It didn't matter that he had his back towards her, Nidhi would have known him anywhere. But what did surprise her was that he had Khushi in his arms. Her daughter normally did not go to stangers, she shied away from people she did not know. Apparently that was not the case with Ashutosh, Khushi did not seem to have any problem being held by him, and was also smiling and talking to him. Obviously he still had the knack of charming women, regardless of their age, she observed silently.
Nidhi walked slowly up to where he stood with Rangnath, giving herself time to get her act together. Not for all the world would she ever let him see or know how much his presence could still affect her. She was totally composed by the time she walked up behind him, and was also in time to hear him ask Khushi,"Beta aapki mama kahan hai"?
She could tell he was surprised, by the way he stiffened up, when she answered his question,
--Khushi is my daughter!
Even though she had composed herself, or had tried to, she still felt as if someone had punched her in the gut. Seeing him again after so many years brought back all the pain, she thought she had forgotten, with the force of a hurricane. She felt as if she had had all her breath knocked out of her. Nidhi wanted to close her eyes and lean back against something solid, and give herself sometime to catch her breath, but she knew she could not afford to do that. She didn't want to give Ashutosh any indication of the kind of effect he still had over her. So, she silently squared her shoulders, and held out her arms to Khushi, who gladly launched her herself into her mothers arms and gave her a sticky kiss on her cheek. Then she drew back and smiled and held out her lollipop,
--Look mama Rangu Maasa gave me a lollipop.
Nidhi rubbed her hand over her cheek, in a futile attempt at wiping off the sticky lollipop residue from her daughter's mouth, and smiled ruefully
--Yes sweetheart, I can see that. So have you finished or are you still going to eat some more?
Khushi frowned, while staring at her candy, as if weighing the pros and cons of a really big decision. Then reluctantly, as if making a great sacrifice, held the remaining lollipop out to her mother,
--I am finished Mama. If I eat too much the cavity monster will come and take all my teeth. So I think that you can throw the rest away.
Nidhi laughed softly,
--I think that you have made a good decision, but sweetheart, what do you do when you have something you want to throw away?
--We are supposed to put in in the trash bin?
--Yes, that is right. So, what is my baby going to do now?
--I am going to throw this lollipop in the trash bin Mama. Can you please put me down.
As soon as Nidhi put her down Khushi ran to the nearest trash can, across the hall, and threw the leftover lollipop, and hurried back to her Mom. In the meanwhile Nidhi had out a taken couple of wet towelettes from the little supply bag she always carried whenever she was out with khushi. When Khushi ran back, Nidhi kneeled down in front of her and wiped her hands and mouth, and cleaned her up as best as she could. She was about to get up when Khushi put her arms around Nidhi's neck and leaned into her,
--Mama, I am tired, can we go home now, to Nani Bhua.
Nidhi looked at her watch, and noticed that it was really very late. She had missed Khushi's nap time. No wonder wonder the tyke was so tired, she thought. So she gathered the tot in her arms and used the nearby window sill to help support her as she stood up. Then she noticed that, she had left all her things on the floor. Just as she was about to bend down, Ashutosh reached down and gathered her stuff and held it out to her. NIdhi reached out with one hand to take them, and Rangnath, noticing Nidhi struggling with the baby in one arm while trying to get ahold of her stuff with the other, came over and tried to take Khushi from her. But the baby who was already half asleep, clung tightly to her neck, refusing to leave her.
--Sorry Jeej, she is really sleepy, it's her nap time, it seems that I overstayed my visit here today. I think that I will just take her home now.
Then she looked over to Ashutosh and held out her hand for her stuff, but he stepped back and said,
--Thats Ok, I will carry it to the car for you. It seems that you have your hands full at the moment.
--Thank you Dr. Ashutosh, but you needn't go through all the trouble. I can manage.
Ashutosh stubbornly held on to her things, and stood there silently, patiently waiting as if he all the time in the world. Nidhi knew that he would stand there, just like that, until she gave in, so she conceded defeat and turned to Rangnath once again,
--Bye Jeej, I guess We'll see you this evening?
--Haan, Nidhi. Anji and Nishi are really excited. They have spent all day in the kitchen cooking something special. Mujhe bhi nahin bataa rahein hain, kya? So ho sake toh jaldi aajana. And Nishi is really waiting for Khushi, she has some new dolls that she wants to show her.
--Theek hai, toh aap Anji se keh dijiyega to expect us early then. Hum log Khushi ke uthne ke baad ek dum aajayenge.
Then saying bye she walked out of the hospital to the parking lot, where her car was parked, in her very own space, that had her name on it. When Ashu noted that, he thought, another thing thats changed. When he had left she had barely finished her internship, and had not even started her residency program. And here she was now, a well known pediatrician, and a senior Doctor at KGH. And she was also a Mother now.
