Thursday, 12 March 2020

Part 9 : A Burdened Love

As soon as Riddhima had said the word 'fire', there was a knock on the door. Dr Shashank entered the ICU waiting area. Both Armaan and Riddhima stood up.

Riddhima pointing towards her father her eyes narrowed into slits (Furiously): AAP!

The little colour in Shashank's face had dissolved and Riddhima's tone of voice had left him stationary at the door of the ICU waiting area.

Armaan held Riddhima's hand as a means to calm her down. He had never seen her so resentful towards her father. Riddhima jerked off Armaan's hand, not looking back at him once and walked up to her father.

Riddhima: She could feel the anger pounding through her blood stream.  Where have you been?  And what on earth is going on? I need answers Pa.. I NEED ANSWERS NOW!

She was about to call him Papa, but couldn't bring herself to do it. Armaan rushed to Riddhima's side, he had never seen Riddhima so embittered, and feared what she may do or say.

Armaan: Riddhima CALM DOWN, we cannot jump to any assumptions, without hearing the truth. Let's see what he has to say first.

Dr Shashank gave a small smile after hearing what Armaan had to say. This hadn't gone unnoticed by Riddhima.

Riddhima: (looking Armaan in the face) Armaan how can you be so calm, when when when....Wait Armaan you don't know do you? You weren't there were you? After Abhi took Aahana out of the house, Pa... (Pointing at Dr Shashank) he... HE had disappeared nor had he enquired about Aahana, he had vanished, gone from the crime scene.

Armaan: (Quietly): I know Abhi told me EVERYTHING.

Riddhima (perplexed and irritated): Armaan if you know everything as you said you do, then why are you not saying nor doing anything ,she said putting a hand thorough her hair to vent out her frustration

Armaan: Because Riddhima I know how it feels to be held culprit for something I never did. It's not right to jump to conclusions without hearing what the other person has to say.

Riddhima felt a twinge of guilt at Armaan's words. He was indirectly but unknowingly taunting her and her father. Riddhima knew that Armaan had forgiven her long ago for accusing him of Padma's death he had never held it against her, but this guilt would last forever. Armaan then looked Dr Shashank in the eye and said...

Armaan (In a steady but firm voice): Dr Shashank Gupta, we need to know the truth. We have a right to know and we need to know NOW!

Shashank ignoring Armaan and looking at Riddhima, Armaan had expected to be ignored. Shashank ignored him all the time, unless it was about their professional lives.

Shashank: How is Aahana? I need to know

Riddhima: Don't you dare ask how my daughter is Pa... Don't you dare ask!

Shashank: I need to know                                                                                   

Riddhima: You have no right to know. If you really cared, then you would never have left the scene the way you did.

Shashank: I had to, I needed to. And why do you stop yourself from calling me 'Papa'.

Shashank: (Holding Riddhima's shoulders) I am your Papa Riddhima.

Shashank: (Looking Riddhima in the eye), I am yours and Anjali's Papa. You are my daughters.

Shashank's words were buzzing inside Riddhima's head and she could not take it anymore. She forcefully shrugged her father's hands off of her shoulders and shook her head and shouted

Riddhima: Shut up, just shut up! You lost that right, a LONG time ago.

Armaan, Shashank and Riddhima herself were all shocked at Riddhima's reply to her answer. Riddhima had never spoken in an ill mannered tone towards her father, and now she had told him to 'shut up'.

Armaan, who had kept quiet listening to the conversation between Riddhima and Dr Shashank, began to speak before things got out of hand.

Armaan: Riddhima, ye tum...

Riddhima: No Armaan, today I will speak. I will say what I have to say, because you haven't said anything to him for 3 years despite the fact that we are now married.

Before she could say any more she began crying and collapsed in a heap on the floor.

Shashank: Riddhima...

He went to touch her shoulders, to help her up. But Armaan prevented him from doing so. He made Riddhima stand up himself and she entwined her arm with his.

Shashank (Thundering at Armaan): Tum. How dare you? Yeh tum kya kar rahe haun?  Voh MERI beti hain.

