Monday, 9 July 2018

part 36 : Pehchan

She swallowed her tears, "just go away Armaan. I can take care of myself. JUST LEAVE!"

He turned around and left with a heavy heart. She was in no mood to converse, and he didn't want to bend either. Their bitterness had reached new heights. Friends, who once understood each other's unspoken sentiments, now were unwilling to give each other even the benefit of doubt.

Riddhima stared at the bracelet on her wrist. It was ironical that the symbol of their friendship and love had become the target of their pain and anger.



As if mirroring the storms in their hearts, Mother Nature descended upon Ranikhet and Nainital area with heavy rain and hailstorms that night.

Her wrist still throbbing with pain, Riddhima bandaged it with a gauze and agonized over the afternoon's traumatic incidence once again. She knew they were both hurting badly. By asking him to leave, when he was just showing signs of softening, she had widened the bridge between them even further. She kicked herself for being so harsh on him; why had their egos become so all consuming that neither could appreciate the true feelings behind their self erected barriers? They had failed to realize the love behind all those hateful confrontations. She had no doubt that he still loved her. If he didn't, he wouldn't have come back with her bracelet. She knew him well enough that he would never want to hurt her physically. She recalled how belligerent he would get at the thought of Abhimanyu's attempts at hurting her.

'Armaan chaahe job hi kar le….I know he can never physically harm me. Shayad mujhey hi pehla kadam uthaana chaahiye," she picked her phone and decided to call him.

With hesitant fingers, she dialed his number, but hung up as soon as it started ringing.

"Why am I doing this?" She clutched the phone, "he is about to get married, why am I trying to reach him now? There is no point in talking to him now. Gadhe murde ukhaadne se kya faayda? He came here to return my bracelet…..that's about it. Why should I have any more expectations from him?" She kept the phone down with a heavy heart.

She shut her eyes and sat down on the rocking chair. Her attempts at distracting herself with books, magazines and work were futile. She turned the radio on, but the storms had blown off the local radio station. Finally, she turned her CD player on to listen to some music. As she perused through her collection, she slumped on the ground, frustrated, "yeh tho saare Armaan ke CDs hain. Why has this man invaded all aspects of my life? Why can't I get him out of my system?"

She reflected upon her life before and after Armaan's entry into her life. It almost seemed like he had split her life into two distinct phases.

Before- a subdued woman, her happiness lay in pleasing others. The obedient girl, who never questioned any decisions of her life. A girl, as pliable as a thin branch of a tree, easily swayed by the direction in which the wind blew. A woman, who accepted her fate and relationships as God's wish.

After- a woman, initially guilty, then confused and then convinced by her attraction for another man. A woman, who walked out of her marriage after being betrayed by her husband.  Her faith in her relationship with another man helped her break all barriers of society and become what she was today- an independent, strong willed woman, like the trunk of a tree, steadfast in her beliefs, not swayed easily. A woman, hopelessly in love but not subservient to anyone.

Given a choice, she would still prefer her latter self, except that without the man responsible for her 'new pehchan,' she felt incomplete.

As she sat between the pile of her CD collection, she pondered, "Armaan….kuch tho baat hai jo tumhari bandagi mujhey chain se nahin rehne deti. There is something special about our bond that draws me to you time and again. Chaah kar bhi tumse door kyun nahin hona chaahti?

Palchhin Palchhin Ulajhi Ulajhi Ek Raina
Dhadkan Dhadkan Bikhari Si Chaina
Milo Chali Hai Gumsum Yeh Khaamoshi
Kitna Bhi Samjhaao Mann Yeh Maane Na
Teri Bandagi, Jeene Na, Jeene Na
Jeene Na De Teri Bandagi
Jeene Na, Jeene Na, Jeene Na De Teri Bandagi - (2)
Jeene Na Jeene Na, Teri Bandagi

The rains lashed against the windows and doors; the wind whistled noisily as the taps from the hail on the roof deafened her ears. She got up, a little apprehensive about the outdoor commotion, to secure all her windows and doors.

Iss Dil Mein Gunje Reh Rehkar Aur Bijuri Sagar Je
Hairaan Kare Par Reh Jaaye Baadal Yeh Bin Barase
Tode Jiya Mora
Tode Jiya Yeh Mora, Kaisa Jog Laaga Re
Tukado Mein Bat Jaau Phir Bhi Tutena
Kaisi Tadpan Hai Yeh Chhode Chhute Na
Thandi Pade Jo Yeh Sojaoo Main
Ek Raakh Ki Lakir Ho Jaau Main Phir Shaayad
Teri Bandagi, Jeene Na Jeene Na
Jeene Na De Teri Bandagi
Jeene Na, Jeene Na, Teri Bandagi

Her front door flew open as she tried to bolt it against the gusty winds. She pulled at the door with all her force and then a sudden bolt of lightning threw her off balance. The door was thrown wide open. She stepped out into the wet front porch to shut the door once again. As she pulled on the door knob, she saw someone standing in the rain- soaked from head to toe, his body shelled from all directions by the almost golf ball sized hail!

