A pin drop silence followed the word.
‘Isn’t it?’ Khushi looked around ecstatically. Finally some one she remembered on her own…some one whom she did not meet as a stranger.
‘Of course,’ Nk muttered, shocked and speechless for a moment. Of all the people, Khushi remembered him. He could have jumped up in jubilation…but one look at the face behind her stopped him in his tracks and all he could say was a softly uttered acknowledgment, as if trying to soften the blow to the man standing at the doorway.
Her happiness dipped slightly at the shocked faces around her. Was she wrong? How did she remember Nanheji when she had not known her husband, her sister, her parents?
Khushi was surprised herself – surprised and happy. Since the fateful day when Arnavji had come to Sheesh Mahal, her mind had started shaking off its lethargy, and in its place flooded in confused sensations, emotions that she could not explain, images that were becoming sharper by the day.
And now, after nearly a week at Shantivan, Khushi often felt that she knew the people around her, her long forgotten family; that they were not strangers any more, slowly they were peopling her mind with the lost bits of memory that would surface now and then. There were brief flashes, sense of déjà vu, moments when she felt she knew her surroundings; images would flash in her mind before dissolving into dark clouds of nothingness.
But the contours of memory were becoming sharper – like the images that had rushed through her when she had stepped in their room, and then the nightmare when she had seen and heard that fiend Shyam so clearly for the first time.
And now for the first time, she had known, known something with a certainty she had not felt for over an year. This was not a hazy memory, a tentative groping in the dark where truth would often slip from her fingers leaving behind the cloudy images that she could not decipher without help. For the first time in a year her mind and memories seemed to be working in tandem. This time, as she soon she had heard the voice, she had known the newcomer in Shantivan – she had known that the man standing at the center of the drawing room was her friend and she called him Nanheji.
Probably it was because NK had always been her friend, because they were kindred souls who recognized each other. Or it might have been the culmination of the process that Arnav’s presence had initiated at Sheesh Mahal – that of awakening her mind which now grasped on to the new stimulus and surged ahead on the path to recovery.
But the crux of it all was that that evening, after her fight with her husband who had refused to help her in her recovery of her past, she had recognized and found a friend. And she could not help but be happy.
‘Oh my god, Khushiji,’ Anjili was the first to recover. ‘If we had known you would know NK bhai, we would have imported him from Australia the very next day.’ She came towards Khushi, willfully avoiding the face of her younger brother. The need of the girl was greater, but she could give Chottey some time to recover. She had seen tension writ on his face when he entered. What had the doctor said? And now, Khushi knew NK. What a blow it would be for her brother.
Anjili put her arm around Khushi drawing her in. Everyone recovered soon enough, wanting to know what Khushi remembered. That Khushi did not remember her, did not trouble Payal much. She was happy that her sister was coming back. Soon enough she was going to recover and then…Payal thought affectionately….and then she was going to be the elder sister and scold her foolish sister for all that she had done for her.
Even little Aditi could sense the change in the atmosphere of her home, her gurgles of laughter drew everyone. And once again as NK joked, with Payal, Aakash, even Khushi adding a quip or two, the drawing room of Raizada house came alive with laughter and fun. Mamiji sat pouting in mock anger, firmly insisting that a daughter in law’s first duty was to remember her mother-in-law. What else did phatti saree remember?
But there was not much. Just that she knew Nanheji as a friend…there was a feeling of clear and pure happiness that he brought along. And after the frustrations of the day, Khushi appreciated that even more. Now that her mind had awakened slightly there was something to look forward to. Forgetting her anxieties and anger, she threw herself in the moment and beamed at the people around her.
With happiness returned the generosity of spirit. Her eyes sought her husband. In her excitement, she wanted to put things right. Despite all her problems with him, Arnav was the first person with whom she could think of sharing her happiness with. She knew she had hurt him and wanted to take it away, soothe the pain, here and now, and see him smile, like he often did when she talked to him. Her heart beat with eagerness. Where was that grim taciturn man. Where was Arnavji?
It was only when everyone had settled down in the drawing room that Anjili turned to look at her silent brother. He had not uttered a single word since he had stepped in the house. Yet one only had to look into his eyes to see the storm raging inside him. Slowly she withdrew from the happy group and clutched Chottey’s hand, drawing him towards her room.
She seated him on her bed and drew his hands in hers. ‘What happened? Tell me, Chottey?’
He shook his head, once again stiff, holding himself together.
