As she escorted her sister downstairs, Khushi felt his eyes follow her, felt the heat of his gaze sear through the thin chiffon of her saree. She lifted her hand to tuck her hair behind her ear, and saw his gaze follow the bangles on her wrist; though he was far away, she could see his smile as if he heard the tinkle of her bangles.
The next few hours were nothing but a blur, as the reception dragged on and on. Introductions, smiles, laughter, deflections, questions, answers; at the end of the evening all Khushi was left with were a series of impressions but with only a few real memories.
One thing she would never forget was Arnav’s constant presence near her; no one else would even have noticed that he didn’t leave her side, his hovering was so subtly done, but she was constantly aware of his presence. She revelled in his presence, determined to make as many memories as possible to sustain her in the years to come; she committed his expressions to memory, the play of emotions in his eyes, his crooked smile, the heat in his eyes as he watched her. Only once did he touch her, when, with her arms full of gifts, she almost lost her balance and fell. The feel of his hard hand seared through her, another sense memory to add to her hoard.
Finally the evening came to an end, and the two families were driven back to the Raizada mansion. Khushi accompanied Payal to her room and helped her remove what seemed like kilos of gold. The two sisters chatted quietly for a few moments, discussing the people they had met, and the outfits some of the women had been wearing.
When Akash entered the room, though her sister kept answering her comments, Khushi knew that she was definitely no longer needed.
“Jiji, hum ye sab Mamiji ke paas rakhdenge, tumse hum kal milenge. Amma Bauji ke saath hum tumse milne aajaenge. Tum araam karo Jiji, aaj aap bahut thak gayi hogi” “Jiji, I’ll go and give all of these to Mamiji, I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll come with Amma and Bauji to see you then. You should rest now, you must be exhausted”
As she sidled towards the door, Akash turned his head to look at her
“Khushiji, Bhai ne kaha wo aap logon ko chod denge, bas aap unhe batadena jab aap jaane ko tayyar hain. Woh poolside pe aap ka intezaar karrahe hain””Khushiji, Bhai said he would drop you all home, he just said to let him know when you’re ready to leave. He’s waiting for you next to the pool”
She nodded her thanks and crept out of the room, aware that the two people left behind had hardly noticed her departure.
After leaving the jewellery boxes with Mamaji (utterly thankful that she didn’t have to deal with hello-hi bye-bye- Mamiji), she made her way to the main hall, where her parents were sitting with Naniji.
“Arre Titaliya, tayyar ho chalne ke liye? Payaliya se kal milne aajayenge, magar ab bahut der hochuki hai Nandkishor, humein chalna chahiye” “Arre Butterfly, are you ready to go? You can see Payal tomorrow, but it’s really late now, we should go”
“Ji Buaji, hum tayyar hain””Yes, Buaji, I’m ready”
“Khushi bitiya, jao, Chote ko bulalo; woh khud tumhein chodna chahrahe the””Khushi sweetheart, go and call Chote; he’s going to drop you home himself”
There was a smirk on Naniji’s face as she spoke; as Khushi left the room, she smiled at Anjali then said “Aap logon se kuch zaroori baatein karni hain, ek do din baad hum aap ke ghar aayenge, phir baat cheet ho payegi” “I have something important I need to talk to you all about, I’ll come to see you in a few days, then we’ll be able to have a serious conversation”
Garima and Madhumati shared confused glances, whilst Shashi nodded “Jaise aap chahein, Samdhanji, par hum kuch samjhe nahin. Koi chinta ki baat to nahin hai?” Madhumati said. “As you wish, sister-in-law, but I don’t understand. I don’t need to worry, do I?2
“Arre nahin nahin, Madhumatiji, chinta ki koi baat nahin. Bas aapke paas ek cheez hai jo humein chahiye hai, to woh maangne aayenge. Aap pareshan na hon, main jaanti hoon aap woh cheez humein khushi khushi saunp dengi” “Oh no no, Madhumatiji, there’s nothing to be worried about. There’s just something you have that we want, so I’m going to come and ask you for it. Don’t worry, I know you’ll be more than happy to hand that thing over to us”
As the two women looked at each other in confusion, Naniji met Shashi’s eyes and saw the understanding there. She nodded at him, receiving a nod in return. He may not have been able to say anything, but Khushi’s father wasn’t blind; he had seen the growing glow in Khushi’s eyes, seen the way she blushed whenever Arnav’s name was mentioned. Though his heart was full of fear at what might happen if the truth about that snake Shyam ever came out, he couldn’t help but hope that things might go well for once. Just a little piece of happiness, that was all he wanted for his little girl. Surely that wasn’t too much to ask for.
