Sunday, 1 July 2018

part 28 : Pehchan

True friendship, like true love is never serene…..



RECAP: "Sorry Riddhima. Agar ek baar mera dil toot jaata hai, tho usey koi nahin jod sakta…tum bhi nahin."



She was stunned by his response. She had no idea that a man, so tender and loving could harbor so much bitterness inside him. She understood Armaan's point of view but through Padma she had learnt how remorseful Shashank had been about his actions. Shashank was trying his best to redeem himself by watching out for Armaan at every step, but she decided to drop the topic for now, hoping that one day she would succeed in bringing the father and son close to each other.




The drive back was silent, cold and distant. Armaan kept his gaze on the road and hands on the steering wheel, avoiding any eye or direct contact with Riddhima. Upset with herself for ruining their wonderful afternoon together, she curled into a ball on the passenger seat, trying to make sense of Armaan's sudden outburst at her. Was he overreacting to her offer of reconciliation with his dad or had she been insensitive to his pain? After mulling over her dilemma, she concluded that it was her fault entirely- what if Armaan had asked her to reconcile with Abhimanyu? She would feel equally insulted, that too by the man who loved her so much.





"I am sorry Armaan," she broke the silence, placing her hand on his.  They were outside her hostel after picking her books from his apartment.



"It's getting late Riddhima. Jao tumhein kal ke liye padhai karni hai. Good bye!" He continued to stare at a distance after halting the car.



"A-Armaan," she hesitated, "please bhool jao maine kuch kaha tha."



"It's okay Riddhima. Please leave me alone for some time," he opened the door for her, signaling her to leave the car.



With subdued emotions and a solemn expression, she did as she was told. Even though she knew Armaan very well, certain aspects of his personality were still elusive and unpredictable. "Good Bye Armaan. I…I love you-please forgive me."





"Riddhima, I know you love me but let's not talk about anything for a while. BYE!" He shut the car door and sped off, leaving a trail of hazy smoke behind her, reflective of her state of mind at that moment. A hazy layer of mist welled up in her eyes as she kicked herself for annoying him. At that moment, she could care less whether she had a B.A. final exam the next day. How she wished she had a time machine to reverse the sequence of events that had transpired in the last few hours between them. Everything had been perfect- the beach, the sun, the water, the sand, their few intimate moments in the water, his killer glances at her, his mischievous comments- she had to spoil them all with her desire to play truce maker!





………………………………………………………………………………..



LATER THAT NIGHT: ARMAAN'S APARTMENT



"Why did I react like that? Aakhir us bechari ki kya galti thi?" After a cool down period, a few strums of his guitar and a phone call with his uncle, Dilip mama, Armaan sighed guiltily, "she must be so stressed out right now. Bechari ka kal sab se badha exam hai. What if she messes it all up? She has been working hard for it all these months. Why was I so inconsiderate? Why did I get upset at her?" Without further ado, he picked his car keys, flew down the stairs to the parking lot and zoomed off in his car.





"Am I getting too insecure these days?" He kicked himself as he drove towards the hostel, "am I worried that if I reconcile with my father, perhaps one day, she could reconcile with Abhimanyu? Damn!" He slammed the breaks to ward off a little child crossing the street. He heaved a sigh of relief on escaping the near mishap and leaned back on his seat, "Am I afraid to lose her? Is that why I over reacted? Nahin! Wo meri hai, aur hamesha rahegi. She can never go back to that man! NEVER!" He swung the car past the pedestrians and resumed his journey, "I will never let that happen, chaahe mujhey kuch bhi karna padhe!"





……………………………………………………………………………………………..





RIDDHIMA's HOSTEL ROOM:



Distracted and distraught, Riddhima stared at the blank computer screen, attempting some practice questions for her exam. In between the blank stares, she glanced at her cell phone, hoping to receive a call from Armaan. She picked the phone to dial his number, but hesitated, "nahin, main phone nahin karoongi. Wo pehle hi bahut naaraaz hai. Armaan please mujhey maaf kar do," she slammed her forehead with her cell phone, punishing herself for upsetting Armaan.



"That head needs a clear brain tomorrow morning. Itni zor se mat maro usko."



