Sunday, 11 November 2018

Last Part : Chance Encounter


Riddhima didn't have to look out of the window, nor look at her watch to know that Calcutta was near. Though it was technically impossible, she somehow felt the wind, heard the sounds of the city and felt the familiar fluttering of her heart and she knew 'she was home!!

"Riddhima," Armaan whispered, clasping her hand in his, "We are almost there."

"I know," Riddhima nodded, grinning, "Welcome to the City of Joy!"

"Who's Joy?" Armaan grinned, "Okay, sorry, PJ! Couldn't help myself!"

"Nervousness doesn't seem to suit you," Riddhima pointed out with a grim smile, "Your sense of humour goes for a toss!"

"Who's nervous?" Armaan looked affronted, "I am not nervous!"



"Right," Riddhima nodded her head and grinned, "That is why you've chewed your nails down to half. I am afraid you'll start chewing your fingers next. If you were that hungry, why did you refuse lunch?"

"Ha ha, very funny," Armaan smiled mockingly, "I remember someone requiring a brain transplant when she first met my sister."

"Armaan, that isn't fair. It was a shock. I wasn't prepared."

"And what do you think, I've been attending 'how-to-impress-in-laws' coaching classes?"

"Armaan!!"

"Riddhima!!"

"Armaan!!"

"Riddhima!!"

"Sanjeev!!"

Both Armaan and Riddhima stopped their argument abruptly and turned towards the seat in front of them. A little boy of about five, had twisted himself around in his seat and was now grinning at them over the head rest.

"Your turn next," the boy instructed pointing at Riddhima.

"Sanjeev, sit down!" the lady in front scolded and dragged the little boy down to his seat, "How many times have I told you not to talk to strangers?"

"But mum, we are playing a game," the heard Sanjeev arguing, "Each of us have to shout out our names. It's fun, try it."

Not sure what Sanjeev's mum felt about the 'name shouting' game but Armaan and Riddhima broke down into fits of laughter.

"Okay, okay," Armaan finally said in an appeasing tone, taking her hand in his, "I am a little bit nervous, but just a little teeny-weeny-tiny bit nervous!!"

"Well that's natural," Riddhima nodded in an all knowing manner, "I would have been surprised if you weren't nervous. Just don't kill my cat or set my house on fire, okay?"

"You have a cat?" Armaan asked, intrigued.

"Nope," Riddhima shook her head, "I was just recounting stuff from movies."

"Riddhima," Armaan sighed, exasperated.

"Armaan!"

"Mom, see they are playing the game again. Please, please, please can I play?"

"Sanjeev," his mom admonished, "Sit down and keep quiet."





As Armaan and Riddhima pushed their luggage trolleys out of the terminal, Armaan squeezed her hand for the last time before letting go. It was a conscious action on his part. He wasn't taking any chances to risk offending Riddhima's family. Riddhima understood his unsaid feelings and gave him a reassuring smile before turning around to look for a familiar face in the milling crowd. Armaan however was the first to spot their host.

"Riddhima, look, Rahul bhaiyya," he said smiling and waving, "Let's go."

When Riddhima didn't move, he turned around to find her looking straight at Rahul with the most forlon expression that he had ever seen on her face.

"What?" Armaan asked, concerned.

"They didn't come," Riddhima whispered, her face turning dark.

"Rahul bhaiyya is here," Armaan tried to reassure pointing at Rahul's direction, "He is right there."

"I know," Riddhima said biting her lips, "But Papa'"

"Oh," Armaan chuckled, relieved, "Papa's girl missing Daddy dearest? Come on Riddhima, he must be busy. Rahul bhaiyya is here na?"

"But they always come," Riddhima insisted.

"They?"

"Papa, Mumma and Muskaan bhabi."

"They all come?" Armaan asked incredulous, "They all come, everytime?"

"Yup," Riddhima nodded her head vigorously as if it was the most natural thing on earth, "Always."

"Jeez," Armaan wiped his brow, "I underestimated the Guptas. I am so screwed."

His exaggeration worked and Riddhima finally smiled.

"Armaan, it's not that bad. We are a close knit family but I am sure they'll love you." When Armaan still looked bothered, she added with a smile, "Like I love you."

Armaan grinned, "I love you too, Doc. Now let's go or Rahul bhaiyya might just go home without us."





