Tuesday, 3 July 2018

part 30 : Pehchan


After a heavenly, star-gazing and moon-gazing experience, Armaan dropped Riddhima back to the hostel.

 "I will never forget this night." He kissed both her hands as they reluctantly said their goodbyes.

"Me too. Thanks for making the evening more pleasant Armaan. Restaurant ke fiasco ke baad—main bahut pareshaan ho gayi thi," she caressed his face, "you've always been there for me, haina? I hope I can be there for you when you need me too."




"Tho abhi chalo mere saath," he smiled impishly, "I need you right now."



She slammed her bag against his chest, pushing him away. She ran towards the hostel, chuckling, "you are incorrigible…kabhie nahin sudhroge."



"AUR SUDHARNA BHI NAHIN CHAAHTA!" He yelled back, blowing a flying kiss at her.



Restlessly content, both retreated back into their own worlds- Riddhima, in the hostel and Armaan, in his car on his way home. As he whistled and hummed back, he realized that the streets were still deserted, "hmm…it's 5 in the morning….abhi bhi andhera hai…shayad Sunday hai, iss liye koi nahin hai sadak par." He was about to speed up and enjoy the fresh morning breeze, when he saw someone outstretched on the road ahead. He slammed his breaks just in time and got off, upset at the man's callousness, "KYA MARNA CHAAHTE HO? BEECH SADAK PAR KYON?" As he approached the person, lying face down, he saw a narrow red stream flowing from the man's body.





"BLOOD?" Armaan touched the moistness on the road. He rushed to the body and on an impulse checked the pulse, "Oh my God! His pulse is really feeble. Looks like he has lost a lot of blood. I should take him to the hospital," he looked around for some help or clues regarding the person on the road. There were none.



Armaan got the shock of his life when turned the body over. It was ABHIMANYU! He surveyed his arch enemy's body and was stunned to see numerous lacerations and bruises, his torn clothes and unconscious state was evidence of a severe altercation with someone- perhaps the manager and his goons from the restaurant. Abhimanyu's gasps and thready pulse was an ominous sign- if left unattended, he would probably die soon. Without wasting time, Armaan carried the limp body in his arms. As he approached his car, a malicious thought crossed his mind- why am I saving the man who has been responsible for making Riddhima and my life miserable? Maybe I should let him die in oblivion. He deserves this. Perhaps that's what God wants too. Phir Riddhima ko divorce bhi nahin lena padhega. Abhimanyu will be out of our lives forever.





He shook his head, rejecting those spiteful thoughts- Armaan, will you ever be able to live with the guilt of leaving a dying man in the middle of the road? Is that how you want to take revenge from your main adversary? His inner conscience reigned in his thoughts and within minutes, Armaan was on the road with his half brother-the main hurdle between him and Riddhima; the man who had humiliated him in front of his family; the man who broke his beloved's heart. As always, life had given him a choice of taking the easy way out, but once again, it was the more difficult path he had chosen.



……………………………………………….



AT THE HOSPITAL:



Once they realized that Abhimanyu needed emergency surgery, the staff expedited the check in process.



"He needs to be taken to the OR right now," the doctor informed him, "have you informed his family?"



A prolonged pause followed as the impatient doctor waited for a response.



"Excuse me sir, have you notified his family?" The doctor asked again.



"I-I am his brother and I-I give consent doctor. Please go ahead with the surgery," Armaan's voice cracked as he realized what he had just said. At a moment of crisis, his sub conscience had gotten the better of his hatred and anger against the man on the stretcher.



"Thanks. Mr. Armaan Modi?" The doctor assumed their last names were the same.



"Khanna! We have different mothers," Armaan sighed.



"Oh I see," the doctor was confused, "different mothers? Lekin last name tho ek hi hona—"



The nurse came out and dragged the confused doctor to the OR, "sir OR is ready. Patient's BP is dangerously low."



"Yes sister," the doctor followed her, shrugging his shoulders at the last name discrepancy, "God knows….these rich people never follow any rules."



