It was with a heavy heart that Khushi locked the door of the house she had spent her last five years in. Tears had gathered in the corner of her eyes; tears she wouldn’t allow herself to shed. Even when Savita came to wish her good bye, Khushi smiled cheerfully, assuring her that she will be back from time to time. She behaved as if her heart was not full of misgivings at going away from this place- her sanctuary when she needed it the most.
She looked back once as she reached the car where Arnav and her sons were waiting for her. Two tears made their way out of her eyes, onto her cheeks as she mentally thanked the house and the much loved previous house owner for giving them a happy place to live. She sat in the car and looked straight ahead. Aarush and Ayush, she knew were happy to be where ever she was, where ever they thought their father could live with them.
They had, as kids do, accepted the facts quickly, without shedding any tears over it. They had been sad the previous evening when they had been told of their departure from Allahabad and arrival into busy city called New Delhi. Arnav had spent time with them, patiently explaining the situation, as Khushi sat next to him, her hand in his. The flight to Delhi from Allahabad had been full of chatter, with boys wanting to know everything, as they incessantly questioned their father. Aarush, Ayush and Arnav sat together while Khushi preferred to sit on the other side of the aisle, by the window.
Arnav knew she wanted space and time to gather her thoughts and he had given it. For that Khushi was thankful. As they landed in Delhi and stepped out of the airport, Khushi’s heart quickened. Their driver waited outside in the parking lot, to take them home.
The journey home was completed in silence from Khushi while the kids chattered on. Arnav patiently replied to all their questions and from time to time, kept his eyes on Khushi. He fully appreciated how difficult this time was for Khushi and how much she needed this time alone to herself. Soon they reached Shantivan.
Trembling inside with anxiety, Khushi stepped out of the car. Arnav held her other hand and squeezed it tight to reassure her. Aarush and Ayush both exclaimed with awe when they had their first glimpse of Shantivan. They all held hands. Arnav held on to Aarush’s hand while Ayush was holding Khushi’s. She looked up at Arnav, seeking reassurance again. Arnav smiled, bent and kissed her forehead, saying, “ Everyone is waiting for you my darling. Welcome home.”
Khushi smiled a ghost of a smile, still anxious. Her heart eased a little though when Arnav held on to her as the door opened.
Khushi saw a sea of faces- all too familiar faces and tears gathered in her eyes. Payal stood inside the door, holding the Kalash while Anjali stood beside her, holding the puja thali. Khushi held on tight to
For Khushi, it was a bittersweet homecoming. Everything that had happened to her in Raizada house ran in front of her eyes, as if it was a film that was being rewinded. She remembered her first entry into Shantivan, Anjali’s loving care, Naniji’s sweetness and understanding, Akash & her own sister Payal’s love and consequently their wedding. She also remembered all the happenings during the wedding, how her own had occurred quite accidentally and forcefully, how things had changed, how Arnav had changed. But most of all, she remembered her re-marriage and her entrance into this house that had become the home of her heart and the events that followed it.
Every nook and corner of this house reminded her of the love shared by herself and Arnav and then, the intense sorrow of leaving it all behind, for his good. Two tears slipped from her eyes and flowed over on to her cheeks, as her lips smiled with joy of seeing Shantivan again. This place was her haven of happiness and she had to leave it behind. How had she borne it then? How will she ever bear to live here again, now that it must have been tainted by new memories of Arnav and his ex-girlfriend?
“Khushiji.” Anjali’s wobbling voice reached across her ears and Khushi turned around. The whole family stood in front of her, still waiting in the hall. Everyone had tears in their eyes, including Mamaji and Akash and their faces were alight with joy. Naniji was sobbing in her handkerchief. Buaji stood beside her; her face a picture of unbearable happiness, her hands joined to thank NandKishore. Beside Buaji stood her mother & father.
“Khushi, meri bacchii.” Garima sobbed out a whisper.
“Amma” Khushi whispered at first and then cried out loud, running towards her mother. As she reached within inches of her mother, she stopped and stared at her mother’s face. Tears ran down her cheeks as she gazed lovingly at her mother, who couldn’t seem to control her shaking or crying. In the next second, Khushi was in her mother’s arms who hugged her fiercely.
“Amma.. I’m so sorry Amma. Please Amma, don’t cry. I’m very sorry to have hurt you. Please forgive me Amma, please!” Khushi said brokenly, pleading for forgiveness again and again as she held on tightly to her mother.
“Nahi Bitiya, nahi.. rote nahi. I’m so happy that you have finally come back. Don’t cry my daughter. I love you. I am not angry, there is nothing to forgive. Oh my child, how you must have suffered all alone!” Garima; Khushi’s mother said, consoling her, kissing her forehead and then hugging her again.
The storm of sorrow and guilt subsided a little in Khushi’s heart as she met everyone one by one. Everyone had truly welcomed her back home, but her eyes kept on looking for traces of Vishal and his mother. Their sons had been introduced and made much of, by all the elders of the house. Anjali had gone completely overboard when she hugged them and told them she was their father’s sister; their aunt. Arnav had been glad to see that they had liked her immediately, though they did become a little wary of her, as she kept on hugging them and not letting them go. All in all, they had been kissed and hugged and welcomed in true Raizada style. Both of them seemed anxious and wary as they met everyone, though they did lap up all the affection. Once they’d been introduced to all, they had come back to hold on to Arnav’s hand as their mother still seemed busy with others.
Arnav had been standing quietly until now. He had watched the union of his family with Khushi; his eyes hiding a well of emotions. Khushi had broken down when she’d first hugged her mother and father. It had almost made Arnav want to hug her himself and console her, to tell her everything. But he held on to his control. As she met with everyone, he saw Khushi’s eyes straying anxiously, looking everywhere. Arnav knew what she was searching for.
He looked up and signaled to the teenage boy standing in the balcony. At his signal, the boy slowly came down the stairs, as if afraid of his reception by the party downstairs. He looked at Arnav for confidence, at Arnav’s nodding smile, continued downstairs. His feet encasings were new and still stiff. A quick step forward almost made him slip. He held on to the banister with a gasp, a mutter and steadied himself. And he immediately caught Khushi’s attention.
The week was slipping by too quickly for Khushi. She tried to think about what Arnav had said, but somehow first of her two days slipped by quickly. On the third night, Khushi put her kids to sleep and sat thinking, outside on the verandah of her house. The same questions that had plagued her since the day Arnav had gone came back to her again. After a while, she went into the living room and sat down on the sofa.
Was she being unfair to her own children? In trying to find justice for a boy, had she been the cause of injustice to others? Had she hurt people she’d loved the most- Arnav, Naniji and her own parents? Had she taken a wrong step all those years ago?
She was so confused. Arnav wanted her back, but when she asked about Aparna, he wouldn’t say anything about her. The least he could do was tell her what happened to her, and his son. Had she- No, she shook her head. She still didn’t think that she’d misjudged the situation then. She knew she had to leave.
Perhaps it had been wrong of her to not have told Arnav about their sons, but she had a valid reason, didn’t she? Now that he knew of their existence and wanted to be with them, would it be right of her to keep them apart? And if she – she shuddered as she thought of it- if she let her sons live with him, go with him- would she be able to keep her distance from him, knowing he belonged to someone else in her mind? It didn’t matter what he said, what their marriage certificate said. What had mattered to Khushi, still did in fact was that Arnav had another son, and had been claimed by another woman long before she’d ever even known him. These thoughts went round and round in her head, until she fell asleep right there on the sofa.
Next morning, she woke up with a crick in her neck. Realising where she’d slept, she groaned out loud. Still yawning, she went to her door and opened it to get the newspaper lying outside.
As she took the paper inside, she glanced at the headline on the front page. The newspaper fluttered from her hand and fell on the floor, as shock took hold of her body. Right on the front page was a picture of Arnav, attending an Iftar party with a couple of leading politicians. Along with him was his son, Vishal. The headline screamed, “Tycoon ASR announces the return of his wife and sons.” As if in a trance, she picked up the paper and started reading it, absently going into her room and brushing her teeth.
The newspaper spoke briefly about the party, politicians from various political sections attending the party with details followed on the next page. Khushi turned to the next page which went on about businessmen attending the party, in particular Arnav Singh Raizada, who was said to be close to the upcoming and leading politician, who was in line for the post of the Prime Minister of the country.
