Sunday, 17 June 2018

part 17 : Pehchan


There was no doubt that Riddhima's presence had alleviated some of Armaan's grief, but Shashank's words continued to haunt him; he would rather rewind the events of the last few hours and live in the illusion of a nonexistent father.



"Armaan…..can I make some tea for you?" Riddhima broke the silence.



"No..I am fine..I think I should get ready to leave."




"Leave? No way! You can't leave Armaan….I am not letting you go anywhere….you came here to learn music….create a name for yourself in the music industry…..you can't run away like a coward…..do you really want to be like your dad and half brothers?" She taunted him.



Her words hit the spot.



"NO!" He replied angrily, "how dare you compare me with them?"



"Exactly! Unfortunately, I have lost respect for most men in my life….whether it's my husband, my father in law, or my brother in law, Shailendra jijajee…..you are different Armaan….please don't turn into one of them."



Armaan couldn't help smile; Riddhima's serious expression and innocent qualms amused him, "Ok…I'll stay….as long as you promise that when I graduate, you will listen to and buy all my music."





"Promise!" She touched her ears, "I'll always be your number # 1 fan," she smiled back, "and now for a cup of tea….I wouldn't mind having one before I head back to the hospital."



"Hospital?"



"Daddyji is there….he had collapsed a-after you left," she hesitantly added.



"Serves him right," Armaan replied irately. Perplexed by Armaan's insensitive comment, Riddhima raised her eyebrow, "I've never seen you that angry….I know he has hurt your feelings but, h-he is your dad, isn't he?"



"I know he is…but I wish I didn't know…..or in fact, my dad was really dead….at least I could have lived with an illusion all my life."



"Armaan….I know you're really hurt," she touched his arm, "hopefully one day he will accept you as his son."



"WRONG RIDDHIMA! It's not a question of whether he will accept me….it's whether I WILL EVER ACCEPT HIM!" With blood welling in his eyes, he walked to his suitcase and pulled out some clothes, "I will have a quick shower…I think I need it," he added softly and before he bolted the bathroom door, turned and looked at her, "is…he..Ok?"



Riddhima nodded, her eyes misty, "he's fine….he'll be fine I mean."



She knew Armaan was hurting, hurting awfully. Why is it always the ones who you love the most, hurt you the most? She poured water into the kettle and turned on the stove. She had no desire to go back and confront Abhimanyu's ugly face again. She despised that man more than anyone or anything in her life. Her marriage meant nothing to her anymore and it was pointless trying to salvage a nonexistent relationship. But did she have the courage to walk out on the whole family? Could she leave Padma alone with an ailing husband, betrayed by him years ago? Did Padma ever consider leaving Shashank? Why did she 'co-habit' with him all these years? Did she want to become another Padma? NO! Riddhima shuddered at the thought.



"Main us ghar mein ek din bhi nahin reh sakti. Lekin kahan jaaungi? Dehradun? Nahin…..wahan Shailendra jijajee ka saamna karna padhega…..aur Armaan se door ho jaaungi….he needs me right now. I don't even have good friends in this city….except…except Armaan," she scanned her eyes around his one bedroom apartment, "nahin…yeh naa mumkin hai…..main Armaan ke saath…aise..aise kaise reh sakti hoon…phir kahan jaaun?" She shook her head and decided to delay that decision till her father in law was well.





Armaan's situation was just as precarious. Would Armaan ever regain his rightful place in the Modi household? She recalled how Shashank had been unusually warm and accepting of Armaan when he had first walked into their home. Did Shashank know all along that Armaan was his son? If so, why did he reject him when Abhimanyu revealed his identity? Was Shashank afraid of antagonizing Abhimanyu, or by shunning Armaan, trying to overcome his guilt in front of his wife and family? That meant that Shashank loved Armaan, but was just afraid to admit it. He had been crushed by his guilt, rather than the shock, she concluded.







As she waited for the kettle to boil over, Armaan's cell phone rang repeatedly. When she saw no signs of Armaan emerging from the shower, she took the liberty to answer the call.





"Hello! Armaan beta?" A man on the other line asked.



"Jee nahin….main Riddhima hoon….Armaan's friend."



"Oh…Riddhima? Uh…Oh….well I am Dilip Malik….Armaan's mama from the US…can I talk to him?"



"Hello uncle," she smiled, "he's in the shower…can I give him a message?"



"Yes beta…I need his flight information…..what flight is he taking tomorrow?"



"He is not!"



"He is not?"



"Nahin uncle….Armaan is staying back in India."



"Are you sure? I just spoke to him an hour ago….he told me he wanted to come back to the US."



