Monday, 9 March 2020

Part 7 : A Burdened Love

Note:I have incorporated a flashback within another flashback.

*Flashback*- Greyscale

An overhead projector emits lights on the whiteboard projecting statistical data and imagery in a conference room in Singapore. Armaan is in the course of his presentation, with seventeen pairs of eyes glued to him as he is representing Sanjeevani with a flawless presentation. Just as he is nearing the end of his presentation the receptionist knocks on the door and enters without waiting for a response from inside the conference room.

Everybody in the conference room turns around as the door opens

Receptionist: 'Dr Mallik, there is a phone call for you'

Armaan A little annoyed as he was nearing the completion of his presentation before he was interrupted 'Can it not wait; I just need to conclude'...

Receptionist interrupts Armaan talking: 'I am sorry sir, but the lady on the other end said it was an emergency and was saying all sorts of things in Hindi. I could hear a lot of noise'.

Armaan: 'Excuse me ladies and gentlemen; I will be back shortly, sorry for any inconvenience this has caused'

Armaan exits the conference room with the receptionist.

Armaan thinking Zaroor Muskaan haungi' Uski hindi aur uski chappad chappad. Wrong timing equals Muskaan. Pehli baar jab Milan me conference dera tha tab uska phone aya tha kehne ke liye Rahul ne usko 'I Love You' bola, ab pata nahi ab kya chaye haunga? ' Shayad Rahul ne usko finally propse kiya.

Armaan asking the receptionist: 'May I ask what is the name of the lady that has phoned?'

Receptionist: 'Some lady called Mus.. Mus.. Musk'

Armaan: Muskaan right?

Receptionist: Yes that's the one. A very loud spoken women she is

They both laughed.

They reached the desk. The receptionist went back to filing her paper work and Armaan picked up the phone

Armaan (Whispering):Bol Muskaan, kya hain meh itne important meeting me hoon aur tu aur teri wrong timing

Muskaan (trying to prevent tears from spilling): Armaan... Armaan

Armaan: (Getting even more annoyed): 'Kya hain Muskaan? ... Muje pata hain Armaan mere naam hain. Meri Mom ne raka tha. Mere naam ke alawa kuch aur bol ne ka hain to bol netau me jaa ra hoon'

Muskaan: 'Armaan... Aahana...'

Tears began spilling from her eyes

Armaan (Alert as Muskaan stated Aahana's name. And why on earth was Muskaan crying). Tension was masking the atmosphere as the mere seconds passed. 'Aahana kya Muskaan, what's wrong? Is she okay?  And what is all this noise in the background?' He thought he could hear fire engine sirens.

Muskaan: 'Armaan, Aahana... Dr Shashank'

Armaan (No longer whispering but shouting): 'For Goodness Sake Muskaan. Tell me what the hell is wrong, you're scaring me.'

The occupants in the office all turned around and stared at Armaan. A guy eating a sandwich had taken a bite and was not chewing as he was shocked with all the shouting. The receptionist had dropped all her paperwork due to the shout and office workers were peeping out the blinds from their respective offices as to what was going on.

Muskaan: 'Armaan aag lagi haye Dr Shashank ke ghar par. Jaldi waapis aa.'

Armaan dropped the cordless phone.  He need not be told twice to return back to India. All that could be seen was Armaan running outside the glass doors of the building as the wind fiercely caressed his cheeks due to the speed he was running at and the sheets of paper floating gently that the receptionist had dropped. The occupants of the office were left with perplexed expressions plastered across their faces as to what they had just witnessed.

*Flashback Ends*

Present Situation Armaan and Abhi sitting on the bench outside Sanjeevani

Armaan (sighing): 'That is all I remember. What use that is though?'

Abhi: 'Again Armaan I can understand how hard all this is for you, but you may not realise you have said something, that could lead us to the core of what has happened'

Armaan (mystified): Huh? What. I don't remember saying anything as such, that could give us clues as to what is happening.

Abhi: Yes you have, but you haven't realised. Try and remember. You said that when Riddhima called you back to inform you that Dr Shashank had agreed to baby sit Aahana, he was very happy. This is contradicting how his mood was in the morning of the veneration. He was very moody and would not talk to anybody. Not even Riddhima or Anjali. Moreover, by the time we had reached the Gupta residence where the fire was spreading, Dr Shashank was out of the house, but Aahana was nowhere to be seen. He came up to me pleading to get Aahana out of the building, and he kept repeating 'I didn't mean for this to happen, please get Riddhimas daughter out of there. Please'. His face was plastered with this indescribable expression. I couldn't quite make out whether he was scared or guilty, and I didn't have time to try and figure it out, because I was in too much of a rush to get Aahana out of the burning house.