‘So, you will now hide things again. Remember what we promised after….after what that man did to us? You promised never to hide anything from me. Are you going to break that promise to your Di, Chottey.’
‘Di, she …she remembers him.’ the words burst from him.
Everything had taken a backseat. Her anger, his guilt, the fight. All faded the moment they had stepped in the house….nothing mattered to him at the moment but the fact that she remembered NK, accepted him at once without any reservations while he was still trying.
‘Yes, she does. He was the only one who stood by her when you were gone.’ Anjili tried to point out the facts. ‘And we were all so blind, back then.’ What was it that was troubling him? He looked so defeated….so unlike her Chottey …and Anjili did not like it one bit. ‘What is it? Don’t you want her to remember?’
Arnav shrugged. They sat in silence as Anjili waited for him to talk further. She heaved a sigh of relief at the next words.
‘You remember, Di. Once Nani and you thought that NK would be a perfect match for Khushi.’
Anjili smiled. So he was jealous.
‘Yes. Don’t you think so?’
Anjili laughed. ‘What? You know we didn’t mean that. We were trying to judge how you felt. You knew that, didn’t you?’
Arnav shook his head. ‘Of course, we were. We knew, Khushiji and you had eyes for each other only. Nanheji was always her friend.’
‘But..Di…do you…do you think she would be better off with him?’ He remembered her words in the car. ‘I would have preferred some who made me more comfortable. Some whom I could trust.Some one who cared.’
‘May be. But I think she would be happier with you…’ Di was biased. ‘By the way, NK bhai told us that you wrote to him…you did that for Khushiji, didn’t you? Look, you have already made her happy.’
Arnav looked at her sister skeptically.
‘Don’t look at me like that. I know Chottey,’ she sighed. ‘I know you have made mistakes in the past . But only you can set them right. Only you can give her that happiness …because she loves you. I have seen it in her eyes. Even now. She loves you, and not NK.’
Hum apne pati se bahut pyaar karte hain.
Yet he said nothing.
‘Have you ever told her…how much you love her?’ Arnav shook his head ‘Then tell her. tell her the truth. Tell her you love her and you are sorry. We can all see it but you need to give her the words.’
‘Would she believe them? If I tell her the truth.’
‘That is up to her. But you cannot withhold it forever. You owe that to her …along with all your love.’
Arnav sat looking at the pattern on the floor…mulishly. Di did not know the full extent of his foolishness. Her words gave him hope, but he was unconvinced. Did he want to leave it all to her? Would he let her go if she wanted? According to the contract, they were no longer married. What would he say if she asked to be left alone…just like she had refused to undergo the surgery? He pushed the horrible thought away.
‘You have to fight for her… Otherwise just think…think of the alternative…’ Anjili’s voice faded away.
No, he had to convince her. There was no other alternative. Arnav stood up finally, drawing himself straight. ‘Let’s go.’ the words made Anjili happy. Her brother was back. She just hoped she was around next time he faltered.
Arnav looked Khushi and NK as they sat talking on the dining table. He envied them…the untainted minds that refused to think evil…that would rather forget the world than see and think anything evil. Khushi’s amnesia, how he yearned for it…what would he not give to forget everything…that instead of Khushi remembering the past…he too could join her in the land of forgetfulness where there was no past, only future to look forward too.
Khushi felt bad. He was so quiet, despite the return of his cousin and the happy bustle around the house. Nanheji told her that Arnavji had written to him informing him about her return. And yet he watched them all from afar as if he was unsure if he belonged to the charmed circle of laughter and happiness. Khushi wished she could reach out to him. When he excused himself on pretext of work, Khushi wanted nothing more than to follow him up to the room.
She did that, half an hour later, which was the shortest time that she could manage. And then, as fast as her injured knee allowed, she rushed to her husband.
Slowly she opened the door. He was standing by the poolside. The light reflected from the pool threw shimmering shadows on his form. Yet they did not hide the hunched shoulders. He was not working. Arnavji was up here, nursing his feelings which she had so carelessly wounded.
The scene from the two days ago flashed in her mind. The day she had made jalebis and Di and Jiji had teased her so mercilessly in the kitchen. She had been disappointed. While everyone had relished the sweets that she had made for the breakfast, Arnavji had only taken a small piece. And then seeing her disappointment, he had taken another one.
After Akash Jiju and Arnavji had left for office she had turned to Anjili Di. Did Arnavji not like jalebis? Or did he not like the ones she had made?
