This is not full fledged FF. Just a short story. It is based somewhere in the land of my
. It explores the possibility where Nidhi is hesitant is getting close to Ashutosh because she thinks she might not be his equal.
"Dr. Nidhi," Mallika stopped her just as she was about to leave after her duty.
"Ji Dr. Mallika?"
"...khatam ho gai hai," Nidhi said hastily, "Main Dr. Kabir ko handover kar diya hai." She was scared that Mallika would find some reason to scold her. So, she felt the need to explain at the outset that she was not shirking her duty and was leaving only after it was over.
"I know. Mujhe aapse kuchh baat karni hai... Not about work."
"Yahan nahin. Let's go someplace quiet."
Nidhi raised her eyebrows as Mallika turned to go to the terrace, but she followed her anyway.
"Dr. Nidhi. Mujhe ghuma-phira kar baatein karne ki aadat nahin hai. Isliye saaf-saaf kah deti hoon. Aap ko Dr. Ashutosh ke saath karne ki koshish kar rahi hain, wo sahi nahin hai."
Nidhi was flustered for a moment. What was that about? "Kya matlab? Main... kya karne ki koshish kar rahi hoon aur kya sahi nahin hai?"
"Aapka Ashutosh ke kareeb jaane ki koshish karna..."
"Dr. Mallika," Nidhi shouted, "Aapko hosh bhi hai ki aap kya bol rahi hain? Pahli baat to main aisa kuchh kar nahin rahi hoon. Doosri baat ki kar bhi rahi hoti to aapko uske baare mein bolne ka koi haq nahin hai..."
"Ashutosh mera dost hai. Barah saalon se jaanti hoon use Nidhi. Agar uske saath kuchh galat hoga to mera haq hai ki main woh hone se rokun."
"Dr. Ashutosh koi..." Nidhi started to give a stinging reply, but held herself back, "Jawaab dena mujhe aata hai Dr. Mallika. Lekin main itni kadwi baat apne munh se nikaalna nahin chahti. Behtar hoga ki aap mujhe majboor na karein."
"Dr. Nidhi. Mard bahar se to bahut tough dikhte hain. Lekin unke andar hazaaron insecurities aur weaknesses bhari hoti hain. I am afraid ki unmein se kuchh ko aapne Ashutosh ke andar kured diya hai. Aur jaane-anjaane he has started falling for you. But if you care for him, or at least pretend to care for him, then you should stop this. Aap dono ka koi mel nahin hai."
Nidhi was amused and said sarcastically "Jab aapne itne assumptions apne man mein bana hi liye hain, aur kuchh bhi bolne se aap nahin hi chookengi, to mujhe ye bhi bata hi dijiye ki kyon mel nahin hai hamara? Aaj kaam aaye na aaye, shayad future mein kabhi ye knowledge mere kaam aa jayegi."
"Zaroor aayegi Nidhi. Life partner hamare baraabar ka koi hona chahiye, jise agar hum kabhi sahara dete hain, to zaroorat padne par usse sahara le bhi sakein. Tum Ashutosh ke saamne bachchi ho Nidhi. Too immature, too weak. Tum kabhi unke saath kadam se kadam mila kar nahin chal paogi, unki pareshaaniyan, unke issue nahin samajh paogi. To behtar yahi hoga ki apne youth aur apni khoobsoorti ke dum par tum Ashutosh ke kareeb pahunchne ki koshish na karo. Ye disastrous hoga, tum dono ke liye," Mallika walked out after saying this. But her little speech did affect Nidhi.
Nidhi was walking back from the terrace lost in thoughts, when she heard his voice, "Dr. Nidhi."
"Y... Yes Sir," she stammered.
"Kya baat hai? Koi pareshaani hai? Aisa kaise ho gaya ki aap muskura nahin rahi hain, chahak nahin rahi hain?" Ashutosh asked playfully.
Nidhi wondered for a moment. This playful Ashutosh was indeed very different from the the Ashutosh she was introduced to in her initial days at the hospital. This Ashutosh was much more relaxed and lively. She had admitted to herself that her opinion of Ashutosh had undergone a sea chance since her first day at the hospital. But was it her opinion that had changed? Or had he himself changed? Why?
"Dr. Nidhi. Aap theek to hain?" Ashutosh asked with concern, when he saw Nidhi staring at him without saying anything.
"Yes Sir. Main bilkul theek hoon."
"Main kuchh soch rahi thi. Lekin koi problem ki baat nahin hai."
"Aapki duty khatm ho gayi hai?"
"To agar aap free hain to coffee peete hain. Aur saath mein ye bhi pata lagate hain ki kya baat aapko pareshaan kar rahi hai?"
But Nidhi was back in element by then, "Coffee to zaroor peete hain. Lekin aap ye mat sochiyega ki aapko koi aisa secret pata chal jayega jisse mujhe pareshaan kiya ja sakta hai. Mujhe to aap bhi kabhi pareshaan nahin kar paye. Koi aur kya karega?"
Ashutosh laughed, "Aapne to mera plan banne se pahle hi us par paani pher diya."
Mallika saw them walking into the canteen. Nidhi noticed a fuming Mallika and flinched a bit, but Ashutosh didn't notice her.
Priyanka came bustling into the common room where Nidhi and Rangnath were sitting.
"He bhagwaan! Ab aap hi mujhe Dr. Ashutosh se bacha sakte hain," she prayed dramatically.
"Kya hua Priyanka?"
"Late ho gayi yaar. Meri duty Dr. Ashutosh ke saath lagi hai. Aur mujhe ye wedding dresses ki naap deni aaj zaroori thi. Woh to mujhe maar hi daalenge."
"Itne bure bhi nahin hain Priyanka. Explain kar dena, kuchh nahin kahenge."
"Ab Dr. Nidhi ne kaha to theek hi kah rahi hongi Dr. Priyanka. Ghabraiye mat," Rangnath interrupted.
"Dr. Rangnath!" Nidhi glared at him,
"Mera matlab hai ki Dr. Nidhi sahi hi kah rahi hain. Dr. Hardstone kaafee badal gaye hain pichhle kuchh mahinon mein. Hansne-muskurane lage hain, jokes bhi maarte kabhi-kabhi aur daantne ki propensity bhi kam ho gayi hai unki. To aap befikra ho kar jaiye."
Priyanka had finished putting her bag and other stuff in the locker by then and had gulped down one glass of water, "Main chalti hoon. Unka character analysis karne ka time nahin hai mere paas."
Nidhi turned to Rangnath after Priyanka had left, "Dr. Rangnath, kya Dr. Ashutosh sach much badal gaye hain? Matlab pahle woh aise nahin the?"
"Bilkul badal gaye hain. Mujhe behtar kaun jaanta hai? Aaj kal kahin gandgi dikhti hai hospital mein, to shanti te use saaf karne ko bolte hain. Pahle to saare staff ki shaamat aa jati thi. Badi khushkismat hain aap..."
"Mera matlab hai ki aapka batch bada khushkismat hai. Aapko iske pahle interns ki halat dekhni chahiye thi. Real Dr. Hardstone ko to aapne hardly dekha hai. Dekha hai - shuru ke dinon mein. Par phir to..."
