Saturday, 9 June 2018

part 9 : Pehchan


Dinner time was sacred at the Modi house. Over the years, Padma had made a rule that unless a family member was away from home due to business or education everyone had to show up at the dining table at 9 pm sharp. There were days when that was the only time, the family saw or talked to each other. It was easy to stay tucked in your own corner in the large mansion. After Padma,
Riddhima had assumed the mantle of dinner time cohesion.  Not only did she make sure that enough varieties of dishes were cooked to suit everyone's choices, but Riddhima was usually the one who reminded everyone to assemble in the dining hall before Padma's arrival. Nothing pleased her mother in law more than to see everyone seated at the dining table. Perhaps, these little acts of harmony had forced Padma to stay committed in a strained relationship for so many years.

"Abhimanyu Bangalore se nahin aaya abhi?" Padma asked as everyone settled in their chairs.

"Wo aaye the… chale gaye hain," Riddhima replied softly.

"Aap hi baat kariye is ladke se," for the first time in days, Padma addressed her husband, "teen din baad ghar aaya hai….kam se kam ek dinner hi kar le hamare saath."

Shashank's drooping shoulders said it all. "I have tried several times Padma… know how he is…..kaam se zyaada usey kuch pasand nahin hai."

"Mummyji! We have such a large business…..Abhimanyu is the only one who manages it…..I think we expect too much from him….if he had some help from family, he would be less burdened," Anjali stood up for her brother in law. Her jab was obviously aimed at her husband, Atul.

Like a good wife, Riddhima defended Abhimanyu, "mummyji…he promised that he will join us for dinner."

Shashank, as always, stayed out of the argument. Over the years, because of his wife's rejection, he had learnt to turn a deaf ear to the household's problems. Whether it was apathy, or his overwhelming guilt, he had never been emotionally available for his sons or their wives. What he did for Armaan at the music academy to convince Dr Mani was a miracle. His initiative had momentarily surprised Padma, but once she realized that Armaan was possibly his illegitimate son, she was not surprised. Despite Shashank's pleads, Padma had always maintained that Damini still held a special place in his heart.

"Arre Rahul kahan hai phir?" Atul diverted the attention from Abhimanyu's absence.

"Oh…Rahul has gone out for dinner with Armaan," Riddhima replied with a smile.

"Armaan aaya tha?" Shashank's face lit up. He paused as he was about to take his first bite of food.

"Jee …..Kavya had his first guitar lesson."

His face flushed with pride but a disappointed expression soon took over, "Oh..I see……how did the lesson go beta?" Shashank looked at Kavya.

Kava raised a thumbs up as his mouth was full of the parantha his mom had stuffed in his mouth.

"Good…good," Shashank smiled and nodded. Padma's stern but hurt expression made him lower his gaze back to his plate.



"Armaan…this place has the best mutton biryani yaar," Rahul folded the menu and sat up, "let's talk business now….how are we going to convince Muskaan?"

'Sure…..the biryani sounds great…..but when is Muskaan going to come?" Armaan asked as he scanned the exhaustive menu one more time.

"Here she is," Rahul got up to welcome a curly haired woman in a long skirt and kurti.

"Hi Muskaan....kaisi ho? Remember Armaan from the graduation party?"

"Oh yeah…of course," she stretched out her hand. Armaan held her hand gently but did not let go of it. He stood up and gazed into her eyes lovingly, "you are beautiful…..lovely eyes."

Rahul was shocked to hear the amorous lilt in Armaan's voice. Muskaan, a bit taken aback tried to free her hand but Armaan's grip was far to stronger.

'Uh..uh…Mr. Armaan…please leave my hand."

"Ek baar jo haath thaam leta hoon…wo chhod tha nahin hoon," he drawled and took a step forward to a visibly appalled Muskaan.

A normally mild and meek mannered Rahul's innate protectiveness for his lady love suddenly took over.

"ARMAAN!" Forcibly he separated their two hands from each other, 'YOU ARE OPENLY FLIRTING WITH MY GIRLFRIEND?" Rahul pulled Muskaan into his arms and glared at Armaan with fire in his eyes.

Muskaan hid in Rahul's shoulder, clutching onto his arms with a disgusted expression.

With a sly smile on his face, Armaan settled down on his seat with his hands resting behind his head, "isey kehte hain sachcha pyaar…..true love…..kyun Rahul?"

