Wednesday, 11 July 2018

part 38 : Pehchan

Ae zindagi gale laga le

Ae zindagi gale laga le

Hum ne bhi tere har ik gham ko

gale se lagaya hai

Hai na ?

Ae zindagi gale laga le

Ae zindagi…………..

RECAP: He looked up and saw a flash of light emanating from the bush, an ear splitting bang followed the spark.

"RIDDHIMAAAA!" He yelled, dunking her head below his chest.

"ARMAAN!!!!!!!" Riddhima shrieked fearfully .

Then there was silence, a deafening silence, an ugly red stream flowed away from the two bodies lying on the cold, dusty ground outside Aashirwaad.

"AHH," Riddhima touched her forehead, wincing with the pain after the sudden impact on the ground. For a moment, she had felt her eyes black out after the loud gunshot sound. Against the dim street light, she froze when she saw Armaan lying flat on his tummy, his arms beside his head, his legs outstretched but motionless. As she tried to get up, her fingers felt the warm fluid flowing from his body.

"ARMAAN!" She reached out for him. She screamed as soon as her fingers touched the pool of blood behind his head, "NOOOO!" The echo of the gunshot was still alive in her ears. Just a moment ago, she was in his arms and then there was a loud boom that had changed everything forever!

Once again, the most beautiful day of her life had been marred by an unexpected twist of fate.

She shook him vigorously but there was no response- he was listless and unresponsive. With her whole body tremulous, head dizzy, eyes about to lose all vision, her vocal cords arrested in a state of extreme panic, she lost control of herself. This was all a dream, she tried to reason with herself- one of her recurring nightmares that had thwarted all her efforts to rise above her innate insecurities.

"Riddhimaaa," a weak moan from him jolted Riddhima back into reality, "don't leave me."

"Armaan….main yahin hoon," she threw herself on his back, "sab theek ho jaayega….I am here….don't worry jaan," her voice quivered, her hands trembled but she realized that at that moment, she had to be strong-not weak-for them. Take care of us, he had said to her before this horrendous incident.

Her first aid training as part of an Aashirwaad employee helped rein in her fears. The scarf around her neck, they had purchased at the chor bazaar soon found itself around his bleeding head, acting as a pressure bandage from the gushing would behind his head. As Armaan groaned in and out of consciousness, she placed his head on her lap and held his face close to her body, "sab theek ho jaayega Armaan….main tumhein kuch nahin hone doongi." Her tears dribbled on his face as she kissed his face tenderly.

"RIDDHIMA! KYA HUA? YEH AWAAZ KAISI THI?" Mrs. Saxena and a few other employees from Aashirwaad soon joined them outside the gate.

"Ambulance! PLEASE SOMEONE CALL AN AMBULANCE!" Riddhima, her face smeared with tears and blood, hollered at one of her staff members.

"HEY BHAGWAN!" Mrs. Saxena was stunned, "kisne kiya yeh…Riddhima…are you OK beta?" She knelt beside them.

"I have no idea ma'am," Riddhima sobbed, "why? Why? Armaan ne aaj tak kisi ka bura nahin chaaha hai….why would anyone want to hurt him?"

"Riddhima….are you sure the person wanted to hurt him? Tum bhi tho thi Armaan ke saath? Kahin tumhein tho?" Mrs. Saxena lowered her eyes, shuddering at the thought of someone wanting to harm her sweet young assistant director.

Riddhima was stunned by Mrs. Saxena's statement, "m-ma'am? Kaash mujhey hi lag jaati goli phir….mere Armaan ko kyun?" She became hysterical; the thought of Armaan taking on the bullet instead of her was too painful for her to accept. She would never forgive herself if something happened to Armaan.

The ambulance sirens heralded their prompt arrival. Thanks to Aashirwaad, there was always an ambulance available at short notice for their institution. Within minutes, the emergency medical personnel were on their feet and pulled Armaan on a stretcher.

"CHALO! JALDI CHALO! PATIENT KA BAHUT KHOON BEH GAYA HAI!" One of the medical personnel ordered, "his pulse is really weak…COME ON DRIVER! LET's RUSH TO NAINITAL!"

"MAIN BHI CHALOONGI AAPKE SAATH!" Riddhima ran after them.

"Nahin madam….aap car mein aajaaiye…..we can't take anyone else but the patient."

"NAHIN!" She stepped into the ambulance, "I can't leave him alone…with anyone..he needs me. I promise I will stay out of your way, but please let me go with you." She pleaded.

"Riddhima beta…hum peeche car mein chalte hain," Mrs Saxena tried to intervene but Riddhima was adamant.

