Tuesday, 12 June 2018

part 12 : Pehchan



RECAP: Even Shailendra noticed that the stranger was staring at his sister in law, shedding tears like he was a long lost friend. He was at ease both with the Modis and their daughter in law. Shailendra's political radar was on high alert; he stood up and walked towards Armaan.




"Namaskar," he folded his hands in gesture and sat amongst the Modis. Armaan returned his greeting with a somber nod. Shailendra tried his best to rein in his curiosity, his toes wriggled impatiently under his crossed legs. Streams of local residents walked in to pay their respects, but Shailendra's attention was fixated on Armaan- who was he? Was he related to the Modi? Was he someone powerful? Perhaps, a good connection for the upcoming assembly elections?





Finally, the priest chanting the prayers in honor of the deceased got up and gestured that the bodies be carried out for the cremation. Armaan's heart broke when he saw a limp Riddhima almost collapse in her sister's arms as everyone said their final goodbyes to the two souls. Thankfully, Padma and Aradhana managed to keep Riddhima steady on her feet. His heart ached to hold and comfort her; only he knew what it meant to be parentless. It was an irreplaceable loss- a loss that even time could not heal.





"Chaliye…..kandha deejiye," a voice behind Armaan diverted his attention. Without hesitation, he gave his shoulder to carry the bodies. Rahul, Shashank and Shailendra also supported the bodies on their shoulders as Riddhima's parents began their final journey in this world. He had never met them, but strangely, as Armaan carried them on his shoulder it felt like he had known them forever.





………………………………………………………………………………………..





LATER THAT EVENING:



"Namaskar…..aapse parichay nahin hua abhi tak," Shailendra finally took the initiative once all the men had returned from the cremation grounds, showered and changed into clean clothes.



"Namaste! Mera naam Armaan Malik hai…..I..I…am Rahul's friend." Armaan replied, "aur aap?"



"I am Shailendra Sareen. Local MLA and Riddhima's brother in law."



"Nice to meet you sir," Armaan nodded. He figured that the taller woman with Riddhima was probably her sister, Shailendra's wife.



"Aradhana is Riddhima's oldest sister…..I have known Riddhima for a long time….since she was in 7th class…..bechari bachci ke saath bahut bura hua…..na maa rahi, aur na pita…..oopar se pati bhi nahin hai yahan," Shailendra shook his head pitifully, "bechari Riddhima…….sab kuch hote huye bhi kuch nahin hai bechari ke paas."



Shailendra's negativity and superfluous sympathy irked Armaan.  He took a distinct disliking for the man standing across from him. Armaan cringed each time Shailendra addressed Riddhima as 'bechari.' Yes, this was a sad moment in her life, but no one had business to call her 'bechari' or 'helpless.'





"She has a supportive family…..aap log hain na Riddhima ke saath." Armaan mumbled, trying his best to suppress his anger.



"Haan…lekin pati ka sahara tho pati ka sahara hi hota hai na? Khair….badhe log…badhi baatein…humein kya?" With a crooked grin, Shailendra raised his eyebrow, "so what to do you do young man? Rahul ke saath college mein the kya?"





"I am a musician…..I am from the US….here to study music….my family knew Shashank jee….that's how I know them."



"Oh I see….wonderful….wonderful…..well….thanks for coming and hope we can keep you comfortable here in Dehradun."



"I didn't come here in search of comfort…..but thanks for the offer," Armaan replied curtly.



Padma sensed Armaan's discomfort with Riddhima's brother in law. Shailendra was not her favorite person in the world either. His rise in the ranks of politics was largely because of his relationship to the famous Modi family of Mumbai. It was election season, and it wouldn't surprise her if he would use the death of his in laws to garner sympathy votes and make sure the Modis were visible in every ceremony.





"Beta…bahut achcha kiya jo yahan aa gaye," Padma patted Armaan's back, "Shailendra….shayad darwaaze par koi tumse milne aaya hai." Purposely, she diverted Shailendra's attention away from Armaan.





"Jee bhabhiji," Shailendra took a respectful bow and left them alone.



"Aunty…..I feel sorry for Riddhima and her sister…..aur kaun hai unka," Armaan asked tearfully.



