Monday, 18 June 2018

part 18 : Pehchan

RECAP: "Main tumhare haatho ka khaana tab khaaunga jab tum mere ghar mein…meri kitchen mein banaogi… 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."

They rode to the lawyer's office in silence. Armaan's words, though simple, forced her to question her own identity for the first time in her life. Prior to marriage, she was Riddhima Gupta, a daughter, a sister, a niece, a grand- daughter and numerous other relationship tags she had been labeled with. After marriage, the 'Gupta' had been replaced by 'Modi' and the old labels had been replaced by new ones. An exchange of garlands and seven steps around a sacred fire had changed her from a daughter to a daughter in law, a sister in law from a sister, and a wife to another man's identity- a stranger to her, unfortunately to this day, five years later.

They spent the afternoon chasing various lawyers in the city. What started as a simple request for filing for divorce, turned out to be an uphill task for the two novices. Armaan was surprised to find out that divorce laws in India followed a religious divide. Divorce was handled differently in the Hindu community from the Muslim or the Parsi community. This country, it's rituals and it's laws never ceased to baffle him. It was obvious that even in the 21 st century, it was much harder to seek divorce in India than it was in the West. Divorce by mutual consent was the easiest route, but asking that 'favor' from Abhimanyu Modi would be like pulling teeth.

Their discussions with Mr. Chaturvedi, the Modi family lawyer fell flat when he refused to file a case against Abhimanyu Modi.

"Mrs. Modi, I am sorry, I can't help. Mr. Abhimanyu Modi ki wajah se tho mera aadha business chalta hai. Haan agar wo bhi divorce chaahte hain, tho main help karne ko tayyar hoon. Waise aap divorce kyun chaahti hain? Mauj kariye Modi bahu bankar. Kya farak padhta hai agar aapka pati bewafa hai tho? Sab badhe badhe gharon mein aisi choti choti baatein tho hoti rehti hain Mrs. Modi!"


That was the end of the meeting with the family lawyer.

Other lawyers were equally disappointing, too greedy, too scared, or too disinterested.

"Yes, I would love to help. I need a deposit of $10 Lakh Rupees upfront! Baaki kaam poora hone par."

"I am sure you will make a fortune after this divorce Riddhima jee. How about alimony ka 50% settlement will be my fees?"

"I am sorry. Main Modi family ke saath pangaa nahin lena chaahta."

"Yes, I will help but only if it's divorce by mutual consent. I don't want to waste time on a contested divorce in which only one party wants out."

"You need to live separately for one year and then if you still want a divorce, I can help."

"I can definitely help. Just get a medical certificate that your husband has Leprosy. No court will deny you a divorce on those grounds."

"Is your husband impotent?"

"Adultery is definitely grounds for divorce, but I'm sorry this tape will not work in court. How do I know this is not doctored by both of you? After all digital age mein kuch bhi kiya jaa sakta hai."

"Looks like you are both after the Modi fortune. Kya chaal chali hai! This could definitely make national headlines. I could become a superstar lawyer then!"


The meetings with the lawyers had exhausted their spirits. Tired and disheartened, they walked into a coffee shop to get a break.

After ordering coffee and some sandwiches, they settled in a secluded corner.

"I am sorry Riddhima, I had no idea it's that hard to get a divorce in this country." Armaan sipped his Barista coffee, and sighed.

"It's my fate Armaan. It's my bad luck that I married into the Modi family. Ek aam insaan hoti tho shayad kaam aasaan ho jaata." Her appetite and thirst had vanished as she recalled all the meetings and advise given by the various lawyers.

"I don't believe that Riddhima. Aaj nahin tho kal tumhein justice zaroor milega. Your fate will be determined by you….not those sadhela lawyers."

"Maybe I am doing the wrong thing Armaan. This might be God's indication to me that I cannot walk out of my marriage like this. After all, it was my decision to get married, wasn't it?"

