Category Archives: Road Less Travelled

Road Less Travelled : Chapter 15 NEW


Chapter 15

Arnav looked at her in disbelief, he knew something had happened to Khushi, but….. rape? He loathed the man who did that to his Khushi. To make his chirpy Khushi hate her own self, to live in recluse. Yes, his.

Though he knew who could have done that to her, the name escaped his lips before he could give it more thought, he said more than ask, “Shyam..”

Khushi began weeping more profusely and he engulfed her face in his hands and pulled her close and hugged her tight.  He muttered to himself, “I’m going to murder that bastard.”

She was looking up to him and it wasn’t him who was wiping tears of her face, but the other way round. It was Khushi who with her Dupatta, was wiping off the tears that had formed at the corners of Arnav’s eyes.

Tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then instantly freezing on his face, and what was the point in wiping them off? Or pretending? He let them fall.

“Arnav, no, I have risen up from that incident. I don’t want us to do anything with that man, ever. He wil serve his penance in jail.”

“But Khushi, how can I live with that? First with you, then Di? It isn’t fair.”

“I know, life isn’t fair. I want to put it in the past now. I want to help Di.”

“Khushi, how can you be so…. How can you not want him killed for all that he put you through?”

“ Arnav….Let it go.”She was on her toes now, and she kissed Arnav on his forehead.

Still in an embrace, of lovers, of friends, of two people in pain, they sunk to the floor. Khushi on Arnav’s lap, in a tight grip, a shield of his arms – protecting her from the world.

“Khushi, is this why you thought you can’t meet your family in Lucknow? Khushi you aren’t the one who’s impure..”

She looked up at him, and he looked at her, their eyes met, their noses touched, they felt the moistness on each other’s faces, their cheeks rubbed.

It was Khushi who broke down now,”How can I face them Arnav? I…feel so disgusted… images from that night come flashing back to me every time I’m alone in the dark…his hands over me…” The sobs grew louder and more uncontrolled and incessant.

Arnav brought his fingers to her mouht to shush her. There was no way he could see Khushi go through that pain, ever again. To think of it, she had beed living with it for over five years.

“Khushi, I don’t want you to think about it ever. I won’t let anything happen to you, I promise to protect you.”, he said while rubbing a fand along her back to comfort her.

She didn’t look up to him, she just lay there, in the corner of her hotel room is the safe haven of Arnav’s arms, sitting in his lap, with her head resting on his chest. They lay like that a long time. She was toying with a button on his shirt when she said, “You know, I haven’t slept with the lights off since that day?”

Arnav had no response to give. He blamed himself for a lot that happened to his Sister and Khushi.

He enveloped her other hand in his and rubbed his thumb along her palm. His eyes bore into her’s and he said, “I’m sorry Khushi, I didn’t look out for you when I should have. I’ve lost so many years already when I could have cared for you, loved you. I haven’t met another person like you. You came up to help Di even though we are to blame for what you went through. I love you Khushi, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Khushi, will you marry me?”. He finally said all he had to say to Khushi that night, when everything went wrong.

He brought his lips to her, she opened her’s for him. She had not let herself free for one moment, to think of the possibility of actually having what she wantd in life, not since that day. She knew in her heart she had wantd this, a life with Arnav. They kissed a long due kiss.

Well, how was it? I’m writing after an eternity, I know!

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Road Less Travelled :: Chapter 13


“I am going to go to Lucknow.”

 

He looked up at her as soon as she said that. The information had just been thrown at him.

 

 

“Since I am here, I want to meet Amma, Bauji and Buaji.”, she aid, trying to remember their faces. She saw heir pictures every night before going to bed, but that was it. They had become a memory. She missed their voice and the comfort that came with them.

 

“When do you want to go?” he asked, suddenly curious. When did Khushi even make these plans?

 

“This weekend.”

 

Sitting with his elbow rested on the armrest, and his chin resting on his right hand. He turned his attention to his plate, but he was mostly just moving the food around in his plate. “You didn’t tell me earlier” he said.

 

“What? Why? And, I don’t need to tell you!”

 

He sat back in his chair and crossed his arms across his chest, “Khushi, I’m going to come along.”

 

“I don’t want you to come along,” she reproached.

 

“But..”, he tried to reason with her. How could he tell her that he didn’t want her to travel alone? He didn’t want to not be with her. He wanted to be with her. Almost, cling to her. The slight fear of losing her, still there inside him, gnawing him.

 

“I can perfectly manage myself, as I have done in the past,” she retorted. She didn’t want to be attached to him. Not, emotionally, not in any way. There was just too much excess baggage involved.

 

“I don’t have doubts about that.”

 

“Then you think I will run away or something?”

 

“What? No!” What could be done for respite from this spite? He meant her no harm, but how does one undo the harm already done? 

 

“Then there’s nothing for you to be concerned about,” she stated.

 

With concern visible in his eyes, he stated simply, “I don’t want you to travel alone.” There, he said it. He said as he felt.

 

“I travelled back alone from Shimla.”

 

“That was different.” How so? His own mind questioned him. And Khushi was fast enough to verbalize the same.

 

“How so?”

 

“I don’t know Khushi! You aren’t travelling alone!” He said in a manner more protective than would have been appropriate.

 

“I am. And, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

 

“Khushi, please.”, his eyes pled with her and a frown flitted across his handsome face.

 

She studied for a long moment and said, “Fine, come with me, if it means so much to you. Get your ticket booked for Lucknow-Delhi Swarn Shatabdi for this weekend. Are you happy now?”

 

“What? And, what about your ticket? And why are we going by train?”

 

“Arnav, I already have my ticket. I was merely informing you. And, to answer your other question, going by flight doesn’t even make sense. It takes longer.”

