Khushi came back from Lucknow to a deserted RM. Arnav of course was in office and Nani had gone to Mumbai. It felt strange and somehow eerie. Khushi looked around uneasily, as if something were wrong, but what?
She smacked herself, you and your fanciful notions, kuch bhi toh nahi hai, only Nani is missing and she too will be back soon; waise bhi ab bachche aa gayein hai, the house will soon be echoing with their screams and chatter. She cheered up and went about unpacking and other routine mundane stuff that follows upon a rather longish vacation from her parents’ place.
It was summer and perhaps not the best of season to go to Lucknow, but then her long awaited trip kept being postponed for some reason or the other when all of a sudden other factors made this the most convenient time to go home.
Nani had gone to Mumbai as Manohar had been feeling off color for many days and was diagnosed with jaundice. She decided to spend a month or so with him. On top of it, Di et al had planned a vacation to the States during this period (creating babysitting troubles for Khushi) and with Arnav busy with a rash of events, Arnav thought it this to be the best time for her trip home. Poo too lent her shy voice in support as she could then attend her sister’s Godh Bharai function and of course meet her entire family who would be converging for the occasion. So since all the stars were so well aligned, Khushi had gone to her parents’ place with the kids, leaving Arnav to fend for himself.
Her parents had been overjoyed to see her and the kids, too enjoyed themselves. Nanaji had an inexhaustible source of stories while Amma fed them with delicious goodies but Buani was the icing on the cake – both kids were absolutely mesmerized by her and stared wide-eyed at her fascinated, each trying to hurriedly gulp down her rapid fire statements and frenzied movements – hai le Nandkichole!
Khushi shook her head as she unpacked her stuff pushing away the nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right and to tell the truth that was the reason why she had cut her holiday short by almost a week and come back home early and unannounced. In fact uska bas chalta toh she would have come back even earlier, but she had had to wait for Poo for she knew she couldn’t manage two hyperactive toddlers on her own and neither would her parents have allowed her to go alone. Besides even in Delhi who would look after the kids, even Di and all were not going to be back for at least another ten days.
She straightened her aching back as she emptied the last of the cases and gratefully accepted the much needed cup of tea from Shakuntala. She wandered to the poolside after peeping in the children’s room where everything seemed to be hunky dory as both Guddu and Chotti were happily re-acquainting themselves with their old toys, under Poo’s watchful eyes.
So what was nagging her? Yes the missing man in her life, Arnav. It wasn’t just that he was absent; it was as if there was something wrong, a strange sensation in the pit of her stomach, a feeling that had been growing for the last week or so. She tried to recollect and think. Everything was fine when they left, actually it had been his suggestion that she take the ‘opportunity’ to visit her parents as the circumstances were just right and he would be too busy to even miss them. She had pouted and flounced off in a huff. He had laughed and teased her, “Well Angel aur Devansh ko toh miss karoonga hi about you I am not so sure,” he waited expectantly for the fireworks.
But she had just sniffed loftily, “Toh aapko kya lagta hai ki hum aapko miss karenge? Fat chance, Amma Babuji, Buaji, Lucknow ki galiya bachchon ke saath haaaiiii aur kya chahiye hume,” she fluttered her eyes and swayed ecstatically.
Arnav looked at her ruefully, “Some people have all the luck, wahan tum masti kar rahi hoge and here I will be working overtime, working myself down to the bone, trying to put food on the table,” he made a sad bechara face.
But it had cut no ice with Khushi, “What rubbish, hum sab jaante hain! You can’t wait to see us off! There is nothing more exciting for you than cracking deals, adding another feather to your cap, riding the wave of success,” she would have gone on and one, if Arnav hadn’t stepped in with his arsenal.
Waise bhi pata nahi phir mauka lage na lage!
Anyway things had been very hectic (happily so of course) and with the kids, her family etc there had been no time to miss anything or anybody (yes not even Arnav – arre kya baat kar rahe ho, saans lene ki toh fursat thi nahi Khushi ko [Lucknow main ghar ka kaam bhi toh tha!]) haan Angelika did mope around for a couple of days for Daddy (yeah she had finally taken to calling him that thanks to Daa’s strict injunctions) and Booji but then there was so much to do and so many people to talk to ki uske paas bhi time nahi tha! Of course Arnav and Khushi did try to talk on the phone, at least twice a day to keep track of the other’s well being – that is provided Arnav’s schedule allowed it.
