Khushi stared at Arnav as he stood in their room staring at the replica of Sheesh Mahal – she wondered what he was thinking; she wondered if it had been a mistake on the part of her parents to bring a replica of the Sheesh Mahal? Ek toh the ARD split had disturbed him and now this. Would it bring back the ghosts of the past, would it evoke bad memories causing his nightmares to recur? She almost broke out in a sweat at the possibility and its consequences. Gathering courage, hesitantly and silently she edged closer to him, “Kya soch rahein hain?” she murmured softly.
He ignored her and continued to stare at the structure. Khushi shot a worried look at his face and moved to pick it up, “Let me put it away safely, the kids might break it or damage it, aap toh jaante hi hain how Guddu is with his football,” she said brightly, chattily, “Aur waise bhi, I think Di really likes this model, maybe we should let her keep it?”
“But didn’t your parents promise to get another one made for her?” Arnav finally spoke as he took away the model from her hands and looked at her, “Aur waise bhi, your parents gifted it to me, wouldn’t they feel hurt if I gave it to Di?”
It was Khushi’s turn to stare but at him; he nodded his head, “But you are right, it is not safe here, get a proper casing made for it and put it in the lobby ok?”
Khushi dumbly nodded her head, “Aa…aap ko bura toh nahi laga na?” she finally squeaked as she took the bull by its horns, better to sort things out now that let things fester.
Arnav put his arm around Khushi and drew her close to him, “Relax Khushi, main theek hoon,” he looked down at her and then at the model of his childhood home, and said musingly, “You know when I first saw it, my heart almost stopped beating and I sort of froze, expecting all the awful memories to come rushing in, drowning me, suffocating me,” he smiled, a rare smile of peace and tranquility, “But you know what?” Khushi stood there silently within the circle of his arms afraid to break the spell of the moment, “Nothing of the sort happened! Instead all the happy memories of 14 years flashed by!” he shook her gently in wonder, almost in awe, “Can you imagine that?” he crushed her to him, “All I could remember was how I ran around amongst its corridors much like Devansh does here, how Ma coaxed me into eating, how I nagged her to make my favorite dishes and tease Di that Ma loved me more than she loved her,” he laughed delightedly at the resurgence of memories long forgotten; Khushi moved away to drink in his strangely childish glee, “And then playing football with Dad and whoever else I could rope in,” Arnav shook his head, “isn’t it strange? I feel no anger no injustice, but somehow at peace.”
Khushi snuggled back into his arms and hugged him hard, sending a huge prayer of gratefulness to DM, “High time Arnav, high time that the shadow of the past leave us and instead of bitter memories, the happy ones should light up our lives,” she smiled happily at him.
He looked down tenderly at her, “You know na? That it is because of you that this miracle has occurred? I could never have imagined that I would ever be able to look upon Sheesh Mahal with fond memories,” something like regret crossed his face, “You know I had bought Sheesh Mahal but I was never really happy over there and in fact the first time I held the fashion show at the Sheesh Mahal, all the emotional baggage, the horrific memories all came together and burst onto you when you fell into my arms, forgive me?” he pleaded.
“Hmm sochna padega,” Khushi pouted, “Itna kaand ho gaya, shaadi bhi ho gayi bachche bhi ho gaye, ab maafi maangne se kya hoga?”
Arnav’s lips twisted, “True,” he shrugged, “Theek hai, don’t forgive me, punish me,” he paused, “By never leaving me, continuously chattering away, eating my head, getting on my nerves, hogging up my space on the bed,” Khushi looked half affronted, half pleased, “So I get on your nerves is it!” she huffed.
“Of course,” Arnav declared rather suicidal, “Not only on my nerves, but you are in my nerves, in the very breath I take, in every step I take,” she melted at the look in his eyes and they both drowned in the RV that swung out in an exhilarated crescendo from behind the pillars of the Sheesh Mahal.
The next few weeks were terribly busy for Anya. She accompanied Aisha to Jaipur; Yatin’s parents were warm and welcoming and the girls had a super week raiding the shops till they were both quite sick of shopping. There was no respite once they came back to Delhi either for they dived straight into the wedding preparations, which were by now in full swing. The days and nights merged into one another and all too soon the big day arrived.
