Thursday, 14 June 2018

part 14 : Pehchan


After hanging up with Armaan, Riddhima walked back to her room with dinner for her husband. Her emotions swung like a pendulum as she ascended the stairs. Was she doing the right thing by suspecting her husband of adultery? What if Armaan was mistaken? What if Abhimanyu was innocent? Was she dishonoring the bond that they had formed five years ago around the sacred fire? What about her faith in her mangalsutra and her Gods? Was she betraying everyone by casting a doubt on her husband? What about her relationship to the rest of the family? The bond of marriage encompassed his whole family- now her family.







Dizzy and dazed, balancing the dinner tray, she stepped into their room, willing to give her husband a benefit of doubt, but her resolve was short lived as she overheard Abhimanyu talking to Nikita on the phone.





"NIKITA! JUST DO AS I SAY….UNDERSTAND? Haalat bahut naazuk hai is waqt….hum koi bhi galat kadam nahin utha sakte…samjhi? And don't you dare call me again….I WILL CALL YOU WHEN I NEED YOU!"





Infuriated, Abhimanyu kicked his shoes and socks off, grumbling, "$&@&&!"



Quietly, Riddhima placed the tray down and shot a glance at her enraged husband.



"Nikita se kya rishta hai aapka?" she asked without hesitation or fear.



Taken aback, Abhimanyu collapsed on the couch and stared at the dinner, unable to meet her piercing gaze.



"W-what do you mean? What Nikita? Kaun Nikita?" He asked angrily.



"Aap Nikita se baat kar rahe the na?"



"Oh…she is just an employee….haan tumhare us Armaan ki g-girlfriend hai na?"



"Why were you threatening her on the phone?"



"OH God Riddhima!" he gulped down a glass of water, "don't I have the right the blast my inefficient employees? While I was in Germany, she was supposed to get some papers ready for a meeting….kuch nahin kiya saali ne! In fact, she took vacation and left for some place….maybe with Armaan." Abhimanyu lied.





"No…Armaan was in Dehradun with all of us."





"I have no idea where she was…anyway…I think I will fire her…I know she is your friend's girlfriend….but I have to watch out for our company….AUR AAJ YEH KHAANE ME ITNI MIRCH KYUN HAI? KYA KHAANA BANANA BHOOL GAYI HO KYA?" Flustered, he pushed the plate away, trying his best to distract Riddhima's attention from Nikita.



"Khaana maine nahin banaya….naukar ne banaya hai," she replied calmly, "and I am sure Armaan doesn't interfere in her personal life….agar aap Nikita ko fire kar rahe hain tho kar sakte hain…I'll not say anything to Armaan."





"ARMAAN! ARMAAN! ARMAAN!" Abhimanyu barked and stood up, his temples throbbing with rage and fury, "why has this man become so important in our lives? Jahan dekho bas is aadmi ki hi baat hoti rehti hai….who the hell is he?"





Without waiting for her reaction or reply, Abhimanyu left the room, anxious to find more information on Armaan and find a way to get rid of this thorn in his life. Since Armaan had arrived, the platonic plates of harmony in his house had shifted. The epicenter had gradually changed from Abhimanyu Modi to Armaan Malik. Even his parents and brothers seemed to be in awe of this NRI musician. Above all, his wife, once a devoted and dedicated woman, who had never questioned him about anything before, had suddenly developed an attitude and persona that he despised and loathed immensely.



"Shailendra babu! Main Abhimanyu!" Abhimanyu spoke softly into his phone.



"Haan bhai Abhimanyu saheb…..Germany ke darshan kaise rahe?" Shailendra on the other line, munching a betel leaf, asked.



"Wo tho sab theek hai….I need a favor Shailendra."



"Aapka hukum sar aankhon par," Shailendra gurgled as the betel juices sloshed in his mouth.



"I want to know more about this man Armaan Malik! Aap tho shayad mile hoge us se….he was apparently in Dehradun."



"Jee haan…jee haan….bhai kehna padhega ki jaadugar type personality hai Armaan ki……my wife adores him like a little brother already."



