Throughout the proceedings, Khushi had carefully avoided looking at Arnav; she just couldn’t bear to see him like this, in the dock, all eyes looking at him accusingly while he himself wasn’t sure if he was morally right – the self-doubt was clear for all to see and tilted the balance in favor of the girl. He was cornered and trapped, like a wounded animal, with no escape route – a quiet desperation seeped out from him and crushed Khushi with its weight. She dearly wished he had talked to her, but even Di had refused to talk to her! In the brief moments available to her, she had tried to convince him of her love and support, she sighed frustrated but woh bhi toh ASR hai, itni aasani se maan kaise sakta tha; how she wished he had talked to her and now she had no choice but to let the entire farce be played out to its completion.
Khushi dragged her thoughts away from Arnav and looked at the sobbing girl critically; she could find it in her to feel pity for her – the poor girl was so out of her depth, she was so young, hardly older than Anya! She probably didn’t have the least idea what she had let herself in for. Khushi looked over to Sheetal whose eyes were glittering triumphantly, Khushi could almost see her drool as she sat still with great difficulty – she was ready to do a victory dance – Khushi’s eyes hardened, it was time to put the stop to the torture the agony being meted out to her husband; her children had been denied their father long enough; she shuddered, perhaps forever, if it weren’t for Devi Maiyya – raksha karna, Devi Maiyya, she prayed for strength to redeem her husband’s honor and pride.
Khushi straightened her back and addressed the chairperson, a much respected forthright lady who was the proprietor of a bookshop, “Madam, with your permission I would like to ask a few questions to the victim.”
Mrs Diwakar nodded her head, while all eyes swung to Khushi.
“Shukriya madam,” she looked at Sonia, “Achcha Sonia, tell me something, you say you went to his room around say,” she scanned her notes, “3 am and then you finally escaped around 6 am to your room, right?” her voice was conversational and non-threatening.
Arnav glared at Khushi, he wished he had forcibly evicted her from the room.
Sonia nodded her head shakily. “Achcha tell me something, you are sure na, it was this man?” she waved her hand towards Arnav, “I mean I just want you to be very sure, it was this very man, who repeatedly raped you for over three hours?”
Sonia looked at Arnav fearfully – she was terrified of him – he reminded her of the big bad wolf of Little Red Riding Hood; but thankfully he was looking at Khushi suddenly alert, with something like hope. The words were crude and harsh yet something in her tone – more than her avowal of her love just a little while ago – told him that not only was she prepared to stand by him, she still believed him, loved him and was there the faintest hint of a disbelieving laughter in her voice? Along with hope rose a sense of belief, in himself, he would never do that – He could never do that! His eyebrow shot up and a faint grin tugged his lips, he relaxed and looked at Khushi, she definitely had something up her sleeve otherwise she wouldn’t be sitting there looking so confident, so smug, so so like –Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada – he grinned to himself as he continued to stare at Khushi.
Sonia stared at Arnav struck, she couldn’t tear her eyes away – the soft tender look in his eyes, the faintest twitch of his lips transformed his expression and even though it was meant for Khushi, Sonia felt as if her bones were melting – she stared at him mesmerized.
Khushi blinked at Arnav; she dragged her eyes away from Arnav and called softly, very softly, “Sonia?”
There was a perceptible pause before Sonia could recollect herself, she cleared her suddenly husky throat, “Y…yes, that’s him,” a faint flush stained her cheeks as she met Khushi’s eyes.
Khushi nodded understandingly, “Yes he is handsome isn’t he? And when he looks like that,” she again waved to him, he was almost smirking now, the lines of stress and strain all but vanished, “he is quite irresistible isn’t he?”
Sonia blushed and giggled like the teenager she was, embarrassed she smiled at Khushi and nodded her head.
“And this is your reaction to the man who repeatedly raped you for over three hours?” Khushi’s ice-cold voice cracked like a whip; Sonia froze and looked horrified.
