Chapter 20(in hindi): Baby Steps

Scene 1
 

[Raizada Mansion, later that evening]

The atmosphere is palpable with excitement and so are the faces of the Raizadas who are hovering around the sitting lounge waiting for the doorbell to ring. Most of all, it is Mamiji who is bustling around much to the amusement of Naniji and Anjali.

“HP, hum tumka tells kare rahe na, humko sirf Ladoo hi chahiye!” Mamiji is seen telling HP impatently. “Go go and gets it ready quickly! Humra bitwa ghar ko return kar raha hai aaj. Hum to happiness ka balloon ban gaye hain!” she smiles at HP dazedly who turns around shaking his head in exasperation. The Raizadas could be downright crazy sometimes.

“Manorama, aap kyun itni chinta kar rahi hain? HariPrakash sab theek thak vyavastha kiye rahenge,” Nani tries to soothe Mamiji’s eratic nerves.

“Yes Yes Maasiji,” NK joins in too. “Aisa to hai nahin ki Aakash kisi foreign country se return kar raha hai. Aap pichle week Lucknow mein to poore time unke saath hi thi na?” he asks.

“Oho! Tum understanding nahin kar rahe ho!” Mamiji immediately counters. “Humra beta homecoming kar raha hai with the khoon bhari taang. Sab cheej bilkul perfect hone ka chahiye na!” she exclaimes. Just then the main door opens and Mamiji gasps out, “Oh! Woo dono aai gaye! HP!! Ladoo laye ki naahin? Iss ghar mein humka sab kaam self service hi kari ka padi!” she exclaims walking up to the door with her Pooja thaal.

*meri saanson mein tu muskuraye BG*

She does Aarti for Aakash and Payal who are both smiling happily at Mamiji. Then the couple seeks her blessings.

“Khus raho!” Mamiji gushes happily. “Aur humka God promise karo, ki iske baad se tum kabhi yii ghar chod ke naahin jaoge,” she adds a little emotionally to her son. Aakash glances at Payal once and then looks back at his mother.

“Jab tak Payal iss ghar mein khush hai, tab tak main kahin nahin jaunga Maa,” he responds and hugs his mother. Both Mamiji and Payal look surprised at hearing Aakash’s words. Payal bows her head, smiling to herself feeling immensely happy with her husband’s clear stance. Mamiji awkwardly caresses Payal’s head.

“Haan haan, of course. Yii ghar Payal ka bhi hai,” Mamiji concedes and stands aside to let them inside for Payal to meet everyone else and be warmly welcomed back home.

Suddenly, Arnav is seen walking up from behind Nani. He smiles warmly at Aakash and the two brothers hug. “Welcome back, Aakash!” Arnav says. Aakash nods back happily. Then Arnav turns to Payal. “Welcome home, Payal,” he repeats. Payal regards him coolly and then nods her head, not displaying any affectionate feelings like her husband had. The couple walks towards the other members of the family and conversations immediately kick off. Arnav stands back quietly watching the happenings in the living room, realising Payal is still upset with him.

Ah well. Payal’s actions confirmed the one thing Arnav knew all along; the Gupta women are damn difficult to please.

[Gupta House, later that night]

The Guptas are sitting on the dining table having their dinner.

“Buaji,” Khushi says. “Kal humari dost Nandini ji Lucknow se aa rahi hai. Unhe yahan naukri mil gayi hai. Hum soch rahe the, jab tak woh khud ke liye ek ghar nahin dhoondh leti, kya woh hamare saath yahan reh sakti hain?” she finishes, looking pleadingly at Buaji.

Buaji looks slightly suspiciously at Khushi. “Achhi dost hai ya sirf jaan pehchan wali hai? Hum naahin chahat hain ki hum mandir se laut kar aayen aur dekhen ki humaar TV gayab hui gawa hai.” Khushi chokes on her food and starts coughing loudly.

Garima pats her back immediately, gives her a glass of water and turns to Buaji. “Aisa nahin hai Jeeji. Hum Nandini ko bahut ache se jaante hain. Woo lucknow mein humre ghar aavat jaat rahati thi. Bahut pyaari bachhi hai,” she explains patiently. Buaji looks thoughtful. “Fir theek hai,” she agrees.

“Aur Buaji, aapko kya lagta hai, humare hote hue aapke TV ko koi haath bhi laga sakta hai?” Khushi finally finds her voice after her bout of coughing subsides.

“Arre naahin nandkishore. Sankeswari ke rehte, kisi ki khopadiya ghoomi jaye woo hi churane aayega,” Buaji replies teasingly. Garima bursts into laughter and Shashi chuckles as Khushi makes a face listening to Buaji’s words.

[Raizada Mansion, much later at night]

Arnav is lying on the bed, trying to sleep but looking restless. Finally he sits up and turns the bedside lamp on. He looks thoughtful and at the same time slightly disturbed. The whole day had passed since they had arrived in Delhi. Khushi had seen the roses and by now she had probably unpacked the box too. But she hadn’t dropped him any hints that she had. How can it be possible for her to still avoid me despite the surprises? Arnav wonders as he gets off the bed and starts walking towards the poolside.

He stands at the door and looks up at the night sky, remembering their conversation at the airport.

Tum kab tak mujhse baat nahin karogi Khushi?

Humne aapse baat karna band kahan kiya hai?

He takes out his phone from his pocket and stares at the screen. It’s close to midnight. She might be asleep. After another moment of struggle, he dials the number.

[Gupta House, Khushi's room]

Khushi is lying on her bed, her fingers idly caressing the velvet like rose petals scattered all over her bed. Her bags are still lying around her bed clearly indicating that she hasn’t unpacked them yet. She’s looking up at the silver and gold stars hovering over her head, hanging down from the edge of her bedstand, but not seeing them. Her mind is thinking about her conversation with Arnav from earlier that morning.

Tum kab tak mujhse baat nahin karogi Khushi… Tum mujhe kal se avoid kar rahi ho. Mujhse door kyun bhaag rahi ho? Main tumhe kha thodi jaunga…

The sudden ringing of the phone disturbs her thoughts. She looks sideways towards her bedside table where her phone is kept. Itni der raat humein kaun phone kar raha hai? She wonders as she picks it up in her hand. Then she stares at the screen in disbelief.

Arnav calling.

She immediately presses a button to silence the ringing tone, but the phone goes on buzzing in her hand. Her eyebrows furrow in a frown. Hum abhi to inke bare mein soch rahe the… Was she dreaming? She pressed the receive button at the final ring.