Armaan toyed with the idea of informing the Modis, but decided to wait, "kahin Mr. Shashank Modi  mujhey phir galat na samajh lein." There was no point disturbing Riddhima after her roller coaster night either. Armaan dozed off in the waiting lounge till he was startled by a tap on his shoulder, "excuse me sir. You can meet your brother now. His surgery was successful," a nurse was talking to him as he peered through half sleepy eyes.



"Oh thanks sister," Armaan wiped his face with his palms, "thanks again…ek minute sister," he was up on his feet, more alert now, "can you do me a favor?"



"Sure."



"Can you inform the patient's family at this number?" He scribbled the number on a pad, "and make sure you don't tell him who brought him here. Also, please tell the doctor to keep my identity confidential."



'Jee sir. Lekin kyun?"



"Kyunki…kyunki," Armaan searched for the right words, "kyunki..it's too complicated sister," he smiled, "I hope you understand." The head nurse, a matronly lady, nodded, "Ok beta….I know life is complicated and so are relations. Kuch cheezein gupt hi rahein tho behtar hai." She smiled and patted his shoulder, "God bless you son. You are a nice man."



"Thanks sister," Armaan nodded gently and walked out.



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



Later, Shashank stood at Abhimanyu's bedside, "kyun karte ho yeh sab? Hamari naak baar baar kaatwaate rehte ho! Your mom told me what happened at the restaurant. And now this? Kya izzat reh gayi hai hamari? Hope the media does not have a field day with this incident again."



"Dad…I am sorry," Abhimanyu recalled the humiliating incident at the restaurant and then the pounding from the hotel's staff for a crime he had not done. Yes, he had tried to have some fun with a waitress, but he had never intended to force himself of assault her as he was being accused of. In life, Abhimanyu had learnt to never feel guilty about any of his actions. He had always found someone else to blame, but today when he sat in bed, sutured and put together after a near fatal attack on him, he had no one to blame but himself. The stranger who had saved his life was a mystery for all. As requested by Armaan, his name was kept a secret by the hospital staff. Abhimanyu had vague memories of being lifted in someone's arms, the car ride to the hospital, the doctors and nurses rushing to save his life, but who was his savior? Why did he want to remain anonymous?







"Abhimanyu. I think you need to see a Psychiatrist," Shashank sat next to his son, "mujhey lag raha hai tum din par din tumhara maansik santulan bigad tha jaa raha hai."



"Dad," Abhimanyu hung his head in shame, "dad….I said I am really sorry. I will never do anything to humiliate you again."



"How can I believe you?"



"Dad…I promise….I have realized I have been wrong in judging people," he recalled how Shailendra and Nikita had both deserted him at moments of crisis. If it were not for that stranger, he would be dead by now, "can I ask you a favor dad?"



"Ab kya chaahiye tumhein?" Shashank was irked.



"Can you find the name of the person who saved my life?"



"Kyun?" Shashank asked suspiciously, "are you doubting his intentions?"



"No dad….I want to thank that person. I am genuinely sorry for my actions dad….please aap samajhne ki koshish kee jiye." Abhimanyu almost burst out in tears.



Padma, who had been observing their interaction from afar, came forward. For the first time in her life, she could read the expressions of guilt, humility and shame in her middle son's eyes. It almost seemed like eternity, but Padma had waited to see those expressions in her son's eyes. She touched his hand and gave him a tender motherly look, "beta….kya tum sach much apne keeye par sharminda ho?"



Abhimanyu just lowered his head and nodded gently, ashamed to have any eye contact with his mother, who had seen the worst of Abhimanyu the previous night.



"Abhimanyu beta, if you want deliverance for your mistakes, perhaps a selfless act on your part might help you feel better," Padma caressed his hands. Something about his mother's tender touch and her words brought tears into his eyes, "mom…I have always been selfish, haven't I?"



"Beta…it's probably our fault too. We never taught you how to give- we gave you everything, but never expected you to share or give what you had. That's why you are so unhappy today. Ab waqt aa gaya hai beta….tum samajh gaye na main kya keh rahi hoon? Shayad doosron ko khushi dekar tumhein kuch sukoon miley."



"Yes mom," Abhimanyu sighed and squeezed his mother's hands.



"You are willing to forgive this devil?" Shashank was appalled.



"Shashank! Kids are what parent's make them! If kids can forgive their parents for their mistakes, why can't parents do the same?" She gave him a sharp look.



