Tuesday, 5 June 2018

part 5: Pehchan

"Come on Kavya…..it's late in the night beta…..let me put you to bed," Atul broke away from the group with bleary eyed five-year old in his arms.

"I think we should also call it a night," Shashank stretched his arms and congratulated Armaan once again for his beautiful compositions, "beta….I am sure the Indian Music Academy would be proud to have you as a student."

"That's very nice of you sir," Armaan, " I hope I can live up to everyone's expectations."

"Of course man! I know you will," Rahul patted Armaan's shoulder, "let me take you to your room."

"Thanks," Armaan placed his guitar in the case, the corner of his eyes scanning the courtyard for Riddhima. She had disappeared to answer a phone call. Finally, a dejected Riddhima emerged from the living room, "are we packing up already?" Her face fell as she saw everyone on their feet.

"Yes beta…..I think we are all tired now," Padma explained, "was that Abhimanyu's phone? Is he coming home tonight?"

"No mummyji……something important has come up…..he will be back in the morning," Riddhima replied with half a smile.

"And he is leaving for Bangalore tomorrow….isn't he?" Padma sighed and shook her head, "this boy needs to learn how to relax."

"Mom!" Rahul defended his brother, "I'll make sure bhaiyya comes home on time once I join him."

"Beta….so you are not going for an MBA?" Shashank was surprised.

"I think bhaiyya was right…..I can learn more from him than business school," Rahul pursed his lips.

"Can I say something?" Armaan hesitated, not wanting to interfere in the Modi's personal matters.

"Sure beta," Shashank quipped, almost on the verge of saying, "tumhara haq hai beta."

"I think agree with uncle…..a degree stays with you all your life…it's yours….no one can take it away from you," Armaan hung his guitar case on his shoulder and followed Rahul. Once again, Riddhima felt a little twinge in her heart at Armaan's advice. "I wish Abhimanyu would think the same way too, and let me complete my degree," silently she sighed and walked away from the crowd.

"Hmm….good point," Rahul scratched his head, confused at the contradictory pieces of advice he had received that evening.

"Don't worry man…….take your time before making such a major decision," Armaan, sensing Rahul's uncertainty, put him to ease.

Everyone retired to their respective rooms, immersed in their own thoughts and reflections after an evening full of celebrations, surprises and introspections.


Atul placed Kavya next to Anjali on their sprawling king sized bed. He caught a glimpse of Anjali's face and recalled how peaceful and beautiful that face used to be when they had just gotten married. Now that same face was marred with a deep forehead frown and creases on the face, a result of her finicky and critical nature. Not only was she hard to please, but also hardly pleased anyone around her.

Unfortunately, as a result of his disenchantment with her combative personality, he had resorted to drinking and smoking heavily, especially when alone. Now that everyone was tucked away, Atul took  his Red Label scotch out from his closet, lit a cigarette and settled in the balcony adjacent to their bedroom. He moved Anjali's wheelchair out of the way and rolled it to a corner. Then he slid the glass door to the bedroom shut, so he could enjoy his solitude.

He poured himself a stiff drink and settled in a rocking chair. As he blew rings of smoke into the thick and heavy air, he shut his eyes and wondered…..zindagi, kya kami reh gayi…..aankh ki ko mein kyun name reh gayi…..

Pleas enjoy this beautiful soulful song….


"Zindagi" from 'yuvraj'
Zindagi zindagi,
Kya kami reh gayi,
Aankh ki kor mein,
Aankh ki kor mein,
Kyu nami reh gayi..


Sleep was miles away from their eyes. Although it was pitch dark in their room, they were both aware that neither could fall asleep after such an eventful evening.

Armaan's sudden appearance had thrown Shashank off guard. The more he saw Armaan, old memories of his childhood and youth had flooded his mind. Armaan was exactly like him in many ways, but hopefully different in others. He hoped that Armaan would be stronger than him; not a weak man like him. One day, Armaan would find the truth. Would the young man be as stoic as he seemed now or crumble under the weight of the truth? Would Armaan forgive him for deserting his mom? Would the rest of the family accept him? Would Padma get more upset and leave him forever this time?

