Sunil and Daadi looked at Khanak's empty seat at the table while the rest rested their sympathetic glances on Shaan as he played absently with his food. They knew he would barely take a bite or two before he left for the office.Two weeks had passed since the horrible incident. Khanak barely left the room and Shaan wandered around with a helpless, anguished expression, whenever he was home. The others had reconciled themselves to fate but Shaan and Khanak seemed to have been lost somewhere along the way. They all missed Khanak's chirpy voice as she served them breakfast, Shaan's mischievous grins with his dimple peeking out. But most of all they missed the small fights these two used to have. Anything and everything could start them off and they could keep at it for ages.
They had all tried to talk to Shaan and Khanak in their own various ways but while they both listened and responded the shuttered expression never left their eyes. Their bodies occupied this space but their souls had taken up lone residence somewhere far away, where nobody else was allowed. The Khandelwaals felt powerless. They all wanted to help them but had no idea how to reach out. They had tried but all their efforts seemed ineffective. Never having experienced something similar, they couldn't even begin to imagine what the two were going through. They all prayed fervently that the two found deliverance and soon.
Shaan leaned back in his chair and massaged his temples. He had buried himself in work in an attempt to forget the past couple of weeks. He left home early and went back late. If he worked hard enough and kept himself busy for every second of every day he could forget what had happened for a while. Until it all would creep up on him, taking him unawares and leave him hurting. The questions that had crowded his mind still remained unanswered. He had tried to find oblivion through alcohol and while it had numbed his mind, it had taken away all the barriers he had put up and left him bleeding. The only hope for his healing, the only person who could bring him safely ashore, was lost herself.
Each day he could see and feel her slipping further away from him. He had no idea what to do or what to say to make it better. He hadn't yet dealt with his own pain, how could he help her deal with hers? How could he offer words of comfort when part of him felt responsible for everything that had happened to her? He clenched his eyes shut then gave his head a shake, as if he could shake loose all those thoughts and bent back over the pile of papers on his desk.
Khanak woke up with a heavy heart and an aching head. She looked around the empty room, darkened with the help of curtains then shut her eyes again. She was lucky today. There were days when she had woken up with a smile on her face and a feeling of anticipation, only to remember everything suddenly and have her world crash down around her. Again. She had wondered whether the wound would ever heal or whether it would bleed afresh day after day?
She had gone through a myriad of emotions these past two weeks. Guilt, anger, desperation, agony, helplessness. Now she felt unable to feel anymore. A blessed numbness had settled over her, leaving her physically and emotionally drained.
Shaan dropped his laptop bag onto the sofa and looked towards the bed. Khanak was a familiar lump on the bed by now. His hands curled into tight fists, as if trying to not give into the desire of shaking Khanak, in an effort to bring her back to life. His mind had gone back to Suraj's death many times and all he remembered was the fiery Khanak. The woman who slapped him for wronging her, who demanded that justice be served, who would remember Suraj and grieve in private but was ready to sell her beloved camel to get money for her mother-in-law's operation. The Khanak who hadn't let herself die when someone who had been so important to her for all her life had died. That Khanak was beloved. This Khanak was a stranger.
Khanak had heard Shaan enter and keep his laptop bag on the sofa. She had been waiting for him to go into the bathroom as was his custom, for the past five minutes. The bathroom's door remained closed. Confused, she lifted her head and looked towards the sofa and saw Shaan standing and staring at her. The eyes that had smiled at her with love so often now held a world of hurt and other suppressed emotions. Feelings she couldn't face at the moment. She didn't have the energy to comfort him, to smile for his sake, to pretend that she was alright. She wanted to help him but she needed to help herself come to terms with it all first. Her eyes drifted close as she sank back into the bed, prepared to let sleep overtake her.
'Bas.Bahut ho gaya Khanak!' Some unknown feeling had exploded within Shaan when he saw her sink bank onto the bed, defeated.
Khanak sat up with a start, surprised to hear Shaan speak in angry tone after a long time.
'Mein tumhe ab aisay nahi dekh sakta! Meri zindagi mein aisay bahut se mauqe aye hain jab mujhe nahi pata tha k mein kya karun per maine kabhi itna helpless nahi feel kiya Khanak! Mujhe TUMHARI zarurat hai Khanak.Please.I need you!'
Khanak didn't know what to do.She didn't know how to respond to his helpless plea. She tried to utter words of comfort but her tongue wouldn't move. It felt glued to her palate. She shut her eyes and bowed her head.
'Damn it Khanak! Don't you dare! Pehle tou tumhare paas meri har baat ka jawab hota tha. Ab aisa kya ho gaya k tum bilkul chup ho gayi ho?'
