'History and revelations...come,let it all out'
"Because of me, anaya lost her parents...because of me...baba left us...I...I can't lose her..." arnav whispered as he suddenly left khushi and turned the other side facing away from her. He ran a hand through his hair as khushi stood stock still behind him, still trying to process what he had just said..Both of them didn't care that the howling rain had completely drenched them...both lost in their thoughts...one in pain, other in shock.
It took khushi a minute to gather herself and step forward. She placed a hand on arnav's shoulder and felt him flinch at her touch. She pressed his shoulder further to make him face her but he relented. She felt a sudden longing to take him in her arms and soothe the immense pain she had seen in his eyes but what he said still did not make any sense to her. She knew he had to talk about it...she could see now, how much he had kept all this within him.
"Mr Raizada...please...come inside..Its raini..." she said as he suddenly turned towards her and looked straight into her eyes, his gaze unwavering as he sought something in her eyes...something which gave him the courage to speak up...to finally bring out the deep seated hurt and pain he had nursed for so many years. He wanted to tell her everything and something about her concerned eyes and warm touch thawed a part of his guarded heart...Arnav Raizada spoke
"My father was baba's chauffeur...not just a chauffeur; he was like his right-hand man...baba and papa were inseparable! If papa was not in his white uniform, anyone would mistake the two for best of friends..baba trusted papa more than anyone in this world...and papa in turn was the most loyal friend and employee baba had" he said as he sat down on the granite bench.
Khushi sat down next to him and urged him to continue, if she thought this was a shock...she had a lot more to go through "my mother used to work in baba's house...she used to look after the entire housekeeping and meals...we stayed in the staff quarters of baba's pune mansion." he said as khushi looked on mildly surprised.
"Yes...I was born in pune and lived the first 10 years of my life there..." he said as khushi nodded "Aakash was baba's son...we were both of same age and baba had made sure that i was treated equal to aakash in all senses...same school, same clothes...but where aakash was naughty and stubborn, I was very reserved and subservient...I guess it came from gratitude that me and my family held for baba" arnav said as a faint smile lifted his lips
"But however different we were, aakash and me were best of friends! We did everything together!...even my mother said she loved aakash more than me cause he was more free-spirited, she was a mother to both of us" arnav said he looked at khushi's confused expression "Aakash's mom had passed away when he was a baby...so my ma was a mother to both of us...we were all very close..." arnav sighed as his eyes welled up.
"When...when I was 9, my parents went for a pilgrimage to Kedarnath...apparently I was suffering from a rare skin disease so they wanted to pray for my well being..." he said as his voice suddenly broke, khushi quickly held onto his shaking hands, calming him a bit. Arnav took a deep breath before continuing "The trip..it was for 6 days...i last spoke to them when they had called from the aashram before setting off for the long walk to the temple...that..that was the last time i heard their voice...they never came back." his voice caught as those tormented days passed in front of his eyes
Khushi could literally feel his pain as his body jerked from remembering all this, she pressed his hands and spoke in a soft voice "Arnav..if its hurting you to speak of them...lets.." she said as he looked at her with reddened eyes "No...i'm fine" he said as he continued "There was a landslide...around half of the pilgrims were buried under the snow and rocks...my parents as well..." he said as he got up suddenly and went and stood by the terrace railing; khushi following him closely behind.
"Their death affected all of us...it was as if someone had stuck a rod through our hearts...as if time had stood still" he said as he held onto the railings with his hands, khushi leaned against them as she listened to him...her heart going out to the little lost boy "It took us time...but as they say, time heals all...I did not have any next of kin and those who were there were really far away and least bothered about a pre-teen boy..." he said as his mouth twisted in distaste.
"Baba wanted to adopt me right away...and he did; but i insisted on keeping my actual surname...Raizada..i never took upon Mallik as i felt i needed to keep my father's memory alive through me..." arnav said facing khushi "In a year all was better...we started living again...and this time, i was more free-spirited as my mother always wanted...I had learnt a very valuable lesson..that time waits for no one..and life is very unpredictable...so i became more confident, more outgoing..i wanted to live life to the fullest...and besides me was my best friend and my baba" he said as he smiled fondly.
"We shifted to mumbai the next year as baba wanted to focus on the main business here...the only reason he had stayed in pune was because he looked after the plant while his elder brother looked after the mumbai business...The Malliks are a very well known family here..with generations in textiles" he said as he sighed again and turned around, leaning his back against the cool sepia wall.