"Exactly! He's done the same here! I am sick and tired of this man…..please find out some dirt, some filth on him…kuch tho hoga iski zindagi mein jo perfect na ho….something about him should nail the daylights out of his life…..I want him out of my life…OUR LIVES!"



"He he Abhimanyu babu…kahin aapki patni ke saath kuch ishq wishq ka chakkar tho nahin chala rakha usne?"



"SHUT UP SHAILENDRA!"



"Sorry bhai…I was just joking jee…..just joking….give me 48 hours…I'll send my most trusted men and find everything about this man….everything that makes him tick…..I agree he needs to go…..pata nahin Aradhana bhi aaj kal mujhse sawaal jawaab karne lagi hai….But what do I get in return jee?"



"Anything Shailendra babu….you know my vaults are always open for my dearest brother in law," Abhimanyu forced a smile.



"Absolutely jee….jai ram jee ki Abhimanyu saheb."



"Good bye."



…………………………………………………………………………….



Riddhima cleaned up the mess Abhimanyu had left behind in the room. Nikita's call had raised more questions than settled her curiosity. Was it really a business call or was it more personal? Why did Abhimanyu say things were 'naazuk' and they should tread carefully?  Perhaps, she was reading too much into this Nikita episode. Armaan was an over sensitive man. His American background probably made him more suspicious about married men having affairs. She knew Armaan would never lie to her; he was a well wisher. She would still go ahead with the plan that they had chalked out in Dehradun, just to prove her husband's innocence- at least that's what she was hoping for.





As she cleared his suitcases from Germany, an aroma of perfume doused the room. Never before had she given attention to the various fragrances that bathed his clothes or luggage, but today her curiosity drove her to sniff his clothes like a police dog. There was no doubt in her mind that it was a woman's perfume. As an angry tremor ran through her spine, instead of cleaning up further, she threw all his clothes in the laundry basket and decided to hit the bed.



She removed his jacket from the bed and was about to discard it into the dry clean bucket but like always, decided to clear the pockets before leaving it for the cleaners. She recovered pens, notepads, chewing gum and boarding passes.  Absent mindedly, she dumped the contents on his bedside table. Two boarding pass stubs caught her attention as she was about to walk away.



Carefully, she picked the stubs and was shocked to see the names: MODI, A and BANERJEE, N!



"Armaan!" she called him right away.



Yawning, Armaan answered the phone, "yes…what's up Riddhima?" He sounded sleepy.



"Nikita ka surname kya hai?"



"Surname? Itni raat ko sirf yeh poonchna tha?"





"Armaan please….I am asking you a question…..just answer me."





"OK…baba…wait…let me check…I have her business card somewhere…..uh….wait…where did I put it? Here…here you go…..Uh…Banerjee…Nikita Banerjee." He answered groggily, "Hello Riddhima….hello….hello." She had hung up, or the phone had just dropped from her hand.



"RIDDHIMA! RIDDHIMA!" He raised his voice, but knew that Riddhima had stumbled on something incriminating on the other line.





……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….



A FEW DAYS LATER:



"Abhimanyu…..I know I've been a little upset these last few days…..maybe it's mummy papa's death….even you've have been stressed from work………I think we should both spend time together…away from here…..what do you think?" Riddhima leaned her head on her husband's chest. Pleasantly surprised after having witnessed absolutely cold and frigid behavior from his wife last few days with her sleeping on the couch every night, Abhimanyu smiled with relief. His dad's threat had worried him more than his wife's indifference. Was she planning to leave him? That spelt doom for his future. How he wished his father did not control 100% of the shares of the company.





"Great idea Riddhima…..where do you want to go?"



"Let me make the bookings…..aap busy hain….it's going to be my surprise."



"A second honeymoon?" He grinned viciously.  Since his return from Germany, he had kept distance from Nikita and had been deprived of any kind of sensual pleasure since then. Even though he and Riddhima had not been intimate in years, the thought of having a weekend alone with her was not a bad idea, he thought. His calculating mind made plans on how to seduce his wife and hopefully get her pregnant. Knowing Riddhima, she would never dare leave him once she was a mother of his child. Perhaps, he would then be able to convince his dad to change his will. Abhimanyu commended himself for his foresight, "aise saanp bhi mar jaayega aur laathi bhi nahin tootegi."







