"As ready as I will ever be!"
"Kitni aasaani se keh diya maine," Nidhi thought, irritated at herself. " ek baar bhi nahin socha ke kiss cheez ke liye ready hoon. Bhaagne ke liye, yaa shaadi ke liye!" Today was her wedding day, and Nidhi was really nervous. It's not that she was having second thoughts or doubts, or anything like that, its just that she was feeling on the edge. There was no one with her. Her Baba was resting in his room, and she had no other relatives. Ashutosh had promised that he would make sure that her Father was there, outside, in time for the ceremony to do her kanyadaan. And here she was getting ready, for her own wedding, by herself. Dadi Bua had offered to call somebody from the salon for her, but, she had refused. Of course now she wished she had not been so hasty in refusing help for getting ready. Normally getting ready for a party was not that hard, and she was good at getting ready quickly, and not to be boastful or anything, but she a pretty good job, she thought to herself. And, she had mistakenly thought that today would be no different. But, her trembly fingers, and the butterflies in her stomach were telling a different story.
Nidhi was at her wits end, trying to figure out just how she would manage. Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong. Her hair, newly washed, was not cooperating, she had been trying unsuccessfully for the past 30 minutes to put it up. And she could could not apply her make up, as her fingers refused to even manage to keep a firm grip on so much as a lip liner. She kept on dropping everything. About the only thing that she had done so far was put on her wedding dress. "Oh well," Nidhi said out loud,"he is not marrying me for my looks. And whats the worst that would happen anyway? Dr. Ashutosh mujhe aise dekh ke zyada se zayada, shaadi ke liye hi toh manaa karenge, he can't do anything else. And if he does, who could blame him. Aise dulhan kaun chahega jisse tayyar bhi nahin hona aata hai, aur jiske na toh baal theek se bane ho, aur jisne zara bhi make up Nahin kiya ho. Actually, agar main bhi unki jagah hoti, toh maine bhi khud ke saath shaadi karne ko manaa kar deti." She was so budy carrying on with her one sided tirade, berating herself that she did not hear the knock at her door, nor did she notice the two ladies who stepped into her room, and took one look at her, and her heard carrying on, and then looked at each other and back at Nidhi again, and smiled in amusement at the scene.
--"Aaj shaadi ke din toh apne aap se bat karna band karde yaar! Jeejaji dekhenge toh ulte pairon bhaag jayenge mandap par se. You are behaving like a total mad woman."
Nidhi, jerked her head around so fast, that she nearly gave herself a whiplash. Her face was a picture of shocked disbelief, when she saw who was in her room.
--"Anji... Shyama Aunty..."
She could not manage any more words. Her mouth seemed to open and close with out any sounds coming out from it. Nidhi could not believe that she was seeing her best friend and her mother, in her room, on her wedding day. She had just talked to Anji last night, hadn't she? And she distinctly remember being told by her best friend that she would not be able to make it to her wedding, because they were not able to get and earlier flight out of London. Anji must have been pulling her leg, Nidhi decided. Well she had managed to get her good. But, Nidhi vowed to herself, that she would get revenge for this.
--"Nidhi ab tu macchli ki tarha, apna munh kholti band karti rahegi, ya kuch bolegi bhi."
--"Tu teher ja Anji ki bacchi! I will get you back for this! Dekhna tu! I would watch my back if I were you."
And Nidhi ran into Shyama Aunty's waiting arms.
--"Aunty I am so glad you are here. I was feeling so lonely and alone. I am so happy that you all could make it in time."
--"Main apni hi beti ki shaadi mein kaise nahin aati, huh? Lekin Nidhi hum sab tujhse Bahut naraaz hain. Beta tune toh humein bilkul hi paraya kar diya. Itna sab kuch ho gaya aur tune humein khabar tak nahin hone di. Aur toh aur tune toh Bhaisahab ki bimaari ka bhi humko pataa nahin chalne diya. Yeh sab kyon beta? Kya hum tere apne nahin hain? Kyon Beta, kyon?"
Nidhi let the tears that she had been trying to hold back since morning, trickle down her face,
--" Aunty aisa nahin hai. Woh kya hai jab mujhe Baba ki bimari ka pataa chalaa, toh doctors ne batayaa, ke kuch nahin ho sakta tha. Mujhe samajh me nahin aa rahaa tha ke main kya karoon. Phir uske baad, Baba ke busiess ke baare mein bhi ussi waqt pata chalaa...and ek ke upar ek saari buri khabrein milti gayi...Iwas just so confused, I had no idea in which direction I was heading. It was then that Ashutosh proposed, and then well it was like a dominos effect, I just got lost, with everything happening so fast one after the other, aur kuch nahin...I am sorry Aunty mujhe pataa hai aapko aur uncle ko bahut hurt hua, but...''
--''It's Ok beta, main samajh sakti hoon, par haan, tujhe humein ussi samay inform karna chahiye tha. But, I am just glad that Dr. Ashutosh was there for you. Seems like a nice man who cares a lot for you. I am so happy for you mere bacchi, god bless you. Accha ab baaki baatein baad mein. Waqt bahut kam reh gaya hai, main neeche Jaakar teri Bhua saas aur Sasurji se mil kar aati hoon, aur tere Uncle Bhaisahab ke paas hain. Anji tu Nidhi ko tayyar kar. Beta baad mein itminan se baith kar baatein karenge, aur hum dono maa beti ek doosre ke gale lag ke apna saara dil halka karenge. Abhi toh shaadi ka waqt ho raha hai, theek hai na?''
