Thursday, 1 November 2018

Part 12 : Chance Encounter

Riddhima sat alone at a table holding a glass of orange juice. She was wearing a pink sari with minimal jewellery. Her long hair left open, kohl lining her eyes and a dash of pink lip gloss, she looked beautiful. However if you looked carefully, there was something missing but you couldn't quite put your finger on what. Only the people who knew her well understood what was missing---her smile.

"I can't believe he didn't call," Riddhima muttered to herself. "How could he not call?"

"I am sorry, I didn't get that. The music is too loud."

"Hey Abhi. When did you come? Where's Niki?"

"I came just now, Niki had to go to the washroom. But what are you mumbling to yourself?"

"Nothing, I was just thinking out loud."

"Ridzie, are you alright? I mean, you haven't quite been yourself for the past couple of days, actually come to think of it you've been acting weird the past whole week. Any problem at home?"

"No, Abhi, I'm fine. I guess I am just a bit over worked. I wanted to stay back at home and sleep but Niki dragged me to this party."

"And you should thank Niki for it!"

Riddhima and Abhi turned around to find Niki standing behind themwith her hands on her hips.

"Otherwise you would be sitting at home pondering over that jerk who didn't call!"

Abhi looked puzzled, "The jerk who didn't call?"

Before Riddhima could say anything, Niki continued,

"Yeah, some guy she met a couple of times. He said he would call but the moron didn't call and Ridzie has become quite the Lady Devdas ever since. I told you Ridzie, he is not worth it. He must either be blind or a nutcase to have not called you and trust me, if that's the case then it's all the better for you.

"I never thought I'll say this but I think Niki is right," Abhi said and was promptly awarded with a punch on his shoulder, "Ouch, Niki, that hurts! Anyways, Ridzie, forget about him and enjoy the party. Afterall its Sanjeevani's 25th Foundation day anniversary party."

"Right! Let's dance, eat, drink and enjoy. And lemme see, there's quite a few good looking guys around, I'm sure we could hook you up with someone for the evening. How about that guy with the fluorescent yellow tie? He looks cute."

"Flourescent yellow tie!" Riddhima grimaced, "Please Niki, spare me. I'll go blind if I have to stare at a fluorescent yellow tie the entire evening. You guy don't worry, I am perfectly alright and for God's sake DO NOT try to hook me up with someone. I hate it when you play match maker.  I swear, I am going to catch a cab and go straight back home even if you mention another guy to me tonight!"

"What crap," Niki rubbished her plea immediately, "You need to relax and have fun. Stop sitting here alone with a long face like Rani Mukherje from 'Kabhi Alvida Kabhi Tata'!"

Both Riddhima and Abhi turned to Niki with the same questioning look, "Kabhi Alvida Kabhi Tata?"

"What?" Niki shrugged as both Abhi and Riddhima laughed, "You know? The one where she dumps her husband for another duffer and then cries buckets! Abhi don't you remember? Actually, how will you? You slept through the entire movie! People in the hall actually asked me to wake you up 'coz you were snoring."

"I don't snore!" Abhi looked affronted.

" Fine, sleep with the recorder on tonight. Anyways, the point is, Ridzie, cheer up! Forget about that jerk and move on. How about that guy?"

"Niki, no!"

"Just look at him, he looks so cute. He is just standing there, alone, looking for someone," Niki dramatized, "Maybe he is looking for you, Riddhima! Only you!"

"Niki, shut up!"

"Oh great! He is walking this way. Ridzie, I believe its destiny! You guys were meant to find each other. Just turn around and look, he looks more handsome up close, and I promise, he is not wearing a fluorescent tie."

"Niki, I am leaving." Riddhima stood up to go but was struck immobile when she heard a very familiar voice behind her.


Riddhima turned around slowly not quite believing her ears, and there, looking dapper as ever in a navy blue suit with a smile on his face, stood Armaan!

Armaan, who hadn't called for seven days.  Armaan, whom she had been thinking of , every minute of the past seven days.  Armaan the jerk who said he would call. Armaan, the sweetheart, with whom she spent a very memorable evening. Armaan the pain! Armaan!

Riddhima gripped the table for support and then sat back on the chair without saying a word.

"Hi, Riddhima," Armaan tried again, "Good to see you."

Riddhima still didn't answer, but her silence this time was filled by Niki's exclamation,

"You guys know each other? Ridzie, you know him?"

Riddhima nodded and sighed, "Yes, this is Mr. Mallik."

Niki grinned flirtatiously, "Mr. Mallik, oooh, and is there a Mrs. Mallik?"

