“Yikess!” squawked Devansh the moment he laid his eyes on Chotti when he came home for Diwali, “Mom who is this hideous scarecrow?” his jaw dropped in horror and his eyes almost fell out their sockets, “Humari Chotti kahan hai?” he cast his eyes around wildly.
“Daaaa,” wailed Chotti, “Aate hi shuru ho gaye?” she whined.
“What!” Devansh did a double take, “Mom kya yehi humari Chotti hai? Is there some famine going on that I wasn’t aware of?” he raised his eyebrow as he disgustedly scanned Chotti’s skin and bone figure; he shuddered and tottered to the nearest seat.
“Da!” Chotti stamped her foot, “Don’t exaggerate, aisa bhi kuch nahi hai,” she protested, “I am fine and I think I look super cool and super smart,” she raised a shoulder and preened superiorly.
“Oh hullo,” Devansh heaved himself to mock her, “Koi galat fehmi main mat rehna, you look like a hanger with a skull, super cool and super smart my foot,” he snorted, “Mom I am starving,” he exclaimed, “Aur isko dekh kar toh aur bhi, kuch hai kya? Where’s Dad?”
“Loads to eat Guddu,” Khushi smiled happily, “Dad is on the terrace overseeing the Diwali decorations.”
“Wow,” Devansh said impressed, “That must be a first.”
“Haan aur kya humara hero jo ghar vapas aaya hai,” Chotti said snidely, “All because his royal highness didn’t have time for Diwali last year, we had such a lackluster Diwali aur iss baar dekho even Dad is into it, decorations, crackers gifts and what not,” she sniffed jealously.
“That’s not fair Chotti,” Khushi reprimanded her gently, “Last Diwali was very low key because everyone, Babuji Buaji and even Amma were all so unwell, don’t you remember?”
“Hmmph,” snorted Chotti unwilling to concede the point, “Jaiye apne pyaare Guddu ko khana khilaiye before he collapses due to hunger,” Chotti sniped, “Waise Mom, I think hostel food suits him better than yours,” she looked over him critically, “He is practically obese,” she grinned triumphantly as she extracted her revenge.
“Obese! Excuse me, these are muscles,” he flexed them for Chotti’s benefit, “Not an ounce of fat,” he smirked.
“Chotti, Da ko aise nahi bolte,” Khushi shushed Chotti, “Aur aisa kuch nahi hai, kahan se obese laga tumhe?”
“Haan haan aapko toh hamesha hi kamzor lagega na,” teased Chotti.
“Arre wah kitna handsome ho gaya hai humara Guddu,” it was Anjali at the door with Ankit; she hugged him and put him at arms length, “I meant aur bhi handsome,” she wrinkled her nose at him as he smiled at her, “And so grown up,” she brushed away a happy tear, “not a boy but a man, hai na Khushi?”
“Hmm, aur Ankit is looking like a model in that fine kurta pajyama,” Khushi hugged Ankit who had completed his BArch and was dithering over whether to go in for a job or post-graduation.
“Thanks Mami,” Ankit smiled easily and clapped Devansh on the back, “Hey Deva, aajkal Chotti dikhai hi nahi deti,” he said seriously, “pata hi nahi kahan gayab ho gayi? Tumne dekha kya?”
“Exactly,” Devansh clicked his fingers, “wohi toh main keh raha hoon, no Chotti anywhere, just one clothed hanger decorated with a skull,” he shuddered, “Oooo I am gonna have the nightmares tonight.”
“Maami,” wailed Chotti, “Da was bad enough and now Anki is also encouraging him…”
“Hey hey, who Anki huh? Kam se kum Anki bhaiyya bolo,” ordered Ankit.
“Anki, Anki, Anki,” sneered and snapped Chotti defiantly.
Ankit and Devansh shared a glance and in unison bowed, “Jaise aapki icchcha Didi,” Devansh looked at Ankit, “Or should we say ‘hangarDidi’?”
Chotti stamped her foot in frustration whilst Anjali giggled and drew her into her arms comfortingly, “Stop it you two, bechari Angelika.”