After Shyama left, Nidhi turned to Anji with a question,
--''Anji tune aunty uncle ko kuch nahin bataya?''
--''Nahin Nidhi. Koi fayada nahin hai. Main Mummy Papa ko acchi tarha se jaanti hoon. Woh tujhe yeh shaadi, aur yeh contract, yeh sab...woh iss baat ke liye kabhi nahin mante, and I know that they would have told Uncle also, bahut garbar ho jaati yaar. Aur mere ko bhi yeh sab bilkul samajh mein nahin aa raha hai, par tune apni kasam jo de rakkhi hai mujhe...That had also tied my hands... Accha ab chal main tujhe tayyar hone mein help karti hoon, aur tu bolna shuru kar. I need you to make me understand all of this properly, first.''
While Anji helped her with her makeup and hair, Nidhi started explaining everything. She started at the beginning, and gave Anji all the details regarding her fathers illness, the business, Mansukhani's betrayal, and the financial mess that she had found herself in. Then she gave the details of Ashutosh's proposal. When she had finished telling her everything, she kept silent and gave Anji enough time to digest all the information, while she finished putting on her jewelry, and adjusted her clothes. When Nidhi had finished getting ready, she went and sat down on her bed, next to Anji, where she was quietly thinking about everything that Nidhi had told her. After a while, when she looked at her best friend, Nidhi saw that Anji had tears rolling down her cheeks.
--''Anji, yaar tu Ro mat please. Tu toh meri sab se badi strentgh hai iss samay, agar tu hi iss tarha toot jayegi toh mera kya hoga. Anji I am going to be needing you a lot in the days and months to come. Please yaar, I need you to be my strength. Stop crying sweetheart. Mujh se tera rona bardasht nahin hota, you know that.''
Anji looked at her best friend, and wiped her tears. Nidhi was right, she would be needing her, A LOT, in the times to come, and she needed to be strong for her. She would not break down. She could not afford too.
--''Nidhi, tere saath itna kuch hogaya, and tu akeli hi sehti rahi? Anybody else would have broken down by now. And you are right! I need to be a source of strength for you, and tu phikr mat kar, I will not let you down. Nidhi, I understand why you are doing, what you are doing. But, are you sure?
Tune sab kuch soch samjh ke hi iss sab ke liye haan kari hain na?
I wish there was something I could do? I just feel so helpless.''
--''Anji just your being here is enough for me. I know that I can come to you any time, and that means a lot. Aur, tu meri phikr mat kar. Dr. Ashutosh is a very nice and fair man. Have you met him yet? Anji, I know that the path I have chosen will be a difficult one, but I have to traverse it. This is the only way, I can give my Baba peace, and happiness in his last days, and for me that is the biggest most important thing right now."
--''Par Nidhi, tune apne future ke baare mein bhi kuch socha hai? What wll you do once your child is born? Main tujhe acchi tarha se jaanti hoon. I know that for you that will be the ultimate sacrifice. You are a born nurturer. I have seen you with kids. Tu aur logon ke bacchon ke saath itna attached ho jaati hai, ke tere ko unhe bhi chodte hue kitni taqleef hoti hai. Phir yeh toh tere apne bacche ki baat ho rahi hai! Nidhi how will you be able to give up your own child?''
--''Anji, everything you are saying is correct. But what choice do I have. Tujhe toh pata hai na, that Baba has raised me single handedly. He was so young when Maa passed away, but he never got married. Just because of me, for my sake. AB meri baari hai Anji, apne Baba ke liye kuch karne ki. I know that giving up my child will probably be one of the hardest things I will ever have to do, but I will do it. Anji, Baba ne apni poori life mujhe di hai, kya mai apne Baba ke liye apni life mein se 2-3 saal nahin de sakti. Aur jahan tak bacche ki baat aati hai. So I am still young, and I will in all probability have other children. Yes I will never be able to forget this one, after all a mother can never forget her child, can she?. But, unlike other girls who give up their babies for adoption, and have to keep wondering all their lives about their child, I at least, will have the satisfaction of knowing that he/she will be in good hands, and will be loved and cherished. Mere liye itna hi kaafi hoga, hona padega. Anji, please understand, and support me, all of this is so very hard for me at it is. Please! I don't think that I will be able to do this without you!''
Anji put her arms around Nidhi and hugged her,
--''Nidhi, Of Course, I am with you. I always have been and always will be, no matter what. You know that! And I do understand. Nidhi, I have loved you as my best friend and sister all my life, and I have always been proud of you. But I need to tell you, that I have never been prouder of you, than I am now. Tune mujhe aaj yeh acchi tarha se sikhaya hai, aur dikhaya bhi hai, ke bacchon ka farz kya hota hai, aur kya hona chahiye, apne parents ke liye. I think that somewhere along the way I had forgotten that, and had started taking my parents for granted. Main bhool gayi thi ke mere parents ne meri khushi ke liye bhi kitni mushkilon ka samna kiya hoga. Thank you for reminding me. And yes I will be with you every step of the way. You do not have to worry. Nidhi one last thing...I think that we should keep this whole contract thing a secret. I don't think that anyone else except the three of us need know anything. Koi nahin samjhega. And no one will appreciate the enormity of your actions. We can inform the family, after ...after...you know.''
