Author's Note- Seven years ago I wrote an FF- The Beginning of a New End to exorcise my IPKKND demons after the show ended. I watched it again in the run-up to the 10th anniversary and found I still had a story to tell. It's related to my previous FF and especially to the accompanying Anjali-Aman OS.
My earlier work can be found in FanFictions (Search for The Beginning of a New End) or click here for the link to the posts- https://www.indiaforums.com/forum/post/91500864
FF- The Beginning at the End
Aman woke up with a start on Sunday morning. Sunlight was streaming into his bedroom, sneakily between the small gap in the curtains. The fluorescent lights on his phone display informed him that it was past eight and he sat up wondering why his alarm hadn’t gone off.
He checked his phone again as he stood up, to make sure he hadn’t missed the call that served as his Sunday morning alarm.
It was only after he had brushed his teeth and splashed some water on his face that he remembered the evening prior in its entirety.
His boss, ASR, called him every Sunday morning at eight for a semi-formal catch up. Aman slept with his laptop charged and ready on the bedside table. They reviewed the week past and planned for the upcoming one. This unusual time served them both well, both early risers in a household of people who preferred to sleep in, and over the years, this reflective conversation had increased their productivity during the week.
With a smirk, Aman realized that he wasn’t likely to hear from ASR on the morning after his wedding. Back in his room, he pulled the curtains apart to welcome the light and warmth as he stretched languorously.
Although he had missed the wedding ceremony itself, for reasons he couldn’t begin to contemplate before coffee, he had met the newlyweds shortly thereafter. The new, or rather, the recently renewed Mrs KKGSR had been most persistent in her invitation for him to join their family dinner.
It was his first time meeting her in person, but it took him less than a minute in her presence to find answers to several questions about his boss that had plagued him over the past year.
Aman shared a very unique relationship with his boss. When AR designs took over the textile company he worked for, he had been among a few of the employees retained by the new regime. From beginning as a manager at the firm, he had soon found himself promoted to an unnamed position serving as ASR’s right-hand man. The work involved running his day-to-day affairs at work and outside of it and put him in a strange position where he knew everything about his boss’s life without the two of them ever talking about it.
Sitting down to dinner with the happy couple and their close family had therefore been an illuminating experience for him.
Khushiji had treated him like a long-lost friend, chatting away nineteen to a dozen while ASR look on indulgently, saying little per usual but looking lighter of heart than Aman had ever seen him. It appeared that he had been right in suspecting, nearly a year ago, that his reticent boss had finally fallen in love.
“Miracles never cease, Priya” Aman said, shaking his head and addressing the portrait beside the window frame.
The lady in the photo smiled serenely.
Aman rested his forehead lightly against the cool glass of the picture frame. Learning to grieve had not come easily to him, neither had accepting that he had to go on living. That there were reasons binding him to this Earth even when his spirit seemed to have floated away with her.
Speaking to her helped, sometimes. He forced himself to step back, he blew her a kiss and hurried out of the room.
His therapist had recommending allotting specific time in the day to indulge his grief, it kept him from spiralling. But only Aman knew how much discipline it took to stick to those set time limits, to walk away.
The living room was unusually quiet, Amma wasn’t up yet. She had had a long day yesterday; with Aman returning late and Pari down with the flu. His obstinate daughter had refused to go to bed without seeing him. She had been unusually fussy over the past couple of days, with food and medicines, clinging to him like she seldom did, and it took him a while to realise that she was subconsciously missing her mother in this time of illness.
His own mother had been a pillar of strength and Priya’s parents, who lived in a flat down the corridor from theirs, chipped in too. Pari was always running from one home to the other and between them, her remaining parents and grandparents, they did their best to care for her.
In the kitchen, Aman set about making coffee. It was only after the rich aroma of the brew hit his senses that he allowed himself to think about the focal point of the past evening.
It had taken him longer than usual to recognise her. He had met her in the past, of course. But like most of his boss’s family, she had remained a faceless entity in his mind, primarily defined by her relationship with ASR.
