“Ha..Lakshmiji aur us laad governor ki… sab unki galati hai. Everything is their fault. Na toh Lakshmiji aap beech mein aati na toh hum takrate aur na toh.. What does he think of himself?“
Khushi Kumari Gupta put down Lakshmiji, who had been busy with leaves and Khushi’s hair, and sat down on the stairway. Her bright blue kurti with it silver and gold trimmings was the color of the ocean on a bright sunny day. With it she wore a darker blue dupatta, the color of the deepest unexplored crevices of that ocean. Lakshmiji had managed to loosen Khushi’s prudish braid, so a few strands had escaped their confines and flowed gaily framing her beautiful face.
Her cheeks were still flushed. She still could hear her heart beating fast..dhak dhak .. She pressed her palm where she knew her heart thudded, and willed it to slow down.. dhak dhak dhak..
hey devi maiyya.. why did he have to stand so close? Why did it feel like she was breaking some unwritten rule? Then why did it feel so right still? dhak dhak dhak..She remembered every detail of his face. The way his eyes pierced as if looking into her most secret thoughts. Wanting an answer from her. How his lip dragged down towards the right, a telltale sign he was worried. How his strong fingers had rested on her arm.
She raised her hand, in a trance, and lightly let it curl around the same spot on her hand where moments ago his fingers had rested. Her skin tingled of a touch it sorely seemed to miss.
“Maee“, unaware of Khushi’s state of heart, Lakshmiji was trying to continue a conversation with her playmate. But Khushi was not in the mood. “All because of you Lakshmiji.. hmphh.. I fall all the time. pata nai why such things keep happening only to me? But, they do. unhe kya faraq padta hai?“, she thought a little subdued, but slowly regaining back her usual chirpiness.
“lakshmiji I will not talk to you and Arnavji.. Ha yehi thik rahega. I shouldn’t have agreed to what Anjaliji was saying. Devi maiyya aap toh janti hain only because jiji and Aakashji would be so happy it is okay to let Arnavji pretend he lov. mmm.. mera matlab.. To let him tell mamiji wo sab“.
Khushi pursed her lips in irritation. “Really if it was such a crazy idea then why couldn’t he say no to Anjaliji? jab zarurat thi why had he not used his scary face? If he had not said no, why should I? humein koi farak nai padta” Khushi reasoned with herself.
She remembered how Aakashji had stopped her before she went home the previous night. He had looked worried so she hadn’t teased him, but she could not resist teasing her jiji when she handed her his letter. How pretty jiji looked blushing while reading Aakashji’s letter.
Khushi sat grinning, lost in her world. She wondered what was in that letter. An audible sigh escaped her. Would someone ever write her a letter, she longingly wondered.
Smack went her palm and hit her forehead. “Khushi tu bilkul paagal hai, no wonder buaji calls you sankadevi. You did not ask Arnavji what happened with mamiji. devi maiya I even shouted at him. humara gussa he should not take out on poor mamiji. Please raksha karna.” Quickly her hands went up and down in prayer.
Manorma Raizada was all business like, deep in thought, eating peanuts off a plate, when her mother-in-law came and sat down next to her. Visibly glad to see her sasuma for once, Manorma perked up. “Sasuma happy newj.. humaar Arnav bitwa.. oo phati saree.. matlab Khoosie Kumari Gupta ke.. Kumari Gupta se married Raizada banane ka pilanning karat hai“.
(Sasuma good news. Our Arnav bitwa wants to marry Khushi Kumari Gupta. He is planning to make her Mrs Raizada from Ms Gupta).
She was most surprised by Deviyani Raizada’s reaction. “jinko jo marzi so karat hai. This cannot happen here. Khushi bitiya is very dear to me, but as a buhuriya? ee humne socha naahi hain. ka aap jaanat hai ki oo humare ghar ka, chote ka khayal rakh payengi? To come and teach, Khushi bitiya did it perfectly, but to stay here? humka ee thik naahi laagat hai. aur chote.. kabhi kahat hai shaadi nahi nani.. kabhi Miss Kasyap.. And today Khushi bitiya? He does whatever he wants. I need time to know she will indeed be suitable for him.“
(Everyone is doing as they please. I have not thought about making her a daughter-in-law of this house. Do you know if she can take care of the house, of chote? I do not like it. Sometimes he says no to marriage, sometimes it is Ms kasyap and today khushi?)
“aur Manorma .. You don’t go helping Khushi bitiya, jaisan aapne Miss Kasyap ke help ki.” Having said what she had to Deviyani Raizada did not stay behind to hear anything else. She determinedly walked away.