She didn't need to guess who that was. Despite the darkness and heavy rains, she knew there was only one man who could endure that much agony for her.

Armaan stood still, staring at her with soulful eyes. He had been there all evening. After being kicked out from her house, he had waited expectantly, unable to walk away from his heart's desire this time.

Teri Bandagi Ummid Ka Din Dhalate Dhalate Keh Jaaye Kabhi Mujhase
Woh Raasta Kyun Puchhe Jo Rutha Hai Tujhase
Chhup Chhup Kar Kehate Hai Mujhase Yeh Armaan
Dil Ki Sun Le Karle Khud Pe Yeh Ehsaan
Iss Aag Mein Jo Main Pighlu Agar
Khud Se Mila Saku Na Main Najar Phir Shaayad
Teri Bandagi Jeene Na, Jeene Na
Jeene Na De Teri Bandagi
Jeene Na, Jeene Na, Teri Bandagi

Riddhima walked towards him, through the stormy rain, her eyes fixated on him. He was covered with a blanket of water, mud and hail, his eyes red, ablaze like an inferno.

They were finally face to face; their eyes locked in an intense exchange of unspoken emotions. There were no sunglasses to shield them this time.

She wanted to run into his arms, but something inside her- her pride- stopped her from doing so.

They stood still, the storms outside paled in comparison to the turbulence within, but neither took the initiative.

At last, unable to bear the intensity, she asked irately, "why are you still here? I had asked you to leave, didn't I?"

"I don't have to do everything you say." His eyes glared in the dark.

"Mujhey kyun pareshan kar rahe ho?" She asked defiantly.

"Mere yahan khade rehne se tumhein kya pareshani ho rahi hai? You can go back inside, but you can't force me to leave."

"Kya haq hai tumhara?" She clenched her fists, her body completely drenched from the deluge.

"Wo haq jo tum kabhie samajh nahin paaogi."

"Samajhne ki baat tum mujhse mat karo Armaan. You failed me, when I needed you the most."

"You failed me Riddhima!" He retorted back.

"I failed you?" She wiped her face with a sordid expression, "I gave myself to you…gave you everything I had. In return you just asked me to leave?"

"And you left?" He asked, the pain in his voice obvious, "you gave up on our love that easily? I thought you were a courageous woman."

"I didn't give up. You undermined our love. Meri sirf ek naa yaad rahi, aur kuch nahin? Jo aurat apna sab kuch chhod kar tumhare paas aayi, usey tum buzdil keh rahe ho?"

"Sab rishton ko bhool kar, do saalon tak ghayab ho jaana….kya yeh buzdili nahin hai?"

His words pierced her self respect. Only she knew how she had fought every adversity in her life, and rewoven her life from her shattered hopes and broken dreams.

"Tumhein jo sochna hai soch lo," her voice cracked, "why am I wasting my time with a man like you? Tum na mujhey kabhie pehle samjhe the…aur na ab samajhte ho!" She turned around and ran towards her house.

Armaan ran his fingers through his wet hair and looked up at the roaring sky, "why? Why do I keep hurting her like this?" He wanted to run behind her and apologize for his insensitive remarks, but again, he couldn't let go of his ego. How could she accuse him of not understanding her? He had stood by her through thick and thin, but when he needed her, she was gone.

The front door to her house was wide open; the rain water had seeped into her living room. She tried her best to pull the door shut, but it was jammed against the swollen wooden floor of the front porch.

As she struggled with the door, a pair of hands descended on hers, sending a sudden shiver down her spine. She looked up and saw Armaan encircling her, his hands on hers as he pulled the door towards them. Her worse fears came alive; the moment their skins touched, she felt her knees giving in. His warm breath tickled the nape of her neck as their bodies brushed against each other. No man but Armaan had ever roused those feelings in her; even today he managed to stir her like the first time their fingers had clashed on a computer keyboard.

"Can you move out of my way please?" He stepped away, obviously shaken up by their closeness, "I can't pull the door if you stand here." Despite all his efforts to wipe her out from his system, it was only her touch his body reacted to.

She withdrew her hands and escaped from the perimeter of his arms. With a loud thud and full force, Armaan pulled the door in, shutting them both inside the house.

