Wednesday, 1 January 2020

part 12 AR FF : "and then she said it"

part 12. Groom-al miseries 

It had been two days that I was back to Hyderabad. It being already the end of April, the new recruits were expected to join us in a month or two. So everyone in the HR department had been busy for the last two days and so was I. I had talked to Riddhima properly only once over the phone when I called home to let them know I had reached safe. The means by which I had to talk to her turned out to be a problem. I have to call on mom's mobile or the home landline. Calling on mom's mobile turned out to be little embarrassing. And strangely the landline was always answered by Muski who seemed to have decided to stay with Riddhima since they were giving their finals. She, being the devil she was, never allowed me to talk to Riddhima properly in her presence. Moreover since they had their final papers this week, I decided not to disturb her frequently.

Back here at Hyderabad, Rahul treated me with cold shoulders when I told him that our roka was done. He talked to mom asusual when she called him to apologize as it was done without his presence. But I had been at the receiving end of his sort of silent treatment. Come on, my readers, what do I do if I was roka-ed with Riddhima without my knowledge. Not that I complained but how do I inform him beforehand if I, myself, wasn't aware of that? So I was on my mission of being extra sweet to him.



Amidst all this, one more thing I realized was that I missed Riddhima already. I didn't know that one day with her would have such an effect on me. Wasn't that strange? And that little peck I had given her was like permanently etched infront of my eyes. Every time I thought about it, I was left behind with a strange tingling. I expected her skin to be soft the way her body was, but her cheek had been extra soft against my lips. Couple of times, I found myself dreaming about cuddling her, talking to her about everything under the sun. I knew I was going crazy, but I couldn't help it, could I? May be they were something like groomal woes!

The buzz of the intercom caught my attention. "Armaan Mallik" I replied, scanning the documents infront of me about the training schedule of the new recruits.

"Come to the conference hall. Archana is ready with the detailed Schedule." It was Ankit. So I placed the documents in proper order and headed for the hall.

The presentation lasted for about 45 minutes with me drifting in and out of my thoughts about Riddhima. Towards the end of the session, I was asked to give the feedback about the schedule. Frankly speaking, I hadn't paid complete attention to it. But by the amount I had listened to it, it was impressive.

"It was good. I guess two months would be quite adequate." I nodded at Ankit and Rahul. "Good job Riddhima."

I got up from my seat and expected others would make a move. But everyone sat in their chairs staring at me with a smirk on their faces. And Rahul was ready to burst out. Wondering what went wrong, I recalled my words. And I cursed myself under my breath when I realized my blunder.

"I am sorry. Archana, good job." I corrected myself. "Prepare the database and mail the schedule to the recruits." I added, smiling embarrassed.

Everyone in the hall laughed out softly at my attempt to cover up the obvious and headed out leaving Ankit, Rahul and me in the hall. I waited for them till they were done with guffawing.

"Okay now! Stop it guys." I scowled at them, scratching my chin.

"My dear to-be-groom, this happens." Ankit guided me out of the hall with his arm around my shoulder with Rahul following us chuckling. "Don't worry, I'll grant you an extra leave for your honeymoon." He added and I turned red around my ears. He patted my back and left to his cabin while Rahul headed to his own only after sparing me a wink.

I entered my cabin and sighed sitting in the chair. Ever since I had told everyone that I was engaged, everyone had been trying to pull my leg. And I, with my slips of tongue, gave them ample number of chances paving way for my own embarrassment.

"Armaan Mallik." I answered my mobile when it rang.

"Hello, Armaan. This is Riddhima." The person on the other side spoke.

"Huh?" I stared at the mobile for a couple of moments wondering if it was another of my crazy illusions.

"Riddhima, from Bangalore." She replied skeptically, again.

"Oh hie Riddhima." I composed myself quickly. "How are you? How are your exams going?" I asked getting up from the chair and moving towards the window, my heart already bubbling in some weird joy at her voice.

"I am fine. I am done with one paper. Three more electives are left." She replied nervously. "Actually, I called you because-"

"Missing me?" I cut her midsentence, smiling. I was sure she would have had her mouth wide open at my remark.

"No." Came the quick reply.

"No?" I questioned feigning disappointment.

"No no. Yes, I mean no. I-" I chuckled at her stutter. "Actually aunty bought me a new mobile yesterday. So this is my number." She changed the topic immediately.