Riddhima was shocked to hear Armaan's voice pop from nowhere. She looked up. There he was. Standing at her window with his characteristic smile, a little crooked, his windswept hair falling on his forehead, his fingers touching his ears in apology, "can I come in?"



Tears of joy mixed with anger surged in her eyes, "NO! YOU CAN'T!" She got up to shut the window, but he moved swiftly and made a soft landing on her bed.



"You cannot shut me out of your life, or for that matter your room like that," he grinned at her.



"Kyun sataate ho mujhey itna?" She burst out in tears, "jaante ho kitni pareshan thi main? Ek phone bhi nahin kiya." She hammered his chest with her pillow.



"Yeh ulta chor kotwal ko daante waali baat nahin huyi?" He scratched his head, confused at her sudden outburst, ducking to escape the onslaughts of the soft weapon in her hand.



She flung her arms around him and broke down on his chest, "I-I am sorry Armaan."



"I am sorry too," he shut his eyes and pulled her closer, "I should have never gotten upset with you. Aakhir tumhari galti nahin thi. Main bhi tumhari jagah hota tho yahi karta," he kissed her ears and whispered, "kya mujhey maaf kiya tumne?"





Her nods were buried in his chest, her muffled voice sounded like, "haan kiya…ab kabhie aise naaraaz mat hona. Tum naaraaz hote ho tho lagta hai saari duniya mujh se naaraaz hai."





"Jaanta hoon," he pulled back and wiped her tears, "ab chalo kal ke exam par focus karo….don't think about me anymore warna sach much fail ho jaaogi."



"Ho jaane do," she clung to him like ivy on a wall, "agar tumhare pyaar mein fail ho gayi tho aur kuch maayne nahin rakhta."



"My my…..what dialogues!" Armaan chuckled, "are you sure you are taking a B.A exam and not an acting school exam?"



"Ab sab mazaak lag raha hai tumhein. Kyun itna naaraaz ho gaye the?" She asked, "I have never seen you like that."



"Shayad tumhein khone ka darr tha."



"Mujhey khone ka?" She gave him a puzzled look.



"Riddhima," he stood up and walked towards the window, "one of the reasons why we understand each other so well is because of our common miseries- Abhimanyu and Shashank Modi. Jaise tum Abhimanyu ke paas kabhie wapas nahin jaana chaahti, waise hi main Mr. Shashank ko hamesha ke liye bhoolna chaahta hoon. I am afraid that by forgiving my father, I might one day lose you to Abhimanyu again.





"Armaan?" Riddhima placed her hand on his shoulder, "You can never lose me to Abhimanyu. Even though, I am still married to him, I was never his…..jo cheez uski thi hi nahin, wo uske paas wapas kaise jaa sakti hai?" She circled her arms around his waist, resting her head on his back, "aaj ke baad kabhie aisa sochna bhi nahin…..I am yours….and will always be yours…come what may."



"Kitne din ho gaye hain. Why the delay in the divorce Riddhima? Don't we have the right to be together? Why does he not want to divorce you? Why Riddhima, why?"



"Because his ego cannot accept his wife with another man." She replied.



Armaan turned around, lifting her chin, stared into her big, beautiful and dark eyes, their faces inches away from each other,  "Main tumhein hamesha ke liye apna banana chaahta hoon Riddhima. I don't like it when anyone comes between us…even if they are the shadows of our past. Once your divorce comes through, we will move away from here…..bas wahan jaayenge jahan sirf hum dono ho…aur koi nahin."



Riddhima saw the desperation in his eyes. How could she convince him that she belonged to him, no one else? With each passing month, she had sensed his impatience. The once-upon-a-time-patient-friend was turning into an impatient lover. Her craving for him was equally strong, but she had a few hurdles to cross before she could take the plunge.



"Kiss me Armaan," she whispered into his lips. Her words stirred a surge of emotions in his heart; he couldn't believe what he had just heard, "phir se kaho Riddhima."



"Kiss me Armaan….I..I…need you," she whimpered softly. With fervor and fire in his eyes, he bent down, drawing her body closer, with light nibbles of her lips and chin, his hands wandered, arching her back till they were both in perfect position. An initial hesitation gave way to a gentle, lingering touch of the lips. Their bodies felt a rush of heat and ecstasy as their lips consumed each other, gently at first and then passionately. All their anger, insecurities and tears were washed away with their love and longing for each other.



