About a week or ten days later, one evening Chotti was very cranky and irritable. She seemed feverish and had refused her dinner as well. Khushi tried her best to rock her to sleep but failed and Chotti kept asking for Nani. Finally giving up, despite the late hour (it was way past midnight) Khushi called up Nani, hoping that perhaps if she spoke to Chotti, she would settle down and perhaps drift off to sleep. But then to Khushi’s unease, Nani didn’t pick up the phone, despite the fact that Nani was an extremely light sleeper.
A sudden dread filled Khushi even though she tried to calm herself, ‘washroom main hongi, may be the phone is on silent, she may have fallen asleep et etc’; She called several times and thankfully in the meanwhile Chotti fell into an uneasy sleep. Khushi tucked her in and exhausted, Khushi too lay down and attempted to recharge her batteries, but worry niggled her – her instincts screamed that something was wrong, but how could she find out if Nani was ok? She debated waking up Arnav, but what could he do? Besides he had had a long grueling day and would in all likelihood pull her up for being too fanciful and Di was traveling and out of station, toh phir should I wake up Bhaiyya? Ohh wait a minute, she could ask Anya to look in on Nani, she would surely be up studying?
Relieved, Khushi went to the poolside and called up Anya.
Anya dutifully went to check on Nani while Khushi waited drowsily on the swing for Anya’s reassuring call that everything was fine with Nani – but she waited in vain and her uneasiness grew in leaps and bounds. She got up and paced the poolside restlessly; after what seemed an eon, Anya’s called up rather hysterically, “Mami! Nani fell down in the bathroom, she is unconscious, Daddy and I are taking her to the hospital, you please come with Mamu,” she sobbed.
Khushi stood rooted to the spot in horror her blood ran cold, ‘nahi Nani nahi! Devi Maiyya raksha karna, raksha karna, “Arnav!” she shook him awake urgently, “Nani…”
Arnav sat up, “Nani ko kya hua?”
“Nani fell down in the bathroom, she…she is un..unconscious, they are taking her to the hospital,” Khushi’s tears fell thick and fast. Arnav paled and hurriedly got up and began pulling on his clothes; Khushi too started for the wardrobe, “Hum bhi chalenge.”
“Nahi Khushi, you stay here, what about the kids?” Arnav pointed out, Khushi bit her lip, true. She couldn’t leave the kids, the whole house to Poo alone could she? But Arnav driving alone at this hour! Aur Nani?
“Best you stay here, waise bhi nothing much you can do over there, just wait right? I will call you,” Arnav shrugged on his coat, grabbed the car keys and strode off. Khushi stared after him worriedly, wishing she could divide herself into two parts one for Arnav one for the kids, “Drive carefully,” she called softly, her heart going out at the drawn expression and the twisted lips, hey Devi Maiyya raksha karna Nani ki, Arnav ki, sab ki.”
With nothing to distract her and sleep miles away, Khushi had ample time to pray and commune with DM that night. Agitated and restless, she heaved a tiny sigh of relief and sent up a prayer of gratefulness after Arnav reached the hospital safely – at least that was one load off her mind.
“Nani kaisi hain?” she asked almost fearfully.
“Abhi kuch pata nahi,” Arnav said rather curtly, he paused, “She is still unconscious,” his voice broke and he disconnected the phone.
Khushi stared dully at the phone in her hand, which was suddenly clammy. A fearful dread clutched at her; she shook and trembled like a leaf in a storm, she sat down with a thump, she had been hoping that at least Nani would have regained consciousness. Nahi Devi Maiyya nahi! Aisa nahi ho sakta Devi Maiyya please Devi Maiyya, her pleas turned even more desperate and fervent. She yearned to be with Arnav. Actually that was what additionally tearing into her, the desolation in his voice had overwhelmed her, and he was all alone! No doubt Kishu bhaiyya was there but for all practical purposes, he was alone, alone with his thoughts, how would he cope?
Khushi wished she could go and give Arnav moral support; her heart went out to him, all alone with only fear and dread for company. But what could she do? She couldn’t leave her babies alone and go, especially not while it was still dark. Suppose Chotti woke up, she would surely call for her, phir kya hoga. Nahi I should wait till morning, by then they would have some positive news as well, she willed herself to believe. But poor Arnav, pata nahi akele kaise cope kar rahenge honge? Agitated, she knotted her fingers and prayed to DM ‘Raksha karna Devi Maiyya shakti dena.’
Her prayers increased in intensity and frequency; the minutes dragged.
Unable to sit still, leave aside sleep, she quietly crept into the children’s room where their soft snores soothed her as nothing else could; slipping a finger into her daughter’s clenched fist she dozed off fitfully sitting on the floor by their bedside – only to dream of a frail injured Nani in the ICU with flashes of a devastated and broken Arnav. She woke up with a start and paced the floor restlessly; surely her dreams were worse than the reality?
She picked up the phone, she put it down again; he wasn’t likely to talk to her, more liable to get annoyed with her for calling him unnecessarily. Much to her relief, Arnav called her up a little while later, she grabbed the phone, “Kaisi hai Nani?” she said eagerly, hopefully.
