Friday, 15 June 2018

part 15 : Pehchan



Koee ye kaise bataaye ke wo tanahaa kyon hai
Wo jo apanaa thaa, wahee aaur kisee kaa kyon hai
Yahee duniyaan hain to fir, ayesee ye duniyaan kyon hai
Yahee hotaa hain to, aakhir yahee hotaa kyon hai?

Ik jaraa haath badhaa de to, pakad le daaman
Us ke seene mein samaa jaaye, humaaree dhadakan
Itanee kurbat hain to fir faasalaa itanaa kyon hai?

Dila-ye-barabaad se nikalaa naheen abatak koee
Ik loote ghar pe diyaa karataa hain dastak koee
Aas jo toot gayee hain fir se bandhaataa kyon hai?

Tum masarrt kaa kaho yaa ise gam kaa rishtaa
Kahate hain pyaar kaa rishtaa hain janam kaa rishtaa
Hai janam kaa jo ye rishtaa to badalataa kyon hai?



It was close to midnight when Armaan pulled the car into the Modi driveway.



"Riddhima….we're home."



"Home?" she asked, a crooked sardonic smile questioning the sanctity of the word, 'home.'



"I know how you feel Riddhima….but it's late….and I think you should get some sleep….I'll see you tomorrow."



"NO," she held his hand firmly, "please come inside with me….wo ghar ab mere liye anjaan hai…please Armaan."





"Ok…I'll come," he sighed softly and helped her out of the car, "Riddhima….I know it's difficult for you, but you'll have to be strong….remember you have not committed any crime or mistake….let the guilty suffer…..galti tumhari nahin, Abhimanyu ki hai….he should be the one shedding tears right now, not you."



She nodded gently and led the way to the house, her footsteps heavy and laced with pain and humiliation. The same house that had welcomed her as a bride five years ago, felt like a penitentiary tonight. Even though she was not the accused, somewhere deep inside she could not help wonder 'what went wrong?' Why did those fairytale dreams crash on her like a horrible nightmare? Confusion and self-condemnation were closely interwoven with feelings of despair and existential emptiness.





"Arre Riddhima…itni jaldi Mahabaleshwar se wapas aa gaye?" Padma caught her daughter in law walk into the house at midnight, "Abhimanyu kahan hai?" She turned around and was surprised to see Armaan instead, "Armaan? Tum yahan? Is Abhimanyu alright?" Her heart pounded as a feeling of doom concerning Abhimanyu sunk into her.



"He is Ok aunty," Armaan rested her fears of a possible accident or mishap with her son.



Unable to hold her tears, Riddhima rushed to her room without confronting her mother in law. She did not want to relive those moments of hurt and disgrace in front of her husband's mother.



"Riddhima?" Padma tried to call her, but Riddhima had disappeared at the speed of lightning, " Kya hua Armaan? I know something has happened? Riddhima never ignores me like this," Padma grabbed Armaan's hand.



"Aunty…uh…" he lowered his gaze and sighed, "aunty….Riddhima caught her husband cheating on her."



"WHAT?" A stunned Padma stared at him in disbelief, "Yeh kya keh rahe ho tum? Are you sure?"



"Yes aunty…..here is a tape….you will have no doubts after watching this."



"Tape? How do you have a tape?"



"We recorded it aunty…..just to prove our suspicion right."



"Matlab ki yeh kissa kai dino se chal raha hai?" A baffled Padma shut her eyes and shook her head. She couldn't comprehend why her son would cheat on a beautiful, wonderful and ideal wife like Riddhima.



"Yes aunty….." Armaan lowered his eyes.



"Who is this girl?" She asked angrily.



"An employee at his office…Nikita."



"Hey bhagwan," she shook her head, disgusted and enraged at her son; flashbacks of her husband's betrayal added fuel to the fire. Quietly, she mumbled to herself, "aakhir beta kiska hai!"



"Aapne kuch kaha aunty?" Armaan asked. He was sure Padma had said something, but she just shook her hand in denial.



