Part 25: Aftermath

Arnav did not know how long he sat outside the room, now eerily silent after the storm.  There was stillness all around…even within his own self. His brilliant mind that was never short of ideas, his incorrigible heart that had now usurped most of his faculties, the nagging conscience which had been so vocal over the last few weeks – all were silent as if too shocked to think straight, too much in depair to suggest anything .  Emptiness, nothingness, a vacuum that choked life out of hopes and dreams.

And so sat the man who believed that he wrote his own destiny, waiting for some sound, some sign from the other side of the door so that he could react.

None came.

Khushi had too much to assimilate. Memories were flooding in relentlessly. There was too much to think.

She lived the past again.

Her attempt to save her father’s shop, the nightmarish experience at Sheesh Mahal, the fear when a strange angry man had grabbed her and tore the string of her bouse. She remembered the terror that had coursed through her as she had thought – this is it…here it comes true – the greatest fear every girl lives with.

Yet he had let her go – but not without putting the fear in her – the fear of the power he held over her. The meeting at the dargah when she had just put it all behind – the telecast of the video clip which had led her to her exile in Delhi. It had made her so vulnerable to Shyam Manohar Jha.

The hellish days at AR Designs and then the Raizada house- danger, humiliation, hurt – how difficult it had been to smile through it all.

But it had all been a mere prelude – a prelude to greater pain, greater suffering that awaited her when she was forced into the marriage, a fake union built on the foundations of distrust, suspicion, hatred and heartbreak. The words came to sting her again and again till her heart bled

Gift nahi to tip …

 

Tumhe to laga hoga tumhari zindagi bangayi….Mujhe iss sab se koi faraq nahi padta…

 

Maine yeh sab isliye kiya ki tumhe dard de sakhoon

 

You have no character, Khushi…. 

 

I hate you….

 

‘He lied…he lied,’ like a litany the words tumbled over and over as Khushi wound her arms around herself and rocked to and fro, ‘He lied…there was never any love. No love. All lies. He lied to me. He is lying ot me. He married to punish me. Lies…it is all guilt now, mere guilt, only guilt. He lied…’

In this fresh wave of betrayal, Khushi hardly remembered the softening memories which had visited her so often in the state of forgetfulness, making her fall in love with the same man once again – the moments when he had cared, the moments when she had caught glimpses of a warm heart, of his care, his involuntary concern, as if he had no control of over heart and mind when it came to her. All those were lost to her at the moment. In her anger, she remembered only the harshest and most heartbreaking times– incidents which aroused such pain, that she doubled over. On the heels came outrage. How dare he wipe out that pain, overlook the suffering she had undergone at his hands. How dare he take advantage of her state to assuage his guilt. These were the moments which had deeply scarred her mind and emotions. Now the scars bled once again like fresh wounds appearing in the wake of grittiness that the waves of memory left behind. Emotions roiled till Khushi had to hold herself stiff to stop from screaming hoarse.

When she had been in throes of that passionate anger, Arnav pleaded with her to remember the last few weeks. But for the time being, the last few weeks, indeed all his attempts to love Khushi proved futile. He had feared the intensity of pain that would assail her when she remembered; he had feared his attempts would be too feeble against the memories of humiliation that she had undergone at his hands. For the moment Arnav’s fears came true. Indeed, all his care and his love were lost to Khushi. There was only betrayal – betrayal and outrage at being manipulated once again.

——-

The alarm on his wrist watch beeped pulling him out the pit of despair he was falling into. Probably in the emptiness that surrounded him at the moment, a mechanical alarm was going to be the only call he was going to receive.

Had it only been an hour?  The two souls – one angry and the other afraid – had lived nearly two years of heartbreak once again, all in the space of 60 minutes. But there were other things that Arnav remembered. Khushi smiling despite his attempts to put her down, her grin and her never- say-die spirit as she stood tall against his petty revenge on her. He would do the same. After all, they were a match, weren’t they?

He got up slowly and made his way to the room. Khushi sat on the edge of the bed. He knew she had heard him enter. She sat straighter, waiting for him to make his move, still refusing to look at him.  Arnav made his way to where she sat, and kneeled down silently, beginning the therapy schedule for the evening.

As Arnav reached out to lift her injured leg, the sense of déjà vu which niggled her every evening at this time, now came back with crystal like clarity.  Arnav Singh Raizada returning her mother’s payal, her confusion as he lovingly tied it around her ankle, the dazed look in his eyes as he walked towards her, and she – she was lost in the maze of silent messages that he had been sending her throught the evening. Magic, intoxication, jadu, nasha…and then…..then came the devastation.

