Saturday, 6 July 2019

part 22 : The Green Blue Hues


His eyes closed right after a second he opened them; the sharp light in the room was blinding him and try as he might, he couldn't open his eyes for the next few seconds. He sat up in bed with his eyes still closed, then rubbed them slightly and opened them, yawning loudly. His vision blurred and then adjusted to the light, and he saw the room basking in the sunlight directed right into his room from the open window. He stretched himself and yawned again, then looked on the other side of the bed, which was empty and unmade. Wondering why Riddhima had woken up so early in the morning, unlike everyday, he jumbled out of his bed and walked over to the bathroom, knocked once and when he didn't get a reply, he got in.

After a refreshing shower, Armaan walked downstairs to see the hall still empty. It was only 8 in the morning, and as everyone had taken an off from the office and colleges for the wedding functions would start the next day, thus he concluded that everyone must be sleeping. Grabbing an apple from the bowl, he walked out of the house in search of Riddhima. He hadn't been able to talk to her when he had gotten back home last night, as she had been sleeping and he didn't want to disturb her. First, he had to talk to her about the whole wedding issue and how they were going to tell everyone the truth. Then, he had to ask her about yesterday; for he had noticed that something was bugging her and that's why she was pissed off, and he wanted to know what it was.


The fresh, cool wind of the early morn hit him as he walked out into the garden, and he stopped in his tracks as he saw Riddhima. She was sitting in the corner of the garden, with her knees held up to her chin and her arms around them. She was still dressed in her ratty old night shirt and loose pajamas, and had her hair up in a messy pony tail, and there was not a trace of make up on her face. Yet she looked so beautiful and serene, that Armaan couldn't help but stand there perfectly motionless and look at her. After a few moments, he walked over to her and plopped himself down on the grass. Riddhima looked at him, surprised.

"You up so early?", she asked, her eyes questioning him.

"Yeah…like you…couldn't sleep?," he asked, concerned, for she usually slept very well.

"Hmmm….where were you last night?", in a casual tone she asked him, even though she had never asked about his whereabouts before. Armaan looked at her, slightly surprised at the unusual question but smiled at her.

"Nowhere yaar…just hanging around…you know…"

Riddhima nodded back, distractedly and turned her face, staring at the bed of flowers before her. Armaan stared at him, he couldn't figure out for his life what was wrong with her. After a few minutes of silence, he decided to speak up.

"So…you going to tell me or what?"

Riddhima looked up at him, slightly confused.

"Tell you what?"

"Why you prefer staring at a bed of boring old roses rather than talk to me and tell me what's wrong", came the reply, readily.


"What? Nothing's wrong Armaan….," she said, tugging at the grass near her rather than look up into his eyes.

"And you are the worst liar in the world." Riddhima looked up at him with a cocked eyebrow. "Come on Ragz, you cant lie to me…even if you want to…so tell me, what's wrong?"
"I said nothing's wrong Armaan…I just….I am missing home," she said, again turning away from him.

Armaan frowned. She was definitely lying to him, that he could tell, but he couldn't figure out why she was. Never before had she ever lied to him, or ever hidden anything from him.

"Are you sure that's all?", he asked again.

Riddhima smiled and looked at him, then took his hand in hers.

"Yes Armaan…I am sure…stop acting like I am dying, I am not…," she giggled at her own lame joke and Armaan smiled in spite of himself.

"And anyways, I will be fine by evening…today's the…what you call it…sangeet, right?" She asked, her spirits slightly lifted by the prospect of a good evening.

"Ya…!! Listen Ragz, I still feel you are hiding something from me," Armaan implored again.

Riddhima sighed and rolled her eyes, then looked at him straight in the eye and squeezed his hand.

"Armaan, have I ever hidden anything from you?" He shook his head. "Ever lied to you?". Shake again. "Then why would I do it now….i promise baba, there's nothing, okay? I am just, a little homesick…that's it!!". Then, looking at Armaan's still slightly miffed expression, she decided to tease him. "Oh, and I am dying to get drunk…believe me, all this No Drinking thing, it makes me feel…like…like…(searching for a word) celibate!!"..

Armaan looked at her, surprised, a hint of a smile lurking at his lips.

"Whaaaaat?" , in a confused tone.

"Ya…you know…like 'celibate' celibate….like, 'ooh-i-see-perfect-eye-candy-I-jus- cant-take-my eyes-off-but-I-am-binded-by-the-celibacy-act-to-not-even-so-much-so-as-touch-him' kind of celibate…." She explained, using her hands and eyes to express her emotions. "That's how I feel…like I can SEE the booze and um dying to have it, but I don't even look at it cuz I dun trust myself to keep away….so….you see, celibacy", she concluded, winking at him.

