A gentle breeze blew, Arnav froze and slowly turned; he felt a clutch in his heart, had time stopped? There she stood looking hesitant and stunning in a red saree, their eyes met across the room, she smoothed her bangs and blinked, half afraid he would disappear while he just stared and stared as raw intense passion flared and scorched their very souls; their first mutual RV after an eon was broken in an instant by Mamiji’s mausi ke dewar ke saas ke jethke bhatija and bhatiji who crashed into Khushi and Arnav respectively.
Recollecting themselves; they made the perfunctory socially accepted noises and right expressions before attempting to tune in to the still (albeit faintly) playing RV; by mutual consent they started walking towards each other, “Chotte, Khushi bitiya yehaan toh aaiye,” Nani called them over affectionately, “Kitne dino baad, sab ek saath ghar ma,” happy tears sparkled in her eyes as she took in her beloved grandchildren seated around her with Anya skipping happily from one person to another.
“Chotte, aapko pata hai, Anya bitiya ko school main acting ke liye prize mili hai,” Nani said proudly.
Arnav reluctantly took his glance off Khushi for a moment to look at Anya and nodded, “Khushi ne bataya tha.” He said softly, was back at his favorite past time, unashamedly ogling Khushi, Rabba Vey on at full volume drowning out everything other sound in the vicinity.
Khushi blushed and looked away, unable to resist, she looked back shyly at him and scolded him with her eyes, ‘Yeh kya kar rahe hain aap?’
He continued staring at her, ‘Kya kar raha hoon? Bas dekh hi toh raha hoon.’ shivers ran down her spine as his gaze roamed her face uninhibited, searing her, branding her.
Khushi’s eyes glared at him; that is as far as it is possible to glare while staring yearningly at another person, ‘Chodiye hume, sab dekh rahe hai, sab log kya sochenge?”
He firmed his lips and continued to stare, his eyes speaking volumes, ‘Sochne do, haq hai mera, biwi ho tum meri, my legally wedded wife.’
Khushi stiffened as she shot a glance around her, ‘Aap aisa nahi kar sakte.’
Arnav devoured her, ‘Main yeh hi nahi, aur bhi bahut kuch kar sakta hoon, mujhe challenge mat karo, Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada.’
Fortunately for Khushi’s heart health, Payal’s soft voice broke over their silent conversation, “But Anya, how come you chose to play the evil Queen, why not Snow White, I saw the video; though I thought you were wonderful as the evil Queen”; everyone turned looked at Anya.
“Oh Badi bua, it was so much fun to play the evil Queen, there was so much to do, I got to be beautiful, I got to be wicked, I got to dress up as an old peddler, as a comb seller, a farmer’s wife with broken teeth and oh so much more than Snow white, who just had to look beautiful and pretty much dead, most of the time!”
Though everyone burst into laughter, they were impressed by Anya’s perspective and understanding of the ‘limitations of a positive role.’
Suddenly Anya edged close to Anjali and hugged her tightly, “I also didn’t like it that always in fairy tales, the step-mom is an evil mom, I have the bestest step-mom in the whole world, so I wanted to play the step-mom!”
This time, everyone had tears in their eyes, Khushi went over to them and hugged them hard, and said in a choked voice, “Even I have been lucky enough to have the bestest step-mom!”
Payal found it difficult to get up and join them so she just raised her hand and said, “Me too!”
Laughing, everyone brushed away their tears, Arnav swallowed hard and smiled at his beloved sister; she smiled back, hugging Anya very close, too choked to say anything.
Aapka lakh lakh shukar hai Devi Maiyya, Khushi thanked her.
Mamiji came bustling, rather upsetiyafied because her phaimily’s ignorance by the Raijada khandan and was near tears; hurriedly everyone dispersed to fulfill their societal roles and keep a flood of recriminations not to mention tears at bay. As dinner had been served, the delicious food was attacked with gusto and Khushi ke haatho ka kamaal was much appreciated by all and sundry.
Since HP and his wife were absent, it fell to Khushi to oversee the khatirdaari of the guests, Di also joined in to relieve Payal of this onerous task in her near term condition.
Arnav eyes kept following Khushi; no matter where she went, his gaze followed her, hungrily, almost devouringly, even though he had polished of a full plate of Khushi’s best; Khushi felt hot and cold all over and her breath came in short quick gasps, it was all she could do to keep herself from throwing herself into his arms, like a moth to a flame, she was drawn irresistibly to the fire in this eyes. Arnav’s intense burning gaze did not go unnoticed; a worried Anya whispered into her mum’s ears, “Mamma, why is Mamu so angry with Mami, look at the way he is glaring at her.”