--''You are right Anji. But its not the three of us, it's four. Ashutosh's friend Armanji, he is his lawyer, he also knows. He is the one who drew up the contract.''
--Theek hai. But it stops there. OK. Now that that is settled, I think that I need to meet my future, Brother in law. Main bhi toh dekhoon, kya cheez hain woh. After all he has managed to impress you, and that means something. You are not normally that easily impressed by anyone. Chal, ab no more tears. Dekh tune apna makeup bhi kharab kar liya hai. Here let me fix it. And Then I guess we should head down stairs?''
--''Nahin woh Bhuaji aayengi bulane, when it is time for the ceremony. So we can stay here until then.''
--''Ok! Cool. Then I can tell you about our vacation, and the presents I bought for you, and the tons of pictures that I took, although you will not get to see them till later, I guess."
Meanwhile Ashutosh was pacing nervously from one end of the guest to the other. Arman, who was in the room with him, could not help smiling with amusement, seeing his normally calm and collected in any situation, friend in this state of agitation.
--''Tu issi tarha aage peeche karta rahega, ya kuch bolega bhi? Bataa na yaar, kya problem hai?''
Ashutosh stopped midstride, and glared his hi best friend, and then resumed his pacing. Then a few seconds later, stopped again, and looked at Arman, and sighed,
--''Arman, pehli baar shaadi kar raha hoon nervous to hona banta hai na?''
--''Ashutosh, maine tujhe yeh nahin kaha ke tu nervous na ho. Maine tujhse yeh poocha hai ke tu nervous KYON ho raha hai? Actually, tujhe bhi pata hai ke tu nervous kyon ho raha hai, ya aise hi aage peeche kare ja raha hai. Ya tu yeh parade issliye kar raha hai kyon ki tujhe lagta hai ke har insaan nervous hota hai shaadi karte waqt? Aur phir tera kya matlab hai, Pehli Baar Shaadi Kar Raha Hoon? Abe tu aur kitni baar shaadi karne ki soch raha hai? Yeh koi trial run hai kya, agli baar ke liye?''
--''Arman, you are too much. Why are you standing there talking nonsense, when as my best friend, you are supposed to be helping me.''
Arman sighed exaggeratedly, with exasperation,
--"Thats what I am trying to do, that is, if you let me. Problem yeh hai, ke mere stupid dost ne mujhe abhi tak yeh nahin bataya hai ke usse kya pareshaani hai? Ashutosh, Gaddhe, jab tak tu mujhe kuch batayega nahin, main kya karoonga? Hain?''
Ashutosh smiled sheepishly,
--''Yeah. I guess I did forget to tell you what the problem is, hunh?''
--''Sorry! Actually, I am nervous, that Nidhi will get cold feet, or have second thoughts and run away. Yaar woh mere se Aadhi umr ki hai. I must appear really old to her. And mujhe yeh lag raha hai, that I should have insisted on AIH only. I mean she is so young and I am so old, how will I...I mean how will she...I mean How will we...Yaar mujhe nahin pata, main kya bol raha hoon. Its just that the situation could get so awkward, you know? Phir what will everyone at the hospital say?''
--''Abe, tu yeh sab AB soch raha hai? Pehle kya teri akkal ghaans chrne gayi thi? You are a fool, Ashutosh! You should have thought about all of this before. Today is not a good day to reflect on this. Aur ab sun. Pehle toh, i amvery sure that she will not run away, how can she? Yeh uska ghar hai, tera nahin! Bhaagegi bhi toh kahan jayegi, apne karmre mein? Doosra, Agar usko AIH manzoor hota toh woh ussi samay keh deti. She would never have suggested that you both get to know each other first. That also tells me that she has no major problems with YOU KNOW WHAT! And that can only be if she finds you reasonably attractive. And as far as the HOW, well my friend, that you already know. And don't ask me Kaise, nahin toh abhi yahan se bhaag jaunga. The only thing in question is the WHEN. And that you will both know when the time is right.
Listen Ashutosh, I have not met her, but it seems to me that the girl has a sensible head on her shoulders. She knows what she is doing. Her signing the contract proves that. She also trusts you, that she has proven by the very fact, ke yeh contract ko uss ne bina padhe sign kiya hai. What more do you want. Yes she is young, and you are a lot older than her, but both your ages were not hidden from each other. Usko bhi teri umr ka pataa hai, aur tujhe bhi. I can understand that you are nervous. But there is no need to be. Tune hi toh contract ke saare points specify karein hain. It is tailor made to suit your needs, and she has signed it. It is all very very legal, and extremely binding. Plus you are getting a young wife. Unless she is not pretty? Phir toh teri problem mujhe samajh mein aati hai.''
Ashutosh was quick to respond to that,
--''She's beautiful Arman, extremely so. Tu jab dekhe ga, toh tujhe pata chalega, just who is getting the short end of the stick, in that department!''
Arman, bit back a knowing smile, "So that's the way the wind is blowing," he thought to himself. "Well Well Well! This was going to be interesting."
--''Toh kya problem hai. Mujhe toh kuch nahin dikhti. Yaar, after all its is not a permanent arrangement, now. Is it?''
It pleased him to see Ashutosh hesitate a bit before responding,
--''I know its not permanent. And I know koi problem nahin hai. But I am nervous. Toh tujhe koi problem hai?''