Although he had achieved everything in life, but there was hollowness, no one could fill…….only if Padma would forgive him, then he could face the world and face the wrath of his sons once they found out the truth. 

Zindagi zindagi,
Kya kami reh gayi,
Aankh ki kor mein,
Kyu nami reh gayi..
Tu kahan kho gayi,
Tu kahan kho gayi,
Koi aaya nahi,
Dopahar ho gayi,
Koi aaya nahi,
Zindagi zindagi..

Padma lay in bed, wide eyed, feeling unusually relieved after the hectic evening. What was the reason she felt at peace for a change? Was she ready to forgive Shashank? NO! NEVER!

Was it the fact that her youngest son was finally ready for the world? Maybe…

Was it the fact that even Rahul had found his life partner? Once he was married, all her responsibilities towards Shashank and his family would be over? Maybe…

Was it the strange young man who had walked in with his guitar and melodious voice? Yes, it was him.

She felt a strange connection with him, a bond she had not even felt with her sons. Perhaps, after Shashank's betrayal, her sons had been her responsibility rather than her true affection. Of course, she loved her sons more than anyone in this world, but Armaan was different. He was like a son she had never had. For some strange reason, she felt he could understand her better than the other three. He would be the kind of son she could rely on when she was old, disabled and bedridden.  He had somehow managed to fill some of that 20 year old void of her life.  He reminded her of the man she had fallen in love with thirty years ago; she could relate to him more than her present husband……he could be her support when Shashank was no longer there. She shuddered at that thought, and tried to drive out such ominous thoughts out of her mind……

Din aaye din jaaye,
Sadiyaan bhi gin aaye,
Sadiyaan re..
Tanhayi lipti hai,
Lipti hai saasaon ki,
Rasiya re..


Dressed in a simple salwaar kameez, Riddhima lay in bed all alone, her palms caressing the un touched sheet where her husband usually slept.


 Abhimanyu only slept there. He was rarely home, and whenever he was, he was either on the phone, his laptop, or fast asleep on this bed, oblivious of the fact that his wife lay wide awake next to him, hoping to start a conversation with him or even just touch him affectionately.

The last three years of their marriage had gone by like this- barren and lonely.

 Riddhima- waiting for him and Abhimanyu- too busy to notice her or take care of her needs. Even if she hinted that she missed him, he would dismiss her concerns- "don't you know I am responsible for the whole family business? How can you be so selfish Riddhima? Take care of yourself and the family….that's what a Modi bahu ought to be doing…understand? Here is my credit card….go shopping….kitty partying…whatever….just don't bother me with this kich kich…..I am very busy!"

Tere bina badi pyaasi hai,
Tere bina hai pyaasi re,
Naino ki do sakhiyan re,
Tanha re, mein tanha re..

As she lay alone, a strange feeling invaded her thoughts- why were Abhimanyu and Armaan so different? Armaan was so personable, easy going, relaxed and yet seemed like a responsible man who would be as successful in life one day. She felt so comfortable around him; she could be Riddhima and not Mrs. Abhimanyu Modi around Armaan. Would her life be different if she had married someone like Armaan rather than Abhimanyu?  Would she be happier? She sat up with a jolt, her heart pounding, forehead covered with beads, "Hey bhagwan…..why am I thinking like this?" She clutched her mangalsutra and got out of bed. She shut her eyes and said a silent prayer to Parvati, the Goddess most married women revere in India, "please forgive me Parvati ma…..how could I have such non pious thoughts in my mind? Please forgive me maa…..forgive me…"

Now that sleep had eluded her, she decided to pack Abhimanyu's suitcase for Bangalore. Abhimanyu was very finicky about the way his suitcase was packed. After five long years, she had learnt the art of packing his bag to his needs. He had never complained, but had never praised or thanked her either. She did not expect him to thank him for such trivial things, after all that was her duty.