"Theek hai madam….aap chaliye….we can't waste any more time," the medical officer relented.

The ambulance ride was the longest and most excruciating experience of her life; she held Armaan's hand throughout as the EMT's (emergency medical technicians) placed an oxygen mask on Armaan's face and started an intravenous line to give him much needed fluid. That was the only way to prevent his body from going into shock after the massive blood loss.

Armaan tried his best to keep his eyes open; his fretful gaze fixated at Riddhima. Riddhima caressed his arm and soothed his anxieties.

"K-Riddhima….stay with me," his feeble voice pleaded as he gasped to stay conscious.

"Main tumhare paas hi rahoongi Armaan…..kuch nahin hoga tumhein…..koi humein judaa nahin kar sakta…..bhagwan bhi nahin…I promise jaan," she smiled tearfully. Whether it was her calm voice or his deteriorating consciousness, he shut his eyes as his body lay lifeless on the stretcher, his hand still firmly holding hers.

"CHECK HIS PULSE!" One of the EMT's got worried.

"He is fine," another EMT checked Armaan's wrist and looked up at Riddhima, "I am glad you came with us….aap inka haath mat chodiye….sometimes a gesture like that helps patients fight their worst injuries….waise kya hua tha?"

"Pata nahin," Riddhima shook her head, "I just heard a gunshot….aur mujhey kuch nahin pata," her tears flowed incessantly as she recalled how Armaan had pushed her to the ground when he sensed something was wrong. "Kyun kiya aisa Armaan?" She cried silently, cursing herself for listening to him at that moment.

"Yeh tho Armaan Malik sahib hain na? Famous singer?" One of the attendants asked curiously, "wo yahan kya kar rahe the? Aur yeh aapke kya lagte hain?"

Riddhima just nodded gently, "sab kuch," she clasped his hands between her hands and silently offered prayers to her Gods, her only source of strength at such a trying moment.


Armaan was rushed into the emergency room after their arrival at the hospital. The doctors and nurses attended to their VIP patient promptly. Blood transfusion, CT scans, surgical consults were ordered by the emergency room staff.

Riddhima, traumatized and shaken up by the whole incident, sat at Armaan's bedside, still holding his hand as the hospital staff inserted all sorts of lines and catheters into her beloved's handsome body in the background.

"Riddhima beta….ab kaisa hai Armaan?" Mrs. Saxena joined her in the room, "Yuvraaj bhi aa gaya hai…usney police mein report bhi darj kar di hai."

"Excuse me…can you all wait outside please?" One of the doctor's came forward, "the patient is having a hard time breathing on his own….we need to place an artificial tube down his throat to assist him….aap please bahar wait kariye."

"NAHIN MAIN NAHIN JAAUNGI!" Riddhima held Armaan's hand firmly, "I am not leaving him alone."

"Madam," the exasperated doctor tried to reason with her to no avail. He looked at Mrs. Saxena who nodded in compliance.

"Aao beta….doctors ko apna kaam karne do….chalo kuch der ki hi baat hai," Mrs Saxena persuaded a very reluctant and hysterical Riddhima to leave the room.



Yuvraaj, Mrs. Saxena's nephew, still on duty, met with them in the waiting room, "I am sorry Riddhima….lekin yeh sab kaise hua?"

"Mujhey kuch nahin pata," Riddhima replied with a flat expression, "Armaan ko bacha lo Yuvraaj…please," she started sobbing, "main uske bina nahin reh sakti."

"Riddhima," he helped her to a seat and offered her some water, "Riddhima…the doctors here are very competent. I am sure they will do their best to save him. Did you see who shot him?"

She shook her head silently, "Yuvraaj…please bacha lo usey…jaise tumney us din mujhey bachaya tha…please." She was desperate, terrified and only worried about Armaan's welfare at that moment.

"Haan Riddhima..he will be fine…have faith," He patted her shoulder, "okay, we need to also inform Armaan's family. Can you give me their number?"

Although hesitant, she knew there was no choice but to comply. She had a sinking feeling that the attack on Armaan was premeditated and even if the perpetrator was targeting her, the intention was to separate her from Armaan forever. Shashank's hateful words from a year ago echoed in her mind, but she knew his family had the right to know what had happened to their son.

Riddhima asked Mrs. Saxena to inform Naina auntie about Armaan's accident also. As soon as she found out about the tragic incident, Naina auntie was at Riddhima's side holding her hand and comforting her, "beta…please don't cry. You need to be strong. Sab theek ho jaayega. Remember, Armaan will do anything to be with you- even fight death-after all he is Dilip's nephew."