Catching their breaths, they reluctantly pulled away from each other. The kiss had sparked a string of fireworks inside their bodies. They both knew that if they went further, they would not be able to stop the rising tide of passion and desire for each other.



"A-A-Armaan….ab jao tum…..kahin koi aa na jaaye," she stepped away, tremulous from what had just happened between their bodies.



"Ab kaise jaa sakta hoon main?" Armaan licked his lips and pulled her back into his arms, "I have tasted blood….ab rokna chaahogi tho rok bhi nahin sakogi mujhey."



"A-Armaan please," she lowered her eyes.



"Ok…I will leave but only after a good luck kiss," he bent down and kissed her one more time- this time sweeter and shorter version of the first kiss, "I will be back for more….after your exams," he winked at her and disappeared behind the window shutters as fast as he had appeared.



Riddhima waved back and blew a flying kiss behind him. She touched her lips, his tingle still alive on them. Blushing, as she recalled their first kiss, she dozed off on her bed with dreams and intense pleasure floating in her eyes.



………………………………………………….



TWO WEEKS LATER:



Riddhima sorted through her mail in anticipation of her B.A. final result. Since the exam, each day had passed in nervous expectation. She would often wake up in a cold sweat, worried about her exam result. What if she had failed? She would have to study the material all over again, delaying any hopes of employment or furthering her career. The cafeteria job was not challenging any longer; she yearned to go out in the real world, meet real people, deal with real issues rather than stay in the sheltered environment of the women's hostel. More than anything, she did not want to let Armaan down. His faith and belief in her had motivated her to complete her long cherished dream to graduate.





With trembling hands, she opened the envelope she had been anxiously awaiting, "hey bhagwan….ab aap par hi bharosa hai," she said a silent prayer and peeked at the result with half open eyes.





"P-P-PAAASSSSSSS!!!!" She jumped two feet in the air, throwing the piece of paper in her hand up in the air, "MAIN PASS HO GAYI! MAIN PASS HO GAYI!" She screeched at the top of her lungs, fled from her hostel room, flew down the stairs, twirling and dancing in the hallways of what had become her home away from home now.



"Arre Riddhima?" Keerti caught her in the hallway, "what's up? Aaj bahut khush lag rahi ho."



"Yes di! I passed my exam!" Riddhima gave her a big hug. Soon, a number of women had surrounded them. Any exciting news in the hostel spread like the pandemic flu.



"Congratulations!"



"Mubarak ho!"



"We are so happy for you!"



Her friends from the hostel greeted her excitement with more enthusiasm. They all knew how hard Riddhima had worked over the last six months; if anyone deserved good news amongst them- it was her.



"We want a party!"



"Yeah we want a party!" Muskaan joined the gang and gave Riddhima a bear hug, "how about tonight at the Red Dragon restaurant?" She suggested.



"Yes! Yes! Yes!" They all echoed, "we are tired of the hostel food."



"Great idea!" Keerti applauded, "I will reserve their party room right now."



"But..but," Riddhima hesitated, wondering how she would pay for the expenses, "party? How would I p-ay f-or that?"



"Don't worry Riddhima," Muskaan interjected, "we will all chip in….kyun ladies?"



"Yes, of course….it's going to be dutch. All we want to do is celebrate."



"Thanks everyone….can I invite some other friends?" Riddhima bit her lower lip sheepishly.



"We all know who these 'other friends' are! Of course Armaan is welcome!" Muskaan chuckled, "I will go and call him right now."



"Nahin muskaan," Riddhima stopped her, "I-I will invite him myself."





"Ahem! Ahem!" Another friend teased her, "of course, she will invite him personally." They were all aware of Riddhima's special friend- as he was known to them. His visits to the hostel were never private; in fact some were even aware of his tryst with the window, but had chosen to remain mum in front of Keerti and the hostel staff.



"Thanks guys," she blushed and then ran out to hail a cab.



On her way to Armaan's music academy, she informed Padma and her sister, Aradhana.



"I am so proud of you beta," Padma exclaimed, "is khushi mein ek party honi chaahiye…aaj tak sab ki graduation parties tumne arrange ki hain, ab main karoongi tumhare liye party."



