Hello Dr. Nidhi Mathur. It has been a long time!
Nidhi looked at the hand that he had extended towards her and slowly reached out and placed her hand in his.
-Welcome back, Dr. Ashutosh. It's good to have you home.
She said shyly.
Ashutosh shook her hand, and smiled warmly down at her.
- Thank you Nidhi, it feels good to be back home. So, How have you been?
And with that, both of them fell silent. Neither knowing what else to say. Dadi Bua who had been watching this formal and stilted exchange between the two, shook her, and looked at them with irritation, then looked over them, to her brother. Dr. Mathur, caught her meaning and shook his head, and stood up.
-Arre bhai, tum dono yanhi khade khade saari baatein karte rahoge kya? Nidhi, tu abhi abhi kaam se aayi hai, bhook lagi hogi na? Jaake haath munh dho aa beta, itni der main teri Dadi Bua khaana table par lagva degi. Khaane ke baad aaraam se baith kar jitni chahe baatein kar lena hain?
-Baba, aisi koi baat nahin hai. Mai thaki nahin hoon, chaliye Dadi Bhua main aapki help karti hoon.
Dinner started out as a kind of awkward silent affair. Dr Mathur and his sister kept glancing at Ashutosh and Nidhi, waiting for them to say something. Finally, giving up, Dr. Mathur decided that he would try and give them a nudge,
-So, Nidhi beta aaj hospital ki kya khabarein hai? Anything to report?
This brought Nidhi out of her shell, like he had known it would. You could always get her to talk, about her work. It was plain the way her face lit up, that Nidhi loved being a doctor.
-Actually Baba, I do have a couple of things. Pehle kal raat ki baat bataati hoon.
-Par beta tu toh raat ko ghar par thi, raat ki baat kahan se batayegi?
saying that Dadi Bua looked at Ashutosh and shook her her and said,
-Yeh ladki bhi na, bilkul pagal hai.
-Arre Dadi Bua, raat mein nahin thi toh kya hua, hospital mein koi bhi baat nahin chupti. Achcha suniye toh sahi.
-Theek hai, theek hai bataa, sun rahi hoon.
-Ok toh suniye. Woh Rohan hai na, Jo senior resident hai. Mera friend, uss din aap milli thi na uss se, jab aap aur Baba mujhe hospital mein lene aaye the. Kal raat ko usski duty Geriatric ward mein thi. Any way, ward mein ek naya buzurg patient tha, woh bed par se gir gaya. Toh ward ki nurse Rohan ko doctors room mein lene aayi, Sahib so rahe the, aur apna pager band kar rakkha tha. So, nurse ne aake usse uthane ki koshish kari. Toh Rohan ne nurse se poocha kya baat hai. Nurse ne usse kaha Dr. Rohan woh bed number 15 ka jo naya patient hai na, woh bed par se neeche gir gaya hai. Aap usse dekhne aa sakte hain. Toh Rohan ne usse kaha ke, woh gir gaya hai to usse bolo uth kar phir bed par let jaye, issmein main kya kar sakta hoon. Any Baba, the funny thing was that when Rohan did finally wake up and follow the nurse back to the ward, The patient was already back on the bed. The nurse asked him how he had got there. He answered, Jaise gira tha , waise hi uth kar phir let gaya, issme hairani ki kya baat hai, bachpan se karta aa raha hoon, koi nayi baat thodi hi hai.
By this time Baba, and Dadi bhua, were already laughing, and Ashutosh was mildly amused. But apparently Nidhi had not finished with her story,
-Baba, Dadi Bua aage toh suniye.
-Beta abhi aur bhi hai, main toh samjhi thi ke baat khatam ho gayi.
-Nahin Dadi Bua, abhi kahan. Abhi best part toh baaki hai, suniye.
Toh nurse ne patient se kaha, ke aap ko aisa nahin karna chahiye tha. Doctor ke liye wait karna chahiye tha aapko. Maine specially aapke liye jaakar inko uthaya hai. Agar aapko zyada chot lagi hoti to kya hota. Toh patient ne kaha, agar zyada lagi hoti toh neeche hi miltana na, phir uthta kaise. Ab agar main gir gaya toh isme yeh doctor kya karega, Aise toh kal ke din agar main potty nahin jaa saka toh tum phir se raat ko inke paas bhaagogi, ke bed number 15 ke patient ko potty jana hai, doctor sahab chalo. Phir bhi ghoom phirke, mera sawal toh wohi rahega na, ke yeh meri problem hai, jo karna maine karna hai, doctor kya karega.
Baba by that time Rohan was cracking up, and the nurse was so embarrassed, that she walked out of there without answering.
Nidhi was laughing by the time she finished telling the story. And when she looked at Baba and Dadi Bua they were both also laughing so hard that they had tears running down their face. Then she happened to glance at Ashutosh, and her laughter froze on her face! Ashutosh was laughing too!. Not the soft chuckles she had heard a few times, but a full throated, belly rumbling laugh. She had never heard or seen him like this before. It transformed his whole face, he looked younger, and even more handsome. Nidhi could not stop staring at him, and then she felt something so strong, that she almost staggered at the sheer force of it. Desire. She was a doctor and enough of an adult to know what it was. She was jerked out of her trance, when she saw that Ashutosh had also stopped laughing and was staring at her too.
Nidhi was mortified. She couldn't believe that she had been so blatant. She quickly averted her face, and began eating her food as if her life depended on it. She only looked up when she heard Ashutosh say
-Baba, it seems that nothing has changed except the people. It's nice to see that the residents and interns still have a good time even during their night shifts. It takes me back to the days when I was young...
Time kitni jaldi pass hota hai na baba. Ab in young logon ki baari hai, main kab itna old ho gaya pata bhi nahin chala.
-Par app old toh bilkul bhi nahin hain, app to abhi bhi ...
Nidhi burst out indignantly, and then stopped as she realized what she had done. But it was too late. She had done it again, she had let her mouth run away from her without thinking. She looked up at him to check his reaction, and was surprised to see him smiling at her, and had a teasing look on his face.