He decided that he wasn’t to blame for the lapse. After all, how was he to make the connection between the saree clad woman chasing after him in the mandir to ASR’s beloved sister, Anjali Jha?
Retrieving the newspaper from the front door, Aman sat at the dining table, sipping his coffee and replaying the events as it had unfolded- Anjali cornering him in the temple, their auto rickshaw ride to the coffeeshop and finally, her request for help.
Anjali probably didn’t realise how much he knew already about her. He had helped ASR arrange her wedding four years ago, he had made the booking for the flat she shared with her husband before they moved into Shantivan. He had made the payments, on behalf of ASR, to the hospital when she suffered a miscarriage and had helped his boss shortlist the best gynaecologists in the city to help her afterwards.
He also knew that ASR had stopped making payments into the couple’s joint account a few months ago and had diverted the funds to her private bank account. He also knew that ASR had changed his will to exclude his brother-in-law from it and was planning to open an investigation into the affairs of Shyam Jha, much like his sister had expressed an intent to do.
Their encounter had felt surreal to him, her reluctance to share her secret, to admit to him that she suspected her husband of cheating was ironic given the context.
He had agreed to help her, of course. But she wanted to keep the investigation from ASR, for the time being. This was a moral dilemma for Aman, but he was comforted by the fact that both brother and sister wanted the same thing.
Her conflict, her revulsion at her own suspicions and her terror at discovering the truth, it had affected him greatly. He felt in awe of her courage in approaching him but couldn’t help but wonder if it would last her the duration of the investigation and then its outcome.
If as she said, it was a matter of choosing whom to trust, between her husband and ASR, Aman had little doubt about the outcome and wished he could spare her the impending heartbreak.
Aman almost jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Aman bitwa, hum kab se good morning kehet rahe” Amma said.
“Sorry Amma, good morning.” he said, mustering a smile. “Humne aapke liye coffee bana diya hai, aap bas garam kar lijiye”.
Aman perused the headlines as Amma warmed her coffee and joined him at the table.
As the mother of ASR’s personal manager, she occupied a position of privilege in their society as pertained to insider knowledge about the business tycoon. Aman always gave her enough fodder to ensure her continued elevated status without ever divulging secrets. And since ASR’s wedding was no secret, she was all questions.
Her face fell slightly when he quickly deflected to enquire after her knee pain and Pari’s cold. Amma reckoned that a combination of staying up late and cold medicine explained why she was presently snoring through her blocked nose.
She did recommend that Aman wake her up shortly so that she could be fed in time for her medicines.
Aman lingered over coffee, procrastinating over the task of waking Pari, his phone finally rang.
“Aman, I have some instructions.” ASR said, without preamble. “Khushi aur main aaj shaam ko Bali ke liye nikal rahe hain. I won’t be available for a week.”
Swallowing his surprise, Aman plugged the Bluetooth speaker into his ear and pulled up the list app he used on his phone. He couldn’t remember the last time his boss had taken an actual holiday.
“Alright ASR” he said, “Go ahead.”
“First, I need a few of things sent to Buaji’s house by noon for our trip. Main list email kar raha hoon, as we speak.”
“Okay, not a problem” Aman said.
“Second, in my absence, sab work related queries Akash handle karega, I’ve already briefed him.”
“Next, HP ke saath coordinate karo and make sure ghar pe…I mean Shantivan me everything is running smoothly.”
“Number four. I need you to find a suitable apartment…” ASR hesitated. “For Khushi and me. I want it ready by the time we return on Friday.”
Aman had already typed ‘apartment’ when ASR trailed off.
He had surmised that due to some personal issues, ASR’s family hadn’t supported his re-marriage to Khushiji and hence the wedding date and venue had been changed.
But if ASR intended to move out of his own home, the conflict had to run deep. Of the many qualities he admired in his boss, commitment to his family was foremost.
He couldn’t help thinking back to his conversation with Anjali to work out the connection. But before he could check himself, chide himself to mind his own business, ASR had moved on and Aman scribbled hurriedly to keep up.
