non nobis solum nati sumus.
not for ourselves alone are we born.
~~~ marcus tullius cicero ~~~
fairy lights glimmered. the sound of shehnai floated through the halls and corridors and reached the lawns outside. there were people everywhere. sheesh mahal glowed and shone in the dusk.
anjali and doctor verma had wanted a simple registration followed by a private blessing ceremony. khushi had felt a little let down by that. it meant there would be no sangeet, haldi, roka, shagun, nothing… none of the customs that she was so fond of. and she had also wanted to go shopping with di and jiji, buy all sorts of things, get a lehenga for roshni. roshni might be just a year and a half old but she was already showing signs of being a girl, one who loved to dress up. she wanted khushi’s bindi all the time and her mother had to hide the glass bangles from the energetic and determined young child who kept finding her way to the bangle rack.
asr had looked most relieved at the decision and was about to say that would be great when nani ji had interrupted.
khushi smiled to herself remembering her dear grandmother in law’s words.
“damad ji,” she had said standing up and going over to sit by doctor verma in the drawing room, “hum jaantey hain ki aap aur anjali bitiya sochat hai ki ee aap logon ke dwitiya shadi hai… this should be done in a simple and modest way. i appreciate your point of view, par hum bade hain, hum kuch kahna chahte hain… woh sunne ke baad aap jaisan chahe waisan hi kijiyega.”
(damad ji, i know this is your and anjali’s second marriage so you think it should be done in a simple modest way. i appreciate your point of view, but as an elder, there’s something i want to say. after hearing that, do as yo think is right.)
she’d paused and smiled at vijay verma looking him fully in the eye, taking her time to say the next words.
“zindagi mein sab sanjog ki baat hoti hai… kahan kaun kaise hume miley, humari duniya mein aaye, yeh janna mushkil hai… jis din humare chhotey ki woh accident hui aur phir woh coma mein chale gaye, kya hum kabhi soche the ki wahan pe bhi ek aashirwad tha, ek ahsaan uparwale ka… aap aayen humare sansar mein… you gave me back my grandson…” tears danced at the rim of devyani singh raizada’s eyes, but she managed to keep them from falling down.
(in life, it’s all a matter of connections… where and who we meet and how, who comes into our world, it’s hard to know… the day chhotey had his accident and then he went into a coma, had we even remotely thought even in that there is a blessing, a kindness from the one above… you came into our world… you gave me back my grandson…)
vijay verma had reached out and covered her hand with his.
“and then i saw how my bitiya’s life changed because of you… aur roshni… uss nanhi si jaan ko bhi toh aap ne hi wapas laya humari zindagi mein…” nani ji lifted her hand and gently touched vijay verma’s cheek.
(and i saw how my granddaughter’s life changed because of you… and roshni… you also brought that innocent little child back to us…)
no one had regarded him with such tenderness in years, doctor verma stared at the elderly lady, feeling moved and perhaps a bit silly. a renowned doctor in his mid forties was now feeling like a kid almost in front of this gracious lady.
“humney bahut dukh dekhe hain jeevan mein, beta…” nani ji had said quietly, “aur isse hum ek baat seekhen hain, agar khushiyaan aaye, usse apnao… aur poori tarah se manao… this is a blessing, celebrate it with joy, with gratitude… hum lukhnow ke hain, aur wahan humari nati aur natin ke ghar bhi hai… jahan se ek din hum sab ne bahut kuchh khoya tha. kyun na wahin jaakar hum issbar khushiyaan le aaye? it is only a request, not a command. there is no need to observe all the customs if you and anjali don’t wish to, but have a wedding in sheesh mahal. let the light shine there again…”
(i have seen much sadness in life, son… and from this i have learned one thing, if happiness comes, own it… and completely celebrate it… this is a blessing, celebrate it with joy, with gratitude. we are from lucknow and my granddaughter and grandson have a house there as well. from there we’ve lost a lot… why not go there and bring back happiness instead? it is only a request, not a command. there is no need to observe all the customs if you and anjali don’t wish to, but have a wedding in sheesh mahal. let the light shine there again…)
asr had started at that and looked like he was about to protest. khushi had looked at him and fervently hoped he wouldn’t say anything, not just yet… not till he had had time to think.
when she had walked into their bedroom later, she’d found him pacing restlessly, a grim expression on his face.
he had noticed her walking in and promptly left the room, going out to the poolside. khushi wished she could talk to him, but she had known it was best not to crowd him right then.
arnav ji was hurting. she would wait for him to come to her. at last he had walked back into the room and sat on the bed, next to her, as she lay there. he had held her hand and said nothing. after a while khushi had pulled him to lie down next to her, lying behind him, she had put her arms around him and held him close.
the next morning when he’d woken up, there were dark circles around his eyes.
