Thursday, 13 December 2018

chapter 10 : SHALL WE DANCE?


RECAP: Riddhima turned the lights off to the studio and followed them to the car with a knot of confused emotions inside her…it was a struggle between her heart and her mind, between right and wrong, between loyalty and betrayal…….despite all these internal struggles, she was sure that there was an invisible cord that drew her closer and closer to this man, whom she had pledged to despise, but was now having a hard time resisting…..

 After dinner, Armaan offered to drop Riddhima home once again. Even though she protested, Rhea and Armaan insisted on driving her back. The three of them had a blast listening to music, clapping, tapping their feet and swaying with the beats on their way to her place. Even in his wildest dreams, Armaan could have never imagined himself singing and dancing so fervently while driving, ignoring all the curious onlookers on stop signs and red lights.



Riddhima was surprised at herself too. A week ago, it would have been inconceivable for her to enjoy the company of this arrogant and self-centered man who had a track record of treating women like pieces of furniture he could use, sit or sleep on and discard them once they were of no use. And here she was, humming and jiving with him as if they had known each other for years.




Rhea wondered why everyone had a negative impression of Armaan, especially Nikita. Even though he had been mean to her the first few days, he had been very nice to her lately. How she wished she could stay with him longer, but she knew that was not possible. She missed her mom and she knew Nikita would never let that happen. She felt happiest when both Armaan uncle and Riddhima aunty were with her- how she wished they could all stay together in one big home.




All three were disappointed when they arrived at the destination. Armaan sighed and cursed the thin traffic that night-they were at her place in 30 minutes instead of the usual 45 minutes. His mind thought of various ways to procrastinate her departure. Riddhima's personal life was still a secret to him. He was intrigued and really wanted to know everything about her. Armaan scratched his head as the car came to a halt, "Riddhima….would you have some Aspirin by any chance?"

'Aspirin?" She asked, looking concerned.



"Haan…I have a bad headache…..and if I don't take medicine right away…..I get very sick…..in fact, I am about to get sick," he held his head with one hand and his tummy with the other.


"Oh….I am sorry….lagta hai naach gaana kuch zyaada hi ho gaya……yeh lo," she pulled out an Aspirin bottle from her bag, "I hope this helps."

"N-O," he winced in pain and squint his eyes, "I need to use the bathroom….yahan koi bathroom hai?"


A hesitant Riddhima nodded her head reluctantly, "s-sure….yes…of course……you can come upstairs to my place."



Rhea helped Armaan get out of the car and held his hand, "uncle….kuch nahin hoga aapko….main hoon na."



Armaan peered through half open eyes and pretended to be sick, "jaanta hoon Rhea….please hold me….I feel dizzy."


Riddhima turned her head and gave him her hand too. Stumbling to keep his balance, he held onto Rhea and Riddhima's hands firmly and walked upstairs with them to Riddhima's home. Thanks to their dance rehearsals, they had spent quite a few intimate moments with each other, but each time he held her hand, he never wanted to let go of it.




Once they reached her place, jaws dropped as her family was stunned to see the cricket star stagger into their tiny flat with their daughter and Rhea. The door with chipped paint and rust on the lock pointed to the sorry state of these Government flats. They entered a tiny two bedroom flat with low lying ceilings and old furniture cluttered in the small living room. In contrast to this overcrowded dwelling, he was reminded of his sprawling luxurious apartment where he lived all alone. As he looked around, he felt sorry for Riddhima and thought, "she deserves better than this."


"Arre….yeh tho Armaan Malik jee hain!" Riddhima's chacha jumped up and ran to greet them at the door.



Riddhima stepped aside, avoiding any contact with her chacha, "Chachajee…inki tabiyat theek nahin hai….inhein bathroom use karna hai."




"Zaroor beta….zaroor…arre Rhea bitiya bhi aayi hai aaj tho," her chacha caressed Rhea's cheeks. Riddhima pulled Rhea away from her chacha, "Rhea beta….aap yahan papa ke paas baith jao…..main uncle ko bathroom chhod kar aati hoon."




Rhea ran towards Shashank Gupta (Riddhima's dad) and climbed on his lap, "Namaste uncle!"

