Friday, 21 December 2018

chapter 15 (last): SHALL WE DANCE?

The moment had come and gone; now he would have to wait till after the show. She was gone. "Kahan chali gayi wo?" He wondered. Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder.

Hoping it would be Riddhima, he turned around with a smile, but was shell shocked to see the tall, svelte, glamorous woman with a cigarette in her hand.

"NIKITA?" He was elated and shocked at the same time.

"HELLO ARMAAN!" She smiled sardonically, "CAN WE TALK?"

"Sure!" He smiled hesitantly, perplexed at a very healthy and alluring Nikita in front of him. He had imagined her to be a terminal cancer patient, perhaps pale, dark circles and even balding. But here she stood in front of him, healthier looking than she was even nine years ago.

"Great! Let's go backstage to the changing room…..tumse zaroori baatein karni hain."

"I am glad to see you Nikita…..yes let's go….mujhey bhi tumse zaroori baatein karni hain," he followed her, relieved and apprehensive at the same time.

Armaan followed Nikita nervously, mentally making notes on how to break the news to her about Riddhima and himself. He was prepared for the brickbats, the accusations, the bitterness, the torment of being a single mother in this big bad world, his betrayal- after all he deserved it- he had never felt as despicable as he did that moment. He had been a jerk, a scumbag of the tallest order. If Nikita lashed out and refused to forgive him, he would just listen silently. Perhaps, even walk out of this grand event, out of Riddhima and Rhea's life forever. He did not deserve them and would pay penance for his selfish actions all his life. If Nikita forgave him, he would ensure Nikita was well taken care of in her last days of her life and reassure her that he would be the best dad to Rhea. He would tell her all about Riddhima and himself- how madly he was in love with her and how she had changed him into a caring, responsible, loving and one woman man. He could apologize for betraying Nikita but never for falling in love with Riddhima. It was not a mistake to fall in love. True love needs no apologies- he was hopeful Nikita would understand that.

"OK Armaan! Let's talk……what's on your mind?" Nikita shut the door to the dressing room behind them. It was the same dressing room where just a few moments ago, Armaan and Riddhima had shared an intimate moment. The gift box in the corner was untouched. He became tongue tied as soon as he came face to face with Nikita.

"H-How are you doing Nikita?" he empathized.

"Never felt better." She replied curtly, making him uneasy.

"Oh…that's great! So your cancer is responding to treatment?"

"You can say so," she replied, this time with a smirk on her face, confusing Armaan once again.

"Uh…wo Nikita…I..I," he lowered his eyes, "I…I….I.."

"What happened Armaan? I have never known you to stutter like this…..even when you duped me with your flowery words… exuded charm even through those false emotions…..kya hua? Tumhari shakal dekh kar lag raha hai jaise first ball par duck par out ho gaye ho," she chuckled, "am I scarier than all those fast bowlers you face on the pitch?"

"Nikita….I…I am sorry," he raised his eye lashes and looked at her.

"Sorry? You are sorry? Sorry for betraying me when I was pregnant? Sorry for dumping me like an old cricket ball? Jis ball se century maari, usee ball ko koode daan mein phaink diya? And that too when she was pregnant with your goddamn child?"

Armaan's head hung with shame, "I was young….immature…..and insensitive…..I have changed Nikita…..and I am really s-sorry."


"Nikita? I know I was foolish and I betrayed your love…..I am sorry you had to be a single mother all these years…..and now your illness……you have gone through a lot," he empathized sorrowfully, "but Nikita…..I want to be your friend……I know I can't reciprocate your love….or the pain you've gone through……"

"Yes you will Mr. Armaan Malik! You will reciprocate all the pain you gave me…..aur wo bhi jald hi."

Armaan was taken aback, "what do you mean Nikita?"

Nikita smiled scornfully, "you don't know what hurt means Armaan…do you? Now you will……I pray you hurt all your life……saari zindagi us pyaar ke liye tadpo jo kabhie tumhara tha hi nahin……aur main saari zindagi tumhein tadapta hua dekhoon….pyar mein bhi aur career mein bhi…..agar main tumhein banaa sakti hoon tho todh bhi sakti hoon!"

"NIKITA?" He shook her shoulder, "kya matlab hai tumhara?"

"Aage aage dekhiye Mr. Malik….abhi tho show ka interval hi hua hai."

"Show? Interval? What are you talking about?" He was baffled.