And with that sentence he made her hurt again.
'Aisa kya ho gaya? Shantanu aap mujh se pooch rahe hain ke aisa kya ho gaya?! Kya aap ko nahi pata ke kya hua hai?' Her voice rose with every sentence, with every word, her words drenched with her pain.
'Nahi Khanak mujhe nahi pata ke aisa kya hua hai jis ki waja se tum zinda ho ker bhi zinda nahi rahi! Aisa kya hua ke tum mera saath rehte huay bhi meray saath nahi?!'
Khanak's voice sank to a whisper.
'Mera bacha Shantanu! Mera bacha janam lene se pehle hee mujhe chod ke chala gaya. Mein maa ho ker bhi maa nahi ban saki....'
'Tumhara bacha Khanak?Tumhara?! Kya woh mera beta nahi tha? Kya mera uss per koi haq nahi tha? Mein bhi tou baap ban ker baap nahi ban saka Khanak!'
'Shantanu aap nahi samjho ge! Aap nahi samajh sakte ke woh mere jism ka ek hissa tha, mera hissa tha! Mein uss ki karwatein mehsoos ker sakti thi. Mein ne uss ke liye apna khana peena, apna sona jagna badal diya tha. Aap ne na tou usse mehsoos kiya, na hee aap ki zindagi mein itna badlav aya tha. Woh aap ke liye itni badi haqeeqat nahi tha jitna mere liye tha!'
'Really Khanak?Kya tumhe sach mein aisa lagta hai?Kya ek aadmi ki zindagi mein uss ke bachon ki itni ehmiat nahi hai jitni ek aurat ki zindagi mein?Tumhe waqai aisa lagta hai ke mein hamaray bache se tum se kum pyaar kerta tha?Ke mujhe iss sabse koi farq nahi para?'
'Shantanu mera woh matlab nahi tha...'
'Phir tumhara kya matlab tha Khanak?Mujhe batao kyun ke mein waqai mein clueless hoon.'
'Woh mein...mera matlab aap...mera matlab tha Shantanu ke ek mard apne bachon se itna hee pyaar kerta hai jitna ek aurat lekin bachon ki paidaish ke baad.Jab tak bacha maan ki kok mein hota hai woh uss ke liye ziada asal hota hai.Woh bacha 9 maheenay tak uss ke jism ka ek hissa ban ker rehta hai.Woh uss ki her saans, her dhadkan mein uss ke saath hota hai...'
Khanak didn't realize that she was talking so easily about the same child that she hadn't even been able to think about without feeling a part of herself dying in the past few days.Shaan turned away and faced the wall.
'Khanak kya tum sach mein yeh sochti ho?Ke hamara bacha mera ek hissa nahi tha?Khanak mein ne uss ke baare mein itna socha tha, uss se juday meray itni sapnay thay.Ab mein jab bhi hamaray future ke baray mein sochta tha hamara bacha hamray saath hota tha...Haan woh meray jism ka hissa nahi tha lekin woh MERA bhi hissa tha Khanak!'
Khanak felt pain trying to force its way inside the numb wall she had erected around her heart. Subconsciously, she had been trying to convince herself that their child hadn't been as real for Shaan as for her because she didn't want to feel his pain as well as her own. But she should have known better. Known that this man she had fallen in love with felt things deeply, while he put up a front of nonchalance. Should have remembered that even though he hadn't felt ready to be a father, he had hidden it for her sake and then embraced the turn of events whole heartedly after she told him how she felt.
'Shantanu...' She called out hesitantly, willing him to turn and look at her so she could apologize.
'Haan Khanak shayad tum theek ho. Shayad mein nahi samajh sakta ke tum per kya beeti hai. In fact mein tou iss bache se khush bhi nahi tha.Mujhe apni life jeeni thi. Mujhe hee tou lagta tha ke hum bahut chote hain aur bachon ke liye ready nahi. Ke mujhe abhi business mein aur aagay badhna hai.Shayad issi liye bhagwan ne meri woh khwahish poori ker di.' His voice broke on the last sentence.
Shaan's admission of his inability to understand what she was going through, his acceptance of her unjustified accusation, his misplaced guilt, finally broke through all the barriers. Khanak started sobbing. Tears ran down her face as she weeped out her agony. Shaan turned around, his own face wet with the few tears that had managed to find their way down his face and ran to her.
'Khanak mat ro! Khanak please don't cry.I'm sorry Khanak! Mein hamesha tumhe hurt kerta hoon. Mein bahut bada burthal hoon. I don't deserve you!'