-Thank you Nidhi, for such a spirited defense on my behalf. I appreciate it.
Nidhi, blushed, once again looked down. Way to go Nidhi, she chided herself. Why don't you just tattoo that you love him too, on your forehead. That way you can be sure he won't miss it. I have got to put a muzzle on my mouth, she thought.
Dadi Bua who had been observing the exchange between the two, saw everything, and was delighted. Then she also noticed Nidhi's embarrassed red face, and decided to take pity on her and help her out.
-Nidhi meri bacchi, tu agar khaana kha chuki ho to zara Anji ko phone kar de. Usska phone aaya tha, aur keh rahi thi ke kuch khaas baat hai Nidhi se kehna woh mujhe ghar aate hi phone kare. Sorry beta, main bataana bhool gayi.
Nidhi looked up Dadi Bua with a puzzled expression. Ab Anji ne Dadi Bua ko phone kyon kiya, mera phone to kaam kar raha hai, directly mujhe hi kyon nah... then like a bulb had suddenly turned on in her head, she understood.
Dadi Bua was giving her a way out. she smiled great fully at her and gladly took her up on it.
-Theek hai Dadi Bua abhi call karti hoon. Bas do minute Chote Sarkar ko table clear karne mein help kar doon phir jaati hoon.
-Arre, beta. Main hoon na, sab karva doongi, tu phikr mat kar. Par jaldi ja kar Anji se baat karle, kahin der na ho jaye, pata chala ke woh so gayi hai, aur tu usse baat bhi nahin kar saki. Pata nahin, shayad koi zaroori baat hogi. Tu ja beta. Aur phir agar tu bhi sona chahti hai to so jaana. mujhe pataa hai thak gayi hogi tu. Aur phir subha phir se jaldi jaana hoga na?
-Haan Dadi Bua maine time toh dekha hi nahin. Wakai mein bahut der ho gayi hai. Main jaati hoon.
And then she said goodnight to everyone and hightailed it out of there.
When Nidhi got to her room she went to her favorite seat near the window, and plunked herself down, and covered her face with both hands. She just wanted to hide somewhere, and never show her face again, to anyone.
After a few minutes, she lowered her hands, and walked slowly over to her bed and picked up her fathers photo and said,
-Baba, I made a total fool of myself today. Dr. Ashutosh kya soch rahe honge mere baare mein? He probably things, I am coming on to him or something. Ya phir sochte honge ke main pagal hoon. Baba, ab mai kya karoon, how will I face him again?
Nidhi looked at the picture for a minute and then slowly put it down again. Of course Baba never talked to her, but it made her feel better talking to him. Whenever she had any problems or was either very happy or very sad, she talked to her father, and somehow she felt his presence, and had the feeling that he could hear her and was there with her, and that immediately made her feel felt better.
I need to talk to somebody, she thought. And then she remembered that Anji would be waiting for her call. She could not believe that she had forgotten about Anji. She had never ever forgotten Anji, ever. So how come now, she thought with amazement. It's true, she smiled wryly, love does make fools out of us all, and she was no exception.
Anji would never forgive her! Nidhi sent a text to Anji telling her that she would call her in a little while, as soon a she got ready for bed.
Then with a shrug of resignation, went to the bathroom to complete her nightly routine.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the house, Ashutosh had also excused himself, and retired to his room. After taking a shower and changing into a pair of sweats and a t shirt (his night attire) Ashutosh opened the glass doors that opened out to the back yard, from his room, and went to sit on one of the chairs.
For the Life of him, he could not stop thinking about Nidhi, and the way she had been staring at him. But, the minute she had noticed him staring back at her, she had averted her face so quickly that he thought he had imagined the look in her eyes. For a second he could have sworn he had seen desire. But she had turned her face away so quickly, that he could not be sure. Of course he had imagined it, why could an incredibly beautiful young woman like her desire him. Not only was he was twice her age, but, they also had nothing in common. They were both from two different eras.
Ashu, had been totally mesmerized by her all evening. He had had a hard time keeping his eyes off her. And when she had started talking about the hospital incident, her face had come alive, and he had been spell bound. Ashutosh felt like fool but he had been so attuned to her that he had noticed her every action and nuance. He specially loved the way she had kept tucking a stray stand of hair, that had escaped her braid, behind her ear.
The, suddenly a noise, like something falling jolted him out of his thoughts, and he looked around to see what it was. He noticed a cat running across the yard, and smiled. It must have jumped the fence, probably after some mouse or whatever. Whatever the reason, he was greatful to it. It had helped him come out of the daze his brain had been in, my God I am a dirty old man. he thought. How can I think something so inappropriate. Its ridiculous, I should be ashamed of my self for even daring to think of her in any way other than as my ward. Her father left her in my care, to protect her from the world and to take care of her. And here I am being the very thing, I should be protecting her from. to her. Her Baba, apparently left her in care of the wrong person, he acknowledged sadly.
There was just one more year left, of his guardianship, after which he would set her free. And then he too, would be free. He had long ago promised himself that he would never let anyone close enough to hurt him again, which was why he had always steered clear of relationships and entanglements. The only relationship that he honored was with Baba and DB, those were the only two people he had ever allowed into his heart, there was no room for anyone or anything else. So, at the end of the year, on her 25th birthday, he would legally dissolve their relationship, and hand her inheritance over to her, and wish her well in life. Or, if maybe by then she had found the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, then he would give his blessings get her married. Of course, it went without saying that he would make sure that whomever she chose was worthy of her, and wanted her for herself, and not for her money. Yes, he would have to make sure of that first! Once he had made this decision, he immediately felt better.
But, the more he thought about her with someone else, the more distasteful it became to him. Although why the thought of her belonging to someone else, caused a particular ache somewhere deep inside, he couldn't say, but he could choose to ignore it, he decided. He had promised her father, that he would make sure that she was happy, and if there was someone with whom she thought she could spend her life and who would make her happy, he would make sure that she got her wish. Ashutosh had never gone back on his word in his life. He would make sure that Nidhi would not be an exception to that rule. Not only was she too young, but she was also very innocent. And, he vowed, he would never let anything destroy that innocence. Not even himself.
