Diwali was a grand affair attended by all the Raizadas, near and far, including Poo and her family. Baby Devi had begun toddling and lisping a few words – she insisted on following her Devis – Keira and Maira – in the hope of learning a trick or two. They didn’t disappoint her and ended up cheesing off their Mamus who became Mada (Devansh) and Ammu (Ankit) under their assiduous tutelage, much to Chotti’s delight, “What the hell Chotti!” blasted Guddu.
“Maine kya kiya?” Chotti opened her eyes wide, “It was all the twins’ doing,” she protested piously.
“Nonsense,” objected Guddu strongly, “I clearly heard them say Da Mamu and Devi was parroting Damu, which is also ok, but you were the one who went and confused her into saying Mada…”
“Exactly,” butted in Ankit, “The twins kept saying Anki Mamu and Devi said Anku, also perfectly fine but no you had to go and mess with her and make her say Ammu,” he frowned ferociously.
“Ruk, abhi tujhe bata hoon,” Guddu threatened and chased her all over RM till she sought protection from Aman, “Anka Anka save me o save me from this monster, tum ghar aaye hi kyon?” she threw at Guddu peeping out from behind Aman, “main akeli hi achchi thi,” she stuck out her tongue and ran off again until they crashed into Mamiji, “Haaiinn eee dekho saadi ki umar ho gayi aur Devi ki tarah bhagti phir rahi hai,” Mamiji sniffed disapprovingly and for once Madhumati was in complete agreement, “Haan aur ka,” she lent her support.
“What meri shaadi?” Chotti stopped in her tracks, Guddu forgotten, “Are you kidding me? Pehle toh Yash bhaiyaa ki hogi na? First come first married,” she quipped.
“Arre naahi naahi,” Madhumati and Manorama looked at each other and then pityingly at Chotti, “Pehle behen ki shaadi howat hai! Ladki toh paraya dhan hoti hai, behen ki shaadi karke hi sab Ganga naha kar phir…”
“What!” Chotti’s eyes nearly popped out, “Kaun se zamane ki baat kar rahe ho aap,” she narrowed her eyes, “And if that is so, I am warning all you boys, you can give up all dreams of marrying at least for the next ten years,” she walked off loftily.
But ladke thodi topic drop karne wale the, in unison they tagged along begging piteously, “Behna O behna, shaadi karlo na pleassse humare sar se bhoj hatane ka saubhagya pradaan kariye na pleasssse, humara bhi Ganga nahane ka bada mann hai,” not to be outdone, Keira, Maira and Devi joined the train of boys, chanting their own individual gibberish mantras. It was quite a sight and Kshitij obligingly recorded it for posterity. Finally Chotti sought relief from Arnav who declared his all out support for her, “Haan sahi keh rahi hai Angel, she is not getting married for the next ten years at least, jisko shaadi karna hai karle,” he put his arm around her protectively.
“Oho!” Devansh’ eyes widened, “Yeh toh gadbad ho gayi hain na Chotti?” he said commiserating, “ab bechara Abhishek ka kya hoga,” he said in a loud whisper.
Arnav stiffened, he turned to look at Chotti, “Yeh Abhishek ke saath tumhara…” he had a dangerous glint in his eye as Devansh and Ankit clutched each other and lolled about behind Arnav’s back.
“No Dad,” interrupted Chotti hurriedly glaring fiercely at Guddu and the others having fun at her expense, “aisa kuch bhi nahi hai, Da is just a Narad Muni, abhi batati hoon,” she charged at him, he dashed off in the nick of time and so it all began again.
As you can imagine it was a full house at RM, which was bursting at the seams with people and the echo of their chatter and laughter interspersed with the childish treble of the little girls.
Khushi was of course happy but she was exhausted as well. Ab pehle jaise pehle jitna hota nahi tha – she tired quickly and her back ached while her legs protested sharply. Khushi couldn’t help yearning for some space and time to breathe. But she was also aware this time was also temporary and it would be soon back to square one – in fact in less than a year, possibly Chotti would also leave for college, and then it would be just her and Arnav.
