Sunday, 30 March 2014

125. Recalling Arnav Part 2


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Part 1

"Baby?" Arnav's lips moved to form the word but his vocal cords failed him.

"Arnavji, my baby... where is my baby?" Khushi looked around, frantic, clutching the neck of Arnav's jacket.

Arnav looked at Garima and Buaji, perplexed, baffled by the turn of events, totally lost.



"Titliyaa, don't upset yourself," Buaji said as she moved closer and tried to comfort a distraught Khushi.

Khushi, deaf to excuses and in no mood to be consoled, tried to leave the bed to look for her infant.

"Titliyaa, when... when you fell down the steps..." Buaji paused unable to continue.

Realisation dawned on Khushi's face. Tears filled her horrified eyes and dripped down her cheeks in a never-ending flow. 


Khushi


Arnav looked at Khushi and then at Buaji and Garima, his eyes asking questions he was afraid to know the answers to.

"Khushi," he breathed, unable to witness the devastation on her face.

"Arnavji, our baby," she cried as she collapsed against him, hugging him with all the strength in her slender arms.





Arnav felt his heart still, his breath freeze. 


Arnav


He sat immobile, his arms around Khushi as she sobbed and wailed in to the crook of his neck for their unborn child. His head whirled; his grief-stricken heart ached. The lump in his throat made it impossible for him to speak.




"Khushi... sshhh..." he managed to whisper a while later, rubbing her back gently, hoping she wouldn't fall sick under the burden of grief and heartache.

Her sobs, instead of weakening to whimpers increased in intensity. She cried convulsively against Arnav, her shoulders and frail body shaking, her frame unable to bear the pain of her loss.

Buaji ran for the phone while the Raizadas and Payal and Garima stood helpless in the room.

Anjali felt her chest hurt. So Khushiji too had lost her child. Just like her.





And while Khushiji had been losing her world in Lucknow, they had remained in Delhi, oblivious of the fate they had condemned her to. Where was justice on this earth? she asked herself and God. Was pain the wages of love? Only pain? Was a normal life too much to ask for the Raizadas?

Payal and Mami caught Nani before she collapsed on the ground.

"My poor Khussi bitiya," Nani whimpered as Mami, Payal & Anjali helped her in to the bedroom next door.

"Saasumma, don't cry," Mami said. "Hamre Arnav Bitwaa will make everything alright."

"What can he do?" Nani asked, weeping. "It is all gone. Everything is out of our hands now."

"Please don't upset yourself," Garima pleaded. "It is Devi Maiyya's will. What can we mere mortals do?"

"Our family is cursed, Garimaji," Nani wept. "Cursed. First my Anjali bitiyaa and now my poor Khussi bitiyaa."




Buaji called Munna.

"Munna, get the doctor here urgently. Tell him it is an emergency, Nandkisore. Your Khussi di is not well," she panted.

"I will kidnap one if necessary and get him there," Munna promised.

He and Krishna switched off the stoves, left the sweets and ran to the nearest clinic.



The doctor gave Khushi a tranquiliser and asked her family to leave her to rest. Slowly Khushi slipped in to deep sleep, a blessed oblivion.

Arnav was not so lucky.

Leaving Khushi to sleep, he joined his family in the next room.

"Buaji, tell me what happened. Please," he pleaded.

Buaji sighed as she lowered her heavy body in to a chair.





"When we returned to Lucknow, bitwaa, she was very upset, always in tears. She wouldn't eat, wouldn't drink, wouldn't sleep. I thought she would faint one day, Nandkisore. And she did collapse, a month after we settled in Lucknow. We rushed her to the clinic nearby," Buaji dried her eyes.

"The doctor said that her body was very weak and that she was pregnant," Garima continued.

Arnav swallowed hard, images of the night they had spent in the farmhouse running through his head.






                       









"She smiled. For the first time in one month, she smiled, Nandkisore," Buaji said. "What could we do, bitwaa? An unmarried girl and pregnant, Hai Re Nandkisore!"





"We didn't know what to do, bitwaa. Our neighbours and relations in Lucknow thought that she was married as they had witnessed your elopement and griha pravesh during Payaliyaa's wedding. Only we knew that she was not married," Garima wept.

"And why she was not married. We didn't know if we should inform you, if you would want to know, Nandkisore," Buaji heaved a long sigh.





"Or how to inform you when you had abandoned her at the mandap," Garima added.

