Pic Credit: Indi52
Kya woh sach mein chali jaayegi … Will she really leave us and go away, Khushi?
The tinkling of his wife’s payals was accompanied by faint strains of music as she stepped into their room. The one who wore a pair exactly matching those payals sat in the great hall downstairs surrounded by friends and family. Her face aglow with the happiness of a bride to be, as exquisite Warli mehendi was applied to her hands and feet. The vivid, dancing figures reflecting the exultation in her heart. The good natured teasing directed at her tingeing her porcelain white cheeks a becoming pink, even while her molten orbs radiated ebullience and insouciance.
Her Mami-Dadi kept up a continuous litany of instructions for the exasperated mehendi walis. She wasn’t exactly known for her tact at the best of times, and age had, shall we say, merely enhanced that trait. Nothing had better go wrong for her favourite great niece’s big day.
Her Bua sat beside her helping her drink her black coffee interspersed with bites of jalebis. Jalebis which only her Mom knew how to make exactly the way she liked them. A beauteous smile refusing to leave her Bua’s face as she kept running her hand over her favourite niece’s head.
Her Bua’s son, Aarav, sat well away from the gaggle of women surrounding his favourite sister, sharing conspiratorial smiles with her at the hoopla surrounding her. His own friends, liberally lubricated with Pimms, keeping him amused. Oh of course there were men at this mehendi. Aahana had insisted upon having Bhai present. And what Aahana wanted, Aahana got. She wasn’t her father’s daughter for nothing!
Speaking of whom, where was he? Her eyes searched the room for the man she hero worshipped above all else. He was her inspiration, her confidante, her mentor. Her father, Arnav Singh Raizada. She knew he wasn’t a big fan of all these ceremonies and the shor sharaaba that went with them. But, she also knew that he would never refuse her anything which brought a smile to her face. A sudden rush of memories of him cajoling a smile out of her over the years swept to the fore, bringing with it a deep sense of melancholia at the impending change that life was going to bring. While there was the excitement of grasping the hand of one she loved and treading the unknown paths of the future, there was also the apprehension of leaving go of the hand of one she loved. The hand that had nurtured her and shielded her and guided her all her life. Allowing her to bloom into the beautiful, intelligent young lady she was today.
“Pa” she whispered, as she looked around the elegantly decorated room once again. Stamps of her mother’s flair for design were evident everywhere, right from the abundance of her favourite Arum lilies to the large, intricate trellises dotted with diyas decorating the walls. Hari Prakash having been given the remit of ensuring the diyas remain filled with oil. The same HP who had had the unenviable task of ensuring Aahana drank all of her morning glass of milk as a toddler and teenager. She had run rings round the poor chap much to his chagrin. And to the vexation of her Amma.
A soft, tender smile stole across her face as she thought of her Amma, Khushi Singh Raizada. Her strength, her rock, her go to person for anything and everything. The one in whose lap she had spilled her deepest fears and secrets. The one whose hands had the power to soothe away all her worries, however large or small. The one whose generous heart and indomitable spirit, she hoped she had inherited a small part of. It was uncanny how her Amma always knew when something was troubling her. “Bas pata chal jaata hai”, was all that Amma would say to satiate her curiosity.
Aahana didn’t have to wonder too long where her mother could be, if her father was also missing. For all that he had been maintaining a stoic front, she knew how upset he was at the thought of her going away. Albeit not too far, but away from him nonetheless. Marriage has a way of changing everything so quickly. The home where you grow up, in which you demand things, in which you run riot, which is your home … remains home, but just not with the same right. Everything remains the same, yet everything changes.
Just as Aahana had predicted, Khushi was walking up to her husband as he stood by the french windows of their bedroom leading to the pool. His clenched hands hidden in his pockets as he stared unseeingly at the stars slowly beginning to peek out in the pink streaked cobalt blue sky.
“Kya woh sach mein chali jaayegi … “ he asked again, as she raised a hand to his shoulder, clutching it. The pain in his voice rendering her unable to say anything for a few minutes.
“Arnavji, aap … “
“Our baby … she’s still but little, I don’t think I can do this … Khushi, mujhse yeh nahin hoga. I won’t be able to do this. How can I entrust her happiness in the hands of another? How will he know if she’s hurting, if she needs something? For all that she’s a ‘Shark’ in the office, I know she has your tender heart. What if he tramples that innocence?”
Khushi’s equanimous surface splintered, allowing the turbulence hovering underneath to seep out. The strength she had been holding onto, crumbling at his words. She wrapped her arms around Arnav’s middle and buried her face in his back. Their Aahana, their Angel, embodied her name. She had an inner light which shone luminously. The very thought that someone could snuff it out, or even dim it, was unbearable to think about.
Closing his eyes, Arnav took a deep breath trying to calm himself. He turned around and gently led Khushi towards the chaise longue. Images of a tiny Aahana standing behind him with her little arms around his neck, peering at his laptop, as he tapped away on it, flashed before his eyes. Her non stop questions about this, that and everything used to drive him insane! She had an insatiable curiosity about the world in general, and about everything involving her Pa in particular.