 

“What if I don’t get a ticket in the same carriage? But.. wait a minute…”

 

Khushi just shrugged her shoulders at that. What was she supposed to do? And, why was he even insisting on coming along?

 

“Khushi, just get your tickets cancelled. We’re going to take my chopper.”

 

Khushi looked up at him eyes with said don’t try and protect me, I can handle myself.

 

And he responded with – I want to.

 

“Arnav, I don’t want you to come with me, and I want you to accept that.”

 

Arnav sensed the finality in her tone. And, he knew this was something Khushi needed to do on her own. He needed to accept it. He could not force himself into Khushi’s life like that.

 

If this same conversation, no, it couldn’t even have progressed this way. But, if Khushi had said something even remotely similar to what she had just said, Arnav Singh Raizada would have blown up. That was not way to talk to him.

 

But, no, this Arnav Singh Raizada, did not have that same amount of pride, at least not when it came to the particular woman in question. We could have even mistaken him for a long identical lost twin of the Arnav Singh Raizada we are familiar with. Just, with a gentler, kinder heart, with the enhancement of the ability to love.

 

 

She looked away and picked her drink and swirled it around in her mouth, and Arnav provided her with the necessary relief from the topic. But he asked her something that probably affected her even more.

 

“Have you informed them?” he asked, changing the matter, avoiding much debate.

 

“Who?”

 

“Your family?”

 

“No, not yet” she almost whispered.

 

 

He sat back in his chair, with his arms strewn across the arm rests, and with that old calculative, but, a slightly, more concerned look in is eyes, he asked, “Khushi, what will you tell them? Where had you been all these years?”

 

That was the question Khushi didn’t know the answer to. It is my belief that the truth is generally preferable to lies.* But, the truth would hurt this time. Khushi had made up her mind long before Arnav had asked the question. She was going to lie, that was certain, but, what was she going to say?

 

“I… umm…” she was stumped, she stammered, she didn’t know. There was no way she was telling them what had happened. She had already pained them enough. It was just the thought of seeing them, which was overpowering her every other emotion. The comfort their sight would bring to her. And the comfort that home brought with it.

 

A pool of tears clouded her vision, and she muttered, “I just want to see them. I want to make sure they are alright.”

 

Arnav fisted his hands in agony. There were tears falling down her face, and he wasn’t being able to do anything. Think Arnav. He leaned across the table, pressed her hand against the cool glass top with his. The unfamiliar, yet comforting gesture from Arnav, caused her to look up at Arnav, in his eyes, which were trying to soothe her on their own. “We’ll figure it out.”

 

Khushi nodded, and immediately withdrew her hand.

 

Another moment of weakness.

 

She began gathering herself, opening her purse. “I have to leave now, for the class.” she extended her hand to Arnav, with a bunch of rupee bills in it.

 

“Are you crazy Khushi? You think you’ll pay for our lunch?”

 

“I wasn’t going to pay for your share, I am only paying for myself.”

 

This just wasn’t right. What could be done about Khushi constantly trying to pull away from me? 

 

“No Khushi, please stop this. And, I wiLL drop you.” he said, raising his eyebrows at her, pushing back her hand with the money back to her.

Khushi fell back in her chair, slightly awkwardly. She looked around, avoiding Arnav’s gaze, though fixed at her, but gesturing a waiter to come with the bill with his hand. He placed the plastic card in the little leather case, and as swiftly as the waiter was gone he said to Khushi, “Khushi, there are something’s I need to do. Please, let me do them.”

 

Khushi looked at him briefly, but then noticed the waiter walking back to them. “I hope you enjoyed the lunch ma’am.” Khushi smiled at him, her formal, and no teeth, smile. But Arnav was the one to say, ‘It was great, thank you.”

 

 

[center]———-[/center]

 

 

They walked to the car in alliance; Arnav even opened the door for Khushi. To his surprise, when he went in and sat on the driver’s seat, Khushi hadn’t even done her seat belt. He leaned over her again, took in her scent, the scent of a woman. There was, a faint pink in her cheeks? Like the olden times? Maybe. A little too faint to notice. But, she let him do it. She tried avoiding inhaling his cologne, but he stayed like that a little long for her to not inhale, and not be noticed.

 

 

His musky cologne, seeping through her senses. Slowly. She shut her eyes. The somewhat pleasant memories were now a flurry in her head. Her breathing hitched, as she gulped in a mouthful of air. Ahem.

 

She cleared her throat, and Arnav suddenly shifted back. Spikes of his air rubbed against her chin.

 

She again looked out at the not so mesmerizing, but the forgotten images of the wide expansive roads of Delhi, the narrow streets. Children, men and woman, walking, animals, auto rickshaws, buses, tempos, cars, all of them in a cohort. She heard Arnav grumble under his breath. She smiled to herself; it was all a little too familiar.

 

 

Once he was settled back in his seat, he inhaled deeply. With a hand on the gear, and the other starting the ignition, a foot on the accelerator, and one on the clutch, he start off.

 

 

She flicked the strands of hair falling across her face, and asked Arnav the question she had been wanting to,  “Arnav, why? Why do you feel you need to do these things?”

 

He hesitated for a moment. His grip around the steering wheel tightened.

 

 

He glanced at her scornfully, was there really any explanation? Why a man wants to do things for a woman is obvious, but those weren’t the only reason behind Arnav Singh Raizada’s doing, what he was doing. It was to woo back Khushi, the girl he’d nearly lost. It was to re build the lives that had been spoilt. It was a mean of redemption. To redeem himself. To face the man in the mirror and not hate him. He knew his reasons, but what could he say?

 

 

 

“I don’t know, Khushi.”, he restated what he had said,”…… I just need to.”

