Arnav stood there with his hands in his pockets staring at Khushi’s stiff retreating back. He abruptly turned and walked away to his cabin as myriad conflicting emotions threatened of overwhelm him. Relief, as arguably A&Ddesigns worst possible crisis already a fading specter, a queer sort of dejection and loss of self-esteem that he needed Khushi to steer him to safety, pride and a hesitant return of his conviction that no matter what Khushi was and would be always with him, guilt admixed with anguish at having been unfair and unjust towards her – why oh why did he always end up hurting her the most?
“Sir, do you have a minute to spare?” Aman was at the door demanding his attention.
ASR straightened and waved him in – the neat orderly precision and predictability of numbers was just what he needed – so much easier to understand and deal with than emotions.
After work, Arnav reached home just as the children and Nani were wrapping up dinner. Chotti immediately accosted him, “Daddy! You never have dinner with us these days,” she frowned accusingly at him.
Arnav ruffled her curls and dropped a kiss on her head, “Sorry sweetie,” he said gruffly, “A couple of days more and I promise I will be home for dinner.”
Chotti was all smiles and insisted that he sit down straightaway for his meal, “Mamma kahan hai?” he looked around.
“Mamma called to say that she would be late, she is busy explaining the ropes to the new owners of AKC,” Chotti informed Arnav importantly.
Arnav’s eyes flickered as a pang shot through him, pata nahi sab kya soch rahein hain? A dull flush stained his cheeks, “You know right Daddy that Mamma has sold off her company?” Chotti leaned across the table, playing hostess she served him a katori of dal, “She said she is tired to running, but Daddy I don’t understand,” she turned to him questioningly, “I have never seen her running? I have always seen her sitting or cooking so what, I mean how,” she shook her head impatiently.
“Arre bititya, unko khana toh kha lene dijiye!” Nani softly reprimanded the little girl, “And she is not talking about the physical running that you children do, it is the mental running, constantly juggling in her struggle to prevent any of the balls she has up in the air from falling,” Nani explained, without much success.
“Juggling?” Chotti asked incredulously, “I didn’t know Mamma could juggle! Oh really that is so cool,” she smiled pleased as Punch, “I will ask her to teach me…”
“Chotti, you really are a fool, Mamma is not literally running or juggling buddu,” interrupted Guddu scornfully, “It’s a figure of speech, haven’t they taught you in school yet? Ya phir dhyan kisi auno taraf howat hai?” he taunted softly.
“Daddyyyy!” wailed Chotti promptly, “Tell him to stop it! He is always taunting me,” she glared at him, “Wait, just you wait till I tell Daddy about your Social Studies mar…”
“Oh look guess who is here!” Devansh jumped up from his seat and ran to greet Khushi, “Hi Minimum!” he put his arm around her and hugged her hard as he towered over her, “Look Dad,” he called proudly, “I am taller than Mom now! I bet you didn’t notice did you?”
Arnav shook his head; true Devansh was indeed taller than Khushi and strangely he hadn’t even noticed, he thought feeling rather ashamed. He really had been too preoccupied the last few months or so and Chotti se toh phir bhi mulaqat ho jaati thi simply because she would come looking for him and his company but Devansh he suddenly realized had either been asleep or scrunched up in front of his laptop, “Yeah,” he said huskily, “Soon you will be taller than me.”
Devansh ran over to his side and insisted he stand up even though he was eating, despite Khushi’s protests, “Just a minute Mum – Minimum,” he teased, “Yeah!” he crowed triumphantly, “Just a couple of months later, I will be the Gulliver of this house and you will be my miniature relatives,” he swaggered around on his toes, “Everyone will bow down to me,” he raised his arms and beat his chest, “Beware! Here comes the new lord and master of Raizada Mansion with his mother tantarraaaa,” he blew his own trumpet and grandly escorted Khushi to the dining table, she smiled mistily up at him and gave him a kiss before sliding down on to her seat. Khushi exchanged a smile with Nani but avoided Arnav’s eyes, which were trained upon her.