“roshni ke liye hum lehenga kharidna chahte,” khushi had said with a little moue while combing her hair, hoping to get him to say something, feel a little better.
(i want to buy a lehenga from roshni!)
he was besotted with his niece. she was allowed to do things no child had ever dared to do. like chewing his tie while he carried her. he would give the faintest of smiles, his eyes sparkling as he said, “what the! how come you like bina shakkar tie, rosh, maybe you are going to be like me… smart girl!” or some such thing. he’d loft her high and make her chortle, then calmly change his tie and leave for work or wherever he was going.
(how come you like sugarless tie…)
a spray of water from khushi’s hair had fallen all over his face and chest as she’d spoken. usually that got a very swift reaction from him. but he hadn’t moved, hadn’t responded.
that evening anjali had come and sat with asr as he drank his coffee by the pool.
“chhotey,” anjali had said sounding hesitant, lost, “vijay… says he doesn’t mind doing as nani ji has asked… but how do you feel about it? hum jaantey hain, yeh tumhare liye bahut mushkil hai… humare liye bhi… aur…”
(i know, this is very hard for you… for me too… and…)
“di,” his voice was husky and low, “maa would have liked it…”
khushi had heard the words and felt tears spring to her eyes. she had walked out to join them. he’d looked up at her, his eyes full of such a deep emotion… and trust, as though she was the only one who would understand, she had walked quickly to him and stood quietly by his side. di was staring at her brother, immersed in thought…
now khushi looked around at the gardens and the hall behind her, everything was so beautiful and joyous. apart from lights everywhere, there were flowers, magnificent streamers of fresh flowers decorating every nook cranny and pillar. large globes of red roses hung from the ceiling… chandeliers picked their reflections and gleamed with a reddish hue. the shehnai sounded pensive and very wedding like. khushi felt a little tearful… now di would move out of shantivan and rashmi too.
well, at least azad singh raizaa ji would still be there, to play with, to cuddle, to spoil. jiji had had a long labour, it had been extremely painful, but what a delight her nephew had turned out to be and only a month old, he had actually held his own bottle just yesterday for almost ten minutes. she was sure he was going to be a genius… after all who was his maasi and who was her laddooo jaan.
“hey devi maiyya,” she whispered, “aap ka lakh lakh shukar… aaj sab theek se ho jaaye, bas! hum bade bade balushahi ke bhog chadhaenge kal… aur ek baat hai, hum sirf do din ke liye chiriya wali mandir mein upwaas karenge, aap humare ‘main bhagwan ko nahin maanta arnav ji’ ko sambhal lenge na? sirf do din… achha achha theek hai, ek din.. theek hai? deal?… hayee, yeh maine kya keh diya… inke saath rehte rehte humara bhi bheja…”
(hey devi maiyya, many thanks to you… let everything go well today, that’s all! i’ll offer you large balushais tomorrow… and there’s one more thing, i want to fast for two days only at the chiria wali temple, you’ll manage my ‘i don’t believe in god arnav ji’, won’t you? just two days. okay, okay, one day. that okay? deal? oh no, what did i say now.. living with that man i have also lost my mind…)
“khushi, who re you talking to?” asr asked coolly, sauntering up to her. he had a feeling he knew. she was about to say something when she looked up and saw him and almost collapsed.
he was wearing a black galaband jacket with a pair of black trousers cut like jodhpurs, loose at the top, narrow and snug knee downward. sleek black shoes covered his feet. his hair was brushed back neatly and gelled. dan ji had just given it a cut and it sat close to his perfectly shaped skull, the widow’s peak accentuated. an aroma of oranges and cloves and something else floated around him. in his button hole was a single deep red rose bud.
how handsome was her husband…
she closed her eyes suddenly and started muttering, “aise nahin ki woh itne handsome nahin hone se hum unse pyaar nahin karte, par hey devi maiyya, inki raksha karna, aur inhen mat pata chalne dena hum kya soch rahe hain!”