"Shuru mein main galtiyan bhi to bahut karti thi, to unhein daantna hi padta..." Nidhi murmured, more to herself than to Rangnath.
Rangnath laughed funnily, "Of course. Yahi wajah hogi. Ab to aap hi nahin, saare interns, aur saare staff members experts ho gaye hain. Dr. Ashutosh ko khush rakhne mein."
"Aap jo kah rahe hain, woh to kahna nahin chahte. Saaf saaf bataiye ki kya kahna chahte hain?"
"Surajmukhi ke phool ke baare mein jaanti hain aap?"
"Ji haan," Nidhi said impatiently.
"To ye bhi pata hoga ki woh suraj ki direction mein ghoomta rahta hai."
"Iska mere sawaal se ya Dr. Ashutosh se kya matlab hai?"
"Aisa hai ki Dr. Ashutosh bhi aaj kal surajmukhi ke phool ho gaye hain. Ab kaun se suraj ki taraf ghoomte hain, ye mujhse mat poochhiye. Chhote munh, badi baat hogi. Lekin haan. Pediatrics department ke saare doctors, staff, nurses wagerah-wagerah ko us suraj ke saamne roz surya-namaskaar zaroor karna chahiye. Unki wajah se unke hardstone boss aaj kal kaafi tolerable ho gaye hain."
"Dr. Ranghnath. Aap doctor kaise ban gaye? Writer hona chahiye tha. Aur aap ekdum classics ke writer bante. Jo kissi ko samajh mein nahin aata, lekin jiski sab taareef karte."
"Uda lijiye mazaak. Ab kismat ka rona rone ki meri aadat nahin hai. To kya bataun ki doctor kaise bana. Chaliye khair. Dr. Hardstone, softstone bhale hi ho gaye ho, pighalne waali ice-cream abhi bhi nahin hue hain. To mujhe kaam par wapas jaana chahiye. Bye. Phir milenge... chalte-chalte."
"Bye Dr. Rangnath," Nidhi said smilingly. It was difficult not to be amused by Rangnath's antics. She looked at her watch. Her break was over and she also walked towards the ward.
"Doctor Sahib. Mera bachcha theek to ho jayega na?" Nidhi was interrupted during her ward visit by a woman.
"Ji aap kiske saath hain?" she asked patiently.
She pointed towards the bed besides which Nidhi was standing. Nidhi was surprised, "Aap iski Maa hain?"
The woman nodded.
"Lekin ye to orphanage, mera matlab hai anaath ashram mein tha."
The woman started crying, "Kya karti main? Iske pita ko guzre chaar saal ho gaye hain. Main chhote mote kaam kar ke guzara karti hoon. Aur ye din bhar yun hi idhar udhar bhatakta rahta tha. Kissi ne kaha ki anath ashram mein daal do. Achchhe se pal jayega aur wahan iski padhai likhkai bhi ho jayegi. Iske kal ka soch kar maine ise khud se alag kar diya."
Nidhi was pained to hear her story. She noticed Ashutosh overhearing their conversation. His face was tense. He didn't come to them and walked out of the ward. Nidhi returned her attention to the woman, "Aap chinta mat kijiye. Ye bilkul theek ho jayega. Beemari kabhi-kabhi zyada dinon se ho to gahri ho jaati hai. To thoda samay lagega. Lekin ye theek ho jayega."
After doing her rounds she went to Ashutosh' office, "May I come in, Sir?"
"Please come in Dr. Nidhi. Ah! I was waiting for my tea," he smiled. Whenever Nidhi came to him for no other reason, she brought tea as an alibi.
She smiled and sat down without waiting for his invitation. Ashutosh didn't mind that she was carefree around him. He liked it!
"Aapne us orhpanage waale bachche ki Ma ki baat suni?"
Ashutosh stopped smiling, "Haan. suni."
"Mujhe aisa kyon laga ki aap usse gussa ho gaye?"
"Shayad isliye Dr. Nidhi ki main gussa ho gaya tha."
"Kyon gussa ho gaye aap? Woh to apni taraf se bachche ke bhale ki hi soch rahi thi."
"Haan. Lekin phir bhi main gussa ho gaya. Kyonki... shayad main zindagi se hi gussa hoon."
"Aur aisa kyon hai?"
Ashutosh didn't reply immediately. He looked at her for a moment and then said with a sad smile, "Aapko kya lagta hai? Log kyon gussa hote hain zindagi se?"
"Mujhe to samajh nahin aata. Ab jinke paas khane ki kami ho, sar ke oopar chhat na ho, woh log zindagi se gussa ho to samah mein aata hai. Woh aurat jise apne bachche ko orphanage mein daalna pada kyonki woh use paal nahin sakti thi, woh zindagi se gussa ho to samajh mein aata hai. Lekin aap kyon gussa hain? Aapke paas kis cheez ki kami hai? Aur agar koi cheez nahin hai aapke paas to use paane mein kya dikkat hai?"
Ashutosh looked hurt and angry at her question, "Rahne dijiye Dr. Nidhi. Aap nahin samjhengi... Aur achchha hi hoga agar aapko samajhne ki zaroorat bhi na pade apni zindagi mein."
"Lekin main samajhna chahti hoon. Kya aap meri help nahin kar sakte?"
"Nahin," Ashutosh' curtness surprised Nidhi, "Kuchh cheezein experience se hi seekhi jaati hain. Aur woh abhi aapke paas nahin hai."
Nidhi was flustered and didn't know what to do for a while. Then she muttered, "Main chalti hoon," and left his office.
Ashutosh looked after her sadly.
'Dr. Mallika theek kah rahi thi,' Nidhi thought to herself while sititng in the common room after doing her rounds for the night duty, 'Main Dr. Ashutosh ke saamne bahut immature hoon. Woh to aisa hi samajhte hain. Main bekaar mein hi unse zyada sawaal poochhne lagi. Woh mujhe kyon kuchh batayenge bhala? Bekaar mein maine apni insult bhi karwai aur unka bhi mood kharaab kiya.'
She had been on the duty on the shift before that too and was very tired. She sat on the chair and closed her eyes as she thought about all this.
"Dr. Nidhi," Ashutosh' voice brought her out of her reverie and she jumped out of the chiar.
"Sir, aap? I am sorry... Main so nahin rahi thi..."
"Calm down. Baithiye. Please," Ashutosh said courtesouly and sat down a chair himself.
"Ji..." Nidhi was still flustered, but she sat down.
"I'm sorry," both of them said in chorus. Ashutosh laughed at that, while Nidhi just stared at him in surprise.
"Aap kyon sorry bol rahi hain?" Ashutosh asked.
"Jo din mein hua uske liye. Mujhe aise intrude nahin karna chahiye tha... Lekin aap kyon..."
"Jo din mein hua uske liye," Ashuosh replied, "Mujhe aapse aise rudely baat nahin karni chahiye thi."
"Nahin," she replied hastily, "Aapko sorry bolne ki zaroorat nahin hai. Maine aapki baat ka bilkul bhi bura nahin maana. Aap theek hi kah rahe the..."
