Monday, 4 June 2018

part 4: Pehchan

As Rahul's graduation party ended…….

It was past midnight. Riddhima, Padma, Shashank, Atul and Rahul bade farewell to the last of the guests. Anjali had retired to her room along with Kavya, although sleep was miles away from the five year old eyes.

Armaan, who had entertained the guests all night, rubbed his calloused fingers against his pants and placed his guitar in it's case. He looked around; everyone was busy wrapping up for the night. Feeling a bit awkward with only the Modi family around him, he hung his bag and guitar case to leave the premises.

"Hey man….where are you going?" Rahul grabbed him from behind.

"Oh..well….it's kind of late….party bhi khatam ho gayi hai," Armaan scratched his head, "it was a pleasure meeting you all…..and congratulations once again."

"Beta….kuch der aur raho," Shashank came forward and smiled, "bahut achcha gaate ho tum."

"Thank you sir," he bowed gently.

Padma turned around and for a change consented to her husband's request, "haan beta….uncle theek keh rahe hain…..waise aaj raat itni der kahan jaaoge?"

'Wo aunty….I will probably check into a hotel…..the Music Academy would not open till Monday," Armaan replied back.

"Tho phir weekend par yahin raho na beta…..waise tum aaj hi America se aaye ho na? Riddhima bataa rahi thi ki tum Shashank ke bachpan ke dost ke bte ho. Kya naam hai unka?" Padma was inquisitive. Shashank cringed inwardly and prayed that Armaan not mention Damini's name.

"Well….my mama's name is Dilip Malik."

"Oh…haan Padma…..Dilip aur main Nainital mein saath saath padhe the bachpan mein," Shashank quickly intervened, "actually I haven't been in touch with him in a long time."

"Oh," Padma nodded, "waise Mumbai mein koi family hai tumhari beta?"

The color drained off Shashank's face. He kicked his fate and thought it was ironical that Armaan was being asked about his family when he was amongst them. Once again, it was his fault, he regretted. His one mistake in life had placed all of them in such a precarious situation. He could hurt neither- Armaan or Padma. Perhaps, staying quiet was the best option.

"No….I don't know anyone except your family."

"Then the decision is made… are staying with us this weekend…..I will drop you to the academy on Monday," Rahul slapped Armaan's back.

 Riddhima bolted the front door and joined the rest of the family in the living room, "aur waise bhi inhone kuch khaaya kahan hai?" She complained.

 Stunned but pleasantly surprised, Armaan stared at Riddhima in disbelief. Despite being so busy all evening, she had noticed that he had not eaten a morsel.

"Don't be surprised yaar…Riddhima bhabhi is like that….she can smell hungry tummies from afar," Rahul chuckled, "come on man….let's all get something to eat."

"Riddhima ne bhi kahan khaaya hoga?" Padma placed her arm around her daughter-in-law, "main jaanti hoon na tujhey."

"Wo mummyji…time hi nahin mila." Riddhima bit her lower lip.

"Beta….learn to take time out for yourself too," Shashank patted Riddhima's head affectionately, "warna…warna zindagi yoohin nikal jaati hai." He averted his gaze from Padma's, who glared at him with an expression of anger mixed with hurt. "Yes," she agreed, "warna zindagi yoon hi nikal jaati hai…"

An astute Armaan noticed the subtle interplay of emotions on the older couple's faces. While others were busy elsewhere, he perceived that all was not well between Shashank and Padma.  He deflected their attention, "I am a lucky man….you all are very kind to me… I know what they mean by Indian hospitality." He placed his guitar and bag on the floor and smiled at them.

"Rahul beta….jao Armaan ka samaan guest room mein rakh do," reciprocated his smile.

"I'll get it…don't worry," Atul, the quiet one finally spoke.

"Thank you everyone," Armaan was touched.

"No more thank you-wank you," Riddhima giggled, "it sounds too formal."

"Ok…in that case….can you please not call me Armaanjee-ee!" he retorted.

"Ok jee-ee!" Riddhima teased him back.

"Agreed jee-ee!" Armaan chuckled back as everyone else joined in their friendly banter.

