Sunday, 20 June 2021

part 9 : Forbidden Love

Armaan continued to stare unblinkingly at her, as if reproving her for saying what she had said. Then he got up from the chair and walked to the window to gaze out of it. Riddhima understood what he was going through. But this had to be done.

"Armaan, please don't think this is only my opinion. Even mommiji, Atul and Anjali think the same. The only thing is that they are afraid to talk to you about it. They are afraid to hurt your feelings. And they are right in their position. That's why I wanted to talk to you about it."

"Riddhima, how could you say it, after knowing everything?" came his weak voice.

"Armaan, I know what you are afraid of. You think that if we do things like that to commomerate her death, we'd soon forget her and what she meant to us. That's why you haven't even let us put on a wreath on her picture. I know you have started to live life and move on but you cling to things like that to make her alive for us. But what you don't understand is that she can never die for us. Nikita was, is and will always be that significant part of our lives that we can never ignore. Do you think mommiji will forget what her daughter-in-law meant to her? Or Atul will forget all his babhi had done for him? Nikita was a special lady who brightened all the lives she had touched. Her memory can never diminish. But because of what you are trying to do, her soul can never find peace. You are being selfish Armaan," she put forth unforgivingly. She knew what she was doing was right. Therefore, she didn't hesitate to be straight forward.


Armaan stood still for a moment as if processing all that she had said. Then he turned towards her with a sigh and came forward to engulf her in his strong embrace. Riddhima responded in a few seconds after she realized that indeed he was giving her a tight hug and hugged him back. She was getting lost in the sensation of his arms and his strong masculine scent when he broke the hug. She pinched herself to bring her mind back from cloud nine.

"As always Riddhima, you are right! I was being a coward, afraid that everyone will move on so much that they'll forget everything about her. But you are right. She has had such a big impact on on us that her significance can never lessen. Tell momma to get everything ready for the puja," he said confidently.

She smiled. "You are doing the right thing Armaan. I am proud of you," Riddhima squeezed his hand reassuringly and left, leaving a content Armaan behind her.

Armaan had begun to think that nothing can go wrong in his life as long as Riddhima was in it. She stood by him unwaveringly and made everything alright. In fact, just like the rest of the Maliks', Armaan had come to believe in the Magic of Riddhima. She made his life, his son's life and his mother's life so easy and comfortable. Everyone had her name on their lips for every single thing. The gratitude he feels for everything she has done is immeasureable. He had observed the cake scene between Riddhima, Sunny and Nikki's picture on the night of the party. The overwhelming emotions he had gotten looking at them were difficult to put into words. He could not believe how effortlessly Riddhima had understood the  significant place Nikita had in his life. And not only understand it and respect it, she was even making sure that his son always remembered how wonderful Nikita was, never letting him forget about his mother. Armaan thanked God. If God had to take Nikita away from them, Armaan was grateful that He had sent Riddhima to take care of everyone else. A friend like her was very hard to find.

The next day, with the approval and support of the all the Maliks, a puja in memory of Nikita was conducted. Everyone had been surprised when Riddhima had informed them that Armaan had agreed to the puja. But then they had given each other knowing glances. If there was anyone who can get Armaan to do anything, especially when it comes to Nikita, it was Riddhima, they all agreed silently. So everyone had joined together for the puja. Armaan had sat infront of the fire with the others around him. Riddhima had sat behind Armaan with Sunny on her lap while reassuringly pressing Armaan's hand every once in a while. When it was time to put a wreath around Nikita's picture, Armaan had stood up infront of the picture as if meditating on Nikita's face. Then he had looked back at Riddhima, who smiled at him in response. Then as if making a decision, he gave a slight nod of his head and turned back around to put the wreath on Nikita's picture. Everyone had wept a silent tear at his action. They all felt as if his action was a significant step, whether it was to mark an end of an era or a new beginning, it was hard to decide.

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"But momma, I don't want to get married this early!" Riddhima said to the phone for what seemed like the hundredth time. She did not know what else she can do to make her mother understand that she is not ready for marriage. A marriage meant going away from everything she loved. And everything she loved was right here in Malik's mansion.

