Khushi nodded her head reassuringly at Arnav; relieved, he strode off with Anjali while Khushi went off in search of Ankit, her heart sinking, another messy situation in the making – Ankit, Di, Kishu Bhaiyya – raksha karna Devi Maiyya! Aur uske upar se woh Laad Governor, humne dekha kaise naak phula rahe the jab Di Kishu Bhaiyya ke baare main baat kar rahi thi, she thought to herself, iss baar hum kuch nahi bolenge, nahi toh bekaar main hi jhagda ho jayega, she reminded herself sternly.
Khushi could hear Chotti’s wails as she neared their room. Ankit was teasing Chotti by putting her doll out of reach and she used the only weapon (effective no doubt) at her disposal, lung power; Devansh was least bothered (clearly not that effective a weapon huh?) his total concentration on a jigsaw puzzle, his latest craze. Even Ankit couldn’t distract him, just a couple of pieces were left you see.
Khushi hurriedly switched off the siren by handing the doll back to her, “Chalo Chotti, Guddu, breakfast karne,” rather relieved to see Ankit apparently his normal usual self, “Ankit breakfast kiya?”
Ankit looked at her cagily and asked half suspiciously half hopefully, “Kya hai?”
Khushi grinned at him reading him correctly, “Pancakes!”
He grinned at her happily and gave her a hug, “Ohh I love pancakes! Did you know I was coming?”
Khushi ruffled his hair, “A little bird told me,” she whispered conspiratorially, “Now come along boys, chalo jaldi, I am getting late.”
“Mamma chali gayi?” Ankit asked in a small voice; Khushi swallowed and smiled brightly, “Haan she had a meeting but she will be back soon, she promised,” she crossed her fingers as she fibbed; but woh bhi kya karti, bechara looked so hurt and lost.
“Maami chali gayi!” Suddenly it struck Chotti that Mami had come and that she had left without meeting her, what the! Ek CLP kaneez ki yeh himmat, how dare you Maami? She began bawling in earnest and Khushi was hard put to calm her down. Finally seeing no vikalp, she called her up, “Haan Di, hum Khushi bol rahe hain, abhi raaste main hi hain na? Chotti se baat kar lijiye, she is very upset because you left without meeting her,” Khushi handed the phone to Chotti, was diverted enough to reduce volume of her protesting wails and even quieten after Anjali spoke to her cajolingly, lovingly and apologized profusely and promised to get an appropriate gift in the evening.
“Chotti bhi na,” Anjali shook her head, ruefully yet with a hint of pride in her voice, “She really drives a hard bargain doesn’t she? Just like you, she not only wants a gift but also insisted upon a visit to the park with her as well!” Arnav somberly nodded his head without looking at Anjali; he looked a preoccupied and thoughtful.
Anjali sighed, “Chotte, kya soch rahe ho? Tum bhi Kshitij ke tarah sochte ho kya?”
Arnav looked at her in surprise, “Di?” he asked questioningly.
Anjali bit her lip guiltily and shook her head, “Kuch nahi,” but Arnav was not so easily fobbed off, “Nahi Di, kuch toh hai,” he prodded her.
After some coaxing, she came clean, “Bas wohi purani baat, kids or career,” she looked away out of the window, “Tumhe toh pata hai na Chotte, I was always wanted to get into fashion designing, I had even gotten Mamaji to courier me the NIFT application form,” she pulled a face, “Par Papa nahi maane, Mamma tried to convince him but he simply refused to listen, instead he decided to marry me off,” she swallowed, “uske baad the life was such a roller coaster ride that I buried my dream.”
Arnav reached out and squeezed her hand, she smiled tremulously at him and blinked back her tears, “After Shyam’s treachery was revealed, I was ashamed of myself, my dependence, my slave like attitude towards him, my complete non-existence other than him,” her voice sank to a whisper, “I was disgusted at my helplessness, I was determined never to feel beholden to anyone else again, no matter how much I may love that person, I feel compelled to have an identity of my own, a person on my own right, not just a mother, a wife, a sister,” her voice trailed off.
Arnav stared at her as if seeing her for the first time in years, not as his Di, his surrogate mother but as a person, a real live person who had ambitions and aspirations for herself. Realizing they had reached their destination, he got out of the car and helped her out.
Anjali held his hand and cupped his cheek briefly, she smiled apologetically, “Chotte, don’t get me wrong, you are the best brother anyone could have and I am lucky to have the best husband as well, my children are the simply the best, but then I feel this overwhelming urge to make my presence felt in this world, to achieve, to be Someone,” her eyes sparkled like diamonds and she looked almost radiant as she spread her hands around her as they entered the ARD complex, “I feel I was born for this, fashioning clothes, designing gives me such a high, without being boastful, I can safely say I have realized, perhaps rather belatedly, that this is my thing, that I have the eye and knack for this business, I have such a strong gut instinct where such things are concerned that I can take instantaneous decisions within the blink of an eye,” she laughed and clapped her hands in excitement; her shoulders drooped, “Its just too bad that I have to give up one; just when I found my calling, I have to give it up,” she fell silent.
Arnav seemed to be laboring under some strong emotions; finally he spoke, “But Di why do you have to choose? Why can’t you do both?” he waved his hand around, “I too love this and I love my family too, but I don’t have to choose do I? I can have both.”
