Khushi slowly moved forward and slid her hand under his right hand which was free of any sort of restriction, “Arnav,” she managed to utter through a clogged throat. Arnav turned his head towards her – drugged blank eyes clashed with anguished ones.
Khushi’s heart stilled – hey Devi Maiyya raksha karna – clutching his hand in both of hers she raised his hand to her lips and pressed a trembling kiss on it, “A…Arnav,” she begged tearfully.
A spark of recognition lit his eyes – he brightened, “Khushiii,” the softest of sighs caressed her.
Despite all the strictures and avowals, self-control instantly deserted Khushi. She sank down on the bedside stool still holding his hand and burst into silent sobs, her slender frame shaking and shuddering, nahi nahi yeh nahi ho sakta, I can’t see him like this, uthiye cheekiye chillaiye kuch bhi anything but this dreadful helpless captive state.
Arnav’s hand miraculously tightened around hers, she froze and raised her tear drenched face to look at him fearfully, “Arnav,” she sobbed uncontrollably.
“Shhhhsshh,” he whispered with the slightest shake of his head, he detached his hand from her death grip and cupped her cheek, his thumb caressed her gently, “Main theek hoon I promise,” his voice was low but firm despite the mask. Khushi turned her head and pressed her trembling lips to the palm of his hand, tears rained down her cheeks onto his hand, “Khushi please, don’t cry,” he exhorted, “Khushi stop.”
Khushi gulped valiantly and made a heroic effort to control her overpowering emotions but it was all too much for her – the shock, the stress, the tension, the agonizing wait, his condition and now his concern for her amidst all this – the dam broke like it never had.
“Mrs Raizada,” the doctor was at her side, “Please control yourself otherwise I will be forced to send you out,” he said sternly, “Its not good for the patient,” he warned.
“Sorry,” Khushi instantly stood up and grimaced apologetically, “Nahi hum theek hai,” she wiped her face, “I think I will wait outside,” suddenly ashamed of her breakdown, bas kar Khushi, kya kar rahi hai, Arnav ke baare main toh soch, if you cannot control yourself leave here immediately, she turned to go but Arnav tightened his hold over her hand, “Nahi Khushi, I…I…doctor let her stay here, I…I need her …” his eyes closed and he drifted off, pale and listless. But the hand that held on to Khushi was warm and his clasp firm and unyielding.
Khushi nodded pleadingly to the doctor before sinking down on the seat. She sat beside Arnav quietly holding his hand and praying often and long.
Khushi was in a sort of emotional freeze all she could do was survive from one moment to another, almost mechanically. The doctors had no doubt declared Arnav out of danger but the shock of almost losing Arnav was more than she could bear – the finite nature of life hit her. Suddenly, everything seemed so meaningless and inconsequential, the gile shikwe, the petty tussles, the ego battles kuch bhi toh matlab nahi – bas Arnav ho saath main, bachche theek ho toh sab kuch hai, bas yehi sach hai.
Khushi sat for hours by his bedside, holding his hand quietly staring almost unblinkingly at his face or whatever was visible. Arnav drifted in and out of a doze mostly in his own drug-hazed world. Once in a while he would fidget restlessly mutter ‘Khushi’ over and over again and subside only when she leaned over and spoke to him.
Khushi’s head throbbed while her back muscles screamed in protest yet she refused to relinquish her vigil. Anjali had come in once demanding her share of ‘Chotte’ time but she was rather overpowered by his condition and retired rather precipitously. Ultimately it was Devansh who forcibly sent Khushi home insisting that he would stay with Dad while she went home for a change, food and some rest, “nahi toh I wont let you stay the night with Dad,” he threatened quite convincingly even though he was whispering – his eyes grim and lips thin and white, “The doctor said na that he is ok now besides he is under constant surveillance, please go,” he pushed her gently.
Arnav’s hand squeezed hers, she turned to look at him – he nodded his head tiredly, “Go and come back later, main theek hoon,” he reassured her. She felt helpless and torn – Arnav was still holding on to her hand for dear life, “Arnav,” she whispered mutinously but then Arnav released her hand and turned over. Devansh nodded grimly and indicated towards the door, “Main hoon yahan, aap ghar jaao,” Khushi resisted, “Theek hai phir main hi Mumbai chala jaata hoon,” Devansh threw his trump card, “since you clearly don’t want father and son to bond,” ace of trumps.
Defeated, Khushi left them for some much-needed rest but determined to return at the earliest. But Guddu ne bhi kachchi goliya nahin kheli thi – no car was available for her before 10 pm. Anya was at RM who bulldozed her into at least lying for a couple of hours till curfew time was over. Ensconced and cuddled between the twins with Anya insisting on massaging her legs, Khushi fell into a deep dreamless sleep from which she woke much refreshed just as the clock struck 10 – she hurriedly checked her phone ‘All well Mom’ message from Guddu just a little while ago. She sent up a prayer of thankfulness before gently extricating herself from the tangle of warm bundles on either side of her and crawled off the bed. She kissed them and adjusted bolsters around them; she freshened up before going downstairs, “Thanks Anya, your daughters are the best stress busters,” Khushi smiled wanly, “Ab tum jaao unke paas, I will go to the hospital.”
