Saturday, 7 July 2018

part 34 : Pehchan



MRS. SAXENA'S OFFICE: AROUND 10 A.M.

 "Welcome to Aashirwaad Armaan jee….it's our honor to have you here today," Mrs. Saxena, the director welcomed her chief guest for the day, "let me call our assistant director; she will be thrilled to meet you. Woh aapki bahut badhi fan hai."


"It's my pleasure Mrs. Saxena," Armaan, dressed in a suede jacket, white shirt and jeans, smiled and sat down across Mrs. Saxena, his back facing the door to her office. He placed his guitar case down and signaled his chauffeur to wait outside.



"Here she comes," Mrs. Saxena waved at Riddhima, who stood immobilized at the door, the view of his back sending waves of anxiety, anticipation, nervousness and excitement through her, "andar aa jao beta…wahan kyun khadi ho?"



Out of curiosity, Armaan stood up and turned his face to welcome the assistant director. As if hit by a whirlwind, he stood shell shocked, an initial flicker of joy and relief was soon replaced by a hardened, impervious expression on his face. Their eyes stayed locked, exchanging tumultuous emotions of love mixed with yearning, desire mixed with aching. Riddhima's eyes pleaded for forgiveness, but her worst fears came true when she saw his eyes narrow, withdrawing into their sockets, the clouds of anger and revulsion suddenly casting their shadow after a brief peek at the sunshine.


Kabhi moom ban ke pighal gaya   Kabhi girte girte sambhal gaya
Woh ban ke lamha guraiz ka   Mere paas se nikal gaya
Usse rokta bhi to kis tarah   Ke woh shakhs itna ajeeb tha
Kabhi tadap utha meri aah se   Kabhi ashk se na pighal saka
Woh utar gaya meri aankh se   Mere dil se kyun na utar saka
Woh chala gaya jahan chod ke   Main wahan se phir na palatt saka
Woh sambhal gaya tha Faraaz magar   Main bikhar ke bhi na simatt saka
                                                                           

Dressed in a pair of jeans, yellow top and white cardigan, she stretched her arm to shake his hand, hoping to feel his touch through a friendly handshake.



"Namaste!" he folded his hands with a coldish expression, "nice to meet you…Ms?"



Armaan purposely avoided any physical contact with her. The first sight of her had ignited those familiar feelings of love and affection. His first instinct was to grab her into his arms after these two long years. Even though, her heartless rejection had left him broken and angry, she still ruled his heart and despite all his efforts of trying to erase her from his memories, her presence haunted her wherever he went. As his heart tugged at him to take her hand, his mind reminded him of her betrayal. He started at her wrists, covered with the long white cardigan for any signs of the bracelet he had gifted to her. He was disappointed but not surprised when he didn't see it there.



Riddhima was taken aback by his question. She felt her throat constricting, as she mustered courage to answer, "Ms. Riddhima G-Gupta, assistant director of Aashirwaad."



"Oh..I see," he raised his eyebrow, averting his gaze from her, "kab se hain aap yahan?"



Addressing her as 'aap' was another blow to her face. So, he wanted to act indifferent and impersonal? Yes, it would kill her, she thought, but there was no way she would let her emotions rule her actions at this moment. She was a professional, and if he meant business, so could she.



"Do saal."



"Ah..I see," he smirked, "quite a position for a young woman like you." The sarcasm was obvious.



"We are grateful for the day when my nephew, Yuvraaj found her. She has really turned this place around. I can't imagine this place without her Armaanjee….she is my right hand girl," Mrs. Saxena came forward and placed her arm around Riddhima.



"Good for you Ms. Gupta….hope you can keep this trust alive," he placed his hands in his jacket pocket, "because once it's broken, it's gone forever!" His face hardened as his piercing eyes scathed her from head to toe.





Riddhima blinked here eyes, trying her best to hide the mist his insensitiveness had created, "thanks for the confidence Armaan jee….I-I can't even imagine breaking anyone's trust."



"Of course beta," Mrs. Saxena smiled, trying her best to thaw some of the frigid air between her guest and her assistant, "Armaan saheb…aap ke liye kuch garam mangwaati hoon…it's kind of chilly out there, I am sure a cup of hot coffee will help before we step out."



"No thanks Mrs. Saxena! I don't drink coffee!" He replied sternly.



Riddhima looked up and caught his gaze. So, he was not as indifferent as she had thought. He was hurting as much as she was. This impermeable wall of insensitiveness around him was his defense against her.



"Oh really?" Mrs. Saxena was disappointed, as she was looking for an excuse to drink a cup herself.



"I try to stay away from bitter things," he smiled, glancing a sharp one at Riddhima, "why don't we step outside….it's a little stuffy for me in here."



