‘Khushi?’ he got up instantly and walked over towards her. He didn’t understand what was wrong, he knew she was going through a hard time but she had never come to him ever before when upset and yet here she was now. Distraught and shaken. He didn’t know what to do, he wanted to be there for her, but had never expected she would actually let him after everything he had done. ‘Khushi, what’s wrong? Why are you crying? Did something happen this morning? Did you hear from your family this morning? Did they say something? What is it? Please, please tell me, don’t cry like this.’ She shook her head at all his questions, leaving him baffled. What was bothering her so much so that had made her come to him?
‘Arnav ji….’ she sobbed again.
‘Yes….’ he encouraged, for he was all out of ideas as to what was hurting her.
‘Arnav ji…..I’m….I’m soooooo sorrrry.’ she weeped.
‘You’re sorry?’ Now he was completely confused. What was she apologizing for? It was him and the whole world who needed to grovel at her feet and here she was doing that at his. It made no sense.
‘Yes….I’m soo very sorry.’ She repeated again. ‘Please believe me when I say it. I’m sorry. I should never have slapped you last night. I swear I have never slapped anyone in my life, well only the one and he deserved it, but other then that never. And I shouldn’t have slapped you yesterday, later I realized what you were trying to tell me, that you’re watch got stuck in my kammez after you saved me from falling into the pool. You were there helping me, and I…..I…..slapped you. I’m sooo sorry, the whole night I writhed in guilt for my act, for slapping you, berating you about something that you have absolutely nothing to do with. I’m sooo sorry… please…please tell me that you will forgive me. Please.’ She looked away from him as she ended her apology, for her guilt kept her from meeting his eyes.
‘Khushi…no….’ He began, lost at words as to what to say to her, to make her understand that she had nothing to apologise for. That he wasn’t angry or upset with her.
‘No?’ she looked up shocked. ‘No.’ she echoed again, thinking that his no meant he didn’t accept her apology rather then it meaning he didn’t think it necessary for her to give one. ‘Arnav ji, I really am very sorry. I will do whatever you ask me to earn your forgiveness. I know I have wronged you. I should have kept my cool, but I….I’m sorry.’ She said again, upset that he was not forgiving her.
‘What? No. Khushi, please stop apologizing. You don’t need to.’ He said, before she broke into hysterics. This statement of his made her look up, now she was confused.
‘Arnav ji, I slapped you. How can you say that I don’t need to apologise for that? I did an awful thing, which I’m gravely sorry for.’ Khushi beseeched.
‘Khushi. Khushi, here sit down. Blow your nose and stop crying for starters, please.’ He added, for she seemed obstinate to his request.
‘No. I don’t want to sit down. I just want to know what it will take for me to earn your forgiveness.’ She stated as she wiped her eyes and nose loudly with her dupatta. Then ended up sitting down at the edge of his bed, much to Arnav’s amusement.
‘Arnav ji, I-‘
‘Sshh.’ Arnav silenced her by placing his finger on her lips. She looked from it to him, stupefied. ‘Now listen to me, Khushi,’ he said gently, as he moved his finger away from her lips and cupped her face. ‘I’m not going to forgive you, because you have done nothing that would require me to forgive you for. I am not upset or angry with you. So you don’t need to apologise for anything. Ok?’
‘But, Arnav ji-‘, she began again.
‘No. You don’t have to apologise. So please don’t.’ he said again.
She was quiet for a moment. Staring at him, trying to digest his words, then it hit her, ‘Oh I get it, you’re really mad at me aren’t you. This is one of those moments where you want me to think you are ok only to exact you’re revenge on me later. Like you did when I applied for the job.’
‘What? No.’ Arnav looked at her appalled that she would think that. Then cursed himself internally, of course she would, his past actions suggested that did it not? How much had he taunted and tortured her that she could not trust him or his words at all?
‘No Khushi, I swear this is not like that time. I seriously have no grudges. You don’t need to apologise to me, please don’t.’
‘I don’t understand. You’re not angry with me?’ she asked simply and stole his heart yet again with the naïve question. How he wished to embrace her in that moment and make all her worries disappear. How he wished to ensnare her in his arms and cocoon her from the evils of the world, the evil that threatened to whisk away her innocence, her purity, her sanctity. But alas he couldn’t, he had been too late, her virtue had been besmirched and he could do nothing about it. She was still pure and naïve, which could be seen in moments like these, but the world would never see it, for one had to come close to her to truly see just how incredible and inexperienced she was. She had been through hell and back, but somehow she had managed to cling onto her simplicity and that was what made her so wonderful. That’s what made him love her, her innocence. And it was that which made him hate himself more for ever doubting her innocence to be a tactic to trap him.
‘No, Khushi. I’m not angry with you.’ Was all he could reply, without letting his voice crack with the emotions that were broiling inside him.
