(Unforgettable) Part 28: Forgetting is so long ….

 

“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.”
― Pablo Neruda

Lavanaya watched her silent friend and sighed.  Khushi Kumari Gupta. Singh Raizada added her brain. She had returned nearly three weeks ago to Sheesh Mahal, as serious and silent as she was now. Accompanying her was Akash Singh Raizada, ASR’s brother, Khushi’s Jeeju, he had stayed for a week and then left reluctantly. The sudden appearance of somber and silent twosome had come as a surprise to Aman and Lavanaya. But Khushi did not want to talk about what had happened in Delhi and Lavanaya let her decide. After all who was she to say anything, the Sheesh Mahal belonged to Khushi’s husband didn’t it?

But where was he?  Where was ASR?

Khushi had looked startled when Aman had put the question to her. And Akaash Raizada had cast a rather furtive glance at Khushi before telling them that his brother was busy. There was more to it, Aman and Lavanaya could make out. When ASR had taken Khushi with him away from Sheesh Mahal Mahal not more than two months ago, it had seemed that he would not let her be out of his sight ever again. Yet Khushi was back in Lucknow minus her husband?

Khushi had evaded Lavanaya’s initial attempts to talk about her family in Delhi. Lavanaya knew that Khushi’s memories were back, but what she remembered, Khushi did not tell her. As a friend she would have worried about Khushi had it not been for Khushi’s health which was remarkably improved. Khushi did not clutch her knee in pain so often, neither did she require rest every half hour. The limp was less pronounced … so much so that it often seemed to be part of her walk…graceful and slow. She excercised diligently – morning and evening – making sure that it would disappear in the long run. More than that – it was the glow on her face, the glow of health. The cheeks were no longer hollow, the colour no longer patsy. The frantic and bleak look in the eye had been replaced by a thoughtful one, with a soft twinkle often finding its way in the gaze when Khushi mischeviously teased Aman and Lavanaya about their courtship.

Yes, if it was not for the silence, Lavanaya would have been sure that Delhi had certainly agreed with her friend.

*******

Despite the serenity, a strange emptiness marked Khushi’s days in Sheesh Mahal, especially after the bustle of Shantivan. With the hotel and the restaurant shut down, there was not much to do. It gave her time to think– too much time. Khushi spent days reflecting over the events of the past. In the days that followed the return of her memories, the presence of Arnav and of all the people of her past, all the harsh memories – everything had grated on her nerves with their neat clarity. The rejection by her family, Arnav’s irrational suspicion, the cold words, the distrust – it came back to her all so clearly. She had been angry and indifferent to the guilt. So indifferent that she did not want to hear justifications, she could not bear the apologies and tears and therefore, she had cut them short by forgiving and moving on, telling herself that these people no longer mattered to her.

But now, in the quitetude of her days in Lucknow, away from all the tears and the drama, she remembered the other times. Years ago when she had come to her Mausi’s house after her parents had disappeared, the way Payal Jiji would sit with her for hours, waiting for her parents though she knew they would never come; babuji teaching her how to make jalebis…even buaji often forgot that she was an intruder in the family and would rush to take care of her titaliya when she fell ill or someone hurt her. Those moments – sweet and plenty – they were as much a part of her life as the harsh memories of rejection. From where she stood now, distanced from all by time and experience, she saw people with good intentions but flawed, people who were good yet human, people who had once been her world, but now her world had spread far beyond them. They were still important, but her days did not begin and end with them.

And Arnavji? Her thoughts turned to that single name all the time despite her efforts to not think about him. Every single day of the first week in Lucknow, Khushi had gone over their final conversation, the day when ASR had finally given in to Khushi Kumari Gupta. Everyday she lived his pain and justified her own need for time.

‘So you …there will be no forgiveness for me, Khushi,’ he had said when she told her that she needed to go, to leave everything behind. His eyes reminded her of the day when he had first asked for forgiveness the first time, when she had offered sympathy on the death of his parents and he had shouted at her … like always.  ‘No second chance, no atonement.’

His gaze bored into her, damp around the edges, accompanied by a slight waver in the voice…voice of a man waiting to hear the final verdict.