"There is a Mr. Modi, in case you forgot!" Abhi interrupted. He extended a hand towards Armaan while Niki glared at him, "Hi, I am Abhimanyu Modi, Abhi, nice to meet you. This is my fiance Nikita."

"Hi, I am Armaan and nice to meet you too."

"Armaan?" Niki frowned "You are Armaan? Ridzie's Armaan?"

Niki had been earning it for a while now and Riddhima thought it was the perfect time to deliver it. One hard kick under the table, to stop the blabbermouth.

"Ouch Riddhima! Why are you kicking me?"

"Sorry, Niki," Riddhima glared, "Cramps. I guess I have been sitting here for too long."

"Oh, okay. Anyways, where was I ? Yes, Armaan why didn't you call Rid'! Ouch Ridzie, you kicked me again?! What the hell is wrong with you?"

['What the hell is wrong with me?' Riddhima thought. 'What the hell is wrong with you? Why can't you just SHUT UP!']

"I am sorry, cramps!" Riddhima replied sheepishly while Armaan grinned.

"Then why don't you just go and walk around a bit instead of kicking me half to death. Armaan, like I was saying'"

Riddhima looked at Abhi with pleading eyes who thankfully understood. He quickly jumped into the foray to stop his fiance and salvage atleast some of Riddhima's pride.

"Niki! Let's go dance. I love this song."

Niki looked at Abhi quizzically, "You love this song? I thought you hated Bollywood numbers and it is only Eminem or Pink Floyd for you?"

 "Well yeah," Abhi fumbled, "But this is an exception. Can we please go dance? Please, please?"

Niki smiled, "Okay, let's go. Armaan, Riddhima, I'll be right back." Niki shouted as Abhi dragged her to the dance floor.

 Riddhima sighed in relief but her relief was soon replaced by nervousness when she realized that with Abhi and Niki gone, she was left alone with Armaan. She looked away, concentrating hard on her orange juice when Armaan spoke up,

"Nice friends. Niki is very sweet. She'"

"She talks too much," Riddhima interrupted rudely.

Armaan smiled, "Yeah, but still, she is very sweet."

Riddhima kept quiet and refused to even look at him so Armaan continued,

"Riddhima, you look beautiful."

Riddhima blushed involuntarily but still steadfastedly stared at her glass.

"Riddhima, I am sorry. I'"

"Sorry? Sorry for what?"

"I am sorry, I didn't call. I know you are mad at me Riddhima, but'"

"Mad at you? I am not mad at you. Why should I be mad at you Mr. Mallik ?"

"You are not mad at me," Armaan said with a wry smile, "Yet suddenly I have become 'Mr. Mallik'?"

"As far as I know, you have been 'Mr. Mallik' all your life!"

"Yeah, but I thought we progressed from Mr. Mallik to Armaan, last week."

Riddhima didn't say anything and just stared blankly at couples dancing on the dance floor.

Armaan walked forward and held her hand which she promptly jerked away,

"Riddhima, I '.."

"Just one phone call, Armaan? Just one?"

"I '"

"Hey Armaan! Sweetheart! Long time no see? Where have you been hiding, handsome?"

"Hey, Taani," Armaan turned around to hug the new arrival, "Haven't seen you in a long time girl."

Riddhima watched the girl from the corner of her eyes and saw that she was strikingly beautiful. Wearing a knee length halter dress, her long hair styled carefully into small curls, she looked like a model straight out of the pages of Vogue.

 "How will you?" Taani complained, "You've become like so unsocial. You don't come to parties, you don't call."

The last sentence made Armaan and Riddhima both at look at each other but Riddhima quickly dropped her gaze back to her orange juice.

"I am sorry, I '"

"Oh, forget it Armaan. I know how busy you are. Dad keeps praising you all the time about how conscientious you are, how good you are at your work but come on Armaan, you should spare some time for your old friends. Today when Dad told me you were coming to this party, I changed all my plans to come here. You know today was my best friends 'third-date anniversary' party.  She'll kill me for missing the party but I risked it to meet you."

Riddhima rolled her eyes. 'Third-date anniversary party?  How vain could people get?'

"Ah, Taani, meet Riddhima," Riddhima heard Armaan introducing them and she turned around with a fake smile,

"Hi, Taani,"

"Hi, Riddhima, are you here with Armaan?"

"Yes," Armaan said.

"No," Riddhima opposed

Taani looked confused, "I am sorry, I didn't get you."

"Err, Riddhima is a doctor in Sanjeevani. She is a paediatrician."