It said that upon being questioned about the young man who accompanied him, Arnav had formally and finally introduced the press to his adopted son, twelve year old Vishal Singh Raizada. Vishal had been suffering from walking disability some years ago, but he had bravely overcome it.
The writer reminded his readers about how five years back, media had widely reported about Arnav Singh Raizada’s separation from his much loved wife due to reasons still unknown, and addition of an adopted son in his life. The reason for separation was rumoured to be the boy who had been adopted by ASR. It had also been said that he was in fact ASR’s illegitimate son, born to his ex-girlfriend; a claim which Arnav had vehemently refuted. Mr. Raizada had opted out of personal functions and Page 3 parties, attending charities and other political for business functions only. Mrs. Arnav Singh Raizada’s whereabouts are still unknown to public at large.
Tonight ASR had smilingly volunteered the information that soon his estrangement with his wife would come to an end. Not only that, he mentioned that he had two sons from his wife and nothing more would please him than to have all three sons by his side. However he gave his usual “no comment” reply on the whereabouts of his adopted son’s mother. His son added to his announcement by saying that both father and son were happy with this new development. He furthermore added that he remembered Mrs. Raizada well and looked forward to calling her Mum soon.
The article ended with a note, that the reporter had no doubt that even after all these years, Arnav Singh Raizada carried a torch for his long separated wife.
“How dared he!!! He had no right to announce this while I’m still thinking about it!! Arnav Singh Raizada, you stupid, dictatorial Laad Governer! Wait till I get my hands around your neck. I’ll squeeze the life out of you!” Khushi swore loudly as she got ready for her shower. “I hate that man! I’m going to teach him a lesson. Soon be joining be damned!”
Her anger had not dissipated even after she’d sent children to school and started preparing sweets for the day’s business. Her thoughts were focused for some time on the piece of information she’d read in the newspaper, about Arrnav adopting Vishal as his legitimate son. Khushi was happy about it, even though a little mystified about Aparna’s whereabouts and Arnav’s refusal to accept Vishal as his real son, even though illegitimate. A part of her mind tried to process this information, but it was the other part which had her total attention- the part which was still outraged, that Arnav had declared that they were back together again.
She was making jalebis when her phone beeped. Khushi looked at her phone and her anger boiled over. It was an SMS from Arnav saying, “Trust you’ve reached to the right decision. See you in four days. “
Khushi’s eyes misted red as she read the message once again. Without a second’s hesitation, she deleted it and called up her lawyer, asking him to draw the divorce papers and send it to her husband’s residence. That would teach him a lesson!
By afternoon, Khushi had received news from her lawyer. He had drawn the divorce papers and sent it across to ASR’s residence; Raizada House. Arnav would be served papers by tomorrow morning. Khushi thanked her lawyer and continued to work.
By late evening, she was a mass of nerves. She went to the park with the children, played with them, gave them dinner and put them off to sleep. Her anger had cooled down sufficiently now to make her nervous, as she thought of Arnav’s reaction after seeing the papers. She had no idea what she would do if he filed for the custody of children. She had not enough money to fight him. Maybe she’d been too hasty in her anger, but – she justified in her head- she had also been right. He had been trying to force her to do his bidding. He had tried to twist her hand by that announcement to the press. Khushi Kumari Gupta would never be dictated by anyone! She would make sure that the children would never be harmed due to any of her actions- or his. She went to sleep, reassuring herself again and again.
“KHUSHI SINGH RAIZADA!!” Arnav’s bellow reached her ears before the doors burst open with a loud crack and an angry Arnav strode in to her house the next afternoon.
Khushi gasped as she saw Arnav striding towards her, murder in his eyes. She was in the shop, setting things to right, having served the last of her customers before lunch. His eyes gleamed with rage, so much so that Khushi wanted to run as far away from him as possible at that moment. But of course, her pride wouldn’t allow her that. So she clutched the pallu of her yellow sari, trying to gather her courage, as she stood her ground.
Arnav reached her in a few steps and took hold of her shoulders. He was so angry he could throttle her!!! As it was, he shook her hard as he roared, “How dare you send me those vile divorce papers!!”
Khushi’s head swam as he shook her. She stammered, “A-Arnav, I-“
She never got a chance to say anything as she was picked up in his arms and on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried into the living room, up the stairs and into her bedroom. She squeaked in outrage as he tossed her down on the bed, and stood over her.
“Enough of this nonsense! I thought if I gave you enough time, you’d come to your senses. But no– Khushi Singh Raizada has no sense whatsoever! Even after I explicitly told you that I’ll never divorce you, you send me the divorce papers! Pack your bags. I’ve had it with you. You and the children are coming back with me right now!”
“If you think your bellowing like this and ordering me about is going to change my decision in any way, you’re mistaken Arnav Singh Raizada!” Khushi spat back, very angry at him now. She continued, “How dare you come round here and start dictating me as if I was a subordinate of yours! I’m a person in my own right, an intelligent person at that. I can take my own decisions and if I feel I don’t want to come back with you, I won’t!”
“Oh yes you would, you headstrong fool of a woman!” Arnav said in a tight voice, his eyes gleaming with an unholy look, “Unless you want us to fight for our sons’ custody? I will make sure I win Khushi, and I’ll also make sure you never get to see them again- ever!”
“You wouldn’t! “ Khushi gasped at his cruelty.
“I would and you know it. I thought giving you time would make you realize that I’m not such a bad bet. But did you even think about coming back?” Arnav bit out.
Khushi looked away from him and sighed. Then she looked at him again and said calmly, “Yes I did. I thought about it and was – had almost reached the decision that we could get back together again.” Her eyes lost their softness and became hard as she added, “And then I saw the newspaper.”
Arnav became still as she said that. Khushi continued, trying to keep emotion out of her voice, “ I saw the picture of you and Vishal. I’m glad he’s able to walk now.”
“And?” Arnav waited, sitting down by the edge of the bed.
Khushi’s eyes flashed, “You had no right to announce to the world that we were coming back together again, especially since I had yet to say yes! How could you!”
“And so you sent me the divorce papers to challenge my announcement.” Arnav thought out loud. Khushi shook her head, trying to not shed any tears at the hurt she still felt at Aparna’s announcement about Vishal and her relationship with Arnav.
“I’m happy for Vishal and convinced that he can be a good son to you. Why you feel the need to hide his parentage has nothing to do with me. It is between you and Aparna of course, but I think it is time you did the right thing and married her. All those years back, I-I had already given you guys my blessings when I left.”
“So you deliberately left me and decided to raise our sons by yourself. You didn’t give a chance to our relationship.” Arnav’s statement, said in a deceptively soft voice belied the seething rage he was in. He looked at Khushi.
Khushi quaked with fear inside but put up a brave front. She gave him a calm look and her voice was just as controlled and quiet as she said, “I thought it was for the best. You already have a son so you definitely don’t need mine. I thought the divorce papers would have made things easier for you; easier to marry your long lost lover and adopt your son. I thought-“
“You thought wrong. You knew I loved you, yet you left me behind with some woman and her son. You broke my heart. You never asked me about her, just took it for granted that since I and Aparna were together before, we had to be again. You did not once ask me what I wanted. ”
Arnav’s voice was icy as if he was near the edge of a precipice. He spoke through gritted teeth, his anger evident,” Not satisfied with that, you took four years of my sons’ lives from me. You shall pay for it Khushi Singh Raizada; starting now.”
Before Khushi could make a coherent reply or even guess what he would do, he pulled her towards him, in his arms and kissed her. When he let her go, Khushi could barely contain her body. Her mind was clouded with want, her body screaming at her to be one with him. Her mind struggled as she became divided between her love for him and her own decision.
Arnav took deep breaths to control his breathing. He held her close to his chest as he said, “Make arrangements. Close your business and your house. You and our sons are coming home with me.”
“I won’t.” Khushi replied, pushing him away and like a child shaking her head, bringing her knees close to her chest and laying her head on them.
Arnav shifted close to where she was sitting on the bed. She looked up at him, startled. He bend close to her face and said, “I will not leave you alone anymore Khushi Singh Raizada.”