HP appeared with a tray full of goodies which the boys attacked with gusto, “Mom, we’ll just have a look at the terrace,” they dashed off, their hands and mouths full.
“Di, aap lijiye na?” Khushi offered refreshments to Anjali, “Baki log nahi aaye?”
“Oh Ankit picked me up from the boutique, Khsitij took the others shopping abhi aate hi honge,” Anjali stared at the overloaded table, “kitna kuch banai ho Khushi, kya khaaoon? Umm,” she wondered.
“Mami, here try this one,” Chotti served her, “Mom’s new recipe, low in calorie, high on nutrition and tasty too, hai na?”
“Yummm,” Anjali drooled, “kya hai Khushi?”
“Do you like it?” Khushi asked eagerly, “That’s a tofu fruit chaat,” she pulled a face, “Yeh Chotti ke liye banaya tha normal toh kuch khayegi nahi, poora research karke, calories count karke, taste karke phir she will deign to eat, aur madamji bore bhi bahut jaldi ho jaati hai, so I have to make new dishes,” rued Khushi.
“Oh Mom! That’s so not fair, I don’t ask for new dishes, you only insist on making them,” Chotti grumbled.
That was true enough, Khushi tried to overcompensate for her earlier negligence and pamper her love for cooking by trying out new recipes. Plus of course it was easier to get Chotti (yes despite all the heart attack, patch of hair on the stomach etc, Chotti was still fussy and picky about her food) to eat a decent portion if it was something new and exotic.
Laughing and chatting the boys took the stairs two at a time to the terrace. Devansh brushed the crumbs off his face and hands before pushing open the door of the terrace. And they were just in time.
Devansh and Ankit dashed to the edge of the terrace where Arnav was standing on a rickety old chair trying to hang a star to a low hanging branch of a tree. The leg of the chair gave way but Arnav was safe in the arms of his nephew and son. Red-faced, he mumbled his thanks as he straightened, “Dad, aapko kya zaroorat thi, people are here na to do all this stuff,” Devansh snapped as reaction set in – dammit kuch ho jaata toh.
“Arre kuch nahi,” snickered Ankit, “Mami wala infection lag gaya hai Mamu ko.”
Arnav shot a quelling glance at the irrepressible Ankit, “Haan haan I am fine, these guys are slow and such nincompoops,” Arnav dismissed them.
“But really Mamu,” Ankit piped up, “You could have waited for us or called us, aapko kya zaroorat hai is umar main…” his eyes twinkled wickedly.
ASR once again glared forbiddingly at Ankit who just looked back blandly unflinchingly at him; he winked at Devansh, “iss laparwahi ki saaza milni chahiye, kyon Devansh?”
Devansh jumped at it, “of course milni chahiye, par kya,” he tapped his cheek thoughtfully.
With the faintest quiver on his lips, Arnav turned away as if it was below his dignity to stand and be ragged by two cheeky boys, “I know!” Ankit clicked his fingers excitedly; Arnav continued his journey downstairs, “I’ll tell Mom,” Arnav froze in his tracks as the boys whooped and did a victorious high five, “Haan, yehi sahi rahega, let’s go,” Devansh and Ankit dashed off ahead of Arnav.
“Don’t you dare,” the words were wrung out of Arnav, “No gifts for Diwali, if you do,” he threatened dire consequences as he chased them downstairs.
They stopped and weighed the pros and cons, “Kya hai kya gift?” Ankit asked, “Depends on that,” he laid his conditions.
“Jo hai woh bhi nahi milega,” shrugged Arnav walking on, “Soch lo.”
“Hmm,” murmured Devansh ponderously, “Socheka padi.”
“HRNK, ka zamana aagaya hai, bachchon ko sach bolne se roka ja raha hai,” said Ankit piously.
“Lagta hai ‘idle mind Devil’s workshop’ wala adage was made for you,” rued Arnav as he clapped a hand on Ankit’s shoulder, “Ghar beithe beithe aur bhi badmash ho gaye ho,” he casually slipped an arm around Devansh as well, “Aur college ja kar tum.”
The trio made a perfect picture of bonhomie as they stepped into the living room.
Click here for Chapter 484