Joined: 05 June 2012
The silence following that statement is deafening. Neither of them takes their eyes away from the other. It's as if the statement hasn't sunk into either of them. Then Nidhi, still looking into his eyes repeats softly. "I love you Dr Ashutosh!" Ashu swallows, looks away from her and turns his back on her and grips the back of the chair with one hand: Don't..don't be ridiculous Nidhi.
Nidhi: Aap ko shaayad wahi lage par isse sachchai toh badal nahi jaayegi na..aur sach toh yahi hain ki mein aap se pyaar karn..
Ashu doesn't let her finish her sentence: Stop it Nidhi! Just stop it! (Then he gives a tired sigh and rubs his forehead.) Nidhi, jise tum pyaar samajh rahi ho woh darasal kuch aur hain. And it's common for the students and interns to get attracted to their bosses. It's just a phase you are going through.
Nidhi doesn't move from her place where she is standing: Sir, I think mujh mein itni samajh toh hain ki mein inn do baaton mein differenciate kar sakoon. I know that..
Ashu: That what? That you love someone who is almost double your age? Aur tum mere baare mein jaanti kya ho? I was just being nice to you iska yeh matlab nahi hain ki..
Nidhi: Sir, please! I never even intended to tell you all this..at least not now and certainly not like this. But now I have and I am not taking it back. And we can probably always explain why we hate a person and give out our reasons in a list. Par kisi se pyaar kyon karte hain, iski wajah koi nahi bata sakta.
Ashu waves his hand as if pushing away her words: Nidhi, enough now, I don't want to talk about this any more and I don't want YOU to talk about this anymore. I will forget that we ever had this conversation and I suggest you do the same. (He closes his eyes tightly. Say yes Nidhi..just say yes and leave me.)
Nidhi: No sir.
Ashu bangs his fist on the table in frustration: Fine then! Do whatever you want. Just leave me out of it. (Saying that, he snatches his keys from the table and leaves the cabin without looking at her even once. She stays where she is until she has her emotions and expressions under control before walking out of the cabin to face the world. First one to come to her is Jyothika, who goes as far as giving a hug in appreciation and Ranganath comes and informs her that he and Dr Rao have convinced the mother and son to file a complaint against Rajendra although he expresses his own doubts as to what kind of action would be taken or even if the wife would stay firm on her decision without withdrawing the report. The rest of the staff gather around to pat her shoulder for being brave enough to get between Dr Heartstone and that guy in that moment.
Rihaan enters for the nightshift to take over from her: You ok Nidhi?
Nidhi sighs and manages a smile: Yeah I am fine. Buss thak gayi hoon and want to go home.
Rihaan: Waise toh I already know what happened today. Jyothika called me. What did Heartstone say after that? She said you ran after him into his cabin. Kya zaroorat thi Nidhi. You should have stayed away. He must have given you a left and right na. It's ok. Dil pe mat lo unki baaton ko ok? You know him right? And all said and done and to be honest, he does have a soft spot for you. Never saw him lecturing you over anything. (And sings in a child's voice,) Teacher's pet, is that you! (He pats her shoulder and continues in a serious tone.) So don't worry. I don't think he is going to take any serious action just because you stopped him from hitting that guy.
Nidhi nods: Yeah, I know. Chalti hoon Rihaan. Kal milte hain. That boy is still in the paediatric ward so keep an eye on him. Ok?
Rihaan: Yup. Will do. I even learnt a bit of taekwondo when I was in school so.. (He winks playfully)
Nidhi makes her way home and is greeted my DB: Tu aagayi Nidhi. Thaki thaki lag rahi hain beta. Ja. Haath muh dhole, mein CS se kehke khaana lagvaati hoon.
Nidhi: Nahi DB, abhi nahi. Thodi der baad Anji ke saath khaloongi. Waise Anji aayi hain kya?
Anji sings in her besura voice from behind: Tumne pukaara aur hum chale aaye..jaan hatheli par leaaye re..
Nidhi smiles a little and loops her arm in hers: Chal andar chal. DB watches both friends go inside and mumbles: Subah ko bhi teek se nahi khaaya. Der horahi hain kehke bhaag gayi. Aur ab..
CV: Bua, khaalegi. Let her relax for a bit na. (DB reluctantly nods. Nidhi and Anji go to Nidhi's room where she quickly freshens up and changes clothes.)
Nidhi looks at her friend and says without any preamble: I told him Anji.
Anji looks confused for a second and slowly horror dawns on her face: WHAT? You mean, you told Dr Ashutosh….? That..? you…? (Nidhi nods her head. After a few seconds of stunned silence, Anji recovers enough to ask) Kab? I mean..kaise..I mean..kya kaha unhon ne?
Nidhi throws the towel aside and plops on the bed with a sigh: Filhaal toh he believes that I have a crush over him and I will get over it soon enough. I think its going to take time to convince him. And I will do it Anji. I WILL convince him that what I feel for him is not going to fade away or disappear with time. (A kind of peace descends over her.) It's a good thing in a way I guess. Now I don't have to worry..kahu ya na kahu..kya..kab..yeh sab. I am actually relieved in a way.
Worry is evident in Anji's eyes: Nidhi..yaar..ek baar aur sochle. Yeh raasta jo tumne chuna hain na..woh utna aasaan nahi hain jitna tu samajhrahi hain.
Nidhi's eyes portray her determination to stand by her feelings and decisions: Jaanti hoon Anji. And I am prepared. I know that at this point of time I don't even know what HE feels for me.. Anji: Baat sirf Dr Ashutosh ki nahi hain Nidhi. He is elder to you by 18-20 years. Your family, society..Nidhi..
Nidhi: I am ready to face anything and anyone Anji. Yes, baba and DB will object. But they will understand after a while. Aur tum kis society ki baat kar rahi ho yaar. Those who know me will understand and support me. And those who don't, why should I care what they have to say! Agar woh mera saath de toh mein kuch bhi face karsakti hoon.
Ashu, once leaving the cabin, makes his way to his car. Staff literally back off seeing him striding out and no one even thinks of approaching him, and pray that his eyes don't fall on them. He has the face of stone but his eyes hold a kind of wildness, pain and desperation. He backs out his car from the parking lot and drives off with only one destination in mind..the squash court. People assumed it to be his hobby but none save a couple knew it to be what it is..an outlet for Dr Heartstone. A man who feels so much and expresses so little that he chose this game to as an outlet to all those suppressed feelings. Now, he goes there with a kind of grim determination, throws away his coat, rolls up his sleeves, shuts the glass door and starts his game. But it's not a game that he is playing. Each shot of the bat is delivered with such force that it's a wonder the ball is still withstanding it. It's as if he is fighting a battle with a demon and soon his shirt is drenched in sweat but there is no sign of him slowing down until his body refuses to punish itself anymore and he collapses on the floor on his knees with sweat rolling off his face and dripping on the floor..and still the only thing he keeps hearing is, "I have fallen in love with you. I love you." No. No Nidhi. It is not love. Yeh pyaar nahi hain. Yeh pyaar nahi hosakta. Its just infatuation..a crush. And you will realize it soon enough. I will make you realize it.
A week later:
Ashu enters his cabin in KGH and comes to a dead halt before collapsing into his chair with a rough groan. His glance once again falls on the flowers on the table..roses again! Iss ladki ka mein kya karoo? I removed the flower vase the day after she told me that she loves me..thats the first thing I did. I wanted her to stop wishing me with those flowers. But the next day she had put the flowers in a glass of water. The next I had removed the glass and she got a new flower vase of her own. I know what she is doing. She is telling me that she is not going to give up. I have stopped interacting with her as much as possible given the fact that her duty now is in my department. I have made sure my lunch timing never coincides with hers. And still I see her looking at me with her wide eyes and a tentative smile on her face. (He covers his face with his palms) Nidhi..please Nidhi..don't do this to me. Just back off. Please! I can fight myself. I can fight you. I can't do both. Don't tempt me with something that I can't have Nidhi. I can't do this! Please..leave me alone!
There is a slight knock on his door before Ranga walks in: Sir..the OT is ready. (Ashu takes a deep breath and nods before starting to remove his wrist watch) Dr Ashutosh, Jyothika is supposed to be your scrub for today but..
Ashu frowns: But?
Ranga: Sir, she took an emergency leave as her mother is not well and..
Ashu: Ok. So who is the replacement? Rihaan?
Ranga: Rihaan just finished his nightshift and went home. So it's going to be Nidhi.
Ashu doesn't speak for a moment: You informed her?
Ranga: Yes sir. She is on her way to the OT now. (then as if suddenly remembering,) Aur haan..sir..woh abused mother child..they have been discharged safely into the hands of the lady's brother. She is going to stick to her police statement. (Ashu nods his head and makes his way to the OT)
Nidhi picks up her phone as soon as it rings. It's the 3rd call from home since she has come to KGH in the morning: Ji boliye DB.
DB: Tabiyat kaisi hain ab?
Nidhi sighs: DB, please, abhi mein theatre mein jaarahi hoon. I told you I am ok. Please don't nag like this.
DB: Arre subah bukhaar tha..I told you to take an off but you..
Nidhi: DB, I have to go now. OT mein hoon toh I am going to switch off my phone. Please don't worry. I am fine.
DB: Arre par…(Too late..The phone is disconnected and switched off. Nidhi puts the phone in her pocket, turns to get her mask and gloves and comes face to face with Ashutosh. She instinctively lowers her eyes, swallows then braces herself and looks at him with pink cheeks and tentative smile: Good Morning Dr Ashutosh! (Ashu goes off to get changed and scrubbed without giving a reply to her greeting. Soon surgery begins with Nidhi keeping track of the patient's BP and pulse while Ashu starts the operation. After about 30 minutes, Nidhi starts feeling giddy. She shakes her head a little to clear her vision but darkness starts evading the edges of her vision.)
Ashu: Nidhi, artery forceps please. (No response) NIDHI, artery forceps! (She takes the forceps and passes it to him before fainting dead away in the OT.) God ******! NIDHI! Vijay, see to her. Check her pulse.
Dr Vijay: Dr Ashutosh, I will take care of it. You please carry on. Don't worry. Intern hain. Pehli surgery hain shaayad…
Ashu: This is NOT her first surgery. Come on man, do something. Sprinkle some water, slap her, shake her..
Dr Vijay bends down to check Nidhi's pulse: Dr Ashutosh, please!? Just relax. I have things under control. Aap please apne patient par dhyaan deejiye.
Ashu nods his head and turns back towards the surgery. One of the staff nurse gets a cloth to wipe his forehead of the sweat that's gathered there. For the rest of the surgery, he forcefully pushes everything else aside and concentrates on the patient, whose life is literally in his hands. Finally everything gets done without any further hiccups and Ashu walks out of the OT to come face to face with Ranganath.
Ashu grabs Ranga's arm: How is Nidhi? Where is she? What happened to her?
Ranganath gives a sidelong glance at the rest of the staff who are unashamedly listening in: Sir, she is fine. Surgery went well?
Ashu: Yes. Surgery went well. Has Nidhi been admitted or something?
Ranganath lowers his voice considerably and politely but firmly removes his arm from Ashu's grip: Sir. Please tone down your volume. Aap toh jaante hain, people don't need any reason to gossip but you are giving them reason now. Dr Ashutosh, I am not trying to interfere into your private business, but sir, the staff is already speculating on this issue. So, please..
Ashu nods his head and walks off. After a quick look around, Ranga also follows him into the cabin: Nidhiji is fine sir. She has temperature. 101. She told me she took paracetamol this morning but I gave her another one and sent her home for the day and gave her an off for tomorrow too.
Ashu nods his head and wearily removes the surgical cap: I am sorry Ranganath. I just..
Ranganath: Its ok sir. I understand.
Ashu looks at Ranga: And there is nothing to speculate on Ranganath..absolutely NOTHING. I hope I am making myself clear. (Ranga gives a small nod in acceptance and underatanding before leaving the cabin.)
That night: Ashu's residence:
BB looks up from his dinner plate: Ashu..tu aagaya? Chal jaldi de fresh hoke aaja. Saath mein khaate hain.
Ashu runs a distracted hand through his already ruffled hair: Nahi baba. Bhook nahi hain. Aap khaalijiye.
BB: Kya baat hain beta? Kuch hua hain kya KGH mein? Pichle kuch dino se tu..
Ashu sighs: Kuch nahi baba. Mein teek hoon. Buss..thak gaya hoon. Sona chahta hoon.
BB looks at his face for a moment. He sees so much pain in his son's eyes. Why doesn't he open up? He never opens up. Kuch achcha hain toh share karta hain. Lekin saara dard apne andar dabaa deta hain. My 35 years of love is not able to wipe out the first 7 years of horror of my son's life: Teek hain. Ooper apne kamre mein ja. Mein Hiraman se kehkar tumhaareliye dood bhejta hoon. Peelena. Khaali pet sote nahi hain.
Ashu nods and climbs up the stairs to his room and almost collapses on the bed. How is she doing now? Why did she have temperature? Change of weather? Or some infection? Did she get herself checked? (He takes his phone out and searches out her number and just keeps looking at the name displayed..Nidhi!) God..I want to call and ask her how she is doing. No..I can't do that. I won't do that. But how will I know! (His fingers glide over the screen that's displaying her name) Take rest Nidhi. And get well soon. Ok?
DB extends another spoonful of rice: Ab achchi bachchi ki tarah yeh khaake dawai lele aur soja. Teek hain? (Nidhi nods as her fingers continue to fiddle with her phone) Kal chutti li?
Nidhi gives a tired sigh: Ji DB. Aur aap tension mat leejiye. Maamuli sa bukhaar hain. Kal tak teek hojayega. (She finishes her light dinner and DB gives her the meds and water.) Mein sojaaungi DB. Aap bhi jaake apna dinner keejiye. Baba waise hi der se lautne waale hain aaj. 2 din baad orphanage centre mein function hain na. (DB nods, kisses Nidhi's forehead tenderly and leaves after another instruction to relax and sleep tight. Nidhi looks at her phone with longing in her eyes.) Aap mera haal poochnekeliye bhi call nahi karenge? I know you are probably still angry with me and all..but..I still thought..hoped.. (With a deep sigh, she hugs the phone and slides off to sleep.)
BB enters his son's room to find him asleep with his phone still in his hand. He quietly takes the phone and puts it on the table before running a soft hand through Ashu's hair. Even in sleep you frown beta. Aisa kaunsa dard hain jo tu sab se chuparaha hain? He backs off and goes to his room and takes his phone out: Hello? Armaan?
A loud joyous shout is heard from the other end: BABA? Hi! Kaise hain aap?
BB grins: I am ok Armaan. How are you? Aur Mansi aur Anjali kaise hain?
Armaan: Aaki bahu Maansi aur poti Anjali are busy irritating me. Unka aajkal yeh favourite past time hain baba. (BB laughs) Aur batayiye baba..Ashu kaisa hain?
BB: Ussi ke baare mein baat karni thi Armaan. Ashu..kuch teek nahi hain Armaan. He seems..I don't know..down..lost..kuch hua hain Armaan..he is in pain and is trying to hide it from me. You are the only one he is close to Armaan. Baat karke dekh beta..shaayad tujhe kuch bataye.
Armaan remains silent for a couple of seconds: Ji baba. Aap chinta mat keejiye. I will be there by day after tomorrow evening.
Armaan interrupts: baba..Delhi se Lucknow zyaada door nahi hain. Aur Ashu phone pe toh kuch bolega nahi. I will be there. Take care baba.
BB: You too beta. Goodnight. Mansi aur Anjali ko mera hello bolna. (BB disconnects the call and relaxes a little.)
One day later: Afternoon: Ashu's cabin:
Nidhi is busy removing the old wilted flowers and replacing them with fresh ones when the door to the cabin suddenly opens and someone enters. Nidhi turns and looks at the stranger. A man of about 40, average height and a little on the stout side with joyful eyes: Ji?
"I have come to meet Ashu..I mean Dr Ashutosh."
Nidhi: Woh iss waqt surgery mein hain. Aap unke patient hain?
He laughs: Oh jeez no! Thank God! I am his friend. In one word, uska langoti yaar. My name is Armaan.
Nidhi smiles and extends her hand: Hello Armaanji. Mera naam Nidhi hain. Sir ki intern hoon. Aap please baitiye. Sir surgery mein hain. Aate hi honge.
Armaan shakes her hand and he adds a bit humorously: Oh I saw you changing flowers and thought he got himself a new secretary. Nice meeting you Nidhi. or should I call you Dr Nidhi?
Nidhi: Nidhi is fine Armaanji. Aap kuch lenge? Chai? Coffee?
Before Armaan could answer, Ashu walks into the cabin pulling away his head cap and mask. His face lights up as soon as it falls on his friend: Armaan! Tum kab aaye? (Both hug each other and pat each other's backs with obvious affection.)
Armaan: Kaisa hain yaar tu?
Ashu pulls away a little to turn to look at Nidhi, who is observing the exchange with a happy almost indulgent look on her face and his voice turns frosty: You need something Nidhi? (And barely controls his wince as he watches her smile fade and her eyes lose their sparkle. She shakes her head and leaves the cabin closing the door softly behind her.) You came here directly from the airport? (He gestures towards Armaan's bag and receives a nod in reply.) Chal ghar chalke thoda fresh hoja phir baat karte hain. Wait here for a few minutes and I will tell Ranganath that I am going home for the day. Ok?
He quickly turns to go and in his haste, his hand knocks the flower vase and it starts to topple. In a lightening fast relex he stops the fall, puts the vase back in its place and softly touches the flowers to make sure they are ok and the petals are not crushed which give the speculations of Armaan a direction. Sure enough, an hour later, both friends settle down in the balcony of Ashu's house with their tea cups and after a few minutes of catching up Armaan asks: Ab bata..baat kya hain? Chehra kyon utra hua hain? No point trying to deny it. Baba already told me something is bothering you. So out with it.
Ashu leans back in his chair: Kuch nahi yaar..buss..thak gaya hoon. I feel..helpless. (He closes his eyes) Pata nahi kyon apne aap ko bahut akela mehsoos kar raha hoon.
Armaan: Koi khaas wajah? (When Ashu doesn't reply, Armaan tilts his head a little and studies his friend more closely) Tu kisi ko chahne lagahain na? (Ashu swallows and after a few moments answers with a jerky nod) Kaun hain woh?
Ashu stares at the empty cup in his hands: Nidhi..Intern hain KGH mein. You met her today na..
Armaan nods: Aur..woh?
Ashu looks up at his lifelong friend: She says she is in love with me. (Armaan's face lights up but before he could open his mouth, Ashu's hand stalls him) No Armaan. I didn't tell her about my feelings and nor am I going to tell her.
Armaan: Par kyon?
Ashu gets up: You know why Armaan. You know my past. You know my views on marriage and children. Aur agar mein yeh maan loon ki what she feels for me is not some crush and that it is love, then what? What would she get in return for that love Armaan? A guy nearly 20 years older than her..ridicule from family and society..a guy who has a very good chance of abusing her in future..a future which won't involve any children..
Armaan catches Ashu's shoulders and shakes him: Ashu..you are not your father. I know you..I see the way you are with Anjali..she adores you and I would trust her with you any time.
Ashu shakes his head: But I always make sure I am never alone with Anjali. You trust me but I don't trust myself. Jaane de Armaan. She will get over me soon enough and move on.
Armaan: And if she doesn't? Ashu..zindagi mein kisi ka saath hona bahut zaroori hain..someone who will accept us as we are and be with us no matter what. Aur agar zindagi tumhe yeh mauka deraha hain toh usse gavao mat mere dost.
Ashu shakes his head but before he could say more, HK interrupts: Ashu beta, tumse milne koi Yograj Vermaji aaye hain.
Ashu looks at Armaan apprehensively: Nidhi ke baba. (And goes down quickly. Yograj gets up and both men shake hands. Ashu gestures him to have a seat.) How are you?
Yog smiles: I am fine Ashutosh. Thank you. I just came to invite you for the charity function tomorrow. Uss din meine aap se kaha tha na.. (Yog extends the invitation and Ashu receives it with a nod) Zaroor aayiyega. All of us from Nandini Shelter will be looking forward. So please do come.
Ashu: Ji. Zaroor. Thank you for inviting me. Kuch lenge? Chai..
Yog gets up: Phir kabhi. I still need to invite others. But wanted to invite you first. Ab ijaazat deejiye. Chalta hoon. (Ashu walks him till his car and after another sincere invitation to attend, Yograj leaves.)