“Hello?” she says warily. Arnav opens his mouth to respond but the seems to be stuck in his throat. He keeps quiet. After a moment, she repeats little impatiently, “Hello?”

“Hi,” he whispers. Khush straightens up on her bed, her heartbeats picking up slowly. Another silent moment passes between them, before she gathers the strength to speak.

“Aap?” she enquires . Arnav’s eyebrows furrow in surprise this time.

“Haan main.” He confirms. “Tum kisi aur ka phone expect kar rahi thi kya?” he counter questions.

“N…nahin!” she stutters.

An awkward silence again descends between them. All that they can hear is each others heavy breathing in the other ear phone. Arnav suddenly feels stupid to ask her about the roses and the gift and he keeps silent. Why was this so difficult? He wonders running his fingers frustratingly through his hair. This is just Khushi, tumne pehle bhi usse baat ki hai.Khushi looks straight ahead, her eyebrows furrowing in confusion at his silence. Baat nahin karni thi to phone kyun kiya? She wonders but goes on holding the phone.

“Kuch kehna tha aapko?” Khushi asks, a faint desperation in her voice. Arnav’s heartbeat starts racing. Speak you idiot! Bolo ki tumhe usse baat karni hai, bolo ki tumhe usse milna hai, kuch to bolo Arnav!

“Mujhe… mujhe bas ye poochna tha ki tum ghar theek se pahunch gayi?” he blurts out in a rush. And then he freezes, his eyes widening. What the! Why did I ask that?

Khushi is amazed at hearing the question. Aapko bas yahi poochna tha Arnavji? She wonders to herself. “Haan…” she replies with a sigh.

“Ok, bye,” Arnav replies as soon as he hears her reply and abruptly disconnects the call. He stands by the poolside, taking deep breaths. Then he slowly brings the phone to his forehead and he gently starts tapping it against his temple. On the other side, Khushi keeps the phone down back on the bedside table and then slides back into a lying position. After a few moments she again stares at her phone, wondering again if it was indeed just a dream.

[Gupta House the next morning]

Garima and Shashi are sitting in the living room. Garima is making Shashi exercise his limbs. First she moves his wrist in small round movements and then lets him slowly clench his fingers into a limp fist. She then stretches his left leg and make him squiggle each of his toes. Buaji sits from a distance sipping her tea and watching the couple patiently working, smiling happily to see the progress being made by her brother. Khushi is no where to be seen.

“Bahut badhiya Shashi babua!” Buaji exclaims joyously as he moves his toes together. “Bas kuch din aur ki baat hai. Phir tum chalne phirne lagoge.” She says. Garima smiles at Buaji.

Suddenly they hear the screech of brakes in the courtyard and all three look towards the door together. Moments later, Arnav appears on their door looking dapper in a sleek black suit and bright blue shirt and black silk tie. He has some files in grasped tightly in his hands. He slowly takes off his aviators and nods his head to greet Garima and Shashi.

Garima smiles and walks to the door to invite him inside. Shashi too looks at him smilingly. Buaji however narrows her eyes as Arnav nods her head towards her, no doubt remembering their last meeting when Buaji had lovingly thrown him out of this very house when he had shouted at her to tell him Khushi’s whereabouts. Arnav gulps at the memory while Buaji purses her lips disapprovingly.

“Arre Arnav bitwa!” Garima exclaims. “Aao na, bheetar aao,” she summons him inside.

“Ab Uncle ki tabiyat kaisi hai?” Arnav asks as he takes a seat next to Shashi.

“Operation ke baad se kaafi behtar hai, bitwa,” Garima replies. “Yii apni ungliyaan aur haath hila pa rahe hain.” As if on cue, Shashi lifts his hand and offers a trembling handshake to Arnav. Arnav looks at him in momentary surprise, but extends his own hand and shakes Shashi’s hand gently,

“Great!” Arnav says smiling at him. Then he turns to Garima and hands her one of the files. “Aunty, iss file mein Uncle ke physiotherapy appointments ke details hain. Maine pehle se hi doctors se baat kar li thi. Treatment ghar pe shuru ho sakti hai par aapko ek baar Uncle to iss clinic par lekar jana hoga,” Garima takes the papers from Arnav.

“Arnav bitwa, yii sab ki kaa zaroorat thi?” she mumbles embarrassedly.

“Agar yahi sab Aakash karta to kya aap usse bhi yahi question poochti aunty?” Arnav asks her flatly. Garima stares at him with wide eyes. She exchanges a glance with Buaji who too is looking surprised at Arnav’s questions.

“Nahin na?” Arnav prods again. Garima shakes her head. “To yahi samajh lijiye ki ye sab kuch Aakash kar raha hai aapke liye.” Garima looks at him, rendered speechless. The subtle implication of Arnav’s words on not being accepted as a part of their family is not lost on her. And she can see a flicker of pain which just confirms her understanding. And suddenly, she realises how desperately Arnav wants to be in Khushi’s life again.

“Hum yii bhi to samajh sakat hain na, ki yii sab aap kar rahe hain?” she counter questions. “Apne parivar ke liye.” She adds kindly. Arnav stares at her speechless, unable to think what to say anything in reply and then he bows his head, feeling suddenly light headed. Garima gets up and gently pats his shoulder. Then, firmly holding the file in her hands, she starts walking towards her room without another word.

He then notices the second file still on the table. He looks up to see Buaji still watching him with scrutinising eyes. Let’s get it over and done with Arnav. Don’t worry she won’t bite you, he motivates himself.

“Buaji? Ye file aapke liye hai,” he says extending the file out to her. Buaji’s eyes widen.

“Par humein to koi doctor ki zaroorat nahin hai. Hum bael ki tarah bilkul chust durust hain,” Buaji exclaims. Arnav suppresses a chuckle at hearing Buaji compare herself willingly to a bull. He walks closer to her.

“I know aapki health bilkul theek hai Buaji. Ye papers aapke doctor ke liye nahin hain.” He says handing the file to Buaji. She reluctantly takes it from him and opens the flap of the file. “Ye iss ghar ke papers hain.” Buaji looks up from the file to gape at him. Arnav continues, “Aapko shayad meri Dadi ne bataya tha ki ye ghar maine Khushi ke naam kar diya tha. Par Khushi ne kabhi in house ke deeds par sign nahin kiye hain. So technically ye ghar abhi bhi mere naam par hi hai. Main iss ghar ki ownership main aapke naam par transfer karna chahta hun.” When Arnav finally finishes, Buaji just goes on staring at Arnav as if he had just spoken gibberish to her.

