‘Aur hume kar sakte hain’ thought Khushi instantly as tears clogged her throat, her heart nearly broke at this unjust accusation, she gritted her teeth and swallowed hard, determined not to let him know how much he had hurt her by this thoughtless baseless comments and shrugged airily, smiled sweetly and said, “Aur aapko toh pata hai, humari middle class mentality hain, mauke ka intezaar karte hain kuch gift ainthne ka,” she doggedly plodded through her food, anger giving her the momentum to get through the remaining of the disastrous evening when all she wanted to do was throw off the napkin, dump her plate on his head and stomp out of the restaurant. Khushi tried to restore her equanimity by the mental image of a surprised ASR with noodles and sauce dripping over his head but it was a rather unsuccessful attempt and she was dangerously close to breaking down.
“Yeah right! Now those big beautiful eyes will fill with tears and make me feel like a heel of the worst kind,” Arnav looked away, thoroughly disgusted with the situation.
Khushi opened her eyes wide so as not to let the tears spill over, pasted a smile and said with forced gaiety, “Chaliye yehi compliment ko apne ‘gift’maan lete hain! ab toh humara gift le lijiye?”
Arnav reluctantly accepted the olive branch and his gift; somehow the evening was salvaged – with far reaching consequences of course.
The resentment and anger festered in Khushi’s bosom for many days and Arnav either failed to notice it or deliberately ignored it (suited him just fine I guess!) and was careful to give her a wide berth for many days, allowing the steam to dissipate on its own and let the matter to die a natural death. Having let off steam, Arnav naturally soon forgot about it, especially because Khushi didn’t attempt to again ‘discuss’ it with him. After all what was there to discuss, he had made his feelings and opinions very clear. It was up to Khushi to decide on the future course of action, toe his line or throw a fit, insist, nahi demand he toe the line. She sighed, of course she couldn’t do that, maang kar, jhagda karke celebrate? Nahi nahi, she shuddered at the thought of a repeat performance.
From that anniversary onwards Khushi swore to herself not to celebrate anything unless he explicitly said/requested or organized one himself – perhaps not even then, that would serve him right, she thought vengefully – Ek toh Di ke kehne par celebrate karte hain aur phir kehte hain ki humne Di ko manipulate kiya! How dare he?! Hmmmph Laad Governor kahin ke! Samajthe kya hai apne aap ko!
But then she loved him too much to be angry with him or think badly of him for too long; she preferred to take the blame upon herself.
Sab humari galati hai! Arnav theek kehte hain, hume hi samjhna chahiye tha! Thankfully, slowly as Di became busy in her own home, she gave up pestering and directing Chotte to do the ‘needful’ (or perhaps she guessed something from Khushi’s conversation) and so it happened that while birthdays were celebrated as an occasion for a family get-together, anniversaries were mostly just another day, at least for Arnav. Khushi fed all the dates and anniversaries in his mobile (including his own birthday but minus hers!) and set reminders but left it to him to decide to wish the concerned person and/or attend the party as per his convenience. Of course she couldn’t stop herself from sending out email reminders as well, kahin mobile reminder absentmindedly off kar diya toh! She felt it was her duty to ensure that he should be aware of what was happening at the home front and thus kept him informed about family events; however she stopped pestering him to come, if he came well and good, otherwise she would make her apologies from his side, gifts were in any case her department.
However, she was egoistic enough not to put a reminder of their special days, including her own birthday; that would have been too much! Wish karna hai toh kare, warna koi baat nahi, or so she told herself. So far he had managed to wish her on her birthdays (with a gift too!), Aman probably reminds him, Khushi thought to herself.
Wary of provoking another unjust comment of ‘manipulating’ him, Khushi restrained herself from even wishing him on their anniversaries. But she did make it a point to slip in a ‘gift’ without letting him know that it was his anniversary gift. She would casually hand him a pair of cuff links, a pen, a wallet, a shirt or whatever took her fancy, sometimes a day or two before or after the ‘special’ day (if he were out of town). On ‘the’ day, she would call him up on some pretext or the other and immediately after he had disconnected the phone, she would whisper, “Happy Anniversary Arnav!” And she would felt as if she had achieved the impossible, celebrated their anniversary! She laughed and smacked herself, bas kar Khushi! Tabhi toh Buaji Sanka Devi bulati hain tujhe!
14th February 2020
Khushi sighed, today was the 8th anniversary of her forced wedding. Bittersweet memories flooded Khushi. She had of course forgiven Arnav a long time ago. With hindsight she could feel Arnav’s anguish as much as her own bewildered agony. Must have been so shocking to suddenly be introduced to the truly evil nature of one’s unrepentant brazen jijaji! His very faith in humanity must have been shattered and given his experience with Sheetal it wasn’t surprising that he had lumped her in the same category as well.
A small smile played about her mouth; instead of banishing her from RM or Delhi (which he could have easily done), he had forced her to marry him and bound her to him.
Despite the harrowing experience, all Khushi remembered now were the little heartwarming events of those days. When amma had slapped her, Khushi could have sworn he was going to take her into his arms; despite his disgust with her he had been unable to see her shivering and had thrown the blanket to her; how he had threatened everybody at the munhdikhai and forced them to toe his line; then at Holi! Only she knew how thankful and relieved she had been to see him magically appear like a knight in shining armor appear between her and Shyam.
The list was endless, she sighed, if only he had talked to her, so much of heartache on both their parts could have been avoided and of course the ensuing mess as well; but then jo ho gaya so ho gaya. And eight years had passed since then.
She shook herself, strange how time had flown, pata hi nahi chala! Aaj kaise wish karein aur gift kaise de? She nibbled her fingers thoughtfully.
“Khushi,” Arnav said as he pulled on his shirt and began buttoning it, “I will probably be late in coming back this evening, not sure if I will be having dinner at home,” he looked at her.
Khushi smiled brightly at him, “Koi baat nahi, I will check you later, woh,” she held out a pen, “Devansh spoiled your pen while scribbling with it so I got another pen for you,” there was a faint flush on her cheeks and Arnav looked at her keenly before tucking it into his shirt pocket.
Khushi smiled in relief, “Have a good day!” she leaned forward and pressed a warm quick kiss on his cheek, “Bye,” she said huskily.
He looked at her with an unfathomable expression, and then castigated her, “Koi toh kaam theek se kar liya karo!” he pulled her into his arms and showed her how it was done.
He released her all breathless, flushed and happy.
They went hand in hand downstairs for breakfast.
Click here for Chapter 208