At GM, after everybody left, Aakash coaxed Payal into getting ready for a party at a special place – he even presented her with a saree complete with blouse (thanks to Di). Touched with his thoughtfulness (and efforts to manao her), Payal dressed up even though she was feeling rather low and depressed, sab honge Khushi ke ghar, Amma babuji, buaji aur Khushi toh hogi ki and the children – to be so near and yet not meet them – her heart nearly broke and her throat clogged up, “Chalein?” he said.
She looked up, Aakash was looking positively eager and excited about something, almost like Palash, “Arre aap ko kya ho gaya?” she couldn’t help smiling and her pain eased somewhat – well at least he was happy.
“Kuch nahi,” said Aakash even though he was clearly bursting, Payal shook her head to herself and sighed, all in good time she supposed and followed him out.
It was already dark outside and Aakash had made elaborate preparations, he kept Payal engaged throughout the deliberately circuitous route that he had instructed the cab driver to follow. And then he took the natak to a whole new plane by insisting on tying a scarf over her eyes (Chotti’s idea).
Payal baulked and refused to play ball but Aakash insisted – finally Payal gave in as Aakash seemed to be on the verge of losing his temper, “I don’t believe this is you Aakash, this is so so Kh…Bollywood,” Payal hurriedly caught herself as she stepping out of the car feeling rather foolish.
“Don’t worry,” Aakash helped her out after paying the driver, “There’s no one to see you here,” he said reassuringly.
“But then what is here that I am not supposed to see?” Payal protested.
“Patience my dear patience,” now that he had gotten his way Aakash was all carefree joviality.
Payal fell silent, a lump beginning to form in her throat – this was something that Khushi would have done, she could just imagine Khushi hovering over her, dancing, exhorting, screaming Jiji Jiji Jiji.
Behind the scarf, tears pric-ked her eyes she bit her lip and attempted to control her emotions as she allowed Aakash to help her up the stairs.
Aakash sent an sms and rang the doorbell.
Chotti looked questioningly at Arnav who looked at his phone and nodded slightly. Chotti motioned towards Khushi who was blissfully showing off Maira to her Babuji; Arnav nodded, “Khushi,” he called, “Dekho somebody at the door.”
“Haan,” she called distractedly, “Guddu dekhna,” she passed the order.
“Nahi,” Arnav instantly retorted. Khushi looked at him in surprise, “Kyon,” she looked at Guddu who was standing there with a pained expression as he had been about to go when Chotti stamped his foot, “Because…because,” fumbled Arnav looking at Chotti for help, “because Da is going to the kitchen to get some ice,” said Chotti smoothly, “HP ji is unable to extract the ice tray and Da is an expert, hain na Da?” she said sweetly.
Devansh looked suspiciously at her, “What…?”
The doorbell rang again, “Uff!” Khushi grumbled, “Itne saare log and not one is ready to open the door,” she grumbled as she gave one last tight kiss to Maira and deposited her on to Shashiji’s lap, “Kaun hai?” she opened the door and stared and stared and stared, “Jiji,” she whispered, “Jiji? Jiji, Jiji, JIJI!” she looked from Aakash to a blindfolded Payal disbelievingly and rubbed her eyes before falling on to Payal’s neck, “Jijiiiiiiiii!”
Payal froze, this wasn’t her imagination – this was actually Khushi’s voice – she hurriedly tore off her blindfold and stared at Khushi in equal disbelief, “Khushi!”
They fell into each other’s arms and the whole of RM was in uproar – nobody could hear what the other was saying – in fact not even khud kya bol rahe the! But who cared – there was joyous chatter, hugs and kisses amidst a teary reunion – even the boys realized something momentous had happened (even though they were pretty much clueless and stared at each other taken aback while Chotti joined in enthusiastically all the while smirking superiorly at them).
Its not clear how long all the hulabaloo would have lasted but the twins soon restored law and order – by throwing a major tantrum – that cooled everyone down! Payal covertly squeezed Aakash’ hand – he shook his head and mouthed ‘sorry’ as he squeezed her hand as well. She smiled mistily at him.
Sherry bore off the girls for a stroll in the garden while the elders tried to control their emotions, “Jiji,” Khushi must have muttered a thousand times and followed it up by, “thank you Jijaji! Aap hi ne plan kiya hoga?” she looked at Arnav gratefully who blinked at her, “Saree bhi same hai!” they laughed.
