“Khushi..!” screamed her buwaji. Khushi looked at her with tearful eyes. Her Amma and Babuji came into her room with buwaji.
“Amma… Please… I didn’t do anything. I went there by mistake…. I didn’t know anything… Please.. Amma, believe me!” she said between sobs.
“Khushi, Tell me, whom were you with?” her buwaji started off again.
“No Buwaji… I .. I went to meet jijaji…!” she said sobbing hard.
“He is not your jijaji…!” screamed her Amma. Khushi looked hopeless.
“Do you even know, what we went through, Khushi?” asked her Amma painfully. Khushi gaped at her.
“You went missing, his parents were demanding money… Abhishek did not turn up… Baarat went back…” Her Amma stopped to breath.. “Do you even know what disgrace you brought to us?” she asked her.
“No.. Amma, please…!” Khushi pleaded helplessly.
“How old are you, Khushi?” asked her buwaji sternly…
“E…E Eighteen… no.. nineteen…!” Khushi couldn’t even tell her age. She was confused.
“Did you think you could handle it all alone? Did you think we were all dead?” asked her buwaji. Khushi’s mouth fell open in shock. She gaped at her.
“Khushi…!” her babuji intervened finally. “Garima and Jiji… please leave us alone for some time..!” he urged to his wife and his elder sister. They both went out.
“Babuji… I .. I thought .. I would go and meet Abhishek jija… I mean .. I thought he would understand….!” She started off weakly.
“I know, Khushi bitiya… I know you went there with good intention… but Bitiya… you should have told me…These are not the matters to be handled by you, Khushi! It is not good to go alone … in night… You should know, Khushi …. This world is brutal… Tumhe Kuch ho jaataa toh?” he asked her holding her in his arms. Khushi sobbed …!
“Ok. Please don’t come out of this room unless I call you! God knows what will happen tomorrow…! Hope no one has seen you in this condition…!” he feared the worst. Khushi shuddered again feeling the bone crushing grip on her shoulder and the brown piercing eyes.
“Babuji..” She started off weakly..
“No Khushi.. Stop! Let us not discuss it now! .. have some rest!” he said and went out closing her door behind. Khushi turned into a statue.
************* *********** **********
“Get me those tapes … you understand? I want those tapes…!” Sham was ordering someone on phone.
“Which tapes?” asked Anjali from behind and Sham turned startled.
“Umm… Nothing Raani Saheba… Umm tapes … I mean those devotional songs… I had asked to burn on the tapes for you Raani Saheba…!” he said slyly putting his arm around her shoulder. She smiled lovingly. He took a sigh.
“Di…! I am going out!” Arnav was at the door.
“At this hour Chote?” his Di looked at the watch. He did not answer.
“What happened? Chote? Are you alright?” she asked in a worried tone.
“I am fine, Di!” he said and turned to leave.
“Saale saab… “ Sham called him from behind. Arnav stopped but did not turn.
“Saale Saab, I know, you are upset..!” he said with concern. Arnav turned and looked at his brother in law.
“I understand, Saale saab… that girl spoilt your major event…. “ he said. A frightened face flashed before Arnav. He clenched his fists.
“Saale Saab… if you ask me… you should sue that girl…!” started off his lawyer brother in law.
Arnav stared at sham. Encouraged by his silence, Sham went ahead. “You should sue that girl for ruining your show..!”
“Don’t bother! I will handle it!” Arnav said plainly and went out. Smirk appeared on Sham’s face.
“Chote is very upset…!” Anjali blurted out.
“Hmm… I want him to be upset and make mistakes…!” thought Sham smirking…
*********** *********** **********
Arnav came out striding down the stair case. He was walking away in the darkness. His mind re-running the occurrence of the events, he put his hand in his pocket to find a hair band. He threw it away in frustration…
He walked into the darkness of the night. He had reached Ghat of Gomti River. He looked at the mysterious dark water and turned his back on the river. He was again transported back to his childhood and his mother.
“Chote…! Why did you go out in the night in this outpouring rain? The water level is rising.. its dangerous!! ” Asked his mother. She was clearly upset. He did not answer.
“I am asking you, chote!” she raised her voice.
“Mamma… he..!” Anjali came in between to defend her younger brother.
“You stay out of this…!” her mother warned her.
“Chote, answer me!” she asked him again. He did not answer. The overflowing, flooding Gomti river fascinated him. He loved to see the roaring river!! The river which otherwise looked like his mother, kind and calm.. now looked like his father.. aggressive and destructive..!!
“Arnav..!” his mother hugged him helplessly with tearful eyes.
