Joined: 16 December 2008
Riddhima ran a frustrated hand through her hair and took a sip of her coffee. That was like the 10th cup of coffee she had that day but it wasn't helping much. She had to finish the report by the end of her shift and it was already 1 a.m. Great! So she had just under 7 hours to complete the report, provided she didn't fall asleep or wasn't called on an emergency.
"God please! Please don't let there be an emergency tonight," Riddhima offered up a silent prayer.
"Beep'.beep!" Her pager beeped, 'Report to OT,stat!'
Riddhima made a face," Thank You, Mr. God, thank you so much!" She gulped down the rest of her coffee, grabbed her stethoscope and ran towards the OT. As she entered the OT side-room she saw Dr. Subhankar dressed in his scrubs trying desperately to explain something to a man clutching onto his arm. The man, she noticed was quite tall, well built and for a second she thought that maybe Dr. Subhankar was being attacked. She was wondering whether to call security or not when Dr. Subhankar noticed her standing at the door.
"Ah, Dr. Gupta, I am glad that you are here. This is Mr. Mallik and I was hoping'"
Before Dr. Subhankar could finish what he was saying, Mr. Mallik left him and hurried towards Riddhima.
"Dr. Gupta, you have to come with me. Gappu is sick and I don't know what to do. Please," and before she could say anything he grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the OT. Riddhima didn't protest as he led her out of the hospital, not that it would have made any difference even if she had protested. The man looked so determined that he could probably convince an entire army platoon to follow him, without so much as a raised eyebrow.
She smiled to herself as he opened the passenger door of a black Mercedes for her and then moved to the driver's seat. Her one and half years experience was enough to teach her that when a loved one is sick, people generally do not remember or follow social norms. The situation becomes a hundred times worse if you are a paediatrician and the ill person in question is a child. The parents just don't know what they are doing. She had experienced similar situations a number of times but being dragged out of the hospital at 1 am was definitely a first.
Mr. Mallik was driving quietly with his attention on the road. After about 15 minutes, Riddhima decided that she'd better ask what was wrong with Mr. Mallik's son so that she could be prepared.
" Umm'Mr. Mallik? What exactly is wrong with your son?"
Mr. Mallik looked at her as if he had suddenly realized that she was sitting in the car. He looked at her for a moment then turning towards the road again replied, "Gappu is not my son, he is my nephew. He threw up a couple of times since he came back from school and is now running a fever."
Yes, just like she had expected, a minor case of stomach infection and the parents or as in this case the guardian goes ballistic. She shook her head and smiled.
"So is it serious?" Riddhima turned to see Mr. Mallik looking very anxious.
" Erm'what? I am sorry?" Riddhima asked.
" Gappu. Is he serious? You were shaking your head, do you think its something bad?"
" No Mr. Mallik. I don't think it is anything too bad. Probably just a simple case of stomach infection. I'll be sure when I see him though."
"Great..we've reached, now you can be sure."
Riddhima saw him driving into the driveway of a huge mansion and she looked in awe at the imposing structure. "God, these people are like filthy rich," she thought.
Mr. Mallik stopped the car in front of the entrance to the mansion and she stepped out. The house was like something cut out of a Lifestyle magazine and she just had enough time to appreciate the dcor when she was ushered upstairs to presumably where Gappu was.
Mr. Mallik opened the door of a room which could only have belonged to a child. The room was painted a bright blue with life size cut-outs of cartoon characters painted on the walls. Tintin, Asterix, Popeye, Dexter and a host of other characters. No girlie characters though, Riddhima noted with a grin. There were huge shelves filled with books and toys and in the middle of the room was a huge bed shaped like a car on which lay a boy of about 10. You didn't have to be a genius to figure out that he was Gappu. The entire household help seemed to be gathered around the bed but she was surprised as she noted the absence of any family member. She told herself to wonder about that later and moved toward Gappu's bed.
" Gappu, this is Dr. Gupta she is here to do your check up," Mr. Mallik said, introducing Riddhima.
Riddhima politely asked everyone crowding around the bed to leave as she checked on the patient and then turned towards Gappu and smiled.
" Hey, Gappu'how are you doing?"
Gappu didn't return the smile, infact he looked positively hostile. "Not everybody is allowed to call me by that name it is only those I' "
" Shut up, Gappu!" Mr. Mallik interrupted, "Stop with all your nonsense and let Dr. Gupta check you."
"It is okay Mr. Mallik, let me talk to him," Riddhima said and again turned towards Gappu. " I am sorry. What would you like me to address you by?"
Gappu was a bit taken aback by her formal tone but replied nevertheless, " My name is Gaurav Joshi. You can call me Gaurav."
" Thank you Mr. Gaurav, and now can you tell me how you are feeling? Your uncle told me you have fever and you threw up twice.."
" Thrice," Gappu interrupted, " I threw up thrice."
" Okay," Riddhima nodded, " I stand corrected. Now can you please open your mouth wide so that I may check your throat?"
Gappu opened his mouth and the check up went on after that without a hitch. After making a thorough checkup, Riddhima was satisfied. It was just like what she had thought initially. A minor stomach infection which was also the cause of the fever. She wrote down the names of a couple medicines on a slip of paper and handed it to Mr. Mallik.
" Do not worry, Mr. Mallik, it is just stomach infection. I have prescribed an antibiotic and a common digestive enzyme. You might have these at home itself."
" I don't know about that, its better that I just get them from the corner medicine shop," saying this he went out of the room hurriedly, leaving Gappu and Riddhima.
" Will I be alright Dr. Gupta?" Riddhima saw Gappu looking at her with a serious face.
" Yes, Mr. Gaurav, as soon as you have the medicines you'll be fit as a fiddle." The idiom was lost on Gappu and he still looked serious. Riddhima reframed her sentence, "You'll be perfectly alright. You just have a minor infection, probably because of something you had outside."
Gappu looked down. 'Guilty as charged!'
Riddhima smiled, "So what is it, that you had outside?"