"Please bolt it tight, otherwise it will fly open again. Abhi toofan thamaa nahin hai," she ordered.

He complied and turned around to face her, "I think I should leave before you kick me out again."

"You don't have to leave in this stormy weather…wait till it calms down."

"Why do you care?"

"Because I am not as insensitive as you are. I would never ask you to leave in the middle of the night in a strange city," she snapped back and walked into her bedroom, leaving him standing with his back to the front door, his body dripping with water and dirt. Her words came as a bolt of lightning, worse than the real sparks in the sky outside. This was a direct jab on him.

A few minutes later she returned with a red floral towel and folded pink kurta, "why don't you dry yourself and change into this kurta. Main bhi change karke aati hoon."

 Her wet churidaar suit clung to her body highlighting her natural peaks and valleys, making it harder for Armaan to keep his eyes away from her. He had a sudden urge to push back her wet tresses from her lovely face and take her into his arms. Her lips, his weakness, glistening with the wet drops of water on them, sent blood gushing into his veins. NO WOMAN but her sent ripples through his body like this.

"Kya dekh rahe ho? It's just an old kurta of mine. It's a bit oversize. Tumhein fit aa jaayega."

He tried to appear nonchalant and chuckled insolently, "you expect me to wear this?"

"I would rather you wear this than hang around my house without a shirt on."

"Kyun apne aap se darr lagta hai?" He came closer, his piercing gaze disarming her resolve once again.

"Why would I be scared? You can do what you want to….I don't care whether you wear a shirt or not." She lied. As it is, his wet brawny look was making it harder for her to stay composed.

"You do!" He smiled sarcastically, "why would you want me to wear your pink kurta then?" He laughed.

"Why not? Only real men wear pink! Kya apni mardangi par shaq hai tumhein?" She challenged him.

Her words once again stabbed him inside out. He couldn't take it any longer and grabbed her elbow.

"Don't challenge me Riddhima!" He pinned her against the wall and growled at her, "don't talk to me about real men. Real men don't run away from commitment and relationships! It's women like you who don't care about them."

"Armaan! Please leave me alone. Why are you being so hateful to me?"

"Yes, of course I will leave you alone. That's how you like it, don't you? Na tumhare liye koi rishta maayne rakhta hai, aur na hi koi commitment. That's why you disappeared from our lives." He came closer and stared into her eyes, "why did you break all relationships?"

 His eyes were inches away from hers, his lips too close for comfort, "after my divorce, you were my only connection to Mumbai, it was too painful to go back." She whispered, "agar tumhein meri itni hi fikar hoti, tho tum kyun nahin aaye mujhey dhoondne? Kya yahi pyaar tha tumhara?"

"I did," he replied, his eyes softening a bit, "once you left, I realized what I had said but was shocked to find you gone. Main tumhare peeche peeche gaya….lekin tum kahin nahin mili. I even called you, but there was no answer. I reported to the police but you know how efficient they are. I couldn't believe that the woman I loved more than myself could be so heartless to leave me all alone. Mujhey ek mauka bhi nahin diya tumney?"

Riddhima was stunned by his answer. By now, the storm had started to abate a little, their bodies were still soaked, but each could feel the heat emanating from them. They felt their hearts pound against their drenched bodies. His fingers crawled against her forearm and then gently stroked each of her fingers. The pulse on her delicate neck revealed the furor his touch had created inside her. Beads of sweat mixed with the rain drops ran down her face as his fingers intertwined against hers.

"Kya tumhein meri ek baar bhi yaad nahin aayi meri Riddhima?" His husky voice brushed against her ears.

"Aayi thi…bahut yaad aayi thi," she shut her eyes and bit her lips as his fingers played havoc with hers. His other hand traversed upwards, grabbing her waistline gently, pulling her closer.

"ARMAAN!" She pushed him away, "you can't do this to me. Don't touch me like that! Tumhari shaadi hone waali hai."

"Huyi tho nahin hai na?" He grinned wickedly, "I thought you don't believe in marriage."

"Tum mujhey galat samajh rahe ho! Kya tum itna nahin samajh paaye ki mere liye tumhara saath aur pyaar, kisi shaadi ke rishtey se kahin zyaada maayne rakhta tha. I just wasn't in the right frame of mind that night. Your insecurities put me in the defensive."

"Pyaar tha tho chali kyun gayi? Did our love not mean anything to you? D-Dilip mama," his voice cracked, his eyes a bit misty, "Dilip mama ki maut par bhi nahin aayi tum."