"You have just been part of Nikita's reality show…..the show in which you fell in love with a wonderful actress….….Riddhima Gupta! Yes, this was all staged Armaan…..I must say Riddhima did a great job……ek maamooli school dance teacher hai wo……lekin bahut ambitious…….poor thing has a lot of family responsibilities…….but her ambition and drive could make her do anything…….kinda like you Armaan……your ambition drove you into my bedroom…….till you achieved your goal……..Riddhima did the same…….I don't know if she got to your bedroom or not……but yeah…..she did get to her goal."

Armaan cringed at Nikita's words. He shut his eyes and clenched his fists angrily, "cut it out Nikita! What rubbish!"

" Kyun sacch nahin sun paa rahe? Well…….dance studio bhi mera hai….Anjali, Sid aur Naina bhi chote mote actors hain…..they all did a terrific job…haina? Talking about bedroom again… did you and Riddhim-aa….ehem????" She winked suggestively and laughed.

"I can't believe this!" His eyes popped as each muscle in his body rippled with anger mixed with hatred for the woman standing in front of him.

"I knew you wouldn't believe me….aakhir pyaar insaan ko andhaa banaa deta hai….waise hi jaise main tumhare pyaar mein andhi ban gayi thi….so here is your proof Mr. vice captain," she pulled out a roll of papers from her bag.

Armaan stared at the wad of legal papers in disbelief. It was a legal contract between 'Modi production house' and 'Riddhima Gupta.' It was a contract to act in his upcoming movie after successfully completing Nikita Modi's reality show- the terms to be determined by the director, Nikita herself.

"Kyun? Shocking…isn't it? How can a bholi bhali girl like Riddhima do this to you?" Nikita chortled.

"You are lying Nikita! This contract is fake….you are fake…'s all a lie…..I know Riddhima better than she knows herself……she loves me…..I know that!"

"Yes…..I have lied about a few things…..I don't have cancer and I am not dying…..I am not a poor single mother but a very influential wife of a very rich man, Abhimanyu Modi. But my dear lover boy, Riddhima, the ambitious actress and this contract are real……dekho legal seal bhi lagi hai."

"If you can lie about having cancer….why can't you lie about Riddhima?"

"Sure I can….but why would I? Mujhey kya milega? Main bhi ek business woman hoon…..haan tumse badlaa lena chaahti thi….wo tho le liya…..lekin apne husband ki production company ke liye bhi mujhey naye faces chaahiye the… now I have Riddhima…Anjali…Sid…Naina…..and Rhea……what do you say Mr Vice captain…..I've killed two birds with one stone… know what I mean?"

Armaan was crestfallen, "Rhea? How could you involve our daughter in this scam?"

"Wrong again! This is neither a scam, nor is Rhea our daughter!"

Armaan was livid. He grabbed Nikita by her shoulders and shook her vigorously, "you b***h! RHEA IS MY DAUGHTER….I KNOW THAT!"

"LEAVE ME ARMAAN!" Nikita yelled and shook him away, "now you don't want a sexual harassment case against you…..that would definitely bring a halt to your career and ambitions for good."

A flustered and frustrated Armaan pulled away and ran his fingers through his hair, "Rhea kaun hai phir?" He felt that someone pulled the ground from beneath his feet. It was all a nightmare- a bad dream. He would soon wake up and find himself in Riddhima's arms or on the cricket field.

"Rhea is an orphan! Our child was never born….I had a miscarriage," Nikita blurted out.

"So it was all a lie…..huh?

"It wasn't a lie Armaan. Didn't I just say that they are all actors? It was all drama…..kind of an audition before my husband's big movie project."

"You are wrong…so wrong here…..mere emotions ke saath tho tum log khel sakte ho…..lekin ek aath saal ki ladki ke emotions ke saath? You know she really believes that I am her dad…..that's not acting…I know that for sure," he almost cried out.

"You've really lost it Armaan…..cho chorry Armaan baba," she pinched his cheeks teasingly and patted them as she left the dressing room, "I expect to see you at the awards ceremony…..after all tumhare cricketing colleagues tumhara betaabi se intezaar kar rahe hain…..and of course you are planning to donate all the earnings to charity…aren't you? Waise tumhein shayad in paison ki zaroorat padhe kyunki aaj ke baad tum na tho kisiko pyaar karne ke laayak rahoge, aur na hi cricket khelne ke laayak rahoge…..aakhir dil par bahut gehra sadma pahuncha hai…and…..remember the 1 Crore you gave away as bribe money to Naina….thanks for the money….that helped us fund this whole project….thoda chutta shayad bachaa ho….waapas chaahiye kya?" She chided him purposely.

