Sunday, 4 November 2018

Part 15 : Chance Encounter

Rahul was reading the newspaper but his eyes kept moving back to Armaan, scrutinizing him, leveling him up. Donning a chef's hat, helping the ladies and cracking jokes, the guy looked way too comfortable to be just an acquaintance. He watched Armaan tell something to Muskaan who in turn burst out laughing.

"We've only just met," Rahul mumbled to himself, "but it feels like he has known us for ages."

 He also didn't miss the easy camaraderie that Riddhima and Armaan shared, the secret smiles, the private jokes. He noticed how Armaan finished most of Riddhima's sentences and how Riddhima managed to understand what Armaan wanted even before he uttered a single word. It was bizarre and if he didn't know better, he'd think that they were in love.



"In love?" Rahul dropped his newspaper and bent down to pick it, "Could they be in love?" He squinted at Riddhima who slapped Armaan's arm playfully, in response to some teasing and then both of them started laughing. Rahul concentrated harder to discern the undercurrents and then frowned,

"They can't be in love! Riddhima would have told Muskaan or me if she liked someone or if there was any romance.."

"Romance? Did you just say romance?"

Rahul turned around to find Muskaan staring at him with a look of utter surprise on her face.

"Muskaan, I ....."

"Oh My God, Rahul," Muskaan clamped her hand over her open mouth in a show of disbelief, "Romance and You? That's new!"

Rahul groaned, "Oh come on, Muskaan, I can be romantic."

"Yeah right," Muskaan grimaced. "You proposed to me in the MORGUE," she said stressing on each syllable of the word, "I must say, romance at its very best!"

"That was different," Rahul looked defensive, "I was head over heels in love with you and couldn't wait to ask you to be my wife, so I ran to the morgue where you were on duty." He smiled as he noted the faraway look and the smile that had appeared on Muskaan's face and then added with a hurt expression, "I even had your favourite flowers but all you did was give me a scathing look and walk out on me."

"Of course, I would walk out on you," Muskaan said, jumping at his throat again, "I was not going to share the most important moment of my life with a cadaver!"

"Show some respect for the dead, Muskaan! His name was Mr. Aditya Khurani!"

Muskaan gaped, "Mr. Aditya Khurani ? You actually remember the dead body's name?"

"How can I forget his name? He was the sole witness to my failed proposal and my shattered heart. I am sure, if he was not cut open, he might have risen and patted my head saying a few words of comfort. God rest his soul."

Muskaan glared at Rahul for a couple of seconds and then both of them burst out laughing.

"Really Rahul," Muskaan laughed, "You're the only man in this universe who can propose to his girlfriend in a morgue."

"And Muskaan, you're the only woman in the universe, I would have proposed to, morgue or no-morgue!"





Armaan nudged Riddhima and pointed to the couple sitting on the sofa, lost in each other's eyes. Riddhima looked at Rahul and Muskaan and then turned towards Armaan with a huge grin on her face.

"Papa calls this 'Spike time'!"

Armaan looked mildly surprised, "Spike time?"

Riddhima chuckled seeing his expression, "Yeah, you know, the dog Spike in Tom and Jerry. Bhai and Bhabi are always fighting with each other and these moments are like those rare occasions when Tom and Jerry are on the same team, fighting against Spike."

Armaan laughed, "Spike time it is! A very apt description. So who is Tom and who's Jerry?"

"Bhabi is definitely Jerry," Riddhima giggled and moved towards the kitchen with Armaan following her. "She always has the last word in all of their arguments. Sometimes I think, Bhai just lets her win to stop the fight. It's rare, but I've seen it happen."

Armaan sighed, "Alas, the tragedy of a married man."

Riddhima was dicing some carrots, but she turned around sharply, "What?"

"Yeah," Armaan replied calmly, arranging a set of cutlery, "That's the trick of survival for any guy in a relationship."

"What?" Riddhima repeated her question, just a few decibels higher.