Khushi shivered as she felt his breath on her face. She cursed inwardly. Now was not the time to feel the desire. If only her body would listen!
As if Arnav couldn’t help himself, he caught her hair tied into a plait in his hand and brought her mouth close to his. Khushi’s breath hitched in her throat, the pulse at the base of her throat throbbing visibly. She tried to avert her head but Arnav pulled it back with her hair in his hand, bringing tears to her eyes. She cried out,
“Why don’t you marry Aparna and end this all!”
“I can’t. I am married to you.” Arnav spoke softly, a smirk on his face, still holding her hair and keeping her head close to his. He so badly wanted to kiss those juicy lips again, but he had to bide his time. The mention of Aparna helped calm down his libido and focus on the matter at hand. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt her if she knew a bit of the truth- thought he.
“I told you, I can free you. Y-you should do that for Vishal.” Khushi’s voice had almost turned to a whisper now that Arnav’s mouth was so close to hers. She had to force herself to keep on talking of Aparna, keep herself away from temptation of placing her lips over his. Her lips felt dry and on fire. He was looking down at her lips and she couldn’t help as she licked them, and then quickly put her tongue back in her mouth as she saw his hunger flaring. She looked down and closed her eyes to avoid his gaze, trying to stay calm. “I-I c-can free you to be with Aparna and Vishal.”
Arnav tipped her chin up and brought his lips closer to hers, whispering against them, “Listen to me wife because I will keep on repeating until you get it through your thick head. I have only ever loved you, still do. You’re stupid and downright blind at times but I still do love you. And I know you love me too. ” Before she could object, Arnav kissed swiftly and got up, saying,
“You’re intelligent enough to know that when things seem confusing, there’s another side of the truth hiding from you.”
Khushi looked at him quizzically and he sighed, ” Pack your bags while I see to the children. And while you’re doing that, start joining the dots Khushi. You’re going to regret the day you left me once you have reached the final truth. When you do learn the truth, I want you to also learn to trust me and listen to me before you become a martyr ever again. For now, I can only tell you that neither Vishal nor I want Aparna with us. We only want you. Come back to us.”
Discomfort was the word that she was looking for, she told herself. They were at the dinner table, everyone eating quietly. Unlike yesterday, there was no talking today. The children were quiet and so was Arnav. Khushi had no idea what he was thinking about, but he kept on looking at children and her, back and forth. Was he trying to come to a decision?, she wondered.
“Would you like to continue living here or would you like to come with me Delhi? It has good schools you know.”
His question startled her. As Khushi looked up, she saw that the question was not directed at her, instead it was the children he was asking this question to. They both looked at him, with Aarush looking away and Ayush opening his mouth to say something but closing it tight shut, after looking at the reaction of his brother.
“Khushi?” Arnav directed his question to her this time.
Khushi squirmed in her chair. What could she say? She needed time to think. Her children wanted him, just as much as Vishal would. She couldn’t decide whom should she stand up for. She looked at him, torment clear in her eyes this time. “I don’t know yet. We need time.”
Arnav looked at her and nodded. Then he looked down and continued eating in silence. Khushi had no idea that the question was meant as much for him as for her. Now that he had found her one and only love, and his sons, he didn’t want to let them go. To leave them behind and go back to Delhi was unthinkable for him. Yet, he knew he had to leave them alone for the moment. He had to go back to Delhi and set the wheels in motion. It was time the truth was out and in front of Khushi.
He had heard the conversation that had taken place earlier in the evening between mother and sons. His heart had been slashed with sharp swords of pain again and again as he’d seen Khushi dealing with their sons, telling them to let him go, forget him. He had loved Khushi all the more for her pain, her brave effort to keep things gentle, but he had loved his son Aarush even more at his bravery in not letting her see how much he wanted to be with his father. He was proud of his son. He swore then and there, he would make sure things fall in place soon.
They wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with them. He was aware that Khushi loved him just as much as he loved her. He was still in love with her. All these years apart had done nothing to douse the flame of passion or lessened the love that burned bright between them.
He could see her torment. She had left because she had thought Vishal needed a stable family. She had sacrificed her love for the sake of his family and their happiness. He closed his eyes to hide the pain, thinking of the time ,when she’d find out all these years wasted between them had been for nothing. Her sacrifice had been in vain, for he never had any family, any son. But not yet. He had to give her time- and himself too. He had to leave.
They were all eating ice cream for dessert when Arnav made his announcement.
“I’ll be leaving to go to Delhi tomorrow. I have work that must be done.”
He heard a sob and looked for its source. Ayush had tears on his cheeks and was sobbing. Aarush got up & wiped the tears off his brother’s face. He held Ayush’s hand, looking straight at Arnav.
It killed Arnav from inside to see how disheartened his sons looked. Aarush’s voice held too much bitterness for a four year old.
“We knew you wouldn’t stay with us. Mommy is right. We are better off without you because you will leave us when you don’t want us.”
“Beta Aarush-“ Khushi started, but Aarush held out his hand to stop her, “It’s okay Mommy. We love you and we’re glad we have you. We don’t want anyone else.”
Khushi’s eyes filled with tears as she saw her sons walking to their room, their ice cream uneaten. She hurt for her sons and their pain, and was sad to see her Aarush sounded far more wise beyond his years. What a burden to carry for a four year old!! And she was responsible for it, she told herself disgustedly. She should never have let Arnav meet them in the first place! They had been happier not knowing him.
“Khushi-“ Arnav tried to explain but Khushi cut him off angrily,
“If you had to leave, you could have at least waited to make the announcement until they’d finished ice cream. I had been right in thinking you shouldn’t have come into our lives. They had been happy before- they- “ she wiped her tears angrily, “And now they’re broken hearted. I should’ve stopped you from ever raising their hopes. Go back to Delhi Arnav Singh Raizada. Go back to your son and girlfriend. I never want to see you again.”
She got up from her chair and started collecting the dishes, continuing, “You can pack and leave right now if you want. I’m sure you can call your driver or call a taxi to come and take you. I don’t want to see you after this.”
“You’re over reacting as usual, Khushi Singh Raizada.” Arnav’s cold voice was like a tight slap on her face. “I didn’t say I’m leaving for ever. I am giving you time to decide what you want to do about the question I asked you before. I’m letting you decide — getting out of your way to let you make your decision without any coercion.”
Khushi still had her back to him, but he kept on addressing her back, his voice soft now. “I would gladly kill myself before I ever have to hurt my sons again after this. You wanted time? You got it. I will leave tomorrow morning and come back within a week. If you don’t want to move back to Delhi with our sons, I will make plans to live here in Allahabad.”
Khushi turned around then, her tears still running down her cheeks, her shock evident on her face. She carefully put down the plates back on the table and said, “You are leaving because of me?”
Arnav got up and came to her. He lifted her chin up and looked into her eyes, gently wiping the tears away from her cheeks and replied, “Yes Khushi, I am doing this for you. But I can’t let you or our sons get away from me ever again.”
She displaced his hand from her chin, “Why Arnav? Why do it? I know the kids are hurting right now, but they will hurt more if you leave them later. Is it not better if you leave them right now and never come back?”
“They’re my sons and you’re my wife. I can never turn my back upon you.” Arnav said, his anger rising. “You left me before without any reason and then hid my sons’ existence from me, Khushi. You should be glad I’m not forcing you to come back with me right this instant.”
“But you have one more son. And what about Aparna?” Khushi remained adamant. “I left you years back because I couldn’t digest the thought of you having lied to me. You had a past that you told me nothing about, yet you knew all about mine.”
She picked up the plates once more and went into the kitchen, Arnav following her. His anger rose as she spoke of the past. She had never asked him for any explanations. She knew nothing and yet had the nerve to pass judgment on him!!
As if encouraged by his silence, Khushi continued, “I had even thought you’d ask me for- for a d-divorce.” Her tongue slipped on the word. She hated the word as well as its meaning but it had to be said. “But you never did. Does Aparna not want to get married to you still? I am still agreeable to it you know, just as much as I was all those years back in my letter to you.”