Ashutosh laughed again, "Yeah. Dr. Hardstone ki daant ki to aadat ho jaani chahiye sabko, right?"
Nidhi's eyes widened in surprise, "Aapko pata hai?"
"Ye nick name... Dr. Hardstone..."
Ashutosh laughed out loud this time, "Come on Dr. Nidhi. Aapko sach mein lagta hai ki is hospital mein, at least is department mein kya chalta hai woh mujhe pata nahin hai..."
"Nahin... I mean..." Nidhi's voice trailed as she couldn't think of what to say and she looked embarrassed.
"Khair. I thought I owed an answer," Ashutosh became serious.
"Kaisa answer?" Nidhi asked.
"Us question ka answer jo aapne mujhse din mein poochha tha. Aap sach mein jaanna chahti hain?"
"Haan... Main jaanna to chahti hoon... Lekin agar aapko sahi lage tabhi..."
"Dr. Nidhi. Us aurat ki baaton ne mujhe apni zindagi ka jo sabse pahla lamha yaad hai, usmein wapas pahuncha diya. Aur woh lamha, uski yaadein bahut achchhi nahin hai. Orphanage ke cluttered rooms, zameen par bichhe hue naam-matra ke bistar, khana khane ke liye line mein lagna... Halanki ab peechhe mud kar dekhta hoon to lagta hai ki jo log wahan par the hamare liye, unke intentions to achchhe hi the. Lekin phir bhi dus logon ka staff sau se zyada bachchon ke liye maa-baap ki kami kahan door kar sakta hai? Woh akelapan jo maine tab mahsoos kiya tha, woh jaise mere dil mein ghar kar gaya hai Dr. Nidhi. Aur kabhi nahin nikla..."
"Aap orphanage mein the?" Nidhi was shocked.
"Yes... Aur Baba mujhe wahan se ek din le aaye the. Woh bhi akele the, aur main bhi. Unhone mujhe bahut pyaar diya, mere akelepan ko door sa kar diya. Hum dono ne saath mein ek duniya banai... Aur phir ek din maine Baba ko kho diya. Doctor hoon, iske liye emotionally taiyaar tha... Lekin jaate-jaate Baba ne apni ek sabse important nishani mujhse chheen li. Use kuchh ajnabiyon ke haath de diya. Aisa laga ki woh mujhe ahsaas kara gaye ki main unka apna nahin tha. Bachpan ki jo tanhaiyan itne saalon se unke pyaar mein dab gayi thi, woh phir bahar aa gayi. Janm dene waalon ne to kabhi rishte nibhaye nahin mere saath, phir Baba ne bhi... Rishton par se phir se bharosa uth gaya mera. Aur bas..."
Suddenly he stopped and smiled sadly, "Main aapko bore kar raha hoon shayad."
"Nahin. Aisa kyon kah rahe hain aap," Nidhi said earnestly, "I am really sorry Dr. Ashutosh. Mujhe mahsoos ho raha hai ki mera sawaal aapko kitna bura laga hoga. I am really sorry for that. Aur aapke Baba ki nishani... Kya use wapas paane ka koi tareeka nahin hai?"
"Koshish kar raha hoon. Aur ek din use pa kar hi rahunga. Jis din mil jayegi, shayad main apni life se better cope kar sakoonga."
"Main pray karoongi ki woh aapko zaroor mile. And I am sorry. Jaane-anjaane maine aapko bahut hurt kiya."
"No. No Nidhi," Ashutosh addressed her by her first name for the first time, "Uski zaroorat nahin hai. Kyonki jaane-anjaane tumne mujhe khushiyan bhi bahut di hain. Aur bahut kuchh sikhaya bhi hai."
"Maine?" Nidhi laughed slightly with embarrassment, "Aap shayad mujhe achchha feel karane ki koshish kar rahe hain. Maine aapke liye kya kiya hai? Aur main aapko sikha kya sakti hoon bhala?"
"Wahi jo main bhool gaya tha. Apne aaj mein jeena, khush rahna aur logon par bharosa karna?"
Nidhi stared at him in disbelief.
Ashutosh had to speak again when he noticed her, "Ab aankhein itni badi badi kar ke mat dekhiye. Kahin nikal na aayen?"
"Na... Nahin... Main to... bas..." Nidhi muttered nervously, "Main ward mein jaati hoon. Round lene ka time ho gaya hai." she rushed out of the common room and Ashutosh smiled after her. Gosh! How adorable and cute she was.
Nidhi had to take a few deep breaths after reaching the ward to calm her nerves down. She took the round, but hesitated before going to the common room. What if he was still there?
'Pagal ho gayi hai kya Nidhi? Tu Dr. Ashutosh se dar kyon rahi hai?' she chided herself.
But the counter-argument came to her mind too, 'Jaise unhone baat ki... usse to yahi lagta hai ki Dr. Mallika ki baat sach. To phir...'
'To phir kya?'
'To phir... ye sahi nahin hai na. Main unke liye sahi nahin hoon.'
'Kyon nahin? Agar itne saalon baad unhein tere saath khushi milti hai to galat kya hai. Aur phir tu bhi to...'
'Main kya sochti hoon isse farq nahin padta. Main unke liye bahut immature hoon. Aab aaj bhi maine kaise insensitively unse sawaal kar diye. No. No. It won't do...'
'To tu unhein wapas andheron mein dhakel degi?'
'Phir pata nahin. Main kuchh karoongi...'
What would she do? She kept thinking as she walked back to the common room.
"Anji..." Nidhi went to her place after having breakfast in the morning.
"Dr. Nidhi Verma. Aapko meri yaad kaise aa gayi aaj? Aur bahut galat time par aayi hai. Mujhe kaam par jaana hai."
"Kya yaar! Kuchh advice chahiye thi tujhse."
"Haan. Bol. Main to waise bhi hamesha se teri agony aunt rahi hoon."
"Pata hai. And very effective too. Lekin is baar meri nahin, kissi aur ki problem tere paas le kar aayi hoon," Nidhi lied successfully.
"Pagal hai kya? Kissi aur ki problem kyon apne sar le li..."
"Are yaar. Maine kaafi boast kar diya na uske saamne ki meri best friend in sab maamlon mein kitni sahi hai. Ab to tujhe hamari dosti ki khatir, meri help karni hi padegi. Please Anji..."
"Theek hai. Theek hai... Bol fatafat."
"Yaar. Mere saath ek intern hai. Sonali. Uska ek achchha dost hai. Aur ye dost usse pyaar karta hai. Unki koi baat nahin hui hai kabhi, lekin ye obvious hai. Sonali uski bahut care karti hai, shayad pyaar bhi karti hai, lekin uski kuchh constraints hai, family ko lekar. So, woh kabhi uske saath relationship mein nahin ja sakti. To use apne friend ke liye kya karna chahiye, taki Sonali ke chale jaane se, use taqleef na pahunche..."
"Ye kaisa sawaal hai yaar Nidhi? Iska koi solution hota to duniya mei itni sob love stories kyon hoti? Uska dil to tootna hi hai. Ya phir Sonali ko apni jo bhi family constraints hain, unse ladna padega."