Rahul shook hands with Armaan before pulling Riddhima into a hug.

"Missed you kiddo, welcome home."

"Missed you too, bhai. Where is Papa?"

"Umm'.he's a little busy," his furtiveness expressing more than his words, "How was your flight?"

"Bhai what is it?" Riddhima asked, "There's something you are not telling me."

"Nothing Ridzie," Rahul seemed evasive, "Let me get the bags."

"Bhai," Riddhima stopped her brother sternly, "Tell me."

"Well," Rahul mumbled, "It's '.ummm'Armaan."

"What about me?" Armaan asked, before Riddhima could say anything.

"Well, I didn't tell them about the engagement or anything," Rahul assured hurriedly, "I just told them that you are a 'friend' and will be staying at our place for a couple of days. But I think they guessed somethings, and'"

"And?" Riddhima asked.

"And, I don't think it went down too well with them."

Riddhima's face fell and she clasped Armaan's hand, more as a consolation to her than to him.

"Now what?" she asked ashen faced.

"Now we go home," Rahul said picking up the bags, "Don't worry, they'll come around. Just that Armaan might have to answer a few questions."

"What questions?" Armaan asked immediately.

"Oh, you'll see," Rahul replied turning his back on him and walking towards the exit door, "General stuff. Nothing that you can't answer."





Rahul's warnings had diminished Armaan's bravado down a few levels but Riddhima's enthusiasm was infectious. As soon as she stepped out of the airport, Armaan realized how much she actually missed the city. She pointed out to him the well known landmarks like the Science city, Victoria memorial and the Howrah bridge along with lesser known but equally important landmarks like her favourite phucka vendor, favourite coffee shop, the place where she got almost run over by an auto, the place where you get the best rosogollas in all of Calcutta and hundreds of other such memories. While Riddhima was pointing out her 5th grade teacher's house and recounting a story related with it, Rahul softly called Armaan.

"Dude, can I ask you something?"

"Sure," Armaan smiled, "Anything."

"Well," Rahul faltered, "I am happy for you guys. I knew you guys had something going on and one day it will come to this but don't you think, I mean, isn't all this happening too fast?"

"Fast?" Armaan joked, "I think all this is going too slow. The traffic doesn't seem to move!"

"Armaan," Rahul said, not amused by Armaan's attempt at humour, "Stop being evasive and give me an serious answer."

"Okay okay, seriously. Rahul bhaiyya, I know it's all very fast and I've known Riddhima for barely a month but you know, I've waited for 26years and I've never ever felt like this. Not even close. But with Riddhima, I just know! I know, somewhere deep in my heart that she is the one for me and we can spend our entire lives together. When I'm with her everything falls into place and it's a wonderful feeling. I think I fell in love with her the first time I met her and as I got to know her it only accentuated my feelings for her. Initially even I thought that things were moving too fast, that we needed time to understand our feelings for each other. But I knew soon enough that this was it, Riddhima is the girl I wanted to spend my life with and my decision was made. I was a bit apprehensive about Riddima's feelings but now that I am sure that she likes me too, I don't want to wait anymore. Is that wrong?"

Rahul took his eyes off the road for a couple of seconds to glance at Armaan's earnest face. His lips slowly, with a lot of consideration, finally curved into a smile which spoke volumes. Armaan settled back in his seat, relieved that he atleast had one ally on his side





"We are home," Rahul announced, quite unnecessarily as Armaan had realized it a split second earlier when he heard Riddhima jump out and the passenger door bang shut. Armaan surveyed the two storey white building and he realized that for once he wasn't as confident that he'd like to feel. The well kept garden in front of the house didn't have any large tree to hide behind, the gravel pathway didn't have any pit to fall through and the welcome mat seemed to jeer at him. As his line of sight finally included Riddhima's excited face, waiting for him to accompany her, the house suddenly seemed a lot friendlier. Infact, the balcony which he was unconsciouslycontemplating as a path of escape, now seemed a perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon. Armaan smiled and strode purposefully towards the door. It was time he put his silly thoughts aside and sit through one of the most important conversation of his life!!



The door opened almost as soon as Riddhima rang the bell and Armaan had a glimpse of a beautiful woman before Riddhima squealed, her squeakiest yet.