She was shocked to hear about Dilip mama's demise, "KYA? D-DILIP MAMA DIED?" Her color drained as she felt guilty about not keeping up with either Naina aunty or Dilip uncle.

"Yes," he lowered his head, "he died a few weeks after you left. He had a brain tumor which he effectively kept a secret from all of us."

She squeezed his hand and hid her tears, "I-I am so sorry…I had no idea. I know he meant a lot to you." She recalled how he had supported her through her parent's death, "I am sorry Armaan….really. Mujhey pata hota tho main pehle hi wapas aa jaati."

"Pehle? I thought you had never returned to Mumbai." He raised his eyebrow

"I did. I wanted to meet you," she cried, " I-I went back to Mumbai."

"When?" He asked seriously.

"A year ago!"

"Then why didn't you meet me?"

"I met Shashank jee. You were in a recording. He asked me to leave."

"And you left again?" He chuckled sardonically, "so typical."

"Kya karti main? He didn't want me back in your life."

"Don't blame dad Riddhima. He did what he thought was in his son's interest. I had prohibited everyone from talking about you. They all thought I had forgotten you. He probably didn't want me to get hurt again, but if you cared about us, you wouldn't have fled like a coward once again!"

Riddhima remained silent. She didn't reveal any other details of her meeting with Shashank. Isn't that what she had always wanted- Armaan and his dad's reconciliation?

"Armaan…go and change. I don't think we can ever agree on anything. Ab hamare raaste alag hain, hamari soch alag hai, aur hamari manzil bhi alag hai. After this night, let's not plan on meeting again." She stepped away from him.

"So be it Riddhima!" He stumbled on the CDs spread out on the floor and gave her a sarcastic look, "at least my songs have not been thrown out of your life like I have!

She shut herself in her room, too distraught to reply to his repeated jabs at her. Her guilt at not being there at Dilip mama's death gnawed at her. Armaan was right- she had failed him by not being there for her when he needed her. Perhaps that tragedy helped Armaan get close to his family again.

He walked to the guest room, his nostrils flaring with anger.

A tearful and heartbroken Riddhima changed into a dry suit and walked back into the kitchen. As she heated up some soup and toasted bread for dinner, she wondered why were they stuck at such crossroads? They both loved each other but were caught in a web of accusations and misunderstandings. She was sure of one thing- she only belonged to him and despite his misgivings about her, she would continue to love him from the bottom of her heart.

Armaan took a quick shower and changed into her pink kurta. He tied the red towel around his waist and stared at himself in the mirror. Ordinarily, he would have cringed on seeing himself in this colorful attire, but wearing her on his skin sent a warm and fuzzy feeling through him. Even though it was a new kurta, her fragrance was embedded in each of it's seams. He inhaled her fragrance and kissed the sleeves. At that moment, he knew despite what Riddhima had just said, he couldn't stay away from her. "Riddhima…mera har raasta aur manzil sirf tum ho. Chaahe hamari soch alag ho, hamari dhadkan ek hai, aur dil ek hain. That's why we hurt ourselves when we hurt each other."

He recalled their passionate night together and what Riddhima had just said, "Riddhima, you are right. Even though we never tied the knot, we are married to each other. Wo rishta jo humnein us raat kaayam kiya tha, tum bhi tho usee ki yaad mein reh rahi ho. Why have we both not been able to move beyond that night?" Padma's words rang in his ears again- marriages without love end up in divorce, true love never divorces.

As he walked out of the bathroom, he wondered why Suryaghan had never mentioned Riddhima's visit to him or anyone else in the house? Even if wanted to shield Armaan from heartbreak, why did he not tell Padma? Padma gave him a long lecture on how he had belittled Riddhima's love, then why did she not mention anything about her visit? Did Shashank really hide the truth from everyone? The only reason to hide the truth would be to hide more than what was obvious. Was Riddhima trying to hide the details of her visit too? Why? Armaan decided to clarify the facts once he was back in Mumbai. He had given Shashank the benefit of the doubt when he had genuinely apologized at the time  Dilip mama was dying, but was his dad as innocent as he appeared? Do people really change? He had betrayed his mother; did he betray his son who claimed was his 'lifeline' by hiding Riddhima's visit?

Riddhima knelt beside the coffee table, pouring the soup in two cups. Armaan smiled as he saw her bent over the table, her wet hair still clung to her neck. He had a sudden urge to surprise her by pushing back those tendrils and planting a kiss on her neck.

"Soup pee lo," she heard him enter the room, "sardi se aaraam milega."

"Tumhari tarah thanda tho nahin hai?" He nudged her, "mujhey thandi cheezein pasand nahin hain."