“Woh PI ka kya hua?” ASR asked, “Any update on that?”
And now, Aman hesitated. Both brother and sister had requested him to hire a PI to investigate the same man, and neither wanted the other to know.
“I…uh, I’ve shortlisted one fellow” Aman said, “I will finalize in a day or two.”
“Why the delay?” ASR sounded more surprised than demanding.
“Sorry ASR” Aman said, “Actually, we need someone jo trustworthy ho. So, PI ka hi background check karna padega.”
There was an element of truth to this and perhaps that’s why ASR conceded and moved on swiftly, simply asking him to pursue it as a matter of utmost importance.
“And Aman” ASR said.
“Yes, ASR?” Aman said, surprised by a small chuckle, a rare hint of laughter behind the steely tone.
“Kuch bhi urgent kaam ho, email ya text karo” ASR said, "Please don’t call me!”
Edited by thetelleroftale - 6 days ago
Breakfast in Raizada mansion on Monday morning was a subdued affair.
Anjali couldn’t stop herself thinking about all the other times her family had sat down together for a meal. Even before Khushiji came into their lives and added her dose of dining table cheer, she had always looked forward to it. The members of her family were like the fingers on a hand- each of a different shape, size and temperament. They lived different lives, walked their own paths and faced their own trials and tribulations. But for a brief moment in time each day, they came together as a family, bound by their shared past and held together by the respect and affection they had for each other.
Nani sat at the head of the table, pushing food on her plate and eating very little. Dadi sat to her right, to Anjali’s left, and sipped her glass of milk. Across the table, to Nani’s immediate left, the seat was left unused, and Anjali couldn’t bear to look at the empty space Chotey had left in their lives. Across the table from her, Payalji was serving Akash his breakfast. Beside them, Mami was spreading butter on her toast ad asking about NK bhai who was apparently enjoying a lie in.
Anjali looked up as Shyamji took the seat to her right and greeted everyone. The response he received was pointedly underwhelming. She mustered a weak smile as she passed him toast.
“Rani Sahiba, hume kuch kaam se do-teen din sheher se bahar jaana padega” Shyamji said.
Anjali fought a sense of disappointment. It was their fourth wedding anniversary the following week, but her husband seemed to be wrapped up with work to remember. Mixed with disappointed though was an inexplicable twinge of something that felt like doubt.
“Damaadji, agar aap baahar nikal rahe hai toh hume ashram me chod dijiye” Dadi said.
Though Nani looked up in surprise, she did not object. And looking at the sadness on her face, Anjali’s protests died on her lips too.
Dadi reminded Anjali of the more pleasant aspects of her childhood, of her late father who had once been the most important man in her life. But the bitterness that Dadi now carried, it seeped from her into the surroundings and Anjali already had enough on her emotional plate.
She had been as blindsided and devasted by Dadi’s revelations about Garima Aunty and Chotey’s betrayal. He had had no right to keep the secret from her for as long as he had.
But in the end, it didn’t change the fact that Mamma and Pappa were long gone. No, her issues with Chotey and Khushiji had a more recent source, a living and breathing source who had just agreed to drop Daadi to her ashram on his way.
He leaned down and whispered in her ear.
“Aap ghabriye mat, Rani Sahiba” Shyamji said, “Hum shaadi ki saalgirah nahi bhoole. Aakhir aapke liye tohfa lene ke liye hi sahi, hume apna kaam to karna padega na”
Anjali managed another smile as she bid them goodbye. She made Dadi promise to visit more often in the future and watched on uncomfortably as Nani said a stiff word of goodbye to Dadi and headed back to her room.
Just as she considered following Nani to check on her, her phone buzzed with a text message.
Her meeting for the morning had been confirmed, the message told her when and where.
An hour later, she found herself stepping out of a cab in a shady part of the city. She had had Mohanji drop her off at the temple and instructed him to return for her when she called. She had then taken a taxi to the address mentioned in the text.
It appeared to be an unused office undergoing repair work. The steps to the entrance door were on the other side of a gangplank, the pavement on either side dug up to lay pipes which were stacked in heaps to one side.