Armaan listened to her whole explanation and then threw back his head and laughed fully from his heart. There were things this girl could say just out of the blue and they would be the most hilarious he had ever head. Ruffling her hair, he tugged in her in to a one sided warm hug.

"God you nutter…!! I will never stop wondering where do you come up with that kinda stuff…!! Ragz…!!" He started laughing again, and Riddhima joined in. After some time, they both were slightly breathless from all that laughing.

"Okay quit it Mallik…it wasn't THAT funny…!!" Riddhima glared at him when he didn't stop laughing way after she did.

"It was…the whole 'celibacy' thing…you know, THAT's what been missing all these days," he said, ruffling her hair slightly.

"What??I don't get you!" she stated, looking at him in a confused manner.

"See, since we have landed in India, I haven't had the chance to spend quality time with you…what with the wedding and all….and all this time I have been wondering what I have been missing out on…now I realize, its your stupid nonsensical rambling I miss!" he said, pulling his knees up to his chin as the cold wind blew.

"Muchos gracias for that compliment, Mr. Mallik," she replied sarcastically, rolling her eyes.

Armaan just grinned back; his trademark boyish grin that could melt Riddhima's heart anytime. She smiled back at him, and just then the wind blew with a little more fervor. Armaan missed a heartbeat as he saw her; sitting in her old night dress on the green grass, looking beyond at the flowers; she looked absolutely adorable with her disheveled hair, and as she put her hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn, Armaan felt his arms rising of their own accord towards her. Riddhima was surprised to find Armaan suddenly pulling her into a warm hug; his arms wound around her waist securely and he buried his head in her hair. Riddhima's hands stopped in mid-air in the act of hugging him back.

It wasn't the first time they were hugging each other, but Riddhima felt a different, new feeling when Armaan took her in his arms this time. The sensuous way with which he had pulled her towards him, the protective manner of his arms around her, the absolutely inexplicable way in which his breath on her neck was driving her crazy. Riddhima closed her eyes and sighed, as she felt Armaan retreat, his hand ruffling her hair playfully. She reprimanded herself immediately; she was thinking too much into the matter, Armaan was giving her a platonic hug and she had been thinking otherwise.

Before he got carried away with the way his mind was telling him to, Armaan retreated from the hug. He didn't know why he had hugged her just like that, and there had definitely been a new feel to it. He could swear he had even heard background music, and yet he couldn't decipher the puzzle his mind was creating for him. What was it that was drawing him towards Riddhima, going ahead with physical acts like these just out of the blue.

Riddhima got back to her senses when she felt Armaan's eyes staring at her, and she cleared her throat. "Ummm…what was that for?", she asked, a little conscientiously.

"Ummm…just like that…I felt I hadn't hugged you in long…," Armaan came up with the most random thing that popped into his mind at the moment, then kicking himself for the obviousness of his lie, he quickly got up and stretched himself. "Hey…come on, lets get inside....its getting cold, and um sure you haven't eaten!"

Riddhima smiled and nodded, then gave her hand in his as he yanked her to stand up and they both walked inside, making small talk, each lost in an internal conversation going on.

…………………………………………………………………….

By afternoon, the house was bustling with activity. The function of sangeet was to take place in the evening, and as yet no preparations had been done. While servants were being ordered to decorate the place properly, supervised by Divya, Padma was busy in monitoring the food department and getting everything ready for the evening. She had just gotten into the kitchen and was instructing the cooks on what to prepare when Armaan came from behind and shook her, with a loud squeamish sound. So caught unawares was she that she let out a loud scream and jumped, and when she turned to see who was responsible for this prank, she found Armaan laughing like a maniac.

"Armaaaaaan!!! Behave yourself…!!," she said, throwing him a dirty look.

"Wohoo-hoo…reellaaaax Mom…I was just kidding…chill!!," he said, throwing his hands up in the air and making a serious face and then, when Padma just rolled her eyes and looked away, he laughed and put an arm around her.

"Wese Mom, yeh apne aur apki bahoo ne koi teaming ki hai kia? Donon dialogues bhi same maarti ho!" he asked, winking at her slightly as Padma finally smiled.

"Tumhari sharartain khatam jo nee hoti….ab to shadi-shuda ho gaye ho…please grow up Armaan!!", she said, sighing as she patted his cheek lightly.