"But beta, we're not telling you to get married right away. Rahul has just come back from USA. He's visting Mumbai for a week. Why don't you just meet up with him. Just talk and get to know him. Riddhima, we are not that old-fashioned that we'd want you to marry the first guy you meet. But he is Sangeeta aunty's son. So as a common courtesy, why can't you just meet him?" said Padma at the other end of the line. "I mean till how long are you going to be taking care of the Maliks? You need to have your own life beta! We are worried about you!"

"Momma, how can you even say that? You know how important they are to me! Sunny is like my own son and Armaan is my best friend!"

"I know Riddhima. But Sunny is NOT your own son. And Armaan is only your best friend, NOT your husband! They need to learn to live without you. After all, you are not going to be living at that house forever!So please consider meeting with Rahul beta. Again, we're not telling you to marry him. Just get to know him"

"Momma, let me think about this ok. I'll tell you what I decide later. Bye, love you." Riddima hung up the phone before Padma responded. She was very hurt at the truth her mom had brought up. It was true that legally the Maliks weren't her family, but she had accepted them as hers in body, soul and mind. And she knew that even though she could never marry Armaan and make his family her own legally, she was very happy to be part of their lives in any way she can. But at the same time, she did not want to hurt her parents.ughh.. She was very conflicted. Should she meet with this guy, even if only to appease her mother? But a meeting would make their expectations rise regarding this marriage. And that was something she could not permit to happen at any cost. At this moment, she really needed to talk to Armaan. But he was busy with something in his study. Therefore, she decided not to disturb him and went up to the terrace, stopping at Sunny's room and checking up on him on the way.

Riddhima sat down on the swing and looked up at the sky as the swing was swaying slightly. She was reflecting on all that her mother had said to her, especially about Maliks not being her own family. Marriage with Armaan would make everything alright but she knew the impossibility of it. Knowing Armaan the way she does, she knew that he could never give another woman the same place that his love Nikita had held. Even if he'd get married under the pressure from his family, for example, he'd never love his wife. And Riddhima could not imagine a worse fate than being married to him and loving him while he loved Nikita and her memories. Ever since the moment she had found out the guy she loved belonged to someone else, she had looked at each moment she spent with him as a gift. Even though he is not married anymore, those same feelings of gratitude for his presence in her life were still there. And she knew that he too was thankful that she was in his life, as his best friend. Therefore, she could not imagine having those feelings of friendship turn into hate and indifference if he was forced to marry her. No, it was better to be just friends with him.

"Hey!" a hand shook her shoulder, bringing her out of her reverie.

"Armaan, what are you doing here?" she looked up at him standing there with a smile.

"I dunno. Somehow I felt like you needed me. I was going to go to your room, but something brought me to the terrace," saying so, he sat down on the swing. "ahh..just like old times, hain na Riddhima. We haven't done this in a while. Now the only thing missing is two cups of steaming hot chocolate."

The tears that had gathered at the edges of her eyes at the mention of her needing him turned into a smile as he reminded her of their past meetings. He was right, they haven't done this in a while. Other responsibilities had kept them away from spending leisure time together like before.

"So what's up, Riddhima. When I came up, you were all lost in your thoughts. You did not even notice that I was there, which is a first. Is something bothering you?" he asked concerned when she didn't reply.

"Nothing like that Armaan. I just had a call from my mom. Was just thinking about that."

"Why? what'd she say that made you look like that?"

"She mentioned marriage. Apparently there is this guy that she wants me to meet with," Riddhima layed out the heart of the problem. That was the beauty of their friendship. No matter what the problem is, no matter how difficult it is, they could always tell each other everything.

Armaan could feel his heart beat stop at the moment Riddhima mentioned her marriage. Woah, wait what??Now, why did it do that? He ignored the motion and continued, "So what is the problem Riddhima? You have to get married sometime or the other."

Oh..how easily he had said that, Riddhima thought despairingly. If she needed any indication that Armaan did not feel any love towards her, this was it. It hurt but did not change her resolution about not marrying. She looked away from him. How could she make him understand her problem?

"Armaan. I am not ready to get married yet," and for the first time since they became friends, she lied to him, "I have just started my career and there is so much more that I want to accomplish before I get married!"

"But Riddhima, you mom is not telling you to get married right away right? She just wants you to meet the guy. And maybe if you'd tell the guy that you want to wait to get married, he'll understand and respect your decision. That's what any reasonable guy would do."

