Khushi raised her tear-drenched face and stared at him dully, “How can we go? Who will be with the children? What if Nani needs something?” she shook her head, “Nahi you stay here, I will go with the driver,” she hurriedly wiped her tears and disappeared into the washroom to freshen up and change.
Arnav clenched his fists and hissed in frustration, “Damn!” She was right they couldn’t leave the kids just like that! But he hated to let her go alone and in this state – he knew she was very attached to her father and God forbid agar kuch ho jaye toh? The cold hand of fear clutched him – Khushi akeli kya karegi? Maybe I should go along with her, he vacillated, Shakuntala can stay here.
“Khushi,” he called urgently as she emerged from the washroom, “I…”
Khushi pre-empted him and shook her head, “Nahi hum theek hain, don’t worry about me, you be here at home and send the children to school,” her voice wobbled as the worst case scenario floated across her eyes but she determinedly swatted it away, “Sab theek ho jayega, DM sab theek kardengi,” she put on a brave face for him.
Relieved to see Khushi back on a somewhat even footing, Arnav nodded, “Take care and keep me updated.”
Khushi nodded and offered him a weak smile before dashing off.
But at the hospital, the scene was grim as the initial reports were not encouraging. The doctors were closely monitoring Shashi but were tight-lipped about his status or prognosis. Garima was at the point of collapse though Buaji was her usual loud bluster, “Nand Kishore sab theek kar denge, DM ki kirpa se sab theek hoga, eh Titaliya tanik Amma ko bolo, aise maatam na manaye,” she reprimanded Garima for mourning before time.
Khushi coaxed and soothed her mother but to no avail. Worried Khushi dragged her mother and buaji off to RM where she could keep an eye on her and besides, it was more exhausting and impractical to shuttle between the hospital, RM and GM.
Payal also landed up in Delhi with her children much to the delight of Devansh and Chotti. They didn’t really understand (or were deliberately kept in the dark) of the gravity of the situation and were quite blasé about the whole thing and more interested in catching up with their cousins and enjoying the unexpected bonanza of no-school days. If it weren’t for their shouts, screams and bursts of laughter, rush of their feet in RMs myriad corridors or their demands, RM would be as silent as a tomb. It was because of them that there was a semblance of normalcy; the kitchen echoed with Buaji’s HRNK’s while she stood over the kitchen stove determinedly cooking one delicacy after another, “Guddu ko pasand hai na gajar ka halwa!” she sniffed as she fiercely swished the karchi in the karhai.
“Re…rehne dijiye na Buaji,” pleaded Khushi, “Aap aaram kariye, let me do it or better still Shakuntala will do it,” she pulled Buaji but she didn’t budge an inch; instead she glared fiercely at Khushi and shook the karchi threateningly at her, “Sun leo Titaliya, hum kahin nahi jaayenge aur na hi humka aaram karna hai, hatto, humra dimaag mat khao,” she dismissed Khushi with a thrust.
“Par we can go and wait at the hospital can’t we?” fussed a pale and clearly distressed Garima.
Nani patted Garima’s hand, “Kya hoga? Nobody is allowed in the ICU isn’t it?” she said gently, “Aur jo bhi karna hai, doctors will do, we can only pray or immerse ourselves in work,” she smiled and nodded towards Buaji, “Like Madhumatiji has done, there is no point just sitting and worrying is there?”
“Haan Buaji,” said Di, who was also there, “Chaliye na hum satsung ke liye mandir jaate hain,” Nani, Garima, Payal and Anjali went to the mandir, though Khushi declined to accompany them – she was too restless and distressed to be able to attend a satsung; besides Khushi preferred to commune directly to DM on a one to one basis.
RMwasis and GMwasis spent the next couple of days in and out of hospital while Shashi hovered between life and death.
Despite attempts at maintaining a normal façade, the atmosphere at RM was grim and somber; with Khushi being the most affected.
She couldn’t simply shrug off the despondency and aura of negativity that seemed to have invaded her being. She was in constant dread of the inevitable and lost the sparkle in her eyes. Buaji (and to some extent Payal and Garima) had completely taken over the reins of RM leaving Khushi free to indulge in her fanciful notions and fears. As the children gave her a wide berth – except for Chotti, who landed up every now and then with her myriad complaints about who had done what and how they were ignoring her etc etc – but then Devansh played the big brother and cracked the whip, “Shut up Chotti,” he hissed fiercely at the dining table as Chotti fussed and whined about how Khushi had once again not prepared her favorite snack, “Don’t be so selfish and self-centered,” he was scathing and blunt in his attack, “Cant you see Mom is worried about Dadaji? He is in the hospital and all you can think of is idli-sambhar!” he snorted disgusted with his little sister.
Wide eyed and chastened, Chotti subsided.
Unknowing and unmindful of the byplay, Khushi was steeped in her own sorrow and moped to her heart’s content and lay around her room almost incapacitated by fear.
Arnav watched in helpless silence, he did try to give her moral support, but she seemed to have given up hope – or possibly the combined weight of her Amma Buaji, Jijji’s sorrow was too much for her or perhaps she was 8 years of age once again, her nightmare was happening once again and she felt paralyzed as the tendrils of fear, dread and apprehensions crept up upon her and suffocated her, engulfing her in their relentlessly tightening clasp – He was still in the ICU, doctors still refused to predict anything – agar Babuji ko kuch ho gaya toh…
Arnav’s lips twisted as he found her once again alone by the poolside staring dully at the sky – would she soon have to look for Babuji as well among the stars?
“Khushi, khana kha lo?” He said softly as he sank down beside her, she looked at him blankly and looked away disinterestedly.
Arnav looked at her worriedly – he had never seen her like this – she looked pale and gaunt, almost ghostlike; at this rate she would fall sick, Arnav thought.
“Khushi!” he clasped her by the arms and shook her gently, “Talk to me Khushi,” she swallowed and shook her head for she simply couldn’t speak. She stood up to walk away unable to either accept comfort or even offer lip service – hum theek hai.
Arnav went hot and cold – this was so unlike Khushi, meri Khushi kahan hai? It was as if she were somewhere far away from him, an agonizing unbearable pang shot through him – aisa kabhi nahi hua.
“Khushi,” he said urgently as he stepped up in front of her, “Don’t do this please Khushi,” he paused as he drew a painful breath, “Don’t …don’t cut me off please, I cant bear to see you like this, please Khushi, you are my strength agar tum hi collapse kar jaogi toh mera kya hoga, Khushi please,” he cupped her face and forced her head up, she looked dully into his eyes boring into hers, willing her to break free of chains of fear, “Tumhari Devi Maiyya hain na, unko bolo woh sab theek kar dengi,” he reminded her.
He blinked – his eyes the mirror to his very soul. As she stared up at him, Khushi roused herself with a effort and finally got a glimpse of his pain, his anguish, his helplessness, her heart fluttered – he was right she was his strength, she had no business collapsing like this, Arnav ka kya hoga? The children, Amma, Buaji – Babuji – nahi Arnav sahi keh rahe hain, Devi Maiyya hain na, woh sab theek kar dengi.
Khushi allowed Arnav’s touch to seep into her fear-frozen heart and mind; as his warmth flooded her, the invisible shackles of dread and hopelessness slid away, strength returned to her limbs, and after what seemed an aeon to Arnav, Khushi raised her hands to cup his face and whisper, “Hum theek hain,” before sliding them around his neck and bursting into gut-wrenching sobs.
Click here for Chapter 389