Anjali stepped across cautiously and found the glass door unlocked. She heard a familiar voice from the depths of the building.
“Amanji?” she said, stepping inside.
He appeared on the mezzanine, leaning against the railing of the glass corridor overlooking the reception area where she stood.
“I wasn’t sure if you’re comin” he said, “You didn’t reply to the message.”
“Oh, sorry” she said, looking belatedly at the phone clutched in her palm. “Hum ready hoke nikalne me lag gaye aur message karna bhool gaye.”
With a small smile, he beckoned her to join him upstairs through a flight of steps to her right.
“Sorry” he said, observing her slight struggle. “Lift is not working but I couldn’t think of a better place for this.”
Once she joined him, she enquired after his daughter who she was sad to hear was down with a cold. Smiling at his description of her crankiness, she followed him into a small room. It was a side room with a large window on one wall, looking into the adjacent board room. It was one of AR’s older offices, he said. Closed down in preparation for a complete renovation.
“From inside, it looks like a mirror” he said, “The PI won’t be able to see you. I’ll call on your phone and keep my Bluetooth on if you want to say something or have me ask anything on your behalf. Does that sound alright?”
Anjali looked at him, and at the surrounding office in despair. She was grateful that he had seen to the arrangements, but it all felt like the sets of a B grade hindi movie.
She did not have the words to express her gratitude or convey her rising trepidation as Amanji’s phone rang and he left her side to bring in the PI whose name he said was Bankelal Tiwari or BT for short.
He turned out to be a short, bespectacled and nondescript looking middle aged man. Anjali watched as after the introductions, he pulled out a little flip notebook and took notes while Aman explained the job.
Full investigation in the professional and personal affairs of Shyam Manohar Jha. On behalf of his unnamed client, he expected complete confidentiality. BT could expect to be compensated more than handsomely for a job well done.
As they moved on to the particulars of communication and payment, BT asked where the person of interest could be found at present ad Anjali remembered.
“Amanji” she said into her phone and saw him immediately hold up a hand to silence BT and listen.
“Shyamji ne subah kaha ki woh kuch din sheher se bahar ja rahe hai” she said, “Kaam ke silsile me.”
She watched him relay the information to BT who made a note of it.
When BT left, Aman gestured for her to join him. When she came around to the board room, she was surprised to find that he had arranged for a thermos of tea.
“Let’s give it a few minutes” he said, offering her a cup. “Hume lagta hai BT pe bharosa kar sakte hai. Humne ek paar pehle bhi unki help li thi. Ek button factory jo humaare company ko supply karti thi, ASR ko unpe shak tha. BT dikhne me jitney saadharan lagte hai utne hi efficient aur resourceful hain.”
Anjali listened to him, suppressing the sudden shivers that had come on. Accepting the cup, she sat opposite him.
“Aap jaanthe hain, aaj pehli baar humne apne pati pe shaq kiya” she said, and then looking at his incredulous expression, added “I know ki hum yeh sab shaq door karne ke liye hi kar rahe hain but today for the first time, jab unhone kaha ki who sheher se baahar jaa rahe hai toh humare mann me, ek pal ke liye, yeh baat aayi ki kya woh humse sach bol rahe hain? Ki jaa kahan rahe hai aur…kiske saath?”
When she looked up, through her sheen of tears, she saw that he wore a pained expression.
“Agar aap proceed nahi karna chahti toh abhi bhi der nahi hui hai” he said.
She shook her head. “Nahi Amanji, hume pata karna hi hoga. Ab iss shaq ke saath hum aur nahi jee sakthe…nahi jee sakthe.”
Her mind reeled back to the night Chotey had returned, slapped Shyamji and had thrown him out of the house. Since that day, he had never once wavered in his belief that Khushiji was in the right. Later, he had even confessed to marrying Khushiji for the wrong reasons and had gone to the extent of fighting with Khushiji when she brought Shyamji back home for Anjali’s sake.
Her brother’s conviction had been her undoing.