Unaware of what was running in the minds of the elders of their families, Khushi made her way to the poolside, her heart pounding. The last time she had stood next to that cool water, she had asked him why he had bought her those bangles. He hadn’t answered her then, and she didn’t think he ever would, but the thought of being alone with him again sent a rush of pleasure through her. He wouldn’t ever say the words, but he had claimed her, and she was happy with that.
The poolside was dark, the only light cast by the blinking lights in the “Payal-weds-Akash” sign which Anjaliji had put up a few days ago.
She heard a step and turned; it hadn’t sounded like his footstep.
It was Shyam.
“Khushiji, aap ko humare Saale sahab ki di hui chudiyaan itni pasand aayeen hain ke aap unhe utaarne ka naam hi nahin lerahi hain, magar humari di hui angoothi aap ne phenk di thi. Yeh kaisa insaaf hai. Hum to aap se shaadi karne chahte hain, woh to shaadi ke naam pe thookte hain”
“Khushiji, you like the bangles my brother-in-law gave you so much that you can’t bear to take them off, but you threw the ring I gave you away with no hesitation. That’s hardly fair. I want to marry you, he doesn’t even believe in marriage”
“Aap humse baat mat kijiye. Aap ko sharam nahin aati. Aap ki patni hai, aap ki shaadi ho chuki hai. Aap humse shaadi kerne ke baare mein soch bhi kaise sakte hain”
“Don’t talk to me. Aren’t you ashamed. You have a wife, you’re married. How can you even think about marrying me?”
“Aise mat kahiye Khushiji. Rani sahiba beemaar hain, kya pata woh iss dharti pe kitne dinon ki mehmaan hain. Unke jaane ke baad humein thodi si Khushi ka to haq hai na, Khushiji. Apni patni ke gham se aap humein nahin bachayengi Khushiji. Hum aap ko itna chahte hain, kya aap humara thoda sa bhi intezaar nahin karsakteen.”
“Don’t talk like that Khushiji. Ranisahiba isn’t well, who know how long she is for this world. After she leaves, I’ll need a little happiness won’t I Khushiji. Will you not save me from the grief I’ll feel when I lose my wife. I need you so much Khushiji, can you not even wait a little while for me?”
“Bhagwaan ke liye aap chup hojaiyye. Pata nahin aap kya kya kahe jaarahe hain. Hum aap se kabhi shaadi nahin karenge. Aapse shaadi karne se pehle hum apni jaan dedenge”
“In the name of God, be quiet. I can’t understand a word you’re saying. I’ll never marry you. I’d rather kill myself than marry you”
She felt his hand on her shoulder, his fingers digging into her soft skin
“Aapko apni behen ki thodi si bhi chinta nahin hai, Khushiji. Agar humne Mamiji se kehdiya ke unhe sab pata tha, agar humne Naniji ko batadiya ke aap ka poora parivaar kiss tarha se ye baat chuparaha hai, agar humne unhe ye batadiya ke Gupta parivaar haath dhoke humare peeche kaise pada tha aap se shaadi karne ke liye, to phir aap ko lagta hai ke Payalji yahan rehsakengi.”
“Have you no care for your sister Khushiji. If I tell Mamiji that your sister knew all about me, if I tell Naniji that your whole family hid the truth from her, if I tell them that the whole Gupta family were desperate for me to marry you, then do you think that Payalji will be able to stay in this house?”
He pulled her closer, his breath warm against her face, the smell of alcohol wafting into her nostrils.