Riddhima (Angrily): Tameez se baat karaun. Me tumhari beti hoon as you said, par yeh mere pati hain. Aur kya beti beti baul rahe hain, tum beti ka matlab samaj te hain. You want me to call you 'Papa' right, well what about Armaan? Armaan may never be able to hear Aahana calling him 'Papa, he may never get the chance to hear his own daughter call him Dad.

Riddhima's speech had rendered both Armaan and Shashank speechless. Riddhima was getting hysterical, tears were pouring out of her eyes, as she spoke. Armaan wiped the tears off of her face with his thumbs and she instantly hugged him.

Riddhima: Armaan sab bura sirf tumhare saat kyun hota hain?

Armaan: Shhhh Shhhh bas Riddhima. Bura kya huan, aaj tum mere saat haun aur kya chaiya mujhe? Aur dekho Aahana bi theek haungi hamare liye.

Riddhima had stopped crying

Riddhima: Armaan tum bahut ache haun. Aur Aahana theek hau jayengi naa?

Armaan: Yes baby she will get better, just for us. And baby you cannot blame Dr Shashank, we still don't know what happened.

Shashank just stood there and watched in awe at the couple. He knew Armaan was not wrong, but he didn't put aside his ego. He couldn't. Armaan was there when his wife died and he wasn't present. Armaan knew that Padma had an illness, yet he still didn't tell anybody, and Shashank held this against Armaan.

Riddhima then disengaged from the hug and went up to her father.

Riddhima: Ab bolo, what happened, and how did the fire start? Just tell us the truth please. Her tone held a sense of finality.

Shashank had been dreading this moment. What was he going to tell Armaan and Riddhima?

Shashank: Riddhima suno...

Riddhima: Just tell me the truth, noth... nothing more, nothing less. Her voice teetering at an edge.

Shashank: Mujhe... Mujhe...

Shashank:  I don't know.

Riddhima: (Hysterical) Tell me NOW!!

The rest of the gang had heard the commotion from inside the ICU waiting area, and decided to walk in.

Riddhima (Furiously) God-dammit JUST TELL US THE TRUTH DR SHASHANK GUPTA

Anjali who had opened the door, jolted and everybody else behind her stopped abruptly. All were shocked out of their wits, hearing Riddhima speak in such a manner to her father.

Anjali (finding the right words, and walking towards her younger sister): Ridzy yeh tum... why are you speaking to Dad in this manner?

Riddhima: Please not now Di she said ignoring her sister.

Anjali was stunned at Riddhima's straightforwardness and boldness. She kept quiet

Riddhima: Tell Me NOW! What Happened? Kya Hua?

Abhi, Niki, Muskaan, Rahul, Atul , Armaan, Riddhima and Anjali set their eyes on Shashank as his one answer would pierce the tension which had accumulated in the atmosphere.

Shashank: Maine... Maine... I...

All sighed

Armaan: You what?

Shashank: Maine.... I

Riddhima: Forgoodness sake, Maine Kya?? What happened?

Shashank's memory was fading, he himself did not remember know what happened, he didn't understand what was happening to him, his eyes felt heavy and he could hear noises of Aahana crying.

Anjali: Dad kya hua, what happened at the house?

Muskaan (boldly): Sir did you ignite the fire

All stared at her

Rahul: Shh Muskaan, what are you saying?

Riddhima (looking at Rahul): Rahul why are you telling her to be quiet she has asked the correct question. Dr Shashank himself will not say anything.

Anjali: Dad Muskaan galat keh rahi hain na?

Riddhima: Why will he tell Muskaan off, when he knows what she is asking is the truth.

Riddhima: Bolo! Did you start the fire?

Armaan too had realised Dr Shashank's silence at Muskaan's question. Armaan decided it was time to speak up.

Armaan (with a stern look): Riddhima CHUP! Be quiet no more questions. Muskaan, Anjali everybody no more questions, PLEASE. Only I will ask questions.

