Thursday, 26 December 2019

Part 6 AR FF : "and then she said it"

part 6. Match me, if you can!

"How is Riddhima mom?" I asked sitting beside Rahul on the sofa where he and mom had been enjoying their morning coffee. Unlike me, Rahul usually follows the principle of 'Early to bed and early to rise' when he is home. I bet he does that inorder to please mom though. I had never seen him wake up that early when we were in Hyderabad, except for the days when he had an early morning shift.

"I am fine." Came the irritated reply. I turned back and found Riddhima coming to the living room with two mugs of coffee. She handed me one and sat beside mom, her face adorned with a frown. Rahul and I chuckled while mom laughed softly.

Now you must be wondering why Riddhima was irritated, which is so unlikely of her showing it. So let me clear it.

The last two days passed by fast. Mom lodged a complaint against Shekar, with the management after coming to know what had happened. Riddhima, as usual was against that. But I was adamant that we go ahead with the case and Rahul sided with me. Mom was a little apprehensive whether Riddhima would open her mouth infront of the Disciplinary Committee but I had my own ways of dealing with Riddhima.



On the day of committee hearing, Riddhima looked at us for one last time pleading for a no. So I used my not so pleasant technique to get her do it. I glared at her, frowning and bingo, she did it. Well, if she is scared of me, I might as well use it. So as we had planned for, his campus offers had been retracted back and he was suspended for the whole trimester. I was hell bent on getting him rusticated though.

Witnessing the extent to which she had cried in my arms, I was scared if Riddhima would go back to her shell. But I didn't know what mom had talked to her for Rahul and I were surprised at her normal behavior. She was more or less the usual shy and nervous Riddhima the next morning. Nevertheless, we were happy for her and mom was relieved.

Now coming to the reason for her irritation, it was the strategy formulated by Mrs. Raji Arvind Mallik, simply my mom, to help Riddhima deal with the incident. Mom took leave for the next two days aswell and she along with Rahul and me left no stones unturned in pampering Riddhima, making sure that she wipes the horrible incident from her mind. We took her to movies, shopping, parks and restaurants. However she being herself, protested on wasting so much money on her but we, the Malliks were adamant. Well, Rahul might be termed as Mallik as well, though he was not born in our family; he holds the same position as I do.

You might be wondering what was the need to get irritated in this. Well, my readers, you were right till the point. But let me tell you what happened after that.

Somehow Muski came to know of the mishap. I bet Rahul had told her. I am sure, my readers, that there was something going on between Muski and Rahul. For everything that happens at home reaches Muski. Not that I am complaining but was irritated as to why Rahul keeps it a secret. I am sure they talk in the night when I was asleep. I tried spying on Rahul a couple of times when we were in Hyderabad. But every time I ended up asleep. Well, knowing Rahul, he sometimes suffers with inferiority complex at having termed as an orphan. Usually mom takes utmost care of this when he attends our family functions making sure he wouldn't come across the situation wherein he had to feel out of the place. I wonder whether that's holding him back. I am sure he would never confess that in both the family unless Muski herself blurts it out. And knowing Muski, that would be too soon for she couldn't handle her vocal abilities well.

So now where was I? Yeah, when Muski came to know about the incident, she offered her generous help. By then mom, Rahul and I were aware of the gradually evaporating patience of Riddhima. But knowing her well, we kept mum as we know she would never take her frustration out. We might as well use that. So we asked Muski to go ahead with her generous help. And to Riddhima's horror, she told us she wanted to take her to a spa clinic, where she got the appointment for complete grooming of Riddhima.

Riddhima pleaded us to no end to let her not to go there but mom was adamant and so were we. Then we got to see a complete new side of Riddhima. I guess mom was aware of that, so she wasn't perturbed but after what had happened Rahul and I were staring at her with our mouths literally wide open.

She threatened mom that she wouldn't talk to her first. When that didn't work, she even warned us she would vacate the house. I even laughed at her threat. Really, she thought we would believe her? She was the one who cried coming to me not to chuck her out. And then she started satyagrah at home till Muski turned up to drag her. She then fought with Muski and mom while Rahul and I enjoyed the scene. I guess Muski and mom were used to her tactics for they stood grounded. Finally she gave up and went to the clinic with Muski, only after stomping her foot against the sofa in the living room.

Later mom told us about all her naughty tactics in the last one month when she got comfortable with her. I was surprised at knowing she had a streak of naughtiness in her. But then everyone has that. Well, I guess Riddhima chose to keep it hidden. 'It's during some special situations like these, we get to have a glance at a real Riddhima.' Mom had told us. That's when I understood Riddhima a bit more. She is afterall a young lady, barely a couple of years younger to me. She might have had many dreams and aspiration locked up in her heart that she preferred not to expose.