"Thanks auntie….I am so glad you are here." Riddhima buried her face in Naina auntie's chest and prayed for Armaan's life.


"Hello! Is the Modi residence? My name is Police inspector Yuvraaj Saxena. I am calling from Nainital. I have some news regarding Mr. Armaan Malik."

"Jee sahib…haan Armaan Malik ke baare mein?" a servant answered the call and passed the phone to Shashank.

Shashank grabbed the phone from the servant when he heard Armaan's name.

"Yes inspector! I am Shashank Modi, Armaan's father….kahan hai mera beta? Nainital? Wahan kaise pahuncha? Do din se uska na koi phone aaya, na khabar. We are really worried!"

"S-sir," Yuvraaj hesitated, "jee sir, he is in the hospital."


"Jee sir….his condition is serious. Someone attacked him," Yuvraaj felt bad conveying the bad news on the phone, "actually someone shot him!"

"KYA KAHA?" Shashank felt the old familiar twinge in his chest, "sh-shot him? Aapko galti huyi hai inspector. Why would anyone want to shoot my son?"

"I have no idea sir, but he is critical. We are at Nainital hospital."

"Nainital hospital? NO! NO! My son needs the best care. Please tell the doctors to transfer him to Mumbai. Main abhi apna private doctor aur plane bhejta hoon!"

"Sir! I am not sure he is in a state to be transferred. He has a bullet injury in his head!"

"I DON'T CARE INSPECTOR! MERE BETE KA ILAAJ US GHATIYA JAGAH MEIN NAHIN HOGA! NAINITAL HOSPITAL MEIN HARGIZ NAHIN!" Shashank was trembling. Padma took the phone from her husband and was shocked to hear the news, "thanks inspector…hum sab abhi ravaana hote hain Nainital ke liye."

"What happened mom?" Abhimanyu and Jiya joined their parents, "kya hua?"

"Someone has shot Armaan. He is very critical," Padma tried to maintain her composure while Shashank lay limp on the sofa, "we all need to leave for Nainital right now."

"Armaan got shot?" Abhimanyu was stunned, "Armaan? Armaan got shot? Yeh kaise ho gaya?" He looked around nervously, while Jiya gave him a suspicious look, "kya hua Abhimanyu? Why are you shaking so much?"

"Kuch nahin. I am just shocked. How did Armaan get shot? Armaan ko g-goli kaise lag gayi….m-m-matlab," he stuttered, "w-why would anyone want to kill him?" He averted his gaze from his wife's piercing gaze.

Jiya helped Abhimanyu settle on the sofa next to his staggered father, "Abhimanyu, calm down. Dekho kaise kaanp rahe ho. Did you take your medication today?"

"Jiya please! My brother just got shot. I don't care about medications."

Jiya, a calm and collected person, imperturbable under most grave circumstances walked to the medicine cabinet to calm her husband's nerves. She knew he would be of no help in this situation if he lost control over himself.

"Gopal!" Padma, also petrified and concerned on the inside, maintained her calm on the outside, called their office manager and asked him to arrange for a private jet to Nainital as soon as possible. She missed Atul, the more sensible of the men in the house. Atul and Anjali were away in London to meet a specialist regarding a new treatment option for Anjali.

Padma left for her room to make arrangements for their travel. Shashank and Abhimanyu remained seated with their heads buried in their palms, stunned and dazed by the news. They lifted their heads and looked at each other, exchanging silent glances.

"Abhimanyu. Here. Take this." Jiya walked in with a glass of water and some pills.



An hour later, the emergency room doctor, a young recent immigrant from the UK, emerged from Armaan's room, "we need to take the patient to the OR right away."

"Operating room?" Riddhima's heart fluttered nervously.

"Well….that's the only way we can save Mr. Armaan Malik. The good news is that the bullet did not penetrate his head through and through. It just cracked his skull and ricocheted away from him, but he does have a large clot in his brain where his skull is fractured. We need to remove that clot right away." The doctor reassured her.

"Thanks doctor," a somewhat relieved Riddhima held the doctor's hand, "Armaan theek ho jaayega na doctor? Please doctor, save my Armaan…usey kuch nahin hona chaahiye."

"Yes madam…we will try our best. We need consent from his family though." The doctor pulled out a pad and pen.

"Let me call them again," Yuvraaj pulled out his phone and dialed the Modi residence.

Shashank grabbed the phone this time.

"Sir…this is Yuvraaj Saxena again. We need a verbal consent from you. The doctors need to take Armaan in for surgery."