"Abhimanyu kahan gaya beta?" Shashank enquired; Padma's smile vanished as soon as her husband asked about her middle son, "aur kahan hoga? Kaam…kaam…kaam." Turning around, "main kitchen mein jaati hoon…..khaana garam karvaati hoon."

"Haan…wo daddyji…..unka office se phone aaya tha…..he had to go back to the office," Riddhima lowered her eyes hesitantly.

"Yeh jab se American clients mile hain….na din ki koi khabar….na raat ki," Shashank sighed with disappointment, "I hate this outsourcing business."

"I can understand sir….interestingly, even the American public doesn't care for it," Armaan shrugged his shoulders, "it's all about the bottom line…..not about people."

"I know…I know," Shashank sighed again, "beta….achcha hai tumne business nahin…music ki line chuni hai." Many a time, he had lamented his own choice of career, but was pleased that at least one of his sons had inherited his creative gene.

"But you know sir….music is also becoming a business these days," Armaan felt elated that a man of Shashank's stature was taking an active interest in his career, just like a father figure would.

"Remember one thing son……let the business follow your music….don't let your music follow the business." He patted Armaan's shoulder and headed for the stairs. His eyes misty, he decided to call it a night, away from everyone lest his true feelings found an outlet. Armaan felt a strange sense of warmth and intimacy as Shashank patted and advised him-just like a real father. Tears that had dried up after his mother's demise suddenly had an urge to flow again. He blinked his eyes rapidly and smiled through his tears, "well….where is the kitchen?"

An observant Riddhima noticed the undercurrent of emotions between Shashank and Armaan. She knew that Armaan's parents were Shashank's childhood friends, but she had never seen her father-in-law so interested in any other guest who had visited the house in the past- even those from his hometown Nainital. What was special about Armaan and Armaan's parents? She laid her nosey side to rest and pointed towards a long hallway leading from the living room. "Follow me." Armaan complied and nodded his head, "ladies first please."

 Rahul excused himself, "bhabhi…main abhi aaya…zara ek phone karna hai."

"Haan haan jaanti hoon…..tumhare bhaiya ko kaam se fursat nahin hai…aur tumhein romance se," she teased her brother in law.

"Bhabhi!" Rahul whined, "please…ssshhh….meri reputation ka sawaal hai."

"What reputation yaar?" Armaan slapped Rahul's back, "We all know how you spent the whole evening."

"What do you mean?" Rahul asked quizzically.

"Taak-jhaank! Who was that lady in pink? Was she your sister?" Armaan asked mischievously.

"NO WAY! SSHHHH…she is …." Rahul lowered his voice.

"MUSKAAN!" Riddhima raised her voice.

"Bhabhi…please!" Rahul pleaded with her, "please…pehle mom dad se baat karo na aap."

"Mauka milte hi karoongi…I am waiting for the right opportunity devar sahib."
"Come on bhabhi! I can't wait that long." A desperate Rahul shuffled his fingers on his phone keypad.

"Ahaa!" Armaan cleared his throat, "so you really like this girl?"

Rahul grinned from ear to ear in affirmation, his lobes turning a crimson red.

"I mean….you really really like this girl?" Armaan confirmed.

"Of course man!"

"Like you want to get married to her?"

"Of course man…..this is India…'ve got to marry the girl you love."

"Really?" Armaan raised his eyebrow, "what if you really like a girl, but can't marry her?"

"Then that's your bad luck." Rahul rolled his eyes, "and I would hate to wish that on any man in this world."

"Hmm……interesting," Armaan nodded his head again and reflected on Rahul's words. His gaze fell on Riddhima, his mind wandering and wondering if he was one of those unlucky guys in the world that Rahul was alluding to.

"Bhabhi aapko jald hi baat karni padhegi." Rahul pleaded again.

"Shaadi Riddhima ko karni hai kya?" Armaan asked.

"Hey American returned…….kya baat karta hai?" Rahul was amused at Armaan's words.

"So why should she talk to your parents…..parents kis ke hain?"

"Mere." Rahul answered promptly.

"Aur shaadi kisko karni hai?"

"Of course mujhey!" Rahul said vehemently.

"Then….why don't you say it clearly? Talk to them….I am sure your happiness is important to them."

"Come on Armaan….this is not like your America…..parents in India don't expect their kids to ask such things." Rahul shook his head.

