“Arre Nani!” exclaimed Khushi, “Itne saare gifts! Kya zaroorat thi?” she protested as she helped Nani unpack her stuff soon after her return from Mumbai.
Nani pulled at her pallu, dithering a bit but then mindful of Aakash’s strictures said casually, “Naahi Manohar ne bhijwayein hain tum sabke liye.”
Actually Aakash had impulsively bought a lot of gifts for Chotti and then because he realized it would be churlish not to send anything to Devansh bought a few for him as well and after buying for Di and her family he felt awkward not sending anything for Bhai and Khushi as well – so he compromised by warning Nani, “Please tell them that Dad has sent it all ok? Promise?” he insisted.
“Haan haan promise, khush?” Nani had no choice but to give in.
“Par itne saare?” Khushi looked around in surprise, “And especially so many for Chotti?”
“Haan toh?” said Chotti defensively as she gathered up her stuff, “I told Chachu he owed me gifts with interest,” she said loftily, “Da ne nahi bola toh his loss,” she shrugged dismissively.
“What!” Khushi shot a horrified glance at Arnav’s face which was darkening, “kissi aur se aise koi gift mangta hai kya Chotti?” she snapped.
Chotti stopped short in surprise, “Chachu ‘koi aur’ hai kya? He is just Chachu isn’t he Dad?” she demanded irrefutably.
Arnav wore a rueful look, he shot a warning look at Khushi, “Yup he is just Chachu, relax Khushi let her be,” he ruffled her curls and relieved her of her over-loaded burden, “come let me help you take these to your room.”
Nani wore a small self-satisfied smile and at the first instance when she was alone, she narrated the incident casually to Aakash – the silence at the other end was sign enough for Nani that he was not unaffected.
Thrilled, Nani couldn’t help but share the good news with Anjali, “bas bitiya just one step or two and everything will be alright between my children, bas Devi Maiyya saath de dein!” she prayed.
“Haan Nani,” Anjali laughed and crinkled her nose, “pucca sab theek ho jayega, Aakash waise toh bahut achcha hai bas ego beech main aakar gadbad kar diya,” she rued.
“Aur Chotte kuch kam egoistic hai ka!” Nani sniffed as she pulled at her pallu.
Anjali smiled ruefully, “Yeh Chotte bhi na!” she shook her head indulgently, “Dekhna Nani we three girls will show the boys who’s the boss,” she laughed happily and sat down to plan the party – basically what story to spin to Khushi, how to invite Buaji et al; invite the Mumbai gang without the RM gang knowing about it and vice-versa (besides not letting Chotti know that Nani was in the know after all!).
The days passed swiftly enough, the children were busy with their studies, especially Guddu who was determined to score well and get through the best college in India for his career of choice – he didn’t want to have to argue or beg his dad to fund his college (a real chip of the old block huh!). Chotti was not far behind but while the academic pressure hadn’t really caught up with her (besides being of quick mind it didn’t take her much time to get good grades) yet she was possibly the busiest of the lot – with extracurricular activities. Dance, music dramatics you name she was in it – and her schedule was jampacked. No wonder she didn’t put up too much of a fuss about not being able to fix up an immediate meeting with Chachu et al – her diary was full up! In between, whenever she had time, she delegated tasks to all and sundry – Khushi was ordered to diplomatically fix up with her parents for Nani’s B’day while Aakash casually mentioned to Payal that he was considering going to Delhi to wish Nani on her 90th birthday – well maybe they could stay over at Di’s and hold a party for her a day before or after if ‘they’ were already holding one for her at Shantivan, no need to spread the word, they may go or may not go, he cautioned against informing her parents either. Used to Aakash cagey ways, Payal didn’t really question him too much and just went along agreeably with his plans.
Waise bhi Payal was not the hyper or emotional types, she was of steady disposition and with an ability to take things in a positive light which held her in good stead especially in testing times. Her 50th birthday came and went without much fanfare (for boys will be boys) and Mano darling wasn’t one to blow her beloved bahuriya’s trumpet, though everyone did gift her with expensive stuff worthy of a Raizada bahu and of course wishes poured in from her various protégés from all over. But it was one anonymous bouquet and card that gave her the mostest khushi of all – so much so that she was able to shake her head with equanimity when Aakash asked a bit hesitantly, “Khushi ka phone aaya tha?”
When she shook her head silently, he bristled a bit and said, “Phone toh kar sakti thi? After all she is your younger sister and itna bhi kya ego?” he said defensively.
Payal swallowed and looked at him calmly, “Perhaps she thinks that you may not like it?” she suggested in a noncommittal tone.
The barb hit home; flustered, he retreated.
In the meanwhile the preparations for the grand (multi) party sped up and Chotti had the brilliant idea of trying to trace all of Nani’s living relatives or friends who could come for the party – now this she delegated to Aakash as she surmised that Mamudadu would be able to help the most. Aakash willingly began compiling a list, and soon came up with one that was decent if not impressive but then practical issues arose, they were all old and would require proper accommodation, transport etc for which he needed to consult an adult in Delhi as Chotti wouldn’t be able to handle it. So he called up Di but Di was in a fluster as Ankit who was in the hostel had had an accident of sorts while playing football and had probably fractured his ankle, because of which Di was out of circulation for a while for she was off to (s)mother him.
So it was back to Chotti for guidance, who promptly handed the phone to a clueless Arnav, “Hello?” he said as Chotti thrust the phone into his hand saying, “here speak to Dad.”
There was silence, then an uncomfortable cough, some throat clearing while Arnav raised his eyebrows and made urgent questioning gestures to Chotti who just shook her head and mouthed incomprehensible stuff.
Just then Khushi turned up and Chotti thinking on her feet rushed to distract her and lead her away making even more incomprehensible and mysterious gestures to Arnav whose eyebrows had by now disappeared into his hairline. Impatient and feeling a bit out of his depth by his inability to understand Chotti’s urgent instructions Arnav sought refuge in ‘what the’.
Almost instantly Aakash squeaked, “Bhai!”
Arnav froze – for an instant his heart seemed to stop and then began beating furiously again, “Aakash! Sab theek hai na!” he burst out worry and concern uppermost in his mind – something must be seriously wrong for Aakash to call up.
Click here for Chapter 445