“No news yet,” he sighed, “I just called to tell you that for the moment we are not telling Di. She’s on her way back and will be landing by mid morning today, no point in alarming her in advance,” Arnav said tiredly and warned her, “you are not to say anything to her either, theek hai?”
“Haan par,” Khushi was confused, “Di toh abhi flight main hogi na? Abhi baat kaise ho sakti hai?” she questioned logically.
“Ha…an,” Arnav hesitated, “Waise I don’t think she is likely to call at this hour but in case she does tum kuch mat bolna theek hai?” he insisted.
“Haan haan theek hai, woh woh,” Khushi’s heart nearly broke, he had used such a flimsy excuse to call her; just showed how much he needed her, she racked her brains to keep him talking, “Mamaji and all ko bata diya?”
“Haan, Aakash and Mamaji are coming on the first flight available, they will come straight to the hospital, but,” he paused.
“Par kya?” Khushi asked.
“Mamiji apparently has high fever since last night, so Payal will be coming later, once Mamiji improves,” Arnav said and disconnected the phone.
Khushi sighed, ek aur problem! Jiji was not coming now, ab kya hoga? How would she manage everything? At least the kids would have been happy to see Yash and Palash, though Chotti the lone girl amongst so many boys ended up being really teased. Well she would cross that bridge later, if only Nani recovered consciousness, if only she were fine! Please DM, please, raksha karna!
That night was a growing up of sorts for Arnav; he had no choice but to wait, and wait patiently. He dearly missed Khushi and yearned for her warm comforting presence; he too paced the corridors restlessly resting his eyes for longer periods on Devi Maiyya. Slowly but surely, the nervous agitated dread settled down to a dull resigned tension; the voice in his heart grew louder, ‘sab theek ho jayega.’ He grimly held on to that thought as he kept up a silent vigil at the hospital through the night. The alternative was too horrific to even consider. He was of course accompanied by Khsitij who had returned after dropping Anya home. Mamaji and Aakash were able to join them only a couple of hours later.
The morning Sun brought with it some cheer, Nani regained consciousness (with only a hazy memory of what exactly had happened). There was a palpable air of quiet relief all around but the mood was still somber for as the doctors warned, the critical period wasn’t still over. Investigations and testing was still on and she was under close observation and continuous monitoring.
In direct contrast to the solemn silence at the hospital, RM was in uproar and Khushi was at her wit’s end. Khushi had made plans to send the children off to school while she sneaked off to the hospital to be with Arnav, perhaps catch a glimpse of Nani. News of Nani’s turn for the better had given new strength to her and she hurried Poo to help her get the children ready for school.
But Chotti had other ideas.
She woke up and as usual called for her Daddy – but of course there was no Daddy and then she remembered that last night Nani ne koi ghaas nahi dala tha – perhaps she had come back, she rushed off to investigate. Nope no Nani! No Daddy! What the hell was going on! Unbelievable! Morning was her time with Daddy dearest, Mamma would be busy with a grumpy uncooperative Da while Daddy would help her get ready, even sit with her and talk to her while Poo fed her. She loved this time with her father and jealously guarded it. Whenever Arnav went out of station or had some urgent work, he would file an application for leave and formally request her permission. Primed and informed in advance, Angel could if needed be generous, but this ‘away without leave and intimation’ was not something she was willing to overlook or even digest.
She threw a tantrum which would have put Chotte to shame and Khushi was jolted out of her doldrums; she was forced to dig into her repertoire of tricks and nautankis in order to calm the highly insulted CLP – quite unsuccessfully. Devansh too was rudely woken from his morning slumber; he watched a master histrionics at work with awe and a growing hope.
Perhaps today, for once, because of Chotti, there would be no school. He crossed his fingers, held his breath and waited his eye on the clock. He was the model son as he plodded stolidly through his breakfast, as his mother struggled to distract and tempt Chotti into going to school. But she was angry, very angry and to top it all, Mamma was not even letting her speak to Nani or Daddy. Devansh prudently waited till it was too late to send him to school, even by car, before pulling Khushi aside and whispering solemnly, “Mamma rehne do, waise bhi its too late to go to school hain na?”
Khushi stared at him helplessly, yeah he was right, no point in struggling to send them to school now, it was too late; but at least Chotti ka rona bund toh ho! She nodded to her son, who hurriedly escaped from the scene with ill-concealed glee before she could change her mind. Khushi resignedly shook her head at his disappearing back, as she hugged the little girl close, he really did have a one point agenda – how not to go to school!
AKC se toh chutti le bhi le ghar se kaise lein! Khushi was torn between her children and Arnav – and of course it was no choice – she stayed home, her heart going out to Arnav but clearly that wasn’t meant to be; at least Mamaji and Aakash were also there with him now she consoled herself. Waise bhi she couldn’t leave Chotti in this state could she? Thought Khushi as she soothingly rubbed her daughter’s back as she lay hiccuping on her shoulder, murmuring pathetically every now and then like a broken record, “Daddy, daddy pass ja na hai, Nani Nani pass jaana hai.”
Click here for Chapter 287