‘Oh.’ She said dazedly. ‘Umm…well, then I’ll…I’ll….uh, just leave you to it then.’ She said awkwardly, feeling stupid for coming into his room and creating a whole spectacle. She started to get up, but stopped when he didn’t move his hands away from her face. ‘Umm….Arnav ji….’ She appealed to him with her eyes, that he was still cupping her face.
‘Oh…uh…right yeah.’ He scampered up. Feeling herself redden with the situation she hurried to the door, where she stopped to peak at him, just to try and decipher what had taken place. She had been so sure he would have been raving mad at her slapping and screaming at him and yet he was completely cool with it. Would she ever understand him? She didn’t think that was possible. She was still lost in him, when he turned and caught her eye, causing her to start-up and walk right into the door, as she tried to hide her staring at him.
‘Khushi. You ok?’ Arnav crossed the room and came to stand before her, concerned.
‘Fine. Fine.’ She uttered straightening up and then scuttling away, before he moved any closer to examine her forhead. While he smiled after her; there it was again her juvenility that could make any man fall for her.
It wasn’t until he had sat back down on his laptop and started checking the proposal he had been reading before she walked in that he remembered why he had sat there checking it in the first place. It had been a distraction, a way to bid time until he saw Khushi was awake, for he wanted to apologise to her for his mistake. He sprung up from his settee and charged into the lounge ready with his apology only she wasn’t there. No one was there.
‘HP?!’ Arnav called out in the empty living room and saw him come running over to him out of the corner of his eye, ‘Where is everyone?’
‘Di, Nani and Khushi ji, all just left for the mandir. Can I get you anything? Tea or coffee?’ he asked.
‘No.’ he replied as he turned away from him and began dialing Anjali’s number to find out which mandir they were enroute to. Thirty minutes later he arrived at the steps of the mandir as Anjali and Nani were descending it.
‘Chotay?! This is a surprise.’ Nani called out, spotting her grandson at the bottom of the steps. ‘You never come to a mandir, not since….’ She trailed off remembering the awful eve when the whole family had come across his father and his mistress at the side of the mandir where they all had been carrying out a puja for the family. Upon finding him missing, when the pandit had asked him and his wife to step forward for the Aarti, all dispersed to look for him only to find him quarreling with his mistress.
‘I…uh…’ Arnav searched for an excuse, he really should have thought this through, but Khushi had a way of making him act before actually thinking it all through and now he was here, in front of a mandir with Anjali and Nani piercing him with their glares trying to understand what had made the impossible possible, not that they weren’t happy he had come here but they wanted to understand what had finaly made him change his mind and arrive here. ‘I….um….’ he still couldn’t come up with an excuse, damn it. Why had he not just waited until they got home?
‘Well now that you’re here, have some Prasad Chotay.’ Anjali said kindly, thereby saving him from having to explain himself. She could see he was not comfortable being here but something pressing had brought him here which he wasn’t ready to share just yet, thus she used the offereings of the Goddess to brush over his awkwardness, for which he was immensely greatful. He took it quietly and then helped Nani down the rest of the steps.
‘So will you come with us to dish-out the food to the homeless, they are seated just by the side of the mandir.’ Nani asked.
‘Uhh…yeah, sure.’ He joined them, much to Nani and Anjali’s astonishment but this time both kept quiet as they didn’t wish to drive him away with their questions, while he searched the vicinity for Khushi, but he couldn’t locate her. He didn’t understand, had she not come with them to the mandir? Had he misheard HP?
Once done with serving lunch they all set off towards their car, but before they sat in Anjali halted and went back into the mandir saying she would be back in a few moments. Arnav relaxed, realizing who she had gone to get, Khushi. That’s why he had not seen her for she was in the mandir and he had not gone in. However, when Anjali returned a few minutes later she was alone.
‘Di, you’re alone.’ He iterated aloud before he could stop himself.
‘Yes.’ She affirmed, a smile playing across her face.
‘Where’s she?’ he asked.
‘Who?’ now the smile disappeared and she genuinely looked confused.
‘Didn’t you go in to call her?’
‘Hunh? Call who Chotay? I went in to…to say bye to DM.’ she amended, she had been on the brink of telling him she had gone to thank the Goddess for bringing Arnav to the mandir after so many years, it had given her such joy and along with it she had prayed that may the miracle of him coming happen again and again.
‘Khushi.’ He snapped, annoyed at how she could forget her companion.
‘Khushi?’ Anjali asked, now totally confused.
‘Yes. She came with you guys did she not, are you planning on leaving with out her?’ he asked irritated that she wasn’t getting it.
‘No, because she already left Chotay. I wouldn’t have left her if she was here, don’t be ridiculous.’ She scoffed.