It was the fact. He needed to, for his own self.

 

In that moment, even Khushi knew something for sure. Arnav felt guilty to no extent for what had happened, but she also knew, it wasn’t entirely his fault.

 

There wasn’t any other talk, except the name and place of the school Khushi had to go to. The car came to a sudden halt, reminding Khushi she had to leave. Just as she tip toed out of the car, she turned back to say, smilingly, “I will try and drop in, in the evening, to teach Khu. And, thanks for today.”

 

*Quote from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, spoken by Dumbledore

Road Less Travelled :: Chapter 12


Arnav was sitting in the car in ignition, parked at the entrance, waiting for Khushi. She got into the car and he drove off in silence.

 

Just as they were out of the crowded streets, and there was a silence around him, he said, “Khushi, I’m sorry that all that was brought up today.”

 

Khushi didn’t glance at him; she was looking at the guild of birds flying in a guild in the sky. Horrendous, torturous memories resurfacing, which could not easily by contained by any other person. A bevy of emotions.

 

Pain.

 

Hatred.

 

Loss.

 

Loneliness.

 

All of it, creeping back to her. Everything that she had contained with herself for so many years. Not a hint of it was ever exposed to anyone, but herself. And, that’s what it was time to do again. She wiped the small tear, at the corner of her eye, ready to trickle down. The calm composure overtook her, and she replied,

 

“It’s alright Arnav, it’s in the past.”

 

He looked at her more intensely this time, as he brought the car to a halt at a side. “Khushi, I can’t tell you how sorry I am for….. For not believing you that time..”

 

“It’s alright Arnav, it’s in the past.” She replied in a monotone, as she pressed a stone against her heart, beating painfully in her chest, while leaning her head against the cool window of Arnav’s SUV.

 

“Khushi, all that you’ve gone through, because of us…. Me.. I’m sorry.”, stammered Arnav apologetically.

 

Khushi repeated, “It’s alright Arnav, it’s in the past now.”

 

“Dammit Khushi!” Arnav said irritably, as he punched a fist into the steering wheel. “You can’t just say it’s fine, when it’s not.”

 

“Well, you want to know what’s not fine?” Khushi lashed out at him.

 

Arnav looked at her with eyes full of uncertainty. What else could have happened? What did he not know? Khushi had hinted at something before too.

 

But, what followed was silence. A few tears rolled down Khushi’s cheeks, as painful memories came flooding back to her.

 

Khushi stuttered through her sobs, “Please drop me to the hotel Arnav.”

 

“But, Khushi, tell me, what is it?” asked Arnav.

 

Khushi shook her head in disagreement.

 

“Fine, let’s get to your hotel, then we’ll talk?” said Arnav.

 

Khushi didn’t respond to that, and Arnav took that as a yes.

 

He drove in to the hotel, Khushi got off the car before him and he had to run to catch up with her, as giving the car to the valet took an extra few minutes.

 

Khushi left the door to her room open; Arnav entered and shut it behind him.

 

Arnav stifled an urge to just shout at Khushi, demanding to know what was wrong. But, his heart advised him better. This wasn’t one of those old times where he could scare Khushi into doing as he instructed, and he didn’t want to.

 

Something told him, the matter at hand was delicate and he didn’t want to press Khushi into telling him. Rather, she tells him when she was comfortable doing so.

 

He tried to change the topic, lighthearted small talk not really being his forte; he used Khu to his rescue.

 

“Khushi, ever since Khu saw you dance, she has been badgering me for dance lessons.”

 

Khushi felt a faint blush trickle her pale cheeks as she smiled at Arnav, trying to show him some gratitude for not pressing.

 

“Really? She never mentioned it to me.”

 

“Maybe she felt shy.” Said Arnav, trying to cover up.

 

“Shy? I don’t think so.”

 

“Khushi, will you please teach my niece some dance?”

 

“What? You mean, like taking classes? Isn’t she too small?”

 

“Yeah. And small? No way. She has got the brains of a grandmother. Moreover, it will keep her busy, and she’ll learn something out of it.”

 

“Hmmm.” , Khushi murmured as she gave it some thought.

 

“We’ll keep it professional. I’ll pay you on a class basis.”

 

“What? I’m not going to take money from you! And not for teaching the girl who shares my name.”

 

Khushi furrowed her eyebrows at him and gibed, “Arnav, why did you name her Khushi?”

 

There was a shy smile on Arnav’s face. He inclined his head slightly to her side, and began tracing circles with his thumb on his wrists. “Khu told you.” He said weakly.

 

Khushi leaned her head on Arnav’s shoulder and entangled her arm in his like kids. “I thought she was just kidding.”

 

Suddenly the tone of the day changed and the world seemed a brighter place. They sat like that for a few minutes until Arnav’s Blackberry began ringing arduously.

 

Arnav pressed the Bluetooth button, walked up to the windows to take the call. “Aman, I’m not coming to office today. Manage everything. I don’t know how, synchronize with Akash, do video conferences, but I should not get another call from you today.” Arnav Singh Raizada just delegated, on the mobile, an entire day’s work.

 

On the other side of the phone, Aman was a man probably more confused than anybody else. This had never happened before.

 

“Why aren’t you going to work?”, asked Khushi.

 

“Because I don’t want to.” Was his plain simple reply, as he fiddled with his Blackberry.

 

“And, why, may that be?”

 

“Because, I want to spend the day with the girl I like.” Fully aware of the magnanimity of what he was saying.

 

Khushi’s eye widened into saucers as she realized Arnav was actually flirting with her.

 

“But, I’m not free like you, I have work to do.”

 

Arnav sprang up, surprised, “What work?”