"Is it? That's good." I replied. I thought of giving her a mobile so as to talk to her freely without any disturbance, but mom was way ahead of me. "So I can call you anytime. Can I?"

"Yes." She replied. And I could bet she was blushing. "I was thinking-"

"About me?" I teased her further. This was so much fun.

"Stop dreaming." My eyes widened at the voice. It wasn't Riddhima's.

"Muski!" I exclaimed horrified. "What are you doing there?"

"Oye stop shouting." she retorted. "I was the one who made Riddhima call you." She replied giggling.

"Shit!" I muttered under my breath and cut the call. I was sure Muski had been laughing her heart out at me. Missing me? I imitated my own voice and for once cursed the person who invented the mobile.

I turned around and gasped at the sight infront of me. Can the day get more embarrassing? Grinning at me were two devils namely- Rahul and Ankit, with their hands in their pockets, leaning onto the glass door of my cabin. And by the look on their faces, I knew they had heard everything. Nothing left in my hands to do I smiled at them like a clown and slipped out of my cabin before they would torture me again.

---------

"Armaan, aunty called on your mobile this morning when you were asleep. Call her back." Rahul told me the moment I stepped out of my bedroom.

"Oh okay." I nodded and made my way to the living room to go through the news paper. "Where are going, this early?" I asked him as he got ready to leave.

"I have an early shift today. See you." He replied and left while I lay across the sofa and switched on the TV. I selected the music channel and scanned the news paper. Suddenly the song was changed to "maa da ladla" from dostana and I found myself laughing remembering my encounter with Riddhima.

The more careful I was since that day in office three days back, where I made myself a fool, the more I found embarrassing myself. I didn't understand what was going wrong, or may be right, but Riddhima's name was etched at the tip of my tongue. With everyone pulling my leg incessantly, I was sometimes frustrated but most of the times, I strangely enjoyed it. I would never admit it to Rahul or Ankit, but I felt happy when they tagged me along with Riddhima. Suddenly I felt I was a teenager.

Smiling at my thoughts, I picked up my mobile and dialed mom's number. But before the line could connect, I thought otherwise and cut the call. I dialed Riddhima's number. For the last three days I barely talked to her. She was busy with her papers and mom warned me not to disturb her.

"Hie Riddhima" I greeted excitedly when the call was taken.

"No, her mother-in-law" came the reply. I stared at the mobile for a couple of seconds before the words made sense to me.

"Mom?" I asked skeptically. But why didn't Riddhima pick up the call?

"Yes. Disappointed?"

"Mom!" I whined. Weren't three villains enough in my life, for mom joining the league? I heard her laugh. "Rahul told that you called in the morning?"

"Yes. There is something important I wanted to talk to you." She sounded serious.

"What happened? Is everything Okay?" I asked sitting straight.

"Yes everything is fine Armaan. But there is a small problem." She said slowly, her voice calm.

"Problem? What problem?" I asked, my voice urgent.

"Do you mind getting married to Riddhima on May 6th?"

"What!?" I jumped from the sofa. "Mom's it's not even one week." I did a quick math looking at the calendar on the wall.

"Eight days from today." She corrected me.

"Only eight days mom, how is that possible?" I started pacing to and fro in the living room.

"You don't have any second thoughts regarding Riddhima, do you?" Her voice was wary.

"No mom, absolutely nothing." I said immediately. "But mom, that's too early. We barely know each other."

"I understand you Armaan, but there is a small problem with Riddhima's kundali." She said.

"Huh? What problem?" I questioned.

"I can't explain it over the phone, but Pandit said its better you get married to her that day and then visit omkareshwar temple during Rewa's pushkaras."

"Mom, I don't understand anything." I admitted. Only the word pushkara made sense to me. That's because I have been to Ganga's pushkaras during my high school.

"I'll explain you everything once you come here. But for now, tell me what you want to do?"

"uhhmm, when is the next date?" I asked, deep in thought. I felt as if I were put in a tape and was in the mode of fast forward. One week? I mean only one week for my bachelorhood?

"After dussehra." She replied, her voice soft. And I panicked.

"What? After dussehra, that's too far." Almost 6 months from now.

"hmm. So what do you want to do?" She asked again.

"What did Riddhima say?" I tossed back.

"I didn't talk to her yet. I'll talk to her once you take a decision." She said. Like always, I thought.