“To iska matlab, uss raat hum tum ko tumrehi  ghar se bahar nikale rahe?” she asks Arnav in a horrified voice. This time Arnav does smile at her indulgently.

“Technically haan,” he admits. Buaji clasps her hand to her mouth in mortification. “Par…” Arnav slowly makes Buaji sit down on of the chair of the dining table and sits down next to her opening the file on the table. By then Garima to walks out of the room and looks at them curiously. “Par main wohi deserve karta tha. Main nahin chahta ki aaj ke baad, agar aapko kisi ko bhi iss ghar se bahar nikalne ki naubat aaye, to aap 2 minute ke liye bhi hesitate karein,” Arnav adds good humoredly. “Ye ghar aapka hai aur hamesha aap hi ka rehna chahiye Buaji.” He finally says. He pushes the file towards Buaji.

 “Iss file mein do copies hain. Ek bank ke liye aur ek aapke liye. Waise to maine apne real estate lawyers se ye papers banwaye the and they are the best. Par phir bhi aap apni tassalli ke liye, sign karne se pehle apne lawyer se in papers ko check karwa lijiyega,” Arnav announces as he gets up from the chair again.

“Arnav bitwa, kuch chai nashta?” Garima says suddenly remembering her manners to treat him. But he shakes his head.

“Aunty, abhi to mujhe office ke liye der ho rahi hai. Shayad phir kabhi?” Arnav replies. Then he turns to Buaji again. “Buaji, jab aap papers sign kar dein to bas mujhe ek baar inform kar dijiyega. Main apne driver ko bhijwa kar aapse papers collect karwa dunga. Acha Aunty, chalta hun. Take care, Uncle.” He greets the residents of the Gupta house with a Namaste again and walks out of the house.

A silence descends in the house, its residents still unsure of the whirlpool meeting that just took place.

A while later, Khushi rushes into the house like a hurricane and walks straight to the kitchen to drink water.

“Buaji!! Humein abhi station jana hai! Nandini ji ki train aane wali hai ek ghante mein. Yahan se pahunche mein time to lagega hi. Aur upar se Happy Singh ji bata rahe the ki Chandni Chowk ke aas paas naka laga hua hai. Pata nahin kis mantri ko aaj hi Dilli bhraman karne ki soojhi hai. Aur haan, khane mein woh kaali daal bana dijiyega please, Nandini ji ko kaali daal bahut pasand hai… kya hua? Aap sab aise chup kyun ho?” Khushi finally asks, as she realises no one is responding to her non-stop monologue. Then without waiting for an answer, she picks up her jhola and quickly rushes out of the house.

“Yii Sankeswari aur woo Sankeswar bilkul ek dooje ke liye hi bane hain,” Buaji finally says.

Scene 2

 [Somewhere undisclosed]

A lone figure is pacing in the darkened room, coursing through the leaf of papers neatly stacked in the file in his hands. He’s studying each of them with scrutinising eyes, hoping not to miss out a single word. Only when he is completely satisfied does he pursues the next page. At one corner of the room, the huge soft boards are faintly visible as the light from the single bulb on the ceiling struggles to reach the nooks and crannies of the room. The photographs of both Raizada family and Gupta family members are still visible on it.

The other side of the room however has an assortment of some complicated looking multiple screen system. There are about 12 screens in all and they are all giving in live feed of grainy videos from different points all over the Raizada Mansion. Shyam looks up and gives a cursory glance to see who was where; Naniji’s room was clear, so was Mamiji and Aakash’s. Shyam saw the ladies flitting between the living room and the kitchen. NK was nowhere to be seen which could mean he was out meeting his friends again. Aakash’s and Arnav’s room were lifeless too; they must be at office. Then his eyes narrow as he gazes into the camera feed capturing his wife sitting by the poolside, caressing her pregnant belly and gazing at her ring finger.

It had been almost ten days ago, when he had last met her; the day when Dadi had provided him the fodder for preparing the rest of the papers. All it had taken was a heartfelt apology for getting momentarily distracted with Khushi the previous year, and Anjali had forgiven his one act of indiscretion. He was taken aback that why had he spent so much effort to keep things under wraps when all that was needed was some crocodile tears about how miserable he was without her and that he had realised the depth of his feelings for his dearest wife who didn’t deserve to go through all this all by herself. The rest had been taken care by her “pregnant woman hormones” going awry. And then, getting the information about her bank account and the status of their joint account and a request for withdrawing some money had all been dealt with most affectionately.

A sneer appears on Shyam’s face. Such an adorably foolish woman you are Anjali Raizada. But look at your patheticness. You are still missingme aren’t you? Then he picks up the phone and hits the speed dial. It is a strange feeling to watch the phone ring on the screen in front of him.

“Rani Sahiba. Humein na jaane aisa kyun laga ki aap humein pukaar rahi hain?” Shyam whimpered dramatically into the phone as his hawk like eyes fixed on the screen watched Anjali sit up in despair.

“Shyam ji!” she breathed back into the phone, almost teary eyed. “Aap kahan hain? Itne dino se aapne humein phone kyun nahin kiya?” she demands immediately while cupping her hand on the phone and looking around warily. Shyam’s sneer became more pronounced.

“Aap Lucknow gayi thi Rani Sahiba. Hum aapko wahan kaise phone kar sakte the?” Shyam counter questions which shuts up Anjali. “Humein aapki bahut yaad aati hai Rani Sahiba. Kaash hum aapse mil paate,” he says desperately. He watches Anjali lean back on her recliner and shut her eyes. He hears her sigh.

“Hum bhi aapko bahut yaad karte hain Shyamji, par aap jaante hain iss haalat mein hamara ghar se bahar nikalna namumkin hai,” she replies defeatedly. Shyam too sighs dramatically.

“Hum samajhte hain Rani Sahiba. Waise aapki tabiyat to theek hai na? Aap apni dawaiyan to theek se kha rahi hain na?” he asks assuming a worried tone as he withdraws a bottle of pills from his pockets and looks at it with cruel eyes. Anjali smiles.

“Haan hum theek hain. Aur dawaiyan bhi bilkul theek se kha rahe hain. Aap chinta mat kariye,” she replies back reassuringly.

“Humein aapki chinta hoti hai Rani Sahiba. Aur humara bahut mann bhi hota hai ki hum aapke paas hote, khaas kar iss samaye,” he goes on. Anjali sighs again.