Arnav remembered the letter he had received from her a month after her departure. That letter had nearly killed him. He had been on the verge of solving the entire mess that had been created by Aparna, but her letter had delayed things. She had left a note when she’d left, but where her note had upset him to the point of depression, her letter had angered him. How dare she ask for a divorce!! It had shattered him so much ! He had been so distracted by his sadness that he had ran his car into the tree and laid in the hospital for the next few months, struggling to stay alive. He would never let her go, and he hadn’t.
Now, he said, “I am giving you a week Khushi. I want your decision when I’m back. Tell the kids or better still I’ll leave them a letter.”
Khushi shook her head in denial at his offer. No good would come out of it, she was thinking.
She gasped as she was suddenly caught in Arnav’s arms from behind, with him growling, “Here or there, I will never let you go. Get used to the idea Khushi Singh Raizada. Tum meri thi, meri ho aur meri he rahogi, jitna main tumhara tha, hoon aur rahunga. Distance has not separated us, years haven’t and you know it.” He held her tighter, closer as he whispered, “We are Arnav and Khushi and we are meant to be together, until the day we die.”
Saying this, he let go of her abruptly and walked out of the kitchen, leaving Khushi prey to desire, love, nerves, anger, sadness and confusion.
When she woke up in the morning, Arnav was gone.
Khushi grumbled inwardly while she finished her work that evening. She was quite happy in the shop, talking to other people, doing business- and with quite a bit of profit too- basically happy to be away from the disturbing presence of Arnav Singh Raizada in her house. He was still in there somewhere, talking on the phone via his Bluetooth. It was one habit which irritated her then and did so still. She was still quaking from the aftermath of the effect of his embrace and his words.
“Make no mistake my wife, this time around I’m beside you and you will come home with me, even if I have to resort to other measures to do so.”
They were making her nervous; his words. She knew Arnav to be ruthless in getting what he wanted. She was wary of him and his moves right now. What she couldn’t understand was- and it was mighty frustrating- but she couldn’t understand why he wanted her sons when he had one of his own, with his ex-girlfriend.
As if her continuous thoughts were in sync with him, he came right in front of her and stood by her. She looked up at him and deep in her belly, a fire started burning. He lifted his hand and pushed a strand of hair away from her face, cupping her cheek. Khushi closed her eyes, knowing his intent, cursing her body for being so weak, so pliable in his hands. Her body tingled with anticipation as she felt him bending down. She felt his breath on her lips and then, the touch of his lips on hers. She was lost as he kissed her expertly, his hands molding her body to his.
When he let her go, Khushi could hardly stand up by herself. She held on to his the collar of his shirt and slowly opened her eyes. His stare made her gasp. It held well known tenderness and hunger that she remembered from the past. She tried to step away from him but he held her fast by the waist, pulling her closer if that was possible.
“I’m glad you haven’t forgotten.” When Khushi’s brows wrinkled in confusion, he smirked and tightened his hold on her waist. “that I love to kiss you senseless when we’re back together at the end of the day.”
Slow blush crept over Khushi’s cheeks as she remembered the days when their passion got the better of them once Arnav was back from work. There was no getting out of the bedroom until their hunger would sate a little. Only then would they join the rest of the household.
Arnav smirked at the small victory. He knew what she was thinking about- she was thinking about their times together, their evenings when passion ruled. Tender love making came later in the night, when they had had their fill of passion in the evenings. He had missed those evenings with an intensity all these years. Anger at the loss of time was still burning in his heart, but he was clever enough to know that now was not the time to show it.
“Where are the children?” He asked, moving away from her deliberately, giving her time to adjust her mind to the conversation.
“Er- they- they would be at Sarita’s place. They come back when I’ve closed shop. Sarita kind of – babysits them for me.” Khushi replied, slapping herself mentally. She should have remembered the children and used it as an escape instead of drowning into his eyes and that kiss!!!
“I’m not surprised to see you in a Mishthaan Bhandar and running it successfully. You always did have good business acumen and were a good halwai.”
“Well, I am a halwai’s daughter. What do you expect?” Said Khushi.
Arnav nodded in understanding and said, “And a businessman’s wife. I expect no less from you sweetheart.“
Before she could retort to that, he said, “I’m going to go upstairs into your room and take a shower. I can’t make do with the small bathroom in the guest room. I’m a little tired after back to back meetings today.” A devil prompted him to say, “You coming? “
Khushi glared at him. He simply grinned and said, “No? Alright then. I’ll make it quick and help you out with laying the table for dinner.”
Khushi snapped, “Koi zaroorat nahi hain. Hum khud kar lenge. I’ve been doing it by myself all these years and I can still do it, without your help.”
“Tch tch.. you’re angry. But you’re magnificent when you’re angry.” He winked and said, “I’ll be back soon.” making Khushi’s heart ache as he climbed up the stairs and disappeared into her room. She muttered “Laad Governer kahin ke!”
She slapped her forehead with her hand and mentally castigated herself within a few seconds. How could she have forgotten the kids? What if Aarush and Ayush had come back while they were still in each other’s embrace? It was horribly irresponsible of her to – to let Arnav kiss her like that.
As if the thought of kids had conjured them up, Aarush and Ayush came running into the house, screaming, “Mommy!!” The bright smile that she reserved for her kids came back on, as she hugged both her children.
Aarush looked around as he hugged her and asked, “Is- has he left?”
Khushi hid her pain for her children. They knew just as much as she did that he won’t stay forever, no matter what he said. He had his obligations somewhere else and sooner or later, they will call him. For the moment, it was important that she pacified the kids. She ruffled Aarush’s hair and said softly, “ He’s upstairs. He had a long day and he’s tired.”
Ayush’s mouth drooped. “So we can’t talk to him? He won’t play with us? I wanted him to help me with my homework.”
Aarush gave a snort, “Of course he won’t. Why would he? And Ayush, we don’t need him to entertain us either. We have Mommy who plays with us and helps us with our homework.”
Khushi couldn’t see Ayush so heart broken. She smiled at him and said, “You can ask him nicely if he will help you today. He’s very intelligent you know. But Aarush is right, and you know that, don’t you?” At Ayush’s reluctant nod, she continued, “We can’t let him stay with us. I had explained it to you guys earlier, had I not? He has other duties that must come before us. We have to understand that and let him go.”
“But I want him to be with us. He’s our father!” Ayush burst out, tears appearing in his eyes.
“Ayush, my son! I understand that, but you know we can’t – he can’t live with us.” Khushi desperately tried to make him understand.
A thought occurred to Khushi, but she hastily wiped it away from her mind. No, it was not possible. She was not the kind of woman to claim her right on him, even if he was her husband. He was first and foremost someone else’s father. That someone who needed Arnav more than anyone else, it was not his fault that he was born out of wedlock. Even if Arnav couldn’t see it, she could and she would never let any injustice happen to that child. She had her sons and they had her. They didn’t need him.
Aarush took Ayush by the hand and said, “Do you want to live with him, knowing Mommy will be alone? He will take us away from Mommy. What will we do then if he doesn’t love us ?”
Ayush shook his brother’s hand away, “I want a father and mother both, like all other children in my class. That is all I know!” and saying this, he ran into his room, sobbing. Aarush had tears in his eyes too, as he looked at his mother, “I want him too you know, but I will be strong for you.”
Khushi took him in her arms and hugged him, her heart breaking into two. She kissed him and said, “Go and change your clothes. I will lay the table for dinner. And help Ayush with changing too, will you?”
Aarush nodded and slowly went into his room. Khushi got up from where she had sat down and absently started laying the table in the dining room. Her thoughts were more tormented than ever. She was glad Arnav had not been a party to that scene. She had no clear idea what game he was playing, but she knew she couldn’t allow him to stay. Her sons will grow more attached to him if he stayed any longer than a day. What will she do then if they decided they will go with him and not stay with her? She trembled at the thought of life without her sons. NO! She wouldn’t let that happen.
Her hand stilled while she arranged the table mat on the table. Was she being unfair to them? By keeping Arnav away from his sons, was she actually doing injustice all around than just with Arnav and Aparna’s son?
She remembered the day she’d found out about Arnav’s son from his ex-girlfriend Aparna. Aparna and she had met quite by chance at a party and developed a slow friendship. Khushi knew that Aparna had a son; Vishal, who was physically disabled, but she had been shocked to hear that Aparna had not married.