Arman smiled and held up his hands in mock surrender,
--''Mujhe kya problem ho sakti hai? And it was not me who was pacing back and forth, wearing a hole in the floor, for the past 30 minutes.
Theek hai, chal phir se shuru ho ja. Main yahin khada hoon tere paas. Mere ko koi issues nahin hain.''
Ashutosh glared at him, and was about to speak, when there was a knock at his door, and at his response, his father opened it and came in.
--''Ashutosh, Beta tayyar ho gaya?''
--''Jee Baba. I am ready. Bhua kahan hain?''
--''Woh beta, sab tayyariyon ko supervise kar rahi hai. She wants to make sure everything is perfect. Tu jaanta toh hai usse, apne saath saath sab ko nacha nacha kar pagal kar rakkha hai. Teri shaadi ka sapna, kab se dekh rahi thi woh. Mere se bhi zyada usko Khushi ho rahi hai."
Ashutosh smiled with extreme amusement,
--"Jee Baba, I can just imagine. she really must be in her element, giving out orders to everyone."
--''Haan, of course! She is having the time of her life. Accha tu bataa, any last minute things to do, yaa, everything is a go? Agar koi detail reh gayi ho to bata de."
--"Nahin Baba, sab kuch ho gaya. Maine Nidhi ke Baba ke liye bhi saare arrangements kar liye hain. There will be a nurse and doctor on attendence with him, supervising his care during the ceremony. And then we both will also be there, so there should be no problems. I am just very concerned about him. When I was with him this morning, he was not looking so good. Baba, I don't want to say anything to Nidhi just yet, but it seems to me that his condition seems to be deteriorating rapidly with each day. Which is really surprising. When I met him a week ago, he did not seem this bad? Its almost as if...''
--''Its almost as if he was waiting for something?''
At Ashutosh's hesitant nod, Dr. Mathur went on,
--''Beta, aulad ka pyaar hi aisa hota hai. He was worried for his daughter. He was hanging in there for her. He had a reason to want to live. Aur Jab tu aaya, aur tune unki aakri chinta se unhe mukht kar diya, toh he let nature take over. He let go of that last desperate thread that was tying him down. Beta, his worsening condition is an indication of his being at peace with his circumstances, and with life. His last and most precious responsibility is taken care of. I can understand that. And beta, you were right not to tell Nidhi. If you had she would not have been able to go throught with this wedding. and Col. Verma ke peace of mind ke liye yeh shaadi honi bahut zaroori hai. He needs to see her married. Its is his last wish. Ashutosh, you made the right choice, but she needs to know. Tu usse shaadi hone ke baad mein bata dena beta. And, I agree with you. He is going down hill pretty rapidly. She needs to spend every minute she can with him, and beta, she needs us, and specially you to support her through this and be there for her. This is going to be very hard for her. Ab hum hi uski family hain."
--"You are right Baba. I just did not want to say these things out loud. But, soch toh main bhi yahi raha tha. Theek hai Baba, I will tell her tonight, after everything settles down."
--''That would be the optimum time, in my opinion also. Accha Arman..."
Just then Bhua came barging into the room like a steam roller,
--"Ab Baatein Baad mein. Shaadi ke muhurt ka waqt ho gaya hai. Ashutosh bacche tu ready hain na?(at his nod) Toh phir chal. Panitji tera bahar mandap par intezaar kar rahein hain. Aur haan main toh bataana hi bhool gayi. Nidhi ki woh saheli hai, na jo pados mein rehti hai. Woh aur uske Maa Baap aaj subha suhan london se wapas aa gaye . In fact, Shyama ne toh nidhi ko maa ki tarha palaa hai. Nidhi unhe dekh kar bahut kush ho gayi hai. Bechaari, bacchi apne aap ko kitna akela mehesoos kar rahi hogi, na? Chalo accha hai ab uski taraf se bhi koi uske liye aa gaaya hai. Main abhi abhi ussi ke kamre mein se aa rahi hoon, sab se milke. Bade Bhale log hain. Aur Nidhi toh bilkul pari jaisi lag rahi hai. Mai kya kahoon...Hai Ram, meri toh mati mari gayi hai. Dekho toh mujhe, Ashutosh ko lene aayi, aur khud baaton mein ulajh ke reh gayi. Accha chalo chalo sab, jaldi karo, samay beeta jaa raha hai. Chalo!''
Ashutosh, Arman, and Dr. Mathur smiled tolerantly, and obediently followed. All of them knowing that it would be useless to even try and get in a word edgewise, when she was in this state.
During the Marriage Ceremony, both Anji and Arman, kept on trying to size up the best friends respective partners. To Anji Ashutosh seemed to be a bit reserved, and a bit too stiff. She couldn't say that she didn't like him, well not exactly, but there was just something that was bothering her. Anji hoped with all her heart that Nidhi would not get too attached to him. She knew Nidhi, and she was a person who had always felt things deeply, although she never let anyone see her feelings. Nidhi always formed life long attachments to people, and Anji hoped that Ashutosh would not be one of them. Agar aisa hua toh she knew that it would take a long time, if ever, for her to recover from this arrangement. But, she had to admit that Dr. Ashutosh was very handsome, she could totally see why Nidhi was impressed by and even a bit attracted towards, him. His air of aloofness, and commanding personality made it hard for anyone to ignore him. And, anyway, if anything Anji knew that sometimes first impressions were not always correct. So, she would wait and see and keep and open mind, as far as Nidhi's new husband was concerned. She would give him the benefit of doubt. But, if he hurt her friend, Well then, all bets were off, and he would have to deal with her. Of course, that did not mean that she would not have a talk with him, regarding this matter. He should know na...what he would have to deal with...just in case. After all, it never hurt to be cautious.