Zindagi zindagi,
Kya kami reh gayi,
Aankh ki kor mein,
Kyu nami reh gayi..
Zindagi zindagi..
Subah ka kohra hai,
Shaam ki dhool hai,
Tanhai hai,
Raat bhi zard hai,
Dard hi dard hai,
Ruswai hai,
Kaise kate saansein uljhi hai,
Raaten badi jhulsi jhulsi hai,
Naina kori sadiyaan re,
Tanha re, mein tanha re..

Armaan lay in bed, wide awake like most of the occupants of the house that night. He could barely sleep as he was in a euphoric state of mind. He had not felt happier in life. How he wished the Modis were really his family. He would do anything to have a loving family like their's. All these years, Dilip mama had taken good care of him, but he had always craved for a big family like the Modis. Well, he thought, I might not be related to them by blood, but I can always be a friend to all of them, and be there for them when they need me.

His only regret- kaash Riddhima unki beti hoti…..and that too unmarried…..Oh well…..I can always be her friend….a friend for life….

And now, if I can also meet my dad one day…..my life would be complete…..

[Zindagi zindagi,
Kya kami reh gayi,
Aankh ki kor mein,
Kyu nami reh gayi] -2 times
Tu kahan kho gayi,
Koi aaya nahi,
Dopahar ho gayi,
Koi aaya nahi..
Zindagi zindagi,
Kya kami reh gayi,
Aankh ki kor mein,
Kyu nami reh gayi..


"Padma!" Suaryabhan whispered.

"Jee? Are you still awake?" She moaned.

"I need to tell you something," Shashank sat up, mustering some courage at last. He didn't want to hide Armaan's truth from Padma any longer. He knew she would get more upset, just like she did after finding about Damini, if she found out the truth from somewhere else. He had to tell her, and tell her now.

"Yes?" She sat up, turning the bedside lamp on.

"Please turn the light off Padma," he averted his gaze from her; he knew his weakness. Any eye contact with her would paralyze him from saying the truth once again.



"MOM! MOM! MOM!" A loud bang at the door startled them.

"Rahul?" Padma hopped out of bed. Shashank turned the light on and followed her.

"What happened beta?" She answered the door. A visibly shaken Rahul, held her hands firmly, "f…fire….aag…m…om….f…fire." He started stuttering just like he used to when he was a kid. Padma knew Rahul usually regressed to stuttering when there was a major calamity.

"Fire? Where?" She asked.

"B..bh…bhaiyya's room," Rahul stammered.

"Chalo….let's go," Shashank led the way and descended the stairs hurriedly. Rahul and Padma followed him.

Smoke and bright red flames radiated from Atul's room.


"CAN SOMEONE CALL 911?" Armaan hollered urgently.

"911?" Rahul was frozen with shock.

"Let me call the fire brigade," Riddhima ran to the phone.

In the meantime, Armaan knew that three people were trapped in the room. Kavya and Anjali's shrieks told them that they were still conscious. Time was of the essence; Armaan knew from his boy scouts training that he had no time to waste. Tearing his shirt off, he barged into the door with a white vest on his chest, knocking the heavy door down after a couple of blows. Tall, thick and roaring bellows of flame erupted from the open door as a thick smog of smoke escaped into the hallway. Without caring for his life, Armaan somersaulted into the smoldering room.

"ARMAAN BETA….DHYAAN SE!" Shashank yelled from behind, wanting to follow his son.

"SHASHANK!" Padma held his arm, "AAP KAHAN JAA RAHE HAIN?"


"THE FIREMEN ARE ON THEIR WAY!" Riddhima ran back after making the call, "what happened? Who has gone inside?"

"Beta…please call Abhimanyu," Padma was bawling and shaking with fear.

Rahul, still frozen from shock was dumbfounded, "y..ye..s…mom."

