“Mooommmm!” protested Devansh, “The courier has been delivered and you didn’t tell me!” he was aghast.
“Don’t tell me Bua you are sitting on it!” Ankit too voiced his displeasure.
But Khushi stood her ground; she grimaced, “Courier kha gayee main! Look at all of you attacking me like this!” She placed her hands on her hips aggressively and faced Arnav, “Aapko pata bhi hai ki Guddu ke exams chal rahein hain?” she shook her head, “Nahi na? Well they are on for another week and I didn’t want any additional distraction – as it is he plays too much football,” she defended her decision, “Once his exams are over, he can have it,” she declared firmly.
“So not fair!” grumbled Devansh, he looked calculatively at his father, “Maybe you could try it out to see if it works and all that, right mom? There can be no problem in Dad trying it out right?”
Khushi shook her head, “Nice try Guddu, but nothing doing,” she pinched his cheeks affectionately, “Waise bhi tumhara ‘gift’ hai, how can I allow your dad to play with it first?”
“Oh I don’t mind,” Devansh was very generous, “Dad,” he said urgently, “Ask mom,” he prodded him.
Arnav shook his head and backed off, “No no sorry son, this is your mom’s department, she is the boss, my job was to order, the rest is her decision,” he neatly slipped out of a potentially dangerous situation, “Waise bhi meri bhi kahan sunti hai tumhari amma,” he sighed lugubriously.
Khushi glared at Arnav, he grinned back at her.
“Nani?” Devansh turned to his final trump card.
“Khushi bitiya,” Nani melted and lent her voice in support, “Dekh lo agar…
“Achcha achcha theek hai theek hai,” Khushi relented and said sweetly to Devansh, “If you like I can ‘lend’ it to Ankit, he can try it out and see if it working fine and all, kyon theek hai na?” she offered blandly.
Devansh blenched while Ankit’s eyes brightened and he nodded excitedly; but Anjali sat up in protest, “Khushi! Even Ankit has exams and at least Devansh is only football crazy, this one is a computer game addict and if I do manage to dislodge him from the computer he goes off to play football, pata nahi when he will be serious about his studies!” Anjali moaned.
Angel smiled gleefully, “I love studying,” she swayed almost ecstatically.
“Pfffftttt, Miss goody goody,” Devansh mocked her and raised his arm right under her nose, “Yuck!” protested Chotti, “Moommmm, just look at what Da is doing! So gross, yechhh!” She held a hand over her nose and mouth.
“Devansh!” Khushi cracked the whip.
He backed off, “I am going, I am going,” he moved away.
“Ankit, you too take a shower, then we will leave theek hai,” Anjali said.
Ankit nodded, “Can I borrow a T-shirt of yours Mamu?” he said casually. Although just 13, Ankit had really shot up and was now just a head shorter than Arnav, but he liked to wear Arnav’s clothes, it made him feel big and ASRish!
“Sure, go ahead,” Arnav nodded, while Khushi and Anjali hid their grins while Devansh wasn’t too happy with what seemed suspiciously like ‘poaching’ after all ASR was his Dad but then again this was Ankit – he cheered up, “Come I will help you choose,” he swallowed his petty objections and generously offered.
Since Devansh’s face was very expressive, the adults, especially the ladies had no trouble reading the internal war or the way he emerged victorious from that particular skirmish, “Your son is such a sweetheart Chotte,” Anjali smiled mistily as she squeezed Khushi’s hand.
Ab yeh Chotti ko thoda hajam sa nahi hua, Da of course was her hero, but Maami had no business officially declaring him a sweetheart overlooking her candidature!
She frowned, besides, she had another complaint vis-à-vis Maami, “Maami,” she called in her high clear voice, “Why do you still call Daddy Chotte?”
“Because he is Chotte, my chweet princess,” Anjali pinched her cheeks affectionately and then pulled her into her arms for a tight hug and kiss; Chotti melted, her bruised ego was soothed, she hugged her back, “But he is not Maami,” she said earnestly, after all wrong was wrong, “It sounds so strange and weird when you call him Chotte in front of everybody, like my friends at my birthday party,” she complained plaintively, “they were all smirking and giggling,” she said disgustedly, “Maami he is after all A – S- R!”