"Namaste beta!" Shashank, handicapped after a stroke, now on a wheel chair, patted the child and glanced at Armaan curiously.

Riddhima's parents were still stunned and watched in disbelief as the superstar was helped to their tiny bathroom.



"Riddhima? Yeh kaise hua?" Padma asked once Armaan was in the restroom.


"Mama…..he was not feeling well….bas abhi chale jaayenge."



"Wah bhai kya baat hai?" Her middle-aged chacha with dyed hair remarked sarcastically, "ab tho Riddhima bityia ka badhe badhe logon ke saath uthna baithna ho gaya hai," he placed his arm around Riddhima, "iska matlab wo din door nahin jab Riddhima bhi ek star ban jaayegi."




She cringed and wiggled out of his grip, "sorry chachajee….yeh mere student hain…..waisi koi baat nahin hai jaisa aap samajh rahe hain…….aur main abhi sirf ek dance teacher hoon….star nahin."




"Tho kya hua…..ek din star bhi ban jaaogi," he munched on his paan and spit out the red juices in an ashtray on the side table.




Riddhima gave him a disgusted look and turned her head away. Her bachelor chacha lived a few blocks away from them but for some reason or another dropped by at their place every evening. Riddhima had a particular aversion to his presence as he had attempted to molest her during her teen years. He was a sexual pervert in every sense and was always looking for opportunities to be with Riddhima or her younger sister. She had threatened to report him to the police but her society-conscious parents had managed to restrain her from doing so. They were indebted to her chacha as he had helped them financially after Shashank had taken premature retirement from his Government job due to the stroke he had suffered. Chacha had also promised to help them get their daughters married off as long as he could have the liberty of visiting his brother regularly and having home cooked food. Riddhima knew that hot food and love for his older brother were lame excuses. Her chacha's main objective was Riddhima and her sister! That's why she never allowed Rhea to stay at her place either.


"Arre aaj tho Rhea bitiya bhi aayi hai," Padma smiled at her.



"Maine aap sab ko bahut miss kiya tha aunty," Rhea got off Shashank's lap and embraced Padma.




Riddhima's 17 year old twin brother and sister popped out of their room, 'DIDI…HUMNEY SUNA HAI ARMAAN MALIK YAHAN HAIN? THO AAP HAIN UNKI DANCE TEACHER? HUMEIN PEHLE KYUN NAHIN BATAAYA?….DEKHO AAJ KE PAPAR MEIN BHI AAYA HAI KI WO DANCE COMPETITION MEIN PART LE RAHE HAIN…..AUR YEH BHI LIKHA HAI KI AB CRICKET SE ZYAADA WO DANCE MEIN INTERESTED HAIN! DANCE IS HIS FIRST LOVE!"


"Kya kaha?" Riddhima snatched the paper from her younger brother, "Yeh….yeh zaroor Anjali ne kaha hoga…..she is taking this too far." She uttered loudly, "aisa kehne ki kya zaroorat thi?"


Armaan walked out of the bathroom after having spent a few restless minutes in there, "kyun kya kiya Anjali ne?"


"Yeh dekho," she handed him the newspaper.

Armaan was taken aback for a few seconds but then laughed it off, "let them write what they want to……I don't care what reporters say…..it's all bakwaas as far as I am concerned."

His blas attitude came as a surprise to her, "ab kaisa feel kar rahe ho?"


"Much better!" He grinned and then looked around at everyone.


 Riddhima's overexcited twin siblings could not hold back any longer. They jumped with joy and surrounded him with pens and pads. Armaan obliged them and signed autographs, "kya naam hain aap logon ke?"


"Main Bobby hoon…aur yeh Pinky hai." Her brother smiled.


"Nice to meet you Bobby and Pinky," Armaan smiled back, struck by Pinky's resemblance to her older sister.

"You have an older brother too…don't you?" Armaan asked.



'Arre wah….didi Armaan jee ko tho hamari family ke baare mein sab pata hai," Bobby's eyes lit up.