"Hum hain na beta," Shashank joined them, "Riddhima aur Aradhana dono hamari beti samaan hain." Padma nodded in agreement and made way for her husband to stand next to his son.



"Beta….Shailendra kya pooch raha tha tumse?" A worried Shashank asked. He knew that Shailendra's connections and his curiosity could one day break the truth about Armaan's relationship to Shashank.



"Kuch khaas nahin uncle," Armaan replied, "main….wahan guests ki help karta hoon," instead of wasting time talking about Shailendra, he decided to help Aradhana 'didi' as he thought he would address her.



"Rahul….tum bhi jao Armaan ke saath," Padma prompted her youngest son, who stood quietly in a corner wondering what to do at a solemn occasion like this.



"Yes mom," Rahul nodded obediently and followed Armaan. Knowing the intricacies of social decorum was not his forte; his mother, Riddhima bhabhi and older brothers had always taken care of those things. Now that Atul bhaiyya and Abhimanyu bhaiyya were not present, it was his turn to take on responsibility.



………………………………………………………………………………………..



"Namaste didi….main Armaan Malik…..Rahul aur Riddhima ka dost," Armaan introduced himself to a weary Aradhana, "I am really sorry about your parents didi," he added softly.







"Thanks for your help Armaan….yeh baat main kabhie nahin bhool sakti ki tumnein mere mummy papa ko kandha diya…..hum sab se ek rishta jod liya hai ab tumnein."



Armaan smiled cautiously, "yeh tho mera farz tha." Just like Riddhima, Armaan developed an instant liking for her older sister.





Aradhana, her eyes still red swollen, touched his kurta sleeve, "ek kaam karoge Armaan?"



"Jee…zaroor."



"Most of the guests are leaving…..can you and Rahul accept their condolences at the door and thank them." It was amazing that despite all the mind numbing grief, Aradhana still had the presence of mind to think pragmatically.



"Sure." Both men left to do as they were told. They stood with their hands folded at the door and bid tearful farewells to all the guests. Shailendra, on the other hand, picked the most affluent and politically connected guests to shed tears with and exchange hugs.





……………………………………………………………………………………….



NEXT DAY:



After a restless night on the living room couch, Armaan woke up before sunrise. He looked around, but sensing the silence in the house, he knew everyone was still asleep. Since his arrival, he had only exchanged tearful glances with Riddhima. He knew how shattered and devastated she must be at this moment. With her protective sister and other relatives surrounding her distraught soul, he had decided to stay away, especially since Abhimanyu's absence was a hushed topic of discussion amongst some of the elderly women of the family: Kaisa pati hai? Sab theek tho hai na in dono mein? Badha aadmi hai lekin iska matlab yeh tho nahin ki aise mauke par bhi na aaye! Armaan knew their taunts were justified, but he felt that the women were adding salt to Riddhima's wounds by reminding her of her husband's callous behavior.





Stretching his tired arms, Armaan stepped out into the courtyard of the house. An old, tall tree in the corner and a sacred 'tulsi' plant atop a tall stone vase, were the only signs of life in the quiet stone paved courtyard. Armaan walked towards the sweet incense of the tulsi (holy basil) and recalled how his mother used to offer prayers to a similar plant every morning. As he folded his hands in gratitude, a stifled wail from behind the stony vase caught his attention.





Hesitantly, he shuffled his feet and glanced behind the vase. Curled into a ball, Riddhima sobbed with her head buried in her hands, her back facing him, her shoulder resting on the vase.



"Riddhima?" Armaan knew instantly that it was her.



Her sobs changed into a whimper as she raised her head in response to his voice.



He couldn't hold himself further and sat down next to her on the floor, still moist from the early morning dew. As soon as he placed his arm on her shoulder, she clung to him like a vine; her arms flung around his neck like a little lost child on meeting her savior.



Quietly, they sat hidden behind the vase, exchanging tears and each other's warmth.



"Riddhima…..I know how you must feel right now….I remember how shattered I was when mom left me all alone." Gently, he caressed her tangled hair with his fingers.



"I..I…am all alone in this world Armaan……mama…..papa kyun chhod kar chale gaye?" She sobbed on his shoulder, her tears soaking through his white, slightly wrinkled kurta.





