Hum Ho Gaye Aapke
Baba and Rohan looked at each other and smiled in relief. They leaned back onto the sofa and they sent up prayers of thanks, as the happy sounds of Ashutosh and Nidhi's laughter filled their house. After a few minutes, Baba looked at Rohan, worry highlighting his expression,
"Rohan, tujhe kya lagta hai, un dono ke beech sab kuch theek ho gaya hoga na?"
Rohan slowly opened his eyes and turned his face towards his father,
"Baba, I think that woh dono upar Bugs Bunny dekh rahein honge, iss liye unhe itni zor zor se hansi aa rahi hai."
"Rohan ...Beta mujhe chinta ho rahi hai, kaafi der ho gayi hai dono ko. Ab toh unhe neeche aa jaana chahiye."
Once again Rohan looked at his father as if was crazy,
"Baba, woh dono pati patni hai. Apni issues ko resolve kar rahein hain, ab uss mein thoda waqt toh lag jaata hai na. Phir humein yeh bhi sochna chahiye ke dono aaj tak pati patni bhi sirf naam ke hain. You were young once, Baba. Understand karo na Yaar."
Dr. Mathur blushed, and wisely kept quiet after that, although his eyes were glued to the staircase leading up to Ashutosh and Nidhi's room.
Meanwhile upstairs in their room...,
Ashutosh let Nidhi go reluctantly, and stepped back.
"I guess neeche chalna chahiye. Baba aur Rohan hamara wait kar rahein honge na?"
"Ji. Aaap jaayiye, main tayyar ho kar jaldi se aati hoon."
She was about to turn away but Ashutosh caught her arm,
"Nidhi tum aise hi bahut khoobsoorat lag rahi ho. Change karne ki koi zaroorat nahin hai. We will go down together."
Ashutosh did not notice how his offhand compliment had put a glow on her face,
"Theek hai, bas ek minute.. Let me just run a brush through my hair. It's all mussed up. I will be right back."
And true to her word she was. Ashutosh was amazed that any women could do that. Mostly if they said one minute they ment one hour. Mallika was the same. He had had to wait as much as one hour, many times for her, when all she had to do was change her clothes. Ashutosh smiled as Nidhi grabbed her purse and hurried over to his side. He took her by the sholders, and placed a gentle kiss on her forhead, before taking her purse from her,
"Isski koi zaroorat nahin hai. Tumhara pati chal raha hai na tumhare saath."
Nidhi smiled shyly at him as he put his arm around her shoulders, and led her downstairs.
He smiled, when he saw his father and brother in the living room. It was just as he had predicted, and pointed out the fact to Nidhi, who grinned and said,
"Toh kya hua? It is so sweet of them. They are concerned about us. Aapko unka mazaak nahin udana chahiye."
"Nidhi, woh mere bhi kuch lagte hain. Tum saari zindagi unki iss tarha se side logi kya, the minute I say anything?"
"Why Not? They love me. Aapse bhi zayad."
"I know." He said wryly
Nidhi frowned, troubled by his tone,
"Aapko yeh baat pasand nahin? Problem hoti hai?"
Ashutosh took her face in his hands,
"Nidhi, you silly child. Of course not. It makes me very happy and proud to see how much you love them, and how they adore you. I was just making a statement. In fact, mere liye toh bahut garv ki baat hai ki meri patni ne meri family ko itna apna banaa liya hai, ke woh mere se zyada tumhare ho gaye hain. And It is also a relief to be able to share the responsibility my mother gave me before she passed away. Theek hai. Now smile. Nidhi, yeh sab choti choti baaton ko dil se nahin lagana chahiye. Some things you have to learn to take at their face value. Hmm?
Nidhi nodded and smiled. And they resumed walking.
The minute they saw Ashu and Nidhi, both Dr. Mathur and Rohan stood up. Baba looked from one to the other anxiously, while Rohan grinned at Ashutosh, before turning to Nidhi. He looked at Nidhi, and then gestured to the arm that Ashutosh had around her, and winked at her suggestively, causing her to blush and move away selfconsciously. Ashutosh glared at Rohan who grinned back at him. But before either of them could say a word Dr. Mathur spoke up.
"Ashu, Beta tum dono ki saari galat fehemiyan door ho gayi hain na? Tum dono ne acche tarha se baat ki? Tum Dono Khush Ho na, Beta?"
"Baba, aap bhi na...Zara n dono ke chehre toh dekho kaise chamak rahein rahein hain. Ab Bhabhi toh theek hai, lekin Bhai toh make up nahin lagayenge na? Of course sab theek ho gaya hai. Aur yeh dekhiye, Bhabhi ka toh chehre bhi kaise tamatar ki tarha lal ho raha hai. Main kehta hoon sab theek ho gaya hai."
Dr. Mathur lightly smacked Rohan on his head, while he looked at Ashutosh silently seeking confirmation. At his nod, Dr. Mathur sighed with relief. Then he pulled both Ashutosh and Nidhi into his arms, and hugged the both of them.
"I am so happy. Khush raho mere bacchon. Bhagwan tum dono ki jodi sada banaye rakkhe."