'Haan….wo Rhea ne bataya tha," Armaan cleared his throat and avoided Riddhima's quizzical glare. Gazing at a hale and hearty Armaan, she knew that he had played a prank on her. Ordinarily, she would have gotten upset at his intrusiveness, but for some reason she thought his concern and curiosity about her were genuine, but was hesitant about him staying at her place for much longer.


Babby and Pinky disappeared into their room to finish their homework, leaving Armaan and Riddhima face to face with each other.


"Achcha main ab chalta hoon," he looked around at everyone expectantly, hoping that someone would ask him to stay.


'Arre beta…baitho baitho…..chai tho peekar jao," Padma came to his rescue.

"Wo…wo…nahin bas ab chalta hoon," he dragged his feet towards the door.

"Theek hai beta….phir kabhie aana," Padma nodded.


"Waise…aap peeche padhi hain tho chai pee hi leta hoon….shayad sar dard aur kum ho jaaye phir," Armaan smiled sheepishly. Riddhima gave her mother a dirty look, "mama….wo kahin late na ho jaayein……shayad Armaan jee ko kahin jaana ho."


"Arre beta wo keh rahe hain na ki chai peekar jaayenge….jaa unke liye chai banaade," Padma rebuked her daughter.


"Theek hai mama," Riddhima was not thrilled with the idea of leaving Armaan in the living room, especially with her chacha still there. Grudgingly, she walked back to the kitchen. Armaan was thrilled that Riddhima was personally going to prepare tea for him. "RHEA!" She yelped back, "mere paas aao Rhea….zara help chaahiye kitchen mein."


"Ok aunty…main aayi," Rhea ran behind Riddhima.


'Aao baitho baitho Armaan saheb! Bataaiye cricket ki duniya mein kya chal raha hai? Yeh Sri lanka series kyun cancel ho gayi?" Chacha jee grinned with his pan stained teeth.



'Oh..wo….bas sab government or board ka decision hai." Armaan replied as he sat down across from Shashank, "hello sir….aap Riddhima ke dad hain?"



'Haan haan…..aur yeh Riddhima ke chacha."


"Nice to meet you both," Armaan nodded politely.

"Tho yeh dance ke baare mein kya sun rahe hain?" Shashank asked enthusiastically.

"Oh wo….bas shaukiya hai…..I just want to help the studio you see," Armaan spelt out his usual spiel.



"Yeh tho bahut achchi baat hai," chacha chuckled, "tho phir hamari Riddhima bhi star ban sakti hai."



"Star?" Armaan was surprised, 'haan haan kyun nahin……but I am not sure that's what she wants to become."



"Riddhima ko main bachpan se jaanta hoon….wo hamesha se hi star ban na chaahti thi," chacha thrust another pan into his cheek and burbled. Armaan remained silent. chachajee struck as an unusual and repulsive character to him. He had noticed Riddhima's stand offish attitude towards her chacha when they had come in. Maybe there was more to her relationship than met the eye, thought Armaan.




"Arre Arya…..rehne de ab," Shashank reprimanded his younger brother, "yeh batao Armaanjee….aapko dance sikhaakar kya Riddhima ki salary badhaa denge?"



Armaan was surprised at Shashank's question, "jee? Salary? Jee….mujhey …mujhey kuch nahin pata is maamle mein."


"Bechari hamari Riddhima….poora ghar sambhalti hai………..lekin uski tankhwah phir bhi kum reh jaati hai…..agar Arya har mahine kuch paise na de tho hamara guzaara na ho," Shashank lamented.


"Oh really?" Armaan raised his eyebrows. The pieces were all falling into place now. Riddhima was indeed the sole bread winner of this large household, no wonder she always seemed stressed and grouchy. That's why dance was her outlet from her responsibilities. In contrast, Armaan had always shied from his own responsibilities. His own mother lived in Ludhiana with her brother rather than her own son as Armaan had practically ignored her after he achieved fame as a cricketer. His late night partying, a constant revolving door of women and arrogant behavior had peeved his mother three years ago and she had packed her bags to Ludhiana forever. He had never tried to woo her back as her presence at home had interfered in his life style. If it were not for Rhea's sudden appearance, he would still be living a life of a spoilt bratty bachelor.