"He is not picking up the phone," Riddhima cried, her fists clenched as she feared that Armaan was the one inside Atul's room, "andar kaun gaya hai?"

"Armaan…..he jumped in before we could stop him," Shashank was shaking and cursing himself for not having the guts to save his sons, daughter in law and grandson.

A horrified Riddhima charged towards the room to help the people trapped inside.

"NAHIN BETA!" Padma pulled her back, "don't be silly…..we can't lose everyone to the fire…..where are the firemen?"

"Lekin mummyji…..Kavya…bhabhi…bhaiyya…..they are all trapped…..and…and Armaan…..we need to help them."

"Bhabhi…I will go," Rahul felt ashamed of himself and was about to jump in when a dark, soot covered Armaan walked out with an unconscious Kavya in his arms, "HERE…SOMEONE HOLD HIM! GET HIM SOME FRESH AIR"

"MUJHEY DO!" Rahul grabbed Kavya and took him away to the courtyard. Padma followed him with cool towels and water to revive her grandson back into life.

Armaan jumped back into the fire, without paying heed to any protests or caution.

"ARMAAN!ARMAAN!ARMAAN!" They all cried for him but he had disappeared into the blazing smog once again.

Riddhima and Shashank were about to follow Armaan but a pair of strong hands stopped them, "we are here….please step back."

The fire brigade had finally arrived.

The professionals opened fire with their water hoses and ran into the room in their fire suits. After a few minutes, Armaan walked out with Anjali in his arms, whereas the fireman carried Atul in his arms.

Riddhima, Shashank, Armaan and their family doctor who had been summoned by Padma helped resuscitate the victims on the floor.

Anjali and Kavya had regained consciousness but Atul was still out. Kavya was in shock and numb of emotions.

Coughing and gagging, Anjali started crying once she realized what had happened. She sat on the floor and sobbed with Kavya in her arms, "yeh kya hua beta? Mere saath hi kyun hota hai?"

Riddhima took Kavya from Anjali's arms, "bhabhi…..bhagwan ka laakh shukr hai aap sab bach gaye."

"Let's take them to the hospital….let me get an ambulance," the doctor announced.

"Bhaiyya! Bhaiyya!" Rahul tried to shake an unconscious Atul. To everyone's surprise, Atul had no signs of injuries or burns.

"Looks like Atul saheb is under the influence of alcohol," the doctor announced, "was he drinking?"

Armaan, covered in soot and blood had singed his hair at places, his bare arms abraded and raw, lowered his eyes, "yes doctor….he was outside the room……in the balcony with a glass of whisky in his hand."

"No wonder….he doesn't have any burns," the doctor sighed, "how did the fire start?"

"Looks like a short circuit," one of the firemen replied.

"I heard some crackling," Anjali sobbed, "and then I smelt smoke from the electric outlet," but I couldn't do anything…..my wheelchair was far from me….I grabbed Kavya and rolled off the bed…..but…but…by then the fire was all around us," she bawled again as Padma and Riddhima tried to pacify her.

Armaan felt bad for Atul's family. They had all been a victim of bad luck and to a certain extent Atul's negligence. If only he had left the glass door open, or not moved Anjali's wheelchair out of the way, Anjali and Kavya could have escaped a lot of trauma. He wondered why Atul wanted to be alone and get drunk that late in the night? Was this a daily affair? Was everything not kosher between the eldest son and his wife?

With the ambulance there, Anjali, Kavya, Atul and the doctor boarded the vehicle and headed towards the hospital.

"Mom…dad….let's go….I'll drive," Rahul picked his car keys.

"Riddhima…..are you coming?" Padma asked.

"Mummyji….Abhimanyu just called….he is on his way home…..I'll come with him," Riddhima hung up. He had finally answered her calls after repeated attempts.

"Armaan beta….why don't you come too…..you have some injuries also," Shashank looked at Armaan's arms, "and your hand….yeh tho jal gaya hai."