Nidhi had finished taking a shower and had gotten ready for bed, but found that she could not go to sleep. Her thoughts were full of Ashutosh. Not, that they weren't normally, they were, but today more so than normal. Today, she along with love, she was also having to reconcile with her feelings of desire. And that left her totally confused. Up until today, it had been love, just love. So, how did she manage to jump from love to desire all at once. Was this normal, she thought. She had to talk to someone, otherwise she was going to go crazy! Nidhi picked up her phone and called Anji. The phone rang several times, and when Anji did not pick up, Nidhi dialed her again. Once again there was no response, she must have fallen asleep, Nidhi thought, and was just about to hang up when, Anji's mom, Shyama Aunty answered,
-Nidhi beta, Anji is sleeping. Is it anything important? I can wake her up if you want?
-Nahin Aunty, aisi koi baat nahin hai. Maine toh aise hi call kar liya tha.
Anji ko sone deejiye, main uss se kal baat kar loongi.
-Theek hai beta, main uss se keh doongi ke tu ne call kiya tha. By The Way, Nidhi, beta Ashutosh aaj aane waale the na, theek thak pahunch gaye. I was wanting to call and talk to bhuaji all evening, but somehow the time got away from me.
-Ji Aunty woh aa gaye. And everything is alright.
-Theek hai beta. Toh main phone rakkhti hoon. Bhuaji se Kehena, ke mein unko kal din mein call karoongi.
-OK Aunty, main Dadi Bua ko bol dungi. Goodn...Aunty, aap ke paas ek minute hai?
-Haan beta bol, aise kyon pooch rahi hai. Tere liye toh mere paas hamesha time hai. Aaj aise kyon baat kar rahi hai?
-Nahin Aunty, aisi koi baat nahin, woh toh bas aisehi. Aunty aapse koi baat Karni thi, par abhi aise phone par nahin. Agar main kal subha jaldi aa jaaun hospital jaane se pehle, will it be alright?
-Nidhi, beta, apni Maa se bhi aise koi poochta hai? Tera ghar hai, main teri Maa hoon, jab chahe aaja. Par bachche aisi kya baat hai, jiskeliye tu kal itni subha tayyar ho kar yahan aana chahti hai. Koi problem toh nahin?
-Nahin Aunty, nothing to worry about, bas aapse baat Karni hai. Subha aakar bataungi. Good night.
-Ok beta good night. Nidhi, beta Phir nashta yanhi mere saath karna, theek hai. Tere favorite gobhi ke paranthe banaungi tere liye.
-Thank you Aunty, that sounds great.
Problem was that even after she had hung up with Shyama Aunty, Nidhi could not sleep. So after pacing in her room for a while, she decided that she might as well go outside to the back yard. After all, if she wanted to walk to tire herself out, enough to sleep, she might as well get some fresh air also. And besides, Nidhi loved walking outside at night, it was very soothing, and she had found that being outside helped clear her mind sometimes, and made her think more clearly.
Before leaving her room, she hesitated, and thought about getting a robe to wear over her night suit. But, then thought the better of it. It was really late, and everyone had probably gone to sleep long ago, she thought. And, Baba and Dadi Bua saw her in her night clothes all the time. Besides she was decent. She always wore a pair of cotton pajamas and a t shirt at night, so there was nothing to worry about, she decided.
She ran a brush through her still wet hair and quietly made her way downstairs, and made a detour through the kitchen to make her self some noodles to take out side while she walked. After putting her noodles in a bowl, she carried them to the big glass doors in the living room, which led out to the back. As soon as she stepped out, Nidhi took a deep breath, and let it out and smiled. Just being out here already made her feel a lot better. And she went to the far side of the yard, where the rose bushes were and began her routine of walking, thinking and enjoying her noodles, all at the same time.
Ashutosh who was lost in his own thoughts, was startled when he heard the doors open and saw somebody step out, and walk over to the rose bushes. He strained to see who it was, then decided to get up and go check. Was that Dadi Bua? he thought, but then immediately dismissed the idea, when he got closer. no that was definitely not Dadi Bua. He could not imagine Dadi Bua dressed up in a night suit eating noodles. Just the image of Dadi Bua like that brought a big grin to his face. No, not Dadi Bua. Dadi Bua could never look like that, thought as he drew closer.
Nidhi, as if sensing something looked up. She could not believe her eyes, when she saw Ashutosh approaching. Nidhi looked here and there in desperation, seeking a way to escape, but of course she knew it was useless. There was no way she could leave, without seeming very rude. So she stood still and waited, as he came to stand in front of her.
-I am surprised to see you here Nidhi, I thought that you had gone to sleep long ago.
--Actually Dr. Ashutosh, I had some work I needed to finish before going to the hospital tomorrow. And then, I couldn't sleep, so I came out here. I am sorry if I disturbed you. I'll just go on back up to my...
Nidhi had been slowly backing up while speaking, thinking she would make her escape. But she had not even finished speaking when he caught hold of her arm, to keep her from running.
-What's the hurry? You came out here for a walk, and what's that, noodles?(when she nodded) Well you came out here to enjoy your noodles, and to walk, right? Then why are you talking of leaving. And you did not disturb me. I could not sleep, , and was just out here relaxing. But it's always better when you have company.
-Are you sure? I mean, it's not a problem, I can go back to my room.
-Nidhi, two things you need to know about me, one, that I hate repeating myself, and two, I never say what I don't mean. OK? If I did not want you here I would tell you.
-So, you want to walk, or would you prefer to sit and eat.
-Whatever you want, I fine either way.
-Ok, then let's go and sit. I have trouble , with eating and walking at the same time. It gives me headache just thinking about it.
At her nod, he took her elbow, and led her over to the chairs where he had been sitting. And sat down on the chair next to her.
