Tuesday, 27 February 2018

part 1 : Belonging (AR Mini ff)

Padma stared wide-eyed as her daughter packed her bags to return to the place they had left behind years ago. Her hope and desire that may Riddhima forget that town and the people in it was unexpectedly being flushed down the toilet. But how? she questioned herself, everything had been going so well these 15 years; yes at first Riddhima had been unhappy but during the course of a few years she had seen her daughter accept and relent to her new life and home. She had made new friends, she had fit in and come to love her new school and teachers, she had even come to love Mumbai. Ok Padma admitted, so her daughter had not found new love like she had hoped, but Rahul was a great boy and he loved Riddhima, though unfortunately Riddhima did not love him back. Padma had seen that, she knew her daughter more than anyone and the love she had seen in her 10 year daughters eyes for that horrible boy was not what she saw for Rahul.





"Riddhima, I just don't understand the need for this" Finally composing herself Padma walked over to her daughter, still hoping to change her mind.



"Ma, I told you na I have to do this, I can't accept Rahul whole heartedly if I don't do this"


"But beta what if he doesn't remember you, I mean the boy was spoiled and a snob anyhow, you actually think he is sitting their brooding for you? Waiting for you to return?"



Riddhima walked over to the bathroom to gather her toiletries as Padma sighed and made up her mind to keep trying until Riddhima was actually out the door catching the next train to Satyagarh. People suddenly wake up and return from planes, luckily Riddhima was traveling by train.



"Riddhima beta Armaan never loved you, but Rahul does" Riddhima abruptly stopped her packing as her mothers words sunk in. She was annoyed at first but now she was a little upset. She looked at her mother and let out a loud sigh. No matter how much she tried she could never yell at her mother. Her mother had always been like a best friend to her, and unfortunately for her, it was her mother who understood her better than anyone. Her mother knew that she had loved Armaan then and still loved him now, but why couldn't her mother understand that she had to do this, she had to put that part of her past to rest before she could start a new future. 



"I am getting late ma, would you please stop being so upset and bid me a loving goodbye?" Riddhima wrapped her arms around her mother only to have Padma sobbing on her shoulder.



"Maaaaaa, enough ok and look I promise if Armaan doesn't remember me or if I find that he has moved on I promise I will catch the next train home. Then you can start my wedding preparations in full swing ok, now come on Papa is waiting"



Sitting in the second class dhabba of the Shatabdi Express Riddhima could not help but smile. Her father had argued that she get a ticket for first class but Riddhima had refused. Traveling second class in an Indian train had its own perks. Picking up her now loudly wailing cell phone Riddhima frowned reading the name it displayed, this was the last person she wanted to talk to before she went back to her past.



"Hi Rahul" Riddhima preferred to look outside rather than pay attention to Rahul's directions for safety, they were the same things he had been telling her ever since she told him of her decision to make a trip home. Rahul, of course had been understanding when Riddhima had told him that she needed to tie up a few loose ends before she settled down with him.



"Yea don't worry Rahul I will be careful, yes I will call you if I need anything, yea thank you Rahul, yea I'll be back after a week, ok bye" Riddhima switched off her cell and shoved it deep inside her purse. She didn't want to take anymore calls from anybody, at least not for today. She already had so much happening inside of her and if she had to explain to one more person about her decision to go she knew she would explode. Truth was, she still worried whether her trip had been sensible, it was easier to explain her rationalizations to others but when it came to herself she felt confused and well stupid. Here she was a well educated doctor dropping everything and rushing back to find a person she loved as a child, whom mind it she hadn't heard or spoken to for 15 years. Where was the sense in that? But she admitted, in her heart all this felt right, though her mind didn't agree but her heart did.