But what do I do now? It's either too early or too late. But eight days? That's more than I could bargain for. "Mom, I'll call you later. Is that okay?" I asked her hesitantly. I didn't know what to do but I needed some time to sort my head out. I have to talk to Rahul about it.

"Fine Armaan, but make it quick." She replied. And I cut the call after a quick good bye.

----------

I went to the office almost mechanically, my mind wandering around mom's words. Eight days? Just eight days? I found myself thinking over that one thing. My heart didn't want to wait for 6 months and my mind didn't want it so early in 8 days. Out of irritation between the contradictory thoughts, I found myself wondering why man was blessed with a heart as well as a mind. Couldn't one serve the purpose of two; so as to avoid those contradictory battles? Later I found myself laughing at my own thoughts.

It being Friday, the end of the week for work, we were busy whole day, submitting the reports to our respective heads. Till evening that diverted my mind off my so called inner battle between mind and heart but after a short break in the evening, as I made myself a little free, everything returned back. Rahul had been too busy that I barely got to see him let alone talk to him.

"Hello young man, thinking about someone?" It was Ankit grinning at me standing at the door of my cabin. There he goes again! I smiled at him when he came and took the chair infront of me. "Rahul told me that your fianc is placed in our company, is it?"

Cursing Rahul under my breath, I nodded at him. "Yes, she's done her MBA from my college and was hired in our recruitment." I stood up and sat in the chair beside him.

"Wonderful! Then I'll have both the Malliks to myself." He grinned again and I couldn't help but smile at his excitement. He is a sweet old man, almost a fatherly figure to me. "So can I have a look at that young lady who stumped you?"

And suddenly, I realized I don't have a picture of Riddhima with me. How stupid does that sound? Not only did I miss clicking a snap of hers on my mobile but also forgot to ask for one from her or from mom. After a moment, bulb in my head lit suddenly and I pulled my laptop to me and opened the database of the fresh recruits. I entered her name and hit the search button.

I smiled sheepishly at Ankit when he raised his brow at my actions. "I don't have her photo." I replied. "It must be available in our database for the fresh recruits." I added while he shook his head smiling.

My heart skipped a beat when the search yielded zero results. I rechecked her name and location and wondered what went wrong. I almost panicked when the second search showed the same results.

"Armaan, my boy! I don't think she is a Mallik yet." Ankit patted my back chuckling while I looked at him baffled for a moment.

I stared back at the results displayed on the screen and slowly a grin covered my face. Lying comfortably in one rectangular box was her name- Riddhima Mallik. And it was just perfect, more than perfect! Shaking my head at my own stupidity, I re-entered her name and hit the search button again.

After a couple of seconds, her profile popped up. And it contained her formal photograph, but she was weird in that photo. She made a face as if she was absolutely not interested. Nevertheless, I pushed the laptop towards Ankit and he immersed his head in it, taking off his glasses and tilting his head in different angles examining her face.

"I could barely see her features." He was not satisfied. "Don't you have any other?"

I shook my head negatively. When he got up sighing, something hit my brain. "Ankit, wait a min if you are free." I said grabbing my phone and dialing Muski's number. He raised his brow at me and sat back in her chair.

"Hey Muski!" I spoke into the phone when the call was taken.

"Hello Armaanji!" She replied. After that call fiasco a couple of days back, I haven't talked to her. It was way more embarrassing. "Riddhima is not with me at present."

"No, no. I want to talk to you." I said quickly.

"Oh! I should have known that taking into account that you have called me." She said. I could also hear to her giggling.

"Muski please" I pleaded.

"Okay!" She sounded serious. "How can I help you Mr. Mallik." There she goes again!

"uh-mmm Muski, can you mail me the pictures you have clicked that day when I was in Bangalore?" I asked her slowly, my voice sugar coated.

"Huh? Which day?"

"Aree, that day of Riddhima and my Roka." I said.. "Got it?"

"Yeah, so- What would I get?" She questioned.

"Muski please, my head wants to have a glance at Riddhima. Please mail them." I might have sounded as if I was begging. But more than showing them to Ankit, I wanted to see them badly. It was almost 5 days that I have been back and obviously hadn't seen Riddhima since then.

"So?" Why would she leave such a golden chance?

"Fine. What do you want?" I negotiated, passing a fake smile to Ankit when he stared at me amused.

"N8 mobile." She demanded quickly.