Well, I was happy that Riddhima was getting comfortable in our presence. Unlike the Riddhima I had met when I came to Bangalore. She is a bit relaxed when I was around. But to my inconvenience she was more relaxed with Rahul. Mom and Rahul laughed at me when I whined about that. 'She told me she was afraid of your anger.' Mom told me. And I couldn't do much about that. Among Rahul and me, I was a bit short-tempered, witty and humored while Rahul was sensitive, calm and strong willed.

Oh yeah, coming back to the real Riddhima, she returned from the clinic in the evening with an absolutely irritated face. She continued her satyagrah the whole evening till dinner. When she tried to skip dinner, I intimidated her into eating and by the look on her face, she wanted to eat me alive. But hello remember, you are scared of me! And since then I had been at the receiving side of her irritation with mom and Rahul chuckling.

As far as I am concerned I didn't mind that as long as Riddhima was comfortable. Well, I myself felt I am going out of my way to keep her comfortable. But I didn't find any answer whenever I found myself asking that. It might be due to the fact that since my birth, I was surrounded by strong headed women, be it mom, Padma aunty or Muski. I didn't get a chance to care of them emotionally. That might be one reason as to why I find that need to make sure she is fine. But is that the sole reason?

"I am not going anywhere today." Riddhima's declaration broke my chain of thoughts. With the previous thoughts still running at the backdrop of my mind, I looked at her. Like me and Rahul, she was still in her night clothes with a sweater. Due to the early morning chillness, her skin was pale with her nose and cheeks slightly pink. And well, she looked cute with her hair tied in a high ponytail on her head. She crossed her legs on the sofa, Indian style and buried her face in the news paper while I found myself still staring at her.

Mom's not so unintentional cough caught my attention and I averted my gaze to Rahul. To my utter embarrassment, he gave me a I-caught-you smirk which led me to bury my head in the magazine that lay on the table. The next moment, I heard Rahul and mom laughing, probably looking at each other, while I closed my eyes sighing. What the hell had I been thinking staring at her and that with these devils beside me?

"Why are you laughing aunty?" Riddhima asked mom.

"Nothing." Mom said smiling. "Armaan had to meet Sanjana today." She added and my head shot up.

"What? Mom? Why?" I asked putting the magazine and my cup of coffee aside. Wasn't she the same girl Padma aunty had told me?

"What why? Padma told me she had talked to her parents and they wanted her to meet you. I didn't have any objection so I told okay." Mom told as a matter of fact.

"Okay? You told them okay without asking me?" I asked not so pleased with that piece of information.

"You agreed for it yourself, praising Padma's match making skills." Mom shot back. Rahul chuckled at this while Riddhima grinned.

"I just agreed. Didn't praise aunty's match making skills." I said imitating mom. I got up from the sofa. "What time I have to meet her?"

"10.30. At the Corner House, Marathahalli." She told smiling. "Take Riddhima and Rahul with you. Also ask Muskaan if she wants to come along."

Great! Why wouldn't Muskaan come if that's at Corner House? That's her favourite hangout place in Bangalore, to enjoy mouth watering ice creams and fast food. Whole gang for my match making!

"But Riddhima doesn't want to come, right?" I asked her hoping atleast one member would reduce.

"No no. I will come." Riddhima said immediately. I tried glaring at her, yet again, but she turned her face away.

"Fine." I muttered and went to my room. To get ready ofcourse!

---------------

"Hie." I stood up from the chair as I saw Sanjana coming towards me. She was slightly different from the photo aunty had shown me before leaving home. But then girls don't look the same in photographs they send for marriage proposals, do they?

"Hie. I am Sanjana." She smiled warmly at me. She looked decent and smart in anarkali suit that hug her body perfectly. She was average in height. May be 5"5" or an inch more. Her complexion fair.

"Armaan Mallik." I said before sitting back on the chair while she sat in the chair opposite to me. The very instant I heard Muskaan giggling from Sanjana's back. The trio sat in the table next to ours facing me. I could see Rahul and Riddhima trying hard to suppress their smiles as well as control Muskaan.

"How are you?" I heard Sanjana's voice and averted my gaze from the trio.

"Fine. Perfect." I said smiling while still glaring at Muskaan whom I could see at the back of Sanjana. "And -- you?"

"Good." She said smiling shyly.

"What shall I get for you?" I asked her.

"Ice-cream. Any flavor is fine with me."