Gappu looked up, guilt shining in his large brown eyes. "Please Dr. Gupta, don't tell mama, I promised to him that I won't have outside food. He will get really mad and won't give me another rupee of pocket money for as long as I live!"
Riddhima wanted to laugh out at his exaggerated comment but managed to keep a straight face. "Fine, I won't tell your mama but first you have to tell me what it is that you had, and also, you must stop calling me Dr. Gupta. Call me Riddima didi instead."
"You promise na, Riddhima didi?" Gappu still looked in doubt.
"Cross my heart and hope to die."
Gappu smiled atlast and with a mischievous grin confessed his sin, "Bhelpuri, outside school."
"Hmm.. Bhelpuri..tough to resist! You know, many a times we feel like doing things even though we know it is wrong, but we always have a choice and that's what make us what we are'our choices! Besides you also promised to your mama and one should always keep their promises. You think that your mama will get angry if he finds out, but you know what, more than being angry, he is going to feel sad that you broke his trust. Would you like that? "
Gappu looked really ashamed. He shook his head and said, "I am sorry." Riddhima decided that he had learnt his lesson and let him off the hook.
"It is okay, Gappu, but don't break anyone's trust again."
"I won't, I promise," Gappu said earnestly.
"Even if it is bhelpuri?" Riddhima inquired.
Gappu didn't answer, he seemed to be in a dilemma. After a couple of seconds he looked up, "I really like bhelpuri'" He left the sentence unfinished.
"Hmm..let's see, what if I make you a deal? You won't have outside food and I'll get you home made bhelpuri tomorrow when I come to see you. I'll also teach your cook how to make bhelpuri which you can have anytime you want and it won't make you sick. What say?"
This time Gappu didn't hesitate, "You'll do that? Wow! Deal!"
Riddhima smiled and shook hands with Gappu, " Deal!"
"But Riddhima didi, please don't tell mama about'"
"Tell me what?" Mr. Mallik asked as he entered the room. Riddhima and Gappu looked at each other and but didn't answer. "Tell me what?" Mr. Mallik repeated, looking from Riddhima to Gappu and back.
Finally Riddhima answered, "Nothing Mr. Mallik, its just about a medicine and besides its just between Gaurav and me!"
It seemed that Mr. Mallik was going to protest but he looked at Riddhima for a moment and let the topic pass. "Okay, not a problem. Dr. Gupta, here are the medicines you prescribed."
Gappu heaved a sigh of relief and gave Riddhima a grateful smile.
Riddhima took the medicines from Mr. Mallik, made Gappu have a couple of them and then laying him down tucked him in. "Good night Gaurav, sleep tight and I'll come to see you tomorrow."
"You can call me Gappu!" Gappu smiled sweetly.
Riddhima returned the smile, "Good night Gappu."
"Good night Riddhima didi, good night mama," saying this Gappu turned on his side and closed his eyes.
Mr. Mallik ran a hand over Gappu's head and whispered good night. His affection for his nephew was hard to miss. He switched off the light and Riddhima and he walked out of the room. As soon as they were outside Riddhima found Mr. Mallik looking at her, his head tilted, a vaguely questioning expression on his face.
"He let you call him Gappu? He never does that so soon. Are you a magician or something?"
Riddhima smiled, "I am a paediatrician Mr. Mallik, we have to have a way with children."
"Hmm..I can see that! You are awesome!!"
Riddhima looked up suddenly blushing slightly. ( 'Oh my God'did he just call me awesome? Awesome as in'as in awesome?! What exactly did he mean by awesome?')
"I mean, you are an awesome doctor," Mr. Mallik corrected himself, "You are really good at your job."
('Awesome Doctor? So that's all that he meant' damn!') "Thank You," Riddhima replied quietly.
Mr. Mallik seemed to judge her for a moment, but before she could feel uncomfortable he smiled. Riddhima thought, or rather knew for sure that it was like the best smile she had seen ..ever. She noticed that when he smiled there was a dimple on his right cheek and his eyes twinkled giving him an irresistible boyish charm. She also realized for the first time how handsome he really is. Something out of a Mills and Boon fantasy. And he just called me an 'awesome doctor'. Damn..damn..damn!!
"Dr. Gupta, are you alright?" Mr. Mallik looked concerned and Riddhima realized that she had been staring at him for God knows how long. (Dr. Riddhima Gupta ..you are a 24 year old doctor'for God's sake..get a grip on yourself!!)
"Yeah, I am alright, I was just thinking'"
Mr. Mallik still looked at her skeptically.
"Umm'.about a patient, not important'I mean'important for the patient but not just now,here.." Riddhima tried to explain. ( 'Right'now keep babbling so that he thinks you need psychiatric help. Shut up you idiot!!') Listening to her better judgement Riddhima stopped trying to explain and kept quiet.
Mr. Mallik seemed to sense her discomfort, smiled and said, "Well, lucky patient!"
('Lucky patient? Now what the hell does that mean?) Riddhima decided to stop analyzing.
By that time, Mr. Mallik and Riddhima had reached downstairs, one of the many house hold help that Riddhima had seen earlier came towards them, "Armaan baba, doctor didiji ke liye kuch'?"
"Oh I am so sorry," Mr. Mallik's hospitality kicked in, "I was so worried about Gappu, I forgot ask. Dr. Gupta, can I get you something? Tea, coffee'?"
"No, no Mr. Mallik. Thank you. I don't want to be any trouble."
"No trouble at all Dr. Gupta, Mohan bhaiyya will get'"
"No thank you Mr. Mallik. I am fine. Thank You." Riddhima nodded at Mohan Bhaiyya with a smile.
"Dr. Gupta, you came all the way here to check Gappu, I wish I could do something for you'"
"Well, Mr. Mallik, actually..there is something you can do for me," Riddhima looked a bit sheepish.
"Anything Dr. Gupta, I'll be glad to help you."
"Umm..well..it is quite embarrassing really," Riddhima said, looking down and fiddling with her stethoscope. "Erm'I am really bad at geography!" Riddhima looked up to find Mr. Mallik looking at her clearly surprised at her statement.