"Every guy knows, to keep the women in their lives happy, it's much better to just accept defeat. No matter how stupid or illogical their side of argument is, the women never listen. So why waste your breath, just agree with them and they are happy. After all, it is way better than dealing with a constantly nagging or bickering woman."

Riddhima had heard enough, "That is enough Armaan, and so not true. How can you say that? That is just chauvinistic and terribly unfair. There is often a good cause for argument and......."

"As you say, dear."

Riddhima was shocked at his ultra calm response. "What?" she repeated a third time in this conversation.

"What you are saying is absolutely right," Armaan replied, looking at her with a sincere and unwavering gaze, "I was being chauvinistic, insensitive and terribly unfair."

Riddhima was dumb struck, staring at Armaan with her mouth hung open.

"Armaan, how.....why.....I mean"

And then she saw it, the twinkle in his eyes that he tried his best to conceal but failed. Slowly his lips curved into a smile and he grinned at her shamelessly.

"See, I told you......way better!"

"Armaan!"  Riddhima screamed at him, furious. She lunged at him still holding the dicing knife, "I am going to kill you!"

Armaan held her hand which had the dicing knife and laughed, "Oh come on Riddhima, you are going to kill me with a dicing knife? Atleast use something bigger, a butcher's knife or something. A dicing knife is going to take you the whole day."

Riddhima frowned as she struggled to free herself, "You are forgetting Mr. Superman, I am a doctor. One flick of this knife at a chosen place and you are dead.

Armaan looked at her furious face and grinned, then without saying a word he just put her hand on his heart and leaning back against the kitchen counter, he let go.

It took Riddhima a moment to realize that he had left her hand and then a couple of seconds more to understand his indication. She blushed crimson and looked down.

"Doc?" She heard him whisper, "What happened?"

Riddhima finally looked up and smiled. She placed the knife on the table and stood on tip toes to whisper in Armaan's ear,

"Plan cancelled." And before he could respond, she pushed him hard and ran out of the kitchen looking back to see the cutlery that Armaan had collected, falling to the floor.





Rahul and Muskaan were brought back to reality with the clattering of cutlery. Muskaan at once got up to go to the kitchen but halted when she saw Riddhima coming out.

"Ridzie, what was that?"

Before Riddhima could say anything, Armaan who had just walked out of the kitchen answered for her,

"Nothing Muskaan bhabi, I just dropped all these spoons. Everything under control, you guys carry on," he finished with a smirk and a wink.

Muskaan blushed, "Umm, we, we were just watching a movie. Ridzie, I'll help you'"

Riddhima smiled, "It's okay Bhabi, you enjoy the movie, we are almost done here."

Embarrassed, Muskaan plonked herself back on the sofa but not before punching Rahul on his arm.

"Ouch Muskaan, why the hell are you hitting me?"

"Because you deserve it!"

"I deserve it? How do I deserve it? I told you too stare at me?"

"Don't try to act smart with me Rahul, after all Armaan is here."

Rahul frowned and repeated Muskaan's words in a whisper, "Hmm'after all Armaan is here!"

Muskaan crinkled her eyebrows, unable to hear what Rahul was whispering to himself,

"Oye Rahul, could you speak in a frequency audible to human ears? It is bad manners to whisper in public."

Rahul gave his wife a blank stare for a couple of seconds and suddenly spoke up in a serious tone,

"Muskaan, what do you think about Armaan?"

Muskaan seemed taken aback for a moment but replied soon enough.

"I think he is damn sweet. He is intelligent, smart, helpful and unlike you, a lot of fun." Muskaan paused and looked at Rahul expecting a retort but found him staring blankly at the television screen.

"Rahul? You okay?"

Rahul shook his head as if pushing his thoughts aside and looked Muskaan, "Yeah, you were saying?"

Muskaan made a face and then carried on, "Like I was saying, Armaan is a nice guy, smart, handsome and reliable, a great catch for any girl."

"A great catch, huh?"  Rahul looked Muskaan, his brows raised in question.

