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She started again before Khushi could even make it to the couch, "How was your day, Khushi? How are the people? How is your boss? Do you like your work? Did they treat you well? Did you mean any new people? I hope you liked the food in the canteen, or I can pack your lunch every day. How about- "
"Maa, give her a break!" Payal tried to intervene "The poor thing just came in. Just-"
"Oh yes, how silly of me! You relax beta, we can talk later. I'll just make you your favourite aaluu parathas." Garima found it difficult to just be in one place.
"Amma, we had an evening tea session and I ate a little. I'm not hungry really. Just sit with me now, Ma. We can all eat later."
She almost regretted her words as she saw Garima's fallen face, "Oh, will you at least have some jalebi? You're always ready for those, aren't you?"
She realised this day was probably more about her mother than herself. "Amma you've tempted me now. How long can I resist your parathas and jalebi? I want all of them. But first sit, let me tell you about my day and then we do all the pet-pooja, okay?" she said rubbing her stomach playfully. It was worth it, she thought for the second time in less that five minutes, as she saw Garima's face light up instantly. Mothers, they found inexplicable and immeasurable pleasure in feeding their children, each and every time.
"She's right Garima, at least let the kid sit down." said Shashi.
Khushi settled down on the couch, in between Garima and Arnav. Shashi on his favorite barcalounger opposite to the couch and Payal on the beanbag next to it. "So tell us all about it" said Garima rubbing her hands. Her childlike excitement brought a smile to everybody's face.
"It was nice Amma, not very eventful though. Even boring at times, it was presentations after presentations throughout the day, I was struggling to keep my eyes open towards the end. Company profile, management, policy, achievements.. yada yada yada. Its impressive though, they're not a big organisation but they've done some really good work, especially with rural electrification. And we had lunch and tea breaks in between to get to know each other. You know how I am during these networking sessions, I grin aimlessly at nothing, not knowing what else to do, and then I eat. Thankfully some of the guys came up to me and we got talking, so I at least know a few people now." Shashi noticed how she was trying her best to look enthusiastic. It was a good act, it would convince everyone except him and Arnav, that he knew. At that moment he saw Arnav looking at him, with something akin to accusation in his eyes. It was over in a fraction, as Arnav gave him a polite smile before he turned his attention back to what Khushi was saying.
"Its going to be like this for a few days, jiji. We'll basically be asked to provide research and analytical assistance for the first few weeks, they'll assign us to projects only by the end of the month. That is when the real work starts. I hope they don't send me off to one of those rural projects, they are admirable but I don't think I want to do it. I've heard it involves field visits to god forsaken places and handling a whole bunch of other things like educating the villagers and working with the gram panchayat - that stuff is really not my cup of tea."
"Don't say such things, I hope you get whatever is good for you."
"Maa, I've talked so much, now I do feel really hungry. Methinks its paratha time." she needed to change this topic, she knew where this discussion would lead.
"Of course, you go freshen up. I'll just make them and bring it to your room", with that she placed a soft kiss on Khushi's forehead and left for the kitchen.
She went over her day as she stood under the shower, the warm water soothing her nerves. It wasn't as unbearable as she had feared, and the people were more or less nice. She realised however that none of it affected her much because she hardly cared, she had taken this up for her father and she would do this sincerely. But no matter how hard she tried, her heart wasn't in it.
She changed into a loose fitting blue cotton kurti with a while salwar and was toweling her hair dry when she heard someone knock on the door. "Come in" she said sweetly, hoping it was her mother, she was famished now. She wasn't really surprised to see Arnav at the door, but he a small paper bag in hand. "Is that for me?" she asked as he came in and sat on her bed. He stretched his hand out silently asking her to take the bag.
"You didn't have to-"
"Just open it" he stopped her mid-rant.
