“Baas baas Chotti, baas bas,” Khushi murmured soothingly, her heart breaking for the anguished little girl, “Koi baat nahi, bahut daantenge Daddy ko theek hai?” Chotti perked up a bit, “Nani ko bhi?” This was more interesting; Daddy often got a scolding from Nani, Mamma, Maami, but Nani? Never! She would love to scold Nani, poor Daddy, she didn’t want to scold him, he must have gone after Nani she deduced correctly, it was all Nani’s fault, Daddy’s only fault was that he hadn’t taken her along or even bothered to inform her, but otherwise she couldn’t bear for Mamma to scold him, “Nani ko bhi?” she repeated.
Khushi swallowed, “Nani ko bhi,” she echoed through a tight closed up throat.
Chotti clung to her not willing to risk lose her as well. It was just as well that in order to save time, Khushi had gotten ready before she had woken up the kids, for Chotti wasn’t allowing her to even go to the washroom. Maybe she was coming down with something Khushi thought worriedly as she felt her cool forehead, or she was remarkably sensitive. Khushi sighed and rocked her soothingly and gently tried to tempt her into helping Da make a puzzle. Thrilled to have been successful in bunking school, thanks to Chotti, Devansh generously allowed her to ‘make’ the puzzle – he would pick up a piece and hand it to her and show her where to put it.
Chotti was elated at this was a rare honor. Da was very possessive about his puzzles and scathing about her abilities, he would shoo her away and threaten dire consequences if she so much as ventured near his puzzle and woe betide if even a single piece went missing! Khushi was always putting away his puzzle pieces before any piece got misplaced. Once Chotti had walked away with a precious piece and there had been day long maha yudh; Khushi had finally bought him a fresh set of the same puzzle but he was unappeased, he wanted his old one, how dare Chotti touch his puzzle, uski himmat kaise hui etc etc. Chotti had gotten an earful from her mother for being careless (or was it a deliberate act of sabotage?); a suitably chastised Chotti had desisted since then from even venturing towards his beloved puzzles – but she would watch him yearningly from afar wanting to be included, hoping against hope, surely he would melt one day?
That day seemed to have arrived and soon Chotti was happily playing with her brother. Relieved, Khushi leaned back against the sofa as she sat on the floor with them, and weighed her options. She sighed unhappily, pata nahi Arnav ne kuch khaya bhi hoga ki nahi; when she couldn’t go to the hospital, Khushi had sent HP to the hospital with refreshments but he wouldn’t be able to coax Arnav into eating, she fretted and twisted her fingers. But leaving a fragile Chotti wasn’t an option either. Hey DM raksha karna, kuch toh karo, please.
A little while later, the doorbell chimed. Khushi opened the door and stood in shocked surprise, “Preeto! Itne dino baad? Sab theek hai na?” she happily hugged her childhood friend.
Preeto laughed a bit self-consciously and hugged her back, “Haan main! I know it has been long but I think of you often,” she said a bit defensively, “Tum toh bhool hi gayi!” she accused her friend.
“Arre nahi re,” Khushi dragged her inside, “Even I remember our days of fun and masti but life is so busy,” she shrugged and trailed off.
Preeto put out an understanding hand on her shoulder, “Nahi I understand, and waise bhi we were in Mumbai and it is only recently that we shifted back to Delhi and I couldn’t resist meeting you,” she she shook her gently, “Sab theek hai na? Bahut hi pareshan lag rahi ho?”
Khushi’s eyes filled with tears, “Nani is very ill, she is in the hospital,” she sobbed.
Preeto was shocked, “Oh I am sorry! I should leave, you carry on, I will come some other time,” she made to leave, “Let me know if I can do something.”
Khushi shook her head dolefully, “Nahi, I am glad to see you, waise bhi I can’t go leaving my children alone,” she shrugged helplessly, “Pata nahi kya hogaya hai Chotti ko, normally she is quite happy and independent, but today she is very irritable and clingy,” sure enough, they heard her howling as she came running, “Mammaaaa,” Khushi caught her up in her arms, “Haan haan Mamma yahin hai, dekho kaun ayaa hai, Preeto Maasi, bolo Preeto Maasi.”
“Pleeto Maasi,” Chotti repeated obediently tears still streaking her cheeks, Khushi wiped them away and pulled Preeto inside. Preeto was introduced to Devansh as well and she was charmed by them. Chotti forgot her woes and showed off her favorite toys and was talking nineteen to the dozen with her new friend as Khushi went to arrange for refreshments.
“Khushi,” Preeto turned to her, “I have an idea, why don’t you let me take the kids for today? I have two daughters, eight and six years of age, they will be happy to have new friends for company,” she smiled as she caressed the little girl’s chubby cheeks, “They are still to join a school and get bored of playing with each other, chalo Khushi,” she insisted.
Khushi looked at Preeto with dawning hope and yet worried, “Chotti rahegi kya? Pareshaan kiya toh?”
“Kuch nahi hoga Khushi,” Preeto was confident, “Ek kaam kar, you come along, see them, let them get used to each other and then you can slip off once they are comfortable?”
“Haan Bhabhi,” Poo came up with the tea tray, “Yehi theek rahega, I will go with them, hum sambhal lenge, aap Nani aur Bhaiyy ke paas jaaiye,” Poo’s eyes were swollen and red.
Khushi sighed and nodded, “It’s worth a try and to tell the truth the kids will be happy to get out of the house, thanks Preeto,” Preeto smiled, “abhi mat bolo, baad main bol dena, once they agree to stay!”