‘It’s my word against his’ Chotey had said, setting forth the chain of events that had led her here. To this room in this dingy building, to BT and his little notebook and to the man sitting before her. She tried to tell him a little, to explain herself but he cut her off.
“Aapko kuch kehne ki zaroorat nahi hain, you don’t owe me any explanations.” he said, “And waise bhi, ASR also wants the same thing.”
She looked up in surprise as he mentioned Chotey’s instructions to him before leaving on his honeymoon.
“Chotey Bali gaye hain?” she said, her eyes lighting up. Despite everything, she couldn’t keep the happiness she felt for her little brother out of her voice.
As they stood up to leave, she said,
“Hum aapka shukr kaise ada karenge Amanji. Aapne humare liye jo kiya…jo kar rahe hain…”
“Anjaliji, Priya ke jaane ke baad…” he hesitated but crossed his arms on his chest and pressed on, “It was difficult to find reasons to go on. I know ki situation bohot alag hai lekin I’m saying this because no matter what we find out…aapko uska saamna karna hoga…”
“Hum jaanthe hain” she said, “Hum samajthe hain…hume bhi aisa hi laga that jab humari raajkumari..jab humne unhe kho diya. Hum jitna dikhte hain usse zyaada strong hain”
“Usse kayi guna zyaada” he cracked a smile and mock saluted. “Aap bohot bahadur hain, Anjaliji”
No one had ever accused her of that. On the way home, it stayed with her, it made her want to be brave.
Survival was not the same as bravery, she decided. She had simply survived the tragedies of her life; he was the brave one. He had suffered loss but continued to live a life of meaning, to help others.
Stepping into her home, she headed straight to Nani’s room. She had always shared a special relationship with her grandmother but in recent months, Nani had become her strongest support system. But now, Nani was weakened by the memories of the daughter she had lost, of the events that had led to it, but most of all she missed Chotey and Khushiji. Since returning from their wedding at the temple, Nani seemed particularly desolate.
Anjali couldn't wait to tell her that the newlyweds were honeymooning in Bali, that would definitely cheer her up and spending some time with her seemed like a much worthier cause than brooding over the pieces of her own life.Edited by thetelleroftale - 7 days ago
Iss FF ka kya naam hein?
Nice start. May be future updates will clarify, but I did not get why Arnav wanted to stay in a separate house with Khushi. Is it because of Shyam or did family accuse Khushi which forced Arnav to go away from Shantivan? Is it correct to say, after the re-marriage Arnav went to Buaji's house with Khushi instead of going to Shantivan? We all know Dadi accused Garima and called Khushi names. Does that mean the family supported Dadi and abandoned Arnav and Khushi?
Aman is doing everything for his boss and now his boss's sister.
Let us see what the PI comes up with and how the family reacts to the revelations.
Thank you for your likes and comments.
Actually, this story runs in parallel with my earlier FF. You can find it in the above link, it's a completed series called The Beginning of a New End.
You'll find many answers to your questions in that story.
And, I have decided to name this one- The Beginning At The End.
In the week that his boss was away, Aman was busier than usual. In addition to the tasks ASR had set for him, he had to oversee a lot of the office work. While Akash was hardworking and intelligent, he lacked his brother’s shrewdness, that keen sense of business that was ASR’s trademark. Aman had had to tactfully guide him through several important decisions but Akash’s humility and gratitude, another stark contrast to ASR, made it hard to begrudge him for it.
But it had meant even less time at home and though she was convalescing from her cold, Pari was definitely going through something. He had taken her to a child psychologist in the weeks after Priya’s passing until the doctor had deemed her well enough that she no longer needed regular sessions. She had said that grief in children, just like adults, can be very dynamic and that they could always consult her if the need arose.
Aman wondered if he should book an appointment. The cold seemed to have transformed his adorable five-year-old into a moody teenager in the span of a week.
Seated in his office on Thursday and battling a fierce headache, he realised that he had a more pressing call to make first. While BT had been sending him updates, he hadn’t relayed it Anjaliji as yet.
She answered instantly but asked him to hold while she found a safe spot to talk.
