SIX YEARS LATER...
Nidhi got up early that morning and ran to open the curtains, to see the sun rise. She was very happy and excited, and decided that she would not let anything spoil her mood today. Today, was one of the happiest days of her life. Ashutosh was coming home today! Her husband was coming home!
She laughed happily, and danced over to her bed, where she sat down and picked up the photo of Ashutosh that she always kept along with her Parents photo, on her bedside table. She looked at his picture, and thought back to the day that they had gotten married. She couldn't believe that, six years had gone by, since then. They hadn't been easy ones, not that she had suffered or been sad or anything like that. No, actually quite the contrary. Dadi Bua and Baba(thats what she called Mathur Uncle now, because he had asked her to)were the best surrogate parents anyone could ever wish for, they had done everything possible to make sure that she was comfortable, and did not want for anything. They adored her and she them. They also spoiled her rotten. She felt loved and protected, and safe. Then, she glanced over to her fathers photograph, and smiled gently, "That is what you wanted for me, isn't it Baba?" she thought as she looked at her fathers smiling face. She still missed her father a lot. Not a day went by when she didn't remember him or his love and their times together. She still felt his loss deeply, only the pain of the loss had become less.
When she said that the years had not been easy, she meant that she had missed Ashutosh very much, and not being able to see him or hear his voice had made the time go by very slowly. If it hadn't been for her studies, she would have gone mad. In a way, though, it had been for the better she thought. When he had left, she had been very young, and caught between adolescence and adulthood. The years that he had been away, had given her time to grow up. As the child she had been then, there was no way that she would have been able to do justice to their relationship. But now, now she was a woman, and she was more than capable of meeting him on an equal footing. She only hoped that he would be able to see her as such also.
His years away, had also given her time to finish her studies and become a doctor, and fulfill her fathers dream, and also the promise that she had made to him before he had passed away. She had graduated with honors from medical school, as one of the top students of her batch for that year, and had aced her PG entrance exams. And after that, she had applied for and gotten selected for a residency position in the pediatric department of KGH, for a term of two years, which had already started a month ago.
It was like a dream come true, she thought, because today, not only was Ashutosh coming back home, but he would also be joining KGH again next week, as the new Chief of Staff, and also a member of the board of directors for KGH. And the best part of all of this was that she would get to be with him and see him all the time, only he did not know that yet. She had asked Baba and Dadi Bua to keep it as a surprise, till he got home.
Over the past couple of years, she had been exchanging e-mails with him, but only for getting advice and guidance regarding her studies. She remembered the first time she had e-mailed him, she had been nervous and very unsure as to whether he would even respond. But, despite her reservations, she had gone ahead and contacted him, as it involved asking him for extra funds. She along a few other students had been chosen as volunteer aides, to help assist doctors working in the field, during the summer holidays, care for the poor and sick in the rural areas of africa, where medical help was not so readily available. She had needed to withdraw extra money from her account to cover the expenses of the trip. Nidhi had been pleasantly surprised, when he had responded almost immediately, and had also expressed his approval for her plans. That one conversation had made her less hesitant, for each subsequent email, thereafter. Their emails had slowly graduated into chat sessions on IM.
Nidhi remembered when that happened. She had been busy studying for an anatomy exam, one evening, and had gotten so caught up, that she had forgotten to respond to an email that he had sent her the previous day. When she noticed the mail alert message, she had immediately responded, and apologized about the delay, and wrote that she had been busy studying for an exam the next day, and had gotten caught up in one particular part that she was having a hard time understanding. He had responded almost immediately, asking her, what she was having a problem with, and had asked her to log on to her IM account as that would make easier to go back and forth, and he could help her study. After their first session, he had told her that she could IM him whenever she needed help. Once, she got past her initial hesitations, she began to freely seek out his advice, and help. He had even coached and helped her study for the PG entrance exams. And had expressed his pride when she had told him her scores. Much to her disappointment, though, Ashutosh had never let it go beyond that, to anything personal. And, though she had had felt sad for a while, she had gotten over it, and had decided that she would be satisfied with whatever she had, and be happy. After all, he didn't know her. Yet! How could she expect him to feel any personal connection with her?
