“Why is it that every time I propose a visit to London, you have another engagement? I am beginning to think you do not wish to meet my parents.”
Khushi look at Shyam; her stable, sensible boyfriend of eight months, with exasperation and despair. Good looking, charming, and mostly fun to be with, he came from a rich family, but was not a snob like others she knew. Two years older to her twenty-eight, he was also a well known photographer, and had worked with her on some of her company assignments, which is how they’d met. His passion was landscape photography, but his bread earner was his fashion photography skills. He was going to have his landscape photo exhibition at the National Art Gallery, which was indeed an honour reserved for few. Soon he would be making his name well known for his passion.
Khushi and Shyam had met at for a work assignment initially, which had later turned to friendship and gradually into a relationship. What Khushi liked the most about Shyam was that despite the fact that they had been going around since the last eight months, he mostly kept his distance- respected her belief in the old fashioned idea of “physical relationship and commitment go hand in hand”. A kiss and affectionate hugs was all they had ever shared between them.
But sometimes, like today, she could scream at him in frustration. She knew he was planning to ask her to marry him, and she understood that perhaps he wanted his parents’ approval. After all, she was a nobody; an orphan with a younger sister to support; she was no catch and would probably not meet his parents’ approval at all. And yet this was the second time in the last week that he had insisted on going to London to meet his parents. Though she appreciated him for his efforts, frankly speaking, she felt like she was being pushed into the deep end, and she was most certainly not ready to take any sort of leap. Marriage was too big a step for her and she wasn’t sure Shyam was the right guy. And London was the last place in the world she would ever visit!
An image of ASR rose up into her mind to haunt her of the past and she shivered despite the fact that she was thousands of miles away from him now. Even after all these months, she could close her eyes and feel the impact of his persona- his soul searching eyes, his aftershave, the way he had closed the distance between them and almost made her break her own rule of never getting involved physically with a playboy. Had she not come to her senses in time, she might have been just another notch on his belt. To shake his thoughts off, she looked into Shyam’s eyes. Yes, Shyam was nice. He was safe. She put her hand on his shoulder and tried to make him understand.
“Look Shyam, I’ve told you before- I am too busy at this time with my work. I’ve just taken a new assignment and I can’t let delegate things because it is too important. If you have to visit your parents, do. I don’t understand why you want me to come to meet them anyway.”
“Don’t be daft Khushi. You know I plan to introduce you to them as the woman I am getting married to.” Shyam said, determination plain in his voice.
Khushi turned to look at him, not surprised really. She had known his intentions after all. “It doesn’t come as a surprise, but I thought you’d ask me first. That’s the way it goes you know.”
Shyam grinned charmingly, his hand playing with his long hair tied in a pony tail. “Now you know baby doll. I want us to get married. You’ve been working hard to get your wedding planner business up, but the best way is to get married yourself.” He winked, “But more to the point, I feel we’re very fond of each other, and we’ll have a lot of fun together. Don’t you?”
Khushi was in a fix. Saying no would hurt Shyam unbearably because he was very sensitive, but saying yes would encourage him to think ahead, which was not something she wanted at this time. Oh why couldn’t she have fallen in love with him or perhaps learned to be a brutal bitch who could’ve heartlessly declined his proposal? She opened her mouth to say something, and was saved from saying anything at all, as her phone rang. Giving Shyam an apologetic look, she said, “Sorry, have to pick this up. It’s the client who’s wedding I’m arranging.”
“Haan Anjaliji? Kahiye.” Khushi said on the phone. Last year, Khushi had arrived back to India with her sister and opened shop as a wedding planner. It had been a struggle in the beginning, but slowly and surely business had picked up.
The feather in her cap would be this assignment she had currently picked up- a billionaire client who was getting married in India, before heading back to the U.S. If things went right, she could get a lot of business simply by word of mouth, Khushi mused within as she discussed next day’s plans with Anjali over the phone. It would solve her latest problem of where to send Payal for her University studies.
Not that Payal, four years younger to Khushi, and an introvert who kept mostly to herself, had mentioned her preferences to her elder sister. But she had spoken to the only close friend of hers, who in turn had let Khushi know. Payal wanted to go back to London, to study Political Science and International Law at the LSE, but understood that lack of funds might prevent her. This assignment would be just the thing that would solve the problem, if things went as smoothly as they had been going the last few weeks. She focused her attention back on the phone call. In seconds, she was frowning as she said,
“You have a brother? But –“ she frowned some more and said, “ Yes, you’re right of course. It’s my mistake and I’m sorry. It’s just that no one told me you had a brother. Is he arriving alone or with his family? ”
She smiled away the frown lines with what she heard over the phone and said, “You don’t need to apologise, Anjaliji. It was an honest mistake on both parts. Don’t you worry. I will make sure someone is sent to pick him up from the airport tomorrow morning, or if not I will pick him up myself. “
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.”