Soon they were at Preeto’s place, in a reasonably posh locality. It was a small flat but compact and apart from the children, her husband’s Mamiji lived with them while Mamaji had since moved out (yeah a long story – don’t even make me go there!!). Mamiji was very happy to see Khushi and the kids and made them very welcome. Chotti was thrilled to find girl-friends and instantly became pally with them (although Devansh wasn’t too happy). Khushi could finally leave the kids, feeling that they were in safe hands; she gave a grateful squeeze to Preeto’s hand before rushing off to the hospital.
At the hospital, Arnav had been sitting dejectedly in a private room; Khushi could clearly see devastated anguish pouring out from every fibre of his being. Her heart breaking for him, she had placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, “Arnav,” she managed to whisper through a raw uncooperative throat. He stiffened and slowly raised his grief stricken eyes to Khushi; the moment he met her eyes, his face crumpled and he stumbled to his feet, “Khushi!” he enfolded her in his arms, soaking up strength and comfort from her warm softness, “Khushi Nani theek ho jayengi na? Khushi bolo na, Khushi Nani theek toh ho jayengi na? Apne Devi Maiyya se kaho na, Khushi please,” Arnav was almost incoherent with distress. Khushi had swallowed her own fears and let her positivity spill over to him even as a cold fear clutched her, hey Devi Maiyya raksha karna. Nani theek ho jaayein bas, DM raksha karna hey DM, she prayed long and hard.
“Bachche kahan hain?” he made a grab at normalcy. She shook her head resignedly, “Poochiye mat!” and launched into a description of his beloved Angel’s karnaames and Guddu’s opportunism; his expression lightened fractionally while the deathly squeeze around Khushi’s heart relaxed a bit. They sat quietly side by side, holding hands, drawing strength and comfort from each other as they waited. Khushi bullied him into eating something and forced him to lie down for a nap while she kept a watch.
Anjali returned to be greeted by the shocking news and was quite inconsolable. Anjali was perhaps the most affected by the incident. Apart from worry and concern, she felt terribly guilty and blamed herself for the accident, “Kaisi baat kar rahein hai Di,” Khushi tried to console her, “You weren’t even here, how is it your fault?”
“Sab humari galati hai Khushi,” Anjali sobbed, “I know Nani didn’t want to come over, Kshitij ne bhi mana kiya tha par I didn’t listen.”
“Aisa kuch nahi hai Di, she has been to your place before as well and she is always happy to be with you,” Khushi said.
“This time it was different Khushi, I know it, unka mann nahi tha, but in my selfishness I ignored it,” Anjali insisted, her guilt giving her no peace, “She also mentioned to me that she often got confused at night about the orientation of the bathroom between here and Shantivan, I am sure she must have taken a wrong turn and banged her head or something against the wall,” she dissolved into fresh tears.
It fell to Khushi to offer support and comfort to Anjali as best as she could, for Arnav clenched his fists; set his lips and vanished from the scene. Aakash and Mamaji also pitched in as Khushi stared at Arnav’s retreating back her heart sinking. She knew that look! God forbid, if anything did happen to Nani, he would never be able to recover from it worse, he would never be able to forgive Di, hey Devi Maiyya raksha karna, sab theek karna, she renewed her pleas with a fresh urgency.
Udhar Mamiji’s health showed some improvement and they planned to come over by the evening flight.
It was a long terrifying endless wait and Khushi was glad that she could spend it by Arnav’s side – not only to give support but also soak in the comfort that his warm solid support his mere presence provided. If it weren’t for Preeto’s thoughtful gesture, Khushi would have never been able to be there for Arnav. No doubt their extended families had trickled in, but that was much later and they too were in a state of flux, coming and going at all odd hours. Yash and Palash were at Di’s place and Khushi shuddered to think of Chotti’s condition with 4 boys for company. She was even more grateful to Preeto for stepping when she did and ultimately the children had ended up staying the night at their place. Chotti had been thrilled to have two girls for company and had a blast. Initially Devansh was a bit skeptical about being the only man in an all-woman gathering but then destiny had brought him to Preeto Maasi’s house – for it was here that Devansh fell madly in love.
Anya had had her first crush when she was fourteen but Devansh straightaway graduated to love when he was just about five years of age.
Yes dear friends, at Preeto’s place, Devansh fell madly, irrevocably in love, a love from which he never really recovered and for a long long time (perhaps forever), everything else would be relegated to second place – More on that later 😉
Back at the hospital, Nani made a slow and stead recovery; the doctors were cautiously happy with her progress. But it was only after about 72 hours, and several tests later, the doctors were confident enough to shift Nani out of the ICU with nothing more than a fractured right wrist, courtesy her fall. The entire Raizada-Gupta khandan heaved a huge sigh of relief. She was kept in the private ward for another couple of days before being discharged with a long list of medicines and an even longer list of do’s and don’ts.
Once Nani was discharged, Arnav brought Nani back to RM without any further ado; Anjali bit her lip but refrained from commenting. She knew her brother was too fond of her to say anything directly to her, but she ‘heard’ the unsaid accusation quite clearly. She just hoped that he would over time, forgive her and perhaps for the first time Anjali got a glimpse of what it felt like to be at the receiving end of his displeasure, even if it was silent. She shuddered at the thought of what Khushi would have undergone at the hands of an implacable Chotte.
Click here for Chapter 288