"I mean..I am terrible at recognizing roads and when you brought me here..i didn't recognize. I mean, I have absolutely no idea where I am!" Riddhima finally confessed. "Mr. Mallik, I'll be really grateful if you could call for a taxi to take me back to the hospital. Please."
Mr. Mallik's face remained impassive. Riddhima didn't know why but she felt that he was laughing at her. There was no trace of a smile on his face but his eyes seemed to twinkle.
When he didn't answer, Riddhima continued earnestly, " I didn't want to be a bother but it would really help me out."
"I am sorry Dr. Gupta, but I can't do that."
Riddhima was surprised at his response but took it in her stride. "It's okay Mr. Mallik, not a problem. I,I'll manage. Good night." She turned around to leave.
"Dr. Gupta, I said I was not going to call for a taxi because I cannot possibly let you leave alone. I brought you here and I am going to drop you back myself!"
Riddhima stopped in tracks and then turned around to protest vehemently. "No Mr. Mallik, you do not have to do that. Just call a taxi for me'.I'll go on my own."
'Did the man ever listen?' Riddhima wondered as Mr. Mallik led her to the car not paying the slightest heed to her protests. He opened the door for her and waited patiently for her to get in. Riddhima finally gave in and sat in the car. When they were seated, he started the car.
After they had driven out of the gates, Riddhima turned towards Mr. Mallik and said gratefully. "Thank you, Mr, Mallik..this is very considerate of you. Thank you."
Mr. Mallik looked at her and smiled, "I am not being considerate Dr. Gupta, I brought you here and it is my responsibility to take you back safely."
'Handsome and a gentleman'did they make men like him anymore?' Riddhima wondered. "Yeah..but still.Thank you, Mr. Mallik!"
This time Mr. Mallik grinned'an amazingly boyish grin, "Are you always this polite Dr. Gupta? You sound just like my secretary, and each time you call me Mr. Mallik it feels like I am being late for a board meeting. Scares the hell out of me. If you don't mind Dr. Gupta, call me Armaan, I like that name."
Riddhima laughed, "Fine, Armaan! But on one condition. You have to call me Riddhima. Each time you call me Dr. Gupta it feels like my father is seating in the backseat and you are talking to him!"
Armaan smiled, "Done!"
"So your father is a doctor too?" Armaan asked.
"Yeah. Both my parents are doctors. Gynaecologists."
" Three doctors under one roof? Two gynaecologists and a paediatrician? Oooh..that's almost like a small hospital," Armaan said with a grin.
Riddhima smiled, "You grossly underestimate us Mr. Mallik. It is not three, but five doctors. My brother Rahul and Muskaan bhabi are doctors too. Rahul bhaiyya is a cardiac surgeon and Bhabi is a neurologist."
Armaan lifted both his hands, palm up and bowed his head as a sign of surrender.
Riddhima laughed at his actions and said, "Well, it's not really that bad. We do have talks sometimes which have nothing to do with medicine and once in a while we do have visitors who are neither sick nor doctors!!"
"Yeah..I am sure," Armaan rolled his eyes and laughed.
Riddhima decided that she really liked his laugh,deep and heartfelt! Makes you want to laugh with him too. She smiled and slapping his arm playfully, said in defence, "No seriously Armaan, its not that bad. We hardly ever talk about anything related to the hospital at home. Papa and Rahul bhaiyya are like walking, talking encyclopaedias of cricket and football. I think they have watched every game ever played. Infact bhaiyya has this entire collection of DVDs of Maradona's games that even Bhabi is not allowed to touch. Bhabi on the other hand is a complete movie buff. She can recite entire movies, dialogue by dialogue. You should see her do a Shahrukh Khan impersonation, she is absolutely hilarious. And Mumma'she has her hands full trying to control our crazy family, and is cribbing all the time, but we all know that taking care of her family is what she loves the most. It's great fun." Riddhima stopped abruptly as she realized that Armaan was looking at her with a slight smile. 'Oh my God, I am babbling again,' she thought.
"I am sorry Armaan, you must be getting really bored," Riddhima said, slightly embarrassed.
"I am not bored at all Riddhima. It was great hearing about your family. It sounds like you all are very close."
Riddhima sighed, "Yeah, we are, that's why I miss them so much."
Armaan looked at her, "Miss them?"
Riddhima smiled, "Yeah, they are all in Kolkata. I came here to complete my post graduation."
"Oh, but why didn't you complete your post graduation in Kolkata?"
"Are you crazy? In Kolkata I was always treated as a kid. Dr. Shashank Gupta & Dr. Padma Gupta's daughter, Dr. Rahul Gupta's baby sister,no one ever took me seriously! I realized that if I really have to be a good doctor, I needed to do it on my own. That is why I came so far away to Mumbai Sanjeevani. Here atleast, people didn't judge me by my family. Here I get to be myself, just Dr. Riddhima Gupta!"
Armaan stopped the car and looked at her. Riddhima realized that they had reached the hospital. She was about to get out of the car when Armaan said almost in a whisper, " I am very glad that you came to Mumbai, Dr. Riddhima Gupta. I really am!!"
Armaan didn't know why he said that, but it sounded so right. He really was glad that Riddhima had come to Mumbai, he was really glad that she was on duty tonight and he was really glad that he got to meet her. She had this easy familiarity about her, a warmth that put you at ease instantly, an undeniable charm and along with all that she had to be one of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Armaan watched her look at him with a slightly dubious look and for a second he wondered if she was angry at him but she put all his worries to rest as she smiled and said, "Me too!"
Riddhima opened the door and stepped out. Closing the door she turned around to thank Armaan. "Thanks again Armaan!"
"You are welcome again Riddhima!" Armaan said with a grin and Riddhima couldn't help but grin back.
"When do I come to pick you up tomorrow?"
For a minute Riddhima didn't know what he was talking about and then it all came rushing back to her. Gappu.....check up'..tomorrow!
"Oh, you don't have to pick me up Armaan, you just give me your address, I'll catch a cab or something. It won't be a problem'"
Armaan listened to her tirade patiently and for the second time that day Riddhima realized that you couldn't talk Armaan out of anything, and for the second time that day, she gave up.
