Khushi’s heart went out to Arnav – she could read his expressions clearly; she hurriedly pulled Chotti towards her, “Chotti! Idhar suno,” she said in hushed tones, “Ek secret hai which nobody knows about why your Daddy was in such a hurry!”
“Kya?” Chotti was all eyes and ears, properly impressed by her Mum’s theatrics.
“Actually your Babuji,” she pinched Chotti’s cheeks, “And even I, couldn’t wait anymore,” she paused for dramatic effect throwing Arnav a mischievous glance, “for either you or for Da, so we just got married then and there!”
Chotti wore a pleased gratified expression finding the explanation perfectly valid (well maybe the teeniest bit resentful at having been awaited with the same eagerness as Da – according to her she should have at least an edge of about a mile or so more than her elder brother), “Aisa hai kya Daddy!” she gravitated towards him.
“Of course sweetheart,” Arnav muttered gruffly as he enfolded her in his embrace and gave her an extra tight hug as relief flooded him; his eyes met Khushi’s over Chotti’s head, he blinked at her – sambhal liya – she blinked back at him – hamesha.
“But Daddy,” Chotti fiddled with his tie, “You must have been disappointed when Da was born instead of me hai na?” her innocent wide eyes stared up at him trustingly, confidently.
The trapped hunted expression was back but this time Khushi didn’t feel the need to jump to Arnav’s rescue. Khushi sat back comfortably – ab aayega mazaa – she thought gleefully. You were busy pointing fingers at me but you forgot na that the thumb was pointing towards yourself? Let’s see how he wriggles out of this one – unless Aman calls up, she frowned.
“Nahi, I wasn’t disappointed,” began Arnav cautiously but then Chotti’s expectant confident expression fell ludicrously, “I mean I was happy that Devansh was born because now that he was born there was less time left for you to be born, because everyone has their own time to be born and that cannot be rushed or forced,” Arnav spoke rapidly getting more and more entangled as he struggled to find the balance – one word or hint from him and Angel was sure to wave it like a flag over Devansh’s head – Daddy loves me more than you (besides Khushi was just waiting for him to slip up!) and say anything that even suggested that he didn’t have a softer corner for her – those wide hazel eyes would fill up with reproachful hurt tears and he simply couldn’t bear that.
Chotti heard him out in silence, she nodded her head slowly, “I understand Daddy, you don’t want to upset Da but I know you do love me more than you love Da!” she smirked triumphantly, she hugged him hard, “It will be our secret,” she said in a loud whisper.
Arnav just looked at her helplessly, studiously avoiding Khushi’s eyes, which were boring into him.
Yeh Chotti bhi na!
Babuji slowly got better and at Arnav’s insistence continued to stay at RM till such a time that he wasn’t completely fit. Khushi’s cup of joy overflowed – everyone under one roof and healthy! What more could she ask for? Tere lakh lakh shukar hai Devi Maiyya she prayed often. Nani bhi bahut khush thi, for she had company and that too of Lucknow, she spent many a blissful hour talking about the city of her childhood while Chotti picked up Buaji’s takia kalam.
These days, RM echoed with not only Buaji’s HRNK but also Chotti’s.
“Hai re Nandkishore!” Arnav stopped in his tracks to stare at Chotti who was staring back at him with an equally horrified expression, “Daddy what is this! Your shoes – just look at them HRNK!” She clapped a hand to her head and then pushed him back towards his room and forced him to change his shoes and made sure to dump the old pair into the dustbin, “HRNK!” she moaned theatrically, “har cheez mujhe hi dekhna padta hai!”
Arnav just stared at her with a raised eyebrow, too stunned to say anything. Par aise kab tak chup rehta woh bhi?
It was the middle of the night and Chotti burst in crying piteously, “What the!” Arnav swore as he was rudely wakened from his dreamless sleep.
“Kya hua Gudiya?” Khushi pulled her between them and hugged her close, “Mamma ko batao?”
“Bechari Neelima ka kya hoga?” she shed bitter tears of distress.
“Neelima?” Burst out both of them.
“Who the hell is Neelima?” Arnav swore, Khushi frowned at him and shushed him, “Did you have a bad dream sweetie?” she rocked her little girl.
“Neelima ke mamma ko cancer ho gaya and now her Daddy is divorcing her Mamma, what will Neelima do?” Khushi could barely make out the words as Chotti sniffled and blubbered through her sobs, hiccups and tears, “Now there is no money for her school fees, how will she go to school?”
“Who is this Neelima?” Arnav hissed at Khushi.
“Bechari Neelima was so looking forward to going to the school picnic, now she has no money,” wailed Chotti piteously.
“Chotti, Gudiya, stop crying, batao toh yeh kaun na Neelima? Is she in your class?” Khushi shushed her.
Chotti shook her head, “Nahi she is in class 9 and now that bad uncle is going to do bad things to her,” Chotti clung to Khushi.
“Class 9?!” Khushi looked at Arnav who looked blankly back at her.
“Achcha Chotti come on stop crying now,” Khushi forced her head up, “Here drink this water,” she coaxed her to drink some.
“Now tell me, how and where did you meet Neelima and how do you know so much about her? Maybe we can help with some money?” she looked at Arnav, he nodded his head and sleepily sank back on the pillow.
“Neelima comes everyday at 4 pm,” Chotti said, “On Colors channel.”
“What the hell!” Arnav sat up with a jerk and glared furiously at Khushi.
Khushi gave a silent groan. Buaji! She thought instantly, she was the one who was very fond of such tragedy loaded serials where there was load and loads of scope to invoke NK and shed copious tears but to encourage or even allow Chotti to see such trash!
“Chotti!” she shook the little girl, “That! Oho that is just a story and come I will tell you what will happen next,” she pushed the little girl on to the pillow and caressed her, “Abhi for a couple of days Neelima will maybe have to leave school and take up some odd jobs but then they will get to know that her mother’s cancer report was all wrong and that she doesn’t actually have cancer, and the Daddy had also not wanted to divorce her but had been forced to do so by some people who wanted his property and in any case he had taken back his appeal in the court the very next day,” Chotti sat up, her eyes sparkling, “oh really!” she gushed in relief.
Arnav threw off his covers and walked off to the poolside muttering, “What crap!”
Khushi pulled a face but kept her focus on Chotti, “Haan haan Chotti, now lie down and close your eyes,” Khushi patted her gently and continued weaving her story wherein all the ills and tragedies in Neelima’s life was swept away in the blink of an eye.
Khushi heaved a sigh of relief as a soft snore reached her ears – yeh Buaji bhi na hadd karti hain; pucca Arnav would have a lot to say to her but she could hardly ban Buaji from watching her serials could she?
But she couldn’t condone Chotti watching such serials could she?
Click here for Chapter 393