Next day evening:
The function has been arranged in the open ground accompanying the centre's main building. A dias has been set up with a few chairs on it and rows of chairs occupy half the ground area, leaving the rest of the half for the buffet dinner which would be held after the function. Both Nidhi and Anji are wearing saris, although are in no way heavily decked up. Nidhi is near the stage welcoming the guests and showing them their seats. Ashu is one of the last guests to arrive and CV personally welcomes him and takes him over to the front row. Once he is seated, Nidhi comes and extends a flower bonquet in a formal gesture of welcome. Her hopeful searching eyes meet his veiled ones before he blinks and looks away making her step back. Function starts and after a welcoming speech, program starts. Children are divided into 2 sets. The first group of 6 sing a folk song and the second group, under the choreography of one of CV's army buddies; do a dance for a patriotic song. Then some of the old/regular members of the centre take over the stage. Some sing and some do a kind of humorous skit which has everyone including Ashu laughing out loud.
Finally CV takes the mike: Before we conclude the program and proceed for dinner, I would like to say something. There is a person here today who has made a huge contribution to our centre on his first visit. Lots of people here probably know him or heard of his name one time or the other. Dr Ashutosh, Neurosurgeon and Dean of KGH. Please, Dr Ashutosh, I would like you to come here and say a few words, if you don't mind. Ashu looks hugely embarrassed by the whole thing. After a slight hesitation, he adjusts his eye glasses and stands up. Audience give a huge round of applause to which he responds with a small smile. In the dark grey suit, dark green tie, he looks dashing to Nidhi who keeps staring at him without blinking: Hello Everyone! As I told Col.Verma the other day, I think when it comes to running a centre of this kind, contributing financially is the easiest thing a person can do. It's the rest of it that's an uphill task, which the whole team is doing a commendable job of for the past 5 yrs. Please keep up the good work. Thank you. (With a nod, he turns to hand the mike over to Yograj only to see that Nidhi has taken her father's place.) She silently takes the mike from him and turns towards the audience: Good evening everyone! I am Nidhi..daughter of Nandini and Yograj Verma. Yahaa ke sabhi bachche bhale hi khoon ke rishte se na bandhe ho lekin dil ke rishte se zaroor bandhe hain. Aur dil ka rishta khoon ke rishte se kam nahi hota hain na? Meri maa hamesha kehti thi ki pyaar iss duniya mein sabse khaas aur ajeeb rishta hain..kab..kyon..kaise yeh koi nahi bata sakta..(Her eyes land on Ashu and stay there) Lekin jab ek baar woh rishta banjaata hain toh woh zindagi bhar keliye rehjaata hain..humaare saath..harr sukh mein..harr dukhdard mein..harr haal mein..aakhri saans tak. (Her gaze covers the audience once again) Today, I want to sing a song..one of my mom's most favourite one. (She closes her eyes and starts singing. By the end of the first line, the audience is spellbound by her clear melodious voice.)
Zaraa Si Aahat Hoti Hai To Dil Sochtaa
Kahin Ye Vo To Nahin, Kahin Ye Vo To Nahin
Chhup Ke Sine Mein Koi Jaise Sadaa Detaa Hai
Shaam Se Pehle Diyaa Dil Ka Jalaa Detaa Hai
Hai Usi Ki Ye Sadaa, Hai Usi Ki Ye Adaa
Kahin Ye Vo To Nahin
Nidhi opens her eyes to see Ashu bend a little to say something to her father who is sitting right beside him before getting up and walking out of the function without a backward glance. A slight break in her voice is the only indication of how his departure has affected her.
Shakl Phirti Hai Nigaahon Mein Vohi Pyaari Si
Meri Nasnas Mein Machalne Lagi Chingari Si
Chhuu Gai Jism Meraa Kiske Daaman Ki Havaa
Kahin Ye Vo To Nahin
His quick strides carry him to the parking lot where he backs out the car with a slight squeal of the tyres. He reaches home in record time and shuts and locks his room door before collapsing on his knees on the floor. His breath heaves in an effort to hold back his loud wail..a cry of pain from the lone wolf. Why Nidhi? Why do you love me? The more I push you, the more you pull me along with you! Meine apne kile ke darwaaje band karliye the Nidhi..lekin tumne ek suraag banaakar mere dil tak pahoonch hi gayi! (The words of her song echo in his ears..Choogayi jism mera kiske daaman ki hawaa..he turns his face away as if rejecting those words. He sees his mother's battered helpless face and his father's twisted with rage and hatred and closes his eyes. Then strangely he feels a soft hand over his forehead and loving fingers combing through his hair. He feels the glide of a pair of soft lips all over his face taking away all the pain with them. He automatically reaches out his hand to touch that face and opens his eyes when it encounters emptiness. Temptation to reach out gnaws his insides.) May be I am not like my father. May be I really am different. May be..(He shakes his head) May be if she were closer to my age..may be if I was closer to hers..then may be..but not now. I can't subject her to family opposition and society's ridicule. She needs time away from me. (That thought immediately takes root) That's it. I need to go off..stay away from her. Completely. I should go off and without me around constantly, she will give up and move on. (He quickly takes his phone out and speed dials) Ranganath, call an emergency HOD meet. Tomorrow. 9 AM. Sharp. Yes..thank you. And please make sure all HODs are present.
Next day afternoon: Around 3.30:
Nidhi walks into KGH for her duty only to be stopped by Priyanka at the entrance: Nidhi..did you hear?
Nidhi frowns: Hear what?
Priyanka: Dr Ashutosh left KGH.
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Nidhi stares at Priyanka uncomprehendingly: I don't understand..left where?
Priyanka looks at Nidhi with something close to pity in her eyes: Nidhi..Dr Ashutosh took a sabbatical as of this morning and left KGH. No one knows where he went and when or if he would be back. He called a HOD meet this morning, handed over everything to Dr Khanna and left. (Nidhi stumbles back a little and Priyanka catches her and guides her to the near by chair) Sambhalke Nidhi..le thoda paani peele
Nidhi pushes away the glass: Nahi..mein..mein teek hoon. Kahaa gaye tumhe kuch pata hain kya? Unofficially?
Priyanka: Nahi. Kissi ko kuch nahi pata. Dr Ranganath ko bhi nahi. Lots of the PG students pounced on him but he, like the rest of us had no answer. (She looks at Nidhi with concern) Tum teek ho? Nidhi..(She shakes her gently)
Nidhi nods and gets up on unsteady feet to go to Ashu's cabin. Everything is left as it is..except..(Her glance takes in the whole room and stops at his table) the flower vase that she had kept a few days back is missing. Did you remove that one too? Kya hua? Aise bina bataye kyon chalegaye? Did my feelings towards you bother you so much? Is that why you left? Am I the reason behind all this? Am I the reason you left your father, KGH, patients, interns and PG students..ME..Did I force you into taking this step? Lekin meine toh kabhi koi shart nahi rakhi thi na ki aap mere pyaar ko kabool kare? Did you feel cornered? Is that why you left? But I never once..Or..do you like someone else? (She immediately rejects the idea) No..you would have told me point blank if that were the case. Aap ko mein jaanti hoon. (Her eyes fill up but she forcefully wipes them away) Why did I even open my mouth that day! Agar mein chup rehti toh shaayad aaj aap aisa nahi karte na. Sab meri wajah se hain. Lekin mein aur karti bhi kya? I am not the kind to forever hide my feelings. You should have just told me that you don't..that I should..Ab mein kya karu? Agar aap aise bina bataye chale jaayenge toh mein kaise batapaaungi aap ko ki..mein toh sirf..I just want to love you..I love you. Kaha chale gaye..yeh kaise pata chalega mujhe? (An idea strikes her) Baba..unka baba..Dr Mathur jaante honge ki woh kaha gaye..nahi..how do I ask him? He would think it odd na. I don't have the right to barge into their house and demand answers now, do I?
Ranga enters Ashu's cabin and looks at Nidhi with understanding eyes: Nidhi..(Startled, Nidhi looks up. He comes further into the cabin and closes the door) Nidhi..control yourself. Please. Sir has left and you need to accept that. Apna dard apne paas rakho. Isko bahut kam log samajhpaayenge Nidhi. Don't show it to the world. (Nidhi takes a deep shuddering breath and nods) Do you want me to call Anji? Or may be take an off for today..I will..
Nidhi shakes her head before he could complete: Nahi Ranganathji..I am fine. Give me 10 minutes and I will report to Dr Khanna. I assume he is the HOD for me right now? (Ranga nods and gives a gentle pat on her shoulder before leaving. Nidhi has no memory of how the rest of her shift and funtions purely on autopilot. She literally dumps the cases on Jyothika before signing off and leaving at 8. Everything that she has been bottling up since the afternoon bursts forth as soon as she enters her room and sees Anji sitting and waiting for her there. The flood gates open then as she hugs her childhood friend and cries her heart out. Anji lets her cry for as long as she needs to let everything out, wipes her tears, washes her face and gets her a tall glass of juice.)Toote zamaane tere haath nigode, haath nigode
Anji: Nidhi, sambhal apne aap ko. Sab kuch teek hojaayega.
Nidhi hiccups with her head resting in Anji's lap: Nahi Anji, he wouldn't leave and go off without a word like that. Why did he do that? Was I so bad that..
Anji: Shhh..chup. Aisa kisne kahaa tumse? May be he had some other reason na Nidhi..Koi emergency hue ho..
Nidhi shakes her head: No. It's got to do with me. I just know it. Something happened when I sang that song. I saw it in his face last night. He just got up and walked out. I should have known..I should have known that I was being too..(Anji silently pats her, lending her friend her silent unconditional support and silently praying that Nidhi would come out of this latest set back relatively unscathed.)
Delhi: Residence of Armaan:
Armaan knocks and enters the guest room: You need anything else Ashu?
Ashu continues to gaze out of the balcony: I am fine Armaan. Buss ek do din ki toh baat hain..since I have been accepted on the teaching side, AIIMS will be providing the accommodation. Armaan comes to stand beside him: Why do you want to stay somewhere else? You can stay with us na. Itna bada ghar hain..
Ashu shakes his head: Nahi Armaan. Mujhe galat mat samajhna yaar par mein akela rehna chaahta hoon.
Armaan walks back into the room and opens Ashu's carry on and takes out a carefully wrapped package: Taaki tum isko dekh dekh ke apna dil behlasako. Haina?Baag ujad gaye khilne se pehle
Ashu opens the bubble wrap. Inside is the flower vase that Nidhi had placed on his desk at KGH. After the HOD meeting and handing over process, he had gone into his cabin and picked it up. His fingers lovingly trace the intricate pattern on it: I could not leave it behind Armaan. She bought it for me..you know..I got a vase initially and then when I wanted her to stop putting the flowers, I took off the vase. She put them in a glass. I took off the glass and she got this one. Roz rakhti thi phool mere liye..it was her way of saying good morning I guess. You know she is an intern, right? (Armaan nods and continues to watch his friend lost in his own world of memories.) So her duty timings used to change. I used to keep track of her duties basing on when the flowers got changed. You know Armaan..I had decided long back that I will not marry. I will NOT have kids of my own. And I was fine with that. Never once I regretted taking that decision. Then'then one day, this girl entered my life. With her beautiful eyes and her teasing smile. Without realizing I started falling for her. Pyaar kab hua pata hi nahi chala yaar. Aur jab pata chala..(He runs a distracted hand through his hair) I tried everything that I could think of to make her back off but..
Armaan: Ashu..if she really loves you..
Ashu shakes his head: No Armaan. That's why I came here. Once I am out of the picture, she will not have anything to cling on to. She will give up and move on with her life. Get married, have kids of her..(His throat gets clogged up and pain rips his insides at that thought but he forces himself to go on) She will find someone else. She HAS to.
Armaan sighs: Chalo bhai..yeh bhi dekhlete hain. Ab chal..Maansi is calling us for dinner and Anjali wants you show you her plant project.
One month later:
CV calls Anji as soon as she walks into Nidhi's house: Anji beta..tumse kuch baat karni thi.
Anji: Ji boliye uncle.
CV and DB make her sit beside them: Beta, Nidhi ko hua kya hain? Na kissi se kuch teek se bolti hain na hasti hain na muskuraati hain..udaas rehti hain..
DB intervenes: Aur kitni patli hogayi hain meri bachchi. Lunch box lejaati hain aur aadhe din bina khaaye hi waapas laati hain..kehti hain time nahi hain.
CV: Aur ek mahine mein itne night shifts? Beta baat kya hain?
Anji sighs but tries to reassure: Kuch nahi uncle. I think uske PG exams ki wajah se thoda tense hain. Aur Nandini aunty ko bhi miss kar rahi hain shaayad. Aap fikr mat keejiye.
DB: Arre fikr kaise na kare Anji beta. She is so thin that she has started to look gaunt. She has dark circles under her eyes. She keeps prowling around the house most of the night. (Then she turns her now angry face to Yog) Iss sab ki wajah toh tum ho Yog! You shouldn't have joined her in that dactar college. Kya zaroorat thi..
CV starts to get irritated: Arre bua woh doctor banna chahti thi!
(Before Anji or DB could say more, Nidhi walks in. Everyone quieten down) Nidhi beta..aagayi tum? Chai peeyogi?
Nidhi looks her father with dull expressionless eyes: Nahi baba. Baad mein. Thodi der sona chaahti hoon. Thak gayi hoon. (She gives her tiffin box to CS and walks off into her room. Anji gestures to CV and DB that she would talk and quickly follows Nidhi. DB mumbles a silent prayer to Bajrangbali to help her bachchi. Anji comes into the room to find Nidhi come out of the rest room. Both friends sit on the bed and as has become the habit for the past one month, Nidhi puts her head in Anji lap and closes her eyes.)
Anji runs her hand through Nidhi's hair: Nidhi, ek baat boolu? (Nidhi nods) Jo bhi hota hain na apne bhale keliye hi hota hain. I understand what you are going through but you can't get distracted from your aim right now. Buddy you have to start pulling yourself together and think of your career. You have your PG exams coming up. You need make baba proud Nidhi..you need to fulfil Nandini maa's dream. Sambhaal apne aap ko. Meri dost Nidhi tootkar bikharne waalon mein se nahi hain. (Nidhi sits up straight and nods. Anji gives a relieved sigh to see a light of light back in her friend's eyes.) Now don't think about anything else. Clear your internship successfully and get a good rank in the PG exam. Baad ki baat baad mein sochenge.
Nidhi nods again: Tu sahi kehrahi hain Anji. I can't fall apart like this. I have to start preparing for my tests.
Anji: Aur tum dekhna one year from now you will think of all this and laugh ki tumne kabhi apne boss se..
Nidhi gets up swiftly: Nahi Anji. That's not going to happen and you know that's not going to happen. Today, tomorrow, a year or a decade from now, you ask me and you will get the same answer. I love him and for me, it's either him or no one. That's it. He wants to stay away from me..fine. That's his decision. But that is not going to change what I feel for him. (A lone tear slides down her cheek but she hastily wipes it away) You are right though. I should not break like this. I am not going to break. I won't break. My love for him will be my strength Anji, not my weakness.
Anji gets up to hug her friend: All the best buddy. You know I will be with you no matter what, right? (Nidhi nods and smiles a little for the first time in a month.)
That sets a definite path for Nidhi to follow in the upcoming months. She loses her lost girl look and starts putting her mind and heart into her profession and her studies. Jyothika, Priyanka and Rihaan, along with the most of the doctors at KGH realize her attempts to put her life back together and lend a hand in support. Soon, Dr Kothari, the OBG at KGH takes Nidhi under her wing making sure Nidhi doesn't overdo anything by using any and all tactics at hand from cajoling to outright threatening to kick her out of KGH if she doesn't take regular meals and proper breaks. Nidhi starts going to the library and doing night outs along with her friends. Even Dr Khanna notices and appreciates her dedication and intelligence. CV watches his daughter turn from a girl to a professional woman in front of his eyes and breathes a sigh of relief.
4 months later: Ashu's residence:
BB lifts the phone: Hello?
BB smiles: Ashu..kaisa hain mera bachcha?
Ashu, who is walking around in the campus looks up at the sky and the trees surrounding him. Pata nahi kaise jeeraha hoon baba. Woh kamra..yeh sheher..yeh din..yeh raaten..kaatne ko daudte hain. Ek ek din ek ek saal ki tarah lagta hain baba: Teek hoon baba. Aap kaise hain?
BB: I am fine beta. Missing you a lot. Hiraman bhi tumhe bahut yaad karta hain Ashu. Kab waapas aayega beta?
Ashu sighs: Pata nahi baba. Abhi tak kuch socha nahi.
BB notices the desolation in his son's voice: Beta..aisa kab tak chalega? Running away from the problem never solves the problem Ashutosh. (Ashu hears the sound of door bell) Ashu..hold on ok? Phone rakhna nahi. There is someone at the door.
Ashu: Mein yahi hoon baba. I will wait. (He hears the sound of the door being opened and his baba's delighted voice saying "Nidhi beti..tum? Aao aao andar aao." Everything in him comes to a standstill including his breath as he waits to hear her voice for the first time in 5 months.)
Nidhi tries her best to widen her smile but her cheeks seem to stiffen up: Namaste sir. Kaise hain aap? I am sorry if I am disturbing you. (Joy, pain, love..all emotions chase one another on Ashu's face and he tightens his hold on the phone and searches for a silent corner to avoid the noise of breeze.)
BB surreptiously glances at the phone in his hand before smiling at Nidhi: Arre no beta. Disturbance kaisa. Aaj toh Sunday bhi haina. Baito. HIRAMAN..Dekho toh kaun aaya hain. Kya logi beta..chai..coffee..
Nidhi shakes her head a little awkwardly and fiddles with the box in her hand while perching on the edge of the sofa: Ji nahi sir. Mein..woh..buss..(She swallows and wets her lips before getting up and extending the sweets box to BB) I cleared my internship yesterday sir. I thought..I just thought..I wanted to tell you that. (Ashu brings the phone to his lips and kisses it softly before whispering, "Congratulations Dr Nidhi Verma! I knew you would come out with flying colours. I am proud of you.")
BB places his phone casually on the table beside Nidhi: Wow! Ab Nidhi Dr Nidhi bangayi. (He shakes her hand before taking the sweet box and passing it on to Hiraman. Nidhi bends down to touch his feet and take his blessings.) Arre arre..yeh kya kar rahi ho beti..betiyan paav nahi chuti. God bless you and give you all the success and happiness in life. Meri Bhagwaan se yahi prarthna hain ki tumhaari dil ki har khwaaish poori ho Nidhi. (He sees Nidhi's wide, sad yet hopeful eyes searching the house.) Kisse doond rahi ho beta? (Ashu blinks to clear his vision. "You still think about me, do you? Why?")
Nidhi shakes her head: Ji..kuch nahi. Ab mein chalti hoon sir.
BB: Arre aise kaise? Chai toh peeke jao na..
Nidhi: Nahi sir. Phir kabhi. Abhi chalti hoon. (Ashu closes his eyes. "Thodi der aur ruk jao..talk for some more time Nidhi." Nidhi goes till the door before turning towards BB again) Sir..agar..I have a small request.
BB: Haan beti bolo.
Try as she might to hide, the painful longing that's her constant companion peeps out of her eyes: Ashutosh sir se aap ki baat ho toh unko bhi yeh news dedeejiyega.
BB smiles: Sure beta. I will do that. You take care. Ok?
Nidhi nods and leaves. BB looks at the phone once again before walking towards the kitchen. Let him think I have forgotten all about him being on the line. Aaj achanak match making ka bhoot chadgaya. Kya karen! Ashu cuts the call and immediately opens his contact list in the phone. He searches out Nidhi's number and clicks the edit button before replacing Nidhi with Dr Nidhi. One more touch and the name is changed and saved. Good luck Dr Nidhi. Apna khayaal rakhna.
3 months later: Coffee shop near AIIMS campus:
Ashu looks up from his coffee cup. Armaan is sitting right in front of him but Ashu's gaze falls on the man who has just walked into the coffee shop: Colnel Verma?
Armaan looks around: Kaun?
Ashu gestures towards CV: He is Nidhi's father. Col. Yograj Verma. Retired hain. He runs an orphanage.
Since it is a small coffee shop, CV also notices Ashu almost immediately and makes his way to him with a smile on his face. Both men get up and Ashu shakes hands with CV before introducing Armaan: Sir, aap yahan?