"It wasn't Riddhima. You were nave, too young and this decision was thrust upon you by…by your family…I am sorry I am being blunt here…..and people make mistakes… made a mistake and you have every right to rectify it…."

"Armaan….main yeh sab nahin kar sakti," she became tearful, "how can I drag mummyji, daddyji and the whole family to court? They have been like my parents…..they are my family."

"Yes….but they have been selfish in their own way Riddhima. They knew that their son was a brat!" Armaan replied angrily, "and where were they when Anjali accused you of being unfaithful? Why didn't anyone defend you then?"

"Shayad kuch auraton ki zindagi mein yahi likha hota hai Armaan," she sniffed.

"Yeah…of course Mrs ideal bhartiya naari!" He smirked, "what about your mother in law? She lived with the man who betrayed her for all these years. What did she get in the end? A false sense of security? A spineless husband who is afraid to admit his mistakes and embrace his own son? Three weak sons, who are either too mute to speak up or too selfish to think about anyone else? Is that what you want from your life Riddhima?"

She sobbed silently and buried her head in her dupatta, "I..I don't know Armaan."

"Yes you do Riddhima," frustrated, he got up, threw some change on the coffee table for the waiter and muttered angrily, "Riddhima….I THINK NO ONE CAN HELP YOU! ONLY YOU CAN HELP YOURSELF! I AM SORRY, I HAVE FAILED AS A FRIEND…..GOODBYE RIDDHIMA….I NEED TO GO…YOU CAN TAKE A TAXI HOME….ITNA THO TUM SHAYAD KAR SAKTI HO!"

And just like that, her ever so dependable friend walked out of the coffee shop, leaving her all alone to fight her battles. As she watched him walk away, she felt like she was on a sinking ship, barely struggling to stay afloat. Her anchor had also deserted her, leaving her wobbling in the stormy seas.

'ARMAAN! ARMAAN!" She yelled for him but he had disappeared into the crowded streets of Mumbai.

Before she could break down once again, her phone rang in her purse. Hoping it was Armaan, she quickly answered the phone but it was her sister on the other line.

"Riddhima? Kahan hai tu? Yeh kya ho gaya sab?"

"Oh Hi di…..main…main yahin hoon….aap…aap kahan se bol rahi hain?" She tried to stifle her sobs.

"I am here Riddhima….tumhare ghar par…..Padma jee called me today…..what's going on here?" Aradhana panicked on the phone.

"Main aati ho didi…I'll be right there," Riddhima hailed a cab and directed him to the Modi mansion.



"Riddhima….are you crazy?" Aradhana sat with her arm around her younger sister, "divorce? Pagal mat ban."

"Didi…..I can't live with him anymore…..ghutan hoti hai mujhey yahan."

"Jaanti hoon Riddhima…tere saath bahut na insaafi huyi hai…..lekin Abhimanyu shayad badal jaaye….usey thoda waqt do," Aradhana consoled her sister.

"Didi! How can you say that? Aap aisa kaise keh sakti hain?" Riddhima was stunned by her sister's response.

"I know Riddhima…..what Abhimanyu did was unforgiveable, but with true love, you can change him…..divorce se tho sab bikhar jaayenge…..tum hi nahin….yeh poora parivar bhi…..Suaryabhan jee and Padma jee really adore you like a daughter…..unka tho socho." Aradhana caressed her sister's hair.

Torn between her own desires and her sister's advise, Riddhima urged Aradhana to give her some time to think about this decision.

"Riddhima….let's go to Dehradun for a few days. Stay with me for a while. Maybe Abhimanyu will realize his mistake and come back running to you," A well meaning Aradhana suggested.

"Nahin didi…..yeh meri ladhai hai….aur main isey khud ladhoongi…yahin Mumbai se…..aur ho sakta hai main nahin chaahti hoon ki Abhimanyu se mera kabhie samjhauta ho (This is my fight and I will fight it myself….from Mumbai. And at this point, I might not want a settlement with Abhimanyu,)" Riddhima replied firmly. She had no desire to patch up with her estranged husband. Any feelings she ever had for him had dried up and what remained now was a parched hollow well devoid of any emotions for that despicable man.