"Mum!"

"Riddhima!" Padma Gupta squealed louder than her daughter, before pulling her into a bone crushing hug, "I missed you so much Chinky!"

Armaan snorted involuntarily, the 'Chinky' endearment proving too much for his self control. The sound caught Padma's attention and she looked at Armaan, as if realizing for the first time that there was someone else other than 'Chinky' at the door.

"Hi," Padma smiled, "You must be Armaan!"

Armaan decided to inquire about the 'Chinky' adage later, there were more important stuff demanding his attention.

"Hi," Armaan smiled before bending down to touch her feet, "And you must be Mum!"

"Yes," Padma laughed, patting his back, "I am Mum. Good observation. Welcome to Kolkata beta. As you can see, the city is smoking hot!" Padma finished with a naughty smile fanning herself with the end of her pallu.

Armaan felt and instant liking towards the lady which was probably second only to the familiarity he felt with Riddhima on their first meeting.

"Maybe it runs in the family," Armaan thought grinning, "Gupta ladies are pretty interesting."

"Everybody met everybody?" Rahul cut in before Armaan could say anything, "Great! Can we go in now? The bags are not getting any lighter!"

"Oh I am so sorry," Padma slapped her forehead, "Come on all of you. Let's go in. Riddhima, Papa is waiting for you. Armaan come in."

"Wait," a new voice intervened making all of them stop in their tracks, "Not so fast!"

Armaan made a conscious effort to maintain the amiable smile which posed a serious threat of slipping off his face. He surveyed the owner of the voice and was likewise was surveyed himself till a voice interrupted them.

"Papa," Riddhima spoke up, "This is Armaan, from Mumbai."

"Yeah," Rahul chipped in, "We were just going in to meet you."

"Oh," Dr. Shashak Gupta nodded grimly, "But."

"But what, Shashank?" Padma interrupted, "Armaan come on in." She tugged at Armaan's arm who looked a bit discomfited and looked at Shashank for his approval.

"But," Shahshank glared at his wife, "He has left his bag outside."

There was a collective sigh of relief while Armaan bend down to pick his bag.

"Umm," Armaan stretched his hand for a handshake, "Thank You, Dr. Shashank. It's really nice to meet you."

"Really?" Shashank cocked an eyebrow, before shaking his hand, "That's nice."

"Oh, come on everybody," Padma herded them from behind, "Let's go in. I am melting out here."

                                                          ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Armaan lay half reclined on the bed in the guest room looking straight at the wall, lost in thought. He was suddenly brought back to reality when he felt is cell phone vibrating and a smile spread on his face as he saw the caller id.

"Hi, Di! What's up?"

"You tell me, you idiot! What did Riddhima's parents say?"

"Nothing," Armaan sighed, "Padma aunty liked my shirt."

"Huh?" Anjali was puzzled, "Shirt? What the hell are you talking about? What did they say about the wedding?"

"They don't know about the wedding," Armaan sighed, deeper and longer, "Nor about any engagement."

"What? You didn''t tell them?"

"If I had told them, then they would have known, right?"

"Armaan!" Anjali screamed, exasperated, "Stop talking in circles. Did you or did you not tell them?"

"Didn't tell them." Armaan exhaled, "Didn't get the time!"

"Didn't get the time? Armaan!! How long does it take to say 'I want to marry your daughter'?"

"Dunno! No experience as of yet," Armaan tried a weak joke.

"Armaan!"

"What am I to do? First of all everybody was too excited because their darling daughter was back. Then suddenly I was stuffed with food and then Sasurjee declared that we were all tired and should go to sleep and I was packed into the guest room," Armaan complained in one breath, "And then the lights were out before I could say howdie. Sasurjee is more Lieutenant General than a doctor! Stop laughing Di, it's not funny!"

"Armaan," Anjali laughed, "Stop exaggerating. I think they are just trying to have some fun. Don't worry!"

"Fun!" Armaan sighed sarcastically, "This is fun alright! A day in the park, so to say! Btw, what's that noise?"

"What noise?"

"That tapping noise."

"There's no noise here," Anjali assured, "Maybe it's on your side."

Armaan suddenly realized what the noise was as he heard his name being called in a soft whisper.

"Di, gotta go, I'll call you back!"





