The days passed in a blur, there was something or the other always demanding Khushi’s attention – her parents at Laxmi Nagar needed help – kabhi doctor, kabhi bank work, kabhi khana kabhi just aise hi and of course, Chotti.
Post Diwali, studies became a priority (that is more than before) as students were bombarded with exams one after another, pre-boards, then practical exams, phir boards, phir entrances, it just went on and on. The hits were big ego-boosters while the misses were the source of many a tear and nautanki, while waiting for the results was the worst nightmare, at least as far as Chotti was concerned. She agonized over every tiny mistake till it became the world’s biggest blunder and she went from crying ki 100% nahi milenge to fail hi ho jaaoongi.
Anyway the preboards went well so did the practical exams and it was expected ki boards bhi theek hi hua hoga – bas ab medical entrance exams – the biggest hurdle clear karna tha. Chotti (and her parents too) was very keen to get into one of Delhi’s prestigious medical colleges, that way she could have the best of both worlds. And taiyyari bhi kuch kam nahi kari thi and …kya? Oh Arnav aur Khushi ka kaisa chal raha tha? Oho abhi toh bataya tha – Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham…err Arnav!
Haan aise hi chal rahi thi zindagi – after all what do you expect following a quarter century of staying together? That a fifty-plus ASR will rush home from office, screech into the driveway and sweep Khushi off her feet, “Ohhh how I missed you my dearest darling one and only love! Couldn’t wait another minute to see you, bas mann karta hai tumhe hi dekhta rahoon, tum kitni sundar ho, kitni bholi ho chalo long drive par jaate hai, damn traffic bahut hai, chalo koi baat nahi terrace par beithte hain, kya Chotti ko pick karna hai, arre let her manage by herself, main office se jaldi aaya hoon sirf aur sirf tumse milne aur tum ho ki hmmph Chotti ko goli maro, tumhari himmat kaise hui aisi baat karne ki, come lets RV”…..rabba ve rabba ve rabba ve rabba ve…hehe kuch zyaada nahi hi hoga?.
Sorry to drag you all out of your sapno ki duniya but sach toh yehi hai ki on most days Arnav would come home by 7.30 – 8 pm. He would be usually tired and not to mention irritable (degree depended upon how bad the traffic was among other things) and not in the least chatty or receptive. Over the years Khushi had learnt to let him be for any attempt to indulge in small talk with him in this mood would invariably lead to an altercation. Only Chotti had immunity – well on most days that is.
Anyway to continue, upon his return he would head for a shower maybe a glass of juice or something before hitting the gym. The gym had been set up at the far end of the garden at Guddu’s behest, but Arnav too used it and yes, even Chotti. Khushi ko Arnav bolta rehta tha but she was too busy for all this.
Dinner was usually at around 9 pm, Chotti would chatter on about her day as would Khushi, Arnav would mostly be silent, rarely commenting or initiating conversation but when pushed to it, he would deign to interject a grunt or two, a nod or a shake enough to convince the others that he was indeed following the conversation. On rare occasions, he would venture to share some interesting happening in the office or update Khushi about some social event that they would have to attend or his business trip etc. All very comfortable and natural except that the tone and smoothness was determined by Arnav or ASR whoever happened to reach home in the evening.
Arnav liked to be in bed by 10 (unless he had a conference call or some meeting for which he needed to prepare or go over some files which he had carried home), where he usually read a book for about half an hour or so before calling it a night. Khushi would potter in and out of the room juggling her time between Arnav and Chotti, depending on who needed her ear or her shoulder. Guddu se bhi baat karni hoti thi but that was usually after midnight – sometimes she would just doze off and then wake up with the alarm, chat with him and go back to sleep.
Arnav was usually up by 6 am in time for his morning jog and a quick game of squash often with a mechanized partner – then some time with his precious plants. Khushi got up a bit later depending on how late and how well she had slept (age was creeping up and sleep was becoming a rare commodity). They usually shared a cup of tea, each reading the newspaper before going their separate ways to prepare for the day ahead.
