Aman was unhappy. Arnav Singh Raizada was unhappy. ASR's Di was unhappy. And when ASR and his Di were unhappy, Khushi was unhappy. And when Khushi was unhappy, ASR was unhappy. And when ASR was unhappy, he made his right hand man unhappy. Aman was his right hand man, who at that moment poked his head into ASR’s room and said, ‘Sir?’
ASR was heads down in work. Having been away for so long was making it tough on him to catch up with everything that had happened in his absence. There are things that a brother and an EA could do, but some things you just had to do for yourself.
‘What?’ was ASR’s irritable answer.
‘Sir, Khushi ma’am is on line two,’ Aman retreated quickly before ASR could reply.
He hit the button, and said, ‘Yes, Khushi?’ A faint smile tugged his lips at the thought of his delectable little wife. How easy it was for him to think that way now, HIS wife. His Mrs. Khushi Arnav Singh Raizada. But her words brought him down from the little day dream.
‘Arnavji, I just had a call from Amma. Buaji is not well. I was thinking .. I mean would you mind if I go over for a few days to help out?’
He closed his eyes in despair and took a deep breath. Loosening his tie, he said, ‘Of course, you can go. You don’t have to ask me.’
‘I wanted you to know, so that … you didn’t think…’ she trailed off, unable to complete the sentence.
He smiled. ‘No, it’s okay. Go to your family.’
‘I just don’t like to leave you with things the way they are in house,’ she said hurriedly.
‘Don’t worry. I’ll manage.’
‘Okay. Then I’ll leave later in the afternoon,’ she paused. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything.
‘Be careful, Khushi,’ he finally said.
‘I will. Please take care of yourself.’
When you won’t be there to take care of me.. the thought was unfinished in his head. She was so much a part of him now, that the thought of being apart if only for a few days had him breaking out in a sweat. He knew how much family meant to her, be it his or hers. Like him, she always put family first. So he couldn’t blame her for wanting to help her mother out.
It was nine in the evening, when he got another call. This time it was Naniji. ‘Chotey? Where are you?’
‘Working, Nani,’ he replied tiredly.
‘Chotey, you can’t work like this. You need to come home now, can you hear me?’
‘Yes, Nani,’ obediently. Sighing, he decided he wasn’t going to get any more work done, so he might as well go home.
The next morning, he woke up and as usual looked over at Khushi’s side of the bed. It was pristine. Of course, she was at her Buaji’s house! Grabbing a quick shower, he decided to spend some time with his plants. He was enjoying the peace and quiet, when his phone rang. He hit the Bluetooth and said, ‘Yeah?’
‘Arnavji?’ He breathed in. He could almost smell her. He couldn’t believe how much he had been missing her, until he heard her voice. A smile lit his eyes.
‘Have you eaten yet?’
‘No. I’m waiting for breakfast.’
‘Please make sure you eat properly. And don’t forget your medicine.’
‘I won’t,’ he promised her. A pause. ‘How is Buaji?’
‘She’s still running a fever.’
‘Should I send a doctor over?’
‘No, its okay. The doctor has given some medicines, but he said it’s going to take a little time for her to get well.’
‘Oh.’ Pause. ‘Let me know if.. ‘
‘I will…’ Pause.
‘Are you okay?’ his voice dropped lower.
‘Yes. Yes I am,’ but he heard the little break in her voice and it soothed his heart. She missed him. Almost as much as he missed her. Time to bring her smile back, he thought.
‘So you’re missing me, huh?’
Pause. ‘Missing you?! Why would I miss you?’
‘I don’t know.. you called me this early in the morning.’
‘That was only to remind you about your medicines.’
‘So you’re thinking about me.’
‘Of course, I am… I mean.. No..no I’m not!’ He could almost see the frustrated face she made, pressing her lips together, before she said, ‘I’m hanging up!’ He smiled. Because he knew she was smiling too, and probably mumbling something about a Laad Governor.
Khushi was mumbling to herself. Of all the people in the world, she was the one stuck with the Laad Governor. She slapped her head and walked off. No more thinking about him for the rest of the day.
She was in the kitchen helping her amma when the doorbell went. She went to the door and opened it. To her surprise it was a courier. He held out a package to her and said, ‘Mrs Khushi Arnav Singh Raizada?’
‘Yes? I am she,’ she said.
‘Please sign here,’ he handed over a clipboard and a pen. Automatically she signed it, and took the package he was holding out.
‘Who is it, Khushi?’ Garima came in wiping her hands on a towel.