"Oh Baba, Hello! Yeh koi Sohraab Modi ki film nahin hai, jo aapki aankhon mein aansoon aa rahein hain."
Baba, let go of Ashutosh and Nidhi and went to grab Rohan, who laughed and ran to stand behind Nidhi, using her as his shield, turning her this way and that, as his father tried in vain to catch him. Ashutosh smiled, a deep happy smile, as he witnessed the antics of the three.
After a couple of minutes, seeing that his father was getting tired, Rohan let go of Nidhi and put his arms around his father, and then turned to Ashutosh.
"Bhai aap aur Bhabhi Kahin jaa rahe ho kya?"
"Haan, main soch raha tha ke hum bahar celebrate..."
"Celebrate! Wah Bhai, you are great! Main bhi yahi soch raha tha. Aapne toh mere man ki baat keh di. Of course celebrate karna chahiye. Chaliye. Main tayyar hoon. Aur baba, bi theek hain."
"Lekin Beta, aaj Ashutosh aur Nidhi ko akele jaana chahiye."
"Kya Baba, kaisi baatein kar rahein hain. Bhai aur Bhabh hamare bina thodihi jayenge. Hum agar inhe force karenge toh bhi nahin. Aur phir, jisne itne papad belein hain inn dono ko milvana ke liye, uss ke bina kaise celebrate kar saktein hain ye dono. Kyon Bhabhi? Right Bhai?"
He looked innocently at the both of them. But his eyes had a devilsh gleam, which he hid by lowering his eyes.
Ashutosh looked at Nidhi in dismay, while she looked at him and shrugged. The Ashutosh sighed,
"That's right Rohan. That's what I meant. I was going to take us all out to celebrate."
Rohan grinned and went up to hug Ashutosh,
"Dekha Baba, maine kaha na, Bhai hamare bina jaa hi nahi sakte hain."
Then he turned towards Nidhi,
"Bhabhi chaat aur gol gappe, Right? And uske baad kulfi?"
"Rohan, tujhe kaise pataa..."
"Bhai, main apni Bhabhi ki pasand acchi tarha se jaanta hoon. Aur phir I know ke agar aap kahin aur jaa rahe hote, toh ss samay aap suit woot pehene hue hote, iss tarha kurta pajama nahin."
Ashutosh looked down at his attire, which he had totally forgotten about, and looked up at his family sheepishly.
"Accha chaliye ab, bahut bhook lagi hai. Aur waise bhi chaat ke naam se mere munh mein toh paani aa raha hai, Rght Bhabhi? Chalo ab."
Saying that he put his arm around Nidhi's shoulder and led her outside, chattering all the way. Nidhi threw Ashutosh a helpless look as she let herself be led away.
Even in the car, Rohan somehow managed to manipulate the situation so that Nidhi was sitting up front wth him. Ashutosh scowled darkly as he was relegated to the back seat with his father. His mood worsened as the evening went along, and Rohan hogged Nidhi's company. What was worse was that after the initial hesitation, Nidhi had seemingly forgotten that this was supposed to have been their date, and was enjoying herself with Rohan. They had put him with Dr. Mathur on a near by bench, and brought their food over to them, and the two of them had gone to stand in front of the chaat walla carts, eating gol gappe while chatting and laughing animatedly. And here he was, with his father, trying to pay attention while his father kept up a steady monolog with him about the hospital and the latest medical news.
When he saw Rohan give Nidhi something from his plate, while Nidhi did the same, Ashutosh saw red. That is supposed to be me, over there DAMMIT, not my little brother, he thought angrily. And he must have made a sound, because Dr. Mathur looked at him in confusion, and asked him if he was OK. Ashutosh reassured his father that it was just the food, which had gone down the wrong way, and he was fine. Dr. Mathur nodded, and then continued with his monolog.
Ashu's mood kept getting darker and darker, but he reached his limit when, Rohan casually came up and announced,
"Baba main soch raha raha tha, kyon na ab yahan nadi kinare ek lamba walk liya jaye. Mausam kitna accha hai. Khaanna digest ho jayega, and phir hum ghar jaane se pehele kulfi bhi aaraam se khaa sakenge. Kyon Bhabhi?"
Ashutosh saw Nidhi nod enthusiastically, and scowled at her. He turned towards Rohan to treat to his glare as wee, when he caught the devilish glint and the wicked grin on his brothers face,before he could cover it up. Ashutosh immediately understood what the little cockroach was doing. And his bird brained wife, who stood there smiling at him, was too innocent to see this. Well he thought, he had a thing or two up his sleeve. After all, he was older, and he was smarter. He could still teach the PuP a thing or two. Ashutosh noticed his father beckoning Nidhi. As she walked towards him, Ashutosh got up and casually walked over to Rohan, leaned close, and whispered in a low dangerous voice.
"Rohan, beta, mujhe pata hai tu kya kar raha hai. Yeh mat bhool mai tera bada bhai hoon. I have taught you all you know. But, and here is the kicker, I have not taught you all I know. Yeh jo tune aaj kiya hai, I will get you back for this with interest. That is a Promise!!!!! Jab teri shaadi hogi na bacche, toh teri SR par mai teri dulhan ke saath baith kar saari raat Kairam khelunga, aur tu ek kone mein baith kar humein dekhte rehena. Anji Ko kairam khelna bahut accha lagta hai na?"
