“Yes, yes thank you Mrs Raizada; please be seated,” The chairperson cut in hastily, but Khushi was on the warpath and determined to have her pound of flesh (and pint [or two] of blood as well); Sheetal shrank back and cowered in her chair at the blazing anger in Khushi’s eyes, even Sonia’s blood ran cold with shock and fear, “How dare you – you bloo…” Khushi lashed out furiously, her hands clawed and raised; she was clearly going for Sheetal’s throat – determined to do some serious physical injury.
Arnav quickly stepped in, “Kkkhhhushi,” he murmured softly, she swung around blindly, reflexively, their eyes clashed – the fury in her eyes vanished and tears sprang into her eyes, “Arnav,” she breathed huskily and slid into his arms, the world be dammed, she couldn’t care who saw what.
Arnav wrapped his arms around her and rocked her in his arms turning his back to the table, shielding them from prying curious eyes, “Khhhushi sweetheart, calm down please, calm down, she won’t go scot-free I promise, shshhssh, I love you Khushi I love you,” Arnav’s voice was barely above a whisper, his throat raw and tight; tears pricked his eyes, he gritted his teeth and blinked them away as he hugged Khushi as if he would never let her go. He surreptitiously wiped his eyes with his knuckles.
“Sonia, Sheetal I think we have established very clearly that this is case of false accusation,” Mrs Diwakar cleared her throat and carried on with the proceedings; she looked squarely at Sheetal, “We could call in Mr Sharma, if you wish or indeed any other person to corroborate Mrs Raizada’s statement if you still claim to be right, Sonia?” she queried her.
Sonia burst into tears, “I am sorry,” she pleaded and made to run out of the room, but Anjali’s hand snaked out and caught her before she could escape, “Nahi Sonia,” she stood up, her her face cold and stern, “Just a sorry won’t do, you have to explain it all, tell the board the complete truth.”
Sonia sobbed even harder and begged to be allowed to go but Anjali was implacable, “Sonia you have absolutely no idea what misery you wrecked upon the two of the most wonderful people I know; how could you not even stop to consider the devastating implications of your baseless allegations? Don’t you know that families have been destroyed, children orphaned because of such instances of infidelities?” she bit her lip as a tear rolled down her cheek. Arnav seated Khushi and shook his head warningly at her before coming over to his Di, she clutched hold of him and continued her tirade, “It is because of people like you nobody believes women, genuine victims are ridiculed and their morals and motives questioned while allowing the real rapists to go scot-free; you know what the saddest part is – next time a girl brings a similar case to this board there is no doubt she will be viewed with deep suspicion and skepticism regardless of the fact that she may be a genuine victim after all, can you even begin to conceive the irreparable damage you have caused to the image of such victims? How can you be so thoughtless and selfish? How can you even think of doing such a devious thing?” Anjali’s outraged voice rang out spitting fire and disgust.
After a while, a cornered Sonia began speaking in fits and starts and slowly the whole sordid story came forth. She was a distant cousin of Sheetal and she had helped Sonia with money when things had gone bad at home and in return asked for a small favor. In her desperation Sonia had agreed without any further thought and it was only later, when it was too late to back out, that she got to know the details.
Sheetal had told Sonia that ASR was an evil man, it was what he deserved after what all he had done to her, she had promised no police would be involved, she just wanted to teach him a lesson, etc etc. Sheetal was the one who arranged for her joining ARD as a model, her trip to the Lucknow fashion show and then it had seemed as if her plans would fall apart as ASR wasn’t supposed to go to Lucknow. Sheetal had been furious, she was the one who called up their co-sponsor, pretending to be an investigative journalist enquiring about certain shady deals of ARD and if they too were part of it. That was the crisis that had forced ASR to visit Lucknow and set matters straight. Once there, Sonia had instructions to spike ASR’s drink without really drawing attention to herself (actually quite easy in the crush of people); she had hung around till ASR had walked out of the hall and played out her drama. ASR had been very confused and disoriented but even then she had to force him to accept her offer to escort him to his room. The plan had been to gain entry to his room and leave some damming personal clothing article in his room and then later charge him with inappropriate behavior that too with a minor – she was yet to turn 17.
That was when things had gone for a toss, for Sonia as well.
