Joined: 26 September 2011
Joined: 26 September 2011
She had tried, she really had. As Arti stood in front of the oil painting she had made under Shiraz Sir's guidance, she did not see the bird or the glowing orange sunset. Instead her mind's eye roved over the last couple of days...
Last two days...
Vidhi and her family were in Delhi for a few more days after Zoya's wedding. As the men, including Pankaj, were involved in business discussions Vidhi insisted Arti join her and the kids...and Gayatri. Arti had been hesitant, very hesitant. In her heart she had known that the more time she spent with Ansh the more she would hurt later. But she could not deny Vidhi...and truth be told, she did not want to deny her.
"So, what are your plans for today?" Arti asked as she walked into Vidhi's hotel suite.
"Shopping!" screamed a jumping Payal.
That led to raised eyebrows - Vidhi used to hate shopping. "Shopping?", asked Arti turning to look at Vidhi who grimaced. "Since when do you shop Vidhi?" Arti grinned now. She and Sunaina had to drag Vidhi when it was time to shop for clothes.
"Since I got this little Maharani", Vidhi's grimace turned into a scowl, which she quickly wiped off as Payal turned towards her. "You love shopping, don't you love?" she asked, her tone suspiciously sweet to Arti's ears.
The innocent girl nodded excitedly. She turned back to Arti and exclaimed, "I looove shopping Arti Maasi. It's so much fun."
"Really? And what's so much fun about it? The shops will be crowded, busy, it will take the whole day" said Arti, genuinely curious but also trying to dissuade the young shopper from the Christmas crowd.
"Oh but it's going to be so beautiful. There will be so many new things in the shops, toys, clothes, deco...deco..." she looked at her mother questioningly, who supplied, "Decorations". Payal nodded vigorously, "Yes deco...ra..ra...shons. And you know, the shop-keepers always give me candy."
Arti started laughing, "So you want to go shopping for the candy."
Payal grinned back conspiratorially, "Well yes. But I love seeing new things, don't you Maasi? It will be fun. And we should always look for the good side of things, hain na?"
Arti and Vidhi's eyes met over the head of the little girl, re-living the same memory. Payal had used the exact same words Arti used to when she would pull Vidhi out of her room, including looking at the positive side of things. Vidhi smiled, She really is your niece she thought. Reading her mind, Arti's face lit up with a returning smile, Yes, yes she is.
Arti caught Payal into a tight hug, "Ok, so tell me what all you want to shop for."
The girl started listing out, "Clothes...candy...chocolate...tiara...toys...".
Just then Ansh crawled up and plopped down in front of them. He had been ignored long enough, he wanted his share of attention. Arti saw him but continued to hold and talk to Payal. She had decided she would not focus so much on him. The less she interacted directly with him, the easier it would be to let go. But she had not accounted for the willful Ansh.
As the two continued talking without looking at him, Ansh took matters into his own hands. Or rather, his own feet. He kicked out at Payal, trying to push her away.
"Owww!" Payal protested, finally turning to look at him. "What?" she asked. He scooted forward on his rump. "Oh no you don't!" Payal replied as she crawled quickly into Arti's lap and sat down triumphantly, facing Ansh. He crawled right up to them and using both his hands and feet attempted to push Payal off.
Vidhi burst out laughing. "He is such a possessive little fellow. He reacts this way every time Payal is in my lap too." She looked at Arti and smiled, a warm look in her eyes. "He took to you so quickly Arti. It's like he remembers you - your voice, your touch."
Unnoticed by any of them, Gayatri stood at the door of her bedroom in the three-bedroom suite. The four of them were in the central living area and Gayatri had been standing at her door for a while observing the four. She saw how the children interacted with Arti, saw how she mingled with them. She now decided it was time to let her presence be known.
Knocking once on the door she called out, "Vidhi! Are you all ready?" Then as if she just saw Arti she added, "Arti - you are here. How are you?"
"Namaste Auntyji" Arti said putting Payal down as she stood up.
"Namaste", Gayatri nodded to her smiling gently. She then turned to Vidhi, "Are you ready? I would like to get back early - before it gets dark."
