“Mom,” Chotti looked curiously at Khushi as she skipped along beside her, “why don’t you want to see the movie with Dad? Poor thing he went to so much trouble, movie, dinner, romance,” she heaved a deep soulful sigh.
“Kaha na, these days I don’t much care for movies, waste of time,” Khushi sniffed disparagingly.
“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” Chotti quoted softly, mischievously; she slid an arm around Khushi’s shoulder (yeah she was almost as tall as Khushi now) and peered into Khushi face, “are you mad at Dad or something?” echoing Arnav’s question.
Taken aback at being caught despite having exerted self-control, Khushi fumbled, “Haan toh?”
“Awww poor Dad,” commiserated Chotti.
“What!” Khushi glared at Chotti, “you are siding with your Dad?” she said affronted, “without knowing anything of why, where, what?”
“Oh I am sure it’s all his fault,” said Chotti airily, “he is such a grumpy, angsty, crabby old bear,” she said fondly.
“Not to mention high-handed, autocratic and egoistic,” muttered Khushi.
Chotti smiled mistily, “but he is so cute isn’t he?” she looked at Khushi, “didn’t you see how he was looking, like a lost little boy caught with his finger in the cookie jar,” she looked around carefully and whispered loudly, “Good thing we came away when we did for in a minute or two I would have pulled his cheeks,” she giggled.
Khushi rolled her eyes and stalked off into Chotti’s room; she began arranging the bed clothes, “Mom,” Chotti tugged her hand, “You go and sleep in your room, I am fine honestly, aur waise bhi I have to ‘adjust’ to the fact that Nani,” she swallowed and looked away. Determinedly she cheered up and pushed her mother, “Aap jao, Dad needs you.”
Khushi dug her heels in, “No its ok, he is not a child and neither am I his mother,” she sniffed, “I am ok here,” she flopped down on her side of the bed.
“Mom,” Chotti looked at her mother resignedly, “this is not fair huh!” Khushi looked at Chotti in amazement, “Not fair? What’s not fair?” she asked.
“You can’t expect Dad to change overnight, ek toh you are the one who has spoilt him…” Chotti began but Khushi cut her off, “I have spoilt him matlab?”
“Spoilt him matlab, you have always given in to his demands, reasonable or otherwise and now suddenly you want him to be non-autocratic, non-egoistic, non-highhanded, aisa toh possible nahi hai na? Chotti defended her father, “Yeh toh aapko pehle hi clear kar dena tha, ab its too late,” she grinned wickedly, “Aap hi ne toh kaha a leopard doesn’t change his spots toh aap try kyon kar rahe hai,” she pouted, “bechare Dad was looking sooo sad and lonely, Mom!” Chotti pushed her again, “Aap jaao na please, unko achcha lagega.”
“Par hume nahi achcha lagega,” retorted Khushi seething with the injustice of it all – all her fault was it? Pehle Guddu, now Chotti – hadd hai!
“And instead of a doctor why don’t you be a lawyer,” Khushi snapped, “you can effectively argue even a murderer’s case,” and vanished into the washroom.
Khushi tossed and turned the whole night – to be judged and found wanting by both her children was almost too much to bear. And the suspicion that they were both, to some extent at least, right, was the last straw. She wouldn’t give in to his little lost boy look, she fumed, ab wahi hoga jo main kahoongi, aisa tanashahi kab tak chalega – Laad Governor kahin ke, resentment simmered within her.
What if Chotti was right – what if it was too late to sudharo him? But at least I can try? She thought defiantly, isme harz hi kya hai, waise bhi don’t they say its never too late? And in any case, jab tak Laad Governoring was restricted to her it was ok but now that it extended to her children how could she just sit back and take it? Kalko Chotti’s decision to become a doctor was likely to lead to another skirmish while a bigger battle awaited them if one or both decided to choose their own life partners.
She shuddered – what if Devansh or even Chotti chose someone below his or her status, would Arnav be able to see beyond their bank balance or status in society? Had anything changed at all? And that led to the all important question which still nagged her once in a while but one that Khushi herself ruthlessly crushed telling herself sternly – so many years later kya faraq padta hai? Na toh na, I love him enough for both of us.
But the question grew stronger and louder – does he still love me? Mere hone ya na hone se koi faraq padta hai kya – of course padta hai, after all you manage his house, his children, fulfill his social responsibilities and commitments – tears clogged her throat. She sat up – bas kar Khushi, don’t live in a fool’s paradise, the question is not ‘does he still love me’ the question is ‘did he ever love me’?
Imagine marrying a man twice and still have doubts – she clasped and unclasped her hands – the first one was the result of a misunderstanding and the second one as atonement, a penalty for the MU, she thought bitterly.
Nahi, nahi he did love me, that is why he again married me, she told herself sternly.
There you go fooling yourself once again, Sankadevi jeered, bola na, he was guilty and intensely sorry for the pain and anguish he caused you – perhaps he even fooled himself into believing it to be true, egged on by hormones but it was not true love Sankadevi insisted and that is why it didn’t stand the test of time.
Nahi aisa nahi hai, Khushi thought weakly, her conviction faltering under the weight of Sankadevi’s argument, woh humse ab bhi pyaar kartein hain, I know bas he has stopped expressing it.
Exactly pounced Sankadevi aur tujhe toh pata hai na, he is not someone who minces his words or his feelings – his emotions and thoughts are crystal clear, no hypocrisy about him, agar pyaar hota toh he would have surely expressed it, agar nahi kiya matlab, all feelings are dead and buried, intoned Sankadevi dismally.
A dreadful clammy hand clutched Khushi’s tummy, she broke out into a cold sweat, there was a kernel of truth – the love, the connection she was so sure of all these years suddenly seemed like a figment of her imagination. Was it ever more than wishful thinking? She thought painfully, wasn’t it just a galat fehmi on her part, she roundly castigated herself.
Afraid that her restlessness would wake up Chotti, she moved to the balcony and stared bleakly at the stars. Amma bauji, she cried out silently why are you so far away? Aur ab toh Nani ko bhi bula liya – main kahan jaaoon, kiske paas jaoon, Devi Maiyya bhi chupp hain, her shoulders shook as dry sobs racked her.
All these years, Khushi had been so busy running and happy in her own dream world that she had ruthlessly pushed to the background any minor niggles and doubts, preferring to blame herself for her pettiness and oversensitive nature. But now that the floodgates were opened, Khushi was powerless against force of all her bottled up emotions.
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