"Mom shadi hi hui hai na….aur wese bhi Riddhima jo hai na, uske saath reh ker koi bachpana chor hi nahi sakta…she's such a kid you know….!", Armaan smiled, more to himself as he talked about her.

Just then, the object of his affections walked into the kitchen, wearing an electric blue shalwar kameezz and looking gorgeous. As soon as she entered, Armaan winked at Padma and let out a whistle. Riddhima stopped in her tracks and looked at him, as he stared at her up and down and whistled. She blushed a crimson color, and just ignoring him, walked over to Padma.

"Auntie…ummm…D was saying you need to send for more flowers and streamers," she said, her gaze not wavering once from Padma's face.

Padma nodded and smiled, and as she turned to give the recent instruction to a servant, Armaan covered the distance between himself and Riddhima and stood right behind her, her back to his chest. Bending down slightly so that his mouth lingered a few inches above her ear lobe, he slightly whispered, "You look beautiful!".

Riddhima was startled for a second, and her head quipped back to see him standing there, his arms folded, giving him the trademark grinned. She smiled of her own accord and then blushed slightly at his comment. Just then, Padma turned to both of them.

"Ab tum donon yahan kyun kharray ho…jao, ja ker kuch kaam kero…umm, Riddhima beta, Da-jee tumse kuch baat kerna chahte thay…to who tumhain apne kamre main bulaa rahay thay…!!", saying that, she went out of the kitchen to overlook the work of the servants in the hall.

Riddhima rounded back to Armaan, who was standing there with matching expressions as hers, those of confusion and worry.

"Why does Da-jee want to talk to me?," she mumbled, ever so slightly.

"I dunno….please God, ab koi nayi problem na kharri ker dein…come on lets go, I will come with you!," he said, as she nodded back and they both walked out of the kitchen.

As they were ascending the stairs, Armaan was called upon by his father to run some errand. He looked tentatively at Riddhima, who gave him a reassuring nod to go ahead and then walked upstairs to Da-jee's room herself.

……………………………………………………..

" Beta, I know tum bahir videsh main palli bhari ho, tumhain humari sanskriti samajhne main mushkil ho rai ho gi….aur humare rasmo riwaj, shayed tum in sab se bhi waqif nahi ho…..

Seated on the sofa in the huge room that had as formidable a look as Da-jee himself did, Riddhima gulped slightly. She had been sitting here for the past 10 minutes, and had waited for the better half of the first five as Da-jee was busy with the pooja he was doing in front of the little temple-like setting in the corner of their room. Done with that, he had come and sat down next to her, and since then, had been talking in such complicated Hindi that she couldn't grasp one word of it. Just then, Bey-jee walked out of the changing room, smiling as her eyes landed on Riddhima. Fortunately, she had heard the last sentence Daa-jee had spoken and thus decided to intervene.

Seating herself next to Da-jee, she smiled at Riddhima again and then looked over at her husband. "Kia ap bhi…itni mushkil Hindi boleinge to uss bechari ko kuch samajh nee ayega…"

Riddhima took a sigh of relief, as finally Da-jee gave a glimmer of a smile and then looking at her, said, "Beta, main jo kehne ki koshish ker raha hun..woh yeh hai…ke ab tum humari bahu ho, aur tumhain hi iss family ko aggay le ker chalna hai…"

Riddhima nodded, as she understood what he was saying, but she was still struggling to understand where this conversation was headed to.

"Riddhima, tum humari beti jaisi ho…iss liye Armaan se baat kern eke baad, humain laga ke humain tum se khud baat kerni chahiye…!," Bey-jee said, as she patted her cheek lightly. Riddhima gave a courteous smile but looked at her, a little confused. "Kaunsi baat, Bey-jee?"

"Arey, Armaan ne tumhain bataya nahi? Humne to kal hi uss se baat confirm ker lit hi…," Da-jee asked again.

While Riddhima was trying to figure out what they were talking about, Da-jee and Bey-jee shared a side glance, a conspiring look that confirmed the success of their plan. Bey-jee cleared her throat and Riddhima looked back at her.

"Dekho beta…tum donon ne court main shadi ker li, humne maan lia…par log tarah tarah ki baatain kerte hain….iss liye hum soch rahay thay ke tum donon ki shadi bhi ker di jaye, sab reet-o-riwaj ke saath…takkay kisi ko baat kerne ka mauqa na milley."

Riddhima's eyes widened in surprise as the meaning of their words set in. "You mean…proper shadi?," she blurted out before she could control herself. Da-jee nodded back at her while Bey-jee laughed lightly.

