Arshi FF : Without You

without you: chapter 37

ami chitrangada, ami rajendranandini
nohi devi, nohi samanya nari
pujakori more rakhibe urddhe
shey nohi, nohi
hela kori more rakhibe piche,
shey nohi nohi
jadi parshe rakho more, sankate sampade
sammati dao jadi kothin brate sahay hote,
pabe tumi chinite more
i’m chitrangada, the daughter of the king
not a godess, nor an ordinary woman…
that you should worship me and hold me above
i’m not she, not she
that you’ll demean me and keep me behind,
i am not she, not she
if you keep me by your side, in good times and bad
and agree to be with me in tough times
you’ll be able to know me
~~~ rabindranath thakur, shap mochan ~~~
(i have heard and loved this song ever since i was a child… this is my attempt at translating a really rich sounding song, not a great translation but i hope the gist is there.)
found this translation on the net… liked it.
i am chitrangada, the princess
no deity, nor an ordinary woman
not a goddess of worship
not a commoner to be cast behind
but if you accept my rightful place
in peril and in plenty
in trusting companionship
through the penance of suffering
by your side 
you may then realize i for who i am
credit: gitabitan-en.blogspot

khushi lay flat on the green soft slightly damp grass and looked up. high up above, the umbra of the tall tree spread, a lacework of branches and leaves through which the the sun peeped through, a ray or two shooting out at times, dazzling her.

khushi smiled contentedly. arnav ji had gone to work. she had finished packing most of her things, mrs higgs had left a note saying she’d come by tomorrow early morning to say bye, mmm they were going back… khushi stretched her arms enjoying the lazy gently lapping feeling.

she had just fed the ducks, the colourful drakes, the gliding swans and waterfowls at the serpentine a whole lot of bread, they’d looked happy, and now she was lying here under her favourite tree in the park, she’d catch a quick nap and then head back home, arnav ji would be back not too late he had said, the plan was to go for that bus ride she’d demanded and maybe eat out somewhere.

khushi smiled to herself as she drifted off. she loved the slanting rays of the sun, they played with the wrap of cold all around and created ripples of warmth. a child squealed nearby and she turned instinctively to see the little toddler run away from his mother, golden curls tumbled all over his head, his cheeks were so plump khushi’s hands itched to pinch them, his bright blue jacket covered him almost up to his shin, a tiny bundle of energy and wilfulness. his mother chased after him with a wry look.

khushi rolled over with a fuzzy sleepy smile. but, wait, what was arnav ji doing here?

wasn’t he in his office? khushi was surprised, her brow furrowed as she peered to make sure she hadn’t been mistaken.

no, it was him and he was wearing his track pants and tee shirt, not the grey suit he wore when he’d left home a while ago. strange. and why was he jogging so slowly? was he tired? khushi watched unblinking. a sun ray darted out from behind the leaves and caught her eyes. she lost focus for a second… when she looked up, she could clearly see arnav ji but now he was running… fast… very fast.

khushi could hardly breathe.

his hand was outstretched, he seemed to be shouting something… her eyes moved along his arm, what was he racing toward?

it was the child with golden hair and the blue jacket.

the toddler was careening down the winding path leading to one of the gates out of the park! arnav ji was trying to catch him… and she could see the mother running behind them, she was too slow, her son would reach the road any minute now.

khushi’s panicked gaze flew back to the child and arnav ji. the boy went at lightning speed out of the park, onto the pavement and he kept on running.

arnav ji seemed to fly as he tried to catch up.

then before khushi’s horrified gaze something blue appeared… no no it was not the jacket of the boy… it was a huge big blue… metal… monstrous thing… glinting in the sun. a hot june sun. in london? in november?

and arnav ji was pounding down the pavement… his feet barely touched the ground, he arced forward, reaching… stretching… trying to catch the child… but where was the child… and why was the blue big bus turning toward the pavement?

weren’t london buses red????

arnav jiii!

arnav jiii…

he was going to be hit by that big… khushi shuddered, her breath frayed and parted and scattered and tore… nooo!… don’t go there… the sunlight… ask it to stop blinding me… i must stop him, i must…arnav jiii arnav jiii!!

“miss, miss, open your eyes, is everything alright… miss!” the voice was urgent, a hand was on her shoulder, shaking her.