"Ji, Mummyji, we are ready" Vidhi replied, picking up the bag she had packed for the children.
The car dropped them off at Karol Bagh market. As Vidhi started shaking out the sling for Ansh, Arti asked her, "Can I?"
Vidhi stopped and looked at her. "Are you sure? He can get heavy after a while." Ansh after-all was a chubby little fellow, his round cheeks already red in the late December cold.
Arti nodded, "You have Payal too. Let me carry him for a while."
"Ok. But let me know if you get tired," Vidhi cautioned.
Arti carried him in the sling the whole day, holding his little hands, warming them with her own. She did not realize how often she wrapped her arms around him, hugging him close to her - it was done sub-consciously, whenever she felt Ansh getting cranky or they saw something that seemed to excite him. She did get tired as the afternoon wore on - she was not used to carrying a child and having a heavy weight loaded unbalanced in the front took a toll on her back.
Gayatri noticed the strain lines appear on her face, a pinched look taking over. She asked if she should carry Ansh, but Arti refused, smiling through her visible tiredness. Vidhi was busy with Payal and she was too well-mannered to let an elderly lady like Gayatri take Ansh's weight. When they stopped for tea at a small caf, Arti removed the sling and sat Ansh down with relief.
Gayatri called a halt to the shopping soon afterwards. As they drove back to the hotel she asked Arti to stay for dinner.
"Thank you Aunty, but I am sorry, I can't" Arti replied. Truth to tell, she was exhausted and yearned to go to bed. She had no energy left to socialize over a dinner. She marveled at Vidhi - how did she ever find the energy to manage her job and two children?
Realizing her words could give offense, Arti quickly added, "Its year-end you see. And we are always very busy at these times, even though it's not the financial year-end. I will be leaving in a week's time, so I have to wrap up my accounts before I go." She was going to Indore for Prashant's barsi.
"I understand. Come meet us and have dinner tomorrow night. We leave the day after." It was an order - and Arti recognized it as such. She nodded mutely.
Arti came the next evening after work. She was running late - but had managed to call Vidhi and inform her of her late arrival. When she came, Vidhi introduced her formally to her father-in-law. As Arti touched his feet, he blessed her "Khush raho".
Payal came bouncing up to her, "Arti Maasi! You must see the pictures I took." One of her early Christmas gifts had been a small digital camera and she had been taking pictures the whole time the day before.
Vidhi interrupted, "Yes Payal, but later, after dinner. Let's eat first, ok?"
Payal pouted but brightened up when her dad reminded her of the desert - ice-cream. Gayatri shook her head at that, smiling fondly at her grand-daughter.
Dinner had been served in the suite itself, which had a dining table that seated six. As they all went to the dining area, Yash came out of his room carrying Ansh. As soon as he saw her the baby started to call out to her. Yash looked at him in surprise, not understanding his cries. Vidhi interpreted, "Bhaiyya, I think Ansh wants to go to Arti."
Yash went towards Arti and immediately Ansh started straining out of his arms, reaching his own arms out to her. With a broad smile she gathered him to her and cuddled him, "Well, Chote Nawab, what have you been up to today?"
He gurgled back at her happily, tucking his head into the crook of her neck. Yash had fed him, he was clean and ready for bed. Arti felt comfortable, and circling her neck with his arms, he cradled his head on her shoulder now, looking at his father out of sleepy eyes.
Yash said softly, "He is tired. He wants to sleep."
She nodded and continued patting his back, gently lulling the sleepy baby even further towards slumber. Yash held out his arms, but Arti shook her head, "Let him be. Don't disturb him. I can hold him till he falls asleep," she said softly.
Arti signaled Vidhi to take the rest in to dinner. She walked around, patting Ansh and very soon she heard a gentle snore. A laugh bubbled up but she smothered it. Yash heard it too and came to her. Making sure his son was really asleep, he signaled her to follow him. Arti followed Yash into his bedroom. There was no crib and she turned to him, eyebrows raised. He pointed to the bed and fluffed a pillow, placing it in the centre of the bed. She very gently placed him down on the bed and tucked a quilt around him. Then Yash placed a few pillows on both his sides, effectively building a barrier that would cushion him from a fall. He switched on the bedside lamp, then turning the room light off, he gently shut the door.