"Sure sure," Mrs. Saxena was baffled by her visitor. He seemed so polite and courteous the previous night, but obviously his meeting with Riddhima had set something off inside him- that was not a good sign, she thought.





"Achcha Riddhima….tum Armaan saheb ko campus ka tour de do….main sab bachchon ko yard mein ikkattha karti hoon…they are all so excited to meet their favorite singer." Mrs. Saxena suggested.



"I think your assistant director might not be the right person to guide me here," Armaan interjected, "Mrs. Saxena…why don't you show me around?"



Riddhima was incensed by his repeated jabs at her. Was he the Armaan she had known and fallen in love with? Where was the humble and sensitive man she had known? Living with the Modis had influenced him tremendously. Was he really that arrogant now, or was it all a sham to hurt her?



"Arre, aap aisa kyun sochte hain?" Mrs. Saxena was shocked.



"She just looks a little frazzled….maybe she is not used to handling celebrities," he chuckled sardonically.



"Mr. Armaan Malik….please let's go….I have done this several times before….I am not as awestruck by celebrities as other young women are…..this is a part of my job description….chaliye." Riddhima stepped in and opened the door for him. She promised to herself that she was not going to get overwhelmed by his presence- she would treat him just the way she had treated other well known people who had visited Aashirwaad.



"Ok….let's hope you are right Ms. Gupta. I will see you later Mrs. Saxena…unless Ms. Gupta leaves me midway somewhere." Armaan sniggered as they walked out.





A perplexed Mrs. Saxena, picked the phone after they left.



"Aradhana jee….yahan tho sab ulta pulta ho raha hai….itni kadwaahat tho maine kabhie nahin dekhi hai. Achcha? Theek hai…aap jaisa keh rahi hain, main waisa hi karti hoon. I will keep giving them opportunities to spend time with each other. I know Riddhima is a tough cookie…but she seemed a bit vulnerable today….Ok Aradhana jee….I will keep you posted."



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



As they toured the beautiful but simple facilities of Aashirwaad, Armaan couldn't help admiring the landscaping and ambience of the small campus. The place was home and haven for about 150 kids. Staffed by about 20 adults, the orphanage was run mainly on donations and charity. Unlike other similar places, the kids were prohibited from working and had to attend school during the day. They were allowed to be creative in the evenings. Their paintings, art work and handiwork decorated the whole campus. Riddhima was more at ease as she showed him around. It was apparent that a lot of the creative aspect of the campus dcor was Riddhima's brain child. Armaan was way too familiar with her 'touch' – be it at the Modi home, his apartment and now here, at Aashirwaad. Armaan nodded his head silently as he admired the facilities available at the campus.



A part of him was proud of her achievements, but a part disappointed as she seemed unperturbed by his presence there. Riddhima had done a great job of camouflaging her emotions; she smiled and answered his questions like a perfect tour guide, detached from any personal comments and kept a distance from him, avoiding any physical contact with him. Both wore their sunglasses, further shielding their expressions from each other.





He wondered if she had spent restless nights over the last two years. Did she miss him as much as he missed her? By the looks of it, she seemed very happy and content being an independent woman. So, he was right all along- she had used him to set herself free. She did not need him any longer. For a few moments in the office, he thought she had tears in her eyes, tears of joy at seeing him again- but that was probably an illusion, just like he had been fooled two years ago. He was glad that he did not fall for her 'crocodile tears' this time. With a heavy and bruised heart, he followed her around the campus, maintaining professional etiquette and a fake smile on his face.



"RIDDHIMA!" Mrs. Saxena waved at them, summoning them to join the throng of anxious, bright eyed kids in the central yard.



"Chaliye…bachche intezaar kar rahe hain." She gestured.



Unable to contain his emotions, he took his sunglasses off and replied, "I feel sorry for these kids…..they live with an expectation of making life long bonds with the staff here…..but unfortunately, they don't realize that without a real family, there really are no life long bonds."





Riddhima knew that sarcasm was aimed at her, "it's a matter of perspective Mr. Malik…kai rishte aise hote hain jinka naam nahin hota, lekin wo atoot hote hain, kyunki unki buniyaad sirf pyaar se bandhi hoti hai……aur hamara in bachchon se rishta kuch aisa hi hai."



"You are quite nave Ms Gupta…that's all I can say." He placed his glasses back on and ran to greet the enthusiastic crowd ahead of him.



Riddhima removed her glasses, wiped her tears and whispered, "kya sach much itna badal gaye ho Armaan? Bas meri ek naa yaad rahi, baaki pyaar sab bhool gaye?"





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



"GAANA!"



"AUTOGRAPH!"



"PEHLE MERA!"



"ARMAAN UNCLE, HAMARE SAATH BASKETBALL KHELO!" The boys yelled.