“ee saasuma bhi na saara happy momentwa ke sad karne ma mahir hain. hum kahe naat helpingj ? hum jarure helpingj phatee saree ke. phir saasuma ke eyej openingj phor phatee saree. Ikdum bestwa bahuriya material howat hai. ka ka karike pari is ghar ma humka.. ” Manorma also left the hall with a wide smile on her face. She had a brilliant plan. All she needed to do was find phatee saree.
(Sasuma has a habit of turning all happy moments into sad ones. Why won’t I help. I will definitely help phatee saree. And then saasuma will knoe she is the best daughter-in-law material. What all I have to do in this household!)
ASR sat immersed in the documents Aman had mailed him this morning. The poolside provided a welcome respite from the heat outside. The tress cast a cool shade near the edge of the pool, while the shallow water within it glimmered from the sun rays falling on it.
He looked up when he heard the familiar sound of her approaching. Her numerous bangles, tassels on her kurti, dupatta, hair, right down to the elegant silver payals, he knew she must be wearing, all signaled her arrival. She was carrying a tray with a coffee mug on it.
Using her chirpiest voice Khushi started, “Coffee for you Arnavji“. His face gave away his disbelief. Eyes narrowed, he frowned,”Coffee.. For me? tumne kuch milaya hai isme? What are you doing Khushi?“.
“Haw“, she exclaimed, her mouth wide open into a perfect round ‘O’. How dare that laad governor insinuate she had mixed something in his coffee. Perhaps that is what she should have done. Poisoned him. She glared at him.
Then just as suddenly her face softened. She could not get angry with Arnavji right now. Focus Khushi, she berated herself. “I brought you coffee Arnavji. No sugar. Lijiye na.“
“waise now that you are distracted from work hum soch rahe the, what happened with mamiji? Did you talk to her?” She tried her best to give her most innocent look while asking. She hoped he would directly tell her what she wanted to know even though she had walked away leaving him angry after their collision.
He, however, seemed to have other plans. Pushing aside the table he stood up. “So you remembered to be nice to me. subah jab tum bina sorry boli chali gayi then what happened? bhool gayi thi tum.. hmm?“.
His eyes were not scary. But, they had a tenderness that made it difficult for her to look towards him. It made her feel all sort of things she had no name for. It was also the only place she wanted to look into. She seemed to forget why she would want to look away. He kept moving forward.
“dekhiye aa.. aap na..” She raised her finger in a failed attempt to keep him away.
“ha m.. main na.. what?” he moved closer. An intoxicating mirth clearly reflecting in his dark captivating eyes. A hint of suppressed laughter in him.
She took a step backward. Breath refusing to leave her. He seemed to glide forward. With each faltering step that she took back, she seemed to draw him closer. She moved back till there was no back left to go. His gaze lingered on her face, caressing and scorching at the same time. “aa.. Arnavji?“, she bravely breathlessly whispered. Part of her was still unsure why she needed to object when this closeness felt absolutely scarily wonderful.
“hmm? “.. His eyes had now travelled downwards and were fixed upon her trembling lips. Unhurried, confident, with full right he raised his hand to touch her..”aap.. What are you doing?“. She was in panic. Hypnotized by the searing sensation of his finger stroking her temple. Involuntarily her eyes fluttered, as she lost herself in his touch, but immediately opened at the loss of contact from him.
His fingers had moved to her hair. She watched mesmerized as his hand moved behind her ear and slowly a sinuous curving of those lips. His hand came down. In it.. a single leaf!
“Your friend left this for you Ms Khushi Kumari Gupta. Both of you are absolutely alike”. He was clearly smirking now as he took her hand in his and left the leaf in it. Then he placed his finger on her slightly gaping lips. “dono ka muh band hi nahin hota.“
She felt her heart flip. He took a step back.
The rebellious part in her cried out at the distance. He gave her one long look. Then he turned and took a few steps away from her. She brought up her shivering hand, placed it on her thumping, stuttering, hyperventilating heart in an attempt to calm down. hey devi maiyya raksha karna.
ASR stopped. Without completely turning, with just his head angled towards her and a cool smile he stated calmly, “Relax Khushi. Everything went well. I told mamiji..“.
Still disorientated by the effect he had on her, she heard herself ask, “kya?”
This time he turned around and faced her. Then holding her gaze, with a tender thoughtful look, purposefully he walked towards her. She held her breath. Expectant. Nervous of what he had to say. No idea why it felt exciting.
“I want to marry you.“
She could not bring herself to say anything. Her astonished eyes, remained unblinking, dazed. He turned and left, leaving Khushi clutching her frantically beating heart.. dhak dhak dhak..