 

“I talked to the School I did a workshop with, and they said, they would want me to hold afternoon classes for the kids.” She explained.

 

“But, why? I mean you could have..”

 

“No, I want to, that’s why. And, I need something to pass my time too. This isn’t home.”

 

Arnav moved away. That hurt him. Delhi isn’t home anymore?

 

“Khushi.. I… I wasn’t talking about you.” Arnav stammered, trying to cover up once again.

 

“Really?” Khushi asked saucily.

 

“Really.” Arnav repeated with a smug smirk. He gave himself a mental pat on the back. That was a good cover up Raizada.

 

“Who’s the other girl you like?” Khushi asked, as she felt a tingling sensation of nervousness in her heart, slightly apprehensive of what his answer may be.

 

“Your namesake, my niece.” replied Arnav, and Khushi for some reason felt relieved.

 

“But, I was actually hoping you’d come along too.” Arnav added.

 

She pursed her lips as she thought how she could work that out, not negating the possibility of it. “Maybe, I’ll join you after the Dance Class.” She hadn’t been to Shantivan since that day, but something, made her feel at ease today, comfortable going there.

 

Arnav beamed a happy smile, “Good, let’s get some lunch. And I’ll drop you then?”

 

Arnav sauntered out of the room and gestured Khushi to follow.

 

Khushi was surprised to see this side of Arnav today. He was being nice and friendly, not too demanding. She was not complaining.

 

Arnav was surprised with himself too. He had smiled a heart happy smile today, after many days. The girl who could make him smile was back, and he was determined to make her stay.

 

Road Less Travelled :: Chapter 11


They had been with Anjali for three sessions and now on route to the fourth. They hadn’t spoken much since the poolside conversation. Khushi had told him otherwise, but Arnav had insisted on picking her up each time. He said, “That is the least I can do.” Khushi didn’t argue with him. She was accustomed to him wanting things done a certain way, and it would be a futile argument, and, it didn’t really matter.

The doctor had told them, after the second session, that Anjali had shown a marked improvement in a short span of time. He was very impressed with her progress.

Khushi didn’t know whether to feel proud, or not. She hadn’t really been doing anything. She just had to go there, sit in front of Anjali and try and soothe her and talk to her. She had been apprehensive about meeting her after their first encounter, but the Doctor and Arnav had given her reassuring smiles and said that they had full faith in her. And the next two meetings did go well, even according to her.

In the second session, Khushi had only tried to soothe her, rub a comforting hand on her back, while constantly telling her, “It’s alright now.” Just as the doctor had instructed, keep the conversation minimal. Well, you need two people to talk for a conversation to happen, and there could hardly be a conversation when she was the only one talking. But the doctor had said, Anjali first needs to normalize with her presence around her. Getting her to talk would be an even bigger milestone, but it may take time.

In the third meeting, Anjali had looked up at Khushi and acknowledged her presence. That was the achievement for that day.

Arnav would sit in the waiting area, waiting patiently, while Khushi would go in for about half an hour, trying to give his sister a new life. He would sit there, almost ready to bite off his nails in anticipation as to what was happening, how the progress was. He would make frequent trips to the glass aperture in the door, but he had made these visits infrequent as they progressed with the meetings, as he realized he trusted Khushi, and his presence at the door actually worked to create a pressure on her. As he noticed, the days he spent longer at the window, she would come out and tell him a formal customary, and “I think she’s better now.” With a smile that wasn’t very real. On other days, she would ignore his presence and proceed to the Doctor’s cabin, and Arnav would take it as his cue to follow. That seemed more genuine, and he liked it better.

Later, Arnav would drive away to work, and Khushi would get dropped mid way, as she had realized that dropping her to the hotel was actually out of the way for him, and picking her in the morning was enough, and she didn’t want him to take too many pains for her. She had reminded him, “Arnav, I’m not here because of you, and you should in no way feel obliged to do anything for me.”

They followed the same routine today, Khushi went in and Arnav waited. She walked out after about the usual amount of time and Arnav followed her to the Doctor’s cabin.

“I have good news for you.” The Doctor said, before Arnav Khushi were even seated, which caused them to look at each other as if to ask the other whether they had any idea, and when both shrugged, they took to their chairs across the Doctor.

“I was experimenting, and I reduced Anjali’s dosage of anti-depressants and sedatives. I was a little apprehensive of your meeting her today, but as I know, it all went well, didn’t it, Ms.Khushi?” said the doctor, smiling at Khushi.

“That’s great news.” Said Arnav smiling.

“Okay, now the fun and games are over.” Said the doctor, in a sudden serious undertone. “Mr.Raizada, your sister’s case history, it’s rather peculiar. I think, there are missing gaps in it that I need to know now.”

“Like what doctor?” asked Arnav, his lips pursing into a thin line.

“Like, how Ms.Khushi here is related to the patient. There has to be an important link, otherwise why would she respond like that to only Ms.Khushi?” said the Doctor, thinking out loud.

Khushi swallowed in air as she waited for Arnav to answer. When Arnav didn’t answer immediately, the Doctor pressed on, “Mr.Raizada, this knowledge is important for me, for the case. When you had called last week, you had explicitly told me it’s just another visitor. Even I hadn’t expected such results, but there has been an improvement, and now that that we have progressed so much, I need the entire picture, that you have concealed from me for so many years.”

Arnav cleared his throat, he looked straight into Khushi’s eyes, and took hold of her hand with which she had been gathering fistfuls of her kurta, under the table and squeezed it reassuringly. Then he began, “Doctor, my sister had been married to a cheating scumbag who deceived us.”

The Doctor, sensing the discomfort in the room, asked , “I know that, where did Ms.Khushi come into the picture?”

