Monday, 5 November 2018

Part 16 : Chance Encounter


 "Love?" Armaan muttered to himself, half as a question and half as a whispered realization. He looked at Riddhima's nervous expression and smiled. "Love," he muttered again, this time the question mark almost gone, "Yes, I think I have!"

Riddhima had sympathized with the question in the first muttering but looked up surprised when she heard the final verdict. It was as if Armaan was waiting for her to look at him and had reserved his best smile just for her. As Riddhima returned his smile uncertainly, Armaan turned to look at Rahul, prepared for the next volley of questions. However, before Rahul could say anything Muskaan squealed in delight,

"Haaay, how romantic! Rab ne bana di Jodi? When you see her, kuch kuch hota hai?  What happens when she comes close to you? Do you hear violins? Guitars? Piano?"

Armaan laughed and then whispered conspiratorially to Muskaan, "Actually Bhabi, whenever she comes close to me, I hear Atif Aslam singing."



Muskaan frowned, "Well, that's romantic, in a weird 'Dostana' kind of a way. But, hey, whatever works for you!"

Armaan laughed again, "That's her ringtone, Bhabi. Whenever she comes close to me, someone or the other always calls her up. Perfect timing!"

Muskaan burst out laughing along with Armaan while Riddhima sent up a silent 'Thank You' to the Gods above for the brainwave of keeping her phone on silent today. She noticed Rahul looking at her and to avoid his eyes she concentrated on tearing her parantha with surgical precision.

Muskaan stopped laughing and clapped her hands excitedly,

"I know, what you should do Armaan. You should take her to a 'sarson ka khet'. Just you and her, with nothing but millions of yellow flowers all around you. I am sure there will be no network over there. So you can relax, play the mandolin or sing a song…."

"While the donkey brays and the farmers enjoy a day off," Rahul interrupted

"Hail, the king of romance speaks!" Muskaan mocked, bowing in an exaggerated gesture, while Rahul geared up for another argument.

Armaan decided to intervene, before another never ending battle ensued,

"Umm, Bhabi, that is an interesting idea but 'sarson ka khet' is quite hard to come by these days, especially in Mumbai. What if I change the scenario a bit? How about a lonely rooftop, on a moonlit night with the open sea all around us?"

Riddhima, as if by magic was transported a week back, to a lonely rooftop, a moonlit night, starlit sky, the open sea and bags of Cheetos. She couldn't help the blush that crept up her cheeks and to stop it from spreading any further she now started to cut the torn out pieces of her parantha into perfect geometric shapes. Armaan took a pause and grinned at Riddhima's embarrassed face.

Muskaan's mouth fell open, "Wow Armaan, what movie was that? Can't believe I missed it!"

"Heart to heart over aloo chaat !" Rahul muttered, just loud enough for Armaan and Riddhima to hear. "Or should I say aloo parantha?" he added for greater emphasis. As expected, the intended recipients of his jab gaped at him, shocked! Riddhima dropped her spoon a second time and flushed a pretty pink while Armaan stared at his empty plate. Muskaan feeling a bit left out, looked suspiciously at all three of them.

"Rahul? What did you say? Did I hear 'lemon tart'? Which movie was that?"

"Erm….an old Hungarian movie honey," Rahul waved nonchalantly and glanced from Armaan to Riddhima who steadfastedly stared at their plates. He caught Armaan attempting to look at Riddhima and raised an eyebrow. Embarrassed, Armaan promptly dropped his gaze back to his plate. A tiny smile curved Rahul's lips while he continued,

 "It's about these two know-it-alls who think everybody around them are blind fools. However, their stupid plan back fired even at the inception and the joke turned entirely on them, the Hungarian idiots!" Rahul surveyed the table and his smile got wider.

"Riddhima, now that you have dissected your parantha into microscopic proportions, I think you can eat it without even bothering to chew. Care to demonstrate?"

"Umm….," Riddhima fumbled, still not looking up from her plate, "Actually Bhai, this is for, ah, the neighbours dog, he doesn't have any teeth. I, I think, I'll put this in the refrigerator, I'll be right back." She picked up her plate and rushed to the kitchen. Rahul watched her go and then turned towards Armaan.

"Armaan? Do you want some more kheer? I think Riddhima will be very pleased."

"No..umm..thank you, I'm full," he pulled off half a smile, "I, I have to make a phone call. Excuse me."

Muskaan watched both Armaan and Riddhima leave the table hurriedly. She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at Rahul, apparently miffed at him gaining the upper hand in the game she had started. She commanded her husband in a stern voice,

"Dr. Rahul Gupta, explain!"

Rahul looked at his wife for a moment and then leaning back on his chair, he smirked,

"Dr. Muskaan Gupta, I believe, Team RM just scored a home run!"



