“I can write the saddest poem of all tonight. I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.”
The darkness was slowly settling in. Probably he should get up and put on the lights. Khushi never liked it in the dark. It reminded her of the most aweful nights of her life. The day her parents died, she had once told him. More horrible dark memories must have added to that crushing event. Probably she also remembered the night Shyam had tried to run her over with a car. Did she also remember the nights that she spent alone here, at the poolside, he wondered. That would make him a part of her nightmares. He must be a part of her nightmares. Did she sit on the terrace of the Sheesh Mahal in the evenings and remember those days, and hate him? Did she ever remember him kindly? How could she ever accept the anklets when she met NK tomorrow? Why would she come back now.
Time had come a full circle. Once again every evening he sat under the stars, still waiting for her…some word, one call that never came.
Ek din aapko pata chalega ki jo bhi aap karte hain who devi maiyya aapse karvati hai…par uss di hum aap ke saath nahi honge.
Her words had been so prophetic. It was over a month since she had left. Yet each day was as painful as the first. He had tried to distance him self after taking the decision to let her go…he had tried to prepare himself for this loneliness that he knew would follow once she left him…a loneliness that might last forever. Now he wondered if it would ever become easier to live with it. Probably not. Arnav remembered the horrible year when he had lived in darkness after her disappearance. How terrifying those days were! This time was different. He knew where she was. He knew she was ok…as least not in any physical hardship. That he had ensured. But beyond that he was as helpless as he had been then. No, it was never going to be easy. Despite all his efforts to move ahead with life, once again he was standing right there where she left him, and he knew he would be left here, in this nothingness if she decided not to come back. The burden of a barren life stared him in his face every morning and he spent every day trying to come to terms with it.
‘Arnavji!’ Payal’s voice interrupted the train of gloomy thoughts. She brought in a glass of milk along with his medicines. Payal extended the tray, waiting for him to take his medicines and milk. There was no point asking her to leave the tray. Arnav knew she would not.
Eversince Khushi had left, Payal had turned around. Arnav wondered what it was that prompted Payal to look after him. Probably it was his helplessness, probably she pitied him, the angry
Payal whom he know recognized as Khushi’s sister – a sister who would go to any lengths to protect and fight for Khushi. Why did she seek him out now?
‘How is she?’ Arnav asked as Payal turned to leave once he had kept the empty glass in her tray.
‘She says she is okay.’
Payal sighed as she turned around. ‘But she is not happy. Khushi is not happy in Lucknow.’
Silence followed Payal’s words. The two wracked there brains to say something. Payal lowered herself on the stool near the dressing table. ‘I know my sister. I can hear the sadness in her voice. But I know whatever I say would make no difference to her…or you.’
‘I am sorry, Payal. Believe me, if there was something I could do, I would.’
Silence followed the words. Payal watched wide eyed. Had ASR just apologized to her?
‘Payal,’ he continued after a pasue. ‘I am sorry that I used you and Akaash. Sorry to have caused so much pain…to you, your sister, your family.’ He said quietly. A burden weighing on his heart lessened with each word he uttered.
‘But…then…why?’ Payal stuttered, quickly moving past his apology to come to the question that had been troubling her for days. . ‘Why did you let her go? You said you could not live without her. You did everything to keep her. Then why?’
‘Because she wanted to, Payal. Your sister, who would not leave me alone when I sent her away, when I shouted at her, when I did everything to distance her. She…she kept returning. And now, when I…when she had become my reason to live, she could not bear to be close to me. She shunned me, would not look at me, did not want to hear me. I did not want to see her unhappy…could not watch her hating me.’
Payal pursed her lips and was silent for a long time before burst out as if she could not keep the anger inside her any longer. ‘You hate her, make her life hell and then pine for her when she is gone. I…I..could not even hate you in peace…you were so…so sad…. Anyway, now she, Khushi….she says she cannot live with you…Yet I hear sadness in her voice…loud and clear. She knows, and I know, everyone knows, that she is not happy without you!’ Payal was unable to stop herself anymore. ‘Why? What is it between the two of you? You can’t live together, you can’t live apart. Do the two of you ever realize how difficult it is for others, people who care about you, to see the two of you hurting each other and then pining in sorrow?’
