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Joined: 26 September 2011
Joined: 26 September 2011
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Joined: 26 September 2011
Joined: 26 September 2011
Aman stood outside on the terrace, feeling the cool dry air brush over his warm skin. He was tired true, but he had been craving a few minutes of silence. Since he had arrived in Bhopal three days ago, he had been constantly on the go – helping with the party preparations, reviewing Neha's instructions with Yash and Arti, playing with the children……he had not had a moment's quiet. Now, just before baby Pooja's first birthday party started, he needed a few moments to catch his breath.
"Excuse me…..hello, excuse me", said a voice, slightly tinged with irritation.
Aman braced himself as he turned around to face a young woman, whom he had never met before. But…hold on….she did look vaguely familiar. Had he met her before?
"Yes, can I help you?" Aman asked, trying to figure out whether he had actually met her or not.
"Are you Aman?" she asked. As Aman nodded, she continued "they are looking for you inside."
Her mission accomplished, she turned around and walked back into the house, without bothering to check if Aman followed her.
Funny girl, Aman thought to himself. But have I seen her before? She looks kind of familiar.
As he followed her inside, he took her in – short black hair, dull boring clothes, which however fit amazingly well and were quietly, unobtrusively expensive. He had had enough experience shopping for women's clothing, first with Sheetal's wedding and now Neha's, that he could recognize quality when he saw it. He shook his head, no….he really didn't recall ever meeting a woman like this one.
And then, as she stopped to talk to Arti, he saw the gesture – as she listened she cocked her head to the right and when Arti stopped speaking she snapped her head up and pushed her hair aside with her fingers. And the memory came flooding back……
Five years ago, he had accompanied one of his UN clients to India. This was the diplomat's first visit to India, which had necessitated that Aman accompany him. The first press conference had been held in Mumbai. As usual, they had passed out suggested questions to the press, but as expected, the press threw in their own questions in equal measure – most of which were banal and meaningless. Consistently however, a woman's voice would keep asking questions during each gap – and invariably, those questions happened to be the most relevant to the issue that the diplomat had come to India for.
Finally he had identified the person asking the question – a young journalist, with long black hair tied high in a ponytail, though her bangs had managed to escape. Whenever the diplomat spoke, she would cock her head to the right, listening intently. And as soon as he finished, she snapped her head up, pushed her bangs back and asked her next question. He had found that habit strangely endearing, somehow representing youth and her eagerness which he saw vibrantly expressed on her face.
Given the relevance of her questions, he had allowed the diplomat to answer one of her questions as the last one in the press conference. He didn't remember the question or the answer but did remember the glee on her face when her question was selected.
She looked like a completely different person now – what had she done to herself Aman wondered. Not only was the hair much shorter, she looked a lot older. The vivacity had left her face, replacing it with a grim somberness. He never would have recognized her – correction, he hadn't recognized her.
As she left Arti, he walked up and asked his best friend "Yes Madam, and what did you want me for?"
Arti rolled her eyes "nothing, I couldn't find you anywhere so wanted to make sure you hadn't escaped back to Denmark."
"Huh! As if I could….Hey, who was that lady you were talking to just now? What's her name?" Aman asked.
"Why?" Arti asked teasingly.
"I am positive I saw her at a press conference about 5 years ago – though she looked considerably different back then. Who is she?" Aman asked.
He was surprised to see a closed shuttered look fall over Arti's face. However, Arti answered his question just before she hurried away "Her name is Nishi Joshi."
Nishi….nice name, Aman mused.
Along with Pankaj and Vidhi, Aman had been assigned to look after the adults in the party, keep them entertained while their children enjoyed the amusements provided for them in the birthday party. Aman had been busy walking around, making sure everyone was eating and had some one to talk to. Subconsciously, he had kept an eye out for Nishi, but hadn't seen her for the last few hours.
Where is she? He wondered, did she leave before the party started? Why would she do that?
He finally saw her sitting with Gayatri and some of her friends. Huh – what in the world….what is she doing with the grandparents? And then he noticed her iPad. Habit and training kicked in and he marched straight up to her, snatching her iPad away.
"Excuse me, you are not invited here as the press. You are not allowed to write anything about this party" he snapped, and then stopped suddenly as all the colour drained from her face.
Gayatri stepped in quickly, touching Aman's hand to get his attention. "Its ok beta. She is not writing anything about the party. Let her be." Taking the iPad away from him, she handed it back to Nishi – who was still white but her eyes were now blazing with fury. She quickly took the iPad from Gayatri, whispered a quick "thank you Aunty" and hurried away, out of the room.
Aman turned to see her walk out and then turned back to Gayatri. "Aunty, are you sure? She is a journalist."
Gayatri corrected him "she was a journalist. Don't worry, Nishi will not write anything about us or this party for the press."
Aman was perplexed, but this was not the time nor the place to delve into why Nishi had changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable.
"No Arti, its not for us to say anything to Aman" Yash tried to explain to Arti.
"Yash, listen, I love Aman like a brother, but he went too far today" Arti was exasperated.
Just then Aman knocked at their door. "Can I come in?"
"I am sorry to disturb you both so late. But…..you are right, Arti, I did go too far with Ms. Joshi. You were talking about Nishi Joshi, weren't you?"
Arti nodded. Aman had always been able to understand her unspoken words.
"I have to apologize to her. I had known her as a journalist five years ago and when I saw her sitting away from everyone else, typing on her iPad my training kicked in. I didn't know she had changed her profession." Aman tried to explain his actions. The sight of Nishi's pale face with blazing eyes had haunted him for the rest of the evening.
Yash and Arti exchanged glances. Yash cleared his throat "Ummm, ok Aman. Write a note and I will have it delivered."
Aman looked at him in surprise. "Yash, what is this? The 18th century that I have to write an apology note? I insulted her in public, the least I can do is apologize to her, face-to-face."
Arti shifted uncomfortably and Yash raked his hand through his hair, a clear sign of perturbation in him. When they did not reply, Aman asked even more curious "what is going on here?"
"Nothing" Arti replied quickly, too quickly. Aman's eyebrows shot up at that and Arti shifted her gaze….she should have known better she thought to herself.
"Aman", Yash said, diverting Aman's attention to himself. "Let me see, ok? Its not easy to meet with Nishi, but let me check."
"Guys, will you tell me what's going on?" Aman was irritated. He expected more candour from Yash and especially from Arti. "I saw Ms. Joshi five years ago at a press conference. She was enthusiastic and one of the sharpest journalists there. Five years later when I see her again, not only does she look completely different, she has even changed her profession. Now you tell me its not easy to meet with her. So….has she suddenly become Bhopal's recluse? What…."
Yash interrupted "Aman, there is nothing we can tell you. You want to apologize to her in person and I will find out if there is a chance for that to happen. Let it go at that, ok?"
Aman finally agreed, seeing how troubled his friends were. But it hurt….for the first time in his life, he could not understand Arti's silence. And for the first time in his life, she was hiding something from him. Why?
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