khushi struggled, and tried to get away. she had to save arnav ji.

“arnav jiii!” she screamed again.

“open your eyes, miss…!” again the voice urged. a thick, echoing voice… right at the end of the tunnel. it was so dark in that tunnel…

“arnav jiii, arnav jiii!” khushi flinched as she felt the hand on her shoulder push harder.

why were they trying to stop her?!

“nooo!” she yelled as she reached up and caught hold of the hand and tried to shove it away.

“i have to… i have to get to him!” she whimpered.

“miss, wake up, wake up!!!” someone was shaking her.

she opened her eyes. where was she? who was this man whose face was looming so close above hers. why was he wearing a hat? but where was… where was arnav ji?

khushi looked about dazedly a wildness in her eyes. there was a small circle of people all around… women, a couple of men, children… prams.

but… arnav ji? he’d been running toward that blue bus! had he been hit?

khushi’s face crumpled as tears poured from her eyes and she called out, “arnav ji!”

the policeman who had been stopped by worried passersby to see why the girl lying below the tree was screaming and crying, wondered if this frightened young woman understood english, he had to make sure she was not in any kind of trouble… and get her home maybe. she was not looking well at all.

“arnav jii!” khushi whispered wretchedly. her eyes stared vacantly at the crowd… arnav ji was gone.

“excuse me! please let me through! that’s my wife!” a quick cool voice cut through the unsettled air. heads turned, eyes veered to the man who had just appeared and was swiftly making his way through the circle toward the girl on the grass.

khushi’s eyes widened and turned toward the voice.

she saw his grey creased trouser legs before she saw his dark glittering compelling irises. he was already bending down before her by the time she realised it was him. arnav ji. khushi sobbed uncontrollably when it registered he was here… here… with her. not there. he had not been hit by that bus.

“shh! sh!” he crooned as he cradled her in his arms, “main aa gaya hoon, khushi! i am here… it’s okay!”

(shh! sh! i have come, khushi! i’m here… it’s okay!)

she clung to him, her head rested against his fine wool jacket, her hands roamed over his chest and shoulders, then over his cheeks, his nose, his ears, his hair… yes, it was him… he was alright. asr sat on the grass by her and pulled her close.

“thanks, officer!” he said to the policeman and gave a tight smile all around. it was clear to everyone, the man knew what he was doing and the girl seemed to be fine now, so they moved away. asr took khushi in his his arms and sat still, trying to calm her, calm himself.

he had been disturbed by that call from doctor verma. di’s baby might be alive?

even as the question had begun to form, a terrible feeling had seized him. he could almost see di through the glass panel set in the hospital door as she stared ahead with unseeing eyes, a pair of long sharp scissors clutched in her motionless hand.

he’d been searching for her frantically, she’d left home without telling anyone anything. and now he was practically gawking at her standing in the cold hospital corridor. what was she doing?!!

it had taken him a moment to realise what it was she was planning to do.

di was going to abort her own child. with that… he had perhaps never moved as fast as he had that day.

he had managed to save both di and her child. yet he knew she was perhaps more broken than she’d ever been in her life. he knew he could never make di understand how terrible he felt for parting her from the man she loved… but shyam was vile… vile.

how could he let her be anywhere near di?

and yet, despite all his efforts, everything he’d done, all the decisions he’d taken to keep di and her baby safe… he had not succeeded in doing that ultimately.

di lost her baby. her little princess.

shyam took his own daughter’s life. what had doc said? the nurse had saved a baby whose father wanted it dead.

asr swallowed as a wave of anger and excruciating sadness overwhelmed him. how could a father…?

and gradually, sitting in his office, surrounded by the quiet elegant luxury that spoke of his success, arnav singh raizada felt the sting of failure. utter failure.

he had not been able to save di’s… no, his niece… a member of his family… his mother’s first grandchild. pain gripped his heart, pulled at his diaphragm, tautened his stomach muscles.

he was not a man given to unnecessary sentimentality and he had taught himself to focus on the now and what was to come, solve the next problem, not waste time and resource over what could not be changed, redeemed, regained.

but today… as the mere possibility of his niece being alive set off a current of feelings, he asked himself why… why it was that he had not been able to protect his sister, her child.