Payal was right. They hadn’t. In their muleheaded belief that they were responsible for everyone, he as well as Khushi – they had made a mess of things, hurt the very people they had set out to protect. Everyone was still grappling with the mistakes of the past- Di, who would never be happy till he was, and Payal, for whom Khushi’s happiness was as important as her own.
‘I am sorry.’ Arnav said again.
Payal rose to leave but his words stopped her again.
‘Why do you do this, Payal?’ Arnav gestured at the tray she was carrying. ‘All this for me?
‘For Khushi. For me, you are my sister’s husband …whatever she says and whatever you say.
‘And this time I know…I know you lied but…but you were trying to set things right …to make her happy,’ Payal shrugged. ‘You love her, I know. You are trying. So…Anyway, when she wakes up from this foolishness and comes back, she might ask me.’
‘She might not,’ Arnav felt it necessary to let Payal know. ‘Khushi said she might not return.’
‘Is that so? You are both delusional,’ Payal said clearly, shaking her head at him as he was a child. Payal put on the lights in the room before turning to Arnav ‘She will come back.’
Arnav looked up, his tired red eyes burning with such hope and uncertainity that she could not help but walk back, kneel down and cover his hand with hers. ‘Believe me, Arnavji, she will. And you better be ready for her when she does.’
He nodded dazedly and Payal got up to leave. ‘So look after your self, so that you can look after my sister when she is back.’
Payal stepped out of the room. The two of them, Arnavji and Khushi, they were so naïve at times. It was painful to watch them like this. She would speak to Akaash. They might go to Lucknow soon. Akaash wanted to attend Aman’s wedding to Khushi’s friend. Probably it was time they did something about their foolhardy siblings. Payal smiled as she remembered Khushi’s plan bring her around when Akaash had proposed. It was time to settle the score, dear sister.
Khushi sipped her tea as she sat back, tired but happy. NK looked around delightedly taking in the sights and sounds of Hazratganj, the most fashionable market place of Lucknow. It had been a great day, as she had known it would be. Khushi had taken him around the city she loved, and he had filled her up about all the news from Delhi. Well, almost all. For name that was on the top of her mind had been missing till now.
She could always count on Nanheji when she was feeling down. His company was a pleasure – no emotional pressure, no efforts to live upto any expectations. Khushi smiled at the man sitting opposite her. Once, in the days that followed the surgery, she had fleetingly captured a similar effortless kind of relationship with Arnav. Just the pleasure of the spending time with each other had been enough. She had been so sure of his love, and he…he had been so eager to make her comfortable, to make her happy. And under the smooth pleasant surface had been the delicious undercurrents of desire. Khushi remembered the pleasurable sense of anticipation, the ill concealed hunger that welled up in his eyes often, which would awaken an answering passion in her…the way his hand would caress her leg as he helped her…the way his arms tightened around her in the night, his hot breath on her neck, the touch of his slightly roughened lips…and…and the tension that rose from the strange reluctance on Arnav’s part to let it get any further, how it often it frustrated her. How bright those days were. Khushi felt her belly quiver as she remembered them …was it all an illusion as she had claimed in anger…No. It was as true, her heart answered with certainity that it had not felt for a long time.
‘Khushiji, where are you?’ NK waved his hand in front of her her. Not that he needed to ask. Her dreamy eyes told it all.
‘I am here. With you,’ Khushi woke up from her day dreams. ‘But I hope this trip is not because you are leaving soon and wanted to see me before that,’ she added worriedly. THe thought had crossed her mind and it had irritated her.
‘You want to send me away? Here I was planning to join your dabba service…handle the business while you cook to your heart’s content.’
‘Arrey wah, nanheji. It’s a great idea.’ Khushi wondered if he was serious. His foreign returned image did not really go with a dabba service. But then, she herself was not sure if she would ever return to … to KKGSR dabba service. The image of Arnav showing her the blue visiting card flashed in her mind. It had been months…but it seemed a lifetime, Khushi felt a pang. The yearning to talk to him intensified.
