Wednesday, 5 December 2018

chapter 3 : SHALL WE DANCE?


 Armaan, dressed in his warm up sweats, hastily finished his breakfast as he was running late for the net practice. The upcoming Sri Lanka series could prove to be an acid test for him if he ever had to become captain. Atul, the current captain was past his prime, but still there due to his 'God-like' status and popularity amongst the team and board members. On many an occasion, Muskaan had indirectly hinted that Armaan needed to improve his image, be a team player and a leader rather than just a 'star' on the team if he were to ever succeed Atul.

Armaan had so far shunned her advice and turned a deaf ear to Muskaan's advice till Rhea appeared in his life. As he chewed on his toast and read the sports section of the newspaper analyzing and micro analyzing all the players from his and the Sri Lankan team, his mind wandered over the events of the last 12 hours- a lot had happened in his life in those few hours- a stern dance teacher appearing from nowhere with an eight year old girl, who claimed to be his daughter, and then the news about Nikita having cancer. Even though, he had tried all night to not think about Nikita's illness, somewhere inside he felt guilty about what he had done to Nikita nine years ago.

 Of course, he had been eighteen then, and had just embarked on a life full of promises and dreams. He had used Nikita to get selected in the junior cricket team, lured her with flowers, cards, expensive dinners and even moved into her place for a few days when her parents were out on a two week trip. Nikita was 21 years old then, older than him not only in age but also in experience and tact. She was the manager of the team, and had skillfully convinced the selectors about Armaan's talent. At that time, Armaan was just an average cricketer, trying to make his mark on the national scene. What he excelled in was motivation and the desire to succeed. His hunger for success surpassed that of the other junior players, and even if he had to use his boyish charm and good looks to make a place for himself on the team, he had no qualms about it.

He had never loved or cared for Nikita. Once he found out that she was pregnant with his child, he had walked out of her life forever. She was not needed anymore as by then he had already made a mark on the junior team and was seriously being considered for the national team by the selectors.

But today, he felt sorry for Nikita- he had no idea about her financial situation and it sounded like she was a single mother too. He wiped his hands and took out his check book from the drawer. There was one way to ease his guilt- he wrote a check in Nikita's name for two lakh rupees. Cancer treatment was expensive, and perhaps by helping her financially, he would repay her for helping jump start his career.

"GOOD MORNING PA…SORRY UNCLE!" A cheerful Rhea ran out in her night suit and hugged Armaan's legs as he stood at the kitchen counter with the check book. Teddy, Armaan's housekeeper looked up from the stove and gave her a curious look.

Armaan rolled his eyes, as he had almost forgotten all about Rhea, "ya…ya…good morning…..ab jao aur breakfast kar lo….." He touched her arm gently as she clung to his long leg with her tiny arms.

"Kaun hai yeh pyaari bitiya?" Teddy smiled down at her.

"Aap kaun ho?" Rhea looked up at the plump faced housekeeper with a wide grin.

"Main Teddy hoon."

"Teddy bear?" Rhea laughed and then pulled his cheeks, "aapke cheeks tho bilkul teddy bear jaise hi hain."

"RHEA!" Armaan yelled at her, "be courteous to Teddy…..he is my housekeeper….not a teddy bear."

"Sorry uncle," she touched her ears apologetically.

"Koi baat nahin sir….she is a sweet girl…..kya khaaogi breakfast mein?"

"Teddy…..she is my niece and will stay with us for 15 days…..iske khaane peene ka dhyaan tum rakhna OK?" Armaan ordered.

"Jee sir," Teddy bowed.

"OK…..I need to go for my practice….Rhea you stay home with Teddy……and don't trouble him."

"Uncle….mujhey bhi aapke saath jaana hai," Rhea pleaded.

"Mere saath?" Armaan was mortified, "main koi gilli danda khelne nahin jaa raha hoon tumhari Riddhima aunty ki tarah……I am going to play cricket…..that's serious stuff…….I have to work can't go there."

"Uncle…..Riddhima aunty bhi bahut hard work karti hain…..wo gilli danda nahin….dance teacher hain…..lekin main unki practices mein bahut baar jaati hoon," Rhea grinned, 'please uncle….please please….please," she jumped up and down, "I want to see all the cricket players."

Exasperated by her persistence, Armaan relented, "OK….get ready quickly….I am already late."

"Thanks uncle!" She blew him a kiss, "main apne dance clothes bhi le aati hoon…..kyunki 3 baje dance class bhi hai na."

"Dance class?" Armaan made a dirty face, "Teddy….tum field se aakar isey dance class ke liye le jaana."

"OH NO uncle," Rhea stepped out of her room, "remember what Riddhima aunty said?"

"What?" Armaan frowned at her.