Nidhi looked at the bowl of noodles in her hand, there was no way she could eat while he sat in front of her, looking at her like that, she thought. She was glad that she was sitting though, because she had no idea ow long she could have stood up, her knees had virtually turned to jelly the minute he had caught her arm and prevented her from leaving. Nidhi wondered if he had felt her trembling. She hoped not, she had already made enough of a fool of herself already, for one day. She had no idea what had gotten into her. She had never felt this way before, with any man. Not that she had ever been with a man. It's just that she had had many friends that were guys, but never once, had she felt anything even close to what she had felt, even at his slightest touch. She raised her face and found him looking at her, strangely. And she suddenly felt very nervous, and very shy.
Ashutosh on the other hand, could not take his eyes off of her. She was a perfect mix, of innocence, beauty, and temptation. He could she that she had recently taken a shower, her hair was still wet. And it was beautiful and long, he had guessed right about her having long hair. And when she raised her face, and her eyes met his, he saw what she had tried to hide earlier from him, awareness, and desire. They were both there in her eyes, again, now. He wondered if she even knew what her eyes were telling him? He doubted it. She was too innocent. And he wanted her, he thought, fiercely! He could picture her lying beside him with all that glorious hair spread out on the pillow next to him.
Almost the next instant, and with great difficulty, he brought himself back to reality. Either he had to somehow find a way to control his feelings, or he had to find a way to avoid her. Living in the same house, would make the second option impossible he knew, so he would just have to go with the first option, he would have to find a way to control his thoughts and himself, from betraying his feelings.
-Nidhi, yeh noodles khaane ke liye hai, ya tum inhe dekhne ke liye laayi ho.
Nidhi looked up at him, if she hadn't seen it with her own eyes, she would never have guessed that just a minute ago she had seen him staring at her as if, as if...she didn't think that it was a good idea to actually try to classify his stare. Some things, should just be left alone. It was better if she just forgot about it, she decided, but could she? So, in an effort diffuse the situation, like him, she smiled and said
-khaane ke liye toh laayi thi, but I think I made too much. Toh dekh dekh kar hi pet bhar gaya hai.
-You know, its not nice to waste food. And besides, I've found that food usually disappears when you have someone to share it with you.
Nidhi stared at him in amazement!
-Aap, noodles khaayenge?
-Kyon bhai, issme itni surprise ki kya baat hai?
-Nahin, its just that Baba told me ke aap ko junk food pasand nahin aata, aur aapke hote hue ghar mein koi khaa bhi nahin sakta. In fact, before you came they warned me that you would not let me eat it.
-Now thats not true. I might let you eat it once in a while, just as long as you don't tell anyone that I am letting you. You know, meri reputation ka sawal hai, after all, I am not known as Dr. Heartstone for nothing...
Nidhi laughed, she had never seen this side of him before. She found it very endearing, and he looked very cute, with that teasing smile on his face.
-So, Dr. Nidhi, kya aap aise hi hansti rahengi, share karne ke iraade nahin hain kya?
She smiled and offered him the bowl,
-Sorry, Yeh lijiye. Par ek minute wait kariye, yeh wala fork toh mera jhootha hai, mai aapke liye ek aur lekar aati hoon.
But before, she could leave he started to eat.
-Thats OK Doc. I'll eat with this, whydon't you go ahead and go grab yourself another one. Ab aap khade khade kya dekh rahin hain? Jaldi jaayiye, nahin toh by the time you come back, it'll be all gone. Hurry up.
When Nidhi came back, he was waiting for her, with the bowl in hand,
-See, how nice I am, I decided to wait for you.
She sat down, with a smile and felt more at ease with him than she had ever before. So, when he put the bowl in between and gestured, she didn't even think twice before joining him.
-Actually, this is quite fun. Tell me Nidhi, do you do this often, eat noodles and take a walk in the middle of the night, that is?
-Well, maybe once or twice a week at least.
-And do Baba, and Dadi Bua know about theses midnight outings of yours.
-Nahin abhi tak toh shayad nahin pata chala hai. I don't think DB will like it though. She is always coming up with crazy explanations for everything. Ke iske karne se yeh hota hai, aur aise karne se yeh, etc etc. I don't think she will let me come out in the middle of the night, all alone. I had asked her once, and she panicked, ke kahin koi mujhe utha legaya toh kya hoga, she said, that unko toh pata bhi nahin chalega. But app kyon pooch rahe hain?
-Aise hi. Just for my general knowledge, you know. Just in case I ever need to blackmail you or something. It's always nice to have information, you never know when you might need it.
Ashutosh Said this with a perfectly straight face, and in a very matter of fact way, said he was totally serious. But seeing the horrified expression on her face, he could not help laughing.
-Nidhi I wish I had a camera. I would loved to have taken a picture of you right now, your expression is priceless.
Nidhi could not believe it, he had been joking. And while she should have been relieved, she wasn't. She was really annoyed,
-Aap mujhse mazak kar rahe the?
-I can't believe this. Why would you do something like that to me. Maine aapka kya bigada hai. You really scared me Dr, Ashutosh. That was so not nice, I didn't know that you could be so mean.
Ashutosh stopped laughing, and was surprised to see that she really was upset, and nearly on the brink of tears. What had he said that would upset her this much. He had only been joking.
-Nidhi, I am so sorry. Really. I didn't mean it. Please, belie...
This time it was Nidhi who burst out laughing.
-You are not the only one who can joke Dr. Ashutosh.
He was absolutely delighted. Not many people managed to fool him. She really had him going for a second. And his laughter joined hers.
-Very good doc. I have to admit you got me, and Good!
Ashutosh was really happy to see the impish smile on her face. And the best part was that she had forgotten her reserved attitude, and seemed totally at ease with him. That was what he had been aiming for.
When she had joined him earlier, she had been so uncomfortable and tense, that he knew he had to do something to put her at ease in his presence, and by the looks of things, he had succeeded. Now he would have to make sure that she stayed comfortable with him. He wanted her to think of him as a friend, because that was the only way either of them was going to survive the next one year. He would make sure that she would ever find out about his feelings towards her. That she would feel as comfortable with him as she would have if he was her brother,(and grimaced at the thought) even if it killed him.