"Why not?" She smiled back and pulled away from him before he could encircle his arms around her.



"Ok…..better be a five star place….you know I can stand mediocrity."



"Jaanti hoon….." she waved back and left the room.



"Great! Line par aa gayi na….phew….main tho darr gaya tha." Abhimanyu beamed.



……………………………………………………………………………………………………….





"Nikita….HI….kahan thi itne din?" Armaan surprised her with a call one evening.



"Oh..Hi Armaan….bas kuch din apne dad ke paas chali gayi thi." She lied.



"Oh..I see…..well I am thinking about that evening at your place….remember hamari mulaqat adhoori reh gayi thi?"



"Oh yes…of course I remember," she drawled seductively, "how can I forget that wine spill."



"Well…why don't we continue from where we left it off? I would like to invite you to a getaway this weekend…..chalogi mere saath?"



"Kahan?"



"Mahabaleshwar……we will stay at a nice resort……just the two of us….you know…away from this Mumbai heat."



"Uh…well," she paused, "why not? I'd love to come." Since her return from Germany, Nikita had been lonely. Abhimanyu had for some mysterious reason, stopped needing her. He had dismissed it to work and certain 'naazuk' situations at home. Armaan's invitation came as a breeze of fresh air; the perfect outlet from Abhimanyu's mood swings and his demands. She craved sensual intimacy herself; and the handsome Armaan would hopefully fulfill her needs, "let me start packing dear."



"Great! I'll let you know where we will meet…..let's get there separately."



"Why separately?"



"Well…I'd hate for your dad to find out," he replied cheekily, "he almost busted us last time…remember?"



"Oh…yeah…of course," Nikita shuffled her feet, "OK….just send me the address."



"Will do sweetheart…..bye now." Armaan smiled and hung up.



"Bye," Nikita stared at the phone quizzically, "he just called me sweetheart? Aww poor baby…..is really craving for me……I'll make sure he has the time of his life."



……………………………………………………………………………….



MAHABALESHWAR:



Abhimanyu drove to Mahabaleshwar after work on Friday afternoon. Earlier, Riddhima had called him that she would be a little late as she was busy taking care of Kavya as Atul and Anjali were out at the doctor's that afternoon, "just pick the keys to room 405 at the reception Abhimanyu…I'll join you in a couple of hours."



"OK….I'll make myself comfortable and ready for you sweetheart," Abhimanyu smiled at the idea of spending some time alone in the room with his favorite scotch and cigars he had purchased in Germany. He knew Riddhima would disapprove of the drink and cigar. How he wished it was Nikita and not his 'middle class mentality waali wife,' Riddhima who was going to join him at this five star resort, but he knew he had no choice- he needed to make the sacrifice to claim the Modi empire!





"Sweetheart?" Riddhima cringed at his address, "remember room 405….see you…bye."



After hanging up with Riddhima, Abhimanyu's cell rang again.



"Shailendra? Haa…maybe he has some news for me," Abhimanyu answered the call eagerly.



"Hello Abhimanyu jee….kya haal hain?"



"So, did you find any information on Armaan's background?"



"I did. What do I get for this million dollar information?"



"Jo aap kahein Shailendra babu….you know my vault is always available for your services."



"Armaan is your father's illegitimate son…..he is your half brother buddy."



Shailendra told him about Damini, her relationship to Shashank, Armaan's birth in Nainital, how they left for the US when he was two years old because his mother couldn't live in Nainital as a single unwed mother.



"Really?" A malicious smile on his face, Abhimanyu had both his dad and Armaan in seize.



This trip to Mahabaleshwar was turning out to be a goldmine for Abhimanyu. Not only would he seduce his wife into submission forever, find a way to claim the Modi inheritance, and after Shailendra's information, get rid of archenemy forever.



"So….how was my khabar?"



"Brilliant Shailendra babu…you are a genius….I will fulfill your demands once I am back from my honeymoon with your sister in law."



"Great! Achcha hai biwion ko honeymoon par le jaate raho tho hamesha aapke kadmon mein rehti hain."



"I am learning Shailendra babu….take care."



"Jai ram jee ki!"