As always, Shashank had no retort to his wife's statement.



…………………………………………………………………………………………..



A FEW DAYS LATER:



"Thanks for saving my life doctor," Abhimanyu shook hands with the staff surgeon at discharge.



"I just did my job. You should thank the man who brought you here at the right moment."



"I'd love to, but his name has been kept under wraps by the staff here- why?"



"Oh really?" the forgetful surgeon was baffled. Obviously, the absent minded gray haired surgeon had forgotten what his head nurse had asked him to do, "well- kya naam hai uska? Hmm….oh yeah….he said he's your brother. I can't remember his name."



"Atul bhaiyya? Rahul?" Abhimanyu was surprised.



"No..No…kya naam hai?" the doctor scratched his head, "sorry….I am bad with names….haan yaad aaya…he said you have different mothers…I guess he is your half brother," the doctor patted Abhimanyu's shoulder and walked away, 'good luck Mr. Modi. Come back and see me in two weeks…bye."



Abhimanyu was too stunned to respond. He never heard what the doctor said about the two week follow up.



 "A-Armaan?" He was shocked beyond belief, "Armaan laaya tha mujhey?"



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



AT A LOCAL COFFEE SHOP:



"Hey Riddhima! I have some good news!" Armaan met Riddhima at a coffee shop one evening.



"Me too!"



"Pehle tum bolo phir."



"Nahin pehle tum!"



"Pehle tum!" They said it together this time.



They burst out laughing, as they realized the exchange of 'pehle tum' phrase between themselves.

"Okay, let me say it," Armaan chuckled, "I am going to Nainital for my first live concert."



"Really? Kab?" Riddhima's face lit up.



"Next week on the 25th."



"Ok I am coming too."



"Of course you will. After all, you are my number one fan. You have a front row ticket. Now what's your good news?"



"I have my first job interview," she replied softly, "but that's okay….I will have more in the future."



"What do you mean?"



"My interview is also on the 25th." She mumbled.



"Well, you are not coming to Nainital then!"



"Lekin Armaan, tumhara pehla concert hai..how can I miss it?"



"Riddhima," he held her hands across the table, "this is not my last concert baba….I will have many more…there is no way you will miss your interview for my concert."



"Interview bhi aayenge jaayenge Armaan…I can't do that to you."



"And how about you? I don't want to miss your interview for ME. I will be very upset if you do that. This could be the job you have been waiting for Riddhima..phir socho you can move out of that hostel and have a place of your own……as it is I am tired of climbing windows…..door would be a more convenient route," he grinned, scrunching his nose cutely.



Riddhima sighed, "Armaan….can you ever be a little selfish in life? Hamesha doosron ki sochte ho."



"I am very selfish when it comes to you," he squeezed her hands, gazing into her eyes; "I will never forgive the person who comes between us. Wahan main sirf apne baare mein sochunga."



"Bahut possessive hote jaa rahe ho…I kind of like that," she squeezed his fingers back, "you know how to make a woman feel good about herself…warna Abhimanyu ke saath tho main bas ek kathputli thi…uski marzi ki ghulam. Ek tum ho jo hamesha mere baare mein pehle sochte ho….kaash hum pehle miley hote tho humein yeh saari problems nahin face karni padhti."



"Riddhima….we owe our meeting to the Modis. Agar wo hamari life mein nahin hote, tho hum abhi bhi ajnabee hote."





"I think we were meant to meet…..warna tum kyun aate itni door se?"



"Does that make us soul mates?" Armaan came forward and mumbled huskily.



"If that's what soul mates are….then yes," she whispered back, "aur har janam ke liye."



"Pehle is janam mein tho ek ho jaayein," he chuckled, "then we will worry about our future births."



"Is janam mein tho hum ek ho chuke hain Armaan," she caressed his knuckles lovingly.



"Itni ekta se mera pait tho nahin bharega bhai," he laughed, "I need all of you Riddhima…..not just a part of you."



"Armaan….agar dill mil gaye, tho aur koi cheez maayne nahin rakhte."