"Woh possible nahin hai Anji. Kuchh to soch..."
"Pata nahin Nidhi. May be she can try to hook him up with some other girl..."
"Ab mujhe aur nahin pata. Mujhe jaana hai. Bye..."
The idea had sounded outrageous at first and Anji herself had not appeared convinced about it. But when Nidhi thought about it in the context of her problem, it felt like the perfect thing to do.
She had a new mission in her life now. To get Ashutosh to fall in love. With someone other than herself. With someone his equal. But how?
"Dr. Rangnath. You should be the best person to asnwer this?"
"Meri ek friend news reporter hai aur apni ek story ke liye woh survey kar rahi hai."
"To uske liye use logon ki opinion chahiye ki jo love marriages hoti hain, to woh log typically apne life partners se pahli baar kaise mile hote hain? Kahan par?"
"Un sabse kahan kaam banega," Nidhi murmured.
"Kuchh nahin. Aur bataiye. Suppose jo log parties wagerah attend nahin karte, pubs, discos nahin jaate... Unki bhi to love life ho sakti hai na?"
Rangnath eyed her curiously, "Ye aapki reporter friend ka question hai?"
"Haan. Aur kya? Bechari ki deadline hai na. To main help kar rahi hoon. Kuchh aisi jagahon ke naam ho jo kissi ne pahle na soche hon, to uska article ekdum chamak jayega. Hai na?"
"I think log functions aur professional get-togethers par bhi milte hain. Jaise ki conventions, seminars, society get-togethers. Aur haan... Main ye kaise bhool gaya? Shaadiyon mein."
"Haan. India mein jo log kahin aur nahin jaate, parties, pubs etc. woh bhi shaadiyon mein to jaate hi hain. Woh to ekdum gold mine hai. Sab ladkiyan kitna saj-dhaj ke aati hain... Aisa lagta hai..."
"All right Dr. Rangnath. I don't think ki shaadiyon aur ladkiyon ko aapke nazaron se dekhna mere liya khaas achchha hai. Main chalti hoon. Bye."
"Dr. Ashutosh. Aap Priyanka ki wedding mein kya pahanne waale hain?" Nidhi asked during one of her tea-trips to Ashutosh' office.
"Kya?" Ashutosh was completely taken aback by her question and then it looked like he was struggling to suppress a chuckle, "Aap mujhse thoda galat sawaal poochh rahi hain. Ya aap sawaal galat insaan se poochh rahi hain. Shaadi mein kya pahanna hai, nahin pahanna hai, ye sawaal ya to auraton ke liye important hota hai, ya youngsters ke liye. I am a little old for this. And most likely, main shaadi mein ja hi nahin raha hoon."
"Are! Kyon nahin ja rahe hain?"
"Well... agar saare log shaadi mein chale gaye to yahan par kaam kaun sambhaalega?"
"Main maanti hoon Dr. Ashutosh ki aap bahut achchhe, competent aur experienced doctor hain. Lekin aapko nahin lagta ki it is a bit presumptuous on your part to think ki aap poora department bina kissi aur doctor ya staff ki madad ke bina hi chala lenge."
Ashutosh laughed, "Maine ye to nahin kaha..."
"Exactly. Sab log ek saath hospital chhod kar nahin jayenge. Dr. Rangnath ne iska intezaam kar liya hai. Ek group shaadi ke liye, aur ek group agle din reception ke liye ja raha hai."
"Okay? Okay kya? Iska matlab ye hai ki aap ja bhi sakte hain, aur jayenge bhi."
"Main aise celebrations, parties enjoy nahin karta Dr. Nidhi."
"Enjoy nahin karte the. Lekin aapne khud hi accept kiya tha na ki ab aap apne aaj mein khush rahna seekh gaye hain? To ab aap enjoy karenge."
"Nahin. Main nahin sunne waali," Nidhi was aware of her powers over him and was willing to exploit it fully, "Aap zaroor aayenge. Ab bas ye bataiye ki aap pahanne kya waale hain?"
"Ab agar mujhe aana hi hoga to pahan loonga kuchh bhi. Ismein itna fret karne waali kya baat hai?"
"Phir to aap apna ye hardstone trademark suit pahan lenge?"
"Ismein koi burai hai?"
"Nahin. Burai nahin hai. Lekin mujhe lagta hai ki in kapdon mein aate hi aap bilkul hospital waale mood mein aa jaate hain. Ab shaadi mein aisa kiya to kaam kaise banega..."
"Kya kaam banwana hai aapko mujhse?"
"Kuchh nahin. Kaam kya banwana hoga... Bas aapko shopping karwani padegi. Ab Chowk aur Ameenabaad mein ghoom-ghoom kar shopping karne ka to time aapke paas hoga nahin. Main aapko aaj shaam aath baje Sahara Mall mein milungi."
"Kya?" Ashutosh was aghast. What was she doing? "Dr. Nidhi... Look... Main..."
"Agar aap nahin aaye to main apni pasand se size ka andaaza laga kar kuchh khareed doongi. Phir fit na aaye ya achchha na lage to mujhe mat kuchh kahiyega. Main chalti hoon. Bye."
She dashed out of his office without giving him any chance to protest. For several seconds after she left, Ashutosh had a lost look on his face. As if he didn't know what to do about what just happened. Then he shook his head, sighed and tried to go back to his work.
Nidhi was anxiously pacing up and down in front of the shop in the mall. It was 8.15 already and Ashutosh hadn't come. '8.30 closing time hai. 8.45 se zyada to nahin khula rakhenge ye log,' she murmured angrily, 'Saari mehnat bekaar hone waali hai Nidhi.'
She almost jumped when her mobile rang, "Yes Sir... 4th floor par... aap please lift le lijiye parking lot se. Escalators se aane mein zyada time lagega... Ji..."
"So, Dr. Nidhi. Kya karna hai?" Ashutosh asked when he spotted her.
"Pahle to shop ko band hone se rokna hai. Jaldi chaliye," she dashed inside and Ashutosh had to follow her hurriedly. She located a sales man and asked him, "Bhaiya. Maine abhi select kar ke aapke paas rakhwaye the na..."
"Ji Madam. Aaiye..."
He took them to the men's ethnic section of the shop and pointed to a pile on a counter.
"Haan. Yahi hai," Nidhi said excitedly and started showing stuff to Ashutosh.
"Sherwani?" he asked looking incredulous.
"Haan. Kyon? Koi problem hai?"
"These are too showy, too bright Dr. Nidhi. Main ye sab nahin pahanta hoon. Chaliye yahan se..."
"Nahin pahante the. Aur inmein sab bright aur showy nahin hain. Ye dekhiye..." she picked up a sherwani in light cream color with a thin strip of zari work around the neck and thread work on the rest of the outfit.
Ashutosh could not retort, but he made a face as if he was annoyed. Nidhi was not to be fazed by that though, "Try kijiye."
Ashutosh went to the changing room. But when he came out he was back into his old clothes. Nidhi was disappointed to not see him in the sherwani. Since he did not show it to her while wearing, she expected him to reject it. But part of her disappointment went away when she heard him say, "Size theek hai."
