Feeling slightly ashamed of her ‘holier than thou’ attitude, Nani took a leaf out of Payal’s book and set about mending matters without taking the confrontational path. After all she was the one who wanted the bridge between the two families mended so the onus was upon her to do the needful and in a manner that did not rock the boat so to speak.
Instead of harassing and haranguing Aakash, she cajoled and pampered him, she praised him and his achievements, she expressed her love and need of him in manner that is hard for anyone to ignore aur yeh to Aakash tha – he climbed down from his high horse and was eating out of her hand in no time. It was soon Dadi this Dadi that, and he made an extra effort to come home on time, even took half a day off, cancelled a gala party just to be with her. Nani warmed under Payal’s appreciative smile, feeling she had managed to redeem herself somewhat.
Nani smiled a secret smile to herself, abhi tumne dekha hi kya hai bitiya agar tum ser ho hum sava ser hain! She had a plan, a vague hazy plan no doubt, but if DM was willing kya kuch nahi ho sakta right?
Under Nani’s gentle ministrations, Aakash let down his guard and asked in detail about his brother and family, asking several times, “Bhai theek hai na? sab theek chal raha hai na?”
He was especially interested in yeah you guessed it, “Aur Chotti kaisi hai? Is she still a chatterbox?” he laughed affectionately, “I miss the way she used to secretly nag me to get chocolates and stuff for her making cute faces and eyes not to let Khushi or Bhai know! Pata hai Dadi, I think she was just four or five years old when I had brought a bagful of candies and chocolates at her behest and Khushi caught us,” his eyes twinkled at the memory, “And boy was Khushi angry, par Chotti bhi kam nahi hai – she promptly laid the entire blame at my door, she turned to me with her tiny hands in her hips, ‘oho Chachu aap bhi na, itna sab kuch kyon le aaye? Pata hai na its not good for teeth, waise Mamma, she whispered loudly, I think Chachu likes to eat sweets that is why he brought so many, please Chachu aap hi rakho and she thrust the bag right back at me!” he burst out laughing shaking his head at Chotti’s witty antics.
Nani too laughed along with him.
Providentially, Chotti called up just then, “Naniiii!” complained Chotti from afar, “When are you coming back?” she protested.
Nani smiled and looked at Aakash, “Arre bitiya ka baat hai, its just been a few days.”
“Few days nahi nearly 6 days!” Chotti was aghast, “That means you don’t miss me at all?” she pouted.
“Arre haan haan miss toh karte hain but I miss my family here as well na,” she put out a hand and caressed Aakash on the shoulder, he smiled back at her.
“I also miss them Nani,” Chotti’s voice clearly echoed in the room, ‘good girl’ thought Nani to herself, ‘I didn’t have to manipulate you at all!’ “Nani why don’t they come over here any more?” she said sadly, “I know! You bring them all over with you,” she brightened.
Nani shot a look at Aakash and said guardedly, “haan bitiya that is what I want also but everyone is so busy,” she trailed off.
“Kya busy?” Chotti stamped her foot in annoyance, “Let me talk to Chachu, I am sure he wont refuse me,” she tossed her mane confidently.
Nani handed the phone to Aakash with a self satisfied smile, “Yeh lo baat kar lo apne Chotti se.”
“Chachuuuu,” complained Chotti with an irresistible wealth of haq and apnapan that pierced Aakash’s heart, “When are you coming?” she asked pointblank.
“And hello to you too my dearest Chotti,” he mumbled.
“Chotttiii! Ab toh Chotti badi ho gayi!” she shot back annoyed and put out, “Itne din ho gay ek baar bhi nahi aaye na mere liye koi gift bheja,” she frowned at him.
“Oho yeh toh sach main gadbad ho gayi,” Aakash said sheepishly, “Achcha I will send gifts with your Nani, with interest!” he promised.
“Nahi,” Chotti refused point blank, “You will be forgiven only if you come and give it,” she grinned cheekily, “with interest of course.”
Aakash laughed despite himself, “You could also come over?” he said.
“Oho Chachu I would have, in fact I told Nani to wait for a fortnight when my exams would have been over but Nani hai ki bas wait hi nahi kiya,” she sighed unhappily.
Aakash looked at Nani who nodded her head, “Toh phir,” he cleared his throat, “you are busy with your exams what’s the point in our coming over now? Waise bhi Palash also has exams.”
“Hmm, even Da is busy,” Chotti tapped her cheek thoughtfully, “Chachu I want to speak to you privately, come away from Nani,” she ordered.