"Riddhima? He is your husband." Aradhana was shocked, "you know how Shailendra is….I have tolerated his weaknesses for years…..he has been unfair to me many a time, but that doesn't mean I will walk out on him."

Riddhima lowered her eyes, "didi….I am not you…..and don't want to be you…I am sorry if I am being rude."

Aradhana was taken aback. Her little sister had suddenly grown up; she had developed wings and guts which she had always dreamt of, but never dared.

"Riddhima….yeh tum bol rahi ho…ya koi aur?" She asked, perplexed.

Riddhima remained silent. Armaan's spurn at the coffee shop had stirred a chord deep inside her. Even though she was heartbroken that her beloved friend had walked out on her, she knew he would always be there for her; his sharp words were a reflection of how much he cared for her. Despite his own grief, he had taken the pains to help her out all afternoon, but her helplessness and weakness had frustrated him- and rightly so. His acidic words had cut deep through her soul. He was right- only she could help herself, no one else could.



Armaan regretted his sharp words. Since he had been betrayed by his own father, his patience had run out. Perhaps he had been too harsh with Riddhima, but she had left him with no choice. Her indecisiveness and constant conflicts between her fate and her desires had finally snapped his patience.

"I am such a fool. Why was I so rude to her? Bechari kitna pareshan hai…aur maine usey aur rula diya," he sat with his face buried in his palms, "I am sorry Riddhima…..but I couldn't help it. I will always be there for you sweetheart. I will never stop loving you……chaahe tum kuch bhi karo…kahin bhi jao…main tumhara hamesha intezaar karoonga. Lekin abhi mujhey kuch waqt chaahiye….aur tumhein bhi. You need to decide what you want from life…I can't do that for you."

Even though his heart yearned to be with her, he pledged that he wouldn't approach her till she was ready to break all barriers and chains binding her to Abhimanyu Modi.

Song from '1920' by Kailash Kher that expresses Armaan's feelings..




A few days later, Shashank was back home after a weeklong hospital stay.

As everyone settled back into routine, a semblance of 'normalcy' returned in the Modi household.

Abhimanyu and Riddhima had not shared a room or any words over the last few days. Abhimanyu was aware that Riddhima had visited Mr. Chaturvedi regarding divorce but was pleased to know that she had not filed a decree yet. He knew his power and lure of money had dissuaded her from doing so. He did not mind her using the guest room with her sister these days, "thode din mein theek ho jaayegi…wapas daud kar aa jaayegi meri baahon mein. Abki baar usey zaroor maa banaakar chodunga….so that she does not even think about leaving me!"

Riddhima had purposely stayed silent and not talked to anyone about her decision. She yearned to talk to Armaan, but circumstances prevented her from doing so. She tried calling him several times, but he never picked up. She was sad that he was still upset with her, but she knew he was her tender hearted friend and would respect her decision.

Aradhana was still there, her husband trying his best to control her remotely from Dehradun, "make sure Riddhima kuch gadh badh na kare….election tak koi divorce vivorce ki baat nahin honi chaahiye."

Padma assumed that Aradhana had somehow managed to convince Riddhima from reconcile with Abhimanyu. She was sad for Riddhima but happy for her family's integrity. Ironically, her daughter in law had taken the same path as she had 20 years ago, but maybe that was the best decision for all of them.


Once Riddhima was assured of her father in law's well being, one afternoon she packed her bags and slowly descended the stairs towards the exit.

"Where are you going Riddhima?" A belligerent Abhimanyu followed her, his first words to her in days.

"I am leaving this house…and you forever," she replied firmly.


"I don't need any credit cards….and I don't need any of your wealth."

"Riddhima beta….yeh kya ho raha hai?" Shashank walked over to the foyer, the center of the husband wife duel.

"Daddyji…..ab aap theek hain….main itminaan se jaa sakti hoon," Riddhima replied respectfully.