"Pick me up at around six, if it's not a problem," Riddhima said, sighing.
Armaan smiled like a kid who had got his way and said, "Six it is! Right here, in front of the gates, okay?"
Riddhima smiled, "Okay!"
"Great, see you tomorrow. Good night."
Riddhima grimaced, "Good night?! Armaan, I still have around 4 hrs of duty left, along with a case study. Unfortunately, nothing too good about it. I hope atleast you have a good night."
Armaan smiled sympathetically and said, "Fine, take care then!"
Riddhima nodded, "You too," and waved as Armaan drove out of the hospital gates. She moved towards Dr. Subhankar's cabin smiling to her self, surprised at how much she was looking forward to the next day.
Armaan on the other hand was driving back home. He caught a glimpse of himself in the rear view mirror and found that he was grinning. It was long time since he had smiled for no apparent reason and it felt great. He was replaying the past two and half hours in his mind in minute details and he remembered how Riddhima smiled, how she kept putting loose, disturbing strands of hair behind her ears, he remembered how happy she looked talking about her family. He laughed out loud when he remembered how cute she looked trying to convince him that she could go back to the hospital herself. She was such a contradiction. One minute she was this efficient, in-control doctor and the next minute she was like a petulant kid. She was probably the only woman in the universe who in the same breath could talk about the idiosyncrasies of her family and also her dreams of being a good doctor. He had never met anyone like her. He looked at himself in the rear-view mirror, ran a hand through his hair, smiled and said to himself,
"Guess I was hanging around with the wrong crowd!"
The next day dawned bright and warm. Armaan woke up with a smile on his face. He dressed quickly and went to wake up Gappu. Last night he had decided to let Gappu miss school that day to give him some rest and so when he entered Gappu's room he found him sleeping peacefully. Armaan checked Gappu's forehead and finding it at normal temperature couldn't help the naughty urge to irritate Gappu. He slipped into Gappu's bed and pulled him into the crook of his arm. He tickled Gappu lightly and finding him getting irritated grinned naughtily. Armaan tickled Gappu again and this time Gappu opened his eyes a fraction of a centimeter. He looked up at Armaan grinning and snuggled back into his arms.
"Rise and shine, Mr. Gappu!"
"Lemme sleep na Mama! Holiday!" Gappu mumbled.
"It's already 10 o'clock Mr. Gappu."
"But I am sick!"
"You are perfectly alright. Get up and let's have some breakfast. It's a beautiful day!"
Gappu sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes groggily. He then surveyed Armaan with a watchful eye and commented, "You look way too happy for 10 o'clock in the morning. Are you alright? Don't you have to go to the office today?"
Armaan grinned, ruffled Gappu's hair and got up from the bed. He picked the basket ball lying near the bed and executed a perfect basket in the hoop on the other side of the room! He bowed to Gappu and left the room singing, "It's a beautiful day!"
Gappu rolled his eyes in disbelief and got out of bed. Armaan mama was good fun most of the time but not at 10 am and definitely not on a weekday! 'Something is definitely wrong!'
Gappu got dressed and proceeded downstairs for breakfast. He could hear Armaan laughing with Mohan bhaiyya as he entered the dining room.
"Ah, Mr. Gappu. Welcome! What do you want for breakfast?"
"French toast..?" Gappu stated tentatively.
"French toast it is! Mohan bhaiyya get Gappu and me some French toasts please."
Mohan bhaiyya and Gappu looked at each other. Gappu shrugged indicating that he was clueless about the reason behind Armaan's cheerfulness.
"Umm..Armaan baba?" Mohan bhaiyya tried to put in a word, " woh actually Gappu baba was sick yesterday, don't you think we should not give him French toasts?"
"Rubbish, Gappu is perfectly alright and besides Riddhima said'," Armaan stopped himself on seeing two pairs of eyes staring at him incredulously. He cleared his throat and said, "I mean Dr. Riddhima said that Gappu is alright and she is a very good doctor. She is a fabulous doctor. She is'" Armaan stopped himself again as he saw the two pairs of eyes watching him grow wider. "I mean, it's okay Mohan bhaiyya, just get us some French toasts, I'll see that Gappu doesn't have too many of them. Okay?"
"Okay, Armaan baba."
Armaan grinned at Gappu and reached out to ruffle his hair. Gappu reacted, "Not the hair, Mama!" and tried to re-arrange it.
"Not the hair, Mama!" Armaan mimicked and then laughed. "Okay, Mr. Gappu, not the hair!"
Gappu watched with disbelieving eyes as Armaan took two spoons and pretended to play the drums on the table. He kept singing "It's a beautiful day" intermittently. His orchestra was interrupted when his cell phone rang. He handed over his drumsticks'cum-spoon to Gappu and picked up his phone.
"Helllloooo? Oh, hi Shikha! How's life? How's everything at office? Sikha? Helloo'you there?Yeah..its me Armaan. Everything okay at the office front?.....Great! No Sikha, I don't think I am coming today'spending today with Gappu. Let me know if you need me. Take care..toodleloo!! "
Armaan disconnected the phone and found Gappu staring at him, his mouth open with wonder.
"What? Why are you staring at me like that Gappu?"
"Toodleloo? Did you just say Toodleloo? Toodleloo.... to your secretary?"
Armaan shrugged nonchalantly, "Yeah,so?"
"And you said that you are not going to go to office today?"
"Yep,and I am spending the entire day with you!" Armaan reached out to ruffle Gappu's hair and stopped midway, "Oh, sorry, not the hair!!"
"Mama? Are you sure, you are spending the entire day at home?"
"And what do you plan to do the whole day?"
Armaan seemed to consider for a moment and then shrugged, "I dunno,you say. Maybe we could rent a video and then I could challenge you to a game of Delta Force. The loser has to do 5 things that the winner demands!! What say?"
Gappu let the spoons he was holding drop to the table. He pushed back his chair and got up.
"Gappu? Where are you going?"
