Part 12: For there is no friend like a sister -2
For a long time afterwards, Anjili often wondered if the sun had risen from the west that day, that if someone would have pinched her in the morning probably she would have woken up from the dream like state which had descended on the Raizada house that day.
Indeed, the morning had been normal – like every other morning. She went about directing the servants, helping in the chores and like every day, wishing that her bhabhis would return soon. Only that would lift the pall of gloom that hung over the house.
If it was not for her little Aditi, life would be unbearable. In her newfound sense of reality and balance, Anjili was slowly taking up earlier passion of designing sarees and ethnic wear. But she spent most of her time with her little girl, Aditi. Aditi was her solace, a split image of her own mother. Even Chottey, who stayed away from everyone these days, was drawn to the little girl. Often as he watched Aditi, Anjili caught a ghost of a smile on his face always underlined by wistful loneliness in his eyes. She was aware that little Aditi could not fill the void in her brother’s life as she had done in hers. That was the place of another girl – the girl who had gone missing from their lives for long -too long. As she heard Aditi’s chatter with Nani, Anjili had thought about Khushi and sent up a quick prayer for her well being.
Later she marveled at the wondrous sense of irony of the Gods. When she spent hours in temples, conducting poojas and observing fasts, her world had crumbled around her; and now her simple wish sent in a hurried manner was immediately accepted and executed. When Chottey called to inform her that he would be home soon, something about the call, about the thickness in his normally harsh voice worried Anjili. Was he ok? Over the last year, he had withdrawn within himself. He rarely sought anybody. She knew he was stewing in his guilt and a sense that he did not deserve any understanding or warmth. Why did he call just to say that he had returned from Lucknow and would be home soon?
His next words pulled off the rug under her feet. ‘Di, she is…no, they…both of them…Payal and Khushi…they are with us. We would be home soon?’
The silence that followed echoed with hundreds of unsaid words.
‘Chottey…Chottey…are you still there?’ Anjili’s frantic question broke the silence. She needed to know if her ears were playing tricks on her.
‘Yes, Di. We are on our way.’ He had reined in the emotion in his voice.
‘Ok. I…ok. come home. We will talk then. Bring…bring them home fast.’
Despite her surprise, the sister heard his anguish. ‘Tum theek ho, Chottey?
‘Haan, Di. Di, talk to Akash.’
And then Akash, in his usual calm and collected manner explained how Arnav had found Khushi in Lucknow. Khushiji was in a fragile state of health and no mention of past was to be made till they had consulted the doctor. Payal wanted to be with her sister and now that Khushiji was back, probably it would be the best for everyone that the family moved ahead instead of lingering in miseries of the past. Anjili nodded once again urging Akash to come soon, her heart swelling with affection for her staid and calm cousin, so different from her impetuous brother. How he had stood tall and strong – like a rock from which they had all drawn their strength during the turbulent year.
Soon all of them would be home. It seemed that Anjili had sprouted wings as she flew about the house, uncaring of her limp, calling out to Mamiji, hugging Nani with the news, telling little Aditi that soon her two Mamis were going to be back. That brief call transformed the normal gloomy day into a happy one, the likes of which the Raizada house had not seen for a long time.
All three women, waited eagerly at the house, preparing for what they would say and do when the long absent family members came back, especially Khushi. Anjili wanted to apologize for Chottey, for herself, for seeming weak and blind. She needed tell Khushi that she was always going to be there for her like Payal. Nani wanted to see her and hear her around the house – for Khushi, to Devyani Raizada, was just that – Khushi, the happiness of her house. Mami already planned to take her two daughters-in-law to task for shirking their duties in the sasural and getting down to the chores soon.
But the happiness that followed carried a keen edge of pain. The Khushi for whom they had been waiting for did not arrive. It was another girl, broken, leaning on a walking stick as she limped into the house. Anjili’s heart went out to her. She rushed ahead with open arms. And all Khushi could do was look puzzled and turn to Payal before Chottey stepped forward to introduce them.
Khushi had forgotten them all.
There was a silence as they tried to absorb the implications. There had been an accident which had left Khushi injured. Suffering from complete amnesia, Khushi had been working at Sheesh Mahal for months now.