“Very interesting, don’t you think, the victim finds the very man who brutally assaulted her, irresistible,” Khushi leaned back comfortably in her chair, letting the rising babble of chatter around her wash over her as she looked at Arnav; she could almost hear him gloat, ‘So you find me irresistible eh?’
She looked sternly at him, ‘Just you wait Mister, I am not done yet, and in fact I haven’t even started.’
Arnav raised his eyebrows, ‘Oh! So there’s more to come? Bring it on and let’s get this over with fast, can’t wait to meet the kids.’
Khushi nodded; yes her babies were waiting for their father.
“Ok Sonia,” Khushi took back the reins of the inquiry in her hands, “So let me see if I have this correctly, “You helped him to his room because he was stumbling and tripping all over?”
Sonia nodded vigorously eager to make amends for her earlier goof up, little knowing that the seed of doubt was now a big tree – silently unbeknownst to her, the general opinion had turned in favor of Arnav and she was the one in the dock now – Sheetal’s expression as the ground slipped from beneath her was a treat to watch.
“And till this time Arnav was the thorough gentleman giving no hint of the animal underneath?” There was the faintest twinkle in her eye, only Arnav caught it.
Sonia happily nodded, digging her grave and covering the one meant for Arnav.
“Were the lights on or off?” Khushi asked.
“The lights were off but the TV was on with the sound off,” Sonia was sure of her facts.
“Okay, so it was dark in the room, but there was enough light from the TV to be able to see outlines and stuff am I right? Good,” Khushi continued, “And then suddenly once in the room he threw off the pretense of being drunk and infirm; he locked the door and attacked you?”
Sonia nodded her head again, her confidence back she shot a look at Sheetal as if to say, don’t worry I got it all under control.
“Tell me Sonia,” Said Khushi changing tracks, “Are you scared of ghosts?”
Sonia looked a bit confused, she nodded warily while the others also began to move restlessly at this apparently irrelevant question; why was she wasting their time pointlessly, everybody was a busy professional and definitely had better things to do – a faint murmur of discontent could be heard in the room. Arnav wore a watchful look, ‘Khushi bina wajah koi bhi kaam nahi karti (except kabhi kabhi of course but this surely wasn’t one of them!)’.
“Isnt it true that as you entered Arnav’s room that night, a white ghost suddenly rose from the couch scaring you enough to scream ‘Bhoot bhoot’ and bolt from the room?” Khushi dropped her bombshell casually.
A hushed silence descended in the room as Sonia looked at Khushi in open mouthed surprise, “Bh…Bhoot?” she quavered, “N…nahi nahi toh,” she tried to bluff but wasn’t quite successful.
Arnav looked at Khushi suddenly alert.
“Mrs Raizada,” the chairperson spoke, “You clearly seem to know something about what happened that night so why not quit beating about the bush and get to your ‘version’?”
“Ji Maam,” Khushi said deferentially.
“During the Lucknow fashion show and in fact for a week before that I was at my parents’ house with my two children,” Khushi began to speak, “I had no idea that he was coming to Lucknow but on that day I had spoken to Di, I mean Anjaliji,” she nodded towards her, “She had let slip that Arnav had to rush to Lucknow to sort out some issue; I knew he would be very busy and that is probably why he hadn’t let me know but,” she hesitated and said, “It was the 6th of June,” her voice softened, she looked at Arnav who was listening intently, “A very special day for us, that too at Lucknow, specifically at Sheeshmahal; it was too good to pass up and I couldn’t simply resist,” she smiled faintly, “So after the children fell asleep, I had our neighbor’s son drop me to Sheeshmahal at around 11 pm. And that is when I realized the party was still going on and since I wasn’t really dressed as befitted Mrs Arnav Singh Raizada and not wanting to get into an argument with him over my attire,” she looked at Arnav provokingly, a faint laugh rippled across the room while he looked ruefully at her, “I asked for his room key at the desk. They of course asked for my ID and stuff even though one of them recognized me, anyway I went to his room and settled down to wait. I was soon bored and hungry, I ordered food and watched TV for sometime and then I took a bath and washed my hair. As I hadn’t brought any clothes, I wore the bathrobe and put my hair in the towel and I dozed off on the couch while watching TV. Instead of switching it off I think I pressed the mute button. I don’t know how long I dozed off but there was crash and I heard him curse,” she pointed to Arnav, “I stood up and saw him leaning on somebody else, clearly a female who looked up and started screaming ‘Bhoot bhoot’; she pushed Arnav towards me and ran away; I staggered under his weight and we both crashed onto the bed. I was very worried about his state for I have never seen him like this before, he drinks but he is always in his senses; but he laughed and said my name,” she fell silent, she looked a bit uncomfortable and shot a look at Arnav – the flush of relief on his face washed away any embarrassment – she smiled at him, “I must have fallen asleep for I woke around 6 am because my phone was ringing. It was my Buaji, scolding me for disappearing like this for our daughter was howling and screaming,” she shrugged, “I had to rush off home; I asked the front desk chap (the one who recognized me Anand Sharma) to arrange for a taxi but since he was going off duty, he offered to drop me home, I agreed because I was in a hurry,” she looked at Mrs Diwakar, “You can call Mr Sharma to corroborate my statement, he is waiting outside.”
