Friday, 22 June 2018

part 22 : Pehchan


RECAP: His heartfelt words pierced her heart like a honey laced arrow, her limbs too numb to move, with goose bumps all over, she stood stupefied, swept away by the depth of his feelings for her.



Stumped and thunderstruck by Armaan's words, quietly, her footsteps retreated towards her room till Dilip's parting words struck the final blow.





"Make sure you don't get hurt Armaan. We Maliks don't have a good track record in love. We have always given more than we have received. Apni mom ki tarah apna dil mat thod lena…..take your time beta. Don't let anyone break your heart."



"Yes, mama, I am aware of that."



"Beta….waise ek baat kahoon?"



"Haan mama."



"I think she loves you as much as you love her."



"I-I am not s-sure mama…..I-I don't think so," Armaan was taken aback, "how can you tell?"



"I haven't become bald for nothing nephew," he chuckled, "Farak sirf itna hai ki tum apne dil ki baat jaante ho, lekin wo apne dil ko abhi nahin pehchanti."



Clutching her dupatta close to her heart, Riddhima locked herself in her room. Her heart raced nervously, panting behind the locked door, Armaan and Dilip's conversation echoed in her ears repeatedly.



"Khud se bhi zyaada pyar karta hoon usey…..intezaar karoonga jab tak shareer mein jaan aur dil mein dhadkan hai….I don't want you to get hurt……..lekin wo apne dil ko nahin pehchanti…….. Khud se bhi zyaada pyar karta hoon usey…..intezaar karoonga jab tak shareer mein jaan aur dil mein dhadkan hai….I don't want you to get hurt……..lekin wo apne dil ko nahin pehchanti…….. Khud se bhi zyaada pyar karta hoon usey…..intezaar karoonga jab tak shareer mein jaan aur dil mein dhadkan hai….I don't want you to get hurt……..lekin wo apne dil ko nahin pehchanti…….."





The last six months of her life had been a tumultuous, roller coaster of emotions, but what she had just overheard in the living room, had completely taken her by surprise. Caught in a web of confusion, turbulence and chaos, she ran into the bathroom to splash cold water on her face. Perhaps, the cold water would filter some of the turmoil from her mind. Standing in front of the mirror, she splashed her face repeatedly, instead of clarity, her eyes blurred with oodles of tears burning her cheeks and throat. Bleary eyed, she looked up at her reflection and saw the lipstick imprinted 'NO TEARS' sign staring at her.





Those two words summarized her relationship with Armaan. He had been a true friend in every sense. Whenever she had tears, he was there to wipe them. In return, he had asked for nothing, just her friendship. Even though, she was reminded of Abhimanyu's accusations against Armaan, she could not fathom ill intentions on Armaan's part, "Armaan ne tho mujh se kabhie kuch nahin maanga, he has always been there for me. How can I blame him for anything?"





She touched the red lines on the mirror and sobbed silently, "kyun Armaan? Kyun karte ho mujhse itna pyaar? I have nothing to offer you but my tears…..please don't love me so much. I don't deserve it. I can't see you heartbroken." She caressed the lines with her fingers and then wiped the sign with a wet towel, "I am sorry….I can't follow your rules Armaan. I can't give you anything….please don't expect anything from me."





"RIDDHIMA! RIDDHIMA!" A knock on her door forced her to turn the faucet off. She stood silently, unsure of how to respond to Armaan's knock. How could she face him again after knowing the truth? She cursed herself for eavesdropping on their conversation. She wiped her face, took a deep breath and decided to act as 'normal' as she could.



"Haan…main abhi aayi."



"We are waiting for you Riddhima. Let's go out for dinner."



"Theek hai. Main aati hoon," she shut her eyes and promised to never let Armaan know what she had overheard a few minutes ago.



…………………………………………………….





At dinner, Dilip mama sensed awkwardness between Armaan and Riddhima. Armaan was his usual self- jovial, pulling her leg, kidding around with his uncle, but Riddhima was unusually quiet. Her evasive eye contact had Dilip mama concerned. This girl was very different from the one he had spent the afternoon with. What had transpired in these past few hours? Even though, he was a self proclaimed woman-mind-reader, there were times when women still stumped him with their mood swings.



"Riddhima, is everything fine beta?" Dilip could not help ask.