CV: Yeah..I had actually come to meet attend a wedding. One of my colleagues' son got married yesterday. Just stopped here for a cup of coffee before returning back to Lucknow.
Armaan: Please join us..if you don't mind that is.
CV: Sure. Thank you. Aap kya karte hain Mr Armaan? Or is it Dr Armaan? (CV takes his seat and orders a cappuccino for himself)
Armaan grins: I run a fashion house here and in Mumbai. So I am as far from medical field as I can get. (Before he could say more, his phone rings and he gets up and quickly excuses himself after checking the caller id.)
Ashu adjusts his glasses. Nidhi kaise hain? Kahaa hain? Kya kar rahi hain?: Aapka orphanage kaise chalraha hain?
CV nods in a satisfied way: Its going good. One batch left last month after completing their courses and getting jobs. They were anyway over 18..so..
Ashu: Oh..thats great. Did Nidhi give her PG test? Whats the result? She would have excelled na.. so all these kids cleared their 10th?
CV: 2 of them cleared 12th too.
Ashu: I will tell Armaan about your orphanage. His business circle is wide. He will surely pitch in. Has she moved on? Did she get married?
CV looks at Ashu with a smile: Oh that would be really great. Thank you so much Dr Ashutosh. (A few seconds of pause as both men sip their coffee) Toh..aap yahaa kaise?
Ashu: I am teaching at AIIMS currently. I took a sabbatical at KGH a few months back.
CV nods: Yes. Nidhi told me you were on a sabbatical. She said she didn't know any other details. So, you like the teaching aspect of your profession?
Ashu shrugs: It's good. I never thought I would actually enjoy it but..(Another shrug before Ashu makes his voice completely neutral) How is Nidhi doing?
CV: She is doing well. Cleared her internship and got a good rank in PG test too. She chose MD Paediatrics.
Ashu's face lights up and a genuine smile replaces the polite one: She loves kids, right? (CV nods pleased that his daughter created such a good impression among her seniors) So it's a great thing. I am sure she will become a fantastic paediatrician. (He looks at Yog with the smile still lingering in his eyes) It's really wonderful news Col. Verma.
CV gets a faraway look on his face: Haan bhi aur nahi bhi.
Ashu frowns: Matlab? Mein kuch samjha nahi.
CV runs a hand over his bald head, hesitates a little but decides to express his concern: Nidhi..has changed Dr Ashutosh. She doesn't laugh like before..it sounds artificial now..as if she hiding her tears in her laughter. Ya toh college, ya hospital, ya uski dost Anji. Buss.
Ashu looks away and clears his throat a couple of times before talking: May be she is missing her mom sir.
CV shakes his head: I thought so initially. Lekin nahi Ashutosh..kuch aur baat hain. You know..she got admission in Kanpur medical college too. It's considered one of the best colleges in UP but she refused to go and joined at KGH itself. (Then as if suddenly realizing that he is talking to the dean of KGH,) I mean..not that KG medical college is not great but..
Ashu: I understand. Didn't you talk to her about this?
CV: I did. We have always been open with each other. She said "Kuch kehne keliye hain hi nahi toh mein kya bolu baba." Bua..I mean..my aunt and Nidhi's dadibua wants her to get married. Do teen kaafi achche rishte bhi aaye the. (He shakes his head) Manaa kardiya usne. Kehti hain shaadi nahi karni hain. She and DB have regular fights over this. For the first time I am unable to know or judge her feelings. I am sorry..lagta hain mein kuch zyaada bolgaya. I was just..
Ashu: Please don't apologize.
Armaan comes back pocketing his phone: Sorry about that. (And they chat for a while. Armaan collects all the information about the orphanage and promises to pay a visit the next time he is in Lucknow along with the assurance that he would share the information with his friends. Ashu, although is participating in the conversation, Armaan observes that his friend's mind was miles away. Soon, CV takes leave from them both and moves away.) Ashu..you ok?
Ashu locks his jaw: Nidhi..
Armaan: Kya hua Nidhi ko?
Ashu: She has not moved on.
Armaan expression is that of a cat who got the bowl full of cream: I told you didn't I?
Ashu: I went through hell..am going through hell and for what Armaan? Jiskeliye meine yeh faisla liya hain woh toh..
Armaan: Tumse pyaar karti hain Ashu. She loves you. And she is waiting for you. Kya kar raha hain yaar? (Armaan leans forward and grabs Ashu's hands) Dekh Ashu..tera jo bhi problem hain..issue hain..tu jaake batade usko. TALK to her. And let HER decide. Ab yeh tum dono ke zindagi ka sawaal hain yaar..faisla tu akela mat le. It's not fair to her and it's not fair to you either.
Ashu: Par..meri umr?
Armaan smiles: Usse ab tak toh koi farak nahi pada hain toh aage kya padega?
A single ray of hope shines out of his eyes for the first time: Can I..Can I go back?
Armaan grins and slaps his shoulder: Meri jaan, tu beeta hua kal nahi hain jo phir na aasake. Soch mat Ashu..ja.
Exactly one week later:
BB lifts the phone: Haan Ashu..bol beta.
Ashu: Baba..I am coming back.
BB gets up from his chair: SACH? Kab?
Ashu: Kal subah.
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Next day morning: KGH:
Ranga walks along with Ashu and Dr Khanna in the corridor leading to Ashu's cabin: It's really great to have you back sir.
Dr Khanna: Oh no two ways about it. Now, please take charge of KGH asap. I am happy sticking to my department. Yeh poora hospital sambhaalna ab aur nahi hota. See..I already have gone a bit bald here. (He turns to show the back of his head making Ranga smother his laugh behind a cough and Ashu give his lopsided smile.)
Ashu: It's definitely good to be back Khanna. And Ranga already updated me. You did a great job. Don't try to deny it.
All 3 of them reach Ashu's cabin and Dr Khanna shakes hands: Be that as it may, I am still happy being a surgeon. Welcome back once again Ashutosh.
Ashu: Thank you. (Dr Khanna walks off in the other direction and Ranga and Ashu enter Ashu's cabin. Room is as sparkling clean as it had been for the past 8 months, desk all tidied up and neat and another small vase replacing the one he had taken with him, full of colourful tulips. Somehow, the sight of those flowers and that vase is like a punch to his gut. He swallows repeatedly to clear his clogged throat and with slightly trembling fingers touches the flowers lovingly. You never stopped wishing me good morning, did you? You never gave up. Tum kya ho Nidhi? A sudden thought occurs. These flowers are fresh. That means you are already here? He swirls his head in a move to go and open the door and sees Ranga watching him with understanding in his eyes.) Uh..Ranganath..
Ranga: Nidhi comes here every morning around 7.30 and goes to the college after..(He gestures to the flowers and the room in general) She is doing her PG in paediatrics sir. KG medical college mein.
Ashu nods: Jaanta hoon.
Ranga: It's good to have you back sir. We missed you.
And leaves closing the door softly behind him. Impatience kicks in and Ashu starts restlessly prowling in the cabin. When will she come? Do I have to wait until tomorrow morning now? How do I find out? Ranganath? No. Bad idea! That guy already knows but that would be making things too obvious. (He takes out his phone) Shall I call? No! What would I call and say? How will I know when I can see her? Where? How? Soon the management members gather and the meetings and updates that follow keep him busy through the rest of the morning. But for the first time, his impatience and anxiety is shown on his usually stoic face. Around 1.00 he goes to the canteen and sits at their usual place all those months ago. Will she come? She has to eat, right? And 1 to 2 is a lunch break at the college. So she should be here, right? (He checks his watch. 1.08) Where is she? How long does it take to walk from that building to this? Hardly 10 minutes! And she is a brisk walker too. Not one of those docile one who stroll. His reverie gets interrupted.
Dr Kothari: Hello Dr Ashutosh.
Ashu gets up: Hello Dr Kothari. How are you?
Dr K nods: I am fine. I got the news that you are have decided to join us again. Welcome back.
Ashu: Thank you.
Dr K gestures to the empty seat: Is this one taken or may I..?
A heartbeat of pause later, Ashu: Sure..please. (Both take their seats and begin their lunch. Or rather Dr K starts eating while Ashu continues to fiddle with the spoon and push the food around the plate)
Dr K: She doesn't come to the canteen any more Dr Ashutosh.
(Ashu's startled eyes meet Dr K's faintly accusing ones, although her tone is as polite and diplomatic as ever.) She stopped coming to the canteen after you left. Her DB packs her a lunch box and she sits under one of those trees and eats there itself. She went to pieces initially but regrouped later on.
Ashu leaves his plate and gets up: Thank you Dr Kothari.
Dr K nods with a faint smile: Good luck. (Ashu comes out of the canteen and his still restless mind takes him towards the paediatric ward. His feet and heart come to a stand still as he sees her walking towards him in a light blue colour sari and a white coat over it.)
KGH reception desk:
Nidhi: Hi. Can you tell me where Dr Sanjay is? He called for me but he is not in his cabin.
Receptionist: He is in the paediatric ward Dr Nidhi.
Nidhi nods and goes towards the ward. Her glance casually passes through the people around until it lands on Ashu. He seems rooted to the spot and staring right at her. She stops for a second, blinks slowly before smiling a little and walking right past him. Why didn't she even stop? Why did she smile and walk away? Was I wrong in thinking..
"Dr Ashutosh..yeh mere bhai ke MRI reports hain.."
Ashu turns his dazed eyes to the person standing beside him. He takes the reports and walks towards his cabin with the person in tow.
I miss you sir. Jab bhi mein yahaa iss childrens' ward mein aati hoon pata nahi kyon aap ko hi dekhti hoon. I see you stading there..sometimes looking at the children and smiling or sometimes looking at me with your eyebrow raised. Aap ko pata hain aap ko mein kitna miss karti hoon? She quickly makes her way to Dr Sanjay: Good afternoon sir. Aap ne mujhe bulaaya?
Dr Sanjay looks up from the chart: Hi Nidhi..come come. That neonatal jaundice case..did you get the reports?
Nidhi takes out her notebook: Report is not yet ready sir. Too much backlog to clear for them today. So I jotted down the levels from the technician. Bilirubin level is 12mg/dL. It's going down sir. It was 13.5 the last time we checked.
Dr Sanjay nods: That's good then. Tell them to continue the breast feeding. Insufficient milk intake also might be the reason.
Nidhi jots it down: Will do sir. And the child with typhoid, Vivek, is ready for discharge. Reports are all normal.
Dr Sanjay: I will see to that. Had your lunch?
Nidhi: Not yet sir. Will do now.
Dr Sanjay bends down to examine another child: KGH is looking nice today, isn't it?
Nidhi frowns: Ji?
Dr Sanjay nods without looking up: Now that our dean is back..
Nidhi's note pad slips from her fingers: Ji?
Dr Sanjay finally sighs and looks at Nidhi: Dr Ashutosh is back Nidhi. He joined duty again this morning.
Nidhi's entire body jerks a little. She bends down and collects her note pad with a trembling hand and stuffs it in her coat pocket. He is back? But..oh my God! That means I really saw him! I thought..I thought.. She takes her leave from Dr Sanjay as politely as possible under the circumstances and literally flies towards Ashu's cabin and just barges into it.
Ashu looks at the man standing before him: I will talk to Dr Nehru. Aap fikr mat keejiye. Aap ke bhai..(His sentence gets cuts off as the door bursts open and Nidhi almost stumbles inside before coming to a sudden halt. Her panting breath suggests that she has run all the way to his cabin. Her stunned eyes meet his own as they drink in each other's presence.
Aap sach mein yahaa hain? Ya phir se mein koi sapna dekhrahi hoon? You..you have gone down. What happened? Were you not well? Why did you leave? Why did you come back?
Nidhi..see..I have come back! Come back for you. Aankhe taras gayi Nidhi tumhe dekhne ko. Buss..ab jeebharke tumhe dekhna chaahta hoon..mehsoos karna chaahta hoon. You have changed. You look more mature..thinner..you have gone down. Did you miss me so much that you have stopped taking care of yourself?
Both of them come back to this world at the sound of someone calling "Sir?" Ashu blinks and turns back towards the man: Haan..mein..I will talk to Dr Nehru. Aap ka bhai ek kaabil surgeon ke haathon mein hain. Please don't worry. Aap jaake unhe admit karvaayiye. (The man thanks, collects the reports and leaves.)
Ashu turns once again to look at Nidhi and she probably hasn't even blinked after barging into the cabin never mind looking away. He gives her a small smile: Hello Dr Nidhi.
Her eyes just continue to devour him: I..(she swallows) I..thought..I was..seeing..imagining..hallucinating..(Her hand gestures to the corridor vaguely trying to explain her earlier reaction of smiling at him and walking away without any acknowledgement.)
Ashu: Kaisi ho?
Nidhi: Teek hoon..aap..aap kaise hain?
Ashu: Ab teek hoon. (Too many questions and too many confessions battle with each other to be heard over the silence reigning in the cabin.) Your college ends at what..4?
Ashu: I will wait for you in the parking lot..say 4.10? (Nidhi nods like a doll. Her fingers stuff themselves in her whilte coat pocket to resist the temptation of reaching out and touching him just to make sure he really is here..in front her. He realizes that his own eyes darken and he grits his teeth in an effort to hold himself back.) I will see you in the evening then.
Another nod and she turns back to go. With one hand on the door knob, face turned away from him, she stops: Was I the reason you left?
Ashu: Shaam ko baat karenge Nidhi.
Evening: 3.00 pm: KGH parking lot:
Ashu walks towards his car and notices Nidhi walking towards his car from the other direction with backpack slung over her shoulder. He quickens his steps: No class?
Nidhi: I skipped. I couldn't..I didn't..
Ashu opens the door for her in acceptance of her garbled reply which made perfect sense to him as he couldn't and he didn't either. He has a destination in mind and the drive towards it is made in silent anxiety and anticipation. About 45 minutes later, they reach a hill top and Ashu stops the car. Both of them get down and walk a little further into the greenery and stand for a while to observe the scenery spread out before them. It being the month of November, the weather is pleasant at that time of the day, the sky a splendid mixtures of blue, orange, lavender, even a shade of purple and grey with the sun nearing the 2 mountains, birds chirping and making their way home, a cool breeze ruffling the leaves of all the trees around.
Ashu: MD Paediatrics..you enjoying it?
Nidhi: Yes. Where were you all these days? May I know?
Ashu: Delhi. I took up teaching at AIIMS.
Nidhi: Was I the reason you left?
Ashu looks at her: You are the reason I came back Nidhi.
Nidhi continues to gaze at the mountains: Why did you leave?
Ashu: I thought you would move on with your life if I am not there. I thought you would stop..
Nidhi completes his sentence: Loving you? Mein apni zindagi mein aage badoo ya na badoo, isse aap ko kya farak padta hain? I never..
Ashu: Farak padta hain Nidhi.
Nidhi whirls around to face him: Kyon? Agar aap mujhse pyaar nahi karte toh..
Something snaps in him at that and he catches her shoulders and shakes her: Pyaar nahi karta? MEIN tumse pyaar nahi karta? Tumhaari ek jhalak dekhne keliye tarasta hoon. Tumhaari muskaan se mere din ki shuruvaad hoti hain..tumhaari hasi ki awaaz mujhe chain ki neend sulaati hain. Yeh 8 maheene kaise guzaare hain yeh sirf mein jaanta hoon. I couldn't breathe without thinking about you..I couldn't walk without thinking about the way you skip and bound in that paediatric ward..I couldn't talk without thinking about your musical voice..I couldn't eat..Nidhi ne khaana khaaya hoga na..She would have had her lunch, right? Its 2. She would get hungry and cranky otherwise. I couldn't drink that stupid tea..Nidhi ko elaichi wala chai pasand hain. Gaana sunne ki koshish karta hoon toh tumhaari awaaz goonjti hain kaanon mein..choogayi jism mera..kiske daaman ki hawaa..yahi gaaya tha na tumne uss din? Do you know how I felt after that? What I went through? How much I just wanted to come to you and..
Incomprehension, disbelief, realization, hope, joy, love..all chase one after the other across her face until it splits into the most beautiful smile he had ever seen: You love me. Aap..aap mujhse pyaar karte hain! You..you love me! (The smile on her trembling lips turns into a grin and her eyes fill up at the same time. Breath hitches out in a hiccup and tears start rolling down her cheeks. The contrast between that grin and those tears becomes more as she alternates between biting her lower lip to stop her cry and grins at him in joy. Her emotions surround him from all directions until he feels drowning in them.) Aap pyaar karte hain mujhse! Bahut pyaar karte hain. (She turns towards the mountains and screams at the top of her voice) DR ASHUTOSH LOVES ME! (And the dam bursts at that as she sinks to the grass on her knees and gives a loud wail. A cry that holds all the relief after all these months of uncertainity and pain. She wipes her tears with the back of her hand and screams again) HE LOVES ME!
Ashu gets down on his knees in front of her and pulls her into a tight hug. His heart thuds loudly at the feel of her in his arms for the first time and he squeezes his eyes tightly shut as her pain continues to tear him apart on the inside: Shhh..Nidhi..chup hojao. Shhh..buss..hogaya..Nidhi..
Her arms slide around his waist and tighten themselves around him with all her strength. She hiccups out: You love me..aap mujhse pyaar karte hain..you love me..you really do..
Ashu pulls her away a little and cups her cheeks: Shhh..Nidhi.. He joins his lips to hers and cuts off her you love me. Sensations bombard them as all the suppressed love and desire finds an outlet for the first time. His grip on her cheeks tightens before sliding into her hair and tilting her head to the side. Her lack of response makes him draw back a little and realizing that she digs her fingers into his shirt and pulls him back. Lips joins once again..this time with more confidence and more desperation. The need to get a better taste makes him open his mouth and she soon follows him. His hands slip from her hair to her neck before going around her waist while hers move from his waist to his shoulders to the back of his head and tunnels themselves in his thick hair. Minutes pass as they forget everything including themselves. Finally, they draw apart as their lungs protest the lack of oxygen. Nidhi glides her lips over his jaw and chin before burrowing her head in his chest with a blissful sigh. His arms tighten around her once but he slowly pulls her away from him: Nidhi..before you make any final decision..
Nidhi looks at him with her cheeks pink and lips red: My final decision has already been made.
Ashu gets up and gives her his hand palm up and pulls her up: There are things that you should know about me and my past. I want you to listen. Ok? (Nidhi nods. Both of them settle down on one of the big rocks scattered around the mountain area. He starts talking in a complete dispassionate voice) My father was in the army initially. He fell in love with my mother and married her. A few months later she got pregnant and problems started. He always had problem controlling his temper and due to that he got kicked out of the army. Then I was born. He felt I brought in some kind of bad luck to him and I was the reason behind all his failures. And every time I cried or laughed or moved or talked or walked, I got a taste of that temper. Sometimes it was the back of his hand and sometimes it was his belt and sometimes his fist. Although to be very honest, my mom used to shield me from most of those fists. When I was about 7, one day, I was playing with a ball and it hit one of the window panes. So this time he came to me with the cricket bat. But unluckily for him, my mom came between us and she took the blow that was meant for me. And all I could do was sit there and watch my mother bleed out and die. I hid under the table when he started hitting her and didn't move from there..didn't do anything. Just sat and watched her die. (She takes his hand in hers and entwines their fingers while looping her arm through his sharing his pain in silence. After a slight hesitation, he tightens his fingers around hers in a wordless thank you.) Then by some stroke of fate, Baba had come to our house. He was my father's friend but never even knew the kind of person he actually was. That's how well he hid himself under the cover of civility. Baba called the police and later on my father was convicted and a few years after that, he died during a prison fight. Baba adopted me soon after that and for all intents and purposes I am now his son and he is my father in every sense except genetically. (He finally turns to look at Nidhi who has been silently listening to everything.) You studied the basics of genetics, right?
She nods and realizes where he is going with this: Abused children have a tendency to become abusive partners and parents. Is that why you never married?
Ashu: Yes. No marriage..no children. (He huffs out a sad laugh) Then you entered my life..like a whirlwind and I got carried away. When I realized..
Nidhi: You backed off and later pushed me away. (She places her soft hand on his shoulder) You don't think these issues can be dealt with? That I could help you in dealing with them?
Ashu: Would you be willing to take that chance with me knowing that someday I could..
Nidhi interrupts firmly: I REFUSE to believe that you are ANYTHING like your father Dr Ashutosh.