Armaan opened the door to a sight which was definitely the best sight he had encountered all day. There stood Riddhima in her night clothes, mickey mouse pajamas of all things and Armaan fell in love with her all over again. While he greeted this night time intrusion with the biggest smile, Riddhima looked royally pissed off.

"Armaan. Uff'. I've knocking for ages'.were you sleeping or something?" She hissed angrily

"Judging by the hour, that isn't too surprising, now is it?

"Ssshh," Riddhima sushed, "Stop being a smart ass and move." Before Armaan could say anything, she had barged into the room and plonked herself cross legged on the bed leaving Armaan to close the door behind her. Armaan smiled to himself and took a seat opposite her.

"So what do I owe this night time sojourn to?" he asked grinning.

"Armaan we need a plan!" Riddhima got straight to the point.

"Didn't pack any," Armaan joked, "How about we buy one first thing in the morning tomorrow?"

Riddhima made a face in response.

"Armaan. I am sure Mom and Dad knows about us."

"What?" Armaan asked, incredulous.

"Yep! It's just too obvious! I brought a six feet tall thing home, from Mumbai and they didn't ask me one single question? That's just not possible. They know everything! They are just drawing it out slowly to have fun. What? Why are you grinning?"

"You called me a 'six foot long THING'!" Armaan laughed.

"Oh, get over it," Riddhima waved her hand, "And think of a plan!"

"And here I was thinking that you've sneaked into the room to take advantage of me," Armaan sighed, "Instead, all you ask for is a business plan! Sad! Very sad!"

"Armaan," Riddhima scolded, "Be serious!"

"Riddhima," Armaan said in an appeasing tone, putting his arm around her shoulder, "I have a plan."

"You do?"

"Absolutely!"

"What plan?"

"Plan A, Riddhima, the original one, First thing tomorrow morning I'll walk straight upto to your dad and tell him that I want to marry you and you want to marry me. That is, we want to marry each other. Bas, problem solved!"

"Yeah," Riddhima laughed, "That's a good idea."

"Has to be."

"Just wait till Papa's done with his tea, okay?"

"Okay," Armaan laughed, "Now, don't worry and go to sleep. It's been a long day!"

"You are sending me away? Just like that?" Riddhima pouted, "After I tiptoed down two flights of stairs and an entire corridor? You are so mean!"

"Oye Hoye!" Armaan hooted, "Dr. Riddhima Gupta, your wish is my command." And beforeRiddhima could say anything he kissed her.



                                      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



As Dr. Shashank Gupta took the last swig of his tea and put his cup down, Armaan and Riddhima shared a knowing glance. Armaan winked at her which only she caught and then cleared his throat.

"Err'Dr. Gupta."

"Yeah?" Three people answered, Padma, Rahul and Muskaan. The intended Dr. Gupta however just looked up from his newspaper.

"Err' I meant Dr. Gupta," Armaan indicated Shashank, "I have something to say!"

Muskaan squealed and then covered her mouth with her hands while Rahul showed a Thumbs up. When Dr. Shashank didn't answer, Armaan continued.

"Umm'it's about Riddhima and me."

"You want to get married!" Shashank commented with no expression while Armaan's mouth fell open in shock and Riddhima's elbow slipped from the table. They had a plan, but the parents seemed to have many counter plans.

"Well," Armaan found his voice, "Yes."

"So?" Shashank asked in the eerily expressionless way, "How can I help you?"

Armaan looked at Riddhima helplessly. He had mentally prepared many answers, but this question stumped him. As far as he knew, never in the history of marriages has any father-of-the-bride asked the groom-to-be, 'How can I help you?'

"Err," Armaan mumbled, at a loss of words, "We'd like your permission."

"And why should I give you permission?"

"Why not?" was on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed it. "Err, because we like each other," he said instead.

"Like?"

"Papa, we.." Riddhima started but was cut off by by her father.

"Riddhima go upstairs. We'd like to talk to Armaan."

"But Papa'"

"Riddhima go upstairs. We'd like to talk to Armaan," her father repeated himself.

"All of you?" Riddhima managed to ask.

"Yes all of us. We will talk to you later. Now go!"