Armaan shuddered at the last 6 words of his sentence.

Armaan: 'Abhimanyu, so what you think this could be....'

He couldn't gather the courage to say it

Abhi: 'Armaan I am not saying anything, but yes there is a possibility that this accident wasn't as accidental as it seems... I mean first his contradicting moods during the day, then that expression which still haunts me, and now his disappearance by the time I had managed to take Aahana out of the house.

Armaan was left dumbstruck..

After a prolonged silence

Armaan: 'Abhimanyu Modi you cannot be serious. He is a father himself'.

Abhimanyu: 'Yes Armaan, but do not forget, YOU are the father of Aahana'.

Armaan: ' Abhi but I can't even say it because the idea itself is so horrendous. Trying to kill Aahana would be like killing Riddhima, his own daughter.

Abhimanyu (replying abruptly):'Face facts. Times are changing and so are people.'

Armaan shaking head despair: Abhi, you must be mistaken.

Abhimanyu:'Armaan it's futile arguing about this with you. You and I would be here all day. I for one am not saying he did try to intentionally hurt Aahana, but what I am saying is learn to be a little more open minded.

Armaan didn't reply

Abhimanyu: Moreover, this wouldn't be the first time that something bad has happened to you, and Doctor Shashank again is in the picture.

Armaan: Anyway I think we should get going back up to the hospital now.

Abhi: Yeah I think you are right.

Silence suspended the air as both men continued to walk towards Sanjeevani. Abhimanyu was left in deep thoughts trying his level best to fix the mismatching parts to this puzzle and Dr Shashanks part in this whole case, whereas Armaans musings wondered in a completely different direction.

Armaan went straight back to the ICU waiting are where Riddhima was waking up and Niki left them both with a smile. She gave Armaan a brief hug and left to the door where Abhimanyu was waiting for her.

In the waiting area, Riddhima was waking up. She could feel the vast pressure under her eyes preventing her from opening her eyes properly. Only one word could capture her physical strength at this time, and that was drained. It was as if somebody had vacuumed out her living existence, and left her with all the miserable feeling which existed in this cruel world.

Riddhima (Tired with her eyes half open) 'Armaan...'

Armaan ' 'Yes baby I'm here. He gently removed his jacket from beneath her head'

He went and sat beside her, and she snuggled up to his chest spilling silent sobs creating a damp patch on his shirt. They intertwined their fingers and stared into the uninviting deep green curtain of the operation theatre, whilst Abhimanyu's words were playing in Armaans head as her remembered the previous time when Dr Shashank nearly broke his life apart. Armaan fell into a reverie of his past with Riddhima and the hurdles they once faced to reach where they are today.

*Flashback *

Riddhima and Armaan had started dating six months after they met. It was their fairytale story. Well not everybody would class it as your average classical 'fairytale'. It was hate at first sight. They drove each other mad. Riddhima would do something to annoy Armaan, and Armaan inevitably would get back at her. Months lapsed and eventually this 'hate' blossomed into a beautiful friendship. They both knew we were, and would be more than just friends and it was then they both realised we loved each other. During the period of these six months they thought they had got to know one another very well. Well at least they thought we did. Their co-interns and friends were at first shocked when they told them that there were together as a couple, however gradually they accepted them. Riddhima had forbidden anybody telling her father as both she and Armaan knew he would never accept of it, well not with the personal reputation Armaan had. However, Riddhima had a feeling that she knew her father knew, but he never said anything.

It was another one of those days. Lately Armaan and Riddhima had been bickering over the smallest of things, they either shouted at one another or didn't speak full stop.

Armaan and Riddhima were alone in the Locker Room. Armaan was trying to converse with Riddhima after another one of their minor 'arguments' from the previous nights. Despite his attempts he remained unsuccessful.

Riddhima: 'Armaan, please stop it. If I am ignoring you then that obviously means I am in no mood to talk to you hmph!' ' And she looked away

Armaan: 'Riddhima, meri baat to suno ek baar suno toh seh'.