Ashu shrugs before once again facing the scenary: May be..may be not. But if you become a part of my life, you need to accept that we will not have children..either natural or adopted..EVER. I refuse to take a gamble on a child's life. (Nidhi opens her mouth but he stalls her) I won't bend on this Nidhi. Don't decide or give me an answer now. Go home and think. Not just about this but also about the difference in our ages. There is a gap of 18 years between us. We are bound to have issues over that.
Nidhi: Every couple faces issues Dr Ashutosh. We will have our own set.
Ashu: Its not just the issues..not many are going to understand this relationship. This society is ruthless towards people who break the preset norms. Snide comments, inneundos, sarcasm..it will hit you with anything and everything. Your family..they might not agree or accept. You would end up having to choose. (He once again stops her from talking) As I said, think about all these things and let me know.
Nidhi relents: Ok.
Ashu: Everyone in KGH knows. (Nidhi nods) Did they say anything to you? I mean..
Nidhi smiles: Not much. It was more like concern than..
Ashu: Did you tell anyone?
Nidhi: Only my friend..Anji. She knows everything.
He looks at the darkening skies: Chale? (Both of them get up and make their way back.)
That night: Anji's room:
Anji: Toh..kya socha tu ne?
Nidhi settles down on the bed comfortably and closes her eyes: Sochne keliye kuch rahahi nahi hain Anji. All I want is him..on any terms. I am sure one day my family will understand and I give a hoot about the society.
Anji: Aur bachche? Nidhi..you love kids!
Nidhi: Yes, I love them. But if I can't have them with him then I will not be having them anyway. Because for me, there is only him..no one else.
Anji lies down beside her and turns towards her: Itna pyaar karti hain tu unse?
Nidhi opens her eyes: Utna pyaar toh Ranganath bhi tumse karte hain na. Aur tu bhi unse pyaar karti hain..but you never told him. Not once. (She cups Anji's cheek) Intezaar ka dard ka hota hain yeh mein jaanti hoon Anji. Don't do this to him. Don't do this to yourself. Trust your feelings and take a leap of faith.
Anji nods then changes the topic: Pehle apna issue solve kar phir mera love guru banna. Teek hain? Goodnight.
Nidhi smiles and closes her eyes: Goodnight Anji.
Anji's eyes pop open again: I want to meet him. I wanted to do that the first time you told me but then he left and..kab milayegi?
Nidhi smiles: Whenver you want. Come to the college one day and I will do the honours. Ab chal. Soja.
Same night: Ashu's residence:
Ashu knocks on BB's door: Baba..
BB looks up from his book: Wahaa kyon khada hain..aaja..andar aaja..bait. (Ashu sits on the bed beside BB's rocking chair) Ab bol..kya baat hain. How was your day?
Ashu removes his eye glasses and wipes them on his shirt before putting them back on again: Achcha tha baba. (A slight pause) I met Nidhi. She is doing MD Paediatrics at KGMC.
BB smiles and nods: Kaisi hain woh?
Stunned silence follows that statement. BB quickly recovers and fairly leaps out of his chair: KYA? SACH? (He hugs Ashu) Fantastic beta! Nidhi is a great girl. Bahut sahi decision liya hain Ashu tu ne. Aur..aur..tum dekhna..woh tumhaari zindagi mein bahaar chaadegi.
Ashu: Baba..baba..relax. I spoke to her today and told her everything about myself. I told her to think it over and let me know. Depending on that we will decide.
BB: Arre she will say yes. Mera dil kehta hain ki woh haan hi bolegi. Then we will go and talk to her father.
Ashu looks at his baba: And if he refuses?
BB blinks and looks at his son..at the fear in his eyes..fear that fate is just tempting him with this before snatching it away. He hugs him tightly: Oye tu ghabra mat. Hum unhe manaane ki poori koshish karenge. Mein baat karoonga unse. (He puts on a chirpy face) Aur phir bhi agar na maane toh dilwaale hain..dulhaniye lekar hi aayenge..kyon? (He wriggles his eyebrows playfully making Ashu relax a little and smile as his father hugs him once again.)
Next day morning: KGH:
A road accident on the highway keeps Ashu busy all morning as the victims are rushed to KGH and it's almost 2 in the afternoon by the time he gets a breather. After a quick bite in the canteen, he enters his cabin and looks at his table first thing. His entire face lights up and excitement unlike anything he had ever known before zings through him. There, on the table, in the vase are a bunch of red roses. Does this mean..? Or am I reading too much into it? He pulls out his phone only to realize that he had put it in silent mode since morning and there is a message in his inbox. Nidhi! His fingers fumble a little as he clicks it open:
Laakh manaale duniye..saath na yeh chootega
Aake tere haathon mein..haath na yeh chootega
O mere jeevan saathi..
Tere mere sapne ab ek rang hain..
O jaha bhi lejaaye raahen hum sang hain..
Ashu stares at the message until it blurs in front of his eyes. He quickly blinks to clear his vision and clicks on the reply button:
Bahut shukriya badi meherbaani
Meri zindagi mein huzoor aap aaye
Kadam choomlu ya yeh aankhen bichaadu
Karu kya yeh meri samajh mein na aaye
After sending it, he immediately types another one:
Be home by 5. Baba and I will be coming to talk to your baba.
Reply to that one is immediate:
Will be waiting.
His fingers immediately dial another number: Hey..Armaan..
Around 5.30: Verma residence:
BB and Ashu are sitting in the hall while CV is standing with his back to them. DB is silently gritting her teeth and Nidhi is standing in between.
CV: I respect you as an individual and as a doctor, Ashutosh. But..this? No. I am sorry but my answer is no.
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BB: But Vermaji..
Ashu: Baba..let him talk.
CV: What is there to talk Ashutosh? I am at a loss here. I mean, what you are saying..I can't even comprehend it. Aap ke aur meri beti ke beech 18 saal ka farak hain Ashutosh. 18 years! That's like having a complete generation gap and in these days, youth considers 7-8 yrs as a generation gap.
DB: Arre Dr Ashtosh aap toh meri bachchi ke pitah ke umr ke ho aur yeh..
Nidhi intervenes: DB, Dr Ashutosh mere pita ke umr ke nahi hain aur yeh baat aap achchi tarah jaanti hain.
DB shouts at Nidhi: Tum chup raho Nidhi. Don't say anything. Aur koi mila nahi tujhe? Aur kyon? Tere umr ke ladke sab margaye hain kya jo tum jaake..
BB: Kitni ajeeb baat hain na Sarojji…we always ask our children which flower do you like, which colour do you like, which profession do you like. Lekin jab pyaar ki baari aati hain, we ask WHY do you like this person. Does anyone really know the answer I wonder!
CV: I am not against my daughter falling in love Dr Mathur. Most definitely not. Pyaar ki bhaasha mein bhi samajhta hoon. But what these two are thinking of is pure insanity. As a father, I can not accept this.
DB: Yog, why are you even talking about this? I can't even understand how they even dared to come here with this insane idea.
CV stalls her: Bua, please aap chup rahiye. Dr Mathur aur Dr Ashutosh sharafat se izzat se baat ki hain hum se. If we don't like it, we should be equally polite about it. So, please!
Ashu: Sir, I love your daughter and I understand your concerns too. I left this city and KGH for the same reason. But in the end, the distance did nothing to diminish either of our feelings. If anything, it just made them stronger.
Nidhi: Baba, I want to be happy in my life. And my happiness is with Dr Ashutosh. Please Baba, try to understand.
CV looks at his daughter. Confusion, anger, disappointment, frustration..his eyes reveal them all: I AM trying to understand Nidhi. You are thinking of you and Ashutosh now. But I am seeing you and Ashutosh when you would be 50 and he would be what? 68?
Nidhi: Baba, maa toh aap se 5 saal choti thi na. Thi na baba. So where is she now? Batayiye. Who knows what will happen 20-25 yrs down the road Baba.
BB softly continues: Vermaji, I agree that their love would seem like insanity to you but I saw them together. They complete each other. Aur agar Bhagwaan ne inn dono ke beech pyaar jagaaya hain toh koi toh wajah hogi na. please..think about it.
CV: Wajah ke baare mein toh mein nahi jaanta Dr Mathur but right now all I see is the destruction of my daughter's life. Mein iss rishte ko apni razaamandi nahi desakta. Kabhi nahi.
DB: Buss Nidhi! Chup! Ek dum chup! Ab ek lafz bhi aur bola na toh yeh padai sab band karke ghar mein bitadungi.
BB gets up and Ashu follows suit: Mein aap ke jazbaat samajhsakta hoon Vermaji. Par jaldbaazi mein koi bhi faisla mat leejiye. Tande dimaag se sochiye. Take your time and think about it. We will wait.
CV: My decision is not going to change Dr Mathur.
Ashu gives him an impassive look: That's what I thought too sir. But..things change. Namaste. (He looks at Nidhi for a couple of moments without blinking, gives her a small nod of reassurance and walks away with his baba. Their car starting and backing out coincides with Anji's arrival. She literally throws her college bag inside her house and jumps over the wall to come to Nidhi's. By then, everyone has gone in different directions. DB to her room in a fit of temper, CV to his own to overcome the shocker his daughter has thrown at him today morning and Nidhi to her own to battle her own resurfaced fears.)
Anji: Kya hua? My prof stopped me just as I was about to leave. Warna mein isse pehle pahunchjaati. Kya kahaa uncle ne? I saw a car backing out. Did they come? Yaar..kuch toh bol.
Nidhi: Baba ne manaa kardiya..aur..aur woh log chalegaye.
Anji: Chale gaye matlab?
Nidhi: Dr Mathur told baba to think for some more time before making the final decision. Baba said there is nothing to think..(Her fear comes to surface full force) What if he goes off again? What if he decides baba is right? What if..
Anji: Tu tension mat le yaar. Did you try calling him?
Nidhi takes out her phone and dials his number. Ashu parks the car to the side and answers the phone: Hello?
Ashu looks at his baba before getting down from the car and closing the door: Haan Nidhi?
Nidhi: Ji..woh..aap..mein..you won't go off again, will you?
Ashu closes his eyes. Pain washes through him as he gets a glimpse of what she must be thinking and fearing: Nidhi..no. I promise you..I am not going to go anywhere. Let's give some time to your baba. Let him think it over. It's not easy for him either, right? Tum..sunn rahi ho na?
Nidhi: Ji..mein sunn rahi hoon. Ok. See you then.
Ashu: Take care. I promise Nidhi..I will not leave.
Nidhi sighs in relief and smiles a little: Thank you. Bye.
Ashu: Bye. (He disconnects the call and gets into the car again.) Nidhi ka phone tha. I told her we should give time for her baba to think things over.
BB nods: Let's hope for the best beta. He was very polite despite his refusal. I think he will come around.
Ashu: Aur agar phir bhi na maane toh? (BB had no answer to that and they make the rest of the journey in silence, lost in their own thoughts.)
Next day morning: Nidhi's residence:
DB looks at Nidhi dressed up in her usual salwar kurta with her backpack: Where are you going?
Nidhi: College DB.
DB: Pehle waada kar ki tu uss dactar se nahi milegi.
Nidhi: Woh KGH ke dean hain DB. Aur mein wahaa padti hoon. Na milna na mumkin hain. I can't make that promise.
CV: Is that why chose this college Nidhi?
Nidhi: He was not there when I chose it baba. He doesn't have anything to do with my decision but yes, he was the reason I chose. Ab mein chalti hoon. Der horahi hain.
DB: Shaam ko seedha ghar waapas aana.
Nidhi: Ji DB.
And she leaves, stops at the usual flower shop and makes her way to KGH. Her phone pings with an incoming sms: Where are my flowers?
Her face splits into a lovely smile as tension fades to the background and she types her reply: Stuck in a traffic jam. Pahoonch jaayenge.
Its almost time for her first class by the time she reaches KGH so she practically flies into Ashu's cabin, gives a disappointed sigh to find him gone, changes the flowers and takes another couple of minutes to tidy up his desk and leaves at the same speed almost crashing into him near the door: Ouch! Oh..sorry..woh..der hogayi. I am getting late for the class. Mein aap se baad mein baat karti hoon. Lunch. Bye. (And leaves before he could open his mouth. He huffs out a small laugh and shakes his head ruefully.
Around lunch time:
Ranga looks up at someone knocking on his cabin door: Yes?
Anji peeps in with a shy smile on her face: Hello Ranganath!
Ranga's pen drops from his fingers and he jumps up from his chair as if launched my a spring mechanism: An..Anji..tum..yahaa..mere..mere cabin mein. Come in..come in..please..have a seat.
Anji sits in the opposite chair and fiddles with her handbag: Meine aap ko disturb toh nahi kiya na?
Ranga: No no no..not at all. Its lunch time any way. Kahiye kya karsakta hoon mein aap keliye.
Anji bites her lower lip: Woh..actually..I was thinking..Shall we go for lunch? I mean..you and me..?
Ranga's jaw almost hits the floor: Uh..oh..ummm..lu..lunch? As in you and me only lunch? As in..as in date kind of lunch? (Anji nods with bowed head and pink cheeks making Ranga fairly leap out of his chair and don his coat.) Sure..sure..aap bulaye aur hum na aaye..chaliye chalte hain.
Anji gets up: Just two minutes ok? I want to meet Dr Ashutosh once. He and his father had come to Nidhi's house yesterday but I missed them by minutes. I want to see who it is that Nidhi fell so hard for.
Ranga nods with a smile and checks his watch: I think he will be in the canteen at this time. Uh..how did the meeting go?
Anji shrugs: As expected. Nidhi ke baba nahi maanrahe. Dekhte hain kya hota hain. (Ranga nods and directs her towards the canteen and informs her that he would be waiting for her near his car. With a wave, she goes towards the lifts and soon reaches the canteen.)
In the canteen:
Ashu: Dr Kothari was saying that you stopped coming to the canteen..after I left?
Nidhi raises her eyes to find him looking at her as if waiting for her answer: Mann nahi kiya.
Ashu: I think Dr Khanna also knows.
Nidhi grins and rolls her eyes: Everyone knows! This is KGH sir.
Ashu frowns: No one said anything to me.
Nidhi gives him a get real look: As if anyone would dare to say anything to the Dean! (Then her face softens) They didn't say anything much to me either. So please don't worry about it.
Nidhi whirls her head: Hey Anji! Tu yahaa kaise?
Anji smiles at her before sliding a look at Ashu: I told you na..I wanted an introduction? So..here I am!
Nidhi takes her hand and pulls her closer: Dr Ashutosh..this is my best friend and childhood buddy, Anji Solanki. Anji, Dr Ashutosh, Neurosurgeon and Dean of KGH.
Ashu gets up and shakes Anji's hand: Hello. Nice meeting you.
Anji grins: Same here. I..(She gives a quick look around the canteen where the staff is not even bothering to hide their curiosity and tones down her volume) I wanted to be there yesterday but my prof stopped me at the last minute and I got delayed.
Ashu nods and gestures her to take a seat: You are studying..?
Anji: Fashion designing mein PG kar rahi hoon. Final year.
Nidhi: Lunch karegi? I can get..
Anji stops her: Nahi..mein..I am going out with Ranganath.
Nidhi raises both her eyebrows: Arre waah..kya baat hain! Finally haan!
Anji pushes her: Enough now. I am off. He is waiting. Nice meeting you Dr Ashutosh. (And she leans in to whisper something in Nidhi's ear and runs off before Nidhi could catch her. Ashu observes the whole exchange with a slight smile on his face and raises his eyebrow at Nidhi.)
Nidhi: She said her jeejaji looks very smart. (A moment's confusion and then a slash of red tinge his cheeks making her smother her giggle. Both finish their lunch quickly and leave.)
This goes on for the next three days with a continued impasse at Nidhi's house and both of them limiting their meetings to their lunch time in the canteen which hardly gives any chance or opportunity for a private conversation. Each hides their disappointment and fear of the uncertain future and it makes the already limited conversations more stilted. Questions of what if, what now and how long plague their minds until Ashu's temper is frayed and Nidhi is on the edge all the time. They start relying more and more on sms and soon it becomes a part of their daily routine. One "good morning" wish followed by "how was your day" in the evening and then a "good night" in the night just before going to sleep.
On the Fourth day: Morning:
Nidhi gets a call from Ashu: Ji?
Ashu: Nidhi..you have a minute?
She was on her way to the auditorium with the rest of her class mates so she moves a little away from the group: Ji kahiye.
Ashu: I have to go to Delhi for 2 days. Got a call from AIIMS. Something that I need to wrap up over there.
Nidhi's face dims: Kab jaana hain?
Ashu sighs and starts walking towards the parking lot: I am leaving now. Will be back the day after tomorrow. Ok? (A slight pause and then) I will be back Nidhi. Day after tomorrow. Wadaa karta hoon.
Nidhi smiles: Teek hain. Mein intezaar karoongi. Apna khayaal rakhiye. Where will you stay over there?
Ashu: It's just for a day na toh Armaan ke ghar.
Nidhi: Ok. Armaanji ko mera hello boliye.
Ashu smiles: Kehdoonga. Take care. See you soon.
Nidhi: I love you. (Ashu's feet come to a stand still and his fingers tighten around the phone and his breath shudders out. She smiles.) Happy journey sir.
Ashu: Nidhi..call if..if anything changes.
Nidhi: Will do.
Next day night:
Ashu's phone pings just as he is about to send Nidhi a goodnight message: Hont pe liye hue dil ki baat hum..jaagte rahenge aur kitne raat hum..mukhtsar ki baat hain..tumse pyaar hain..tumhaara intezaar hain.
Ashu traces the message lovingly with his fingertips before typing his reply: Dil behel toh jaayega iss khayaal se..haal milgaya tumhaara apne haal se..raat yeh karaar ki..bekaraar hain..tumhaara intezaar hain.
He clicks the send button before Armaan's voice makes him turn back from his place in the balcony: Missing her?
Ashu nods, his thumb still on the screen of the phone: I was missing her before too you know..for 8 long lonely months I missed her Armaan. Par iss baar..iss baar woh dard alag hain. (His palm rubs over his heart in a subconscious gesture telling his friend where it's hurting him)
Armaan smiles and squeezes his shoulder: You know what..I think you guys should just go ahead and get married. Her father will come around slowly once he realizes his daughter is happy with you.
Ashu: Dekhte hain. Let's give him some time.
Nidhi knocks softly before entering CV's room: Baba?
CV looks up from his book: Yes Nidhi?
Nidhi sits beside him on the bed: Baba..mein aapse kuch kehna chaahti hoon.
CV: Dr Ashutosh ke baare mein? (She nods) Iss baare mein hum na baat kare toh hi achcha hain Nidhi. If I had even inkling of what was going on in your mind when you joined your PG, I wouldn't have agreed to it come hell or high water.
Nidhi: Baba..when I joined, he had already left KGH on sabbatical.
CV gets up angrily: Then he damn well should have stayed away instead of coming back to wreck your life.
Nidhi: Baba, my life was a wreck while he was away and I think you know it.
CV sighs impatiently: Yeh pyaar nahi pagalpan hain Nidhi aur iss pagalapan ka saath mein NAHI doonga. Have you thought of what the society would say to your relationship?
Nidhi: Mein apni khushi ke baare mein sochrahi hoon baba..society ke baare mein nahi.
CV: You can't say that Nidhi. We LIVE in this society. (He raises his palm as if he doesn't want her to talk anymore.) Buss Nidhi..no more discussions on this topic. Finish your studies. I am sure by then you will be well over this madness and start making some sensible decisions. (Nidhi gives him a helpless look and leaves his room)
Ashu slides off into a restless sleep with all kinds of restless disturbing thoughts crowding his mind. A frown gathers as he turns into a 7 year old once again: "Papa, aap mera doggy wapas do na please. Mein promise karta hoon..mein aapko phir gussa nahi dilaaunga." His father's voice hits him out of the blue, his face twisted with a kind of sadistic pleasure: "That's not a doggy..thats a soft toy. I chopped it off and threw it away." Suddenly, the image of his father blurs and becomes that of CV: "What you are thinking of is insanity..I would never accept it. Aapka rishta mujhe hargiz manzoor nahi." Nidhi's voice and image starts fading into the background: "I have fallen in love with you. I love you..I love you..I love.." Ashu is startled out of his sleep with Nidhi's name echoing through the walls. Did I scream? He runs a distracted hand through his sweat drenched face. What was it? A nightmare? Yes..just a nightmare. That guy died long ago. Nidhi ke baba uski tarah nahi hain. He would accept. He gets up and starts pacing around. But what if he doesn't? What if I lose her? No..I can't lose her now. I can't live without her. I told her everything. I didn't hide anything from her and still she chose me. She is mine now. But she loves kids. He smothers that twinge of guilt. She is an adult and she has thought through and made her choices. I won't let her go. I can't do this. I can't wait any more. I want her with me where I can see her whenever I want..touch her..reassure myself that she is mine. I want to bind her to me in every way possible. Decision made, he picks up his phone.