( it’s not that if he hadn’t been so handsome i wouldn’t have loved him, but hey devi maiyya, protect him, and don’t let him know what i am thinking!)
“kya hua? khushi ulajh gayee?” he asked with a tender caress and a goading in his voice. his words reminded her of the day she’d gotten entangled in fairylights very foolishly and he had come and slowly, carefully removed the lights. his nearness had had an indelible affect on her, even now her breath went awry when she thought of that day.
(what happened? khushi got entangled?)
she shivered a little and her eyes flew open.
before her was a lopsided grin and twinkling brown eyes. he bent down thrusting his face close to her and gazed at her through half closed eyes, “waise iss laal aur blue lehenga mein tum utni bhi buri nahin lag rahi ho! not bad, mrs khushi kumari gupta singh raizada,” he murmured, then without warning, kissed her hard on the lips.
(you’re not looking to bad in this red and blue lehenga!)
khushi almost jumped back when he let go, “arnav ji! there are people everywhere!”
“so what, biwi ho tum meri… dammit,” he said softly, enjoying her discomfiture and her blushing.
(so what, you’re my wife dammit.)
“by the way, don’t think i didn’t see you flirting with yosel!” he was laughing…
khushi fumed. was he laughing at her?
“aaah ha ha ha, jaise maine nahin dekha.. aap kya kar rahein the… tsering ke saath… aur sheila ji? pata bhi hai woh police mein hain, aap ko jail bhijwa sakte hain,” khushi was irate.
(aah, as though i haven’t seen… what you’ve been up to…with tsering… and shiela? do you know she is a cop, she can send you to jail!)
“you’re even more lovely when you’re mad at me!” asr guffawed and tapped her on her cheek.
“chhotey!” anjali stood on the steps leading down to the garden.
asr looked up and saw his sister in her pale pink lehenga, wearing elegant diamond ornaments and lots of juniper garlands in her hair. khushi could feel his heart was bursting with happiness for his sister. she grasped his hand.
her limp barely visible, anjali floated down the stairs and came and caught hold of both their hands, “chalo chalo, stop romancing in the dark, bhaiya ji aur bhabi ji… aren’t you going to get your sister married!”
(come come, stop romancing in the dark, brother and sister in law, aren’t you going to get your sister married?)
“where’s rosh?” asr asked sounding worried.
“mama ji, don’t get hassled, she is with alka, op’s niece… and do you know op is talking to roshni also only in english?” anjali said lightly.
“khushi ji, nannav, di! hurry up hurry up, doctor saab is looking lost and lonely at the mandap…” nk was walking up to them with lavanya on his arms. la looked happy and was wearing a pale peach chiffon saree this evening with an off the shoulder blouse with fine zardosi work on it.
“woh toh ekdam haivaan lag rahe hain, kyun di… lucky girl!” chirped nk.
(he is looking like the devil, why di, you lucky girl!)
anjali’s eyes widened, a helpless look came over her face. asr put his arm around her, his nostrils flaring, about to shout at nk. his di had known the shadow of a haivaan.
lavanya cut in, “nk, when will you learn… really… you know na di, he means…” she looked at khushi and they both said in tandem, “handsome!”
for some reason khushi felt herself blush at that word.
alka walked out with the child and khushi took roshni in her arms. she was looking like a little rajkumari in her maroon ghagra and of course she was chewing her dupatta.
anjali relaxed, took a deep breath and hugged asr, “chhotey, aaj hum bahut khush hain,” she whispered.
(chhotey, i am really happy today.)
asr and khushi stood to either side of her and together they walked toward the mandap.
the shehnai sang its song of parting, of tying new ties.
manorama raizada nudged bua ji and let her eyebrows do a little jig, “kaisan bootiphool bridewa humaar anjali bitiya, hello hi bye bye… in the niecewa departments also i am only winnings, madhumati ji! awesssome!”
