Tuesday, 4 December 2018

chapter 2 : SHALL WE DANCE?


RECAP: Armaan stood there frozen with a little girl's hand in his large hand, astounded at what had just happened to him and his life in the last 15 minutes. Was this really happening to him or was it a nightmare? Why did Nikita do that to him? He had broken up with her years ago then why was his past standing beside him to haunt him? And that woman- Riddhima Gupta- the most obnoxious woman in this world- he hated her! He hated Nikita….he hated Rhea…..he hated his past…..for a change he hated himself for being so callous about his affair with Nikita- he was trapped into taking care of this little scoundrel standing beside him.


They turned towards the elevator as Armaan took his phone out and dialed his agent, "MUSKAAN!"

 "Hi Armaan. What's up? You know it's Sunday……and I don't work for you on Sunday unless it's an emergency," Muskaan Misra, his tall, svelte, young and enterprising sports agent answered.


"IT IS AN EMERGENCY!"




"What happened?" There was urgency in her voice. She kept her fingers crossed that he had not fractured his legs or incapacitated himself in some way to jeopardize his chances of playing in the next series or losing his place on the team.

"I WANT YOU RIGHT HERE!" He ordered.




"Ok! I will be there…..and it BETTER BE AN EMERGENCY!" Muskaan hung up the phone to her husband, Rahul's chagrin. "Why does he need you NOW? Can't that inept man leave you one evening?" He embraced his wife of six months and refused to let go of her.



"Rahul! Please chodo…..if you can find a decent job, I am ready to quit TODAY. You know how I hate working with that self obsessed, narcissistic bas***d!" Muskaan released herself from her husband's grip, picked her bag, dabbed some lipstick and was out the door. Rahul sighed in vain and settled down on the sofa with a TV remote in hand. To his annoyance, they were showing the umpteenth repeat telecast of the India-Australia match where Armaan had hit the winning sixer. "URGHHHHH!" Rahul threw the remote and walked off to the balcony to smoke a cigarette, "this man is everywhere I go….why is this country obsessed with cricket and cricketers…..hum jaise hockey players ki tho koi kadar bhi nahin karta…..meri biwi bhi ek cricketer ke peeche dum hilaati hai….aur mujhey? Sirf ek show piece samajhti hai!"




ARMAAN's APARTMENT:



"Hey baby…..where were you?" Rosie ran to the door as soon as a droopy shouldered Armaan walked in along with Rhea.

"Baby?" Rhea laughed when she realized that the tall woman in front of her, whose face looked like a pancake with the multiple layers of makeup, had just addressed her good-for-nothing father as 'baby.' May be mama and Riddhima auntie were right- all men are like babies.



"WHO IS SHE?" Rosie was startled.




"Hi! I am Rhea….Rhea Singh…..although technically I should be Rhea Malik." Rhea stretched her hand out. Riddhima auntie's verbal thrashing of her father had invigorated the eight year old's spirits. She knew that if anyone troubled her, she could call Riddhima any time and she would set them right within minutes.



"WHAT?" Rosie was mortified, 'baby….what is she saying?"



"STOP CALLING ME BABY!" Armaan was infuriated. Being addressed as 'baby' in front of an eight year old was a bit embarrassing for him.




"Sorry sweetheart….par yeh ladki kaun hai?"



"She…she is my niece….visiting for a few days," Armaan cleared his throat and lied. Rhea was appalled but decided to keep her mouth shut as she had promised Armaan downstairs that she would address him as 'uncle.'



"OH! Main tho darr gayi thi….ki kahin tumhari beti na ho," Rosie held her chest in relief.

"Beti?" Armaan squinted, "what gave you that idea?"



"She has your nose….yeh neeche ka part bilkul tumhare jaisa hai darling," Rosie smiled, "but she's your niece na….so it's possible."



"Whatever," Armaan shut the door behind him and headed towards the wet bar to pour himself a drink.



