Finally Khushi spoke, her voice low and broken as she squeezed his hand even more tightly, “Aapko agar kuch ho gaya toh hum seh nahi payenge,” her tears fell thick and fast.
Arnav smiled, his heart full, “Come on Khushi, where is my brave tigress? What have you done to her?” he said mock angrily, he forcibly tipped up her chin and scanned her tear streaked face, “Yeh kya Khushi, itna pareshan kyon ho, last time when I had disappeared for nearly 2 months tab bhi itna pareshan nahi hui thi? Tab toh bahut cool calm and collected thi, sab sambhal liya tha?” he taunted her gently, hoping to draw out his tigress from the depths of despair.
“Aapko kaise pata?” To his relief, Khushi perked up a bit, “Aapko kya pata aapke bina hum kitne pareshan the?”
Arnav shrugged, his lips turned down, “True, but I did see you after I came back, you were so strong, upset no doubt but calm and collected, I drew strength and support from your calm restraint, aise thodi na collapse kiya tha!”
“Tab ki baat aur thi,” Khushi spoke softly sounding more normal, “the situation was entirely different, everything was topsy turvy, Di was traumatized and because of her you were traumatized, there was no scope for my collapsing, besides I wasn’t really sure of my standing,” she swallowed, “Aap sahi salamat ghar aa gaye the, that is all I had demanded of Devi Maiyya, I promised her that I wouldn’t ask her anything, I wouldn’t even want to prove my innocence to you, if you just came back safe,” Her voice sank to a whisper as she relived those traumatic days, “I had no choice, par woh humse phir se nahi hoga, hum keh dete hain.”
Arnav hugged her close; he cupped her face and looked down into her eyes, his eyes shining strangely, his lips twisted, “Waise achcha hi hua ki main gaya, pata toh chala ki mujhe itna miss kiya jaata hai.”
A smile trembled at the corner of Khushi’s lips, she punched him, “Aapko yeh sab mazaak lag raha hai? Hume pareshaan dekh kar mazaa aa raha hai?”
Arnav shrugged, “Actually I can’t deny it, mazaa toh mujhe aa raha hai,” she frowned at him, disappointed at him, “Hum itna pareshaan aur aapko mazaa aa raha hai!”
Arnav was silent for a while, he picked up her hand and caressed it, he squeezed her hand and dropped a kiss on her hand, he looked at her, swallowed and looked away, he squeezed her hand again, “Nahi aisi baat nahi hai, but I have to admit that your over-reaction rather reassuring and comforting,” he shrugged rather self-deprecatingly.
Khushi stared at him in amazement, “Reassuring and comforting! What the! Kya matlab hai aapka?”
Arnav hurriedly got up from the bed, “Kuch nahi Khushi, it is nothing important, tum thak gayee hogi, so jaao, come on you need to rest, Nani toh shaayad kal hi aayengi hai na, phone karoon?” he picked up her phone from the bedside table.
Khushi snatched it away, “Ji nahi, koi phone wone karne ki zaroorat nahi, Nani rest kar rahi hongi,” she turned his face towards her, “Ab bataiye, kya matlab hai aapka?”
“Nothing Khushi, main bahut thak gaya hoon, main sone ja raaha hoon,” he vanished into the washroom to change.
He came out to find Khushi standing beside the window, “Wahan kya kar rahi ho?” he pulled her to the bed, but she resisted and crossed her arms, “Nahi, hum nahi jayenge, hum tab tak khade rahenge jab tak aap matlab nahi batayenge,” Khushi stood her ground.
Arnav jerked his head, “Yeah right,” he muttered as he effortless swung her into his arms and gently deposited her on the bed, she fumed at his high-handed approach, “Theek hai aap zabardasti aise kar sakte hain, but you can’t force me to sleep can you?” she threw at him; suddenly she changed tactics and batted her lashes at him, “Bataiye na, please, warna…”
“Warna kya Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada?” Arnav challenged her.
“Warna aapko humari kasam,” Khushi said coyly; Arnav cracked up, “Khushi you know I don’t believe all that rubbish!”
“Haan hum jaante hain, par hum toh karte hain na, aur agar aapne humari kasam thod di, aur hum soch soch kar hi pareshaan ho gaye ki humare saath kuch galat ho sakta hai, toh aapko achcha lagega kya, hume kuch ho gaya toh? Aur woh bhi is haal main, kya aap risk lena chahenge?” Khushi shrugged sadly, “Jaise aapki ichcha, dekh lijiye aapke liye kya zyaada important hai, humare ek sawal ka jawab ya phir apni zid.”