Ashutosh watched as she deftly fished the keys out of her purse, with one hand and opened the car, and he also noticed how she carefully and very tenderly placed the tiny sleeping child in her car seat, and belt her in, and when she was sure that her daughter was secure and comfortable, he watched how she tenderly pushed back the hair out of the baby's face and kissed her cheek. then she quietly closed the car door and turned to face him.
Ashutosh, also noticed that all of the earlier tenderness and love that had been present when she had been taking care of her child had vanished, to be replaced by a look of total indifference, as she reached out to take her belongings from him. And though he had expected it, and the fact that throughout it all she had not even said a word to him, hurt him more than he could say.
Ashutosh waited until she had stowed everything away, and walked around to her, just as she was about to get into the car.
--How have you been Nidhi?
Nidhi looked up at him, into his eyes, for the first time in five years,
she noticed the sadness, and loneliness that had not been there before, but otherwise they were the same eyes that she had loved. She had loved looking into those eyes of his and seeing the love he had for her reflected in them. A whole big ocean of love that had dried up the instant Mallika ...Nidhi shook herself out of those thoughts. She had done enough trips down memory lane, and was tired of it. What was done was done, Ashutosh had made his choice long ago, and there was no turning back. They had both moved on in their lives. His place was with Mallika now. And, Nidhi had also made a separate life for herself. She had learned to live without Ashutosh, and she was very happy. She would not allow him to intrude in her world ever again.
--I have no complaints.
--Is that it? You have no complaints?
--You asked me a question, and I answered it, I don't have anything else to add to that. I think we said whatever we needed to say to each other a long time ago. But if you are feeling guilty and need some absolution, then fine, I will elaborate! I am very happy in my life Dr. Ashutosh. I have a job that I love, which gives me fulfillment, I have a home, family and friends, who love me. And the most important of all, I have my daughter. She is gods gift to me, and has filled my life with joy since the day she came into it. So, there you have it in a nutshell.
--Nidhi, I did not mean...
--I don't know what you mean any more Dr. Ashutosh, and I don't want to. I have made a life for myself and my family, and there is no room in it, for you anymore. Dr. Ashutosh, I guess by the looks of things, we will be working in the same place, so it is inevitable that we will be running into each other. But I would appreciate it if we could keep any and all interactions with each other on a professional basis only. I cannot afford any complications in my life.
After she left, Ashutosh turned around to go back, and found Rangnath standing there,
--That's ok Rangnath, you don't have to say anything. No one can change the past. One must pay the price for ones actions.
--Sir, Nidhi ko aapke divorce ke baare mein abhi kuch nahin pataa hai.
Usko to yeh bhi nahin pataa tha, ke aap wapas aa rahein hain.
--In sab baaton se ab kya fayada hai? Agar pataa bhi hota toh bhi kya? She has a life of her own now. Uski Apni Family hai, zindagi hai, Bachchi hai. Mere wapas aane ka ya divorce ka, uspe ya uski zindagi pe kya farak pad sakta hai. Actually, I am very happy that she found happiness in life, apart from me.
Rangnath, had no idea what he should say to Dr.Ashutosh. He could see the sadness, misery, and loneliness radiating from every pore. But he did not know what to do to help him. He could see that Ashutosh was under the impression that Nidhi had moved on, and that there was someone else in her life, and that Khushi was Nidhi's own child. But there was no way that he could tell him that, it was not his secret to tell. It would be up to Nidhi if and when she chose to enlighten him. Although it was not really a secret, maybe Ashutosh would find out about it himself. He felt really bad for these two...Itne paas hoke bhi dono ek doosre se kitni door hain, he thought sadly.
--Sir, Nidhi has done well for herself.
--Yes, and she also seems to be a very devoted mother, and her daughter is adorable. Although there is something very familiar about her, that I just can't seem to put my finger on.
Rangnath almost laughed out loud. He had heard that love makes you blind, and here was a perfect example. Ashutosh could not see what was plain to everyone else. Khushi looked almost exactly like him, and he had not recognized that.
--Yes sir, she absolutely dotes on the child. Her whole world revolves around her. Khushi is a delightful child. In fact, all of us adore her.
--Yes, I can see why. I would too, if... Anyway, thanks for helping to take care of the formalities for me Dr. Rangnath. And, now, since I know you have plans for the evening, I will head out so that you can finish up and go home.
--Thank you sir. And I will see you on monday. Have a good weekend.
Nidhi got home, and put Khushi to bed, and went downstairs to find Dadi Bhua was waiting for her.
--Nidhi meri bacchi, kya baat hai? Tu itni udaas kyon hai, koi baat hui hai kya?
--Dadi Bhua, Ashutosh wapas aa gaye hain. Main aur Khushi unse hospital mein mille the.
