Khushi sighed and shook her head, if only I hadn’t called up Jiji, maybe it was something I said, or something in my tone that set her off? Khushi tried to recollect – but then from when had she needed to measure her tone and words with Jiji – when had this distance crept in between them?
Arnav is right, I shouldn’t have interfered I should have let things take their natural course, waise bhi it is not like Jiji and I meet very often or even talk that frequently; she wiped her tears absentmindedly, still entangled in her own thoughts – busy in their lives, they had slowly drifted apart over the years aur pata bhi nahi chala – but the realization hurt, terribly. She crossed her arms and squeezed her arms willing the pain and the anguish to subside under pressure from her arms. Bechare Arnav, he too was fighting the pain and now he was mad at her as well.
She wished for the warm comfort of his arms, the firm clasp of his hand, his soft breath fanning her cheek but yeh sab toh chhodo – now he wouldn’t even look at her – she thought unhappily.
Chotti came running, “Mamma chalo na chalo!” she insisted.
Khushi resisted, “Kahan? I don’t want to go anywhere,” she protested listlessly.
But Chotti itni aasani se thodi na manne wali thi, “Chalo chalo,” she chanted and pulled her, “Oho par kahan? Jaao Da ke saath khelo, hume bahut kaam hai,” Khushi tried to fob her off.
“Koi kaam nahi hai, kal toh Sunday hai, ab now get ready,” Chotti dragged her to the cupboard and slid it open.
“Theek hai theek hai,” she sighed and gave in, “But where do you want to go?”
“Diwali mela,” she smiled and clapped her hands excitedly, “There are big jhulaas, magic shows, a puppet show, oh so many exciting rides and games, chalo we are getting late! Yipee! Lemme go and tell Daddy that we are going!”
Khushi looked at her in dismay, oho yeh toh gadbad ho gaya! She of course knew about the Diwali mela to which Arnav was invited each year and passes were sent to them each year with monotonous regularity. But then ASR didn’t like such events and gatherings and every time they had an argument over it. Over the years, Khushi stopped bothering him about it and in fact avoided letting the children know about it. They would love it she was sure, especially as they were now old enough to enjoy all that was on offer, but then ‘he’ didn’t like it and that was that — as for the children – best if the children didn’t know, that way what they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them.
She sighed, now who had told them about the mela? Ankit most likely, she shook her head…or maybe someone from school?
“Chotti, sweetie,” she bent down and hugged the excited little girl, her heart breaking at having to disappoint her; Arnav would never agree, certainly not during these stressful times, and definitely not today, when he was so mad at her, guilt swamped her, she swallowed, “Gudiya, maybe some other time, your Daddy wouldn’t want…I mean he has had a long day and is too tired to go,” she covered for him.
Chotti shook her head confidently, “No he isn’t, Daddy ne hi bola about the mela and said we could go if you agreed to it.”
Khushi was stunned she stared at Chotti, “Are you sure?” she said disbelievingly.
Chotti nodded her head vigorously, “Haan! Ab get ready quick, I will tell Da to get ready and then I will tell Boo to help me do my hair,” situation under control, the busy little event manager rushed off.
Even after so many years, he could make her heart go dhak dhak she thought rather vaguely and he wasn’t even in the same room! She laughed, feeling light and carefree; if Arnav was with her, nothing else really mattered. Feeling as excited as Chotti, she quickly changed, taking care to choose Arnav’s favorite with special attention to her accessories and make up. She was putting finishing touches when an impatient Chotti danced in, “Not ready yet!” she twirled around the room, “How do I look and my new hairstyle? Da and Daddy are waiting downstairs, come on we will get late, hurryyyy,” Khushi laughed and followed Chotti who was skipping ahead, “Arre dekhne toh do! Kitni pyaari lag rahi ho,” but Chotti had already jumped to the next point on the agenda, say bye to Nani and Boo and of course collect the necessary ooh and aaahs, “Aur mamma bhi kitni sundar lag rahi hai na?” she was generous enough to share the stage with her mum.
Finally they descended the stairs; Khushi was holding Chotti’s hand so she was forced to reign in her impetuous dash downstairs, a clean and (for once) combed Devansh was lolling on the sofa reading a book on dinosaurs, his shirt already half crumpled while ASR was on his laptop, “Daddy!” called his Angel imperiously, “Dekho! How do we look?” she asked confidently.
Arnav raised his head and took in the pretty picture of the mother and daughter; his heart squeezed painfully, he shut his laptop with a snap and strolled over to them, “Not bad,” he drawled softly, Khushi’s breath hitched in her throat while Chotti stamped her foot, “NOT BAD?”
She was highly insulted and infuriated at this lackluster response, Arnav laughed and picked her up, “Oh I was talking about your amma, you my princess are looking absolutely gorgeously stunningly breathtaking,” he made a swooning motion.
Angel was mollified, she kissed him and squealed, “Oh you are crushing my dress, put me down, I am not a little baby any longer!” He obediently put her down, “But Daddy,” Angel wasn’t done yet, “I think you haven’t seen Mamma properly,” she pulled his hand, “Look at her, can you still say ‘not bad?’ to her?” Angel ordered.
Ever obedient Arnav, took his time and gave Khushi a thorough look over, leaving her all adorably flushed and breathless, “Hmm, you are right Angel,” he murmured softly as his eyes bored into Khushi’s, “I think it was because you were standing next to her that she was looking so drab and dull,” he pursed his lips thoughtfully.
Angel laughed and clapped her hands, “Oh Daddy you are a big tease, but whose leg are you pulling, mine or mamma’s? Or both?”