Nidhi looked at his picture one more time and then went to get ready, so that she could get to work on time.
Before she left her room to go down stairs, she pulled out the mangalsutra that she always kept hidden inside her shirt, and looked at it, and smiled as she clutched it close to her heart. She had not taken it off since the day he had put it around her neck. It was always with her, close to her heart. And, with one last look , she tucked it back inside her shirt. Then she went downstairs to start her day, happy with the thought that, by the time she came home that evening, he would be home.
After Nidhi had left, Dadi Bua and Dr. Mathur went to the living room, to relax for a while, before they had to start getting ready to go to the airport to pick up Ashutosh. They already had everything ready and waiting for his arrival. The house had been a bustle for the last two days, with activity, making sure that everything would be exactly to his liking.
Although, DB and Dr. Mathur, had been to london to visit him plenty of times, they still could not hold back their excitement at his return. They had also noticed Nidhi growing excitement and happiness, as the days passed and the time for his return gotten closer. But today, today she had been absolutely glowing. They had long ago guessed that she loved Ashutosh, and suspected that that had been the reason that Col. Verma had asked for the marriage, between the two. And, though initially they had been unable to understand why, and had had reservations, Dr. M had been unable to deny his friend's dying wish. It was only later that both he and DB had realized the reason for CV's request.
In the beginning both of them questioned the wisdom behind his decision, but as time went along, and they had gotten to know Nidhi, and began to love her, they realized that this marriage was probably the best thing that could have happened to their son. Nidhi was mature beyond her years, and was a very loving, caring, and generous hearted young girl. Not to mention that she was absolutely stunning in looks, which was a big plus. Nidhi managed to win the hearts of everyone she met, wherever she went. And pretty soon, even the most jaded of people, once they got past her beauty and saw the person she really was, loved her. And their son, also was in that category. He had shied away from, and had refused to even discuss the idea of marriage, until the decision had been forced upon him. And though he had never told them why, both his father and Dadi Bua had guessed them something had to have happened that had made him run from the very idea.
And according to them, Nidhi was the perfect person for Ashutosh. They knew that sooner or later she would succeed in bringing him around. Life worked in mysterious ways. You don't always understand why events happen the way they do, until later, and then it becomes evident that whatever happens, happens for the best.
They couldn't wait to see Ashutosh's reaction when he saw Nidhi, for the first time in six years. This Nidhi was a far cry from the sad, lost little mouse he had left here all those years ago. Their little mouse had grown up into a beautiful butterfly.
During the flight back home, Ashutosh could not stop himself from thinking about Nidhi. He had kept tabs on her during the past years. Baba and Dadi Bua had always made sure that he was up to date on her progress, both personally and in her education. He knew that she had done exceptionally well in her PG entrance exams, after he had coached her. He had to admit that even with the limited contact he had with her, she had given him the impression of being very intelligent, and down to earth. The past couple of years he had had several conversation with her either through emails or IM. Actually what had surprised him was the fact that up until then, he had had no contact with her at all.
Then, to his surprise one day he got an email from her. She had wanted some extra money for a trip to africa, specially meant for young interns and medical students, to give them field experience. He could tell from the wording, how nervous she had been about contacting him. But, since then she had kept in touch. And after a while he had even begun helping her with her studies. Although , he had never admitted it even to himself, but, Ashutosh had started looking forward to her emails and their chat sessions, and had somehow felt out of sink when more than a few days went by without her contacting him.
He had made it a point to never initiate these, and always made sure that the only contact they had was through the net. He knew that he could have talked to her over the phone, or even skyped, but he had not wanted any contact of the personal kind with her. He had preferred to keep it very impersonal. He still remembered his reaction to her that night, right before he had left, and to this day, he had no idea why, but he still felt very uncomfortable by his reactions towards her. Of course, he had chided himself, and tried to pass off the whole thing as a momentary lapse on his part. But, that still had not gotten rid of the guilt he felt because of that.
