As Khushi approached them, Payal stepped away from the crowd and met her with a warm hug, whilst Aakash gave her an encouraging smile from behind Shashi’s chair. Madhumathi and Garima only managed a solemn smile and then shifted their gaze away from her and onto the marble floor they stood upon, making Khushi’s heart falter. How was she going to win them over? Exactly what would make them see her repentance and her regret for what she had done, making them understand that she was not proud of what had occurred rather ashamed and wanted nothing but their forgiveness and understanding.
‘Is everything ready?’ Payal asked, drawing Khushi’s attention away from their mother and aunt.
‘Hmm…yes. But there is still time before the puja starts. We all arrived a little early.’ Khushi replied. Then deciding to overlook Garima and Madhumathi’s impassiveness, she walked over to her Bau ji and enquired after his health. ‘How are you doing Bau ji? How is NHC treating you? I must say you are looking much better than before.’ She smiled happily, looking at the improvement in her father’s complexion.
‘I’m doing very well, no thanks to your concern.’ He huffed, like a three-year old.
‘Hunh! How can you say that? Of course I’m concerned.’ Khushi disputed.
‘Really? Your actions seem to prove otherwise. If you really cared you would have visited me.’ he complained, upset with not having seen her properly ever since he had arrived in Delhi.
‘Oh. Bau ji, I’m soooo sorry. It’s just I’ve been really busy with work, I actually have a fashion show this evening, showcasing my designs for the very first time so that has kept me very occupied. But it hasn’t stopped me from getting full reports from the doctors regarding your treatment. I have kept completely up to date with them and am really pleased to see how well the treatment is suiting you.’ She beamed again at the improvement in him.
‘Save it Khushi. You do not have to cover for your mother and aunt in front of me. Do not think I am unaware of their actions towards you, resulting in your absence.’ He stated flatly.
Khushi and the rest of them stared at him, uncomprehending the meaning behind his words. Did he know? Was he aware of what had taken place? If so how?
‘Yes I know everything. Everything: about how they stopped you from meeting me and about what took place between you and Shyam. I have known for some time now.’ He answered their silent question. ‘But I must say I never thought you capable of this Khushi.’
‘Bau ji…’ Khushi broke into a sob. He too knew and was angry with her. Well of course why wouldn’t he be? She had done such an appalling thing. ‘Bau ji, I am so….so sorry. I never meant for any of it to happen. Especially not for you to end up getting this ill, all because of me. I’m so sorry for disgracing you all, but believe me when I say that was the last thing I wanted to do….I…I-‘ she slumped to the ground next to his chair and wept at his feet.
‘Hush. Sshh. My child. You think I am angry at you for what occurred between you and that scoundrel. Then you think even less of me than I thought.’
‘Bau ji?’ she looked up teary eyed, confusion bringing a stop to the sobbing.
He bent forward and cupped her face. ‘I am not angry with you my bitya. Upset, yes. Not angry. Do you think that I do not know my bitya, to know this much that if she took such a drastic step and went against her teachings, her principals and performed such an unruly act it must have been due to a very specific reason. A reason which was more precious to her than her morals….and there is only one thing that is more precious to her than her morals: her family, us. Am I wrong in arriving to this conclusion that you did what you did for us, to protect us? That somehow that scoundrel twisted his words so well making you fall into his trap, manipulating you into doing what you did for us?’
She shook her head, in misery for having believed Shyam, reprimanding herself once more for falling into his trap; as tear upon tear dripped down her cheeks, wetting his hands.
‘No Khushi, don't cry my child? I do not blame you for believing his words? He is a skilled liar, that is why he is a lawyer, I just wish I had seen it earlier. I just...I wish you had told me. Why did you not tell us then?
'That is why I am upset, Khushi. I am upset not because of what you did but what you didn’t do. Why did you not tell me? It upsets me so much to think of how my daughter died a bit every day and none of us realized. That we were so busy being happy for Payal’s marriage that we overlooked your pain. That you so bravely put up a smile in front of us that we didn’t even bother to look beyond it to see the cracks that lay in it. But more than that, it hurts me to think that you didn’t feel like you could come to us. That you could come to me and tell me about your hearts' grief. If we are so dear to you then how could you think that you weren’t equally as dear to us?
'That you suffered alone instead of sharing your sorrows, wrenches my very gut. When I think of that month and how I noticed the life in you extinguishing little by little everyday I curse myself for not pushing deeper to know what plagued my daughter. I shudder to think how I will face my best friend and brother in law: your father, when I finally meet him in the hereafter. How angry he will be with me for making you go through such a trauma on your own? Why did you not share it with us before, bitya, why not?’ He asked, completely ashen faced with agony.
‘Bau ji…..Bau ji. I’m soo soo sorry. To make you feel that way. I swear it wasn’t like that. I didn’t want to trouble you. It was my mess and I thought I could fix it. And….and I was afraid. I’m sorry, but I was afraid that you would hate me. I couldn’t bear the thought of your hateful eyes upon me so I kept quiet. I’m so sorry for ever doubting you. I’m so soooo sorry.’ She wept heartily on his knees.