“I’ve just sent you some photos…” he began.
“Amanji, Shyamji ghar laut aaye hain” she interrupted him. “Unhone kaha ke kisi client se milne unhe Lucknow jaana pada…”
“Jhoot hai, Anjaliji” he said, “Aap please photos dekh lijiye. He was very much in Delhi, in fact woh aapke puraane apartment me the.”
“Fir unhone humse aisa kyun kaha?” she asked, and then said, “Zaroor koi wajah hogi. Unke kaam ke silsile me aksar aisa hota hai…clients, case…uske baare me who kisise baat nahi kar sakthe. And…humaara purana flat bohot dinon se band pada hai.”
Her rambling wasn’t helping the throbbing in his head.
“Anjaliji, BT ka kaam hai Shyam ko follow karke sach pata lagaana aur humara kaam hai yeh information relay karna” he said, “Ab uska aap kya matlab nikaalthi hain ya fir uss information ko leke aap kya karthi hain, that’s your lookout.”
She went silent at once.
Realizing that he had sounded rougher than he had intended, he began to speak but she let out a loud gasp.
“Amanji, yeh last wala photo, yeh toh Lakshmi Nagar hai na?” she asked, “Yeh toh Khushiji ke Buaji ka ghar lag raha hai.”
“That’s what I was going to tell you, BT followed him there.” he said, “Woh Khushiji ki family ko milne gaye but Buaji didn’t let him in. Fir agle din jab Buaji aur Aunty paas ke market me gaye the, he snuck in through a window.”
When she didn’t say anything, he continued.
“BT ne Shyam ko Khushiji ke father ko threaten karte hue dekha” Aman said, “He felt ki Shyam was checking ki woh ab bol paa rahe hain ya nahi, kyunki unki tabiyath ab pehle se kaafi better hai. And finally, he heard him say ki agar unka muh khul gaya toh bohot bura hoga.”
He was met with stunned silence. Checking that they were still connected, he asked,
“Anjaliji, aap sun rahi hai na?”
“I don’t… hume kuch samaj me nahi aa raha” she said, her voice breaking.
He didn’t understand either, he only knew bits and pieces of the story. He hadn’t bothered to find out more in the past as he hadn’t considered it any of his business. But Anjaliji had made it his business and he didn't like half-measures, they had to get to the bottom of it.
“Anjaliji, honsla rakhiye” he said, reassuringly. “Sab sach jaldi pata chal jaega. In fact BT has asked for some help- he has asked me to open a new account for you jiska credit card aap Shyam ko de dijiye. Then BT can track its usage and use hume kaafi valuable information mil sakthi hai. He also wants access to Shyam’s laptop, if you make sure he’s not at home tomorrow evening, BT can try…”
“Ek minute, Amanji” she said, “Yeh aap kya keh rahe hain? Aap chahthe hai ki hum apne pati se jhoot bole…unhe is tarah jaal me phasaen? Humse yeh sab nahi kar paenge!”
“BT kisi bhi tarah se sach ko dhoond nikaalega, with or without your help” Aman said, “Aap maddad karengi toh shayad it’ll be sooner, lekin usse sachai pe koi asar nahi hoga.”
He heard her take in a shaky breath and all at once his irritation at her naivety was replaced by a raging fury at the man who had put her in this situation.
“Shyamji ne ek baar kaha tha ki unhone Buaji ko unke husband ke pension dilaane me unki madded ki thi” she said, quietly. “Ho saktha hai uske silsile me koi misunderstanding hui ho… aur fir chota mota jhoot toh sab bolte haim, kya aapne kabhi koi white lie nahi bola?”
Of course, he had.
Long before his wife was diagnosed with cancer, they had been just like any other couple. Priya and he had grown up together, in the same basti where he still lived. She had transformed from the tomboy who climbed trees with him to the beautiful woman he had fallen in love with. But despite their filmy love story, they had had their share of ups and downs.
He had lied to get out of doing chores, cheated at whose turn it was to check on their wailing infant at midnight. Of course, he had told white lies, but never once had he given his wife cause to doubt him or his commitment to her.