"I wish I had an answer….but you are not alone Riddhima," He whispered.





She sat up and gazed into his eyes, "ek aurat ke liye uska sab se badha sahara uska maayka aur uska pati hota hai…..mere paas kuch bhi nahin hai. Why did Abhimanyu not come Armaan? Do you have an answer for that? Is he that inaccessible? His clients are more important than his wife? Kya mere parents Abhimanyu ke kuch nahin lagte the?"





Armaan was mum. He had an answer for this question, but not the heart to blurt it out. At that moment, he knew that Riddhima was dejected more by her husband's insensitiveness than her parent's death.



"Maybe he is on his way," to his surprise, Armaan found himself defending the devil.





"Maybe," she started sobbing again and collapsed on his chest this time. Her fingers crushed the cotton kurta as she mumbled between whimpers, "Armaan…..tum tho kabhie chhod kar nahin jaaoge na mujhey?"





Startled by her question, Armaan had an intense desire to kiss her head embracing his chest, and reassure her that he would always be there for her. "Of course Riddhima…..how can a friend ever leave another friend?" He shut his eyes, downplaying the intensity of his emotions, "I'll always be there for you….whenever you need me."



"Thanks Armaan…..promise me you will stay here till I go back to Mumbai."



"Yes…I will."

 [YOUTUBE]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlJbvNzNUe8



[/YOUTUBE]  (Baabul)





bebasi dard kaa aalam, tum mujhe de do apne ghum - 2
khaamoshiyaan bhi do, tanhaaiyaan bhi do
bechaaniyaa bhi de do, de do naa - 2

bhigi palkon se churaa lungaa nami
rehane dungaa naa, khahin koi kami - 2
tumko daaman naa bhigone dungaa
ab kabhi tumko naa rone dungaa
uljhane ghum ki parchhaiye
de do mujhe apni tanhaaiyaan
gumnamiyaan bhi do, naakaamiyaan bhi do
viraaniyaan bhi de do, de do naa







Lost in each other's arms and comforting presence, they talked about Riddhima's childhood years in the same house, how Aradhana didi would chase her around the courtyard, how Riddhima would climb that tree in the corner to hide from her sister. Aradhana, who hated heights, would not dare to climb the tree after her sister. Armaan patiently listened to all her anecdotes, her stories, her parents and how she missed Dehradun so much.  Armaan gathered that Riddhima was quite a carefree and jovial soul before marriage. The last five years as a married woman had changed her personality to a caring, loving, dutiful, obedient wife and daughter in law. The real Riddhima had disappeared somewhere behind the overpowering image of Mrs. Riddhima Modi.







"RIDDHIMA!" Aradhana's voice broke their trance like state. Armaan released Riddhima from his grip, "lagta hai didi tumhein dhoondh rahi hain."





Reluctantly, Riddhima got up and turned around to face her sister, "haan didi."





"Germany se Abhimanyu ka phone aaya hai….tumse baat karna chaahta hai wo."



"Jee didi," Riddhima wiped her face and dragged her feet to talk to take her husband's call.



A worried Aradhana was taken aback by Riddhima's reluctant stance.



Armaan brushed his kurta and stood up, embarrassed to face Aradhana didi in this state. Quietly, he tried to sneak away, but Aradhana stopped him.



"Armaan……kitne din se jaante ho Riddhima ko?" Her voice was stern and authoritative, overtones of a protective sister shadowing the warm and cordial woman he had encountered the night before.



"Yahi….1-2 mahine se." He bowed guiltily.



"Bahut gehra rishta kaayam kar liya hai itne kam waqt mein." She replied sarcastically.



"Kuch rishton ko umr nahin, bas pal chaahiye hote hain," he mumbled.



"Baatein tho bahut badhi badhi kar rahe ho Armaan…..lekin tum jaante ho na ki Riddhima ek shaadi shuda aurat hai."



"jaanta hoon….."



"Phir ek paraayi aurat se itni kareebi?"



"Aisa kuch bhi nahin hai didi…..we are good friends…..I'd never want to hurt her."



"Riddhima is very nave…..bahut bholi hai wo."



"Jaanta hoon."



"Tum uske bholepan ka faayda tho nahin utha rahe?"