"Of course I love her!" Rahul snarled at Armaan, aghast at his friend's flirtatious gestures towards Muskaan.

"I like that! Come on sit down guys…I won't eat you up…I am just a carnivore…not a cannibal," Armaan chuckled.

"Rahul….can we go somewhere else?" Muskaan grumbled.

"Yeah….lagta hai aisa hi karna padhega," Rahul picked his jacket from his seat and was about to leave when Armaan burst out in laughter, "look guys….it just goes to show that no one can ever break the love you have for each other……not even a cool and handsome dude like me…..aa jao yaar….baitho baitho….Muskaan kya khaaogi?" Armaan got up and courteously pulled out a chair for Muskaan.

"Yeh kya mazaak hai Armaan?" Rahul calmed down a bit.

"This is what you need to do Rahul…..not let anyone….I mean ANYONE… your parents…or even her parents break the love you have for each other," Armaan grinned.

A sheepish Rahul crawled back into his chair as a confused Muskaan settled down next to him.

"So Rahul…..I want to see the same conviction in your eyes when you go and talk to Muskaan's parents….you've got to convince them that Muskaan is your life….your love….and no one can separate her from you…..not their ideals…..not your hero worship for your brother….samjhe Mr. Majnu?" Armaan shook his head and smiled.

"Got it man… it….tu ne tho meri jaan hi nikaal di thi," Rahul chuckled cautiously.

"Well….if you let others rule your love life…..tho ek din aisa hi hoga….someone else will run away with your lady love."

"So that means…we need to go and talk to your parents," Rahul clutched Muskaan's hands, "we will convince them that I will always take good care of you…..and never let you down in any way."

"Thanks," Muskaan smiled shyly and then looked up at Armaan, "thanks for making my man a man."

"My pleasure," Armaan chortled.

Rahul ordered more food and drinks for all of them and then excused himself, "excuse me guys….I just saw someone….I'll be right back." Without looking back, he headed for the door to greet a tall svelte lady. It was time for him to return Armaan's favor; set him up with Nikita, his senior from college and now an employee under his brother, Abhimanyu.

"Hi Nikita!"

"HI Rahul! What a surprise?" Nikita was a bit taken aback by his sudden appearance.

"So Muskaan…what's the real reason?" Armaan leaned forward on the dinner table and asked.

'Real reason?"

"Yeah….why do your parents not want to marry off their daughter into the Modi household? Is it all about identity? After all anyone would want to identify with such a successful family of Mumbai."

"It's not the family…it's Abhimanyu," Muskaan replied softly.

"Abhimanyu?" Armaan raised his eyebrow.

"My father was once employed at the Modi industries…..he worked for Shashank uncle for 10 years and once uncle retired, papa had to work under Abhimanyu. Papa quit 6 months after uncle's retirement. My father is an honorable man. He is honest and for him work is worship. He couldn't work with Abhimanyu and his unethical ways. Aur main kya kahoon?" She lowered her head, "that's why we don't want Rahul to follow his brother blindly."

Why was Armaan not surprised? With his jaws tense and fists clenched, his hatred for Abhimanyu more pronounced than ever, he tried to keep a calm demeanor, "I understand what you mean Muskaan. Remember no two people are alike. As far as I know, Rahul and Abhimanyu are poles apart. What I know of Rahul is that he is very impressionable. You know what that means? If Abhimanyu can impress him, so can you, your ideals and your dreams. Remember Abhimanyu is his brother, but you will be his wife."

"Hmm…I know what you mean. Rahul is indeed very impressionable and that's what scares me about our future."

"Love! Love can change anything. Apne pyaar ke pinjar mein Rahul ko baandh kar rakh lo Muskaan…dekho wo kitni jaldi bhaiyya bhaiyya se biwi biwi japne lagega," Armaan and Muskaan burst out in laughter.

"Hey guys….having fun?" Rahul walked back with a pretty lady behind him, "I would like you to meet someone Armaan. This is Nikita Chatterjee."

With an inquisitive look, Armaan got up and held his hand out, "Hi…I am Armaan Malik."

"Hi! Nice to meet you," the woman flashed an enticing smile, licking her lips provocatively. Armaan was bemused by the woman. Even American women took some time before they flirted with a guy. He was even more amused that Rahul thought Nikita was his type of girl.

"Come Nikita…join us for dinner," Rahul pulled a chair for her, "Nikita this is Muskaan, my fiance."