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Riddhima ran to the kitchen and leaning against the refrigerator, heaved a sigh of relief. Next moment, the entire conversation during lunch flashed through her mind and she covered her face with her hands.

"This can't be happening," she tried to console herself, "It was just a figment of my over active imagination. I will go back to the table and everything will be alright. We will finish lunch like civilized people and have a nice family get together." Her eyes subconsciously moved to her plate with the shredded parantha and she shuddered involuntarily.

"Nice family get together? Gawd…who am I kidding? What was Bhai thinking? I just met the guy last week, damn it. I don't even know him properly! All I know is that he has a sister, a brother-in-law and an adorable nephew. I know he owns a business and is dedicated and sincere, but so what? I know, he loves his family and is very caring and is always ready to help when someone is in trouble, how sweet. I know he is a Manchester United fan, he loves superman and his favourite flavor of ice cream is strawberry with choco chips, but that is not a lot of information. He is a perfect gentleman but can sometimes be a super brat. He is a lot of fun and can always make me smile. And when he smiles, I love his smile. I can……OH MY GOD, Riddhima, STOP!"

"I know I am a bit clumsy but don't bar me from entering the kitchen. I promise I'll be careful."

Riddhima whipped around to find Muskaan standing at the door, laden with the plates from the lunch table. She caught the naughty grin lingering on Muskaan's face and cursed under her breath.

"Umm, no , bhabi, I, I was talking to myself."

"I've noticed, you have been doing that a lot," Muskaan grinned as she walked in and dumped the plates in the sink. "Can't be due to the lack of people around you. Infact, you are keeping very interesting company nowadays."

Muskaan paused, waiting for an appropriate response, namely a blush and a twiddling of fingers, satisfied, she carried on.

"I've met Niki and Abhi, they are fun. And now Armaan,"

…….some more fidgeting……..

"Well, he is quite the charmer!"

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Armaan stood in the balcony and fiddled with his cell phone but for the love of God, he didn't know who to call. On an impulse he pressed one of the buttons and the screen displayed Riddhima's name. Armaan smiled almost ruefully as he remembered that he had her number on speed dial since last week but hadn't managed to call her even once. Such was the twist of fate. Unfairness of life. Quirk of destiny!

"Done with your phone call?"

Armaan almost dropped his phone when he heard Rahul's voice behind him but caught it just in time. He turned around with an awkward grin.

"Umm, no, actually there's no signal," Armaan said, holding up the phone and moving it around, with a frown, apparently to catch a stray signal wave that had been eluding him so far.

"Really?" Rahul asked with his face devoid of any expression, "But, I thought the 'signals' inside were pretty strong!"

Armaan didn't miss the double innuendo, but feigned innocence, blissfully unaware of the fact that the tips of his ears had started turning red.

"Oh okay, erm, then I think I should go inside," Armaan mumbled as he tried to move back into the room.

"Not so fast," Rahul ordered, bringing Armaan to a complete standstill.

"I mean, stay, let's talk a bit. I just came out and you are going in? I might just think you are trying to avoid me."

It took an effort but Armaan forced himself to stay in the balcony. He braced himself and contorted his face into a smile.

"Of course," Armaan sighed, "So….umm….what's up?"



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Riddhima grabbed the plates that Muskaan washed and tried vigorously to wipe them dry. Under normal circumstances, she might have left them to dry on their own but right now she felt compelled to do something, anything,  to match up to her brain which was working at lightning speed.

"Quite the charmer?" Riddhima thought, "Now what did Bhabi mean by that? Yes, Armaan is charming, hell, he is definitely the most charming man I have met in real life, but why is Bhabi bringing that up? Shouldn't she be talking to me about something else? Something more important? Bhai must have told her. Why is she not talking anymore? Oh shit, is she waiting for my response?"

Muskaan noticed the creases on Riddhima's forehead and from experience she knew that the little brain in there was doing some serious contemplation. Muskaan smiled as she heard the non-committal grunt from Riddhima's side and it took all her self control to not hug her sister-in-law and put her out of her misery. Instead she recollected all the teasing from Riddhima during her marriage and with her resolve sufficiently strengthened she pushed herself up on to the kitchen counter, prepared herself for some fun.

"Haay…he is so romantic!"

The plate slipped from Riddhima's hand. Muskaan caught it and kept it aside,

"Umm…..Ridzie why don't you stick to the steel plates, leave the glass ones for later."

Riddhima snatched the plate back with a weak smile and wiped it again.

Muskaan smiled, "Oh okay, but seriously Ridzie, Armaan is so cute na? Do you know who his girl friend is?"