Things went on in this manner for about the week with everything sort of falling into a new routine. Then along came Arnav’s unbelievably hectic week – he had a jam-packed schedule, he was going to Mumbai and then to Singapore and maybe even London and as a result Arnav and Khushi barely had scope to share much more than a hello, sometimes not even that; actually Khushi too was keen to avoid long conversations (like she usually did) particularly because Angelika was running a temperature and she didn’t want to unnecessarily bother Arnav during this crucial period.
And then for a couple of days because of the flights and time differences, she hadn’t managed to even say hello and when on the rare occasions she did manage to connect, Arnav was very curt and distant, leaving her very hurt and confused. Inko kya ho gaya, she wondered and resolved to leave him be; must be very busy and overloaded with work, bekaar main jhagda ho jayega.
Perhaps it was because she hadn’t quite got her daily (and adequate dose) of Arnav that she was feeling so restless. Strange isn’t it, often they hardly said more than a Hi or Hello, sab theek, but that used to be enough and reassuring. But now there was a cold distant silence which Khushi found to be very ominous and disturbing. A terse text message had arrived ‘In London, busy, will call later’. She tried calling him from Lucknow, but his phone was switched off. She had stared at the message uneasily; a sinking feeling stole over her, kuch toh gadbad hai, yet she unable to pinpoint the reason. The message was nothing out of the ordinary yet…she called up Aman, to confirm that Arnav had reached London, “Haan Amanji, sab theek hai, bas yehi poochna tha, Arnavji pahunch gaye na London? Unse baat nahi ho paai.”
There was a brief silence and then Aman cleared his throat and said, “Y…Yes Maam, good day maam,” he put the phone down. Khushi stared at her now silent phone, Aman ko kya hua?
Angelika burst out wailing, Daaaa she wailed; he had taken away her favorite doll and was busy dismantling her. Khushi hurriedly set about soothing her, scolded Devansh, “Aisa nahi karte, give back her doll,” she ordered.
Devansh glared at her, “She threw my ball out of the window.”
Khushi turned to look at Angelika who turned up her lips and began bawling in earnest.
Harrased Khushi moaned for some cooperation, “Devansh de do use, woh Chotti hai na?”
Devansh protested, “woh toh hamesha hi Chotti rahegi na?” But he gave in to the desperation in Khushi’s voice and peace was restored.
Khushi she rolled her eyes, this boy was getting too much for her, aur yeh Chotti toh maha badmash hai, “Aaai Buaji, hum abhi chawal bana detein hain,” she went to the kitchen dragging Angelika along with her.
Par Arnav ko kya hua, ek phone nahi kar sakte, she thoughtfully chewed her lips as she stirred the chole.
Arnav didn’t call up the next day either although Khushi did manage to catch him the day after that only to have him snap at her for disturbing him; he ordered her not to keep calling him, he was busy but the red flag was the fact that he didn’t even enquire about the kids. Khushi was initially affronted and very much on her high horse, hum bhi nahi fone karenge and all that, but then that dreadful sickening feeling continued to grow till she couldn’t ignore it any longer.
Then as a sort of a bonus, both the kids landed up with a bout of viral gastroenteritis each. She worried herself to death (her parents too were worried plus damaadji kya sochenge etc etc); she still hadn’t mentioned anything to Arnav and strangely he hadn’t even asked to speak to them; on top of it when she had in an indirect way suggested that she cut her trip short and come back home (she wanted to consult their pediatrician in Delhi and Arnav ko bhi toh investigate karna tha) he had been quite adamant that she continue to stay there, in fact spend the whole of summer vacations in Lucknow!