‘Arnavji, please,’ Khushi shook her head. For a man so smart and level headed in the field of business, Arnav astonished her with his complete lack of understanding when it came to matters of heart. ‘It is …it isn’t about forgiveness….If I could, I would tell you that I forgive you.. here and now, I am ready to forgive everything that happened. But what would those words mean if I still feel that anger, if the hurt still clouds my mind when you…..when you are with me. What would forgiveness mean if I only remember hurt and anger when I am with you.’

‘Last week…’

‘Last week was then and this is now. Then I was girl with a blank space in place of her memories.  You told me you were my husband. I believed. You told me you loved me I believed.’

‘It is still the truth.’

‘But you cannot pretend that whatever happened before, did not…that it does not matter. Or is it that my suffering, my feelings still don’t matter to you? I need to go because I cannot live with that hurt and anger…they choke me, they will choke whatever is left…of me…of our relationship. I cannot promise to come back because, the state I am in, now, at present, I can’t see beyond that anger and hurt between you and me…will I see anything else when I am away, I don’t know. I can’t promise. Please Arnavji, try to understand.’

He didn’t want to. Arnav shook his head stubbornly wanting to shake off the thoughts that her words were arousing, her reasons, her feelings that he understood – almost against his will.

‘I might never be the same Khushi completely…but if I don’t go, I will never find out. You will never find her.’ Khushi said the final words.

‘No,’ and like always, he had left with that single word hanging between them.

Once again, silence regined between them for the days that followed till one evening, two days later, Khushi walked in on her husband, his shoulders slumped and lines of tiredness etched on his face.

‘Khushi,’ he called from the poolside as she was about to settle down for the night.

As she walked out in the open, Arnav watched her curiously. The colour which had been returning to her face was waning. There was no hint of smile, no teasing twinkle in the eyes,  a weariness had replaced the limp in the walk. Her last words had scared him a great deal.

I might never be the same Khushi completely…but if I don’t go, I will never find out. You will never find her.

He turned his gaze back to stars when she came to stand next to him. The brightest of stars whom they had designated as their parents; her parents…had he asked her once how she faced them everyday? His words came back to haunt him…as they always did. How difficult he found it…to face them now?

‘Khushi, when…when you were not here, I promised them, our parents, that once…only once, if I could find you, I would not let sadness touch you…no tears, no sorrow. I did not realize what that meant…then.’ She did not answer. ‘You are not happy, are you?’

The question did not need an answer. What made him ask? Probably a faint dying wish that she would deny and he could hold on to that thread of hope.

‘Go then, Khushi.’ He murmured not willing to look at her even when Khushi gasped and turned towards him suddenly, unable to believe that she had really heard the words.  He stood like a stone. ‘Go. But…but there are some conditions.’

Of course, Khushi shook her head and walked away. Of course, there would be conditions. He would never give her what she asked so easily.

‘Listen, first. Don’t walk away when I am talking to you.’ Khushi stilled, unwilling to recover the distance back to him. ‘You…you go to you friend…to Lavanaya and Aman at Sheesh Mahal. I will not try to meet or contact you…but you …you must understand that I cannot let you go like that.’

Silence.

‘Go to Lucknow. Take your time. But you must tell me what you decide….for yourself, for us, our marriage, our future. I will wait, Khushi. That is it…that is all I ask. Go to Sheesh Mahal. You liked it there, didn’t you?’

Khushi had nodded her nodded faintly…and Arnav had walked out. She had not seen him for the next three days as she prepared to leave.  But she sensed him…everywhere, in the silent acceptance of the family, the details of the journey, in the concern all around, in the manner in which she smoothly moved from Delhi to Lucknow.

True to his word, he had not called. Neither had he tried to approach her in any way after their conversation under the stars that night. She had asked him to leave her alone…he did.

Khushi, on the other hand, often grew restless. The urge to talk to Arnav would come over, an urge to ask for explanations, for his reasons for so many things that she failed to understand. Why had he pushed her away so hard? Why had he disliked her so intensely from the beginning? Why was he always angry then? All the questions burnt in her mind…but none more so than the longing to hear the husky voice close to her ear, feel his breath on her nape, the feel of his warm palms as they excercised her leg. In the nights, she remembered the heat from the embers of desire stoked by their togetherness; lying on the cold bed all alone, she tried to re-live the feeling of belonging that he would conjure up, just by putting his arms around her. In Lucknow, the place where she had spent a cold and painful year alone, she remembered how much she valued what he offered.