Aparna had confided that though Vishal’s father was alive, she had no intention of approaching him. She came from a poor background and didn’t consider herself suitable enough for him. Khushi had cried for Aparna when she had been told, that Vishal’s father was a rich tycoon and married. She had tried to make Aparna see reason. Vishal’s increasing sullenness, his emptiness, his constant need for a man’s attention- all those things had upset her. Khushi, who belonged and believed in old ideas thought it unfair on the child to not have a father and tried to reason with Aparna.
But Aparna had been adamant- until the day she and Arnav met and Khushi’s world fell apart.
Khushi woke up in the morning and stretched herself with a smile on her face. The smile disappeared though the moment she realized where she was. She was in the drawing room, sleeping on the sofa. It took only a second for previous evening’s events to come back to her and she sat stiff on the sofa, wondering what would happen the next. What would she do if – heaven forbid- she found out that Arnav was serious about keeping the kids with him? Why was he doing this? What-
“I see you’re back to deep thinking. I missed you in bed.” The mocking drawl brought Khushi up short from her musings. Her heart gave a lurch as she saw Arnav standing on the stairs, his hair ruffled. Above his trousers, he was bare chested and looking as sexy as a handsome man could in the morning.
“Where can a man find spare towel in this house?” He asked coming to stand close to the sofa. Khushi scrambled on to her feet. Belatedly she realized that was a mistake, since now Arnav was very close to her, standing a mere inches away. Stammer took hold of her tongue as she said, “Y-y-you can find it in the cupboard below the stairs. I must rush, I need to wake the kids and get them ready for school.”
“School?” Arnav raised puzzled eyes from her body to her face.
Khushi’s face flamed at his blatant eye wandering but she kept her wits about her this time. She said, “They both are in play school right now. They will be in a proper primary school the next year.”
Saying so, she almost ran away from him, scared and at the same time annoyed with herself for being scared. Truth be told, she wasn’t scared of him, never had been much, but she was most certainly scared of her own reactions to him. Last evening had proved to her already how weak she was where Arnav was concerned. She couldn’t let him roughshod over her- not at any cost! Her life was set here, with her sons and he was not a part of it. A sadness welled in her at this thought but she fought it away with grim determination. Yes, he had no part in their lives. He had a son and long lost love with him and they were his life, not she and her sons.
She kept on chanting this thought in her mind, deliberately hurting herself inside as she got her sons ready. No body looking at her getting her sons ready for school could say that she was not cheerful.
She packed the lunch boxes into their bags and filled their water bottles, looking disheveled. Although the day was only beginning, she felt as if she’d been up for hours and yet, she had been neat an hour back, when she’d bathed and dressed. But that’s what happens when you run behind kids, thought she with a smile. As Aayush tried to ruffle his hair, Khushi automatically reached down and smoothed his hair back into position. He groaned and glared at her but didn’t say anything and Khushi smiled wide. “Okay now, you’re sure you’ve got everything needed for today?”
“Sure Mommy!” Cried both
“How sure?” Khushi raised her eyebrows and asked naughtily. This was their daily routine and they all loved it.
“Two thousand times sure.” They replied back, grinning.
Khushi gave them both a smacking kiss on their cheeks and said, “Alright, time to scram. Go, go, go!”
Both the kids rushed out as Savita hollered from outside. It was her turn today to take her daughter and Khushi’s sons to playschool. But something weird happened then, that Khushi had not expected.
They turned back, and looked around. Khushi looked at them, puzzled. And then, she felt Arnav behind her. She turned to look at him, her breath nearly catching in her throat. Arnav had just taken a shower and had a towel round his waist. Save that, he was all man in his glory; water clinging at places on his body and his hair. A wave of desire rose inside Khushi but she stemmed it immediately, knowing if Arnav saw it, he’d take his chance.
Arnav came to stand beside her. In an instant, the kids came to him. Aarush was a little slow but Ayush had no such doubts. He flung himself in Arnav’s arms as Arnav bent to hold him. A hug and a kiss was given to Ayush and then, not wanting to be left out, Aarush also came forward to be hugged and kissed. Arnav ruffled their hair and said, “Get going dudes. See you later!”
Aarush looked at him intently, “You’ll be here? You won’t go away?”
Aranv nodded his head and said, “Yes, I’ll be here.”
“Good. I want to show you my books when I come back.” Said Aarush and then they both went off.
To say that Khushi was astounded was an understatement. Her sons were so much like him, and them together like this—it made Khushi very emotional; emotional and scared. She had almost cried when Arnav had hugged Ayush and Aarush with love. No one could doubt his love for them or their acceptance of him; and yet they’d only met yesterday evening. She knew Aarush was still hesitant but Ayush – he had accepted his father in his life completely. Oh, to be a child and accept everyone unconditionally!
It scared Khushi; this feeling. Feeling wary of his next move, she moved a little away from him. As it was, she could smell the spicy notes of his aftershave; she knew he preferred The One from D&G. She remembered the time when he’d put it on and smile his shark smile. She loved kissing him after he’d put it on; loving the scent of it on him and then rubbing on to her. They’d always ended up in bed. She gulped and tried to not stare but couldn’t help herself.
“I’m your husband Khushi. It is your right to look at my body and covet every inch of it, but when you do that, I can’t resist you- you know that.”Arnav’s husky reminder put Khushi back on alert, with her nose and cheeks going red.
She turned around so that her back faced his front and said, “Go, get dressed. I need to open shop. You can go now, back to where you came from.”
In a millisecond, she was caught by her shoulders and turned around, to face an angry Arnav.
“I told you yesterday night what I wanted and what I meant to do. In case you had any doubts, let me repeat Khushi Singh Raizada. I’m your husband-legally wedded husband and it is my legal right to see to it that my wife and kids are with me.”
“Wh-what are you talking about? Surely you can’t be serious Arnav!” Khushi tried to get free of his hold, “Chhodiye humain!”
“Not happening.” He said and pulled her closer to him. When Khushi pushed him, he let her go for a second. In the next instant, Khushi was upside down, like a sack of potatoes on his shoulder. She pummeled his back with blows, saying, “Put me down this instant Arnav Singh Raizada.. or else!”
“OR else?” Arnav’s chuckle reverberated through her backside as he held her firmly and walked upstairs.
With each step, Khushi’s breathing got faster. What was he doing? Where was he taking her? Surely not— !!! HE wouldn’t dare! She fumed and growled, “You put me down now! This is not your house, samjhe aap!”
Arnav had almost reached Khushi’s room when she spoke. He stopped immediately and put her down. Her words had cut him but he didn’t let it show. She tried to turn away from him but he caught her again by the waist and pulled her close to him. There was not a single part of his body that wasn’t demanding release at this time, yet his heart was hurting. His amber eyes were icy now with anger as he looked into her eyes and saw her flinching, her body in his arms, trembling.
He said, “Khushi Singh Raizada, yes- this is not my house but it isn’t yours either. Your house is with me- in New Delhi. Your home is Shanti Van, not this two floored building. I will make sure you learn some obedience before we go back.” Khushi opened her mouth to refute but he merely said, “Make no mistake my wife, this time around I’m beside you and you will come home with me, even if I have to resort to other measures to do so.”
“What are you trying to tell me?” asked a horrified Khushi. Her mind seemed to have seized up to understand the implications of his statement. Surely he didn’t mean what she thought he meant?
“You heard me well Khushi Singh Raizada. I’m not going to divorce you. What’s more, I want you where I can see you, with my sons.” Arnav walked towards her, his stride determined.
Khushi was almost hysterical. She thought, this is the same old cat and mouse game; he moves ahead and I behave like a scared mouse, moving back. Indeed, she had already started taking a step back with each of his advancing steps. She looked up and saw mockery in his eyes.
“When will you stop stepping back the moment I step forward? I’m not going to eat you Khushi… at least not yet. I do remember how much you like it when I – eat you.” That last bit came out in a husky voice, desire clouding his eyes as if he remembered the taste of her.
Khushi’s eyes widened at this passionate onslaught of words on her senses. She gasped as her back felt the wall against her. With nowhere else to go, she stood rooted to the spot, her eyes following Arnav as he moved towards her. Soon he was close, very close. She gasped as he lifted his hand and trailed his finger across her lips, his eyes intense with passion.
