Now that the wedding festivities were over, the guests returned to their respective homes and the children were back in school. RM wore a deserted dull look; its residents were morose and depressed – especially Nani. Unlike Arnav who was more interested in immediate damage control, Khushi had anticipated this scenario and had tried to take necessary pre-emptive steps. She had requested Mamaji to stay back for a few days but then he was also a busy man (pooja-path and teen care are no mean tasks) so he had offered to take his mother along with him to Mumbai but Nani refused. Of course Khushi’s parents stayed back for a few days but then they too had their own lives in Lucknow and sooner or later wohi hua jo hona tha.
Nani was lonely and Khushi was pulled in four different directions at the same time. Even though Poo was working at the office for quite some time now, yet between them, they managed to stagger their timings and juggle schedules so that home and office ran with clockwork precision (provided no one was ill!). No one really imagined what a void Poo’s absence would leave behind, least of all Khushi. In fact Khushi had been very worried that Chotti would kick up a fuss and miss Poo, but strangely it was Chotti who was very blasé about Poo not being around (after the initial hiccup), “I am a big girl Mamma,” she explained in all seriousness, “aur waise bhi, I am hardly home – I leave for school at 7.30 come back at 2.30, leave for dramatics or dance class at 3.30 and I come back at around 5 0’clock, chat little bit with Nani then homework, maybe a book or TV and then you are back home!” she gave her mother a big hug and went back to her mobile phone.
Khushi shook her head – ab samjhi, she thought to herself, as much as Chotti loved Poo, she was also a hindrance to freedom. She would nag the children, ‘enough computer’ or ‘bahut ho gaya TV’ ‘come on homework karo’ or simply remind them, ‘mamma’s on the way’ and they would reluctantly get down to it for mamma se bachna mushkil hi nahi, na mumkin tha.
Aur ab bachche were relaxed and chilled out, khana ho toh khao varna dining table se gayab ho jao, akhir Nani or even HP couldn’t run after them, zyaada se zyaada a phone call would go to Khushi; she would call up and scold them and that would be the end of it – apni marzee toh ho gayi na. But then if kids were cool and relaxed, could a mum follow suit? Nahi na – pucca they were up to no good, she would worry in the middle of cooking a complicated new dessert or even while pulling up an employee for uncut nails, ‘oho Guddu ke bhi bade ho rahein hai, Poo ko message kar deti hoon’ only to realize Poo ko message karne se koi fayda nahi aur na hi Guddu ko – Chotti was a more dependable option and a great nagger. But then how much could Chotti do? Apna kaam kar le wohi bahut hai. Aur yeh Guddu bhi na – not at all interested in studying – bas football ya phir computer. And recently usne ek naya natak shuru kiya tha in response to his mum’s constant badgering to study now that he was in a bigger class, “Oh I have studied,” he would say airily, “ask me any question?” he would invite challengingly. Possibly this was his foolproof way of taking ‘revenge’.
Bas phir kya tha, time ho na ho, Khushi would have to ask him questions and for that, first she would have to first read his lesson, sit with him and study along with him – exactly what Guddu was angling for!
Combined studies were such fun and not at all boring, he had various opinions and concerns while studying, which he liked to air and share – who better than his mum? So Khushi would have to take out some of her precious time and sit with Guddu while they both ‘studied’.
Chotti would look scathingly over at them and walk off with a toss of her pretty curls muttering loftily, “Da is such a baby!”
Guddu would be least bothered, he had his Mum by his side, full attention on him and only him, small price to pay for Chotti’s sneer – besides what did she know?
The only person who had serious objections to this new development was Arnav himself. But then he was caught between the Devil and the Deep – he couldn’t tell Khushi to leave Devansh alone, let his studies suffer yet resentment and annoyance festered – couldn’t she do all this in his absence, abhi karna zaroori hai kya jab main ghar par hoon? Might as well have stayed in the office, kuch aur kaam hi kar leta, kaam bhi toh bahut hai, Aman busy with his new wife (actually Gurgaon office but then ASR wasn’t particularly feeling generous) perhaps it was time to get a new assistant as well. Par Khushi kahan reh gayi? Class 7 main kitna padhai hota hai dammit – tutor hi rakh le? He fumed as he paced the poolside alone.
And doosri taraf Nani’s health was failing and worse she was lonely. She wasn’t comfortable in Mumbai, besides traveling was a terror at this age. And here everything was changing, the once full house was empty – Poo off to her place, the children busy in school and extracurricular activities, while Arnav and Khushi were of course busy. She sighed and moped as Shakuntala helped her to her room – not the same as Khushi or Chotte, she thought with a lump in her throat, a tear trickled down as she closed her eyes – Hey DM bula le apne paas she prayed.
Khushi juggled and balanced home and AKC as best as she could but then troubles never come singly do they? Ek toh no Poo at home and then Ramiya (pehle bhi bola hai na) had also gone in absentia mode, she and her Jiji decided to go on a world tour! Can you imagine – bechari Khushi bilkul hi akeli padh gayi – even more akeli than Nani to be honest – for at least Nani could complain but Khushi, woh kisko sunati? Besides who had the time to complain, wherever she looked there was work, Chotti ka dance program bhi attend karna hai toh Nani ko doctor ke pass bhi le jana hai, Guddu toh of course milked his ace of trumps for all his worth (either way he won, if she came, Mamma was his for one whole hour and if she didn’t well he was free!) and of course Arnav. Arnav ka toh paara badta hi ja raha tha and woe betide if she ever came to their room looking anything less than as fresh as a nosegay, a spring in her step, a smile on her lips, a twinkle in her eye – bas otherwise to ASR ko toofan khadi karne main koi nahi rok sakta.
And amidst all this helter skelter, wohi hua jiska darr tha…
It was late afternoon and ASR was busy in a meeting in his cabin, his phone was off the hook and mobile as usual on silent mode when there was an urgent knock on the door. Furious, he glared at the unfortunate secretary, “What the hell! Is there a fire in the building? Did I not say that I was not to be disturbed under any circumstances?”
“So…sorry,” stuttered the poor lady, “Phone…from home,” she managed to squeak.
“Phone from home? Khushi!” instantly he dug out his mobile – 10 missed calls, all from home but none from Khushi – he hurriedly called up Khushi but her phone wasn’t reachable, “Dammit,” he hissed and called up RM, “Daddy!” Chotti picked up the phone at first ring and to Arnav’s horror, burst into tears.
“Angel!” Arnav was shocked, “Kya hua? Where’s Mamma?”
“Pata nahi,” sobbed Chotti, “Nani…” she couldn’t stop crying and the rest of her words were unintelligible.
Click here for Chapter 380