She often spoke to Payal, asking about the house and family. Payal replied affably, though she missed her sister everday. It was only when they talked about Arnav that Khushi could sense Payal’s dissatisfaction. Initially Payal had evaded Khushi’s enquiries. But one day she had irritatedly asked the question that seemed to be crux of their strange relationship.

‘Why Khushi? Why do you ask about him? Ab kya faraq padta hai?’

‘Jeeji, is that what you think? That I am here because I don’t care?’ Khushi was hurt.

‘I don’t know what to think, Khushi. Ok. Since you ask I will tell you. He takes his medicines on time. He is not drinking as he did when you first disappareaed. Yes, Akaash told me about it. He goes to office, comes back, plays with Aditi…So I guess that means…he is..he is fine.’

‘Jeeji…’

‘But he is not, Khushi. He does not talk about you…told us not to badger you with talking about him. But since you ask every time, Khushi, I don’t think he is ok. He is…he is lost…lost without you. Speaks even less…he still pretends to be arrogant and powerful, on the phone, in the office. But it’s a shell, a mask…I see him sitting at the poolside, staring at the sky. His heart is not here…its in nothing here…neither the house, nor the work. He isn’t even living…he merely …exists here,’ Payal sighed.

There was silence on the other end.

‘Let’s …let’s speak about this some other time Khushi.’ Payal paused wanting to change the subject. ‘Khushi…are you happy…in Lucknow, I mean? Still love that town, don’t you?’

‘I don’t know, Jeeji. Love and happiness puzzle me these days,’ Khushi chuckled wryly. ‘But…but I am okay.’

‘You…you are talking care of yourself…right. The physiotherapy, medicines?

‘Yes, Jeeji. Don’t worry about all that.’

‘Ok. I will worry about other things. By the way, NK bhai, wants to talk to you. But not on phone. He asks if it is okay to visit. You can take him around Lucknow.’

‘Yes. Of course. Tell me when he is coming.’

Payal mentioned the day next week before disconnecting.

***********

NK looked around happily. Khushiji was fine with his visit. Great, he could use some time without interruptions with Khushiji, to set a few things straight, which his stubborn bull of a cousin should have done long time back. Beyond Payal bhabhi patting his shoulder, NK met the stormy eyes of the aforementioned cousin. First he would have to set a few things straight here…he sighed.

Arnav looked at NK with anger and stalked away. So it was okay for that fool NK to visit Lucknow while he was exiled form the town, from Khushi’s presence.  Sometimes, as much as he tried to put it down, the anger threatened to take over completely as it used to once. His bane, better be on his own to recollect his emotions, tend to the hurt heart than saying things that he would regret later. He closeted himself in his room, their sanctuary.

A knock sounded on the door before the foolish cousin entered slowly and closed the door behind him.

‘So, Nannav. I am meeting Khushiji. Next week.’

It rubbed the stubborn, angry one the wrong way. ‘Get out, NK.’

‘Are you sure? I thought you might want to send some message or something.’

‘She wants to be left alone. And unlike you, I am respecting her wishes.’

‘But, Nannav, when she says she wants to be left alone, she means that you have to wait for her. And you need to tell her that you are waiting. A small message… something to show that you miss her.’ NK fumbled for words to explain the dynamics of a relationship to his brother.

‘I don’t understand.’ What NK said made no sense to Arnav. Leave me alone, meant leave, me, alone. Didn’t it? Or was there some complex meaning behind it, the meaning that NK was trying to explain? Somehow, Arnav could not help but feel that NK advice actually made sense. Not that NK needed to know that.

NK shook his head and turned to leave. Nannav was no help. He would have to manage it on his own…somehow.

‘Can you….will you give her this?’ the uncertainity in the normally steady voice made NK turn around. Arnav was looking intently at the silver anklets that he held in his hand. When he raised his head, the uncertainity was mirrored in the eyes.

‘Wow, Nannav. You are not as bad as I think. You brought that for Khushiji.’

‘They..they are exactly like her mother’s anklets. She said she had to sell them them when she was in Lucknow,’ he handed them to NK. ‘And… tell her…tell her, I also have this.’ He searched through the wardrobe before coming out with another box. It had a mangalsutra, not unlike the one he had put around her neck, angrily, yet it had tied them together. ‘Tell her this..this is waiting, if she wants it.’