Muskaan judged him for a while and finally smiled, "Yeah, a great catch but you don't worry I still love you." She bumped her shoulders with his and added playfully, "It isn't every day that someone proposes to me in the Morgue!"

Rahul couldn't resist the infectious smile and smiled too, "I am not worried."

Muskaan apparently didn't seem to hear him and carried on her banter,

"And besides, he is totally smitten with Riddhima."

Rahul choked on his own breath. That was the only explanation, 'cause neither was he drinking not eating anything.

"What?" he managed to sputter between his coughs.

Muskaan frowned and thumped his back to ease out the spasm,

"Don't tell me you didn't notice. It is so obvious."

"Are you sure?" Rahul asked after finally finding his voice.

Muskaan rolled her eyes and shot Rahul a 'how-daft-can-you-get' look.

"Of course, Rahul. Just look at him."

Rahul looked at Armaan who grinned back at him. Rahul turned back around to look blankly at Muskaan who shook her head.

"Really Rahul, you are such a duffer. I have to spell out everything for you, what would you have done without me?"

Rahul was about to say something but Muskaan interrupted,

"That was rhetorical Rahul, I know the answer. Now concentrate on Armaan, what do you see?"

Rahul grudgingly looked over his shoulder at Armaan and then turned back at Muskaan with the same blank expression,

"He is setting the table, Muskaan."

"Exactly," Muskaan nodded enthusiastically, "And?"

"Rahul chanced another look at Armaan and frowned,

"And he is grinning like an idiot!"

Muskaan patted his back as if in praise for his shrewd observation and smiled brightly, "So?"

Rahul shrugged, "So what?"

Muskaan's smile disappeared. She slapped her fore head and cursed under her breath.

"Oh God, Rahul! Don't you see it? Armaan is setting the table and he is smiling."

Rahul shrugged again, "I know, but so what?"

"Uff Rahul, he is setting the table and smiling! He is in love, damn it!"

Rahul stared at Muskaan for a couple of seconds and then started clapping.

"Wow Muskaan," Rahul said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, "That is the most farfetched and the most illogical deduction anybody has ever made."

Muskaan was about to say something angrily but Rahul interrupted,

"Wait Muskaan, let me see. Hmm'.Armaan is scratching his nose, so following your logic of deduction, he must be'.I know, he must be the genie from Bewitched!"

Rahul flashed Muskaan a winning smile while she scowled and then punched him on the chest.

"Ha ha, very funny Rahul, but what I am saying is true and it has a very logical basis."

"Logic my foot," Rahul snorted and was promptly awarded with another punch. "Okay, stop hitting me and disclose the logic as poor brainless idiots like me sure can't figure it out."

Muskaan huffed back into her seat, and crossed her arms across her chest, her scowl intact.

"Rahul, when was the last time you did housework?"

Rahul snorted, "That's easy! Yesterday. You made me wash the dishes and make the bed."

"I meant, not without me telling you or without you cursing under your breath. You know, with a smile?"

Rahul was zapped, "Umm, that would be'.well." He finally gave up and threw up his hands in frustration, "Who the hell does housework with a smile on their face?"

Muskaan smiled, "Exactly! Armaan does, or rather is doing." She looked at his puzzled expression and added with a smirk, "Like you used to when we were not married."

Rahul stared at Muskaan as he processed the information and then made a face,

"Bullshit, Muskaan. Just because he is setting the table,"

"With a smile," Muskaan interrupted.

"With a smile," Rahul mocked, "That does not mean he is in love. There could be a million other reasons."

"Like?"

"Like," Rahul racked his brains for a reason, "Like maybe, he loves setting the table, maybe he is passionate about well set tables or.......or maybe his lifelong ambition was to be a waiter, or.........."

"Or maybe, he is in love with your sister and is trying to impress her and her family!"





"Lunch is served," Armaan announced to get the attention of the bickering couple. "God knows what they are fighting about this time" he muttered under his breath, "But it seems like Muskaan Bhabi got the last word." He smiled as he remembered his conversation with Riddhima in the kitchen and shook his head.