“Smart girl,” Arnav flicked her cheek, “Shall we go?”
Angel nodded her head happily and skipped ahead, “Come on Da, let’s go!” she snatched his book away triggering a minor skirmish allowing Arnav the opportunity to spar with his opponent just a bit more, “Oh just a sec, your necklace isn’t quite proper,” he made elaborate motions placing the necklace rightly on her slender neck; she shivered, “Cold?” he raised an eyebrow.
Khushi made a face and shook her head, “Good,” he nodded as he adjusted her pallu and tucked a stray lock behind her ear; he made the mistake of looking into her eyes, “Kkkhushiii,” he murmured huskily.
“Daddddddyyyy!” protested Angel, “Come on we are getting late!”
Arnav blinked at Khushi even as she blinked back at him, he turned away regretfully, “Coming sweetie,” he sighed and strode off, holding his lady love’s hand firmly clasped in his. He pressed a firm kiss on her hand before releasing it.
That set the tone for the evening and they had a marvelous time at the fair, even Arnav admitted grudgingly, although he didn’t get on to a single ride. At the entrance, Arnav had purchased the package which enabled the others to get on to any ride without having to stand in a queue to purchase a ticket for any ride. Bas phir kya tha, Devansh’s thrifty genes came to the fore and insisted upon going up on each and every ride, “After all we have paid for it!” was his mantra and was quite put out with his mother was refusing to go on the giant Columbus, Chotti was too young for it while he just qualified the bar, “Come on Mom! We have paid for it!” he protested.
Khushi shuddered and shook her head, “No chance Guddu! I get really sick on this one, tum jaao.”
“But we have paid for it!” wailed Devansh, “And Chotti too is too small for it,” he glared at her as if it was her fault.
“Oh never mind that Guddu! I am hardly going to kill myself over paisa wasool!” Khushi pushed him and glared at Arnav, “Oh toh yeh tha aapka plan! Kill Khushi aur kisiko pata bhi nahi chalega asli culprit kaun hai!”
“Yeah right,” Arnav nodded his head as he shoved his hands into his pockets, “One good turn deserves another,” she looked blankly at him, he smiled faintly as he looked her over in a leisurely manner and shrugged, “If looks could kill,” he murmured suggestively.
She smiled her brilliant smile and he almost had a heart attack.
Devansh too had a heart attack and he forgot all his angst regarding the mismatch of ‘paisa’ and ‘wasool’ – unbeknownst to him there was a Dinosaur section complete with real fossils, voice overs and robotic ‘live’ dinosaurs – he was in his seventh heaven of delight and even so far as to forget protest against holding Chotti’s hand so that she didn’t get lost – he hardly even noticed that he was holding her hand, he was too busy holding his breath.
Chotti? Oh Chotti too was in her own seventh heaven, Da was holding her hand! And he was explaining and describing to her all the finer details which she would have missed otherwise – and not a harsh word at all – So what if he sometimes squeezed her hand too hard – she too was so caught up in his infectious excitement and the novelty of it all.
I guess there is really no need to stress over and over again what a wonderfully evening that was for the entire Raizada parivaar and it was a thoroughly exhausted but satisfied family that returned from the fair that night, both Chotti and Guddu fast asleep in the back seat.
Arnav took a quick peek at the now silent back seat and slid the car into the fifth gear as he swerved away from the right turn that would have taken them to RM; Khushi looked at him in surprise, “Kahan jaa rahe hain?”
He flicked her a look, “Sit back and relax, we are going for a drive, a long drive.”
She sat back comfortably, half facing him and crossed her arms, “Haan kissi sunsan jagah rasta rok kar kahenge ‘get out’! Hain na?”
He laughed and pressed the accelerator hard, she squeaked in alarm; he slowed down immediately. He reached out and switched on his music player. Khushi smiled as she recognized the CD – it was a compilation of ‘their’ songs. She sighed and gave into the pure magic of that very special evening – Khushi and Arnav together with their children – what more could one ask for?
Ultimately it was the RV that drowned out every other song in their life.
But of course the day (and night) ended all too soon and it was time for return to asli zindagi where some tough decisions awaited.
Arnav set about dividing up ARD and Anjali reluctantly gave in to Arnav’s plan of ARD’s three way split– much to Aakash’s annoyance, for now instead of half he was getting one-third of ARD (psssst methinks it was precisely this reason ASR’s shatir dimaag came up with the plan in the first place – bekaar main hi bechare Ankit ko badnam kiya :P)
Aakash was quite in a dharam sankat so to speak – ab he very well couldn’t protest ki Di ko mat include karo in this batwara – after all it was on grounds on principle and self respect, izzat and stuff that he was going for this extreme unwanted step and not for petty considerations as money, profits etc. So how did it matter if Di was also being given her share? (But if Poo too had agreed, it would have been a four way split – surely Aakash would have had loads to say then – too bad we missed that track eh?)
Aakash suffered a severe bout of gastritis from which he never really recovered. For it was when the entire responsibility of AksDesigns fell on his shoulders, it was then he realized that perhaps he had bitten off more than he could chew. It finally dawned on him how much exactly he took Arnav’s reassuring capable presence and rock solid support for granted.
Of course by then it was too late – woh kya kehte hain – act in haste repent at leisure. Needless to say, AksDesigns never even came close to the glory and heights of ARD.
But then, neither did A&Ddesigns come out unscathed from the split.
And that is a separate (long) story and its time hasn’t come as yet 😉
Click here for Chapter 312