"NAHIN PEHLE GAANA!" The girls screamed



Armaan was overwhelmed by the adulation from the little kids. Their little hands and faces smothered him with hugs and kisses. Over the past two years, he was used to hero worship but these kids were special. It was heartwarming to see the genuine smiles on their faces as he scribbled their notebooks, little hands, balls, bats and bags with his autograph. He sat down in the center and answered all their questions and even let them play with his guitar, with some little ones hanging out on his shoulder and lap. Not too long ago, he had felt like an orphan, all alone in Mumbai- if it were not for Riddhima, he would have quit and moved back to the US. He felt a sudden pang of remorse and looked up through the throng of kids surrounding him. There she was, with that familiar smile and tears of joy, he had so often seen on her face. For a brief moment, their eyes met, exchanged tender warmth- those unspoken but kind words of comfort to each other they had so often said in the past. For the first time in two years, he felt a warm tingling sensation flow through his veins.





The feeling was abruptly cut short by Rimjhim's sudden intrusion, "Armaan uncle…autograph!" The young girl stood with her outstretched palm with a big grin.



"Hi beta…kya naam hai aapka?"



"Rimjhim! Your number 1 fan!"



Both Armaan and Riddhima were thrown off balance by Rimjhim's comment.



The glimmer of hope inside Riddhima was squashed by his heartbreaking reply.



"No beta….NO ONE IS NUMBER 1 FAN! NUMBERS AND RANKINGS CHANGE WITH TIME," his sharp comments were of course targeted at the assistant director, "how about you are my favorite fan?" He smiled and winked at Rimjhim.



Riddhima bit her lower lip and walked away, hiding her tears. This was the Armaan, she had seen glimpses of in the past, but had never imagined would target her with his revulsion. She remembered their conversation at the beach when she had suggested he forgive his father.



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



Yes, she had broken his heart, but even he had failed to understand her point of view. His bitterness towards her was justified, but even he had asked her to leave him forever. Had he even bothered to find her whereabouts in the past two years? Yes, she had gone back to apologize to him, but after seeing his attitude today, she was not sure he would have forgiven or tried to understand her.





"BASKETBALL!" A boy named Rehan almost knocked Armaan to the ground as he threw the orange ball at him. Armaan took up the challenge and was up on his feet within minutes, bouncing and dribbling the ball like a pro.



Soon, there were two teams vying for the coveted ball between them. Riddhima, Mrs. Saxena and few other staff members cheered from the sidelines. As things heated up, Armaan took his jacket off and without paying attention, threw it in the air. Instinctively, Riddhima stretched her arms and caught the flying jacket. Once, she noticed that everyone was engrossed in the game she folded the jacket and hung it on her arm, holding it close to her chest. Holding his jacket close to her heart was the closest she would get to him. The familiar after shave fragrance brought back all those pleasant memories between them- their friendship, their first touch, their first hug, their first kiss…..and then their first union of love.



After basketball, Armaan sat down with his guitar and sang for the kids. They sat mesmerized, danced and sang with him. The staff also cheered and applauded the best entertainer, Aashirwaad had ever hosted. Even Armaan thoroughly enjoyed his time with the kids. If it were not for the repeated reminders from his chauffeur, he could have continued to spend his day at the orphanage.



"Thanks everyone….I think I need to leave now," Armaan stood up, packed his guitar, gave all the kids his final hugs and kisses and turned around to leave.



"Thanks a ton Armaan jee….these kids will always remember you forever….we are really grateful to you." Mrs. Saxena thanked their visitor.



"I-I will remember this visit- always." He glanced at Riddhima with the corner of his eyes. She stood silently, her eyes lowered. The emotional roller coaster had drained her spirits. The thought of him leaving- maybe forever this time-further dampened her mood. Not that she expected him to run into her arms or forgive her, but his hostility towards her had broken her more than any hardship she had faced in life.



"By the way," he grinned, almost triumphantly, "I would like to invite you all for my wedding."



Riddhima's heart stopped, she became as pale as a ghost, her throat parched; she looked up at him with disbelief. He put his sunglasses on with a faint smile, almost mocking at her. That was the final blow. He had masterfully kept this one as a parting gift- a price she would have to pay all her life for trying to prove her worth to herself.



"Wedding?" Mrs. Saxena was stunned.



"Yes Mrs. Saxena. My parents really want me to get married…unhone ladki bhi dhoond li hai….ab bas main ghar jaate hi haan keh doonga….and you all will get the first wedding card."





Mrs. Saxena's face fell. Aradhana and her plan had failed miserably. She felt sorry for Riddhima, who stood frozen like a statue, a hollow expression on her face, Armaan's jacket almost slipping from her arms.





"My jacket please," with a derisive smile he held out his hand.



Trying her best to stay composed, she handed the suede jacket to him. She felt a tug at her wrist as he peeled away the jacket mercilessly from her arm, "hope to see you at the wedding Ms. Gupta."