“Hum samajh sakte hain Shyam ji. Par ghar wale nahin manenge,” She replies, sounding wary as she always did whenever Shyam talked about rejoining her family.

“Humein ghar walon se koi matlab nahin hai Rani Sahiba. Humein aapse matlab hai. Jis tarah aapne humare aur Khushiji ke beech hue uss poori ghatna ko bhula diya hai, humari uss ek galti ke liye humein maaf kar diya hai… humein aur kuch nahin chahiye Rani Sahiba. Hum bas aapke aur humari raajkumari ke saath ek nayi zindagi shuru karna chahte hain. Bas,” Shyam’s voice sounds convincing enough but Anjali suddenly turns around looking scared.

“Lagta hai koi aa raha hai Shyamji, hum phone rakhte hain.” She mutters.

“Rani Sahiba, hum aapse behad pyaar karte hain.” Are Shyam’s final words before he disconnects the call. True to Anjali’s words, he watches HP bring her a red pill and a glass of juice. Shyam’s sneer reappears as he lifts the bottle of medicine close to his eyes. Inside, there are a number of similar looking red coloured pills.

It didn’t matter to Shyam that Anjali was slightly wary of his claims of love for her ever since he came clean about his brief past encounters with Khushi because quite frankly, she wasn’t a trump card for him anymore. He didn’t need  her to gain entrance into Shantivan merely for the reason that he wasn’t interested to go back. Shantivan to hum wapis aane se rahe Rani Sahiba. Aap chahein ya na chahein. Kyunki aapke parivar ki barbadi jo hum yahan baithe baithe kar sakte hain, woh wahan se kaise karenge? Rahi baat aapki, to aapka intezaam to humne pehle hi kar diya hai. Aap bas roz dawa khate rahiega, and then his sinister laugh echoes all around the tiny dark room.

[Gupta House]

Khushi has just returned from the railway station carrying two bulky suitcases in tow. She is huffing and puffing obviously. Behind her Nandini too walks in with two equally big bags, red faced from having dragged them up. She is wearing a tee-shirt and jeans today and has scrunched her hair tightly in a ponytail behind her.

“Huhh, huhhh!!” Khushi exclaims painting. “Nandini ji! In bakson mein saaman hai ya eent aur pathar?” she gasps and falls down on the floor, where she sits resting her back against the suitcases. Nandini giggles watching her best friend’s condition.

“Teri taakat bas itni si hai Khushi?” Nandini teases Khushi, not panting as hard. “Tere dole shole sab khatam ho gaye hain. Ghar par khana nahin khaati hai kya theek se?” she adds. Khushi rolls her eyes.

“Iski shakal par naahin jao. Parmeswari to saara khana chat kar jaat hai,” Buaji’s loud voice booms from behind Nandini, who looks around in alarm. She pulls Khushi to her feet and gapes at the rotund woman who had just walked in from the side entrance. Still panting, Khushi waves her hand towards Buaji.

“Nandini ji, ye hamari Buaji hain. Aur Buaji, ye humari sabse achhi saheli, Nandini ji hain,” Buaji takes in Nandini’s appearance from head to toe, looking slightly disapproving of her clothes. But Nandini reaches for Buaji’s feet and bends over seeking her blessings. Buaji looks slightly surprised at this behaviour coming from a woman wearing western clothes.

“Arre jeeti raho bitiya,” she murmurs.

“Buaji, mujhe apne ghar mein jagah dene ke liye bahut bahut dhanywaad,” Nandini says courteously.

 “Arre isme kauno badi baat hai?” Buaji replies boisteriously. “Waise, Khushi bataye rahi, ki tumka Dilli maan naukri mil gai hai?” she enquires. Nandini looks a little uncomfortable watching Buaji’s overfriendly smile flashing her 32 pearlies.

“Ji Buaji. Humein yahan Hindi ki adhyapika ki naukri mili hai,” Nandini explains. Buaji looks mighty thrilled.

“Arre wah! Yii to bahut hi badhiya baat hai, bitiya!” She slaps Nandini’s back, in what she hopes is an affectionate way. Nandini however winces slightly as she looks at Khushi with  eyes.

“Buaji isi tarah apna pyaar dikhati hain,” Khushi murmurs into Nandini’s ear. She immediately nods and smiles back awkwardly back at Buaji. “To uss hisaab se to, itne kam time mein, inhe mujhse bahut zyada pyaar ho gaya hai, Khushi.” Nandini replies pursing her lips. Khushi suppresses her laughter.

“Aaiye na Nandini ji, hum aapko hamara kamra dikha dete hain. Aap jab tak iss ghar mein hain, aap hamare kamre mein hamare saath rahengi.” Khushi leads the way. Nandini nods once at Buaji before following her. As soon as she steps inside the room, a gasp escapes from her. She gapes at the numerous rose bouquets and vases on display at every possible surface of the room. Her gaze goes over to the bed with the rose petals and she looks at the smiling Khushi with raised eyebrows.

“Tumne mere aane ki Khushi mein, itne saare phool lagaye?” she asks awestruck. Khushi’s smile wanes a little as she looks around, wondering to herself how to explain it. Then Nandini walks to the bed and sits down on it. “Uhm, par tumhe bed sajane ki zarurat nahin thi, Khushi. Aaj raat, mujhe suhagraat suhagraat type feeling aayegi,” she adds teasingly. Khushi blushes in embarrassment. Nandini bursts out laughing watching her reaction and Khushi immediately charges towards the bed to lock palms with her in a mock fight.

[Raizada Mansion, later in the evening]

Payal is in her room watching the photo album of Khushi’s pre-wedding functions. Her face is deadpan as usual but her eyes are slightly sad. Her fingers linger on a particular photograph of her haldi ceremony, where unknown to Khushi and Arnav, NK had clicked a particularly private moment. In the photograph, both of them are looking at each other with an expression of utmost love. Payal sighs. Just then Aakash enters the room.

He notices Payal sitting on the bed with a leather binder in her arms, her expressions showing sadness. He walks to the bed and sits down near her feet.

“Payal? Kya hua?” he gently shakes Payal’s feet. Payal looks up at Aakash.

“Kuch nahin,” she murmurs and snaps the giant photo album shut. Aakash notices the front of the binder and realises what it is.

“Tum Khushiji ki photos dekh rahi thi?” he asks in a low voice. Payal mutely nods her head. Aakash moves closer to his wife, suspecting something being amiss. “Kya baat hai, Payal? Tum mujhe bata sakti ho,” he says reassuringly. Payal suddenly lunges for Aakash and hugs him. He looks taken aback for a moment but then hugs her back.