"Well love is the same everywhere…..and truth is the same everywhere…..there is no room for boundaries or hesitation," Armaan replied.

"Rahul, Armaan is right," obviously impressed by Armaan's advise, Riddhima looked at Rahul, "I think you should talk to them."

"M..main? Bhabhi….please don't do that to me…..aapne promise kiya tha."

"OK…let's have a deal….you talk to mummyji……if there is a problem, I will back you up," she tilted her head gently, her long hair shrouding her graceful shoulders. An awestruck Armaan couldn't take his gaze of the alluring sight. Suddenly, his eyes fell on her fingers toying with her mangalsutra.  Guiltily, he looked away, her mangalsutra, a harsh reality, reminding him to stay within his boundaries.

"And I will be a back up for your back up," Armaan chided.

"Phew……how am I going to do that?" Rahul was almost sweating. He had never been good at confrontation. Even though he was good at heart, happy go lucky, always wanting to keep others happy, Rahul shied away from potentially confrontational situations. Riddhima bhabhi had been his shield for the last five years, just as Atul bhaiya had been during his formative years.

"Man… is supposed to make you gush not sweat," Armaan placed his arm around Rahul, "come on…you can do it."

"Thanks man," Rahul took a deep breath, "I'll try."

"That's like a true lover!"

Riddhima and Armaan held Rahul's shoulders on either side and walked with him to the kitchen.

"Arre mummyji…..aap kya kar rahi hain?" Riddhima ran to assist her mother in law, who was busy laying the food on the table.

"Koi baat nahin beta…..aao….aao….baitho…..khaana phir thanda ho jaayega." Padma welcomed the three of them to the kitchen.

"Mom….where are all the servants?" Rahul asked.

"They are human too beta…..I asked them to leave….it's past midnight."

"Mummyji….aap baithiye….main serve karti hoon khaana," Riddhima insisted and helped Padma to a chair.

"Main bhi khaaunga!" A chirpy, far from sleepy, Kavya ran into the kitchen along with his father, Atul.

"Bhaiya? Kavya? Isn't it past bedtime?" Rahul asked.

"I want to sit with Armaan uncle," Kavya planed himself on his lap.

"Armaan uncle? Or bandwaala?" Armaan laughed.

"Sorry Armaan…..Kavya ki baat ka bura nahin maan na," Atul apologized.

"No…not at all… fact I am indebted to Kavya…as he is the one who introduced me to you all," Armaan placed his arm around Kavya and kissed his cheek.

"Papa….I want to learn guitar like Armaan uncle too," Kavya banged his little hands against the table and yelled at the top of his lungs.

"Beta….raat ko itna shor mat machao….mamma so rahi hain," Atul shushed his son.

"That will be my pleasure," Armaan smiled enthusiastically.

Padma smiled at her grandson affectionately, "phir apne dadaji ki tarah tum bhi guitar bajaana seekh lena."
 "Daddyji used to play the guitar?" Riddhima was pleasantly surprised, just as Armaan and Rahul were.

"Yeah….dad was a great singer and musician in his young days," Atul cleared his throat.

"Really?" Rahul and Riddhima exclaimed. Once again, Armaan was surprised at the dynamics in the family. Did people not talk to each other in this family? How could a son not know about his father's past? If he ever found his father, he would make sure he would every little detail about his life. After all, an offspring's identity is molded by the past of their parents, he thought. Perhaps, that's why Rahul lacked confidence- even though he lived with Shashank, he was never close to his father. Perhaps, Armaan was more fortunate, that despite being away from his dad all his life, his mom had painted a clear picture of his father's virtues and attributes, including the fact that even his father was a musician in his youth. He had never seen him, met him or heard from him, but had always felt close to him.

'Why did he leave music?" Armaan asked.

Padma evaded the question, "Riddhima beta….zara naan garam kar dena beta………Kavya ko naan pasand hai."


"Yes, mom…why did dad leave singing?" Rahul asked inquisitively.

"Waqt nahin mila beta…..kaam se fursat nahin mili," Padma sighed, "par ab mera pota seekhega music," and caressed her grandson's chin.

"I'd be happy to teach Kavya," Armaan reassured them, "that way, I'll be able to see all of you frequently."
"Ek shart par," Riddhima interjected.

