Arnav threw up his hands and as if the words were wrung out of him, “Get a life Khushi, get a hobby, get a job, get out of the house, find some friends, just…just let me be,” he strode off leaving Khushi alone – wounded and bewildered.
She cried buckets and buckets but there was no balm for her bruised and battered soul – if anything she got a swollen blotchy face with a splitting headache to boot.
After so many years, to be thus pushed away, does he not care even a little about me? Mere hone na hone se koi farq nahi padta – padta hai zaroor padta hai, she thought bitterly. If I am not there, he will of course miss me, just like one misses the most comfortable chair in the house. She keeled over and clutched herself trying to hold herself together as she disintegrated into pieces.
Aisa kaise kar sakte hain woh? How heartbreaking how unbearable, how unfair was it, she screamed silently to herself, she felt lost alone and betrayed, itna sab kuch itne saal tak dekar kya mila mujhe – kuch bhi toh nahi. At this stage of life, I should get a life, get a job, a hobby, friends – jo sab kuch home and hearth ke liye chhod diya ab wohi sab I should have?
Galati humari hi hai, Khushi thought dully, he is right, kuch bhi toh galat nahi kaha – he was defined by his work, his ego, he had always been honest about that. Sahi toh keh rahein hain, why should he have to pretend with me, he should be free to be as he is, humne kabhi nahi chaha that he should change, I loved him warts, ego, laad governorship and all toh ab kya ho gaya? Why do you want him to be something that you have built up in your imagination? Would that be fair to him? Wouldn’t that be unfair on Arnav? He is right, if you love him, let him be.
But unka kya? Does he not love me? Sankadevi reared her head.
That is not your concern, you only have control over what you can give not what you can receive, Khushi snapped back.
Of course that is easier said than done. It was an agonizing heartbreaking period for Khushi, one that almost tore her apart.
But Khushi didn’t have the luxury of falling apart, chah kar bhi bikhar nahi sakti thi. She swallowed all her pain and anguish and did what she had always done – coped – but just about.
Achcha hoga agar if I really do take his words to heart and leave him just ‘let him be’ – that will show him.
But no matter how much she pushed and poked herself, leaving him was not an option Khushi gave herself. So she pulled along as well as she could, hiding her pain and hurt from the world, from Arnav, from herself.
And so, Sankadevi went on and on ad nauseam – if only she could have kept her own ego aside, tried to behave normally, taken a few steps forward, shayad Arnav too would have taken a step or two.
But since she didn’t, he of course didn’t.
Dono hi apne aap se haar gaye.
She thought hamesha main hi kyon? Kabhi toh woh pehel kare.
He thought, maine toh clear kar diya, lagta hai she has got my point and is taking my advice seriously, nahi toh she would have pucca nagged me. After all she is always the one to take the first step – and if she hasn’t well then she has probably got the message.
After all, woh samajthi hai.
Undono ke beech main stalemate thi, yet despite the angst and ego tussle between the two. zindagi toh chal hi rahi thi.
Guddu passed out from Mumbai IIT (of course with honors) and proud parents went to attend the graduation ceremony too. At the ceremony, Khushi shed tears, but khushi ke and if Arnav snorted like a caged bull in a China shop it was not because he was put out with Khushi but because he was having a hard time controlling his own feelings. He forgot himself so far as to reach out and squeeze Khushi’s hand. Forgetting all gila-shikwa Khushi clutched his arm even has she reciprocated the squeeze. And of course at the mandatory photo session the enforced smiles, poses while playing happy families poured soothing balm over frayed sensitive nerves.
Khushi’s breath came easier.
She felt happy almost.
All was well.
The clouds had parted to let the Sun out.
She smiled her brilliant smile.
Phir came the shocker.
“Da! You haven’t taken a single photo with me,” complained Chotti.
“Kyon? Tum kya karogi uska?” Deva shrugged her off. “Waise selfie to liya na?”
“I don’t look good in selfies. Waise bhi I have strict instructions to bring back photos of all of us as proof.”
“Proof? Of what?” Everyone was surprised.
“Yes!” Chotti nodded airily. “I wasn’t getting leave. They thought I was lying about the graduation ceremony. So I promised I would deposit photos with my parents and sibling in full dress.”