Everybody was stunned at Armaan. Nobody spoke. Riddhima turned her head. Anjali was about to say something, but Armaan's stern gaze automatically made her close her mouth and she dropped her gaze. Muskaan trembled and stood beside Rahul. Rahul held her palm and she smiled and stopped trembling and thought how blessed she was to have a person like Rahul in her life.

Armaan:  Dr Shashank, nobody out of us will judge your actions if you did do something, everybody makes mistakes, we are only human, but we deserve to know the truth. Please just tell us what happened. And if you didn't do anything then we will leave it at that.

Shashank was astounded at Armaan. He was willing to forgive and forget so long he was told the truth.

Shashank: I told you I really don't know. Sach me, mujhe yaad nahi hain.

Shashank was trying to remember, everything was becoming a blur and his eyes were blacking out. He could hear Aahanas cries. He began to sway, holding his head. He caught hold of the door. His eyes closed, as he staggered.

Abhimanyu had been closely monitoring each and every move of Shashanks, but he did not say anything.

Anjali: Papa

Armaan: Dr Shashank

Armaan went over to Dr Shashank to help him up

Shashank opened his eyes, but there was a glimmer in his eyes. One which conveyed nefariousness, his eyes had crystallized conveying a sharp coldness.

Shashank: No I don't need help; I can get up myself Mr Mallik.  Shaking his head and brushing his hands together as he got up

Shashank (to the occupants of the waiting area): Why are you all staring at me for?

Niki: Sir are you okay? You were holding your head and staggering just now.

Shashank: I am completely fine

Niki: In that case are you sure you cannot recollect anything about how the fire may have started?

Atul: Anything Sir on what may have caused the fire to start

Riddhima: (In desperation) Any hint, any clue?

Shashank (rounding on the others): Fire, fire, fire, is all that you keep asking, ask me something I don't know already.

The change in Shashank's posture, tone and attitude had not gone unnoticed by anyone. Everybody stood staring.

Shashank began singing.

Shashank:                                                 Fetch the engine, fetch the engine
                                                                    Fire, fire! Fire, fire!
                                                           Pour on water, pour on water

Everybody had though Shashank had gone completely mad.

All: What?

Shashank: You wanted to know about the fire didn't you?

Riddhima: Stop playing games, singing songs, creating riddles, asking rhetorical questions and whatever else is going on in your mind. Just tell us the truth!

Shashank: Okay simply the truth. Here it is.... I ... I ... started the fire said Shashank with a impish smile playing on his lips like a child has once they have done something naughty

There was  total and utter silence, all that could be heard was Riddhima's heavy breathing.  Everyone's mouths were left open. Rahul shaking his head, Muskaan searching for words, Anjali frozen in a trance, Niki matching Anjies state, and finally Armaan and Riddhima who were both holding hands, dropped each other's hold. Abhimanyu as if he anticipated Shashank to say something like this, just kept quiet as thoughts whirled in his mind.

Armaan (first to fall out of this trance -stammering): sssir what you saying?

Shashank: (smiling boldly) yes you heard right I nearly killed your daughter. Sun lo sun lo, I Dr Shashank Gupta started the fire which may nearly kill Aahana Mallik.

Riddhima: (In fear) What? You are joking na? this is a sick joke because I know my Papa. He could never do such a thing.

Shashank: Papa I thought just minutes ago you said you had no Papa. What happened?

Riddhima had tears seeping out her eyes; she hadn't meant what she had said she had spoken out of anger. But know her temper was rising

Riddhima: Who the hell do you think you are? What have you done with my Papa? And more importantly what the hell happened with Aahana?

Atul was shaken to see the man who was his idol, saying such things and that too so callously.

Atul: Sir ye aap? Mera matlab it was a mistake right?

Shashank's memory began fading once more.

Dr Shashank: I can't remember...

Armaan was fed up of Dr Shashank's game of tales going in circles.
Armaan:  you clearly stated that you nearly killed our daughter. What is going on?