"Erm..Armaan Mama'.ummm'I'll Just be back!" said Gappu and raced upstairs to his room. He plonked himself on his bed, took the cordless phone out of the stand and dialed an overseas number. After a couple of rings a sleepy voice answered.
"Gappu? Gappu are you alright? Where is Armaan? Isn't it a school day? Why are you not at school? Gappu tell me if'."
"Mumma,I did it."
"Huh? You did it? What did you do?"
"Mumma, you keep telling me that I can drive anyone crazy. Well, I think you are right. I have done it.I think I have driven Armaan mama crazy!"
"What? What rubbish! Put Armaan on the phone."
"No Mumma..seriously! Armaan Mama has been singing since morning and he bunked office and he.."
On the other end of the phone Gappu could hear his parents talking.
"Atul,get up. It's Gappu on the phone..he thinks that Armaan has gone mad!"
"Armaan? Mad? What are you talking about?"
"Gappu says that Armaan has bunked office and is singing since morning. Atul'do something."
"Hmm'Anjali, ask Gappu what song Armaan has been singing."
"What difference would that make?"
"It makes a lot of difference, give me the phone, let me talk to Gappu. Gappu? What song has Armaan Mama been singing?"
"It's a beautiful day!" Gappu informed his father.
"And is it a beautiful day?" Atul asked.
Though thousands of miles apart, but Anjali and Gappu, at both ends of the phone had the exact same re-action. They both rolled their eyes and sighed in exasperation. Atul had a talent for asking the weirdest of questions!
"I don't know Dad. I was too busy with Armaan mama, didn't really have the time to check!"
"Then check now Gappu and tell me. I'."
"Oh, shut up Atul. Give me the phone." Anjali snatched the phone away. "Gappu, please put Armaan on the phone. I am really worried, I need to talk to him."
"Just a sec..Mumma. I'll take the phone downstairs, but please don't tell mama about what I told you. You know, about him being mad and all.."
"Okay, but put Armaan online."
Gappu took the phone and went downstairs.
As soon as Armaan saw him he said, "Gappu'.where were you? Are you alright? You didn't throw up or anything? Did you?"
"No mama, I am alright."
"Great. Riddhima said you'd be alright. Come here, French toasts are served!"
"Umm'Armaan mama'.Mumma is on the phone, she wants to talk to you," Gappu said handing over the phone.
Armaan took the phone with a wide smile, "Hey Di !! How's my favourite sister?"
"Armaan, I am your only sister!"
"Yeah.. I know, and I love you!"
"Armaan, are you alright?"
"Never better, after all 'It's a beautiful day'!"
"I know,I heard!!"
"Yeah, Gappu told me. He also told me that you bunked office and have been singing since morning. Why did you bunk office?"
"Oh, come on Di ! I am 25 years 8 months old, stop treating me like a kid. I didn't go to office because I wanted to spend the day with my favourite nephew. Quit worrying."
"And why didn't Gappu go to school today?"
"Simple, because he wanted to spend the day with me," said Armaan and laughed at his own joke. However seeing no response from the other side stifled the laugh hurriedly.
"Fine.Gappu had a little stomach upset yesterday so I thought he should take the day off."
"Gappu had a stomach upset? Why didn't you tell me? Is he alright? Did you get Subhankar uncle to check him? Did '.."
"Di! Gappu is perfectly alright. Subhankar uncle was busy yesterday so he sent Riddhima'I mean Dr. Riddhima Gupta. She is a great doctor and she will come again today evening to check on Gappu."
"Are you sure Gappu is alright?"
"Okay'.but still, when the doctor comes please give me a call. I want to talk to her personally."
"Done. Sis! Where's Atul bhaiyya? Put him on."
"Atul has gone back to sleep sitting up! He's had a long day."
Armaan laughed, "Okay Di'.talk to you later! Love you!"
"Love you too. Give the phone to Gappu, I hadn't said good bye"
Gappu took the phone from Armaan, "Mumma?"
"Beta, don't worry. Armaan sounded alright but do me a favour and keep an eye on him. Okay?"
"Thanks. Love you."
"Love you too. Tell dad I love him."
"I'll tell him. Bye."
Gappu disconnected the phone and saw Armaan smiling at him affectionately.
"So, Mr. Gappu? You done? May we attack our French toasts now?"
Gappu nodded sitting down in front of his plate and Armaan and he 'attacked' the French toasts.
Riddhima pulled out the keys of her apartment and tried the lock. She groaned in despair as the lock seemed stuck. She had a splitting head ache and all she wanted to do was to change into her pajamas and get into bed. Finally her lock turned and stepping into the apartment she was greeted with a loud cheer from her colleague-cum-flat mate-cum-best friend Dr. Nikita Malhotra.
"Hey Ridzie! Howdie Ho, fair maiden!"
Riddhima flinched. "Niki, could you not shout early in the morning?"
"Oooh'you seem to be in a good mood," Niki said sarcastically, "What happened? Did Dr. Subhankar keep you locked up in a broom cupboard all night?"
"Ha ha, very funny! Go to work and let me sleep."
"Okies! Sweet dreams, sleeping beauty. Oh, by the way, is there a lot of work in the hospital today?"
"No'not too much. Why?"
"Nothing. Just that'you know..Abhi and I was planning to take a little lunch break today," Niki replied coyly.
Riddhima shook her head and said, "Why don't you guys just get married and get it over with, once and for all?"
"I will, I will,in 5 months time! Let us just enjoy the 'engaged couple' tag for a while!"
"Fine, enjoy the 'tag'! I think Dr. Keerti is on duty today, maybe she will cut 'the engaged couple' some slack."
Niki's smile vanished as if by magic. "Dr. Keerti is on duty today?" She sat down on the couch dejectedly, "Sorry Dr. Abhi ,no lunch break!"
Riddhima grinned, "Maybe you guys could have dinner together? What do you think?"
Niki brightened up at once, "Ridzie, you are a genius! I'll call up Abhi right now and fix a date."
Riddhima smiled at her enthusiasm and said, "You do that. Have fun. I am off to sleep. Good night!"