“Arrey nahi Khushiji. Woh kya hai, Chottey cannot eat sugar. He is diabetic. He ate them only because you had made them.”
Khushi remembered how happiness had surged through her veins and she had promised to make sugar free ones for him soon. She never got around it.
And now she had hurt him with her cruel words.
She stepped onto the poolside. His shoulders stiffened. He knew she was here.
‘Are you angry? I am sorry, Arnavji. I…’
‘Its okay, Khushi.’ He interrupted. Her apology brought an immediate response. Somehow he could not bear it when she said sorry, especially when he was carrying a burden of unforgiveable crimes.
‘I did not want to hurt you. Just that it is frustrating…’
‘I said it was okay. You don’t have to apologize for what you think.’
‘No. no…it is not like that. I don’t think…I did not mean….’
‘What?’ he stopped her loudly once again. Khushi flinched at he turned towards her. His eyes glimmering with emotion held tightly under reign; the lines on his forehead etched deeply. ‘What did you not mean? And …and why are you here? Go to your friend…whom ..you…whom you know.’ But even as he asked her to leave, Arnav rushed towards her and held her by her arms, drawing her close and holding her there. ‘But before that, tell me. …tell me what do I have to do so that you trust me…so that you believe that I care..’
‘I don’t know…really. Whenever I try to something or the other happens.’ Khushi looked up at him with honest confusion clouding her face. The intensity of his feelings aroused an answering passion in her. Passion which took the form of anger. ‘Why don’t you tell me? Why? Why do I feel this something stopping whenever I try to….Why did you marry me…when you thought …when you thought…you thought I had no character?’
Khushi finally spat out the words. Arnav felt his heart drop as the accusation hit him. She remembered …she remembered more that she told him. What all did she remember? Did she believe all that? He had to tell her that it was untrue…that he was wrong.
But why did he find it so difficult to form words. Never had he needed them more…never did he feel so helpless without them.
Yet there was a time when he had dished out cruel lies so easily. They came back to haunt him.
‘You said that, didn’t you? Don’t deny that? I hear those words in my nightmare…and they are not Shyam’s …they are yours. They are your words. Was it because you were rich? You thought that I was a fallen…’
‘Khushi…’ Arnav stopped her. He could not bear to hear his own words aloud again. They lacerated him. Even in the cloudy recesses of his memories, they left him breathless. They should never be said aloud again. Arnav felt a wave of hysteria bubble up his throat.
‘Look at me, look at me and tell me you did not say them…that you did not say…that I was a shameless… ’
The dam burst.
‘Stop. Stop. Khushi. I was angry. Please. I was angry. I said things that had no meaning. All those things…you have no idea how I have regretted them,’ How did one undo the effect of words…And Khushi…she had so many to remember…. so many…
He took a step towards her. Khushi immediately took two back. Arnav grew more agitated.
‘Listen to me, Khushi.’ She shook her head in refusal and turned away.
‘Khushi.’ He bellowed. He had to stop her, make her believe him. “I don’t know what you remember…. Khushi, believe me. You have to believe me.’ Arnav felt his breath constricting at the sight of her head turned away from him.
‘aap chale gaye to humari saansen rukh jayengi.’
The memories flooded him… left him feeling disgusted with himself. How could he see the same disgust in her eyes? He could do anything…he rushed on.
‘I …I married you because I loved you. Despite everything, Di, Shyam everything. I could not let you go. Khushi. That day on the terrace that is what I came to tell you….that I love you Khushi. I cannot live without you…not anymore….listen to me…believe..’
‘Sach?’ her soft voice stopped the stream of words.
Words hung in the air between them. Out there at the poolside.
‘Why did you marry me then?’
The question – spoken softly, laced with surprise and shock, and yet loud enough to jar his heart, and resound in his ears unendingly – Why? Why did you? Why did you marry?
Khushi saw him clench his teeth. His fingers tightened around the steering wheel and the knuckles turned white. He was not going to answer her. If she repeated her question, he would again use her condition as an excuse. Like every other time. She knew it now, even before he uttered the denial. She knew his silences by now- when he withdrew into himself to nurse his hurt, when he was in pain, and now when he became a mute wall out of which she could get nothing. Khushi realized that. And close on the heels of this realization came annoyance and suspicion that pulled her away from him. Every time she felt like giving in to the tug of her heart, the demons of the past pulled them apart.