On the other hand, Arman, could see exactly why Ashutosh had been acting so goofy. He absolutely agreed with his friend. Nidhi was indeed extremely beautiful, and they made a beautiful couple. And, though, he had not met her officially yet, he could see that this girl was not only beautiful, but had a nature to match that beauty. Just the way she had briefly interacted with Ashutosh's family before the ceremony began, had shown him that. It was obvious that Ashu's family were well on their way to falling deeply in love with this new addition to their clan, which would have been wonderful in normal circumstances, and he would have been ecstatic for his friend and envious of his luck. But, he knew that the situation was far from normal. Arman was very afraid of what the future held for his friend. He just hoped that his family never found out about the stupid contract. They would be heartbroken if they did, and there would be hell to pay.
And even though he knew that Nidhi was 24, and a grown woman, he could see that in a lot of ways, she was still very innocent. He was worried about her too, about how all of this would impact this young girl. All in all, he did not think that this would all end well. Arman knew that somebody, maybe even everybody would be damaged, either a little or a lot, depending on the level of attachment that developed amongst them. He just hoped that Ashutosh would be able to sort it all out at the end. He would pray very hard for his friend, very very hard.
Ashutosh could not take his eyes off of Nidhi. He had never seen more beautiful bride in his life. He had been mesmerized from the moment he had seen her being escorted out of the main doors of the house , to come towards him. Her wedding dress was stunning, but more stunning was the person who wore it. Dadi Bua had been understating it when she said that Nidhi looked like a fairy. She did not look like a fairy, she looked like a Goddess. Later, if anyone asked, he did not think that he could have answered even one question, about the ceremony. He was so aware of the woman beside him, and even more aware of the fact that as soon as the ceremony was complete, in a little while, she would be his wife. The contract, the baby, the reason for this whole ceremony, everything ceased to exist for him, in those moments. It was only later, when the panditji announced that it was time for Her Father to do the Kanyadaan, did he come crashing down to reality. My god! he thought. WHAT HAD HE BEEN THINKING?
Ashutosh looked up at Col. Verma and saw the extreme happiness and intense peace in the older mans eyes and face, and was ashamed of himself. Here was the whole reason (well mostly the whole reason) at least the most important one, why Nidhi was marrying him, and here he was, having lecherous thoughts about her, while her father was so ill. But, he supposed that at the end of the day, just to see her father like this, made everything seem so worth while, and everything else, even what he would be getting from this marriage, paled in comparison, to seeing the happiness on this fathers face.
When the ceremony had been completed and the pandit had pronounced them husband and wife, and told them to seek their elders blessings, Ashutosh and Nidhi as if by mutual consent went to her father first, to get his blessings, before anybody else's. They both crouched down in front of the wheelchair he was sitting on, and touched his feet. Nidhi's father first clasped Ashutosh to himself, in a tight hug. Well as tight as his failing strength, and now extremely frail body would allow, and kissed his forehead. He, then looked at his daughter with so much love and tenderness, and happiness, with tears running uncontrollably down his cheek, that Ashutosh himself, felt like crying at the intensity of the emotions that filled him at that moment, and he knew that this picture of father and daughter together like that would forever stay etched in his heart. Col. Verma clasped his child to his heart and looked at Ashutosh,
--''Ashutosh, beta, I can't tell you how happy you have made a dying old man today. Beta, you have fulfilled my last wish. I do not have the word with which to thank you, for what you have done for me .''
--"Baba, aap kaisi baatein kar rahein hain. Aapne mujhe beta kaha hai na? Toh kya sirf naam se si bola, man se mana nahin?"
--"Ashutosh, mere liye toh aap uss se bhi badh kar hain. Bete se kahin zyada. Shayad Nidhi se bhi zyada."
--"Agar yeh sach hai, toh kya aap, app Nidhi ko bhi thank you karte? Baba, main aapka beta hi hoon, aur aapko mujhe kisi bhi cheez ke liye thanks bolne ki zaroorat nahin hai. Aur uss se bhi badi baat, maine kuch bhi nahin kiya hai. Ulta aapne kiya hai, mere liye. Aapne apni sab se pyari cheez ko aaj mere hawale kiya hai. Ab aap bataiye ki mai kaise aapko thank you boloon. Nidhi jaisa jeevan saathi toh aapki wajah se hi mujhe milla hai na. Baba aaj main apne aap ko duniya ka sab se lucky insaan samajhta hoon. Aap mujhe bataiye ke aapke iss tohfe ke badle main aapko kya de sakta hoon?"
Col. Verma took one of Nidhi's hands in his and placed it in Ashutosh's hands. and then sandwiched both of their hands in between his two,
--" Ashutosh, beta, agar dena hi chahte ho mujhe kuch, toh mujhe aaj ek vachan de sakte ho?"
--"Baba aap ko mangene ke zaroorat nahin hai, Aap hukum kijiye. Main aapko vachan deta hoon, aap jo kahenge main usse poora karne ki poori poori koshish kaunga."