"I am fine uncle," she forced a smile, glancing at Armaan with the corner of her eyes. He was too engrossed in biting down the drumstick chicken perched between his ling fingers. Her eyes stayed glued on him for a few moments. His handsome face with tousled hair and masala laden greasy fingers were too endearing for her to take her gaze away from him. In the past, there were times, she had sneaked glances at him, but she had always managed to suppress any desirous feelings for him, as they were just 'friends.' Even though, she was a mess emotionally and confused about her feelings, his confession had opened the forbidden door between friendship and love.



"Hmm, kya hua?" Armaan looked up curiously, "why are you staring at me like that?"



Embarrassed, Riddhima just lowered her eyes and smiled hesitantly, "wo….wo….that chicken looks disgusting." She lied.



"Sorry but all vegetarians find us non vegetarians disgusting," Armaan grinned, "kyun mama?"



"Beta, I have given up meat also."



"Why mama?" Armaan was stunned as once upon a time, Dilip mama was teased by his friends as being the 'hard core carnivore' of their group.



"Uh…well….uh….just like that," he shuffled his feet, "it's just healthier."



Riddhima forced a smile and continued to just nibble at her food. She tried her best to act 'normal,' but it was just not the same. Armaan, attuned to Riddhima's moods by now, was surprised to see her lost in her own thoughts. He decided to remain silent, assuming she was a bit uncomfortable in Dilip mama's presence.





"Beta," Dilip broke the silence, "I am planning to go to Nainital tomorrow."



"Tomorrow?" Armaan bit off last of the morsels, "abhi tho aaye ho mama….you can't leave that soon."



"No beta, I need to go. Your nani wants to meet me."



"My nani? Is she still a-alive?" He hesitated.



"She is 90+ years, kuch din ki mehman han wo…I think I should say my final goodbye to her. I haven't seen her in 30 years. Why don't you come with me Armaan?"





Armaan's face lit up, but he looked at Riddhima and thought there was no way he would leave her alone at this delicate point in her life, "well mama….I-I am not sure. Yahan music academy mein bahut kaam hai. Next week, I have to submit my new compositions for a potential recording…I-I guess I can't go right now."





"Armaan, tumhein jaana chahiye," Riddhima, the friend, finally intervened, "this is a great opportunity for you to meet your family."



"I am not sure I won't anymore family in my life," Armaan replied wryly.



"Riddhima is right beta. You should meet your family in Nainital. Waise bhi hum Malik log zyaada dildaar or dilwaale hote hain….kyun Riddhima?" Dilip laughed.



Riddhima felt a flush go through her at Dilip's comment; she just nodded, "yes Armaan, every family is not the same. You should go."



"Ok, if you both insist, but will you be fine all alone?" He asked worriedly.



"I am a big girl Armaan. I can take care of myself," she was touched by his concern. His concern reiterated his protectiveness and genuine love for her.



"Ok mama, I will go with you."



Riddhima was relieved that Armaan had agreed to go. Even though, she knew she would miss him sorely, she needed some time alone to sort out her feelings and make sense of Armaan's confession. Dilip's statement, "Farak sirf itna hai ki tum apne dil ki baat jaante ho, lekin wo apne dil ko abhi nahin pehchanti," had thrown her into further inner turmoil.





………………………………………………………………………………….



Perched on some rocks at a secluded beach in Mumbai, Rahul and Muskaan watched the gorgeous sunset on the horizon. Holding hands, they leaned against each other and discussed their lives, as they always did when together.



"Muskaan, I am going to work with dad now."



"Really? What about your MBA?"



"I have applied to various colleges….just waiting to hear from them now."



"What about your brother? Abhimanyu ka kya hoga?"



"I don't know Muskaan," Rahul sighed, "I think Riddhima bhabhi ke jaane ke baad, bhaiyya has totally lost it. He is always angry, breaking things and spends hours drinking in his room."



"He deserves it!" Muskaan clenched her teeth, "he is such a loser."



"Muskaan, he was not like that before. He loved his work, and I thought he was happy with bhabhi."



"Rahul, tum bahut bhole ho. I think Abhimanyu has always been an arrogant and egoistic man. My dad hated working under him. I am so happy Riddhima left him."



"Aise mat bol Muskaan. Don't you think we should try and reunite them?"



'Are you crazy Rahul? Good for Riddhima that she left him."



"Muskaan, shouldn't they work on their marriage rather than call it quits?"



"Rahul, from what I can tell, Riddhima has worked at their marriage for a long time. Her patience finally broke when she caught him red handed. Agar tune kuch aisa kya hota, tho mai tho tera khoon hi kar deti, wo tho sirf ghar chhod kar gayi hain!" She replied angrily and picked a big rock in her hand.





"Muskaan, careful jaan," Rahul ducked, "that rock is really heavy and sharp."



