Joined: 05 November 2007
Joined: 01 January 2012
Joined: 20 May 2012
"Khoosiii! Haye Khoosiii! Garimaaa! Arrey inhaan aao Garima! Ee dekhao, tumhari Khoosii ayii hai!" (...Come here Garima! Look, your Khushi has come!)
Khushi winced. Would Buaji ever stop calling her... that?
"Haye re Nand Kisore! Tum aayi gayi Bitiya!" Madhumati pulled the girl in a tight embrace, almost suffocating her. (... You finally came!)
"Jiji! Saans to lene dijiye Bitiya ko!" (Sis! Let her breathe!)
When, Buaji got out the way, Khushi saw her Amma and Bauji beaming at her. They performed the aarti for both her and Mr Raizada before allowing them to enter the Sheesh Mahal where they would all be staying until the wedding. This was also the wedding venue and Khushi had to admit it was lovely. There were other people who had arrived. Some she knew, some she did not. She did see Mr Raizada's mother, who stepped forward to hug her son once her aarti was over. Garima too hugged Khushi.
"Kaisi ho, Khusi?" (How are you, Khushi?)
The girl just nodded speechlessly. In these years, this woman who had raised her with so much care and affection had not changed the least bit. It felt as if Khushi had never left. But when she looked at her Bauji, it was a totally different story. The man had aged a lot. Maybe because of the stroke he had suffered from a couple of years earlier. She touched his feet.
"Bitiya, chal hum tujhe tera karma dikhate hain, tu thoda araam karle, achha?" (Come, I'll show you to your room, you'll rest a bit, okay?)
"Nahin Amma, humein sabse pehle Bhabhi se milna hai! Bhai?" (No ma, I'll meet my sis-in-law first! Bro?)
"Ulka abhi aati hi hogi." (Ulka must be coming.)
Arnav could hardly keep his eyes off her as she met every one, smiled politely, made acquaintances, engaged in conversations. If anyone looked at her closely, they would see she was starting to feel tired but it appeared that no one really saw, and seemed not to mind. When someone even noticed her weary eyes and told her she could go and rest, she would refuse.
But Arnav wanted some sleep. He had just spent sleepless flight. After meeting his cousins and talking for a few minutes with them, he asked his mother to show him to his room. It was only at dinner time that he emerged. Miss Gupta had bathed and changed. Gone was the stylish London girl. She now wore a baby blue Anarkali; the upper part of the dress was made of velvet, the lower part of a soft flowing fabric, woven with thin strips of silvery thread. It had a thick white and silver border at the bottom, while at the neckline and short translucent sleeves, the border, with similar designs and colour, was narrower. He noted a small velvet pompom hanging from each sleeve, a shade darker than her dress. Her dupatta rested on the right shoulder, and she had tied the two ends at the left. The knot fell to near her slender waist. She had her beautiful long hair tied in a low ponytail. She looked like any typical Indian girl. Only, more beautiful. In fact, the most beautiful he had ever set eyes upon.
She had an affinity for kids, she noticed. Earlier, when she had been with the adults, she had been a bit shy. But now, surrounded by children, playing hide-and-seek in the yard of his father's hotel, she had a glint of childish mischief in her eyes. The evening Lucknowi sun gave an orange glow to her white skin. She smiled constantly, not the least bit tired now, giggling from time to time as she teased the child who had his eyes blindfolded.
"Bhai! Khaana khaane jaaiye, na!" he turned to see Ulka walking to him. "Arrey, yeh kya? Yeh log ab bhi khel rahe hain? Aap andar jaaiye, main inhein bulaakar aati hoon." (Bro! Go and eat! What's this? They are still playing? you go, I'll call them.)
She walked in, a bit out of breath, behind the horde of kids, laughing with them, her skin slightly flushed. Arnav could not take his eyes off her. Even throughout the dinner, all those who sat at the monstrously large table talked in small groups; she talked too, poking in some argument here, adding a comment there, laughing, smiling, complaining. As if she were the life of the different conversations around the table, she integrated each of them, teasing, giving her ideas and opinions, defending.