--Woh kya kar raha hai yahan? Wapas kisliye aaya, ab kya rakkha hai yahan uske liye? Pehle meri bacchi ki zindagi barbad karke chala gaya, aur ab jab tu thoda theek hui hai, toh wapas aagaya. Main jaake dekhti hoon us...
--Dadi Bua aap unke paas nahin jayengi, aur koi baat nahin karengi, aapko meri kasam.
--kyon meri bacchi?
--Dadi Bua ab hamare beech mein kuch nahin raha. Woh aur mein alag alag hain, hamari zindagi ke raaste bhi sab alag alag hain. Kya milega puraani baaton se, unko ateet mein hi rehne dena chahiye. Aur main nahin chahti ke unko mere baare mein kuch bhi pataa chale. Mera unse koi lena dena nahin hai. Bas!
--Theek hai Beta. Lekin usne tere saath theek nahin kiya. Khud toh apna ghar basaa liya aur tujhe kahin ka nahin choda.
Nidhi went to her grandmother and put her arms around her.
--Bas Dadi Bua. Mujhe kuch nahin chahiye, mere paas sab kuch toh hai. Kis baat ki kami hai. Main khush hoon Dadi Bua. Aap plz pareshan mat hoyiye. Aap janti hain na, ki main aapko ya Khushi ko dukhi nahin dekh sakti. Ab chaliye smile kijiye, mere liye.
Dadi Bua looked at her child. She had suffered so much, and had gone through so many losses, at her young age. But she had never lost her goodness or generosity. Her capacity for forgiveness, was a constant source of surprise and pride. She prayed to God to send happiness her Nidhi's way. If anyone deserved it she did.
That evening, Dadi Bua opted to go to the temple instead of Anji's house. She said that there was some Mahapooja going on there that she absolutely had to attend. Nidhi smiled, with Dadi Bua there was always some mahapooja. That was her standard excuse out of everything. So after dropping Nidhi and Khushi off at Anji's house Dadi Bua went to her pooja, and told her that she would send the car back for her. But Nidhi told her not to worry and that she would get Rangnath to take her and Khushi home.
Anji were waiting for her. And as soon as all the greetings were out of the way, Rangnath took the two little girls outside to the playground, while Nidhi and Anji stayed behind at the house.
--So, Anji this surprise Jeej that was telling me, you and my niece have been cooking up all day, what is it?
--Arre kuch nahin. Woh Nishi ko toh tu jaanti hain na, kuch bhi TV par dekh le, usse karna hota hai. Kal she saw a cooking show on mexican food. Toh bas, aaj poore din meri museebat aayi hui thi. Pehle we went shopping for the ingredients, and then the cooking. Mujhe pagal kar diya hai iss ladki ne. Everything had to exact measurements, and cooked exactly according to the recipe, you know how she is, sab kuch perfect chahiye. I swear, if I didn't know for sure she was mine, I'd be wondering ke kisi bacchi hai. Sometimes she drives me nuts.
--Anji, she is such a sweetheart. Tujhe toh bas complain karne ki aadat hai. mere ko toh kabhi tang nahin karti.
--Thats because you two are the same. Tere ko bhi toh sab kuch perfect chahiye or perfect karna hota hai. No wonder she keeps on comparing me to you all the time.
Nidhi laughed. With Anji it was always the same. Whenever they got together, it was as though nothing had changed. But, the next instant all laughter was wiped off of her face, when Anji said
--Rangu told me about today. Tu kaisi hai?
Nidhi was quiet foe a miniute. She knew that Anji would bring this up sooner or later. And she also needed to talk to her. Its just that anything related to Ashutosh still had the power to shake her to the foundations.
--Anji, kya boloon? It was...well let me put it this way, Nothing ha changed. you know what I mean.
--Haan, main janti hoon, and I have also come to terms with the fact that you are not going to change. You will always love him, wont you? No matter what?
--I can't help it Anji, you know that. You can't just stop loving someone!
--Haan, but he hurt you so much, uske baad bhi tu kaise, iss tarha se feel kar sakti hai? I have not been able to understand that till now.
--Anji hamara dil hamare bas mein nahin hota. Hum kuch bhi chahein, kuch bhi soche samjhein, dil ke aage kisi cheez ka zor nahin hota.
Pyar toh bas ho jaata hai. Usse to hum khatm nahin kar sakte. Par, how we deal with it is a different matter. When Ashutosh had left me, I felt as though I hated him and would hate him till my dying day. But as time went on, my anger died, and all I was left with was sorrow, and my memories of our time together. Instead of letting them become a weakness, I used them as my strength. It was then I realized that I would always love him. But Love is always not enough. He chose to trust his friendship over his love, that was His choice. I made my choice when I decided to remain faithful to mine. Its that simple. But there is also the fact that he will never know that. Besides what good would it even do? He belongs to someone else now. So all of this is irrelevant.