Riddhima stared in horror at them, as her mind struggled to find an answer for their question as soon as she could. There were a million things running in her mind yet, she couldn't understand what she was supposed to say to this. She couldn't get married to him in the proper way because they weren't actually married and had been lying? Or that the whole thing was taking the lie too far? There wasn't one sane thought in her mind as she saw their expectant looks on her face, waiting for an answer.

………………………………………………………..

She flung her arms around his neck, knocking all the air out of him as she hung on excitedly, screaming non-stop chatter into his ears and getting stared at by the people around them. He grinned uneasily and took hold of her hands to retreat them from around his neck, and when she finally pulled out of the hug, he breathed thankfully. Looking at her twinkling eyes and the wide grin on her face, Rahul smiled too and then ruffled her hair.

"You know Muski, there's a way of hugging people that WON'T crush their ribs and knock all the air out them, and still is considered a 'warm' hug," he said, winking at her as she rolled her eyes.

"YOU, Rahul Grewal, are the most unthankful and ungracious person on this planet….I don't know what God was thinking when He paired us up!," Muskaan retorted, steering the trolley out of the airport, as Rahul followed.

"Umm…maybe that we look deliciously good together?," Rahul replied, grinning as Muskaan turned and shot him a deadly glare. "Come on Muski, you cant possibly be all over me and then curse the life out of me the very next moment….!!"

"Oh, of course I can Rahul…its one of the things I learnt by just being in love with an insensitive excuse of a human!....Now, where's that car of yours?" she asked commandingly, as she turned to him, standing in the parking lot of the airport.

"Umm, I am sorry sweetheart, but I don't happen to own cars in all the countries I land up in…Armaan's here, he's parking the car somewhere," Rahul said, smiling at her as he turned to look for a familiar car.

"Oh okay…! By the way, how's Ridzi..? I missed her so much!," Muskaan implored, as they stood waiting for Armaan.

"Aah, she's fine…I just gave her a piece of my mind last night…shouldn't have, um such a nutcase!," he said, leaning against the railing.

"You did? What for..?," Muskaan asked, concerned, for Rahul rarely got pissed off at anyone, and when he did, it was something major.

"Umm…long story…you know about the whole Armaan-Riddhima married couple fiasco, right?," Muskaan nodded. "Well, they have been acting so convincingly, even I was surprised for a minute, I actually thought they had gone ahead and got married. And then I just, you knew…burst over Ridzi…Muskaan, they even sleep in the same room…on the same bed!!!" Rahul grumbled, as he folded his arms and looked at her sheepishly.

Muskaan smiled to herself and shook her head, Rahul was such a kid sometimes. "Yeah Rahul, so what? They are best friends, Armaan literally brought Riddhima up from a 17 year old nutcase to a 21 year old sensible, mature girl…I think, he has more right over her than any of us…and maybe she's doing all that to pay him back for all he's done for her!!," Muskaan tried to pacify him.

"No Muski, that's the point. You don't do stuff like that, support your friend in a lie like that just for the sake of 'paying them back'. This is something more, I cant figure out…but Riddhima is not only doing this for her best friend." He ended his argument with the knowing look on his face, which Muskaan studied for some seconds and then rolled her eyes.

"For the love of God, Rahul, DON'T pull the 'they love each other' crap on me again. They are as platonic as friends can be…there's nothing between them!!"

"We will see…aaah, here he is…!!" Rahul ended the discussion as Armaan walked over towards them, a look of worry on his face. He smiled as he saw Muskaan and hugged her tightly.

"Hey…um so glad you could make it!!," he said, ruffling her tightly.

"yeah yeah, I missed you too…now leave me before I die of suffocation!," Muskaan giggled as Armaan pulled out of the hug. "So, how's it going, married man?" she winked at him.

Armaan grinned at her and then sighed, turned to Rahul with a look of worry.

"Hey, what's wrong Armaan? Everything alright?," Rahul asked, instantly aware of something troubling him.

"Ummm…yeah…D just called, saying some stupid thing about…!" he halted, and then muttered a low, 'oh my God!,' , more to himself as the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle finally set it. He couldn't believe what had just happened.

He had just talked to Divya over the phone, who had called him all excited and perked up. She had instructed him to pick Shubhankar's sherwani for the wedding on the way back, and then had said, in a naughty manner, that he should get one for himself too. Armaan ad been too distracted in parking to understand the full meaning of her words, and now when he finally did, he was distraught.