"Good night! Oh, yeah Ridzie,I made scrambled eggs for breakfast,have them. Okay?"
"Thanks," Riddhima said gratefully as Niki took her bag and while dialing Abhi's number left the apartment.
Riddhima woke up to the sound of her alarm clock. She reached for it sleepily and saw that it was 3pm. She silenced the alarm and walked groggily to the bathroom to have a long bath. After the sleep and long bath she felt more like herself and not like some zombie walking in a trance. She felt like cooking! Maybe some aloo parathas. She went to their tiny kitchen and rummaged for all the ingredients, all the while humming a little tune to herself. She loved cooking and always cooked when she was happy. However she didn't cook much in Mumbai as there wasn't anyone to cook for. If there was anything she loved more than cooking, it was, to cook for someone! So, as usual, after she was done with her aloo parathas, she started missing her brother terribly.
"Rahul bhaiyya loves aloo parathas," she thought to herself, "I wish he was here."
As if an answer to her prayers her cell phone started ringing. Riddhima reached for it and her eyes lit up as she saw the name on the screen.
"Hello? Rahul bhaiyya? I was just thinking about you?"
"And why is that little sister? Did someone just pull your pigtails or did someone call you 'Monsoon Monkey?"
Riddhima frowned, "First of all bhai, I don't tie my hair into pigtails anymore and secondly why the hell would anyone call me 'Monsoon Monkey? That's not even a proper word."
"Exactly! It's two words!" Rahul said laughing, "And anyone would call you 'Monsoon Monkey" if they happened to see you dancing in the rain."
"Bhai?" Riddhima said sweetly.
Rahul laughed, "Okay, sorry. Now tell me why you were missing me?"
"Who ever said I was missing you?" Riddhima replied cheekily, "I just said I was thinking about you. There's a lot of difference."
There was silence on both sides for a moment and then Riddhima spoke up, "Rahul bhaiyya' I made aloo parathas."
Rahul smiled, "And so you were missing me'..sorry, 'thinking' about me. Right?"
"Bhaiyya? I miss you, I miss Mumma-Papa, I miss Bhabi. I miss you guys a lot."
"I know and we all miss you too. It's not the same without you. Do us all a favour, study hard, finish your post grad and come back to Kolkata as soon as possible. Okay?"
Riddhima sniffled, "Okay!"
"Now, stop crying and courier me some aloo parathas, stat!"
Riddhima laughed, "In your dreams!"
"Aww,there's my little sister! So tell me, what's up!"
"Nothing much. Had night duty yesterday, slept the entire morning , now cooking aloo paratha and planning to make bhelpuri."
"Oooh! Someone's hungry!"
"Bhai! The bhelpuri is not for me, it's for a patient."
"Riddhima did we send you to medical school or catering school? Bhelpuri for a patient? What kind of treatment is that?"
"Are bhai'it's a small boy. I visited him yesterday, he had stomach upset and I promised to get him bhelpuri."
"Wait a minute. The boy had an upset stomach and you are feeding him bhelpuri? Ridz, are you alright?"
"Ufff'bhai! It's not like that. It's..it's complicated!"
"I know..'. I am lost!"
"Bhai,leave it! How's Muskaan bhabi?"
"More like Muskaan 'Surinder Sahani' Gupta. I am so fed up with her 'Hello jee' and 'Kaise ho jee?', I kind of miss the Muskaan 'Rahul- naam to suna hoga' Gupta."
Riddhima burst out laughing. "Serves you right!"
"Yeah' I know'Mumma said the same thing! I wonder why she has to imitate Shahrukh Khan all the time. Sometimes she could maybe, you know, do a Kajol or a Preity Zinta or even a sexy Priyanka Chopra. I wouldn't mind."
"Bhaiyya, you are too much," Riddhima said hiccupping with laughter.
Rahul laughed too. "Okay, chal, gotta go! Talk to you later. Let me know about your Bhelpuri treatment,okay? Bye! Love you!"
"Love you too bhai! Bye!"
Riddhima disconnected the phone and smiled to herself. Then she saw the time and quickly started gathering the ingredients for making bhelpuri.
Armaan was in the Sanjeevani parking lot at 5:45pm. He was generally punctual but today, he was not taking any chances. He had to be there at the gates, at 6pm sharp. He was sitting in his car and had a clear view of the Sanjeevani main gate and at about five minutes to six Riddhima appeared. She was wearing a snow white churidar with her hair left open and Armaan couldn't take his eyes off her. She looked amazing. Armaan saw her smiling at acquaintances, hugging a little boy who had just been discharged. He saw her looking at her watch and then looking searchingly at the approaching cars.
"She is waiting for me," Armaan thought, and that thought brought a huge smile on his face. Armaan checked his watch and saw that he had just 1 minute left and decided he should make a move.
He maneuvered the car out of the parking lot and drove to the main gate and stopped the car right in front of Riddhima. On seeing him, Riddhima smiled and then opening the car door, sat down.
"Right on time, Armaan!" Riddhima said with a grin
"Shouldn't keep a lady waiting!"
Riddhima nodded and settled her bag on her lap. After a few moments she realized that they weren't moving. She looked up at Armaan questioningly and found him staring at her with a stupid grin on his face.
"Riddhima! Riddhima, you look"
"Yes?" Riddhima prompted shyly.
"Riddhima you look ......umm.....you look very....you look very fresh!"
Riddhima's face fell. Her mind hit the pause button and then the fast rewind button.
(Did he just tell me that I looked fresh? Fresh, as in, FRESH? Way to go Riddhima, you shampooed your hair, put on make-up and dressed in your favourite churidar all for a lousy 'You look fresh'! Is the guy crazy? Did he think he was talking to vegetables? Or fish? Or laundry?)
Riddhima forced a fake smile and mumbled, "Thank you."
Armaan, on the other hand was mentally kicking himself.
(Dude...what the hell is wrong with you? You are sitting with this amazingly beautiful girl whom can't help staring at and all you come up with, is fresh? FRESH?!! What were you thinking? Say something. Say something fast before she thinks that you are not fit for civilized society. )
"I mean," Armaan fumbled, "I mean, even after a night duty, you look.."