Tumhe kya laga, ek amir aadmi tumhari payal ko seene se laga kar baita hoga… mere liye iss sabka ka ki matlab nahi hai

Khushi planted it firmly to the ground with all the strength that she could muster in her feeble limb. ‘Leave me alone,’ she hissed.

But Arnav was not to be deterred. ‘No.’ He overcame the resistance with a grip that was as firm as it was gentle.

Probably her muscles received the best exercise that day – with Khushi holding them resistant with all her might, and her husband equally determined to go through all the moves of the therapy session. It could have been a lover’s tiff about which we read and hear so often – which arouses such sense of warmth, makes one want to giggle at two people so obviously in love.

One could have giggled at the scene at the poolside of the Raizada house that day had it not been for the heart wrenching conversation that accompanied the gestures.

‘Tum theek ho, Khushi?’

Silence.

‘Does it hurt? Did you injure the knee when you fell?’

‘You know, I would rather limp. I would much rather live with the handicap than owe anything to you.’

Aap ki vajah se nahi aapke bavjood hum theek hain.

The hand around her leg loosened for a second at the sting, only to tighten when she tried to draw back. Arnav pretended it did not happen – neither the words nor the tussle that was going on between the two of them.

‘I know, Khushi. Too bad. But you are going to heal.’

‘Oh yes, Arnav Singh Raizada has said so. The god has said so.’ Khushi watched with some satisfaction as his lips thinned and waited for him to explode. He surprised her by continuing to exercise her ankle. ‘Why are you doing this?’ she said with clenched teeth when he did not rage like the ASR she had known.

‘For the same reason that I was doing it yesterday…and day before …over weeks now. I love you, Khushi,’ he looked up, hoping she could read the truth in his eyes.

She didn’t.

‘It’s over. The charade is over. Do you hear, Mr. Raizada? I know everything. I remember everything. Don’t pass off your guilt in the name of love.’

‘Its not guilt,’ Arnav answered non-chalantly. Despite the hurt that accompanied her words, Arnav continued steadily without giving way to the emotions that raged in him.  He pushed them aside, bent on the formidable task at hand – of finding a way to reach her through the maze of pain and hurt. Khushi was astonished at this facet of the man.  The ASR she knew and remembered would have brought heaven down by now– yelling with rage at being told he was lying. He had done so in the past, with little provocation. She had been on the receiving end often. Those memories swirled around her mind. Yet this man sitting in front of her did not behave like he once was wont to. But in the state of outrage and anger, Khushi overlooked the difference.

‘I care,’ he was saying. ‘And even if you don’t need me, I am your husband… and you are mine. My legally wedded wife.’

‘No,’ she whispered as his words sank in. Legally wedded wife…but she wasn’t his wife anymore. Infact she had not been wife for a long time. Even before they met at Sheesh Mahal.

‘I am not your wife,’ Khushi murmured.

Arnav’s hands halted as he stiffened. His heart skipped a beat as he heard the words, heard the last realization dawn on her. His hold tightened on her. ‘You married me for six months. They were over…when….but then why…’ her puzzled frown gave way to a look of understanding, smile with a hint of cynicism that was so unlike her ‘Is that why you never looked for me?’

‘For the last time, Khushi. I did look for you. Everywhere I could….’

But Khushi wasn’t listening. ‘The contract is over…we …we are nothing to each other…’

‘I don’t know what you are talking about. There is no contract. We are married – and it is going to last till the end, Khushi Singh Raizada. Get that straight.’

‘You are lying again. Just like you have been throughout. You… ‘

‘And what if I am,’ he bit out through his teeth. Panic, tension, the fear of loosing her once again awakened the ruthlessness. ‘Whatever it takes, Khushi. What ever it takes, I will do.’

‘I don’t want you to do anything for me. I don’t need your pity.’

‘It’s not for you, Khushi. Quite the reverse. I am doing this because I care. And you also care… once this anger is past, you will know…we care for each other…so we stay together.’ Arnav continued emotionlessly, as if stating facts, afraid that to show any chink in his armour.

‘Says a man who never believed in marriage …or love. Who married me for six months…who destested the sight of me…’ he hated that cynicism in her voice. It was going to go, he promised.

‘He learnt, Khushi. The hard way. But he did….and…’

‘And?’

‘And he never detested you. That was a lie. Can’t you see, Khushi?’