Anjali looked at Arnav and made a face, “Yes of course you can and you don’t need to choose because you are a man. Kshitij says that no doubt a child needs both his parents, however, while a mother can compensate, at least to some extent, a father’s absence, unfortunately the reverse is much more difficult,” she bit her lip and her lips drooped, “Kshitij thinks that my first priority should be to Ankit, that he is very lonely especially now that Anya is busy in her studies, that his grades are slipping,” she bit her lip and fell silent.
“But Di, Kshitij is at home right? Can’t he at least take care of his studies, abhi toh kitna studies hota hoga?” Arnav pointed out.
Anjali shrugged, “Pata nahi, I did suggest keeping a tutor but Kshitij feels nobody can compensate for a mother’s touch; it is not that I am never there, and in fact whenever I am there Ankit is never there he is off for a friends birthday party or busy watching some important football match which he wants me to watch with him!” She shook her head ruefully, “Here I cancel an important meeting to be with him and he wants me to sit and watch a football match with him, yeh koi baat hui kya?” She swallowed, “Maybe if Ma had been there, or if Nani was with me, I wouldn’t have to choose,” she trailed off.
“But Di,” Arnav put his arm around her, “Why do you keep saying you have to choose, you can have both can’t you? I mean maybe cut down on your commitments a bit, maybe the traveling so that you are home more often?” he offered his solution.
Anjali shook her head self-deprecatingly, “I guess that I am greedy, I want it all,” she looked at him and appealed for understanding, “but is it so wrong, Chotte? Just because I am a woman? When I know I am good at my job, when I can do even better, it gives me such a creative high and makes me feel really alive…”
There was a knock on the door, their clients arrived and their day swung into action with no scope for further exchange of confidences – besides the moment had passed and perhaps Anjali regretted speaking her mind.
“How was your day?” Khushi asked Arnav as she helped him take off his coat, he tugged at his tie and shrugged, “Fine, usual, what about yours? Ankit was fine?”
“Ankit toh bahut hi badmash ho gaya hai,” Khushi busied herself, putting away his coat and taking out a change for him, “And he and Devansh really gang up to make life miserable for Chotti,” she shook her head, “Bechari Chotti, akele Guddu ko manage kar leti hai but when Ankit is here, she really has a tough time,” she looked at Arnav thoughtfully, “Actually I think their primary game is not that they enjoy football so much but that it annoys Chotti so much, she wants to play but she afraid of getting hurt so she ends up providing the BG score for their game, ufff,” she was exasperated with the situation.
“Abhi kahan hai sab? Ankit chala gaya?” Arnav couldn’t see any of them.
Khushi shook her head, “Di ka phone ayaa tha, but he refused to leave and insisted that he would leave only when Di came to pick him up; they just went outside to play football,” she tilted her head, “Can’t you hear the music?”
Arnav quickly changed and joined the children, Khushi followed after giving instructions for evening refreshments to HP.
Angel was overjoyed to see Arnav and complained loud and long about her evil big brothers who refused to let her play; of course that was hotly refuted by Ankit, “Such a liar she is Mamu! I repeatedly asked her to join us, but she is one who is too scared to come in,” he said half-piously half gleefully; both Devansh and Ankit laughed and ran away with the ball. Chotti raised a tearful face to her father, “Dadddyyy football khelna hai!!!” she wailed as she pointed to the two boys. Arnav picked her up from the bench where she was standing and joined the boys on the playground and as you can imagine everyone was overjoyed. Chotti’s wails turned to shrieks of joy as her hero ran about with the ball with Ankit and Devansh trying to snatch the ball away. Khushi watched from the side-lines wishing she hadn’t worn a saree today of all days, damn it pata nahi ab tak change kyon nahi kiya (liar liar pants on fire – pata toh hai kyon nahi change kiya – jab tak na padhe aashiq ki nazar shringar adhoora hai – oho nahi samjhe kya? Har koi cheez mujhe hi samjhana padega kya? Woh kya hai na, Khushi had a meeting in the morning so impression jamane ke liye she donned a saree but then Arnav had already left for the day ab uske aankhon main jab tak na ‘woh’ wala glint dekh leti maza kaise aata- right girls?); she nibbled her fingers as she debated whether she should go and change, she regretfully decided against it, these moments were so rare and short lived pata nahi kaun kab rone lage aur game hi bund ho jaye. Coming to an instant decision, she hurriedly kicked off her shoes and tightly tucked her pallu around and rushed to join them, “Not fair not fair,” was her war cry, “Boys don’t worry here I come!” Chotti was hysterical with excitement and thrashed around on Arnav’s shoulders in a frenzy of dilemma, Mamma or Daddy, Daddy or Mamma? Arnav got a thwack on his face for his pains, not that it hurt but it was enough distraction for Khushi to kick the ball away to Ankit and speed it away towards the goal.
Competitive levels were high as were the stakes – the winner’s crow and the loser’s sneer, screams and shouts filled the air, “Three against one is fair is it?” panted Arnav as he tried to fend off the two boys, “that too carrying Chotti!”
“Don’t make excuses,” Khushi mocked him, “Chotti ka weight hi kitna hai, pehle toh aap hume bhi uta lete the!” she fluttered her eyes at him before running off behind the boys, “Goallllllll” the screamed in unison and danced in joy; feeling brave and safe Chotti scrambled to get down and join them.
“Booooo,” they (including Chotti!) put their thumbs on their noses and taunted Arnav; he looked at Khushi, his eyes promising retribution, “Okay fine, how about a game between Khushi and me?”
Click here for Chapter 281