Nidhi is startled out of her disturbed sleep by the ringing of her phone. She looks at the clock. 2 AM. She checks the number. Dr Ashutosh! She quickly picks it up: Hello?
Nidhi: Ji? Kya hua? Sab..sab teek toh hain?
Ashu: Nidhi..do you trust me?
Nidhi rubs her eyes: Yeh kaisa sawaal hain?
Ashu: Answer me. Do you trust me?
Nidhi: Khud se zyaada.
Ashu: Do you love me?
Nidhi: Aap se zyaada.
Ashu: Will you marry me? (Stunned silence answers him) Will you marry me Nidhi?
Nidhi swallows: Yes. But..
Ashu: I am going to be back in Lucknow tomorrow morning. Meet me at the Ram Mandir at 3 pm. I am going to marry you..tomorrow.
Nidhi gets up from her bed: Ji?
Ashu: I will wait for you. Tomorrow. 3 PM. Ram Madir. (And ends the call before going and knocking on Armaan's door. A couple of minutes later, Mansi opens the door with sleep blurry eyes.)
Mansi: Ashu bhaiya? Kya hua? Kuch chahiye?
Ashu: I am going to marry Nidhi tomorrow. I want you and Armaan to attend. Will you?
Mansi blinks a couple of times before running inside and shaking Armaan awake: Armaan! Armaan! WAKE UP! Ashu bhaiya is going to get married tomorrow.
Ashu hears Armaan's scream of "WHAT" from his place in the hall which adjoins all the three bedrooms. A couple of moments later, Armaan staggers out: Kya hua tujhe?
Ashu looks at him with painfilled desperate eyes: Armaan..will you help me?
Next day: Afternoon: 2.45:
Nidhi grips Anji's hand tighter before taking out her phone and making the call: Baba..baba mein Nidhi. (Her heart thunders out in her chest until she is sure it can be heard by her father through the phone. She didn't have the courage to tell him face to face and copped out by coming out of the house at her usual college time. Ever since Dr Ashutosh and his father had come to talk, the atmosphere at home was stitled and tense so no one questioned her when she made her way out with her usual backpack.)
CV: Yes Nidhi?
Nidhi: Baba..mein Dr Ashutosh se shaadi karne jaarahi hoon. Aaj. 3 baje. Ram Mandir mein. I know you won't, but I would be really happy if you would come and bless me.
Stunned silence follows her statement. Finally: Don't bother coming back to my house ever again. (The line gets disconnected. She closes her eyes tightly so that her tears don't seep out. She has made her choices and she would pray that one day soon, her father would accept and forgive.)
Anji: You ok? (Nidhi nods)
Ranga turns to look at her from his place in the front seat: We are almost there Nidhi.
Nidhi: Thank you Ranganath.
Ranga smiles: Aap ka dost hoon Nidhi. Aur phir..I can't even think of NOT attending my boss's wedding na.
2.55 PM: Ram Mandir:
Armaan hands over the shaadi ka saamaan to the pandit, gestures Mansi to take charge, makes sure Anjali is not climbing any walls and trees and makes his way to Ashu: There is still time Ashu. Ghabra mat.
Ashu's eyes are glued towards the temple entrance: Yes. She will come. She HAS to come.
Armaan: We didn't even tell baba yaar.
Ashu: He is a father Armaan. I could not ask him to support this and if I ask and if he refuses, I can't do this. Its better this way.
Armaan nods and a slow smile splits his face: Lo..aagayi tumhaari dulhan.
Relief almost makes him fall on his knees before a smile lights up his eyes and reaches his lips as he sees her getting down from the cab with her friend Anji and..whoa..and Ranganath too in her tow. Dressed in a simple maroon sari, hair in its usual pony tail and a pair of bangles adorning her hands along with a simple gold chain around her neck. His bride. His treasure. His Nidhi. She would have had so many dreams about her wedding day and here I am..His pang of remorse disappears as she looks up at him and smiles. All three walk up to the mandap and wordlessly, he extends his hand to her in a gesture of reassurance. She places her hand in his without a moment's hesitation and he helps her up the steps. Her gaze slides from his and she gives a small tentative smile Armaan and Mansi. Mansi's own smile widens and she envolopes Nidhi in a hug: Hello Nidhi. I am Mansi. Armaan's wife. Darr lagraha hain?
Nidhi swallows and wets her lips: Ji..thoda.
Mansi: Don't worry. Yeh mere Ashu bhaiya hain na..he will take real good care of you. Ghabrao mat Nidhi. Humsab hain na tumhaare saath? Hmmm?
Nidhi nods and everyone turns towards the hawan where the pandit is sitting and beckoning them. Ashu shakes Ranga's hand in a wordless gesture of thank you and Ranga shakes his head as if to say no thanks needed. Anji quickly adjusts Nidhi's sari and places a red twinkling bindi on her forehead while Maansi gets a red chunar from her bag and drapes it over her head. Armaan gets a pink long dupatta and puts it over Ashu's shoulders. Maansi helps Nidhi sit in front of the hawan and Ashu sits beside her to her right side. Pandit starts reciting the chants and after a small Ganesh puja, Pandit signals for the gatbandhan. Armaan and Mansi do the honours and the couple start their pheras. One oath for each phera. The first four times, Nidhi follows Ashu and the next 3 Ashu follows Nidhi. Just as the Pandit is about to announce "Phere sampann hue", Ashu signals him to wait and turns towards his bride: Nidhi..humaari shaadi mein aat phere honge. Ek aatwa vachan logi mereliye?
(Nidhi looks into his eyes and nods. Her trust in him complete and absolute. He extends his palm and she places hers in it as a promise. He tightens his fingers around her palm) Repeat after me. Ok? (Another nod) I swear before the God and this holy fire..
Nidhi: I swear before the God and this holy fire..
Ashu: That if at any point of time in the future..
Nidhi: That if at any point of time in the future..
Ashu: No matter what the reason or how justified it may appear to be..
Nidhi: No matter what the reason or how justified it may appear to be..
Ashu: If you cause me any kind of physical or emotional harm..
Nidhi finally realizes what he wants her to promise. But there is not an ounce of hesitation as she repeats: If you cause me any kind of physical or emotional harm..
Ashu: I would not think of forgiving you.
Nidhi: I would not think of forgiving you.
Ashu: I would leave you and never look back..ever again.
Nidhi: I would leave you and never look back..ever again.
He gestures her to go ahead for the eigth phera and he follows her. Armaan blinks back the wetness in his eyes and cheers up everyone's sombre mood by scattering flower petals over the couple and lifting up Anjali so that she also can participate. The rest quickly get caught in the enthusiasm and follow suit. Pandit extends the sindoor and Nidhi bows her head as Ashu fills her maang with it. Maansi quickly opens the small box and extends the single strand of black beads in a gold chain with a small locket to Ashu. It had been literally a last minute purchase done while Ashu and Armaan were already at the Mandir and Maansi had run to the nearest Jewellery store. Ashu ties it around Nidhi's neck. She raises her eyes and looks into his. Relief, joy, contentment and love chase each other in both their expressions and they are barely aware of their friends clapping. Anji back hugs Nidhi and kisses her cheek while Armaan slaps Ashu's back and both friends hug each other. Ranga face is wreathed in smiles as he congratulates Ashu before forgoing the protocol and hugging him quickly and stepping back.
"Yeh vivah sampann hua. Aaj se aap dono pati patni." Another round of woohoos and claps go around at that announcement by the pandit.
Ashu gets up and extends his hand to his wife: Ghar chale?
Nidhi places her hand in his.
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Ashu's residence: 4.30 PM
BB: Hiraman, Ashu ki flight toh barah baje ki thi na..ab tak aaya kyon nahi? Did he call you? Has left Delhi?
BB turns towards the door with a smile: Arre Ashu..I was just thinking about..(He looks at the whole group standing at the door and comes to a halt with Nidhi) Nidhi..beta..tum? (His confused eyes taken in her sari, sindoor and mangalsutra and he looks at Ashu) Ashu..yeh sab..
Ashu holds Nidhi's hand and entwines their fingers: Baba..we got married about an hour ago. In Ram Mandir.
BB and HK look stunned and neither knows how to react for a few moments. Maansi takes the opportunity to go inside the house towards the kitchen. BB gives a helpless look: Yeh kya kardiya Ashu?
Ashu: Dilwaala hoon baba..apni dulhaniya leaaya hoon.
BB: Ashu..tum jaante the uss din mere kehne ka woh matlab nahi tha. Beta, aise itni jaldi baazi mein..
Maansi: Uncle, baaten baad mein bhi toh hosakti hain na. Aapki bahu aapke chaukhat pe khadi hain. Usse andar nahi aanedenge? (Saying that she takes the aarti thali towards the couple and does the aarti and tilak.) Ek minute Nidhi..yahi ruko.
(She goes inside and gets the rice bowl and places it near Nidhi's feet) Apne daaye pair se kalash ke giraake andar aajao.
(Nidhi gives BB a slightly apprehensive look before kicking the rice bowl and entering the house for the first time as Mrs Ashutosh Mathur. Both of them go to BB and bend to take his blessings.)
BB automatically places a hand on their heads: Ab mein kya aashirwaad du tum dono ko?
Ashu raises his head: Baba..I didn't mean to hurt you. But I could not take the chance that..
BB looks at Nidhi: Khush raho beti. Sada suhaagan raho.
Nidhi turns towards HK and touches his feet. Starlted, he tries to move back: Arre..yeh kya kar rahi ho beti?
Ashu also comes and touches his feet: Kaka..aap mereliye mere baba se kam nahi hain. (A teary eyed HK blesses both of them.)
Mansi: Aao Nidhi..tumhe tumhaara ghar dikhaati hoon. (Nidhi, Mansi and Anjali go up the steps towards the first floor which has Ashu's room along with a guest room and study and an open balcony.)
Armaan makes sure Nidhi is out of hearing and comes to BB: Baba..please forgive us. I know you are angry right now..
BB: Armaan..I am not surprised that you supported you friend in this. Both of you are more brothers than friends according to me. But Ashu..(He turns towards Ashu) This is so unlike you beta..you always think things through before taking a step.
Ashu: I didn't want to lose her baba. I couldn't take the chance.
Armaan: Baba..Ashu ki khushi Nidhi ke saath hain. I think the last 8-9 months proved that beyond doubt. And I really think she is a wonderful girl. Woh humaare Ashu ko bahut khush rakhegi baba.
Ashu: And I will give everything in my power to make her happy too baba. I promise you.
BB sighs in defeat: Par Vermaji..unka kya Ashutosh?
Ashu looks away: He will come around baba..when and if he realizes that his daughter is happy with me, he will come around.
BB nods: Chalo ab jo hogaya so hogaya. Let's see what happens now. Jaa..andar jaake dekh usko kuch chahiye kya. Nayi jagah hain..ghar mein koi aurat bhi nahi hain..(Ashu nods and goes up the stairs.)
Armaan: Aap ghabrayiye mat baba. Maansi hain na. We will stay for a couple of days.
Maansi: Aur yeh Ashu bhaiya ka kamra hain..ab se tumhaara bhi. If you want to fresh up, the bathroom is that way.
Nidhi shakes her head: No. I am ok.
Maansi looks up to see Ashu standing at the door: Aap dono baaten keejiye mein chai banaake laati hoon. Chal Anjali..
Anjali runs and wraps her arms around Ashu's legs: Mujhe mama ke saath rehna hain.
Maansi bites her lip to stop her laughter: Mama se baad mein khelenge. Pehle mere saath neeche chal.
Anjali just clings tighter and starts shaking her head in the beginning of a temper tantrum: Nahi..nahi..nahi..mujhe Ashu mama ke saath rehna hain.
Nidhi: How old are you? 7..8? (Anjali turns towards Nidhi who is standing near the bed and shows 5 fingers. Nidhi's eyes grow wide with wonder) 5? But I thought since you were so big and tall, you must be at least 8.
Anjali's face glows and she takes a small step towards Nidhi: I am the tallest in my class.
Nidhi nods and bends at her waist: I can imagine. Kya peete ho aap? Complan?
Anjali nods enthusiastically: Strawberry flavour.
Nidhi slurps her lips: Yummy! I love that flavour. Aur aapko toh numbers bhi sab pata honge na..(She silently gestures Maansi to leave and Maansi gives Ashu a slightly apologitical look before going down the steps towards the kitchen. Anjali by now has come near Nidhi and both of them have sat on the bed with Nidhi resting her palm on her cheek and Anjali imitating her) Yes..I know numbers and letters and some words too.
Nidhi: Aur colours?
Anjali: Pink. I like pink. Aapko mein kya bulau?
Nidhi looks up at Ashu with her first tense free smile: Aap Dr Ashutosh ko kya bulaate ho?
Nidhi: Toh mein aapki maami.
Armaan shouts from below: Anju..dadaji tumhaareliye chocolates laaye hain. (Anjali leaps out of the bed and runs down the steps barely acknowledging Ashu's shout of "sambhalke Anju!")
Ashu finally sighs in relief, stuffs his hands in his trouser pockets and looks at Nidhi..his wife. Her wide eyes look back at him as her lips stretch into a shy smile. Did today really happen? Or is it some kind of weird dream conjured by my desperate heart?: Uh..baba is ok with it. Don't worry. Umm..Did you have your lunch?
Nidhi shakes her head: I was kind of nervous. Aur aap?
Ashu gives his famous lopsided smile and shakes his head: I was kind of nervous.
Nidhi: I took off the second half of the day. Kal college jaana hain. Guest lecture in Endocrinology.
Ashu: Sure..no problem. Kal subah..saath chalte hain. What time is the lecture?
Nidhi: 10. But I need to be there by 9..need to catch up on some stuff.
Ashu nods: Ok. We will go together.
Nidhi's face falls but continues hesitantly: Can we leave a little early? I want to go see my baba once. I know he told me not to come back but..
Ashu: Ok..I will take you there. We will leave around 8? (His head swirls towards her suddenly) Do you need clothes? I mean..did you have time to pack?
Nidhi: I have a couple of pairs in my backpack. I am fine for today and tomorrow. Baad mein..dekhte hain. I will ask Anji to..
Ashu: Armaan has his fashion house here. May be you can get something from there. I will take you tomorrow some time. Ok? (Nidhi nods) Bhook lagi hain?
Nidhi bites her lower lip: Ji..thoda.
Ashu gets up: I will go and get something.
Nidhi also gets up: Mein bhi chalti hoon.
Ashu: Nidhi..(Nidhi's steps towards the door halt and she turns to look at him) Thank you.
The rest of the evening passes with everyone trying their level best to put Nidhi at ease, especially Maansi and Armaan. Anjali acts as a great stress buster for everyone entertaining them with a song and dance program until even BB starts grinning and clapping to her "Mein pareshaan..pareshaan..pareshaan" dance. Nidhi sheds her hesitancy during the dinner, courtesy of HK's tasteful meal with special kheer as a part of celebration. Nidhi and Maansi help HK in cleaning up afterwards and Armaan takes Ashu aside after dinner: Ashu..lets talk buddy.
Ashu frowns: Talk? About what?
Armaan smirks: I am your senior now. So if you have any doubts you can clear them up right away.
Ashu's frown deepens before it turns into a glare: Shut up Armaan!
Armaan pulls him back: Arre ruk meri jaan. I really want to say something. (Ashu folds his hands and waits) I think you should shave buddy.
Armaan rolls his eyes: What do you mean why? You are not devdas any more. You are a married man now. Aur waise bhi..you look more handsome clean shaven.
Ashu runs a hand through his beard: I will think about it. (Armaan opens his mouth to protest) I said I will think about it. Ab mein jau?
Armaan: Oye hoe..kya baat hain..
Ashu: Shut up Armaan. I am tired. I am going to bed. Goodnight.
Armaan smiles and hugs him and pats his back a couple of times: Sach mein Ashu..aaj mein bahut khush hoon. Be happy. Ok? (Ashu nods and makes his way to his..their room.)
Nidhi feels better after a refreshing shower and changes into simple baby pink salwar kameez. She comes out of the bathroom and her glance once again takes in the whole room and she sees something that she had missed the first time around. The flower vase with a single flower in it. The one she had bought and put in his cabin after he removed the one he bought. She picks it up to check and make sure it's the same one. Oh..I thought he must have thrown it away or put it somewhere and forgotten about it. She turns her head at the sound of his voice: I took it with me to Delhi. It gave me company for those 8 months.
Nidhi puts it back in its place and turns towards him: Aur yeh phool?
Ashu: I pick one up from your bunch that you leave in my cabin.
(A few moments of silence as they get lost in their own memories..how she used to run to the flower shop every day..still runs..how he first looks at his desk as soon as he enters his cabin..how he tried to guess her shifts..Finally he blinks and clears his throat.) I will just go and take a shower.
Nidhi looks away: ji. Shall I leave? I mean..
Ashu: No. no that's ok. Just relax. I'll just..(He opens his wardrobe, pulls out his clothes) Uh..I will clear space tomorrow for your clothes and stuff.
He goes into the bath room and closes the door. A few moments later the sound of the shower running is heard. Nidhi exhales, collapses back into a sitting position on the bed. The events of previous night and the whole of today take their toll on her and her eyelids start drooping. Within a couple of minutes, she loses her battle with sleep. Ashu steps out of the bathroom and stops. Nidhi still has her feet on the floor but her upper body is tilted and fallen on the bed. Her head is resting on her arm and she is fast asleep. His entire face softens at the sight as he slowly makes his way to the bed and gets down on his hunches near her. His eyes devour the fresh innocent looking face of his sleeping wife. His fingers trace her maang where he had placed the sindoor a few hours ago before looking at the mangalsutra dangling from her neck. Finally! Mine! She is here with me..will be with me from now on (He looks at her slightly open mouth and gives a soft laugh) Does she always slide off into sleep so easily? With a rueful shake of his head and the smile still playing on his lips, he adjusts her softly and properly on the bed, covers her with a blanket and switches off the bedside light. His sleep that night holds that reminiscence of that smile and her mere presence beside him keeps his nightmares at bay.
Next day morning:
Ashu gets ready quickly. Sleep the previous night was so deep that he still felt a little doopy but when he got up and found her gone, his instincts screamed at him to run and search for her..until he heard Maansi calling out, "Nidhi..zara idhar aana toh.." A quick glance at the clock suggests 7.30 and he literally runs into the bathroom barely taking time to snatch the towel on the way, gets ready in 15 minutes and comes down to find Nidhi, in her usual attire of kurta pyjama and hair in her ponytail, in the kitchen pouring coffee into the cups. Her entire face lights up as she sees him and he is almost sure that he is wearing a similar expression: Good morning.
Nidhi gives him his coffee cup: Good morning sir.
Armaan chokes on his tea and sprews it all over the table: Sir? (His eyes literally pop out and his laughter is cut shot as his wife knocks him on the back of his head.) What?
Maansi: Chup. What those two call each other is up to them. Don't interfere.
Armaan: Arre par..
Maansi: I said chup.
Armaan grumbles: Bossy woman! Toh..Ashu aaj ka kya plan hain?
Maansi inserts: He has to go to KGH..has OT. She has to go to college..guest lecture. But evening all of us will come to the fashion house for shopping. Kyon Nidhi..teek hain na? (Nidhi nods.) Anjali and I will come from here and both of them directly from the hospital.
BB comes out of his room: Nidhi..
Nidhi gets up and goes to him: Ji?
BB extends a square box to her: Beti..yeh Ashu ke maa ke kangan hain. Meine bahut sambhaalke rakhethe. Lo. Isse apni saasu maa ka aashirwaad samjhkar pehenlena. (Nidhi takes the box and touches it to her forehead before bending down to take BB's blessings.) Jeeti raho. (He grins a little) Tum Ashu ko sir bulao ya kuch aur..mujhe koi parvah nahi. But you have to call me baba. Ok? No uncle vuncle business.