She dazzled him, astonished him. How could someone be so lively, so full of ideas, so well at ease? It was beyond his understanding. He himself, despite being a fast rising businessman like his father used to be in his youth, often had difficulties in handling a decent conversation. During dinner that night itself, he just grumbled a few answers in response to the questions arising from his surroundings. And here was this girl, who could participate in every conversation possible, who could switching from one topic to another in the blink of an eye. Arnav, as for him, could converse only about the economic, financial or business world.
Later that night he was sitting in his suite, typing furiously on his laptop as sleep refused to come. Maybe it was because he had slept earlier, and then he realised how Miss Gupta had been smart. She knew that if she slept during the day, she would spend a sleepless night. He went outside to take some air. Somehow, this lack of sleep had been useful to him. He had been able to catch up with his work and had even been able to cover up more than what he had wanted.
"Bhai? Aap, yahaan? Iss vakt?" (Bro? You, here? At this time?)
He turned to see Ulka, watching with an amazed expression.
"Yeah... Can't sleep... Tum?"
"Pyaas lag rahi thi to paani peene gayi. Neeche Khushi se mili to hum dono ne thodi baacheet ki. Ab sone jaa rahi hoon." (I was thirsty so I went to drink water. I met Khushi downstairs and we talked for sometime. Now, I'm going to sleep.)
"Voh abhi tak soyi nahin?" Arnav was taken aback. He had thought Miss Gupta would be in bed, sleeping tight by the time it was. (She's not sleeping yet?)
"Nahin, itne saalon baad Lucknow vaapas aayi hai na, she's feeling a bit down." (No, she's back after so many years...)
Ulka walked to the balcony and leaned on it with a sigh. Arnav followed her, and it was only when he had leant there too that he realised Khushi was below, in the garden. She sat there, near the fountain, huddled up, her knees brought close to her chest, her face raised to the sky which was lit with a crescent of the moon and billions of stars. She wore a peppermint green salwaar, her dupatta wrapped around her like a shawl.
"I had heard a lot about her but it's today I've really met her. You know, Bhai, she's very strong."
Arnav listened to his cousin, suddenly highly interested, but his eyes were helplessly glued to the fairy who sat there.
"Hmm... Tanishq had told me so much about her, and I had always thought he was bluffing. I mean, who can cover her own worries and sadness so well to appear happy just for the sake of others? But I saw it today. And now I believe him..."
"What? Kya keh rahi ho tum?" (What are you saying?)
"Bhai... usse kehna nahin ke maine aapko yeh sab bataya hai... She's an orphan, Bhai..." (... Don't tell her I said this...)
Arnav felt hot and cold both all of a sudden.
"What? Par main usske parents se abhi abhi to mila hoon..." (But I just met her parents...)
"No, Bhai, they're Payalji's parents. In fact, they're Khushi's Maasi and Maasa... Her parents died when she was ten... It disturbs her a lot till today because she saw them dying without being able to do anything to help. She feels so miserable. But she doesn't show... for her family... even now she was talking to me cheerfully enough but I looked in her eyes... those feelings were still raw there... Garima Mami took her in when her parents died, so she calls them her parents..."
His heart went out to her. Who would have known by looking at her? And what had Ulka said? She had seen her parents die?
"How did they die?"
He noticed his cousin shiver, although the night was warm. What was it? Something horrible?
"Bhai... they were killed in a riot... in their own house... Tanishq had told me about it, what Khushi had remembered and told them... For some reason, the muslims and hindus had started rioting against each other. For safety, Khushi's had avoided leaving the house but a group barged in there. They just had time to hide their daughter somewhere in a cupboard, I think... but Khushi saw everything from a crack... how they killed her mom and dad... She still cannot sleep well because of that... It still gives her nightmares... Tanishq had told me, whenever she cannot sleep she goes out to watch the stars. Garima Mami had told her her Amma-Bauji had gone to Devi Maiyya but they watched upon her in the form of stars. She still believes that, you know. She still looks for them up there..."
Arnav stood there, his thoughts in tatters. Riots never included mercy, and watching people being killed could be traumatic. Now think about seeing your own parents die... his heart broke for her. He heard Ulka say something about going to bed, but he could not focus on anything but the lonely girl out there. When did his feet transport him down the stairs and into the garden, he knew not. But he found himself standing behind her, suddenly, watching silently as she watched the stars for her parents in the silent night...
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