Muskaan chuckled, "you know Rahul, we should find Riddhima and help her settle down. Poor thing must be all alone."



"You are right Muskaan. I will ask mom for her whereabouts, but we will need to keep it a secret, warna Abhimanyu bhaiyya kuch bhi kar sakte hain."



"Thank God Rahul! I am glad you are finally growing up." She sighed.



"Tere pyaar ka asar hai," he smiled and pulled her closer, "by the way, main jab MBA karoonga, tu kya karegi?"



"Tu meri fikar na kar. I have a new job already."



"New job? Really? Bataya nahin tune," he complained.



"Teri dysfunctional family se time miley tujhey tho bataaun na tujhey," she argued back.



"You are right Muskaan….my family is dysfunctional. Do you think it's because of what happened between mom and dad years ago? Dad had an affair, but mom just suffered silently through these years? She sacrificed her life for our happiness lekin dekho kya hua? None of us are happy in that house now."



"Sorry Rahul," Muskaan embraced him, "main hoon na…..hum dono kabhie apni family ko aise bikhar ne nahin denge."



"Thanks Muskaan," he kissed her cheek, 'achcha kya job hai tera?"





"I just joined a working women's hostel as a counselor."



"Counselor?"



"Haan Rahul. I am going to work with single working women who have been battered, abused or divorced. I feel so sorry for all of them," she sighed.





"What a combination," Rahul chuckled, "main ek businessman, aur tu ek social worker."



"Tho kya hua? Koi kaam chota ya badha nahin hota….ab chal ghar chalte hain warna mama papa ka phone aa jaayega…oye chal!"



'Ok baba," he got up, brushing his pants, "par pehle ek kiss, uske baad," he drawled romantically.



"Bhool ja! Aaj ka quota poora ho chukaa hai," she laughed, running away from the rocks as Rahul chased her back to his car.



…………………………………………………………………..





The three days after Armaan's departure with Dilip mama seemed like an eternity for Riddhima. She tried to distract herself from recurring confusing thoughts by cleaning and decorating Armaan's apartment. The more she tried to stay 'normal,' the more she found herself caught in a web of inner chaos. At nights, she stayed up with the lights on, hoping to enlighten herself on her dilemma. She was yet to break the shackles of her broken marriage and now Armaan's feelings for her had overwhelmed her to the point of a major nervous breakdown.



She picked the phone several times, "kis se baat karoon apne dil ki? Aradhana didi, Mummyji  ya Muskaan? Kaun samjhega mere dil ki uljhan?" There was no way they could help her out of this situation. Armaan was the only one who had helped her in the past when faced with a precarious situation. Riddhima realized that there was only one person who could help her- RIDDHIMA!





As she roamed around the apartment, memories of how she first met Armaan, his music, his ever so helpful nature, his death defying act to save the Modi family, his desire to fulfill her lifelong dreams, the computer lessons, his presence at her parent's funeral, his help in exposing her husband's lies, and now his unconditional hand of friendship had convinced her of the purity and genuineness of his feelings. He had managed to imprint his love on every aspect of her life.





She shuddered at the thought of her life without his presence. He had changed everything- her life, her way of thinking and her heart.





"Is this just friendship or as Dilip mama said, it's love that I've failed to recognize?" She asked herself. She had never felt the same bond or attachment to her husband of five years; he was the man she had been asked to marry, but Armaan was the person, her heart had reached out to, subconsciously and unintentionally. Abhimanyu was her responsibility, but Armaan her desire.





Perhaps, she had been unfaithful in her marriage too, she thought. Since Armaan had entered her life, her desire to spend any time or invest in her dying marriage to Abhimanyu had receded. She recalled how she had constantly compared the two men; even the man in her dreams had gradually faded from Abhimanyu to an unknown person. Guiltily, she admitted to herself, that this unknown, faceless man was none other than Armaan himself. It was Armaan who her heart yearned to be with after he had been injured during the fire at their house; it was Armaan her heart cried for when Shashank had insulted him in front of the family; it was Armaan she had clung to when Abhimanyu had not shown up for her parent's funeral; it was Armaan she had rushed to after she had defiantly left her married home. If Abhimanyu was guilty of having a physical relationship with another woman, so was she; although not physical, she had had a deeper relationship with another man despite being a married woman.





Was that love? If yes, was she guilty of infidelity like her husband?





If not love- then what was it? No other person in the world had tugged at her heart, the way Armaan had. With Abhimanyu, it was her duty to be faithful, but with Armaan, it was an invisible pull, a magnetic draw that had her sucked in, forced her to be unfaithful, without her ever realizing it.