"Jee uncle…but a lot's happened in the past hour."



"Really? Like what?"



"Like me," she chuckled, "uncle….I have convinced Armaan to stay….he can't leave his music training….that's his passion."



"You are right beta….I was hoping he wouldn't do anything on an impulse….kaun ho tum? Armaan has never mentioned you before."



"He hasn't?" Riddhima chided.



"Oh..uh…unless y-you are the married woman he has…" Dilip paused and bit his tongue. His brain tumor and treatment had made him lose control over his impulses. He had committed quite a few faux pas in the last few months, and almost blurted another one. He recalled Armaan had mentioned that he had fallen in love with a married woman- Shashank's daughter in law, "I..I mean…are you Shashank's daughter in law?"



"Jee uncle," the enthusiasm in her voice died down, being addressed as the daughter in law of the Modi family almost sounded like an insult to her.



Dilip did some quick mental calculations in his mind, "it's like 5 in the morning there? Isn't it?"



"Yes uncle."



A worried and confused Dilip wondered what Shashank's daughter in law was doing with his nephew in the wee hours of the morning.



"Uncle….Armaan has no one here….can you come to India for some time?" Sensing his quandary, she asked, "agar aaj raat main nahin aati tho wo bahut badhi galti kar deta."



Her voice was soft but persuasive. Dilip shut his eyes, ran his fingers over his now almost-bald-head- from-chemotherapy, "yes beta….I'll be there for him…soon."



"Thanks uncle….please let this be our little secret…I'll pick you up from the airport….mera cell number note kar lee jiye."



"Thanks beta," he wrote down her number and before hanging up, added, "Riddhima beta, you are wrong….Armaan DOES have someone in Mumbai....good bye beta."





A surge of warmth flushed her face as Dilip's words buzzed through the phone line. She was not embarrassed to admit that it felt good to be a part of Armaan's life. Riddhima was relieved Dilip mama agreed to her suggestion. Even though, Armaan had just 'discovered' his family, she knew he was closest to his uncle in the US. Ironically, the day Armaan had found his roots was when she had felt uprooted from his alienated family.





"Who were you talking to?" Armaan hurried out of the shower, his hair still wet, beads of water stuck to his temples, dripping down the nape of his neck, his shirt half buttoned, a towel around his waist, his strong calves taking long strides to his phone, "can I have my phone?" As he brushed past Riddhima, spraying some droplets on her face, she almost fell over with phone in hand.





Losing her balance, she almost ended on the floor. On a reflex, Armaan's strong arms had her anchored around her waist. There was a fleeting moment when their eyes were locked in a secret chamber of blissful, celestial pleasure. Neither realized what had just happened. An innocuous moment of a phone exchanging hands turned into a deeper and more stirring exchange of glances and physical proximity. She had felt this way once before when Armaan had accidentally touched her fingers on the key board during their computer lessons. Earlier, she had dismissed it to a novel and unusual out-of-body experience, perhaps related to the computer lessons, but today she knew there was more to this inexplicable feeling. Was it just a reaction to her vulnerable state, or was she actually getting attracted to her best friend? Out of guilt, she had always suppressed those feelings before, but tonight there was   sense of liberation in his arms.





"Your p-phone," she hesitated and released herself before her expressions gave away, "the tea…let me get the tea."



"Oh yeah…tea," he was flustered too. Despite his world going topsy turvy in the past few hours, his feelings for her had not wavered a bit. Her proximity and eye contact had stirred those buried desires once again. In the past, he had restrained himself, but now he felt no remorse. She did not belong to another man anymore; he had lost her respect and affection and did not deserve her at all. Her body language and facial hue had given away her inner most feelings. Instead of being a silent and selfless lover, he was going to pursue his love no matter what hurdles he had to face. Rejection by his father and his family were not going to be a deterrent.



He would be more selfish and claim what he deserved- professional success and his true love.



As they sipped their tea, a thin wall of awkward silence separated them. They had both escaped from their comfort zone of friendship into a world of silent gazes and self-consciousness.



"Main chalti hoon," she picked her bag, placed the cup down, "I'll be back later."



Armaan walked her to the door and gazed at her longingly, "I'll wait for you."



"Get some sleep…..what would you like for lunch?" She smiled back.



"Doesn't matter…as long as you eat with me," he smiled dreamily; his eyes heavy from lack of sleep.



'Don't get too used to it…..kahin aadat na padh jaaye."



"Mujhey is aadat ka intezaar rahega," he murmured softly.



She turned around, crimson faced at his comment and whispered to herself, "mujhey bhi.."





