Nani shook her head and sighed ruefully, “Galat toh nahi keh sakte you did what you had to do survive and work out your marriage, I don’t blame you for that but Chotte ke saath toh galat hua hai na?” she raised her hand, “Kissi ne kuch kaha nahi in so many words but now in retrospect I can put two and two together and come up with a clear picture of what must have happened,” she paused, “Business loss hua tha toh Aakash should have pitched in with his share and if he didn’t as his better half you should have ensured that he did so,” Nani pulled at her pallu disapprovingly.
Payal sat down and faced Nani, “I tried Dadiji, trust me I tried,” she spoke earnestly, “but I failed…but to be honest I was personally quite relieved because let’s face it Aakashji is basically a weak character,” she spoke dispassionately in a detached manner, “He would have never been able to survive the blow to his ego, to admit that his Bhai was right, to have it proved that Bhai is a better businessman, he has labored under this inferiority complex for long and had finally made a place and name for himself on his own steam and he fiercely guards that, to admit to a mistake, even to himself would be nothing short of disaster and I…we his family would have had to bear the brunt of it,” she clasped and unclasped her hands, “I gave up after initial attempts showed exactly how explosive the situation became each time the issue arose,” she swallowed, “waise bhi I know Arnavji is strong and capable, he could and would manage any crisis that came his way,” Payal trailed off.
“That’s what you think,” Nani sighed as things became clearer, the little signs she had missed, “Khushi had to bear the brunt of it, she had to sell of her precious AKC,” she shook her head, “And DM alone knows what else she nearly lost.”
Payal swallowed, “Hum jaante hain, amma told me,” she smiled tearily, “But I know Khushi, she is also very strong, she will not only manage but triumph, and most importantly woh kissi bhi haal main khush rehna jaanti hai,” there was a note of pride in her voice, a warm smile on her face and a faraway look in her eyes.
Nani stared at her shocked and wonderingly, “Payal bitiya tum toh phone bhi nahi karti Khushi bitiya ko?”
Payal sighed and got up; she turned away to look out of the window, “Aaapko kya lagta hai Dadiji, that I don’t miss Khushi? That I don’t want to talk to her, meet her, the children,” her voice cracked, “I miss her so much that I cannot tell you but I had to make the choice – it was either her or my husband,” she spread her hands helplessly, “With Aakashji you can’t agree to disagree and carry on instead it is like ‘either you are with me or against me’ so of course I chose him,” her voice had the faintest tremor in it. “I have left it to DM to take me where She wills it.”
A tear rolled down Nani’s cheek, instantly Payal was on her knees, holding her hands, “Oh Dadiji,” She was distressed, “I didn’t meant to upset you, please don’t think I am terribly unhappy or anything like that, sach main, hum khush hain,” she wiped Nani’s tears and smiled at her, “Aisa nahi hai that I am some abla naari who is being tortured and harassed in her sasural,” she gave a genuine convincing laugh, “Far from it, I am content and I probably have more than I deserve, all said and done, I…I do love Aakashji and in his own way he also loves me, he is very caring and supportive of my work, which is my raison d’etre,” she spoke passionately convincingly, “Now that the children are all grown up and flying the nest, my work is my life, the smile on the faces of the girls when they earn their first salary, make their first business deal, the pride in their voices, when they call me up to share their personal triumphs tiny battles won, that is what I live for,” Payal’s eyes glowed with almost a fanatical gleam, “Ek minute Dadiji,” she ran out of the room and returned with an album, “yeh dekhiye Dadiji, all the girls who learnt at our NGO, I insist they send me a photograph of their smiling faces as ‘payment’ for services rendered,” she lovingly caressed the photographs of the girls whose teeth gleamed and eyes shone with joy and pride of achievement, “aapko pata hai Dadiji many of them send a photo by mail or phone but I make sure to print it and store it in this album so that I can look at it whenever I feel low and depressed,” Nani smiled and turned the pages marveling at the positive energy that seemed to emanate from the album – the last page was clearly special – it was dedicated to her parents and Buaji and at the very centre was Khushi – a young and carefree Khushi glowing twinkling eyes her lips curved into the most enchanting smile ever.