“Please… don’t do this.. ! you are the only one for me..!” she sobbed.
“Mom…!I know!” he already had assumed the responsibility of his mother and his sister.
He heard a rustling sound and came out of trance with a thud. He felt a cold, wet feeling on his fingers. He looked down. A stray dog was sniffing his hand. He inadvertently patted the dog and walked up the Ghat. The dog followed wagging its tail.
He saw the illuminated Sheesh Mahel and stood there mesmerized with its beauty and grandeur. The dog stopped too.
“Shhhuuu!” he tried to shoo away the dog but it did not move. He sat down and stroked its head. It wagged its tail furiously…! He smiled. “Want some food?” he asked. The dog licked his hand.
He came back to the hotel.. asked the manager to arrange for bread. The dog waited patiently outside. He came out again and fed the dog.
“Now, go back!” he said and turned away. The dog followed. A security guard came and shooed away the dog.
He started moving towards his room and a frightful, beautiful eyes flashed before him. He clenched his fists….
“Sue her? I will do more than that..!” he was determined. She ruined my show, I will ruin her! He thought with hatred. He took out the phone.
“Aman… release the tapes…!” he ordered.
Khushi had slept off on the floor in her room, oblivious to the storm coming her way, the next day…!
“Khushi…!” Buwaji was knocking the door. Khushi woke up with a start. She shuddered hearing buwaji’s voice.
“Haan coming..!” she said and opened the door. She came in and kept the tea cup on the table.
“Come on… have tea!” she said softly. She looked at Khushi’s reddened cheek with finger marks. She came and pulled Khushi closer.
“Aree Sanaka devi… why do you do this?” she had tears in her eyes.
“What did I do buwaji? I was just trying to help..” Khushi asked in a small voice. Buwaji shook her head hopelessly.
A Call for prayer, Azaan, from near-by mosque had started. Khushi looked around. “Mazaar..!” she blurted and ran towards bathroom. When she came out all three elders were standing in her way.
“Khushi, no! you are not going anywhere!” said her Amma.
“But Amma, I am going to mazaar for Mannat! I just want to pray, tie a lock and come back!” she pleaded.
Her buwaji dragged her into her room and said. “You are not going anywhere! We have had enough already!” She locked her up in the room and went away.
Khushi paced the room restlessly. “No… I should first go to the temple, to talk to Devi mayya, then go to Mazaar to tie the lock … I must do this for Jiji…!” she muttered. She had made up her mind. She took her bag, stuffed the crumpled coat in it, hung it across her shoulder and came to the closed window…!
“Khidki ji…! I have to do this!” she talked to the window to take its permission to jump out.
She did. She jumped out of the window 10 feet down in the back yard and “Agrrra! “ she yelled in disgust. She had jumped on cow dung.
“Aap ko bhi yehi pe girana tha? “ she talked to the cow dung blaming it for spoiling her mood. She tiptoed to the bucket and poured water on her foot cleaning the dirt.
She ran past the backyard, jumped over the fence and was out on the street.
The prayer in the mosque was over. She ran towards Mandir. She entered the premises. “I have to hurry up. I must reach home before anyone knows ..!” she removed her chappal and climbed the stairs..
“Areee… dhyan se… be careful “ she screamed and ran forward to support a lady who was limping and had lost her balance on the stairs.
“Chaliye… I will help you!” Khushi took Aarti Thal from that lady and held her hand to support her. The beautiful lady smiled at Khushi.
Khushi started off. “You know… the morning Aarti is very famous here… the flower decorations.. the conch sounds, the ringing bells… everything is so divine… and Devi mayya? She is the best… She listens to everyone…! She will listen to me also today…! And why not? After all, she is my friend…!” Khushi’s nonstop chattering brought smile on the Lady’s face.
“You know? There is Mazaar just behind this temple .. when you cross the small patch of woods…! Moula grants you wish there…!” she went on.
“Yes, I know and I will be going there too!” said the lady. “And I am Anjali!” she introduced herself.
“Yeah? And I am Khushi..!” they were in the Mandir. “I got to hurry! I have to reach home..! you take care!” Khushi went ahead to talk to her Devi mayya…! Anjali had a broad smile on her face.
Khushi started descending the stairs of the mandir after talking to her devi mayya and telling her to set right everything.
She stopped midway! “You? Early morning?” she looked down with mock anger. The dog wagged its tail.
“Kutte ji… Mr. Dog..! Don’t you have any other work than to follow me?” she asked the dog and patted on its head.
“Now .. out of my way! I need to go home as early as possible…! Will talk to you later! ” she said to that dog and ran out of the Mandir complex. The dog followed wagging its tail.