Anji hesitated for a second, her husband had come home and told her the details of the whole interaction between Ashu and Nidhi , and also given the facts about why Ashutosh had come back. He was of the opinion that there was more to the story, but the one important thing that he had learned today was that, from what had observed, Ashutosh still loved Nidhi. And that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea if they tried to get these two together, and see if they could sort out their differences and misunderstandings. And, though reluctantly, Anji had agreed. She knew that Nidhi would never forget Ashutosh and that she still loved him. So maybe it would not be such a bad idea. Besides, she hadn't yet told Nidhi about something else, a surprise of sorts, one that she didn't think Nidhi would be too happy with.
--Nidhi, agar tujhe kabhi yeh pata chale ke ab he is free, toh tu kya karegi? I mean would you be willing to give your relationship another try?
--Anji, tera kya matlab hai? How can he be free, he is married!
--Well...actually...not any more. Nidhi woh wapas issliye aaye hain kyon ke he and Mallika are divorced now. Its been more than a month. And he has shifted back here permanently. And not only is he joining the hospital again, khair woh toh tujhe pata chal hi gaya hai, but he is coming into the hospital as the new chief of staff.
Nidhi was stunned to hear about all of these developments. She was also really angry at Anji,
--Anji tujhe yeh sab kaise pataa tha, and abhi tak tune mujhe kyon nahin bataya?
--Nidhi yaar gussa mat ho. I only found out about his return 2days ago, and the rest just a little while ago when Ranga came home.
And yes, I've already given him a piece of my mind. If I had known all of it I would have told you immediately, I promise. But I just want to know how you feel about everything.
--What's there to feel about Anji. Jo khatm ho gaya uske baare mein sochna kya. So, he is free, so what? Lots of people get divorced, and his divorce has nothing to do with me. He has his life and I have mine. And as for the other thing, well, I already know that we will be working at the same place, so what does it matter that he is there as the new chief of staff. As long as he doesn't interfere with my work and life, I am fine with it. There are a lot of people you have to get along with in life, whether you want to or not, he is one of them. Hamari relationship, if it can be classified as such, will be a purely professional one. So theek hai.
--Haan Nidhi woh toh sab theek hai, Lekin, zara tu soch toh sahi. Dr. Ashutosh is free now. Tu ek chance nahin chahegi, to see if things could still work between the two of you.
--Anji have you lost our mind! How could you even think that! I would have to be a fool to even think about going down that path again. How can I possibly trust a man who has already betrayed me once. Oh, I don't mean that I believe he slept with Mallika, I don't believe that any more today, than I did all those years ago. I mean that he didn't believe me and he didn't believe in his love for me, our love. And he walked away from me Anji, without even a backward glance. He never even tried to find out how I was. Why would I entertain the idea of even thinking of having him back in my life again. What guarantee do I have that he will not do the same thing again, given the chance, and the right set of circumstances. No Anji, I can't take that risk again, specially since now I also have to think of Khushi. Anji i know that you love me,and you worry about me, but please don't. I am fine and I am happy.
I have you and Jeej, Nishi, Khushi and Dadi Bua, what more could I want.
--OK! Errr.Nidhi tujhe kuch bataana tha...
--Ab, please bahut ho gayi Ashutosh ki baare mein baatein. I came here to relax, and have fun. Promise me that you won't talk about him any more. In fact, I am getting sick of his name. If I never heard the name Ashutosh or saw him ever again, it'd be too soon. Main pareshaan ho gayi hoon. Meri zindagi mein koi Ashutosh nahin hai, na aise kisi bhi insaan ke liye koi jagah hai.
Just then there, there was a sound of some one coughing behind them, and both Anji and Nidhi turned around to see. Nidhi froze! She could not believe her eyes. Ashutosh was standing at the door with Rangnath, who was looking at her with a silent appeal in his eyes. Nidhi understood that he was asking her not to create a scene. So for his sake and Anji's she kept quiet, but her eyes and her expression promised a reckoning.
--Nidhi main yeh hi batana chah rahi hi tujhe. Rangu ne Dr. Ashutosh ko bhi aaj dinner ke liye bula liya hai. Please gussa mat karna, aur jaana bhi nahin. Please meri khatir.
Anji's voice was soflty beseeching her. Nidhi gave in. Very reluctantly. But promised herself that she would leave at the earliest opportunity. And reluctantly stood her ground as Anji went up to greet him and welcome him to their house. Nidhi could see from his face that he had heard at least the last few lines of her conversation with Anji. She did not care she told herself. Why should she, when he had never cared about her or her feelings. But somewhere deep inside, she could feel his hurt, and felt very bad about it. For the rest of the evening she did her best to avoid him, spending all her time helping Anji in the kitchen, or helping Rangnath with the Kids.