Riddhima shook her head energetically, "Nope!"

"Hmm…..lucky girl!"

Riddhima jerked her head up to look at Muskaan who shrugged,

"What? I meant the girl friend!"

Muskaan giggled as Riddhima went back to her plates,

"Does Armaan have a brother?"

Riddhima smiled inspite of herself,

"No Bhabi, he has a sister, Anjali. She is married to a software engineer and they are shifting to LA. You have to meet Gappu, Armaan's nephew. He is so cute and wonderfully precocious. I went to his birthday party and we actually had a food fight, it was so much fun. Armaan then ….," Riddhima bit her tongue to stop her babbling, "Umm….Gappu is very sweet."

"Hmm…..I heard  that," Muskaan nodded her head with a sage like expression, "You know what Ridzie, you should find someone like Armaan, he is perfect for you!"

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Rahul smirked at Armaan's attempted small talk.

"He's probably going to start talking about the weather pretty soon," Rahul thought to himself and burst out laughing when he heard Armaan's next dialogue.

"Do you think  it's going to rain today?"

Armaan was startled at Rahul's response but pulled off a smile nevertheless and continued,

"Umm, it's been very cloudy today, there might be rain."

"Armaan , which year was Maradona's famous 'Hand of God' goal?"

Armaan gulped and thanked his lucky stars that he knew the answer, "1986…..World Cup …Argentina vs England." Armaan mentally did a quick recap of all the other questions that Riddhima had mentioned and thought out the answers.

Rahul smiled, satisfied, "Hmm…so you really do like Maradona?"

Armaan smiled, a genuine one, in a while.

"Yes, I do, and for the record, I like Shahrukh Khan too!"

Rahul grimaced but it eventually turned into a grin, "That don't impress me much but I'll pass on the message to Muskaan. So, Armaan, tell me about your family?"

"Long Question-1, 10 marks!" Armaan thought.

"Umm…actually my parents passed away a long time ago. Dad had a heart attack and Mom passed away about an year after that. My sister Anjali and her husband Atul are now my closest family and yeah of course, Gappu, my nephew. Gappu was sick and that's how I met Riddhima."

"Hmm….so you live alone?"

"Not by choice," Armaan sighed, "I could have given anything to have a family like yours. Riddhima keeps talking about all the fun you guys have in Kolkata. It's great to hear but I have to confess, often leaves me feeling jealous. That is why I was so excited on meeting you, I've heard so much about you all. The midnight picnics, the pranks you pull on each other, Muskaan bhabi's mimicry, I've heard it all. Even the story when Riddhima and Muskaan bhabi went to the zoo and …." Armaan stopped his enthusiastic but one sided babblings when he saw Rahul looking at him with a half smile. He returned the smile and whispered,

"You know, she misses you guys a lot."

Rahul nodded, "I know, and we miss her too, but madam has to prove herself. I don't know if you have realized it yet, but she can be as stubborn as hell and also has a temper to match!"

Armaan laughed, "Yeah, I know. She threatened to bang my head against the steering wheel once."

"You're kidding!" Rahul uttered in disbelief and then started laughing when Armaan shook his head, "Damn, she treats you worse than she treats me. I am used to her throwing things at me but attack inside the car? Well, what can I say, best of luck, dude!"

"Thanks!" Armaan smiled as Rahul punched his shoulder and both of them again broke into peals of laughter.



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"Perfect for me?" Riddhima stopped even trying to look busy with the plates and turned around fully to look at Muskaan, "Why do you say that Bhabi?"

"Well, he is smart, you are smart. He is intelligent, you are intelligent. He is fun, you can be fun if you try. He is…."

"Bhabi," Riddhima almost screamed to get her attention, "In short, with less adjectives."

Muskaan shrugged, "Because he loves you and you love him! Happy?"

"What?" This time Riddhima actually screamed.

"Okay, maybe not love just as yet, but he definitely likes you, and don't lie, you like him too. It's very obvious."

"But," Riddhima tried to protest but Muskaan didn't give her a chance. She slid off from her perch and hugged Riddhima.

"Take your time Riddhima and just listen to your heart. By the way, you have my blessings and not just because he can quote Shahrukh Khan."









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Armaan was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to talk to Rahul. It reminded him of the conversations he had with Atul, the closest thing he had to a brother. Armaan noticed that although Rahul pretended to be all grown up and mature he had a whacky sense of humour which expressed itself only too often. They talked about a lot of things, not just about Riddhima, since she was the only link between them, but about a lot of other general, inconsequential stuff. Rahul narrated some of his medical school stories which left Armaan in splits while Armaan proved to him that business people were not boring either.