"Nahin beta….yeh tumhara ghar hai." He replied emotionally.

"Nahin…ghar tha…lekin ab ek pinjara hai," she spoke slowly.

""Abhimanyu se galti ho gayi beta….usey maaf kar do…wo ab aisa kabhie nahin karega. Beta…beta…Abhimanyu…stop her." Shashank urged his son.

"Dad…she is gone crazy….after all where will she go? Her sister is here….Mumbai mein koi isey jaanta nahin hai….except that loser Armaan….I hope you are not planning to run away with him," Abhimanyu smirked.

"Armaan is neither a loser….nor do I have any plans of running away with him," she took a deep breath and glared at him.

"Wah wah," Anjali wheeled out from her room, "kya apne aashiq ke paas jaa rahi ho?"

"Anjali bhabhi… have no business to interfere in this," Riddhima clenched her teeth, shocking everyone in the room. No one had ever heard Riddhima talk back like that.

"Bhabhi……please give bhaiyya a chance…don't leave us like that," Rahul blocked her way.

"Riddhima…..jaana hi hai tho dehradun chal mere saath," Aradhana joined in.

"I am sorry….I have to go…..I can't stay here anymore…and didi neither is Dehradun my home anymore," Riddhima maneuvered herself around Rahul and Aradhana to leave through the door.

"Riddhima….log kya kahenge? Hamari naak kat jaayegi society mein!" Shashank sounded upset, "think about our family … can you be so ungrateful?"

Her father in law's emotional blackmail strengthened her resolve to leave. She recalled Armaan's words- he was right- they were all selfish. No one cared for what she wanted; they cared about their reputation and family.

"Riddhima… can move to our apartment in Juhu Scheme," Atul finally spoke up, trying to lessen the impact of his dad's words , "kahan jaaogi warna?" Abhimanyu cringed at the mention of the Juhu apartment. Nikita was currently staying there.

"Uh..Uh…bhaiya…she doesn't need to go there….this is her home….she will stay here," Abhimanyu yelled back, "where else can she go?"

"NO Abhimanyu! This is NOT my home any more….." Riddhima turned her face away, taking a few more steps towards the door.

"JAANE DO RIDDHIMA KO!" Padma's voice filled the foyer, the walls echoing as she descended the stairs, "This is her life…..she has every right to make her own decisions."

"Padma! Yeh kya keh rahi ho tum?" Shashank threw his hands in the air.

"Wo hi keh rahi hoon jo mujhey 20 saal pehle kehna chaahiye tha…jao beti….jahan jaana hai jao….lekin yeh yaad rakho ki yeh ghar hamesha tumhara rahega."

Riddhima turned around and hugged her mother in law, "thanks mummyji…..thanks for understanding me."

"Riddhima…" Aradhana tried to stop her sister but Padma held her hand, "Aradhana…..let her go….she will find her own path."

"Yeah yeah….mom she will be back in a few days…or maybe hours….aish-o- aaraam ki zindagi ki aadat hai ab usey," Abhimanyu said arrogantly.

"Yeh tho waqt hi bataayega Abhimanyu," Padma glared at her middle son angrily, "kisko kiski zyaada zaroorat hoti hai."

Five years after she had set foot in the same door, Riddhima walked out of the same door in search of her own identity and own life. She knew it would be hard, painful and challenging in the big bad real world. She was a single woman, once married into an affluent family, now a college dropout, jobless, homeless and just enough money and jewelry her parents had given her at her marriage. Her bag had a few clothes, her high school degree and her precious laptop. Any possessions from her marriage into the Modi family had been left behind; she had no desire to own or possess them.

It was a rainy afternoon. Reluctantly, she took a cab after mentally counting her money in her purse.