Arnav knew the ramifications of what he would need to say but he felt uncertain. He looked at Khushi once again, but she blinked away from him, took charge for herself. This had to be said and done, and it was all in the past now. Khushi drew her hand from Arnav’s and said, “Well, Doctor, the Man was attempting on cheating on her with me. He played out a scene trough which he made Anjali believe that he was the one being victimized and that I was the one after her husband.”

“But you weren’t right? You weren’t involved..?” asked the Doctor uncertainly, while making scribbling notes into the pad that lay before him.

“No Doctor, she wasn’t.” Arnav vindicated before she could answer.

“Well, then you didn’t tell her? You didn’t explain it to her?” asked the Doctor almost apologetically. If she had explained all of it to Anjali in time, all this mess could have been avoided.

Arnav again answered before Khushi, as the entire scene from that night replayed in his mind – A crying Khushi, begging him to listen. But he hadn’t. He was the one to blame, not her. “Doctor, it’s not her fault. She tried. She tried explaining the situation to everyone, but, nobody believed her.”

“Hmm. I see.” The Doctor murmured. The Doctor directed his next question to Khushi, “Ms.Khushi, how did you know Anjali’s husband?”

Khushi answered compliantly, “He used to live at my house as a paying guest, and he had convinced my family to marry me off to him.”

“And that was against your wishes?”

“Yes.”

He addressed his next question to Arnav, “So, it was actually until the night that.. you know… Anjali was raped, that, you didn’t realize the truth about her husband.”, as he flipped through her records once again, getting a clearer picture of what had happened.

“Yes, and it was the same night, a few hours later.” replied Arnav.

“Well, I think I have enough information on the patient now, thank you for your cooperation.” Said the doctor smiling at them. “But I do have one last question?”

Arnav raised his eyebrows at that, “What?”

“Why didn’t you come before Ms.Khushi?”

Khushi glanced at Arnav before answering, “I only learned of Anjali’s condition recently.”

The Doctor smiled at Khushi once again, “Better late than never.” And he added cheerfully, “That’ll be all for today.”

Arnav exited the cubicle, and motioned Khushi to follow, but she stopped to ask the Doctor, “Will she be alright?”

The Doctor, who was an old man, patted her head gently and said, “I would bet on it.”

Khushi smiled at him and muttered a, “Thank You.”, before leaving to follow Arnav

Road Less Travelled :: Chapter 10


She was standing at the entrance. She was waiting for him. Arnav walked up to her and asked her to follow him, and she did.

Arnav didn’t drive to the hotel, and when Khushi had asked him, he hadn’t responded.

The car came to a screeching halt at the gates of Shantivan. Arnav got out of the car but Khushi sat in a few minutes to decipher his actions. She didn’t understand.

She followed him, she was about to step into his room when Khu caught up with her.

“Aunty! Aunty!” She reveled in joy as she hugged her, wrapping her arms around her knees.

One look of the child, whose presence had irked her earlier, now worked to take away all her worries. She pulled her by her hand and took her to her Badi Nani, who was about to tell her a story. She sat and listened to the entire story, and thankfully, there wasn’t much awkwardness this time.

Little Khushi made Khushi sit with her for lunch, demanding to be only fed by her, and no one else. It was when Khushi was feeding her, she realized how much the child was like her mother, she did care for everyone, and tried to lighten spirits, and how she craved for love and attention. Or maybe it was a child who was deprived of her mother.

But, no, she didn’t think Arnav ever let Khu feel anything was amiss, he was capable of making a person feel loved when he wanted to, and otherwise, like a piece of shit. She had been on both sides.

Khushi’s eyes searched for him around the house, as her mind had wandered onto him again, and while she held a bite of Indian bread in front of Khu’s mouth.

She didn’t see him the entire time.

She tried to refuse to lunch when Nani ji requested her to eat, as it was getting late, but gave in and sat for lunch with her. In the small talk they had over the table, she gathered that the all-pervasive Mamiji had gone with Mama ji to visit the four teerths for some peace in this house. She was certain, a bad omen had befallen her house, and only prayers to the Gods would work to sort things out.

Khushi left the woman to her musings, and walked to Arnav’s room. She noticed Khu sitting on the bed with picture frame of Anjali’s held in her small hands. Khushi went and sat besides her, as she didn’t spot Arnav around.

She didn’t say anything, but Khu held out the picture to her, “This is my mother.”

Khushi smiled at the innocence of the child.

“Isn’t she beautiful?” she asked.

Khushi pulled Khu into a hug, into her lap, so that she didn’t see the sudden pool of tears that blurred her vision slightly. What fault was it of the child’s? The entire, bloody situation?

Khushi lowered her head to plant a kiss on her hair.

“She’s beautiful, and you’re just like her.” Khushi said.

“You know her?” Khu asked.

Khushi nodded, uttering a, “Mmmhmm.”

Khu said, “Tell me something about her.” as she settled herself, so that her head lay in Khushi lap. Khushi pulled the covers onto her before she started telling her of the time she first met her mother.

Khu fell asleep in the middle of it, and Khushi had transferred her onto the pillow. She was just bending to kiss her once again before getting up and leaving when she heard heavy footsteps approach the room. She turned around as she heard the door open.

It was Arnav. She wasn’t even embarrassed to be in his room without his presence though their relationship had definitely estranged over the years. Arnav just shot her a glance and walked straight to the poolside.

Khushi followed him swiftly, and shut the glass door behind her, so as to not wake Khu up.

———-

Khushi walked up to him, he was standing with his back to her. She noticed he was holding something to his myth, and then there was a puff of smoke. Was he smoking? He exhaled another plume of smoke that made her cough, and that’s when he noticed her behind him.