Without waiting for her reply or expression, he walked away just like that- with a sense of victory- he had finally put a closure to his heartbreak; he had not broken down or melted on seeing her after 2 years. She was his past, and as most of his family at home had always advised him to do so- he should forget her and move on with his life. He thanked his dad for insisting on this Nainital trip. Now the illusion or the false hope that she would come back into his life was over.



Yes- He was going to forget and stop loving her- he convinced himself numerous times.



As they drove off, Armaan leaned back on the back seat, hoping to catch some sleep on their way to the airport. As he folded his jacket on his lap, he felt something sharp against his palm.



"What was that?" He felt the jacket with his fingers and then felt the same stab again. He pulled out the sharp object dangling from the zipper.



He was stunned to see a long bracelet caught between the zippers- THE FRIENDSHIP AND LOVE bracelet.



"Yeh kasie aaya yahan?" He pulled it out gently and placed it on his palm. He recalled how he had pulled the jacket out of her arms. Earlier, he had not noticed the bracelet on her wrist, but she was wearing a long sleeved cardigan- it was probably hidden under the sleeve.





Suddenly, he felt bad for pulling the bracelet out of her wrist- even if inadvertently. He had sensed the dismay on her face when he had announced his wedding plans- the shock on her face had initially given him vicious pleasure, but now when he was away, her bracelet in his palm, he felt tears rolling down his eyes. He hated himself for being so heartless and vindictive with her. He kissed the bracelet with his lips and placed it in his pocket, "I am sorry Riddhima," he whispered and buried his face in his palms. Tears that he had held for two years, burnt his face as his heart ached for her.



No- he couldn't forget or stop loving her- even if he tried to convince himself numerous times.

This is a beautiful song that portrays Armaan's dilemma very well…




Hairaan hain hum
Huye kyun tum gairon se
Kaisa hai gam
Bolo na tum honthon se

Hairaan hain hum
Huye kyun tum gairon se
Kaisa hai gam
Bolo na tum honthon se

Na tum ho bewafaa
Na mein bhi hun
Phir bhi hain hum judaa
Main kya kahoon
Na jaane waqt ki marzi hai kya
Kyun hai mili yeh dooriyan
O meri jaan…o meri jaan
O meri jaan…o meri jaan
O meri jaan

Tere bin jo din aaya
Kaate na woh kat paaya
Kami teri khal si jaati hai
Tere bin jo shaam aayi
Badi dil ki tanhai
Meri aankhen bhar si jaati hain

Kuch tum mujhse khafa
Kuch main bhi hun
Hai kya iski wajah
Main kya kahun
Na jaane waqt ki marzi hai kya
Kyun hai mili yeh dooriyan
O meri jaan…o meri jaan
O meri jaan…o meri jaan
O meri jaan

Tujhe dil se tha chaaha
Tu hi toh na mil paaya
Khushi mujhko chal si jaati hai
Mere tu tha sarmaaya
Tujhe paakar na paaya
yahi baatein chubh si jaati hain

Tanhaa teri tarah haan main bhi hun
Donon hain gamzadaa main kya kahun
Na jaane waqt ki marzi hai kya
Kyun hai mili yeh dooriyan
O meri jaan…o meri jaan
O meri jaan…o meri jaan
O meri jaan…o meri jaan
O meri jaan



After Armaan's departure, Riddhima ran to her room, too distraught to act as the assistant director at that moment. Mrs. Saxena understood her plight and asked her to take some rest. Armaan's visit that she had so eagerly looked forward to, had turned out to be a heart wrenching experience. His sarcasms, hostile mannerisms and his parting wedding announcement had shattered her once again. To add salt to her wounds, her bracelet which was like her 'security blanket' was gone! She searched for it frantically- in her room, the office, the yards and the whole campus. Was the disappearance of the bracelet, her last bond with Armaan, an ominous sign? Had she sealed her fate by losing her most precious gift?



"Hamare pyaar ki akhiri pehchan bhi chali gayi….shayad yahi hamari kismat hai ab," she dragged herself back to her room, tearful and torn.

Perhaps, it was best for them to stay apart. Their friendship was beautiful while it lasted; she would cherish it all her life, and continue to love him even if he abhorred her.



dard kya hota hai bataeinge kisi roz
kamaal ki ghazal tum ko sunaeinge kisi roz
thi unki zidd ke main jaaoon unko mananey
mujh ko ye weham tha ke wo bulaeinge kisi roz
us Rab ki qasam main ne soucha bhi na tha
wo itna mere dil ko dukhaeinge kisi roz
har roz aainey se yehi poochti hoon main
kya rukh pe tabassum bhi sajeinge kisi roz
udney do in parindon ko aazaad fiza mein
tere apne honge toh laut aaeinge kisi roz



will Armaan come back after this heartbreaking meeting?

Bheegi

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