--"Mujhe vachan do beta, ke mere baad iska khayal rakkhoge. Isski aankhon mein kabhi bhi aanson nahin aane doge. Aur beta, agar iss se koi bhi galti ho jaye toh isse maaf maaf karoge?"
--"Baba, main aapko vachan deta hoon. Main woh sab karunga, aur Nidhi ko hamesha khush rakkhne ki koshish karunga. Aur isse jis bhi cheez se khushi mile woh iss dene ki poori poori koshish kaunga. Aapko Nidhi ki phikr karne ki koi zaroorat nahin hai. Aaj se yeh meri responsibility hai. And I will always lookout for her and her happiness. I promise you."
Then Col. Verma looked up at Dr. Mathur and his sister who had come to stand behind the newly wed couple, for confirmation. Dr. Mathur came forward and put both his hand on top of Col. Verma's, where he was holding Ashutosh and Nidhi's hands,
--"Samdhiji, main bhi aapko vachan deta hoon, ke main iss baat ki zimmedari loonga ke mera beta apne saare vachan nibhayega. Aur aapko ek aur promise karta hoon, ke aaj se Nidhi meri beti hai. Mere liye yeh hamesha Ashutosh se zyada mayne rakkhegi, aur main isse kabhi bhi aapki kami nahin mehsoos hone dunga. Yeh mere dil ka tukda ban ke mere saath hamesha rahegi. Yeh mera aapse promise hai."
--Aur Samdhiji, main bhi aapko vachan deti hoon, ke aaj ke baad Nidhi ko maa ki kami bhi kabhi nahin mehesoos hogi. Hum sab isse apni palkon par baitha kar rakkhenge. Aap bilkul bephikr rahiye. Aaj se yeh hamari beti hai. Hamare Jigar Ka tukda."
Col. Verma smiled, his face and his whole manor radiated with peace and happiness, as he turned to face his daughter. He looked into her eyes, and saw her soul. He knew her, he knew that she was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside, and just as innocent. He had always been a little afraid that the world would take advantage of that, and she would get hurt. But not any more. He saw that with this marriage she had not only gotten a husband that would love her and care for her for the rest of their lives, but she had also gotten a mother and a father who would love her, and value her goodness, as much as he did. He closed his eyes and thanked God for blessing him, and making him so lucky. He could now go in absolute peace, and with the knowledge that his most prized possession, his percious perious child would be loved and taken care of. He took Nidhi 's hand again,
--"Mere Bacche, now I need your promise that you will always treasure this family that god has given you so generously. That you will love them and respect them, and do everything in your power to keep them happy, and always obey them, and fulfill all of their wishes. Beta, I want you to always support your husband, through all walks in life, and be there for him in all his times of need. I want you to be his equal in all respects and yet be his shadow too. Let him know and feel your presence, let him feel your strength, and support for him, even when you can not be physically present with him. Beta, sahi mayne mein Ashutosh ki ardhangini banna, jaise tumhari Maa, meri banni thi. Aur sab se badi baat, beta, Mere ko yaad karke kabhi rona nahin. Beta, celebrate my life, and don't mourn me. Yeh teri Maa ne mujhe Kaha tha jaane se pehle. Aur, aaj yeh mai tujh se keh raha hoon. Mere Bacche remember me, remember my love and remember our time together with love, not sadness, and tears. Tu jab bhi mujhe yaad karegi, mujhe apne paas payegi. Meri macchi mai tujhse kabhi bhi zyada door nahin hounga. Beta, mujhe vaada kar ke hamesha khush rahegi."
Nidhi had tears running down her cheeks as she said,
--"Baba, aapne abhi jo bhi kuch mere se manga hai, main appko promise karti hoon, ke aisa hi hoga. I will do everything you want of me. promise."
--" Nidhi beta, I am so proud of you. Tere jaisi beti, beta sirf kismat walon ko hi mill sakti hai. Bacche tune woh sab kiya jo ek aulaad ka farz hota hai. Kabhi Bhi mujhe koi problem ya dukh kabhi nahin diya.
Beta I wish ke har janam main mere ko tera Pitah banne ka saubhagya mille. And remember, that I love you, and will always love above all else, above everything else. Beta, marta toh sirf insaan hai, lekin pyar hamesha rehta hai. Aur mera payar aur aashirwaad hamesha tum dono ke saath rahega. God Bless you both My children, and fill your lives love, laughter, and happiness all the days of your life."
Col. Verma once again hugged the both of them, and then wiped his tears.
After that they sought blessings from Dr. Mathur and Bhua, and then the Solanki's. Arman hugged Ashutosh and congratulated him, and then, Ashutosh introduced him to Nidhi. Arman, who had witnessed the whole scene with Nidhi's father, to Nidhi's and Ashutosh's surprise, took Nidhi in a tight hug, and put his hand on Nidhi head in blessings, and said,
--"Main jaanta hoon ke tum mujhe nahin Jaanti Nidhi. But, mai tumhe yeh bataana chahta hoon ke aaj se tera ek bada bhai bhi hai. Maine tujhse rakhi toh kabhi nahin bandhvai, lekin mai apni choti behen se yeh promise karta hoon, ke I will always be there for you whenever you need me. You only have to call, and I will come to you, I promise. Kabhi apne aapko akela mat samajhna."
