Friday, 2 March 2018

part 4 : Belonging (AR Mini ff)

The thunderous knock on the door detached the young friends from the firm embrace causing the two to look around awkwardly. Turning various shades of red both momentarily forgot the reason for the severed embrace; it was the impatient voice of the stranger outside that jolted them out of their discomfited stage.



Fidgeting needlessly with her dupatta Riddhima walked briskly towards the door as Armaan ran for cover. Though both were educated and resided in a very modern and fast paced city like Mumbai, they understood and respected the conservative nature of the small towns and their inhabitants. In places such as Satyagarh it was not acceptable for a young guy and a girl to be alone together, especially in a house when the elders were away.




"SuryaBhaiya?" Riddhima looked perplexed by her sudden visitor that too at this hour.



"Kya Riddhima bahen I have been knocking for ages, are you ready to go?" The visitor stepped in to the foyer to keep away from the rain; which seemed to have picked up speed once again. It was also starting to get a bit chilly out; he now only hoped that Riddhima would hurry up so he could make it to the Jagrata in time to see his beloved.  He was curious to ask Riddhima about her sudden visit and now the sudden decision to leave. He had known Riddhima as a child, and remembered her attachment to Armaan. Heck, the whole class knew of Armaan and Riddhima's association, the two were practically inseparable. He wasn't very close to Armaan, not that he regretted it, Armaan as a child was rather rude and snobbish and Surya could care less for such people even today. He had however seen the subtle changes in Armaan over the years, the boy had turned out to be a very good looking man indeed but he had also matured and become affable. He had helped Surya get a job in a close by factory so Surya could return home every evening to his widowed mother. Surya was grateful to him and today respected Armaan Malik, yet that is all he wished to correlate with him.



Riddhima's eyes widened with realization as she remembered the motive for Surya's visit, hitting her forehead with her palm she looked apologetically at her visitor. She hadn't even thought of an explanation for suddenly deciding not to go. She looked over at her packed bags and frowned deeply, here she was now glowing with her new found happiness while just a few minutes ago she was so distraught and determined to leave this town forever. Looking back at an anxious Surya she made a mental note to rip up the goodbye note she had written to Seema Mausie; but for now she had to apologize to Surya for dragging him over here in this dreaded weather.



"Actually Bhaiya, Ma had just called and informed that Papa is much better now, so I don't have to return" She bit her tongue for having said such a lie and said a quick prayer for her fathers well being.



"Oh, was Uncle sick?"



"Yes a little, but he is better now, hence I don't have to go. I am so sorry bhaiya for having you come all this way and that too in this horrid weather." Riddhima stated with sincerity.



"No, no it was not a problem bahen, I am just glad to know that Uncle is ok. Well I better get going then, I was headed over to the jagrata." Surya smiled genuinely and quickly slipped out the door. He was happy that he did not have to make that dreaded trip to the train station; not that he minded dropping Riddhima off, it was just that the trip to the Station was an hour drive going and coming, and he couldn't possibly let her wait there all alone; like a gentleman he would have waited until she had safely boarded her train. Turning the ignition to his centro Surya smiled and drove away a happy man.



"Well well Ms.Gupta when did you become a master at fibbing?" Armaan; who had been hiding behind the curtains grinned as he stepped out. He had been amused with the short conversation and was pleasantly surprised to hear Riddhima lying and that too very convincingly. Was this the same Riddhima who couldn't hide anything from anyone as a child? Lying was never Riddhima's forte; her eyes would always give her away.



 "Oh you would be surprised by my wealth of knowledge Mr.Malik, maybe some other time I will let you in on the other fields I have maneuvered to master." Armaan laughed despite himself; Riddhima had indeed changed and it surprised him just how much. He had this sudden urge to hold her again as he watched her laugh with him at her own statement.



"I am so glad you came back Riddhima" Her laughter stopped when she heard him whisper. She knew he meant it, she could see it in those grey eyes that he was being earnest. Walking up to him she rose on her toes and poked his cheek; she smiled as the dimples set in. "I am glad I came back too Armaan"



"Why did you come back?" He was curious to know. Why after 15 years has she returned and that too without a warning.



She looked at him thoughtfully as her mind raced for an explanation. Should she tell him the reason for her return? What if he doesn't feel the same way? She didn't want to loose her friendship with him. He had always meant a lot to her, and perhaps always will, she didn't want to loose him; especially not after finally getting a chance to know him again.



"I always wanted to come back Armaan. I always missed you, thought about you, about our childhood; but I was too young. I couldn't come back and my mom wouldn't let me keep in touch with you or this town; I am sure you know the reason why" her voice softened towards the end but he had understood. Armaan knew Riddhima's mom disliked him and truth was he really didn't blame her. Yet, he couldn't help but feel a tinge of pain knowing it was Riddhima's mom who held her back. "I know you were mad at me for leaving but honest Armaan I never knew about our move until a day before. I remember you were upset with me that day; your father had beaten and grounded you. When I came to say goodbye you had shoved me and told me to leave. We never had a proper good bye Armaan and I never felt happy knowing that we had left on such a sour note. I came back today because I could." She had lied again; maybe she had indeed become a master at it. She didn't know what kept her from telling him the truth; perhaps the lack of confidence in her love or maybe the fear of losing that love forever. At least, she mused it was not a complete lie, it was rather half the truth; a very meager half of the truth.