“Aakash aap jaante hain parson kya hai?” Payal murmurs.

Aakash suddenly feels clueless, “Parson Saturday hai?” he takes a shot. Payal chuckles and withdraws from the hug. Aakash is relieved to see the hint of a smile playing at her lips.

“Nahin?” he asks her realising that he is obviously wrong. Payal shakes her head smiling.

“Nahin. Parson karwachauth hai,” she replies. Aakash’s mouth forms an O of realisation. He slaps his head.

“Oho, to isiliye humari wife udaas hain. Kyunki unhe fast karna padega,” Aakash tries to tease her to cheer her up. But Payal falls silent again. “Payal?” he asks worriedly.

“Shaadi ke baad, ye Khushi ka pehla karwachauth hota, Aakash,” she finally says the thing that was bothering her all along. Now Aakash falls silent and bows his head down, understanding seeping into his mind. “Khushi har saal ye vrat rakhti thi Aakash. Taki usse uska rajkumar mil sake. Aur ab jab sab kuch sahi hona chahiye tha, to…” her voice trails away, sadness again creeping into it. Aakash looks up to see his wife upset and immediately hugs her comfortingly.

“Shh…” he whispers caressing her head. “Payal, hum dono jante hain ki Khushiji bahut strong hain…”

“Woh sirf sabko dikhati hai ki woh theek hai Aakash. Hum jante hain use. Woh kabhi kisi se nahin kahegi, par humne uski aankhon mein uski takleef dekhi hai.” Payal sighs as she snuggles on Aakash’s chest.

“Main janta hun Payal. Par, Khushiji ka dard sirf Bhai hi door kar sakte hain. Sirf woh hi sab kuch pehle jaisa kar sakte hain.” Payal looks up at Aakash.

“Arnavji ki wajah se hi to Khushi ki ye haalat hai,” she says unable to keep bitterness out of her voice. Aakash sighs faintly and holds Payal at an arm’s distance.

“Payal, itne saal tak Dadi ke jhooth ko hum sab ne sach maana tha. To technically, Khushiji ki haalat ke liye hum sab equally responsible hone chahiye, na?” Aakash says, his eyes gentle. Payal stares at him, feeling incredulous that her husband was accusing himself.

Aakash resumes, “main Bhai ki tarafdaari nahin kar raha hun Payal, aur iss maamle mein kabhi karunga bhi nahin. Uss raat unhone jo bhi kiya, galat tha.” He agrees earnestly. “Par sach bahar aane ke baad se maine Dadi ke liye unka gussa dekha hai, unki beichaini dekhi hai, tumhari family se maafi maangne ki koshish dekhi hai, Khushiji ke liye unki chinta dekhi hai,” Aakash replies thinking back of each of the times back in Lucknow. Payal bows her head and sighs.

“Hum jaante hain, ki Arnavji humare parivar ke liye bahut kuch kar rahe hain, Aakash,” she agrees resignedly.

“Bhai se jo kuch bhi galat hua hai, woh use sudharne ki koshish kar rahe hain, Payal.” Aakash murmurs. “Agar unhe Khushiji ko wapis apni life mein lana hai, to unhe kahin se to shuruat karni hogi na?” Payal stares at him wordlessly. Aakash smiles lovingly at his wife.

“Woh dono bilkul pagal hain,” he continues indulgently. “Jo takleef tumne Khushiji ki aankhon mein dekhi hai, wohi maine Bhai mein bhi dekhi hai. Door reh kar woh dono udaas hain aur paas kaise aayein woh unhe pata nahin hai. Par, aaj bhi woh ek doosre se utna hi pyaar karte hain. Koi andha hi hoga jo ye dekh na paye.Woh bas ek doosre ko ye bata nahin pa rahe hain.” Payal lapses into her thoughts.

She had heard Khushi cry at night, she had seen her staring at the missing engagement ring on her ring finger, she had seen her eyes light up at the mention of Arnavji. Yes, her sister was still in love with her Laad Governer.

“Kya hoga in dono ka Aakash?” she murmurs hopelessly. Aakash extends his arm for a hug. Sighing, Payal again rests her head on Aakash’s head. Aakash places his arm around Payal’s shoulder and squeezes it gently.

“Ek time tha jab Bhai aur Khushiji ne humari love story ko aage badhane mein help ki tha. Shayad, ab hamari baari hai,” Aakash replies.

[Gupta House, later that evening]

Khushi’s room is utterly cluttered with bags and suitcases. Some belong to her and the others belong to Nandini. The two girls walk in chattering with each other when Khushi bangs her leg against one of the bags by the bed.

“OUCH!” she yells in agony, holding her stubbed toes and hopping on the spot.

“Kaa hua Nandkishore?” Buaji’s voice thunders from the kitchen as she rushes in to check the source of the yelp. Nandini makes Khushi sit on the bed.

“Woh Buaji… bag se lag gayi,” Khushi replies sheepishly, rubbing her toes, getting slightly teary eyed with the pain. Buaji takes a look around the bags piled up near the bed and huffs angrily.

“Apne baste iss tarah pradarsan pe laga ke rakhogi to aur kaa hoga Parmeswari?” She bends down and starts pushing the bags to the wall. Khushi immediately stands up and stops her.

“Rehne dijiye Buaji. Humne abhi tak saaman in bags se nikala nahin hai. Hum abhi khali kar dete hain,” Buaji throws her hands in the air in exasperation and walks out muttering. Nandini giggles and then walks towards Khushi to help her with the bags.

“Tum bhi na Khushi, mujhe aalsi bulati ho. Khud ko dekho! Ghar aaye ek din se upar ho gaya hai, aur abhi tak tumne apne bags unpack nahi kiye hain,” Nandini tuts admonishingly. Khushi shakes her head and dumps the bag in the middle of the room. Nandini hands her the clothes and Khushi keeps them in her closet all the while chattering about the wonderful chaat and golgappe they ate earlier that evening. After fifteen minutes of running around the room keeping her things in place, Khushi halts in her tracks watching the blue coloured box that Nandini was holding out for her.

“Kya?” Nandini asks reading Khushi’s expressions.

“Ye kya hai?” Khushi asks in response, looking at the box with curiosity. Nandini looks down at the box.

“Tumhara saaman Khushi,” she replies.

“Ye hamara nahin hai,” Khushi whispers and kneels down next to Nandini taking the box from her. It was slightly heavy.