No woman deserved this, Anjaliji deserved to know the truth.
“Agar aisi baat hai toh aap BT ki help kar dijiye, fir pata chal jaega” he said, infusing his words with challenge. His ploy was weak and obvious, but he hoped it was enough fuel to rouse the dying embers of her strength.
She was quiet for several seconds.
“Theek hai” she said, finally. “Hum tayaar hai.”
The next morning Anjali pitched the idea of a dinner date before Shyamji left for work. He looked less than enthusiastic but there was nothing too unusual about that. The important thing was that he finally agreed. And although she took delivery of the new credit card later in the day, she hadn’t decided if she wanted to go ahead with that aspect of the deception. A dinner date was one thing but tracking his expenses was on a different plane especially since money had always been a sore point between them.
Subsequently, she was not surprised when it came up at the end of dinner. When the cheque arrived, Shyamji waved away her offer to pay. But when he tried to pay, his card was repeatedly declined.
He scrambled in his wallet for cash, spewing venom at the card company.
“Shyamji, aap pareshaan mat hoiye na” Anjali said, reaching for her purse.
“Hum kyun pareshaan honge bhai?” he said, his tone dripping with sarcasm. “Humare saath toh Rani Sahiba hai, jinke paas paison ki koi kami nahi hai.”
Anjali handed her card to the waiter in silence. As he walked away, Shyamji continued,
“Lekin aap toh jaanthi hain na ki hum ek sadharan vakil hai? Humaare liye aisi jagah aane ki keemat ek-do mahine ki tankwah hai. Phir bhi aapne zidd ki aur hum aapko na bhi toh bol sakthe, varna aap naaraz ho jaengi ki hum aapke saath waqt nahi bitate.”
“Shyamji, aap aisa mat kahiye” she said, tears stinging her eys. “Paise chahe aap de ya hum, use kya farak padtha hai? Hume saath me time spend karne ka mauka mila, who bhi yahan…iss jagah se humari kitni yaadein judi hai…”
She trailed off when her eyes fell on the credit card he was replacing in his wallet.
“Shyamji, yeh card toh…”
For a second there was a flash of fear in his eyes, but she saw that it had instantly morphed into an expression of curiosity.
“Yeh toh humaara purana card hai” she said, taking it from him to confirm. “Hume laga ki kho gaya hai, isliye Chotey ne isse cancel karwa diya tha. Humne realise nahi kiya ki yeh aapke paas hai.”
“Rani Sahiba, hume bhi abhi ehsaas ho raha hai ki yeh to humara card hai hi nahi, tabhi decline ho raha tha” he said, with a small laugh.“Shayad galti se aapka card humaare paas reh gaya tha.”
“Arey, koi baat nahi” she said, as they stood to leave.
“Aap chahe toh check kar lijiye, humne kuch khaas karch nahi kiya hai usme" he said with a smirk on his face.
“Kaisi baaten kar rahe hai aap” she said, “Ab chalen?”
Later that night, Anjali couldn’t sleep. Amanji had sent her a thumbs-up emoji to indicate that BT had been successful in his endeavour with Shyamji's laptop.
Something about the credit card was bothering her and she couldn’t shake it off. She sat up and made her way to the poolside, picking up the new card Amanji had sent that morning and wondering what to do with it.
It could have been a simple mistake, of course. Shyamji could have picked up her card thinking it was his. He had even offered that she could cross check the expenses.
She had a vague memory of a conversation with Chotey some time ago. He had been alerted by some unusual activity on the card and had asked her to check. It was then that had reaslied that the card was no longer with her.
So there had definitely been some expenses on it. She didn't know what to make of Shyamji's remark then. Had he mentioned checking because his conscience was clear or because he was confident she would never stoop to actually doing it? What would she find if she did?
She almost screamed in surprise when he touched her shoulder and brought her back from her whirpool of thoughts.
“Kya hua? Aap beech raat me yahan kya kar rahin hai?” he asked,rubbing his eyes. “Sab theek toh hai?”