Rhea was silent as Teddy was still standing there; she had been barred from mentioning that Armaan was  her father, so kept mum.

"Kya baat hai?" He asked irately.

She ran to him and asked him to bend down, and then whispered in his ear, "one parent has to go to sign the release form…..aap mere parent ho na!" She grated her teeth.

"OH…OK…whatever," Armaan sighed in frustration, "TEDDY! AAJ MAIN LE JAAOONGA RHEA KO….KAL SE TUM JAANA….SAMJHE?"

"Jee sir….Rhea beta breakfast mein kya khaaogi? Field mein bhookh lagegi warna."

"Omelette!" She replied excitedly.

"Uffo! We have no time to eat! I am getting late!" Armaan looked at his watch.

"Sir…I will have it ready in few minutes…..Rhea beta aap raaste mein khaa lena…..sir if she is hungry during your practice, aap pareshaan ho jaayenge." Teddy reasoned.

"Ok..Ok…whatever." Armaan shrug his shoulders and walked to his room to get his sports bag.

"Uncle…can we buy coloring pencils and a pad on the way?" Rhea followed him to his room and asked.

Armaan turned around and sighed, "now what? Coloring pencils? Kyun?"

"I can draw when you practice…..I love to draw…..please please uncle," she made an innocent face again, a face Armaan had become familiar with and would have to get accustomed to as each time she pouted soulfully, something in his heart twinged a bit and gave in to her demands easily.

On the way, to Armaan's dismay, Rhea relished her omelette and wiped her greasy fingers on the creamy leather seats of his brand new Lexus, he had just been awarded for being the man-of-the-series in Australia.

"RHEA!" He yelled as he saw the greasy finger prints on the seat, "yeh…yeh…urghhh!" He did not want to bump his new car into something, so had to keep his eye on the road. Frustrated and angry, he just gave her his sweat shirt he had tied around his neck, "here wipe your hands with this!"

"Lekin uncle….apki sweat shirt gandi ho jaayegi," she looked up at him with wide eyes.

"Ho jaane do!" Is all he could muster at that moment as they parked outside a school supplies store.

They purchased the coloring pencils and pads after drawing a lot of attention from the shopkeeper and other shoppers. After having signed numerous autographs and dodged questions about what was Armaan Malik, the vice captain of the Indian Cricket team doing in a children's school supply shop, they finally headed towards the cricket ground.

"Next time….don't bring me shopping OK?" Armaan snapped his fingers at Rhea who was busy checking out her pencils in the box. It was a fancy wooden box with an impressive assortment of color pencils.

"Wow!" She counted, "100 pencils! Thanks uncle…..itna achcha present mujhey aaj tak kisi ne nahin diya….aap kitne achche hain…..mujhey aapke saath shopping karne mein bahut mazaa aaya……aur aapke itne saare fans bhi the wahan…..aap kitne lucky hain uncle.."

Obviously she was oblivious of his frustration at being hounded by the public in the store; instead of arguing with her, he decided to let her enjoy her little gift of color pencils. He recalled the joy he had felt when one of his uncles had first presented him his first real looking cricket bat for his 6th birthday. Perhaps, Rhea felt the same way after the fancy color pencil box. For some inexplicable reason, he did not have the heart to spoil her enthusiasm at that moment and kept driving quietly.

They got off outside the cricket ground and were escorted by a guard through a private gate to avoid throngs of crowd gathered outside the sports arena to catch a glimpse of their favorite cricket stars.

"Uncle….please meri wait karo," Rhea, loaded with a bag with her dance costumes and another shopping bag full of her art supplies tried to match her steps with Armaan's long strides.

"Come on Rhea…we are getting late!" He looked behind impatiently but then stopped once he saw how cumbersome the little eight year old was with her shoulders drooping with the load of bags.

"Give me your stuff Rhea," he took her dance bag and stuffed it in his sports bag, "now let's go." At least, Rhea's tiny leggings, dance shoes and frilly tops with her other girly knick knacks found companionship in Armaan's team jerseys, shorts, sweats, extra pair of socks, sneakers, deodorant and other manly knick knacks.



"Hey Armaan man…..who is this young lady?"

"Armaan yaar…..chupa rustam hai tu? Beti kab se ho gayi teri?"

"What's your name young girl?"

"Oh that's why you are late for practice?"

"Dude! What's up?"

As expected, Armaan and Rhea were bombarded with curious looks and questions from his team mates.

"Relax! Relax! Relax guys!" Armaan gave them all a stern look, "guys….she is Rhea….my niece…..uh…my distant cousin's daughter……she is staying with me for 15 days… NO MORE QUESTIONS! Let's get to the nets boys……where is Atul?"