ASR leaned back against the sofa and relaxed, a smirk on his face, ahaa finally Di had met her match! Perhaps Chotti would be successful where he had failed – kitni baar kaha hai Di ko ki Chotte mat kaha karo mujhe par woh toh sunti hi nahi hai, he exchanged glances with Khushi who grinned at him, “I wonder if you put Chotti up to this,” she whispered.
Arnav shook his head solemnly, “Cross my heart and hope to die,”
“Shh!” instantly Khushi shut his mouth with her hand and reprimandingly shook her head at him; he blinked back at her lazily before gently removing her hand and kissing it, Khushi blushed prettily and frowned at him shooting an embarrassed look towards Nani, but she was smiling facing Anjali and Chotti as Chotti argued her case with Anjali, “But even Nani calls A-S-R Chotte,” Anjali said in an exaggerated manner.
“Yes Maami,” Chotti was patient but adamant, “Nani doesn’t call him ‘Chotte’ in public or when he is in a meeting does he,” she looked accusingly at Anjali, “I am sure you call him Chotte even in office!”
Anjali bit her lip and looked very guilty, “Right daddy,” Chotti questioned the victim directly and ASR immediately nodded his head rather resignedly and spread his hands helplessly, “Angel sweetheart – only you can understand my plight, think of what it does for my authority – in the midst of a board meeting or that with important clients from around the world your Maami goes ‘par Chotte’,” he shook his head disgustedly, “tabhi toh I avoid including her in such meetings,” he revealed.
“Achcha!” Anjali opened her eyes wide, “And don’t you call me Di in office?” she flared up, “Woh theek hai kya?”
“Haan woh theek hai,” Chotti fought the case for her beleaguered father, “Di is a respectable traditional way of addressing a senior,” she wrinkled her nose, “Par Chotte is so demeaning and humiliating,” she shook her head emphatically
Anjali looked even guiltier, “Achcha baba,” Anjali sighed, “theek hai theek hai, I will call you Arnav from now on in the office, theek hai?”
Chotti shook her head, “Nahi not only in office but also at home otherwise you will never remember,” Chotti wasn’t interested in half measures or compromises and she knew how to get her own way, Arnav smirked as he entwined his fingers with Khushi’s.
“Achcha meri Maa, jaise aapki marzee, kaho toh I will call your daddy Mr Arnav Singh Raizada or Mr Raizada from now on,” Anjali said sarcastically.
Chotti tilted her head consideringly and then shook her head, “No, that would be too formal and stiff, Arnav is fine, right Daddy?”
“Perfect sweetheart,” he opened his arms, “Thank you so much darling, nobody understands me as well as you,” he hugged her tightly.
She hugged him back happily, “If Maami again calls you Chotte, just let me know, main phir Maami ki class loongi,” she grinned impishly at Anjali.
Anjali looked ruefully at Chotti sitting pretty within the circle of Chotte’s arms, “Yeh tumhari bitiya bhi na Cho…”
“Chotte nahi Arnav!” there was a chorus of protest from everybody gathered there; Anjali laughed and hid her face in her hands, “Oho sorry baba,” Chotti slipped down from Arnav’s lap and came to Anjali and shook her finger warningly, “Bolo Arnav, Arnav, Arnav.”
Anjali sighed, “Arnav, Arnav Arnav,” she chanted obediently, Chotti nodded approvingly and then dashed off – her brothers, showered and clean had returned and were busy investigating her pink bag – phew never a moment’s rest for the little girl.
Anjali shook her head, “Yeah Angel bhi na!” she wrinkled her nose and smiled affectionately.
“Haan Di,” Khushi laughed, “Bahut hi khatarnak hai Chotti, just like Anya was!” she shared a smile with Arnav as they recollected how Anya had given them baby-making lessons.