I jumped out of my seat. 'What!! That's freaking 20 K" I exclaimed and Ankit looked at me perplexed. "Muski, that's too much. How about E5?" I tried once again.

"Okay then." I sighed happy. "I have a passport size photograph of hers. I'll mail that." She added. "You'll get only that for E5."

"Okay fine. I'll buy you what you want. Mail me the pics." I knew there's no use bargaining. So much for being an elder cousin!

"N8?" She asked again.

"Sure."

"Pakka?"

"Yeah!"

"Done."

"What?"

"I have mailed them a minute back. Check your inbox." She said and laughed sardonically. "Bye."

"Bye." I whispered after the call was cut. "My cousin, blackmailing me for pics." I shared my sorrow with Ankit who seemed to have lending me his ear.

"I know. I have been through all that." He smiled understanding, patting my back.

I sighed and opened my inbox. Muski uploaded the pictures in Picasa and sent me an invitation to view them. I clicked on the link and the first picture left me baffled. It was a close up snap of Riddhima and me with me looking at her intently and Riddhima smiling brightly at the camera.

"She is elegant, my boy. You are lucky." Ankit remarked after a moment and I looked at him. He smiled at me and nodded his head and I knew he meant it from his heart.

One by one, we saw all the pictures but my mind was stuck on that first picture. In few pictures, I held her hand in mine, our fingers interlocked. I didn't remember that either but that made my heart swell in some unfathomable happiness. I don't know; everything seemed as if it were meant to be.

"Hey guys, what are you doing?" Rahul barged in and my trance broke. "Everyone's searching for you Ankit." He told Ankit and Ankit, having remembered something, walked away after a quick bye.

Rahul sat in the chair beside me and watched the photos as I saw all of them once again and stopped, staring at the first picture.

"So?" Rahul cleared his throat and I looked at him. "What did you decide?" He asked.

I knew what he was referring to. "I don't know Rahul. Isn't that too early?" I asked him back.

"You should know that." He said and stood to leave. "These pictures might help you decide." He added before leaving.

And my gaze returned to the picture being displayed. I don't know when it was clicked but it seemed like a picture perfect. That bright smile on Riddhima's face was priceless. Even though it was a photo, one could clearly understand how happy she was. And so was I, with that smile on my lips. Her smile was infectious and innocent. And mine wide showing my dimples which were very deep.

I was positive about one thing. No matter what, we would stay happy as long as we were together. And I knew what decision I had to make.

------------
"Ankit?" I knocked at his cabin door, peeping in.

"Yes, Mr Groom-to-be, come in." I heard his words and groaned.

When will this stop! It might be due to the reason that Rahul and I are the unmarried guys in the senior gang at the company. I then chuckled imagining Rahul's face, when it would be his turn. That poor fellow will be embarrassed easily. But for now, I have to take of myself. With a straight face, I entered his cabin after taking a long breath. I can do it!

"Are you free now Ankit?" I asked him, as I took the seat infront of him.

"Yeah, just signing the mails that are to be dispatched this week." He said, his head still down. "Tell me, though my eyes and hands are occupied, my ears are free for now." He added after a moment.

I didn't speak anything. I just put forward two sheets of paper.

"What are these for?" He asked, looking at me for a second before going back to his work.

"I need your sign in them." I said.

"What are they?" He questioned, putting the documents he had signed in a folder and pushing them aside. He leaned over the desk slightly and took the papers from my hand.

"Leave applications. I need leave for 15 days." I said quickly.

"15 days? Why now? You can use your leaves during your wedding, nahi?" He said casually reading the application in his hands. I waited for his reaction, counting numbers in my head, biting my nails lightly.

"What!! You are getting married next week?" He sprung up from his seat, just like had expected.

"uh-umm yeah." I nodded, smiling slightly, scratching the back of my neck.

"And you are informing me NOW?" He asked with a big 'O' plastered on his face.

"Well yeah, the date was fixed abruptly. Mom just called me." I told him casually. Well precisely, I didn't understand how I should be behaving while revealing this info to others.

"Wow then, That's awesome!" He exclaimed and pulled me up into a hug. "That's great! One more wicket down." He added.

"Thanks." I said smiling. "You will be there, won't you?"

"Ofcourse my brat! How will you get married without me? And I have to meet your fianc too." His voice was full of excitement. That's what I love him for.