Nidhi smiles through her tears: Ji baba. Thank you. (She goes to Ashu, opens the bangles box and extends it to him. Ma ke kangan! She had them on when she took me to that picnic. Her favourite ones. And she made sure she never wore them in front of her husband. His breath shudders out as he picks them up from the box with slightly trembling cold fingers and puts them on Nidhi's hands. She places her hand on his wrist.) I will always have them with me. (He nods and steps back.) Chale?
Ashu clears his throat: Yeah.
Nidhi: I will just go and get my bag. Just give me a second. (She runs up, collects her bag and turns only to smack right into his hard body) Ou..sorry..(The rest of her sentence gets cuts off as he picks up her hands once again to look at the bangles and suddenly pulls her into a tight hug. Her bag falls slips through her hand and falls as her own arms wrap around his waist and tighten.) I love you..sir.
Her attempt to lighten his mood works brilliantly as he releases her with a grin and picks up her bag. With a final bye to everyone, they leave and soon reach Verma residence. Nidhi gets down from the car with a lot of trepidation. CV, who comes out at that exact same moment takes one look at them, glares at Ashutosh and goes inside. A moment later the main door bangs shut. Nidhi climbs up the portico steps and bends to touch the threshold with her fingers in a gesture of respect: Mere pagphere ki rasam poorihogayi baba. Apna khayaal rakhiye..aur DB ka bhi. Mein jaanti hoon ki meine aap ka dil bahut dukhaya hain..I have let you down in a big way. I know you are angry and don't even want to look at my face now. But I will wait for the day when you will forgive me and open this door for me and my husband. Chalti hoon baba.
Ashu comes right behind her and places his arm around her shoulders. Both of them walk back to the car and CS, who is just on his way in, with his bags full of vegetables, stops: Bibiji..
Nidhi walks towards him: CS..baba aur DB ka khayaal rakhiye. (She turns towards Ashu) Yeh..
Ashu nods: Chote Sarkaar. I know. Nidhi aapke khaane ka bahut taareef karti hain.
CS grins but his eyes quickly fill up: Meri bibiji ka khayaal rakhiye dactar saab.
Ashu pulls out his wallet and takes out his business card and scribbles something behind it: Yeh humaare ghar ka pata hain CS. Jab bhi aapko apke bibiji ko dekhna ka mann kare..aajayiye.
CS takes the card and carefully puts it in his shirt pocket. Nidhi looks at Anji's house and finds Anji pulling Shyama aunty along and pointing towards Nidhi. Nidhi waves and Shyama and Anji wave back. Anji gestures her that she would call up later and Nidhi nods. Shyama blesses both of them from afar. Nidhi and Ashu smile and nod and after a quick look towards the window, she rushes inside. After another wave to CS and Anji, Ashu starts the car and they leave for KGH.
Lunch hour: KGH Canteen:
Ashu: How did the lecture go?
Nidhi: Achcha tha. It was really interesting.
Ashu: What was the topic?
Nidhi: Challenges in assessing prenatal and neonatal steroid exposure. But I don't think any one paid any attention to it.
Nidhi: They were in shock. Jyothika saw me and asked. I told her and..(She gives a small shrug and a smile.) Whats the situation in KGH?
Both of them are startled out of their conversation at the sound of loud clapping that has started in the canteen. They turn to look at most the staff, doctors, interns and PGs who seem to have crowded the whole area with various expressions ranging from open delight to blatant shock. Both of them hastily wipe their hands and get up. Ranga meanwhile pushes through the crowd until he reaches Ashu and Nidhi: Sir, Dr Nidhi, congratulations once again.
Ashu smiles: Thank you. All of you.
Someone shouts from the crowd: Khaali thank you se kya kaam chalega sir? Hume toh party chahiye!
Another voice joins: Aur woh bhi jabardast!
Ranga puts on a completely serious face: Of course, of course. Arrangements are being made as we speak and formal invitations will reach you all soon. Now please, lets let the newly wedded couple have their lunch in peace. (He politely but firmly makes everyone leave the canteen before turning towards Ashu.) Chalta hoon sir.
Ashu: Care to tell me more about this party Ranganath?
Ranga: Uh..sir..Saturday ko hain sir. Yesterday Armaanji and I thought about it. We are arranging a reception kind of a thing. I thought Armaanji would have told you about it.
Ashu shakes his head and takes out his phone: Armaan..whats this reception and party?..uh huh..Lekin..baat toh sunn..FINE! (And stuffs his phone back into his scrubs) He says it's a surprise for us. We are supposed to meet him at his fashion house this evening..after your college.
Nidhi: Aap free hain?
Ashu: I think so. Surgeries are done for the day. So provided there is no emergency..(He shrugs and after that both of them finish their lunch and leave.)
That night: After dinner:
Armaan: So..Nidhi..shopping all done, right?
Nidhi: Ji. Lagta hain kuch zyaada hi done hain.
Armaan: Arre there is no zyaada in shopping. Jitna bhi karo kam hain. Aur waise bhi aapka pati kaafi rich hain. (He winks making NIdhi grin a little.)
Maansi: Did you decide what to wear for the party day after tomorrow?
Nidhi: Nahi. I like both of them. So will decide later.
Armaan: You know..baba told me something about both of you today. (Both Ashu and Nidhi look at him) I came to know that both of you sing very well together. Baba already heard it. So come on..out with it. Gana gao.
Nidhi, peeps out from the kitchen where she is stacking the dishes: I..I don't sing that well Armaanji.
Armaan rolls his eyes: I am not asking you to compete for Indian Idol. Oh come on now you two..sing or I am going to sing.
Maansi looks at Nidhi with a horrified expression: Nidhi..please. Gaado. We recently got a warning notice from our neighbours that either he stop singing or we vacate the apartment. Yahaa pata nahi kya hoga!
Nidhi bites her lip to stop her laughter but after a moment it spills out. She tries to smother it but one look at Armaan's affronted expression sets her off big time and with that the tension of the last couple of days breaks off. Ashu turns from his place at the main door against which he is leaning with his hands stuffed in his trouser pockets, to look at her. His eyes take in her bright face as his ears rejoice the sound of her hearty laugh. He hums out the first line of the song with his eyes still on her face.
His voice draws her like a magnet and she catches the song and continues it.Piyu bole piya bole jaanu naa
Nidhi comes out of the bathroom, throws the towel aside and falls on the bed. She stretches herself in sensous abandon before pulling the pillow over her, hugging it and rolling on the bed along with it with a blissful sigh, completely unaware of the pair of the now darkened intense eyes that are taking in her every movement. She rolls on to her back, rests her head on the pillow, hugs herself and closes her eyes with a dreamy smile only to open them suddenly as her hair gets brushed away from her face by the soft glide of fingers. Her instinctive move to sit up doesn't materialise as her wide eyes meet his intense ones. Awareness sizzles and surrounds them until the very air around them thickens. Her tongue pokes out to wet her lips and his eyes take in that small movement. His fingers forgo the pleasure of sliding through her tumbled mass of long hair to slide along her cheek and coming to rest near her chin with his thumb gliding over her lower lip. His palm notes the rapid thud of her pulse at the base of her neck and his own breathing gets rough and uneven. After a moment of shy hesitation, she opens her arms and with a soft groan he burrows his head between her neck and shoulder. Her fingers slide over his cheek and neck before digging into his hair and tightening their grib as his lips slowly acquaint themselves with her neck and shoulder for the first time. Within in seconds, he gets addicted to her taste and slides up to feast on her lips taking in her soft moan into his mouth. This kiss is as different from the first one they shared at the mountain as it can get. The first one had the touch of tentativeness and hesitancy. This one had the confidence and anticipation of delight. That one offered comfort and seeked reassurance. This one owned and possessed. Hands join and fingers entwine as the kiss deepens further. Finally the need to breathe pulls them apart by an inch. Eyelids weighed down by desire slowly lift and meet his passion drugged ones.
Ashu swallows a couple of times before attempting to speak but his voice still has a rough edge to it: Good morning.
Nidhi tightens her fingers around his: Good morning.
Ashu looks at the clock: College jaana hain? (Nidhi nods..her disappointment too obvious in her eyes. It makes him grit his teeth before forcing himself to release her and sit up on the bed. After a small pause she also gets up and adjusts her night shirt which is already half way up her midriff.) Shall I drop you?
Nidhi: Nahi. Aap fresh hoke thodi der sojaayiye. We have the party in the evening na. I am going only for half a day. Will submit my paper and come back. (Then as if unable to resist any more, she leans in and hugs him.)
His arms go around her and he tightens the hug as his fingers weave themselves in her hair. After a few moments of silence, he stretches his hand and picks up the mangalsutra from the side table and eyes locked with hers, fastens it around her neck: Go. Go and get ready. Warna college keliye derhojaayegi.
Chaos reigns in Ashu's residence as everyone tries to get ready for the reception at the same time. Finally Nidhi, Anji and Maansi get ready in the guest room and Ashu and Armaan in Ashu's bedroom. Maansi, fearing Anjali spoiling her dress, decides to get her dressed at the last minute and hence hands him over to BB and HK who are ready in their classy kurta pyjamas, courtesy of Armaan's fashion house.
Armaan gets ready first and knocks on the guest room only to be shouted to back off: Hurry up ladies! And Nidhi..aapke pati dev aapko bularahe hain. Issliye thoda jaldi baahar aane ka kasht keejiye. (Sure enough, within a couple of minutes Nidhi comes out and closes the door behind her to give privacy to Anji and Maansi. Armaan's face splits into a wide grin as he sees Nidhi looking spectacularly beautiful in her majenta pink designer wear sari with side dark green border and sequins all over it along with a 3/4 sleeve majenta pink and gold blouse. He kisses his own fingertips.) Now..this is what I call doing justice to a master piece. Bhai waah!
Nidhi giggles: Master piece mein ya yeh sari Armaanji?
Armaan frowns: Of course the sari..what are you saying! I mean..Armaan's very own creation! (Then his eyes soften) You really are looking like a bride Nidhi. Mere Ashu ka khayaal rakhna. (Nidhi nods with a smile and goes into their room after a soft knock and gives out a scream startling Armaan who frowns and then grins.)
Nidhi still has her palm covering her mouth as she mouths: Dr Ashutosh! What did you do?
Ashu blinks: What?
Nidhi: Meri daadi kahaa hain?
Ashu gives her a weird look before throwing back his head and laughing out loud: Nidhi..TUMHAARI daadi?
Nidhi has a complete crestfallen expression: I love your beard! Why did you shave it! Mujhe woh waapas chahiye. (She starts stomping her feet in a typical tantrum) Haa..mujhe woh waapas chahiye.
Ashu shakes his head: Nidhi..I just shaved it. There is no amputation involved here. It will grow back in a few days.
Nidhi continues to grumble as she starts putting on her chudi: Par shave kiya hi kyu? Pata hain aap kitne sexy lagte hain?
Ashu rolls his eyes but a slash of red tinges his clean cheeks. He comes to stand behind her. He touches a spot on her neck: Your skin is too soft Nidhi..
She looks up with a frown and sees him fingering the slight red mark on her neck where his beard had scratched her that morning: Pyaar ki nishani hain sir..I mean Dr Ashut..I mean..(She sighs) Mein aapko kya bulau? (Ashu opens his wardrobe and takes out a flat rectangular box and extends it to her. She opens it to find a beautiful ruby studded gold necklace with matching ear rings and bangles. Her mouth drops open in wonder and with a lopsided smile, he picks up the necklace and fastens it around her neck. She turns to look at herself in the mirror) Its..just..beautiful. But..(Ashu silently extends the rest of the box to her and she gives in and takes it. The bangles complement perfectly with her chudi and she tops everything with a matching twinkling bindi.) Do you I look ok?
Ashu blinks slowly before replying: Aap ke haseen rukhpe aaj naya noor hain..mera dil machal gaya toh mera kya kasoor hain. (Saying that, he extends the tie to her silently asking her to do the honours. Her eyes widen and her smile dazzles him. It's the tie that she had gifted him on his birthday and it goes perfect with his dark grey suit that he is wearing. She blinks rapidly to clear her vision before taking it and placing it around his neck. His arms come to rest on her waist.)
To lighten her own mood she raises her eyebrow: Kya baat hain..aaj doctorsaab shaayar bangaye?
Ashu's gaze continues to roam over her face: Dard e dil dard e jigar dil mein jagaya aapne..pehle toh mein doctor tha..(She laughs aloud at that) aashiq banaya aapne..(With another chuckle, she suddenly raises on her toes and gives a smacking kiss on his cheek. His eyes blaze at her.) Dr Kothari said you had an appointment with her this morning..
Nidhi nods: I..she put me on pill. (His fingers tighten their grip on her waist and she finishes tying the knot and adjusts it to a perfect centre before looking up at him with a shy smile.) Hogaya. All set?
Ashu nods and kisses her forehead softly: All set. Thank you Nidhi.
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Anji looks around. Her eyes taking in the beautiful flower decoration of the reception hall and the lavender and pink draped curtains and the round dining tables with red table cloths and the centre stage which is left empty for the guests to walk through and also to dance later on if the mood strikes. Soft music is already playing in the background: Nidhi..this is just beautiful na. Saare arrangements Ranganath ne ki hain. Yeh decorations ka selection..colour combinations..sab kuch..
Nidhi grins: Achcha? But I heard he was too busy ogling you to oversee anything?
Anji gives her a glare: Aisa kisne kaha? He was not ogling me. I just came to say hi and ask if he needs help..you know..and..
Nidhi: Oohoo..Anji Solanki blushing haan! Finally! Jo bhi ho..I am really happy for you. He is a great guy.
Anji: He says he will talk to his parents as soon as they come back from their trip. I am planning to tell papa soon. Tu kya kehti hain..kab batau unhe?
Nidhi's smile dims: I don't think your love story will have objections in that angle Anji..at least not much. Just make sure uncle is in a good mood and tell him. (A slight pause) Did you give the invitation to baba? DB kaisi hain?
Anji nods: I gave him. DB is ok. Still simmering. Unhe thoda time do Nidhi. I am sure they will come around. (She tries to cheer her friend up) Aur mein hoon na. Tumhaari pal pal ki khabar unko dekar unhe tempt karti rahoongi. Edited version of course. (And giggles as Nidhi pinches her arm)
Nidhi: Aunty uncle bhi nahi aaye? (Her eyes go to the door as if she is unable to give up the hope)
Anji: Mom wanted to come. But you know papa na. If Yog uncle is not happy, he is not happy. After you came and went, Yog uncle and papa went out for a long walk. Don't know what they talked about though. He will come around Nidhi. Thoda waqt do unhe. Don't worry and cheer up. Iss pal keliye tumne kitna intezaar kiya Nidhi..ab isse gava mat. Mood teek kar and enjoy yourself. Jeejaji clean shave mein mast hain yaar. He is looking yummmyyy!
Anji's diversion tactic works like magic. Nidhi growls: You stick to your Ranganath ok? Mere pati ko nazar mat laga. And I want that daadi back. I don't want this clean shave veen shave. Woh jaise the..waise hi achche the.
Guests, staff and doctors start arriving and that puts a break on their conversation. Ashu didn't skip any of his collegues or the staff members and Nidhi didn't leave any of her friends out. Dr Sanjay is one of the first ones to come up on the dias to wish the couple: Looks like the mighty has fallen Dr Ashutosh! And what a fall! But take care ok? She is a mighty spirited young lady I must say! Congratulations Nidhi and good luck in your attempt to turn Dr Heartstone into Dr Sweetheart.
Nidhi grins: If he turns into Dr Sweetheart I probably won't recognise him sir. Inhe aise hi rehnedejiye. (After a hearty laugh, he shakes hands with both of them and hands over the bonquet and gift before going towards one of the tables.)
Dr Khanna soon follows: Hearty Congratulations Dr Ashutosh! Although I wish you had done this sooner instead of leaving for 9 months. I would have saved some of my hair at least.
Dr Rao's booming voice reaches them before the man himself: Perfectionist weds another perfectionist! Lord help us! Wish you a very happy married life! God bless! (Soon Dr Kothari joins and shakes Ashu's hand and hugs Nidhi.)
Ashu: Thank you for coming Dr Kothari.
Dr K actually rolls her eyes: As if anyone would even THINK of missing this one! Either they are genuinely happy or genuinely curious. Congratulations Dr Ashutosh and good luck! I have a feeling you are going to need it. And Nidhi..take care. Ok? All the best for your future and be happy.
Finally the management members, where all the 4 members are non doctors also attend. Ranganath personally guides them to the Dias. Although they knew Ashu for a long time, their relationship never went beyond professional. 3 of them just wish him and move on but Mr Bhandari had something to add to his wishes: Great going Dr Ashutosh! But shaadi itni jaldi? Iss jaldbaazi ki wajah apne junior par pyaar hain ya kuch aur? Kahi aisa toh nahi ki doctor saab..haan..(His suggestive laugh gets abruptly cut off at the look on Ashu's face. The look was capable enough to freeze the anti-freeze. He quickly realizes that there was an invisible line around Dr Ashutosh which no one dares to cross. Not even the management team, who were technically his bosses.)
Before Ranga could intervene or he himself could stammer out an apology, Nidhi grins and gives a mock sigh: Arre sir, meri aisi kismat kahaa! (Stunned silence ensues for a second before Bhandari gives a half hearted laugh, an awkward nod and moves away. Ashu looks at her, the anger the statement had caused still evident in his eyes. But one look at her grin and the cute blink of her eyes through which she tells him to take it easy, all the anger vanishes into thin air.)
Ashu: You enjoyed that, didn't you? (Nidhi bites her tongue softly between her teeth but her expression is unrepentant.)
Music stops and everyone looks at at Armaan who comes to stand at the centre stage with a mike in his hand: Hello! Good evening and welcome everyone to this wedding reception of Dr Nidhi and Dr Ashutosh. I am Armaan, Ashu's friend, brother, nagger all rolled into one. (Chuckles and laughter goes around the hall.) I just want to make an announcement that tonight the newly wedded couple will be leaving on their honeymoon..for one week. (Ashu and Nidhi look at each other in confusion before Ashu turns his glare on Armaan) No need to glare at me Dr Heartstone..arrangements have already been made. (He turns towards the audience and continues as if sharing a secret) Woh kya hain na..its a surprise to both of them. They didn't know about it until now. (And turns to once again look at Ashu and Nidhi) So you guys will leave to the airport in another hour. Until then..enjoy the music and the dance. Ashutosh..Nidhi..wish you a very happy married life. (He hands over the mike and comes and hugs Ashu. Taking the cue, Maansi comes to hug Nidhi.)
Ashu: Armaan..yeh sab kya hain?
Armaan: Both of you are going to Kerala tonight. Your packing has been taken care of. Ranga has taken care of your official chuttis and here is your intenary along with your tickets.
Ashu automatically takes the cover: Lekin..(He looks at Nidhi who is looking at the cover with eyes bright with anticipation and curiosity. He extends it to her and the way she almost snatches it from his hand and opens it puts an end to any protest that he might have made at his friend's extremely expensive gesture. He hugs Armaan) Thanks yaar.
Armaan smiles and pats his back repeatedly: Go and enjoy. Par filhaal..
He gestures towards the music being played and shows the empty dance floor. Armaan and Maansi practically push the couple on to the dance floor. Nidhi places her hand on his shoulder and he instinctively wraps one hand of his around her waist. The palms of their left hands join and fingers entwine as their feet move to the rhythm of the music. She twirls around once before placing both her hands on his shoulders and he pulls her closer with both his arms that are now firmly wrapped around her waist. Their eyes meet and hold as the rest of the world fades away. Slowly a few other couples join the dance floor including Armaan and Maansi and Ranga and Anji. But for these two, no one else exists at that moment and no one notices CV looking at them from afar before getting up and leaving the venue as silently as he had come.
Ashu looks into her eyes: Pyaar karti ho mujhse?
Nidhi's eyes shine bright as stars: Shaq hain aapko?
Ashu shakes his head: Kyon Nidhi? Kyon itna pyaar karti ho?
Nidhi: Pata nahi. Buss..karti hoon. (Her hands slide from his shoulders to his neck until her palms are almost touching his jaw) Mujhko apne gale lagalo aye mere humraahi..tumko kya batlaau mein ki tumse kitna pyaar hain..
The flushed look on his face and the locking of his jaw suggests the amount of control he is exerting on himself in an effort not to snatch her into his arms. Mujhe apna banaalo Nidhi aur apne se kabhi alag mat karna..mein jeenahi paaunga. He suddenly gets impatient to be alone with her..away from everything and everyone: Is it time to go yet? Flight kitne baje hain?