As the plane started it's final descent towards the airport, he was filled with a strange feeling of elation and also dread, and he could not explain why. And then, suddenly as if he had some sort of a premonition, which was really weird since he had never experienced any like it before, he knew that his life was about to change, Drastically!
He would think about this years down the line, and thank his lucky stars, but for now all he felt was a foreboding. After a few seconds he shrugged it off as his being tired. After all, the last week or so had been really tiring and hectic. He had had to tie up all the loose ends and had to wind up everything get packed, and to say goodbye to all the friends he had made during the last six years, and also bid farewell to his colleagues at the University and the hospital. It had been a good experience, and he had had fun, not to mention had managed to learn a lot during his term at Cambridge. But, he was not sorry that he his time in London had come to an end. Ashutosh missed his family and his country, and was more than ready to come home.
Once again, thoughts of home brought back the fact that now he would have to deal with Nidhi also. He had not figured out yet how he was going to deal with that situation. He would have to talk to Baba and Dadi Bua about that. He was sure that she would want to be free of him, and he could not blame her for that, why would she want to be tied to a man twice her age for the rest of her life. She had been forced to marry him due to the circumstances, she had had no say, and nobody had even thought about giving her any. Even he had assumed that whatever was happening had been for her own good. Of course she had had been very young then. But now she was all grown up and an adult, with the right to make up her mind and make decisions regarding her life. And he would make sure that, when the time came, she would be allowed all the freedom possible to decide what and how and with whom her future should be. But, at least for one more year, they would still be tied to each other through this marriage. According to her father's will she could not get control of her estate until then, and they would have to adhere to those terms.
Just for a second, he let his curiosity get the better of him, and he allowed himself to wonder about Nidhi, which he had never let himself do before. He wondered what she was like, how she looked, was she still as quiet, as timid, and as malleable as she used to be or had she acquired a backbone? Would she want to stay married to him or...Just as that question begun to form in his mind, he stopped himself and dismissed all these thoughts that had come to his mind. Then the plane touched down. He was Home!
All through the car ride home and throughout lunch, Ashutosh kept on waiting for Baba and Dadi Bua bring up Nidhi's name. Actually he had been expecting her to pick him up with Baba and Dadi Bua from the airport, and had felt disappointed when she didn't. Ashu just could not understand himself. Since, the time his return date had been finalized, all he could think about was Nidhi. He did not know what was going on.
Then, when he did not see her at home either, he had felt...anger. But why? Why was he angry and at who? At himself or at Nidhi, he was confused. Why should it matter to him so much if she hadn't come to the airport, or even been home to greet him? After all, its not as if they were really husband and wife! May be he was just angry at himself, for feeling so miserable because of her.
All throughout lunch, Ashutosh had been so preoccupied, that he had barely noticed what he had eaten, or even paid attention to what Baba and Dadi Bua had been talking about. And Dr. Mathur and his sister had also noticed this, specially when he had failed to respond to a question that Dr. Mathur had asked him, even after repeated attempts. They had looked at each other and smiled knowingly. Both of them had also noticed his disappointed expression both at the airport and at home. And they also knew that he was waiting for them to tell him where Nidhi was and why she had not been there to greet him at his arrival.
After lunch, when they were all sitting in the living room and relaxing, they decided to put him out of his misery,
-Ashutosh Beta, Nidhi had asked me to apologize to you for her absence, I am sorry with all the excitement of your arrival. I forgot to tell you.
Dadi Bua saw how the mere mention of Nidhi's name brought the light back into his eyes, even though he tried hard to hide that behind a Bland expression that he plastered to his face.
-Really Baba, issme sorry kehne ki kya baat hai? I understand, she must be busy. Its not a big deal. Anyway, how is she doing?
-Arre beta, mujhe pata hai tujhe koi phark nahin padta. Par ab bachchi hum se keh ke gayi thi, toh humara bhi toh farz banta tha na ke hum usska message tujh tak pahuncha dein. Bas aur kya. Waise, woh shyam tak aajayegi, abi kaam par gayi hui hai, Shukr hai ke uski night duty nahin hai, warna toh kal hi aati. Bahut acchi bachchi hai, aur bahut responsible bhi. Kuch bhi ho kaam nahin miss karti, chahe kuch bhi ho jaye.