Rhea stuck her tongue out at Rosie when Armaan had turned his back to them. Taken aback by little Rhea's guts and seeing Armaan's foul mood, Rosie decided to leave before Armaan had one of his temper tantrums. She knew that there was more to the Armaan-Rhea story, but would probe later when Armaan was in a more benevolent mood.



"Bye darling….I have an appointment." Rosie picked her belongings and looked back in hope of a response, but Armaan continued to sip his drink at the bar, while Rhea gave her a royal snub. With her arms crossed, Rhea settled on the couch and flipped through a stack of magazines on the coffee table.




As Rosie left, Muskaan walked in authoritatively, "what's up Armaan?" Rhea looked up and smiled, "Hello!"



"WOW! Who are you little girl?" Muskaan smiled back and then glanced at the magazine in Rhea's lap, "STOP! Yeh kya padh rahi ho?" Swiftly, she removed the PLAYBOY magazine from Rhea, "this is not for kids."



"Sorry auntie….I was getting bored."



"That's OK….what's your name?"


"Rhea."


Armaan got off the barstool and walked towards them with a big frown, "Rhea….please go to your room….I need to talk to Muskaan."



"My room? Lekin uncle…aapne tho abhi mujhey room dikhaaya nahin."



"OH crap!" He mumbled, "just go to the room on the right….it's the guest room…."

"What will I do there?" she asked innocently.



"Just watch TV or something."



Muskaan felt sorry for the little girl, "Armaan I will be right back….Rhea come with me….let me show you the room…..and let me make sure you watch something age appropriate."



Armaan settled down on the couch and buried his head in his hands. This was the biggest mess he had ever found himself in-even messier than India's defeat in the last world cup or when he was selected as the vice captain and not the captain for the last series. He recalled the day when Nikita, nine years ago had given him the news about her pregnancy.



"Armaan…I am pregnant."

"So?" He had dismissed her big news casually.

"Armaan…I am pregnant with your child da**it!"

"Yeah right! You are the manager of the whole Junior cricket team…..that means there are 16 players on the roster….it could be any one of them."



He remembered the slaphe had received at Nikita's hands after he had made that statement. Angrily, he had just walked out after cursing her with the choicest of four letter words. He had never heard from her since then, until now. Was Rhea really his daughter or was he being trapped by her? Out of those 16 junior players, he was the only one who had achieved so much fame and success.



"Losers…..all of them are bl**dy losers!" He shook his head and glanced up to see Muskaan standing above him with folded arms.



"So….who are the losers and who is Rhea?" Muskaan sat across from him on the coffee table.



"She is Nikita's daughter….remember her?"



"I have heard about her….I was not your agent when she was a part of your life."

"A lady dropped Rhea this evening, claiming that the girl is my daughter."

"Oh really? Interesting…..and who was this person….and you believed her?"

"She is Rhea's dance teacher…..and claims that she is Nikita's friend…..I had no choice."

"Where is Nikita?"


Armaan scratched his head and tried to recall what Riddhima had told him about Nikita, "uh..uh…I think she said she is sick or something….haan haan yaad aaya….wo Mumbai gayi hai….for 15 days."

"Kya hua hai usey?"



Armaan shrugged his shoulders, "how am I supposed to know….I have not had any contact with Nikita for years."



"Well obviously you don't harbor any feelings for Nikita anymore….otherwise you would be more concerned about her welfare."



"Muskaan! I don't have time for your lecture baazi! Just tell me how to get rid of that eight year old rascal!"



"Rascal? She seems pretty sweet….any ways ….did that woman bring any proof of your paternity?"



"Yes….she was one heck of a smart woman…..she had photographs, postcards…..even a darn DNA report!"

"But how do you know that all those were authentic?"

"Well….she showed them to me."

"Armaan….tumhare saath yahi tho problem hai….you are so hot headed….thande dimaag se socho….is it possible that this dance teacher and Nikita are trying to trap you? Yes, those pictures and post cards are probably real….but report tho koi bhi do paise dekar kisi ghatiya doctor se banvaa sakta hai."



Armaan was rendered dumbfounded, "I guess that is possible. But I thought a DNA report is a DNA report."