He felt her turn to face him and quickly composing himself he gave her a weak smile. He hadn't expected to hear this, he was actually expecting her to confess her love but she hadn't. She had come back for a proper goodbye; he smiled wryly as the thought of her leaving again pierced his heart. What had you expected Armaan that she would ever love a man like you? Maybe she did love you, but only as a friend. He chided himself for thinking so foolishly. Looking up to see her downcast eyes, he quickly wiped the sober expression from his face and grabbed her hands.



"Riddhima would you like to spend the day with me tomorrow? We could go back to our childhood and visit some of our old hideouts. I haven't been back ever since you left"



Riddhima looked up with her big twinkling eyes, which he swore made his heart skip a beat. Throwing her arms around his neck she squealed excitedly with delight, "Oh Armaan that would be wonderful" He held her close I promise I will bid you goodbye properly this time Riddhima.



The sun lightly streaked through her window as she lay snuggling in the comforter. A slight smile crept up her face as she thought of spending the day with Armaan. Turning away from the sun she stared at the ceiling, the smile still intact. Her thoughts wistfully traveled back to the events that played yesterday. She knew if Armaan had not come she would be long gone. Her mother of course would have rejoiced upon her return and would have already given in the order for the wedding cards. Letting out a sigh, Riddhima sat up and stretched her arms high above her head; for today she wanted to forget her mother and her pending marriage; which now seemed inevitable and focus solely on spending the day with the love of her life.



"Riddhima!" Armaan yelled making sure his voice reached her window. He had been waiting outside Seema Aunty's house for the past 10 minutes and there was still no sign of Riddhima. The honking had not helped either as all he got in return was the dirty looks of the townsfolk. She knew he was here; she had shown her face from the balcony and had then disappeared in to her room. Just before he was about to yell her name again, he saw her coming towards him. Dressed in dark blue denims and a well fitted black blouse with a black scarf hung around her neck the women looked sizzling! The jeans and the top highlighted her curves to the T. He had to admit the 10 minutes of waiting was definitely worth it.



Riddhima smiled as she saw him drooling; something she had never expected him to do. She admitted that she had wanted to look good for him that is why she had taken an extra effort to dress up. Thankfully she had brought some western clothes and this happened to be her favorite ensemble, it was sophisticated yet comfortable. Looking at him now she smiled; the man didn't look too bad himself, in fact he looked good enough to eat. He was also dressed in dark denims and a dark blue t-shirt which actually made his grey eyes look blue. Her gaze wandered to his arms as her mouth hung open. Armaan had tattoos on both arms! Walking up to him with eyes still glued to the tattoos and mouth growing wider by each step she raised her hand to touch the body art. She looked up at him questioningly while he just grinned at her shocked expression.



"Like em?"



"Armaan when did you get tattoos? Omg does aunty know that her ladlaa bigad gaya"



"Oye of course Mom knows, and I got these when I was in the U.S., they are cool na? TchRiddhima Close your mouth before a bug flies in and madam can we please get going we are already running late."



Shaking her head with disapproval Riddhima placed herself comfortable in his Tata Safari. Of all the things about Armaan, the tattoos would have to be the biggest shocker yet!



"By the way you look really hot" Her face turned red with the comment while he casually plopped his sunglasses on. "Thanks, you look good too" she murmured whilst looking away embarrassed.



Stepping out of the SUV she looked tearfully at their old school. Obviously it had been shut down and from what she had heard the owners of the land were planning to tear it down soon. Walking towards the door the memories of them as young children came flooding. She could picture everything, her running with her slate as Armaan ran after her to look at her answers. The little bump below the tree where they would eat lunch; Armaan being the naughty child he was would always pull on her plaits while she would be enjoying her achaar. The images felt so real as they replayed in front of her eyes; she almost felt like going up to the little Armaan and hugging him.



As if she sensing her state of emotions Armaan slid his arm around her back and gave a quick peck on her temple. They had spent the entire day visiting their old hideouts and the school was their last stop. He had purposely saved it for the end. He knew the school held a special place in both their hearts, especially for him for he only went to school to be with Riddhima. He knew Riddhima liked school and refused to bunk even if he begged her, so in order to be with her he would tag along and spend the entire day teasing her and getting in trouble with the master ji. It was not that he disliked studying; it was just that he didn't want to do it. He didn't think he really needed the education when his father had so much wealth; boy was he wrong.



"Armaan what happened to master ji?" She had this sudden urge to see him again, perhaps for the last time. She hoped he hadn't passed on.



"Naren Kaka told me he lives about 15 miles out of town, why?"



"Armaan I want to go see him"



"What? No way Riddhima, he hated me!" Armaan shrieked remembering their master ji, who punished him every day and then had the nerve to tell his father everything. There was no way he was going to go see him again, the man might start pulling his ear again and according to Naren Kaka he still had that old stick he used to punish Armaan with.