‘Nannav’ that was all the warning Arnav got, before his cousin collided with him, sniffing and tearful as he hugged him. ‘I will, I will. Don’t worry, Nannav. I will be your Pehelwan…you know, like in the Ramayana, Ram sends Pehlawan to look for Sita and give his message. I will carry your message to Khushiji,’ Nk hugged Arnav tightly once more before wiping his eyes and leaving the room dramatically.

PS: The chapter title and the quote at the beginning are both from the poetry of Pablo Neruda

Part 27: If you love someone….

 

Anjili was the last to learn about the events of the day. She had taken up the charge of the design department and with the new ethnic collection to unvieled soon, Anjili had been burning the midnight oil.

She stepped into her room, now once again her sanctuary after the traces of evil had been removed. Her heart warmed to the sight of her brother sitting with little Aditi. It never failed to amaze her…how Chottey, the man who would run miles at the very mention of children, spent so much time with her daughter, managed to pacify her when no one else could, sit, watch and even try to answer her gibberish. Today, he looked at his neice with a strange expression – wistful and longing – as if trying to find some consolation in her childhish antics. With events of the last few days, he would often fall into such broodiness. Anjili stepped in, to pull him out of gloom.

‘Arrey wah, Chottey, how come you are here today?’ Anjili chattered as she put away her bag and went to the armirah to take out change. ‘Acha, do you know what I found today? You remember, last year’s calendar shoot. I found Khushiji’s photos.She looked wonderful in that saree. Do you think we can show her those photos? Payal told me she was asking for photos.’ Anjili turned around with her clothes in her hand and walked to the bed where the two people she loved the most in the world sat. ‘But first Aditi we must ask Mamu, why is he here today and not with your Mami? Not that we mind but Mami….’

‘Because she told me to go away.’

‘Chottey, why are you talking like that. I am sure Khushiji…’

‘Di, Khushi remembers everything.’

Anjili gasped. The chatter faded into a shocked silence. Aditi looked at her mother and then her Mamu, wondering at the endless complexities of the adult world. Anjili got up slowly as the words registered in her mind.  She had to see Khushi. She had to tell so much to Khushi, so many things…but most of all she had to apologize…apologize for appearing to be a clingy woman that she wasn’t…apologize for appearing so weak that the person she loved the most had taken such drastic measures to protect her, apologize for her brother, her love had made him so blind.

But when she reached the doorway, Khushi was already there, with her tea.

‘Khushiji,’ Anjili whispered.

Khushi nodded and walking in gingerely, she placed the tea on the table, before turning to Anjili. The two women rushed to each other at the same time.

‘Di, I am so sorry. I did know…’

‘Shh…not you. Khushiji. It was me…always me. I should be sorry. And I am…I am…you don’t know how much…forgive me…I…’

Arnav walked out of the room giving privacy for the two broken women to cry for the men in their lives, grieve for their dreams that were dust now.

In the days that followed, the denizens of the Raizada mansion and Khushi’s family tried to excise the guilt that had been their constant companion for a year…eversince the horrible morning when Arnav Singh Raizada had revealed the secret of his marriage. They apologized, asked for forgiveness … and as buaji had told Arnav when he had come begging for fogiveness, Khushi forgave them all. Generous and large-hearted, after all, everyone could depend on titaliya for being that.

But did that turn back the clock? Did it bring back the girl who had been disowned at another’s hearsay…who had been forgiven only under the influence of bhaang and the festivities of holi…who didn’t have the luxury of depending on anyone’s generosity or large heart.

It was difficult to put one’s finger, but Khushi’s forgiveness came with another uncomfortable feeling. She forgave too easily.

‘Why?’ NK sought out Khushi at the poolside where she had taken refuge after Mamiji’s uncharacteristically teary eyed complaint – that phatti saree had given them so many sleepless nights, now only she can bring back the happiness and peace. Khushi had smiled and hugged her sharp tongued mother-in-law. ‘Can you really forgive and forget so easily?’

‘What do you think, Nanheji?’

NK looked at his friend, she had changed so much. But even earlier, when he had first come to know her, he had seen the glimpses of this mature grown up girl in the happy and frolicking Khushi. She was the same, just not as exuberant and loud as she used to be. Mellowed down, he thought with a sigh. He missed the craziness, the gay abandon that used to be Khushi Kumari Gupta.

‘It seems that it does not matter to you…this forgiveness…so you dole it out so easily.’