‘Courier, Amma. Seems like a package for me. But I haven’t ordered anything?’ She tore open the envelope. Inside was a red jeweler’s bag. She opened it and reached in. Her fingers touched a single strand of pearls. She pulled it out smiling at the beautiful necklace. It had a small heart shaped clasp with a tiny red ruby on it. Garima gasped in pleasure.
‘Oh, it’s beautiful, Khushi,’ she said. ‘Did Arnav Bitwa send this for you?’
‘I don’t know, Amma,’ but she did. She reached inside the bag again, and found a little card, and four more pearls.
On the card, in his scratchy writing was written, ‘I kept them’. She held the four pearls in her palms, her eyes tearing up. The very first time, she thought. And he’s kept them all these days, the pearls from her choli! She couldn’t believe it. A smile bloomed on her lips as her cheeks turned pink. Wisely, Garima did not ask her why Arnav would be sending her four separate pearls with the pearl chain. She just smiled and stroked her daughter’s face.
Khushi had called this morning too, and the conversation had gone somewhat like the day before. It left Arnav with mixed feelings. There was emptiness in his room, in his bed, in his heart when he couldn’t see her. Talking on the phone with her was not satisfying him. But, he knew she would do what she needed to do. He understood her need to do this. But it still wasn’t giving him any satisfaction. The good thing was he was under so much work pressure that it was easier to bury himself in it, than wallow in loneliness.
Khushi was feeling restless. Buaji’s fever had gone down a bit, but she was still in bed. She had to take her father to the doctor’s for his therapy, and by the time she returned it was almost lunch time. She was wheeling her father to his room, when her mother came in.
‘Khushi,’ her mother said, her eyes dancing.
‘What is it, Amma?’
‘There is another package from you. From Arnav Bitwa.’ She couldn’t stop smiling.
‘Another package?’ Her mother nodded. She tucked her father in, and then went to her room. The package was lying on the bed. She opened it, to find a small box and a little card. She opened the box first. Inside on white velvet lay a key. She picked it up. She knew this one. His mannat ki chabi. Why was he giving it to her now? Turning over the card, she read, ‘You always had the key’. She couldn’t help but smile at this one. Was he wooing her all over again? She remembered the line from her song, ‘aathon pahar dil pe hai taaley’ (his heart is locked 24/7) but … She had the key .. to it? She didn’t need him to tell her that. She knew it, just as he knew he always held the key to her heart. But her heart sang at this silly romantic gesture. Who would have thought?
The morning calls were becoming routine now. He teased her, she hung up. He called right back and they bickered some more. This was them – they spoke a language of love all their own and if others found it odd, they couldn’t give a hoot!
The same courier arrived at the same time. This time, he didn’t even bother to ask. He just handed her the pen and clipboard so she could sign for the package. This one was a little bigger and softer.
Inside was a beautiful yellow and red dupatta. She stared at it in astonishment. Dupatta? She dug out the card, and it read, ‘Sorry I tore your other one.’ She frowned and then she remembered, in the parking lot. He had torn her dupatta so he could drive away.
‘What did he send today, titaliya?’ Buaji asked from her bed. She was sitting up now, for although the fever had passed, she was still weak. Both Garima and she had started to look forward to the courier now.
Khushi held up the dupatta so they could see it. They ooh’ed and aah’ed over it. Both of them were thrilled to see this daily affirmation of affection that their daughter got. But they were wondering why Arnav bitwa didn’t just come and see her for himself. Why all the gifts?
Khushi was on pins and needles. What would it be this time? The courier had barely rung the bell, before she flung open the door. He held out the package and the pen. She signed it, grabbed the package and shut the door. Running to her room, she ripped open the package and stopped. It was a cell phone. A cell phone? Then she remembered, locked in the store room with him, when he’d slammed the door so hard, the handle had broken off. Then he’d grabbed her cell and thrown it in a corner, so that had broken as well. She looked inside, but there was no card. Hmmmm… what now? She turned it on. Within seconds she got a text message. ‘Call me’ from Arnav.
She heard her Amma calling from Buaji’s room. ‘Coming, Amma,’ she yelled back. She went into her Buaji’s room and both looked at her expectantly.
‘Cell phone,’ she said, baldly, holding the phone out for them to see. ‘He sent me a cell phone.’
Her mother and Buaji exchanged knowing looks and then burst out laughing.
‘What the-!’ she clasped her hand over her mouth. Her face was flushed a bright pink. She ran out of the room, unable to still the beating of her heart.
Arnav was lying on his bed, no, their bed, arms under his head. She hadn’t called him, yet. It was getting late and he was wondering what had happened. Should he call her? Nope. He’d sent her the text, the ball was in her court. Besides it was late. Almost eleven o’clock. What the hell was she doing? The phone rang. He picked it up, saw who it was and immediately all his irritation flew out the window. He let it ring a second time, and a third before hitting the talk button.