-So, Doc, tell me about work. And I also need to know all the happenings at the hospital, basically I want you to give a lowdown of the everything, help me get caught up. After all, I am going to be going back to work next week, and I need to be prepared. You can be my spy, my eyes and ears, so to speak.
Nidhi could not believe her ears. This was The Dr. HeartStone, everybody at the hospital was scared of. If only they could see him now, wouldn't they be surprised. She bet that their jaws would drop open, and maybe someone them would even catch flies.
If it was at all possible, she had just fallen in love with him all over again. She had never felt so at ease with anybody in her life. Except for Anji and her father, of course. He was adorable! And she was also happy to see that he was totally comfortable with her. She would make sure that he always stay way too. And she would do everything she could to make sure that he never ever came to know how she really felt.
-Dr. Ashutosh, Sir, are you asking me to tell you the hospital gossip.
-Yep, you got it.
And she started laughing, and pretty soon he joined her, and she laughed till she had a stitch in her side. Nidhi could not remember the last time she had laughed this much.
Ashutosh let her calm down, and then looked at her and raised his eyebrow. She giggled and then proceeded to tell him everything she knew. They were so engrossed, that by the time they realized how late it was, the sky had started to lighten. Ashutosh looked at her apologetically
-Nidhi, I am so sorry. I have kept you up all night.
-Its ok Dr. Ashutosh, I don't mind. I was having fun.
-Yea, but now you will hardly have time to rest, before you have to go to work.
-Please, Dr. Ashutosh, don't worry. I am used to staying up nights.
I will just go to sleep early this evening. But I have to go now. I have to meet with someone, before my shift starts. Why don't you a go lie down, and get some rest. I will see you later.
And before he could react she was half way to the house. He smiled and shook his head, He had been this young once, and he smiled ruefully at her energy. The next instant, he sobered up. It had taken him the whole night. And cost him his sleep, but it had been worth it. Nidhi was totally at ease in his presence now. Mission Accomplished. And with that, he walked tiredly back to his room and fell onto the bed, with a greatful, heartfelt sigh, and closed his eyes. But the next second, he came awake suddenly. It had just registered in his mind, that last statement Nidhi made before she had left. She had said that "She had to meet with someone, before she started her shift at the hospital". SOMEONE! She had left him because she was meeting with someone. Here he had spent the whole night trying to make her feel better, and she had just run off to see SOMEONE. Fickle, thats what the younger generation was nowadays. Fickle! There was no gratitude left in the world nowadays. No matter what you did, no gratitude at all. Not even a simple Thank you Ashutosh, thank you for staying up all night. Not even thank you Ashutosh for making me feel comfortable in your presence. He was just a lowly husband after all. No big deal. No... And he was still grumbling to him self when he fell asleep a minute later, with a scowl on his face.
Meanwhile Nidhi, got ready and rushed over to Anji's house. When she got there, Shyama Aunty informed her that Anji was still getting ready.
-Aunty, that is why I came early. I wanted a chance to talk to you alone. Anji is my best friend and sister, and I share everything with her, but there are somethings that a girl can only share with her mother. And, aunty you are the only mother that I have ever known, so I came here.
Shyama, had tears in her eyes at Nidhi's words. She had been friends with Nidhi's mother, and her friend had asked her to take care of her daughter and to look out for her. Shyama, had always tried her best to do just that. She could in all honesty say that for her there was no difference between Nidhi and her Anji. And the fact, that Nidhi also thought of her as her mother, and had come to her like this, moved her more than she could say.
-Of course, I am your mother Nidhi. So, beta tell me what is it that has been bothering you since last night?
Nidhi blushed and lowered her head, and began at the beginning, and told her about everything that had happened since Ashutosh had come home yesterday. And all of the questions and thoughts and feelings that had been bothering her, and confusing her since yesterday came pouring out. Nidhi kept her head lowered even when she had finished speaking, and waited for Shyama aunty to say something.
Shyama, looked at Nidhi and smiled, then she cupped both of her hands on either side of her face, and raised it so that she could look into Nidhi's eyes. What she saw there, both filled her with wonder and love and at the same time fear. Wonder and love at seeing the absolute honesty, innocence and lack of guile in those beautiful eyes. She just hoped for this innocent girls sake that the trust CV had placed in Ashutosh, when giving Nidhi into care, was not misplaced.
-Beta, isme itne sochne ki kya baat hai.
-Aunty, its just that these feeling make me feel uncomfortable. Is this normal? I mean I am not turning into one of those types of girls am I?
Shyama laughed-Nidhi beta tu bilkul pagal hai. How did you come to be 24 and a doctor and still be so ignorant and jhalli, in these times. Beta, Ashutosh is your husband, and you have loved him practically all your life. To feel desire, and want a physical relationship, and be attracted to your husband, who also happens to be the man you love, is the most natural thing in the world. It's the way it should be. Now, if you did not feel anything, then I would really worried.
-Aunty woh sab baatein toh mujhe bhi pataa hain. I know that desire, and attraction are natural, specially when you also happen to be in love with that person. My question is that, why haven't I felt this way before? I have always loved Ashutosh, and have been married to him for over 6 years now. Why haven't I felt desire or any of those things untill yesterday?
-But, beta, you have,
Nidhi looked at her in confusion- When? Aunty, yeh aap kya keh rahi hain? Main janti hoon, Aise kuch nahin hai, maine kabhi bhi kuch aisa feel nahin kiya.
-Beta, do you remember, right after you had gotten married, and Ashutosh had left for london, you had come to spen a few days with us?
At Nidhi's nod, Shyama continued,
-Remember the night when Anji had fallen asleep and you and I stayed up all night talking? Do you remember what you told me? You described all the attributes that you loved about Ashutosh, and that his voice made you get goosebumps, and how, just a smile and look from him turned your knees to jelly. Beta, agar woh desire nahin tha toh aur kya tha. It was desire even then, you have always felt this way, only you haven't recognized it up until now. Beta the reason that you have never been interested in other boys, other than as just friends, is also because of this. Nidhi, beta, you very very young then, not only in years, but in all respects. You had led a very sheltered life, and without even knowing it had fallen in love with Ashutosh. So all the feelings that you experienced six years ago, your mind dismissed, because it wasn't ready to handle those things yet. But now, you are all grown up. and you mind and body are in sync, finally. So, now the realization and awareness and recognition of all your feelings, whether physical, mental or emotional, is also there. Beta your body was just waiting for your mind and heart to grow up, thats all. You have nothing to be scared or worried about, or to be ashamed of. Koi problem nahin hai. You are absolutely fine, you are not abnormal.