Nidhi: Bhook lagi hain. Kuch khaake nikalte hain. Anji said the cab is here and waiting.
Ashu stops dancing and guides her away from the dance floor with his arm around her waist: Let's go then.
DB opens the door to Yog: Aagaye? Hogayi tasalli? (Yog sighs and sits down in his usual rocking chair. DB's pain quickly replaces her anger. She comes to sit in front of him and hesitates a little before asking) Dekha usko?(Yog nods) Kaisi hain? (Tears start rolling down her cheeks) Chaar din hogaye bachchi ko dekhe..
Yog looks at her with a neutral expression: Khush hain. Sab log aaye reception party mein. Dono dance bhi kar rahe the.
DB closes her eyes: Pata nahi log kya kya kehte honge iss jodi ko dekhke..kya kya sehna padega meri bachchi ko..
Yog: Most of the guests were staff and doctors from KGH Bua..and all of her friends were there too. Solanki told me Anji refused to listen to him and left for the reception. I am not surprised though. Anji and Nidhi always have been inseparable.
DB's anger sparks once again: Yeh Anji bhi na..sab iski wajah se hain. She knew everything. She could have told us na.
Yog: Why are you blaming HER Bua? Humaari beti ne humse sachchai chupayi toh isme Anji kya karsakti hain?
DB: Don't say that. Nandini always said she has two daughters..Nidhi and Anji. She should have come to us.
Yog: She wouldn't Bua. She is Nidhi's best friend and loyal to the core. Wahaa jaake aisa laga ki KGH staff also didn't seem too surprised or shocked.
DB: That means the whole world knew before us! (She gets up) Cha! (And walks away. Yog also gets up after a while and goes to his room to stand in front of his wife's photograph)
Yog: Dekha Nandini..humaari beti ne kya kiya? Apne se 18 saal bade aadmi se shaadi karli. Meine manaa kardiya toh ghar se bhaag ke dono ne mandir mein shaadi karliya. (He sits down on the bed) I have failed Nandini..failed as a father. Tumhaare jaane ke baad I failed. May be all this wouldn't have happened had you been here. You would have may be explained things to her differently and she would have listened to you. She idolised you..she would have listened to you. Par mein kya karta..army waala hoon na..teek se yeh sab cheezen kehnahi paata. I just gave her a no and expected her to follow my order. I couldn't tell her properly..I couldn't explain properly that it was wrong. Yeh..yeh pyaar galat hain. (A whispery kind of voice reaches him from the echoes of his past..Yog..pyaar kabhi galat nahi hota. Haan..pyaar mein LOG zaroor galatiyan karte hain. He looks up startled at his wife's photograph.) Aur agar issi pyaar mein Nidhi ne yeh galati ki ho..toh? Tab kya Nandini? (The smiling image of his wife remains unchanged.)
Next day evening: Kerala: Kumarkaum Lake Resort:
Nidhi runs around opening the doors and peeking through the windows: Arre suniye, idhar dekhiye, yahaan toh pool bhi hain. Par yeh kya? Open bathroom?
Ashu laughs: It's not an open bathroom Nidhi. The walls are almost 15 ft high on all 4 sides. No one can see you.
Nidhi continues to frown: Haan par roof toh nahi hain. Kissi ne chadke dekhliya toh?
Ashu rolls his eyes: I think they have better things to do than climb a 15ft wall with no support.
Nidhi grins: Chaliye..lets go and explore some more. Dinner mein toh abhi bahut time hain. Its still 5.00. I saw a cute tea stall outside the resort. May be they will have our AKC.
Ashu blinks: AKC?
Nidhi: Adrak Ki Chai. (They quickly shower, change and she loops her arm through his and pulls him out of the room. She has been on the same upbeat mood all through the journey and it had started to give him a strange kind of peace. He drowned himself in her hearty laughs, infectious giggles, naughty and often ribald comments about the surrounding and the people. And the touch..he realises that Nidhi is a very touchy and demonstrative person. She had her arm looped through his or her fingers entwined with and a couple of times even gave him one armed hugs. She slept in the flight with her head resting on his shoulder. It's as if after all those months of separation she is gorging herself with his presence in her life. He observes her fingers often touching her mangalsutra as if it's her most treasured possession. They walk out of the resort and have the tea at the tea stall which indeed specialized in AKC and later go for a long walk around the resort before coming back to sit on the deck chairs to watch the lake view among the darkening skies and twinkling lights. They reach the restaurant for dinner which included candle lights, live music and a panaromic view of the lake, with its banks almost covered with thick coconut trees on both sides and the houseboats rocking along the banks. Since they already were staying in the resort as guests, they were shown straight to the table.
Ashu observes her taking in the view: Achcha laga? (Nidhi nods)
And for the first time they realize that this one is different from chatting over a cup of coffee in the coffee shop or even in the canteen and that it's just the two of them. Neither knows how to start the conversation. Waiter comes, gives them the menu and slips away. He finally forces his eyes away from her and looks around: Aaj mausam achcha hain na?
Nidhi: Ji. But I personally love rains. Baarish mein bheegna mujhe bahut achcha lagta hain.
Ashu's eyes smile at her: Baarish, elaichi chai, gobi parata, asha Bhonsle, Kishore and old hindi songs. Toh aur kya kya pasand hain Dr Nidhi ko?
Nidhi thinks: Hhmmm ice cream. Plain nahi. Crunchy ice cream like butter scotch. But no nuts and fruits in it. Aur aap ko? Adrak chai, Rafi, Lata, old Hindi songs and?
Ashu shrugs slightly: Daal chaawal, thoda teekha sabzi, any sabzi and..
Nidhi adds on with a small smile, remembering the incident at home when he had refused to even touch the kheer made by HK: And meeta bilkul nahi. Right?
Ashu looks at her: Right. (Waiter comes and they place their orders) So, how is the PG course coming along?
Nidhi tries to put on a serious face: Yeh sawaal KGH ke dean poochrahe hain ya..?
Ashu shakes his head: I don't think I am the dean here Nidhi.
Nidhi grins: Jaanti hoon. Phir bhi..aap ke muh se sunna chahti thi. So my reply now is also not to the dean. Ok? (Ashu nods his ok with a smile) Don't talk about work. I am tired. So let's talk about something else please.
Ashu laughs out loud. Nidhi is spellbound by that laugh: I love your laugh si..I mean..(She gives a tired sigh) Mein kya bulau aapko? Batayiye na please?
Ashu's laughter stops but the smile lingers: Jo tum chaaho.
Nidhi thinks some more before her entire face lights up as if the idea has finally struck her: Chweetu kaisa rahega?
Ashu, who is about sip some water almost chokes on it: Wh..what?
Nidhi sits back as if mightily pleased with the name: Chweetu. Achcha hain. Mein aapko Chweetu bulaaungi. (And her face brightens further as mischief takes over her expression. She gestures with her hands) Just imagine..aap rounds kar rahe hain KGH mein aur mein piche se "Chweetu lunch kare?" bulaungi. (She claps her hands) Mazaa aayega!
Ashu shakes his head as a chuckle slips out. She has one of hands folded on the table and the other stretched palm down towards the middle of the table while he has both his hands folded on the table. He slowly covers her hand with his and after a second she turns her palm so that their fingers get entwined. Waiter serves their starters and leaves. Nidhi fiddles with her fork before looking up at him: Ek baat poochu? (He nods) Aap ne bura maana kya uss din? You came to talk to baba and I called you up and asked if you were going to leave me again..(Ashu starts to shake his head) Its not that I didn't trust you or anything..you know..
Ashu: I understood Nidhi..and trust me when I say that leaving you is not an option for me any more.
Nidhi nods: Par..tab mein darr gayi thi..aapko paakar khone ka darr..I blamed myself when you left..I still do I guess..if I hadn't told you..
Emotions flood and choke him from all directions: I survived because of those words Nidhi..I left but you didn't let go of me. You were there with me..no matter where I went.
Both of them try to bring themselves out of those painful memories. Nidhi swallows and changes the topic: Looks like its going to rain. (Ashu turns his head to look out and she takes the opportunity sneaks her free hand out, picks a gobi piece that's been left in his plate and quickly puts it off in her mouth. The sudden stillness in his face and body are the only indications that he has seen the whole thing. His eyes hold hers as he extends his own hand and picks up a piece from her plate and eats it.
Ashu: So, your friend Anji and Ranganath..
Nidhi nods: Dating. Finally! Poora ek saal hogaya Dr Ranganath ne propose kiye!
Seeing that she is done with her dinner, Ashu: Chale?
Nidhi nods and both make their way out after signing the check. Right on cue it starts drizzling and within seconds the drizzle turns into a downpour. Nidhi's eyes go wide with delight and she literally jumps up and down clapping: Baarish! Wow! Awesome! Chaliye na baarish mein bheegte hain!
Ashu is taken aback: What? No! You will catch cold.
Nidhi rolls her eyes: Our room is close by only na. Kuch nahi hoga. Bheegte hue chalenge.
Ashu catches her arm and pulls her back: Koi zaroorat nahi hain. We will wait here until it stops.
Nidhi pouts then immediately decides to issue an open challenge: Dean of KGH is afraid of a little rain!
Ashu: I am not afraid. I just said..
Nidhi pokes her tongue at him: Dean of KGH is afraid of rain.
Ashu folds his hands: Am not.
Nidhi: If you are not, then race me till our room in the rain. Lets see if you can actually catch me or not..(And runs into the rain before the last word is out. Her laughter rings out on the almost empty deck and soon she hears another pair of running feet behind her) Chweetu can't catch me.. Chweetu can't catch me.. Chweetu can't caaa..
Her sentence gets cuts off as he wraps his arm around her with a laugh and lifts her up in the air. She squeals as she tries to free herself and a couple of guests passing by with umberallas give them strange looks. Neither care as she finally slithers down his arm and starts running again and with a laugh he takes after her again. They reach their cottage entrance at a run and almost crash into the door simulataneously. She takes in his laughing eyes and the utter joy on his face. As if unable to resist, she cups his cheeks and kisses him on the lips. The kiss is awkward for a few seconds as she tries to get a proper hang of it but as desire catches fire within her, her lips open to get a better taste of him. He pulls himself away with a groan, digs into the pocket of his jeans for the key card, pushes it roughly into the slot and drags them both inside before closing and locking the door. Their rough breathing echoes through the silent still room. Nidhi catches hold of his collar and pulls him closer..a silent demand to pick up where they had left off a few seconds ago. Her name comes out as a rough growl from somewhere deep in his chest as he pushes her against the wall and resumes the kiss. Tongues soon join the play as the kiss deepens..both quenching and inflaming their thirst for each other. The tremour in his hands betrays and reveal his emotions as he traces her waist and back before cupping her breasts through her wet shirt. Her breath hitches up and her neck falls back breaking the kiss midway. Not to be deterred, his lips travel down her jaw and neck. Her hands loosen their grip on his hair and travel down his back and make a futile attempt to untuck his shirt from his jeans. He catches the edge of her t shirt and pulls it up with a rough sigh of impatience before tackling his own shirt. Buttons fly as he rips it open and pulls her to him. That first hug without the barrier of their tops sends a jolt of pure electricity through both of them and at the same time brings him back to his senses. His breath shudders out and he slowly loosens his hold on her and draws back. The cool breeze touching her skin makes her turn her back on him and cross her arms in an instinctive gesture of modesty. His arms wrap around her from behind. His lips touch the pt where her neck and shoulder meet and she rolls her head back over his shoulder and her eyes drift shut. His soft kiss on her neck turns into an erotic one as he starts tasting her with his tongue and nips her softly with her teeth: Nidhi..you are ok with this, right? (She nods in affirmative) Please look at me Nidhi..(She turns slowly to face him..with her arms still crossed over her chest. Her shy loving eyes meet his blazing ones. His fingers dig into her hair once again as he brings her closer to him) you love me, don't you? (She nods) Say it. Say you love me.
Her heart recognizes his cry of loneliness and his plea for reassurance: I love you. I love you. I love you..
He hugs her tight squeezing the breath out of her. Shyness takes leave at that point and clothes dissolve into useless puddles across the room as they acquaint themselves to each other first with reverence and soon with a kind of desperation. Her curious fingers slowly give way to tentative lips. The only sound that he is capable of making is her name. Nidhi..Nidhi..Nidhi..Nidhi..His mouth travels from her neck to her shoulders to her chest. Her back arches as she feels the tug of his lips and her fingers burrow themselves in his hair as he continues to feed on her. His voracious appetite contains a desperate attempt to erase all the pain of his past and his hold on her tightens as he finds himself tethering on the edge of sanity: You are mine, aren't you..Nidhi? Aren't you? Say you are mine. Forever mine..Only mine..Say it Nidhi..Nidhi..Nidhi Nidhi..say it.
He smothers her face with kisses with each word and she forces herself to open her eyes. Their panting breaths do nothing to dry the sweat rolling off their faces and bodies: Yours..only yours..forever yours.
He raises himself over her and her legs wrap themselves around his before tentatively sliding around his waist. Barely hanging by a thread, he manages to rumble out: Tell me if it hurts and I will stop. Ok? (Nidhi tightens her arms and legs around him in response and his tortured groan indicates the snap of his thread thin control): Make me yours Nidhi..take me..take me into you Nidhi..
Her neck arches back at the first feel of him and his mouth smothers her small cry of pain along with his own groan. The moments that follow take those both into a world of their own where they lose themselves in each other for the first time and their sweat slicked bodies shudder under the impact of the tempest created by their passion. Peace, unlike anything he had ever known before claims as the paradise of her arms anchors him. He had never been to paradise before.
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The dawn of a new day:
Ashu is standing at the deck facing the lake. No one seeing him now would recognise him as the same Dr Heartstone. It is not the fact that he is clean shaven and dressed in just a t shirt and track pant or even the fact that he is smiling. It is the utter joy and peace that is shining out of his face that makes him almost look like a new person..feel like a new person. A face that is reflecting the rising sun. The birds sing their songs, flurries of notes that sound beautiful. The wind blows from behind him, sweeping and ruffling his hair onto his forehead as he takes in the sky that is plastered with colorful pastels. The pink and orange hues of sunrise begin to disintegrate as the sun is gradually turning the sky a brilliant blue.
Ek Din Jab Savere Savere, Surmayi Se Andher Ki Chaadar Hata Ke
Ek Parbat Ke Takiye Se, Sooraj Ne Sar Jo Uthaaya, Toh Dekha
Dil Ki Vaadi Mein Chaahat Ka Mausam Hai
Aur Yaadon Ki Daaliyon Par
Anginat Beete Lamhon Ki Kaliyaan Mahekne Lagi Hain
Ankahi Ansuni Aarzoo, Aadhi Soyi Huwi Aadhi Jaagi Huwi
Aankhein Malte Huwe Dekhti Hai, Laher Dar Laher
Mauj Dar Mauj, Behti Huwi Zindagi
Jaise Har Ek Pal Nayi Hai, Aur Phir Bhi Wahi, Haan, Wahi Zindagi
Jiske Daaman Mein Ek Mohabbat Bhi Hai, Koyi Hasrat Bhi Hai
Paas Aana Bhi Hai, Door Jaana Bhi Hai, Aur Ye Ehsaas Hai
Waqt Jharne Sa Behta Huwa, Jaa Raha Hai, Ye Kehta Huwa
Dil Ki Waadi Mein Chaahat Ka Mausam Hai
Aur Yaadon Ki Daaliyon Par
Anginat Beete Lamhon Ki Kaliyaan Mahekne Lagi Hain
Is this really me? It doesn't feel like me. This joy..this contentment..this..this..relief..No..this is not me. I never knew what all these emotions were before. I never knew the joy of belonging to someone so completely before..never knew the contentment of someone belonging to me heart body and soul before..never knew the relief of finally letting go of myself until there is no me. No. This is not me..who is feeling so light that my feet are barely touching the ground. (He stretches his arms wide) I feel as if I am flying up there in that wide sky
over the clouds..along with the birds. No past..no pain..
Kyun Hawa, Aaj Yun Gaa Rahi Hai
Kyun Fiza, Rang Chhalka Rahi Hai
Mere Dil Bata Aaj Hona Hai Kya
Chaandni, Din Mein Kyun, Chhaa Rahi Hai
Zindagi, Kis Taraf Jaa Rahi Hai
Mere Dil Bata Kya Hai Ye Silsila
Kyun Hawa, Aaj Yun Gaa Rahi Hai
Gaa Rahi Hai, Gaa Rahi Hai
Love? Is love the only reason? No..it can't be. It's got to do with HER! Nidhi..MY Nidhi! My WIFE Nidhi! Mere dil ka..mere zindagi ka..MERA aadha hissa! She waved her magic wand and made it happen. She took everything I had to give and gave me everything I never even knew I wanted in return. She took me and my pain inside her and gave me a piece of heaven in return. I can still hear her "Chweetu..I love you..love you..love you.." Her arms and legs barely gave me chance to move an inch away from her all through the night. (His head swirls as he hears "Chweetu.." followed by her tinkling laughter only to realize that it was his heart which heard it.) I have to get back to her. Right now.
Jahaan Tak Bhi Jaayein Nigaahein, Baraste Hain Jaise Ujaale
Saji Aaj Kyun Hain Ye Raahein, Khile Phool Kyun Hain Niraale
Khushbuwein, Kaisi Ye Beh Rahi Hain
Dhadkanein Jaane Kya Keh Rahi Hai
Mere Dil Bata Ye Kahaani Hai Kya
Kyun Hawa, Aaj Yun Gaa Rahi Hai
Gaa Rahi Hai, Gaa Rahi Hai
His feet turn towards their cottage and pick up speed. He does a small twirl and a two step in between as if he can't contain himself anymore and hastily looks around to see if anyone saw him doing it. With a rueful chuckle, he runs a hand through his hair and continues with his hands stuffed in his trackpant pockets.
Nidhi frowns and slides deeper under the blankets before squinting her eyes open to the sound of the door opening and closing. With a sleepy smile she turns on her side: Good morning Chweetu!
An involuntary smile graces his lips and that was the sole reason she had tagged him that name..to make him smile: Good morning.
Nidhi puts her palm between her cheek and the pillow: Morning walk par gaye the kya?
Ashu walks around the bed and slides on it so that he could cuddle her from behind and nibble on her neck: Hmmm..
With a little moan, she turns on to her back to wrap both her arms around his neck and pull him over her: Mujhe kyon nahi utaya?
Ashu moves a little to the side so that his weight doesn't crush her and rests his head on her chest with a blissful sigh. Her fingers run through his hair: Meine tumhe sone hi kab diya?
Nidhi chuckles and pretends to think: Hmmm..shaayad..kuch teen ya chaar baje the. (She grips his hair and pulls his head up so that he can look at her) Akele kyon gaye? Mein bhi saath chalti na..
Ashu runs his thumb over her glowing cheek and her reddened lips: Ek baat bataau Nidhi? (She nods and once again tries to pull him completely on top of her) Stop that. I will crush you.
Nidhi continues to pull: You won't.
Ashu continues to resist: Oh yeah..I will. I am 6 feet and weigh about 170 pounds. You come to my shoulders and weigh all of what? 110?
Nidhi pouts: More than that. (He raises his eyebrow) Yes. I weigh a 111.
Ashu rolls his eyes and feels her trying to use all her strength to pull him over her again: Stop it Nidhi. I will hurt you.
Nidhi looks into his eyes: You won't. I promise you..you won't. (She opens her arms and with a rough groan he pushes the blankets away and comes on top of her. Her legs open in an instinctive gesture of invitation and his slide between hers.)
Ashu: Is it ok? I mean..I didn't hurt you last night? (Nidhi shakes her head despite the blush staining her cheeks and face) You would tell me, wouldn't you? If I..
She nods and pulls him again. His resistance crumples in her arms as he once again takes a leap towards his heaven. Their lips join and cling. The restless hunger of the previous night that was never appeased roars back into life to consume both of them..more visceral and more primitive. His eyes darken at her instant response which only sends her body temperature rocketing skywards. Their lips part with obvious reluctance to take a breather and she looks up to meet the gleaming blaze of his eyes in a face that is set and raw, skin stretched tight across his cheekbones where a flash of red stained them darkly. After the previous night, she knows what that means, knows that her own face must be bearing a similar mask. He moves slightly, stroking a warm palm over her neck and shoulder before venturing down to cup her soft breast. The hard feel of him against her sends a heady mix of excitement and hunger coursing through her driving her to make a soft mewling sound.