‘What?!’ he let out. Perfect, he had come all the way here just to see her and she wasn’t even here. Ugh, would this place ever give him what he asked for?
‘Why are you getting so worked up? Did you come here for Khushi?’ Anjali asked, as an after thought, for she remembered him distracted, at that moment she had thought it was him feeling awkward, nervous even, for doing this after all this time, but now she came to think about it, the last few days he had been quite interested in Khushi and her whereabouts…
‘What? Of course not Di! Why would I come here for her?!’ he sneered, or what he hoped would sound like one.
‘Yeah, silly me. Why would I think that?’ Anjali said a moment later in a jovial voice, but all the while she kept her eyes locked on him, deep in thought about the epiffany she had just gotten regarding Arnav and Khushi. To test it out she elaborated by telling him where Khushi had gone to, ‘Yeah, well she left after the Aarti for LaANK, saying she had some work to do, as the fashion show is in a fortnight.’ His eyes, that had been avoiding her’s ever since she had asked him about Khushi now snapped up and met hers, then diverted again although this time it wasn’t to avoid hers’ rather to calculate something. He was dwelling over this new information she had given him and coming to a decision regarding it.
‘Uh…Di, Nani, you’ll be ok to go with the driver yeah, cause…um….I too have quite a bit of work at LaANK to go through, the fashion show is in two week’s time so you know last minute stuff, sponsors, staging and all….’ he explained, something he never had felt the need to do before. No matter how much Nani or Anjali would ask why he needed to work on a Sunday, he would just say I’ve got work to do gruffly and be off. His sudden decision to take Saturday off with the fashion show approaching, him joining them to go to NHC and then him arriving at the mandir and asking about Khushi and now him leaving as soon as Anjali had disclosed her whereabouts all further convinced Anjali about something having changed between Arnav and Khushi, something that she was anxious to find out about.
Giving them a hasty goodbye he was off, even before they had sat in the car. Once they were on the road Anjali voiced her suspicions to Nani, to see whether it was her heightened imagination or whether Nani too felt there to a be difference in Arnav’s behavior, where Khushi was concerned.
‘I was wondering, have you noticed anything odd about Chotay recently?’
‘You were thinking that too? I have been thinking that also. He has been acting quite strangely, very unlike himself.’ Nani observed.
‘Exactly. Right? I thought it was just me being my over paranoid stuff, but you’ve seen it too…’ Anjali said in relief.
‘Yes. Yes. I have never recalled Chotay ever accompanying us readily or him finding the need to explain himself, without our even asking. And today, coming to the mandir….I mean don’t get me wrong, I was overjoyed seeing him there, I mean he didn’t come inside but he at least he was in its’ grounds….I swear I thought I was hallucinating, I fear I still am.’ She chuckled.
‘I know Nani. I actually pinched myself when he walked up the few steps to join us. Do you have any theories on the turn around?’ she asked, wanting to see if she thought Khushi had something to do with it too.
Nani was silent for a while. She was thinking over all of Arnav’s odd behaviours to see if she could find a link. In that moment she looked so like Arnav, Anjali thought, or rather Arnav wore a similar expression to Nani when mulling over things. He had taken it from her, going through everything, before drawing a conclusion. She never gave an answer straight away unless she hadn’t already figured the puzzle out, exactly like Arnav. She on the other hand saw two and two and jumped straight to five, thus she had consulted Nani trusting her to arrive at the right answer. If she arrived at Khushi then Anjali would know she had done the math correctly and arrived at four but if she didn’t then Anjali would know she was imagining Khushi to be the cause and had arrived at five, in that case-
‘Khushi.’ Anjali stared at Nani. So she had jumped to the right answer, for Nani too saw Khushi to be the cause. This could be problematic.
‘You think its’ Khushi too? I thought that it was all just my overactive mind. But if you have drawn the same conclusion as me then we must be right or at least headed in the right direction.’ Anjali related.
‘To me, I think we are right bitya. For ever since Khushi arrived he has started to change, at first it was subtle, he made LaANK his office, something he had not intended to do even when Lavanya had planned his office. He said he preferred his cabin at AR’s head-quarters and would much rather manage all his companies through there, but after he appointed Khushi as designer, he started visiting LaANK more and slowly made the cabin Lavanya had planned for him there, his main office, from where he now manages both AR and LaANK.’
‘Then after Khushi’s accident he gave her his study to work in. I mean Nani, he wouldn’t let Lavanya enter that place, if we came in he would kick us out as soon as possible and yet he emptied it for her.’ Anjali added.