 A fuming and jilted Armaan walked out of the room, unable to stand any more barbs from Nikita.

With heavy footsteps, he walked back to the performance hall. All the performances were over. The crowd mingled and headed for the buffet lines at the food counters. He spotted Riddhima, Rhea, Anjali, Naina and Sid in an animated discussion with Abhimanyu in the corner. Whatever doubts he had about Nikita's story were dispelled when he saw Naina giving a big hug to Riddhima and Rhea as if they were long lost friends. He had never felt this humiliated in life. He shook his head and marveled at Riddhima's skill at duping him at his own game. A simple looking woman, with a modest back ground, beautiful but no super model had insulted him like no one had ever in his life. Rhea's involvement in the whole affair was even more appalling. How could a woman who claimed to have such high principles in life use an eight year old for her own selfish purpose? By the looks of it, they were all perhaps celebrating the success of their project and looking forward to Abhimanyu's new flick.

"Kya hua beta?" Smita surprised him from behind, "sab theek tho hai?"

"Oh….maa?" He forced a smile.

"Kuch bujha bujha sa lag raha hai beta," Smita's maternal instincts sensed something was wrong with Armaan.

"Shayad dance raas nahin aaya mujhey," he swallowed a lump in his throat and averted his gaze.

"Galat! Mujhey tho lagta hai cricket se zyaada tujhey dance raas aaya hai… ne tujhey star banaya tha…lekin dance ne ek insaan banaa diya hai… ne mere bte ko mujh se cheena tha lekin dance ne mujhey mera beta mujhey wapas de diya hai," she smiled and patted his arm.

"Maa…..can I ask you a question? Ek sawaal ka jawaab dogi aap?" He asked.

"Aaj tak koi galat salah di hai maine tujhey?"

"Maa….insaan ko suni hui cheez par vishwaas karna chaahiye ya aankhon dekhi hui cheez par?"

"Beta….kaan aur nazar dono dhokha khaa sakte hain….lekin dil kabhie dhokha nahin deta…..mere khayal se tho insaan ko hamesha apne dil ki sun ni chaahiye," she sighed.

Armaan pondered at her words of wisdom and thought inwardly, "kya aisa ho sakta hai ki Nikita jhooth bol rahi ho? Tho phir wahan Riddhima, Rhea aur Naina ko saath saath dekhna bhi nazar ka dhokha hai?"

"Nahin maa," Armaan sighed back, "meri nazrein kabhie dhokha nahin khaati….chaliye…table par chaliye…..let's have dinner," he dismissed her advice, kept his gaze fixated on Riddhima and Rhea, disgusted by the games the two of them had played on him.

Anjali was back on stage to announce the winners of the dance competition. An anxious Riddhima walked towards Armaan, hoping to see the enthusiasm on his face. She was taken aback by his tense expression, jaws tightened and eyes scathing.

"Armaan…..nervous ho kya?" she flashed her characteristic smile and squeezed his hand as she settled next to him. Smita smiled at Riddhima from a distant and nodded her head in approval. Riddhima smiled back and nodded back with respect, but was shocked when Armaan withdrew his hand.

Before she could fathom why he was being so aloof, their names were announced as the best dance couple for the evening.

A reluctant Armaan stood up and walked to the stage without waiting for Riddhima. A confused Riddhima just followed him meekly. They collected their trophy and a check for $10 Lakh Rupees amongst cheers and applauses, forcing plastic smiles on their faces. As their fingers brushed against each others around the trophy, Armaan curled his fingers and waved at the crowd, ignoring Riddhima. Riddhima was sure something had transpired between Armaan and Nikita since they had danced on the stage. He probably knew the truth, and was upset with her about her betrayal. She wanted to say aloud, "Armaan… that is only half the truth," but their voices drowned in the sea of cheers, whistles, cameras and microphones.

Muskaan joined them on the stage and promptly announced that the prize money would be donated to build a dance studio for under privileged kids in the city. Armaan was a hero in the truest sense now. The press loved him- the star with a large heart-except only Armaan knew that his heart had been shattered into pieces by the woman standing across from him, the two of them separated by the glittering trophy with a dancing couple adorning it's top. It was ironical that the trophy they had both worked so hard to acquire was now like a thorn between the two of them, reminding them of the wall that had just been erected between the two of them in the last few moments.