Ashutosh whispered evilly, and was pleased to see Rohan pale a shade or two. It would occur to Rohan much later that Ashutosh had said Anji's name, although in his panic he failed to notice it right then.
"Bhai, kya aap bhi...Mai toh mazaak kar raha tha. I guess thoda over board chala gaya."
When he saw Ashutosh lean towards him menacingly, he held up his hands,
"Thoda, kyon, Of course I went overboard. A LOT!!! But aap phikr mat kariye mai sab theek kar doonga. Bas ek minute."
Ashutosh grinned as he saw Rohan hurry over to their father.
"Baba, chaliye main aur aap mandir chalte hai. Yahan paas hi mein ek bahut accha mandir hai. Chaliye Jaldi, nahin toh band ho jayega."
Dr. Mathur got up, and looked with confusion at Rohan,
"Lekin Rohan, tu toh abhi nadi kinari walk ki baat kar raha tha beta? Phir yeh Mandir..."
"Baba, I suddenly remembered the mandir. Ab chalo bhi."
"Haan beta, par Bahu aur Ashu..."
"Baba yeh kya karenge mandir jaakar. Abhi inki mandir jaane waali stage nahin aayi hai. Sirf aap aur mai chal rahein hain."
"Lekin beta sirf hum dono kyon? Yeh dono bhi toh bhagwan ke darshan kar lenge."
"Baba, samjho zara. Aap aur mai hi chalenge. Inn dono ko yahin rehne do. Ab inn dono ki nayi nayi shaadi hai, aur inn dono mein abhi abhi sulha hui hai. Toh Inko toh yahi rehna chahiye. Romance karne ka waqt toh inka hai. Main aur app nadi ke kinare kya karenge. Main aapko samjhata hoon. Dekhiye, ab agar Maa hoti toh koi aur baat hoti. Tab mai kehta theek hai, Buddha Buddhi ko buddhaape mein thoda romance karne ka haq banta hai. Par Maa toh hai nahi. Aur mai toh abhi baccha hoon, kyonki meri toh abhi shaadi bhi nahin hui hai. Ab Bhai aur Bhabhi hamare samne thodehi romance kar nahin sakte, usske liye toh ekaanth ki zaroorat hoti hai. Iss liye aap mere saath mandir chalo."
Ashutosh was having the damnedest time controlling his laughter, while Nidhi was drowning in mortification, and wishing the earth would open up and swallow her. And poor Dr. Mathur, he did not know how to react.
"Bhai, here you take the keys to the car, Baba and I will manage by taxi. Aapko der ho gayi toh taxi nahin millegi. Baba ab chalo, yahan aise hi kahde rahoge to mandir band ho jayega. Zindagi mein aapne paap shaap toh thode bahut kiye hi honge na? Aaj mauka hai. Aapko Iss umr mein thoda apna parlok sanvarne ki baatein ke baare mein sochna chahiye. So iss bahane bhagwan ke darshan kar ke unse maafi maang lena, thode bahut paap ka hisaab toh bhawan clear kar hi dega..."
Rohan kept up a steady chatter leading his dazed father away from the couple, and leaving them alone. Ashutosh burst out laughing loudly as soon as the two had disappeared from view.
" My poor father, he didn't know what hit him. Rohan is something isn't he. It is awe-inspiring to see him in action."
He said turning towards Nidhi, who stood there with a horrified expression on her face,
"I will never be able to show Baba my face again."
"Sweetheart it's alright. You know Rohan. This is how he is. Anything to take the spotlight of of himself."
He said as he moved closer to her.
"By the way, I should be really angry with you right now."
"Maine kya kiya"
"Nidhi you have ignore me the whole evening. Tum yeh tak bhool gayi ke this was supposed to be our evening together."
"Main nahin bhooli. Par aap bataiye, mai kya karti. Ab agar Rohan aur Baba hamare saath hain toh unko ignore thodihi kar sakti thi, aise koi acchna lagta?"
"Nidhi tumhe iss baat se fark nahin padaa ke mujhe kaisa lagega. I was sitting with Baba, while my wife was enjoying herself with my younger brother, on our date."
Now that he thought about it, he really was angry. Ashutosh turned an walked away from her. Nidhi looked around nervously, and had barely taken a step when she was surrounded by two or three beggars, asking for alms. She looked around with panic in her eyes, frozen to the spot as they reached out to her. And when One of them, daringly reached out to touch her arm, she couldn't prevent the little scream that escaped her lips, as she closed her eyes hardly daring to breathe. The next instant, Nidhi heard an angry voice shooing them away, and she was pulled into a comforting pair of arms, and held tightly.