…………………………………………………………………………



BACK AT THE HOSPITAL:



After staying up all night at his dad's bedside, a frustrated Abhimanyu excused himself in the morning, "mom….I am going home to freshen up….and make arrangements for the lawyer."



Padma remained mum at his comment and just nodded, sickened by her son's self-centeredness. Just as Abhimanyu left, she heard her husband thrash around in his bed, his face shaking vigorously from side to side as if he was in pain,

"Mujhey maaf kar do beta…..mujhey maaf kar beta…..mujhey maaf," he mumbled repeatedly in his sleep. Padma rushed to his bedside and found him trembling, a cold sweat covering his face and neck.



"Kya hua? Koi bura sapna dekha kya?" She wiped his face with a towel and held his hand.



"I am sorry beta," he sat up quivering.



"Kis se maafi maang rahe hain?" She shook his shoulder, "kya hua?"



Shashank was awake now. He wiped his face with his palms. With a blank stare on his face, he squeezed Padma's hands, "I am sorry Padma…..I should have told you before."



"Abhi sapne mein tho aap apne bte se maafi maang rahe the na?"



He lowered his eyes guiltily, "wo…wo"



"Shashank! Aap ke sapne aapke hosh se zyaada sach bolte hain…..Armaan se maafi maang rahe the na?"



He hung his head and nodded gently, "I …I have let him down also….I have always let my loved ones down."



"Aapne aisa kyun kiya Armaan ke saath?"



"Mujhey darr tha Padma…kahin tum aur naaraz na ho jao."



"Aapne shayad mujhey kabhie theek se samjha hi nahin hai Shashank," she lamented, "kaash aap samajh paate ki main aapki galti se zyaada aapke jhooth se naaraz thi…..haan yeh sach hai ki Armaan aapki galti ka nateeja hai, lekin na wo ek jhooth hai, na ek jhootha insaan hai….jhoote tho sirf aap aur aapka beta Abhimanyu hain!"





"Tho kya tum Armaan se naaraz nahin ho?" He was surprised.



"Nahin…balki tum sab mein mujhey wo hi ek sachcha insaan lagta hai. Mujhey Armaan ke baare mein pehle hi shaq ho gaya tha. Sirf aapke mooh se sun na chaahti thi. Lekin afsos ki ab ki baar bhi aap pehle ki tarah buzdil nikle. "





"Tum theek kehti ho Padma…..main ek kamzor insaan hoon."





"Haan….aap kamzor hain lekin dil ke saaf hain….ek nek insaan hain….shayad iss liye main itne saal aapke saath rehti rahi…..lekin aapka beta Abhimanyu kamzor tho hai hi, saath saath ek bura insaan bhi hai."





"PADMA! HE IS OUR SON!"



"YES HE IS! AND THAT'S WHY I WANT HIM TO UNDERSTAND HE CAN'T HAVE HIS WAY EVERYTIME!"





"Jaanta hoon usne Riddhima ke saath achcha nahin kiya. Usney Armaan par jo ilzaam lagaye hain, wo bhi galat hain."



"Haan Shashank….agar aapko apne kiye ka pashchatap (repent) hai, tho aapko mera ek kaam karna hoga."





"Kaam?"



"Haan aapko apni will change karni hogi."





"WILL?"



"Haan aapko Armaan ko bhi will ka bhaagyadaar (shareholder) banana hoga."



He smiled tearfully at her, "you are a wonderful woman Padma….yeh sab jaante huye bhi tum Armaan ko apne bte ka darzaa dene ko tayyar ho?"



"Haan…maine tho pehle hi usey apna beta maan liya tha….uski koi galti nahin hai Shashank."





"Thanks Padma," he kissed her hands. For the first time in years, she did not pull back. She let his lips linger on her palms, his tears moistening the space between her fingers, "tum mahaan ho Padma….I am lucky that I married you."





"Jaanti hoon," she smiled tearfully, "lekin abhi meri baat adhoori hai."



"Bolo…aaj jo maangogi…wo de doonga tumhein."



"I want you to release Riddhima from the will."



"Yeh kya keh rahi ho? Us bechari ki koi galti nahin hai."



"I know she is innocent but I want you to know that your middle son is more concerned about the will than your health. He is worried that he might lose everything if Riddhima decides to leave him."





"Yeh nahin ho sakta Padma…..Abhimanyu aisa nahin kar sakta ……I know he betrayed Riddhima, but he loves me…and he loves his wife……he can't be that selfish."



"He only loves himself Shashank….and that's why I want you to release Riddhima from this will."





"How can I do that? Riddhima is like our daughter, I have to take care of her future….I can't do that to her."