Arnav looked at her ruefully, it was check mate, he had been neatly out-maneuvered, it did seem churlish of him to refuse to humor her, he sighed, but he did so hate giving voice to his thoughts, especially those which revealed his insecurities and inadequacies. But this was Khushi, she probably knew him anyway or maybe she didn’t and if she didn’t she should know, after all she was the one person in the whole world where he didn’t have to wear the mask of ASR; he sighed crossed his arms and said “Bolo.”
“Bolo?” Khushi was surprised, “Aap bolo, kya matlab hai aapka, ki humari pareshaani aapke liye ‘comforting aur reassuring’ hai?”
Arnav walked away towards the window and looked at falling rain, she padded up to him and clutched his arm, he clasped her hand, “Khushi,” he spoke gruffly, “Kabhi kabhi mujhe vishwas hi nahi hota hai, ki tum mujhe itna pyaar karti ho, maine tumhe kitna tang kiya hai, kitna hurt kiya hai, tum kaise mujhe pyaar kar sakti ho?”
She made to speak, but he raised his hand and stopped her, he turned towards her, his face stripped of all masks, looking like a lost lonely little boy, “Kabhi kabhi mujhe lagta hai, ki you stay with me because I forcibly bound you to me, both times and because you are bound by your sense of duty and obligation; you are so warm, loving and generous, you love everybody so easily,” his voice sank to a whisper, “And I am just one of those ‘everybody’ whom you will love just as a good friend, perhaps sometimes even like a little boy who needs to be humored.”
He looked away, “Call it my insecurity or my guilty conscience but I have always suspected and even reluctantly accepted that that you don’t love me as passionately and overwhelmingly madly as I do; I have craved for a glimpse of the crazy illogical obsession of a lover; that I am, despite it all, still indispensible and irreplaceable for you,” his voice broke a bit, and sank to a whisper, “that you madly crazily desperately love me and only me,” he cleared his throat and cupped her face tenderly and looked into her eyes, “Although it may sound selfish, but that is what I meant when I said that your anguish and pain was comforting and reassuring,” he brushed away her tears with his thumbs, “Today finally I got my wish, I found my Khushi who is totally wholly crazily madly in love with me and only me,” the self-satisfied smirk broke through his self-deprecating smile.
Khushi looked at him wonderingly, “Itne saal ho gaye shaadi ko, aur aap abhi bhi aisa sochte hain? Zaroor humare pyaar main hi koi kami rahi hogi.”
Arnav shook his head, “Itna stress mat lo Khushi, all this is just a manifestation of my insecurities and more importantly, my guilty conscience, the way I lose my temper, the way I hurt you innumerable number of times, the way I give priority to Di, my job, my ego,” he shrugged, “It is so easy to love you, but what is there in me to love?”
Khushi looked at him tenderly, bade Arnav Singh Raizada bane phirte hain, hain toh Totte hi na, “Aap baar baar yehi toh galati karte hain, pyaar koi accounts ya phir deal nahi hai, ek haath diya aur ek haath liye, pyaar koi aisa khel nahi jahaan do aur do chaar hi ho, pyaar ka koi wajah ya matlab nahi hota, pyaar toh bas pyaar hota hai. Haan hum maante hain ki perhaps I have been remiss in holding back in expressing my love for you, ho sakta hai ki sab ko equal measure main care aur concern jatane main aur apna kartavya nibhane ke chakkar main, hum apna sabse mehtvapoorn kartavya yaani aap ko hi jataana bhool gaye ki aap humare liye kya mayne rakhte hai,” she picked up his hand and clasped it close to her heart with both her hands and kissed it firmly, “Aaj hume bhi ek baat pata chali jo pehle hum bhi kabhi samjh nahi paaye, is poori duniya main, humare liye aap hi sabse zyaada important ho, samjhe aap?” she said rather fiercely, “SABSE zyaada important,” she stressed, “Aap ho toh sab kuch hai, nahi toh kuch bhi nahi,” her voice trembled and broke.
An emotional Arnav pulled Khushi into his tight embrace and murmured, “I love you Khushi I love you,” over and over again.
Click here for Chapter 159