“Lo Chotte bhi aagaye,” Anjali smiled happily as she spied Arnav descending the stairs flanked by his son and nephew, “Ek second ek second,” she took out her mobile and quickly clicked some pictures, “Aww the three of you look so great together,” she brushed a tear away, “And such a rare and precious sight,” she sighed and sniffed, “Kshitij hote toh aur bhi…”
“Oho Mom, Dad will be here in just a bit aur isme bhi rona!” Ankit threw up his hands, “pata hai Mamu, Mom has really lost it, ‘mera betu ja raha hai’ sniff; ‘mera beta ghar aaya hai, sniff sniff’; ‘my son got into college’, sniff; ‘my son completed college’, sniff sniff, aur abhi,” he raised his voice above the laughter as he mimicked his mom’s soft voice, “abhi the latest is, ‘mera beta bada ho gaya hai, shaadi karke Ma ko bhool jaayega sniff sniff sniff,” he moaned devilishly as he helped himself to some food.
There was laughter all around, “Nonsense!” Anjali stoutly defended herself, “Aisa kuch nahi hai.”
“Oh really?” Ankit crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow, “Prove karoon? Abhi jab hum…” he shot a wicked glance towards Arnav who blenched but thankfully for him, Anjali interrupted him.
She rapped him playfully, “Bahut zyaada hi badmash hai yeh Anki,” Anjali complained, “Sab tumhari galati hai Khushi,” she roundly accused her.
“Humari?” Khushi opened her eyes wide, “Humne kya kiya?”
“Tumhari khurafati genes ka hi kamal hai,” she declared.
And indeed she was right, in this avatar, the resemblance between Khushi and Ankit was uncanny, especially his eyes – large, wide, innocent yet mischief lurked in the corner of his eyes as did a twinkling grin. He was also very chilled out and confident as a person with a devil-may-care attitude with a sense of ridiculousness. Devansh could learn a thing or two from Ankit. And he was learning – how to be irreverent towards his father and how not to take life, ASR or himself too seriously.
“Hey hey don’t blame Mami huh,” Ankit put a protective arm around her, “She is the coolest one around,” he turned to look at her critically, “though aajkal thodi khoyi khoyi se rehti hai,” he waggled his eyes at her, “Kya baat hai Mami,” he drawled teasingly, “Koi affair-shaffair chal raha hai kya?”
“Chupkar, bahut bak bak karne laga hai,” Anjali scolded him, “kuch bhi boldeta hai…”
An answering mischief lit up Khushi’s eyes, “Shh kisiko pata na chale,” she said in a loud whisper,” she flicked Arnav a glance who wore a half rueful, half grim expression.
“Kisko pata nahi chale? Mamu ko?” Ankit asked.
Khushi nodded vigorously.
“Why are you such a spoilsport Mamu?” Ankit said mock sorrowfully, “Be generous and large hearted,” he said grandiosely, “You also go ahead and have an affair.”
Khushi opened her eyes wide, “Arre don’t you know? He is already having an affair.”
Arnav’s eyes swung around to clash with hers, “Really? I am impressed Mamu,” drawled Ankit, “kiske saath Mami?”
Khushi held Arnav’s eyes determinedly the glint in her eyes very pronounced, “Hush top secret hai, bahut dino se affair chal raha hai inka, pata hai kiske saath?”
Everyone shook their heads.
“Apne aap ke saath!”
They all burst into laughter while a rueful grin stole into Arnav’s eyes, “Sahi bola Khushi,” smiled Anjali, “sach main Chotte toh aaj kal bas I, me, myself hi hai, kisi aur ke liye time hi nahi hai, humare liye bhi nahi,” she grumbled, “pata nahi how you put up with him,” she declared with a shudder.
Khushi looked at Arnav, “Arre Di aapke Chotte aur hum ek baat par toh sehmat hai na, tabhi koi problem nahi hai.”
“Kya?” Di asked curiously even as the kids lost interest and were embroiled in a deep discussion about how best to live up the next few days.
“Umm,” Khushi scratched her head thoughtfully, “Kaise kahoon, umm, haan its like I read somewhere,” she quoted from memory, “My husband and I get along very well because I love him and he…he loves him,” laughter broke out and an unwilling rueful grin tugged Arnav’s lips even as his eyes promised retribution.
But that was a momentary aberration for the mask soon slipped back into place.
Khushi sighed mentally, inko toh kuch bhi farq nahi padta, shayad affair karloon toh thodi meri value badegi, she narrowed her eyes threateningly, he looked away. Her shoulders drooped and the haunted look was back in her eyes – nahi karke yeh haal hai, karke pata nahi – ‘because you don’t have a character’ the words echoed out of nowhere.
“Oh look the others are here,” Chotti jumped up to greet her grandparents, “HRNK ee ladki ko kuch khilao pilao huh, kyon tohri amma khana naahi deti ka?” Buaji attacked Chotti and Arnav’s lips thinned.