Nishi, had immediatley taken to him and was happily sitting on his lap, talking a mile a minute. And to give him credit, Ashutosh did not seem to have any problem with her non stop chatter, or constant interruption of his conversation with Rangnath, on the other had he seemed to be enjoying himself, and was very patient in answering all of Nishi's questions and responding to her in all the appropriate places.
Khushi, on the other hand seemed very subdued, she did not know what to make of the man sitting with her Rangu Massa, even though she had also seen him at the hospital, and he had also held her for a little while. So she sat quietly on Rangu Massa's lap, with her head resting on his shoulders. The minute she spotted her Mother and Massi coming out of the Kitchen, she ran to Nidhi, and raised her hands to be picked up. Nidhi, knew that Khushi only did that when she was either unsure or scared, about something. And it had become more frequent since that incident in school, when Khushi had found out that Nidhi was not her birth mother.
Nidhi bent and picked her up and asked her with the matter was.
--Mama, who kaun hain?
--Woh jo Massa ke saath baithe hain. Aaj hospital mein bhi Massa unse baat kar rahe the.
Nidhi, did not know how to answer that. How could she explain to Khushi, who Ashutosh was. She was still pondering that when, Anji jumped in and took Khushi into her arms and walked into the living room and sat down with her on the sofa.
Ashu and Rangnath both stopped talking and looked at the two of them, and at Nidhi who walked up slowly behind the two and also took a seat next to Anji.
--Khushi, bete yeh Dr. Ashutosh hain. Aap inhe Ashutosh Uncle bula sakti ho, aur aapko inse darne ki koi zaroorat nahin. Dekho Nishi kitni khush hai, hain na? Beta yeh uncle ko chotte bacchon se bahut pyar hai. Aap bhi inke saath dosti karlo, phir dekho yeh aapko bhi kitna dher saara pyar karenge. Chalo beta, jao uncle se handshake karke friendship karlo.
Khushi, thought for a few seconds, then turned to look at her mother for approval. Nidhi, who was backed up into a corner, hesitated, but then slowly smiled at the child and nodded, her go ahead. Khushi slowly got down from Anji's lap and walked towards Ashutosh, who held his arms out to her. She went upto him and looked up at him with her beautiful big brown eyes, and if Ashutosh hadn't already been smitten by the little girl, would have lost his heart to her again at that moment.
--Uncle, massi kehtin hain ke aap chote bacchon se bahut pyar karte hain. Agar main aapse dosti karungi toh kya aap mere se bhi pyar karoge?
Ashutosh's heart melted, and he bent and picked up the tiny tot and placed her on his lap, and hugged her.
--Yes beta. But hum toh pehle hi dost ban gaye the na? Toh aapko phir se dosti karne ki koi zaroorat nahin hain. Hamari friendhip already ho chuki hai.
--Toh aap mere se bhi pyar karte hain?
--Haan beta, hum aap se bahut pyar karte hain.
As soon as he said that, Khushi wrapped her tiny arms around his neck and gave him a big kiss on his cheeks. Ashutosh was at a lost for words. And any feelings of resentment that he had regarding Khushi being Nidhi's child with someone else, melted away, as this little girl took ownership of his heart. The fact that she was Nidhi's child was enough for him, nothing else mattered.
Nidhi was surprised, that for the rest of the evening Khushi stayed with Ashutosh. It was a bit awkward between the two, but both the girls managed to diffuse the situation. As per custom, after dinner Nishi took Nidhi to her room to show her her new toys, and to hear stories. By the time Nidhi came out of Nishi's room it was quite late and she saw that Khushi had fallen asleep in Ashutosh's lap. Nidhi didn't know how to react. This was the first time that Khushi had ever gone to sleep without her. She was a bit jealous, but could not find it in her self to feel resentful or hold a grudge against Ashutosh for that. The expression on his face when he looked at her sleeping child, was priceless. It made her wonder if he had any children of his own. The thought of him having a child with Mallika, brought her out of her daze and she walked up to him and took her sleeping baby out of his arms, and turned around to Rangnath,
--Jeej, could you drop me off home please? Dadi Bua has gone to the temple for some Pooja, and the car is with her. I told her that you would drop me home.
Rangnath almost said yes, but then at the last moment,
--Nidhi, tumne pehle kyon nahin bola? If I had known i would have told you to keep the car. Meri car servicing ke liye gayi hai, and Anji left hers at her parents house, because I picked her and Nishi up, in a taxi, on my way home from work. I am so sorry, honey.