Armaan had told her numerous times as a child that she "belonged' to him and the truth was she had come to accept that statement. For the past 15 years somewhere inside of her the nuisance remained that she belonged to Armaan and that fact remained true even today. She still felt she belonged to him and you can't belong to two people now can you. She had to go back and free herself, she can't belong to Rahul when she already belonged to Armaan. Yes this was making more sense now she smiled, even her brain was starting to comprehend.



Stepping on to the platform of Satyagarh Cantt she felt the nostalgia overcome her. The station had obviously changed in the last 15 years but the foundation was still the same. The buggy ride in to the village brought back so many memories, she had cried the entire ride to the station 15 years ago but today for an odd reason she was happy. She wanted to jump with delight when the village came in to sight, it looked very different. The once small houses had suddenly grown in size, there were no more dirt roads and to her astonishment there were even cars! She smiled with glee the once quiet village was now a bustling town.



Paying the driver his due she turned around to come face to face with Seema Mausie. Screaming with shock and surprise the two women threw their arms around each other and hugged till eternity. Seema Mausie was Padma's cousin and luckily she had been married in to the same village. She had lived only 2 streets away from Riddhima's home and also happened to be their only link to the village. Seema had been thrilled when Padma had announced Riddhima's pending arrival. Seema knew the reason of Riddhima's return and was certainly not surprised; she had seen the love the young Riddhima had for an equally young Armaan. She had been disappointed when Padma had informed her of Riddhima's engagement to Rahul but it seemed that fate had something else in mind.



*KNOCK KNOCK*



"Yes?" Gayatri stared at the young girl in front of her and wondered who she was. Obliviously she was new to town. She was gorgeous the old women noted, with creamy skin, perfect lips and black silky hair that fell exquisitely on her shoulders, but what intrigued her the most were the eyes; the large green eyes, which were looking at her rather questioningly.



"Namaste Aunty"


"Namaste, I am sorry but I didn't recognize you"


"I am Riddhima, RiddhimaGupta, I used to.." her explanation was cut short when the old women gasped with shock.



"Riddhima? Riddhima Gupta, Shashank and Padma's daughter right, Oh my goodness look at how you've grown and dear god you are absolutely beautiful!!" Tears ran down Gayatri's eyes as she hugged Riddhima with all her might. The once child she'd seen run in and out of her house stood before her today as a gorgeous young woman. "Come, come inside, oh how awful of me keeping you outside in this dreadful heat"



Riddhima smiled as she walked in to the home which belonged to him. It felt the same as it did 15 years ago, warm and inviting. The memories of her running in and out of the house came flooding back. She looked vividly at each and every nook and corner, smiling widely at the many moments spent here. Suddenly remembering the owner of the home present in the room Riddhima turned and looked embarrassingly at Gayatri; the woman had not changed much she was still just as humble. She had always been sweet to Riddhima, even when Armaan yelled at her or pushed her around. Armaan, the mention of his name even in her mind made her heart tingle. She was here, actually here in his house; but where was he?



"Uh aunty where is uncle?" It was not really what she wanted to ask, or rather whom she wanted to ask about, but it seemed only appropriate.



The slight smile on Gayatri's face vanished altogether. Riddhima watched as the once happy woman sat soberly and stared in to space. She tried to think if she had said anything out of league, but couldn't put her finger on it. She thought of asking again when the woman spoke up.



"He passed away 10 years ago"


Riddhima felt a slight pang in her heart for involuntarily having the caused sweet lady such pain. She didn't remember much about Mr. Malik, he was never around much. All she knew or rather heard was that the man was very shrewd and unforgiving. He was the only being whom Armaan feared. She remembered having accidentally coming upon Mr. Malik once, even at that tender age she knew the man did not approve of her. Still, it was unfortunate that he was dead and she was sorry for the old woman's loss.



"Oh, I am so sorry aunty I didn't know" Something inside of her made her sit next to the woman and reach out to her with a hug. The woman reciprocated and silently sobbed.