Riddhima just turns around and busies herself with the file which she withdrew from her locker, pretending to read the case study

Armaan attempts once more. He placed his palm on Riddhimas shoulder and tries to get her to face him, however she shrugs him off. 'Please baby meri baat toh suno'

Riddhimas was getting angry and she let her steam loose: 'For Goodness Sake Armaan LEAVE ME, go speak to the person who seems much more important than me. I mean you seem to spend most of your free time somewhere else, and it seems like you've been avoiding me.'

During Riddhimas shouting at Armaan, their co-interns Atul, Anjali, Niki, Rahul and Muskaan walked in shocked to see Riddhima shouting and that too at Armaan.

Armaan: 'Come on Riddhima, you know that's not true'

Riddhima: Do I Armaan? Do I?  I don't even think I know you? Why would you ask me to be part of my life if you're going to keep all these secrets? Whenever I ask you where you go in your free time, you just avoid my questions, and we end up fighting.' 

'I'm fed up Armaan. If this is love. Then...'

Armaan (exasperated): Riddhima. Then what Riddhima?

Riddhima: 'Then... then I guess... I guess... I don't love you... This was never my perception of love.'

All the interns in the Locker Room gasped. They all knew how much Armaan loved Riddhima. They way he would take care of her smallest needs, but they were also were aware of the fact that both of them had been quarrelling over the past few weeks.

This was enough for Armaan. To have his love doubted by Riddhima and that too for no reason. He fiercely removed his hand of Riddhimas shoulder as if it burned, the same way each word she spoke scorched a fresh hole in his heart.

Armaan (Very Quietly but audible for the occupants in the Locker Room): Sometimes I wish, you would trust me. I mean I thought I had that much right, but I guess I was wrong.

And saying that he left

Riddhima felt so ashamed for what she had said that the sobs began to build, and both Anjali and Niki were having a hard time trying to pacify her.

Niki: 'I better go and check on Armaan, in case he does something silly. You know what his temper can get like...'

This made Riddhima sob harder.

Niki saw Armaan at the medicine counter. Armaan was talking to the pharmacist with a stress ridden face.

Armaan: 'Has the medicine arrived?' He asked and sighed brushing his hand through his hair.

Pharmacist: 'Yes Armaan Sir. Let me just take it out. Here you go.'

The pharmacist handed Armaan the small brown medicine bottle. Whilst handing Armaan the medicine bottle, Armaan realised Niki was standing behind him so he quickly hid the label of the bottle in the palm of his hand, shoving

Niki mentally noted that this action of Armaan looked rather strange, yet she did not say anything. She shrugged it off and tried to strike a normal conversation with him.

Niki: 'Armaan...'

Armaan: 'Niki, not now I have to go' (as his voice trailed off)

Niki:  ' But Armaan'

Armaan: 'I got to go' and he walked off out of Sanjeevani and went to his car as Niki watched.

Armaan is sitting in his car at the traffic signal. He pulls out the bottle of pills out of his pocket, which he had slipped into his pocket, trying to hide from Niki. Looking at them he reflects on the day which he made an oath to Padma Aunty.

*flashback within flashback*

Armaan was visiting a neighbouring hospital 'City Link', to attend an annual oncology meeting. On his way out of the meeting he saw Sister Padma sitting isolated on a chair with reports in her hand and a lone tear rolling down her pallid cheek. He abruptly walked up to her. He tried communicating with her, but it was as if she were unable to hear him. He saw a set of reports in her hands, read them, and then gasped.

Armaan: 'Heart disease'

He hugged Nurse Padma, and it was only then she realised Armaan was beside her.

Padma (with a confused yet quizzical expression on her face): 'Armaan, tum yaha?'

Armaan: 'Aunty, aapne pehle kyun nahu bataiya? Meh tumhe Sanjeevani saath... All of a sudden Armaan stopped and said 'Riddhima' Riddhima ko patha...'

Padma:(Regained full awareness of the situation- shouting)- 'NO!'

Armaan kept mum.

Padma: 'Armaan, you cannot, you MUST not tell anybody.'

Armaan: 'Par Aunty yeh toh...'

Padma: 'No Armaan. No. You must not tell anybody! You must swear on my life, that you will not tell anybody'

Armaan: reluctantly agreeing as he did not want to get her stressed. 'Main kisi ko nahi bolunga, par Aunty aap yeh kyun kar rahe hai?'

Padma (smiling a little): 'Armaan, I'm living for my family. Just like any other day. With the time I have left I do not want spend it in a miserable atmosphere with my family plastering fake faces, every time they see me. I do not want anybody to know. I love the way my life is barring the illness, my life is perfect. I have a wonderful family and wonderful friends, what more could I want. She put the pain in her pocket and pulled out a smile. Death is predestined for all of us Armaan.'