‘Khushi,’ he said huskily.
‘Arnavji,’ she sounded hesitant.
‘Khushi, when someone sends you a text, you’re supposed to reply to it right away,’ he admonished. He heard something like a ‘hmphf!’ before she said,
‘Okay then, I’m hanging up and I’ll text you’.
‘Wait!’ he said
‘Why? I’ll text you. That’s what you want.’
‘Stop, Khushi,’ he whispered. For a few seconds they were both quiet.
She lay in bed, holding the phone close to her ear. Her Amma, Bauji and Buaji had finally gone to bed. Tears filled her eyes and she sniffed. Was this how they would always be? Trying to find a little time for each other at the end of the day? Right now, it was so new, this feeling of being a wife. They had played at it for three and a half months, but now, this was their real start. And it was starting to become so hard!
He heard the sniffle and closed his eyes, wishing he could hold her and tell her it’s going to be okay. Everything was going to be fine! ‘Khushi, stop,’ he repeated, softly. ‘Please don’t cry.’ She wiped the tear from her cheek. ‘Are you okay?’
She nodded and then said ,’I am fine. And you?’
‘I’m okay,’ he said.
‘How is Di?’
‘Better. She came down for breakfast this morning.’
‘Oh! That is wonderful,’ he heard the lilt in her voice and his eyes darkened. This generosity of spirit was so her. He knew she was hurt because Di held her responsible for something she was a victim to. But she didn’t hold it against Di. ‘I am sure she is going to be alright, soon.’
‘I hope so too.’ Pause. ‘And your Buaji, how is she?’
‘Fever came down this evening. But she is still weak.’
He didn’t ask the question he wanted to ask. How long will you stay there? A little later they hung up. He stared at the phone in his hands. At least now, they could call each other when they wanted to. He hoped she understood that. She had the right to call him when she wanted to.
It was a busy day for Khushi. After her early morning call, which now was so much easier as she could talk in her own room, she had been caught up in the daily routine of the Gupta household, - cleaning, cooking, washing. She wasn’t aware of how time had flown till the doorbell rang. She opened the door and there was the courier, this time with a smile on his face. Signature. Grab. Go to her room. Rip open the packet. A box lay in her hands. She opened it and smiled. Bangles! Beautiful pink and red and gold bangles. The card read, ‘Yes, I bought them for you’.
She put them on, admiring them in the mirror, before running to show her Buaji and Amma what her Arjavji had got for her this time.
Buaji reached out her hand and stroked her face. ‘Arnav Bitwa really loves you, huh?’ She blushed, but nodded her head. ‘And you love him, too, don’t you, titliya?’
‘Ji, Buaji,’ was her shy answer.
‘So why don’t you ask him to come over, instead of sending these gifts to you?’
‘Of course, you can, titliya. He is your husband. It is your right to do so.’
She looked at her mother and her father, who both smiled and nodded their heads. ‘Yes, Khushi, ‘ her mother added. ‘As his wife, you have the right to ask him.’
As his wife. He is your husband. The words rang in Khushi’s mind. She could feel her heart fly with joy. Those words felt so right, so beautiful. But she just nodded and got up to go to the kitchen. Three pairs of moist eyes did not miss the sheer joy in her face. Their Khushi had found her Khushi – for real this time.
Friday. The end of the week. ASR couldn’t wait for the day to end. He’d spent long hours working this week, but he’d also got a lot accomplished. There was a feeling of satisfaction in knowing things were now once more in his control. And then, things were looking up at home. Di was so much better. And Khushi , he smiled. His day started with her voice. And it ended with hers. He couldn’t think of going to bed now without a small conversation. Not that they ever had long ones. But it was enough for him.
Khushi waited on tenterhooks to see what today would bring. She had been sneaking looks at the clock every now and then, but eleven o’clock came and went, and there was no courier! She was a little disappointed, to be sure. Pacing in her room, phone in hand, she wondered if she should call him. Twice she dialed the number, before hitting the end button. No, she wouldn’t call him. But Buaji had said she should ask him over! Perhaps..well.. She could always do that. She called the number, hearing the phone ring, but he didn’t pick it up. Must be some stupid meeting, she thought. Ugh! I am spending too much time on that Laad Governor! Better get some work done.
But that was easier said than done. She ended up making a pile of sugar-free jalebis and then regretting it! Her mother and Buaji watched with a smile.
At five o’clock that evening the doorbell rang. Buaji opened the door and found Arnav standing there.