“Why do I get the feeling you are talking through your non-existent hat?” Deva was suspicious. He smelt something fishy.
“Mom! Dekho na Da ko. Ek photo ke liye itna bhav.” Her lips trembled the tiniest bit.
“Guddu le lo na. Hum le lete hain,” Khushi cajoled her son. Guddu grimaced as Chotti who grinned victoriously, “Mom, take my phone please.”
“Anyone can have it photoshopped. How will they prove that you were actually here?” Deva questioned as he posed for yet another photo with his rather uncomfortable headgear.
“Wait!” Chotti stopped him as he made to remove it, “One last one with you alone holding the degree. Yeah like that. Say Choteeeeeee.”
“Okay? Done? Ab batao, why do you actually need the photo?”
Chotti twinkled engagingly at him as she moved away. “Promise you won’t blast me or tell-tales to Mom or Dad or…”
Devansh looked at her with foreboding. “What have you been up to? Out with it!”
Chotti shook her head. “First you promise.”
Devansh sighed in frustration. “Fine.” He bit out not unlike a cornered ASR, “I promise not to tell anybody but I refuse to promise not to thrash you. Now tell me, otherwise I am telling Mom and Dad.” He frowned at her.
“Uff! Relax. Remember you came to my college for my annual day program?”
“I got to know that there are a couple of junior year girls who are rather enamored by you.”
“So?” Deva was beginning to have serious misgivings.
“So in exchange for these photos the girls promised to do my file work.” She burst out laughing at his expression of comical horror.
“Don’t you dare!” he lunged for her phone but she was quicker. Chortling with glee at having got a rise out of her unnaturally serious and sober Da, she dashed away.
With him in hot pursuit.
Hallowed precinct and graduation be damned.
Wohi hua jo har ladki ke saath hota hai (Err kam se kam Hindi serial mein [aur mere saath bhi!!! Sacchi])
She crashed into him. Him being Shubham (and I shall desist [with great difficulty] from adding into a rock hard chest])
Nahi nahi that’s not the shocker. Who abhi baaki hai. Aapko toh pata hai na. Humari adat hai. Bhatakne ki.
Chotti froze as a pair of firm hands clasped her by the arms even as a warm heady fragrance tantalized her.
She looked up into a pair of irritated eyes whose expression changed the moment they met hers. She was instantly vexed. What was with that all-knowing expression? Who the hell did he think he was? Did he not know who SHE was?
“Wha…Hi Shubh!” Deva had arrived at the scene ready to draw his sword but instead grabbed him into a bear hug. “Long time no see! How come here?”
“Hey! Good to see you too Dev. Congratulations! You look all grown up and cool in that gown and all. Sorry can’t say that for your baby sister.” He slid Chotti a side-long glance. He coughed. “Still gate-crashing parties?” He said provokingly.
Chotti’s blood pressure shot up. She gritted her teeth. She wouldn’t give him the pleasure. “Hello Doctor Shubham. Namaste.” She folded her hands and greeted him. “I have an invitation card. Dikhaaoon?”
“Kahin self-invitation card toh nahi hai?”
She opened her mouth for a fitting blistering response when she spied her parents. She shut her mouth eyes promising just retribution at the earliest. Shubham laughed at her face but straightened to a polite mask as he greeted her parents.
“How nice to see you here Shubham.” Khushi smiled. “Aur ghar par sab theek hai na?”
“Ji.” He nodded.
“But how come you are here Shubh?” Devansh jogged his arm. “Don’t tell me you have a sibling studying here? Graduating today…my batch! Oh I didn’t know….”
“Haha. Yes and no. A cousin is graduating. His parents couldn’t come and I was here for a conference so I just dropped in to meet him. Actually I was just leaving. Namaste.” He turned away.
“Hey wait. At least tell me who’s your cousin…?” Deva hurried after him.
“Kuan hai yeh ladka?” ASR asked Khushi.
“Yeh? Woh Guddu ke football team mein tha. Bahut achcha ladka hai. AIIMS mein doctor hai.”
“Kuch achcha vaccha nahi hai woh!” Chotti scoffed.
“Kyon?” Arnav was alert. “Kya kia?” He frowned.