Was he right? Khushi thought about it. The people who had rushed to her – amma, buaji, mami. They had been so important to her…they still were. But being disowned and orphaned, the sting of buaji’s words, Amma’s anger – they no longer wreaked havoc in her life as they once did. She would not rush headlong into foolishness – just to see them smile.To Payal she had talked, let out the fears, her insecurities, heard Payal’s anger about the reasons for the marriage, tried to justify herself and listened to Payal about her home and family when she had been gone. But even as Khushi re-lived her relationship with her sister, she knew that Payal’s angry silence which used to bring her to her knees every time, which used to make her so restless that she would anything to abate – now it no longer had that kind of power.

‘Probably you are right, Nanheji. After the last one year….it seems, those things, that had hurt me then…they seem so small, insignificant.’

There was a quite realization. She was no longer the girl who would give it all – to earn approval, to get acceptance, to fulfill all the conditions on which that acceptance came. In the painful year that she had spent, alone, scared and injured – she had learnt to care for herself. Somewhere along the line of events, Khushi had learnt that she mattered – if not to anyone else – she mattered to herself. NK liked that.

‘But that does not take away anything from our friendship,’ Khushi told NK. ‘You have always been my friend, then and now…and what you say and think matters to me. I might not have forgiven you so easily.’

Khushi smiled a raised her hand and NK hi-fived her back. It was a bittersweet reclaimation of their togetherness.

‘What about Nannav, Khushiji?’ NK asked after some time. The thought had been puzzling him. Khushi moved on ahead with everyone but with the man who was trying most desperately. NK had seen it, every one had…that Arnav was trying to make amends, doing everything he could. But despite his brother’s desperate attempts, Khushi refused to budge.

‘He…he makes me so angry…always, always it is about what he wants, what he thinks. When he first met me, he thought I was a gold digger, so he made me suffer, those harsh and rude words. But I forgot them when…he…during Payaal and Akaash’s wedding…’ NK nodded, asking her continue. He understood. ‘They started fading away, the sting, the hurt. It made me put my guards down. My greatest mistake.  He turned over my whole world upside down…why…because he saw something? Because that evil man told him seomthing and he went ahead and believed it. Once again, I was a gold digger, a home wrecker as well….’

‘He has changed. Last year….’

‘Stop. Stop. Nanheji. Not you too. Everyone has been telling me that. That he has changed. That he suffered. But what about my suffering. He suffered because of his mistakes. But why me? Why……? And…and why are you smiling?’

NK shook his head, unable to erase the smile from his face. ‘I am glad. Sorry, Khushiji. But I am glad you are angry with him.’

‘Why?’ Khushi’s comical frown reminded him of old days.

‘Because he matters. What he says…what he does. It all matters, isn’t it?’

Khushi shrugged. ‘He makes me mad.’

‘I am happy about that,’ NK  muttered as Khushi rolled her eyes and pushed him.

Arnav watched them, silently, from the room. They were not aware of his presence…not even Khushi. Neither did he hear them. But he watched the easy camaraderie, as they talked, hi-fived,  smiled, hell, NK was even allowed to touch her. And downstairs, Mami had told him that she and phatti saree had no issues now. Just like that…all forgotten, the taunts, the abuse…everything.

For the man living in a   constant state of panic and fear, it was all unbearable. She forgave everyone, easily, generously…but there was no relenting where he was concerned.

It seemed as if nothing he did could bridge the gap, nothing could mend the relationship anymore. He sought her out to talk, she avoided him, as if she did not even want his words. He brought her flowers, she shook her head as if they did not matter. He tried to hold her hand, she stepped back as if his touch was not longer desired.  Still every evening he helped her exercise. He could feel her anger, her irritation during that hour. The routine was no longer the most pleasureable time of their day. It was his obstinacy which she endured.

But now seeing her NK, his dam of patience burst. He rushed to the poolside. They were going to talk.

‘Khushiji, you must know. He was not always like this. He..’

‘Khushi.’  The curt word interrupted whatever NK   was going to say. The two pairs of eyes turned towards Arnav – one rolling in frustration at his stubborn idiot of a brother, and the other, the hazel ones, became veiled, opaque in a second. ‘I want to talk to Khushi.’

NK shook his head and moved towards the door, squeezing his brother’s shoulder on the way out, willing him not to mess up again but sure that Arnav would manage to…somehow.