"Great. Chaliye phir isse pahle ki ye log billing counter band kar dein, billing karwa lete hain."
"Aapne zidd ki, to maine ye khareed liya hai Dr. Nidhi," Ashutosh said after they came out of the shop, "Lekin iska matlab ye nahin hai ki main shaadi mein aane waal hoon ya ye pahanne waala hoon."
"Dekhenge. Abhi to problem ye hai ki mere paas meri car nahin hai aur aapko mujhe drop karna hoga. Raaste mein aapki sherwani ke saath jaane ke liye mojdi bhi khareedni hai. Ek shop hai..."
"Drop to main aapko kar doonga. Lekin aap apni car le kar kyon nahin aayi, jab aap raat mein bahar nikli thi? Agar main nahin aata to?" Ashutosh questioned her.
"To is bechari, abla naari ko Lucknow ke auto waale bahut lootate. Dogune, chaugune paise maangte." Nidhi said dramatically and it made Ashutosh laugh.
"Mazaak apni jagah hai. Lekin Lucknow itna safe shahar nahin hai. Raat mein akele aapko bina apne vehicle ke nahin nikalna chahiye."
"Samajh gayi. Ab chalein? Warna woh jooton waali shop bhi band ho jayegi."
Ashutosh sighed. She was single mindedly focussed on his wedding party attire for the evening. Nothing else was going to affect her. "Chaliye," he said and they walked towards his car.
But Nidhi's antics for the day were not done.
"Beauty or brains?" she said suddenly while they were driving.
"Brains," Ashutosh replied reflexively and then realized that he had no clue about where that came from, "Ab ye kya ho raha hai?"
"Kuchh nahin. Boriyat mitane ke liye chhota sa game."
"To aap mere saath bore ho rahi hain?"
"Meri chhodiye. Aap bataiye ki aapko kaise logon ki company pasand hai?"
"Ab aapko koi security threat mahsoos hota hai kya apne baare mein kuchh bhi batane mein? Bas aise hi poochh rahi hoon, baatein karne ke liye..."
"Okay Baba. Mujhe kaise logon ki company pasand hai? Kabhi socha nahin, lekin I think I like intelligent people. Woh aapne suna hai - Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. To main woh people-discussion waalo logon se door rahna pasand karta hoon. Oopar ke dono theek hain."
Nidhi giggled at this and Ashutosh also smiled.
"Aap vegetarian hain ya non-vegetarian?"
"I don't mind non-veg. India ke bahar rahne ke baad avoid karna mushkil hai. Lekin main zyada khata nahin hoon."
"Aur aapka favourite holiday destination?"
"Mujhe aisa lag raha hi ki main kissi matrimonial consultancy ke office mein baitha hoon?"
Nidhi laughed nervously, "Aap bhi na... Achchha mazaak kar lete hain."
But she decided to step back after this. She did not want him to suspect what she was trying to do.
"Woh shop... wahan runka hai," she cried as she spotted the shoe shop for buying mojdis.
Ashutosh reluctantly stopped, bought the mojdi she selected and then drove to her home.
"Good night Dr. Ashutosh. Kal shaadi par milte hain."
"Aap hospital nahin aa rahi hain?"
"Meri kal duty nahin hai."
Ashutosh nodded and drove away as Nidhi looked on. She felt happy and sad at the same time.
"Oh my God! I am going to faint," Sonali pretended to sway as if she was feeling dizzy.
"Oye. Drama Queen. Kya hua?" Nidhi asked.
"Dr. Ashutosh ko dekh Nidhi. Pahli baat to woh shaadi mein aaye. Aur us par se ye sherwaani. God! Koi itna handsome kaise lag sakta hai yaar. Inhein doctor kisne bana diya. Model ya actor hona chahiye tha."
Nidhi looked in the direction Sonali pointed too and realized that she agreed to Sonali's sentiments. She did not say anything though and controlled her urge to go to him at once. Now that he was at the wedding, Nidhi was at a loss. What to do? Sure he will turn all female heads towards him, but what after that?
"Kya taaka-jhaanki chal rahi hai kudiyon?" It was Priyanka's happy-go-lucky bua ji.
"Aap bhi aa jaiye Bua ji. Hamare boss ko dekhiye aur nayan-sukh ka laabh uthaiye," said one of the other colleagues of Nidhi and Priyanka.
"Kaun se boss? Dr. Ashutosh? Hum bhi dekhin kaun hain woh. Priyanka to badi pareshaan rahti hain unse... Are woh cream sherwani mein kaun hai?"
"Wahi to hain Dr. Ashutosh?"
"Kya baat kar rahi ho?"
"Bilkul sahi baat kar rahi hoon."
"Yaar. Itna sona dikhne waala insaan itna khadoos kaise ho sakta hai?"
Nidhi was hearing the conversation of the women and feeling proud about it. She couldn't explain why though. If people were gushing about Dr. Ashutosh why did she need to feel proud?
Anyway! She shruged and tried to get back to the task she had set for herself. But how? She turned her attention to the conversation again.
"Aur tum log kah rahe ho ki is insaan ki shaadi nahin hui?" Bua's curiosity was insatiable.
"Nahin hui Bua ji."
"To karwa dete hain."
"Kaise Bua Ji?" Nidhi was suddenly interested.
"Dr. Ashutosh ki shaadi mein tujhe itna interest kyon hai?" Sonali teased Nidhi.
"Main bata rahi hoon, Dr. Ashutosh ki shaadi ho jaye, unke subordinates ke liye isse zyada achchhi khabar kuchh ho hi nahin sakti. Shayad thode soft ho jayen aur haan - hospital mein thoda time bhi kam bitayenge," Nidhi was ready with an alibi.
"Idea to dhansu hai. Waise Dr. Rangnath kah rahe the ki in dinon woh already thode softened ho gaye hain. Lekin thode aur ho jayen to bura nahin hoga."
"Exactly. Bataiye Bua ji. Dr. Ashutosh ki shaadi kaise karwai jaye? Dhyaan rakhiyega, unhein impress karna thoda mushkil hai."
"Achchha. Kaisi ladki sahi rahegi unke liye?"
"Unke liye... Umm... Intelligent aur smart honi chahiye. Khoobsoorat ho to kissi ko koi objection to nahin hi hoga. Aur haan - mature honi chahiye. Mere jaisi ladkiyan nahin chalengi, uchhal-kood machane waali. Wagerah... wagerah... Ab mere paas isse zyada unki koi matrimonial profile nahin hai."
"Are to hain na."
"Meri nanad hai. Suhani. Chartered Accountant hai. Ekdum corporate woman. Tip-top. Priyanka se badi banti thi uski bachpan se hi, halanki badi hai usse kaafee. Dono hi padhne-likhne waali ladkiyan thi na. Abhi aayegi thodee der mein. Kah rahi thi ki kuchh zaroori deadline aa gayi hai office mein, isliye der ho jayegi."
'Chartered Accountant? Phir to intelligence ki koi kami nahin hogi,' Nidhi thought to herself, 'Baaki to dono milenge, tab hi pata chalega.'