“Nahi nahi,” Aakash disclaimed all responsibility, “Sab Chotti ka idea tha,” he gave credit where it was due.
“Chotti?!” Khushi was stunned, “Woh hai kahan? Chotti,” she called.
But Chotti had disappeared with the boys – she had work to do. The lights dimmed and went off, “HRNK ka hua? Kauno pheuj veuj ud gava ka?” buaji’s distinctive voice echoed in the halls of RM.
Just then the lights came on – there were banners all around. The biggest one was of course dedicated to Nani – in addition there was one wishing Payal and Khushi Happy Birthday (ladies ka age nahi batate na!), one for Buaji who just blushed and gushed HRNK and all but disappeared in dharti maiyya itni emotional ho gayi thi woh, “arre eee kaa, eee toh double parmeswari nikli!” she squeezed the breath out of Chotti (this time her hair elaborate hairdo was messed up beyond repair and she had to regretfully abandon it completely – thankfully photographs le chuke the) and of course one for Mamaji as well.
Mamaji and Mamiji made a ‘fashionably’ late entrance (much to Manorama’s tension – sasuma’s jewelry preyed heavily on her mind you see) and (thankfully) missed the ‘behen milap’ – she would have probably not approved.
Anyway, not having witnessed the earlier scene, she was reasonably gratified by the warm welcome she received and the honor being bestowed on her husband and err bahu as well – and of course the twins were adorable. Maira was already echoing ‘aile nchol!’ at varying speeds, pitches and intensities as she practiced the unfamiliar but exciting words around her tongue. Keira a fast learner was not far behind her more verbose sister and had turned quite a competition (although I am forced to admit Maira was not as quick to follow through on Keira’s badmashees), and she regaled the RMwasis with ‘lo hi bye bye,’ she lisped adorably as she toddled around and wished everybody keeping a sharp eye out for anything that could be pilfered, looted but preferably mangled beyond recognition.
Itna saara excitement se the youngest expectant member too was infected and Poo was bombarded with several kicks in rapid succession. Poo laughed and blushed a pretty pink as the last and final banner unfolded with an invitation for the godh bharai the next day – the moment Poo informed her baby, she was freshly inundated with kicks – yikes kahin abhi toh nahi delivery ho jayegi!
Soon after turning 90, Nani retired to her room, accompanied by her son and bahu. Nani blessed them both and said to Manorama, “Thank you for this beautiful and expensive piece of jewelry but I had told everyone that I will not be taking any gifts,” she smiled to rob her words of any offense, “At my age, I have received the best gift ever, all my children under the same roof, what more could I ask for,” she pushed it towards Manorama, “Here you keep it,” she said affectionately.
To her horror and disgust, Manorama instantly teared up (woh kya hai na ‘thappad se darr nahi lagta pyaar se lagta hai’ types thi Manorama), “Nahi nahi sasuma, this is for you,” she insisted, “hum kaise le sakte hain?” she protested, genuinely.
And so it went on for some time in true Lucknowi style, finally Nani compromised, “Theek hai, I will wear this tomorrow for Poo’s function and then its yours, if you don’t like to take it now, I hope you will take it once I have left for a better place?”
“Sasuma!” said Manorama in scandalized tones.
“Isme itna ghabrane wali kuansi baat hai?” Nani was surprised, “it is time I left, aur sach kahein toh thak gayein hain hum,” she sighed and shook off her somber mood, “Bitwa oo packet dena drawer se,” she requested her son.
Manohar quietly obliged, “Here Manorama, I sorted out these things for you, phir pata nahi kab milna ho nahi ho,” she handed a big packet containing some sarees and jewelry to her.
“Eee sab ka hai Sasuma?” unable to help herself, Manorama peered excitedly into the bag, “Arre yeh toh bahut expensive saree aur jewelry hai!”
“Nothing, just some stuff for which I have no use, perhaps you may like, otherwise you may dispose as you see fit,” Nani lay back tiredly, “Take them with my blessings and request let this family be together always, mere baad yeh aap dono ka responsibility hai, samjhe?”
They nodded dutifully and Sasuma went to join the party downstairs while Manohar also decided to call it a night and bunked down beside his mother – like old times.
Click here for Chapter 454