Khushi spent a restless night even though both the children surprisingly slept the whole night through. Possibly she may have welcomed the distraction their fussing would have provided – but even that solace was denied her. She was free to alternately feel all the anguish and pain that is natural under the circumstances and seethe at the injustice of it all – itna bada dhoka! Hey Devi Maiyya aisi kya galti ho gayi humse ki yeh din dekhna padha; shakti dena DM, raksha karna DM, raksha karna. She also chafed and fumed at the way Arnav had disappeared and made himself incommunicado – hadd hai, suppose there is some emergency here and I need him? Phir kya?
Angelika woke up and began wailing for her Dad; she was smart enough to realize that they were back to the place where Daddy could be found; yesterday Khushi had fobbed her off saying ‘office’ and excited to be back to familiar surroundings and myriad toys, she had accepted that. But this was morning, her time with Daddy dearest, where was he? Devansh too woke up and Khushi had her hands full trying to manage them. But after they had been fed and changed, they settled down as if they had never been away. Directing Poo to be with them Khushi tried to contact Arnav, he would be up by now. But his phone was still switched off.
Finally she called up Di’s cell, “Khushi!” Anjali was relieved to hear from Khushi.
“Haan Di, hum Khushi bol rahe hain, Arnav se baat karni thi; kahan hain woh?” Khushi got straight to her point.
“Khushi, he left for a meeting at Jaipur early morning, woh bhi bina bataye and now he has switched off his phone as well,” Anjali’s voice cracked with stress.
Fear clutched Khushi, “Is…is he driving?” she asked.
“Nahi, DM ka shukar hai, he has taken the driver along,” Di hesitated and said, “Khushi, I know the odds are all stacked against him, but he needs you Khushi,” she pleaded, “The kids need both their father and mother, aur humse behtar kaun jaan sakta hai,” she sobbed on the phone, Khushi stiffened, she gritted her teeth determined not to give into the tears that threatened to overwhelm her as well, “Di ab rone se kya fayda? Jo hona tha woh toh ho gaya aur ab hum wahi karenge jo sahi hai.”
Anjali panicked at the note of finality in Khushi’s voice, “Nahi Khushi! Jaldbaazi main koi galat kadam mat uthana, tum toh jaanti ho na Arnav ko? He would never do anything like this in his senses! Yeh ek bahut bada saazish hai, somebody must have spiked his drink I am sure of it to malign him, to destroy ARD, Khushi please don’t do anything hasty, don’t send a wrong message by leaving him now,” her voice broke, “Khushi humse uski yeh halat dekhi nahi jaati, woh tumhare bina ji nahi paaega Khushi and the kids,” Anjali couldn’t speak further as sobs racked her.
“Di sambhaliye apne aap ko, humne kaha na, hum kuch galat nahi hone denge,” Khushi spoke through stiff uncooperative lips holding herself together with a superhuman effort, not that she had any choice; everything depended on her, she couldn’t afford to fall apart, not now – besides she had her children to think of, “Di hume aapse kuch zaroori baat karni hai.”
Di controlled herself with an effort, “Abhi nahi Khushi, baad main, maybe in the evening? I need to go to the office to discuss and prepare our defense with Mr Roy for the internal inquiry committee meeting to be held this afternoon at 4 pm. Chotte was supposed to go over it but he has gone off to Jaipur, I just hope he is back by then; Oh Khushi can you send a fresh change of clothes for him…”
“Uhh Khushi, your brother is calling from the States, I will talk to you later,” Di disconnected the line; Khushi stared frustrated at her phone – koi humari baat hi nahi sun raha; she dearly wished she could bang both Arnav and Di’s heads together, kam se kam Di toh humari baat sun leti! Aur Arnav ki toh main achche se khabar loongi, uski himmat kaise hui phone switch off karne ki –Apne aap ko samajhte kya hain? Laad Governor kahin ke! She was good and properly mad at him and could have cheerfully murdered him if only she could have gotten her hands on him. Inquiry committee be dammed – woh kya decide karenge? Hisab toh barabar hume karna hai, she railed and fumed – better than crying and moping. She turned to Mr Roy – he was the only one who had heard her out last evening.
It was 3 pm and Arnav was back at ARD; he hadn’t gone to Jaipur after all, half way through he had returned. There was a huge traffic pile up due to an accident further ahead and he had had no choice but to return otherwise he would not have been in time for the inquiry committee meeting and he didn’t want to send a wrong message – that he was afraid to face the board.
If only he could clear the fog from his mind, if only he could remember what happened that night, he couldn’t believe that he could ever do something like that, but who knew what the drink had done to him. There was of course no doubt in his mind that he would never do such a ‘ghinona harkat’ in his senses, but what would Khushi think of him now – that was his one and only concern. What if she hated him, like he had hated her – he shuddered mentally at the agony she must have undergone, to not know yet be tried and sentenced – somebody sure was determined to teach him a lesson, an eye for an eye, pata nahi woh kya… “Chotte! Kab aaye? I was so worried!” It was Di.
He raised tortured eyes to Anjali, “Di, Khushi se baat hui, woh theek hai?” he clutched her hands.
“Chotte tum bhi na,” she scolded him, “Itna worried ho toh phone kyon nahi kar lete? And why switch off your phone? She called me to find out about you,” Di shook her head gently as her heart nearly broke at his pale, lost and haggard look; life flickered in his eyes, “She called you? She asked about me?” he asked eagerly, “How did she sound, was she very upset, very disgusted?” he faltered.