Riddhima tried her best to approach him, but swiftly, he slipped off the stage, making a dash for the dressing rooms. He wanted to make sure the gift box with the 'shagun' was no longer there. Riddhima did not deserve it anymore, and perhaps after tonight, no other woman would ever deserve it either.

He was stunned to see the box missing from the room. He searched the closets and drawers, but the box was nowhere. As he walked back towards the door, mumbling curses, he was shocked to see Riddhima at the door in the red saree he had wrapped in the box.

"Armaan…..I accept your proposal," a smiling Riddhima covered her head with the ornate pallu and coyly walked towards him.

"Enough of your drama Miss!" Armaan yelled and pulled off the pallu from her head, "bahut ho gaya natak."

A shell shocked Riddhima was in tears, "Armaan…yeh natak nahin hai….main…main sach much tumhari patni ban na chaahti hoon."

"Yeah right! Kaun si movie ke dialogues rehearse kar rahi ho?" He smirked, "You liar!"

Riddhima wiped her tears and walked closer to him. She gazed into his eyes, "haan maine tumse jhooth bola tha Armaan……haan main Nikita ki friend nahin, balki uski employee hoon…..haan Rhea tumhari beti nahin hai…..haan main ek dance studio mein kaam nahin karti……haan main ek actress ban na chaahti thi……main bahut ambitious ladki thi…..and yes I agreed to give you a taste of your own medicine……lekin yeh batao tumney apni zindagi mein kitni ladkiyon ke saath jhooth bola hai? Kitno ko pyaar ke vaade diye hain? Kitno ko sapne dikhaayein hain? Kitno ko shayad maa bhi banaya ho….kya wo sab jhooth nahin tha?" She confronted him just like Nikita had a little while ago.

Armaan stepped back and averted his eyes from her intense gaze, "OK….maana main galat tha…..but that does not give you any right to break my heart…..and break Rhea's heart too."

"Main wo hi tho jodna chaah rahi thi Armaan," she broke down and sobbed silently.

"What do you mean?" Armaan had a puzzled look but Riddhima was too distraught to speak.

"Main bataati hoon papa," Rhea rolled into the room and gave him a bear hug.

"Papa?" He stood still, his arms in the air.

"Haan papa," Rhea looked up tearfully, "koi kuch bhi kahe…..lekin aap mere papa hi hain."

"It was all a drama Rhea…choreographed by Nikita…..she is the real dance teacher here….we all have been dancing to her tunes….and Riddhima." Armaan tried to free himself.

"Wrong Armaan!" Abhimanyu strolled in with Nikita and Anjali in each arm.

"Abhimanyu? Now what do you have up your sleeve?"

"Right now I have two beautiful women on either sleeve," Abhimanyu chuckled and then gave Armaan a friendly punch on his shoulder, "don't worry buddy…..Main is drama mein part nahin le raha….now listen to me carefully buddy……yes….this whole project was staged by my wife, Nikita, to teach men like you a lesson… me she has no personal grudge against you…..but she always had this hidden desire to make a man like you realize what it means to be cheated and betrayed in love…..she did truly love you once," he hugged Nikita, "but now she is mine forever…kyun Nikita," he winked at her.

Armaan sighed and looked down at Rhea, "then why did you have to involve an innocent girl like Rhea?"

"That's our fault Armaan….I think Nikita went a bit too far with this drama…'s Riddhima who realized that this was a mistake but it was too late…..not only had you accepted Rhea as your daughter….even Rhea had developed a relationship with you, which she did not have a heart to break……to make things worse…..Riddhima fell in love with you just as hard as you had fallen for her……she tried to reason with Nikita on various occasions…..but Nikita can be hard headed at times……yes darling?" Abhimanyu nudged his wife, who stood there with lowered eyes.

Armaan looked up and stared at Riddhima's misty eyes.

 "And….just after the dance performances were over….Riddhima came to me and terminated the contract with my company……I am softie at heart man…..when she told me how much she loved you…..I let go off her……after all she was ready to sacrifice a promising career just for her love," Abhimanyu patted Rhea's head, "and then Rhea beti also came forward and refused to act in the movie…..she said she would rather have her papa than a role in a big movie… Anjali gets Riddhima's role and Naina steps into Anjali's role in the movie."

 Armaan's heart melted; he felt silly about mistrusting Riddhima and Rhea's love for him. Now he knew what they had been talking about in a corner when he mistook Naina's hug as celebration for their success.

 "I am sorry guys…..I trusted my eyes and ears more than my heart……maa theek kehti hai dil ki baat hi sun ni chaahiye," Armaan smiled and pulled Rhea close to his legs.