what had he done that was wrong?

could it be that his entire thinking on that night… one of the darkest most tumultuous ever, had a flaw at its very base?

he had not thought of khushi.

he had thought she deserved to be hurt… for she was unfaithful.

she was in another’s arms.

he hadn’t thought of how much that hurt him… for he couldn’t.

instead he had let the entire trauma shift… and become a problem he could deal with rationally, using his mind…

far away from his heart…

khushi, he had decided, was a danger to his sister. to her marriage. her happiness.

she would be kept away from shyam. made unavailable to him. he, arnav singh raizada, would marry her instead.

she was the girl he loved.

no, he hated.

and so he had dragged her to a temple.

not thought about khushi… or her feelings.

yes, the very foundation of his strategy to save di’s baby had a ruinous flaw.

he had hurt khushi. not cared for her feelings… so hurt he had been that night.

he felt a curious wall of emotions crash on him and rush down his entire frame at the thought, reaching every extremity and bringing a numbing cold in its wake.

the next instant, he was up and walking out of the office. he called aman and told him curtly to cancel all his evening appointments.

he had to see khushi. now.

he’d called her again and again while driving back. she hadn’t picked up her phone. must be taking a long bath and watching a movie he’d surmised, unconsciously his lips curling in a smile. salman ji or daniel ji, he wondered. when he reached home he raced up the stairs, too impatient to wait for the lift… but she was not at home.

he called again but there was no answer.

although he was sure she was be alright, a fear started to roam his thoughts. what if… something had happened to her? something bad… he remembered that day at the dhaba.. khushi had just disappeared. what if…

asr realised he was beginning to panic and told himself to relax.

he had to find khushi… not waste precious time thinking ridiculous things.

once he had settled his thoughts and centred a bit, he began to feel her sunny, clean presence in him.

yes, he could always feel her in him… more and more. an instinct told him she was alright.

but where was she?

something said, she had to be in the park… either feeding the birds. or lying on the grass under the huge plane tree she had decided was her tree.

he made his way immediately to the park and when he saw the little crowd around her tree, though his hands felt suddenly clammy and cold sweat broke at the nape of his neck, he kept his head, held strong.

no, nothing was wrong with khushi. she was fine.

and now here she was, lying against his chest. there was nothing else in this world he needed really.

“kya hua? were you scared?” he whispered stroking her back, soothing her.

(what’s the matter? were you scared?)

she nodded mutely.

***

“does the future ever scare you, vijay?” anjali asked.

they were having dinner at a new restaurant just opened at the oberoi, on the menu was a spread of south east asian dishes, some familiar, some totally unknown.

anjali had opted for a laksa, vegetarian of course, she wanted to try a noodle soup.

vijay verma went with the familiar… plain steamed rice and chicken rendang, a sort of curry.

the food was delicious, and both were having a great conversation about the latest shenanigans of indian politicians, when suddenly anjali asked the question.

vijay was about to eat a spoonful of the fiery rendang, but he paused and looked up at the words.

scared? why was anjali thinking of that now? was she worried about something?

“scared… no, anjali, not really… actually,” he shrugged, his lips curling a little, “i rarely think of the future… i am here… wherever that is… and it seems alright to me,” he replied in his quiet thoughtful way.

“but you do think of the past, vijay… does that scare you?” anjali’s voice was soft… slightly lost.

vijay verma put the morsel of rendang in his mouth, then replied, “yes… you are right… the past…” nancy was laughing, her arc of perfect teeth gleamed, her eyes crinkled but he could see the laughter bounding in them, her hair flew wild around her head, she cared not for anything but him… nancy…”i do think about it… but no, i don’t think it scares me… not any more…”

anjali sat looking at him, pondering the answer.

“do you realise you have laksa splashed all over your dress?” doctor verma asked, anjali wondered why that simple sentence sounded so good, sent tingles up her spine, was there a little smile in his voice? his gravelly voice… she liked the feel of it. she felt less scared somehow.

“i am scared of the future, vijay…” she murmured…

she checked the front of her white dress, she had stubbornly refused to wear the large bib that had come along with the laksa, and now her beautiful white dress was ruined. blotches of yellow laksa gravy flecked it. she’d dressed with so much care this evening. she’d found this long flowing chiffon gown recently at ar. she felt like wearing something formal other than a saree…  something in her wanted to break out, try the new.