"Wo mummyji….aaj shaam ko meri hostel ki friends bhi party de rahi hain."



"That's wonderful….I will join you ladies there."



"Thanks mummyji….you have been so supportive."



"This is the least I can do for you beta."



…………………………………………………….



"Riddhima…yeh tho bahut achchi khabar hai…I am so happy for you," Aradhana replied cheerfully, "in fact, Shailendra and I are here in Mumbai right now."



'Really? Kab aaye aap log?"



"Bas abhi…kuch der pehle…I wanted to surprise you, but you beat me to it."



"Didi..please join us for a party at the Red Dragon tonight…meri hostel friends ne arrange ki hai."



'Sure…we will be there."



"Look forward to seeing you both." Riddhima made a face when she thought about Shailendra jijajee, but she had no choice but to invite him also.



"Same here..I can't wait to see my little graduate."



…………………………………………………..





Riddhima felt a little guilty as she walked into the academy. The person who deserved to find out first was going to be the last one to find out. The whole world but Armaan knew about her graduation. She had envisioned a private celebration with him, but thanks to her uninhibited display of emotions, her special achievement had become a national day of celebration. She wanted to run into his arms and thank him for his belief in her, but all she got was the runaround from one music studio to another.



"Sorry madam, Armaan is busy with recording."



"He is recording with a famous music company. We cannot interrupt him."



"Try in an hour or two."



"His cell phone is switched off because they don't want any interruptions."



A dejected Riddhima scribbled a note for him- Armaan, please join me at the Red Dragon restaurant at 7 this evening. It's a surprise. "Please give this note to him…make sure he gets it…please it's very important."



"Don't worry madam, main de doonga….aap fikar mat keejiye."



"Thanks."



Reluctantly, Riddhima walked out of the academy. Her moment of celebration had suddenly been robbed of the initial enthusiasm. Alas, she would have to wait till the evening.



……………………………………………………………………………………….





EVENING AT THE RED DRAGON RESTAURANT:



Dressed in a pink sari and sleeveless blouse, Riddhima was indeed the cynosure of all eyes in the large banquet room of the famous Chinese restaurant. All eyes were on her, but her eyes wandered in search of one person. She had left several messages on his phone, but was familiar with his habit of ignoring voice messages. Padma, Aradhana, Shailendra, Keerti, Krina, Muskaan and at least 40 other women from the hostel surrounded Riddhima, enjoying the ambience, music, drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Riddhima politely refused to eat despite her sister and mother in law's insistence.




Finally, after about an hour, Armaan strolled in, looking dashing as ever in a blue blazer, white shirt and gray slacks. He stepped into the banquet room, slightly lost and confused, still trying to decipher Riddhima's  hand written note.



"Surprise? Hmm…aakhir aisa kya surprise ho sakta hai? It's not my birthday either." He scratched his head.





"Arre beta tum aa gaye? Hum sab kab se intezaar kar rahe the," Padma caught him off guard.



"Yeh…yeh….what's going on here?" He stepped back and looked around at the roomful of women, taken aback by Padma's sudden appearance. Since he had left the Modi home, he had never attempted to make contact with either Shashank or Padma. He had no grudge against Padma, but he was still upset that despite knowing the truth, she had remained silent when Shashank threw him out of the house. Rahul and Atul he had forgiven, because they were innocent bystanders in the family drama.



'Aaj Riddhima ka exam ka result aaya hai na….she is a graduate now," Padma smiled, "we are all celebrating her success here."



"She passed?" His face displayed a rainbow of expressions- from a sigh of relief to genuine happiness, to a hollow feeling inside, "aur mujhey pata bhi nahin?" He added softly. Suddenly, the realization that the whole world but he, was unaware of the big news hit him hard.



"Hi Armaan!" Muskaan ran to him, "we have been waiting for you all evening. Kahan the itni der? Riddhima refuses to eat a bite without you….ab chalo tum hi usey kuch khila do…come on." She dragged him to the center where Riddhima stood with a bunch of her hostel mates.



He was awestruck by the lady in pink standing with a bouquet of flowers in her hand. Just one look at her was enough to melt his initial disappointment.