The room was dark when they entered and since she was busy trying to support a dangerously swaying ASR, she couldn’t find the light switches. The light from the TV in one corner of the suite threw into sharp focus a huge apparition that arose from the couch silently, a terrified Sonia had pushed ASR towards the ghost in an attempt to ward it off or at the very least distract it whilst she made her escape. She had run all the way to her room and locked the door securely. She refused to open the door when Sheetal came knocking at her door and switched off her mobile as well. In the light of the morning she reassessed her position and realized that Sheetal would be terribly annoyed to know that her plan to trap ASR had flopped. Hence Sonia was forced to cook up another story that is she had spent the night at ASR’s room; he had fallen asleep and so had she and had returned to her room only in the morning. Sheetal had been pleased as Punch and rubbed her hands in glee. And instead of accusing ASR immediately of molestation, Sheetal decided to wait for a few days, so that medical examination wouldn’t be required and he couldn’t prove that he had been drugged.
Sonia was terribly sorry, she accepted that she hadn’t understood the gravity of the accusation she was making, in her single minded goal of saving her family she hadn’t realized she would be destroying another family, not only, that she was also doing a grave injustice to real victims, for such false cases undermined the position of genuine victims, causing people to doubt their words compounding their agony and shame.
Sonia was allowed to go after a stern warning. Sheetal too attempted to make a grand exit, which was spoilt as Khushi suddenly put out a foot and neatly tripped her up, “Oops! Did that hurt?” she leaned over her snarling viciously, still craving her pound of flesh, “Khushiii!” Arnav was beside her in two strides and held her back and spoke coldly to Sheetal, “You can be sure that our lawyer will contact you, we will be making a formal complaint to the police,” he dismissed her; Sheetal scrambled to her feet and scuttled out of the room hurriedly.
Anjali wiped her tears and came over to hug Khushi and Arnav, she couldn’t stop crying or smiling, “Devi Maiyya ka lakh lakh shukr hai,” she kept saying and the others too crowded around a vindicated Arnav Singh Raizada congratulating them and offering their good wishes.
Anjali was the last to leave the room, she looked back at them and teared, “I am waiting downstairs in the lobby, jaldi aana.”
Finally only Arnav and Khushi were left in the room, “Chalein? The children are missing you and very eager to meet you,” she smiled tremulously at him.
He nodded, “In a bit,” he drew her into his arms; he gave her a bone crushing hug and kissed her thoroughly, “Devi Maiyya ka toh pata nahi, Sanka Devi ka lakh lakh shukr hai,” he murmured as he cupped her face, she blushed and disclaimed, “Agar Di ne nahi bataya hota ki aap Lucknow jaa rahe hain…”
“Ho sakta hai, Di helped,” Arnav cut in, “But it was all thanks to your Sankiness, I mean who else would think of going to Sheeshmahal, that too in the middle of the night?”
Khushi laughed, “Iss baar I was determined to spend the night of my own free will!”
“Khhhushi,” Arnav murmured a wealth of emotions in his voice, his face all twisted and flushed, Khushi stretched up and kissed him, “Haan haan theek hai theek hai, baaki baatein baad main, ab ghar chalein, both the kids are waiting for you.” She made light of the situation, well aware that anybody could walk in and it really wouldn’t do for his office staff to see the mighty ASR so maudlin and sentimental – and if it were Aman, phir toh pucca resign kar hi deta!
He nodded and pressed a final kiss upon her lips (for the moment) still unable to believe the nightmare of the last couple of days was actually over, that would sink in later; he grabbed her hand and pulled her to the door. They walked hand in hand down the lobby of ARD where a spontaneous applause burst out from his relieved staff who had gathered outside – their boss was safe and so was their naukri, “Khushi,” he murmured, “do you realize they are clapping because I spent the night with my wife – phir toh roz clapping honi chahiye! Kyon?”
She blushed and punched him just as they exited the main door.
As they rang the doorbell at RM, through the heavy wooden doors they could hear the excited screams of the children as they ran to the door and banged upon it in a frenzy of anticipation – Arnav grinned as he clearly heard their voices shout “Daddy!” He too was impatient to meet them – the door swung open and he had dropped to his haunches waiting to receive them in his arms, “Whoaa,” he laughed and fell on his back as they both crashed into him.
Khushi clasped her hands and thanked DM – now there was no sign of the ominous vibes at RM – only the most beautiful music ever, the sound of the laughter and chatter of their children. Anjali too laughed and joined in the masti – she had dearly missed them both, Chotti just the teeniest bit more, “Hum kaun hai Chotti?” she picked up the little girl wondering if she remembered her.