Khushi stared at him, question writ clearly in her eyes. Arnav avoided her gaze, veiling the turmoil raging in him. In the small space of the car, the air thickened with anxiety, making it difficult to breathe. Khushi felt her heart beats thud heavily. Though her initial dislike had all but faded, her feelings towards the man she now accepted as her husband, oscillated between fascination and wariness, between the desire to give in to the mesmerising call of his eyes and throw all caution to wind, and then the warnings that her heart and mind issued at moments like these – that she was playing with fire and if she was not careful it would burn her.
Look at yourself, Khushi, the rational and cautious part of her brain warned her. Look at yourself – one year of being married to him and here you are – lost, injured and so vulnerable.
It might not be his fault, the foolish part of her heart quipped timidly. It was an accident.
Is that so? Just an accident? Then why is he so secretive, the brain countered.
‘Two days, I did nothing but search for you…all around the place where he had kept me…roads of Delhi…every where,’ she remembered his earlier words. She believed him. But hadn’t that evil man in her dreams told her the no one would come for her.
‘No one, Khushiji. They will think you ran away. Who would care now?’
‘You ran away…with your lover. No one believes you…no one will ever believe you …. You have no choice.’
And she had believed him too. She must have believed him ….so much so that she had jumped over the bridge…uncaring whether she lived or died. Why, if she had a loving husband and a caring family waiting for her? And suddenly her mind threw up a brief memory from its scant store…the voice she had heard.
‘You have no character, Khushi.’
The memory surfaced insistently. She suppressed it …forcefully and with a sigh, Khushi released him from his gaze.
She did not ask the question again.
Somehow that scared Arnav. Was she giving up on him? The thought made him breathless. Yet try as he might he could not bring himself to answer her question.
Arnav wanted to tell her that he married her because he loved her. He could have sent her away…out of Shyam’s reach. He could have stopped Shyam Manohar Jha, after all he had money, means and power do to it. And Shyam would have done anything for money. But blinded by rage, he had done the first thing that came to his mind. He had chosen to bind her to himself closely even though she was a threat to Di’s marriage.
But he had done that to punish her. He had done that because though he had fallen in love with her, he did not trust her. And above it all, he had not given her the chance to tell her story. He had believed Shyam at once, without any misgivings and doubts. And after that his anger had wreaked havoc in her life.
Look at her, Arnav, look at her. One year of being married to a man like you and look where she has ended.
‘I hate you, Mr. Raizada,’ he remembered her words uttered so long ago. ‘I hate you like I have never hated anyone. Because no one can love you. You are not a man whom anyone can love.’
His shoulders hunched everytime he felt the burden of truth behind her angry words. He did not deserve this chance, any chance for that matter – because, he had not given her one.
But how could he tell her that on his own? After all that had passed, would she believe him if he told her that he had married her because he loved her.
‘Probably,’ the selfish and cowardly part of his heart told him. ‘She does not remember. She might believe that. And it would ease so many of her doubts. Think about it, she might even come to like you.’ the temptation was great.
As they came around the clinic, one of the high end ones in Delhi, Khushi quietly opened the door and climbed out, and like she had done on the airport, she limped towards the gleaming doors, without giving him a glance.
Arnav watched her helplessly, her stony expression flaying him more than the tears and accusations would have. At the airport, now nearly a week ago, her complete disregard of his presence had hurt him. Now every time it reappeared, it upset him more. It destroyed those moments of tentative togetherness, the cautious bridges he built to get closer, the sparkling memories of the last few days when she would slowly let the barriers down and let him in, into her life again. At moments like these, he felt that he would do anything, go to any lengths to make her smile once again – smile at him.
‘This way Khushi,’ he put a hand under Khushi’s elbow as he nodded at the receptionist. Khushi smiled her thanks and turned towards the corridor which led to the cabin of the orthopedic surgeon who would look at her knee. Calmly she disengaged her elbow and moved ahead.
‘Khushi, please,’ the sigh was almost involuntary. It stopped her. She wondered why his pain upset her so much, why did she feel this compulsion to alleviate it though she was angry with him.
She gave in to the impulse reluctantly. ‘Come, I want to know what he says. And the brain doctor as well. What do you call him?’
‘Neurologist,’ he grabbed the olive branch and moved next to her, relief evident in his features.
‘Yes, neurologist. I want to meet him, Arnavji. I am waiting to hear him before I fight with you,’ she smiled. Despite the dread in his heart, Arnav could not help but smile back. She was smiling at him.