A worried Arti asked, "Will he be alright alone? Should I stay inside with him?"
Yash shook his head, "No. He will be fine. He sleeps through the night, and if he does wake up, I will hear his cry."
Arti nodded and the two joined the rest for dinner. The adults had been waiting for Yash and Arti. As Arti took a seat next to Vidhi, Suraj said, "Arti beta, thank you. We have imposed a lot on you."
Arti looked at him in surprise, "Imposed? No, no Uncle, what are you saying? Ansh is no imposition."
"I did not mean A..." and Suraj coughed. Unknown to the rest, Gayatri had kicked him under the table. Clearing his throat and taking a sip of water he continued, "I did not mean to offend you or anything beta. You brought Zoyaji's wedding to us and it opened up business opportunities that were just in the back of my mind till then. And Gayatri tells me how helpful you were with Ansh and Payal yesterday. We know only too well how exhausting those two can be - so thanks are definitely due your way."
Arti smiled and shook her head.
And Gayatri heaved a silent sigh of relief. As always, her husband had managed to save the situation. She knew what he had been about to say - he was going to thank Arti for helping Yash overcome his grief and move on. They had talked about it just last night too - they both, the entire family in fact had noticed the changes in Yash after his first Delhi visit. And after talking with Vidhi and Zoya she had a much better understanding of the role Arti had played. However it would not do to thank her - definitely not in front of Yash. And if she read Arti right, she would be too disconcerted if they thanked her for helping Yash. She had been hurt and embarrassed enough by Gayatri - she would see to it that no one in her family hurt the poor girl further.
After dinner Payal insisted that Arti and her grandparents see the pictures she had taken. Vidhi signaled Arti to do so and Pankaj attached the camera to the TV in the living area. As Pankaj, Yash and Vidhi cleared out the dining table the rest settled down to see the pictures. Payal had clicked any and everything in sight. The four-year old's pictures were a mish-mash - some were crystal clear while the rest were blurry and out of focus. She had pictures of practically every shop in Karol Bagh and the four of them - and she kept up a continuous commentary as the photos rolled through.
A sudden silence in the chatter caught Yash's attention. He glanced towards the TV and stilled in shock, nearly dropping the plates he held. For a moment he saw Arpita there! And then his vision cleared. This was one of the crystal-clear shots Payal had taken: of Arti looking at Ansh with pure love and adoration in her eyes as she laughed at something while holding his hands. And the baby turning his head while in the sling and looking back at her with the same love and laughter on his face.
Yash's heart clenched in pain - that shot should have been of Arpita and Ansh. Involuntarily his eyes strayed towards Arti - and he saw her face whiten in shock. Quickly leaving the plates on the table, he turned around and went into his room.
Arti nearly gasped out loud when she saw the photo. She felt...felt naked. As if all her pain, her longing, her love had been captured in that one shot. She felt the blood drain out of her face, leaving her shaking. Involuntarily her eyes went towards the room where Ansh slept - and she saw Yash enter the room, softly closing the door behind him. Had he seen the picture?
Arti had made her excuses and left soon after. The photo had shaken her to the core.
Now, as she stood in front of the painting she had made of the bird, the painting she used to remind herself to live, she let out a soft sigh. The Flying Phoenix - that is what she had named her painting, in honor of the mythical bird that burned itself, being reborn out of its own ashes. She traced the brown bird as it flew through the sky, through the streaming patch of orange sunlight transforming into triumphant multi-colored hues and she felt stirrings she had buried with her lost child...She had tried, she really had tried to bury her deep desire for a child all her own. She did not know why, what it was in him but Ansh stripped away all her layers and plunged right into the mamta she had tried to quell. With him in her arms she felt like the phoenix being re-born...
Thanks for staying on this journey with me. Hope you will continue to support me here on this new thread as well.
I know this has been a long update. This one and the next don't/won't have a lot of action, but are critical to move the story along. So bear with me - the time for Arti and Yash to get married is nearing.
EDITED - corrected the bird - thanks Rutu. And now you all know my pathetic knowledge about fauna (add flora to the list).
Thanks for reading,
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