‘Then to our future partnership,’ NK raised his cup in a toast and set it down slowly after taking a sip. ‘So when do you plan to return so that we can start working on it.’ he said after a pause. Time to talk about the elephant that had accompanied them though the day.
‘I…I…don’t know, Nanheji,’ Khushi fixed her gaze on the cup of tea, unwilling to answer the question.
Khushi answered with a shrug.
‘You are still angry with Arnav?’
‘I am glad to hear that. He misses you a lot, you know. I am sure Payal bhabhi told you.’
Khushi nodded silently.
‘Then? Is it because you…you want to punish him?’
‘No,’ Khushi replied emphatically. ‘You know I came here to think. I needed time.’
‘And what have you thought?’
‘A lot. Nanheji, I…I believe him and …and you all when you say he suffered. I know…may be it is guilt, may be..may be he really loved me as he says. But …but I don’t understand …don’t understand him. Why did he behave the way he did,’ Khushi tried to put her thoughts in words. ‘What did I do wrong that he was so nasty in the beginning…such rudeness, such harsh words…just because I was not rich. At times I cannot imagine he is the same man. But he is. He is the same man who made my life miserable when I was trying to work at AR Designs. You know once…once he let me fall from office. Then sent me to a dangerous place where I almost died. It was almost like he wanted me to leave, to disappear…how often he told me that he did not want to see me, or hear me…why? And he says he loved me but…but how easily he found it to believe those lies about me…why?
‘These are the questions only Nannav can answer. Have you asked him?’
Khushi shook her head. ‘Whenever..whenever we speak…we…we are never able to talk. Every thing else, the emotions, the hurt, the past…it just takes over…and the questions I want to ask, they get lost. And till I have answers, I know they would keep troubling me.’
NK sighed. Left to herself, he did not think Khushi would ask his cousin and that muleheaded man would not talk to her on his own. May be a little push might not be amiss? Would it be interefering too much? But then who were Nannav and Khushiji to accuse others of interfering in their lives!
‘Khushiji, I don’t have answers to your questions. But there are somethings about your husband that you must know. I know I should not be the one telling you this…but he is so stubborn..that..’ Nk shrugged. ‘You are right. He…he had a lot of anger and bitterness. And I cannot blame him. Remember I told you once, he had a difficult childhood. His father…well, he had an affair with another woman. And when his mother found out her husband’s truth, she committed suicide …shot herself on the day of her daughter’s wedding. And he followed her. Can you imagine?’ Khushi gasped. ‘Can you blame him for…for being angry. For Di and Nannav clinging to each other. He does not find it easy trust people. Their chachaji threw them out of Sheesh Mahal which had been their home.’
Khushi’s jaw dropped. Sheehs Mahal…so the scandal she had heard about. She remembered herself telling Arnav about it…on the plane from Lucknow to Delhi..the tension on his face. ‘Devi Maiyaa. That is why…that is why he hates the place.’
It was NK’s turn to shrug. ‘The scandal was well known in the elite circles of Lucknow. That is they moved out of Lucknow. He changed his name form Mullick to Raizada, made a fortune for himself, studied hard, worked harder…but I think..he…never left the past behind…until..well, until you came. But here he had created another mess. Why did he treat you to such rudeness…I don’t know. Only he can answer that. Ask him.’
NK leaned forward and covered her hand with his. Khushi nodded dazedly.
The journey back to Sheehs Mahal was a silent one. Khushi was still trying to assimilate the information, the revelations about the complex man she had fallen in love with. A bitter man …a man with a dark past. He had faced betrayals of the worst kind. Even though she had a faint memory of her parents, she knew that had they been in a similar situation, her mother would have chosen to live for her. So would her father whom she remembered vaguely. Their love for the child would have overcome all other passions, all other love and hate that seemed to have ruled the life of Arnav’s parents. Was it a wonder that he found it difficult to trust others when his nearest ones had left him to fend for himself? Was he a monster as she had once believed….as he had called himself several times, apologizing for his behavior? Probably he was…but a sad one. His anger and arrogance had helped him when love and trust had failed him so miserably.