she knew she looked beautiful in the pure soft white, with her hair in a french pleat and elegant clean solitaires on her ears. for a change, her arms were bare, no bangles, no bracelets. of course, she could not wear the sort of high heels she’d have liked to… but she didn’t mind. she just felt happy tonight and as always happened, it automatically had an impact on her walk… the drag becoming far less visible, the lightness in her buoying her along.

now she could feel a slight shiver along her arms as she spoke.

vijay verma set down the spoon he was holding, reached out and held her left hand with his right one.

“anjali, would you let me be part of those fears… maybe i can help lessen them a bit?” he wondered if he sounded corny, then he decided he really didn’t care.

anjali began to smile, her lips stretched to their fullest grin, her eyes sparkled, she wrinkled her nose, then she freed her hand and stroked his hand lightly.

“you sound corny,” she giggled. vijay verma’s dark irises gleamed. he had sounded terrible.

“but… i will accept your offer, dear doc…” anjali said and looked down and blushed.

vijay verma hoped he would not end up hurting her. he remembered the quiet woman in a saree praying at the hospital… something about her had felt strong and yet vulnerable, he had wanted to reach out to her even then.

***

“c’mon, i know what will make you feel absolutely fine,” asr stood up dragging khushi along with him. he didn’t want her to be in this state of mind, obviously she had had a dreadful dream or something, the only thing to do was fight it off and get back to the here and now.

he caught hold of her hand, tucked it in the crook of his elbow and started to stride out of the park… light was falling fast, he wanted to walk her down the long straight majestic stretch of piccadilly before it became dark. there were many distractions along the way to get her mind off things.

khushi walked beside him, still a bit shaken.

as they approached the ritz, something made her look up. from the opposite direction, a tall, beautiful woman in a long dark coat with a wide fur collar was walking, no… gliding… toward them. even without looking at her shoes and bag and jewellery, khushi knew she was wealthy, seriously so… this of course did not bother khushi one bit.

but there was a look in her eyes as she gazed at the man walking beside khushi which did not go down well with her. khushi seethed at that look. how dare…

instinctively, she snuggled closer to arnav ji and let her other hand come up and settle on his arm. possessively. some might say, very possessively.

asr had noticed the stunning woman of course, but when he felt khushi’s hand on his arm, he turned to her with alacrity. next instant, his lopsided smile had come on, then an eyebrow went up and he winked.

what the. khushi gasped slightly, though her eyes were beginning to twinkle.

“jealous?” he whispered close to her ears, nuzzling, kissing the lobe, sending shivers and goosebumps all over her.

from the corner of her eyes, khushi could see the woman was still looking at them as she got into her fancy car.

khushi turned her head and kissed him quckly on his lips, smiling all the while.

“bilkul bhi nahin, laad governor, aap jaiye uss chudail ke paas…” she muttered sweetly.

(not at all, lord governor, go to that witch…)

asr threw his head back and laughed at that.

the woman who had started to get into her car looked up startled and stared at him…

khushi muttered, “baal noch loongi!”

(i’ll pull her hair out!)

asr caught her by the arm and propelled her away, he knew she was totally ready for what he had in mind.

“like it?” he asked looking at her mesmerised face a few minutes later.

khushi was staring at a steaming cup brimming with hot chocolate… she had just taken the first sip of her godiva chocolate drink… everything seemed to be melting and flowing in her… the chocolate taste was endless and khushi couldn’t even form any thoughts in her head because everything seemed to have shut down, all she felt was chocolate…

“mmm,” she moaned.

asr tried to hide his smile. the hot chocolate at the regent street shop of godiva was spectacular according to di and he knew khushi would love it. now his jhalli filmi wife was going into one of her exaggerated, over the top mind states. good, he was pleased she was out of that mood that had gripped her earlier.

“aaah!” khushi sighed.

then she shook her head and said, “nanhe ji ko kitna pasand ayega!”

(nanhe ji will like it so much!)

“nanhe ji?!” asr was incredulous, “why are you talking about nk, of all people, now!!”