As the rain poured over the cab, she stared at her hazy reflection in the window of the moving car. Hiding behind her reflection was a young carefree girl in her parent's courtyard, an innocent bride unsure of herself in the Modi mansion, a dutiful daughter in law and wife, and then a wounded woman who had been betrayed by her husband. Riddhima wiped the window with her dupatta to erase all the other delusionary shadows. The young Riddhima Gupta faded into the past; the shy bride was lost somewhere in the mansion, the dutiful wife waited patiently in denial, and the wounded woman screamed at her loud and clear. They were clearly illusions; what was real was just her-her reflection- JUST RIDDHIMA.



"Who is it? Itni baarish mein kaun aaya hoga?" Armaan, in the midst of composing a new song on the floor with his guitar, got up to answer the persuasive knocks.

"Will you take a paying guest?" A woman's voice greeted him as he tried to keep the door ajar against the bellowing winds.

"Riddhima? Tum? Itni baarish mein?" He was pleasantly surprised. He held her arm and helped her into his apartment, "yeh bag? What's all this?"

"You haven't answered my question. Will you take a paying guest?" Drenched from head to toe, she stood facing him with her bag in hand.

"No…I am sorry….I won't take a paying guest, but I will take a friend," he smiled and tried to take her bag from her.

"I am sorry…..I can't live in debt…..paying guest ki tarah rakhoge tho yahan rahoongi…warna koi aur darwaza knock karoongi," she held her bag firmly, reluctant to part with it.

"Oh My God!" Armaan chuckled, "what attitude!"

"Haan ya na?" She asked.

"Ok…haan…but how do you expect to pay me Ms Riddhima? Do you have a job?" He folded his arms, teasing her purposely.

"I …I…will…when I finish my degree….I am working on it."

"Then how can you be my paying guest?" He grinned.

"I can cook….I can wash your dishes….your laundry….take care of your house basically…in exchange for a room to stay till I have enough money to move to my own place."

Armaan smiled inwardly. He could give up anything, including his life in exchange for her presence in his place.

Lost in his own thoughts, he spoke to himself, "mere dil mein tho bina invitation ke aa gayi….ab ghar ke liye invitation kyun maang rahi ho?"

She snapped her fingers at his face, "kahan kho gaye? Is the deal on or should I go somewhere else?"

Armaan placed his hands in his pocket and shrugged his shoulders, "You know I hate cooking…..and I hate cleaning up after myself… I think I wouldn't mind a housekeeper."

"Housekeeper nahin….paying guest," she snapped her fingers again, "apun ki bhi koi respect hai saheb," she made a serious face and then the two of them burst out laughing. Tears rolled down their eyes as they were in splits, rolling on the floor, finally ending up in each other's arms, hugging each other, forgetting all their misgivings and differences. Armaan did not ask her any more questions. She did not volunteer any more details. They both knew that was the right decision for her; and even though she had questioned her decision about leaving her sasural, she had no doubt in her mind, that it would be Armaan's home she would feel most comfortable at.

"Welcome paying guest….."

"Thanks makaan maalik," she chuckled back, "can you help me with my bags sir."

"Bandaa aapki seva mein haazir hai," he bowed courteously and carried her suitcase to the guest room.

First I was afraid
I was petrified
Kept thinking I could never live
without you by my side
But I spent so many nights
thinking how you did me wrong
I grew strong
I learned how to carry on
and so you're back
from outer space
I just walked in to find you here
with that sad look upon your face
I should have changed my stupid lock
I should have made you leave your key
If I had known for just one second
you'd be back to bother me

Go on now go walk out the door
just turn around now
'cause you're not welcome anymore
weren't you the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye
you think I'd crumble
you think I'd lay down and die
Oh no, not I
I will survive
as long as i know how to love
I know I will stay alive
I've got all my life to live
I've got all my love to give
and I'll survive
I will survive

It took all the strength I had
not to fall apart
kept trying hard to mend
the pieces of my broken heart
and I spent oh so many nights
just feeling sorry for myself
I used to cry
Now I hold my head up high
and you see me
somebody new
I'm not that chained up little person
still in love with you
and so you felt like dropping in
and just expect me to be free
now I'm saving all my loving
for someone who's loving me

……to be contd…


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