“Ji…woh, hum woh credit card…” she mumbled.
“Kya kaha aapne?” he asked, his nostrils flaring. “Aap abhi tak uss credit card ko lekar pareshaan hai? Aapko kya lagta hai, humne card aapse churaya tha?”
“Nahi Shyaamji, humaara woh matlab nahi tha” she said, reaching for his hand.
He stepped away. She knew that he was always grumpy when his sleep was disturbed but tonight he seemed to have bypassed straight to rage.
“Rani Sahiba, hum maanthe hain ki aap humse kayi guna zyaada rais hain” he said. “Lekin kya baar baar yeh saabit karna zaroori hai? Khaane ka bill bharke bhi aap yehi saabit karna chahthi thi na?”
“Shyaamji, aap hume galat samajh rahe hain” Anjali said, tears springing to her eyes at the accusation. She had always been sensitive to the stark difference in their financial status.
“Arey, galat toh aap hume samajh rahi hai Rani Sahiba” he said, turning away. He raised his hand to his forehead; it was his tell of stress and frustration.
Anjali looked from the card in her hand to her husband's stooped form, her misery growing by the minute.
“Iss ghar me har waqt har insaan hume shaq ke nazar se dekhta hai, hum thak chuke hain Rani Sahiba” he went on. “Par hum who sab bardaasht kar lete hain, sirf aapke liye aur agar aap bhi…”
“Nahi, Shyamji” she said, taking his arm. “Kyun na hum bhi yahan se chale jaye? Sabse door, vaapas humaare ghar me? Yeh…yeh sab bhulake ek nayi shuruwat karen?”
In that moment, she spoke her truth. She was ready to drop everything- the conflict with Chotey, her doubts, the investigation and perhaps even if it turned out that Shyamji had been infatuated with Khushiji at one point, she could overlook even that for another chance to start over. After all, Shyamji had loved her, married her despite her past and despite all her flaws.
“Aapko yaad hai, hum wahan kitne khush the?” she said, wiping away her tears.
But her hopes came crashing down when he turned to her, his eyebrows narrowed and a note of panic in his eyes.
“Rani Sahiba lagta hai aapki yaadaash kamzoor ho gayi hai” he said, with false brevity. “Hum wahan khush nahi, bohot pareshaan rehte the. Chota sa flat hai aur jab dekho bijli aur paani ki aafat rehti hai.”
Anjali's eyes widened, he hadn't even noticed that his tense had changed from past to present. So he had been to the apartment and was standing before her and lying to her face, not even aware of his little slip up. Did the lies come so easily then?
She plastered a smile on her face and admitted to the difficulties they had faced. Of course, in her mind, they had never been difficulties because she had been genuinely happy.
They couldn't go back there, Shyamji insisted as he led her back inside.
She stopped short and faced him, “Actually, jab humne kaha ke hum card ke baare me soch rahe the tab hum uss card ki nahi, is card ki baat kar rahe the.”
He raised his eyebrows in question.
“Jab hume pata chala ki humaare hisse ke shares Chotey ne humaare joint account se humaare personal account me transfer kar diya, hume bohot bura laga. Isliye humne aapke ke liye humaare account ka naya card banva liya, hum aapko dene hi wale the ki…”
Instantly, his expression changed.
“Rani Sahiba, aapne pehle kyun nahi bataaya?” he said, taking the envelope from her. “Hum bhi bilkul sirphire hain, yahan aap humaare baare me soch rahi hai aur humne aapko hi daant diya. Hume maaf kar dijiye”
“Koi baat nahi” she said, as he pulled her into his arms.
"Hum apne liye nahi aapke liye khush hain" he said, "Aage jaake kam se kam hume apni patni ko dinner date pe le jaane me koi taqleef toh nahi hogi"
Anjali shut her eyes, torn between the tranquillity of his embrace and the turmoil behind the reason for it. She wanted to believe his words but she had seen his expression.
She followed him back to the room and once she was satisfied that he was asleep, she sent a thumbs up text to Amanji.
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