It was a wedding that any girl could hope for – but Anya’s joy was dimmed by the fact that soon she would be parted from her best friend, guide and confidante. As she stared at the beautiful happy face of her friend, she couldn’t help feel a sharp pain of parting, things would never be the same between them not ever, she turned away hurriedly before tears spilled over and spoiled Aisha’s special day.
There was another reason for her distress; seeing Aisha and Yatin so obviously happy and contented, she had a sudden almost irresistible urge to be also settled and married – to Sherry.
But the problem was Sherry hadn’t even turned up for the wedding. In fact, he seemed to have disappeared, with only a few monosyllabic intermittent mail replies to her insistent repeated emails. Sunita had been slightly more forthcoming and Anya had gathered from her mails that she had extended her stay in the States and that Sherry was also on a break, with her. Something didn’t seem right and a vague sort of dread clutched Anya – perhaps it was the fear of losing her friend that made her extra fanciful, but whatever the reason, she wasn’t in the best of spirits.
But it was Aisha’s special day and Anya did her best to raise her flagging spirits, breaking down only during the Vidai ceremony, but then so did Aisha.
Anya felt very low and flat after the wedding and she coped by sleeping 20 out of 24 hours for the next few days, waking only to eat and then crash out again. Anjali just shook her head and let her be; after all it had been a hectic three weeks with no time to relax. She was happy that finally Anya was getting her much delayed rest, bechari hadn’t even had time to recover from her final exams and she had jumped right into the wedding preparations. But then what Anjie didn’t know was that there is no ‘rest for the wicked’ and poor Anya was dogged by nightmares – images of Sherry marrying another, settling in the US without a word to her.
Finally when her body had finished recharging its batteries and it was time to take a call on Hyderabad or Bangalore, Anya sat up and debated long and hard; but of course it was a no-brainer – she chose Bangalore – after all Sunita had assured her that Sherry was contemplating setting up a branch at Bangalore. She smiled impishly to herself and dashed off an email to him informing him that she had finally decided on Hyderbad.
What if he didn’t come back from the States? Her heart sank, she firmed her lips, well she would follow him there! And he would have no choice but to say yes, she decided with a confidence that only youth can boast of.
But then what Anya proposes…fate disposes
Earlier at Dwarka
After Anya had left, Sherry turned his attention to his mother and hurried to do her bidding – he led her to the bedroom, extremely worried – she looked so ill! And she was to travel to the States tomorrow, how would she manage? Suppose there was an emergency on the flight? Should he cancel her trip but then it was an official trip and besides Ma would never agree, so much was at stake; his heart sank at the thought of being out of touch with her and it was such a long flight.
Sherry made his mother comfortable and dimmed the lights, “Ma,” he murmured softly, “I want to take you to the hospital, please don’t say no,” he insisted knowing his mother.
But Sunita held him by his hand, “Sit down Sheru, we need to talk,” she said in a faint voice.
“Relax Ma, let’s first get you a proper check up, we can talk later,” he bent over her, worry lines etched on his face, “Since when did you start getting migraines, it could be something serious, I don’t want to take any chances,” he insisted, “especially since you are traveling tomorrow and there is no time to waste.”
Sunita sat up and shook her head, “I don’t have a migraine but I do need to talk to you,” she insisted more firmly.
Sherry looked at her in surprise and relief, no migraine? And she did look better, not so pale and ready to faint but then why did she say she had a migraine? Women, he shook his head and pulled a chair and plopped down into it, “I seem to be boxed in by chatterboxes,” he rued.
Sunita swallowed, “I am afraid Sheru,” she said in a determined tone, “You will have to give up the other chatterbox.”
Sherry stared at her in surprise, “What do you mean Ma?”
Her voice firm and strong, she repeated, “I sorry Sheru but you will have to give up your dream of marrying Anya.”
There was pin drop silence as Sharath tried to make sense of what his mother was saying; he stared at her – there was no doubt she was dead serious and he felt as if his very life was being sucked out.
Sunita’s expression faltered as she met her son’s anguished bewildered eyes; he whispered hoarsely, “But why Ma? I thought you liked her?”
She stiffened; her expression hardened, she turned away, “That’s not important whether I like her or not.”
Sharath was even more bewildered, “Then what’s important?” he shrugged helplessly.
“What’s important is that she is Anjali Singh Raizada’s daughter,” her voice hard and uncompromising.
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