"Riddhima ko Abhimanyu se azaadi chaahiye…..bandhan nahin…..agaar aapne will nahin badli tho Abhimanyu usey apni zindagi se kabhie door nahin hone dega."





"Padma," Shashank clenched his chest once again, "Riddhima hamari bahu hai….wo azaad nahin ho sakti…..log kya kahenge? Abhimanyu ko main samjhaaunga….wo badal jaayega…..wo Riddhima se maafi maang lega….sab theek ho jaayega Padma…..main aisa kabhie nahin karoonga."





"Aapki tabiyat theek nahin hai…..aap please rest kariye…..yeh baatein baad mein kar lenge," she helped him lay down and kicked herself for touching the sensitive topic of the will. Both father and son were adamant about the will, neither cared about what Riddhima or Padma wanted. The son was more worried about his inheritance while the father was worried about their reputation. It was an irony that both men who had strayed in their marriages were still able to maintain their reputation, families and wealth, whereas the women they had betrayed, had no right to speak up or deserve independence from these golden prisons.





Padma pledged silently that come what may, she would live her life vicariously through Riddhima. Even if the father-son duo created hurdles for her, she would make sure Riddhima would get a divorce from Abhimanyu on her terms and live her life independently, the way she wanted and not want her sasural waalas wanted.





Later, the doctor came in to check on Shashank and reiterated the need for him to rest, both physically and emotionally. Padma promised compliance and reassured the doctor that she would make sure her husband was shielded from any type of stress.



……………………………………………………………………………………………….





"Mom….here is Mr Chaturvedi….our family lawyer," Abhimanyu returned with a middle aged, tall bespectacled man with a large briefcase.



"Namaste Chaturvedi saheb."





"Namaste Mrs. Modi," he paid his respects.





"So is dad awake? Can we sit down and talk?" Abhimanyu asked impatiently.





"Dad needs some rest beta….I am sorry, we can't work on the will till dad has recovered completely."



"But mom…mom…Chaturvedi saheb is a busy man," Abhimanyu argued.



"And your dad is ill…he can't be stressed at this time….these are Dr. Mathur's orders. Mr. Chaturvedi…we will call you later." Padma said vehemently.



Abhimanyu had no choice but to comply with the orders. Frustrated and irate, he would have to try and woo his wife back again; at least till he was sure that her exit from his life was no longer a threat to his inheritance.





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



LATER THAT DAY:


With lunch packed in two tiffin carriers, Riddhima walked out of the kitchen.



"Hey Riddhima….let me go with you to the hospital…we can all have lunch with mom and dad," Abhimanyu's unusually pleasant demeanor threw her off.



"Here…you can take one tiffin for mummyji and daddyji…..I was going to send it with Rahul and Atul bhaiyya…they are waiting in the car." She handed the long stainless steel carrier to him without meeting his gaze. Abhimanyu just stared at her with a perplexed look, "and what about the other one?"



"I am taking this one to Armaan's place." She replied matter of factly.



"WHAT THE $@^&?????" All pleasantness evaporated from his face, quickly replaced with a livid and enraged expression, "how dare you?"



"He is a member of this family….isn't he? He deserves home cooked food from here too."



Aggravated by her unabashed behavior, he almost lifted his hand to strike her, but she stepped away forcing him to miss his target. She challenged him, "please go ahead Abhimanyu…..signs of physical abuse will help my case when I file for a divorce from you….aur waise bhi tum jaisa gira hua insaan ek aurat par haath hi tho utha sakta hai…haina?"





"Riddhima…don't get me started….agar Armaan ko khaana bhejna hi hai tho driver le jaayega…tum mere saath chalo hospital," he yelled, "mom and dad need you there."



"I am sorry….I have promised Armaan, I will have lunch with him and moreover, mummyji knows I am going to Armaan's place."



"You b***h! You are a bl***y wh**e!" He screamed again.



"Bhaiyya! Mind your language," Rahul walked in after hearing the commotion, "you can't talk to bhabhi like that."



Riddhima, shaken to the core by Abhimanyu's foul language, stayed calm on the outside and quietly muttered, "people who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others…that's all I'll say…thanks Rahul." She walked off with her head high, unfazed by her husband's accusations or abuses. Abhimanyu had just made it easier for her to break off all ties with him as soon as she could.



"Mr. Chaturvedi?" Riddhima called the family lawyer from the car, "I need to meet you as soon as possible……yes Chaturvedi saheb…..I'll be there at your office after lunch."

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



KNOCK! KNOCK!



KNOCK! KNOCK!