Riddhima was not even looking at him anymore, mentally berating herself for making an effort to look good."You look beautiful!" Armaan finished in almost a whisper
Riddhima looked up suddenly and then blushing slightly said, "Thank You!" This time her smile was genuine.
Armaan smiled but didn't take her eyes off her. Riddhima self-consciously put a strand of her hair behind her ears and that little action seemed to deepen Armaan's smile. Riddhima lifted her eyebrows and looked at Armaan pointedly.
"Huh?" Armaan said dreamily.
"Armaan, what are we waiting for?"
Reality finally began to set in. Armaan shook his head and running his fingers through his hair, smiled. He noticed how self-consciously Riddhima was fiddling with her dupatta and decided to lighten the situation.
"Riddhima, I am waiting for you to compliment me!" Armaan said with a serious face.
"Huh?" Riddhima seemed incredulous.
"I mean, I said you looked beautiful and so, you should say that I look beautiful'.err'.handsome too! That's'that's how it goes right? I compliment you, you compliment me. Vice versa, give and take." Armaan said smugly.
Riddhima blinked at Armaan for a couple of seconds and sitting back straight in the seat said in a huff,
"You are mad!"
Armaan mentally congratulated himself and grinned.
"That's not really a compliment you know," He said in an offended voice, "But I'll take it anyway."
"Whatever! Can we go now?"
Armaan stifled a laugh hearing her irritated tone. She was turning out to be a lot of fun to irritate. More fun than even Gappu. He looked at Riddhima's annoyed expression one last time and then grinning, started the car.
They were driving for a while in a comfortable silence, often stealing glances at each other and finally Riddhima spoke up.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Gappu'.I mean'..Gappu's parents'I didn't see them yesterday."
Armaan glanced at her and smiled, "Anjali di and Atul Bhaiyya are presently in Los Angeles."
"Oh. For a holiday?"
"No, actually, Atul Bhaiyya is a software engineer and he keeps getting transferred every two or three years. He got transferred to LA, a couple of months back. Anjali di didn't want Gappu to miss school and so I jumped at the opportunity. I offered to keep Gappu with me until Di and Atul Bhaiyya settled everything, you know, set up the house, get Gappu admitted to a school and stuff. Besides'this was a great opportunity for me to enjoy a family life in a long time."
"You live alone, Armaan?" Riddhima asked.
"Yeah, for almost 6 years now, after Mom passed away. Di and Atul bhaiyya are my only immediate family and like I told you, they keep shifting. They do visit me quite often and call me all the time, but a couple of visits every year and half dozen phone calls doesn't really constitute a family life," Armaan said with a small smile which accentuated the sadness in his eyes.
"I am sorry." Riddhima truly felt sorry. Growing up in a loud, boisterous family she couldn't imagine what it felt like to return to an empty house everyday, and Armaan had been doing that for the past 6 years. She has been living in Mumbai for only 6 months and still she often felt like leaving everything and running back home. She wondered how Armaan coped with staying alone all the time.
"It's okay, Riddhima. It's not that bad. I have Mohan Bhaiyya and he is almost family," Armaan sought to reassure.
Riddhima still looked bothered, bitting her lower lip and thinking deeply. Suddenly her face cleared and she looked up at Armaan excitedly.
"I know what you should do, Armaan."
"Yeah..absolutely!" Riddhima smiled, proud of herself, "You should move with your sister and her family!"
Armaan looked at Riddhima and asked, "Like, move with them to LA?"
Riddhima nodded vigorously.
Armaan stared at her excited face and burst out laughing.
Riddhima's expression changed, she looked indignant. "What is so funny, Armaan?"
"Nothing," Armaan said while laughing, "It is a brilliant idea. Just that, Di and Atul bhaiyya already have their hands full trying to get Gappu adjusted to the new environment every time they move, and I think adding me on to the entourage won't help matters much. Besides'I am a big boy now and surely none of the schools in LA will ever admit me."
Riddhima looked put out.
"Riddhima, I have my entire life here. My home, my business, I can't just leave everything and go!"
"Hmm'I hadn't thought about that," Riddhima said with a frown.
Armaan smiled watching Riddhima concentrating hard to find a solution to his problem. He thought, she looked damn cute, her brows crinkled, unconsciously playing with her fingers. He saw Riddhima smile suddenly as a new idea struck her and turn to him eagerly.
"Armaan, I know."
"What?" Armaan smiled indulgently.
"I know what you should do, you should get married and start a family of your own!"
Armaan looked at Riddhima smiling brightly and a slow grin curved his lips. He looked her straight in the eye and whispered,
"Are you proposing, sweetheart?"
Riddhima's heart did a back flip as thousands of butterflies fluttered in her stomach. Her smile faltered and she could feel herself blushing.
"Umm'yes'I mean no'. I mean'.. I was'. I was just," Riddhima fumbled while Armaan stared at her intently, clearly expecting an answer. Slowly his eyes softened and he let out a chuckle.
Riddhima heaved a sigh of relief, "You were joking?"
Armaan chuckled, "I could be serious if you want me to be."
"Oh, shut up Armaan!"
Armaan laughed and drove in through the gates of his house. "Okay, Dr. Riddhima. I'll shut up. Now let's go upstairs, Mr. Gappu awaits!"
Riddhima and Armaan entered Gappu's room to find him sprawled on the floor playing with his Lego toys. He looked up and as soon as he saw Riddhima, his face lit up. He got up from the floor and ran towards her.
"Riddhima didi! Hi!"
Riddhima bent on one knee and said, "Hey Gappu! How are you?"
"I am fine."
"No stomach upset?"
"Open your mouth."
After checking Gappu's throat for any swollen glands and also his pulse, Riddhima seemed satisfied.
"Did you have your medicines?"
"Yes, Riddhima didi."
"Good boy," Riddhima said and then patting Gappu's head, fixed his hair.
Armaan who had been witnessing this exchange with a lopsided grin, now frowned.