She didn’t trust herself.
“Haawww Daddy,” Chotti said in a loud theatrical whisper, “Raizada mansion is about to go to the big Ape! Do something quick,” she urged and with lightning quick reflexes avoided the clutches of the infuriated King Kong as he set lunged her with a loud roar, “Ape am I?” he growled ferociously, “Lemme show you,” he gave a blood curdling snarl and Chotti’s squeals echoed in the corridors of RM.
Khushi shook her head as she helped herself to some dal chawal, “Size main hi bada hua hai Guddu,” she rued, “Look at the way he is behaving as if he is 9 or 10 years of age, kaun kahega that he will soon be 15 years of age?”
Nani shook her head, “Naahi bitiya, they are just happy to see everyone together after a long time,” she adjusted her pallu and smiled tenderly at Arnav, “Chotte ko toh dinner table par dekhe ek arsa ho gaya, maybe the children especially Guddu doesn’t say much openly but sach toh yehi hai, that he too missed his father, this family time,” she nodded her head towards the faint echoes of the screams and shouts, “All this is just a reflection of that,” she paused, “That is if you choose to see.”
“Ji Nani, dhyan rakhoonga,” muttered Arnav and shot a look at Khushi’s face, which was closed and pale as she focused on her food, “Khushi,” he said softly.
She froze for few seconds, “Ji?” she mumbled without looking at him.
“Pass the kheer will you?” he said.
“This isn’t sugar free,” she refused stiffly.
“Daddy!” Chotti burst in with Guddu in hot pursuit.
“Yes Angel?” Arnav looked at the bright red laughing faces of his two children with a catch in his heart, involuntarily his eyes swung to Khushi. His misty eyes met her reluctant startled ones and softened before sliding away the next instant, “Daddy please play Scrabble with us! Please please please,” begged Chotti, “All of us play, even Nani, only you are never there,” she complained.
Guddu didn’t waste his time joining Chotti in her demand – he knew woh akele hi kaafi thi, he simply dug out the Scrabble box and laid it out on the coffee table.
Arnav swallowed, “But then only four people can play at a time right?” he objected.
“Nani and I will play together,” declared Chotti.
“Yea Dad, actually better that way for otherwise she will definitely lose,” Devansh rolled his eyes, “And then shuru ho jayega uska rona dhona…”
“Ji nahi aisa kuch nahi hai!” cut in Chotti sticking out her tongue at her long-suffering brother; she pulled at Arnav’s arm, “Chaliye na!” she insisted.
“Yeah sure, give me a moment will you, I will just change ok?” he patted her head, she nodded happily, “Mamma Nani, jaldi aao.”
Khushi smiled and helped Nani up from her seat, she too wanted to change but since Arnav had gone upstairs she hung back.
It was a lively and boisterous party that went on till pretty late for Chotti lost the first game and she insisted on being given a chance to redeem herself and then to Devansh’s utter horror – he lost! He stared in dazed disbelief at the totaled scores and threw a fit that put Chotti’s tantrums to shame. Nani was forced to expostulate, “Kya Guddu zindagi main haar jeet toh lagi rehti hai!”
Khushi’s eyes swung to Arnav who studiously avoided her eyes. He busied herself in resetting the board while Chotti and Guddu fought it out amongst themselves. Thankfully Devansh had a dream run this time with Chotti tying with her Dad so peace reigned all around. Chotti wasn’t quite ready to break up the party so she insisted on sleeping with her Dad and strangely without saying much Devansh too joined them. It was quite a crowd on the bed with the four of them – a giggly cuddly warm bundle, which was soon snoring. Arnav trapped between Guddu and Chotti could only watch helplessly as Khushi eased herself out before she fell off from her side and went to bunk down with Nani.
Click here for Chapter 409