“Hey Dad! Wait up for me!” Chotti called as she hurried to catch up with ASR striding off ahead (blasting away the mere mortals in his path with his trademark ear splitting BG score – get the picture? 😉 ) But woh toh apne hi dhun mein the – What the….how dare Devansh! Uski himmat kaisi hui? Samajhta kya hai apna apko? Itna asaan hai ki videsh mein padhai karna? Akele rehna? Usko pata hi…
Kya jaanta hai logon ke baare mein? How they are waiting to….
“Angel!” He stopped and looked back. “Kya hua?”
“Kya Dad!” Chotti grumbled as she limped up to him, “kab se bula rahi hoon. But aap toh sun hi nahi rahe. Bas apne pyaare Deva ke baare mein hi sochte rehte hain, meri toh koi value hi nahi hai aapki nazron mein,” she sniffed valiantly brushing her cheek.
“Aisa kuch nahi hai Angel,” Arnav attempted to pacify her, “Dikhao kahan chot lagi?”
“Kuch nahi,” Chotti clutched his arm to prevent him from dashing away again, “Woh heel pehna hai na…”
“Aur heel mein toh tum dance bhi kar sakti ho?”
Caught, she giggled. “Aww Dad you know me so well! Only you. Nobody but you.” She vowed as she hugged his arm tightly.
He looked down at her, his lips curving the tiniest bit. “Jhatpat Chotti.” He said without heat.
She laughed. “Oh Dad I’m hearing that after ages! But seriously I can jhatpatao only you Daddy dearest. Only you!”
“No need to patao anyone else.” He grunted resuming walking albeit minus the overloud music.
“Ha! Me and patao anyone else? I don’t need to!” she sneered. “Aisa koi bhi nahi hai is poori duniya mein,” he looked down at her, “I mean apart from family members of course.” She grinned at him.
He looked back and his lips thinned again. “Where the hell are they?”
“Must be coming. Aajkal Mom is a slow coach. Plus you were in a mad rush.” She twinkled.
“Text them that we have gone back…”
“No! Daddy you can’t do that. Da’s been raving about the biryani at that shop for ages. I came only to eat the biryani.”
“Minx.” Arnav said fondly. “Let’s both eat and go back. They can do what they like.” He clearly wasn’t done being mad.
“Aate hi honge Dad.” She pulled him inside one restaurant. “Let’s order. Da’s favorite is the Hyderabadi biryani. Which one will you have? Which one do you think Mom would like?”
Arnav looked helplessly at the menu card. Apna hi nahi pata toh Khushi ke choice ki toh…
“Whatever.” He mumbled. His phone rang. He grabbed it like a lifeline.
Chotti rolled her eyes and got up making motions to indicate that she would go and call the late lateefs.
Khushi’s tears fell thick and fast.
She couldn’t remember the last time she had the luxury of crying on a shoulder. When had the tables turned? How did it happen that her son was the one to comfort her? Why should he need to? Her heart ached for Guddu, for herself, for…
“What’s the matter Mom!” Chotti hissed. “We’ve been waiting for you for ages now. Khana bhi order kar diya. Here take this,” she thrust a napkin into Khushi’s hand who sniffed gulped and attempted to clean up. “Come on,” she dragged her by the arm, “Dad is ready to send out a search party.”
“Doesn’t look like it,” Deva muttered as he spied Arnav on the phone. “Or is he calling the police?”
Both the ladies shushed him.
“Very prescient of you to bring the napkin,” Da ribbed Chotti as they slid into their seats. He had taken a quick note of his Dad’s uncompromising expression and attempted to divert the smoldering topic.
“Mujhe pata tha, that she would be howling away to God’ glory,” Chotti said with morbid relish. “Kya Mom,” she complained, “you didn’t cry like this when I left Delhi. USA kaun sa itna door hai? Ab toh log Mars bhi jaa rahein hai!”
Khushi smiled brightly, “Nahi woh, just that it was such a surprise, so sudden,” her throat was tight.
“Dekha!” Chotti charged her brother, “bola tha na ki thoda thoda karke prime kardo warna…”
“Tumhe pata tha!” Both Arnav and Khushi charged Chotti.
“Haan toh?” Chotti dismissed them, “I know everything!”
Guddu’s lips tightened. Not everything
“Toh batana chahiye tha!” Khushi protested.
“Tumhe pata hona chahiye tha!” Arnav snapped. “Tumhara beta hai, kya kar raha hai, tumhe pata hi nahi? What kind of a mother are you?”
Khushi stared at him aghast. How dare he blame her for this? Add salt on her wounds?
“Aapko bhi toh pata tha?” Guddu brought back the spotlight to himself.
“Excuse me?” Arnav was at his superior best.
You are excused.