“why not? hum kyun nahin nanhe ji talking? only laad governor talking… why?” khushi was quick to retort.

(why not? why can’t i talk about nanhe ji? only talk about lord governor… why?)

then she leaned close to him, let her eyebrows leap up and down a couple of times, gave an ingratiating sticky sweet smile and asked archly, “jealous?”

asr made a sad face and nodded, while a laugh pummeled his jugular. khushi gave a triumphant smile and ducked into her delicious hot chocolate.

when she’d finished it, she gave a small satisfied burp, wiped her mouth with the tissue, then looked at him from below her lashes.

what was this new game, asr wondered.

when she dashed into him and held his arm tightly, he was completely unprepared, the next thing, her eyes were filling with tears and she was saying in a voice about to break, “kahiye, aap humey chhorke kahin nahin jaayenge, kabhi nahin jayenge, jai devi maiyya ki, hum aap ke bina nahin jee payenge!!”

(say, you never leave me ever and go away, ever, hail devi maiyya, i won’t be able to live without you!!)

he could see she was badly shaken, that dream was still in her somewhere.

he drew her into his arms and stroked her hair, “look up,” he said, “look at me…” she turned her head up, “if you try to get rid of me also i will not go… ever… never… samjhi tum?”

(d’you understand?)

khushi swallowed and gave a little nod, chocolate seemed to melt and flow in her again, his eyes were mesmerising.

***

“jiji, rajkumar nahin chahiye humey!” khushi may have been only nine but her voice sounded quite sure.

(jiji, i don’t want a prince!)

“why, khushi?!” payal asked her young sister, curious as to what had made her say this. they were playing with their dolls and khushi had just sent her doll off to college to become a doctor. she was very fond of their doctor chacha and so had decided this would be a good profession for her.

preeto, khushi’s best friend, was aghast. she wanted her doll to learn kathak dancing and cooking so that when the rajkumar came she was all ready to be a good wife.

payal was mystified… what did dancing have to do with being a good wife? but being older than the two girls, she’d determined to take a wise view of things as suited those who were older, so she nodded and pretended to get the point.

however, when khushi rejected what had been the customary desire of all good girls or so one was always told… payal was dumbstruck.

not want rajkumar? then what would a girl want? after all, to meet a handsome prince like man and marry him, isn’t that what it was all about?

growing up a girl in a complex culture with ancient roots is never an easy thing. so many ideas and expectations heaped upon you even before you’ve learned to think… to be.

and yet, little khushi seemed to have a definite opinion on the issue.

“i don’t want this rajkumar to come and take me away from all of you… amma, babu ji, bua ji, you, jiji… my family… i am going nowhere. nahi chahiye… hum khud sab kuchh kar sakte hain… !”

(i don’t want this rajkumar to come and take me away from all of you… amma, babu ji, bua ji, you, jiji… my family… i am going nowhere. don’t want… i can do everything by myself…!)

“khushi, don’t be silly, girls have to marry… have babies… don’t you know this much even… aamir khan is my boyfriend na, i will marry him when i grow up, haan!” preeto said shaking her head knowingly, a cute little slightly precocious girl with two tight plaits.

payal said, “dhut! silly girl… you can’t marry a film star… “

khushi cut in, “then how can you marry a rajkumar? he will always be in a crown, sitting on a horse… nahin chaiye!”

“okay okay, maharani ji,” payal gave up, “don’t marry the rajkumar, marry the shaitan… theek hai?” she smiled sweetly.

(okay okay, her highness the queen, don’t marry the prince, marry the devil… okay?)

“shaitan ko main dara doongi!” chortled khushi jumping up and down, as she ran around the room holding her doll aloft… apparently, her doll was flying from lucknow to far away london to study medicine.

(i’ll scare the devil…!)

***

payal was lying in bed, smiling… for no reason. these days she found herself doing that all the time. she stroked the bulge in her middle and crooned gently, “chhotu ji… how are you… want to hear a song? who are you? a prince or a princess? c’mon tell me… it’ll be our secret…”

“hmm dreaming of prince or princess, again?” akash walked in and sat beside his wife. she began to sit up, he stopped her and pulled her into his arms instead…

“what if, mrs akash singh raizada, your chhotu ji turned out to be a real shaitan?!” he pulled her leg.

