Life continued in this manner and slowly Khushi off-loaded her more onerous tasks to Vinati giving herself some much needed free time with her children and Nani.
For Arnav, Khushi didn’t really need to make time for he was suddenly very busy – he was totally and completely focused on his work, building and expanding his empire – he was now determined to conquer the world, touch the sky, rule the world and what not.
Khushi sighed and shook her head, but she let him live his dream, his destiny. Not that she had much choice for ASR was unstoppable – it was as if he were possessed with an overwhelming urge to succeed, to reach the very top. Or perhaps he was bored with domesticity, he chafed at the bonds of love that bound him and pulled him down; possibly the newness had worn off and ASR was itching to get down and do something worthwhile, make his mark in the world, spread his wings and reach for newer goals. And if for that he had to sacrifice anything, he was ready for it – besides his work gave him such a heady rush, he didn’t want for anything, bas everything should be fine at home so that he could indulge himself and drown in his precious work without any distractions.
There was also another reason – ‘home’ made ASR feel weak and helpless – that day when Devansh and Khushi were untraceable and Nani unwell, Arnav realized that life was not something ASR could control and dictate. ASR did what was only natural – he rebelled and shrugged off the bonds of captivity and strode off to where he was the boss, the man in charge and in total control and not at the mercy of some illusive thing called ‘Kismet’. Arnav was content with emotional fulfillment and domestic bliss but ASR was a different ball game altogether – he was raw, wild and untamed and when it came to a real contest, Arnav was no match for ASR.
ASR successfully expanded his business and started collaborative ventures with Aakash and on his recommendation hired Rajeev as a sort of an Aman replacement who could no longer be ASR’s right-hand man due to the rapid growth of ASR’s empire and added responsibility on Aman’s shoulders.
Didn’t Khushi miss him? Well to be honest, not really – so long as he was happy and content, she too was content. Besides, despite Vinati, Khushi’s schedule was still jam-packed – Nani and the children kept her completely entangled and running through the hoops – toh sach kahe toh she was secretly relieved that Arnav was too busy to demand that she be free and available for him as well.
Moreover, this was a crucial period for the children, they needed her more than Arnav did Khushi consoled herself, Guddu was already in his teens and in no time they both would fly the nest, she thought with a catch in her heart – this time with them would never come again, so she sort of naturally gravitated towards the children.
And the children – they were terribly busy – even busier than ASR. Academic pressure was increasing and Khushi struggled to keep pace with each of their individual needs and demands without bothering Arnav too much. Guddu had his football practice (yes he shed his excess baggage but in the process had become extremely paranoid about his weight and physical appearance – he had shot up in height and had nicknamed his mother ‘mini-mum’) while Chotti had dance classes (she also entered the exalted realms of sharing private stuff with her mother from which Da was banned from eavesdropping on much to his disgust) and both attended music classes as well. Devansh was into drums while Chotti liked to sing.
Therefore, in between all their curricular activities, Khushi had to attend their programs on stage as well, and of course take care of Nani. Because of her failing health and faculties, Nani too demanded a lot of her time and attention.
It was a busy time and bhagte bhagte pata hi nahi chala how the years flew by or how Khushi and Arnav barely had time to meet. They shared the same room of course but there was hardly anytime for themselves and whatever little time they had that would be spent in discussing their children – Khushi would grab any precious moments with him to bring him to about their antics, their accolades, their successes, how much they missed him while Arnav listened. And if there was scope and Arnav did have some spare time, by mutual consent they preferred to spend it with their family rather than miss out on their company.
Yet sometimes Khushi felt as if there was a growing distance between herself Arnav – he seemed preoccupied and elsewhere, more like ASR than Arnav – more often than not she shrugged these fanciful thoughts as the remnants of her Sankiness.
Kuch hoga toh khud hi bata degenge, she was sure.
And she was right.
“Khushi,” he said abruptly as she sat down for her morning cup of tea with him by the poolside after adjusting the volume of the radio playing her favorite songs in the early morning program – she loved this time of the day, the children weren’t up yet and it was her time for a cup of tea with Arnav before the mad rush for the day began.
“Hmmm,” she mumbled softly as she gently swung on the swing unwilling to disturb the morning sounds, the madly birds chirping interrupting the song that was currently playing – tum na jaane kis jaahan main kho gaye hum bhari duniya main tanha reh gaye…
“I wanted to tell you something,” he said.
Something in his voice made Khushi come out of her reverie; she put down her cup, stopped swinging and looked at him keenly, “Kya?”
“I have never lied to you and I don’t intend to start now and I think it is best you know that I don’t love you anymore,” Arnav said in an emotionless tone.
Khushi looked at him, faintly registering the words but not their implications, in fact she felt mildly amused; she picked up her cup and began swinging again, “Achcha theek hai, but I still love you,” she said indulgently, “Hume kuch karna hai toh bata do?” she said with a note of challenge in her voice.
Arnav seemed stumped, he shook his head, “Nahi, just…just wanted to tell you,” he muttered and walked off.
Khushi shook her head, yeh Arnav bhi na beithe beithe pata nahi kab kya ho jaata hai, after nearly two decades of marriage and two children how did it matter whether he loved her or not? Quite natural that the once intense feelings of love and passion would have given way to something more steady and dependable, like affection, understanding, dependency so where was the need to say this at all?
Yet, all of a sudden, it hit her and a spasm of intense pain shot through Khushi – but I still love you with the same intensity and passion! So what had changed?
She closed her eyes and took deep calming breaths as she tried to recollect his exact words, inflection and tone – he had been as calm and cold as if narrating the weather report, “Always been honest with you – I don’t love you anymore.”
He doesn’t love me anymore, he doesn’t love me anymore, the words echoed and resounded in her head till she thought she would go mad – what am I supposed to do now, she thought hysterically. What does he expect me to do in return for his honesty – leave him? Leave this house? What about the kids, what about Nani? Or should I accept this bitter fact and continue as before, is that what he wants? Waves of anguish bubbled up within her, she wanted to cry out and bang her head against the wall – Maybe she would wake up from the bad dream she was having, yes that must be it, she must be having a bad dream, a nightmare.
But then she didn’t have the time to indulge or mope over her nightmare – it was time for the children to be woken up, helped to get ready, hunt out missing files and notebooks, give Nani her medicines, listen to her morning rambles and complaints about the difficult night gone by.
There was no time for love – or fret over it’s absence.
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