………………………………………………………………………………



"Hi Nikita…..I am in room #405…..just come up….you don't need to stop at the reception sweetheart," Armaan called Nikita once she had arrived in Mahabaleshwar.



"Sure…room # 405? I'll be right there," Nikita grinned enthusiastically and rolled her bag into the elevator. She was dressed in one of her most seductive, sleeveless, short dresses that revealed more than it concealed. She had perfected the art of seduction, and looked forward to adding another name to her illustrious resume.







In the meantime, Abhimanyu had checked into the luxurious suite #405 and dumped his bag on the couch. After a hot shower, he had changed into a hotel robe and settled with his scotch and cigar. As he savored the drink and puffed smoke rings into the air, he heard a knock.



KNOCK! KNOCK!



"Itni jaldi aa gayi Riddhima? She said she would be at least a couple hours late….hmm….kam se kam drink tho khatam karne deti…….well…I guess I need to act as the ideal husband," he got up to answer the door.



To his pleasant but horrific surprise, it was Nikita and not Riddhima at the door.



"NIKITA? TUM YAHAN KAISE?"



"Uh..uh….what are you doing here?" She shot back.



"I was expecting my wife."



"W-well," Nikita did not have the courage to mention that she was meeting another man, "I-I was here to meet some friends…..a college get together you see….shayad room number galat hoga mere paas….see you later Abhimanyu," she turned around to leave. Abhimanyu grabbed her wrist and pulled her into the room, "sshhh…..my wife is running late….it'll be at least another hour before she gets here," he winked at her.



"B-but," Nikita hesitated, "I need to meet my friends."



"Friends ko kuch der intezaar karne do jaan-e-man," he shut the door behind her and bent down to kiss her neck, "you don't know how much I have missed you…..besides you are looking so bl**dy hot today."



A bewildered Nikita chuckled nervously, "Are you sure this is your room?"



"Of course it is," Abhimanyu's hormones were running wild by now. His clever mind could not see the conspiracy behind this set up. As Nikita enjoyed her boss's advances on her body, she reasoned that Armaan must have given her the wrong room number. It wouldn't hurt to take a quick detour before she devoured Armaan, she thought and joined Abhimanyu in his game of lust and infidelity.



……………………………………………………………



Meanwhile in the adjacent room, a very disturbed Armaan and distraught Riddhima stared at the CCTV screen in front of them.



"Bas Armaan….please shut it off…I can't bear anymore," Riddhima broke down and hid her burning cheeks in Armaan's shoulder, "I don't need any more proof."



"Riddhima….I am sorry," he touched her back softly and turned her face away from the recording. Without pausing the recording from room # 405, he helped Riddhima sit on a chair, her face away from the screen.



"Achcha hota ki main ek brahm mein hi rehti Armaan…..this really hurts," she buried her face in her palms and cried her heart out.



"Riddhima….you've got to be strong…..sach hamesha kadva hota hai…..lekin socho agar tumhein yeh sab nahin pata chalta tho saari zindagi tum ek brahm aur jhoot ke saath rehti…..now wipe your tears and let's go and confront them……our plan is still not complete till we catch them red handed."



"You are right Armaan," she wiped her face and held Armaan's hand to get up.



Unsteadily, she walked to the door and entered the hallway. Armaan followed her, keeping a few feet distance between them. He let her insert the key card into room # 405 silently. Abhimanyu and Nikita were too busy to notice the two people at the doorway. Suddenly something hit Abhimanyu in the face as he kissed Nikita's lips.



"OUCH!" He pulled back and touched his cheek. It was bleeding. "What the hell?"





Riddhima's mangalsutra had slashed his cheek and just missed the corner of his eyes. A petrified Nikita pulled a pillow, then a blanket to cover her dignity.



"RIDDHIMA?" Abhimanyu wiped the blood off his cheek and stared at her angrily, "itni jaldi?…I thought you would be coming late."





"Late tho ho gayi hoon main…I have arrived just five years late Abhimanyu," her eyes burned with anger and humiliation.



Holding his cheek, he picked the mangalsutra, "Riddhima….I can explain….you are misunderstanding me….this woman Nikita means nothing to me."