Muskaan shook her head, "Yes…it is-as long as the report is actually yours and no one else's."



"You are right….I am so glad I have a smart woman like you working for me Muskaan," he smiled, his dimples prominently flashing on his cheeks, "chalo….Rhea ko wapas bhej dete hain." Armaan got up excitedly.



"ARMAAN! Calm down….what if the report is right? Then this whole episode could blow up into a big issue…..filhaal tumhein sirf 15 din ke liye Rhea ko rakhna hai na?"


"Yeah…something like that….but I will go crazy with that girl….I don't know anything about kids….kal se warm ups shuru hain….Sri Lanka series is about to start….I can't have a little girl around me."



"Trust me she will be easier than all those bimbos who hang around you 24/7!" Muskaan rolled her eyes.



"Stay out of my personal life Muskaan."



"Ok baba….I will investigate this dance teacher….her motives…Nikita's health….her intentions….so give me some time….tab tak Rhea ko apne paas rakho." Muskaan got up to leave, "what's the dance teacher's name?"



"Riddhima Gupta!" How could he forget the name of the woman who had humiliated him in his own complex, just an hour or so ago?


"Dance teacher…yeah?"

"A peanut sized woman with an attitude as big as an elephant!" He muttered through clenched teeth.


Muskaan suppressed her smile and thought, "a good match against a peanut brained man with an elephant sized ego!"


"Kuch kaha tumney?" Armaan looked at her suspiciously.

"Nope….main chali."

"Why don't you take Rhea with you?" Armaan pleaded.



"Sorry Armaan…Rahul is already upset about me catering to your whims and fancies at the drop of a hat…..another responsibility and I will be a single woman again." Muskaan shook her head and walked out. Before she shut the front door behind her, she cautioned him, "make sure you take good care of the girl….as you mentioned Riddhima Gupta is a very smart woman……you never know if someone finds out that you are being rude or mean….it will tarnish your reputation forever….after all young kids are your biggest fans…..aur haan….keep Rhea away from all that po*n stuff you subscribe to…..it's not good for her."


Armaan turned red with anger but remained silent. He latched the door behind Muskaan and was shocked to see Rhea standing in front of him.

'What now?" He jumped.

"Mujhey bhookh lagi hai." Rhea whined.

"Mujhey bhi," he scowled. Muskaan's words rang in his ears- you never know if someone finds out that you are being rude or mean….it will tarnish your reputation forever….after all young kids are your biggest fans.



"Kya khaana hai?" He asked coldly.

"Dal roti." She replied.

'What? Dal roti? Yeh tumhari maa ka ghar nahin hai ki jo chaaha mil jaaye." He yelled.

"Par baap ka tho hai."

"I am not your baap…samjhi!" He bent down and glared at her scornfully. Rhea was a little taken aback, "sorry…uncle."



 "Ok pizza khaaogi? I will heat some left over pizza from last night's party." He softened his stance as Muskaan's words echoed in his ears- you never know if someone finds out that you are being rude or mean.



"Khaa loongi," she replied, "but I am allergic to tomatoes ….make sure the pizza does not have tomato sauce."



"Koi baat nahin….main tomato sauce nikaal doonga," he placed the cold pizza in the oven and pulled out two cups, "what do you want to drink….coke or…..or…" he looked around, 'beer? No…no…you can't have beer."



"I am not allowed to drink coke…..can I have milk?"


"Milk? Matlab doodh?" He had an expression of disgust, "main koi doodh peeta bachcha hoon?"



"Maine suna tha Mahendra Singh Dhoni roz ek gallon doodh peeta hai….iss liye wo itna achcha khelta hai."



"Really?" Armaan narrowed his eyes in disbelief and then picked the intercom phone, "darbaan!"

"Jee sir." The concierge, prepared for an onslaught from the whimsical cricketer after the show down in the lobby with the dance teacher earlier, responded promptly.




"Can you send 2 gallons of milk to my apartment from the local grocery shop….IMMEDIATELY!"