"To Bua ji," Nidhi addressed her, "Chaliye. Main aapko Dr. Ashutosh se milwati hoon."
Ashutosh was talking to a group of people from the hospital, when Nidhi approached him.
"Good evening Dr. Ashutosh."
"Dr. Nidhi. Good evening," Ashutosh beamed on seeing her, "Main soch hi raha tha..."
"Dr. Ashutosh," Nidhi interrupted him, as she didn't want him to reveal anything about their little shopping trip for the sherwani he was wearing, "Mujhe aapko inse milwana tha. Ye Priyanki ki Bua hai... Oops! Bua ji. Mujhe aapka naam to maaloon hi nahin hai."
"Are koi problem nahin hai. Mujhe apna naam maaloon hai. Main Namrata. Namrata Singhania."
"Namaste Mrs. Singhania. Main..."
"Dr. Ashutosh Mathur. Sabhi jaante hain."
Ashutosh laughed slightly, "Nahin. Main koi celebrity nahin hoon."
"Aap baithiye na," Namrata pointed towards the chairs lying by and sat on one of them herself. Ashutosh and Nidhi followed the suit.
"Aap enjoy to kar rahe hain na?" she asked after they had sat down.
"Ji, main to aane waala nahin tha, lekin..."
"Lekin," Nidhi interrupted hurriedly, "aa kar realize hua ki nahin aate to kitna fun miss ho jaata. Hai na Dr. Ashutosh?"
Ashutosh looked at her and then agreed to her, even though feeling confused. What was Nidhi up to?
"Aap log baatein kijiye. Main aapke liye cold-drinks le kar aati hoon," Nidhi said, got up and left, despite Ashutosh' insistence that he did not want cold-drinks.
"To Dr. Ashutosh. Aap Kotnis General Hospital mein kitne dinon se kaam kar rahe hain?"
"Dinon se nahin Mrs. Singhania, saalon se. Aath saalon se."
"He he. Of course. To aapne kabhi Lucknow se bahar jaane ki nahin sochi?"
"Nahin. Main yahin comfortable hoon."
"Family hogi aapki yahan."
Ashutosh' face darkened, "Ji nahin. Meri koi family nahin hai. Na yahan, na kahin aur."
"Oh! Aisa kyon... Are... Suhani aa gayi. Rukiye main aapse milwati hoon..."
Ashutosh looked at her puzzled, as she shouted and waved her hands to draw Suhani's attention to herself. Another introduction? What was going on? Ashutosh wonderd while Suhani approached them.
"Hi Bhabhi," Suhani said pleasantly, "Aaj to mujhe Bhai ko bolna padega ki apne aankh-kaan khule rakhein. Kahin aap haath se na nikal jayen." She started with the usual sis-in-law banter.
"Meri umar chali gayi haath se nikalne ki Suhani. Achchha inse mil. Dr. Ashutosh Mathur. Priyanka ke boss hain."
"Hello Dr. Ashutosh," Suhani extended her hands, "Nice to meet you."
"Hello. Nice to meet you too."
Nidhi bustled in with the cold-drinks by then, "Bua ji... Ye aapki nanad hain?"
"Haan. Suhani. Ye Dr. Nidhi Verma hain. Priyanka ki colleague."
Suhani and Nidhi exchanged pleasantaries and Nidhi felt satisfied on looking at the tall smart woman, she had just been introduced as Suhani.
"Are... Main to bhool hi gayi. Bua Ji," Nidhi exclaimed after her introduction with Suhani, "Aapko auntie bula rahi hain. Kuchh kaam hai. Suhani ji. Aap aur Dr. Ashutosh baatein kijiye. Ye lijiye cold-drinks. Hum abhi wapas aate hain." She handed one glass cold-drink each to Ashutosh and Suhani and dragged Namrata away from there.
Ashutosh was completely puzzled at what was happening, while Suhani started laughing.
"Aap hans kyon rahi hain?" he had to ask.
"Let me guess. Aapki shaadi nahin hui hai," Suhani said, still laughing.
"Well. Aapka guess sahi hai. Lekin mujhe nahin lagta ki usmein kuchh bhi laughable hai," Ashutosh said patiently.
"Nahin nahin... Of course, usmein koi problem nahin hai. Problem ye hain - meri ye Bhabhi. Aapki shaadi nahin hui hai, isliye woh aap par attack kar baithi."
"Aapki Bhabhi?" Ashutosh wondered if Suhani was so casually hinting at something scandulous about her sister-in-law.
"Are. Apne liye nahin bhai. Mere liye. Inhein samajh mein nahin aata ki logon ko shaadi nahin bhi karni ho sakti hai. Inka wash chale to baalig hote hi sabki shaadi karwa dein. I think inhone aapki achchhi khaasi grilling ki hogi. Main uske liye maafi maangti hoon."
Ashutosh smiled finally, "Achchha. To ye baat hai. Well - main samajh sakta hoon aapki situation. Thankfully mere aas paas family waale nahin hai mujhe grill karne ke liye. Lekin phir bhi..."
"I know. Chaliye. To isi baat par, cheers to not marrying..." Their cold-drink glasses touched each other and they took a sip.
"Waise. Aapki Bhabhi apna target fix kaise karti hain? Unhein kaise pata chala ki main..."
"Network aur social skills. Aapke to itne colleagues yahan hain. Unmein se hi kissi se pata lagwaya hoga. Aapko introduce kisne karwaya."
"Woh to Dr. Nidhi... Dr. Nidhi?" His tone suddenly changed from casual to that of surprise, "Nahin. I don't think Dr. Nidhi..."
"Aap meri Bhabhi ke influence ko underestimate mat kijiye."
Ashutosh smiled unsurely and then they switched to different topics of their professional lives, Lucknow roads and politics etc.
Nidhi observed them from a distance and saw Ashutosh engaged in a chat with Suhani happily. She felt strange and walked away.
Suahni took leave from Ashutosh after a while to meet Priyanka and Ashutosh set out to find Nidhi.
It took him a while to find her. He saw her walking out of the wedding venue and decided to follow her. She walked towards the road and suddenly exclaimed, "Oh God! Car kahan gayi?"
"Kya hua Dr. Nidhi," he approached her hastily.
"Sir aap? Pata nahin... maine car yahin khadi ki thi..."
"Woh traffic waale tow kar ke le gaye hain," a shopkeeper shouted from across the narrow road.
"Ye no parking zone hai? Kahin to sign nahin bana hai?"
"No parking zone sign se nahin, police waalon ki marzi se bante hain Madam," the shopkeeper replied.
"Ab kya karoon?" Nidhi looked at her watch, "Itni der ho gayi hai. Abhi kahan se..."
"Main aapko drop kar deta hoon," Ashutosh said, "Aap subah police station ja kar car le aaiyega."
"Lekin mujhe abhi hi jaana hai. Main taxi le leti hoon."
"Haan to main aapko abhi hi le jaunga."
"Nahin. Aap kyon party chhod kar chalenge."
"Mujhe party mein aane par aapne majboor kiya tha Dr. Nidhi. Agar aap chhod kar ja sakti hain, to main to ja hi sakta hoon."