"Neither do you mean anything to her Abhimanyu," Finally Armaan walked into the room behind Riddhima, "Nikita was here to meet me…..kyun Nikita? Double dipping here?"



Nikita gathered her clothes quickly and without replying rushed to the bathroom to get dressed.



Abhimanyu buttoned his shirt and pants and fearlessly strode towards Armaan. Riddhima turned her face away, too harried to even look at her shameless semi clad husband.



Both men were face to face with each other now, both stared down at each other and exchanged dirty glances.



"Tho yeh sab tumhari chaal thi? How conniving!" Abhimanyu broke the wall of cold silence between them.



"Fareb ko sirf fareb se hi jeeta jaata hai." Armaan glared back.





Abhimanyu started applauding, softly first and then loudly, "wah wah Mr. Armaan Malik….kya chaal chali hai."



"Yes Abhimanyu….this was the only way we could bust your lies….catching you red handed with your mistress."



"Who is being unfaithful here Armaan….kyun Riddhima?" Abhimanyu mocked at her.



Riddhima ignored his comment and continued to stare at the floor. This was the most humiliating day of her life and what made it worse was lack of remorse on Abhimanyu's side. She cursed the day she had agreed to marry the demon in front of her. It felt like someone had kicked her hard in the stomach, it felt like her heart had stopped beating, it felt like that dream you know the one when you are falling and you want so desperately to wake up before you hit the ground. She couldn't trust anything anymore; her life had changed forever, the recording on the CCTV the only reality left in her life.





"We all know what just happened in this room," Armaan replied.





"That was a set up…wasn't it? But what you and my wife have been doing my back is not kosher either…..meri sati savitri jaisi wife ko behkaa diya ne tumne?" Abhimanyu tried to touch Riddhima's cheek but she shunned him and stepped away.



"Nahin….behkaya nahin…sirf sach dikhaya hai Riddhima ko…..the truth....the reality of her husband."



"Reality? Haa!" Abhimanyu laughed arrogantly.



"Armaan please take me home now," Riddhima's voice quivered.



"Before you go Mrs Riddhima Modi….wouldn't you like to know how truthful your NRI friend is?" Abhimanyu blocked the doorway with his arm.



"I don't need to know anything about Armaan….I know him well….better than I have ever known you," Riddhima pushed his arm off the doorway.





"Oh yeah? Did you know that Armaan is here from the US just to take revenge from our family? He wanted to break our family so that he could avenge his mother's tragic life of a single mother banished from her own community in Nainital?"



"I don't believe you Abhimanyu," she walked out.





Shell shocked by Abhimanyu's accusation, Armaan clenched his fist and punched Abhimanyu's face as hard as he could, "don't you dare bring my mom into this."



Abhimanyu wiped his bloody nose and growled, "you bas***d! I'll make sure you leave Mumbai as soon as possible…you will never succeed in your plan to break my family."



Armaan walked out, grabbed Riddhima's arm, "let's get out of here Riddhima….we don't need to stay here any longer." They collected the tapes from the adjacent room and left the resort as soon as they could.





As they drove back to Mumbai, Riddhima buried herself in a silent gloom, tears rolling down her eyes, vivid visions of her husband and Nikita making love tearing her into pieces……



Pleas enjoy this old song from "daag' that conveys her feelings….



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cr0m6SNv9U8&feature=fvw



jab bhi ji chaahe nai duniya basa lete hain log

ek chehare pe kai chehare laga lete hain log
yaad rahata hai kise guzare zamaane ka chalan

yaad rahata hai kise sard pad jaati hai
chaahat haar jaati hai lagan ab mohabbat bhi

hai kya ik tijaarat ke siva ham hi naadaan the jo
odha beeti yaadon ka qafan varana jeene ke lie

sab kuch bhula dete hain log jaane vo kya log
the jinako vafa ka paas tha jaane vo kya log the

doosare ke dil pe kya guzaregi ye ehasaas tha
ab hain patthar ke sanam jinako ehasaas na ho

vo zamaana ab kahaan jo ahal-e-dil ko raas tha
ab to matalab ke lie naam-e-vafa lete hain log



……to be contd….

Bheegi

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