"Haan beta…..yeh makaan bhi sarkari hai……we have only six more months here…uske baad apna makaan lena padhega," Shashank sighed.


"Bhaiyya….aap sab mere saath reh lena tab," Chachajee gurgled, his mouth still full of paan.



"NAHIN CHACHAJEE! CHEH MAHINE MEIN HAMARA APNA GHAR HOGA!" Riddhima walked in with a tray of tea and biscuits.




"Bitiya," Chachajee caressed Riddhima's elbow, "jaanti ho na makaan kitne mehnge hote hain? Itna paisa kahan se laaogi?"



Riddhima jerked her elbow away after placing the tray on the table.



"Armaan….kitni cheeni lenge aap?" She ignored her chacha and glanced at a confused Armaan.


"Uh…one….na….two would be fine," he forced a smile.

"Bolo Riddhima bitiya," chacha stared at her with a lewd expression, "kahan se laaogi itna paisa? Kaho tho main de doon?"



"AA JAAYEGA! AAPKO PARESHAAN HONE KI AAVASHYAKTA NAHIN HAI CHACHAJEE!" She retorted.


Armaan felt uncomfortable with the way her chacha was gawking at her. He recalled how he had practically done the same when he had first seen her at the dance studio. He wanted to punch her chacha and kick him out of the house. How he wished he could wrap Riddhima in a blanket and take her away to a safe haven away from her bawdy chacha and needy family. Did anyone not care about her or her needs? Why were they more interested in her career and her salary? He gulped down his tea and stood up, "Riddhima….I think I should leave….kya tum Rhea ko lekar neeche aa sakti ho?"



Embarrassed by her chacha and father's conversation with Armaan, Riddhima nodded willingly, "haan….aati hoon."




DOWNSTAIRS OUTSIDE HIS CAR:



"Rhea beta….aap car mein baitho…main aata hoon," Armaan helped Rhea back to the car after she said her goodbyes to Riddhima.

"I am sorry Armaan….mere chacha aur papa ne tumhein pareshaan kar diya shayad," Riddhima apologized.

"No…not at all."

"That's why I was hesitant to take you upstairs." Her gaze was fixated at the ground, her voice choking slightly.


He was overwhelmed by her emotions. Hesitantly, he touched her shoulder, "I have an apartment in my building that I own…..no one lives there…I bought it for my mom but she refused to stay alone…..tum chaaho tho apni family ke saath wahan shift ho sakti ho."



She gazed into his eyes; his request was earnest, but she refused, "no….I am sorry..I cannot do that…..I know we have to vacate this place within six months……but I will find a way out myself….thanks but no thanks….I don't need any help!"



"Riddhima!" he grabbed her arm gently, "I know you will….you are a strong woman…..but can't you accept this temporary arrangement? You can even pay me a rent if you want…..I just feel you should get out of this place."



"Kyun kya kharabi hai is jagah mein?" She shrugged her arm away from his grip, "I am sorry we are not as well off as you but we have some self respect too!"




"I..I am sorry…I didn't mean it that way," he kicked himself for being so presumptuous. By now, he should have known that Riddhima was way different from all the other women he had had in his life. They would have all latched onto his offer of an apartment in his building, but of course Riddhima wouldn't. He didn't know why, but he really wanted to help her- not out of sympathy but out of a deeper and caring emotion towards her. There was only one way he could be at the same plane as her- by being her friend rather than her student or a charitable person, or her lover.



"I don't need anyone's sympathy Armaan," she retraced her steps to get back to her place.


"Not sympathy Riddhima," he hollered, "But friendship…….can we be friends….just friends?"


"Friends?"She gave him a curious look.


He walked up to her and held her hands. Gazing into her eyes, he spoke softly, "I know….we didn't quite hit it off initially…..and frankly I have never had a woman as a friend before…..par na jaane kyun tumhein apna dost banane ka mann karta hai……kyunki tum hi ek aisi ladki ho jisne mujhey apne aap se khud apni pehchaan karwaai hai……I would have never realized what kind of a person I was till you came into my life……..I don't want to treat you like all the other women in my life……and that's because you are special Riddhima………I want us to be friends…. Friends forever……I don't want us to ever drift apart…..kya yeh mumkin ho sakta hai?"