Nidhi eyes teared up once again, and she drew back in his arms and smiled and wiped the tears from his face with her hands, and smiled,
--"Meri zindagi mein, sirf ek bhai ki kami thi, aur woh bhi aaj Bhagwaan ne poori kardi. Aapne mujhe choti bahen maana, toh aap bhi yaad rakhiye ga, ke aapki choti behen bhi hai, aur jab kabhi aapko kisi ki zaroorat padegi toh aapko bhi mujhe apne paas bulana hoga. Promise me Bhai. Yeh vaada nibhayenge?"
And she offered him her hand,
Arman shook it in promise and gave her another quick hug and kiss on her forehead before releasing her.
After that it was Anji's turn. Once she had hugged Nidhi, she caught hold of her friend's hand, and then turned to look at Ashutosh, with a really serious expression on her face.
--"Jeejaji, agar aap yeh soch rahein hain, ke iss saare emotionl mohol, ke emotion mein phans karke, main bhi emotional ho jaungi. Toh aap galat hain. Main nahin itni jaldi manne waali. Mujhe apne side main karne ke liye aapko mehenat karni padegi. After all, Main Nidhi ki best friend hoon, aur behen bhi. Agar mujhe aap pasand nahin aaye, to aapki life badi tough ho sakti hai. Toh boliye , kya khayal hai?"
Nidhi bit back a smile, but Shyama Aunty had a scandalized exprssion on her face, along with a surprised expressions of everyone present, there.
--"Anji, yeh kya bakwas kar rahi hai. Aise bola jaata hai, badon se. Yeh tere Jeejaji hain. Maafi mang inse, ABHI?"
--"Mummy aap beech mein nahin boliye. Yeh mere aur Jeejaji ke aapas ki baat hai. Yeh Nidhi ke pati hain, aur main Nidhi ki bahen. Hum dono Nidhi ki life mein important hain. Toh humein aapas mein ek doosre ke saath rehne ka aur ek doosre ko samajhne ki bahut zaroorat hai. Iss liye aap hamare beech mein nahin aayiye."
Shyama was about to say something, when Ashutosh stopped her, by raising a hand in reassurance that he had it under control.
Nobody had noticed the amusement on Nidhi's face except for him. And, Ashutosh had not only seen but understood, that he was been teased and accepted the challenge. So, with equal Seriouness, he said,
--"Toh Batayi Saaliji, mujhe kya karna hoga. Kya bribe dene hogi, that would be enough to win you over."
--"Yeh Hui na Baat. Nidhi tere Pati samajhdaar hain. Samajh gaye ki
Apni eklauti saali ko khush karne ke liye Jeb dheeli karni padegi. Good . I like him.
Theek hai Jeejaji, aap paas ho gaye. Lekin yeh gift udhar raha. Bhooliyega nahin. Kabhi bhi kuch bhi mang sakti hoon, Doge na?"
--"Yes Saaliji, I promise you that I will give you what ever you ask for, whenever you ask. So now that promises have been exchanged, where do we go form here?"
--"Arre, aap to buddhu bhi hain. Yahan se kahan jayenge. Shaadi toh ho gayi. Aur hamri dosti bhi. Ab Jeejaji Jaldi se mujhe gale lagayiye, aur phir baaki saari rasmein poori kijiye jaldi jaldi, so that we can eat. Subha se kuch nahin khaaya hai, badi bhookh lag rahi hai."
After the first couple of seconds everyone else had also caught onto the act. So when Anji finished her dialog, they started laughing. Anji went up to Ashutosh, and gave him a tight hug, and a huge grin,
--"Welcome to the Family, Jeeju."
--"Thank you Saaliji. Ab Chaliye, aapki bhookh ka intezaam karein."
After that, Her Baba was taken to his room by his nurse. And Nidhi made to follow, he stopped her saying that he was really tired and needed to rest, so she should go ahead and finish up all the rituals first, and then cold join him in his room later.
After that the atmosphere lightened considerably, everyone making an effort to try and put everyone else at ease, and after the initial hiccup the laughter and talking became easier and more natural. Soon everyone was laughing and talking and teasing Ashutosh and Nidhi, while Bhua finished up all the customs and rituals. Anji sat next to Ashutosh during Lunch, and Nidhi was happy to see the two of them getting along. But, no one other than Nidhi also saw the reserve still present in Anji's eyes. And that worried her. She knew By Anji's demeanor that, although, she liked Ashutosh, she still had some reservations. Apparently her friend still intended to have that "talk" she had been so fixated on having, with Ashutosh. Nidhi knew that there would be no stopping her. She only hoped that Anji would exercise, tact and restraint when she did. Oh Well, so be it. She was just glad that all the rituals and the ceremony, was all over and done with. She was so tired, she felt as if she could sleep for a week.
Before long, it was night time, and the guests started leaving. And at last, Bhua came and told her that she would take care of the rest of the guests, and that she could go to her room. Bhua gestured to Anji, who came over, and was told by Bhua to escort Nidhi to the master bedroom. When Nidhi opened the door, she was surprised to see that it had been all decked up, for a proper Wedding night. She looked at Anji, and could not help but be embarrassed. Anji laughed, hugged her, and wished her the best of luck. And before she left she also promised to be back the next day. Then she left, closing the door after herself.