‘Ssh…ssh. Khushi….bitya. Hush. Hush. Its’ ok now. We both made mistakes. I, in not venturing further even when I saw my daughter was breaking from inside and you by not realizing that you could come to us with anything. But most importantly we made the biggest mistake in trusting that man and for that I want to apologize profusely to you my dear, for you misjudging him is one thing, but me not managing to judge his character is another entirely. I should have looked deeper, weighed his character properly before I let that wretch enter your life and spoil it so miserably. Will you ever forgive me for that?’
‘Bau ji. Please don’t you apologize. It is I who should. I knew it was wrong but I still….I….I-‘
‘Ssh. You don’t have to explain yourself to me Khushi. I don’t need to know your reasons behind your decision to listen into that mans demands, I meant it when I said I trust you and am behind your decisions one hundred percent. I have no doubt in the way my two girls have been raised and so you needn’t feel the need to give me an explanation, for I know what I need to know. That you did what you did for the same reason you do everything else in your life:, us, your family.’
‘Bau ji….you’re…really not angry with me?’ she asked timidly.
‘No. Truthfully, when I first learnt of it, back in Lucknow – I wasn’t asleep as you all thought I was – I was horrified and angry at what you had done. But after the initial shock wore off and I began to think clearly I remembered each sequence after the wedding and most importantly your face and knew there was more to it then just what had taken place and the more I thought the more it made sense why you must have done what you did and why this sister of yours forced us to let you come with her.’ He gestured to Payal with a loving glance, proud of how she stood by her baby sister when she needed it most, unlike them.
Khushi too followed his gaze towards her sister and beamed with pride for her elder sister who always had her back. They both reached out their hands towards her and she took them in hers’, letting her tears, which had been slowly meandering down her cheek at the scene before her, now shower down upon them.
‘Khushi….bitya.’ Khushi’s head instantly shot up as she realized the voice that had just addressed her came from none other then her Amma, making her eyes well up again. She had called her bitya. ‘I too wish to apologize for our un-redeeming words and treatment towards you. Your Bau ji and Aakash bitwa are right, we were so hell bent on what you did instead of stopping to think that there must be a very logicial and significant reason behind your action. Can you ever forg-‘ before her mother could complete that sentence Khushi was in front of her and had sealed her lips with her hand.
‘Amma, please. Don’t. I will never be able to forgive myself if you ever apologise to me. Please don’t. You’re my Amma, you have every right to scream, shout and slap me when I do something wrong, when I hurt you…so please don’t….’ Khushi beseeched as she cupped her mother’s face and implored into her eyes. Unable to hold herself together any longer Garima broke into a hug, engulfing her daughter and whispering her apologies in muffled cries for ever telling her not to call her Amma and for raising her hand on her.
When she finally broke away from the hug, Khushi’s eyes fell upon Madhumathi, who was standing behind Garima, still gazing intently at the ground. Khushi approached her cautiously and placed a trembling hand upon her shoulder, but even before it rested there properly Madhumathi backed away from it, leaving Khushi’s hand hovering in mid-air. Khushi brought her hand down and sadly asked her Bua ji for forgiveness, ‘Bua ji, I really am so very sorry for hurting you all. Please believe me, when I-‘
‘Khushi, don’t-‘ was all Madhumathi managed to croak out as she met Khushi’s gaze for a fraction of moment. But in that moment Khushi saw something that shook her to the very core. There, in her big eyes, lay very large tears of regret. In that moment she realized that her Aunt was not meeting her gaze not because she was still angry with her but rather because she didn’t know how to; that is, she was guilt-ridden. The never short of words Aunt today was at a loss of words out of remorse. The mere thought of that unhinged Khushi and instantly Khushi enveloped her large Aunt into a bear tight hug.
‘Bua ji. I love you. And I cannot stand the thought of you not looking at me or scolding me for my various antics, please don’t distance yourself from me. You’re my Bua ji and everything you say and do is your right. Your anger and love are all welcomed by me. I truly mean it Bua ji. I do.’ She solicited as Madhumathi tried to resist and then gave into her darling neice’s embrace.
‘You my dear have a very big heart, if only you could teach this old Aunt of yours’ to have one too. I’m so very sor-‘ Madhumathi cried as she came up to look at Khushi’s face, finally meeting her eyes.
‘Sshh. It’s all water under the bridge now Bua ji. You’re all with me that is all that matters to me, nothing else. So don’t dwell over what happened in the past month. All that matters is that after all was said and done we are still one family.’ Khushi declared proudly.
‘Rightly said bitya.’ Shashi voiced from behind them in affirmation.
‘Come on let’s bring it in.’ Aakash gestured for a group hug around Shashi, a tear in his eye too, as he watched the happy reunion of his family.
‘Uh….excuse me. It’s time for the puja.’ The Pandit’s voice broke apart their hug, calling them back to their surroundings and the reason for which they had all gathered outside the mandir.
‘Ah. Yes of course, let’s go in.’ Khushi said, as she dried her tears and walked into the temple with Payal, Garima and Madhumathi, followed by Aakash with Shashi on the wheelchair. As they all settled around the holy fire, Khushi quickly stepped forward and thanked her mighty friend for reconciling her family, before she too joined them.