"Gappu? Whenever I come anywhere near your hair you keep shouting, 'not the hair, not the hair' but you didn't tell Riddhima anything?"
"It's okay mama, I don't mind if Riddhima didi fixes my hair," Gappu said smiling sweetly.
Armaan looked at Gappu and then at Riddhima, with a bewildered expression and then made a face. He muttered something under his breath which sounded very much like 'what a suck up!' and went and sat on the bed.
Riddhima who had been struggling hard to keep a straight face, now felt Gappu tugging at her duppatta. She turned towards Gappu and found him looking at her expectantly.
"Riddhima didi, I had all the medicines and no body had to force me even."
Riddhima smiled, "Oh really? Then I must say you have been a very good boy!"
"Thank you. So where's my prize?"
Seeing Gappu's eager expression, Riddhima couldn't control the urge to tease him. She feigned surprise,
Gappu looked heart broken, " But, Riddhima didi, you promised." He turned around dispiritedly to go back to his toys.
Riddhima grinned and reached into her bag. She took out the casserole and called, "Gappu?"
Gappu turned and as soon as he saw the casserole, his face broke into a smile.
"Of course, I remembered! I promised, didn't I?"
Gappu quickly took the casserole and opened it. He whooped with joy and hurriedly dug into the bhelpuri.
"Yum, Riddhima didi, this is even better than the bhelpuri outside my school."
Armaan who was still sulking, sitting on the bed, couldn't control his curiosity any longer.
"Gappu, what's that? What are you having?"
"Bhelpuri," Gappu said, his mouth full of food.
"Bhelpuri?" Armaan asked. He got off from the bed and came towards where Gappu and Riddhima were sitting. He looked at Riddhima and inquired, "You brought Bhelpuri for him?"
Riddhima nodded, "Yep."
"Because, I promised."
Armaan for a moment watched Gappu gulping down the bhelpuri and then turned towards Riddhima. He extended his hand and asked sweetly, "Where's my Bhelpuri?"
Riddhima was put in a spot. She didn't know how to react.
"I don't have'I didn't bring 'I mean you never told me to get'. I am sorry'..I'll get some more next time..!"
Riddhima's ramblings were interrupted with the shrill ringing of a telephone. Riddhima sighed in relief as Armaan turned around and went to pick up the cordless telephone lying on the bed.
"Hello? Oh hi Di! Gappu is fine. Yeah, Riddhima'.I mean Dr. Riddhima is here. Yeah, just a sec."
Armaan walked towards Riddhima and handed her the phone.
"Riddhima, it's my sister on the phone, she was very worried about Gappu and wants to talk to you."
Riddhima nodded and took the phone.
"Hello, Hi, I am Anjali, Gappu's mom. Is Gappu alright. Armaan told me he had fever and a stomach infection. I mean, you don't think it is anything serious, do you? Not jaundice or chicken pox or typhoid or'."
"Gappu is perfectly alright," Riddhima interrupted. "He had slight fever owing to the stomach infection but now he is absolutely fine. No jaundice, no chicken pox'white eyes and spotless." Riddhima added with a smile.
Anjali finally seemed to relax. She even laughed a little. "Thank you, Doctor. Dr. Riddhima, right?"
"Yeah, but just Riddhima will be fine"
"Thank you so much Riddhima. I was really worried. You know, I am here, so far away, and when I heard Gappu was sick , I felt so helpless. I know, I was being silly and it's probably just a common cold or something but I so wished I could be with him."
"I understand'I guess any mother would feel that way. But, you don't have to worry, Gappu is okay. He is a wonderful boy. He has had all his medicines and is now watching a football match on tv, with Armaan."
There was a brief silence on the other end and then Anjali spoke in a serious voice,
"Riddhima? Can I ask you something?"
"What do you feel about Armaan?"
Riddhima's breath stuck in her throat.
(Damn Riddhima! Are you being so obvious that a lady sitting thousands of miles away from you can guess over the phone that you could have any 'feelings' about Armaan? Hold on Girl. But how could she? You just mentioned Armaan once, and that also in passing. If Anjali guessed anything from that one sentence, then either she had to be the world's best mind reader or you are getting the situation all wrong!)
"Excuse me?" Riddhima managed to ask.
"I mean, do you think he is alright?"
Riddhima chanced a glance at Armaan who was sitting with Gappu and cheering, as their favourite team scored a goal. Unsure of what exactly Anjali was asking about, she ventured cautiously,
"Umm'I'. I don't know' he seems okay!"
"Is he behaving well with you, like, is he behaving normally?"
Riddhima gave up trying to analyze what Anjali was saying. Maybe talking in riddles ran in the family or maybe the whole lot of them were crazy. Riddhima waved aside all her confusion and said in a firm voice, "I think Armaan is fine and he has been behaving like a perfect gentleman with me!"
"Oh, Good!" Anjali sounded relieved. "I was sure Armaan was okay but then when Gappu told me'..I'I got a little worried."
"What did Gappu tell you?" Riddhima asked, curious.
Anjali was silent for a second and then said off- handedly,
"Oh nothing. It's just'..Forget it. It was really nice talking to you Riddhima and thank you so much for taking care of Gappu. Maybe we could meet, when I come to India, I'd really like to know you."
"Sure," Riddhima said with a smile, "Just give me a call. I'd like to meet you too. And don't worry about Gappu. He is fine."
"Thank you. Say hello to Gappu from my side and tell him that I'll call later. Bye!"
Riddhima disconnected the phone and shook her head, smiling. She looked at the bed where Armaan and Gappu were sitting and found Armaan missing. She was wondering where Armaan was, when a voice spoke up right behind her.
"Thinking about me?"
Riddhima was startled, "Armaan, you scared me!"
"Sorry Dr. Gupta, but I was curious about what Di and you were talking about for so long. Did Di ask a lot of questions about Gappu?"
Riddhima crossed her arms and grinned at Armaan mischievously,
"Actually, no! You will be surprised Mr. Mallik, but she was asking a lot of questions about YOU!"
Saying this she turned around and walked towards Gappu leaving an extremely puzzled Armaan!
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