He spun around on his heels and stubbed the butt of the cigarette in the ashtray that lay on the little table there. She hadn’t noticed he had an ashtray over here earlier when she had been here.

“So, you smoke now?” She asked innocuously.

Arnav snorted and ignored her. He asked her, obnoxiously, “So, have you ‘thought about it’?”

The sarcasm in his tone pinched her.

“What did I ever do to you that you need to talk to me like that? Don’t you forget, you are the one who needs me here! You are the one who wrote me that desperate letter! You are the one who came crawling to my house Mr.Arnav.Singh.Raizada!” She said in a low, but a serious tone, not wanting the child to witness this. Otherwise, there was no stopping her shouting at him this time. She didn’t have the time or the patience to satisfy this man’s ego, especially when he should be the one thankful to her.

Arnav charged up to her like a bull. The earlier Khushi would have been scared and moved backwards until she was pinned to the wall, but this Khushi had seen too much of the world to be scared, she stood firm to the ground.

Arnav caught hold of her hands and twisted them so that he held them behind her back, with a firm grip of his own hand and pulled her close. And he said in an icy, indignant monotone,” You think you are some paragon of virtue, running away like that? Khushi, why did you run away then when you knew you were the one being wronged?”

“Leave me Arnav, you are hurting me.” Khushi said, while purposely not looking at him nor making any attempts to free herself. She didn’t want to let him think for a second that he was successful in making her struggle.

“Fine, tell me what made you come back, was it my letter?” He asked, while not loosening his grip on her.

“I said leave me.” Khushi said through gritted teeth.

Arnav loosened his grip on her with a start that made Khushi slightly fumble.

“You want to know? For starters, yes, it was your letter, but no, it wasn’t you who made me come here. It wasn’t even Anjali entirely. It was my own past and for the sake of that little girl sleeping in your room.” She bawled at him.

Arnav pursed his lips into a thin line as he heard those words. He knew he had unnecessarily been connote, but something just brought it out of him. Maybe, it was irritability at the fact that she hadn’t got up at once and said that she would do all that she could to help Di recover.

But now when he thought of it, there wasn’t any reason for him to hold such high expectations of her. And Khushi had said it, it was he who needed her, and he needed to show some gratitude.

“Khushi, I Am..”

“Don’t say sorry unless you mean it.” She cut him.

“I’ll help with Anjali, as much as I can. I know what she has gone through.”

“What do you mean?” Asked Arnav, confused by her words.

“Nothing. Just let me know.” She said as she turned to leave.

She caught hold of the frame of the door with both her hands, before she turned herself by her waist, to say, “Arnav, everyone doesn’t have the lily white lives you think they do.”

Road Less Travelled :: Chapter 6


Chapter 6

 

Arnav put Khu to sleep in the room they had been given. It was probably Khushi’s room, but he couldn’t say. There was almost no furniture other than the basics ‘ a bed, a cupboard and a desk. Only when he put Khu on the bed and lay next to her, as he told her a bedtime story of a beautiful princess, and a good for nothing prince, that he took in her fragrance from the pillows.

 

This was most definitely her room. Dai must have made her give her room to them.

 

His suspicion was confirmed, when he absentmindedly opened the bedside drawer, and found nothing put an old frame, with a yellowed grainy picture of her, with her Amma, Bauji, Buaji, and Payal.

 

———-

 

Arnav hadn’t seen her since that time in the hall. She seemed to have gone retired into her own cocoon. He spent all his time talking to Dai, who told him of their life in Shimla. How Khushi taught dance at the school nearby. How she never really socialized, and her life came to revolve around the children she taught.

 

———-

 

He had got out of bed, well, because he was stiff, and he couldn’t sleep in Khushi’s house like that. He hadn’t even spoken to her properly; the whole purpose of his visit seemed defeated. Heck, he’d barely seen her.

 

He tread out of the room wearily, still keeping a cautious eye for Khushi. He went down the stairs, in case someone saw him, he was going to make the excuse of having come down to get some water.

 

He saw her sitting on the sofa, with her head resting on her hand. She looked so worn out, so torn.

 

He quietly walked up to her, and whispered her name in hushed tones, “Khushi..”

 

She looked up to him. She wasn’t surprised. She had expected him. But she looked away from him right away.

 

He sat beside her. He gently put his hand on hers and stroked it gently.

 

He didn’t even say anything, but Khushi all of a sudden twisted in her place, and buried her head into his chest and cried. She finally broke down and let it all come out, the tears that had built up inside her over the ears, but she never let surface.

 

Arnav protectively wrapped his arms around her, as though in an attempt to shield her from all that came her way in the world. Everything would have to go through him, before being passed on to her. No one had the right to hurt her, not anymore.

 

He stroked her back with his other hand to calm her down. It was better that she let it all out once.

 

He held her like that, close to him, for a good time, and once her sobs reduced to whimpers, he encased her face in both his hands, and slowly wiped away the drops of tears rolling down her face. He brought his mouth to her forehead and gave her a soft kiss.

 

“Khushi, shh, there’s no more reason to cry. I wouldn’t let there be.”

 

He patted her on her back, and rushed to the kitchen and returned with a glass of water for her.

 

He sat beside her, with an arm wrapped around her shoulders as brought the tumbler to her lips, and held it as she sipped, tilting it as required. He soothingly ran his hand over her back to calm her down.

 

They didn’t need to speak. Their presence was reassurance enough. Words didn’t seem necessary for communication, not for now. The moment was peaceful, tranquil.

 

He had pulled her into his lap to calm her, and she had buried her head into his shoulders. The weeping had stopped, he had constantly patted her back, kissed her forehead, tried to reassure her that he was there for her. He had smiled, when she had fallen asleep like that, she looked so angelic.