Arnav, she looked over to him, part of the gang, yet so aloof – koi baat karta toh he would respond but he would never initiate or engage in any conversation on his own. Abhi bhi itne reserved, akele akele hum mian biwi ghar par kya karenge, wondered Khushi with a catch. At least Chotti dragged him into everything, nagged him, teased him, cajoled him and he gave in to her as well, humari toh sunte bhi nahi, she made a face, as if naak kat jaayegi agar biwi ki sun li toh, Laad Governor kahin ke she grimaced to herself.
Yet her heart ached for him, if only he didn’t look so pareshan, as if some private demons were dogging him giving no peace – she wished he would open up, speak out what was on his mind. What he needed, she realized was a friend, a friend who could understand him, help him, guide him and mentor him, but he was such a loner, kisiko apne aaspass bhi nahi bhatakne dete. Pehle Nani was there to guide him and poke him, and he would listen to her too but ab woh bhi nahi rahi – Di toh hai, but Di was someone whom he took upon himself to protect and pamper not turn to for support.
And that left Khushi, in the truest sense of the word, she was his friend and his only support – but yet for some reason he didn’t want her, she thought with a painful catch in her heart. Haan yehi sach hai, he was in some major conflict where she was concerned, he couldn’t do without her, he desperately needed her yet was determined to keep her at arms distance, in fact push her away.
A sense of déjà vu engulfed her – it was Diwali time from all those years ago, his eyes, his body language had all but screamed of his need of her yet perversely he had pushed her away, taunted her, agreed to marry Lavanya, humiliated her and forced her to organize their wedding deliberately provoking her showing her her aukat…she sighed and shook her head, there was no point in raking up old history, she should let bygone be bygones.
“It was a great party wasn’t it Dad?” Chotti chatted with Arnav after everybody had left, “I am so glad we had the Diwali party with only family members and then the more formal party with all friends and colleagues,” she sighed, “Dono ka apna alag alag maza hai right daddy?”
“I guess,” Arnav shrugged, “I don’t much care for the formal parties, that is the flipside of work, a sort of a necessary evil,” he grimaced.
“But Daddy,” Chotti turned her eyes to her Dad, “When I was compiling the guest list I noticed that everyone had invited their friends, in fact so many of Mamu’s friends had come, even Mom’s friend Preeto mausi ko bulaya tha but you gave a list of only business colleagues,” she said thoughtfully, “Don’t you have any friends?”
Arnav fumbled, “Friends? My colleagues and business acquaintances hi friends hai, or I guess I have no ‘real’ friend,” he shrugged.
“Hai na,” Khushi handed him his cup of tea, “mano ya na mano, aapka ek hi friend hai,” she looked into his eyes, “And that is Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada.”
He blinked and looked away; his lips twisted and he looked back at her, “I guess you are right,” he hurriedly took a sip of tea and scalded his tongue, “Ouch!” he yelped, “Chai kitni garam hai!” he grumbled.
“And just yesterday you complained, ‘chai kitni thandi hai! Ek kaam karti hoon,” Khushi crossed her arms, “thermometer le aati hoon you can fix the temperature of the chai?” she asked facetiously.
“Haan wohi theek rahega,” he shot back, “Kam se kam I wont burn my tongue…”
“I am surprised, I would have thought your tongue would be immune to hot tea,” Khushi mused, “after all you are used to keeping burning coals in your mouth,” she added provocatively.
Arnav ignored her; he picked up an envelope, “Arre Angel could you get me a pair of scissors? I need to open this,” he flicked Khushi a glance and added, “Or perhaps your mom could do the needful, after all unki zubaan keinchi ki tarah chalti hai,” he finished blandly.
Khushi narrowed her eyes, ready with another retort when Chotti clapped a hand to her head, “Friends indeed!” she snorted derisively “more like squabbling school children but remember I am the referee,” she declared grandly, “Jao bachcho jao apna apna kaam karo jaoo,” she pushed an imaginary pair of spectacles up her nose.
“Ji Nani!” they chorused in unison, sharing a warm gush of love and laughter.
Click here for Chapter 486