Actually Chotti’s grouse of ‘partiality’ was totally uncalled for and unjustified; if anything Arnav was more lenient and indulgent towards her as was Anjali – on the other hand, both Nani and Poo were slightly (very slightly) inclined towards Devansh. Khushi was in fact quite impartial – not that she had any choice – for both her off springs had her under a powerful microscope and one tiny slip up and the faintest of whiffs and one or the other would pounce on her and accuse her of taking sides! Poor Khushi often felt like a referee among a houseful of kids – Guddu, Chotti, Chotte and Nani! Yes Nani as well – she sided with Guddu while Chotte supported Chotti. Poo could have tilted the balance either way but then she was usually silenced by a fierce glare from Khushi while she tried to play fair and true – by siding with neither party!
“You always let him play outside till is so late and all dark but for me, I have to be back before the Sun even sets!” she crossed her arms and huffed.
“Oh theek hai theek hai,” Khushi dismissed airily, “You can play outside for as long as you like provided Da is with you,” she shrugged carelessly, “But then don’t complain that you missed your favorite cartoon on Heidi, or that you were so scared of the dark,” she hid a grin as Chotti’s expression fell.
“Aur kya chal raha hai yahan par?” Arnav spoke up as he entered the room.
“Daddy!” Her grouse forgotten (or rather grabbing the opportunity to extricate herself from the corner she had boxed herself in), she ran to greet her father who had just returned from a trip Malaysia, “What did you get me?!”
Khushi smiled as she moved forward more sedately to greet Arnav, strange even after so many years, her heart still went dhak dhak – how could it not when he was looking at her like that?
Arnav looked his fill of the two beautiful ladies and jerked his head towards the lobby, “One whole bag, the pink one is full of just your stuff!”
Chotti squealed excitedly and gave Arnav a big hug before skipping off excitedly, “Booo, Naaniii, look what Daddy got me.”
Khushi gravitated into Arnav’s arms, “And now Guddu will come and complain of partiality!” she rued.
Arnav ignored her; after all he had other more important matters on his mind – he was meeting Khushi after more than a week and the RV was rather insistent. They both gave themselves up to the sweetness of the moment, till Khushi moved apart – she had heard the rush of Chotti’s footsteps, “Mom Dad, Maami is here,” she informed rather breathlessly before rushing out again, clearly she wasn’t done unpacking her goodies yet.
All the ladies were crowded around Chotti’s pink bag admiring her gifts, “Chotte,” called Anjali, “Not fair! So many gifts for your beti aur apne Di ko bhool gaye?” she pouted.
“Maami,” Angel spoke up before Arnav could, “All this is very expensive you know, where will Daddy get so much money to get gifts for everybody? Besides aapko toh pata hai, he is very busy, kaam karenge ki shopping?” she flared up in defense of her beloved daddy.
“Achchaji, he has both time and money to shop for you but not for me?” Anjali pouted.
“Oho Maami gussa kyon karte ho, come choose your gift,” Chotti offered the still half full bag to Anjali, “All this isn’t actually mine, Daddy just gave it to me to share with everybody, right Mamma?”
Khushi nodded solemnly.
Anjali dipped her hand in and fished out a beautiful doll but then seeing the way Chotti’s expression fell, she relented and settled for a chocolate; Chotti was all smiles again. But then she learnt her lesson from that near scrape; to the others she handed their ‘gifts’ as per her choice rather than let them choose!
Everyone of course cottoned on to her tactics and couldn’t help laughing at her antics, “Chotte, humari bitiya to bahut hi sayani hai!” Anjali declared proudly.
“Kuch nahi Di,” Khushi smiled affectionately at Chotti, “Bilkul Arnav pe gayi hai, always on the lookout for a deal – abhi dekhna she will surely extract something from you for that ‘generosity’,” she made a face at him while he looked on with a superior smirk, “Ankit kahan hai?”