"Fine. I'll b back in a couple of minutes." I told her and went to the menu stand to get us something. While moving there, I signaled Rahul to come along, with my eyes. I am sure Muski would do something if she stays here. It's better to get her out of the place.

"What happened?" Rahul asked grinning at me.

"As if you don't know. I'll punch you saale." I said scowling. I placed an order for an ice cream and a milk shake and waited. "Okay fine. Please don't let Muski do anything stupid. Take her away from here." I whispered into his ear.

"Okay I'll take her. What shall I do with Riddhima?" he asked back.

Is that a question? "Ofcourse, take her along." I said looking back at Sanjana to make sure she wasn't noticing us. "What would Riddhima do here alone?"

"Okay. We'll go the shopping mall beside. Join us when your introduction is done." He said punching me playfully in my abs.

"Rahul, don't leave Riddhima alone." I almost regretted saying the words the moment they escaped my throat. So I took our order and went back to the table where Sanjana was sitting. I didn't dare look back at Rahul. I knew he would have a smirk etched on his face. That was weird, the way I was tempted to take care of her.

"Thanks." Sanjana's voice broke my train of thoughts and I smiled at her politely. From the corner of my eyes, I watched Riddhima and Rahul pulling a reluctant Muskaan away.

"So, what do you do?" I asked her, trying to start a meaningful conversation.

"I am working with Power Solutions here in Bangalore after doing my B.E." She said. She sounded confident which, I had to admit, impressed me.

"Do you want to go for Post Graduation?" I asked her.

"Would you have a problem if I said yes?" She asked back, while I smiled. This girl has a brain, I thought, unlike the previous one I had met. This time I was also impressed with Padma aunty, for her choice.

"No. That would never be a problem." I said. Then there was a silence for complete five minutes. I sat sipping my milk shake looking around while she did the same with her ice-cream. And then we looked at each other and smiled. Then we burst into laughter.

"This is so weird." She remarked after a moment. I nodded. "Have you met girls like this earlier?" she enquired.

"Yeah, a couple of girls." I said.

"Why didn't you like them?" She probed further, while I raised my brows.

"To meet you, I guess." I quipped and she laughed. Harmless flirting is always healthy. Moreover she appeared sportive.

"That's cheeky." She added still smiling. That kind of broke the ice between us. And then we spoke about our professions, about Bangalore, about Hyderabad, about our friends and much more.

She seemed like a good person. Practical minded and ambitious. I know it's early to arrive at a conclusion but it's truly said 'The first impression is the best one.' And with this acquaintance with her, she kind of charmed me, but still I felt something missing.

---------------

It was around 12.30 when she left. Then I called Rahul to find out where they were and joined them. First we went to a nearby restaurant to have lunch and then went to watch a movie. And Muskaan as expected bombarded me with innumerable question regarding our meeting, while Rahul appeared curious to know as well. I let them know bits and pieces of our conversation. The point that caught my attention was Riddhima being unusually quiet, unlike she was in the morning.

Late in the evening after watching a movie, we went to a nearby club on Muski's insistence. I was on wary regarding Riddhima's reaction, but she seemed okay with it. I called mom and informed her we would be late.

After reaching the club, Muski straight away went to the dance floor, while I sent Rahul with her to keep an eye on her. And not so surprisingly, Rahul ran after her.

"You want something?" I asked Riddhima as we sat on the couch.

"Do we get any fruit juices here?" she asked me moving closer a bit. The loud sound wasn't helping us taking.

"I'll check it out." I shouted into her ear and moved towards the bar. She looked around, as if studying the surroundings before looking back at me.

I took a mini tin of beer and a diet coke for her as fruit juices weren't available. "Is this okay with you?" I asked her giving her the coke.

"Thanks." She smiled hesitatingly. "You can join them. I am fine here." She said after a moment, pointing towards Muski and Rahul who were enjoying each other's company.

"No. That's okay. Let them enjoy." I replied sipping my drink. As the time passed, the music grew louder and the crowd increased. I spotted few of my friends from college and joined them once in a while. I tugged Riddhima along with me where ever I went for I was not sure of leaving her alone. She stayed by me all the time; but silent which kind of worried me.

After some time, she left my side and went and sat in the couch in the open lounge. She appeared deep in thought. I joined her after a couple of minutes after bidding bye to my friends.

"Are you fine Riddhima? You appear lost somewhere." I sat in the couch opposite to her. "We will head back if you want."

"That's fine." She replied smiling slightly. "It's just that your world is quite different from mine. I am trying to absorb it all." She added looking at the sky.

It's just a simple sentence but somehow I could read the depth of it. "What is the difference that you found?" I asked her.