“Mom even I am coming,” Chotti stood up.
Khushi shook her head, “No sweetie, no need, tum yahin raho, I will be sending your Da home as well, parso entrance bhi toh hai, jaao taiyyari karo,” she hugged her, “Dekhna sab theek ho jayega,” she smiled.
“Exam!” Chotti shuddered, “I cant study now Mom, I am not going for any exam-shegsham,” she protested.
Khushi sighed, “Achcha dekhte hain, parso hai na, we’ll take a call tomorrow, abhi rest karo, I may need you to stay with your Dad tomorrow hai na? Did you have dinner?”
Chotti shook her head mutinously.
“Please Chotti,” Khushi pressed a hand to her head which was again beginning to ache, “Please don’t add to my worries, dekho ghar par sab hai, sab ka dinner…” she looked around and then zeroed in on Garima, “kisine bhi dinner nahi kiya?” it was more of a statement than a question.
Garima flushed and shook her head, “But why?!” protested Khushi, “All of you have dinner at 9 pm abhi its past 10 pm, dinner kiya kyon nahi?”
“Bas, nobody was keen,” mumbled Garima lamely.
Khushi threw up her hands in frustration and irritation, “Please Amma, don’t worsen things for me,” she pleaded, “Hum nahi kahenge toh koi khana nahi khayega kya? Buaji ko sugar hai, Babuji ko indigestion hota hai timely nahi khane se, hum kya kya dekhe aap hi bataiye?”
Khushi drooped as she trailed off – all she wanted to do was run off to the hospital, be with Arnav, pata nahi kaise hain, kuch khaya bhi nahi, pucca humare liye wait kar rahein hain, par ghar par dinner ka kuch arrangement nahi, aur sab yahin hain, Buaji ka khana alag, Babuji ka alag, Di ka vrat ka khana, Chotti ka low cal diet…kaise hoga sab kuch and here everybody was staring at her and looking expectantly and rather helplessly towards her.
“HPji,” she raised her voice cursing herself – rest nahin karna chahiye tha, I should have checked out this angle, ab sab kya khayenge itna late ho gaya, “Khana laga do, pehle kyon nahi diya?” she scolded him, “Sab toh 9 o’clock dinner karte hain na, pata hai na? toh aaj kyon nahi?”
“I offered, they refused,” HP defended himself.
“Khana bana toh hai na sabke liye?” Khushi sighed, “Di ka vrat ka khana?”
“Khushi, tum jao,” Kshitij came forward, “Anya and Chotti will manage, Buaji you go and stay with the twins,” he sent Garima upstairs.
Khushi twisted her fingers, “Kaise karenge yeh dono manage, kuch bhi pata nahi hai, kahan kya hai, na kitchen na bedclothes,” she ran a frazzled hand through her hair – kaise jaaoon, kaun kya khayega, kaun kahan soyega kaise manage hoga sab kuch?, “Fruits hai kya ghar par? Di kya khayengi? Arre nahi HPji aapko pata hai na raat ko Di banana nahi leti she will take apples maybe some papaya aur dahi – kya dahi nahi hai ghar par? Hey Devi Maiyya! Aur Babuji ke liye daliya banaya?”
HP shook his head dumbly – Khushi turned away in despair.
“Khusi bitiya, tum jaao humow dekhlenge, and don’t worry about us, we will have whatever everyone is having chahe woh geela geela pusta hi ho” Buaji said bravely as she came huffing and puffing to Khushi’s rescue, “hum dekh lenge.”
“Kuch bana hoga toh na khayenge Buaji? Aur waise bhi aapki toh khud ki tabiyat theek nahi hai,” Khushi was near tears, aur dekh hi sakte the toh pehle kyon nahi dekha while I was resting, she restrained herself from snapping with great difficulty, “its already so late, the stores would be closing soon Di kya khayengi?” Khushi was ready to drop everything and run off to the hospital but years of habit and a deep-rooted sense of responsibility (to the point of obsession) held her back – plus Arnav ke liye bhi khichdi lekar jaana tha – sab kuch toh Khushi ko hi sochna tha karna tha. She could have screamed in frustration and annoyance – kabhi toh koi kuch mere liye soch le dammit.
Khushi shook her head and dashed off to the kitchen – she had no time to waste and first things first – pehle Arnav ke liye khichdi, “Kishu bhaiyaa, please could you go to the ‘late night store’ and get some stuff for Di, fruits and dahi?” she shook her head as she hurriedly put the khichdi on the gas casting a harried glance at the clock – 10.30! Arnav ko bhi bhook lagi hogi, wait bhi kar rahe honge, I hope sab theek ho she prayed – Hey Devi Maiyya raksha karna.
Think of the Devil and Khushi’s phone beeped -‘Mom where are you? Aren’t you coming? Dad’s asking for you.’
Click here for Chapter 489