Rangnath, hated lying to her. And asked god to forgive him for the lie, but justified to himself that he was only doing this for her own good. They both still loved each other madly, only both were too stupid to see it. Anji also looked at him with surprise. Why was he lying to Nidhi like that, she thought with confusion. Both their cars were in the garage. But then when she looked up, she caught him giving her a warning glare, so she kept quiet, and after a couple of seconds understood, what he was trying to do. And, though she might not totally agree that it was a good idea, she had to admit that it wasn't a bad one either.
--Theek hai Jeej, koi baat nahin. Could you please call me a cab. I need to get home now and put Khushi to bed.
Before he could stop himself, Ashutosh interrupted, just as Rangnath had hoped he would,
-- It's too late to go in a cab, it's not safe. I will take you!
Nidhi whirled around, staring at I'm in surprise.
--No thank you Dr. Ashutosh, I can manage.
--Nidhi I will feel better if you would let Dr. Ashutosh drop you off. It really is very late, and you also have Khushi with you.
Nidhi glared at him, and he gave her a 'please do this for me' look. Nidhi, knew when to give in gracefully. Although why she was a sucker, as far as family was concerned, she would never know.
Rangnath and Anji helped her with her things, and closed the door once she had seated herself, with Khushi resting in her arms.
Not wanting to engage in any small talk, and also not being in the mood for one, Nidhi leaned back on the seat and closed her eyes. When Ashutosh glanced over at her and saw her like that, he smiled. If only he could turn back the clock undo what he had done, then maybe this could could have been them, and Khushi would have been theirs. But the next he second he shook off these thoughts, and brought himself back to reality, and the reality was that neither could he turn back the clock, nor could Nidhi and Khushi belong to him, no matter how much he wished it otherwise. It had been five years, he should have gotten used to being without her by now, but somehow he never had. And now, her silence was killing him too.
-- Please''Please, kuch mat boliye. Humne ek doosre se jo bhi kehna tha, woh 5 saal pehle keh chuke hain. Ab kuch bhi aisa nahin raha hai, bolne ko.
--Nidhi, please mujhe ek chance de do, I have a lot that I need to say to you, to tell you.
--No! No, no more. You said everything long ago. I don't want to hear anything else. And there's nothing I want or need to know.
--Please, Dr. Ashutosh. Main bahut thak chuki hoon. I don't think that I can take it any more. Its been a long time. What ever we had between us was over a long time ago, ab un cheezon ke baare mein baatein karke kya fayda hoga? Please just let sleeping dog lie.
Ashutosh sighed, clearly she was never going to give him any leeway. He should have known that, when he had heard all those things she had said at Rangnath's house. She said that she never wanted to hear his name ever again oreven remenber that he had ever existed. and though that had really hurt, he should have realized that he had killed whatever feelings she had for him the day he broke it off with her, and whatever little bit were left, probably died the day she had seen him marry Mallika. He knew that he had no rights to expect anything from her, but he had hoped that maybe, she could find it in her heart to at least give him one chance to apologize.
--Theek hai. Forget about the past, but can't we at least talk about the present. Nidhi can't we set aside our differences, and try to at least get along with each other...for old times sake. I mean, we were friends before anything else.
--Dr. Ashutosh we were never friends, and you know that. We fell in love with each other almost instantly, and any friendship that there was between us was a byproduct of that. And you yourself...
anyway, please just leave it alone. There can be nothing between us, not friendship, not even a truce. The only connection we have is through our work at the hospital. Your are my superior, and my boss, thats it. And one more thing Dr. Ashutosh, please, stay away from my daughter. I don't want her getting close to you. She is very young, and very susceptible to anybody who gives her attention. And I don't want her getting hurt.
--Nidhi...how can you even think...I could never...
--Dr. Ashutosh, I honestly don't think that you would ever mean too, but I can't take that chance. Not where my daughter is concerned.
She buried Ashutosh underneath ton of pain and guilt, with each word she uttered. He had no words to even try and justify himself, after she had, in no uncertain words, told him exactly what she thought of him. He had not known that he had hurt her that much. But the fact that she thought that he was in any way capable of hurting an innocent child, even unintentionally, told him that he had. And the guilt of that was too much to bear.
The rest of the way there was silence in the car. Neither willing to say a word, both lost in their own respective pain. And when the car stopped outside her house, Ashutosh did not even have the courage to ask her if he could help. He knew that she would refuse. She had let him know in every way possible, just how much she hated him, and that there was nothing he could do or say that would ever change that. And that was just another cross he would have to bear for the rest of his life..Her Hatred.