Rhea was visibly hurt when Armaan addressed her mom as his 'distant cousin.' She remained silent but wished her mother was not a cousin to her dad.

"HI Rhea!" A tall man in his early thirties knelt down and smiled at her, "welcome to our practice."

Rhea's jaw dropped to her knees as she recognized the famous captain of the Indian cricket team in front of her, "aap captain Atul Gavarkar hai na?"

"I guess that's what people call me," he replied humbly, "you know I have a daughter Radhika…..she is nine years old….how old are you?"

"Eight!" She held her fingers in front of his face, "can I have your autograph captain?"

"Sure beta," Atul complied.

From a distance, Armaan observed the friendly banter between Rhea and Atul. He was surprised to see them teasing, laughing and giving each other high fives. Armaan and Atul, although held the top two positions of the team, were always at logger heads and barely spoke to each other on and off the field. Speculations about their ego clashes had always provided fodder to the hungry journalists. Well, there is no smoke without fire, and so was the case with the two titans. Atul had tried his best to keep cordial relations with his vice captain, but Armaan had always shunned his advances, and preferred to ignore the captain as much as he could. Most of the other players were aware of their rivalry, but preferred to stay away from any controversies. If Atul was 'God' for them, Armaan was the 'dashing young star' and future of their team, so instead of taking sides, they all pretended that everything was fine between the two men. Armaan was perceived as an arrogant man by his team mates, but much needed on the team as he was the batting star, the man whose bat could shoot fours and sixes so effortlessly, that the speed bowlers of Australia and England shuddered the moment he descended on the pitch.

"Rhea!" Armaan approached them, "why don't you sit on the benches and watch us….or do your coloring etc…..we need to practice."

"Bye Atul uncle," Rhea placed her arms around Atul's neck and kissed him, "thanks for the autograph."

Armaan felt another twinge in his heart as he saw the camaraderie and comfort level between Atul and his daughter.

"Cute girl," Atul smiled, "my daughter would love to play with her….kab tak hai Rhea tumhare saath?"

"15 days…..but she will be busy at home….and her dance classes." Armaan interjected, "I don't know if she will have time to play with your daughter."

"Koi baat nahin," Atul chuckled, "my wife and Radhika are coming to Delhi from Mumbai tomorrow…..I am sure we can find some time for the girls to hang out together….maybe I will bring her here during our practice." Atul's mind was hoping that perhaps the two girls could help thaw the ice between him and Armaan.

"Ok…we will see," Armaan replied curtly and jogged away to warm up before net practice.

Rhea had a great time watching all the men exercise, jog, practice catch, fielding, batting and bowling. She clapped each time someone caught a difficult ball, or hit the ball hard to fly over the nets. When the players took rest in between the nets, she ran and brought their cold water bottles to them and even massaged their shoulders or head with her tiny hands.

In a nutshell, within a few hours, she had managed to become the most popular person on the field. She even drew caricatures of the players with smiling faces and bats or balls in their hands. Each picture was 'autographed' by Rhea Singh and presented to each player. They all obliged her and even carried her on piggy back rides in between their practices. Armaan glanced at each activity from the corner of his eyes. They all seem to like Rhea better than they liked him he thought.

For some strange reason, he did not mind sharing the limelight with his own daughter. In fact he was proud that his own flesh and blood (at least so far that's what he was assuming unless Muskaan's investigation proved otherwise) had the same charisma as he did- she could be a star one day just like he was.

Around 2.30 in the afternoon, Rhea ran to Armaan and whispered in his ear, "uncle….meri dance practice."

"Oh," he looked at his watch, "Oh sh**! %@*@! @@&&$#!" He let out a series of four letter gems from his mouth.

Rhea closed her ears, pretending to not hear those pearls from her father's mouth.

"Let's go!" He picked his stuff and held Rhea's hand. For some reason, he was afraid to reach the dance class late. He did not want judge Riddhima to give him another lecture on how-important-it-is-to-bring-Rhea-on-time-for-her-dance-class. Quickly, he washed his face, dabbed tons of deodorant and after shave lotion on himself to mask the sweaty odor from his body before he met the strict dance teacher. Why should he care, he thought, "wo khud tho itni frumpy hai…..pata nahin kabhie sheeshe mein apna chehra bhi dekhti bhi hai ya nahin….anyways….jo bhi ho…...I need to smell good….kahin ispar bhi lecture na dena shuru kar de….." He muttered some swear words again and walked out of the locker room.



"Rhea….are you sure we are at the right place?" Armaan wondered as they ascended the narrow and curvy stairwell to the dance studio on the second floor.

"Yes we are uncle…..aapko address tho diya tha maine."

"Yeh Anjali kaun hai?"

"Dance studio ki owner…..lekin bahut khadoos hai," Rhea scrunched her nose.