Ashutosh led her away, from the side walk and went to a secluded bench underneath a tree where he was sure that they would not be seen, just a few feet away a from where the river Gomti flowed. He held her till her tremors subsided. Ashutosh cursed himself. How could he have left her like that. He knew she was scared to be alone, and hated to be surrounded by strangers. Luckily he had turned around just in time to see one of the scoundrels reach for her, and made a run for it. Ashutosh held her murmuring soothing words, as he ran his hand comfortingly through her hair. As he held her tightly, he felt an overwhelming rush of love. She is so innocent he thought. She had no idea of the world. He needed to be very gentle with her, but he was determined that he would make sure she got over these phobias, and became a normal healthy, confident woman. First, he had to find out what had happened, and who was responsible. But, he thought, leaving the who and the what aside, He had to find out why her family, her father, Mallika, and her grandmother had done nothing to help her with. Actually Mallika had told him that Nidhi had had extensive therapy, but there was no evidence of that. The more he thought about it, the angrier and more puzzled he became, and more determined than ever to get to the bottom of everything. By god, there would be hell to pay, the day he found out the whole truth, he silently promised himself.
"Nidhi It's all right sweetheart. You are with me, you're safe. I will never let anything happen to you. I promise."
"Aap mujhe wahan akela chod gaye the."
"I know Baby, and I am so sorry. I was just not thinking. But I promise I will never let it happen again. I will never let you be alone ever again."
"I promise, my love. Ab ek bar meri taraf dekho toh sahi."
Nidhi slowly lifted her face from the safe haven of his shoulder, and lifted her eyes to his. Ashutosh saw that she was still too pale, and her eyes held that scared look. His heart wrenched in his chest, and he tenderly kissed both her eyelids, and then gently placed his lips on hers. His kiss held passion, but was not passionate. It was meant to sooth and heal, to help drive away her demons, and chase away all her fears. It was a kiss filled with love and tenderness. A kiss meant to reassure her that she was no longer alone in her fight, that he was with her all the way. It told her that she would never have to stand alone again, and that he would be the there to slay all her dragons. A kiss that told her that he wanted her and needed her as much as she needed him. After a few minutes when he leaned back, he was happy to see the color back in her face, and a smile lighting her beautiful eyes, and he breathed in relief.
"Aap mere se abhi bhi naraaz hain?"
"Nahin, Jaan. Of course not. Why would you think that?"
She looked up at him wide eyed,
"Nidhi you are my life. I thought I made that clear to you today. I have waited all my life for you. Now I can't even imagine it without you. Toh how else do I address you, other than by the term that best describes what you mean to me."
He said as he looked at her expectantly.
Nidhi found it hard to bear that look of his. She felt as if she were cheating him somehow. She knew that he wanted to hear the words from her, but she just could not find it within her self to say them, because it would be a lie. And she could not and would never lie to Ashutosh. He deserved more from her than that. But the truth would hurt him too, and she could not do that either. Nidhi could not hold it in any longer, and tears started rolling down her cheeks. She buried her face against him, once more, taking the cowards way out.
"Ashutosh please mujhse itna pyaar mat kariye, I do not deserve it."
"Nidhi Yeh toh mere decide karne ke liye hai na, whether I think you are worth it or not. Aur phir, pyaar koi soch samajh kar thodihi hota hai. Yeh toh bas ho jaata hai. I love you. It's as simple as that."
Ashutosh let her cry for a bit to get it out of her system. He knew that she was overwhelmed. He was dying to hear the words from her also, but he did not want to pressurize her in any way. Besides he thought with a smile, he had seen it in her eyes, so why were words necessary. He would let her take her time, and let her get used to him and heir relationship first. He knew that the words would follow too. She was his, and that was the most important thing. Isske aage koi bhi cheez ke koi maiyne nahi the.
After a little while,
"Nidhi, ghar chalna hai?"
"Nahin. I want to stay here with you a while longer."
"Anything you want sweetheart. So, yahin baithna hai, ya you want to go for the walk you were talking about at home."
"Walk par, but only if you keep you arms around me."
"Forever my love forever."
They rose slowly and then with her tucked firmly at his side, and strolled out into the moonlight.
Ashutosh had no idea how long they walked, and he didn't even care. He was happy and at peace.
"Suniye...Can we turn back please?"
He squeezed her tenderly against him,
"Nahin. Mujhe Kulfi khaani hai."
"Woh toh yahan bhi mill jayegi."
"Haan, par hamari car bhi toh wahin hai na, and we have walked pretty far, wapas jaate jaate bhi toh waqt lag jayega. Main nahin chahti ke zayada der ho jaye. Aapko toh subha hospital bhi jaana hai. Chaliye."
"Yes your highness, your wish is my command. Chaliye."
Nidhi relaxed against him, as she enjoyed her walk back to the place they had started from. When they got there, Ashutosh got the kulfi that she had been craving for. But he did not get any for himself.
"Aap nahin le rahe?"
"Nahin sweetheart, mujhe kulfi kabhi se zyada pasand nahin aati. You go ahead and enjoy yourself."
"Aap nahin khayenge toh main kaise enjoy karungi. Accha mere haath ek bite to le lejiye please."