Silence regined once again, as it always did when the two of them were alone these days. For Arnav, each rejection was more painful than the last, especially when he remembered the heavenly days that had preceeded – things when everything seemed light and happy – days like the ones that had preceeded Akaash’s wedding. He should have known then – they would not last.

‘I …I got some…’ Arnav shook his head and began again. ‘You know, the parking attendant at AR. He…he loves to eat ber. Like you.  Once he even left the fruits on the car….I was so angry with him. It made me miss you so much.’ Khushi turned to look at him, with the same blank expression. ‘Anyway, I asked him for some…here. Ber. You like them, don’t you.’ He offered.

Khushi looked at him and then at the packet in the hand before slowly taking it and keeping it aside. Once again, she turned away from him.

In the silence that followed, Khushi could hear his breath becoming heavy as anger took over slowly. And sure enough, in a minute he snatched back the packet of ber and threw them in the pool.

‘What…what do I have to do? I do everything and nothing matters to you…nothing…is it…is it going to be like this…Khushi…how long?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know,’ Khushi was unable to keep her voice down. NK’s words had left her mind in turmoil. ‘You think I am a child. You bring these…these ber, some jalebis, flowers, chane and …that’s it…Khushi’s life is mended. Her wounds are healed.’

‘Then what….tell me, Khushi. Tell me what to do, I will,’ As soon as Khushi opened her mouth to retort, he stopped her. ‘No, don’t. Anything Khushi, anything but that….anything but leaving.’

Khushi once again shook her head and turned away.

‘Why?’ he jerked her back ‘Why can you not stay with me? Why is everyone else absolved and I am being punished? You remember, right? You remember that night? You remember my words? Don’t you remember your buaji’s, your mother’s? Your people who loved you, who should have known you? Yet, Khushi. Yet how easily you believe that they care, and I don’t?’

‘It’s not about who cares about me, Arnavji. I care, I care for myself!!’

‘And so do I, Khushi…what do I have to do to make you believe! Buaji, and amma, and bauji, even they will tell you the same. You are married…we are married. This is your home, Khushi. For good or bad’

‘But I don’t want to go to buaji…or amma…or bauji.’

‘Then…’

‘Please, try to understand. Jeeji came to speak to me. Anjali Di …everyone talks about the past. They apologize, tell me how wrong they were, how they missed me…and then…then they tell me about you…you…. always you. How you suffered, how you looked for me. How you were barely living…and… and I am supposed to forget everything and accept that…just like that. Two years…two years, ever since  I first laid my eyes on you….there has been no peace, no good in my life. No safety…things have been spiraling downhill …till I …here I am…look at me!’

There was no answer.

‘And now, because you realize you were wrong, that you made a mistake, I am supposed to be grateful…for your…your love, guilt…I don’t even know what it is! You believe you will turn my life around…so does every one…as if…as if it belongs to you … my life. To destroy and then make …as you please.’

‘Khushi, I will tell every one that….’

‘Tell what, Arnavji? That they should not think that way. I cannot stay here…because, every one, here, in Laxmi Nagar, everyone is going to take it as…as my whim…. A small tiff between you and me…they will think that eventually, I would return to you…not because, the past has been dealt with, not because there has been justice …but only and only because, I am your wife, and you want me to come back… my life belongs to you and in the neat order of things, I should return to you…despite the fact, that this …this relationship was never my choice…not then, not now.’

‘Khushi, don’t…don’t say that. I could not tell you in Sheesh Mahal. I thought, many times…but… Remember when we met at Sheesh Mahal. You … you would not let me come close. You were so suspicious. Had…had I told you the truth, you would never have come!’

‘I would have been my choice. Knowing the truth….’

‘What truth, Khushi? All that hurt, all my mistakes, all my sins…you would have remembered them and sent me away. Because they were all big…so much bigger, than…that those small fleeting moments….the moments when we…we felt something more. That were the real truth….beneath it all. Would you have believed me? In one whole year that I lived without you, I tried to recollect them. But those moments were so few, so rare, they seemed so insignificant in face of everything that happened. But they were true…more true than anything else, Khushi.’

Khushi did not say anything. It was on the tip of her tongue to console him, to tell him that she would have remembered all that too…eventually.  But the time of such consolations was past. Would she have remembered all those moments – the kisses stolen on the poolside, the dance, the heated glances, his name on her palm, the concern behind the anger…the weeks preceding this renewed heartbreak? Who knows.