Buaji nodded. "It is a curse, bitwaa, when you marry off two girls in to one family. If there is some problem in one marriage, Nandkisore, it will kill the other marriage too."





"And the two families can never cut the bonds binding them. If we told you about the baby, it would harm Payaliyaa's life. If we didn't tell you, you would find out some day or the other. How many years could we hide the truth? The two families would have to meet when Payaliyaa became pregnant or gave birth. Diwali, holi, navratri, teej, karva chauth... there is some festival or the other every month. How long could we keep the truth from you?" Garima asked.

Nani and the others nodded.

"We decided that I should make a trip to Delhi and tell you about the baby, Nandkisore," Buaji said. "We booked the ticket. Three days before I was to leave, Khussi had her accident."

"She went to Ganga Ram's shop and bought an English newspaper," Garima explained. "She returned home with it, went up to her bedroom to read it and came down a few minutes later with it saying that she wanted tea. As she was walking down the steps, she fell. I don't know if she fainted or slipped, but she rolled down the stairs."







"And the blood. There was blood all over," Buaji swallowed. "Hai Re Nandkisore, what a terrible day it was."

Arnav turned to hide his wet eyes. "I... I wish..." he couldn't complete the sentence.





Nani sobbed weakly.

"When it was all over, she woke up and couldn't remember anything. Maybe it was wrong of us, bitwa, but we felt relieved. After a month and more of tears, her ignorant happiness seemed a blessing to us. We were grateful that she couldn't remember her fall and her baby," Garima said softly.

"We contacted Payaliyaa, Nandkisore, and asked her to come to Lucknow alone. We insisted that she should not tell you about Khussi's miscarriage. And together we made sure that Khushi did not remember anything," Buaji leaned against the chair, weary.

"As she had lost the baby, there was no need to tell you about her pregnancy. We cleared the house of anything that might remind her of you, prayed that she would never recover her lost past and hoped that you would forget her and marry someone else," Garima said.

"But you stayed with her even when she couldn't remember you, bitwaa. She used to watch the doorway of her room in the hospital, asking if anyone had come to meet her when she had been asleep. And once she came home, Hai Re Nandkisore, it was always about Payaliyaa and her in-laws," Buaji grimaced. "How many brothers-in-law does she have? Who are they? What are they doing? Can't we go to Delhi to meet them? Why didn't they come to see me when I was in the hospital? Her questions were driving us mad, bitwa. It was then that Garima and I realised the consequences of lying to her, of hiding the truth."





"I didn't know," Arnav muttered, his husky voice huskier than usual.
"I should have known. I should have known."







Part 2 (Friday, 11 April)



Part 2

Arnav returned to Khushi's room to sit watch over her sleeping form. Her pale, tear-streaked face, her limp comatose figure... all seemed to point fingers at him, accuse him of heartlessness, of cruelty beyond words.




He looked at her frail body, his eyes resting on her stomach. Their baby had rested there for a few days before... safe under her heart for a while before... he turned his face away not even attempting to stop the tears filling his eyes.

He had failed Khushi and their baby. He had been a pathetic husband and was now a criminally negligent father, a man who did not deserve a family or the love of a girl like Khushi.

He buried his face in his hands.

Soon it was night. He walked to the window in Khushi's room on unsteady feet and looked out. 





He could see the courtyards of other houses nearby, terraces, streetlights, people and vehicles moving along the roads... the Lucknow that Khushi knew and was familiar with. A Lucknow from which his actions had uprooted her and forced her to move to Delhi. He had hounded a simple, loving, middle class, innocent, naive girl into leaving everyone and everything she loved. He had driven her to the inhospitable lanes of Delhi, wrenched her self-respect from her, insulted and humiliated her at every turn, bossed over her, forced his worldview over her, seen her though eyes blinded by hatred and prejudice.

He shut his eyes tight in regret and grief.

And she had suffered for all his sins. Every single time... and still come back for more punishment. On Diwali night... He had to turn away from the window in distress. His harsh words, his callous deeds... she had paid for all of them. Her tears, her pain-filled eyes as he had smeared sindoor in her maang while promising her that she would be his wife only in name and that too for just six months... he clenched his fists. The cruelty he had subjected her to, the tears she had shed trying to regain the family she had lost because of their hasty marriage, the many times he had questioned her integrity, had put her down, had disappointed her, had disbelieved her... till he had been forced to pay for housing the viper, Shyam by being kidnapped by him.