Almost a month had passed since that night. And during that time, they had reached an uneasy truce, at the hospital. Nidhi's schedule as always, was busy, and her weekends were reserved solely for her daughter. She hardly ever saw Ashutosh, except for the few times that she had run into him in the hallways, or at staff meetings, which made working at KGH bearable. She did not know what she would have done, if she had been forced to see him on a daily basis. Nidhi often thought back to the night a month ago, when he had dropped her off at her house. She knew that she had been overly harsh and cruel with him. It was almost as if she had been driven by some unseen force, and had been unable to stop her self. The next day, when she had woken up and thought about her behavior the previous night, she had been ashamed of herself. No matter what she felt, or whatever resentments or bitterness she had inside her, there was no excuse for the deliberate hurt she had caused him. Its just that seeing him with Khushi had just triggered something inexplicable inside her. Of course she knew that he would never hurt her daughter. He was incapable of hurting a child, any child. She knew that her behavior that night had been inexcusable, and that at some point she would have to apologize.
Right now though, she was waiting near the hospital entrance for Dadi Bua and Khushi. Dadi Bua had called her during the day to inform her that she needed to go out of town for 4-5 days. One of her cousins had slipped and broken her ankle and she needed Dadi Bua to come and stay with her until one of her daughters could come to her. Dadi Bua had told her that she would going to drop Khushi off, after school, at the hospital on her way to the airport. Nidhi had offered to go with her to drop her off, but Dadi Bua had declined, saying that she was not that old yet.
Nidhi laughed to her self. Her Dadi Bua was quite a character. She was also the pillar Nidhi leaned upon for strength and support. In the past, whenever she had felt like giving up, Dadi Bua had been there to encourage her and support her, and egg her on. She had given Nidhi the courage to meet life head on, and to face whatever had been thrown her way. Nidhi did not know what she would have done if Dadi Bua had not been there for her. She probably would have quit long ago, she supposed. In effect she owed everything she was today to Dadi Bua and her love and encouragement. She had also been her greatest support in regards to Khushi. Dadi Bua had helped care for the baby and had helped Nidhi raise Khushi since the day she had brought her home into their lives.
When she saw the car driving up the entrance, Nidhi ran down the stairs to meet them. Dadi Bua came out and hugged Nidhi, and handed her khush's things saying that she was running late and needed to get to the airport before she missed her flight. She also said that Khushi seemed to be in a bad mood and had refused to discuss anything with her. After helping Khushi out and with one final hug to the both of them and promising to call as soon as she got to her cousin's house , Dadi Bua got in the car and directed the driver to hurry and get her to the airport.
Nidhi looked down at Khushi, she saw the pouted on her face and knew that her baby was indeed angry at something. When Khushi refused to respond to any of her attempts to coax a smile from her, Nidhi sighed, and asked her what she wanted to do. Without saying a word, Khushi held up her arms silently, asking to be picked up. When Nidhi complied, she buried her face in her mothers neck, and clung tightly to her. It was going to be one of those days, Nidhi thought tiredly, and started walkeing with her little bundle to her office. She was thinking how she was going to manage everything, an irate 4 year old toddler, and a full schedule, which she had for today. On normal days, whenever, she had to keep Khushi with her during the day, Khushi kept her self entertained. But today Nidhi could see from her mood that she was going to be difficult. Well, she still had half an hour before her next appointment, so maybe she could do something that would pacify the child, Nidhi thought, and decided to give it a try. Although her daughter, when she wanted to be, was probably the most stubborn individual she had ever known.
Nidhi carried Khushi over to the sofa in her office, and sat down, putting her in her lap. She leaned down to give her a kiss,
--Beta, are you going to tell Mama whats wrong?
The only response she got was a shaking of the tiny head.
--But why, sweety? You know that you can tell your Mama anything. If you don't then I will be sad too. You don't want your Mama to be sad also, do you? And we are friends remember, and friends always tell each other all their secrets.
--Just like you and Anji Massi?
Nidhi laughed. Relieved!
--Yes sweetheart. Just like me and your Anji Massi. Now do you think that you can tell Mama, what is wrong with her princess. I promise that I will go ahead and beat up the person who made my baby so sad.
Khushi pulled her face out from Nidhi's neck and looked at her
--Yes baby, I promise. So now can you tell mommy why you are so sad.
--Mama, woh Nikki mujhe phir se chida rahi thi. Keh rahi thi ki aap meri Mama nahin hain.
--But why didn't you tell her that I was? Remember we talked about it last time.
--Haan, mama maine uss se bola tha. Par uss ne kaha, ke real mama hoti toh main aapki tummy se nikalti, jaise woh usski mama ke tummy se nikli thi. Par kyon ki main aapki tummy mein se nahin aayi, isliye main aapki baby nahin hoon. Aur mere toh papa bhi nahin hain. Mama, main sabse different kyon hoon?
Nidhi hugged her baby to her. She was so angry, didn't these parents know what they were doing to their children by teaching them this kind nonsense. They were tainting their innocent little minds over something that could be very significantly important to their future lives. Well she would just have to do something about it. There was no way that she could let her baby keep on getting hurt like this, over something that she had no control over, and was not her fault.
