Chotte looked even more guilty and upset. Di melted.
She made him sit down and sat down too, “Come let’s have breakfast, just you and me; just like when we were kids. Remember Chotte, when we were children, on Sundays mamma used to pack our breakfast and we would go to the near fountain by the edge of our garden at Sheesh Mahal to have our picnic-breakfast?”
Chotte softened as he looked at his Di, “Haan Di, and there were two ducks and also a whole bunch of pigeons who would insist on joining our picnic!”
Di laughed, “Remember mamma used to be so surprised at the amount of food we made her pack? ‘ghar pe toh itna nahi khate?’ she always used to say.”
“That was especially when a couple of puppies also came looking for scraps and we even started taking milk in a bottle!” Chotte laughed as the happy memories cheered him up.
His smile faded.
“Di,” he began seriously.
“First let us eat; then we shall talk, ok?” Di buttered his toast and handed him his juice.
Di bit into a banana and said, “I am so excited, I can’t believe Aakash is going to be a father. Nani is over the moon, a great-grandmother! aur pata hai Chotte, Mami is almost unrecognizable, she is not letting Payal do any work, and she is taking special care of her diet. I can’t believe this is the same Mami who was so against Payal.”
Chotte nodded his head, concentrating on his food.
“It will be so nice to finally have a child running through the house,” Di faltered a bit and then rambled on, “I am looking forward to the day you and Khushi will have your own baby,” she laughed, “Chotte with his Chotti or Chottu! And I will feel more like a grandmother than a bua! After all you are as good as my son.”
‘Di,” Chotte clasped Anjali’s hand, “Di, I am really sorry but I cannot accept this wedding.”
Anjali smiled, her eyes misting over, “You know Chotte, it is so strange, when Kshitij proposed to me, I was worried about Anya’s reaction but I never thought it would be you who would get so upset. But that is my fault; I should have known that you would react this way. Yet I thought now that you are happily married, it would be easy for you to let go of me; clearly I was wrong.
“Di forgive me, please don’t be angry with me Di but I am…I am scared.” Chotte admitted.
“I am not angry Chotte, in fact I am touched by your love for me, I am truly blessed to have such a caring brother,” Anjali lovingly touched his cheek, “Pata hai Chotte, when Shyam proposed to me I was ecstatic, I couldn’t believe my kismet, I couldn’t believe that somebody who could have anybody would choose a nobody like me,” she swallowed, “a…a…nobody with…with a deformity; I was grateful to him for choosing me, I always looked up to him, I was always afraid of losing him that is why I was constantly fasting and praying,” she hesitated, “it is not that I didn’t have doubts; there were a couple of times when I did have doubts but I deliberately chose to shut my eyes,” she paused, and gave a sad smile, “We are both so strange Chotte, when I should have doubted, I closed my eyes and when you should have trusted, you doubted,” she shook her head.
Chotte clutched her hand tightly and tried to speak but failed, he gritted his teeth. He was overwhelmed by the casual way Di was discussing Shyam. At least that was something, a big thing to be grateful for.
“When I was bulldozed into working by Khushi,” she smiled, “I was very reluctant and skeptical, but it is my work that has given me a new identity, introduced me to a different Anjali who I didn’t even know existed, it has done wonders for my confidence and given purpose and direction to my life. I had no time for bitterness and sorrow, I met people, made new friends; I felt whole and new. Yet there was emptiness, a feeling of something missing. Then I met Anya, she filled that emptiness with innocent joy, laughter and unconditional love. Pata hai Chotte, neither Anya nor her father have ever even discussed about my leg; I thought since Anya has come from abroad they are probably taught not to ask personal questions, but as a doctor, Kshitij could have questioned, offered advice, but he has never done so; initially I was glad as I am tired of answering questions and then I was a little piqued, doesn’t he care I thought. Then I realized neither of them cared because it doesn’t matter! For them it is truly a non-issue; they accept me as I am, warts and all, no questions asked. For me, that is such a wonderful feeling I cannot tell you.”
She paused for a while and then continued, “With Kshitij, I am not insecure, we are friends first; perhaps my job has evoked that confidence or their unconditional affection, I am not sure, all I know is that I am comfortable with them and…and there is a sense of belonging; it is like I am meant to be Anya’s mother.”
Chotte swallowed hard and asked hesitantly, “But Di are you sure he loves you? And are you sure you love him? Will you be happy with him?”
Di smiled and shook her head, “Who knows? It’s strange hain na? After having lectured on how pata chal jata hai, I myself have no idea….perhaps my experience with Shyam has….I have also cautioned myself a thousand times, once bitten twice shy, that it is too soon to fall in love, too early to decide, but yeh dil hai ki manta hi nahi; it is as if I don’t have a choice, something is forcing me to take this step, to jump off the cliff, because my heart knows there is somebody who will catch me, keep me safe,” Anjali finished in a whisper and turned looked at the pool shimmering in the morning light.
There was a brief pause as each wrestled with their thoughts.
Anjali cleared her throat, “It is possible that if only Kshitij had been there, it may not have been so easy for me to take a decision; it is Anya who has made all the difference, she has given me the strength and courage to take this decision; to make me believe that no matter what, she will make it all worth it,” Anjali smiled affectionately.
“Anya really reminds me of Khushi, hain na Chotte, I can easily imagine Khushi to be exactly like her as a child,” Anjali mused. Then, hesitantly she asked “Tell me something Chotte, that day on the day of Aakash and Payal’s wedding when you saw Shyam and Khushi together, if it was some other girl, somebody other than Khushi, would you still have forcefully married her? Or if you had seen Khushi with some other guy, would you still have taken the same rash step?” Anjali asked.
Chotte looked at her stunned; he got up and paced the poolside.
There was a rustle by the door, they turned around; Khushi stood there holding his medicines.
Click here for Chapter 40