Nani felt her breath catch, “Your…your parents, Buaji, they don’t come over here?” she distracted herself.
“Nahi Dadiji, although Aakashji keeps telling me to call them over,” Payal rushed to defend him, “But I only don’t encourage them,” she admitted as she looked down at her attire, “I am not sure how they will take my makeover,” she smiled faintly “besides they are rather in awe of Sasuma and I encourage that trend of thought and prefer that they don’t come over here, but then I do go over to meet them even if it is just for a few days once or twice every six months or so,” she said, “And Aakashji is always supportive and never questions my expenses or what I share with my parents,” she shrugged and smiled, “Itna sab kuch toh hai humare paas and I have full faith in DM she will take care of this other pending issue in her own good time as well.”
Nani looked down in wonder at Payal’s calm unruffled visage, she reached out and caressed her tenderly, “Devi Maiyya sab ko tum jaisi bahu beti de,” she swallowed but a tear escaped, she smiled, “We are really blessed to have both you and Khushi in our lives, nahi toh pata nahi mere parivaar ka kya haal hota,” she embraced her tightly, “thank you thank you and forgive this proud old woman her narrow outlook which has been properly humbled by your tehrav, patience and maturity to mold yourself to the changing times rather than moan and groan about what fate has handed to you, bless you my dear bless you.”
Payal smiled her shy gentle smile, “Kya Dadiji, aisa kuch bhi nahi hai, I only did what was necessary to maintain peace at home.”
“Aur wohi toh nahi karte hain!” shot back Nani, she caressed Payal’s cheek again and said softly, “Hum Khushi ko sab batayenge.”
Instantly Payal stiffened, she clutched Nani’s hands, “Nahi Dadiji aap aisa nahi karenge, please promise me that,” she begged.
Nani was surprised, “Kyon bitiya ka hua, why should I not tell her?”
Payal got to her feet agitatedly and paced about restlessly, “How can I explain Dadiji, you wont understand,” she clasped and unclasped her hands, “Its like both of us have deliberately closed our eyes to the ‘issue’ we are busy and completely involved in our own lives, we don’t think of each other for it is too painful to do so, so we have shut that chapter and convinced ourselves that the other is happy and content in her life and that gives us strength to go on with ours,” she turned frustratedly towards Nani, “I wonder if you understand? Khushi khush toh hai na Dadiji?” she questioned a bit desperately.
Nani nodded, “Haan, at least I think so.”
Payal nodded relieved, “Haan woh toh Khushi hai khush hi hogi, but,” she shook her head worriedly, “you know her – if she gets the slightest idea in her head that all is not well with me she wont rest till she has meddled and tried to set everything right!” she laughed ruefully, “Humari Khushi hai hi aisi – SankaDevi,” she said affectionately.
She was silent for a while and then said carefully, “ Finally I seem to have found my footing in this house and I don’t want anything to rock the boat, and neither would I like to upset Khushi unnecessarily,” she smiled, “I know that I am in her heart just like she is in my thoughts and prayers and like I said I have put in my application with Devi Maiyya and I have no doubt that she will sort in her good time,” she paused and then said brightly, “till then I should count my blessings and look forward to even better things in the future, hai ki nahi Dadiji?”
Nani’s eyes were misty, “Haan bitiya,” she managed to say through a choked throat.
Nani did stay on at Mumbai for a few more days and now that her vision was no longer hampered by her prejudice-laden glasses she saw exactly how the Mumbai wasis, including Manorama, were gently and firmly controlled by Payal. Everybody deferred to her and her voice was the law – a voice that was barely above a whisper on most occasions. Manohar treated her like the daughter he never had while Manorama showed a modicum of respect and gave her complete freedom to run the house while she indulged in her passion – shopping and partying. And Payal was right – Aakash did care for Payal – he was most considerate and solicitous towards her comforts and requirements.
Both Yash and Palash were well behaved and well grounded children – they stole their Dadi’s heart without much difficulty and gave hope to Nani that perhaps Payal’s belief and unshakeable faith that all would be well and that they would tide over this crisis as well was not so misplaced after all.
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