"Nahin Riddhima….sirf dil milne se zindagi nahin chalti…..society sirf dil ko nahin, aur sab bhi dekhti hai," he recalled the hardships his mother had to face after giving up everything for one man without worrying about the societal norms and rules.





She was bemused by his statement; why was Armaan worried about the society all of a sudden? She had reassured him many times that she belonged to him, then why was he still insecure about their relationship?



She decided to change the topic, "chalo let's go….I have to get back to my shift at the hostel."



"I forgot…oops I am late for my rehearsal…..sab wait kar rahe honge mera," Armaan realized the time and jumped up.



"ARMAAN! You will get into trouble one day with your disorganized ways."



"I don't care," he hugged her, "tum se do pal milne ke liye main kuch bhi sacrifice kar sakta hoon….apni rehearsals bhi."



"Armaan….I am very happy for you." She hugged him back, "good luck for the concert."



"I am so happy that my first concert will be at my hometown. I wish mom was there to witness it." He kissed her forehead, "I know her best wishes will always be there with me….and yours too- the two most beautiful women of my life are always there with me."



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





THE FOLLOWING WEEK:

After Armaan had departed for Nainital, Riddhima stayed busy with preparation for her first interview at a local bank. Sprawled on her bed, as she read some articles about the prospective job, she heard a bang on the door.



"Is waqt kaun hai?" She looked the clock, "11 baj rahe hain raat ke."



"HI RIDDHIMA! I HAVE THE BEST NEWS!" Krina waltzed into her room, "guess what?"



"Kya hua Krina?" Riddhima was puzzled; their court date for the divorce trial had been set for the following month, so she had no hope for any good news prior to that.



"HE HAS AGREED!"



"WHAT?"



"YES! ABHIMANYU HAS SIGNED THE DIVORCE PAPERS! HE HAS SETTLED OUT OF COURT!"



Riddhima was shell shocked, "I-I don't believe it. Y-yeh kaise hua?"



"I have no idea. I just received a call from his lawyer half an hour ago. Guess what…you are a free woman! NO MORE TRIAL! NO MORE COURT KE CHAKKAR! NO MORE EVIDENCE GATHERING! NO MORE HEART BURNS!"



Riddhima had tears of joy in her eyes; she hugged Krina, "Oh Krina…this is the best news I've heard in days…..I am so proud of you….you made it happen sweety."



"I am not sure," Krina pondered, "something must have happened for Abhimanyu to suddenly change gears…..kya wajah ho sakti hai?"



"I don't care Krina….bas main azaad hoon….nothing else matters," Riddhima twirled with her arms in the air, "I am free…..ab main khul kar saans le sakti hoon…..I am my own self now…..I can't wait to tell Armaan."



"Let's have a party Riddhima."



"No Krina," Riddhima cupped Krina's face, "party baad mein. I have to leave for Nainital tomorrow….and surprise my Armaan."



"Kal tho tumhara interview hai na?"



"Armaan ko yeh news dene ke liye main kuch bhi sacrifice kar sakti hoon."



"Bahut pyaar karti ho na usey?" Krina asked.



"I do…..but sometimes I feel he loves me more than I do….and that's why I can't break his heart….last time he was really upset when he found out about my graduation after everyone else. Please Krina promise me that you will not tell anyone else yet…pehle Armaan ko bataa doon main."



"Ok…whatever you want….but remember you are a free bird now…..do what suits you- not anyone else," Krina winked and left her room leaving Riddhima reflecting on her friend's parting words.





I Am Free.




I am free! I am free! I stretch wide hands
To the laughing mad-cap winds; I enfold
All prisoned things, crouchant, wretched and cold
In my new warm life. I would lose their bands,
Give them crimson, kisses, fame, riches, lands!
I'd give them liberty, splendid as light,
Sweet as water to desert thirst, the sight
Of distant green blur on the blazing sands!
'No more angry words that cut keen like steel;
No jealous, dim doubts that sicken the mind
And toss it like foam on a maddened sea;
No more stupid, half-despised efforts to feel
The old passion surge, resistless and blind;
I am free, free, free! Dear God, I am free!

__Hannah Rea Woodman.





……NEXT….Does Riddhima make it to Armaan's concert on time? What happens to their relationship in Nainital  after the big news?.....

 Bheegi

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