“Anya se yaad ayaa,” Nani spoke up, “How is she? Aajkal phone vone nahi karti, bahuti vyast hai kya? Woh theek toh hai na?”
Anjali nodded, “Haan Nani, she is very busy and doesn’t have time to even talk to me, whenever I call, she is either in a meeting or in a disc partying with her friends and I can never hear her over the music, if I call her in the mornings, she grumbles that she was sleeping or that she is in a hurry getting late for office,” she sighed, “but haan she does message me a couple of times in a day and send forwarded jokes to me and her dad, Khushi ko bhi bhejti hogi?” she looked at Khushi, who nodded, “But still…” Anjali bit her lip and trailed off.
“But kya Di?” Arnav was suddenly alert.
Anjali shook her head, “I don’t know,” she shrugged, “pata nahi I somehow can’t shake off this feeling that all is not right, par Kshitij scolds me for being fanciful and controlling – he keeps telling me ki that now she is a big girl I should let her find and make her own path, but,” she again shrugged helplessly, clearly worried.
Arnav came over and put his arm around her, “Don’t worry Di, next week I have to go to Bangalore, I will drop in at her residence or office, to check if everything is fine, she is working with the Tomar group right?”
Anjali smiled gratefully at him, “Thank Cho,” she bit her tongue and looked around guiltily, “I mean Arnav,” she smiled, “I will give you both her residential and office address, it would be a big relief if you could just see her once, pata hai, over the last three, nahi almost four months she has been gone, I have been to Bangalore twice but each time she was away on some tour, once to Hyderabad and once to Indore or something,” she hesitated, “pata nahin kyon I am getting the feeling that she is avoiding me, but why would she do that?” she shook her head.
“This is not like Anya,” Nani echoed her sentiments, “Pehle kyon nahi bola kuch, I don’t approve of this at all, ek toh akeli ladki aur woh bhi itni door, naahi naahi, humka toh kuch theek nahi lagat hai,” Seeing Nani worried, Anjali got even more upset, tears sparkled in her eyes, “Kya karti Nani, I am so busy with home and office, travelling along the stress and responsiblity of this new business, Aakash was also over at home every other weekend – uska counseling” she swallowed, “Aur phir Khsitij keeps saying I am over-reacting and that I should let her be, give her scope and space to grow,” she bit her lip.
Worried Arnav looked at Khushi, she too shared his apprehensions, twice was too much of a coincidence, and itna bhi kya busy that she couldn’t talk?
“Arnav,” Khushi said thoughtfully, “Maybe you should surprise her, I mean don’t tell her in advance that you are going to meet her, just drop in at her office or residence,” Arnav nodded his head, “Good idea, I’ll do exactly that, if necessary I will stay on an extra day in Bangalore,” Anjali swallowed and squeezed his hand gratefully.
In fact Arnav rescheduled his Bangalore meeting for the same week as he didn’t want to wait a whole week before getting down to the bottom of things and assuring for himself that everything was fine with his little girl.
Since Anya’s office was nearer, Arnav dropped in at her office at the earliest opportunity only to be informed that Anya had sprained her ankle and as the doctor had advised her four weeks rest, she had been working from home for the past three weeks or so. Arnav was taken aback and only partly relieved to know that there were no complaints as far as quality and quantity of work being submitted by her – but that still didn’t explain why she had not shared this news with Di or her father – perhaps she hadn’t wanted them to worry or was there something else?
Whatever it was, Arnav was determined to get to the bottom of it – besides he couldn’t wait to give Anya a tongue lashing – uski himmat kaise hui dammit itni badi baat ghar walon se chhupane ki?
He rang the doorbell and stood waiting impatiently – there was no response – he got irritated followed by a return of worry – if her ankle was sprained, she would be home wouldn’t she – he rang the doorbell again and again.
The door finally swung open and ASR stared in shocked surprise at the ghostly vision that greeted him – pale wan and with her cheeks hollowed out she looked like a skeleton – she muttered something inaudibly before swaying dangerously and fainting – years of practice and quick reflexes enabled ASR to catch her before she hit the floor.
Click here for Chapter 325