"Fiancee?" Muskaan protested, "Rahul…abhi tho…."

Rahul grinned at her, "abhi nahin tho jald ho jaaogi meri jaan."

Both Armaan and Muskaan were stunned by Rahul's confident and nonchalant attitude. With their jaws dropped to their knees, they gave each other a high five as Rahul completed the order for Nikita.

"I remember you Nikita….you ragged me when I was a freshie," Muskaan giggled, "you were really naughty….na jaane kya kya karne ko kaha tha mujhey!"

"I am still naughty you know," Nikita winked flirtatiously at Armaan. Armaan just leaned back and smiled inwardly. This woman was definitely a big time 'chaaloo.'  Undoubtedly, she was pretty, sexy and could be a good diversion for him, he thought.

"Nikita, how's bhaiyya treating you?" Rahul asked enthusiastically.

"Bhaiyya?" She acted ignorant.

'Arre…don't you work with bhaiyya…Abhimanyu bhaiyya?" Rahul was surprised.

"Oh…Mr. Modi?" Nikita smiled, "I'm sorry, I forget that you are a Modi too. You're so different from him. Mr. Abhimanyu Modi tho bahut kadak boss hai…..I am glad I don't work under him. In fact, I don't even know him that well. He probably doesn't know me either. After all, it's a big company," she lied through her teeth.

Armaan played with his wine glass and continued to be a silent listener.

"Oh…that's probably true….bhaiyya is quite a workaholic," Rahul beamed.

"Yeah…that's what I hear," Nikita cleared her throat, "so Armaan, what do you do?"

"I am a musician."

"Oh…tho wo tum ho? The hero from the other night? The one who saved the Modi family from the fire? You just jumped right into the fire…haina? I read it in the paper. "

"Hero?" Armaan was amused, "I thought the press had labeled me as the villain of the story."

Nikita's face fell as she tried to recall where she had heard or read the story. Of course it was Abhimanyu who had narrated her all the details when he arrived at Bangalore a day late. 'Uh..wo….actually," she fumbled, "office mein baat ho rahi thi….you know water cooler gossip?"

"Yes of course…I am glad at least some people know the truth," Armaan replied sarcastically, still baffled by the fact that if Nikita hardly knew Abhimanyu, how did she know the real story behind the fire?

"You know how the press is…..well what kind of music do you play?"

"Whatever pleases your ears and whatever pleases my heart," Armaan replied.

'Wow….you sound like an interesting guy."

"Why do you think I introduced him to you," Rahul chuckled, "poor guy has been dying to meet a girl like you since he landed in India."

'Really?" Nikita's eyes lit up.

Armaan just smiled and ran his fingers through his hair, "you are right Rahul….jis ladki ko milna chaahta tha……India aate hi meri wo talaash door ho gayi."

"Great! I didn't realize it would be that easy," Rahul was ecstatic. Being useful to others always gave him a kick, and Rahul thought he had hit the jackpot tonight.

"Excuse me," Nikita's color faded as her phone suddenly buzzed her out off her conversation, "I need to get this." She saw Abhimanyu's name flash on the screen. Quickly, she walked to a secluded corner to answer him.

"Sorry Abhimanyu, you can't come to Jasper's!" She whispered.

"Why not?" Abhimanyu asked angrily.

"Your brother is here with his friends." She replied.

"Oh Sh*t! Theek hai…I'll see you tomorrow sweetheart. Is bahane aaj apni biwi ko khush kar deta hoon."

'What do you mean?" Nikita asked angrily.

"Relax sweetheart…..I can do whatever I want…after all she is my legally wedded wife….but don't worry, sirf uske haath ka banaa khaana khaaunga….dessert tho tumhare saath hi khaata hoon…..haina?" he laughed wickedly.

"Good boy…see you later darling." She hung up and then joined the gang for dinner.

The four of them dined, had some drinks and later danced to a few numbers before calling it a night. Nikita was tired after her long nights in Bangalore with her boss; she made sure that she never mentioned Abhimanyu or Bangalore during her conversations. Armaan tried his best to remain interested in Nikita once Rahul and Muskaan had disappeared to a corner in the guise of dancing. Dilip's advice stirred him away from Riddhima's memories as he forced himself to dance with Nikita half heartedly.



Armaan and Rahul dropped Muskaan before heading towards his music academy.  Armaan had a sudden yearning to gift Riddhima's surprise to her that night. Also, after spending a few hours with Nikita, only Riddhima could uplift his spirits and ensure a sweet night's rest for him.