Oh thats it!!! Really, there was no point in trying to convince her family that she did not want to get married. She'd tell this guy, Rahul, instead. And hopefully, he's a nice enough guy and won't make too much of a scene. Thinking so, she smiled. And Armaan was relieved to see the tension leave her beautiful face..ok, beautiful face? what is wrong with him tonight? First the heartbeat stopping and now this! He had never thought of Riddhima in those terms. Like, he knew that she was a beautiful girl but what had been important to him was her beautiful heart. And now this sudden switch to focusing on her attractive features was making him tensed.

"Oh thanks Armaan. Thank you so much! You solved a huge problem for me. You are the best," she gave a quick hug to Armaan and got up and left for her bedroom, skipping down the stairs happily. Leaving a confused Armaan behind. Riddhima's marriage?, he thought apprehensively. He knew that it was written on her future. And he'd often teased her about it. But the truth is, he could not imagine his life without Riddhima. The only saving grace in his life was her. If she got married and went away, what would happen to them? oh how selfish of him, he admonished himself. At this moment, he should think of Riddhima's happiness. After all,  how long can a girl like Riddhima go without a husband who loved her? As for her reservations about marriage, he knew from experience that there was nothing that a married couple cannot compromise on. It will be alright at the end. And from now on, Armaan thought, he and his family need to start learning to live without her. Heaving a heavy sigh, he thought back on all those moments he had spent with Riddhima..hmm..
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It was friday evening. Armaan and Sunny were watching TV waiting for Riddhima to come downstairs. Armaan thought about the significance of this night. Tonight was the night that could possibly take Riddhima away from them forever. That's right. She was meeting that guy tonight, Rahul. Armaan screamed at himself. What was the need to tell her to go meet the guy? She did not want to do it in the first place, but now because of his big mouth she is going to see him. grrr...If they lose Riddhima, it would be all his fault. Armaan did not understand why it was necessary that he did not lose Riddhima. If his hesitancy was due to losing her as a friend, that did not explain his sudden dislike of this guy Rahul, whom he has not even met.

"GUYS!!! i'm ready!" they heard Riddhima call out from upstairs. Sunny jumped from the couch and ran out of the room to see his favourite person in the world. Armaan grimaced at his eagerness. Sunny did not know what was going to happen tonight. For him, his Riddhi was only meeting a friend. Armaan followed suit, albeit with less enthusiasm.

They both stopped in their tracks at the edge of the stairs, looking up at a beautiful vision. Riddhima (http://imestore.com/images/CO06038%20white.jpg) was absolutely breathtaking. Her hair fell down in curls framing her beautiful face. The simple makeup she had on only enhanced her natural beauty. Riddhima waited for the approval from her Malik men. She did not really care what Rahul thought of her. She had dressed up only for the praise she knew she'd get from Armaan and Sunny.

"Wow Riddhi. You look just like an angel!" Sunny gave him usual compliment. Riddhima smiled at his flattery and came downstairs towards him, keeping an eye on Armaan's face. So far he had not said anything, only stared at her with an indecipherable look. Riddhima joined them at the end of the stairs and gave Sunny a hug and turned to Armaan.

"So Armaan, how do I look?"

"Is that the dress I gave you from our last collection?" Armaan bit out accusingly.

That's all he had to say? Riddhima  thought disappointed. "Yea. And as you said, it is perfect on me," she grinned. She had been ecstatic the day Armaan had gifted her this. It was when she had gotten a raise at work for the successful completion of her new project.

"Yea perfect," Armaan replied in a colourless tone at which Riddhima's face fell. Right then they heard the doorbell and Armaan started walking towards the door and did not see Riddhima's wilted face. The only thought that was on his mind as he walked to the door was why did she wear the dress that HE had given her to meet ANOTHER guy. It was HIS gift! He did not realize the ridiculous logic behind his question. But all he knew was that it bothered him to have her wear that dress for a date with another guy. She looked way too beautiful. He finally reached the door and reluctantly turned the knob. Outside stood a handsome guy dressed very smartly.

"Hi, I'm Rahul Garewal, here to pick up Riddhima."

Hiranya

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