"SURGERY? NAHIN BILKUL NAHIN!" Shashank yelled at Yuvraaj, "kaun hai yeh doctor? Is he well trained? Mere bte ko koi aisa waisa doctor haath nahin lagaayega! We will be there with our doctor. He is the best neurosurgeon in India!"

An exasperated Yuvraaj handed the phone to the doctor, "his father wants you to wait till their doctor arrives."

"Is he crazy or what?" The doctor rolled his eyes, "yes sir…I am Dr Pathak, head of Neurosurgery at Nainital Hospital. I am sorry to say that we can't wait to operate on your son. You might have the best neurosurgeon with you but I am right here- your only hope at this moment. This is our best chance….yes he is stable right now….but who knows in next 2-3 hours….I can't promise….what? You still want to wait? Are you nuts?"

Riddhima overheard the conversation and was appalled to hear the logic from Armaan's family.

"Doctor…please hand me the phone," she stretched out her blood stained palm.

"Jeez!" Dr Pathak shook his head, "what kind of moron is this dad?" he handed the phone to Riddhima and was shell shocked by what he heard next.

"Armaan is my responsibility Mr. Shashank Modi. He will have surgery now and Dr Pathak will operate on him….that's the final decision!" Riddhima spoke firmly.

"Riddhima? Is that Riddhima?" Shashank's heart sank on the other line, "mujhey pata tha….agar mere beton par koi museebat aayi hai tho tum zaroor kahin aas paas hogi. Tumhein koi haq nahin hai yeh decision lene ka!"


"Agar Armaan ko kuch ho jaata hai, tho main tumhein kabhie maaf nahin karoonga!"

"Mujhey aapki maafi se zyaada Armaan pyaara hai…sorry Mr. Modi!"


"I AM HIS WIFE! Patni ka haq, pita se kahin zyaada hota hai Mr. Modi!" The whole lobby in the hospital came to standstill as Riddhima uttered those words. She slammed the phone down, refusing to hear anymore arguments from Shashank, "Doctor Pathak…please hand me the form. We can't waste anymore time."

"Thanks God! Hey…why did we waste all this time if the wife was already here? Goodness gracious!" He handed her the form and after obtaining her signature, turned around to do his job.

Naina came forward and placed her arm around Riddhima, "I am proud of you beta….you did the right thing." Mrs. Saxena smiled at Riddhima and nodded her head, silently promising to keep that secret safe with her.

"I am sorry Riddhima….I didn't realize you both were married. I would have not bothered to call the Modis," Yuvraaj apologized.

"That's alright Yuvraaj. You were just doing your job." Riddhima pursed her lips, "thanks for informing them though."



As the Modis prepared for their departure, the pilot informed them, "I am sorry, only three of you can go. If we have to transport a patient back, I don't have enough room for all of you."

"Theek hai," Shashank replied authoritatively, "the doctor, Abhimanyu and I will go."

Padma was appalled, "nahin Shashank. Main bhi chaloongi. Abhimanyu aur Jiya commercial plane se aa jaayenge. Armaan mera bhi beta hai."

"PADMA! YAAD RAKHO, ARMAAN SE KHOON KA RISHTA SIRF MERA AUR ABHIMANYU KA HAI! Aise mauke par humein pehle jaana chaahiye. You women can join us later, or just wait for us here. Let's go doctor!" Shashank walked off with the doctor and climbed into the jet. A heartbroken and a very hurt Padma stood numb at the runway. She had always treated Armaan as her own; Shashank had insulted her motherhood and relationship with Armaan. Her heart bled for Armaan; she had no idea who had attacked Armaan and why? She wanted to be with him; make sure he was alright. She felt guilty for provoking his anger the other day. "Kahin kisi se gusse mein ladhai tho nahin kar baitha? Armaan ko kaun maarna chaahega?"

"Mummyji!" Jiya stepped forward, "we should take the first flight out to Nainital."

"You are right beta."

"I don't have a good feeling about this. Abhimanyu should not be without me for too long. Josh mein aakar wo kuch bhi kar sakta hai."

"Jiya beta, waise tum har waqt uske saath kaise reh sakti ho?"

"Mummyji….I need to tell you something."


"I am afraid Abhimanyu might have something to do with the attack on Armaan."

Padma was shocked, "kya kaha? Yeh tum kya keh rahi ho Jiya? Jaanti hoon Abhimanyu aur Armaan mein hamesha kuch an ban rahi hai, lekin Abhimanyu badal gaya hai."

"Badal gaya hai, as long as he is on medications and I am with him. He still holds a grudge against his step brother."

"LET'S LEAVE RIGHT NOW JIYA! I will ask Gopal to get us another private jet." Padma felt her protective instincts kick in- there was no way she would let any harm happen to any of her sons-intentional, nor unintentional.