There was a palpable air of relief in the room, while Sonia looked stricken but Sheetal wasn’t ready to give up so easily, “Nice story,” she sneered, “How much money did you give Sharma may I ask? Why did he not come forward earlier?”
Khushi looked at her pityingly, “I don’t need to pay him any money for he is not my only ‘proof’. With a little bit of investigation you can find my fingerprints, literally and figuratively all over that night, there were other people at the desk that night who saw me, a bellboy who escorted me to the suite, the waiter who brought me my dinner, I called up the Chef to compliment him on the chocolate fondeau he had specially sent for me and to ask for the recipe; when I left with Mr Sharma, I took the other receptionist’s phone number and asked him to use the masterkey to look in on Arnav as he was still sleeping at 9 o’clock and I was feeling worried about him. Finally I asked him to send a waiter with a cup of strong black coffee to wake Arnav up at around 10 for he had a flight to catch at 11.45 am. As for not coming forward, this incident isn’t public knowledge is it? Even I didn’t know about it till last evening.”
“What about Arnav, why did he not say anything? Did he too not know about it?” Sheetal snapped sarcastically, “His wife spends the night with him and yet he doesn’t offer that as his defense? Hogwash!” she snorted in disgust.
Khushi glared at her, “Arnav didn’t say anything because of what he has maintained throughout, his drink was spiked he was dizzy and confused; you deliberately waited for so many days before coming forward so that he couldn’t prove it for blood levels wouldn’t support his claim; you also didn’t want the rape claim to be medically substantiated, you just wanted to plant a seed of doubt, you say you want justice for her, but you don’t go to the police do you, for then you would have file a case, which you knew wouldn’t stand up in court and of course that is not what you wanted was it? You just wanted to destroy his reputation in his circle, destroy his marriage and then swoop in and take whatever was left,” Khushi’s voice rang out cold and clear.
Khushi got up and walked over to where a blustering Sheetal sat trying to get her grip on situation, she leaned over her and continued in a calm even tone, “You had it all planned didn’t you? You had his drink spiked, tutored Sonia, assured her that Arnav would be incapacitated enough not to be able to do real harm, that all she had to do was spend the night in his room and that would be her ticket to stardom,” Khushi’s voice dropped to a whisper and only Sheetal could hear her, “You counted on Arnav’s drugged haze to confuse him and knowing him you counted on his habit of jumping to conclusions, that he would at all costs try not let the word spread, in fact that is the reason it is not as yet in the media isn’t it – because you didn’t want any deeper digging at Sheeshmahal did you?” she straightened, her voice rang out cold and clear, “But what you didn’t account for was for me to land up did you, or that Sonia would lie to you about spending the night with him.”
Khushi was spitting fire and looked ready to do some serious damage to Sheetal, she raised her clawed hand threateningly towards her and bit out viciously, “You will surely and dearly pay for this….”
Click here for Chapter 273