Angrily, she looked up and before she could respond to his jab, she was staggered by his pink kurta and red towel look. Despite her best efforts to suppress her emotions, she burst out laughing. The laughter released a sudden surge of emotions from inside. Tears, wails, squeals and a hearty laughter had her in splits. Before long, she was sobbing with her palms covering her face. The pink kurta  had acted like a catalyst. Turbulent and hurtful emotions saw an outlet in the most unusual form.

Armaan was blown away by the rainbow of emotions that she had just been displayed. All those bottled up feelings had found a way out, thanks to his attire. He recalled how he had fallen for her the day she had flashed that captivating smile of hers; today he found himself falling for her all over again.

With all grievances forgotten, he couldn't control himself any longer. He sat down next to her and pulled her into his arms, "God knows how I missed that smile. I swear I wouldn't mind becoming a clown if you promise to smile like this- always."

His proximity and words brought her back to her senses. She found herself crushed in his embrace, his face smiling at her. Silently, they gazed into each other's eyes. For the first time in two years, they held each other's gaze with love and tenderness. Gone were the accusations, differences and bitterness. At that moment they knew they couldn't live without each other. Their existence was futile as long as they were not together.

"Kyun pareshan karte ho baar baar?" She complained as she buried her face in his chest, her fingers crushing the back of the kurta, almost shredding it into pieces.

 Instinctively, his arms pulled her thin frame closer, "tumhein pareshaan kiye bina mere dil ko chain kahan milta hai?" His soothing voice brushed against her ear.

She punched his back with her tiny fists, "don't ever ask me to leave you again."

"Don't ever leave me again," he pulled her waist closer.

"I won't….never."

They held each other snugly. He kissed her ears and then her neck, "I didn't mean to hurt you."

"Neither did I," she buried her face in the curve of his neck, "I am sorry Armaan………I failed you."

"No…I failed you," he lifted his lips from her ears and gazed at her face, "I was selfish and insecure."

"So was I," she held him close.

"You know Riddhima, even though we are not technically married, we are just like a married couple," his eyes smiled at her.

"I know," she sniffed and wiped her face on his kurta, "we certainly fight like them."

"And love too," he grinned, "despite our separation; we have both stayed faithful to each other….shaadi shuda hone ki sabse badhi pehchan yahi hai shayad."

"Tum meri baat maan le te us din, tho itne din tadapna nahin padhta," she smiled at him.

"Aadmi hoon na….aur wo bhi thoda deewana, baat kabhie kabhie der se samajh aati hai humko," he laughed.

"Galti meri bhi hai. Instead of becoming defensive, I should have understood your point of view, your insecurities. Shayad pyaar se tumhein samjhaati, tho tum itna naaraaz nahin hote."

"There is only one good thing about our separation though."

"What?" she asked quizzically.

"I am no longer the rebound lover…rather your only lover."

"You were never my rebound lover badmaash," she kissed his cheek, "you were and still are the only man I have loved."

He pulled her closer and bent down to kiss her. Their lips ignited hidden passions, sending a surge of warmth through their veins. Their bruised souls basked under the warmness of their love and yearning for each other.

The kiss was the perfect balm for their aching hearts. Neither wanted to let go; he pulled her down to the floor as they rolled one on top of another. The sweet agonizing pain within drew them closer to each other.

He held her bandaged wrist and gently unwrapped the soaked bandage. He moved down and kissed her wrist tenderly and then kissed her fingers one by one, "jahan jahan maine tumhein dard diya hai, wahan dawa bhi main hi doonga."

Palchhin Palchhin Ulajhi Ulajhi Ek Raina
Dhadkan Dhadkan Bikhari Si Chaina
Milo Chali Hai Gumsum Yeh Khaamoshi
Kitna Bhi Samjhaao Mann Yeh Maane Na
Teri Bandagi, Jeene Na, Jeene Na
Jeene Na De Teri Bandagi
Jeene Na Jeene Na Jeene Na De Teri Bandagi.....

She hugged him one more time and pulled him closer, "shayad pyaar jitna gehra hota hai, dard bhi utna hi deta hai."

"But from now on, no pain and no tears,"he wiped the tears off her face, "just love…lot's of love…and lot's of smiles."

They both laughed and frolicked like little kids on the floor. After the two year separation, their pent up passions couldn't get enough of each other. Armaan's kisses sent her into a frenzy of emotions. She reciprocated his passion with equally ravenous expressions of her yearning for him. Soon their clothes and red towel found themselves deserted somewhere in the middle of the living room floor. As the storm outside subsided, their love making reached a pinnacle, diffusing their inner passions till there was a serene feeling everywhere.

……………to be contd…………..


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