Riddhima was dumbfounded. She had no reply to his earnest request. There were no deceptive or fake emotions hidden behind those deep blue eyes of his. Had he really changed or as Nikita had warned him, he could do anything to attain anything? Why did she feel that his offer of friendship was an honest attempt to redeem himself? She could not deny the fact that even she had developed a warm and soft corner for him over the last one week, but how could she betray her loyalty towards Nikita?


"Haan dost…..sirf dosti…..aur kuch nahin," he smiled expectantly.


"I am not sure Armaan," she withdrew her hand and ran away into the building, leaving him dejected and disheartened.



Armaan heaved a sigh and walked back to his car.


"Kya hua uncle aap itne sad kyun hain?" A perceptive Rhea asked as they drove in silence.



"Kuch nahin Rhea. Bas yoon hi," he drove through the haze of the night, his mind wandering and lost in imagination.  Armaan resolved that he was not going to give up on her that easily. How he craved to hold her and soar into the starlit skies on a breezy evening away from all the strains and boundaries of the world…….




Aaja main hawaaon pe bithaake le chalun
tu hi toh... tu hi toh meri dost hain.
Aaja main khalaaon mein uthaake le chalun
tu hi toh meri dost hain.

Awaaz ka dariya hoon, behta hoon main nili raaton mein.
Main jaagta rehta hoon neend bhari jheel si aankhon mein.
Awaaz hoon main...

Aaja main hawaaon pe bithaake le chalun
tu hi toh... tu hi toh meri dost hain.
Aaja main khalaon mein uthaake le chalun
tu hi toh meri dost hain.


Raat mein chandni kabhi, aise gungunaati hain;
Sunn zara lagta hain tumse, awaaz milati hain.

Main khayalon ki mehek hoon, gungunate saaz par;
Ho sake toh milale, awaaz ko le saaz par.

Aaja main hawaaon pe bithaake le chalun
tu hi toh meri dost hain.
Aaja main khalaon mein uthaake le chalun
tu hi toh meri dost hain.

Awaaz ka dariya hoon, behta hoon main nili raaton mein.
Main jaagta rehta hoon neend bhari jheel si aankhon mein.
Awaaz hoon main...


Ooo kabhi dilka hai saahil, jahan shaam utarti hain;
Kehte hain samander se, ek pari gujarti hain.
Woh raat ki rani hain, sargam par chalti hain;
re sa re sa re sa
sa re sa re sa re sa re

Aaja main hawaaon pe bithaake le chalun
tu hi toh... tu hi toh mera dost hain.
Aaja main khalaon mein uthaake le chalun
tu hi toh mera dost hain.

Awaaz ka dariya hoon, behti hoon main nili raaton mein.
Main jaagti rehti hoon neend bhari jheel si aankhon mein.
Awaaz hoon main...
Awaaz hoon main...



BACK AT RIDDHIMA's PLACE:



Riddhima, feeling torn between what Armaan had just said to her downstairs and her promise to Nikita, lay on her bed with a knot in her stomach.

She could not deny the fact that she was immensely attracted to Armaan since they had started dancing together, but his soft and friendly side had confused matters for her. She could get over physical attraction, but his caring and compassionate attitude was making things worse for her. His offer of friendship had touched her but she was scared that what she wanted from him was more than just friendship. She feared that she wanted all of him- not just as a friend but as a man and as a lover. He had cast his spell on her, and even though she knew it was not right, she wanted to get sucked into his magnetic charm. She kept reminding herself of her own responsibilities and what Armaan had done to Nikita years ago. But did people not have a right to change? Why did she have to punish him for something he did years ago?



She got up and tiptoed out of her room without disturbing her mother and Pinky.


She picked her phone and dialed, "Hello! Nikita! Main Riddhima…..haan….sorry I didn't realize you were busy……haan Rhea theek hai……I have to talk to you about something."

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….