"Kuch nahin beta….mujhey Riddhima ke paas jaana chaahiye pehle," she turned around, but was surprised to see Shashank block her way.



"Yahan kya ho raha hai?" He asked worriedly.



Padma picked the tape and handed it to Shashank without uttering a word.



"Yeh kya hai?" He asked her quizzically and then raised his eyebrow at Armaan.



"Aap khud dekh lee jiye….aapke bte ke kartoot!" With flaring nostrils, she ran upstairs to comfort her daughter in law. Armaan was touched that Padma had never bothered to see the tape for herself; did she really have so much confidence in him? More than she trusted her own flesh and blood?



RIDDHIMA's ROOM:



After knocking softly, Padma let herself into the room. Slouched in a corner, resting her head against the bed frame were Riddhima, a blank stare and her wedding album in hand mocking at her marriage.



Quietly, she sat next to her daughter in law and held her hand, "bahut dard ho raha hai na? Apni zindagi se nafrat ho rahi hai na? Dil pooch raha hai ki yeh mere hi saath hi kyun hua? Maine tho apni taraf se sab rishte nibhaye the, tho kahan kamee reh gayi? Kehte hain pyar ka rishta, janam ka rishta hota hai…..agar aisa hai tho badalta kyun hai?"





The wedding album dropped from Riddhima's lap. She buried her head in Padma's lap like a little girl and sobbed, "aapko sab pata chal gaya na?"



"Shayad mard ki ftrat hi aisi hoti hai….wo aurat ko kabhie samajh hi nahin paya….sirf istemaal karna seekh paya hai," Padma swallowed her own painful memories and replied softly.



"Mummyji?" Riddhima sat up and stared at her with a confused expression; it was strange that Padma could commiserate with her agony better than any other mother in law would in a similar situation, "aap mere dard ko kitni achchi tarah samajhti hain."



Without revealing any details of her own traumatic memories, Padma squeezed Riddhima's hand and averted her gaze, "Riddhima…..it's up to you whether you forgive your husband or not. Abhimanyu is my son and I'd hate to see our family break down because of his mistake…I hope you understand what I am saying."



"No mummyji….I really don't understand….and don't even know what I am going to do now." Riddhima released her hand and clenched her fists, "Is ghar mein meri pehchan Abhimanyu ki wajah se hai ….lekin ab wo pehchan dhoondhli nazar aa rahi hai…..main tho ab itna bhi nahin jaanti ki kaun hoon main?"



"Jaanti hoon Riddhima….tumhara dard aur kashmakash achchi tarah samajhti hoon…..lekin tum hamari bahu hi nahin….beti bhi ho….hamare ghar mein jis darwaaze se hum bahu bankar aate hain, us darwaaze se hi hamari arthi bhi uthti hai………ab aage faisla kya karna hai….wo main tum par chhod ti hoon."



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



DOWNSTAIRS IN THE LIVING ROOM:





Shashank slid the tape into the recorder and slumped on the couch, numb and shell shocked as his son lusted over another woman in the hotel room. Clutching the left side of his chest, he murmured, "please turn this off…I don't want to see any more." His weak heart could only take first few minutes of the tape.



Armaan complied and took the tape out, "I am sorry uncle….you had to see this."







"WHERE IS ABHIMANYU?" Shashank stood up, his eyes blood shot, body seething with fury.



"I am here," a bruised and battered Abhimanyu walked into the doorway.



"I AM ASHAMED TO CALL YOU MY SON!" Shashank yelled at him, "HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?"



By now, the commotion in the living room had woken the other family members.



A bleary eyed Atul wheeled Anjali into the living room, while Rahul, still up, hung up with Muskaan and rushed to the center of activity in the Modi mansion.



"What's going on here?" Atul asked everyone. Rahul stared at the blank TV screen, "what's in that tape?"