But the relief was brief. None of the visits went as Khushi would have wanted them to be.
‘You would have to go in for a surgery. That is your best chance, Mrs Raizada.’ After a battery of tests and endless questions, the orthopedic surgeon announced his verdict.
‘The limp?’ Arnav asked him.
‘I cannot say for sure. Surgery should have been performed immediately after the accident. But it has been nearly a year now, as you say. So I am not sure. But your wife is young and healthy. You never know with, with the surgery and physiotherapy, it might go, eventually. It will still take time.’
‘So, you are not sure the surgery would be successful,’ Khushi said softly.
‘It depends. If you are just concerned about the limp, then no. I am not sure. Though there are reasonable chances of it disappearing. But the surgery would help you with the pain that you suffer from. The knee would not hurt you or tire you as it does now. That I can assure you.’
Khushi nodded. ‘How much would it cost?’ the question left her before she could think. Probably it was the financial hardship of the previous year that thinking about money had become a habit.
The doctor named an exorbitant figure, much higher than the government hospital in Lucknow had told her. Her heart quailed with disappointment till she felt a warm hand enclose her. Arnav looked at her with a frown before turning back to the doctor. ‘We would want to go for it then. As soon as possible,’ his eyes sought hers which were fixed on their hands. Khushi did not reply. What was she thinking? She did not need to worry about the money!
‘Four days from now?’
Arnav nodded. ‘I would confirm in the morning tomorrow,’ he said softly taking leave. Khushi had not looked up.
Khushi was disappointed. After the cost of surgery which upset her as much as Arnav’s immediate decision to go ahead with it without asking her, she had been looking forward to seeing the neurologist. But he was as vague as the one she had seen in Lucknow. There was no reason that her memories did not come back. Would they ever be back? He could not say. Should she be told about the past? Well, she would have to be careful. The human mind works in strangest of ways and medical science was yet to work out its secrets. She should be careful and not strain herself too much.
Khushi left the clinic in a high state of frustration.
‘I don’t want to go in for the surgery,’ she said through clenched teeth. They had been sitting in silence. Arnav did not know what went in her mind. So he planned the future …the surgery, physiotherapy…he would assist in it. Yes, he would do anything. Take care of her, heal her, love her …
‘What?’ Arnav was surprised. ‘But why, Khushi? It will stop the knee from hurting so much. And the limp too. We will get a therapist and…’
‘I don’t have money.’ Her words stopped him immediately.
‘Khushi. Why are you saying that?’ he tried to keep the hurt out of his voice and failed. ‘You know you are no longer alone, we can afford it.’ He knew it was not merely about the surgery. Her earlier question was still fresh in their minds.
‘You have money, Mr. Raizada. Not me. You. … you are rich.’ It sounded like an accusation. Khushi wondered how to put her uneasiness into words when it was so unclear to herself. But along with his earlier silence, that uneasiness came to haunt her once again. Despite the fact that she had been living in his big and comfortable house for days now, whenever she mulled about it.. that idea of him being wealthy …insanely wealthy, it upset her.
Arnav waited for her to continue.
‘I have this … this feeling that I am not. I don’t feel …why do I feel that I don’t belong to your world,’ she rubbed her forehead. ‘There is something that stops me. I don’t feel rich. In fact quite the opposite. And I have been wondering why I feel this way. If I am your wife, then why does the idea of your being wealthy upset me so.’
‘You don’t like the idea of …of being rich.’
‘It is not that. Just that it makes me uncomfortable and if I am your wife, it shouldn’t, should it?’
Arnav hid the heartache behind arrogance. ‘You would have preferred someone…more middle class.’
His arrogance hurt her. It brought out the worst in her and she could not stop from blurting out the barbed words that she knew would hurt him right back.
‘Perhaps someone who made me feel comfortable. Someone whom I could trust. Someone who cared.’ Now, within a few days, she had learnt what hurt him.
He nodded stiffly and turned into the drive way of Shantivan, pretending concentrate on the car. His teeth clenched as he strove to keep his face from crumbling. The throat moved as he swallowed her words. Immediately she was seized by the yearning to take away her words, to make him forget, even apologise. She suppressed it.
‘And you think I don’t?’ his voice was dull, defeated.
Before she could reply, Mami’s voice from the doorway interrupted them.
‘Arrey, what are the two lubbh burds doing in the car. Come in, jaldi. Looks whose is heres.’