The murmur became louder in the crowd. Khushi was confused. She looked at the grave faces of her family.
“What?” she blurted. Her Amma dragged her inside and closed the door. Khushi looked around.
“Amma, I am sorry. But I had to go to the temple..! “ she pleaded. Her Amma gave her another slap.
“Temple?.... See this!” she turned on the TV. The local news channel flashed the breaking news with the spiciest news ever. Khushi became numb. She froze… she was repeatedly shown falling in his arms…!” Her Amma switched off the TV and looked at Khushi with disgust!
“What have you done, Khushi?” she asked.
“We lost everything we have… first our house for your Jiji’s marriage… and now all our honor because of you!” she collapsed on the floor in a heap.
“No.. Amma!” Khushi tried to embrace her Amma. She pushed Khushi away with hatred.
“No.. don’t even touch me! Khushi, just go away..! Don’t show me your face again..!” she screamed. Her buwaji dragged her to her room and locked her up again.
“Garima ji, at least listen to her…!” her babuji was pleading. But her Amma and Buwaji were not ready.
“Khushi, tell me the truth…!” her babuji had entered her room.
“Babiji..!” she went into his embrace sobbing hard.
“Its ok..! Tell me what happened?” her babuji stroked her head to pacify her .
“Babuji….!” She started off narrating the events last night. Her babuji kept quiet for a long time, holding her head to his heart and stroking her head.
“Babuji..!” she looked up with tearful eyes and a hope…!
“Hmm…! What they are showing may not be your fault, Khushi…. But that does not justify your actions. You should not have gone there in the first place!” he said gravely weighing the situation.
“I am sorry, Babuji! I thought, I would handle it!” she said guiltily.
“Hmm..!” Babuji sighed.
“Khushi, Honor or Reputation is like an earthen pot.. fragile and delicate…! Once broken, its gone forever!!” he said gravely worrying about the future of his daughters. He knew he had lost all his reputation and dignity in one night. He knew his girls were at grave danger. He knew he had no face to move around in the town again.
“Babuji… punish me! I know I am at fault… bu..but I did it for Jiji…!” she collapsed again.
“Khushi…. Its alright..! Let us face the situation..!” he was very serious.
“Come out, Khushi, Let us face them!” he said holding her hand.
He came out with Khushi. The relatives and neighbors were waiting. Her Amma and Buwaji came on to her and tried to push her inside.
“Nahi Garima, let her talk!” he said raising his voice to stop her Amma from bashing her again.
“What? Does she have any explanation?” her buwaji asked in disgust.
“Yes, she does and I believe her!” He said seriously and looked at everyone around.
“Are you out of your mind?” buwaji screamed. Shashi raised his hand and said,
“Jiji, Listen to her!”
Khushi narrated everything.
“What did he do to you?” asked a particularly stout neighbor. “Tell me Bitiya, we will teach him a lesson! Yeh Delhi walon ko sabak sikhana hi padege! Kaun hai yeh Arnav Singh Raizada…? He stood up and glared at everyone. Others too got up in rage.
“We will not spare him…! We will ask him to apologize …! We will go to the police…!” neighbors started off. Shashi felt better, that they did not blame Khushi. He took a sigh of relief. He, along with Khushi, had passed first hurdle of trust test. The earthen pot was still intact in the eyes of his neighbors and relatives.
"We are with you, Shashi ji, we know your daughters..! They can't do such things!" the unity among the neighbors was visible. It was like a family.
“Tell us Khushi bitiya…!” the neighbor urged. The younger generation was ready to strike back.
Khushi again winced. Two brown eyes were glaring at her and she could feel the grip on her shoulder. His eyes spat anger but her woman instinct had not given her the worse signal. His eyes reflected hatred and loathing but not lust. She did not know what she was talking.
“No Gopal chaha… he did not do anything. Only enquired. He thought I am from a rival company and had gone there to spoil the show…!” she said weakly clutching her arm. The pain ran through her spine. She remembered his closeness. “Why am I defending him?” she wondered.