"A wonderful movie…..directed and produced by Mr. Armaan Malik, assistant director, my wife, Mrs. Riddhima Modi!" Abhimanyu retorted sarcastically. A baffled Rahul just slid the tape in and stood silently, in shock, his jaw wide open. With a cynical smile, Anjali savored the downfall of Riddhima's marriage with every frame of the video recording. Atul was embarrassed and averted his eyes from the screen.



Abhimanyu's temper soared, the pulses on his temples throbbed while his gnashed teeth and clenched fists longed to punch the TV and then Armaan's face. His family glared at him suspiciously. From the self assigned prince of the home, he had suddenly become the devil, an unashamed and disgraceful one at that.



Rahul's world came crashing down; his idol, his role model had committed an offense which was unforgivable. Atul had always been aware about Abhimanyu's philandering ways, but since his marriage to a wonderful woman like Riddhima, he had just assumed that his younger brother had been 'reformed' by her love and dedication. Anjali was the only one who was relishing this late night drama in her sasural.




Armaan, sensing tension and tempers, withdrew into a corner. He was about to leave, but Abhimanyu stopped him, "wah wah kya khel khela hai Mr. NRI ne!" He applauded as the tape came to an end, "are you sure you are a musician and not a Hollywood movie maker…or rather a wannabe C grade Bollywood producer?"





Armaan retraced his steps and turned around and glared at Abhimanyu defiantly, "I don't think I need to give any explanations here Abhimanyu…..facts are facts……and the truth is that you have cheated on your wife, your family and your honor."



"HARAAM KI AULAD!" Abhimanyu grabbed Armaan's collar. Armaan scowled back with a dirty look.



"ABHIMANYU! ZABAAN PAR LAGAAM DO!" Shashank was livid; his body trembled as he raised his hand. Abhimanyu's accusation hit him in the pit of his stomach. How dare is legitimate son use such foul language for his own father?



"Yeah dad? Can't handle the truth, huh?" Abhimanyu grinned, "truth hurts, doesn't it? I am sure you know what I am talking about. Do you want me to reveal the truth to everyone here?" Shashank couldn't believe his ears and eyes- so Abhimanyu knew the truth about Armaan? How? Who told him? He shut his eyes and looked away with a painful expression.



"ABHIMANYU!" Padma walked down into the living room, "he is your father….how dare you talk to him like that?" A few steps behind her, Riddhima was mortified at the way Abhimanyu was insulting Armaan.



"Mom….before you all blame me…..do you even have a clue what's been going on behind the scenes since this man walked into her house from America?" Abhimanyu pointed his finger at Armaan.



"Abhimanyu….this is about you and Riddhima….don't involve any one else." Padma stared down at her middle son.



"NO MOM! It's not about me and Riddhima…it's about Armaan manipulating all of you…including my wife and setting me up in that hotel room. H-he had m-mixed something in my drink, so when Nikita instead of Riddhima walked in, I was delirious and thought it was K-Riddhima and not someone else in the room with me….trust me mom…why would I lie to you all? To my wife?" A flustered Abhimanyu  shed some crocodile tears.



Stunned by Abhimanyu's outright lies, Armaan and Riddhima exchanged glances.



"That's all lies!" Armaan clarified, "I did not mix anything in his drink. He and Nikita have been having an affair for quite some time now."



"SHUT UP YOU BAS***D!" Abhimanyu snapped back, "your evil game is over buddy….now leave this house and get out of here!"



"Armaan kahin nahin jaayega!" Padma interjected.



"Before pointing fingers at your own son, mummyji, have you wondered what your ideal bahu, Riddhima has been up to?" Anjali wheeled herself between Padma and Riddhima.



"Saaf saaf kaho Anjali, kya kehna chaahti ho?" Padma asked angrily.



"Aapki sati savitri jaisi bahu ek paraye aadmi ke saath kahan kahan ghoomti hai….Dehradun mein uske saath rahi….aur ab Mahabaleshwar bhi uske saath thi…..dagaa tho Riddhima ne diya hai bechare Abhimanyu ko. She is the one who's been unfaithful!" Anjali shot a reassuring smile at her favorite brother in law, Abhimanyu.