"Rahul, I think I forgot my bag at your house, can we swing by your house?" Armaan asked. He had purposely left the extra bag on the porch so that given an opportunity; he would be back at the Modi house.

"Sure….in fact bhaiyya must be home too….you can see him too."

"Yes of course," Armaan replied dryly, hoping that Abhimanyu would not be anywhere near him or Riddhima. After his conversation with Muskaan, he was even more convinced that Abhimanyu did not deserve a woman like Riddhima and neither did she deserve a husband like hers.



"Aapke liye kuch aur laaun?" Riddhima sat next to her husband. Abhimanyu silently devoured the home made food while reading the daily newspaper, ignoring his wife who patiently waited for him to finish his meal.


"Thodi kheer lenge? Maine apne haathon se banaayi hai," she offered enthusiastically.

"What?" He kept the paper down, "Kheer? Naa…..I am full," he replied curtly and picked the paper again.

"Aapki favorite kheer hai," she hesitated.

"Why do you insist Riddhima? Peeche hi padh jaati ho…main koi bachcha nahin hoon….if I want kheer, I'll take it myself," He folded the newspaper angrily, pushed his plate away and got up to retire to his room.

"I am sorry…please khaana mat chodiye," she ran after him with a bowl of kheer in her hand.

"I am sleepy now….I have a long day tomorrow….Good night," Abhimanyu turned his head to reply and then dashed to his room.

Unfortunately, Armaan and Rahul observed their interaction from the foyer. Rahul tried to downplay the incident, "yaar bhaiyya is really stressed with work….I need to join him ASAP….dekho kitne pareshan rehte hain."

Armaan disregarded Rahul's defence of his older brother and strode towards Riddhima. He grabbed the bowl of kheer from her hand and polished it off in one go.

Riddhima and Rahul stared at Armaan incredulously as he gobbled up one bowl of kheer after another. He poured the last few morsels from the serving dish directly into his mouth, licking every inch of the delicious dessert with his tongue and lips.

"BRRRPPPP!" Armaan let out a large one sending both Riddhima and Rahul into splits.

"Armaan….kya biryani se pait nahin bhara tha tera?" Rahul was amused.

"Biryani apni jagah hai aur yeh kheer apni jagah….HICCUP! HICCUP!" Armaan stuttered between hiccups.

"Yeh lo….paani pee lo….bahut khaa liya tumnein," Riddhima handed him a glass of water, "you men are like kids sometimes…..kya pehle kabhie kheer nahin khaayi kya?"

Armaan nodded and then shook his head with a mouthful of water, "haan khaayi hai….lekin itni kharaab kheer pehle nahin khaayi."

"Kharaab kheer?" Riddhima twisted her lips angrily, "itni kharaab hai tho phir saari khaa kyun gaye?"

"Kyunki yeh sitam aur kisi par nahin karna chaahta tha," Armaan teased her and swallowed all the water.

Rahul shook his head and could not stop laughing, "man…you are funny Armaan!"

Armaan joined the banter and slapped Rahul's back, "khaas kar tumhare Abhimanyu bhaiyya par yeh sitam kaise hone deta? Yeh tho mera farz hai."

Riddhima turned her face away, misty eyed from acknowledging Armaan's real intentions. He had seen and heard how cold heartedly her husband had walked away from her and the kheer. Like a true friend, he had not only complimented her cooking by polishing off all the kheer, but he had indirectly reassured her that he would always be there for her, to make her feel better whenever she was disheartened or dejected.

"Ok man…let's go now….did you find your bag?"

"Oh…that's right….Riddhima, have you seen a black bag…..I left it on the porch," Armaan tapped her shoulder.

Wiping her tears, she turned around smiling, "so that was yours?"

'Yeah…I am sorry….I forgot it here," he scrunched his nose sheepishly.

"Mere room mein hai….shukr karo ki koi naukar galti se nahin le gaya," she scolded him.

Rahul sighed and excused himself, "while you guys find the bag, I'll be right back from my room."

"Ok..I'll wait for you." Armaan replied.

"Itne careless ho tum?" She asked angrily.

"Sorry," scratching his thick hair he bowed his head.

"Laati hoon," She turned around to leave.

"Don't worry Riddhima….that's for you," Armaan replied softly, "that's the surprise I was talking about."

She gave him a quizzical look, "what is it?"