She wished that there was some way that she could protect her from the world, but of course there wasn't. Khushi would have to deal with that, but not now! Now she had her mother on her side, and come tomorrow morning, Nidhi was going to pay that little girls mother a visit and teach her a thing or two. Nobody got away with hurting her child, nobody!
--Khushi, sweetheart, listen to me, and remember what I am telling you ok? Baby I am your mother. You may not have come from my tummy, but you are mine. Baby you come from my heart, and that is the most important thing. Nothing else matters. And I promise you, that tomorrow I will go and have a talk with Nikki's mom and she will not tease you again. Aur beta, bahut saare bacche hote hain jinke Papa nahin hote. Isme aisi kya baat hai? Huh? Aapke paas aapki mama hai, aur Nani bhua hai, Aur Ranga Massa, aur Anji Massi hai. Aur kya chahiye. Aur yeh bhi toh dekhiye, ki aapki mama aapko kitna dher sara pyar karti hai. Hai na? So ab meri achchi si khushi ki tarha, let me see you smile.
--Pakka, na Mama? Woh ab kabhi mujhe nahin chidayegi na?
And kabhi nahin bolegi that aap meri mama nahin ho?
--Nahin beta ab woh tumhe bilkul bhi tang nahin karegi. I promise.
-- Theek hai, phir. But aapko bhi mere ko ek aur promise karna hoga.
Nidhi laughed and swung her off her lap and onto the seat next to her.
--Bolo, mere baby ko kya chahiye.
--You promise na ke laake dogi. Kachcha promise nahin pakka promise.
--Theek hai baba, no kachcha promise. Pakka promise, jo aapko chahiye, mama aapko degi. Ab batao, woh kya cheez hai.
--Aapko promise karna padega, ke aap mujhe Papa laake dogi.
Nidhi sat there stunned. That request had been totally out of the left field. She had never thought that Khushi would ever say that. But what was worse, she had no idea how to respond. Then the next second she was even more floored when, Khushi said,
--Par, first main choose karungi, apne Papa ko, phir aap unko lekar aana.
Ok, she was still stuck on the first part, how was she to deal with this second one. She was still trying to think, when one of the nurses came to inform her that her next patient had arrived. So, she sat Khushi on the sofa with some crayons and a coloring book, and had the nurse show the patient in. Half way through her afternoon schedule, Nidhi noticed that Khushi was getting bored and fretful. She knew that pretty soon she would be having a full blown tantrum on her hands, if she didn't do something about it..
She called Anji to see if she was free to take Khushi with her for a couple of hours, but Anji was busy with meetings for the rest of the day, even her mother Shyama aunty, who had taken up her career as a lawyer again, was busy. Nidhi had just about given up, and was about to ask one of the other pediatricians to take her appointments for the rest of the day, when Rangnath knocked on her door and poked his head in.
--Nidhi, Anji called me. I am not that busy so I will take this little monster off your hands.
He said as he picked up Khushi and tickled her till she was screaming with laughter.
--So what do you say, Monkey? Wanna come with your Massa?
Khushi answered by wrapping her arms around his neck.
--Thank you Jeej, I was in a real tight spot. I was about to
ask someone to take over for me for the day.
--Don't worry about it Nidhi, I got the better end of the deal. I get to spend the rest of my day with a beautiful female, one that even my wife approves of. Now what could be better than that?
Nidhi sighed in relief, as she heard Khushi giggling all the way down the hall.
It was almost 5pm and Nidhi had finished for the day. 'I just hope that Khushi has not bothered Jeej too much ', she thought as she hurried down the hallway to his cabin. But when she opened the door she found that they were not there. She probably has him playing tag or hide and seek, all over the hospital, she thought , and smiled imagining the picture in her mind. But the thought that he must be tired running after her, made her leave her stuff in Rangnath's cabin as she hurried out to find them. When she did not spot them anywhere, she went up to the front desk and asked the receptionist if she had seen Dr. Rangnath and Khushi anywhere. She was told that Dr. Rangnath had a meeting scheduled with Dr. Ashutosh at that time, and that maybe they were there.
Nidhi bit her lip worriedly as she practically ran to Ashutosh's cabin. She stopped outside the door, and took a couple of minutes to compose herself, before she knocked and entered the room. And stopped dead in her tracks, as she observed the scene before her. Rangnath was not there, but Khushi was and so was Ashutosh. Ashutosh was lying on the sofa, with Khushi lying cuddled on top of him, looking even more tiny than she normally did, her tiny little hands fisted on his chest, and her little head resting in the crook of his neck. And, Ashutosh was lying with one arm across his eyes, and the other his arm wrapped protectively around her baby, and they were both peacefully fast asleep.