In reply Khanak reached out and clutched him to her. He brought his arms around her and hugged her tight, as if he could absorb all her pain through the act while his own heartache escaped as tears. They clung to each other as they wept out their grief and anguish, finally having found their way back. Their tears wet their clothes, their sobs disturbed the peace, as their souls began to heal.
Having spent the past half an hour giving in to their grief, they were exhausted. Shaan sat with his back against the headboard of their bed, Khanak gathered in his arms as she rested her head against his chest.
'Shantanu hamara beta! Hum se kya ghalti ho gai Shantanu ke humein itni saari khushion ke khwab dikha ker unhe hamara hone se pehle hee cheen liya gaya? Kya hum itne buray hain?'
'Nahin Khanak! Please aisa mat kaho. Mujhe apnay baare mein tou pata nahi lekin tum tou bilkul bhi buri nahi. Tum ne kabhi bhi kissi ko takleef nahi di. Tum ne tou unn logon ko bhi maaf ker diya jinho ne tumhein dard diya...'
'Shantanu mein ne Natasha ji ko itna dukh pahunchaya! Aur meri wajah se-'
'Khanak woh sab meri fault thi.Mein ne Natasha ko hurt kiya, tum ne nahi! Mein ne uss se shaadi kernay ka promise kiya tha aur phir mein tumse pyaar kerne laga.Iss mein tumhari kya ghalti?Agar kissi ki ghalti hai tou meri hai!'
'Shantanu aap apne aap ko dosh mat dijiye. Hamara milna, lagan hona, dost banna aur phir pyar hona sab qismat ka khel tha. Yeh hum ne kaha tha na? Phir hum tou bas apni taqdeer ke ghulam huay.'
'Khanak agar hamari koi ghalti nahi tou hamein saza kyun mil rahi hai?'
'Pata nahi Shantanu.Shayad milna hamari taqdeer mein likha tha lekin khush hona nahi...'
Khanak tightened her grip on Shantanu, as if afraid fate would take him away from her too.
'Nahi Khanak.Agar hum ek saath hain tou kya hum khush nahi reh sakte?'
Khanak looked at Shaan and drank him in. His love, his concern, his nearness.
'Aap theek keh rahay hain Shantanu.Agar meri taqdeer mein khush hona nahi likha hota tou mujhe aap ka pyaar kabhi nahi milta.'
Both of them were quiet for a minute, being glad of each other's presence in their lives, thankful that there was one thing atleast that would remain constant.Their love for each other.The love that had transcended all obstacles, all differences and great distances to give them each other.
'Shantanu shayad aap sahi thay.Abhi hum itni badi zimidaari ke liye tayyar nahi thay. Issi liye...'
Shaan leaned away from Khanak.They both looked deep into each other's eyes and saw their love reflected back, stronger and surer. Their eyes had lost the haunted, shuttered look that had been visible these past weeks but they had changed. They might never find answers to all the whys but they had finally started to come to terms with the miscarriage. However it had changed them. It had made them grow up too fast. But it made them more confident of the fact that they were strong enough to survive anything together. They had just battled a raging storm and no storm could destroy them as long as they had each other as their harbour.
'Shayad mein maan banne ke liya tayyar nahi thi.Mein asal mein bahut choti hoon aur aap-'
'Haan Khanak.Bhagwan ko hamaray bache pe tars aa gaya hoga.Tum tou duniya ki worst maan hoti.Mera beta Mumbai mein rehtay huay Dhulwadi ki parchai hota.Jab uss ke dost burgers aur sandwiches lunch mein laate woh theple khaata.Kitabon ko pustakeen bolta.Sab France aur Itlay jaate vacations mein aur uss ko Dhulwadi jaana padta.Sab uss ka kitna mazaq udatay!'
'Acha?Aur iss baat pe tou ziada mazaq udatay ke woh mard ho ker bhi nazuk hota! Aadmi ki tarah ladne ke bajaey har cheez ke liya paison ka istamal kerta! Aur-'
'Hello!Tou iss mein burai kya hai?Paisay hain tou use kerna chahiye. Iss ko smart hona kehtay hain!'
They had finally started to heal.They took joy in finally being able to clash with words even while they still tightly held onto each other, both reluctant to let go. Each word that came out of their mouths acted like a balm to their souls. Even as they started to heal they knew that this would remain a part of them forever, the pain would go but the scar would remain. They might have a dozen more kids but for them this child would always be the eldest and closest to their hearts. He would forever be alive in their memories, this child who would never be part of their reality yet always be a part of them.