"Ooh, a doctor?" Taani exclaimed, "That's like really brainy stuff! Dad always wanted me to be a doctor but all that studying and blood and operations, just not my cup of tea. A paediatrician, huh? I don't think I can even spell the word correctly." Taani laughed at her own joke while Armaan smiled.

Riddhima's fake smile got even more sugary if possible and she replied in the sweetest voice she could muster,

"I bet!"

Armaan sniggered at her sarcastic reply but quickly stifled his laugh when he saw Riddhima glaring at him.

" Taani, how is Ashoke uncle? Haven't met him in a while."

"Dad? Dad's here, probably talking to Subhankar uncle. He wanted to meet you too. Come with me, I think I saw him last near the food stall. Bye Riddhima, nice to meet you. I am borrowing Armaan for a while, I hope you don't mind."

"Not at all," Riddhima replied through clenched teeth and before Armaan could say anything, Taani linked her arms through his and dragged him to the other side of the hall.

Riddhima watched him go while a number of feelings warred in her heart. She was angry with Armaan for a number of reasons but she was also curious about his explanation for his utter disregard for her feelings. She was bloody jealous of Taani and furious with her for dragging Armaan away, but most of all, she was furious with herself for caring so much.

[ 'The idiot didn't call me for 7 days, why the hell should I care? He can hug, Taani. Maani, Naani, Daadi, I don't give a shit!']

"What was that?" Riddhima turned around to find Niki and Abhi staring at her, "What did he say? Why hadn't he called? I wanted to come closer to hear the conversation but stupid Abhi wouldn't let me. I tried to lip read, but well I ain't very good at it. By the way, who was that girl? She looked quite the'"

"Niki, you were spying on me?" Riddhima yelled, "Oh God, you guys are incorrigible! Just stay away from me, okay? For once let me live my own life without you setting me up or prying into my private matters or giving me a lecture about everything under the sun! I am a big girl and I can handle my own problems. I don't need your help." And with that she stomped out of the hall leaving a highly embarrassed Niki and Abhi.

Riddhima was standing in the balcony, away from the suffocating ambience of the party, mentally berating herself for listening to Niki and coming here. She also felt guilty for taking out her frustration on her best friends, they didn't deserve it. They didn't deserve it at all.

"He doesn't have the time to make one phone call but he has the time to party," Riddhima muttered, "Damn! Why did I even come to this party?"

"Stop taking out my anger on that poor napkin, I am standing right here ready to bear your wrath."

She didn't have to turn around to recognize that it was Armaan. His jovial tone infuriated her even more. She felt like giving him a piece of her mind in a few chosen words so that he wouldn't dare to joke with her again. Instead she looked down at the napkin in her hand which she had unconsciously been shredding to bits and tore it some more.

"Riddhima, look'"

"What are you doing here?" Riddhima interrupted.

"Exactly what you are doing, escaping from the maddening crowd, getting some fresh air'"

"No, I mean, here at the party? I thought this party was only for Sanjeevani members or members of the board."

"You thought right. I am a member of the board."

Riddhima stared at him, even though she didn't want to see his face, atleast consciously so.

"You are a member of the board?"

"Yeah. Actually my Dad was one of the founding members. I'."

"Arjun Mallik?" Riddhima whispered.

"Yeah, that's my Dad, but how did you know?"

"There's a huge board in the main hall of Sanjeevani with the names of all the founding members. We get our briefings right in front of it every morning. I think I have read it a zillion times."

"Right, I forgot. My dad, Taani's dad,Ashok uncle, Subhankar uncle, they were all founding members."

Riddhima had been listening to Armaan fairly calmly till now, her shock overpowering her frustration  but with the mention of Taani's name, her old anger returned unbidden. She threw away the napkin she was holding and tried to push past Armaan, who at once held her hand to stop her,

"Riddhima, listen to me'."

"Or what?" Riddhima snapped, "You will get me suspended, Mr. Board member?

"No, but I am going to follow you around like Mary's little lamb until you hear me out."

The reference to the nursery rhyme brought an unintentional smile on Riddhima's face but she wiped it off immediately.

['Oh no Mr. Mallik,' she thought, "You are not getting off the hook just by making silly allusions! Not this time! Not so easily!]

"There's nothing to talk about, Armaan. You didn't call, that's your prerogative. Who am I to question it?"

"Riddhima, I can explain."

"Sure you can. You were busy, it was way too much hassle dialing 10 digits, you lost my phone number, you lost your phone, the dog ate your shirt, you'."

Armaan suddenly held her by the shoulders and pulled her to himself, silencing her ramblings with a finger on her lips,

"Atul bhaiyya's mom had a heart attack."


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