khushi. Khushi or Shyam. Anjali sighed and tried to think of something else. Yet, little incidents, little signals, which she had carelessly brushed away, clamored for attention.
Why did Chotte suddenly decide to come and play Holi? More importantly, why in retrospect did it seem like more of an attempt to stop Shyam from coloring Khushi rather than he himself wanting to play Holi? At that time, the incident had seemed so sweet and she was rather overwhelmed that finally her Chotte had decided to come out of his seclusion, but on deeper thought there appeared to be more than what met the eye. Her husband also seemed inordinately interested in their affairs and more than once she had found him in Chotte’s room. Valid excuses perhaps, but still…
A sinking feeling engulfed her. Suddenly she yearned for the peace of a temple. It had been so long. Giving in to the call, Anjali informed Nani and left for the temple. As Nani had requested Anjali to get some medicines for her, she had the car stop at the chemist shop. Here a ruckus was underway. The shopkeeper was yelling at a poor lady who was crying and pleading hysterically.
Anjali stepped in and enquired, “kya hua?”
“Kuch nahi madam, this female was going to run away without paying for these expensive medicines. I am going to call the police.”
The lady burst into fresh tears, “Please forgive me, I know it is my fault and I agree I was trying to leave without paying but please don’t call the police. I am in a lot of trouble, both my husband and child are sick and I don’t have any money.” She sobbed. “I was taking the medicines for them, forgive me please,” she pleaded for mercy.
Anjali soothed her and calmed the shopkeeper down, bought Nani’s medicines and paid for the woman’s medicines as well.
Anjali gave the medicines to her and said, “Come, now stop crying, here these medicines will help your loved ones recover quickly. Please do stop crying. Okay okay! You will make me cry as well. Come let us sit on the steps of the mandir or maybe you would like to come inside and take DM’s blessings, you will feel better.” She smiled kindly.
At her kind words, the lady became even more distressed and started crying even more. Anjali gently guided her and sat her down on the bench near the mandir and asked her, “Kya hua, is there something else as well? Kuch aur paise chahiye?”
Controlling herself with an effort, the lady sniffed and said, “I am being punished for my bad karma. You are so nice you saved me from the police and even bought the medicines for me and look at what I did to you,” sobbed the lady.
Anjali was confused. “What are you saying? What you did to me? I don’t even know you!”
The lady shook her head and said, “No, I think you have forgotten we have met before. Then also you helped me. You gave me money, but not for me but for…” she paused hesitating.
“But for?” questioned Anjali curious.
The lady became agitated again and started wringing her hands. “Hey DM, what should I do? Should I tell her the truth and break her heart or?”
Anjali was even more confused. “Tell the truth obviously. No matter how bitter, the truth is a must. Waise bhi you can’t lie sitting in the mandir can you? Tell me.” Piqued, Anjali insisted.
Swallowing hard, the woman finally came clean, “You still don’t remember do you?”
Anjali shook her head.
“One day you gave me money at the behest of Shyamji.” Anjali started. “He said, that he wanted to help me but he didn’t have enough money. In fact it was he who instigated me to con you into giving that money which he took from me and in return promised to expedite a court case of mine.”
“Yes,” Anjali nodded slowly, “I now remember the incident faintly, but why did he take the money from you and not directly from me?”
“Woh…” the lady fumbled, “He wanted the money to buy a ring…. for some Khushi.”
The scales fell in an instant from Anjali’s eyes as the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle neatly fell into place.
The ring, Shyam’s earlier frequent absences, Khushi fiance’s name, breaking of her engagement, Khushi’s father’s agitation at seeing Anjali, the clandestine marriage, the discord between the two, Chotte’s kidnapping, Khushi’s accusations and now Chotte’s loaded question.
Something was seriously wrong somewhere. Her advice came back to haunt her – no matter how bitter, the truth is a must. She had nowhere to hide. Wordlessly she climbed the stairs to DM her only hope her, only solace, her guiding light. Time to make the choice between truth and deceit; between Chotte and her husband.
Funny how she could have blanked out the truth for so long, even though it had been thrust into her face again and again. She had deliberately covered her eyes each time, refusing to acknowledge the truth which everybody else had accepted in the house. Nobody trusted her husband in the house, except for Dadi and of course her. Yet now a chance meeting with a stranger whisked away her blindfold in a split second and nothing would ever be the same again. No matter how hard she tried, she wouldn’t be able to put on the blindfold again.
As her world came crashing down, Anjali sat alone in a corner silently sobbing her heart out. Finally spent, she quieted and her eyes hardened.
Nobody cheated a Raizada and got away with it.
It was time to get to the bottom of it all.
Click here for Chapter 8