They sat for hours then, chatting and laughing. Riddhima told her about her family, her friends and her career as a doctor. The woman was impressed and proud. She'd never imagined the once ghagra-choli wearing Riddhima would one day be such an educated professional. Riddhima did not mention Rahul for reasons even she didn't understand, not that she was embarrassed she mused, but for some strange reason mentioning that she was engaged just did not seem right. What surprised Riddhima even more was the fact that Gayatri never once mentioned Armaan during the course of their conversation. It felt kind of odd and many times she wanted to ask about his whereabouts; for he was the only reason she was here; but then remembering the incident that took place earlier she decided that it would best if she waited until the lady told her so herself.



Looking up at the time Riddhima nearly jumped from the sofa. It had been 4 hours since she had stepped over the threshold of the Malik's. So engrossed she had been in their conversation that she had lost track of time.



"I am so sorry aunty but I didn't realize the time, unfortunately I would have to go now, Massi will be waiting for me with dinner?but I am here for a week and I promise to return so we could spend some more time together. I-I really liked seeing you again aunty, you were always a sweetheart and I am glad that you still are" With that Riddhima went and hugged the woman who smiled warmly in return. As she turned to leave she couldn't help but feel unsatisfied, she had just spent 4 hours in his house with his mother, with no sign or information of him.



"Riddhima"


She stopped just as she was about to step over the threshold and turned to see the lady coming to her with a sneaky smile.



"Would you not like to know about Armaan?"


Ridhima felt her heart drop. The lady had known all along hadn't she? For a moment she felt foolish and utterly stupid but hell the truth was she would not just like to know about Armaan, but rather she would LOVE to know about Armaan.



Gayatri giggled as she watched Riddhima's cute expressions of embarrassment and confusion. She had seen the questions about him the moment she had opened the door and had looked in to those large green eyes of hers. She had seen her secretly searching for him the moment she had entered. Gayatri was surprised that Riddhima had not asked about him up front, but deep down she knew the reason for her visit. When the girl had turned to leave Gayatri had seen the disappointment and the sadness of having not seen or heard about him. It was time to end the poor girl's torture; the girl had every right to know for she still loved her son. 



"Aunty"


"He has been Mumbai for the past four-five years" Gayatri continued while looking straight into Riddhima's eyes. "Armaan was always a problem child, what am I saying you know that better than anybody. After you left he became even worse, though he never admitted it I knew he missed you terribly. When he was 15 he was caught doing drugs, his father was furious and thought it would be best if Armaan went to a boarding school in Darjeeling. So, my son was packed up and shipped off to Darjeeling. He didn't want to go but what was the point in arguing with his father. 2 years later when his father died he came back for about a month and quietly went back to the boarding school after fulfilling his duties. That year he graduated first in class." Gayatri beamed as she recollected the moment her son had topped the school.



"He was accepted at DukeUniversity in the U.S., he did not want to leave me, but I knew he was tired and just wanted to get as far away from this place as possible. So, after selling most of the land I convinced him to go. He promised to come back as soon as he got his MBA and he kept his word. He came back but refused to settle in this town. It had too many memories of his father he said, but I knew it was not the memory of his father that unsettled him, but it was the memories of you. He knew you were in Mumbai, hence he moved there. He has several hotels their, money was never and object for him, especially after selling the land we have had plentiful. He is an up and coming successful business man he says, and I know he will one day touch the sky."



Riddhima smiled hearing such good things about him, he had come a long way and secretly she was so very proud of him. However, all this still did not clarify whether he was married or not? He had been in Mumbai for the past 4-5 years but never once had he contacted her. Did that mean that he had found someone and was now content in his life.

She felt a little upset and silently reprimanded herself for never reading any business articles or magazines. What if she had come across some news about him?



"My son is a changed man now Riddhima and no mother could ever be as proud as I am of him" Gayatri patted the girl's cheek and gave that sneaky smile again



"He wants to take me with him to Mumbai, so I thought you should know that he is coming tomorrow"

Simran

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