It was on the tip of Deva’s tongue but mindful of his obviously distressed mother beside him, he restrained himself. “Anki bhaiyya ne bataya tha na when he met you guys that I was applying?” He met Arnav’s blank eyes with his simmering ones, “Ya phir aapne socha isko nahi milega?”
Arnav’s lips tightened.
“Oh good! I am starving.” Chotti drooled as providentially their order arrived and the topic turned to more urgent matters at hand and ek nayi jung shuru hui.
“Yeh kya hai?” Devansh was affronted, “Bina poochei hi order? Tumko pata bhi hai kya speciality hai yahan ki?”
“Ji haan,” Chotti stuck out her tongue at him. “Humne kahan na, hum sab jaante hain.” She indicated the steaming bowls, “Dekh toh lo!” She smirked as Devansh went from annoyed to sheepish.
“Kaise pata?” He served himself.
Chotti preened and pulled up her collars. “A magician never reveals her secrets,” she said loftily.
“Arre Guddu kitni baar toh bola hai ki yahaan ki hyderabadi biryani bahut acchchi hai,” Khushi smiled at them both.
“Yes Mom, but uski bhi 10 different varieties hain yaahan par.”
Chotti preened even more. “Dad lijiye na. Mom?”
“Yes thank you.” Khushi said, while Arnav just dug in. “Hmm very nice.” She nodded appreciatively.
“Itna bhi kuch khas nahi hai,” sneered Chotti, “I think you make better biryani.” She looked at Devansh in a provoking manner.
He shrugged. “Haan toh? But it’s similar to Mom’s biryani right? Isliye hi toh aata tha yahaan.”
Khushi teared up.
Arnav made to get up but Chotti held his arm. “Come on Dad! Why are you so mad?” She took the bull by its horns.
He took off his napkin and pushed back his chair. “I’m done. I’ll be outside.”
“Dad!” Chotti wailed but subsided at Khushi’s pleading look.
“R..rehno do Chotti, let him go. Go on eat up.” She stuffed a spoonful into her mouth. “There is a different masala. Can’t identify it. Mm let me see.”
Chotti looked worriedly towards the door but Deva should his head at her. She rolled her eyes. “I am full. I think I’ll go and join Dad.” She scooted out of her seat. “How much more are you going to eat?” She grumbled.
“Waste jaane doon?”
“Pack kara lo. Come fast. Dad’s not too happy.”
“When is he?”
Chotti walked away.
“Guddu please. Rehne do na,” Khushi pleaded. “Already naraz hain aur upar se tum…”
Already naraz hain
His temper rose.
“Main kya?” Deva shot back, “Sagar mein boond. Lagat hai confront toh karika padi.” Deva said in a sotto voce.
Hey Devi Maiyya.
“Toh bataiye kya problem hai?” Deva said in a challenging tone to ASR once they were back in their hotel room. [Haan haan hotel mein they not with Akaash et al. Ooo ka hai na, distance and traffic made it a practical convenience. Relationship toh theek hi chal raha tha – so long as distancing was maintained.]
Mujhe tumhe kuch bhi batane ki zaroorat nahi hai
It was on the tip of ASR’s tongue but giving in to the pleading in Chotti’s eyes (he refused to look at Khushi) he stayed silent.
“That you are worried about how I’ll manage alone, that you will miss me, or,” Devansh paused, “that you don’t like that I am slipping out of your control.”
Yet ASR’s eyes blazed.
“Guddu!” Khushi was horrified. “Aise kaise keh sakta ho?”
“Kyon? Kyon nahi keh sakta?” ASR found his voice. “Bada ho gaya hai. Layak hai. Waise bhi jaise sikhaya hai waise hi toh bolega.”
Khushi choked on her anguish as he slashed her.
“Why are you taking it out on her?” Devansh confronted his Dad. “Yeh toh unki seekh hai ki main baat kar raha hoon. Aapka beta hota toh kab ka yahan se chala gaya hota. Par aapko toh yehi samajh aata hai na. Run away and kahin ka gussa kahin aur nikalo.”
“Guddu bas please,” Khushi’s voice was low and hoarse.
But Devansh wasn’t done. “Aur maine aisa kya keh diya? You were shy to articulate your thoughts so I just gave a few options.” He shrugged. “You don’t have to choose from them – unless the shoe fits.”
Khushi’s legs gave way and she flopped into the chair.
Arnav turned away to leave but Devansh stepped in front of him. “Kya problem hai Dad?” His voice was soft and coaxing. “I will go. I’ve worked hard for this. I want this. But it would mean a lot if I have your consent and blessings.” He bent down and touched his feet.
Arnav’s hands were clenched into a fist.
“Dad?” Devansh straightened and tried one last time.
PS: Just to break the tension but mostly because I am stuck – what does Anya call Khushi? Dekhte hain kisne kitne achche se SS ‘revise’ kiya hai 😀
Click here for Chapter 504