“Khushi,” called Arnav softly, “tell me,” he invited.
She crossed her arms over her baby and demanded, “Hume aapse kuch poochna hai.”
Arnav sighed; he too crossed his arms and rocked on his heels, “Bolo.”
“Aap us din humare liye choodiyan kyon laye the?” she fluttered her lashes at him.
Arnav rolled his eyes, “Tumhe har baat batana zaroori nahi hai, Khushi Kumari Gupta……Singh Raizada.”
Khushi shook her head and made a sad face, “Aapko pata hai, kitne saalon se hum yeh soch rahe hain? Aap hi ne toh bola, ‘Khushi kuch chahiye’ toh hum aap se karwa rahein hain,” she shook her hand at him.
Arnav looked at her with an inscrutable expression, “It’s a long story Khushi, tum thak jaaogi.”
Khushi went and plonked herself on a cane two-seater by the poolside and patted the empty seat, “Lo ab hum nahi thakenge.”
Arnav reluctantly came forward and sat beside her, “Tum bore ho jaaogi Khushi.”
“Hum aur aapki baaton se bore! Woh bhi jab aap hero aur hum heroine? Kabhi nahi!” Khushi was up in arms, then she wore a mischievous look, “Kyonki aap toh zyaada bolte hi nahin!”
He laughed at her and caressed her cheek with the back of his finger, “Pagal.” he murmured. He suddenly wanted to talk to her, tell her not only why he bought those bangles for her but also how his feelings and thoughts about her evolved and changed so drastically.
Khushi clasped his hand and shook it, “Batayie na, us din aap humare liye choodiyan kyon laye the, humne tab bhi poocha tha,” she made a face, “Par aap hai ki…yeh humara, Godh bharai ka maanga hua gift hai!”
Arnav looked at her resignedly, “Samajh nahi aa raha hai, kahan se shuru karoon.”
Khushi hugged his arm, and settled herself comfortably, “Shuru se.”
Arnav was silent for a while then began speaking softly, “For as long as I remember Anger has been my friend and companion, even as a child I had a short fuse and was often scolded by Ma for being so hot-headed. But Anger was my support and pillar of strength when tragedy struck. All my love, concern and worry was reserved for Di and only Di,” he hesitated and then confessed, “I did care about Nani, Aakash and the others, but in a detached impersonal sort of a way, Di was the only one who could touch me, reach me,” he turned to look at her, “Then I met you.”
Khushi squeezed his arm, he put his hand over hers, “Predictably, Anger was the first emotion I associated with you,” he grinned faintly at her, “Well even if there were other emotions that you evoked, they were all interpreted as Anger,” she looked at him reproachfully, punched him and buried her face in his shoulder, blushing slightly.
He fell silent, Khushi shook him gently, “Angry with you for spoiling my show, for creating a ruckus in the office, for challenging my ego, for daring to beat me at my own game, how could a chit of girl best me, the great Arnav Singh Raizada,” he mocked himself, “at my tethers end, determined to win at all costs, bent on breaking you, I sent you to the parking lot.”
He looked at Khushi regretfully, “That was the first time, the first time I was aware of a feeling other than Anger, regret and guilt, the feeling, that perhaps I was wrong,” he sighed, “but of course I clamped down ruthlessly upon such feelings, but I think the dam was broken from then onwards,” he shook his head, “that night at the guesthouse, I swear Khushi, I didn’t know that the situation was so bad, I swear, but I still can’t shrug off the responsibility, and when I couldn’t find you, I went nearly mad with fear and worry.”
Well on his trip down memory lane, Arnav had apparently forgotten the original question Khushi had asked, he continued to re-live their past and share his thoughts with his Khushi.
He sat quietly and then said gruffly, “The ceiling crashed just as we left there, I often dreamt about it, what if I had been a few moments late?” he slipped his arms around her and crushed her to him and fell silent. After a while, he said self-deprecatingly, “But I still didn’t learn my lesson, did I?”
He hesitated and looked down at her, “Actually tumhari galti hai,” she sat up, “Kyon? Humne kya kiya?”
“I was appropriately repentant, full of remorse and ready to make amends, extend the olive branch, but then you came charging, full of righteous anger and blasted me in front of everybody,” he shrugged, “Maine kitni koshish ki, tumse baat karne ki, remember at the office store room, tumse sorry hi toh bolna chah raha tha, par tum ho ki, you rejected each of my overtures that too so pointedly, then again at the mandir, toh main kya karta, meri Ego phir se jaag gayi and I convinced myself mujhe koi farq nahi padta.”
He leaned forward and pulled the stool near, he helped her put up her feet and settled her comfortably, “Phir tum Lucknow chali gayee. Pata hai main tumhare ghar bhi gaya tha check karne!” he shook his head at his contrariness, “I used to dream about the guesthouse fiasco, with different endings, and your memory nagged me like a pain in the…tooth,” she punched him, “Aur mili bhi toh kahan, mere cupboard main!” They laughed at the comical memory, he shook his head wryly, “Crazy doesn’t begin to describe you! What the hell were you doing in my cupboard?!”
“Hiding from you,” muttered Khushi, embarrassed.
“Yeah, only you can think of doing such a thing!” Arnav marveled not for the first time.
“Phir kya hua,” Khushi prodded him, partly to change the topic and partly because she too was enjoying this different perspective of their unique journey. [I hope you are too, I am sorry but I just couldn’t stop]
“Phir! Tumhe pata nahi hai kya?!” Arnav protested, Khushi shook her head, “Nahi, aap batao.”
“Phir kya, Di got you home and you forced me to accept Lavanya aur kya! Sab tumhari galti hai,” he accused her, “You and your prudish outdated sanskars,” he scoffed.
Khushi made a face.
“I am serious Khushi, if you had not interfered or you had not been so dammed beautiful, throwing my emotions out of gear, I would have never gotten engaged to Lavanya!” Arnav declared.
Khushi laughed, “Achcha toh aap isse bhi humari galti samjhte hain?”
“Of course,” Arnav insisted, Khushi smiled and pulled his cheeks, “You are such a confused baby,” she frowned at him, “Aur hume bhi confuse kar diya, blow hot blow cold, hmpph,” she sniffed.
“What the!” Arnav was offended, “I am confused! That’s rich coming from a crazy Sanka Devi, Nanital ka trip bhool gayee kya?” He shook his head, “If I am confused, woh bhi tumhari hi galti hai, with you I didn’t know whether I was coming or going! Whether it was in the jungle, talking non-stop or adopting silence when you should have called out, and that dress fiasco,” he burst out laughing.
“Kya hua,” Khushi pushed him.
He snorted, “Pata hai when you shouted out, ‘chor chor, mere kapde lekar bhag gaya’ I was afraid of turning around, because I was half worried, half hopeful, pata nahi yeh pagal ladki kis state of dress or undress main hogi,” he laughed again.
“Aapko hansi aa rahi hai,” Khushi frowned rather unsuccessfully at him, “sach main agar woh shaadi ka joda nahi hota na toh bahut musibat ho jaati.
He raised a hand to her cheek and said softly, “I am glad your clothes got flicked. You looked gorgeous, I couldn’t tear my eyes off you.”
The poolside echoed with the soft haunting strains of the RV as they lost themselves in each others eyes.
So did you like the gifts?
And you can heave a sigh of relief here’s the final chapter Will She Won’t She
Click here for Chapter 148