Aradhana's question struck an angry chord inside Armaan. His pent up frustration with Riddhima's plight as Mrs. Abhimanyu Modi finally surfaced in response to her sister's question



"NAHIN MAIN THO NAHIN UTHA RAHA LEKIN HAAN USKE SAARE GHAR WAALON NE AUR PATI NE ZAROOR FAAYDA UTHAAYA HAI USKE BHOLEPAN KA!" Armaan could not control himself and divulged his inner most feelings to Aradhana.



"matlab?" she asked quizzically.



"Jahan tak main jaanta hoon, Riddhima ki shaadi uski marzi se nahin, lekin oonche ghar ko dekha kar ki gayi thi….uski padhai bhi poori nahin hone di thi kisi ne……aur ab uska pati," Armaan gnashed his teeth, "he is a bl**dy flirt…..an unfaithful man….a disgusting man I must say! KAUN UTHA RAHA HAI RIDDHIMA KE BHOLEPAN KA FAAYDA? MAIN YA USKA BEWAFAA PATI?"





A thunderstruck Aradhana stared at Armaan in disbelief. Never before had anyone dared to speak the truth about Riddhima's rushed marriage to the very eligible Abhimanyu Modi. Only Aradhana had opposed the alliance, but Shailendra and other relatives in the family had convinced her equally nave parents that God had himself asked for their daughter's hand. Rejecting the proposal would be rejection of God himself.



"Abhimanyu ke baare tum aisa kaise keh sakte ho?" Aradhana lowered her voice.



"I have evidence," Armaan sighed.



"Armaan…..agar tum Riddhima ko itni achchi tarah pehchante ho, tho please abhi yeh baat usey mat kehna…warna wo bilkul bikhar jaayegi," Aradhana pleaded, tears rolling down her eyes, burning her cheeks as the truth about her brother in law sank inside. She knew Armaan was not lying; the earnestness in his eyes was proof of his honesty.



"I won't didi…..don't worry…..waqt aane par usey bataa doonga."





"Armaan," she touched his arm and smiled tearfully, "Abhimanyu is the unluckiest man in this world…….and Riddhima, the luckiest girl in this world."



He gave her a curious look, "luckiest."



She nodded, "yeah luckiest…..usey chaah ne waala itna achcha dost jo mila hai."



To hide his beet red expression, Armaan lowered his eyes.



"Ek promise karoge Armaan?"





"Jee



"Is dosti par kabhie daag mat aane dena……aur kabhie meri behen ka dil mat dukhana… you mean a lot to her……you are the best thing that's happened to her since her marriage."



"I promise didi," Armaan nodded.



"And remember don't tell her anything right now…..Abhimanyu ke affair ke baare mein bilkul mat bataana………bikhar jaayegi wo….."



"I won't."



'kaun hai wo ladki?"





"Nikita……she works with him….and if I am not mistaken, they have both gone to Germany together."



"How disgusting! Please abhi kuch mat bataana Riddhima ko….she won't have the strength to endure this reality."



…………………………………………………………………………



After an impersonal and disappointing conversation with her husband, where he conveyed his condolences and rendered his usual excuses -the most important client in the history of the Modi business and he would rather be with her in Dehradun at that moment than Germany- an emotionally numb and  frosty Riddhima walked back to the courtyard.



Standing at the ledge of the doorway, she overheard Armaan and Aradhana's conversation about Abhimanyu's affair, Nikita and their trip to Germany. Her face could not lose any more color than it had in the last two days. Almost ghostlike, she stared blankly at the tulsi plant in the center, uttering to herself, "ab mujhey koi nahin bikher sakta Armaan aur didi…..bikhri tho main pehle thi…..ab tho sambhalne ka waqt aa gaya hai. Ab apni zindgai ke faisle main khud loongi…..koi aur nahin."





Her parent's untimely demise, her husband's insensitivity and the shocking news of Abhimanyu's infidelity had in a few moments matured her from a young innocent girl to a woman with her own identity and purpose. She refused to be a 'bechari'- a helpless woman. Exposing Abhimanyu and his faade would be her mission, not anyone else's. He had wronged her; she was going to make him face the music and pay for his deeds now.



……………to be contd………….

Bheegi

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