 

He breathed a sigh of relief, as everything seemed to be falling in place. He would ask her to come back to Delhi with him tomorrow.

 

He pulled her into a hug, and lay on the sofa, with Khushi cuddled into him and her legs loosely hanging by the sides.

 

He felt a sense of calmness take over him, as he drifted into sleep as Khushi’s breathing smoothened.

 

They lay like that a few hours. There were no worries; he was there with her. Nothing could harm her no more. She smiled in her sleep, a wholehearted smile, after many years.

 

Khushi woke up to the sound of a crying baby girl, standing right next to them. She fully realized the compromising position she was in as the blurry image of Khu became clearer to her as she rubbed her eyes open. She was lying on top of a girl’s father. She was lying on Arnav Singh Raizada. Realization struck.

 

She didn’t bother to talk to the baby, to soothe her. There was something about her that instinctively pulled her away from her. It was her relation to Arnav. She immediately gathered herself and fled.

 

 

 

Arnav opened his eyes to sudden commotion. What had happened? Khushi had just been..

 

A cranky voice, “Da-Da”

 

Arnav instantaneously got up and sat on the couch, the blurred image of Khushi walking away from him became a clearer vacuum. She was already gone, and he couldn’t stop her. He didn’t know how he’d explain everything like that?

 

He pulled up Khu into his lap, and whispered in her ears, “What happened to my darling?”

 

“I am scared.” She rubbed away the tears rolling down her pink cheeks.

 

“Awe, don’t worry baby, I’ll come with you. And Da Da is right here, why are you so scared?” he said in the voice he did while talking only to her.

 

Khushi had been standing by and trying to eavesdrop on their conversation. She had to know.

 

It was wrong, whatever had happened last night? Why had she let herself? No. It was not right. It was out of place.

 

Her heart tried to defend her actions against her mind. It’s just that, his face, it brought back so many memories. It was with him only, that she’d last been truly happy.

 

But, it was him, who had taken it all away too.

 

And now, he’s gone off and married someone else and had a daughter. Why is he here, anyway? And, he had the audacity to bring his daughter. He never cared for me; it was my own illusion, the world in which he did.

 

 

———-

 

 

 

He walked in on her in the kitchen. He had tried to look for her everywhere, but Khu had kept him busy. She had finally found some company in Dai, and Arnav was squandering about in the house again.

 

“Do you need something?” she asked sternly, as if he was intruding into her personal space.

 

“Dai said I could get some milk for Khu..”

 

She opened the fridge and poured some milk into the bottle he held in his hands.

 

“Khushi..”

 

She looked up at him, as expressionlessly as ever. “Do you need anything else?”

 

“No, what I meant to say was, that, Khushi.. ”

 

“What? What do you want to say Mr.Arnav Singh Raizada? Whose has given you the right to walk into my life again and trample it all over. You don’t know how much I’ve suffered, and finally, when I’ve built something for myself, you come in and walk all over me. Why do you keep doing this? Why? Why? Why?” She didn’t realize when she’d started crying, or when she even moved towards Arnav, and begin punching him in the chest.

 

He held her hands in his own, and looked down upon her.

 

“Khushi.. What? I mean.. I thought you’d forgiven me last night…” he answered weakly.

 

“Ha! Forgiven you? You think everything’s so easy? You walked into my house with your daughter, and you think I’d forgive you? And forgive you for what? For not caring! For being so damn indifferent all the bloody time! Why does it even matter anyway? It’s not like you care. Can you please stop this charade of caring and LEAVE!” she screamed. She walked away from him to the sink to do the dishes.

 

“Khushi… but I do care.”

 

She turned around and glanced at him, her vision blurry due to her misty eyes, “Arnav, I think it will be better if you leave, go back to your wife, and child. I can’t bear you here anymore.”

 

“Khushi.” She didn’t even look at him. It was as if the sound of his voice didn’t reach her. She carried on with her work, ignoring his presence. Yes, she was playing it indifferent this time. At least she was trying.

 

“Fine, I’ll leave.” He turned around and left from there. He went up to their room, put in the few things he had carried, walked up to Dai,

 

“We have to leave urgently, there’s some work in Delhi. Thank you so much for the hospitality.”

 

He touched her feet as a mark of respect, made Khu bid her goodbye. He couldn’t stop Khu from running into the house to say bye to her new Aunty.

 

Arnav smiled at Dai, as Khushi skid into the house.

 

She returned with a bar of chocolate, showing it off to everyone,

 

“Look look, what aunty gave me.”

 

Arnav plastered a smile onto his face for Khu, and with his duffel bag on one shoulder, held Khu with the other hand and walked down the Mall.

 

Khushi looked at their retreating forms through he window, until they disappeared in the misty morning. She quickly wiped away the tear that had trickled down her cheeks before Dai saw her.

 

———-

 

It was quieter than usual, at Khushi’s house. She’d even tried to ignore the absolutely necessary conversation, about food and all that. She’d not even gone to school today. And, she’d made the pretext of being tired, and retired to her room early.

 

She opened her drawer, as she wanted to see them. There was an envelope lying, she didn’t remember keeping on there. She opened it. It was a letter.

 

 

 

Dear Khushi.

 

I don’t know if you want to know all this, but I feel compelled to tell you.

 

Khushi, a lot happened since the day you left, and trust me when I say this, I have cursed myself every single day, wishing I could go back in time and stopped you.

 

Khushi, the night you left, Shyam had left the house too, saying he needed some fresh air. All of us retired to our rooms, no one spoke.