He draws in a raw unsteady breath: Nidhi..jab se tum mere zindagi mein aayi..mein kabhi akela nahi raha. I always had you with me. (He places her palm over the thundering beat of his heart) In here.
Nidhi swallows: How do you think I survived those 9 months Chweetu? The only difference was..you knew..you knew I loved you..love you. But I..(A single tear slips before rolling down the side of her forehead and into her hair. With a painful groan he bends to sip away that tear. Pushing both hands into the drift of her hair across the pillows, he holds her head just so and with eyes fixed on hers, takes her lips in a kiss that is pure temptation. Its there barely and then gone again and the moan of disappointment that rises in her throat, the way her mouth follows his, trying it snatch back the caress, makes it plain to him that she wants more. The hands that are in her hair now slide down the length of her body, one cupping her bottom and pressing her closer against him and the other slipping over her shoulder to land once again on her breast. His lips replace that hand making her writhe in the cream sheets as a soft cry of response escapes her. Her hungry, needy and shaking hands pull at his clothes, wrenching his shirt and tugging it up so that she has access to the smooth warmth of the skin of his back. With the other hand, she reaches up to grip the back of his head to pull and draw his head towards her mouth. His groan escapes from between their joined lip as the thin thread of his control snaps. His hands are now even more impatient than hers had been as they push and throw away the blankets from the bed, baring her to his gaze. Somehow, he manages to shed his own clothes and the heat and hair roughened texture of his skin sends a torment of delight against her sensitized flesh. He comes on her and she opens herself to him, arching up to meet him, encourage him and to welcome him. "Nidhi.." Her name is rough and thick on his tongue, revealing that if she is on the brink of losing control then he is right there with her all the way. A moment later, he joins his body to hers and she is lost in him as he drowns himself in her. She lifts herself to meet his hungry demanding thrusts and sensations storm them and assault their nerves in a delirium of ecstacy. The rays of dawn bare witness to her hiccupping breath that blends with his choking cry of release as they abandon and entrust themselves into each other's care.
A little while later:
Ashu hugs her tighter and makes sure she is settled comfortably on top of him: Hey..Nidhi..(The deep rumble of his voice resonates in her ear and makes her look up from her resting place on his chest.) How did you manage? (She frowns in comprehension) Mere jaane ke baad..how..I mean..you didn't even know what I felt..you had nothing to go on and yet..how did you cope Nidhi?
Nidhi's eyes lose some of the light as she answers him: I blamed myself..still blame myself..you know..if I hadn't told you..if I had just kept my mouth shut..I realized later that I almost forced my feelings on you. Phir..Anji ne mujhe sambhaal liya. She made me remember my promise to my mom and my aim to become a good doctor. That's when I realized that I can make my love for you as my strength and pull myself. Dr K bullied me left and right making sure I didn't overdo anything in my determination.
Ashu: You never thought of moving on?
Nidhi: I did move on na Chweetu.
Ashu shakes his head: I mean..with someone else.
Nidhi looks at him with unblinking eyes: There has never been any "someone else" for me. It was you or noone. Aap sochrahe honge ki yeh kaisi paagal ladki se shaadi karli meine..
Ashu brushes the hair that has fallen over her forehead: Nahi Nidhi. Long before you told me about what you felt, I knew and realized my own feelings. But my fight with myself became almost impossible when I had to push you AND myself away. That's why I left. Then I met your baba..
She cuts him: You met baba? When?
Ashu: When he came to Delhi to attend some wedding.
Nidhi frowns: Why didn't he tell me?
Ashu shrugs: May be he forgot..or may be he didn't think it was important. He told me about you..and after that..(He rolls until she is under him once again) After that my selfishness got the better of me. I couldn't be that magnanimous person any more.
Nidhi puts her arms around his neck: So you came back. (Ashu nods) Are you happy Chweetu? No regrets?
Ashu looks at her intently: Do YOU have any regrets?
Nidhi smiles and shakes her head before starting to push him away: Ab bahut hogaya. Chaliye..utiye..I need a shower. Arre..utiye na..I want to see Kerala. I hope the camera in your phone is a good one because I want to take loads of pictures. I saw in the broachure that there is a boat ride on the back waters. I want to do that. Uff..utiye toh..God I can't even seem to move you. (She starts pushing him away from her with all her strength as he watches her antics with a smile on his face) EEEYAAA..(Laughing at the way she is shouting and trying to make him roll over, he finally takes pity on her and slides off before getting up. She bounces on the bed) YES YES YES..I am stronger than you. Dekha..(She wriggles her eyebrows and displays her arm as if she is showing off her muscle.) Kya? Aap huss kyon rahe hain? (Ashu shakes his head and chuckles some more at the picture she is making wearing his t shirt that has reached almost mid thigh and sleeves that touch her elbows.) Chaliye..we will get ready, have our breakfast and do some serious sight seeing.
Ashu calls after her as she goes into the bathroom and closes the door: The best sight seeing according to me is in this room itself.
Nidhi shouts from the other side: I agree. For me too. But lets see some more and compare na. Tasalli miljaayegi ki the best is still in this room.
When she is done with the shower, it's his turn and she pushes him into the bathroom to hurry up. As she is searching her bag for the belt to go with her jeans, she realizes that Anji had also packed the kurta that she had bought for Ashu all those months ago. It was one of the 3-4 things that she had brought with her when she left her baba's house to marry Ashu. She pulls it out and kisses it. May be this is the best time to give it to him. Placing it on the bed along with his other clothes, she finishes getting dressed.
Ashu comes out with a towel around his waist and another one over his shoulders wiping his hair: Ready already?
Nidhi: Yup. (She waits for him to notice the kurta and sure enough that's the first thing that he sees. He looks at her with a question in his eyes) I..uh..I bought it for you. Abhi nahi. Bahut pehle. With my first stipend during the internship. This one and that tie. Anji had said I can't give this one to my boss..its too personal and stuff so I got the tie instead. (A heart beat of pause later she looks at him tentatively) Kaisa laga?
Ashu swallows before opening it completely and putting it on over his undershirt and jeans. He puts back the shirt that he had intended to wear that day before turning to show it to her. Her moist eyes devour him and as soon as he opens his arms, she fairly leaps into them: Thank you Nidhi. I love it.
Nidhi squeezes her eyes tightly shut before taking a step back and wiping her eyes tightly and huffing out a laugh: Loji..mein toh phirse senti hogayi. Chaliye..chalike breakfast karte hain. I don't even remember the last time I ate. (She turns her back towards him only to have him pull her around once again and hug her.)
Receptionist: Yes sir. There is a nice village outside this resort. Tourists usually take cycles and go for a ride. You can try that.
Nidhi is jumping up and down by the end of it: Of course. We would love that. Where will we get these cycles?
Receptionist smiles: We provide them ma'am. Just go straight and turn left. I will inform the person right away. (He picks up his phone and sure enough by the time they go out, 2 cycles are ready with a guard standing nearby)
Nidhi claps her hands: Awesome! Chaliye..gaav ki sair karke aate hain. But why do we need two? Ek cycle kaafi hain na? (Ashu lifts his eyebrow) What? Aapko doubles chalaana nahi aata? Don't worry. Mujhe aata hain. Mein chalaati hoon aap mere aage..nahi..aage baitenge toh I can't see. Aap mere peeche baitiye. (The guard, who seems to know a little of Hindi, moves away a little unable to control his laughter. Ashu shakes his head as in "Tumhaara mein kya karoo Nidhi!" and gets on the cycle. Nidhi happily hops on the front rod and waves at the guard.) Aapne cycle chalaana kab seekha?
Ashu: In the school. Armaan and I used to rent a cycle and try it out until we got the hang of it.
Nidhi: Aap ke favourite actor kaun hain?
Ashu: No favourites as such. I just watch. But like Matt Damon and Leanordo.
Nidhi: Arre..Bollywood ki baat keejiye na. Hollywood toh bahut door hain.
Ashu: I don't know..they keep changing from movie to movie. I like Aamir though.
Nidhi: Hmmm..I thought so. You are too predictable si..Chweetu.
Ashu grins at the slip: Why?
Nidhi: Leanardo..Matt Damon..Aamir..all intense people like the dean of KGH.
Ashu: Who do you like? Hrithik?
Nidhi sniffs: No one can TOUCH Amitabh Bachan. Aapke favourite singer kaun hain? Male and Female?
Ashu: Rafi and Lata. Aur naye singers mein Hariharan.
Nidhi: Sonu Nigam. Favourite music director O P Nayyar.
Ashu: Shankar Jaikishan. Aur latest mein..(Both say at the same time) A R Rahman. (And laugh)
Nidhi: Aapke hobbies kya hain?
Ashu: I read books, listen to music and play squash.
Nidhi turns back with a surprise: Squash? Wow!
Ashu: That game saved my sanity when I was in Delhi.
Nidhi: Will you teach me? I play badminton.
And they spent the rest of the way exchanging likes and dislikes along with the whys and why nots, although it comes out more like Nidhi's uninterrupted chatter with Ashu's replies scattered in between. That day and the next couple of days pass on the same note with the couple spending most of their time either in the bed on a voyage of discovery or as tourists exploring the resort and the surroundings. They loved late into the night and talked about anything and everything under the sun. On Nidhi's insistence Ashu books the houseboat for their last night in Kumarkaum resort. They quickly finish their dinner and start walking towards the boat. A man bumps into Ashu and the next second the pungent smell of alcohol surrounds and nauseates him. The man staggers back and mumbles: Sholly shil..sho sholly..(Ashu nods and takes a side step to move ahead but the man catches his arm and pulls him back) I dhonth dhrink all the time you know..par..hojaata hain kavi kavi..you know..(He leans in as if sharing a secret) No one knowsh..only my wifey..aur woh toh kishi ko kuch bolegi nahi..between you and me..I tink she lovesh it when I am like dish..(He laughs and staggers away with a wave. Something gets completely switched off in Ashu as his eyes continue to follow that man weaving through the people before going and hugging a woman, presumably his wife, who has an exasperated look on her face. Nidhi frowns at the strange stillness in her husband before her eyes follow his line of vision and understanding dawns in her eyes. You have gone back, haven't you? You have gone back to the time when your father drank and abused you and your ma. The memories are just there all the time for you. I wish there was a way I could create some good memories for you..some thing that would make you smile instead of..a sudden inspiration strikes her. Wordlessly, she loops her arm through his and leads him to the boat. Soon, the soft rocking motion starts indicating that their boat has begun to move through the back waters. Ashu, who had gone inside to freshen up and change, comes to a stand still at the door of the bedroom. There, beside the bed, Nidhi is sitting cross legged on the floor with a biseleri bottle and a half empty glass of water in front of her. She looks at him with drowsy drunken eyes and her goofy smile draws an involuntary smile from his lips. She gives a sleepy wave to him and gestures him to come closer. He comes and sits in front of her mimicking her posture. Before he could quiz her what she was up to, she starts on her monologue in her best Amitabh Bachan voice with her glass raised: Nahi..nahi..buss.bahut hogaya..daaru ki aadat nahi hain apan ko..(She shakes her head) Peete nahi hain apan..(She leans forward until she can kiss him softly on his cheek before continuing) Maloom kyon? Daaru peene se liver kharaab hojaati hain. (She gestures towards her own abdomen) Idhar. Apun peeta veeta nahi hain..uss din kya hua apun ke dost ka shaadi mein gaya. Udhar jabardasti shaala (He shakes his head and looks away. His palm cups his chin and fingers cover his lips in a gesture that says that he is holding back his smile. Her hand removes his hand covering his lips and turns his head until he is facing her goofy smile again) udhar jabardasti shale log chaar botal pilaayi. (She leans forward again and kisses him gently on his lips. He opens them and deepens the kiss by holding the back of her head. But too soon she pulls back) Aaa..mere pati..nagina hain angina! Bahut pyaar karti hoon mein unse. (She pulls his cheeks) alle alle kuchu kuchu kuchu cho..chweet..mela chweetu..mujhse bahut pyaar karta hai..(His eyes grow moist as what she has been trying to do sinks into him and a tremulous smile forms. You want to give another good memory, don't you? That day it was of my ma with a happy joyful smile on her face and now this..She shakes her head before kissing him again and backs off again to continue in a stern voice) KGH mein dean hain..bahut kadak..super surgeon hain..super successful..(she winks and slurs some more) Maaloom kyon? (He shakes his head) Kyon ki woh daaru nahi peeta..daaru peene se liver kharaab hojaati hain..idhar. Apun peeta veeta nahi hain..uss din kya hua apne dost..mmm..(The rest of her sentence gets abruptly cut off as he pulls her to him and smothers her face with painfully desperate kisses. He looks at her tenderly before getting up and lifting her up in his arms and placing her on the bed. Slowly, he starts undressing her. There is a kind of reverence in his every action as if he is holding something infinitely precious.He kisses her with such gentleness that tears fill her eyes. Her fingers move to unfasten the buttons of his shirt and forgetting the years of anatomy, she remembers only the incredible pleasure of being a woman..his woman. And touching this one man..HER man. There is now nothing between them but the fading twinkling lights of the resort and the gentle rocking of the boat. He sets about making her drown in pleasure with his hands, his lips and his body. He worships every inch of her until she pulls him over her with a soft sob. His thundering heart stills its furious hurry as his flesh finds its home inside her. He opens his eyes to look into hers as she breathes a hiccupping "I love you..I love you so very much." His jaw works and he touches her cheek, her lips before curling his hand behind her neck before bending down to kiss her, the subtle movement making them both groan in pleasure.
Ashu: You chase away my darkness Nidhi. You flood me with light. I am not alone. Not any more.
He catches her lips with his and begins to move because he has to move. HAS to. And there is no more need for words because their hearts, thundering against each other said it all.
A couple of hours later:
Ashu is stading at the window and looking at the villages on the bank of the back waters as their boat slowly moves through the stillness of the night. He feels a pair of arms wrapping around his waist a moment before a soft body hugs him from behind. He entwines his fingers through hers as his eyes continue to stare out: No one knew he was an alcoholic, you know. He hid himself really well. My mom and I were the only ones who knew. I had a bruise on my cheek one day and my teacher asked me in school. I was..5-6 I think. I told her I did something wrong and my father punished me. She was livid. Called him to school and gave him left and right. (He closes his eyes) He hugged me in front of my teacher and said sorry like the most dotting of the father. On our way back from school he looked at me and said, "Open your mouth again and your mother will be dead." I didn't open my mouth after that..but my mother died any way.
Nidhi doesn't move from her place and just continues to back hug him with her cheek resting on his back: Is baba your relative or something?
Ashu shakes his head: Baba was his friend. After he got kicked out of the army and came here, baba became more like a family friend. He was not a stranger to me.
Nidhi: But you didn't know him very well either. (It's a statement not a question. He just shrugs. Her heart aches for the little boy, who went through so much pain every day, suddenly lost his mother in the hands of his father, witnessed the whole thing and by the end of it had to go and start his life again with a relative stranger. He succeeded. But the shadows of his past never left him. God..please give me the strength to chase away those shadows. Ma..help me ma. Guide me.) Ma used to say, "The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us but those who win battles we know nothing about." You are one of the strongest people I have ever met Dr Ashutosh Mathur.
Ashu turns towards her and kisses her palm. His eyes hold a strange kind of peace and relief: Thank you Dr Nidhi Ve..(She shakes her head drawing a husky chuckle from him) Thank you Dr Nidhi Mathur. (She grins and hugs him tight.)
That night and that conversation become another turning point in their married life. The tight band of tension that has been his constant companion, slowly loosens and disappears as he gradually relaxes and shares all the aspects of his life with her..the good..the bad and the ugly while Nidhi regales him stories about the different places she had been during her father's postings and her college days. The next day early morning they check out and leave for Munnar, which is a hill station. Around noon they check in into Windy Hills resort. The drive to the resort is one to remember for both of them and they stop at multiple places just to gaze at the sprawling tea estates, fresh vibrant streams, waterfalls and lush green forest areas. After a quick lunch, both leave for Thekkady, an elephant habitat, where Nidhi clings, cribs and pleads and threatens until Ashu relents enough to let her go and touch a baby elephant with the supervision of a guard. That leads to rapid clicking of photographs with Nidhi in various poses, one of which included her hugging its trunk. Ashu shakes his head at her pleading expression and finally hands over the phone camera to the guard over there and joins her and the baby elephant to have some more snaps clicked. By now Nidhi is jumping up and down with joy and the guard cautions her to tone her voice down and not provoke the mother elephant. That warning is enough for Ashu to pull her away from the water and the elephant. Nidhi reluctantly leaves after giving flying kisses to the baby elephant drawing heart laughter from the guard and making Ashu slap his forehead in appalled embarrassment.
On their way back, Ashu: You know, with the entire ruckus you were making over there, it's a wonder the mother of the baby elephant didn't trample us all. Honestly Nidhi, I mean, I always end up wondering how one person can end up making enough noise to wake the dead.
Nidhi: Isse zindagi ka mazaa lena kehte hain Chweetu. You need to shed your Heart stone image once in a while, you know. You know..come to think of it, did you even have any girl friends during your college days or did they get frost bite from your look and run away?
Ashu adjusts himself and settles down comfortably in the jeep: Now that you mention it, there was one girl who didn't get frost bite. She even proposed me.
Nidhi's head swirls towards him and she growls out: Kaun thi woh?
Ashu shrugs: Thi..koi..ab bataane se kya faayda?
Nidhi: Faayda matlab? Isme faayde nuksaan ki baat kahaa se aagayi? (She pulls his sleeve) I am asking you something here.
Ashu: Yeh kya kar rahi ho..driver ke saamne..
Nidhi: I am just asking you..aapke kadpe thode hi na utaar rahi hoon..(The sudden jerk of the jeep indicates that the driver has heard at least the last comment. Ashu turns his face away to control his laughter as Nidhi's face turns red with embarrassment. She whispers) Boliye na..kaun thi woh..
Ashu's grin slips free: Kahi mujhe jalne ki boo aarahi hain..
Nidhi moves away from him: Mein kyon jaloo? Jale mere dushman!
Ashu: uh..uh..uh (He sighs and pretends to relent) ok..Her name is Mallika..my classmate during MBBS and PG. She was tall..slim..long hair..a little curly..big wide eyes on a oval shaped face..
Nidhi's face by now is almost green: Kaafi kuch yaad hain aapko itne saalon baad bhi! (A small pause and then) Where is she now?
Ashu shrugs: Shaadi hogayi uski. (Nidhi gives a relieved sigh and soon they reach their resort and Nidhi rushes into the room to stand in front of the mirror and examine herself. Ashu walks in behind her and gives her a quizzical look) Kya kar rahi ho?
Nidhi: You think I am too short? Am not over weight, am I?
Ashu adjusts his glasses to look at her properly: Nooo..but..
Nidhi: But? But what? You think I am short and fat? You don't like the way I look? You don't find me attractive?
Ashu crowds her in front of the mirror and backs her into it. He pushes the hair that has slipped out of her ponytail to the back of her ear: Jo ladki mere dil mein suraag banane mein maahir hain woh aaj itni choti si baat par pareshaan hain? You really think I would even care about something like that? Hhmmm? Nidhi..I started living the day I met you. (The minutes that follow leave her in no doubt as to how strong her effect on him is..and always would be.)
Two days later:
Nidhi crawls into the bed and puts her head in Ashu's lap. He finger combs her hair with his attention still on the book in his hand: Packing done?
Nidhi nods: I also chose the pictures that I want to be printed. We will get them framed and put them in our room and also in the study and in the hall. Reception party ke din ka group photo in the hall.
Nidhi: Jaane ka mann nahi kar raha.
Ashu keeps the book aside to pull her up into his arms. His fingers play with the pleats of her sari before pulling them out: Lekin jaana toh padega na.
Nidhi stalls his hand: Ek shart par mein chaloongi. (Ashu raises his eyebrow and waits) Grow your beard back.
Ashu blinks: What?
Nidhi: Yes. I want my beard back.
Ashu laughs: YOUR beard?
Nidhi leans forward to cup his cheeks as her lips start tracing his. Her tongue peeks out to get a better taste: Hmmm..I love it. You look sexy with your beard. Please Chweetu?
Ashu, who is done with the pleats, now gets hold of her pallu: You think so? (Nidhi nods as her neck arches back, inviting him to plunder it) Your wish is my command Dr Nidhi Mathur!
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