Shyama laughed, as she repeated Nidhi's words back to her. And Nidhi smiled with relief and hugged Shyama, and laid her laid on her shoulder.
-Ab koi, aur baat bhi hai, ya bas itnisi baat ke liye kal raat se pareshan hai, aur saath mein mujhe bhi pareshan kar diya tha.
-Ek aur baat hai Aunty?
At Shyama's questioning look, Nidhi went on,
-I don't, think he loves me or even feels like that about me. Kal saari raat we were together talking, and he never even tried to hold my hand.
Shyama laughed delightedly, seeing her pout like a spoilt little child, and also at her statement
-Beta, he just came back last night. And he did not even know you when you guys got married. Thoda waqt to do, unko. Waise, I don't think that he will be able to help himself. Meri beti hai hi aisi, ke har koi iss se pyar kar baithta hai. Toh phir, Tere Dr. Ashutosh ki toh baat hi kuch aur hai. Unhe toh tu pyar karti hai, woh kaise tujhse pyar nahin karenge. You'll see beta. Everything will fall into place soon. Now don't worry. Just enjoy being with him, you have waited a long time for this, and be yourself. After all he needs to see you and love you as you are. Ab bas, chinta band. I think I just heard Anji come out of her room, and we have just finished. Perfect timing. Ab chalo, nashta karlo tum dono, warna hospital ke liye der ho jaayegi.
Nidhi hugged her tightly one more time and gave her a kiss on her cheek. Then went out of the room to find Anji. Breakfast at Anji's house was always a riot, which was why Nidhi loved it so much. Between aunty and uncle's nok jhonk, and Anji trying to stop her father from going over board with food, and getting him to stick to his diet, it was total chaos from start to finish. Nidhi was really happy. Between her talk with Aunty and the breakfast, and of course the time she had spent with Ashutosh last night, she felt on top of the world.
Anji and Nidhi decided to ride to work in the same car, so Nidhi left her car at Anji's house. She would just come back with Anji and pick it up after her shift. On the way to the hospital Nidhi shared everything that had happened since yesterday, with Anji, and was teased mercilessly, till the minute they got there. Anji promised to catch her for lunch and then the two went their separate ways, to their respective departments.
Ashutosh woke up slowly, blinked a couple of times trying to get his bearings. Then he looked at the clock and saw that he had slept the morning away. He must have been really tired because he had only wanted to get a couple of hours rest, before starting the day. Although he didn't have to go into work until monday, he had wanted to take a quick trip to the hospital, to start taking care of all the formalities.
He looked at the clock one again, he could still go, it was only 10:30, he could get ready and be at the hospital latest in an hour. So, he got up and made a few calls. The Current Chief of staff, Dr. Anand Bakshi, whom he was replacing, was due to leave at the end of the week. Dr. Bakshi was delighted to hear from Ashutosh, and was very receptive to his coming to the hospital that afternoon. He thought that it was an excellent idea, to get all the formalities out of the way, and get reacquainted with the hospital, and also to the changes that had happened during his time away. After agreeing on a time, Ashutosh hung up the phone and went to get ready.
When, he came out of his room, he saw that Dadi Bua and Baba, were both sitting in the shaded area of the back lawn, on the chairs he had Nidhi had been using last night. He walked over to them, and said good morning and sat down.
-Beta, I hope you are feeling rested this morning?
-Haan baba. I feel fine. Sorry I got up so late.
-Arre beta, achcha hai na. Teri neend poori ho gayi hogi. Iss mein sorry ki kya baat hai. Tu apne ghar mein hi toh hai. Chahe toh sara din so sakta tha.
-Nahin Dadi Bua woh baat yeh hui, ki raat ko neend nahin after all rahi thi, toh main yahan thodi der ke liye aake bbaith gaya. Phir kuch der ke baad Nidhi bhi aagayi, usse bhi neend nahin aa rahi thi. Toh hum dono baatein karne baith gaye, aur pata hi nahi chala ke kab subha ho gayi. Main toh phir bhi so liya, lekin usse toh kaam par jaana tha. Pata nahin uska kya haal hoga aaj hospital mein.
-Arre beta tu uski phikr mat kar. Usse toh waise bhi neend kam hi aati hai. Kai baar toh main hairan hoti hoon, ke woh saare saare din kaise chalti phirti rehti hai.
-Nahin Dadi Bua main uski phikr nahin kar raha tha, mujhe toh uske patients ki phikr hai. Kahnin neend mein ek aadhe ki "hello" kar di, toh museebat ho jayegi.
Both Baba and Dadi Bua laughed at his words. As he had meant them too. Then after a minute, Dadi Bua got up and went inside to make his tea and breakfast. When she had left, Ashutosh turned towards Baba
-Baba achcha hua Dadi Bua andar chali gayi. Aap se kuch baatein karni thi.
-Haan beta. Par aisi kya baat hai jo tu apni Dadi Bua ke saamne nahin kar sakta tha?
-Baba, Nidhi ke vishay mein hai.
-Nidhi ke vishay mein aisi kya baat hai beta?
-Baba, aap se poochna tha, ke ab aage ka kya plan hai? Aapne kuch soch hai uske baare mein?
-Tera kya matlab hai Ashu, saaf saaf bataa.