‘Arnav Bitwa, bless you!’ she said, as he bent to touch her feet. ‘Garima, Khushi, see who is here!’ she called.
Garima came out of her bedroom, but Khushi was nowhere to be seen. His eyes searched the room for her. ‘She is in the back, beta. Bless you!’ as he touched his mother-in-law’s feet.
They sat down in the living room.
‘Ah!..’ he felt awkward asking this, but did it anyway. ‘Buaji, Aunty, is it okay if I take Khushi out to dinner tonight?’
‘Babua, she is your wife! You don’t have to ask us. Of course, you can,’ Buaji smiled at him. ‘Looks like you managed to win her over, huh?’ she teased him. He smiled and nodded like a little child.
‘Yes, Buaji, I did’.
‘Why don’t you stay here tonight, then, babua?’
‘Of course,’ she said. ‘It’s your house, too. You shouldn’t have to ask.’
He smiled mentally thinking of the weekend bag he had packed and that lay in the back of his car.
Just then, Khushi came in and stopped seeing him there. Her mouth rounded into that adorable ‘O’. ‘You here?!’ she said.
He stood up, filling up the space in the room with his tall presence. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I came to take you to dinner’.
She looked at him with a panicked expression at her face, her eyes flew to her mother’s and Buaji’s smiling ones. Both of them were nodding at her.
‘Go get dressed, bitiya,’ her mother prompted her gently. She turned around and walked like a zombie to her room, but not before giving his smug face a look over her shoulder.
In her room, she went through her clothes, What to wear? What to wear?! Her hands touched the crystals on her birthday sari. She pulled it out and looked at it. The bangles matched perfectly.
Fifteen minutes later, she came out of the room. Arnav’s eyes widened as he saw what she was wearing. The birthday sari, the one he had chosen, with the bangles. He swallowed. He didn’t know how he controlled himself from going over, grabbing her and kissing her senseless right then, somehow he didn’t think Buaji and Aunty would appreciate that very much! But God! She looked gorgeous in it, just as he had imagined.
It had been a perfect evening. They had started talking, a little awkwardly at first, but soon, they had so much to say, but so little words to say them with. For the first time, finding themselves truly alone, no interruptions, it had been their first real date. They’d even squabbled a little over something trivial. But that was them. That was the spice in their relationship. It was never smooth. There was a deep inner peace in Arnav as he drove them back. She was quietly happy and glowing.
He hadn’t kissed her yet. But that would be soon, very soon, he thought. She was so quiet he wondered what she was thinking. He felt a touch on his shoulder and saw that she was fast asleep her head cushioned on his shoulder. He looked at her tenderly and continued driving. Pulling up at the Gupta house, he gently braked he car without his usual squeal of tires. He lifted her out of the car, feeling her fingers curl into his collar, he couldn’t help but smile. That small gesture was the world to him.
He rang the doorbell and Buaji opened it. Her eyes widened in worry when she saw him carrying Khushi. He shook his head, ‘She’s asleep,’ he said. She closed her eyes in relief. For a moment, she remembered the first time he’d come into this house, carrying Khushi just like this. She led him to Khushi’s room and opened the door for him. He carried her to the bed, and gently lay her down, cradling her head till it touched the pillow. He switched on the A/c and tucked her in. Buaji smiled from the door. How could she have missed that same tenderness that very first day?
‘Buaji, I’ll just get my things from the car and come,’ he said, once they were in the living room. She nodded and he went to the car. He was back in a few minutes with his bag and a box in his arms. He went into the bedroom.
Khushi was feeling snug and comfortable. There room was cool, but the comforter was warm and cosy. She snuggled in, and then slowly opened her eyes. A single lamp by the bed threw a soft light in the room. Glittering in the dark were the stars and crystals. They hung from the four-poster as she had hung them long ago. She lay looking at them, her eyes widening in surprise. There were many more stars than she had ever had round the bed! But who?!
She remembered the drive home, and vaguely remembered being carried, but not much after that. Who had put her to bed? Arnavji?.. The thought came in right on the heel of feeling the warmth to her right. She turned her head on her pillow. He was looking at her, a smile on his face. She looked at him in astonishment. ‘You? Here?’
‘Does Buaji know?’
He nodded again.
She swallowed. He reached out a hand and tucked her hair behind her ears, cradling her head. Gently, he drew her closer. She resisted for just a second and then let him pull her close. He kissed her, her eyes closing of their own accord.
He drew back and she opened her eyes. The stars were reflecting in her big eyes. ‘This,’ he said. ‘This is what I want to see every day for the rest of my life. Stars in your eyes.’