The kids stabilized but both were very weak and clingy; neither wanted to leave Khushi and in fact both started fretting for Daddy, Poo, Booji, Nani etc etc. Finally Khushi sent an SOS to Poo who rushed to Lucknow to her beloved babies (haan baba haan she did manage to attend the Godh Bharai ceremony and meet her relatives but then she wouldn’t have cared even if she hadn’t – her babies needed her, nothing was more important). The kids were overjoyed to see her and Khushi too was very relieved; she too had been feeling off color and feverish. She had been unable to sleep because the kids were restless and demanding and whatever little sleep she did manage to snatch was dogged by nightmares – of those horrific days when Arnav had been kidnapped; she just couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was terribly wrong and he was all alone, Nani in Mumbai, Di in the States, she here – nahi nahi it was very unlike him not to want to speak even to the children. Giving in to her fears and concerns, Khushi had cut short her trip (no her parents didn’t really object because they too thought it was for the best) and returned to Delhi.
Khushi sighed and went to the kitchen to check if everything was in order; she wondered whether she should go to ARD and surprise Arnav – she decided against it, she wasn’t even sure if he was in Delhi, aaj kal kuch batata hi nahi tha! And today his phone was switched off – maybe he was on some flight somewhere – Hey Devi Maiyya raksha karna, I hope this impending sense of doom is wrong, she nervously knotted her fingers. She visited the pediatrician, at least one worry less, the kids were more or less okay and would be right as rain in a few days time, she thanked DM and hoped that all her fears would turn out to be baseless.
She called up Aman, even he refused to take her call, what the! All office landlines were busy – dammit Khushi seethed and worried. She paced the lobby restlessly – it was past eight in the evening, the kids were fast asleep – wondering what to do when the doorbell rang. Khushi rushed to open the door, she stood in shocked surprise.
“Di! Aap yaahan? But weren’t you supposed to come back ten days later?” Khushi burst out.
Anjali too stopped in astonishment, “Khushi! Tumhe kisne bataya!?” she reached out and hugged her hard, “Waise I am so glad you are here, hume pata tha ki tum Chotte ka saath nahi chhodoge par woh hai ki,” she shook her head worriedly.
Khushi looked at Di, the mystifying statement barely registering, for Di looked so pale, haggard and upset; she wore a pinched stressed expression, not even a smile for her! The cold hand of fear clutched Khushi’s heart and her stomach knotted, “Di! Aap kya bol rahe hain hume kuch samajh nahi aa raha,” she managed to whisper through a suddenly parched throat.
Di looked at her in consternation, “Oh! Tumko nahi pata? Chotte didn’t tell you? Did you read about it in the newspapers then, but we tried to keep it out of the news,” Di was suddenly very concerned.
Khushi shook Di’s arm in agitation, “Di! Kya hua hai? Arnav theek toh hain? Bataiye na, hume bahut ghabrahat ho rahi hai.”
Di slowly walked over to the sofa and sat down with a thump; Khushi too followed suit, “Chotte ghar par nahi hai?” she asked dully.
Khushi shook her head, “Di! Bataiye na! And how come you cut your trip short? Kuch toh zaroor hua hai, Di bataiye na please.”
Anjali nodded her head gravely, “Haan Khushi, it is a difficult and trying time for all of us, I wanted to tell you but Chotte was adamant…”
“Par Di hua kya hai?” Khushi was in a frenzy of agony and suspense.
“A model has brought in a charge of sexual harassment against him,” Di dropped her bombshell without any further ado.
Whatever Khushi may have thought, this certainly wasn’t it! Khushi could have cried with relief, she almost laughed, “Di! Hum toh darr hi gaye the! Isme itna ghabrane wali baat kya hai? Aisa kuch ho hi nahi sakta,” Khushi was so sure about her Arnav (aur kyon na ho eh pehli shaadi ke baad six month, second shaadi ke baad two months – self control ko epitomize karta hai Arnav kyon?).
Anjali shook her head worriedly, “Nahi Khushi, it is not as simple as that” she hesitated, “you see, Arnav doesn’t remember; he says he could have.”
Khushi’s heart stopped beating, her hand flew to her mouth as she froze with shock, “Nahi Di, nahi, yeh sach nahi hai.” Khushi violently shook her head from side to side.
“Yehi sach hai Khushi,” Arnav’s voice rang out coldly behind them.
Click here for Chapter 269