“S-stop.” Khushi whispered, but her throat closed up as he bent and she felt his breath on her face.
“Make me.” Arnav whispered back before taking her lips with his own. Khushi’s moan died on her lips as his mouth captured hers, demanding passion. Unable to control her bodily reactions, Khushi responded back, giving kiss for a kiss.
Arnav deepened the kiss and groaned her name. It had been so long since he had tasted her mouth and yet it felt as if no time had passed at all. Their bodies moulded to each other like they had never parted. Somewhere in Arnav’s mind this truth rang a bell. It was true after all- not a single moment had gone by in all these years when he hadn’t missed her, when he hadn’t wanted her. He silently vowed to never let her go away from him again. Whatever her reasons, once she told him about it, he would find a solution to their problems and forever be with her and their sons.
Slowly he lifted his lips from hers, gazing at her closed eyes. She looked so much at peace in his arms; he saw smugly. She would be, he thought- that’s where she belongs. She opened her eyes and he smiled at her.
Khushi opened her eyes slowly, still caught in the web of passion. Arnav was the only man in this Universe who could make her forget everything and everyone. Nothing had changed between them physically at least. She still adored the way he kissed her, she wanted him to continue until they were both one once again and he filled her with is seed.
His seed- her sons!! Khushi’s eyes grew wide in dismay this time as she remembered them, too late. She looked up at Arnav, disgust for herself and her lack of control apparent in her eyes. Arnav’s smile slipped from his face, leaving it cold as he saw the revulsion on her face. He mistook it for disgust at him and yet, he couldn’t let her go.
“Let me go, please Arnav.” Khushi pleaded quietly and Arnav immediately let her go this time. His heart ached at the pain he saw in her eyes. He wanted to shout out that he had never betrayed her, had never wanted anyone else but her, but he kept quiet. Time enough for all that. Right now, his main object was to get her back with him and take her home with their children; take her where it was her right to belong.
“How could you?” Khushi asked, her heart broken. It wasn’t that she didn’t want him or his kisses. Indeed, nothing would make her more happy than to spend her life with him. But how could she forget that there were more people involved in this case than just him and her? How could she forget the other woman and her son that was Arnav’s son as well? How could HE forget that? Jealousy tore her heart apart; did he kiss that woman too the way he kissed her, with so much passion?
“It is very simple.” Arnav said, his tone amused. “I put my lips on yours and we kiss. You enjoyed it too Khushi and you’re my wife. Who else would I kiss if not you?”
“Not me. I don’t want you to ever touch me again. Go and get your lust sated by someone who enjoys your attention. As far as I remember, you had no problems forgetting that I was your wife before.” Khushi said angrily, moving away from him. Trust him to turn the knife where it hurt the most. Who else indeed?
“Khushi—“ Arnav turned her around and took her arm firmly in his grip. She struggled but he held her firm. He tipped her chin up and she met his eyes. They were cold and dark, as the night in summer, gleaming with some emotion Khushi couldn’t define.
“Just go away Arnav and leave us alone. We were much happier without you and we will be again when you leave us. Get out of my house and never come back again.” Khushi met his eyes and quailed at the look in them.
He inched closer and growled, “Get this firmly in your mind wife. I’m not letting you and my sons get away from me. And you had better get yourself used to me around.”
He let her go abruptly, moving away from her and looking interestedly around the room, “It has been a long day for me. I travelled from Lucknow for a meeting here. I need to take a shower and sleep. I’m guessing- but I think the bed room is upstairs, with a view of the garden ?”
Khushi gaped at him. Then shaking her head as if to bring sense back, she gritted her teeth, “You have no room in my house. If you want to sleep, go somewhere else. There must be a decent hotel who’ll take you in.”
Arnav turned to her, amusement gleaming in his eyes. His tone was silky as he asked, “Where else should I go and why? I am your husband and I will sleep with you.”
Saying this, he quickly moved to the stairs before Khushi could get words out of her mouth and disappeared along the corridor and rightly, into her room.
“I’m waiting for an explanation Khushi. You left me with a bread and water note and no explanations. You’d better have a good excuse- for leaving me and keeping the identity of my sons from me.”
Khushi flinched as she faced Arnav sitting on the long worn sofa in her modest house. She supposed she could be thankful that he had not raised the subject sooner- in the presence of the boys. She reflected upon the evening that had been spent together with the boys.
Arnav had behaved impeccably in front of boys so that they had started melting towards him little by little. She had also realized by the end of the evening that no matter how hard they wanted to believe they didn’t like their father, it wasn’t true. She had seen it in the way they had looked at him when they were talking amongst themselves about some car they had seen the previous day and wondered which brand and model it must have been. They normally didn’t involve Khushi or asked her questions on this particular topic since she was quite ignorant of such things. They despaired that for their mother all cars were the same- simply cars. The only distinction she granted them was–all cars were either big cars or small cars, wide cars or narrow cars.
Arnav had quietly listened to the boys talking about the car amongst themselves and stated the right model and brand apparently when they described it to him. The boys had looked at him with new found interest and smiled together. Khushi realized belatedly that the boys had already known the make and model of the car but were testing him. Apprently Arnav had passed the test and they had hesitantly but firmly started a conversation on cars. That had been the beginning of the non-stop talk about cars between Arnav Singh Raizada and his sons.
She had felt envy at the ease with which Arnav and their sons had bonded and had felt guilty for feeling so. It was only fair that she gave all of them their due. After not knowing their father for so long, the kids would be naturally curious to know more about him. As for Arnav, she could see him bewitched with her-their sons and smiling at them. For Khushi, he had no smiles.
The atmosphere had been strained between them at the dinner table until as usual, the boys had started acting up. It was always a bit of a tussle between her and boys when it came to food.
“But Mommy I don’t like this subzi! Can I not have some stuffed paranthas? Or why can’t I simply eat chocolate for dinner? “
“Ayush, chocolate is for after dinner, not for dinner and you know it very well. If you want to grow tall and look handsome, you’d have to eat healthy.” Khushi had tried explaining and then after a look at Arnav said, “Look at your father. Ask him if he likes this subzi and he’ll tell you it helped him grow tall and handsome.”
Both the kids had looked at him and Arnav had nearly choked on his food, while Khushi had almost smiled. She knew that if he was honest he could tell them that he hated French Beans too and would definitely prefer Paranthas. However to her surprise, he had meekly agreed and given his positive voice to her opinion.
After that episode, Aarush had stayed quiet throughout dinner; eating what was put in front of him and looking at Arnav as if he couldn’t stop himself. Khushi could read doubt and anger both in her son’s eyes but she knew he would be unable voice them out loud so soon. Khushi prayed Arnav would be on his way; away from them all soon and she would sit down to explain everything to the boys.
The boys had quickly followed the daily regime and gone off to sleep, but not before Ayush had caught hold of Khushi’s hand and asked her, “Is he going to stay Mommy?”
Before Khushi could have replied back, she heard her elder son say, “Why is he here Mommy? He looked angry every time you spoke to us or to him. Is he going to take you away from us?”
Khushi had held both her sons in her arms and assured them that no one and nothing could take her away from them. She could see that they weren’t fully assured but they took her reply as the final word for now. They had taken longer than usual to sleep and Khushi herself had felt exhausted after reading two bedtime stories.
And yet she sat there, opposite him while he demanded an explanation. And just like that, Khushi became angry.
“You want me to give you a reason for keeping my sons away from you? How dare you Arnav ! You should be thankful that I left you when I did and let you sort your life out. What do you care why I left you and kept my sons away from you?”
“Our sons Khushi. They are mine too.” Arnav replied, keeping a tight rein on his temper.
“And if I remember correctly, you also have one more son. I should have thought you would be happy enough to let things be. In fact I more than welcome the idea of our divorce. I’m sure your ex-girlfriend would want to become your present wife as much as I want to become your ex-wife.”
Khushi’s reply cut Arnav to the bone but he kept quiet on this front. There was a lot more to that story than Khushi knew and he didn’t really want to get into it all right now. It touched a painful cord in his heart and his anger abated for a few moments. From her perspective, he could see reasons- reasons due to which she may have decided to leave him. Khushi had always been foolhardy. She’d believe anything and do anything for the happiness of others- even if she had to sacrifice her own happiness.
