The party went on till late at night – haan baba haan, the musical troupe was a huge success – initially they played songs of Nani’s era (which of course the children didn’t much care for) but then Nani got very emotional and nostalgic, so they switched to popular demand songs while Nani retired for the night.
Being so late and all, the entire gang ultimately ended up staying at RM (Arnav’s far-sightedness paid off and all the rooms came into use and was still a squeeze but then when all are in sync who cares – hai ki nahi?). Of course Aman and co had also called it a day soon after Nani had cut the cake for Poo was very tired and needed her beauty sleep. She wasn’t too keen to leave but all the elders insisted seeing that she was uncomfortable and ill at ease. Good thing too because she had to be rushed to the hospital a couple of hours later with cramps which thankfully turned out to be false labor pains – they kept her back at the hospital to observe her before allowing her to attend her function.
Party late tak chalee thee toh zahir hai ki everybody got up late – of course barring the magical duo of Khushi and Payal who were up and about early morning preparing for the godh bharai function later in the day. Both of them treasured and cherished this time and space, away from their respective families – much as they were loved, this time alone with each other was equally precious and long awaited. It was just like old days, when forgetting the task at hand they began chattering nineteen to the dozen each vying with the other trying to get a word in edgewise (even Payal) until a thunderous, “HRNK ee deikho in dono ladkiyon ko – itna saara kaam padha hai aur kauno hos naahi bas patar patar patar, haain! Aur ee Titaliya ka toh theek hai, tumho bhi Payalia,” Buaji was most disgusted.
They started guiltily before bursting into laughter and hugging Buaji, “Haain chhoddo humka ee ka karat ho, kuchcho bhi naahi badla HRNK, amma bann gaye ho, kalko dadi-nani bhi bann jaaogi tab bhi aisan hi karoge ka? HRNK!”
“Ji Buaajiii,” Khushi and Payal encircled her and ran a ring around her while she flapped her arms hysterically, “HRNK, hatao arre hatao, humra sar chakra raha hai, aai Garima aaa Garima, tanik sambhalo apne bitiyaon ko, bilkul hi pagla gayein hain, HRNK,” she wiped her eyes surreptitiously.
Arnav, watching from the stairs, pursed his lips in an attempt to frown and control his expression (uski bhi aadat of staring at Khushi from his vantage position on the stairs abhi tak nahi budly thi!), “I am sorry Bhai,” said Aakash huskily standing just behind him; Arnav just turned around and saw the sincere and abject apology in his eyes.
Uncharacteristically, for once, Arnav let his dil override his dimaag and enfolded him in his embrace – he finally let bygones be bygones and Aakash too felt at peace for the first time in many months.
Nani was perhaps the happiest of all – what better way to celebrate her birthday with her children gathered to welcome the advent of its newest member into the family – this was possibly the best birthday ever – shukriya Devi Maiyya shukriya, she wiped her eyes again and again. Nani was overcome with Chotti’s pending surprise (real wala) – her friends and relatives from Lucknow, each of who dropped in for a few hours (given their age and health constraints) over the day giving her time to catch up and reminisce about the olden days.
But to tell the truth, no doubt Nani was touched by Chotti’s thoughtful gesture and of course all the planning that had gone into it not to mention the role it played in bringing Chotte and Aakash on the same page, yet somehow her meeting with an ailing cousin and an unhappy friend disturbed her – there was so much pain and anguish in this world – ignorance was indeed bliss.
Nani used the occasion to distribute the rest of her jewelry as ‘return gifts’ – she had started with Manorama and ended with Poo, “Bitiya, this is for your baby, if it’s a girl then its for her and if it’s a boy then it’s for his bahu,” she paused, “Unless of course he takes a liking to it,” she said bravely.
Everyone burst into laughter for it was a kangan set, “Haan Naniji who knows what the fashion will be like by then!” said Buaji.
“But I do have one request,” said Nani, “that if it is a girl will you name her Devyani?”
Poo swallowed hard but the tears spilled over, “Aap hi rakh dijiyega naam,” she finally managed to say.
“Of course,” Nani nodded, “but I thought I should book in advance, kahin kuch aur naam soch liya toh?”
Everyone laughed and clapped.
For Payal and Khushi, she had special instructions as well as she handed them their gifts, “I assign both of you the task of keeping the family together,” she pulled her pallu, “No doubt I have told Manorama but I don’t have much faith in her, but,” she smiled at them and held out her arms.
“Par Nani,” Khushi hugged her tightly, a funny feeling at the bottom of her tummy, “Aap aise kyon kar rahei hain? Abhi toh bahut waqt hai, phir kabhi…”
“Nahi nahi bitiya,” Nani gently patted her, “You cannot afford to be weak about this fact,” she shook her head, “It is time, I know, everyday I dream about your Dadaji, he is getting impatient,” she pulled at her pallu, “To tell the truth I am ready to go,” she sighed, “But you be careful, Chotte itne aasani se hume jaane nahi dega…”
“Nani please,” both Payal and Khushi were in tears, “Aise mat kahiye Nani, what will we do without you Nani.”
“Arre bitiya, yehi sahi hai, jaana toh sab bhi ko hai hi na, better that I go first hai na and while health is still on my side?” Nani said philosophically, “But of course I am not going today,” she said consolingly, “I just feel that my job and time on earth is over so I thought I should say my goodbyes before it is too late…”
“Nahi Nani,” they were adamant and inconsolable, “Abhi toh bahut kaam hai, Yash ki shaadi, Chotti ki shaadi,” they dissolved into tears.
“Achcha achcha bas bas,” she patted them and consoled them as best as she could, regretting the pain she was causing them, but what could she do – she had no say in the matter, jab bulawa aayega toh jaana toh padega na.
Taking a lesson from her experience with Payal and Khushi, Nani made her farewell to the children more matter of factly and casual (or perhaps being young they didn’t really grasp the gravity of the situation). The boys were handed brightly covered and labeled boxes for their wives while Chotti and Anya got the lion’s share of Nani’s remaining jewelry, “And that is because I entrust Anya and Chotti the responsibility of keeping this family together,” Nani looked at all of them in turn, “All of you are growing up and will soon fly the nest, you wont have time to meet but do keep in touch,” she admonished, “and make it a point to meet at least once a year,” she nodded, “I know ladke toh kuch karenge nahi,” she frowned at them, “bas apni apni wives ke saath busy ho jayenge, my only hope are you two girls to bring them back home once in a while,” she looked at Chotti, “Like you did this time, you made an old woman very happy dear, bless you dear bless you,” she hugged and rocked Chotti in her arms, “thank you thank you,” she whispered as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Naniiii,” Chotti protested as she wiped her tears, “I did it to make you happy, not make you cry!”
“I am happy beta very happy, I cannot tell you how much,” Nani vowed, “in fact so much so that I want nothing more from life,” she declared.
It was about a week later that Poo had pains and had to be rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night.
Aman called Khushi early morning to give her the good news; thrilled Khushi ran to Nani’s room, “Nani Nani,” she burst into her room, “Aapko pata hai Poo had her baby,” Khushi shook her gently, “Nani… Nani? Naniiiiiii…”
The doctor surmised that Nani must have passed away peacefully in her sleep –possibly around the same time as baby Devyani was born.
Click here for Chapter 455