Armaan watched Riddhima grudgingly trudge upstairs and she was at the top step when Muskaan closed the door of the drawing room'and Armaan couldn't remember when he had felt more alone. He looked at Rahul for support but somehow the friendly smile was gone and his ally seemed to be changing sides.

Muskaan came back and took a seat at one end of the table beside Rahul. They were all facing Armaan now and he had this weird feeling that all this was rehearsed. He however didn't have a chance to contemplate this further has he was asked the first question from the head of the family himself.

"Rahul tells me, you have a business," Shashank commented, "So when was the last time you studied biology?"

Armaan did a double take and for a second he thought he was hallucinating.

"What?" he asked tentatively.

"When was the last time you studied Biology?" Shashank now looked a bit tired at having to repeat every sentence.

Armaan decided that if this was a trick question, he was screwed. He simply gave a direct answer.

"Umm'10th standard, I think!"

"You think? You are not sure?" Rahul asked.

"I'I am sure. 10th standard it was. Then I took economics."

"So do you remember anything?" Muskaan this time.

"Err'"

"Well," Padma spoke up for the first time, "Do you?"

"It was a long time ago, and, well. Excuse me, but umm'I am sorry'but how is this relevant?"

"Armaan," Rahul tried to explain, "Riddhima is a doctor. Infact, as you know, all of us are. We want somebody for Riddhima who can share her interests. I mean, it would be really difficult if you keep talking about economics and she keeps talking about medicine. It would be'"

"I liked Biology," Armaan interrupted him defensively, "It was one of my favourite subjects. I 'I  might remember stuff!"

"What are the eight bones of the skull known as?"

"How many blood vessels end at the Uterus?"

"How much blood is pumped through the body at each heartbeat?"

"How are the nerve impulses conducted through the body?"

The four doctors spoke up in unison.

"I don't know," Armaan said starting to panic, as a collective sigh resonated in the room, "I can learn."

"It's too late," Shashank shook his head.

"But.."

"Armaan, what will you do if Riddhima falls sick?" Padma asked shaking her head too.

"I'll take her to a doctor."

"Suppose there is a curfew in the city?" Rahul shook his head.

"Then I'll call one of you guys."

"Suppose the network is busy?" Muskaan shook her head.

Armaan felt helpless in the sea of shaking heads.

"Well, Riddhima is a doctor herself'.ummm'.she'll know what to do!" he made a desperate attempt.



"Enough!"

Armaan took his eyes off the shaking heads to look at Riddhima standing at the doorway, red in the face.

"You guys are incorrigible!! I knew, something was up, but how could you do this to Armaan?"

Armaan turned around at his interview panel and was shocked to see all the shaking heads  smiling.

"Riddhima listen," Rahul started.

"No, bhai, I am not going to listen to anything you have to say! Armaan, meet my crazy family! I told you they were crazy, perhaps I forgot to tell you that they are also rude, mean and third grade actors!"

"Riddhima, I ," a befuddled Armaan murmered.

"It was a joke Armaan," Riddhima explained, "They were just pulling your leg! Mum I can't believe you also joined them."

"I had no choice," Padma complained, "Rahul and Muskaan threatened me with 'No grandchildren'! Armaan I am so sorry!"

"I love this guy!" Riddhima shouted, "And this is how you treat him? I am ashamed of you. We are both sad at your behavior!"

'Sad' didn't quite describe Armaan's feelings. Elated or maybe ecstatic came closer. The love of his life just shouted out to her parents that she loved him. Not even a quiz on the filthiest diseases on the surface of the Earth could make him sad right now! So a brightly smiling Armaan tried to calm Riddhima down.

"Oh come on, Riddhima. It was all just fun. I didn't mind. Infact, it was kind of entertaining."

"Hear hear," Rahul shouted.

"We were just trying to judge is sense of humor," Muskaan giggled, "And he exceeds expectation. Go Armaan!"

"Thanks Muskaan bhabi," Armaan grinned, "Riddhima you are over reacting!"

"I am over reacting?" Riddhima threw up her hands in frustration, "Armaan? Now you are on their side?"

"Ofcourse he is on our side," Shashank spoke for the first time. He got up from his seat and walked towards Armaan, with a big smile. The first one Armaan had seen since he had walked into the house the day before. He patted his shoulder and to Armaan's utter shock, pulled him into a hug.

"Welcome to the family, son!"



 Mia

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