"Bilkul theek kaha Armaan beta…..maa ki baat hamesha sun ni chaahiye," Smita walked in with a decorated silver plate in hand, "ab maa keh rahi hai ki hone waali bahu ka shagun jaldi se kar diya jaaye…..warna mera naalayak beta phir ko pagalpan na kar de."

Everyone cheered and applauded at Smita's comments. Riddhima covered her head with the pallu once again and bent down to touch Smita's feet.

"Jeeti raho beti," Smita helped Riddhima to her feet, "sach much bahut pyaari hai….Armaan theek kehta tha ki sab se khubsoorat ladki chuni hai usne."

Armaan turned red at his mom's comments, "maa…wo..wo."

"Hey come on buddy…don't stammer….tum bhi maa ke pair choo lo…..thoda ashirwaad milega tho achcha rahega," Abhimanyu chuckled.

A sheepish Armaan obeyed orders and then stood up beside Riddhima. He exchanged glances with Riddhima and smiled at her.

Smita handed rings to both of them, "sagai ki rasam tho yahin nibha lete hain…..phir baad mein Riddhima ke ghar jaakar rishta maang lenge."

Armaan and Riddhima exchanged rings; Riddhima smiled shyly as his strong fingers held hers before he slipped the ring. His magnetic gaze drew her closer. She returned his lovelorn gaze with her mesmerizing smile.

Nikita came forward and wished the couple good luck, "I am happy for both of you…..I feel even though I played with a lot of emotions…..I managed to unite two souls together."

"All is fair in love and war sweetheart," Abhimanyu winked

"Not two," Armaan pulled Rhea closer, "three souls together…..Rhea beta…..from now on, you're officially our daughter….I'll apply for your legal adoption as soon as possible."

"There he is!" Muskaan with a bunch of press and photographers walked in to congratulate the newly engaged star couple.

"I represent Sony TV sir," a tall man approached them, "would you like to participate in our next Jhalak Dikhla Ja show?"

"Thanks but NO THANKS!" Armaan replied, "we are content with what we have."

"But sir…this could really help your star status… will get more fans…we guarantee you a place in the finals," the TV producer persisted.

"My talent on the field will determine my star status sir….not a staged dance show…samjhey?" Armaan answered curtly.

Armaan held Riddhima's hand and pulled her away from the crowd, "please give us some privacy guys….we have just gotten engaged…..mujhey apne hone waali biwi ko theek se dekhne tho do yaar."

Abhimanyu, Nikita, Muskaan, Naina, Anjali, Sid, Smita and Rhea all waded off the press and TV personnel, allowing the love birds to escape into oblivion as quickly as possible.


 "Hum kahan jaa rahe hain Armaan?" Riddhima asked as Armaan's car swerved into the deserted streets of Delhi.

"It's a surprise," he bent over and pecked her cheek, "for my lovely fiance."

"When did you plan this?"

"Shhh….ab zyaada sawaal mat karo," he halted the car in front of an empty dark field. He helped her out of the car and held her hand, "come with me." If it were not a full moon, it would be hard to tell where they were headed.

"This is just land Armaan…..kahan jaa rahe hain?" Riddhima felt her heart flutter as they stepped onto the grassy land.

"Maybe I am trying to take advantage of you in this quiet dark place," He growled and embraced her snugly and kissed her ear.

To his surprise, Riddhima did not resist his advances, "tum jahan le jaaoge main jaane ko tayyar hoon…..tum jo kahoge main wo karne ko tayyar hoon."

"Really?" He stopped and gazed down at her lovely moon lit face, "what if I ask you for a dance on this barren land…..on this dark night….under the moonlight…..on the future location of your own dance studio."

"Dance studio?" She exclaimed.

"Yeah…..I had just purchased this land a few days ago…..tumhare liye ek dance studio banwaana chaahta hoon…..where you are the boss…..the choreographer…..on your terms……" he whispered.

"Ek shart par," she teased him


"Haan….agar tum zindagi bhar mere saath waise hi dance karte rahoge jaise aaj stage par kiya tha," she pulled him closer and circled her arms around his neck.

"Promise……but I hope we will get to try different styles of dancing after marriage," he bent down and kissed her eyes, "conventional and unconventional."

"I can always learn," she rolled her tongue and pinched his nose with her fingers, "after all you are more experienced in the unconventional style."

"I'll make sure you will never be disappointed," he winked at her wickedly and kissed her gently and then passionately as the two lovers danced their way all night long in each other's arms…



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