"Lekin..." Nidhi started to say, but stopped and sighed. She could really not think of an argument.
"Chaliye," he directed her towards his car.
"To mujhe zabardasti yahan bula kar, mujhe andar chhod kar, aap itni jaldi party chhod kar kyon bhaag rahi thi?"
"Aise hi. Main subah se thi na Priyanka ke saath. Thak gayi thi. Aur mujhe laga ki aap party enjoy kar rahe honge. Isliye aapko kuchh nahin kaha."
"Aisa kyon laga aapko?"
"Ki main party enjoy kar raha hoon."
"Galat laga kya?"
Ashutosh turned his head towards the passenger's seat, looked at her intently and sighed. She could feel his gaze on her, but did not look back at him.
"Achchha lagta hai na shaadiyon mein," Nidhi spoke after a while, "Naye naye logon se milne ka mauka milta hai."
"Kin-kin naye logon se mili aap?"
"Suahni ji, for example. Bahut intelligent aur smart hain. Aur ekdum down to earth bhi. No airs about her. Nahin?"
"I think so..."
"Mera wash chale to main to unse dosti karna chahungi."
"Aapka kissi se dosti karne ka man ho, to aap kar hi lengi. Aapki dosti kaun thukrayega?"
"Main kya? Aapki dosti to maine bhi nahin thukrai."
"Meri nahin. Suhani ji ki."
"Look Nidhi," Ashutosh decided to come to the point, "Mujhe nahin pata ki tum kya karne ki koshish kar rahi ho. Lekin abhi naye dost banane ko lekar mere andar itna enthusiasm to hai nahin ki I go out of my way to do it."
"Main kuchh karne ki koshish nahin kar rahi hoon," Nidhi mumbled like a scared kid. It made Ashutosh smile.
"Of course not. Kahir chhodiye. Doosron ke baatein kar ke bore nahin hote hain. Aap bataiye ki aap party se kyon chali aayi? Aapko to bahut achchha lagta hai ye sab."
"Bola to - thak gayi thi."
"Thaki hui lag to nahin rahi hain."
"Ab iska kya jawaab hai."
"Kahin thakaan mental to nahin thi?" Ashutosh asked meaningfully.
"Pata nahin," Nidhi replied and then they both fell silent. They only spoke to wish each other good night, when the car pulled up in front of her home.
"Dr. Nidhi," Ranganth called her.
"Yes, Dr. Rangnath?"
"Woh Dr. Amraan ke saath hamein WHO ke project ke liye kuchh logon ko aas paas ke gaon mein bhejna hai na, to usmein aapko bhi jaana hai."
"Theek hai. Kal subah jaana hai na?"
"Haan. Ye raha program. Teen-teen logon ke group mein jaana hai, alag-alag areas cover karne ke liye."
"Achchha. Theek hai. Main time par aa jaungi."
Nidhi took the paper from him and looked at her group. The other two names in the group made her smile. Dr. Ashutosh Mathur and Dr. Varsha Rao. Dr. Varsha Rao was in the gynacology department and often consulted Pediatrics on the issues with newborn babies. She shared a good rapport with Dr. Ashutosh and...
Yes! All she had to do was to make sure that she stayed away from them and let them spend more and more time together. Who knows! She might be the one. She jumped with joy at her little plan.
"Sir. Main bachchon ka checkup kar loon. Aap aur Dr. Varsha adults ka kar sakte hain."
"Okay Dr. Nidhi," Ashutosh smiled, "Dr. Varsha. Inko jahan bachche dikhte hain, ye pagal ho jati hain. Bachchon se inhein door rakhna namumkin hai. Aaiye - bade bachchon se hum hi nibatte hain."
Varsha also smiled, "Sure Dr. Ashutosh. Chaliye."
Varsha went to check the women, while Ashutosh was soon done with the men.
"Aankhein band, aankhein band... aur ye machchar ki chutki... Sui, sui kahan hai? Aankhein kholo... Ho gaya na... Kuchh pata bhi chala... Phir? Bekaar mein dar rahe the. Chalo - ab iske baad kaun aayega? Aa jao, aa jao. Machchhar ki chutki se bhi bhala koi darta hai kya... Yes. Aap aa jao... Naam kya hai aapka? Savita... Bahut pyara naam hai..."
She was taken aback when she found Ashutosh watching her fondly, "Sir Aap? Maine dekha hi nahin. Kab se khade hain aap yahan?"
"Thodi der ho gayi. Aap bilkul mashgool thi." He did not tell her that he had silently indicated the kids who saw him to not let Nidhi know.
"Are nahin. Sorry ki kya baat hai. Sabka check up ho gaya?"
"Bas chaar-paanch bachche bache hain."
"Chaliye. Main bhi aapki madad kar deta hoon. Jaldi nibat jayenge."
"Aur Dr. Varsha?"
"Unka bhi check up ka kaam khatam ho gaya hai. Lekin woh auraton ke saath baithi hain thodee der, unki aur health related problems dekh rahi hain aur thoda educate kar rahi hain."
"That's so nice."
Nidhi was in a fix. She had wanted to keep Varsha and Ashutosh together. But he was there with her now. Even if she got away from him with the alibi of helping Varsha, it wouldn't help her ultimate goal.
Varsha was going to drive on their way back. Ashutosh was taking the back seat, expecting Nidhi to sit in the front. But she stopped him.
"Sir. If you don't mind, aap aage baith jayenge."
"Kyon? Kya hua?"
"Mujhe shayad neend aa jayegi, main thak gayi hoon. To aage baith kar sona theek nahin rahega... Isliye..."
"Okay," Ashutosh said, but eyed her suspiciously. She averted her eyes and got into the car.
Nidhi didn't sleep at all in the car, but she kept her eyes closed whenever she thought Ashutosh or Varsha might be looking at her.
"Dr. Nidhi? Should drop you home directly?" Varsha asked her when they were about to enter back in the city.
"Aapki car nahin hai hospital mein?" Ashutosh asked.
"No Sir. Subah driver ke saath aayi thi. Woh wapas le gaya. Baba ko kaam tha."
"Okay. To mujhe hospital mein aapse thoda kaam hai. If you don't mind hum hospital hi chalte hain aur phir main aapko drop kar doonga."
"Okay Sir," she said weakly, thought quite surprised at his request. What did he have to discuss with her?
She walked silently with him to his office. It was past normal working hours and only the night duty staff was there in the hospital. The usual hustle-bustle was missing. Nidhi wondered why she was so keenly aware of the emptiness of the hospital. She has done night duties so many times. When she entered his room, she realized what was different. She was alone with him the office and there weren't many people around. It made it more private than usual. And she was scared that she will be forced to face and own certain things, her feelings, which she wasn't ready to do, which she didn't think she should do.
"What's going on Dr. Nidhi?"
"Kuchh to khuraafaat aapke man mein chal rahi hai..."
"Nahin. Nahin Sir. Aisa kyon laga aapko?"
"Kyonki aaj aap bilkul bhi so nahin rahi thi. Lekin sone ka bahana zaroor kar rahi thi."
"Main so rahi thi..."