'ARMAAN!" She ran to him, "kahan the itni der?" She was ecstatic to see him; but hesitated when they came face to face. It was a bit awkward meeting him with the crowd around her. Hugging him in front of Padma and Aradhana didi would be a bit uneasy, she thought. Even though, they were aware of her feelings for Armaan, she was still married to Padma's son, and any display of affection towards Armaan could create uneasiness for all of them.





"Congratulations," he came closer and planted a kiss on her cheek, stepping back once he sensed her discomfort. They were soon engulfed by the gathering, separating the two lovers once again.   





Armaan tried his best to enjoy himself for Riddhima's sake, but the thought that he was the last one to find out about her success, nibbled at him. He knew she could not display affection for him in this crowd, but for some odd reason, for the first time, he felt like an outsider. They were like strangers in the big banquet hall; Padma, Aradhana and Shailendra were the near and dear ones at that moment.





Even though, Riddhima was surrounded by her friends and family, she could sense Armaan's discomfort. She knew he was hurt; it was unintentional on her part but that was no excuse to ignore the man who had made it all possible.



"Excuse me," she pushed her way out of the crowd and wrote a note on a napkin. As she walked past Armaan, she shoved the note into his pocket.





"Meet me in the ladies restroom?" He was shocked but pleasantly surprised when he read the note.



Through the corner of his eyes, he saw her waddle towards the restrooms at the back of the restaurant. Getting his cue, he crumpled the note back into his blazer pocket. He wandered around the restrooms but saw no one there.



'Where is she?" He scratched his chin. Suddenly, an arm pulled him from behind a door into the women's restroom.



"RIDDHIMA?" His eyes popped wide when he found himself trapped in the women's restroom, pinned against the door, his mouth smothered by her delicate fingers.



"Sshhhh!" She placed her finger on her lips, "yahan abhi koi nahin hai…..I need to talk to you," she whispered.



His eyes lit up with mischief as he nibbled at her fingers in his mouth.



"Ouch!" she pulled away, "kya karte ho!"



"If you hold a man hostage in the women's restroom, what's he got to do but defend himself?" He frowned, but then smiled at her, "by the way, that's the most romantic thing you have ever done."





She smiled back and then flung her arms around him, "thank you Armaan….I just wanted to give you a big thank you hug….yeh sab tumhare wajah se hua hai. I am so sorry, I tried my best to inform you before, but your music academy waalas are really strict. Milne hi nahin dia tumse! Iss liye tumhare liye wo note chhodna padha. I hope you are not upset. I really didn't want such a big party for my graduation, but my friends insisted. I am so so sorry," she gave him a tight hug. He enjoyed the silent moment and pulled her closer. Her heartfelt apology had ironed out whatever little wrinkles he had in his mind.



"Kuch kahoge nahin kya?" She pulled back.



"Tum mauka dogi tho kuch kahoonga na? After all I am a hostage here….do I have a right to speak?"



She slapped his chest playfully, "of course you do."



"Ok…then, here is my reply," he bent down, pulling her back into his arms, gently placing his lips on hers, savoring their flavor and softness, "congratulations….you deserve all the success my love." He whispered into her lips.





"You too," she blushed after feeling his tingle on her lips. Then she pulled his face towards her and kissed his nose, "ab bahar chalte hain warna log sochenge hum kahan ghayab ho gaye."



Armaan looked up at his reflection in the mirror, "tum chalo, I need to remove some make up from my face."



"Make up?" She burst out laughing when she saw the pink smudge on his lips and nose, "please feel free to use the mirror in the women's restroom…I am sure this mirror is used to seeing make up on faces."



"Badmaash ladki," he pulled her by her wrist, "aaj itni khubsoorat lag rahi ho iss liye maaf karta hoon tumhein. One day, I will make you pay for this kidnapping and lipstick on my face."



"You will always lose my love," she teased him and managed to dash out of the restroom, leaving him longing for more.



"Armaan Malik….you are a goner!" he sighed and pulled out the napkin from his pocket. As he wiped the lipstick off his lips and nose, he was stunned to see a reflection in the mirror.



"TUM?" He turned around in horror, "what are you doing here?"



"What are you doing here in the women's restroom with my wife?"



"It's none of your business!"



"It's bloody my business only!" Abhimanyu caught hold of Armaan's collar and growled.



…………………….to be contd……………………..



 Bheegi

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