‘But I don’t believe you anymore, Mr Raizada. It is your guilt…it is Just your guilt. Why should I stay in this…this marriage which was forced upon me. The contract is over. The six months have been over for a long time. I need not have come with you from Lucknow.You are not my husband.  Now that I think of it, it wasn’t even a marriage…no witness, no rituals,’ Khushi had a faraway look in her eyes, as if she was reliving that terrible night once again.

‘Till some hours ago, you thought quite the opposite,’ he tried to bring her back, take her to the pleasant memories of the recent times.

‘But then I trusted you and you were lying. Taking advantage of my memory loss….’

‘Think whatever you want to. But you are my wife.’  Arnav gently let her foot down.

‘Nahi , hum aapko apna pati nahi mante.’

‘Manogi, Khushi. Tum mujhe apna pati manogi.’ He bent forward to kiss her knee.

‘Never.’ Khushi jerked back.

‘Never is a long time…Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada.’

The warmth and love of the last few weeks could have been an illusion. Arnav cast another glance at his wife who was still sitting on the same spot where he had left her after the therapy – intense eyes, stiff body and a silence that filled him with terror. When Khushi jerked away after the therapy, Arnav had gone to his laptop quietly. Yet screen in front of him remained in haze, his attention riveted on the silent woman sitting in the same room. Her silence scared him.

It was a new feeling for Arnav Singh Raizada, the manipulative and clever business man. Unlike the way he had done his deals in the past, this time he had put everything out – in the open. His cards were all on the table. He had wronged her, nobody knew about it more than him. But he had also loved her – loved her like it was not possible to love anyone else. Arnav was ready for whatever punishment Khushi decided for him, to atone for each and every word, even if it took a life time.  Anything …anything except separation and this…this silence which was killing him slowly.

Arnav tried to fill it with words. He tried to tell Khushi about his days without her, how everyone had missed her, how for weeks, Lakshmi would come to the room every morning looking for her, about the dabba service. With a mounting desperation, he felt Khushi slipping away. Panic assailed him. Leaving the pretence of working, he turned towards her; afraid to let her out of his line of sight.

So the room that had witnessed innumerable scenes of this love story – the joy of first love, the uncontrollable passion, the longing that hatred could not overcome, the sorrow of separation – it now witnessed a new reversal of roles – a mute Khushi, staring ahead, thinking, planning  and a chattering Arnav, hiding his panic,  trying for some normalcy – like Khushi used to do, once  – long time ago – when he was bent on making her life a living hell – and she was determined to overcome her hellish existence.  Arnav knew she was thinking something – something that he had no idea about, something that filled him with fear. Try as he might, he could not reach out to her. It made him afraid. Khushi was shutting him out – out of her mind, out of her life – just like she had for the last twelve months.

How was he going to live?

The fragile dam of emotions gave away at the thought. Arnav rushed on, coming to sit in front of her once again holding her clenched fist which told him that she was still not ready to listen, that whatever she was planning would destroy him. ‘Khushi,’ Arnav left behind the pretence of being in-charge, of reminding her of his love. ‘If I could give my life to wipe out those days, I would. Tell me what to do Khushi, anything…anything.’

At last her eyes turned towards him, his words were able to elicit some emotions as Khushi gazed at Arnav.

‘Anything, Khushi…’

‘Then let me go….’

—————-

Really sorry to be so late. I am not abandoning my stories or anyting like that. I just moved to a new country and it has taken a while to settle down and get back to work…:-) will be regular from now on.

Also I have a plot outline in my mind but executing it proving to be slightly difficult. Let me know what are your thougths where you think the story is going or where it should  go…Please read and let me know…

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about The Boy with The Bread.

Who else this week but Peeta Mellark, who redefines the notion of a hero. If Collins’ Katniss is a role model for girls, then Peeta is  definitely an ideal boyfriend. Not the usual macho, strong hero, but a hero who is  brave enough to know his shortcomings, secure enough  to know that the girl he likes is better than him, and yet he continues to love and support her without any feelings of envy or insecurity. 

The line ‘He bakes, I hunt.’  overturns the notions of gender in a  relationship. It is amazing to find it articulated so succintly and powerfully in a book for young adult’s.

While Katniss’ weapons are bow and arrow and her gritty determination, Peeta’s are his resilience against all odds, his capacity to lift unbearable weights and the icing used on cakes! Yet he is the strongest boy hero I have come across in the recent times.

And so I love the baker’s son…real, very real!!

And she manhandles him after this!!! Check out the romance between the Girl  on Fire and the Boy with the bread, catch the Fire this week!!!