‘I know you are angry, Khushi. But when…when I saw you at Sheesh mahal …and saw the way the things stood….you anger and distrust, despite the fact that you remembered nothing…I …I was thankful…thankful for your loss of memories, your amnesia. It gave me time, time and a chance to start again…to build a relationship….it seemed like your Devi Maiya had heard me…my desolate prayers, my pathetic what ifs…It was like I was given a second chance…the time had been turned around so that I could start again…build this relationship anew…like I should have…like it should have been … from the very beginning. Can you blame me, for grabbing this chance with both my hands?’

‘But can’t you see that now, it seems I have lived all that all over again, every word, every hurt. It is so fresh…fresh in my mind, fresh wounds in my heart…I need time, time and distance.’

‘Then, go to Lakshmi Nagar.’

‘No.’

‘Let me come and see you.’

‘No.’

‘Promise me to come back.’

‘No.’

‘Don’t Khushi, Please.’ Arnav raked his fingers through his hair. Never had he felt so helpless.

‘Fix a time. …time when you will be back….a week, month, …year. I can live with that.’

‘I don’t know.’ Khushi turned away in pain.

Each word pierced his heart with fresh pain. She could not mean what he was thinking.

‘You won’t….you won’t promise to come back. You ask me not to come to you, not to bother you…. How can I let that happen again? …Khushi, Khushi….I am a very selfish man…’

‘I know.’

‘Then you must know that this … I cannot let you go…with nothing to hold on to…’

‘You must. It’s not because I want to hurt you. I can’t…’

‘In your scheme of things, Khushi, you are planning to destroy me, Khushi.’

‘And if I stay here, I will never be able to leave the past behind, Arnavji.’

Arnav felt his heart give away. He knew he had lost.

————-

gosh, I have managed to surprise myself. Not only an update on two consecutive days….but this long one…Now please please do your bit. Leave a comment!!!

(Unforgettable) Part 26: Let me go

‘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….’

Let me go. Arnav tried to make sense of the words. But his mind of which he had been so proud once – it seemed to have stopped functioning; even his heart, unable to make comprehend the words, beat in a dull staccato. She wanted to go…of course! He quickly withdrew his hands and gave her space to get up.

‘Yes, Khushi, of course. You…where do you want to go? To the washroom? Yes, you…you must freshen up. Wash your face, I will ask Hariprakash to bring your tea.’ When she said nothing, Arnav continued. ‘Your leg must be stiff sitting like this for so long. Get up and go, Khushi. We will talk later.’

Khushi slowly shook her head, staring at him intently, fresh tears springing in her eyes. Arnav put the lid on the nervousness that was rising to block his throat.

‘To Payal? You want to speak to her, don’t you? She is waiting to quarrel with you,’ he forced a smile.

No response, but her stare did not waver. Arnav rose in agitation.

‘You must spend time with Payal, Khushi. I won’t …won’t interrupt.’

‘Ok..and…. and Payal was saying that buaji had asked the two of you over..to..to spend some days in Lakshmi Nagar. Khushi,…’ once again he sat in front of her, taking hold of her arms urgently ‘You…you can go to buaji. Yes, you go ..go to buaji’s house.’

‘Don’t ..don’t worry. I will come to bring you back ….in one day…two days…a week….’ His voice rose, till he was yelling once again, in a futile effort to make her listen. Arnav grabbed her arms. He had to make her listen. ‘Khushi….Stop it, stop it, Khushi. Stop shaking your head, I say.’

The silence rang as he stared at her long and hard, breathing heavily. Arnav closed his eyes for a moment taking deep breaths. When he opened, she had turned away, resumed staring on the ground. ‘Khushi, Khushi,’ he cupped the back of her head to pull her towards him, trying to kiss her face. Khushi strained away. In the brief struggle that ensued, panic once again took the form of anger. He held her still straining her towards him as she resisted.

‘What the hell, Khushi. What you are thinking will never happen. Your place is here, here…in this house, with your family,  with ME. Do you understand?’

‘No.’

‘Yes. You can to Lakshmi Nagar. Stay with your parents, but you cannot stop me from visiting…’

‘No. I need to leave,’ Khushi declared, a peace, a sense of calm had replaced the resentment in her eyes. It disturbed Arnav. She had made her decision and the Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada whom he had come to know, was as stubborn as him. ‘I need time…and …and space. I need to go.’

