Arnav jerked back to reality, “Whaaat, Dadi, no! Why do you ask?”
Anya sat up and said earnestly, “Badi nani told me that your mamma and Dadi were like your thumbs.”
“Thumbs!” Arnav was wide awake now. If he didn’t know Khushi, he would have thought Anya had suddenly lost her marbles.
“Yes, thumbs,” Anya vigorously nodded her head.
Arnav shook his head, maybe she had lost her marbles or perhaps she was talking in her sleep. Yes, he relaxed that must be it, “Anya” he said, “Relax come lie down and go to sleep, let me call your choti bua,” he slowly edged off the bed.
Anya sighed and smacked her head, “Will you listen to me CSR? Badi nani told me a story. Ok show me your hand.”
Obediently Arnav held out his hand, “Now, if,” said Anya in all seriousness, “If I cut off any one finger which one would be most painful?”
Arnav stared in confusion at the bloodthirsty little girl and pulled his hand away, “What the! Anya seriously, I think…”
“No CSR,” Anya was insistent as she pulled his hand back, “Tell me, cutting off which finger would be most painful?”
Arnav sighed; lagta hai pagalpan ran in the family, “Any finger would be equally painful.”
“Correct,” Anya said approvingly, “So if you had to give up one finger, which finger would you give up?”
“None!” Arnav stood up, “Enough Anya, I am going to call Khushi,” he dug out his mobile, but Anya snatched it away, “Come on CSR, be a sport, this is a riddle!”
Arnav relaxed, “Oh a riddle, okay, let’s see,” Arnav stared at his hands and said, “Ok I would give up any finger except my thumb.”
Anya clapped, “Exactly, what Nani said to her mamma!” She narrated the story Badi Nani had told her in the afternoon.
Arnav listened interestedly and very relieved, no need to call Khsitij after all, “But how is it linked to Dadi?”
Anya nodded, “Badi Nani told me that when your parents died in the accident, your Dadi left you and went away to the Ashram, for you it was like cutting off both your thumbs.” She suddenly launched herself into his arms and burst into tears, “Oh CSR, I am so sorry, you lost both your thumbs at the same time. I lost one thumb but at least I had daddy and now I have got my other thumb too.”
Arnav was flabbergasted at this sudden emotional outburst from the little girl. “Anya, Anya, stop crying little one, it’s ok I am fine, I had Di and I had Nani. They were my thumbs.”
“Really!” Anya wiped her tears, “But Badi Nani thinks you would have like it better if Dadi had been there instead of her. She said that you made Anjie into one thumb but you couldn’t make her into the other thumb.”
Arnav stared at Anya, shocked to the core. Did Nani really think that? Well who wouldn’t, after all he had never really shown any affection or indulgence towards her. On the contrary, he had on several occasion quite clear that he just tolerated her for Di’s sake. Poor Nani, she had lost her daughter too, done so much and she thought that… oh no no, what have I done? He was such an ungrateful selfish what not, poor Nani. He felt weighed down with guilt. Nani, their rock, their strength thought that he didn’t care about her. Love for Nani flooded his heart.
He caressed Anya’s head, his face awash with emotions, “She is right Anya, I couldn’t make her into my thumb because she is too big and important to me to be just a thumb,” he swallowed hard, “Nani is my whole hand, my right hand,” he managed to say gruffly.
Anya smiled, her tears forgotten, “Oh! I knew it! Let me go and tell Badi Nani, she will be so happy,” she jumped up on the bed.
Arnav caught her and held her back, “Anya, go to sleep, I will tell her myself.”
“Promise?” Any insisted.
“Promise,” nodded Arnav.
Obediently Anya settled down on the bed and said “CSR, which was your favorite story as a child?”
Arnav looked at Anya a bit dazed at the swiftness with which Anya jumped from topic to topic, “Story? Umm let me see, ahh yes, I used to like Mowgli’s story a lot. What was the name, oh yes, Jungle Book, do you know the story? I wanted to run away to the jungle and live alone with the animals, especially when Nani used to scold me for teasing Di,” he looked at Anya; she was fast asleep.
Arnav drew up the covers on the little girl, but continued to sit there, in the past; images of his childhood flashed before his eyes; the past was taboo, it had remained irrevocably shut until Khushi’s unconditional love and acceptance had wrung out the gory details of that horrific night. But tonight Anya had opened the door beyond that night, unleashing a flood of memories. He had been so preoccupied with guarding the door and protecting his Di he had failed to even look at Nani. He was guilty, he had not even bothered to look at Nani, for whom the events were no less devastating, perhaps more, she had lost her precious daughter, two orphaned children thrust on her hands, one with a broken marriage, the other an angst ridden opinionated teenager with no money to boot. Both Dadi and Chacha had conveniently washed their hands off them albeit for different reasons. How had she managed, and he had not even given it a thought, not a word nor a gesture had ever revealed her inner turmoil. She had withstood all the crises, tall and rock solid. He was ashamed of himself, how could he have been so blind, so uncaring, so selfish and on occasion even rude?
“Chotte?” Nani put her hand on his shoulder, “Ka sochat ho? Bitiya toh sui gawa?”
Click here for Chapter 78