Anjali rolled her eyes, “Finally managed to pry him away from his computer and brought him along, outside we met Devansh aur bas kya tha! They dashed off to the lawns for one final game, abhi toh dus baar bulana padega tabhi andar aayenge dono!”
No sooner had she finished speaking, the boys trooped in, all sweaty and grimy; Khushi was about to exclaim, “Itni jaldi!” when she noticed Guddu’s elbow was scrapped, she hurriedly got up after giving a fierce look to Poo who had paled instantly and brought the first aid box, which was well equipped and conveniently placed to deal with such emergencies. Actually cuts and bruises were so routine and common that Khushi had stopped oohing and aahing over them – Poo was enough for that, uske ladle Deva ko kuch bhi hota tha toh woh toh bas wahin par rona dhona shuru kar deti thi aur kabhi kabhi toh khana peena bhi chod deti thi! Well waqiffed with Poo’s likely reaction, Khushi first shooed Poo away, for the sight of blood on her beloved Deva was often too much for her sensibilities (once she had even fainted and Khushi had been at a loss kisko pehle dekhe!) before administering his cut.
With a full house at RM, Devansh got his due share of attention and concern, which he lapped up, as he stoically accepted Khushi’s ministrations – Chotti was all concern and crowded around him to get a clear view of his injury, but then she hurriedly backed off, “Yuck! How you smell!” she held her nose, Devansh made a face at her.
“Dad!” Devansh called as he suddenly caught sight of his father, “Did you get my stuff?” he said excitedly. He had asked for a contraption, which would shoot balls for him and allow him to play football even if he didn’t have any company.
Arnav looked at Khushi, “Didn’t your mom give it to you? I had ordered for it before leaving for my trip, besides it was too bulky to be carried, didn’t the courier come Khushi?” he asked her.
Khushi hesitated and said, “Haan woh…they sent it,” she confessed.
Three pairs of accusing eyes turned to her, “I don’t get it Khushi! If it has been delivered Devansh ko phir diya kyon nahi?” Arnav was incredulous and quite annoyed – he too had been secretly looking forward to having a game with the machine.
Anya worked 18-20 hours a day, barely eating or sleeping, spending any free time in pursuing online classes – academics and work were her only friend her only relief where she could forget the pain of asli duniya. Her phone calls to Delhi were rare and infrequent claiming she was busy with work but was regular in messaging complete with smileys and forwarded jokes – no one really suspected that something was amiss with Anya.
In the initial days Anya had been full of enthusiasm and bitten by the nesting bug – she had refused all those who had come and offered to help her with the housework determined to be independent and manage her tiny studio apartment all by herself. But then once the writing was on the wall, all the fight went out of her – days and nights were just one meaningless endless cycle of work and home – to avoid thinking, avoid feeling, she began carrying work home and turned a blind eye to the piles of dishes, layers of dust, mounds of unwashed clothes. Anya gave up eating, overlooked the dust but she needed clothes to wear to office – clean pressed clothes.
She opened the door of the cupboard and stared at the bare shelves as she took the last of her T-shirts – all her clothes were in the laundry bag. She would have to do something about housework and soon. Her shoulders drooped, she was always so exhausted these days and nothing interested her except perhaps work. While working she could forget everything and find a few moments of escape from the stranglehold on her throat, her heart, her stomach and her head.
But as they say when the Lord closes a door, He always opens a window – and of course the Lord works in mysterious ways.
That weekend as Anya finally decided to attack the pile of clothes, Muniya rang the doorbell. Muniya was a middle-aged woman who worked houses of Anya’s building for a living – relieved Anya handed over the reigns of her housework to the needy kindly woman and went back to her shell.