Even then Khushi had to save him from the consequences of his own follies, he mused, his heart feeling as though someone had placed a boulder on it. And he had ill-treated her again. His foul tongue, his harsh words... he drew in a shuddering breath with much effort.





He had wanted to push her away from his life and had failed spectacularly. 

Then he had wanted to keep her close and failed even more spectacularly.

Shyam and Di, his own prejudice and arrogance, his blindness, circumstances, Dadi, his past... all had successfully parted them. He had tried to forget her, but...He shook his head in despair.

He was Arnav Singh Raizada, wasn't he? he asked himself bitterly, contemptuously. A man who made his own destiny, charted his own course, made his own way. A man who did not need her Devi Maiyya to hold his hand and write his future. An atheist, a modern man, a radical thinker, an iconoclast... and what was left of his life now?


 


A dead baby who had not even had the chance to draw breath in this world, a wife who was broken... no, a wife he had broken inside and out. No, not a wife. He didn't have the right to call her that. He hadn't made it to the mandap, had he? He had left her to the hyenas and the wolves, left her open to the censure of the world if the truth of their sham marriage ever came out...

He arched his neck, battling pain that threatened to bring him to his knees.

Innocents had paid for his lapses, his crimes, his blindness. How would he ever make it up to Khushi? Could he ever make it up to her?





How was he different from his father? he asked himself. His father had cheated his mother, Sunehri and maybe many other women. The man had failed Di, himself, Asha... and who knew if he had sired more children across the country?

And he, Arnav Singh Raizada had given Lavanya Kashyap hope, forcefully married Khushi and made her life hell, left her at the mandap for their real marriage, fathered a child he had known nothing of, and even while staying miles away in Delhi, had successfully destroyed Khushi's and his baby's lives again.

He was cursed, cursed to hurt Khushi over and over again. He had changed his name from Arnav Mallik but had not been able to change his fate or his nature. His father still lived on... within him.

He buried his head in his hands feeling lower than a worm.

His baby. His Khushi. His baby. His Khushi. This chant resounded in his head as he sat by her lamenting over his actions, over the hundred mistakes he had committed against the flower-like pure soul lying in bed, over the many ways in which he had hurt her, images of which rushed to his mind's eye to torment him.

What should he do now? he asked himself. Beg Khushi to marry him and then take her away to Delhi? Or... leave Khushi to lead a life of peace in Lucknow, away from his tainting, polluting presence? It would kill him to leave her but this time it had to be what Khushi wanted, what was good for her. His own preferences had to take a backseat. This was the least he could do for her.





He looked at the beautiful face of the sleeping girl who held his heart and soul in her hand, memorised her features, gazed at her one last time with moist, red eyes before turning to leave the room.



Part 3


"Arnavji," came the call. It was a feeble summons but the effect on Arnav was nothing short of a poke by an electric prod.

"Khushi," he whispered as he raced to her bedside. 




He cupped her wan face in his hands and asked hoarsely, "Khushi, how are you feeling? Tum theek ho?"





She looked at him, asking him without words how she could be theek when she had lost her world. She tried to sit up and he helped her by placing pillows at her back to support her.

"Shall I call Amma and Buaji?" he asked.

"No," she said, her voice low but firm.

"Khushi, I am sorry," he said softly.

She looked at him silently for a long moment. Then she asked, "For what?"

"For hurting you in a hundred ways. For leaving you at the mandap," he said, his wet eyes meeting her dry ones.

She waited.

"For the baby. I had no right to touch you before marriage. For making you lose the baby. I... I..." he stopped, his chest tight with tears.

"Why should you apologise for my miscarriage?" Khushi asked. "Did you push me down the stairs as Shyam pushed your sister?"





"Khushi, I know you saw the photo in the newspaper," he murmured regretfully.

"Photo?" Khushi asked.

"The one of me and a girl. That pushed you down the steps, didn't it?" he asked.

"When someone took the photo of you with some girl, were you my husband?" Khushi asked.

He looked at her in astonishment for a long moment. 




Then he said, "No."

"My fiance?"

"No."

"My baaifriend?"

"No," he said, swallowing hard.

She looked him in the eye. "Our relationship at that point was that of two people who had decided to get married, but hadn't because you had developed cold feet. You were and are free to romance any girl you want. I had and have no right over you. If I saw you photo, felt hurt and fainted, then that is my problem, not yours."

"Khushi," he protested. "Khushi, how can you distance yourself from me?"