Khushi stepped towards the Nani, the oldest member of the family and folded her hands almost apologetically. ‘I am sorry, Naniji. I…I don’t…’
Devyani Raizada could no longer stop herself. She immediately drew the girl in an embrace. ‘My daughter. It does not matter. What matters is that you are back.’ Beyond her shoulder, she looked at her erring grandson and nodded. As their eyes met over Khushi’s shoulders, Arnav remembered the last words Nani had said to him ‘Chottey, I thought you were not your father.’ The small imperceptible nod of acceptance from his grandmother took away some of the burden he still carried.
Later Anjili found Mami alone in kitchen, standing alone with her shoulders uncharacteristically slumped. When Anjili put her hand on her shoulder, she straightened up hiding the wetness in her eyes.
‘Mami, you are crying?’
Mami turned around and pointed to the drawing room jingling her expensive gold and diamond bangles before she screwed up her make-up laden face, dramatically. ‘Yes crying over my fate. Here I was thinking I was going to play the mother-in-law and have my daughters-in-law run around me. But God’s don’t seem to care.’
They do, Anjili thought as Mami left the kitchen pretending to be in a huff. They do care, but they are stingy with their blessings. She saw Chottey going out of his way to make Khushi comfortable, anticipating her wishes, asking her if she needed anything, telling her things that she needed to know. She also observed the pain in his eyes, as Khsuhi thanked him gracefully as one would talk to a likeable stranger and turn to Payal.
When the Guptas came, they withdrew giving Khushi’s family time with their daughter. Khushi met them all with the same look of bewilderment. The sight of her father moved her as did her mother’s tears and buaji’s loud affection. But none of it brought about the event that she had been hoping for. Her memories still remained locked, much to her own frustration.
For the first time after he had found her, Arnav withdrew from Khushi’s side. For a moment, he stood watching the family, not knowing what to do with himself as others claimed Khushi’s attention.
Slowly he walked upstairs and turned to Di’s room. Di was not there. He sat on stroking Aditi’s hair as the little girl slept the sleep of an innocent.
What now? The thoughts rushed in at once. Was her memory loss permanent? Will she never remember? He did not know what to do? He had thought that the longer the memories remained buried, the more time he would have to win her over. And when she remembered, she would also remember his love and care.
But now the possibility that she might never remember herself scared him. Sooner or later she would come to know about the past. He did not want anyone else to tell her about it. There seemed to be only one way out. He would have to tell her – tell her all that had happened before she discovered someone else’s version.
But the truth was stacked so much against him. Even if he left out the callous details, his crimes against her were unforgivable. His heart quailed at the thought of sitting by her and telling her all, and watch anger and hate descend in her eyes once again. For she would hate him, of that he was sure. Wasn’t her amnesia an indication of how much she had suffered, how her mind had been so horrified that it now it kept out the memories of those painful times so guardedly. What will he do?
‘Chottey?’ Anjili was surprised to see her brother sitting in her room. The way he had been watching over Khushi, she expected him to be hovering around the hall.
‘Di. I came to get…get the phone number of the doctor. Your physiotherapist?’ Anjili noticed the red eyes, the tousled hair, the way he held himself together with an effort as he tried to speak calmly. ‘We need to see a specialist about Khushi’s leg?’
Anjili nodded and opened the drawer next to her bed to take out the doctor’s card. Arnav took the card and stood looking at it as if waiting for her to say something. As she sat on the bed, Anjili slowly pulled the hand that rested stiffly on his side and drew him down. When he refused to look at her, she put her hand on his cheek and turned his face. The eyes were bright-too bright.
‘Tum theek ho, Chottey?’ Anjili asked the same question she had in the morning.
This time, sitting right in front of her, Arnav could not lie. He shook his head jerkily.
‘Nahi Di, main theek nahi hoon,’ he said brokenly before he buried his face in her lap, his body shaking as he let his misery flow.
Anjili stroked his back holding in her own tears as she remembered the innumerable times Arnav had comforted her – after the death of their parents, after they were thrown out of Sheesh Mahal, after her marriage broke down, after Shyam’s treachery. She held him close, putting her cheek against his head as he cried out for the mistakes of the past, the uncertainties of the future, letting go of the pretense of being in control, of being strong and uncaring, for once being what he was, a broken man.