“Par sticker par to tumhara hi naam likha hai,” Nandini counters and points at a sticker on top of the box. Khushi bends down to read the words on it. Ye tum par sach mein bahut jachega Khushi. Her heart beats start racing at reading the words. With trembling hands she opens the box and just as her gaze falls on what was inside, she lets out a loud gasp of surprise. Nandini too peeres down, confused with Khushi’s response and they her eyes widen too.

 

Folded under a thin sheet of cellophane paper, lay a familiar beautiful blood red saree with black glittering Mukhesh gota work scattered all over it.

Scene 3

Khushi slumps down on the floor, gaping at the open box in front of her. Nandini gaze keeps flitting between Khushi’s face and the saree. She can gather that much that it’s been a huge shock and yet there’s a strange familiarity in the way Khushi’s staring at it. Nandini slowly reaches out to Khushi and gently shakes her shoulder.

“Kya hua?” she enquires. Khushi looks at Nandini wordlessly.

“Ye to wohi saree hai… par ye kaise… ye kisne…” she stutters, her eyes clouded with confusion. Okay, so Khushi does recognise this saree from somewhere before. Khushi starts biting her lower lip in trepidation. Then she tentatively opens the sticker on the box and reads it again. Ye tum par sach mein bahut jachegi… those were the exact words spoken by the salesman who was showing her the saree.

So obviously it must’ve been bought by someone who was sitting close to her. Khushi immediately forms a mental list. Anjaliji aur Mamiji the to humare bagal mein, par woh to chickankaari ki sadiyan dekh rahe the. Nahin woh nahin ho sakte. She knows for sure they couldn’t have overheard the other salesman who was sitting far from them. Who else was there? Nanhe ji? She wonders idly. But didn’t he walk in much later? Jab Anjaliji aur Mamiji bill bhar rahe the, Khushi remembers. Suddenly she turns to Nandini who is staring at her with raised eyebrows.

“Nandiniji, uss din jab hum khareedari karne gaye the, tab aapne Nanhe ji ko humare paas bheja tha?” Khushi asks. Nandini nods her head. “Aapke saath aur kaun kaun the?” Nandini frowns at Khushi’s question.

“Aakash aur Payal,” she replies cautiously. Khushi heart starts racing.

“A..aur?” she stutters. Nandini looks utterly lost now.

“Aur kaun Khushi? Tum, Anjaliji, woh moti Mamiji aur Arnav store ke andar the. Main, Payal, Aakash aur NK bahar ice cream kha rahe the. Aur kaun tha hamare saath?” she reels off impatiently, keeps the saree separately and picks up the next bag to be unpacked. Khushi’s eyes widen. “Tum, Anjaliji, woh moti Mamiji aur Arnav store ke andar the.”

Khushi again looks at the saree, its black stones glinting by her bedside lamp, feeling an eerie cold shiver run all through her body as realisation sets in.

A…Arnavji? she wonders blankly.

Just then Buaji walks in the room, wearing her thick spectacles and holding a file in her hands. “Parmeswari!” she exclaims, snapping Khushi out of her trance. “yiihan ka kaam khatam hui jaye na to tanik humri madad kari diyo. Yii kagazaat hum Mishraji ko dikhaye rahi aur woo bole sab theek hai. Par dastakhat kahan karna hai, humein yaad nahin aa raha hai,” Buaji mutters looking befuddled.

Khushi stands up and takes the file from Buaji curiously. “Ye kaun se kagazaat hain?” she asks.

“Ohh, yii iss ghar ke kagaz hain. Arnav bitwa yii ghar humre naam kar rahe hain,” Buaji replies with a happy smile. Khushi stares at her completely shocked.

“K..kya?” she stutters. Buaji starts walking towards the dining room, Khushi immediately follows her.

“Haan, woh aaj subah aaye rahe yii kagazaat lekar. Humka bole ki kisi wakeel se in kagazon ki jaanch karwa dein aur fir dastakhat karke unko wapis bhijwa dein,” Buaji patiently explains and sits down. Khushi too sinks into the chair next to her, feeling utterly lost now.

“Arnavji subah yahan aaye the? Par kab? Hum kahan the?” she asks unable to bear her curiosity any longer.

“Humka kaa pata tum kahan thi Parmeswari! Vimala apne ghar ka pump phir se theek karne bulaye rahi hogi tumka ya phir Happy Singh apna puncture theek karane,” Buaji says disapprovingly, but Khushi is unfazed with her reprimands this time as she starts wrapping her mind around what she was hearing. She wordlessly starts leafing through the file. They were indeed the ownership deeds of the house. Then she slowly rests the file on the table.Arnavji sach mein ye ghar Buaji ke naam kar rahe hain.

“Arnav babua humka kahe rahe ki yii ghar humra hi hai aur humra hi rehna chahiye,” Buaji emotionally repeats what he had said earlier. Seeing how happy Buaji is a smile slowly creeps up on Khushi’s face as well. Just then Garima walks behind them.

“Arre Garima! Wapis aane mein bahut der hui rahi? Sab theek to tha na?” Buaji asks Garima. Khushi’s smile fades again as she looks between her mother and Buaji. Garima nods her head.

“Thodi se bheed thi Jeeji. Par acha hua ki Arnav bitwa pehle se appointment le liye the,” Garima replies and starts walking towards the kitchen to get started with the dinner preparations. Khushi’s ears have picked up the mention of Arnav again and a frission of restlessness starts surging through her again. Ye sab kya ho raha hai? She wonders.

“Amma, aap kis bare mein baat kar rahe ho?” she asks Garima who looks up at Khushi.

“Arre aaj hum tumre bauji ko phyjiotherapy ke doctor ke paas lekar gaye the,” Garima explains as she starts fiddling with the utensils. “Aaj alu gobi ki sabji banaye?” she asks Khushi who absent mindedly nods her head but still looks troubled.

“To usme Arnavji ki baat kahan se aai?” she asks wonderingly. Garima exchanges a look with Buaji first and then looks at Khushi whose eyebrows are scrunched together in a confused frown.

“Arnav bitwa hi to woo doctor se appointment karwaye rahe, Khusee,” Garima replies. The creases on Khushi’s forehead relax but her eyes widen at hearing Garima’s words. Her mind starts working on overdrive as she absorbs each piece of information. Arnavji ne ye ghar Buaji ke naam kar diya. Unhone bauji ke liye doctor ka intezaam bhi kiya. Aur woh saree… Khushi stands up from her chair suddenly feeling breathless.