-Dadi Bua, mujhe nahin pata tha ke woh kaam karti hai! Ussne mujhe bataya kyon nahin? Kahan kaam karti hai, aur kya karti hai. I thought that she was going to go for further training. Do her residency and specialize in pediatrics? Has she changed her mind?
Dr. Mathur, was happy to see concern on his son's face, for Nidhi. The fact that he was interested in her future and her career as a doctor, gave him hope for their future together. Both he and his sister had decided that they loved Nidhi, and wanted her as their daughter in law, and were going to do everything in their power to make sure that Ashutosh fell in love with her. They knew that Nidhi already loved him. And, now that they could see that Ashutosh was also half way there, they would not have to work very hard getting the two of them together, which made them very happy!
-Beta, teri Dadi Bua ka matlab residency se hi tha. Issko toh sab kuch
kaam hi nazar aata hai. Yeh nahin dikhta ke abi training mein hai, bas paise mil rahein hain to job hai. She is doing her residency in pediatrics, its been a month now since her term began.
-I didn't know that Baba, I wonder why Nidhi didn't tell me. Usually she has been pretty god about keeping me in the loop about her studies and career. Anyway, where is she doing her residency, which hospital?
-Ashu, beta she didn't tell you because she wanted it to be a surprise for you. She is at KGH.
Ashu felt happy that she was doing her residency there, and was also surprised. It also gave him a good feeling that she wanted to surprise him. And he also felt relieved...because she was not out having a good time and did not care about his arrival, like he had initially thought. After that he excused himself from Baba and Dadi Bua saying that he was tired and wanted to get some rest, and went off to his room.
Both Dadi Bua and Baba watched Ashu's retreating back, and looked at one another and smiled knowingly.
After her shift was over, Nidhi hurriedly signed out and handed off to the next resident who was on duty for the night. She started walking to her car with Anji, who was her best friend. They had been best friends since they had been babies. When her father had been alive they had lived next door to each other. Both their father's had also been very close friends. Anji's parents had always treated her as their own child, and even now Nidhi visited them all the time, often staying over at night, when it got too late. Both Anji and Nidhi had graduated together, and had even gotten into the same medical school, and now both of them were also at KGH doing their residency programs together, the only difference was, whereas Nidhi was in the pediatrics program, Anji had opted to go for the OB/GYN program. Suffice it to say, where one went the other followed and visa versa, they were inseparable.
-So, Nidhi, ready?
Anji and her parents were the only ones besides Dadi Bua and Baba, who knew that she was married, and all of them were also aware that she was very much in love with her husband, and had been since she was little. To Anji it seemed like a fairy tale. One, she wished would have a happy ending, and would give her friend all the happiness that she deserved. Lord knows, she had had enough sadness in her life already. She hoped that her husband would love her as much as she loved him, although it was too soon to say anything yet. But she would keep her fingers crossed and pray for Nidhi.
-Anji I have been ready forever. But I am really nervous. What if he doesn't like me? What if thinks I am really ugly?
Anji laughed-I don't think you have to worry on that score Nidhi. You are gorgeous, and you know that. Tujhe achchi tarha se pata hai ke jo bhi ladka tujhe dekhta hai tujhpe lattoo ho jata hai. Aur ab bhi dekh, hamare hospital ka sabse handsome hunk aur senior resident, Rohan bhi tujhpe fida hai, par tu hai ke usse ghaans hi nahin deti. Agar Mein already Dr. Rangnath se pyar nahin karti, aur agar hamari shaadi mahine bhar mein nahin hone waali hoti, toh shayad mein try maar leti, lekin kya karein, meri advance booking toh Dr. Rangnath pehle hi kar chuke hain.
