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"Baby, did you reach home safely?" he heard her voice over the phone and rolled his eyes wondering why he had even received her call.
"Yes, Lavanya. I did." Ofcourse. If something had happened to him, he wouldn't have been talking to her right now, would he?
"Do you miss me?" she asked and this time, he just wanted to fling his phone into the valley below his balcony.
"Lavanya, I think I must buy shares in your telecom service provider considering the fact that you are giving them a good business of international calls." Arnav replied in a no nonsense tone and when she abruptly kept quiet, he knew that his point had finally driven inside her head.
"Hey, I'm you girlfriend. Don't I have even the right to call you from London?" she asked and she heard him mutter something under his breath. "And anyways, I can't wait to come over there after three weeks." She announced excitedly.
Ofcourse, she had to come to the wedding. His mother had invited his girlfriend afterall and Lavanya Kashyap had instantly taken up the offer without even a second thought.
"You know, I'm kind of busy right now. I'll call you later." Arnav politely informed her and disconnected the phone before she could protest. Women! He exclaimed under his breath and rolled his eyes.
Within few minutes, he heard a car driving up the arched porch of the manor and concluded that either his grandmothers or his Dad and sister had returned home. Walking downstairs silently, he heard her voice first even before he could catch a glimpse of her.
"Bhai!" Anjali screamed out loudly and came running towards him, engulfing him in a tight hug. "Such a long time. I missed you so much."
"Me too, Chutki." He said, hugging back his younger sister. Even though they used to speak over the phone almost every week, he hadn't seen her for the past three years after his Honours from the University. "So, my baby sister is finally getting married huh?" Arnav asked, pecking her forehead.
"I know, even I cannot believe it." Anjali squealed with delight, a slight hue of crimson lighting up her cheeks.
"When am I going to meet my brother-in-law?" he enquired.
"Ranvijay will be coming here in three days. You can meet him and start all that interrogation which an elder brother does before his baby sister's wedding." Anjali replied cheekily, earning a playful smack from him.
"If the brother and sister are done with their talk, will my son be kind enough to grace his presence to his father?" Arnav heard his father's unmistakable baritone voice and turned around to find him standing at the door.
"Dad." Arnav smiled, as he walked towards the elder man grinning at him widely. "How are you?"
"I thought you didn't bother about me anymore. Mom was right. I shouldn't have sent you to London for studies." Arthur Singh Raizada frowned looking at his son. "I can hardly recognise you anymore."
"If I didn't care for you, I wouldn't even be standing here in the first place." Arnav replied and shook his father's hand cordially in a truly British style. There was no place for hugs or sentimental emotions in their relationship. It had always been a relationship of two noble men who looked out for each other.
"Now that you are here, I'm going to put you in charge of a lot of things here. I know you have an impeccable taste and since my only daughter is getting married to one of India's richest Businessman's son, I want everything to be perfect and classy, an event which the whole of India will be talking about. And it's up to you to see that everything is done perfectly. Is that clear?" The elder man asked.
"Yes Sir." Arnav raised up his hand to salute his orders like an Army Sepoy obeying his Lieutenant. This was the effect of growing up in an Army household. Even though he had never enrolled in the Indian Army, his father had been a Major for some time before he quit it to opt for business instead and the house still had the air of Army even long after his grandfather had passed away and all ties to the Military were cut off.
"So your work is starting from this minute. I want you to go to the town and see the flower arrangements for the entire event. Is that fine with you?"
"Yes Sir. I just need the address and the contact numbers." Arnav replied and the elder man nodded as he proceeded to give the information to him.
"And no more chauffeurs for you. I want you to go all by yourself. Is that clear?"
"Yes Sir." Arnav replied and taking the car keys, he ventured out to the town, hoping that he wouldn't get lost in his own home town.
"Don't you think you are bit harsh on him, Arthur?" Naina asked, entering the study room of her husband while he busily went through some documents. "The boy just arrived home today, after a long gruesome journey all the way from London and you are pushing all the responsibilities from day one itself?"
"That's the problem Naina. Arnav is still a boy. Not a man. His Casanova rich spoilt brat ways have to end and he has to learn to take up more responsibilities and be a man." Arthur replied, adjusting the rim of his glasses.
"He has already taken up the responsibility of the London branch of your business. What else do you want him to do?"
"The responsibilities don't end at the professional life. There are personal responsibilities too, towards his family, his parents and sibling. And not to forget, to himself. He has lived away from us for a long time and if we don't bring him into the radar now, we will lose him forever. Can't you see how indifferent and cold he behaves at times with us?"
Naina Singh Raizada couldn't deny the truth, however harsh it was. She could see how distanced her son had grown from them in these past fifteen years. He was no more her Chotey who used to come running to her and narrate the entire day's experience at school.
Arnav had turned aloof and extremely quiet, hiding away things from her. As if he had buried himself in a cocoon of his own. Even Anjali had noticed it when she used to talk to him every week. Had living away in a boarding school away from his family changed him so much or had it been something else?
Her son hadn't even informed them when he had met with an accident three years ago. Only when the Doctors had required consent from his close family to go ahead for the operation had his friends informed them about it. She was still upset about it even today. But her motherly love had forgiven him for it.
Even today, Arnav might have been all excited and enthusiastic meeting them. But she knew it was only a facade for some time. After two days, he would go back to his old cocoon once again.