“Acha, Khusee Payalia ka phone aaya tha thodi der pehle. Woo tumka kal apne ghar bulaye rahi, tum usse baat kar lena. Khusee?” Buaji’s voice trails off as she notices Khushi has already left her side. Khushi is walking slowly out of the house, her steps carrying her on in a dream like trance; out of the living room, down the stairs, across the courtyard…

“Aaj, hum sab aapse maafi maangne aaye hain. Aur khaas kar ke main”… “Par us pehle decision ke liye, I’m sorry Payal”… “Ms. Gupta ki mother aur mere father ke beech kabhi bhi koi bhi rishta nahi tha”… “She has a clean character and so does her daughter Khushi”… “Arnav bitwa yii ghar humre naam kar rahe hain”… “Arnav bitwa hi to woo doctor se appointment karwaye rahe”…

She pauses by the wrought iron gate leading out to the earthen road by the house. She wraps her fingers around the latch, flinching slightly at the coldness of the metal but holding it tightly. Then she slowly turns around and looks at her home standing erect behind her, tears silently streaming down her cheeks.

Bahut koshish ki aapse nafrat karne ke humne, Arnavji. Par, ab to aapse… nafrat karne ki bhi himmat nahin hoti… Nahin hoti… And Khushi’s knees buckle, her feelings finally overwhelming her as she sinks to the ground and arches her back low to bury her face in her hands.

 [Raizada Mansion, Next morning]

Aakash and Payal are in their boardroom. Payal is holding his coat in her hands for him to ease his arms inside. As Aakash wears the coat, she murmurs, “Humne aaj Khushi ko yahan bulaya hai, Aakash. Hum usse Karwachauth ke bare mein baat karne wale hain.

He turns around smiling at his wife. “Good. And if everything goes according to plan, main Bhai se kal shaam ko baat karunga.”

“Haan, par dekhna unse baat karne mein aapko zyada der na ho, kyunki aapko ghar jaldi aana hai,” Payal reminds him, smoothing the lapel of Aakash’s coat. Aakash suddenly pulls Payal closer to his chest.

“Wifey kahein, to kal office jaun hi na?” he teasingly asks and laughs as he sees Payal’s eyes widen first and then her cheeks blushing a deep shade of red.

[Gupta House, somewhere in the afternoon]

Khushi walks out of her room looking pretty in her pretty pink Anarkali suit. Her long shiny hair is open and her eyes look beautifully defined with kohl, no trace of any lingering redness in them. She looks strikingly beautiful. As she walks into the living room, her gaze falls on the corridor facing the courtyard and she watches the nurse working with her father. Her face lights up with a smile.

“Oooh Khushi!” Nandini’s voice distracts Khushi and she turns to look at her friend sitting on the dining table. Nandini is wearing a tee-shirt and pajamas, her hair tied back in a ponytail, her glasses lodged on her head and the newspaper open in front of her. Sitting next to her, Buaji too had her reading glasses lodged up in her head and she too has a newspaper open in front of her. Khushi blinks at seeing such similarity between the two women.

“Good morning Nandiniji!” Khushi wishes her cheerily in a bid to make Nandini forget her silent sobs from the previous night. Thankfully, Nandini smiles at her and Khushi feels relieved in her heart.

“Suprabhat, Khushi,” Nandini says appreciatively and winks at her. Khushi immediately looks down at her dress a little consciously.

“Zyada ho gaya kya?” she asks worriedly. Buaji and Nandini exchange a glance and then both start laughing. Khushi narrows her eyes realising Nandini was just teasing her.

“Nahin. Koi aur hoti to zyada lagta. Par tumpe bahut sundar lag raha hai,” Nandini replies earnestly with a smile. “Waise tum ja kahan rahi ho?” she asks. Khushi opens her purse making sure she had her phone and wallet inside.

“Hum Jeeji se milne ja rahe hain, Nandiniji. Aap bhi hamare saath chaliye na?” Khushi says eagerly, as the idea of getting her to meet NK strikes her mind. But Nandini shakes her head.

“Sorry, Khushi. I can’t. Mujhe apna school dekhne jana hai. Kal se meri job start ho rahi hai,” Nandini says regretfully. Khushi sighs.

“Acha theek hai. Chaliye hum aapse shaam ko milte hain phir,” Khushi replies and walks out towards the courtyard after bidding her byes to Nandini and Buaji. She hugs Shashi before leaving who happily smiles as he watches his daughter go.

[Raizada Mansion, later in the evening]

NK is lying on the sofa with a beautiful red rose in his hand. He is plucking one petal after the other muttering “She loves me… She loves me not… She loves me… She loves me not…” completely oblivious to a wide eyed Mamiji, a smiling Anjali and an amused Naniji standing right behind him.

“NK Babua?” Mamiji suddenly exclaims as there were only a few petals remaining on the bud.

NK suddenly jumps up shocked and turns around to stare at the three ladies who are now looking first at him and then at the almost deflowered rose. NK looks back at the flower and then back at the three ladies with a sheepish grin. He immediately turns away from them and quietly keeps the flower on the table. He is just about to get up from the sofa when Mamiji and Anjali suddenly sit on either side of him and Mamiji holds his arm in an iron grip, effectively stopping him from moving from his place.

“So NK Babua, yii sab kaa chalat hai?” she asks him scrutinisingly. NK suddenly pales. He glances at Anjali and Nani, who are both trying to stifle their smiles, and then back at Mamiji.

“Kya chal raha hai Maasiji? Kuch bhi to nahin,” he shrugs and replies a little too enthusiastically.

“Achha? Subah se hum tumka watch kari rahe,” Mami motions two fingers to her eyes, then to NK and then back to her in a “I’ve got my eyes one you” sign. NK gulps. “Yii tum saare housewa mein flowers ki rain kyun kare rahe?” she points to the petals now scattered on the table and on the carpet too which NK had dropped. He squirms uncomfortably wondering how to get himself out of the situation when he looks across the room and exclaims, “KHUSHI JI!!!”

“Hain? Khushiji?” Mami retorts in surpise and looks around in confusion. NK squiggles out of Mamiji’s grip and immediately rushes towards the entrance where Khushi is standing stock still, staring at NK’s antics in amazement. Khushi then folds her hands and greets Naniji, Mamiji and Anjali who smile back at her. As soon as the greetings are exchanged, NK grabs Khushi’s hand and makes her follow him to the poolside. Khushi looks at the three ladies first and then at NK in utter bewilderment.