Anjali pushed him, “There isn’t time Chotte. Go and freshen up first, you can’t go in looking like this! Remember what Mr Roy said, it is her word against yours, there is no proof, we will settle it for sure,” Arnav nodded his head, but the voice in his head whispered, ‘but who will silence me? And more importantly how will you convince Khushi if you yourself don’t believe it?’ He splashed cold water on his face, wiped his face, combed his hair and carefully pulled on his ASR’s mask and strode into the conference hall where everyone was just trickling in. He nodded to many of the known faces, careful not to be overly friendly for the two aunties were watching him with hawk eyes and he didn’t want to be accused of rigging the committee; he suddenly stopped short, his eyes hardened and narrowed, “Well well look who’s here,” he sneered viciously.
Sheetal got up languidly to her feet, “Oh ASR! Long time no see,” she waved her hand around, “when I heard of the mess you had gotten into I couldn’t stop myself from coming along to see if I could be of some help, like old times?” she drawled seductively.
ASR’s lips thinned, “This is no Roman circus where you can walk in at will, only select people are allowed in, surely you know that?”
“Of course I know that, but I guess you don’t know that Sonia is my protégé and she is my responsibility,” Sheetal’s voice dropped to a whisper, “She came crying to me and wanted to send you to jail but I persuaded her to drop the idea,” she raised her hand, “No no ASR don’t thank me, after all what are friends for right?”
“I see,” ASR nodded his head with dawning understanding, “So you set up the whole thing! With what purpose may I ask?” he felt almost dizzy with relief; he wasn’t a chip of the old block after all – now all he had to do was convince Khushi.
“Oh nothing much,” she waved her hand airily, “Just wanted to see how much that wife of yours will still love you? And being your friend, I would like to be here to help you pick up the pieces,” she gloated and almost rubbed her hands in vicious glee; she could see ASR on his knees, begging pleading for mercy. Her heart soared with power and she felt on top of the world, so he thought he could love another and get away with it? Not while she was alive, Sheetal sneered, her lips curling in anticipation.
“So we meet again,” Khushi drawled (after all ASR ke saath bahut saal guzaare the aur imitator par excellence bhi thi) not in the least surprised to see Sheetal.
Sheetal stiffened; she turned accusingly towards Arnav, “What the hell is she doing here? Surely she doesn’t have the right to be here?”
“Oh but I do!” Khushi cut in before Arnav lent his voice in support of Sheetal, he too was taken aback to see her here and while he couldn’t drag his eyes away from her face he was clearly not in favor of her presence in what could be a potentially humiliating situation for him, “You see I am on the board of directors and I have been advised to participate in the proceedings,” she shot back.
Suddenly Sheetal’s lips parted in vicious smile, “All the better, wouldn’t want to you to miss out on the fun – makes it even more exciting for me,” she swept away.
“Khushi,” Arnav said urgently, “Tum yahan kya kar rahi ho? I don’t want you here, tum ghar jao,” he urged her.
“Too late,” she dismissed him, “You should have told me earlier, instead of switching off your mobile,” she suddenly rounded on him and attacked him, “Aapki himmat kaise hui phone switch off karne ki, if I had done such a thing, aap toh hume kachcha hi kha jaate.”
Well it was either that or burst into tears; one look at his face and she was shattered, her heart broke with the burden of his pain. Her throat tightened and her entire body stiffened, she clenched her fists as a furious anger swept through her – dimly in some corner she realized, this is how Arnav felt when he saw her upset – it was an alien feeling for Khushi, the intensity of her emotions, beyond tears, stunned her. Unable to control it, she lashed out with the most inconsequential thing at this point of time.
Di came up to them and put her arms around both and murmured, “Yeh kya kar rahe ho Khushi, sabke samne! Everyone’s eyes are trained on both of you, please don’t give the impression that you are fighting, kam se kam aaj toh nahi.” She pleaded.
Khushi shut up but she struggled to get a grip on herself, it wouldn’t do to just collapse, she couldn’t afford that luxury, not now.
Arnav ignored Anjali and continued to hiss and grimace, his face pale and drawn, “Khushi tum ghar jao, main baad main baat karta hoon tumhare saath,” he reiterated.
She shook her head stubbornly, “Nahi hum theek hai.”
Arnav leaned in closer and bit out, “I don’t understand Khushi what purpose will be served by your presence, I am ordering you to go home, dammit.”
She closed her eyes and prayed for strength, she raised her eyes to look into his and said softly, “Arnav the only thing you need to understand right now is that I Love You,” Khushi smiled at him willing him to respond to her reassurance hoping to get rid of that unbearably devastated look in his eyes; she slipped her warm hand into his cold clammy hand – instantly Arnav’s hand curved around hers in a bone-crushing grip, the white lines on his cheeks faded and he loosened his grip. He caressed her hand with his thumb, as if brushing away the pain; her eyes bright with unshed tears she squeezed his hand, “Hamesha,” she reiterated their promise and walked away to her seat – opposite him.
Since this was an initial informal preliminary inquiry (my apologies in advance for procedural errors and omissions), both were asked to present their respective cases. Sonia’s case was pretty much as described above as was Arnav’s. Arnav, despite Mr Roy’s repeated injunctions, refused to fudge and openly declared that he remembered entering the room with Sonia but subsequent events were a hazy blur and he had no recollection of forcing himself on Sonia; he insisted that it was a set up, that his drink had been spiked as otherwise he would have remembered.
Sympathies were sharply divided, but in the face of lack of proof (and besides it was rather damming – he did admit to the events that led Sonia to be in his room and the rest was just his word against hers and anyone could claim to have blanked out) things looked very bleak indeed for Arnav.
Click here for Chapter 272