Anjali looked up and sure enough there was Arnav, staring, almost unblinkingly at his beautiful wife, Anjali giggled, “No Anya, he is not precisely angry with her,” and as mischief stirred within her, she called Anya close and said softly, “Actually, he wants to say something special to your Mami, but they need to some time alone for that,” they looked around sadly at the unlikely chance of that in this crowd.
Anjali’s eyes twinkled mischievously, “Anya, will you go and hide somewhere, while I see what I can do?”
Game, Anya rushed off to hide, while Anjali giggled and pushed Khsitij to distract Arnav while she sauntered over to Khushi and said worriedly, “Khushi, I can’t find Anya anywhere, can you please go to the poolside and check if she has gone there, she was saying something about the flowers in CSR’s garden and it is risky for her to be alone near the pool.”
Khushi nodded her head understandingly and clasped Di’s hand in reassurance and rushed off to the poolside, Anjali looked towards her husband and nodded. Khsitij gratefully released a clearly ill-at-ease Arnav from more painful social niceties. Relieved, Arnav scanned the hall, no sign of Khushi, he looked more carefully, still no sign of her, where did she go to, he wondered, frustrated at this hide and seek, were they in school, for God’s sake.
Anjali watched the play of emotions across Chotte’s face and chuckled to herself; then she taking pity on her little brother, she hastily corrected her expression and walked over to him where he was glowering at an unfortunate lady who dared to cross his path whilst on his mission to track down his lady love, “Chotte! Kise doondh rahe ho?”
“Nobody Di, you tell me, all set for tomorrow, when are you back?” Arnav prevaricated.
Anjali rolled her eyes, “We already had this conversation remember? Khana khaya?”
“Haan Di,” Arnav ran his eye over the crowd again, still no sign of her.
“By the way Chotte, I saw ‘nobody’ going off towards the poolside.” Anjali said seriously and then bit her lip as she walked away, counting under her breath, tick tick one; tick tick two, tick tick…” she turned around and saw Arnav run lightly up the stairs, she clapped her hands in glee, “Ab ayega mazaa.”
Khushi rushed to the poolside looking here and there calling, “Anya, Aanyaa, Anya”; she looked at every nook and corner and even a bit fearfully into the pool, relieved to find it empty of any suspicious object, she turned back and squeaked in surprise as she caught a glimpse of a shadow; she whimpered in pain, she had twisted her ankle; Arnav came rushing forward and led her carefully to the chair by the poolside. He sank down besides her, holding her with his eyes, she looked wordlessly back at him; he raised her injured foot and held it firmly yet gently, and murmured, “Thoda dard hoga.”
She clutched his shoulder for support with full faith and tacit acceptance of whatever he wanted to dish out. Yet, unbidden, a whimper or two escaped her lips and she clutched him even more fiercely, “Ab theek hai?” he questioned her softly.
Khushi opened her eyes and nodded her head; she stood up a bit gingerly, “Woh…I was looking for Anya, Di said…”
“I saw her in the kitchen” Arnav cut in as he stalked her; Khushi reflexively walked back, “Kitchen? Nahi toh…yeh aap kya kar rahe hain?” as he continued to move forward.
“Ek adhoora kaam poora karne ja raha hoon” said Arnav distractedly as he finally drank in her beauty at close quarters, without any interfering busybodies.
“Adhoora kaam?” Khushi was confused.
He nodded, “Yeh party, yeh decorations, yeh red saree, yeh sham ka samay, tum aur main poolside par, kuch yaad aaya?”
Khushi nodded her head, but still not getting it, “Haan par kya farq padta hai, jo beet gayee so beet gayeee, aur aisa toh nahi hai ki yeh first time….”
Arnav too nodded his head as he gently brushed back her bangs and she hit the wall, “Haan actually koi farq nahi padta, par…”
“Par kya Arnav,” Khushi was getting antsy, all those guests downstairs, “Hume farq nahi padta, aapko farq nahi padta, toh aap hi bata dijiye, farq kiss ko padta hai?”
“Fandom ko dammit!” roared Arnav as he broke through all impositions and restrictions applied by CVs/PH/SP as he finally completed what he had started months ago on a amavasya ki raat on this poornima ki raat.
Khulasa Mami bhi na…….
Click here for Chapter 98