"What? Master ji didn't hate you he was just disappointed in you, now come on it's getting late"



"But Riddhima I don't wanna go?" she suppressed her chuckle watching him whine like a child



"Oh stop being such a baby and get in the car" he watched as she swung her bag over her shoulder and walked towards the car. God this was not going to be fun!



"Namaste" Riddhima smiled warmly as she greeted the old lady at the door. Looking towards an uninterested Armaan she poked him in the rib and grinned when she heard a disgruntled Namaste



"JiNamaste" The old lady looked suspiciously at the young couple.



"Uh, we are here to meet Masterji?"



"But beta who are you?"



"We used to be his students when he used to teach at SatyagarhPrimary School"



"Oh, come in then beta, he is in the back let me go call him" the lady lead them to a fairly decent looking living room and then disappeared to the garden.



Riddhima smiled at an annoyed Armaan and gestured him to relax and have a seat. He was such a sweetheart she mused and looked so cute when he was annoyed. Her little staring session was interrupted as they both heart the faint thud of a cain. Armaan's heart raced as he stood up with Riddhima in respect. The image of the master ji holding a stick in his hand looking stern as ever refused to leave his mind as he swallowed in fright.



"Namaste Master ji" Riddhima was surprised as she heard Armana join her in unison.



"Namaste children" Much to her surprise Armaan walked over to the old man and helped him sit comfortably in his chair. Masterji raised his hand in appreciation and gestured them to sit."I am sorry children but I did not recognize you" As much as the old man had tried, he could not seem to remember the young couple now seated in front of him.



"Uh, master ji I am Riddhima, ShashankGupta's daughter and this is Armaan, ArmaanMalik..."



"Malik?" The old man sat up immediately and let out a loud laugh, as Armaan shuddered. "Oh my goodness, Armaan and Riddhima, yes yes I remember you. Kalpana you remember I used to tell you about these two when I used to teach, oh my god look at you!" The old man was thrilled beyond words. Never had he in his wildest dreams thought he would come across these two again, that too as adults. They both had moved away and though he had heard about Armaan's quick visits he had never heard another word about Riddhima. He suddenly felt so touched that these two had remembered him and even after so many years had come to meet him.



They spent the next hour chatting about their school days and of Armaan's childish nuisances. The old man was mighty impressed by both his pupils especially after knowing that Riddhima was now a doctor and Armaan a businessman. He had never expected Armaan to turn out to be such an intellectual and mature young man. It was still hard to believe that the once troublesome Armaan was today a highly accomplished man. There was one question that kept irking the old man, though he didn't want to come out as nosy but he was just so tempted to know.



"Well children, I always knew you two were inseparable as kids but when and how did you tie the knot?"



"Ji what?" Riddhima coughed violently on her tea as the old man's question sunk in. she looked over and found an equally baffled Armaan staring at her.



"Uh, ji uh we just got married about a month a go" Armaan tore his gaze away from Riddhima and looked sheepishly at the old man; who seemed thrilled with the news.



"Wow you both are newly married then, I always knew you both would end up together. The love was so evident between the two of you." The old man spoke with glee and gestured something to his wife who smiled and disappeared in to a room.



Riddhima looked down awkwardly as she felt her cheeks burning. She had been surprised when Armaan had announced they had been married, yet she couldn't help but feel happy. Being associated as his wife had caused a crazy sensation in her stomach. Closing her eyes she wished that this lie had been true.



Armaan looked at Riddhima's lowered head and felt guilty for having blurted the nonsense about their marriage. He didn't know what had prompted him to tell such a lie, he hoped he hadn't hurt her and made a mental note to apologize once they were back in the car. Smiling at their master ji Armaan prayed that whatever he had said had in fact been true.



"here you are my child" Riddhima raised her head to see the lady holding a small ganesh murti and some rupees in her hand. Riddhima looked at the extended hand puzzlingly as the old lady smiled and placed the money and murti in Riddhima's lap. She repeated the gesture with Armaan who looked just as bewildered as Riddhima.



"Aunty we can't possibly take this" Armaan interjected as the lady walked to be beside her husband.



"It is shagun son, you should not say no to it. You both are a newly married couple and have come to our house for the first time, there was no way we could have let you go empty handed."



"It's a tradition my son, you should accept the shagun" The old man spoke in defense of his wife and smiled at her gratefully.



Riddhima looked at the couple teary eyed as the time came to bid adieau. She felt awful knowing that after this she might never see the old couple again. She smiled ruefully as Armaan squeezed her hand in comfort and gave her a weak smile. Stepping over the threshold Armaan and Riddhima turned and bent down to take the blessings of the old couple. The elderly couple touched by the gesture blessed the young couple with a happily married life.



Riddhima closed her eyes as the image of the old couple faded in the side mirror of the Safari. She would cherish this day forever. Looking down at the murti of the Ganesh she said a small prayer for the well being of the old couple and turned her head towards Armaan; who smiled sweetly back at her.

simran

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