Ashutosh complied to make her happy. He was surprised, it tasted better than he thought, and it made him wonder whether it was the ice cream, or whether it was because she was feeding him with her hands that made it more palatable for him. Once they had finished, Ashutosh paid, and then they walked back to the car. When they were on there way, Ashutosh glanced at Nidhi, she had gone very quiet. He found her staring at him. Ashutosh raised his eyebrow questioningly, and she smiled and shook her head. Then she scooted up close to him and laid her head against his shoulder.
When they got home, Chote Sarkar sleepily opened the door for the both of them. It was apparent that he had fallen asleep waiting for the two of them to come home. Nidhi felt bad that they had disturbed his sleep. She told him to go to bed and that she would lock up for him. Chote Sarkar said that he still had to get the hot milk for Baba, and the Coffee for Rohan, too. Nidhi assured him that she would do everything, and told him go on to sleep. He smiled at her gratefully, and left...
Ashu who had been observing smiled and shook his head. That was his Nidhi, taking care of and worrying about everyone. No wonder everyone loved her so much, he thought with pride.
Nidhi turned to him.
"Aap chaliye, main bas abhi thodi der mein aati hoon."
"Nidhi I know you. You will probably spend the next hour talking with Baba and Rohan before you come into our room. I will probably be asleep by that time."
"Nahin, I promise, aaj main der nahin karungi. Sacchi."
Ashutosh looked at her skeptically, but did as she requested. He went to their room and got ready for bed, and made the phone call that he ha been wanting to since that morning, in regards to Nidhi. He smiled when he was done, and settled down to read whilst waiting for Nidhi to come. He was surprised, when true to her word, she joined him there barely 15 minutes later. He looked up from the book he had been reading, and smiled at her.
"Kya baat hai, Dr. Mathur, aap time se aa gayi. Good now we can sit together for a bit before we sleep."
"I told you I would. Main bas abhi aati hoon. I will just go freshen up. Hmmm.
Ashutosh smiled as she hurried away, and went back to his reading. He looked up when he heard the bathroom door open, and his breath hitched in his throat. She had looked stunning in her new look, with the make up and new clothes.. But right now she was simple, without make up and in a simple nightgown, and she was absolutely breathtaking. He held out his hand to her, and she came over readily and put her hand in his, all the while smiling at him. Ashutosh pulled her close as he kissed her palm and laid it on the part of his chest where his heart was, and stared at her.
"Kya dekh rahein hain."
"You. You are so beautiful."
"I am glad. I always want to be beautful for you."
Nidhi said simply, as she stretched out bedside him and laid her head on his chest. Ashutosh closed book and put it on the table, and drew her more firmly into his embrace.
"You must be tired. Aap so jayiye. Bahut der ho gayi hai."
He murmured sleepily, and slipped his arm off her shoulder, and gave her a kiss on her cheek.
"Neend toh aa rahi hai...tum bhi so jao, ghar mein sab se pehle toh tum hi uthti ho."
Nidhi slipped off the slipped off the divan and stretched out her hand as she stood up
"Theek hai. Chaliye...sotein hain."
Ashutosh opened his eyes and saw her outstretched hand. He looked up at her, puzzled
"Sone, aur kahan? Aapne hi toh kaha aapko neend aa rahi hai."
"Nidhi, kya ho gaya hai tumhe. Main so hi toh raha hoon. I have no idea what you are talking about."
"Ashuji, aapki jagah yahan nahin hai, mere saath udhar bed par hai."
"Nidhi...Honey I don't think..."
"Aapne hi kaha hai ke from now on we will share everything. And jab mere se itna pyar kartein hain, toh mere se itni door kaise reh saktein hain?"
She said cutting off his protest.
"Nidhi pyaar karta hoon issiliye hi toh keh raha hoon. I don't think that it is a good idea. I don't don't if I can stay away..."
"So. Who's asking you too. If I have ever learnt anything in life it's this, that everything happens when it's meant too. So what ever happens between us, will also happen when it supposed too. And, I trust you. I know that you won't do anything I am not ready for."
"How do you know that?"
He said, smiling as he put his hand in hers, and got up from the divan.
"I know that because I know you love me."
Ashutosh smiled happily, as she led him over to their bed. It felt strange to be on the bed, Ashutosh thought as he took off his glasses, he had not slept on there since they had gotten married. He glanced over at her, only to find that she was staring at him, a beautiful smile lighting her face. He smiled, and brushed her cheek tenderly, with the his knuckles, before turning off the light and lying down. But, sleep eluded him. He was too conscious of Nidhi lying just a few feet away. Ashutosh wished that he could hold her in his arms. But, he also knew that he wanted her so badly that might not be able to stop himself. So, he lay still and and tried to sleep. After several minutes,
Nidhi said softly, so as not to disturb him incase he was really sleeping.
"Nidhi...tum soyi nahin? Kya baat hai? Kuch chahiye?"
Ashutosh turned to face her,
"Baby you know you can tell me anything you want. Issmein sochne ki kya baat hai? Bolo."
"Can I sleep with you?"
"Honey you are sleeping with me."
"Nahin, aapke paas. Please."
"Nidhi honey, I don't think that's a good idea. I..."