“Tell us the truth, bitiya!” asked another neighbor narrowing his eyes in suspicion.
“Babuji ki kasam, chacha.. he did not do anything..!” she said and closed her eyes.
“We have to decide what we should do next!” said babuji gravely. Everyone nodded.
They are big shots..! we just cannot touch them. It was her mistake too! And she ruined their show…!” Babuji thought of the worst.
“What if he complaints against her and sue her?” asked another neighbor.
“He has the proof that she was in his show!” said someone.
“I don’t know who gave the video to the media…! Who turned it into a scoop!” someone wondered.
“Shashi bête… I think Khushi and Payal should be sent somewhere for some days… until the dust settles…!” said an elderly relative, looking around for support.
“It will be difficult for them in this city. People forget these things soon… then may be we can bring them back…!”
Khushi’s Amma never stopped crying. Buwaji nodded.
“Jiji, take them to Delhi with you. Both will be safe there…!” buwaji nodded hesitantly.
She was not sure about her financial condition to support these two girls. But that was not the time to express hesitance.
“Hmm Hi re Nand Kishor… yeh sub kya hui gawa? Ab kaisa hoga in bacchiyonka..! “ she pressed her hand on her forehead and again flared up.
“Yeh sab iss Sanaka devi, Khushi ki kartoot hai..! This is all she has done. She is responsible for your disgrace…!” she came on to Khushi to slap her again.
Khushi ran back to her room cying.. and closed the door. This public humiliation was beyond her capacity. Hatred filled her heart and soul. “Why didn’t I slap him at Mazaar?” she cursed herself. She was pacing the room like a trapped tigress, full of vengeance but helpless at the same time.
“Why was I Defending him?” she slapped herself. Two brown eyes were glaring at her again. “Stop it!” she shut her eyes closed in frustration.
“Where you had been chote?” asked his Di.
“Kuch Kaam tha Di! Had some urgent work!” he said avoiding her gaze. He went straight to his room but came out immediately.
“I am going out Di. And we are leaving in the afternoon!” he declared and without wasting his time dashed out of the hotel.
He was standing at the secluded Ghat of Gomti gazing at the flowing water. Two light eyes gazed at him from the water with pain and hurt. He clenched his fists… “Wish she fell in my arms..!” someone jeered. He turned his back on the river and started climbing the stairs. His ghat mate was there wagging its tail. Smile appeared on his face… “Ashesaan faraamosh!” someone muttered angrily. He patted the dog smiling. Someone blew a strand of hair…! His eyes went dreamy.
“Mamma, I am not the earthen pot! I am strong…! I can resist temptation…!” young Chote was reiterating! “his own voice echoed in his ears and he came back to his senses.
“She got what she deserved!” He turned back to return to Delhi.
“Ummm, Raani Saaheba..! I may have to stay back..! I have some work!” said sham slyly. Anjali nodded sulkily. Arnav stared.
“Saale saab! Did you see the news?” he asked glancing at his wife. Arnav ignored him.
“News? The Fashion show aired?” Anjali asked in excitement..
“A girl in his arms is the talk of the town.. Raani Saheba! You should see it!” he tuned on the TV.
“Wait for some time, the breaking news will flash!” said Sham eyeing Arnav, his saale saab.
Arnav felt little nervous, but turned his back on the TV to go out of his Di’s room.
“Aree? Yeh to Khushi hai?” his Di blurted in shock.
“What ?” Arnav turned.
“Yeh… yeh..” she pointed at he screen. A frightened girl in his arms made him wince. He gaped at his sister. She turned off the TV.
“I met her in the morning… she is such a nice girl. Oh! Poor girl. What will happen to her? “ she looked at her brother shellshocked.
Arnav forgot to react.
“Oh God! How will she bear this? The humiliation… the disgrace..! Oh chote… hope she is alright…!” Anjali spread panic! Arnav stared at her. Two frightful eyes stared at him. Closing his eyes shut, he turned.
“We are going Di, get ready!” he said and marched out of the room. A pair of frightful eyes with pain and hurt haunted him…!