-Baba, mai yeh kehna chah raha hoon, ke aapne aur Dadi Bua ne uske future ke baare mein kya soch rakkha hai. Ab ek saal bacha hai bas. Phir Verma Uncle ke wasihat ke hisaab se Nidhi ko main uski saari properties and bank accounts saunp sakta hoon. Then I will not need to be her guardian any more. And woh ek achchi well educated ladki hai, any family would love to have her as their daughter in law. Aapne koi dekha hai ladka uske liye abhi, ke nahin. ya phir maybe she already has chosen somebody. Aapko to pataa hi hoga. I just want to make sure that I make the transition as easy as possible for her. Aur phir waqt se saare proceedings shuru nahin kaare, toh delay bhi ho sakti hai.
Unknown to Ashutosh Dadi Bua had been standing behind him listening to all of this. She came forward and put his tray of food down in front of him so hard he was surprised that nothing had broken or spilled.
-Ashutosh tujhe pataa bhi hai ke tu kya keh raha hai.
-Aisa kya keh diya maine Dadi Bua
-Nidhi teri patni hai. Tu apni patni ki shaadi karvane ki baat kar raha hai?
-Dadi Bua Nidhi ke saath meri shaadi sirf ek samjhota thi. Jo hum dono ko majboori mein karni padi. But aap socho to thande dimaag se. Yeh rishta kaise sahi hai uske liye. Uske baare mein to sochiye zara.
-Ashu, tujhe mujhe kuch samjhane ki zaroorat nahin hai. Tu khud soch, kya yeh theek hai. Uss samay, jis bhi karan ke liye shaadi hui, aur jaise or jin halat mein hui, woh matter nahin karte. Zaroori baat yeh hai ki, Shaadi hui hai. Aur tum dono Pati Patni ho. Tune usse mangalsutra pehnaya tha, aur usski maang bhi bhari thi. Uska koi matlab nahin hai kya teri nazron mein.
-Dadi Bua aap bahut unreasonable baatein kar rahi ho. Mangalsutra aur sindoor, but sirf ek rivaz hain. Par agar dekha jaye toh inka kya matlab hai. Kitni shaadi shuda auratein, apne pati ko pyar karne ke bawajood yeh sab nahin manti, aur kitni apnne pati se nafrat karte hue bhi maang bharti hain aur mangalsutra pehenti hai. Yeh sab dil se hota hai Dadi Bua. Aur phir aap meri aur Nidhi ki umar ka phark bhi toh dekho, main uss se 18 saal bada hoon. Main usske saath aise nainsaafi kaise kar sakta hoon. Woh abhi bahut choti hai, uske aage uski poori zindagi hai. Usske bhi toh arman our khwahishein hongi, unka koi maina nahin hai kya.
Dadi Bua was asbout to answer, when Baba held up his hand, gesturing for her her calm down, and then he said
-Ashutosh beta, kya baat hai. Tujhe Nidhi pasand nahin ya tere dil mein koi aur hai. kya baat hai?
-Baba, don't be ridiculous. You know its nothing like that. and Nidhi is a very beautiful young woman. What man wouldn't want her. But, that doesn't mean anything. How do I justify tying a girl half my age down with me, when I know that she can have someone her age, who will have similar likes and dislikes and more in common with her than I ever could. I don't understand the two of you. I thought that you both loved her. Why are you just thinking of me. Think of her too. then do you even know if she wants this marriage, and me as her husband. How do you both know that she does not like anyone else?
-Beta, we are thinking more of Nidhi than you in this matter. and we do know what she wants. Don't you think that we have asked ourselves these questions already? And why would we even say such things if we thought that Nidhi was not happy with this marriage. I can assure you Ashu, if I had one seconds worth of doubt that Nidhi wanted something or someone else, I would have been the very first one to ask you to release her. We know that she is a lot younger than you. And yes it is not a common thing but age gap marriages such as yours and Nidhi's are not unheard of either.
-Baba are you saying that this is what Nidhi wants?
Ashutosh could not believe what he was hearing. Nidhi wanted to stay married to him? This time Dadi Bua answered.
-Haan, hum yehi keh rahein hain. Nidhi ki yeh hi marzi hai. Jin cheezon ka tere liye koi mol nahin hai, woh uske liye bahut maine rakkhti hai. Woh ladki, tujhe apna pati manti hai. Aur Jin sindoor aur mangalsutra ko tu befizool manta hai, woh mangalsutra jab se tune usse 6 saal pehle pehnaya tha, woh usne aaj tak apne gale se ek baar bhi nahin nikaala hai. Uske liye yeh shaadi umar bhar ka rishta hai. Soch ab agar tu uss se yeh sab kahega toh usse kitna dukh hoga, socha hai kabhi tune?
Beta, in 6 saalon mein woh hamari beti ban chuki hai. Hum uske saath kabhi injustice nahin kar sakte. Agar humein lagta ki yeh shaadi uske liye sirf majboori mein kiya hua ek samjhota hai. Toh hum khushi khushi usse zindagi mein aage badne dete. Par yeh uski marzi hai, uski khushi. Aur ab yeh hamari marzi aur khushi ban chuki hai. Nidhi jaise achchi ladki tujhe kahin bhi nahin mil sakti thi, aur humein aisi beti se bhi badkar bahu kahin nahin. Haan umar ka phark zaroor hai, par woh aisi koi baat nahin hai jiss se ghabrane ki zaroorat hai. Waqt ke saath saath, agar dil mil jayenge, toh yeh faasle bhi khatm ho jayenge.
Ashutosh was quiet for several seconds.
-Dadi Bua Baba mujhe sochne ka kuch time do. Main aap dono se raat ko iss baare mein baat karunga.
Dadi Bua was about to say something further, when Dr. Mathur touched her hand, and indicated that they should leave the topic alone for now.
-Alright Ashutosh, go ahead and think. But remember beta whatever decision you take, We will not stand for Nidhi getting hurt. She has had too many heartbreaks in her young life already. So...
Ashutosh looked them both and nodded. Then before he got up to leave he informed them about his appointment with Dr. Bakshi, and told them that he would probably be gone for the rest of the day.