Nidhi went to a nearby chair, and sank down on it gratefully. She could not believe that she was actually married. It still somehow seemed like a dream. But no it was not a dream, she thought, as she got up and went to the mirror and looked at her self. The proof that she was now a married woman was there in the mangalsutra around her neck and the sindoor in her hair parting. She looked different, she thought, as slowly her hand lifted her mangalsutra up for her to look
at. It just, all felt so strange. She felt strange, she just could not pinpoint why.
Nidhi walked up to her balcony doors and opened them up and went to stand out side, and looked up at the sky and to try and see the star that her father had always shown her when she was little, and told her that that was her mother looking down at her from the heavens. Nidhi saw the star and closed her eyes, and thought back to her childhood, and of the times she and her father had spent together, and smiled.
That was how Ashutosh saw her when he came into their room, and stopped dead in his tracks. She was looking ethreal standing outside, in the moonlight, with her face raised like that to the heavens, and a beautiful smile to top it all off. He felt a jolt of desire, so strong that it almost brought him to his knees. Ashutosh was surprised, because he had never felt anything like this, in all his 42 years. Its not as if he was inexperienced or anything. He had had his share of affairs, and liaisons, like any other normal red blooded male. It's just that he had never felt a desire as strong as this ever before, for anyone else. And, his biggest problem was, that at this time there was not a damn thing he could do about it. Ashutosh walked up to where Nidhi stood, still oblivious to his presence. He wondered what she was thinking about to have that kind of a look on her face.
Then, somehow, as if she had sensed him, although he had not made a single sound, Nidhi opened her eyes, and started directly at him. Once again, Ashutosh felt that jolt, only this time he was not alone, she felt it too. He could see it in her eyes, as they widened with awareness.
Nidhi did not know what to do. She had always felt attracted to Ashutosh, ever since the day she had first seen him, on her first day in the residency program. She and every other female that is. He was very handsome, and very virile. What woman wouldn't be attracted to him. But that desire had felt like a cakewalk compared to the awareness she was feeling right now. And, she could see that he wanted her too. The only problem was, that it was too soon. She did not want to act on these feelings now. As she had stipulated to him earlier, she wanted them to get to know each other first. So, with great difficulty, she lowered her eyes, and walked back into the room. Ashutosh followed quietly, he had seen her hesitation in her eyes, and had understood. He knew that right now if he were to take her into his arms, she would in all probability capitulate, but later on, would also probably have regrets, and maybe even resentment towards him. He did not want that happening.. ...
Ashutosh wanted to start this marriage off on the right footing, and in a way he did agree with her, and acknowledged to himself that she was right. She had asked him for time for the both of them. Time to get familiar with each other, and to get to know one another. Well he would give her that time, and he knew that their union, when it happened, and it would, the proof was there in the awareness that they were feeling for each other, well at that time it would be all the sweeter. He could wait for that moment. In fact he wanted to wait for that moment. So, he walked up to her and took her by her shoulders, and turned her around. Nidhi looked up at him with frightened eyes,
--"Nidhi, you don't have to look at me like that. Maine tumse ek promise kiya tha na? Tumhe yaad hoga? I have every intention to keeping my promise Nidhi, I always keep my promises. Nothing will happen until you want it too. And, I agree with you. Before anything else we should get to know one another. And the only way that can happen is, if you feel comfortable around me. So, I propose friendship. What say, Dr. Nidhi Mathur? Will you be my friend, mujhse dosti karogi? (((((Ok, OK, I know its corny and filmy. But guys I just could not resist putting this line in. It fits beautifully here. Don't you all agree.)))))
Nidhi looked at him with new respect and admiration in her eyes, and a beautiful smile replacing the frightened frown,
--"Thank You, and Yes! I accept your offer of friendship."
Ashutosh, also let out a breath of relief. Thank God. It seemed that she still trusted him. It's a good thing, cause he didn't know whether he could trust him self. But, her trust would certainly make him behave, he thought wryly. Talk about a damper. Whew!
--"Ok, Well, I don't know about you, but I am dead tired, and really need to get some sleep. So why don't you use the washroom first, to get changed and freshen up, and I will take my turn after you."
--Thank you. I will take you up on our offer. This dress is really heavy, and starting to get really uncomfortable. I would love to change into something lighter. But, I promise I will be quick."
Tru to her word, which really surprised Ashutosh, because he had never known that any woman could be true to her word, specially where grooming was concerned. He saw that she was looking just as beautiful in a simple loose fitting light blue and pink salwar suit, her hair down and with her hands tattooed with mehendi all the way up to her elbows, and her mangalsutra, and sindoor, she looked every inch the new bride. He glanced at her once more, with appreciation, and picked up his clothes, and started towards the bathroom, then he stopped and turned,
--"Nidhi, Why don't you go to sleep on the bed, and I will sleep on the couch for tonight. Later we can work out something a bit more permanent."
He turned to leave, but, Nidhi stopped him, by placing her hand on his arm, and he turned back to her questioningly,
--"Maine toh aap ko dost maan liya hai, lagta hai, aap ne nahin maana."
--"Why do you say that Nidhi?"
--"Friendship means trust, Ashutosh. And as my friend I trust you, and myself. Why can't you do the same and trust in yourself and me the same way?"
--"Nidhi, I have no idea what you are trying to say?"
--"I am trying to say, that It's ok to sleep in the same bed together. I don't mind. Besides, I don't like the couch. And I won't sleep there, and I don't want you to either."
--"You trust me that much?"
--"Friends trust each other. And yes I trust you. So...What say?"
--"I say...Thank You!"
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