(what if, mrs akash singh raizada, your little one turned out to be a little devil!)

“chhi! does anyone even say such a thing… bua ji would have yelled ‘hai re nand kissore’ and sasu ma would have…” payal stopped mid sentence… oh no, what was she about to say. making fun of her mother in law… oh no… payal grimaced.

akash’s myopic gaze had focussed suddenly. he went still. payal was all ready to apologise, when he started guffawing, “madam ji, your chhotu will be a shaitan… you mark my words…”

he looked at his befuddled wife’s face and decided he really needed to kiss her right then. he began to inch closer, eyes teasing, a smile played on his lips… his arm went tighter around her.

payal squirmed. she wanted him to kiss her, but the door was…

“payal bhabi, dinner is served,” said op in english.

akash swore under his breath and let payal go hastily.

op turned away, a funny smile on his face… chhotey sahib would never have let khushi bhabi go like that if he had walked in on them, he thought. and giggled sharply once. then he set his face and looked very serious as he walked away.

***

mrs higgs had come and gone. khushi felt sad watching the diminutive woman walk away. she had been kind to her. told her about so many things. most of all, not to worry, she would be fine, she would be able to manage london on her own.

this morning, she’d come with a bunch of sprightly daisies for khushi. seems a neighbour of hers was a florist and had sold these off season usually very expensive flowers to her at a discounted rate. nothing pleased mrs higgs more than to get a price off. in this matter, she was exactly like the young woman she had grown fond of over the past couple of weeks.

mrs higgs told khushi to take good care of mr raizada, he worked too hard, and she hoped they would be back soon.

khushi hugged the older woman and said to her to take care of herself, she was leaving all the spices behind, so if aunty mary wanted to cook a curry for herself sometimes, she was most welcome to do so.

now khushi was standing at the bedroom window looking out at the scenery before her. while she was really happy to be going back home, a sadness overwhelmed her. she and arnav ji and this little home of theirs…

it was almost seven in the morning. they had to leave in less than fifteen minutes. arnav ji wanted to start early, that way they wouldn’t get into delhi too late at night. it would be almost midnight by the time they reached…

she turned around all set to go and make sure she had taken everything. that’s when she saw him.

he was standing a few feet away from her… wearing a pair of trousers. and nothing else.

khushi drew in a breath sharply, eyes widening.

what was arnav ji doing?

he took a step forward. as if on autopilot, her right foot went backward. one step. he prowled closer,  a step forward… her left foot fled to take that backward step. her breath started getting thick and fast… there was that look in his eyes, she never could stay in control of the butterflies in her stomach when he… when he…

he took another step.

khushi went back… and her back came up against the window. cold hard glass.

she couldn’t move back any further.

a little smile began in dark watchful eyes and made their way to the lips… fine sculpted lips, their maddening slanting smile… or was it a smirk?

khushi swallowed hard… her pupiss were dilated, her breathing strained…

“ugh umm fghdn…” she had no idea what she was trying to say.

without giving her a chance to think too much, he took one last smooth step and the next thing she knew he was lifting her up in his arms and walking toward the bed.

“arnav ji! what are you doing?” she whispered, a dizzy headiness taking over.

“what… do you think i am doing?” brown eyes twinkled.

but she was gaping at his bare torso.

khushi searched frantically for words, then managed, “but… but… we’ll get late…!”

“late?” he looked amused “um… i won’t take that long… unless,” and a wretched eyebrow climbed, “you want me to…”

khushi choked, “the plane…”

asr nodded, “uh huh… the plane… ?”

“captain raina… departure time…” it was becoming hard to say anything, to concentrate…

“khushi, ” asr murmurred against her throat, “the plane belongs to me. i decide when we fly… and i have just decided, we’ll leave at noon… sharp,” he bit her on her neck. khushi shuddered and threw her arms around him, jerking him close.

***

asr sat in the plane quietly working on his laptop.

he would meet doctor verma the next day and have a word with the nurse…

“khushi,” he said without looking up.

she had been staring at the dark skies outside looking for stars… sometimes she could see some…

“devi maiyya, aap ko vilayat kaisa laga… humey bahut accha laga, hai na? you didn’t suffer too much because of the cold i hope… now we’ll go home and i will make sure you get some sun, feel warm and happy again, though dilli’s winter is also very cold, but…” khushi was speaking to her goddess silently when he called out her name.