Aakash obediently moved away to the window looking questioningly at his Dadi who shook her head denying any knowledge, “Chachu I have an idea,” she whispered theatrically, “ You know na that next year that is 2036 is a very special year?”
Aakash frowned, “Is it? Why?”
“Oho Chachu aapko toh kuch bhi nahi pata,” Chotti rued, “January main Chassi ka 50th birthday, May main Nani ka 90th birthday, July main Mamma ka 50th birthday, October main Buaji ka 75th birthday aur Mamudadu ka bhi 65th birthday in December, hai na special year?” she said triumphantly.
Aakash nodded his head reeling a bit from all the calculations (actually mine is – hope nothing is too messed up 😛), “Yes true,” he said cautiously.
“Oh and I almost forgot! Boo’s gonna have her baby too next year, sooo,” suggested Chotti drawing in an excited breath, “Lets plan a super surprise party for all on Nani’s birthday? By then all our exams would be over and we would be having our summer vacations, at least I would,” she amended, “Da would be preparing for college and Palda would have just started class 12?” she clearly had it all worked out.
Aakash was well and truly cornered, he looked helplessly at his Dadi and finally mumbled, “Uh grand idea Chotti let me talk to your Chassi and get back to you,” he bought some time.
“Nooo!” Chotti immediately protested, “Don’t you see it is a surprise for her as well, we can’t tell her,” she laid down the rules.
“Achcha achcha,” Aakash said hastily, “let me think about it at least?”
“Yes Mom! I am coming!” Chotti shouted in Aakash’s ear he winced but she let him off the hook, “Ok ok fine,” she whispered, “but remember it’s a secret, only you, me and Mami ok? Bye love you Chachu and don’t forget to send my gifts with interest!” she reminded him before disconnecting the phone.
Aakash stared at the phone and handed it back to Nani still looking bemused, “ka hua?” she asked curiously.
“This Chotti is really something huh? Next year ka itna saara birthdays list kiya and now she wants my help in organizing a surprise birthday party, oopsss,” he bit his tongue as he looked guiltily at Nani.
Nani nodded, “Haan I know mere 90th birthday par na? Aur Khushi aur Payal ka 50th etc etc, apan ko sab pata hai,” she laughed, “Don’t worry bitwa Anjali bitiya already let the cat out of the bag, but,” she shook a finger warningly, “par kisiko nahi pata nahi chalna chahiye,” she grinned widely, “especially not Chotti!”
They both laughed, “Ahh I do miss not having a daughter,” rued Aakash.
“Why miss when you do have one?” Nani said gently, he flushed, “Aaoga na bitwa?” Nani asked pleadingly.
Aakash looked helplessly at her and spread his hands defeatedly, “I guess I don’t have a choice not if I don’t want to upset two of my most favorite ladies,” he paused, “Actually three,” he swallowed, “I know Payal misses Khushi very much, kuch bolti nahi hai par,” he nodded his head briskly, “Yes done Dadi, I am your man! Let’s do it, a grand party, lekin yahan par in Mumbai! The best place to party the biggest stars will be invited,” he said getting excited.
“Arre nahi nahi bitwa,” Nani pulled him back gently, “we can’t have it here, saara surprise khatam ho jayega, hoga toh Shantivan main hi.”
Aakash’s face fell, he swallowed clearly about to back off but Nani rushed in soothingly, “Aisi ka baat hai, I am inviting you and you are after all the other organizing half, besides you can stay with Anjali bitiya if you like,” she offered him viable options without really nagging him or giving him gyaan about bhai-charaa and stuff.
He wavered but only just, Nani sighed and went in for the kill, “Theek hai jaisan tumhari ichcha, pata naahi how many more birthdays I can have on this earth amongst my loved ones,” she surreptiously wiped a tear, “I was hoping that issi bahane I would see all my children under the same roof one last time, the only ‘gift’ I ever wanted,” she heaved a deep heartfelt sigh, “Kauno baat naahi bitwa, if you feel you cannot recede from your position, I understand,” she smiled bravely and patted him in a defeated manner, pulled her pallu and walked away dejectedly, “Dadi!” called Aakash impulsively, “We will come,” he promised.
Nani’s face lit up like a thousand watt bulb, she spontaneously put her arms around him and hugged him unable to say a word – shukriya Devi Maiyya shukriya especially for making Chotti call!
Click here for Chapter 444