She looked at me straight into my eyes before looking away. "Your world is full of life, full of people, full of joy and security." She answered.

"If that's the difference you noted, then you deserve to be in our world." I smiled warmly at her.

"Really?" She asked, surprised, her eyes bigger than usual.

"Really!" I assured her. "Come with me." I said offering her my hand.

"Where?" She asking standing up.

"To our world." I replied. "Let me introduce that to you." And to my surprise she didn't hesitate to come along.

I guided her to the dance floor where Muski had been dancing her heart out. She came to her running when she spotted us approaching them. She pulled her to the center of the dance floor, and Riddhima pulled me along, not letting go of my hand. Rahul followed me forming a perfect chain.

Muskaan, high in her spirits at the loud music, made Riddhima dance to the tunes, while Riddhima obliged reluctantly. Rahul and I stood behind them, guarding them from other guys, laughing as the girls giggled and danced. And to my absolute wonder, I found my eyes darting every now and then towards a dancing Riddhima. I felt good to see her laugh and giggle and enjoy herself. Mom would have been absolutely happy, had she witnessed this.

--------------

It was something around 9, when we reached home. Muski, dead tired after her dancing marathon, headed straight to her room to sleep. When we entered our home, I found Padma aunty talking with mom, I am sure about Sanjana and me.

"Hie mom, hie aunty." I greeted them and so did Rahul and Riddhima.

"Where is Muskaan?" Aunty asked us while Rahul and I settled on the bean bags with Riddhima beside mom.

"In her room. She was tired." Riddhima answered that.

"Go and have shower. You all smell awful." Mom remarked twisting her nose. As if everyone else would smell pleasantly after dancing for almost two hours! Anyhow, we headed towards our respective rooms.

"Armaan, come down quickly. I want to talk to you." I heard aunty's voice and I knew it had to be about Sanjana. I myself haven't come to a conclusion about it.

Rahul slumped himself on the bed the moment we entered our room. "It was an eventful day." He sighed. It indeed was, for quite a many reasons. I took a towel and my night clothes and went to the washroom.

"How was she?" Rahul asked me when I stepped out of the washroom ruffling my wet hair. He was already dressed in kurta and pyjama. He must have used another washroom, I thought.

"She was fine." I answered.

"Only fine?" He probed further, lying on the bed with his hands folded beneath his head.

"Okay, she was good." I replied back and threw the towel on his face when I noticed him grinning.

I sighed and closed my eyes, taking a deep breath before moving downstairs with Rahul following me. Riddhima was already down, in her night clothes and a sweater, sitting beside mom. We went and took our seats. With aunty and mom looking at me curiously, I somehow felt as if I was sitting for a viva session.

"So?" Aunty started raising her brow.

"So what?" I asked, feigning innocence.

"You know what it is." Aunty said narrowing her eyes.

Then aunty, mom, Rahul and even Riddhima looked at me anxiously awaiting my reply. With four pair of eyes staring at me expectantly, I adjusted my posture on the bean bag.

"No." I said after a moment and I felt every one sigh. I guess they had been holding their breath. "She was good, as a person. But I didn't feel anything else. So no." I elaborated it for them.

Padma aunty gave me a disapproving look and then turned to mom. "I'll talk to you later Raji." She told and headed out, but only after smacking the back of my head gently.

"Padma had so many hopes on this girl." Mom said when we stood to move to the dining table.

"Mom, we'll do one thing. We'll get Rahul married to her." I quipped and Rahul choked on the water he had been drinking. He kicked my foot from under the table.

"Yeah. I'll talk about it to Padma." Mom sided with me while Riddhima giggled silently looking at Rahul.

"Aunty" Rahul drawled, embarrassed. And then mom and I pulled Rahul's leg about few other female colleagues in our company back at Hyderabad. I told mom how they found Rahul cute. Then came Riddhima's turn. Rahul and I narrated the tale of her dancing to mom, while mom stared at us baffled. I then went a step ahead and teased her about her moves on the floor to which she gladly blushed, much to mom's astonishment.

After dinner, Riddhima went upstairs at something around 10.30 pm. The remaining three of us sat infront of the TV. I sat on the floor resting my back against the sofa while Rahul settled beside mom on the sofa with his head in her lap.

"So Armaan, tell me about Sanjana." Mom asked after sometime.

"Nothing to tell mom. She is a confident girl, smart headed and practical." I told as a matter of fact.

"Then what happened?" Rahul asked.

"I didn't feel like she's the one. You know like something special." I replied turning back to face mom.

"You will find that someone special, only if you convince yourself of that fact that she is special." Mom said caressing my hair.

"Yes aunty, you are absolutely right." Rahul added grinning at me.

