Arnav and Khushi were finally in their room, alone.
After the brief but exhilarating and intense moments in each other’s arms, they had given into the demands of their first priority – their children. Angel insisted that Maami feed her Maggi whilst she sat on Arnav’s lap. Even Devansh was very excitable and restless; normally he would sit in one place as he savored and relished his Maggi time, but perhaps he was sensitive to the exultant air of celebration and victory that hung around RM (not to mention the excitable RV which would butt in ever so often without any warning or apparent rhyme of reason), or just happy to be back home with his favorite people, he just couldn’t sit still and yet he was desperate to have Maggi. So Khushi ended up feeding him, while he zipped around RM on his trike. He would grab a mouthful and then vanish from sight only to reappear on his loudly hooting trike once he had worked off the calorie intake. It was a happy and carefree scene and everyone soaked up the delight of watching the antics of the the two. By some mutual and silent understanding, they refrained from talking about the incident – their brush with near impeachment and the very real risk of possible incarceration still too close for comfort.
“Di, bachche kaise hain?” Khushi asked, “How are they enjoying their trip?”
Anjali smiled as she cuddled her Chotti, “Achche hain and they are enjoying themselves. Anya particularly enjoyed the wedding we attended over there; you know na that we also intended to go for one of Khsitij’s closest friends daughter’s wedding?”
Khushi nodded her head, “Haan Di aapne bataya tha.”
“It was great fun and interesting to see the mix and match style of the wedding partly Indian partly Western,” her eyes sparkled with a mother’s pride, “Pata hai, Anya looked soooo beautiful and grownup in her bridesmaid’s attire, in fact somebody came up to Khshitij and asked if they were looking for a groom for her!” they all laughed and admired the pictures of her on Di’s mobile.
“Ankit is looking so dashing in his formals!” Khushi was impressed, “Di, Arnav must have looked like this when he was this age right?”
Anjali laughed and affectionately cupped Chotte’s cheek, “Haan Khushi, bilkul aise hi,” she frowned at him, “But he is less bad tempered than Chotte, DM ka shukr hai!”
They laughed while Khushi nodded ruefully, “Haan Di, sahi kaha aapne, if there was a competition for ‘akdooness’ quotient, Arnav would win the world title, hmmphhh,” she snorted derisively (Errrr Khushi don’t be too sure, hum bhi queue main hain woh bhi aapse aage cough cough bahut bahut aage 😉
“Oh really toh main…” Arnav spoke up but minus the heat.
“Achcha baba, ab tum dono phir se shuru mat ho jaana,” Anjali pleaded; Khushi shot him a look but desisted.
“Di yeh kaun hai?” Khushi pointed to a pretty young blonde girl standing next to Ankit.
Anjali smacked her head, “Oh that is Brenda, Ankit’s fan,” she laughed, “main toh batana hi bhool gayi, it was so funny,” she turned to Arnav, “Pata hai Chotte kya hua? Ankit was looking really handsome and dashing in his formal suit and there was this young pretty blonde girl who was absolutely mesmerized by Ankit, she stuck to him throughout the party, and later, Khsitij really pulled his leg,” she laughed delightedly, her eyes crinkling as she wrinkled her nose, “bechara.”
“Kya hua Di, theek se bataiye na,” Khushi pushed Anjali, ever ready to hear about the kids and their antics. Anjali obligingly narrated the incident:
Khsitij said, “Ankit that girl, Brenda, you know she wants to marry you; her parents were asking if you were agreeable, they could arrange everything?”
Ankit looked at him with round horrified eyes, “Marry Brenda! How can I?”
“Because, because, she is taller than me!” Ankit was astonished that nobody had noticed.
Khsitij waved away his objection, ‘Oh don’t worry about that, girls grow faster than boys, it is also possible that she is a couple of years older to you, but never mind in a few years time, you will definitely be taller than her.”
