A thick disbelieving pall of gloom descended over RM. Neither the residents nor its sympathizers could believe that Nani was no more, “But what happened?” was the common refrain that echoed in the halls of RM as soon as the door was opened for the almost constant stream of visitors that poured in to pay their last respects.
Khushi just shook her head dumbly – if only she knew! And what did it matter? It wouldn’t bring back Nani would it? RM without Nani! Unimaginable – Khushi was shell shocked and desperately wanted to just curl up into a corner and go to sleep – perhaps Nani would wake her up, “Ka hua bitiya?” she would say lovingly – but never again.
Tears rolled down Khushi’s cheeks but she had no time to mourn – there was so much to be done, people pouring in, formalities to be taken care of – and on top of it Chotti was inconsolable, Guddu was away on a camping trip but thankfully due to return any time.
Arnav – it was as if he wasn’t there. When the doctor had first declared that Nani was no more, shocked and stunned, Khushi had thrown herself at Arnav for support but he was unresponsive and had stood there like a statue, “Arnav, Nani, Arnav Nani,” Khushi blubbered on his chest but he continued to stand there stiff and unyielding. Only his clenched fists and the thin white line of his lips gave any indication that he was aware what had happened, “Nahi yeh nahi ho sakta,” he had denied coldly and flatly. He had turned and walked out of the room and shut himself in his room – and remained there ever since.
Khushi was torn – torn between her own grief, Arnav’s anguish and that of Chotti – usne toh ro rokar apna haal bura kar diya tha and now Di as well. The trickle of visitors turned into a flood and there was not a corner where Khushi could sit and mourn in peace – instead every time she greeted a guest, she would expect to see Nani at her elbow, pulling her pallu, smiling gently, welcoming them along with her, ‘Arre bitiya, chai paani ka dekho, aayea aayea.’
It was hard to believe that this would never happen again – never ever again– there was something so terrifying final about that – never ever again would Nani sit at the dining table, she would never ever again have to hand Nani her medicines, she would never ever again be able to exchange a rueful grin with Nani, she would never ever again share her evening cup of tea with her, Khushi would never ever again feel that she too had someone to fall back upon – Nani you cant do this to us, she screamed silently, Devi Maiyya aap aise nahi kar sakte, her slender shoulder shook with sobs as she railed and fought with DM, aisi kya galati thi humari ki itni badi saza di aapne, Nani she cried heartbroken and devastated.
But these were only few moments of luxurious grief that Khushi was allowed for it fell to her to take Nani’s place and offer comfort and solace to the others who were also incapable of dealing with Nani’s sudden demise. There were phone calls to be made, people to be informed, arrangements to be made – Arnav was of course not available.
Desperate, Khushi sent Kshitij and later Shashi, Mamaji and Aakash to console and support Arnav. They all came and reassured Khushi, “Woh theek hai Khushi, don’t worry.”
Khushi shook her head as she held a sobbing Chotti in her arms, “Kya bole?”
“Kuch nahi,” shrugged Aakash, “he is very stoic and accepting ‘yeh toh ek na ek din hona hi tha’ and all that.”
Khushi stared at him dully unable to believe Arnav as ‘stoic and accepting.’
Worry gnawed at her and finally unable to still her fears and concerns – pata nahi akele kya kar rahein hain; surely it wasn’t healthy for him to be alone at such a time – seizing an opportune moment, she stole away to their room where Arnav was still cloistered, “Arnav,” she whispered through a cracked voice, “please come downstairs, sab log hain wahan,” she said lamely unable to think of anything to say.
“Toh?” he said without looking up from the laptop he was working on.
“Toh,” she fumbled, “Sab ko achcha lagega, everyone is asking about you.”
“Kisko achcha lagega?” he looked blankly at her, “Nani ko?”
Tears began flowing freshly down Khushi’s cheeks, “Please Arnav don’t be like this, we need you, come down, aise akele theek nahi hai, I am worried about you,” she sobbed.
“Main theek hoon Khushi, tum jao,” he ordered curtly, “When there is work message me, I will come.”
Khushi looked at him helplessly, her heartbreaking for him – all the coldness, all the veneer of being totally absorbed in work was just a cover, a thin cover, which Khushi had no difficulty is seeing but yet she was helpless in penetrating – itna dard, her breath caught in her throat, how could she leave him like this, all alone and hurting, “Theek hai, I will send Chotti here, she is very upset…”
“Nahi!” he instantly snapped, his throat working furiously, “Nahi,” he repeated, “I…I can’t, don’t make me,” he began typing furiously on his laptop and resolutely and effectively shutting her out.
Khushi left their room, her heart heavier than when she had come, “Di, Anya,” she shook a violently sobbing Anjali in Anya’s arms who was also crying, “Please control yourself,” she pleaded, thanking Devi Maiyya for Keira and Maira who had managed to distract Chotti as they dashed about here and there.
“Di, please sambhaliye apne aap ko,” Khushi begged, “Please Di, I need you, aapke Chotte ko aapki zaroorat hai,” Khushi’s words penetrated the thick fog that enveloped Anjali and she looked up, “Chotte?” she whispered.
“Haan Di,” Khushi twisted her fingers agitatedly trying to get a grip on her emotions, she waved her hands vaguely, “He is upstairs, alone, working,” she buried her face in her hands and burst out, “Di humse dekha nahi jaa raha unka dard please Di, only you can reach him,” she sank down on her knees beside Anjali and put her head on Anjali’s lap as she cried her heart out – her family was distressed and hurt and she couldn’t do anything to ease their pain, “Mom!” she stood up hastily, “Guddu! You are here,” she enfolded him in her embrace, relief flooding her – his absence had been eating into her, a dreadful fear that something bad was going to happen to him, at least he was home safe and sound, “Nani mere ko bina bataye chali gayi?” he whispered, “Main kabhi maaf nahi karoonga unhe,” tears crowded his eyes and spilled over, “Woh aisa kaise kar sakti hain?” he said fiercely brushing away his tears, “She promised she would see the video I made.”
“Arre nahi Guddu,” Khushi hurriedly pulled herself together, “Unse kyon naaraz ho, jab Devi Maiyya bulati hain toh jana padta hai,” she soothed him par woh toh aur bhadak gaya, “Devi Maiyya ko kya zaroorat padh gayi Nani ki?” he blasted and pushed Khushi away to storm off to his room.
Khushi looked after him helplessly, “Kishu bhaiyya could you please talk to him?” she requested; he nodded and went off after him.
“Di,” Khushi turned back to Anjali, “Please aap Arnav ko sambhaliye, I am worried about him,” she shook her head, “His reaction, he is completely emotionless, he didn’t cry one bit,” she said beginning to cry again, “aur aisa toh nahi hai ki unhe farq nahi padta, its not healthy,” she pulled Di to her feet, “Please, you go, perhaps he may open up to you, share his pain.”
Click here for Chapter 456