“Aap ko humse thodi narmi se pesh aana chahiye Khushiji; agar hum saale sahab se kahenge ke aap ne humein kiss tarha se apne jaal mein phansaya, to aapko kya lagta hai, woh aap ki baat maanenge. Hargiz nahin. Unhe hum pe itna bharosa hai, aur woh apni Di ki khatir kuch bhi karne ko tayyar hain. Dilli to kya, aap ke liye poora Bharat ek nark banadenge. Aap kaheen bhi bachke nahin jaasakengi. Aur aapka parivaar aap ke saath saath bhatakta phirega”
“You should be a little kinder to me Khushiji; if I tell my brother-in-law how you trapped me in your web, then do you think he’ll listen to you. Of course not. He trusts me implicitly, and he’ll do anything for his Di. Forget Dlehi, he’ll make the whole of
hell for you. You won’t have anywhere to go, and your family will be on the streets along with you” India
Shyam smiled, the smile terrifying in its gentleness.
“Hum aap se kuch zyaada thodi maang rahe hain, Khushiji. Sirf thoda intezaar. Ranisahiba ki zindagi ab zyaada lambi nahin hogi. Unke aakhri din unko khushi khushi guzaarne dein, phir unke guzarne ke baad, hum dono apni zindagi shuru karsakte hain. Humein pata hai ke aap ko accha nahin lagta hoga, humein unke saath dekhte hue. Hum jaante hain aap sirf humein jalaane ke liye
Saale sahab ki chudiyaan pehne hue hain. Magar sirf thode se dinon ka intezaar hai Khushiji, phir hum saath saath rahenge”
“I’m not asking you for much Khushiji. Just a little patience. Ranisahiba hasn’t got long to live. Let her live her last days in happiness, then when she is gone, we’ll be able to start our new life together. I know you don’t like it when you see us together. I know you’re only wearing those bangles to make me jealous. But you only have a little while to wait, then we’ll be able to be together”
“thoda intezaar kijiye Khushiji, phir hum dhoom dhaam ke saath aapke ghar baraat leke aayenge”
“just wait for me a little while Khushiji, then I’ll bring a bridal procession to your house with every possible celebration and happiness”
With a last terrifying smile, he walked away, leaving her standing there shaking with fear. Tear dripped from her eyes; she wiped at them frantically, trying desperately to gather her scattered thoughts and come up with a way out of this unholy mess she found herself in.
Maybe she should just tell him; if she told him the truth now, maybe he would believe her, maybe he could find a way to help her.
Silent sobs wracked her body as she tried to process what that man had just said to her. How could she deal with such madness, she didn’t know, but she had no one to turn to apart from him. Her parents had enough to deal with because of her father’s illness, and her aunt was all sound and bluster but wouldn’t be able to deal with Shyam’s slick machinations.
She took a deep breath and held it for long seconds, until she felt like her heart was going to pound out of her chest. As she released it, she felt his presence behind her and turned, a smile starting to appear on her face.
“To tum ho Jijaji ki aajkal ki mohabbat?” “So you’re Jeejaji’s current true love”
Khushi stopped breathing for a moment, as his words sank in. The tone of his voice contained the same bitterness she remembered from the first time she had met him, that same hatred of the world filling every syllable.
“Meri..........” “Just listen.........”
“Tumhein ye to nahin lagta ke tum Jeejaji ki pehli najayaz pasand ho? Nahin Khushi, aisi baat nahin hai. Pichhle teen saalon mein
pata nahin kitni ladkiyon ko paise deke apni Di ka ghar basaye rakha hai. Jeejaji ke baare mein aur kuch kaho na kaho, ye to sach hai, unke saamne se ladki hatado to woh bahut jaldi bhool jaate hain, kissi nayi mehbooba ki taraf apni attention dedete hain.” “I hope you don’t think that you’re Jeejaji’s first bit on the side, do you? No Khushi, you’re not. In the last three years, I’ve lost count of the number of women I’ve bought off to keep my Di’s married life secure. You’ve got to hand it to Jeejaji, if you take away his current obsession it doesn’t take him long to find another fancy-piece to catch his interest.” maine
Arnav walked into the light, a smile on his face. Khushi shuddered again at the sight of that smile, it was such a bitter travesty of the smile he had worn only two days ago.
“Magar tum, Khushi Kumari Gupta, tumhein to paise deke main apni Di ki zindagi se nahin hata sakta na. Tum to mere chote Bhai ki saali ho, meri Di ki dost ho. Tumhara main kya karoonga Khushi Kumari Gupta?” “But you, Khushi Kumari Gupta, I can’t pay you off and get you out of my Di’s life. You’re my little brother’s sister-in-law, my Di’s friend. What shall I do with you, Khushi Kumari Gupta?”