(devi maiyya, how did you like london? i really liked it, isn’t it?)

his voice felt different. khushi turned and said, “what’s the matter, arnav ji, is everything alright?” she reached out and grasped his hand.

asr smiled at that, then said, “i don’t know… doctor verma called…”

“why? is everything okay? di?” khushi asked quickly.

“mmm… i don’t know… there’s a nurse in his hospital… and a rumour about a baby being saved by her… she used to work in holy family till recently…” asr was looking at his laptop while he spoke.

khushi knew exactly what this might mean and she could tell he was troubled. there was such extreme uncertainty… one didn’t even know if it were in any way realistic or even sensible to harbour a hope. the words unsettled her too.

“don’t worry, arnav ji… i know, you will do what needs to be done in the right way…” khushi said simply and squeezed his hand…

then unable to contain a wave of excitement, she squealed, “uff, agar yeh di ki rajkumari hui… arnav ji, aap ki bhanji… meri bhi…!!!” she closed her eyes in glee, hands tightly fisted, “arnav ji, do miracles like this happen…??!!”

(ufff, if this is di’s little princess… arnav ji, your niece… and mine…!!!)

***

arnav singh raizada was still deep in work when his wife woke up abruptly next to him.

“kkgsr’s meetha karela!” she said dreamily.

(kkgsr’s sweet bitter gourd)

“what the!” asr looked at her bewildered. now what.

“haan!” khushi was bright and chirpy, no sign of the deep sleep of the past five hours anywhere near her. asr waited.

“haan… that’s the name… of my mithai shop… arnav ji,” her tone went all serious and earnest, “you’ve always told me to do something with my life… dhang ka… remember?… so i will use my skills…” now a self satisfied air was seeping in, “babu ji says, after him, i am the best mithai maker he knows… so…” a theatrical pause, “i shall open a shop to sell mithai…”

“uh huh!” asr waited patiently. his mind said “ajeeb,” then “unbelievable,” then “paagal.” a sweet shop that would be called sweet bitter gourd.

(strange… mad)

“aapne nahin poochha meetha karela kyun.” she asked with her most ingratiating smile and simpering look…

(you didn’t ask, why sweet bitter gourd.)

he asked “kyun?” and thought “paagal kar degi mujhe.”

(why?) (she’ll drive me mad.)

“because it’s going to have sweets for people who are bitter… like you…” she poked him in the ribs in an irritating chummy sort of way.

asr wanted to scream “shut up!”… he was in the middle of something, but she was looking so happy…

“for diabetics, mr arnav sigh raizada… diabetics… samjhe aap? ” she grinned widely, “haan, delhi’s best shop for sweets for everyone, even those who can’t eat sweets… kaisa laga aapko idea? businessman ki biwi hoon, mujhe bhi aata hai to come up with an idea that sells, ji, sells…!”

(how do you like the idea? i am a business man’s wife after all, i also know how to come up with an idea that sells, sir, sells…)

asr remembered the wonderful jalebis and halwas and kheers she made for him. all sugar free. safe for him. for a moment he was almost jealous… he didn’t want to share that with every diabetic person in delhi. what nonsense dammit.

“it’s a great idea, khushi kumari gupta singh raizada… that name though…” he scratched his head and grinned, “but don’t make the jalebis for everyone!”

“haw!” khushi exclaimed… “i know what you’re thinking of…”

asr’s eyes gleamed for an instant.

“and you’re making fun of me…” khushi’s eyes flashed, her pompoms danced, she made a face at him, “i don’t need you… i can do it by myself…! huh!”captain raina announced he was commencing descent just then.

khushi looked shattered, grabbed asr’s hand, sat down quickly and shut her eyes, her stomach flipped and went empty… “hey devi maiyya, raksha karna…” she started muttering and praying.

asr looked at his wife’s scrunched up, eyes shut tight visage and wondered from where this bundle of madness had dropped into his swimming pool. he believed he made his own life but sometimes life walked in on him and tossed surprises he’d never ever have imagined possible.

INDEX

without you chapter 38

 

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