While he knew where she came from, a part of him still couldn’t forgive her for the fact that she had had their sons all by herself and kept them from him. His anger returned and so did his determination.
All of his attention was on his sons; his flesh and blood. At the same time he couldn’t deny that a part of him was also very attentive towards Khushi. Right from the first moment when he’d seen her on the road, his body had leaped with want. He’d ignored that as foolishness then. But when she’d looked at his sons lovingly, he’d felt a pang of envy. He wanted her to look at him the way she used to- with want, with love.
He found to his shock that all these years had had no effect on how much he desired her. When their eyes had met on the dinner table, he had seen the reflection of his want in her eyes and burned with it. It had made him angry enough to not look at her again. Even now, he found it difficult to keep his eyes away from her fidgeting form. If he gave way to his primal instincts, Khushi would be on her back right now with him plunging deep into her.
He moved to hide the signs of arousal, annoyed with himself and with her. His gaze, when it met hers, pierced her; his voice cold, as he advanced towards her, “You may wish for anything but the fact remains that you are my wife and will remain so. I’m not divorcing you Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada. Not now, not ever.”
Khushi oblivious to the forthcoming upheaval in her life was enjoying the day with her sons. They had gone to the elephant park; a place which was closest to the zoo that she could find for her sons to visit in Allahabad. Of course there was big Zoo in Lucknow, where she had grown up. She so much wished to take her sons there, but that was not possible so they made to with Elephant park out here. It was sort of petting zoo where one could pet and play with rabbits and horses or climb on to the stone elephant’s tail and slide down its trunk.
It gave her heart great pleasure to see her sons laugh and cheer each other when sliding down. She sat down on a bench and watched them. How quickly had they grown up and she didn’t mean only in age. Aarush was showing signs of understanding and maturity at such a small age and Ayush didn’t take long to pick up on the vibes in the room. If Khushi was ever sad or upset, he’d know it immediately and both the kids would try to find out the reason and make her happy.
They never asked about their father after that one time about six months back when she told them, she hadn’t told their father about them. They had asked her the reason and she had to simply tell them that it was for everone’s happiness that she had not told him. Khushi knew that at the moment they were contented with her and didn’t really want a father but soon—her heart thumped faster at the glimpse of a couple of years ahead when they’d start playing sports and would definitely wish for a father to cheer them up. Khushi herself was not much of a sportsperson but both her sons showed distinct signs of liking sports. Aarush was into football while Ayush really liked basketball.
Khushi was roused from her thoughts by a loud greeting from her neighbor and her daughter who had just arrived at the park. The daughter made a beeline to play with Khushi’s sons who stopped sliding down the elephant trunk themselves and first of, helped her do it. Khushi smiled warmly at their gesture.
“It’s good to see you sitting quietly like this Khushi. Every time I see you, you’re always busy with something or the other.” Her neighbor, Sarita saw the picnic basket and grinned, “A picnic ?”
Khushi nodded happily, “It’d been so long since I took the boys out for a picnic. Thought I’d do it today. I’ve been very busy with the shop, that’s true. What with Navratre, Durga Puja time, Dussehra and then Diwali, I’ve been overloaded with orders for sweets. Tum toh jaanti he ho na, kitna kaam hota hain.”
Sarita patted her on the shoulder, “Yes dear, I know. The old lady must be so happy to see you running her shop successfully from heaven. People swear by your sweets. “ She looked at Khushi’s kids playing with her daughter and added, “Your sons behave beautifully Khushi. Sometimes I wonder how you get the time to raise them, teach them good manners and keep up with running your shop.”
“All is the grace of God I say Sarita. It is not easy to raise them but I love them to bits. I would never want my life to be any different.”
“But-“Sarita hesitated then ploughed on, “what about their father Khushi? After some time they will definitely need a father. What will you do then?”
Khushi stiffened at her words. “Why would they need a father? Hum hain na. Hum sab sambhaal lenge. I know I can do it.”
Sarita shook her head sadly, “You may say that Khushi but sons always need fathers after a certain age. You can’t do the things your sons would be able to do with their fathers. Sab kaam tum akele nahi kar sakti ho Khushi.”
“At last! Someone who agrees with me.” A drawl that broke Khushi’s skin into goose bumps came right from behind them. She shook her head as if to clear her ear and looked at Sarita, “You said something?”
Sarita was looking at a point behind Khushi. Khushi turned her back, her senses prickling but she not giving in to them. No, it was not possible! She had been careful all along. It couldn’t be.
Arnav stood behind her, a lazy smile upon his face as he looked at Sarita. Khushi heard her friend gasp in shock and surprise as she exclaimed, “You are Khushi’s husband!”
Arnav nodded his head in acquiesce and came forward. “The very same. How did you know?”
Sarita gave him a huge smile and looked back at Aarush and Ayush playing with her daughter, “Your sons look exactly like you; that’s how I knew.”
Arnav gave her a tight smile, “You say so? I hope their sensibilities also resemble mine. If they are like Khushi when it comes to life; I’ll have a lot of work ahead. ”
Sarita looked at Khushi and her brow furrowed in concern. “Khushi, are you okay?”
Khushi looked at Sarita, shock and hysteria evident in her eyes. She wanted to scream and laugh hysterically at her while shouting, “Do I look okay to you?” but she sat rigid, her body still in shock. It was a good thing she was sitting or else she’d have fainted dead away. As it was, she sat still, her heart thundering in her ears, oblivious to her surroundings. Arnav was standing next to her and though her body tried to tell her it was really him a part of her mind refused to believe that he could even be present here. She closed her eyes and muttered, “If I don’t look at it, it will go away.”
“What will?” Sarita’s bewildered tone reached her ears but she didn’t open her eyes.
“I will. She thinks I’m an image projection of her night mare and if she doesn’t look at me, I will disappear. Still very much into childish antics I see Khushi.”
Arnav’s scorn made Khushi’s eyes open. She quailed at the anger directed towards her. He sounded ready to murder her. For the first time since his voice had penetrated her senses, Khushi looked up at him and immediately wish she hadn’t. He looked exactly as she remembered him although there was a hardness about him that reminded her of the first time they’d ever met. He had grown leaner than before too, a part of her noticed. Maybe he was working too hard, maybe he had gotten back to his old ways. Dressed as usual in a suit, he looked the epitome of handsomeness and somehow it smote her heart to think of him as not hers any more. His eyes-her heart nearly gave up at the look on his face. She looked away. She could not meet his eyes that held a variety of emotions; uppermost being anger and hurt.
Her attention was diverted before Arnav could say anything as their sons came running forward. “Mommy!!!”
Khushi heard Arnav’s breath hitch in his throat as he looked at his sons. Aarush and Ayush looked at him with curious eyes and then Ayush, being the shy one hid himself in Khushi’s dupatta. Aarush stood still as he looked at the man standing before them and then slowly moved close to Khushi and held her hand. This movement was not lost on Arnav who was visibly moved.
Sarita looked from the children to Arnav and then at Khushi. She knew when to opt out in case of danger, yet her friendship with Khushi was strong, she moved closer to Khushi and whispered, “Should I stay?”
Khushi could barely speak. She simply shook her head. No point in dragging Sarita into the mess that was hers and hers alone. She braved up to smile at Sarita and say, “You go ahead home. I-I must sort this out. Don’t worry, I’ll be okay.”
Arnav’s mouth tightened as he heard her last statement. Yeah sure, she’d be okay from him-until they got away from prying eyes and overhearing ears of their children. To think that he had two sons and Khushi had dared to leave him without ever telling him—he controlled his rage with some difficulty and nodded his good bye at Savita.
Once Sarita was gone, Khushi looked at him and said, “It’s best we’re off too. Soon it will be dinner time for Aarush and Ayush.”
“Aarush and Aayush.” Arnav replayed the names in his mind and almost sat down on the bench. She had named them as per the mutual decision that had been taken a long time ago, while they were only just thinking about how life would be like as parents. How many dreams had he dreamed with her? A big family; at least four children- two girls and two boys if possible; with girls being elder to boys. He and Khushi mostly fought about who’d come first, girl or boy and here he stood; a winner not just once but twice over with two sons.
