While Chotti was chasing her Da all over RM, Arnav was busy trying to manaofy his cheesed off wife by sending her smileys and compliments via messages (she refused to come online and show him her shakal) while on the way to his meeting. He even sent her flowers but there was no response from her side.
As expected, that put his back up (the ASR BG score began twanging menacingly); all he wanted to do was go right back home and shake her till her teeth rattled while he thundered, ‘tumhari himmat kaise hui mujhse aise baat nahi karne ki?’ Kitni baar kaha hai ki jab main baat kar raha hoon toh‘ – A pleasure to meet you Erik, yes even we are very excited about this deal,” he had no choice but to slide into the forging of yet another deal while his most important deal sniffed disapprovingly and squeezed a corner of his heart making him restless and irritable. The deal went exactly as ASR had planned but only at the end of a grueling four-hour marathon session of back and forth discussions. He was exhausted but triumphant and couldn’t wait to share his victory with Khushi – par woh toh sadi hui thi, she was madder than a wet hen – ab kuch toh karika padi.
By the time he reached home it was late and the children were already in bed, he spent a few moments by the beds of the fruits of his life’s biggest deal. They were of course fast asleep. Devansh was sprawled all over his bed and his bed clothes were all but on the bed (ab itna difficult goal karna woh bhi sote sote kitna mushkil kaam hai aapko kuch andazza bhi hai?). Arnav put them back up and ruffled the champion as Guddu dreamt on, oblivious of the honor.
On the other hand, Chotti slept like a princess and mumbled sleepily the moment he entered her room, “So late Daddy? I have been waiting for my Sunday night story.”
Chotti had an insatiable hunger for stories and all RMwasis had timetables drawn as to when it was their day to tell her stories, including HP and Shakuntala not to mention Poo and Nani. Lately, even Da had joined the ranks of storytellers but they were often pretty much gruesome and filled with blood and glory, not really the stuff that little girls of Chotti’s age would enjoy but still that was only the kind of stories Guddu would deign to narrate.
Khushi of course was the master replacement in case anyone was absconding or unavailable and sometimes even when Chotti wasn’t satisfied with her quota of the day’s stories. But of course Daddy was her favorite option but then he was hardly available, but if he was in town, he couldn’t escape his Sunday story. So Chotti had tried her best to delay her bedtime but ultimately Khushi had regaled her with a couple of lovely stories and then unable to resist, Chotti had succumbed to sleep. But she had clearly not given up on her Dad, he would come, he was in town, he surely had a story for her, maybe about how he got the scar over his eye, or how he met mamma zzzzz.
“I am sorry sweetheart,” said Arnav truly contrite, “I was really caught up in work and just couldn’t make it in time,” he caressed her cheek with the back of his finger.
Chotti sat up, “Have you eaten?” she demanded, “Why do you work so much? We don’t want any more money, we have lots of money,” she scolded him.
“Hush my Angel,” Arnav said with a catch in his heart, “Go to sleep, you will be all sleepy and tired for school tomorrow,” he hugged her.
“I don’t care!” Chotti tossed her head defiantly, “Besides, I have a holiday tomorrow for teachers training day,” she grinned impudently, “Now you can’t escape!” she crowed triumphantly.
Trapped, Arnav stared at her ruefully, he was tired and besides he hadn’t really thought of any particular story to narrate (usually he did his homework so that he was well prepared – unlike Khushi who could cook up a story at the drop of a hat) and of course he was conscious of an urgency to be with Khushi – she wasn’t too happy with him and he didn’t quite like the feeling. But Chotti wasn’t so easily put off, she was wide awake now and she wanted a story “Tell me a story, any story I don’t care,” she insisted.
Arnav hemmed and hawed but there was no escape, “Once upon a time, there was this man,” he began vaguely but Chotti wasn’t happy with such an incomplete description, “What kind of a man? A nice man, a bad man, a prince or an ordinary man? An ugly man or a handsome man?”
Arnav sighed and gave in, he slid back against the headboard and pulled up the pillow as a back rest and kicked off his shoes, Chotti obligingly snuggled up to him, peeping up now and then to see his expression as he plunged whole heartedly into the story.
“Well,” he said thoughtfully, “Not really an ugly man or even handsome, definitely not a prince, partly good and partly bad, but mostly very very grumpy,” he said warming up to his story.
“Grumpy?” Chotti was instantly interested, “Why was he grumpy?”
Arnav shrugged, “I don’t really know, but he was always sort of angry with the world, resentful and suspicious of everything and everyone,” he said in a ruminative tone, “It was as if life had dealt him with an ugly blow and he was determined not to ever get hurt again so he locked up his heart, his emotions behind a façade of a terrible anger and over time he lost the key to laughter,” he hesitated and admitted softly, “and to love, and he was someone who didn’t believe in the institution of marriage.”
Chotti was all ears, “Oh he sounds just like the Beast!” she said excitedly, “what was his name?”
Arnav looked down at her amused and struck, “I guess you could call him the Beast?” he smiled to himself, “Yes you could say that he was shaitan personified.”
“Phir kya hua?” Chotti prodded him in pleasurably excited tones, “I am sure this is the story of the Beauty and the Beast.
“Beauty and the Beast?” repeated Arnav, “Well not exactly but something like that,” he admitted.
“Achcha phir kya hua?” Chotti prodded him.
“Phir ek din, he was going about minding his own business basking in his own grumpy thoughts, determined to conquer the world, show everybody who the boss is when suddenly out of the blue – a ‘hurricane’ dropped into his arms,” the corners of his eyes crinkled.
“A hurricane?” Chotti was impressed, “Phir?”
“Phir…the Beast was stunned and stumped, he stared and stared at her, his heart almost stopped beating and then it jumped to his throat and began beating furiously as if wanting to escape the cage where it was imprisoned,” revealed Arnav softly.
“Why? Was she very beautiful?” Chotti asked breathlessly, all eyes.
A soft breeze blew, he looked up and there she was, the hurricane to his tempest, his counterpart, his ardhangini; “Beautiful?” Arnav held her eyes with his and slowly shook his head, his expression bland but his eyes twinkling with mischief, “Nope not at all, quite the reverse in fact,” he said.
Khushi’s eyes glittered dangerously.
Click here for Chapter 344