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“Oh kuch nahi Dad,” Chotti said as she critically inspected and admired her nails, near and far, “Da has been just reading me the riot act,” instantly the newspaper came down and Devansh glared furiously at her; satisfied that she had his full attention she just grinned impishly and continued airily, “Matlab he told me hostel is so much fun, jitna marzee late night parties, mauj masti, girlfriend boyfriend koi rok tok nahi, freedom hi freedom,” Devansh’ eyes almost popped out at the blatant lies and that too with such a straight face.
Unable to control herself any further, Chotti burst into laughter, she rolled about on the sofa taking care to move next to her mother who was also staring at her with comical horror and Arnav’s face was all red and purple, “Sorry sorry,” she gasped, “but you really should have seen your expressions,” she sobered up and went to Arnav, “Chill Dad chill I was just kidding and you can trust me right?”
“I can trust you,” he mumbled, “but not the others,” he fretted.
“Arre kuch nahi Dad, jisko karna hota hai na masti aur gadbad they can do during college hours why be a hosteller? Waise bhi even if I joined a Delhi college, I would have shifted to the hostel, all my friends are for the course is very intensive and travel time is not worth it,” she informed casually.
Instantly Arnav stiffened, “Toh Manipal main aisa kya hai ki suddenly itna khush ho gayi?” he narrowed his eyes, “I thought you were keen on a Delhi college as your friends are here?” he cross examined her.
“Haan,” Chotti nodded, “by friends I meant Abhishek,” she simpered, “baaki toh are mostly going to colleges here and there, and abhi pata chala at least 4 of my class mates, two girls and two boys are going to Manipal, so now I am really excited, I wont be alone and I will have company when I travel to and fro to Delhi, woh toh I can do often right?” she appealed to her father.
He of course nodded his head with alacrity looking quite relaxed and relieved, “So Abhishek is staying on in Delhi?” he muttered half under his breath.
“Yes Dad, that’s why I was so upset, but life main one cant have everything right?” she said bravely and heaved a deep soulful sigh, “Aur waise bhi kya kehte hain? If you love someone let it go, if it comes back its yours otherwise it never was,” she swallowed and smiled bravely and even brushed away a tear, “Shayad Abhi ko meri value…” she bit her lip and turned away waggling her eyes at Devansh.
Devansh hurriedly raised the newspaper lest his grin be visible to all – waise he neednt have worried for Khushi who was looking at Chotti with a frown throughout now wore an approving expression. She was clearly on to Chotti for she flicked a suspicious glance or two at Devansh and was able to sift out the wheat from the chaff with help of a sixth sense only mothers are blessed with – exact details she would wrest out from Chotti at a more opportune private moment later.
But Arnav was the one who wore a beatific expression – gone was the self-deprecatory guilt stricken look from his eyes; he instead wore a smug self-congratulatory expression as if he were giving himself a pat on the back for arranging to have a heart attack just at the right moment to separate his Angel from a potential daughter stealer – the Abhishek, her childhood hero, phewwwww.
Khushi looked at Arnav and caught Chotti’s mischievous glance, her eyes flickered and twinkled as Chotti winked back at her, a laugh escaped Khushi, which she hurriedly converted to a cough. The newspaper rose up and rustled briskly before settling to the subtle shake of a poorly set jelly.
So all in all what had started out as a disastrous result day ended on an individualized self-congratulatory note – difficult to say who was the proudest of the lot – an especially close tie between Arnav and Chotti 😛
Arnav made a slow but steady recovery – his surgical wounds healed without sequelae, quite a feat considering he was a diabetes patient (the doctor praised Khushi’s nursing care and cooperation in ensuring sugar control by special attention to his diet and exercise) and regained his strength. Initially Aman used to come home slowly he began by going for a couple of hours to office and was back to his usual routine within 6 weeks.
Devansh was home for his summer vacations, though he spent much of his time at IIT Delhi as he was associated with some project or so he said.
Udhar vacations khatam huye toh Chotti ka bhi Manipal jaane ka time aagaya – instead of Arnav, Khushi and Devansh went to drop her off and settle her in. Aisa nahi hai ki Arnav wasn’t fit enough to travel but Khushi thought it best this way for she wasn’t quite sure how emotionally disturbed he would be at leaving his Angel behind alone in a completely alien environment and that too so far away. If they all left together, in the hullabaloo and confusion nobody would be really be sad and sentimental and Arnav could be lulled into a sort of self-dokha that they had all gone off on a family trip somewhere and would soon be back.
But sach toh yehi tha ki Khushi first dropped Chotti at Manipal, hung around for a couple of days to see through the formalities and check if she was comfortable, give endless lectures on need to maintain healthy diet, how if she dared to be laparwah about her health in all likelihood her Daddy dearest would have another heart attack and worse, he would come to Manipal and set up camp here, to Skype everyday, to study hard, do well, enjoy herself, not do too much masti, be careful about the type of friends she made, to make sure…oh well you guys probably know the drill right?
Khushi was exhausted and limp by the time she got on to the aeroplane. As soon as the plane took off, Khushi’s eyes filled with tears at the thought of leaving Chotti, bechari Chotti sabki ladli kaise karegi sab manage akele, if only they didn’t grow up, if only they needn’t have to spread their wings, if only she could hold them forever in her arms, “Aww Mommm!” hissed Guddu in her ear as she stared unseeingly out of the window, “Are you crying?” he was incredulous and hurt, “Mere liye toh kabhi nahi rote,” he complained, “sab bas Chotti se hi pyaar karte hain,” he grumbled.