"Women!"

Muskaan squealed as she reached the table with Rahul following close behind with a frown,

"Oh wow, Armaan! The food looks delicious."

Armaan grinned and replied humbly, "But Riddhima did the cooking."

"I know, Ridzie is a great cook but presentation matters and the table is set beautifully. What do you think Rahul?"

Rahul scowled at his wife and managed a "Yeah sure, beautiful," while Armaan grinned his widest.

"Thanks Bhabi. I am flattered."

"You are welcome," Muskaan continued, "Look how you have paid attention to every little detail. You know, you should do this professionally."

Armaan looked at the table and then his unsure gaze shifted to Riddhima who shrugged, equally surprised.

"Like as a waiter?" Armaan frowned and then smiled uncertainly, "Umm, thanks Bhabi, but I think I'll stick to being the CEO of the company."

Muskaan passed a gloating look to Rahul on the other side the table and he responded with a glower. Muskaan giggled, "Strike one, Rahul."

Armaan and Riddhima noticed the exchange but couldn't figure out what it meant. They let it pass for the time being and concentrated on lunch.



The lunch, as Muskaan had predicted, was delicious. Rahul's mood took an upward swing as he tasted his favourite aloo parantha, that too cooked by Riddhima. He gave Riddhima a side hug and complimented her on her cooking,

"Well done kiddo, this time you beat Mum, hands down."

"And Muskaan bhabi?" Riddhima asked cheekily, well knowing the answer.

"She was never in the race," Rahul replied as expected.

Muskaan made a face and slapped Riddhima's arm who burst out laughing,

"Sorry Bhabi, couldn't resist."

Muskaan gave both the siblings a scathing look and then turned towards Armaan with a sugary sweet smile,

"Armaan!"

Armaan who was quietly enjoying the family banter was taken aback at Muskaan's tone,

"Yes...Bhabi?"

"I brought this Kheer from Kolkata. You know, we call it 'Payesh' there. I made it myself. Won't you have a bit?"

"Of course," Armaan grinned and picked up the dish that Muskaan offered, "Thank you, I love Kheer........ er .........payesh."

He ate a spoonful and smiled at Muskaan, "Wow, Bhabi, this is really nice."

"Better than Riddhima's parantha?"

"Definitely," Armaan answered, caught off guard and then fumbled as he saw Riddhima fuming, "No!"

"No?" Muskaan asked, crestfallen.

"No.....I mean....Yes....I mean." He looked at Rahul for help who stared back at him, clearly expecting an answer.

"I mean....I think I need to be excused." Armaan got up hurriedly to leave the table but stopped in his tracks when he heard the Gupta family burst out into fits of laughter. He turned around puzzled when Muskaan caught his hand and made him sit.

"Sit down, Armaan. We were just joking. I didn't make that Kheer, like everything else here, that too is made by Riddhima. I was just pulling your leg. But I promise, one day, I'll make Kheer for you and then you can judge whose is better, Riddhima's or mine?"

Armaan finally grinned, "Thanks Bhabi, but can I opt out of the test. I'm not very good at all the judging stuff. And besides, who cares who is better as long as I have two beautiful women cooking for me."

Both Muskaan and Riddhima hooted at his response while Rahul rolled his eyes and Armaan took the opportunity to wink at Riddhima. She caught his eye and blushed and the whole exchange was duly noted by the very observant duo. Muskaan however couldn't stop herself and kicked Rahul under the table and mouthed "Strike two" when he looked up. Rahul nodded at his wife, grudgingly acknowledging her triumph and then looked at Armaan.

"Armaan, have you ever been in love?"

Armaan spluttered on the Kheer he was eating and Riddhima dropped the ladling spoon. She murmured a sorry and looked at Armaan nervously who returned her gaze with a similar expression. Muskaan crossed her arms on the table and awarded Rahul the biggest smile, proud of the man she married.

"Love?"



Mia

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