“Asha!” Nani emotionally exclaimed as she moved forward to greet her childhood friend from Lucknow. Asha too was very overwrought to finally meet her friend after almost a decade or so, the last time they had met was during Asha’s son’s wedding. She unfortunately had not been able to come for Aakash’s wedding as she had been very ill then. Of course they had kept in touch over the years over snail mail and telephone. They hugged each other and shed tears of joy and sorrow; finally Nani controlled herself and complained, “Bachon ko nahi laye?”
Asha smiled sadly and said, “They wanted to go shopping so I let them go, aaj kal bachchan kahan apne badon ki sunte hain.”
Seeing her friend’s face, Nani quickly said, “Kono baat naahi, I am going with you so I will meet them then, aur itne saalon baad aaye hain Dilli, shopping toh karika padi! Ayeeye humri bachchan se miliye,” she introduced her to her beloved children.
Asha couldn’t believe this was Chotte, all grown up and so handsome, she had not seen him since they had left Lucknow and couldn’t stop gushing over him, even more handsome than the photos and TV! Chotte blushed and shuffled his feet as he bent to take aashirwaad from her. Asha was equally impressed by Khushi and de-nazorfied her several times, “Bahuti sundar hai aapki bahoo,” smiled at her friend who nodded and said, “sirf dikhne main hi nahi, iski soch aur dil bhi bahut hi sundar hai!”
Asha smiled and looked over a blushing Khushi critically, “In the photos you sent, I remember seeing her as having long hair? Hmmm,” she nodded her head knowingly, “Zaroor Chotte ka idea hoga! I heard on TV and even read in the papers that he is very fashionable and trendy.”
Khushi looked at Nani while Arnav slipped his hands into his pockets and shuffled embarrassed, Nani smiled and caressed Khushi, “You are right, Chotte is like that, but oo kahate hai na, bade miya toh bade miya chotte miyan subhanallah! Humri aane wale mehman toh apun Babuji se do kadam aage hain, ooo apni Amma ko ek ismart naye jamane ke roop main dekhna chahat hai, kyon bitiya?” she grinned mischievously as she looked from Khushi to Chotte. He blushed a dull red as Nani’s barb hit home, he dug out his phone and began fiddling with it, while Khushi jumped in gleefully, “Aap bilkul sahi keh rahe hain Naniji, yeh aanewale sadasya ka hi idea tha! Pehle humara khane peene par rok tok laga di, ab baal bhi katwa diye, pata nahi aur kya kya karna padega inke liye!”
They all laughed and Asha pressed some cash into Khushi’s hand, “Godh bharai ka bhaqat toh huwi gawa na Deviyani?”
Nani smiled and adjusted her pallu, “Haan, we will hold it in a couple of weeks, I will soon be fixing the date with Panditji, I hope you will be able to come?”
Asha shook her head, “Kahan ab iss umar main zyaada idhar udhar naahi howat, bas Mata ka bulawa aayee gawa toh aap logan se bhi mulakat huwi gawa. Achcha bitwa aapka ghar toh bahuti badiya aur aalishan hai!” she looked wide-eyed all around, “Poora ghar toh dekhne ki himmat naahi, par haan hum aane wale bachche ka kamra zaroor dekhna chahenge, oo ka hai na,” she leaned excitedly towards Naniji, “I love baby rooms and these days you have such new fangled hi-fi stuff for children that I find them fascinating! In our times we just kept the baby on the bed with us!”
“Ji AshaNaniji,” cut in Khushi, “Hum bhi aisa hi karenge, the baby will sleep with us, I think that is still the best way.”
Asha looked admiringly at Nani, “Theek kaha aapne, Bahoo kitni samajhdar hai, aap bahuti hi kismet wali hain, aur Chotte, aap ki Nani toh aap ke liye bahuti pareshaan rahti thi, ki Chotte shaadi naahi karna chahte, pata naahi ka hoga,” she waggled her head teasingly, “Aur ab kaisan lag raha hai? Apni Bahoo ko khush toh rakhte ho na?”
Arnav neatly caught the lifeline thrown at him and sat down beside Khushi and casually slipped his arm around her, “Haan AshaNani, Khushi se shaadi karke bahut achcha lag raha hai,” he gave Khushi a quick tight squeeze, “I am very lucky and happy to have found her, but you will have to ask her if she is happy with me or not,” he grinned rather triumphantly at Khushi, who was cornered and couldn’t even glare at him with their guest looking on indulgently at them.
“Haan bitiya bolo,” Asha prodded her.
Khushi looked down at her hands and played with her fingers as she fumbled, Arnav put his hand on hers and squeezed them, she looked at him unwillingly, she melted as she met his eyes after an age, the soft pleading regret in his eyes was almost her undoing, she sat still, captive to the spell cast by his eyes, and finally managed to say, “Ji AshaNani, hum bahut khush hain,” she dragged her eyes, “Humne kabhi sapne main bhi nahi socha tha ki humare sasural wale itne achche honge, Naniji, Di, aur aapko pata hai,” she said excitedly, “Humari Jiji ki bhi shaadi isi ghar main hui hai,” she blabbered on happily about everyone, including HP and Shakuntala, pointedly leaving out Arnav’s name from the list, Asha listened indulgently putting it down to her sanskar and laaj-sharam, while Arnav sighed, his wife was becoming a tough nut to crack.
But he loved the challenge, the cat and mouse game, the chase, he grinned to himself, the game isn’t over yet, I will make you forgive me before the day is over, he swore to himself.
HP announced lunch and the conversation carried on at the dining table. After lunch, Arnav saw his opportunity and spoke up, “Khushi tum thak gayee hogi, you should rest.”
Khushi stiffened and said sweetly, “Nahi, hum theek hain,” she turned back to the conversation.
Asha smiled and said, “Naahi bitiya, he is right, and so nice to see him take care of his wife, jaao bitiya, go and rest,” Nani too smiled and nodded her head.
Khushi flushed embarrassed and demurred, “Nahi Naniji, hum theek hain.”
Arnav came over and put his arm around her and gently pulled her up, “Come on Khushi, itna sharma kyon rahee ho, tumhare liye thodi na bol raha hoon, dekho Nani aur AshaNani have met after so long, they would like some privacy right?” Arnav neatly turned the tables, “Come let’s go.”
Khushi had no choice but to follow as Nani and her friend laughed and she blessed them. Arnav solicitiously kept his arm around her and tenderly held her hand with the other hand, she suffered his ministrations with mixed feelings, trust Laad Governor to get his way, why should he always win, well maybe he should win, for otherwise they would both lose, she conceded rather reluctantly, but itni asaani se, kabhi nahi, she swore to herself. The moment they were out of sight and earshot, she jerked herself away, “Chhodiye hume, yeh kya kar rahein hai aap?”
Arnav looked resignedly at her, his lips stiffened, he picked her up and strode off with her firmly in his clasp, he released her once inside the room, shut the door and turned to receive the earful she had let loose, “Samajhte kya hain apne aap ko, aapki himmat kaise hui, mat bhooliye ki abhi bhi humne aapko maaf nahi kiya hai, etc etc.”
Arnav let her rant and even let her push him back till his back was against the door, saying at intervals, whenever Khushi stopped to take a breath, “I am sorry Khushi,” par woh toh sun hi nahi rahi thi, she was on an unstoppable roll, finally after about 15 minutes of this, when Arnav considered the monologue had run its course and Khushi was tiring, he sighed and used his Brahmastra.
Click here for Chapter 138