Pssttt actually a worried and concerned Sherry, unable to follow his own advice to Anya to forget him and build a life for herself had been stalking her and haunting her apartment premises for the last week or so. And he hadn’t liked what he had seen; the dull blank look in her eyes, the shuffling gait had all but killed him. He swallowed hard – she looked as if she hadn’t eaten anything in weeks – he had considered sending an anonymous message to her parents but he was unable to think of a way to do so. But he had to find someway or someone to take care of her soon for he didn’t dare continue to hang around any longer and risk being seen by Anya – as it is once or twice he had been almost caught for Anya had suddenly looked up and around eagerly, as if searching for somebody.
Finally he had accosted Muniya and bribed her into taking care of Anya (after swearing her to secrecy) and walked away (armed with Muniya’s phone number of course).
It took Muniya almost half a day to clean up the tiny apartment but once she was done, even Anya felt better and as Muniya looked around approvingly at the now spic and span apartment, Anya offered her a warm smile of appreciation.
Almost instantly Muniya opened up, “Chai banaaoo?” Perhaps she guessed something was amiss (otherwise why would a stranger bribe her to work here and make her promise not to say anything?), or just that Anya looked so desperately unhappy and in need of sustenance or that she herself was keen on a cuppa chai; Anya shook her head, but on seeing that Muniya looked so ludicrously disappointed, she nodded her head, unsure if there was any stock of raw materials.
Anya went back to work while Muniya ransacked the kitchen and finally almost magically produced two cups of hot sweet kadak chai and a packet of biscuits.
Anya stared at her, she was sure that there was no milk at least and her cup was more milk than tea!
Muniya laughed, “I borrowed some milk and tea leaves from the downstairs mataji, she is very very nice,” she explained quite proudly.
Anya was embarrassed at having thus imposed on a kindly yet unknown person, but the smell of the tea was tempting and refreshing; she silently drank her tea and the tight band around her head eased somewhat.
Muniya was a chatterbox and a kindly maternal soul; within a day or two, she appointed herself as Anya’s local guardian, she offered to buy supplies for Anya’s kitchen otherwise she could just impose on Mataji again, she wouldn’t mind, she said confidently.
Horrified, Anya gave her money for grocery shopping and Muniya soon had stocked up her kitchen and even began cooking for her. She would come early morning, clean up, make tea and parathas for breakfast, which they would share before Anya rushed off to work. In the evenings, in the absence of Muniya or her nagging, she was loath to enter the kitchen and rustle up dinner just for herself. Still things were much better now and at least she could have a light dinner of cornflakes, fruits and milk, which thanks to Muniya was now almost always available.
Yet for all that Muniya did, Anya lost weight and the brilliance of her smile dimmed and faded. She withdrew into her shell and couldn’t dredge up energy to even go to office, pretend to smile and fob off questions and comments that people were beginning to pass at her pale wan appearance.
She finally called her boss and fibbed about having sprained her ankle and if she could work from home?
Seeing no option, reluctantly her boss agreed – he was pleasantly surprised as Anya’s work output seemed to increase and so he allowed her to continue to work from home. This was exactly what Anya was angling for (though not exactly what she needed) and with the stress of commuting (which was really very exhausting and tiring) out of the way, she had more time and energy to tackle work which she attacked like one possessed – work was her opium and even on weekends she couldn’t survive without her daily fix (much to the delight of her boss – where could he get another dedicated worker like Anya?). The days and nights rolled into one seamless endless mass of pain that only eased whilst she worked – even in sleep there was no peace – but Anya grimly held on determined not to go running to her mother to cry her heart out – besides what could Anjie do? Anjie couldn’t force Sherry to love Anya or accept her could she?
But of course things couldn’t go on forever in this vein – one fine morning about four months later, Anya’s doorbell rang.
Anya had just put her head down wearily for a few minutes rest and was jolted out of her dream where Sherry was pleading with her to forgive him; she stumbled to the door and stared bleary-eyed at the man standing at her doorstep, “Sherry?” she uttered in a barely audible whisper – her vision clouded, she swayed dangerously as she lost consciousness.
Click here for Chapter 324