Chotti was a bit confused, she had met so many people with so many different names now who was this one; she looked to Khushi for help. Khushi smiled and whispered in her ear, Angelika flashed her adorable toothy grin, “Maaami!!!”
Anjali’s eyes sparkled with happy tears as she hugged the little girl and looked at Khushi, ‘thank you’ she mouthed, unable to say it aloud.
Khushi swallowed and said, “Sahi toh hai, hamesha inki kyon chale? Guddu ki Buaji aur Chotti ki Maami, fair is fair, hai ki nahi?”
Anjali nodded enthusiastically and hugged Khushi as well.
Udhar after the initial excitement was over, Devansh got on his high horse and crossed his arms and glared at Arnav accusingly, “I am angry with you,” he clarified in case Arnav was in any doubt.
Arnav pulled him on to the couch, “Oh! But why? What did I do?” He was of course all at sea.
“Where were you? You promised to come to Amma’s place and still you didn’t come, you didn’t even phone, I scored three goals and our team won! I couldn’t tell you, Mamma wouldn’t even let me call you saying you were busy,” Devansh listed out his grouses.
Arnav looked at Khushi for some help but she crossed her arms unwilling to help him out, ‘isko toh jawab dena padega’ she gloated silently.
“Sorry Devansh, it is true, I was busy…” he tried to pacify the annoyed little boy.
But Devansh was not so easily fobbed off; he slid off Arnav’s lap and declared rather haughtily, “Even I am very busy, I have to ride my trike, play the new game Buani gave us…”
“Hey hey big boy,” Arnav cut in urgently, “Honestly there was a lot of work…”
“What work? You always have work, I also get homework but I play as well don’t I?” Devansh squarely accused ASR of being an inefficient multi-tasker with poor time management skills, he sidled up to him and said, “Perhaps if I helped you, like Mamma helps me with my homework, you could have more free time to play with us?” he looked at him hopefully.
Arnav looked at Khushi ruefully who was still glaring at him for upsetting her beloved Guddu and Chotti, “Uhh thanks Devansh but seems I will have to tell you the truth, but pssst it is a secret, you can’t tell Angel, woh chotti hai na?”
Round eyed and excited Devansh stared at Arnav vigorously nodding his head, “I was coming to see you,” Arnav lowered his voice theatrically, “But on the way an evil person waylaid me and imprisoned me.”
Arnav waited for Devansh’s reaction who was by now all goggle eyed and dumbstruck; finally he found his voice, “Haawww! Phir kya hua?”
“Phir kya hua – that is why I couldn’t come and meet you or call you on the phone,” Arnav redeemed himself; but then Devansh (like all normal people) wanted closure to this new story, “Par phir kya hua? How did you escape?” all starry eyed with visions of his father riding a horse carrying a sword slashing right and left at his pursuers, “Did you use a gun or a sword?” he wanted the gory details too, “was there a lot of blood?” he said with great relish, kidnap my dad will you, take that take this, he swung his tiny fists and almost toppled over in his excitement.
Arnav shook his head, he leaned back against the sofa, “I didn’t have to do anything for our Guardian Angel came and rescued me,” he looked at Khushi, who all but melted.
“Guardian Angel!” Woh kaun hai? I know Angel, but who is our Guardian Angel?” Devansh was curious and confused.
Arnav nodded towards Khushi, “There’s our Guardian Angel, your mum came and saved me, no guns, no swords, just,” his voice dropped to a husky whisper, his eyes soft and tender, “just magic, pure magic.”
Devansh clapped his hands thrilled to bits with this new and lovely story where his mum was the heroine saving his hero, “Magic mamma!” he hugged her, “Maggi hai?”
“Deva!” Anjali who was also listening called him, “Come let us go to the kitchen to see if there is any Maggi,” she held out her hand to him, he willingly switched camps, “Chotti bhi Maggi khayegi?”
“Totti bhi Maggi,” she affirmed holding her Mami’s other hand; Anjali smiled as she led the children away leaving Arnav and Khushi encircled in the rising swirl of the RV.
“Khhhushi,” Arnav’s voice was barely audible over the exhilarated exalted strains of the RV unleashed after an eon – Khushi was in his arms – and the RV closed in on them, binding them even tighter, even closer; if that were possible.
Achcha baba ab toh khush ho na?
Click here for Chapter 274