Mrs. Saxena had informed Aradhana of the tragic incident. Aradhana was thunder struck by the news; her heart cried for her little sister, "meri bechari behen itni bad naseeb kyun hai? Hey bhagwan, jab bhi uski zindagi mein koi khushi aati hai, tu kyun uska itna badha imtihaan leta hai?"

She packed her bags and decided to leave right away.

"Kahan jaa rahi ho itni raat?" Shailendra stopped her. He was in the middle of one of his binge drinking sessions in the living room. Lately, he had been spending more time with Johnny Whiskey than his family or friends. He had lost the local MLA election about a year ago; his popularity was at it's ebb. With no external funding or celebrity backing him up, he had lost confidence of all his party members also.

"Someone has shot Armaan. He is serious. I am going to Nainital…Riddhima needs me," she replied coldly.

"He is serious? Not dead, huh?" Shailendra had a smug expression on his face, "saari fasaad ki jadh hai wo. Jab se India aaya hai, sab kuch barbaad ho gaya hai."

"SHAILENDRA! HOW CAN YOU? YOU ARE THE MOST DISGUSTING MAN IN THE WORLD! NA JAANE KYUN ABHI TAK MAIN TUMHARE SAATH HOON?" A livid Aradhana pushed him out of the way and hailed a taxi to the train station.

"Jao…Jao…..aakhir behen kiski ho? Pati ko chhodna tho tum logon ka peshaa hai!" He slurred after her.



Riddhima, Yuvraaj, Mrs. Saxena and Naina auntie paced up and down as the doctors operated on removing the large clot from Armaan's brain.

Armaan had been in surgery for almost three hours; there was no news from inside the OR.

Riddhima had almost scratched the skin off her palms with her nails. She constantly recited the 'mrityunjaya mantra'- an ancient Sanskrit matra recited for longevity of life. As she stood in a corner with her palms folded and eyes shut in prayer, she heard footsteps approaching her. She opened her eyes expectantly but was taken aback to see Shashank and Abhimanyu walking towards her. Their arrogance and attitude were intact despite the tragic news of Armaan's near fatal wound.

"KAHAN HAI ARMAAN?" Shashank charged in and asked Riddhima.

Initially unsettled by her ex father-in'law's stance, she folded her arms and looked up at the tall man in front of her, "He is still in surgery."


Abhimanyu stood silently behind his father. This was the first time he was seeing his ex wife after their divorce. By the looks of it, he could tell she was extremely distraught and shaken up by Armaan's injury. She was dressed in simple clothes that had blood, mud and tears all over. With a sadistic smile on his face, he couldn't help wondering, "you gave up everything for such a life? Serves you right Riddhima. You messed with us….and look at you now…you are a mess yourself!"

"HAAN MERI WAJAH SE HUA HAI!" Riddhima replied defiantly, "agar aapne us din mujhey apne bte ki zindagi se door jaane ko nahin kaha hota, tho aaj Armaan theek hota."

"What nonsense! Agar tumne usey Nainital nahin bulaya hota tho aisa nahin hota!"

"Armaan came to Nainital on his own Mr. Modi! Aapka beta khud mere paas aaya tha…jaante hain kyun? Kyunki wo mujh se beintaah pyaar karta hai….aur aap chaahe kuch bhi kar lein, hum dono ko judaa nahin kar sakte!"


"Wo sanskar nahin, brahm tha Mr. Shashank Modi…an illusion which I have broken forever."

Shashank and Abhimanyu were stunned and rendered speechless by Riddhima's new persona. She was no longer the meek and obedient girl they could intimidate with their imperiousness.

"Excuse me Mrs. Malik! The doctor would like to speak with you," a nurse, dressed in OR scrubs walked out.

"Mrs Malik?" Shashank and Abhimanyu were mortified. "Jhooth! Tumhari shaadi nahin huyi hai abhi! You lied on the phone also!"

"How do you know Mr. Shashank Modi?" Riddhima asked as she walked behind the nurse.

"B-because we know you spent the whole day with Armaan in Nainital. There was no marriage ceremony between the two of you." Abhimanyu blurted out. Shashank glared at his son. The rest of the crowd stood stupefied, while Riddhima just gave out a sarcastic chuckle, "Besides a spy, I wish you had sent in a better gunman also."

Yuvraaj's ears picked on the last statement. He stood up and stared angrily at the Modi father and son duo.

"Mrs. Malik…congratulations! The surgery was successful!" Dr Pathak shook Riddhima's hand.

……………………….to be contd………………


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