"Shart?" He raised his eyebrow.

"Whenever you teach Kavya… will have to sing one song for us…..and also have dinner with us," Riddhima chuckled.

"Yeh tho do shartein ho gayi," he chuckled back, "but….I can deal with it," he said facetiously.

"You are a tough negotiator," Riddhima retorted back.

"As uncle said….let the business follow my music…."

"Clever!" Riddhima laughed.

Padma was bemused to see Riddhima so free and friendly with this young man. She had always been the personable one in the family, very gracious and respectful, but rarely had she seen her as comfortable with someone new. If she could recall, she had hardly ever seen her so playful with her very own husband, Abhimanyu. May be, she was reading too much into this, Padma ignored her thoughts and joined the conversation.

Riddhima served everyone and then sat down next to Padma, "mummyji….Rahul ko aapse kuch baat karni hai."

"Kya baat hai beta?" Padma looked at him inquisitively.

"Kuch baat nahin mom….bhabhi tho yoon hi bas," Rahul turned red with embarrassment.

Glaring at Rahul, both Riddhima and Armaan exchanged glances, hoping that their little pep talk would do some wonders at the dining table.

"Kya baat hai bhai?" Padma observed the three of them; she knew something was cooking, "kya us gulabi kapdon waali ki baat hai kya?"

Rahul sat up in surprise, "wo…mom..wo…wo."

"Muskaan naam hai uska," Riddhima smiled, "kyun devar ji?"

"Achcha tho yeh baat hai," Padma frowned at her son, "chup chup ke ladki bhi chun li."

"Wo…sorry…sorry mom," Rahul replied sheepishly to Armaan's chagrin.

"Sorry kis baat ki beta?" Shashank emerged from nowhere, Armaan's guitar case in hand and sat next to Rahul, "jaante ho tumhari mom ne bhi apni family se ladh kar mujh se shaadi ki thi?"

"Really?" Rahul's eyes popped with disbelief. Tonight had turned out to be a real graduation of sorts for him; so much about his parents past was being revealed to him, that he was shell shocked.

Riddhima and Atul were aware of this fact as they had overheard an old relative of Padma who visited them a year ago, mentioning the fact. They had been shocked too, as Padma and Shashank did not seem like a passionate couple to them.

Was it Armaan's sudden appearance into the family that had changed the dynamics overnight? Was he going to be a catalyst in helping the Modi family 'connect' and 'react' to each other?

"Uncle….my guitar?" Armaan was surprised to see Shashank still holding on to his case.

"Haan neend nahin aa rahi thi….chalo Rahul ke liye ek gaana aur suna do," Shashank smiled at Armaan.

"Yes….a song to celebrate Rahul and Muskaan," Atul raised his glass of water in a toast.

"Mom?" Rahul looked at his mom for a final approval.

"Haan….mujhey pasand hai teri pasand…..milwaaya kyun nahin?" Padma slapped her son's hand gently.

"Sorry mom…..kal…..I will bring her home tomorrow….."

Riddhima cleared the table after a quick dinner and announced, "let's all sit in the courtyard….it's a beautiful night."

As everyone followed her, Armaan was once again amazed by the dcor and ambience of the house. Something told him that Riddhima had a big contribution in the aesthetics and decorations. The open courtyard in the center of the house was dimly lit by the moonshine that night, the fragrant flowers and light breeze made him a bit heady. He looked up and was drawn once again by Riddhima's ethereal but simple looks. Her face, lit up by the moon, her lips in half a smile, hair flowing with the breeze was enough of an inspiration for him to sing all night.

"Aao beta…..yahan par baitho," Shashank pulled a chair for Armaan.

"Thanks uncle," he sat down and pulled out his guitar.