Ankit looked at Khsitij unconvinced, he came up to me and said, “Mamma, I don’t want to marry Brenda, she is taller than me,” he explained to me but before I could say anything, Anya butted in, “Come on Ankit what is a few inches between husband and wife? So what if she is taller – so long as you looovvveee her,” she taunted him.
Ankit shot a distrustful look at the openly laughing father daughter duo and declared firmly while showing them his hand, “When I marry, not only will the girl be shorter in height but also younger in age!”
They all burst into laughter at RM as well; Anjali wiped her eyes, “Bechara Ankit, Khsitij really ragged him, he told him Brenda had called up and wanted to talk to him, meet him, you should have seen him!” she laughed, “he was so terrified!, let’s go back to India, he urged so many times. I had to finally tell him, that his father was pulling his leg!”
“Di,” Arnav spoke, “Werent you all supposed to spend the last week at London?”
Anjali nodded, “So Di, why don’t you come along with me, I need to go to London in any case, maybe you could meet up with them over there?” Arnav offered Anjali his company to London.
Anjali perked up, “Great idea, I could do that!” but Khushi’s face fell, “Aap London ja rahein hain?” she said in a small voice.
Arnav looked at her regretfully, “I had to cancel the London trip, Khushi.”
Khushi swallowed and nodded, “Hum jaante hain, but the kids will miss you, Di bhi chali jaayengi,” she trailed off as she looked at him.
Arnav’s lips twisted as he read her eyes ‘Don’t go! Please!’
“Ok how about if we ALL go to London, till I finish my work, both of you can roam around with the kids, meet up with Di’s family, maybe hang around for a day or so, they go ahead with their trip as planned while we,” he paused, “take a few days off and go to Switzerland?” Arnav made an instant decision; he too didn’t want to leave without them.
Anjali clapped her hands in delighted, while Khushi threw her hands around him, “Yessss!”
It was as you can see a pleasant laughter and chatter filled evening with the promise of happier days ahead; Arnav took Di to GM to pick up her stuff as she would be staying at RM. The children too went along and upon returning to RM insisted on sleeping with her. Anjali was only too happy to accommodate them.
And so it happened that Arnav and Khushi were finally in their room, alone.
“ Khhusshii,” Arnav murmured huskily as he shut the door, but she crossed her arms, drew her brows and glared at him, “Don’t you ‘Khhhusshii’ me!” she waved her finger at him threateningly, “Aapki himmat kaise hui,” she stalked him and taken by surprise he backed off, “Itna bada kaand ho gaya and you didn’t even tell me! You even switched off the damn phone, aap aise kaise kar sakte hain? Pata hai hum kitna pareshan the?”
“Kkkhhusshii,” his tone was conciliatory, “In sab se ab kya faraq padta hai…”
“Faraq padta hai!” Khushi snapped instantly, “Agar hum aisa karte toh?”
Arnav reluctantly accepted his ‘crime’, not that he had much choice with Khushi clearly on the warpath, “I am sorry Khushi,” he offered rather belatedly and inadequately.
Unimpressed she glared at him, her lips pressed tight as if to say, “mera munh mat khulwao, I could go on all night about double standards.”
“Khushi tum samajh nahi rahi ho,” Arnav finally opened up, “I didn’t know what exactly had happened that night – that was the worst part – I didn’t know and there appeared to be no chance of ever knowing, the possibility that it could be true, that perhaps I was my father’s son, that I could actually,” he trailed off, the nightmare all to close, too real to be taken lightly.
Khushi softened, her heart going out to him at his obvious agony, what he must have undergone – alone, “Hum samajhte hain, but why shut me out? Hum par bharosa nahi hai?”