The more she analyzed her situation it became clear to her that Abhimanyu and she were never made for each other. Perhaps, the tepid relationship they shared is what pushed him into another woman's arms. They were a mistake, but Armaan and she were meant to be.





When Armaan called from Nainital, he wondered why she sounded so lost and worn out. She pretended to be 'busy' with her online course.



'So you mean to say, you are not missing me?" He teased her.



"Not really," she teased him back, holding and caressing his guitar in her lap.



"Hmm…then in that case I will stay here for another week."



"As you wish," her heart sank at that thought, "how's everyone in Nainital? Your nani?"



"I am so glad I came here Riddhima. You are my best friend. Agar tum nahin kehti tho main shayad nahin aata. Everyone is so happy to meet me. I feel like I belong somewhere. Mujhey aisa lagta hai ki mera bhi koi hai is duniya mein," his excitement was palpable on the other line. Riddhima smiled tearfully, genuinely happy for him as he rattled off the names of all his cousins, aunts and uncles in Nainital, "and the best part is Dilip mama has found his long lost love, Naina aunty. She is a sweetheart. Wo mujhey apna beta jaise treat karti hain. Riddhima how I wish you were here…." He blabbered nonstop; Riddhima lay on his bed, next to his guitar and enjoyed listening to his cheerful voice on the phone.





After hanging up, she kissed the phone softly, "I am happy for you Armaan. You deserve all the happiness."



At that very moment, it struck her that the essence of their relationship was the phrase she had erased on her mirror 'NO TEARS.' Each wanted happiness for the other person. Isn't that what true love was all about?





One by one, the hazy shades of confusion were withdrawing from her confused state of mind. As she ruminated on her thoughts, she walked to his desk with his guitar. His computer was still on at his desk.



"How irresponsible! Apna laptop aise hi chhod gaya. Kitni power waste hoti hai," she touched the keyboard to check his computer before shutting it off, but was shocked when she heard a voice. Suddenly, she realized that she had touched a 'play' button to a recording Armaan had been working on before his departure.





"THIS SONG ," Armaan's voice boomed over the laptop speakers. Riddhima sat down mesmerized by his voice. He continued, "THIS SONG IS DEDICATED TO THE WOMAN I HAVE LOVED SINCE THE FIRST TIME I SAW HER…..AND WILL DO SO TILL THE END OF MY LIFE. IS GAANE KA TITLE HAI KAHO EK DIN."





A warm sweetness whizzed through her as she heard his silky and heartfelt voice over the speakers.




Kaho Ek Din

Tumhare Hein, Kaho Ek Din (2x)
Ke Jo Kuch Bhi Hamare paas hai
Sab kuch tumhara hai
kaho ek din (4x)

Sitara si jinhe kehte ho
Woh aankhein tumhari hein
Jinhein tum shaakh si kehte ho,
Woh baahein tumhari hein
Jinhein tum phool si kehte ho,
Woh batein tumhari hein
Kaho ek din (4x)

Agar sab kuch yeh mera hai to,
Sab kuch bakhsh do ek din
Wajood apna mujhe tum dedo
Mohabbat do ek din
Mere haathon pe apne haath rakh ker,
Rooh khench lo ek din
Kaho ek din (4x)

Ke jo kuch bhi hamare paas hai
Sab kuch tumhara hai
kaho ek din
kaho ek din (8 times repeat,,,)



Tears rolled down her eyes as she heard Armaan's soulful and melodious voice fill the room and her senses. The way he had described his love, feelings and her beauty in the song had completely blown her away. If there were any clouds of confusion still looming in the air, this song had swept them away like a windstorm, letting the sunshine of love for Armaan illuminate her whole body and soul.



There was no doubt in her mind any longer; neither did she feel guilty anymore about her own feelings, "I love you Armaan." She said softly and then on an impulse, pressed the 'RECORD' button on the garage band program on his laptop, "haan….main tumhari hoon Armaan…aur hamesha rahoongi."





Still mesmerized by his song, she shut the computer, twirled around the room in joy, dancing on her toes, feeling liberated, shouting at the top of her voice, "I LOVE YOU ARMAAN! I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH!"





She fell asleep on his bed with a big smile and his guitar in her arms, kissing the wooden handle and embracing the instrument possessively all night.





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



Next morning, she woke up with a startle. The guitar in her arms reminded her of her antics from last night. She felt her cheeks burning as she recalled what she had done in a rush of emotions and passion.