"Nahin. Aap sirf apni aankhein band kar rahi thi jab aapko lag raha tha ki main aapko dekh raha hoon. Ab ye bataiye ki aap aisa kyon kar rahi thi?"
Nidhi gulped and did not say anything.
"Aur meri baat hui thi Ms. Suhani Sighania se bhi, baad mein..."
Nidhi did not say anything, just looked at him curiously.
"Unhone mujhe bataya ki unki Bhabhi se aapki kya baatein hui thi."
Nidhi stood rooted to her place and did not say anything again.
"Dr. Nidhi. Aapko ye bachkaani koshishein band karni hongi. Aap samajh rahi hain meri baat? This is not how things work."
Tears clouded her eyes and she could not say anything. She nodded and rushed out of his office. Ashutosh realized that she had started crying. He ran after her, but was interrupted by a nurse who was giving him some message from the administration. By the time he came out, he could not see Nidhi anywhere. He enquired at the reception and they said that she called for a taxi and went home.
He felt very bad. He could have handled it better, instead of hurting her like that. He thought of calling her up and picked up his mobile several times during the evening to do that. But hesitation crept in and he did not call her.
Nidhi spent the night in a bad mood. When asked by Baba and Dadi Bua, she told them that she was tired after the day's expedition and kept to her room most of the time. She did not come out for dinner and asked it to be sent to her room.
'Tujhe unse door hi rahna hoga Nidhi,' she told herself, 'Tu kuchh bhi kare, unke liye sahi nahin hota. Is baar bhi unhein sab kuchh bachkaana lag raha tha. Bachkaana hi hai shayad. Tujhe aisa kyon laga ki tu unki life badal sakti hai. Tu pagal hai Nidhi. Aur bilkul immature. Leave him alone.'
Though saddened by the conclusion, she found some peace after arrivng at it and drifted off to sleep.
Ashutosh checked the duty chart the next day and went to Rangnath's office.
"Dr. Rangnath. Dr. Nidhi Verma ki aaj duty nahin hai kissi bhi shift mein?"
"No Sir. Jo doctors kal field mein gaye the, unka aaj off day hai. Aapko bhi chhutti le leni chahiye thi..."
"No. I am fine. Thanks."
"Koi khaas kaam tha Sir? To main unhein phone karwata hoon..."
"Nahin. Uski koi zaroorat nahin hai. Main baat kar loonga. Thank you Dr. Rangnath," Ashutosh walked out of his office. Rangnath smirked behind him and whistled to the tune of the song 'tujhe na dekhoon to chain mujhe aata nahin hai'.
Nidhi was listlessly flipping through TV channels, when her mobile rang.
"Dr. Nidhi. Mujhe aapse kuchh baat karni thi... actually milna tha... Agar aap bahut thaki hui nahin hai to..."
"No Sir. Main bilkul thaki hui nahin hoon. Main... Main hospital aa jaun?"
"Nahin. Hospital nahin."
"I mean, main bhi hospital mein nahin hoon. Kahin aur mil sakte hain?"
"Ji. Jaisa aap kahein."
Ashutosh was hoping that she would propose a place, but she didn't.
"Main aapko aapke ghar se pick kar loon?"
Nidhi was quite surprised and confused, but she agreed, "Theek hai, Sir. Kab?"
"Bees minute mein."
Nidhi nervously got inside his car, as he pulled up in front of her home. Then they drove away immediately. They sat in silence for a while.
"Kal aap bura maan kar chali aayi," he said as he stopped the car on the side of a deserted road, "Hamari baat poori nahin ho payi."
Nidhi looked down and did not say anything.
"Main ye jaanna chahta hoon ki aap ye sab kyon kar rahi thi?"
"Meri bewkoofi thi, Sir. I am sorry."
"Nahin. Ye mere sawaal ka jawaab nahin hai. Bewkoofi karna aapka aim to nahin tha Dr. Nidhi. Jitna jaanta hoon aapko, aapke man mein kuchh achchha hi raha hoga. Kya tha wo?"
Nidhi remained silent.
"Main aapse kuchh poochh raha hoon Dr. Nidhi?"
"Kya maine khud ko already sufficient bewkoof nahin banaya hai, jo ab aap mujhse aur kuchh bulwana chahte hain?" Nidhi felt irritated at being cornered.
"Nahin," Ashutosh said in an extremely soft voice, "Aapne khud ko bilkul bewkoof nahin banaya hai. At least meri nazaron mein to nahin, if that matters. Main aapko bura mahsoos karwane ke liye kuchh nahin poochh raha hoon. Main isliye poochh raha hoon... kyonki mere paas aur koi tareeka nahin hai ye pata karne ka ki aapke man mein kya chal raha hai. Aur mere liye ye janna zaroori hai."
"Kyonki jo bhi aapke man mein hai, shayad kuchh bahut khoobsoorat hai. Aur main use khona nahin chahta."
"Khoobsoorti ke saath immaturity aur bachpana bhi hai mere man mein. Unka kya karenge aap?"
"Unhein bhi enjoy karoonga. Halanki mujhe lagta nahin ki unki quantity zyada hai aapke dimmag mein," Ashutosh smiled.
"Jab aap khoobsoorti ko, khushiyon ko apnaane ko taiyaar hain, to why not go for the best? Go for someone who can match upto you."
"Yahi karne ki koshish kar rahi thi aap?"
"Dr. Nidhi. Insaan ko perfection ki nahin, khushiyon ki zaroorat hoti hai. Main bhi to perfect nahin hoon. Aap mere liye kuchh perfect kyon dhoondh rahi hain?"
Their eyes met once after this, but Nidhi averted hers again.
"Aur ek baat jaan lo Nidhi," he spoke again in a low, heavy, intimate voice, "Feelings transferrable nahin hoti hain. Agar mujhe gulaab ke phool mein khoobsoorti nazar aane lagi hai, to iska ye matlab nahin hai ki gende mein bhi nazar aayegi. Ye jaante hue bhi ki gulaab mein kaante hote hain. Sawaal sirf itna hai ki kya woh gulaab mere garden mein khil sakega, ya wahan ki hawa use raas nahin aayegi aur woh murjha jayega. Agar nahin khil sakega, to woh jahan khil sakta hai use wahi rahna chahiye. Lekin main apne garden mein gende ke phool nahin laga sakta. Door se gulaab ko dekh kar khush rah sakta hoon."
Ashutosh stopped for a moment and saw her gulping hard.
"Aap meri baat samajh rahi hain?" He asked.
"Chaliye. Phir main aapko ghar chhod deta hoon. Thakaan to ho hi gayi hogi kal din bhar ghoom kar," he restarted the car and took a U-turn.
"Nidhi," he called her after she got out of the car, "Tum pareshaan to nahin ho gayi meri baaton se?"
She nodded in negative with a slight smile.
"Pareshaan hona bhi mat," he also smiled and drove away.
Nidhi walked to her room as if in a dream. The entire conversation played in her mind. And then she smiled, smiled broadly as she realized the implication. He wanted her. He wanted only her. Her shortcomings did not matter!
And she decided to throw the caution out of the window.