Khushi laughed through her tears, “How would you know?”
“Wohi toh mujhe kya pata mere hone ya na hone se koi faraq padta hai ki nahi, sab toh Chotti se hi pyaar karte hain, meri toh koi value hi nahi, main toh,” Devansh sighed and grumbled theatrically.
“Priceless ho!” interrupted Khushi her eyes bright and warm, “Yeh sab faltu ka nuatanki Chotti se seekha hai kya?” she scolded him lovingly.
“Chotti se seekha!” Devansh huffed offended, he paused, “Maine hi toh sikhaya hai,” he twinkled and smirked.
Khushi shook her head ruefully and laughed, “Very smart Guddu, college has really taught you how to manipulate people huh?” she looked at him.
He shrugged casually, “Karna padta hai Mom, girls can’t resist a guy who can make them laugh hai ki nahi?” he raised an eyebrow and picked at his collar, “Tabhi your son is so popular at college!” he boasted
Khushi raised her hand, “Bas bas zyaada bhav khane ki zaroorat nahi aur na hi zyaada khush hone ki,” Khushi rolled her eyes, “Girls can’t resist a guy, period!”
They both laughed. Khushi sobered, “Pata nahi Chotti…”
“Oho Mom,” it was Guddu’s turn to roll his eyes, “She will be fine, dekhna she will get by pretty well, in fact uske peeche soon ek lambi line hogi.”
“Usika toh darr hai,” Khushi smacked her head, “Your Dad will…” she bit her lip.
“Don’t worry Mom,” Guddu reassured her, “I will go on and off to check up on her, make up, wig pehnkar jaaoonga, she wont even recognize me,” he was thrilled with his brilliance, “Kitna mazaa aayega haina Mom?”
“Nonsense Guddu, don’t you dare, Chotti will never forgive either of us,” she warned; she paused as a thought struck her, “Aur agar Dad ko pata chala he will insist on sending you every other weekend!”
Poore flight main Guddu kept Khushi entertained and distracted – she had no scope to miss Chotti during the flight to Mumbai.
But on the flight from Mumbai from Delhi Khushi had no support – as Devansh too left for his college. Khushi moped to her heart’s content but pulled herself together once she reached Delhi for Laad Governor toh soongh kar pehchan lete if she was the teeniest bit upset and then he would start the dammit-pata-nahi-akeli-akeli-kya-kar-rahi-hai-chalo-chal-kar-mil-aatein-hai wala gana. Isliye wisely Khushi didn’t make any fuss and was very matter of fact and extremely casual as if bas abhi kuch hi dino main wapas aa rahi hai types. Arnav, thankfully, followed her lead, apparently unwilling to disturb her sangfroid.
Relieved, Khushi encouraged Arnav to focus on his work and get back to his usual activities. The doctors had been very categorical about the need to exercise for continued future fitness – naturally Khushi nagged him. So Arnav was either working with Aman or working out with Naman, his personal trainer and physiotherapist.
For all her nautanki, Chotti took sometime to adjust to hostel life, that too so far away from her family, though she took care to moan only privately to Khushi. So the first year, Khushi was forever on the phone or Skype while every other month, Chotti would land up in Delhi, even if it was just for a couple of days or Khushi would travel to Manipal (instigated by Arnav) and stay for a week or so, just to give Chotti a sense of belonging – Khushi ko shayad itni mehnat aur stress Chotti ke playschool ke time nahi karna padha tha!
But of course those were initial teething troubles and hysteria of over-protective parents. Chotti settled down from the second year onwards, as she found her bearings, made her peace with the hostel food; good friends and the fact that second year was less intensive also helped.
Khushi no longer needed to be attached to her phone or nor was she busy booking/cancelling tickets or travelling quite so often – bas din main ek baar dono ke saath roll call hota tha bas then she was free to do her own thing – which was nothing.
Initial stress and now loneliness literally ate into Khushi and she lost a lot of weight – ab kuch bhi karne ka mann nahi karta tha, khana banana ka aur khane ka toh bilkul bhi nahi. Dinner was the only meal that she ate properly – that too on the days that Arnav was home – par woh bhi healthy, diabetic diet tha.
Chotti was concerned about her, “Mom saara din akele ghar par is so not good for you, bahar jaaiye, take up dancing, join some hobby classes, make some friends, take Dad for a movie,” she exhorted.
“Yeah right,” Khushi mumbled, “As if, you know how many movies your Dad has taken me to see,” she rued.
“But that was before, we were there, Nani, Babuji, sab the time kahan tha, ab toh hai,” Chotti objected, “Wait I will nag Dad.”
True to her threat, Chotti nagged Arnav and finally the day arrived when Arnav deigned to watch a movie with Khushi —-and promptly forgot about it and went off to Agra for a meeting remembering only when Chotti (knowing her Dad) called to check – and isiliye Arnav was so ‘meherban’ on Khushi.
Phewwwwwwwww —-finally the circle is complete and we are back to the first chapter of Silver Streaks.
Iske baad Arshi went off for their long overdue lunch at Di’s and finally managed to live happily ever after while RVing three times a day.
Thank you dear readers for your company on this revision journey, specially to all those who lent their voices as well – kept me from doubting my sanity the second time round 😀
Oh dammit I will miss you all😔 Thank you for being here and hope to see you around sooner than later. 👋
Click here for Chapter 494