Armaan: 'But how will you hide this from everyone?'

Padma: 'Shashank and the girls know I have severe asthma, which in actual fact I do. So they know I cannot walk very fast, or run or do anything which requires a lot of energy as I become short of breath very quickly, and they will continue to believe this.'

Armaan (understanding her finally): 'Par Aunty...' he felt uncomfortable asking, but he needed to know... 'Aunty'

Padma (smiling faintly understanding what he felt uncomfortable asking): 'Armaan, I don't have very much time (Armaans face fell upon hearing this), that's is why I got a little upset until you came and cheered me up.  I'm glad I was able to confide in you and I know I will not have to worry about my Riddhima once I am gone.' (Armaans expression changed from sorrow, to mock horror and completed the transition of facial expressions with a face conveying plain embarrassment)

Armaan: 'Aunty aap ko....'

Padma: (interrupting before letting him finish): 'Ab pucho mat mujhe kaise pata... You know I knew about you and Riddhima from the very beginning. Please, you and Riddhima and were never meant to be just 'good-friends' as you both keep telling me. Armaan I am aware of the fact Shashank doesn't like the idea of you and Riddhima, in actual fact, he is very possessive over our daughters, but I couldn't be happier to say that my Riddhima is very lucky to have somebody like you in her life. I know you will keep her happy.'


Armaan felt embarrassed but it felt like a huge weight had been lifted after Padma had said her daughter was lucky to have him, this was one thing he was always afraid of that Riddhimas parents would not accept him. Yes Shashank had not accepted him, but at least Padma Aunty had.

Armaan: 'Aunty meh...'

Padma just smiled

Armaan: 'Aunty, Thank You so much. I promise I will take care of Riddhima, and I promise I will not tell anybody about your condition until after... Par meri ek condition hain' he said with a serious expression.

Padma felt a little tense

Armaan broke into a smile and said: You will allow me to bring the pain medication to you twice a week to reduce the pain.

Padma too broke into a smile. She ruffled his hair.

*flashback within flashback ends*

The traffic light turned the green go signal. He put the pills back into his pocket and drove to the Gupta Residence to give Padma her pain medication. A heavy tension seemed to loom in the atmosphere. As he entered the house he couldn't smell the usual scent of Padma aunts delicious cooking from the kitchen, nor could he hear her usual melodious humming. In fact the atmosphere had an eerie quality to it. The lights were dimmed. Armaan felt a lurch in his stomach and his eyes quickly looked for Padma Aunty. He found her lying on the sofa and he rushed to her side.

Armaan: 'Padma Aunty...'

Padma (very weakly) 'Armaan, I am so glad you came. Thank You so much for everything you have done for me over this last month. Keeping this secret concealed, not telling anybody, bringing my pain medication' she said running short of breath and wheezing

With tears pouring down his cheek he quickly took out the pills from his pocket opened the cap of the bottle of pills and took them out to give to Padma Aunt however, she shook her head in refusal.

Padma: 'They won't do anything anymore Armaan. I can already feel the pain fading.....'

Armaan dropped the pills from his hand onto the marble white floor beside the sofa.

Tears continuously pouring down his cheek 'Aunty please....' Having witnessed his own mother's death, the experience had already left him haunted and now he was watching Padma Aunty die, and again there was nothing he could do.

Padma: 'Armaan kitchen ke cupboard meh coffee cups ke piche maine teen envelopes rakhe hain, please kya tum voh mere liye laa sakte hain'

Armaan without thinking he got up and ran to the kitchen. He found the envelopes and ran back to Padma Aunty and placed them in her palm.

She smiled one last time, and closed her eyes

Armaan froze. He simply knelt there beside Padma Aunty simply staring. His pager rang from Sanjeevani innumerable times but he did not respond.

It was 8 'o' clock when Shashank, Anjali, Riddhima and Niki (who was staying with the Gupta's) returned home. And were shocked at the sight at their arrival. Armaan kneeling with a bottle of pills in his hand. They all ran up to where Armaan was. Shashank pushed past Armaan and the bottle of pills fell from his hand.

Shashank shook Padma's body, to see whether she would wake up. Riddhima and Anjali just stood there and watched their lifeless mother. Niki on the other hand was looking at the bottle of pills which were revolving on the floor.

Shashank turned around 90 degrees and began shouting at Armaan.

