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.’
‘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.’
‘Let me come and see you.’
‘Promise me to come back.’
‘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…’
‘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!!!