He stopped in front of her, his gaze raking over her in a way that made her feel dirty. For a moment, she thought she could see a hint of softening in his eyes, before his gaze fell on the bangles she was wearing.
“Kya mere Jijaji hi tumhare mangetar the? Haan, wohi the. Tumhari aankhein mujhe sab bata rahi hain.” “Was my brother-in-law your fiancee? He was, wasn’t he. Your eyes are telling me everything”
Arnav dragged her close, his fingers digging into the bruises Shyam’s cruel grip had caused on her arms. Her gasp of pain broke through the miasma of rage engulfing him for a moment; he let go, only to cup her face in a parody of the way he had touched her before.
“Mujhe bataya kyun nahin tumne Khushi? Kya sochke tumne mujhse ye chupaya? Kya tumhein laga tha ke ye baat kabhi khulegi nahin? Tumne apni family ko kaise manaya, iss baat ko chupane ke liye?” “Why didn’t you tell me Khushi? What were you thinking when you hid this from me? Did you think you’d be able to hide it forever? How did you convince your family to hide this from us, what did you say to them?”
He leaned close, his very calmness terrifying her.
“Shayad tumne ye socha ke agar mujhe pata chaljayega to main tumhare qareeb nahin aaoonga? Kya ye baat thi Khushi? Kya tumne ye socha ke main apni behan ki souten ke paas nahin aaoonga? Kya tumne ye socha ke tum mujhe itna paagal karlogi ke main tumse shaadi karloonga?” “Maybe you thought that if I found out, I wouldn’t come near you. Was that what it was, Khushi? Did you think that I wouldn’t come near my sister’s rival? Did you think you’d make me fall in love with you so deeply that I’d marry you?”
“Meri baat to sunlijiye” “Will you just listen to me?”
“Jab baat karne ka waqt tha to tum chup raheen theen Khushi. Tumne baat karne ka haq kho diya hai. Ab baat main karoonga, aur sunogi tum” “When it was the time to talk, then you stayed silent Khushi. You’ve lost the right to say anything. Now I’ll talk and you’ll listen”
“Please, ek dafa meri baat to...................” “Please, just give me one chance................”
“Bas, Khushi. Ab meri baat sunlo. Paanch minute baad, hum dono neeche jaayenge. Kal, main tumhare ghar aaonga, apni Nani ke saath aur hum dono parivaar se ye kahenge ke hum shaadi karna chahte hain, aur kyunki Akash aur Payal ke aane tak hum intezaar nahin karsakte hain, hum kalhi shaadi karna chahte hain. Uss ke baad, tum meri biwi banjaogi, aur Arnav Singh Raizada ki biwi ki taraf kissi ko dekhne ki himmat nahin hogi. Jeejaji ko main South Africa bhej raha hoon, woh kal subha chale jayenge. Jab tak woh aayenge, tum meri biwi ke role mein fit ho chuki hogi, aur unko koi aur mehbooba mil chuki hogi”
“Enough Khushi. Now listen to me. In five minutes, we’re both going to go downstairs. Tomorrow, I’m going to come to your house, with my grandmother, and together you and I will tell our families that we want to get married. Because we’re not willing to wait until Payal and Akash get back from
, we’re going to get married tomorrow evening. After that, you’ll be my wife, and nobody will have the audacity to even look at Arnav Singh Raizada’s wife. I’ll send Jeejaji to Malaysia , he’ll leave in the morning. By the time he comes back, you’ll have settled in as my wife, and he’ll move on to some other lover” South Africa
“Main aap se shaadi nahin karna chahti” “I don’t want to marry you”
“Mana karne se pehle alternative sunlo Khushi Kumari Gupta. Agar tumne mana kardiya, to main abhi ishi waqt neeche jaake ye poori baat apne parivaar ko batadoonga. Saaf saaf kehdoonga ke tumhare poore parivaar ne ye baat chupayi ke Jeejaji ne tumse mangni ki hai. Nani se kahoonga ke tumne hi Jeejaji ka peecha kiya, aur jab woh Di ko nahin chod rahe the, to phir tumne mujhe phansane ki koshish ki. Mamiji se kahoonga ke Payal ko sab pata tha. Usske baad tumhare parivar ka Dilli mein kya,
mein rehna mushkil kardoonga. Sochlo Khushi, ek baar sochlo. Jhoot bolne ki saza kissi ko to milni hai- ya to sirf tumhein, ya tumhare poore parivaar ko” India
“Before you refuse, consider the alternative Khushi Kumari Gupta. If you refuse, then I’ll go straight downstairs and tell my family the whole truth. I’ll tell them clearly that your whole family hid the fact that my brother-in-law got himself engaged to you. I’ll tell my grandmother that you chased after him, and when he refused to leave my sister, then you moved on to me. I’ll tell Mamiji that Payal knew all about it. After that, I’ll make sure that it’s impossible for you to find a roof over your head in