 

I woke up to Di’s screams in the middle of the night. I banged hard against their door, but he didn’t open. Di’s screams were becoming louder. We smelt kerosene, so we had to break into the room. Di was sitting in the middle of the bed, and flames were erupting around her. That devil was standing at the corner, waiting for Di to go ablaze.

 

We immediately called the police, and Shyam’s under life sentence now. But he said a lot of stuff before that, which has made me regret a lot of my decisions. I could have killed that beast for the stuff he said about you and Di. Khushi, he was a psychopath, and I can’t believe how he spoilt our lives.

 

Di wasn’t talking to anyone, first I thought she was too shell shocked to speak. She didn’t even cry. Shyam had raped her, and she was carrying his child. I was too flustered, and didn’t know what to do. I was absolutely broken Khushi. Di’s hostility didn’t help much. She had slipped into acute depression. None of our attempts to talk to her, rev her up worked, she would just walk away whenever we did.

 

She had a premature delivery at around 7 months. I couldn’t believe when the doctor told me after her delivery that due to acute depression, the baby’s development had not been proper, and would need intensive care. Even when we got them home, Di never took care of her, I don’t think she even picked her up once. She cringed at the sight of her. Then one day, Nani caught her attempting to suffocate her. My heart refused to believe it, but it was time to face the facts.

 

 

Di has been at a mental illness facility for over 3 years now. I go and see her every week, but there’s no improvement.

 

Even with Khu in the house, the atmosphere used to be really morose. She’s like a daughter, and I can’t let anyone harm her or even put the blame on got anything that happened, she is just a child.

 

 

Payal only did her duties as a daughter in law, and Mamiji’s nagging became more and more annoying, I sent them to Bombay, to handle the branch of AR Fashion there.

 

 

Khushi, I have a confession to make, I didn’t look for you the moment I got to know the entire truth, because I didn’t think I could face you. I wanted to lock myself in a room and never talk to anyone ever. But life doesn’t function that way. It has to go on.

 

I have looked for you since then. I knew it was you anonymously sent money to your family every month, but I couldn’t trace that. And, somewhere in my heart, I knew my presence would cause you too much pain to bear, so I never tried too hard. But then, I saw you in Delhi that day, and I guess I got selfish, with my desire to talk to you. I hunt you down.

 

Last night, led me to believe, maybe all wasn’t lost, we could have still given ourselves a try. Maybe, time had healed all those wounds.

 

Khushi, I’m not going to pressure you with anything, since history has taught me, that I don’t make the best decisions. I was going to ask you to come back to Delhi with me.

 

I don’t know why I keep going wrong, and antagonize you so. I don’t mean to. I truly, do wish you to be happy, even if it has to be without me.

 

Yours truly,

Arnav

 

———-

 

She read it over and over again. She held it close to her heart, and cried. She tossed and she turned in bed, sleep didn’t come easy. She wished, Arnav, I wish you had found me then.

 

Drops of tears had now left blots of smudged ink on the sheet of paper.

 

 

She sat up in her bed in the middle of the night. She had to go, she had to go to Delhi, to Shantivan.

 

———-

Road Less Travelled: Chapter 3


Chapter 3

Khushi had bent down to talk to the little girl, who was tugging onto her dupatta, and trying to wipe away the tears rolling down her cheeks. Khushi looked at her face closely, gently wiping away the tears and offering the girl some water from the bottle in her purse.

Her face reminded her of someone, but the memory seemed too hazy to picture that person clearly, or maybe, it was a face her brain had tried to block out, over the years. She put a strand of hair that was coming on to her face behind her ear as she asked the girl her name,

“I can’t tell strangers my name. Dada has told me not to talk to strangers.” she reiterated.

Khushi smiled before asking her, “Baba, but I need to know na, otherwise how will I find your dada?”

Her sobs grew louder and she starting blaring out, “Dada! Dada!”.

Khushi immediately put a hand on her mouth to stop her from shouting. She picked the little girl and made her sit on the table so that she was at her height. She wiped the tears and handed her a tissue. She took out her phone and asked her, her Dada’s number so that she could call him and he could come and get her.

“9 – 8 – 9 – 2 -.. no no no.”

She started off again, “9 – 8 – 9 – 1 – 2…”

She stopped and frowned, scratching her head, trying to remember her Dada’s number. Suddenly, lighting struck, she took Khushi’s phone from her and immediately dialed his number before she forgot again.

———

Arnav noticed his phone ring, which got him out of his thoughts. So many thoughts, so many memories, so many emotions had come back to him in a rush that he had forgotten all about Khushi, his Khushi. Everything looked so perfect, both his Khushi’s together. So pure, so serene, the way it should have been, the way it could have been, if it wasn’t for that man.

He disconnected the phone and rushed up to them. He didn’t know what he would say to Khushi, how he would face her? Would she even listen to him? He had tried to prolong watching her, because he didn’t know how long their conversation would last, or, if she would even speak to him.

———

Khushi looked around for the little girl’s Dada, who had refused to tell her her name. How weird was her Dada, that he had disconnected the phone. Maybe, he was around somewhere. Khushi’s eyes searched around for a man who could have possibly been the girl’s father. Not too old, she thought.

Khushi’s breathing stopped as her glance fell upon the one man she had wiped off her memory. Actually, one out of the two men. What could he possibly be doing here?

*********

Arnav stopped midway as their eyes met. So many unsaid emotions, so many feelings welled up inside them.

Khushi’s question didn’t remain unanswered for too long. Before she knew it, the little girl leapt off the table and ran off to wrap her arms around him, squealing joyously , “DA-DA.”

———-

Arnav patted Khushi’s head reassuringly, looking down at her for a second.

“Khu, don’t worry. Dada is always there for you!”

He immediately looked up to see her. But she was gone. Once again.

———-