Shashank: Mr Mallik  as I said before I nearly killed Aahana, and I do not regret it, his eyes began dimming again, where... where am I? Aahana ko bachau she is in the building.

Everybody gasped what was going on? Shashank was contradicting himself. He stated he killed Aahana, and now he was saying he doesn't know where she was.

Armaan had had enough; he could not hold his poise any longer. He pinned Dr Shashank by the shoulder and in a hoarse whisper said 'Get Out!' and flung Dr Shashank to the door.

Nobody spoke, all eyes were On Armaan. Anjali's eyes had narrowed into slits.

Anjali: Papa. Armaan yeh tum? How dare you Armaan. Do you have no respect?

Armaan (exclaiming): What Anjie? What! I am sick and tired of everything. We have been waiting for ages and now the man who by title is my father in law claims he has attempted to kill my daughter. Then he says he doesn't know. Tell him to stop playing games.

Anjali had no reply to this, thus she remained quiet.

Riddhima didn't blame Armaan at all but she knew he must be feeling terribly guilty. She went up to him and wrapped her arms around his back from behind while looking at her father who was lying on the floor.

Riddhima: Armaan. Armaan suno meri baat. Baby listen....

Armaan: turned around and rested his head on her shoulders and began crying. Armaan's tears began lapping on Riddhima bare shoulder where her Sari pallu was free. This was the first time during the situation had Riddhima had seen Armaan cry.

Riddhima: Armaan baby please don't cry, it's not your fault we need an answer. Armaan shhh...

Armaan said nothing; he just kept his head on Riddhima's shoulder. He felt terribly guilty. He was the one who had sent Aahana to Shashank and because of him Aahana was fighting between life and death. His tears were searing Riddhima's heart apart.

Atul meanwhile went to Shashank to help him get up.

Shashank: The glimmer of nefariousness returned to Shashank's eyes, they had once again crystallized. 'Get off of me Mr Joshi' He said shrugging Atul's hand off of his shoulder.

Abhi had realised that there was something wrong with Dr Shashank.

Armaan tiredly lifted his head off of Riddhima's shoulder and looked up. His eyes were a swollen red; he was tired, worn out, confused, angry, upset all different emotions were evident on his face.

Swiping the tears off of his face and walking up to Shashank

Armaan: (weakly) I have had enough! We gave you enough chances. Just tell me! Did you, or did you not set that fire.

Shashank: Fire? What fire, the only fire I set this afternoon was when I turned the cooker on to make tea for Padma and then I went for a bath.

Once again silence had crept into the room, Shashank never mentioned Padma, and now he was talking as if she were alive Riddhima was aghast, how dare Shashank say such a thing.

Riddhima: You left the cooker turned on and went to have a bath, Are you out of your mind! And Mum... Mum has been dead for three years

Shashank (laughing): That's what you think. But I see her every day, she was cross with me because I didn't stay to see how Aahana was at the scene of the fire. So I came here.

Riddhima (THUNDERING): What are you saying? What is going on? Mumma is DEAD!

Rahul stepped in, he could see Armaan was in no fit state to move nor was he saying anything. He was frozen remembering Padma's death which had taken place in front of his eyes.

Rahul: Sir ye aap kya keh rahe hain. Padma maam died 3 years back and Aahana, how could you be so careless to leave the cooker on and have a bath, when a 6 month baby is in the house.

Shashank began laughing a callous laugh

Rahul couldn't control himself. He held Shashank's collar in a threatening state.

Rahul: You are the most insensitive and cold hearted person I have met till date. You deserve nobody, you hear me, NOBODY (he held Shashank's collar tighter)

Abhi intervened between Rahul, before he could cause Shashank harm.

Abhi: Leave him Rahul. Chodo unhe.

All eyes were on Abhi

Riddhima: Why, after all he has done, why?

Abhi (with a deep breath): Riddhima he is unwell.

Everybody gaped with eyes and mouths wide open at Abhimanyu's words

And at that moment, Dr Keerti came out of the OT. The operation was over. Everybody froze.
Hannah Sophia

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