"Jee sir," the concierge smiled and hung up, 'lagta hai vice captain saheb ko maa ka doodh yaad dilaane waala koi aa gaya hai….ya aa gayi hai."


A few minutes later, Armaan sat across from Rhea at the kitchen table and passed a piece of the hot pizza to her, "chup chaap khaa lo….bas do slices hain….ek tumhara…ek mera…."



"Par is mein tomato sauce hai."



"Uffo! What a high maintenance girl!" He wiped off the layer of tomato sauce with a knife, 'ab khaa lo."



"Par….abhi bhi thoda sauce hai yahan." She pointed out. He could see the similarity with Nikita now. She was as obsessive about certain things, he remembered. Just like Rhea had to have the pizza served 'just right,' Nikita was a perfectionist about certain things too.



"Bilkul apni maa par gayi hai," he muttered and removed the remaining sauce from the pizza.



Rhea made sure there were no specks of tomato sauce left over on the slice; she was sure that her father would be of no help if she broke out into hives or choked from an allergic reaction to the sauce.



After polishing off the pizza and milk, both let out loud burps. Armaan was bemused by the volume of Rhea's burp, "that was very un lady like….kya tumhari maa ne tumhein table manners nahin sikhaaye?"



Rhea shook her head, "sikhaye the….lekin wo keh rahi thi tumhare papa bhi aise hi zor ki dakaar lete the….he has no table manners either."



A sheepish Armaan, quickly grabbed the plates and cups and threw them in the sink for his maid to clean up the next day.


"OK….now you better go to bed little girl." He ordered.

"But first you have to read a bed time story to me," Rhea grinned.

"Bed time story? Pagal ho! I don't have any children's books."



"I do…..mere bag mein hain…..please uncle padh do na," Rhea's innocent pout worked like a charm. An exasperated Armaan relented, "Ok…let's make it quick."

"Ok…let me change up and brush my teeth…" She ran to the guest room as fast as she could.



Armaan clenched his jaws and punched a fist into one of the walls to let out his frustration. "AHHH!" He winced as the concrete wall scraped his knuckles and fingers. "OH GOD! My right hand! Kal batting practice kaise karoonga?" He slapped a couple of bandaids and walked towards Rhea's room, cursing his fate and everyone he had seen that day.


Dressed in her night suit, Rhea had made herself comfortable in bed and was on the phone when Armaan entered her room.



"Riddhima auntie…..main theek hoon abhi…..haan pizza tha….tomato sauce nikaal diya tha…..haan doodh bhi pee liya…..ek auntie aayi thi…..wo saari gandhi gandhi magazines mere room se le gayi…….aur papa ko keh gayi thi ki mera khayal rakhna warna unki reputation kharaab ho jaayegi…….ab papa mere liye story padhenge." Rhea looked up and grinned at Armaan. He clenched his teeth in anger after he overheard their conversation; he felt like he was being spied on by a measly eight year old.




The mention of Riddhima's name also sent shudders down his spine- he imagined that he was an accused standing in a witness box where Riddhima, a stern looking judge was staring down at him and Rhea, the prosecution lawyer was pointing fingers at him. The court room was full of little kids, dressed in the blue cricket uniforms of India, mocking at the great vice captain and then out of the blue, Nikita emerged from nowhere and gave him a tight slap.


"OUCH!" He held his cheek, almost feeling that slap once again.


"Goodnight auntie….love you…..please tell mama I miss her," Rhea hung up, a bit sad after she mentioned her mom's name.



"Meri jaasoosi kyun kar rahi ho? Why do you have to give a full report about me?" He asked angrily.



Rhea looked up tearfully and shook her head, "I miss mama……mujhey mama chaahiye."

Armaan felt awkward as he had never consoled a young child, or for that matter anyone else in his life before. Even though he was a toughie on the outside, there was something about tears that made him uneasy. "Book kahan hai?" He tried to distract her, but she kept bawling.



"OK….I am leaving." He turned around, discomfited by her emotional outburst.

"Sorry uncle….yeh rahi book," Rhea wiped her tears and urged him to stay.