NEXT DAY AT THE STUDIO:



Riddhima kept a professional demeanor in front of Armaan, avoiding any eye contact or conversation with him. Armaan tried his best to keep up with the rigorous dance routine and wondered what was bothering Riddhima that much. He made numerous mistakes but she either ignored them or didn't care about them. Soon the practice was no longer an enjoyable; it became a chore. He realized that the only reason he enjoyed the dancing was because of her. Gazing into her eyes and seeing her expression change with every touch of his on her body is what made their sessions electrifying. What had transpired between last night and today? Was it his offer of friendship or something else that made her standoffish? Gone were her smiles and playful glances at him.




Even her heart did not seem in the dance today. All the other dancers were curious about the lack of zing between the lead pair. Riddhima danced listlessly, eager to get the practice over with. It was her conversation with Nikita last night that had deflated her enthusiasm, and she was doing what she thought she ought to do for the sake of her friend. But the more she ignored Armaan, the more intrigued he was to find out the real reason. Even though her silence irked him, his concern for her kept him in the studio even after everyone had departed. No one knew that he was still there as he hung around the changing room silently.



Rhea had departed earlier with Teddy as she had an evening tutoring class.



As Riddhima turned the lights off to the studio, a hand pressed against hers, "abhi light bandh mat karo."



Startled, she snapped around, "tum? Abhi yahin ho?"



"Sshh!" He placed his finger on her lips, "abhi practice baaki hai." His husky voice sent shivers along her spine.



"Armaan," she mumbled, "yeh kya mazaak hai? Practice khatam ho chuki hai."


"Nahin….aaj practice tho shuru hi nahin huyi…..I want another rehearsal." He leaned his face close to hers. Her lips quivered as he towered above her, his spicy after shave filling her nostrils, his firmness pressed against her suppleness.


"Yeh kya mazaak hai Armaan?" She tried to push him away.


"Mazaak nahin….mujhey mere sawaalon ka jawaab chaahiye!  Maana tum meri dost nahin ban na chaahti…..aur ab dance instructor bhi nahin ban na chaahti? Na mujhse theek se baat kar rahi ho….aur na theek se steps sikha rahi ho? What's the matter?"



He pinned her down against the wall, "kya  baat hai Riddhima? Do you really hate me that much? Agar aisa hai tho main yahan se hamesha ke liye chala jaata hoon….nahin seekhna hai mujhey dance…..main yahan sirf tumhari wajah se aaya tha…..but if you really don't want me here…I will go!" His lips were inches away from hers; their eyes locked; their hearts beating against each other's chests. Riddhima had never felt so scattered in her life before. His intense gaze seared her inside out.


Her lips parted partially as she mumbled softly, "please don't go…..I need you."


"I need you too," he murmured back huskily and touched her cheek gently with his fingers, "you are the most beautiful woman I have ever met Riddhima…..jab se tumhein dekha hai…..main apne hosh kho baitha hoon…..I can't get you out of my system….and it's only today I realized that I want you completely…..not only as a friend….but as the only woman who can rule my heart……my soul and my body……I love you Riddhima…..no woman has touched me the way you have…….I need you now….and I need you forever……..mujhey sirf tumhara pyaar chaahiye….aur kuch nahin chaahiye mujhey……inkaar mat karna please."


She shut her eyes and let out a tear. He had rendered her speechless and dazed. He had expressed his feelings so easily, his words pierced her heart as she broke down and hugged him. He embraced her tightly and kissed her neck softly, "I love you Riddhima."



"I love you too Armaan." She mumbled against his chest.



He pulled away and lifted her chin. Gently, he bent down and kissed the tears off her cheeks and then brushing his way to her eyelids and rest of her face, his lips descended on her lips. They kissed softly and then passionately. She could not resist anymore and reciprocated his kiss fervently till they were both gasping to catch their breaths.



Armaan turned the lights off to the studio and whispered, "can I have a dance with you?"



"Lights?" She smiled and asked.


"No….the street lights are enough….I want this to be the most memorable dance of our lives." He kissed her hands and then held her hand close to his chest. She smiled coyly and lowered her gaze, "kaunsa dance seekhoge ab?"


He grabbed her waist with his arms and pulled her closer, "The tango……just the two of us…with no one watching us…...you lead…I'll just follow."


She nodded with her eyes and danced on the beautiful tango music 'Perfidia' from "Shall We Dance'



….to be contd……….

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