"ANJALI BHABHI!" Riddhima was appalled, "soch samajh kar boliye!"



 Shashank, Rahul and Atul looked at Armaan with an expression of confusion and suspicion. Armaan was taken aback by the accusation hurled at him by Anjali. Riddhima shook her head, disgusted at Anjali's train of thought.





Padma held Riddhima's hand, "mujhey Riddhima par apne aap se bhi zyaada vishwaas hai..Anjali apne kamre mein jao…..jaise maine kaha tha, yeh baat sirf Abhimanyu aur Riddhima ke beech ki hai…..PLEASE LEAVE!"





A very hurt Armaan folded his hands tearfully and came forward, "aunty…uncle…please don't misunderstand me….I was just trying to help Riddhima here….she is a friend…..jaisa Anjali bhabhi keh rahi hain, waisa kuch nahin hai."



"I know Armaan…." Padma reassured him. A heartbroken Shashank stood quietly, a silent spectator to the drama unfold in his house as Padma took charge of handling the crisis. She had always been the crisis manager at home, and even today had assumed that role of saving the family from breaking apart.



"Mom…I am ashamed to say this but you are making the biggest mistake of your life," Abhimanyu said sourly.



"As far as I know, you're the one who has made the mistake….and I want you to apologize to Riddhima right now….yahan sab ke saamne us se maafi maangni hogi!" Padma ordered.





"I have not made any mistake, nor committed any crime here….as I said, Armaan has trapped me here." Abhimanyu replied defiantly.



"Why would Armaan do such a thing? Kya milega usey?" Shashank asked; his voice quivering with pain and humiliation.



"Dad! Looks like I will have to blurt the truth here….bahut taqleef ho rahi thi na aapko jab main Armaan ko haraam ki aulaad keh raha tha?" Abhimanyu asked sarcastically. Armaan shut his eyes and resisted the temptation of knocking down Abhimanyu, forever this time.



"ABHIMANYU!" Shashank yelled.



"Ok everyone….so here is the real deal….have you all wondered why Armaan walked into our house and then befriended each and every member of this house within a span of few days? Well, he was here on a mission- a mission called DESTROY THE MODIS! TAKE REVENGE AGAINST THE MAN WHO DESTROYED HIS MOM'S LIFE!"



"Bhaiya…you have gone crazy," Rahul finally spoke up, "WHAT CRAP ARE YOU TALKING?"



"See….what did I say…he has hypnotized all of you…even my baby brother…..well Armaan, I am an exception because I am smarter than all of my family members and SMARTER THAN YOU FOR SURE!" Abhimanyu snarled at Armaan.



"I have warned you before…don't bring my mom into this!" An incensed Armaan clenched his fists, resisting the urge to knock him down again. The two men were face to face now; just like two mighty armies ready for a head on battle.





" Bura laga na? Sach kadva hota hai…truth is always bitter. You've tried your best to destroy my reputation and my relationship with my family. We all know that you were brought up by a single woman in the US….you know why? That's because your mother was banished from her family and community in Nainital. She was an unwed mother. Isn't that right dad?" Abhimanyu turned his face and smiled at Shashank who lowered his eyes nervously.





"Nazar kyun pher li dad?" Abhimanyu laughed, "so, dad…..I am sure you remember Damini Malik!"



"ABHIMANYU!" Padma came to Shashank's rescue, "this is about you….not dad."



"NO MOM…IT'S ALL ABOUT DAD! IT'S THOSE ROTTEN SEEDS HE HAD SOWED YEARS AGO IN NAINITAL THAT HAVE COME TO HAUNT US IN THE FORM OF HIS ILLEGITIMATE SON-HIS SON FROM ANOTHER WOMAN…..A WOMAN HE MADE LOVE TO, BUT NEVER MARRIED….DAMINI MALIK!"