"That's Ok uncle…..nothing major….he stared at his hand….I'll wait for Abhimanyu," in reality he didn't want to leave Riddhima alone at home as the firemen were still busy putting the fire out.

"Riddhima beta…please first aid kit tho laana," Padma summoned her daughter in law, "yeh aise nahin maanega."

"Jee mummyji," she gazed at his wounds; a sudden spasm went through her body and soul after seeing him injured. Even Kavya's burns had not moved her as much as the wounds on Armaan's body. She almost felt the pain surge through her nerves, as if the injuries had been inflicted on her and not him. Looking away, she ran to the kitchen to grab the supplies.

"Theek hai beta…..aaj tum nahin hote tho," Shashank became a bit misty eyed. Padma reciprocated her husband's emotions and placed her hand on Armaan's arm, "you were God sent beta….we will always be indebted to you."

"Please mujhey sharminda mat kee jiye aunty," Armaan bowed his head. In the meantime, Riddhima walked in with a large bowl of water and a first aid kit.

"Beta we will see you all at the hospital," Padma and Shashank left with Rahul, leaving Riddhima to tend over Armaan's wounds.

"Oh Riddhima….don't worry….I 'll help myself." Armaan protested.

She pulled a chair for him and ordered, "sit down…….don't argue with me!"

"Yes ma'am," he chuckled obediently, "I know I will always lose that argument."

"Good…..now stay quiet and let me do my job."

'Yes ma'am," he pursed his lips together and stared at her face as she opened the kit on a nearby table and neatly laid the antiseptic solution, gauzes, bandages.

"Hmm….very organized…..are you a nurse by profession or you just like to nurse people's wounds?" He chided.

"SSHHH! QUIET!" she scolded him.

"OK..OK baba," he giggled.

After soaking the gauzes in antiseptic solution, carefully she cleaned his arms off all the soot, dust and blood.

'AHHH!" she almost screamed, "what's this?" She pointed at his upper arms.

Armaan stared at his upper arm and then burst out laughing, "those are my tattoos….they are not injuries."

"Tattoos? Why would you do that to your body? Of course those are injuries," she tried to scratch them off with a finger nail, "you are crazy….those needles must have hurt."

Her fingers resting on his arm sent a lightning sensation through him. With his face flushed, he realized, Riddhima had no idea what effect she was having on him. Her faint touch had thrown him off guard; a pleasant sweet sensation that he had never felt before when anyone had touched him.

"They were worth it," he almost drawled, dizzy by her proximity and fingers on his bare skin.

"Americans are crazy for sure," she shook her head and then moved down to his hand, "Oh my God…..that's your right hand……yeh tho jal gaya…Oh no," she let out a heartfelt cry.

"That's ok….it's just a superficial burn…it will heal fast," he reassured her.

"But how will you play the guitar?" she was worried, "your classes start in a couple of days."

"I am sure I can figure out a way," he downplayed his injury.

""No Armaan……you will be out of tune." Worriedly, she cleaned his hand as he hid the wince on his face.

"That's OK…they will think I am a bad student…maybe they will kick me out of the school…..and then I'll go back to the US."

Riddhima felt her heart sink, "you really want to go back….is that why you came to India?" He sensed the disappointment in her voice.

"I am just kidding," he chuckled, "I really want to stay here…in India….because," he paused and gazed at her hair shrouding her shoulder, her face hidden by the thick tresses, "because I love India."

"Then don't play with this burnt had….I want your teachers to hear your best compositions….not an out of tune one," she rubbed an antibiotic ointment on his palm, soothing not only his scorched skin but also his soul. He knew at that moment that even though, she could never belong to him, he would always belong to her. Come what may, he would always be there for her, thick or thin, just like a true friend would. She was his reason to love the Modis, his reason to stay back in India, his reason to prove himself to the Music Academy, and his reason for existence from now on…..

………to be contd……………


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