As this journey is coming to an end, it's making me very nostalgic. I've been through a lot in my personal life during the four years it took me to finish this book - four years. That's how long each and every one of you has stayed with me, put up with my disappearing acts, and rooted for me. The next chapter is Arnav and Khushi's wedding. I'm getting emotional and unable to write, so I'm simply going to leave you guys with this chapter. Eagerly awaiting your comments.
Three weeks later
Ping. Arnav’s phone beeped, interrupting his workflow. He ignored it and continued working. Ping. Another beep. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. Ping. He sighed irritatedly and got up from his couch to go see who was bothering him at this ungodly time at night.
12 new messages from Khushi. He rolled his eyes up in frustration. Without bothering to read the messages, he dialed her number. She answered it in one ring.
“Hello,” she whispered.
“Now what happened Khushi?”
For the last three hours, Khushi had made it her mission to bother Arnav with all sorts of issues that had no relevance to either Arnav or their relationship. She’d informed him that Amma had made Khushi’s favourite Bhindi ki sabzi and tadka dal for dinner, that she was feeling sad because the plant outside her window might die in the next four days, that today they tried a new sweet recipe at the shop, that their usual sabziwala had decided to rob the Gupta’s by significantly increasing the price of onions and tomatoes, that she’d decided her new favourite colour was going to be orange, that the tailor had ruined the blouse that went with Payal’s wedding dress and Khushi would never use him for her wedding.
None of this mattered to Arnav. What mattered was that Khushi was far away in Lucknow and he was still in New Delhi. After their conversation, Khushi had withdrawn her resignation and asked for a transfer to Lucknow instead.
“Amma and Babuji need me Arnav,” she’d told him two nights later. “Babuji has better chances of recovering in a familiar environment.”
Arnav had relented. And Khushi had packed her bags, moved out of Rising Stars and moved back to Lucknow. It was the best thing she could have done for her family, Arnav grudgingly accepted. Her Babuji’s health had shown immense improvement. Her Amma was relieved. And they had an entire community to support them, friends and neighbours who’d become family.
But Arnav still missed Khushi. Occasionally, sitting in his cabin, he would glance at the cubicle that used to be occupied by Khushi. The new girl who sat there was organized. There were no more accidents, no colour pencils strewn around, no more doodles that lay around, no more colour. And then he missed her more. He’d contemplated moving to Lucknow and working out of the Sheesh Mahal and dismised the idea. He would demand a lot of Khushi’s time, and right now her family needed her more than him.
All of this was new to both of them. Khushi had never been in a relationship before and Arnav had never been in a real relationship before. He shook his head and came back to the present. Khushi had been talking non-stop for the last five minutes and Arnav had not registered a single word.
“Did you hear what I said?” she whispered furiously.
“You didn’t. Ravan Raizada.” She called him that when she was miffed with him. He adored that name. It was cute and innocent just like Khushi. He smiled.
“Tell me again.”
“Akash jiju’s mother has sent a marriage proposal for me. It’s jiju’s cousin who’s working and living in London. Amma said they can’t refuse without it looking bad on the family, because Jiji is getting married to Akash Jiju. So I’ve been asked to meet with them. The boy and his family are coming to see me tomorrow. If they like me, they want the marriage to take place alongwith Jiji and Jiju’s wedding.”
The monster was back. Unaware of the anger building up inside Arnav, Khushi continued. “Jiji and Jiju’s wedding is two weeks away.” She suddenly heard a beep that indicated the phone call had been disconnected.
“What the…,” she muttered under her breath. Arnav was getting impossible to handle. Here she was discussing their future and he’d hung up on her.
Khushi found out Arnav could pointedly ignore her and pretend as if they were strangers. When the doorbell to the Gupta household rang at 7 in the morning, no one was suprised. They were all expecting Madhumati. But when Khushi opened the door, she was shocked to find someone clad in a carbon black Brioni suit. Someone she hadn’t seen for three weeks. She was so excited to see him, she could hardly contain her emotions. And yet, he seemed cool, collected and aloof. He looked at her, and past her at Garima who was eyeing his presence with growing unease.
“Mr. Raizada, please come,” she invited the man into her house. He made himself comfortable in their modest living room and gratefully accepted the glass of water that was offered.
“Mr. Raizada, Shashiji is resting. The heart attack has left him quite weak. I’ll go and get him but it might take a while.”
“Sure, Mrs. Gupta. Take your time. I, too, am waiting for some people to join me for this meeting. We’re in no rush.”
Garima threw him a grateful glance before hurrying to help Shashi get ready for this unexpected meeting.
As soon as Garima was out of earshot, Khushi marched up to Arnav to demand the reason for his presence.
“What are you doing here?” she whispered furiously poking her forefinger onto his chest. “Why do I not know and why didn’t you tell me? We just spoke last night and you hung up on me, and now…” Just as she closed her eyes to take a deep breath, Payal walked in.
“Hello Mr. Raizada,” she greeted the guest and then noticed Khushi’s threatening stance. “Khushi, not only is he our landlord and your boss at AR, but he’s also our guest. Is this how you treat our guests?”
Chastised, Khushi moved away but continued giving Arnav the death glare. Just then another car drove up to the Gupta residence and Anjali and Shyam made their way into the house.
“Sorry Chhote, for being late,” Anjali apologized while Arnav got up to hug his sister. Shyam smiled. “She’s behaving like she’s getting married,” he told Arnav.
Married? What was going on in this Ravan Raizada’s head now? Before Khushi had a chance to ponder on her thoughts further, Garima came out pushing Shashi in a wheelchair. Arnav got up to walk to the man.