Kya weekends? Oh weekends were lazy sleep in days with Arnav preferring to catch up on sleep (when he was not travelling that is) and enjoyed family time with some get-together or the other, kabhi Di, kabhi Anya, kabhi Poo kuch na kuch toh laga hi rehta tha.
Toh yeh thi Arshi ka dincharya aur issi main hoti thi unki nok-jhok, gile-shikwe, hansi-mazak – bechara RV apna naak ghusaye toh bhi kahan, aap hi bataiye?
One fine morning, when the Sun was just about up and dithering on whether to shine gently and let spring linger on just a little while or just straightaway declare summer, Khushi woke with a jerk – what was that sound? She sat up and looked around.
“Arnav, Arnav are you ok?” she shrieked in a horrified whisper.
Arnav lay on the floor, pale and gasping for breath, broken pieces of glass were all around him, “Khushii, I can’t breathe,” he managed to utter a hand to his chest.
“Shhh,” Khushi reassured him jerkily and rushed out, “HP HP, Shakuntala, jaldi aao, hello hello Vikrantji hum Khushi bol rahe hai, haan Shantivan se, jaldi ambulance bhejiye,” thankfully Khushi kept her head and recollected that she had the ambulance driver’s number saved from Buaji’s episodic chakkars, “Relax Arnav kuch nahi hoga abhi hospital lekar jaate hain, acidity hoga yeh lijiye,” she poured some antacid down his throat hoping and praying she was right but some instinct told her it was something more than that, he looked so pale, almost white…ghost…, “HP jaldi aao Shakuntala fold the bedspread lengthwise, jaldi karo Chotti Chotti jaldi jaao and call the guards we need to get your Dad downstairs abhi come on don’t stand there move dammit,” together they slid Arnav on to the thick bedspread; the guards came running and picked up the makeshift hammock and carefully carried Arnav downstairs.
Chotti was sobbing hysterically but Khushi was pale and dry-eyed, there was no time to cry and neither did she indulge Chotti, “Snap out of it Chotti,” she barked, “Kya hua kya hai? Nothing, he just has a bit of indigestion, kuch nahi hoga, go get my purse, get the car keys, if the ambulance doesn’t arrive then I will take him to the hospital, call up Mamu and ask him, nahi tell him, achcha phone lagao main baat karti hoon,” she kept up a steady stream of instructions holding Arnav’s hand all the while, hey Devi Maiyya raksha karna hey Devi Maiyya aapne inko kuch hone diya na toh humse bura koi nahi hoga, she threatened dire consequences to DM, “Kishu bhaiyaa, I think Arnav has had a heart attack, he had just returned from his morning jog, haan the ambulance is here, abhi unhe oxygen de rahein hain, please tell me kuansa hospital, haan ok, talk to the driver, bhaiyya lo baat karo, arre arram se,” she snapped as Arnav head almost banged into the oxygen cylinder in the cramped confines of the ambulance, “Haan bhaiyya chalo jaldi chalo, haan Chotti you come, chalo chalo jaldi chalo,” she urged.
“Ji Kishu bhaiyaa theek hai, Dr Madan at City Heart Centre, please text me his number will you, ok thanks, haan please Di ko bata dijiye and please Ankit ko bhi aur Guddu ko I will call, I think he will want to come, ok bye.”
“Haan Guddu?” Khushi dialed him.
“Hmm Mom, itni subah subah, all ok?” Guddu mumbled sleepily.
“Yeah actually,” Khushi cleared her throat, “Dad’s a bit unwell,” she glanced at his face her heart sank, he still looked so pale even though with oxygen he seemed to be breathing better.
“Dad! Kya hua?” Guddu was suddenly wide awake, “And is that the ambulance siren? Itna serious?”
“Pata nahi Guddu, I hope not but didn’t want to take chances, so am taking him to the hospital,” Khushi tried to maintain a calm façade but Chotti snatched the phone, “Da,” she sobbed, “Please come home Da, Daddy is so pale and is not even talking.”
Arnav raised a hand feebly and tried to shush her, “Daddy,” Chotti sobbed even louder.
Click here for Chapter 487