There was a hushed silence in the room as Abhimanyu's harsh words resonated repeatedly, "ILLEGITIMATE SON…..DAMINI MALIK…… ILLEGITIMATE SON…..DAMINI MALIK…… ILLEGITIMATE SON…..DAMINI MALIK…… ILLEGITIMATE SON…..DAMINI MALIK"





Armaan felt his legs and frame collapse into a ball of unidentifiable, unrecognizable and tormented pulp. Abhimanyu's words had slapped and bruised every inch of his body and spirit. This could not be true. It was all a horrendous dream; Abhimanyu was fabricating stories to save his face.



When the rest of the family were too stunned to speak, Atul spoke up, "Abhimanyu…..are you lying as you always have?"



"DAD? Am I lying?" Abhimanyu mocked at his father, who stood silently with his head hung.



Shashank's silence and avoidant eye contact with Armaan hit him like a hard boulder. All the memories of the past months since his arrival to Mumbai, his meetings with Shashank, his information about his father's 'death' gnawed at Armaan's soul till he felt numb and anesthetized to any emotion, feeling or sentiment. Tearfully, he gazed at Shashank's face for some answers. Padma was too stunned to speak herself. How did Abhimanyu find out the truth? Could Abhimanyu be right? Was this all a game plan of Armaan to destroy his father's family to avenge his mother's troubled life?





"Are you my d..dad?" Tears rolled down Armaan's eyes, words barely able to reach his lips, his heart bleeding slowly. Could the man he had revered like a father all these months, be such a coward and a liar? Shashank's silence and hung head was the bitter truth Armaan would have to live with all his life now.



Riddhima couldn't hold her tears as she noticed the pain on Armaan's face. Abhimanyu's words had still not sunk in- so Armaan was a daddyji's son? His illegitimate son? Like father, like son, she compared her husband and father in law with each other. No wonder, Padma understood her emotions so well. So, Padma had known about her husband's affair for all these years? Why did she not say anything before? Did she know about Armaan's relationship with Shashank? Did Armaan know the truth about his father as Abhimanyu was suggesting? Was this really Armaan's plan to take revenge against this family? Had she been betrayed by a friend too? Here head spun like a vortex, the turmoil tearing her mind and heart apart.





Shashank looked up and with a stern expression replied, "I WANT YOU TO LEAVE NOW! GET OUT OF MY HOUSE AND MY LIFE FOREVER! I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU COULD STOOP THAT LOW! MERI GALTI HAI JO TUMHEIN IS GHAR MEIN AASRA DIYA! PLEASE LEAVE US FOREVER!"





Armaan nodded his head, too hurt to say anything back, words and emotions were elusive, too deadened to respond to Shashank's lies and false accusations. Nodding tearfully, Armaan turned around and left the house with a shattered and heavy heart. He was too limp, bruised and shocked to defend himself at this point.





Riddhima tried to stop him, but Shashank blocked her way with his arm, "jaane do usey…..hope we never see him again!"





The family was in a daze. A few moments ago, Abhimanyu had been the accused on the guilty stand, but now the tables had turned. Atul and Rahul were too stunned to learn about their father's betrayal. They hugged their mother and buried their heads in her neck. Padma hugged them back as years of pain and tears rolled down her eyes.





Abhimanyu smiled sardonically and heaved a sigh of relief. Anjali grinned viciously, thrilled to be a bystander in the saga of the 'perfect Modi family.'





As everyone stood frozen, too shocked to respond to the recent revelations, Shashank felt a piercing pain in his chest and collapsed on the ground.



"DADDYJI!"



"DAD!"



"SOMEONE CALL THE DOCTOR!"



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



A heartbroken Armaan arrived at the music school with bitter and sweet memories of his days in Mumbai. Images of Shashank's betrayal pierced him like pins and needles; his stomach churned each time he recalled how Shashank had confidently told him that his father was deceased and how he had hid the truth from him for so long.




"Jis sheher mein main apni pehchan dhoondhne aur pehchan banane aaya tha, usee sheher mein aaj aisa lagta hai ki apni pehchan hamesha hamesha ke liye kho chuka hoon main," he collapsed on the floor of his apartment, lonely and alone in this strange and cruel city.






…to be contd…

Bheegi

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