“Mr. Raizada,” Shashi shook his hands. “Please sit down.” When he stared at the other two guests quizzically, Arnav introduced them. “Mr. Gupta, this is my sister Anjali and my brother-in-law Shyam.”
Another round of water followed by tea and biscuits and Anjali cleared her throat.
“Shashiji and Garimaji, there is no easy way to say this.”
Garima grew uneasy by the minute. Every time their earlier landlord had paid them a visit, it was to increase rent. In their current situation, they couldn’t afford an increase in rent.
“Anjaliji I understand your concern, but I don’t think it's possible right now. Given Shashi’s health and Payal’s wedding, I mean the groom’s side has been very accomodating but we still need to respect their wishes.”
Both Anjali and Arnav looked at each other. It seemed as if Garima had made up her mind to get Khushi married to Akash’s cousin.
“I understand your predicament, Garimaji,” said Anjali. “But have you asked Khushi for her opinion?”
“Not really Anjaliji. I didn’t know about your intentions till Mr. Raizada came by this morning. I could talk to Khushi about it, but I’m sure she will feel the exact same way I will about this whole thing.”
What was Khushi’s mother saying? Had Khushi agreed to the proposal without meeting with the boy? While the siblings were flustered, Shyam was sporting a benevolent smile. He picked up another biscuit from the plate placed in front of them and bit into it relishing the scene in front of him.
“I think you might have some misunderstanding Garimaji but Khushi and..” Just then Arnav’s eyes wandered to Khushi’s hands fidgeting with her dupatta. The ring he’d put on her finger was missing. He placed his hand on Anjali’s to stop her from completing her sentence.
“I think Mrs. Gupta is right. We should leave. Sorry to bother you so early in the morning.” Saying he got up to make his way out. He looked at Khushi, his eyes showing his emotions. He was hurt, very hurt. And somehow it was because of her.
“But Chhote,” she held his hand to stop him from leaving.
“Di, forget it. Somethings are not meant to be.”
Anjali looked at Shyam confused and got up. Arnav had already reached the main door. Khushi kept following Arnav’s eyes as he made his way to the door. She didn’t understand what it was that had hurt him, but she couldn’t see him like that. She walked up to the door and held his hand, to stop him from leaving.
“I’m sorry Garimaji if our visit bothered you in any way.” She was just about to make her way out when Shyam held her hand and stopped her, gently pulling her to sit back down on the sofa.
“Shashiji, Garimaji, I believe everyone has beaten around the bush and caused enough confusion,” said Shyam. “Now before things really get out of hand, let me tell you why we are all here.
“My brother-in-law Arnav is in love with your daughter Khushi. And if you all have no objections, we would like to ask for Khushi’s hand in marriage for Arnav.”
If the Gupta’s were shocked, they hid it only too well. Garima quickly apologized for her earlier comments. “I thought you were here to talk about increasing the rent,” she admitted sheepishly. The entire family had a laugh. Garima and Payal quickly made their way to the kitchen to make another round of tea and Shashi looked at the beautiful pair Arnav and Khushi made standing next to each other. Everyone seemed happy except Arnav. Under the pretext of wanting fresh air, he excused himself and Khushi followed him.
“There’s no compulsion,” he told her, as soon as they were by themselves.
“For what?” Khushi was getting confused and worried. What had suddenly gotten into this man’s head?
“For us.” He was experiencing a new emotion - helplessness. He closed his eyes to will the words which seemed stuck in his throat. “There’s no compulsion to marry me. I know I made quite a hash of things by bringing my family here today, but I’ll clear it all up. I can totally understand if you’ve changed your mind.”
“Arnav,” she forcefully turned him to look at her. “You’re mad, annoying, bossy, frustrating…” She raised her hands in frustration. She didn’t know what happened but she understood he needed reassurance.
Taking his hands in hers, looking him straight in the eye, she said, “Arnav Singh Raizada, I love you and there is nobody else I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
The helplessness he was feeling for the last half hour gave way to relief and he pulled her into a bone-crushing hug. Moments later when they untangled, he pointed to her bare finger. She understood. Sheepishly she pulled out a delicate chain that discretely adorned her neck. Looped through the chain was the 2-carat round cut solitaire diamond ring, he’d gifted her.
Ten minutes later when Arnav and Khushi made their way back to the Gupta’s living room, they were informed that the Raizada’s would be staying for lunch.
“Seriously Di?” Arnav asked amused. “Chhote, its been so long since I’ve had traditional food. After Amma’s death…” Tears glistened in her eyes and Shyam got up and gave her a sideways hug while rubbing her arms.
The Gupta’s saw the love between the siblings and the love and concern Shyam expressed for Anjali. Khushi was very lucky.
Shashi rolled his wheelchair to his daughter. Khushi crouched to talk to her father. “Khushi, I know Garima didn’t give birth to you, but I’ve always treated you as my own daughter. I only want the best for you. I would never force a marriage alliance on you simply because I think its the right thing. You’re old, you’ve seen the world, I trust you. Tell me Khushi, do you want to marry Arnav Singh Raizada?”
Khushi hugged her father and cried. Tears of joy. Yes, she would marry Arnav Singh Raizada. Yes, she would make her parents proud.
When he wiped away her tears of joy, she held her Babuji’s hand and said: “Thank you Babuji, for believing in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.”
“Silly girl,” Shashi said fondly caressing his daughter’s hair. “My daughters’ are my pride and both of you’ve never done anything that has made my question my upbringing. I’m proud that I’ve raised such beautiful, sensible girls.”