Armaan came back and sat next to her; he glanced at her face and asked, "wha….what happened to Nikita?"

"Mama is very sick…..she has cancer." Rhea replied.



"Cancer?" He was shocked, but composed himself, "Uh…uh…Ok kaunsi book hai?" He did not probe any further; he knew Rhea would probably break down if he asked any further questions and he was in no mood for any melodrama at that hour.



"Three Little Pigs!" She smiled faintly.

"Itni easy book hai yeh…..why can't you read it yourself?"

Rhea stared at him soulfully, "kyunki mujhey padhna nahin aata uncle."



"What? You are eight and you cannot read?" He scowled. As soon as he said those words, he could hear his 3 rd grade teacher's words echoing in his head: THIRD GRADE MEIN BHI PADHNA NAHIN AATA? SIRF KHEL KOOD MEIN DHYAAN DOGE THO KAISE SEEKHOGE PADHNA? He recalled how he hated when his teachers and elders scoffed at him for not being able to read. If it were not for his mother, who had worked hard day and night, he would still have been an illiterate.



"I have dyslexia uncle….main theek se padh nahin sakti….lekin mama kehti hai ek din zaroor padh paaoongi main."



"Dyslexia?" Is that what it was called, he thought. That meant that he had the same thing as a child? Armaan gazed at Rhea's face and replied, "tumhari mama theek kehti hai…..ek din tumhein bhi padhna aa jaayega." He never told her about his childhood difficulties with reading, but was amazed at the number of similarities between him and Rhea. May be that DNA report was accurate.



He couldn't help wondering-was that why Rhea was passionate about dancing like he used to about cricket?


Armaan shook his head and talked himself out of getting too involved in Rhea's personal life. He had to remind himself that Rhea and Nikita did not mean anything to him, and started reading the book. She clapped, cheered, laughed and groaned at the appropriate parts. He was amused at how engaged she was with the story. Although he read it in a boring monotone, hoping that it would put her to sleep, she seemed to enjoy every word and sentence that came out of his mouth. Rhea's mouth gaped with fear when the wolf threatened the pigs and broke out into a smile when the pigs escaped each time. As he glanced at her smiling face, he suddenly remembered the smile on Riddhima's face when she was bidding goodbye to Rhea in the lobby.



"Uncle….padho na!" Rhea shook his arm.



"Bas bahut ho gaya….I am tired!" He got up in a fury, angry at himself for thinking about the horrible dance teacher, and that too her smile instead of her frown.

"Goodnight uncle!" She waved at him, "can I give you a goodnight kiss?"



"Kiss?" he grimaced, "I don't kiss anyone younger than 18," and walked out of her room, ill at ease with her demands and with himself.



Disappointed, Rhea turned the bed side light off and slipped into the covers. Sleep eluded her as she tossed and turned in bed all night, hoping to get out of this place as soon as possible. She knew her mom was away in Mumbai, but why could she not stay with Riddhima aunty? Perhaps, Riddhima aunty had some problem in her house, but why did she insist that she come and stay with Armaan? He did not love her, she could tell, but she did……he was her papa……and she would always love him even if he didn't…..




Across the hallway, in his bed, Armaan did the same. Images of Riddhima confronting him, Rhea grinning at him and Nikita slapping him hounded him all night.


Unable to get a wink of sleep, he got up and headed to the refrigerator to sooth his restless soul with some butterscotch ice cream. As soon as he opened the refrigerator, he saw a shadow against the light of the freezer.



"AHHHH! Kaun hai?" He yelled.


"AHHHHHHH!" Rhea screamed back with her hands on her ears.

Armaan turned the lights on and was relieved to see that it was only Rhea. Rhea burst out into laughter on seeing a tall, well built, grown up man screaming like a kid. Embarrassed, Armaan turned his head away and just asked her, "what flavor ice cream do you like?"

"Chocolate!"



"Thank God it's not butter scotch!" He whispered to himself and scooped out some chocolate ice cream for her.



………………..to be contd…………..Rhea at the cricket practices and dance studio with Armaan…………….

bheegi

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