Excitement and preparations were at its peak at RM and GM. Mumbai mansion was pretty much cool except for Aakash who was having a tough time hiding his glee imagining Payal’s joy at meeting Khushi after so long (tempered by visions of his mother throwing a tantrum). Fortunately for Aakash who had had ample time to replay the scene over and over again in his mind had ultimately realized that Mate darling wasn’t going to be too pleased (or amenable) so he took corrective steps well in advance, “you know Dad is thinking of going to Delhi to wish Dadi on her birthday?” he confided in her.
Manorama heaved a great sigh, “Hmm, and determined too,” she rued.
“Hmm,” nodded Aakash ponderously, “And Yash aur Palash ko bhi lekar ja rahein hain,” he also sighed.
They looked at each other.
“Maybe,” Aakash said carefully, “Maybe we should also go along, I mean just to keep an eye on things, you know so that things don’t get out of hand?” he looked meaningfully at her.
Manorama looked thoughtful, “Hmm but how can we go uninvited?” she objected.
“Arre nahi Di ne invite kiya hai,” said Aakash hurriedly relieved to have got her on the same page so quickly, “We can stay with her just a day you know,” he lowered his voice, “lets keep this a secret, pehle se kisi ko kuch batane ki zaroorat nahi hai,” Manorama looked puzzled and suspicious, “Bekar main Payal will make plans to visit everybody,” he clarified, “take gifts,” he added, Manorama’s brow cleared and she nodded approvingly, “haan yehi theek rahega, lets not say we are going to Delhi at all! Lets say we are going onwards to Kashmir for a family trip or something and just stopping over at Delhi for the night? Theek hai na?”
Aakash happily agreed and wiped his brow in relief – he had been spending sleepless nights about how to organize everyone’s trip without them getting wise to the true reason but when it came to it – it was a cakewalk!
RM was sparkling clean and bustling with activities – the funniest thing was that everybody was keeping secrets from each other – Khushi told Nani and Arnav that it was for Buaji surprise Bday party but she was also preparing for Nani’s birthday (thinking that Nani didn’t know anything while Nani smiled and hugged the secret to herself); there was also a surprise Poo’s godh bharai function (the next morning) – Chotti of course knew everything – or did she?
Arnav and Aakash (after bit of prodding from Di) had arranged for a special vote of thanks for Chotti giving her credit for organizing the whole thing.
Only Devansh was blissfully unaware and uncaring – muttering only once ‘would have been nice to have Chachu and all the others over as well’ – Khushi smiled overbrightly as she made an excuse while Chotti smirked and winked at Arnav.
The Mumbai gang landed up at Di’s place a day before Nani’s birthday (the party was scheduled for that evening so that they could cut the cake at midnight). Now came the tricky part, how to get Manorama to go along with them and keep it a secret for Payal.
Aakash and Anjali hatched a plan after much khusur phusur.
“Mamiji,” said Anjali casually after the initial greetings and conversation had subsided, “Kal Nani’s 90th birthday hai aapko toh pata hai na? I have organized a surprise party for her at Shantivan, aap chalenge na?” she pleaded.
Manorama stiffened and glared at Aakash who closed up and began fiddling with his phone, “Achcha achcha,” said Anjali soothingly, “Just a thought, waise aap log rest kijiye, I have to go to the bank with Nani,” she informed.
Manorama frowned, “Sasuma aur bank?” she sat up.
“Haan, she said something about taking out all her jewelry, some important documents, pata nahi kyon,” Anjali trailed off.
One could almost see the wheels working in Mano darling’s head.
Manorama coughed and said, “Perhaps we should all go for the party, after all we are family and achcha nahi lagta na if we don’t go inke babuji toh pucca jayenge hai ki nahi?” she looked at Aakash, who shrugged stiffly, “Jaisa aapki ichcha,” and signaled his father who promptly bore her off to one long shopping and visiting expedition giving her no time to interact with Payal and let the cat out of the bag.
In fact, the were so late in shopping that Manohar insisted she wear one of the new outfits from the boutique and go straight to RM for they would otherwise be too late for the party at RM. To give Manorama credit, she did fuss about touch up of make up (no no not makeupiya ka touchupiya – you forget she is fully Englis now), few minutes shut eye for her dark circles, fashionable to be late etc but then the rush hour traffic (not to mention a deep instinctive dreadful feeling about the de-banked jewels) ne uski bolti bund kar di and reluctantly agreed to go straight to RM.
Phew that was one problem solved.
“Aakash,” called Di, “Hum Nani ke birthday par jaa rahei hain, tum log bhi chalo?” she coaxed.
Payal looked hopefully at Aakash who frowned and said, “No thanks Di, we will wish Dadi tomorrow morning,” he declined stiffly while Payal swallowed and turned the pages of the magazine she was staring at sightlessly. Aakash shot a look at her her and then muttered reluctantly, “You can take Yash and Palash if you like,” he said generously and was rewarded with a warm soft smile from Payal making him feel guiltier than ever before – bas itne se hi khush ho jaati hai, sab meri galati hai and yet Payal had to pay the biggest price, he castigated himself, bas aur nahi he promised her silently.
Udhar inside RM, chaos reined and was liberally sprinkled with ‘Hai re Nandkishores’ as Buaji’s excitement reached its peak (aur abhi toh unko pata bhi nahi tha ki unki bhi felicitation honi thi!).
Aaate hi Buaji ne bhanda phod diya that is she had let the cat out of the bag as soon has she had stepped into RM, “bahut bahut badhai ho janam din ki,” she fell all over Nani while Chotti smacked her head in disgust, “Uff Buaji aap bhi na!”
Nani laughed and pulled her pallu, “Arre bitiya don’t worry, itne bhi old naahi hue hain hum, I could guess something was up in any case!” she consoled Chotti, “Par only since yesterday but I guess you must have been planning for long?” she shook her head in admiration and appreciation.
Chotti preened and allowed herself to be mollified – plus she had an ace up her sleeve!
Khushi was distracted and terribly late – ek toh so many preparations yet to be done, aur Buaji kitna baat karti hain – uff she shook her head ‘humse bhi zyaada’ and giggled to herself and then frowned, aur yeh Arnav ko kya ho gaya hai? She wondered. He never takes interest in the organization of any party, preferring to escape to the office but for the last couple of days he had been haunting RM and getting underfoot, interfering and giving orders right left and centre. He insisted upon the whole house being spruced up, unopened rooms cleaned and aired.
He went so far as to interfere in the menu as well! Khushi was like ‘what the’! “Bas itna sa khana!” he sneered, “khane ko toh kuch hai hi nahi,” he fussed as Khushi recited the items.
Khushi stared at him incredulously, “Bas?! Aur kya chahiye, bas hum sab hi toh hai? Didn’t you say only ghar ke log and all that?” she protested.
“Haan phir bhi, doesn’t hurt to have a bit excess food does it,” he said defensively, “What if some other people turn up?”
“Kaun?” Khushi challenged, “And who is the caterer here?” she attacked him, “leave things to the experts,” she said loftily, “aap apna business sambhaliye,” she dismissed him.
Click here for Chapter 452