“He’s too supercilious for my liking.” She tossed her mane.
“Yeh kaho ki he doesn’t dance to your tunes or fall at your feet like the others.” Deva said as he rejoined them.
“Nonsense.” She shot back.
“Say what you will,” Deva shrugged, “But remember, I know.”
“Know what?” Khushi and Arnav both piped up.
“Nothing!” Chotti slid behind her Dad’s vision and made throat slashing motions.
“I’m hungry,” Deva grimaced barely hiding his grin, “Can we eat?”
By mutual but silent consent they moved to go but it was a slow walk as Deva kept bumping into someone or the other and then the introductions, hello hi and bye bye rituanz was repeated ad nauseam.
Until the shocker. [Yes we finally get around to it :D]
“Congratulations Devansh!” A Professor clapped him on the back. “You must be very proud of him,” He beamed at his parents, “We certainly are. It’s not every day that a student gets a full scholarship to NASA. When do you join?”
“September,” Guddu’s cleared his throat. He flicked a quick look at his Dad before skittering away.
“Arre wah Gud…Devansh! Hume bataya hi nahi?” Khushi didn’t know whether to be khush or dukhi. Or terrified as ominous clouds gathered on the visage beside her.
“Kyon batayega? Ab toh bada ho gaya na.” Arnav bit out.
Guddu mentally rolled his eyes grateful that his professor was out of earshot. “Haan bada toh ho gaya hoon. But I was planning on telling it in style. Waise bhi I got my confirmation just a few days ago. Since you guys were coming over, I thought I would tell you face to face.” He was reasonable.
“We’ve been face to face over three hours now. Kab batate? At the airport gate?”
“Oh please Dad! You saw how it was. No privacy and besides,” he twinkled looking like Khushi all of a sudden, “I wanted my double bhav.”
“Double bhav?” Khushi was puzzled.
“Oho!” Chotti butted in, “He was afraid he would miss out on the gushes for his graduation with flying colors amidst the furore over his leaving home. Hai na Da?”
Devansh shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Con…congratulations Guddu,” Khushi’s heart sank even as she hugged him hard and poked Arnav in the back behind Guddu’s back.
Arnav didn’t even deign to grunt. He just walked off.
Chotti glared at Devansh before hurrying off after him.
Khushi drooped. He was going to be difficult about this. And life was going to be even more tough. Weariness engulfed her at the thought of another battle. It was bad enough to fight when they were on the same page, but now…
“Are you okay Ma?” Devansh looked at her with concern.
She swallowed valiantly and smiled her over-bright smile, “I am going to miss you.” She shook her head. “But I am very happy for you.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course.” She nodded and gave him a quick squeeze. “You think I am not happy for you?”
Devansh shook his head. “Aisa nahi hai. But I think you are not happy. Period.”
Khushi’s breath caught in her throat. A big lump formed and try as she might she couldn’t dislodge it.
“That old man bothering you?” He poked his expression grim as he jerked his towards the father-daughter duo ahead.
“Guddu!” The shock dislodged the lump. “He’s your father!”
“And your Simon Legree.” Retorted Guddu.
Khushi wrinkled her brow in confusion. “Who’s that?”
“Slave owner in the book Uncle Tom’s cabin.”
“Guddu please!” Khushi was aghast. “Yeh kaisi behki behki baatein kar rahe ho?”
“Jo sach dikh raha hai wohi keh raha hoon. Ever since you’ve come you’ve been low and not just after hearing I was leaving. And that too you were more upset about Dad’s reaction and consequences rather than your own emotions.”
This time Khushi couldn’t stop the tear that escaped. She hurriedly looked the other way. “Where have they gone?” She fretted. “Chalo jaldi chalo. You were hungry na? Pata nahi Chotti kya order kar degi, phir…”
“Ma,” Guddu held her by the arms. “Ma once I settle down, you come and stay with me. Let him lord over his employers. Right?”
She stared at him in a swirl of if only I could and I can’t.
She yielded to the luxury of leaning into him. His arms slid around her – warm, safe and caring.
Life-saving love flowed into her frozen heart.
Suddenly she didn’t feel so alone.
Click here for Chapter 503