"Please. I ...I ...Have wanted to sleep in your arms for a long time. Aksar aapko udhar sote hue dekh kar sochti thi, kaisa lagega. You know to be able to sleep in your arms all night. To know that I had the right to do that."
When Ashutosh stayed quiet, Nidhi bit her lip and tears gathered in her eyes. She started to turn away,
"I am sorry...I didn't mean to...I mean I am sorry if I made you ang..."
She was cut off as Ashutosh yanked her into his arms, and buried his face in the crook of her neck.
"Will you stop that. Nidhi, I am your husband. Tumhara mujhe par poora haq hai. In fact sirf tumhara hi haq hai. And Of course, I want to be able to sleep with you in my arms. But, honey, what if...I don't want to make you uncomfortable, nor do I want you giving in until you are perfectly ready"
"I won't I promise. The minute I feel uncomfortable with anything I will let you know...Main...main aa jaoon aapke paas."
Ashutosh sighed in defeat. She had said that with such childlike innocence and simplicity, that there was no way he could have resisted. He held out his arms, and the minute she put her head on his chest, he felt as if a missing piece of him had clicked into place. Ashutosh thought that he would be spending a sleepless night, but the next thing he knew, his phone alarm was ringing, telling him it was time to get up.
Ashutosh yawned and reached out for Nidhi. But the bed was empty. He fell back on the pillow. Of course, she would not be here. She was probably already and in the kitchen by now, he thought wryly. But he had hoped that he would get some private time with her before he had to leave for work. Ashutosh reluctantly got up and made his way to the bathroom to get ready.
He was just about to step out of the bedroom to go downstairs, as Nidhi came rushing in. She smiled distractedly at him as she hurried past him going straight for her closet. It took her about two minutes, to find what she needed. She was about to rush right past him again when he caught her by the waist. Nidhi squeaked as he pulled her up close against his hard chest.
"Accha, toh itni jaldi pati ko ignore bhi karna shuru kar diya. Koi good morning nahin, good morning hug nahin."
"Suniye mujhe chodiye please. Woh kya hai na, I got up very late today. Toh sab kuch late ho raha hai. Maine aapka breakfast bhi nahin banaya hai abhhi tak. Sacchi I am not ignoring you. Please."
She said cajolingly as she squirmed in his arms.
"First, you don't need to make my breakfast. I have an early meeting that I need to get too, and I don't have time. So you can slow down. Second, I won't let you go till you say a proper good morning. I won't be seeing you all day. Aaj toh phone bhi nahin kar paunga, saare din surgeries hain. Par I guess tumhe toh koi fark hi nahin padta."
Nidhi stopped squirming, and looked wide eyed at him in dismay,
"Aap phone bhi nahin karenge?"
Ashutosh smiled, and shook his head
"Nahin Jaan, I am sorry. Aaj really really bohut busy schedule hai. Par I can promise that ghar time par aa jaunga."
She lowered her face, disappointment evident in her low voice. Ashutosh put his hand under her chin, and raised her face so that she was looking directly into his eyes.
"Hey! Ab inn khoobsoorat aankhon ko itna sad dekhunga toh kaise jaa paunga. Chalo, smile karo. Maine kaha na, jaldi aa jaunga. I don't think anything will be able to keep me away. Ab I need to leave. Can I have a smile...please... Nidhi... "
She smiled tremulously at him.
"Aaah, yeh hui na baat! Thank you. That will carry me through the day. You take care of yourself. Hmmm."
Nidhi nodded, and Ashutosh smiled and bent down to place a quick kiss on her forehead. He caressed her cheek softly with a finger before turning away. He waved to her one last time as he hurried down the stairs. Nidhi wiped the lone tear that trickled down her cheek, She missed him already!
About 20-25 minutes later Ashutosh rung the door bell, and stood waiting impatiently for someone to come and open the door. As soon as it opened, he smiled and bent down to pay his respects.
" Andar aayiye Jamai Babu. I have been waiting for you."
"Aunty ghar mein mein koi hai toh nahin na?"
"Nahin Damadji. Anji ke Papa ko court jaana tha, aur Anji bas abhi abhi kaam se gayi hai. Aap bilkul theek samay par aaye hain."
She waited while he took a seat, and then gestured to the maid, who immediately left only to return a few seconds later with a tray loaded with tea and snacks.
Ashutosh waited patiently while she served him, before he spoke.
"Aunty thank you so much for agreeing to see me. Dadi Bhua had advised me a while ago, to come to you for answers regarding Nidhi."
" I know...I asked her too. In fact, I am surprised that you didn't come sooner. I have been waiting."
"I know that it's taken me a while(his tone was apologetic), but Nidhi and I well..."
"I understand. Aapko kuch bhi kehne ki koi zaroorat nahin hai. Anyway, impotant baat yeh hai ke aap aa gaye hain. Ab bataiye, kya poochna chahtein hain aap?"
"Aunty sab kuch. Jo bhi aapko pataa hai. I need to know everything. I am at a loss . Nidhi is a beautiful, and an extremely intelligent young woman. She is also one of the sweetest people I have ever known. Yet she has no confidence, and also a very low self esteem, its so hard to understand. Everything is very contradictory. By all logic, she should be bubbling with confidence. And her phobia about strangers. It all just does not jibe."