Khushi opened the bag and took out a small gift neatly wrapped in light yellow paper. She unwrapped it gingerly, her eyes slowly widening in anticipation. She broke into a sprint the second she saw what was inside and embraced him in a bone-crushing hug, almost making him lose his balance at the impact. She then kissed him with unbridled passion and felt him smile against her lips before he kissed her back.
"A first edition Maugham, how did you manage to get this! Even a latest edition copy of The Razor's Edge is difficult to find in bookstores, where did you find this? It must have cost you a fortune!" she said, not bothering to stop herself from jumping up and down in excitement.
"Its wasn't that difficult, just had to search the right places. I know its your favourite book, thought you'd like to have this."
"Like? I love it Arnav! Thank you so, so much!. But, I do hope you didn't spend too much on it" she said, her voice now a little serious though the smile refused to leave her face.
"You don't worry about it. If I feel the pinch later, I'll have you pay me back with interest. You're earning now, and by the end of next year you'll probably be earning more than me."
She just stuck her tongue out in response, earning herself another kiss.
She tried to move away to sit next to him but he tugged at her hand and made her sit on his lap.
"Thank you, Arnav. This is' priceless. Not just because of what it is, also because of the one who gave it to me." she placed another lingering kiss on his forehead.
"Now tell me, how was your day?" he asked holding her close to himself.
"I just told you all about it!"
"No, you told me all that happened today. All the events. I want to know how your day was, how did you like it?"
She just looked at him for a long minute and then sighed. Running her dainty fingers through his hair, she said honestly, "It was okay, Arnav. Nothing great. It was better than I had hoped, and the people are mostly nice and genuine. I can manage, though I can do nothing about the fact I don't wish to be here in the first place." her voice finally reflecting her dejected state of mind. Arnav knew anything he said to make her feel better about this would be futile, and so he stopped looking for words.
"Tell me about the people there, you don't have anything snide or sarcastic to say about them, that is' unusual" he asked smirking.
"Stop smirking Arnav! I'm not that bad. Anyway, I didn't talk to a lot of people, just three or four. I can't even remember all their names properly. There was this girl though, Vaidehi. She hails from a small town in Uttar Pradesh. Brilliant, that girl. She had a little trouble with English, but once you start listening to what she has to say, you realise she is extremely well read and learned. Honestly, I felt absolutely ignorant standing next to her, she knows so much. She has seen so much! She says she has lived more than half her life on just two hours of electricity per day. Its hard to even imagine, no ?"
"We are the lucky few in this country to live a life like this Khushi, it's a shelter, a cocoon. The world outside this is not pleasant, just to keep oneself alive is a titanic challenge for many people."
When Khushi didn't say anything in response, he knew she had caught on to something he had said that had set off a chain of thoughts and now she was lost in her own world. This happened all the time; it used to infuriate him in the beginning, but now he just found it amusing. He pinched her cheeks slightly to get her attention.
"Ouch Arnav!" she said rubbing her cheeks that were now red. "I'm sorry, I was just-"
"Thinking about something I said. I know. Okay, so theres Vaidehi. Who else?"
"Hmm, there was this guy, Vighnesh. He is a lot like me actually, awkward at social gatherings. He noticed I too was standing clueless during one of the tea breaks so he came up to speak to me. He is from Chennai, and you know whats interesting? His situation is entirely opposite to mine. It seems his entire family is full of writers, poets and journalists, and he is the odd one out. Interesting guy!" .Arnav couldn't get himself to smile at the thought of her finding another man interesting, but stopped himself from saying anything as he realised immediately that he was being an insecure idiot. He was brought out of his reverie when he felt Khushi get up and reach for the newspaper on her bedside table.
"God not your puzzles again!"
"I haven't solved a single one since morning, Arnav. Please? Just one! Look you can help me out, then we can get done with this fast."
He gave up before he even began to try, it was useless. "You won't listen to me anyway, so shoot. Lets get done with this."
"Okay. 7 letter word for change or vicissitude. There should be' an 'e' in between, if my 3 Across is correct.
"Novetly" the reply was immediate.
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