“Kya Buaji, moti ho gayi hoon, mom itna khila rahi hai,” complained Chotti, “mera 750g badh gaya hai,” Chotti hugged Buaji, who pushed her off, “HRNK tohri saari haddiyan humkow chubb rahi hai,” she rubbed herself tenderly, “Kaun shaadi kareka aise sookhi sookhi dandioyon se!”
“Uff Buaji,” Chotti dragged her in, “Aap apne pyaare motu Gudduji se miliye, dil khush ho jayega aapka!”
“Kya Buaji, Amma, hum yahan aayein hai aur aap wahan Mami ke ghar? Not fair,” grumbled Guddu as he greeted Buaji and his grandparents.
“Arre nahi nahi bitwa,” Garima caressed him affectionately, “This house was being whitewashed and all is liye we had gone, waise bhi bahut dino se bula rahi thi Anjali bitiya,” she smiled at Di, “but of course we will stay here before shifting to Laxmi Nagar, work is almost done na?” she asked Arnav anxiously.
“Haan,” nodded Arnav, “it should be done by the end of this week.”
“Maybe we could shift there for Diwali?…” Babuji looked at Garima and Madhumati.
“Nahi nahi, itni jaldi kahan,” Khushi jumped in glaring fiercely at Arnav, “Hum toh aaj hi gaye the, don’t worry,” she said airily, “Diwali pe I will go over and do Puja etc but its not fit to stay yet,” she nudged Arnav with her eyes.
“Haan, Khushi is right, it wont be ready to shift before Diwali,” Kshitij butted in as Arnav didn’t seem to get Khushi’s hint, “I too went to check.”
“Achcha,” Shashi sank tiredly on to the nearest seat, “Kaisan ho bitwa? Kaise chal rahi hai padhai?”
“Good, great in fact,” smiled Devansh, “Aap bataiye, how are you, you are looking pale and tired,” he said concernedly.
“Nahi nahi, just came after some shopping…” Babuji said.
“Shopping! Shopping ki kya zaroorat thi,” Khushi pounced handing him nimbu paani, “Bekar main thak gaye, hume kuch nahi chahiye,” she scolded all of them.
“HRNK, tumhre liye thodi na laayein hain hum ae Parmeshwari, hum toh bachon ke liye ke liye layein hai!” Buaji taunted Khushi, “aur Payal bitiya ke liye,” she added slyly.
Khushi made a face, “Theek hai Buaji, hume kuch chahiye bhi nahi,” she flounced off as everyone burst into laughter.
“Oh that reminds me Mamu,” Devansh suddenly perked up and scrabbled through his bag lying on the floor, “Here, your friend Professor Ghatge sent this for you,” he handed him a gift wrapped box.
“Arre Rohit bhi na,” Khsitij shook his head, “how is he?” he asked affectionately of his classmate who also happened to be Devansh’ teacher.
“Good,” nodded Devansh, “He told to tell you the gift is just a bribe for he will be coming to Delhi next week and is just priming you so that unki khatirdaari main koi kami na ho!”
“Sounds just like Rohit!” Laughed Khsitij, “And how’s everything else in college?”
Devansh’ answer was drowned out with the arrival of the next lot of guests – Anya with her twins, Sherry and Sunita.
The twins were about 3-4 years of age and absolutely adorable; they were identical in every way except, one got a dimple on the right cheek and the other on the left cheek (I forget who got on which cheek). Both were huge chatterboxes and naturally outgoing. For some reason, they were both extremely fond of Arnav and insisted upon showering him with their attention – often vying with each other to mother and pamper their Aanno (from Arnav Nana hehee I can see all of you fainting at the thought of ASR turning granpa, but that’s the sad fact of life me dearies, wake up and smell the coffee dammit – bahut der ho chuki hai).
The moment they were free of their share of squeezes, cuddles, hugs, kisses and greetings, they made a beeline for Arnav who as usual was sitting a bit aloof (knowing, waiting patiently for his special dose of chubby warm armful of welcome weight), “Aanno Aanno, kaishe ho aap? Paani piyoge, nahi chai, alle nahi buddhu black coffee hai na Aanno?” they clambered all over him mussing up his hair crushing his three piece suit but he was least bothered. He grabbed hold of both of them and held them close as he soaked in their unconditional unquestioning love – a soothing healing balm for his battered soul torn asunder with self-loathing and guilt.
He looked up to find Khushi’s eyes trained on him – wearing the same unconditional unquestioning love – the faint melodious strains of RV had just begun barely began strumming the first hesitant notes, rusty from disuse, when the crowd intervened and the moment was lost – gile-shikwe stormed in and engulfed Khushi even as Arnav drew a veil over his emotions and blanked her out.
Click here for Chapter 485