Arnav looked at her deep regret and self-loathing, “A guilty conscience can hamper your thinking, tabhi main kehta hoon, tum nahi samjhogi, you have a pure clean heart, your face and eyes mirror your thoughts so clearly, I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing the disgust in your face, I just couldn’t,” he shuddered, his voice broke, “I don’t know how you survived those six months, I couldn’t have, I really couldn’t have, not even one day, one glance,” he sank down on his knees before her and put his arms around her waist and buried his face in her lap as she fell back on the bed, “I am sorry Khushi, I am really sorry,” his voice was muffled and agonized, “Main kabhi samajh hi nahi paya, what exactly I put you through,” he raised his anguished wet eyes to her, “I never really understood the depth of your pain, the injustice of it all, actually I still don’t,” he shook his head self-deprecatingly, “At least I knew my ‘crime’ and there was a chance I was guilty, but for you, not to even know your crime, to be rejected by all,” he closed his eyes as his shoulders shuddered and shook with the weight of his guilt. He buried his face in her lap again.
Khushi was torn; there was a sense of vindication, the release of pain from an old forgotten wound (not really forgotten perhaps but a sort of a deliberate and painstaking burial under layers of better, happier memories and events) yet she hated to see Arnav like this – she smiled faintly as she silently ran her fingers through his hair; a tear dropped on the tip of his ear, he drew himself up to look at her only to catch the wistful expression, “Khushi?” he was surprised, “Kya soch rahi ho?”
Khushi shook her head, “Kuch nahi, isn’t it strange how our prayers are answered, sooner or later and yet we don’t like it when they do!” she wiped his face as he brushed away hers with his thumbs, “No wonder they say be careful of what you ask for you may get it.”
“Main kuch samjha nahi Khushi?” Arnav was confused.
Khushi pulled him up by her side on the bed and leaned into him as he slid his arm around her, “Aapko pata hai,” she said a bit hesitatingly without looking at him, “I prayed so long and so hard during those dreadful six months ki hey Devi Maiyya inhe pata toh chale ki humare dil ko kitni tes pahunchi hai, that he should realize the agonizing pain and the impossible corner that he had boxed me into, alone, with nobody to whom I could share the truth,” her voice broke and faltered, “or even that how it is not to know what my ‘crime’ is,” she cupped his face, “Par hume kabhi nahi chaha tha, I never thought Devi Maiyya would answer my long forgotten prayers in this manner, I am sorry,” she said simply.
Arnav folded her in his embrace as they both gave in to the emotions of the moment and yet found release, a new found oneness of an altogether different level.
They talked late into the night, there was so much to say, so much to know.
“Aaap Lucknow aaye aur bataya bhi nahi,” Khushi said accusingly, “DM ka shukr hai that Di told me,” she shook her head.
“Woh Khushi actually it was a last minute plan and I wanted to surprise you,” Arnav excused himself.
“But later after you left Lucknow, then you could have told me? Tab bhi nahi bataya!” Khushi pouted.
Arnav looked at her regretfully, “I wish I had,” he shrugged, “But I was very woozy and disoriented that day, I was late, I had a zillion things on my plate,” he looked at her provokingly, “and I didn’t want you on my case, nagging me, yelling at me,” he hurriedly changed tacks, “But why didn’t you tell me? It would have saved all of us so much of bother!” he put the blame squarely on her.
“Achcha ji!” Khushi was instantly up in arms, “Ulta chor kotwal ko daante! As if I didn’t try to, but aap hai ki, you were so short, curt and rude!” she glared at him, “Aaap toh baat hi nahi kar rahe the humse and how the hell am I supposed to know you didn’t remember anything of that night? I thought you were mad at me for coming over to the Sheeshmahal that night, for ‘catching’ you in your inebriated condition that too in the arms of another woman,” it was her turn to look provokingly at Arnav.
Arnav looked at her ruefully, “Aur phir bhi mujhpar bharosa tha!” he hesitated, “Achcha tell me Khushi, honestly, suppose, just suppose you had not come that night, suppose there had been no ‘proof’, I had no recollection and stated that ‘I could have’,” he paused and asked, his voice a ragged whisper, “would you have still believed in me, would you still have trusted me?”
Click here for Chapter 275