"It's a surprise."

"I don't like surprises."

"You will like this one……I promise it will help you reach one of your dreams."

"What is it?" she was impatient.

"Ok baba….you are so…so…" he wanted to say 'unromantic' but resisted.

"So what?" she gazed into his eyes, "so what Armaan?"

"So…so impatient," he sighed, "it's a laptop."

She scrunched her nose, unimpressed by the surprise, "you are so…so…so.." She wanted to say 'unromantic' in an unromantic way but hesitated in case he misconstrued her words. Instead, she said, "so….so American!"

'American? What's a laptop to do with being American or desi?"

'What will I do with a laptop?" She questioned.

"Online degree…'s that simple….ab samajh mein aaya Ms. Desigirl."

"Is that possible?" She asked.

"Very much so….I have even marked all the websites for you….bas ab jaldi se enroll karo aur ghar baithe baithe degree haasil karo….that rhymes doesn't it?" Armaan chided and patted himself.

"I think you are a better singer than a poet," she laughed, 'ab jao….kal se meri classes bhi le lena."

"Tumhari classes?" He asked.

"Yeah…computer classes," she smiled.

"don't tell me you are computer illiterate?"

"Yes….I am…..aur ab tum hi laaye ho mere liye computer….tho tumhein hi sikhaana hoga," she teased.

"Kahan phans gaya main," he slapped his forehead melodramatically, ecstatic and thrilled on the inside for his new found role in her life.

"Let's go man," Rahul was back, "did you tell bhabhi about your hot date?"

"Hot date?" Armaan asked softly, "that….that was not a date man."

"Date?" Riddhima felt a little awkward, "you found him a girl Rahul?"

"Oh yeah bhabhi….a hot one!"

Riddhima was a bit taken aback again; she dug her toes into the floor and nervously toyed with her mangalsutra, "that's great Armaan…..just don't forget us when things get serious with this hot lady……you know you've promised to teach me something."

Armaan sensed a little cheerlessness in her voice. Was she unhappy about him dating or was she feeling awkward about the way they talked about another woman? As she hid into an invisible shell, he felt like taking her into his arms and comforting her. She was like a little girl then, insecure and worried.

Clearing his throat, he reassured her, "don't worry Riddhima…..your lessons will not suffer….neither will Kavya's…..and I'll never forget yo-u….I mean you guys. "

As Rahul and Armaan walked off, Armaan felt his heart tug just a little as her voice echoed in his mind- DON'T FORGET US. Did he sense of possesiveness in her voice or was that his wishful thinking?

"How can I ever forget something that's a part of me now?"Armaan pondered as they drove off to the academy.

Jaane kaise shab dhali jaane kaise dil khila
Jaane kaise kab kahaan chal pada yeh silsila
Meri aankhon ko yeh kaisa manjar mila
Tere har naksh mein bas khuda hi khuda
[Tera chehra sanam ik rubaai si hai
Mere dil jism-o-jaan pe tu chaai si hai] - 2

Betaabiyon ki shaamo sehar se
Na tha main waakif dard-e-jigar se
Gujra nahi tha main toh kabhi bhi
Pyaar li dilkash raahegujar se
Deewaanagi ki yeh intehaan hai
Har chehre mein chehra tera hai
Sari duniya teri parchaai si hai
Mere dil jism-o-jaan pe tu chaayi si hai
Tera chehra sanam ik rubaayi si hai
Mere dil jism-o-jaan pe tu chaayi si hai
Jaane kaise shab dhali jaane kaise dil khila
Jaane kaise kab kahaan chal pada yeh silsila

Teri kashish ka jaadu ajab hai
Har waqt mujhko teri talab hai
Yun hi nahi main besudh huva hoon
Is pyaas ka toh koi sabab hai
Tere siva na abb koi armaan
Abb jindagi hai tujhse meri
Bin tere har jagah tanhaai si hai
Mere dil jism-o-jaan pe tu chaayi si hai
Tera chehra sanam ik rubaai si hai
Mere dil jism-o-jaan pe tu chaai si hai
Jaane kaise shab dhali jaane kaise dil khila
Jaane kaise kab kahaan chal pada yeh silsila
Meri aankhon ko yeh kaisa manjar mila
Tere har naksh mein bas khuda hi khuda
[Tera chehra sanam ik rubaai si hai
Mere dil jism-o-jaan pe tu chaai si hai] - 2

… be contd….


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