Arnav looked at his sons and then at Khushi, a determined glint in his eyes, “By all means, guide to your house and we’ll talk there.”
“Mommy—“ Aarush began but Khushi cut him short by holding his hand tightly and saying, “Let’s get home Aarush and I’ll –I’ll try to explain who-“
“I know who he is. He’s our dad, isn’t he?” Ayush piped up before Khushi could say anything more and heard Arnav’s sharp intake of breath. She looked at him and saw him gazing at Ayush, an expression on his face that Khushi knew well. He was going through a wave of emotions and he was trying to hide it, unsuccessfully.
She took a deep breath and with another hand, held Ayush’s hand, still looking at Arnav and with a calm she didn’t feel she said, “Yes. Yes Ayush he is your dad.”
Chapter – 2
*EARLIER THAT DAY*
Khushi opened the old box she had kept hidden up in the attic for so many years and not looked at it. Much against her wish, tears slid down her cheeks. She brushed them away, annoyed with herself for being such an emotional person. She sat down on the stool kept close by and took out her wedding dress, moving her hand over it lovingly. It had been such a joyous occasion despite all the hiccups. She held the wedding dress in her lap and picked up the wedding album covered nicely with a cling film and removed the film carefully. She wasn’t sure how many minutes she had been sitting there for, crying silently while she looked at the pictures in her wedding album. How quickly had things moved from happy time to sorrowful, she thought.
It was five years today since she had left Arnav Singh Raizada, her husband. Not that she had left him because she didn’t love him. On the contrary, she had left him because circumstances had forced her hand to do so. She had not known then that she would see him every day despite having left the city where he resided. She would have moved away to a different continent but it had not been possible to migrate despite all the help she had had on hand.
It was about two months after Khushi had left Arnav, his house and all her loved ones that she had found out she was pregnant. Having left no choice but to endure the pain all alone, she had moved to Allahabad, a city about 115 miles away from her beloved Lucknow where her Amma Babuji resided.
No one would think of her moving to a city where she didn’t know anyone and by no one she meant her family and Arnav. In their eyes as well as Arnav’s she was gone forever. It was in Allahabad that she had given birth to her sons, with none of her family around for support. Some kind friends she’d made at the beginning stayed with her until she came back home from the hospital with her sons, drained physically and mentally. She had given birth to dizygotic or fraternal twins.
Khushi being a religious person had gone to a priest when the time was right, got their horoscope made, done the needed puja to thank Devi Maiyya and pray for the safety, health and long life of her sons and had their names kept- Aarush for the elder one and Ayush for the younger one.
As they grew older the ache in Khushi’s heart over Arnav intensified. There were too many times when she was reminded of Arnav- times when he got annoyed, when he got hurt, when he was happy and especially when he showed care for his loved ones. They were so much like him! Both of them had similar polite manners and the same charm; only Ayush, the younger one was a little impulsive like Khushi at times. Most days he followed his elder brother around and let him happily boss over.
She wiped her tears away with the end of her dupatta; determined not to cry anymore. Arnav must have moved on with his life like she had planned he would and she-she needed to move on too. Not that she hadn’t tried to do so. But this was no big city and where could she move on to with two boys in tow?
She had been fortunate in Allahabad since when she arrived, she had found a place to live on rent for cheap. Not only that, her land lady; an old woman who was declared cranky by the entire neighbourhood had stood by her strongly when she had given birth to her sons and given her an occupation. She had been the wife of a sweetmeat maker and she had been delighted to find that Khushi was sweetmeat maker’s daughter.
Once Khushi had proved she could make mouth-watering sweets; especially Jalebis, she had been given the responsibility of running the shop. When the old lady died a year back, Khushi had come into possession of the shop as per her will, with no living family present in the old lady’s life. Since then Khushi had made a great success of it. Allahabad knew where to go when they wanted delicious Jalebis and other sweets on festivals.
She thanked her ever present Devi Maiyya for all the good that had been bestowed upon her, muttered a prayer for Arnav and wiped the last of her tears. It was time to go down and get to work.
*A FEW HOURS LATER*
Khushi closed the door of her house as they all went for a walk in the park with their dog Sandy. The kids were allowed to walk Sandy and hold his leash as long as they both held each of Khushi’s hands. And that was how Arnav first saw them together.
Two kids stood by the door of the kitchen, quietly watching the woman making jalebis and muttering to herself. They looked at each other, their expressions identical and grinned at each other, “Looks like Mum is again thinking about us and has stressed herself.”
It was just yesterday when the playschool where both the kids went to had called Khushi. The kids were too naughty, they said. Obviously Khushi being Khushi had shouted them down and told them in no uncertain terms that her sons were angels personified. They couldn’t ever hurt anyone’s feelings. The playschool teacher had warned her that if the kids would continue to be naughty, especially to girls, they would have to be punished.
Both Aarush and Ayush were well aware that the teacher would be doing nothing of the kind. They were their father’s children in that way. One smile and one look from them, a small request made politely worked wonders with the teacher-always! But their mother, Khushi Singh Raizada was unaware of her sons’ abilities.
For once, Khushi was not stressing herself out by thinking about her sons. She stood by the stove, dipping the jalebis into sugar and muttering to herself, “I should have never opened that damn box. I should have simply forgotten what day it was today instead of going into the attic, opening the box and crying my eyes out remembering him. I need to be sensible about everything. Past is in the past and my future—“her eyes misted again as she thought of her sons “-my future lies with bringing up my sons and making them capable and smart—like their father.”
“She remembered the PTA meeting from yesterday and despite herself grinned. Her sons were sure hell to manage but she wouldn’t have them any other way. Charmers and absolutely brilliant. She admitted to herself that she may have behaved a little hot headedly with the teacher but then, which mother could hear her sons being called naughty monsters? She knew they were naughty but they were like-pixies. Naughty and yet possessed a good heart.
She took out the last of jalebis from the pan and turned off the stove. Suspicion had crowded her mind. The house was just too quiet considering the fact that both her sons were at home. Fearing the worst for her work room and the study, she moved out of the kitchen and at first, peeped into the work room. To her relief, everything seemed to be fine. Now for the study where Khushi kept most of her books, her cherished memories of Amma and Babuji as well as Payal and Akash. They were the last of the photos she had of them. The children knew of course who they were, with the exception of their father- a photo she kept hidden from them at all times, in her study table drawer.
Not finding them in the study either, Khushi was intrigued. It was unlike the boys to be so quiet. Could they be in their room perhaps or had they-heaven forbid! Despite her warnings gone out of the house with their dog Sandy. She hurried up to their room and let out a breath of surprise as they found them on their respective tables, studying!
She looked at them lovingly from outside the door. Aarush and Ayush both were four years now and so much like their father in looks and manners, only they had their mother’s smile and her eyes. At the noisy breath she exhaled, both the kids turned to look at her with smiles on their faces.
She felt an ache in her heart to again realize that Arnav would never know that he had sired two sons-so much like him. They were just as uppity when someone challenged them or hurt them, they never showed off their intelligence but used it when required and possessed a great sense of understanding. They both loved humour and good music. They preferred English music to Hindi and -Khushi sighed soundlessly. They sometimes made fun of the songs she liked-just like their father used to. Oh Arnav! If only things were different, we’d be with you right now.
“Hi Mommy! We’re ready for the walk with Sandy.”
Khushi entered their room cautiously, knowing they always winded her up. Parents do when they know their kids loved a laugh. She was a grown woman and yet her sons were as smart as their father in winding her up by their arguments and their pranks.
“We’ll leave in some minutes. What are you two up to?”
“Oh we just thought we’d finish the homework this evening so that we can enjoy the weekend.” Aarush replied sunnily, his smile bringing an instant reply from Khushi.
“This weekend is the zoo and picnic weekend. Of course!” Then she added briskly as she opened their wardrobes, “All right. When you’re done with your homework, come down and we shall go for a walk. Make sure you wear the sweaters I’m laying out for you right now when you’re down. It’s almost winter and it’s starting to get chilly.”
“Yes Mommy.” Came two replies. Khushi ruffled their hair and gave them a kiss each on the top of their head and left them to go downstairs.