"Oh My God! How do I erase my voice from that recording now?" The shut laptop stared at her from his desk. She had no clue what his password was or what program she had recorded her voice in- it was an irrevocable act now. She prayed that as disorganized as he was, Armaan would forget to listen to his composition and her secret would always remain buried in one of the thousands of songs he had composed and recorded.



……………………………………………….



After a shower and a quick breakfast, Riddhima, more clear-headed than she had been in the past few days, headed out of the apartment in search of her next home. Yes, she had decided that she would have to move out of Armaan's place. After knowing what she knew, there was no way she could stay with him under the pretence of being 'good friends.' Till she had sorted out the mess in her life, she could not engage herself in another relationship. Dilip mamas words rang in her head, "don't let yourself get hurt Armaan." By separating herself from Armaan, even if physically, she was hoping to shield him from any potential heart breaks.



……………………………………………………..



"Yes, this working women's hostel would be an ideal place for you Mrs Riddhima –uh ?" The manager at the 'Asha Women's Hostel,' asked.



"Ms Riddhima Gupta," she replied, snapping the last bond, her married surname, between her and the Modi family.



"But we encourage the women to work somewhere. I know you are unemployed, but we can help you find a job somewhere. Aapki qualification kya hai?"



"I-I am working on my B.A right now," Riddhima lowered her head shamefully.



"Oh…I thought you would be a graduate by now….you look well educated, from a good family…….well….that's OK," the manager tried to lessen the blow, " we have some openings in the hostel for women like you. You can work in the kitchen or the laundry room…..I hope that's OK with you."



Embarrassed, Riddhima smiled back, "I wouldn't mind working anywhere, as long as I can pay to stay in this hostel."



'Ok…..aap kab move karna chaahti hain?"



"Give me a day or two. I am just waiting for my friend to get back."



'Sure! And one more thing, no men are allowed in the rooms, just the lobby," the manager smiled at her.



"That will not be an issue ma'am," Riddhima nodded politely and left.



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



Armaan ransacked his room in search of his latest composition. While Riddhima was away, he had returned from Nainital sooner than expected. He had received a call from his Music academy that the deadline for submission for his composition had moved up. He looked at his watch, "Oh God! I have only 15 minutes before the deadline. Why don't I remember what I did with that song? Did I record it or not?" He scratched his head, "or did I burn it on a CD?" He had left for Nainital in a rush and could not recall whether he had completed recording his song or not, "aur yahan Ms Riddhima toofanmail ne sab idhar udhar rakh diya hai," he grumbled angrily, "how many times do I have to tell her not to touch my things. Now I don't remember a damn thing!"



"Armaan?" Excited to hear his voice, Riddhima ran into his room, "tum aa gaye?"



"Riddhima…where…where is all my stuff I left on the desk?" He shuffled nervously, "was there a CD here on my desk? I was in the middle of a song."



Her heart raced anxiously, "uh…kaun sa gaana?"





"It's called kaho ek din," He turned his computer on, "I think I remember now….it's still on my laptop."



"Why…why do you need that song right now?" Her heart sank at the thought of the song, " Abhi wapas aaye ho. Tell me all about Nainital," she pulled his hand, trying her best to distract him.



"Riddhima, I have a deadline. If I don't get this song to the academy in 10 minutes, I will lose a chance of a life time."



"Matlab?" Her heart skipped a few more beats.





"Matlab yeh ki if they like my song, a music producer will feature it on his album. Finally, after a massive search on his computer, he found the song on the playlist and heaved a sigh, "phew…it's right here….sunogi?" He smiled at her and then inserted an empty CD to burn the song.



"Here you go," he pressed 'play'



"Uh..wo….maybe," she turned red, flustered.



"Kya hua?" He got suspicious, "is something wrong?"



"No….not really," she acted nonchalant while her heart thumped loudly against her chest.





The beautiful song played in the background, their gazes locked, as they silently exchanged unspoken words. There was something distinctive in her eyes today, thought Armaan. He had never seen that expression before- what was it?





Armaan turned around to remove the CD after the song came to an end, reluctantly peeling his gaze away from Riddhima's, when her voice over the speaker caught him off guard, "haan….main tumhari hoon Armaan…aur hamesha rahoongi."





Wide-eyed, in disbelief, he pressed the 'rewind' button repeatedly and heard the most melodious composition of his life- haan….main tumhari hoon Armaan…aur hamesha rahoongi! His heart leapt in somersaults as Riddhima's sweet voice echoed between his ears and the laptop speakers.



……………to be contd

Bheegi

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