Back in his room, he went over to the sofa kept near the window, and sat down, and let out a deep breath, and leaned back with his eyes closed. Life had just thrown him another loop. What was he to do now. Of course, staying married to Nidhi would not be a hardship. She was beautiful, and intelligent, and warmhearted. She was also young, energetic, full of life and innocence, and probably had rosy dreams of the future. And while he knew that he was seriously attracted to her, and wanted her, he was also cynical, jaded, and had long ago given up dreaming, and knew the harsh realities of life. At the same time he could also not negate what Baba and Dadi Bua had told him. Nidhi wanted to stay married to him. She wanted this relationship.
He was really confused. There was no way he could make any sort of decision immediately. And besides, he had to get ready for his meeting with Dr. Bakshi. He didn't want to come across as being distracted and disinterested, so for the time being personal issues would have to be put on hold, he decided, and went to get ready.
It was, almost 1:00 before Nidhi could get time off for lunch. She had already sent word to Anji informing her, and told her that she would meet her outside after their shift. Nidhi, had just wanted to work through lunch and finish up early so that she could get home. She was excited and couldn't wait to see Ashutosh again. She could still remember him, as he had been last night. She had never thought that she would ever be able to feel so comfortable around him.
Nidhi was still at her station filling out paper work, when Rohan came up to her,
-Nidhi what are you still doing here. Lunch nahin karna hai kya?
-Nahin Rohan mera man nahin hai. Tum jao, main bas apna kaam khatm karke, jaldi ghar jaana chahti hoon.
-Nidhi thats not done. You should not be skipping meals, its not good for your health. You can finish work after eating something. Ab chalo,
Utho, I will not take o for an answer. If you wont go then I wont either. and I am really hungry. So, If I faint while I am treating a patient or fall flat on my face into someones abdomen during surgery, I will blame you, And you don't want to be responsible for me killing a patient do you?
Nidhi looked up at him, and the expression on his face made her burst out lauging.
-Rohan tum bilkul poore nutankibaaz ho. Do you know that?
-Aap ko kaise pata chala. Actually, it's in my blood, mere family mein bhi sab nautanki hi toh karte hai. Woh toh main hi hoon, jo zid karke doctor ban gaya, aur apne parents ke sapne tod diye. Nahin toh aaj mera naam bhi Nautankibaazon ki list mein suhere harfon mein likha hua hota.
This made her laugh even harder, and she shook her head.
-Achha chalo. Mujhe pata hai, tum manoge to ho nahin.
-Achcha hua ke aap jaldi samajh gayi, yeh baat. It makes life easier.
The whole way down to the lunch room, Rohan kept up a running commentary on something or the other, and making her laugh. And she was still laughing and talking to Rohan when they entered the canteen.
That was how Ashutosh saw her.
Ashutosh had arrived at KGH and had been warmly received by Dr. Bakshi. They had talked for about an hour about the hospital, and Dr. Bakshi basically brought him up to date on everything. He had also arranged a quick meeting with all the HOD's after lunch, to introduce them to Ashutosh. Ashutosh had been in the middle of a conversation about hospital policies with Dr. Bakshi, when he heard her, and he looked up. Nidhi was there, looking as beautiful as she had the previous night, and Dadi Bua had been right. She did not look the least bit tired. No body could tell that she had been up all night. She was talking to this big Tall YOUNG man, who looked like he grew up wrestling with elephants. And from the way he had muscles bulging out from everywhere, looks like he was the one who had won. She was laughing at something he said, when sensing something, she suddenly turned and looked right at him. And this time not even he, could mistake the way her face lit up, and also her smile, when she saw him. That was when he knew. It was no use. He was a goner. Dadi Bua and Baba had been right.
On the way home after his meeting, Ashutosh knew what his answer was going to be. But before he agreed to their demand, he had a set of conditions that he wanted them to agree to, only then would he agree to give his marriage to Nidhi a chance. He knew that even if they didn't he would. But they didn't know that, and he would need all the advantages he could get. He didn't think that Baba and Dadi Bua would be too happy with what he was going to say. But oh well... One thing he did know was that he had to try and see if it would work between the two of them. But for that to happen they had to get to know each other first. Without any undue pressure, from anyone. Ashutosh also knew that he desired her, but he did not know if he loved her, or would ever love her. But he wanted the chance to see if he could. Same with Nidhi.
She had been so young when they had gotten married, he doubted that she even knew what love was at that point. And now with being mentally committed to their marriage, he didn't know if she had even given herself the chance to even experiment with love. He wanted to give them both a chance, to see if love even existed, and if it was possible between two people who were poles apart in almost every way, including age.
When Ashutosh got home he saw that Baba was in the living room reading the newspaper and watching the news. And Dadi Bua was somewhere in the kitchen, he had heard her voice coming from there.
So, first he went to the kitchen and asked her to come to the living room with him, then he looked at the both of them and said
-I have come to a decision.
Both of them them looked up at him expectantly.
-Baba, Dadi Bua I have two conditions. If you both will agree to them, then I will also agree to what you both want.
-So, what are these conditions Ashutosh.
-OK. First: I don't want either of you to say anything about any of this to Nidhi. It has to be a secret. I don't want Nidhi to know about our deal.
Second: I want this next year, till the time her father's will gives her total independence from me, to give Nidhi time to get to know me, and to be sure that she wants to spend the rest of her life with me. I want to give her this time to be sure of her decision or give her the chance to change her mind. Whatever the decision, it has to be hers, and hers only. I don't want either you of to to be influencing her in any way. This time will also give me a chance to get to know her as well. So will you agree to this?
-Par Ashutosh beta, ek saal, kuch zyada Lamba nahin ho jaata.
Ek do mahine toh phir bhi theek hain.
-Dadi Bua these conditions are not negotiable. Either you agree or you
don't its as simple as that. On the other hand, if either of us make any decisions sooner that that is our choice. But until then you will have to be patient and silent.
Baba cut her off before she could argue any further.
-Ashu, beta we agree to both of your terms. And don't worry, I'll make sure your Dadi Bua will not interfere or say a word.
Ashutosh let out a breath and felt his tension ease. He did not know what he would have done if they had called his bluff. Lucky for him that he had a perfect poker face.
"Ok then. It's a deal!"