Khushi sighed. "I didn't. You did on the day of our wedding."

"Khushi." He had much to say but couldn't find words.

"I am not angry with you for not marrying me. I am not," she assured him. "If someone had told me on the day of our wedding that your mother had killed my parents, I too would have thought twice about marrying you."

Arnav could only stare at her.

"I am furious with you because you didn't show me the courtesy of coming to the mandap and telling me why you were going to do what you did," she said, her eyes dry.

"I am sorry, Khushi," he said.

"Do you think I would have begged you to marry me? Never. I would have told you to go away, far away from me and my family, away from the pain and the nightmares we had given you," she said.

He stared at her.

"We loved each other. Staying away from each other would have been a torture for both of us. At some point our love would have won over the past and the hate and we could have consciously put the past behind us and moved on. And then, maybe we could have had a chance at a life together. You stole the hope from our relationship," she said, her eyes and voice cold.

Arnav could only stare at her.

"You don't have to apologise for the baby. I was there too at the farmhouse that night. If you are apportioning blame, then half of it belongs to me," she said bluntly.

"Khushi, I didn't mean...Khushi," he tried.

"You never do, but everything turns out bad," Khushi's lips twisted in sarcasm.

He looked at her, helpless.

The rant lightened her heart of anger. Sorrow seeped in.

"You never learn, do you? You commit one mistake after the other, sometimes the same mistake over and over again, destroying other lives in the process. But you remain the same blind Arnav Singh Raizada," she whispered.

"Khushi, I am so sorry," he said. What else could he say when every word she spoke was the truth?

"Had you bothered to find out the truth on our wedding day, had you asked my Amma for the truth, had you given her a chance to speak, then our baby would have been alive today, we would have been married today," she said.

"Yes," he had to admit.

"Had you been a better man, had I fallen in love with a better man, my baby would have been alive today," she whispered, exhausted of fighting against her fate.

He stood before her knowing that he was a heel, unable to find words to express his regret.




She sat looking at the wall for long minutes.

Finally she said softly, "When the doctor told me that I was going to be a mother, it felt as though the sun had risen once more in the dark night that was my life. I felt as though Devi Maiyya had dropped all the blessings in the world on my lap. I thought I would have your child to love, a child who wouldn't leave me and go away, but..."

Arnav felt the lump in his throat grow.





"When Amma and Buaji asked me if you were to be informed, I was scared. What if you said the child was not yours? That I was as immoral as Amma? That I was lying to make a place for myself in your life? That I was hounding you for money? I told them that I didn't want you to know about the baby, that I would manage on my own without your help," she said. "But how could they let me do it? How could we hide the baby from you when you were Jiji's Jetji?"

"Khushi, I would never have," he started.





She cut in. "You would have. You would have forgotten the truth of what happened at the farmhouse just as you forgot that I saved you from the kidnappers when your sister tried to kill her baby. I am dispensable to you. That is why you forgot me as soon as I left Delhi."

"Khushi, don't say that I forgot you. Don't say that I don't love you," Arnav pleaded.

Khushi turned her head away.

"Khushi, there was not a moment when I didn't think of you. Day and night, all I thought about was you. I dreamed of you when I slept. I saw you before me when I was awake. How can you think I would forget you?" he asked, hurt to the core.

She refused to look at him.

"Khushi, the photo in the paper," he began.

Khushi did not bother to look at him.





"It was an event organised by the Chamber of Commerce. I had to attend it. I went alone. About ten minutes after I reached there, Mr. Mazumdar came with his newly-married son, Mukesh and his daughter-in-law. He introduced them to me. After a few minutes of small talk, he moved away. Mukesh moved a few metres away to answer a phone call. He motioned his bride to join him. She stepped forward from my left, crossed before me and walked away to her husband. The photo was taken then. If the picture wasn't so grainy, you would be able to see that she is standing not by me, but in front of me, facing her husband, smiling at him," he explained.

Khushi looked at him.

"I don't remember her name, Khushi. In fact, I didn't bother to force the paper to print an apology for that picture because it was so blatantly untrue. How can wedding bells ring for me and a married lady?" he asked.

Tears filled her eyes and dripped down her cheeks. Her shoulders shook in grief.

Arnav gathered her in to his arms. "Khushi, don't cry. Please don't cry," he begged.





Her arms slowly crept around his shoulders and she sobbed her heart out.

Arnav held her close to him, his body covering hers protectively.


Part 4 on Friday