"Arthur..." she began, as she took a seat beside him, the worry lines creasing her forehead. "Will we ever get back our old Arnav?"
"My mind says, no." He replied with a sigh, enveloping her sideways with his hand. "But the tiny irrational, emotional, foolish part of my brain says, yes, maybe someday." He added, with a hope trying to surface amidst all the impossibilities.
Fifteen years were too long, weren't they? Because right now, as he descended down the Camel's Back road in his Audi Q7, he realised that he couldn't recognise anything on his way. He looked lost in his own home, the place where he could once navigate even in the darkest of nights without anyone's help.
And to add to his woes, not a single alive soul was visible around him to ask for directions. As he drove down further, he finally located something that was familiar to him.
The British Cemetery. Atleast it was still the same even after fifteen years. It looked as if the ghosts of the dead hadn't allowed anyone to renovate or change their home. He remembered the various times he had been here and it was in this very place that his grandfather was buried.
Arnav stopped his car for a moment to pray for the soul of his grandfather and after a few minutes, when he was about to resume his journey, his eyes finally spotted someone walking up the deserted road all alone.
It was a girl, he instantly noticed as her yellow coloured Salwar suit appeared at the curve of the road. Finally, someone could guide him, he thought and waited for her to pass beside his car.
As she neared him, he observed how her hands and back were full of loaded bags, and they looked pretty heavy too. She looked pretty strong for a girl of her size to carry all that weight and that too, climb uphill. Wasn't it tiring for her?
To add to it, she was even humming some tune which he couldn't recognise.
Who was she? He tried to recognise her. From her appearance, she looked like one of the locals here. And she definitely didn't look like someone from the rich families of Camel's Back road. And there were only few middle class folks who lived in this elite area and almost every one of them worked for the elite.
She looked like she was around his age, maybe few years younger to him.
And before he could observe her even more carefully, he saw her stop in her tracks and stare at him, her face paling all colour as if she had seen a ghost in front of him. And looking back at the graveyard behind her, she immediately walked to the other side of the road away from him and hastened her steps even faster.
"Hey listen!" he called out to her wondering what had made her change her direction all of a sudden and he saw her suddenly stop in her tracks once again to look back at him. This time she blinked her eyes and he could see how apprehensively she was walking towards him.
"Do you know the way to Rajmandi?" he asked loudly and could hear his own voice echo in the absolute dead silence surrounding them.
And then he saw her rushing towards him in full enthusiasm as if she had finally realised something. Instead of answering his question, he saw her staring at his car and observing the number plate and the next second, she walked really close to him and observed his face.
He had seen them somewhere. They looked eerily familiar to him. And then, she had narrowed her eyes at him sceptically and he had instantly known where he had seen them.
Of course, he had spent five long years of his life with her and there was no way he could forget them.
"Chotey Saab?" she was the first one to recover and her face had broken out into the hugest smile ever. "Is it really you? I'm sorry for my weird behaviour. I wasn't expecting anyone to be here near the graveyard and thought I was hallucinating." She added apologetically.
He was the only Chotey Saab in the entire Mussorie afterall. So there was no mistaking in it. He had thought that fifteen long years would have been enough for her to forget him. But she had recognised him. Now the question was, did she remember all those memories with him?
But honestly, he found it absolutely weird that she referred to him as 'Chotey Saab'. To the entire Mussoorie, he was Chotey Saab but to her...
He was 'Annyav' as she would call him fifteen years ago.
"Do you remember me? I'm Khushi." She excitedly extended her hand to greet him, but suddenly remembering his and her financial status in society, she withdrew her hand and instead smiled at him foolishly.
Ofcourse, he remembered her very well. That cute little girl with two pony tails who would sit behind him, clutching his back tightly as he sped down the very same road in his bicycle every day. She was that same girl who used to share her ice candy with him bought from the only rupee she used to get once a month as pocket money.
And she was the same girl who had changed his entire life after that one fateful day which had scarred him permanently.
His answer should have been, "Yes, Khushi, I do remember you." With a smile. But instead, the cold and indifferent Arnav replied. "Sorry, I don't remember you."
He saw her face fall flat at his response as the smile on her face was suddenly replaced with disappointment. He wanted to hold her face and tell her that he was just kidding. But he couldn't.
"It's ok. I guess you found better friends than me in London." Khushi replied forcing herself to smile. But he could see how unsuccessful she was at her attempt. "But you will always remain the best friend I ever had." She added and those words pierced his already frozen heart like ice shards.
Were her eyes moistened or was he actually crying? He couldn't tell, but before she could notice anything, he turned around to look at the other way.
"Chotey Saab." She called him with the same enthusiasm returning to her voice once again. "Drive straight down the road and take the first left. It will take you to the Mall road and that will lead you straight away to Rajmandi. Have a nice trip." He heard her say.
Arnav didn't even turn around to thank her. There was an entire minute of silence between them and then he had heard her walk away, up the hill and he clearly knew how sad she must be right now by his behaviour.
But there was nothing he could have done that day to save her from that pain and nothing he could do now for this pain.
Next update will be on Friday the 12th at around 5:30-6:00 pm IST.
Someone asked me how old is Arnav. He's around 27-28. And Khushi is around 24-25.
And yes, they were childhood friends. And Khushi was the one who used to call him, Annyav. For more information, please wait for the forthcoming chapters.
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