"Armaan?" Rahul asked after Armaan had recounted a story of his childhood, "If you hate staying alone so much, why don't you stay with your sister?"

Armaan stared at Rahul for a couple of seconds and then started laughing, "Rahul bhaiya, now I am sure that you are Riddhima's brother!"

Rahul looked surprised and to some extent a bit offended, "Well I am, unless our parents have been lying to us all these years."

Armaan laughed, "I am sure you are. It's just that Riddhima had asked me the exact same question on our second meeting."

"Well she has a knack for recognizing the root cause of trouble at once. That's really important for a doctor."

Armaan grinned at the note of pride in Rahul's voice and couldn't agree more.

"When I told her, that it was not possible for me to stay with my sister as Atul bhaiyya has a transferrable job and they move around a lot, Riddhima suggested that I get married."

Rahul nodded, "Good suggestion. Get married!"

Armaan chuckled and shook his head,

"I didn't think, you out of all people would advocate marriage!"

Rahul got the joke and laughed along with Armaan, "I know, it must sound weird coming from me but marriage is not that terrible as people make it out to be. If you find the right girl, it can be quite satisfying even to the extent of providing a sense of peace. Okay, maybe not peace," Rahul corrected himself as Armaan guffawed, "but definitely a lot of fun!"

 "Atul bhaiyya will agree with you." Suddenly Armaan got all excited, "They are coming to Mumbai, day after tomorrow, maybe you guys could meet up."

"Can't Armaan, sorry. Muskaan and I are leaving tonight. Actually there is a conference in Hyderabad from tomorrow. We thought we'd spent the day with Riddhima and take the evening flight to Hyderabad. Maybe next time."

Armaan nodded, "Maybe next time."

Rahul surprised Armaan by putting his arm around his shoulder and leading him inside,

"You can call me. Actually, you must call me and tell me about the rooftop proposal. I have to agree with Muskaan, it's better than the morgue."

"Morgue?"

"Long story," Rahul said as they walked into the living room.



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Riddhima waved until the cab taking her brother and Muskaan to the airport turned a corner and she could not see it anymore. Turning around she took the lift up to her apartment. She closed the door behind her all the while smiling to herself. The day had been wonderful, full of surprises and a lot of fun! Was Muskaan bhabi right? Do I really like Armaan? And, most importantly, does he like me?

Riddhima shook her head and decided to give herself some time before she came to a decision. She fixed the cushions on the sofa and then went to take a shower.

She hadn't managed to talk to Armaan, after the lunch and he had left soon after, apparently to give the family some alone time. Riddhima had to smile thinking how considerate and thoughtful Armaan really was.

"Even Rahul bhaiya seemed friendly with him," Riddhima smiled to herself, "Wasn't expecting that!"

While Riddhima was drying her hair, she heard the front door opening.

"Niki? Is that you?"

"Yeah," Niki answered, "Ridzie, do you know someone called 'Hungarian idiot'?"

Riddhima rushed out of her bedroom, "What?"

Niki was standing in the middle of the living room holding a bouquet and frowning.

"This bouquet was outside our door and it says that it's from a 'Hungarian idiot'. Do you think this has been delivered by mistake?"

"No," Riddhima shouted, "I mean, no, umm, I know a 'Hungarian idiot'!"

Niki rolled her eyes, "Whatever. People nowadays have really weird names! Anyways Ridzie, you enjoy the flowers while I go take a bath. I feel I am coated with grime."

Riddhima nodded and taking the bouquet, went inside her bedroom.

"Armaan was here? When? Why didn't he call?" Riddhima wondered and then took out her cell phone to call Armaan. She realized belatedly that even after so much she still didn't have his number. Frustrated, she chucked the phone on the bed and was leaving when she heard the phone ringing.

An unknown number! Excited, she picked it up.

"Hello?"

"Liked the flowers?"

Riddhima smiled, "Yeah, I did. But when you came all the way to my apartment, why didn't you knock?"

"Are you kidding? After I've spent the entire day at your place, if I knocked again, I would probably have been kicked out. I know when I have over stayed my welcome."

Riddhima laughed, "Well you are wrong. If you had knocked, who knows, maybe I would have invited you for coffee!"

"Shoot!  You mean, I missed coffee? Fine, tomorrow then. I'll pick you up at 7 and then we will go for coffee."

"Armaan…"

"7 pm sharp, in front of Sanjeevani. See you."

Before Riddhima could say anything, Armaan had disconnected. She shook her head and laughed and then proceeded to save the number.

She wrote 'Hungarian idiot' and saved it with a smile.

Riddhima stared at the phone for a couple of seconds and then re-entered the phone book. She edited 'Hungarian idiot' to 'Armaan' and sighed,

"Armaan!"


Mia

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