"Is it Rahul? Is it the same with Muski?" I shot back and his eyes popped out.

"Don't act surprised. I knew about you both." That was mom and we both stared at her aghast. "I am sure Padma also is aware of that."

"No aunty, there is nothing like that." Rahul spoke immediately.

"If you say so." Mom added and winked at me breaking my trance. God, mom is way ahead of me.

"Mom, you should have born after some twenty five years later than you did. I would have married you for sure." I remarked while she smacked my arm.

"I don't think uncle would have allowed that however." Rahul added while mom nodded at his words.

"Mom, why is that always Padma aunty had been choosing girls for me? Why don't you pick one? I am sure you would know what I wanted." I said. That was true. It was always aunty who had been bringing matches for me. This particular thought always wondered me. Mom never spoke anything. She always left it to me.

"Do you believe in my choice for you?" Mom asked, her voice serious this time. Rahul sat straight on the sofa.

"Ofcourse mom, more than I believe in myself." I replied squeezing her hand.

"What about Riddhima?" She asked out of blue.

"Mom?" I stared at her perplexed. I wasn't sure even if I had heard it right. Riddhima? For me?

"What if I say my choice is Riddhima?" She said calmly. I looked at Rahul. He had no idea of what mom was speaking, for he stared at me confused for a moment.

"You are not serious mom, are you?" I asked again to make sure. Where did mom get this idea from? About me and Riddhima?

"I am pretty serious Armaan." She replied. And by the look on her face I knew she was damn serious.

"But mom, Riddhima is an-"

"Leave her background aside Armaan." Mom interrupted me. "What do you think about Riddhima?" She asked, again.

I looked at her confused. Where did the conversation lead to? I didn't understand what to say. I looked at Rahul for some help, but he seemed unusually calm, almost like he agreed with mom. Did he?

"Mom, why do you think so?" I asked back. This conversation about me and Riddhima made me uncomfortable. I don't know, I could have normally put an end to the discussion with a no, like I did with Sanjana. But somehow my heart couldn't formulate a no straightaway.

"Armaan, did you realize, you behave as if you are possessive of Riddhima, making sure that she is fine. You lose your temper so easily with her, which you do only with me or Rahul." Mom said. I found myself examining the same with myself.

"And yes Armaan, you are always anxious of her comfort. Much more than you do for Muski or aunty." Rahul added.

"No Rahul, you got it wrong. Mom, it's just that with Riddhima being so nave and delicate, I feel this need to protect her, to take care of her. That's it." I tried defending myself. But I knew those words didn't even convince me, let alone thinking about mom.

"Then why not take care of her, all your life?" I heard mom and looked at her.

"I--I don't know what to say. I'll talk to you later." I said and got up to my feet.

"Armaan, one second." Mom stopped me. "If Riddhima isn't worth of being in your life, I wouldn't have brought this up." She said kissing my temple when I bent down. "And mind you, the vice versa holds strong too. I am not forcing you, but just give it a thought. Riddhima, just as a girl. Don't tag her with being an orphan." She added and I nodded.

I went to my room in daze, my head already sunk in thoughts about what mom and Rahul had said. I lay straight on the bed staring at the ceiling.

"Did you realize Armaan, this is the first time you agreed to think of a girl rather than refusing it instantly?" He asked smiling at me. I had obviously noticed that, the answer of which is unknown to me.

"Is my behavior towards her, that obvious?" I asked back ignoring his question. He nodded at me seriously.

I drifted back into my thoughts. This time not about what Rahul and mom had told but about Riddhima, just as a girl to be in my life. Recollecting all our previous encounters, I realized that perhaps Rahul and mom were true. It's true that I feel a strong concern towards her, to guard her, and shield her. Mom's words rang in my ears as I closed my eyes reluctantly. Why not take care of her, all your life?



When the daylight disappears
When you're haunted, I'll be near
When the shadows come to call
When you're too scared to stand tall
I can stand tall
Dream and let your dreams go
It's your turn to fly
As long as I'm standing by
You can close your eyes
I will take care of you
Long as you want me to
Whatever else I do
I will take care of you
Don't you worry, while you sleep
All my love is yours to keep
All you wish for, all you know
Will be yours when you let go
You can let go
Smile, if you can now
Smile through your tears
Here where your fears are known
Know you're safe at home
I will take care of you
Long as you want me to
Whatever else I do
I will take care of you

All you have to do
Is say good night
And close your eyes
Fly, fly into the light
I will take care of you
Long as you want me to
Whatever else I do
I will take care of you...

[I will take care of you - The Bangles]

-------(complete)--------

Sushmita

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