‘No.’

‘Why? You let me go once…at the airport..why now that…’

‘I was fool,’ Arnav shouted. ‘That ….That is not happening, Khushi. It is not happening ever again. The sooner you understand, the better.’

ASR stalked out of the room in a huff, slamming the door as he always used to. As much as they change, some things always remain the same, Khushi mused staring at the reverberating doors. They no longer scared her. She had learnt that his anger was a mask for numerous other emotions that he did not want to betray. He had changed, she knew. But before she gave into the thought, she needed time…time to evaluate her past, her future. She wanted to go.

*********

‘Payal,’ something in the voice scared her. Payal was busy with the last minute dinner preparations, chattering with NK who leaned on the counter at the same time.

The voice of her brother-in-law interrupted the pleasant chatter. Payal swerved around to meet the ashen face of ASR, her brother-in-law. the man who was always in control, the man whom she had detested once. He looked so…..Something had happened.

‘Khushi…’ Payal’s thoughts went immediately to her sister.

‘She…she remembers.’ He said in a broken voice. ‘Khushi remembers everything.’

‘Oh my God. How? When?  Is she ok?’ Payal was already washing her hands wanting to rush to her sister.

‘In the evening…earlier. Payal, she…she is angry. Very angry.’ Payal nodded as she quickly wiped her hand and started to rush towards the stairs. To her sister.

‘Payal,’ the fear in the voice stopped her in her tracks. ‘Please ….’ He could not continue.  No words came to his mind. What did he want her to do?

‘Arnavji…’ for a moment as Khushi was forgetten. Payal stilled by the brokenness emanating from the man. Was he the same one who appeared so arrogant, so indifferent in the past? ‘She doesn’t …doesn’t listen to me, Payal? She wants me…to leave her alone.’ His voice lost strength before he gathered himself, taking deep breath. ‘Please, please try to reason … what she wants cannot happen…I cannot let it happen again, Payal. Tell her.’

Payal remembered his words that evening… it seemed ages ago.

I cannot tell her myself and see my life fall apart.

 

‘Please help me, Payal.’ Arnav stood firm, dignified, no longer hiding behind the mask of false bravado, accepting his need…need of others..of Khushi, of Payal and Akaash, of his family.

I would not be able to move a step. I will be left behind – alone, aching, hopeless. There would be no life for me without her….no present, no future. If I can’t belong to her, then there is no point in living. I will be no one.

Payal could not help but rush forward. Not to hug him, that was still some way off, but she couldn’t resist touching him, a firm hand on his shoulder that promised … she was with him.

**********

‘Khushi..’ Payal barely had the word out of her mouth, when her sister turned around.

‘Jeeji,’ Khushi rushed towards her just as Payal had ran to her sister on the airport.  ‘Jeeji.’

Khushi hid her head in her sister’s shoulder and cried for the hurt of last one year, the loneliness, the pain…if only…if only she had had her sister with her. Payal stroked her back.  ‘Its over, Khushi…its over. You are back…my sister. My brave sister…my foolish and brave sister.’ When Khushi raised her hand, Payal cupped her cheek. The two sisters sat on the edge of the bed. ‘Foolish, foolish girl. Why, Khushi? Who gave you the right to decide?’ Even as she said the words, Payal knew. Between the two of them it no longer mattered. ‘My marriage…’

‘Wouldn’t you have done the same, Jeeji. For me, if I was in your…your situation?’

‘No. I would have told you, believed in you, your strength…’

‘Then why did you leave the house, Jeeji. If it was not for me.’

Payal did not know what to say. Khushi was confusing the issues. She believed she would not have acted foolishly like Khushi. But Payal knew that she would do anything for her sister, her Khushi. But it seemed so long ago. Payal decided not to argue. Speculations were useless. The important thing was the present…Khushi was back…her memories were back, her injury was healing….soon things would be back to normal.

‘I am so glad…so glad you are here. I can’t ask for anything more. We…we are going to be happy now…both of us here….’ Payal ran her hand in Khuhsi’s hair. ‘Remember how we used to talk…if we were married in the same house…we never got to enjoy that….now we will. Now things will be ok, hai na Khushi?’

The words faltered at Khushi’s silence.

————–

shortish? sorry. But the next update would be up in a day or two. 🙂