"When are you leaving then?" He asked, sitting back in his seat.

"Tomorrow morning, I guess. I have to talk to Rahul about it." I said. "And yeah Ankit, the second leave application is for Rahul. Same 15 days."

"I already granted him leave for 20 days, this morning." He said deep in thought. "Oh now I understood why he claimed his leave too." He talked more to himself.

And I was shocked. "What!!! 20 days?" I jumped from my seat. "Rahul was granted 20 days?" This is freaking unfair. I am getting married and he was granted a leave for 20 days?

"Yes, but he didn't tell me anything about your wedding. Smart boy, I must say." He said while signing in my application. Smart, my foot! He is dead today. "But Armaan, since both of you are the ones who are handling the recruiting process this year, I am afraid I can't grant leave for both of you simultaneously for so long." He said seriously. "I can make it 10 days for both of you. After the training and everything is settled here, I will give you another week leave. Well may be you can use it for your honeymoon." He added and chuckled.

"Huh?" I looked at him and did a quick math. "Then make it 5 days for Rahul and 15 for me. It's my marriage!" I added, my mind already aiming curses at Rahul. Ankit laughed out loud

"Taking about me, aren't you?" Rahul asked knocking at the door, peeping into the cabin. Talk about the devil and the devil appears!

"We were discussing the number of days you should be granted leave." Ankit said while Rahul sat in the chair beside me. I glared at him when he looked at me and he grinned. "I am granting 10 days leave for both of you." He added.

"What? That's not fair. You promised me 20 days." Rahul whined. I so wanted to punch in his face. Ankit just shrugged his shoulders.

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

"Saale, it is my marriage and why do you need 20 days?" I asked, breathing heavily, punching Rahul in his abs. Ever since that little meeting in Ankit's cabin, I was waiting to lay my hands on him. "I, very lovingly, even typed your leave application along with mine and went to Ankit, and then I get to know that you asked for a leave of 20 days, even before me." I added, tightening my hold round his neck.

"So what, I want to stay till the end of your marriage right from the start." He said panting for breath. After returning home, we had a mini boxing fight in our living room.

"Why? It is my marriage." I said adamantly loosening my grip around him, both of us falling back on the sofa. I slowly resealed him from my hold, exhausted. I went to the refrigerator and brought a bottle of water. I gave it to him after gulping down half the bottle.

"Because, I have never been to a complete wedding before." He said slowly, putting the bottle away. It might be a casual statement for others but knowing him, I knew the depth of his words.

"You knew I would agree to mom, didn't you?" I asked smiling.

"Apparently, yes." He said grinning. "I have already booked our flight tickets for tomorrow morning flight at 8."

"I love you Raoool" I drawled, grinning shamelessly.

He scowled and yanked my hands away when I hugged him. Well, he always hates it when I call him Raoool and use that cheeky line at him, which I happen to use all the time. It was so easy irritating him. "I take it as a compliment." He quipped, switching on the TV, while I searched for my mobile to call mom.

"Mom?" I spoke excitedly, when the call was taken. But I frowned listening to some fuss around her. "Where are you?"

"Armaan, I am at Sanjeevani." She replied.

"Why? Are you fine?" My voice was urgent. Rahul's head shot up at my words.

"offoo, I am fine. I just came to have a look at the auditorium here." She said impatient. "Why did you call?" She was busy, I could hear to the urgency in her voice.

"Rahul and I are coming to Bangalore tomorrow." I said quickly. "We took leave for 10 days. Is that enough?"

"Yeah, that's enough. You can head back two days after the wedding." She said casually. And I wondered if she heard my words carefully. No reaction from her side?

"Mom, what are you doing at the auditorium?" I asked frowning.

"Areee, I asked Shashank to keep it available for your wedding. We don't get other functions at such a short span." She said. "I came to talk about the arrangements to be made."

And I was stumped. Everyone knows what my decision would be. May be my behavior was too predictable. Or was it only confined to my behavior towards Riddhima?

"Okay then. Bye mom. Love you." I said, deep in thought.

"Bye Armaan. I'll talk to you later. I am busy now." She added before call was cut.

"Mom went to arrange Sanjeevani's auditorium for the wedding." I told Rahul when he looked at me expecting me to say something.

"Oh yeah, aunty told me about that in the morning." He added with a wink.

And I guess, this is just the start of everything.
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-sushmita

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