(such a beautiful bride my anjali is, hello hi bye bye… in the niece department too, i am the winner, madhumati ji! awesome!)
it was almost four in the morning. the wedding was over. the revelry had finally ended. everyone had gone to bed. vijay verma had taken his bride to the taj vivanta where they would spend their first night as husband and wife.
asr was sitting by the pool with khushi. they were both tired, yet neither was ready to go to sleep.
they lay back on their deck chair and stared quietly up at the stars.
khushi was thinking of the letter urmila jana had written to di. doctor saab had brought it across just the day before. on a simple white sheet, the nurse had written, she thought it would be best for everyone if she stayed away from roshni from now on. she didn’t want roshni to feel torn between two mothers and beside, she had to learn to live without the child. she thanked anjali and asr for not blaming her, for trying to forgive her. she hoped some day she would forgive herself. and finally, if roshni ever needed her, she’d be there.
it was a plain, unpretentious, almost unpolished, note. in it, however, one felt the deep love of a woman for a child not her own and her struggle with her own self.
“arnav ji,” khushi mumbled.
“hmm?” he sounded drowsy.
“life can really be challenging at times, hai na?”
“now what’s happened, khushi?” he asked.
“no, nothing… main soch rahi thi… urmila ji ki woh khat… arnav ji, sahi aur galat ka faisla karna kabhi kabhi bahut mushkil ho jata hai… hai na…uss din, maine agar aapse kaha tha, ki shyam ji…”
(no, nothing… i was thinking… about urmila ji’s letter. arnav ji, sometimes it’s hard to decide what’s write, what’s wrong… isn’t that so? that day, if i’d told you that shyam ji…)
“khushi!” in an instant, he was sitting up and his long slim index finger was on her lips, stopping her from talking.
“shh shh… enough!” he said, a harshness in his voice, yet his eyes were tender and magnetic.
“don’t torture yourself with what if you’d done this or that… what’s done is done… now let’s look ahead. okay? okay, khushi?” fingers under her chin were lifting her face and in the moonlight her skin gleamed pale and ethereal.
he stroked her cheek and a half smile playing on his lips.
“khushi, tell me, what do you think we should do with sheesh mahal?” he asked out of the blue.
“but arnav ji, it’s a hotel, na?” khushi said.
“yes, but i don’t want it to be a hotel any more. i want us to bring the kids here and let them play where di and i used to play… they can go to gomti sadan, where you used to drive people crazy…” his voice was animated, urgent.
“kya! drive people crazy… and what kids?” khushi couldn’t decide whether she should fight with him first or clarify that kids thing.
“yeah, you must have been a really irritating girl with funny off centre plait… kya tum tabbhi itte saare jalebi khati thi? kids, khushi,” he said patiently, as if talking to someone not very bright, “our kids. the ones you and i will have… you know a few daughtrs and some sons…”
(did you eat lots of jalebi even then?)
khushi could feel her jaw almost dropping but she resolutely held on to it.
“nahin, laad governor!” she said archly, “not few and some, like aloo and gobi… two sons and two daughters!”
(not few and some, like potato and cauliflower…)
“okay, deal!” asr replied with alacrity and springing to his feet, picked her up in his arms.
khushi struggled and yelped, “what are you doing, arnav ji?”
“kyun, we have to start making those four kids, right?” his eyebrows rose, his eyes played games, his lips slanted.
khushi gasped. she couldn’t decide whether it was in anger or excitement.
asr was laughing as he walked with her. he had almost reached the steps leading into the mansion, when he turned around, came right back to the pool and threw her in fully clothed.
then kicking off his shoes, he jumped right in with her and crushed her in his arms.
khushi was still spluttering and coughing, her eyes wide and startled.
he lay back flat on the dark surface of the water and drew her into his arms.
for a few moments neither said anything. water seeped in and drenched every place it could reach. the light night breeze set up trembles and quivers here and there. his arm was steel like and strong as he gripped her across her back and around her waist. the night held them in a cocoon and they floated without resisting.
“isn’t life strange, khushi? that morning… how did you find me…” he mused after a while.
khushi looked up at the sky, the stars were beginning to fade, in a short while the sun would be up.
“this is where our story started, arnav ji…” she said softly, smiling to herself.
“maybe it started before that… when your mother, my mother…” he let it be.
khushi thought of what nani ji had said about sanjog… connections.
“really, arnav ji, where do stories start?” she wondered.
“i have no idea… but you and me, khushi! our story, it’s never going to end, samjhi tum!”
(i have no idea… but you and me, khushi! our story, it’s never going to end, d’you understand!)
thank you, everyone for reading without you. asr and khushi’s story i sense will go on for a long time. this is a pause in that trip. maybe we’ll catch them somewhere again soon. and the madness will start once more at top speed. see you soon, take care. here’s to stars, ajeeb, hamesha, jalebi, asr and khushi.