She banged at Armaan's door door furiously. A bleary eyed Armaan appeared at the door, semi conscious from sleepiness and dazed by the afternoon sun. Her palm struck him hard, "OUCH!" he yelled as her fingers were imprinted on his bare chest with full force, "yeh tho din dahaade attack ho raha hai meri izzat par."



"AHH! Sorry!" she bit her lower lip and pulled her hand back. Armaan glared at her and then stared at his red and blue chest wall, "I think I better give you a duplicate keys to my apartment now…warna maar maar ke mera hi bhartaa na banaa do tum."



"I am so sorry," she apologized once again and then chuckled, "I think I was in a mood to hit someone today…aur tum mere saamne aa gaye."



"Nice excuse," he smirked and then glanced at her other hand, "is that tiffin for me?"





"For both of us….I'm starving." She walked in with an air of authority as Armaan followed her, still rubbing the bruise on his chest, "I think you should join the police force…or the army."



With a quizzical look on her face, she served the hot paranthas, baingan bhartaa, daal and salad on two plates.



"You are really strong….kabhie Abhimanyu ko maara tha in haathon se?" He chuckled.



There was a cold silence at her end as she recalled how Abhimanyu almost struck her today, "shayad maine Abhimanyu ki puja kuch zaroor se zyaada ki thi……haath uthaya hota tho shayad wo kabhie jurrat na karta." She replied softly.



"Oh..I am sorry," he apologized, "let's not talk about that man and spoil our lunch….mmm….baingan bhartaa? My favorite….how did you know?" He smiled chirpily.





"Maine kaha tha na ki aaj mera kisi ko maarne ka jee kar raha tha…tho aaj bechare baingan ki naubat aa gayi," she laughed.



"Thank you Mr. baingan….I mean Mr. eggplant," he folded his hands in front of the plate, "agar aaj aap na hote tho mujhey aur zor ki chot lagti," he rubbed his bruise once again. Bending over, away from her line of gaze, he kissed his fingers softly. The same fingers that had just soothed the bruise on his chest were fortunate enough to have touched her imprints on his chest.



"Kya kar rahe ho?" She asked curiously, "are you looking for something?"



"Yeah…making sure there are no weapons around here….tumhara aaj kuch mood maar peet karne ko hai na?" he chided.



She sat down at the table and lowered her long eye lashes. Armaan noticed them get moist, and then were soaked with oodles of tears.



"Riddhima…I'm sorry…I was just kidding," he walked over and knelt down beside her.



She sniffed her nose and shook her head, "Armaan…..Abhimanyu almost hit me today…..and verbally abused me….he called me …..me," her sobs stifled her words.



He turned red with anger ,"Riddhima…..you don't have to live with him anymore……leave him forever…..you don't deserve to be with him any longer." He held her hands and squeezed them in his firm palms.



"I know," she nodded, "I am going to meet a lawyer this afternoon."



"Good….I'll come with you."



"Thanks…….I don't even know how to talk to a lawyer."



"We will figure it out together, even I am an amateur in the legal field," he tried to lighten up the air, "….lekin tum ab us ghar mein nahin rahogi."



"Kahan jaaungi phir? I can't go back to Dehradun," she wiped her tears.



"You will stay with your best friend," his eyes twinkled as his smile welcomed her with open arms.



"Lekin Armaan….how's that possible? Sab log kya kahenge?"



"It's about your safety Riddhima….I can't let that man hurt you anymore…I don't care what others think."



"Lekin mummyji? Unse bhi tho poonchna padhega."



"Why mummyji? You are not a kindergartner anymore Riddhima! You are a grown up woman for heaven sakes…..and don't talk about the Modis in front of me."



"But Armaan…mummyji is the one who encouraged me to come and meet you….and she knows I am here having lunch for you……she likes you Armaan."



"I am sorry Riddhima," he got up, his body stiffening, "I don't like them…..if she really liked me, she should have stopped her son and husband from hurling abuses and accusations at me…..don't ever defend any of the Modi's in front of me."



"I know you are really hurting Armaan….don't get too upset….chalo ab khaana tho khaa lo," she brushed her fingers against his muscular arm.





"Actually I don't want to eat that food," he pulled away.



"Armaan….apna gussa khaana par mat nikaalo."





"That food was cooked in their kitchen….I'm sorry I can't eat it…let's go out and eat."



"Par Armaan…yeh maine apne haathon se banaya hai." She reasoned with him.





"Main tumhare haatho ka khaana tab khaaunga jab tum mere ghar mein…meri kitchen mein banaogi…..now let's go," he pulled her by her hand and walked out of the door, "from now on, you are just Riddhima, my friend and not Mrs. Riddhima Modi…yahi tumhari pehchan hai mere liye."



…………..to be contd………..

Bheegi

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