Shyama was quiet for several seconds. Then she quietly got up and went to a near by table, where she took out a thick file. She walked over and handed it to him.
"Yeh lijiye. Iss mein aapko saare jawab mill jayenge. Nidhi ki Dadi Bhua aur mai, hum do hi hain, jinhe sab sachai pataa hai. Mere Khayal mein toh aaj tak Bhaisahab bhi saara sach nahin jaante. Woh sirf wohi jaante hain, jo unhe Mallika ne baataya."
Ashutosh was baffled,
"Mallika! What has she got to do with Nidhi's issues. One thing I could never fault her on was her love for her little sister. She adores her."
"Maybe. Yeh toh aapko hi decide karna padega. All I can say is that there is love and then there is love. It's all very different, yet also very similar. Waise toh aap yeh saari file padh he lenge, par agar aap chahein toh mai aapko moti moti baatein bataa deti hoon."
When Ashutosh inclined his head, she went on,
"Jamai Babu, yeh toh aap jaante hi honge under what circumstances Nidhi's mother died, and that Nidhi was there and witnessed everything. Ashutoshji, she was just a 3-4 year old baby, and all the blame was heaped upon her head. But, no one, except Bhua and I, know that Mallika was there as well, that day with Nidhi and their mother. What happened was that Mallika went to the bank with them that day, in fact, she was the reason that they were there. She was pestering Nandini Bhabhi about something she wanted to buy, and Bhabhi had to go to the bank to to withdraw money to give Mallika. Anyway, when the robbery happened, it was Mallika who acted foolishly and triggered the alarm. And, The bullet that hit Nandini Bhabhi was actually meant for her. As soon as she was hit, the robbers ran, and Bhabhi asked Mallika to run and get the police and ambulance. But by the time Mallika managed to do that It was too late. Then when she saw the police she knew that her father would find out, and she would be blamed so she ran home and hid. But Bhua knew that she had gone to the bank. So meanwhile Nidhi was there alone. The coroner arrived and took Bhabhi's body, the police took Nidhi with them. You see there was no one to claim her. Nidhi was little, but even then she was an intelligent little girl, she gave the police her address and phone number. And when they called the house whoever answered claimed that there were no children living in the house. Well somehow or the other, And this is my best guess, there was a mix up and someone got careless, but Nidhi, instead of being sent to a children's home, was put into a cell with a bunch of rowdies. During all this, Bhaisahab, and Bhuaji were dealing with Bhabhi's death, and trying to claim the body, I was asked to take care of Nidhi. It took me several hours to find her, and Mallika during that whole time did not say a single word. I am guessing that she was the one who did not answer the police, when they had called the house, but I can't that that for sure. Anyway, when they opened the cell where she was...Ashutosh ..."
Shyama had tears coming out of her eyes, and she had to swallow several times, before she could continue.
"She...Her clothes had been ripped off...she would have been raped if I had been even a few more minutes late. She was in a state of shock, just sitting there like a little statue, while those vile creatures were pawing her. I ran to her and covered her up, and I rushed her to the hospital. The police of course were very apologetic, saying that they had no idea how that had happened. And Of course no one came forward to take the blame. It took several weeks, but eventually when Nidhi came out of her shock she did not remember any of the events after the shooting. All she remembered was holding her mother as she died."
Ashutosh was stunned. He did not know what to say. It was more horrifying than he could ever have imagined. He cleared his throat.
" Mallika? She never said anything? Aapko yeh sab kaise pataa chalaa.?"
"Bhua and I were at one of her sessions hypno therapy sessions. The pediatrician had suggested that it might help. Anyway, we were both shocked. And when we confronted Mallika, she point blank denied it. Saying that Nidhi probably made it up, and that the trauma of the shooting had probably confused her. She said how it was Nidhi who had wanted something. You see Nidhi was born after so many years, and Bhaisahab and Bhabhi, who had always wanted more children, doted over her. They always over indulged Nidhi, and I think that even though she was a lot older Mallika resented her, and was jealous of her. Ashutosh Mallika was intelligent, but Nidhi was exeptional, she was even more beautiful than Mallika. And then she was the apple of both her parent's eyes. Mallika told her father that Bhabhi had gone to the bank because of Nidhi. Bhai sahab, believed her, he had no reason not too. You see no one, I mean none of the witnesses could remember Mallika being there. She blamed Nidhi for Bhabhi's death, and saved herself. After Nidhi was brought home, Mallika took over care. Not directly, but in very subtle ways, she never let Nidhi forget that she was the cause of their mother's death. Ussne har ek cheez mein, har ek taraf se Nidhi ko control kiya. Nidhi ki self image, uska inferiority complex, lack of confidence, etc is all Mallika's doing. I am not saying that Mallika was physically abusive, But mentally usne koi kasar nahin chodi. She smothered Nidhi with attention, and so called adoration, so that Nidhi would become dependent on her. Nidhi grew up thinking that the sun rose and set with her older sister. Mallika was the only one she would listen too. Anji and Nidhi used to be very close, but after that incident, Mallika never let Nidhi get close to Anji again. She deliberately created differences and Misunderstandings between them as they grew older. She did not let anyone get close to Nidhi. You see, Nidhi was the only one who knew what happened, and she needed her not to ever remember the true facts."