“Nanhe ji!” she exclaims when they finally stop by the poolside and NK releases his grip on her wrist. “Aap theek to hain na?” she asks him worriedly, rubbing her wrist and looking at him warily as if he had lost his mind. And true to her suspicions, NK holds his head in his hand and starts pacing frustratingly in front of her.

“Khushiji, main mad ho raha hun!” he mutters. “Aapki friend ne mujhe par jaadu-kona kar diya hai.”

“Jadoo -tona, Nanheji,” Khushi corrects him and then smiles as she understands what was going on. “To aap Nandini ji ke bare mein soch ke pareshan ho rahe hain.” NK stops in his tracks and stares at Khushi as if she had gone crazy.

“Khushiji aapki aur kitni friends se aapne mujhe introduce karwaya hai?” he asks her incredulously. Khushi giggles.

“Woh baat bhi sahi hai. Waise humari kuch saheliyan aur hain, agar aap unse milna chahein to…” Khushi’s playful words trail off at the look of horror now flashing on NK’s face.

“No! Absolutely not! Aap aisa suggest bhi kaise kar sakti hain Khushiji?”he gasps mortified. “Main Nandiniji ke liye committed hun.” Khushi looks at NK’s innocent face and stifles the laughter that was threatening to burst out of her. Awww the poor boy was hit hard in love.

“Achha theek hai, hum kisi aur ke bare mein kuch nahin kahenge,” Khushi says reassuringly. “Waise acha hua ki aapne humein bata diya ki aap kya mehsoos kar rahe hain. Kyunki humein aage ki mulakaton ke bare mein nayi tarkeeb sochni hogi.” NK looks at her confusedly. Khushi smiles reading his facial expressions.

“Nandini ji Dilli aa chuki hain,” She whispers conspiratorially. NK’s eyes light up on hearing the news and he immediately hugs Khushi in his excitement. Across the poolside, in the hall, the three pairs of eyes grow wide as saucers at watching the public display of affection. Anjali gasps audibly. Just then they hear footsteps from behind them.

“Aap log kya dekh rahe hain?” he asks. Anjali turns around to find Arnav looking at her confusedly.

“Chotey!” she exclaims and taking him by the arm she quickly flips him 180 degrees around, facing him away from NK and Khushi near the poolside.

“Di?” Arnav asks in a baffled voice raising his eyebrows. Anjali peers backwards over her shoulder and sees that NK is no longer embracing Khushi and the two are just talking animatedly now. Anjali sighs in relief. Seriously, a misunderstanding creeping up between Chotey and Khushi was the last thing she wanted right now. She again turns Arnav sharply to face the poolside.

“Okay, seriously now!” Arnav exclaims irritatedly. “What the hell is going on?” Anjali smiles charmingly at her brother.

“Kuch nahin Chotey. Hai na Naniji?” she stutters to Nani, her eyes looking imploringly.

“Haan haan kuch bhi to nahin,” Naniji replies exuberantly. Arnav narrows his eyes suspiciously.

“Humka nahin pata iss ghar mein what’s happening!” Mami exclaims throwing her hands exasperatedly in the air and walks towards her room. Arnav stares at her huffing and puffing in confusion. What happened to her? He wonders. Shaking his head and muttering something about the craziness going in the house, he heads off straight outside the main door. Anjali sighs again and sits down on the sofa.

Just then NK and Khushi are seen walking towards them, smiling and still talking between themselves. Anjali and Nani watch them with suspicious eyes. Watching the expressions on Anjali and Naniji’s face, the smiles on Khushi and NK’s face slowly fades. Khushi mumbles about going to meet Payal and NK mumbles something about going out and they both disperse in separate directions.

“Anjali bitiya, lagat hai ki daal mein kuch kala hai,” Naniji mutters watching Khushi walk up the stairs.

“Naniji, humein to lag raha hai poori daal hi kaali hai,” Anjali replies watching NK sneak out of the main door.

[Payal's room]

Payal is putting her sarees inside her cupboard when Khushi walks in and hugs her from behind.

“Arre tum kab aayi Khushi?” Payal asks looking taken aback at this sudden appearance.

“Abhi thodi der pehle, jeeji. Hum zara Nanhe ji se baat kar rahe the,” Khushi replies and sits on Payal’s bed patiently waiting for her to keep her sarees inside. Finally, Payal turns around with a smile.

“To Khushi, ghar mein sab kaise hain?” she says as she sits on the bed next to Khushi. Khushi’s face becomes deadpan for a moment before she bows her head and starts fiddling running her fingers idly on the bedsheet. The mention of her family members suddenly resurfaces the events of the previous night.

“Sab theek hain Jeeji. Bauji ki physiotherapy shuru ho gayi hai. Hamare yahan aane se pehle humne nurse ko dekha tha,” Khushi replies not meeting Payal’s eyes, the usual chirpiness missing from her voice. Payal detects something being amiss. She caresses Khushi’s cheek.

“Kya hua tumhe, Khushi?” she asks gently. Khushi sighs remembering the emotional turmoil she had gone through the previous night.

Suddenly Khushi lies down resting her head on Payal’s lap. Payal again looks taken aback at this, but slowly rests her hand on Khushi’s head and caresses it gently. “Khushi?” she ventures worriedly. “Kya hua tumhe?”

“Woh ye sab kyun kar rahe hain, jeeji?” Khushi suddenly starts off without preamble. Payal looks slightly confused but doesn’t interrupt her. “Bauji aur Amma aur Buaji ke liye itna kuch kyun kar rahe hain? Woh to humein chod ke chale gaye the na? Phir ab wapis kyun aa gaye? Iss sab ka kya matlab hai Jeeji? Hamare dimag ne kaam karna bilkul band kar diya hai,” Khushi whispers in a tortured voice. Payal’s heart clenches painfully as she watches the sadness come over Khushi.

It was so clearly evident that Khushi’s mind was battling against her heart and she was becoming the collateral in all this. Payal squeezes Khushi’s arm comfortingly.

“Tumhara dil kya keh raha hai Khushi?” Payal asks. Khushi stills for a moment and then she slowly gets up from Payal’s lap, silent tears coursing down her cheeks. She bows her head down, not knowing what to answer. Payal gently wipes Khushi’s tears and pulls her into a warm hug. After a long silent moment, she finally says, “Agar dimag ne kaam karna band kiya hai, to shayad ab tumhe apne dil ki sunni chahiye, Khushi.”

And listening to her sister’s advice, Khushi dazedly rests her hand on her chest, feeling the dull heartbeats under her fingers… Trying to decipher what her heart was trying to tell her… what it had been telling her all along…

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