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.