On the way back, Rahul and Muskaan pestered him with questions about what had happened but he just shushed them saying nothing was wrong and he had just remembered some important work to do. He was too confused to answer anything right now; did D's comment mean Riddhima had said yes? Meaning Da-jee and Bey-jee had talked to her themselves regarding the whole marriage issue and she had agreed? Without even talking to him, or even asking him? He had been too busy the whole day to have talked to her about this issue, and had been keeping it for the night, but his grandparents had definitely gone ahead and done the deed themselves. If this meant she had said yes, what the hell was she thinking…?

…………………………………………………………………

"I cant believe it Bhai…you are getting married…AGAIN!!!," Aditi laughed loudly as Armaan put a hand through his hair. He had dropped off Rahul and Muskaan at home, and even before he could go inside the house, Aditi and Divya had come rushing out and jumped into the car, instructing him to take them to the tailor, so they could all go and collect the sherwani.

Armaan cursed under his breath, for all he had wanted to do was to go inside and clear out things with Riddhima, but he was being given no chance to talk to her.

"Yeah umm…hold on a second…," he replied to Aditi distractedly as he dialed Riddhima's number. I really need to talk to you Ragz, come on…pick up the phone…, he murmured under his breath.

When no one picked up after a long time, he cut the call and sighed loudly. Aditi and Divya, who had been busy talking, turned to him.

"So Armaan…tu ne Riddhima ko manaya kese? Mujhe to laga tha who yeh shadi waghera ki rasmo ke liye kabhi nahi mannay gi…!" Divya implored, as Armaan drove on silently.

"Arey manti kesi nahi D, she's his wife!! Aur bhai ka hukam to…how do u say it..sarr ankhon per…kyun Bhai?," she winked at him and both his sisters laughed at the digs they kept taking at him all through the ride. When they reached the tailor, Armaan told them to go ahead while he waited in the car. While they were gone, he thought over everything.

How could Riddhima just agree like that? Didn't she understand the implications of the whole act, the intensity their lie would get if they just went ahead with it? More importantly, didn't she realize that this act would change the menaing of their relationship, it wasn't just a 'wedding', it was actually getting married to each other for the rest of their lives. They had never even thought of it, let alone do it. They were best friends, for God's sake, what the hell was she agreeing to? Hitting the steering with his hand, he closed his eyes and rested his head against the head-rest on the seat as her cell did not respond for the umpteenth time.

………………………………………………….

"What the hell are you doing Riddhima?," Muskaan asked her, her tone firm and strict as she looked at her best friend sitting before her.

They were sitting in Riddhima's room, and Riddhima was seated before her on the bed, quietly pleating Rhea's hair as Muskaan paced over the room. She had just told her that Armaan's grandparents had made her agree to the whole wedding act, because she had been too speechless to say anything.

"Muski, for the last time…um not doing this for myself, um doing this for Armaan!," Riddhima replied, not even looking up from Rhea's hair.

"And what if Armaan doesn't agree? What are you gonna do then?," Muskaan asked again.

This time, Riddhima remained quiet. She had no answer to that, because she hadn't even thought about it. She didn't know why she ha agreed to it, why her mind had allowed her to smile at Da-jee and nod, saying she was ready to go ahead with the whole wedding if that's what they wanted. True, she couldn't say no to those absolutely adorable grandparents of his, but she had not thought of how badly they would be hurt if they got to know the truth. The truth that she and Armaan were not married, they were just best friends. They truth that if Armaan disagreed, they would throw her out of the house. The truth that Armaan's disapproval to the whole deal would mean her returning back to London with her sibs, and Armaan staying back in Mumbai, for his parents had made it very clear that they wanted him to stay in India from now on. That would mean no Armaan in her life, any more. And that truth, that thought was so excruciatingly painful that she didn't even dare think about it. He will agree, she thought to herself.

"He will agree….he's the one who came up with this lie, right? He's gonna agree, I know! Come on Muski, its not that big a deal…its just a wedding," she said, convincingly, more for herself then for Muskaan.

Muskaan sighed and came to sit in front of her. Taking hold of her hand, she began again in a calm voice. "Look Riddhima…this whole thing, its not a joke okay? Its about you guys, his family…your lives..! Its not 'just a wedding' Ridzi…its about marriage, and vows…and…."

Riddhima cut her in between. "Muskaan…honey, I know what um doing…I have said yes to them, now I cant go back on it!," she said, running a hand frustratingly through her hair. "Let me talk to Armaan about it…."

"Which is the first thing you should have done!," came a voice, interrupting both of them. As both of them turned to look, they saw him standing there, his arms folded, looking straight at Riddhima. Armaan.



................................................................
kiran

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