Khamosh Raat
Sehmi Hawaa
Tanha Tanha Dil Apna
Tanha Tanha Dil Apna
Aur Door Kahin, Roshan Hua Ek Chehra
Ek Chehra, Ek Chehra
Ye Sach Hai Ya Sapna

Ye Sach Hai Ya Sapna
Ye Sach Hai Ya Sapna

Khamosh Raat
Sehmi Hawaa
Tanha Tanha Dil Apna
Tanha Tanha Dil Apna
Aur Door Kahin, Roshan Hua Ek Chehraa
Ek Chehraa, Ek Chehraa

Ye Sach Hai Ya Sapna
Ye Sach Hai Ya Sapna

Jhuki Jhuki Palkein Jab Uthi
Nainon Mein Diye Madham Madham
Adh Khule Hothon Se Hansee
Jhaank Rahi Madham Madham

Kaise Kahan Phir Ho Gayee
Uski Charee Madham Madham
Pal Pal Uthti Hasratein
Hone Lagi Madham Madham

Aur Door Kahin, Roshan Hua Ek Chehraa
Ek Chehraa, Ek Chehraa

Sooraj Tha Pe Noor Sa
Uski Tanak Madham Madham
Chaand Bhi Sa Bujha Bujha
Taare Bhi The Madham Madham

Jugnu Dilasa Dene Lagey
Nanhi Si Jaan Madham Madham
Shamaa Bhi Thak Haar Ke
Hone Lagee Madham Madham

Aur Door Kahin, Roshan Hua Ek Chehraa
Ek Chehraa, Ek Chehraa...

Jeene Ka Tha Hum Mein Dam
Par Nahin Tha Koi Humdam
Khushiyoon Ki Thi Justajoo
Mil Rahe Thay Bas Gham Hi Gham

Shuru Mein Is Duniya Ke Bhi
Khamoshi Thi Aur Ek Thay Hum
Rahein Sabhi Thi Sooni Sooni
Uth Rahe Thay Kadam Tham Tham

Aur Door Kahin, Roshan Hua Ek Chehraa
Ek Chehraa, Ek Chehraa
Ye Sach Hai Ya Sapna
Ye Sach Hai Ya Sapna

Khamosh Raat
Sehmi Hawaa
Tanha Tanha Dil Apna
Tanha Tanha Dil Apna
Aur Door Kahin, Roshan Hua Ek Chehraa
Ek Chehraa, Ek Chehraa
Ye Sach Hai Ya Sapna
Ye Sach Hai Ya Sapna

Rahul dreamt about Muskaan; he saw her running into his arms after he gave her the good news about his parents approval.

Shashank dreamt of Padma in his arms and him caressing her after she had forgiven him for his past mistakes.

Padma recalled her passionate days with Shashank.

Atul dreamt of Anjali being nice to him.

Kavya fell asleep in Atul's arms

Armaan had a hard time keeping his gaze off Riddhima; he shut his eyes to avoid eye contact with her and focused on his song.

Riddhima shut her eyes as Armaan's silky voice penetrated her thoughts. She dreamt of her and Abhimanyu on top of a mountain, all alone. Just then a shrill ringtone jolted all of them from their dreamland.

'HELLO!" Riddhima ran and picked the phone, "Oh…aaj raat bhar nahin aayenge aap?" It was Abhimanyu on the other line.

'Sorry Riddhima…..have an important client….I wouldn't be back till the morning…make sure you have my bag ready…I have to leave for Bangalore tomorrow…OK? Goodnight!" Abhimanyu hung up as a disappointed Riddhima joined the rest of the family in the courtyard.


"I love this outsourcing business!" Abhimanyu rolled into bed after hanging up and pulled Nikita into his arms.

"Me too…'s very profitable," she kissed his chest seductively.

"If America has outsourced to India…..I have outsourced myself to you darling," he gnashed his teeth.

"Let's hope the flow never reverses," Nikita ran her fingers on his face.

"What do you mean?"

"India outsourcing to America?" She chuckled, "or you back to your wife."

"That will never happen sweetheart….Indians are too timid to outsource their work to US……and jahan tak meri baat hai… nave wife has no clue about anything….she is too busy taking care of everyone."

'Would you ever divorce her?" Nikita asked.


"Oh…sorry darling…..lekin mujhey apne future ka bhi tho sochna hai."

"I will give you everything you want…..but you can never be Mrs Modi!"

"Kyun Riddhima mein aisi kya khaas baat hai?"

"Remember she is married to my family….they need her more than I need her…..wo jab tak ghar par hai…..kisi ko hamare baare mein koi shak nahin hoga…..I am in the clear…..samjhi?" He pinned her down and made love to her once again.

….to be contd….


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