Ashutosh could not believe it. This sadistic twisted side of Mallika was abhorrent. He knew that she had a cold ruthless side, but he had always overlooked it. She had always been a true friend to him. He felt absolutely sick. But he still had more questions,
"So how did Nidhi manage to get through medical college? And hadn't she also started her internship? How did she manage to cope with her fears?"
"Ashutosh she was always accompanied wherever she went. Bhuaji and I made sure of that, and actually so did Mallika. She was absolutely fanatical about it. She made sure Nidhi was not left alone for a minute, outside the house. She even coached Nidhi, herself during her exams. I hate to say it, but I think Mallika worked harder to make Nidhi a doctor, then she had worked to make herself one."
"So Why didn't Nidhi complete her internship? What happened to make her quit? I have tried several times to coax her into joining the hospital, but she adamantly refuses, woh sunne ko tayyar hi nahin hai. Kyon Aunty."
"I don't know all of this part. Bhua does. Aapko unse poochni hogi yeh baat. Par jo mujhe pata hai, woh mai bataa deti hoon. Apparently Mallika got Nidhi into the internship at CCHH, through her connections. You are aware of that, right? (Ashutosh nods) Well something happened, I don't know what, that triggered a memory. Nidhi started having nightmares, and remembering things. Small bits and pieces really. Mujhe zyada nahin pataa, par apparently Nidhi gave one of her patients the wrong medicine. He had an allergic reaction and nearly died. But Luckily for Nidhi, Mallika uss samay hospital mein thi. Woh usse pick up karne gayi thi, and she saved him. But, she gave Nidhi a thorough dressing down in front of everybody. Uss din se Nidhi refuses to even set foot in any hospital, even as a patient, let alone in the capacity of a physician. Baaki details toh aapko Bhua, yah one of the senior Doc's jo wahan the uss samay at CCHH, woh hi de sakte hain..."
It took Ashutosh several several minutes to digest all of this.
"Aunty Why has no one ever done anything about Mallika? Col. Verma, what about him? Why has he not done anything? Mallika told me that Nidhi had gotten therapy for her PTSD, then why is she still like this?"
Shyama looked surprised,
"Ashutoshji, other than those days after the incident at the police station, when Nidhi was treated at the hospital, She has not gotten any outside help. I don't know why, but Mallika lied to you. She is the only one who has ever taken care of Nidhi."
This was another piece in a long series of mysteries, regarding his wife.
"Aunty, Nidhi ko kitna pataa hai?"
"Almost nothing. Humne usse kabhi kuch nahin bataya. But Bhua And I have done our best to protect Nidhi. Jamai Babu, please don't get me wrong. Mallika...Well...Mallika is not what she seems. She does care for Nidhi in her way I suppose, but I can honestly say that she has single handedly done everything she could to destroy that little girl. The only respite that Nidhi got was when she went to London those 2-3 years for her training. Other than that, that child has lived her whole life under her thumb. That is why Bhua and I were so happy when you married Nidhi, that is why when you and your father made that proposal, Bhua jumped at the chance to get her away from the house. After Bhabhi's death Bhaisahab, has paid no attention to Nidhi. He let Mallika take over her upbringing. Maine koshish kari thi, ke Nidhi hamare paas rahe, par Mallika persuaded her father against it."
After a few minutes, Ashutosh stood up,
"Aunty I don't know what to say, or how to react. I am furious. Basically as I understand it, Nidhi's father is a coward, who gave his tiny daughter over to a sadistic psychopath to raise. I am surprised that she has turned out the way she has. None of you deserved to have her. Well By the grace of god, and the fates, she is mine now. And I will take care of her and make her whole. And I will never ever let anything or anyone hurt her ever again. I think that you should let Dadi Bhua know that I know everything, and tell her that she should keep Col. Verma away from me. Because as I am feeling right now, I am likely to forget that he is Nidhi's father. Jahan tak Mallika ki Baat hai, well I guess that someone up there loves me, because I was spared from marrying a madwoman, and given an angel instead. Aur aap aur Dadi Bhua, well main yeh toh nahin kahunga ke aap dono ne kuch galat kiya hai, par haan yeh zaroor kahunga ke aap dono ne Nidhi ke saath accha nahin kiya. I am sorry If I hurt your feelings, but that is the way I feel right now!"
"I can understand your state of mind. And I agree with you. Bhuaji and I should have done something. When I think back...Khair the past can't be undone. Lekin agar aapko kabhi bhi meri zaroorat pade to please don't hesitate. Shayad aap iss baat ko nahin maane, lekin mere liye Nidhi Anji se kam nahin hai."
"Nahin Aunty, aap galat hain. Agar yeh sach hota, toh aaj ke din Nidhi ki yeh halat nahin hoti."
And with that, Ashutosh turned and walked out of the house.
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