But hadn’t she seen his tender side…with Di, Nani, even Mamiji…and herself… when..when he ahd broken her fast on Teej, come all the way to the temple to bandage her finger…when he thought she had an accident. The memories once again flooded her mind…Khushi saw a man struggling against his innate bitterness, his distrust. How well Shyam must have known him to play on that.
Shyam. Despite everything, Khushi knew she would always carry the thorn in her heart…that Arnav had trusted Shyam’s word.. he had believed she could stoop so low, without giving her a chance to explain. But neither could she forget the last few weeks…weeks when he had showered her love, his immense capacity to care, the way he had laid open his heart, his insecurities, made himself so vulnerable knowing that when her memories came back she might turn away from him. And she had done exactly that….She felt his efforts to cling to her; his refusal to let her go, with a new understanding, a new kind of urgency.
‘I have my wife and I am going to be with her.’
‘Then you must know that this … I cannot let you go…with nothing to hold on to…’
‘In your scheme of things, you are planning to destroy me.’
Suddenly Khushi wanted to rush to him, hold him and wipe away the tears she had seen so often in the last few days. She looked at NK who had been quiet all the while. ‘Please, is he..is he okay…?’
‘He is. Payal bhabhi and Anjili Di look after him. And its not like last time…when you disappeared. He knows where you are so…that makes it …better, I guess.’
‘He sent these.’
Khushi’s eyes teared as she took them and held them tightly. Anklets…just like her mother’s. He knew she would miss them them once she had her memories back. But it was not just because it was her mother’s. She had re-lived that diwali night so often…when he had put a similar anklet on her feet. In her mind, they were as much a part of her mother’s memories as his.
Khushi sat down with a thud and buried her face in her hands. She wanted him so much…it was like an ache in stomach. ‘I…I must have hurt him…so badly when I left.’ She murmured.
NK ran hand on her head. ‘Well, my stupid cousin did deserve it, didn’t he?’ he said with chuckle trying to cheer her up. ‘Come home, Khushiji. But come because you cannot stay away…not because you feel sorry for him as you do now…come because you cannot stay from him.’
Next day, after NK had left, Lavanaya found Khushi sitting on the terrace staring at a blank paper spread before her, nibbling the pen, lost in thought. Where did she begin? She looked up when Lavanaya came to sit opposite her.
‘I was planning to write to Arnavji,’ Khushi answered when Lavayana raised brow in inquiry.
‘Prem patr’ Lavanaya teased, happy to see Khushi blush.
‘Just some things that I needed to ask him.’
‘Then speak to him?’
Khushi shook her head. ‘It is better this way. Later…later we can speak face to face.’
‘OK. But do you know while you were in amnesia, the world moved ahead. You can mail him…and he will get it instantly. This will take ages.’
Khushi looked at the paper and then Lavanaya. Her friend was right. How often she had teased Arnavji that he was as much in love with his laptop as her!
‘You tell me then. How to write a mail..’ Khushi pushed away the pen and the paper and looked at Lavanaya.
‘Of course. First lets get a laptop, Ms Khushi Kumari Gupta.’
‘Singh Raizada,’ Khushi murmured getting up to follow Lavanaya.
The phone beeped. It was late. Who could be writing to him at this time, Arnav wondered. Perhaps some overseas clients, he took up the phone with a sigh. His eyes widened with shock as he read the message in the inbox.
Mail from Khushi K. Gupta.
So here it is. A long one to compensate for being late. Yesterday was just not my day!
‘You’ve got mail!!’ to follow. I always found the idea of love letters very romantic. But Lavanaya is also correct. Letters are passe. So I decided let the two of them write mails and sort out the issues. Also I feel with all the tears, emotional baggage, face to face encounters often dont work….
🙂 Enjoy. and write to me so that I can shape up the rest the updates to come. Will update ICHTW by the weekend!