Arnav turned whilst sitting and looked up at Nani, he felt about 6 years of age, he slid his arms around her waist and buried his face in her ample bosom and burst into tears, great wracking soundless sobs which shook his whole frame.
Arnav cried for his lost childhood, their tragedy, for his mother, but most of all for Nani. He finally got a glimpse of how difficult and painful it all must have been for her as well, her strength, fortitude and courage amazed him, he felt proud and humbled at the same time.
Nani was horrified as she attempted to soothe him, she looked at Anya, thankfully she was fast asleep, achcha bitiya must have said something to upset him, she sighed. She let him cry, but his sobs tore at her, cutting through her age weakened nerves of steel, tears rolled down her cheeks, first in slow hesitant tracks and then as if a dam had burst open in an unstoppable flood of tears. Nani bit her lip and clenched her muscles so that not a sob escaped her.
Finally the wetness touched Arnav and he drew back to look at his anguished Nani before she could school her expression. He stood up shakily and wiped away her tears and managed to speak through his as yet unspent emotional storm, “Nani, you could never be my thumb because you are my whole hand, I would have never been Arnav Singh Raizada but for you. If you had not been there…,” he choked.
He sat Nani on the bed while he sat with a thump on the floor and put his head on her lap, his arms around her waist.
Nani stroked his hair lovingly, “It is not important Chotte,” she said softly, “I don’t know what the little one said, but it really is not important, whatever I did, I did out of my love for both of you and will continue to do so till my last dying breath.”
Arnav raised his head and said fiercely, “Don’t talk like that! Nani I want to say, no Nani let me speak, I need to say this; I would have liked it best if ‘that night’ had not happened, Dadi had not left us, but it did happen and it was devastating, but we could come out of it only because of you. Your stern strict unemotional approach was the only thing that could stiffen my spine, raise my hackles and force me to go beyond my tragedy. The slightest bit of weakness would have been disastrous for me.”
He wiped his face on her pallu, when she frowned, he grinned at an old forgotten memory of how he used to always do that just to rile her. He wiped his nose for good measure, “Chotte!” She pulled away her pallu, her heart full at the return of the playful naughty boy who had captured her heart the day he was born.
“Yaad hai Nani, when I was adamant about going to Harvard?” Arnav said.
Nani nodded, “Haan Chotte, I am not that old,” she said a bit tartly, “kyon?”
“We had such a massive argument, I was determined and you were equally set about not sending me. Finally you threatened me that you wouldn’t give me any monetary support and I would have to go it alone.”
Nani nodded her head, a bit sadly, “Perhaps I was a bit too harsh with you. But I had my own reasons, I wanted to be very sure that you did indeed want to go and know exactly how determined you were. I had said that just to test you, to find out how keen you actually were. Of course I fully intended to support you, but by the end of the argument, you were so annoyed that you refused to speak to me.” She sighed.
Arnav put her hand on his cheek, “Yes Nani, but in retrospect that was the best thing that happened to me, it challenged me, provoked me and made me grow up and take charge of my own destiny. I now had a real agenda, the desire to succeed at all costs, to show you, to prove to you.” He clutched her hand, “It was tough Nani, but I did it and that lesson gave me an immense confidence in my abilities, it made me realize that if I wanted, I could do anything I wished.”
He put his head back on her lap while an emotional Nani caressed his hair, “I am glad Chotte, because that is what I wanted to do, to help you stand on your own feet. But when you became so cold and ruthless, I thought perhaps I was guilty of overkill. And the cross of a ‘dayyan’ Nani was sometimes too heavy for me; Chotte,” She swallowed as she caressed his face, “Chotte will it help you forgive me if I tell you that it was under my instructions that Arun took care of you when you fell ill, that I took care of the hospital bill? Never think that I would ever desert you in your time of crisis,” Nani’s voice broke a bit.
Arnav sat up, “What? Arun Sodhi! How do you know him?”
Nani angled her head regally, “What do you think of your Nani? After all hum Arnav Singh Raizada ke Nani hai!” She smiled mischievously, “Arun’s granny is a friend of mine,” she revealed.
“Nani!” Arnav stared in surprise at his Nani, “Ok now I get it, that is why Arun never showed me the hospital bill, he claimed they had waived it off as he had pulled some strings. And oh so that is why his sister Kritika was friends with Di!” He looked admiringly at his Nani, “Arre wah Nani, aap toh sahi main Arnav Singh Raizada ke Nani nikle!”
Nani preened and sat up regally, but then she was sad again, she looked down at him with regret in her eyes, “But I wish I hadn’t been so harsh on you; you had to face so much as such a young age,” her voice broke.
Arnav squeezed her hands, “No no Nani! I don’t believe this! You are feeling guilty! How can you even say that! That is exactly what I am trying to tell you, that harshness, strictness is what I needed to push me, force me to grow up, take responsibility, become Arnav Singh Raizada. That night left me vulnerable and I could have been a shadow of myself but for your iron will, which is not only a part of me but shaped me as well. Just like Di needed support and nurture, I needed to be challenged, to be pushed.”
Arnav got up and paced restlessly, he spoke, “After that fateful night when things collapsed all around us, I was angry, I was angry with God, with Dad, with Chachaji, with Dadi, his voice trembled and dropped to a faint whisper, “Even with Ma, how could she think of only herself , what about us, didn’t we matter? He cleared his throat, “But none of them were there, so I channeled all my anger and directed it to the only person available,” his voice again broke and trembled as he sank down before her, “You Nani. I put Ma and Dadi on a pedestal, broke all relationship with God, Dad and Chachaji, enveloped Di in a cocoon and turned all the volcanic lava on to you. I am sorry Nani, I am so sorry Nani; I never even stopped to consider what you may have undergone. But you are the best Nani, you really are the best.” He rose up on his knees and hugged her hard and said, “I love you Nani.”
Nani hugged him back, tears of joy running down her cheeks, “You know Chotte, I always knew that yet there was always a sort of doubt, a fear in some corner of my mind, that perhaps I was wrong to push you, that you did not really care for me; I often consoled myself that so long as my intentions were pure and my love for you was enough but I must tell you that it sure does feel good to hear it from you. I love you too Chotte.” Nani said almost fiercely.
Arnav was still too choked to say anything coherent except, “I am sorry Nani, I am sorry I took you for granted, I love you Nani,” as tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Bas bas Chotte,” she wiped his tears, “Don’t feel so guilty, haq hai tumhara mujh par aur Nani ko granted nahi loge to kisko loge? Chalo ab utho, it is very late, go and sleep, Khushi bitiya must be wondering where you have gone.”
Arnav nodded his head and carefully again wiped his nose and face on Nani’s pallu while she tugged at it ineffectually, “Chotte!” she scolded him.
Arnav grinned and leaned forward to kiss her wrinkled cheeks; slyly he slid his hand under her veil and snitched a hair pin from her bun, a favorite amongst his childhood ‘Nani satao tareekas’.
“Arnav!” Hissed Nani for fear of waking Anya.
Arnav straightened the hair pin and brandished it like a sword and went off in search of his Khushi.
After he left, Nani’s face broke into a delighted grin as she wiped her eyes, on her pallu. Nani settled down to her prayers and nightly ablutions. Before switching off the night lamp, she paused a moment to look at the sleeping little girl. She pulled up the covers and caressed her affectionately, “Shukriya bitiya, humri Chotte wapas karne ke liye” she whispered in a voice choked with emotion.
That night, after ages, Nani felt the familiar scratchy brush of his mustaches on her soft cheeks, she smiled in her sleep.
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