Nidhi looked her in mock anger-Shut up yaar. you know I am married. How can I even think such things? Besides mere pati se zyada handsome duniya mein koi nahin hai. And besides you better not let Rangu hear you say that, kahin pata chala bechare Rohan ki naukri hi chali gayi tere karan.
-Haan haan mujhe pata hai. Yehi baat saalon se sunti aa rahi hoon. ab toh mere kaan bhi pak gaye hain teri issi pati bhakti se. And Besides, Rangu knows I love him and would not look at anyone else.
Achcha ab baatein bahut ho gayi, Der ho rahi hai tu ghar ja. Aur sun raat to mujhe call karna, aur mere ko detail mein bataana ke kya hua kya baatein hui etc etc, main wait karungi, OK?
After nodding in agreement and promising her she would call, Nidhi gave Anji a quick hug, got into her car and drove home.
Nidhi parked her car in it's usual place under the carport awning right next to the court yard. She just sat there for a few moments, not wanting to get out. Now that the time had finally come, she did not know what to do. She was still pondering, when her phone rang, It was Dadi Bua.
-Hello Dadi Bua.
-Arre meri bachchi, kahan hai tu? Hum sab tera wait kar rahein hain, humein bahut phikr ho rahi hai. Kitni der mein pahunch rahi hai tu?
-Dadi Bua, I am here. Just parking my car, I'll be in in a minute.
-Theek hai, jaldi kar. Chal main hi aa jati hoon tere liye darwaza kholne, tujhe tere pitare mein chaabi ko dhoondna nahin padega.
Nidhi made a face in dismay. It had been a running joke in the family how she carried everything from a needle to the kitchen sink in her bag.
And also the fact that she could never find anything when she really needed it.
Dadi Bua opened the door and pulled her into a hug. then drew back and gave her a tender smile
-Chal meri bachchi, andar chal. Mujhe pata hai ke tujhe iss din ka kab se intezaar tha. Ghabrane ki koi baat nahin hai, dekhna sab kuch theek ho jaayega. Ab chal, aur apne pati se mil, woh bhi dopeher se tera intezaar kar raha hai. Chal.
Saying this, Dadi Bua led her into the living room where baba and Ashutosh were having a conversation. But the minute she entered, they stopped. And Dadi Bua said
-Ashutosh beta, dekh kaun aaya hai.
Ashutosh stood up and turned around, and froze. He couldn't have moved even if his life had depended upon it. This was Nidhi, his wife. This was the tiny little mouse he had left behind? He could not believe his eyes. His mouse had grown up. In front of him stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life. She was not made up or anything. In fact she was absolutely simple. She was wearing a navy blue and yellow churidaar suit, which was a perfect foil to set off her color. And the only jewelry that she wore was a bracelet on one wrist and a watch on the other, and a simple pair of earrings. Her hair which he assumed was long was tied up either in a braid or ponytail. In fact her simplicity only made her natural beauty shine out even more. He was mesmerized.
Nidhi also was rooted to the spot. She could not take her eyes off of her husband. It had been so long since she had seen him that her memories of him did not do enough justice to the real thing. He was wearing a simple black fitted Tshirt, with some kind of logo, and blue jeans. The outfit was perfect to show of his perfect physique. He was even taller than she had remembered, and age had only made him more handsome. Although the slight gray at his temples was new, it gave an added air of sophistication. Also, he was now sporting glasses on his face, which too only added to his already extreme good looks. Nidhi was tongue tied. And when she noticed his intense gaze on her, she blushed and lowered her eyes in shyness.
Dadi Bua and Baba both had grins on their faces, a mile wide, as they stood off to the side and observed their two children. After a while, when they saw that the two were totally lost, Baba nudged Ashutosh and said.
-Ashu beta, Nidhi kabse khadi hai. Tumhe kuch bolna nahin iss se.
Hearing Baba's word also pulled Nidhi out of her trance. And she looked up Ashutosh once again, and smiled tentatively at him.
Ashutosh also came forward, and in the deep voice that had always haunted her in her dreams, held out his hand towards her and said
-Hello Dr. Nidhi Mathur. It has been a long time!