"Khadoos hai?" Armaan raised his eyebrow, "tumhari Riddhima aunty se zyaada tho nahin ho sakti."

"Nahin uncle….Riddhima aunty tho bahut achchi hain…..main yahan dance sirf unki wajah se seekhti hoon…..Anjali tho daayan hai!" She whispered loudly.

Armaan sighed and closed his eyes, "Oh God…..I hope I don't ever have to come here again…..agar isey Riddhima sweet lagti hai tho na jaane Anjali kitni badhi chudail hogi?"

Armaan and Rhea reached the studio and were instructed to wait in the lobby as the previous dance class was running a bit behind.

Rhea ran to the observation window separating the dance studio and the lobby. Intently, she watched the adult dance group practice their steps for the upcoming dance competition. She waved at Riddhima aunty, who waved back and flashed her charming smile at Rhea.

A curious Armaan walked to the window to see who was Rhea waving to?

There were about 6 couples dancing and swaying to a song. He squint his eyes and tried to recognize any of the faces. There was a couple on one end and they seemed to be leading the group. The woman caught his attention- very slender, dressed in black tights, a sleeveless t-shirt and a narrow waist writhed and twirled like a mermaid in and out of the man's arms. Her thick long hair was tied up in a pony tail, but a few tendrils covered her forehead and face as she swiveled like an enchantress. The man was of average height, but was well built and covered with tattoos on both arms. Dressed in a vest and sweat pants, he picked the woman in black effortlessly and gyrated with her as the song continued.

Song: 'Sholon si' from 'Shabd'

(KSG's performance in JDJ)

Sholon si sholon si
tere ankhon ki yeh roshni
kiske liye hai kiske liye hai
chandni chandni, tere chere ki yeh chandni
kiske liye hai kiske liye hai
tera muskurana nazar yun jhukana
tera muskurana nazar yun jhukana
mere liye hai bas mere liye hai

Armaan tried to focus on the woman's face but could not see her features clearly. He remembered that he had taken his contact lenses off while washing his face in the locker room. His sports bag lay on the chair in the lobby as Rhea's dance clothes were still in it. Quickly, he took his pair of emergency glasses out and put them on. He was dying to see the face of the woman in black. Something about her was very captivating and there was no way he would leave this dance studio without seeing who she was.

sholon si sholon si
tere ankhon ki yeh roshni
kiske liye hai kiske liye hai
chandni chandni tere chere ki yeh chandini
kiske liye hai kiske liye hai
samjho mera joh ishara hai
joh bhi hai mera woh tumhara hai
samjho mera joh ishara hai
joh bhi hai mera woh tumhara hai
lehar mein koi hoon khoyi
manzil toh hai tu kinara hai
yeh meri adayaein yeh meri wafaein
yeh meri adayaein yeh meri wafaein
tujhko pata hai sabh tere liye hai
sholon si sholon si
meri ankhon ki yeh roshni
tere liye hai tere liye hai
chandni chandni mere chere ki yeh chandni
tere liye hai tere liye hai

Armaan put his old nerdy looking glasses on and adjusted them on his nose.

He was shocked at what he saw. Even if he had forgotten how she looked from their only meeting in his apartment lobby yesterday, he could never forget that smile.

It was her! The enchantress, the mermaid with the most curvaceous body and sensuous moves on the dance floor was none other than the khadoos dance teacher herself! Armaan was blown away; she looked so different from what he remembered of her from last night. He had seen a lot of beautiful women in his life, but none as beautiful.

She had no makeup on just like last night, but without glasses her face radiated glow, without the long cotton kurti, each feminine curve of her body was accentuated by her outfit and her daring moves on the dance floor made her look like a different woman all together.

haske dikha do deewane ko
joh ho raha hai ho jane do
haske dikha do deewane ko
joh ho raha hai ho jane do
dil ke uljhan zubaan pe
ati hai toh aajane do
yeh hoton ki narmi yeh sanson ki garmi
yeh hoton ki narmi yeh sanson ki garmi
mere liye hai bas mere liye hai
sholon si sholon si
teri ankhon ki yeh roshni
kiske liye hai kiske liye hai
chandni chandni tere chere ki yeh chandni
kiske liye hai kiske liye hai
tera muskurana nazar yun jhukana
tera muskurana nazar yun jhukana
mere liye hai bas mere liye hai

The music stopped and all the dancers clapped and cheered for each other after another wonderful rehearsal.

His gaze transfixed on Riddhima's face, Armaan stood at the window motionless and mesmerized. And then, she undid her long hair and wiped the sweat off her long and beautiful neck with a towel. A deep flush spread over his face and neck as he saw the pulse fluttering at her slender throat partially hidden under a shroud of hair…….

…to be contd…..


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