Shashank: 'What did you do? Answer me!'

Armaan kept mum

Shashank bellowing and shaking Armaans shoulders vigorously 'I SAID ANSWER ME!!'

Armaan still didn't say anything and continued looking at Padma.

Niki then spoke up: 'Armaan these pills... These pills... I saw you taking them from the pharmacy after you had a fight with Riddhima.'

Armaan finally 'awoke' from his frozen trance after hearing pills, fight and Riddhima. He quickly looked up. His lips quivered... 'PPPP....Pad... Padma Aunty'

Niki: Armaan what's going on?

There was silence in the room. Shashank snatched picked up the bottle of pills. Anjali moved aside from her mother's lifeless body and went to stand next to her father whilst Riddhima kept rubbing Padma's hand as to try and awaken her.

Niki, Shashank, Anjali and Riddhima began staring at Armaan.

Armaan: Huh? Why are you looking at me like this?

Niki: 'Armaan you are a Doctor. You by giving such strong pain medication to a person for no reason can instantly kill them. But what I don't get is why? Nikis brain was working overtime and she was blurting what came to mind. You were cross with Riddhima, you and Riddhima were arguing so what.... so you came and hurt Padma Aunty, who loves everyone.'

Armaan just stood there staring at Niki, as a numb feeling drenched his body head to toe.

Shashank: 'You bas*&$%, you killed my wife. You gave her a drug overdose of heart pain medication, even though she doesn't have heart problems. You make me sick! You killed my wife! What disgusts me more is that last night, just last night she was considering you as good person to marry our Riddhima. I had my doubts that you two were dating, but I never said anything, but now I'm sure my daughter can see your true colours. What was it Niki said, you and Riddhima had were arguing, and you took out your anger by killing her mother.  By this point Riddhima was dumbfounded. Shashank looking at Riddhima now, Can you see Riddhima, Can you see what Armaan really is like. He killed your mother. The bas*&$% you thought you loved killed your mother.' Anjali by this point swallowed her tears, and gave a piercing glare at Armaan. Her green eyes screaming murderer even though she herself said nothing. From every angle accusations were being hurled at Armaan.

Niki: 'Armaan you better go'

Armaan: 'But.. But.. I didn't'

Riddhima had a feeling that there was more than what was being told and that Armaan was not in the wrong but due to the 'evidence' and her father she was reluctant. Armaan pleaded with his eyes. She turned her head away, her face depicting fury and that was enough for him. He had got his answer.

Shashank grabbed Armaan by the collar and hurled him out of his house. Armaan feel onto the gravel outside the house his hands touching the stone. Whilst inside the Gupta house Riddhima had just found the three envelopes in her mother's other hand.

Time passed in a blur over the next few days. Everybody was busy conducting preparations for the funeral, where as Armaan had not come back to Sanjeevani. After everybody had found out the truth after reading Padma's letters addressed to Shashank, Anjali and Riddhima; everybody felt guilty for hurling such accusations at Armaan without giving him the chance to speak. Barring Shashank who was still vindictive as to why Armaan had known about Padma's condition and his wife hadn't told him. He still disliked Armaan. Niki felt deeply guilty, she left countless missed calls on Armaans mobile. Atul, Rahul and Muskaan were both sad due to Padma's death, but angry at why everybody had accused Armaan. All three set to look for Armaan, but their attempts stood fruitless. Riddhima on the other hand had stopped crying. She was frozen. She wouldn't talk, nor would she eat. She had two thoughts running in her mind. First her mother's death and secondly Armaans face haunted her; the face when he was pleading with his eyes for her to believe him but she didn't. 

The day of the funeral arrived, and there was still no sign of Armaan, so everybody proceeded to the funeral without him.

Whilst the pyre was being lit, Armaan dressed in white came and stood right behind Riddhima. Nobody dare uttered a word as they saw him approach. His eyes staged stillness, He did not blink. After some time he put his hand forward and Riddhima reciprocated and placed her hand in his strong secure palm, and they both stood there. Their eyes fixated at the flames. Riddhima tightened her grasp, to convey a meaningful sorry. And she knew she was safe and he had forgiven her.

*Flashback Ends *

 Present situation in the ICU waiting room

Armaan felt Riddhima tighten her grasp on his hand and he broke away from his reverie. She looked up at him and gently asked 'You okay?' he replied 'I'm fine, don't worry Riddhima we will get through this, Aahana will be fine'.

Hannah Sophia

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