‘Yes. Exactly. And then there is the fact that he took her to Nainital. Chotay never takes anyone on his business trips, but he took her and do you remember when he came back he was really subdued but as soon as she came back from Lucknow…’
‘He lit up. I still remember his face. There was such excitement, such happiness, such relief in it when he walked into the poolhouse after seeing the light on and when he bumped into me and thought for a moment she wasn’t there, he was put out again, yet when I told him she was, he was literally bouncing on his feet, whilst giving me all sorts of excuses for going into see her.’
‘Yes…and then that day when Khushi got the call from NHC, telling her they had decided to admit Shashi-ji, he asked after him and even gave her the following day off for arrangements, when she hadn’t even asked…’ Nani recalled, excitement now rising in her voice.
‘And, then yesterday, after learning Khushi had left for NHC he volunteered to take us there himself, and you saw how he reacted when we walked in on the argument, he was ready to punch her mother after she slapped Khushi, I have never seen him so angry. I mean we were all hurt by what took place, what Khushi had to bear, but Chotay, he was completely smashed after Khushi left.’ Anjali related, the excitement dying a bit as she recalled the afternoon before and Khushi’s face as she left the hospital. She was in awe of Khushi, for before they met this morning she had expected to find her completely depressed, out of spirits, but the girl was truly remarkable, she had capped her grief and put a smile on for the world to see. She wasn’t one to sulk, rather was always planning on what to do next. She was a fighter and it made Anjali proud to be her friend. However, if all their suspiscions were correct and Arnav had indeed developed a soft corner for Khushi then there would be trouble.
‘And today, him coming to the mandir, constantly searching the lot and then jetting out in his Prado as soon as he learnt her whereabouts all points, to Khushi being responsible for this change in Chotay.’ Nani ended, a smile playing on her lips.
‘Yes, you are right. But Nani, if this is true, if he has started to like Khushi…I mean, it could get messy, I mean her past-‘
‘Messy?’ Nani cut it, ‘Anjali bitya, don’t tell me…you’re not… you’re not against this are you?! If Khushi is Arnav’s happiness, if she is the one who is finally making him come out of his shell and embrace life, you should be happy dear. So what if she has a past, everyone does, Chotay himself does.’ Nani said in dismay at what Anjali was suggesting. She would have never thought Anjali to say such things, Arnav she may have believed to harbour reserves due to Khushi’s past, but Anjali, never.
‘What?! NO. Of course not Nani. I love Khushi. She is the most beautiful being I have ever known. I would never be against it. I love her. She is a remarkable person. In fact when I first met her, in that very first meeting I knew she was wonderful and was so happy she would be staying with us, for I secretly wished that she may become the light in Chotay’s dark life. But when I saw his reaction to her, how he disliked her I quenched all those thoughts. So no, I have nothing against Khushi. And Nani, really how could you think I would judge her for her past instead of who she is?!’ Anjali said offended by what Nani had thought.
‘Hunh? You’re not against it?’ Nani asked confused.
‘No.’ Anjali replied defensively.
‘But then…then why did you bring up the poor girl’s past into this conversation?’ Nani asked.
‘What? Oh because it is important to keep it in mind when considering Khushi. She has been deeply affected by it, as anyone would be. I have had many a conversations with her regarding it and from all of them, regardless of how many times me and Payal both have told her she may find happiness, Khushi does not think that. She deeply distrusts men, especially those who claim to feel for her. That is why I say it may be messy, for Chotay. He will have to work really hard to try and make her trust him, his word, his love. So he will have to really want her, be a hundred percent committed if he wishes to win her trust and make her his bride. For she won’t trust any man who claims to love her, having been played by in that very manner.’ Anjali clarified.
‘Oh. Yes, you are correct. Chotay will have to be very patient and understanding to earn her trust.’ Nani nodded.
‘Yes, that’s why I say, there will troublesome times a head for Chotay.’
‘Do you think he will be able to win her over?’ Nani asked after a while.
‘If he truly loves her, then yes. Besides, he will have our backs, if he decides upon making her his bride.’ Anjali smiled encouragingly.
‘True. But for him to get our support, he needs to tell us, which he is not doing.’ Nani said annoyed at her grandson’s need to keep everything locked in his chest.
‘Hmmm…..Nani,’ Anjali said in a dreamy voice.
‘May be Chotay himself has no clue that he has fallen for Khushi. I won’t blame him, he seems to distrust his heart, just like Khushi does, it wouldn’t surprise me if he keeps on tuning it out. That may explain why he has not told us, for he himself doesn’t know.’ Anjali speculated.
‘Well if that’s the case then we should get him to realize his feelings…’ Nani said, mischief gleaming in her eyes.
‘How do you suppose that?’ Anjali asked intrigued. Nani beckoned her to come nearer as she whispered her ideas of confronting Arnav about Khushi. Throughout the ride back home the grandmother and grand-daughter plotted, planned and played out different ways to make Arnav confess his true feelings for Khushi.