While two hearts beat furiously near the poolside, in the passage outside a slightly lost forlorn lover was interrupted in his reverie. “Aakash aap bhi na… Why are you sad. Become happy now. Everything is falling into place.” Before Anjali’s words could sink in an even stranger sight greeted Aakash.
“bhai you are smiling? Is everything okay?“
ASR had just left the clearly shaken Khushi who looked lovely with her nose all red. He had not stopped his stray smile in time and Aakash had spotted it.
“ha chote you are smiling?“. Anjali’s question had a teasing tone which ASR immediately caught on. “di don’t start again. It is nothing like that“. Anjali’s laughter rang out. “Like what chote? I did not say anything about this mysteriousthat“.
He rolled his eyes and gave up. ASR walked away concealing his smile as best he could. There was lightness in the winds of Shantivan and he found himself flying with it, carefree.
“devi maiyya aap kya kar rahi hain?” Khushi rushed away from the pool talking to herself, “It is all Lakshmiji’s fault.. wo.. Why stand so close.. That leaf.. My heart.. kyu? .. His smile..“
Out of nowhere a woman bedecked with heavy gold jewelry descended upon her.
“Lakshmi.. phatee saree.. tumko oo miss call ke take caring karike pari“.
(You need to take care of Lakshmi.)
“huh.. kyu mamiji?“, asked a clueless Khushi.
“sasuma ke heart par kabja ka idea by Manorma mami.” In her excitement mami had raced ahead with her plan to make Khushi win the old lady’s heart. Of course, she did not stop to actually explain what and why of her plan to Khushi.
(Manorma mami has an idea to win saasuma’s heart.)
“lekin naniji has always liked me… par.. why are you worried whether naniji ko hum pasand hai ya nahi?“
“becoj I caringj phor Arnav bitwa underistandingj phatee saree? Now only hearing no isspeaking.“
(BecauseI care for Arnav bitwa. Do you understand? Now only listen and don’t talk.)
Khushi’s bewilderment was replacement with irritation as soon as she heard the name of the man who was doing all sorts of things to her heart. “Arnavji.. humein unki koi baat nahi karni.. Aakashji kitne achche hai.. He cares for everyone not like that .. that rakshas.“
“Hello hi bye bye..oo rakhsas.. eej mom inside ma“.
“mom?”, Khushi was getting more and more confounded by the conversation.
“arre phatee saree, mother India wala mom naahi.. mom batti wala mom.. candlej..“
“huh?“. The conversation was making no sense to the already very distracted girl.
“oh ho phatee saree oo Arnav bitwa ke heart..jor se dhak dhakaying. baat samajh mein ayi ki naahi?“
(Arnav bitwa’s heart beats. Understood?)
Huh? Khushi only heard one thing.. His heart.. dhak dhak too.. He never told her.. And what did any of this have to do with Lakshmiji.. Her head was spinning.
“mamiji I think hum paagal ho re hain.. I should go home.. and eat.. nai sleep.. no no he will be back in my dreams..“. She scurried towards the door, the leaf safely held in her hand, with mami close behind. “hey devi maiyya what will I do?” Ignoring all the confusion, her heart continued joyously.. dhak dhak.. dhak dhak..
Close by, two delighted woman fi fived each other.
“This is going exactly as planned nani“. Anjali was all smiles.
“Haan Anjali bitiya, I will get not one, but two bahuriyas. A little ‘no’ from me and even your mami is now helping bring Khushi bitiya and chote together. ab Aakash aur chote ko kono baat ki takleef naahi satayegi“.
She could almost see her smiling daughter in front of her carrying her small smiling boy in her arms. Deviyani Raizada’s first grandson. She had tried her best to shield chote from the unpleasantness, but very soon she had realized that he would be the one taking care of her and the family, not the other way round. Ratna bitiya would have been so proud of the man her little boy had grown up to be.
Deviyani Raizada did not believe in living in the past. She gave a gentle smile. “I have always wanted to see Khushi bitiya become a part of chote’s life. She will be able to handle his anger and keep him safe. Your ma, chote’s ma, my dear bitya would have liked her bahuriya a lot. Khushi bitiya hai hi aisan. She wins everyones hearts.“
Anjali rushed to hug the old lady, her nani, who had been there for her and chote. The two women let the hug last longer than usual, drawing comfort from each other, still mending the hollow parts of having tragically lost someone extremely dear.
Finally, Anjali looked at deviyani raizada with sparkling eyes, “par nani, ab kya? what will be do next?“.
With a bright smile that reached upto her aged wise eyes nani prophesied confidently, “chote and Khushi bitya will do everything. Love has the power to move mountains. And for any small stones in their way aapki Manorma mami hai na.“