“Do you remember, Khushi,” he began as he sat her down on the recliner and took his place next to her, “when Aahana had decided she wanted to give tuition classes on computing to raise money for our foundation?”
A tremulous smile made it’s way to Khushi’s face as that memory surfaced. The 12 year old Aahana had overheard her parents discussing their Foundation’s requirements for the following year, and decided she wanted to contribute as well. And not just her pocket money. She had gathered together a bunch of the neighbourhood kids from Laxminagar the next time she had gone to visit her Nani and Nani bua, and taught them the basics here at Shantivan all through term time for a year.
“I wonder where she inherited her love for giving tuitions, Sundariji … “
“And I wonder where she inherited her obsession with the laptop from, Shaitanji!”
Both of them bursting into indulgent laughter, dissipating the melancholy a little.
“And this clever, smart, serious little girl loved playing to an audience as well. Aapko yaad hai, she was forever raiding Mamiji’s make up kit and then rapping away by the poolside, beneath layers of rainbow shades of maquillage. With all of us lined up to watch, her captive audience. Although, we got the sweetest kisses as thank yous”.
“Waise, I remember her Amma giving a very sweet thank you kiss as well to a lined up family … shart ke liye hi sahi … but it was audacious of Khushi Kumari Gupta to do that then!“
“Haan, toh? I wasn’t going to step back from a challenge.” That challenge still very much evident in Khushi’s voice.
“Speaking of challenges, do you remember the time Aarav dared Aahana to climb up to the highest shelf in the garage?” asked Arnav.
“I do! And you just stood there laughing when you saw her up there. Di and I were so scared she’d fall. She was all of seven then Arnavji.”
“I was standing right below her, Khushi. She was not in any danger. My baby was so brave. She clambered up so fearlessly.”
“No wonder she’s always been her Pa’s chamchi. She has you wound round her little finger. I remember her scolding me once for making your favourite pasta when you were away. This is Pa’s favourite, Amma, she had said. You can’t make it while he’s away. Jaise ki, Pa is the only one who likes it, hmpf.”
“Beti toh woh meri hi hai”, began Arnav proudly, quickly changing that to “hamari” in an attempt to smooth his wife’s ruffled feathers. “After all her basketball talent is totally inherited from her Amma, right? Remember that “goal” you had scored?” he said grinning wickedly at his wife, and receiving a smack on the arm for his efforts.
He gathered her close to himself and rested his chin on her head, as she snuggled into him, placing her hand on his heart. It’s rhythm was the symphony to which her heart sang. It’s cadence governed her own. Their joys, their sorrows, their hopes, their fears, all irrevocably intertwined. For hamesha.
“Arnavji, our Aahana needs us to be happy for her. For us to send her on this new journey of her life with a smile. She will always know that we will be there for her, come what may. But she needs to spread her wings and soar freely. Our love for her should be the thing that sets her free, not bind her with our apprehensions. We have to have faith in her choices. Advay is a wonderful boy. Have you seen the look in his eyes when he thinks no one is seeing him watching her? It melts my heart to see her loved so much. He is going to care for her just as much. Aap dekhiyega. Each time I give in to my fears, I think of the love they have for each other. And I know they will be alright.”
Looking up at him, Khushi framed his face in her hands and reiterated, “Our Angel will always be our little girl, Arnavji. A part of us. But she is also her own person.”
“Tumhe hamesha pata rehta hai na, mera mood kaise theek karna … you always know how to improve my mood,” Arnav said wryly, leaning down to press a kiss on his wife’s forehead. Silently sending up a small thanks to the Devi Maiya he didn’t believe in, for sending Khushi in his life and for blessing them with their Angel.
A knock on the door announced the arrival of that very Angel.
“Pa, Amma, I knew I’d find you both here. You’ve been crying haven’t you?” she demanded as she squeezed herself in between them. Unable to clasp their hands in her henna adorned ones, she jutted her chin out, just as she had always done, and waited for her kiss, just as she had always done. This one, when it came, felt that much sweeter, that much more poignant. Words of a song her mother had always teased her father and her with swirled around her …
Suhaag maangan jaaye banni babaji ke paas
Baba aisyo var dhoondo ji, hazari var dhoondo
Rakhe Gokul ki jo laaj, banni babaji ke paas
Words which evocatively resounded with her today, as she lay her head on her father’s shoulder. Her mother’s hands stroking her head tenderly.
Happy Happy Happy Birthday, My Darling Jignasha! ❤
I feel like I want to gather every happiness there is out there in my arms and fill your aanchal with them. I want to bask in the enthusiasm with which you embrace life. I want to wallow in the fierce care you extend to all those you love. I want to allow my tears to run freely at the concern you shower on me. I want to allow myself to be cocooned in the silence of understanding you envelope me with. Day in day out.
You have a joie de vivre that is so infectious. You inspire me, you motivate me, you force me to believe in myself. I have no idea how you sense my feelings, but you just do. Thank you, dil se, my love.
You had once said I should write about Arnav’s thoughts as the father of the bride, so here it is. I don’t know that I have done justice to him, although I know what you’re going to say!
I hope you have a day as amazing as you. Sending you lots of love and lots of squishy hugs for now … the real ones aren’t too far off!