"Both Aakash and me took admission in St Theresa..where 4 generations of Malliks had studied and graduated from...at first it was difficult for me to fit in since many of the kids teased me about not being of their status..but having aakash with me gave me the confidence and belief to be strong and take these insults head-on..we were more close than blood brothers...and his friendship was what mattered to me...nothing else" arnav said as his eyes lightened up thinking about aakash.
"You know khushi...we went to the same university...but where aakash took arts and proceeded to do fashion designing...I took up science and did business studies instead...we really were chalk and cheese...but without each other, we were nothing!" he said as a sudden smile made him look years younger, making khushi gasp inwardly at the difference it made to him.
"When we finished out studies, baba wanted me to join him in business like aakash...but I wanted to do something on my own; baba always respected my decisions and even offered to recommend me..but i wanted to start something on my own...so i took a personal loan from him to start my company...and in a year, I had done quite well to pay it back to him...aakash on the other hand had joined baba's company and was doing very well for himself" he said proudly as khushi felt respect and admiration for the man in front of her. She had thought so wrong of him...
"Our life was perfect...the only thing missing in this house was a calmness, an innocence...which came in the form of payal" he said as his face glowed thinking about her. Khushi felt a sad tinge of something unknown when he spoke so lovingly about a woman, but she slapped herself mentally a minute later as he explained further.
"Aakash met payal at a fund-raiser...she was on the staff of the event management company that had organized the function..he says it was love at first sight for him...but he had to really pull out some big cards to impress her...she really was one in a million!" he laughed as he looked upwards to the sky...the rains had stopped...but it was still pretty dark.
"When payal entered this house after their wedding...the house got what it needed...soul! She was the perfect wife for aakash, perfect daughter to baba and perfect sister to me...all of us doted on her...she filled the house with her care, love, laughter and art...everything seemed so perfect!...but what made it even more perfect was anaya's arrival a year later...our family was complete" he said as he faced khushi and smiled at her sadly.
"Arnav...I'm sorry...I did not know that anaya was..." she said as he cut her "My biological daughter...yes...hardly anyone knows...only those who kept close vigil on us do...and we were a pretty guarded family...kept away from media and other nuances.." he said shrugging his shoulders.
Khushi came closer to him and said softly "What happened to them?" arnav closed his eyes for a minute before speaking once again...but the warmth of a few minutes was again taken over by anguish "When anaya was a few months old..payal started suffering from post-pregnancy thyroditis...it wasn't a serious thing...but i did not want anything to affect her health...I called in the best doctor there was, but since it was summer time..he was holidaying in lonavala" he said as he took another deep breath
"Everyone insisted that i was taking it too seriously...but i was adamant of taking her to meet him with her reports...so we decided to travel to lonavala by car..it was only a 3 hour drive and after making sure that maggie would take care of anaya we left" he said as his breathing became shallow, khushi gently took his hand and made him sit on the bench again
"We met the doctor in lonaval and he seemed to be very positive about payal's health..he assured us that he will personally see to her when he gets back to mumbai..." he said as his body started shuddering "It..it was night time when we were done with everything...Aakash insisted that we stay back since driving at night was a hinderance...but when we called home, maggie told us that anaya had picked up a nasty flu" he said as he closed his eyes...as if trying to block all the pain.
"We were all too worried to think straight...and knowing what a hothead i was...aakash insisted he drive us back, but I was too stubborn...i wanted to get home as soon as possible to see anaya and I couldn't just sit idly and wait till we got home..anaya's thoughts would have driven me mad so i forced him to allow me to drive, making him and payal sit behind..." he said as his voice broke again.
Khushi sat closer to him and placed her arm over his shoulder to side hug him...he felt the comfort in her hug which gave him the strength to speak further "In my hurry to get back home and with disturbing thoughts of anaya's health swirling in my mind..i failed to see a massive truck coming our way...when i did...i...i swerved the car to the left to avoid collision...but in the process, the truck hit the...the back end of our c..car..killing aakash and payal in an instant...but unfortunately keeping me alive..." he said as uncontrollable tears started running down his cheeks.
Khushi could not hold it any longer and hugged him as hard as she could, as if urging some of his pain to transfer to her...she did not know why but somehow seeing him thus...seeing him suffer with so much repressed pain had broken the dam which held her heart...she wanted to comfort this man as much as possible. She held on to him as he hugged her back...he hugged her like there was no tomorrow...like she was his salvation...and in Khushi gupta's arms some of his pain decreased.