India, let alone in . Consider that, Khushi, think it over once before you refuse. Someone has to pay for the lies; it’s either going to be you on your own, or your entire family” Delhi
She looked at him, looking for even a hint of the man who had been frantic with worry at the thought of losing her; all she could see was the brutal man who had destroyed her reputation and forced her to leave
“Aap ye kyun karrahe hain? Meri baat to ek baarto sunlijiye” “Why are you doing this? Will you just listen to me, please”
“Baat karne ka waqt chalagaya Khushi. Maine tumse ek baar poocha tha, tumhare mangetar ke baare mein. Woh waqt tha baat karne ka. Ab main sirf apni Di ki khushi ke baare mein sochoonga. Unko apne pati ki zaroorat hai, woh jaise bhi hain. To main apne Jeejaji ko unke paas rakhoonga, kisi bhi tarha. Main tumhein apni zindagi se nikaal to nahin sakta, to phir apne se baandh ke rakhoonga. Jeejaji itne bhi mohabbat me paagal nahin honge ke MERI biwi ki taraf aankh utha ke dekhne ki bewaqoofi karenge”
“The time has passed for talking Khushi. I asked you once about your fiancee, do you remember. That was the time for you to talk to me. Now I’m only going to think about my Di’s happiness. She needs her husband, no matter what he’s like. So I’ll make sure she has him, not matter what I have to do to ensure that. I can’t throw you out of my life, so I’ll bind you to me. No matter how insanely Jeejaji wants you, he’s not stupid enough to dare to approach my wife”
Khushi couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe. There was no way out of this situation, no way to make the contemptuous man standing in front of her understand why she had done what she had done.
He smiled at her, the smile sending shivers of terror down her spine.
“So what’s your answer Khushi Kumari Gupta? Will you marry me?”
What could she do but say yes.
The tears rolled down her face as she remembered that moment, that night when the man she loved had broken her heart. In that moment, she had known that the Arnav Singh Raizada she had given her heart to had vanished, driven back into hibernation by the way she had betrayed his trust. Part of her believed that she had only herself to blame, but the loving heart of her wept for his betrayal. Could he not have trusted her, just enough to hear her out? Could he not have given her a chance to explain?
Since that night, she had been sleep-walking through life, numb to everything. Her acting skills had developed immensely, and over the past two months, no-one had noticed that there was anything wrong. But now she had had enough.
It had taken two months, but she was finally beginning to come out of the quagmire of pain she had been caught in since that night. She couldn’t bear the thought of living in this limbo for the rest of her life; neither of them could ever find contentment this way. Sooner or later the truth would become apparent to their families, and she couldn’t allow them to experience that pain. One way or another, she had to bring this torture to an end. If she had been a weaker woman, she could have considered ending her own life; she couldn’t deny that there had been moments when she had contemplated ending it all, simply to escape the weight of the burdens crushing her with every beat of her heart.
But those had been only moments, moments of weakness in the middle of the night, when the darkness seemed impenetrable. It had been those moments of weakness which had shocked her out of the despair she had felt since that night; it had been those moments which had made her vow that she wouldn’t let herself be defeated by one man’s lust and another’s anger. One way or another, she would free herself and free her husband too, from this half-life in which they were existing. Whether their marriage, forged in hate rather than the love she had dreamed of, would survive was something she had no idea about. But one thing was sure; Khushi Kumari Raizada had had enough of simply enduring. The time had come to start living; living the life she had hoped for before that night.